The Scamp in Belguim

I know I promised to finish detailing my journey in Cyprus.

I haven’t.

I know I said I was going to write my discussion chapter and make my chapter edits to finish my thesis by the end of July.

It’s not looking good.

So, in an effort to stick to something, I am going to post this week about my time in Antwerpen and then go back to work on the posts about Cyprus.

And I am going to write my damn thesis.

I was in Belguim to attend the JURE conference. This is dedicated to junior researchers of the European Association for Research and Learning. I had really high hopes for this conference. I thought I would be able to network and meet people who were doing all kinds of interesting research all over Europe. What I got was a keynote speaker who made the point that when a person is sleep deprived they suffer from fatigue, and when they suffer from fatigue they are less motivated to learn.

Seriously.

A quick browse through the programme showed that 90% of the researchers were purely quantitative researchers (they do massive surveys and only care about the numbers) despite the fact that their research deals with the motivation of learners. My favourite moment from the first day of the conference was the presentation by a guy who said that because he interviewed a few teachers and they could not name an educational theory, it meant there was no such thing. I asked about critical pedagogy, which happens to be the educational theory that I am using for my thesis, and he did not really have an answer for that.

I ditched the afternoon sessions to take a wander around the city. While listening to the keynote…and by listening I mean surfing the internet on my tablet, I discovered that Antwerpen has a large Jewish population. I am not sure why this surprised me, but it did. I decided to wander to the Jewish quarter because there is nothing I love more than exploring Jewish neighbourhoods and connecting to my religion all over the world. One thing that I learned is that the Jewish people in Antwerp are very Orthodox and that a tattooed girl in a bright geometric dress is not quite their idea of a good time. I wish I could have gone into the synagogue, but I was not dressed appropriately, and I respect the culture too much to be an ignorant tourist.

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I also wandered into the central train station because it is a fantastically built structure in the heart of the city. I’d been through it the night before when I took the train in from Brussels but went back to really appreciate the marble and polished services.

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I wandered the main shopping area and as I weaved in and out of the shops, I noticed that there was an overabundance of tourists who were more interested in muscling each other out of the way for ice cream then enjoying the city, so I took my dinner back to the hotel to work on chapter edits. Those edits did not go well. I am reading edits about edits my supervisor made, and there are a few comments that make me wonder if he actually read the chapter or if he just skimmed it. All of these edits keep me from feeling like I am making any progress with this work.

I really wanted the break in Cyprus and the week in Belgium to help me feel less burnt out, but I am not sure that any of it helped.

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Day one in the city though was a success, and I hoped that day 2 of the conference would re-energise me about the research being done by other apprentice academics.

The Scamp in Bosnia

…and now for the final post of my epic adventure. This also happens to be one of the highlights of the trip for me. The surprise favourite. A friend of mine told me that Sarajevo was perhaps the most beautiful capital city that he had ever been to, and he’s been to a lot of capital cities, so I was both curious and excited to see what surprises the city had in store for me.

Let me tell you, it did not disappoint. I had no idea what to expect when I got to Sarajevo, but the beautiful fusion of East and West in the ‘plains around the palace’ offered me a regular feast for my eyes. We  got into Bosnia a bit late in the evening, so after checking into a lovely hotel, we went to perhaps one of the best houses in the city for dinner.

The Spite House has a very interesting story. According to Atlas Obscura:

An elderly Bosnian fellow named Benderija refused to agree to the destruction of his house, even after being offered more money than the property was worth. Without the land under his house, there would be no way for the city hall to be built at the desired location, right next to the River Miljacka. Lengthy negotiations ensued between the old man and the city (with even the Austro-Hungarian Minister of Finances getting involved) until finally, in 1895, he agreed to sell his property for the extravagant price of a sackful of gold ducats, but only under one condition: the authorities would have to move his Ottoman-era house, brick by brick, and rebuild it on the other side of the river.

Benderija got his way; in the popular account of the story, the old man spent every day of the move sitting in the middle of a nearby bridge, smoking cigarettes and carefully watching the workers transport each brick across the river. When the house was finally rebuilt, it was aptly named Inat Kuća, or the House of Spite. 

