Monday, January 29, 2007

Diving in Holland!

Well it took long enough! When I returned home from vacation, 6 weeks ago, getting into the water to dive in Holland was on the top of my to-do list. Thankfully, after many false starts with cancelled dives, no ride, and inconvenient clubs I think I have found my new dive club, and a regular way to get wet.

Wet? Well, dry actually. IMHO, entering the water here in January absolutely requires a dry suit. And even then the environment and conditions still make it a challenge to 'dive and survive'.

Yesterday's dive will be one of my more memorable ones! The bad dives always are. *pause* No, not "bad". Let's say, very "educational". Because after many many dives in lovely warm water it's a real and true challenge to jump into cold mud.

At the surface, I and my two dive buddies swam out to deeper water. When the time came to descend, we were all about 1 metre apart from each other. But under the surface the visibility was significantly less than 1 metre. Staying together was an incredible challenge in itself! I had to surface twice just to find the other divers.

Once down a few feet the conditions quickly changed to night. This meant diving with lights which thankfully makes it easier to find each other. Follow the dim glow.

But no matter how hard I tried, following was not something I was able to do well. After about 10 minutes I realized there was too much air in my dry suit. I changed from a horizontal to a vertical position to vent the excess. And in doing so I once again lost my buddies. But far worse, the bottom's shades of night were rapidly changing to hints of daylight and then bright light. I was ascending! The air in my suit expanded as I rose, pulling me up. All the while I was grabbing the air vent in my suit, trying to slow myself down.

As I passed 5 metres depth my computer reminded me to make a safety stop. Ha! At 3 metres it let me know I had missed stopping. And when I breached the surface I realized that I wouldn't be going back down for a third attempt. One rapid ascent after a short time diving won't hurt you. Two might. So after ascending quickly from 12m depth to the surface, I was done for the day.

My dive buddies joined me at the surface and I let them know I was calling my dive there and swimming back to the shore.

I think what I learned yesterday is truly valuable stuff. First and foremost, cold cold water and low visibility are a challenge, and they should be approached with respect. Secondly, I learned that my calculations of weight requirements are terrible. I made a good scientific estimate of the amount of lead I would need, and got it totally wrong. The extra effort of swimming to stay down quickly tired me out and made controlling my ascent nearly impossible. And lastly, I need ankle weights. Dry suits trap air in your legs & feet and can thus leave you upside down in the water. Ankle weights help hold your feet down and prevent the problem from occurring.

All in all it was a great day! The preparation, anticipation, travel, camaraderie, and the diving were great. But I'm also thankful I made my mistakes when few people were there to see them! Low visibility takes getting used to, cold water takes getting used to, low light/darkness takes getting used to. Put the three of them together (for the first time in a while) and any diver should expect a steep learning curve.

I'll go out with the club again next weekend. And hopefully with more success and far more comfort and confidence. In the mean time, may all your "educational experiences" happen in the safety of shallow water!

Saturday, January 27, 2007


So I guess I'll sleep a lot after I retire. It's the weekend and I just can't waste it!

Stayed out until almost 4am last night, and I still got up (sans alarm) at 9:30am. Wha???

Just as well since I have to: go to the gym (in about 10 minutes), go pick up some stuff from the local dive shop (lead weights), go to the grocery store (for the first time in a week), prepare my dive equipment and get to sleep crazy early for a Saturday night (in the hopes of diving Sunday.) Not bad!

Thankfully my eyes saw bright sunlight early this morning. I think that means it's going to be a really nice day.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Working 9 to 5

What a way to make a living! Well, okay, today I stayed until 5:30 or later. But I think the new job is going well and I'm looking forward to learning and doing more there.

But mostly I'm looking forward to sleep!!!

Emails have been neglected lately; I have no enthusiasm for writing; tonight's gym plans fell completely apart the moment I got home. Still, I think I'm doing okay.

Saturday, Sunday, and Tuesday I hit the gym. Monday I was out til midnight with the new scuba club and Wednesday similarly with friends. So I think I can feel guilt free about a quiet night and an early sleep. But I still feel a bit guilty about not emailing/calling friends & family. Sorry guys, I'll be back to it all again soon... or eventually.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

So much to say, so little time to say it....

My life got busy this past week. Relative to the previous 3-month "sabatical" I've been enjoying, life has gotten CRAZY in the last week!

Thankfully being back to working has been a very nice and positive experience! My boss is pretty cool, my cow-orkers are friendly, and the work thus far has been interesting. I had almost 4 days of productive work in my first week, which must surely be a record for starting a professional job.

