Walhallavagen

Just an ordinary girl's life

January indulging habits

A lot of people complain about the month of January: they associate it with post-festivities blue moods, extremely cold and cloudy weather (if you live in the upper hemisphere – otherwise, probably super hot?), back to work, new year’s resolutions fading in the blink of eye – you get the idea.

For me, January is one of the best months of the year – I love winter [I wouldn’t have moved from Italy to Scotland otherwise] and I love the cold and cloudy weather as it feels like the perfect time to stay inside warm and cozy [soup, tea, books, language learning sessions: total bliss].

I also like the idea of going back to work and a normal schedule/routine after the frenzy of Christmas and New Year. Of course I do enjoy some festive and family time, but since I’m mostly a creature of habits I’m always happy to go back to my regular activities – which invariably get disrupted during the festive season.

Plus, January is a new start. I talked about my approach to goals and resolution briefly here, but in short, even if I don’t pan to change my life at 360 degrees on January 1st, I still like the idea of a fresh start – starting one new habit, finally completing a task I’ve been putting off for too long, simple things like this.

I also like to combine the idea of winter with that of self care and self pampering, so every January I come up with a few new activities/habits to make me feel like I’m taking care of myself:

  • watching Chinese dramas on Netflix (this one in particular) – a great way of exercising my listening skills as well as satisfy my cravings for Asian dramas: the perfect way of getting the best of two worlds!
  • big science fiction books – because daylight is still quite short and there are a lot of dark afternoons to fill with great nerdy readings
  • soup in a mug – I mean, winter! Soup! What else?
  • listening to lo-fi compilations on YouTube – I always have a soundtrack while either studying or reading, and chill out and lo fi music creates the best atmosphere for me right now
  • planning sessions in bed – while I’m very good at looking at and updating my planner during the day, after I take my shower and get into my pijamas I often forget to check once again if I’ve done everything for the day. Bringing my planner with me in bed is a great way to get comfy while keeping on top of things
  • candle lighting – I’ve discovered that summer nights are so bright in Scotland that I don’t get to light candles for months during the warmer season, so I like to make the most of it while I still have enough darkness during the day!

 

Hoping you’re having a super cozy January as well!

 

 

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Duolingo + Index Card Workflow

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I’ve been working with this kind of setup for a while now, and since it has served me well I thought I would share it here.

I discovered soon enough that I wasn’t making many progresses by practicing Duolingo skills the traditional way. This is the kind of problem I’ve had with spaced repetition systems in the past as well – they work great at first but after a while they become a bit dry and my retention rate starts dropping significantly.

Active recalling is always best than passive memorisation, so whenever I can I try to follow this simple but much more effective system for both Chinese and Japanese:

  1. I create an index card for each single skill than I want to work on. On the top left I write ‘C Duolingo’ or ‘J Duolingo’ so that I can distinguish between the two languages, while on the top right I write the name of the specific skill I’m practicing (Activity 1, Food 3 and so on)
  2. on the index card, I write in English all those sentences I would like to try and actively remember
  3. I keep adding all new sentences as you usually don’t encounter them all at once

This is what may be considered the preparation phase. You do this once and then your index card is ready and you don’t have to add anything more. The proper study and recalling phase starts now:

  1. the next time I want to practice that specific still, I first take out my index card and start working with that. I first try to say the sentence in Chinese/Japanese out loud, then take a pace of scrap paper and write down the translation (this way, I also practice characters)
  2. I go on until I’ve translated all sentences on my card
  3. I fire Duolingo and check both translation and pronunciation

That’s basically it. As you can see is definitely nothing super long and complex, and it doesn’t require a lot of preparation. It usually takes me about 10/13 minutes to review a single skill using this system, but the retention rate is much much higher than simply using Duolingo on my phone or computer. This way I also feel a lot more engaged in the language and thus I enjoy myself much more while studying.

 

2019 planner system

New year, new planner, new stationery accessories! 2018 has been a very good planning year, one in which I’ve finally finished sorting out my organisation system and simplified/streamlined my planning routine. I’ve drawn inspiration from the things that didn’t work in 2018 to set up a new, even more functional planner for 2019. I’ve chosen once again a Filofax personal size, since it’s the kind of planner I’ve the most experience with and also the one that offers the best combination of spaciousness and portability.

