Monday, August 29, 2011

I've made my 8th Kiva loan

So I hadn't been planning on making any more loans until the next repayment day but I logged on today to look at my fun pie charts and saw that Kiva had introduced a new Kiva City.

What's a Kiva City?  Well, a few weeks ago, they introduced Kiva Cities with their first one.  I can't remember what it was.  Maybe Detroit?  Anyway, Kiva City brings microfinancing to cities across the U.S.  Typically, the borrowers you see on Kiva are not from countries like the U.S. or Canada.  Kiva is trying to alleviate poverty so they work in more developing areas of the world.  With Kiva City, they pick a city, feature a large number of borrowers from that city and microfinancing is extended to borrowers who wouldn't normally be on Kiva.

With the last Kiva City, by the time I logged on and noticed it, the loans had all been funded.  So today, when I saw New Orleans featured as a new Kiva City, I jumped right in to see if there was anything left.  Most of the loans had been funded but there were still a few that were available.  Including one for Nathaniel Jackson, who started a construction company in July 2010.  He was looking for a loan for $10,000 to help purchase supplies for a subcontractor project for the Goodwork Network.  I hadn't heard of the Goodwork Network so I looked it up online and from what I could tell, the Goodwork Network helps new businesses get on their feet.  And that seems like a pretty good organization.  And on top of all that, something named Keen was going to match my donation.  So into the basket it went and with that, I made my 8th microloan.

Only 2 to go and this Thing will be done!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

I think 2012 might be arriving a bit early.

Or maybe the last few months have just been a really flashy pre-game show?

Between the tornado in Goderich last week, the fires in Slave Lake in May, Japan's tsunami in March and Hurricane Irene looming (and probably a bunch of other stuff I've forgotten about), 2011 has been a busy year for natural disasters.  It sounds like now is a good time to get started on an emergency kit for the house.

I've done a bit of research and have found two websites that I'm going to use to create an emergency kit for the house.  The first is the Canadian government's Get Prepared website.  There is some pretty useful information on that site, along with a basic checklist of emergency supplies.  But I also found a REALLY thorough site from the San Francisco Department of Emergency Management.  It's a little heavy on earthquake preparedness, as you would expect.  So I'm going to use both to create my own list of what we need.

The San Francisco guide recommends two types of kits - a household disaster kit (allowing you to remain at home without utilities) and a go-bag for every person (in case you are evacuated.)  They suggest having a go-bag for each person in your home, your car and your vehicle.  The Canadian government recommends some basic supplies along with other additional supplies, as well as a car kit.  I'm going to do something of a hybrid of both systems and put together the go-bags, along with small car kits for each of us, for the things that we would each need and then another container or bag for the things that could be shared.  

While I'm sure this list will change slightly as I get things assembled, here's my initial list of what needs to go in each kit:

Go-bags:
- 6 litres of water
- non-perishable food that doesn't need a can opener or heating
- sleeping bag
- change of clothes
- extra shoes
- roll of toilet paper
- hand sanitizer
- toothbrush & toothpaste
- garbage bag
- flashlight with extra batteries
- Swiss Army knife or something similar
- whistle
- water purifying tablets
- pen, paper
- copies of personal documents
- emergency contact information
- house key
- cash

Car kits:
- 1 litre of water
- a box of granola bars or something similar
- a blanket
- change of clothes
- small first aid kit
- whistle
- wind-up flashlight
- one of those candle-in-a-tin things with some matches

Home kit:
- 12 litres of water
- canned food
- candles & matches
- toilet paper, paper towel
- can opener
- plates, utensils, bowls, etc.
- garbage bags
- first aid kit
- heavy blanket
- tent
- heavy duty flashlight with extra batteries
- radio
- copies of insurance documents
- emergency contact information
- cash

Penny's Go-bag:
- 6 litres of water
- food 
- blanket
- bowls
- roll of bags
- a leash
- pet first aid kit
- immunization, microchip records
- emergency contact information

I think we would actually be in okay shape if we were without utilities for three days but we certainly wouldn't be able to evacuate quickly.  Some of this stuff, we already have and it will just be a matter of assembling it.  I'll have to go out and buy some of the other stuff.  Either way, this is probably one of those things that we should do sooner, rather than later.  

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Thing 1's Book 4: The Happiness Project

Progress! I have finished the first of my 12 book recommendations.  What book, you ask?  Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project.

This was a recommendation from Kirsi, who is also working on a 101 Things in 1001 Days project. I was really looking forward to this book. I had heard a bit about it in the past and it sounded like a topic that had a few things in common with my 101 Things.

I have been on a bit of an audio kick lately so instead of getting a paper copy of the book, I got an unabridged audio version. I was pretty happy to see that it was read by the author. Its nice for a book of this type ("stunt" non-fiction, as one person puts it) to be read by the author. You get more out of it than if it was read by a random person since it's the author reading it to you. It's kind of like hearing a story directly from the person it happened to as opposed to hearing it through another person. You're directly connected to the source.

