Last week I traveled by myself to Atlanta to attend the Society of Actuaries’ Fellowship Admissions Course. This was the last step on my way to be a credentialed actuary fellow!
One of my coworkers, Allen, was also there. I actually woke him up half an hour before one of the morning seminars. They have this strict rule that if you miss any more than 10 minutes of a seminar, you fail the course. The seminars covered ethics, communication, and professionalism and encouraged participation. There was also a short presentation that we had to give. I got the impression that everyone was a little on edge because of this until the final dinner when everyone was done and just had to sit back, wait for their name to be called, and not trip on their way to get their sheet of paper saying they had passed all of these exams.
On the certificate was this quote:
“The work of science is to substitute facts for appearances and demonstrations for impressions.”
which happens to be the Society’s motto. All that said, everyone was so super happy and relaxed after receiving their diploma that they gave a standing ovation to the last guy who was called up. It was a celebratory night filled with a fancy dinner, drinking, and some schmoozing in the lounge afterwards. There was even a DJ who played the cupid shuffle (a small handful of us danced a bit). Everyone was so happy after years of studying (nine for me) that the certificate might have well said this:
Lauren and I went to two back to back weddings over the weekend. The ceremonies were both outdoors and pretty relaxing. Actually I think all weddings where I’m not the groom are pretty relaxing.
It was a slow progression from six or seven years ago but I think I feel pretty comfortable dancing at weddings now. The next level is feeling comfortable dancing on the dance floor by myself without anyone else on the dance floor. I think I’m almost there but I still feel a lot better with Lauren there with me. And I probably would need some warm up time and someone to dare me.
I also spent some time this weekend meeting some friends’ babies and going through some of Lauren’s yearbooks with her and also reflecting on my own grade school life. I miss that kids in California don’t all take school buses to go to school but instead are dropped off by parents. I thought it was some sort of rite of passage to walk to the bus stop by your lonesome and having that brief time of independence.
In September, Lauren’s maid of honor got married in DC. It was a lovely wedding at a really nice hotel. This was probably the second nicest hotel I’ve been in. They even had a spa for guests to use! But I only used the swimming pool. Lauren dared me to swim half the length of the pool underwater and I was able to go the full length. Afterwards she told me she knew I could do more, she just wanted me to feel encouraged about exceeding her expectations. She knows me too well.
Since we were already heading east to DC, we decided to extend the whole trip and go to Iceland! Lauren and I have been tossing around the idea of going to Iceland for awhile. We both like cool climates and Iceland has “ice” in it. I think that was the extent of our thought process.
I spent an embarrassing amount of time researching, buying, returning, and rebuying warm clothes. I drove out to the Camarillo outlets three times! I feel like now I’m an expert in dressing in layers, and the pros and cons of wool versus synthetics versus cotton, and knowing why you can’t wash those merino long johns with regular detergent. Initially I thought the long sleeve shirts and sweaters I already had might do. But somehow I got it into my mind that Iceland was one big arctic tundra and that I’d have to trek across miles of snow and ice just for a cup of stew. It was pretty cold and wet and the waterproof stuff I got came in handy but I definitely overthought this.
We started our Iceland trip heading out to the Snæfellsnes Penninsula, a couple hours into our eight day, clockwise road tour of Iceland.
After we went up a bit to see the Gerduberg basalt column walls we turned around and saw an SUV ad.
Iceland was really pretty. So pretty that by the end of the first day I had taken so many pictures that I was almost done with the first of my three batteries. And I didn’t bring a charger. I wanted to pack light! And somehow the battery charger was too much trouble. I ended up getting a battery charger there and I’m glad I did because I went through six fresh batteries in my camera. It rained a lot. I saw all these photographers with bags over their cameras and I soon learned that raindrops leave huge water blobs in your photos. Luckily I managed to salvage a few rainy photos with some extensive Lightroom editing.
