All posts by Jennifer Watkiss

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.

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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.

Coma.

ICU.

Hospice.

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. 
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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.

A clash of cultures: Kid-friendly vs. Kid-centric

It’s November. Which means NaBloPoMo. Let’s see what happens when I force myself to blog every day for a month, shall we? 
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Oh dear. Not even 10 days in, and I’ve failed to post every day. And my excuse for missing yesterday isn’t even that great: we were at the pub.

We went out for dinner last night with some friends at their local, which is everything a good English pub should be: good food, friendly staff, and a steady stream of regulars of every age.

This is one of the things I really like about the UK. And Europe in general, really. Kids are just accepted as part of life. I remember Maggie at Mighty Girl saying something similar about Barcelona earlier this year.

It’s so different from the ‘Child Friendliness’ cues I remember from Vancouver. Everywhere I’ve been with Isaac in North America, there has been a very overt display of whether a place is “For People With Children Along” or “Totally Unsuitable for Children Period.” The former will always have high chairs, kids’ menus, change tables. If it doesn’t have any of those things, it’s a pretty big signal that children are not welcome. Case in point: I caught wind of a big brouhaha in Vancouver over the Earls High Chair Controversy. My lands, the drama.

Conversely, here, there are certainly a large number of places who offer all the kid-friendly accouterments you could ever wish for, and just as many that don’t, that are equally welcoming to kids. We’ve been to places with absolutely zero indications of kid-friendliness that have been super excellent in terms of interacting with Isaac and serving up a kid-sized meal, and others that have some high-chairs and things, but were clearly waiting for us to finish up quickly and go.

Some pubs and restaurants are more welcoming to families than others. Some say no kids after 6pm, some 9pm, some don’t care. Still others leave it up to your discretion. Nobody’s going to complain about a family with some kids at 6pm on a quiet Tuesday evening, but might give you the stink-eye if you want to bring your noisy brood in at 8pm on a Friday.

I am still often in awe, though, of all the places we see kids and it’s just no big thang.

Last year, Neil and I headed out to one of the Ashmolean’s Live Friday Events. It was interesting, to say the least, to contrast with my experience of similar events or activities in Vancouver

I find things in Vancouver to be very segmented by clique. Activities are attended almost solely by either older, upper-crust patrons of the arts, 20- and 30-somethings without kids (whether they’ve left them at home that night, or don’t have any at all), or families. Very few things cater to, or are attended by, all three, all at once.

At the Ashmolean, in addition to the roving hordes of students (this is a university town after all), I witnessed a number of grey-hairs rocking out to the jump-jazz-calypso band, loads of other adults from 18-80, a number of kids in the 5-15 category, plenty of babes in slings, and at least one toddler dashing about. And everyone was having a fine time.

Alcohol was sold on-premise throughout the event, kids were kept mostly under control by their parents. Anything incredibly precious was behind barriers or glass, but there were plenty of sharp, breakable and otherwise potentially ‘unsafe’ or ‘delicate’ things about that weren’t smashed to smithereens. And as far as I know, nobody or nothing exploded.

It was just, people. All out for an evening’s entertainment.

So, back to last night. The pub was fairly quiet. Isaac was entertained by a combination of the cars and crayons we brought, the staff wandering around with him and plying him with chocolates, and some other girls of about 6 or 7 who thought he was cute and hilarious to parade around.

And the fact that none of that was out of the ordinary is still extraordinary to me.

Thing I like: Merrell Boots

It’s November. Which means NaBloPoMo. Let’s see what happens when I force myself to blog every day for a month, shall we? 
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Since going back to work full-time in April, I’ve also been a full-time bicycle commuter. And Oxford is fantastic for cycling. In fact, because of the way the roads and cycle paths connect between my house and work, it’s actually shorter and faster for me to bike than drive.

And with such a short trip (my ride is about 2.5k), there’s not much need (unless the weather is really awful) for me to wear anything other than regular clothes. I feel very Copenhagenesque, pretty much every day, as I sit up tall and ride at a modest-but-still-leisurely pace.

