Tag Archives: goals

Hurrah for 2014

Hurrah for 2014

So the New Year has been with us for a week, and it’s wearing in well. I’ve decided to keep it, in fact.

I’m cautiously optimistic about this new year. It has the potential to be jaw-droppingly awesome or absolutely dreadful, and only time will tell. 2013 was a really mixed bag. Some things were pretty cool. For example:

Handknit socks with the Swedish flag pattern

Yeah, I made those. I am so chuffed with them – they’re the physical realisation of a knitting theory I’ve had in my head for a while. It took me ages to get round to testing it out, and I was so pleased it worked. Plus, I knit them with yarn I bought in Copenhagen, and K requested them because we spent a month in Sweden. I had never been to either country before, and I love visiting new places.

In total, I went to 9 countries this year: Switzerland, France, the UK, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Germany, Ireland and Spain. We drove through Belgium (accidentally, at least the first time) but didn’t stop. So that was very cool. I also got to explore the UK a bit more in the autumn. This year, I’d like to venture a bit further afield. Where’s somewhere you recommend I should go? Could be anywhere in the world, on my doorstop or on the other side of the planet.

We’ve been living in the caravan for over 6 months now, with the odd week away here and there. It’s still going well, but our poor van is showing a bit more wear and tear. It could really do with being dry docked, essentially, and having everything stripped out, scrubbed and put back. Not really possible at the moment – anything we take outside is likely to get waterlogged and/or blow away!

Oxford autumn mist


We’re still at the same site in Oxford as when I took this photo in October. K’s job is going well, and we’re pleased to be here. It’s a lovely site. That said, living in such a small space hasn’t always been easy. One of the things we’re discussing is whether we’ll continue doing this full time in 2014. For the moment, the answer is yes. but it may not be an effective long term solution. It’s been rough lately as all the wind and rain has kept us awake a lot.

I don’t have a clear idea of what 2014 will bring. I’ve got some secret hopes, some not-so-secret plans and a few good ideas. For now, all you really need is the few blog changes:

  • I’m aiming to read some long books off the Big Read list, so I won’t be posting Big Read reviews as often. 
  • I might post reviews of some of the other books I read or intermittent updates on the books I’m working through, to compensate.
  • I’m going to try to post more travel pictures. Current ones will be tagged ‘where we are‘. We are always somewhere interesting, even if it is the same as last week!

I’m open to your suggestions though, so if you always come for the travel photos, the book reviews, or really wish I’d write about something entirely different, leave a comment and let me know. 

Couch to 5k – reprise

Couch to 5k – reprise

I’ve started the Couch to 5k program — again.

The first time (the last time, the only time) I started the Couch to 5k was in July. I got all the way through to week 7 (although not in 7 weeks), did a week 8 level run (27 minutes non-stop) and then I stopped. I know why I stopped: it became much easier to stop than to continue.

When I started the program, my days were largely unscheduled, unhurried, and the weather was warm and sunny. It was easy to fit a run in, even if I put it off until late in the day. When I stopped, we were on the move, travelling every few days, and the weather had turned rainy. I did my last run when we were in Hamburg, about a week after the one before. Then, in mostly good ways, my days got busier. K now has a full time job in an actual office. We’re in England, and it has been raining. Staying in has been very, very easy.

Try again
The thing about stopping is that there’s no point at which that’s news. But to give an honest assessment of the program, I have to include the fact I stopped. I gave up. I did not complete the Couch to 5k program. At this point, I’m not sure if I will, if the podcasts and schedule still have meaning, if I’ll try to run 5km in my own time or set a different goal entirely.

The news, and the reason I’m typing, is that I’ve gone for a run again. I had another go. I didn’t follow the Couch to 5k podcast or a particular week of the program, but I did get out there and run. I ran along the river Thames near Oxford, at a place where it’s very pretty and quiet and a lot like Cambridge. I probably wouldn’t have walked there. The major advantage of running, so far as I can see, is that I see more places. Honestly, the only reason I went for a run yesterday was because K pointed out that we could go in Ireland, when we’re there, and that would be another country, making eight in total.

