Service at the Community Level

serviceThe Mount Madonna Center is a conference and retreat centre for those looking to get away and pursue workshops and programs set out within the confines of a gorgeous setting and property. For us, within the community that supports the centre, our assistance is within the context of selfless service. Living with the guidelines of karma yoga has allowed this community to peacefully grow at an astounding rate, since the beginnings of MMC back in the 80s. Although there is plenty of opportunity for personal time and growth, the intent behind this residential service learning program that we have both volunteered for is to live within an intentional yoga community, with service as a primary goal.

Depending on the Center’s needs, the daily tasks include housekeeping, event set-up, kitchen prep, dishes, recycling, general maintenance, gardening and landscaping. Today was my first real day of work within the kitchen. I’ve had 2 previous kitchen shifts, but both times, I was turned away and told to rest whilst this wicked bug has overwhelmed my body for the past 2 weeks. I am so grateful to feel better, despite the cough that continues to wreak havoc on my sleep patterns and vocal chords. Up for the challenge, I was allowed access to my kitchen duty where I spent my shortened shift chopping up swiss chard for both the simple soup and today’s soup du jour (tomato). From my perspective, it’s interesting to note how the intent behind doing certain food prep tasks allows, for me, a greater appreciation for the sustenance which ends up on my plate. The vegetables and food here are plentiful and organic, most locally sourced and prepared with abundant love. Today’s swiss chard was grown at the base of our mountain in a town named Watsonville. I was saying to slaDE that the food here at MMC, over the next 3 months, would probably be the most healthful and ecologically friendly choices ever to have graced our lives. It’s truly bounteous and amazing! I am feeling very nourished and blessed … so much for losing weight whilst here :). I’ll have to cut way back on the quantities (buffet style with 3 full meals a day lends itself to overeating on my part), weaning myself off the freshly baked breads and bounteous selection of nuts and high-fat munchables. At least I’ve been diligent with my daily yoga and dinacharya practice!

A Quick Retreat from Winter

Christmas morning, and barely a sprinkling of snow. I suppose you could call it a white Christmas per se (here in the snowbelt area of Teeswater anyway; not-so-much in other areas around SW Ontario), but I’m thinking that there are a quite a few Canadian children who are disappointed by the barren dry grassy plains in their front yards. However, I am ecstatic that the no snow or ice graced the road with its coy slick nature. I’m hoping for clear highways and humble temperatures as we venture across the North American continent! You see, slaDE and I were accepted {last minute ~ literally 1 week ago} as paying volunteers for a 12 week residential service learning program at the world-renown Mount Madonna Center.

They don’t call us snowbirds for nothing! I am thrilled at the prospect of escaping another cold snowy Canadian winter in exchange for some yoga and skydiving fun. However, this winter, the Airstream shall be left behind, and in our trusty Optra steed, we find ourselves fully loaded with skydiving gear and minimalist clothing + items, making our way, this most quiet of mornings on the highway. Today is the chosen day to pioneer a new journey for ourselves, with a new winter exploration beyond the Airstream comforts we have travelled for the past few winter solstices.

On this day, we pretty much stayed true to our schedule and made great headway towards the border well before the break of noon. Our crossing of the International Boundary was a bit arduous and longwinded. Being a prior ‘avocado seed smuggler’ (their words, not mine), we were pulled over for inspection. But all in intention and belongings were displayed upfront, and honesty rang true and through. An hour after arrival, we were allowed entry in to the beautiful US of A. Seems like my prior status with the USDA in forgetting about an avocado on board our Airstream will haunt us in future crossings. Dang my premature senility in remembering all things food! 🙂

My Dad made me this awesome mini-desk for my laptop …. and it was put to good use on our first day. I now carry a piece of my Dad and his love with me wherever I travel. And that makes my heart shine.

A good long first day found us arriving in Illinois late evening, spending a few quality days with our friend Barbie June. Knowing the solace and company of a long-time dear friend (and second Mother to me) ever welcoming has me warmed by the comforts of friends during the Christmas holidays. What a spectacular season this has been for family gatherings and friend get-togethers!

