Tag Archives: inspiration

40 Before 40: Challenge #4

24 Jan

My fourth challenge on my #40Before40 list is to enter a photography competition. On the face on it, this doesn’t seem to be a very hard challenge but, as with anything that has a creative element to it, it can sometimes be difficult to be objective and to assess something that you have created.

Also, I am very much an amateur photographer. I don’t claim to be an expert at all. I tend to just point and shoot what I see. I know that I have taken a few good photographs but this has often been as a result of good luck rather than good judgement.

I am a bit of a purist when it comes to photography. Lots of people spend hours and hours after taking a photograph using Photoshop and various other editing tools. People improve light and colours and, in my opinion, sometimes this means that the photo doesn’t look “real”.

Apart from cropping a few photos to make sure that they are better framed, I leave my photos well alone. The fact that I am not so familiar with all of these editing programmes also has a bit to do with it. A photo captures a certain point in time and it is often the case that an “imperfect” moment helps to give more character and a better impression than something that has been edited post-production.

It was hard choosing the photos to enter for the competition. The photos that I have been really proud of never look as impressive when you are trying to look at them through the eyes of a critic.

In the end, I decided to enter three photos. The competition was for photographers, both professionals and amateurs alike, who are based in Zurich and the surrounding areas. There was no limit on what images could be entered so long as the photograph was your own.

Two of pictures I entered were taken in Switzerland and one of them was taken when I was in Cambodia in April 2017.

Here is one of the photos, which I have called A Goat’s Eye View because why should birds get to see everything?

I very much doubt that the photos I have entered will make the shortlist of the Best 50 which are then exhibited to the public in Zurich. The public will then be able to vote for the winner. I will, of course, let you know if I do get a surprising result!

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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Training done!

17 Sep

Today marked the end of my long training runs for the Cardiff Half Marathon in two weeks. I could not be happier if I tried. When the alarm went off early this morning, I tried hard to think of an excuse not to go. If I chose not to go this morning, then it would be much harder to compete the 13.1 miles in two weeks.

The prospect of a 19 km (roughly 11.5 miles) run is not something than most sane people would relish but I was glad that the morning was cool, but not raining, and overcast. Last weekend, I had measured out the distance that I wanted to do on my bike. Today I didn’t have to think, just run the pre-planned distance. That didn’t stop me from looking at my app to check how far I had gone about every 200 meters. It’s funny how when you know in which direction you are running that you brain tricks you into thinking that you have run a further distance that you actually have. At one point, I thought to myself that I just need to go round this corner and I am at this specific point. I turned the corner and then I realised I was nowhere need to where I thought I was. Demotivating does not even cover it.

I ran slower than I hope to do on the day but the main thing was that I completed. On the days, with a combination of nerves, adrenaline and people lining the streets to watch, I should go faster. I have a time in mind that I would like to achieve. Unfortunately, it won’t be a personal best time. I still have some weight to lose, which will help a lot, and, although I have managed to put in a shift and get the long runs ticked off, I can still improve my speed (by quite a bit) and core strength. These things needs months before you can see improvements. It was just impossible to incorporate these as well into my training schedule. My basic fitness and endurance was the priority for this half marathon.

I have been given the advice: Train hard, win easy. I agree with this motto. I am not sure that I have trained so hard for this race, so I am anticipating that the win will not be so easy. But I am ready to surprise myself.

One of the things that slowed me down today which won’t on the actual day is dogs and dog owners. The stretch that I do is popular with dog walkers and I am always a bit nervous when a dog is not on the lead. Most of the time, I slow down, just in case the dog is spooked by my running. A month ago, a dog wasn’t under control and came for me. I almost fell into a ditch while trying to get out of its way. Generally though, people here are very responsible with their dogs and make sure that they are on the lead when they see you or, at least, take hold of them.

Almost every person that I ran past today said “Good Morning” to me. It takes some effort for me to say it back because I am concentrating on breathing in and out, not on speaking. I definitely won’t have this problem during the race in Cardiff. Although, when I ran the Liverpool 10 Mile race in 2016, there was a runner in the race who was running with her dog attached by its lead to a belt around her waist. I have no idea if she stopped to scoop the poop for the benefit of other runners behind her.

I have completed my long run a week early because I have a hockey match next weekend. There is no way that I could play our Swiss cup game on Saturday and then run 19 km on the Sunday. For the next two weeks, I will be just keep going steadily with some short distances and resting well. The two words any long distance runner loves to hear: resting well. I will be making sure that my knee is okay and doing all the stretches that I need to make sure that I have no pain on the day, getting plenty of sleep and keeping my diet in check.

My diet is the main thing that lets me down. I love eating and cooking. I have been having salad for lunch for the past 6 weeks or so and trying not to snack on unhealthy things. I have by and large succeeded. My worry is that I land in Bristol on the Wednesday before the race. I have been promised fish and chips and burgers from the other half, who is also running and will be waiting for quite a while for me to crawl over the finish line. How can a girl possibly resist? I can’t remember the last time I had fish and chips. My will power will have to be strong. I am definitely looking forward to that first pint after crossing the finishing line because then the need for will power will definitely be over.