This trip was one of the first where I left my portrait lens at home. I took two lenses: wide (7-14mm) and normal (20mm). My normal one got cracked as the wind toppled over the camera against these rocks so I spent the later half of the trip shooting wide only. I never shoot wide and I guess I liked the change of pace.
We saw the northern lights three times. The first night we just ventured out by the side of the road in the middle of nowhere. It was cold, we needed to go to the bathroom, and we didn’t really know what we were looking for. I got out of the car for a stretch around 11 pm, saw a really faint pale strip of light in the distance and had to take a long exposure photo with my camera to see it was green. It was barely noticeable but we were excited. We waited for another hour or so and saw some stronger lights on the drive back to our cabin. The second night we went out on a tour and we saw even stronger lights, “solid 3s.” The lights are graded on a scale from 1-9. The tour guide showed me a photo on his phone of 5s which had all these purple arcs too. I have no idea what a 9 would look like but apparently it’s a once in a lifetime experience.
On one of our last nights I happened to look out the window around midnight and saw the lights from our bed – Most Comfortable Viewing Location Ever.
The eastern part of Iceland was the prettiest part of our drive. We spent a night in Seyðisfjörður, a small artsy town along one of the eastern fjords and the place where they filmed the longboard scene in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. The main gallery and technical print museum was closed but peering in the windows and seeing all the printing presses made me nostalgic for my college days where my jeans smelled of paint thinner. I ate the recommended reindeer pizza in town. I think pretty much anything on pizza tastes good.
One tough thing about our road trip trip was always feeling like we couldn’t dilly dally in once place since we had to be constantly making it to the next place in time. But we were able to fit in a small morning hike right outside the town which was super nice. I think just being out in nature alone was really a nice feeling for the both of us and a welcome change from our rented car.
Lauren’s favorite place with Vestrahorn, in southeast Iceland, and it’s surrounding beach area. The black sand beach right before sundown on a cloudy day without many people nearby was really peaceful.
The highlight of the trip for me was the glacier walk at Svinafellsjokull, where part of Interstellar was filmed. The scenery was so different and I finally felt like I was like I was going on a trek across the icy arctic tundra and somewhere out there there was a bowl of lamb stew with my name on it. I liked putting on the crampons and hearing the crunch of ice with each step and feeling like you can’t possibly slip. It was like having 4x4s with chains on your feet! The glacier seemed to go on endlessly and I wondered how it’d be up further, but we paid for the short walk since we were worried about how taxing it would be.
By Skógafoss waterfall there was a museum we spent a good amount of time in. Part of the museum was outdoors where you could see an old renovated town including turf houses, a church, and a schoolhouse. After so much driving it felt good to just spend a little while longer in once place.
On our last full day in Iceland, we drove into the capital, Reykyavik, in the early afternoon and saw some sights and did some shopping. I was a bit sick with a cold and cough by this point and felt old, weak, and very grouchy. But whenever I managed to get my camera all setup, I couldn’t help but smile like nothing’s wrong. It’s like it’s programmed into me.
Overall I’d say Iceland was very scenic, the waterproof shoes I got were really nice to have, and nothing quite beats the bed in your home that you’re used to.
I just came back from going to see my father one last time. A couple of weeks ago, I found out he passed away in his home in North Carolina. His caretaker found him collapsed on the floor of his bedroom. I spent the next few days with my brother talking to police about what happened, calling the county clerk’s office, notifying extended family, and arranging memorial services.
It was sobering traveling back to the small town where he lived. I had only been there one other time but the house was pretty much how I remember it – small and meager. The rocking chair was still there as was the mostly empty refrigerator, seeds he collected (he had a bowlful of old peach pits that he said he wanted to plant but never did), file cabinets and computers comprising his home office. I was there with my brother but got a chance to rummage through the house on my own for a few hours. I went through practically everything. I guess I just wanted to get a sense of what his life was like since I hadn’t seen him in some time. There were things I remembered as a kid – the same stoneware dishes with the blue trim, the same water filter, the same kneeling chairs and drafting table and unique vacuum cleaner that you had to fill up with water to use that we had when we were growing up. The same old car in the driveway.
