Sunday, November 16, 2014

What a week!

Cemetary near Winchester, where we went hunting for a family member.

I looked to see if I could find what this building actually is, but no luck. It looks to be churchlike and is obviously medieval, but that's the best I can do for the moment, unfortunately.

We visited the city about two weeks ago. My cousin is the genealogical whiz of the family (for my mother's side) and her search has led her all over the UK. One of our distant relatives is supposed to be buried in the cemetary, but it was a bit of a futile search, as we had no plot number or specific area. We spent about an hour or so looking with no luck, so will return at a later date with hopefully better luck. 

I hadn't been to Winchester yet, but it's quite a lovely city, from what little I saw. A medieval market town (so very expensive), but with a river - the Itchen - flowing through it. Definitely a place to return to. Plenty of buildings built in that random medieval way - not a straight line to be found!

I had a week off after finishing my job at the hospital. It feels like so long ago now, but was only two weeks! During my week off, I started my Nanowrimo project and did quite well - I got over 13,000 words written, which is not bad. Since last Sunday, though, I've done nothing.

I started a new job on Monday - ostensibly as a two-week temporary position, but really as a permanent one - and that's been keeping me stupidly busy. Not least because it can take me over two hours to get there! It's in a town called Chertsey, which is almost London (I would consider it Greater London, as it's just inside the M25). On a good day, it's a straightforward, fairly easy drive of about 1.25 hours, but otherwise it's a stop-and-go and can take much longer. To the point that after only TWO days doing this, I had to take a day off because I was so fatigued I didn't feel safe to drive (after coming home in the rain the night before too, which just makes things worse). I also ended up staying in town at a B&B for two nights so have now essentially worked a week for free. :O

My decision, therefore, is to find a place to stay during the week and then come home on weekends. I don't want the wear and tear on my car (or me!) and this seems the best for all concerned. I like my sleep, don't like driving at night (particularly in the rain) and hate that my days are now all work-related. I basically get up, drive, work, drive, eat and go directly to bed. It's only been a week and I feel like I've been doing it for months!

I'm sure it'll work itself into a routine eventually, but I'd still prefer to have a much shorter commute to be honest particularly if there are issues on the main routes. There are a variety of rooms available, most Mon-Fri, which are good to a point, albeit quite pricey. I'd prefer the option of a monthly rental that would allow me some flexibility of staying over on a weekend if I preferred or to leave Saturday morning and come back Sunday night sort of thing, rather than having to arrive Monday evening after work and then heading home on a Friday night, when traffic can be manic. Obviously I'd love a 5-minute commute, but I think that's a bit unrealistic at this point. So it means looking a bit further out, a little more driving but paying a bit less.

I did go and see one on Friday that was quite lovely, but a bit pricey for what it is. And it's Mon-Fri and having thought about it, I don't have enough money for a deposit + rent and I'd really like the option of staying Friday night if I wanted.

But I've just remembered that another staff member has a room she's desperate to rent near Heathrow for £400 a I think I've just solved my problem! It'll only be temporary until I can get my own place, or something more suitable, but it would solve my initial issue. I'll talk to her on Tuesday when she's in.

So far, though, I quite like the job. I've worked in a similar one (energy), the money is very good - and since I'm really focused on getting myself out of debt sooner rather than later, this is a good thing - there's huge potential for growth and it will ultimately lead to the next stage of my independence: having my own space to care for again (hopefully with pets allowed, as I'd love another cat or two). The town of Chertsey is very old - established somewhere around the 7thC! - and a mix of medieval, contemporary and everything in between. I haven't managed to explore it very well at all, although I have found the grocery store and the coffee shop (!), so I suppose that's a start. If I do move, I'd prefer to live south of the M25, still in Hampshire, somewhere between Chertsey and my cousin, so I don't have too much driving to do in either direction.

I'm exhausted from having to concentrate so hard on the road. There are hundreds of thousands of people on the motorway, speeding along, and I get really stressed out, although sometimes you can't tell that you are until you get to your destination and you unclench everything! :P I'm just not used to the speeds, amount of traffic and small roads yet, but it's getting there. I just like to make sure I'm well rested before putting myself behind the wheel that's all. Sometimes I am and sometimes I'm not as much as I'd like, which is why I erred on the side of caution last week and begged off (good thing my friend knows me).

So at the moment the only downside is the awful commute which will hopefully not be so much of an issue shortly.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

One year anniversary!

