rawr, dinosaur love

Pride Comes Before Falling In Love With Home Sweet Home (July, 2 of 2)

Where to, where do I go?
If you never try, than you'll never know
How long do I have to climb
Up on the side of this mountain of mine?

A few days later, Paul and I went off to Drumheller for the second part of our two-weekend vacation. On our way down we played "In a fight between…" My favourite was my proposal of Paul Bunyan vs. an Ent, which created some awesome mental pictures. There were a lot of, "Man, I'd pay to see THAT!" moments. Good times. We're starting to travel a lot better together.

We arrived at our little cabin on a working farm in Handhills, AB, about half an hour out of Drumheller on some of the most incredible rolling farmland you ever did see. We fed the horse some grass, wandered around and looked at old tractors, and generally enjoyed the place. The folks operating the place were the best old grandparent-type folks you ever want to meet. They stuffed us to the gills with bacon and eggs, waffles and toast, and even their homemade sausage. Breakfast was a magnificent feast all three days. One pretty cool highlight of the place was the fact that the shower was outdoors - a nice wooden surround and a sliding door and hot water, but not your average shower experience, especially since Paul showered in the rain and I showered at night. I really enjoyed my shower, looking up to see the stars…

Maybe I've been the problem, maybe I'm the one to blame
But even when I turn it off and blame myself, the outcome feels the same
I've been thinkin maybe I've been partly cloudy, maybe I'm the chance of rain
Maybe I'm overcast, and maybe all my lucks washed down the drain
I've been thinking 'bout everyone, everyone you look so lonely
When I look at the stars, I feel like myself

Unfortunately I was REALLY sick with a cold that was sapping my energy, draining all liquids in my body through my nose, and otherwise making me kind of miserable. I woke up feeling reasonably okay our first morning in Handhills, went for breakfast, and on the walk back to the cabin felt so faint I almost wanted to sit down 20 feet from the door. It was not an auspicious start to a day where the plan was to walk through what is one of the largest dinosaur museums in the world. Paul had brought a book he was excited to read, so I asked if I might go down for a nap. I decided that I would only get up once I started feeling better - after all, the dino museum didn't close until 9pm, so we had a lot of time. I slept fitfully, waking up in a daze six or seven times over about 4 hours before finally waking up to a clear head, sitting up to test the theory, and finally getting ready to go. Needless to say, Paul read almost the whole book, but he was really enjoying it so he barely noticed the time.

And all the hearts that are content
And all who feel unworthy
And all who hurt with nothing left
Will know that You are holy

I loved the dinosaur museum - finding out about how ancient fearsome predators used to walk, eat, and make footprints in the land. Paul and I had a great conversation about science and faith, and how one of the videos at the museum had been very careful to specify that people weren't special, they were just a sort of cosmic accident, just like the death of the dinosaurs. I feel like that kind of idea is a great basis for arguments for eugenics, slavery, racial genocide, euthanasia, and abortion, all of which I find abhorrent, and I have a lot of philosophy on that point that's been running around my mind for several years now. When you start from the premise that people are not that special, there's a lot of really awful places that can end up.

I did something I had always wanted to do - we bought our very own fossil in Drumheller, at a little shack-like place I had passed dozens of times going through the town and had always wished I could stop at. They had some super cool fossils, and we actually purchased one of the cheapest that we liked, a quite detailed tiny fossilized fish from the States (you can't sell Alberta's fossils) in a thin shaving of ivory coloured rock. I have displayed it proudly in my curio cabinet, one of my first projects on arriving home based on this new idea of pride. It is without a doubt the oldest thing I own from an era even before the so-called "good old days."

In the end, only kindness matters

Our second evening, while sitting in the beautiful little cabin, clean, neat, decorated with wonderful hand made quilts by the family who made them and built the place themselves, I began thinking about pride in a person's home.

Growing up, home often seemed like a cross between a utilitarian place - where you sleep, eat, and visit - and a place to store things. Sure, sometimes it was for guests, sometimes you mounted huge projects, but I didn't often feel like home was the project, or at least not one that got the bulk of my family's time. I'm not saying that as a criticism at all, it's just how I remember it, and part of it is that of anyone in the home, I put the least work into it. I do remember that whenever I launched a monster room-cleaning project and finished it, it was the best feeling in the world to sit in the candlelight and read a book or study. It didn't ever last, but over time I've tried to make more of an effort to do that in my own space with varying levels of success. Whenver I do anything of the kind, it fills me with pride and joy. I hadn't made all the connections until this night at Handhills, on a farm with people who worked on all kinds of things that they were really proud of.

