Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Retour à Paris

Lionel and I spent the past weekend in Paris visiting with friends, checking out old haunts and celebrating my birthday. It was the first time Lionel has been back since we left in November 2011 and only the second time I've been back (the last with my friend Amy in June).

In a lot of ways it felt like coming home. Paris is a city I will always love, despite the fact that there are also some things I know I hate about it. After this weekend I realized that if the opportunity presented itself, I probably wouldn't be able to resist the temptation to move back. Though that is definitely not in our current plans, I'm just saying I don't think I would hesitate much if life pushed us in that direction. 

Anyway, we spent a really wonderful 3-day weekend in Paris. We got to see a lot of friends and we really enjoyed having the opportunity to catch up with everyone. We also enjoyed the chance to take advantage of the free transportation in Paris over the weekend as a result of a spike in pollution (though the hazy cloud of pollution that greeted us upon our arrival Friday night was less than welcome), so thanks RATP!  Though it was very, very strange to see all the gates and stiles open in the metro!

Friday we got in late and just hung out at a friend's chatting until the wee hours of the morning. We took it kinda easy on Saturday and went out for lunch and stopped at the store to pick up supplies for the evening. Saturday night we met up with a big group of friends at another friend's house and enjoyed an apero with an incredible view over the sparkling Eiffel Tower. 

We finally decided that rather than go out for dinner we would just stay in and order pizzas and continue catching up (and drinking). At midnight it was officially my birthday so I received "joyeux anniversaires" and bisous all around. Once again we stayed up obscenely late but it was worth it. Sunday Lionel and I spent my birthday taking advantage of the beautiful weather. We went for a walk across half the city enjoying the streets and monuments we know so well.  Really, in the end, it was an ideal way to spend my birthday and the day couldn't have been more perfect.  Then we headed off to a friend's house for drinks before grabbing dinner in Belleville and ringing in another friend's birthday at midnight.  Monday came around and we very reluctantly got on the train back to Bordeaux.

All in all an excellent weekend and one I hope to repeat soon. But I would be lying if I said it didn't make us start thinking a bit about what it would be like to be back and if we would even want that. Though it's not very likely I must admit I really do miss Paris!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Weekend à Arcachon

Lionel, my friend Sophie and I decided kinda last minute to take advantage of the incredible weather we've been having and spend the past weekend enjoying the sand, sea and sun in Arcachon. After making plans to just spend the day on Saturday we got invited to an even-more-last-minute barbeque in La Teste de Buch for Saturday night so decided to make a weekend of it.

We headed out early Saturday and took Sophie to see some of the ports along the bassin. Then we grabbed lunch and headed for the dune. After a quick but delicious picnic we joined the hoards of like-minded sun-seekers and began the climb to the top. As usual, once we made it up we walked along the top for a bit before heading down to the water. We managed to get our toes wet, but the water was still a bit to cold for a swim despite the warm temps and glaring sun. Then we began the grueling climb back over the dune so we could get back to our car.  After all that hard work we decided we had definitely earned a drink, so stopped at a little cafe with a great view over the beach for a pint.

Next it was barbeque time and our friends didn't disappoint! There was enough food to feed an army and it was all delicious. We spent the evening enjoying good drinks and great conversation with a good group of friends and then headed to my in-laws' to get to bed so we could enjoy another day by the sea.

Sunday we spent the morning relaxing, enjoyed another barbeque for lunch at my in-laws', and then headed back to the beach with some friends for a bit more relaxation. And there sure were a lot of people who had the same idea!

Finally and unfortunately it came time to climb back in the car and fight the traffic back to Bordeaux. The 45 minute drive turned into 2.5 hours but we finally made it back, not quite ready to return to reality but happy with a very unexpected and last minute weekend that turned out to be perfect. Fun, relaxation and fresh air - just what we all needed!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The reality of le travail à distance

A friend of mine recently posted a link to an article on Facebook.  The title "14 Shameful Eating Habits of People Who Work From Home" caught my attention so I clicked on the link.  Really, I was just curious to see if I, too, had developed any of these shameful eating habits now that I work from home.  It turns out I haven't.  Thankfully!

