Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Bookworm: Tigers in Red Weather by Liza Klaussmann

I devoured this book in two days.

Granted, I'd probably been desperate for a bit of fiction in my life (see last book review) and I was on holiday so had plenty of time to read whilst lying back on a sunlounger. 

However, I liked this book for being different. Set across a number of years in America, Klaussmann's fictional tale is told through a number of key characters in the book. Each point in time retold in a new way through a new chapter through the eyes of the next character taking their turn to talk.

I could not put the book down, I constantly wanted to know what happened next.

The descriptions of the characters was extremely detailed and you really feel you can picture them all in your mind as you read on. In turn, the writer's style involves such vivid descriptions of places, clothing, smells, sounds, foods and drinks, that you actually place yourself in the story. I truly lost myself in the book.

Titles often give away an inkling of the nature of the book, but not in this case and I was constantly wondering  what brought about the choice. To me this book does not offer what you expected from it (but in a good way).

Let yourself take in the author's many strong characters and find yourself hating and loving a number of them, they all bring about powerful opinions and emotions. Cousins Nick and Helena, husbands Avery and Hughes. Relatives Daisy and Ed. 

The blurb might make you think you're reading a series of different summer holidays at one location set back in time. A pleasant tale of how different generations of a family utilise the family holiday home.

Klaussmann's debut novel is a lot more than that and offers something much darker and addictive than you'll be expecting. 

Good points
Strong characters
Great descriptions
Easy to read style
Something different 

Not so great
Not quite sure I totally got what was happening/had happened at times, often points are suggested rather than actually explicitly described

So my return to my fiction has been pretty positive on this occasion - a good book, offering something different, a bit dark and easy to read and relax to when you're trying to unwind. 

Bookworm: The Blind Giant. Being Human in a Digital World by Nick Harkaway

I was recommended to read this book a good few months ago by a former work colleague. They said how interesting the book was.

Working in digital comms, living in the digital society that is ever developing and being someone using the many areas of digital in day to day life, I felt this book was going to really appeal.

As I've mentioned before I'm not the biggest fan of non fiction, but again I wanted to give this a go and see what I could learn.

One thing I did question was the fact that digital is constantly evolving so how could a book suitably cover such a topic.

Clearly I read this as an e-book on my Kindle and so you did have the option to learn more with the hyperlinks included at the end of each chapter by Harkaway.

I found there were some strong and useful points highlighted by the author. However my main experience with this book was finding myself easily distracted and how difficult I found the writing style.

Those of you who have read or will read this book will understand my conundrum though, as part of me feels the writer may well have adopted the style on purpose and to make the audience fully concentrate and take in all he has to say.

I did feel let down by this book - something I can see from reviews on GoodReads is going to be an unpopular opinion. More often than not I felt the points being raised were just simply repetitions of earlier arguments made with a slight change in angle.

Honestly, I also felt a tad stupid reading this non fictional piece and did question my intelligence at times. Did I not 'get' the book purely because I wasn't clever enough to understand what the author was trying to say?

It took me a very long time to reach the end of the book and in fact towards the end I started to find a lot more points I could relate to/understand/agree with. 

In the main I found the style made the reading experience one that reminded me of school days and those texts you have to read. More like homework than a book I'd chosen to read personally.

Good points
Interesting arguments made
Personal and professional relevance to myself 

Not so great
Tiring writing style
Did it ever really reach a solid conclusion/point? 

I'm glad I read this book since I did learn some interesting points and I could relate to some of the thoughts and topics covered. Some of the things in our modern life we take for granted the book brought to your attention and the potential problems they may cause. For now though it's back to fiction for me and a bit of escapism. 

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Time out!

Oh dear I was doing so well at regularly blogging...

So I am back (well for now)! Things have been a tad hectic of late - whether through work or personal life, a rollercoaster whirlwind few weeks have just whizzed past and I for one need a rest.

And that is exactly what I've got!

Isn't it funny that as soon as you get an inkling of some sort of upcoming positive event you start to immediately relax?

