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Your Choice: Burn Or Freeze?

I've had a reader question: Why in so many places in the U.K. (and in Ireland) are the hot and cold taps still separate?

Or precisely how she put it: How do people wash their hands in these double faucets? It's so annoying. I'm constantly burning or freezing my hands by accident. 

I told her I'd investigate it and write a post. She told me to call it: "Burn. Freeze. Not Cool."

I do see her point. And I've been here for so long that I hadn't even noticed recently how often I wash my hands in cold water -- and not just in old Victorian houses like mine, but in recently refurbished upscale gastro pubs. So why are they still installing separate hot and cold taps? 

The historical reason is that Victorian houses had open water tanks to heat for the hot supply, so they could be contaminated by rats (ew) or even dust particles or mold. The only water that was safe for drinking was the cold water, attached to the main water supply. Therefore, the two could not be mixed. 

That, my friends, is no longer the case. From someone who owns a Victorian house, I have yet to find evidence of this open water tank somewhere. But yet, as you can see from the picture above of our upstairs bathroom, the people who lived in the house before us installed two separate taps in a refurb done sometime between 2000 and 2014. (For the record, our downstairs bathroom and the kitchen sink both have mixer taps.)

I think there are two reasons why. The first is just a matter of taste. Because this is the way sinks traditionally looked, there is a desire for this kind of retro look. In a lot of pubs and restaurants the taps even have those old porcelain hubs at the center that say "hot" and "cold" and do look pretty cool. 

The second is that this just falls into the camp of the way things are done here or maybe "people can get used to just about anything." It's similar to the fact that barely anyone in the U.K. uses a dryer for their clothes. Most people hang them on drying racks. This really drove me batty at first -- what sense does it make to hang up your clothes to dry in the what is possibly the dampest country on Earth? But now I don't even think twice about it and I have even been brainwashed into thinking it's actually better for my clothes.

When I asked the Hub about the taps, he didn't see why there was any problem with washing your hands in cold water. He said the only time he used our hot water at the sink was to shave. 

And then he gave me his reason: energy efficiency. For some reason he thinks the Brits are just really green. I'm not totally convinced. I think this is a rationalization of the fact that this is just the way things are done. People -- and countries too -- seem to be creatures of habit. (Well, except when it comes to staying part of the EU apparently.)

This conversation started making me really nervous. The Hub seemed way too comfortable with cold water usage. I just hope he doesn't get any crazy ideas about limiting our use of hot water even further -- I am not a fan of cold showers. 

How To Read

Reading, as I'm sure you've gathered, is one of my favorite activities.

Recently I've been struggling with carving out the time. It's happening with my book group books as well as the books I have on my own personal reading list. And this is especially disappointing after getting very excited about 10 fiction books I really wanted to read this year, and then succeeding at reading a very impressive total of one so far (to see the list, visit my nascent author page here).

In total, I've read nine books in 2016. To some people who read this blog that might seem like a lot. And to others it might seem like very few. But there's a very important reason that I care about this number. It's just a fact that if you want to be writing, you have to be reading -- regularly.

Usually I read books on my way home from the office (the morning is for work reading). But recently, every night after a long day, I just can't concentrate on the written word. Instead, I cop out by listening to podcasts. There is something incredibly restful after a long day of staring at a screen to listen and free up your eyes to look at your surroundings.

So I am considering delving (finally) into the realm of the audio book. It's not a new concept of course. I remember listening to books on tape in the car with my Mom, and when I was a very little kid I would always fall asleep with the record player spinning out the amazing Sesame Street fairy tales. And of course my parents always read to me when I was small, which I suppose is really the same thing. 

I've written before about the recent podcast craze and I think it's taking us all back in time a bit -- to being much more eager to listen to content, like in the days where people sat around the radio in the evening. I think it's a welcome break from the constant barrage of visual content where we are always looking at screens, including those little computers we carry with us everywhere.

I'm curious to find out how listening might change my experience of consuming a book. And it reminds me that humans have told stories verbally for a long longer time than they have been reading them on the page. 

Like anything, I'm sure there are books that are better for listening to -- at this point I'm not considering reading non-fiction books this way. I would probably find it irritating as I read non-fiction books much faster than fiction. 

Will have a try and circle back to you at some point.

How do you consume books these days? Paper, audio, ebook? And when and where do you read?

Photo credit: reading Qoran via photopin (license)
Photo credit: A Fada cathedral 1932 via photopin (license)

Decisions, Decisions

A friend recently sent me the link to the New York Times Magazine article about Marie Kondo. Apparently she has created quite a stir in the professional organizing community in America (although I have to say I was shocked at the level of vitriol dripping off some of the quotes!). Her system certainly doesn't work for everyone.

But it worked for me. I talked about it quite a bit on this blog, so if you're interested you can read more here.

Perhaps the reason why is that she gave me a solid protocol for making decisions, which is clearly the hardest part of clearing out clutter. Every object presents a decision to be made and for me, someone who is always worried about doing the "right" thing (whatever that means), it was completely novel to consider what things in my life gave me joy. My hoarding was definitely rooted in anxiety and joy turned that fear on its head.

