Tag Archives: challenge

Reading matters

10 Dec

This year has been an excellent reading year for me. I have been trying for years to read more than 52 books (an average of one per week). It is the beginning of December and I have already read 61 books. Some of them have been shorter novels but I have also read some books that were longer. The longest one I have read was over 700 pages.

One of the reasons that I am reading like a woman possessed is because quite a few of my challenges for my #40before40 list involve reading. So by default I have been reading as many books as possible so that I can tick some more challenges off my list.

The twenty nineth challenge on my list is to read The 40 Books Every Woman Should Read. Some of the authors (all female) I haven’t even heard of before I started the challenge and I have been really surprised about how good some of these books have been.

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Here are the books that I have recently read from the list:

The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

This was a short story collection that is set in Nigeria or has character which have Nigerian heritage, where the author is from. I was quite surprised that a lot of the stories are set in really unusual situations which meant that the author was able to do a lot with the characters involved.

From my point of view, I thought that it was a bit too feminist for me. The stories mainly focus on women who are at the mercy of their male counterparts. Considering the background of the author this is understandable and I found it interesting to read stories that I normally wouldn’t choose to read.

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

This was the Winner of Pulitzer Prize 2011 but if I am being brutally honest, I am not sure how it managed to get this prize. The plot was interesting because it followed a group of characters who were interconnected because of their associations with music. One chapter was written as a Powerpoint presentation which I initially thought was a bit of gimmick but the chapter was surprisingly easy to read and I knew exactly what the author wanted to convey in the chapter.

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

I didn’t read this as a teenager, which I think virtually everyone else in my school did and raved about until the end of time. Knowing what happened to Plath and how depressed she was during her life, I wasn’t keen to read anything that she had written. However, I didn’t find the book too depressing even thought there were depressive thoughts in there. Also some of the description was beautiful in a tragic sort of way.

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

I have tried reading this book before and given up because I wasn’t enjoying it but I was glad that I chose it for the challenge and persevered with it. The story deals with some difficult topics such as racism, abuse and sexism but it’s written well and is engaging. I know that it was turned into a film later starring Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey but I haven’t got round to watching it yet.

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

I really enjoyed this book. It was an interesting exploration about how much of our lives and personalities are influenced by our heritage, our family and what we experience during our lives. The descriptions of the many, many Chinese superstitions and beliefs were also fascinating!

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel

I read this in a few hours. This is a graphic novel. I have never read a graphic novel before but it was so interesting and easy to read. The novel is autobiographical and is about the death of the author’s father and the consequences of his death that reveal secrets that both parents have been hiding. Well worth a read.

The Age of Grief by Jane Smiley

I have been surprised by how many of the books on the list are short story collections. I was expecting most of the books to be novels. This book is a collection of short stories with a novella (up to 40,000 words). The short stories were well written and I managed to read them quickly. The novella was about the marriage and relationship of two dentist but written from the man’s prospective. I’m glad that I bought this book because I will definitely be re-reading it in the future.

Out of the total 40 books that I need to read on the list, I have already read 17 and I am looking forward to reading the rest.

The results are in…

6 Dec

Four weeks ago, I was sitting nervously in an exam room trying my best to prove that I could pass the C2 German exam. After being really sick the week before, I was just glad to be able to make it to the exam room and take the test.

Today I got the results. There is good and bad news. The good news is that the modules that I passed I got good marks in. The bad news is that the module that I didn’t pass I was only short one mark. One measly mark. Personally I think that they should have rounded up the total so that I could pass.

I knew that this module was hard because the examiner had also commented to us that she wouldn’t have been able to answer all of the questions correctly. I was expecting not to do so well in this and I also thought that I might have to resit it.

So resitting this is exactly what I am going to do. If I can only just fail when the questions are hard, I am confidence that I will pass with flying colours when the questions are a bit easier. I think that they vary how hard the modules are so I am banking on the resit being much easier than the original exam.