Fail better
Partly, I stopped running because I got bored, so I need to find a way to make it more interesting or I’ll stop again. Running for 60 seconds was scary and challenging. Running for 25 minutes non-stop is not, it turns out, intrinsically interesting, and leveling up from 25 to 27 minutes wasn’t exciting. The interval training at the beginning was more interesting but not thrilling. I doubt I’ll ever be a marathon runner, unless I figure out a way to read a book while I run. Maybe audio books would help, or a podcast – any suggestions?

Actually, now I think of it, I once interviewed a woman who runs marathons while knitting. Susie Hewer was an impressive person  to talk to, although she has a deceptively ordinary appearance, even on her blog, Extreme Knitting Redhead. Personally, I think knitting uses the same part of my brain as running, so they won’t stack well. That said, I can knit and walk and I haven’t fallen over while running yet, even when thinking quite hard, so maybe I’ll try it. I might have to buy some more yarn first though…

Failure is good enough
I’m quite pleased with my Couch to 5k progress. Heck, even putting on running shoes was a Big Scary Deal for this PE dropout. I’ve got to the stage where I can go for a run, and it’s not a big deal. I now believe I can run. When I started this, I didn’t believe I could run for so many minutes, even when I’d just done it. I thought it was a fluke, beginner’s luck, impossible to repeat. Now, I firmly believe that I can run for 27 minutes again – perhaps not right now, perhaps not tomorrow or this week, but one day soon – and that I can run for 30 minutes or 5km. I believe that, if I try and train, I can run for 10km or whatever goal I set. I’m not sure I want to – at my current pace, that would take, oh, roughly forever – but it’s a possible goal, and that’s rather exciting.

Online sabbatical, week one

Online sabbatical, week one

Well, if you’ve been following on the blog or Facebook, you may not have noticed much change from normal. It started off well, but we’ve been in Brighton for three days, without any internet access at all. Stupidly, I even managed to press ‘safe draft’ not ‘schedule’ on the Big Read post for last Friday. I’ve corrected that now, but not a great start!

Two things have come out of the project so far. First, I’m deliberately spending a little more time online, and that’s been good. I’ve been working to reply to personal emails and tweets and whatnot quicker. So that’s good. It does take time though, and more time than I think. An obvious lesson, perhaps, but one I seem to have to learn over and over again.

I took a couple of days offline entirely, not even checking email, which is the complete antithesis to the project. Now that we’re back in the UK where I typically have at least email on my phone, there’s the temptation to check it every five minutes, but never actually reply to anything as replying on my phone is a pain. I hadn’t thought that culling this little bit of internet use out would make a difference, but it does. Every time I check my email, I think about work, things to do, people to call, all the stuff that clutters up my brain because I can’t action it now but it does need to get done. So if I check my email every hour, which makes me think about work for 10 minutes, I think about work all day, even when I’m not doing any. And that’s a waste.

Laura Vanderkam described a concept she calls ‘uncontaminated free time‘, and I think that’s what applies here. Uncontaminated free time is, in her description, time where you are completely free to do what you want to do. So if you’re stuck in the house, waiting for a delivery, that might be contaminated free time (particularly if what you really want to do is go for a run). Or if you’re watching TV while making dinner, then maybe you did get to see your show, but you couldn’t fully focus on it.

It’s a useful way of measuring equality in a relationship, whether it’s at home or at work. Time to focus, whether on a personal project, TV show or work can easily be contaminated by a ringing phone, children needing things and other running interruptions. It can even, I’ve discovered, be contaminated by interrupting yourself, checking email, tweeting or otherwise snapping yourself out of what you want to be doing (sitting on the beach, enjoying the view) by doing something you don’t need to be doing (checking email on a Saturday).

Online sabbatical

Online sabbatical

There’s a bit of a trend for switching off and getting away from it all, whether it’s going dark for Earth Hour or taking a digital sabbatical. The thing is, I live in a caravan – the default is that we don’t have running water, we have limited electricity and no internet. So I want to switch on for a month. I want to get online lots, blog more often and spend time on Facebook.

