1000 piece jigsaw: tick!

Well, I’ve completed the first thing on my 40 things to do before 40 list. I completed it a while ago, I just haven’t blogged because I’ve been focused on another project which I will share in another post. Anyway, I finished a 1000 piece jigsaw!

Now, technically, it was a 999 piece jigsaw. Although this was brand new (I’ve been burned from charity shop jigsaws before), I’m not sure whether I lost the piece or whether it was a manufacturing fault. I’m giving the manufacturer the benefit of the doubt, as on balance the piece is most likely to be on the floor of Bella Italia where I started sorting out edge pieces. (Can you spot where the missing piece is?)

Here are all the good things about doing a 1000 piece jigsaw:

  1. Everyone helps. Although technically this was my challenge, jigsaws are a nice community thing, as other people just can’t help interfering. My husband and kids took great pleasure in helping me out. It was good family bonding.
  2. It kept me away from my phone.
  3. It forces you to look at things in a different way. This is especially great if you select a picture of a painting, as you have to look at the brush strokes in minute detail. And when you are looking for pieces, they quite often end up not looking how you expect them to look. You think you are looking for pink pieces for a pink wall, but actually in the shade the pieces are red, or even grey. You might think looking for writing is easy too, but partial letters don’t look how you expect them too. You really have to go down to the micro level with a puzzle, and see detail you might never have noticed before. There might be a metaphor for life in here somewhere…
  4. …And on that note, this is the closest I get to mindfulness. I’m sorry, I HATE mediation and mindfulness, I really do. They make me massively uncomfortable and generally have the contrary effect to that which they proclaim to have. However, doing activities that mean you focus without worrying about everything else going on is a form of mindfulness, and this is as close as I will get to it.
  5. It requires focus: After doing all the outside pieces you just have to break the puzzle down into sections. When you are sifting for parts of a pavement, don’t get distracted collecting bits of the sky for later, or you’ll never get it done.
  6. They require a lot of room. Our dining table was half covered for about 2 weeks, and we had to squeeze around the puzzle to it. I considered buying one of those roll mats so you can tidy it away, but that seemed like too much commitment to puzzling. I’d be a puzzler. At 35. That said…
  7. I’d do it again! I really enjoyed finishing a puzzle. I’m not a completer finisher by nature. The sight end line of a race doesn’t incentivise me to sprint; it makes me want to stop, because I’m basically at the end, if not quite. But the puzzle, and knowing that I would write about it tested my perseverance, and I mastered it.

Not sure what is next on my list to do, but I’m working on the juggling thing at the moment.

40 (SMART) things to do before 40

The Moon
Shoot for the Moon, but it’s not very SMART

Psychologists will tell you that making New Year’s resolutions don’t work. People usually try and change too much, which is unmanageable and ultimately leads to failure, or they don’t make specific enough goals and therefore don’t achieve anything. I trot this out every year when people ask me about resolutions, but while logically I know all this, there’s a little part of me that loves resolutions. I just love fresh starts, fresh pieces of paper, the national New Year mentality. When making goals people often recommend the SMART method. That means goals should be:





Time Bounded

By setting smart goals, you are more likely to achieve them. You can shoot for the moon – it worked for NASA – but most people would look up, realise it’s a really long way and they have no way of getting there, and just go and have a nap instead.


I haven’t set any New Year’s resolutions, I’m going one better. Well, actually 40 better. It’s 4 short years till I turn 40, and I am going down the incredibly cliché route of attempting to do 40 things before I hit the big  4-0. Turns out finding 40 challenges is actually quite hard, so I did a bit of research on the many other lists of Things to Do Before an Arbitrary Date. Travel came up an awful lot, as did doing stupid-assed things like throwing yourself out of a plane. Problem is, a lot of these things cost quite a lot of money, and while I’d love to go on a safari, trek Machu Picchu, and eat at a Michelin starred restaurant, I would also have to add ‘win the lottery’ to the start of my list. So I needed a more realistic list, such as 40 (realistic) things to do before you turn 40. And while I’m no fan of glossy magazine usually I liked Cosmopolitan’s list.


On my list you will find a range of things, some that involve saving up some cash or major presents (just sayin’…), others just involve a bit of effort on my part, things I might not otherwise do without some sort of impetus, like reading a really challenging book, learning to juggle. Some activities are just made for doing with friends, so I am looking for volunteers for busking and karaoke. Do I think I will complete all of these before I am 40? Probably not, but actually that doesn’t matter, because if it gets me trying new things, that’s all that matters. Some might turn out to be unrealistic – I already took off ‘Be a life model’ because it turns out that is actually harder to get into that you’d think, they want actual professional. Preliminary googling suggests I can learn how to back flip or somersault just by watching some videos. We’ll see how that turns out… While 40 things in 4 years seems an intimidating list I am hoping I can combine some, like a road trip, star gazing, sunrise and skinny dipping, that sounds like a trip for DH and I to the Scottish Highlands or similar. And I might want to perfect juggling, somersaulting and steel drums before trying busking.


So, are my goals SMART? Well, most of them are specific (need to scope out that Like Myself one), nearly all of them are measurable (but how will I know if I like myself…?). Each one is achievable on its own, whether all 40 are remains to be seen. Realistic will depend mainly on finances. And they are all time bounded, I have 4 years. Well, 4 years and 4 months. That’s loads of time!


Here’s the really important thing for you, reader – DO NOT JUDGE THE LIST. So you might have done all of those things by 27. Maybe making yourself watch a classic movie is a just an average weekend activity for you. Perhaps just watching a sunrise isn’t enough for you, you want to watch the sunrise over the Serengeti? That’s nice for you. What is a challenge for me may not be a challenge for you, and vice versa. I can already bake the best brownies, I can crochet, I’ve seen the Vatican, and I’ve walked over hot coals. You do yours, I’ll do mine.


