How Living in London Has Taught Me What I Value

“Some men are born to own; can animate all their possessions. Others cannot; Their owning is not graceful; seems to be a compromise of their character; they seem to steal their own dividends.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

A minimalist I am not; I love “stuff.” I enjoy material objects and the process that goes into finding interesting ones, choosing them, and caring for them, but simultaneously and paradoxically also have a weird sort of detachment to stuff. Growing up in a military family meant that every couple of years, we would uproot and move everything we owned into a new home. When this (frequently) involved shifts between countries and even continents, we would often have to downsize our possessions to meet weight limitations. Going through a few rounds of this has meant that I have had plenty of experience in sorting out the things I value from the things that are just nice to have. This is something I have had cause to examine even more in recent years as I’ve tried to publicly dissect my relationship with consumerism and money.

On a fairly recent post, faithful Friend of the Blog Caitlin commented,

“I have always valued creative freedom and financial security over anything I could buy otherwise. Both come at a cost — i.e. NOT buying a lot of stuff and experiences I would very much enjoy because I had to save money and live frugally.”

Her note triggered a realization for me that I have alluded to before but not fully teased out before: most of the things of value that Jeff and I own, things we have spent our money on and would mourn if lost, could reasonable be hustled out the door at very short notice. Or as I put it in a reply,

“Reading your follow up made me consider again how few “big” items Jeff and I own. If we needed to, we could throw almost everything we own of value into suitcases and just GO. The major casualties would be a couple of pieces of furniture which would cause a pang, but we don’t have a whole household that we’d lose in an emergency or disaster. I think our purchasing history reflects the idea that what we really value at this season in our lives is mobility.”

When we moved to London, we did so with two suitcases a piece. While difficult, it was doable. If we ever leave London, I’d hope to take quite a bit more than that with us, but if I needed to flee with only basic luggage, I suspect I could. Mobility. I’m not sure if that reflects an inner, enviable flexibility in the face of possible adversity, or a deeper need to be able to run away from present circumstances if necessary (possibly both?) but whatever it is, I have clearly chosen to build key aspects of our life around it as a concept.

Living in London for over five years has given me many chances to evaluate what else I value in this season.

Being in the thick of things. London is a tough town but I still get a thrill living in a place where so much happens. I enjoy watching the news and knowing some of it is taking place just up the river. I like watching films and TV shows and being able to identify specific familiar locations, sometimes down to the very neighborhood and streets they were shot on. I love living in a region where interesting art is being created and important cultural discussions are being argued. It’s not always comfortable, but it is never boring.

Ease of cultural access. Whether it’s food, entertainment, easy travel to most of Europe, Africa, and the Near East, or just street culture, London is a smorgasbord. Having lived (and not thrived) in monocultures before, I have a hard time envisioning ever living in one again. Multiculture is inherently more complex and difficult to navigate at times, but I find it enriching and rewarding.

Possibility and the ability to change my mind. Whether it’s been in matters of community or career, living in circumstances that have allowed me to pick a new direction is incredibly valuable to me. I have lived in locations and circumstances that were stultifying; while London might stress me out, it has never bored me or restricted my choices. I recognize what a privilege this is and I’m grateful for it every day.

Memories and experiences. Most of the things that would make it into an emergency suitcase are small items with some kind of emotional value: a teddy bear that has been with me literally since the day I was born, my wedding jewelry, my passport.

Reading over this list, I am struck by how much of this feels transient in some way–which is odd because we have no plans to move at any point in the foreseeable future. We have invested a lot to live where we do and are working through the process of making this a permanent home. And yet, whether it’s change or excitement or (again) mobility, what London seems to offer that I value most is options. Living and working here has not always been easy, in fact it’s often been exhausting and bloody difficult, like a choose-your-own-adventure book with very grown up and terrifying stakes.

London has never offered me much safety or assurance, it has never guaranteed me security or stability. But living here has taught me that those are not always my highest priorities. Living here has taught me that disappointment, and even occasional existential despair, is survivable. It’s taught me whose good opinions I truly care about, and whose can go hang. It’s taught me how to esteem my money and my own work. Living here has honed and focused more professional and personal priorities than I can count. It’s taught me a lot about what I truly value and helped to teach me to align my life accordingly, and that is truly priceless.