In September, my goal is to spend more time online. This will probably involve:

  • Checking Twitter every day or almost every day (I’m @yarnnewsuk).
  • Signing into Facebook at least a couple times a week, to post something, check out some walls, say hi to friends.
  • Send more emails, and hopefully find out if people I care about have, you know, moved or got married or had a baby since last time I emailed them.
  • Post a blog post every day, or 30 in the month. Because I have a lot to talk about.
  • Comment more, both replying to comments here and on your blogs. Because reading is easy, but replying hard for me and I want you to know I’m here.

Because I miss people. I have all these wonderful people in my online life, some of whom I only know through blog comments, and although I’m still reading along, when I can, I’m not telling them I think they’re awesome enough. I’ve also got lots of things I want to write about – my list is at 50 posts, without getting into all the travel photographs – and I’m not managing that.

Care to join me?
Maybe you’re online all the time anyway – I’ve certainly had periods where that was true – in which case, switch off! It’s great to have whole weeks where your total online time is less than an hour. But if you’re struggling to find time to do the things you care about online (like keeping in touch with friends) then maybe an online sabbatical is for you. Try it all out, use your social networks, send those emails, prioritise your online life – and then see what’s missing, what doesn’t pull its weight, what you need to ditch. Find out if too much screen time makes you twitch, or none is not enough.

Got questions?
Now is a great time to ask, if there’s anything you want to know about me or living in a caravan or where we’ve been. I’ve got some ideas for posts, but do throw your ideas my way, too.

Couch to 5k

Couch to 5k

I’ve just started running. It’s news that’s going to shock anyone who knows me (the first person I told, via email, thought she’d imagined it). When I left school, my goal – and I may have vocalized this – was to never run again, unless it was vitally necessary for my personal survival. And even then I’d seriously consider, you know, not running. Now, I own running shoes and I’m happy about that – a pretty big reversal!

Me, in running shoes and smiling!

I’ve started the Couch to 5k program using the NHS podcasts. The program seems good to me. The podcasts are clear and easy to follow, and the NHS site has plenty of additional information if you want it. It’s pretty much the opposite of how I remember running at school. I’m doing the program with an added personal trainer element – K runs 10k for fun, and he’s kindly been coming out pootling along with me as I work through the program.

I hated running at school, hated every aspect of it. I don’t remember ever getting any instruction on how to run or an encouragement to take up a regular program which would lead to me being able to run comfortably. Or being given any information about running shoes or sports bras. Heck, I was well into secondary school before I discovered that having a stitch was a reason to stop running. Instead, we were – as far as I remember – taken into the sports hall (for the ‘beep test’) or out into the forest about twice a term and told to run. So about six times a year I was expected to have the capacity to run constantly for 20 or 40 minutes, something I never did otherwise, as every other sport we played involved significant amounts of waiting around mid-lesson. As an adult, this seems absolutely bonkers. How could that possibly work?

The Couch to 5k program starts off small – and I started off smaller. Thanks to the embarrassment, pain and unpleasantness of running at school, I am actually a little scared of going for a run. I would rather go on a roller coaster or go sky diving again. So I decided I’d go buy some running shoes. And I told K to remind me to do it. He did, and buying them freaked me out a bit. It helps to have someone normal with you when you’re freaking out. K says things like: “they’re just shoes” and “buying them doesn’t mean you have to run” and “running once doesn’t mean you have to do it again” and “it’ll be fine”.

Then I decided I’d download the podcast, put the shoes on and go outside. The first podcast asks you to run for a minute. A whole 60 seconds! I didn’t think I could do it – I gave myself permission to fail. So I was thrilled when I didn’t – at the end of the first run, my whole body was going ‘what just happened? and has it stopped?’ but I wasn’t collapsed on the sidewalk groaning.

Since then, I’ve done 8 more runs. I’ve just finished Week 3 of the program and it’s great. Each new session seems entirely impossible (I’m very resistant to the idea that I can run, it transpires, even when I have evidence to the contrary), but it’s actually been surprisingly doable. Each week builds up slowly, but keeps you moving. I’m up to 3 minutes of sustained running, but covering about 3k in each 20-30 minute session, so I think it’s going well.

