It’s still October 30th somewhere, right?

Ok, maybe one of these isn't actually a costume.

Ok, maybe one of these isn’t actually a costume.

My seven days are up. It was one week ago this morning that I kick-started my blog, that I promised once I reached five posts or one week, I would reach out to Susan Murphy and thank her for her post “The Number One Thing Holding You Back from Creating Great Content“.

But I don’t wanna.

I still haven’t figured out why I want to do this. Why would I write what is essentially a diary, and share it with complete strangers, or even worse, with people who know where I live?

I know that part of it is I want to document this journey, this big trip to building a tiny house. I want to write about how hard it’s going to be to let go of most of my stuff, and hopefully how good it’ll feel once I do it.

Part of it is I want to inspire my mom, show her it can be done. Of course she’ll see it first hand, and unless I give her some computer lessons on how the inter-tubes work, she’ll never see this blog. Maybe I’ll start her on Facebook first.

Part of it is the practice of writing. It’s something I find much easier to daydream about than do. I live too much in my head, and writing a blog is exercise and a commitment.

And a big part of it is that I have at least ten shopping-cart-sized boxes of photos, postcards, school reports, military assessments, newsletters, diaries, tickets, teddy bears, newspaper clippings, pins, Girl Guide badges, piggy banks, jewelry boxes, berets and shawls that I really want to hang on to… and let go of. I have so many memories and stories wrapped up in those boxes marked “Treasures” and “Personal”. It’s time to let go of all that stuff, and I figure if I can write that I was there, I did that, I failed, I survived, those were my people and I loved them, if I can attach those memories and feelings to words rather than things, then maybe I’ll be ready to let go.

And buy some more stuff (kidding!).

Speaking of stuff, I would like to take this moment to congratulate myself on not buying a Halloween costume this year. I was in Fort McMurray twice last week and both times I resisted buying a costume. Ok, one time I resisted and the other time the line up was too long. Still, when you consider how many costumes I got my hands on in Kandahar, this is quite a feat for me.

Despite my penchant for dressing as an elf/devil/ghostbuster on a military base with 30,000 soldiers, I am nervous about exposing myself on this blog – sure that’s normal. As was spending two hours after work this evening scrolling through page after page of vectors in search of the perfect paisley background and vintage tags on which to write my non-existent blog categories. Yep, 100% typical of what I would do when I don’t want to do what I should do… which is this; posting my fifth blog post and making a connection.

Get ‘er done.

(Thanks Susan!)

Three Things

Three things I learned before 6:37 this morning:

  1. Putting on make-up takes a lot longer when I’m thinking about what to write about in my blog.
  2. I see waaaay more people in the hallways and dining hall when I make it to breakfast by 6:10.
  3. Although getting dressed and going to breakfast a whole hour earlier than usual means my morning is more social, it also means I will have very little time to write my blog post and it will in no way resemble what I had imagined writing while staring at my tube of under-eye concealer at 5:15.


Fighting the fuzz

(The entry below is what I was working on when my laptop kicked me out two days ago.)

My blog folder should be around here somewhere.

It’s five am and I am filled with clutter.

My desk, my desktop, my brain – all filled with clutter. Apparently so too is my laptop, as the words on this screen are appearing a good four seconds after I type them.

Five am sounds pretty dedicated right? Well, I was actually up at 4:30. This is how long it took me to scurry to the bathroom, clear some crap off my desk, boot up my computer, take a screen shot of my cluttered desktop and open up Word.

Uh oh – “High Disk Usage” warning. And all I’m doing is typing.

My life is full of clutter. I gave up my apartment in 2009 so you’d think I’d be the epitome of clutter-free. I’ve been living in small places on and off for seven years overseas, and if there’s one thing I’ve discovered (besides that I’m comfortable in small places) it’s that I sure can cram a lot of stuff in 8’x10’ or less.

My brain was chock-full of clutter yesterday. And not just clutter, but fuzzy clutter. The kind of jumbled mess you get when you wake up at one in the morning and don’t get back to sleep before work. Actually it can go either way with me – sometimes when I get no sleep for a few days in a row, all that I’m able to manage is a single thought at a time, and that kind of clarity once led to one of the most productive and decisive days I’ve ever had at work… but that was 2006 or 2007. These days lack of sleep leads to fuzzy brain and too much time staring into space, meandering through my head when I’m supposed to be stamping and stacking and punching paper.

Yesterday my brain was so muddled and sleepy I asked the guys if there’s anything they needed done outside that I could do. Sure thing – insulating pipe!

So yesterday afternoon I tramped about in snow and mud and taped silver puffy  insulation sheets around sewer lines. Or grey water lines. I’m not sure, but they were pipes and hoses and it took me two hours tape up maybe 30 feet of snakey two-and-four inch pipes and hoses all by myself. I got dirt under my nails, mud on my knees and all over the cuffs of my jeans, my fingers got numb and my nose wouldn’t stop running.

I felt good.

I must admit I am pretty lucky. A year ago I would have stayed at my desk, checked work e-mails, checked my personal e-mails, maybe sneak a peak at facebook on my phone, made coffee, answered some e-mails and generally not get anything done except the most immediate and superficial tasks because I was too tired to think.