 

Weekend Links

“History, in general, only informs us what bad government is.” 
― Thomas Jefferson

Happy weekend, darlings! The Amazon/New York deal is off, a national emergency has been declared over something that will not substantially affect the very thing that the US government is declaring is the root of the emergency in the first place. What a hideous mess. We are in the upside down.

Never fear, I’ve put together a list of weekend reading for you that is light on the politics and heavy on the pop culture and obscure scientific weirdness. Truly the sweet spot of the Small Dog Nation!

This weekend Jeff and I are doing a belated Valentine’s day date after basically only catching glimpses of one another for a solid week and general life admin. Very sexy and the stuff of true love. Let me know what you’re up to in the comments.

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My hypothetical children are doomed.

Spoilers if you have not yet seen Russian Doll on Netflix, but this write up from Vulture is so good. Relatedly, if you have not yet watched Russian Doll, stop what you are doing and binge it immediately.

*Files away as she continues to try and learn how to do her hair, despite being in her 30s.

I had to study up on population distribution in the British Isles for my immigration test, and once again was reminded that for all London may feel like the center of the world, the nation is the size of Idaho with a very unevenly spread populace. A fact driven home by this short bit of pre-Brexit reporting.

This is accurate, do not @ me fellow 90s girls.

Racism and its ugly history is everywhere, and academia is just enjoying/enduring a moment in the spotlight as part of a much larger and overdue examination. It wasn’t until my early 20s that I actually did some hard looking at and grappling with the communities I was raised in and lived in–including my almost notoriously mostly-caucasian university, flagship education program of a religious institution which didn’t start ordaining black men to its priesthood until 1978. Correlation? I think so.

We haven’t had a great archaeology story in a while, enjoy!

After a deservedly-viral piece last month, Anne Helen Peterson is back at it with another piece, this time on the realities of student debt and what some of the long term ramifications of this debt will be. There are racial issues, gendered issues, policy issues, psychological issues all to be considered and Peterson does a great job of parsing through them.

Science is brilliant.

This Medium post on the differences, but more importantly similarities, one woman is experiencing at a 20 year distance was a thoughtful read.

My time in certain industries bears witness to this. What a sobering read…

A healthy society should constantly reassess what it finds offensive, but it is fascinating to consider what used to bar people from public life back in the day vs. what they are able to get away with now.

Farrow dropped his latest. It’s his usual brand of jaw dropping.

What could possibly

Black Panther, is that you?!

I do want better examinations of boys and men and masculinity…but this article seems like a bad misstep. The internet agreed.

This is such a specific problem that I never, ever thought about until I read this piece.

What an idiot

Good boy, rover.

NEW LIZZO ALERT. Happy Valentines Day!

Holy crap.

And finally, what a mess. I ask because I genuinely want to know and I genuinely need more some expert to tell me: are we at constitutional crisis yet? The whole thing is farcical…and a bit frightening. And once again I have not the smallest faith that the party who has spent the vast majority of my adult life screaming about constitutionality, balanced budgets, limited government, and so forth will do a damn thing to check him. Meanwhile, this action is almost certain to run into legal and procedural roadblocks, all for an outcome that in the “best case” scenario will net the administration less money than congress was willing to give it a year ago if it had…you know…negotiated.

 

Weekend Links

“Were it left to me to decide if we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”
– Thomas Jefferson

Kittens, another weekend is upon us! And as usual, I have sourced a plethora of good reading to get you through the weekend, whether you are hunkered down in the cold or casually flirting with the idea of breaking our your spring clothing. (Don’t do that, crazy person!).

This week in news, we have the whole of the state of Virginia showing its ass, blackmail attempts, more government mess…look, it’s been a rough week. I’ve rounded up the best of serious and trivial reading for you to get you through the weekend without screaming.

What a shambles

This is a headline!

How is this for sartorial goals?!

It has been really cold the past few weeks….

What a tale!

A YouTuber talks transparently about how they make money, what gendered issues some are up against, and what actually makes a business-successful influencer. I’m fascinated by “independent” media creators and think a lot (probably too much) about how bloggers and vloggers have changed the media landscape.

Virginia…are you okay?

This story is not at all surprising, but is still heartbreaking.

This seems like something we should be worrying about and working to prepare for now.

What the actual fuck is going on with Italian fashion houses right now? D&G, Prada and now Gucci have all done horrifically racist–or if you want to be extremely generous in a way I find mind bending to attempt, extremely tasteless and culturally ignorant–crap recently.

Honestly, The Financial Diet’s YouTube channel has been killing it lately.

MY HEART.