The coolest part, though, has been the Dutch speaking. I can understand Dutch pretty well, and lately have been speaking it a bit. (A lot relative to earlier years.) But in this office the all-Dutch staff speak to me almost exclusively in "Nederlands". And I've been following and replying in kind.

For those who haven't tried learning a language through full immersion, it's a challenge. It's a learn-or-be-lonely proposition. Opposite to the Borg (a la Star Trek TNG), if you don't learn the language, you will not be assimilated. And it isn't easy.

By Friday my brain had given up. It was information overload and I felt like I couldn't process a sentence to save my life. But previously this "Dutch headache" came to me after just a few hours of listening and talking. Friday's problem had a 4 day build-up! So I can feel rapid improvements that are absolutely thrilling... albeit also exhausting.

So the first benefit from my new job seems to be an increased enthusiasm for learning Dutch. The second benefit, I think, is to my health. Lots of walking, long days, early nights, and healthy lunches are now marking my time in place of sleeping in, staying up late, and eating on the run.

Getting to my office involves a half hour of walking (2 x 15min) plus walking home from Central Station in Amsterdam (30min). And I actually managed to race home from work and hit the gym one evening. But only one, so I'm off to exercise now... and will again tomorrow.

The rigid schedule of getting up early and going to work has also made my eating schedule healthier. I grab breakfast, two lunches, a snack after work and then a small dinner later at night. Small bits of food through the day is what my body wants to keep me energized. And it's getting it.

Oddly, I spent most of the week in a CAD Software training course. I learned a lot and it was fun. But I think the above benefits will last far longer than experience with yet another computer program.

Dare I say it??? I think I'm looking forward to work on Monday. Huh?!?

Sunday, January 14, 2007

OMG OMG OMG I've gotta go to work tomorrow!

I go to work tomorrow. First day. New job. I should be so excited!

But I've been off work for three months. And quite frankly I'm not excited or happy to be returning to a corporate, cubicle, 9-to-5 kind of existence.

After months with literally nothing to do, the general theory is that one becomes board and looks forward to working again. LOL! Hasn't happened! At least, I don't think I'll ever look forward to a job involving a rolling chair and a computer.

Still, with a job comes stability, structure, money and other positive aspects. Perhaps I'll really like some of the new people I meet. (Perhaps one will be an adorable single female?) Perhaps the software I'll be working with will be better than the last? Any number of wonderful things could occur. And for that I'm anxious and a bit excited.

I'm just NOT looking forward to trying to train my ass to occupy yet another office chair.


Friday, January 12, 2007

Mothers, let your children fly!

Until I was 19 years old my life was entirely and single-mindedly devoted to a single goal. I wanted to fly for a living. Airplanes ruled my thoughts from my earliest ages and nothing I had experienced even remotely compared to the feeling of excitement, power, control and freedom that came with piloting an aircraft thousands of feet in the sky.

I was so completely enrthalled with flying that I didn't bother to wait until I was an adult like most people. Instead, I started pilot training at the local airport when I was 13 years old.

In Canada there is an organization called the Royal Canadian Air Cadets. For those completely unfamiliar, picture Boy Scouts with rifles and airplanes. Almost exactly that. Boys and girls 12-18 meet weekly, receive training in various subjects including leadership, aircraft, civics and ever important skills like marching and standing at attention. Some weekends there would be camping and during the summers there were camps from 2 to 7 weeks long.

It's during each year's summer camps that about 1% of cadets get the chance to get licenses for powered airplanes or gliders (sailplanes).

When I joined at 13, I was much too young to attend such a camp. But I wasn't too young to start preparing! One of the other regular Air Cadet activities is to take the kids flying. Specifically, gliding. In 3-4 spots around the province there are Gliding Centres. Various Squadrons of cadets showed up each weekend and each person usually got two rides to experience flying and all that goes with it.

The instructors who train pilots over the summer were some of the same pilots taking the cadets for their "familiarisation flights". A lucky cadet gets one or two such days at the Gliding Centre each year.

I went almost every weekend.... for 4-5 years.

You see, gliders have a distinct lack of engine. They are pulled into the air via a rope behind a "tow plane". And on the ground they are entirely handled via the muddy boots of volunteers. When I glider landed long I would be in the group that sprinted (jogged) down the long runway to help the pilot and passenger walk the plane back. When the tow plane would land there was always a flurry of activity as a glider would be rolled in place behind it, connected to the rope, etc..

