Tag Archives: books

40 Before 40: Challenge #1

17 Jan

My first challenge for my #40Before40 is to pass the C2 Goethe German exam. On the European Framework of Languages this is the highest level and means that you are almost on the same level and understanding as a native speaker.

One of the reasons I moved to Switzerland was to learn a language. A lot of people I know, and I mean mainly British expats, don’t bother to learn the local languages. It is possible to survive working here in an international company where the preferred language is English. However, I feel it is a bit of a shame not to try to learn it because, I believe, your experience will be much better for it.

That is not to say that it is easy. I came here not knowing a word of German and now I still don’t think I know any of it some days. It requires a huge investment of time, brain power and perseverance. So, I have worked doggedly for the best part of four years and slowly but surely I am getting there.

I have now finished my C1 course. So that means I am one more level away from completing this challenge. If you have every been stuck on a level in Candy Crush, you will know that “just completing one more level” is not as easy as it sounds. I will begin the C2 level when I am back from my travels in March.

To become even a little bit closer to being considered as a native speaker, I know that I have to improve quite a bit. Mistakes are not looked upon kindly in the exam. Also I know that I need to work on managing my stress levels in the build up to the exam because it is pretty unbearable how stress I manage to get myself. I dare say it is worse for people who know me.

I am under no illusions that this could be hard to achieve but I am going to give it my best shot and see what happens. I have got this far so that has to mean something.

One thing that I found equally laughable and endearing is that a colleague of mine confessed that I have inspired her to take her German exams as well. I never thought that I would inspired anyone to do anything, let alone take German exams. From the sound of it, she is doing more work and preparation than I have for the last four years.

But as a former boss of mine once said: You only need to be one mark above the pass mark. Everything else is wasted effort.

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#40Before40: Challenge #9

6 Jan

The ninth challenge on my #40Before40 list is to write a novel. This has been something that I have always wanted to do and I have always put off because of my lack of self confidence and a little bit of lack of discipline. When I was younger, I used to like writing stories and making things up but, as I have got older, I have found excuses not to do more writing but this is still a dream of mine.

A lot of people have looked at me in horror when I have told them that this is on the list. The main thing to remember is that it does have to be any good. I only have to write it. I never said anything about being published. This might be a bit of a cop out but this is definitely my line of thinking: get the thing written and then take it from there.

As I mentioned, the key to this task is to get into a habit and develop discipline. It is possible to write a book in six months if you write a regular amount each day. November is also National Novel Writing Month, which was started in the States. In this challenge, you have to wrote about 1,500 words a day for the whole month of November, so that in the end you have a 45,000 word novel. 1,500 words a day is not a lot in theory. Of course, if you then come to a part of the story that you are having trouble with, it could take you an hour to write 200 words.

In an attempt to ease myself into this challenge and to develop my self disciple, I have joined a writing group. We meet every Wednesday at a very interesting place which describes itself as Bar, Bücher und Bühne (in English, Bar, Books and Stage). It’s a book stop but a café and bar and they also hold more creative and arty events, which is the stage part.

I was nervous at joining at first. I had never been to anything like this before but I already knew roughly the format of the session. To begin with we decide on a writing prompt and we have 15 minutes to write about it. A writing prompt is a topic or idea that you use to spark creative ideas and writing. It can be one word, a quotation or even a picture. For example, last week the prompt was “Christmas emergency”. At the end of the 15 minutes, we are free to share what we have written, if we want to. I haven’t yet shared anything that I have written. All of the other members of the group are far too good and I feel like I would sound a bit silly in comparison to what they have written. But they have been part of the group for a lot longer than me and a few of them have given up working to write. In my world that is living the dream.

It is always interesting to hear the different interpretations of the prompts. With “Christmas emergency” one girl wrote about someone going into labour, one guy wrote about the Christmas tree accidentally being set on fire and I wrote about someone opening a very expensive bottle of champagne by mistake. I guess this all depends on how you interpret the word “emergency”. I think this reveals a bit too much about my personal preferences.