CEO of Amazon Jeff Bezos has written a Medium post detailing his account of attempts by American Media Inc (AMI) to extort a decision from Mr. Bezos to end an investigation into how they got hold of negative information on his private life. This is of course the same company that has been revealed to use aggressive “catch and kill” tactics in other salacious media stories (most prominently with President Trump’s alleged mistresses). The Daily Beast and other journalists have weighed in to say they have experienced similar intimidation attempts from AMI in the past. In other words, it could be argued that extortion and blackmail are part of their business model. It could also be argued that trying to blackmail the richest man in the world was a hilarious undertaking and how on earth they thought they could coerce him to bend to their will is beyond me. Mr. Bezos accuses AMI’s actions of being politically motivated because of The Washington Post’s aggressive reporting into Mr. Trump’s businesses in particular. Which makes this story all the more weird! AMI is cooperating with law enforcement elsewhere in the Michael Cohen case, so how was this sort of action considered wise if you’re trying to cozy up to investigators?! (ETA: idiots.) Anyway, I applaud Mr. Bezos for detailing this publicly–even as I acknowledge how strange it is to be “on the side” of a billionaire who has cheated on his wife…

A fascinating reveal into Twitter’s actual numbers (and therefore outsized influence?).

Fahrenthold dropped his latest. It’s a doozy.

Everybody needs a Fuck Off Fund. Everybody.

I am very excited about this.

GIRL GANG GOOD NEWS, HANNAH’S BOOK REVIEWS:

NPR review.

Vox review.

Weekend Links

“The sun did not shine. It was too wet to play. So we sat in the house. All that cold, cold, wet day.” 
― Dr. Seuss, The Cat in the Hat

London is freezing, guys. I cancelled gym classes and stayed bundled in at least three layers of clothing for most of yesterday, feeling precisely no shame about any of my life choices. It was not a day to go outside!

January was a rough month, and that was before the polar vortex hit. I’m not sorry it’s behind us! After another doozy of a week, I’m spending the weekend preparing for a work trip and buying a hoover to finish cleaning up from the repair works to our apartment. This project ended up being much more of an ordeal than I could have ever anticipated when the whole mess started back in August. It’s put me off home ownership for a long while to come–never have I been as delighted to not have enough net worth for this amount of property damage to be my permanent problem! Living on the floor of our living room for weeks while the repairs have gone on has been awkward and and stressful and I’m not sorry to have the (literal) mess behind us.

A question I have long pondered!

Here is a 100% delightful profile and feed to brighten your day.

God…no wonder we’re tired

In case you missed the horrible and horribly important story in The Atlantic about the accusations against Ryan Singer…well, it’s hard to read, but important in the midst of the many (long overdue) conversations we are having as a society.

Relevant to my random, weird interests!

What did the President know and when did he know it, etc. etc. At this point, the “best” explanation for Mr. Trump regarding all his many minions having contact with inappropriate foreign agents, is that he’s such a bad boss and poor manager that he was totally ignorant of large amount of illegality within his personal and political organizations. And of course, this is not actually a very good legal defense at all!

GOOD.

This thread went viral and it is worth every single second of your scroll time.

What a fascinating piece on a topic that is probably beyond the majority of western society.

This Kickstarter project has a backstory!

Ugh, do not want.

Overwhelmed by stuff? Overwhelmed by the Konmari decluttering of stuff? Some help!

DID not want and here we are.

Oh this is a deeply necessary read in our household. I shed like a sheepdog!

In unsurprising news, a disinformation attempt.

Give this person all the awards.

Has anyone else seen The Favourite? I watched it last week and loved it, the performances are absolutely brilliant. Anyway, a relevant piece on Queen Anne and the fact of a royal body, a royal woman’s body, and the body of a woman deemed to be unattractive or unacceptable.

This piece on the importance of self-compassion has really resonated with me. I’ve become increasingly aware over the last couple of years of how brutal I often am to myself. If anyone talked to one of my friends the way I talk to and think about my own person, I’d light them on fire and dance on the ashes–and yet I really struggle with the notion of being kind or gentle to my own body or brain.

 

Year of Discipline: January

“Self-respect is the root of discipline: The sense of dignity grows
with the ability to say no to oneself.” 
― Abraham Joshua Heschel

This month I really tried to use the fresh start energy that January often brings to practice some new habits, without getting too affected by the #newyearnewme attitude that I find personally unhelpful. New Year’s Resolutions do not work for me, which is why I like yearly themes instead. Themes, I find, allow me to vary what I’m doing or focusing on at any given point rather than holding me to a prescriptive lists of dos and don’ts.

