Category: Travel

Taking Time

“Every person needs to take one day away.  A day in which one consciously separates the past from the future.  Jobs, family, employers, and friends can exist one day without any one of us, and if our egos permit us to confess, they could exist eternally in our absence.  Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for.  Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us.” 
― Maya Angelou, Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now

I am bad about this to the point of commentary from my colleagues who point out when I have not taken a holiday, especially in periods of high stress and hectic projects and encourage me to book my next holiday. It’s a very strange, but very nice thing to be encouraged by bosses to take time off regularly–it’s antithetical to the American work culture (according to Forbesless than a quarter of Americans take all of their available vacation, and I KNOW I am personally one of them).

Time off is built into British work life and I’ve had the experience of bosses policing my requests–not because I was asking for too much time off, but because they thought I wasn’t asking for enough. It is assumed that regularly scheduled holidays, even a three day weekend every couple of months or so, keeps workers more balanced and productive. I have been amazed to observe how holiday time is respected. On one occasion, early in my British working life, I checked my work phone for emails on a day off, saw that an urgent request had come through and immediately responded. The recipient thanked me and then scolded me for breaking my holiday to provide him with something he himself had stated was important, and forbade me from responding to anything else until I was back in the office. This was astounding and confusing to me!

I’m a big believer in time off. But I’m also a badly inconsistent practitioner.

Over the past year I’ve been working on a contract that’s been deeply interesting and rewarding. The work is challenging, the people are nice, the location is great, and there’s a lot to do (which is something my hyper personality requires). But it’s also been a hectic year with constant surprises and challenges, with a stream of unexpected projects and short deadlines. Because I was running a small team, I genuinely was afraid that if I took time off, I’d be responsible for balls dropping or delays, or…oh I don’t know. I had a vague sense of dread about being out of office that I couldn’t shake.

At a certain level this is fundamentally egotistical. The world spins on without you, and it’s important to be reminded of this fact.

Paradoxically, my feelings were also mixed with a sense of Imposter Syndrome because…the world spins on without you. Because I was managing a big contract and wanted so badly to do a good job, I think a part of me was strangely afraid that people would cope without me in a crisis, and what would that mean? Also, please note, fundamentally egotistical.

Last September Jeff and I spent a week in Greece and it was one of the most relaxing and restorative breaks I’ve ever taken in my life. It may be a silly thing to say about a fairly standard holiday, but it felt like a profound experience at the time. I needed it badly, felt great after I got back, and the sense of refreshment stayed with me a long time. When I was back in London I was emotional balanced, better at my work, and much better equipped to handle the flow of projects. We were in our 30s and this was the first holiday Jeff and I had ever taken that didn’t involve family or friends of some kind. There was no agenda, no purpose to the trip except to press pause on life for a moment and the positive effect of doing so was intense.

And then, like an idiot, I waited nearly a year to take significant time off again. It showed. I was getting anxious and overwhelmed by things that would not have phased me in a more rested state. I had to expend more energy to focus and concentrate than I needed to. My anxiety was ratcheting up.
“I think…I need a holiday,” I mentioned tentatively to a coworker during a coffee break.
“YES, YOU ARE LONG OVERDUE,” was her disconcertingly swift and loud response.

Et voila. I booked two weeks off and we went to Prague for one of them. Ironically Jeff was summoned back to work this week due to some crises but we’re now looking at what mini breaks we can take through the rest of the year to get in the travel that we have been reminded we desperately need and thoroughly enjoy. In the meantime, I’ve been enjoying the surprisingly great summer weather, wandering through my favorite neighborhoods, and indulging in some vintage scouting. I’ve still be checking my work phone more than I should, but I’ve

There will always be a crisis you don’t expect, there will always be an unanticipated hiccup that your coworkers will need to deal with. They will. And your work will still be waiting for you when you get back. The world spins on, after all.

 

The Best Things I Bought Last Year

“Buy what you don’t have yet, or what you really want, which can be mixed with what you already own. Buy only because something excites you, not just for the simple act of shopping.” 
― Karl Lagerfeld

Inspired by Janssen over at Everyday Reading, I thought I’d run through a few things that I spent money on last year that sparked a lot of joy. Budgeting continues to be a big thing in the Small Dog residence this year and posts on this theme will continue to flow as I continue to think about consumption and responsible consumerism, as well as debt management. All of which I’m sure you guys find riveting.

