Category: Lifestyle

30 days of biking – and another 500km

It’s April, which brings me to 6 years in Regina, 5 years of doing #30daysofbiking. Well actually, I think I’m now up to 80 days of biking in 2018 now. But anyway, you get the general idea!

Here’s this year’s adventures in photo form:

Dramatic change from one end of the month to the other! I’ve certainly been snowed on during April’s biking adventures before, but I don’t think it’s ever been this cold before.

Today I pedalled into work on the longer route around the lake – a luxury I can now afford because I didn’t have to drop Theia off then rush through traffic just to get in on time. Because… Carl is home!!! WOOHOOOO!!!!

Despite asking repeatedly to be allowed to work from home, the response from the Prince Albert job was always “we don’t have a work-from-home-policy”. Erm, well, you could make one? It’s 2018 and even Prince Albert has the Interwebs now. There is nothing he was doing up there that couldn’t be done remotely, sitting in his underpants on the computer at home. But no… so, finally, he decided the 800km drive on remote highways at 4am, the unfurnished apartment and the whole week away from the kids wasn’t worth it and he quit. Their loss, our gain!

He’s got some GIS freelance work lined up which will keep us going, and hopefully one job will lead to the next etc. Check out eclipsegeospatial.com – now accepting new clients!

It’s sunny and he’s home, and all is cheerful. And he’s decided he wants to get his bike out again too!  So, we found a good way to get us both out pedalling again.

30th April was Rohan Day – that is, the day my brother Rohan died, 20 years ago now. He had a very rare form of cancer that was only diagnosed when it was too late. He was 12.
This year Carl and I are riding the the The Great Cycle Challenge Canada in Rohan’s memory, to raise money for kids’ cancer research and support. We’re aiming for 500km in 30 days. Please sponsor us if you can! Thank you.

https://greatcyclechallenge.ca/Teams/TeamTownsend

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Tactical Urbanism

Full of ideas….this is a loooong post!

Last week I attended a workshop on Tactical Urbanism, held by the Warehouse District and Downtown Business Improvement Districts. I was there partly for work and partly for personal interest, and it was a fascinating session from both angles!

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Trying not to shout about Bike Lanes too much….

Very briefly, the whole ethos of Tactical Urbanism is creating vibrancy in urban areas and treating city spaces as places where you actually enjoy spending time in their own right, rather than just as areas you pass through on route to somewhere more interesting. There’s a difference between a street and a road: roads are for transport, streets are for people. It’s simple but also something that doesn’t seem to occur to many people – especially town planners!

Tactical urbanism can be installing small, cheap and temporary initiatives (constructed by anyone with an idea, all very grass-roots and ‘citizen-led’) that are publicly accessible and very visual, and if successful, creates a momentum that leads to permanent change. This can be anything from just putting up planters and getting flowers along the streets, chalk art on the sidewalks, to pop up art displays in empty buildings, painting alleys between buildings,  to food trucks and pop-up outdoor shops and markets, or roping off a section and creating temporary bike lanes and holding a group ride or a walking tour of the area etc. (Guess which bit I was most keen on?). Anything that gets people out of ‘the commuter mindset’ and gets them walking/biking/hanging out on the streets.

We discussed Park(in) Days as a good example of this type of event. The Downtown BID tried this back in 2016 – they plugged the parking meters outside some businesses on 11th avenue downtown (my café being one of them) and got the business owners and interested groups to decorate their parking spot. We turned our cafe inside out: put some squashy armchairs on a rug on the road, a bookshelf, coffee table and made a comfy reading room outdoors,and then filled the front of the cafe with flowers and pot plants and a bike rack indoors. It was a pretty simple set up, and we even gave out free coffee, but even with the freebies it was by far the most lucrative day we ever had at the cafe. People attract people. Getting people to sit outside your business instead of just driving past can only ever be a good thing.

