Sunday, July 10, 2016

Uganda 2

  • The traffic was pretty atrocious.  And when there isn't air conditioning, it meant windows were all open (mosquito nets at night) and everyone gets to breathe in the not-so-nice air and exhaust for hours.  I had to leave at 4:30 pm to catch a 11:35 pm flight, just because it was rush hour.  Only to travel 51 km!
  • The airport in Entebbe had multiple layers of security.  Stage 1 was at the entrance to the road leading into the airport where everyone gets out, car gets checked, walk through metal detector, handbags checked.  Stage 2 was outside of the airport, passport check only 2 hours before flight when the airline instructions were the usual 3 hours prior, so lots of people outside waiting.  Once allowed in, xray and metal detector again.  Stage 3 was passport control after check in.  Stage 4 was pre-boarding 2 hours before flight with yet another xray check and then they take your boarding pass and you sit in a secured room...No wonder the duty free shops and coffee shops looked so empty.  You basically have no time to wander.  
  • As much as the above may sound intense, it really wasn't -- Just tedious.  I didn't feel like their procedures made me feel that much safer. The security officers were nowhere trained to what you'd find at Ben Gurion.  
  • I was fortunate enough to have lounge access, so I was exempt from being herded into the room prematurely.  And I got even luckier on the way to Africa as I was upgraded at the gate by KLM to their world business class from Amsterdam to Entebbe (10 hrs).  A great experience and a touch of luxury before my adventure. Priority luggage did not exist, at least for my particular flight.  It was one of the last to come out.  At least it wasn't covered in shampoo, like many others were as someone checked 2 large containers of the pumped stuff, but did not think to lock the pump...
  • This was the first time I saw a separate area of the airport just for UN planes.  It was impressive.  Throughout the parts of the country I got to see, there was so much UN presence in terms of development of land and various programs.  Their plaques are everywhere -- I have an appreciate of the extent of the need but it was almost disturbing, like the country has lost its identity.  Couldn't help but think of the word "colonization".
  • Voluntarily contending with no air conditioning, hot water, erratic electricity and pervasive red dirt/dust was also new and challenging.  The strong sun was tiring.  And breathing in heavy dusty warm air takes effort.  The cool shower at the end of the day was very much a relief.
  • The heat did get to me.  Got to the point where I almost couldn't move anymore and had a lot of trouble getting my breathing and heart rate down. And even scarier were the thoughts that started to come to mind.  Thoughts like " I think I'm in trouble", "It would be a good idea to yell out for someone", "Don't sit down!".  And the scariest thing was the feeling of numbness and detachment that started to come on where I didn't feel discomfort, which made it all too easy to want to sit or lie down.  I was on an uphill trail, full sun.
  • And to think it happened 3 days after I couldn't sleep because I felt too chilled.  Just when I thought I was getting the hang of this heat thing... I do feel some weakness from that day.  As D puts it, I'm still spinning the right way, but have been knocked off my axis a bit.  Will have time this summer to heal up.
  • Tsetse flies, schistosomiasis/bilharzia, yellow fever, malaria...A sample of the tiny sized things found in Eastern Africa that can make you very ill.  Makes me super appreciate living in a 4 season climate.  

Tuesday, July 5, 2016


  • Uganda was tough on my system.  Took a week for my lungs to detox all the soot and dust and pollution from my lungs.  Hadn't anticipated the amount of plastic being burnt at all hours every day of the week.  It was relentless and deeply bothersome.  It was enough that I would not consider a long term volunteer placement there despite really connecting with the people and issues.
  • Learned an awful lot about what it is like to exist with unreliable energy (think generator) and climate fluctuations that had me both near heat stroke and unable to sleep from the chill.  Who would have thought that a low of 16 C would have me wearing hats, gloves, merino and 2 pairs of socks??!!  Luckily I was able to rent a blanket for the next night.  The level of discomfort was really distressing for me.  It was my fault for deciding last minute not to bring a light sleeping bag, just a silk liner.  Did have both a foam and blow up sleeping mats though.  Never considered an emergency blanket or bivy for what I thought I was getting into, but believe me, I have pretty much everything now!  
  • Despite not having camped for decades, I think I did pretty well.  My tent and footprint did great.  Lived through rain, thunder, strong winds (super surprised as how persistent the wind was there).  Found out the North Face duffels are quite insulating.  My chocolate did not melt despite daytime highs of 27+C and even hotter in my tent.  I couldn't stay inside much after 8 am and could not re-enter until almost 4:30 pm. There was very little shade found.  Most trees are surrounded by 6+ ft termite mounds and I was not going any where close to those.
  • The ground was crazy hard.  I could not get my tent pegs even 1 cm into it.  Luckily I got some help before the winds came and ended up having to use a rock that took both hands to hold to get the pegs in.  Bent more than a few and seriously dented the rest.  Mental note to look for better pegs for different conditions to have on hand.  
  • Decided that I'm not a fan of carrying heavy gear.  I'm an ultralight packer as it is, so this will spill into future trips like this.  Don't think it will be a huge issue as the places I'm planning to go will not involve long traverses weighted down.  I really admire people who walk around with huge packs like it is nothing.  I'm small boned, so it doesn't take much to make up a significant percentage of my body weight.
  • It was no fun having to worry about not having electricity to charge devices and batteries running out prematurely.  A couple of girls in my group had battery back up and solar solutions.  Am well on my way to building my own. Am not going to be caught out like that again.  The learning continues...
  • The Sound -- I found the country to be So Loud.  Ear plugs became a norm at nights.  I found the decibel level of regular conversation too high for my comfort.  On the other hand, I love listening to the sheer amount of singing that occurs daily.  I had no idea what the words meant but it was beautiful and uplifting to witness. 
  • After 12+ years and many miles in the air, my Bose noise canceling headphones have taken their last breath.  Am quite sad about it because it has done so well for me and still look so new.  
  • I turned them in for what I had originally decided as the QC 25 but after another trial listen, I went for the ear bud version QC 20 (same price), because they simply sounded better (love them!), despite some disturbing reviews.  I just couldn't spend money on something that didn't wow me sound wise.  I'll deal with any consequences of that decision.  You receive about $111 towards the new set when you turn in your old one. Something they absolutely do not have to do.  
  • I've finally added captions to the photos in my last post.

