Have Courage, and Be Kind

Have I mentioned how the new Cinderella movie may be my favourite movie? I just watched it for a second time on a flight and love how it inspires me to “have courage and be kind.” Another little phrase I add for myself (and I’m not sure where I picked it up) is “give first.”

For some people this advice seems to be effortlessly easy to follow. Though of course, that’s only my perspective of it. These people who gave of themselves without asking anything in return, these patient people who would never take things personally and always forgive you for being an imperfect human.

I wonder about the psychology of it. Does it come from being a very secure person? Someone who knows their needs will be met, and in turn can help others get theirs met?

I feel like perhaps it’s something I struggle with because as one of four children, we always had to compete for attention and make sure someone took care of our needs. We had to be a little louder to express our individuality. I’ve had a tendency to be more self-focused in times when I’m stressed, have little money in the bank, and little attention to spare because it’s all wrapped up in trying to figure out life. But those things should be no excuse for not being present and aware of other people’s needs.

Cinderella_text

It can be fairly easy with strangers, even if they’re rude or obnoxious, to remind yourself that it’s not about you and to be kind to them anyway.

But it gets harder with people closer to you, for some reason. It’s harder not to take it personally when they are expressing their insecurities. I have a tendency to want to put them in their place! My ego pops up and I want to say, “I think you have a problem that needs to be addressed!” But every time I do that, it only puts them more on the defensive. You’d think I’d learn. It can also be hard because they know you as who you have been in the past. You have a certain relationship with them, a certain way of interacting that can be hard to step out of. You both play a role, and a change in your perception completely changes the relationship between the characters in this play. Sometimes it’s for the better, though! Most of the time, I hope.

It’s quite an exercise, to try and always be aware of the needs of those around you. To stop being focused on your own inner world all the time and see how you can reach out to others. Of course we need to care for ourselves, we can’t just quit work to go help all the old ladies cross the street all day (or you could). If you have dreams and goals, you don’t have to put them aside. It’s just being aware of what you can do, when opportunity presents itself.

But if we’re not careful about our motives, we can get stuck in a rut of “I do everything for everyone else, but nobody cares about me.” I mean that’s one way of looking at the situation (and I’ve looked at it that way before). But I think in some situations this ties together being kind to others, and also taking care of our own needs. For instance, you could think you’re always being kind to a person who takes it for granted, and let it fester inside you until you blow up at them, even though all they did was accept what you offered as though there were no strings attached. If you’re a couple, for example, you could get annoyed that your partner always leaves their towel on the floor or something. Maybe you’ve pointed it out in a teasing way, but not in a way that is a direct request. So if one day you go strangling them with a towel, they don’t know what your problem is. Or perhaps you find yourself seemingly doing most of the dishes. You may just do it because it needs done, doesn’t take much time, and not everything in life is split 50/50 unless that’s what you actually agree upon at some point. But if you let it start to bother you and think it’s not fair, then you’re just making a victim out of yourself by not speaking aloud an agreement with your co-dish-washer. And it’s another story all together if one of you has a hard time sticking to an agreement, but then again you both should be kind and also take care of yourselves, perhaps swapping one chore for another.

Or you could be the kind of person who keeps a running list of how you’ve been kind to others in your life, and have come to a point where you don’t make it pleasant for someone to accept a favour from you. Or you create a great long speech about all you do and how you can’t take on any more, instead of simply saying “it would be really hard for me to do that right now, I’m sorry.” You may martyr yourself, doing things for others but making them fully aware of how put out you are by it. Nobody needs the story of your life when asking a favour, they just need a yes or no.

 

prayer

But my point is that we need to watch ourselves and make sure that we are kind to others because we genuinely want to be – we want them to smile, to have an easier time – not because we want recognition. We all should be kind. It’s not that we’re going above and beyond when we’re being kind. We are all falling short of the mark, which is to be constantly aware of how we can be of service, and also to forgive others when we feel they have been unkind or have failed to be kind to us.

I feel like much of my life, somehow, has been about making sure my needs get met, making sure that, when hordes of background actors run for the pizza, there’s a piece for me too. But I’ve been in transition, becoming the person who gives the best piece of… whatever we’re eating…. to the other person. The person who can enjoy something even if it’s not quite what she was expecting. The person who observes rather than gets angry, and tries only ever to have a kind word to say. The person who doesn’t keep score, and who volunteers herself with grace and without resentment, never being a victim. Because when you’re kind for the sake of being kind, for the sake of loving everyone as people who need to be loved, you always win.

Have courage, and be kind.

Life is a Daring Adventure

Somewhere over the rainbow...
Somewhere over the rainbow…

As some of you may already know, I made a trip to Panama in April. Other than some brief weekends in Cabo, this was my first real journey into Central America.

Part of me feels silly, thinking about what to write, what was the same, what was different, what surprised me… as if I were the first person to discover the country. I didn’t stay there long enough to be able to give a deep commentary on the culture or people, but I feel like I should say something about my journey! I mean come on, this is my adventure blog! A journey anywhere helps us to examine ourselves and discover more facets to our souls, to see how similar we are to humans everywhere else, and to see how different we are as well, reflecting how we were raised and what we were taught. It’s a hands-on opportunity to share knowledge and to challenge one another.

I learned what a cashew looks like on the tree. I learned that junk mail doesn’t exist everywhere. I learned that the ideas of organic, sustainable, solar-powered lifestyles are reaching far and wide. I learned that not far from a city where people can pay thousands of dollars in rent for their apartment, live people in tin huts in the jungle… I still have many more questions, so much more to learn, than could be learned in 10 days.

I spent my first full day in a car, driving with another couchsurfer from Panama City to Bocas del Toro. It was a long drive, and we watched the terrain go from dry and brown, to a Jurassic Park-like lush forest, complete with several rainbows along the way. The drive was long, and we arrived at the docks after the last official ferry had gone. $40 later, we were on a ferry heading to our island. This ferry was not what I had expected (teaches me to expect anything! I keep thinking I’ve learned this lesson…), being a small boat with a motor and a tent-like enclosure that bounced across the black waves towards the faint lights.

Lounging Aqua-rdly.
Lounging Aqua-rdly.

The next few days were spent at a hostel called the Aqua Lounge, where we would observe mostly younger travelers jumping into the ocean pool, partying late into the night, and eating the free pancake breakfasts. The first night however, my travel partner gashed his foot on a barnacle trying to rescue a girls phone from the ocean, and we got the experience of a visit to the local hospital one morning. That experience was enough for me to cross Bocas off of my “I could live here.” list.  But as my first ever experience in a hostel, not bad. The people were laid back and friendly, and it was set up for having a chill time over the ocean. Was not a fan of sharing a bathroom and shower with an unknown number of people (one of whom vomited in the shower during the party night, after I had gone to sleep), but there were no major problems.

The ocean was warm, and there were rumors of bioluminescence (I would ask several people about this, and rainbow eucalyptus), which will have to wait until my next trip for me to discover. I wanted more time, to climb through the tangled jungle trees, to swim in the ocean, to do all the things wood and water nymphs do.

 

I think I can be a wood nymph here.
I think I can be a wood nymph here.

 

Panama beach

On the long journey back into the city, we had to find an alternate route, because the main bridge was still closed thanks to the Summit. The city had nearly emptied during this period, because of all the road closures and hassle it had caused, and I wondered what it was normally like.

panorama2

The film festival had begun, and it was time to pick up my fancy lanyard and other goodies, which included a 6 pack of beer. Because I was in Kendal the Explorer mode, I saw few films, and opted to experience a few days in Coronado at my couchsurfing host’s brother’s hostel (did you follow that?) Villa Lilimar, to try and get my fill of the ocean and a more relaxing existence. We were the only guests at the hostel, and spent all of our time with our host, driving around picking mangos and avocados from neighbourhood trees, buying our dinner at the supermarket (not the organic store, which doubled the price of several items that are currently in my fridge, and did not sell any fresh fruits and vegetables).

