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


  • 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


  • 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?

    Sunday, January 25, 2015

    Tuesday, January 13, 2015


    Over the holidays, I re-read "World on Fire,  How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability" by Amy Chua to see if I my understanding had changed after a number of years of travel.

    Afterwards, I also decided to re-read her much more controversial book on child rearing, just for fun.  It was my third reading and I have to admit, each time has felt more startling.

    I'm not interested in entering into a discussion about pros and cons.  But most will probably admit, the book generates emotion.  I couldn't help thinking how my personal outcome could have differed had I grown up with a Mother who was educated, who sat with and coached me.

    But the reality is I didn't have such a Mother.  There was no yelling and screaming to get me to practice piano.  I was simply told that there would be no reminder to practice.  It was all on me.  If I didn't do so, then no more piano lessons because there was no money to be wasted if I wasn't serious.  Simple.  My brother didn't, so he didn't last beyond grade 5.

    Same approach for homework.  There was no nagging, barely remember if I was ever asked about it.  And I knew my parents, who hoped for the best for us, couldn't really help anyways (my Dad was able to help with Calculus later on).  I would come home after school, practiced piano, help with supper and then do homework.  As I got older, I cooked and cleaned and did the yard work too.

    Would that be considered neglect now?  I would like to think not because it made me think and take responsibility at a young age whether you believe a 7 year old could make such a decision or not.  But I felt I could and did.

    I was far from coddled as a child.  Had to amuse myself most of the time because there wasn't a lot around outside of lessons and school.  Almost all my hobbies and interests were initiated by me, with the exception of ballet which was suggested by an Aunt who thought I had terrible posture and target shooting courtesy of an Uncle.  I learned to love them both too.

    In fact, I still love all kinds of teaching and continue to absorb info like a sponge.  Would I have more confidence to perform in public, more ambition if I had a "Tiger Mom?  Or would I have rebelled, like her younger daughter?  The part about Lulu, defiantly standing outside in the cold at age 5 rather than comply and be a "good girl" -- That's So Me!    

    What the book showed me this time around is, with force alone, kids can learn many skills, proving to themselves they can achieve much with perseverance.  But it also shows that Ms Chua didn't want to chance it and see for herself what her 2 very bright daughters had within for self motivation in the first place.

    I would be curious to discover what they would be able to come up with on their own first before encouragement or suggestion, but that's just me blabbing away as an outsider.

    Saturday, January 3, 2015

    Habitat For Humanity

    Here are some base points for those of you who may be interested in participating in a global (vs. local) build where building standards can be quite different to the building codes we know.

    Habitat offers a "hand up", not a "hand out".  Interest free loans are granted to community groups who then provides low interest loans to home owners.  In the case of the community I worked with, it had become common for homeowners to voluntarily put in an extra payment at the end so that their community group can afford to offer small renovation loans to other homeowners.

    A surprised fact I learned -- There isn't a waiting list of families any where in the world to participate in the Habitat program.  The organization is still having to work very hard to become known.  So when a build gets advertised, it means a family has applied and been accepted.

    If you've been following the build calender of your country's Habitat website, you'll see that not all builds attract the minimum level of people required.  It then means that the family must wait until another team leader decides to pick their location for a build and advertise it again.  Remember that a build does not go ahead without a team showing up.

    The funds donated by team members on a successful build goes back into the Habitat pot, so it can be lent out to another community group and family.  Each build creates another opportunity for another family.

    It's not about building a house.  As a newbie, I was for sure excited about that part.  In reality, you pretty much don't get to ever finish a house.  That really isn't the point.  The point is hope.  You being there, as someone from the outside (remember that global travel opportunities are often prohibitive), willing to go there, learn about a new culture, eat together and help fund the eventual completion of it, is something that builds a cultural bridge that extends far beyond the few days of token work. 

    The amount of money just one team member pays ($4500 in my case) is often much more than what people in the host country make in a year.  I could definitely sense the curiosity of the local community members as to who we were and why we decided to come.  Instead of introducing ourselves by name, we sat in a circle and were asked to share how old we were and what we did at home.  My group ranged from 28 - 75 years old.

