The beginning of the end…

No, I am not referring to Avengers: Endgame, although I did get my opening night ticket already. I am referring to my LLM program. I had my first meeting with my dissertation supervisor yesterday, and so begins the final leg of this journey.

As I’ve posted about previously, the last several months have posed challenges, particularly on the health front. Things seem to be settling down in that area, although there remains uncertainty with some of the health issues. Despite that, my grade last semester was consistent with prior semesters and the health issues ultimately were not a factor in my final grade. My GPA currently sits just 1 point below the level that would meet my goal of graduating with (the equivalent of) honors – something I was never able to achieve in the past (a recent ADHD diagnosis helped give me better understanding of my past under-achievement, which really may have been over-achievement, all things considered). I’m within the discretionary window, I believe, but I want to earn that distinction on my own merit.

My dissertation is worth 1/3 of my total credit units, so it will ultimately determine whether I am able to achieve my stated goal. That is a lot of pressure to have hanging over me these next few months. It also comes at a time when I am trying not to succumb to burn-out. After nearly 3 years of dealing with a full-time job plus school part time, and teaching a law school class during the summer when I wasn’t in school, I’m a bit drained. The illness – and particularly the various frustrations ancillary to it (I haven’t been able to play hockey for over 6 months now and I spent months dealing with the red tape to begin really treating the underlying issue) – had also taken a toll. Add to that the recent launch of my side business (more on that in a future post) and it’s a wonder I’m coherent.

The positive (but also a negative) is that I’m writing on a topic that is cutting edge, that is timely (as I have formulated it), and that hasn’t been covered much in legal scholarship yet. That does have a drawback in that it will be harder to find resources I’ll need to do my research. But it also means that it has the potential to attract attention and maybe play a role in future policy debates (particularly if I can get it published somewhere). My dissertation supervisor expressed that he is intrigued by and excited about the topic, which made me feel better about it. And, unlike my general coursework and the last paper I will have to write for this semester’s course, I do feel some excitement about the opportunity to write on something that personally interests me and that actually relates back to my “day job.”

And as school winds down, I can start shifting more of my focus toward my side business, which is a creative an endeavor and therefore a nice change from the law. I also have two trips on the horizon – a conference in Edinburgh (which will also allow me to do some on-campus research and meet my dissertation supervisor in person) and a 16ish day trip over the summer that will include 4 to 6 (5 – 7 if you count an airport layover) different European countries and at least 2 places on my long travel bucket list (Dubrovnik, Croatia aka Kings Landing and Bled, Slovenia). And, since I’m not playing hockey on the weekends, I’m trying to get out a little more and be more social, to meet new people (as well as reconnect with existing friends).

So, while I’m burned out, there is a light at the end of the tunnel and a couple of rest stops along the way if I can just keep moving forward…

Random musings on traveling in Japan…

I’m on the shinkansen (bullet train) to my next destination (photographing snow monkeys, apparently in the rain) and figured it’s as good a time as any for a blog post. It was either that or study and there is just enough movement that I feel studying might give me a touch of motion sickness, so…

Those who really know me know that Japan is like a second home to me after I lived here as a college student studying abroad. It’s already clear that this trip isn’t long enough, tho it may be a couple years before I have a chance to return (I’m still determined to try to go to the 2020 Olympics and my old home stay family offered to help buy tickets so, perhaps…) I have several friends who are either planning trips here soon or hoping to come in the near future, so I’ll use this post for some random observations and tips…

If you are bringing a laptop and it has a 3-prong grounded plug, bring an adaptor. Yes, I forgot one. Well, I forgot that my current laptop even has a grounded plug until the day I left. I still haven’t had a chance to go find one. Otherwise, outlets here are basically the same 2-prong outlets we have and power is 100 volts, so most US stuff will work here (especially modern chargers and laptop cords that have built in converters.

Yukatas are folded left over right. The other way is how the deceased is dressed for a funeral, so you wouldn’t want to be mistaken for a walking corpse. (Do Japanese zombies wear yukatas or kimono? Hmm…) Women tie them at the waist, men at the hips. As an aside, they don’t fit as well if you are busty (or if you have a big gut, I’d imagine)…

Japanese robo-toilets, as I like to call them, are pretty awesome. (So much so that my mom bought one after her first trip here.) I have always loved the heated seats, but never really understood the attraction of the bidet function until taking this trip in the midst of a Crohn’s flare up. (As an aside, I had quite the experience trying to explain Crohn’s disease and an ovarian cyst in Japanese to my old home stay family.) But the toilet paper at my eco-friendly ryokan is like sandpaper, so the less I use, the better…

Speaking of robots, the Robot Restaurant (which isn’t really much of a restaurant) in Shinjuku is something not to miss no matter how short your visit here. I don’t know how to describe it, really, but I was talking to some first time travelers about it and said I imagine it’s similar to dropping LSD. If you do a little advanced research, you can often find discounts, like at this site. The neighborhood it’s located in, Kabukicho, is historically a red light district, which is apparent as you wander the area. Still, it’s worth the visit. After all, where else can you see Godzilla roaring and breathing smoke every hour on the hour?