Thursday, June 16, 2016


I harboured a vague notion of how cool it would be to live my days cycling with the rising and setting of the sun.  To become one with nature's frequencies and rhythm.  To adapt to a less rushed, more organic way of living...

Reality hasn't always matched my vivid internal hopes and dreams.  Thankfully there have been many moments where it has superseded the most optimistic ideals.

You won't find as many big game animals in Uganda compared to
some of the other more popular safari areas in Africa because during 
Idi Amin's reign, members of his army and villagers alike starved 
and had to resort to killing and eating game animals to survive. 

Great strides have been made to rebuild and preserve their parks,
as well as continuing to target poachers.

The authorities realized it was smarter, in the long run to preserve.
As we were told, they stood to make more money for projects from
showing a monkey 100 times rather than killing and eating it once.

6:30 am sunrise along the banks of the Nile River,
awaiting the first ferry of the day.

I know this is very hard to see, but was trying to capture 
(understandably without flash),  one of the hippos who came up 
from the banks of the Nile to the camp to eat the grass.
A girl I met while brushing teeth (open air washrooms) were 
heading back to our tents when we almost walked into it.  
We were within 3 ft.  It was silent when moving, but a crazy loud eater!
We discovered just how effective our leaping back reflexes were...

You can kind of make out its back side.  
For scale, the height of the hippo was about 5 ft.
Absolute highlight of the trip.
That and being chased by a baby warthog at the camp also.
Those little guys come at you like bullets!
Yes, you could choose to stay at a place where a manned and 
secured perimeter is provided, but where is the fun in that?

Wednesday, May 25, 2016


I've been upgrading and acquiring new gear like it was free lately.  Currently in awe of Arc'teryx, with just how much a North Face basecamp duffel can hold and how Marmot continues to design things that makes so much sense.  A couple of pieces might go back but the majority has become integrated into our lives already.

"We are going about this backwards." D said, with respect to our desire to begin camping again.  "People tend to start to with it, with the aim of owning a cottage someday, so they don't have to camp."

Apparently this has already confused people, who haven't held back their surprise and comments of "You guys are crazy...Why would you want to start camping, much less bike (D) or travel (Me) camping?"

Well, the answer is pretty simple, at least in my mind.  I'm preparing for bigger things, that will require I be stronger and more self supporting.  And I love the idea of having everything you need with you and the simplicity of tent living.  Although the last time I did a multi day hiking/camping trip was in high school.

The last few years has seen good strides with respect to my management of mosquito and heat issues. Combining those gains with physical endurance in more challenging destinations seems like a natural progression.  The continued belief of -- You want to Do more?  Then you must Be more...

I have to admit, it has been fun buying and preparing.  Whether I/we can live up to the demands of what our new gear can withstand remains to be seen.  There will be a number of opportunities this year to get pretty uncomfortable, to flush out all those pretty mental idealizations...

Tuesday, May 17, 2016


It has been a while since I've worked on a project with new people for an extended period of time.  The last group stood out in my mind because of the high percentage of people whose bios just did not match the energy given off in real life.  In fact, it was nowhere close!  How could that be?  Did they realize how differently they presented?

Despite it being many months ago, my mind has returned to this discrepancy again and again, like attempting to solve one of those impossible puzzles -- Likely from fear I might also be projecting a similar personality gap and managing to completely confuse everyone I meet?

Perhaps part of it is that I also assume that by the time you reach a certain decade of your life, you also attain some knowing, congruence, acceptance of oneself?

OK, I'm blabbering -- How about a couple of examples?

On paper, this woman reads incredible.  The amount of personal achievements worldwide and local, is beyond inspiring.  All the while upholding what was full time but is now, a serious part time career.  I couldn't wait to meet such a powerhouse person.

When we finally met, it confused me.  The energy, presence and vitality I expected, that came through in the emails and write ups weren't there.  And it wasn't a matter of someone being humble but you can still sense real power and strength underneath.

I couldn't sense very much that gave me a feeling of confidence, and I'm usually quite astute about this sort of thing, especially in person.  For the duration of the project, the primary energy I did pick up was one of low grade confusion rather than leadership.  Was definitely stumped by this one.

It was like someone else had come in to speak the role in place of.  I would never have guessed that she would have had the organizational skills to do everything listed in her CV.

The second person also presented herself as an "expert" traveler who has experienced "extreme" situations.  Again, reads like a real hard core, seasoned, worldly, super strong woman.  Couldn't wait to meet her and share stories of being on the road.

Turned out that there was so much insecurity there, she couldn't stop talking about everything and anything just to fill time.  I had to move out of ear shot because my life energy was getting drained in her presence.

As for being a seasoned traveler, she was surprisingly unprepared but managed to spin it as a positive thing, being spontaneous.  And that it was a sign of being street smart to attain a local SIM card so one can walk around in a strange new locale holding a phone up to get a signal...

It is actually quite scary to me that people are listening to her advice about travel and finance.  I bit my tongue on a lot of the money stuff.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016


For the sake of my sanity and work schedule, I've had to say no to a pretty cool opportunity to do some work in another disaster recovery area of the world.  This was a project I had hoped to be have been involved with last year, but it got cancelled due to political reasons.

About a month ago, I got an email letting me know it was going to be a go this fall.  Of course I got all excited and immediately started to see what I could do to make it happen.  Since the news, it has been a month of such mental torture for me trying to justify, modify, push my way to a solution. I was literally giving myself headaches and bad sleep.

Feeling much relieved since I declined.  D has stepped up and will be joining the team.  I can't be more excited for him as this will be his first experience volunteering overseas and is a difficult one to start with, as the conditions are super basic (no running water, bring your own tent etc.) but he is up for the challenge.

