Category Archives: Home Sweet Home

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? 

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?

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.


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.


Happy ExPativersary to Us!

As of July 12th, we’ve been in the UK a year – a whole year!

It has really flown by.


Image from I think I need this on a t-shirt.

I have so many more words to say about it, but between a crazy quick trip to Vancouver earlier this month (a surprise for my dad’s 60th birthday) and moving house (argh!), time to extract them from my brain through my fingers to the keyboard has been in short supply.

But! If you are on the twitters, you can follow @PeopleofCanada this week, where I’m curating the account and sharing snippets of life as a Canadian ExPat in the UK.

Six years later

It’s grey here today. Exceedingly grey. And cold.

And there is nothing like reminders from Timehop about the fact that this time one year ago, I was in Cuba, and two years before that, in Thailand, to make me feel extra grumbly about the grey and cold.

So I scrolled further back in the past, and whaddya know, it was six years ago today that we were in Oxford. My first trip here.

Oxford's Bridge of Sighs

Six years ago, Neil and I were engaged, and planning to move into our condo in Kits (which wouldn’t actually be completed for an additional 6 months). There was still no plan or idea of Isaac. The dog didn’t have a hint of grey in her now salt-&-pepper muzzle.

Neil didn’t yet have a UK passport, and wouldn’t for another 4-ish years. Moving abroad wasn’t anywhere on the radar. Heck, I had barely traveled anywhere at all before that year.

And yet, there was something about our visit. Something that sparked the idea of moving abroad at some point. Something that made us think, as we wandered around the city, that maybe one day we could live here.

It wasn’t so much about Oxford, as just going somewhere Other Than where we were. Making our world a little bigger than it had been. It became a gauge by which we’d categorize all trips we’d take: interesting, but could I live here?

View from the Tower

It was six years ago that we ventured the furthest from the hotel we’d gone, into another neighbourhood via a narrow street lit by bare overhead bulbs. Where we turned right, onto a street anchored by the iconic Oxford University Press and full of interesting looking boutiques and eateries. Where we looked up one of the side streets and saw the bright streak of pastel row houses, and I said “if we ended up in an area like this, I could totally live here.”

It was six years ago that I stepped into the road to take the photo currently used in the blog header.

Neighbourhood and street names long-since forgotten, we found ourselves actually moving to Oxford. And against all odds ended up moving to that neighbourhood. I only recognized it because of the pastel row-houses, and had to dig out the picture to be really sure. They are the same houses. Observatory Street.

And we found them, via Walton Street in Jericho, by heading down Little Clarendon street, illuminated at night by bare bulbs strung across the street. Now our regular stomping ground, but feeling eerily familiar, in a dream-like way, from having seen them so many years ago.

Six years ago it happened to be sunny this week. Uncharacteristically so. Except for that one day in Henley-upon-Thames when it was so rainy and windy that my umbrella blew inside-out and practically tied itself in a knot. And the river was flooded that year, just as it is now.

But that little blast-from-the-past now has me thinking a lot less about today’s cold and grey, and about the immense amount of adventure the past 6 years have held. And how absolutely clueless about it all I was back then.

And I’m wondering what, or where, on earth I’ll see in another six years.

Home for the Holidays

I’ve always wondered what it’s like for people who take trips “home” for the holidays. When they live somewhere either away from family or the place they’re from, and make their way back to that place at Christmas time.

Now I know.

And it’s simultaneously very nice and very strange.

First of all, I have been trying not to refer to Vancouver as “home” anymore.

Not only does it make it harder to really lean in to our experience in Oxford, conjuring up bouts of melancholy homesickness, but “home” as we knew it in Vancouver doesn’t exist anymore. While we have family and friends here, and enjoy being surrounded by some of the places and things we left behind, our life in Vancouver (the place we lived, the jobs we had) doesn’t exist anymore. We can’t truly go “home” that way.

It’s been really excellent to spend time with friends and family, but there’s also a tinge of detachment overhanging it. The experience is temporary. The gang’s all here, but most members are making plans for next week when the status quo returns; we’ll be gone again.

This all sounds quite melancholy, but it isn’t, really.

It’s (so far) exciting to pack up and head out on another trip. To share the holiday experience of returning “home” with airports full of others.

It makes the experience of spending time with those friends and family sweeter, more intense. I find myself being much more present with friends & family now, because chances to spend quality time with them are fewer and further between.

