Saturday, January 4, 2014

Traversing the Day after Tomorrow

day after 1Rising ocean temperatures will drive more energetic storms.  It’s not a controversial link: MIT meteorologist Kerry Emanuel comments that there's this excellent correlation between hurricane energy and the temperature of the tropical ocean…  The amount of energy expended by hurricanes has gone up in the last 50 years by somewhere between 50 and 80 percent.

The fictional result are superstorms that plunge the world into a new Ice Age. 

The realities are the windstorms and driving rain that have enlivened the past couple of months in Cornwall / Dorset and the Netherlands.

US Day after 2Atlantic# Europe

The fictional map is in the upper right (UR): the other three charts record the New Years storm over the US (UL) and the Christmas Storm over Britain and the Netherlands (LR), connected by the jet stream arcing over the Atlantic (LL).

Which brings me to today’s soggy travel experiences.

DSC02470 (1300x908)I wrapped a very full day in Maastricht with a deelde bierje met mijn vriend as torrential rain and lightning lashed the ‘Skade outside.  A 10 am flight from Amsterdam to Southampton meant a late night run to Schiphol Airport and an early rise, so i caught the train north.  And, at Utrecht, things ground to a halt.

Not global warming, but a hot fire in the train tunnels under Schiphol.  The conductor recommended waiting things out at Amsterdam Centraal, but my app suggested a roundabout way through outlying stations.  A small group of us followed the route through empty stations and wind-swept platforms to finally arrive on the only functioning track at Schiphol, still smelling of smoke in the deserted station, at 1 am.  It was just in time to catch the last hotel shuttle, so I was blissfully in bed at, well, 2 am.

I’ll recommit to New Year’s resolutions for balans en grenz tomorrow, really.

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The latest storm was due to graze the south coast of England this afternoon, so I thought that I was well ahead getting across and onto the train before 10.  Or so I thought: Gusty winds slowed our approach, the UK Border Control took an unnatural interest in my residency, and every ticket machine at the train station was broken.  We were out of the station an hour late, and then immediately stopped by a stranded train blocking the tracks.

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The rain pelted down; stretches of the New Forest were under water as rivers ran fast and brown through the tree.   The wind shook the rail cars as we crossed the green, drowned landscape.  Then Bus 50 from Bournemouth to the Shore Road, and finally a long walk home through the rain, passing downed branches and flooded streets.

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And apparently things had been worse in the prior days: these are pictures of  the surge that came over the Sandbanks seawall at Christmas. 

surge 1 surge 4surge 5 surge3

Thursday, January 2, 2014

A few thoughts and links

DSC02295A long flight back, 10 hours instead of the usual 7, landing in Amsterdam with the new year’s dawn.  I think I got about 2 hours sleep, interspersed with work, reading, and movies.  And, since I got bumped up, also with a steak, unlimited wine, and a flat bed, thank you, KLM.  At 115,000 air miles, I was only a little short of Diamond status again this year, but well over a million miles banked for a vacation.


I studied the darkness outside the airplane, thinking about my 3-legged aspiration to entrepreneurial success, expatriate travel and a close relationship. While a 3-legged stool is always stable, I don’t have any assurance that gaining two doesn’t preclude the third in my unusual situation.

It’s unsettling that my measure of business and expat success is the degree to which I learn to do things on my own, understanding Dutch train announcements and UK regulatory requirements.  It doesn’t bode well for relationships if they have to mesh naturally with that.

At the same time, my most fulfilling experiences as an expat or entrepreneur have been the shared ones, whether successfully traversing a development process or a travel plan together.  I can’t imagine life without a close relationship.

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I sighed, turned on the reading light, asked for a glass of dessert wine, and started reading.  New Years is always a time for making lists (and for keeping them), and the papers and magazines were filled with them.  ‘A few of the best:

  • 25 regrets that should be corrected while there’s still time.   I’m happy that I only seriously regret five of the 25, but they are all big deals to me. ‘Things that I feel like I could have avoided, should have, but are now likely lost forever.

There was a time that I would enumerate and discuss further on these pages but have discovered, to my regret, that words on a personal blog can return in unexpected ways.  I am, however, quite happy to share these thoughts in close conversation should you wish (and, quite recently, have).

  • 44 things learned while wandering Europe (for only 7 months!). I am best at 26 (New experiences make me happier than new objects) and 37 (Confront your fears), but need to work on 18 (Accept the things I cannot change) and 35  (Find momentary happiness by enjoying the present moment). 

I think he missed the importance of Experiencing the world  through other’s eyes, and of Recognizing that Different is not Wrong.   And, ultimately, I do aspire to 39:  Look at travel, and love, as a journey, and you’ll never be disappointed, regardless of where you end up.

  • 10 stressful things to avoid.  I fell into at least half of these deadly sins last year, and, unfortunately, his list is far from complete.  I would add ‘Not taking time to listen without judgement’, ‘Keeping too many options open while deferring commitment’, and  ‘Believing that all hopes can come true’, as some personal stresses.