For the workshop, they’d printed a couple of huge banners with fake shop fronts. We marked out a rough intersection and then a bike lane along the store fronts and then designed our own Park(in) displays – loads of flowers in planters, someone got some Yoga mats out so you could do yoga on the street, deck chairs and some sand, and we made “pede-vision”- a sofa area with a huge frame where you could sit and watch the world go by (instead of sitting indoors, alone, watching TV). It totally transformed our imaginary street.20180302_152310

Inevitably, the conversations turned to cycling, and I was pleased to discover that the bike-activist contingent was not just me, Andrew (sorry, ‘Councillor Stevens’) and the guy from Bike Regina! There were a lot of people interested in making Regina more cycle-friendly, or at least, more ‘walkable’ too. Clearing the sidewalks of snow would help right now! I’ve always believed that if an area is made safer and more appealing to cycle through, then more people will cycle. This workshop actually had the stats to back that up. As Leasa from the Warehouse District BID pointed out, you can’t use today’s cyclist numbers (with no cycling infrastructure) to assume how many more people would actually use cycle paths *if they were there*.

 

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Bike rack fail.

I tried to prove a point about how unfriendly this area is to cyclists – by cycling up there. Pain points included bumping violently over the train tracks (pedestrian bridge over that would be nice!?), and drivers passing me with just inches to spare on Dewdney, despite the road being easily wide enough to accomodate a bike lane if only one could be built. To my surprise, there was actually a bike rack at the building when I arrived. But getting to it required heaving the trike up 3 steps, or trying to bend it round a too-narrow, cornered wheelchair ramp. Tactical Urbanism fail: infrastructure added thoughtlessly, with no real expectation that people will use it.

 

The workshop was held on the second floor of the enormous, empty old Sears warehouse. For the final part of the workshop, someone helped me get the trike into the freight elevator and bring it up to the workshop. So I spent my afternoon slowly pedalling around a home made street with a hand drawn bike lane, on the upper floor of a disused, slightly creepy building. Surreal experience!

The other main discussion was city design that incorporates the microclimate – as in, should Regina embrace itself as a Winter City? And how would any of these ideas work in winter? We sidestepped the shared frustrations about city hall not clearing snow off sidewalks (because of the unwavering belief that if you have a car, your journey must therefore be more important than the journeys of pedestrians). Sidewalk clearing is an activity we can all share in, even if most would prefer City Hall to do it. Most interestingly, we also talked about how a lot of building designers don’t take into account the fact that their buildings often create huge wind tunnels (the Victoria and Albert intersection springs to mind – Capital Pointe would make it a whole lot worse down there). Doesn’t matter if you are in a car, but it does if you are walking or waiting at bus stops. What could we do about that? (Wind turbines on the rooves, used to power heaters in the bus stops below, I thought!)

Tactical urbanism is about Doing, not just Talking though. So, we built things! There’s a marketing company called Sleek, and they’d designed some MDF furniture (patio tables and chairs, park benches, a bike rack etc) and cut it out using a CNC cutter, and we just had to slot it together. It was very easy and effective, and Judith pointed out how cheap it was: about 25 pieces of solid, useable and custom furniture made from MDF came to about $5000.

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The next day got more involved: we made a bar out of old wooden pallets. Jessica (from work) and I got to play with power tools! We had a guy from a construction company supervising us, but seven people most of whom had never used an electric saw before ‘recycled’ a few old pallets into a bar in an hour and a half. It was really fun!  The point of all this was just to show how easy and affordable it is to construct little, temporary things – patio seating on the plaza, large planters to go on the edge of a sidewalk, or a small bike rack etc – that make a big impact, making places more visually appealing and encouraging people to linger and actually spend time on the streets.

 

Anyway, in trying to relate this all to work and Science Centre projects, I guess my main take aways from this were:

  • There is a great community of people out there who are willing and able to embark on ‘tactical urbanist’ projects – and the residents’ associations and Business districts will support them.
  • Keep it simple and cheap to start with – it can always get more elaborate later.
  • Building things isn’t actually as difficult as it first appears.
  • People attract people – as soon as someone starts something, others will follow.

I have a ton of ideas for projects already, and I also met a load of like-minded, useful people from companies that would be excellent to collaborate with for our Ignite! science festival in October. On a personal note, I would love to keep in touch with this group of people and plan some projects together. The workshop was inspiring – and I know I wasn’t alone in discovering a new passion for making Regina a fun, safe, creative and more liveable city.

 

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Photo: Regina Warehouse District

 

Some very strange things to be thankful for.

It’s Thanksgiving, it’s beautiful and autumnal, and we finally all have a day off together! For this, I am thankful, because it has been a long time coming.

