End of Year Musings

Advance warning: This is Jamie, infiltrating Nicole’s blog. Call it a guest blog. Or borrowing a space to ramble. Or just poor password protection on Nicole’s behalf. I will not be insulted in the least if you decide at this point to return to your typical tablet browsing and save yourself the 5 minutes of nonsense below.

As we approach the final days of 2013 and are inundated with best of music count downs and commemorative glossies of celebrity candids from the last twelve months, I have been trying to make sense of this last year for myself. It has been an interesting one without question. Good and bad, definitely full. There are moments when I feel like more time has transpired over the last year than a calendar twelve months, that life has packed more into this time than reasonably should, and comparatively more than other years. The immediacy no doubt drives this; I suspect each year around this time I have the sense that much has transpired over the previous twelve months. But 2013 has even with this caveat been full. I suspect that my choices will not set me up for a 100+ year lifespan, but perhaps if I can figure out how to cram 80 years’ worth of experience in 70 years of life, this would not be too bad. Or potentially this only contributes to an earlier expiration and those more planful around me would suggest to relax a bit more, slow down. Next year…

I wanted to share a few things from this last year, a top ten’s list of sorts although hardly a prioritized countdown. More a loosely organized compilation of things that have stuck out for me. Here goes.

    1. Travel: Although we travelled less than in 2012, this last year saw the Bly’s cover a fair amount of this crazy planet of ours. We celebrated the start of the year in the beautiful city of Edinburgh, wrapped up in scarves and wandering through the Hogmanay madness that is New Year’s in Scotland. We spent a spring week in rural France, exploring the ruins of Normandy and dodging the rain in a centuries old row house lost in the main thoroughfare of some forgotten village. I had an opportunity to hike and distillery tour through the highlands of Scotland with an oldest friend of mine. And Patrick and I headed to the ancestral homeland of Norway with Grandma Bly and cousin Robin, exploring the fjords of Bergen and sampling favourite treats of Grandma’s childhood. The whole troupe made the trip to Seattle to see family and celebrate the little ones’ birthdays this last summer. Little trips in between through Wales and England and France. Castles and Cathedrals and Cheese almost inevitably inspired our journeys. Work took me to Paris and Munich several times, along with a couple of trips to Singapore and of course Seattle again. And then of course there was the one way flight to Australia which I witter on about below (hell of a cliffhanger…). Travel is incredible, and exhausting. I am an anxious mess when the family is trying to deal with transport, pass through security, make a fuss on the plane. But then the other side, regardless of where it is, is a new experience—either somewhere we had not seen in a while or unexperienced altogether. These are moments when I feel that we are cramming more time into the allotment we are given than we would have had we stayed home. Travel is enriching for myself, Nicole and the kids and helps reinforce why we took the leap to begin with and pack up our life for ‘international’ shores. I hope that my children grow up with a wanderlust; Grow to share an eagerness to experience that which is not familiar, meet new people, taste different foods and navigate unfamiliar road signs.
    1. Commute: At different points we have lived varying distances from work, with corresponding commutes. In the UK, I could be home within 15 minutes in light traffic. In Australia now, we opted for the Northern Beaches, a beautiful peninsula that seems removed from the troubles of the world – beautiful vistas and beaches at every turn, leafy neighbourhoods of likeminded folks and little villages to walk down into and get a coffee and paper. It surprises you that the barista or the postie does not know your name, but give them time. It is that type of place. I digress. The trade-off for the Northern Beaches lifestyle is a fairly long commute – 33 km each way, at times in excess of 90 minutes to get in. Being a bit of an analytical person, I have logged my journey times each day since we moved – depart and arrive and route, determined to find the sweet spot. Interestingly, I have logged ~125 hours commuting over the last 3 months… [I wanted to insert table but Nicole vetoed].
I have not yet found the sweet spot, but I have stumbled on, or rediscovered, a couple of other things:
    • Pandora, specifically on mobile device: As Pandora is not available in the UK, I was very excited to see that in Australia the service is alive and thriving. My old stations were waiting for me – Roots, Wilco, Modest Mouse; I listened when I could at my desk in between meetings as I had a few years ago. But then I discovered the mobile app which combined with inexpensive mobile data at this point brings Pandora to an entirely different level. I ventured into the world of pre-set stations – singer songwriter channel, indie-folk, etc… All enjoyable. But none more than the awkward 90’s Alternative station. Any music credibility vanishes once selected, but how could you not run just a bit faster when the opening ‘lalalalala’ of Offspring’s Self-Esteem comes on, or the deafeningly melodic power chords of the Cranberries’ Zombie? And the drive is definitely more enjoyable with STP’s Big Empty playing, Pearl Jam’s Yellow Leadbetter. Songs I had not heard in ten years, maybe more. Call it nostalgia, or just great music, but it will definitely help the drive time go faster. The other big Pandora discovery for me was ‘Today’s Comedy Radio’ which plays tracks from current comedian recordings. The likes of Jim Gaffigan, Louis CK, Dane Cook, Daniel Tosh, etc… An incredible way to pass the drive time, almost makes you wish you chose the town just a bit farther on. And BTW (by the way), if your wife is anything like mine, she will love it if you attempt to explain the best jokes to her that you heard on your drive time home. Absolutely will love it. Good stuff.