That’s right, ducklings, come for the political angst, stay for the sensible money talk!

So, while I’m in the midst of a three month-long personal spending freeze to kick off the new year, here are the best things I bought in 2017.

Vintage Chairs

We took an apartment at the upper end of our budget when we moved into this place, negotiating a better rent rate in exchange for furnishing it ourselves rather than asking our landlord to do so. This has had tradeoffs. We live in the nicest place of our married life but have had to curtail spending elsewhere as a result; we have an amazing home, but are taking literal years in putting it together and saving up for big buys one at a time. But both of us were in agreement when we saw this pair of vintages chairs show up at one of our favorite antique stores that we wanted them. They were our only big budget item for our house this year but they’ve leant our place charm, personality, color, and a much needed place for people to actually sit. I love them.

Party Dress

It had been years since I bought a party dress that didn’t come in the LBD variety, but this past holiday season I had enough events to go to (with a broad range of dress codes) that an update to the wardrobe was justifiable. This dress was in my December favorites post, but deserves another shout out because I have definitely gotten my money’s worth out of this thing.

Lea Stein Brooch 

I picked this up on our long weekend trip to Paris with the glorious Caitlin and her lovely husband Jose. I fell in love with Lea Stein designs years ago and stumbled across an amazing shop in the Rue Jacob that sells vintage costume purely by accident. This was the only purchase that came home from Paris this year and it’s a wonderful bit of treasure.

Greek Vacation

Without fail, the best thing we spent money to me this past year was a week in Greece just the two of us. I’m very bad at relaxing, and this trip was a much needed reset. Even though we were crazy and flew into and out of Athens in less than 24 hours, we had a wonderful day in the city and an amazing six further days on Santorini with hiking, sailing, and an awful lot of food. It was amazing and has really helped me remember to prioritize time off better than I have before.

Four Days in Paris Part 3

“I love Paris in the summer, when it sizzles.”
― Cole Porter

We couldn’t have had better weather for our Paris trip and in spite of liberal application of sunscreen, I still managed to burn my neck and shoulders. However, it was all in the cause of vintage hunting and I did come home with treasure, so I begrudge my extra dose of Vitamin D nothing.

This vintage shop sells by weight!
THIS gem is getting its own post so stand by.
I flirted shamelessly with some hand inked fashion prints from the 1910s on this street, but I’m pleased (re: pissed) to say that financial virtue won the day.
This is almost the closest we got to the Eiffel Tower this trip, and I don’t fee bad about that.
We were treated to an impromptu concert whilst at lunch on our last day.
Snail sighting!
So charming I might actually die from it. An overdose of loveliness.

Four Days in Paris Part 2

“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.”
― Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

We had next to no agenda in Paris, except to enjoy the company of Caitlin and her darling husband Jose, see one museum, and eat as much French food as possible. I’m thrilled to say that by this account, our trip was a stunning success. I gained about a million pounds (all due to cream and butter, so zero regrets there), and I was so pleased to spend time with friends who are so generous not just with invitations, but with wisdom, humor, and GREAT stories.

On our second day, while Caitlin shopped til she dropped (go check out her blog for some of her posts on Paris fashion, where to shop, and general notes from the road–she’s on a full travel campaign this summer!), Jeff and I took in the Musee D’Orsay and wandered some streets for some beauty therapy.

Apparently Hemingway loved this place, so of course we had to wander by–for Jeff’s sake.

This place was a bar, wine shop, library, book store, and “literary salon” all in one, which is about the most French thing I’ve ever seen in my life!

Four Days in Paris Part 1

“Cities have sexes: London is a man, Paris a woman, and New York a well-adjusted transsexual.”
― Angela Carter

I’ve been putting these posts together for a while now, and the day I was going to post the first part of the story, there was another attack in Paris. The information of this us still being pieced together.

The city of light is a resilient old girl, just as London is a crusty old guy, and both are holding it together spectacularly. And yet. It does feel like there are people who want to rip it to shreds because it’s beautiful and (at it’s best) it an be seen as a symbol of people getting along in spite of forces trying to rip it apart. Sometimes failing miserably, but still trying.

There’s a reason people fall in love with Paris. It revels in beauty and thought and language, which is dangerous to the harsh and the narrow. It’s sumptuous and gauche and luxurious and wretched all at the same time. It wears its age and its history well, and it doesn’t seem to be ashamed of even its own darker moments. It’s easy to love and so I think it must be easy to hate too.

