Category Archives: Travel

Getting out of the office

“Train to London Paddington, Next Call: Reading.”

Yes, I’m on my way to Reading. I wonder how it compares to the one in PA. But I won’t stop there long enough to find out, as it’s my transfer point to Maidenhead. I woke up an hour earlier than usual today, surprised that the sun was up already and that I actually felt awake, to venture out to our client’s office for some webinar recording. If all goes well, the videos, narrated by my “soothing” voice (well, that was a co-worker’s compliment– I’d describe it more as a manly, monotonous lisp) will be broadcast on the big scary internet. There’s even an app for the site, and I cringe to think of being watched on a phone or tablet.

Well, half-cringe. The other half of me is flattered to take on the task and happy to get out of a typical day in the office. Not that I mind the cubicle lifestyle too much, but it’s great to get a change of pace once in a while. I’m looking out the window at the rolling green countryside: sheep, houses, trees, a bright blue sky. It never stops feeling like I’m dreaming here, really. Except when it rains. And even then…

Switching gears (something I’m still having trouble with on my front derailleur– it might be time to cough up some money for a proper tune-up), the other day I made the mistake of looking at my wedding planning checklist and immediately got overwhelmed. Lists, and big projects, are like that: one task after another, and it all seems to scream at you to get it done. Logically, I know that I have no problem completing a project at a natural yet efficient pace, under the deadline, wondering why I ever worried in the first place. But I have a hard time remembering that when facing something new..

A wedding is pretty new. I decided from the beginning I’d abandon pointless place cards and seating arrangements, “favors” that are never as favorable as intended (Hershey’s Kisses with the couple’s name? Sorry, you just wasted 5 hours putting a sticker on what covers a mediocre piece of chocolate and will inevitably be thrown away), bachelorette/bridal shower plans, matching outfits, etc. And yet, the list looms.

Have I decided where to get folding chairs for the ceremony yet? Exactly how much food do people eat at an appetizer/dessert reception, and how did I decide it’d be a cinch to self-cater a picnic style reception? When will I find shoes and a dress?

Then I get a hold of myself, and remember (like my friend Erika says) that’s it’s more of a “wedding theme party.” No one is going to remember or care about the little details. And like all projects, this will be doable if I stick to a schedule, and don’t peek ahead at what needs to happen 2-3 months from now.

So, aside from some minor wedding stuff, this weekend I’m making it my mission to finally put some more pictures online to entice our friends and family to move here. After all, I can only say “Oxford is awesome, and I never want to leave” so many times before it becomes annoying. Photographs say all of that, and more, in a much classier, more convincing way.

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London, finally

When I began telling people about my impending move to Oxford, a common reaction was, “Oh, you’ll have fun in London!” Or, “Oxford…that’s in London, right?” Really, I can’t blame anyone for thinking that. Oxford is known for its famous university, and probably not much else. Even after proving to some that Oxford is, in fact, an actual city, it was not uncommon to hear, “Oh. Well, you can still go to London on the weekends!”

I spent a semester in London during college, and knew I’d love the chance to return. What I didn’t expect was that I’d fall in love with Oxford as its own entity, considering it much more than just a suburb of that famous metropolitan city well known for its clock tower and falling-down bridge. I didn’t expect to find Oxford satisfying enough to, well, not really be tempted to leave at all.

But the temptation finally arose this week, after finding out my aunt and uncle would be in London for a few days while my cousin attended an English School course. They came into Oxford for the evening; we had dinner, and enjoyed surprisingly gorgeous weather. The next day,I got to leave work a few hours early to hop on a bus and head into the other city.

As soon as I stepped off the bus and into the crowds of Marble Arch, I sort of…regretted it. That sounds pretty terrible. Maybe I’m less of a “city person” than I thought I was, but I had a similar reaction to whatever I feel when I visit NYC. Sure, I like getting out and exploring an exciting place, but there’s something about crowds, busy people pushing their way as they rush rush rush from here to there, that’s just too overwhelming for me. Maybe I’m just getting old.

Oh, happy belated birthday, self– you have to remember you’re 27 now, not 26, which was finally starting to roll of the tongue, effortlessly. I’m 27: saying it will make it seem true, right?