First, I’ve downsized *enormously* the amount of stationery that I use in my planning process. This year I’m going to use alternatively my 3 favourite pens (one from Ted Baker, the other two from Paperchase) and a selection of my 5 favourite Zebra Mildliners (shown in photo) for colour coding purposes. I may randomly use a couple of Faber Castell neon pencil if I feel like highlighting something specific in my weekly schedule, but that’s essentially it.

My planner has 6 sections. The first one is the brain dumb, and for this purpose I use old spare Filofax weekly pages. In here I quickly jot down things and ideas that I don’t have the time to sort properly on the spot, and that will be migrated to their proper section later on.

The second section is my monthly calendar. I have a vertical one that I use to record appointments, deadlines etc., and a regular ‘boxed’ one in which I jot down my houseworks and other household management information.

The third section is my weekly planner from Paperchase (I don’t know why I can only find the A5 size on their website right now). Despite that fact that for a long time this has been my number one choice in term of Filofax inserts, in the last couple of years I’ve struggled quite a lot to make the weekly planner work for me. I think a free-form weekly insert like this will suit me best – I can use the four daily boxes as morning / afternoon / evening / meal planning, or also by theme/project (Chinese, Japanese, Yoga etc).

Under my 4th tab I have my list / to do section. I’m following the GTD system so I have a few lists divided by context (@home, @work and so on), plus every other possible kind of list (books to read, dramas to watch, you name it). My to do list insert is once again from Paperchase.

Section 5 is projects, and in there I have 5 more subtabs for each single project that is relevant for me right now (Chinese, Japanese, blog ideas, Coursera and finances). For this section I use simple lined paper either from Filofax or Paperchase, as I find its free form more suitable for managing all different kind of tasks that projects usually involve [I may use dotted paper in the future though]. Everything that I’m not taking care of right now goes to my Someday/Maybe list on Trello.

Section 6 is reference + spare papers in case I run out of something while I’m on the go (if you are familiar with GTD you’ll recognise a pattern here). At the front of the planner I also have a divider holding a few post-it notes in different colours and shapes, in case I need to write down something for someone when I’m out and about – or even a note for myself!

 

 

Paper-wise I also use an A6 Agenzio notebook in pink, but this is mostly for ideas and inspirations, so it’s not strictly part of my planning system (and its definitely not part of my daily process). I keep a list of all the topics I write about in this notebook on a note on Google Keeps, so in case I need to retrieve some information I can have easy access to it (though it seldom happens).

So this is my planning system for 2019, together with my go-to apps of course (Evernote, Trello and Google Keep). I also use Apple reminders through Siri since it’s just quick and easy [and my personal assistant is an Australian male voice, I mean, what else do you need in this life] and I don’t trust Google Keep for reminders anymore. I would love to hear what kind of planner you’re using this year and if there’s still people using paper or everyone else has gone digital 🤪

 

Language learning at the beginning of the year

Word of the year or my LL approach is: relax. No rush, no pressure, no drama. I’m taking it easy.

I think that’s the only possible way for me to fit in both Chinese and Japanese in my schedule. If I try too hard with one language, I’ll end up by neglecting the other (and feel bad about it).  I find it easier to sneak in bits and pieces of both when I don’t put too much pressure on myself. So that will do for the moment.

In terms of resources, I’m mainly using my Duolingo + index cards system for both Chinese and Japanese. I should probably do a separate post about this, as for now it’s proving quite useful.

Sometimes I also try to read a few passages in Chinese from my Confucius class textbook, to keep my vocab fresh and get familiar with new grammar patterns. I’m not doing specific listening exercises at the moment, but I’ve been watching 河神 (Tientsin Mystic) more regularly lately and it feels like a good practice to get used to different accents and inflections.

Switching to Japanese, I’ve watched Flavours of Youth on Netflix – and I really liked it. This format is probably better for me to get back to the habit of watching anime, rather than having 27-episode long series to watch. I also like anime with a more mature storyline, I’m probably a bit too old for school dramas 😅

 

/All over the place kind of post/

 

 

恭喜发财!

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Happy New Year my dear friends! 🍾

I sincerely hope you’re having a wonderful festive season with time for relax, good food and, of course, language learning 🙂

Last year I shared my not-too-serious goals for 2018 and I’m going to do the same this time!