After a break, we have between 30 and 40 minutes to write on something that we are working on. Some people work on novels, others on non-fiction articles and I am still yet to decide what I want to work on. I have some ideas for novels but I am a bit unsure if I should plan the whole novel out or just go for it and start writing. For the time being, I have been trying to work on some short stories, with varying degrees of success.

My main problem is that I can’t seem to finish anything. I get half way through a story and get stuck, not on what I want to write, but on how I want to write it and then I never finish it because I take this as a sign what I am writing can’t be all that good. One advantage of the group is being able to talk about these problems. One guy told me that every first draft is rubbish but you have to get something down on paper before you can begin to improve it. It is more than a good point; it’s the truth.

Having said that I have completed the first writing project I have started since I was at school. I have written a bedtime story book of short stories for my niece for Christmas. I am more than sure that no publisher would even consider looking at but my niece likes it and that is enough for me. Unfortunately, my children’s story book is not more than 50’000. So, the challenge is not yet complete. In the meantime, I will keep writing and look for inspiration for my first novel.

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40 Before 40: Challenge #27

6 Nov

Reading is one of my passions in life. I could easily sit and read for the whole day if I had the time and there were no interruptions. A great way to learn another language is to read. It is surprising how much you can learn passively.

However, as it is not always easy to read in another language, this can take the fun out of one of my favourite past times. Sometimes it feels like you are taking more time looking up words than you are actually reading the text. Despite this, I decide that my Challenge #27 would be to Read 40 novels in German.

So far, this is what I have read:

1. Der Vorleser by Bernhard Schlink (The Reader)

I read this book as part of my German lessons earlier this year. I wrote about this at the time on my blog. If you didn’t see it the first time, the link is here.

2. Happy Birthday Türke! by Jakob Arjourni (Happy Birthday Turk!)

This is the story of a private detective of Turkish heritage born in Germany, who is asked to investigate the death of a man, after the police have shown their disinterest to use resources to solve the murder of a “foreigner”. The story begins on the birthday of the detective, hence the title “Happy Birthday, Turk!”

The story also explores issues, such as racial stereotypes and the tensions that exist between people who are seen as foreigners and those who consider themselves to be natives. The books ends with the detective not only discovering the truth but also uncovering a corrupt system.

Thanks to this book I now know more words for prostitute in German than I do in English. I have no idea when I will use these words though.

3. Ein Tag mit Herrn Jules by Diane Broeckhoven (A Day with Mr Jules)

This was am interesting book about a woman whose husband passes away in his armchair in the morning. She doesn’t want to accept this and carries on her day as usual. What throws a spanner in the works is when the autistic child who lives in the same building comes over. He regularly comes over to plays chess with the man who has passed away.

Being autistic, he doesn’t like changes to his routine and the wife has to let him in to play chess with her husband. The boy realises quickly that his normal chess player has passed away but he spends the day with the wife anyway. By the end of the book, the wife has come to terms with her loss and admits that she needs to contact the relevant people, including her son and daughter, to deal with the death of her husband.

4. Ein paar Leute suchen das Glück und lachen sich tot by Sibyelle Berg (A few people search for happiness and laugh themselves to death)

This was an interesting book. I mainly chose the book because the author lives in Zurich. The story has short chapters which focus on individual chapters, by the end of the book several of the individual stories have intertwined.

The book explores themes such as love, loss, the complexity of relationships and, to a certain extent, the meaning of modern life.

By the end I wasn’t sure what to make of it all. I had quite a few unanswered questions. In terms of my language learning, I did learn a lot of new words, especially colloquial terms that are perhaps not easy to pick up by formal German lessons.

Four down, 36 to go…

40 Before 40: Challenge #29

19 Sep

One of my challenges for my #40Before40 is to read every book on the 40 Books that Every Woman Should Read list.

My reasoning behind this was that I predominately read books my male authors; more by accident than design. I recently discovered that the Norwegian writer, Jo Nesbo, is actually male. All this time I thought he was a woman, mainly because in English “Jo” is a woman’s name and “Joe” is a man’s name. So, this list will hopefully redress the balance.