But it did get me thinking.  A lot of people have preconceived ideas of what it is like to work at home and how those who travailler à distance must proceed with their days.  I've often heard speculation that people who work at home have it easy, don't have to work as hard, can get away with doing nothing all day, get chores done around the house, work in their pajamas, etc.  But the reality is quite different.

Sure, I have been known to work in my pajamas.  Especially back in December when I was sick for three weeks.  And sure, sometimes I'm really tired and I roll out of bed at 8:59 and dash straight to my office to switch on my computer for 9:00.  And of course I love being able to work in jeans rather than business casual, with my hair in a pony tail and no makeup.  It's definitely a nice change from spending an hour each morning choosing an outfit, straightening and styling my hair and applying makeup.  However, in reality, working from home is not glamorous, it's not for everyone and it isn't the wonderful, easy, laid-back job that some people imagine.

I clearly don't fit the stereotype of the slob working from home expressed in the article.  This doesn't change the fact that I do work from home and I have some opinions about the entire experience.

What I like about working from home:
  1. The commute.  Having your office right next to your bedroom is quite convenient and a great money saver.  I definitely don't miss being pushed and shoved on the metro in Paris or fighting my way through 50 miles of rush hour traffic in Cincinnati to get to work in the morning.
  2. Not having someone watching my every move and looking over my shoulder all the time.
  3. The peace.  Working from home is much more quiet and peaceful than working in an open space surrounded by ringing phones, clicking keyboards and chatty colleagues.  It also makes it much easier to concentrate on the task at hand and get things done more efficiently.
  4. Freedom from the office politics, gossips and busybodies.
  5. Never having to listen to inappropriate conversations taking place around me while I just try to keep my calm, keep my mouth shut and disappear into my cubicle before someone realizes that I am clearly the office freak who doesn't agree with whatever overly political or overly religious subject was brought up that day.
  6. The dress code.  I love being able to wear whatever I want whenever I want and not having to adhere to a dress code.  Pajamas, sure.  Jeans and a hoodie, why not?  Flip flops and a summer dress, sounds good to me!  No more carefully coordinating outfits, black slacks, perfect accessories.  And casual Friday...what is that?  Every day is casual for me!
  7. Not having to worry if I leave a mess behind at the end of the day.  I don't need to straighten up my desk and put away and lock up all my files before "clocking out".  If I haven't finished with something I can just leave it sitting there.  No big deal.
  8. Never having to worry about forgetting my lunch or my coffee or my phone.  It's all right there.
  9. Having more choices and variety in what I eat for lunch.  I am no longer just working with a fridge and microwave.  I have my entire kitchen available for food preparation.  I can make and eat whatever I want. 
What I don't like about working from home:
  1. As much as I just pretty much complained about having coworkers above, at the same time I miss having coworkers around.  Someone to talk to, share news with, distract me for a minute or two.  Now I only speak to my coworkers when I need to for my job and it's mostly work related.  Working from home can be quite the lonely experience.
  2. Never having a reason to get dressed, worry about my appearance and put on a cute pair of heels.  As much as I love not having to dress in a conservative business casual every day, it is a shame that there is never anyone around to see the cute outfit I recently bought or my new hairstyle.
  3. Never getting out of the house.  Sometimes I feel like a prisoner trapped in these four walls!  I need to get out of the house (which because of the still unfinished renovations is quite the stressful place for me), see people, experience things happening around me.  And more than just another cat fight or the view of cars whizzing by on the rocade.
  4. Being forgotten about or kept out of the loop.  It doesn't happen too often, but it does from time to time.  I recently found out one of my coworkers on the island had quit her job...two months ago.  That certainly explains why she wasn't responding to any of my emails!
  5. Not having an IT guy on site to deal with my computer issues.  And I have a lot of them (my last post is a great example)!  If I have an issue in the morning, thanks to the time difference I have to wait until after lunch to be able to get any sort of IT assistance.  It can be quite frustrating and unfortunately my old standby of just restarting my computer doesn't fix every issue.
  6. The loneliness.  Sometimes I can go multiple days without speaking to another soul except Lionel.  While I can sometimes be shy or socially awkward, I am definitely not an introvert and I like to talk.  I find working at home, alone, to be the most difficult aspect of le travail à distance.
  7. Hearing my work phone ringing in the evening.  The sound of my work phone is just irritating now.  I hate knowing how many people I am going to have to call the next day before I even go to bed.
  8. The isolation.  Because I don't interact with anyone in the Bordeaux area I never hear about interesting events, shows or expos that are going on in the city.  I don't know what news there is from the day, if anything exciting happened.  I don't see ads on the metro or along the road.  I often feel like I don't know about anything.  I don't feel like a part of this city or this community.
  9. The feeling that if I don't respond to an email, chat or phone call from the office immediately they are going to think that I am not really working.  I know this isn't true and that they would certainly understand that sometimes I'm busy with something else or on the phone with a client.  But I can't help feeling an extra pressure to treat everything with additional urgency.
So there you go, an honest and realistic view of what it is like to work from home.  I don't spend the day getting chores done, watching TV, being a slob and relaxing.  I still have a job to do and recently my days have been overwhelmingly occupied and stressful.  While there are definitely some benefits, there are also some drawbacks.  I definitely think working from home is not for everyone, and sometimes I wonder if it is really for me.  For the moment I seem to have adapted pretty well, but I'm not sure this is something I could do forever.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Mon pauvre little computer