Today, this proud symbol of Bosnian stubbornness serves a more practical purpose: it was converted into a Bosnian restaurant in 1997.

The government got the last laugh though because while the man’s favorite spot used to face the river, it now faced a mountain.

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We were treated to a tour of the city by a local guide of about my age. He was full of the typical stories, and showed us the site where the 1914 assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand happened. It was an odd bit of history to walk over, and the unfortunately for Sarajevo, it was not the last of the struggles that happened there.

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It was interesting to see the influences of the West on side of the city, and the East on the other. There are markets that look much like I imagine the markets of Istanbul to look, and they sell Turkish coffee, Turkish delights (which are not a delight), and beautiful weavings, jewelery and tourist fluff. There are traditional bars and fancy brand name shops there as well.

We were able to take a trip outside the city to see the Sarajevo War Tunnel. Before this trip, I was pretty ignorant to the history of Bosnia, but I was aware of the war that plagued them in the early 90s. I remember seeing news reports of fighting, and hearing that bad things were happening, but I was little and did not really understand what it meant, or who was actually in the wrong. The Tunnel of Hope is just one of the examples of resistance.

According to Wikipedia (I know, I hate that site too, but it is the best place for quick summaries to help paint a clear picture to a complicated story):

The Sarajevo Tunnel (BosnianCroatian and Serbian: Sarajevski tunel / Сарајевски тунел), also known as Tunel spasa (Тунел спаса, English: Tunnel of rescue) and Tunnel of Hope, was an underground tunnel constructed between March and June 1993 during the Siege of Sarajevo in the midst of the Bosnian War. It was built by the Bosnian Army in order to link the city of Sarajevo, which was entirely cut off by Serbian forces, with Bosnian-held territory on the other side of the Sarajevo Airport, an area controlled by the United Nations. The tunnel linked the Sarajevo neighbourhoods of Dobrinja and Butmir, allowing food, war supplies, and humanitarian aid to come into the city, and allowing people to get out. The tunnel became a major way of bypassing the international arms embargo and providing the city defenders with weaponry. 

We got to go through a small part of the tunnel, and the house that hides it (and well, a lot of buildings in the city) or still covered in bullet holes.

In fact, bullet holes, and bullet shell are quite the popular tourist attraction. Many of the trinkets that tourists can buy are made with spent casings. I found this to be really dark, and somewhat distasteful, but plenty of people seem to think it is a good idea. We had some time to wander after the tour, and while I would have liked to hike to the old bobsled track, I instead went in search of Jewish people. I dragged the Golden Girls to an old temple and got to see the Jewish people of the city lived, and how many of them were protected by the Muslims in WWII. It was rare on this trip to be able to see this little bit of culture, but I am glad that the girls indulged me and let me have a wander in the sacred space.

The Golden Girls and I completed our day climbing the fortress and looking out over the city. We were hot and sweaty, but it the views were lovely.

One of the hidden gems of the city was the bar that is  decorated like a granny’s house. It is called Zlanta Ribica. I’d go back there are put on a funny hat and some big sunglasses and drink cocktails until the day is done.

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We left Bosnia to head to Mostrar, one of the most important cities in Herzegovina. I do not remember most of what we were told about the city, but the famous old bridge. It was built in the 16th century and is said to be one of the best examples of Islamic architecture. It has become famous with the tourists because the men of Mostrar jump off the 25 meter bridge to transition to manhood. It looks crazy, and scary, and one of our very own did it while we were there. It has been completed almost 500 times, and I get to say that I know someone who has done it and survived.

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The end of the guided tour took us back to Split, and I spent the last day of holiday laying on the beach and wishing that I had 17 more days of warm weather. This trip was truly one of the most fun adventures that I have ever had, and although I did complain about some of the people, it would not have been the same  without the people I was with. I have a sincere hope that I will get to meet some of these people again, whether in my home or in theres.

 

The Scamp in Albania

Those are words I honestly thought I would never say, write, or be able to explain to people. I always thought of Albania has the setting for crazy horror movies, or a place that was so buried under a communist wall that people couldn’t get in, or out.  If Anthony Bourdain was to visit, he’d call it a snapshot of a time people would like to forget, and add that the leftover communist charm in a part of the world that is just waiting to be discovered.

