Burning Man Preparations – Not Packing Light

Confession: I do not pack light. Ever. Maybe it’s all those years of Girl Guides and learning to be prepared. Maybe it’s all those times as a mom when I was burned because I only packed two extra outfits for my toddler, or didn’t think to bring along three spare hats, or seven different snack options. Whatever the reason, no matter where I’m going I always, always, always bring a ton of stuff just in case.

In fact, when I was in labour with my second baby and checking into the hospital the triage nurse laughed at the large suitcase I was lugging with me. But (1) I’d ended up in the hospital for four days when Hannah was born due to complications, and (2) I really wanted slippers, and my big terry bathrobe, and magazines, and extra pajamas, and…

On that occasion, first I cried because the nurse laughed and I was going through a lot emotionally, hormonally, and physically at that precise moment. Then I had the baby 45 minutes later and went home four hours after that, so I used none of it. But I viewed that suitcase as my security blanket and was glad I’d brought it. Because what if I’d needed those extra sweaters?

Anyway, now that I’m planning to pack up my minivan to drive to Burning Man in 25 (!!!) days, you can imagine the level of packing that’s going on up in here.

But first things first. Why am I driving? There are two big reasons. The first is that for Burning Man you’re required to bring all of your own gear. There’s no running water, no buildings, no…anything. And no place to buy any of that stuff on site. If you want something, you better pack it in, and there’s no easy way to get all the stuff you need for a week-long camping trip on to a plane. Plus, even if I did that the Black Rock Desert, where Burning Man is held, is super remote. I’d still need to arrange transportation from Reno to the middle of nowhere. So, driving is the best option. Here’s the planned route:

burning man map

Now, what kinds of things am I bringing with me? The most important item is a very fancy shelter called a ShiftPod. It’s designed to be dust proof, and it’s very roomy. In fact, it’s so roomy that these photos don’t do it justice, but here they are, anyway.

shiftpod burning man

burning man shiftpod interior

I’m also bringing a bike, but fortunately that’s being shipped separately. And water and ice are being supplied by my camp, so that’s one less thing I need to bring.

Otherwise, it’s a lot of the stuff you’d expect. Tons of sunscreen. A camp stove, dishes and coolers for the food I’ll buy en route. A collapsible table and chairs. An inflatable mattress and a sleeping bag. Water bottles and goggles. Extension cords and chargers to connect to the camp’s electrical supply. A heater for nighttime. Good boots. Hot weather clothes and cold weather clothes, and some fun stuff like a BB-8 dress and a cowboy hat. LED lights to light up both the camp and myself, which is actually more practical than ornamental since it’s ridiculously dark at night. This belt with pouches, called “Playa Pockets”, which is like a cooler twist on a fanny pack (FYI – the dry lakebed where Burning Man happens is called “the Playa”).

burning man drawer unitMy solution for packing my clothes and toiletries is an old plastic drawer unit that we’re no longer using. I’m finding that this is a really elegant way to go. It’s so easy to throw one or two items in as I think of them. I anticipate it will also be nice to have all my stuff in what amounts to a dresser once I’m in camp. I won’t have to dig through bins or suitcases, which should make it easier to find things and stay organized.

Right now the drawer unit, the ShiftPod, and everything else are in my garage, which has become a staging area. I also have most of my friend’s gear, including his guitar, because we’re driving down together, so all of that stuff will be in the van, too.

I’ve done one trial run and was able to fit everything I had at the time into the minivan without breaking a sweat or removing the second row seats. I have more items now so I’ll need more space, but the plan is to remove the second row seats and leave them behind so that will buy a bunch more room. I haven’t done that yet because it’s kind of a pain and I need those seats for my kids right now. But the punchline is I have verified that I can physically transport this stuff.

burning man staging area

The interesting thing is that “Radical Self-Reliance” is one of the 10 principles on which Burning Man operates. What that means is that, unlike that triage nurse, this is a community that really seems to value overpreparation. After all, if you’re in the middle of the desert without the means for survival, the outcome can be really bad. If you don’t have food or shelter it’s unlikely that the other 70,000 people will abandon you, but it’s far preferable to make sure you’re meeting your own needs and planning for pretty much any outcome.

You guys, I finally found the vacation I’ve been training for my whole life. The vacation where bringing too much stuff is more celebrated than frowned on. Bring it on.

The Soccer Mom Goes to Burning Man

I’ve gone through some big changes in my life in the past few years.

Going back to school.

Applying to, and completing, teacher training.

