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 Simpsonโ€ฆ” 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

Like a Game of Bejewelled

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We can learn so much about ourselves by how we live, work and play. Since I got my new phone, I’ve been playing quite a bit of Bejewelled, and it makes me wonder if how I play indicates something about how I live.

**Oddly Specific Alert!** If you’ve never played Bejewelled, this post is not going to make much sense. Try it free online here first and then you’ll be able to follow me. (another link)

I like to play in the bottom half of the board, and allow the top jewels to fall down as I play, making lots of extra combinations. I love it when the Deep Voice says “excellent, awesome” and “spectacular,” even though all those extra combinations are pure luck. I particularly love how he says “spectacular” as if he really means it! I enjoy benefitting from the bonuses I don’t have to work for. Does this make me lazy? Maybe.

I really don’t like playing in the top half, or playing for specific combinations with a detailed strategy. I find there are too many random things — or jewel-actions I don’t understand — that when I try to line up certain combinations, it doesn’t usually work out very well anyway. I think this just confirms for me that I’m not a major control freak; if you try to plan every move, to get the most combinations of the best special jewels, it is a lot of effort and not always successful, just like in life.

hand playing Bejewelled on an iPhoneThere is one strategy I enjoy using, however. When the jewels are set up so that I have a choice between making a horizontal set of 3 or a vertical set, I prefer to make a horizontal set. Making vertical sets causes a lot of new jewels to fall in from above in such a way that I can’t wrap my brain around. Horizontal sets are nice because the jewels just fall down one space, and I can easily set up a few combination moves, or just enjoy the jewels falling and see what new possibilities arise.

Although the new jewels that appear are random, there is no question that how I move the jewels around to make combinations affects the position of the remaining jewels. What I do greatly affects the board, just as it is in life — what I do greatly affects my surroundings, although in life, what I think about and my overall attitude affect my environment greatly as well, which I haven’t seen to be the case, exactly, in Bejewelled.

I am definitely not one to plan a whole bunch of moves ahead. This is true in life, too. I feel best when I have a short-term plan, for a day or two in advance, but I don’t need or want to have a lot of plans for years from now. In fact, my honey and I have never had any sort of long term plan until this year, and wouldn’t you know it, a couple of months after hatching the plan, it changed anyway! So, we’re back to taking life as it comes — playing the jewels we have, making the best combinations we can without obsessing about the score or the level we achieve.

Of all the variations of Bejewelled, my favourite is the “Zen” mode. I like having no time limit to the levels, and although I could play slowly, I find I usually make combinations quite quickly. I don’t mind Blitz or the Original, but the timelessness of Zen is the best for me. I tried “Diamond Mine” and found it fun, but I had to change my strategy a lot to keep the combinations working along the bottom. There’s considerably more planning and watching what colour of combo is needed.

So, do you play with a similar strategy? Can you learn something about yourself by how you play whatever game you like to play? It’s fun to think about, isn’t it? ๐Ÿ™‚

Life is Not a Movie

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June trailThe other day, while walking on a beautiful forest trail, I suddenly thought “this would make a nice scene in a movie.” The thought was so out-of-the-blue, it really struck me. I had been thinking about what the North was like before pharmaceuticals, how people truly lived off the land. They used the plants that grow naturally to cure things that bothered them. They learned what plants helped what problems by trial and error, and by following their intuition, and the knowledge was passed down verbally from one person to another. I was completely focused on nature, which is why the thought about movies was so surprising, and, of course, it got me thinking about media.

I wonder how much of the time we relate our real lives to things we see on film and on TV. How often do we compare our lives to the glamour we see on screen, and feel unsatisfied or inadequate? How often do we think about what we look like from the outside, or how our situation must look? I think we do it all the time, sub-consciously. We are all like Abed from the show Community, we just don’t say it out loud. And I just did it again.

