Sunday, March 27, 2011

The UK census

Today is the day to complete the UK census. I got very excited when we received our census packet; though there was an option to fill out the census online, I personally, nerdily, love filling out forms and told The Irishman I would take over filling out the bulk of the document. Secretly, I was also excited and intrigued to see just what the government wanted to know about me.

Like the US, the UK census comes around every 10 years and is compulsory. Unlike the US census, the government is surveying households on a particular day (today), so if you're visiting a friend and staying with them you are counted with them as part of his/her household as well. If you're travelling and not at home today, you have to fill out a special section explaining why and get it done asap. The most notable differences in the document itself were questions that pointed towards the UK's more liberal social policy stances: questions about marital status included as many options for gay people as for straight. The race and religion questions also had many more options, as well as write-in opportunities, than in the US. There were questions about health, occupation, and caretaking, and I had a pretty hard time trying to figure out how my academic credentials matched with UK degree levels.

The Irishman found my enthusiasm for the census to be pretty hilarious, but I did find that filling out the form gave me a really good understanding for how British social policy is planned and executed. I any documents that survey people and find the questions to be more telling than the answers. Just one more little peak under the covers of British society and culture.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Spring has sprung and I smell divine

The blogosphere is erupting with posts about the budding trees and flowers and the fact that we've had a week of gorgeous sun, topped off with the temperature reaching 18°C/70°F over the last two days. I decided that meant it was time for me to take my wool winter coat to the dry cleaners, and abandon my winter fragrance, a heavy, sweet, slightly musky scent called Wish by Chopard.

With glee this morning I spritzed my new summer favorite, Prada's Infusion de Tubereuse. It is light, fresh, slightly sweet, and tinged with roses - like modern Victoriana. I probably was a little more liberal with it than I should have been, but cycling to work this morning I could smell it wafting off of me and it reminded me of the lazy hot summer days from last year, my holiday in the south of France, and chilled rosé wine.

I love that perfume and scents hold so many memories, and can completely define a point in time. Changing perfumes with the season is more rewarding than changing your wardrobe from winter to summer clothes, or even to wearing your open-toed sandals for the first time in a season. It's the first true step forward from winter into spring and I am relishing it. I just hope people forgive me for sniffing the inside of my wrist a lot today.

Images courtesy of Fragrantica

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A staycation minibreak

Friends, I'm very excited to announce that this weekend The Irishman and I are treating ourselves to a minibreak holiday... in Wandsworth! Friends of ours are heading to Berlin for the weekend and their dogsitter bailed, so we're going to stay in their house to mind a very lovely and well-mannered Labradoodle named Paco. But we are using the favor as an excuse to explore a part of town we really never get around to visiting: SW. Sure we go down there to visit friends, walk along the river, to go to restaurants, for Battersea Park fireworks on Guy Fawkes... but it amounts to maybe 5 days per year. There are so many nice things to do and see Down South that I often feel like I'm not really taking advantage of a large swath of the city. So this weekend is a chance for me (us) to really see what South London is all about.

I don't have any concrete plans yet, but I welcome suggestions from those of you who live in/near Clapham, Wandsworth, Putney... tell me where to go! what to see! where to shop! Bonus points if Paco can come along!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Expat joys: passport renewal

Image courtesy of Flickr: Ho John Lee

One of the cruel jokes that the US government and its worldwide counterparts have devised to play on us unsuspecting tourists is passport validity. My passport is technically valid until July 18th of this year, but most countries in Europe require that it be valid for three months after the date of entry into that country and many others require 6 month validity. So technically, from April 18th I can't travel on the damn thing unless I'm going back to the US. Which, funnily enough, I am - on April 14th for my friend's wedding and the Passover and Easter holidays. So in my infinite planning wisdom, I decided to wait to renew my passport until my return to the UK.