It's truly autumn when the pigs are on the Forest hoovering up the acorns. 

Okay, so technically, my anniversary was LAST Sunday, but the fact remains that I've been here a year - ALL READY!!! Unbelieveable really, it's gone so quickly.

And it's been fantastic so far. Honestly! I've been thoroughly enjoying myself and feel more at peace - and happier - than I have in a long, long time. I've had a few down days, but nothing out of the ordinary and have picked myself up much more quickly. I attribute much this to living with my cousin. Having someone to talk to at the end of the day, do things with, and just spend time with makes a HUGE difference and it's been wonderful getting to know her again. It could have gone very badly, but after an initial "getting to know each other" phase, we're very compatible (for the most part) and have a great relationship. We spend a lot of time giggling, which I'm sure accounts for part of my improved frame of mind. Spending time on my own is fine, and necessary for my state of mind, but too much time by myself was the cause of my ultimate stagnation in Whitehorse (hindsight and all that).

Anyhow, more changes are now afoot here in the New Forest. 

Two weeks ago I was told that my assignment was coming to an end (budgetary issues). My supervisor came down from one of the other sites to tell me in person. Apparently, I was supposed to be gone at the end of August, and she'd been pushing for me to stay, but could push no more. Disappointed is an understatement, as I've loved this job and had it been possible to stay on permanently, I would gladly have done so. But it's not my say-so, unfortunately. That's the thing with temping - the good jobs can come to an end too quickly and the not-so-good ones not soon enough! 

My last day was Friday and my manager ensured I had both his phone numbers (for referencing purposes). He and I got along well and I'm leaving confident that I will get support and positive recommendations from him. He dropped my name for a really decent position at the other site, too, so I have to finish that application before I forget.  It's a Big Deal, as he's put his reputation on the line for me for that.

It wouldn't be everyone's first choice for work, as I spent the majority of my days on my own. But I found it perfect because, a) there was zero contact with the public (a nice break), and b) I could get on and just get my work done. I listened to the radio and just concentrated on getting stuff done without any gossipy co-workers distractions apart from chatting occasionally with the guys, the parking attendant and various other visitors.

The one surprising point of this was that when I contacted the Agency last Monday to ask 'what's next?' I was told they hadn't been informed that my last day was Friday. ?? Kind of weird (but not surprising according to one of the guys). Regardless, they now knew and while they didn't have anything at the moment, something would turn up. In the meantime, I accepted a two-week temp job from a friend who works near London, with the potential for permanency and then when I found a terrific sounding job opportunity in my in-box on Friday morning for a job 10-minutes from home, I was really torn. I sent my CV in anyway (just pre-interview stage at this point, so not actually worth getting worked up about...ahem...) and let the Agency know what was going on with the London job.

I'll be commuting to the job near London every day at this point to try it out (1.5 hours each way - not a big deal Canadian distance-wise, but potentially a Big F*&^ing Deal here, as traffic gets utterly stupid along the route I have to take; train travel takes twice as long - I've already checked, as that's my preferred method of travelling that distance - and is ridiculously expensive, £55 PER DAY return. Option 2 was a B&B/guest house, but again, too much ££ for what I'd be making at this point). If I like it and take it on, I'd ultimately move to be closer. I'm leaning towards this job as I feel it's part of my next step: full independence. The money is decent, I'll be able to pay off my remaining debt more quickly than I am (O/T available!), and there's 'massive opportunities' according to my friend, which is great. In the current economy, a permanent job is a gift. Particularly one I've essentially been handed.

Anyway, it's all quite exciting, but I've got this week off to reflect, rest and get a few things done. I've also started Nanowriomo (National Novel Writing Month), which happens every November. The idea is to write 50,000 words in a 30 days. I've done/"won" it before - 2004, if I remember correctly - and thought, 'what the heck?' I'm going in without a real idea (TheAsianPear is also taking part, but she has a concrete plan - very exciting!) and will see what happens. When it began, oh so long ago, the idea was to write without plot or plan. It was just you and a blank page, so the rules have become more flexible over the years.

It started yesterday and where am I? Still at zero words, so I have to make serious inroads today and the rest of this week or I won't get it done. I'm basically ruling out progress during my time commuting, as it's going to be 12-hour days minimum and the last thing I'll feel like doing is writing. Still, it's a challenge and I'm curious to see what will pop up - I certainly surprised myself during my writing course at College, so who knows? I may actually end up with something that's feasible to pursue further. :)

Along my morning route - the SeaCity Museum.

