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?!?!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Week two update

Not a bad week, although I've done unnecessary spending, but not nearly as much as I normally do, so that's something! My week looks like this:

Jan 5/14: £16.12 - FB game tokens
Jan 6/14: £2 - 4 rolls papertowel
Jan 7/14: £3.64 - £1.89 for butter, £1.75 pkg of chocolate digestives
Jan 8 & 9/14: NO SPEND!
Jan 10/14: £11.98 - £1.29 bread, £10.69 dinner at the pub + dessert
Jan 11/14: £9.03 - FB game tokens

So you can see where the majority of my unnecessary spends have gone - Facebook eats them. It's quite ridiculous.

I did ADD a little bit of coin to my snowflake jar: £5.33, bringing the total to £31.95. I also have a GST cheque that arrived for me for $101.00. I'm not quite sure what to do with it, however, as it's in Canadian dollars and if I deposit it into my account here, I'll lose half of it with the exchange and any associated fees. It has my English address on it, though, so I'm uncertain I can deposit it at home (via a friend). I'd like to deposit it into my Canadian bank as it can go towards my bills. I'll send an email to my account manager at home and see what she says. I imagine I'll get one more in April, which will be nice, but that will be it.

I also added £25 to my savings account here, which is something I'm planning to do on a much more regular basis. I'm currently getting paid weekly, as I'm with an agency, but once I start working for the company full-time, that will change to monthly - something I'll have to adjust to - and I'll have to be much more careful.

It was a busy week at work, the first full week after the holidays. The phones were busy and I keep getting given all kinds of work to do, which is not bad in itself, just a bit stressful when I'm already feeling behind. Ah well, just a few more days of doing reception and I can move on to the new job.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

January No-Low Spend: Update

I've actually been doing really well! I've cleared two of my January goals already, and am halfway to my third.

I've been tracking my spending and the month thus far looks like this:

Jan 2: £5.95 - fish and chips for dinner
Jan 4: £56.50 - groceries

I also put $852.82 towards my debt, $102.82 more than I had budgeted for. The transfer ended up being more than I anticipated (it all depends on the exchange rate, of course), which helped a bit, but I actually added an extra month's payment onto my LOC. Of course, the bank doesn't see it that way, but I figured I'd try to get a little ahead, after being behind. A $75 MC payment went through today as well.

I put $50 into my RRSP from the transfer as well, so that's taken care of.

I'm just over halfway into my monthly grocery budget, but did buy a few items that will last me a long time, as well as some food to use as snacks at work, so I'm not starving when I get home. Looking at the amount of food I bought (along with my cousin), I'm certain I would have paid at least three times the amount at home. So many items are just £1, veggies are cheap and we actually stuck quite close to the (my) list.

If you're interested, I bought:

£8.34 - 6 x 1L containers of coconut milk (I'm trying to go dairy-free this month)
£3.00 - 3 x hummous
£1.99 - 1 bag of chips (sorry, crisps. Not a necessity, but I was really craving the crunch...)
£2.87 - 1 x 2kg bag oatmeal
£1.54 - currants
£6.00 - 2 x 12pkg of Actimel yogurts (the live bacteria ones. My cousin owes me £3 for one pkg)
£1.50 - 3 small pkgs of nuts: walnuts, almonds, cashews. Couldn't find big ones, so settled on these for now
£1.02 - 3 x red grapefruit (these are about $1 each at home!)
£3.00 - 3 pkgs pineapple
£1.00 - 2 parsnips
£0.50 - small bag dried cranberries
£2.00 - bag of oranges
£3.50 - 2 bags dates
£1.50 - large bag spinach
£0.81 - container of cinnamon
£0.47 - red onions, I believe there are 4
£5.00 - 6 tins tuna
£0.32 - fresh ginger
£4.00 - 8 apples (I can likely find cheaper if I look harder)
£1.78 - pkg brown rice
£1.00 - string beans (green)
£1.25 - pkg broccoli/cauliflower

This was at ASDA, which is on the more expensive side. There are other groceries - Lidl & Aldi - that are cheaper, but we were in Southampton to drop off my sister at the train station, and I can't get the coconut milk closer to home. Only the big stores carry it, which is also why I stocked up. Markets are also an option for fresh produce and larger quantities, so that's what we're going to try next weekend (veggies and some straight-from-the-farm meats).

So far, so good, I'd say! :) Hope you're all doing just as well.