Go back in time (like Michael J. Fox), in your mind (it’s such a beautiful one) and imagine a time before there were movies, TV or the internet. Think of Little House on the Prairie. See how it goes? By just mentioning shows or actors you know, I can very quickly get us all on the same page and go from there. Starting with the obvious things, before there was TV, people never thought about getting home in time for a show, or recording it, or when the next episode will be or what might happen. They never shopped for a new TV or a flatscreen. They never thought about bandwidth or usage. There was no Hollywood and they never thought about what the stars were doing. They just went about living their lives — okay, they might have listened to the radio! — and they never talked about something they’d watched with their family or friends. They must have talked about other things.

Think of how much we refer to media in conversation. We do it to make analogies so that we understand each other. A friend recommended I watch Warm Bodies. It’s a love story about a young-man-zombie who falls in love with a normal twenty-something girl. He saves her life and cares for her, and she gradually starts to like him, too. As a result, he comes back to life and starts a biological/spiritual movement that sweeps through the zombie world, causing lots of others to remember their humanity and come back to life. It’s a great story, and because my friend and I shared the experience (even though we didn’t watch it together, we can talk about it now), we have all sorts of great zombie jokes and references.

It all seems harmless until we think about the deeper consequences. Watching a lot of media makes us think of our lives as if they were movies. We want to be entertained, informed, or get caught up in the drama, like when we watch media. We subconsciously expect everything we do to fall into one of those categories. We think of our life as it if had a plot. We hope there’s a happy ending. We want our love lives to be full of romance, and we want our vacations to be glamourous. We love hanging out with that funny friend of ours because he makes us laugh. If one day he goes through a tragedy and isn’t funny any more, we don’t know how to relate.

I wonder if too much media might make us seem less vibrant, more shallow. Comparing our lives with movies or TV can lead to discontentment. Of course, it’s not all bad if it gives us jokes and helps us relate. But if we need media to relate to one another we’re in trouble. I have an acquaintance that watches very different things than I do (I’m almost completely off-TV as it is), so it can be a challenge to find something to talk about. When we do find something, however, we have great, meaningful conversations — much deeper than which shows are good and which aren’t worth the time.

Another thing to consider is this: how would you cope without any media? Would you be able to have conversations with others? How would you keep yourself entertained or spend your time in general? Would it be so bad if you didn’t watch the news? You know I love making you think, and that’s really all I am doing in this post.

Living in the North

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I’ve never been so happy to see green hose in my life. You see, I didn’t have any water running at the airport where I work, due to the sewage tank being full — as a sensible precaution, all power to the water pump is turned off when the sewer tank is full to prevent overflowing. So, sewage full, no water. Everyone in Wrigley, NWT, where I am living right now, has water and sewage tanks, which can cause some inconvenience at times. Yesterday, I ran out of water, because I left the toilet on, and it runsโ€ฆ which means, clean water runs directly into the sewage tank, performing a double-whammy — water tank empty, sewage tank full. This is my life!

I love living in the North. I really feel like I can say I’m “in the North now,” being north of 60. Northern Alberta, especially High Level, is pretty far north, but it still has essentially all the services and conveniences of a bigger city. Here, we wait for services and don’t even remember what conveniences are! Everything is more challenging because we can’t just run out and buy what we need from a store in 30 minutes or less and the buffer of distance separates us from the outside world.

People are closer here, in part because we need to rely on each other. The realities of living are harder here, and it is not uncommon to share things with and borrow things from your neighbour when you need to. Yes, it is cold, snowy and dark; but these facts are nothing to complain about — everyone simply adapts. We bundle up against the cold, play in the snow and manage without much sun.

I feel as though life is more precious here. People value each other more because we are scarce — there is so much wilderness between settlements, we appreciate seeing one another. In cities, I find everyone is frustrated with all the people around them (but perhaps this is only my impression). Life isn’t precious because there is so much of it — it’s everywhere. Just as with any other type of scarcity, when there’s less of something around, we value it more, and I see that in how quick people are to chat with total strangers, how interested they are in your life and how they make eye contact, shake hands and always nod “hello.”