Of course, I don’t have to resit but it would be nice to get the full certificate and, more importantly, the first thing to do on my #40Before40 list is to pass the C2 German exam. It is annoying that I didn’t manage to get every module passed in one time but that’s life.

Fingers crossed for the end of January when I will be back in an exam room once again.

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Challenge #8 – update

25 Aug

Challenge number 8 on my #40Before40 is to watch all of the 250 Top Films as rated on iMDB.

I have now watched 120 out of 250 films, which means I am almost half way to the finish line!

23. The Silence of the Lambs

I thought that I had seen this before but I obviously hadn’t because the opening scenes were what I thought were the closing scenes. It wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be but I now know why the book version that my Dad used to have on his bedside table showed a person with a moth over the mouth. This hasn’t done anything for my moth-phobia. I thought the plot twist at the end was a little bit predictable but otherwise it was relatively enjoyable.

27. Léon: The Professional

This was the story of a professional hitman, who takes a orphaned girl in after her family have been brutally murdered. He teaches her how to make a hit but when she decides to kill the people who murdered her family things start to go round. It was action-packed, although the ending was a little bit predictable.

29. Spirited Away

Only one word can describe this film – weird! It was a Japanese Anime and I wasn’t sure what was going on most of the time. A girl is transported into a parallel world where her parents have been turned into pigs. She has to work in order to free them and return back to reality. It was confusing and surreal to watch. I just didn’t get it.

32. Interstellar

I have so many questions about the movie plot that I still don’t understand. The basic premise is that NASA is searching for other planets for the human race to escape to because nothing grows on the earth any more apart from corn. I was kind of with the plot until there is a long exploration of time being a non-linear concept. At this point it just became a bit too surreal for me. I don’t know why this film is so high on the list. It was ok but I didn’t think it was incredible.

34. City Lights

This is the first silent movie I have ever seen. It stars Charlie Chaplin as a tramp who falls in love with a blind girl. I found it really funny but sometime a bit predictable because the jokes have obviously been stolen and rehashed over the years. It also amazing how you don’t need dialogue to understand what is going on throughout the film.

37. The Intouchables

This is a French film (I watched it with subtitles) and is based on a true story. It’s about a carer and his patient who is an incredibly intelligent man but is paraplegic. At some parts of the film, I was howling with laughter. It was incredibly real and the end was heartwarming. It is to discover films like this that I would never watch normally.

38. Modern Times

Another Charlie Chaplin film on the list. I like that the characters in his films don’t have any name; he is just called “the Tramp” or “the factory worker”. Half of the time I don’t remember the characters in a film once I have watched it. The story is about a factory worker who has a nervous breakdown and then accidentally gets sent to jail when the police wrongly think that he is the leader of a protest. Like City Lights, I liked the jokes and the slapstick comedy.

42. Rear Window

Another Hitchcock film on the list and one of my favourites of his so far – there are quite a few Hitchcock films on the list. The story is set in an apartment block. The main character, played by James Stewart, is recuperating from a broken leg and spends all day watching the neighbours come and go. Things take a drastic turn when he witnesses a possible murder in an adjacent flat. I also spotted Hitchcock’s cameo when he was winding up a clock in an apartment when he was playing a butler.

45. Whiplash

I had no idea what this was going to be about – possible someone suffering with the after effects of a car accident and was thinking of suing? Thankfully it was about a young drummer trying to break into the music industry and his relationship with his mentor. It explores the fine line that exists between trying to nurture talent and the consequences when someone is pushed to their limits. It had a very moral and ethical undertone to it.

47. The Prestige

Another film that I have never even heard of on the list. It’s the story of the rivalry of two magicians. It’s one of those films that you could re-watch to get all of the clues about how the story will unfold. I had managed to pick up most of the clues but it was only right at the end that I had the “A-ha!” moment. Highly recommended if you haven’t seen it!