Let's start with the basic premise. Rubin, a mother of two in New York City, decides to embark on a year-long project to make her happier. She decides on some themes to focus on (money, energy, attitude, etc) and assigns each of these themes to a particular month. Then, each theme gets a number of resolutions that she will work on during that theme's month. She'd spend her last month trying to do all of her resolutions at the same time.

At first, I loved this book. I loved hearing about how Rubin figured out what her happiness project would look like. In addition to her themes and resolutions, she also had a set of personal commandments and some grown-up truths to help her out. All of this seemed complicated but was interesting to listen to.  Her first month, focusing on energy, pulled everything together for me and I understood why she had the various components of her project.  Her first few months were really captivating as she worked to get into the swing of remembering her resolutions and put everything into action.  Then, she started a blog.

After the blog was introduced, Rubin very liberally sprinkled the book with comments from readers of her blog.  I hated this.  I'm sure the book was different but in the audio, Rubin made no distinction from a blog comment and her own writing.  Talk about confusing.  At one point, I had to stop and backtrack because Rubin started talking about a basement and I got confused - she lived in an apartment, there's no basement! Another time, it was a course on becoming fluent in Italian in 7 months.  This was so distracting, I quickly began to loathe her blog and to become less interested in the book.  If I wanted to read comments from other people, I'd read the blog.  I wanted to hear about her happiness project.

That being said, a major issue I took with the book is how non-typical Rubin's life is.  She's a successful, published author with a law degree (and prior to becoming a writer, she was a clerk at the Supreme Court.)  She lives in New York City in what sounds like a pretty upscale neighbourhood.  She, very clearly, lives a privileged life.  This was most obvious in her chapter on money where she made a point to spend more money but was still evident through the rest of the book when she never hesitated to run out and buy something that would help out her resolutions.  This gave her project an air of frivolity and made it seem like this wasn't something you shouldn't take on unless you had the cash to bankroll it.  Not only that, but without a regular 9-to-5 job, Rubin was able to dedicate a lot more time to her project than someone like myself would be able to.  This also gave it a bit of a pie-in-the-sky feel to me.

Finally, my last beef with the book was how often she repeated herself.  If I had heard "the days are long but the years are short" or "be more lighthearted" or "feeling good, feeling bad and feeling right" (or any other of a number of phrases) one more time, my iPod would have hit the wall.  Good thing the book ended when it did.

On a positive note, Rubin was equally forthcoming with her successes and her failures.  This made the book so much easier to read.  Going in, I did have a bit of a fear that this would turn into a rah-rah, look-at-me, everything-is-perfect type of book and I wasn't sure if I could stick it out to the end.  She focuses more on the positive, which makes sense since the book is about being happier, but she doesn't hesitate to talk about when she failed to keep a resolution or when she had to really put a huge effort into keeping one.  This made her project more realistic and easier to believe.

Overall, I don't feel like I wasted any time with this book.  I'm not sure I would have picked it up any time soon on my own so the recommendation from Kirsi served it's purpose - getting me to read something I wouldn't normally would have.  And, I'm happy that my first recommended book didn't turn me off following through on my other recommended books :)

P.S.  While audios seem like a great idea, I have just discovered that they are so much harder to quote and find passages in.
P.P.S.  This also counts as Book 33 in my 50 Book Pledge.  Yay, 2/3 complete!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

2 more microloans made!

That brings my total up to 7!

Yesterday was what many people refer to as reloan day (or repayment day) on Kiva.  It's the day when the payments come through for your outstanding loans.  With 5 outstanding loans, I had repayments totalling about $13 in my account yesterday. 

I topped the $13 up to $25 and got in on a loan of $1,300 to Noussissi Group in Benin to help them buy pearls and jewelry for resale.  It's not something I would normally consider but I really liked the description of the field partner, Alide.  Field partners are the groups who actually work with the borrowers to fund the loan and collect payments, etc.  Alide also offers savings, training sessions and social work to families who have been excluded from traditional credit & savings systems.

For my second loan, I lent $25 to Momodu Kargbo's Group, a group of teachers in Sierra Leone, as part of the $3,675 they were borrowing to buy exercise books, school uniforms, pencils, pens & other items to sell. 

Next month, I'm expecting $25.50 in repayments so I'll be able to make a loan without adding any money to my account, which is pretty exciting. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Thanks for the visit, New Brunswick

We've been home for a few days but I've been busy with some other things so the blog post about the drive home had to wait.

We had the morning in Halifax on Friday before we needed to start heading home so EDP, Penny & I went to the Halifax Citadel to check that out.  Then, it was time to hit the road.  We pulled off the highway to see the world's longest covered bridge and then stopped for a while in Grand Falls, NB.  Grand Falls has a walking trail along it's waterfall and gorge.  Before we walked the trail, Kevin zip lined across the falls.  After that, it was time for the trail and the 230 steps down to the gorge.  It was a nice walk and the gorge and falls were really pretty.  And with that, New Brunswick was visited (and I added a few more kilometers with Penny.)

