Book Review – The High Mountains of Portugal by Yann Martel

Let’s start this review off with giving you my main impression of the book. Let’s go for: confusing. Not in the sense of the story line, but in the sense of whether I liked it or not. I kept switching between “ugh this is annoying” and “ha that’s actually quite smart”.

The book is written by Yann Martel, whom you may know from The Life of Pie. I haven’t read that book myself, but I’ve seen the movie and loved it. But of course we all know that isn’t a guarantee that you will love the book. And based on his writing style in The High Mountains of Portugal, I’m not sure if I would.

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First of all, I found the book too descriptive. Don’t get me wrong, I love it when a writer can create a beautiful and clear image with his words, but in this book the descriptions were actually quite repetitive and it really slowed down my reading.

Despite its ungraceful appearance, he has always lamented the fate of the animal that once roamed the rural corners of his country. Was the Iberian thinoceros’s last bastion not, in fact, the High Mountains of Portugal? Curious, the hold the animal has had on the Portuguese imagination. Human advancement spelled its end. It was, in a sense, run over by modernity. It was hunted and hounded to extinction and vanished, as ridiculous as an old idea – only to be mourned and missed the moment it was gone. Now it is fodder for fado, a stock character in that peculiar form of Portuguese melancholy, saudade. Indeed, thinking of the long-gone creature, Tomás is overcome with saudade. He is, as the expression goes, tão docemente triste quanto um rinoceronte, as sweetly sad as a rhinoceros.

See what I mean?

Also, by the time I finally got curious about what was to happen to the poor character next, a new story began. The book consists of three stories, all taking place in the High Mountains, and all somehow connected. Everything in the story was there for a reason. To give an example, the main character in the first story had a habit of walking backwards. In the last story, the main character of that story noticed how in this town he came to live in (the same town where the main character of the first story ended up in before the stories switched), some of the people had a habit of walking backwards.

That was the only thing that kept me reading. I wanted to know how the stories were all connected. And some of it was quite smart really. Some aspect of one of the stories that you’d forgotten all about, would come back in a totally different setting making you utter an amazed “aaah” or maybe a “now would you look at that”. When I reached the end of the book, I was left with a thousand and one questions, but then I think it was quite surely not the aim of the book to answer all these questions. It’s like it set up three very different stories, only connected through random events, and actually focussing on those random events. The main story of these people’s lives was not what this book wanted to tell its readers.

But then coming to the question if I liked the book or not, I don’t really know. It had some fun parts, it had some boring parts. It partly annoyed me and it partly amazed me. I’d say, if you can handle a good portion of descriptive language, give it a try. You never know you might just figure this book out!

 

 

Saturday Shopping, Burgers and Cinema

Yesterday the boyfriend and I went on a date-day. As in, an extended date night. Date night usually includes burgers at one of our favourite gourmet burger restaurants, cinema (more about that below), and a game of pool in between if we have time. Today, we took off in the early afternoon on a shoe shop mission, so sweet of the boyfriend he offered to come with! Because let me tell you, buying shoes for me is a disaster!

Since last winter, I have to wear these custom made insoles for my crooked feet, and if I don’t I get ridiculous feet and back pains. In winter it’s been okay, I hide the ugly shoes for my insoles under my pants, but now that summer is coming, I want to get back into my dresses and I need the shoes to finish the outfit! But from this year onward, no more cute little sandals, tiny little shoes, pumps in all colours. Nope, I need to find a pair of summer shoes for insoles. And as every shop I went to confirmed: shoes for insoles are ugly and generally made for 80-year-old ladies. Mission unsuccessful, so time to move on the the burgers it was. It hit the spot.

The movie we went to watch was The Jungle Book. As we went into the screen, I was getting a bit worried because they’re were so many children. Ow dear, the boyfriend was gonna hate this. When I saw the trailer, it looked like a really grim and scary. As trailers go, the movie couldn’t be any more different. It was lovely! Even the boyfriend thought so.

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The imagery was amazing. For a change, we decided to watch in 3D, which was really cool for the first 10 minutes until our eyes got used to it. But still, the animation in this movie was through the roof. I’d love to see a making off. The animals looked so real, but their eyes and mouth were so human! And of course the scenery was spectacular.

