Author Archives: Jen Watkiss

So this is the New Year

Almost. Almost 2017.

I always cringe at the idea of writing a holiday letter, and yet, I love reading all the ones I receive.

So on the chance there are some of you out there who feel similarly about the writing vs. reading about other people’s lives, I present…

Team Watkii: The Year in Review

We started the year in Vancouver, celebrating the arrival of 2016 after having just celebrated Alexandra’s first Christmas. And here is where I start with the mea culpas to my poor, neglected, second-fiddle second child. Turns out that I had multiple people this year ask who that gorgeous girl-child was on my facebook feed, because I hadn’t mentioned her actual NAME in any recent enough post for them to address their Christmas cards. Whoops.

On to February. We enjoyed a great week in Naples with Neil’s parents and sister. We’ve got a nice tradition going with them, where instead of hanging around in dreary old England in the bleak midwinter, we meet somewhere with a bit more sun and a bit less rain. Naples was excellent – one of the few obviously touristy places we’ve visited that also felt like locals actually still lived real lives alongside the schlock.

Definite highlights of that trip were wandering through the old city, seeing Pompeii, eating amazing pizza or seafood or pasta or all three for pretty much every meal, and taking a very creepy and smelly wander on an active supervolcano.

Moving through to Spring, we kept on keeping on straight through until Easter. Quite honestly, it felt like the first half of the year passed in a complete blur. Alex wasn’t exactly an easy baby, so she and I spent a LOT of time on the couch, catching up on Netflix. It was basically the only place she’d sleep and eat. And if she wasn’t sleeping or eating, she was YELLING.

To be fair, she still yells. Except now it’s mostly because she likes the sound of her own voice.  Our house is officially loud.

Over the Easter holiday we took a long-haul holiday that was almost certainly Isaac’s highlight of the year: a week in Jamaica. On the recommendation of a few friends, we ended up at the Franklyn D. Resort. We spent a lovely week relaxing, hanging out in the sea and by the pool. Between the sea and the waterslide, Isaac practically turned into a fish. Neil and I ate our weight in Jerked meats, and even wee Alex might have enjoyed herself a bit (hard to tell past the yelling).

Our last travel hurrah for the early part of 2016 was another quick trip to Vancouver, as we weren’t sure when we’d be able to return – it was time to hand over all our travel and identity documents to the Home Office one last time to process our UK citizenship applications and get UK passports!

Despite our dreams of EU citizenship being somewhat derailed by Brexit, we were still very excited for Isaac and I to receive our UK citizenship at the end of July. It was a banner week, really: my birthday, citizenship, then Alexandra’s first birthday!

It also marked the end of maternity leave, and my return to work. Happy, sad, sunrise, sunset, etc.

(I am only half a year in here, and already bored of myself… writing these things is no joke!)

(And actually, I’m now finishing this on New Year’s Day… )

The rest of the year was equal measures very lovely and very stressful.

Biggest on the list in both categories has been buying a house! We discovered our current neighbourhood by total accident when we first moved to Oxford, and four years later, still consider ourselves so amazingly lucky to be in such a nice location with such a wonderful community of friends and neighbours around. So when the house across the street from our rental went up for sale in July, we put in an offer ASAP.

Buying a house in the UK involves a LOT more hoop-jumping than it did in Canada, from both the banking and legal side, and we did lose a considerable amount of sleep over it all, but everything did keep marching on, in spite of itself, and we finally moved in at the end of October (and apparently, that is a FAST timeline as far as real-estate here goes).

We were also put to the test as homeowners who now have to deal with their own problems pretty early, as we discovered the day we got the keys that the attic was home to a MASSIVE wasp nest! (The house had been vacant over the summer, so it had time to grow, unnoticed.) Then we had the matter of a small burst pipe that we thankfully noticed only about 15 minutes after it happened, and we learned very quickly how to contact an emergency plumber. Thankfully we have so far managed to avoid water turning to blood, fiery hail, and frogs.