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Some people say I’ve grown harder in the past six months. 

Maybe, but I had a long reality-check conversation and know that I didn’t drift all the way to becoming a cynic.

Because I never lost faith that most people really do deserve trust, time, and hopes.  Because I rediscovered  that pausing and reaching out to pull someone closer, to listen and to care, must outweigh the rush to get ahead or the impulse to insulate  myself.  Because I know that What did you think I said? is better than I think that you’ve misunderstood me.

Some people say I’ve grown harder in the past six months, but those who know me best know I’ve gone softer.

It’s a good change, among many.


Jana Romanova 3I discovered a photo essay by  Russian photographer Jana Romanova this morning, Waiting, a series of 40 photographs of pregnant couples, still asleep at 5 am.  She took the shots from a ladder straight down onto the bed and every picture tells an intimate story.

Limbs twine, bodies spoon, heads and torsos incline towards or away from one another.  It feels easy to read relationships into the poses, to distinguish the couples at ease and in love from those who will struggle as a family.

Jana Romanova 4  Jana Romanova 2

jana romanova -waitingThe one to the right plays differently for me,  echoing the nights that I lay awake throughout 2013. The year turned into a long series of trials, keeping dreams and aspirations alive while addressing failures and learning life’s lessons from them.

And so, in the quiet darkness, a wish:

‘for more success, more luck, more love and laughter, more travel and fulfilment and love and, yes, for more peaceful sleep, sent to all of my friends, colleagues, and readers for 2014.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Holiday flights

DSC02302 (632x468)Last fall, Michael O‘Leary, the CEO of Ryanair, announced that he was going to overhaul the airline’s customer relations strategy, softening the sharp edges that make booking, check-in, and flying so challenging.  The motivation was the public abuse that he was receiving from disgruntled customers when he went to McDonalds with his family: Lucy Kellaway noted that it was a triumph for face-to-face feedback.

Which brings me to the trials of flying Frontier Airlines.

Forbes called Frontier the worst airline to fly at Christmas, with nearly a third of flights delayed.  Despite good weather, both of my flights to and from Denver were each delayed over four hours.  DSC02460 (976x1300)The outbound leg was further complicated by a 2-hour wait to check bags because of computer glitches.

The comparison to (the older, meaner) Ryanair came on boarding, as the airline piled small insults on top of larger delays.  Every carry-on had to be weighed and measured to assure it wouldn’t qualify as checked baggage, deserving of a $100 fee.  Flight attendants had to process $1.50 credit card payments for soda, slowing cabin service.  Luggage was delayed almost an hour after landing because the ground staff was diverted to fix a stuck cargo door.

It was an endurance test that wouldn’t have gone unnoticed (nor uncompensated) in Europe,where there is a strong Air Passengers Rights protection.  I can only hope that David Siegel has his own customer conversion experience at McDonalds.

I try to remain pretty philosophical about travel headaches: if I tire of the experience, I should stay off the road.  So  take along some good reading, a podcast or two, a sense of humor, and my lounge access card, then just settle in.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Colorado snow and celebrations

DSC02441 (973x1300)I haven’t been in the US as often as I used to be: the shifting nature of work, family, and economics meant resulted in nearly a year’s absence.   It accumulated faster than I realized,and I particularly needed to get down to Colorado to visit my son and my parents.

And we had a good catch-up and reconnection all around. 

And some lovely snow days for early-morning walking; sometimes jet-lag is a good thing

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My son left the Air Force to start back to college: it was great to see his apartment, play with his big graceful dog, and hear about his future plans.

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My parents are in the midst of down sizing, moving from the house to an apartment a few blocks away. There was time to sit and talk, to see the new place, and sort through the boxes of things that wouldn’t be able to move.  There were a lot of pictures of generations of family, memorabilia from my grandfather, scrapbooks of family trips taken together growing up. 

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We scanned all of the oldest photos: DSC02406 (972x1300) - Copymy great-granfathers at work in their paper mill and shoe store.  We contacted railroad museums that might have interest in the coffee sets from long-vanished dining cars.

I felt a tug at how closely the carefully typed vacation diaries, illustrated with curling photos, reminded me of the way i capture life as an expat and entrepreneur: the journey’s record. 

We bundled two large boxes of them to keep.

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DSC02453 (1300x975)There were long discussions of real-estate and politics, the Jan1 arrival of retail marijuana, computers and sports teams.  We all enjoyed dinners together with old stories and familiar laughter,DSC02324 (283x301) followed by single-malt sipping and Christmas cookie exchanges. 

DSC02325 (470x634)It was all very traditional, close, and happy, a cap on the old year and a touchstone to measure the new.  ‘And more visits in 2014, seeing if expat and extended family life can be better mixed.