A person stands on the glider's wingtip during takeoff. They pass signals (like "take up the slack in the rope") between the glider and towplane pilots. And they hold the wings parallel to the ground for the first few (slow) feet during the take off. It's all a bit aircraft-carrier-like when I think back on those weekends. Teams running around, moving about, each with a coordinated task to perform. And lots of aircraft coming and going.

So trained volunteers were a commodity that was prized by the instructors/staff. I didn't get to go flying every weekend I volunteered. But that was noticed and rewarded.

And thus, starting at the tender age of 13, I grew up by spending my weekends at the airport. Flying.

By the time I was 17 I had attended the 6 week summer camp and recieved my glider pilot's license. At 18 I attended the 7 week camp for my private pilot's license (single engine, day). And when I was 19 the Air Force accepted me into the Royal Military College and offered me an officer's commission... which I declined.

And that, is a whole other story.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

We've gotten through to a human!

Oh My! Something either really good or really bad is about to happen to my Residence Permit situation in Holland!

I've spent a while today going through old papers and providing information to my immigration lawyer. This happens all the time. The IND (dutch immigration authorities) writes a letter and asks for more info, the lawyer asks me, and the IND in turn gets the info and asks more questions. But this time it's different!

My lawyer is not writing letters today. He's gotten in telephone contact to the human handling my case! An unbelievable feat given the layers of beaurocracy involved!

So it seems the decision maker at the IND was working with some incorrect infomation and dates. We've provided the correct dates, and will likely have to provide proof. But at least there's a person determined to sort it through and make a decision. Something the WHOLE system is designed to prevent.

In all honesty, if we (lawyer and I) say we have proof their dates are wrong, I can't see how the descision could come against us. It may not come to pass today. But it looks like my last 18 months of residence permit "confusion" may be coming to an end.

*dance* Yippee!

(Since it's costing legal fees at a rate equivalent to 63 pints of beer per hour I hope the solutions all come quickly! That's a lot of Saturday night's I'll have to give up to afford this.)

This is a photo of the evidence in question. My passport clearly shows I was legal from Oct. 2001, not 2002 as their paperwork shows.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Dat ben ik onderwater!

Okay so the driving rain has stopped. I'm going shopping. In the mean time, I've been waiting for a dull rainy day to post the following pic. Credits to Wanda for the image. The subject was caught off guard and didn't have a chance to make a stupid pose.

Also! (updated Jan.10) I've put two new pics in the Hilma Hooker story. Proof of teeth cleaning shrimp at work!

I hurt!

Arms, shoulders, back and chest. They all hurt. A lot.

Thankfully I've become an exercise massochist over the years. The stiffness means I did a good job pushing my body (in the gym) and now need rest. So no gym today.

Not much of anything going on today actually. The weather is TERRIBLE and everyone I know is busy with work and such. I've got a shopping list but no desire to freeze travelling all around town. While the pathos around me is saying relax, and my body is screaming the same, my mind has too much energy. Damn this eating well and sleeping right!

After reading a few other blogs I'm seriously tempted to go political and throw some hurrahs to those who are speaking up. But more likely it would be a rant against those still mumbling about holding the line, staying the course, or fighting the evil doers.

I'll simply state, a la Forrest Gump," Evil doers are as evil doers do."

But I also found on another blog a suggestion to write more posts about real stories, ourselves, and our experiences. So maybe later I'll write about either (a) how I started flying when I was 13 years old, or (b) why I'm not in the Air Force. Both purely apolitical.

Monday, January 08, 2007

I'm Employed! I blame exercise.

Cool! This morning I sent an email and received a phone response on the last questions regarding the new contract. Some changes will be made and a new version with a signature will be sent ASAP. I'll be starting work in one week!

Which is going to be hard... after 2.5 months of leisure time.

But I think my gym membership is going to nicely solve lots of those little problems. For example, today I was up before 9am. I've handled the last contract paperwork, am off to the gym in a moment, and then am going to help a friend hook up a cable modem. Without the exercise, I would still be asleep.

In just a couple of days I've already felt a huge benefit from working out. And perhaps even better, in just a couple of days of working out other people have seen the difference in me! Two friends mentioned it; one at length!

I've been exercising regularly for most of the past 7 years. So regaining some muscle tone didn't take long. Although it has been a bit painful. Today I'll be hitting some of the same muscles for a second time. (Which reminds me, I need to stretch more.) It's gonna hurt. But if I have energy, health, and compliments as a result of just a few days, how can I not keep going!?!