Now the guys will take me along to insulate pipe, or nail rolls of non-skid flooring on walkways or change out furnace filters and wipe down hot water tanks. They’ve also offered to let me snake a clogged toilet, but I haven’t gotten to that yet.

In fairness the guys have offered to show me how things run and are done on the camp, but I’ve always been too busy trying to catch up on the mounds of paperwork piling up around me. I always felt guilty to be doing anything other than what I was hired for.

The difference this year is that I put in my notice and told my boss I no longer want to spend ten hours a day in front of a computer. I gave three months notice so that they could bring a new person I could train and then catch up on all the work that that is simply too much for one person to do. I gave January 2nd as my last day, but offered to stay on another six months if I could train and work as a maintenance technician.

A maint tech knows a little bit about everything, and a lot about a few things. They can fix a washer that won’t spin, a door that won’t lock, and a bathroom fan that won’t shut off. Depending on their background and experience they might also be able to troubleshoot a broken A/C unit or walk-in cooler. They sometimes complete jobs normally done by a ticketed plumber, electrician, carpenter or HVAC tech – they just don’t have the formal education or red seal to say they’re qualified to do it. They’re a jack of all trades, learn as they go, and know more about how these camps run than any single tradesperson.

I don’t know how long the company will keep me on after January. I have a good boss though and if he can keep me on as a maint tech-in-training, I know that he will. We certainly have enough work, but it’s really a matter of numbers and if the company has the budget for it.

I still have too much paperwork to process, but the difference now is that I know I only have a limited amount of time learn new skills that I may never have a chance to learn again. There is so much I could learn from these guys, and if I don’t make the time to learn, no one else will.

And sometimes finishing a job in the snow and mud is exactly what you need before tackling another mountain of paper.

Or a cluttered desktop.

You could have just asked

Thank you Windows.

Thank you for installing that update as I was writing my blog, already at 500 and something words. Thank you for that shock of watching my 500-and-something-words disappear without my asking and shutting down my laptop that took way too damn long to start in the first place. Thanks for giving me time to make my bed and haul on some clothes as you rebooted.

If I had known that my computer would have forced a shutdown at 5:35 am, maybe I would have gotten more done. I may have forced myself to finish my 500-and-something-words instead of writing until the very last possible minute when all I have time to do before running to brekkie (ok, forget brekkie, it would have been just coffee) and hitching a ride with the guys to work (it’s too dark and cold for me now to walk that kilometer to our office; I like to be able to see the bears and wolves and coyotes coming to get me) is haul on a hat and mascara. If I had known my computer was going to kick me off, maybe I would have been more productive.

Hmmmm. I bet there’s an app for that.

I just heard of Freedom a few days ago. It locks you out of the internet for however long you tell it to. And it won’t let you on no matter what… unless you reboot your computer. It’s completely ridiculous and would totally work for me.

There must be a forced-shutdown-so-get-er-done program. I mean other than using will power and self control.

But if there isn’t, I want first dibs.

Afghanistan to Alberta in 1500 Words

“As soon as I figure out how to add a banner image to my WordPress site, I’ll definitely start posting!”

That’s from, Susan Murphy’s post “The Number One Thing Holding You Back From Creating Great Content“.

It was also my personal wake-up call at 4:30 this morning, because that’s exactly the excuse I used when I first setup a WordPress blog in 2009 while I was working in Afghanistan. I made exactly one entry which read something like “I wonder if anyone is going to read this,” and was never heard from again.

I thought blogging while I worked overseas would be a great idea. Lots of people would be interested in everyday life as a contractor in Kandahar. I was working in a part of the world most people back home only hear about on the news, so of course people would just be flocking to my posts.

Uh huh.

I had all sorts of reasons for not actually writing – too busy, too hard, could get into trouble for saying too much, but mostly – I wanted my blog to look JUST RIGHT. I spent a few hours working on a logo, but could never quite figure out how to upload it as a banner. Once in a while I would check back – yep , JudyOnTheGo is still there – and then get back to being busy again.

I worked in KAF (Kandahar Airfield) for four years. During my last six months there I was starting a new and interesting job (logistic support for unmanned aircraft), working on my second course towards my Masters in Education, volunteering one or two evenings a week teaching English to soldiers and contractors, coordinating volunteers for a small school on base which was open to Afghan boys on Saturdays and doing cross-fit training five days a week. I had a great roomie, my own little pink motorcycle which I adored driving and a good group of friends who always had something fun on the go.

But once the Canadian Forces left Kandahar, so did the funding for my position. I didn’t want to go. I was very fortunate that in the same phone call I lost my job I was also offered a new one in Canada. I did some scrambling looking for another position on base, and was lucky to stay on another six weeks as a security officer, but at almost half the pay and half the time off, I knew it was time to head back home.

I returned to Canada in September 2011. And ten days later I started working in northern Alberta.

