Category Archives: being me

Random stuff I collect – Scissors

I bought another scissors today. I file scissors under the label of “useful tool” and “I need one for every project I have going”. By project, I mean needlework project. Tapestry, canvas, needlepoint. It gets called by different labels depending on your culture. Tapestry is what I grew up with. Needlepoint is what the internet gives me. Canvas apparently is the British term and it definitely is the French term.

Like pretty much any hobby it comes with gadgetry. The Americans are big into needleminders (check these things out on Etsy) which are basically pretty magnets to mind your needles. I either keep the needles in needle packages or stuck into the canvas and I’ve never felt my life would be changed by using a magnet while I was stitching.

Scissors on the other hand, they are important. I went through a period of never being able to find a scissors when I needed one and as a result of this, typically, any big tapestry project (anything bigger than 15cm x 15 cm counts as big) will get kitted out with a canvas project bag, the canvas, the threads, two needles and a scissors. I have acquired scissors over the years.

In general, my preferred scissors are Fiskars scissors. I own about six and I’ve give one to my sister. Apart from the fact that they are great, great cutting tools, they are the one company who puts effort into making pretty scissors. I am a sucker for pretty things. This is why I have a pink calculator, for example. Make something functional, and then make it beautiful. Fiskars are near trademarked with orange handles. Mostly if you find a Fiskars scissors it will be orange. But I was on holiday in Finland about 5 years ago and in the main department store in Helsinki, I happened across a scissors with Moomins on it. I gave that one to my sister after I found ones with white handles with mad dashes of colour. My bedroom scissors and my desk scissors are of this nature.

My stitch scissors were typically orange but recently, I ordered 3 nice coloured Fiskars from canevas.com which has to be the biggest needlework shop on the web, and I also acquired a bundle of Pryms. The Pryms have purple handles mostly so they look rather pretty as well as rather sharp and pointy. They are good on the sharp and pointy front so I’m happy enough to use them. I seem to have lost one small Fiskars much to my regret but as 90% of my possessions are in storage I live in hope that they will turn up.

The general view is that I am a hoarder. But I hoard very specific things. Scissors. Tapestry canvases. Crochet cotton. Scissors. Pens. Oh the pens that I have…But one thing they all have in common is that they are useful in some way.

There’s a lot to be said for that.

The 400m obstacle

Back in the day when my routine was nice and simple and I didn’t spend most of my life in Dublin stuck in and adding to the traffic chaos, I used to go swimming three times a week, sometimes four. But generally, on a Monday, Wednesday and Friday, I used to leave work and drive to the pool at DCU – still my favourite pool to swim in – and swim. When I got there first I was recovering from a recurrent back problem which was caused by something stupid stupid playing badminton around 17 years ago. It hurt. A lot. My physio and I agreed that my back muscles would have to be toughened up and I started swimming *again*.

I don’t think I really had a target other than not to be completely rubbish at swimming. I was completely rubbish at swimming at that stage. Anyway, on account of the back problems, and linked with breathing issues, after about two days, I decided to backstroke instead of freestyle/frontcrawl/your term of choice, and that blossomed for me over the space of around 5 months. By the time I sort of lost the habit by disappearing off to Australia (where I swam daily) for 2 weeks, I was backstroking 1600m in around 55 minutes.

One of the things I remember rather clearly about that time was how, every time I went swimming, getting fro 0 to 400m was hard. It was really, really hard and it never got easy. Once I got to 400m, it seemed to become plain sailing and the other 1200m were generally a lot easier.

I don’t like to talk about the wall – I know the marathon runners talk about hitting the wall – and I’m reluctant to call it a mountain to climb; after all I am swimming. But it’s there, this…barrier, somewhere around 400m…which is hard, and then the rest is easier.

