How Big Does a House Need to be?

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As many of you know, I have two homes, one in High Level and one in Fort Simpson — actually, three places to call “home” if you count the farm I grew up on, which I think of often. Over the last year and a half, I have been shuttling myself and various stuff back and forth from northern Alberta to the NWT. In Simpson, I have a great little room in the attic of an old log house, and in High Level, my honey and I have a small, bungalow-style house.

When in my house, I’m often amazed how much I walk from room to room. Because all 1400-ish square feet of the house is on one level, it makes for a bit of back and forthing. It’s kind of annoying — a huge first-world problem, having to take fifteen or twenty steps to get from the kitchen to the bedroom. I know, it’s silly to even mention, when there are people who have no roof at all over their heads at night.

school-bus-cabin-1And then I discovered tiny houses. You see, I was looking for an option for my living arrangement in Fort Simpson — I know I won’t be able to rent the attic room forever. So, I started researching tiny houses, and by “researching,” I mean reading blogs, making drawings of possible floor plans, learning about construction methods, insulation options, heating solutions, and considering storage efficiency, appliance needs and alternative energy sources. It’s been a blast thinking about an adorable little living space I could create, perfect for me and perfect for my environment. I’ve asked myself how big a kitchen really needs to be. How much counter space does it take to make a batch of cinnamon buns? How much room would I need for clothes? Books? Hobby stuff? These are real challenges, since I love reading and knitting, and I have quite a selection of winter clothes for various outdoor activities. How many turtlenecks do you have, because I have 6. How would I pare it down to only the essentials? Why do I own so many bras, anyway? How on Earth would I ever decide what books to keep and which to give away?

As a result, my relationships with stuff is changing. I have started going through old stuff — all sorts of momentos, photos and other schtuff — and I am having fun turfing some of it. Until now, I’ve been a bit of a hanger-on — I’ve had a hard time throwing things out. I thought I needed momentos in order to have good memories; I thought I’d forget the best stuff if I threw out the trinkets, maps and old papers. I am starting to realize that I don’t have to keep stuff to keep memories, and that I am more interested in making some awesome memories in the future than reliving every nice memory from the past.

Merlin gameWhen I was growing up, I could ask my mom where anything in the house was — “Mom, have you seen my Merlin game?” — and even if the item hadn’t been seen or used in years, she knew where it was — “On the shelf in the basement, beside the box of Tinkertoys.” I think I may have inherited my mother’s ability — I usually just know where stuff is. Lately, however, with all my travel between two homes, I am losing track of things. I spend more than a little brain power trying to remember where stuff is. “Didn’t I used to have a blue toque? Where is it? Didn’t it used to be in the box of winter stuff? Maybe it’s in Fort Simpson…” Maybe for other people this isn’t a big deal, but it can get pretty frustrating for me.

I am definitely realizing I don’t need as much stuff as I think to be happy; in fact, I feel lighter and happier owning less stuff. Over the last year or so, I have been gradually getting rid of clothes I don’t enjoy. You thought I was going to say “clothes I don’t need,” didn’t you? Well, those too. For me, clothes used to just be something to cover me up (or to keep warm). Sure, I gave some thought to being dressed right for meetings or whatever, but it was never about fashion for me (I guess I’m a tom boy that way). I like eclectic stuff from second hand stores, but that’s mostly about not dressing like everyone else. As my relationship with stuff changes, I find I want to keep only the clothes that I truly enjoy and appreciate — only my favourites, things that make me say “yay! I going to wear THIS today!” The clothes-purging process is going to take some time, but since I’ve started, I really like having a little empty space in my dresser and closet.

Which, of course, won’t last if I move into a tiny house! Most houses I’ve seen — the ones that are being lived in 24/7, not just used as RV’s — are filled to the gills with stuff, tucked into every nook and cranny. And I’m okay with that too! As I think about layouts and storage, I am reminded about how, as a teenager, I used to design houses. I considered going to school to become an architect, but pure science called to me instead.

So, I leave you with a few images, scribbly drawings and such! Is it crazy to think of living in a space 200 square feet or less? Maybe… Do you think you could do it?

A school bus turned into a cabin!
A school bus turned into a cabin!

This one is made in an old fire truck.
This one is made in an old fire truck.