I've been poison
I've been rain
I've been fooled again
I've seen ashes
Shine like chrome
Someday I'll see home

So that night, soaking in the atmosphere of a home built with pride, I asked Paul what it was that made people proud of home, of where they were living. The most basic answer of course is investment - time, work. How do you create love for your home? Cleanness, organization, spending time there, making memories with friends and family, continual maintenance and care, responsibility, and more. All these things create pride, freedom, connection, and joy in the space that's been made yours not just by living in it, but by actively choosing it as home. Clearly, the way to find home is to keep the house clean and neat, do yard work, spend time enjoying the fruits of your labor. Really, in our digital lives, the home and garden is one of the few ways we can see concrete positive changes from our work.

I realized that I had always been sloppy about home, but I had the power to change this house I live in, one I already love from the small amount of work I've put into making it a home, into a monumental accomplishment. Instead of feeling like housework never ends, a broken record of awful slavery, it becomes part of the investment in my whole life where I am creating a place of safety, beauty, a haven of rest and love and family and friendship. Nothing puts housework into a better perspective than such a high purpose as quality of life for myself and all those around me.

The biggest issue for me right now is conquering the stuff monster. I've spent some time already considering ways to do this, but I'd been doing it for it's own sake, because deep down I felt I ought to, rather than with some overarching purpose. It's become a lot clearer to me that this is about something bigger than clutter.

Paul and I realized as we considered all the stuff that can be described as stuff, items we own, that there are two factors that make a thing valuable. Either it is utilitarian or meaningful, and a lot of the best items are both. One more attribute remains: aesthetics, or beauty. The items we value most must have at least one of these attributes in sufficient measure to contribute to our lives, and arguably, even items that seem to only have attributes in one column are actually more complex than that. In fact, if I examine all the items in the house that I would never even consider throwing away (by which I usually mean recycling in some manner to be clear about my intentions) an interesting pattern emerges. I can always find all three attributes even when only one is immediately apparent. Let's take the kitchen and dining area for instance.

The fruit bowl we got for our wedding, for example, certainly has all three attributes. For the sake of realistic scales of belonging, if I were scoring it from one to ten, I'd score it a 10 for beauty, a ten for usefulness, and an 8 for meaning, a total score of 93%, an obvious pass without much thought.

Take our kitchen knives for instance. We have a lovely knife set in a block that my parents bought for my wedding, making them meaningful. I keep them sharp - they are perhaps the most utilitarian item in our kitchen. They are also aesthetically pleasing. They embody all three. However there are some ugly old brown serrated knives from Paul's old place that we never use. They aren't really connected to a person or a memory. There is no reason to keep them. Paul never gives them a thought. There is no reason to keep them whatsoever. They languish in the drawer, taking up space that keeps us from living simply.

It's not at all difficult for me to continue on this line of reasoning, and to my great surprise I'm finding that it doesn't seem to fail on any physical item I've tried it on.

Display items on the shelf that appear at first glance to be for aesthetics are also meaningful by connection to a memory and idea for one or both of us, and create joy out of that meaning, which makes them purposeful and utilitarian in their purpose - joy and colour and beauty in my space. An orange whisk, at first thought a purely utilitarian item, appeals to my personal aesthetic for kitchen items and is meaningful in it's place in the kitchen, it's something I use when I prepare special food, not just the everyday, when I subdue a food to my recipe and it has an integral and unique place in my hand to create something.

I can look at nearly everything in my home and when I find that the item has only one or two attributes, I find that I could very easily eliminate it from my life or replace it with something far superior. I think I may have found my own personal secret to de-cluttering success - the points scale I used earlier. In order to be a part of my life, I think I honestly need to give an item a score above 75% - and the only things I actually NEED in my life are probably far above that. I've tried methods in other books and none of them have given me the security I needed to actually get rid of most things. This makes a deep sense to me that is slowly becoming freedom from stuff.

So on to the question I've been asking myself, and many who pursue holiness have asked through the ages, is ascetiscim escapism? Would I be living a holy life if I abandoned all my stuff and problems and lived in a tent, or would I just be running like Jonah? I think there's something to be said for the calling to live in the world and not of it. To correctly understand how to relate not just to my Creator and the people with whom I am in relationship, but also my stuff as well. Getting rid of stuff that has no use or weak to no meaning is a huge step towards strengthening all the things that matter.

