Saturday, 4 July 2015

A New Website!

Recently I decided to upgrade this blog - and re-name it.  Everyone can use a fresh start once in a while, right?  Now I have my own domain name -  The name was chosen to reflect what I consider my genetic makeup.  As concluded by scientists recently, 20% of the human population have a single gene that is strongly associated with the strong desire to roam, to explore, to travel.

The new blog will not continue to mix in posts about software - it is strictly for topics related to my travels and living in Mazatlan.  The new website format gives me a wider array of options for design and posting pictures.

So please go take a look and don't forget to Like the new Facebook page also -

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Airbnb - I'm a fan.

My second article published on

I love Airbnb!

Many people have likely heard of Airbnb by now and maybe 50% (I’m guessing) of you have tried it, either as a Guest or as a Host.  I am writing this for those who are curious and would like to know more about it from a first-hand experience basis.  I do not receive any compensation from Airbnb.

I have stayed in 10 or 12 different properties in 4 different countries, ranging from a room in a house to a full two-bedroom apartment.   Right now, I have listed our condo in Calgary on Airbnb for the rest of the year and will be experiencing what it is like to be a Host.  Since I will be in Mazatlan and my husband, Mike, is working on contract in Winnipeg, I thought I would try it and earn a little money from it.  I could just rent it out, furnished, in a normal way as I have done in the past with a house we owned, but using Airbnb as my middle-man gives me a good layer of protection and regulation.  Guests must have a profile on the site which Airbnb verifies as true.  If they have stayed in other Airbnb properties, the Hosts will have put up a review of that Guest that you can read.  You can decide to rent to only people who have good reviews if you wish.

However, Airbnb provides an insurance policy of sorts for any damage or theft done to the property by a Guest and acts as a mediator should any problems arise between the Host and the Guest.  So, even if they have had no reviews yet, a Host does have a certain comfort level from that.  Airbnb handles the payment from the Guest by charging a credit card after they have checked in – if the Guest does not contact Airbnb and say there is a problem upon arrival, then the funds are released to the Host in full.  It goes to your bank account electronically.  You can even specify that you charge a cleaning fee and a security deposit, extra charge for extra people, and Airbnb will collect that as well.
As an experienced Guest, I can say I have not yet been disappointed with any place I have stayed.  Hosts shoot for a 5 star review from you because it enhances their online image and they can begin to charge more and get return customers.  However, there was one host who thought it was acceptable to keep the cat litter-box right inside the entryway by the front door where you came in!

When you go to the, enter the city where you want to stay and the dates (it isn’t necessary to enter dates at first if you just wish to browse), and also check off criteria such as you want to share a room, have a private room, or rent the entire place.  You can also search by pet or children-friendly, among other things.  The appropriate listings will come up with pictures and a map where they are located.  The profiles of each property normally have a very detailed description and other information, as well as reviews by other guests and the star rating.  You can send an inquiry only if you wish to ask for more information.  Once you put your dates in and send off a request to book, the Host can either approve it, deny it, ask for more information from you.  You will see the total price of the booking when you make a request and if you wish you could send the Host a message and try to negotiate a lower price.  Usually, the Host has pricing by night, by week, and by month with discounts for longer stays.  But you can also ask for a special deal and if the Host agrees he/she sends you a “special deal” offer that you can accept or not.

I had an inquiry myself today for my condo and used the “special deal” feature to send to the potential Guest, but it was not accepted in the end.

Arrangements for your arrival at the property differ with each one.  At the very first one we stayed at in Dartmouth, NS, our instructions were to enter the back yard and get the key from under a can in the back shed!  The owners were just renting a room with bathroom to us in their house, but they were not going to be at home when we arrived.  So we let ourselves in.