Walkerton Water Tragedy ~~ a 10 year Anniversary

walkertoncountry muralWalkerton Ontario. Does the name sound familiar? 10 years ago this month, Walkerton was hit with an E. Coli outbreak within the local water supply that devastated this community and rocked our province / country. It also made Walkerton a household name. A first world country with E Coli water contamination, killing people? Impossible! Unfortunately not so. This sleepy little hamlet is only 15 minutes away from where my Father’s farm is (and where we are currently), and for the last 25 years, this has been the home of my Aunt and Uncle. Tonight, we visited Doris and Craig in Walkerton. Currently, this sleepy little town probably has one of the cleanest water systems in Canada (they replaced EVERY water pipe et al after the catastrophe). Not soon thereafter, another outbreak occurred in North Battleford, Saskatchewan. Makes one wonder about the officials and Provinces who are allegedly monitoring the quality  of our water source. Don’t even get me started on the Harris Government cutbacks. The source of Walkerton’s bacterial infection occurred from farm runoff into the town’s adjacent well that was known for its vulnerability. Shameful really. And I think back to the YEARS of hassle that my family who lived there at the time (my Grandparents resided in a nursing home where my Brother-in-Law also works) went through. As often as any bathing form was desired, Doris and Craig had to pay for a 11km taxi ride to Hanover in order to accomodate their needs. Shipped in bottled water was used for at least 2-3 years (for cleaning, dishes, drinking, etc).

I debated whether to drink the tap water tonight when Dori and I sat down to play a game of 2-handed Euchre (the boys were intensely focussed on the hockey game between Philadelphia and Bosten). Imagine when the day arrives that safe potable tap water no longer exists? With the ramifications of our declining clean fresh-water supply, how will we cope as a planet, let alone a once unfamiliar hamlet in the middle of South Western Ontario? How does one build up the confidence in our country’s water supply when more and more chemicals, hormones and pharmaceuticals are showing up in OUR tap water! I can’t fully imagine what will happen to the water supply in the Southern US states with the BP oil spill tragedy that doesn’t seem to be coming close to any successful solutions or containment. And the beauty of water …. it travels the WORLD through our eco-system … we are one global climate system, one living and breathing planet. This affects us ALL. Time to ditch the plastics and water bottles (whose sources are just as questionable as our tap water) and come up with solutions. Living in an RV has truly shown me the importance of tapping in to a clean and safe potable source for our water, as we tend to travel with it countrywide within our fresh-water holding tank. Water = precious commodity. Let’s start thinking about what we’re putting in to our water … we are TRULY what we eat AND drink. And any change that you desire must begin with yoU!

The winds of change

It’s amazing how a moment in time can change the path of decision. A huge learning curve for uS in this new lifestyle has been to cre8te lists and priorities, setting daily goals for our ever-increasing tasks on our to-do lists. Without a sense of direction visually available, trying to get everything done in a limited time-constraint would be far more difficult.

Although I had every intention to clean out the cubbyhole, slaDE~ and I had to seriously look at our priorities in heading south before the snow flies. The biggest time worry for me is learning to drive a brand new trailer (which is a whole new way of thinking and driving) in inclement weather conditions. Finding our way to a place below the snowbelt, to actually acclimatize ourselves to this new lifestyle, is the priority. The area where we are staying right now is THE snowbelt. The Great Lakes area is a huge snow area, and with the changing weather and world we live in, there are no guarantees as to when the first snow will fall. Hence, a sense of urgency behind leaving ASAP. De-cluttering with a purpose is one thing, purging under pressure with time constraints is another. So, with a somewhat heavy heart, I am leaving the cubbyhole cleaning until spring, when we hope to return to the farm and re-evaluate our whole wintering / travelling process. This will also be a juncture to polish up our Airstream into a glossy finish and take our time in weeding through our belongings. In coming to this decision, I seriously had to ask myself if this was an excuse to procrastinate. Coming to the decision and determination to clean out the storage area took a lot of dedicated resolve. But with complete commitment to the task at hand and the priorities we have for heading south, I do believe that we’ve made the right decision.