Coronado

I enjoyed the stillness, the sun and the calm blue water of the pool, so much that I only went to the beach once. I mean, it wasn’t like the Bocas beach, anyway. It wasn’t freezing but it wasn’t warm. It had black sand (which is really cool! But really hot!). And I was told if you walked up a bit, the waves were calmer. But I was being lazy, and my friend’s foot injury prevented him from getting too crazy and adventurous, so I didn’t mind the relaxing days in the shade by, or in, the pool. We even discovered some giant balloons after a day or so, which became a foot condom for him, and he was able to get in the pool.

black and whitePanama City

Back in Panama City, I walked around the old city for a bit before attending the closing night’s film, Whiplash. There, I tagged along with the only English-speaker I had met to the afterparty. We explored upstairs, downstairs, outside, ate appetizers and drank wine (I think everyone might have been tired of all the beer!), danced to the singers and the DJ, and said hello to everyone he knew. I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

art

The next morning, I had a lunch date with a woman I had connected with online, Rosalind Baitel. She’d been living in Panama for about 30 years and ran one of it’s only Crossroads-like secondhand shop, Promises. So of course I had to buy a few things, including a cute pair of pink Ferragamo heels. All profits go to charity, so hey, I was just doing a good deed! Luckily Copa lets you check your luggage for free. We talked for an hour or so, and I got very excited about the potential of Panama, for someone like me. I know “the grass is always greener” and I thought the same of Paris years ago, but this time I have that essential missing piece – contacts. Which I still lack in France.

selfie
Me and my bag of Promises.

 

I didn’t do a lot with the rest of my day, but hung out with my host in the evening while eating some (um, bad) cheap vegan food (basically rehydrated dehydrated seitan – but a take-away meal was $3.60!). Bedtime came fairly early, as my flight was at 10AM…. it had gone by so quickly, and I was a bit frustrated that I couldn’t just extend my stay to explore more… but my pets were waiting, and I have to prep for France, so… it was not to be.

I won’t get into my Panamanian-TSA rant here, we’ll save that one for another day, but let’s just say if anyone out there owns a private jet, I would be so grateful if I could just fly with you from now on. I’ll bake cookies, brownies, a meal, whatever. I’ll pole dance on the plane, just please, please don’t make me fly commercial ever again.

Back to Panama. Yes. I look forward to going back. To seeing my new friends. To making more new friends. To discovering tropical paradises and having new adventures. To figuring out what value I could bring to the country (I’m still figuring that out in regards to France, though I think it has something to do with vegetarianism). To exploring the nearby countries, and the Caribbean (because it’s about time!). And maybe next time, rescuing baby turtles in Costa Rica and visiting my brother down in Chile. I can’t wait.

Panamanorama
Panamanorama

 

If you’re interested in seeing more of my photos from Panama, click on the Instagram link above in the menu! If you want to keep up-to-date with me via photographs, be sure to follow me on Instagram, too. :-)

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And heck, while I’m here, enjoy this video, part of which was filmed in Panama. I didn’t have a clear vision going into the making of this video, nor a real cinematographer on hand… it’s a learning process! I also still suck on guitar, have some kind of allergies, and haven’t invested in decent recording equipment other than a lavalier mic that didn’t seem to want to work the day I was working on recording. But I’m not out to make things perfect, just to keep creating, experimenting, learning, (this time, I learned things about Final Cut Pro X, though if anybody knows what on earth this long black/grey track is that is attached to my main clip… email me. It’s making fade-in’s and fade-out’s impossible without exporting to iMovie) and hopefully get better at what I’m doing. Also if anybody is interested in collaborating on anything, let me know. I would love a talented team to work with! It’s really time to start polishing up my own songs… and they deserve REAL music videos.

 

 

Taming the Hulk

So… what’s a normal reaction to learning that your car window has been smashed, and your car most likely burglarized?

1. Shout expletives

2. Cry

3. Roll over in bed

In my +/- 14 years in L.A., I have never been burglarized, and my property has never been vandalized. OK, when I first moved here, my purse was stolen at a party. Bad first impression of L.A. And my car got hit within the first month of owning it, but since then, also no real damage done.

But this isn’t really the story of my car. I’m only talking about this because I’m actually a bit in awe of my emotional reaction to the situation. It was like watching a different person. And I really believe it was because of meditation and mindfulness. This is not a usual occurrence. I still have some emotions that get way out of whack, making me feel like the Hulk at times (aaaahhhhggggg, Hulk smash!!!) but I’m really thinking that eventually, that will be a thing of the past! Petty irritations be gone!

cake housewife

I’ve been just drenching myself in all sorts of reading material on how to get rid of stress and worry (check out Dale Carnegie’s How to Stop Worrying and Start Living) and I think it’s beginning to set in. The meditation and prayer are definitely powerful when emotions are overwhelming me and I need to give up the need to try to control a situation. And I’m faster to frame things in a more positive light now, which is why when I overheard my neighbour talking to someone about a car…. realizing she was describing my car… having been broken into… I didn’t go into a panic. I closed my eyes again. Because really. It’s been done, right? I’m not going to stop someone in the action. Whatever I have to do is what I have to do, and surely it can wait 15 minutes. Unfortunately she woke me up knocking on my door (really couldn’t wait ’til I took the dog out or something?) so I walked down to see the damage.


car

 

The thing that bothered me most was that my Elsa cape appears to be missing. That is a frustrating loss because it meant I had to pay over $80 to order a new one to “rush” ship from China, and make a temporary cape for the meantime. The insurance company told me, “oh yeah, the window will cost more than $250,” which is my deductible… and I wasn’t pleased about that, but ya know…. There are things I can’t change and just have to accept. So I threw on my Keep Calm and Let It Go shirt (remember that?) greeted the police, and then headed out to the repair shop.

Keep Calm

 

There, I had a rental car waiting for me (free, thank you Geico. Just $11 for insurance, which makes no sense, because Geico is insurance…) and one of the guys told me that if they could, they would knock down the price if there was minor cosmetic damage. I enjoyed my Dodge very much for a few hours, before returning for my car, and a bill of…. $50.

There were some positive side-effects to this whole thing. I spent a minute talking to my neighbour, who is so loud sometimes I feel like she’s in the room with me. And I feel like we have more compassion on people if we know them better. Sometimes. I did hint that the walls and windows were very thin…. lol. Couldn’t pass up the opportunity. I also realized that maybe my love of taking photos of details could be put to good use. I’ve had a slow introduction to Instagram and finally decided that maybe I can share photos of small details, especially in “bad” situations, to encourage myself and others to slow down, to pay attention, and to see the beauty in everything.

glass

 

I like taking pictures, but never really knew how to share them, or what would make them worth sharing. Now I have an idea. I’m sure I’m not alone in it, but I do have my own life and circumstances that will influence my photos. If you haven’t caught it yet, my Instagram feed is rigged up to a page on this website (look up at the menu bar). So please follow me if you’re interested! Let’s hope that terrible, inconveniencing, expensive accidents don’t come along too often, of course. But when they do…. I feel like every day I’m a little more prepared to deal with them. And it makes me so happy I want to squeeze someone!! I thought my mind would just always and forever be clinging to things, whining and upset, but it’s not true!

smile

I thought I would probably always feel these things, and only learn how to control my reaction. But waking up and dealing with my car on Monday showed me that no, the feelings can actually be absent, too. I really can be cheerful, maybe even happy, when outward circumstances would make the average person boil over. It’s awesome. Give me more of that. I’m liking where life is going.