I have been back in the pool twice in the last 7 days (let’s just say this does great things for my average) and I’m now freestyling. There are a couple of reasons for this:

  • I feel inadequate that I take the easy way out and backstroke despite the fact that most people tell me they find backstroking hard and therefore I must be a good swimmer
  • I know there is a speed target of 400m in 8 minutes for lifeguarding. I cannot do it, not on my back, and definitely not going forward.
  • I know that with a bit of work I can do this and it’s a question of putting in the time and especially, identifying and eliminating the inefficiencies that make this hard for me.

To target this, in the past I have taken private swimming lessons and this is why I own a pullbuoy, amongst other things. I know I have lots of faults. I know, for example that my body could be longer in the water. I know that my catch is a bit awry. I know that my head up to breathe might destabilise my body in the water. I’m overweight.

But.

And there is always a but.

Today I swam 625m.

625m is more than I have previous managed on a second swim session back stroking. The previous swimming session, 6 days ago, was 250m, and at least 50 of that was backstroke, possibly 75. I can’t remember.

Generally my target from swim to swim is “do at least as well as the last time, and try and beat it” which means today’s target was 275m. In swimming contexts this is pretty much nothing but in my context, it’s a start, and it demonstrated that I could a) still swim and b) still at least complete individual lengths. But 250m had been hard last week, very hard, and it was significantly shy of the point which I know is an obstacle for me when I am swimming. I didn’t know if I was going to be able to do it today. The pool was busy and to be honest, I went out rather against myself. I wasn’t in good form.

Most people reading that would suggest they were excuses. I operate on the basis of “well even if I don’t make 250m, at least I went out and lapped the version of me that stayed at home feeling guilty about not going”. It’s a bit convoluted as motivation goes.

I had two collisions, neither of which were really my fault. Both times a swimmer started swimming straight at me after I was 2/3s of the way along the pool. One of them disrupted me enough that I wound up dropping the length midway and got myself back to the end. It’s why I wound up with an uneven number of lengths. But the pool kind of cleared out after that and the collision risks dropped away to nothing. The rest times between lengths stopped. And I had some wonderful lengths. I reached 200, and then 250 and 275. There were moments where I hit an extraordinary rhythm and position in in the water, and just felt wonderful. And I hit 375m and so 400 became a single length away.

And after that, another 225 lengths followed easily. I stopped because I had budgeted one hour in the pool and that had arrived. But I could have gone on. I might have gone on for another two or three hundred metres.  It seems this 400m obstacle exists in freestyle as well – the first 400m are hard, the follow ups seem very easy.

I have a couple of goals – loose goals – in place. I expect them to take 3 to 4 months to reach but…

  • 1000m forward, 1000m backwards
  • Learn to do a flip turn.

625m is awfully close to that first goal. Of course, there are things like rest times which need to be cut, and the chaining needs to be a lot better. But neither of those things come if you cannot do 1000m in the first place.

It is very hard for me to explain just how easy some of today’s lengths were. I suspect most swimmers have days/moments where it feels better, perfect, more aligned than others. I struggle to describe the feeling but it’s as though the world is balanced.

I’ve tried to reach 1000m freestyle before. This is the closest I have ever got and for the first time, I actually can reach out and touch it happening.

Resources I use are:

Effortless swimming

Reddit Swimming

 

Pool review: Bonnevoie, Luxembourg

I’m currently without a real home pool at the moment which makes the building of a swimming habit somewhat difficult. My would be home, dCoque, which is Luxembourg’s National Sports Centre, is currently closed for renovations until 1 October which is a nice chunk of the year. I’ll be honest and say I have not really managed to get a swim habit. No swimming till October is  pushing it a bit though. The next replacement, which I haven’t managed to check out yet, Badanstalt, about a 10 minute walk from home, is also closed. The pool 5 minutes from home isn’t open to the public. And so on and so forth

Next on the list is Bonnevoie. Bonnevoie is not too far from the railway station in Luxembourg, and public transport wise it is served by buses 3/30. You need to get off at Leon XIII. It is open every day except Wednesdays, and weekdays, it tends to close at 20.30. On Sunday it is open from 8.00 to 12.00.

