2013 in review

2013? That is so 12 hours ago.

After last night’s festivities, I did the unthinkable. I slept until noon! Crazy, because I am a creature of the sun, rising early even on the weekends.

I thought I’d do a quick review of 2013. I’m a sucker for lists after all. So here are a few of my highlights from the past year.

7069The best book I read this year was The World According to Garp. It happens to also be the first book I read in 2013. It was first published in 1978 and is, in my opinion, an American classic.

This is an amazing account of a fictional writer’s life. I won’t go into too much detail, but whether you’re a writer or not, this is a beautifully crafted story. Well-written and easy to read, I just loved it.

Honorable mentions on my 2013 reading list include Maggie O’Farrell’s Instructions for a Heatwave (pub. 2013) and Hal Higdon’s Marathon: The Ultimate Training Guide (pub. 2000).

Early on in 2013 I started a new job as a writer and researcher covering the resource and energy sectors in Australia, Africa and the Indo-Pacific. I have learned so much about industries essential to the Australian economy, and met some great people.

This past year I also finally got my Australian permanent residency. It’s a long process and Matt and I are so happy it’s settled at last.

Me and Mom at the finish

Me and Mom at the finish

As for experiences, the definite highlight for this year was running my first marathon. I won’t go into detail since I’ve already written about it in the past, but working toward and achieving that goal was incredibly fulfilling. To then share the race with my mother was a dream come true. I’m planning to run my second at some point in 2014.

Perhaps the best thing about this year has been my reunion with knitting. It’s been nearly a decade since I first learned, and it’s been wonderful picking it back up and immersing myself in the hobby. I’ve learned heaps and developed my skills at an exponential rate.

Overall 2013 was a great one. It’s also ended with a bang. My childhood friend Lauren has been spending our Christmas holiday with us over the last two weeks. I’ll gather up the best photos of her trip and summarize it in another post. It’s been amazing having her here.

I look forward to the year ahead. Most exciting is my upcoming marriage to the love of my life. Since we first met in 2009, it’s been a whirlwind and I can’t believe I’ll have been in his country 4 years this July. It’s gone by in a blur, and I’m so lucky to be with him.

Here’s to a fantastic 2014, Happy New Year everyone!

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The life of a reader

In this blog, I have yet to truly touch on my first obsession, which is books. These days, knitting seems to be defining who I am, and eating away (happily) at all of my free time. As 2013 winds down and I begin making my 2014 plans, reflecting on resolutions past present and future, I am lately reunited with literature, my first love.

I intend to do a full 2013 in review post closer to the new year, but this morning on my commute, I was thinking about next year and all the wonderful books I want to read. Every year I try to read 50 books, a tradition I started back in 2009 when I was living in France and had hours of leisure time every week to devote to books. That year I read 55 books; a number that I have yet to match.

This year I’m at 48, and I suspect that for the first time since 2009, I will actually attain the 50. In 2011 I fell just short, reading 47, but in 2010 and 2012 I made a very poor showing of it, only getting to the mid-30s. It’s been fairly easy to reach the goal in 2013, though I will admit that this year has seen a lot more “fluff” books on the nightstand than past ones. Being such a competitive person, having a goal like this is helpful. It’s no big deal at all if I don’t achieve it, but it’s there to subconsciously remind me not to neglect reading.

Here are a few of the books I can’t wait to read in 2014:

1. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami (a favorite author of mine) – I’ve put off reading this one for so long because I was “saving it,” whatever that means. I want it to be my first book in 2014.

2. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon – The TV series is coming out, and I like to have knowledge about big pop culture phenomena coming up. It’s actually been in my “to read” shelf on Goodreads for years, and now’s definitely the time to jump on the bandwagon before it explodes. I already have it on my Kindle.

3. Life After Life by Kate Atkinson – Have heard good things, I think I’ll listen to this one as an audiobook.

4. Dark Places by Gillian Flynn – Read her other two books in 2013, and though they are super creepy, I’m eager to read this one too.