    • Mitch in the Morning Podcast: There are some really great podcasts out there – Alec Baldwin’s Here’s the Thing, Ira Glass’s This American Life or any of the Ted Talks channels for example.  But with NFL in play and the Hawks marching straight to the Super Bowl, no podcast has been as valuable as KJR Sport’s Mitch in the Morning. With regular guest that include Holmgren, Peter King, Rick Neuheisel and Jason LaCanfora, Mitch’s program is the best on air, talk radio at its best. And for someone removed from the 206/425 area, the podcast brings you in. There are mornings litening when I forgot that I am all of the way down here in Australia and am excited to be heading to the game Sunday.
    1. Wait but Why: Another discovery this year was Tim Urban’s blog Wait but Why. In a whimsical manner, he looks at everyday questions and tells a story around this through info graphics, something that I have a strong interest in. A great example is a recent post “How to Name a Baby”. Pretty common question, he mentions how all of his friends are having children and he is often asked what do you think of a given name, etc… He then starts to really think about this question – pitfalls to avoid, pros and cons of going timeless vs. going weird, name fads over time and other trends that can be identified in something as simple as what we name our children. How names connect to economics, geography, politics; He is working with large data and drawing great insight, using graphics to help tell the story. This is very similar to what I strive to do at work, although admittedly with much less humor and grace as Tim Urban. A couple of snipbits from the blog below.
    1. Lens: Another blog (http://lens.blogs.nytimes.com/) this time from the NY Times, with incredible photojournalism both from current day’s events but also guest portfolios from some of the world’s greatest. It is telling stories through images at is best, pictures that serve to remind that there is a world beyond the walls of home/car/work. I like taking a peek each morning, it is not really news and not really art, somewhere in between and is always interesting.
    1. Neil Young’s Waging Heavy Peace. Great memoir – rambling, confused, honest and inspiring. A fairly open admission of his weaknesses and some incredible accounts of the moments behind the music. A crazy dream to broadcast at scale high quality digital music via cloud. I love artist biographies – Hemingway, Rothko, Camus, etc…, but this memoir is different. A very selective peek through curtains of what once was, and how it was. I have seen Neil Young live, but not Crazy Horse. Someday. Hopefully.
    1. Work: I made a bit of a career tract leap with this job move, leaving the world that I knew and was comfortable in, to one in which I did not know nor am comfortable in. A number of reasons why, not relevant now, but I find myself amidst a team of very finance-y people – Chartered CPAs, accounting humour, slacks. It is a strange place for someone with only a Bachelor’s in English Literature to find himself, and only time will tell if a good move or not. But it is interesting. I like the idea of being surrounded by people who think differently than me, that approach the same problem from a different angle and who I have to compel to see things from my side. And I have found this in riches here with a move to a traditional finance function team. I appreciate quantified information (data), I like decisions to be data based and enjoy finding interesting insight in this data. This is a very large element of my job here and I am enjoying it. Even wearing slacks on occasion. Maybe I deep down wanted to be an accountant. But it is exhausting. Every day I am confronted with scenarios that are new to me, information that I do not understand, questions that I do not think to ask. This is the reason for the move – advice from a leader whom I admire suggested that you know when you are really growing by the very uncomfortableness of the role, the aches to be compared to pain in the bones during adolescent growth spurts. In this way I am certain that I am growing, but worn out. I am still glad that I made the leap, but this is based on faith that in time I will understand this view, to ask the questions, to find the insight in the unfamiliar.
    1. England: When we started to consider moving, whether to go back to US or to pursue something else ‘international’, we were agreed that we wanted to leave the UK. The miserable rain, the terrible food, the high cost of living. England is old and dark and cold. Yet as we started to pack, England took on a new light. Call it grass is always greener or rose coloured glass in the rear-view mirror, but god do I miss England. What I would do for a pint of ‘Pride right now, or the smell of a damp pub, or a drive through the Salisbury plains. All of us do – when asked would we rather move back to US or UK the family resoundingly agrees UK. What happened? We just decided that we wanted to leave, now everyone, even Kellen and Ella, want to move back?? What about the tiny fridge, the stiff upper lips and the miserable rain? Beneath the deep layer of cold, of sarcasm, of alien, is a charm, an English sensibility and immediate familiarity, of shared commiseration of the rain in a cozy pub. A terrible beauty in the desolation of northern Scotland, a forgotten splendour of decaying castles littering the countryside, an energy in an evening out amidst London’s bustle. I think what we realized the most was that we made very good friends in England. Friends that go beyond the two years that we were there, friends that we hope to know and see for a long time to come. We also took for granted how easy it was to hop around in England. Sunday drive to Wales. Run down to Belgium for the weekend. Quick flight to Rome to celebrate a kiddo birthday over real pizza. But most of all, England had become my life, all of our lives. Schools, work, grocery, transport, friends, home. I miss home, but it is the UK not US that I think of. This will fade in time of course, but I am not sure I want it to.