With that said, I STILL need to unleash the cubbyhole, and find my stuff! Namely a canopy in hiding, dishes and useful items for the trailer that will make our life complete over the winter (why buy new when we already may own it?). This means unloading 80% of my boxes and rummaging through their contents without the stress of needing to find a new location for it all. I’m truly blessed to have the farm as a home base and I’m very thankful and grateful for Dad and Karen opening their home to us, not just as guests but as family on a new road to living. Bless them.

Cleaning out the …..

Clutter. Stuff. The ultimate treasure hunt, leading me down a memory lane extravaganza. For me, the task of the century, the epitome of my mental clutter resides in the cubby hole downstairs in my Father’s basement. A 3.5 foot tall cement alcove, covering the width of the ENTIRE farmhouse, solely built to withstand the elements of earthquake, flood and even possibly fire. Built to store and stockhold all that belongs to his children. I’d say 90% of what is hidden in its depths belongs to yours truly. sKY, the pack-rat. Who would have ever thought that a world traveller, perpetually in adventure backpacking mode, could retain and stockpile so much STUFF?! But somehow I managed. After each traverse into the big wide world, I came home, unloaded, started over and took off in a new direction. Only to leave my discarded belongings in limbo, waiting patiently for a day such as this. I think my Dad even got tired of finally moving and shifting my stuff around whilst I was off gallivanting. And now, the task resides with me. Head on, no holds barred confrontation. Empty it out completely, stack it in the barn, and attack it with wild abandon. 30 some odd years of pat-racking everything that symbolizes my being, my wants, desires, dislikes. Everything that I own and covet …. STUFF. Now begins the process of emptying, sorting, filing, cleansing, purging, donating, recycling, freecycling, eliminating, selling, organizing, repairing, repacking, labelling and putting away all that doesn’t find a useful / needed place within our new home, our Airstream. Everything. All that fills my life, clutters my physical being, hidden in nooks and crannies long forgotten.

DeClutter Mind Map by Paul Foreman

De-Clutter Mind Map by Paul Foreman

I suppose the process began in Calgary. What a painful experience that was! How could we have possibly contained so much in 500 square feet? But we did. And with only 2 weeks to deal with our STUFF (plus everything else that goes with leaving a job, a home, a lifestyle, our community, a life and our friends), I was traumatized. S T R E S S F U L was the name of the game (thank you Robin and TJ for saving our butts in the final hour). My inner yogi basically flew out the window, and has yet to return! All the skills and abilities and advice I so often extolled to my students took a u-turn and was nowhere to be seen. Overwhelmed, drained, energy-sucking, vitality draining vampire. Stuff.


The Evil Clutter Fairy ©

People say that we are brave in the new life we are about to embark on. I say that bravery starts on the inside, dealing with STUFF. It takes courage and honesty to approach the task of decluttering both our inner and outer worlds. slaDE~ and I started the process last night. To say that our process started out smoothly would be like saying that I fear nothing in this life. Quite the opposite. I fear everything and anything. I’m a huge scaredy-cat. Facing change and the unknown are 2 of life’s biggest challenges. Forever and always. My nemesis. But that’s okay. I know that I’m not alone. And slaDE~ is patient and willing to accompany me on this journey, of de-cluttering the possessions that WE own. However, single-handedly I must evict the cubby hole of all its belongings, sorting, organizing and cleaning my way through it in whatever way possible. The onus is on me. For only I can decipher the meaning and depth of it all. Where to start? Unload it ALL into the barn, and sort through each and every container, one rubbermaid box at a time. Bit by bit, piece by piece, breath by breath. Oh yes, with kleenex and camera at hand. It’s going to be one heck of a memory hike. I’m actually starting to look forward to it :).

Organization 101 – – a start

declutter houseI’m starting to get into that mode of de-cluttering. Or at least think about it. But where to start? Starting the task of clearing out the ‘stuff’ is always the most difficult part of the challenge, for me. Because there’s always SO much to do. But once I get into that mindset, that mode, the task becomes easier.
Here’s some tips on starting in the bedroom with your closet. One of my own personal tips (adopted from my husband) is to roll all my clothes, when they’re not hanging up. Allows for much more storage and I can then also see everything when they’re not stacked, but rolled instead.

