Sunday, September 29, 2013

Another Sunday

Haven't gotten a whole lot done this weekend and am back to feeling like if I just had someone here to keep me company for a few hours, I could get through a whole load of stuff. I skyped with my sister (sans video though) this morning and said that to her and she jokingly said I should skype again next weekend and she'll keep me company while I do stuff. Don't tell her, but I might actually take that offer seriously.

I did go to the opticians yesterday. The day my sister died I had actually been to the eye doctor for the first time since moving here over five years ago. Much to my surprise he told me that, after about 20 years, my prescription has changed. And I'm not even more short-sighted than I used to me - my eyesight has apparently improved. I used to joke to opticians that when I got older and the old-age long-sightedness started kicking in, maybe it would cancel out my short-sightedness - just about every time I got my eyes tested I made that silly joke and knew it wasn't really possible but it seems that actually it is possible to a very small degree. Just to a small degree and at some stage in the future I'll probably end up with bi-focals because I won't be able to see either close-up or far away but for now it means I'm a bit less short-sighted than I was. Given the expensive week I had after that though, I had more or less decided to just wait until the new year to get new glasses. And then on Wednesday my glasses broke. So typical - when Murphy comes to play, he really likes to get his money's worth. It was simple enough to get them fixed but it seemed like a sign from the universe to just get the new ones already.

So now all I have to do is choose new frames - always the most difficult part. I'd quite like to get something green this time but it seems that, as so often happens, I'm just not with it at all. The colours that are all the rage at the moment seem to be pink (yeah, that's not going to happen) and a kind of darkish blue that isn't quite navy (navy would be okay, I think, but this blue colour doesn't quite seem right). Anyway, I manged to narrow it down to four pairs that are alright - none great but all wearable. One of them was even the type that wouldn't cost anything so long as I buy the special insurance. The insurance costs 10 euro per year so either way, I'll get that anyway. If I'd taken it out before going to see the doctor I'd have an automatic free pair of glasses since it also insures changes of half a dioptre or more, which is what I have. Mad stuff really. I'm going to drag a friend along during the week to help me decide which pair to actually get. I looked dreadful when I was there, which didn't help - between the pale, washed-out looking skin, tired eyes and the squinting to try and even see what was being reflected in the mirror, it's no wonder I couldn't decide what looked better. Maybe during the week I'll manage to have a day where I don't look quite so bad. It'll be time for another weigh-in as well at the weekend - that should be interesting.

Otherwise, today I had another non-productive day but did go to a final summer barbeque in the park with some friends this evening. We're supposed to have another three or four days of nice weather before the cold starts to really hit. Given that it's almost October though, that's alright. The evenings are drawing in too, with it getting dark by about eight now. I think I'm kind of looking forward to it though. And hoping that it won't be too gray a winter - cold but bright would suit me just fine this year.

The barbeque was planned very last minute and I didn't have any meat on hand so I ended up at the supermarket late yesterday evening and there wasn't a huge selection. I got some chicken breast steaks and then had a quick google to see kind of marinade I could do based on what I had on hand. And found this Rachel Ray recipe for honey and lemon chicken. I just did the marinade part of the recipe and then the chickens was cooked on the barbeque but I have to say that it was absolutely delicious. Will definitely be making note of it for another time - really simple and really tasty. For the rest of the week though, vegetables are taking pride of place on the menu. Assuming I can find the energy tomorrow to actually cook, that is.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Emergency funds are good

Don't have a huge amount to post but just wanted to have written something after my last post. This blog is very much my personal diary space and I tend to be very open most of the time but I just don't have anything else to write about it at the moment. Maybe that will change but in the meantime I'll just get back to posting random day-to-day stuff.

One thing last week reinforced is how important it is to have an emergency fund in place. I don't but at least I have come far enough along my debt-free path that I had a credit card with a four thousand euro limit and no outstanding balance on it. Between flights, one night in a hotel, car hire, petrol, tolls, mobile phone top-ups, food and whatever random stuff came up I ended up spending about seven hundred on the credit card and withdrawing about another four hundred in cash from my already overdrawn Irish account (again, it was good that I had reduced that overdraft to less than two-thirds of the limit as otherwise I would have been stuck trying to frantically borrow money from somewhere - not easy to organise on a weekend or from a different country). If I had had even a basic thousand euro emergency fund in place, I would have had almost all of that covered.

I do have just over three hundred built up in savings since August but I'm leaving that there and will just pay off the debt the same way I had been planning to with a couple of months tacked on to the other end as well. And by the time I have finished paying it all off, I should also have at least one thousand saved. Now, with a bit of luck my dentist appointment in a couple of weeks time won't reveal anything costly needing to be done!