The story leaned quite closely to the old Disney movie, at least for as much as I can remember. Some characters were a lot less prominent, like the elephants and Kaa. And I also think the ending was slightly different. But I loved the hints to the old movie through the old songs. Little bit of Baloo, little bit of Kind Louie,… It was hardly the full song, but it hinted back at that childhood nostalgia I love so much.

The movie had good suspense in parts, fun humour, and was more than pleasing to the eye. It wasn’t all nostalgia, neither was it all new. But remake or not, it was a really fun and good movie to watch and the ending to a lovely date-day!

How Happiness is Easy, Because it’s Possible

I am really quite happy. And I’ve been so for a while. And I’m planning to stay so for even longer.

I once read somewhere that happiness isn’t a destination, it’s the road trip there. I think I’m finally on the right track to whatever may be my destination.

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Basically, I can think of a thousand things I would like to change in my life. I’d like my body to be more healthy. I’d like to spend less time on watching crappy tv-shows and more time on other stuff (although I have to admit I’m not doing so bad there, the New Year’s Resolution is still going and still not a disaster). Like gardening and crafts and guitar and hiking and cooking. I’d like to have more money. Because I’d like to go traveling again. And also have some sort of financial security for when I’d get back. I don’t particularly love my job…

But I really am happy. You see, all those things are okay. I’m working on them. None of them are impossible. I’m going to the gym as much as I can and try to get back into an active lifestyle, also minding what I eat without going on a crazy diet. The tv time I have been working on for a while, and although I can still cut down more, I don’t think it’s as bad as it used to be and I don’t feel as frustrated anymore because the binging has gone down massively. I try to spend a lot of time in the garden because being outdoors makes me happy, and I love to take my time cooking when I get back from work. And now that summer is just behind the corner, hiking a few days a month shouldn’t be a problem. We have some wonderful friends that like to come out with us and it just gives us extra motivation to do so. The same goes for my crafts, for which I meet up with some friends to spend both quality time with each other and do something new.

The boyfriend and I both have a job now, and we are almost all sorted for the stuff we need in our apartment. (The only thing I still want is a freezer, he still wants a full computer set up, but I guess we can spread that out over the years?) So we really can start saving properly now. It’ll still be tricky to do everything we want, but at least I don’t feel like it’ll get us stuck. We’ve got options. The traveling might not happen straight away, but I know for sure one day we’ll be adventuring again. And I’m okay with it taking a few years.

Now, the job was always the tricky part. But I don’t mind it anymore. It’s tough. And I’m not doing so well. But the boyfriend is so insanely supportive that he gives me that last bit of motivation. Without that, I’d crash completely. But he keeps me going. He keeps me wanting to impress. My colleagues aren’t bad either. Not that we have great fun at work, but everyone is nice and it creates a very open work environment. Even though I don’t feel like I am doing a good job, once in a while I do get a compliment (today someone told me I got quite far really fast) and that’s just the best feeling and it makes me try harder again for a while. I still don’t think this job is it for me, but I’ve made peace with it and I think I found a way to keep going and keep happy. I even leave for work with a smile on  my face.

But really, that has nothing to do with work. That has everything to do with the boyfriend. Since he has a job, we get up at the same time in the morning and have some cuddles before we leave. He waves me goodbye out of the door. And I can’t help but smiling for the first half of the day. The second half of the day, I’m looking forward to being home again so more smiles it is.

Our lives are surprisingly uneventful, but I feel like I’ve got it all. We made our apartment into such a lovely home, with nice decorations on the walls and the cupboards, o many pillows for us to still fit on the couch, and little lights everywhere to liven up the place. Our garden is the perfect escape, even though it is far from private. We live in such a quiet neighbourhood we really can pretend it is our little piece of paradise. We talk about all sorts of rubbish all night and watch some youtube stuff together (lately I’ve become a big fan of Casey Neistat’s daily vlogs, you should check it out!) or I watch him play a playstation game and order him around 😉 Sometimes we go out for an evening walk, or we head down to the gym, or into town for a drink with friends, or he does his thing and I do mine.

I do still want to change a thousand things in my life, sometimes it makes me sad or frustrated. But only ever so briefly. What keeps me going is knowing that it’s possible. And I’m working on it. And in the meantime, I’ll just be happy. Because really, it’s easy now.

