Tag: Home

Home Office

“I come to the office each morning and stay for long hours doing what has to be done to the best of my ability. And when you’ve done the best you can, you can’t do any better.”
― Harry S. Truman

Today is a bit of a frantic day at work for me kittens, following two incredibly late nights in a row – the Oscars and a much needed girls night out while Jeff is in Peterborough. But my pace, chipper as it’s making me, got me thinking about workspaces, so let’s talk them today. Step into my office.

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It’s not fancy, but it’s a world of difference from where we started, which is in turn a world of difference from the floor, which is in turn a world of difference from a kitchen table in a parent’s house. That cork board is probably the best and most important small amount purchase I’ve made in months, and it’s a mass of lists. I keep a running one of the jobs and work I’ve applied for with updates for successes and failures, short editorial calendars for certain projects, individual pitches with the current state of the submission and follow up process, notes to self about publications and sites I’ve heard about and want to investigate, even grocery lists.

I’ve been accused of too many notebooks (blasphemy! There’s no such thing), but aside from my major planner I’ve got one for project notes, one specifically for professional pitch ideas and interview notes, and one for my creative stuff. Plus scratch paper for the lists I’m so fond of.

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There’s fun stuff too. I don’t hoard things typically, but since we’ve arrived I’ve saved tickets from shows and events that have blown me away, Coriolanus and The Drowned Man have places of honor. Aside from pictures of friends and family (all but one removed to protect their privacy, but please do admire one of my two handsome brothers!), I keep photos from magazines that I like to give me something pretty to look at. Clearly my true inner style is ball gowns paired with sweatshirts – can’t say I’m surprised. Comfortable and inappropriately dramatic.

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That other picture is of a Russian socialite and couture maven/designer named Ulyana Sergeenko – frequently photographed bedecked in turbans, bright lips, and emeralds, so of course she plays the role of a muse!  I keep most of my lipsticks and glosses in a used candle holder; easy to hand since I wear it daily, even sitting at my desk. My colored pens and markers, essential for keeping track of different clients and projects I store in Victorian marmalade jar – reclaimed from a period rubbish dump, cleaned up and sold by an enthusiast at Portobello Road, who really deserves his own post because he was a delight!

The other essentials: iPod for podcast listening, business cards (which I always keep on hand, just in case), and takeaway menus to favorite local places. For the nights when making dinner straight up isn’t happening.

Not pictured: the pile of mail, random receipts, whatever lotion or hand cream I’m currently using to keep my skin from coming off in chunks, and a plastic tray that sits on the windowsill and usually contains a dumping of breath mints, thumb tacks, my address book, and keys. Do not believe for one second that things are always this tidy!

And that’s where I work most days! Work from home types, freelancers, and other writer friends, weigh in. What does your typical workspace look like? I’m nosy and want to know.

The Winter of My Skin’s Discontent

“She couldn’t get any farther away inside from her skin. She couldn’t get away.”
― Cynthia Voigt, When She Hollers

Confession. All my adult life I’ve read the articles in women’s magazines about the perils of winter on a girl’s skin, and I always assumed I got genetically lucky. My skin was largely okay. Even living in a desert state with dry air for years, the only thing that really affected my complexion was hormonal cycles and bad eating (still occasionally guilty of the latter). Then I moved to London. After an initial breakout, my skin calmed down again (many thanks for your advice)…until winter hit.

Team, consider me a convert. The magazines were not, in fact, just lying to promote sales of various products. The desert air has nothing on your old school heater in a city flat. I’ve never experienced the flaking, cracking, and shedding of my epidermis that I have in the last couple of months. Also, as a child I had eczema that mostly cleared up, except for my scalp where it has more or less stayed for the past two decades. Annoying but manageable. Not anymore! My eczema is back with a vengeance and it has become quite painful in areas.

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I’m giving the mirror some serious side-eye here.

Sorry to the more prurient minded among you, that’s not a hickey. It’s but one of the visible patches of winter eczema currently dotting my neck, chest, and face. This one is mostly healed, after a week long battle with medication. I’ve got streaks of it just below the neckline of my supremely fashion forward alma mater hoodie, and a patch on my right temple which took a big enough hit that I’m pretty sure its going to leave some scarring. Drat.

The current arsenal.
The current arsenal, posed in front of the offending heater.