We obviously have the bank holiday weekend fast approaching us and I've rather last minute made a spur of the moment decision (not typical of little miss organised me at all!) to go away for a few days with my Auntie.

Just for a few days we're off to Majorca to (hopefully) catch some rays, drink some sangria, enjoy some good food and company and well just bloody well relax and chill out! 

Then when I get back I've got the rest of the week off work to allow me to go to a family wedding and allow myself some me time. Bliss! I cannot wait! 

Literally as soon as my boss signed it off this morning a weight lifted off my shoulders (although randomly I've now got a banging headache)! 

Yes I am still manically busy and my current personal woes are still there but there's a bit of respite and that means a hell of a lot.

I consider myself a relatively strong person who can deal with quite a bit before I break and I admit I am kind of proud I've made it to this point and survived! Sounds dramatic I know but believe me it has felt that way and I don't want to divulge all my personal life on the Internet so I won't go into too much more detail... 

On another positive point, for those who've been following my fitness and weight journey, I am now at my lowest weight. I managed to break the next barrier I wanted (granted I will put it all back on over the next week or so) but I've got there and now I know I can do it.

I've also found I don't need to go quite so mad on the exercise front and go to classes/exercise every single day. I CAN have a life and do social things too and then I find (surprise surprise) I'm truly doing exercise because I want to and enjoy it and not as some form of punishment to my body! 

I'm a bit rundown right now (hence the needed break) and so far this week l'm holding off on exercise - I went on the weekend and it did me no favours. I have to admit it's killing me though to think I won't be able to go to spinning so long!! 

So for now I will battle through until Thursday night and then it's time to hit 'reset' and allow myself some time for me. I can't wait!

And typical me but I also can't wait to be fully refreshed again so that after this time off I'm raring and ready to go, work and fitness wise! Well I can't relax for too long, I'll get bored!... 

One of my fave ways to try unwind on my break at work is a nice skinny mocha and my Kindle :)

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

The result: dip dyed

My poor hairdresser I panicked and worried what would happen. But it all turned out ok...I think. 

She's gone for a darker shade for now (which will lighten up over time) and then a bit of copper in it so bit more natural and not a big band of colour change 

What do you think?

Monday, 13 May 2013

A new challenge

So I'm at the lowest weight I've been for many years (and I'm now over 3 stones lighter and 2-3 dress sizes smaller than I was when I first started addressing my weight a few years back). 

I feel like I'm on a good wavelength now and am well into the habit of eating healthily and regularly exercising. 

However, we all know personal trainers and the like always say you need to shock your body and not keep doing the same thing.

Plus I really want to break the next fitness/weight barrier, something which feels like it's at a bit of a standstill right now.

I often do my workout DVD or boxercise at home to change things about a bit and stop my body getting comfortable with the same old routines. 

Over the last few weeks I've seen a few images on Pinterest, status updates on Facebook and tweets on Twitter. What are they talking about? 

The 30 Day Squat Challenge. 

This latest fitness fad assures us ladies if we stick to it for 30 days (with rests every 4 days) then we'll get more toned quads and glutes (aka thighs and bum). 

I'm not one to follow the latest new craze to be honest, in fact I've never been a person to follow what everyone else is doing. I wouldn't follow the Atkins diet or some fad about eating non stop vegetables and nothing else. 

Yet this doesn't seem quite like that, after all it's pretty common knowledge that squats are good for you.

So I think I'm going to give it a go. Think I'm mad and being drawn in to what's trending? Or should I try to follow this plan to give my body a bit of a shock? 

I'll let you know how it goes...

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Bookworm: The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult

It's funny I've not read anything by Jodi Picoult for a little while now and have been saying her books were getting a bit samey for me.

Nowadays I tend to download and read books on my Kindle. Randomly I'd been sent a voucher (as part of a selection) to get money off this new offering from the American author and decided to give it a go.

If you like Picoult, but like me have been feeling like each book was becoming like the other, then this new tale is the one for you. 

This felt like an entirely different writer in the main. There's still the nod to typical features and styles seen in earlier books, but aside from this The Storyteller is so so different. It's refreshing.

