Challenge #16 – completed

9 Feb

I’ve completed another challenge!

Challenge number 16 on my list was to save money for a rainy day. I’ve always been good-ish with money but I’ve never really had a good amount of savings to draw on in case of an emergency.

I’ve read several sources that say it’s a good idea to have at least three months’ salary saved up. I have no idea why it’s 3 months rather than two and a half or even 5. It seems like an arbitrary amount without a lot of reasoning for it – a bit like the recommended 10’000 steps a day that are supposed to keep you fit!

As that’s what’s recommended that’s what I’ve done. I started saving last year after I started a new job and put away a little bit each month. If I’d been frugal during the month then I could save a bit more. It’s surprising how quickly an amount each month manages to grow into 3 months’ salary. Luckily I didn’t need to dip into these funds during the past year so it was just a case of save, save, save.

I’m hoping not to be forced into using these savings in the near future but we are in the middle of a restructuring process at work so I can’t honestly say for sure that this is what will happen. Perhaps I find myself out of work again, perhaps everything is business as usual. It’s hard to know or guess what the future will hold in the next few months but I do feel slightly better knowing I have something in reserve for a case like this.

If you don’t have money squirrelled away for the future, I would recommend doing it. Saving a little and often makes the whole process virtually pain free!

Update – Challenge #35

6 Feb

This is an update about the 40 non-fiction books that I am attempting read for my 40 Before 40 challenge. I have recently read 10 more which means I only have 10 more books to read before I finish the challenge.

Here are the books I recently read:

The Decision Book: Fifty Models for Strategic Thinking by Mikael Krogerus and Roman Tschäppeler

This was only a short book but a fascinating read. The authors present fifty different models with illustrations. Some of the models I was familiar with from the economics that I studied for my accounting qualification but the majority of them were new. My favourite in the whole book was The Esquire Gift Model, which was explains how much you should spend on a gift for someone based on the number of years you have known the recipient combine with what type of occasion it is (engagement, anniversary etc). It is so simply explained and is something that people, myself included, agonised over.

Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus by John Gray

This is the second book on relationships by John Gray that I’ve read. Some parts of it are a bit outdated (it was written in the 90s) but a lot of the information and observations that he makes are valid and made sense to me. The problem with these books is that there is almost too much information to process. I think it is best to take a handful of advice and focus on these rather than trying to remember every single detail.

Confessions of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell

I was excited to read this book because I had heard a lot of good things about the first book by this author, which admittedly I haven’t read. It’s fairly obvious from the title that it is the diary of a bookseller. I was slightly disappointed. It wasn’t as funny as I was expecting – the recommendations on the cover made it sound like it was one of the funniest books ever written. But it gave a very interesting insight to the problems facing second-hand booksellers (Amazon, Kindles, unreasonable customers asking for discounts) and some of the methods that they need to employ to survive.

The Return of Depression Economics and the Crisis of 2008 by Paul Krugman

Apart from banks in America failing and house prices going down, I didn’t know very much about the Crisis of 2008. Krugman is a Nobel Prize Winner in Economics and manages to explain complex economic theories succinctly. He explains that the Crisis could have been predicted by inflation and currency valuation problems that happened prior to the crisis in South America and Asia. It was an interesting read, especially as many of the warning factors that he mentions are evident around the world today which may mean another depression is on its way.

Change Book: Fifty Models to Explain How Things Happen by Mikael Krogerus and Roman Tschäppeler

I didn’t enjoy this book as much as the Decision Book (see above). The subject matter was a bit dry and the model were less applicable to daily life. It also covered a huge range of topics like explaining the world to aliens, why some people are unfaithful and climate change. One of the most interesting models was When Something Starts to be Uncool. It plots mainstream against the avant-garde to show how somethings remain cool but other things quickly become unpopular in modern society.

Dinner with Mugabe by Heidi Holland

I went to Zimbabwe went Robert Mugabe was president and this was a fascinating read. I had no idea that he was very intelligent (he had 7 degrees) and he was a very religious man. The account in this book paints a different picture to what I imagined the man to be like. It presented a balanced view of him by looking at historical events and talking to people who knew him the best, while trying to pinpoint the reasons why such a shy and thoughtful man ended up becoming one of the world’s most famous dictators.