At another, just recently in the UK, the instructions were to take a gate key off of a hidden part of the gate where the key was taped to it, then open the gate, and once inside the gate, open a box where the house-key was hidden and let myself in.  In this case, the studio apartment was in the back of a big Victorian house with a separate entrance and the people who lived above me were unrelated to the owners of the apartment.  It was self-serve all the way.  The owners were not even in the country.  They were in easy contact with me by texting and they did say there was a local person available if I had need of her.  I was quite happy with the apartment which was well-equipped with small kitchen completely outfitted with pots, pans, dishes utensils, a few spices, instant coffee, stove, fridge and even a clothes-washer.  I walked down the street to a small shop and bought a few eggs, milk, and bread for breakfast.  There was already some butter in the fridge.

One Host in Calgary had 3 bedrooms for rent in her house, one with an ensuite bath and the other two shared a bathroom.  She had coded electronic door locks on each bedroom with a chalkboard hung outside that had the code written on it.  You could then change the code for your stay.  She lived in the basement, but was rarely there.  I had let myself into the house with a key in the mailbox.

In Malaga, Spain, the owner of a two-bedroom apartment was also the owner of the restaurant it was above.  I arrived and found the owner in the restaurant and he showed me up to the apartment and left me with the keys.  My son, Tim and his friend Amanda arrived later at night after I was already in bed and the owner let them in.  If had any questions or issues, he was right downstairs.  He also gives a 10% discount on purchases in the restaurant for Guests.  We left when the restaurant was closed and so we were told to just leave the keys in the apartment.

At another apartment in Malaga, my flight arrived very late and I told the Host I would not be at the apartment until after midnight.  For an extra fee, she arranged for two nice Spanish ladies to meet me outside the apartment and let me in.  Otherwise, I would have picked up the key from a little café across the street.

I love the creativity and flexibility of this new “sharing economy” service!

When the Founders of Airbnb first got started in 2007, they were young and broke and decided to advertise on a blog that they had two air-mattresses for rent in their apartment.  They succeeded in renting them for $80 a month, which was the reason for the name Airbnb.  They went on to try to build a business out of it and created the first website but for months and months they only earned about $200 a month.  They went to a well-known VC for funding and were turned down.  The VC stated that he did not see any potential and that people would not be interested in allowing perfect strangers to stay in their homes.  Later, they were able to raise a first seed round of $600K in about 2010, after the drummer of Barry Manilow rented an entire house on Airbnb.  A year later, they raised several million more from several investors, including Ashton Kutcher.  Airbnb is now valued at $10 Billion.  Yes, with a B.

If you haven’t tried using Airbnb, I highly recommend it!

PS.  Our condo has now been rented through Airbnb until Aug. 31!  It is not the norm to rent for this long on Airbnb - short terms of a few days or weeks is what Airbnb was designed for, but since I am a beginner and don't have any reviews by Guests yet, I decided to do this mid-length rental and know that I have the solid income for that time period.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

A series of articles for

This is the first in a series of articles I am writing for and posting as blog posts after they have been published.

A trip on my own

Sometime in March of this year, I began to think about taking a trip somewhere in May.  It was a nebulous plan at first but I knew I wanted to tie it into the need to drive my Jeep to the border before May 24, and a visit to my father in Toronto for his birthday on April 26th.  I also knew I should check in at Calgary, where Mike, my husband, was to take care of some business matters and perhaps get a little more work done on our condo.   How could I tie this all together?

I browsed the home-sitter site,, with no idea what I was looking for.  I like the idea of travelling to a place and staying put for a while to immerse myself in the local culture and surroundings.  I’m not the “tourist” type, who wants to see all the common sights, and check them off my list, all while staying at comfortable hotels.  Or going on organized group tours.  I don’t mind an organized day tour of a new place to get an overall feel for it – like a “hop on-hop off” open-top bus.  That to me is the best way to go the first day – it’s organized and informative but flexible.  I don’t like to be herded around in a group and forced to stand and listen to someone talk about something I may not be interested in.  I also enjoy solo travel – not all the time, but there is a special level of enjoyment to be had from travelling alone, especially for a woman.  It can be challenging to take on things like finding your way around, driving in a strange city or country, functioning in another language, dealing with the unexpected – but therein lies the deep satisfaction and building of confidence in oneself.  You come to feel that whatever happens, you can handle it.   It is freeing too.  You can do what you want, when you want, without having to consult and compromise with your spouse or travelling companions.  Not everyone would enjoy that, I know.  But I do.