I'll be in the country as well as I had flights booked since last Dec but our timing will be off by about 1 1/2 weeks.  Will be in another recovery area, very different and more remote.  As much as it would have been great to share a single experience together, I feel it will be special to be able to watch things unfold separately.  

Am also proud to announce that I made a change to my travel schedule for the better.  Better meaning easier and more nurturing.  I have been feeling emotionally tired still and finally admitted that I needed a re-charge.  Things were going fine at work etc. but felt like I was lagging a bit inside, somewhat detached, out of sync as well.  Nothing really serious but just slightly off.  

Even though what I had planned wasn't "crazy" or extreme, it was stressing me out with the amount of preparation I was anticipating.  So I cancelled it and replaced it with a tried and true. Outside of overindulging on rich foods, I feel centered and totally in my body, if you know what I mean.  It was perfect for me, just what I needed.  Good to be reminded of some of the best of human development.



Thursday, March 31, 2016


  • The last time I traveled with a laptop was 3 years ago.  Managed to completely forget it was in my backpack going through xray at the airport.  The people behind me gave me the "first time traveler looks and sighs". 
  • Over contributed to my RSP in error... So now I know all about those crazy forms you'll need to fill out just so that you can pay the interest from the time it all started to when it was withdrawn...
  • Ate too many potato chips of a new brand and flavor -- Something in it turned me into a freaky anxiety filled monster -- It was horrible.  Couldn't get it together.  Literally walking into walls.
  • Purchases a couple of items (2 different occasions) only because I thought they were on sale. First time, I read the wrong tag...Second time, a wrong tag was placed...The amount I "overpaid" wasn't enough to return but ironically occurred at the same store.
  • Managed to drop a skewer directly down the kitchen sink drain!  It's still there as our kitchen sink pipe does not have that bottom removable part (old house) -- How's that for technical?!
  • I followed it up with dropping a calligraphy nib down our powder room sink while cleaning it -- D salvaged this one using a magnet.

Fortunately life hasn't been completely out of whack.

  • I discovered winter trail hiking/running while out west this season and really took to it.  Loved being in elevation and outdoors.  The climbs were challenging especially after snowfall, but the light, silence and air made up for it.  
  • It was embarrassing to discover just how little ground I covered due to all the uphills when I thought and felt like I was working so very hard.  Seriously, I think I was the only one not wearing a coat.  D came out with me a couple of times and used some sort of tracking thing on his phone so that's how I know.  
  • A real positive that has come from it, is a commitment to work on cardio more. I'll need to if I want to do any type of multi day trekking in altitude.  It was just the push I needed.
  • The only cautions I would pass along are -- Should you also be doing this at a ski resort, remember that significant amounts of snow fall there and you could easily be waist deep in it if you venture off the path even a little (2 face plants first day) and even deeper should you fall into a tree well.  Plus there is that whole thing of potentially dying in one...
  • Bring a whistle, phone, snacks and extra grips for your shoes.  I'm actually considering a small collapsible shovel as well.  In my case, only saw 3 people in 9 days on the lessor used trails. Probably didn't help that I was out first thing in the mornings.

Sunday, February 21, 2016


  • D's surgery and recovery went smoothly.  So well, he has been skiing a bunch of times since and just left recently for another 2 week stint.
  • It has been an usually mild winter.  No complaints from me, despite investing in new snow tires.  Went with Continental this time around.  In the couple of times I drove in the messy thick stuff, it has already done better than my previous Pirelli set. 
  • I finally got my hair (10 inches) cut off to donate.  No layers afterwards as the journey to get it back to one uniform length after the last cut took way too long.  Sure, it may have looked better but I hope to still have plenty of time left in my life to be creative with my hair once it no longer qualifies for donation.  In reality, I pull my hair back 90% of the time, so who really cares about layers?
  • After missing a couple of seasons out west, I made sure I was to go this year.  Snow conditions have been great and I'll get to try out a couple of new sports and get to stay for 10 days.
  • I'm happy with the results of my increased strength training (mostly body weight exercises).  It has made a noticeable difference all around and I hope to continue the improvements.
  • Probably due to the heat and physical work load while away as well as the decrease appetite; not surprisingly, I lost almost 5 lbs.  It's totally OK with me as I had gained a few stubborn ones (courtesy of the halva/halawa likely) during my time in Israel and Palestine and could not shake it even with my workouts.  Disturbing how easily that can happen.
  • D's new work position is going really well -- I know I report this every time at the start...But I do feel the difference in him and in me.  Time will tell.  
  • My taxes are ready to go -- Waiting for D to get his info from work. We file separately but I need his net income.  Will be getting some money back -- Part of it due to an over payment of taxes on my part (miscalculation) and from extra charitable donations.  
  • I did catch up with my girlfriend regarding the difficulties of re-entry post volunteer placements.  She has since radically changed her work (self-employed) and has simplified a number of processes there.  The bonus being higher cash flow and less mental worry.  We discussed just how much mental clutter we can needlessly impose on ourselves -- Not much of it all that "real" when it comes right down to it.  I am thrilled at how light she sounds and how her truth and focus just rings out of her voice.
  • This will be a passport renewal year for me.  With most countries in the world requiring expiry dates 6+ months from the date of return, I have to get organized the year before as I have things consistently booked.  Like to give at least a month for it to be done, even though "official" processing time is 10 business days.  I've heard too many stories of people showing up expecting 10 days and finding out that they are experiencing higher than normal volumes...I won't take that risk as there is a lot at stake.   

Monday, February 15, 2016


I reached out to a girlfriend of mine who spent 2 volunteer stints in Haiti shortly after the last earthquake, for advice as I remembered her describing the disorientation she felt after her 2nd return.

It had been a real difference for her compared to the first time when she returned feeling pumped up and raring to go.  Instead, she returned feeling ungrounded and down for at least a few months if my memory serves.

Felt what I think were similar sensations -- Numbness, mental detachment along with profound sadness during and after -- And gave it time to continue working through me once I returned home.  Luckily the worse of it coincided with a non-crazy period at work, thus making my emotional return gentler.

I wonder if this is what I will need to work on next -- The mental-emotional preparation?  Not exactly sure just how to do that, other than to gain more experience and ask others how they cope, which is why I want to talk to her about it.