It’s really a joy to jump on my bike, cruise through town, and then just lock it and walk up to my desk, without a complicated shower/changing/primping routine in-between.

Still, not all clothes are created equal when it comes to bicycle commuting.

For instance, I’m still on the hunt for great trousers, after my favourite jeans wore through in the crotch from too much friction with my saddle. Sadface.

boot

But while I haven’t found a good answer for trousers (lots of great guy bike jeans, not so much ladies), when it comes to footwear, or at least boots, Merrell has filled a gap nicely. I’ve been looking for a pair of chocolate brown boots for a while, and the Evera Amp boot is a gorgeous specimen that’s also bike-friendly! Win!

What I really like is that, unlike so much bike-specific gear, the first impression it gives is fashion over function. But it still packs in plenty of functional aspects. I really notice a difference between these boots and another similar pair I have that aren’t made for cycling: the rigid footbed and increased tread do make a big difference in terms of stability and efficiency.

Plus, they’re comfortable for walking afterward, which is a huge plus.

I really hope this is a new trend in nice ladies’ bike-friendly fashion. Now someone please get on the jean thing. And a helmet that doesn’t give me hat-head.

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Note, I bought these boots because I like them. And I’m sharing them here because you might like them too. This was wholly unsolicited, and uncompensated.

How much does brand affinity matter?

It’s November. Which means NaBloPoMo. Let’s see what happens when I force myself to blog every day for a month, shall we? 
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I saw a post the other day about a bad airline experience, and how it tied into a bad email experience. The point the author was making: don’t send promotional emails to someone you’ve just made very unhappy – hit pause on their marketing preferences for a little while. This is very possible with modern marketing technology, so why isn’t it being done?

Not long after that, I came across the new Virgin America safety video:

 

And was surprised by my own reaction. I my chest swelled and my eyes teared up a bit. I thought about flying Virgin, and what that means to me. 

We flew Virgin when relocating to the UK. Their brand is tied up with a whole slew of emotions, and we had an amazingly positive experience at a very stressful time, from the check-in person who didn’t charge us for extra baggage to the amazing in-flight staff who were awesome to us and Isaac.

Even hearing tales of woe from friends who’ve had bad experiences on Virgin hasn’t changed that.

Conversely, I have had horrible experiences with United, and mediocre experiences with everyone else.

But what, exactly, does that change? I still book air travel based on:

  1. Price
  2. Points (though I don’t fly enough these days for a loyalty program to sway me much)
  3. (the aforementioned things being equal – which they never are) Experience.

The author of the first article I linked to also doesn’t seem to be likely to change her behaviour based on their shoddy email. She might think less of the airline, but she’ll still give them her business.

I can’t blame her – I do the same.

So why, then, does she think they should change their email practice?

Preparation, Inspiration

It’s November. Which means NaBloPoMo. Let’s see what happens when I force myself to blog every day for a month, shall we? 
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My grandfather’s workshop has always been fascinating. He was trained as a tool and die maker before immigrating to Canada, and spent the majority of his years as a machinist. He was also a ‘tween’ in the Netherlands during the second world war, when rations and supplies were scarce. Everything was saved, mended, repurposed or refashioned.

He’s the original lifehacker. A maker, before makers were cool. Throughout my childhood, he was constantly creating little tweaks and gadgets to improve some aspect of their house or garden. Little things, like spring-loaded door stops, or squirrel-proof bird feeders. Or that time he rigged up a contraption to bypass the safety latch on an electric hedge trimmer and put it on a pole to trim a tall tree. He always had the perfect bit of something he’d saved that he could hack into something else. It seemed like magic.

In contrast, there is  a large part of me that likes to live lightly. Nothing like schlepping all your worldly goods 1/3 of the way around the world, and then still having to pack/move/unpack them annually because you can’t get a lease longer than a year, to make you want to own much fewer things. I throw things out fairly indiscriminately. This is how I end up needing to do things like take seventeen trips to the photo place for tiny pictures.