It’s not surprising to me that Paris is considered female or feminine in its language or its characterization. It’s not safe to be beautiful, disappointing, sexy, boring, interesting, complicated, conflicted, contrary, romanticized, fetishized, put on a pedestal, found lacking, found transcendent, loved, or hated. Paris is all of these things. I’m always glad when go and I’m sorrowed that I or other people have to second guess whether or not it’s safe to right now. We need her romance and charm and pleasure and sober history more than ever.

Summer Bucket List

“London is a riddle. Paris is an explanation.”
― G.K. Chesterton

Any good holiday will impart a little bit of wisdom and our half week in Paris provided plenty of teaching moments to leaven the hedonistic pleasure of good food and good company. I got to reflect a bit about the last year, what we’ve been able to do, and what we’d like to do more of in the near future. It’s been a big year–in some ways a rough one, but a good one overall. It got me thinking of what I’ve managed to do and what I want to do more of in the foreseeable future. More on this later as my thoughts coalesce into something more cohesive.

In the meantime, here’s a zero pressure bucket list I came up with for the summer, based on some of my swirling ideas

May we all be as content as this Parisian shop cat.

Travel more–we’re thinking Greece as a couple and I hope to have a bit of a jaunt with a friend if she’s able to make it across the pond.

Buy new glasses.

Get another piece of furniture for the house. And plants that I won’t easily kill.

Read a new heap of novels, both trashy and classy.

Finally get that call with my bank scheduled to kick off the proper investment and savings plan we’ve been talking about for months.

Do another month long blog project.

Lose some weight. I’m typically wary of goals like this, but I’ve decided to just acknowledge that I’m going to work hard on some health and fitness goals explicitly.

Catch up with some long lost pals.

Knock out my audiobook goal.

Leave the office at a sensible hour most days.

Go to more movies.

Throw some kind of party or get together.

 

Do any of you have a summer bucket list? If so, what’s on it? 

The Lakes District

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
– William Wordsworth

I’ve been saying it forever, but I mean it: we do not go on enough vacations. Here in the UK, in addition to national holidays, I have about 25 days off a year as part of a typical contract–ditto Jeff. We are piss poor at using them.

We blame American work habits and norms. To this day I cringe whenever I submit a time off request, as if what I’m doing is somehow shameful or looks lazy. Over the past nearly four years that we’ve lived here, we’ve been so bad at taking holidays that Jeff has been able to sell back a few every year to get a bit of extra money…but last year we hit the limit of that and so much of his time off allocations have piled up that we have to either “use it or lose it.”

We are awful at holidays…but we are getting better.

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This shop knows holiday hours!

For the April long Bank Holiday weekend, feeling absolutely stir crazy and needing to get out of the city, I booked us a few days in the Lakes District in Cumbria. Initially I had grand ambitions of trying to organize a quick mini break to Europe, but the onboarding as part of a new short term contract quickly took over most of my life and energy and before I knew it, the Bank Holiday was upon us. Jeff was deep in the bowels of tax season and working 12+ hour days meaning that while he too needed a holiday badly, I needed to plan this one. A quick burst of research and reservation making, et voila!

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The Lakes District has an abundance of natural beauty and has been a popular visiting spot since the Edwardian period. In spite of being an admittedly tourist spot, it remains charming. There is a thriving but tidy local economy that makes getting around the cluster of lakes and villages that makes up the area easy and affordable, and a blend of indoor amenities like shops, B&Bs and restarants to supplement the outdoor nature of the holiday spot. It’s a famous hiking district with peaks and hills for the adventurous/fit, with lots of woodland walking trails for the more moderate/lazy. We took advantage of both the outdoors and food–copious amounts of tea were drunk and more than one excellent meal eaten in between boat rides across Lake Windemere, multi hour hikes along shorelines, walks through the villages where some of Britain’s most famous poets lived and wrote, and general meandering.

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The fresh air, long walks, good food (we ate so much local cheese, guys), and time away from the city. It was exactly what we needed.

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So. Much. Cheese.
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And gingerbread.

In case you are interested, we stayed at Mylne Bridge House which is a charming B&B run by a married couple who serve an absolutely scrumptious breakfast! You’re about five minutes from the high street of Windemere and a half hour leisurely walk from Bowness-on-Windemere on the lake itself. Highly recommended!