Friday, 29 August 2014

Six Week Challenge - Week Seven

At last the final stretch.  After sprinting around on my aircast the previous week I thought "balls to this" and take off my cast a few days earlier than I was told.  A couple of weeks before my accident I bought some lovely Brooks trainers for running.  I'd bought it at a specialist shop so they fitted properly (size 9 - I normally wear size 8 shoes).  Anyway these were a God send as they gave me great comfort walking.  So after gingerly walking around the house and practicing my right breaking foot on my sewing machine, I knew it was time to try driving my car.

The blessed relief of getting behind the wheel of a car was bliss.  Freedom!  That was until the engine light decided to come on.  In a panic I went to the nearest garage only to be told it was a mystery, but the car was okay to drive.  This lead to me popping in and out of garages to find out what the problem was.  It still remains a mystery and the amber light is still on my dashboard.  The car works fine and all I can think is that it developed the fault as it spent over six weeks parked on the drive.

Now that I had wheels meant that I had to take my Mum to the Trafford Centre.  This was both a physical challenge for both myself and my Mum - me with my foot and Mum with her back.  We started at the John Lewis end on the first floor and we almost killed ourselves to get to Debenhams.  My foot was getting quite irritated with the walking. Weirdly I found there were more seats on the ground floor than on the first floor.  On the way back from Debenhams to John Lewis on the ground floor we practically sat on every chair and bench on the way back.  I certainly slept well that night.  It's amazing how being inactive for over six weeks can impact on your stamina.

So what are the top ten things have I learnt over the seven weeks?

1.  Your health is fragile a can be altered in the matter of a misjudged step.
2.  Pet ownership is marvellous despite the fact Iil'Sox inadvertently put me in a cast.
3.  It's good to have a creative outlet whilst you're indisposed otherwise you can go stir crazy.
4.  Families and partners are worth their weight in gold.
5.  Tesco's delivery service is the 21st century home help for the incapacitated. 
6.  Strangers can be really kind when you're on crutches - apart from in a nightclub where alcohol is involved.
7.   Avoid daytime telly - it sucks the life from your soul.
8.  It gives you the opportunity to reflect on your life and help recharge your batteries.
9.   Public transport sucks.
10.  ...and cars must be driven regularly or you end up having engine problems.

Friday, 8 August 2014

Photo of the Week: Manchester Museum

Once in a while I pop to Manchester Museum to have a look at the exhibits.  This time I fancied trying out the cafe there called Cafe Muse.  The food was nice (I had a hot roast turkey ciabatta with cranberry sauce), although the cafe was jammed packed with families as it was the summer holidays.  Thankfully I found a quiet little spot in an alcove with a couple of foreign students.

The museum is a beautiful Victorian building and it is a pleasure to wander through the exhibits.  As it was the summer holidays the museum is geared to cater for the younger audience with rooms set aside for activities. 

One of the major draws to the museum is the Egyptology section, which is well presented.  However I do have a problem with the exhibition showing human remains, even though they are thousands of years old.  It's just a personal opinion, although the museum do show them with dignity.

I really like the main gallery area of the museum as it reminds me when I first visited as a child with school.  I remember not filling in the worksheet we were supposed to complete on our visit.  Knowing me I was too distracted looking at everything.

The only drawback for me with this section are the stuffed animals.  Unfortunately I have a longstanding phobia of taxidermy, which stems back from childhood when one of my Mum's cousins used to have a stuffed fox in her hallway.  That said I love the use of neon in this section, which gives the space a contemporary feel.  On the top level of the gallery is a picnic areas for families to eat their packed lunches.  I think that's a nice touch as the cafe is too expensive for families on a budget.

My favourite exhibition was about the history of Whitworth Park.  It was tucked away in a quiet corner of the museum, but I love social history and it was nice to find it here.

Manchester Museum is great for families and the museum certainly caters well for them.  Although next time I go I'll try to go midweek when the kids are at school, as they kept running into shot when I was taking photos.

Here are a couple of photos from my trip:

©Anne-Marie Marshall 2014

©Anne-Marie Marshall 2014

Monday, 28 July 2014

Six Week Challenge - Week Six

Week six had come and still another week to go before I could get this damn air cast off.

So what did I get up to?  More buses and more travel sickness.  However I noticed whilst in the air cast I was no longer the slowest person in the neighbourhood.  In fact I was over taking old people and mum's pushing prams.  It got to the point where I was taking my foot out of the air cast and tentatively putting my weight on it.  No pain.  Not bad, not bad at all.  Hurrah!  