Accommodation camps for oil field workers have a few things in common with Kandahar Airfield; men outnumber women about 10 to 1, we live in little containers outfitted to sleep in, we eat in cafeterias and we count down the days until we can go home. There are differences of course; the men and women here aren’t armed, no one has to share their sleeping quarters with a roomie, the food is better and I only count down 21 days before I go home instead of 90+. Oh, and no rocket attacks.

Sounds pretty good right?

I am very grateful for not having to deal with rockets (although I do still flinch when I hear almost any alarm), but I still missed my KAF life.

I dove into my new job which meant spending 10+ hours a day in front of a computer. Then I’d inhale supper and try to keep up on my readings and assignments for my third course. Maybe things would have turned out differently had that particular course not been about research… but I suspect not. I had real difficulty in not just understanding the articles, but in caring about them. I just didn’t care. Seriously, what was the point? I was in the middle of fucking oil fields – who or what was I going to teach? After ten or twelve hours working on a computer the last thing I wanted to do was online research.

Everything frustrated me. My research course, the workers bitching about having to go outside to get to the chow hall (awww, muffin), not having friends to hang out with after work, the guy eating a sandwich while on a stationary bike. All of it had me screaming on the inside. By the new year I dropped my course, quit the gym, ate lots of delicious desserts and in six months gained fifteen pounds. Maybe eighteen.

I tried to find things to look forward to. In May I talked my sister into going to Cuba with me for a week which was mostly nice (there’s a reason why most visitors stick to the pool in May – jellyfish season). In July I travelled to Texas as my Brit former-roomie married her Texan honey-bun (sometimes these overseas romances do work out!) for an emotional but enjoyable reunion with some of my KAF friends.

And in September 2012 I came back to work… and couldn’t figure out how I was going to do this job another three weeks. Was this all I had to look forward to? Entering data, printing paper, stamping paper, punching paper, mailing paper, passing out paper?

It was a rough couple of days and I didn’t get much sleep. I didn’t get much done either. I was a zombie. Could I just quit? Could I just walk away from a decent paying job and eleven years with this company? I don’t have anything lined up back in Ottawa, not even an apartment. I know Mom would be thrilled to have me stay (really, she would), but could I handle that much time at home? Seriously, 41 years-old and living with my mother? Oh God, I really don’t want another 9 to 5 job and an apartment to furnish and bills to pay and bus rides to work filled with people just counting down to the weekend. How am I ever going to save enough money to build on the land Dad left us in Newfoundland if I’m paying rent again? If only I knew how to build a house. A tiny little house just to get me started or maybe to give to Mom. She might be happier on the Island. If only I could build a tiny little house…

If only.

And somewhere between Day-2 and Day-3 of my 21-day rotation, in my dreadful zombiefied state I decided to learn how to build a small house. And not just any small house. A tiny house on wheels. A House-to-Go from Tumbleweed Houses.

See that? House-to-go. Judy on the go.

That’s Karma baby. Or destiny. Ok, it’s something.

Unfortunately when I went looking for my deserted WordPress blog, there was no trace of it. I guess after three years of neglect JudyOnTheGo slinked off to that place abandoned blogs go to die. Or the automatic renewal for my account didn’t work because of the $1800 worth of fraudulent charges on my credit card.

No more blog. Oh well.

I didn’t really give it much more thought I until I followed a link on facebook two days ago to and her post “How to Stop Being Too Busy’’. Hmmmm. Well. I see. Maybe she has a point.

And around 4:30 this morning when I still couldn’t get back to sleep I checked out Suze’s blog again and BAM!

As soon as I figure out how to add a banner image to my WordPress site, I’ll definitely start posting!

Well, FINE.

The real reason I didn’t write my blog in 2009 was fear. Perfection is just an excuse and an enemy to creativity.

Point. Taken.

I have to get up in an hour anyway so let’s get ‘er done!

I almost got trapped when I started looking for that perfect theme.

Oh no you don’t!

I picked a free one and vowed I wouldn’t tinker with it until I had ten posts. Well, except that colour has to go. And I wonder where I could find a nice polka-dot background. Or maybe some paisley…

There’s lots more to write – what happened after I gave my notice at work, who I’ve enlisted to help me build this tiny home, and all the work I’m going to have to do (and what I’ve already done) to learn to live with less.

But for now, I just wanted to say thank-you Susan. Karma, coincidence – I don’t know – but your posts couldn’t have come at a better time. And by the way, I’m not going to let you see this for a week or until I have five posts – whichever comes first.



p.s. Has anyone else noticed a proliferation of BAM!s on the net? Overused perhaps?

p.p.s. If you’re looking for a good, funny blog about Kandahar Airfield (and who isn’t?) I highly recommend the irreverent and sometimes raunchy “Just DFACS Ma’am”. DFACs is short for Dining Facilities and it’s what we call the cafeterias in KAF. The title is a play on “Just the facts Ma’am” and the cheeky M. does a great job of dishing on the chow being served up to 30,000 KAF diners… with a few staff misadventures thrown in. It’s funny stuff, especially if you’ve ever been there or know someone who has. And I’m not just saying that because I used to work for M. and he might be looking for a replacement if my former roomie gets knocked up. Seriously. Funny stuff.