31 January 2014

de-stashing my life

Step one is generating enough funds to purchase the bus and get it on our parking pad so we can start renos.  Rather than try and run a bunch of photography specials or cut the kids off food for a few months, I have put my photography studio and all its contents up for sale along with several non-essential items in our house.  I thought I would be way more freaked out than I am but I am not.  I have classes scheduled through the end of May so I am sticking around until then, though.  It's a bittersweet thing really, now that I've discovered the idea of mobility I think my next studio should be in a caboose...  

Meanwhile, if you know anyone looking to buy a fully equipped studio and/or all of its contents, please share this:


www.MyEdmontonStudio.ca is in FULL OPERATION until May 31st. If you would like to book a rental, I encourage you to book quickly as limited dates are available  

Here is the existing calendar: 


Here is the inventory of all items currently available in the studio for sale.


Some items cannot be picked up until the last week of May but will not be held without a 50% deposit. Deposits are NON-REFUNDABLE. Please PM me with the line item number(s) of the items(s) you are interested in and I will put your name next to it pending receipt of deposit (50% of purchase price) for items available on May 31st or payment in full for items available for immediate possession.

Anyone wishing to purchase the studio including all fixtures and furnishings, the client list, domain, website, FB page etc. is welcome to make me an offer however I cannot guarantee all items on inventory will still be included as until and unless I have an offer I will continue selling.

I'm willing to negotiate an earlier possession date and reduce the purchase price by up to $3000 in exchange for the new owner honouring all existing booking dates through May 31st. You would also be welcome to join all Dirty Little Secrets classes being taught between now and May 31st at no charge.

Monthly operating cost including utilities, rent, internet, security, and liability insurance is approximately $1500, though the new owner would be responsible for negotiating the terms of their own lease with the building owner.


30 January 2014

strong feelings

Whoa.  That is all I have to say.  Just, Whoa.

"You are being irresponsible."
"You are having a midlife crisis."
"You are abandoning your sons."
"You are going to ruin your daughters."
"You're going backwards."

This was how the announcement was received.  While the vast majority of our friends got really excited for us (and some were even jealous) several took the time to judge our family and the choices we are making.  I want to respond to these assertions, not because I feel like I have something to prove or have to justify my actions, but to illustrate how completely and utterly WAY off-base these accusations are.

Irresponsible is what happens when your children end up owing money on your behalf when you're dead because you've done nothing but rack up more debt than you have equity.  Happens all the time.  Now, I'm not going to say that we are in hawk up to our eyeballs but because we need to use I will say that it will take another 10 - 15 years before we would break even and another 10 - 15 after that to turn a profit.  In those 20 - 30 years, I will pay the bank a grotesque amount of interest.  I am not in a position to help pay for my kids' education because I live paycheque to paycheque.  I have a pension plan through my company but do not have RRSPs or RESPs because there is no money left at the end of the month.  This is the reality of having a large family and a large house.  Every time I see the interest on our bank statements, I cringe.  And we cannot accelerate our payments without sacrificing elsewhere - cutting out our kids' extracurriculars or working more hours perhaps…  No thanks.

By eliminating this house, which is an encumbrance not an asset, we will be debt-free within 24 months and have freed up enough money in our budget to a) pay cash for our kids' education, b) help out with their books and rent if need be, c) take amazing vacations,  d) do fun stuff like go to Launchpad more often without worrying about not having milk money, and e) still have money left over to invest and/or save so some 25 or 30 years from now when we retire we can also pay cash for some little swanky assisted living seniors' condo and not be a burden on our kids.  If that's your definition of irresponsible then fine.  I'm not an extreme cheapskate.  I just want to put money exactly where it needs to go - towards having an amazing life with my family.

A midlife crisis is what occurs when a person suddenly realizes they are getting older and they freak out about their passing youth.  They go buy sports cars, have affairs with people half their age, and sign up for plastic surgery.  My husband and I have talked literally for YEARS about living "off the grid."  Finding a little patch of heaven close enough to the city to commute but far enough away we feel secluded so we can live off the land with as tiny a footprint as possible.  The timing is not midlife crisis-ish but midlife paradigm shift-ish.  One of the main reasons we never did this earlier was because it was impractical.  We are a blended family, and with our kids being so young and having court-enforced visitation schedules to maintain it didn't make sense.  But my sons are now 17 and 19; my stepdaughter is moving away from Edmonton this week and since she's almost 13, her visitation from this point forward relies heavily on (ironically) bus transportation.  I'm not having a midlife crisis - my kids are just growing up.

