Sunday, May 22, 2016

A new bike - finally!!


Some of you may remember that shortly after I arrived in the UK almost three years ago, I bought myself a bike so I could a) get some exercise and, b) get around a little on my own, without relying too much on my cousin.

It worked beautifully for a while, until only 6 months later when it was stolen from the train station. I'd taken to riding it to the station and leaving it locked up (in a 'leave it at your own risk' bike rack) and one day I arrived back to see only the front wheel remaining. I was pretty pissed. I reported it to the police, but the officer I spoke with said that the chances of getting it back were slim to none. While I appreciated the honest, it didn't really make me feel a lot better at the time. 

Then my little car appeared and the bike slipped off my radar for a while.

I haven't really prioristed it either, until now (or really had the means). However, a few months ago I got a credit card and have been good about consistent monthly payments. They seem to have appreciated this, so they raised my limit about two weeks ago (a pleasant surprise). I bought new hiking boots last weekend for my trip to Ireland in September and today I went out to "look" at bikes.

Who am I kidding? I wanted to come home with one and I sort of did.

I knew what I wanted (see the photo at the top): an Ariel Specialised hybrid with disc brakes (they're a little more solid than the clamping ones) in size large (17"). After a brief look on my own and seeing a row of bikes that looked right, I got some help and was led right to it! The only difference between the bike I bought and the one that was stolen is the colour. My one's white with turquoise writing on it, the old one was what they called 'blackberry' (more eggplant colour, a lovely rich, dark purple). So while I'm sad about the lack of colour, I'm very excited that I have a new bike.

Yes, it did go on my credit card. The interest rate on that sucker is somewhere around 35% (newbie credit builder), but I've set up a recurring monthly direct payment to ensure that I neither miss a payment nor carry the balance for too long. I realise that I would be better off to plan and pay for these things in full, however, but I'm also still throwing cash at my debt in Canada. Slowly but steadily that's coming down, too, and I'm quite pleased with my efforts all round, if I'm honest.

I got some new accessories (new pannier rack, lock, mud guards and bike rack for the car; still have my helmet and panniers from last year, fortunately) although it won't be ready until Wednesday, which means I'll need to arrange to leave work over an hour early to get there on time, but I don't believe that will be a problem.

Tomorrow I'm going to scope out the bike rack at the station. It's been a while since I've even looked at it. If I'm not comfortable with the way it's set up, I won't ride there and will leave the riding for evenings and weekends instead.

I missed riding last summer, so am really thrilled that I can do it this year. I bought the bike rack for the car so I can go a little further afield with it, although there's plenty around here to start.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Meeting a friend at last!


I spent yesterday in the nation's busy, bustling, noisy, exciting, overwhelming capital. I don't head up to London often - it literally exhausts me - but do enjoy the opportunity when it arises.

I've been up TWICE in two weeks this month!

The first time was the bank holiday weekend at the beginning of May to meet with a woman who was one of my instructors at school - not technically a 'friend', but most certainly an acquaintance - and who I've kept in touch with since graduating. We spent most of the day in Regents Park, walking around and catching up. I hadn't been to Regents Park going on 30 years, I'm sure, although I don't remember anything in it so it was new to me! We saw the Princess Diana memorial fountain, opened 2004, by HM Queen Elizabeth.

image courtesy: Gustafson-porter.com



It's very low profile, but the water flows around it over a variety of textures and it's very pretty and relaxing.

We wandered over to the Royal Albert Hall and saw the magnificent Albert Memorial, sitting down for a tea in full view of both (the below is what we saw, only missing the sunshine).

image courtesy: royalparks.org
 
 
It was great to see her - she, her husband and parents were off on a 37-day cruise to Singapore! - and catch up. Walking was the perfect way to catch up. Afterwards we sat down for a proper tea for an hour before I headed back to the coast.
 
Yesterday I returned to the city to meet another friend. Ines and I have been friends for over 25 years but this was the first time we ever met in person! I met her through a penfriend organisation out of Ireland, back in the day when snailmail was the only way to do things (early to mid-90's). I can't remember if she was one of my first (I joined consistently for about 5 years), but she is among only a handful I'm still in touch with. I have a friend in Nottingham I've been writing to since we were 17, but have yet to get up there to meet him. Soon, I hope.
 