Man Alone with Himself by Friedrich Nietzsche 

The last time I read something by Nietzsche was under duress at university. This was a very short book but it had some really interesting idea in it. The first part of the book was a series of aphorisms (tidbits of philosophical insight). My favourite of these was about language: ‘he who speaks a bit of a foreign language has more delight than he who speaks it well; pleasure goes along with superficial knowledge’. After my struggle of learning German, I can say this is very true.

Run Faster: How to be Your Own Best Coach by Brad Hudson and Matt Fitzgerald

I have had this book gathering dust on my shelf for longer than I care to remember and, as I want to try to improve my running times this year, it’s about time I read it! The book was aimed at runner who are far more advanced and better than I am but I still found a lot of useful tips in the book that I will definitely try to incorporate into my running. I am super keen to beat one of my PBs this year and I hope this book has helped me to work out areas I can improve on to do that.

What to Do When You Become the Boss by Bob Seldon

I bought this book when I got a job as a manager for the first time. It didn’t work out and I left the job but I decided to read it anyway. There were a lot of interesting tips for people who aren’t managers and it gave a different perspective on working in a modern environment.

Some of the tips I don’t agree with, like only checking your email once a day. I guess it depends what your role is but, as my job is operational, it’s just not all that practical to do that. I do see how constant email checking can be addictive and a waste of time though!

The Lady and the Peacock: The Life of Aung San Suu Kyi by Peter Popham

I don’t often read biographies but I’m glad I made an exception for this one. In my ignorance I had no idea about the struggles of Burma gaining independence nor about Aung San Suu Kyi and her and her family’s part in the fight for independence. It’s incredible that the book touches on points of history within my lifetime. It makes me want to read more about Buddhism, non violent struggles and the story of India’s independence which the author compares with Burma’s story throughout the book.

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Ciao January

31 Jan

I don’t know about you but I feel like this month has lasted for about 90 days but I’m not sure why. Because I work in finance, January is always a busy month as everyone is so interested in finalising the full year results and, as a result, I end up working longer hours. Maybe that has something to do with it.

Today marks the end of the first month of the new decade and also Brexit will finally happen at midnight. With so much going on, it feels like it is a good moment to sit down and have a look at what I have been up to over the past 31 days.

  •  We welcomed in the New Year at home with Raclette and plenty of alcohol. I’m not a New Year’s Eve person by any stretch of the imagination so that was fine with me. It was nice to be at home for a change and feel relaxed enough to do virtually nothing.
  •  I went back home to see family and friends in the middle of January to try to make up a little bit for not being home over Christmas for the first time in seven years. It was great fun but I completely derailed my aim to try to eat healthier.
  • I finished the latest installment of the online Book Challenge by Erin that I have taken part in for the last 2 years. I only finished my final book of the challenge last night so I am still to post my review about the books but it will be coming soon.
  •  I managed to stick to my fitness goals for January that I blogged about earlier in the year. It was surprisingly easy to stick to and I have managed to run for more than 50k over the past month. Apart from a few blips in my healthy eating programme, I have also managed to stick to a good diet. In February I am hoping to do exactly the same but I also want to do more exercises like sit-ups and press-ups at home to help me slim down.
  • I’ve got stuck back into writing again after taking a bit of a break at the end of last year. So far I have 6 drafts of story stories that I hope I can make into a collection at some point this year. I also have 3 other story ideas on the go.
  • I was elected to the committee of the netball club at the end of last year and I have been busy updating the website and posting things on Instagram and Facebook. I’m enjoying it so far and it makes me more motivated to go to training every week.
  • I also cashed in my birthday present by attending a brewery course in Luzern last weekend. I found it really interesting and the free beer tasting was also great.

It seems that my wish to take it a bit more easy this year is already out of the window. I genuinely don’t realise how much I do until I sit down and thing what I did over the past month. In February though I will be taking a two-week holiday in a warmer climate which will mean more time for running, beer drinking and writing. I can’t wait!

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Birthday Treat

28 Jan

At the weekend I cashed in my birthday present from last year and had a great time on a Master Brewer course. I find it slightly worrying that my birthday and Christmas presents normally have a boozy twist to them. People are going to have trouble buying me presents when I get round to doing my alcohol-free year!

My boyfriend had bought me the course and we both went to the Luzerner BierBauer on Saturday to learn more about brewing beer. The company itself is a cooperative run by 12 members. I’ve visited the big factories of Heineken in Amsterdam, Carlsberg in Copenhagen and Guinness in Dublin so it was interesting to see an operation on a smaller scale.