There are two pools in the swimming centre in Bonnevoie; what they call the large pool, and the small pool. The large pool is 25m long, and ranges in depth from 1.8m to 3.8m at the deep end. There is a shelf at around 1.5m around the edge under water. The steps are set into the pool wall. Temperature wise it is reasonable – it is cool enough to swim comfortably in, but not so cold that you fight against going into it. When I was there, 2 lanes were separated off for lane swimming. The rest of the pool was occupied by people swimming lengths anyway so basically the choice was yours.

The small pool is about 10 by 10 meters, and at its deepest is 1.25m. One side consists of steps rather than some ladders, and at one end, there is a barrier to hold onto when getting into the pool. There is a small slide as well. I understand the pool is also used for things like aquaerobics. Temperature wise it is around the same as the big pool.

Entry to the pool without discounts for an adult is currently 3.80E and the ticket is in the form of a chipped band which I wore on my wrist and which also serves as a key for the lockers. In my view, there are not a lot of dressing rooms, but they work okay. The lockers are tall and narrow, and while you did not have to fumble for a euro or a coin of some description to lock them. I did not like them. I struggled to get my clothes bag into them and eventually pulled stuff out. My personal preference would have been for wider but shorter lockers and they could have increased the number of lockers available had they done this.

From a layout point of view, the lockers are a distance from the showers which means that really, it’s wise to have a bag to carry towels and shampoo or whatever you want in the showers afterwards. I tend not to like this because it’s just another thing to remember. That being said, one item of design in Bonnevoie recognises the needs for that, and as a result, there are shelves poolside to store stuff, like small swimming bags with towels for example. I liked that touch because typically, in other places, to find somewhere to leave a bottle of water and flipflops or on other occasions, everything can be a hassle.

The other thing which the pool in Bonnevoie has which is not a common feature in pools in my experience is a fine big readable digital clock. This makes it handy to plan around bus services and dates and the like.

Given that currently, dCoque and Badanstalt are closed, it is likely that I will default to Bonnevoie as the alternatives are a) rarely open (Bel Air) or b) expensive (Les Thermes). I’d be happier if it were open for 30 minutes longer during the week and maybe a few hours more on Sunday but then the world does not revolve around me.

Bonnevoie Swimming pool
30 rue Sigismond

Bus 3/30, Place Leon XIII

Monday: 08.00-20.30
Tuesday: 06.45-20.30
Wednesday: CLOSED – although apparently open 8-17.30 while Badanstalt is closed until 1 September – I cannot check this myself.
Thursday: 06.45-20.30
Friday: 08.00-20.30
Saturday: 08.00-20.30
Sunday: 08.00-12.00

Cost of a swim: €3.40

Website: Ville de Luxembourg

Treasa’s Map of Pools

 

 

A Library, A Library, My Kingdom for a Library

Very few things make me terribly, terribly envious of other people, but home libraries, grand pianos and home swimming pools are on that short list.

I’ve always wanted a home library. A room with floor to ceiling shelves full of books. They don’t all have to be “worthy” books – although I have a collection of dictionaries which probably exceeds most normal people’s need for reference books.

Of course, I own a kindle, and carry around 300 books with me at all times. I can probably fit more books on the kindle than I could in shelves in my current living room.

But.

Actual, real books are special. Of course they are. They have a user interface which kindles really can’t touch. You know by looking at a book just how far through it you are, or are not. The average pocket book is more comfortable to read in bed than a kindle is.

Books have a special smell. Eau de Parfum de Brand New Book which slowly, over a long time period, moves to Eau de Parfum de Musty Dusty Book.

I love new books. I love leafing through them. I especially love the 2017 Edition of the Illustrated Grand Larousse. Did I mention I liked dictionaries?

I love casting an eye over a bookshelf and thinking “Today I will read (or reread) this book or that book”. It’s not the same as doing it through a kindle.

I don’t really care what my house looks like out on the outside. I care that it has a library, with floor to ceiling bookshelves, slowly filling up, in a chaotic but very personal mode. Not for me this utterly ridiculous idea of sorting books by colour to make a Statement. This is not about interior decor. This is about exploring the world.

