Some days, you just have to do the thing you don’t want to do.
Death makes you face things and do things that you just don’t want to. You can’t leave it until later. You can’t deny it. You just have to find some strength within — and you always do — to be able to do what you must. And in my case, that was wrap up our sweet, fluffy barn kitty who passed away unexpectedly.
Her name was Stella. I just gave her that name one day last fall. After living at the farm for a week or so, I felt our cute, skittish barn kitty should have a name, and Stella is the name that came to me. She was a little black-and-white cat who lived in the hayloft of the barn. We’d see her sitting out on the edge, catching some sun on a cool October day, but if we even approached the barn too purposefully, she’d be off like a flash, into a hidden part of the hayloft.
We would climb the ladder to fed her every day, and each time, she’d be barely visible, hiding from us. Before too long, though, she be a little more exposed, a little closer, and one of my favourite memories of her was the time she came to the food bowl before I had even gone down two rungs of the ladder — I got to see her up close for once! She was so sweet! Most of the time, though, she would sit on a nearby disintegrating bale of straw and look at us. The look on her face said, “you’re going to feed me again? Why are you being so nice to me?” In a way, it broke my heart that she was so baffled by our care and interest in her. For the last couple of months, however, she just looked at us with caution — as she approached so much of her life, I suppose — instead of confusion. She understood that we would bring her food every day and that we loved her. At least I hope she understood that last part.
A few days ago, Darren found her unmoving in the hayloft. He had gone to give her fresh water, and he didn’t see her at first. Then, suddenly, he saw her, laying with her chin on the straw. When I got home, and he told me that we’d lost her, I went to the barn. I saw her immediately from my spot on the ladder. How strange, since she was never in that part of the hayloft, that I knew. But we knew her so little! We only saw her for a few minutes a day. What was her life really like? We have no way of knowing. We only know that she had lost about half of her ears in harsh winters of the past. We know she had at least one litter of kittens — my mom had told us that, and that’s the only way they’d known she was a she. You just couldn’t get close enough to her.
Was she ever mistreated? I don’t think so. She is — ahem, was — a barn cat. She caught mice, and maybe birds, as her diet. Yet her look improved greatly once we started feeding her regularly. Her coat got fluffier, she seemed to put on some weight, and she looked less scared. But I don’t think she was ever mistreated before. It’s just the way of a barn kitty. She got table scraps once in a while, and other than that, she was independent. She lived out there, all the time, and we live in here, and we just didn’t know her very well.
The first time I got to pet her was after she’d died. Despite all I just said about barn cats, I feel it is such a shame I never got to connect with her, pet her and show her more affection while she was alive. She was so soft, and so sweet, and still warm! It seemed like she had just stopped breathing, and she might start up again any second. What would she do? Would she try to bolt away, suddenly aware that she had let her guard down too much? Or would she sigh and purr and then die again, but this time, knowing for sure that she was loved?
It broke my heart, petting her in the barn that night. But my heart will mend.
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I chose a bright yellow piece of cloth to wrap her in. It seemed the most appropriate for her, but my mood was anything but sunny. I didn’t want to do it. I didn’t want to have to take care of her body. I wanted her to be alive; I didn’t want to be in this situation. Then, quite out of the blue, I thought, “every day, we have new opportunities. and today, this is my opportunity.” What a strange thought to have… and it changes everything. It’s my opportunity to take care of the body of my sweet kitty. Not an obligation, or unpleasant task. It’s my chance, and it only comes once.
I cried quite a bit, still caught up in the “what ifs” and “if onlys.” But, like so many facing death, I consoled myself with “we did our bests” and “I think she loved us.” It’s all we can do, with so many unknowns.
One thing I know about myself, though: I am enough of a realist, or scientist, that it’s okay to console myself whenever I need it. There’s no worry that I’ll fall into a trap of unreasonable excuse-making, although there’s always a hazard of wanting to live in the past and/or feeling sorry for myself. But if I focus on the good bits, I can avoid that.
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So let this be my tribute to you, dear Stella. I have the feeling you enjoyed your time on this earth! I hope you know how much you meant to us. This isn’t the last time we’ll think of you! We’ll miss seeing you in the hayloft every day. Although you are gone, in spring, we’ll bury your body at the top of the garden. We won’t forget you.
So, I’m finally going to update you, my lovely readers, on what is going on with me and my husband on the farm! Thanks for your patience!