My dad once said I had the unique gift to be able to talk to anybody. I guess he’s right; I can chat with a lawyer or professional as easily as a teenage kid or native elder. This gift is coming in handy here, as I often get visitors to the airport asking when the next plane will be in because they need to send something out or pick someone up off the plane. It’s nice to chat with them, and get to know them a little.

I really truly like it here, and if you’ve heard horror stories about Wrigley, think again. It is a nice place, and although it may have a rougher side, I haven’t really seen it. Maybe this is just more proof that you get what you think about, see what you go looking for, and manifest what you expect. My latest mantra/affirmation is “all my interactions with people are positive and uplifting,” so how can life be any other way? ๐Ÿ™‚

Living Close to Death

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I am a volunteer fire fighter. There is nothing quite like going on a call and making a difference in an emergency situation to crystallize some things in life. I get amazing perspective and find that all the little stuff — dishes undone, messy living room, home renovations — regain their place of insignificance in my life and all the big stuff — my loving husband, my sweet cat, my health — comes back into focus in the place of appreciation they belong.

In some ways, I wish I could recommend everyone join a volunteer fire department or other emergency service in order to share in my insights! Of course, this isn’t practical, however, my sister is considering joining her local volunteer FD, which really got me thinking about what is so great about it.

Being an emergency responder forces me to slow down. Fire fighters can’t be in a panic — we aim to be the most level-headed ones on the scene. Although I am not literally slowing down, I am slowing down the processes and the steps I have to take in order to be sure I do them right. I do my best to keep my breathing slow and make sure I have the tools in hand for the job I need to do (or am preparing to do).

Living closer to death makes life more precious. This is a universal truth, I believe, and one safe and helpful way to live closer to death is by helping in emergencies. By facing death, either in helping extricate someone from a smashed vehicle or by dousing flames or even going inside a burning building, my zest for life is renewed! My priorities in life are refocused and I am happier. I think many doctors and nurses may feel the same.

Although some situations we have to deal with are hard, most have happy endings. Often, we are able to save a house by working quickly to contain the flames. In other cases, we lose the house on fire, but are able to save the ones beside it. In MVAs, we help keep the road situation safe by stopping traffic and giving medical aid to the victims. Sometimes, we truly are the difference between life and death when someone is trapped in a smashed car. Even when there is a less-happy ending, we have still made a difference. Without emergency service workers of any kind, our society would be more ruthless, like the middle ages.

Facing death makes you realize that people can’t always be saved. Our time here is limited, so if there is something I want to say to someone, I had better do it now. If there is a grudge I feel tempted to hold, I must drop it now. If I were to go next, how would my loved ones feel? Have I lived my life to the fullest? What am I waiting for?

I think ultimately, being on the fire department has helped me learn to control my thinking. I have to force myself to stay calm, think ahead, think of the safety of those around me, and stay in the moment. There’s no time for mind wandering when you’re responding to an emergency! Perhaps that is the best part of all — being fully in the moment, being alive, and making a difference.

First Impressions of Wrigley, NWT

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I arrived in Wrigley yesterday afternoon and loved it immediately! I don’t think it had anything to do with the last twenty minutes of the flight being turbulent and my boss and I being gently tossed like la salad-du-jour. We chartered at Cessna 172 to fly us from Fort Simpson to Wrigley, a total flight time of about an hour for a plane of that type, depending on the wind. Yesterday, it was a tail wind for us, but it still tossed us around plenty as we came over the ridge, very much as our pilot, Serge, predicted it would. He let me fly for a while in the middle of the flight, and I had a tiny bit of turbulence, which was fun! We had the plane loaded pretty heavily, although not at its capacity, Serge assured us. I told him as we started to taxi, “if you think we are overweight, say so now and we’ll stop!” But no, he assured me, we were alright. My boss and I are both pretty slim, plus I had packed light — heck, I didn’t even really take all that much to Fort Simpson in the first place — but as it was, I had overestimated the size of a Cessna 172. It had room for 2 in the front, 2 behind, and then a “trunk” space about the size of the foot-well in my car. Serge, however, was not new to this game and really knew how to get the most out of the plane’s overall volume. We had to leave a total of 5 items behind, one being my bag of knitting stuff and another being my cooler, filled with frozen meat.

