Category Archives: money

Cycling: Why You Should Start, & How

Britain’s greatest Olympian ever retired yesterday. Chris Hoy took another gold medal in Cycling, and then called it a day. Tearfully, he said his career and these racing competitions weren’t just about winning gold, they were about seeing more people get on bikes. More cyclists, more roads with bikes, more, more, more.

Cycling isn’t just about exercise, it’s not just a way to get where you’re going. Cycling is a complete change in lifestyle. It’s pretty much the only sport that can change your life, in every way, on a daily basis.

When you park that car and ride your bike, you’re saving money, you’re saving the environment, and you’re saving your life.

It costs, on average, about $10,000 a year to run a car. Just riding a bus daily for work can cost you over $1,000, and that doesn’t include lost productivity in all those hours waiting for connections.

Cycling doesn’t cost a cent once you’re in it. Yearly maintenance costs are pretty low, especially if you know how to clean your bike chain and do some of that yourself. Quality bike maintenance and parts can likely be done for under $200 per year, and a good bike should last well over 10,000 kilometres.

Me, I changed cities and lifestyles entirely so I could ditch busing and other forms of motorized commute. I’ve gone from 60 hours a month to only riding a bus for 15 minutes in the last 30 days. The rest of the time, I walk and I cycle. I’m happier, healthier, and less inclined to want to slap the masses.

Change Your Thinking

When I was new to Victoria, I was busing a lot to get a sense of the world. My chiropractor was just under an hour by two buses. Turns out his office is close to one of the nicest bike routes I’ve ever ridden. Total time to cycle there? 25 minutes each way.

With my saddle bags attached, I can hit up some of the great food shops, save $5 on return bus fare, and get an hour of cardiovascular exercise in, reducing my need to find time to “exercise” at some point in my week. How is that inconvenient in any way? Well, it isn’t.

Once you turn all those wasted commute hours — because, by bus or car, you know you ain’t getting anything done but reading or emails — into exercise, that too is where you change your life. It’s killing two birds with one awesome stone.

Cycling is a low-impact, high-result exercise that does amazing things for your body, IF you’re riding the right kind of bike with a good fit. If your bike shop isn’t concerned about “fit” and how a bike performs with YOUR body, then you need a better bike shop. This is not frivolous “entitled customer” thinking, as bike fit is absolutely critical to your enjoyment of the sport, and whether it has negative effects for you.

With the right gear, the right fit, and a little conditioning, you will be amazed at the way cycling simplifies your life.

Tired of getting home angry after a 15km commute by car? Try cycling it. It only takes a month or so to be conditioned to cycle 15kms (10 miles), and I’m telling you that as a girl over 200 pounds. If I can do it, what is YOUR excuse?

Here are considerations for getting started in cycling:

Saddle Bags Will Change Your Life

I pick different areas to shop in every week. My saddlebags will hold 70 litres of goods, which is actually a lot for a single girl like me. I can get beer, veggies, meats, condiments, and more, for over a week.

In one area, I get Mediterranean foods, stellar produce, and Indian ingredients. I plan meals ahead and get things from all three on the same day.

For routine staples and bad weather, I have a closer network of shops for more mundane goods, an 8km circuit I can easily do year-round in about 90 minutes including both cycling and shopping, that sees me hitting 4 to 6 great food purveyors downtown, from Italian to organics.

Then there’s my elaborate “gluttony ride” out to Oak Bay, a beautiful seaside area, where there’s an artisan salumerie, specialty wine shop, and great cheesemonger’s, and I hit that up once a month with a mind to enjoy a fantastic cheese & wine platter after that ride — and getting 75 minutes of beautiful flat touring ride makes it a guilt-free gluttonous night.

Now, I never, ever leave home without my saddle bags because I’m either packing my camera and a lunch, or I usually make use of my excursion by grabbing things on my way home.

When you do, buy heavy-duty saddlebags, because they will last for YEARS. Mine are 5+ years old already, from Canada’s MEC, and cost me about $75 when I got them, and they’re not the expensive ones. If I replace them this winter, it will be for larger ones, not because of wear. Make sure they’re weatherproof, clasp into place, and have reflective surfacing, extra pockets, and easy-to-carry handles. These will be the best things you ever put on your bike.

If you could exercise AND save money AND get all your out-in-the-world chores done at the SAME time, why wouldn’t you?