There are a number of books on this list that I have part read and not finished. Some of them I definitely started as a young teenager and never go round to finishing.

Of course, I have read all of the Harry Potter books. I was a bit late to the party. I read all of them, one after another, in the summer of 2015. Some of the authors are not as famous as J.K. Rowling but I am sure that their books are equally as worthy of being on the list.

Below is the complete list. Those books highlights in red I have already read. Out of 40 I have read 4. Time to get reading!

  1. The Age of Grief by Jane Smiley
  2. Beloved by Toni Morrison
  3. Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri
  4. A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
  5. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
  6. The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
  7. The History of Love by Nicole Krauss
  8. Near to the Wild Heart by Clarice Lispector
  9. The House of Spirits by Isabelle Allende
  10. Random Family by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc
  11. Play it as it Lays by Joan Didion
  12. The Awakening by Kate Chopin
  13. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
  14. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
  15. The Secret History by Donna Tartt
  16. Runaway by Alice Munro
  17. The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  18. Sexing the Cherry by Jeanette Winterson
  19. White Teeth by Zadie Smith
  20. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel
  21. Cherry by Mary Karr
  22. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
  23. Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison
  24. The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand
  25. My Antonia by Willa Cather
  26. Drinking Coffee Elsewhere by Z.Z. Packer
  27. Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling
  28. Willful Creatures by Aimee Bender
  29. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
  30. The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
  31. The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
  32. The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald
  33. Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich
  34. The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
  35. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
  36. What Was She Thinking? by Zoe Heller
  37. The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing
  38. Broken Harbor by Tana French
  39. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  40. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

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40 Before 40: Part II

9 Sep

Here is the second part of my #40Before40 challenge. This is a short explanation of why items 21 to 40 are on my list.

21. Watch a series of 24 in 24 hours – the idea for this is simple. Watch a complete series of 24 in 24 hours. For those of you who don’t know, Kiefer Sutherland is Jack Bauer, a maverick working for the FBI. Each season elapses over 24 hours. So the season are 24 episode long. I will watch them back to back, as if watching them in real time. I need to get friends to help me with this or I will not stay awake.

22. Learn how to wolf whistle – my mum can do this no problem but I have never been able to no matter how hard I have tried. I think it would be fun to be able to do this spontaneously

23. Try snowboarding – I am not very good at skiing so let’s try snowboarding. I believe it is a lot harder to snowboard in the beginning, but it has to be more pleasurable than skiing.

24. Take an overnight sleeper train – I have taken an overnight bus from Latvia to Lithuania before and got about 10 minutes sleep. I have a romantic idea that it would be very comfortable and luxurious. I am sure that the reality is anything but.

25. Cook every single recipe from one cookbook – about a year ago, I watched a film called Julie and Julia which is a true story based on a woman’s quest to cook everything from the book of the famous chef, Julia Child. Julia Powell cooked 564 recipes from the book in 364 days. And this was classical French cooking. An unbelieveable achievement! I haven’t yet decided on which cookbook to cook from. I may have underestimated the challenge of this. I was looking at cookbooks in a book shop yesterday and cookbooks are really long. By long, I mean easily more than 100 receipes. If anyone has a good suggestion, please let me know.

26. Learn how to fold 40 origami designs – this could be another underestimation. I thought this would take me an afternoon to complete. I watch a Youtube video of a simple folding design and my mind was blown. I thought it would be like thought paper game from the school playground where you choose a colour and then you chose a number and then your friend reads out what is underneath the flap and it’s something like “You stink”. I have no idea what they are called but you know what I mean, right? Anyway, not as easy to make as those.

27. Read 40 novels in German – this is linked to Number 1. Reading is a great way to passively learn a language and I love reading anyway, although it is not always easy in German when I have to look up words to understand the text completely.

28. Take a wine degustation course – as one get older, one should appreciate wines more. I think that is what people say. I have no idea about wines apart from the colours are different and some are sweeter than others.

29. Read The 40 Books Every Woman Should Read – I am a big reader. I realised that I don’t read as many books from female authors as I do male authors. Then I found this list of 40 books that women should read. It seemed like Fate.