Schlepping luggage on rush hour trains isa miserable experience. Well, rush hour trains are a miserable experience. If you are going to be on the rail lines during busy times, don’t expect much sense of personal space – it doesn’t exist. I literally had a guy leaning against me because he was was too busy texting to hold on to a handrail or hand strap. The same is true in the stations – people are rushing here and there, often without regard for other people, so don’t be surprised if you get jostled, cut off, or crowded. As polite as the culture is here, that kind of goes out the window during rush hour and in big train stations, generally. (Think, LA rush hour drivers, but on foot.)

Shopping and dining in train stations is a good thing. Some of my favorite restaurants are in the underground shopping centers attached to train stations.

The JR East shinkansen have free WiFi. They also usually have food and drink carts that come by, but I haven’t seen one yet (and I didn’t have time to get a snack before I left).

Just like driving is on the opposite side of the road from the US, the same is true of walking. People generally tend to walk on the left side of the sidewalk. On escalators, stand to the left, walk on the right.

Japanese ofuro/bath tubs are heavenly. They are deep enough that you soak submerged up to your shoulders – the ones at my ryokan (which proudly states it is LGBT+ friendly, incidentally) are filled to the top and the water literally spills out as you submerge yourself. The water is so hot that you really only want to soak for a short time. A little bit about bathing etiquette – you wash before you bathe because the bath water generally is not replaced for each person. My ryokan actually has a sign posted explaining this. There are usually handheld showerheads and small wash bowls, as well as soap and possibly shampoo. Basically, use these to thoroughly wash yourself off (I prefer the showerhead to the bowl, but the latter is more traditional) before getting in the tub. The same is true at onsen (which you use fully nude -no swimsuits or towels – even if other people are there). I’m determined that I will have a Japanese-style bathroom built if I ever own a house…

My train is nearing my destination, so I’ll wrap this post for now. I may keep updating it or I may do a second post.

Any questions or suggestions on things I should add? Hit me up in the comments…

The adventure begins… with chaos

Hopefully the start of my trip does not set the tone for the rest or it’s going to be a crazy, chaotic adventure.

The chaos began at LAX. Despite oversleeping, I got to LAX with sufficient time (thanks to short lines at security and having CLEAR – I haven’t seen LAX that uncrowded in a while. The forecasted rain didn’t hit until I was safely inside the auditory, which was a plus. But that’s where the adventure started. When the rain hit, it hit hard and was accompanied by thunder and lightning. Our flight was delayed – the crew announced that when there is lightning, the ground crew had to take cover for safety, so they couldn’t load baggage. Plus, a plane that took off right around our scheduled departuretime was struck by lightning on takeoff and had to return.

The flight was relatively uneventful, despite some turbulence. But then…

Our already-delayed flight was supposed to land at Narita airport but a plane skidded off the runway earlier in the day. Narita only has two runways, so the closure of one created chaos. As we were approaching Tokyo, the flight crew announced that there was an incident and we were going to divert to Haneda due to the long line of planes waiting to land. The lady sitting next to me, and many others on the flight, had connecting flights at Narita – I’m glad I didn’t have that added chaos!

Once we landed, the co-pilot aligned that the captain made the decision to divert because we would have been in the air another hour and we didn’t have sufficient fuel. So we sat on the plane for close to another hour as we awaited further instructions. They were apparently debating whether to reposition the plane back to Narita or let us off at Haneda. The decision was eventually made to deplane at Haneda, so they brought out air stairs and sent shuttles our way. On the positive, immigration and customs had one of the shortest lines I have ever seen at an international airport. I expected huge lines due to all the diverted flights.

While Haneda is normally consider more convenient than Narita, that isn’t necessarily the case when you are traveling at rush hour. There is a convenient express train that goes from Narita to Tokyo station. I planned to take a taxi from there to my ryokan (a Japanese inn). Instead, I took the monorail, which was crowded with rush hour passengers (but, fortunately, had luggage racks) and had to transfer to the crowded Yamanote line (a popular commuter route).