Carl being away in Prince Albert during the week is really taking its toll on me and the girls at the moment, and I am getting increasingly frustrated with the situation at times. I am effectively playing single-parent all week, and have to negotiate school and daycare drop offs and collection (at two different locations), coping with Judo and crochet club(?) and play dates and field trip permission slips, ferret-care, feeding them both, fighting them into bed (an ordeal in its own right, especially with Theia), making lunchboxes and then getting them up again and out the house by 8am. And working full time. And doing all this on my bike.

It is exhausting, and I keenly look forward to Carl’s return every weekend. But then, there is the added pressure of fitting in all the things that have to be done with him (or more importantly, the car-) here like food shopping, and laundry, and still making a point of Doing Something Fun while we’re all together. Most of the time I am exhausted and just want to spend my days off doing nothing, but that is not fair on the kids. And then we get cross with each other because I feel like I’m wasting the precious little time we do have. Gah!

However, there are many things that I love about this situation too, namely my job. Luckily, both kids thoroughly enjoy their respective daycares and after school clubs and activities, so I don’t feel too bad about relying on them so heavily. There’s also only been one horribly rainy day this season, so my bike commute around the lake is usually glorious and doing me a lot of good. Carl is doing well in Prince Albert, enjoying his work and our finances are now looking much more healthy as a result.

Without wishing to sound gushy, I really love my job. I’m working at the Science Centre, and the job is so varied that it is very difficult to define to a lot of people. Most recently, I’ve been heading up a big science festival there called Ignite! I inherited quite a lot of the set up for it from my predecessor, and the existing team of staff there are exceptional and very supportive, so I didn’t feel too overwhelmed with having to organise the whole four day event on my own. Even so, it was still more than a little daunting. I enjoy the job so much that I really want to do well at it.

I am also learning a whole load of things I never thought I’d come across – like how to dissect squid, for instance, how to build popsicle stick towers that withstand flooding, and all about different sections of the brain, all of which are covered in the workshops I am now trying to present to other people! For the festival, we had to organise a careers fair with the aiming of getting school kids interested in engineering and the sciences. Then, we ran adult workshops in the evening, which is where the squid came in. The next day was Family Maker Day, and we hosted an event for the Global Cardboard Challenge and encouraged kids to make Arcade games out of cardboard, and ran other workshops like Toy Take Apart (involving skinning an Elmo) and colour-changing putty, where I had to make playdough and explain the science of thermochromatic pigment to 40-odd kids for a couple of hours. The schools were closed for Thanksgiving that day, so Miranda had to come to work with me…

On Saturday, it was the culmination of the festival in an Expo, showcasing local innovation and plenty of weird and wonderful things that local people have created. It is did not happen without hiccups – for a start, I would have liked to get more participants than I was able to, so I was a bit disappointed. Then, one group dropped out at the last minute, and I roped Carl in to replace them! He dutifully brought his telescope and equipment and showed people all his eclipse photography – thank you husband!! (He also got a day out with the kids, a chance to geek out with fellow nerds, and the science centre’s snack supplies, to be fair.)  Actually on the day, one group arrived, introduced themselves, I showed there where to set up, and then they just vanished without saying a word! Weird. And irritating.

I still managed to get in “live blacksmithing” (which took a lot of wading through fire permit by-laws), a virtual reality game company, a solar-powered electric bike, robots built by high school students, a Vortex Cannon of Doom and a portrait of Princess Diana done in Lego, amongst other things.

I would like to think it all went off OK! The feedback I heard on the day was all very positive, anyway. I don’t yet know how the numbers of visitors compared to last year, but it certainly felt very busy, particularly on the Family Maker Day. It was also utterly exhausting!

Sunday and Monday were our weekend this week, and we did the annual OverEating Ritual with turkey and all the trimmings. The girls even admitted they liked the food for once as well! Life is not exactly easy right now, but I am enjoying its complicatedness.

 

A motivational morning

It seems the internet is currently filled with clickbait articles that are ‘life changing’ and inspirational, with the sort of headlines like “7 things to do to kickstart your morning routine” and so on.

I appreciate that most of them are designed with good intent, but as with a lot of supposedly motivational rhetoric, I find it just makes obvious how much of a chaotic mess my own life is.

This morning was a prime example. Here is what greeted me on Instagram today:

(I am very sorry to borrow you, Kyle… but as the founder of Wheelhouse Cycle Club, I figure you know a bit about getting people motivated in the mornings!)