30. Solve a Rubik cube – I remember my brother and I peeling off the stickers of a Rubik cube in an attempt to solve it. Of course, then it became completely impossible to solve. I will try this challenge without the wonders of the internet and Youtube. I’m going off grid!

31. Take up a new sport – I like sport. I like trying new things. I haven’t yet worked out what new sport I would like to try but I am sure that I will find the right one to have a go at.

32. Catch, cook and eat a fish – it might surprise you that I love watching the show River Monster, where the presenter goes off to all sorts of destination looking to catch a powerful fresh water fish. Of course, he puts it back afterwards. I would like to catch something that it enough for dinner. Incidentally, I won’t be doing this challenge at the same time that I am going vegan for 3 months.

33. Make an item of clothing to wear – again I am not sure what exactly but I would like to make something to wear. I have already ruled out knitting a scarf because that is a bit too easy.

34. Stop biting my nails – I mainly bite my nails when I am nervous, bored or excited. I hate the way they look but at the same time I can also go for long periods of time for them to grow. I just need to break the habit effectively. Easier said than done.

35. Read 40 non-fiction books – I mainly read crime/thriller fiction books but I have so many non-fiction books that I bought with the good intention of reading.

36. Fly long haul business class – I have never flown business class but I am always so jealous of when I get on or off a long haul flight and you see the seat in business class. I want people to be jealous of me for a change and see if it does make a difference if you sit in economy or business class. I think it could be a marketing con.

37. Have a haircut at least 4 times a year – strange as it sounds, I hate having my haircut. I don’t like very much about the experience at all. I really don’t like that they try to talk to you and be friends with you. As a result, I only go about twice a year. Women should go to the hairdresser every 6 weeks. After I go after 6 months, my hair is not in great condition. Once a quarter seems to me to be a good compromise for the sake of my hair.

38. Be able to touch my toes – I have never been able to do this. I have heard that it is just a question of flexibility and if you regularly stretch it should be able to do it. I remain skeptical. I will post a photo as evidence.

39. Downsize, get rid of anything I don’t need or want by selling, giving away or donating – I say and try to do this all the time but I never end up fully managing it. This means that a lot of books that I have in the basement will have to go as well as toiletries and cosmetics that I have bought and used once and clothes.

40. Start and maintain my own travel website – I had an idea for a travel website/blog a while back but I have yet to do anything about it. One of the issues is the amount of posts and articles that need to be written in order to generate interest. At the moment this remains an idea but soon I am hoping that this will become a reality.

To read the items 1 to 20, click here.

So, it’s time to stop explain and start doing! Wish me luck.

#40Before40

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A new challenge is about to begin…

1 Sep

As I am rapidly approaching my 35 birthday (and please can someone explain how that happened so fast) I have decided to set myself a challenge. Stealing an idea from someone I know through blogging, I have made a list of 40 things to achieve before I reach my 40 birthday. Or, for short, my 40 before 40. The idea is that I don’t spend the next 5 years not doing very much and in 5 year’s time I can honestly say that I have achieved some worthwhile things. Some of the items on the list are more difficult than the others and some will take longer to achieve than others. The goal at the end of 5 years is that all of the 40 things have been completed successfully. The majority of the items are straight forward and don’t require further explanation and many of them would be on the bucket list of lots of people. A few things on the list are things I have been struggling with for a while or have been putting off until a more convenient time. I am hoping that this list will give me the extra bit of motivation to get them done.

I’m not very good about knowing what I want to do in the future and I have never had a plan about what I wanted to do or achieve since I left formal education. I hate getting that question in job interviews: Where do you see yourself in 5 years? I am always tempted to say “Still breathing” but I am not sure that that answer would go down well. Now at least I can always say: “I am making an item of clothing to wear at the weekend.”

Naturally, I will be blogging about this so that you can read along with the ups and downs and frustrations.