    Sure, there will be people who join in because it is an opportunity to see a new place and get some sort of tax write off for the effort.  Having just completed my taxes, I can say that in my case, it didn't make "that much" of a difference, not enough to sway me to do another one for this reason alone.

    You'll receive 2 receipts, one for the flight and one for the build cost.  Should you decide to extend your stay a few days with the group in the organized "R & R" portion, that cost isn't tax deductible. 

    In my group, we were all established travelers already.  And for me, the short travel add on at the end was both not long enough in duration nor slow enough in pace for my taste.  I knew to expect that going in so it was OK.  I definitely wasn't motivated by this portion as I would prefer to explore an area in my own way.  Next time, I would consider doing the build portion only.  And pay extra to get my own room when possible. 

    The build portion of the cost varies just a little.  The biggest difference will be the airfare.  I was told that global builds in Central America are the most popular because of the relatively lower cost of flights.  Should you chose more out of the way spots, your airfare portion can easily top 2K.  As a general observation, the more costly the flight, the more rural the experience.  My teammates told me stories of their living conditions at sites around the world that gave me goosebumps.  

    Most builds have team members staying in motels or hotels sharing 2 - 3 in a room with meals catered or at local restaurants.  Should you chose a build site that is very rural, with few facilities, then your accommodations may vary dramatically.  Even though you will be with an organized group, there is no control over animals, insects, when standard of housing is very basic and you find yourself in the middle of nowhere with strict restrictions against going out after dark.  You may also be required to get a number of travel immunizations and medication, which are not tax deductible. 

    I wouldn't say I chose a real difficult location to start with compared to the stories I heard from the others.  It was rural, with not much around and we had to sleep on the floor but it felt like camping to me.  The biggest challenge and education were the water restrictions.  We don't think much about water use in Canada.  Sure we are aware, do our best to conserve but bottom line is that it's there, available and cheap.  I have experience living without running water up north and still found it stressful and challenging.

    The members of my team are all very giving people.  You can feel it emanating from them.  A number of them have extensive experience volunteering with their church group.  Some have spent significant time at overseas missions.  A number of the couples do this as one of their trips away every other year.  A good third of us were solo travelers.  Half of my team were retired.  It was the first build for 5 of us.  And another interesting fact is that 80% of total global team member make up are women.  In fact the oldest member of my team (75) was a woman and it was her 5th global build in 2014!

    ***A funny moment:  A lady approached me for walking directions after the build was over, during the R & R and we ended up walking and talking together as we were heading the same way.  When she found out what I had just finished doing with Habitat, she exclaimed "You all sleep on the floor, men and women separated, have to pay to do physical work, don't know anyone...(shudder) That sounds like communism!"  (She is Russian, living in the US).***

    Thursday, January 1, 2015


    This year will involve more balance in my travel.  I'm not going to subject myself relentlessly to pain and suffering and extreme heat like I did in 2014.  I'm actually going to take some real vacations!  To some cold weather places again!

    When D and I were going over our respective years, it came to light that my energy level was higher than he had ever seen it.  It had to have been because I wouldn't classify most of my trips last year as vacations at all.  They took more out of me emotionally and physically.

    A week in Bangkok, a week at the cottage, several long weekends were the only instances I remember feeling relaxed and rejuvenated.  They represented such a small percentage of my overall time off.

    Still I ended the year feeling quite strong and needed only a few days' worth of rest before feeling like I can go at it full on again.  Happy about this realization, want to maintain it, but still going to aim for better distribution of time and geography this year.

    Because of my penchant for planning ahead, there are some places I've already committed us to ages ago that would be too much of a hassle to modify or cancel so we will be going.  The not planning for more than 3 months guideline is otherwise going exceedingly well.

    One exception was the use of a flight credit before its deadline.  I did end up booking a flight for May (Original goal was for a flight in March -- Wasn't "allowed").  The experience took 7 phone calls and what felt like a year off my life and never again will I cancel a flight with Delta -- Will only change it.  Am so glad to be rid of it finally.   Where I will get to go will make up for the aggravation.