2019 goals:

  1. decide whether or not I want to take JLPT this year and, in that case, go for it!
  2. start saving for Japan travel
  3. read a 漫画 in Chinese
  4. get that second piercing (I didn’t in 2018!)
  5. go to a festival! (same)
  6. watch 8 Asian dramas
  7. Ireland trip with the plus one
  8. get myself a luxurious skincare product
  9. read 45 books

I feel positive for this 2019, the last couple of years have brought a lot of (good) changes in my life and I’m ready for more 🙂

Plans for the rest of the day: read my current sci-fi novel, treat my hair to a glorious hair mask and order Japanese on Deliveroo!

新年进步!

Year in Review ~ 2018

What did I do this year?

2018 has been another important year in my personal life. I’ve actively started working towards some specific goals of mine and I also brought myself to finally face some anxiety-inducing issues, which has improved greatly the quality of my life. There is still a lot of work to do and one thing to absolutely do this year is decide once and for all which career direction I intend to take and do my best to follow along until the end. But I’m very happy to say that by December 31st 2018 I’ve accomplished all the main goals I had set for myself this year, and I feel a lot more content and at ease.

I’ve been fairly good at crossing off some day-to-day goals that I set for myself last year (the lipstick and nail polish challenge having been particularly successful), which may seem silly but that, at the end of the day, makes the difference between feeling like you’re taking care of yourself or not. I also feel like I’ve been giving a sort of second chance at life, and I’m definitely going to work even harder on my health and wellbeing in 2019.

Technology

A new entry this year has been my long-longed-for iMac, which I’ve been using constantly since I got it for my birthday in May. I still have my iPhone SE and have no intention of replacing it any time soon since it still works perfectly. In 2019 I plan to replace my iPad (after many years of very good service) and to make a decision about my very old but very beloved MacBook pro. I’m debating whether or not to buy a new one, since I don’t need it for work and I definitely don’t bring my laptop with me when I’m on vacation.

In terms of apps, if in 2017 I started downsizing, in 2018 I’ve downsized even more. I’ve talked briefly here about the apps that have survived my minimalistic fervour and I will surely talk about it more in the future. Less is more is increasingly becoming my daily mantra as I’ve witnessed a tremendous improvement in my overall life quality by having less stuff (both physically and digitally) around me.

Planning

I reviewed my 2018 planning system here so I don’t think it’s appropriate to repeat myself. I’m happy to report that I managed to really use just one planner for the entire year as I vowed to do last December, and that I’ve used to experience to learn a lot about bad planning habits and vices. I’m sure 2019 is going to be even more successful in this regard.

Study (Chinese, Japanese, etc.)

I’ve learnt a lot also about learning this year. I had a rollercoaster of very high and very low moments in my language learning journey (especially for Chinese), until I finally managed to settle into a regular routine around the end of September. Focusing my study on preparing for HSK 3 has finally helped me finding a framework within which I could track my actual progresses and achieve a sense of accomplishment.

I think I’m going to start from here in 2019 and expand my self discipline in both language learning and other forms of self education that’s I have been putting off for too long. I will have to decide whether to go for the JLPT or not, since I’m giving myself a 2 year deadline for HSK4 (December 2020).

Wellness

As I was mentioning before, I had a good wake up call back at the beginning of February, and this has been the right chance to step up my game even more in terms of taking care of my health and wellbeing. Being healthy with a busy life is no piece of cake, but the more I grow up (I should probably say grow old) the more I realise this is just something that can’t be put in the back burner.

My goal for 2019 in this regard is to be absolutely strict about the 5-a-day rule and to set into place a solid routine around yoga and the 10.000 daily steps.

Books, TV Series, Dramas and Music

TV

I’m happy to report that I’ve watched much less tv this year, something that is clearly reflected in the increased amount of books I finished instead. I also watched a lot more Asian dramas compared to last year (since Netflix has finally started acknowledging their existence). Sadly, I don’t think I watched any anime in 2018 – and I haven’t read any manga either, which means this is clearly something I need to put more effort in.

For 2019 I want to go along the same lines – less and less American tv series, more Asian dramas and ideally also a lot more anime.

Books

As of today, I’ve read 64 books in 2018 (but I may be able to finish one more between tonight and tomorrow). Needless to say, reading has been my greatest accomplishment for this year, as I’ve finally brought myself to reduce a lot of other insignificant activities while favouring the things I really enjoy doing. In 2018 I’ve read a lot of novels that I’ve been meaning to read for the longest time and never gotten to, and I’ve also stepped out of my comfort zone much more often (I even tried audio books, imagine!).