Starting with the closet —

7 Tips For a More Organized Master Closet

1. Keep all clothing and shoes off the floor

2. Keep the floor clear easy to clean

3. If you don’t have built in shoe cubbies and you have extra pole space, use hanging bags for shoes

4. If you need more drawer storage and you have the extra pole space, use hanging shelves for jeans, sweats and other bulky items

5. Use space bags or plastic bins on the top shelf for off-season clothes

6. Remove lids from hampers so clothes actually go into the hamper instead of getting stacked on top

7. Separate and organize clothing items by the way you determine what to wear in the morning. Variations include dividing by color, occasion or warmth.

Moving into the kitchen —

5 Tips For an Organized Kitchen
1. Keep all papers off of kitchen countertop

2. Create zones for each type of activity ie prep, store, cook, bake

3. Keep tools for each activity within reach of that zone

4. Use large lazysusans for deep, hard to reach cupboards

5. Use stacker shelves to keep track of canned good inventory

Now the question is, can she come and help us organize our Airstream, with all the curved cupboard space and limited allotment for weight storage. Time to start thinking about cut, cut, cutting back. That’s HUGE for me. The sacrifices one must make to live the dream :). I’m ready for the challenge! Now I need to find me one of those container stores.

so done!

2 months later with about 40 hours of blood sweat and effort, I have finally finished everything that I need for my official yoga certification to be a registered yoga instructor. How wicked is that! Now all I have to wait for is my papers to be marked and the official certificate to come my way. register with Yoga Alliance, and the world is then my yoga oyster. Yipppeee! RYT
Truly a weight off of my shoulders. It’s felt like a long slog, although I have thoroughly enjoyed the learning process. I was helped by many, inspired by those who love and care about me and totally supported by my husband, mentor and best friend. I am very thankful and grateful.

Sex and Marriage

to risk or not?Marriage … ah the eternal debate over an institution filled with both flaws and promise. Should I or shouldn’t I? Can I risk to be vulnerable, interdependent, gambling against all the odds with no guarantees that life won’t throw a tire-iron my way? And if things go awry in a big way, what should I do then? Remain or leave?
Huge questions …. all pursued in the new ‘Sex and the City’ movie that I savoured and devoured last night, sadly solo (all my best girls are out-of-country — and my best boy didn’t deem SATC as a big screen kind of pic). This was one feature that I longed to share, to pursue the questions that arose from the big statements boldly and brazenly lavished upon me. I LOVED EVERY MOMENT. It was such a fabulous story. And it left me with a few revelations on relationships and marriage that I by far didn’t expect from 2.5 hours of high fashion, humour and scandal. Carrie, Samantha, Miranda and Charlotte wrestle with love, sex, children, weight gain, friendship, humiliation, and forgiveness …. all in a hilariously realistic fashion (haute couture, of course ☺). Where else could one find a movie where marriage is both crushed and lauded, from every possible nuance and angle.

If you haven’t seen the movie yet and like surprises, stop reading now!

Carrie -- ties the knot!Carrie and Big ultimately get married but only after one is left standing at the altar on their first attempt. The most profound question from the movie, for me, which evolves from the lessons learned (in true Carrie style), is: ‘Why Marriage?’ Did she believe that without marriage, their efforts and relationship were not good enough? Do you have to be married to be real, be true and be accepted as seriously involved and committed?

This debate is something that I have struggled with in the past and sometimes find myself examining / disputing. In my heart I know that marriage is not the end-all be-all. Divorce is a reality truly close to home for so many loved ones. For myself, on the one hand, when one grows up in a hugely Catholic, sizable family where marriage is the persistently inevitable little girl’s dream, it’s hard to break out of those defining stereotypes, living fully and completely, with no holds barred, unravelling all expectations. Yet from day to day, slaDE and I live our love, married in heart, without that niggling piece of paper, pushing the evolutionary buttons which others define as ‘playing house’. With no guarantees of longevity of life and love, I can only live each day fully, acknowledging my husband as a dedicated loving fully present male who, for better or for worse, has stood by me for 6.5+ years. And I remain a beloved besotted wife. Actions speak louder than words on a piece of paper. AMEN.

Now, with the film complete, it’s up to the rest of us to release the vanquished breath, carrie on with our own lives (punnY!), come up with our own answers. And continue asking new questions, pushing buttons along the way.