But I made it. And I went to sleep early. Now to meet my old home stay families for lunch…

Travel on the horizon…

The last quarter of 2018 left much to be desired. But it could have been worse, I suppose. I am still dealing with the medical issues that, and treatment is delayed due to the joy of insurance (as bad as it normally is, try adding a specialty medication to the mix). On the other hand, my medical bills would have been well into the 6-figures without insurance and my total responsibility is less than 2% of the billed total. So there is that.

But I am not letting those issues stop me from traveling. Over Christmas, I went up to Portland for a few days to visit my cousin. I had a chance to do a little hiking to waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge.

Next up is Japan in less than 2 weeks. I’m not sure how I’ll actually pay for the trip, but I am mostly staying in pretty low-budget accommodations. I’ll be in Tokyo for a few days, with a detour to the Shibu-Onsen area to see the snow monkeys. I’m looking forward to photographing those guys. Then it is up to Sapporro for the snow festival. Check those off my bucket list.

I just booked a trip to Edinburgh in May. I’ll be going to the Association of Corporate Counsel’s Europe chapter’s annual conference. Then I plan to spend a few days at the university library researching for my dissertation, whatever the topic ends up being. So it isn’t really a vacation (although I do intend to get in at least a little fun -and definitely some photography).

After that, it is Slovenia in June. Part of that trip is planned because it is a group trip for my friend’s birthday. The trip ends at Lake Bled – another bucket list spot. I am contemplating renting a car and making my way down to Dubrovnik, Croatia (aka King’s Landing from GoT). We’ll see – I still have a little time to sort out all those details.

Of course, July means San Diego Comic-Con.

Later in the year, it is back to Edinburgh for my graduation. My mom and brother plan to join for that trip. I will probably want to rent a car and drive (on the wrong side of the road) around the Highlands a bit. That has been on my bucket list for a while.

And next February, will take me to Africa to see the mountain gorillas and the Serengeti migration. That’s still a year away, but I have to scrap up the deposit soon (unfortunately, I don’t expect quite as high of a tax refund as usual thanks to the Trump tax reform/scam that eliminated my biggest deductions).

I also didn’t let health stop me from launching my photography/greeting card business. I haven’t sold much yet, but I have had a few sales and a few people have expressed interest. I don’t expect much to come of it, but maybe it will help me pay for the travel or a new lens or something.

Keep an eye out for travel updates, time permitting.

My new small business venture…

Some friends have suggested that many of my photos lend themselves well to greeting cards / note cards. So I am working on setting that up as a business. 

While it is a little late for Christmas cards, I am taking orders for general blank greeting cards now.  Personalized cards can also be arranged.

The currently available designs are below (without the watermark, of course). If there are other images on this site that interest you, please contact me. 

Prints of some of my photos are also available on my photography website.

Please email me at Danielle@dvlesqphotos.com if you are interested in further information or would like to place an order. 

So long Churchill. It’s been fun.

As I start this post, it’s after midnight on Friday (Saturday, technically) and I’m somewhere high up above Manitoba on my flight back to Winnipeg. I should have been in Winnipeg by now, but our flight was delayed around 3 hours – we didn’t leave until after 11 pm and won’t arrive until well after 1 am. It is now Saturday night and time to finish this.

Thursday was an eventful day. No bears (we had white out conditions in the morning), but we did have a dead battery in the vehicle I was riding in. This was on a day with bitter cold winds like nothing I’d felt before. Fortunately, it happened while we were at lunch, so most of us stayed warm inside.

In the afternoon, we went to see the dogs at the Canadian Eskimo Dog Foundation’s facility. There are only around 400 Inuit/Eskimo dogs left in the world and they are trying to preserve the breed – one of the oldest in the world. They are sled dogs – super strong and rugged with a ton of stamina – that can pull a loaded sled fire 10-12 hours without trouble. They are built for strength and endurance, not speed. The foundation’s founder Brian Ladoon, who recently passed away, was not without controversy, but there’s no question they care about the dogs. Although not pets, most of the dogs were really friendly and loved attention. Unfortunately, the bitter cold and wind let me to spend more time photographing the dogs from the warm car rather than with the dogs.

Yesterday was a good animal day. Still no bears, but we saw a few foxes (red and arctic) and some ptarmigan. There was even an arctic fox scampering around in town, just a few feet away from us.