Pick the Right Bike

There are lots of styles, and more than you likely think, when it comes to bikes. From step-through Dutch bikes to hybrids, road bikes, and mountain bikes, to beyond. Each has benefits, and it’s why most lifelong cyclists have more than one bike.

If you’re looking to be a commuter and use your bike for recreation, then a road bike’s probably the last thing you want, oddly. Get a good bike shop, talk to friends about why they like their bike (as opposed to what YOU should ride, just find out why it works for them). Plus, use places like bike swap meets, used shops, and cycling organizations to gain some good insight from people who use cycling as a whole-life endeavour, because they’re the ones who know.

Know Your Paths

Cycling on the road isn’t a death sentence, but I sure as hell don’t enjoy it as much as I like a pedestrian/cyclist trail, like the great paths here in Victoria, which include the Galloping Goose and the Lochside. Most North American cities are designating paths for cyclists now, but they’re not always where you’d know to look. Ask at your local bike shop to see if they’ve got maps for your region, Google routes, or scan the app stores to see if there’s a cycling app for your area.

The Google (the web version only) now has a “bikes” feature in Beta testing on Maps searches, and you can select that to see the most bike-friendly route. Bike routes are often better, and different, than walking routes as elevation tends to be a big factor in riding. Here in Victoria, the Galloping Goose and Lochside trails are on an old train track, so the elevation grade has been smoothed out very nicely despite all the dips and valleys of living on an island. This makes for a much less intimidating ride than heading up car-friendly hills and other steep grades, and makes it the perfect place to get accustomed to distance rides.

Another plus to Googling places for your travel route is you can also get an approximate cycling time and distance. From my experience, the times tend to be for the “semi-conditioned” rider — not experts, but someone who’s cycling more regularly, so if you’re new, add some cushion time there.

Skills Count

Cycling, like motorcycling, is very much a skills-based pursuit. The more confident you are, the safer you’ll be. You need to know you’re a victim in the making every time you get on your bike, because Car vs. Bike almost always has the same outcome. But that’s not to say you can’t be more prepared to avoid these situations entirely.

Most cycling organizations have Skills-based rides where they teach you how to ride smarter. Here in Victoria, there’s a 3-hour basic skills course that’s free, and there’s an 8-hour one that costs $30, where you go on a ride through the city and they teach you in situ what skills are suited to what scenarios, and how to be a proactive, safe rider.

Safety First

Gear is pretty much the be-all end-all with cycling. You get what you pay for, and, trust me, when your life is on the line in a mid-winter chores ride near dusk, cheaping out isn’t the way to go.

Whether it’s great-quality raingear that keeps your head in the game, rather than you shivering and thinking how awful you feel, or lighting for evening rides, quality counts.

For lights, you want to check out the brightness rating. How many watts? Anything less than 2 watts should be a throwaway. And if it’s only 2 watts, you likely want to double up. Obviously, you need a front and back light, but most cyclists never think to put spoke lighting on their wheels. The only seriously close calls I have ever had have been from cars on side streets not seeing me in front of them and nearly T-boning me. For $15, you can get a couple sets of spoke lights to make your wheels light up and give yourself 360-degree visibility on the road at night. Trick yourself out with lotsa lights, because being a Christmas tree means being seen.

A helmet is a no-brainer, but most people don’t like them. I’ve been saved by helmets twice — once preventing a head injury, and once preventing death. But, hey, if your haircut’s that important to you, fine — just opt out of my medical system if you choose the no helmet route.

And That’s a Starter

Cycling will change your life. That’s inarguable.

If you get hooked, it will be your drug of choice. It will clear your mind, improve your health, bolster your finances, charge your creativity, and mellow your mood. It will save the planet, too.

If your arguments are “It’s too hard,” well, that’s because you’re new. Cycling on the road, your conditioning improves faster, better, than probably any sport I’ve ever tried. If you think “It’s too far,” that’s also because you’re new. Trust me. Give it one month of 4-5 rides a week, and you’ll be stunned.

There are really no good reasons to stay off your bike. I’ve seen parents taking kids to school on bike trailers, children as young as 6 years old cycling 10 kilometres around a city with Mom and Dad during a day, and more.

Cycling is more flexible than you imagine, more rewarding than you could dream, and it’s something you can do today to change EVERY part of your life.

Give it a shot. You’ve got more power in you than you think. Change your life, ride a bike.

Making Plays in The Game of Life

I am in catch-up mode.

