Monday, January 2, 2012

Finding Balance

Hello? Are you still out there?

We made it home safe and sound... erm, 3 months ago. It was weird getting home, I thought it would be a culture shock having to stay in one place more than 5 days but no. It was as if Europe never happened.

I started back at my old work place, in an entry level position, 2 days a week, and I started working from sun up to sun down the other 5 days a week on building my nail business and... now we're here. Quite literally.

Christmas Day marked the first day where I didn't work at all, which means I worked 87 days in a row. The 2 weeks before Christmas I didn't even have time to run the business, I was so busy actually DOING nails from 8.30am until 9, 10 or even 11pm. At one point I thought I might burn out, but I soldiered on, and the only thing that slowed me down was the fact that I started melting the skin off my hands.

I've always had mild reactions to Acrylic Liquid when I've been exposed to it for long periods of time - usually the week before Christmas when even as a part time Nail Tech I would work 5pm-11pm every night. I didn't do a lot of Acrylic work immediately before Christmas though, with natural nail and Colour Gloss services taking over. It wasn't until my hands split open that I stoped to think about all the Nail Polish Remover I was using.

The first bad cracks were almost a month ago now. The worst was when I couldn't touch ANYTHING because my hands itched and burned simultaneously and constantly. Courtney has been doing up my pants, cutting up my food and feeding the dog for weeks now because I simply couldn't. It didn't stop me doing nails though - splint on the worst split finger, cotton gloves to protect me from the rubber gloves, then rubber gloves on top and I kept doing nails. A new business can't say no to clients.

And so now after 5 days of no nails my hands are dry and wrinkled and peeling BUT not itchy and not sore. I can manage my Dermatitis and Psoriasis from here on out.

I'm having to schedule time to actually run the business and run my household too, so I don't end up having a meltdown over pulling myself in 20 directions.

This year I will go to bed at a normal time so that I can get up at a normal time and brush my hair every day instead of hurriedly knotting it on my way to a client. I will clean my house daily so it doesn't get into an unmanageable state and I will do my business admin straight after for the same reason. THEN I'll book Nail Appointments in.

I can do this! Any tips?

PS I'm here if you want to see what I've been up to :)

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Surprise! It's Winter!

When we woke up in our lovely pre-booked hotel room, a magical fairy (Courtney's Mum) had banked cash directly into my account (we didn't have access to Courtney's) and we were able to not only fill the bike, but eat again. Heaven sent bliss. A different, less favourable fairy had also left us a surprise - winter. It was freezing and a huge thick fog blanketed our doorstep and the view beyond.

We ate at the hotel and then headed towards Cherbourg on the west coast. We passed near Paris, whose road signs are all in a special just-for-Paris font, and again it felt nice to know the things we had seen and experienced were just - over - there. It was Courtney's birthday, and we found a lovely restaurant at a truck stop for lunch. Despite being a truck stop this was a 'real' restaurant, and incredible food. We filled up on buffet entrees, massive mains and... all you can eat dessert. I'm talking miniature sized individual servings of chocolate mousse, tiramisu, profiteroles, a pancake bar, and about 10 other desserts I had never tried or seen before. I didn't have any pancakes because I, um, didn't want to be greedy (they wouldn't fit on my tray) but to the amusement of our very nice waiter, I got my moneys worth.

As we were finishing, they were packing up to close for the break between lunch and dinner, and he gave me more desserts and then gave us the entire tray of profiteroles. We ate what we could and he insisted we eat more. When we told him it was Courtney's birthday he packaged the last of them up and sent us home with 'birthday cake'. All this and he barely spoke English.

We made it to Cherbourg around 7.30pm. Winter had decided it would stay with us the whole way from Avallon and we were subzero on arrival at camp. We decided to ask for a cabin rather than putting up the tent on the frost but this campsite only had small houses, which were twice the price of any hotel we had stayed at even after our prepaid camping costs had been deducted. Tenting it was, so we put down the heat blanket Courtney's Dad had sent us away with, then put the tent on top, and put our bike gear between the floor and our mattresses. We put on every item of clothing we had and snuggled under the blanket.

We continued to do this for the next 36 hours, leaving occasionally to charge a gadget, go to the toilet, or buy more chocolate. On our second night we braved the freezing air to go to the restaurant at the bottom of the hill. I should mention that the freezing temperatures were not helped by the fact we were basically on the beach. The crisp sea air that resulted reminded us a little of Ireland and a lot of home. It was kind of like a nice easing-in to heading back home. Sue in Cormatin had mentioned it would be cold when we returned, but in the 45 degree Italian temperatures of the prior week we hadn't even thought of her comments until now.

Anyway, dinner at the restaurant was really really good and we went to sleep cold but satisfied, and slightly dreading the next day, when we would say goodbye to both tent and bike.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Going Home Shouldn't Be This Stressful

I haven't forgotten you, I promise. After eventually getting supplies the following day in Cannes, we ended up doing... not much. On our hunt for supplies, we drove into Cannes town itself. The miserable drizzly weather did nothing to spice up the town and while we only saw the beach from afar, it definitely didn't scream "Hey! International celebrities and filmakers! LOVE ME!". It was kind of average, and while we only explored from the safety of the bike, we saw nothing that peaked our interest. I was a little disappointed, but that could have also been an offset of the weather.

We spent the following day in a huge argument, absolutely miserable. Plans to see Nice went completely out the window as the emotions of leaving Europe, wanting home, missing family, friends and furchildren, facing leaving the bike and the tent... all got too much and taken out on each other. Eventually it all got sorted and the tent became a house of love again instead of a pathetic screen dividing us and the fellow campers with zero audio blockout of the fighting.