 

A Workshop in SmartReading, or in Wasting My Time

So a while ago I enrolled for this super interesting workshop offered by the university: SmartReading. It claims to enable you to read a book in only one hour and remember all the important stuff. I thought, even if it delivers on half of the stuff, me reading a bit faster and remembering a bit more easily, it’ll be a winner. But ugh, what a waste of time.

The guy from SmartReading sure knows how to market. Basically, all he taught us yesterday was reading diagonally. Scanning the text for what you’re looking for. Let me run you through the process.

First, you have to create a very precise question as to what you want to get out of reading the book. We got to practise on a book about happiness and success from the Australian success guru Paul Hanna. Not entirely my thing, but I wanted to give the SmartReading method a fair try. So after “exploring” the book as workshopguy called it (basically reading the back, looking at the table of contents, etc.) I came up with the very specific question of how I can find more specific aims to work towards in my PhD to feel more satisfied when reaching intermediary deadlines. This they called your “do-goal”, which sounds even sillier in Dutch, a “doen-doel”. My thoughts: isn’t every goal something you aim at achieving or “doing”?

Then we had to make a mind map of that subject. You know, those spider-shaped brainstorm thingies you did in primary school or for group works at uni. Rather than quickly going over the method, we practised it extensively on the subject of “love”. Now, I can see the value of mind-mapping, but this was a workshop for a bunch of academics with little time. For real? Mind-mapping about love? Colouring in our mind-maps and drawing pictures? It was very clear this workshop is aimed at businesses, where the workshop makes up both a fun day for the employees, a bit of team building and learning about the actual method. But I had no need for the first two. I just want to become more efficient when reading one book after another, as sometimes it’s what I do months at a time and it gets really demotivating when the process goes so slowly.

Anyways, I started reading the book with the method we’d been practising. Basically, it’s diagonal reading. You zip through the text not slowing down for anything, not tracing back if you didn’t understand. You’re scanning for what you are looking for, based on the mind-map you made. And indeed, it took me an hour. While you are reading, you stick down little post-it notes where you think interesting information might be found. After “SmartReading” the whole book, you then go back to these sections to see if you can find what you were looking for, adding to your mind map.  I didn’t find an answer to my question in the book (Paul Hanna kept going on about how important it is to have goals and deadlines (duh) but he didn’t specify as to how to determine a goal) and I am convinced I could’ve done the same in 5 minutes. Rather than taking an hour to scan through the book, looking for specific words or phrases that you determined as key words by mind-mapping, you just find a digital version of the book, type in the key-words in the find function, and read only those sections.

The workshop claimed to teach not speed-reading, but smart-reading: a way to read both fast and still get everything out of your text. But what we did was not reading. We scanned.  With a few exercises, workshopguy wanted to show us that there are two different kinds of remembering. They have different names in Dutch, but I think the difference between remembering and reproducing comes quite close. Even though I felt like I hardly remembered anything by reading diagonally, when other people brought up certain aspects of the book, I did remember them. But I could not reproduce them myself. So workshopguy’s conclusion: you remember a lot more than you think, good news! Now ask yourself this: when you have to read a certain book for work, to add to your theory or apply its theory to your data, what use is it if you can “remember” what it said if someone else brings it up, but you can’t reproduce the main points yourself?

My conclusion: the workshop is aimed at either school kids or businesses, it is designed in the previous decade when computers weren’t as much a part of lives as they are now, and it teaches nothing new. I enrolled for the workshop hoping to become more efficient. Instead, I spent half my day colouring, and the other half I practised diagonal reading (which anyone who made it this far in academics already masters) in order to achieve a result my computer can achieve in five minutes. And on top of that I had to listen to all this jibberjabber about “if you have a positive attitude than good things happen for you” and “you have to believe in it for it to work”. I don’t want to be a negative person and I do believe in positivity getting you a long way, but this workshop was far from professional and not at all aimed at its audience and their wishes. I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt and do my homework for the next session, because I payed a shitload of money for it, but so far this was a massive disappointment. SmartReading my ass, what about “diagonal-reading-the-way-you-were-taught-in-highschool”?!

 

How Do You Get Healthy in a Healthy Way?

It has come this far, I think I would like to try the whole protein shake madness. Now, for me to say that is a big thing.

I have always been of the opinion that you should eat and sport in such a way that your body can handle it without extra help. For sports, this means that I used to refuse taking extra supplements, like magnesium to stop your muscles from cramping. My philosophy was: if I eat the correct way, my body will tell me how much sports is good for me. Therefore cramps meant either less sports or more varied food. Likewise for the food: if I sport the correct way, my body (and my scales) will show me when to cut down on the food. And that’s where it has been going wrong for a while now, as I have told you many times before.