5. The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls – Another that has been on my “to read” shelf for ages.

6. What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver – Both Matt and I have been dying to read this seemingly forever, but we can never find a copy!

7. The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver – Loved the other two books of hers that I read, so I’d love to try another.

8. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon – Yet another that’s long been on my radar.

9. Allegiant by Veronica Roth – This year I read the first two books in the Divergent series. I realize these are teen novels, but like I said, I like to be up to date on the big pop culture phenomena. This certainly doesn’t hold a candle to The Hunger Games, but the movie is coming out, so I’d like to finish off the series. Though I’ll admit I really didn’t like the second book, so I have been putting this off since the third came out.

10. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain – Heard about this one on a podcast and it sounds fascinating.

I am a great lover of audiobooks, and recently I gave in and signed up for an audible account. When a typical audiobook costs around $30 on itunes, it’s been totally worth it to me to pay less than $23/month and get two for free and the rest at very discounted prices. November was the first month I had the account. It was helpful while doing NaNoWriMo to be able to just shut my eyes and listen to a book on the bus or before bed after computer overload.

2013 is also the first year I’ve had a Kindle. It was a Christmas gift from my parents, and it’s been excellent to have any book you want just a click away. It makes the transition between books quick, and I’ve even used it to “check out” ebooks from my library back home in Hennepin County.

The other thing I might try is to re-read a few books this year to see how they “hold up.” These wouldn’t count toward the 50, but it’s an idea that’s been marinating a longtime.

What are some of your “to reads” for 2014? I have many more, so watch my On the Nightstand space in the sidebar to keep up with what I’m reading!

Dreamin’ big: Turning vices into cash

Recently I’ve been back in touch with an old friend from college. She’s been through quite a few changes in the past couple of years, so it’s been really great to hear about some of her experiences since we shared a home-stay in our Spain study abroad program as naive 20 year-olds.

One thing she has encouraged me to do is to, essentially, not put off to tomorrow what I can do today. I have several “long term” goals on the back burner, and they all have one thing blocking the way: money (or more accurately, lack thereof).

It seems that everything I want to accomplish is financially out of reach. Matt and I are saving for a house and wedding, and everything else seems to be best left for a later date, as we are already in crazy saving mode.

Even so, I took her advice, I set a timeline, and I’ve got my bank account automatically entering a bit of funds into my personal savings from every paycheck. What, you ask, is this lofty goal of mine? Well, to go back to school of course. Yoga school, in fact.

Becoming a yoga instructor has been a quiet dream of mine for the past year or so. Or more accurately since I sprained my ankle at the beginning of 2012 and felt a strong desire to get out of contact sports and into something more self-fulfilling in the long term.

Unfortunately, doing my ankle put off another life goal which I instead was able to accomplish this year – running my first marathon. Now that I’ve achieved such a significant milestone in my (what I hope will be) lifelong running career, I can settle back into a steady running routine and focus on other ambitions.

I’ve been doing my research trying to figure out which studio will best fit my needs. I don’t want to do an intensive (these are offered both in Bali and throughout Australia), because I want to give myself a chance to work out how to better fit yoga into my daily (rather than once a week) life over a longer period of time. I also want to treat it like a real postgrad program (much like how I will soon be treating much of my knitting and crafting like a real job), and set aside plenty of time to study in between classes and sessions.

Either way, study isn’t cheap. I am pretty good about setting my sights on something and patiently saving up. I find myself a bit judgmental of people who flash the cash and make huge impulsive purchases. I prefer to take my time and continually affirm it’s something I really want.

Yesterday evening Matt helped me set up Autoload on my Smartrider card, so my bus trips to and from work will now be about 30 cents cheaper, saving me roughly $3/week. It’s not much, but every little bit helps, especially when I spend over $20/week in public transport alone.