    Had I known about all the computer glitches/hang ups and hidden e-credit rules not listed in the terms (Won't stress you out with the gory details) , I would have gone somewhere last week because where I was looking at, in the end, would have worked.

    I've cancelled plenty of flights in my time but Delta takes the cake with respect to byzantine rules and regulations.  It felt like I was getting penalized again for cancelling.  That the $300 fee I'd already paid and had no problem with paying, wasn't enough.  Otherwise I really like and am loyal to their product.  Yes I did send feedback to them about my experience.

    D's year wasn't such a highlight for him career or health wise.  He was glad to bid farewell to 2014.  It did turn around for him with respect to work by the end of the year.  He feels great about his new position even though he had to work between Christmas and New Years.

    He also hopes to have hit rock bottom with health issues and that things will stabilize, start looking up and get fun again.  We both know he has taken lots of things for granted and it is time to tighten up in those areas.  I believe they are the kind of realizations we all come to terms with individually in one aspect or another in our lives, some of us sooner than others. 

    Tuesday, December 30, 2014


    I had forgotten what a fantastic feeling it is to finish up work and not be rushing off to an airport right away.  It felt like luxury!

    To not be preoccupied with packing and re-packing days before, making modifications dependent upon last minute weather changes.  To not need to carry toilet paper around all the time.  To not concern myself with covering up from the neck down.  To not need basic functioning in a different language, having maps and streets in order on paper, in my head and wondering where I'll be finding food.  It's a lot of work, especially for one person.  I didn't make 2014 easy on myself. 

    I would be lying if I didn't admit to feeling withdrawal symptoms, after the first couple of days through the first week (because most of the time, I love figuring all that above stuff out).  Not even a mild cold deterred it.  Had to fight hard, the temptation to not go somewhere when I had a good amount of time, advance research done and a flight credit to use up.  It didn't help that I was actually able to find enticing options so last minute.  And any time I can get away without loss of income is a good thing.

    I cannot remember the last time I had 2 weeks off and actually spent it at home (vs cottage etc) by choice.  And it isn't because D and I didn't have fun plans or that there isn't a long list of things we've been wanting to do around the house either.  We've just gotten fairly decent at tackling that list during our regular weekends.

    In my mind, I spend fulfilling time at home most of the year.  I'm out of the house maybe 22 hr a week during a typical week so I don't have the same pull as D might of wanting to be at home more or missing it.

    Maybe there will come a day I won't feel the internal tug of war, but right now, the drive to explore is still super strong.  In the end I was glad I didn't jet off right away because D came down with a bad flu (very unlike him).   He is understandably tired and frustrated with health issues these past couple of months. 

    My new set of conservative travel clothing got a real work out this year.  I had become so acclimatized to conservative cultures, when we got to the Dead Sea, I was ready to wade in covered up.  Felt naked initially while wearing my most conservative bikini (didn't feel like buying a 1 piece just for this and there were a number of other tourists wearing the same) as I had not even worn a T shirt, shorts or knee length skirt in any of the countries I went to this year despite temperatures well over 35 C.

    It's not easy nor always enjoyable to voluntarily push myself often outside comfort zones.  And believe me I get scared.  But how do we grow if we don't?  There is at times a huge gulf between what I've signed up to do and where I'd prefer to be instead.  But in every single instance, I learned a lot and was pleased/thrilled to have gone.  It's just that comfort creates such inertia. 

    At this stage, I don't have the stamina to maintain this year's travel pace indefinitely.  I really admire people who seemingly can, whose rigorous commitment is so strong.  Maybe someday, if I keep working on it, if it is what I want.

    After the adventures of this year, I'm hyper aware of my ability to chose and how easily things can change and be lost -- Many examples all around me.  Am not taking anything I do for granted, work or play.  Cherishing my freedom and still aiming to maximize potential. 