Don’t Worry, Be Happy!

Sometimes I feel like a slow learner.

I love learning, I love “self-help” books, quotes from wise people, and try to appreciate it when I learn a hard lesson in life. But I feel like I’m growing so slowly! I look back on my life and think “remember that situation? If I knew then what I know now, I would have been able to deal with it much better.” But I suppose we all grow at our own pace, determined by many factors in our early lives. I know lessons I might have been able to learn sooner (remember my last post? I knew the book The Power of Now existed, way back in 2005. I even thought, “I should read it, so I know what on earth this girl’s character is talking about in this scene.” But did I?) but for some reason they came later. Sometimes I wonder if we pass up chances to learn and grow that we won’t get again. Or if we get a second, third, or fourth chance. If God puts something or someone in our path because we need it, but we say, “no, I’m not ready for that” or “I don’t want that,” and we lose out on this experience that would have shot us forward in our growth. I don’t have the answer to that one. I suppose the answer would be that even if it were true, you can’t change the past, so just keep moving!

Anyway, the lesson I’m struggling with these days is that you need to give to receive. For instance…

I want better friends! Well, it means I have to be a better friend.

I want more financial security! Well, I need to give, believing that God’s supply is infinite and I do not live in lack.

Basically… it can feel like I have to give what I don’t have. Give friendship to get friendship. Give money to get money.

 

"You don't know how to manage Looking-glass cakes," the Unicorn remarked. "Hand it round first, and cut it afterwards."
“You don’t know how to manage Looking-glass cakes,” the Unicorn remarked. “Hand it round first, and cut it afterwards.”

 

But I get it. I do get it. It’s presenting an attitude of love and abundance, which draws more of the same to you. It’s not living in your head, for yourself, always thinking about what you lack, what you want, but focusing on others and how you can improve their world. In the process, yours improves as well.

Some prayer/faith/energy healers say that sometimes when they let God flow through them to heal other people, their own ailments are cured in the process. How could they not be, when love is flowing through you?

One of my favourite poems is one by Saint Francis of Assisi. I try to keep it memorized to recite to myself sometimes, because I think it’s the perfect reminder of how to move through life.

Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

I can tell I’m not yet at the highest version of myself, because I can still get quite butt-hurt when I give and give and give and give and then get taken advantage of, or ignored, or hurt in some way. I know my time is finite, and I must be wise in who I give it to, but I also need to learn that I give because of who I am, not because of who the other person is (other than another child of God) or how they will “repay” me. But then that also gets confusing if you do have sort of self-centered motives behind it, such as “be a friend to make a friend.” So my mind runs in circles trying to sort out how I should behave and think.

if-you-have-much-give-of-your-wealth-if-you-have-little-give-of-your-heart-quote-1

 

And when I think of the advice to rely on God, and give of what I have to others who have less, because He’ll take care of me… I think, well, I’m already awfully close to the edge, it’s a pretty big leap of faith to give money when I’m in debt and have no savings… how do I really know You’re going to take care of me? I have to take the leap before I see the net. It’s very hard to let go. It’s hard not to worry about tomorrow, though I know it does no good. Plan, but don’t worry.

worrypeace

One thing I’ve learned recently is that when my mind is troubled, when I’m stuck on a particular worry, to meditate. To pray. To medi-pray. When worrisome thoughts are crowding themselves into my head and I find it hard to breath, I sit down and close my eyes. I pick a phrase appropriate to my situation and repeat it either out loud or in my head. I give thanks to God for everything I have in this moment, and give thanks again that He will deal with this situation. I know that by worrying, I’m not being productive at all. But by radiating love and gratefulness and saying, “Lord, I give this to you, because I can’t control it,” I find myself relaxing and refocusing. Sometimes I nearly laugh at myself. I could start a meditation sit sobbing my eyes out but by the end… I’m cool.

letgoofworry

It’s really saved my sanity, and I believe is moving me forward to being the person I want to be. The person I know I am, underneath all the grim I’ve gathered on the first part of my journey.

So I guess I’ve covered two lessons in this post. Give what you want to receive (even if it feels like passing around the cake before you cut it), and don’t worry. I think these are the big lessons in my life these days. And I’m really excited for the day when I’ve finally, really learned them. What big lessons are you learning at the moment?

 

I Could Have Read All Night

Of all the things I appreciate about Paris, one was my time in the metro. Wherever I went, I usually had either a book or my Kindle with me, and would whip that thing out as soon as I took a seat. When it was too crowded and I had to stand, I would still try to read. This is something you can’t do in a car. Sure, you could listen to audio-books, but how are you going to bookmark or take notes? Here in L.A., I have to be content with reading at home, instead of multitasking like that. But I have motivation! A giant pile of books to read or re-read in order to continue on towards my goal of a more minimalistic lifestyle. Sometimes I get on myself about how long this is taking (and not just with the books, but the 4 bins of stuff I want to get rid of, too), but I guess the process is different for everyone. And every journey begins with a single step, as they say!

If you don't own apple crates, you should.
If you don’t own apple crates, you should.

 

Last year, however, I discovered Goodwill bookstores. And I left with armfuls of books. Three of which, however, have made it onto my “books I tell everyone they should read” list. But I really can’t go back in there again. At least until I’ve read the books I have. I have a lot of books to read… I’m trying to get rid of everything I don’t need, and books are heavy, replaceable items so I’m hoping to shorten that stack considerably.

Anyway, I figured some of you might find yourself on planes, trains, or other forms of public transportation, in need of some mind-stimulation, so I wanted to share what I enjoyed reading in 2014.

 

The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle

One of those books I should read once a year as a refresher, as it really has the power (well, you have the power, it just helps you find it) to bring positive change to your life. I first heard of it in an acting class way back in 2005, and always meant to read it. Just didn’t until now. A close friend read it last year and got so annoyingly preachy about it that I decided to read it and get it over with, finally. I liked it. And I’ve kept myself from getting preachy about it. Basically, Eckhart Tolle points out that to find peace you can’t live in the past or the future, but right now. If you think about it, most of our thoughts are about things that have happened, or things that we want (or don’t want) to happen. We are rarely present, focused on this very moment. And if we can be present, we can appreciate what we have, right now. He doesn’t use this example, but I keep thinking… what if I woke up today and knew nothing about my past? I only knew what I have right now, and I didn’t know what my future plans were.  What if I could just walk through my life, without carrying the fears and pain from my past? Oh, just go read it, it’s a best-seller. :-)

 

The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz

Another one I should read regularly. I put the four agreements in my email signature as a daily reminder (it’s a good place for them, since it can be easy to just snap off an email to someone you’re irritated at). The four agreements are:

Be impeccable with your word.
Don’t take anything personally.
Don’t make assumptions.
Always do your best.

And of course he expands upon them in the book. I think keeping these things in mind really helps with relationships of any kind, and helps to create more peace in your mind. When you realize that everyone else is living in their own heads, has their own problems, and isn’t (usually) out to purposely hurt you, you can focus on what you can control – yourself and your reactions.

