Shopping Ban Check-In: Gravy Boats and Other Delights

I'm 18 days into my year-long shopping ban and so far, no slip ups.  For fun, I have started keeping a list of all the things I even briefly think about buying, and sometimes I'll post the sillier ones to Facebook.  On New Year's Day I hosted a dinner for friends, and a myriad of "when will I ever use this"-type items suddenly seemed to be essential: a gravy boat.  A round tablecloth for my round dining table (my previous tables have all been squares, and so are my existing linens).  An electric carving knife for the turkey.  My iPhone, now 4 years old,  has more-than-occasional tantrums, and I desperately want a new one.

The funny way the world works, is that when you publicly post that you want things, even jokingly and with self-deprecation, as I did, your friends and family suddenly want to give them to you.  My mother brought me three round tablecloths. My aunt found me not one, but two gravy boats.  My mother had another iPhone lying around, which she had unlocked for me so I can transfer my SIM card into it and once again enjoy shut-down free texting.  "But that's not the point, Dani," you may say.  "The point wasn't to get more stuff!"  But I feel like these little gifts and giveaways are still in the spirit of the Shopping Ban.  I didn't ask anyone specifically for the things, they were offered to me.  Nothing new was purchased, either by me as the recipient, or by the generous aunt and mother who offered them.  Let's call it a microscopic version of the sharing economy. To me, what was important was that I didn't spend money, didn't buy new stuff, or support the manufacturing of more things.   Still, I'm not going to get into the habit of asking people to give me the things I feel are lacking in my life: an important part of this exercise is to be comfortable with what I have.  However, I still feel like I learned something, through the arrival of these gifts.  Ask, and you receive.  Even if it's a gravy boat.  Imagine learning that lesson on a grander scale:  If I can ask the universe for a gravy boat, and get it, what else can I ask for?  If you're taking orders, Infinite Cosmos, I ask for creative fulfillment, satisfying friendships, unconditional love. Oh, and a puppy.

While I always assumed my shopping triggers were negative feelings or events, it turns out, happy times can be a shopping trigger, too.  This past weekend I went to Doe Bay for a yoga retreat, one of my favourite places and my favourite activities in my year.  I found I suddenly needed, badly, a certain kind of yoga top that turns into a blanket.  I used to have one, I don't anymore, and dammit, I needed this in order to be able to do yoga on this retreat!   I found out last Tuesday that I am nominated for an Ovation Award this year, for Best Supporting Actress in a Musical, for my work in Shine.  My immediate thought was that I simply had to have a new dress in order to attend the awards ceremony.  

I went on my yoga retreat, without a yoga top/blanket hybrid, and I think I did fine.  I am planning to wear a dress that I've only worn once to the Ovations, and maybe do something nice with my hair.  When I visited my favourite bookstore while I was on retreat, I carried a few items around with me, then took a picture of them and put them back.  The mental gymnastics I was doing in my head to justify the purchases were exhausting, and frankly took the joy out of the intended purchases anyway.   So, I'm not suddenly a changed person.  I still want stuff.  But I am finding great satisfaction in listening to those wants carefully, then turning back to my own things, to see what I have that will satisfy that need.  So far, there's always something that can.  It's just a matter of slowing down and taking stock.  I'm learning.  

I am the proud owner of not one, but two gravy boats.  One is plenty, two is...err...nevermind.

I am the proud owner of not one, but two gravy boats.  One is plenty, two is...err...nevermind.

Project Enough: The Shopping Ban Rules

As  one part of the Year of Enough, I'm choosing to focus on mindful consumption.  I am not throwing away all my stuff and becoming a minimalist - I like my stuff too much for that.  I love stuff.  So much.  But I want to enjoy and appreciate the stuff that I have, rather than adding to my growing pile of possessions.  It's a soothing, numbing thing for me, to shop.  I love finding deals.  I am the queen of bargains.  I am an expert thrifter.  Despite these mad shopping skills, the amount of stuff I buy? Well, it ultimately makes me feel bad, to be spending money that could be saved for something else, to think of the environmental impact that my, and everyone else's stuff has, to think of the people who have much, much less than I do.  Aren't there more useful things I can do with my time than shop?  Don't I aspire to more than to simply have stuff?  Clothes are my joy, a way to self express.  Books are my lifeline.  I enjoy having a pretty home.  But surely, I'm at the "enough" point now, with what I have?  I've gone past "stuff that makes me happy," almost past "stuff that makes me feel kind of OK."  Surely, I do not need to more stuff to my stuff to feel complete.  And yet, it feels like a never-ending cycle.  Buy stuff, feel good, then start to feel bad, buy more stuff, feel good, then start to feel bad, buy more stuff...I don't know when it stops.  It's time to take away that crutch,  which isn't serving me anyway, and do the emotional work that I need to do to self-soothe, and really be aware of what my consumption means, for me, and for the world I live in.  To that end, it's time to introduce the rules of the Shopping Ban:

  1. Clothing Purchases: no clothes, accessories or shoes will be bought.  The exceptions are athletic wear, tights and underwear which need (need being the operative word) to be replaced because they are worn out, have holes, or are too gross from overuse.  Costume/performancewear needs will also be considered on a case-by-case basis.  I have also lost quite a bit of weight over the past year and am down 2 clothing sizes.  If I lose more sizes, I may need to buy more clothes, but I'll cross that bridge when I come to it. There will have to be rules set in that situation as well:  consignment of perfectly good too-big items, for example, before I can purchase new,.
  2. Housewares and Books:  no housewares, books or other decorator-y tchotckes.  The exceptions are pieces of essential household equipment that have broken, cannot be repaired, and for which I have no suitable replacement.  Example: my red teapot breaks - I still have 4 others in other colours - no need to replace the broken teapot.  No books (I love the library anyway), and no magazines, with the exception of my all-time fave, Vanity Fair, because this isn't about self-denial, it's about mindfulness: when I asked myself what one magazine I would choose over all others, Vanity Fair won by a mile.  I chose to subscribe for a year, which is approximately 1/2 the cost of buying each issue on the newsstand.
  3. Makeup and Toiletries:  no makeup or toiletries except to replace finished items for which there is no suitable replacement.  For instance, oops, I'm out of my favourite Kat Von D lipstick, Cathedral.  But I do have a full tube of MAC Twig, which, well, they're close enough in colour.  No need to re-up on Kat Von D until Twig is done.  Same with my eleventy-seven different shades of red lipstick.  WHO NEEDS ELEVENTY-SEVEN DIFFERENT SHADES OF RED, I ask you?  Here are some of the reds I currently possess:  NARS Cruella, MAC Red Rock, Besame Red, Besame Noir Red, Besame Red Velvet, Benefit Matthew Williamson Limited Edition Red Gloss,  Kat Von D Vampira - those are the ones I can name OFF THE TOP OF MY HEAD.  Just for fun, here's some more. Purples?  Got 'em.  MAC Rebel, MAC Men Love Mystery.  Pinks?  Don't be silly:  MAC Twig, MAC Girl About Town, Clinique All Heart, Smashbox Posy Pink...Whew.  sorry about that lipstick tangent. I just really like makeup.
  4. Coffee:  No solo designer coffee runs.  Coffee with friends as part of a social outing, totally OK.  But no more "I'll just pop by Starbucks on my way to work."  I have a Nespresso, a Keurig, a Bialetti AND a French Press.  And a really really cute Kate Spade travel mug.  There is no earthly reason why I shouldn't manage to make coffee myself on my way out the door in the morning.  

Acceptable Purchases:  In addition to the exceptions listed above, there are some purchases which will be acceptable during the year.  

  1. Nails: I get my nails done once a month.  I like the way my fingers look with nails, which I can't grow myself (I like biting them too much), so acrylics it is. 
  2. Hair:  I will get my hair cut and coloured at regular intervals, but no crazy experimental colours which I have done to be uber trendy in the past - just enough to cover the greys which are infuriatingly showing up with more regularity

In case you were wondering, I am totally terrified that I am going to fail at this.  That within a week I'll be surfing the online sales or planning a new spring wardrobe.  That I'll make a sneaky trip to the mall to pick up just one thing.   I am trying to prepare myself for this by avoiding temptation - I used the service unroll.me to unsubscribe from all the retailers' newsletters that hit my inbox every morning.  I am contemplating unsubscribing from all the cool plus-size fashion bloggers I follow on Instagram and Twitter, but I am hoping I can use these folks for inspiration rather than seeing each post as a directive to Go Forth and Shop.  We'll see how that goes.