We get so ensconced in our lives that all need to remember the wise words of social genius/role model Ferris Bueller: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

So, when you’re like me and you’ve been out of the game for about six weeks with something stupid like pneumonia, you sort of realize some things:

1) Many happenings/obligations in life are unnecessary, yet we feel pressured to throw ’em on the calendar too.
2) When trying to get back to your old self, you need to pick your battles, and the one battle you can likely do without includes all the social and networking events that aren’t “real” time with friends you crave seeing, or lowkey happenings.
3) Those easy activities we fall into “autopilot” on really take a lot of discipline to develop routines around, and getting back to that is a real challenge after taking a necessary break from it.

I think part of my antisocial behaviour over the years stems from the fact that much of my years from 25-35 were filled with illness (was bronchitis-prone yearly) or severe injuries, and I just lost my ability to struggle through life and be Little Miss Lively.

From Guardian.co.uk: Gk Hart/Vikki Hart/Getty Images.

And I was always angry about it, too — my failure in my struggle to balance life during those times.

One day, I read Carl Honore’s In Praise of Slow (its Canadian title).

I learned about the Slow Food movement, and how it was spawning the “Slow” lifestyle. Talk about your lightbulb moments.

So, I learned what I could about these new-to-me ideas.

Slow Food was about getting back to the basics and using real ingredients, very little processed, and ensuring one had the time to enjoy it all. At least half the time, this is what I’m after in my kitchen: Slow.

“Slow Life”, in a nutshell, is about doing everything purposefully, mindfully, and without spreading yourself too thin. It’s about reading a paper and enjoying a quiet breakfast, not working on your laptop, watching Criminal Minds, and scarfing down a protein shake.

“Slow” is in not rushing to an event that’s only about shaking a few hands when you could stay home, re-centre yourself, eat healthily, do some fitness, and enjoy some mental-recharging in preparation for a great and full day tomorrow. Slow Life is even about Tantric sex and sleeping in.

Slow is essentially about making choices, and choosing to pare back on commitments, doing only what life and time dictate as good choices.

Carl Honore’s website defines “Slow” as:

It is a cultural revolution against the notion that faster is always better. The Slow philosophy is not about doing everything at a snail’s pace. It’s about seeking to do everything at the right speed. Savoring the hours and minutes rather than just counting them. Doing everything as well as possible, instead of as fast as possible. It’s about quality over quantity in everything from work to food to parenting.

There are people who thrive on social interaction, it completes them or feeds their ego or whatever it is it does for them, and maybe they need that component in life to really feel alive.

Many of these people, though, I see tweeting or Facebooking about how frantic they feel and their panic to get to the events on time, et cetera, leaving me to wonder just how much they’re “thriving” on these things after all.

Others, these excessive commitments get in the way of our goals, they cut back on our time to be creative, they erode our sense of self, and they turn us into 5-to-6-hour-a-night sleepers instead of getting the 7 to 8 hours doctors recommend. For some, the overcommitting eats at savings, inspires bad behaviour, or leads to missed opportunities.

Not everyone’s suited for the Slow lifestyle.

But I am.

The older I get, the more I realize I’m a rural dweller living in a citylife.

I want the country house, the seclusion, the quiet at night that’s broken only by sounds in nature. I want to wander country paths and marvel over how light changes on the landscape. I want trees surrounding my home and a body of water a short walk away.

Unfortunately, right now, I can’t have that life. By the age of 45, I will.

For now, though, I can balance my life with being smarter. These days, I’m a “maybe” for all events until the final 24 hours hits. I’m tired of having to bail for reasons others don’t want to hear about and certainly don’t care about.

At this immediate time, I’m not making any social plans at all. My two birthday-weeks with only 3 social happenings in each proved Way Too Much for me. The pneumonia rebound is a hard one for me.

But the pneumonia is a wake-up call. I’ve worked far too hard on my life to be rewarded by being this sick. No more.

The frustrations I feel now, after being taken out of the game of life and trying to catch up, they’re reminding me of why I gravitated to the Slow Life a few years ago, and they’re making me wonder why I ever drifted away from it.

In order to be successful at Slow, it means I need to make a few more changes. Routine becomes more important — cleaning up after cooking, waking up with focus, committing to an active life but also being sure to actively rest, both in mind & body.

Starting this week, it looks like I have a personal trainer willing to take me on in exchange for my writing about my journey to fitness for her blog (and mine). More on that on Wednesday.