As for my best books of 2018, I have to say it’s really hard to pick just one or two. The one that left a major impression on me has been Educated by Tara Westover, and Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin has been another significant highlight. Heartbreaker by Claudia Dey is a book that I’m finding difficult to forget, as well as the Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood and Milkman by Anna Burn, and I’ve loved the graphic novel Sabrina by Nick Drnaso.

I’ve also read a lot of interesting novels that were selected for both the Women’s Prize for Fiction and the Man Booker Prize, and I’ve particularly enjoyed the children series Nevermoor (much more than I had anticipated actually). I also started and completed two YA series, The mortal Instruments by Cassandra Clare and the Miss Peregrine’s series by Ransom Riggs.

In 2019? I want to keep going! Oh and more non fiction (especially Asia-related) this year!

Music

2018 is still a synthwave / vaporwave / futurewave year, no doubt about that. I’ve taken the chance to listen to the entire discography of some of all-time my favourite artists as well as discover new, less famous bands.

I also really enjoyed watching Eurovision (for the third year in a row), and I’m slowing starting to open my mind more to Asian idols – especially EXO – for cultural and language learning purposes.

Closing

2018 has been a good year. A lot has happened in my life, but most of all, I feel like I’ve change my mindset like never before. I love my habits and routines but I can’t stand the idea of being stagnant so, even if it’s tiresome and stressful, I always welcome change. In 2019 I don’t plan on changing anything major – I just aim at keep doing the things I love, slightly better than the year before.

The Simple Life Project ~ Aug-Dec Empties {2018}

With less than a week away from the new year, my hands are tingling for the urge of decluttering and downsizing my possessions once more. I guess once you start seeing stuff as what it really is (something weighting you down and sucking a good chunk of your time, essentially) you simply can’t stop throwing things away.

I’ve taken care of the bedroom drawers today and I’m heading towards the closet tomorrow. Significant other’s stuff included. HA!

While cleaning, I obviously took the chance to assess the current status of my SL Project, specifically in terms of beauty product consumption. There a not a lot of finished products this second half of the year – partially because of the move in July, partially because I had to readjust to new schedules and commitments this last couple of months, which had an impact on my beauty regime as well.

What I gather from my empties is that, yes, body lotions and hand creams (+ probably lip balms) are my most consumed beauty products. They are essential for my very dry skin and, in the case of the body lotion, also one of my favourite nighttime rituals.

Hair products have seen an increased usage as well this year, especially in terms of conditioners and masks. Even if I’ve recently cut off a good chunk of my hair (now shoulder-length), I still like to take care of them with specific moisturising products; I also have a few styling goodies I’m quite enjoying using at the moment.

For skincare, it’s still a huge work in progress. This year I’ve started paying much more attention to what my skin actually needs rather than what is advertised in shops or youtube (about time?), so I’m still pretty much in the process of finishing old not-so-suitable-for-my-skin-type products, while figuring out which ingredients I should be focusing on. Simplifying the process by cutting on the number of products I use morning and evening is another important goal of mine.

All in all, I can say that between 2017 and 2018 I’ve made a lot of progresses in terms of reducing, decluttering and simplifying. I’ve switched to a kind of mindset favouring quality over quantity and, in general, I don’t feel the need of been surrounded by stuff to be happy – quite the contrary!

The journey towards minimalism and happiness continues.

 

圣诞快乐朋友们!

 

Wish a holly jolly Christmas to you all dear friends!

Despite some Grinch-like thoughts, I’m actually enjoy this festive season 🙂 and tbh I’m also happy not to think about language learning for a few days! This will definitely help me having a fresh start when January hits 🙂

Eat tons of good food and be merry!

 

Language learning in the festive season

I used to love the Christmas season as a child (well, even as an adult), but in the last couple of years it has started feeling more of a chore than a festive occasion – and this is something that really saddens me.

Living abroad makes things a little more difficult in these regard, with travels to visit family and everything, but still. It’s like something has shifted in my brain and I’m able to concentrate my attention only on certain things and not on others. Like not having enough me-time, or language learning-time.

So yeah, Christmas is never the most productive season in terms of language learning. I get a bit anxious when I can’t study Chinese for more than one day – I know, it’s silly, but I really value the habit of studying a little bit every day.