While planning to leave Cannes, we realised I had made a massive miscalculation in drive time and we had two of our biggest rides yet ahead of us over 2 days. We had planned to leave early and see an incredible medieval castle (one that is being built in present day, using only medieval tools and methods) after lunch but that idea proved impossible to fulfill.

At one point, we found ourselves riding past off ramps to Taize and Cluny, both right next to the tiny campsite we stayed at in Cormatin. Knowing we were on the opposite side of the towns than we had previously approached them from, I strained my eyes to see the familiar flour mill that indicated we were close to camp. I knew it was in vain, we were nowhere near the actual camp, but seeing a place we had been before gave way to a yearning for familiarity. I wanted to call in to Sue and Cees, our hosts, and say "Look! We DID IT!" but time was not on our side.

We stayed the night in a beautiful little boutique hotel where the rooms opened onto the path and curved in circles with their backs to each other. It was late when we arrived, and it was while deciding what to do for dinner that I realised my last few hundred NZ dollars, which were to get us home following our banks third massive bugger up (in previous posts you will find the details of how they accidentally stripped us of the last 400 Euros on our travel card just when we needed them) were going to be going out on an automatic payment the following day. These loan payments had completely left my memory and we were now faced with the prospect of having literally 5 Euros in the bank.

As Courtney made frantic calls home, I had 2 chocolate chip cookies for dinner and went to sleep miserable.

There's no place like home, right?

Sunday, September 25, 2011

From Summer to Winter in One Easy Border Crossing

Our days exploring San Gimignano and Siena were bookended by two days at the pool. It’s really hard to express just how incredible this campsite was. Minigolf, Tennis, Soccer, Archery, Kids Concerts at night, Aqua Aerobics in the morning, a pool bar, three restaurants, a lagoon an river ride at one end, 3 pools and a water slide at the other. A night club, an arcade, a hairdresser, a gym, a spa, saunas. All free, except the hairdresser and the mini golf. And the food of course.

We swam a lot, and lazed on the loungers that crowded around the pools. Courtney finally got his hair cut, something he’s wanted since before we left home, and I got my hair coloured. 40 Euros for both of us – cheaper than home but still a splurge. I’m growing out black hair dye and had very faded auburn and very apparent blond roots all in the mix so I was very happy to have my hair sorted out. We used the 10 foot spa in the gym a lot – there was hardly ever anyone else in there, so we could laze around in the luke-warm water, floating on our backs and being pushed around by the jets. I gave the sauna a go, the first time I’d been in one in my life. I couldn’t decide whether it was the most luxurious or the most uncomfortable thing I’d ever experienced.

On our final day in Tuscany, we went back to Greve, because Courtney still hadn’t been inside his Salami shop, the one he saw on TV. He wasn’t disappointed. The 300 year old shop was more like 5 shops with doors between them and every meat product you could imagine. We were down to the last 5 or so Euros we had budgeted for the Tuscan leg of our trip, so he got a couple of packs of Salami and was in heaven.

We had 400-odd Euros left for the last week before we went back to England and then home, and we attempted to get it all out at an ATM in Greve. Of course, being the very last of our money, the ATM decided to pull it’s little rejection trick again. Once again, the transaction didn’t go through and once again, the money got deducted from our account. Good old Kiwibank. Luckily, we had the forethought to have coming-home funds in our New Zealand (non-Kiwibank) accounts, enough money to pay the bond on a new house and keep us afloat until our first paydays. It was rather painful when the travel card rejected the next morning, checking out of camp, and I had to put 160 Euros on my debit card from home. Seeing over $NZ300 go in one foul swoop sucked the big one.

We headed off on the bike and, squashed between Courtney and our ever increasing tower of luggage, I texted Mum to get onto Kiwibank as quickly as possible.

The ride that day was long, from Tuscany to Cannes, France via Monaco. We rode out of crisp, warm, sun drenched Tuscany and felt summer speed away behind us as we rode into horrible fog and occasional rain. Most of the ride was along highways not far in from the ocean so the views were amazing when we could actually see them.

It felt good riding back into France. France is the country we best picked up the language in and the country we most enjoyed riding through. We didn’t spend any longer in France than any other country, 3 weeks, same as Spain and Italy, but because those three weeks were broken up into three separate visits to the country, returning felt almost like going home. I always thought of Tuscany as our last real stop on the trip anyway, so  it really felt like we were speeding towards home and we both got quite excited at the prospect.

Our lunchtime stop in Monaco was awesome. Such a tiny country, such a rich country. We rode down to the marina and saw the huge cruise ship in the harbour, surrounded by the sails of hundreds of yachts. The buildings were ornate, almost Victorian looking, and crowned by the castle. Our actual lunch wasn’t so great – the Croque Monsieur was just a ham toasted sandwich with so little cheese I had to add mayonnaise so it wouldn’t be so dry. The coffee cup was so dirty Courts refused to pay for his drink, and our requests for help with the wifi were met by extremely rude customer non-service. Overall though, there was a certain air of magic around Monaco. When I win the lottery one day, I’ll go back on one of those yachts.

We eventually made it to Cannes. Well, not quite Cannes - Auribeau sur-Saigne, 10 minutes away. The campsite backed onto a river with overhanging trees and an old aqueduct-looking bridge. The pool looked promising, and it was nice to pitch the tent on grass, not dust for a change. We had been reminded 6 times we were definitely in France by all the toll booths along the way, and we were reminded once again of the fact when we realized toilet paper was BYO.

A trip to find a supermarket about 7.30pm produced no results. Everything was closed and we returned to camp toilet paperless, with food from a patisserie for dinner. Who cares though right? Cause we were on our way home.