Nivea is currently managing things below the collar bone while my argan balms and are keeping things like knees, elbows, and feet intact. I’ve got my eczema specialist for spot treatment, my moisturizer with SPF for day and my eye cream and Kiehls treatment for night. Lips require their own regimen. Neosporin gets slathered on any point where the skin is punctured, fractured, or generally abused. One heavy duty cream for the nights where they won’t cut it. For the first time in my life I’ve needed the occasional slathering of hand cream after a day out in the cold!

All of this is mostly helping, but I’m wondering if it’s a bit much and if there’s an easier way to keep my skin from falling off. So I’m putting another call out for winter skin and facial care recommendations. RSVP. Before I disintegrate.

Apart From Monday Evening, I Disavow This Week

“We are stuck with technology when what we really want is just stuff that works.”
— Douglas Adams

Holy mother of pain, kittens!

Yesterday’s post was drafted in advance of a Series of Events, when all was well and the washing machine and I were having a delightful domestic fling. Quite suddenly and without warning all went spectacularly upside down. Like all great tragic love affairs, ours did a lot of damage on the way out.

But first let me go back!

Over the weekend it became clear that our washing machine would need to be replaced. It had had a few funny spells where its various lights would flash or the whole thing would turn on (or alternatively refuse to turn off) without instruction, but these had all be cured with a period of rest from duties. But as of Sunday we knew it was no good. It had given up the ghost and refused to work any more. We had to walk the whole thing out of its niche to inspect it, avoiding scraping up the linoleum to the best of our ability – revealing of course a degree of filth that had to be cleaned up. Several reviews online and investigations into the make and model confirmed that the behavior it was displaying meant it had gone the way of all the earth. With our landlady’s permission we ordered a new one, to be delivered on Tuesday.

Monday morning started out just fine. Jeff went to the office and I was just getting up and about when suddenly my phone rang and it was Jeff, sounding irritated and out of breath.
“Apparently I’m supposed to be in Gloucester right now and they didn’t tell me. Can you start packing?”

That’s a bit of a way to kick off the week. Being of profound packing experience I began rounding up necessities and waited for him to get home to tell me the story. As it turns out, multiple of his colleagues had been assigned to various spots around the country over the weekend without being told or told incorrectly, so come that morning a number of people were not where they were officially supposed to be. By the time he got home he had been told to sit tight and await further instructions – which of course meant that after an hour or so he was asked to come straight back into the London office to work there for the day.

I remained suspicious and refused to unpack. A good thing it turned out, since that night he was assigned to go to Peterborough for three days. He headed out early Tuesday morning.

That same morning, our brand shiny new machine arrived and was installed by two very helpful workmen, and it appeared that all was well in test runs. The first time I attempted to use it, however, the sink (through which it connects) filled straight up…and refused to drain. Which is to say, of course, it overfilled. Emphatically. Luckily I was in the kitchen for the rinse cycle because water began pouring down the sides of the cupboard and onto the floor – I was afraid that a hose hadn’t been connected properly at first, though latter evidence revealed this was not the case.

Necessity being the mother of invention, I grabbed a couple of pots and began frantically ferrying  the sink water to the bathroom (slipping and sliding all over the now wet and slick floor) until the cycle finished which luckily put a stop to the flood. After which I spent a couple hours mopping up the mess (more filth discovered) before marching grimly to the nearest bodega for drain cleaner, and the bakery for a fortifying pain au chocolat.

Both the trip-to-Gloucester-that-wasn’t and this adventure have put me pretty badly behind this week. I’m doubly grateful for a nice night out on Monday because everything since then has been a bit dire. The manageable side of dire, but dire nonetheless.

On the other hand, we have successfully proved that in extremis, I’m capable of feats of strength that are pretty impressive. Such as dragging a machine across the kitchen floor in mere seconds sans injury.

Behold my panic induced prowess.
Behold my panic induced prowess.

Pray the drain un-clogger works permanently, ducklings, the next step is professional help. Which I may or may not currently stand in need of myself.

Expat Living: Housing

“And my parents finally realize I’m kidnapped and they snap into action immediately: They rent out my room.”
― Woody Allen

The me also be abundently clear. I love living here
Let me also be abundantly clear again. I love living here.

I hinted at the prices of things before, but let me make it abundantly clear.

Rent in the city is ferociously high, it’s climbing, and it’s having some significant consequences (Kerry from Planes, Trains, and Plantagenets wrote about this recently).

Rent here is (accounting for currency adjustments) three times what we paid in the States, for half the space. To put it another way, our rent now costs half of Jeff’s salary and it used to cost just a quarter of mine. That is an adjustment, kittens. It affects every other expense and calculation.