So, how did the Year of Discipline start off, you ask?

Exercise (blech). I’m not going to meet my 101/1001 goal of a certain amount of exercise per week for a six month period. This is annoying because I’ve had a lot of stretches where I was really dedicated to exercise and was seeing the benefit of it–even if I hated every single minute of it. But on the other hand, my Year of Health last year helped me to lose a lot of weight, sort out medications that were clearly affecting other areas of my life, start eating healthier overall, and nearly eliminate what were once chronic migraines. So while I’m still working on exercising more regularly, I’m not beating myself up too much over missing out on this goal. I did track my exercise this month which included days at the gym, but also included a step-counting challenge for charity for work, and walking home from work as many days as possible, even though the January weather isn’t exactly a Londoner’s delight.

Healthy eating. You might have seen the Instagram Stories over December…to say I indulged would be a hilarious understatement. One of the best things I did for my health over the past couple of years was to drastically reduce the amount of sugar I was eating but that had fallen by the wayside in the last few months of 2018. I took this month as an opportunity to really be mindful about my food and deliberately healthy in my choices. This isn’t some kind of personal revolution, I’m not jumping on the latest trend, and it’s not something I’m going to be particularly rigid about moving forward; I just appreciated the chance to deliberately focus on reinforcing the good food habits I’ve spent a long time building. This month I cooked almost all of my food at home, with one night out and one brunch with friends, and deliberately carved out time to cook on the weekends and during the evenings.

Waking up earlier. One of the unintentional bad habits I’d found myself sliding into was hitting the snooze button more and more, which made for rushed and grumpy mornings. I also noticed that I didn’t have as much personal time as I wanted. Work has been pretty consuming which has meant late nights or lack of time or energy for personal projects in the evenings or at weekends. I decided to try and free up some more time in the morning instead and do you know what? It worked! After the first week of adjusting to my new wake up time, during which I woke up but allowed myself to get up and moving at a leisurely pace, I was gradually able to introduce more and more action to my mornings. Sometimes I made breakfast, sometimes I did some light exercise, sometimes I just read the news and got my social media fix. It made for a much better and less frantic morning routine. Did I miss a couple of days due to overslept alarms and unintentional snoozes? Yes, but less than five, so I’m going to call this a goal achieved.

Financial health. Jeff and I put some big payments towards our personal debt in December and were determined to not use our credit cards more than strictly required. I literally took them out of my wallet this month to rely on cash as much as possible. I also saved on travel costs by walking home when I could, packing my lunches, and curtailing my afternoon coffees at work. I scheduled appointments with my bank to finally make some minor changes to my accounts to facilitate improved savings habits. I had a bit of a wobble when it came to shopping which I wrote about here, but the total damage was under £250, which is something I more than accounted for by changing my food habits.  Budgeting: fun, no. Another month of debt payments? Yes.

Other stuff:
I used some of our budget this month to start the long put off project of framing our art. This is going to take a long time to do so we are going one piece at a time, starting with a print we bought last year.

Took another batch of items to donate to charity shops and donation centers. The water damage to our apartment finally got repaired and we used the opportunity of camping in our living room for two weeks to go through our stuff and set aside items for repair or donation. It was cleansing, even if we did spend the day arguing!

Reorganized the house. See above.

Scheduled my next batch of immigration work, including a test.

Tried to dress better overall. This month I played around a bit with my wardrobe and found ways to wear favorite items, styling or layering them for the colder weather. I also really made my morning grooming routine more of a priority…which was not easy given that workmen were in our house for two weeks and we were sleeping on the living room floor!

I renewed an out of date library card. While buying books is allowed this year, I’m trying to minimize this by taking advantage of the community resources I benefit from.

Booked a dental appointment and processed the insurance claim immediately.

What did you do for yourself this month, kittens? There are NO wrong answers. 

Five Things I Loved in January

“Lots of people go mad in January. Not as many as in May, of course. Nor June. But January is your third most common month for madness.” 
― Karen Joy Fowler, Sarah Canary

What an absurd month January has been. Once again, I feel as though the sheer amount of news it has contained (most of it bad) has been enough for six months in normal times, and we are the dead of winter which means it’s hard to feel particularly motivated or enthusiastic about anything. This coming from a woman who actually likes winter. And yet! There are good things out there which deserve to be shouted from the rooftops!