 

Conversations with God by Neale Donald Walsch

This is a book I’d heard about for a while, but growing up in a pretty traditional Christian setting, thought it was probably blasphemous or something. But for $2.99 I figured I’d give it a go. Then I went on to read the next 2 books in the series. I have to admit it’s been a while since I read these and now I’m blanking on specifics, but I thought it was an interesting read, and brought up some questions and answers for me. Like, why do we feel that God spoke to people thousands of years ago, but not today? But then why do some people say they talk to God, or hear God talking to them… but if they were to write it down, or write a book, we would think they were crazy…. It’s like “true” Christians think God is dead. Eh.

Now onto some books I didn’t get at Goodwill.

 

The Writings of Florence Scovel Shinn

OK, this one is embarrassing. Not because of what it is, but because of how long I’ve had it before starting to read it. And the person who gave it to me will be reading this blog. 😀

bookmarks
Photo taken before I finished reading it. I’m done now.

 

I’m finding it interesting because I rarely read books that combine Christianity and the Bible, with the concept of creating your own reality. And this was written a century ago! I’m about to type up a document of all my favourite “affirmations” and examples so I don’t have to bring the book with me to France. But there are so many! With everything I’ve been learning about God, and about the world, miracles and science, I love to see how they actually complement each other when you know what you’re looking for. I think the problem with modern prayer is that we don’t truly believe that we have what we’re asking for. It’s like wishing for blue sky during a storm… you have it. It’s above the storm clouds. It never went away. Believe it’s there. I definitely need to put my faith into practice, and this book is a good motivator.

 

The Findhorn Garden by The Findhorn Community 

This may seem like an odd one. But if you believe in angels, then why not believe in other spirits, too? I’m sure there are all kinds. The Findhorn Garden was a garden started several decades ago in Scotland, in a very inhospitable, sandy spot. But the plants grew to enormous sizes, because the founders would communicate with the spirits of the plants to learn how to make them flourish. Even if you don’t get into that aspect of it, it might make you take a second glance at the world around you. Now when I pass gardeners just hacking away at plants, I almost want to yell at them to stop. When I see how we tear up and cement over nature, leaving struggling little weeds in the depleted dirt, I wonder how we got so far, so unconnected to the earth. I can’t even keep a tiny potted plant alive. So yes, this is a recommended read if you want to feel like more of a connection with nature is possible. I know I, for one, am going to spend some time this summer meditating in the forest with the fairies. :-)

 

So those are my book suggestions of 2014. I know this post is late. I’ve been lazy about it. I have a lot of books to read right now. 😀

 

So what were your favourite books of 2014?

Kendal’s Elsa Costume Tutorial

Do you want to build a costume?

Seriously, I don’t know how I went from not even wanting to see the movie, to spending weeks making this costume. I’m such a sucker for a sparkly dress.

I made my dress in 2 seconds.
I made my dress in 2 seconds.

On about October 11, I started to make my Elsa costume for Halloween and for prancing around in Hollywood (what? The kids can do it….).  Since it’s been a large part of my life this past month, I figured I’d share the process here. It’s the most creative thing I’ve done in a while, so I’ve found it challenging and rewarding, and I’m proud of the outcome. Most of you regular readers probably won’t care and aren’t interested in making a dress for yourself, but this is for those wandering the internet who may want some tips.

It’s been a bit of trial and error, but I want to share what’s worked!

First! The supplies, and in some cases, quick links on where to find it.

Skirt material

Corset

Rhinestones – sorry, they were vintage. :-(

Shimmer Sheets

Quick shirt

DIY shirt fabric – I haven’t tried this yet but I’ve read that you should order samples, because the colours are different on the website.

Clear shoes

The easy shoes

Rhinestone strands, glue, Foamies, paint, etc, found at Joann Fabrics.

Now, step by step….

I purchased fabric for Elsa’s skirt on ebay (you can also find some on etsy.com), along with a basic white corset. I had a hard time finding the exact corset shape I wanted, and didn’t want to spend a lot on it, but what I got seems to work. It’s a bit difficult to sit in, and after putting all the shiny things on it I wouldn’t recommend driving in it!

First, I used a New Look pattern (6584) and modified it to create Elsa’s skirt. It worked well, fit great, but then the dry-cleaner kind of ruined the fabric (and I dripped super glue on it too….) and I got to make a new one. I lucked out and found patterns for $1 at Joann’s Fabric (OMG I found the master of all Joann’s…. it’s heaven…) right before making my new skirt, so now I’ve done it the “official” way. I do like it better.

$1? Gimme two! I've already ordered my tiara....
$1? Gimme two! I’ve already ordered my tiara….

 

My cat loves to help.
My cat loves to help.

For the corset, I began with hand sewing the same material over it, in case I had to use it before it was completed. It was a good thing I did that, because I’ve pooped out before finishing the back.

I bought some silver cord to lace it up in the back. I purchased blue as well, but it was too thick. I hope I can return that. Where is the receipt….?

I purchased some blue iridescent Shimmer Sheets and cut them into tiny little round-edged rectangles of various sizes. How many packages will depend on your size and how much of your coset you want to cover. To date, I’ve used 4 packs of them. Could use another pack or two, so I’m ordering that now! I tend to lose a few here and there and if I’m going to use it consistently I should have repair materials!

scraps

 

I bought a string of rhinestones at Joann’s… it’s actually 2 strands supposed to be some kind of trim, but I cut them apart. Later at the monster Joann’s I saw some beautiful rhinestones for $14.99 a yard. But even with the sale going on… I’ve spent so much on this. That will have to wait for the costume upgrade.

I used fabric glue for the “sequins” (what can I call these?) and superglue for the rhinestones. Though things still fall off if they’re in an area that bends. I’m wondering if there’s a solution to this? I thought of perhaps painting over the whole thing with some kind of clear, flexible protective layer but I’m not sure what will work. The glue seems to dissolve the colour on the sequins… I guess it would take some trial and error if I decide that’s the way to go.

I purchased the little rectangular rhinestones off of ebay, and alas, they were vintage so I can’t really point you to them. If you want to search for the exact things, the title was “Vintage 288 Swarovski Crystal Flat Back Baguette”.

This was the most time consuming part of my costume.

corset close corset front corset back

 

I confess, I cheated on the cape/train. Since I’d ordered the Chinese Elsa costume, I had that train available to me. I’d spent so much time on the corset and could see the train being a giant time-suck as well, so I used the pre-made one. If you want to do the same, you can find them on ebay from China (allow a month for shipping…) for about $60. Or less if you don’t want the same kind I got. It’s not bad, but the darn thing spreads glitter everywhere. It looks like there’s a constant party in my car, so be aware of that drawback to a glittered train. DON’T unpack it or wave it around indoors! Unless you like glitter. At some point I may make my own.

I purchased some tiny little nuts at a hardware store and glued them to a few points at the bottom of the train, to try and prevent it from just crumpling at my feet, and perhaps flow a little nicer behind me (but not outside, it gets so dirty if it touches the ground).

Speaking of my feet! I had a pair of silver shoes I’d used for Halloween but really lucked out the other day when I stopped into a Crossroads Trading Company. I found THESE!

 

Can't get much easier than this.
Can’t get much easier than this.

And what’s great is that they aren’t discontinued yet. I found them on Amazon! (click me, click me!)

OK, so they aren’t exactly Elsa’s ice shoes but oh my gosh, they match so well, and the shape is so close.

If you want heels, however… well, I can advise on that as well. :-)

While I was at Crossroads I also happened to find a pair of nude coloured heels with open sides, and an ankle strap (which seems like a good bonus to me). So I bought them too, so I could try my hand at making Elsa shoes worthy of a photoshoot. Heels always look better with long dresses….

So back to Joann’s, where I finally learned what Foamies are. I bought a blue Foamie for 99¢, some Foamie glue (which is kind of useless and I might return) and a bottle of FolkArt Metallic Acrylic Paint in Ice Blue.