A couple of listings caught my eye – both in Spain.  I had not thought to go to Spain before.  I am generally not that interested in Europe unless it’s something out of the ordinary.  And this certainly looked unique.  A tiny mountain village near the coast of Southern Spain.  Two weeks in a home with 3 cats and a dog to care for, but with plenty of other spots close by to explore on foot or by car.  I applied and got a response from the owner, a UK woman named Wendy.  I asked for more information on everything, and more pictures too.  She sent them and also said I would need to rent a car for myself to get around.  I was intrigued.  It looked rugged and remote but still only 20 minutes from the coast and beaches.  She said she often rented out the house as a holiday home and took care of other holiday homes for people.  It had to be comfortable and attractive if she was able to rent it out to people.

I looked at flights.  I knew if I could get to a point in Europe inexpensively, I could then take an inexpensive flight within Europe on the little discount airlines like Ryanair.  My favourite airline, Westjet, had limited European flights from Canada until later in May and I needed to be in Spain by May 6.

An overall plan began to formulate.  Starting with a drive from Mazatlan to Phoenix in April.  Then parking the Jeep in storage there and flying to Calgary.  After about 10 days, a flight from Calgary to Toronto with a 2 day stop to visit my dad and mom (both in care for Alzheimers).  Now I needed a flight from Toronto to Europe. 

I looked at Icelandair which had a reputation for inexpensive flights, and saw on their website that since all their flights stop in Reykjavik anyway, they offer a free stop-over for up to 7 days on your way to Europe.  Hmmmm.  Should I?  Seemed a shame not to take them up on that.  I researched hotels and possible Airbnb rentals – my other favourite way of staying somewhere when I travel – and made the decision to book and stay 3 nights there.  I really only had a vague idea of what it was like there – I knew there were geysers, volcanoes, glaciers and hot springs but it hadn’t really caught my interest to go there before.  Didn’t a volcano erupt there not long ago?  Well, I could at least say I had been to Iceland even if I didn’t like it, I figured.

1 by Jón Gunnar Árnason (1931 - 1989). Sun Voyager is a dreamboat, an ode to the sun. Intrinsically, it contains within itself the promise of undiscovered territory, a dream of hope, progress and freedom.

Then, I looked at where to land in Europe.  I have been to a few places in Europe, and most recently to Paris, but that was 10 years ago or so.  I decided on Paris because the timing of the flights and cost looked good and the flight from Paris to Malaga, Spain was only 2 hours or so.  Now, I could have just had a layover in Paris and hopped on my next flight, but again I figured, well, since I’m going there anyway, I might as well take a couple of days to re-acquaint myself!  Ha!  Okay, let’s look at Airbnb and Expedia for a place to stay.

(You can start to see how I get enthusiastic and start extending and expanding my travel – sometimes to the point where I realize later I have committed to too much!  Travel from place to place can be exhausting – especially airports.  I forget all that when planning my trips.)

Nevertheless, I found a small hotel in Paris that was quite reasonable and got good reviews on Trip Advisor for location and, at the very least, cleanliness and internet in the room.  The reviews did all mention how small the rooms and bathrooms were but that, for the price, it was a good enough place to lay your head at night.  I had stayed at a small pension in Paris before so I knew about the small rooms and limited facilities – possibly even needing to bring your own soap. 

Then I researched online a possible guided day tour since I was only there 2 days, and found a unique-sounding “foodie” tour of an ethnic area in Paris for 4 hours.  It sounded really good and the size of the group was limited to 8, which appealed to me because I hate large groups.  So I booked that too.