We stopped for the night in Quebec and did the rest of the drive on Saturday.  We didn't stop to see anything in Quebec so while we drove through it twice, I'm not considering it visited yet.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

I spy with my little eye... Halifax, Nova Scotia!

Man, I am visiting this place left, right and centre!

On Monday morning, EDP and I packed up everything (including the dog) and headed out.  We left shortly after 10 (Ontario time) and got here pretty much right at 8 (Halifax time.)  Originally, we were making great time.  Then, when we hit Montreal, a thunderstorm hit us.  It was insane.  I've never heard rain so deafening.  There were inches of water on the road.  Everyone had to slow right down and we lost all the time we gained in Ontario.  Not long after getting out of Montreal, we stopped for gas, dinner, and a bathroom break for Penny.  It was still pouring.  Penny was not a fan.  She was soaked right through.  I had my umbrella to keep me dry but my shoes were not so lucky.  Once we got on the road again, the skies cleared up and things were looking great.  Until we realized we were 20km from the US border.  Neither of us had passports with us and I certainly didn't have the documentation customs would need to allow Penny into the country.  So we turned around and headed back the way we came.  

This little detour only added about an hour driving time and was a really good way to learn that not only does the GPS have no regard for international borders but you also can't tell it to map around them.  Getting back on track wasn't hard and I settled in for a nap.  I dozed for a bit but then EDP needed a bit of help navigating so I was up for a few minutes and I think that's when the next bout of crazy rain happened.  The next few hours were pretty dull - EDP drove in and out of rainstorms, I dozed and Penny supervised.  Around 1:30, we pulled over to switch drivers so that EDP could get some sleep.  There was no more rain and soon we were in Moncton, getting gas by a McDonalds that was advertising the McLobster.  A few hours later, we were in Halifax and checked into our hotel.  We took about 21 hours to do the drive - without our detour and if we hadn't gotten bogged down in the storms, we probably would have been closer to 18.  But we were happy with 21.

We got settled into our room, found a doggy daycare for Penny to get some exercise after being in the car for a day and headed back to the room for a nap.  Once we were a bit more rested, it was down to the waterfront to explore a bit.  We headed all the way down to Pier 21 and took a gander at the Immigration Museum.  It was a much more positive experience than the museum at Ellis Island.  From there, we were planning on wandering down to see the tall ship Silva when the rain hit.  Within seconds, EDP was drenched from head to toe and water was dripping off his nose.  That seemed like a good cue to head back to the hotel so off we went to change and grab some dinner before picking Penny up from daycare.  

The evening was a quiet one - we had grabbed a bottle of wine so we opened that and enjoyed some of the channels we don't get at home before turning the light out fairly early.

Wednesday was a day just for Pug and I.  We walked EDP to his course and then we toured around campus a bit before meandering back to the hotel via the Public Gardens.  That walk tired Penny out for a bit so we did some lounging in the hotel before taking off for another walk down to the waterfront.  Penny seemed to enjoy that and we walked the opposite way that EDP and I had taken the day before so I got to see some new sites.  There wasn't much for a pug to do, aside from walk, so we headed up towards the citadel and walked all around that before heading through the Public Gardens and back to the hotel.  After that, it was more specialty cable TV while we waited for EDP to get back so we could have some dinner and relax.  

This morning, Penny went back to doggy daycare.  EDP went back to class and I was on my own.  I did some light shopping before deciding to go on a whale watching tour.  This was a two and a half hour boat tour along the Halifax coast, out to the mouth of the harbour and back.  In theory, I was going to see whales.  In actuality, I saw a lobster.  And the top of a seal's head.  But I did get some really great photos before it got so misty that I had to put the camera away.  I also froze my butt off.  And that is the kind of experience that is worth paying for.  Tonight, we had dinner with a few of EDP's classmates and soon, it'll be time to turn in to make sure I get a good sleep tonight and get ready for all that driving heading home.  Tomorrow, we're planning on checking out the Halifax Citadel before driving to New Brunswick to see Grand Falls.  Then, we'll see how far we can get before we need to stop for the night!  Should be a full day.

So, I can officially consider Nova Scotia visited.  I had pondered a day trip out to PEI today to cross that one off, too, but apparently, it's a bit far for a day trip.  I'll cross New Brunswick off tomorrow and maybe Quebec on Saturday.  And, with all the walking I did with Penny yesterday, we put a dent in our 200 km, too with 9km of walking (I feel like it was more, though.)  Oh, and I sent two postcards, which I'm going to count as my handwritten letter this month because well, they were handwritten and although they were short, they were very detailed and wonderful notes.  And after I put stamps on them, I put them down the fancy mail chute by the elevators.  Fancy!

Anyway, I have lots of pics but I'm too lazy to post them now.  I'll do a picture post when we get home.