In the room a comfy armchair with a table and a lamp so that I can see the words and have somewhere to leave a cup of tea as I vanish into a world that only exists in the imagination of a random stranger somewhere.

If the room is big enough, you know, I’ll put the grand piano in there too. Maybe a beanbag too for those days when the armchair is just too formal. Days when, outside it is raining but on the pages of a book in my hand, the world is full of possibilities, and no risk of getting wet, only of travelling a world currently unseen.

I’ve always felt that lots of money was wasted on socialites. I’d spend it on books if I had it.

Feierdag

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Luxembourg rather sensibly has its national big party event in the middle of summer. I was thinking of this as I considered the absolute novelty of standing outside in the warmth of 30 degrees to watch a fireworks display rather than standing out in the freezing cold waiting for the rain in March.

23 June is Bonfire Night in Cork. When the Independent Republic of Cork is declared, make that the Independence Day festival. Trust me. You’ll wonder how you tolerated marching bands in March. There is no comparison.

In Luxembourg, the whole national celebration thing starts the day before the National Day. This includes turning the place into a giant street party. It is unbelievable.

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This is from the Ville Haute near the main expensive shopping district. Just around from this the party starts.

Bar after bar after bar has DJs playing sets on the street.

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including dry ice machines

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and like 20 metres away from all these club on a streets you have gigs on a street.

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These were the headliners on Place d’Armes. Around the corner in front of the Hotel de Ville there was this lot.

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That gives just a bit of a taste of the atmosphere there was in that square last night. This was their audience by the way.

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This here was the main stage where the Military Band were lined up to accompany the fireworks.

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They were brilliant. You can here them in the following videos.

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Jupiter Bringer of Joy

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Jupiter Bringer of Joy

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Bolero

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Bolero

Here are some stills of the fireworks.

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This was me at one of the gigs.

I have to say last night was great fun. There were food stalls everywhere. In the Knuedelplatz, where the guy with the fiddle and the girl on the accordion were rocking out, you went and exchanged cash for tokens. There were stalls over the place selling light sabres and light up hairbands. The buses were rerouted for the evening and free – seriously, they are dead serious about getting people to get buses. Three routes were added to support park and ride. Bunch more photos and weirdly aligned videos (don’t look at me – this happened automatically) to be found here.

Shop boys

There’s a Neil Gaiman book called Stardust the film adaptation of which is, in my opinion, one of the best film adaptations of a fantasy story going. The sort that leaves you feeling uplifted and happy rather than relieved, that is. It probably isn’t as epic as The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

The chief male character pops up at the outset working in a shop. He has a crush on the local lord’s daughter, who dismisses his interest because well he’s just a shop boy. Later the non-bitch love interest points out that there are shop boys, and there are boys who happen to work in a shop for a while. This is shortly before he becomes local king. In many respect, it’s a fairly simple rags to riches story where the poor boy with no power at the beginning turns out to have rather a lot of it. It is a wonderfully filmed piece of cinema, the music is lovely, the costume is lovely, but there is still this idea that you are only worth something if you wind up rich and successful at the end

That being said. I was at a family occasion lately, and time past were being discussed. The times past being discussed were dances. I grew up in the disco era so all of this was completely alien to me. We had to deal with “the slow set”

Dances in times further back than that – a lot further back – were the stuff of legends. The boys did all sit along one wall, and the girls did all sit along the opposite wall and the ritual was basic enough: the boys asked the girls to dance and the girls, except under extreme circumstances, could not say no. A typical extreme circumstance involved too much alcohol which sometimes leads me to wonder how often in fact, women got to say no at dances down the country. How much was too much? If you said no, you got a scathing review o DanceAdvisor which operated on the bush telegraph anyway. And it was as durable as the internet appears to be. Memories were sharp on this matter.