2  Cheese Shop in Marais, Paris.

Whoo hoo! I’m only getting started!

Wendy had told me that the best airport to land in in Spain was Malaga.  Her home was an hour and a half east along the coast from there and I would need to drive.  Okay, so I am going to be in Malaga, and I’ve never been there, so why not arrive a couple of days early and explore Malaga?  Here we go again.

This time I found an Airbnb apartment right in Centro for 3 nights, on the recommendation of Wendy, who had a friend stay there before.  I left off renting the car until I needed it to drive to Rubite (pronounced Ruubeetaye.)  I booked a hop on/hop off open air bus city tour.  I knew next to nothing about Malaga but by reading up on it online, it certainly sounded very interesting and with a lot of history including Phoenicians, Romans, Moors….oh my.

Figure 3 The Cathedral of Málaga is a Renaissance church.

Once my son, Tim, heard about this house-sit in Spain, he was bitten by the travel bug too and told me to plan on him joining me there, at least for part of the time.  Yay!  What more could a mom ask for!  An adventure with her son!

So, it all began on April 11, when Mike flew down to Mazatlan and drove the Jeep with me to Phoenix.

Next article – Reykjavik!

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Software update for those interested

I received a nice compliment today from a couple here asking about Mike and the software company. They've met Mike and are from Nova Scotia - actually the woman went to the same High School as Mike but 10 years earlier.  She follows my blog too.

They said Mike was a very lucky guy to have a wife like me supporting him.  I said I'll tell Mike you said that, thank you. ;)

Things are moving and shaking in software, and we have revenue trickling in.  There are at least three Channel partners now who are beginning to include Move in their own projects for clients.  It continues to be further developed as different clients request further adapters and functionality.  Mike has been hiring offshore programmers for short jobs - they are relatively inexpensive and usually excellent.  Our co-founder and lead developer, Andy, has been working in a full-time job so sometimes he just doesn't have time to do what we need done - and it's a good idea to begin finding and familiarizing other developers to have ready for future needs.

Our website is undergoing a complete overhaul and upgrade.  Man, our current one sucks!  That will help a lot to raise our profile in the business world.  

Every day now there seems to be fresh good news from Mike.  He's been doing some local networking and finding many new potential customers and channel partners that way.  One good thing about him not working somewhere on a consulting job - he has time to do that kind of thing. But he continues put his name out there for gigs - it's been another long dry spell for that which is nerve-wracking. Fortunately, software has been bringing in some revenue and Mike has done a couple of small consulting jobs from home.  He has bumped into a potential investor along the way too, and will be talking to him more next week.

Mike's son, Matt, a business and communication graduate of University of Ottawa, has been working with Mike a lot too!  Working remotely from Toronto, he has been re-writing an Executive Summary, creating cash-flow spreadsheets ready to show to potential investors, writing content for our new website.  He has been very helpful and he also allows me to step back more.  Mike seems to have a thousand things on the go to work on, and respond to, every day so it's great to have a right-hand man helping him, as well as me.  He really does need a full-time executive assistant at this point, but this comes close.  And Matt is being so flexible with us on getting paid.  There are projects in the pipeline that he will be paid for as a Business Analyst by the client too.  He plans to go to Spain in the fall to complete an International MBA program which I'm sure will be very exciting - and useful if he should choose to come work for us full-time eventually.

I'm happy to be here in Maz for now and stay involved online.  I will soon have to return to Calgary for year-end tax filings with the accountant and also plan to visit my dad for his birthday, April 26, in Toronto.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

My weird life....

I'm back in Maz.  It's Carnival - which means lots of ear-drum busting sound stages steps from my apartment, and huge disruptions of normality in getting around for a week.  Oh yes, and parades and fireworks and festivities and costumes.  I'm sure it's all lots of fun.  But I would rather not live in the middle of it all, and so I de-camp to my favourite hotel north of the downtown and use some of my timeshare points to stay for more-or-less free since we had already made the expensive decision years ago to buy the timeshare.  Might as well use it.