The subject matter is not. In this fictional story (but based on a variety of real life snippets provided) we are presented with the topic of Nazi Germany, concentration camps and the hard hitting issue of forgiveness.

Three main characters feature. Josef - an elderly German man who claims to have been a former SS soldier and multiple murderer of Jews. Minka - an elderly Jewish women living in America who survived various concentration camps (including Auschwitz). Sage - the young woman who has never been close to her Jewish heritage, has had her own life battles and incidentally is Minka's granddaughter and becomes a friend of Josefs.

This book truly will have you hooked, I never wanted to put it down. It was hard as the more I read the sadder the tale became. Yet I just had to know what happened next. 

Picoult does well to give an insight into each of the main characters and combine her themes. As always descriptions are strong and you can capture in your head the area the people live in and the types of personalities involved. 

At times I even felt hungry reading the detailed and tempting descriptions of the delicious baked items Sage and Minka's father create. 

Good points
Something new and different from Picoult 
Addictive reading
Emotional tale
Fictional but based on real issues which makes it even more powerful 

Not so great
There were a few occasions that were a little 'convenient' and perhaps not the most realistic of situations 
Wasn't too sure if the secondary story and extracts from it were needed/useful 

Well I've been wanting something different from Picoult and this surely delivers that. I'm just sad now to be finished. I'm not a fan of hardbacks either and this book won me round there too. I was too engrossed to worry about the heaviness/awkwardness in holding it. In addition, right now I've needed something to lose myself in and switch off and this book was ideal. 

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Money money money

No I'm not a money-grabbing Essex girl looking to nab a sugar daddy. However right now I am kind of obsessed with money and all the issues it can cause.

It can cause arguments in families when children want to borrow or owe money, it can make some people feel inferior to others and it could mean couples are always on an uneven keel if one has more than the other.

I've always said money isn't everything, which indeed is very true. However, you do need a minimal amount to at least have the basics in life.

Don't get me wrong I would never put money above love, trust, laughter or health if we're talking overall life or relationships. Yet I am realistic that if you don't have money it does cause problems. 

Ever since I was young I've been quite in control with money. My parents have always been 'good' with cash and have drummed into me throughout my whole life how important it is to be careful with money.

My Dad used to work in finance and so he's my go-to person for all things financial. 

As soon as I could I started working to earn money. I can always remember first temping when I was at secondary school in the summer holidays and in fact my Mum coming to meet me on my lunchbreak with my GCSE results!
Every big school holiday I did temping work in an office, at college I took on Saturday/Christmas jobs in retail and throughout Uni I worked in the same supermarket chain both in Colchester where I was studying and then back at home when I was back visiting out of term time.

I knew once I graduated I needed a job and when my original plans changed I was more than aware my parents would be straight on the case if I dared think I could bum around for a bit. 

When young of course I got pocket money from my parents, grandparents and Auntie and Uncle. Yes I am an only child and had a reasonable upbringing so you could say I've lived a perhaps sheltered life and I've certainly been very fortunate having a Mum who could stay at home to bring me up and having fancy holidays all over the world since little.

When I became an undergraduate my parents were able to offer me my 'student loan' and so it's them I owed and hence paid back after completing my degree (and of course a few years of work!) 

So if you mention the word debt to me I freak out! I wouldn't say I'm tight with my money, but I do love a bargain. Owing friends or colleagues money makes me feel very uncomfortable. 

At Uni I went into my overdraft on an account twice (by a minimal amount granted), and I was in a right flap!

In jobs I've been shocked how colleagues live constantly in their overdraft or on their credit cards. 

My 'debt' is my mortgage on my flat. 

I have three cards - two credit and one debit and numerous store cards. They are always paid off by their due date.

Now this isn't an attempt for me to gloat at how amazingly I manage money. More an admission that I don't really get how most people run their lives and finance. 

When I get stuck I do lean on my Dad for a helping hand on where to put my savings and where is best for interest rates and so on. He is my very own IFA. 

Recently I have been asking lots of different people how they handle their money and their financial situation and I've been really shocked I'll be honest. So many people live on credit, are in debt or have had debt problems. 

