In my Facebook feed lately there’s a lot of activity. 30 years ago is the graduation date for the class I would’ve graduated with had I not skipped Grade 8. Being a small town, many of us have known each other for most of our lives as I started at this school in Grade 2.
One person in the Facebook group suggested that people write what’s happened since graduation since many of us didn’t stay so well connected. I started to think about it and there was a lot that happened (well, it was three decades after all) and so I thought I’d share it here in the form of major highlights by year:
1989: I finish my second year of university in a most anticlimactic fashion. This is due, in great part, to having discovered the Internet and chatting with people instead of studying. In the end my grades aren’t great but it doesn’t matter. I’m out of money and financial aid. To date I haven’t finished it. I go home to literally live in my parents basement and stock shelves at night in a grocery store. On nights off I visit friends 60 miles away at my former university or just drive around. Things aren’t great at home so it’s better to absent myself. I start looking for a better situation and interview with a biotech company in Boston but sadly don’t make the cut. On the plus side, in October, I get an entry level job in a biotech company. It’s pretty great. I still have to live with my parents but I love my new job.
1990: Things come to a head with my parents and I move 20 miles away to a shared house. Things feel even better. I have new friends and a great apartment at a great price. I manage to find my way back on the Internet and occasionally chat with people on my nights off.
1991: This is a big year. That summer we have an elderly neighbour with a pool. She likes having people around so she invites us to use it whenever we like. A few of the older housemates move out and younger ones move in. Parties ensue. A huge party happens for my 21st birthday and the next day I swear to never drink again – and have followed through on that. Meanwhile, that September I meet Sage online and fall in love. She comes for a “5 day visit” over Thanksgiving and I ask her to stay. She does.
1992: I am still dreaming of living in the city and moving to Boston. After a number of interviews, I get a job for a small biotech startup in the Boston suburbs. Sage and I move there and get our first apartment all to ourselves. We get married and start accumulating cats. By the end of 1992 we have four. That year we spend living like grown children. Our time is spent playing video games and eating dinners out. Luckily we have no credit cards to run up debt. Unluckily we’re still irresponsible with money and almost get evicted but are saved by a mad dash to downtown Boston to sell a good portion of our CD collection to pay the rent.
That summer we make a trip to Montreal and Sage falls in love with how it feels to be in Canada. When we watch the Republican National Convention that year we tell each other that “If the Republicans get any worse we’re going to move to Canada.” and laugh and laugh at the silliness of it all.
1993: A recruiter gives me a call and asks if I’m interested in working for a major pharmaceutical company in New Jersey. I get a job offer and a relocation package and we move to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. We also get two more cats – there are now six.
1994: We move to a bigger row house in Bethlehem, and good thing, too, as we have now become the crazy cat family. There are 8 living with us including two that have neurological damage and can’t really walk properly.
One morning in June, several men in expensive suits come to visit us at work and tell us the facility is closing. We’re all given severance packages and told we can go home. I’m very lucky in that before I go I call a friend who works for a nearby engineering company doing compliance work for pharmaceutical companies. His company is really busy and he needs my help. We meet for dinner and well before the severance package runs out I’m working at an even more interesting job doing technical writing and testing equipment and software. I’m working 3 miles from the Lincoln tunnel – 85 miles from home – so they pay me for mileage on the car. Eventually my boss says “Hey, don’t put so many miles on your car – why not rent one and expense it and it will be cheaper than paying mileage”. I start driving a brand new car every month. After 3 months of this, an elderly neighbour comes over and nervously asks what we do that we have a brand new car every month. I am careful not to say “pharmaceutical” or “drug” in my answer.
Though we have used computers since we’ve been together, moving from Prodigy to Compuserve to Delphi and eventually to a local ISP, this is the year we discover the World Wide Web. Sage becomes one of the first people to keep an online journal there.
That winter I go visit Sage’s mom who lives on Womyn’s Land – a women-only space (I’m given special permission to visit). While I’m there my mind is blown: People there are living in what, today, would be called tiny houses of various sorts. They use very little electricity, heat with wood they gather and most water comes from a spring. As a result, their expenses are low and they’re able to do what they want with more of their time as they need to work less to pay the bills. I’m intrigued. Sage and I drool over a brochure about yurts. I dream of doing something like this in 10 years or so.
1995: My friend that got me my current job moves on to help start a new company and asks me to join him. I do and I end up working much closer to home at first. Eventually, though, business picks up and I’m working for several local clients and even do a business trip here and there.