I also have created an inventory of my stuff, to remind myself just how many options I actually have, from a clothing perspective, and reinforce the message that I do not need more.  I used Google Spreadsheets, and created a tab for each category of clothing: Shoes, Tops, Bottoms, Dresses, Skirts - and within each tab items are broken down even more by sub-category: Pencil Skirts, Full Skirts, Long Dresses, Sweatshirts, etc.  I also created a Pinterest Board of all the clothes I have from my favorite fashion site, Eloquii, where I buy 90% of my clothes.  This is a nice visual reminder of everything that's in my closet, so if I'm stuck for inspiration I can just take a quick look at my board for an idea.   I've also inventoried textiles and furniture on my Google Spreadsheet, and will be tackling makeup, books and housewares next.  My insurers will love me!

So, those are the rules of the ban.  And the ban is...for all of 2017.   Bring on the inevitable tears, tantrums and frustrations.  I'm excited and scared to see what happens next.

2017: The Year of Enough

My cousin Sarah and I often talk about what our annual "themes" will be for the coming year.  The idea is to set some goals related to that theme, that we can hold each other accountable for as the year progresses.  In one of our first years, we set a goal related to hours of exercise and number of kilometres clocked.  One year I focused on learning to love myself a little more.  Another year I focused on saying "yes" to things less often, to leave time to relax and recharge. 

I've been thinking hard about what 2017's theme will be.  I'll admit, it's been hard to be optimistic enough to even set a goal.  Maybe that's the seasonal depression talking, but boy, 2016 has been a dumpster fire of a year from my standpoint here on good  ol' planet Earth:  Trump.  Brexit.  The rise of the Alt-right.  Devastation in Aleppo.  Standing Rock.  Kinder-Morgan.  Zika.   Philando Castile's death live-streamed on Facebook.  An ongoing fentanyl crisis in our own backyard.   Terrorist attacks in too many places to name.  The earth warming up an alarming rate.  Freakin' David Bowie.   It's hard not to peer into the future of 2017 and see more of the same darkness.  It's hard not to feel helpless in the face of the challenges that we know are in store for us.

Enough is enough.  I am appalled at the direction this world is going, but I do not want to go down without a fight.  I want to take action.  I no longer want to feel numb to the injustices that happen down the street, or across the world.  So that's how I started thinking about 2017, as the Year of Action.  The problem was, where to start?  How do I change, and also help bring about change?  I'm just one insignificant person - how do I make a difference?  For me, one of the things I have realized I can do is understand how privileged I am,  at the opportunities I am afforded, and also learn to be content with what I have. 

I have always had two soothing or numbing behaviours in the face of fear, stress or pain:  food, and shopping.   One thing I am so grateful for this year is that I found the Whole 30 and eliminated most garbage food from my life.  I replaced junk food with exercise and good eating habits, became healthier, and lost a good amount of weight in the process.  That's an ongoing journey, one that will take time, but it's become a part of my life.  So, coping unhealthy mechanism number one, gone.

Which brings me to the shopping.  It's no secret I like nice things.  I love clothes, love dressing up, love making my home beautiful.  I'm a girly girl and a secret wannabe homemaker.  I collect books, retro housewares, pretty shiny things.  This year, when I took away food as a crutch, I found I was turning more and more to shopping as a cure for whatever uncomfortable emotion I was feeling.  If I felt it, it meant I deserved a new dress.  Or a new lipstick.  Or that new book.  If I didn't feel it - the confidence, the happiness, the love, that also meant I needed the new dress.   If I just got this one thing, I'd be perfect.  I'd be lovable.  I'd be happy.  I'd be worthy.   Most of the time, it worked.  The buying of the things worked.  Until one day, it didn't.

You see, I've become aware of the gross disconnect between my social conscience, which is increasingly loud in its concern for others, for our environment, and for building a world that is sustainable for us now and for our kids in the future, and my consumption of...well, stuff.    I live in a house of nice things.  I have a closet full of beautiful things to put on every day.  Why do I keep needing more?  And what do these things really add up to, in terms of a life well lived?  Will I be remembered, and do I want to be remembered, for having the cutest outfit, and the prettiest house, or for my actions, and the things I put out into the world?   When will I have enough?

