Friday, January 4, 2013

So far, yet only so near


I flew an amazing (perhaps appalling) number of miles last year, as shown by the summary on the right. This doesn’t include the various bits on Aer Lingus, EasyJet, RyanAir, and United that weren’t eligible for Delta / KLM credit.

The sad bit is that I missed Diamond by only 153 miles: a hop across the Channel by commuter plane instead of Eurostar or Ferry.  It doesn’t actually mean much: there are few benefits to being top-tier (free SkyClub, but no bump up to business on TransAtlantic flights).  And the excess 50,000 miles above Platinum roll over so that I start 2013 with a pre-fattened account.

PhilipsburgThe goal this year, though, is to get the big business exit and retire to St. Maartens.  The secret to life isn’t found in airmiles.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

On the road back

TreinstelTravel at the holidays Often feels as exiting as the NS train fire on New Year’s Eve.  (Caused by a short circuit,  this one has disrupted service north of Utrecht).

There are always cheap airfare deals available around New Years, so, more often than not, I end up flying back to Europe while everyone else is drinking or recovering.  This year, I visited my parents in Boulder, spending New Year’s Eve at dinner and a party where we successively rang in 2013 in Maastricht, Cambridge, and New York.  Champagne flowed from lunch until late evening – lots of fun.

Tuesday morning, though, I was back on the road and headed to Maastricht.

I’ve been driving a rental Fiat 500 over the holidays: a retro little thing with metal dashboard and Lilliputian seats that tootles nicely into small parking crevices.   My advice to Europeans is always to rent a big car in the US so that you can cold your own among trucks and SUVs, but this was pretty nimble (if not particularly fuel efficient).  The airports were crowded with families returning from holidays, and both the Atlanta and Amsterdam flights were crowded.  Snow in Denver, heavy rain in Atlanta, cased flight delays and my luggage missed the transfer, but the trip was otherwise uneventful.

There weren’t many new movies, so I did some reading and caught up with some interviews embedded in the television feeds.  Brad Pitt doesn’t seem to think too deeply about his craft; George Clooney certainly does.  I’ve felt like he’s been a shadow presence over my expat life, rushing through airports as Ryan Bingham in Up in the Air, smiling down from Nespresso posters. troubled in Michael Clayton

It’s interesting to hear his perspective on striking a work/life balance (although he can buy a home at Lake Como to bring him closer to his happy place) and his thoughts on the importance of understand what job you’ve been hired to do.  So often I think of a job in my own terms, revenue, career, personal development, that it’s easy to lose the simpler expectations of the people hiring me.

He laughed that if selling coffee to Europeans allows him to live well, work on projects for scale, and spend time on socially worthwhile causes, then he was fine with the trade-off.  He’s part of an interesting brand strategy with Nespresso: basically its no different from Senseo but positions itself better through his presence, the coffee bars in Bijenkorf, the product framed behind glass like jewelry.  It probably buys them a price premium and customer loyalty (see Wharton and the New York Times).

I arrived in Amsterdam early in the morning and heade into town to pick up the revised and final documents for my UK visa renewal.  Ironically, the Brits re refusing to recognize the legitimacy of my Dutch accountant, requiring me to spend an extra 350 gbp to have them transcribed and stamped by a London auditor (“Is this money laundering?” was his first question to me).  The morning was quiet and misty over the canals, ankle-deep in New Year’s debris.  25 hours on the road: I stopped at a coffee shop and asked for a latte, wearily, and set up my computer on an empty table to look for wifi and update email.

The coffee arrived, I passed 5 euros to the waitress without really looking.  She shifted, a flash of leg, bright red sequined hotpants, startling at 10 am.  I looked around.  Teasers: Beer and Babes.  She flashed a broad smile, I told her to keep the change.  I sighed and went back to work, definitely back in the Netherlands.

Monday, December 31, 2012

Into 2013

The holiday break was both busy and relaxing: it was nice to disconnect from the businesses and spend time with family and friends for a couple of weeks.  There was more work than usual this year in the run-up to Christmas, the convoluted tax and visa filings, and emerging issues in our product development programs, and I think that I was getting more run-down and stressed than I had realized.  I tried to shut off the emails and phone conferences for the holiday and give everything a chance to settle on its own.

The US didn’t feel like a particularly happy country this Christmas.  Folks were grim and surly in stores and restaurants, pushy behind the wheel on the roads and in parking lots. The stores, usually filled by end-of-year sales, remained pretty empty last week. 

I suspect that it’s all a hangover from the election and worries about higher taxes and decreased benefits after January 1.  The media seems full of false political drama and justified economic gloom, profiles of places (Greece, Spain) that America could become and indicting the people (the President, the Republican House of Representatives) thought to be at fault.

It can become an infectious atmosphere, and I already have enough work and life pressure without letting myself get sucked into it.  I know that I’ve become more stressed, impatient, and irritable in December, and that I need to turn that around.  So, in the spirit of getting 2013 off to a good roll, I’ll focus on the promising things happening in life:

I got my scores from the November Dutch NT2-1 language exams; A score of 500 is voldoende (passing) and I got a 537 to complete Lezen (reading) and a 494 to come within a whisker of passing Luisteren (listening).  Schrijven and Spreken (writing and speaking) came in farther back at 438 and 459, respectively.  I’m continuing my daily language work, but am looking for ways to kick up my expressive skills and see if I can get this behind me for 2013.

KPN ha finally gotten the internet and television working in the Maastricht apartment, and has refunded 100 euros in payment for services lost since October.

My travel companion, a 100-year-old teapot, survived it’s 10,000 mile journey.  A Barrington neighbor had acquired it when her grandmother passed away, and she asked if  I could carry it to her niece in Denver as a gift.  I’ve had it on my lap through planes and trains, airports and hotels, for nearly two weeks.  When we unwrapped it together, it was a beautiful piece of Chinese porcelain, happily intact: she was thrilled to have the memento.

My parents have successfully navigated November’s health scares.  My father had a small stroke during diagnostic tests to evaluate his heart; my mother had a cancer scare that required surgery.  These problems were compounded by medical errors and side effects of medications, so we’re all feeling like the program needs a re-think.  There needs to be a better balance of risk with reward, a realistic assessment of balancing long-term benefits with short term quality of life.  For example, should beta blockers be used to bring blood pressure down from 130 to 120 when it’s also causing lethargy and chills?  I just feel like doctors need to let people live their lives at that age rather than play a 30-year game of risk reduction.

My numbers, on the other hand, were uniformly good from a physical exam ahead of the holidays.  Blood sugar is down into the 70s, cholesterol is looking good, heart sounds fine, peripheral circulation is better than expected considering the ankle surgeries years ago.  If I avoid stress, exercise, learn Dutch, I could live forever.

End-of-break, then: on to the airplanes, ‘back to the Netherlands, and into 2013.