It solidifies which traditions are really important and worth preserving, despite the challenges of timing, weather, and distance.

It makes it very obvious that as much as so many other things have changed over the years, others stay predictably, comfortingly, blissfully the same.


Even Jetlag is no match for Santa

Let me count the ways

You remember the Switch of Mystery from earlier this week, right?

I believe I have solved the mystery. And hopefully figured out everything I need to know about operating the heat and hot water here in the process.

How many ways are there to control the heat/hot water here? TOO DAMN MANY!

The Switch appears to determine whether the central heating is on. BUT! It is, of course, not that simple. We have radiant heating here, with radiators in each room. There is also a central thermostat. And there is a timer on the boiler. So, to have heat, we need to follow these steps:

  1. Turn on the central heating power switch (this switch will override everything).
  2. Set the thermostat to the temperature we’d like the house (or at least the living room, since that’s where it lives).
  3. Set the timer on the boiler for the hours we’d like the heating to turn on/off (but remember, without the switch on, the timer is meaningless).
  4. Set the individual radiators to the level of power we’d like them to crank heat through at (1-6) to control the temperature in each of the 11 rooms/areas the radiators are installed.

So now we are warm. But what about hot water?

I had figured out enough to know that the same timer controlling the central heat also controls the hot water. But I was still ending up with very short or very cold showers, even when the hot water “advance” (meaning the small boiler keeps the water inside hot, rather than heating on demand) was on.

Enter: the backup immersion heater.

This lives in a closet on the top floor, is the size North Americans would consider “standard” for a hot-water tank, and is only on when the “immersion” switch in the same closet is on. As far as I can tell, it is not on a timer, or otherwise controlled by any other switch (I could be wrong).

I’ve been warned that running this on a continuous basis could get expensive, so depending on how our energy bills stack up, I may be getting used to shorter showers so we can turn it off if we don’t have a house full of guests.

But wait, that is still a bit too simple.

Just to be sure I can’t enjoy my extra hot water without being explicitly aware I’m doing so, each of the bathrooms also has a pull-cord on the ceiling (that turns on an extra bathroom light, natch) connected to the immersion hot-water tank to signal to the pipe-fairies that it’s A-OK for me to enjoy a shower that’s hot all the way through.

Forget to pull the cord, forget about the extra hot water.

But I think (hope, pray) that’s actually all of it.

Again, thinking about it objectively, it’s actually nice to have so much control over where, when and how much heat and hot water one uses. Especially in a country where fuel and energy costs are quite high.

It did take a while to figure out thanks to the EEDD factor, but it’s another thing I suspect I’ll come to miss whenever we decide it’s time to move on.

Plugged in, Switched on

One of the biggest little differences I’ve noticed about living in the UK is the plugs and switches. Specifically the switches.

Everything that could have a switch, does.

Of course lights are obviously controlled by switches. But they’re far from the only ones. All the plugs must also be switched on before the power is activated. All the hardwired (or hidden plug) appliances, including the fridge, freezer, boiler, dishwasher, oven, stovetop, etc. have switches.

Photo by on Flickr

This in addition to the power switches on individual lamps and appliances.

I suppose it’s a safety mechanism – with the potential to send 220 volts coursing through your person, any additional failsafe is probably a good thing.

But it’s one of those things I’m starting to refer as EEDD: ExPat Extra Degrees of Difficulty (see also: TV Licenses, Sunday Trading Hours). Things that are perfectly sensible in the context of local knowledge, but a bit baffling to outsiders.

So we figured out relatively quickly that we needed to flick on (and leave on) a number of switches before anything in our house would work. But there is one switch that’s still got us baffled:

Switched on

This switch is in the middle of the first-floor hallway. It’s flanked on either side by a hallway light on the left, and one unused socket and the bathroom light on the right. Thing is, we can’t seem to figure out what, exactly, it does, aside from turning on a red LED when it’s switched on.

It does nothing to the bathroom fan. It doesn’t impact how the rest of the lights on that floor, or the second floor, work. There are no appliances on that floor, or anywhere we can find, whose switches haven’t already been identified.

So, before we email or call the property manager with what turns out to be a stupid question, do any of you have any ideas what it might be?

Other than a switch whose sole purpose is to illuminate a red LED (with the side-effect of being confusing as fuck), of course.