Yesterday was also the day I finally ate it in the snow – twice – and ended up with snow in my boots as a result. While trying to get into position to photograph one fox, my foot went right through the snow. Not just my foot, but my leg was buried up to my knee. I nearly dropped my camera with the $2000 rental lens attached (thank goodness it was insured!). I needed help from one of our guides to get up that time (fortunately, it didn’t scare off the fox). Ironically, I got some of my best photos of the whole trip from that vantage (see the red fox below). Later in the afternoon, the group was calling me over to take a group photo. In my rush, my foot again went through the snow – not as deep this time, but still enough to cause me to fall face forward. When I got up and took another step, I fell again. Thankfully, everyone was too busy to turn their cameras on me and capture the moment (a risk when traveling with photographers). 

This afternoon I met up with a local photographer, Walter Potrebka, who I was introduced to by one of the guys on my tour. We went out to shoot Snowy Owls, like this famous one. Walter says it was one of his best days owl-spotting ever – he saw 15 today, around 8 – 10 of which were while we were out. I thing I got a few pretty good shots. We also saw a fox and some deer, as well as a coyote way off in the distance. 

I’ll admit, I’m disappointed I didn’t get to see more bears from a closer distance (most were just a quick glimpse from the helicopter at 300 feet). After all, that was the purpose of the trip. But I did get pictures of a few bears and I saw and photographed a lot of wildlife and realized I like that much more than landscape. (Now to figure out how to afford the right equipment.) I also really enjoyed spending time with this particular group of people. If you ever have a chance to take a workshop/tour with Leighton Lum (he has some good ones planned), Kelsey Eliasson, Fred Lemire, or Karine Genest, I definitely would recommend them. 

All in all, I really enjoyed the trip and have no regrets. (Well, I may have a few when I step on the scale back home.) 

These two were my favorites of the dogs
Ptarmigan
Arctic Fox
Red Fox
Snowy Owl
Hedwig!

Hey there, foxy…

Today was a productive animal day.

This morning started off with two fox sightings – an arctic fox and a red fox (in different locations). I was able to get some really nice shots of both, tho my photos of the arctic fox turned out surprisingly noisy/grainy for some reason.

After the foxes, we hopped aboard helicopters to spot polar bears from the air. The group split up between two helicopters. Our group saw about 7 or 8 bears (including a mother with cub) and even a trio of moose. It was a cool experience (my second time in a helicopter), but it was also a bit disappointing, especially after we heard from the guys who were on the other helicopter. Our pilot would spot a bear, point it out to us, and then basically fly off after just a quick look. There was no time to even try to snap photos (especially for those of us sitting in the back trying to shoot through foggy windows). Heck, we barely had a chance to spot the animal before we were off to the next one. And when he did circle to get a better view, it was never on my side. Still, it was a fun experience.

In the afternoon, our original plans were thwarted due to unexpected circumstances. But as we were driving along, someone in the group spotted another fox. Our guide tried to get ahead of where she thought the fox was going (while the other vehicle parked where it was) but she was out-foxed (yes, pun intended) and the fox ran across the road closer to the other vehicle as we were walking that direction. I managed to get a few shots, but it was late and dark, so there isn’t much to do with them.

We also learned that a mother and at least one, possibly two, cubs had been spotted in town just around the corner from the B&B where 4 of us are staying. We didn’t hear it, but apparently there were some shots fired (blanks) to scare them off around 5:30 this morning. We did find paw prints in the snow tho – mama’s paw print is bigger than an adult human’s footprint.

The last couple days, especially today, have been a little tough with my Crohn’s. There are only a handful of restaurants in Churchill and the menus are fairly similar at all of them – and they aren’t necessarily friendly to someone with digestive issues. Sure, I could probably make it easier on myself by ordering more selectively, but it would be food that I just don’t like or that is really boring. So I have ended up having a few meals that didn’t sit well with me. Fortunately, it has mostly been at dinner, so I just had to make a bee-line to the bathroom when we got back to the B&B. Today, lunch caused me some problems. Fortunately, we lingered in town a bit before we hit the road, so I was able to take care of things without any impact on the afternoon. My gastroenterologist would not approve. But, other than those moments, my health and energy have held up and I have none of the pain I was having as recently as a couple days before leaving on the trip.

I don’t know the plan for tomorrow yet. Apparently a film crew will be joining us for at least part of the day (our lead guide has been working with them on a project related to polar bears), so that could add another interesting element to the trip.

All in all, despite some disappointment (and a little digestive upset), so far this trip has been well worth the money.

Arctic fox:

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Red fox:

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We made it back safely:

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Moose from about 300 feet above:

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Look at those paw prints! The cub’s were almost as big as my foot.

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