We spent two days in Albania. The first night was in the capital city of Tirana. According to Lonely Planet:

Lively, colourful Tirana is the beating heart of Albania, where this tiny nation’s hopes and dreams coalesce into a vibrant whirl of traffic, brash consumerism and unfettered fun. Having undergone a transformation of extraordinary proportions since awaking from its communist slumber in the early 1990s, Tirana’s centre is now unrecognisable, with buildings painted in primary colours, and public squares and pedestrianised streets that are a pleasure to wander.

I wish I could say that I had the same warm and fuzzy feeling for Tirana. The first thing I noticed was the traffic. People have only been driving since about 1990 or so, and let me tell you, it shows. There is no semblance of order, people do what they want, and the streets are clearly made for carriages, not cars.

The hotel we stayed at had photos on the wall of people they claimed are of Albanian descent, and let me tell you, all of the options were highly unlikely (I’m not sure that I believe that the Belushi brothers are Albanian, but I could be wrong). For a hotel in country that is not really known as a tourist destination, it was clean and comfy. A few of us girls went to exchange money, and the first thing that I noticed was that every man in three mile radius came out and felt free to leer at us.

and by us, I mean me. Tattoos are not a big thing on women, and neither is wearing a tank top or a skirt that shows some calves. It was creepy. I felt like I was on display. Men made no secret of starring, even getting up and moving closer to us, and women often did a double take. It was not a good day to be a tattooed California girl.

IMG_1835IMG_1839IMG_1854  We saw the world’s ugliest building, some signs of Communism, and the Mosque of Ethem Bey that first opened in 1823. The cheeky little dog in the photo took a shine to our group and did most of the walking tour with us (something that would become a regular thing as we did more and more walking tours). I really wanted that dog. I named him Zog after a king of Albania. This dog hated men. It is why I needed him.

After the walking tour the guide took a few of us to Dajti Ekspres. Located just outside the city, the Austrian built cable car goes to the top of Dajti Mountain on the longest cableway in the Balkans. I rode a public bus to get there….well, more like tried not to have a panic attack inside a sardine can on wheels. There were probably 60 people crammed into the bus. At one point a little old woman held on to my arm because there was nowhere else for her to hold. It was hot, it smelled funky fresh, and I was pushed up against strangers….it was not a good time. The cable car was great fun though.

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We then went on the most sketchy cab ride of our lives (don’t worry mom, I’m clearly okay) and Kels and I got to have dinner with the coolest couple of the tour group. She was basically me in Australian form and he loved Sushi Go, a game I just so happened to bring on the trip with me. Tirana did have a really great bar that looked like a backyard though, and they made a killer mojito.

The second stop on our Albanian adventure was the town of Gjirokastra. According to Lonely Planet:

Defined by its castle, roads paved with chunky limestone and shale, imposing slate-roofed houses and views out to the Drina Valley, Gjirokastra is a magical hillside town described beautifully by Albania‘s most famous author, Ismail Kadare (b 1936), in Chronicle in Stone. There has been a settlement here for 2500 years, though these days it’s the 600 ‘monumental’ Ottoman-era houses in town that attract visitors. The town is also synonymous for Albanians with former dictator Enver Hoxha, who was born here and ensured the town was relatively well preserved under his rule; though he is not memorialised in any way here today.

This was more of what I had in mind when I was thinking of Albania. There was an old world charm to it, and it seemed more friendly and welcoming then the capital. We ate Byrek, which is a tasty pita dish with cheese, veggies and meat, and enjoyed some really tasty Fanta that I’ve never seen anywhere else.

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People still stared at me here, but it was less creepy. Of all the places that we visited on this trip, this was the one place that I felt unsafe. I made sure I didn’t go anywhere alone, and for the most part tried to keep a low profile and nothing bad happened to me, but it is not really a place I am eager to return to.

In a strange way, I really like that about Albania. This country pushed me way out of my comfort zone, and allowed me to experience things I’ve never really had to face before. I’m lucky that I came out of it unscathed, and it definitely gave me a better appreciation for how lucky I am in Scotland. I’m also glad that I got to see Albania before it becomes westernized and just another tourist destination.