    There is something very satisfying about glancing over the year's spreadsheet, which has more than just numbers, to look at the distribution of my time.  Have I spent it wisely?  Any changes needed for next year?  Potential of 2015?  It may sound geeky, but it's fun for me.  I've even spent time putting together my tax return.  Aren't I just a bunch of excitement...

    I've made some work related changes for next year, dropping a couple of things which will have a small effect on my income.  It's OK.  I've been ready for those modifications for a while now.  It makes me feel more congruent.

    Love not being part of the stress and commercial hype surrounding the end of December.  Feel rested and have been able to increase my workout intensity.  Even start a detox to undo the sweets I indulged in.  Might as well aim to start the new year as healthy as possible.

    My senses have taken in a lot this year.  Feel honoured for all the good in my life.  Thanks for reading and All the Best to you all for 2015.

    Friday, December 19, 2014


    • I cannot believe I've been seriously entertaining the idea of squeezing in one last trip before Dec 31st.  Yes, there is no limit to the insanity.  More disturbingly, with regards to the apparent disconnect between the brain hemispheres.
    • Interesting idea:  If you pursued only the things that rank 90% or higher to you, what would you be dropping?
    • I cannot remember the last time I had potentially 2 weeks off to spent at home.  I'm relishing the thought.
    • I've been dramatically less social this year and it still feels right.  The new people I've crossed paths with along the way have been stellar. 
    • It has been 4 months with my Mentee.  He has a vastly different life agenda than the others I've worked with.  I do question his prioritizational ability with respect to managing some parts of his life and business.  His default responses don't often make sense to me.  He is a strong people pleaser with at times blurry personal boundaries and a need to provide a play by play account of what's been going on.  I've given up encouraging him to email me questions.  He prefers to talk and is surprisingly optimistic.
    • D has been diligent with doing the "right" things for his back and it has paid off.  Our last trip was a great test for it.  We will be heading out west to ski late winter so that will give him plenty of time to get stronger.  Works well this year as the snow has been slow to arrive.  One thing good about this change fee.  The same cannot be said of his leg however.  A few days after our return from our recent trip, D developed swelling and hardness in his ankle area, so off to the ER he went.
    • Creating my first ever Christmas letter.  Thought it would be a fun way to touch base with those I haven't seen for a while.  Not sure if it'll get sent as first draft is reading a tad serious for I've seen and done some heavy things this year. 
    • From Facebook, I found my old high school counselor.  He played a pivotal role during my time there, really took me under his wing.  If I hadn't been recently asked to speak to some students at a career event, I wouldn't have thought of trying to locate him again, as the last time I did one of those talks was for him.  We chatted on the phone for a couple of hours and I was stricken by news of his disability along with the tone of his voice as to how that has impacted what his retirement was supposed to be like.   For an avid musician and traveler to not be able to see anymore is tragic.  I was saddened for quite a while after our call.  He says I sound exactly the same to him, same level of enthusiasm.  
    • My brain feels less "squeezed" since deciding not to plan further than 3 months out.  
    • Am loving the new vehicle.  Feels like I've driven it forever, so easy.  Maybe I'm more of a Japanese car girl after all.  Decided on rims and snow tires which have been installed.
    • I have to admit that all the extra traveling this year has been hard on my body.  All that sitting is not so healthy.  And it was just starting to feel like a chore, which kind of scared me.  I'm not spending all that prep time (and money) for something to feel somewhat dreaded.  No anticipated issues of that next year as there will no longer be any points based incentive.
    • I leave you with views from our recent getaway.  Wishing You and Yours a wonderful Christmas and New Years!