As I didn’t think I would actually stick with this at all, I didn’t want to invest much in running gear. So far, two things have been really important: running shoes and a sports bra. K helped me choose decent shoes, which cost £35. The first thing I noticed is they have much more padding at the heel than any other shoes I’ve ever owned. I already had a decent sports bra, which I think cost about £12 from M&S a few years ago, and I’m glad I did because even with the sports bra, the first few runs it felt like everything was on the move, and not in the same direction. That’s not fun, y’all. You may not have this problem, but if you’re busty and thinking of running, don’t be put off – just go buy the kind of sports bra which says it’s for squash or other extreme sports! It will make a difference, trust me. Apart from that, I’ve been running in ordinary leggings and t-shirts, as you can see, and using my phone as an MP3 player, so very little investment overall.

I’m not going to pretend I love running or announce that I’m training to run a marathon. I’m not even convinced I’ll make it to Week 5. But I’ve done something I never thought I would, something that scares me. I’ve got this far, and that’s pretty cool.

A new challenge and an old one – BBC Big Read one year on

A new challenge and an old one – BBC Big Read one year on

About a month ago, I found my reading theme for the year when I signed up for the Tea and Books challenge over at The Book Garden.

This challenge is all about long books. To enter, you commit to reading a number of books each over 650 pages long. There are a few loopholes – and super-long books count double – but it’s pretty straight forward. I signed up immediately and spent a happy hour or three (when I could have been reading) sorting through The List and choosing my long books.

I’ve already read the first one – The Pickwick Papers – and if the challenge does nothing else, then getting me through 700+ pages of Dickens is well worth it. Thank you, Birgit, for the inspiration!

A year of Big Read books
I’m terrible at anniversaries – it’s a blessing and a curse – but I realized recently that I’ve been working on the Big Read challenge for a year now – and I also spent the whole year either reading or avoiding Great Expectations. Oops. Still, I finished it in the end, which I hope bodes well for the challenge as a whole.

I read a lot anyway, so the volume of books for the challenge isn’t the hard part for me. The challenge is to stick with it, to finish each book (including a lot of ones I’ve pegged as long or dull or both). To keep me going, I have formal and informal sub-challenges along the way. So far these have included read for free and read whatever the library hands you.

It’s a technique I use for lots of longer projects, because it’s natural that motivation will flag when the goal seems so far away, and completing a mini-challenge can be a real boost. I’m already looking forward to book 100 – after that, it’s just a long slide to the end of the project, right?

Current challenges
As the Big Read is going to be with me for a while, I can’t expect it to always be interesting – without a little help. The challenges have evolved and at the moment I’m working on:

  • Read long books (for the challenge above)
  • Read the books I expect to be dull
  • Publish at least one review of a Big Read book every week
  • Get to 100 books!

I’m trying to be realistic with my goals. I started this project on a whim but I do want to finish so I’m shifting it as I go and try to keep the goals mutually supportive – or at least mutually compatible. There’s a bit of a clash between publishing every week and reading really long books so one might have to go. I suspect that a book a week won’t be sustainable long term, but it does keep the pace up.

It’s been an interesting year – I’ve discovered a couple of books I really love and now have the right to an opinion on a good number of classic novels I’d never read. Many of these books are cornerstones in English and English-language literature, so being aware of their plots and themes has expanded my literary vocabulary.

The only problem – I don’t know what to read next! Check out the full Big Read listand the list of books I’ve read and recommend me something. It doesn’t have to be your favourite, or even a book you like – just pick a title and maybe add a line to tell me why you think I should read it.

Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding

Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding

I didn’t expect to like #75 Bridget Jones’s Diary as I didn’t have particularly fond memories from when I read it as a teenager. Worse, when I picked i up before Christmas, the opening pages annoyed me so much that I put it down and went back to Great Expectations (my bugbear, this book seems about a million pages of nothing much happening and Pip so needs a slap).

Trying not to leave all the unpleasant books until last, I decided to start it again in January, as the book starts and finishes with New Year’s celebrations. I picked it up again, reluctantly, and whizzed through it in two days – I don’t know if I’d recommend it unreservedly, but I can (now) see why people enjoy it.

