Friday, April 11, 2014

Our old neighborhood and our new home

So I've posted pics of our old apartment, now I'll post some of our neighborhood. We lived right next to West Ham station, which has Underground, Overground Rail, and Docklands Light Railway. This was also the station that was used for the London 2012 Olympics.

Anyone traveling to our place via tube would exit the station (the exit is in the photo above, at the far right), and make two right turns, to head down the street you see in the above photo to the far left. A better picture of the street is below.

Across from the station were some shops. There wasn't much as far as that goes in this neighborhood, but it's only a seven minute walk from here to Stratford (which is where the London 2012 Olympics were actually held). This is not the Shakespeare Stratford-upon-Avon Stratford, but rather a city east of London that has long since been absorbed into East London.

In this little row of shops was a Post Office, and a fish and chips (with Turkish owners who could make a mean hummus wrap for non-fish-eaters like me.)

Nearby was a park with two playgrounds:

And my older son's preschool (or "nursery" as they call it in the UK. It's part of the public education system and any child 3 or older can attend.)

Even though both my husband and I are from the rural mountain west, we found out that we prefer city living. Not having a yard? Love it! Parks where other people do the landscaping and maintenance work well for us. Walking everywhere because it's far more convenient than using a car? Ideal. 

Now that we're back in the US, we've just signed a contract to buy a condo in Santa Fe, and it's always interesting what other people have to say about this. Some argue that we'll eventually outgrow it with two growing children, which I suppose is possible, but not a given. We already live in far less space than our critics would ever tolerate, and we're very sensitive to what we actually "need" in terms of housing. Many insist that yardwork and gardening are important hobbies. Pass. Sorry. I live a very full life parenting my children, writing novels, and running my own book formatting business. I have nothing against yardwork per se, but it just isn't an interest of mine. Quite a few people insist that a large house is important for wealth accumulation in the long term. That hasn't worked so well for us; we owned property during the real estate slump and had to unload it at a loss. Real estate may be one way to bulk up assets, but it isn't the only way.

The most common assertion is that we won't have room for all our "stuff". That, in my opinion, sounds FABULOUS. I'm not a packrat by any means, but even I could use less stuff in my life. We'll be moving into our new home very carefully, and everything that doesn't fit, has to go. I really don't think we'll miss it. While living there, we'll have to think hard about what we bring in and likely will have to give something up to make room for it. In my opinion, this is healthy.

We also bought the place at a price that left us room in our budget to do some renovations. Given our life path, my husband and I will be looking at retirement around the time that we're paying for college for our kids. We have no particular budget for a nice home with all the features we want at that time of our life, so we're doing this now, while we've got more years to enjoy it and our kids to share it with. The one thing we've skimped on is guest accommodation - not because we don't like having people visit us, but because it's more floorspace that would lie empty much of the time. We'll have a futon and a lot of interesting things to do outside of our home, for anyone who wants to come see us.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Our home in London

When we moved from London, last year, I intended to post pictures of our home there, but then life got crazy again and I didn't, so I'll post them now. First off, our apartment:

We lived in East London in a very small place. My husband, Trevor, was on a stipend to do his PhD and we elected to live off that as much as possible. When we left the US, we liquidated just about everything, the house, the cars, all of that, and put it all into savings. This meant that in London, we lived in a one bedroom place, us and our then infant child. People thought were nuts, I'm sure, but we're very into financial security and pretty indifferent to luxury.

The interior was hard to take pictures of, because of the size. You kind of had to stand as far in one corner of the room as possible. But this was our living room (ignore the garbage bags on the couch, this was taken as we were doing our last clean sweep, moving out):

This is the room where our children slept. Like I said, we arrived with one, but had another roughly a year later. They had their little crib and bed in this same room where we ate meals and spent time indoors - though whenever we could, we'd get out. The nice thing about city living is that there's a lot to do within walking distance. At the time this picture was taken, we'd packed up the kids' beds. Some friends of ours moved to London a few months after we left, and they had two children roughly the same ages, so we stored the furniture with friends and they picked it up when they arrived.

Here's the kitchen:

which was really hard to get a picture of! This end had the sink, the other end had the fridge. The washing machine there right next to the sink is a common arrangement in urban Britain, as is the absence of a dryer. This meant that as often as not, we had laundry hung up on drying racks - and given how much our kids liked to try to climb on those drying racks, we went through a ton of them in a fruitless quest to find a kid-proof one.