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Perfect running weather for a Brit!

40 Before 40: Part I

8 Sep

I was slightly surprised by the attention that my #40Before40 list generated, both on and offline.

I feel a lot more encouraged from the beginning and I am feeling optimistic about the whole challenge. But then I have a deadline of 5 years, so it feels like time is limitless. I know that time will quickly come around and before I know it I will be panicking about finishing certain items. I am aiming to avoid this, if at all possible.

I thought it would be a good idea to run through quickly the items on the list to understate the reasons why they are on the list. As I mentioned in my earlier post, some of these may not seem so difficult but I have my own reasons for having them on the list.

So here is a quick explanation of the first 20 challenges:

  1. Pass C2 Goethe German exam – this one is relatively straight forward. I live in a German speaking country and I don’t currently speak/write German fluently. C2 is the highest level of the European Framework of Reference for Languages. This means you are on par with a native speaker: almost no errors in writing or speaking. Could be tricky. I start C1 level lessons in two weeks which is one level below the highest level.
  2. Visit 40 countries in Europe – I didn’t even know that there were this many countries in Europe but there are actually 51. So far, I have visited 25 of them. The rule is that I don’t have to revisit the countries that I have been to before. I would love to do this but my employer would not be so happy.
  3. Go paragliding – this is one of the easier ones on the list. I just have to book in and go, right? I have been meaning to do this for literally years. It’s on the list so I have to do it now.
  4. Enter a photography competition – I am a keen photographer, which doesn’t necessarily mean that I am any good. I would like to improve a few of my photography skills and then enter a competition. There are lots of competitions. I am sure that one of my photos will be worthy of an entry.
  5. Write my will and plan my funeral – by far the most morbid item on the list but something that I have been meaning to do for a while. Hopefully planning my own funeral will take the stress out of arranging it for those who are left behind.
  6. (Re)Learn the flute – at school I was a decent flautist. I gave up my hobby of music to play hockey. I recently bought a flute and some music. I thought it would be easy to return to playing. It turns out that the sheet music now looks like Japanese to me. This will take some dedication.
  7. Go alcohol free for a year – I have, at times, voluntarily gone alcohol free. In the past I have gone without alcohol for 3 months before a half marathon and felt great about it and not really missed drinking. Let’s see if I can last a whole year without it…
  8. Watch every movie on iMDB Top 250 Films list – as with Number 2, I don’t have to re-watch any of the films that I have already seen. From the list of films, I have noticed that there are some films on there that I haven’t even heard of before. It should be interesting!
  9. Write a novel (at least 50,000 words) – this could have been on my list to do before 21 and 30. One of the reason why I have been blogging is to get into the habit of writing. I have at least one book desperately waiting to get out of me. It needs to get written.
  10. Beat at least one of my running PBs for 10k, 10 miles, half marathon or marathon – since writing the original list I have added 10 miles because I realised that I have an official race time for 10 miles when I ran in Liverpool in 2016. My times are not great and they are beatable. I feel that if I don’t do this challenge in the next few years that I will never beat my times. I decided to not limit myself to one race distance because recently I have had some knee problems and I don’t want to put too much stress on myself to beat the time and make my injury worse in the process.
  11. Read the Bible from cover to cover – as a theology graduate, I probably should have done this already. I haven’t. In the beginning, there will be a lot of “begatting”. I will need to power through to the end.
  12. Go to the Opera – another of the more easy ones. Book the tickets and go! Yes, I have been saying that for years. I think I will need to read up about the opera before I go so that I know what is going on. I don’t know any Italian. When I was at the Mozart concert at the Opera House in Vienna, I enjoyed the opera singers more than I thought I would.
  13. See the Northern Lights – this has also been on my list of things to do for years. I really can’t wait to see them but I will need some luck with the weather as they are not always visible.
  14. Go vegan for 3 months –  Why, oh why, did I put this on the list? I’m already regretting and dreading it. What on earth do vegans eat? The aim of this is to focus my attention on what I eat. I am a bad eater, in that I just eat whatever and don’t think about the nutrional value of food. I hope that this will help to correct this bad behaviour of mine.
  15. Have something that I have written published – related to Number 9, although I am almost positive that it will not be the outcome of Number 9 that is published.
  16. Save money for a rainy day – I am getting on a bit so it is time to think a bit about the future and money. The main motivation behind this is the thought of retiring early but maybe I am too late for that.
  17. Write a diary for a year – I did write a diary on and off as a teenager, which was mainly along the lines of “Oh my god, I hate her!” I’m hoping this will be slightly more mature and will be a lovely keepsake of a year of my life.
  18. Hot Air Balloon ride – again, I have wanted to do this for ages and ages. Let’s get it done!
  19. Take part in an Ultra race – an Ultra race in layman’s terms is a race that is longer than a marathon, normally 50km or more. At the moment, I am thinking about a walk, like London to Brighton, or something similar. But I am yet to decide which exact race and when.
  20. Throw a birthday party for myself – I’m not a huge fan of Christmas, New Year, Easter and definitely not of birthday party. It’s not that I am scared about getting old; it just that it takes a lot of organising and people don’t come when they have said that they will etc.. I don’t think I have had a birthday party with invitations and music for the whole of my adult life. I didn’t have anything for my 21st or 30th. This is my (possibly) vain attempt to be more socialable and more optimistic about people turning up. And, if people don’t turn up, I will listen to music and eat the whole of the birthday cake by myself.