79. Requiem for a Dream

Three words to describe this film: weird, weird and weird. It explores the relationship that four people have with drugs, though not all of them are illegal drugs. It is shot in a dream-like manner where reality and fantasy overlap each other. I still don’t know how I feel about the film as a whole. The ending was abrupt and left me wanting to know what would happen later to the characters, although there is an overwhelming sense that the characters are all trapped and they won’t be able to achieve the dreams and the lives that they were hoping for.

94. The Sting

This was a film about some conmen and the elaborate sting that they set up. I couldn’t really get into it. It seemed a little bit outdated when you have seen the Ocean’s series. The best thing was Robert Redford’s dapper pin-striped suit and matching hat.

104. The Hunt

This is the story of a teacher, who is falsely accused of child abuse by his best friend’s daughter. Halfway through I was wondering what this had to do with “The Hunt” but the title of the film has a double meaning but you only find that out at the end of the film. An interesting portrayal of something that often happens in our society.

156. Dial M for Murder

A man blackmails a friend to kill his wife but it all goes wrong and the police soon suspect that he is to blame but proving it is difficult. Another Hitchcock’s film but not one of the best of them, in my opinion. I did think this was the best cameo role that Hitchcock plays.

197. The Grand Budapest Hotel

I have been avoiding this film for a while but I think it’s because I was mixing it up with the film with a similar title. It is one of the best films that I have seen in a long time, even though it had Jude Law in it. It’s all about a valuable painting that is inherited by a hotel employee and the family of the deceased trying to steal it back. Funny, strange and wonderful all at the same time.

182. Into the Wild

Another true story in the list about a young man who leaves his family and hometown without a word because he doesn’t want to live according to society’s rules. He survives by moving from place to place earning enough money to get by and learns how to hunt and fend for himself off the land. He also visits Salvation Mountain which I did a few years back. I remember our tour guide saying that it was featured in a film and since then lots of people have come to see it.

243. In the Mood for Love

This was set in Hong Kong and Singapore and was mainly in Cantonese so it was lucky that I was able to get the film with subtitles. It’s the story about two neighbours who realise that their spouses are having an affair with each other. Even though they both have feeling for each other as well after becoming friends, they find it difficult to act on their emotions because they don’t want to be cheaters, despite the actions of their partners. It’s an interesting movie and I thought the music was interesting as well.

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V is for Victory (and Vegan) – Part I

16 Jul

After 3 months or 13 weeks or 91 days, I have finally completed my 14th Challenge on my #40Before40 list. I have spent the last 3 months eating a vegan diet which means I have completely abstained from eating anything that is produced from animal products. That means no meat, no dairy products and no honey.

Rather than feeling relieved that this challenge is over, I am actually a bit sad. Although the challenge hasn’t been always easy (mainly when eating in restaurants), I have really grown to like preparing a lot of my meals from scratch and learning new recipes.

So, for the last time, here is what I have been eating this week.

Mastering Lentils

I have always struggled to cook lentils properly, which sounds a little bit strange because you just put them in a pan and boil them. But mine have always turned to mush and, although they have been edible, they haven’t had a really nice texture and don’t look good either. Thanks to my friend, Melina, I have now completely mastered the art of cooking lentils. Her advice to me was not to put salt in the water and it has worked a treat. I also read online that you don’t need to aggressively boil the lentils in the water, which I was probably doing the whole time. With the combination of these two gems of advice, I ended up with these perfectly cooked lentils for a salad this week. Finally!

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Korean pancakes

Melina also gave me a packet of Korean pancake mix which is vegan (depending on what you add into it). I added some diced red pepper, spring onions, coriander and some garlic. The pancakes weren’t very round but I think perfection is overrated. They tasted good which was the main thing. I ate them with a spicy salsa dip that I made.

