Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Rich Beyond Measure

    This last year I have made a conscious choice to live well below the poverty line. I am lucky, for me it is a choice. Why in the hell would anyone choose to be poor? I think "Poor" is a relative term. I have enough money, mostly, to make it through the month. I admit, I couldn't do it without a little support. I am making less than half of what I was making a year ago, but it is enough to pay my mortgage and put food on the table. I am not telling this to garner any kind of sympathy or pity, but because it has been a revelation (or revolution, more like it).
     I lost my job about a year ago, and it took time to find new employment. In that time I discovered just how little money I need to be happy, and how much more I value my time. To be able to spend time with my grandchildren has been a wonder. To hear the happy cry, "Oma's here!" Followed by the thunder of little footsteps never ceases to lift my heart. That is something that is so far beyond monetary value there are no words. I will never be the grandparent that showers them with gifts, but with a little clever thought I manage to be the one that gives them gifts that they remember. And I give my time. As much of it as I can.
     Having time has given me a freedom that I have never had. Freedom to write, build, create, salvage, and sometimes just to sit and do nothing. Okay, that last bit does not happen very often, I am not good at sitting still. But I can do it if I want to.
    Choosing to live below the poverty line has given me an appreciation for my life that I think most people are too busy, and too worried about material gain to see for themselves.  How many people in the world do not have basic comforts? I think about how many millions of people in the world head into the night with no bed to go to, hungry, cold, frightened, and with no prospects on the horizon. I have a solid little house that keeps me warm and dry. I am buying it, so there is never the fear that my rent will rise, or the landlord will decide to sell. It is mine, and mine alone to do with what I want. Yes, it has a few issues that could be easily remedied if I could hire a contractor to just come in and fix them. But I can do the work, I have a list, and I will get it done, eventually. I have wood to burn in my little woodstove, running water, a beautiful view, a comfortable bed, food packed into the cupboards (and the skill and means to make delicious meals). Here I sit, at a computer, a cellphone at my elbow, with electric lights, heat, running water, a cup of hot coffee, a hearty breakfast as soon as I choose to make it. In the next room I have a huge, comfortable bed, with clean, soft bedding, and an electric blanket to prewarm it for me. I have dressers, closets, and baskets full of clothes for all kinds of weather, and all kinds of situations. I have shelves full of books. I have dogs and cats to keep me company. I have a car that runs, and money to fill the tank. I have a job to go to that I enjoy, and where I am appreciated. I have all the tools I need to build my Fort, repair my house, create a garden, care for my property. I have piles of salvaged building materials, nearly enough to build a small house. How can I not be thought of as rich beyond measure?
    Add to my overwhelming abundance of material wealth the love and friendship of family and friends and it is more than anyone should ever aspire to. I know that if I do hit a bump in the road I have people in the world who love me, care for me, and will happily lend assistance if I need it. All I have to do is ask. How many millions of people in the world have no one. No One. It makes my heart ache to think of it. And how many people in the world have spent their life so focused on climbing the corporate ladder, amassing wealth, only to reach a pinnacle and realize that they are miserable and alone? Material wealth will not fill that aching void.
    Yes, sometimes I find myself fretting about having enough money to make it to the end of the month. Or a bit of the "robbing Peter to pay Paul," but every month it works out. I set my worries alongside a mother who has no money, no food, and hungry children, and it makes me ashamed that I was upset because I was low on coffee. Money is not the answer, my friends. It never was, and never will be. Accumulation of material wealth is nothing more than an illusion of happiness, a spiritual void, a promise of something intangible that will always remain just out of reach.
     I sit in my snug little house, surrounded by so much wealth I feel like a dragon in his cave full of hoarded gold. By choosing to be "the starving artist" what I have really done is open my eyes to just how wealthy I am. Love, friendship, comfort, food, heat, contentment, sanity. I am Rich Beyond Measure.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Next Year's Challenge

    It is no secret that I like to challenge myself. True, some days it seems like a challenge just to get out of the house and meet people face to face. Last year it was doing an Iron distance triathlon. I wanted to repeat the even this year, but it was cancelled, leaving me dangling as far as physical challenges go. An early season knee injury and elbow injury sidelined me for this racing season so I had to turn my talents elsewhere. This year I pushed myself to build a sanctuary, The Fort. It is nearly complete. It would be done if I didn't keep coming up with groovy new things to do to it. Just today I finished installing a wood floor with 1x6 clear vertical grain hemlock that I salvaged out of a scrap bin at a local mill. Just the back half of the space has wood floor, the front will have vintage linoleum once I can decided on the pattern I want to do.
    Anyway, about this time of year I like to look ahead to what next year might offer. What challenges can I find that will push my limits a bit? There isn't a local Iron distance triathlon, so that is likely off the table. I decided on two half-Irons instead, but that really isn't quite challenging enough. Well, except the challenge of remaining injury free through the coming year. What I found is something almost unfathomable: The Portland Bridge Swim. It is an 11 mile swim down the Willamette River, through the heart of Portland. 11 miles. ELEVEN MILES! The longest swim I have done to this point is 3.1 miles, but I came out of the water feeling good, though hypothermic, and with enough energy to get on my bike and ride around Mount Bachelor. But to swim 11 miles, that is almost lunacy. My kind of lunacy. Last night during my regular swim I started calculating just what I would need to do in order to get myself ready for such a swim. The amount of hours I would have to spend training borders on obsessive. Add into this my regular triathlon training and I will need to focus as intensely as I did last year for the Epic 250K.
    I love to set goals for myself. I need to set goals for myself, lofty goals. Not run of the mill goals. It does make it tough when I get sidelined or derailed, but that just gives me an excellent opportunity to practice my problem solving skills. Can I swim 11 miles in open water? I guess I will find out.

Thursday, December 10, 2015


    Nearly 20 years ago a friend called me an "Idealist." She meant it as a compliment, but also as a warning. She was trying to deflect me from what she though was a potentially hazardous path. She was right, and fortunately I took heed of her sage wisdom. I confess, I had to look up the word Idealist to really grasp what it was she was accusing me of.
    Idealist: A person who is guided more by ideals than by practical considerations (synonyms: visionary, wishful thinker, romantic, dreamer, Don Quixote) example: an idealist believes the best in everyone, regardless of how they behave.
    Damn. She was right. Guilty on all charges.
    Not only am I an idealist, I am gullible and naive as well. I joke that if you look up the word "gullible" in the dictionary, you will find my picture there. I will believe what you tell me, until you give me reason to think otherwise.
    Oddly, these traits have led me down the wrong path on more than a few occasions. I am trusting, to the point of idiocy sometimes. But for all the times these tendencies have left me burned and ragged, I have yet to reach the point of being jaded, or suspicious.
     I was once told that life would beat these weaknesses out of me. I do not find them to be weaknesses. They are a foundation of my strength. The ability to believe in the good of the people around me lets me see the world with loving eyes. It helps me be brave and bold, to not hide cowering in fear of what might happen. It lets me meet strangers and think of them as potential friends, instead of a threat or an enemy. This give me power over fear. It gives me a loyal heart that is strong and true, even in the face of adversity.
    Yes, I have been led down the garden path and had the shit stomped out of me, metaphorically speaking. But all it has done is made me stronger.
    I am, and always will be an Idealist. Despite, or maybe because of, the people in the world who are not who I wish they could be. I chose to see the best in people. And if they let me down, I chose to walk away. The world is full of good, we just have to see it. And if all else fails, I always have my dogs.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Weathering a Storm

    A storm has blown through  here that has lasted several days. High winds and heavy rain. My little house sits on the edge of farmland, so the southern wind has a nice, straight shot at my home. Yesterday the wind did not let up. It would hit my house with an impact that could be felt through the structure, and my house is built like a bunker. I baked cookies, burned candles, made smudge sticks from recently harvested greenery. I did a morning workout, and an evening workout. I made delicious yam and black bean chili. I was hunkered in, and enjoying the feeling of security despite the storm that raged outside
    Last night, about 8:30, I had just finished my evening core workout when I heard a loud thump. It was not the first of the evening. I had already been outside with a flashlight several times, checking my magnificent, mature trees after hearing mysterious sounds. This was different. Loud. Palpable. Visceral. It set the dogs to barking. I went out and found the tall, dead tree on the southern edge of my property had come down. It was a snag that I had kept as a wildlife tree. It was home to nesting birds from spring through summer. Now it was down in a heap, with parts of it lying on the roof of the tiny house that is inhabiting a small piece of my driveway. Damn. I checked the wee house, inside and out. It seemed relatively unscathed. It didn't hurt that the tree was so rotten inside that it was like getting hit with a giant, wet sponge.
    This morning, first thing... okay, first thing after a big cup of coffee, I went out to remedy the situation. Happily, the wind had died down, it hadn't rained during the night, and it was relatively warm. Perfect working weather. I was surprised at the amount of debris, and the lack of real damage. My little car took a hit on the nose, right where the hood latch is. I don't know if I will be able to open my hood, but that is a problem for another time. The wee house did get a bit bruised, but I managed to tidy up and fix the basics. There will be more to be done in the next few days, but I need to pick up a few supplies first.
    As I looked at the fallen tree, sad at the loss, I wondered how I was going to manage to cut it up and haul it away. Then it hit me - why not leave it where it is? My hugelkultur (mound garden) is formed over a large piece of this very same tree. A twenty foot log that was too big to move, and too rotten to use for firewood. Looking at the massive trunk, knowing it would take a Herculean effort to clean it up, I decided it will be another mound garden. A beautiful berm that will delineate the eastern edge of my garden. It is nearly perfectly placed.  I think I may plant it with perennial flowers, succulents, and magical herbs. It will be as much a decorative garden as a practical one. I am already envisioning ferns and mosses on the back side, that will get little sun. The front side will be the herbs, succulents, and sun loving flowers that will get a nice blast of sun from mid-day til sunset.
     It is not the storms of our lives that define us. It is how we weather them, and how we decide to deal with the wreckage and detritus washed up on our shore. We cannot control the elements, we cannot control chaos that sometimes swirls around us, but we can control how we choose to handle it all. We can control ourselves.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015


    Here I am, stepping into the 21st century and finally writing on my very own laptop. I can't say I am a huge fan yet, it feels weird, awkward, an somehow insubstantial. Yes, I will get used to the flat keyboard, and the delicate little keys. I adapt to the mouse, and learn its subtleties. I will grow accustomed to sitting with a laptop actually in my lap. For the moment though I am feeling a bit of a curmudgeon and a ludite.
    I finally broke down and got myself a laptop for the express purpose of having a portable means to write. For years I have vowed "this will be the year I will get published." I am tired of promising myself, and falling through on that promise. Yes, I write here, and on a few other blogs in a regular basis. So, in that sense I am published. Yes, I had a slew of short stories published with an online biker magazine, years back. So, I am published. Just not how I want to be published.
    Building The Fort this last year, as a refuge, fortress of solitude, my own private space, made me eager to turn it into a sacred space for creating. The real reason I bought a laptop was so I could sit out in my beautiful Fort, with its colors, light, and vibe, and write without distraction. I haven't quite finished the Fort though, it has final touches to be done. Yes, this is an excuse for not being out there right now. Instead I am in my dining area, playing with the laptop, getting my fingers accustomed to the feel of the newer technology.
    I do wish I was in the Fort right now. There is a storm blowing around the house that is loud enough that even inside my snug, bunker-like home I can hear the winds howling. I can only imagine how fierce, personal, and immediate it would feel out in the Fort. For now, I will just satisfy myself with a few minutes with the laptop, getting to know one another.
    Being always inclined to anthropomorphise inanimate objects, I will need to find a name for this new tool, this new addition to my household. Maybe Harold. It feels ike a Harold. Give it time, the proper name will come. 

Sunday, December 6, 2015


    My energies have felt very aligned and balanced today. It may be from having spent the evening with a like minded soul. We talked so much of parallel visions of the perfect lifestyle: off-grid, cabin on the edge of the woods, a lake for swimming, the forest for playing. That there is another soul in the world with a similar childlike delight in rope swings, treehouses, blanket forts, and jumping in puddles. There are not many of us, the world is always trying to shush us, force us to conform. So we hide away, become hermits, living in our own worlds away from the jaded, hostile world. He and I have been dancing around the mutual attraction, brief conversations, the pleasure of a growing connection. Yesterday we finally managed to slip away from our busy lives and find an alternate universe where the rest of the world faded away to silence. I know he doesn't have much conversation with people away from his work, and his words spilled out and tripped over each other as his thoughts flowed unabated and uncensored. Talking into the wee hours I was struck with the humor of hearing this man talk with the unabashed exuberance, enthusiasm, and randomness of child. It was a relief to be able to spill out my own, similar thoughts without worrying that I will hear, "Relax," "grow up," "get real."  Add to that having physical contact, a warm touch that has been lacking in my life for a while, and it made for the perfect combination of release, and re-energizing. Today has been a great day for quiet thoughts, reflection, relaxation, and dreams wandering without borders. I needed this, more than I realized. It is a good day.

Herbs and Magic

    Feeling very Witchy today. I cut green boughs to make some simple, fragrant adornments for my beloved little home. I wrapped cinnamon sticks in purple silk ribbon, and made small sachets with celestial fabric, cloves, and chai tea, hung them on my bundle off evergreen boughs to add a simple, homespun festiveness to my space.  Then I clipped herbs and juniper to be made into smudge sticks in the next day or three.
    I am fantasizing about my greenhouse, and what can be done with it. I want to grow herbs with magic properties for magickal gardens. I sat with Cunninghams Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs for an hour, making a list, and pondering ways of making it a viable business. Anyone can grow herbs, but to imbue them with a spark of power will let me leave my mark. It brings my mind always back to a greenhouse. Making it a sacred space, not just a functional workroom. I can see it made with vintage windows, and cluttered with tools, handthrown ceramics, bit and bobs that will bring spirit into the space. It will have a brick pathway that will link it to the patio that is growing from the house to the Fort. I can see this in my mind's eye, just as I can see a small booth at a farmer's market.    
    Feeling the energy flow, taking a gentle day, is more tiring than hard physicality. All I want to do is sip tea, browse seed catalogs, sketch out a few totem designs, and sink into myself. I have spent much of the day with my nose in a book, just for pleasure, not for any other reason. I don't allow myself time like this very often, but today it is fitting.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Life Is About Choices

    It is that time of year. The sun inches towards the southern horizon. The days getting shorter, the nights longer. It has been colder than normal. My job has me out in the cold. I dress for it as best I can, but by day's end I am chilled to the bone. The cold and dark fatigue me like nothing else. I feel worn out, exhausted, bedraggled. Like something the dog dragged in, rolled on, chewed up, and drooled all over. Yesterday was freezing and damp, a near lethal combination. After work I knew that heading straight home would be a death knell. I went to the pool, got in a solid 55 laps, then hit the jacuzzi. The hot water was my carrot on a stick for the swim: no swim, no jacuzzi. I vowed to sit in the near scalding water until I was so overheated I felt sick. It worked. I was still radiating heat when I got home.
    Nevertheless, the cold, dark, grey days make it hard for me to function. All I wanted to do today was huddle around a space heater, stoke the woodstove, and drink copious amounts of hot beverage. Yes, I did do too much of that. But I managed to get in a decent 2 hour workout of cycling, legwork, and Yoga before making myself a gigantic lunch.
    I needed to get outside, I had a roof to fix for a friend, and at least it wasn't raining, yet. Finally, I bundled up and headed out. I was surprised at how temperate it felt, at least in comparison to the last few days. My mood elevated immediately. The roof repair was quick, and just enough to get my circulation moving and my spirit elevated. I shuffled some of my salvaged building materials, taking stock, pondering projects, talking to myself. "Hey, where did those windows come from? I don't remember getting windows..." and my mind is off building a greenhouse. I tidied up for a few minutes, and then in typical ADD/OCD manner I was on my knees setting more stone and brick for my patio. Funny how my focus narrows when I am working on something that interests me. Raking leaves? Not so much. Playing with rocks? Hellz yeah.
    Working on fitting together a mix of field stone, river rock, brick, and tile reinforces a few things I already know about myself: I love making cool shit; I love surrounding myself with beautiful things that bring me joy; when I am working on something that fascinates me I cannot pull my attention away, or do anything else with any kind of focus; and finally, I am absolutely incapable of making a random design. That last point actually makes me laugh at myself. Try as I might, I cannot do random. I have to organize things into some kind of pattern, even if it is abstract, I have to see a pattern. I worked on my patio until it was almost dark, then had to pull myself away to get firewood in for the evening.
    This time of year I have two choices. I can force myself to be active, functional, and creative. Or I can sleep too much, get fat, and have to rely on a little, pink pill to keep my mind from climbing on the hamster wheel of depression and anxiety. Even if I am spending a bit more time huddled around a heater, swaddled in a dog hair covered, oversized, polar fleece bathrobe, binge watching episode of Poirot on Netflix, and sucking down vast quantities of tea or black coffee, I am still not relying on that pink pill. I don't plan on needing them, though I have a stash on hand (just in case).
    Life is about choices. "Everything in your life is a reflection of a choice you have made. If you want a different result, make a different choice." I choose active, functional, and creative, with maybe a bit of heater hugging, tea drinking tossed into the seasonal mix. My life. My choice.