I am getting the usual questions from my circle of friends here.  How long are you staying?  How is Mike?  Where is Mike?  When will Mike be down?  Except for where and how Mike is, I can only say I don't know.  My life and my comings and goings are always in flux.  Most of the time, I like it that way.  I like unpredictability and serendipity.  I embrace it.

While I was in Calgary this last time, I actually submitted an application for a job at Canada Post.  I do this kind of thing from time to time - I begin to think sometimes that maybe I should get a job. Our financial life is, and has been, so unpredictable and, at times, downright panic-inducing.  Sometimes I think I should do something more than be chief cat herder, financial manager, personal assistant, head butt-kicker, operations manager, lead life organizer, and concerned worrier.  And I apply for a few jobs.  Usually, I hear nothing back.

This time, after I got back here this week, I did hear from the Post Office.  They wanted me to come in and interview (I guess) and fill in a number of forms.  Think of that.  I could be the 3rd person in my family to become a - postal worker.  Yikes!

Don't get me wrong.  I am not disparaging postal workers or other government union workers - or even union workers who don't work for government.  Many of them are now retired and living in Mazatlan on a nice pension.


I know I am not alone in feeling this way because I have met like-minded people - Mike is one of them.  I have always been extremely allergic to the idea of working at a "job", 9-5, Monday to Friday, with two weeks vacation a year, for 25 years or so, and then retiring.  The very idea makes me shudder.  Even though I know, right now I could be approaching an early retirement with a nice pension - one that would pay all of my living expenses, and then some, if I lived somewhere like Mazatlan.  Not so sure about living in Canada.

Doesn't matter.  I could also have been doing that for the last 30-odd years and be dead or ill by now. What good would that have been? I only have to look as far as my own parents to realize that life offers no guarantees.

So, here I am again in Mazatlan.  My husband is elsewhere.  We work together by internet and phone. I never know where he will be working, or not working.  Maybe he'll have a chance to come down for a few days.  Maybe I will go to where he is for a few days or weeks.  I have something of a life here and getting away from here means getting my dogs looked after while I am gone.

It's complicated.  It's messy.  It's unpredictable.

I don't see how it could be any other way.  People must wonder how Mike feels about me being here on my own while he is somewhere else - working.  It must look like I get to loaf around in paradise, going to parties and the beach while he slaves away in less appealing locations - like winter in Calgary, or in Kuwait.  Maybe they don't realize how much work it is for me to be here.  Believe me, I am always on the job.  Always in touch with what is happening with our businesses, always responding, always thinking.  There is no 9-5, no Monday to Friday - for either of us.  There is no "off".  

And yes, we like it that way. For now.  I could ask Mike to stop working on our software and get a full-time job.  I could suggest that he give up all further ambition about it and join me here for 6 months a year and work in consulting for the other 6 months.  I could even tell him I would move the dogs back to the Calgary and get a full-time job if he did the same for the next 10 years.  All in the interest of some predictability and being together all the time like most couples.

He wouldn't do it.  Would. Not. Do. It.

So, while I make my weird life more interesting by spending time in Mazatlan with my dogs, don't ever assume that I do this in protest, or in selfishness.  This is just my weird life - our weird life.

Thursday, 29 January 2015

My father, Tony Jessup

Last week was a difficult and stressful one.  My dad, sitting here with my mom a few years ago outside the nursing home where my mom was in full-time care for Alzheimer's, had reached a crisis point that we children had to respond to.  He lived by himself in the house shown below since my mom had to go into care. 

They had emigrated from the UK in 1957 to Toronto, and after living in a couple of rentals for a few years, this was their first and only home purchase in 1962 - for $14K.  They had very little money and had a first mortgage of $9,500 and a second mortgage from the builder for much of the rest.

I can remember my mother telling us how much they pinched pennies to make those mortgage payments.  I think it took about 10 years to pay the whole thing off, which was their biggest desire. Now it is worth many, many times more - a shocking amount more - mainly for the large lot it sits on.