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Pomegranate Debacle 

I had a recipe for a chickpea and pomegranate salad which I wanted to make. It seemed like it would be a nice alternative, especially as the weather is so hot and the recipe didn’t need any cooking. I have had pomegranate before but I have never bought one and prepared it myself. Perhaps there is a specific way that you should prepare it because I found it a complete hassle. I also found that whenever I cut into it juice would squirt out and all over the kitchen. By the time I was finished, the kitchen looked like it had been the location for the filming of a slasher movie. Also I was wearing a white T-shirt so that went straight into the washing basket as soon as I had cleared up the “blood” splatters! I did enjoy the salad but I think that I will be buying the pre-prepared pomegranate from the supermarket next time, even if it is a bit more expensive.

Amazing Homemade Sandwich

I made an amazingly good sandwich this week. It was so full of flavour and only took a few minutes to make. It was tomatoes, cucumber and a thin layer of vegan cream cheese, with a smoked tofu that had been cooked in a mixture of maple syrup, soy sauce and a pinch of chili powder. I will be making this again in the future!

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And that is the challenge over. Tomorrow I will be reflecting on this challenge and what is means for the future so come back and find read Part II soon.

A Night at the Opera

12 Jul

My 12th challenge on my #40Before40 list is to go to the Opera. I admit that this is not the most difficult of challenges: find an opera that you want to see, book the tickets and go and see it. But, like so many things, unless it is on a list of things to do, it ends up getting forgotten about and never being done. That is one of the reasons that it was on my list. If it is on the list it HAS to get done.

The other reason it was on my list was that, when I was in Vienna last year, I went to see a Mozart concert in the famous Vienna State Opera. The concert was a mixture of classical symphony music plus opera. Although I had no idea what the opera singers were talking about, I found the performance completely amazing. So, I thought it might be a good idea to see a whole performance and experience that.

I booked the tickets to go and see Carmen at the very start of the year and didn’t really pay much attention to the details. The day before the performance I realised that it was sung in French (but the story is set in Spain) and the performance lasted for three and a half hours. If you have been following my blog for a while, you may have picked up on my hatred of films that are longer than two and a half hours because, and you can quote me on this “if you can’t tell me a story within two and a half hours, I’m not interested”. Before we had even made it to the Opera, I was worried about falling asleep half way through it.

I have only ever seen Zürich Opera House from the outside but the inside is even more impressive. It is ornately decorated and is really well-maintained. I had always had the misconception that Opera tickets were hugely expensive and weren’t worth the price. I did buy the cheapest tickets and the view was a little bit restricted but it was a good experience anyway. I was also a bit surprised by the audience: some had got dressed up like it was London Fashion Week, some were really young and looked like they were also there for the first time, and there were some who you could clearly see were regulars.

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In the end I didn’t really notice how long the performance was because I was so engrossed in the story line. The story is about a love triangle and at the heart of it is Carmen, a feisty gypsy woman. Of course, it ends up in tragedy.

I still can’t fully comprehend how they manage to sing like that for such a long period of time. I was also slightly surprised that I did know some of the songs. I think a few of them have been used for television theme tunes over the years and some how I never thought that it was a operatic song. The staging of the story was also really interesting. The set was very minimalist but they still managed to transform the stage into a bar and a smugglers’ den at night.

I picked up a brochure of the operas and events that are on at the Opera house this season and I am very tempted to go again at some point later in the year.

That is another challenge struck off the list. As I said, it wasn’t the hardest challenge on the list but I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would.

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The final week

9 Jul

Today marks the start of the last seven days of my vegan challenge for my #40Before40 challenge. It is crazy to think that three months is almost finished. Although it has been, at times, tricky to stick to the challenge, I have managed it. Fingers crossed that the next seven days are equally successful.

Here is what I have been eating for the past few days:

Stir-frys

I recently found a stir in stir-fry sauce that is vegan-friendly. This has been a refreshing alternative to grilled vegetables on the BBQ and is really quick and easy to do. I have also tried to make them so that they are as colourful as possible. Here is a picture of one that I made at the weekend with carrots, yellow pepper, courgettes, onions, glass noddles and beansprouts. (It looks a bit blurry because the steam got in the way of the camera lens on my phone).