I don’t want this to sound like I hate London. I like it. I particularly like where I am now, in a Harry Potter-esque castle, waiting for my cousin to come back from his school excursion into city centre, battling the same traffic we fought to get here. Funny story: Bought 2 bus tickets –> Sat on bus and moved maybe 2 blocks in 40ish minutes –> got off bus –> Did the smart thing and went underground, £30 poorer from topping up Oyster Cards with a sum that sounded reasonable.

Anyway, this makes me think: did I really love London all that much when I lived here, 6 years ago? Sadly, I was too wrapped up in early-twenties angst to fully enjoy it. Maybe the busy-ness, the sense of overwhelm, was a good distraction at the time. Maybe I’ve just gotten better at filling my days with enjoyment and reflection, engagement and confidence, a sense of self that isn’t a complete embarrassment.

This is getting a little too heavy for what was meant to be a light travel post, but I guess what I love best about being here in London, right now, is that I’m learning about myself. Learning about change. No, the best thing is seeing my family– that emotional crap comes second. Of course, it’s also kind of scary to think that the last time John and I were in London together was after a few months of dating. He visited once, then came back for a second time. I never pictured this kind of future for us, or myself, but I guess the unknown is what keeps life exciting.

And with that, it’s time to get bak to enjoying London, to the fullest extent.

Even if that means taking a break, or a nap, when needed.

Long weekends and languages

I guess any weekend’s a long one when you don’t really need to be at a certain place at a certain time on Monday mornings. I took advantage of that and slept in. For once, I was up late on A Sunday night, because John and I were in the middle of Django Unchained. Tarantino movies might be a rare exception to the multitasking bad habit I have. We’re finishing the movie now, and it’s taking me forever to write this post, because it’s quite the captivating film. I can normally pause whatever I’m doing in order to meet my old lady bedtime, but last night the clock struck 12:30 before John reminded me how late it was.

See, this is already a really poorly organized post. Where was I?

Oh, the weekend. We rode our new bikes around different neighborhoods, stopping in Cowley to get some soup and hummus. We made our way through center city, stopping in Primark and Poundland for essential things like throw pillows, hardware and peanut butter, and finally, to check out Aldi in Botley. We lugged £35 of cheese, milk, coffee and a huge kitchen rug back home, covering around 8-10 miles overall. The weather could have been warmer, but at least the skies were dry.

On Sunday, I woke up with a stomach ache (which actually started Friday night, and has just been a persistent stabbing pain since then. It comes and goes but I’m hoping it goes for good soon). It was even colder that day, so we passed on the bikes and bundled up for a walk into Headington, after a hearty “streaky bacon” (that’s “regular” bacon for Americans– British bacon is less marbled and cut wider), eggs and “soft cheese” on naan. I worked on my CV (Brits never call it a resume, for whatever reason) and tried to eavesdrop on the conversation of the French guys next to us.

And that brings me to the second part of this post’s title: languages. I thought I’d hear more American English here, but the language I’ve heard most often (aside from English, obviously) is French. I sat in Starbucks for a good two hours today, and at least 3 groups of people around me were parlez-ing francais. Unfortunately, my grasp of it has slipped so much since I graduated with that pointless BA in French 5 years ago, that I couldn’t understand any of it. But hey, if its the norm here to hear copious amounts of French in every Starbucks, maybe it’ll come back to me in a few weeks.

What about work?

When John accepted the Oxford U. position, I almost immediately started looking for a job of my own. I was leaving a pretty comfortable (in terms of environment and salary) position that I saw as something between administration and management. Administrative in that I made sure people were crossing their t’s and dotting their i’s, and managerial in that I got frequent opportunities to go, “Well, that idea seems stupid, so let’s try this instead.” I found myself back in my 2008 shoes (the beat-up blue slip-ons with the rainbow straps), applying to entry-level administrative/personal assistant jobs, with the occasional, hopeful, part-time librarian application thrown into the mix.

After about 2 months, I received my 8th rejection. Sure, I was pretty upset. I thought I was over-qualified for most of these jobs; not that I think I’m a genius, but I can file papers and type. And I still maintain that my library science coursework was somewhat of a joke, though John will argue with me until I see that I’m doing that “thing” where I brush off accomplishments because they seemed easy to me. It took me a while to understand that maybe finding something easy (of course, putting in the work along the way) means I’m good at it. In a society where we’re always comparing ourselves against and measuring up to one another, we should pat ourselves on the back more often for our natural talents. Sounds cheesy, but I mean it.