However there was a major dampener on the horizon.  Whilst stroking Sox I discovered a large lump between her shoulder blades.  Naturally I googling her symptoms and got really worried especially as one of her injections is linked to causing cancer.  So another trip to the vet was in order.  The vet checked her over and confirmed it was probably due to one of her injections, but most likely nothing to worry about.  Sox was prescribed a course anti-inflammatory medicine and I have to say I said a little prayer that it would work.  Thankfully over the week the medicine, which I had to administer in her food, brought the swelling down.  Now you can hardly feel it.  In just six weeks, Sox in my life has provided me a rollercoaster of emotions, but one thing for sure I wouldn't be without her.

Things I learnt this week:
1) Getting out and about is good for the soul, especially when you have been couped up for weeks.
2) Gently testing your broken limb without cast on helps to build confidence.
3) Googling medical terminology (human and animal) leads to sleepless nights.  Avoid Google if you can until you speak to a professional.
4) I love my cat more than I could ever have anticipated.
5) By week six finding even five things to learn from is simply impossible.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Photos of the Week: Manchester Central Library

Manchester Central Library has been closed for a few years for a major refurbishment. Recently it reopened and I had the opportunity to attend some Openstories workshops being held there (by the way the workshops were inspiring and well recommended if you are interested in blogging).  The workshops gave me the opportunity to explore the refurbished library.  I have to say they have done an amazing job at transforming the library.  In parts it's recognisable and I want to revisit with my proper camera to spend more time taking photos of the place.

Here are a some photos I took on my visits to the library:

©Anne-Marie Marshall 2014 

This clock and dome is on the first floor in the main study library.  Thankfully they kept much of the original features, but relocated the lending library to the basement and stripped back the clutter.  As a result it looks really classy in an academic sort of way.

©Anne-Marie Marshall 2014

The lift is a new feature with lots of steel and glass.  They relocated the lifts to the right hand side and where the the old lifts were have been transformed into the entrance to the newly created ground floor space.

©Anne-Marie Marshall 2014 

You can see this literary inspired stained glass window from the first floor balcony.  I hate to say this, but I never noticed it before now even though it has been here years.  Before the refurbishment the desk to check in and out books was here, so all I noticed was the librarians and not the lovely window.  

©Anne-Marie Marshall 2014 

The refurbishment created a new ground floor space.  I think this space had previously been part of the theatre.  Now here is the new cafe, group study spaces, meeting rooms, the archives and Special Collections study rooms.  It's very space age with lots of fluid shapes and lines - it certainly brings the library into the 21st century.

©Anne-Marie Marshall 2014 

I really like this picture.  It's the view of the exit from the ground floor space.  It was a random capture whilst I was passing through.

Definitely take a trip to Manchester Central Library.  It may still look closed with all the barriers around the building, but it is now open.  It's a lovely peaceful and beautiful place to do that piece of work that requires no distractions or to take time out in on a busy day. 

All images the work of Anne-Marie Marshall.

Friday, 20 June 2014

Photo of the Week - Royal Exchange Theatre

©Anne-Marie Marshall 2014 
The Royal Exchange Theatre is one of my favourite places in Manchester.  Not only is it a fab, in the round, theatre space, but also housed in a beautiful Victorian building.

When I was a teenager and worked in Boots the Chemist opposite the theatre, I used to eat my sandwiches on the benches here whilst appreciating the art exhibitions.  When I had the money I would try to catch a show.  I remember seeing What the Butler Saw with Kate Winslet before the fame, Richard II with Sue Johnson who made me laugh at an inappropriate moment and Love Labours Lost.  After every show I always remember floating out here on a cloud of wonder.

There used to be a good cafe here that you could get a decent salad here.  It was also a great place to meet friends before a night out as it was not intimidating like waiting in a pub in the 1990s. I also spent my 21st birthday hungover checking out the cast in the theatre bar with my best mate Shaun.  Things change over the years though, but you can't escape what a beautiful building this is.

Recently I was on an architectural photography course and at lunch time I did a detour to take photos of the building.   I love the contrast of the modernist feel of the podlike theatre against the Victorian columns and dome.  There is something wonderfully serene about the place - almost a church-like quality.  I think that is why as a teenager I took sanctuary in this place after the hustle and bustle of working in Boots.

I just love the form, light and the colour of the theatre in these shots.  I will definitely come back here on another Sunday to take more photographs.