It scares the living shit out of me, honestly. A high-intensity personal trainer with a mission to kick my ass?

I’ve been there before. I know what working out with high intensity for 6 to 8 hours a week feels like. I know the price my body pays. I know what “leaving it on the floor” feels like the next morning.

I know what it takes, but I HAVE what it takes.

What I really know, though, is that being social goes right out the window for a month. At least.

That 6 to 8 hours of fitness, for me, requires at least 4 hours of stretching. And hot baths. And icing. Next thing you know, it’s 16 hours or so of my week. Physical hours, hours in which I’m often thinking about exactly how my body feels and what it can do. It also means I need 8 hours of healing rest per night.

That physical demand on me and my time also means I really have to focus on healthy eating, and since I can’t afford to buy the healthy prepared food (which are expensive, of course), I need to do the cooking myself. More time invested.

And, you know what? No problem. I can do that.

I just can’t do “social” during it too. Not much, anyhow. Not at first.

Not if I want to achieve everything I know I can achieve.

Me first, you last — that’s what losing 50 pounds takes.

If you can’t put yourself first in weight loss, you won’t succeed. Period. I know.

“Slow” living means making choices and choosing your battles. It means doing one thing and doing it to the best of your ability. So does weight loss.

There aren’t a lot of books that have really changed my attitude on life, but Honore’s In Praise of Slow really did. It’s time it changes my life again, and this is the best time of year to make that change.

Whether we like it or not, there are 10 weeks till Christmas. Manic just got more manic. Socializing will be through the roof.

For me, Christmas means people — it means warm drinks, kindness, small homemade gifts, toasting with wine, laughing in warm lighting, and generally just Being with Real People. It’s not about events with 200 folks, or even 100. It’s about being in places where I can actually talk to each person present.

As the invitations start pouring in, I’ll pick events that are most intimate — preferably home gatherings — with the greatest number of people I’d like to connect with. And maybe only one every week or two.

But that’s how “Slow” goes.

In the end, I’m finding pneumonia has been a gift to me on a few levels. Most importantly, it’s helped me clarify my goals and remember what’s important to me in my world.

Or, at least that’s what I’m choosing to take from the pneumonia experience: Reminders of who I can be.

Now comes the part that’s the hardest of all: Turning those reminders into my new reality.

And, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I’m grateful I get to try at all.

Money Ain’t Everything

One of my favourite songs from my teen years was Cyndi Lauper’s “Money isn’t Everything.”

It feels like life comes in with built-in looped lessons, themes that repeat constantly throughout our lives. For me, money and patience are two lessons I’m forever learning about.

Money, though, is the one that causes me most grief.

Drowning piggybank, from TheDoublethink.com: http://thedoublethink.com/2009/06/how-much-to-spend-in-a-recession/

This year has probably been the most learned year on the money front for me. I’ve fixed a few things, changed my quality of life by way of making small choices, but I’ve still run into a great deal of hardship twice this year. Once during the Olympics, because you don’t realize until they arrive what a wild ride and party it is to live within, or how expensive life gets then, and, well, right now.

Having done the bad-back thing right before getting pneumonia, it’s actually been 7 weeks of consistent drain on my wallet, with little to nothing coming in, and it’s been hairy a couple times. Thank god for freezers with food in them and well-stocked pantries and beans and oatmeal, man.

But there’s a lot one can learn from hard times, even poverty.

There’s a gift in poverty, for those who are able to escape it.

I was raised by parents who’d come through a lot financially. My mother, I think, had it harder than my father — hers having been the kind of family that feared eviction on Christmas eve but returned home from mass with a giant gift box of food and clothing from the community, who slept three kids  to a single bed.

I still remember her telling me of those times, but I never “got” it. Not until the last five years.

Years ago, I was cursed to be stupid enough to fall into the “why me?” crowd when it came to being broke. I’d be jealous as shit of my friends who always got nice gifts. I felt like a victim, as stupid as that is.

I still resent people who can, and do, have all the things they want but have zero appreciation of just how fortunate they are to have it.

Some of them, if reading this, would probably have the whole “But you can earn your way out of poverty” attitude, and they’re right, to an extent. But what if you’re like me, or unluckier, where you have one year after another of illness or injury, misfortune or bad luck?

When it’s a six-month patch, you get through it and you move on. When it’s six years, or longer, it’s just an accomplishment to make it through month after month. Retirement? What? Savings? What? Survival, man.