Here is a short list of things that made me happy this month. Share your favorite things with me in the comments and let’s beat the cold weather together.

Kate Spade Quincy Bag

This was my Christmas present from Jeff and I love it. It was a pricier purchase and gift, but I had been researching black leather bags for several months and had a very specific set of requirements. It needed to be big enough to carry all the stuff I schlep around with me on a daily basis, but still not overly large or a tote. It needed to be nice enough for work and running around the city, but “plain” enough for every day. It had to be made of nice materials but of a design and style that would wear well and I could use for literal years. I hunted for months and dismissed several subpar candidates until I found this one and even then I didn’t buy it because I was being responsible. However, as Jeff himself put it, “You’ve been talking about needing a basic black bag for months,” so we agreed it was an acceptable Christmas present. We don’t tend to buy birthday presents or anniversary gifts so Christmas is the one holiday we are okay getting nice presents for one another (he got a fancy fitness tracker). We picked it up in the States where the currency exchange is in our favor and I’m justifying it by using it every day that I’ve owned it so I am definitely already getting some good Cost Per Wear numbers.

 

Library cards

On the OTHER side of the spending spectrum, I renewed my British library card this month. I have a library card for the county in the States where I’m registered to vote and pay taxes and I use if constantly for ebooks and audio books. At any given point I have at least three books going in various formats and have usually maxed my borrowing limit. But one of my Year of Discipline goals was to catch up on some very basic life admin, which included updating the British account that I had let slide, which was registered under the wrong address, and to which I owed a late fee of £3. A very nice librarian helped me reactivate my account and kindly waved the fee, after which I immediately checked out four actual books. I’ve been consuming my digital book content for so long that I’d genuinely forgotten the pleasure of physical library books. They smell great, feel great in my hands, and the process of remembering how gosh darn nice it is wandering through shelves looking for interesting finds has been lovely. I may not have a bedside table (due to camping in our front room), but by golly my book stack is back!

 

Baths

Also free, or very nearly: baths. I made the mistake of remarking how mild a winter we have been having and Mother Nature immediately cackled and sent us several weeks of freezing weather this month to show me who was in charge. It’s been the kind of London-y, Dickensian cold that seeps into your bones and makes you feel like you will never be warm again. Enter hot water and accoutrements! Because we’ve been exercising so much more, we’ve stocked up on large bags of epsom salts to soak in. I’ve also taken advantage of various deals at Boots to buy 2 For 1 bath oils or gels. Expensive stuff may look great on your tub rim but at the end of the evening, when all you want to be is cozy when you finally slide into bed, cheap bubbles are just as nice as anything you could possibly fork money out on. Beat the winter! Wear layers, break out the nice cashmere for nights in, take baths!

 

Sunday Riley Good Genes

I used up yet another both of this extremely expensive and (alas for me) extremely effective skincare product. Good Genes is a bit of a cult product, and for good reason. It doesn’t work for everyone but those who see results from it tend to swear by it. I am a devotee. The excesses of the holiday season, plus travel, plus biting cold and winter air generally have all conspired to do an absolute number on my face. This lactic acid treatment helps exfoliate and break down gunk and debris, which helps my skin absorb other ingredients better and makes makeup look better on. However, due to EU regulations, the UK version of the product is made up of different materials in very different quantities and I’m loathe to slather something on my face that I’m not familiar with–especially at this price point! Ergo, I shall not be replacing this product for a long while (probably until I’m back in the States again on our next visit, and goodness knows when that will be) and am instead making due with similar products at much lower pricepoints in the meantime. But I must salute a product that has done good service in the wars!

 

The Dead Queens Club, by Hannah Capin

You’ve heard a lot about this lately, but one of my two best friends in all the world published her debut novel this month and I’m so damned proud of her I could cry. Not only that, but the origin story of the idea dates to one of our many long correspondence and phone gossip sessions on the subject of Tudor history. I have probably never had a prouder friend moment in my life. And while I’m obviously biased…this book is GOOD, guys. A hilarious, sly, girl-power-y retelling of Henry VIII and more importantly the women who surrounded him–and without whom he would be nothing but a failed late medieval monarch. If you love YA, or just brilliant debuts, pick it up. I promise you will not be disappointed. And I promise you that what she’s going to do next will blow your socks off. Get it here, or even better at your local bookstore!