Somewhat related, I have always been bewildered by people I call ‘crafty.’ Those who always seem to show up with a beautifully wrapped gift, or send the perfect (handmade, natch) card, or throw together a last-minute holiday-appropriate decoration or embellishment. How do they do it? Pinterest has not helped my lack of self-confidence in this area.

Then one week, I managed to actually  send a card in a timely fashion, wrap a lovely birthday gift, and bring an appropriate hostess gift to a party. 

Those things are rare enough in and of themselves. For all three to happen in a single week, in my world, is basically unheard of. I felt, dare I say, prepared, instead of frazzled. Like I was, for a short time, the person I aspire to be. How on earth did I do it? A happy coincidence of having the right things around.

And somewhere in all that, I remembed my grandfather’s workshop, and realized, having extra stuff around, sometimes, can be useful. These confusing ‘crafty people’ have a stash of things they can pull out whenever an occasion comes up and inspiration strikes. Like my grandfather’s workshop, ready for any small hack thanks to his habit of stashing any bits that might be mechanically useful, other people’s craft cupboards are apparently full of things just waiting for an opportunity to be used. They aren’t running to the craft store for a set of cutout letters, or wasahi tape, every time an occasion comes up. 

I don’t know why this never occurred to me before. Our kitchen pantry basically operates like that. We can always throw together a pretty decent meal, or afternoon tea, or drinks and snacks, out of whatever’s around. 

So now I’ve started making sure we have a few other things around to contribute to what I call (for lack of a better term) the ‘hospitality pantry.’ Note and occasion cards. Pretty wrapping papers. Small gifts and decorations. I’m not totally there yet (exhibit: Halloween 2013 – we had zero decorations. Not even a pumpkin.) but it’s coming.

More often than not now, a social occasion is cause for a tiny bit of self-congratulation that I’m equipped to handle it graciously, instead of turning myself into a crazy person or being embarrassed that I’m the one showing up to a kid’s birthday party with a gift awkwardly wedged into a leftover wine bag that someone else gifted to us (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

So now, I try to cull my possessions a little  more carefully. I still aim to reduce the amount of useless stuff around, but maybe not be quite so quick to have nothing extraneous about. I’m far from a hoarder of materials and supplies, but I do now keep some extra ‘crafty bits’ around on purpose.

Are there any occasions or situations that you’re always ready for? What’s in your stash?

Care & Feeding

It’s November. Which means NaBloPoMo. Let’s see what happens when I force myself to blog every day for a month, shall we? 
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Now that I’ve been back at work full time for about six months (time flies!), we’re really feeling the pressure at home when it comes to managing the rest of life.

Weekends end up jam packed with cleaning, errands, laundry and prepping/batch cooking so meals never take more than 30 minutes to get on the table during the week. It makes the weekday grind really feel like a grind.

Also, feeling like we hardly have any time to go out and do things or see people outside taking care of our basic family needs (because we’re scrambling to play catch-up every weekend) is really isolating. Which is funny to me, because I thought getting back into the working world would be exactly the opposite. Turns out, not so much.

So, it’s time to hire some help. And it was really hard to figure out exactly what – but I seem to have it narrowed down to two options.

Option 1: Mother’s Helper

Putting aside the irritatingly gendered job name (that’s what it’s advertised as here), this would be someone who could come in a few afternoons a week. The function isn’t primarily cleaning, or childcare, instead it’s a role for picking up whatever needs doing at that time – basically all the things you haven’t gotten around to – as well as being able to make or start some meals, and do babysitting, picking kids up from nursery or school, etc.

Option 2: Au Pair

The house we’re in right now has a bunch of space we’re not really using; a full guest room with ensuite, plus a decently-sized office. We certainly have the space to put an Au Pair, if we wanted to have one, and still have room for the very occasional guests we get. And after learning a bit more about what they do, it seems like we could expect the same light housework, laundry, cooking, childcare as with a Mother’s Helper, but for a lot more hours, plus babysitting a couple evenings a week (which we’ve really been missing).