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Noodle soup

I don’t know why I decided to make a hot and spicy noodle soup in this weather but I did. It was packed full of vegetables and was really spicy. I ended up eating it with all of the windows open because it did bring on a hot sweat. Luckily I was able to have a gin and tonic afterwards to help me cool down!

Birthday celebrations

My friend, Stefan, had a belated birthday celebration this week. We went to Pilatus, a mountain in Luzern, for some outdoor activities and a picnic. I did bring some of my own food with me because I didn’t want to be a complete pain but Stefan was kind enough to make some vegan treats just for me. A huge mention has to be made for the blueberry muffins that he made. They were deliciously moist and I managed to eat more than 2 of them but the actual number remains a closely guarded secret.

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Vegan-izing recipes

This week I decided to make a recipe that I know vegan. It is a kind of fruit tart and I haven’t had it for more than three months. It is quick and easy to make so I thought that I would try to do it and see how it turns out. The pastry was shop-bought but was certified as being vegan. I then replaced the eggs and milk that are poured over the top with chickpea flour, water and a plant-based milk. I recently discovered that you can replace one egg in baking by using 4 tablespoons of chickpea flour and 4 tablespoons of water. I must say that I was a bit skeptical about the result but I shouldn’t have been. If I hadn’t have told my boyfriend that it was vegan then I am sure that he wouldn’t have released that it was. Of course, I did tell him that it was vegan, otherwise he would have told me that I couldn’t have a piece of it! I took a picture of it but only after we had had a slice or two to make sure the taste was just right.

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So, seven days to go. This week I will be trying to cook some more of the recipes from my vegan cookbook and enjoying the season fruits and vegetables as much as I can.

Nearly complete!

2 Jul

As of today, I only have two weeks left being an official vegan. I took on the challenge of being vegan as part of my #40Before40 challenge. I must say that I am sad that the challenge is almost over. I have really enjoyed the challenge, even though there have been some difficulties along the way, and I would like to keep going with eating this way because I feel so much healthier and better about myself.

Here is what I have been eating over the past few weeks:

Date Night

I have been trying to introduce a Date Night because my boyfriend and I always seem to be doing things without the other and I thought it would be nice for us to take time for us to enjoy dinner together. Obviously, I chose the restaurant because it has mainly vegan dishes. I had already heard good things from a few people about Bebek. It is a Middle Eastern place in the centre of Zürich.

Brunching Disappointments

When I went to Lausanne to stay with my friend, we wanted to have brunch. We managed to find somewhere that was described as a vegan café. I managed to book a table for us online. We drove there, parked up the car and then found that the place was closed for that particular Sunday. We then had to do a rethink and ended up in a nice place called Blackbird.

The menu only had one thing that was vegan but the beauty of having a friend with you who is a native French speaker in the French-speaking part of Switzerland is a God send. She managed to get the waiting and kitchen staff to make me something that was vegan-friendly. However, they didn’t have anything sweet to eat so we went to another place where I had a fruit bowl called “You’re Kiwing Me”. Delicious!

Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream

I haven’t had any ice cream since starting the challenge, although I have had a few sorbets. I noticed in one of the supermarkets that they were selling vegan Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. Ben and Jerry’s in Switzerland costs an absolute arm and a leg but as soon as I saw it, I had to have it. I must say that the taste wasn’t the same as normal ice cream. It wasn’t very creamy as you might expect because it is made from plant-based milk. I still enjoyed it though!

Missing out on Team Lunch

Last week are team lunch was at an Italian restaurant and I decided not to go. Nothing on the menu was vegan-friendly and, although there were salads that I could have asked to be made meat or cheese-free, I would end up paying the same price that was on the menu and not getting anything extra in its place. Paying 20 Francs for a few lettuce leaves and a bit of tomato seemed like a dumb investment. So, I went alone to Stripped Pizza (where I have been a few times already) so that I could enjoy a vegan pizza.

I haven’t had time recently to do a lot of my own cooking and the recipes from my vegan cookbook but I will be making myself busy in the next two weeks with more delicious vegan food.