Though our income is going up, our responsibility isn’t. We just go out to dinner more and end the pay period with a two-figure balance. Sometimes we forget to pay a bill here or there. One day the cable guy comes over and sadly informs us that he has to disconnect our cable. We, on the other hand, are excited by the idea. So as he’s trying to find a way to get us in to some remedial payment plan, we’re plotting all the things we’re going to do with the free time we’ll have without a television. He leaves and takes the cable with him. We pay them soon after but in the end we never have cable TV or even broadcast TV in our home again.
Sage and I, in our spare time, are now volunteering a lot at a local animal shelter. We start doing “home visits” to check the suitability of families for adopting cats. Somehow we manage to not go above 8 cats.
1996: I start to really rediscover cooking, and particular foods from around the world. As we are vegetarian at this point I really focus on Indian food as there is a great deal of variety in Indian vegetarian food as compared to other cuisines. I buy a cookbook and try my hand at it. I am not a great Indian cook at this point. But a seed is planted…
1997: Only one thing stands out from this year but it’s a pretty big one. Early in the year we have our first birth control failure. A condom breaks. We are terrified at the idea of being parents. We have waffled on the idea for years – sometimes thinking it’s a good idea, sometimes thinking it’s a terrible one, but always in sync. We go to see Sage’s family and spend much of our time worried about whether or not we’re about to be parents. We also meet her cousin – a toddler – and are charmed. When we get home we learn that we are not going to be parents and are surprised to find that we’re disappointed. We decide that having a baby is something we want to do. By the time we go visit the family again for Christmas we are able to inform them that we will be expecting our child in August of the next year.
We don’t, however, inform them how bad we are at financial management. On the day we decided we could take a pregnancy test we were so close to payday and thus so broke that we grabbed a handful of CDs to be able to buy one. At the same time we are told once and for all by the store owner that he will definitely not buy that Spin Doctors album and could we please quit bringing it to him?
1998: In early 1998 I realize I’m spending so much time on the road and at work that I’m leaving at 6-7 in the morning and getting home around 9 at night. If I’m going to be a decent father, I know that I’m going to have to find another job. I find a job working in the IT department for a newspaper that is 10 minute’s drive away or even reachable by city bus. I accept the job, take a pay cut that is offset by the fact that I’m no longer paying for tons of gas, and start work.
In August our son, Daegan, is born and my whole sense of purpose realigns. I’m here to be a dad. Work is secondary. One night I’m talking to Sage’s mom about how someday, maybe in 5 years I’d like to live like she does and spend more time at home with my son. She asks me why I’m waiting that long. I have no good answer.
1999: A few weeks after talking to Sage’s mom I go to my boss and resign. He asks where I’m going and I tell him I’m moving to Missouri, will be living simply and won’t be working regularly for a while – just working enough to pay the bills. My priority will be to be a parent. Our next stop is the bank. We drive our car over, hand them the keys and tell them we won’t be able to pay the payments anymore. Then we go home. We invite our neighbours over to take whatever they like. They feel awkward just walking out with our television or our appliances. After they come we invite two charities to come over and take what they like. Eventually everything in the house is gone except our bed, our computer, our cookware, and our cats. Sage’s mom and her friend put them in a van and drive them to Missouri. We get on a train with our son, some books, and a big tub of homemade vegetarian sushi that our friend made for us. Three days later we move in to a 28 foot RV where we live for a couple months. In the meantime we take the contents of our tiny 401k and buy a yurt:
At first we live extremely simply. Here, for example, is our first kitchen:
When it rains we put tin over it and crank up the fire. We do our dishes on the ground nearby. Eventually we barter a website design for a better kitchen.
We make a deal with our friends who own the land we’re on and have a house there. We’ll provide the computer and pay the internet bill (and provide a small LAN to share it) along with tech support and they’ll let us put the computer in the house and charge any batteries we need to inside. As a result, Sage is able to do a bit of web design and I do some tech writing – never more than 5-10 hours/week but enough to pay the bills and even let us have a dinner out every now and again.
2000: It’s the hottest summer we’ve had here but the technical writing business is going well so we decide to take a road trip and work from Florida while we visit her family there. Oddly enough it is actually cooler there.
That winter, though, is particularly hard. The yurt is actually quite warm thanks to a big wood stove but we’re pretty remote and actually get stuck there. After a particularly bad storm we decide to leave. Sage will later tell a story about this:
2001: We move to a small cottage with a big yard in the nearby village. The price is really right. For $190/month we get two bedrooms in a nice place. We marvel at the wonders of heat that works by thermostat and water that you not only don’t have to carry, you don’t have to heat it on the stove!
That spring I’m inattentive at an intersection and our car is t-boned and totalled. Our bank balance is low and there’s not any remote work to do for me and Sage has very little web design work. However, my contacts ask me if I will go work in Michigan for 6 weeks. Absolutely! I go and refill the bank account and eventually the remote work comes back but now it’s punctuated by more trips away here and there. The money’s good but I miss being at home with my son.