Fast forward to the new job, new client and new project, and now I may have to go to Prague in the middle of May. So I checked the embassy website for passport renewal processing times - 15 working days - and did the math to realize that waiting until I returned from the US wasn't such a smart idea. But as of yesterday, there were 20 working days until I leave for the US... so I crossed my fingers and sent it off. I dashed into Snappy Snaps for some of the worst photographs of myself at the exorbitant rate of £12.99 for 2 photographs, and paid a courier service £25.50 for the pleasure of taking my application to the embassy and returning it to me (hopefully before 5pm on April 14th when I have to leave for Heathrow). Add those charges to the $110 passport renewal free, and I just spent about £100 in the space of an hour - all to renew my most important identity document THAT IS STILL VALID FOR 4 MONTHS. I wish I could get a prorated discount refunding me for the time left on the document. I know, I know, stop laughing but I think it's only fair.

Add to this the fact that my visa is in what will now be a cancelled passport. The UK government strongly suggests that I send my new passport to them so they can transfer the visa sticker into the new book - for the princely price of £200! It is legal to carry both the old, cancelled passport with the visa sticker in it as well as the new passport, so that is what I will be doing. I've already donated enough of my post-tax earnings to the Border Agency; as much as I love have stamps and visas and stickers in my passport, none of them are worth that much financial pain.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Shareworthy: Anthology magazine

For those of you who fondly remember that lovely home/design/fashion/lifestyle dream mag Blueprint and cried at its demise, I'd like to share what I think might be a worthy replacement:

Anthology is a lovely mag with a lovely blog, full of design inspiration. I haven't seen a full issue yet, as you can't buy them on the newsstand in the UK but they do let those of us living in the UK subscribe at what is what I think a not-too-bad-rate! It seems to be distributed in the US through every design-girl's mecca, Anthropologie.

Anyone seen the mag? Hold it? Taste it? Love it? I've subscribed to the blog and when I'm in the US I'm definitely going to pick up a copy from Anthro and give it a good peruse.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Brief unemployment and the first day of work

My actual birthday was last Sunday, and after all of my guests departed for their homes I enjoyed a homecooked meal courtesy of The Irishman with him and my parents. He made a very "me"-inspired meal of cassoulet with salad and bread and bottle of cheap Chateauneuf-du-Pape that we bought in a French supermarket last autumn, followed by chocolate mousse for dessert. Oooh la la!

Monday brought me my two days of unemployment/freedom (more on that in a separate post), and the overall mission was to relax. The Irishman took a day of holiday with me on Monday so we could have some quality time together without visitors, and he was a genuine sweetheart in forcing me to not do or stress about anything. I didn't get up until noon and our most ambitious activity of the day was walking to the supermarket to buy ice cream.

Tuesday I was on my own with quite the jam-packed day: I went to the gym to start my 8 free sessions with a personal trainer, had lunch with an old friend who I hadn't seen in 6 months, got a manicure, and then went to a local spa to treat myself to a luxurious rose petal pamper. Phew! Actually, the spa treatment was probably the nicest thing I've done for myself in a very long time. Basically, I had two types of full body exfoliation and then was rubbed in cream and wrapped in a plastic sheet in insulate me while the moisturizer absorbed into my skin. As I lay in my plastic wrap, I was treated to both a head and foot massage: bliss. I left that spa more relaxed than I have been in recent memory. If anyone lives near to Angel, or visits it often, I highly recommend checking out Angel Therapy Rooms.

My personal trainer session was also strangely relaxing; Tyrone, who reminds me of one of J.Lo's backup dancers, was extremely helpful in developing a gym routine that I could do easily in a relatively short amount of time. He showed me 4 mat exercises and 3 machine exercises to work each of the major muscle groups, and I feel confident that I can do them without messing them up. I also discussed my plans to run the Dublin marathon in October, and he made sure that the exercises would complement a running schedule rather than cause undo strain on my body. He is also a big fan of rest days, which means I'm a big fan of him. The free personal trainer sessions are fairly scripted, so this week I will see him to discuss my nutrition, but hey it's better than nothing.

