Saturday, May 23, 2015

April / May

  • I quite enjoyed my 2 weeks at home while D was out west.  It so rarely happens that I get the house completely to myself for an extended period of time, as I am usually the one away, it felt like a holiday!
  • On a similar note, D had been wondering whether being out west was "enough" and if he would still like it, if he couldn't ski bumps anymore.  So him being out there solo ended up being a great experiment.  He found that he never go bored of the view and the environment, even though total ski days were only 5, due to work.  He worked remote and didn't take any holidays.
  • On one of D's drives to work, a stone hit the windshield of our newest car on the passenger's side.  It wasn't until I got in later that night did we notice the 1 foot straight line crack that had already developed.  It necessitated an out of pocket windshield replacement as the cost was going to be less than our insurance deductible.  Interesting to find out that the cost of a windshield for our new car was $80 less than what I paid to replace one on my Honda 14 years ago.
  • Because D's iPod died, he decided to get some Bluetooth "thing" (don't ask me the name of it...) to plug into our Bose Sound dock so that it could continue to be used remotely via his cell phone and laptop.  The Apple version will cost way more than if you buy it off of eBay.
  • We are working on creating a new at home office area for D.  It is going to help both of us enjoy our home better.  D not having to work at least 50 hr a week will go a long way towards that as well.
  • It was a good call for me to cancel out west and stay and work instead.  I got a lot accomplished and it was definitely worth my while financially to do so.  
  • Had to buy another power cord for my laptop.  D found one online as HP's price was too much and a generic one from Best Buy doesn't exist.
  • Am going to try and resurrect a previous interest of mine -- Archery.  Have been missing participating in a shooting sport for a while now.  I did own a recurve bow once and sold it before really giving it a chance.  Random playing around with things don't often hold my attention.  I need and like training/instruction.  So if all goes well with my new instructor, assuming I take to it, I can get to enjoy all those sports aspects without the high use of resources.  
  • Along the same lines, I'd like to get back into cross country skiing and try snowshoeing too.  Both great workouts, beautiful surroundings, much lower priced gear and passes compared to downhill.  And far less line ups too.  I still want to learn how to snowboard, just to see if I could do it and if I'd like it. 
  • We had a water leak at the new office.  It occurred 4 hours before my very full work day started.  All fixed now (nothing to do with our office).
  • Worked out a room scheduling issue with my colleague.  I now have the opportunity to catch up on about 5 - 6 work hours the week following time away.  Doesn't sound like much but is quite significant for me.  Got to test it out recently and it was a resounding success.  Normally it can take a couple of weeks for me to catch up and is fairly intense. 

Thursday, May 21, 2015

HKG 2

How could I go to HK and not talk about the food?

It was extremely difficult for me to not get caught up with the food culture.  Food is everywhere and so interesting to look at.  There are a few things I still wish I had the stomach room to try. 

When eating at smaller local establishments, you have to get over the idea of having a table to yourself.  Many times, I was told where to sit. Sometimes it is at a very small booth where you may be touching knees when the person across from you.  Quickly shuffling so that you aren't directly across from one another solves the problem.

And don't be surprised when others join you in the middle of your meal.  And don't expect them to necessarily say hello or smile or even acknowledge you.  They are there to eat, period.  So don't be offended.  I read somewhere that meaningless chatter can be interpreted as delaying others from doing something more important, like making money.

Found a number of neighbourhood restaurants to be quite intimidating because the outside glass was pasted with Chinese menus.  And because I couldn't see in, nor read any of it, it took a leap of faith and good strong hunger, to propel me to enter.

People will line up, sometimes right down the street, for a restaurant.   A picture I posted earlier of breakfast at the Australia Dairy Company was one of those places.  I made sure to get there by 7 am.  They let me climb in under the half open metal gate because I was so early.  Apparently it is not uncommon to find 50 people in line.

If you don't know where to eat, searching out recommended places is a great way to start.  Partly because you often will have to find your way to a new area and that in itself can turn out to be quite the adventure.  Secondly, it is a way to try a new food.  It didn't matter to me if I didn't end up liking it or not.  The journey to find it was still very worthwhile.  Discovered some neat locales from that.

I can't remember the name of the bakery/cafe that was touted as serving the best pineapple bun (nothing to do at all with pineapples) but I remember sitting there, sharing a table with 2 men, both reading newpapers and wondering what was the big deal with this bun that had a thick slice of pure butter in it?

I really got into the Hong Kong style milk tea though.  It is strong and creamy. I had a time and a half finding the above place and by the time I got there, I had eaten a bun from what ended up being the wrong spot and had almost given up before finding it.