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We were told that part of the equipment used for the brewing was made from an old heating tank! You definitely wouldn’t find that at the larger breweries. The machines in the larger factories are all operated by touches of buttons and automatic processes.

As some of the equipment is make-shift, the process there is very time consuming and it must be a huge commitment for the 12 people involved to co-ordinate who does what and when. They brew on the weekends because they have jobs to go to during the week so it makes sense that they invite people in to see how the process works and can earn some money in the meantime.

We also got our hands dirty by cleaning out the vat where the malt was brewed, so I felt completely justified in having more than a couple of beers afterwards.

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Cleaning the vat out

The beer they made is only sold at the brewery itself and is sold at two restaurants in the area. With this in mind we bought some bottles to bring back to enjoy at home.

Fitness Goals in 2020

11 Jan

Still on my 40 Before 40 are two challenges related to fitness and, if I am to have any chance of completing them, I need to get fit in 2020. Over the festive period I managed to put on weight just by looking at food and fester on the coach with a beer for the rest of it. So, I have set myself some fitness goals to change that.

Because of global warming, I have already managed to get outside and do some running this year even with my asthmatic lungs. In January I have ran 18km so far and I feel like I am getting back into a rhythm again. There is still a long way to go.

My main aim this year is to beat a personal best time in a race and to get myself in good shape so I am ready to take part in my first ultra marathon in 2021. I realised quite a few things about myself last year which I took into account when I was making these goals.

  • If I don’t have a clear goal in mind, I find it very hard to keep my fitness. Last year with netball trials and then a 10km to train for in August, I was very focused and found it easy to stick to, knowing I had a big event I needed to be ready for. For January I have promised myself that I will do at least 20 minutes of exercise 15 times during the month. That is basically doing something once every other day. I’m managing to stick to it but it is only the 11th January. I am going to set a small fitness goal each month to keep myself motivated.
  • I got myself into shape last year by doing little bits often. I didn’t do huge long runs or bike rides but a short run during lunch times for a couple of miles. Not completely tiring myself out meant I was motivated keep going the next day. I am convinced that, if I had completed two more longer runs before I did the 10km in Dublin, I would have beaten my personal best time. I was just lacking a bit more distance in my legs to keep me going over the final stages.
  • There is a running track close to where we live and I said before the Dublin 10km that I would go there to work on my speed and some different training. I never made it so this year I’m going to do it. Even if I go once a month that is better than nothing.
  • I have a book about running and how to coach yourself to train better. I dread to think how long I have had it gathering dust on my shelf – I’m going to read it this month to help me train better.
  • The most important thing I learnt came when I started with a colleague from work during lunchtime. When asked if I could join her she said she runs really slow. That wasn’t a problem for me. And the pace was slow, perhaps one and a half minutes per kilometer slower than I normally run but I loved it. I wasn’t covered in sweat, red faced and feeling exhausted by the end of it. It doesn’t matter how fast you run so long as you enjoy it. Now I try not to look at my watch as I’m running to see what pace I’m running. This is a lot easier in the colder months when I am wearing long sleeves; there’s no temptation to look down at my watch every five seconds. Of course, if I am training for a PB, I will need to focus on running quicker but at the moment my focus is on getting out there and losing some weight.

Looking at these goals it looks like a lot but the main thing is to enjoy exercising. I do enjoy running and exercise so it’s strange why I always end up stopping and not doing anything – as soon as I get back into the habit I wonder why I didn’t carry on in the first place.

Do you have any fitness goals for this year?

 

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Challenge #30 – completed!

4 Jan

In the dying hours of 2019, I completed the latest of my 40 Before 40 challenges. Okay, that is slightly over-dramatic. I completed it at about noon on the 31st December 2019 because I had the day off and I was feel guilty that I hadn’t really done anything productive. But I finally solved my Rubik’s cube.

I have tried it a few times in the past and got more and more frustrated with it. It seemed like I managed to get part of it completed but then ‘messed’ up another side that I had already completed. This time I sat down and and completed the whole thing in one sitting. If I ‘messed’ up parts that were finished, I took a deep breath and started again.

Back together again!

I probably sound like a genius but I’m not – I did use a guide to solve the cube that I found online. The chances of you winning the lottery is much, much more plausible that being able to solve it just by randomly turning the sides. In fact, it took Rubik (the Hungarian inventor of the puzzle) more than 6 months to solve it himself.