Getting my minor in environmental education, and re-discovering my love for the outdoors and the good parts of camping.

Working as a substitute teacher.

Watching my own children grow and change and become more and more independent.

Making new friends and building a new social circle.

Taking skiing up again, and getting pretty flipping good at it.

There are things I wouldn’t have dreamed of doing a few years ago, that I now do frequently. My word for 2017 is adventure, and I would say that for the most part I’m living up to it. And now I’m really embracing it, because this summer I’m planning to attend Burning Man.

Burning Man

Aerial view of the festival. Photo credit: Viaggio Routard on Flickr

As in, I have a ticket, and travel plans, and a couple of costumes to wear.

If you’re not familiar, Burning Man is a massive alternative arts festival that takes place each year in the Black Rock Desert in Nevada in the week leading up to Labour Day. The culminating event is when this massive wooden effigy (the “man”) is burned (…as in, “Burning Man”).

The event itself is, well, I don’t really know yet. Everyone says it’s amazing. And terrible. And transformative. And the worst vacation ever. I do know that it’s very dusty, hot during the day, cold at night, and rustic. It’s also massive, with about 70,000 people attending last year. For a week they all build a city from nothing. There’s no running water. No flush toilets. No real amenities of any kind. Amazing art displays. A strong culture of inclusion, self-reliance, participation and communal effort. And did I mention the dust?

Burning Man

Photo credit: Jon Collier on Flickr

I’m going with a friend who’s been twice before. I’m joining a camp that provides some good stuff like water, ice and electricity. I have a very cool, supposedly-guaranteed-dust-proof shelter and a bike. I bought myself new boots and a portable shower. I made myself some hoodies to stay warm and look cute. I’m reading the Survival Guide cover to cover. I’m stocking up on sunscreen and LED lights to wear at night so that no one runs me over in the dark.

I’m doing my very best to prepare. I’m not really sure I can prepare. I sort of wonder if I’ve lost my mind.

Burning Man

Photo credit: dvsross on Flickr

Here’s the thing, though. This is my one shot. If you don’t have a boatload of money you pretty much need to drive in and out of Burning Man, and leaving is not a quick process. There’s this whole “exodus” rigamarole to get your car from your camp to the road that took my friend eight hours last year. That’s eight hours after you’ve packed up and before you actually begin the 15 hour drive back to Vancouver. It would be difficult, if not actually impossible, for me to make it back home in time for the first day of school.

This year? I can do it because I’m a substitute teacher. I can just book the first week of school off when I likely wouldn’t be that busy anyways. But by next year I’m hoping to have my own classroom. I’ll need to spend the last couple of weeks of summer preparing. I’ll need to be there with bells on when school starts.

Maybe I’ll hate Burning Man. Maybe I’ll regret going. But I suspect that I would regret not taking the shot more. I’m old enough to know that time is precious, and you need to seize opportunities as they present themselves. Which is why this summer I’ll be taking out the booster seat, loading up the minivan, kissing the kids good-bye and dancing in the desert.

Bring it on.

A Word for 2017: Adventure

For the past number of years I’ve been choosing a word at New Year’s to represent what I wanted to bring into my life in the 12 months ahead. In 2011 that word was space. In 2012 I chose clarity. In 2013 I chose presence. For 2014 my word was forgiveness. For 2015 I chose strength. And for 2016 I chose confidence. For 2017 my choice is a little bit different: adventure.

adventure word of the year creek

Over the course of 2016 I had a number of experiences that stretched me in new ways. I completed my student teaching practicum in a grade 6/7 class. I attended environmental education field school here in the Vancouver area, which involved two overnight retreats (one at the beginning and one at the end), a visit to the landfill, interviewing a rock (for real), mapping an urban neighbourhood, and hanging out with some of the most awesome people I have ever met. Plus a whole lot more. I graduated and earned my teaching certificate. I started substitute teaching. I started skiing again. I turned 40.

And out of all of this came a big shift in my mindset.

I have always been a naturally conservative person. I don’t mean that I am politically conservative, or socially conservative. I mean that I am personally conservative, in that I resist change and upheaval. But what I learned by hanging out around a campfire with a bunch of people I really didn’t know at all, going swimming in an ocean that was cold enough to take my breath away and coming out laughing, and learning to ski on moguls, is that new and different can be good. Very, very good, in fact. Taking a leap and embracing new experiences leads to great things.

In short, I have discovered the wonders of living adventurously. Of accepting physical discomfort in exchange for personal growth. Of waking up to a phone call at 6:00am telling me what I’m going to teach that day and where, but never really knowing what’s in store. Of seeing what the trail holds for me as I whiz down the mountain.

