Thursday, March 2, 2017

Book Review: And Then All Hell Broke Loose

I think everyone has seen a news clip of a foreign correspondent in the midst of a dangerous war zone or riot in some faraway foreign country. I consider these guys and gals as the rock stars of the journalistic community with exciting stories that could make fiction seem boring. I’m also a child of the 90’s, so geopolitical happenings in the Middle East have been a dominant theme in news coverage through almost my entire life – from the Gulf War, to the September 11 terrorist attacks and subsequent invasion of Iraq, to the current rise of ISIL and turmoil in Syria and Libya. Richard Engel’s “And Then All Hell Broke Loose: Two Decades in the Middle East” covers both of these bases as a personal account of being a foreign correspondent covering the Middle East through a tumultuous period. 

The book starts with Mr. Engel as a young freelance journalist trying to make a name for himself in the midst of a failed democratic uprising in Egypt. He then moves on to cover the 2003 Iraq Invasion, the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine, the “war on terror” in Afghanistan, and the Arab Spring that eventually leads to the rise of the infamous ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant). Along the way, Mr. Engel provides sometimes very personal insights into his thoughts and feelings, and I gain a new admiration for the danger and sacrifices that come with being the rock stars of the journalistic community. Over his two decades in the Middle East, Mr. Engel has suffered a kidnapping, a failed marriage, and the death of friends, yet continued his work to bring the world information that would otherwise go unreported. He also offers excellent insight into the complex history and dynamics of the region and Islam, supported by his first-hand experiences. 

The Middle East is complex....
Given the complex relationships and changing dynamics of the Middle East, I have admittedly developed only a surface level understanding of the situation in the region. Although the book doesn’t cover any new ground that hasn’t already been covered in the numerous texts that are available on the region, Mr. Engel's explanations and history lessons are able to distill a complex subject into a manageable read.

I found Mr. Engel's book to be highly educational and informative, while also being very engaging and entertaining. The book isn’t a light or easy read, but I would highly recommend it to anyone with an interest to better understanding a region that has shaped geopolitics of the past 20 years.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

(Knowing) What I Want

I just finished reading week and I am more pooped than when I started it. The first few days of the break had me doing absolutely nothing.

Not a damn thing
And it felt really good... for the first few hours when I got to sleep in... then my mind started turning, thinking about coming mid-terms and assignments/reports because the reality is that I have two this week, another next week and a major assignment and another smaller assignment all due within 14 days of returning. I've also started looking for summer positions to expand my experience because I won't be applying to the OVC until January 2018; my aim is to stand out, against other applicants who have higher grades.

Everybody panic!
The panic conveniently serves to keep me motivated to get my stuff done because I maintain an odd calm sense of control over a precarious set of tasks, where I'm a juggler with all the balls in the air and I've got most of them under control. Honestly, I surprised myself when I managed various social commitments as well as non-academic work, (minimal) house work and the actual academic work. This embodies a philosophy I had when I was in school, about keeping just busy enough not to let an idle mind take over. Mind you, I had no idea what I was actually doing at that point in my life...

My friend JR has been having her own struggles and asked me, how the heck I stay motivated over this period (~6mos) and not want to crawl into a hole and sleep a million years. I figured that it has to do with the fact that I finally grew up and found something I have a keen interest in. I spent almost a decade of my best years in early adulthood working to pay the bills, and it was logically the thing to be doing because it's socially expected.

Break out of the norm!

Last week at work, I met a client who struck me as sharp, on the ball and particularly observant; I found out she was a senior project manager for a large corporate chain but was let go due to restructuring and decided to return to teacher's college in her 40s. We chatted a bit and she said that at first, she was really pissed to be let go because she was good at her job, enjoyed it and was financially secure. But, that she's never been happier than for having been given the opportunity to do that soul searching and be brave enough to decide not to seek another PM job but to give OISE a try and become a teacher.

She and I are not the common denominator and in many ways, we are both the exception. As stressful and busy as things get, I continually feel with even more certainty that I am exactly where I should be.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Book Review: Hillbilly Elegy

ADW here. After a long hiatus, I have returned to the blog! I will mostly focus on doing book reviews as I have lots of time to read during my commute to work and also discovered that I can get free library books on my Kobo (it's a great system). So, onto my first review.

Rednecks, white trash, hicks, hillbillies. Deplorables. These are terms that have come to the forefront of many discussions trying to understand the results of last year’s US presidential election. JD Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy is a very topical memoir of his life so far – he’s only 31 – as a poor hillbilly growing up in the US Appalachian region, eventually joining the US Marines and graduating with a law degree from Yale University.