I’m lucky, I’ve almost had it constantly be tough and hard for the last decade, but I always get by, I always make it through the hard patches. And every time I do, I’ve learned some new trick about money, some new way of saving a few pennies, but more importantly, I’ve always been able to remember that life is so much bigger and more meaningful than a balance sheet.

For those who think “time is money”, so just buy your food and work more — how? How does one magically make this more expensive, prepared, convenient food just appear? How does one afford to live spitting distance from the best job they can get?

They don’t. Not in this town, man.

There’s a reason money’s the fastest way to kill a relationship.

There’s nothing in this world we value more than money, there’s nothing that defines your life more — and nothing is more omnipresent than the reminders of just how much YOUR value is determined by the money you have or don’t have.

Try it. Wear tattered, out-of-style clothes with a bad haircut and zero accessories, carrying lousy plastic bags or beaten knapsacks, and be sure tote your insecurities and financial worry along with you, then enter into any decent shop in any reasonable area of town, and tell me you don’t FEEL your value lowering when you enter those establishments.

Or go experience the thrill of being constantly broke and listening to even your average friends talking about their new jeans or the restaurant they went out to, or the vacation they’re saving for, and try to ignore that little pang of “I wish…” that creeps up inside every time you think of small items you’d love to have.

Reminders exist everywhere of just how much you don’t have when you’re living hand-to-mouth. No matter how much peace you’ve made with your status, the constant reminders beat you down a little, just like how a single repeating drop of water can erode the hardest of stone over time.

Despite all this, the older I get, the more I appreciate that I truly value the important things in life, and through all my adversity, I’ve learned to really experience gratitude for the little things that come my way.

I love a good meal, I’m passionate about great wine, I know a gorgeous sunset can’t be bought, I savour all the little moments life gives me, when I find the time to really absorb them.

Truth be told, I’m happy there’s a recession on some levels.

When it comes to the middle class and the wealthy, I’m glad they’ve had to wake up some. I’m glad we suddenly realize there’s more in life than the mighty currency markets.

I’m saddened by those who’ve lost everything, who’ve had lives crushed by fucking assholes in the economic world who just have no concept of debt or value.

It’s so ironic. The people who “create” finance in the economic world actually have zero concept of what a real dollar is worth, of just how far — or not — a normal living wage goes.

And they’re the ones who’ve helped bring everything, and every one, down.

Still, poverty has its gifts.

Gratitude is a gift you’ll never grow tired of. There’s nothing like actually really appreciating a thing. Anything. So many people I know just shrug off little moments of generosity. How could they? Don’t they understand?

No. Not yet.

But they will.

Not having disposable income makes problems harder to solve, time harder to find, health harder to manage, and a social life harder to have.

But, with the right perspective, it can really open your eyes.

Has the recession taught you to better appreciate life? Have you really learned what you need to learn from the last two years? Have you gained insights that will define your future and always keep you cognizant of what real “worth” is?

Have you used it to remember what life is really about — the world and people around us, moments in time, laughter, and creation? Have you learned to be kinder to others and generous in thought, action, and words, when finances fail you? Have you learned to be understanding of the trials others face and the compromises they need to make just to make it through their weeks?

It’s not too late to learn those lessons now.

Unbottled

I’m awash in lazy contentment like a kitty sprawled in a sunbeam. It’s been had a long week filled with accomplishments, lotsa physicality, and a whole lotta thinkin’ goin’ on.

Through it all, I’ve kept most of my stuff bottled up. Writing wasn’t on the landscape this week. Sometimes I put a lid on it all and let things simmer and meld for days on end, like an Italian slow-food-of-love cookin’ affair. Thought-stew. Stewing.

I’ve been organizing my home. Gruelling. 2 days, 48 flights of stairs, 14 Swiffer cloths, a roll of paper towel, a bunch of rags, 95 degrees, and a lot of elbow grease.

I’d actually written about what I expected of the experience, but got was so absorbed in my other work that I never edited or posted the piece.

This is how it began:

Big sigh. I’m on the verge of something I’ve wanted for a long time.

I’ll have the most space ever in all my storage areas. Nothing will be crowded anymore, anywhere.

I’ll have a cardio machine in a non-intrusive corner of my bedroom, my living room even more spacious for working out, and probably have the best floorplan I’ve ever had.