Finally, you’ll notice that there are only 37 things on the list. I’ve left myself space to add things in at a later date as I am bound to come up with new ideas.

  1. Hot air balloon flight
  2. Learn to change a tyre
  3. Write something and send it to a publisher
  4. Go skinny dipping
  5. Have a trapeze lesson
  6. Sing in a karaoke bar
  7. Go on a zip wire
  8. See the Northern Lights
  9. Like myself
  10. Learn to juggle
  11. Busking
  12. Have a steel drum lesson
  13. Go star gazing
  14. Abseil down the Eagle Tower
  15. Find a mantra
  16. Have a make-up lesson
  17. Read a classic book that intimidates me
  18. Watch a sunrise
  19. Go on a road trip
  20. Do a new type of exercise class
  21. Go on a silent retreat
  22. Learn a challenging yoga pose (e.g. Pincha Mayuasana)
  23. Make a fancy cake
  24. Get a tattoo
  25. Get promoted
  26. Complete 30 Day Shred
  27. Do a MOOC
  28. Learn to play chess
  29. Learn a piece of origami by heart
  30. Learn to somersault or back flip
  31. Go to a lavender farm
  32. Buy 10 lottery tickets and give them away
  33. Invest in some stock
  34. Watch a classic film
  35. Do a 1000 piece puzzle
  36. Spend a day with just my mum
  37. Go to a restaurant with a cuisine I’ve never tried before
  38. ?
  39. ?
  40. ?


Why I don’t have a bucket list

Sure it looks pretty, but you know it's really cold there, right?

Always on the lookout for cool present ideas for DH I recently quizzed him as to whether he would like a flying lesson. It’s like one of those Red Letter Day, special one day experience type of things, and we live practically next door to a small air port. “It’s a bit pointless really, as it’s not like I could afford to keep having lessons”. “But it’s an experience,” I replied, “You can say you’ve done it”. His lack of interest surprised me. After all doesn’t everyone hanker after these once-in-a-lifetime experiences so that they can, um, relive it in their heads, and tell random strangers in the supermarket queue? Doesn’t everyone have a “bucket list”?


Bucket lists are all the rage on the internet. Actually, they are probably even a little passé given that the idea , or at least the term, stemmed from a 2007 movie starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. The idea is that you compile a list, and presumably attempt to fulfil that list, of things you want to do before you kick the bucket. Actually, the idea goes back to the book 100 Things to Do Before You Die, published in 1999, spawning myriad copies such as 101 Things To Do Before You Die, 101 Whiskies to Drink Before You Die, and 101 Places to Have Sex Before You Die.


Dave Freeman, co-author of the original book died in 2008, at the young age of 47, having only completed about half of the things in his book. This was described by many as “ironic”, which seems terribly sad. To be remembered for what you haven’t done rather than what you have done seems to defeat the purpose of the book. You don’t get a prize for completing the list.


People’s bucket lists seem to me to be mostly narcissistic, hedonistic, and seem to cost a lot of money. Even in today’s economic climate we have far more disposable income than ever, so flying a plane, climbing K2 or exploring the Amazon are no longer the preserve of the uber wealthy. For only a few hundred pounds you can drive a Lamborghini round a race track. Also, with more leisure time and resources anyone can write a novel, learn a language, get a degree (they might not necessarily do these things well).


Exploring is important, I understand. That’s how we got to the moon, part of what makes us human is a desire to explore. But do we really need another man, in the throes of a mid-life crisis, rowing solo across the Atlantic, while his poor wife and children are left at home, not knowing if he will return? And driving across America in a Cadillac isn’t quite following in the footsteps of the Pioneers.


People seem intent on collecting new experiences. To what end? What good does a one-off flying lesson do? Sure you trekked to the Arctic, but what have you actually gained, apart from frostbite and a few stories? Even if you have found some sort of inner strength and resilience on your trip, how have you helped anyone else (DON’T get me started on so called “Charity Treks”). Well, at least you have something to talk about at dinner parties.


Bragging rights aside, it would seem that whether they last for 2 minutes, on the world’s tallest roller coaster, or two weeks, climbing up a Mount Everest, we remember the most intense of our experiences rather than the sum of them. Daniel Kahneman called this the Peak-End Rule, we remember the peaks, and also how the experience ended, and not much about in between. This means that you remember that memorable elephant ride in Thailand, but not the dysentery in the first week, the horrendous queues at the airport, and getting your wallet stolen. Was it worth it?


Meh. I'd rather be snuggled up with a bar of Galaxy. My dreams aren't this lofty.

There is a certain lack of spontaneity and joy in collecting experiences to tick off your bucket list, like a train spotter ticking off the latest rolling stock. When your foot is about to make contact with the metaphorical bucket, is the time you saw the Northern Lights going to be flashing before your eyes? Or trekking Machu Picchu? Well, according to Kahneman, probably. But will it make you satisfied with your life? How will these things have helped other people in your life? Will your life be more worthy than someone who didn’t read the Complete Works of Shakespeare, or learn to play the piano?


That’s not to say that goals aren’t important in life. I’m very goal-oriented myself. Goals are essential for motivation, and even far-reaching dreams can be inspirational. But life is a journey, full of surprises, which can often leave the best memories. And sometimes the best times are those snuggled up on the sofa with the ones you love, watching re-runs of the West Wing, with a tub of Hagan Daaz. I’d rather do that than skydive any day.