So am I lucky to be good with my money? Or have I just lived a very sheltered life and developed naive and unrealistic attitudes? 

That, is the million dollar question!

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Hair raising experiences

I quite like using Pinterest, in fact it could be said I am a little obsessed, I go on it at least a few times a day on my phone.

The main things I tend to 'pin' are cute animals, yummy looking food, clothes, fitness tips and wise words. However, I also like to get tips for hair and makeup.

A week or two ago I pinned the following images featured on this blog post. I loved the look of this 'ombré' style and had heard of it already referred to as 'dip-dyed' (which also unfortunately reminds me of sheep!) 

I've been getting a bit bored with my hair lately (it doesn't take much!) As soon as I saw these pictures I thought ooh this could be the next thing I do with my hair. I can never seem to decide if I like short hair or my hair long. 

At the moment I like my hair long, so if I'm going for a change it's going to need to be with the colour. Note: my hair will also be staying straight and not suddenly curly! 

So I've booked up to have my hair done next week (she comes to my flat and is such good value) and I've been really looking forward to it.

Well that is when I first booked it, since then (yesterday!) I have started to worry. Is she going to keep my black on top and light brown on the bottom or is she going to do brown on top and more of a blonde on the bottom? Both are fine with me, but what if she ends up doing black on top and blonde on the bottom?? This is where my panic sets in. What if I hate it?

The more you speak to women the more you seem to find the supposed-to-be relaxing element of getting your hair done actually is a daunting experience for most.

What if they cut off too much? What if the colour goes wrong? It never looks like you wanted. Hairdressers always get scissor happy. They always have their own idea of what you meant. You're comfortable with how you finish your hair each day. 

I know some women who as soon as they've had their hair done rush to brush or wash it out as they hate all the product in it!

Do we ever tell a hairdresser that? In the main? No.

I have to say my issue is I usually love the way my stylist finishes my hair off, it's just I can never get it to look as good! 

Throughout the years I've had nothing but panic over getting my hair done. My current home hairdresser has now been doing my hair for the last 9 years or so and I finally trust her. Well that is until I pick something completely different then I worry.

I think back to getting my hair done at Uni, I'd never really done anything with my hair until I went to Uni. Then I decided to change. They laughed at me in the local hairdressers panicking so much and the first time I visited and had lowlights put in. I looked petrified.

Then they had me stuck, as I started to trust them I would only go to the same salon to have my hair done. As a Uni student it was ridiculous costing me £70+ a time. 

Again I still went through the same dilemmas. On one visit they got too scissor happy and cut my hair in an odd style, then at other points they were meant to add copper highlights in and my hair turned out bright red! 

So now I'm torn, I'm feeling like a stereotypical girl (getting your hair done when you're having man issues!) and I'm half excited about getting something new sorted and half scared it'll all go wrong! 

Why is getting your hair done always such a hair raising experience?? 

Monday, 6 May 2013

The mysteries of weight loss

I know I've blogged about this topic before, but as I'm lying here in bed debating whether to go to spin this morning (third day in a row), I'm completely baffled.

The last three weeks I've lost 5lbs in weight (3lb loss, stayed the same, 2lb loss). This is great and really keeps me going trying to get in shape.

However, it doesn't seem to make sense. Over said three weeks I've been eating lots of fattening foods, drinking alcohol and not exercising as much.

Yet weeks where I've been super strict with diet and exercised almost every day I've on occasion not lost or put on?

I appreciate I am guilty of overanalysing my progress somewhat and should just be happy I'm doing well, at my lowest weight now. Being someone like me who likes to be in control and know what's happening though I find I want to understand how to keep making positive progress, perhaps by noticing patterns and following them moving forwards.

How on earth you do that when trying to lose weight and get fitter is beyond me right now. Nothing seems to make sense.

I'm having a BBQ today and alcohol and am currently debating whether or not to go spin. Do I have a break - as I have done well - as a treat and also give my body a chance to rest (particularly before a pressured week ahead at work)?