So today is simple. Good fortune has come my way. I'm off to invest in the future to ensure the health to enjoy it all. And later I'm helping a friend who's experiencing a good-fortune shortage and hopefully passing along some luck. Wow.

I blame the exercise for all of this.

Friday, January 05, 2007

A fresh bed.

Lots of stuff's been going on lately. It's looking to get more interesting soon too. I'm expecting papers regarding the new job tomorrow! And I'm still hoping to hook up for an icy cold Dutch dive any day now.

I joined the gym next door and have been twice so far. My body hurts. And I've had a few nice nights out lately. Particularly last night when the group of us decided to stay out hours past our last trams. Long walks home late at night are good for you.

But of it all... the bed has fresh linens, and that's the best. Because it's bedtime now and I couldn't imagine a more cozy night of sleep than the one ahead. The sheets will be crisp and cold. Aired and fluffed. Entirely unwrinkled, smooth and tucked. And if I may now, they call me, so I depart.

Good night everybody.

[Last night I had a blast, but didn't sleep long. So this is an exercise in positive affirmation applied to a good night's sleep. All is well. All is well.]

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Good-bye 2006.

How was your 2006? Was it a tough year, a good year? Was there too much pain or plenty of love? Or was it all of that and more? For me 2006 will be remembered as a good year!

In terms of numbers, I think 2006 looks like an incredible year. I made a year's pay in 6 months of work, spent 4 weeks in Canada with my parents, had two diving vacations and enjoyed 110 dives. In it's details 2006 was much more complicated!

I started the year unemployed, with pending immigration problems. January and February were stressful! But being (illegally) deported from the U.S. in March made things much worse. And solving my work permit problems only meant going to work. In 6 months I made a year's worth of pay. And for most of that time I worked 80-hour weeks, thus putting in a year's worth of effort. Such work isn't healthy.

But thankfully things got better. I signed on with a dive shop in Boston and did a divemaster internship. Weekdays sucked while weekends were spent as underwater as possible. And as the year progressed it just got better.

Soon I was in Canada visiting my parents (a second time) and then home in Amsterdam. With one job contract ending I got lucky and stepped straight into a new contract (which starts soon). And I've been able to regain the parts of my soul and sanity I lost working so hard in the U.S.

Last month's trip to Bonaire was one of the best choices I've made in a while! My ideas of what scuba diving can offer me have been refined and clarified as a result. And I like them.

And thus far in life, I don't think I've had a period as relaxed as this past November and December. Not working, but with the next work lined up. I took it as a much needed vacation. One I had promised myself while working in an office late each night.

So that's the summary of my 2006. It contained some pain, and a lot of experiences I'm glad I've had. It involved meeting a lot of great people, and going a lot of places I never expected to be. I could never have guessed what my year would have been, and yet it met all my goals and needs. So I say," Good-bye 2006. You were a great year." Now let's look forward to 2007 being all that a more.

Hello 2007!

It doesn't sound right, does it? Two-thousand and seven. Wasn't the world supposed to blow up 7 years ago??? Some how we made it through. And I for one am glad to welcome this strange sounding new year.

2007 started without a hangover. That's a great start! January 1st was a lovely lazy day.

The first working day of 2007 has brought with it an email stating I'll receive papers shortly for my new job. :-) Woohoo! Still plenty to do, and a bit of time left as a vacation, but it's nice to know that's well in hand and in progress.

While 2005 introduced me to scuba diving, and 2006 made me a divemaster, 2007 is already scheduled to make me an instructor. And that will no doubt have a major impact/effect on how and where I find myself in 2008.

Many of us start new years with resolutions. In my case, I like to start with ideas. Renewing my exercise addiction and kicking the nicotine addiction are two great ideas for the very near future. I have no allusions of wealth this year. Indeed, being thrifty is more likely to define 2007 for me. But only because "balance" is an idea I keep with me all year, every year. And thus financially and in many other ways I'll be investing in 2007 towards a new an exciting future.

Friends and family shouldn't be taken for granted! The travelling and changes I foresee in this year mean I'll have to put extra effort into keeping in touch with friends and visiting family. It won't be easy, travelling a lot for work, then travelling for diving, then travelling to visit. At least the suitcases will stay dust free.

I don't expect the world, or my little part of it, to resolve all it's problems this year. Heck, I'd be surprised if my Dutch residency doesn't come into question again. Or if the case is resolved to my benefit! And there's no doubt to be other things popping up that I haven't even anticipated! But if I can put action to my New Years Ideas and get further in my diving career, then 2007 is going to be great!!!