I got two thirds of the way through my 30 cocktails even creating a new one called The Triple P... and then the celebrations culminated in delicious shots of ice cold gin with pomegranate seeds (thanks Mr Oliver) and bottles of bubbley.
For all the cocktails, check out my Instagram diary of events :D
Don't they look yum, and yes, I'd rather eat a doughnut than file my tax return any day. To make matters worse, I'd forgotten all about it, so, with only 10 days to go, it was a baptism of fire.
Thankfully my filing system has improved within the last couple of years and I had all the documents I needed in more or less 3 or 4 different box files.
It didn't amuse me at the time (but I'm ok with it now) that HMRC sent me the letter in April 2012 and then no reminder until 21st January. I'd missed the 31st October 2012 paper deadline, so my only option was to file online. Actually this turned out to be easy, but how was I to know?!
I took a lot of deep breaths! And then a big sigh of relief when it was all done and dusted.
For help with setting yourself up as a registered writing business, check out my blog post here.
For guidance on the tax return itself, what you can claim and how it's calculated, check out this post.
Here are my Top 5 favourite memories of last year's fun:
Reveling in the concert atmosphere when Alanis sang the iconic "Ironic". This was a monumental and defining song for me back in the 90s. It was the song that I played over and over and the song that helped me find the person I was trying to be as I struggled through my teens.
Cooking for my Godmothers and family during my last trip to Canada. It was just special to be able to do this for them.
As I fell out of the plane during my skydive and had a second to look down and focus on the cars on the ground. Tiny moving specks. In that moment, it seemed surreal that I was hurtling towards them.
Flying 2,000 ft above the very green English countryside and engaging in conversation with my 70 year old flight
instructor who had flown just about everything. He was an inspiration.
Seeing the wonderment in the eyes of the children I presented my travel tales to. Their looks of sheer fascination were all the motivation I needed to throw my nerves out of the window and keep talking.
I was looking for some help with searching out what's hot and, more importantly, what free eBooks there are for the Kindle and a friend of mine pointed me in the direction of this very useful website: www.ereaderiq.co.uk
The beauty of it is that it updates every hour, so you're always getting the most up-to-date information on what's available.
Part of my reason for getting a Kindle -besides the obvious of being able to read anything, anywhere - was to integrate myself into this exciting eBook world, help support fellow writers and to see what works and what doesn't.
I'm looking forward to finding some real gems!
The last year of my 20s was a true celebration of everything I've been working towards. Like the pic above, it was explosive, fun, challenging and at times downright difficult to predict, but wow, I wouldn't change how it all played out for the world.
This post contains all the highlights of an incredible year. So, sit back and enjoy!
It all started with a mysterious upgrade to First Class on my flight to Toronto back in January. As I sipped champagne and played around with my magic seatbed, the first item on my 30 Things list was born:
1. Fly First Class long haul from anywhere to anywhere
The 3 weeks I spent in Canada were exceptional visiting family and exploring more of Ontario, but if I had to pick a single favourite memory, it would have to be the snowball fight we had on the banks of Lake Ontario.
That and the upgrade ensured it was the best start to a new year ever!
Something easy and edible had to come next, so I completed this one whilst on holiday in Canada:
6. Try 3 new variations of foods
Mmmmmmm a cold sprout sarnie post Christmas, poutine (I admit to being scared of things in gravy other than roast dinners) and red and green dragon rolls (sushi at its finest).
This turned into a planning and preparation month.
More edible items now:
12. Bake a marble cake just like my mum’s
I have never baked a cake in my life so there was more riding on this than I'd anticipated. It turned out pretty good though!
13. Make a decent curry
Like so many projects I take on, I wanted to make a curry from scratch just to see if I could actually do it.
Enter King Prawn Korma complete with homemade saffron rice.
In February, I'd had 2,816 website hits, so I was estatic when I reached the goal of 3,000 in March. It seemed fitting considering I was almost at my one year anniversary for www.piarastrainge.com
27. Achieve 3000 unique visitor hits on my website in a month
April was "family month". I wanted to work on our family tree and have a fun photo shoot. I managed to tick off these two items:
8. Complete a family tree with at least 50 people on it
9. Fun family photo shoot
I was travelling for much of May, first around the UK, then in Cuba and finally touching down in Canada again. It was a brilliant month for new experiences and I completed the following (amongst a ton of other stuff) for my 30 Things:
3. Experience the Caledonian sleeper train to Scotland & ride around Edinburgh in a funky Billy Connolly trike
4. Visit 1 of the countries in my Top 3 “before it changes forever” list - Cuba
I hit the ground running in June, returning from Canada and two days later heading into London for:
2. Take a photography course
23. Ride the London Eye
The day after that, I was at Wembley ticking off:
18. Experience an England Wembley International footie match
Rounding off another very productive month, a holiday down to Cornwall ensured I could complete:
20. Climb the Rainforest Lookout at The Eden Project
July was all guns blazing as I ticked off 5 items:
10. Fly in a Tiger Moth
This had been postponed from June and in the end coincided with the one year anniversary of my debut novel being published - nice one!
15. Garden re-design
I started this in March when a hosepipe ban was imposed, then it never stopped raining from April until mid July. Ironic! All the same, the new garden looked beautiful for the latter half of the summer so I was very pleased.
17. Get some real life interview practice
Went for two jobs - and got both! I decided on the part time one for the time being to be able to pursue all of my little projects.
22. Do 1 presentation to an audience
I actually talked to 3 Junior classes so did this presentation 3 times! It was entitled "From the humourous to the heart pounding - a collection of travel tales."