Looking at the various pictures of Elsa’s shoes online, there are a few ways you can go. In the poster, they’re quite transparent, and you can find some clear shoes on Amazon (for $50+….but they aren’t pointed at the toes, and I like that look…. it’s also difficult to know what size to order when you can’t try them on…) or model them after her shoes in the film, which seem more solid. So that’s what I am going for. As much as I love the glass slipper look.

Take a close look at what we're dealing with here.
Take a close look at what we’re dealing with here.
Magical shoes!
Magical shoes!

I feel as though they have a bit of a greenish iridescence to them, I’m not sure if I will imitate that or not. I’ve made mine a little more likely to stay on my feet (not a fan of shoes that are hard to keep on, as these might be, plus, I didn’t feel like cutting the existing leather). I also made the design a little thicker, since I wanted it to be a little stronger and less likely to bend or rip/break off. I really can be a perfectionist, and I still wonder if I’ll redo it at some point…. most likely, yes, if I wear them out. It’s foam. It won’t last long.

If you want to take the long way...
If you want to take the long way…
Shine, make 'em wonder whatcha got....
Shine, make ’em wonder whatcha got….

So far, I like the Foamies. It conforms well to the contours of the shoe.

After hot-gluing the Foamies to the shoes, I painted them with about 4 layers, and then decided to spray some sparkles on them as well. Then I sprayed seriously about a dozen layers of a clear protective spray (not sure where it is right now) to make them shiny and maybe tougher. They did last through a photo shoot, but there was some cracking. :-( I’m thinking another product I recently re-found (from my jewelry-making days) that says it’s more flexible might have been a better choice. Next time.

My feet are too smaaaaaaall.
My feet are too smaaaaaaall.

Elsa shoes

 

Backing up a bit to the sleeves/shirt. This also proved frustrating. I couldn’t find a good material for it at Joann’s, and I kind of dislike going downtown for things. So after making a temporary top from a non-stretchy mesh, I took some photos to a highly rated yet affordable seamstress I found on Yelp. The first draft was horrible. A right itchy mess. They also chose a non-stretchy mesh, covered in glitter which I found in my shoes a day later. I told her that it couldn’t be so itchy and glittery and I needed to be able to move my arms. So…. please try again. The next version was better… A blue sparkly (but not glitter-shedding) mesh on top of another skin-toned mesh… anyway to cut a long story short, she needed to extend the sleeves, cut the neckline down farther, and then I finally called it a day. By that point I’d found this on Amazon. So yeah, I ordered it. Because I’m a perfectionist and it’s the closest I’d seen. If it’s made for dancers, I’m pretty sure it’s made so that you can move your arms above your head. Like this girl.

dance shirt

 

Someone else had pointed out a good shirt on ebay that was slightly more off-the-shoulder, but they were all sold out and never plan on being in stock again. So forget that.

It arrived quickly, and I have to say, it was REALLY bright blue. So off I went to Joann’s for some Design Master Colortool Spray in Blue Sky. And I got to work, praying I wasn’t going to just ruin the whole thing.

Don't mess up, don't mess up....
Don’t mess up, don’t mess up….

I managed to do a good job, but after some wear, it started rubbing off in some places. I don’t know if it would make it through a round in the washer. I also still want to cut the neckline but I’m afraid of just ruining it. I’m not going to attempt putting the silver patterns on this one, because the colour isn’t staying well so I don’t know if it’s worth that much effort. It did give me an idea for the other shirt, and I’m going to see about buying some elastic and altering it, since the other one seems to get bunchy at the top.

Hmmm. OK, last but not least (I think… am I forgetting anything?) The hair. I ordered clip in extensions from aliexpress.com and they’re OK. I ordered them 30 inches long, and I’ve trimmed them a bit because I have trouble with it getting tangled. It takes 15 minutes to braid my hair in the morning. Well, I think I’ve gotten faster, actually. My hair is kind of blue, so I tried to dye a few strands to match, so it would blend to the end. Here’s a pre-blended photo:

Get your hair done!
Get your hair done!

Then, the last detail to arrive before my first photo shoot were these lovely snowflake hair clips (purchased on Amazon). Which you can’t see at all in the photo I’m going to share.

snowflakes

And now….

Wait for it…

This is going to be awesome…

Kendal Brenneman, as Queen Elsa….

 

I can't stop staring... at myself... is that OK?
I can’t stop staring… at myself… is that OK?

So since I know you can’t see everything I made (except the shoes), here are some un-retouched photos so you can get a good look at the front of the dress.

elsa 1

 

 

elsa 2

I know her train begins a little farther under her arms, but mine must have been made for a big-chested girl, so it wraps around me a little farther. Ah well. Overall, I’m pleased with things. I would still love to perfect the sleeves, but I need a rest for now, before the next project….

Queen

Let me know what you think….

I Am Your Queen

So as you may or may not know, I started work on a Queen Elsa costume almost as soon as I hit the runway in L.A. I had originally ordered one off of Aliexpress that I was excited about…. until it arrived. They had assured me that it would fit my 5’7″ frame and 25 inch waist… well the waist was OK, but the rest of the dress was made for someone several inches shorter. It looked like Elsa shrank her dress in the wash (why didn’t she use cold water?!). So I immediately opened a case there (which I am still fighting, because I had such a short amount of time to make a new dress that I decided to use the cape, and we can’t agree on a refund amount. I hadn’t the time to order or make a new one). I’ll let you know how that goes.

My sister couldn't be here today. I have to keep making excuses for her.
My sister couldn’t be here today. I have to keep making excuses for her.

So anyway! My brilliant plan was to not only make use of my blue hair for Halloween (I know her hair isn’t blue, I just can’t get it back to white…) but to have a little part time work walking Hollywood Blvd in costume. Yep, back to doing that. But this time as a princess! THE most popular princess EVER.

I forgot, however, how obsessive I can get about costumes. As of today, I have spent over $300 to create this costume (including about $40 in new make-up. It’s organic). I actually had to order more material to make a new skirt, because I dripped super glue on it, and then the dry cleaners did something to it that picked at all the silver thread and made it extremely itchy. I also think it may have shrank, because that side seam just keeps inching it’s way up….

My new friend!
My new friend!

On the positive side to that is that when I went to Joann Fabrics yesterday for a zipper, I found new Simplicity Frozen patterns (new to me, I hadn’t seen them before and nobody had mentioned them online!) and they were $1 (down from $20! So many parenthesis today!). So instead of modifying a skirt pattern, now I can just use the “real” Elsa skirt pattern. Perhaps it will lay better with the split in the side accounted for in the pattern.

$1? Gimme two! I've already ordered my tiara....
$1? Gimme two! I’ve already ordered my tiara….

I haven’t worked many days on the boulevard, and some have definitely been better than others, but I’m actually beginning to find it enjoyable. As Catwoman, no little girls were running up to you, throwing themselves around your knees, crying “Elsa’s here! I knew she would be here soon! I can’t believe it!” I’m really enjoying the ability to make a little girl’s day. I just keep hoping I live up to their expectations. I’ve even rigged up a levitation trick with a snowflake, but I’ve had problems with it and didn’t set it up this weekend.