The Scamp in Montenegro

Greetings from Kotor!

I wish. I have been stress eating my way through the week so far (and it is only Wednesday) and miss the warm sunshine of Montenegro eating ice cream and trying to find one of the many cats that have taken up residence in the old town. According to the Visit Montenegro website:

Located along one of Wold’s most beautiful bays is Kotor, a city of traders and famous sailors, with many stories to tell.

The Old City of Kotor is a well preserved urbanization typical of the middle Ages, built between the 12th and 14th century. Medieval architecture and numerous monuments of cultural heritage have made Kotor a UNESCO listed “World Natural and Historical Heritage Site”.

Through the entire city the buildings are criss-crossed with narrow streets and squares. One of these squares contains the Cathedral of Saint Tryphon (Sveti Tripun), a monument of Roman culture and one of the most recognisable symbols of the city.

The old town was amazing. Smooth stones, beautiful mountain views, and the windy streets with little treasures everywhere made the first couple of days getting used to the tour group manageable.

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What I really liked about Kotor was how peaceful it was. We stayed in a funky hostel that was completely impractical for people who had more than a backpack. We went up some steep stairs to get to the rooms and then ended up going up three more flights to get to an 8 person room. I was really lucky and the people that I ended up sharing a room with were amazing. They were okay with my grandma like curmudgeon ways, and were not the type that wanted to get drunk and sleep their way through this trip.

*photos of the hostel courtesy of bookings.com

While in Montenegro we also went to the town of Budva. I’m not sure I could tell you much about being there though. I had crazy bad heartburn thanks to my anti depressant, so I spent most of our time there trying to find a chemist and some antacids. The lifemate and I were finally able to find a place, and although the chemist spoke no English, rubbing my throat and stomach and led her to saying stomach burn and giving me some pills that made me feel better pretty quickly. I still have no idea what I took, but I’m still alive, so I would say that whatever she gave me worked.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when we arrived, but I loved the historic feel of the place. What I noticed about Montenegro, besides how beautiful it was, was how friendly the people were. The chemist spoke no English, but did her best to help me, waiters and bar tenders were patient and kind, and the people at the hostel put together breakfast, dinner, and their version of a pub crawl (I passed on that, so I have no idea how it was). I would like to go back there one day and spend a little more time relaxing there and visit their national treasure, the cat museum.

I can get behind any place that worships cats.

This was stop number 1 on the trip, and after two days in Montenegro, it was time to make the long long long drive to Tirana, Albania.

 

 

The Scamp in Croatia

The start of my Ultimate Balkan adventure was in the beautiful city of Split Croatia. Officially known as the Republic of Croatia, it is home to 4.28 million people, over 1,000 islands and a rich history of war and conflict. I would not be able to do the country justice if I tried to give a condensed version, but for those interested, I encourage you to do your research. On 25 June 1991 Croatia declared independence, which came wholly into effect on 8 October of the same year. The Croatian War of Independence was fought successfully during the four years following the declaration.

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It was a little known tourist destination until the rise of Game of Thrones, with enthusiasts flocking to Dubrovnik. It has a mostly Mediterranean climate and is the perfect place for a relaxing holiday.  When the heterolifemate and I landed in Split, we knew that the only thing we really wanted to do was lay on a beach and gear up for our trip. It is on the Eastern shore of the Adriatic Sea and part of the Dalmatian Coast. We stayed at the Croparadise Hostel, and I cannot say enough good things about this place. It is good value for the money, close to the touristy areas, and the people who work there are really friendly and helpful.

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*photo courtesy of Hostelworld.com

There was a really great rooftop patio that Kelsey and sat on and talked to some super naive 19 year old boys from Buffalo. I had had just enough beer to want to educate these young men in the ways of the world. I ended up helping one write an application essay so he could transfer universities.

We spent the first day wandering the open air fruit market for fresh fruit, tasty bread, meats and cheeses and then went on a hike up the Marjan Forest Park and then wandered to the beach for some much needed sunshine.

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As you can see, I really needed the sunshine. We ate a lot of ice cream, listened to a lot of tourists and wandered around Dicoletian’s Palace. The palace is more like a fortress, and this was the least researched trip I have ever gone on, so I feel like I missed out on a lot of the history of the place (Thank God for Wikipedia).

