Saturday, December 6, 2014


The fam.

What an exhausting week! The commute hasn't been too bad, considering there are billions of people on the road every morning (okay, a SLIGHT exaggeration: I actually mean millions). The only drawback is the lack of good sleep I feel.

I get home each night by 7:30, eat with my cousin, chat and watch some TV for an hour, then am in bed at 9:00 to read a bit, and lights out so I can get up and on the road by 6:00. To be fair, that gets me to Chertsey up to an hour before I start work, but if I left it any later, the traffic would be horrific(er). I can sit at the coffee shop for a half hour and relax a bit after my drive, so I actually prefer this routine.

I decided not to take the room that my co-worker has available (I still do have to tell her this, however), mainly because I'm not convinced of compatibility, personality-wise. She's nice enough - as am I - but I'm not convinced it would be a great fit. Plus, my cousin is feeling quite down at the moment, and I want to be here as much as I can for her. My friend did mention that her cousin might be amenable to a weekday renter, as he had offered her his spare room. I said I would think about it and let her know on Monday. He lives about 30 miles away, in the Gatwick airport vicinity. So, possibly another option.

As I said, though, the drive hasn't been too awful this week. I did have an awful night on Tuesday. I woke up at 2 a.m. (no idea why) and just dozed until 5:00. Needless to say I was pretty much a drooling mess by the time 2 p.m. rolled around and ended up booking a hotel for Wednesday night. The hotel was at Gatwick Airport (cheap!), a bit of a dump and - likely because I forgot my earplugs - quite noisy, so I had a miserable night there instead.

Yesterday should have been a good day, simply by virtue of being Friday, and it started out okay, but fell apart around noon. We had some deadlines to hit (barely made them), had work returned to us because some of it was improperly filed by the company who sent it to us (it meant I had to fiddle about to get the proper paperwork, adding time to the process), the installers had an hour of frustration and ranting, my friend was near tears as she was being pulled in so many directions - many of which are completely unrelated to her office manager position - but she always seems to rally by the end of the day. She deserves 4 day weekends as far as I'm concerned.

I do like being busy, but I don't handle stress well and I keep forgetting to drink my water, even though I take a 1L bottle with me every day. I'm still doing okay with the eating, but can do much better, so have to focus more. Still feeling a bit more clear headed now that I'm not eating bread as often as I used to. I love my bread, but apparently it doesn't love me, so I'm learning to leave it alone.

Several hours in pretty Lyndhurst this afternoon helped raised my and my cousin's moods. We had an okay lunch at one of the many restaurants (we try to go to a different one each time we go) and I picked up a few things, including a pair of new slippers, which are cute AND comfy. My old ones have too many holes to keep my feet warm anymore, but I'll be keeping them around as an extra pair for a little while yet. I also bought a couple of books and a Christmas present.

One thing I love about England is that it's so dog friendly. We were having lunch and a couple with a beautiful Bernese Mountain Dog came in and sat down for a meal. No one blinked an eye and the owner piped up with "How's my favourite dog today?" People at home would s*%t if a dog was brought into any kind of building, never mind a tiny restaurant where they cook basically out in the open. I love the fact the dogs (as long as they and their owners are well-behaved) are welcomed so warmly. Not everywhere, of course, but many, many more places than at home.

Strictly Come Dancing tonight - week 11 - and thoroughly enjoying the show. It's the quarter-finals and very exciting. Who knew that I - who is most definitely not a dancer - would love a dancing show so much?

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Commuting costs and update

Lyndhurst Village High Street.

The pictures were taken earlier in the year, but still highlight the charm of the New Forest. Lyndhurst is the Administrative Centre, where all decisions concerning the forest are discussed, decided, recorded, maintained and put forward.

One of half a dozen donkeys grazing in the area.

Cows at large near Bolton's Bench, Lyndhurst.

Ponies at Bolton's Bench, Lyndhurst (one is wearing a reflective collar, which is designed to help prevent collisions with cars - but drivers, it's actually YOUR responsibility to prevent this, so please SLOW DOWN in the Forest).