My bathtub works again and I haven’t seen a cockroach in two months. I even pad around barefoot sometimes.

I’m so fuckin’ thrilled I could cry.

Tomorrow starts the Great Ordering of the Steffiverse. Finally, chaos will be banished.

For someone who has a fear of clutter and a penchant for lapsing into mild-mannered agoraphobia, it’s been a hell of a few years on the home front.

My friends who’ve been by my side through The Decade From Hell can attest that my home has matched my life for much of that time. The more I’ve shed of worries, weights, and problems, the more my home has opened up and reflected my personality more than my drama.

And here I am, largely on the other side of that.

***

Basking in mostly order and slack today, I’m in the midst of defining what I want the future to be over the next year, as I figure out this massive application for a self-employment program I desperately want to take, deadline Thursday.

I’ve recently been putting the feelers out, talking to people, networking, all that. I’ve really been surprised in the last couple of days at just how many people have responded positively to requests from me to put in writing that they’d like to work with me one day soon, as required by my application.

Judging by the variety of people I’ve received letters from (and I only needed 2, have 10), it’ll be a really exciting 2011. If I do get accepted into one of the programs I want desperately to attend, I know it’ll throw doors open that only I can be responsible for closing.

I don’t have any doubt in what I’m capable of, I just question how well I’ll do at making that happen. It’s like writing — just because I can form an idea doesn’t mean I can translate it into words on a page, though I may try.

But in creating a new surroundings, I’m hoping to create a new mindset open to new possibilities and inviting of opportunity. It’s the proverbial “starting somewhere”.

***

Someone told me once that purging your belongings to create space is how you persuade the universe to gift you more. You know I’m not Frou-Frou / New-Agey Girl, but I do believe we have more power to create our life than we’re often led to believe, and in a less mantra-ish kind of way than necessarily espoused by pop-guru thingies like Eat Pray Love.

Photo by Ihtatho.

The reason it’s so important to me to get my home under control when it’s in a state of chaos, which was most of the time, is because I really feel it reflects who I am at any point in time. I really do. When it’s in chaos, I know I am too, and that inner-chaos is reflected everywhere around me, visually reminding me that I am actively failing at, well, just about everything.

So, I’m getting there. Every time I organize, there’s less to sort through. I don’t feel I’m done. I can live with less. Over time, I want to explore Less. For me, less will become more.

***

I saw a line on Facebook today — that repository of deep and meaningful [said dryly] social fluff — where someone proclaimed something like, “Don’t worry about people from the past, there’s a reason they didn’t make it into the future.”

I suppose that’s true of who I once was. There’s a reason that version of me didn’t survive. There’s a reason this version of me is in flux.

Simply remembering “there’s a reason” can be infinitely valuable, after all.

Though, I must say, sometimes it’s good to remember not everything needs a reason.

***

Sometimes, you know, I sit back and think, “Hmm, I’m glad I’m a writer. Maybe now I can find some sense [or pattern or direction or reason] in all of this.” I sit down, I write, and, yeah, at the end I’m just as lost as I was when I began.

Like now. I still don’t really have a handle on where my life is going. How could I possibly? I’m hoping. Like when I tried playing horseshoes last week, I had no fucking idea how I’d get the shoe around the peg, but I aimed and I hoped.

Life’s just like that. You can’t know. You can’t be sure. You can’t be decisive. Instead, you just roll with the waves as they land on you, and hope you catch the right breaks when they do.

That’s where I am. I know what I control, I know what I don’t. What I do control, I’m trying to rock. When it all comes down, I want to know I did what I could, and I did it as best I could.

Then we’ll see.

Then we’ll see, indeed.

***

I think September has often been the most change-inducing month in my years. Twice, I’ve kicked off September just being lucky to be alive, riddled with injuries suffered in motor vehicle incidents. Other times I’ve done wacky things like moving to the Yukon. Once I quit a job, told the boss to go to hell, and started the path for losing 70 pounds. Another time I blew my back out.

See? September’s a license to get wacky around these-here Steffparts.

But this year, I’m applying for something that could set me on a completely different path.

Last week, I laid the foundation by creating a new homespace that could allow for order, success, and new acquisitions.

This week, I lay a new kind of foundation in the hopes of gaining education. And other stuff.

Next week, who knows.

And that’s kinda what I love about it. September looms. A season of change. I’m ready for more.