Situations that lead to the "cleaving open" of oneself emotionally to reveal deep compassion (among other things) can be heart wrenching and uncomfortable.  However, has served to reinforce my deepest foundations as a person.  And this last experience continued to advance that.

And I've noticed how differently being immersed in discomfort play out in people.  From becoming very quiet and literally running away to spend more time alone (me) to feeling the need to talk non stop to acting out negatively when it seems contrary to their persona. Adversity can be such a self discovery process.

My relationship with food shifted on this trip.  I felt a low to low-moderate amount of hunger each day while working abroad.  Coming from a country where I rarely get to feel any real hunger, it was a change.

The heat was certainly a factor but so was the depth of my sadness and guilt.  My appetite during the day wasn't what it usually is, which for me has normally meant 2 meals a day.

For the majority of days, I ate one egg in the morning, not because I was hungry at 6 am, but because I needed something in my stomach before taking my malaria meds.   Then later, would pick through lunch after rejecting any snacks and have 1/3rd of what my normal dinner serving would be. 

Seriously, I felt quite good doing the above.  I found eating vegetarian when I did eat lunch made me more physically productive afterwards in the heat compared to the days I would eat a small piece of chicken or fish, for example. 

Having been home for a while, I initially continued the lower caloric intake out of habit but am missing the amount of physical activity.  My workouts and paid work, despite them rating much harder in a number of ways, also doesn't seem enough.  Am missing the slow burn.  Maybe I need to start volunteering on a farm?

D and I discussed the number of food things we habitually do because we "can", because it is convenient, serves as a treat etc. when in reality those things don't necessarily rank very high in our experience scale to be worth putting in our mouth or spending any money on.

It's not a frugality move as much as a further questioning of our inner motives, including the habits of eating because it is a certain time, before any signs of hunger.  D and I can have quite different eating cycles and for the sake of eating together, one or both of us may not be feeling any real need to eat but will because it is close enough or we are in a social setting or it has just been prepared.

At first, coming back from a place where true hunger is a reality of daily living, our seemingly benign habits at home literally turned my stomach and to be honest, disgusted me -- Even though I'd hardly describe our daily lifestyle as food indulgent. 

So moving forward, we are committed to becoming more conscious of our decision making with respect to our relationship with food.  If I am going to eat out, I want to feel a real hunger for it -- The experience, the type of food, not just because I'm feeling hungry.  There is a difference. 

Monday, February 8, 2016

Let's Begin

My sense of time is off.  It's only February and I feel like far more of the year have passed.  I'm currently fighting with myself and the perpetual temptation to fit in more to an already beautifully balanced year (if I do say so myself).  That's nothing new.

Call it delusional or optimistic.  Either way it is distracting and I've already spent too much time already and it is only February.  I need to stop, step back and get present again.  There's a lot of cool things to look forward to this year that require my immediate attention.

I've been missing on what I'm going to call "developed beauty".  Beauty that has space to grow from having basic needs met.  Architecture, art, music.  I'm missing the best of human development. And also the light of the far north -- Unfortunately no plans there this year.  It's not from lack of trying.  Some things just fall in place and others just don't despite the wanting.

I've spent the last few years immersing myself in high density chaos, learning to thrive and adapt to it.  Grateful for the opportunities that have presented itself which have far exceeded my widest expectations.  Couldn't have been able to dream up anything near the depth of what I've experienced.

Looks like I may have finally figured out what works for me in high heat and humidity.  Am still in disbelief with how well I did last time.  Worked hard for long hours with no negative fall out after.  It has taken 7 visits over 2 years to high temperature places but it appears my system is finally showing signs of quick adaptation.

Glad I didn't give up.  The last set of pictures would have never happened had I did. 

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Unable to Describe

The photos below may show the environment accurately but comes nowhere close to emitting the feelings I got from being there.  This was my first experience being in a disaster recovery zone and it won't be the last.  There is something so raw and visceral about witnessing the aftermath of nature's fury and destruction. 

Not a day went by where I did not tear up walking through the areas to my work site.  The people there are a lot more resilient and handled their situation with far more grace than I could.  I don't know where they find their strength and courage.  Even though I've been back for a while, just the thought of it still elicits strong emotions.  It has taken some time to process.