Speaking of having a difficult time finding a place, I had the most difficult time ever, in all my travels, remembering where one particular small restaurant was (other food picture in HKG post).  It took me 3 tries, walking up and down for hours, each way about 4 km, over 3 days before I finally found it.

Not before I started seriously questioning if I had wandered through some kind of secret Narnia doorway...Because, seriously, Kowloon is mostly a grid pattern, which made me feel even more silly.  I've always been proud of my sense of direction in foreign cities. 

It was so incredibly frustrating because I remembered it was one street in, on a corner, parallel to Nathan Rd, near where the kind of scary feeling giant coffin making shop was, close to the lady I bought some bananas from.  Which was close to the bakery that I bought the best tasting egg tarts from.  Which was close to the grumpy woman who sold me a cup of freshly squeezed cane juice...How hard could that be?  But I couldn't find Any One of them.

On the 2nd day, I found the coffin shop but nothing else.  On the 3rd day, when I began to wonder about my sanity because I just couldn't let it go, as it was a matter of personal pride, and suddenly I recognized the fruit stand and literally froze in my tracks and may have caused a collision with the person walking behind me.  It wasn't the same lady manning it, but a man.  However I recognized the layout of their produce...

So I walked over, and looked back across the street.  Long story short, I was able to piece together the egg tart and cane juice locales but still couldn't find the restaurant.  I actually had admitted defeat and was heading back to my hotel to start packing when I walked by it and recognized the unique stools.

I cannot describe just how elated I felt.  Immediately I whipped out my phone and took a picture of it, the name of the intersecting streets, the surrounding buildings.  The owner of the restaurant actually came out to see what I was doing as I am positive he must have thought I looked like a crazy stalker person.  I told him I had eaten at his place 4 days ago.  That seemed to satisfy him.  Then proceeded in to sit down and out eat the 2 men and woman I was seated with.   

Thursday, April 30, 2015

HKG

As I started my travels to Asia at the developing SE end of the spectrum, Hong Kong represented the first real stay (I don't count airport layovers) in a successful, highly efficient, dynamic city where everything works. It was a breath of fresh air to be able to walk along (albeit at a quick pace, to keep up with everyone) and just trust that there will be order.

The city wasn't even as loud as I thought it would be.  And if you walk along the very pleasant pathway by the water in Central, it can actually be quiet.  Amazing considering the density of the population around you.  I wondered whether the elderly fisherman I saw there actually ate what they caught.  Was also surprised with the number of fairly serious looking runners pounding it out on the path at lunch time.

I was also expecting an energy of aggressiveness from the population in general, as I had assumed that the "time is money" belief would translate into behaviour.  However that was not the case.  I found the energy of most people to be very private, even when they were motoring along at a really quick pace.  Didn't get jostled around either, on the MRT or even at the busy Mong Kok markets.  Found people to be productive, busy doing their own thing. 

Even facial expressions rarely revealed discontent or exhaustion as I had heard about the typically long work hours.  Impatience sometimes, when I couldn't make up my mind what to order or when I wasn't able to express with hand motion what I wanted when our languages didn't match.

Speaking of language, Cantonese can definitely come across as harsh, even if the message wasn't intended to be.  That didn't discourage me from going for what I wanted.  In general, this isn't a culture of overt welcomes and smiles (unless you are at a higher end establishment), like you come to expect in North America.  You may be taken back from what may come across as a "take it or leave it" attitude but it didn't bother me.  They seem to be doing fine just the way they are.

On the weekend, I noticed high numbers of mainland China visitors, which changed the feel of the city somewhat in the more touristic areas such as Tsim Sha Tsui.  The amazement I saw in their eyes reminded me of how I felt walking along Bloor St in Toronto after my music classes at the conservatory.  Back then I dreamt of being able to shop at those exclusive shops.

There exists a huge discrepancy between the rich and the poor, and it was common to see elderly men and women (80+ yr old) working as sidewalk cleaners, garbage sorters, even pushing large carts.  At first it bothered me until I realized that most, if not all of them were in good spirits. I was told later that people would rather work than to accept social assistance whereby there is a strong negative connotation.

Hong Kongers seem to be fairly pragmatic and resilient with no negative stigma with respect to working at an advanced age.  When I walked through Sham Shui Po, an area known for early government public housing initiatives, there were historical narratives scattered around proudly showcasing their historical area development.

The dense and tall towers there were a stark contrast from the neighbouring affluent Kowloon Tong district, where streets are named after flowers.  If I did my conversion properly, I saw a real estate ad for a 100 square meter condo for the equivalent of 3 million USD.