Or am I viewing it all wrong and should keep up with my spinning and start the week off as I mean to go on?

Sitting here feeling tired, a bit stiff from yesterday's session and also somewhat dehydrated from the sun yesterday I know what answer I'm veering towards.

If only I knew what impact it was going to have...but that's never going to happen with this mystery surrounding weight loss!

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Creatures of habit

As I've recently blogged, I've just finished reading a book on habits. How they work, how people use them in life and business and how to change them.

This morning as I got up for spin class, put on my gym kit, boiled the kettle for my coffee and put my one Weetabix in the bowl, I laughed to myself. Habits.

Chatting to my friend this morning she commented "we are all creatures of habit" and how true those words are.

Duhigg in his book talks about recognising those habits and breaking them down, into what cues the habit, what action you take the reward at the end. You repeat this and it becomes a recognised habit and viewing it in this way you can start to change/develop habits into the way you want them.

I've realised this is so true in my healthy eating and fitness. In particular on weekends I've developed a strong habit on a Saturday which helps me stick to my plan.

Cue - Saturday morning and I know there is a spin class on at the gym, my alarm goes off at 920 every Saturday, I get up, get dressed, pack my gym bag, fill my water bottle, drink a coffee and eat 1 Weetabix for breakfast. This all in my head now means I am going to spin class.

Process/action - I go to spin class, the same teacher is there, the class starts the same time and I pick a bike and warm up. I take part in the spin class.

Reward - I feel the buzz from the endorphins of exercise and it helps burn calories.

In turn, other habits I've developed are:

Cue - I've been spinning/for a run/workout at the gym

Action/process - I've exercised and so feel I want to eat healthily and not waste the hard work I've just done. I eat healthily

Reward - I feel full from the food but positive I've picked a healthy option

Long term this is why I think this time round my healthy eating and exercise has worked.

I've got into a habit whereby I exercise and eat healthily since I wasn't happy with my health and body shape. So I exercise and eat healthily, my reward is a new body shape and compliments from people on how I look now. Which in turn spurs me on to continue.

I guess a lot of this is common sense, but in turn I suppose I'm trying to advise that if you set a process up and stick to it so that it in fact becomes a habit, then it really is true you can change key aspects in your life.

Clearly it's important you recognise bad habits and try to get out of them. In addition, some habits (such as bad ones) seem easier to develop than others.

Things in life can become habits, such as relationships, and then you are so used to that person being in your life you can't think of doing things without them.

I'm just hoping I can develop a habit now to keep me writing more regular blogs!

Pic: Wonder if I can ever get the habit of water not wine? I've managed it today at least (well because it's weigh-in day tomorrow!)

Saturday, 4 May 2013

Bookworm: The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

I noticed someone I knew on GoodReads had marked this book as something to read and I decided to look it up. On having a quick research I came to learn as the title suggests this non fiction offering focuses on habits and everything associated with them.

Not a fan of self-help books, I wasn't looking to turn to this to gain advice on how to change my own habits, but I did think it would be interesting to find out more about why the human race act as we do.

Duhigg splits the information into three main areas - habits in our personal life, habits and business and how to change those habits.

I felt like it took me a long time to read, but this book was so interesting, I think it was where I was trying to fully understand every word that I was a tad slower than I would be with my typical fictional choices.

The author's writing style is very addictive and he is great at explaining things, particularly with the real life stories and images throughout.

Throughout I found the book really educational and fascinating to understand how habits are behind so much we do. However, when I got to the end of the book and the specific guidance on applying the book to your life I also found this useful.

This book features habits on snacking, exercising and gambling to name a few, in addition it also lets you in on how some big names have discovered and used our habits to sell their products/improve their staff - Febreeze, Starbucks and Target. It also talks about habits being used to improve performance of sports stars in the NFL, moments in history, civil rights and religion.

However, it's important for readers to understand this book doesn't really offer all the answers. I read The Power of Habit to get an understanding of habits and read something different, I didn't read it to teach me how to live my life. If you go to this book to do that I think you'll end up disappointed.