So, the theme has become clear.  It's the Year of Enough:

  1. I've had enough -  I want to contribute to positive change in our world. 
  2. I have enough -  I need to learn to be mindful with how I spend my money and in my consumption of things.
  3. I am enough - I don't need stuff, or accomplishments, more money, or less weight, to be a worthy, lovable, person.  This one is my ongoing battle, against perfectionism, feelings of insecurity, of being different, incomplete somehow. Who I am and the good I do is enough.  

I have my theme.  In terms of concrete actions, there are a few things I am committing to:

  1. Community Work:  I'm going to make an active effort to offer more volunteer hours this year.  I've sat on boards for the past several years, and offered pro bono legal advice on an ad hoc basis when people really needed it.  I've contributed financially to charities.  I'll continue to do that, but I want to commit to actually offering myself to be of service to more organizations, in different ways, in 2017.  
  2. Shopping Ban:  Here's the big one guys.  I can't even believe I am saying this, but - I am committing to a Shopping Ban, in order to learn how to be more mindful with my money, and with my consumption.  I don't intend on giving away my possessions and becoming a minimalist - I like stuff too much for that - but I want to learn how to use and appreciate the stuff I've already got.  I'll be posting my Shopping Ban rules later, for more accountability, but this is gonna be a big one.  Big ups to Cait Flanders whose website, and Mindfulness Budget Journal, are a huge inspiration and resource for this endeavor. I don't know how long it'll last, if I will set a goal of three - six months or try to stick it out the whole year, but it's got to be a long enough challenge to do some real change to my current spending habits.
  3. Work on Me:  thetrial of learning to feel more worthy as a person continues.  I'm committing to devoting more time to my well-being, and not leaving this as the last priority on my to-do list.  I'm committing to building free time into my schedule, rather than filling my schedule to the brim with other commitments so that I don't have to sit with this stuff and work through it.  I'm building in the "me" time.

So, there's my 2017 for you.  It's the Year of Enough.  What does 2017 mean for you?

 

Sad Reality: Racism Is Everywhere. Including Here.

I got off Skytrain in Richmond on Friday night around 9 pm and walked to my bus stop to go home. At the stop was a very fit man in gym gear, in his early 30s, about 6 feet tall, who was calmly but firmly saying to two Indo-Canadian teenage girls, "What language are you speaking?" "Where are you from? You should go back there." "I'm from Canada and I speak English." "I was born here, you weren't, you need to speak English." "I can't understand what language you are speaking." The g...irls were silently staring at their phones. There were other people at the bus stop who were all looking at the ground and pretending they couldn't hear him. When the girls wouldn't respond, the man would loudly shout "HEY!" to get their attention, and start his diatribe again. He was completely focused on them. Other than "Hey," he never raised his voice. It was chilling.

After five minutes of watching this disgusting behaviour I yelled at him. "HEY! Leave them alone." Everyone looked up. Racist guy - who was scary because of how calm and direct he was - lasered in on me. "But I don't know what language they're even speaking!" I replied, "You don't need to know, they're not talking to you, now stop it." One of the girls said, "Yeah dude, we're not talking to you." Racist guy stared at me for a minute, then came and stood directly behind me, too close for comfort. He stood there while I texted transit police. He stood there while a man came out from beneath the bus shelter and deliberately stood beside me, while talking on his cell phone in Chinese, occasionally making eye contact with me to make sure I was OK. Racist guy did not like this either, and announced to the whole bus stop that he "didn't like any of these languages," and walked away. The girls got on a bus safely.

This guy was not your typical transit crazy. He may have been drunk, but not *that* drunk. He knew what he was saying and liked saying it. And that scares me to death.

Transit police came and took my statement. They told me I was brave but shouldn't have engaged him. I don't know how I can do anything *but* engage people who spew hate in front of me. Trump and his ilk have given these people permission to come out of the shadows and I am determined to put them back in the darkness, forever.

I posted this update on my Facebook and it went viral.  It's been shared hundreds of times in just under a week. I didn't post it to get kudos for shouting at the scary guy. I posted it so there can be no more smugness that "at least we live in Canada," no more pretending that racism doesn't exist here. BE VIGILANT.  We must be better than this. 

Be Here Now.

Sometimes, I wake up in the middle of my life and wonder how I got here.  It can happen driving down a Richmond street where I realize I recognize nothing, or waking up in my own room and seeing it as if for the first time. I will suddenly feel disoriented and disconnected from everything around me.   I'll look around and marvel at how alien everything feels to me, like I'm an astronaut, or a deep sea diver, floating, an observer in an unfamiliar landscape.  In that same instant, I feel the distance I've travelled, from a bedroom in a blue house on a cul-de-sac in the shadow of a small tree-covered mountain, to now, and wonder how on earth I find the path to turn around to go back.  

 

 

 

"What am I doing here?"  I will whisper to myself.  To ease the panic I can feel growing, I say reassuring things to ground me to this spot and this moment with some sort of logic or tie that my heart understands.  "You were born here, a few blocks away.  Your dad was born here.  Your grandmother lived down the road.  Your parents' first house was five minutes away."  It helps.  Sometimes I go to my aunt's house, a short drive through a tunnel. because it's the same house that it always was: so many things are different, but its sameness reminds me that the things and places that have disappeared were real.  They happened.   They existed. I didn't dream them and wake up just this second to my actual reality.  

 

It's not that this reality is bad, lord no.  It feels sweeter now, and more consistently sweet, than it has in a long time.  This afternoon I sat happily in my own library, surrounded by books, my beloved cat in my lap, and listened to the rain fall on the trees outside.  I tried to read, but looked up constantly to survey this home that I have bought and made, all on my own.  The feeling of calm and of pride was so great it almost made me cry.   But I so often these days find myself not quite being able to connect the dots, from Home to Here.

 

If I had to guess, I'd say this sense of disorientation is part of growing older, when your story becomes so long that you can't easily connect the first chapters to the middle.  Or, it's part of having wandered for the better part of 15 years and made a place for myself in multiple cities, continents, workplaces, friendships.  Maybe it's part of having travelled so much of this journey solo.  It makes me understand why people who have long ago left their hometowns sell up, move back, and settle down, send their kids to the schools they went to, reconnect with childhood friends.  It has to do with wanting to feel a sense of belonging to a place, a time, a community, a past self.  

 

This alienness also makes me realize that this life I'm leading now, as unfamiliar as it may seem in this instant, is the only life I have to lead.  I'm not going to "finish", or graduate, and return home to some past life.  Those echoes of the past are really just that - a recollection, an intangible, unreachable suggestion.  There is only one direction: forward. This realization makes me mournful and nostalgic and energized and driven and empowered, all at the same time.  Time to get up. get on with it, make something happen.   There are no ties that bind, so anything, anywhere, is possible.

 

I'm not sure what the remedy to this feeling of unfamiliarity can be, other than to live exactly this moment, now, here, and nowhere else.  To not dwell too long on times past, or on the time that is running (or running out), and simply live this chosen second, this mindful minute, in peace, with purpose, and most importantly, with gratitude.   

More Love.

I haven't had a lot to say lately.  

It's not because things aren't happening in my life - they are.  In fact, almost too many things have been happening.  I bought my own home, I moved to the 'burbs (barely), I settled in at my new job, I made peace with leaving the old job, I played a dream role in Hairspray,  I began my first steps towards an academic teaching career, I committed myself again to being the athlete I secretly am underneath my chubbiness, and, oh yeah, I agreed to do a burlesque show.  Things are happening. Lots of things.  I race from one place to another, from the moment I wake up until I collapse back into bed, exhausted, after 12+ hours away from home, then I wake up and do it all again the next day, with no reprieve.

But these things have felt really, really insignificant in the face of what is happening outside my very privileged bubble.

Since I last blogged?

There's been over 500 terrorist attacks around the world.    In places we assume are safe, like Brussels, and in places where fear is now a way of life, like Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine, Israel. Syrian death tolls are now estimated to be well over 400,000.  Scores of families displaced, destroyed.    

Ghomeshi walked.

Brock Turner got off with three months in a county jail and a lifetime ban on competitive swimming.

Fort Mac burned. 

Jo Cox was murdered for being committed to uniting her constituents and her country.  

Trump continues to get away with spewing bigoted, misogynist, ignorant hate with no signs of it letting up, while Hillary is vilified as the anti-christ. 

And Orlando.  Oh, Orlando.  My heart literally aches with sadness and with a white-hot fury that America can still not make the connection between gun control and the prevention of horrific massacres. 

It's hard for me to think I have anything worth saying, in the face of the trouble our world is in.  Now, more than ever, I'm finding it difficult to see the good, amongst the war and the hate and the climate destruction, and no amount of cute animal videos shared on Facebook is going to fix this, for me or for any of us.    

It's tough to feel helpless.  It's tough to feel like the life I have built for myself is frivolous, ephemeral, compared to the suffering that also exists in this world.  It's hard to know where to begin to make changes in my own life that can actually have a positive impact on our wounded world. Sure, I can (and do) throw money at the problem(s).  I can volunteer more, recycle more, protest more, be more aware of my privilege, understand more, listen more, forgive more.  Yes, there's so much more. And also,  I can be, and do, less: buy less, judge less, talk less, be less focused on myself, be less complacent in the face of injustice. There's so much more, and so much less, that I can do, and be, that I don't really know where to start.

But I think where it has to begin for me, right now, is with love.  49 people died in Orlando for being brave enough to love who they wanted to love, to love themselves for who they were.  The only response to Trump's hate rhetoric, his ridiculous visions of walls, of deportation and banning of those who are "other", the only response to the madman that killed Jo Cox over a fear of difference, to governments who will not welcome refugees fleeing for their lives, is love. Unity, not division.  Love, love, love.  I commit to being brave enough to love more, every day.  Love my family, my friends, my colleagues, my community, strangers near and far, of stepping outside my comfort zone to show more love.  If we can all commit to being a little more loving every day - to consciously acting in a loving way towards our fellow human beings and our world - even doing one small, deliberate, loving thing each day, then maybe we can drown out the evil, the hatred, the sorrow.  

Lin-Manuel Miranda (as Benedict Cumberbatch is my husband, so Lin is my best friend) shared, in verse, his thoughts on our world, at this time, at the Tonys last week, during one of his many acceptance speeches for Hamilton.  His sonnet has now been shared millions of times, but there a few lines that have stuck with me every day:


We chase the melodies that seem to find us

Until they're finished songs and start to play

When senseless acts of tragedy remind us

That nothing here is promised, not one day.

This show is proof that history remembers

We lived through times when hate and fear seemed stronger;

We rise and fall and light from dying embers, remembrances that hope and love last longer

And love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love cannot be killed or swept aside.


What can you do to be more loving?  And when will you start? For me, it starts now.  I won't say love is all we need (with sincere apologies to John and Paul), but it is where we need to start.

Tuning Out the Noise.

As all three devoted readers of this blog will know, this past year has been the "Year of Dani": a year of self-care, of becoming more comfortable in my own life and my own skin, and concentrating on what has meaning for me and makes me happy, healthy and whole.  I'm still a work in progress, but I feel like I have made some important steps forward and made changes in my own thinking that made a real difference to my own sense of well being and self-worth. 

No small part of this has been working on accepting myself for who I am, at the size I am.  Weight has been an issue for me since I was a kid. I can't pinpoint when exactly I started to feel different and unworthy because of my weight - it goes that far back. I remember being called fat by kids in elementary school.  I can remember my mom and I out walking when I was younger and some stranger yelling at us that we were two cows who SHOULD go out for a walk.  I don't remember a time when I didn't know in the core of my being that fat was bad, that I was fat, and therefore I was bad.  Naturally, I equated not-fatness with goodness.  If only I could just be thin, life would go my way.  I wouldn't feel different, or like an outsider.  I first went on Weight Watchers when I was 13.  I went back to WW a number of times, and have tried numerous other fad diets over the years, sometimes with tremendous success.  Dr. Phil's crazy Texan diet + running 5K every single day for five months = 60 pounds gone.  Dr. Bernstein + heartbreak + obsessive CrossFit = 90 pounds gone.   Dr. Bernstein (again) +  hot yoga 6 days a week = another 75 gone.  I've lost my own body weight probably multiple times in my life, sometimes by very unhealthy means.

