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.