There is no store in Wrigley. Well, that isn’t entirely true. There is a very small store with limited stock, open for limited hours in the middle of the day (while I am at work). It may or may not only take cash — leave your plastic at home. You can leave your cell at home too, because the nearest cell service is about 120 km away, as the crow flies. I had wondered if there might be a tiny pocket of cell service, from perhaps a single tower, but no. That is the case for Fort Simpson, a village of about 1200 people, so a mini-village of 170 or so doesn’t even have a chance. Cell towers aren’t cheap, so no cell company would put one up in a place where they’d never make that money back. But I digress.

Wrigley, NT (NWT) Terminal buildingI absolutely fell in love with the terminal building the moment I saw it. It is so cute, well-maintained, and the CARS station is raised above ground level. It’s like the world’s smallest air traffic control tower, and I love it! The station itself was neat, tidy, sunny and warm. It had a nice, cheerful feeling to it, and I took to the place like a fish to water. My boss and I only had about an hour to spend before our ride came to get us, so we went through some of the paperwork left out, exclaiming how great it was that the keys we had brought worked perfectly and everything was coming together so smoothly. I didn’t tell him that things always go smoothly for me (but I think he is starting to see that)! I started checking out the radio equipment, wind instruments and altimeter. I was so excited!

The main reason I was there, and indeed the reason we had to fly in, was because the ice road had closed due to spring break up. As I mentioned in my last post, this doesn’t mean the ice was dramatically moving, but simply unsafe for crossing. So, Wrigley became a strictly fly-in community, and as such, it was more important than usual to have someone working in the CARS station to provide current weather observations and information for pilots inbound. The next day, just after I sent my second weather observation out on the internet, the phone rang.

“Wrigley Airport Radio,” I answered the phone. Man, it’s going to take me awhile to get used to saying that.
“You saw my weather, did you?”
Yeah, it’s awesome!” It was a man at Simpson Air, clearly tickled pink.
“Well, I’m glad you appreciate it”
“Oh, Teresa you have no idea!”

That made me smile, on the inside and the outside. I’m not sure I can describe how happy I feel being here. I will be staffing a one-person station. I have full run of the place, can do my own thing, keep the place exactly as I want, and enjoy its cozy, sunny view. The station faces the Mackenzie River, which is down the bank from the flat the airport is on, only about a quarter of a mile away. The runway is really just along the river! The river itself isn’t visible, due to being down the bank, but one day I plan to walk to the edge and enjoy the view. Across the river there is a lovely mountain range, starting about 4 miles away with Table Mountain and stretching off to the southwest to a distance of about 35 miles. The hills are high enough to be bare rock (and snow) at the top, and their white tops make me smile too! I have always enjoyed topography, perhaps because I grew up on the prairies, so mountains and foothills still hold a romantic attraction for me. They speak to my adventurous spirit, and they are so beautiful, my heart can’t help but smile when I see them. So, I am in a lovely spot, pretty close to the middle of nowhere, at 63 degrees North, and I love it. There is a second mountain range to the east as well, and foothills that are only about a mile away. Around my home and the airport, there is a healthy mixed forest, with two types of spruce (from what I can tell) and poplar. Some of the evergreens are so windblown, they have a swoopy look to them at the top. I haven’t seen any birch, but maybe they are there somewhere.
Camsell Range, the edge of the Rocky Mountains, Wrigley, NT
My living quarters are about 3 km south of the airport, which is itself about 1 km south of the village. We flew over the village as we were on approach to land, and wow, it sure is small. Wrigley doesn’t look like many towns and villages where the early settlers cut down every tree to build their house or burn for firewood — they have lots of trees standing. No roads are paved up here, and Wrigley is actually the end of the all-season road that is the Mackenzie Highway. Farther on from Wrigley, winter roads are built to Tulita and Norman Wells, but these have been closed for several weeks. (From Fort Simpson on, the Mackenzie Highway is all gravel, I believe. From the Highway 3 turnoff (to Yellowknife) the road is mostly paved with gravel sections. I think. When I came up, it was basically compact snow, and from what others told me, I have no right complaining about it (remember 2 posts ago?) because it only got worse once it warmed up.) I know, it doesn’t seem like a gravel road should be called a highway, but it is! It’s wider than a typical country road, but yup, it’s gravel.

