Hi, and welcome to my site! It’s a blog about personal finance, the arts, travel and nature, usually told through the lens of my search for happiness and mindfulness in life. Why those things? Well, because I’m passionate about them, and I find they help me be more relaxed and happy. It works for me, so I want to share my thoughts with others in the hopes that it works for you too!

Dear Nonna, I know I’ve never written a letter to you like this before, and I know it may seem a little strange, but it was something I wanted to do. So here goes. I hope you’re doing well. Life has been busy on my end lately – we’ve had our puppy, Phoebe, to take care of, and we’ve also been spending lots of time preparing for our black belt grading in karate. Work has been good for us. I wanted you to know that I’ve been thinking a lot lately about some of the memories I have of when we were younger, when you used to take care of me regularly. Remember when we used to make bread and pasta in your basement together? You used to cut me off a small slice of dough, and I would sprinkle flour all over it until it turned hard as concrete. And then you told me I did a great job, even though I always wondered why we never baked MY dough. How about when we used to wander your yard together, going through the garden that wrapped all the way around your house to find whatever bounty nature had provided for us that day? Sometimes it was tomatoes; other times it was peppers, figs, apricots, pears, beans, garlic, potatoes, carrots, raspberries… man, the raspberries. We used to pick bowls and bowls of them each year, we couldn’t eat them fast enough! It was only when we went to Italy together that I learned where you got that green thumb from. Remember the trip we took when I was 10? We arrived, and I couldn’t speak a word of Italian. And I was annoyed at the time that nobody else could speak a word of English. Yet now, when I look back, I’m so grateful that was the case, because that was how you taught me to speak Italian. I remember the hospitality our family showed us while we were there – their generosity was nothing short of exceptional. I’m sorry I was such a brat at the time; 10 is an unfortunate age where the attitude develops faster than one’s ability to control it. I’ll try and make my way back to apologize for that to our family. For what it’s worth though, I have a ton of fond memories from that trip. I remember playing cards in the street with Zia Lina’s neighbours at night. I remember negotiating with the corner store owner over what I was paying for bread, because he couldn’t make change and wanted me to pay him later – I told him just to keep the money, and that I’d come back for more bread instead, and he mussed up my hair. I remember feeding the chickens on our family’s farm, and getting attacked by the lone rooster because I put a rock in his feed. I remember going to the beach with Zio Pepe and family. I remember losing my inflatable tube in the sea on a windy day, and Davidson diving in to go get it, even though it was incredibly dangerous. I wasn’t nearly as grateful as I should have been for that. I remember the lady singing opera in the street in Grotteria, and I remember us taking a trip to Sicily to go shopping and see the island. I remember us all making pasta and bread together, and I remember laying on Zia Rosetta’s granite floors to cool off, because we didn’t have air conditioning. Some of the details I remember are silly, but I hang on to them with everything I’ve got, because they’re all I have now, since you passed away just over a week ago. I know you went peacefully, with your four kids around you, and I’m so grateful for that. I’m also grateful that you and I got to speak and spend time together one more time, the day before you moved on from this life. I’ll never forget that. But it doesn’t make the pain any easier. It’s only been a week, but I miss you so much. I also wanted to say thanks. For everything. Thank you for taking such good care of me while mom and dad were at work. Thanks for teaching me the value of caring for nature. Thanks for teaching me to speak Italian. But most importantly, thank you for teaching us all the value of family, of supporting one another unconditionally, of loving and laughing and crying and breaking homemade bread together. When you passed, we all got together in your house and sorted through old pictures together. I know you saw that, and I hope it made you proud. We’ll continue that into the future, because that’s what you taught us to do. It’s going to be tough for a while, but I am going to continue to work towards living the best life I can possibly live, because that’s what you wanted for all of us. It’s the best way I can think of to honour your memory. So I promise, Nonna. I promise to do everything I can to live with grace, compassion and love, and I promise to work harder to put all of that into everything I do. Grazie per tutti, Nonna. Ti amo sempre. I’ll see you again one day – until then, can you and Nonno Saverio please save me some pasta?
I’ve been running this blog for nine months now, and time has flown by. This entire time, I’ve published two posts per week pretty consistently. Moving forward, however, I’ve decided to modify this down to one post per week. [...]
Thanks for bearing with me everybody, I haven’t been able to post anything, being away from my computer (and an internet connection) the past week or so. I’m back though, and I have some great stories from my trip to New Brunswick! Here are some of the highlights.

Seafood Everything

Not a day went by on the trip that I didn’t eat amazing seafood. The very first day we arrived, I had a lobster roll, scallops, and oysters for dinner. It doesn’t get any better than the holy trifecta! For the best lobster roll around, you can’t beat Pirate de la Mer, located in the town of Buctouche. It’s a small operation, but man do they make a mean lobster roll. Locals in New Brunswick make them on a toasted bun that resembles a piece of sliced bread folded in on itself – it’s absolute perfection. Another day, my friend’s mother (on whose property we stayed) whipped up an awesome meal of clams and mussels. The seafood there is so good you don’t even need a sauce for it – just cook it up and eat it as-is!