Not to mention the everyday weirdness of Hollywood...
Not to mention the everyday weirdness of Hollywood…

I’m actually sad that it’s the “off-season”, and not just because I can’t make money on weekdays, but because now I do look forward to going out there. OK, it’s not my dream job, but I can excite so many people simply by putting on a costume. By becoming someone else. I hear my name (“Elsa!”) every few minutes, people waving from cars, people who haaaave to take a picture with me for their daughter/niece. I start to wonder if this is how it feels to be someone like Kiera Knightley or Angelina Jolie, or any celebrity you might recognize walking down the street. Of course, they aren’t wearing a bright blue, sparkly dress everywhere they go. I’m an easy target.

Though I enjoy brightening people’s days, it can also be a little depressing at times. When people take a photo with you, and you say “we don’t charge for it, but we work for tips….” and they just walk away laughing. Laughing?! Do you laugh at your waiter, too? Oh, silly people, wanting money for services…. And then come the days where the theatre is hosting a premiere. Last week it was Interstellar. From across the sidewalk, I stared at a huge screen where Anne Hathaway was projected in her lovely gown… I looked down at mine. My homemade princess dress. I’m out here asking for tips, she’s over there celebrating actual work. I had to leave early that day. It was hard to go back out there after that. Even getting texts from friends saying, “hey, I just drove down Hollywood Blvd, I think I saw you!” can be a little depressing. They’re on their way somewhere, doing something fun, probably. Heading to the beach? I don’t know. But everyone walking by, and I assume people in the fancy cars, are all dressed nice, wearing heels, dresses, doing something more with their lives…. No part of them thinks, “yeah, I should dress up like a Disney princess to earn some money.” That’s just what goes through my head sometimes. I’m sure plenty of them hate their jobs. 😀

That's just... stellar.
That’s just… stellar.

Perhaps because I feel I’m in a rut I don’t know how to get out of, but this costume has become my life. I’ve been focusing on it almost exclusively. The excuse is that I can use it for work. I have even sent emails to companies that do children’s parties, since they pay well. But really, I think it’s my creative outlet, and also a way to transform myself into the beautiful, magical being that I want to be. Though that beautiful, magical being cannot drive a car in a corset made of sequins and rhinestones….

An Elsa selfie
An Elsa selfie

I think, because of the popularity of Queen Elsa, I will put together a post about my costume, a little “how to” with lovely photos. I’m going to be doing a photoshoot in the next week or so, and I want to include one of those photos to show the fabulousness of it. :-) It may not be a solution to world hunger, or a contribution to world peace, or anything like that, but if I can help someone else in their quest to feel like a princess, well, then I’ll do that.

The Fatcats Discuss FATCA

The alarm rings. 7 AM. The room is still dark. I inch out of bed and make a morning smoothie. I don’t know what to expect, where I’m going today.

I take the metro to the other side of the river. I know I’ve found my destination by the small gathering of Americans outside. Once we’ve introduced ourselves (and realize that the door is open), we proceeded into the building.

I look up as we enter to see three clotheslines hanging above, all draped with red and pink clothing.

“Someone likes to wear a lot of red,” I said. I’m told it has a special significance.

We sign in and enter a room with a long table, crowded with chairs. I hang up my coat and hat by the door.

The room is filled with Americans. Americans living in Paris and elsewhere who have come to learn more about the issue we all have in common.

Senator Lee and lawyer James Bopp are introduced.

Why were we here? What is so important?

Mmm Bopp (sorry, I couldn't help myself)
Mmm Bopp (sorry, I couldn’t help myself)

You may not be familiar with the plight of the expat, but once you leave the US, you certainly start learning quickly. Did you know that if you reside outside of the US, as a citizen you still must file your tax returns? Even if you didn’t make a dime on US soil. Even if you haven’t set foot there in years. Even if you have never set foot inside the US in your life. If you are a proud holder of a US passport and citizenship – you file. Not only that, but if you earn over a certain amount you will owe taxes on it. Sure, those double taxation treaties are handy – up to a point, and that point is around $99,000. Which is about 80,000€ I believe. Less, in pounds.

Not only that, but you must declare any bank accounts that you have if you hold over $10,000 (all together) in them, plus any assets. I’m sure there’s even more to it that I can’t remember at the moment. But if you don’t file those papers, you could be in for a fine of up to 50% of the highest value in your account.

This is why were here here. Senator Lee shared his thoughts on FATCA (the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act) and the FBAR form (which Mr. Bopp called the FUBAR form), and how they were planning on fighting it for us. The whole thing is just plain unconstitutional. Our own government is picking on a minority of people who don’t even live in the country (so it’s hard for us to fight back, I suppose), and costing not only us but the world more money than they even stand to take in. Americans are being denied bank accounts because of what the US government is demanding from banks. Accounts are being closed. Companies are being urged not to hire Americans. Lives are being destroyed.

I know not many people in America will care, because it’s not happening to them, and perhaps you’ll think it’s in the name of security, or catching tax cheats. OK, so the government is throwing a net into the ocean with the goal of catching one kind of fish, but in that dragnet they are also dragging in many, many other species… animals that they don’t care about, and toss aside. Maybe save them, you can get a little money from them too. Doesn’t matter, we caught our fish, right? (yeah, think about that when you eat fish – it happens).

But what’s next? If they are allowed to get away with destroying the lives of thousands, if not millions, of Americans living abroad… what’s to stop them from getting greedier and applying the same measures to everyone at home? Soon they will also know about where all of your money is, and how much you have. They’ll know everything about you. Although, they probably already do…. but then add to that the cruel and unusual punishment of excessive fines and fees for not “confessing” everything they “need” to know about you.

FATCA, FBAR, and the citizenship-based income tax are all horrible, horrible consequences of being an American who chooses to live in another part of the world. Many Americans are being forced to make the difficult decision to give up their citizenship, for no other reason but that the government is not allowing them to keep what is rightfully theirs – their money, and a reasonable expectation of privacy. FATCA violates not just one of our constitutional rights, but at least 3.

Amendment IV

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Amendment V

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

Amendment VIII

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

 

The French people I have talked to about these issues think it is absolutely insane, and they can’t conceive of the notion that a government would be so invasive and greedy, to tax and fine you even if you have never set foot on their soil. Why are we OK with this?

To top it off, bills like this get passed as add-ons to other long, unrelated bills. The Senator told us one bill got passed in the following manner: 1AM on New Year’s Day he received an email with a 150 page attachment of a bill he was to vote on. While printing out page 13, 6 minutes later, they were asked to vote on it. This is how our bills get passed. They don’t even get read. Something is wrong with the way our country is run. Bills aren’t being passed to help you, or me. Our government doesn’t care about us. Last year I earned about $15,000. And if you know what rent is like these days in large cities, you know that over half of what I earned went to rent. The rest to food and debt, basically. And yet, when the accountant tallied up my tax return, I owed the government a whopping $1800. I cried. It was everything I had managed to save. Which was a step better than the year before, when I had to put about the same amount on my credit card. But even that is part of the debt I’m paying off this year. Thank you, America.

But that’s another issue. I just wanted to make you aware of FATCA, and the challenges one faces when venturing out of the US. Those thousands of people who have renounced their citizenship? You know how they’re punished for that? They get a whole month every year to visit the US. One month. Oh, even if you don’t expatriate and you simply live in another country, if you spend over 5 weeks out of the year in the US, you have to have ObamaCare. Yes, you do. Giving up your citizenship also has had a sharp rise in the actual fee, as well. Before this summer, the fee was around $450. Now it’s been raised to nearly $2350 (Forbes). If you are considered “wealthy,” there is also a hefty exit tax. So you basically have to be financially secure enough to afford the $2350 fee, but not too financially secure as to avoid the government deciding to just steal a chunk of your money on the way out. And forget about visiting family or friends for any length of time. Though your foreign spouse can spend several months in the US, if they so desire.