Morning light in East Park. There are worse commutes!

My little car had it's annual MOT (safety check) and passed with no isses, as I thought. Then I had to get my road tax (£145 p/a) so I can drive it. This is a new thing to me, as we don't pay car tax at home, so it's one of those things - like a TV license - that's new to me. I'm confident she'll tackle the commute with no problem, just not sure how I'll be feeling at the end of two weeks! Phew!

Anyhow, my outstanding debt is coming down bit by bit, which I'm very pleased about. I won't be paid off by the end of the year as I'd hoped, but it will definitely be much less of a burden, particularly if I manage to secure a permanent job and have a regular, steady income. Much easier to make a budget and plan.

Anyway, I must start my novel or it will never get done.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Fall (already!) update - photo heavy!

Renee Verde, a 1997 Renault Clio. Proud owner: ME! :)

There I go again - sneaking away without telling anyone where I'm going and when I'll be back! I don't always feeling like posting either, so tend to put it off whereas it would be better to just pop in to say 'hello.' A very lovely lady (Jane) assures me that the community does like to hear from me, despite my less-than-regular updates. I appreciate that.

All I can say is that I've been having a great time and am SO very glad I didn't put a time limit on this adventure. As it is, I'm finding it hard to believe I'll have been here a year at the end of October. Wow.

So what have I been doing exactly?

  • Work is going well. I'm at the same job, still enjoying it. I'm looking for a permanent job, but not very hard. It's the whole interview process that's sort of holding me back, as well as trying to figure out what I want to do. Admin is NOT well paid here - although admittedly, Yukon Government wages aren't necessarily a realistic comparison - depending on what level you're at, and although a PA is good money, I don't have the right type of personality for that and I'm not keen on the "baby sitting" aspect of it. So in that respect I'd like to go back to school, but I'm just not sure what I'd like to do. HR keeps popping up, so I'm considering that, but have to have a good think as education isn't cheap here either.
  • I got a car (see above photo) at the end of July! Ridiculously excited about it, too, as it gave me my freedom and independence back. I bought it from a co-worker of my cousin - who had bought it from the original owner just six weeks previously - as her daughter was visiting from China for the summer. The car is PRISTINE - honestly! - as the original owner babied it and essentially kept it in a garage the whole time. She hardly drove it at all, really. The purchase price was less than £600, I got a great price on the insurance, and am looking to the end of October now, when both road tax & MOT are due. I have to change my Canadian driver's licence over, but need to talk to someone at the DVLA about that as I actually already have a British driver's licence, but haven't seen/used it since 1986, so have to figure out which is better to do. Sometimes this dual citizenship thing is a bit tricky...
  • I was in Wales in July with my brother, SIL & sister for a weekend. We went to Skomer Island, which is a bird sanctuary in Pembrokeshire (far west) and home to tens of thousands of puffins, kittiwakes, razorbills, guillemots, various gulls and Manx Shearwaters (the bird nerds were particularly excited to see these lovely creatures - approx half the world's population of these birds nests on the Island!).

Puffins are smaller than I thought, but lovely, funny little birds.

The start of our evening boat trip.

Herring gull guest. He smelled our fish and chips.

Kittiwakes and Guillemots make their nests along ledges such as these.

The evening was perfect, warm and sunny.

Skokholm Island lighthouse.

Puffins at their burrows.

Pretty snail shells I found.

Part of an old farm on the Island. Now a small hotel and the only building on the Island.

Our lunch spot, on the North side of Skomer.

Warnings in English and Cymru!

  • I had a photo workshop in August, which was great. A group of only 3 of us (plus instructor) went onto the Forest to catch the colours of the heather. I enjoyed it very much and have another one booked with the same fellow at the beginning of November.

If there are ponies anywhere in the vicinity, I will find a way 
to include them in my photos. :)

I start out doing what's we're working on (in this case the fall colours of the heather) and then get drawn into what's closer to the ground. The instructor suggested I might like his macro workshop. He might be right! :)
  • My cousin is on holiday in Canada for 3 weeks - the first time in almost 20 years! - and is due back on Wednesday. From all accounts she's thoroughly enjoying herself and has managed to do both a lot and very little, which is great. She started out in BC, visiting family in Vancouver and Victoria and is now in Toronto, visiting an auntie and cousin there. I've missed her and I'm looking forward to hearing all about her time away. 
  • I've had two weeks off myself which has been absolutely fantastic! A friend from Whitehorse visited me for a week and we went to London for several days. We stayed with my brother & SIL, which will be the last time I see them (here) as they're moving to South Africa October 15th on a new adventure of their own. My friend and I walked for MILES and saw plenty of sights:

Grand Union Canal, NW London.