Society being what it was at the time, there were social “clues” which mattered a great deal. The one which was new to me was the one where a man had 3 pens in his shirt pocket. I dare say the number was variable, but what mattered was if he had pens at all, usually fountain pens, because this meant he was a Shop Boy. The girls liked and aspired to hook up with shop boys.

Because dancing was an essential tool on the road to getting married and being provided for – I hardly need tell you that in the grand scheme of things, economically women were not the strongest in Ireland at the time – things like this mattered. The farm boys did not like the shop boys because typically the shop boys got all the girls. They weren’t thinking in terms of “there are boys who are shop boys, and there are boys who worked in shops for a while”. The life you might lead as a woman who married a shop boy was likely to be very different to the life you would lead if you married a farm boy.

I found this fascinating because most of my life, a townie, listening to people talking about mating rituals down the country, what mattered was road frontage. That you had land and it fronted onto a main road. That sort of land was wealth. But farming brought with it a lifestyle which many a young girl did not aspire to. A shop boy was a boy with a prospect of a better and easier lifestyle.

A boy who was a shop boy just for a while might never cut it in a dance hall in rural Ireland.

 

Natural Born Stragglers

The great mass of runners participating in the ING Luxembourg Night Marathon started passing my front door at around twenty to eight this evening. My apartment was just shy of the 12 kilometer mark, so well over half way if you were doing the half marathon, but a good bit short of half way if you had signed up for the full lot.

I don’t know how many people signed up to do this; but this I do know: they are all better people than me.

Luxembourg City had a weather warning in force for both today, and also for tomorrow, for high temperatures. When the runners set off at 7pm this evening, it was 29 degrees. It was still 29 degrees when they passed my door at 7.40 and now, at 20 past 9, it has fallen all the way to 28 degrees.

It will be a warm evening.

I stood outside when the first runners passed, and I watched them. And I stayed until the last runners passed and I cheered them. It is the great mass of people who do stuff that is hard, that they know they may fail to complete and who still do it anyway, who are heroes in my book. As I write, some of them will still be working their way around the route to get them to the finish line, be it 30 km away, be it 9 km away.

Not many people do this, I noticed. By the time the last five or six runners passed, the last of the stragglers, followed only by the police and a pick up bus, there was near no one left cheering them on. No one still shaking the cheap tambourines that ING appear to have handed out along with their orange straw hats. The only blue giant balloons to be seen were being dragged along by a runner wearing Luxair team gear.

By the time the main body of runners has passed, there are still a few groups, here and there 5 and 6 runners, or 3 or 4 having a conversation, trying to calculate how far they have left to go.

I “did” the Women’s Mini Marathon in Dublin once. I didn’t run it. I wound up middle of the walking field which is a fairly big field in that race. I don’t know if there are stragglers catching up in it. But I never ran it and my own personal interest in running is for solo trail stuff. I will almost certainly never sign up for the Night Marathon in Luxembourg.

There’s a pin floating around pinterest along the lines of “no matter how slow you are going, you’re still people the people on their sofas.

Runners at the Night Marathon. 2017.

All Successful People have smoothies for breakfast

I am sometimes inclined to wonder how many successful people actually read books or watched videos which amounted to “How to be Successful”.

I mean,  you just know that the bosses of a bunch of high value tech start ups get up every morning and tune into the latest “How to be a Boss” vlogs on youtube. And yet there are loads of them. And by the vagaries of Youtube’s near totally useless recommender system which has decided that because I like bullet journaling videos, I am probably interested in other videos by organisational experts who are telling you how to live your life. This morning tossed up an assortment of 20 year old law students with perfect lives selling you their lifestyle. One of them went through a morning routine.

My morning routine is fairly simple.

  • Get up
  • Make my bed
  • Have a shower
  • Dress
  • Get breakfast
  • Pick up bag
  • Walk out the door.

This is it. In fact, I attach a lot of importance to the bed making bit because back when I was a student in student accommodation, my bed was my sofa. The place looked a lot tidier and was a bit more useful if the sofa was usable.