An adorable houseboat
An adorable houseboat

Great design on a 5th wheel!
Great design on a 5th wheel!

A sweet design!
A sweet design!

Tiny house community in Washington, DC

My Designs

(click for larger versions)
(Yes, they are rather scribbly… sorry!)

Tiny house layout on a 15' trailer
Tiny house layout on a 15′ trailer

Layout similar to the one above, but with a hip roof
Layout similar to the one above, but with a hip roof
My own take on a gooseneck trailer design
My own take on a gooseneck trailer design
Tiny house layout in a 27' long bus
Tiny house layout in a 27′ long bus

Am I Part of the Problem, Part 2

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Normally, I get along really well with those around me. Throughout my life, I have learned how to communicate with different kinds of people, although I have to admit, it comes pretty naturally. Even from a young age, my family would call me the peacemaker — because I was always liaising between my two sisters, because I could naturally see both sides and communicate to both. My dad once told me that he thought it was neat how I could talk to anyone about anything. :)

Lately, though, I’ve had occasion to not see eye-to-eye with one man who comes in to my workplace periodically. I’m not the only one to not get along with this fella — he has a chip on his shoulder, that’s for sure. I’ve caught myself thinking about the next time I have to interact with him. What will he say? What will I say?

Last time, I had to strongly defend a friend of mine whom he started to put down. That’s not something I have to do very often. It was a slightly heart-pounding experience; it was a conflict-creating move for someone whose nature is much more about conflict-avoidance. Although I learned to deal with conflict in my first marriage, it still makes my heart thump a little harder.

So what’s the deal with this guy? Why is he so obstinate? I was thinking that in our next conversation, perhaps I should try to be more understanding, try to see his side. And then I recalled something he said that really struck me. He said “people are always keeping information from me, so that I can’t do my job properly.” At the time, I proceeded to tell him more about how his job interfaces with mine, explaining things that might have been “kept from him.” Later I thought, buddy, it’s your responsibility to find out whatever you need to in order to do your job. In future conversations, perhaps I could try and explain that if he could do away with that victim-stance, and the chip on his shoulder, he’d do better. His air is so confrontational, perhaps he could try a co-operative mode instead.

But I don’t think he can do it. It’s too far from his modus-operandi. It’s too big a stretch. I don’t think he knows how to co-operate. I honestly don’t think he’s learned how to work co-operatively with others… which is too bad, because the pattern for his life isn’t likely to change otherwise.

Of course, I always like to turn the tables, look in the mirror and see how this applies to me. Is there something that I don’t know how to do, which affects the direction my life is taking? Is there something that I would benefit from learning?

Hmmm… does accounting count? That’s certainly not one of my strengths! But hot damn, I’ve been learning! :) How about you? If you could step outside yourself, what advice would you give yourself? What might another person — a wise, helpful person — suggest you try doing?

I also have to ask myself, am I part of the problem? Wouldn’t this man’s experience be different without me here? Kind of turns it upside down doesn’t it? He and I wouldn’t be having this conflict-filled experience if I weren’t here, or if I were different… So, I must have some conflict in me, which isn’t a bad thing or a mortal flaw. I simply must have been sending out some fightin’ vibes the day he talked bad about my friend. I haven’t had any run-ins since then, which I take as evidence that I’m feeling better about life now!

As usual, I just enjoy giving you some things to think about! :)

Related Posts:

Am I Part of the Problem?
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Change is on the Wind…

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Something has happened to me. I don’t know what caused it, but today, when I stepped out of the house for the first time and felt the wind, I thought

Isn’t that a nice breeze… just the sort to “blow the stink off ya.”

Whoa. It was -18 C out (about 0 F)!* This nice breeze is WINDCHILL to everyone else in the world! Yikes. What has happened to me?

I’m turning into that lady from Cambridge Bay who — when everyone else is flipping their collars up, re-wrapping their scarves and pulling their toques on tighter — walks down the street with the wind gloriously blowing through her long black hair. It’s like she’s at a Hawaiian beach, she’s enjoying it that much. Any sort of wind we might get is like a gentle breeze compared to what she’s used to. For a split second, that was ME!!

Now, every Canadian knows how +5 C in fall feels so cold, and +5 C in spring is definitely T-shirt weather. It’s all relative — it all depends what we are used to! Once you get used to -40 C, as I have in the month, then -10 C with a breeze is still pretty pleasant. I figure with that breeze, it was about -25 C with the windchill — still a good deal warmer than -40 C. It’s all relative, and when the changes are incremental, it’s not so bad. We gradually inched our way down to -43 C a few weeks ago, and yes, it was bleepin’ cold, but we were more or less able to function.

toomanycheezies

So it seems to me, we can get through huge changes as long as they are fairly gradual and we are able to adapt. I wonder if I could apply this personally, to a change I want to try and make in my life. Could I make it gradual enough that it is fairly easy? Could I stop eating cheezies and other junk food by gradually eating less and less until I don’t eat any at all? Could I gradually change my life and my relationships by defining what I wish they were like and then gradually changing the way I act towards people around me?

The Big Leap cover
I think it just might work. If it’s gradual enough, it won’t even be painful or difficult. So rather than worrying about how something in my life isn’t working very well, I could take small steps to make my life a little bit better. If there is a “big leap” that must take place — like selling our house and moving — preparation helps to make the leap possible. I know that taking a big leap is an amazing way to change, but it can be really hard to do. I also know that we are always changing, so I ask myself

Am I becoming a kinder version of myself? Was I sweeter today than I was yesterday? Did I listen better and try to understand those around me? Is my integrity increasing; is my procrastination decreasing? Am I appreciating the good things around me more each day?

In a year’s time, I wonder how different I would be?

Our change is gradual, sequential and inevitable. It’s just a question of what we’re changing into. Among other things, I am turning into a real, serious northerner. For those especially cold days, I have ear flaps on my hat, but for the other days, I’ll let the wind blow through my hair a little.

You Know It’s Cold When…

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I’ve been saving these up for a while, so here goes! (I’ll spare you the boring stats of how cold it’s been here… I think pretty much everyone has been dealing with crappy weather of one kind or another!)

Teresa’s Top Ten: You know it’s cold when…

10. Pushing the clutch in on the Pathfinder (to start it) is like doing leg press exercises… for one leg.

(That’s not me.)

9. My front teeth have been aching a bit lately (as if I had braces), and I couldn’t figure out why until I went for a walk with friends. It was the cold making them ache! (One of my friends said he’s had this too.)

8. Donning of long johns* becomes regular practice in October, but these days, it’s double long johns and triple socks, always (two plain, one wooly).

7. I went for 4 consecutive days to work wearing wind pants over double long johns and fleece pants. Mind you, that might just say more about my work place or my sense of style than the temperature!

6. I can easily run out to prestart my vehicle in just the long-sleeved thin shirt, turtleneck, and wool sweater I’m wearing. As long as the wind isn’t blowing. (And yes, I am one of the poor saps who still doesn’t have remote start.)

5. Everybody knows not to touch your tongue to cold metal… but fingers on a cold doorknob, I keep forgetting about that! Ouch!

4. I can gauge how cold it is by how long I go humpin’ down the road! (i.e. vehicles have “square tires” for the first couple of km when you start driving. The colder it is, the longer it takes to round them out. :))

3. Freezers feel really WARM! I keep wondering if they are working properly… and they are.

2. The house furnace can’t keep up, resulting in… an unpleasantly cold toilet seat.

Okay, it's not THIS bad...
Okay, it’s not THIS bad…

1. When looking though the back of the vehicle for something, I caught myself sloshing the little bottle of gasline antifreeze to see if it was still liquid! Sheesh! That stuff is NEVER supposed to freeze!

Stay warm everybody! :)

*I am a bit of a “long john connoisseur” (but not the snooty kind). I have tested several types, and have my favourites… but they all have a place in the world! :) Hmmm… maybe I will do a long john review in a future post.

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Top Ten Handy Practical Tips
Top Ten Modern Products I Can Live Without

Adventures in the Cold

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Happy New Year! So, we have passed solstice and swapped out our old calendars, so Old Man Winter has seen fit to hit us with a vengeance! He has been a little hard on us lately, dishing out temperatures as low as -43 C. We had a snappy little cold snap that lasted several days (see below). For those who don’t know, that kind of cold — anything approaching -40 — is extremely hard on vehicles and machinery.

