Author Archives: Jen Watkiss

KonMari-ing the Crap outta this place

Hello! If you don’t follow me on the facebooks (/jen.watkiss) or twitter (@jen_watkiss) you may not know that Team Watkii expands to a foursome in August. I know, we’re pretty stoked.

But this means we need to make room in for a whole extra person in our current existence. And we have amassed a lot of crap in the current formulation of our family. Some (lots!) of it must go!

We also need to combine the bigger master bedroom into a guest room/office/dog room, and move ourselves into the smaller double bedroom (which has until now been a guest/laundry-drying/dog room), so we can turn the current office into a nursery. Compounding the awkwardness is that we live in a Victorian Terrace style house, so there are lots of narrow hallways, doorways, and small rooms. Every time we move something, it generally means a cascade of moving a bunch of other things in some perverse game of furniture Tetris, involving a lot of cursing and stairs.

A happy coincidence of timing meant that, just in time for the nesting instinct to arrive in full-force, I discovered Marie Kondo’s “Life changing Magic of Tidying.” A few pages in, I was ready to write the entire book off as a load of total crap. Thanking my belongings? Dumping everything out and touching every. single. item. in order to evaluate? Not bloody likely, unless I’m going to take four days off to deal with the clutter.

So I was pretty sceptical when I read her instruction to get rid of anything that “doesn’t bring you Joy.” What the hell? Joy? I am hardly joyful about my toilet brush. But it’s still a thing we need in the house.

If you really think about the concept of having only things that bring you Joy, though, the method holds. And has been the most useful formula I’ve found for deciding what to keep and what to toss.

Because Joy is not just about out-of-the ordinary happiness. Joy can come from basic purpose and satisfaction. Having a toilet brush brings me joy, because I’m able to clean the toilet, and a clean toilet makes me feel good about my home.

It becomes even more powerful when you flip the equation, and look at things that are still useful, but maybe don’t bring Joy. It also combats the famous William Morris quote, instructing one to “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”

For example, we have a shedload of tiny tchochkes that Isaac has collected from outings and in birthday party bags. Having a few of these things around brings me Joy, because they’re useful for dropping into a day pack when we’re out for a day and could use some novelties to keep a small person occupied at restaurants or on long car rides.

However, those tiny tchochkes cease being useful when we’ve got a box amassing hundreds of the stupid little things. Then they cross into ‘oppressive’ territory, when I can’t imagine when we’ll ever use them all up, and I need to figure out where to keep them in the meantime. KonMari’s theory of “Joy” makes it a lot easier to keep a small selection of small toys, etc. and guiltlessly toss the rest.

Same goes for books I’ve meant to read, clothes I’ve meant to wear more, furniture that no longer suits its purpose. All these things to which my first reaction is negative (guilt, annoyance, frustration), instead of positive (or joyful) – even though they may be useful – can go.

So am I a KonMari convert? Maybe? I’m not entirely sure. I’m still not talking to my possessions. And I’m not making massive piles in the middles of rooms to start the process (who actually has time for that?). But we’ve taken 5 bags to the charity shop so far, with no signs of slowing. And it actually feels pretty good.

Three Fab Things: Roundup – I’ve now been taking work notes with this system for an entire year. Unprecidented! I don’t incorporate any personal notes in this book (I use phone reminders & lists for that), but it’s made it amazingly easy to keep track of the various meetings, events, projects, task lists, etc. that I’m juggling at any one time. The real genius is the index. I can suddenly refer back to everything that once had any importance. This has been key on a few occasions for demonstrating that I am the Ultimate Boss in having my shit together.

Moleskine Tool Belt – I was lamenting at a conference that I really wished I had something to help corral my phone, pen, and cards with my notebook. Not necessarily a zipper case, but something to compensate for the usual lack of pockets in ladies’ trousers. The next day I received an email announcing the toolbelt. Considering I use the Moleskine Evernote Notebook as my bullet journal, this was a no-brainer. I do think it’s too expensive for what it is, but it filled a need so perfectly, I grumbled, but didn’t hesitate at the purchase.