I have a house trailer all to myself to live in! It is not particularly new, but it’s in very good repair. The last people to stay here, apparently, were women, so when we walked in, it was spic and span! What a nice sight to see! There were only a few coffee cups left in the sink to wash. The kitchen is quite well-supplied — I was worried there wouldn’t be any frying pans or dishes — and I have everything I need. I bought a Brita to filter the water, which is, like so many northern places, stored in a tank in the porch. There is a pump to keep the line pressure up, and the tub faucet leaks a little, so the pump goes on for about a second about every 3 minutes or so. It’s easy to just turn it off at night, though, and then it’s very peaceful here. This morning, my boss ran out of water twice — once because the breaker for the pump kicked off, and once because the pump overheated. So, I skipped the shower. I had one tonight and had the pump kick off right as I was starting to rinse my hair! Gads! But, before I could get out, all soapy and naked and run to the breaker panel, the pump came back on so I knew it had only overheated. Yay! It cut out once more and I had to wait a minute or so, but I managed to rinse off and finish the shower. I think tomorrow, I will try closing opening the window near the pump to vent it better and hopefully it won’t overheat. The furnace and all appliances work good, and the fridge was even spotless! No sticky gross stuff in the bottom of the crisper drawers! I am so impressed.

I live in what the locals call “the highways camp.” It is a fenced-in area where the NWT government keeps the snowplow, grader, a shop and various other equipment. There are three house trailers in the yard, one of which is empty, and then I have one and Albert has one. He is the highway and airport maintainer — the man who runs the grader to keep the road in good shape. As far as I can tell, he does an excellent job! I met him yesterday and he seems very nice. The yard sort of reminds me of home, as it’s a bit like a farm yard with tractors, tires, piles of wood, etc, scattered about. Apparently, there are quite a few bears around, but when my boss and I went for a walk along the highway last night, we didn’t see any. I have bear spray which I will not go walking without. Albert has a dog, too, so I might ask if I can take it with me. ๐Ÿ™‚ It looks quite cute but a bit forlorn, so I think it would love to go on a walk. Not tonight, though. It is almost bed time and although I slept awesomely well — it is a talent to be able to sleep almost anywhere? — I am ready for bed. Maybe it’s the Micheal Logozar album I am listening to, getting me all relaxed! It could also be that I’ve been on day shifts for 5 days now, so I’m used to getting up early and going to bed early. Which brings me to my last point, and one thing that makes working in Wrigley so great. It is strictly day shifts, no nights, and it is a short 8 hours, compared to 12 in Fort Simpson. Can you believe it?!? I feel like I have won the lottery! A cozy, sunny place to work, with a great view, in the North, and I don’t even have to work shift work. Monday to Friday, 8 to 4. Wow, I am in heaven!

Oh geez. I thought it was mildly funny that I was going to be saying “Wrigley Airport Radio.” But man, what is someone from Wrigley called? A Wrigley-ite? A Wriglean? A Wrigler? LOL ๐Ÿ™‚

Las Vegas!!

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I haven’t blogged lately due to lots of travelling! It’s been great! We attended Steve Pavlina’s Conscious Growth Workshop in Las Vegas, then rented a car and drove around California visiting some friends (and meeting new people). Then, we drove back to Las Vegas for one last night — a fun one! — and flew home the next day.

What an amazing conference! The energy and excitement was palpable as soon as we rounded the corner to the lobby outside the conference room! The people I met there were some of the most amazing, conscious, aware, loving people I’ve ever met. There was sizzling electricity-like connection with a few of them, and a nice genuine, instant-friend connection with others. They are people who look you in the eye when you talk to them, who are careful listeners and concerned about me and where I need to grow, and I in turn, was able to do the same for others. Steve taught us all the principles in his book, Personal Growth for Smart People, which I hadn’t had the chance to read.

His idea, after a lot of research and reading what some other personal growth people had to say, is that all areas of our growth can be boiled down into a 3-part model, Truth, Love, and Power, which he illustrates on the points on a triangle. Along the sides, there is Oneness (between Love and Truth), Courage (between Love and Power), and Authority (between Power and Truth). We evaluated each area of our life on paper, then reviewed it with another person for feedback on how we were doing, and how we could better accomplish our goals. Steve and his presentations along with the amazing conference attendees made for a great workshop. I was a little sad when it was over, but I’ll be keeping in touch with many of my new friends.

Las Vegas itself was an interesting place! It seems everyone I talk to has already been, so I’ll skip over most of my initial observations. I made my own triangle for Las Vegas, which is Big, Loud, and Bright. Some things are Big and Loud, some Big and Bright, others Bright and Loud. ๐Ÿ™‚ There are people standing all along the street, mostly men, handing out “business cards” for girls (escorts, I suppose), and we wondered how those men are paid. Is it by the number of cards they give out? I thought we should call for a girl, and once she came to the hotel room, sit her down and ask her a bunch of questions about how it works and what it’s like to be a call girl. We didn’t do it, but now I wish we had! Sexuality certainly seems more in-your-face in Las Vegas than in most places… I’m not sure why exactly. I think it goes back to the origin of the city, something I’d like to research.

That’s all for now… I don’t have the pictures off my camera yet (I’m not even home yet, just have some time and internet access). I’ll post again soon!

Okay, as promised: Pictures of Las Vegas (click for larger versions)!

The view from our hotel window. We could both see and hear the fountain show at The Bellagio, which was always impressive. ๐Ÿ™‚
View down the strip
Another view of the strip, this one showing the huge poster for Human Nature, a concert I went to see on my last night there. They were *awesome!*
This view shows the place we stayed, Bill's Gambling Hall & Saloon. ๐Ÿ˜€
Not quite so glitzy in the day time, eh? ๐Ÿ™‚ This is the view out our window also. The Eiffel tower is pretty cool!

My one main regret is not taking any pictures at the conference itself, of all my new friends! I had planned to do that on the last day, but forgot the camera in the hotel room. Oh well. ๐Ÿ™‚

Celebrating Life

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Today has been an amazing day. Darren and I went to Willie’s funeral today.

I didn’t know Willie directly, but I’ve heard of him lots. He helped out at a couple of the organizations I volunteer with, donating his time and equipment to spray paint some bookshelves, for example. He owned and operated a painting business that painted anything and everything, but mostly interiors. He was known around town to be very helpful, always willing to donate time or help someone out. He was active in his church, and the pastor kept saying how he loved the church, and the people in it. His impact on the community was evident in the number of people there — around 400, we figured, which in a town of less than 4,000 is a lot! (That would be like over 100,000 people showing up for a funeral in a city of a million.) I know his wife a little, and I’m very good friends with one of her very good friends, so I feel a kinship.

Even though I didn’t really know him, I cried a little. What made me cry? Thinking of how Barb, his wife, must feel. Imagining myself in her place, a new widow. Thinking of how the kids must feel.

Darren and I debated about whether to stay for the fellowship afterwards, and we decided to stay at least a little while. We ended up sitting across from some strangers who turned out to be very nice people, and we chatted quite a while, sharing philosophies on life, how to stay out of a rut, that kind of thing. We also chatted with our neighbours, friends, and people we know around town for various reasons. There was a wonderful feeling of community, and although there was some sadness, it was not completely mournful. After the funeral, the interment, and the luncheon, there was a memorial service, which we didn’t stay for; it had an open-mic component and I am sure it celebrated his life even more.

A page from a photo calendar I made (photo by me).

The truly amazing part happened after we got home. My honey and I sat and talked and talked and talked. We talked a little about what we’d like at our funeral or where to be buried (neither of us is very picky), and then we talked about what we had observed at the funeral, how we felt about it, and what the preacher had talked about and how sometimes we related to it and sometimes not. It was all good, some things we just see differently. We both also noticed how we were easily able to just allow others to have their own funeral experience, and not judge or mentally comment on them. Darren said that it’s quite a change for him and an indication of how comfortable he is in his own skin, and I agree! I have come a long way from the awkward, self-conscious, anxious, fish-out-of-water that I used to be in many social situations. I just wasn’t comfortable.ย  I guess I wasn’t always like that — sometimes, I wonder what my mom thinks when she reads my blog (my dad doesn’t use the computer). Does Mom say “that’s not right!?”ย  I bet my perception of myself is different from others’ view of me… Mom, feel free to comment any time! But I remember feeling quite insecure and fearful of some social situations.

I think some of my uncomfortable feelings were rooted in a deep inability to handle any kind of conflict between differing points of view. I just couldn’t stand the thought of debating with someone about something personal. If someone became too assertive, I just wanted to run. I’m not really like that any more; I enjoy exchanging views with people, especially if they are able to stay calm and logical, although I am also better able to witness/handle other’s raw emotions, even grief. It’s something I’ve learned how to do by necessity because of the volunteering I do. I’m able to put up a little distance between me and the other person and yet stay engaged in the situation — not withdrawing into a shell or wishing I were somewhere else. Sometimes I have to tell myself “you are not a sponge. This emotion/feeling in the air can go right through you” and that helps me somehow. And I never used to think of myself as very empathetic/touchy-feely, since I was so uncomfortable with others’ emotions, but perhaps I’ve grown in that area too.

Anyways, I just wanted to share that little bit. I will be thinking of Willie’s family, and thinking of ways I can help in the coming weeks and months. There are always lots of people around at first, but that tends to drop off, while the grief yet lingers.

Life Without Christmas

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Christmas is fast approaching, isn’t it? The days surrounding Christmas can sure be fun! Crazy. Exciting. Busy. Frantic! But not for me.

I grew up without Christmas. (pause for the shock to sink in) The religion my family belonged to didn’t celebrate it. If you are an old school mate, you might remember what a “weirdo” I was; I didn’t make cardboard jack-o-lanterns at Halloween — it was strictly pumpkins for me. All the trappings of Christmas were stripped of art class — no Santas for me — I made “winter trees” or snowmen. My poor parents had to go to parent-teacher interviews each year and explain the situation. I think it was much harder for my older sister, with her classmates and teachers. At least when I came into the system 2 years later, the teachers remembered my weird sister and would say “oh, yes, we remember the drill. No Santas, no valentines, no Easter bunnies.”

We didn’t have anything to do with these holidays, with Christmas causing the most fuss. Think about it — what do kids talk about for a MONTH at school? Where they are going for Christmas, what they might be getting, the candy, and then in January, for another week, the only topic of conversation is what they got for Christmas. I don’t think the kids who rode the school bus with me were trying to be mean when they asked “what did you get for Christmas?” But my answer stunned them every time: “nothing.” I think some of them thought it was because we were so poor (I wore a lot of hand-me-downs in those days). Kids who weren’t in my class didn’t see the all the other signs I was different than the rest.

I am not bitter for growing up in this different way. My sister and I put up with quite a bit of teasing and shunning; I didn’t have any friends at school until grade 5 or 6. I am very grateful for the kids who did befriend me. Some of the teachers treated my sister and me differently too, besides the basics of being banished to the library during Christmas concert practices. Actually, that was kind of fun, ’cause we had the whole place to ourselves and could run, make noise, and throw paper airplanes.

I survived the school years without any aspect of Christmas. When our religion changed and started to become more main-stream, many people struggled with how to change their thinking and traditions. We had our own traditions and holidays, you see, that were quite meaningful and beautiful. It was as hard to toss them out as it was to accept new ones that had been the source of our rejection, and we’d been criticizing, for all those years. Christmas trees are pagan, phalic symbols, don’t you know!?!

So, it might come as somewhat less of a shock to hear that my husband and I aren’t really doing much for Christmas. We have lights on our house, and some family/friends will get small presents, but we aren’t giving anything to each other. I don’t think we did last year, but we got married at the beginning of December and things were pretty hectic due to that (our wedding was also a small, un-hyped affair). Do you think that strange? Impossible? Crazy? Maybe it is for you, but I think a LOT of what happens at Christmas is pure distraction. Some traditions are lovely and some families do manage to keep it simple, but MOST of the stuff that happens has nothing to do with Jesus (the reason for the season, you know) or family bonding. Never mind the soap-opera-like baloney that goes on among people offending each other, re-offending, being offended, shunning… mostly because of presents or other silly reasons. The stories I hear from some people make my head hurt!

This got me thinking that a lot of what happens in life in general is distraction. I use the radio as a distraction on my drive home, for example. To keep me from thinking about what, I don’t know. TV is a bad culprit for this, and so are books. We enter another world through these media… I wonder what is wrong with the one we’re in? Jobs, tasks, goals, children, hobbies, material things, holidays, traditions, and entertainment are all huge distractions to what we really are. Perhaps you’ve heard the expression: We aren’t human beings on a spiritual journey, but spiritual beings on a human journey.* I think that sums it up nicely.

In the busyness, craziness, and loveliness of this season, please don’t forget that we’re all on this planet to share an experience. Don’t try to control others, just as you hate to be manipulated. Be patient. Love the ones you’re with. ๐Ÿ™‚

* quote attributed to Stephen R. Covey.

Just saw this, and it’s too funny!

Balancing Act

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Major intersection in Beijing, after a snowfall

I still think about China sometimes… the friends I made there, what living in Beijing is like… how they can be so happy in such a crowded, busy place! How they can find time to think or have any serenity! They do it, though… not sure if I could!

Life is such a balancing act, isn’t it? I need enough sleep, but not too much. Enough food, but not too much. I definitely need more exercise, and I don’t think I’m in danger of getting too much, but some people are! A little caffeine is great, but some days, coffee makes me jittery. A little sugar is okay… some vitamins… enough free time, enough work…

What about my mental state? I’ve realized that it’s okay if I’m not happy all the time, but I wouldn’t want to be down and out very often either. A person has to think about money sometimes, but if you start to obsess, that’s going to skew your perspective. I like to be positive, but also a bit skeptical of what I hear — it’s easy to go too far and end up a nervous basket case (which sounds so much better than “paranoid freak,” don’t you think?). I don’t even believe the news on TV, because I think it’s usually over-summarized and often has a slant to it. Finding the balance between taking some things seriously and others with a grain of salt is tricky.

Life naturally has good days and bad, happy and sad, easy and hard, and if it didn’t, it would be like living in a monotone world. I think we all naturally need these contrasts; if you’re dissatisfied with your life, perhaps you have too much of something?
You could be stressed because of too much instability, or bored from too much security. It’s good to avoid certain extremes:

Too much instability Too much security
Too much routine Too much adventure
Too much stuff Too much nothing
Too much money Too much debt
Too much work Too much down time
Too much busyness Too much laziness
Too much loneliness Too much togetherness
Too much freedom Too much religion (or too many social expectations)

Look at the table above — what areas do you immediately relate to? If you think to yourself “well, I certainly don’t have too much adventure” then it’s possible you have too much routine. A balance of both makes for an interesting life! Maybe you immediately realize you have too much stuff… have you thought of getting more nothing? Giving things away, and not buying things you really don’t need? If you recognize you have too much of something, rather than simply decreasing it, try increasing whatever’s in the adjacent column. If you realize you don’t have enough of something, try decreasing whatever’s in the adjacent column.

Also, we all need beauty and creativity in our lives! Make sure you have a creative outlet, whether it’s creative cooking, building, a hobby, music or art.

That’s all for now! Okay, one more China pic!

Nope, it's not daytime. That's a huge LED screen! It's showing dolphins jumping out of the ocean, but it also plays a few other videos, like a space voyage! Wow!