Author Archives: Jen Watkiss

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?