All about Bridget
Like Pride and Prejudice, which Bridget is supposed to be based on or at least influenced by (there’s a guy called Mark Darcy, whom Bridget compares to Colin Firth’s wet-shirt version, and who was played by Colin Firth in the movie), this is a book about characters, not events. The diary is all told from Bridget’s perspective and, as with Adrian Mole, she’s something of an acquired taste. The voice  used in her diary entries is so distinctive that I found myself narrating my life in that voice when I wasn’t reading it. It’s like having a radio jingle stuck in your head.

Partly because it’s a diary (plenty of white space around the entries) the book rattles along quickly. It’s a very well-edited diary, for all Bridget’s wailing she sometimes skips whole weeks and rarely repeats herself in the way actual diaries seem to.

As the novel opens and closes with Bridget thinking over her New Year’s resolutions, it’s a particularly interesting read at this time of year – at least, it is if you’re like me (and Bridget) and can’t resist the urge to solve all your problems with a long list.

A bad example
Like Adrian, I didn’t much like Bridget and don’t want to meet her. I quite often felt sorry for her – she’s stuck because she’s obsessed with finding a boyfriend. All her energies are put into recreating herself in a loveable form (dieting particularly) and the rest of her life is on hold until she does. It’s a shame, really, because she’s got brilliant, funny friends, a decent (by the sounds of it) flat in London, a job in publishing (publishing!) and enough money to binge on clothes and pay for an awful lot of drinks out. It’s like watching the characters in Friends complain about how small their flat is, honestly. Either that or the author just never did the math – but I reckon Bridget is spending upwards of £100 on booze alone in a typical week, never mind all the cigarettes, and apparently without putting herself into massive debt. When you’ve got a job in publishing this is basically the hallmark of success.

I realised, rereading the book, that I did take the story to heart – I read the book about ten years ago, and was rather horrified by Bridget’s life: it seems to be ruined by her constant dieting, complicated plots to get / keep / avoid men and the lies she tells in order to look clever. If nothing else, an added push to avoid these things (tempting though they are) has definitely made me happier. Bridget, you’re an excellent example of what not to do. I salute you.

I’ve decided to try to read and review all 200 books on the BBC Big Read list. You can read more about the start of the project or see a list of all the books I’ve read and reviewed.

New Year, No Goals?

New Year, No Goals?

If you’ve met me in real life, you may be wondering why I haven’t posted anything about New Year’s resolutions yet. My first response to any problem or project is a list, and I usually have a dozen on the go at once. I have lists of books I want to read, places I want to visit, things I need to do before next Wednesday and ideas for a house I might have when I’m retired. Last year I said:

My life is quite flexible and interesting (rather than predictable and comfortable) and I like it that way. It stays that way in part because I keep making goals to change things, try things and visit new places

and finished optimistically with:

Taking the time to write these lists and this post remind me that there are a lot of things I’m looking forward to doing in 2012. All in, I think it’s going to be a really good year. I hope it rocks for you, too.

As usual, I’ve been terrible at predicting at the start of the year where I’d be when I ended it, so a lot of the goals went by the wayside. And this year has had its good moments, but also a lot of sadness.

The net result is that this year, I’m thinking small. I still want to try new things, go new places, but I’m not ready to commit to a big project. I don’t expect to go round the world, run a marathon or write a novel this year. I could really use your help finding things to do. Suggest something you enjoy, or you think I might enjoy, and help me expand my list.

I’m particularly interested in:

  • Swiss things and things in Switzerland (books, films, food, museums, mountains…)
  • things you’d like to read a blog post about (could be anything!)
  • books (always, any genre)
  • places to visit (ideally in Europe, due to cost)
  • cool things I can do as a one-off (go to a zumba class, bake a cake, ride a horse…)
  • knitting patterns and challenges

Any suggestions? You could change my life, you know!

How quickly do you read?

How quickly do you read?

There are plenty of gadgets online to assess your reading speed but this reading speed test from Staples has a couple of interesting features. First, it places you on a scale marked out by familiar groups like ‘third grade students’ and ‘college professors’.

ereader test
Source: Staples eReader Department

Second, it tells you how long it will take to read certain classic and well-loved novels. Unsurprisingly, there’s a lot of crossover with the Big Read list, which made me wonder how much time I’m actually dedicating to this project.