Here is the full list:

  1. Pass C2 Goethe German exam
  2. Visit 40 countries in Europe
  3. Go paragliding
  4. Enter a photography competition
  5. Write my will and plan my funeral
  6. (Re)Learn the flute
  7. Go alcohol-free for a year
  8. Watch every movie on iMDB Top 250 Films list
  9. Write a novel (at least 50,000 words)
  10. Beat at least one of my running PBs for 10k, half marathon or marathon
  11. Read the Bible cover to cover
  12. Go to the Opera
  13. See the Northern Lights
  14. Go vegan for 3 months
  15. Have something that I have written published
  16. Save money for a rainy day
  17. Write a diary for a year
  18. Hot Air Balloon ride
  19. Take part in an Ultra race
  20. Throw a birthday party for myself
  21. Watch a series of 24 in 24 hours
  22. Learn how to wolf whistle
  23. Try snowboarding
  24. Take an overnight sleeper train
  25. Cook every recipe from one cookbook
  26. Learn how to fold 40 origami designs
  27. Read 40 novels in German
  28. Take a wine degustation course
  29. Read The 40 Books Every Woman Should Read
  30. Solve a Rubik cube
  31. Take up a new sport
  32. Catch, cook and eat a fish
  33. Make an item of clothing to wear
  34. Stop biting my nails
  35. Read 40 non-fiction books
  36. Fly long-haul business class
  37. Have a haircut at least 4 times a year
  38. Be able to touch my toes
  39. Downsize – get rid of anything I don’t need or want by selling, giving away or donating
  40. Start and maintain my own travel website

Time for the challenge to begin. #40Before40

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Vienna, Day 1

14 Aug

When the alarm went off this morning, it was time to go back to school. The school is about 30 minutes away from where I am staying so I wanted to be there a bit earlier in case there were any delays. One of the problems of living in Switzerland is that you get used to everything running perfectly on time. So when you go somewhere else it is a bit of a shock when the train does not arrive at 12.32 exactly.

The school was easy enough to find. I bought a weekly ticket for the transport which is just over 16 EUR, which is pretty good value for money.

When the school said that we should be there early to have a speaking assessment, I thought that there would be able 6 to 10 of us lined up waiting. It turns out there was about 60 or more. It was crammed with people. After filling out a form (even though I had already done this at least twice for the school), I had an oral test to find out which level my German was. This was in addition to a 60 minute test I had already submitted online. I realised that this exercise was largely pointless because they had already divided students into groups.

As happened in Munich, I don’t think that I was put into the right group for my ability and level. I was willing to stick it out for a day and see how it went. The first hour and a half was a lesson focusing on grammar. I had already done the exercises to death but I did learn a few things and one or two things were a lot clearer. It was clear that some of the other students were less confident in their abilities. I really am not the most confident of people when it comes to my German ability but I can at least read something out loud with a certain degree of confidence. I have worked hard at this over the past months in my lessons in Switzerland.

The second one and a half hours was with a more motivated teacher and the focus was on conversation. The whole lesson was spent talking about emotions and different words to describe them. This was really useful. I have a huge list of new words to use and it was a good way to increase my vocabulary.

As I had joined for an intensive course, I then had a small break before another one and a half hours with another teacher. I thought that this hour and a half would be another lesson with a structure of what we were going to study. It turns out that it is more of a lesson to recap what we have done in the morning and we were expected to come with topics that we were not sure about. In fairness, I can do this on my own in my own time, rather than paying for it. It was nice to meet with other people and be able to practice speaking a bit but overall I didn’t really think it was worth it.

Overall, I was a bit disappointed. The exercises were not as challenging as I wanted or need. I have decided to go to the school and air my views and ask if I can be moved to another group. It doesn’t make sense if I don’t learn as much as I could and these two weeks are holiday time that I have taken off work. I need to make sure that my time and learning is maximised. And I love complaining in any language. Let’s see what happens.

By the time I had finished school it was already 2pm. I came home, went shopping and then made my way to the train station to pick up my boyfriend who was arriving to come and stay for a week. With him being here I definitely feel as though I am on an intensive German course. I think I have only said five sentences in English today. At this rate I might start forgetting how to speak English.