We can’t just sit back and allow our government to discriminate against a minority (though 6 million+ is not a small number!) of our citizens because it’s not a problem that we all face. As human beings, we have the right to live and work and enjoy the fruits of our labour, the right to a reasonable expectation of privacy, and the right to not be punished by a government simply because you happened to have been born in a certain part of the world. Nobody can control where they’re born, any more than they can control the colour of their skin, or their sexual orientation (I know we debate that one, stick with me). So why do we allow this? Why do we allow our government to punish people simply because they happened to be born in a place other than where they want to live? You may not believe in God, but I do, and I believe as human beings, we have no borders. Nationalities are just ideas in the minds of men, and we subscribe to it because we were told we had to. There is no America, no France, no Mexico, no Canada. There’s earth. There are people. I don’t belong to a land mass with an invisible (or barbed) fence around it. Nobody has the right to know where my money is, how much I have, what I spend it on, who I talk to, what I’m doing…. anything. And anybody who wants those rights does not have my best interest at heart.

The government does not see us as people, as individuals. Simply other fish caught in the net. We are little ATMs, little money-making machines that they can use and discard. Because they don’t care if we can pay our rent, or eat. They don’t care. And they are going to keep testing the limits, pushing the boundaries, until we say enough, and push back hard enough.

So push back with me. Stand up for our rights. If you’re an American living abroad, look up AARO (The Association of American Residents Overseas) for starters. Look up Senator Mike Lee of Utah. Write to your senators and congressmen. Vote for the ones who support the Constitution, and our rights.

Don’t wait until they come for you…

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Talk to Strangers

I think I grew up pretty shy. Or at least my grandma kept telling me I was shy. I was nervous to talk to people, hated making phone calls (still do), and wasn’t all that adventurous. And of course I was given that advice not to talk to strangers.

As I grow older, and travel more, that barrier to interaction with others has been slowly breaking down. I had to do some internal work on some of it, a lot of talking myself into doing things, and a lot of leaping before I had a chance to see if the water was cold or not.

Coming to Paris alone that first time, and then moving here, really helped force me out of my shell. I had to talk to people I didn’t know. I had to make new friends. And once I started doing it more often, the easier it got.

But I still face resistance. Many times I will be walking along and notice something about a person that makes me want to just run up to them and say, “I think you’re beautiful!” But I don’t. That would be weird, right?

Last week, I was walking in the Marais and passed a young man taping some beautiful photographs to a wall. Elephants, people… I slowed to look, but kept walking. Something in my brain said, “stop and tell him you think they’re beautiful!” And immediately another voice cut it off saying, “no, he’ll try to get you to buy something, keep walking.” I let the voices debate for a few more minutes as I walked on auto-pilot. I finally stopped, feigning interest in my phone so I didn’t look like I’d totally left planet earth and forgot to take my body with me.

Then I turned around.

Silly voice, saying “oh, you’re going to look dumb, walking back, and then turning around again to go in the direction you came from.” I thought about crossing the street, or going around the block. I didn’t though.

I approached him and asked if he had taken the pictures. To my relief, he spoke English, and we began chatting about the photography. He and a friend apparently make an annual 6 month trip to India to take photos. He is from Germany, but travels around a bit, and likes to sell his photographs on the street specifically so that he can have more interaction with people.

Another man stopped to talk for a few minutes, discussing photography with the photographer, whose name I now knew was Peter.

I finally decided to go on my way again, but not without first exchanging email addresses. You never know! I love to keep in touch with interesting people. I also took a photo of the photographer and his work to share with you here. He does not currently have a website or any photos online, but if that changes, I will update this post so you can admire and perhaps buy one of his prints.

Peter the Photographer

 

Anyway, I felt really good that I listened to the inner voice telling me to step outside of my comfort zone. There are many times I’m in the street and have the thought to tell someone I think their hair is awesome, or I love their coat, or I like their music, but something always stops me. In L.A., I am more inclined to talk to women on the street (or men even) about what they’re wearing, because we’re speaking my native language and I don’t have that fear of simply speaking. But I clam up here. I can’t just say something in passing, because it takes me too long to even form the sentence. And then good luck understanding any response. I’m also told it’s not common here for strangers to just talk to each other like that. As for artists, I feel bad when I can’t buy something from them, or donate. But then again is the language barrier. I am still extremely shy when it comes to speaking French. I need to make much more of an effort to learn and become comfortable with it.

But I really want to. Whenever I think about these things that I “can’t” do because I feel limited by language, it pushes me to work harder. I want to share encouragement with people, put a smile on their faces, interact and make friends, let someone know they’re appreciated in some way, that they’re not invisible and maybe I think they’re wearing a cool hat. I know I appreciate it when I get nice compliments from men in the street (and yes, most of the time they are pleasant compliments! I’ve gotten several on my hair colour, and some on my hats) and I think we all ought to take note that unexpected compliments or words of encouragement are welcomed by nearly everyone.

I know it’s not always a language thing. We can also be afraid of how the other person will react. Or maybe we don’t even know why we’re afraid to talk to people we don’t know. I mean, it doesn’t seem like there are any real logical reasons not to (unless they look drunk/angry/crazy). But I guess what we should try to do is just be true to ourselves and let other people react how they will. Most likely, you will get a positive response (or maybe none. Several times I’d get an unexpected compliment in passing, and be too confused about it to react, other than turning to look at the person and smile. Yeah, I’m slow. I also have to go through the translation process to figure out if something was a compliment or not).

So…go talk to some strangers! You’ll meet some amazing people, and there will be one less stranger in your world. :-)

Our Life is Frittered Away By Detail

How difficult it is to be simple
Or Irving Stone.

We come into the world with nothing, basically. No clothes, toys, bills, we’re even given a break on being forced to file our tax returns for several years. We don’t worry about rent or food (under normal circumstances, I mean).

Then we gradually begin to accumulate. We accumulate toys, and papers, emails and apps, responsibilities, bills, contracts, receipts, debt…

We’re like beautiful, shining stones rolling down snowy hills, turning into snowballs, getting heavier and heavier with snow and grass and dirt until we’re weighted down and can’t even remember what we really are anymore. So many things attach themselves to us and demand our attention, and we do it thinking we’re being productive and responsible.

For me, it’s gotten to be too much. With my wanderlust, I’ve found I have too many things weighing me down. Too many pairs of shoes, too many papers. Too many obligations. My interests are many and my focus is scattered between them, but even the things I have passion for don’t get as much of my attention as I would like to give them, because of the other things I’ve tied myself to. If I were to add up the hours I spend on taking care of things I’ve gotten myself into…!!!

 

“Reduce the complexity of life by eliminating the needless wants of life, and the labors of life reduce themselves.”

~ Edwin Way Teale

 

So this year I have been trying to step up my efforts at simplifying my life. Oh, I won’t stop traveling and doing what I love, but I will be able to enjoy it more once I’ve stripped away the grass and dirt and snow that I’ve accumulated. It’s been a slow process and I’m anxious to make major progress with it, but the main areas I’m tackling are these:

1. Email. See that number there on my phone? Yeah. I have way too many unread email, and too much email in general in my inbox. This comes from all the varied interests I’ve pursued, the newsletters and blogs I subscribed to but then never could keep up with. This area of life, the cluttered inbox, may be more psychologically overwhelming since I don’t need to read the emails and they don’t do harm by being in there (other than using up space), but that’s enough for me to try to organize my inbox. I feel it would help me focus more and waste less time if I really decide what’s important to get updates on.