If  I read as quickly as I did in the test – which is unlikely, I think, as a one-page sprint is not the same as even a 50-page chapter – then I could finish Alice in Wonderland in just 37 minutes but it would still take 14h14 to read War and Peace. Assuming that the books they’ve chosen are of fairly typical length and complexity, each book would, at that unusually fast pace, take 3h40 on average. Multiplied by 200, that suggests it will take at least 733 hours to get through the list, or about 20 weeks, working full time.

I suspect that the real answer will be double that, so while, in one sense, this is like signing up for a year-long project at work on a whim, as I’m not in a rush to finish, 30 minutes or an hour a day seems like a reasonable investment. I’ve already reread several books I fondly remember from my childhood and discovered one really absorbing new author (I’ve just finished book four of the Outlander series) and I’m looking forward to rereading The Fantastic Mr Fox and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. 

BBC Big Read – challenge accepted, 10 years later

BBC Big Read – challenge accepted, 10 years later

In 2003, the BBC ran a series of programmes about books. People talked about books they loved, and nominations were opened for Britain’s best-loved book. Votes were cast and Lord of the Rings won.

Nearly ten years on, I think the BBC Big Read Top 200 is still the best pick for ‘books to read before you die’. So I’m going to try to read AND review every book on the list over the next few years. I’m going to start with the the top 21, then the top 100, then – if I stick to it – I might finally get all 200 done.

Why this list?
Because it does what it says on the tin: it’s a list of 200 books that people care about – that people cared about enough to nominate, vote for and probably encourage their friends to vote for, too.

Most lists of books whether they’re the best books of 2010, the longlist for the such-and-such prize or the 532 books you simply must read to be considered well read are collected and curated by a small group of people. As a result, the titles are often missing a bit (e.g. best books (that Tom, Jeff and John have read) of 2010, 532 (novels in the western canon, genre fiction doesn’t count) books…) and the lists are full of DWM and wankers.

DWM stands for Dead White Men. I like dead white men well enough – heck, I’m descended from a number of them – but when you get enough of them together, they turn into some kind of zombie hoard which means you can read all 101 or 1,001 books on a must-read list and still only encounter the following perspectives: young white male, older white male, really old white male, Jane Austen, Love in the Time of Cholera.

Wankers are authors who, when I see their name on the list, I go ‘wanker!’ in my head. I have strong personal objections to a number of the authors the lists often venerate. I find their personal politics are objectionable and invade their work so much as to make it unreadable for me. And I don’t care if they were a shining example of liberated thinking or artistic merit in their time – I’m reading it now and I don’t want rape, anti-semitism or slavery (for example) lauded as A Good And Right Thing. Particularly when there are so many authors from the same period who somehow avoided those pitfalls.

The Big Read list has lots of DWM but very few wankers and it’s not touted as the best of anything. It’s books which are loved by people in the country I live in which means it probably includes a lot of books which have shaped the cultural offerings in this country but mostly I expect the books to be enjoyable: the list looks fun, not painful. That’s important.

What’s the plan?
To review the books on the list I remember well, to read or reread the rest and then review them. I’m aiming for about 1 review a week or 50 per year, so I expect this to take 4 or 5 years. I’ve already read almost half the list and although I don’t remember them all very very, it includes a number which I can talk about for hours (lots of Pratchett, for example) so that should give me a head start. I won’t beat myself up if I don’t finish all the books on the list, but I intend to read the first 50 pages of each – enough to form a judgement and write a review.

What first?
As it happens, I’m already reading Great Expectations (number 17) and there are at least 40 books on the list which are available for free on Project Gutenberg so I’ll start there. I’m looking forward to reading more Jaqueline Wilson – I read some of her books as a teenager, but missed a lot. I’m glad to have an excuse to go back to them. I’m not looking forward to reading Tolkein, Hardy or Eliot – I tried all three as a teenager and didn’t enjoy the experience.

I’m going to try to finish Great Expectations on the train this week, so look out for the first review mid-March!