Diocletian’s Palace (Croatian: Dioklecijanova palača, pronounced [diɔklɛt͡sijǎːnɔʋa pǎlat͡ʃa]) is an ancient palace built for the Roman Emperor Diocletian at the turn of the fourth century AD, that today forms about half the old town of Split, Croatia. While it is referred to as a “palace” because of its intended use as the retirement residence of Diocletian, the term can be misleading as the structure is massive and more resembles a large fortress: about half of it was for Diocletian’s personal use, and the rest housed the military garrison.

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*photo courtesy of http://www.romeacrosseurope.com/?p=6807#sthash.ST9ju68a.dpbs

I loved Split. The people were friendly and the city was very easy to get around. We were able to wind through the palace and sample good food and a lot of good ice cream. I would have happily spent a week there just sitting at the beach everyday and taking trips to the islands. I wish that I would have gone to see the synagogue, but hey, that gives me a reason to go back again!

We met the tour group in Split and it also served as the final destination. The first meeting with out Busabout group was not a good one for me in terms of my judgey ways. I’m really glad Kelsey was there because there were a couple of girls that said some really ignorant shit and really got me in the killing mood.

On the upside, I did get to cross two things off my list. Split offered me the chance for a long hike, and when I get to the Greek part of the adventure I will cross learning to dance off the list (there is a video, but I’m trying to decide if I want that out in the world still).

  • Learn how to drive in the UK.
  • Present at an academic conference
  • Start a new tradition
  • Go back to therapy
  • Visit three new countries (Paris, Malta, Hungary)
  • Ride in a hot air balloon
  • Quit the tutoring centre
  • Volunteer for a literacy programme
  • Read a book that has more than 500 pages
  • Make my bed everyday for at least three months
  • Have a solid draft of my thesis completed
  • Master scorpion pose
  • Attend the symphony
  • Learn a rap song from start to finish
  • Host a dinner party
  • Create a  budget so I can pay down my student loans
  • Create something original
  • Create a solid workout regime
  •  Go on a long hike (6 miles or more)
  • Learn to dance
  • Eat an exotic meal
  • Learn to cook a fancy meal
  • Yell at a football match
  • Go horseback riding
  • Master British spelling and punctuation
  • Create a good sleep schedule
  • See my favorite group in concert
  • Fall in love
  • Stop holding grudges
  • Let go of my expectations

 

The Scamp and the Writing Challenge: Week 19 and 20

Feed your senses

Write down the first sight, sound, smell, and sensation you experienced on waking up today. Pick the one you’re most  drawn to, and write. (For a bigger challenge, pick the one you’re least drawn to.)

Sight: my flamingo pillowcase

Sound: The jack-hammering demolition sounds of my next door neighbors (starting at 8 am)

Smell: lavender

Sensation: the stiff feeling in my bones that comes with the Lupus

To be honest, I am not drawn to any of them. I was looking forward to sleeping in today, but whatever construction is going on in the building woke me up earlier than I wanted, and I am a tiny bit cranky. I know that it is a work day, and I do not begrudge anyone for working, but if they could have started at 9 am, that would have been nice….or even better, started tomorrow when I am gone for two weeks.

That’s right. Wanderlust is kicking in and I am headed to the Balkans with my heterolifemate. We’ve had this trip on the books since November, and I cannot wait to be off on an adventure. We start our journey in Croatia, then cruise by bus through Montenegro, Albania, Greece, Macedonia, Bosnia and Serbia.

I’ve packed a tiny carry on sized suitcase and a backpack. Who knows if I am forgetting anything, but at this point I am so excited for some sun, beaches, and culture. The lifemate and I work well together, so travelling together will be a lot of fun.

I’m a bit worried about not working on my thesis for two weeks. I have not really been working as hard as the people around me who are in the same boat, so I am really worried about falling behind. I started playing around with the stats, and so far they are showing me the same trends that I am getting from the interviews and focus groups, so I am optimistic about how the write up for that chapter will go. I am worried though because there is talk of me having to collect more data, which means adding another year to my programme. I am not thrilled about that because I am not sure there is funding, but also because I am ready to be done. I have been a students non stop since I was five years old, and I am tired. I am also lacking a bit of motivation (yay 2nd year slump), but I’m taking a notebook and pen with me, so hopefully I can get some work done while I am sitting on a beach or hiding from the other people I will be on tour with.