What would you do?

So here, gentle reader, is where I ask if you’ve used either a Mother’s Helper or an Au Pair before, and what your thoughts are? The costs, for us, would be about even.

My biggest hesitations are that for the Mother’s Helper, I’m not sure much having someone only on certain days would work with our chaotic lives. But with the Au Pair, I don’t know how much I want another person living in the house (I feel like it’d be 80% fun and lovely, 20% stressful – would that be worth it?).

Any experiences to share?

Swanning About

It’s the first of November. Which means NaBloPoMo. Let’s see what happens when I force myself to blog every day for a month, shall we? 
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So here’s a thing I don’t think I would’ve learned had I not moved to the UK:

Swans are AWFUL. 

Not having any practical experience with swans, all I knew was that they’re fair-sized water birds. Generally associated with ideas of beauty and grace and romance. And ballet.

Clearly the people who think these things have zero experience with actual swans.

Swans, at least, the ones I encounter (Mute Swans around here), are MEAN.

Somewhere in the evolutionary process, they lost the ‘flight’ part of the ‘fight or…’ response. Swans are like that drunk guy in the bar at the end of the night who stands in your way because he really wants you to challenge him to a fight. And then, since he also has no sense of self-preservation, will come at you with zero fear and swinging with everything he’s got.

swan
Oh god. RUN!

 

And they are HUGE.

Not Ostrich Huge, but if my 90lb dog were to get into a tussle with one, I’m not sure who would win.

One morning a pair of swans with three cygnets (still fluffy grey, but already the size of geese) were blocking the bike path. There were five of us, fully-grown adults and bicycles, standing there wondering what on earth to do, because we were all too afraid to challenge them to move.

So it could be understandable that I now think of the Ugly Duckling fairy tale an entirely different way…

“…and then the Ugly Duckling grew up and turned into a STUPID, TERRIFYING ASSHOLE which is WAY worse than being ugly, so be careful what you ask for.”

Still a good lesson all around, I’d say.

How to be a Business Grownup: Rules for Autoresponders

In all the ways people can be a competent business grownup (h/t Darren), I think the most abused are communication channels. It’s like we haven’t gotten over the fact that there are Magic! Machines! that we communicate through, and we let our amazement at technology take up the parts of our brain we would otherwise use for communication competence and common courtesy.

The latest thorn in my side is the email autoresponder. It used to be that the worst offense was someone forgetting to turn theirs off after a vacation. But now, thanks to Tim Ferris (maybe? he’s at least the earliest adopter/proponent of this inane practice that I’m aware of), every self-important so-and-so who thinks they’re anybody is setting up a pingback that tells you all the reasons you are not important enough for a personal response. At least not right away, probably not ever.

If you’re not entirely sure what I’m talking about, it’s the practice of someone setting up an automated response in their email system, to reply to every incoming message with a litany of excuses and redirections.

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I happened across this piece from Fast Company today, where the featured Very Important Business Grownups share how they use their autoresponders, and what kind of Very Important Business Activities are keeping them from managing their email, as they try to keep it real, man, and not abandon the little people. All while reminding the little people of their Very Importance.

This, business grownups, is not how you ‘set expectations.’

Unless the expectation you are trying to set is that you are so fragile and insecure that you can’t possibly believe the world can function without a response from you – of any kind – for a few minutes/hours/days. Or that the vast majority of the people who email you are so incompetent that they couldn’t possibly get a response/find some information/connect with you or someone else in your company by any other means, ever.

As I mentioned, this has always been a bit of a bugbear. (aside: you can generally tell how much something annoys me by how much my vocabulary resembles an octogenarian curmudgeon) But I find it especially grating after reading this piece about Jeff Bezos and his ‘question mark’ emails. That’s right. The head of Amazon has a very public email address, and encourages customers to bring issues to his attention, without regard to the amount of useless/misdirected/spammy email he must receive.