Here, in contrast, is the 5 odd things I ended up doing this morning:

1.) Attempt to insert Fruitloops into two decidedly not-awake children at 7.40am. While they are eating, I realise that when the husband left the house at 4am, he inadvertently locked my house keys in my bike basket *inside the locked garage*. Scramble around madly looking for the automatic garage door opener, only to find it helpfully clipped to the outer door handle on the back door. Which is the *obvious* place to look for it… Stand in the alley in barefeet and eventually get into the garage, reclaim keys, find shoes, packed lunches, backpacks and shunt kids out the door.

2.) Arrive at daycare 8am. Smaller beastling is fine right up until we are inside the entrance way, then she realises where she is and that Mummy will be abandoning her there. She starts howling and literally clinging on to my ankle so I can’t leave. Detach her and transfer her into the arms of one of the poor women who have to deal with regular tantrums and snot all day. Make a break for it with the bigger beastling, who is now complaining that her backpack is too heavy.

3.) Miss 8.07 bus to the Science Centre for day camps. Cross road, find another bus ten mins later. Get downtown. Bus does not meet up with connecting bus, despite what it says on Regina Transit’s schedules. Start fuming. Sit downtown waiting for the next one and playing I Spy.

4.) Discover that this bus does not actually go right to the science centre. Persuade a shy and tired Big Beastling to walk about half a mile across Wascana Park. Discover that some fricking idiot has set all the park’s sprinklers to soak the entire sidewalk for a good 200 yards, and that there is no way to avoid them. Try to convince daughterling that it is an obstacle course and we have to run and duck between the sprays. She thinks it’s fun until she gets hit in the face with cold water.

5.) Arrive at Science Centre dripping wet. Successfully drop off daughter only 5 minutes late, but see the direct bus drive off before I can make it to the official stop. Make my way back to the other bus stop, and get drenched again. Bus appears… and sails past me, as it is an Express bus and won’t stop at minor stops. Sit for another 20 minutes drying off in the sun, and use the time to write an official complaint email to the Wascana Centre about the sprinklers.

5.5) Arrive back home, 10.07am, and realise that not only did the whole ordeal take TWO FRIGGING HOURS, I haven’t had any coffee or any breakfast yet.

I’ll go to the library, I think, I’ll collect the books I ordered then treat myself to coffee and reading time at the coffee shop to relax.

Forget that it is Monday and the library is closed.

Come back home again amidst silent screams of despair.

 

Feeling inspired, literally.

I don’t post nearly enough on here nowadays. My excuse is still Theia; it’s not that she doesn’t like me typing on this computer, it’s more she wants to join in, and that is very tricky. She has already managed to remove the Ctrl key from my laptop keyboard, in exactly the same manner as Big Sister did at around the same age. Groan.

I am on a personal mission to take my writing a bit more seriously at the moment. I have always written things, be it these blogs, a decade of Nanowrimo novels, slam poetry or even academic papers, and for the most part I really enjoy it. I don’t think I am a terrible writer, but as with anything, it always needs practice.

The hopeless, degrading and depressing job hunt continues and I loathe it. So far I have applied for 22 jobs, which has resulted in just 3 interviews and zero job offers. One did say I was overqualified, which is a double-edged compliment I suppose. But I am running out of job vacancies that I actually want to apply for now, meaning I am reduced to applying out of desperation. And that is counter-productive as well as depressing. I went for a rather-obscure publisher’s job at a magazine, interviewed and “came second”… and then I applied for an admin position at the Writers’ Guild that sounded really positive and hopeful at the interview, but I didn’t get that either. They didn’t say why and I was too disappointed to ask. Both would have involved some Professional Writing though, which would have been wonderful.

I have a friend here “pre-reading” the book I wrote, and another friend of mine is currently editing it from the safe distance of the UK. It’s an entrepreneurial memoir, about my ten years of misadventures in the world of coffee and starting my businesses. (check it out here) I wrote the first draft during Nanowrimo in 2015 and I don’t hate it. Therefore I’ve been (very slowly) typing it all up ever since and have even sent off queries and book proposals to a few publishers. The sort of publishers that say “wait 6-8 months for a response.” So, right now, no news is good new: no one has rejected it yet.