Friday, September 13, 2013

And the weekend started out so well

It did. Honestly. And then on the way home from the monthly German/Irish Society meeting, I saw a missed message from my sister. Txted her back that she should ring me if something was wrong and if not, I would phone her tomorrow afternoon (it was already nearly half-eleven). She phoned me back to tell me that one of my other sisters had hung herself this afternoon and is dead. Don't even know what else to say after that.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Not quite what I was expecting

I went to my first evening of the preparation course for the translator's exam yesterday and am feeling quite conflicted and not a little angry now.

When I first contacted the community college in May the courses for this semester had not yet been finalised. I was in touch with the teacher and he sent me a test exam to try out. He had already told me that based on the level of German displayed in my emails and the fact that I'm a native speaker of English (the course is essentially an English one and focuses much more on translating into English but he agreed to give me extra work and time on translating into German), I shouldn't do the beginner's module but should go straight into the main module (in two sections). However, he then told me to turn up on the day that the beginner's module was scheduled, so that we could take care of the formalities.

I phoned him a couple of weeks ago to confirm that that was correct and he said that he's always in two minds about what to do with native speakers but that it probably would be advantageous for me to do the beginner's module as it's not only about language but also technique and so on. Absolutely fine with me, I can use all the help I can get and I had planned and budgeted for doing all three sections this term, which would have been 1.5 hours on a Tuesday and 3 hours on a Thursday. I'd organised with my boss that I would be leaving a bit earlier on those days and with a colleague who offered to cover in case any urgent work came up on those days that required someone to stay late. And now he was telling me to just come along to the beginner's class and we would see then whether there was space in the Thursday courses. Given that I had been in touch with him since before these courses were even finally planned I was unimpressed to hear that they might be full. And yesterday, following a not terribly impressive class, he seemed to have forgotten that we were going to discuss it and really seemed to think that he had straight out told me the Thursday class was full and that I should just do the Tuesday class. Very, very frustrating. Not least because I remember seeing somewhere that you have to have at least 100 hours of approved classes completed in order to be allowed sit the exam and getting that many hours in a bit less than a year was already going to be tricky.

There is another school that offers the prep courses but as I phoned them a couple of times in May and no-one ever answered, I decided they weren't really worth it. After my experience yesterday though, I tried again today and got through almost immediately. Fairly typical that.

They are far more expensive but it also sounds like I could learn a lot more there. I'm a big supporter of the community college (VHS) but I think that a lot can depend on which individual teacher you get. There are Saturday seminars run by a different teacher as exam prep for what I want to do and they are, by all accounts, really excellent. At 120 euro per module (essentially per 10 or 12 week semester) the VHS is very reasonably priced. The other school charges 150 per month and she was somewhat non-committal on exactly how many hours that meant although finally she did say that the courses are run on Saturdays from 10:00 until 13:30, so 3.5 hours. She also said, however, that if there are fewer people in the class, the work in covered more quickly and so there may be fewer hours. What? None of that. If I'm paying for 3.5 hours teaching a week then I'd like to have 3.5 hours teaching per week thank you very much. Why not just cover more ground with the smaller group? So I'm still not feeling very confident about that school. They don't have a fixed program either but just wait until they have a minimum number of participants and then start the course. I really don't want to get stuck in a situation where I am paying 150 euro per month with no end in sight. I like start dates and end dates and definite plans. One advantage is that they do offer German modules rather than lumping everything together with the focus on the non-German language. So I've sent an email as requested and will wait and see when they get back to me.

In the meantime I'll continue to go to the Tuesday class and have told the teacher that since I had arranged with work that I would also be attending on Thursdays that I will go to the college on Thursday evenings and just study by myself. He has said that he will email me the stuff he is working on in his Thursday classes if I want him to. And rather than just leave the money I'm now not using for those Thursday classes sitting in my account and being frittered away, I have transferred a bit more than half of it as an extra debt repayment, will be adding a little something to my sealed pot this evening and using the rest to post some birthday presents I had forgotten to budget for this month. So although I'm not as filled with enthusiasm for learning as I had expected to be after my first lesson, at least there's that.

Friday, September 06, 2013

Random links

I created a sub-folder of internet bookmarks called links to share. I don't always remember why I want to share though. And I don't always remember if I've shared before so apologies if you've seen it all before. But here's a random selection of stuff:

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Moving on

I finally got my tax assessment notice this week and the money hit my bank account overnight. It felt like a long wait but was only a couple of weeks longer than the last time I did it. I had submitted for 2011 and 2012 together so it turned out to be a nice amount. I was hoping for over 1,000 but ended up getting just over 1,600. Cue huge sigh of relief and checking my bank account every half-an-hour for the day and a half it took the money to arrive. Just about all of it has now been moved on to other homes so I'm feeling a bit broke again and wishing for next payday. I'm back at a point of being just a few months out of reach of being debt free and trying not to think of the things that have happened to me at about this point before to set me back.