Having settled that in my own heart, I can't wait to start working on the Home, Sweet Home project. Doing this without attaching fake meaning and eventual use to try and hold on to stuff that isn't furthering the ultimate goal - a place for everything, everything in it's place, everything meaningful, everything useful. It sounds utopian. It sounds like a place to foster joy. To that end, we've established a protocol of spending ten minutes a day on the house each that we've both taken to. It doesn't seem like much, but in the end it actually turns into 2-3 hours of work on the house in total, and the results of this have already been cropping up in a number of places. After several plans that didn't quite make it, our front porch closet which is doorless has been transformed into a basically dog-safe space, with shoes safe in a plastic drawer unit and a cheap Ikea hanging shoe rack. I finally tackled the entire bedroom, which is typically utter chaos, and I've made a lot of progress. There's a box containing all the things that don't belong in the room, the dresser is immaculately organized and the floor is clear of clutter, all the laundry in the room now sits in four laundry bags on the floor beside the washer and dryer, waiting for tomorrow as designated wash day. Another three or four days of ten minute intervals will surely bring the room and all our clothes to spotlessness. In preparation for Michael and Suzi's arrival, our downstairs bathroom cabinet has been stocked will all the little travel items I had been saving for travel and guests - everything from toothbrushes to sunscreen and contact solution. Now we can provide for nearly any of the needs of our guests, or for ourselves temporarily if we run out of something. I have found it easier to tackle dishes, clutter, and other problems. I'm slowly transitioning to making daily housework completely normal. We finally transported the futon to the basement after a great day at the auction brought us a three piece sectional (which is so comfortable it may in fact be made of clouds) that now occupies the lions' share of our very comfortable and organized living room. I have felt extremely productive, and I am always happier with myself when I feel productive. Though that's not always for the best...

Does justice never find you? Do the wicked never lose?
Is there any honest song to sing besides these blues?

Of course, there's one final point to connect to my earlier point that relates exactly to this idea of productivity. The idea of usefulness as a special trait has issues when applied to people, and usefulness can be misleading. People are special whether they are useful or not - but the world does not accept this in how it treats the elderly, handicapped, and mentally ill. One of the beliefs of the church that is well-said by the Catholic church and that I hold high and try to honor with my life is that the human person is sacred, beautiful, created, set apart from the rest of the earth as special, and has innate dignity that must be upheld at all costs. This belief is not an easy one to enact in a capitalist society where money and stuff are paramount. Social justice calls for far more from us than we can easily give as individuals on that score, not that we should stop trying. But think of it - if all anyone ever spent money on were items of three-fold value like I've been talking about, would capitalism still thrive? Would the value of people be so easily reduced? I don't think so. So if only for myself, I would like to make it part of my life not just to be spendthrift, but meaningful, without sacrificing beauty or joy, without guilt for unnecessarily victimizing my brothers and sisters in the less fortunate parts of the world, both in the ghettos of my own city and those on the other side of the world. Without holding my own self-worth any lower than the lofty standards I apply to others.

We want more than this world's got to offer
We want more than the wars of our fathers
And everything inside screams for second life

This brings me to the message of the gospel and the cross that we saw in the incredible Passion Play. It's hard to describe just how epic a play of this magnitude is, but I can tell you it's one of the largest Passion Play productions in the world. I was pleased to learn that this year's production was of the gospel of John. The production is full of excellent details that make you consider, though some of my favourites weren't planned - like the seagull who conveniently flew over the baptism of Jesus.

Call my name, somebody take me away
Rescue me, completely
No more shame, somebody take it away
Rescue me

I found that their colour-coding of the actors was a really effective idea. Jesus was dressed in blue and white, representing heaven as seen in the sky above us in the outdoor production. Priests and Teachers of the Law wore black, Romans wore their trademark red for violence, and the common people wore the muted tan, green, and brown of the badlands around us, however, whenever someone was touched by Jesus, a mark or hem of blue would appear. The actor might throw off a cloak to reveal blue underneath, or someone might tie a blue cord around him as a mark of who he has become. I was drawn into the play. The scene of the woman caught in adultery made me cry. She sobbed throughout the scene, just as I imagined it. Jesus picks up a stone and offers it to the crowd, to anyone who would take it, and when nobody does, he hands it gently to the woman as he says, "I don't condemn you either. Stop sinning and go home." For me that story does more to talk about the nature of the gift of God's plan than any other. After that I remained in an emotional state for the rest of the play and felt a great deal of awe in the many stories that John passed down to us. I feel, as I have often felt, a kinship to him in the story of the disciples, an understanding. Of all those whom I am excited to meet in heaven, he is high on my list. I suspect we may be fast friends.

We bade goodbye to the lovely folks at the bed and breakfast and headed home on our final day of vacation.


This and the blog post before it is a much more expanded version of part of the content of the conversation I had with Michael today as he and his fabulous wife Suzi visited us for a couple of days while in town for a family wedding. It was glorious to see them again after their wedding in May, and since they are some of my favourite people it really made my week to have them around. Michael, in particular, is someone whom I dearly love, and having the chance to go for a walk and discuss the changes in our lives over the past few years was very edifying. Suzi and Michael both adored Murphy, and he was very excited that the new people in the house were so pleased to make more time to play with him.