I’ve also opted to forgo my weekday morning coffee (anywhere from $4.50-$5.00/day, no joke) to save an extra $25/week toward my yoga training.

Today is day two of drinking the free instant coffee (bleck) from the office kitchen. It’s not ideal, but it gives me the hit I need without the daily expense. I know I’ll eventually get used to it, and that’s how I’m turning a vice into cash! What could you stand to give up if it means achieving your dreams?

My first marathon: A look back

This morning my alarm went off at 5:40am, and I was lucky enough to have a small pocket of clear skies between the dreary downpours that have plagued us Perthians (Perthans? Perthites?) off and on for days weeks on end.

Now I know that getting up at or before dawn is most people’s worst nightmare, but for me this has been the norm until recently. Between the end of February and the end of August, I was rigorously training for my very first marathon.

I love running races. Even though I’ve been a runner for years, my first race as an adult was in May 2012. It was the HBF Run for a Reason, one of the most fun runs in Perth. This year I did it again, with plenty of friends to celebrate with at the finish line.

Post-12km race celebration with mates

Post-12km race celebration with mates

As a descendent of an avid marathoner (my mother), it was only a matter of time before I took on this monstrous task of 26.2 miles (42km). I am a running and fitness freak, a goal-setter and, if I’m being honest, quite a competitive person. Let’s just say that if I were a “Friend,” I would be Monica. I especially love to compete against myself.

I am a Monica, which friend are you?

I am a Monica, which friend are you?

Halfway through my training, I signed up to do a half marathon in Joondalup, and I have to say I fell in love with that distance. It’s amazing how back in May that was the farthest I’d ever run. By June I was running 13+ miles every Sunday and loving it. The incredible high from being at such peak running fitness was rewarding enough to keep me motivated despite all the early mornings in the dark, the wet and the cold.

Half-marathon finisher

Half-marathon finisher

The greatest gift at the end of this solo training journey was that my mom came over from Minnesota to run the race with me. After months and months of putting in all the hard miles by myself, it was such a pleasure to share this experience with her. I am so grateful she came all the way to Perth to be with me.

About a month before the race, I was really starting to hit a slump. Running had become all about training and just getting in the mileage. Normally I run because I enjoy it and it clears my head. This slump happened around the same time that I took up knitting again. I think subconsciously I needed an outlet that wasn’t running. Fortunately I got a second wind as I got swept up in the excitement of the race and my mom’s visit.

Me and Mom at the finish

Me and Mom at the finish

In the few days after the race, I recovered quickly and was itching to get back out there. But my first few runs felt sluggish and foreign. I became easily fatigued, and my legs didn’t seem to have the same effortless spring. I think it was the post-marathon blues.

But like I said, I am very goal-oriented, and my crafting goals have replaced marathon training as my latest obsession. I think about yarn all the time, and I count down the hours until I can back to my projects.

I have also gotten back into other exercise realms. I kept up with yoga and a bit of cycling during my training, but last week I was finally able to rejoin a gym and get some strength training going. So far this year I just have not had the time to devote to fitness activities outside running, and after so many setbacks in the past, I wasn’t going to risk injury with too much cross-training.

It feels amazing to be back at Body Attack (my favorite class at the gym) and going for runs just to feel good and have fun. It’s been almost a month and I still can hardly believe I did it. I ran a marathon! But even more amazing is that I was able to do so by putting in all the training on my own. Remembering the entire journey is what gives me the greatest sense of achievement.

I’m currently in the process of devising a schedule which will help me make enough time for crafting, exercise, writing and reading. Not to mention Emma/Matt time and social activities. But I’m lucky to have fit friends, so it’s easy to combine the social and fitness components.

This post is getting long, so I better wrap it up. As it says at the top of my blog, this is Knits by Emma and everything in between. Most of the time I want to focus on things that aren’t just about me. But in this case, I have had a very meaningful life experience, and I want to cherish it forever.