Daniel Craig at Madame Tussaud's!

Regent's Park.

Piccadilly Circus & the (in)famous Eros statue.

Trafalgar Square - with a slightly surprising addition!

Houses of Parliament & Big Ben at Westminster.

Westminster Abbey.

The London Eye.

Tower of London and the WWI remembrance project. Those poppies are handmade in ceramic and 888,294 will be 'planted' until November 11, in remembrance of all the British soldiers who perished in WWI. It's quite a sight.
  • My second week has been quieter but started out with a visit by the fabulous Jane! I was so excited to meet her after her week of walking in the Cotswolds. I picked her up at her B&B in Gloucestershire, and after a couple of wrong turns, we made it safely back to the New Forest where we sat and chatted over tea. After a week on the hoof, all she wanted was to sit and relax. We had a pub dinner and off she went the next morning on the final leg of her trip! I can confirm that she's as awesome as she comes across on her blog - thank you, Jane, for taking the time to come and see me. So fantastic to finally meet you!
  • I joined the gym a couple of months ago and have sort of been going regularly. I've been almost every day last week, to get myself into a routine, but the evenings are the only time I can go and it tends to be packed, as that's the only time everyone else can go too, apparently. It gets a bit frustrating to wait for some of the machines, so I have forsaken an exercise on occasion and just kept moving, which I figure is better than standing around. It does help me relax and I am enjoying it, but I've also come home feeling really wound up because of the sheer number of people in the small space. I would go before work, but they don't open until 6:30 and I have to catch a train at 7:10. If I worked closer/started later, that would be ideal, but unfortunately that's not the case. It's been nice going during the day because there's hardly anyone there! :)
Anyway, I think that's more than enough right now. I can't think of anything else really and those are definitely my highlights. I promise to try harder to post more regularly...

Saturday, July 12, 2014

England's New Forest

ND Chic had a few questions about the New Forest. I'm still at the beginning stages of learning about it, but it is one of the prettiest, most unique places I've ever been, so I thought I would try and share a little about it. My cousin's neighbour is very knowledgeable (and can get quite worked up) about the Forest and issues around it. I've got to put it on my to do list to go and visit her and take some notes.

New Forest Pony at Bratley View.

Keep in mind, there are various levels of management, many groups with their own agendas (for lack of a better word) and thousands of people involved with the Forest and its use. I am no expert, but this is a little of what I've learned since I've been here.

The history of the Forest (at least recorded) goes back to William the Conqueror, in 1066. There's an entire Wikipedia page devoted to it, but suffice to say it's been around in it's protected form since that time. The ponies it's famous for (like the one above) pre-date his arrival. He created the area as a hunting ground for himself and it was first recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086.

The management of the Forest falls to the following:

Commoners: those who live in the Forest and have the Right of Common. I'm still a bit unclear on what exactly it is, but essentially it gives some New Foresters (not all) the right to depasture their animals in the Forest to graze. If I understand it correctly, the Right is attached to a property, not a person, and not everyone who has commoning rights attached to their property uses the right - there isn't money to be made by it these days and not everyone has animals to depasture. Still, without commoning, the Forest would be unmanageable, as it's the animals who shape and manage the foliage.

Above the commoners there are a lot of levels, all responsible for different aspects: Verderers, Agisters, Keepers, Forestry Commission and the National Parks. Most of the land still belongs to the Crown.

This link explains it much better than I can. It's quite a complicated chain of command. Maintaining the Forest bylaws - of which there are many - and being the people who "arrest settlement by the local inhabitants" are the Verderers. Basically, if you want to build, add to or modify your property in any way and your plans infringe on the Forest, you will need to modify or start again if they don't approve it. The Verderers also have the 'bible' of Forest Rights which, for a fee, you can review to see if your property holds any of these:

"Commoners of the New Forest are those who occupy land or property to which attaches one or more rights over the Forest. These rights are:

Common of pasture: commonable animals - ponies, cattle, donkeys and mules - are turned out into the Open Forest;
Common of pasture for sheep: although some of the large estates have this right, it is infrequently exercised;
Common of mast: the right to turn out pigs in the autumn to devour the acorns - this provides food for the pigs and reduces the threat to ponies and cattle from the poisonous acorns;
Estovers (Fuelwood): the free supply of a stipulated amount of firewood to certain properties;
Common of marl: the right to dig clay to improve agricultural land - this right is no longer exercised;
Common of turbary: the right to cut peat turves for the Commoner's personal use.