With respect to education.  I believe it is fairly common knowledge that the school system and curriculum in Hong Kong is quite advanced and there is very high pressure to succeed academically, to the point where suicides can occur if key exam scores are not high enough.  Apparently it has since been realized that the death of driven and smart young people isn't great for societal future so it is supposed to have improved. 

Because competition into university is extremely tough, with very limited spots, there are a great number of young people, highly intelligent who do not get accepted and cannot afford to go to school abroad. And a lot of those bright young adults end up in the service, hospitality, sales industries with systems in place to reward great performance.  Being helped by ones who could easily kick my behind academically was an unusual realization.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Changing Thoughts on a Full Retirement

In the few years that I have been blogging, it has been an interesting observation that the target age of early retirement hopefuls keep getting younger and younger as I've found myself, the last couple of years, gradually leaning the other way.

I no longer desire to totally leave my work and be at home full time, even though it would potentially open up the option of "unlimited" travel.  The trips I have taken in the last few years have shaped me in ways I had not expected.  And I welcome growth, even if it means not continuing to trace the same paths again.

Early in the life of this blog, I yearned for such a quick departure from the work "grind".  I was feeling discontented with a wide number of things and wanted an escape.  And it felt desperate enough to be willing to consider living extra "small" in order to achieve it. 

What has changed?

Me.
  • Four years of working part time.  
  • Getting gradually caught up and rested (key point). 
  • Reacquainting myself with my inner capacity and energy level.
  • Becoming physically stronger and eliminating foods that my body reacts to.
  • Challenging myself to stretch beyond what I believed to be possible or comfortable and succeeding.
  • A feeling of productiveness, linked to increased energy. 
  • Going through the exercise of a relocation which taught us much about work, ambition, purpose. 
  • Not wanting to always live in a secure bubble.
  • Not wanting to necessarily be away all the time either.


The pieces of my life pie are once again re-distributing itself.  It's a "good problem" to have.  It means I'm continuing to develop.  My perception of time is changing as well.  Suddenly becoming acutely aware of both the length of it as well as its finite aspect.

A new found optimism perhaps?  I don't know that it is so simple for me to pin point.  I'm feeling just how long time can feel.  An offshoot could be just how much more I can do with it.  A vast difference from what D used to hear me ask in an exhausted and pent up way -- "If I quit, will we be OK?"

During the 2 weeks I was home in Dec, I was able to rest, sleep, reflect, eat, relax, read, learn, play the piano, practice the violin, do ballet exercises, sketch, work out, walk, bike, row, do errands, connect with friends, journal, cook, do dishes, re-organize, all in one day and still felt like I had time and energy on my hands.

After the first few days, I found I didn't need any extra hours of sleep as I wasn't expending as much energy as I do when I work or travel.  I've never been one to sleep extra, just for the sake of sleeping.  Because of that, I was able to stay up till 3:30 am easily without feeling tired.  And then sleep for maybe 5 - 6 hours before getting up again.

That certainly wasn't the case a few years ago, when I longed for enough time to do even a quarter of the list above and felt like I wanted nothing but the luxury of unlimited time to enjoy all of it.  And assumed I would need at least a decade's worth of it to finally catch up with myself. 

Most important of all, It never entered my consciousness that I wouldn't need to be fully retired to reach this state.  As all I could remember was the overwhelming feeling of being boned tired, upset, weary and fed up.  Being completely out of balance and miserable, even though I was doing good work.

And for sure I'd never thought I would find myself saying now, "I'm sure glad I didn't quit!".  I know I've mentioned in the past that my current schedule could very well be my mid way answer to "retirement".  It was just a thought at that point, something that looked good on paper.  But the difference now, is that I feel it.

Currently I cannot imagine every day of the rest of my life like the 2 weeks described above during Christmas.  It was productive and fulfilling but I need more than just at home reflective and self improvement time as I'm no longer in "recovery".  Since being back to work (remember it is 12 hrs in office + 8 hrs admin a week), it feels more balanced, a large part I feel, because I'm contributing and making a difference.

For sure it would be different if I had parenting roles.  Right now I don't and may never.  And I don't wish to just keep adding new hobbies -- Already have enough of those.  And adrenaline rush experiences aren't really the things that can drive and sustain me for the long term either.

Please note:  I wasn't feeling dissatisfied nor moping around at home during my Dec holidays all grumpy because I wasn't elsewhere.  And I'm definitely not a naturally hyper or agitated person.  I was in good spirits, just a little bored after a couple of weeks.  My mind needed more.  Sure I would have preferred if D wasn't sick and had the same amount of time off so we could have both been able to have fun.  And for sure, I was not suffering.   