Saturday, December 19, 2015

Travel Memories 2015

  • In Bangkok, asking our 2nd taxi driver how he was in Khmer instead of Thai...Both he and D turned to look at me with the utmost look of confusion on their faces.  It took me a few seconds to wonder why?  Don't ask me where it came from when I haven't been to Cambodia for almost 2 years.
  • Having our 1st taxi from the airport break down in the middle of the freeway at around 11:30 pm en route to our apartment in Bangkok.  A bit adventurous trying to get out of the car.
  • Remember how I was disgusted at the men at the Yangon ferry terminal, and refused to buy a ticket to Dala due to their greed?  I'm unhappy to say that the corruption has gotten worse.  Yes, the prices that are being demanded are still more than affordable for us, but that's not the point.  I'll never forget the little boy who refused a 1 USD tip because he felt he didn't work hard enough for it.
  • My seatmate on a flight from Tokyo to Singapore.  We ended up talking for almost 8 hours about art, him bringing up 3 boys who live all around the world (he was on his way to go diving with one of them), his professional music career, karate, the cello, his cabin on Puget Sound...Super positive individual.
  • Walking from terminal 1 to 3 at Changi airport at 4 am, hoping to catch this before my flight home, only to find out that the exhibit is Landside, not airside!!!  Once you've crossed over passport control, you are not allowed back!!!  I was disappointed, so consider yourself warned should you be transiting through while it is still on.
  • Getting a small hug from the wife of a couple whose restaurant I ate at on 3 occasions in Koh Lanta.  Culturally it is not really done and she surprised me greatly (even though I have no issues with hugging) as I would have never expected it.  She is the kindest soul I've met in Thailand.  I wouldn't return to the island other than to see her again.  I think she is kinda expecting me to return next year.  Her husband tried to take a picture of me discreetly but his phone gave him away.  I even got to meet Grandma.
  • The frozen Great Slave lake in Yellowknife and the crisp air.  You bet I'm keeping an eye out for any seat sales. Our winter hasn't really started here, but I've read that they are expecting the ice road to be open at around the same time.
  • Took my first flight on the LCC (low cost airline) Air Asia.  The flight and service was fine.  Boarding can be a bit crazy as I couldn't always understand the English announcements.  What did bother me some was the seemingly relentless requests to change seats so that friends and families could sit together.  Being a low cost airline means you have to pay a few dollars to choose your seat, which I did.  Turns out I am in the minority.  Once people realize and understood that I did pay to sit where I was, they backed off.  We are talking about $4 dollars each way...It made sense for me to pay it because I couldn't trust that they wouldn't oversell and I would end up without a seat and miss my much more expensive overseas flight home.
  • Getting mild food poisoning (again) in Singapore the day before my long journey home.  Not bad enough for drugs but what is it with Singapore and me?
  • Leaving Singapore continues to be great experience.  The cab driver was super nice and even waited until I made it into the terminal and waving before he drove off.  
  • The welcome and smile I would get from the waiter at the Yangon restaurant I frequented after my initial attempt with saying thank you and good bye in Burmese.  I always find it frustrating and sad at the same time on my last visit when I'm trying to tell them in limited language and a lot of gesturing that I am leaving for home and that I will come back right away the next I return.  
  • The super nice restaurateur in Balat (Istanbul) who fed D and I so so well for the week.   He would come right out of the front door to greet us.  Can't wait to go back there too.  So many places and moments that touched our hearts this year.
  • Shared tables are the norm in Hong Kong and can be more than a little intimidating when they just tell you where to sit and the table is so small that you are touching knees with the guy across from you.  I held my own when it came to eating though.  Be prepared for impatient looks and expressions if you cannot spit out your order fast enough.  I really took to the vibe in HK.  You can feel the collective brain power of the people there.
  • I was and still am pretty gutted by what I witnessed in Palestine.  Was so angry I shook from it weeks after and I know I'm far from being the only one.  Makes you feel like you have to take action.  Here's a superb film that does an excellent job illustrating the different facets of understanding in the region.  
  • Spent a great day with an architectural student who wants to design affordable housing in the favelas of southern Bogota.  One thing I noticed right away from Bogotanos is when they are listening as well as speaking to you, will look you directly in the eye and hold the gaze throughout.  You have their total attention.  At first it felt a bit intimidating.  Later, I came to appreciate it.  Made me realize how we don't do it to that extent here at home.  
  • The friendly young Israeli woman who helped me purchase my ticket on the tram so I could get to Yad Vashem.  (The guy behind me in line had a sour and impatient expression and couldn't be bothered to help when I told him that I suspected the machine wasn't functioning.  He later ended up in line behind me again as I guess it didn't work for him either.)  She was on her way home on a couple of days leave from a 3 year volunteer commitment teaching children at a rural school.  She explained how much Israelis love to give back and help and I felt that truth ring through her so clearly.  What a great welcome after my first full day spent in Bethlehem and Ramallah.  It is just unfortunate the Israeli government will not allow their citizens to enter Palestine.  However, it doesn't stop Jews from all around the world from entering and seeing for themselves what is going on there.
  • Upon leaving Jenin, I had my first experience with the power of fighter jets.  Frequent military patrols and exercises occur in that region of the country and our van shook, surprising all of us. 
  • The guinea pig races in Bogota!  Could watch them all day.
  • Having lunch and splitting our plates with a guy on the same graffiti tour in Bogota.  The restaurant was recommended during the tour and had a beautiful graffiti mural in front.  He hailed from Boston and is a masters level Botanist attending a conference.  Was going to be heading to the Philippines for 3 weeks to study rice.  We shared plates of lamb, salmon, quinoa and ratatouille at a tapas restaurant.  He was good company.
  • How the homeless people of Bogota aren't demanding or aggressively soliciting.  I experience way worse at home here.  I was eating a plate of lechona (purchased from a street vendor) while standing on the sidewalk.  A homeless man walked by and he looked really hungry.  He didn't even look at me and continued to walk to the nearby garbage bin and started sifting through.  I couldn't finish the serving and went over to towards the garbage.  As I didn't presume he would want it, I made the move to throw it out when he looked at me.  I nodded and motioned to him the plate and he smiled and took it from me.  I gestured if he wanted more as I was ready to buy him a new plate but he was content and thanked me. 
  • I discovered the awesomeness of the airport lounge shower.  Call me a slow learner as there has been ample opportunity to avail myself of this opportunity but it never occurred to me until recently -- And that included being stuck at JFK for 12 hours in July due to thunderstorms...Could have used a therapeutic shower then!  They are actually quite luxurious and not like what I had imagined in my mind (pictures of yucky gym showers) even though you'd think I'd know and expect better.  There are dedicated staff that clean them after each use.  You get fluffy towels, 5 tubes of toiletries, a separate change area, washroom and shower stall with a rain shower head.  It felt like a mini spa.  You bet I've been analyzing my future flights to see when and where I will be able to fit one in next!  I cannot describe just how good it feels after a 14 hour flight.
  • I had a recent incident of being deliberately overcharged.  On the way back to the Krabi airport, I was hoping to catch the airport bus (90 baht) instead of a taxi (400 baht) but I wasn't sure exactly how to do so as there aren't marked signs as to where to wait.  My hotel told me to just stand on a particular corner and wave it down when I see it come down the road.  So I was there super early in the morning so I wouldn't miss it.  A Thai lady was waiting as well and it turned out she was going to the airport too, for work.  I ask if she was taking local transport (50 baht) and she was and it was OK if I followed her.   All was good.  When the open air truck came along and the driver asked where we were going and agreed to take us, we got on.  Then he came around and told me that it was going to cost 100 baht (lesson for next time, confirm the price before getting on, although I took local transport all week with no issues).  My Thai friend launched into a rebuttal and even though I could not understand what he said, the way he looked at me said that he told her that I was a foreigner who was leaving and could afford it.  She got quite red in the face.  By the time we got to the airport, the truck was 3/4 full and only the 2 of us hopped off.  An idea struck me and as we were getting down, I told her that I was going to pay for her.  When the driver met us in the back, I stood if plain view of everyone and told him loud and clear that I was paying for myself and my friend and clearly handed him 100 baht and repeated it.  My friend gave him the look of death while I said it.  Thais do not like to lose face in front of others, so he silently took my 100 baht and you should have seen his face when I thanked him in perfect Thai... He doesn't need to know that I couldn't say much more...
  • I'm cheating here as the picture below isn't from 2015, but 2014, from my Habitat build.  It's one of my favorite ones as it represents so much.  The blocks we built with, the rebar we bent, the tea we were served multiple times each day at the site.  The smell of the wood was wonderful.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015