Here are a couple more shots from my trip here:

©Anne-Marie Marshall 2014 

©Anne-Marie Marshall 2014

All the images are the work of Anne-Marie Marshall.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Six Week Challenge - Week Five

The good thing about this week was the fact I was able to get out more.  Okay I had to take the bus and I got travel sick, but hurrah I was out and about.

However the one big thing I didn't factor about getting out and about was that I couldn't do certain things.  The main things were carrying food and drink whilst on crutches.  Thankfully in Barburrito and Starbucks they took the initiative and helped me with my purchases.  In Barburrito they even helped me to find a good table.  The other thing was carrying bags of shopping - there is only so much you can carry before overbalancing your crutches.  In many respects having crutches has a sympathetic effect on other people and I certainly got help when I needed it.  The only exception was when I went to a club night and had to negotiate stairs and the drunks weren't patient with me.  I may have had an injury, but I can still have a life.  Knobs the lot of them.

Anyway I had another trip to the hospital.  This time I didn't need my Dad to drag me around the hospital in a wheelchair as I much quicker on the crutches.  I didn't need another x-ray which I was surprised about.  However I found out I needed to be in my aircast for an additional week than  anticipated.  This was such a pain in the butt as the thought of spending another week on the buses was a killer.

Sox and her twitter account did provide a pleasant distraction.  I was amazed how quickly she amassed followers.  It's surprising how a few cute photos and witty comments gets people following.  It's a subculture I had not been aware of on twitter, but I guess you don't find out about these unless you start looking for it.

The sewing machine has proved to be a productive distraction and I found that the internet was great for finding out how to make stuff, either through You Tube instructional videos or blogs.  I found out how to make reversible tote bags and lined zipped purses / pouches.  With my Mum and friend's birthdays coming up, my convalescence gave me the opportunity to make stuff for people.  I do find you get greater pleasure giving people gifts you have made, rather than a mad dash around the shops to get something they may not like.

Things I learnt this week:

1. It all gets a bit groundhog day, with days blurring in the next.
2. Being signed off for another week was so disappointing.
3. I still can't find it in my heart to love buses.  No matter how many times I go on the bus the travel sickness remains.  As long as I don't read a book or use my iPhone I can minimise it to a certain extent.  At least I can still listen to podcasts on the iPod.
4. Making people gifts is lovely.
5. There are only so many things you can learn each week and trying to find ten by week five is impossible.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Six Week Challenge - Week Four

Things definitely got better at week four as I was over the hump and over half way through my convalescence.

Boredom has kicked in.  Thankfully my parents brought Neil's Gran's sewing machine around and I started sewing on the sewing machine.  A couple of years ago I went on a patchwork course and I had been meaning to make stuff.  In the meantime I had collected a load of fabric so I had no excuse to start.  The first thing I did was a red patchwork cushion.  Weirdly I really hate cutting material and had a bit of a nightmare with it.  Although I'm alright using the machine.  I had some teething troubles initially and thankfully Google sorted me out.  It was really good to do something creative.  However Lil'Sox was feeling a little neglected and keeps trying to distract me from my project by siting on my fabric.

I escaped down the rabbit hole of twitter and set up an account for Lil'Sox.  Oh boy did I find the cat lady subculture!  I'm not the first person to set up a cat twitter account and I won't be the last.  A few cute tweets of Sox and we were off.  I could not believe how quickly her account got off the ground.  Plenty of follows ensured that Sox was followed back, who could resist her sweet face?

I did get out and about and bought a bus pass.  I'm so missing my car especially when I go green with travel sickness.  At least I could legitimately sit on the seats at the front of the bus for people who are old or with mobility issues like myself.

Things I learnt:
1. Creativity is good.
2. Reading becomes a bit of chore after four weeks.
3. Still no day time TV and I don't feel the need for it.
4. Buses still suck.
5. I'm turning into a cat lady.
6. People can be surprisingly thoughtful when you're out and on crutches.
7. You become really good at forward planning your trips out to minimise walking on crutches, whilst doing everything you want to do.
8. I'm not as obsessed about listening to podcasts on my iPod now I'm off work.
9. Running a twitter feed for your cat can be fun.
10. The end is in sight. 

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Six Week Challenge - Week Three

By far this has been the hardest week.  I think it's because  I was not yet half way through my convalescence.  However I have managed to break out on a couple of occasions: once to the pop quiz and another a solo venture on the bus.

This week I was mainly going a bit crazy with loneliness and only a paper ball mad cat for company during the day.  Thankfully Neil was about in the evenings.