My clear out is long done and it was absolutely life-changing for me. If I hadn't done it I don't think I would have written a book last year. So why am I revisiting it now?

First, reading the article made me feel somewhat defensive of Kondo. And second, I still think about the process a lot, because on some days, I am definitely taking the clear out to the next level -- attempting to fearlessly choose the less-tangible things in life that give me joy.

I heard recently a very interesting quote on Gretchen Rubin's Happiness podcast. It went something like this: "Being an adult is learning to live with regret." Sounds a bit depressing, until you understand the meaning behind it. In life you always have to make decisions that will result in regret because you just can't do everything in life. I chose to move to another country and settled here, which often brings regret that I'm not closer to my family. But if I had stayed in the U.S., I would have regretted the lost adventure.

We are constantly making decisions in our everyday life. What to wear, what to eat, who to spend time with and what to do with our days. We not only choose the amount of possessions we own, but the number of commitments we make to ourselves and other people. And making decisions about all these things is not only tiring, but often scary. Once we choose one thing we have less time for another. Which potentially is why so many people suffer with too much literal and figurative clutter in their lives, torn in many directions. Even worse, this indecision might result in potentially never doing what we really want in life. (And as we are constantly reminded these days, life can be incredibly short.)

Focusing on doing the things that give me joy is helping me to make more confident decisions about nearly everything. I've always struggled with chronic procrastination and it's helping with that too. So for whatever the criticisms leveled at Kondo are -- and personally, I think some of it has to do with the little green monster -- I am still a massive fan.

Photo credit: You Choose Your Path via photopin (license)

Mid-Year Review!

Can you believe we've hit the halfway mark in 2016? It was the Wimbledon final yesterday, everyone is talking about their summer holidays and I finally, finally didn't wear tights to the office on Friday.

So what's the next obvious thing to think about? Goals, of course! Has the first half of this year felt like an uphill slog for everyone or is it just me? Back in April, I wrote a post talking about my goals for the year. I thought I'd update you on how it's going as I find that discussing these things publicly keeps me motivated. So thanks for keeping tabs on me -- much appreciated.

1. Decide what to do with the book I wrote last year. To jog your memory, this was a non-fiction memoir I wrote about moving to the U.K. and establishing my life here. It doesn't work in its current form. I've decided to write an extensive book proposal to try to focus it and plan to send it out to agents. Instead of trying to re-write (which frankly I've already tried to do and failed), I think it's a good idea to take a step back and re-frame it.

2. Write my first full fiction novel by the summer. Hmmmm... well, this hasn't happened. But I have written 20,000 words. I'm now at the stage where I can't remember what I've written, so think it's time for a chapter plan. I broke out Excel last week to keep a synopsis of each chapter and the characters that appear. Will finish this before continuing to write.

3. Write at least one more novel in the series in the second half of the year. As I said back in April, this is really a stretch. However, I have a plan. If I can finish the first novel before November, as well as do a chapter plan for the second one, I could -- potentially -- do NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) to kick start the second. (If you don't know what this is, read this, where I talk about the start of my adventures in trying to write a novel in a month back in 2013.)

4. Get my U.K. driving license. Done, done and done.

5. Become more active on social media. This is so hard. I don't know how anyone has the time. I've heard advice recently to decide on your one platform and stick with it. Whether it's Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pintrest or a blog (do blogs even count anymore?). And let's not even get started with LinkedIn. I feel like I just can't keep up -- there are too many feeds and too much noise. I definitely need a better strategy on this. Any and all advice welcome.

6. Finish decorating my study. I have now gone back to the upholstery store to order a blind. But it has been so long since they measured that I appear lost in the system. I'm working on it. Also, where do you keep your printer? Mine is sitting on the floor, which looks odd. At least all of the things I've had framed are on the wall.

7. Expand our kitchen. People, this is really happening. The Hub wanted to put plans on hold due to Brexit, but I insisted we need to support the economy. We have the plans back and I am meeting with the architects this week to work on them. Will be doing some drafting myself beforehand (missed career move: architect/builder/designer -- this is so fun!).

8. Add pictures to all my old blog posts without them. Forget it. This seems like a waste of time. Does anyone disagree?

9. Make at least one photo album from my digital photos. I haven't done this yet, but I have decided on the album it will be. This is the most important step, the rest is easy.

10. Figure out a way to be writing -- and meditating -- every single day. As Toni Morrison said, you've got to "write at the edges of the day". But man, it's hard. I keep switching between trying to write before work and before bed, but both have their unique challenges. And although the weekend writing works really well as when it comes to social invites, I guard that time with my life, I still haven't worked out how to avoid working on the weekends when work gets really busy. After all, I do get paid for this work (which is important when you want a new kitchen). Good thing I still have half a year to sort this out.

The meditation is actually going O.K. I am being sensible and sticking to only 5 minutes a day until the habit is really ingrained. Once I can do it every single day, then I'll up the time.

So that's it folks. Thanks for listening and keeping me motivated and I'll give you another update at year end.

Photo credit: Illustration Friday: Path. via photopin All rights reserved by the author
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