By the time we move into the bus and leave city limits to start our unofficial tiny house and skoolie hippy commune, my sons will be 18 and 20.  By the time we hit the open road to tour North and South America, they will be 19 and 21.  I have two amazing sons who have dads who love them every bit as much as I do, so if I were to go live on a bus in the sticks and they chose to stay put and move in with their Dads or come with us for some or all of our bus life , either way there is no abandonment happening.  I have been a primary parent to both of my sons since birth and my sons never asked to live with their Dads and their Dads never asked for the boys to move in, but I assure you I would not have stopped it.  Contrary to popular single mom mythology, Moms don't own a monopoly on being a parent, Dads matter a lot, and FYI men are capable of providing support and love to their kids every bit as much as moms.  (I'm sure widowers, male couples, and single dads will agree with me ere.)  I love my sons and know they are mama's boys (they actually call me mama still lol) but I think they could both benefit from living with their fathers.  I put in my time and while my door will forever be open and I freely admit I am likely to hover-parent my sons until the end of my time, between me, my husband, their Dads, and their extended families, they will never, ever, not for a second be without financial back-up, love, and all the support they can handle.  Abandonment my ass.

A far as our ruined daughters are concerned, well - you can kiss my butt.  Period.  We had our cabana for 5 years, which involved living in a tiny space, sleeping in a single room, working together to accomplish a task as simple a relighting a pilot light or making hot chocolate, and a whole lot of cuddling, playing outside, and reading.  We thrived in that environment and the girls BEGGED to go to the cabana.  Our girls have been raised in an environment full of love, support, and happiness… and that won't magically stop once we move into a bus.  It's an address change.   I don't think I read that thing on the internet where my girls are going to grow up to be homeless uneducated heroin addicted prostitutes if they travel a lot and don't live in a big house surrounded by material possessions.  The kids will still go to school.  I will still work.  We will still have our dogs.  And we live a life free from debt and owning more stuff than we use.  How creating a life that allows us to afford travel and university tuition and spend less time and money maintaining a giant house is going to "ruin" anyone is beyond me, but thanks for playing.

And as far as going backwards… well, here's the thing. We're not talking about living in horse drawn carriage on land that can only be accessed by helicopter and eating moosemeat raw from the bone after choking the moose by hand.  And I'm not dropping out to take up begging or stealing for a living.  I am talking about moving into a winterized diesel bus on an acreage (hopefully with other small home and skoolie/RV hippy friends.)  I am not quitting my day job, I am definitely not giving up my photography business, and HELL NO am I giving up Netflix (it's almost HOC o'clock!!!)  The primary difference between living in the house and living in the bus will be that when I get up in the morning, instead of waking up in a house, I will be waking up on a bus.  I will have a fridge, stove, bed, computer…  Without all my books I will have to get a Kindle though…  but I digress.  What I think is that my family is an early adopter in a growing social movement towards sustainability and living a more authentic life, one that I can afford without being a victim of an incredibly horrible financial and consumer system that is designed to keep you in debt and feeling incomplete if you don't buy buy buy.

What we are proposing to do is not for everyone's family.  I totally understand that.  Our values may seem different and our adventures may seem odd, but don't judge.  Don't be a hater.  Ask me questions and please don't accuse me of things, don't assume you know something about my thought process, and don't drag my qualifications as a loving and committed parent into this.  I am more than the sum of my possessions and where I live, and I'm not interested in being measured by anyone else's yardstick.  Maybe you're at that point in your life where it still isn't practical to downsize so this all looks incredibly insane but one day you just might find yourself, like us, looking around at all the stuff you've spent a lifetime accumulating and will spend the rest of your life paying for and see it not as an accomplishment but an encumbrance.



29 January 2014

the tiny home "movement" isn't really a movement...

I hate cleaning a huge house and working to pay nothing but bank interest and bills.  It would take several hours each week to clean, polish, dust, wash, put away, and do regular maintenance on my house and all the stuff in my house, which between two floors has over 2000 sq ft of space in use by 6 people.  Even when the work is split between 6 people, it requires a huge investment of time and energy with the only 2 people paying the bills coming home and facing a second workload, Bill primarily taking care of our home and me running my businesses, income from which we depend on.

While living in the cabin we used to have, I got a taste of living micro and living simple that I craved daily.  In many ways, living small made living large possible.  I managed to keep the place pretty much spic 'n' span in literally minutes.  We had to conserve water.  We had to chop wood to stay warm.  When it was nice, we simply went outside.  When it was dark or the weather was bad, we had to play games together, read, watch ancient VHS tapes, or do make-overs on each other to amuse ourselves.  While our little dwelling was certainly on the rustic side, there was nothing daunting or overwhelming about being there, nor did I feel that we were so far removed from civilization that we were at risk of being disowned by (or disowning) society.  It really was a perfect set-up.

