For the last few months, we’ve been working to get the house ready to sell it. We’ve been throwing stuff out, tidying stuff up, rearranging storage, and where necessary adding small decorative features. Because I’m a geek, I think of this as a process of compression and optimization: we’re refactoring our life.

When we put in our new kitchen a couple of years ago, we chose a very pale colour scheme for it. White cabinets and white splashback tiles, light painted walls, and light floor tiles. I often thought it looked a bit stark, but it was very practical, and because we were living in it all the time, we were used to it. I didn’t realize just how stark and uninviting until we came back from holiday last week. We had been away for two weeks, and so when we walked back into the house, it was almost like seeing with fresh eyes. My first impression of the living room was that it felt bare and un-lived in, but my reaction to the kitchen was: “Huargh!” The overall lightness made it feel unfinished–like the builders had just wandered off mid-way through the job.

So, our project this weekend has been to “finish” the kitchen. We’ve chosen blue as our highlight colour, and the addition of a new window blind, a new blue toaster, and various other blue highlights seems to make a big difference. Blue isn’t a very homely colour, but it gives a modern, practical feel to the kitchen instead.

We’re also redecorating the fridge. Over the years it has accumulated a variety of magnetic attachments, but it makes the rest of the kitchen look a bit messy. We have got attached to the fridge poetry over time, though, and we didn’t want to get rid of it without keeping a record for posterity. Hence:

Our fridge poetry

My favourites: “tiny bunny in ferocious wuv urge”, because it’s cute, and “son born & I smiled”, because it’s a reminder that we bought this house as a couple, and we’ll be leaving it as a family.

Going Dutch: NL in ’07!

The year is 2007, and the time of the Big Move is drawing near. For three years, we’ve been planning to move to the Netherlands, and it is finally starting to happen.

We took a trip to Rome in the spring of 2003. Alex had just turned two; Fiona was still in the planning stages. Our journey to Rome took us through Stansted Airport, where we had a couple of hours to kill. It was a nice day, so we went outside to enjoy the fresh air and sunshine. We were joined by a few other kids and their parents, and we started chatting. We ended up speaking mostly English, this was mostly because it was the main language we all had in common. I don’t remember what the nationalities of the other couples were, but I think that one of them was Spanish + Italian, and the other was Italian + Danish. Their children were all merrily running around and jabbering away in a variety of different languages at age two.

Abi is grew up in California, I grew up in the Netherlands, and we both have a very international outlook. But talking to those other parents, we felt painfully aware that staying in Scotland was not the best way to pass our multi-cultural perspectives and love of languages on to our children. So we decided to move, and to live in a country without English as its primary language.

Because we’re very cautious by nature, this wasn’t an overnight decision. For a long time, we just talked about where the best place to settle would be. We love Rome, but Italy didn’t feel right. Initially we also dismissed the Netherlands, because I thought it would be unfair to give me the advantage of living somewhere I already spoke the language. Then we thought about Quebec, because it would give us a nice balance between English and French. It wasn’t until after Fiona was born in 2004 that we cut the knot and made a decision: yes, it would be the Netherlands. And the year would be 2007.

Why wait three years, though? Well, did I mention that we’re very cautious people? Although we knew intellectually that this was what we wanted to do, the idea of moving straight away scared the crap out of us. We were both at transition points in our careers. I had just started contracting, and Abi was just moving into test management. We both felt that we would prefer to pump up our skills for a while before attempting a big move. We recognized that we had to set an exact date, though, because otherwise we might just keep postponing it because we didn’t feel “ready”.

That’s why we chose 2007. It was far enough in the future not to be too scary, but not so far away that it was a pipe dream. Alex would be six, Fiona would be three; almost exactly the ages that Scott and I were when we moved to NL. We were both speaking Dutch within a matter of months, so we knew that Alex and Fiona wouldn’t have any great problems with the language. In three years, Abi could take Dutch lessons, and bring herself up to a level that would allow her to hit the ground running in a Dutch company. We both had specific professional goals that we wanted to achieve that would maximize our value to employers. It would also give us time to do some work on our house (new kitchen, bathroom) to increase its value before selling.

So here we are. Abi has been taking Dutch classes at Edinburgh University for the last two years. In 2006, we took a couple of scouting trips to the Netherlands to look at some different cities and to get a feel for the place. Alex finished his first year of school at the end of June. Yesterday evening we had a decorator round to give us a quote for painting our hallway and living room in preparation for putting the house up for sale. And at the weekend, Abi sent off her first job application.

If we could choose all our dates, this is what our ideal plan would look like for the next few months:

  • Mid April: we come back from holiday, and Abi starts sending out CVs and job applications
  • Mid/end April: paint & tidy up the house
  • Begin May: house goes up for sale
  • Mid May: Abi starts getting job interviews
  • Begin June: Abi gets offered a job, to start on 2nd July
  • Begin June: House gets sold
  • Rest of June: Various trips to NL to look for houses and schools
  • End June: We find a house in NL
  • Begin July: Abi moves to NL, stays in a hotel or short-term rented accomodation
  • Begin July: I stay in Edinburgh with the kids, tying up loose ends
  • Mid July: The kids and I move to NL, to stay in a hotel or short-term rented accomodation
  • End July: Arrange school for Alex, and find childcare for Fiona
  • Begin August: Move out of house in Edinburgh, and into new house in NL.
  • Mid August: Alex starts school.