I was recently speaking to a friend about my tendency to want to control everything in life. I love a meticulously crafted plan. I adore knowing what will happen, and when it will happen. My friend said that the trick isn’t giving up control. It’s not trying to control the things you can’t control. And for whatever reason, that hit me like a ton of bricks, the idea of acknowledging that I can’t control everything, and sometimes I shouldn’t even try. It makes logical sense, but it feels like a leap.

It also feels tremendously freeing. Because trying to control the uncontrollable is tiring – intellectually and emotionally. Giving that up would be a whole new way of living for me. A way of living that might just facilitate adventure.

That is exactly what I want more of in my life this year. Adventure.

How about you – are you choosing a word for the year? If so, I’d love to hear what it is, and how you’re setting your intentions for 2017!

The Sounds of Silence

There has been a lot of snow recently in my neighbourhood. All of Metro Vancouver has been nestled under a blanket of white for a couple of weeks, but here in Coquitlam we got more than most communities. It’s pretty, for sure, and my kids love it. However, it does pile up and need to be removed from sidewalks and driveways and so on, which is how I found myself out shovelling this morning.

snow shovellingNormally while I do a task I don’t enjoy, like cleaning the kitchen or shovelling snow, I distract myself with some music or a podcast. It helps the time to pass more quickly, and makes menial work less mind-numbing. However, today I forgot my earbuds somewhere inside the house. By the time I decided I wanted them I didn’t feel like taking off my snow gear and searching, so I gave up and shovelled in silence.

All that nothing in my ears? It actually felt kind of uncomfortable. It made me think about how rarely I experience quiet in my life.

I always have music or a podcast going in the car.

I’m a substitute teacher so work is pretty much never quiet, and on the occasions when I’m alone in the classroom I often play music.

I have two children and a husband. Enough said.

I spent about an hour and a half shovelling today, and by the time that I was done I had moved through my discomfort to appreciation. I was outside, I was exercising, I had accomplished something and I had some quiet time to myself. In the lead-up to Christmas, when my to-do list feels long and my days feel hectic, it was actually a rare treat.

Maybe I distract myself too much. Maybe I should stop and just be where I am. Be mindful. Wash the dishes to wash the dishes. Or shovel the snow to shovel the snow.

I have the next two weeks off, so this is timely for me. How will I use this vacation? Will I distract myself, or will I be present? If my experience this morning is any indication, I should probably choose to be present.

Or, at least, that’s how I justified the yarn I bought online this afternoon. Because knitting can also be about mindfulness, right?

Here’s to personal growth, impulse purchases and finding some peace in the busy holiday season.

A Letter to Myself

How are you? I am poking my head up from watching Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life on Netflix.

The first episode of Gilmore Girls aired in October, 2000. At the time I had just graduated from university with my engineering degree. I was engaged and living by myself in a one bedroom apartment in a much cooler neighbourhood than I lived in now. I had just bought my first car and I was volunteering as a Brownie leader and planning a wedding. Things were very different for me then than they are now. For one thing, binge-watching TV is much harder for me now these days, which is why I haven’t already finished Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life.

I also have my eye on another Netflix series, which I will get to…eventually. You get it, right? Anyways, I’m looking forward to checking out The Crown, which depicts a young Queen Elizabeth II. Inspired by that series, a few of Netflix’s leading women drafted notes to their younger selves. Here are my two favourites (you can click on them for a larger view):

netflix_letter_thecrown_english_v1

netflix_letter_chelsea_english_v1

 
 
Looking back on my own life, and how much it has changed in the past 16 years, I also wrote a letter to myself. I chose to write to myself back in 2000, when the original Gilmore Girls first premiered.

Dear Amber,

You worry too much. You already know that, but it bears repeating.

You can’t possibly understand this yet, but you have a lot of freedom right now. More than you will appreciate until you find yourself with two kids, a mortgage, a cat and a tank full of fish.

So that voice that is telling you that you want to do something different? Listen to it. This is your time to take risks and make mistakes. Big ones and little ones. Every mis-step will teach you way more than you will ever learn by following the rules.

That boy you’re engaged to? He’s a keeper. You already know this, but it will take years for you to learn what a strong force for good he will be in your life.

That doesn’t mean that you can’t go out and make other friends, though. You need people more than you know. Cultivate relationships. Put yourself out there. And don’t be afraid to show people your imperfections. That’s where the magic is.