That spring we sell the yurt to a software executive who lives in the suburbs of San Francisco. Daegan and I put it in a U-Haul and start driving. We make it as far as Arizona before his allergies really start acting up. Sage eventually meets me half way back before I drive the yurt the rest of the way there and we close the book on our time living in the woods.
2002: Eventually business gets even slower for Sage. There’s not a lot of writing work for me. In the end, though, another opportunity comes: Do I want to go live for six months in Albuquerue, NM with house, food, and car paid for? Absolutely. We pick up a rental car at the nearby airport and start a road trip.
We have a great time exploring the southwest. With a brand new car we’re able to travel all over. Daegan and I take up geocaching and become travel-buddies. Sage’s mom comes also and we end up going to places like the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, and even a couple of ghost towns.
2003: Work is getting hugely busy now and my project keeps getting delayed. The project becomes a year and then 18 months. Meanwhile, the Iraq war starts.
One night in September we are having dinner with friends and they tell us about their day. They had been driving down the highway when a guy in a pickup truck forced their car off the road and yelled at them because they had a “No War” bumper sticker on their car. I say “We always said that if the Republicans get any worse we’re moving to Canada” as a bit of a joke to lighten things up but instead the opposite happens. One of our friends turns to me, looks at me very seriously and says “What’s stopping you?”
We talk when we get home and decide there is nothing stopping us. I start looking for work online and send out resumes that week. Within a month I have two phone interviews. By November I have been asked to come for a visit to work out immigration details and a final interview to make sure I’m a real fit.” I get an offer there and I am sent on an apartment hunting trip over a 3 day weekend. I sign a lease and then go home to celebrate the holidays.
2004: We move to Canada. I talk a lot more about that process here. Four years before our view was of nothing but woods all around with the nearest town 15 miles away down a dirt road. Now we lived in a city of 2.5 million and this was our view.
We connect with a homeschooling group and start homeschooling Daegan. Over the next several years “school” happens in our house, at a local community centre, in parks, at the lake, at the Science Centre a 15 min walk from home and other museums throughout the city.
We also realize that the transit system is very good here and we no longer need a car. After driving our car literally three times in the first month, we call an NPR station in the US and donate our car to them. (Due to import restrictions our car can’t be sold or even given away in Canada)
2005: Work is going well, and we’re settling in to a routine. We enjoy the diversity of the city, meeting new people, trying new foods and joining in celebrations that seem to be happening literally every weekend over the summer.
We are especially thrilled to see how tolerant our city can be. Not only do we have a pride parade attended by hundreds of thousands of people every year, everyone from the military to the police, to churches to schools joins in.
2006: Thinking that I might increase my chances of not having to travel to the US for work, I start learning to speak French. I’m not great but I can get by. I hope that if I speak well enough I might be able to be sent to Quebec for work instead of the US.
2007: My idea pays off and I’m sent for a 6 week project in Quebec City. But it’s not my language skills that bring me this time, it’s the fact that this is a huge project on a tight schedule and all the documents are in English anyway. And so I go along with all free staff. I still try to speak French and mostly do OK. Well, if by “OK” you mean “am able to buy food and find the washroom.”
That spring Daegan wins a bicycle. Not wanting him to be stuck just riding in circles in the park, I buy a bike for myself and we start riding together. I learn to really like riding and start using it to get around the city and even riding almost 40 km (25 miles) round trip to/from work. It’s faster and more fun than taking the bus and I even lose about 30 lbs in the process.
2008: Work gets slow again in Ontario and this time another opportunity comes up in Quebec City. Again, it’s not my French skills, but this time some specific technical skills that they need. I go for what is supposed to be six months to start but ends up being nearly a year.
Eventually the winter did end and I was able to ride my bike to work and throughout the province. I start exploring further and further from the city, eventually going on my longest ride yet – over 100 km (62 miles).
2009: We move out of the highrise and in to a single family home next to a park. The neighbourhood is more walkable and bikeable – and a little closer to my client so I am able to ride there quicker.
In 2008 we were scolded by Immigration and reminded that work permits are “Temporary work permits” and they tell me we need to become permanent residents. I let my company know that if I am to be able to stay here I need to become a permanent resident. They hire an immigration attorney and this year we become permanent Canadian residents.
2010: After years of thinking about what it might be like to go for a bike ride that was days long, I sign up for the Friends for Life Bike Rally. Over the course of a few months I raise about $2,000 and train until I’m able to ride 100-120 km/day (60-75 miles) a day without excessive effort. Over the course of 6 days I, and about 300 other riders, ride 600 km (370 miles) from Toronto to Montreal.