This Soup has no business being as delicious as it is. It’s made of lettuce(!) and can easily be vegan, of all the ridiculous things. We only made it on a lark, to use up the contents of our veg box, assuming we’d immediately bin it and order pizza. Being wrong has never tasted so good.

*Note – this is just random stuff I’ve been meaning to share. This blog is way too neglected and long in the tooth to attract actual advertisers. 

The personal blog is an important, under-respected art form.

I just got around to reading Anil’s recent post on 15 lessons from 15 years of blogging. Poignant, since I’ve been thinking about what to do with this site.

I’ve been blogging for over 10(!) years, with a few defunct blogger and livejournal accounts before that. The blogosphere has changed a lot since then, but my favourites are still the few personal blogs that exist without a strict adherence to a commercial niche.

I wasn’t sure there was still a place for a personal blog with no theme, direction, beautiful photos or commercial model. And then I realized I was a fucking idiot; there isn’t a rule book.

So, before I delve too far into Anil’s point 9 (Meta-writing about a blog is generally super boring), a few things I’ve been thinking about a lot lately:

  1. Feminism (in tech, and in general). About 8 years ago I held a job in tech where I was – as is typical – one of only a handful of women in the company. One day I was chatting with the (male) CEO about how to get buy-in from a male colleague, and the CEO said “do you ever think some of the difficulties are because you’re a woman?” I was totally shocked, and blurted out something affirmative (because I agreed, but thought I was crazy for thinking so). And then the company pivoted, and I was laid-off about 3 days later, so never got a chance to follow up. That, and other head-smacking stories rattle around my head a lot while I watch the news on all the new-wave feminism.
  2. Working Parenthood. Closely related to the feminism thing, I spend a lot of time thinking about the day-to-day minutiae of being a full-time working mom (because let’s face it – it’s different for dads) and how to strike the right balance. A thing I’ve noticed is that I have orders of guilt: the worst is when I’ve truly disappointed Isaac (which has only happened once), but a close second is when situations come up where I feel like I am not showing the world that I care about being a good mom. Example: talking about life-changing/affirming moments with (all male) colleagues, the dads in the room all cited the births of their children. I did not. Not because I am callous, but because “the birth” frankly left me a bit shell-shocked, and was just one moment on a long continuum of becoming a mom. Of course my justification came in a moment of l’esprit de l’escalier, so I never articulated that in the moment. And so I retrospectively worry/feel guilty about appearing a cold, uncaring parent. And I do not like it.
  3. The first Tiny Christmas. This will be our third Christmas living in the UK, and the first when we won’t return to Canada. We were sick of the high prices for flights, and the large chunk of time it took out of our holiday allowances, when we’d like to travel to other destinations. I am looking forward to the opportunity to start a brand new set of traditions that are about just the three of us, but I am also a bit nervous that it won’t feel “right” or “real” to celebrate what’s normally such a family-centric holiday for us, without any family around. But you never know until you try? I guess?


Aaaaand we’re back!

Thanks to all the comment suggestions on my previous post, I tried disabling all the plugins to see if that was the issue. Nope.

Then, with the help of Neil and Gill, we spent some time going down the rabbit hole of a weird SQL error having to do with language compatibility (UTF-8 vs. Latin-1). That wasn’t it either.

So I finally contacted my host to see if they had any idea what the problem was.

Turns out MY HOST is what the problem was. And also me. But mostly them. Because of me.

I (and this is the part where it’s totally my fault) had been incredibly lax about updating my admin password to something that was remotely secure (previous password having been a 6-lowercase -character dictionary word).

Because that is exceedingly vulnerable, WordPress is very susceptible to password hacks, and I’m on a shared server, my hosting provider put some extra security protocols in place.

Basically, they were terminating the SSL of all WordPress admin logins aimed at their servers, so they could enforce strong passwords (and deny access to those that weren’t strong enough). Fair enough protocol, in the name of good security.