There was endless paperwork filed away in his many file cabinets. He saved everything from email printouts to scientific and business articles he liked. Old receipts and photocopies of checks from the 80s and 90s. I was hoping to find a personal note or something like that but the closest thing I found was business correspondence that was usually concise and blunt. Or a copy of a canceled check for the gardener with the scrawl “don’t hire this guy again.” I guess that’s just the way he was.
Some people dropped by the house to give their condolences. The town was small enough that even the grocer and the guy at the post office recognized who my dad was by name. I was pretty impressed how friendly people were but I did notice my brother, wife, and I got a few more looks than we’re used to. I guess we just stuck out as fresh faces. Toward the end of the trip I began to appreciate the idea of living in a small town where everyone recognizes you. I appreciated the mortuary which seemed to handle things with care and sensitivity. We also got to talk a little more to my dad’s caretaker, who saw him the night before. She went to the store and fed him some oysters and Perrier for dinner, which seemed appropriate given my Dad’s tastes. He told her that night that he was feeling sad and didn’t know why.
There were all these little questions that came up regarding the funeral, estate, and his home. Like what quote or poem to include in the funeral program (we vaguely remembered he liked Max Ehrmann’s poem, Desiderata). Or what clothes to pick out for my Dad to wear (I tried to match this photo). Or how do we find a gardener to mow the lawn of my Dad’s place (the town had ordinances on grass length). The whole time I was really appreciative of Lauren being there. She scrubbed the floor of my Dad’s bedroom, help hunt for different documents, and went from place to place with us as we tried to tie up loose ends. I hope she was able to get a glimpse of what my Dad was like by the stuff around the house and the various stories people had because she never met him in person. I was pretty sad about that.
It was tough writing his eulogy. Every time I tried to write it I ended up scrapping the whole thing and rewriting it from scratch. This is what I ended up with:
I always thought my father was different. He lived a quiet life, often by himself for most of his years. Most of the time he spent working trying to grow his various small businesses. So when I was young, I felt I grew up along side his home office.
He was often busy with work but I still had many fond, childhood memories of my dad, which included fishing trips to Eastern Oregon, going to the pet store to pick out fish and hamsters, and driving around the neighborhood on the weekends trying to find garage sales. I remember him taking us out to some remote place to catch a glimpse of Halley’s comet late one night and having him carry me back to bed when we got home after I was fast asleep in the car.
He cared for my brother and me. He wanted us to be healthy, smart, and productive. To eat right, write well, and have good hygiene. To plan out our days, and be hard-working. He always had chores for me to do. He was a strict disciplinarian and punished me whenever he found out I did something wrong. He wanted to make sure I was raised right – honest, responsible, and respectable. My dad taught me about fishing, typing, and chess. How to shine shoes and how to cook rice on the stove top. I remember on Saturday mornings he would sit with me at the dining table with some scratch paper and go over algebra and trigonometry. He always wanted me to be learning something.
When I was older I told him I was thankful of those days he went over math with me as a kid and he said he didn’t remember. It was sad in a way. I could tell he was getting old and forgetful. Every time I hugged him he felt softer and more frail. And somehow that left an impression on me. That someone who I looked up to my whole life, who taught and guided me, who was strict and punished me, could have been so weak and frail in his old age.
I love my father. Every time I called him up and told him that, I could tell it made his day. I wish I could have told him that more. I can still see that smile he had when he looked at me. That smile of being so proud of me. Not really of anything I had done but just of being his son. It was a really special feeling to have.
It’s hard to really write about anyone’s life in summary. You just grab a few pieces here and there and hope something sticks in the end.
We held a small, simple funeral service with just seven people attending: my brother, his husband, my wife, my mom, two of my uncles and me. Most of us came up with a few stories about him. We put together a collage of old photos we found in his house. I thought it was a really good time to remember my often strict and unusual father. I think he would have liked it.