My body is far from ideal. And it’s getting worse. Even us bigger girls that like to eat have a limit. And I’m afraid I have more than reached mine, at 73.5kgs and a BMI of 27.3, which makes me officially overweight. So I have been trying to go to the gym as often as I can, and I’m actually making some really good progress on the fitness side! My cardio is going better and better and I can feel myself getting stronger. But the scales are still as dissappointed as ever. I even had to start taking magnesium pills as a normal diet does not provide me with enough to keep the cramps away. But I guess it’s healthier to take some supplements than it would be to gain even more weight?

I’m also really trying with the food. I really don’t want to go on a diet, but I just try to be healthy and eat less. For breakfast I have yoghurt and muesli, or I would have some porridge with jam. For lunch I try making nice salads (today’s one had lettuce, beetroot, feta cheese, chick peas and grilled peppers, well tasty) or I buy soup at work. For dinner I only eat one serve (if it is really really tasty I still fall for seconds) and for snacks, I have bananas or apples or grapes, or just a little piece of cake to stop myself from going mental. Like I said, I do NOT want to diet, but I don’t mind making myself a few new healthier habits. I even cut down on the wine in the evening. Only in the weekends from now on. Sigh.

But it’s not enough. The weight keeps worrying me and it is making me unhappy like it never has before. I have never been this heavy before. I don’t mean to be skinny, but I just wonder how, after nearly 5 years of staying below my 70kgs limit (still being overweight, but not feeling bad about it), I have managed to fail. So I’m looking for extra tips and tricks. And if I already gave in to the magnesium supplements, I guess maybe some other supplements could be next, like a protein shake after the gym?

I wish I could just be healthy and happy, but even though I think I really am living a healthy life, I do not have a healthy body. Being overweight brings with it risks to heart diseases, and might have something to do with my bad back and feet too. I would love to hear some of your advice on how to get healthier in a healthy way!

 

 

A Girly Afternoon – High Tea at Nosh in Leuven

Last weekend it was time to try one of those places in town you keep walking by thinking it’s a good idea, but you never manage to make the plans to do so. I went to the café called Nosh to try their High Tea!

I really liked the idea. Nosh is generally one of the only places you can find open in Leuven between lunch and dinner time for something other than pancakes (which I do love, but I was wanting something more special). We had to make a reservation before, which made total sense if you saw all the stuff they gave us.

We were sat at a table a lot bigger than necessary for our company, but it turned out to be a good plan when all the food started showing up. First we were brought, one by one, a glass of cava to start with, then a pepper and cream soup, a piece of quiche and some finger sandwiches. And then it was time for the sweets tray! A feast on the eye just as much as on the tummy! Not to forget the all-you-can-drink offer on the tea.

The tea menu really took my fancy, and apparently they are extending it soon to 20 different kinds of teas, so I’ll definitely be back. I first had a green tea mix with some extra herbs, then I had a herbal tea with mint and elderberries. My friend, more into the sweet kind of teas, started with a strawberry and lime infusion, which was surprisingly fresh while at the same time still sweet, and finished with a rooibos and caramel tea. I do like rooibos, but the caramel was definitely to sweet for me. I can imagine that for proper tea specialists (if such a thing exists) it might be a bit weird that we were switching teas between our snacking, but it was just so much fun to try out all the different flavours.

The whole experience was perfect for a girlfriend afternoon, it wasn’t too loud so we could have a proper chat, we were surrounded by nice little bits and bobs totally finishing off the cosy decor, and between every story we told we could fill our bellies with cute little yummy thingies. The sweet tray held little marzipan cakes, gingerbread, scones, tiny biscuit cakes, vanilla rice, a sort of raspberry bavarois cake, and lots more.

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The only downside of the place is the price. I would never go in there for a normal coffee or tea stop. The teas go for 3 euros, bagels are easily 7 euros, and the English breakfast goes for 16 euros! I guess the location plays a part in the pricing, as it’s located right in the centre, very close to the two main squares in town. But for me as a local, I can think of other places in town where all of this is a lot cheaper. However, for the High Tea it is different. It is 25 euro a person, and even though it is a bit much for an afternoon snack, you do get a lot of value for your money. Consider the tea being all-you-can-drink, the glass of bubbly, and all the little treats. And also, the fact that this really is a unique experience in Leuven.