But at the same time I can’t bring myself to focus on studying when there’s so much going on around me. I need a little tranquillity in order to be able to retain information, and tranquillity and Christmas definitely don’t go well together 😅

When did things get so complicated?

2018 planner system review

 

With only 13 days left of 2018, it is only natural to start thinking about planners, goals, yearly reviews and everything of the sort. I will write a separate post on my 2019 planning system – in this one, I would like to trace back how 2018 has been organisation&planner-wise.

In September 2017, while browsing a book and stationery store in Florence I found this 14 months day-per-page planner from Legami (a brand that I’ve been loving for years now) and absolutely fell in love with the dreamcatcher cover, so I bought it on a whim and just went for it. I knew it was a risky choice for a number of reasons, but that cover was so me I just couldn’t leave it there.

I have to say, this has been probably my most successful planner in years. It is also one that I won’t rebuy for the upcoming year (I’ll explain why in a sec), but using it continuously for 14 consecutive months has taught me in terms of planning systems and strategies more than any other planner I may have used in the past.

This year I’ve also made drastic changes in the complexity of my planning system, cutting down on a lot of unused or mostly-unused apps and notebooks. I’ve also made a conscious effort in reducing the amount of different pen and highlighters I was using in my system.

My 2018 planning system has worked pretty much like this:

  • Legami 14 months day-per-page planner for daily to dos and appointments; I’ve also used its monthly calendars to keep track of my household management, but I’ve had a hard time trying to make them work since they’re printed on a single page (hence, little boxes) and I have a not so small handwriting;
  • Filofax Compact Boston (since mid-July) for projects pages and context-related lists + brain dump pages; this is the tool I’ve used to organise my HSK 3 study program as well;
  • Agenzio A6 notebook for notes, lists and ideas;
  • Google Keep for quick captures and notes + things to do while I’m out and about (but with caution);
  • Trello for general project management (though I’ll need to work more on it this upcoming year)
  • Apple reminders for, well, reminders (and deadlines)
  • Apple Notes for beauty products lists, Simple Life project notes and shared notes with the significant other
  • Evernote for storage and archiving

I was using Wunderlist at the beginning of the year but decided to switch to Google Keep (though it’s not crafted to be a proper task manager), since Wunderlist will sadly be shut down at some point and I have yet to find a better or equal digital system for my tasks. Too bad gKeep is so unreliable with this reminder thing, it would have made my life so much easier.

The most important thing that I’ve learnt this year is that I can’t work without thematic lists. As much as I like having a daily page/to do list, my brain is not organised by day but by context. I also have a fairly low amount of appointments and deadlines, so for me it’s mostly organising tasks that have to be completed someday. It’s clear then that a day per page planner is not the best way for me to organise my to do lists.

I also need a bit more flexibility in my system. As a consequence of my way of organising things, I often need a different kind of calendar or insert to see at a glance what I need to do or where I need to be, and in this a ring planner is obviously the best option. I love bound planners (I’ve used a weekly Moleskine for many years) and the way they feel, but since discovering the Filofax brand I have to admit I’ve struggled to adjust to a more fixed system.

Furthermore, the amount of space that I need everyday for my tasks varies greatly according to different circumstances. Most of the time I have a very long list of things to accomplish every day, but that is not always the case – for example when I’m visiting my family in Italy, or when I decide to take a weekend completely off duty. I don’t like the idea of leaving many blank pages (or even only half-used pages) since I’m very sensible to paper waste and recycling.

Lastly, since I have quite a few daily repeating tasks (Chinese Duolingo, Japanese Duolingo, prepare bag for tomorrow, pack breakfast/lunch, wash the dishes etc) I find it quite tedious to rewrite them every day by hand, so in this regard I know that I need to integrate my system with a kind of digital tool as well. This is linked to what I was saying above – if I write some of my tasks digitally, I really don’t need and entire page in my planner for me to write in every day.

So, all in all I can say that 2018 has been a good planning year. I’ve been been much on pretty planning, but this year I’ve focus even more on function and efficiency. Growing up I’ve encountered an increasing number of important things that I have to manage and I need my planning system to make my life easier and more streamlined, helping me saving time and mental energy.

So this are the basis I’ve crafted my 2019 planning system on 🙂 [to be continued!]