The bathroom:

This is the best shot I could get. Given how humid London is, compared to New Mexico, the bathrooms always have vents to the outside, and quite often people leave the window open too. This make the room pretty frigid in the wintertime, but that's more preferable than having mold.

The bedroom was just a lost cause. I'll have to describe it with words instead. Nearly all the floorspace was taken up by the double bed. Wedged next to the bed was a desk under the window. All the storage was built in, so we had wardrobes rather than a closet. In all my attempts to get a picture, I could maybe manage a corner of the bed, some cabinets, and part of the window, and it didn't really convey much.

After living in such a small space, though, we've come back the the US to live in a house most people would consider extremely small for our stage of life and income, but it feels almost enormous to us. We're planning our next move (we moved straight into a rental house when we got back, rather than trying to buy anything long distance), and being used to a small space has opened up a lot of options for us. It's made us very aware of how much wasted space there is in some homes. It also made us more aware of our living habits. While we had a four bedroom house before we left, we only ever really lived in about half of it. The other bedrooms were only ever used when we had guests.

So, people might think we're nuts, but we plan to keep living small, at least for the time being. I've learned that a little space in the middle of activity, like a city, is much more livable than a larger space that's isolated. Home's a nice retreat and a comfortable place to sleep. It's a space to write and eat, but a good day is a day when we're out much of the time.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

I'm back :-) Here's what I have to say about finding an agent

Whew, I know I've been gone a while! In the last year I've juggled two kids, an international move, and starting up a business. That third one is what really took it out of me, because the good news is, my book formatting business has been successful. It's been so successful that I've been racing to keep up. But, I invested a ton of time and made it my first priority for long enough that now I feel like I can come up for air and return to my usual, sporadic blogging. And I'll tinker with this site some more to clean it up and all that good stuff. I know it needs work!

During this time I've been a regular blogger on Dawning of a Brighter Day, the blog for The Association of Mormon Letters. My posts are on the business of writing, and it's been very rewarding. There are some great regular readers there who always post replies and offer some great interaction. This month's post is on how to find the right agent for you. I didn't bother to rehash the usual advice about writing queries and such. Instead I posted from the point of view of someone who's watched people in the business for a long time and noted what has and hasn't worked.

A lot of people shoot themselves in the foot by having the wrong attitude, and there are a few ways to go wrong there. I lay out my observations in this post: When Looking for the Right Agent, Be Rational. So head on over and see what you think about what I have to say, and please do comment!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Launched! Carnival of Secrets by Linda Demeulemeester

Linda Demeulemeester's next book from the Grim Hill series is out! I've read all of these, of course. They're just fantastic. I know they're written for a middle grade audience, but they transcend that.

Set in a fictional North American town, these books begin with the protagonist, Cat, moving in and trying to get her bearings at her new school. Unbeknownst to most of the townsfolk, there are fairies living under the hill overlooking said town, and they aren't the cute, Tinkerbell kind. They are straight out of Celtic lore. Each book is driven by one of Cat's run ins with their magic and each time the story twists and turns in unexpected ways. My favorite feature of Linda's writing is how she portrays important life lessons without being didactic or dogmatic. Cat's not perfect, and she suffers the consequences of this and has to grow as a result. Now the synopsis of this book:

In book six of the award winning and best selling Grim Hill series, is the thrilling Grim Hill climax. Cat has lost everything she holds dear. Sookie has gone over to dark magic and is a diabolical threat. A sinister carnival has crept into town and has everyone under its thrall. Only Cat’s fairy friend Lea thinks there might be a sliver of hope that all the harm can be undone. But even she quakes at the danger. Still, Cat is determined to do whatever it takes, except this time even the gang isn’t prepared for the most harrowing adventure of all. Has Cat gone too far?

As is often the case, I know the author (but I know a ton of authors, so I can't help it if some of them are really, really good ones). Linda and I were Clarion West classmates back in 2001 and the very first week, one of my short stories and her short story were used for the first critique session. Octavia Butler was our teacher and my story was deemed "not really a story" (which was correct, it was a mess) and hers was deemed "ready to sell." Octavia Butler knew a few things about writing and selling stories.

Once we graduated the program, Linda was one of the first to land a novel contract, and she's been writing the Grim Hill novels ever since. They've been in and out of development as an animated series, and I do hope that project gets a greenlight someday soon. Meanwhile, I've gone and bought this book. You should too! Here is the link: