Friday, February 25, 2011

This Week's Bucket List Additions 6

The world is so big and full of beautiful people and places, how can anyone not want to see it all?  The allure of comfort and the strength of fear keep us all from pursuing things on our bucket list.  I just finished watching 'Eat. Love. Pray.' on a rainy day, and I was struck by one piece of wisdom, (actually I was struck by several, but this seems most relevant to my current ramblings).  In the movie Julia Roberts begins a quest to find passion and balance in her life and although it's difficult she said, (I'm paraphrasing) 'I can't just stay the same because I'm afraid of being destroyed.'  So this week, every thing I put on my bucket list is something that scares me.

-Go Skydiving.  Difficulty Rating 6 out of 10:
I want to jump out of a plane, plummet like a rock for several minutes and then float gently and majestically down to earth.  I want the adrenaline rush, I want the breathtaking view, and I want the bragging rights.  I want to conquer my fear.  But I really don't know if I want to do something where the negatives include horrible, painful death.  I guess any activity has a chance of ending in death, but some are certainly much riskier than others.  Maybe I'll go skydiving someday, maybe I won't.  But I think maybe I will.

Going indoor skydiving with my wife a few years ago
Copyright Jeff Howick 2011

-Pick Up a Hitch-hiker. Difficulty Rating 7 out of 10:
I want the world to be full of generosity.  I want people to help each other every day in small, easy ways.  And I want us all to be more trusting, but it's scary.  I think it was Gandhi who said that we must, 'be the change that we want to see in the world.'  So I want to pick up hitch-hikers.  Once, when I was in college, my car broke down in the middle of nowhere.  This was before I had a cell phone and I was in for a long hard walk until some kind strangers picked me up and drove me all the way to my parents house.  I have always been grateful for their kindness and I hope one day to pass it on.

-Have a Kid.  Difficulty Rating 9 out of 10:
Children seem like such a mixed bag.  Who doesn't want to pass on their wisdom and love?  How can you not want to mold the world's future in such a tangible way? Having a child is in many ways an excuse to return to your childhood and play with toys and see things with new wonder.  But kids also mean less freedom, less sleep and less money.  I think I'd have regrets at the end of my life if I never had a child, but they scare me so much.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A Simple Valentine's Day

Last week my wife and I celebrated Valentine's Day, probably one of America's most controversial holidays just behind Columbus Day.  It seems to make single people feel like they can't celebrate with everyone else and sometimes makes attached people feel like they must put on some big show to prove their feelings.  Shouldn't we show our loved ones what they mean to us all year long? Do we really need a day to remind us to appreciate our loved ones? Maybe not, but are birthdays REALLY necessary? Do we need a day dedicated to talking like a pirate? We might not need them, but all these holidays give us an excuse to celebrate. Some times life gets busy, and it's nice to have yearly reminders to slow down or be silly or make an effort to be romantic.

Balloons I picked up at the dollar store.
Copyright Jeff Howick 2011

My wife and I didn't celebrate Valentine's Day on February 14 this year.  Like most holidays we treat Valentine's more like a season than just one day.  I don't like how anti-climatic most holidays are, all that planning and build-up and then they only last for a few hours?  That's why I love Christmas and Halloween, because you get to decorate and celebrate for weeks at a time.  This year we had a nice simple date the day before and the day after Valentine's Day.

The day before, we took advantage of IHOP's all-you-can-eat shrimp promotion.  We found a nice comfortable booth to play card games and get stuffed on a constant supply of shrimp.  There's nothing like traveling through time to stop Lincoln's assassination all while eating unlimited shrimp next to the one you love.  It was like a little preview of heaven and it took me back to the golden days of high school and college when I'd spend hours and hours playing games and snacking at cafes or coffee shops with my friends.

Chrononauts: a time traveling card game
Copyright Jeff Howick 2011

Copyright Jeff Howick 2011

The day after Valentine's my wife took me to the mall, where she got me exactly what I wanted: A GIANT COOKIE!  I love cookies at LEAST as much as cookie monster, and giant cookies fill me with pure bliss. There's also a giant cookie incident in my past that has deeply affected me, maybe I'll blog about it someday.  Anyway, a giant cookie is always a great gift in my mind and my wife came through big time this year.  I feel so lucky to have someone in my life who understands me so well, so I guess Valentine's Day did it's job for me this year and helped give me another small reminder of how fortunate I am.

Friday, February 18, 2011

This Week's Bucket List Additions 5

Sorry I haven't posted much this week.  I picked up a bug my wife brought back from her trip to North Carolina and haven't had a lot of energy.  But I've feeling better now, and I wouldn't want to miss a chance to add to my bucket list.  I checked a few off recently, but I'll blog about that later.  For now here are this week's additions to my bucket list:

-Watch the 'Godfather' movies.  Difficulty Rating: 2 out of 10
They're on any critics' list of the top 100 movies of all time, I see references to them in other shows all the time, and they won a bunch of academy awards.  I think we should all take more time to better understand our own culture and its influences and for that reason alone I feel like I should watch the Godfather movies.  But I'm also fascinated by the Mafia.  I think the Mafia are the ultimate cautionary tale of what people can become when they let making money become their primary motivation.  When protecting our money becomes our top priority, it can lead us to some dark places.

-Spend a Week Without Modern Technology.  Difficulty Rating: 5 out of 10
I think most modern technology is wonderful and enriches our lives in many ways that we often take for granted. Going Amish for a week will hopefully give me a fresh perspective on the ease with which I live my life.  But I also think that modern technology also distracts us from many of the smaller joys in life.  Without Facebook's constant calls to read  about my friends' day, maybe I'll be able to reconnect with some of the simple pleasures I'm sure I'm missing. At the very least, it should fill my week with new adventures and variety and slow down life's pace for a little while.  I'm sure there will be great temptation to make exceptions to my self imposed electronic exile.  But if I don't give in, I'll have a great sense of accomplishment and hopefully I'll have seen the world from a new perspective.

At a Renaissance festival a few years ago
Copyright Jeff Howick 2008

-Move to Japan.  Difficulty Rating 6 out of 10:
This will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me, as I've been working toward this goal for awhile now.  My wife and I both want to live abroad because we think experiencing other cultures is vitally important. I think everyone should travel, it's important to see that there are other ways to view the world just as valid as our own or that despite our differences, we still have much in common with people in other cultures.  Why do I want to move to Japan in particular?  A myriad of reasons, I guess.  Japan is the first culture I remember being aware of outside my own.  Since then, the more of Japan I encountered, the more I enjoyed it and the more I wanted to learn about Japan.  I enjoy Japanese food, Japanese movies and anime, Japanese culture, and the Japanese language.  In college I minored in Japanese and I talk once a week on Skype with a Japanese friend to help me practice.  I hope to become completely fluent.

What will I do while I'm in Japan?  Something I love.  Two years ago, after volunteering as a tutor to help people learn English as a second language, I realized how much I enjoyed teaching ESL.  Getting to meet people from around the world and helping them achieve their dreams and goals is so much fun and teaching English as a Second Language is an exciting rewarding job.  So I went back to school and got certified to teach English. Last summer I taught English to high school kids from Europe who were here for an international English summer camp and recently I taught adult ESL classes in Manhattan.

So teaching English in Japan is kinda my dream job.  Next week I have an interview to help teach school children in Japan through the JET Program and I'm very excited and almost as nervous.  I've worked hard to get to this point, and I'm excited for the next step.

Mt. Fuji in Japan

Friday, February 11, 2011

This Week's Bucket List Additions 4

-See Spiderman on Broadway. Difficulty Rating 4 out of 10:  
 I was hoping it would be good and lead to more superheroes on Broadway, but if the reviews are right, and they probably are, it's going to be awful.  It might even be dangerous, based on the number or injuries their stunt-people have racked up.  But how could I NOT support a union between two of my favorite kinds of entertainment:  Superheroes and Broadway Musicals.  This is a grand, risky production and I'd like to support those who take bold risks in the world.  Even if it is bad, I think it's going to be so epically bad it'll still be entertaining and memorable.  Hopefully I won't have to pay full price for tickets, but it might be awhile before the tickets show up at TKTS for half price.  For now, at least, the theater seems to be full. 

Copyright Jeff Howick 2011

-Operate a bed and breakfast with my wife. Difficulty Rating 8 out of 10:
My wife has always dreamed of running a B&B.  She likes helping people, and wants to create a place for them to get away from the world, perhaps gain a new perspective on their life.  That's what initially led her to work at camp, where we met.  I love meeting new people and hearing their stories.  And I LOVE to plan new adventures and trips for people.  My wife and I struggle sometimes trying to plan our lives in such a way that we can both pursue our dreams without the other person having to sacrifice theirs.  But this is one dream that we both seem to share, an intersection of both our passions.  I look forward one day to helping strangers find comfort and adventure alongside my wife.

Copyright Jeff Howick 2011

-Own a house with a secret passageway.  Difficulty Rating 6 out of 10

It's funny what sticks with you from your childhood, but I think we owe it to ourselves to pursue our earliest dreams.  Some people pretend that they've outgrown their childhood dreams, but I think that's just another word for giving up.  It's clear that our earliest experiences and dreams shape us and I've always wanted to live in a house with a secret passageway to a cool hideout.  It shouldn't be that difficult to put a few hinges on a bookshelf or use a little drywall to build a false wall with a large hole hidden behind a picture.  If you want a secret room in your house but don't have the time or carpentry skills, check out   

Monday, February 7, 2011

Surfing on a Snow Covered Beach

As you probably know, my wife and I moved to the beach last July and it's been a wonderful experience.  I've tried my best to take advantage of the beach and  I've been boogie boarding, thrown starfish back into the sea, had picnics and watched the sunrise on the beach.  Although I imagined that nothing would happen on the beach once winter arrived.  While things have certainly slowed down, people still find reasons to dive into the ocean even when it's below freezing.

A few weeks ago my wife and I just happened to visit the beach when a group of people know as the 'Ancient Order of Hibernians' gathered over 400 people together and then they plunged into the 40 degree water.  Apparently they raised over $100,000 dollars for charity, a pretty impressive feat.

Hundreds gathered for Sea Bright's annual Polar Bear swim
copyright Jeff Howick 2010 

'I can't feel my feet.'
copyright Jeff Howick 2010

Lifeguards on hand, wearing space suits?
 copyright Jeff Howick 2010

The other day, I also saw a pair of surfers ready to brave the winter weather in the search for fun and adventure.  I admire these guys' passion and dedication.  They must really love what they do, if they're willing to surf with snow on the beach.  I think when you're truly following your bliss, no obstacle feels too large.

copyright Jeff Howick 2010

copyright Jeff Howick 2010

The beach is a great place in the summer, so full of energy and joyful people.  But I also love the beach in the winter.  I love how quiet and peaceful it almost always seems, when the summer crowds are gone.  When I'm the only one on the beach, which happens often in cold weather, nature's voice seems much stronger.  If you've only been to the beach when it's sunny and warm, I suggest you try taking a walk on the beach during the winter.  It's a completely different and very worthwhile experience.

A different kind of beauty
copyright Jeff Howick 2010

Friday, February 4, 2011

This Week's Bucket List Additions 3

-Become a Baron. Difficutly rating: 2 out of 10
     Specifically, I want to become a baron of Sealand, described by some as the world's smallest nation. Sealand is a fascinating story, I think.  Apparently, during World War II, England built several sea forts to defend themselves against German air raids. (Sea Forts!?  This story is already awesome!)  After the war had been won, England abandoned these forts, several of which sat in international waters outside of any nation's borders.  In 1967 Major Paddy Roy Bates began living on one of the forts, broadcasting pirate radio and declared the fort his own nation, the Principality of Sealand.  He created his own constitution, flag, anthem and even minted coins and stamps.  The English courts eventually declared they had no jurisdiction over him after the navy tried to charge him for firing warning shots at them.

Sealand Coat of Arms

     Years later, Sealand even fought a 'war'.  While Major Paddy was away on vacation, a German 'businessman' and some of his Dutch henchmen invaded Sealand and took Prince Michael hostage.  Major Paddy returned to Sealand, subdued and imprisoned the invaders, and even forced Germany to send a diplomat to negotiate for the release of the prisoners!  To this day the German businessman claims to be the rightful king of Sealand in exile.

Picture of Sealand from

     And how do I plan to become a Baron?  Because Sealand is so small, it has very few citizens or businesses to tax. (Their only real business is a high-security internet hosting company that leases space on the fort.)  Therefore Sealand sells nobility deeds online to help raise government funds.  You can become a Lord, Lady, Baron or Baroness of Sealand for only £30!  Maybe for my next birthday, I'll become a Baron!

-Sell a Photograph to Someone I Don't Know. Difficulty Rating: 5 out of 10
     I think that all of us have an artist inside.  We all try to express ourselves through song or dance or blog sometimes.  Everyone tries to share something beautiful or true that they have seen on occasion.  Certainly we all create, whether it's a story or a sweater or a picture.  And with that, we all have some need to be recognized as talented or unique or entertaining.  For some that means we want others to laugh at a joke we have crafted.  Maybe others want people to wear their sweaters or marvel at the Magic: the gathering decks they've built.  I want a stranger to see one of my pictures and find it valuable enough to buy.  I've started asking local libraries and coffee shops if I can get some of my pictures on their walls, and hopefully this will lead me to my goal.

copyright Jeff Howick 2011

-Visit Every Continent. Difficulty Rating: 8 out of 10
     I've always loved to learn, and what is travel if not learning about the world?  I want to learn about other cultures and places and I want to do it firsthand.  I want to experience the great diversity and beauty this world has to offer and share some of my culture with others around the world.  I'm sure it will take awhile to visit every continent, but this is certainly one bucket list entry where the journey is more important than the goal.  My ultimate goal is to learn about the world and share meaningful experiences with people far and near.  Visiting every continent is just a convenient and catchy way to paraphrase this goal.  Which is why I may also make an exception for visiting Antarctica.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Price of Becoming a Bond Villain

A few days ago I googled the word 'island' and stumbled across a website that sells private islands!  So I obviously began thinking, how much would it cost to become a Bond Villain?  Here are the fruits of my research:

Secret Lair: $499,000 - Every good villain needs a place to plan their evil plans, quietly lie in wait, and build dastardly contraptions.  Sure you could probably use your mom's garage as a secret lair, but if you want to be a villain cool enough to make it into a James Bond movie, you're gonna need an awesome secret lair.  That's where can help.  There are plenty of islands to choose from, some starting as low as $30,000.  But I choose this island for several reasons.  One, it comes with a house and a barbecue grill.  Two, it's fairly close to civilization.  Three, and most most importantly, the name of the island is LITERALLY 'Secret Island'.  How cool is that?

Personal Submarine: $58,000 -  Any good villain needs a way to return to his or her lair in secret.  International Venture Craft Corp. has several models of personal submarines for sale including a one-person submarine that sells for only $32K.  But I chose the 'SportSub III' model because it can carry up to three people, so aspiring villains can use it to easily transport robot body-parts, giant chests of pirate treasure or even a bodyguard and an incapacitated super-spy back to their secret base.

Henchmen (Private Bodyguard): $200 to $900 a day - I looked around for exact prices, and while most websites offering personal protection have lots of very impressive pictures of men dressed in black suits carrying weapons, none of them seemed to have upfront pricing.  Luckily, gives price estimates for almost anything, including hiring bodyguards.  You'll probably want to hire between 2 to 12 henchmen depending on what stage of your operation you're currently undertaking.

Deathtrap: starts at $1000 -  What are you going to do when you eventually defeat your nemesis and reveal your secret plans to them?  Why not feed them to your pet lion?  Apparently for around a thousand dollars you can purchase a baby lion cub on the internet, and raise it to hunt super spies.  I have no idea what an adult lion costs if you want to take shortcuts.  (I in no way endorse actually purchasing a lion cub for any reason, I may or may not endorse hunting super spies.)

Evil Plan to Conquer the World: Priceless - I was unable to find any evil plans for sale via the internet, so I guess you'll have to handle this yourself.  Although, destroying the world to start a new race of perfect humans on the moon is always a classic.  If you still need help, I recommend watching a bunch of Bond movies.

Total Cost: Approximately $600,000 - I estimated about two weeks worth of henchmen and added an extra $30,000 for various expenses that may pop-up.  This will probably only get you through your first month as a super villain, after that you'll have to kidnap a princess or invade Fort Knox to raise more funds.  Now, $600,000 is certainly not chump change, but it's definitely within the realm of possibilities.  I always thought that becoming a Bond Villain would be much more expensive.

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