28. Work on my photography
I really got into taking photos of the little things and this went on all summer. It became a bit of an obsession!
Despite the terrible weather, by the end of August, I'd been up and down the UK passing through more shires than a hobbit, so ticking off this one was no problem whatsoever:
5. See more of the UK
I'd also got stuck into eBaying finally making some headway with a good old clear out:
7. Mega eBaying
The month had kicked off with this incredible event - probably the most ambitious of my 30 Things:
11. Tandem sky dive
and as September loomed, another trip to London made sure I could tick off these too:
21. Visit the British Music Experience
25. Climb Up at The O2
26. Take the new Emirates Thames cable car
It was time to start putting a video together of my amazing year, so next up came:
16. Make an iMovie
And, although not walking the complete sections of this item that I'd wanted to (largely due to the crappy weather), I was happy to tick off:
30. Walk parts of the Thames Trail
The final month was here and brought with it some tidying:
14. Clear out office
A new slimmer me:
19. Lose 14 lbs
And probably the best city break I've ever had:
24. Take a trip to New York
There was one more item left on the list and what a gem it was! After celebrating my 30th and having one last jaunt out to Canada to see my lovely family once again, it was time to tick off No.29. Pure coincidence the 29th item was the last to happen in my 29th year:
29. Go to a long awaited concert – Alanis Morissette
"BRINGING THE CURTAIN DOWN ON A MARVELOUS YEAR. THANK YOU AND GOODNIGHT!"
Here are 5 things I learned last year during my 30 Things exploits:
Time really does go by at breakneck speed when you’re enjoying yourself.
A little planning and preparation is advisable, but there is no greater confidence boost than when you wing it and wing it well.
Live the moment as it happens. Don’t wait to relive it in your mind.
Keep challenging yourself however scary it feels.
Have the passion to follow your heart, but have the wisdom to let your head step in.
Finally I can say I have read an entire book on the Kindle. I have at last joined the eBook revolution! I don't think it compares to holding a real book, flipping through the pages, touching, feeling, smelling... ok, ok, I'm getting carried away, but there is still something magical about a real book. I only have to look at my shelves and shelves and stacks and stacks of books and I know I'm in love.
But that doesn't mean to say I'm not in love with my Kindle too...
It's all about adapting.
Check out my debut review on Amazon for my debut eBook read Nick Spalding's Life... With No Breaks. How do you choose what to read and what to ditch when there is so much choice? I randomly selected this book after browsing a few of the reviews. It's a complete shot in the dark though. I guess that's why many authors go for the 99p option (and also the free for a month option to generate interest). Try me. Buy me. You won't miss 99p in the great scheme of daily life. That's exactly what my research has proven. Anyhoo, this book caught my eye because the author sat and wrote it in 30 hours. Good job, and I totally salute him!
I quickly followed this one up with Jon Rance's This Thirtysomething Life. The male version of Bridget Jones. Genius!
Something pretty upsetting happened to me today. I haven't played a cassette in my old school stereo for years but today I just fancied listening to this one tape. And it didn't work. Neither cassette deck would play. Thinking about it now, it's not the end of the world, but at the time... devastating. A quick search online revealed these things can be fixed or just buy a USB deck and convert all those tunes captured on the ribbons straight to mp3s through iTunes. Cheered me a little. And drowning my sorrows by buying some cracking new tunes and discovering new artists has helped too.
Of course, I should have guessed something tragic like this would happen today as the closure of my favourite high street music store HMV hit the headlines this morning. I suppose I'm not helping the cause by plowing hundreds of pounds into iTunes... Just call me a hypocrite.
Rewinding now, it got pretty crazy towards the end of 2012. Caught my breath after that fabulous trip to New York, then it was straight into the wonderful distractions of the Tivo box (pausing live TV and being able to record all those great shows again, yay!), the Kindle (an early birthday present) and being able to stream LoveFilm through my Wii to watch stuff on the big screen. My week long 30th birthday celebrations were up next. Good times and even better memories! After that I touched down in Canada for a bit to visit family and when I came home it was the phenomenal Alanis concert, full swing into getting ready for Christmas and working lots of hours selling festive stamps... "Comedy or Religious Sir?" ...
I had a magic Christmas but got sick possibly with the norovirus for New Years, although at times it felt more like full on flu. Still getting over that one, but on the plus, have just inherited an SLR camera. Between getting stuck into the camera, working on those new years resolutions, being hooked to the Prison Break boxset and finally finally finally buying a new sofa, I am just managing to catch my breath now.
I like to think I'm still working when I sit for hours watching the television. That's how I justify it to myself anyway. That magic word... Inspiration! I'm making up for all the years I barely watched the box at all.
How I react and feel about a show - and what decides whether I'll go back for more - is largely according to the following percentages: 75% based on the quality of the script, the characters, theme and ideals, 15% based on the acting and 10% based on who's playing the parts.
And I've got to admit, I'm in TV heaven at the moment. Current distractions include: Miranda (hilarious), Mrs Brown's Boys (downright stupidly stupid), ITV's Mr Selfridge (historical), Discovery's Jungle Gold (reality show), Prison Break box set (thrilling), Stella (wonderfully human comedy drama) and David Attenborough's Africa (natural history).
For me and me alone, this is a perfect platform for inspiration and a perfect balance for creativity to flow.
Blogging is an amazing concept so here I am giving it a whirl. You'll get words. You'll get pics. Sometimes a vid or two. You'll get tongue in cheek, the odd humble opinion and an honest insight into my travels and writing life. Maybe even a few gems along the way. I'll be musing on home turf as I see more and more of the UK and sharing my experiences further afield on holidays and adventurous trips across the globe.