Temperatures in Fort Simpson over the last week
Temperatures in Fort Simpson over the last week

Our fun began when we noticed how rough the car was starting, despite being plugged in. Let me offer an explanation for my southern friends and followers: “Plugging in a vehicle” actually means plugging in a heater of some sort — usually an engine block heater — which gobbles up electricity in order to attempt to keep the vehicle “warm.” I know I’m overusing “quotes” and I don’t care! “Warm” is a relative thing. When it’s well below zero, the oil which is meant to lubricate the engine and allow it to turn freely and not grind itself into pieces gets really thick. When it’s -40C, it’s most jello than liquid. This makes the engine very slow to turn over and your battery has to work extra hard to get it to turn over enough times to start. it’s a blast, really, to count how many times the engine will roll over before starting — I think the record for my car is 12 times. But it started! So, back to the story.

It was about -25C or so, and although the car had been plugged in, it sounded really rough starting. This led us to think there might be something wrong with the block heater. The obvious weak points are the power cord, plug in, and extension cord, but these all checked out fine. Since my husband is such a snazzy, smart guy, he tested the resistance in the circuit — seemed fine, but this isn’t an indicator of power flowing, just that there is no clear break in it somewhere. A further test was needed, to check how much current was flowing. I helped by holding ends of wires from the multimeter (a device for testing circuits) to the extension cord end and the block heater plug… not the kind of thing you should EVER try to do if you don’t know what you’re doing! Suffice it to say, we discovered that the block heater must be dead.

Drat. Well, what can you do? Start finding out how to get a new one, or look into buying an oil pan heater instead. Oil pan heaters are easier to install than block heaters, and apparently work just as well, or even better, since they heat the oil directly and keep it from becoming jello. Mmmm! 10W-30 jello, my favourite! (Just kidding!)

Long story somewhat shortened, we couldn’t get one very easily. We would have had to buy it over the phone from Yellowknife and get it shipped in by plane, or get a friend in High Level to buy one and then find someone driving north who could bring it. We brainstormed what to do… and then I remembered that I have a buddy heater! It had belonged to Peace Air, before they went out of business, and it’s a great little heater. Pilots put these heaters inside the engine cowlings on planes to keep the engines warm, and they produce quite a bit of heat for their size — not as intense as a hair dryer, but not far off. The best part of all is that they are meant to operate outside, for hours, unsupervised. Perfect.

So, the trick was to figure out how to get the heat to the engine. We quickly figured it would work pretty slick to slide the heater under the car and put cardboard around the bottom of the car to keep the heat in. Well, when we got to it, we ended up making use of the plentiful firewood and piling snow around the car on the sides. We tried to position the heater directly under the oil pan, and considering that the it’s not quite as cold out (only -25C) and there isn’t much space below the car to heat, I think it’s going to work!

So, that’s just one of many adventures we had over the Christmas season! The others involve repairing a block heater plug in -25C (wearing gloves as much as possible!), a malfunctioning defrost heater (or any sort of internal heat), and a truck that wouldn’t start. It might be the starter solenoid, or the starter, or maybe it just couldn’t face the -40′s.

~

This blog post is dedicated to my friend Jim, and ALL the men and women who maintain our winter roads — grader operators, plow truck drivers, sanding truck drivers, and all the other operators! You rock. I know you work hard to keep our roads passable, and believe me, we “regular motorists” appreciate it! Take care out there.

Flying in the North

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As usual, I am having adventures faster than I can blog about them, and I can’t believe it’s the end of November! Time really does fly…

Peeking over the pilot's shoulder before take-off
Peeking over the pilot’s shoulder before take-off

I’ve been doing some traveling lately, and, since I live up north now, it’s always an adventure. I have to remind myself that most people never have the opportunity (some might say trial!) of flying on small planes with small airlines or charter companies in the North. In my lifetime, so far, I have flown from as far east as Moncton, NB to Victoria, BC in the west (with major airlines), and now I can say as far north as Norman Wells and Deline, NWT in aircraft ranging from Twin Otters, to Cessna 172′s.

Air travel in the North is unlike anywhere else in the world! The differences really struck me on the way home from Edmonton when I went down in October. In Edmonton, you check in at the airline of your flight, get your boarding pass and baggage tags, and proceed through security as usual. Everyone is familiar with this procedure — empty your pockets, put your bags in the bins and everything is x-rayed. In Canada, you have to show your boarding pass to go through security (so friends or family not traveling with you can’t continue on), although in the US, I understand that non-passengers can go right up to the gates. At least that’s how it used to be (pre-9-11). Everything is secure, all IDs are checked, and when it’s time, you walk down the passageway to the plane. You barely even see the plane as you step onto it.