September had Isaac starting Year 1 at school, and though the beginning of the year was a bit rocky with the transition from mostly play-based EYFS (Kindergarten) to “proper” school, he has settled in amazingly, and is really hitting his stride. It’s amazing and hilarious to witness his interpretation of what he’s learning, and he’s got ample opportunities to exercise his creativity. Generally everything revolves around bugs/reptiles or other minibeasts, anything to do with space, or some fantastical creature that originated in the minds of Roald Dahl or J.K. Rowling. Or most often some Isaacian combination of all three.

Alex also finally really hit her stride between 12-14 months, and she is also thriving and happy and hilarious. This one is a Watkiss through and through – she is LOUD, often just for the sake of being loud, plays the joker whenever she can, and has the most maniacal laugh. She’s already on the small side for kids her age, and due to the birthday lottery, she’s destined to be the youngest in her peer group. It doesn’t phase her at all though, and at nursery she’s well known for being small but mighty! She’s also just as big with her love and affection, and throws her arms around us all for huge hugs on the regular. It is pretty much the best.

With all the busy-ness of the summer and early autumn, we took some much needed time over the October half-term break and headed to Wales for some family time and R&R.

Then November passed in a blur (especially when trying not to think too much about the result of the US election), and we are basically into December, and Christmas season!

We’ve stayed in the UK this year for Christmas and had a very quiet one. Although it’s hard to be far from family over the festive season, it was probably for the best, as I don’t think after the year we had my cortisol levels could take the stress of Christmas travel and dealing with the Vancouver Snowmageddon – though I am jealous of the wintery wonderland everyone there has been alternately cursing and enjoying!

I hope whatever your year held in 2016, it also contained some love, peace, joy and adventure, and I hope 2017 holds a lot more of all those for all of us!

A tale of three dishwashers

When we moved into this house, we knew needed a new dishwasher. The existing one was being “weird” (totally the technical term) and considering its advanced age, the sensible tack was replacement.

And this is where we learn that Canadians and the English are separated by a common language when it comes to the world of dishwashers.

In Canada, we are a simple people. And have simple dishwashers.

From what I recall, there are generally two types of full-size dishwasher:

1. Built-in Dishwashers. Meant to be installed under your counter. It will have a front panel of the manufacturer’s choosing (stainless steel being the common contemporary choice), and open sides & back as it’s going to be mounted under the counter and fixed to the cabinetry. It will be hard-wired into the electrical and plumbed in for water and drainage.

2. Portable Dishwashers. Not meant to be installed under your counter (or anywhere else). It has a front panel of the manufacturer’s choosing, as well as finished sides and back, as it generally sits as its own piece of furniture in a room. It will have a wall plug, flexible hoses for attaching it to your faucet and draining into the sink, and wheels to roll it to and fro – up to the sink when using, out of the way when not.

So with that structure embedded in our minds, we went to the appliance store.

Our busted English (actually German – but allowed to live here thanks to the EU) dishwasher had a front panel that matched the cabinetry. From our limited experience we knew that meant it was “Integrated” and we assumed Integrated = Built-in.

Which it kindof does. But also kindof doesn’t.

Lesson one: there are two kinds of “integrated.”

Fully integrated means the front panel (that matches your cabinetry) takes up the full front panel of the dishwasher, with the controls inside the top edge of the door.

Semi-integrated means the front panel takes up about 4/5 of the front panel of the dishwasher, with the controls taking up the other 1/5 of the front panel.

Neither flavour of integrated comes with its own front panel (remember, Canadian built-ins have whatever front the manufacturer put on it) – you are meant to take the panel from your existing dishwasher (assuming you are replacing an integrated model) and fit it to the new one.

We learned this the hard way, when the fully-integrated model we ordered showed up, and the installer took one look, said “You have semi-integrated. This won’t work.” And didn’t even take the new dishwasher off the delivery truck.

We were reluctant to get a new semi-integrated dishwasher, mostly because they aren’t actually that common, and about 3x the cost of a more typical fully-integrated dishwasher.

So we had a bit of a freak-out, and a bit of a panic, and a wildly misguided attempt to try to source just a front panel from a cabinet store.

And any English reader is right now wondering WTF is wrong with us, and why didn’t we just do the normal thing and get a freestanding dishwasher?