Just about all of my tax refund has gone towards debt but I did want to do something nice, too so I took about ten per cent and made a donation to my choir. We're performing Haydn's Creation in November and, being a small choir that doesn't have much money, a large performance like that, involving soloists and an orchestra, tends to be a loss-making venture. So although it's a donation it's definitely one of those that has a selfish element attached! It felt good to be able to do something other than just pay off debt.

I find it somewhat surprising how much my attitudes have changed in the last year or so though. I had managed to build up my savings to the point that I consistently had at least 500 in my annual expenses account. Of course, since most of my annual expenses occur at the end of July and beginning of August (anniversary of moving here), that account got wiped out and now I have to start building it back up again. All well and good, that's what it's there for after all. But I had gotten so used to always seeing that amount sitting there that once it was all gone I was left feeling very uneasy. It was great when I got paid at the end of August and was able to put something into it again. Given how long I have been in debt though, and how long I have relied on credit cards and overdraft facilities to cover expenses, I've been surprised at how almost visceral my reaction to not having savings has been. Although almost from the start of my getting serious about paying off my debt (about 2003) and even before that, I have always maintained a savings account to cover annual expenses, particularly when I still had a car, I often played fast and loose with the money I was saving, which meant that sometimes a bill would fall due and I'd just barely have enough to pay it because I had already taken most of the money out to cover a shortfall somewhere else a couple of months ago. So I'm taking it as a good sign that it now disturbs me immensely to not have money in the bank and to be relying on credit for emergencies. I've disliked that for a long time but it really, really disturbs me now.

And in an effort to keep me focused a bit on the future and not just sitting here wishing that my next payday would just arrive already, here's what I'm looking forward to next year:

  • Save 4,000
  • Cancel visa card 'cos I don't need it anymore
  • Save further 3,000
  • Cancel overdraft facility 'cos I don't need it anymore
  • Keep on saving
And on a totally unrelated note, here's a video that I first saw a couple of weeks ago and that I have gone back to watch over and over again. I've since found out that the main guy singing is a primary school teacher and all I can say is that if they'd had teachers like that when I was in school, I'd probably be able to do a lot more in Irish now than be able to ask permission to go to the toilet or say five hail Marys!
If you like this video, by the way, there are others too, including a version of the Lion King's Circle of Life. Check out the band, Seo Linn, (which is that teacher, Stiofán Ó Fearail and a few friends).

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

What I learned from the 3-day-novel contest

  • They do say somewhere (in the FAQs I think) that it is best to have a basic outline ready before the contest starts. Probably a good idea unless you're a particularly imaginative person. I'm not and I spent far too much time trying to think of what to write.
  • If you get stuck, read back over what you've done and try and figure out where it works until. I ended up starting an entirely different story on the second day because I just couldn't make the first one go anywhere. On day 3, I re-read the first story, deleted the final paragraph I had written and all of a sudden it started flowing again.
  • You really do need to be typing nearly every available minute there is. I can type at about 60-70 words a minute. Assuming about 50,000 words and a speed of 60 words/minute, you'd need nearly 14 hours. No problem, right? You've got 72, well, 50 if you don't give in to that pesky sleep habit too much. However, given that you're not just typing, you're also having to actually come up with the words to type, your typing speed after four hours is not going to be the same as it was at the beginning and that kind of thing, you can probably assume that you'll need a good bit more than 14 hours to get somewhere. 
  • It turns out that my apartment is just too distracting to really get going. I made far more progress when I went out and sat in a cafe for a couple of hours. 
  • It's probably better for me not to follow the twitter hashtags for the contest. I'm not the competitive sort and reading that others had reached 10k, 15k, 35k just made me feel more and more like a failure.
  • Boggle is great when you want to make up a word for something. But when you've made something up, don't forget to google it, just in case it actually is a real word (in Polish, for example).

Monday, September 02, 2013

3-day-novel contest - day 3

I totally suck at this novel writing thing. I was never even aiming for a good novel, just something. Halfway through day 2 I realised I had nowhere left to go with what I was writing and just started over. Have only managed four pages of the new one, it's coming up to midday on the final day, which means I have nearly twelve hours left to produce about 95 pages.  And that means leaving absolutely no time for proof-reading or editing. Which doesn't bother me that much because I suspect if I were to devote any time to re-reading, I'd start deleting. At this stage, I'm also considering going back to my original manuscript as what I've been doing for the last 24 hours is self-pitying and morose beyond belief.

I'm going to hop in the shower now and then head out to buy copious amounts of chocolate. I may bring my laptop with me and sit myself down in a cafe for an hour or two. Maybe a change of scenery will inspire me.