    The Siq

    The iconic Treasury

    Wadi Rum

    Sunday, November 30, 2014

    Oct / Nov

    • Our hot water heater at the house pretty much kicked the bucket while I was in Dubai.  D, who was hoping to have a relaxing week, came home to the surprise pool of water on the basement floor.  It actually tripped the breaker too, alongside setting off the pressure release valve. 
    • Turns out replacement of an electric hot water heater is easier than installing a washer.  The next day, D finished the job after work, at a fraction of what he was quoted by area contractors.  We have the fittings for a gas heater as well but decided to stay with the type we had.  Total cost:  $322 for a 40L tank, downgraded from our 60L.  Obviously had we decided to go back to gas, we'd need the services of a professional.
    • I was surprised that it needed replacement.  The tag showed it was 12 years old.  The cottage had an ancient one (rental) that was only replaced a couple of years ago.  But contractors told D that 10 years is the average life expectancy.  The new tank is also much lighter and does not need an insulating blanket.
    • I had been holding my breath since D started his new job, wondering if his judgement of this new area was true.  That the work could be just work, not fighting and anger and stress, without anything really productive coming out of it.  Well, I'm happy to report that he is significantly different in this role.  His work hours are longer but he is pleased with his new team and is relieved that antagonism isn't commonplace in this environment. I cannot be happier for him. 
    • I'm ending the year with good work focus and physically stronger than last year at this time (outside of the inability to mix concrete...).  Area for improvement include being more disciplined with my food choices as I've found myself cheating more this year because I don't seem to get the stuffed up cranky allergy symptoms with certain foods anymore.  If I push it, I still will, so it isn't over over.  Am thinking of you, Mr Peanut Butter Cup x 3 over Halloween...
    • Rain and wind made the leaves of our trees at home fall quickly this year.  Usually we rake 3 times before winter.  This year it started off like usual, so an easy 6 leaf bags the first time.  Then the 2nd time needed 10 bags and it looked like a couple of trees were still holding about 1/5 of their leaves.  I'd already declared leaf raking season to be over.  Thankful that our city comes around and picks up all those bags.  D's since used the snow blower twice already.
    • I've been spending more time than I ought to helping people on various travel forums.  It has mostly been enjoyable mixed with a bit of exasperation plus it eats up so much time!  Thus the abbreviated blog format as of late.  I've learned a lot too.  Been surprised with how many really busy savvy travelers take time to help out.  It's great to see.
    • I've been systematically clearing my schedule for next year as I've been starting to feel like my perpetual over scheduling and scheduling too much in advance may actually be dampening my creativity.  By the time things come up, I've either already moved on and am no longer interested or something else has come up in the meantime I'd rather do or I've figured out how to do something better and now need to make a change.  I've paid $675 in change fees for this privilege.  Some of my lessons cost more than others (sigh).  Next year I'm trying out the plan of no booking further than 3 months ahead and see how it goes.  Am trying not to be too hard on myself and automatically labeling my previous actions as "mistakes" because it is a learning process.  I'd like next year to be a reflective one and am keeping life open for that purpose. 
    • 2014 was the last year for Delta's Skymiles program as we know it and the New Year will usher in a dramatically different result.  For example:  My flight to Bangkok in 2014 earned me 40000 miles; 25000 can buy a ticket anywhere in the continental North America; 60000 gets me a flight to Europe; if you are lucky and book early enough 80000 can get you to Asia.  Not bad, right?  Well, 2015 will mean the same flight to Bangkok will earn me 7000 miles, a Huge difference.  Thus my moving some of next year's trips to this year.  So if you are looking for some nifty "travel hacking" advice, you won't find it here.  The best I got is "fly more now"...I know, earth shattering...
    • We've cooked more than any other year.  Am using the collective "we" but in reality D does most of it and I enjoy that very much.  He seems to like it whereas I would eat something simpler if I had to cook it.  I follow a few blogs where the writer is a master in the kitchen, growing stuff, cooking everything by scratch and most of all loving the process.  I used to but since finding out about all this food allergy stuff 3 years ago, the fun has been taken out of it for me though my taste and appreciation of food hasn't.  I'd make a terrible homemaker.  Thank goodness D has stepped up.  He makes a mean bolognese sauce that takes hours with multiple boil downs.
    • Even with all the travel I did this year (expected and late add ons), in the end, I managed to only work 2 days less than last but have earned more money.  What we usually do with that financial fact is: The remaining extra - the extra tax implications = bonus money / 2.  
    • A fraudulent charge showed up on my credit card.  It's amazing what credit card companies can find out.  They knew that the card was swiped which meant there was a physical copy (somewhere in NJ) and that they tried to put something through 3 times, twice in the $500 range and once in the $350 range which ended up making it through.  I had to shred the card and the replacement didn't make it to me in time before I left for the build.  Good reminder that back up cards can play an important role.
    • I got the email while away and knew we'd be making a decision about D's vehicle when I returned home.  Turns out the yearly check up revealed a serious issue with the engine (head gasket leak) and ball joint and bearing.  He drives a 2004 Subaru Outback (187000 km) and we were hoping to still have it around for another 4 years.  Not to be, without some fairly serious work done.  As the timing belt and new summer tires are due as well, the total cost of what is to come will be around $4200, more than we'd get on a trade ($1000).  
    • As we happened to have spent some time looking around this summer, we had an idea of direction.  D has gotten his head around not necessarily having a wagon as my SUV can haul stuff and I have from my last car, an indestructible Thule rack system that can be fitted onto any vehicle, but we would still like AWD.  So we narrowed it down to Subaru, Volvo, BMW, Audi, Infiniti.  In the end we signed for an Infiniti G37x with 58000 km, costing us 20K, taxes and fees in.  Insurance will be $15 more a month and we are on the hunt for winter tires and rims.  Considering my first car cost 20K 17 years ago for a 1 year old Honda CRV with 19700 km, it's neat to be spending the same amount for vastly superior technology.  
    • I feel like the luckiest person right now because just the act of being able to make a largish financial decision is something most if not all of people in the countries I've traveled to this year would not be able to do in their lifetime, not even by finance.       