I would like to think that I’m at least familiar and aware of the plight of “poor country folk” in the rural, non-urban US regions that have been struggling for a long time  and I also wouldn’t be surprised if this partially applies to parts of Canada as well. I’ve heard about this a lot in news media, and read many articles and essays on the issues, but at the end of the day, I’m just a guy in a big city that has very little actual understanding or first-hand experience of life in these regions. I don’t think I’m alone based on the conversations I’ve had with many others within my bubble world and I think sometimes we comfortable urbanites need to better understand life in other parts of our world.

Reading Vance’s candid first-hand account of life as a poor hillbilly helps provide context and makes it feel more real in a way that can’t be accomplished from an outsider’s perspective. We learn about Vance’s complicated family history, which includes a colourful cast of characters such as his swearing, gun-toting, sometimes violent, yet lovable grandparents  – Mamaw once lit Papaw on fire when he came home drunk one too many times – and the Blanton men who would make you eat a pair of panties if you made fun of their sister. Vance also opens up about his childhood difficulties with an ever-changing cast of father figures and unstable family situation, and how he would have likely gone down a much darker path in life if it wasn’t for the support of his Mamaw, Papaw, sister Lindsay, and many other figures that people in similar situations aren’t so lucky to have.

I appreciated Vance’s perspective on many of the important issues facing the underprivileged – Does increased school funding really help if the kids go to school but are distracted by turmoil at home? Is bringing in child services really the best solution if the child is sent to a foster home away from other family? (I didn’t know that grandparents need to be licensed to provide foster care) How does having more jobs help if many people don't have the necessary discipline or skills? These are just some of the questions that come to mind while reading the book. 

An elegy is defined as "a poem or serious reflection, typically a lament for the dead", but I'd like to hope that we aren't quite lamenting the dead yet. Although Vance doesn’t provide any answers to these complex issues that likely won't be solved anytime soon, I believe his experiences can help stimulate thoughtful thinking and discussion, which is probably a good place to start.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Resolutions and Goals

I once read somewhere that successful people plan and make goals of varying timelines.

Having direction is so comforting for me that I have done this for the last several years and it's always satisfying at the end of the year, to review that list (ooooooo list) and see the progress or places for improvement. I'm already late this year so I better just get this thing posted:


My plans remain the same, to finish this semester brilliantly and then spend the summer and autumn working and gaining more experience then applying to the OVC.
  • Reading for leisure has majorly been put on the back-burner after I finished reading a handful of books during the Summer of George. I want to get back to reading books for interest and fun. Let's see what happens after exams.
  • I elected to partake in 2 semesters before applying for vet college and I'm working on the second one. I did well enough for the first semester so I am going to keep working hard this semester. This semester also sees me revisit my old friends statistics and cellular biology so I best pull myself together for those!!
  • Take a first aid/CPR course.
  • I want to make my OVC application stand-out so I am planning on diversifying my experience with large animals, emergency clinics and other opportunities.


I think that owning a home usually means your list of projects tend to shift more heavily in that area. This is certainly true for me...
  • The big project this year is the backyard. We put in a chain-link fence to close the yard but at the expense of cutting away the segment of bush in the back. Now things are feeling a little exposed. Plus, I want to plant the strip that is outside the fence so I don't have to mow it anymore. I've got plans to create a perennial garden to provide some privacy, rid myself of some lawn and to ensure a way to keep drivers from driving over that lawn and dog walkers from neglecting to pick up after their pets.
  • The other partial yard project is to help +ADW put together the frame of his vegetable garden and let him sort out the rest.
  • There is also a section of the front lawn that I need to clean up to look presentable because after I was forced to remove the shrub there, it's become a wild patch.
  • The sun-room should also start its transformation into a kitty sanctuary reading/working room.
  • Consider re-painting the outside doors.
  • Clean out basement (junk removal service) and then pull out the useless shelf and purchase and sort out hanging bike hooks (x3).
  • Fix the tiles I broke in the kitchen.
  • Hang at least 3 images/frames in the house.
  • Look for that central piece over the fireplace... this one might take some time.
  • Organize the shelves above the fridge and 2 hallway closets.


If someone asked me what I wanted to do for a living, regardless of skill level, financial means/need and pretty much anything else, I would probably tell you I'd want to ride for a living. But, #adulting means being realistic with one's goals.
  • Summer of George really put me behind. I intend to start riding again after exams have ended. I would like to increase my riding to 2x/week if it's feasible to do so.
  • I also want to see if I can get a part-time gig on a trail ranch.
  • The only aim I have in terms of skills is to get back to last summer's abilities. I think that's ambitious enough considering everything else.


