Category Archives: life

Post-mortem post-mortem

Random, incomplete list of lessons learned:

  • My dad lived such an incredible life. That made it so much easier to celebrate his awesomeness than to feel regret. We had time for all the things that mattered, and we had those serious conversations throughout life.
  • He was very clear on what he wanted regarding advance directives, cremation followed by viewing, what to do about the business, what he wanted to wear, and so on. That made tough decisions easier, because we could follow his wishes.
  • Cremation before viewing made it easier for people to focus on the stories and pictures people shared instead of remembering my dad lying so still. We should make sure the mortuary knows it’s a closed casket and post someone to enforce that, since people can be curious.
  • It was really helpful to have staff members taking care of organizing all sorts of details.
  • Drawing up a five-day meal plan could help increase variety. It’s good to offer meals that have a lot of choices: chicken, beef, vegetables, etc. Packaged meals are good for flexibility because you can order based on the numbers you see, and then order more as you run low. Catering the last night was a good idea, though, since it made it feel more like a party.
  • It would probably have been worth it to get proper coffee set up every morning. That would make people happier than instant coffee. Tea and chocolate would be good to offer too.
  • The pre-need memorial plan and the memorial plot that my parents purchased didn’t end up getting used because my parents decided to go with cremation issued, but they can be transferred.

  • We should have posted visiting hours in the initial announcement, since people who stayed overnight hardly slept.

  • It helps to think of significant pictures or moments that you want to have, and who should be in it.
  • Insurance companies want original forms.
  • Line up birth certificates and marriage contracts beforehand. One per insurance company, one for estate tax, plus extras for various paperwork requirements.

  • Official receipts for funeral expenses should be in the name of one of the heirs so that they can be claimed as part of the estate tax deduction.

  • The first paperwork deadline is the BIR notice of death, which can be handled by registering for a TIN for the estate. The deadline is two months after the date of death.

  • The Roman Catholic Church prefers burials over cremation, and forbids the division of ashes or keeping ashes at home. We should probably have looked up customs and updated rules before death, as that could have saved us a little money.

  • It was a great idea to collect stories even before death, and to collect and print more stories during the wake. Kathy did an amazing job collecting, formatting, and printing all those stories. It was good to have a printer there, a couple of Autopoles, clotheslines, and clothespins.

  • You can never have too many pens.

  • Light-coloured envelopes are easier to label than dark ones.

  • It’s hard to organize papers with a curious toddler, so it’s good to keep expectations low.

  • Uber drivers assume you’re already standing outside, and might cancel if they don’t see you.

  • Korean Air let me extend my trip without a change fee, since we found a seat in the same fare class and with no fare increase. Travel insurance cost a bit more to extend, but that’s okay.

  • It’s good to have a large picture, a digital copy, and a slideshow ready to go. It can also help to bring a laptop, or at least an OTG cable and a USB drive.

  • It’s good to plan the mementos to be placed inside the niche. That would avoid last-minute scrambling for prints or frames.

  • It would have been helpful to decide on the columbarium before arranging for cremation or the wake.

  • I should remember to ask about all payment methods. Sometimes Visa debit or MasterCard debit can be treated as cash.

  • I should remember to verify actual location, chair setup, and ventilation of a site before giving the okay. It would have also been good to always bring someone else along – more questions, and backup in case A- needs my attention.

  • I’m happy with how our priorities worked out: people before paperwork.

Our trip to the Philippines

Because my dad was in poor health and it was possibly the last Christmas that my sister and her kids would spend in the Philippines, we decided to all go despite the chaos and expense of flying over the Christmas holidays. It turned out to be an excellent decision. We got to spend lots of time with everyone, and we had lots of conversations that helped us prepare for what happened.

We initially planned to be away from Dec 17 to Jan 10. When my dad was scheduled for potential surgery on Jan 8, I extended my trip until Jan 26, while W- kept his original itinerary. It was a good thing I extended my stay. My dad died on January 6. We had a wonderful wake for him until Jan 11, and I had a couple of weeks to spend time with family and help with paperwork.

I’m feeling surprisingly okay with the whole thing. We prepared a lot for this scenario, and I know we can get through it. In fact, this trip has helped me develop an even deeper appreciation of my family.

A- had a marvelous time. She played with her cousins, who were both enamoured with her. She took to asking her Lola to read to her, which my mom did with delight. She learned many new words and names. She liked following the household staff around so that she could help with washing the dishes or sweeping the floor. She started experimenting with establishing her boundaries (“No grab. This mine!”) She stopped being anxious around dolls. She often sought out her cousins to play with them. At the wake, it was delightful to hear the kids bouncing around and being their usual cheerful selves.

There’s more paperwork to be done, of course. My next priorities are:

  • Take care of A- and figure out new routines considering the travel we’re planning for the year
  • Handle all the medical appointments and other things we planned for this phase in Canada
  • Keep track of work in progress and coordinate paperwork as we go in and out of the country
  • Help check on my mom as she deals with the transition
  • Invest in little improvements

We might experiment with a cycle of two months in Canada and one month in the Philippines, at least for this year’s transition period. It’s going to take a lot of money and effort, but I think it might be worth it in terms of relationships and paperwork. I’ll scale it back if we get too disrupted by the changes in environment and routine, but maybe we’ll be able to take it in stride. We’ll see!