The most important right is the Common of Pasture. Those who wish to exercise this right must apply to the Verderers' Clerk who will confirm the existence of the right and allocate a brand for the animals. Once branded, they may be turned out into the Forest upon payment of a Marking Fee to the local Agister."

The Marking Fees pay the Agister wages, which is why one bone of contention is those who allow their animals to wander into the Forest (from boundary areas), but don't pay the marking fees. The Agister is (partially) responsible for the care of (domestic) animals within the Forest, so even those who don't contribute to their work get their animals taken care. If an unmarked animal gets hit by a car, the Agister is called to the scene and sometimes has to put the animal out of its misery, the same as he would if a marked animal got hit. It's the lazy way to get others to take care of your animals.

This link is full of details about how it all works. I pick and choose what I want to read, but it's got everything from monthly Court minutes, to bylaws, to job descriptions, to animal accidents, etc.

Domestic animals on the Forest are ponies, cows, donkeys, sheep, and pigs. The pigs are generally allowed out only in the fall, as they eat the acorns that fall from the oak trees, which can be harmful to the other animals. The ponies can trace their bloodlines back to pre-1066. They are beautiful animals, sturdy and hardy and unless they're unhealthy in some way, generally spend all year on the Forest, wandering the hundreds of acres. The animals are marked (hence the marking fees) by brands (owner) and cut tails (Agister), so you know immediately who is responsible for the animal if something happens. 

This is how comfortable the ponies are around people. And also why you have to be so terribly careful when driving. All the animals wander where they will and unfortunately, some drivers are not careful. Hit and runs are, sadly, not uncommon and particularly disliked by Forest folk.

There are 5 Agisters. The Forest is divided into 4 areas - one for each Agister (this is the only map I could find - it loses clarity if it gets any bigger), and with Area 1 shared between two Agisters. Lyndhurst is the Administrative 'nerve centre' of the Forest and where the Verderers and Agisters are headquartered.

There are annual pony 'drifts,' which is essentially a round up of the ponies on the Forest for health checks, weaning of foals and marking. There are several over the course of late summer/early fall and the commoners and Agisters work together to round up their animals and do the necessary work.

The Forest is cool and heavily wooded in the north east, where I am, but opens to heather and furze (scrub) as you travel south. I prefer the trees - ancient oak, beech and maple - but the open areas allow the animals more grazing space. It's not better or worse, just my preference.

The public is warned to stay away from the animals for their own safety, as the animals are generally semi-feral. They can still hurt people and still get hurt by human carelessness (and callousness and stupidity and ignorance). The majority of ponies are mares, and stallions are only allowed on the Forest once a year for a short period of time and in specific places.

Forest at Bratley View.

There are 5 types of deer in the Forest and a myriad of birds and other wildlife: foxes, rabbits, owls, and reptiles of various sorts. And that's not to mention all the flowers and other plantlife! 

It really is a magical place and I am beginning to understand why there is so much passion (on all sides) to protect and use it wisely. I'm not sure I've done it any sort of justice here, but do take a look at the links. There was a lot of use of the Forest in WWII and more recently, too, when an Al Qaida training camp was discovered prior to the current Middle East conflict operating in the Forest under the guise of a holiday camp! O_o

All of this is why I wanted to interview a couple of the officials for my novel. So. Much. Information!! I haven't heard anything, so am going to safely assume this first attempt was rejected. Not to worry, I'll try again at a later date.

And just because... :)

I'm currently somewhat village-bound, as my bike was stolen three weeks ago and I'm relying on my cousin to drop me at the train station in the mornings instead of having a lovely ride. I've been given the opportunity to get a little car in August, which I'm really excited about, but still need to replace the bike. I'm upset because I had the bike I really wanted - I simply can't replace it for the price I paid and what I got with it. It angers me that someone can be so casual with other people's property. I've gone through all the proper steps of reporting it to the police, filling out the paperwork and logging the info online, but as there's only a 1% chance of getting it back, I'm resigned to replacing it.