It's time to get re-involved. Being immobile for ~8 weeks really took a toll on my waist-line!
  • Physiotherapy my leg back.
  • Yoga practice to loosen all the stress tightened areas.
  • Cycling is coincidentally the best thing for my leg at this point. I've set up the bike in the basement.
  • Regulate sleeping hours! This one is tough when I have had a stretch of being diligent due to school or the like.
  • Keep blood sugars stable. I bring nutty snacks with me as often as possible.
  • Make food more often. Find good non-muscle meat recipes (I'm looking into all those wonderful innerds I get from the farm) and just eat cleaner without compromising my love of tastes.


I always put this one in because I want to keep myself accountable. I'm one of those types of people who can just disappear into my little world if I don't keep one foot out not because I don't care, but I can get sucked into other things (like hobbies) really easily.
  • I haven't been doing too badly on this front and will make more efforts to have various family members over for Sunday brunch or something of that nature.


It's good to surround oneself with good company and good conversation. It's even more important to give back. I believe that many of us in North America lead privileged lives and so it is inconsiderate and irresponsible not to give back in some fashion; at some point, someone helped me.
  • See some old coworkers who are good peeps. Take the opportunity in the spring/summer to do something!
  • Make a regular (not necessarily frequent) effort to meet up with low-maintenance friends b/c we each seem to get sucked into our respective worlds and then forget about hanging out.
  • Foster kittens and cats if it works out.
  • Some of the veterinary experience will fit into the category of volunteering too.
  • Review engagement with the community sports club and see if it's something feasible to continue working on. I am considering to simply cut out of the board and just continue doing some ops and logistics. It can be seasonal so that works out nicely.

It looks like I've got quite a year ahead of me. I am looking forward to it! I suppose I'm the last one of the blogisphere to put something like this together (and the inspiration board is still to come!) but if I'm not, I beseech you to consider it :)

Monday, January 23, 2017

YiR & A Preview of Resolutions

I'm obviously late to the game this year but I have valid excuses :D

The first half of my return to undergrad adventure is complete and so is another calendar year. Marks were returned and *hooray* I'm still in the running to be able to apply! I continue to commute to Waterloo but this time, in the winter--which has a bunch of its own challenges.

For serious, I'm driving through the SW Ontario snow-belt
But, if there is anything I learned getting through last semester, I learned that I can do it, if I just put my mind to and that there is nothing that is impossible to accommodate as long as I can manage my time and limits appropriately. To keep myself on track, I am creating a visual inspiration board and doing my annual review and goal setting for the coming year.

Oh Dilbert. You always have an interesting perspective on life

Let's start with an analysis of last year...
  • Personal/School/Career: I can confidently say that I have successfully met all these goals from last year!
  • Household/Buckingham & Stanley C. Panther: the only one I did not meet my expectations is the cooking aspect. I have been taking advantage of my mom's cooking daily, and often going out to eat in place of making my own meals. Otherwise, all other tasks have been addressed! Not bad :)
  • Horsey/Riding: this one took a major stall this summer and I think it actually needed to; I wouldn't have been able to achieve what I did last semester without this one being put on hold. I still find my mind wandering though, and I try not to think about this absence because I just get really sad. I found myself really enjoying the hugs I gave Ariel and Bons when we visited over the holidays. But the honest truth? I don't know if I could have brought myself to stop lessons if it wasn't for my Summer of George.
  • Family: I have literally amazed myself on this front. Still lots of room for improvement but I did really well in this quadrant of goals, too!
  • Social/Volunteering: I passively moved off one of my volunteering gigs; this was not the right way to go about it but I haven't been able to say "no" and not feel bad about it, yet. I also plain ol' stopped volunteering for the cat rescue and I honestly wish I stopped volunteering for my reluctant gig and moved to do something with the cat rescue instead. I did donate some pet food near the end of the year.
    In terms of the social aspect... I did only a degree of it. But, I don't feel too bad about it and think I just need to readjust my expectations and plans a wee bit and I should be good.
  • Reading: does reading a lot of dry textbooks and science articles count?
I am impressed with myself, overall. I didn't think I could do as much, and I was really just focusing on the monumental task at hand. I'd say I didn't do too shabby this time around and I'll be upping the ante, so to speak, for 2017 because I think I can do it.

How did your respective 2016 resolutions and year go?