    1. Australia: So we headed down under. Way down under. I think the first thing that really struck me about Australia was the sheer distance from anywhere else. A business trip to Singapore is an 8 hour flight. Return to US is 15 hours or more. Even Fiji which seems close is a few hours flight. In London, we could be wandering the bazaars of Istanbul in less time that it would take us now to visit Perth in Western Australia. As mentioned earlier, after spending the first six weeks in the city of Sydney proper, we decided to lay down our stead up north, along the beaches. We stumbled into a house large enough for the three kids to spread out and run, with views of the ocean out both sides of many rooms. I hear the waves first thing when I wake and last thing before I sleep. The beach below is a quick stroll down the hill, maybe a ten minute walk at toddler pace. There we find one of the most renowned beaches in Sydney, a break that Kelly Slater reputedly calls his favourite when  visiting (he at one time owned a house in the village 500 meters north of us). The community is small and friendly, we can walk to the library or coffee or a nice dinner out of the house. And surrounding us, as we are on an isthmus of sorts, is a gross abundance of beautiful little beaches and parks, on the calm bay side or open ocean depending on your mood. I have been able to surf again for the first time in several years. The kids are natural beach babies and Patrick is having the time of his life meeting up with friends and heading for the beach, all just within a few minutes’ walk back in time for dinner. It is almost unreal. But the trade-off is the commute and the bugs and the cost of living. Nicole had a funny example of cheap Maybeline mascara – she took a pic to send her mom of it advertised in a local drugstore for $18.99, when the same package is sold for less than $5 in the US. I am looking for a new pair of weekend shoes, something to beat around town in and decided the Nike Free would be a good fit. They retail around $100 at Nordstrom in the US, whereas here at the local mall I found the same pair for $250. Co-workers try to explain money market dynamics, small population preventing scale distribution, etc… but I believe the prices are set based solely on what people will pay for them. Not distribution or exchange, but with a minimum wage of $17 and very little poverty, the country can afford to shell out $500 for a new tyre (one, not four). Beyond the sticker shock, the place really is Xanadu. Beautiful beyond comprehension, friendly people, temperate and laid back. Nicole admitted that she had only worn socks once since we arrived in Australia. I have not seen Patrick or Kellen in long pants since we arrived. People grocery shop barefoot and a swimsuit is acceptable attire anywhere outside the office. It is like the normal world, just slightly off. It makes you wonder – will the kids grow to under appreciate a sunny day when every day is sunny? Will our kids grow up to be annoyingly happy people, full of optimism and tan lines, without a good sense of scepticism and humour? With any fortune, we will be off again in a few years, get these guys back in the cold somewhere and snap normal life back into them. But until then, this sure is nice.
    1. Loss: I remember thinking at the close of 2012 that with Meagan’s passing, we had all been through a lot, hoping that 2013 would be absent of grief and loss. A year to try to pick pieces up, to find normalcy again. Unfortunately this year has taken three very special people from us, and left a gap at the Pelaez family table that will never be filled. So many have said so much, I do not know what I could add. But the year has been difficult, watching my wife struggle so much with each passing, knowing what the rest of the family is going through so far from us each day. Nicole’s Abuelito had been sick for some time, and the thought that he was re-joining his life’s love after so many years apart is comforting. Don Pepe was the first to really open his arms wide and welcome me into this family full of music and laughter and love that has over the years become my own. And Marina now, who was, is my buddy and it seems just a week ago I was teasing her and had her laughing over something unimportant. Marina and Andy welcomed Patrick in as their own grandchild, made him feel like the prince that he really is. Kellen and Ella still expect a call from Tia Mia anytime and will not understand for a long time to come that this beautiful person is no longer in their lives or ours anymore.
    1. Bly Family: Somehow this year has made me appreciate how my immediate family is becoming a collective identity, the Blys if you will. You marry, have kids and are a family, but of still fairly individual identities, joined but not one. As the little kiddos get older and develop personalities of their own, through this develops a family identity. Patrick, Kellen and Ella are unquestionably of our family – in sensibility, in identity, in humour (for better or worse). I have never been as proud to be dad, husband, partner in this crazy bunch. I am inspired how the kids blossomed in England, success in school and friends and interests. It seems the kids too grew more than a year in 2013 than 12 months allows. And with Australia, they have embraced the new environment, Patrick arriving home from class the first day beaming about how much he loved it, Kellen excited to turn in early in anticipation of school in the morning where he would learn to take shoes off before going outside, hear a traditional didgeridoo, practice meditation, just play with friends. And Ella in her ballet, playgroups. She has become the force in the house, a little lady as bright as she is beautiful and with determination to match. The kids are resilient, and welcome the new opportunity and experiences. My incredible wife standing beside, leading the race down the beach into the water and making us a home in this foreign land. An international move we were told can either cause collapse or bring the family closer together. Fortunately we have only experienced the latter.
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