Jumping into the Darkness

Before you read on: I know you MEAN well, but don’t give me life advice right now. You have about 3% of the information you need in order to offer specific-to-me insight. If you’re a friend of mine in REAL life, please talk to me over a beer.

If you only know me online, I love you for caring, but don’t weigh in. Life’s confusing enough without 80 cooks in my kitchen. I’m just thinking out loud, not soliciting advice here. Understood?

You rock. Thanks.

—-

I withdraw, sometimes.

It’s most likely to happen: a) if I’m rethinking my life’s direction, or b) when I’m jarred by a person, thing, or event/series of events.

And it happens.

Recently, a) and b) have happened.

Thus, this past week, I’ve withdrawn. Mostly because I couldn’t really withdraw last week. And I still had a lot I needed to do this week, and a lot of crap to deal with.

But in the moments I could, I withdrew. It was everything I’d hoped it could be. I hope to do even more of it next week.

Someone’s got some thinkin’ to do, and she’s not too sure how much she wants to share.

You already know I’m a big believer in writing your way through things.

Yet sometimes it’s better to get through life with a bump-in-the-night approach. Feel your way through and have quiet faith in where it takes you.

Do not be afraid, blindfolded grasshopper.

Bump-in-the-night’s a pretty solitary experience, though. Putting it out there for public consumption is a pretty foolish endeavour. Some things are just better left inside some days.

“Do I go this way? Do I go that way? What’s it feel like? Did I step on a bug?” Yeah, foolish to share.

Sometimes thoughts seem like stars being born. An idea appears as if out of nowhere, just an inkling in a semi-dark mind. Nebulous in its power and growing, slowly gaining clarity and discernible features as it comes into light.

Sometimes life events are like that, too, and to really learn what we’re being taught, we need silence and a little time alone in the dark.

Lately, I’ve sorta been hanging out in my own private darkness, looking for a lightswitch.

Last week, I did a big new thing. I officially became self-employed. Finally legally laid off for good-for good from my old employer, I took the jump and now my new work for them is in the form of Self-Employed Earnings. The exact direction I want to go in is a little hazy, but I’m off to a new start.

It’s a scary leap in a million ways, a jump in the dark with no safety net. Pretty terrifying, regardless of the fact that I deep-down think I can do it.

I mean, I know thar be no monsters, but sometimes when I turn the lights out, I get a little scared at night, y’know? It happens. The curse of being imaginative.

In the bold new world of 24/7 and epic personal schedules, it’s pretty easy to ultimately realize the only person you can ever really, really count on is yourself.

That’s not saying I don’t trust my friends to be there for me — that’s just me learning the hard way that their lives can get in the way, too, and I won’t always know why at the time, so instead of feeling like they’ve let me down, it’s usually better to have a self-sufficient plan of getting through things.

Sometimes self-sufficiency is the only way to go.

When it comes to things like self-employment, it’s really all about you. It’s about you putting in the work, getting it done, capitalizing on connections, and living up to the hype. You can have all the fuckin’ friends in the world but if you’re selling shit product, doing shit work, or delivering shit service, you’ll land face-first in the dirt every time — and rightly so.

This time I have to do it on my own, but I know that if I do provide great product, awesome service, and I do my work like a professional should, then not only will I have success, but my friends will have nothing to lose from supporting me.

Some people take business referrals very seriously, and everyone else who doesn’t SHOULD. Who you refer reflects entirely on you. They’re great to have a beer with but offer no business scruples? That’s on you. They screw your friends over in the end-run? On you. They flake out? On you.

I refer few people. I’ll be honoured when I see judicious people doing the same for me.

But, that’s somewhere down the road. I’m new to this.

For now, I’m figuring out my future and it’s a very strange and difficult path. Designing any kind of career based on the internet and writing for it is a pretty harrowing thing these days. No one knows where it will lead. So, I’m a-thinkin’ life over — and what I bring to it all.

For me, it’s a follow-the-heart do-what-thou-wilt moment. There’s a door open to me and I’m not really sure what’s on the other side of it, but I think I can take it. I think I can kick its ass and take it.

I just need a moment alone to find that in me. Don’t we all?

From Hair to There

I’ve been adrift in a thought-sea for days now.

Just lost in waves and waves of thought.

About me, my future, what next, why now, where to go, who to see, and a million other things.

I can’t write during those times. I get a little discombobulated and things don’t really happen linearly for me. Writing tends to start, then stop, languishing in the land of Unfinished.