I am trying the traditional publishing route mainly because I value what I’ve written enough to actually want to see it edited by a professional – and there’s no way I could pay to have to done properly otherwise, sadly. I also don’t have the time, the resources nor the skills necessary to self-publish and promote the book myself. In my (limited) experience so far with my coffee books, marketing the things is harder work than writing them, If you self-publish, you can get the book on Amazon quite easily. But from there, it is very, very rare to find paperback editions on the shelves in traditional book stores. And I much, much prefer Actual Book Browsing for Actual Tangible Books in an Actual Physical book shop. I don’t think I am alone in that particular pleasure.

Of course, there aren’t many book shops in Regina. There’s a specialist, antiquarian book store which you really have to know is there. There’s apparently and independent place too, but its so far up in the north end that I have no hope of ever getting up there. And then of course, there’s Chapters. Which I like, but it has Starbucks in it, and so all is lost.

HMMMM…. anybody else thinking what I’m thinking?

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WATCH. THIS. SPACE.

Lost

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Feeling a bit hopeless right now. I haven’t posted about all the recent politics because I can’t think how to articulate my incredulity in any way that hasn’t been written a thousand times already. Brexit was bad enough… Trump is just unbelievable. Carl and I sat up watching the US election (alternating between BBC, CBC and Twitter, for ‘balance’) until it was clear that Hillary was not going to win; it was about 1am when we finally gave up and went to bed despairing of the world.  At the time I was angry and raging sarcastically online, but the next day I seemed to get a sort of political hangover. I didn’t want to do anything, couldn’t face going online in case there were still Trumpanzees on my Twitter feed, but couldn’t summon the motivation to go out and do anything else. I met up with friends and took the kids to the park and it seemed like we all felt the same, just numbed by the whole thing.

I can’t blame this entire malaise on Trump though. I am in a low spot for lots of reasons right now – maybe it’s the weather? (For the record, no snow yet..). It’s all about Uncertainty and not being in control of various aspects of my life at the moment, and I am never very good at handling that.

My ‘maternity leave’ (not that I actually took any) officially finished 6 months ago, and since then, I have had some actual leave in that I haven’t been doing any work that warrants a salary. Strangely enough, this isn’t sustainable for very much longer, as we are living paycheque-to-paycheque and struggling.  Theia will be 18 months old at the end of January, which means she can go to daycare then, IF we can afford it, and IF I have a job that requires childcare. That is extremely difficult to engineer though, because I not only have to find a job, I have to find a job at a time that coincides with when the daycare has space for her, AND that job has to pay me enough to make it worth me paying the daycare fees for. This isn’t as hopeless as it was in the UK when I found myself in the same position with Miranda – even a full-time minimum wage job here would net enough to cover daycare costs and spare me about $500 a month – which would certainly help right now. (As opposed to the UK where full time daycare would have cost me more than my entire month’s salary after tax)  But, I like to believe I am an adult now, I shouldn’t really be looking at minimum wage positions, and I don’t want to go to work just to have half to two-thirds of my earnings go towards paying someone else to raise my child.

To this end, I have applied for ten other “grown up” jobs, most of which I think I would actually enjoy doing too, and all of which, on paper at least, I had the qualifications for. I haven’t heard back from a single one of them. I can blame the economy or the time of year, but I think a large part of it is my resume. It  must be fairly obvious that I don’t know what I want to do with myself, and I honestly don’t right now, but that is not the same thing as saying ‘I DON’T want to work’, I just don’t know what work I want to do! Also, I am back to the overqualified problem. Turns out, the only thing worse than putting “obscure Arts PhD” on your resume, is putting “nearly a decade of self-employment” (NB: I am paraphrasing here). Once an entrepreneur, always an entrepreneur… but one who still has to pay the bills.

Through the cafe in its various forms, and Wheelie Good Coffee on the market, I have basically put myself through an MBA only without the certificate at the end. At risk of immodesty, building a business from scratch with no money in a country you’ve only lived in for 2 years really takes some doing: it’s all problem-solving, multi-tasking, design, research, fundraising, communications, networking, social media, marketing, leadership skills, HR, business development, even financial wizardry (YOU GUYS I DID A BUSINESS TAX RETURN ALL BY MYSELF!!!) I guess the trick is to make it look like I can apply all these skills to things other than coffee. I know I’m capable, but there’s a fair chance prospective employers will just give preference to someone with more direct experience.