As Abi is fond of saying, it’s a plan for Angels. It wouldn’t take much to blow all of this careful preparation out of the water. But we’re ready for that. Abi has handed in her notice at the Bank, and won’t be going back to work after we get back from holiday at Easter. This will give her the opportunity to be flexible with anything the comes up. And in the absence of any major emergencies, we still plan to go ahead with buying a house, and moving in July. It’s a bold move, but we think we’re ready for it.

(Oh, and as for me? I had the foresight to find an excellent company in Edinburgh that will let me work…from the Netherlands. They rock.)

Now with 10% less fat!

We haven’t been making a big thing of it, but since we got back from holiday in July, Abi and I have been on the “Flickr Diet”. (That’s where you look at all the pictures you’ve just uploaded and think, “Urgh, I really don’t like the way I look.”) And by amusing coincidence, today Abi and I both hit the point where we have lost 10% of our original body mass. I started at 80.1kg and am now down to 71.7kg; Abi started at 77.0kg, and is down to 69.3kg. Wow.

Our strategy has been two-pronged:

  1. Eat less
  2. Stay honest

The “eat less” bit has come from counting calories. No fancy points or diet meals; just getting into the habit of paying attention to the nutritional information for everything that we would be eating normally, and rigorous portion control. No snacks. No seconds. This was really difficult for the first week or so, but since then it has been easy.

We’ve been enforcing the honesty part by weighing ourselves daily, and keeping a chart on the fridge, where we can both keep an eye on how we’re doing. Daily weigh-ins are tough, because natural daily variations can easily kick you up 500g or so. But just like eating less, it’s all about the habits. The general trend is always downwards, and you have to trust that.

With this regime in place, I’ve even found that the occasional pizza emergency isn’t a disaster. Provided I don’t eat a massive dinner as well, a nice lunch every now and then doesn’t have a significant impact on my weekly progress. (They key is in the “every now and then”. I don’t think that “every other day” would cut it.)

This is pretty much the same technique that Abi and I used to lose a good deal of weight back in 1997 or so. It worked then, and it worked now. I tried the low-carb Atkins thing back in 2003, and although it was successful in the short term, the weight came back on again pretty quickly. Habits, habits, habits: a low-carb diet is not a sustainable habit for me, and so it fell by the wayside very quickly. Other people may be different, but I can’t live without my preciousss bread. Smaller portions are much more realistic.

So anyway, yay us. We’re not stopping here, though. I’m aiming to get below 70kg, and Abi wants to be under 67. The downside of all this slimming behaviour is that last weekend I ran out of trousers that fit me, and had to go shopping for new clothes. Not my favourite activity, but that’s a rant for another time.

Related links:

Just cruisin’

Not doing much work on the Mac Mini right now. I’m mostly doing some much-needed maintenance on my archive files and backups: reorganizing folders, deleting duplicates, burning DVDs, that sort of thing. Boring, but it’s laying the groundwork for sharing my iTunes and iPhoto libraries between Mac and PC, and that automatic nightly backups will run smoothly. Gotta have the backups.

I’ve also been playing a little Ratchet & Clank 3. I never finished the game last year, and with R&ampC 4 due out soon, that’s an oversight that just has to be remedied. I haven’t done much gaing in ages, and I’m finding it a nice break from incessantly worrying away at the computers.

Been busy lately…

…Hence the quietness.

We’ve got a new bathroom, we’re in the middle of having a new kitchen installed. My mother-in-law is over on holiday from California. Alex has had his fourth birthday, with associated parties. I’ve been working hard on a great project at a client during the day, and working hard on a stock control and order management system for Marott in the evenings. Blogging has kind of fallen by the wayside, as have the quick reviews, and they are likely to remain so for the foreseeable future.

In the meantime, I’m stocking up huge amounts of dissatisfcation with my current site design, and will thus have a heap of new ideas to unleash during the annual redesign around August.

I’d like to take a moment, though, to drool over the @Media conference on Web Standards and Accessibility in June. Jeffrey Zeldman, Joe Clark, Douglas Bowman, Molly Holzschlag, and many others.


There, that’s better.


Inspired by Tantek Çelik, I’ve given up caffeine. Now, because I don’t drink coffee, this primarily involves the absence of sugar-free cola-flavoured beverages. On a typical day I’ll go through about two or more litres of the stuff (yes, really), but I haven’t had any since Thursday. Friday was filled with the expected caffeine-deprivation headache, but today was okay. It’s too early to comment on specific physical effects, but I’m going to keep this up until at least the end of the week and see what happens. If any of the effects Tantek described manifest themselves, it might be worth staying off it.