Lesson Two: freestanding != portable.

Turns out freestanding dishwashers in the UK can easily be shoved into the space your integrated dishwasher occupied, plumbed in the same way, and hardwired into the electricity (or plugged in, depending on whether you have an outlet in that location – it comes with instructions for cutting off the plug to attach the wires directly).

But when you start asking people in the appliance store questions about whether you can plumb/wire a freestanding dishwasher, and go on about wheels and sizing, etc. They tend to look at you like you’re a total nutter, and just back away slowly.

Eventually we grokked the dishwasher situation, and just selected the freestanding one that was available for next-day delivery and installation.

And lo, choirs of angels in heaven did sing, and we could stop hand-washing all our dishes, and all was right with the world again.

But God help us if/when the fridge goes…

MeTernity

I have had so many thoughts about this assinine “Meternity” idea-slash-book (go ahead, google it. I’ll wait.) that came out ages and ages ago. I finally have a few minutes (FINALLY) to commit those thoughts to pixels.

Maternity (or parental) leave is not for mothers (or parents). It’s for babies.

It is not an employment benefit for parents, but a social benefit for children. Yes, some employers choose to add benefits for employees who fall under this case as a retention tactic, but they are not universally applied the way that parental leave payments are. This idea is further reinforced by the fact that in much of the developed world, the government is the final payer of parental leave, not the employers (whereas employers DO pay for other benefits).

So you, by virtue of having been born, have already received your entitlement of parental leave.

Of course the application of the benefits hasn’t caught up with modern life, what with non-traditional families and employment, but if you look at every update to the policy, it’s designed to help facilitate a healthy start to life of new citizens (hungry, homeless parents and inconsistent care being very bad for babies).

Yes, becoming a parent is very often a choice, but nobody does because it’s going to give you some time to relax. Seriously? What rock have you been living under that parenthood is portrayed in any way as equivalent to a trip to the goddamn spa? Yes, some people have easy babies and manage to take on all sorts of non-baby projects during the time away from work. But many end up swamped by the needs of their own unique little person.

I personally had one amazing maternity leave. The kind of leave that combines the inspiration of a parent’s newfound role in life with hours to while away during naps and early bedtimes and quiet, self-content playtimes. The kind of leave which creates the time and space to start a new business, or found a movement, or just spend the better part of a year navel-gazing and swanning around going for leisurely walks and experiencing the kind of self-inflicted boredom that sends someone screaming back to work when the leave is finally up (that last one was me, in case you didn’t guess).

Nearly five years later I found myself on maternity leave again. It was decidedly less rosy. This time around I found myself exhausted, with a miserable baby (we would later discover she has some very valid medical reasons for that misery), an older kid who’d turned into a high-needs child, the three of us basically trapped in the house, with the brief exception of the school run, because with their particular challenges, taking those two kids anywhere was a special kind of torture. There was no time to be “reflective.” I was too busy trying to weigh how long I was willing to listen to the screaming that came with putting the baby down, and what the five-year-old might break in a desperate bid for attention in the new-sibling adjustment period, with how badly I wanted to eat food that hadn’t been microwaved yet again.

It was decidedly NOT a break (as evidenced by the fact that this poor blog has lain dormant for so long). And that’s fine. Because the leave is not a benefit for parents. It’s a benefit for babies. Both my kids got the benefit of forming a secure attachment and experiencing consistency of care, all supported by the state. A social program to get those small people off to a good start, so they can hopefully grow up well and contribute to society themselves someday.

I don’t deserve a refund because my second maternity leave didn’t give me an adequate “break.” After all, it wasn’t for me. How would the MeTernity crowd feel if their “year of rejuvenation” left them more exhausted and overwhelmed than when they started?

Much like my annoyance with the Hipster Bone Broth trend (it’s soup stock, not fucking magic), this MeTernity nonsense has nothing to do with babies. You want a sabbatical? Go and take one! Fill your boots! That’s what you call a career-break for grown-ups. “Parental” leave? That one’s actually for the babies.

(Hi, I have missed blogging. No guarantees how long this will last, but for now it’s nice to be back!)

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

www.bulletjournal.com – 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.