And I am pretty sure Jeff Bezos doesn’t have an autoresponder telling people where they can find the feedback link on Amazon’s page, or the company directory, or submit speaking requests, or just to apologize for being a Very Important Business Grownup, or Maybe I’m just Playing With My Dog/Kid, So I Might Take a Few Days to Get Back to you, OK?

I bet he does, however, have some executive assistants monitoring his inbox, ensuring the garbage gets deleted, the mis-routed get redirected, and the things Mr. Bezos needs and wants to see get in front of his eyes in a timely manner. And the ignorable, ignored.

And this, Very Important Business People, is how you manage your email. By setting up your systems and resources so that the people you purportedly care about are treated like people.

If everyone who emails you is really having that much trouble figuring out how to connect with you, or who to contact from your company, maybe add some info to your website (or on your card, or some of the other hojillion places you share your email). The fact that you are this much of a keystone to your organisation is worrying. Don’t you have a competent team? A succession plan?

If you want to stop getting meaningless emails from every Tom, Dick, and Harry, maybe stop replying to them all – via autoresponder or actual email response. Every reply you send teaches them that your personal email is a viable source for that type of information.

If you think giving instant responses to email is unrealistic, then stop doing it. Patience is a virtue. And anyone who truly needs an immediate reply will probably figure out how to get it. Without the links or other contact info you’re firing back. Anyone who doesn’t, will somehow get on with their lives, shocking as that may seem.

And since you can’t talk about Fast Company without some reference to the Church of Steve, Jobs was famous for his email responses – their curtness second only to their rarity. I’m pretty sure nobody doubted his Very Importance.

So, the rules:

When is it ok to use an email autoreponder?

When you are away from the office and not replying to any email communication for an extended period (days/weeks/months – whatever is outside normal absence/delay in your world). Note I said ‘any communication’ – you are letting people know you can’t be contacted right now, not announcing your usual delay in responding.

You may even include details for who to contact in your absence, if there is a particular person handling your urgent issues while you’re incommunicado.

But what about (insert any other excuse here)?

No.

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Update: Of course, not long after posting this, I received an email autoresponse. Except, it didn’t instantly fill me with rage. Why not? It was a business email. When someone submits a sales inquiry, it’s definitely good practice to let that person know their question did not disappear into the ether, and set an expectation for when a salesperson will get back to them.

My rant is solely applied to the world of personal emails (or emails sent to a specific person at a business). They are the email equivalent of the twitter auto-DM. Ain’t nobody got time for that.  

Daguerreotype

I really hope that whole ‘soul stealing’ aspect of photography isn’t true. Because if it is, I am running awfully thin on spare soul.

I don’t know whether to blame UK bureaucracy (I originally typed ‘bureaucrazy’ there, which seems apt), the general process of moving internationally, or something else entirely, but I am fully and officially fed up with having tiny pictures made.

Every time I need to complete some sort of official process, I need to submit the paperwork with between 1-3 copies of a ‘passport-size’ photo.

It started with our initial settlement visas. Which we renewed our passports for (because having a passport that expired well before the visa did seemed like a recipe for annoyance). Which required another set of photos.

Say CheeseAnd then they took a photo at the document drop-off appointment (hilariously called an ‘interview’), to prove it was us dropping off our documents.

Then came the residence permits. We had to bring in more photos for those. And also have our photos taken at the appointment (for verification? biometrics? good luck? who knows).

Somewhere in there we also had to send passports and a set of tiny photos away for visas to visit India, which I know isn’t part of this, but adds to the general photo-weariness.

Now I need to exchange my BC Driver’s license for a UK one. Which of course means I need to submit ANOTHER set of photos.

In fact, I have had the paperwork for the license exchange sitting on my counter at home for a month. I just haven’t gotten my act together enough to get yet ANOTHER set of tiny photos taken. Every time I think I’ll finally do it, I run out of time in the day, or something else comes up, or I just plain forget when I’m running other errands near the photo place.