It's very easy to get down with all this time on your hands and not being able to scoot out in the car to distract yourself.  Thankfully I still had an Ian Rankin book to read and keep me occupied ('The Complaints').  I love Ian Rankin and he is one of my favourite authors.  Although I was surprised that my interest in reading has waned during this time.

Getting about on crutches was a real nuisance and I noticed that instead of my usual meanderings I became much more focused and direct with my movement.  No movement was wasted as getting about was a real chore.  Especially as I wasn't confident about putting much weight on my broken foot.

Lil Sox the cat was the real joy of the week.  It's so interesting to find out her little quirks and the window fights with the neighbour's cat was a sight to see.  Thankfully the panes of glass separate the two and the only injuries they get are bruised paws from them beating the glass.  Even though she is small, apparently female cats can be feisty and very protective.  Hopefully she won't come to much harm when she finally goes out.

 So what did I learn this week:
  1. Loneliness can turn you into a crazy cat lady very quickly.
  2. Ian Rankin rocks as a author
  3. A broken foot makes you change how you explore places - it makes you consider your choices much more carefully.
  4. Cat window fights are hilarious.
  5. It's good to get out, even if you can't move that fast or far.
  6. Public transport sucks especially as I get travel sick every time.
  7. I miss my car and the freedom it brings.
  8. It's important to do something creative.
  9. People are important to take you out of yourself.
  10. Sleeping in Aircasts are a real chore.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Six Week Challenge - Week Two

Week two done.  It's hard this recovery lark - mainly the boredom. 

The highlight of the week was a trip out with my folks to Oswaldtwistle Mill and a garden centre in Radcliffe.  To be truthful it was a killer to do on crutches, although in Oswaldtwistle Mill I wasn't alone.  It seemed to be the walking wounded day with lots of people with sticks, crutches and wheelchairs.  I really didn't find much but it was nice to go out with my parents and we had lunch in one of the three cafes at Oswaldtwistle Mill.  The quiche special was nice and seemed to be a popular choice with fellow diners.  At the garden centre I bought my herb garden, although I was distracted by the animal section.  There was an aviary with finches, canaries and cockatilles.  The rabbits were very cute.  My Mum made a hasty retreat when she saw the gerbils and hamsters - she's not good with anything that resembles a mouse.  Then I spotted an anaemic looking corn snake. My phobia kicked in and I hobbled off in the opposite direction.

I also took Lil'Sox for her follow up injection at My Pets Vets in Leigh.  She was really good apart from some wriggling.  No hissing, biting, scratching, meowing or any dirty protests.  All we got was a little squeak as we put her into her carry cage.  The vet's was lovely and they had a special waiting area for the cats.  Although Lil'Sox was far more well behaved than the dogs in the waiting room.  One greying old chap was whinning as he was waiting for the vet.  Another black highland terrier was literally dragged into the vets legs splayed.  We did see the most lovely ginger 3 legged dog behind the reception desk.  According to the receptionist it had come in abandoned and emaciated with a badly damaged leg.  Now it had been adopted by one of the staff and the dog looked gloriously content. 

So what are the 10 things I learnt this week.

1. Playing paper ball fetch with Lil'Sox the cat is entertaining.
2.Apparently Lil'Sox's vets reception area is cleaner than my Dad's GP's surgery.
3. It's good to check the terms and conditions of your insurance policies as you might get a pleasant surprise. 
4. Google alerts are good as you may find out your blog has hit the headlines.
5. It's good to let people know your intentions as new opportunities you never considered may come your way.
6.  I discovered I really can't stand the Steve Wright show on Radio 2 - I will hobble to the radio to turn it off and I don't hobble unless there is a desperate need.
7.  Do something each day that connects you to the outside world as it can be lonely and you can lose your confidence a little.  I found that after my thyroid op I got a little panicky on my first venture into the big, wide world and to be honest I had a similar experience at Oswaldtwistle Mill.
8.  Instagram is my favourite social media tool.
9.  Aircasts suck especially if you don't wear a sock inside them.
10.  I must look like a crazy lady when people look through the window and see me throwing paper balls around the place.

Week 2 done and I'm not even half way through.  It's tough and I need to break out.  I'm such an independent soul and this is killing me - hopefully week three will provide me an opportunity to escape. 

Friday, 28 March 2014

Six week challenge - Week One

What I'm about to begin is a 6 week challenge, this time not by choice but by accident.