I will post in a few days the rest of the challenges and my reasons for having them on the list!

#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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Mystery Solved!

4 Mar

After my last post, I was seriously concerned about what I have actually been doing for the last 3 months. After much brain-racking, noggin-searching and head-scratching I have finally what it is. Though I warn you to be disappointed…

The last 3 months I have been mainly reading. Not very rock and roll, is it? I have spent most of my time with my head in a book and I have loved just about every minute of it. I would class myself as an avid reader but sometimes I can find reading a bit of a chore, especially when I can’t get into the book and the characters or the plot are unbelievable or unrealistic. This year I am yet to encounter this problem. It seems that I have effortlessly got into a book, devour it in a few days and then I am ready for the next one.

For the past few years, I have been attempting to read (on average) one book a week. I have always failed. I have an app called Goodreads, in which I can record what books I have read. This means it is easy to keep a record of how many I have read and what I have read. There is nothing worse than getting 50 pages into a book and realising that you have read it before.

Last year I read 39 books in total. In 2015, I read 31 books. So far this year, I have read 11 books and I am sure that I will finish my twelfth over the weekend. This means I am on course to read (on average) one book a week in 2017.

Four of the books that I have read this year have been in German. These books are shorter than a novel than I would read in English and a couple of them were aimed at a level that is a little bit lower than my level of German but I was still able to learn a few new words that I haven’t yet encountered. I am not sure if books read in another langauge should be counted as double for the purposes of this venture.

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Reading is actually a very good way to increase your learning of a language. Even if you do not understand all of the words in the story, you can look up words that keep reocurring and reinforce some of the grammar themes that you have learnt. Some people find it easier to rote learn grammar from a sheet but I find it much more effective to see how the grammar is used in context. Once you have seen the grammar three or four times in context, it is more likely to stick in your brain.

I also think that reading texts which are a little bit too hard is good practice if ever you decide to do a language exam. It is extremely unlikely that you will know all of the words printed on the exam paper and so it is important to be able to work out the meaning of the word by instinct and interpretation. A best guess is better than having no clue at all.

I am just looking at the list of books that I have read this year. It is an eclectic mix. There is the story of an MP who accidently kills an endangered species of owl, a story about life of teenagers living in the time of the Berlin Wall and a cult, who prey on vulnerable people in order to fund other nefarious activities.

Thinking about it in these terms, the reason why I have lost track of what I have been doing lately is because I have been transported to 1980s Berlin, I have been following the unraveling of a political scandal (with a Conservative MP as the lead, surprise, surprise) and I have been trying to piece together clues to solve a criminal investigation. And the whole time I was on the train to work!

That is why I love books.

Uninspiring times

2 Mar

Lately I have been feeling a little uninspired, hence the lack of blog posts. Work, German learning and trying to reinvent a social life have been taking their toll on me in the past few weeks. I hardly even noticed that we are already in March. How can we possibly be in March? As an account, I would say that the first quarter is almost at its end. How sad does that sound?

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I spoke to a very good friend of mine last night for the first time in a long time. It was something that I was looking forward to as soon as we realised that we were both free and arranged the call before something else got in the way. She was telling me all sorts of things that she had been up to lately, film recommendations, work nights out with colleagues. Then she turned to me and said “So, what’s your news? What have you been up to?”

I was more than a little disappointed that I answered with “Oh, you know, not much”. Not much? I haven’t spoken to her for about 3 months (a quarter in accounting terms) and, during that time, I have been up to “not much”. I think she was a little disappointed with the answer!

Of course, I was ecstatic when I started to notice that the mornings were getting lighter and that there have been a few evenings where I have been home before it is dark. I was starting to have a spring in my step again after a cold winter of self-inflicted hibernation. I think it might have been a false start. Is it even possible to have a false start to a new season?

What threw me was on Tuesday morning when I woke up. Monday had been like a spring day. The city was basked in sunlight and I was fooled into thinking that maybe it would be soon time to get my spring/summer jacket out because my knee-length quilted jacket is getting a bit on the warm side. Open the curtains on Tuesday. Four inches of snow and the snow is still falling. Out come the winter boots again and the scarf and gloves.

Maybe if the seasons would be able to make up their mind it would help. I’m confused as to what I should wear each day and I’m finding it draining and tiresome. It will be nice to get up in the morning and not have to look outside the window and on four weather apps to have an idea of what the appropriate attire for the day will be.

What won’t help shift me out of my uninspired phase is my tasks in the office. We are about to come up to our busiest time of the month, where I usually end up working long hours and feeling pretty stressed. Hopefully, all uninspired thoughts will disappear completely soon and more blog posts and creative things will keep coming.

As British as it sounds, a change in the weather for the better would also help.