And also: you are way hotter than you give yourself credit for.

Love,
Ms. Strocel

2000

2000

2016

2016

What would you say to your younger self if you could?

I was inspired to write this post because I am a member of the Netflix Stream Team. The opinions in the post are my own, but take the fact that I receive cool promotional swag from Netflix as you will.

My Happiness List: November 2016 Edition

I am a Canadian, and a relatively liberal Canadian, at that. Because of that it probably won’t surprise you to learn I was rooting for Hillary Clinton in the US Presidential election. My children were, too. Last night, as the results became increasingly obvious, my son Jacob became angry and my daughter Hannah became sad. At first I just sat with them and validated their feelings, sharing my own discouragement. And then I moved on to reassure them, as best I could, that as their mother I will take care of them and keep them safe and they don’t really need to worry about this stuff.

I tried to put on a brave face, but I was very unhappy. Today, I am determined not to wallow. I need some positivity. I think a lot of us need some positivity – even if you’re pleased about the outcome of the election, campaigns have a way of breeding divisiveness and bad feelings. So I’ve decided to count my blessings and look on the bright side. I blogged my last personal happiness list over a year ago, so it’s clearly high time for some happiness up in here.

Let’s get the joy party started, shall we?

happiness

My Happy List

  1. My daughter Hannah, who baked cookies yesterday, completely of her own accord.
  2. Singing along to a great song.
  3. Kindergarten. I spent today as a substitute teacher in one, and while those kids are super energetic, they are also hope in human form.
  4. Speaking of substitute teaching, I am so, so, so happy to have a job that I love and that energizes me every single day when I show up to work.
  5. Great boots, that make me feel super cute when I wear them.
  6. My son Jacob, who recently started piano lessons and loves them, and who shares my love of doing math calculations in the car.
  7. Chocolate, which never disappoints.
  8. Justin Trudeau. Is he perfect? No, but he’s a leader that many of us, as Canadians, are justly proud of.
  9. Speaking of being Canadian, I’m especially happy about that right now. Eh.
  10. New skis for my husband, and ski passes for my family, which means a really fun winter (provided the weather cooperates).
  11. The camera on my phone, which allows me to capture so much of life – and especially so much of my children’s lives – that I never would have been able to in the past.
  12. Colourful fall leaves, which brighten up an otherwise gloomy month like November.
  13. My husband, who supports me in so many ways, in particular as I went back to school and earned my teaching degree.
  14. Guitar Hero, which saw me through the couple of weeks when I was sitting around waiting for my teaching certificate to be finalized so that I could work.
  15. The peaceful transition of power, which is such an amazing thing, whether I disagree with the final decision or not.

What about you – what’s on your happy list right now? I’d love to hear!

Graduation

I’ve written here about finishing school and starting my teaching career. It feels like I’ve mentioned that I’ve completed my education more than once, but here I am going to go and mention it again. It’s a little bit confusing so here’s a rundown of how it all works:

  • In April I finished my student teaching practicum
  • In May I was hired by two districts to be a substitute teacher – pending receipt of my teaching certificate
  • In early August I submitted my final assignment for my teaching degree
  • In late August I had received all my grades and fulfilled the requirements for my degree
  • On September 7 I worked one half-day as a substitute teacher before the district changed its requirements and said I needed to be officially certified to teach
  • On September 12 the university Senate formally approved grades and awarded degrees, including mine – this means the university acknowledged that I had completed the requirements to become a teacher
  • On September 19 my teaching certificate arrived in the mail – this means the government licensed me to teach
  • On September 20 I started working more or less full-time as a substitute teacher
  • On October 7 the university held its convocation ceremony and I received the actual paper copy of my degree

It’s been a long road to get here, but it’s formally over. As of October 7 I had all of the paperwork. I’m a teacher, and I have a B.Ed. in addition to the engineering degree I received 16 years ago.

The convocation ceremony, for me, was a real celebration of what I have achieved. The best part was having my kids there. When we processed in and I saw Hannah and Jacob waving at me the tears welled up in my eyes. I paused to give Jacob a high five and felt full of emotion. I didn’t do this by myself. My family was with me the whole way. My kids had to put up with a tired, stressed-out mother with not much time for them. They rarely complained. Instead they cheered me on. I hope that they learned something about setting goals and working hard. I think mostly, though, that I learned something about love from them.

It’s funny how it always happens that way, isn’t it?

But enough navel-gazing though – let’s look at pictures! Here’s what my graduation day looked like, at least in part.

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