About 4am on Friday 21st March I slipped down stairs with our new cat Sox.  She had a little accident in the bedroom and I didn't want her to have a bigger accident.  However in my mad panic I slipped on the last two steps of the stairs and went flying.  Sox was fine.  I, on the other hand, sprained my ankle and broke my 5th metatarsal (little toe).

At the time I knew I had done more damage than usual.  I'm a dab hand at spraining my ankle, but the pain on the right outside edge of my foot was a new thing.  I went straight to bed knowing I would be calling my Dad first thing to take me to casualty.  Funnily enough this isn't the first time I've had that sort of conversation.  In 1991 I had to ask my housemate to take me to casualty after going over my ankle in a nightclub.  At least I got away with a badly sprained ankle and no broken bones.  This time was my 6th time in casualty and the second time I've broken a bone.

Salford Royal Hospital was excellent.  I only had to wait under an hour to get seen to and was told off for not taking painkillers.  To be honest I was in more pain with a bad sprain in 1991 than a broken foot in 2014.  I knew things weren't good when the Doctor chased us down the corridor after the x-ray and ushered us into a cubicle.  I overheard the word metatarsal being mentioned from the nurses station and knew the news would be bad.  Before I knew it I was up in the plaster room getting plastered, but not in a good way.  So I left hospital with a broken 5th metatarsal, crutches and an appointment for the fracture clinic on Monday.

It has been a shock to the system to be completely immobilised. The initial cast was a non-weight bearing cast and it was a b*tch to get about.  I have to admit I cried at one point through frustration.  My car is stuck in the drive as I can't use my foot to break or accelerate.  Since I started driving the longest I've been unable to drive is two weeks because of staples I had in my neck after a removal of a thyroid tumour.

Thankfully at the fracture clinic they gave me an aircast instead of a full leg plaster.  It was an easy decision to make as the other option of a full leg plaster involved warfarin injections for DVT.

So what have I learnt over this past week being incapacitated?  Here are my ten takeaways:

1. Despite Lil'Sox getting me into this situation, she's a loving, good natured little cat.  She even won over my Mum, who had been traumatised by my first cat Sooty.  Sooty was an unneutered tom cat who had trouble written over his face - the fights, the fleas and the regular impregnation of the local lady cats.  I loved him, but he loved my Dad the best.

2.  I have learnt to type with a cat lying on my arm.

3.  I find it easier to go down stairs than upstairs on crutches and as a result have excellent bladder control.

4.  Tesco's home delivery service is the new home help service.  They were really accommodating by helping me put stuff away, whilst making sure Sox didn't escape out the front door.

5.  My parents and Neil are super stars and have really helped me out.

6.  Daytime telly is not an option.  It's a slippery slope I'm not willing to fall down.  Maybe an episode from a series I'm following, but no more.

7. I now have a daysofa (2 seater) and an evening sofa (3 seater) to help me differentiate the day.

8.  There is little you can do to fight a broken foot.  You just need to go a little Zen and accept the situation and make the best of the time you've now got.

9.  Being able disassociate from the fact my foot feels like it's burning in a stormtrooper like cast.  Sleeping in it is not much better.

10.  Watching a cat skid long on laminate flooring during her mad half hour is hilarious.  Almost as good as waiting her panic when she thinks she is stuck on top of a cupboard.

Honestly I don't recommend you break a foot, however cat ownership is fab and endlesslessly entertaining especially when convalescing. 

Friday, 14 March 2014

Monthly Challenges: One Year On

One year on from starting my monthly challenges, what did I discover?

First and foremost do something you want to do, rather than something you think you should do.  Otherwise you find motivation can be somewhat lacking half way through the month and it feels like you're pulling teeth.  I found that happened on the health month when I fell off the rails trying to get fit.

Secondly, by focusing for a month you find you can make breakthroughs on your chosen subject.  The reading month really helped me get back into reading and it helped establish the habit again, which has continued throughout the year.  I managed to triple my blog traffic after a month by learning more about SEO and tweeking my blog.  Most importantly this traffic has not just sustained, but also increased after being short listed for the Blog North Awards. My long overdue craft project of my knitted blanket was completed, however it did cause some RSI in my hand and I had to have an MR scan (absolutely true).

Monthly challenges are great to start developing good habits.  My money challenge made me become more aware about taking advantage of different online discounts available and cash back services.  I also realised that writing is a really good for maintaining positive mental health.