My dad, we noticed, had begun having memory problems about 4 years ago.  Nothing too serious, just age we thought.  Still, when I would call and tell him I was flying in to visit and gave him the date, time, etc. to pick me up at the airport, he would call back again and again to ask me for that information.  The same thing happened to my sister, who lives in Denver.  And there were other things.  But all in all, he seemed to be managing fine by himself.  He refused any help offers.

He is a man of routine; and his routine was to go visit my mom for a couple of hours in the morning, come home and have lunch, then go to the community centre and play snooker (pool) with a group of men.  On Fridays, he went food shopping too.  This routine is what gave him the ability to continue to manage himself living alone, even as he descended into Alzheimer's himself. 

We found out he also has Alzheimer's last week.  He had gone to visit my mom in hospital where she had been moved due to a flu outbreak in the home.  It took him out of his schedule and to an unfamiliar place.  He left the hospital and began walking - taking a taxi was beyond his cognitive ability - and was lost for 5 hours.  The police finally located him 16K from the hospital.  The state he was in and the state of the house (they went into his house to look around) caused them to decide to get him admitted to the hospital - the same hospital where my mom was - on a 72 hours mental health hold.

It was the best, and the worst, thing to happen to him.

A CT scan revealed multiple small strokes had been happening and the brain showed signs of progressed Alzheimer's. 

My sister and I arrived and went to work, along with my brother who lives 2.5 hours away, to get him into a retirement home with a secure floor for residents with dementia.  He was never going to go home again.

This might seem cruel to some, but my dad is an incredibly strong-willed and stubborn man - combative even - and if he were allowed to go back inside the house, we would have an impossible time getting him back out.  And home-help, even full-time, which is what would be necessary, was not an option for us.  None of us live close enough to monitor that kind of situation, and my dad would have fought it endlessly.  We have tried many times to get him to accept part-time help, meals-on-wheels, a cleaning person even once a month - not a chance.

My dad is extraordinarily attached to that house.  Now, in his state, it is almost a child-like attachment.  His recliner by the big patio door looking out onto their rockery and garden, mature trees in the yards behind and beside him, was his joy.  Whatever joy he still had.

The last time I saw him in September, we sat together there, and he told me once again how he could never leave the house.  He would never have a spot to sit and look at the nature outside anywhere else, he said, and he would miss it terribly.  Then he said something shocking.  "I think about offing myself sometimes - but your mother is still alive and I couldn't do that to her".  I paused and looked at him and asked, "Do you really think that way, dad?"  He nodded.  My heart sank, knowing he was reaching the end of his rope.

Still, I had to leave him like that.  We kids seemed to have no options available to us.  We had called every social service we could think of.  None could help us until he went to see his doctor and got an assessment done.  And short of physically dragging him there, he wasn't going to go.

After that, he stopped being able to use his phone.  He stopped hearing it ring, and could not figure out how to dial it.  He stopped remembering his pin on his credit card, which he used exclusively for shopping - my brother would pay his bill online for him.  No-one could reach him to check in on him.  My brother and his wife went up a couple of times and tried to get him to accept help.  The only saving grace was his next-door-neighbour, a Vietnamese woman, who would pop in to check on him and report by email to me that she saw him coming and going and seemed to be okay.

We knew that it would take an emergency, a fall, a sickness to be able to step in and do something against his will.

Now he is in a very nice place, with excellent trained people, regular nutritional meals, and activities - even snooker - to participate in.  But he is fighting it with all his might still.  His cognition is really very bad.  Short-term memory is almost non-existent.  But he knows my mom is out there and so is his house, his chair by the window.  He will be taken to visit my mom when they feel he won't fight coming back into the home.  For now, we are not to visit, to give him and them time to get him settled and into their routine for him.  He likes routine.  I hope he can find a measure of happiness in his remaining years.