Ines was in London with her family (husband and two sons) and I went up to meet her. We met at the London Eye (along with about 5 million other people) and spent the rest of the day on open-top double decker tour buses taking in the sights, chit chatting, etc. We had a stop for lunch in between - finding an empty bakery to sit down in for an hour to get some peace and quiet - before ending the day walking across the Millenium Bridge and along the South Bank to get to Waterloo.
 
It was so wonderful to finally meet her! She's not the first penfriend I've met - I've been lucky enough to meet several others - but certainly is one that I've had the longest. It was quite an easy transition from 'pen' to just 'friend' and I'm so glad the chance arose to meet her.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Fort McMurray


I've been overwhelmed with the news about Fort McMurray this week: photos, videos, and stories of sadness, grief, total loss and utter devastation.

But the fact remains that outside of a tragic traffic accident, 88,000+ people made it safely out of a terrifying situation. That's not a little thing. 

The Emergency Services at every level are proving themselves beyond question. They're working 24/7 while their own families leave, their homes possibly gone. All levels of government are working together to do the best they can in a terrifying, incomprehensible situation. One that isn't actually getting any better from the sounds of things.

I can't really afford it, but I donated to the Red Cross for the relief effort. I decided to put my money where my mouth is. There are thousands right now who have nothing and I'm very fortunate to have all my comforts - whatever I deem those to be. With the Feds matching $ for $ that means I doubled my donation to $400. Maybe someone can get some groceries with that, or a new pair of shoes and some clothes for the kids. A dog or cat or horse can get a new blanket or bed. Or a hotel bill can be paid. Or a new book can be bought.

Frustration is high. Anger is high. Fear is rampant. Rumours abound and communication is garbled. Keyboard warriors abound - politicising, finger pointing, blaming, assuming, undermining, etc. Think what you want about the government at every level, love them or hate them, but what matters most is that everyone is safe. The hardest part will be post-fire, when the damage is assessed and the rebuilding starts.

Let's just all be Canadians together right now and support those who so desperately need it right now. Alberta really needs us.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Income Tax...results!!


I just spent about half an hour on the horn with the folks at the Canada Revenue Agency (thanks for continuing to pay your taxes everyone - they help pay for my collect calls to our Nation's capital...ahem...) trying to clarify a couple of things.

I needed a new security code to sign in to my online account as I have no idea where the last one they sent me has gone to. On the way: check! One department.

The next department (which I was kindly transferred to) was the General Inquiries line to ask about my LLP. After a little misunderstanding on her end and a little miscommunication on my part, I'm thrilled that I can now reduce my overall debt owing by about $8,000. It seems that my LLP has been taken care at that end and is cleared up.

I'm not entirely clear on how, exactly, other than it was added into my income for 2013 and I was assured I don't owe anything on it anymore. My understanding was that if it wasn't paid off right away, then I had to roll over the remaining into my income until it was paid off. I didn't realise it was a 'one time' thing, so I have been consistently adding to my RRSP to pay it back annually, as originally organised.

Anyhoo, I'm still going to continue to add to my RRSP, but concentrate on the other two outstanding debts first (LOC & CC). It makes much more sense to take care of that if the LLP debt doesn't need to be taken into consideration at this point. The payments will be very slow, but steady, until after I've had my holiday at the end of the year and can focus more on the debt repayment. Once that's down substantially, I'll have money to start a retirement fund and emergency fund here, as well as hopefully saving for more (nearby) travelling.

I'm really happy right now!!!


Sunday, March 27, 2016

Spring and into Week 8 - the final leg! :D

Happy Easter everyone! Hope you rest, relax and enjoy some family time, good food and lots of choclate this long weekend.




Nothing says spring quite like a bouquet of daffodils. They were everywhere at Jane Austen's house in Chawton, Hampshire, which we visited three weeks ago. It was a perfect day - we even sat outside for lunch at a cafe afterwards!


The front of the house. The door isn't actually the main entrance into the house. That's around the side, and the original entrance is thought to have been where the window to the left of the door now is.


The open door takes you into the kitchen. The door next to it is the entrance to the museum.


The well, outside the bakehouse.


The little bakehouse.


The garden. The slabs would not have originally been there and it would likely have been more of a kitchen garden. Plenty of plants and flowers there now, but they have replaced the vegetables - and possibly fruit trees - that would have grown in Jane's time.




This will look glorious in the summer covered in roses.