    Thursday, November 27, 2014


    I hadn't expected that the build experience would cause my heart to swell with such amounts of joy and hope.  It felt akin to seeing Norway for the first time.  I was so full mentally and emotionally from the build portion alone, I would have been completely satisfied with going home without needing the extra days of bonus touring.

    I hadn't expected to learn that a successful team build for Habitat meant a funded and eventually completed project.  Without it, a build does not move ahead.  In other words, you are not just going there to participate on a build that is happening anyways.  It will not happen without a team showing up.  Each build means a new house/renovation gets to exist.  That fact struck me so strongly, I recommended that they ought to consider publishing it because it has potential to be a game changer.

    I hadn't expected to do so well with communal living and group travel.  My earlier experiences in Morocco definitely prepared me for the group aspect.  We were 17 people with segregated sleeping areas, sleeping on thin mattresses in a house that wasn't heated (we could see our breath), with moderately severe water restrictions, one western toilet, 2 showers and a hot water tank the size of a duffel bag.  Water is stored in a container on the roof.  Should you run out, it can take weeks before more can be delivered.  To say we were all cautious and paranoid of that happening would be an understatement.

    I hadn't expected to be so thoroughly immersed in the local culture and community to the point where we were invited into peoples' homes everyday for tea, for dinner.  We were literally embraced from day 1.  Feedback from other team members much more experienced than I told me that this level of interaction was unusual.  Felt very blessed I decided to chose this location at this time.  For better or worse, this serves as my high water mark.

    I hadn't expected to feel so weak physically.  If I had to support my family by mixing concrete, they would starve.  It was embarrassing just how ineffective I felt as I hadn't considered myself to be a really weak person physically.  Sure, the equipment was not great but I never felt like I got adequate leverage to do that job properly.  Had no issues with all the other aspects of the build i.e. moving block, bending re-bar,  carrying buckets of mortar, laying block etc. but mixing concrete?  Forget it.  Even the new home owner, who was 4 months pregnant showed me up.  Time for a new workout routine.

    I hadn't expected to discover that the Women in the build community to be so very strong and powerful.  Apparently that is the case as well in places like Nepal and Kenya.  The newer generations are educated and taking leadership roles in their villages.  They were the ones organizing all the details of our experiences.  We had volunteer drivers take us everywhere, though most of the available vehicles would not be considered road worthy here.  It was a cool experience to be in a van decked out in shag and fringe, driven by a chain smoking Grandfather (windows closed) with hip hop blasting from the speakers.  That's just how things work there.  Don't even think about inquiring about seat belts.  Just go with it.