There’s probably a dozen drafts I’ve conjured in the last week for this blog, for me. All starting and then hitting a mental dead-end. But they sit there in the hopes of one day getting cranked into reality.

I don’t really feel into writing today, either, but it’s one of those times that needs to be noted. I’ve spent a lot of time lately working out — turning a lot of lost-muscle-flab back into strength and tone. It’s been a hard, hard, full couple of weeks. I’ve made it past the initiation, though.

The returned-to-it pain that comes from going all Olivia Newton-John on my ass and getting physical is finally settling into a full-body strength and intensity that tells me things are changing, and how. Doesn’t hurt anymore, it’s just a new normal of feeling like I can kick all your asses with ease. I kinda like that. Throwdown Steff, yo.

Today’s a pay-off day, too.

Haircut time.

I’ve been slowly growing my hair out since Christmas. In less than two hours, I’ll be under the scissors as someone turns me into a hair model. I get an experienced stylist hacking my overgrown mushroom cloud of a haircut into something fierce and sexy — because my getting-longer thick mane’s made for fierce-sexy — for free. Why? Because I’m a genius and know where to look for such things.

Adversity isn’t something you need to bend over and take like some listless doll. It requires creative thinking, a smiling face, and a willingness to seize chance as it comes. Me, just because I’m unemployed doesn’t mean I can’t be resourceful about how to enjoy elements of life.

Soon, haircut.

There’s really nothing like a new hairstyle for defining who you feel like at any point in time. I don’t know who I’ll look like in 3 hours, but I’ll know that girl really earned that new look.

I need to feel differently when I look in the mirror. There’s something I’m wanting to see looking back at me, and it’s not there yet. I don’t mean a size 4. I don’t mean something hot. It’s not that. There’s just a sparkle in my eye I want to find every time I catch my own gaze.

I want my amusement back. I want my perennial grin.

I have this card on my bookshelf:

I find that smiling makes people wonder what you’re up to.

It’s that going-through-life equivalent of When Harry Met Sally, after Meg Ryan fakes her orgasm in the deli and the old woman (Rob Reiner’s mom) tells the waitress, “I’ll have what she’s having.”

There’s something fun about BEING the person who LOOKS like they’re always having fun. Other people vibe off of that in really interesting ways, and life gets more entertaining and unpredictable as a result of their reactions.

It’s probably something to do with the law of attraction. Look fun, feel fun, and fun finds you.

For me, that starts with a haircut I can really own, something that, when I look in the mirror, I know for realz that that ain’t the girl who was stuck in neutral for a long, long time — just reacting to life rather than shaping it (for a short while, anyhow).

A makeover doesn’t take much, but it sure has a massive impact when your biggest goal is a different you.

My desire to change myself shouldn’t come across as some “Wow, I sure hate ME, so I’m gonna do something about it!” because it’s actually quite the opposite.

I think I’m awesome. I think I’m funny and entertaining as hell when I’m in the right mood. I can be electric. I know what I’m capable of, what I exude, what I can be.

But most of the time I get in my own way.

Because of stupid, stupid insecurities that have taken a lifetime to develop and need to be undone one at a time, in slow and lasting ways.

As time progresses, more and more of those insecurities fall away. Since my weight’s increased and not been lost in the last year, it ain’t recently about weight or my size.

It’s something internal that’s shifting. That’s how it should be.

A nebulous growth of a new self or worldview, a seedling — small and blooming. That’s real change. It sprouts where you don’t expect it, and it gets along just fine by itself for a while — some inadvertent sun, rain, and away it goes. Then, one day, it needs more and you have to be ready to train it, support it, and give it something to hold to, then it grows taller, and stronger.

That’s kinda where my change is. I’ve sort of got it started, and now I need to define it, make it taller, stronger.

Which is where my head’s been for so long of late.

And today my head gets a new look. My inner self gets a new perspective on its outer self. And change becomes obvious and defined for the first time in a year or two.

All because I get to have a haircut.

For free.

Long hair! Sexy hair. It’ll be awesome. I haven’t had bob-length hair in eight or ten years. Oh, yeah.

So what do you want to change?

Look around.

See what little opportunities for harnessing your life and taking it in a new direction might be waiting for you to discover. If you’re not looking, you won’t see. Pretty simple. Life Through Remedial Math 101.

So, today? This week? Open your eyes. See what you’re missing. Go where it takes you. Enjoy the ride.

I know I am.