Even with instructions it was tricky and I had to concentrate to make sure I was doing the next step correctly. And there are certain steps that you need to do in order to complete it. First you need to start with getting a white cross in position and then getting the correct corner pieces in position. I didn’t know that the middle square in a 3×3 cube doesn’t move so that determines what ‘face’ it is. You can’t just complete the white face without the corner and edge pieces being in the right place.

A lot of the solving of the puzzle is based on algorithms. When you see people on TV solving them in a matter of seconds, they must have memorized all of the algorithms previously and then just move the pieces in accordance to the moves they have memorized. It took me ages longer than the person who has the world record for solving a Rubik’s cube (4.22 seconds in case you were wondering) but I did it. I can’t actually put into words how satisfying it was when I turned the side for one last time and realised that it was finished.

I had thought that this could be a party trick of mine. I could take a Rubik’s cube with me to parties to impress friends and family by magically solving the cube. Or even show strangers on the bus, after all it doesn’t take up that much room in my handbag. The reality is that I would probably produce the cube and then spend another hour sitting in a corner, swearing quietly to myself while everyone slowly loses interest. So my search for a part trick continues but there is one less challenge on my list…

2019 in Numbers

30 Dec

As the year and decade is coming to a close, I thought it would be good to review my year in numbers as I did last year.

So here it is:

  • 102 is the number of books I have read in 2019. I have no idea how I have managed to do this. At the start of the year, I wasn’t working so I did have more time to read but I also had a break half way through the year where I hardly read anything for 2 months. This means I covered a huge 30’208 pages over the course of the year and the longest book I read was Gone With The Wind. I want to set myself a challenge reading goal for next year but I also want to dedicate more time to writing so I will have to put some thought into that.
  • I visited 7 new countries in Europe this year: Leichtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, Poland, Romania, Serbia and Ukraine. I now only need to visit 6 more and my challenge to visit 40 countries before I am 40 will be completed. So far, I don’t have any definite plans to visit any countries that are on my list but that will most likely change.
  • Talking of challenges, this year I have completed 7 more challenges from my list and 3 of them are very, very nearly finished. Of the challenges that I have completed this year, my favourite was paragliding in Interlaken in the summer.
  • I competed in 2 international netball tournaments this year which is incredible when I only started playing netball again at the start of this year. It would have been 3 but I was in the Ukraine exploring Chernobyl when the tournament in Amsterdam was held.
  • I have run 270km this year and cycled 223km. I would like to think that I can easily beat these totals in 2020 but that means that I have to lose some weight and stay injury free.
  • I have completed 4 short stories. This is a mini-miracle because for years I haven’t been able to finish any story I have started. I am now planning on completing a collection of short stories early next year. I also made a rough plan of a novel which I might revisit next year as well.
  • I started a new job and have already been there for 6 months.
  • I’ve had one of my photos published in the Swiss inflight magazine and one of my tweets appeared on the BBC Sports website during Wimbledon fortnight.
  • Most recently our family celebrated not one but two important birthdays with both of my grandparents reaching their 90th birthdays.

2019 was a great year. I have managed to tick more things off my list and stayed happy and healthy for the most part. Who knows what 2020 will bring. There is only one way to find out.

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A great reason to celebrate

23 Dec

In a few days it will be Christmas Day. For the first time in seven years, I won’t be altering the lyrics of Chris Rea’s hit song to “Flying Home for Christmas”. I am staying in Switzerland for Christmas and New Year. It’s a strange feeling, not getting everything packed and psyching myself up for battling through the huge lines at security and passport control.

The truth is that I feel like my Christmas was a couple of weekends ago. We went back to the UK to attend my grandparents’ 90th birthday party. Having one grandparent turn 90 is amazing, never mind both of them within a day of each other. My grandma is actually one day older than my granddad. It was a great reason to celebrate: so often people are too busy to meet up and never quite get round to doing it.

I was trying to think about all of the changes that they would have seen within their lifetime and my head hurt after a while because a list of everything that has changed in the last 90 years is pages upon pages long. And they are even up with technology – they check my blog to see what I am up to on a regular basis!

I can’t remember the last time that all of our family was in the same room at the same time. It was so nice to see and catch up with everyone before the real panic of Christmas kicked in. We had dinner together and because, it was a basically a Christmas dinner with Brussel sprouts, Christmas crackers and mince pies, I feel like I haven’t missed out on a traditional English Christmas. At least this time I didn’t fall asleep in front of the TV after drinking too much Bucks Fizz before 11am!

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Celebrating with Grandma and Granddad – can you spot the 90-year-olds?