No, I'm not aiming to work more.  Not at all.  I like my current schedule and the freedom it affords me time wise at home and financially to save, see the world and give back.  I like how I do not need to burn up savings to realize my ambitions.

I also like being self sustaining.  The feeling of independence and control.  Being able to do meaningful work is an incredible bonus.  The amount of retirement savings we'd need if it were to incorporate all the extras I want to do now and later would not make sense, nor be fair to D.  Much easier when I can take care of this area on my own.

The ramifications of this realization is wide ranging for us.  For most of our years together, we have talk about and dreamed of an early retirement move somewhere.  My job is very location dependent whereas D can transition to location independent contract work.  With me potentially not seeing a near end to my career, it means we are going to be here for a while, which changes the game for D.  So we've had to talk about how it will affect him and what he had in mind for retirement.

Being stationed in our current home location doesn't disappoint him.  His timing for retirement won't change.  He'll just have more freedom to be more mobile when the time comes.  It'll be my turn to watch him fly off to pursue his goals.  I'm excited for that day to come for him.

The biggest issue D has outside of maintain satisfying work, is re-discovering whether he will be able to participate in his beloved sports to the extent he'd like.  For most of everything else, I wouldn't classify him as an "all in" type of person.  But with respect to sports, he definitely is.  This year will be quite telling as he "cautiously" (my optimistic word, not his)  reintegrates himself into the activities and races he assumed would be an integral part of his free time.  He wants to someday be able to go around the world for a year, chasing the snow.

Our plan was to put the cottage up for sale in the spring, but we're not sure anymore.  If hard core skiing and biking is no longer part of D's future, he doesn't want to be out there (that's what he is emotionally expressing right now) so having access to beach, water and trails might be good.

May even make sense to upgrade to a better place.  However, I still love waking up out west and being high enough to see the peaks poke up above the clouds.  That has not gotten old for me.  The light and air up there is magnificent.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

March -- End

  • Guess what???  The money from the taxi company in Amsterdam came through yesterday!!!  My bank charged a fee to administer the transaction, so we ended up with about 56 CAD from 50 Euro but hey, we got the majority of it back.  Impressed with their integrity -- Staxi bv -- And have told them so in my follow up email.  I was torn as to whether to ask what happened with our driver.  In the end I didn't.  I hope it didn't cost his license.
  • I dropped D off at the airport a couple of days ago as he is spending 2 weeks out west working remote and trying out skiing for the first time since he hurt his back.  He has already gotten back on his bike with good results.  Fingers crossed the same will happen on skis.  (Update:  Day 1 skiing went great!  Sore legs but no issue with back!)
  • I was supposed to go for one of the weeks but something has come up with work and I need to be here.  This was supposed to be year I learn how to snowboard (4 day adult snowboarding camp) and will be the 3rd time I've had to change this poor flight.  Fortunate for me, Westjet only charges $75 each time.
  • It's interesting how different missing someone feels when you are the one "left behind" versus being the one doing the leaving and wishing they were there.  I find it harder. 
  • New office is starting to feel normal.  There may be a potential issue with parking.
  • My laptop is dying a slow death.  Now the touch pad is starting to malfunction on a semi-regular basis, requiring the use of a mouse.  Been slowly starting to look at a replacement but have been disappointed with what I've seen thus far.  I was hoping to find something new which weighed 50% less and costs $200 less...Not realistic...
  • D unfortunately couldn't save his iPod with a new battery. 
  • Saw this documentary recently -- Stunning scenery, captured my attention right from the start.
  • Managed to score a good deal on a new pair of winter boots to replace my current pair that has developed an irritating problem.   I don't know about you, but trying to find something that can seriously function in cold weather but doesn't look like I am planning to travel to the moon has been challenging.  Ditto with respect to sandals I can wear with a skirt but also walk/lightly hike in all day.  
  • Congratulations to those who recognized the iconic skyline from my last post.  I had been wanting to see the HSBC building ever since it graced the cover of Architectural Digest back when I was in high school.  Yes, it has taken a few decades but I still remember the day when my architectural drafting teacher brought the issue to class.  By the way, I was not at all impressed with the nightly light show.  Left after barely a few minutes.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

AMS Revisited

It seemed to us there were lots of changes in Amsterdam in the 3 years since we last visited.  Our Feb trip was our 3rd time.

The first indication was at breakfast on arrival.  The bakery cafe no longer accepted cash -- Only credit cards with a PIN.  We noticed through the week, many establishments, including supermarkets, have gone that way as well.   So we ended up with cash left over.  If you have a credit card that charges a foreign transaction fee on top of a foreign exchange fee, it can add up.