The wheels on the bus go round and round
All the way to town

There are other things to say on more practical than philosophic notes including some really big news. Despite all that I say about life as it is, there's still a significant hole we've dug ourselves financially, and as I might have mentioned, I've had a much slower summer than I'd have liked, though it's gotten better than I had initially feared. After a great deal of soul-searching and consideration about an appropriate step for me to take in gaining a more stable job that would allow me to continue building my career in photography. The attributes I required were something that didn't take so much of my time that I couldn't shoot an edit, something that wouldn't make me so tired that I couldn't function (so no retail), something social, something that was busiest in winter and least busy in summer, and if possible something I could grow to truly enjoy. I was searching for such a thing when I stumbled upon the idea of school bus driving. They are desperate for school bus drivers in Saskatoon, and there are a remarkable number of benefits and ways it could very well be an excellent answer to our needs.

First of all, my busy weeks in July and August are the months when no bus driving is required at all, and all other major holidays observed by schools are also not times when I would have to drive for them. In the winter when things are dead around the house, I could pick up extra work running charters. I would have to get up in the morning and then have a large gap - during which I would have time to work on photography/business or do housework - before returning to my route for a short time in the afternoon before suppertime.

All that's in my head
Is in Your hands

My therapist has been bugging me to implement more structure and schedule to my life, and this would be one way to do it. The hours required are quite conservative so it's unlikely that if I disciplined myself to get enough sleep on a regular basis that I would burn myself out - particularly doing something rather simple - driving a crowd of young children from point A to B.  Steady income that we can count on in addition to my photography income will help us to pay down debts (we're currently doing a little better than breaking even - the extra money could do a great deal to break down debts even in the short term and a huge difference over 3-5 years) and to give us a bit more oomph at the bank in official income should we ever require another form of financing years from now while house-hunting or getting a second vehicle.

The social contact with the kids could be really rewarding and help me to continue on the journey to parenting - and the business certainly seems quite parent-friendly for my future - children are allowed on board with you. Finally, my friend and massage therapist Russel worked for them last year and he loved it. His personality and sense of humour and even job structure is similar enough to mine that I feel it's a great endorsement for how the job could fit into my life as well. It would be a huge transition from my night-owl ways, but I was up crazy early every morning when I worked at Emma Lake and it was one of the best times of my life. With discipline and implementing many of the other ideas I've talked about here, I feel like I could continue to build myself a life I could find joy and pride and pleasure in. Still, I am cautious. Every other job I've had since having my own business has really failed, but to be fair to this one, it's not much like the others really - the commitment and character of it is quite different, and it's really rather independent.

I can see the stars
From way down here
But I can't fall asleep
Behind the wheel

All this is of course dependent on completing their training and being acceptable to them, but I aced their initial interview, I am certain that my drug tests, criminal record checks, and road knowledge written exams are all easy to pass and while I will be furiously busy during the two weeks of training in August, it's not as bad as it could be! Plus I get to learn to drive a big bus! In the end, I could stand to be quite a bit busier than I am right now, since I fill swaths of time with unnecessary entertainment. I think it's time to stop playing house and just start accepting life and living it to the best of my knowledge and ability. Really that's all anyone can do. Sometimes great things come of it that you couldn't even have dreamed of.

Nobody's fine
We all need forgiveness
We're longing inside

So all of this is very hopeful, despite some of the darker thoughts and feelings I have had over the past month. I've been struggling with bitterness and unforgiveness over a number of things. I'm still not fully adjusted to the idea of living in Saskatoon but I'm working on it. There's been some drama between Paul and I over a few things that left me feeling vulnerable and consequently snippy, and I've been dealing with it one day at a time. One of the things I spoke with Michael about is how both of us have a lot more difficulty forgiving ourselves than others, and how, left unchecked, self-unforgiveness can cripple us in our faith and life. It is great hubris, really, to not accept the grace of God as valid by refusing grace to oneself. Guiltyness and self-condemnation are idolatry, too, along with money. I indulge my guilt far too often, a flaw I find in many of the people I love. Awareness, as always, is one of the first steps towards change. I become more aware every day of how often I hold myself accountable for sins that, in God's eyes, are already on the ocean floor.

My sins are erased and they are no more
They're out on the ocean floor

So after so many journeys and more to come, after thousands of miles of road, I am always on more than one journey. I hope that all these ideas are things that I can find a place for in my days and in my life and I am hopeful about today. Someone told me recently that I should live in the present, not in the past or the future like most people. It's fairly sound advice in many ways, as long as you keep everything in perspective and don't forget the future or ignore the past in how you live day to day. I think the road ahead will be travelled one day at a time.

The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.