My cousin is away this weekend, so it's just me and the cat for a couple of days. I'm going to do some baking as well, and then I'm away in Wales next weekend. My SIL, brother & sister and I are going puffin watching in Pembrokeshire - far western Wales. Very excited as I just found out today that my sister was joining us. It's going to be a long trip, but I bought a 1st class ticket for the trip out (at a ridiculous price, to be honest, but I was feeling sorry for myself over the loss of my bike and decided I needed a treat and it's too late to change it now...), so I should at least have a little more legroom and a slightly more comfortable seat.

I didn't get the job I interviewed for either, which is fine. I wasn't expecting to and it wouldn't have been a good fit - it was uber-corporate and I'm not. I'm happy in the job I've got for the time being and I think having a car is going to make it that much easier to find the perfect one. Certainly it'll allow me more freedom and not have to limit myself so much. However, I think once I get a car I will try to find a p/t job to cover costs and earn a bit of extra cash. I still owe a lot of money and am getting a bit stressed out about paying it all back. I think a p/t job is the only answer and that's okay.

Anyway, I hope I've answered some questions and you've enjoyed some of the Forest info I've given.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

It's about time!

Sometimes you take a little break from your blog to focus on other things. And sometimes those little breaks turn (unintentionally) into much longer ones. This is one of those breaks (again).

So. What exactly have I been doing since January anyway?

·         Working 1.0. I wrote briefly about my job at the end of November. It was a temp job that had the potential to go permanent, which initially I thought would be perfect. As time went on, however, it started to wear at me and when the company shifted gears to downsize in mid-March, I was ready to kick some heads in. They eventually let me go, as you can’t justify keeping a temp when permanent jobs are on the line, and I was quite relieved. Despite the fact I could walk from home, the work environment, well, sucked. Ridiculously unprofessional behaviour – and perhaps that makes me sound a bit of a stick in the mud, but really, making dates during work hours? – and way too much gossip and general chitter chatter. Exit stage left!

·         Working 2.0. I was off for 2.5 weeks before I got another job. I started before Easter and so far, so good. I’m working at a hospital in the maintenance department (no public!!!!!) in a long-term position. The wage is better, although the job isn’t particularly challenging, but I have an office to myself and the guys are a good bunch. I have a lot of downtime, so feel that a perfect job for me is one like this but with enough work to keep me busy and make the day go faster.

The downside is the early start. I’m up between 5/5:30am to catch the 7:10 train. I ride my bike to the train station, which is 3 miles and takes about 20 minutes. It’s a beautiful ride – there are foals in the Forest now (!!) – perfect to relax me in the morning and wind me down in the evening. Plus I get a workout! I stop for tea then have a 15-20 min walk to the hospital, which is on the fringes of the sketchy part of town. I’m prepping for the wet season, but am enjoying the sunshine right now.
*Update: I have an interview for a permanent job on Thursday afternoon! I’m nervous because I have a feeling it’s going to be quite professional and I’m really not (I’ve never worn makeup in my life!), but I’m excited because it’s a company dealing with investments, so it sounds good. The lady who called said she really liked my CV/resume, so here’s hoping I can live up to it!

·         Visiting. We had a family reunion of sorts for my birthday at the beginning of April. My brother, SIL, sister and cousin went to Avebury (in Wiltshire county) for a day. Apart from a pretty village, there are remains of HUGE stone circles and pathways. Since I was last there (forever ago), a museum, gift shop and cafĂ© have been added. The weather wasn’t great, but it was April. It’s England. It was my birthday. We had a great time visiting and while my sister had to leave, the rest of us spent the night at a hotel in a town called Calne, 6 miles west.

Easter was spent in Carmarthen, Wales, with family. There were 6 cousins (3 sets of sisters), two husbands, 6 kids (7-16), an aunt and uncle and a beautiful Welsh locale. A movie was made, lots of food was eaten, plenty of drinks drunk, and we had a great time. It had been 40 years since all us cousins had been together like that, so it was terrific to spend so much time with old family and new (to me). Us girls are trying to arrange to go away together for a long weekend, so I’ve volunteered to look into affordable options for that: B&Bs or self-catering most likely.

I also went to see my sister in the pretty town of Rode for a long weekend. She works as a housesitter (among other things) and is sitting at a lovely place. It’s in the county of Somerset in the middle of fields. She’s looking after two dogs and a cat, so we had lots of walking, talking and relaxing. Proper sister time. J It was great.