  • It turns out that the extended health benefit package at D's new company is no where close to what we have been used to.  So the search has begun for potential supplemental insurance.
  • When D worked there previously, the coverage was comparable.  But they have recently slashed the policies and has continued to do so for 2016.  Had we known the details of that, we (D) would have negotiated differently. 
  • I will be working with the travel and regular pharmacy to check what this new policy will/won't cover, specifically the pricey inoculations (Japanese Encephalitis, Rabies) that I will likely be renewing every 3 years.  Update:  It seems to be comparable for more conventional drugs (i.e. epipen) but have just found out there is zero coverage for my travel shots (ouch!).
  • We have started a new savings account for extended health as I have a good idea of what we spend each year to keep well.  Unfortunately our health care system is more of a disease care model and to practice prevention does cost out of pocket. 
  • Looking back on the year expense wise, the biggest costs have been in the auto department.  New brakes, new winter tires etc.  
  • Normally at this time of year, I'm working on filling our "working" accounts but I'm not sure about the extent of the need this year as our cash flow will be higher.  Am going to think about it some more.
  • Only 9 leaf bags this year compared to last year's 15 (or 50, like it felt like...).  Hurray for strong wind!
  • D made a judgement error of assuming that prices would be similar for an oil change and tire swap at the dealership vs. our local place... bad call... cost more than double what it should have.      
  • After requiring yet another bearing replacement, we have decided to send a letter to Infiniti Canada describing our experiences with their brand.  It was covered under warranty but our point is that it shouldn't need it when it is so young (75K)?!  The last bearing we replaced was at 150K on the Subaru.    
  • If you haven't yet seen "The Theory of Everything" please do.  I've just had my 3rd viewing and it continues to move me to tears.  Why this film  as well as "The Imitation Game" and "American Sniper" didn't sweep the Academy awards is beyond me.  I honestly couldn't make it through the first 30 min of "Birdman".
  • My getaway wasn't as relaxing as hoped (something about getting bit on the eyelid and having a dog become interested in my shoulder bag and elbow... neither necessitated official treatment thankfully) although I did return feeling stronger and stumbled upon a few gems for another time.  

Thursday, November 12, 2015


Our original plan was to go on a fun celebratory trip post mortgage pay off.  Due to D starting a new job (unforeseen 6 months ago when this booking occurred), he will be too busy to get away.

Add to it a surgical procedure suddenly booked for the end this year (we've been waiting for 6 months for the specialist appointment) and it is definitely a no go, even if he never left his old position.  D's going in for hernia (day) surgery, likely a result of all of his sports activities over the years and will be out of service for at least 2 weeks.  Expect it to be straightforward.

Our fun trip was supposed to be a surf camp... We had already purchased new rash guards, suits etc. in preparation. 

To our complete surprise, Delta offered us a medical waiver (surgery date is day 2 of the trip), so that we are able to keep the full value of our tickets towards future flights!  I didn't know they would do this as in my mind, that's what travel insurance is for.  Boy was I thankful for their kind gesture.

The flight credit has to be used by next April.  Normally that isn't an issue except I have a number of things in place already for the spring.  So I am going to use it up before D's surgery date.  Can you believe it will be a relaxing trip finally??!!

Part of me feels like a bit of a "wimp" for not going for a bigger challenge, to really take advantage of the opportunity but the other more tired side is feeling less stress because I'm not.  I really don't need to be cramming a new language and culture right now.  Important to be gentle towards myself.  I've made good contacts though for when I'm ready to tackle it. 

If everything stays the course, I will end this work year having worked a week longer than last year with income matching last year's already with one more month to go.  Neat how that works out some years. 

There has been some quite advanced planning for 2016 because I am using points to go fairly far and you need to snag those flights as soon as they are released.  Right now I'm all set all the way to next September.

I have enough status with the airline such that  I could cancel or make changes without penalty up to 72 hours before.  I've made use of this a few times already to trade for better flight times.  It is a fabulous thing, but fairly dangerous for someone like me.

Am also building in more time up north over the summer and fall, as well as out west over the winter.  It's as balanced a year as I've ever had it.  We'll see how it ends up working out...

P.S.  Our great Delta travel credit card is now finished.  To our disappointment, we weren't credited with the prorated amount of our yearly fees, like other companies would do (think utility, cell phone etc.).  D called and was told that because we were beyond 6 months, we would not be receiving anything.  Not acceptable thought I, so I sent an email asking for their reconsideration and to our surprise, it was answered barely 2 hours later and we were credited! Well done Capitol One!

P.P.S.  The results of the election in Myanmar meant a lot to me as I can almost feel the elation of the people.  Everyone I spoke with held such high hopes for Aung San Suu Kyi to win and strong belief she will be able to put in place policies that will allow their country to prosper once again.  Let us hope there will not be any unreasonable blocks from the military.  The world is watching. 