Instead I had an enjoyable reading experience, learnt a lot about human behaviour and in fact found it helped me spot patterns in habits in others and even potentially help me in my working life.

Good points
Real life examples

Not so great
A tad cheesy/'American' at times in approach
Quite stretched out, could it be shorter and not so repetitive on points?

This book has been named one of the best books of the year in big publications such as The Wall Street Journal and Financial Times and I can see why. Although by the end of the third section I was feeling the text was a tad repetitive and the book was being dragged out, overall it was a very enjoyable read and I enjoyed reading something different.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Local laughs

Tonight as I hobbled to the station (from sore feet thanks to new shoes), I felt half asleep and it has to be said a bit fed up.

So going to see a comedy at the theatre I knew was going to be hit and miss. It could be just what the doctor ordered and cheer me up (even if temporarily), or it could just make me more angry than I currently feel right now and not make me laugh at all.

Thankfully, due to the genius that is Cut to the chase and the Queens Theatre in Hornchurch, tonight's entertainment choice turned out to be a hit.

Sadly, the last of my 'Jump the Q' offerings, the third and final show of the season is Run For Your Wife.

This production tells the tale of a cabbie who lives a double life - two homes and two wives. After being involved in a random accident his schedule of taxi shifts and moreover wife shifts gets muddled up.

There begins the journey we follow him on as he gets himself deeper and deeper into more and more outrageous lies.

True British farce, the gags were non stop and the laughter was constant.

Each character was loveable and hilarious in their own way and the Queen's made good use of the small space, with a great set as always.

And hats off to the lead character who we were informed at the start of the show had torn tendons in his leg and was still performing, despite being advised to rest up. He simply acted his part but added a further prop - a stick - to help him along. Since the character is meant to have been in an accident this only added to his acting and certainly didn't impact the show in any negative way.

One thing I love about our local theatre is the way when you go to see a show you always find at least one actor/actress you recognise from before. I'm always amazed how totally different a character they're playing each time.

Yet again the acting, timing, costumes and set were a hit.

Each scene was full of giggles and the two hours (including interval) flew by.

I also love how the team are so natural, a couple of small blips were dealt with so seamlessly and just added to the laughs.

Once again another hit for this wonderful local theatre. In fact I'm quite sad to have finished my selection of shows there for now.

Here's to the next batch!

Have you ever noticed?

Have you ever noticed how just as you learn to trust you get let down?

Have you ever noticed how you wake up feeling you've been punched in the stomach when things are wrong?

Have you ever noticed those you love the most are the ones to shock the most?

Have you ever noticed when you've got an important decision to make you just want to ignore it?

Have you ever noticed how you get that feeling of nausea when you do start to think about that decision?

Have you ever noticed how trust is so overlooked?

Have you ever noticed how everyone close rallies round in need but they don't really know what it's going to be like now?

Have you ever noticed how the basics some take for granted are what you crave the most?

Have you ever noticed how your life is so entwined with someone else, but too late?

Have you ever noticed how hard it is to mend broken trust?

Have you ever noticed how people aren't always as they seem?

Have you ever noticed that life goes on, but you can't see how?

Have you ever noticed how good you are at putting on a brave face, but inside you're broken?

Have you ever noticed the most important decisions for you, you always want others to decide for you?

Have you ever noticed how life can completely change with just a few words or actions?

Have you ever noticed bad things have bad timing?

Have you ever noticed how everyday things when gone leave a huge black hole?

Have you ever noticed how nothing in life is ever all good at the same time? Work, love, family, friends?

Have you ever noticed what a fool you feel when you seem the last to know?

Have you ever noticed that even if you may feel fat you just feel empty?

Have you ever noticed how you actually can't bear to be alone?

Have you ever noticed all those plans you make are worth nothing and get smashed in seconds?

Have you ever noticed those warning signs started long ago?

Have you ever noticed how one person impacts so many?

Have you ever noticed you always seem to be the one who's left waiting?

Have you ever noticed what seems ideal to others is not what what it seems?

Have you ever noticed those warning signs and stopped things rather than ignore them?
No, me neither.