That same year, Sage discovered storytelling, first as a performer in various shows. Since then she’s performed one-woman shows of 30-75 minutes and started teaching the art of storytelling in everything from 2 hour workshops to 7 week courses. I am hugely impressed by what she does and immensely proud of her.
2011: I sign up to do the Bike Rally again and this time I want to raise more money and make a deal with my sponsors. If I raise more than the minimum, I’ll ride farther. The more I raise the farther I will go. I raised $3,000 and rode 1,000 km (just over 620 miles) to Quebec City. The big ride ended in Montreal so for the last 400 or so kilometres I was travelling on my own. I stayed in a couple of hotels but also was put up by many wonderful people I met through the couchsurfing.com site.
2012: The whole time I was on the way to Quebec City I was wishing that Daegan was with me. He was still pretty young, though, so I had to come up with a way to make it possible. We ended up buying a tandem bicycle – a bicycle built for two. We didn’t have the fundraising base to meet the fundraising minimum for two people. Not only that, we wanted to do something different. And so we created “500 Kindnesses” – a “charity” bike ride that asked people to pledge to perform acts of kindness in support of our ride. In the end over 1,000 different pledges were made and we rode over 1,500 km (over 900 miles) from Toronto to Ottawa, Montreal, through Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, New Jersey and eventually in to New York City where we ended the ride by donating the tandem bicycle to charity.
2013: We move to a new apartment and there I start gardening – first on our balcony then on the roof of our landlord’s garage. In my spare time I pickle, make jam and can what I grow and other things. It is wonderful to have access to fresh produce just outside my door.
2014: This year I start running. After many years of thinking I couldn’t run I just needed to learn that I had to work up to it. I get bitten by the running bug and start running many 5K races and work up to longer and longer distances.
My running takes me through many neighbourhoods with excellent street art and I photograph it along the way.
I continue to garden a little though the roof of the garage, newly tarred, is now too sticky to host plant containers. Too bad!
I get a new client at the end of the year in Louisiana. After almost a decade of living in politically and socially liberal Toronto, it is beyond a culture shock to go there. The food is good, though, and I especially appreciate the visits there in winter when the weather is still warm by Toronto standards.
After saying “Someday I should learn to speak Hindi.” I do a google search and find someone on line and start to learn to speak it. I learn to read and write Devanagari script. However, my vocabulary is really slow to grow. For almost 18 months, people ask me to “say something in Hindi” are really disappointed when I say I can’t really say anything.
I continue to go to Louisiana more and more. I still don’t like it a lot but I make the best of it. That summer Daegan and I make our first bike tour together on two bicycles. We have an amazing time.
2016: I have my biggest year of travel to Louisiana ever – almost 5 months in total away from home there. But I also do another exciting trip. I make my first trip to India. And by this time I can speak a lot more Hindi. I have the time of my life for a month. I have written here about my time in Delhi, Varanasi (twice), and Jaipur.
2017: Last year I made another bike trip with Daegan – this time throughout Vermont and Quebec. We had a good time but honestly, even in progressive areas, visiting the US in Trump’s America is not fun. We turned back north early and were glad to cross the border.
Still, it was great to see old and new friends and had some amazing adventures.
In November I vowed to get more serious about studying Hindi. I found a few Hindi email partners and some that I practiced with via Skype. I reviewed more and more. And at the same time I made a plan that would take shape in 2018.
2018: This year Daegan and I spent three weeks in India. My Hindi was much improved, and continued to improve. This time I got to see a few old friends, and met many new ones. But the thing I was happiest about was being able to share it with Daegan. We had so many wonderful experiences, many shared on this journal. I’m excited to go back and Daegan now has the travel bug as well and is hoping to go to Morocco soon. He also confirmed his desire to become a professional photographer, taking over 2,400 photos along the the way, each of them a story in and of themselves.
Two weeks after he got back he received his acceptance in to the Bachelor of Fine Arts program at Ryerson University where he’ll start studying Photography this fall. Two weeks after that, his first gallery show happened.
As for me, I’m continuing to study Hindi, getting even more serious and taking on a new teacher as my previous one passed on in December. I’ve been working very hard and I hope to improve even more before my next trip.
Now that I’m back I’m working more on my Toronto by Library project, exploring the city “one library at a time.” I’m also gearing up to do some more cooking, going deeper in to my exploration of Thai and Indian cooking. I also have a plan to once and for all learn to make a decent roti. I had a lot of instruction and a bit of practice when I was in India so now I just need to put it in to practice. Perhaps someday I will give up buying them once and for all.
Reading over this I like the trend. It makes me happy to see the direction that I and my family have gone.