The study, where Jane was thought to have written. The costumes scattered throughout are reprductions from various movie adapatations of her books.


The table at which Jane is believed to have written her last three novels: Emma, Mansfield Park and Persuasion. She is also thought to have revised Sense & Sensibility, Pride & Predjudice and Northanger Abbey here.


This chair was in Mrs Austen's bedroom.


A recreation of Jane's bedroom. It is not her bed, but is a reproduction of the kind she would (likely) have used at the time.


Single glazed leaded pane windows. The house would have been VERY cold in the winter.


The view of the house from the rear of the garden,



Hundreds of daffodils were in bloom around this very pretty, very old English village. I can't imagine it's changed altogether that much since Jane lived here.


Chawton House. This houses The Centre for Early Women's Writing 1600-1830. It was closed when we were there, but is generally open to public from the end of March to September. 




An original shepherd's hut, restored from the early 20thC. It sits just outside Chawton House farm (off to the left, down that road immediately behind it).


St Nicholas Church. Jane's mother and sister are buried here. Jane herself is buried in Winchester Cathedral.


A pastoral setting. Too bad the sun was in the wrong place!


Happy Easter! 
One of several chickens ranging free at the farm. I thought she had lovely colouring.

I'm heading into the 8th and final week of my no sugar programme and I have to admit I've been a bit slack the past couple of weeks. I haven't really been using the recipes, but have been trying to at least make sure my meals are sugar free and, for the most part, have succeeded. Having fruit back on the menu has made me very happy - I have strawberries in my morning oats every day, but haven't branched out much from there. Just not feeling the urge and I'm not sure that's necessarily a bad thing.

I am, however, feeling a bit lazy as we near the end. The joy of cooking continues to elude me, but I've got two weeks holiday at the moment, so I hope that having more time during the day to prepare food will help alleviate some of that. My biggest frustration is getting home late and then having to put something together for a meal.

My sister says my skin looks much better (big win!) and when I was down in Devon last weekend, we did a bit of shopping and I noticed that too, as well as the fact I seem to be down a size in clothing (big win!), so despite my frustration with the fact that nothing seems to have changed, things actually have. I'd still like to amend the programme a bit and see if I can shave off some costs. I'll work on it on my own for now and if I feel I want a reset, I'll do another round in the fall or something.

My cousin has started with Weight Watchers and the fridge & freezer are now jam packed. Some items overlap (veggies, etc.) but we're now basically out of storage containers so are going to have to pick up some more of those. Just means very careful shopping each week and using up what's in the freezer first. Not a bad practice by any means, but one that I'm not very good at... :P

I went to my naturopath two weeks ago and had a good visit. When I went for my first visit before Christmas and had a food intolerance test, nothing unusual came up. This time soy, corn, tuna, cod & plaice popped up as sensitivities, so I found that quite interesting that that has changed in a short period of time. She also suggsted I take a potassium supplement for my bloating (oedema) and see if that helps.

My cousin and I are meeting our first cousin once removed (my Mum's first cousin) tomorrow. He's English, although lives in France, and is the product of a bit of a scandalous familial relationship back in the day. He's only recently figured out that his dad is his mother's uncle by marriage, so not directly related at least. He's pretty confident about this, but there's no proof, obviously, but he's asked questions, talked to people, done a little detecting, and this is the answer he's come up with. He's a nice guy, if a bit intense, so as he's in the UK for a week or so, we're having lunch with him and his friend tomorrow, then have plans for a tea or early supper on Saturday, when my Mum is here, so that she can meet him.

My Mum arrives on Thursday and my sister and I are heading down to the bungalow on Wednesday to get a look at it, get some groceries in, etc. We have plans for a tea on 7 April, when the family is coming. My sister and I are going to do some baking (cakes & scones), buy some quiches and canapes, and get a platter or two of sandwiches. We don't want too much mess or fuss and this way people can just help themselves and the only thing we have to worry about is refreshing drinks. We're hoping there will be enough space in the garden for 16 or so people and will have to consider a Plan B if not. 

Outside of that, there are no plans in place. My Mum is 84 and doesn't want to go on excursions, so I image at this point it'll be a day to day decision making progress. This does limit us somewhat, but Lymington is a very pretty town and we can at least take walks along the seafront. Hopefully the weather will hold, as there's not much worse than the seaside in the rain...

Hope you all have a great, relaxing long weekend¬