My Cluttered Life
My Cluttered Life

Action: Every day I browse my new emails for something that I can unsubscribe to. I unsubscribe and go through all the old emails from that sender. I save a few useful ones and am finally making use of the archive tab. But I’m slowly chipping away at the pile of emails and the landslide I receive on a daily basis. That number was actually around 35k a few weeks ago.

 

2. Apps. See above. I don’t even use most of the apps on my phone. I read about them and downloaded them to try since they were free. There are apps for everything! And I find that awesome and very tempting. I even have an app to learn sign language. Which I haven’t opened yet. Apps are so amazingly useful, but I need to limit it to what I will actually use. Too much clutter. Taking up too much space (though not as much as my photo album, which I use as kind of a notepad, snapping pictures of pages in magazines and books, and taking screenshots of things online). I use my phone every day, so I feel it would be best to keep it simple and reflective of the growing simplicity of the rest of my life.

Action: Almost every day, when I have time to explore the apps, I will pop one open and try it out. Right now I’m going through the ones that are there to help me learn French. I discard the ones I don’t think I will be using, and keep the ones that I do find myself using more regularly. I downloaded several free texting apps, since different friends have used different ones, but after going through my French apps I’m going to focus on the social ones and decide which ones I think are the best and delete the rest.

 

3. Clothing. I love clothing, and as someone who occasionally does some modeling and survives with background work when I’m in L.A., a large selection comes in very handy. You could probably say I’m addicted to shopping at Crossroads Trading Company as well. I love getting “new” clothes, and this place is like crack for me. Unfortunately, storing clothing is a pain, especially while traveling. Packing and unpacking, and storing and even this process of elimination has been taking up way too much of my time. I need to really rip through this and be done with it. It’s just not very easy for me. Come on, look at that dress!

 

green dress
Wanna buy my dress?

Action: First I’m going through and selling or donating everything I know I haven’t worn lately and probably will never wear again. I’ve also decided to put together sort of a collection of pictures representing the clothing and styles that I would like my wardrobe to be composed of. I will edit down my closet to be just what I like to wear all the time, with pieces that can be easily mixed and matched. Of course, this depends on what kind of money I have, to create this wardrobe. :-/ I want more skirts and dresses with nice little waistlines. And less jeans. I have too many jeans. Want some jeans? I’ll trade you. This process is moving slowly along. Selling clothing isn’t as easy in France. Garage sale and ebay time once I get back to L.A. I made over $1000 last year selling clothes on ebay. Not too bad.

 

4. My mobile home. I loved living there. But I haven’t for ages, so I keep renting it out… and not at a profit. It’s not my home anymore and it’s become a burden to me with the constant threat of repairs, finding new tenants, home insurance, property tax (even though I don’t own the property….)… I need it out of my life so that I don’t have a mobile home hanging over my head everywhere I go.

Action: Get out of it. I’ve been aggressively seeking solutions to this one, but no matter which potential answer I find, it’s one that I can’t afford. I have an owner-financed loan so I pay my mortgage to the previous owner. It’s lost a lot of value since I bought it though. The two options I seem to have right now are either to sign it back over to him, or to convince him to sell it to one of the people who is interested in buying it. Either way, I will most likely be faced with a massive tax bill to repay the First Time Home Buyer’s Credit (if I knew that this was how it worked, I wouldn’t have taken it…) next year, and on my income I don’t know how I would pay it. I would also have to give the current tenant their deposit back, which basically makes up all I have in the bank. If I were to sign it back over to him, he would demand more repairs be made, which I (duh) also don’t have money for, but if it was sold, I think it would be “as is,” which would eliminate that cost from the equation. I proposed trading it back to him for my initial down payment, but he refused that and just wants it back along with all the repairs I’ve already made($3000+), a massive new shed ($2000+), plus more unspecified repairs. Which seems unfair to me, because then it’s basically like I gave him $12k in 2008, then rented from him for 6 years and paid all the costs of upkeep, taxes, and insurance for him. What a great situation for a landlord. No thank you. No deal. The best (but still not financially ideal for me) solution for everyone at this time seems to be a short-sale, but apparently he used his retirement money to buy this mobile home (why, don’t ask me. Mobile homes have a shelf life, rent rises every year… real property or precious metals would have been my pick) and although he would certainly get enough to buy real property somewhere (like Spain!) with what he would salvage from the mobile home, it seems he would prefer to keep it in a 40+ year old vehicle on land he doesn’t own. I would still lose money, but at least wouldn’t have to pay for further repairs, and if he was generous enough perhaps he could agree to a few thousand from the sale to cover costs of things I did repair and replace (though I doubt it).  He’s made quite a lot in interest over the past 6 years so I don’t know what he’s stuck on…  We’re all a little stuck. But I keep trying. Because I want out.

 

5. Time management. This one is the hardest one of all for me. I like to travel, so I don’t have a regular job that dictates what free time I have and makes sure I have a steady income. My income is very irregular and when I’m in L.A. I have several jobs that make up my income. But no set days or hours for anything. So it’s been very difficult to say “here are the things I want to spend time on, and I will do it for this long each day at this time each day.” It’s near impossible, really. I’m daily trying to figure out how to earn more income, so that I can relax and focus more on the things I really want to do (which may or may not bring an income). Today for example, I feel that I have not done anything very productive. I read a lot of interesting things, replied to some email, dyed my hair, made lunch, and here I am writing the first blog post in months. After this I intend to do some writing on a little book I want to put out on Amazon. I’m really trying to do something that makes me feel like I’m creating and living my purpose. But this still means I have to spend time today working on the website that pays the bills, and piecing together other ways I can earn money for the other debt in my life (and to make it easier to get out of that mobile home!). Oh all the things I want to do. I want to focus on improving my photography, practice piano, learn how to use this music program on my computer, finish the short movie about my dog (which is unfortunately stuck on the broken hard drive, unless I want to start all over again with the editing), write songs, write a script, practice energy healing… shoot. So much to do.

“The waste of life occasioned by trying to do too many things at once is appalling.” ~ Orison Marden

Action. This is the big one that I don’t have an answer for. I sit with my notebook day after day making lists, trying to narrow down what I really love, what I should focus on, a plan of action, a goal…. and I haven’t solved it yet. I feel that I have so many “little things” that get in the way and need dealt with before I can get to what matters. I suppose, in general, my action for this one is to clear away as many of the unnecessary elements to my life so that I have the space to focus more on the big things. Finishing with the email purge, the app purge, getting my belongings down to the basics… once those are complete I won’t have to be tackling them every day. It just feels never-ending.

 

Freedom

 

I definitely have held onto some commitments that perhaps were good for me at one time, but are not good for me now. And some commitments we never even really agreed to, but were just thrust into (like citizenship!). I want to strip away as much as I can, to get to the point where I can carefully choose the things I am committed to. Just dump out the clutter drawer of life so I can see the bottom and decide what goes back in and what doesn’t.

Quotation-Albert-Einstein-simple-simplicity-Meetville-Quotes-216754

 

So now it’s time to move on with my day and figure out what else I can do to progress with the things I love, simplify a little more, and figure out that whole income problem. I’ve spent way too much time in this limbo. I really anticipate getting out and looking around and being able to say, “I feel free!”

 

“Simplicity is the final achievement. After one has played a vast quantity of notes and more notes, it is simplicity that emerges as the crowning reward of art.”

~ Frederic Chopin

“As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler; solitude will not be solitude, poverty will not be poverty, nor weakness weakness.”

~ Henry David Thoreau

 

For more quotes about simplicity and life, there’s a really good list here! Pick your favourites for motivation. :-)

Are you doing anything to make or keep your life simple? Have any tips for me?