Friday, October 30, 2015


  • I really enjoyed the latest rendition of Cinderella (the movie).  It is one of my favourite fairy tales.  Maintaining the good inside in the midst of great difficulty is something many of us can relate to.
  • D is enjoying the rest of his time off.  I've gotten back to work.  It dawned on us a few days ago that we are in that zone where we are not insured against disability, extended health etc.  
  • My mind is still somewhat foggy and energy/enthusiasm not like it was.  It is slowly coming back at times but feels like it will still take a while.  Somewhat frustrating that I cannot rush it.  
  • Don't enjoy dwelling in this funk as it comes in waves.  Surprised with how much I've managed to bury when I consider myself someone that doesn't like to hold back.  We are making some strong changes in our communication moving forward.  I don't want to feel this wounded again when we can do something about it. 
  • Emotional strength and maturity can be achieved by recognizing the need to set healthier boundaries.  
  • Due to D's crazy work schedule for the last few years, we haven't made it to any art classes.  Hoping that will change.  Until that day comes, I'm suggesting we "draw the house" for an hour or so every week.  We live in an old house with lots of neat architectural features, so plenty of subject matter, without counting the items inside.
  • Our mortgage amount outstanding sits at around $1600 (representing what is left of main house, ski condo and D's half of car) with 2 biweekly payments left.  Exciting times ahead...I've put through about 5 cents worth of extra payments (they are probably wondering if some kid was playing around on the computer) so that the last payment could be exactly finished... I admit to being weird that way...
  • Can you believe it has taken 3 months to get the confirmation letter from our Federal tax department saying that they have finally looked at my uploaded receipts and will allow my charitable donations after all?!  
  • Even though Fall is my favourite season, I have opted to travel rather than spend it up north much of the last decade.  I see that I've been missing out.  Summer is beautiful in her own way but the feel of Fall is unique.  Join me on a photo journey of a few of my daily walks.

Thursday, October 15, 2015


I usually avoid dousing myself with local everyday news but with each country visited and those currently being researched, I make an effort to keep up with current events -- Election in Myanmar, response to bombing in Ankara, fuel crisis in Kathmandu, haze in Indonesia, uprising in Palestine/Israel, flooding in southern France, pollution control in Delhi.  Unfortunately not all happy.

On the home front, D is starting a new position and will have 2 1/2 weeks off prior.  This position came out of the blue as he was approached with the opportunity.  This previous employer was a good one and was the company D was downsized out of about 5 years ago.

Having never experienced returning to a previous company, D didn't know that the process would be more involved than if he were a new hire because it is interpreted that the company is hiring him back because it had "made a mistake" in letting him go in the first extra checks were needed... I am so glad I don't have much to do with the corporate world!

Yes, it was a big decision on one level, to walk away from a defined benefit pension plan back to a defined contribution one.  But he is ready and if this move places D in a better place emotionally as well as professionally, I'm more than happy to make up the difference financially.  I am way beyond caring about the minutiae of numbers right now.  We have to take steps to improve things for D, even if they are incremental and tiny.

What this work position does offer, is a role almost identical to the niche role he was offered when we were investigating a move out west, without the massive amount of traveling.  This is a smart move career-wise and if it works out, will put him in a great position for contract work later on within Canada and globally.

Financially the salary is higher, but not high enough to offset the loss of the full pension plan.  Extended benefits are comparable.  D was able to negotiate the real gain (in my mind) in the form of more time off and work flexibility.

Canadian companies are not known for its generous time off.  So even though this is a senior position and D had worked there before (3 years), he did not get any credit for it and the initial offer reflected it.  Needless to say, he turned it down and started applying to other companies.

Long story short, they did come back and the result is 4 3/4 wk (don't ask) plus one additional week off without pay each year.  Guess who fought for that one?  It is important that it was included clearly in the contract.  Also, with eventual work from home 2 - 3 days a week and the ability to work remote from up north and out west during ski and summer seasons.  For a corporate gig, this is as good as it can get for D.

I have to admit that I'm not hanging too high a hope here.  For sure I want him to do well and get satisfaction from this role but I have become jaded from all of this so am managing my expectations appropriately.   Just don't want any more drama.  D doesn't want to be the bearer of the bad either as he's also had enough.

He will be spending the time off between jobs up north.  I'll get to be there for 1 week of it, enjoying the fall. 

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

5 days

I ended up taking 5 days.  

Days 1 and 2:  I was literally in a daze, my eyes not seeing with clarity, as I walked and sat by the water, feeling somewhat like a zombie.  Even my feet hurt as they weren't willing to mold to the terrain.

Day 3:  Things felt clearer while walking.  Happy to be moving.  Happy for the silence and chance to look out on the water and write it out.  Grateful I had no issues with spending time alone.  I don't know how one would do it otherwise.

Days 4 and 5:  D and I had it out.  My frustration over the last 4 years came out.  I had been carrying it along with me, not realizing how large it had become, not wishing to let it out completely and coming across as an unsupportive spouse.  

I know D's numerous job changes has taken a huge toll on him as well.  However, I was being negatively affected by the angry energy coming from him that he hadn't been entirely conscious of.  We have discussed this before but he hadn't really understood the extent of it until now.

He thought that by keeping silent meant he had it under wraps and was saving me from stress.  I'd rather him let it out than to remain silent, as I'd know it was happening instead of being bombarded energetically by anger and rage when I least expect it.  

As I'm exceedingly sensitive to such things, I get rather affected.  It's exhausting and winds me up at the same time.  And it progressively burnt through my defenses or the lack of, as I don't expect to need defenses at home...and has damaged me over time despite my becoming progressively stronger the last few years.  D feels horrible about it.

Add to it, the fact that I've been challenging myself in my own travel journeys, in ways that required more energy than ever, to prepare as well as recover from the many more difficult places I tended to go to nowadays.  So the sum of both, to put it simply, pushed me over.    

And I found myself feeling the reminders of what I remember burnout was like.  That scared me as that point in time was pretty horrible.  The math didn't add up in my head when I believed I was doing a decent job orchestrating my life.

But of course, I don't live in a bubble.  However, I do believe both parties in a marriage have to take responsibility for what they add and take to and from the relationship during the highs and the lows.  Sometimes just awareness and willingness to protect what you have can make a huge difference.

Now what?  Modify my goals so that I'd leave more energy free to handle the stresses with D's career?  For now, it is the best decision.  I don't feel like I have enough energy to embark on what I had planned later this fall so after another week of reflection I willingly cancelled it. 