I was hoping that staying in Switzerland would mean that I would be guaranteed a white Christmas but the weather is far too warm to snow in the city at the moment. It looks like it might snow next week. In the meantime I will be eating lots of Fondue and Raclette which are traditional winter eats here. It does make a change from eating dry turkey for the next two weeks but the apartment will definitely smell like smelly socks for a week.

Wherever you are and whomever you are with, I wish you a relaxing and enjoyable holiday season.

Challenge #28 – completed

13 Dec

I have cashed in my Christmas present from last year and can also mark another one of my challenges as completed! This was a very enjoyable challenge but that might be because during its completion I go happier and happier. Over the past two weeks I have spent 6 hours learning about and tasting wine on a wine degustation course.

Both of the evenings began with a smell test. There were 12 different scents that we had to try to identify. It was incredibly difficult because you don’t have any context to place the smell. You convince yourself that you can smell X but when you are told that Y is the answer you instantly know that Y is correct. On the first evening I got one out of 12 correct and the second evening I got 3 out of 12. The lecturer told us that you can get better at identifying aromas but it takes a lot of practice. He also explained our recognition of smell and aromas is heavily linked to the environment that we grew up in. For example, if you always ate watermelon as a child on holiday, the smell is linked to your memories and is much more easy to recognise than someone who does have this smell linked to a memory. The weird thing was that both myself and my boyfriend were convinced one of the smells was rose but it was actually hay. I guess I will be getting a bunch of hay for Valentine’s Day because neither of us can tell the difference.

The first evening focused on the world of wine, what conditions were best for growing wine and how to assess wines with all of your senses. We were shown how you should taste the wines and what differences you can look out for in different wines: “Do you also get the heady scent of mushrooms and coffee, darling?” We blind tasted 8 different wines during this evening. Some of them I didn’t like at all. My favourite of the whole evening turned out to be a 7 CHF  (or 5 GBP) bottle. 

The second evening focused on wine and food. I knew that on food programmes that wine is paired with specific meals and ingredients but I never knew why. Depending on what wine you pair with which foods the whole flavour of the wine can change. We tried this out by drinking wine on its own, then after eating a dried tomato and then after eating salt. How our perception of the wine changed with each combination was incredible. There is no way that you would think the wine was the same. Last year we went to a independent wine fair in Strasbourg and ate some strong, stinky cheese in between tasting wine. We now know that this has a huge effect on how the wine tastes so we might have a shock when we come to drink some of those bottles and they taste completely different to what we thought.

This knowledge is good to know for future tasting and it means that even though we have different tastes in wines we can ‘alter’ the flavour of the wine with what we eat with it.

We were also shown how temperature effects wine, how long it is best to store wine and how the wine glass can also affect how a wine tastes. There was also an instructional video about how to open a sparkling wine bottle with a bread knife. I will be trying that outside in the summer with a very inexpensive bottle in case it goes wrong. There was a huge amount of information packed into both of the evenings. The course was in German so I also learnt some new words related to food and wine.

I’m so glad that I had this on my list. I’m far from being an expert in wine but I know that the most expensive wines are not always the best and what I can eat to make a wine more pleasant for my palette.

 

Shooting success!

11 Dec

This year I set myself a goal of getting a result of more than 70 out of 100 at a shooting competition. Before last weekend I had shot 69 a grand total of 3 times! I had almost given up hope of ever getting 70.

All that changed at the very last meeting of the year. Somehow I finished the day with a total of 79! To say I was surprised was an understatement. I was also over-the-moon happy and I haven’t been able to stop talking about it since.

I think shooting is a lot like golf from a psychological point of view: the more relaxed you are, the easier it is. It’s so easy to overthink it. Because I had all but given up on hitting my target and wasn’t trying to get a great result, I was more relaxed. It’s pretty hard to be relaxed when you are holding something that could blow someone’s head off but you know what I mean.

Even though I am still happy with the result, there is a tiny part of me that is kicking myself that my last shot was a 6. One point higher and I would have reached the 80 mark. I guess I will have to wait to reach that milestone next year.

I won 2nd place for the women’s section of the competition. Ok, only 2 of us took part so that’s not so impressive. I won a Grittibänz as a prize. A Grittibänz is a delicious, baked man that it traditionally sold around Christmas time in Switzerland.

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My prize!

I would have ended up in 7th place if the men and women’s sections were combined meaning that I beat quite a few men who have been shooting all their lives. Now that’s impressive!