This year, my parents decided to move off the farm and into town to officially retire. This is a huge step for them — they’ve lived in this one place for all their married life, which is over 40 years. My dad didn’t want to be one of those old farmers who just doesn’t know when to quit, so he has been downsizing for a few years and this year, they were ready to make the big move.
So, my husband and I decided to take over. Although I love the North, moving back to the farm I grew up had such appeal to me, I just couldn’t turn down the opportunity.
So, we did it! We packed up all our possessions, loaded them into the biggest truck that UHAUL rents, and moved south. What an insane week that was! It took two trips, seven days (with one rest day in the middle) and I think we logged something like 3200 km on that UHAUL!!
We put our house on the market — our real estate agent came by to take photos WHILE we were starting to pack! She did an amazing job staging our home! For as long as this link works, you can see our listing here.
I don’t know how we accumulated so much stuff. It’s crazy. And we don’t need most of it, by far. I am seriously wanting to declutter and so as we unpacked, I started making up boxes of things to give away — I know, it seems like we did it in reverse, but my parents were anxious to move and not have the house on the farm empty for more than a couple of days. So, we moved in haste! Not the recommended way to move! On the first trip, we got away a bit later than planned — those last few things always take longer to load than you think — so we drove all night to get to our new home. We figured we might as well just git ‘er done!
Has living on the farm affected me yet, other than the pleasant rural slang? I don’t think so. I went through a frustrating stage where I couldn’t find anything. I went through an overjoyed stage, where I was like a kid playing on the yard! So glad for some time off, some sunshine (October was so lovely!), and so glad to be with my honey again!
Things have settled in a bit, and although I am still very grateful to be here, regular doses of reality keep me grounded. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have dreams! I have SO many ideas for things we can do on the farm! I want to convert one (or 2?) of the buildings here into a greenhouse, and fix fences and get some sheep to “mow” the grass, and maybe get some ducks and some more chickens (I only have two at the moment)… :) There is a main barn, several graineries and other small buildings, and a milk house, garage, and large shop space all with wood stoves, and corrals and fences all over the place. I could go in a hundred different directions, but here’s what I think is the biggest, best idea:
I want to turn the farm into a “care farm.”
I want to have animals and a greenhouse that people can visit when they are not feeling well and they need to reconnect with nature. They might be fighting an illness or facing death, or recovering from a stressful incident. The farm will be a place they can go for a walk, see the sheep, cows, and chickens — maybe even rabbits!! — and enjoy the outdoors. Although this is the dream, I don’t have a detailed plan, so I’m really excited to see how it all unfolds!
Contact me if you’re interested in finding out more, or if you have an idea or a desire to help!
(Click for larger version of photos below.)
I made my debut into full-time management this summer. Some very good friends of mine who own a store in High Level bought another one in Grouard. It is a convenience store with a liquor store as well, and since it’s right along the highway, we knew that it had huge potential. Down the road a little ways are two cottage/camping areas (Hilliard’s Bay Estates and Shaw’s Point Resort) and Hilliard’s Bay Provincial Park — all very busy throughout the summer months.
I agreed to be the manager for the summer to get the store off the ground, and then in the fall, my husband and I would move to my parents’ farm so they could retire. They had found and were arranging to buy their “dream house” and back in February, Darren and I had decided to take over the farm — but I’ll leave that excitement for another post!
Since April, I’ve been so incredibly busy (hence only one blog post), but nothing compares to managing the store in Grouard. I left my job at the Fort Simpson airport earlier than planned because breakup was coming — that period of time when you can only helicopter across the Liard River. So, I gave just 2 weeks notice to my job and was outta there. For the rest of April and the first half of May, I helped a friend by working at her greenhouse. I know I talked about this in my previous post, but I gotta say again how I loved working at Sunscape! It was hard work at times, but I loved being surrounded by living things and Alex was so great to work for! Not to mention that whenever the sun was out, the greenhouse became gloriously warm and tropical — I could have just moved in there! But, just after Mother’s Day, I was done there and had to quickly get ready for Grouard.