So Wednesday of last week was my first day at the new job. My first day I was asked to arrive at 10am; normal start time is 9:30am which is absolutely incredibly restful compared with my former job's 9am (which really meant 8am) start. The office is also in my postcode which means it is a 20 minute walk or 10 minute cycle. Swoon! I was greeted by HR and shown around the building, introduced to everyone, and led to my desk. The next three days were a blur of inductions, meetings, paperwork, forms, and just trying to acclimatize myself to a whole new way of working. It wasn't easy: little things like logging into my laptop reminded me that I'm not in Kansas anymore, and big things like the realization that no one knows me or my history were big WHOA moments. Wednesday night I was utterly exhausted, but with the type of exhaustion that is less monumental, less feeling like I can't possibly go on, but the type of exhaustion I remember feeling from my university days: exhausted with the anticipation of just what could possibly come next, what could possibly be more exciting or engaging than today.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

My 30th birthday

Was fabulous.

That's all I can really say.

My parents were here, my dear friend Jon and his fiancé Alix who live in Paris were here, our new-parent friends stuck their babies with the grandparents and had one of their first baby-free nights out, and so many more good friends joined me to celebrate turning 30.

We spent the evening at The Albion and ate suckling pig with the trimmings; the pig was stuffed with sausage which sounds wrong but was so so good.

The bar staff was nice enough to share the head with me, as it was, in fact, my birthday.

The Irishman surprised me by ordering a cake - chocolate, on chocolate, with layers of chocolate. Bless him. He even got a sparkler in the shape of "30".

And I had to make ANOTHER speech! But at least I had a large amount of wine to help.

The pub kicked us out around midnight, which was perfectly timed for those of us who didn't have to worry about last trains to head over to Club de Fromage for Boy Band Night. Nothing like dancing to Take That and NKOTB to finish off an amazing evening with friends and food. Honestly, I don't think that I can imagine a better way to celebrate a birthday. The evening was pretty much perfect and I wouldn't have changed anything about it.

Except maybe seeing that pig head. Ew.

An update way overdue - leaving my job

My half Catholic, half Jewish self is feeling really guilty for my lack of posting - especially after wanging on about my turning-30 anxieties and then dropping my bombshell about leaving my job. Now that the dust has cleared, I'm lying here on the sofa with an exhaustion-induced cold but finally with the time to properly give this blog and its followers some love.

When last I posted I had two weeks left of my 30-day notice period, and my [former!] company took full advantage of it. I was working 10, 12, 14 hour days until the Monday of my last week. That day I was at work until 10pm and came home to just break down emotionally, and I realized I had to disassociate myself with the work, the project, and the place and do it fast. Luckily, my replacement started that day so from Tuesday I began pulling myself away from decision-making and directing. Despite my efforts, I was there until 6:30pm on my last day - with my parents in the lobby waiting for me!

It was a bittersweet ending to my career at that company; while excited for my new role, I was genuinely sad to leave the company where I'd worked in two countries, knew people around the network of 20 offices, and essentially grew my career. In true English fashion, I was subjected to a speech about me and then I had to give my own speech before opening presents infront of 60 people. I astounded myself by not crying, though my voice did have a bit of a wobble. As I work in the design industry, it is customary to receive a personalised card - usually with your face Photoshopped in an unflattering way onto some sort of kitschy joke. But instead I was really touched to receive a sparkly pink box full of personalised shoes: someone created a template, and nearly everyone in the company designed me a shoe and wrote me a special message. It is exactly that sort of gesture that made me really honored to have worked with such a great group of people, and think OH GOD THIS IS REALLY SCARY. Not only was that company the place where I worked, but it was also a safety net of sorts for me - both in New York and London - and now I was leaving it for good.

But I didn't have time to dwell on such sentiments and fears because my 30th birthday celebration was taking place the next day. My parents had flown over from the US for the weekend, and met me at my office after their day of sightseeing. They joined me at the pub with my company for a few goodbye drinks (my proper leaving do was Thursday and a civilised evening that ended with me at the chippy at midnight) before we headed out for a curry. I was secretly happy to have my parents there as an excuse to leave early, because I knew if I stayed out drinking with everyone it would be more depressing than fun as I thought about what I was leaving behind.