    I hadn't expected to fall in love with masonry.  It appealed to me visually, spatially and physically.  Sure, after a while I could only build up so high before I could not lift the blocks over anymore but I wasn't intimidated by the height nor the antiquated scaffolding.  I followed the head mason around like a puppy dog.  Watching him work was like viewing art in the making.  And was he ever strong.  He could lift a block (3/4 solid concrete) with 2 fingers.  Would apprentice with him in a heartbeat.

    I hadn't expected to end the year on such a high note.  To be honest, I hadn't been looking forward to this experience.  After Cambodia, I felt I could be of more use there.  Looking back now, I can see how each new step I took this year has prepared me for what's next, even though I still cannot say what that will be or if there necessarily will be a "final' destination, or rather a continued series of openings.  The only thing I know for sure is that I will continue to move towards what resonates and revel in the discovery of what comes out of it.  

    Wednesday, November 5, 2014


    I have a way higher sense of urgency than D does for most things.  This difference between us can create friction when our views clash when certain decisions need to be made.  My thinking tends to navigate me a few steps ahead while he is content most days handling one move at a time.  We've learned to delegate the right things to each other. 

    Enter a back injury.

    D decided during one of his training runs (cyclocross) to jump a stream.  Well, his back got "tweaked" (to use his terminology) and didn't think anything about it as he is used to pushing his limits and straining stuff occasionally.  He is a focused and driven athlete.

    Until I noticed him not being able to pick up his foot properly while walking.

    We are awaiting results from a CT scan.

    When the call came with his appointment time (took 3 weeks) and I found out later that night that he actually declined it and chose a time a few days later, I kind of lost it.  It did come out that he did it because he didn't want our long weekend up at the cottage to be cancelled.

    I understand that but the way I saw it was:  Hospitals takes hundreds of films a day.  They need to be read by a radiologist.  Then printed and sent to his MD, who then needs to read it.  Only then does a call back happen and a follow up appointment to discuss results get made, which could normally take weeks anyways.

    All I saw was increased delay compared to ONE long weekend at a place we've owned for 11 years??!!

    What he's still not seeing very clearly is the consequences of potentially living with chronic pain and loss of function-- Slight or large, predictable or unpredictable.  And how that can impact future plans.  And the effects on your spouse if he / she has to become any type of chronic care giver.

    We know of this scenario in others and it isn't easy.  This situation is many times worse psychologically for someone who is accustomed to being very active.  I get it, I admire his athletic ability but I don't believe he is taking this seriously enough. 

    I know he doesn't want to think about it.  And for sure he is in some denial space.  This is where living with someone like me can be rough.  Because I need him to come to terms with the known facts as we have the results of the x-rays already and start taking positive action.  Because I also know that no action leads down a not so desirable road.

    P.S.  The next morning, D did manage to change his appointment time back to the earlier one.  Until those answers come, it's time to continue on and make the final preparations towards a long awaited event.

    "Go to the people. Live with them. Learn from them. Love them. Start with what they know. Build with what they have. When the work is done, the task accomplished, the people will say "We have done this ourselves".”   

    Lao Tzu

    Thursday, October 30, 2014

    Observations: UAE

    Background reading: Here, Here and Here.

    Upon exiting the metro station closest to my hotel at around 11 pm, I found it immediately disorienting being surrounded by people mostly from the Philippines and Thailand. Where was I again?

    Had known about the significant expat population but experiencing it was entirely different.  All of a sudden those population numbers (1.2 million Pakistanis, 700K Filipinos, 600K Thai etc.) really meant something.

    Even by the end of my stay, I found it difficult to get a real feel for Arabic culture.  You have to really make an effort to search it out.

    This locale was added to my schedule not as part of my original year's plan but as a fairly last minute add on.  In the end, it's timing couldn't have been more appropriate.  