D cannot give me any assurances that career wise, things are going to get better, other than to keep searching.  Even his excited energy during that process is difficult for me to handle.  This is one of the few instances I've seen him cycle between extremes in an almost frantic way.  Otherwise he is uber laid back.

It has been a long time since I've felt desperate for time to recover.  Reasonable or not, it feels like failure to me, especially when it may potentially be impacting my work. Thinking further, I have pushed myself greatly the last couple of years and time to reflect on my experiences is warranted.  On my own terms though.  

My eyes are seeing clear again right now.  It's not over but is immensely relieving. 

Friday, October 2, 2015

Inspiration from Pico Iyer

Have you seen these two Ted talks by Pico Iyer?

Caught them on a plane ride last year and find myself coming back to them.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Mental Health Day

It is a difficult thing to admit, the need for a day where I say "no" to any more demands on my time and more importantly, mental emotional load, however slight. 

I find myself teetering on the edge of extreme frustration (already quite frustrated) and emotional detachment (my way of distancing myself when things get dark) even though on paper, things look good.  There's a disconnect somewhere, so I know it is time to do this before I sabotage things further. 

Cannot remember if I've ever taken a deliberate work day for myself.  Booked a holiday yes but don't feel the need to fly anywhere.  Just need to sit still by nature for a while to get grounded again and gain some control over perspective.   And it cannot wait another day. 

It scares me to feel this way especially after all I've done and seen.  It hasn't felt like this for a very long time.  But nowhere near the worst it has been.  Just wise enough to recognize the signs.

What is 1 day, 1 week or even 1 month within a career lifetime?

Wednesday, September 16, 2015


  • I've gone back and added captions to the pictures of Bogota.  The city was surprisingly cosmopolitan and the area I stayed in (La Macarena), had a lot of trendy restaurants.  My Spanish was pretty pathetic so there was a good amount of gesturing.  Met some great people.  Would love to go back sometime.  And again, nothing during my time there tweaked my worry meter at all.
  • Our trip to Bangkok has come and gone as well -- It was good to be back.  Had the option to cancel our flights without penalty but decided to go and support the country, knowing full well we are responsible for ourselves should anything happen.  Do check your travel insurance policy as they may not cover you in acts of terrorism, war (declared or not).
  • D is going through yet another round of job hunting and interviews.  I've come to realize just how much I dislike this whole process as he gets super pumped and I get a headache trying to work through what various positions might mean for our life.  A change is needed, as the work schedule over the last year is unsustainable and very unhealthy.  Can't believe he has lasted this long, to be honest.  I would have had a fit a long time ago.  He likes the position but it is just too much work.  And he is situated around what seems to be all movers and shakers and they cannot understand why he isn't one.
  • We just got notice that our airline credit card will cease to exist in another month.  Quite disappointed with the news are we are fairly new users and have already gained a lot of bonuses and have been looking forward to many years of it.  Instead, we are working down the list of places we have to update automatic charges with.  Back to our old travel card it is.
  • I believe I may have hit on something that can improve my heat exhaustion episodes -- Sodium.  I'm not used to sweating a lot at home, even when working out.  But when I started to go to some very warm places, that changed and I've been just drinking more fluids etc.  In Bangkok, I started to feel overwhelmed with the heat again and the idea popped into mind, so I did a small experiment with ingesting extra salt from foods plus a different electrolyte and felt like a new person by the next day.  Maybe this is the key I have been looking for.  Hope so, because my next Habitat build will be in a warm weather place and I don't wish to be the one who passes out on the work site.
  • My goal to get stronger is slowly coming along.  I'm frustrated with how long it is taking and how much it hurts some days.  Granted I'm not doing anything ballistic and I have no coach pushing me, but still I am getting impatient.  Enjoying it, but feeling pressed for time.
  • Almost forgot to mention -- I had a George Clooney "Up in the Air" moment at the T4 Delta lounge on the way back from Bogota.  I flew out of T2 and an agent at the lounge there helped reprint some boarding passes for me.  Coming home, he was working at the T4 lounge that morning, saw me and said "Welcome Back!".  It was embarrassing as everyone turned to see who he was talking to.  I couldn't believe he remembered me when they must help thousands each day in each lounge!
  • One last thing -- The car windshield replacement worked.  No more drips!
 This is what was getting passed out at Sathorn pier, site of 2nd bomb attack in Bangkok.
The investigation has been a bit of a gong show and even though Thailand is likely the 
most developed of the developing countries in this region, they still fall far short, 
in terms of training, education and procedures.  It still is, everyone for themselves.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Bogota -- Photo Heavy...

Views from Monserrate

Lots of examples of street art.  
It is a respected thing there and police have been known to stand in protection of artists.
Huge contrast from Palestine.

Were these little guys ever cute.  How they managed to be so well trained is beyond me.
If you could only hear the level of noise on the street.
You place your coin bets on top of the houses and if they go into it, you win.

Lots of these cell phone minute vendors around the city.
For people who don't own a phone and wish to make a call, local or long distance.

Outside of the Paloquemoa market.  
This market was a real highlight for me.

I had the best shake made from that giant green fruit -- Guanabana.

Don't judge an orange by its colour there.  The greener ones are sweet!

Oh, the amount of money I'd have to pay for one of those papayas here in Canada...

I have never seen the need for such close egg size distinctions!!

Incredibly rich fruit shakes

It's obvious I'd never make it as food photographer.
I only remember to take a photo once I've mixed things up and take a bit or two...

On Sundays, major roads are close to cars -- Ciclovia!
Vendors line the roads selling snacks.  People walk, bike, roller blade.  Fantastic time!

This was the only food miss.  I thought it was some kind of coffee flavoured mousse.
Turned out it was a tough marshmallow thing and I could barely pull the stick out.  
Ended up having to just bite it. Horribly sweet. 

Walls of lottery tickets for sale.

Poster against the privatization of electricity.

Fantastic photo exhibit of the work women do in remote villages.