We also noticed the price increase -- A coffee, small freshly squeezed orange juice, 3 pastries came to 24 CAD.  Nowhere near big city Norway prices (would be double) but high for what we remembered from Amsterdam.  Perhaps along the same line, we noticed a great number of Teslas and other high end cars on the road.

When I inquired about the changes to payment options, I was told that it was considered safer and more hygienic for workers not to manage cash.  There seemed to be more emphasis on employee personal safety this time around, although we didn't notice any increased feelings of uneasiness around the city.   

Another thing was that 1 and 2 cent Euro coins were no longer accepted.  Found that out the hard way when I paid for the use of a washroom at a mall with change and was abruptly scolded.  How was I to know?  It is legal money after all.  Apparently it saves banks millions a year not having to process small coins...

A new venture started just days before our arrival in west Amsterdam called De Hallen.  Super artsy concept and food.  This was our neighbourhood the first 2 visits.  We think they have a real winner here.

We took our first canal cruise and really enjoyed it.  Recommend going on the last one of the day so you can watch the light change over the water as you go.  Makes it more magical.

D "manned up" and finally ate a raw pickled herring sandwich.  He had been working up to it every visit but couldn't do it until this year.  Actually thought it wasn't bad.  He may go for the sliced version, straight up next time.

Iberico ham, spanish tapas, Argentinian food were noticeably well represented.  There seemed to be more chain style restaurants (not fast food) too.  Ate lots of Iberico ham (made me miss Barcelona very much), freshly made Stroopwafels and poffertjes -- Will never go for the packaged kind again after that...

We stayed in a new to us neighbourhood this time around -- De Pijp -- Vibrant and trendy (for Amsterdam).  Would for sure stay around there again.   We don't go to Amsterdam for the food (sorry if I offended anyone) but for the atmosphere.

I almost knocked over a cyclist while walking along a typically narrow road (I apologized profusely).  It took a couple of days before I stopped using my ears.  Bikes can be incredibly silent.  I think I had become so used to noise in all the other countries I'd recently been to and assumed I would hear any signs of impending doom...

Last week, I heard back from a representative of the taxi company I sent my note to about the fare to the airport being charged twice.  She apologize for the experience we had with their driver and offered to transfer the 50 Euro back to us.

I was away and couldn't get the banking info back to her until recently so we will wait and see.  International money transfers out of Canada are a pain in the behind, takes weeks and costs around $35.

Hopefully their system sending it to us is more straight forward.  I cut and pasted my bank's instructions in hopes it will make sense to them.  Either way, I am pleased with the integrity the company has shown.  I wish I had the contact info of the fellow we rode with so I could tell him of the response.


 Our apartment door required 3 keys and they all looked like these.



Lining up for fries...










Huge claws on him.


Found our favourite dutch apple pie -- Cafe Papeneiland.
Fuzzy picture -- Too excited to dig in to re-take.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

March

  • I have set up another savings account just for my volunteer travels to keep things organized as I've been kind of flying by the seat of my pants so far.  I'd like to keep a float of 5K in it for anything that pops up.  
  • D managed to prolong the life of my iPod by installing a new battery.  If you own one of the original ones like I do, note that there are 3 possible replacement batteries, unlike what the Apple site tells you.  We didn't find that out until the first one didn't fit.  Cost of replacement battery is around $15.
  • D also solved my Clarisonic Mia battery issue as well (all part of the Feb everything breaking down all at once event).  You can find videos online on how to replace the rechargeable batteries.  In my case, the contact for one of the batteries became disconnected leaving the other battery too weak to keep the unit working.  I'm so glad I didn't have to replace the unit.  That device has saved me a few hundred dollars a year in previous spa expenditures.
  • Staying on the facial theme for another moment; I'm simplifying my morning routine by using sunblock as my moisturizer, rather than moisturizer plus sunblock which I've found to be too much.  And I've found a really good organic moisturizer which comes with a much lower price tag (Kiss My Face vs. Eminence).  Didn't know they offer a sun line and just ordered more of my current stuff (Vivierskin) but will give it go next.
  • D couldn't save our microwave though.  It saw me through school, so it was time. We are not huge users so have replaced it with a small unit.
  • I'm astounded by just how stubborn some people can be when it comes to personal or professional growth. And I thought I was hard headed.  
  • My mentorship duties officially end this month.  The time has gone by fast.  I think he got a lot out of it -- That's what he tells me.  There has been less resistance to suggestions the last month or so.  I wish him well but don't really want to keep in touch and am systematically weaning the others off as well.  Time to move on to other things.
  • To this day, even though I "win" more than I "lose", it still irritates me when I purchase flights and find that the price drops the next day.  Petty but true.
  • So far, am enjoying the flow of this year.  I don't feel particularly rushed or full of "have to" moments.  It's nice.  The biggest challenge has been not to let my mind dwell on things too far ahead.  We've had to book our summer (and working on Christmas) holidays due to D's work schedule needing much advanced notice and also an appointment for me in the fall that required early planning. 
  • Tired of people who use the phrases "laid back" and "you may not chose to do things the way I do" as an excuse for having far lower standards than generally accepted.
  • My travel budget is slimmer this year due to the addition of extra trips last year.  I don't like the feeling of being restricted but that was the deal I made with myself.  There is way too much temptation.  So if I really really want to go somewhere, I'll have to dig into my points account.
  • Mortgage responsibilities to the bank will be completed this year by the end of Nov.  D's super excited about it.  He will concentrate on ridding the rest of the new car loan after that.  I'll continue paying $300 monthly towards it until that time and will probably top it up so that it can be done by Dec '16.
  • D still has contribution room in his RSP from previous years of work.  I've been putting 15K yearly towards it the last couple of years to help fill it faster.  Once the mortgage is done, half of what he had been paying will go towards his RSP.  It will likely take up to 3 years to completely fill depending on our level of aggressiveness.  Ditto with the approach to our tax free savings accounts.
  • I've taken more of a back seat with respect to household finances the last few years since I've stopped making mortgage payments.  It has been enjoyable mentally even though our finances are managed as a whole.  I don't miss those years of heavy mortgage pre-payments.  D is anxiously counting down.  
  • My thoughts on full out retirement are changing.  Have been trying to express what I mean in a post but it has stalled.  Am going to have time to think further on it as I have a couple of long flights ahead of me.  