In the absence of any employment offers, my other hopes are that I/we can continue with the cafe in some form – that is, I work out a way I can return to work on/in it and pay myself enough to live off. Owning and running a coffee shop has always been my dream – and I achieved it. What I didn’t manage/haven’t managed yet is living my dream and making a living from my dream. ‘Ay, there’s the rub.’

In an ideal world I’d pick it up and move the whole endeavor to a better and cheaper location. And I would love to try and incorporate a bookshop. But I need the funds to do that, and I don’t have them. Even if I can raise some investment somehow, I lack the confidence now to know if I should even be considering this as an option. Is it too much of a financial risk, and should I concentrate on finding an actual employer instead? Somehow, all of this is so stressful that I haven’t got the mental energy to make that decision, let alone get on with doing something about it. I am exhausted.

Also, I wrote a book. An actual, 70,000 word, non-silly, zombie-free memoir sort of thing about coffee and about the whole entrepreneurial experience. For once, I’ve taken my writing seriously enough to have planned out a structure and storyline, and I don’t hate what I wrote! I have spent this year’s Nanowrimo trying to edit it properly. I even approached a couple of publishers and wrote a proper book proposal. Unfortunately, the publishers’ websites say things like “Please allow six months for a response”. So I don’t know whether its worth prioritising the editing over fruitless job-hunting when I get fed up, in the event that it gets rejected over and over and over after months of waiting.

So. The end of the year is looming, and the future is highly uncertain. I am lost, and in need of inspiration, something to boost me in the right direction again.

Something will turn up. It always does.

A new season.

I sound so clichéd saying this is my favourite time of year…

If you say “pumpkin spice latte” into a mirror 3 times, a white girl in yoga pants appears and tells you all the things she loves about fall.

Regina is looking stunningly beautiful with the sun out and the leaves falling – Instagram-worthy, I’m sure. The mosquitos have returned to whatever realm of evil from whence they came, I don’t have to argue with Theia about the wearing of the dreaded sun hat, and Miranda has started full time school!

I had the summer “off” – that is, the cafe is now safe in the hands of Sheri and whereas I am still involved, it no longer takes up every waking moment. However, with no school and no routine, the past few months were actually busier than ‘normal’! I had to find something that would amuse both the small beastlings every day, and that proved difficult given that everything had to be organised around Theia’s nap times, and Miri’s tendancy to turn the TV on every second she’s in the house. Nevertheless, we packed a lot in to the school holiday; it felt like we managed a million different playdates but we still didn’t actually contact half of her classmates despite promises of meeting up over the summer. Carl and I took the kids camping for the first time in our enormous tent down to Buffalo Pound – Miranda had a fantastic time and enjoyed even the most uncomfortable parts (it was me having the tantrum when we parked in the middle of a swarm of mosquitos, she was fine!)

She also mastered her bicycle which was a Momentous Achievement (especially since it meant that I didn’t have to try and pedal with both of them!). We had library trips and park trips and swimming and museum outings and so on. I started (finally!) doing the market with the Wheelie Good Coffee again and Miri has pedaled alongside me all the way to the plaza. I am so proud!

But the days are getting shorter and cooler, the trees are already gold, and during the day it is just Theia and I. A vague routine has been established (barring cafe-related emergencies) and I now manage to go for long walks or bike rides in the vain hope of getting her to sleep. It has been perfect Stomping weather recently! Crisp, clear and colourful.

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Last week was the official Grand Launch of the cafe in its new form, and it coincided with the Downtown Business Improvement District’s ‘Park(ing)’ day. Park(ing) days are now a nationwide thing, where we were encouraged to reclaim the parking space outside the cafe and turn it into some sort of Park. We actually reversed it, covered the step outside the cafe in flowers and bikes (and my Wheelie cart) and had that as a park, and then filled the parking space with armchairs and bookshelves and lamps and made a ‘reading room’ outside:


The day was a massive success for the cafe, and hopefully for the Downtown BID as well. I sat in an armchair in the middle of 11th Ave with my coffee, Theia snoozed in the sun, and I stared at the big shiny office block that I escaped 18 months ago. I am hopelessly broke right now and dreading the Job Hunt, but I have no regrets about quitting that job whatsoever!

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