Hard to believe November is, for all intents and purposes, over. Christmas is looming and then there's another brand new year right around the corner! I started the month with a week off, a plan to join Nanowrimo to write my No 1 Best Seller, and a two-week job trial and I finish it off with a permanent job, 1500+ more miles on my car, no book, a hit to my savings, but also down another $400 in debt.

The new job is great if I'm honest. Absolutely frustrating and exhausting but there's so much potential for growth that if we can make it through the next few weeks, we're golden. There's a huge amount of organization needed, but we've just hired an office junior to help with the little things (filing, photocopying, scanning, answering the phone, etc) which allows the Office Manager and me to get on with the bigger things - the ones that bring in money.

The commute is 1.5-2 hours each way and is deathly boring, but I'm actually already getting used to it (scary!). I get more stressed out if it's raining, as I don't like driving at night and when you add rain, it just makes it worse, but ultimately my goal is to find somewhere mid-way between my cousin's place and work. That won't be for awhile, though, but I'm already looking. There are huge costs involved in a move and I just don't have funds for that at this point. It's actually easier for me to drive every day and fill up twice a week.

It will be easier to set up a budget now that I've had my first paycheque and have an idea of what I'm earning. We get paid weekly, but two weeks behind. There is overtime available sometimes, which I'm happy to do, but I would stay in town overnight in that case instead of coming all the way back to the Forest (which, I realize, slightly negates the point of overtime, but makes more sense) and then going back again in the morning.

Cash-wise I'm down more than I'd like in my savings to cover some of the initial travelling expense (gas), but will now be putting that money back weekly, so am not worried and hope to see a steady increase there.

My debt is also steadily decreasing and I'm down to $7600 from almost $14000 at the beginning of the year. I removed my ticker thingees because I wasn't keeping up with them and could never remember my password to get into them. I know I won't make my goal of paying it all off this year, but I've managed to get almost halfway and I'm very, very pleased by that. I'd like to see my debt at zero by the end of next year and my savings over £1000.

I'm doing well with my eating too. I started out buying lunches and breakfasts from the cafe on the trading estate, but it's all fried food which, while quite delicious, is absolutely no good for me on a daily (or twice-daily) basis. So I've been eating apples (Pink Lady), hard boiling eggs, nuts, and buying ready-to-eat salads from the grocey store and have been managing very well on those for the past week and a half. The salads are very simple, but they fill me up and they aren't expensive. I've also had containers of pineapple to snack on during the day too. If I'm spending 12 hours a day sitting down, I need to make sure that whatever goes in my mouth is going to work for me, rather than against me. So far, so good.

My cousin and I went to a pub quiz last Sunday and came away with a £10 gift card as third place winners (our second win!). It was a lot of fun, but quite a tricky one, and I find them challenging because they're very English-centric - obviously. There was actually a Canadian question, but I got one wrong (not really), which I absolutely questioned. Canadians, back me up here: Ottawa is NOT one of the top 5 Canadian cities by population, am I right? According to the quiz answers it is. Vancouver, our number 2, was nowhere in sight and that's what I questioned.

Regardless, I get stupid excited about quizzes, pub or other. I love them. I'm not particularly good at them, but they're fun and that's the part I like. There are about half a dozen quiz shows on TV and I'm going to fill out an application form for one for my cousin and I. No guarantees, but what the heck. We went to another one on Thursday night which was a charity fund raiser. It started at 8pm and we didn't get home until after 11:00! There were about 200 people there. It was fun and dinner was included (a delicious but titchy one), but by the time we'd finished we were hot and had mostly lost our enthusiasm and motivation. 

We didn't win, in case you were wondering!

My Nanowrimo efforts have been, for the most part, a bust. I'm not even halfway to my 50,000 word mark, but have been surprised where the story went. I had hoped to start my first mystery series, but I'm getting more of a romance with an unexpected character popping up. There's a vague mystery (I've killed someone off), but I'm not sure how - or if - I'll carry on with that. Still, it might give me something to chip away at and who knows? I may come up with something complete after all.

This weekend is quiet and restful. I have a Skype session with a friend tomorrow evening and that's the extent of my excitement. I am going to add a bit more to my writing, get some supplies (food) for the coming week and add a touch of oil to the car, but that's about the extent of it.

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...