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