Thursday, March 5, 2015

An Excerpt

...from a post that makes a lot of sense to me.

"...I think much of our fear ironically comes from not accepting the inherent insecurity of our existence. Society tells us the lie that we can create security, that it should in fact be our life’s work.

We buy into this mindset but secretly try to also comprehend that “one day” when all will be taken away from us – even our very consciousness itself. Something in the limited human mind might think we can hide from it, outsmart it, out-save it, out-eat or out-exercise it. I see how our health efforts as well as other “sensible” choices can obscure a desperate denial of mortality. We think if we just do certain things we’ll be kept safe for a little while longer. We’ll stave off the inevitable if we just do everything “right” to keep ourselves perfectly well and secure.

Yet, I don’t choose to live the way I do in order to be perfect or safe. I occasionally make compromises for things I really want to eat. I do “unsafe” (not the same as foolhardy) things all the time. Exiting a helicopter to snowboard a more amazing mountain, I’ll acknowledge, isn’t playing it safe. While I trust my own skill and limits, I also know that to a certain extent I’m taking my life in my hands when I do that. Yet, I have always been drawn to risk. It’s in my fiber. I think it’s part of all of us and what has moved humanity forward in its evolution. (I recognize at the same time that other people’s version of desirable, satisfying risk looks much different than mine.)

A full life is one in which I feel I’m living from my whole human and individual nature. That includes risk of many kinds. And I desire to live (my version of) a full life more than I desire to be completely safe. Security isn’t my aim. Actualization is. My goal isn’t to live to be 100. It’s to compress morbidity and enjoy the biggest life possible in the number of years I’m alive on this planet. I let go of the ultimate outcome in the interest of living well today. I can choose to not do stupid things, but I’m ultimately not in control. I let go of fear in order to function.

There’s a profound and maybe beautiful irony here. Just as our fundamental instinct for survival wants to nail down surety and safety, Life with a capital L obliges us to check our need for absolute security at the door. The truth is, we always exist on the brink. It’s the nature of life itself – a confoundingly complex puzzle of infinite moving parts – ever shifting between creation and destruction. We have the capacity to observe this rhythm, but we’re also fully subject to it. As they say, none of us are going to get out of this game alive.

When we accept this truth, we can let it work within us. We can learn to configure our lives within the fact that we’re finite, that every single day is uncertain. We can live a different life – a more courageous and expansive life in acceptance of that hard reality. Fear of death, just like fear of almost anything, can keep us small. We shirk risk and its rewards for the promise of time that may never come.

While I’m not a believer in the afterlife, that doesn’t mean I don’t feel the significance or weight of the end of life. I tend to lean toward the concept of detachment. The ultimate fear we conquer is the fear of death. To accept our own finiteness is perhaps our final work in this life. The more we cling to ourselves, the more painful the prospect of dying is. The more we identify with a larger context than ourselves, the less suffering, despair or fear we face. We may not be immune to dark thoughts, but we put them in a bigger container.