Now for the Northern experience! Arriving in Yellowknife is straightforward enough, since the major air lines — First Air and Canadian North, for example — use the main terminal building. Connecting flights using air carriers other than the big players are in their own buildings on the airfield, but are quite far away. I was flying on Air Tindi (a Discovery Air company) to connect to Fort Simpson, so I caught a cab over to the Air Tindi building. I’ve been through Yellowknife four times now, and if I don’t have much luggage, I just walk. With just a back pack, it’s a nice walk! At least, I thought it was, but I realize I might be strange!

Waiting area at Air Tindi
Waiting area at Air Tindi

Once I got to Air Tindi, I just had to smile as “the Northern way” of doing things showed itself again! I had several hours before my flight, so I asked if I could leave my bags there while I go explore Yellowknife. The ticket agent (there was only one) said, “sure! Where you going? Just put the tag on it and leave it over there.” So, my stuff sat along the wall of the waiting area for the day and when I returned to check in, I just put it on the scale and we were done. No showing ID (she asked for my name), no security, no fancy-sticker-baggage-tag, no fuss!

...And there's our plane!
…And there’s our plane!

When it was time to board, the pilot, clipboard in hand, said “okay, everybody going to Fort Simpson, we’re ready.” No intercom announcements, no flight number, just the destination. :) We followed him out the door, walked to the plane, and climbed in. No numbered gates, no enclosed walkways, and I got a really good look at the plane before going up the stairs/ladder! The safety briefing consists of the pilot, sitting at the back, explaining where everything is: exits, fire extinguisher, first aid kit and survival gear. You’d better know how to put the seatbelt on, because he doesn’t go over that. In the Caravan, there is even a shoulder belt, although it’s not springy, so it can be a bit uncomfortable. As we approached Fort Simpson, I could see the runway and approach lights — by looking out the front windshield. (I couldn’t get a picture, because I didn’t want any light from my camera to disturb the pilot.) :)

Looking down at the land outside of Yellowknife, in early October
Looking down at the land outside of Yellowknife, in early October

I love flying with these small northern companies! Just last week, I made another trip, this one to Deline, a smaller community quite a bit farther North (65 12 40 N 123 26 11 W). This time, the flight out of Fort Simpson was on a Twin Otter, because there were lots of passengers. The lady checking people in for the flight is a friend of mine and after weighing all my bags (even my carry-on), she politely but point-blank asked me what I weigh! She said she had to know because they were near capacity. Awesome. I estimated.

I have never been on a flight where the pilot was standing at the door (near the ladder into the aircraft) handing out ear plugs! Oh man! I decided to take a pair and I wasn’t sorry I did. The flight itself was uneventful, although my right arm got pretty cold where it was touching the wall of the aircraft. I tried not to touch it, but the fold-down bench I was sharing with a broad-shouldered guy didn’t give me much room to work with. When we landed in YK, I transferred from Air Tindi to North Wright, a 5-minute walk, pulling luggage through a centimetre of snow along the airport’s access road. Again, I left my luggage while I went to visit a friend of mine, came back later and checked in, got a cab downtown where I found a drug store, grocery store and book store. It was a nice bit of shopping. :)

Beech 1900 (B190) at Deline (don't mind all the reflections)
Beech 1900 (B190) at Deline (don’t mind all the reflections)

At North Wright, they don’t ask what you weigh. They make you get right on up on the scale when the luggage is done. Turns out my estimate had been low by 15 lbs! It’s the skidoo boots, I’m sure. Getting on the plane was pretty similar to at Air Tindi — but this plane was bigger (a Beech 1900) and had two pilots. So, they led us out across the apron, and we climbed in, where everyone has the pleasure of both a window and an aisle seat. :)

On descent into Deline, we had all sorts of turbulence, which the pilots had warned us about. What a roller coaster ride! I’m sure even a Boeing 727 would have bounced around in that, although probably not quite as, er, suddenly. When we landed, the luggage was unloaded onto a cart that the pilots (with the help of a ground crew guy) just pulled out to the plane. When they had all the luggage, they just pulled the cart over near the airport’s chain-link fence where there was a gap for people to go through. At Air Tindi, when you arrive in Fort Simpson, they put all the bags into the back of their pick up truck and the ticket agent/ground crew/luggage handler (this is all one person) just drives it around to the parking lot where she takes them off and you just grab whatever’s yours. No fancy baggage system, no baggage carousels, minimal waiting!