·         Learning. I took a photography workshop in May and have signed up for two more, in August and November. Various parts of the New Forest and what’s called the Jurassic Coast in Dorset. I believe that’s because many fossils from that period have been found in its shores. The fellow leading the workshop was excellent and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. The other workshops are with smaller groups, so there’ll be more one-to-one assistance and guidance.

I’ve also signed up for two online courses: a novel writing course and a Teaching English as a Foreign Language course, something I’ve wanted to do for years. I’m almost finished the novel writing one, as I’ve got ideas for a cosy mystery series set in the Forest floating around my head. I’ve even written a letter in hopes of interviewing the officials who care for the Forest and her creatures. It’s a unique place and I’ve become quite enchanted by it.
*Update: almost a month in and no word from the officials I’d like to interview. They’re either considering my request really hard or not at all. I’ve decided instead to leap in and just start writing because if I don’t, I won’t have anything to put this into if they do grant me an interview.

I’m also learning that I’m more adaptable than I thought. England isn’t a great deal different from Canada in many ways, but there are definite differences. I’ve not used the health system (NHS) to a great degree yet, but it’s similar to our universal health care at home, so that’s not a big adjustment I have to make. Different items on the grocery store shelves and a lack of, or difficulty getting, certain other items (ah, Amazon. What would I do without you?); and mostly, the sheer number of people. I’m just not used to it after living in the Yukon for so long.

I did some Googling about that last bit. Canada’s population hovers around 35 million, the UK at almost 63. Now, WHERE DO ALL THESE PEOPLE LIVE??!! Comparing the Yukon’s population (approx. 35,000) per square mile vs. England’s, we get this: 0.01/661.9. No wonder I sometimes get dizzy! My brother and sister also have big personal space bubbles and we were talking about this at Easter. I think it stems from growing up in Canada, where there is the luxury of having that, whereas here you’re jammed up against people everywhere you go. The idea of ‘remote’ is quite different here than what I’m used to and there’s never complete silence either; you can always hear traffic, no matter what time of day it is. The Yukon could be perfectly, beautifully silent. That said, I’m finding it easy to spend time on my own, away from people, although I’m finding I really like having my cousin around. The company has been good for both of us.

It’s fun having an accent! You wouldn’t believe the number of people (men) who have said ‘what a lovely accent!’ Women just ask where I’m from, but I have no doubt that were I a man, I’d get exactly the same reaction from them instead. Hahaha! And I can’t get over how many people actually know it’s Canadian, not American – heck, *I* can’t tell most of the time. I just tell who don’t know that we just have softer vowels, but like any regional dialect (Newfies anyone?) it changes depending where you’re from. Personally, I’m finding the Welsh accent quite lovely. It’s so musical…

·         Paying down debt. I’m getting there!! I’m down to $2500 on my MC and $7700 on my LOC. I’m picking away at paying back my RRSP, too, but still have to make a decision about cashing out my secondary one. Why I’m wavering, I’m not sure. I suppose because I worked to set it up and added regularly, although I stopped that when I went to school and didn’t start it up again. It’ll just take an email to find out where I stand and whether it’s even possible from here.

Overall, I’m thoroughly enjoying my new adventure. Still spending far too much money on books and clothing (had a terrific haul yesterday at a couple of thrift stores – essentially an entirely new wardrobe for less than £70!), but I’m definitely happy.

Even my health has improved! For 7 years, the whole time I was in the Yukon, I was having troubles with my kidneys. If you know anything about kidneys, it’s that their health and function is numbers-based. The numbers vary depending on various factors (age, sex, etc) and mine have been on the high side of things since about 2004 (shortly before I went North). I registered and had an appointment with a doctor here who sent me for bloodwork, based on that history. What came back? The numbers are exactly where they should be for my age. Whatever the issue was, it is no longer.

If that in itself doesn’t prove to me that I did the right thing, nothing can. In alternative healthcare, the kidneys are where guilt and shame are kept, which I believe is the root of the problems.

At any rate, it certainly proves that following one’s heart can do wonders. England isn’t everyone’s dream (heck, even amongst the English), but I’m content, happy and thoroughly enjoying everything. Everywhere I am is ‘home’ to me, but it’s hard to explain why this just feels so…right. The pull of my roots? The opportunity to release old stuff and just start over? Who knows?

But it was definitely worth taking the chance. Can you believe it’s been almost 8 months already?!?!