Then it will be me locked in my office almost nonstop for the summer cranking out drafts so I can either get ready to complete my final year, or be in a pretty good place to collect data and be ready for my fourth year should it come to that.

I also wouldn’t mind if someone wanted to give me a really good academic job here in Scotland so that I could stay here forever.

Please and thank you.

The Scamp in Budapest: Day 5

Okay, so day five was a couple of days ago, but I was too busy moping about having to go home and face the real world to sit down and write. I’m also overcoming traveling without the use of steroids in my system, and that is a bit of an adjustment process. I’m feeling more pain then I have in the last 8 years, so that takes a little getting used to….or maybe it is because I am about to turn 30 and I’m just getting old.

Day 5 in Budapest was a really important one for me. I was staying in the Jewish Quarter, and had already wandered around the district, but on day 5 I got to visit the Great Synagogue. I was hoping that I would get the chance to go in since I tried to see it the day before Christmas and it was closed. It was a lot of fun to be there during Hanukkah and seeing Jews from all over the world come to sit in the pews and admire the place. the synagogue was built in the 1850s, and was modeled on Moorish architecture with influences from Islamic culture in North Africa. When I first arrived in the city and saw the building, I thought it was a mosque. Inside it is fairly simple and unpretentious, but there is a lot history in it. Within the gated walls of the synagogue is a cemetery. While that is not usually done, an exception was made for the people that died in the ghetto during WWII. The synagogue was behind the ghetto wall, and acted as a sancuatary for many of the Jews. The bodies of about 10,000 Jews were found in the area. Many of them were moved to a cemetery, but 2,000 were buried in the garden. There are tombstones for those who were able to be identified, but there are plenty buried there that were never identified.

While I could go on and on about the synagogue, what really struck me was some of the people visiting. While I was on my way out I heard a guy complaining because, “once you’ve seen one synagogue, you’ve seen them all.” He was American. Go figure.

This made me angry. I don’t say that when I am dragged through churches on guided tours, or have to listen to how amazing and great they are. I’m respectful and make sure my shoulders are covered, that I do not taken chicken out and that I do not do anything that would be offensive. I wish that people had that same respect for my culture and religion.

I bought a new Hamsa necklace and then spent the rest of the day walking through the Christmas markets one last time with the express intent to eat my way through them. I was able to cross another things off my list by eating an exotic meal. I sampled a Romanian Kürtőskalács, a circular cake that is warm, large and tastes like a churro. There are different coatings you can get, but I opted for Cinnamon and was not disappointed. I also had a Hungarian version of a gyro which was perfect. It was tasty, warm, and the size of my head.

I had to roll myself back to the hotel. It was worth it though.

But now I am in Scotland and having to face the reality of going back to work and being a student again. I don’t really want to. I have zero motivation. I’m just wishing I could fast forward through the next two years and be done with the thesis. Of course, then I would have to find a job, and who knows what or where that will be. I’m more than a little terrified of the future.

  1. Learn how to drive in the UK.
  2. Present at an academic conference
  3. Start a new tradition
  4. Go back to therapy
  5. Visit three new countries
  6. Ride in a hot air balloon
  7. Quit the tutoring centre
  8. Volunteer for a literacy programme
  9. Read a book that has more than 500 pages
  10. Make my bed everyday for at least three months
  11. Have a solid draft of my thesis completed
  12. Master scorpion pose
  13. Attend the symphony
  14. Learn a rap song from start to finish
  15. Host a dinner party
  16. Create a  budget so I can pay down my student loans
  17. Create something original
  18. Create a solid workout regime
  19.  Go on a long hike (6 miles or more)
  20. Learn to dance
  21. Eat an exotic meal
  22. Learn to cook a fancy meal
  23. Yell at a football match
  24. Go horseback riding
  25. Master British spelling and punctuation
  26. Create a good sleep schedule
  27. See my favorite group in concert
  28. Fall in love
  29. Stop holding grudges
  30. Let go of my expectations