A Taste of Local Life

Like I said, we visited New Brunswick with a friend, staying with his family for the long weekend. We drove there from Toronto, a 16-hour overnight road trip there and back. One of the main reasons we went this weekend is because his family was celebrating a number of milestones: a 40th wedding anniversary, a 70th birthday, and an 80th birthday all wrapped up into one massive party. People came from all over North America to be there. It was a unique experience to be a part of that. We got to see first-hand what a maritime party looks like. There was live entertainment, plenty of singing and dancing, and more food than anyone knew what to do with – all of it home-made. I think my favourite part was when my buddy, who was tapped to be impromptu Master of Ceremonies, forgot to mention his grandmother’s 80th birthday as he was walking through the list of milestones everyone was there to celebrate. He’ll kill me if he sees this… but meh, worth it! On the opposite end of the spectrum from the energy of the party, I also really enjoyed the quiet times out there. A card game called 200 is pretty popular there, and we spent hours playing cards, poking fun at each other, and having a few drinks. Much like a lot of the other places I’ve visited that aren’t home, the pace of life seems slower out east. People aren’t as hurried, rushing to get from one appointment to the next without enjoying any of it. They take their time to go for a stroll, to stop and smell the roses. Which brings me to my next point…

Beautiful Scenery

I didn’t even get out to the Bay of Fundy, which boasts the highest tides in the world, and still I saw so much beauty in New Brunswick. The highlight of the scenery for me was the ocean-side boardwalk, built over a sprawling beach and wildlife preserve. It was built by a wealthy family that owns a gas station chain, the Irvings, and the views it offers are just awe-inspiring. Take a look at a few of the shots I snapped in the area: [gallery link="file" columns="4" ids="10599,10600,10598,10597"] Properties are also much more spacious there, unlike the GTA, where we’re crammed in like sardines. Even just being out in a wide-open yard, watching our puppy Phoebe running freely with the other dogs, gave us a sense of calm that can be tough to find back in Ontario.

Making Memories that Won’t Fade

Before we left for the trip, our Sensei gave us a piece of advice. He told us to find a place that speaks to us, and find a fixture in that place – a bench, a tree, a rock, something permanent. He suggested we touch a hand to it, close our eyes, and simply take in the moment for a minute. Experience the sounds and smells, and visualize the place in our mind’s eye. Take a small piece of the place with us, and leave a small piece of ourselves behind in exchange. The idea behind this is that doing so consciously will create a much stronger memory of the place than just being there and going through the motions, and having done it, I think he’s right. On my friend’s family’s property, there’s an ATV trail that leads into the forest. Following that trail eventually brings one to a clearing, in the middle of which is a big tree. It’s a tall pine, with branches sticking out in all directions. Strong, independent, and branching out in many different directions to find the best path forward. This spoke to me, so I chose this tree to perform the exercise. My friend chose another one deeper into the forest. Before we closed our eyes though, we performed two kata we practice during karate. These kata are both designed to affect our mindset and energy level – one is designed to intensify and strengthen, the other is designed to calm and soften. He chose the former, I chose the latter. It seemed right to strike that balance. Once I opened my eyes again, I stepped back and looked up at the tree. It looked the same, but maybe a little different as well. One thing is for sure though: I’ll remember that exercise, and where I was when I did it, for a very long time.

A Ghost Story… Maybe

This might be the most interesting story of them all. I’m not a big believer in ghosts, but some interesting events happened during this trip that raised an eyebrow for me… We were sitting in the trailer one evening, when everyone else was partying next door (my wife and I wanted some peace and quiet, so stayed back). It was just us and the dogs, and everyone was sleeping except me, who was reading a book and having a beer. All of a sudden, the two quietest dogs, Phoebe and another, both sat bolt upright and starting barking like crazy. Not two seconds later, an ice-cold wind swept through the trailer, dropping the temperature by five degrees and making me reach for my sweater. It was strange, but I didn’t think much of it at the time. I decided to take Phoebe out to the lawn to go to the bathroom. Normally, when we go outside, Phoebe is chomping at the bit to go forward. This time though, she refused to follow me, and wouldn’t take her eyes off one corner of the property (the same direction the wind blew). Every time I tried to step forward, she would dig in her heels. She refused to go to the bathroom, and only followed me when I turned around to head back to the trailer. She couldn’t get there fast enough. Interesting, I thought. Maybe a coyote or something. But that didn’t explain the breeze, which came from nowhere and was very coincidentally-timed. Oh well. Fast forward to the middle of the night. My buddy James and I are camping in a tent in the yard. It’s windy and rainy. The wind is whipping the tent about, and the storm-flap on top is making a noise similar to a flag flapping in the breeze. It’s a consistent sound, just like the rain beating against our tent. Then I heard something different. Both the wind and the rain came in spurts – it would be windy and pouring, and then in other moments, calm, with no rain. It was in these silent moments that I heard it brush up against our tents. What was it? I don’t know – something. The first time, I wrote it off as more wind sounds. The second time though, I knew I wasn’t hearing things anymore. Where the wind would whip up sounds at the top of the tent, this sounded like someone raking their fingernails across the nylon of the tent… right at head-level. I heard no breathing, no sniffing, nothing but the eerie sound of fingernails on nylon. Both times, my eyes were closed, and I saw nothing. Again, could have been an animal, but with the storm outside, it seemed unlikely. Again, I wrote it off and went back to sleep. The next morning, when James and I woke up, he asked me if I heard anything strange during the night. I described what I heard, and he said he had heard the exact same thing. Neither of us woke the other, but we both heard the sound. Again, I’m sure there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation for all of this, but there’s no confirming either way. And besides, it’s more fun to tell it as a ghost story :)

Wrapping it Up

As you can tell, our three days in New Brunswick were pretty eventful. And we didn’t even do all there was to do! I’ll return one day, and we’ll visit the Bay of Fundy, dig for clams on the beach, and have a corn boil over a fire. Until then, I’ve got lots of memories (and photos) to keep me going! If you’re ever out east, be sure to make a stop in New Brunswick. You won’t be sorry you did!
You may have noticed I’ve been writing in the personal finance section of my site a bit more lately. That’s because I’m committed to paying off my five-figure student debt by the end of 2019. As I think about my own situation though, I’m reminded of the countless others who are in the same boat, and so I want to share the tools and tips I’m using to help put myself in better financial shape. [...]