I think over time we grow into our mortality as we do our maturity. That said, I’ve seen 70- year-olds who grasped desperately to the bitter and fearful end. Likewise, I’ve seen 7-year-olds dying of cancer accept their death with a knowing grace that both stuns and humbles. When we can emotionally as well as intellectually place ourselves within a larger storyline and accept life as the grand primal epic that it is, we find a right place within life – and perhaps make peace with death as a meaningful dimension of it.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

February

  • We've had a slew of things suddenly need replacing this month.  From a poorly made cell phone case to a kettle.  Hope this cycle has passed for now.
  • Office move imminent.  Am somewhat apprehensive and will likely have to take charge with some issues to get further things done but in the end, probably the better location, probably...Not making a decision (being on the fence about going) wasn't so good for me.  But I had to mentally "get over" a number of things first.  Had certain expectations of how things would be that just isn't going to materialize.
  • The neighbourhood featured in the pictures of Istanbul I posted recently were from the Fener/Balat area (UNESCO).  The row houses may look run down but foreigners have been snapping them up at around 800K a pop and renovating them.  It is an up and coming trendy area.  I saw dozens of photographers taking pictures.
  • I read an article about the ridiculous cost of food in the Canadian North while I was in Yellowknife ironically after finding that the supermarket costs weren't so different from home.  In our far north, it is outrageous.  I've started supporting a local group who is making a difference and want to work with them directly this year.
  • Experienced our first taxi scam.  Can you believe it was in Amsterdam?  After all these years of travel, to countries known for scamming, nothing, until now.  And at the train station, in a city where the concept has never registered with us.  I did take photo of the driver's registration and have sent a note to the company.  They replied and have started an investigation.  I realize it is a "he said she said" situation but wanted to let the company know what happened.
  • I'm noticing what I think are the lower fuel costs having a positive effect on flight prices.  No complaint here.  My frequently flyer strategy has changed in light of the points devaluations started this year for Delta.  I'm looking to pay the least amount to maintain my target status level. 
  • As much as I had been hoping to see the Northern Lights over the years, I noticed that I wasn't as "in to" them as the other travelers I met who had arranged their entire trip around seeing them and slept most of the day so they could be up for hours at night outside with their extensive photography equipment.  Whereas I was the first one up at our B & B and took off as soon as it was light enough.  Didn't know that in Japan, to see them was a good life omen. 
  • One of them invited me to join them on a walk to a viewing point one night.  I went and after about 45 min, I decided I had had enough of just standing there and started to walk back.  Got turned around (new part of town for me, forgot my map) but remembered enough to gage general direction.  
  • Ended up knocking on the door of this art gallery (saw lights and took a chance even though it was around 12:30 am) and met some of the welcoming people ever.  I ended up being offered tea, chocolates and driven back (via the ice road!).  I was heading in the right direction but they insisted of giving me an orientation tour en route.  The next afternoon I stopped by and offered to take them out for lunch as a thank you for their hospitality and ended up staying for tea afterwards.  They told me that in Yellowknife, people help each other and I wasn't the first one who knocked at a late hour to ask about directions.  They love meeting new people.   
  • While I was walking on the ice road one morning, I heard someone ask me if I was warm enough.  It was a man living on a houseboat who maintained the one trail I was walking on.  I told him I was warm and got an invitation to stop by on my way back.  Thought about it and decided I wouldn't go in but would stop and thank him for letting me use the trails.  I knew he was watching me from his window.
  • His houseboat was about 12 ft x 12 ft -- Small bed, desk, cooking area and wood stove.  His boat was out back.  I did stay once my gut told me it was OK and we chatted for a while.  He had been up there since the late 70's and help build many of the buildings in the city.   I sensed a lot of sadness from his past.   On my last morning, we bumped into each other again on the lake and he offered to take me on a snowmobile ride but I was heading to the airport shortly.  
  • The fellow who invited me on the walk (above) was from Hong Kong.   At first he bugged me a bit as he kept knocking on my door to ask questions, when I was looking forward to a quiet reflective trip.  He meant no harm but was a bit nervous as it was his first solo trip, planned 1 1/2 yr ago (friend of his had to bail last minute).  I ended up asking if he wanted to join me on a hike I was doing to an ice cave because it was obvious he really wanted to go.  
  • He is 47 yr old and has been working for his current company for the last 11 yrs and that translated to 1 day off per year of work...He was spending all of it this year in Yellowknife to hopefully capture the Northern Lights.  It was my turn to be speechless.  
  • After I recovered, it was his turn to be shocked when he found out that I take on average 10 weeks off a year.  And my trip had been decided only 3 week prior.  That I would show up without a real camera and actually wanted to walk on a frozen lake (couldn't convince him).  It was he who told me about the night vision app for my phone.   