    Having just been to Bangkok for the first time and now to observe the significant numbers of young Thai women working in the Dubai was an eye opener.  Had I not visited Thailand prior, my views would have been much different.

    The only woman I met that seemed happy sat beside me on the bus, having just arrived herself.  Everyone else I encountered who were working, had an edge.  This contrasted widely from how things felt in Bangkok, even amongst the poorest people we saw.  It saddened me to feel that. 

    The Filipino workers seemed much more buoyant.  And their cultural styles came through in the way they interacted with customers.  In an effort to provide "service" by placing numerous numbers of workers in restaurants, cafes, high end stores, you cannot help but encounter the startling result.

    An example:  I had had enough of the giant mall experience after not even an hour and was on my way back to the metro when my eyes fell upon a slice of cake at a cafe.  Thinking a treat was in order, I greeted the young man and asked for what was the last slice of black forest cake "to go".

    He had no idea what I was talking about, even though there was signage and pointing.  He, who spoke great English, only knew the coffee end of things.  No matter, he found someone else to help me, a friendly Filipino girl.

    This was at a cafe that charges the equivalent of 12 USD for a slice of cake (it was delicious, best I've had outside of France).  When she punched in my order on the computer and told me the amount, I couldn't help but notice the look on that fellow's face.  It was a lot of money to him whereas the young lady who helped me didn't bat an eye.  You can tell she has worked there longer and are used to foreigners and locals going there to shop, eat and drink up a storm.

    It was a surreal experience to be served at restaurants, shops by foreign workers who weren't really able to be truly helpful outside of general service.  I noticed a lot of:  Almost embarrassment when having to say the "script" to try and "up sell" a food order, almost apologetic when mentioning the prices.  And with a few I encountered, almost contempt when being asked what may have been the same question over and over again.

    Even the oldest parts of Dubai were mostly populated by people from India, Pakistan etc. working really hard.  It was a good education, something I hadn't expected.  A very different view on "expat" life as my views have been of the highly skilled and educated, rather than a basic definition of someone living in a country they are not from.   

    I found Dubai tough to assimilate to as I do not find pleasure in having a whole host of people at my beck and call. Who are unable to really tell me about a product or give me personal experience with it or in some cases, read.  The disconnect was glaring.

    You can buy all the luxury brands you could want there.  But I couldn't help feeling like you'd be missing out on the real experience by not buying it from their respective countries, being helped and educated by local people.  It isn't an ego boost for me to be helped by someone whose monthly income is less than the item I'm considering.  I got the feeling it was for many.

    And I surprised myself in wanting to return.  Even though I didn't attain much learning of Arabic culture on this visit, it gave me good insight into a unique set of circumstances, in a city that has a reputation of being "artificial", "over the top".  It has its own cultural mosaic and provides opportunity for expat life both freeing for some and oppressive for others under the guise of "progress".  

    Friday, October 24, 2014


    Had no idea how many varieties of dates there were.
    Am personally not a fan (reminds me too much of giant Brazilian cockroaches).

    First of many construction sites.

    Couldn't keep my eyes off those workers.  The sun was searing.
    Thought I'd be prepared with all the hot weather travel I've done this year,
    but was burnt in the first hour.  Could not walk even a hour outside.  Had to take metro.
    Contrast that with Bangkok where we walked for hours in temperatures that 
    were in the high 40s C.  When here, temps were in the high 30s.

    Burj Khalifa
    Tallest building in the world.

    Neat art installation, Dubai Mall -- Largest mall in the world.
    Am not much for shopper any more but wanted to get a sense of its scale.

    Beautiful metro stations.

    Most city bus stops are enclosed and air conditioned.

    First sights of the abras.

    On my way to Abu Dhabi.

    Chicken is most popular meat.

    Sheikh Zayed Mosque

    Got off at the wrong bus stop and ended up having to walk all 
    the way around to the main entrance.

    Trying to show scale between the abra and the dhows behind.

    These dhows carry goods to Iran, Somalia, Pakistan, India.  
    Everything is moved by hand.