So every now and then I put the occasional, random small “add-on” item in my Amazon cart and wait for it to fill up. And this week it filled up! This go around my self-made care package came on Friday with the following items:
A neck brush/duster
Personal body fat callipers
Some of the items I get are pretty random. Once I got this tiny UV meter to measure whether or not my fake glasses truly block UV light (they do). This week, I got the neck duster thingy, to brush hair off my clippers and around my shoulders and it seems to work really well. When I started shaving my head years ago I watched all these barbering videos and I got this strange fascination of barbering and I suppose this brush makes me feel one step closer to being a real barber. But I guess I really only know how to do one haircut.
The other items were related to this healthy diet/exercise kick I’ve been on for the past few weeks. Since I’ve been married I’ve tried once without success to start exercising consistently and I thought I’d try it again and throw in some additional calisthenics. The calipers say I’m around 20% body fat which the table says is average. I’ve been trying to watch calories but it all went out the window yesterday. We went down to Torrance to get our one year anniversary cake from the bakery that made our original wedding cake. We swung by the place we got married and looked around for a place close by to eat a slice. So, yeah, I’m guessing this next week I’ll be putting any calorie limits on hold.
This week Lauren and I celebrated our one year anniversary. We went out to dinner on Monday and exchanged gifts. She gave me a book/mini-album that she made and I gave her a photo wedding album. The food was really good, but it was also kind of a sad time. That same Monday we went to see a doctor and got an ultrasound and found out that although we had been expecting the last couple months, they didn’t see an embryo and after some blood tests, the diagnosis looked more sad and grim. But we’ll be going in again tomorrow for another ultrasound. It was a pretty sad for both of us and it made me think of a lot of the things I was hoping for. Who knows, maybe I could have been doing kid’s haircuts with my clippers and new trusty neck brush.
Sometimes on the weekends when Lauren is at work and I get up to a sunny day and I don’t have anything to do with my exams behind me, I feel like going out adventuring and exploring nature with my camera. But I invariably stay in bed and putz around the house for most of the day and run errands or buy groceries or update my Bachelorette bracket (my money’s on Luke, but James T. and Wells are my personal favorites) because I suppose going out on adventures takes effort and I’ve been feeling lackadaisical. I also have a final written assignment to work on for my last actuarial certification and although it’s not due really soon, I’ve been putting it off. I wanted to work on it over the weekend but one of our small group members was back temporarily from being overseas and a few of us got together over Memorial Day weekend and hiked around LA. On Sunday we went back to El Scorpion, a hike just down the road from us. Every time we go Lauren and I go down different trails and that day was no different and we ended up on some pretty field on a hilltop.
The trail kept continuing and a part of me wanted to see where it led, but it was getting dark so we just turned around and ate a late dinner. The next day a few of us decided to go on yet another hike. We hiked seven or so miles, ate enough snacks to make up for the lost calories, and I was even able to take some photos and got them to strike a few pretend-you-guys-like-each-other-and-I-just-happened-to-catch-you-guys-having-a-great-time poses.
So that was my Memorial Day weekend. And I was even able to make it back in time to cook stir-fry and watch The Bachelorette (Chad is soooo evil).
Lauren and I have been hiking every New Year’s for the past one year so we decided to keep up the long standing tradition and head out to Paradise Falls in Thousand Oaks. Unlike what the name suggests, the falls really smells! But the whole 6-or-so mile Box Canyon Loop had a lot of varied terrain which Lauren liked, and after huffing and puffing it to Lizard Peak we were able to gain composure enough to try to make the hike seem effortless in front of the camera.
Also according to our hiking customs we didn’t wear hiking clothes or shoes just in case we wanted to try to be extra photogenic. On our 3rd date we actually went up LA’s Runyon Canyon all dressed up since we were originally planning on going to see a movie, which we were running late for after dinner. Actually, now that I think of it, I didn’t tell her that I had pre-purchased tickets to that movie. Oh well.