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Feb 18, 2015





These kids were having the time of their lives sliding down the road, 
on plastic bags, cardboard, plexiglass, whatever they could get their hands on.

Monday, February 2, 2015

January

  • D met up with his cycling group for a few drinks and it did wonders for his training focus.  He is still hoping to join them in a spring cyclocross race...
  • I've been concerned about my buddy R.  Hadn't heard from him in a long time and from previous experience, silence has traditionally meant crisis.  I reached out and we tried to connect at his home airport while I was there recently on a 3 hr layover but he ended up not being able to make it last minute.  Life is still difficult as his wife has had her 6th/7th? surgery and is still not feeling any improvement. 
  • Recently started drinking "bulletproof coffee".  Not bad at all.  However, "bulletproof green tea" made my stomach turn within 30 min.  Not doing that again.  Thankful for Pepto Bismol.
  • Forgot to mention in the Habitat post about our homeowners' repayment of build loan.  The loan cost was 8460 USD total with a monthly payment of 106 USD from a monthly military income of 493 USD.
  • Our new-to-us car battery gave out during a particularly frigid week.  I found out that we can reasonably expect them to last 3 - 5 years now due to the elaborate electrical needs of more recent vehicles.   That would put us at just over 5 years.  Turns out that 2nd highest rated battery can be purchased from Costco (first rated one is more suited to rally car racing).  D was able to replace it, saving us 50% compared to what the dealership had quoted. 
  • It's difficult to explain the exhilaration I feel when you plunk me down in a cold stark place.  From the moment I emerge from the plane, breathe in that cool air, to the walk down the ramp across the tarmac into the main building.  There were many gasps of shock from the sudden burst of cold.  I think I was one of only a few who were grinning.  It's been a long time -- 2014 was about heat and humidity.  This latest getaway allowed me to test out my winter A-Game which led to the discovery of a few areas that needed upgrading.  The weather wasn't as cold (-38C) as it was supposed (-45 to 50C) to be this time of year so I have some work to do for next time.  At least ice wasn't enough of an issue that required my yaktrax.
  • I feel exhilaration of a different kind in Asia.  More from the chaos and not knowing what you are going to see due to the unpredictable nature of life there.  And also maybe a touch of having to keep an eye out for your life due to lack of structure and safety standards as we know it.
  • My office move has been delayed.  The contractors were not finished enough for my liking.  I was quite angry that they did not give any warning when I felt it was obvious.  It's a pain, didn't appreciate the last minute discovery and having to re-contact everyone when they had been notified a month ago and reminded just the day before...such is the life of a business. I've been actually having thoughts of not returning as where I am now is pretty good.
  • D is working from home 3 days a week now and enjoying it.  He's putting in longer hours so I'm happy he doesn't have to commute all week.
  • Had a higher than normal number of recent interactions with people who have difficulty with time management.  Last minute requests (not small either), not getting back for weeks or at all, being ultra casual in emails, like they are texting...Bothers me.  Makes me want to shout "Please get a grip and take ownership of your life!  Don't try and slather your drama all over me.  It's not my responsibility to solve all of your issues."
  • Did have a real breakthrough with deciding not to be more concerned (than they seem to be) with, or feeling the need to mention consequences of, other people's timing even if it looks like an impending train wreck.  
  • I think the above behaviour seems to bother me more now than prior because I see it as so preventable and unnecessary compared to stuff I've witness over the past year.  It does concern me that I currently feel that impatient.
  • I'm ending this summary with this article and some related pictures from Jordan.

migrant family housing/village


2nd, 3rd, 4th generation refugee settlement/small city

refugees from Syria working in fields picking tomatoes

 UN tents

Amman views



    Friday, January 30, 2015

    The Light






    This is what a cell phone camera can capture with a night app.
    Without it, or a tripod with a camera capable of manual mode,
    the results would be black.


    It's also worth mentioning that cell phone touch screens
    will frost over, meaning I had to scrape it, even when it had been in my pocket.
    And the touch screen became very sluggish while typing.


    Know that a real camera will be more sensitive than the human eye.
    So the gorgeous pictures often seen of the Aurora will appear brighter than personally witnessed,
    unless the Aurora happens to be showing at a really high level.




    Snow storm.


    Frozen bay.
    Deceptively difficult to walk on.






    One of many houseboats iced in on Great Slave Lake.
    Ice road to Dettah.


    Walking the ice road in the early mornings
    quickly became a much anticipated activity.
    The feeling of expansiveness was incredible. 




    Do you see them?