Finally it confirmed I am a learning junkie.  Finding out about the free courses on Coursera was a godsend.  I've completed about four courses now and I found that as long as I chose a subject where I have a genuine interest in the course was a joy.  If not, the course was a chore.  The main point to note is not to take on too many courses at one time (guilty as charged), otherwise you lose track of where you are up to and end up chasing your tail to keep up with lectures which spoils the experience.

Since December I have been on a hiatus - somehow moving house is not helpful for monthly challenges.  Although once things have calmed down I will restart the monthly challenges as I really enjoyed doing them.

Key things to remember when setting a monthly challenge:
  • Do things you actually want to do as it helps with motivation.
  • A great way to establish good habits.
  • Helps you to focus so you can complete outstanding projects.
  • A really good way to learn new things.
  • Most importantly have fun doing them!  But don't end up needing to seek medical help.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Monthly Challenges: November 2013

Back to Coursera this month for my monthly challenge and this time I did an Introduction to Marketing with Wharton, University of Pennsylvania.

I've always been interested in Marketing, but when I've tried to read textbooks on the subject somehow my eyes glazed over and I fall asleep.  So when I saw this course I knew I had to try it and what a joy it was.

I honestly though Marketing was about all the design, print and copy writing stuff, but in actual fact it's much deeper and more interesting than that.  This course is themed on the three aspects of marketing - branding, customer centricity and go to market strategies.  This course really takes you on a tour of what marketing is, does some jargon busting, shows the lengths businesses can go to in order to understand their customers.

The course was more detailed for me than some other courses I had done before.  The lecturers were excellent, the content insightful and I can honestly say it really gave me a fresh perspective on my work and my employer.  I can't tell you how invaluable this course has been to me.

This is a brill course and great for people who want to know some basics about marketing.  Whether a prospective university student trying to decide what course to do; someone about to start their own business and wants to understand what marketing is for; or for someone who wants to know what marketing is about.  If I was going back to University this course would convince me to take some marketing modules.  FAB!

Thursday, 23 January 2014

CV Update

I've finally updated my CV online.  To see what I've been up to over the years check out this link

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Monthly Challenges: October 2013

As you may suspect from my monthly challenges I'm a learning obsessive.  Recently I've over indulged in Coursera courses and I have to admit I did drop out of the Design: Creation of Artifacts in Society (University of Pennsylvania) as I double booked myself with the Introduction to Marketing (Wharton University).  I've always wanted to get to grips with Marketing for work purposes and I really liked how Wharton University delivered it.

However this month's challenge wasn't Coursera, but I free little iPhone app called Duolingo that teaches you different languages.  I am notoriously bad at foreign languages and I swear my brain is made of Teflon where they are concerned.  So I wasn't sure this would work for me.  However I was pleasantly surprised as the developers had turned language learning into a game.  This seems to work for a games obsessive such as myself. 

I chose to learn Italian in part as I had already failed to learn French and Spanish.  I needed to learn a language I didn't have any real experience of and had no negative associations with.  Also, when I was little I lived next door to a lovely Italian lady called Angelina who looked like the Queen and had a corgi called Sheba.  She used to make the most fabulous Italian food and I've never tasted anything as good in a restaurant ever.  So I thought it would be good to learn the language as a tribute to her, especially as I  learnt my first Italian word from her -  'Ciao'. 

So how have I got on?  Not bad really.  The early levels I sprinted through, however as it gets harder I hit some brick walls like possessions and questions.  Thankfully as it's designed as a game I get very tenacious and I have to break through.  If you have seen me power through Candy Crush (now at level 421) you would understand how learning a language this way is a really good method for me. 

I like the way Duolingo breaks down each lesson thematically and asks 20 questions per lesson in a variety of ways - translate either into English or Italian by reading or listening; also repeating Italian phrases spoken to you; and using pictures.  This app covers most learning styles.

You also have the opportunity to go back and practice weak skills, which actually helps to consolidate your language skills.  Often by going back you see how far you have moved on.  Weirdly I think it has also helped my English skills, as I'm more aware about how I use language.

I have to confess I do a little cheat.  Sometimes when I'm not sure of something I go on Google Translate to double check.  Although this isn't always a great help as it sometimes gives completely different words than what the app is looking for.

It's now January (Happy New Year by the way) and I'm still using the app.  I do go through phases of not using it, but then again I remind myself it's far more practical than playing Candy Crush any day of the week.  Duolingo uses the games concept for learning and for someone who really struggles to learn languages I have never this spent lenght of time (over 3 months) trying to do so.  Thanks Duolingo for making my October challenge worthwhile - I may learn a language after all!