Housing standards are also different. Lots of things are considered basic in the US are considered luxuries here. Our oven is old (the rubber sealing tube actually is no longer attached, I had to get creative in order to secure it back in place), and our cooker hobs actually are old enough to have rust damage. We also don’t own a garbage disposal which means we have to be extra mindful about what goes in the sink and the rubbish.The walls are concrete which means it’s nearly impossible to hang anything on them, and (in case I haven’t mentioned it enough yet) space is limited. Our toilet runs with an echoing dripping noise constantly and our washing machine’s pipes drain through our sink – with attendant clogging issues.

Our building used to be council housing (government social housing originally built to provide decently built, affordable homes for working class people), and the council still oversees most of the maintenance, but our flat is privately owned. Britain has a long history of social housing, stretching straight back to the middle ages, but the current incarnation is largely a result of WWII when so many homes in London were destroyed by bombing that the government had to provide something. It was also a good way to get rid of and redevelop a lot of long standing slum areas – many homes got running water, indoor toilets, and heating for the first time through council housing. Of course, most council housing is fairly dated now. We’re lucky, our landlady is very lovely and very easy going (and actually accessible, which is more than can be said for our old managers). But everything in our flat is very well worn. I suspect we’re going to have to replace at least one appliance while we live here.

On the other hand, we have a washing machine – actually in our flat that we don’t have to pay to operate. This is perilously close to domestic bliss as far as I’m concerned. We also have a lot of other things to be grateful for – a storage closet in particular that holds all our luggage, a shelving unit for shoes and cold weather accessories, all of our boots, and a few clothes that need to be hung up rather than folded to store. We have a great view of some of London’s most iconic landmarks. We live three minutes away from a Tube station and 20 minutes away from Jeff’s work by foot.

All things considered, I’m very pleased at how snuggly we’ve landed. Truthfully there are some days I can hardly believe our luck at how easily we found a place to live, even though it meant completely rethinking our notions about rent. I do worry about housing long term in case we ever need to move – prices keep going up – but in the meantime, in spite of some issues, I’m more than content.

[ETA: Ha! Mere days after drafting this our washer did in fact break. Luckily a bright, shiny new one was delivered yesterday, but I find the timing uncanny. As usual, there’s more to the story…]

A Desk of One’s Own

“If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?”
― Albert Einstein

For the past couple of months Jeff and I have been working from the bed, the floor, and the coffee table but we’ve not had a designated work space in the flat. I’ve been surprised at how hard and difficult it’s made things like organizing, good time management, even focusing!  There is something very encouraging and definite about a desk with your To Do list sitting on top of it and all your tools handy, instead of your laptop under the loveseat, your list at the bottom of your bag, and nary a pen in sight.

I’ve been liking our little flat – still a bit bare but pretty hopeful – but since space is at a premium, we have to evaluate how we want to use it. When Jeff’s been able to go off to an office every morning, I’ve had to make do (at one point working from the kitchen counter to just stand for a change) until we got his first paycheck. After a month of back cramps, piles of paper shifting from place to place and getting lost (how we lose anything in a place this small is beyond me!), and general frustration, we were able to hop onto the Ikea website.

My desk finally came…the chair is apparently somewhere still in transit. So I’m still working from a coffee table, it’s just switched functions at bit. It’s amazing the difference it’s already making.

Necessity being the mother of invention.
Necessity being the mother of invention. Disregard that lone shoe, if you please.

 

The Way We Live Now (or more precisely, where)

“London has the trick of making its past, its long indelible past, always a part of its present. And for that reason it will always have meaning for the future, because of all it can teach about disaster, survival, and redemption. It is all there in the streets.”
― Anna Quindlen, Imagined London: A Tour of the World’s Greatest Fictional City

Ducklings and gentle-kittens, let me make you welcome to Bermondsey.

It’s on the south side of the Thames, a place that has been through the centuries a holy area, a posh area, and a slum area. A large abbey once stood here with royal ties back to the conquest. Apparently Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine held a Christmas court here (presumably more amiable than the one portrayed in The Lion in Winter…), and Elizabeth Woodville retired there along with Henry VII’s blessing after he married her daughter. As usually happened to these presumably impressive buildings, Henry VIII dissolved the Abbey and gave the land to his friend. The Stuarts poshed it up after the Great Fire, but it sank into decay. In the 19th century, the docks and industrialization made things a bit grim.

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This church, built in the 17th century even though a church has been recorded on this sight for well over a thousand years, is the parish church of St. Mary Magdalen.