This might be the first time you've ever heard of the Tiny House Movement but more than likely, you've seen something like this on Upworthy:

But really, it's nothing new.

The traditional Romani gypsy culture has long relied on living in tiny, portable spaces that allow them to move from town to town when they've sold all they can or they are pushed to move along.

It's rather reminiscent of wagon trains of settlers moving in to settle the west, the premise being there are strength in numbers and bringing a village with you makes it easier to live.  There is strength in numbers.

And I am pretty sure that this gypsy settlement:

bears a startling resemblance to a modern-day RV park where people spend literally tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars to live in little movable villages...

or like the gatherings at music festivals like burning man (or Alberta's own North Country Fair) where people erect temporary cities and somehow manage to live in almost complete harmony...

However, lots of people don't "choose" to live small.  The recession certainly expedited the lack of affordable housing (or more accurately people who could afford any housing even after the bottom dropped out of the market) which resulted in some people making very different choices about how to live.  This family downsized after losing their home and business in 2008.

Tent City USA is a documentary about people who don't even have $12,000 to build a tiny home and salvage a life after the recession.  They are just trying desperately to not be homeless.  (You can watch the full documentary on Netflix right now.)

And the affordable housing crisis isn't just in North America:

Modern tent city living doesn't look very much different than these images shot by Dorothea Lange during the Great Depression, does it?

Edmonton actually has its own history of tent cities, starting in the early 1900s when a population boom combined with low housing availability and exorbitant material costs made the cost of building a home prohibitive.

And as recently as 2007 and 2011 Edmonton's tent cities made the news when they were set up in very public spaces, but mostly you won't see the tent cities unless you wander through the more off-beaten paths of our river valley.

Despite all our planet's billionaires, in densely populated developing countries micro-living is simply the only affordable housing option.  Perhaps ironically because these billion dollar company owners don't pay them fair wages, but that's a post for a different day...

In India, huge settlements of houses barely the size of fridge boxes house entire families.  They are constructed of corrugated metal, tarps, and cardboard.

In the Dominican Republic, while houses are not quite as densely packed into every settlement, tiny houses that are haphazardly thrown together using salvaged or scavenged scraps and furnished with whatever materials you can find are de rigeur.  

In Edmonton, like many other cities around the globe, planners seek to revitalize their inner core as suburban sprawl draws people further and further from what should be a vibrant core by offering homebuilders incentives for including basement suits or erecting multiplexes (duplex, 4-plex) where single family dwellings previously stood.

It's honestly just a matter of time before the houses are split into micro-suites, right?  Anyways...

So why are so many people choosing to live small?  Why is it becoming chic?  While it's definitely a choice reserved for those with at least some money, it starts to make a lot of sense when you look at the benefits:

In densely-populated cities like New York, Toronto, and Paris, chic, creative and stylish micro-living has been around for a long time.  If you live in a major urban centre, you really just need a place to hang your hat since you have access to everything else in close proximity, from markets to laundromats.  They say necessity is the mother of invention - check out how incredibly clever this gorgeous little space in Spain is:

And this company makes beautiful furniture that makes tiny spaces seem 10x bigger than they are:

This kind of clever engineering makes it possible for entire families to inhabit tiny spaces in relative luxury to what our counterparts in Hong Kong endure:

They take micro even one step further when it comes to hotels:

New York is up on the tiny hotel thing, with Yotel leading the industry on clever design.

And if a family can inhabit a small stationary space, why could it not inhabit a mobile space?  I remind you, this is nothing new, it's just becoming chic and hip to be eco-friendly and relatively free from material encumbrances.

And it doesn't have to be as bohemian as the 60s:

or as loud:

In fact living in converted busses ranged from quaint:

to sleek and clever:

To downright luxurious:

Frankly, I have zero interest in a luxury unit.  We hope to outfit a unit somewhere between quaint and clever.  And I've already met my dream bus.  Now, to track one down and make her ours...

That's it for today.  Later on I'll be blogging about career changes, long- and short-term plans, and where I am going to get busdriving lessons from.  Also coming: reno plans, buying land, and career changes.  Whoop whoop!

fly the coop

If you google "fly the coop" this is one of the definitions that comes up:

fly the coop "to escape; to get out or get away."  I couldn't stand the party, so I flew the coop. The prisoner flew the coop at the first opportunity.

I suppose I could just as easily have called this "leaving the rat race" but I had this perfectly good www just wasting away since my beloved photography co-op was abandoned by the new owner of the original studio and decided what the heck - if the shoe fits

Those who know me know that I have, for years, talked about going off the grid.  It was always kind of a pie-in-the-sky dream, more of a retirement fantasy than something that would happen right away, but the discussion has always existed as "when" not "if."  And those of you in my innermost circle have also heard me talking about taking time off to live in South America or fantasizing about possibly living on a sailboat for a while.  And even people who don't know me well know that I hate being a slave to social conventions and norms - the measuring sticks, if you will - that define my status in society.

We are all kind of brainwashed from birth, indoctrinated by a society that places value on material possessions out of necessity in maintaing the current paradigm wherein corporations exist without moral limitations on how they fulfill their single core mandate of making money.  I remember thinking, as a child and teen, that being an adult meant "freedom" from having to do what the authorities in my life told me and freedom to fulfill my own dreams; I'm not sure exactly when I realized that this "freedom" is a myth and that the "dreams" I had of owning a house and car and having 2.4 kids and a dog never really fit all that well, but growing up has been anything but "freedom."

As you can see, I am not the only one who believes we are groomed for becoming indentured servants to our possessions.  Those of us who have not strive to have, while those who have live in fear of having not.  It's an incredible burden not just accumulating stuff but maintaining it.  Advertisers spend millions of dollars annually convincing us to feel a hole in our life if we have not.  It becomes an attack on our self-worth if we don't measure up - we don't have the right job title, we don't drive the right car, we don't live in the right neighbourhood, we don't take the right vacations, we don't have enough stuff, we don't have the right stuff… and each of us has to define whether we intend to be counted as a have and how far we are willing to go to maintain or create the illusion of carefree having.

It's often impossible to not feel the pressure.  I mean, you want your parents to be proud, you want your friends from high school to be envious, you want your kids to not get picked on at school…  Every now and then you might have glimpses of how silly it all is - absurd, really - that you feel that pang of jealousy when so-and-so posts that they are on a plane to Vegas or just bought a new quad, or how that little stab of envy comes, completely uninvited, when someone posts pics of their ginormous new house being built or their fancy new car.  You don't want to be unhappy about their accumulation or enjoyment of superior stuff (you dot even really want to have the same stuff!) but there you are suddenly googling expensive cars and wishing you could move to a bigger house and take a luxurious vacation.  And if you're like millions of regular hard-working honest folks just trying to get by, you whip out your credit and consume, feeding the corporate machine and ensuring that you will forever be committed to paying, paying, paying for the stuff you must must must have if you are going to register on the measuring stick society hands you, upon which you can never ever really measure up.

Then, if you're like me, you feel an odd combination of satisfaction and self-loathing about your stuff.  It's nice owning stuff but man does it ever suck looking after it, finding places to put it, paying to maintain it, cleaning it, upgrading and updating it...  I buck most of this, but I'm not entirely innocent of getting caught up in the game either.  From time to time it bites me in the ass and suddenly I'm standing there after a frenzy of online shopping wondering WTF possessed me to buy yet another couch off Kijiji when I barely have room for the 6 (six) I already own.  (Yes, I do actually own 6 (six) unique couches.  And 2 chaises.  And 6 armchairs.)  If you're like me, you are likely equal parts proud and disgusted with all the things you own but have to clean and maintain.  Maybe you wonder, how come I have this big house to clean and why do my kids each have an iPad, an iPod, a cell phone, a TV, and a laptop, and how did I end up working sofa king many hours a week and still not getting any further ahead or feeling like I finally have ENOUGH?!  Or maybe, instead of getting rid of stuff so I don't look like a hoarder, I decide the solution is a bigger house...

And maybe you're now of those hipster types who is blasé about everything, on purpose, playing yourself off as a modern who-gives-a-damn earth child in your Lulu Lemons sweats (yes, yoga pants are really just fancy sweatpants) and skinny hemp jeans and ethically mined eco-friendly vegan anti-aging cream and shopping at the local organic health market instead of the chain grocery store and investing in real salvaged antiques at the over-priced salvage store instead of buying new to prove how anti-establishment you.  And yet you have a university degree your parents paid for and work at some sell-out job.  Or you're a barista.  You want to believe that you are anti-establishment, but you are really just the untapped market Urban Outfitters needed to revamp their product line and when you stop to think about it, you know in your heart that you spend just as much (if not more money) to maintain this image but at the end of the day are just as much a victim (and perpetrator) of the rat race as the quad-riding, WalMart shopping, RV-owning crowd.

“There are thousands and thousands of people out there leading lives of quiet, screaming desperation, where they work long, hard hours at jobs they hate to enable them to buy things they don't need to impress people they don't like.” ― Nigel Marsh

If you're like me, while you think sure, I can make this all work - I CAN make this all work and I WILL find balance somehow, but really you just fantasize about saying fuck it, selling everything you don't use every day, and flying the proverbial coop in a converted school bus...

Which is exactly what my family plans to do by 2015.