After that 8th rejection, I decided to chill out and back off for a while, rather than continue the job hunt. John is far more generous than I am with money, and continuously reassured me that we’d have enough to cover our living expenses from his salary (which is, roughly, what I’d been making for the past year or so). I also wanted to continue my freelance work– perhaps even give it the full, focused attention it deserves, rather than rushing to meet deadlines on Sunday nights.

Of course, I still did the deadline-rushing thing last week. For my Tech & Learning work, I assemble anywhere between 20-100+ monthly press releases from various vendors (Blackboard, PBS, Epson, even Mitsubishi) into neat little product “what’s new” lists, cutting out the sales-y language and repackaging them into unbiased summaries. It’s easy and, actually, interesting– students and teachers today have access to more Apps and gadgets than we know what to do with. What’s actually useful and how to make these tools affordable is another point of discussion, but I’ll lead that up to the education experts. It’d make sense for me to set a reasonable daily, or even weekly, schedule to do this– but if we’re being honest, I always wait until the day before the monthly deadline before I even open a single email. Not much has changed since college.

I also occasionally proofread Philadelphia Stories editions. It’s a free publication that features artwork, poetry and short stories, and I get to indulge my inner grammar nerd while reading some pretty decent work at the same time.

My main focus for this month, though, is editing the final chapters (80-90 pages or so) of a friend’s memoir. My former boss introduced us; she’s unbelievably friendly, awesome, and brave for putting her writing out there to the public. I struggle between calling myself a proofreader and an editor, but now that I don’t have a full-time job using up my brain-space, I should be able to check for transitions, symbolism, flow– all that other stuff that doesn’t fall into “capitalize this” or “change that word.” And I’m looking forward to it.

Finally, on a whim, I responded to a call for a proofreader that someone posted to DailyInfo.co.uk. I didn’t really know what to expect, or stop to question whether I was even qualified (side note: I should probably learn the actual proofreading marks; I’m surprised I’ve gotten as far as I have when considering my abuse of parentheses and penchant for inserting too many commas). I met with a phD candidate in Business Management, and sat with him for an hour in a local cafe. We went over his professor’s comments on a paper; English wasn’t his first language, so I clarified some language and improved his sentence structure in a few places.

I learned some new words, which I’m still not convinced are words– they’re business jargon, an abuse of the English language. I still cringe whenever I see “COB” or “EOB,” and paragraphs about stakeholder power/influence make my skin crawl. But, it was fun, I made £10, and I like to think that I taught the guy something he wouldn’t have learned from submitting his paper to one of those “professional proofreading” websites (my competition, I suppose).

Friends and family were asking whether I’ve been applying to more jobs, now that I’m hear [full disclosure: just caught my own typo, and I’m leaving it in to make fun of myself. But I did fix another one in this post…], and it’s hard for me not to feel guilty when I respond with a firm no. I have to remind myself that I’m not falling into the bored-housewife role, or the lazy-dependent role. What I’m doing, at the moment, is actually pretty close to my dream job. I don’t rush off to the office to plop in front of a computer and put in a straight and straightforward 8-9 hours. I write and pick apart people’s spelling mistakes and get paid (a little) for it.

I wake up when I want to, and I get to make breakfast and coffee with John. I can take breaks, naps, read for fun, cook lunch or go out, go for a run (on the agenda, after I hit the “publish post” button: a 4 mile round-trip into Summertown, an apparently gorgeous neighborhood I haven’t been to yet). I can sit and think, or not think for a while. I can work on making our shoebox feel more like home. I can continue the search for that much-needed dresser, all before dinnertime.

Sure, I might tire of that freedom and life of luxury, and want to rake in a little more dough so we can shop at Waitrose more often or go on short weekend trips to Spain, France, or to visit my grandma in Germany. But before I get ahead of myself, I need to remember that this is sort of a golden opportunity to just relax for a while and do exactly what I want, when I want. Not many people get that. I’m very lucky.