Charles Dickens described the area near here thusly,  “… crazy wooden galleries common to the backs of half a dozen houses, with holes from which to look upon the slime beneath; windows, broken and patched, with poles thrust out, on which to dry the linen that is never there; rooms so small, so filthy, so confined, that the air would seem to be too tainted even for the dirt and squalor which they shelter; wooden chambers thrusting themselves out above the mud and threatening to fall into it — as some have done; dirt-besmeared walls and decaying foundations, every repulsive lineament of poverty, every loathsome indication of filth, rot, and garbage…”

Quality!

Luckily these days Bermondsey is undergoing a nice little resurgence and we’re really enjoying living here. Huge masses of it was bombed and rebuilt after WWII so it’s relatively recent (compared to a surprising amount of London). Our plumbing is only from the last century instead of the one before – this is cause for rejoicing, trust me!

We’re in Southwark, one of the oldest parts of London – the area from which Chaucer’s pilgrims departed for Canterbury is just a Tube station away, Shakespeare’s Globe theatre is in the same direction. To the east lies the dock where the Mayflower departed for Southampton to meet up with its dour and disapproving paying passengers heading for the New World. The dock where they hanged pirates in the 18th century is nearby. There are excellent restaurants, Bermondsey’s famous antique market, and of course the river.

We also live a 15-20’s minute’s leisurely stroll from Tower Bridge.

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I think you’ll excuse me, minions, if I say that I’m vastly contended and downright giddy about this in a lot of ways. Not too bad, huh!

*all images original to Small Dog Syndrome

Some Treasure From Home

“The ornament of a house is the friends who frequent it.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson

While we’re off scrambling for more or less permanent shelter, here are some fun things from my parents house that I thought you guys might like.

The family pile
The family pile

If there is a theme for their decorating, Dad says it’s Anthropology. Dad’s family was in the oil business and Mum’s father was a contractor in Japan after WWII, and then Dad went into government/military service himself. We’ve spent two full generations moving constantly (I’m campaigning hard to make it a third with Jeff and myself, and one brother is going into the military as well). The result is that we have a rather nice collection of hodgepodge in the British style: we picked up stuff wherever we went and now display it on the walls. And floors. And wherever we have space, really.

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One of the gallery walls

Mum collects blue willow patterned antique china, so it’s all over the house. At the top is a Samoan (I believe) war club and to the left of the painting is a handmade birdcage.

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Dad’s eyeglass case rests on an old Japanese wooden pillow with two Balinese baskets, a Chinese cricket cage, and a betel nut cracker in the shape of a horse, all on an antique obi. Betel nuts are common all over the Pacific and are chewed as mild stimulants, a cheap sort of drug since they literally grow on trees. Unfortunately they have a lot in common with chewing tobacco, especially when it comes to causing cancer.

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Balinese mask in the shape of a frog.

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Mum’s other collectable, antique pewter. These are a couple of antique farm hutches that sit in the kitchen.

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A traditional Chinese folding screen. In our case it’s used as a wall hanging, although I think it would make a spectacular headboard!

Louisa

“I know of no way of judging of the future but by the past.”
― Patrick Henry

When politicians talk about small town America, this is what they mean. I’m also convinced few of them spend any substantial time in them. I may be a city girl at heart, but it’s kind of great to know that places like this actually still exist tucked away and plugging along much as they always have.

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The historic courthouse and jail to the left. To this day, property auctions take place on the steps.

This courthouse is a bit later, but Louisa’s major claim to fame is that Patrick Henry began his law career here (his first big case was part of the lead up to the Revolution, when King George vetoed a Virginia law in question which the colonists saw as an overstep into their legislative authority. The rest is, extremely well recorded, history). Later he was elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses to represent the county, where he kicked off his political one.

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The jailhouse which operated into the early 20th century and was apparently ranked as one of the worst in the country – because in its long history, it wasn’t renovated in any significant way. Rustic charm is all well and good, but not when you’re locked up, apparently. It’s a pretty good representation of 19th century local justice.

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Typical local hours. Very few things can afford to be open all day, every day around here.

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During the Civil War, the railroad was a major Confederate supply line, meaning that battles were fought all over the place. The railroad was also supposed to bring a degree of prosperity that, unfortunately, didn’t really make it into the 20th century. The rail station on the left has beautifully worked gables and was clearly once quite nice, but now it’s boarded up and empty except when the local feed store uses it for storage.

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