My friends had bought the store weeks earlier, and they’d hired a small army of men to renovate it in order to open for May long weekend. I had been out to the store twice — the first time was to help with inventory, just after they’d purchased the store and then later to help load and move some new counters and shelving to the store. The whole place was painted (even the floor), a back room was opened up and converted into the liquor store, the washrooms were moved and redone, and lots of additional lighting and electrical outlets were installed. When I got there 2 days before we were to open, there was a ridiculous amount of work to do! We had to put stock out, price and arrange it, program the tills, set up the internet and interac machines, clean everything, train the staff, make up price lists for things that weren’t stickered, and on and on. If you’ve ever opened a store, you are probably twitching right now and curling up into a ball on the floor! It is so hectic. And it didn’t let up much for over a month.
The really; long days only went on for a couple of weeks; I opened the store at 8 AM and closed the store at 10 PM and then worked for an extra 2 hours on planning, scheduling and other tasks. But there was always so much to do and no one else to do it, so I worked 14- to 15-hour days all summer. All summer. I did not go paddling until the end of August, and only because someone asked me to teach them how to kayak. I did not have a single day off or away from Grouard from the middle of May to the middle of June when I made a quick trip to Edmonton to pick up the York boat!
My anxiety increased considerably after getting the York boat. Sure, it was a thrill to drive down the highway towing it, and I felt awesome taking corners really wide! I was pretty damn good at towing it. But once I had it in Grouard, I had to do something with it. For a couple of weeks, I towed it to the store every day so people could ogle it and ask questions about it. I boldly put up a sign that revealed my big idea: “York boat day tours, July and Aug.” But I just couldn’t make it happen.
I was exhausted. Every day, I kept the store running — some days, I kept it open, because when staff cancelled or called in sick, I didn’t have anyone else to replace them. So I stayed. I worked double shifts almost every day, for one reason or another. At the end of every day, I was wiped out. I was “keeping it together” by staying diplomatic, polite, friendly, and dealing well with my challenging staff members, but I didn’t have any extra energy — mental or physical energy — to give to the York boat and my dream of offering day tours for the general public.
One time in mid-July, I had a short reprieve. I snuck away to go to my sister’s (a 2-hour drive) for a spa party. I thought it would be good to see some family and get away from the store — maybe get some perspective. But what did that perspective show me? I had become a shell of a person. The chronic sleep deprivation was stealing my humanity. I was a zombie. Everyone around me was cheerful and responsive — or sassy or skeptical, whatever their personality was — and I was just sitting there. I was trying to absorb what was going on around me, but I couldn’t interact properly. I was lagging a few seconds behind everyone else and I just wasn’t myself.
I felt a little better the next morning when I went into town to buy a few things I needed. My runners were completely wearing out after being on my feet so much, so I got some new shoes and sandals. But, I drove straight back to the store and got back into it. Before long, though, I arranged to have a week off at the end of July. The store owners — my friends — could see I needed a break and I couldn’t argue. I knew I needed one too, but how could I take it? We were still having staffing troubles and there was still so much that only I knew how to do! So, I started training the full-time staff on what to do and I started working on the store manual, which I had thought up back in the beginning so everything would run smoothly when I left in September. So, more long hours working on that.
In many ways, the summer was a blur and I have very few clear memories, but a couple stand out. One evening, I came back to the cabin where I was staying, sat down by the fire and broke down. I just cried and cried. Out of exhaustion, frustration, for opportunities lost. A couple of days later, it happened again, and I started to think that maybe I should just quit. Then I could finally get some sleep! Then I could go canoeing or kayaking on the water. But I couldn’t. There was no one to replace me, and I couldn’t let my friends down. Summer is a key window of opportunity for a business like this, and this first summer even moreso to set the stage for what the store would be like with these new owners. You never get another chance to make a first impression, and all that. So there was no way out. I had to finish this gig, or at least, get the staff trained on how to run things without me.
But the brutal scheduled continued, and by the last week of July, I started to think about the ultimate way out, suicide. I just couldn’t go on. I was so exhausted, and I wasn’t myself. I actually broke down in my office at the store one night, the last night before I was to start my week off. I was supposed to go see a friend that night (about an hour and half drive away), but store duties had taken up my time and it was too late to make the drive now. So I cried. I missed her, and I needed to see her so badly, but you can’t argue with time.
Burned in my clearest memory is that night: I cried on the bed, knowing how I could end myself, knowing I had what I needed to do it, but knowing that it would cause such pain to my family and friends, that I couldn’t. But I wanted to. Oh, I really wanted to.
But the battling voices in my head reminded me that I wanted to go to Europe with my honey. I wanted to see those quaint villages in Italy and Greece, perched on hillsides above the ocean. There were places I wanted to see. So, I decided not to check out yet.
The next day, I guess I got up and drove home to High Level. It’s a blur. I don’t really remember how I felt. I know I worked on renovations on the house that week, and saw my honey and got a bit more sleep. Things improved and I never felt as low as I did that night in July. At times I felt outright happy I was still here, that I hadn’t killed myself. I had a changed perspective — that customer who was annoyed because we ran out of Clamato didn’t matter much (we ran out of things lots, we had such great sales). The trees looked more lovely, and the York boat was a non-issue. I still thought about that night in July at times, and it took me a while to shake the experience off. I mean, I had nearly killed myself. I couldn’t just go along like nothing happened, or nothing was wrong.
And the thing is, nothing was wrong with me. The only explanation was my awful lack of sleep. I slept a lot in September and October, and I am back to my old self again — optimistic, positive, easy-going… Very easy-going, if I may say so!
So, that was my summer. :) It was one in a hundred (I hope) and never to happen again. It was an experiment in sleep-deprivation that I would never want replicated. It was an experiment in working 9 days a week — 5 shifts/week on the floor, 2 shifts/week of management stuff and then every weekend is 5 + 2 + 2 = 9. I had so much banked overtime, I am being paid well into the fall, at a full-time rate, to use it all up. It was an exercise in people management but most importantly, it was an opportunity to know myself better. And I met some of the nicest people in the whole world up there, and made many new friends.
I think I lost something that night in July. I’m not sure what it is, but now that I’ve caught up on my sleep, I am more serene and unperturbable. I was already pretty level-headed (although a few staff pushed me a lot!), but now I am different. Maybe my whole emotional scale has been shifted up — I just don’t get angry or afraid for anything now. I am so grateful for where I am now, maybe just because I’m grateful to still be here! Eckhart Tolle writes about losing his ego when he had his near-suicide experience, so maybe that’s true for me too. All I know, is I am grateful for everything that happened this summer, and excited about the future.
I don’t know what I’d do without my intuition.
I am using it all the time, because I am constantly forced to make decisions and judgement calls with little or no information to go on. I’m so far outside my comfort zone, I can’t even see where it used to be. Mind you, because of that, I’m starting to get more *comfortable* here, even though that seemed utterly unlikely just one month ago.
Lots of changes have been going on for me! In April, I left my job up north, in Fort Simpson, and moved back to High Level. I immediately started working at a friend’s greenhouse, Sunscape Gardens. I’ve never worked at a greenhouse before, and I found I really enjoyed it! I got to play in the dirt, transplant all sorts of plants, grow some from seed, and do a considerable amount of heavy lifting. But I love all that! It was hard work, but it was good work, and it was a positive environment and relatively stress-free. Sometimes, my back was aching at the end of the day, and I was usually covered in a fine dusting of peat moss, but that’s my style!
In mid-May, however, it all came to an end. I had agreed a few months ago to help some other friends of mine by taking on the manager job at a convenience store they had just purchased. They did a bunch of renovations and we wanted to open the store before the May long weekend. It was an absolute sprint to get it done, and then the marathon began.
I can’t believe how much work it is! I worked something over 20 days in a row, because I didn’t have enough staff hired and trained to take a full day off. I tried to take a weekend off, and then one of my staff got into a bad car accident and has not returned to work yet! There were a hundred items that needed prices assigned and stickers stuck, food and hardware and camping and toys and fishing stuff and crafts and chips and you-name-it that needed organizing, and there is on-going cleaning, restocking of pop and beer coolers — yes, it has a liquor store. Add to that the challenge of learning how all the suppliers work, how to place orders, how much of something to order, and other managerial stuff like making bank deposits and staff schedules. We sometimes run out of things because I can’t always grasp the volume of things we sell! Choosing what price to put on stuff was a particular challenge when we couldn’t find receipts for things — or they were old stock, so receipts were MIA — and I would sometimes resort to the internet to see what kinds of prices were out there. I had to learn SO much that first two weeks, I went to bed every night exhausted after a 15-16 hour day, only to get up and do it again the next day.
But, it is getting easier! And it is going well. I have good staff, and I hope that soon they will start to see each other as good as well! There’s a little bit of bad-talking going on, which I am working on putting a stop to. I think I’m going to post a sign like this somewhere:
This is a place of positivity!
All of you are so appreciated!
I see the good in each of you,
So please look for the good in each other, too.
I know it is all going to work out great. Sure, some days I am swallowed up in the tasks of ordering groceries, or liquor, or a million other things that demand my attention. But you know, I must be loving it, because I’m still doing it! And I always was a pretty good multi-tasker.
This is just a short-term thing for me, though. In the fall, new adventures await, and in fact, there is more to say about the summer, too, but bed is calling. I’ll try to write more soon, but time goes by so fast!
I’ve slept in three different places in four days here in Fort Simpson. I’m bouncing around because the house where I rent a room has had no water for over a month. The sewer lines are fine — we can let water down the drain — but the supply lines froze one day in March. The village maintenance people tried to thaw them, but after pushing their water-pic-snake down 150 feet, it was still frozen. So, I started hauling empty bottles to work and filling them with water to use at home. I can’t tell you how many times I turned on the kitchen faucet just to exclaim, “right! No water!”
Not having a toilet is the biggest problem. We really take flushing for granted! When faced with what to do about my waste, I am surprised how frustrated I got. Initially, I lined the toilet bowl with a garbage bag and used that for a couple of days. It worked okay. When it was full, I pulled it out and tied it up… now what!?! I knew it shouldn’t just go in the garbage — I took a composting course in February that taught me a lot about microbes — so I thought I would just take it to the sewage treatment plant. And then a rare vindictive streak came out — I could take it to the village office and say, “um, what should I do with this? You take it.” Yikes.
Obviously, I didn’t actually do that. I adapted and found other places to use the washroom. I showered at the firehall, which has just enough hot water for a short shower. I got a larger water bottle for transporting the blessed wet stuff. I made sure I used the toilet before heading home from work. What else can you do? The toilet took about 10 L of water to flush! So I did it rarely.
Human waste. It’s yucky. A friend of mine said that in second-world countries, people have learned to flush with far less water. If you throw it down the bowl, forcefully, it will flush with as little as one litre. So I tried it, with about 1.5 litres. It worked! But it must have been beginner’s luck, because as our time without water went on, I tried several more times and I could never quite make it work. Once, I splashed pee-water all over myself and the bathroom. That was my low point.
I wish I could say I was all zen about the situation: that I accepted what was, gracefully, but really, I didn’t. I was frustrated. I mean, I live in Canada. This should not happen in Canada. Yet I knew it did — last year in Wrigley, perhaps as many as a third of all houses had frozen pipes. But they don’t have underground sewer lines. Everyone uses tank water — a tank for good water, and a tank for sewage (and grey water — anything that goes down the drains). Trucks come by periodically and fill or empty the tanks as needed. But in a place with normal plumbing, I just couldn’t believe this was happening. Yes, I know I’m in the North, but it wasn’t even close to -40 C when it happened.
And it went on and on. The village made some visible efforts in the early days, and then they seemed to forget about us. Later, I heard there were quite a few houses in town that were having the same problem. So, the two maintenance guys ran from place to place, not quite hunkering down at any one house to fix the problem. I don’t think they are terribly inept, just mildly so. I made them cinnamon buns to thank them for their hard work — they had promised a temporary solution would be in place and I thought I wouldn’t be seeing them any more — but it never worked. I guess garden hoses aren’t what they used to be.
Are any of you noticing my awful jaded tone? As I said, I’m not proud of it. I would much rather remember Fort Simpson as the amazing island in the summer, with the ageless water of the Mackenzie River flowing eternally by. It is so peaceful in the evening, and evening just goes on and on. The community garden is an abundance of growth, vegetables, and glorious weeds — some of the best natural remedies!! I have seen the northern lights more times than I can count, and life-changing aurora a couple of times. So, I guess I have the Fort Simpson aurora to thank if I’ve changed! ;)
I’m changing my tune, and that’s important, because I’ll be leaving Fort Simpson soon. I don’t want to go out on an unhappy, frustrated note; I want to leave on a lovely song! My honey and I have some amazing opportunities coming up (which I’ll talk about soon in another post), so it is time to go. I’ll miss this northern land, with its helpful, genuine people. Sure, it’s not perfect — there’s a lot of drinking, a bit of price gouging, and the coldest, darkest winters I’ve ever experienced — but for me, it’s also an oasis of snow, a candle in a dark window, and an incredible pocket of friends.
**If you are in Simpson, please come out to my farewell potluck tomorrow, Sunday, Apr 13, starting at 4:00 pm at the Firehall. :) **
Do you think people are crazy to want to live in something so small?
Do you wonder how they manage to live with so little stuff?
Do you wonder why on Earth they do it?
Maybe you think you know why people do it:
– because they can’t afford “a real house.”
– because they want to live like a hippie.
– because they like small spaces.
– because they want to be mobile — not tied down.
– because they want to live with a smaller footprint on the Earth.
– because they want to live simply.
Now, obviously, I can’t help but add my own feelings about why tiny houses are so cool. I particularly like the last 2, but I also should say that I think tiny houses are a direct response to the hugeness of modern houses — some are positively ridiculous! Unless you are housing 25 members of your family, it just doesn’t make sense to build such a mansion (in my opinion). So, for fun, I have taken some big houses and divided them up into triplexes. Why not? They are certainly big enough for three families, and with a few extra walls and another entrance or two, it is pretty easy to do.
The other reason some people like tiny houses is so that they can actually own the house they live in. Some like the DIY aspect — to build your own house with your own two hands holds huge appeal. Some people are striving for a simpler life — wouldn’t you love it if your weekly housecleaning took a total of 5 minutes? Some want to live lightly — with less possessions, less obligations, less of an impact on the planet. Today, I stumbled on Leo Babauta’s this zenhabits article on living lightly. I thought this might add some insight into tiny house living.
Well, it wasn’t at all about houses, but it did give me plenty of insight. It starts with a quote by Eckhart Tolle:
Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it. ~Eckhart Tolle
Wow, that alone would change everything about how you approach your day, wouldn’t it?
Leo’s main point is this: think of nothing as either good or bad. Stop judging, and stop expecting.
Regarding judging: “When you stop judging things as either good or bad, you are no longer burdened by the emotions of the judgement, and can live lighter, freer.”
Hmmm… that strikes a chord with tiny living, being lighter and freer.
Regarding expectation: “When people disappoint you, it’s not their fault. They’re just being who they are. Your expectations are at fault.”
My expectations are at fault? Could it be true? Oh yeah, that’s totally it. All the time.
“But why make this change? … Because judgements stop us from understanding, and can ruin our happiness. When we judge, we don’t seek to understand — we’ve already come to a conclusion. If we stop judging, we allow ourselves to try to understand, and then we can take a much smarter course of action, because we’re better informed by our understanding.”
Well, I’ve never lived in a multi-million dollar house, but it seems to me that a lot of judging is going on. People are constantly trying to appear better than their neighbours. It’s not just “keeping up with the Joneses” anymore. We want to seem happier and healthier as well as wealthier.
I think tiny houses let people give up on all that. There is no more keeping up. The tiny house is in a class all its own, and other tiny house owners aren’t interesting in judging, because they would much rather understand and learn. Maybe they have more scientist in them — a curiosity about life, an interest in living smarter, and a desire to live life to the fullest.
So, let’s not judge someone else’s choice of house. Let’s try to understand, instead. The same goes for others’ life decisions. Everyone has reasons — complex, unexpected, interesting reasons — for doing what they do. And, they have every right to do whatever they want without messing up your opinion of them, just because of your expectations. Live and let live, eh?
A Bit of a Rant, Some Free Money-Making World-Changing Ideas, and How I Think Our Economy Needs to Fundamentally Change
We fought the Nazis, and Communists and the cold war. Lately, we fight the war on terror and the war on drugs. We, as a people, like to fight against things, it seems. I wonder if ever since we didn’t have to work all day just to find or grow food to eat, and life got a lot easier, we felt a little guilty for having it so good. So, we started looking for ways to make life harder, for things to fight against.
As a people, we have such huge potential. We are not happy to sit on our laurels — not for more than a well-deserved vacation or two a year. So we keep ourselves busy, and for many middle-class, first world people, this is by attempting to maintain a larger-than-life lifestyle — huge houses, several vehicles, jobs jobs jobs to make money money money to pay for bills bills bills. Oh, and toys. And entertainment. But we spin our tires a lot and don’t really accomplish much or get very many useful things done.
And by “useful,” I mean we don’t grow food. We don’t purify water. We don’t create clean electricity. We just eat food, drink water and use energy of all sorts, so we can work work work, money money money, bills bills bills.
But this should not be surprising, because like the adage says, “money makes the world go round.” (This isn’t true, by the way. The world goes around because the whole solar system was spinning when it was formed… but I digress.) We live in a capitalist society, so it’s up to companies to hire people to do things — make things, move things — and make a profit doing it, so that the economy is strong and people are able to do what they want and have happy, prosperous lives.
Sure, you bet. It works, sorta. In the background is the struggle against various things, because we like a challenge and we definitely don’t think everything can be easy or good all the time. Quite a few of those companies make products and support the various “wars” and make quite a bit of money from them, which is great because it keeps the economy going strong. Always, we have to keep that economy moving, because if we stop working on it for a moment, it could collapse again, immediately.
Except that there are more and more people all the time, and they need food to eat, water to drink, and clothes to wear, so it makes me think that actually, the economy is not in danger of collapse, as some would say, but it might have to do a bit of a metamorphosis.
Metamorphosis, for those who can’t quite recall high school biology, is the process whereby a caterpillar spins itself a cocoon and emerges later to become a butterfly. It’s got to be terribly awkward and tricky for the caterpillar, but once it’s in, a natural process kicks in and converts chubby worminess into a slender body with wings. I think that’s what our economy needs — to go into a cocoon for a while and emerge with a new purpose, a new form, and wings — an altogether new mode of operation.
And I don’t think I’m crazy. I wonder what would happen if we could convert our paradigm from one of consuming resources, to one of protecting them. We may never get over our human nature and the desire to have a struggle, and we may also never decide or find a way to leave capitalism behind. But we have such incredible potential — such capacity to accomplish things! Have you seen any of the “Biggest” series on Discovery Channel? Biggest equipment, biggest ships, biggest mining equipment, biggest buildings, bridges and towers. We make islands, launch satellites into orbit, and have built a space station that people live on 24/7/365… We do some truly epic stuff!
– So why couldn’t a monster petroleum company partner up with a monster ship builder to create a boat — almost a floating island — that scoops up all that waste plastic in the ocean and, on the spot, converts it into useful products: vinyl siding for houses, plastic roof panels, durable reusable storage bins, etc. (That idea is free, by the way, so please run with it.)
– Why couldn’t a biotech company come up with a way of removing the microplastic from the ocean.
– We could use some epic engineering to create massive air filters to remove aerosols and dusts that are making air quality worse.
– We could have compost facilities alongside every dump in the country. They would reduce landfill size, methane production, and create wonderful, healthy soil. Even biosolids (from waste processing facilities) can be composted.
– Some of the really big power companies are welcome to run with my idea of a run-of-the-river hydroelectricity generator that uses turbines mounted on the river bottom. The current turns them, and they would be undamaged by ice or debris year round. This would work especially well on large rivers (Peace River, Mackenzie River). No need to build dams that cause so much damage to the landscape.
– Would it be completely crazy to say that the health industry might benefit from studying more intensely what makes people healthy, rather than all the many ways people can be sick?
– Why not make health care available to all people who need it, and let the ones who are terminally ill go? It’s in our nature to hang on to life so tightly! But I think we can all agree that extending life when it is full of pain is not what anybody wants.
The interesting thing about this metamorphosis is that we don’t have to give up money, or plastic, or progress. We just need to realize that money doesn’t make the world go round, because in our current mode of operation, it’s making the world go bad. Life makes the world go round, and we have been using and abusing life a little too much. We could harness our intelligence, our technical savvy, our problem-solving abilities and even our capitalism, to clean up the planet, to grow real, healthy food, to make our world a healthy place to live.
It used to be perfectly acceptable to throw trash out your station wagon windows; now, we know better and don’t do it. People used to dump raw sewage into rivers; now, we would never dream of doing that. It used to be acceptable to buy things individually wrapped in three layers of plastic; now, we know better and we look for more earth-friendly packaging. We used to buy potatoes grown half-way across the continent; now, we know that we can grow oodles of potatoes locally and do it with no pesticides.
– We are lucky in the north, because it’s too cold for potato bugs. So why aren’t we growing more of the world’s potatoes? (Another free idea, so go for it!)
I hope someday we can say: People working for big companies used to do unscrupulous, harmful things just to pay out more to the shareholders; now, the shareholders would never put up with any practice that harmed people or the planet! How ridiculous!
No more profit for the sake of profit. No more making money while abusing the environment. Why not make money saving it, and spend the profit on improving things even more?
We, as a human race, are capable of so much. Let’s deliberately step off the treadmill of consumerism and get on with simply living, creating more green spaces and — importantly — enjoying them with an optimistic heart and a hopeful frame of mind. Let’s start being smarter about how we use our resources and put all of our energy into making sure everyone has food and water and fixing the mistakes we’ve made on the planet. It’s not that hard. We can do it.
Time for another top ten! This time, it’s signs I might be a little bit tired from working night shifts!
Now, don’t get me wrong. I love my job! But, the 12-hour night shifts do occasionally get to me a little… :)
10. I drove home all the way on the highway in 4th gear. The Pathfinder has 5 gears, I just forgot to shift that last time, and didn’t even notice how high the revs were.
9. I wrote January on something in March.
8. I have been forgetting to brush my teeth, more often than I’d like to admit.
7. I can’t listen to the radio on the drive home; it’s just too distracting. I need all my concentration to drive.
6. I get very heavy eyelids, crossed eyes, and seriously risk falling asleep if I don’t drive with anything to help me keep awake. The solution: singing along with my favourite songs on my iPhone.
5. When I get home, I just can’t seem to park in the right spot. Day after day, I end up a little too far forward, then too far left, then too far back, then too far right… (One time, I almost backed into the house!)
4. I have difficulty getting my front door open. Hand-eye co-ordination not working so well.
3. After putting PJ’s on, I just cannot bear to put my clothes away properly. They lie in a crumpled heap on the floor for a few days until I can face them.
2. The day after I did some laundry, I discover that I forgot to take a third of the pile or so. Just plain forgot. So I have to do a small load so that it’s all done.
… and the number 1 reason I know I’m waaaay too tired after a night shift:
1. Just can’t talk. Words not forming. Can’t think of the word. Can’t think. Can’t… what?
With the glow of the Sochi Olympics fading, we recall the highlights, the winners, the exultant moments! There are too many to list, but I’m sure you have a few of your favourites in mind. I watched my share of it, which is saying a lot, since I don’t usually watch TV.
You know what struck me the most, as it does every time I watch the Olympics? The incredible composure some of those athletes have. Sure, they are in their prime physically, but I daresay, they are also masters of their mental state as well.
Speaking of masters of their mental state — and inspiring overachievers — I’m reading Col. Chris Hadfield’s book An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth. I haven’t finished it yet, so don’t tell me how it ends, okay? Here’s an interesting part about attitude.
In spaceflight, “attitude” refers to orientation: which direction your vehicle is pointing relative to the Sun, Earth and other spacecraft. If you lose control of your attitude, two things happen: the vehicle starts to tumble and spin, disorienting everyone on board, and it also strays from its course, which, if you’re short on time or fuel, could mean the difference between life and death…
In my experience, something similar is true on earth. Ultimately, I don’t determine whether I arrive at the desired professional destination. Too many variables are out of my control. There’s really just one thing I can control: my attitude during the journey, which is what keeps me feeling steady and stable, and what keeps me headed in the right direction. So I consciously monitor and correct, if necessary, because losing attitude would be far worse than not achieving my goal. – Col. Chris Hadfield
So, it follows that if I keep a watch on my attitude, I will not tumble out of control, feel disoriented, or stray from my course. I will be on track, feel like I am making progress, and have more overall contentment and lightheartedness. As Chris says, it is more important to maintain attitude than achieve a goal.
A lot of goal-setting, performance-oriented, time-management, efficiency-optimization shtick came out of the late 80’s and 1990’s. This was the heyday of books like How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey. I’m not saying those aren’t good books, but I feel like the collective personal development mindset focused on achieving goals and nothing was said about attitude. And yet your attitude is the key! You can be happy even when you haven’t met all your goals, and you can look at life as an adventure rather than an obstacle course to conquer.
So let’s start a new wave where attitude is everything! I often lay in bed for a few minutes before getting up, just to check my attitude. I would rather go about my day cheerful and grateful, wouldn’t you? The world needs less grumpy people! As Chris Hadfield says, “losing attitude is far worse than not achieving my goal.” Would the world stop spinning if we all just tossed our goals out a window — or put them on the back burner — and started enjoying life? I think not. :)
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.
And 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.
When 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?
(click for larger versions)
(Yes, they are rather scribbly… sorry!)