Worst of all, I have probably chucked out just as many photos as I’ve submitted, because the photo place that’s nearest only does them in sheets of four, and I never need to send in FOUR, and who needs extra clutter around?

I do, apparently, because along with death and taxes, there is a certainty that at some point soon, SOMEONE ELSE will want a 2″ likeness of my not-shiny-not-obscured-not-smiling face-on-white-background.

Part of it is, I think, the fact that in the UK most of these things are done by mail. With the exception of my Canadian passport, every time I needed an official document card created or renewed in Canada, they took the photo in their office. Here, the civil servants are all conveniently separated from the public by the postal system wherever possible.

Now that I think about it, I’m not sure which I prefer – because standing in line at the BC Driver’s licensing office, or in the NEXUS offices, and dealing with disenchanted-slash-power hungry provincial and federal employees is no picnic either.

Nevertheless, I am still annoyed (and photo-less).

I might be less irritated about the whole thing if I hadn’t see how damn easy it was for Neil to get his UK Driver’s License. As a UK Citizen, he filled in a form online, entered his passport number, and the powers that be in the UK Government used that single data point to verify his identity, pull up the one copy of his likeness that they have on file, and 10 days later, he received his official document in the post.

Contrarily, I, who have no fewer than FIVE separate photos of myself drifting around various UK government divisions, still have to fill out a paper form, submit it, along with my BC Driver’s license and my Canadian Passport (which they will hold for up to THIRTY DAYS, DO NOT EVEN GET ME STARTED ON THAT ONE), and of course the required tiny photos, so that I can legally drive in this country again.

I have high hopes that I will actually remember to get out of the office at lunchtime this week sometime and hit up the photo place to get it all sorted. And this time, I’ll keep the spare tiny photos around. Probably guaranteeing I never ever need to submit another photo again.

Can we talk about the SPIDERS!?

England is a really buggy place.

I was surprised at first, but considering the humidity, it’s not really all that shocking. There’s an amazing assortment of creepy crawlies here, 98.5% of which I am totally OK with.

Except all of them seem to want to be in my house. In everyone’s house, really. And who can blame them? Outside, between September and June, is pretty gross.

Truthfully, I’m not even that fussed about the bugs that make it into the house. Sure, I’d rather not have to include ‘vacuuming cobwebs off every godforsaken corner’ in the list of weekly chores, but it’s not actually that big a deal. Most of what we see day to day are the humble woodlouse, daddy long legs spiders (which hardly count as spiders), a species of mosquito that only bites cows, some misguided wasps (which are actually quite bad this year) and the occasional crane fly when we’ve left the windows open too wide at night.

But there is one thing which I CANNOT ABIDE.

THE AWFUL FUCKING TERROR THAT IS THE EUROPEAN HOUSE SPIDER. 

Do not google that.

I told you so.

Please stop screaming.

Apparently we are now into the time of year where they come inside in search of a mate. We have so far had four come out into the open and make themselves known. Scuttling out from dark corners or underneath cabinets.

And they are HUGE. I had to deal with one the other day that was too big to step on – its legspan was bigger than the width of my perfectly average-sized foot. I ended up throwing a magazine on top of it, and then stepping on *that*. Ugh.

I had started to control the awful panic by convincing myself they were confining themselves to the ground floor, until last night. We were up on the first floor watching TV, minding our own non-spidery business, when I saw  movement out of the corner of my eye.

One of those motherfuckers was making a b-line straight across the living room toward us. I screamed and leaped up onto the couch. Neil screamed (because I screamed), spilled his tea, then valiantly bludgeoned the thing to death with my slipper.

Apparently nowhere is safe.

So if you happen to be driving around Oxford, and catch a glimpse through a window of a terrified-looking woman tromping around indoors in welly boots (very effective spider squishers) with a crazed look in her eye, that’d be me. Please send help. And insecticide.

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