Replaced my Philippine taxpayer ID

I needed two pieces of government-issued photo ID for Philippine paperwork. My Philippine passport counted as one. I decided to replace my taxpayer ID because the taxpayer ID does not expire, while the barangay ID and the postal ID do.

I had my taxpayer ID number (TIN), but I didn’t know which regional district office I needed to apply to. Once I was in the Philippines, I called the TIN Verification Office (63-2-981-7000 local 7030). I gave them my name, date of birth, and TIN, and they told me which office I was registered at.

There were no notaries in front of that office, but the security guard directed me to where we could find notaries working on the sidewalk about five minutes’ walk away. The notary stamped my affidavit of loss for P 150, which was probably higher than it needed to be, but which could definitely be considered a contribution to the Philippine economy and a vote of support for people willing to work in the hot sun.

We walked back to the BIR office. Both W- and I showed IDs to get in. A-‘s presence got us put in the fast lane and processed within five minutes or so. The BIR clerk updated my details at the same time. I should probably have brought my marriage certificate, but he was okay without it. He printed out a card right away. It’s a good thing I checked it, since it had a typo. After he corrected and reprinted the card, we were all set.

I needed a 1×1 ID picture for the card, so I got ID pictures taken at the mall near my house: P 85 for 6 2x2s and 4 1×1. I signed the card, and the people at home helped me get it glued and laminated. That’s another piece of ID all sorted out!

Working around my phone plan’s lack of roaming

Constraints:

  • I need to deal with SMS one-time passwords, especially for online banking in the Philippines.
  • I like my plan with Freedom Mobile, but they don’t offer roaming in the Philippines.
  • My Philippine prepaid SIM will expire if I don’t regularly load it.

I could leave my SIM plugged into a phone and set up some kind of forwarding or logging. However, this means I can bring only one phone to the Philippines. Having two Android devices was handy for setting up WiFi Baby Monitor and for writing even if my battery was running low. On the other hand, we could use W-‘s phone as the receiver, I can keep a power bank or charger handy, and there might even be a spare phone at home that I can set up.

Alternatively, I can try to set up my Fongo number for incoming texts. I’m planning to pay for Internet access anyway. Some services like Namecheap won’t let me use the Fongo number for two-factor authentication, but others do.

I can check with W- if he has roaming. If so, maybe I can use his phone number as a backup.

I can use my Philippine prepaid SIM as the contact number (likely to be more successful with Philippine banks anyway), enable roaming before I leave, and periodically reload online to keep it active. If I can find the Smart Pinoy SIM, that can receive text messages with zero balance and it expires a year after the last load. I might also be able to change the contact number online once we’re back in Canada.

Hmm… Plenty of things to try. I think I like the convenience of bringing both phones, since they’re already all set up for writing. I’ll try Fongo first, then I’ll try the Philippine SIM if that doesn’t work. If I have to keep my SIM active by buying a roaming SIM and/or spending a few dollars a month, it’s probably worth it, and it won’t be for a super-long time anyway. It’s a good opportunity to experiment with paying for convenience.

Thoughts on getting a membership to the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM)

I’ve been building up a small opportunity fund for A- so that it’s easy to take chances on memberships, classes, books, and other good things. After some consideration, I decided to use some of it for a membership to the Royal Ontario Museum. We’ve been working on animal names and sounds, so I figured it would be good to point to animals in addition to pictures in books, Duplo pieces, and small models at the early years centres.

The ROM turned out to be a nice quiet place to walk around and contemplate the vastness of history, A-‘s thirteen months of existence a blink contrasted with millennia. I picked up all sorts of tidbits as I tag along on tours, too, and I’m working on getting better at identifying animals myself. (I could probably spend a few years in the bird section!)

What do I want from the ROM?

  • I want to develop a deeper appreciation of our place in history and nature, and I want to be able to share that with A- as she grows.
  • I want to train my eye to recognize and differentiate various things.
  • I want to pick up more words and share them with A-.
  • I want to learn stories and tidbits that I can share with A- and W-.
  • I want a quiet, sheltered, spacious place to walk with A- or hang out with friends. I want to have interesting things to look at and chat about.
  • I want to expose A- to different sights, sounds, and textures. Sometimes they have smellable exhibits, too.
  • I want A- to feel at home in the museum instead of it being just a destination for school field trips.
  • I want to have something to offer to other parents and friends.
  • I want to support culture.

The benefits are mostly for me at the moment, but I hope this will pay off when A- starts asking questions about the world or learning about history. It might be handy for helping her increase her vocabulary and see how the world is connected. I’m still going to prioritize hands-on learning for her, since she needs to exercise all her senses, but I think the museum might add something useful to the mix. That means I should take notes (and perhaps photos) so that I can jog my memory, and I should slow down and point to things while naming them multiple times, paying special attention to exhibits at her eye level. I’d like to make it out to the museum at least once a week, ideally inviting other people along.