This is how you get your luggage in YK (at North Wright).
This is how you get your luggage in YK (at North Wright).

So, that’s a taste of flying with small airlines in the North. You have to watch how things are unfolding and just follow along, because they assume you know how it’s going to go. There is complementary coffee, personal service, and your pilot will help you in and out of the plane. I’ll have to blog sometime about what it’s like to fly in even smaller planes with Simpson Air. :)

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What Me, Wear Make-up?

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I know I’m not like everyone else — okay, no one is. Let me explain. I voluntarily quit a very good job to start my own business and make no money. Once the business started making money, I decreased my business activity and took on a new job — and had to move way up North, to a village of 1,000 people, over 1400 km (nearly 900 miles) from the nearest Starbucks. Oh, unless there’s one in Yellowknife — then it’s only 630 km (390 miles). Nevermind Starbucks — I am 430 km (270 miles) from the nearest clothing store, shoe store, or place where one could buy make-up (in Hay River, NWT).

my footwearBut I don’t mind, because:
A: I don’t buy clothes unless I really need them, because I’ve worn out what I’ve got — it might be time for new skidoo boots this year, and
B: I’ll show you my shoe collection at right (not all of them, mind you… just the ones I wear 95% of the time), and
C: I don’t wear make-up. I mean I’ve worn mascara about 4 times in the last 4 years.

So, like I said, I’m not like everyone else. I am not a major hippie or tree-hugger — okay, ya, I hug trees — I just don’t like a lot of girlie things. I object to make-up primarily on the grounds that women are beautiful without it.

I may, however, be rethinking my views on make-up slightly. Here’s my thinking.

Everyone ages. You know who suffers the most, in some ways? Hollywood stars. I feel kind of sorry for them, in particular when it comes to aging. They are immortalized in their youth — 99% of them — when they are at their prime, young, beautiful, fit and lovely. Then, they age. But everyone who watches re-runs, or their favourite movies over and over again, is shocked to see them age. They don’t look anything like they should — like the young and pretty image we all have burned on our corneas! Admit it, you have images of the first James Kirk, ahem, William Shatner, burned on your corneas, don’t you? (Okay, maybe it’s just me.) But look at him now!? Gads.

william-shatner-then-and-now

So, it’s not easy being green, or being famous and getting older. But at least women have make-up to turn to. I mean, Nichelle Nichols has undergone the same time frame of aging, and look at her.

nichelle-nichols-then-and-now

Okay, maybe it’s an unfair comparison! In any case, women, perhaps, have decided to take matters into their own hands and do what they can, using nature, originally, to enhance their beauty. I think some of the first make-up was invented by the ancient Egyptians, was it not? Certainly black eyeliner was!

egyptian eyeliner

So, I stumbled on a website, makeupgeek.com, because the geek part drew me in (that’s probably why I even stumbled on it, what with Google controlling what I see…). “What’s geeky about make-up?” I thought. Well, the girls who are featured (or perhaps own it, run it, whatever) are really into make-up — for effect (no major objections here), for artistic expression (which I approve of), and for the fun of it, too, (which I wholeheartedly approve of). So, hmm. Make-up might not be so bad after all. In particular when it uses natural, non-animal harming ingredients. I mean, putting make-up into bunnies’ eyes is horrible by anyone’s standards.

Maybe I’m not so different at all! I just had a phase of a make-up free life… maybe I’ll play around with it a little in the future. Now if only there was a store where I could buy some! :P

What do you think? Okay, maybe a little extreme for me.. :)
What do you think? Okay, maybe a little extreme for me.. :)

P.S. Men, there are things you can do, too — that we can all do, I think. Try not to be chronically overtired. Drink plenty of water. Try not to rub your face unnecessarily. Eat living, non-processed food as much as possible. Get enough sleep (did I mention that already?) :)

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