Problem is, THEY DIDN’T BOTHER TELLING ME. Never did I get a notification that they were enacting this particular protocol, and the error it threw up (‘No data returned’) was, let’s say, less than helpful.

But, they were helpful in getting me in so I could re-set my password, so the blog lives again. So hooray? Yes. Hooray.

Now I just need to think of something to write about, now that the ‘broken blog’ excuse no longer applies.



Blog: interrupted

I appear to have broken the back end of my blog. Perhaps the latest wordpress update is to blame?

In any case, I’m writing this from my phone, where the wordpress app still seems to be ok (assuming I can actually publish this).

Any wordpress wizards want to point me in the direction of what I can/should do now?

And in the meantime, here is a picture of my dog for you to stare at.


Awake / Asleep

It has not been the happiest New Year so far.

Christmas was amazing, and it was so good to see family and celebrate. Unfortunately, after that, things started going downhill pretty rapidly.

It really started back in October, when my Oma found a lump in her breast. I think you know where this is going.

Tests, doctors, surgery, hospital, more doctors, drugs, confusion, anxiety, complications.

My Oma ended up in the hospital with breathing problems and extreme fatigue in the wee hours between December 27-28.

Delays, diagnosis, drugs, procedures, confusion, anxiety, complications.

Heart Attack.




And finally, yesterday, two weeks later, passing.

This was all expected to happen “someday,” just not now. Not yet. We weren’t ready. We’re still not.

If you were looking for a resolution this year, resolve to have the tough conversations with your loved ones about what you want for your last days. If not to make it easier on you, then to make it easier on them.

Getting on that plane, leaving while there was so much uncertainty, was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. 

But everyone I left behind, my mom, her brothers, my Opa, have it a million times harder. Having to cope with the sudden loss of their mom/wife, and deicide how to manage her last days when she was gone in mind and spirit, but not yet in body. Having to push aside their grief long enough to decipher what my Oma would’ve wanted, and how to celebrate the 83 years she had with us.

Even if that part was easier, though, it’s still not easy.

On my end, I sit up at night with Isaac, whose tiny mind and body absorbed all the unspoken stress and sadness surrounding his last few days in Canada, so he doesn’t like sleeping in his room by himself anymore and doesn’t know why.

And I wonder, now that the inevitable has happened, how one explains death to a three-year-old.

And I think about the miles between me and my family, and wish that this great big world, so full of wonder and adventure and amazement and opportunity, was sometimes just a little bit smaller.

North American Expats in England

It’s November. Which means NaBloPoMo. Let’s see what happens when I force myself to blog every day for a month, shall we? Hah. Haaaaaha. Ha. At least it got me writing a little more frequently, yes? Yes. 

There was a fantastic article posted on Business Insider the other day about the experience of a US Expat living in England.

It is hard.  Just because people speak English, do not be deceived.  It is an utterly alien place from America culturally, and I found (and still find) the adjustments frustrating and I sometimes still get furious from the difficulties.

Some of the Americanisms aren’t really applicable to Canadians (universal health care and parental leave being well-established in Canada, too), but a lot of the other lifestyle differences ring really true.

The material standard of living thing is a big one. Even coming from a place as expensive as Vancouver, we find it quite hard to get ahead, and are overall spending more and saving less than we were previously able to. Frankly, it’s stressful, and not something we’d anticipated.

But oh!

The proximity to London, the prevalence of pub culture, the treasure houses. “And best of all (to me):  the deeply inbuilt intellectualism — world class museums, theatres, concerts, bookshops, lectures everywhere.” Quintuple that when you’re living in Oxford or Cambridge.

Being a Canadian, and used to only our irritating sense of defining ourselves by what we are NOT, in the loud, brash shadow of unrelenting US patriotism, I find the sense of strong, quiet, unquestioning national pride here inspiring.

The whole piece is worth a read, if you want a glimpse of what relocating has been like.

And yes, so far, it’s worth it.