So if you’re in want for a fun girlie afternoon in Leuven, and you don’t mind eating a crazy amount of food in front of these girlfriends, this is definitely your thing! The table next to us was a nice crowd of ladies in their early 30s, but they seemed to be very concerned with being judged by each other and didn’t eat even half of the food! What a waste! We all know it, girls, we really can eat that much. And we would. If no one was watching. So make sure that when you do come here, you enjoy it to the fullest! And if you don’t, I’ll come have your leftovers, thankyouverymuch.

 

Holiday at Home – Delayed Final Update

Sorry to keep you guys waiting for my Holiday At Home finals! Let’s just say the holiday was so successful there was no time for blogging 😉

I’ll tell you a little bit about the last days of the holiday and then about the Result.

Now, where was I. Right. Friday.

Friday was a bit of a lazy one. I was still super efficient, but less so than the days before. I did go to the gym again, and again it was really tough! But I was proud for sticking it out. And then unfortunately it was cleaning time. Now, like most people, I’m not particularly a fan of cleaning. But I Love the feeling afterwards. The house smelling all fresh and looking picture perfect. Basically, the result is so much more awesome than the cleaning is annoying, that in the end I guess I kinda do like cleaning?

I dusted all our thingamabobs and cupboards, hoovered the whole house, and then I did a number on the bathroom. That’s the job I keep postponing but always needs doing the most. Our bathroom is really tricky to air out, so when I clean, I really need to clean the ceiling walls floor and then of course there is the scrubbing down of the shower, sink and toilet. Yay. But my gosh does it look lovely and clean! I took all the stuff outside so I could get to every little corner. I wish I had a high pressure cleaning thingy and could just hose down the whole thing in a jiffy, but I guess the cleaning up after might then take me a while. In any case, it’s done and it’s clean. Woopteedoow. After that, I couched.

But in the evening time we went out for drinks with friends in the Irish Pub! Ah, how I love my Guinness. And how I love the midnight snacks after, kebab!

Saturday the holiday feeling was slightly gone, it was just weekend feeling. Meaning the boyfriend was home, yay! We went into town and got this awesome sound bar for the television, with a subwoofer. The bass on it is genius, and it’s got a smart ‘night’ setting that is ideal for us apartment people, to keep our neighbours happy, that turns that said bass down and does other weird stuff. I don’t really know how it works, it’s the boyfriend’s thing. But I still think it’s cool.

In the afternoon I met up with a friend to celebrate her birthday with High Tea in a local café, but more about that in another blog some time soon. And Sunday it was crafts day with another friend. Last time we did crafts day, we had some fun with paper maché. I love doing paper maché, because you can just keep adding stuff and mess about. But I never do it because I never manage to find that glue to use. Now, turns out you can do it with flour! Just add water, mix, and mess away! This time, we were going to paint our mess. Here’s the result before and after the painting:

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What do you think? I’m quite proud really! The boyfriend even suggested we put it up in the house, so he must like it too 🙂

My holiday at home was a little bit of an experiment. My work was closed for a week, the boyfriend just started a new job. What to do what to do what to do… So I decided: a lot of sports, a lot of gardening, a lot of cleaning and a lot of cooking. It was the best. I got all these things done I’m otherwise struggling to plan into my schedule. I have a hedge, red current bushes, lavender bushes and roses planted and did up a little vegetable patch in the garden with leek, spinach and silverbeet. Our apartment looks sparkly and clean and for just a little while, it doesn’t remember what dust look like. I tried some new recipes and made samosas, and some of our all time favourites to stock up the freezer, like chilli. And I went to the gym 6 days out of 7 and am still trying! It’s nice to see myself make progress a little bit faster and it motivates me even more. I have to be honest, I don’t like the amount of time you have to put in to getting more fit, but I feel like it’s so worth it. My body hasn’t felt this tired in a long time, but I love it. It makes my mind so much more alert and I feel on top of this world. The holiday may have finished, but I am so ready for work again. This was exactly what I needed. Not a lazy relax holiday, but a super efficient and active holiday. I’ve done more work in the last two days than in the two weeks before my holiday! Success!

What stuff do you like getting up to when you have a Holiday At Home?