As if all of my current administrative and bureaucratic woes were not enough stress for the moment, my dear, precious little Toshiba laptop decided to die on me yesterday.  During my lunch break.  I guess he decided he wanted a break too...and he was hoping for a permanent one.  That or I just have extraordinarily bad luck.

Unfortunately for him, I refuse to let him go to computer heaven.  After quite a bit of overly dramatic freaking out and nearly breaking down in tears, I have decided to attempt to save his life.  There was much panic over whether or not we would be able to save all my files (I REALLY need to get in more of a habit of backing up my files...the last time I did was in 2010 when my last computer died on me) and quite a fight to try to repair the 1000 damaged sectors on my hard drive and recover my system back to factory settings.  Luckily, using Ubunto we were able to back up all my files onto our wonderful Freebox server but unfortunately we weren't able to repair the hard drive and the recovery wizard on my computer just kept stalling after entirely wiping out my hard drive.

I sent Lionel out to buy a new hard drive, because as far as we could figure the hard drive was the only problem.  As he went about installing it, we realized the other absolutely asinine thing I had done (or rather not done).  I had never made the recovery CDs for my computer meaning I am currently without an operating system.  After much freaking out, we decided tonight to run to the store and buy Windows 8 (much to my chagrin as I HATE Windows 8), only to discover that apparently my computer doesn't entirely support Windows 8 and it will cause issues with some of the devices on my computer.  So off we ran to a different store to try to purchase Windows 7, but they were already closed. 

I wasn't particularly thrilled about having to spend the money on Windows, but after looking at buying a new computer and discovering that there is practically nothing on the market and in my price range that meets my limited requirements for a PC (really, I just want a laptop with a 13.3 inch screen, a damn CD/DVD drive and absolutely NOT a Dell, HP or Compaq), I figured this was my only option.  However, when we got home from our unsuccessful shopping trip, I started digging around online for other solutions and discovered that I could purchase a copy of the recovery disk for my computer with Windows 7 directly from Toshiba for only 35 euros.  Much better than 110 euros for Windows!  So I placed the order and after I paid they informed me that I would receive my disk within 14 days.  14 days!?!  I would have been happy to pay more to have it much, much faster but they didn't give me the option.  Here's hoping I get it much quicker than that!

Needless to say, being without my computer is quite an issue for someone who works from home and requires constant access to my company's two different servers in order to get anything done.  Luckily I can borrow Lionel's computer for the time being, and while there are some issues with it, I can perform most necessary work-related tasks with it and the few bugs (like I can't print from our servers to my printer without making major modifications to Lionel's computer) can easily be dealt with with the help of my coworkers in our office.  Our IT guys were able to remotely connect to Lionel's computer today to set up all my accesses to our servers and get all of that straightened out, so in the end I only went about 8 hours without access for work.

Still, this has all created much unnecessary stress for both Lionel and myself and at a time when I really didn't need to be dealing with anything else stressful.  Add to that the pressure of having to make the decision between trying to save my computer or just buying a new one (and I really hope I made the right choice!), and I'm just feeling worn out and mentally and emotionally exhausted at the moment.  But no time for that because I still have to move forward with working on our taxes and my request for citizenship!