Also – and for me now this is the single most important feature of making my bed first thing – I won’t have to make it 14 hours later when I am falling into bed wrecked. No one sane likes having to do their bed clothes when they are shattered after a hard day at the coal face of sitting in front of a computer and listening to colleagues moaning.

I digress. A common feature of morning routines involves breakfast and the perfect breakfast. This morning, I was informed that smoothie bowls were great. I was a bit bemused by this because I wasn’t familiar with the concept of smoothie bowls. I made smoothies for breakfast for years but recent comments about it being better to eat fruit rather than liquidise it first means I’m less inclined to do them. Smoothie bowls are actually smoothies in a bowl with a pile of fruit plonked on them. I suppose the good point is you get the pleasure of the smoothie with some food chomping. What I’m not so sure about is the assertion that because smoothies were so go for you, probably lots of really successful people must be making them because they are, like, really successful, and smoothies probably contribute to that because they are looking after themselves.

Right.

Gotcha.

Think you are talking nonsense, but anyway.

I’ve watched an awful lot of How to be success in Life type lifestyle videos on Youtube. It is a veritable little industry between telling people how to organise, how to live, how to eat, when to sleep, how to apply make up how much to stuff into life, staring meaningfully into the distance while “studying” . It’s not because I don’t know how to organise mornings. I used to get up at 10 past 7 when I was in university and had a regular little routine going. It never occurred to me that 20 years later people like me would be flogging these routines on Youtube videos. The comment on my grave will be “She was very organised”. It’s just, I like art journals and youtube’s recommender system pulls me down continuingly awful rabbit holes (try looking at one small cat video and you’ll be fighting off recommendations about kitten rescues for months).

I don’t try to monetise this but really, if you want to be successful, following someone else’s morning routine isn’t going to help. There is no moral/financial pay off ratio that makes having a smoothie a tool of success. I was bitterly unhappy for the months I was having smoothie breakfasts; not because of the smoothies (oh they were nice) but because I wasn’t knee deep in the key thing “Find out what you want to do, and what you have to do to achieve it, and do it”. When I figured that out, it really didn’t matter what I had for breakfast.

Spotlight on Spotlight

One of the things I discovered in Luxembourg since I got here are the Spotlight Verlag language learning magazines. I cannot think of a single corresponding example in the English media market but most of the newsagents have some if not all of these.

Spotlight Verlag produce regular publications in French, German, English, Spanish and Italian for learners of those languages. For English, they have two – a regular English one, and a business English one. In addition to Spotlight, another company called Colour Media, I think, produce a couple in English, also regular and business level. I’ve picked up some of the English stuff purely on the back of how interesting – despite being targeted at beginners – the Spanish ones are. I have the French and German ones but I haven’t been finding time.

ECOS is the Spanish one. It is very obviously directed at Germans as its tagline is Einfach Besser Spanisch and the glossaries are Spanish German. My Spanish is limited and goes back 30 years and I am planning to bring it right up to scratch in the next two years. If you were to ask me what is the best language resource I have found to date, it would be this. The articles are colour coded and there are idiomatic pieces each month for Easy and Intermediate levels. There is plenty of content in advanced Spanish as well , along with puzzles and games.

I cannot think of corresponding equivalents in English which is, I suspect, damning to say the least. I suppose it is not helped by the fact that English magazine market seems to be dying a slow painful death. I have had a look at some of the resources available for maintaining foreign language skills – I’m mildly disappointed with them (which means I should write one myself). Mostly the issue is that I find the creators of content guiding people in how to maintain their foreign language skills are more of a Look At MEEE I’m trying to maintain 13 languages…

I suppose for Spanish I had expected something helpful like “Here’s a list of Spanish news sites and magazines online” and “Follow this link for 100 Spanish radio stations.” Instead I get “Sign up for my product here” and “Here’s a mini essay about how the only people I speak Italian to are my parents”.

In summary every time I look at online language learning resources I feel cheated and hard done by. But magazines which give you interesting content and which are about give you steps forward, that’s great. It is a pity that the availability is a bit limited.