Now is a good time to bring A-, actually. It’s still a bit cold and rainy, so it’s better to be indoors than at a park or playground. She’s not walking independently yet, so she usually doesn’t mind hanging out in the carrier and nursing on the go. That gives me an opportunity to join tours or read labels, and then I can think about those things when she gets antsy and wants to walk around while I hold her hand. She toddled around the Ancient Egypt exhibit quite happily, and I could still hear some of the tour guide’s stories even though A- sometimes took me around corners. Come to think of it, A- seemed to warm up to the place faster than she usually does at the early years centres. Maybe she prefers to be more reserved when there are lots of active kids. She’s still a bit hesitant to touch strange things, but that might pass in time.

The math: The curator’s circle membership I signed up for lets me take three guests and four kids, includes free coat check, and costs $189. The social level of membership allows one guest and costs $149, so +$40 gets you free coat check and the ability to bring two additional guests and four children (4 <= age <= 17). Half of a two-year solo membership is $86, so +$63 gets you the ability to bring in one guest each time you come. An adult ticket is $20 (+$10 for the special exhibition), so the solo membership breaks even after one visit that includes the special exhibition plus three visits without. The premium for the social membership works after three guest visits including the special exhibition, and the premium for the curator’s circle membership works after two extra guests including the special exhibition, or lots of coat check use. (The member price of $1 per item would’ve added up quite a bit given all these coats and diaper bags!) Yay math! And now it’s a sunk cost, so I can just treat it as an investment in cultural knowledge and potential social interaction.

Among the things I learned this week:

  • Blue whales are huge! Standing next to the skeleton of one is a great way to realize how tiny you are.
  • Noise pollution is a challenge for whales.
  • Whales have really big poop flumes which can be seen from airplanes. The poop is bright orange because they eat krill, and krill is bright orange.
  • Bootlace worms are very long.
  • Researchers solve interesting puzzles with incomplete pieces. I liked how they pieced together the evolutionary history for whales with the help of Pakicetus. They also have to deal with weird one-off fossils like the Toronto subway deer – cool stuff!
  • You can differentiate between mastodon and mammoth skeletons by looking at the lower tusks, the curvature of the big tusks, at whether the teeth are cusp-shaped or smooth.
  • Cartonnage (linen and plaster) gave the Egyptians an alternative way to encase their mummies, since wood was scarce.
  • Chinese roof tiles could be quite elaborate and well-preserved. The designs were strictly regulated in some places and more free-form in others.

I’d like to go again on Tuesday and/or Friday, depending on A-. More to learn!

What did I learn from this experiment with semi-retirement?

I’m so glad I started this experiment! The timing worked out perfectly.

I was pretty happy with the corporate world, but I also wanted to learn about all sorts of things that don’t fit into the usual 9 to 5. I learned that I can have fun building very different kinds of businesses, and that people are wonderful to work with. Enterprise social business (prototyping, analysis, and consulting) was a natural extension of my master’s research and my work at IBM. I got the opportunity to work with my biggest client because a former mentor happened to read my blog when I was planning the experiment, so hooray for blogging. Rails development and Linux system administration let me help a friend out of a tough spot. Graphic facilitation, sketchnoting, and illustration helped me explore new areas and play with visual thinking. Answering people’s questions on Google’s short-lived Helpouts platform showed me ways I could help people learn more. Publishing pay-what-you-want resources opened up lots of conversations and exposed people’s generosity. And to top it all off, I found that I actually enjoyed the nitty-gritty details of running a business: updating my records, filing my taxes, forming agreements, specifying projects, delegating work, and even following up on late payments.

The most important thing I learned was how to have enough. I gradually shifted my balance away from work and toward leisure, freeing up roughly one day a week every year. I learned to trust the butterflies of my interest instead of being driven by the taskmaster of self-imposed deadlines. I learned how to sit in parks and have long conversations with friends, how to cook for crowds, and how to sew for myself. I learned how to get through fuzzy days and foggy days. I learned that I love the stillness and openness of quiet time.

The experiment helped me gain the confidence to take on the challenge of raising a tiny human. I’m not worried about a large gap in my career. That won’t matter if I can come up with a business that fills a need. I’m not worried about being starved for time or autonomy. I got to enjoy so much of it up front, and I can wait a few years for more. I’m not worried about my finances. I enjoy a frugal lifestyle and I manage the numbers well. We’ve got probably one of the best starting points for another experiment, and I’m looking forward to exploring that adventure.

Also, because I didn’t need to take parental leave, W- got to take all the paid leave, so A- got extra time with both of us! Awesome.

What’s next? Another long-term experiment, this time with a more conventional label. I’d like to see what it’s like for us to have at least one parent at home with A- during her preschool years. That will most likely be me, but it could be W- if circumstances require. Children become eligible for kindergarten in the year they turn 4, so we’re already a quarter of the way there. I’ve learned so much about human development in the past year, and I look forward to learning even more. I might even get to incorporate some of those ideas into whatever businesses I end up starting in the next phase of this experimental life.