Part of this year's focus has been on living in the present.  I quickly came to the realization that I couldn't genuinely live in the present without accepting myself for who I am in the present, all of me: the double chin, the chubby arms, the Size 16 clothing - every last large, chubby, round part of me.   I didn't know where to begin that acceptance, I really didn't.  I have been so conditioned to believe thin is good (for me - ironically I think most other people look good a little chubbier) that I had to start with a very narrow focus.  I found I liked myself more and could look at myself proudly in the mirror when I had cooked myself a healthy meal that day.  So that went into the rotation: healthy cooking.  I also noticed that I felt better about myself when I exercised -  I liked the way I looked in running clothes, and I liked how it felt to run.  OK, so it was time to start running more regularly.  I liked going to the pool - I bought the cutest vintage swim caps you have EVER seen and went and did Aqua-Fit with the old ladies at the Y.   I liked lifting weights - time to join an exercise crew - my dear friend April had told me about her sister-in-law's bootcamp program for plus size women, Body Exchange , so I started doing that two to three times a week, in addition to my running - and you should see me swing a kettlebell now.  

No small part of my growing acceptance and the beginning of falling in love with who I am, right now, came from the growing movement online that celebrates bodies of all sizes - including plus size bodies.  Models were a big part of that - seeing someone like Tess Holliday get on the cover of People Magazine in May was a big thing - but it was Ericka Shenck on the cover of Women's Running in August that made me literally howl with joy.  YES!  I am a runner! She is a runner! We are runners!  I cannot tell you how empowered that cover made me feel.  All I can say is my running laps at bootcamp that week were extra-fast, and extra-proud.  

I also discovered a whole world on Instagram of plus-size fashion beyond the two messy racks in the corner of H & M and the senior-citizens approved plus section of the Bay.   There were young professional women like me posting OOTD on IG, rocking fierce clothes that I needed right. now. There were even people I knew setting an example, like local amazing supermodel Ruby Roxx, looking so damn heart stoppingly sexy that she puts Victoria's Secret to shame.  Thanks to this social media takeover by beautiful, empowered, healthy, fashionable, smart, successful and LARGE women, plus size was becoming, for me, the new normal.  Finally, at 35, I felt normal.  I felt more deserving of being healthy, loved and beautiful - because here were these examples of women being these things, doing fabulous things, that I could look at everyday.

Cut to yesterday.  I was inundated, on TV and radio, with news stories relating to this study co-authored by Brent McFerran, a professor of marketing at SFU, saying that acceptance of larger body types in media (such as the now-iconic Dove campaign) result in greater consumption of food and less motivation to exercise. In other words, showing people images of fat people made them fat.  It made them lazy, and it made them eat more.  They refer in their conclusions to "overly large" bodies as "unhealthy" but do not refer to overly thin bodies in the same way.  They conclude that it would be "optimal" for people's well-being for marketers to use images of people of a "healthy weight and refrain entirely from drawing attention to the body size issue."  They suggest we ignore the elephant in the room - even if that elephant is me.  Or you.  The authors of this study seem to be fretting that we can't "normalize" people who are overweight, even though it's well established that the average woman in North America is a Size 14, and also well established, in the work of experts like Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, that dieting isn't working.  People are not getting smaller.  Bigger is the new normal.  Instead of suggesting that the media show healthy bigger bodies - show people that they can love themselves and be good to themselves at any size, and show them how to be healthy at any size, the authors of this study suggest that we be erased from the picture.  

To make matters worse, in giving publicity to this study, the media once again opened the floodgates for people to make judgments about others (as always, like they needed an invitation) based on size. On my way to bootcamp with my large lady-friends last night, I heard the following public comments on the CBC radio show On the Coast:

1)  Obesity is an epidemic, it is unhealthy and costs the taxpayers money so let's not celebrate that.

2)  I have fat friends and when I hang out with them I do eat more and I do make poor choices so I try to encourage us not to just go out to dinner when we socialize.

Imagine comment number 1 starting like so:

"Islam is an epidemic."

Or comment number 2:

"I have gay friends and when I hang out with them I do feel more homosexual."

 You may think, "Oh hang on Dani, being fat isn't the same as being Muslim, or gay.  People can't help being Muslim or gay."  And I am telling you, based on personal experience and the experience of many others I know, that the psychology of weight and our relationships with food, not to mention genetics and hormones, make it as difficult for some people to change their body shape as it is difficult to change the colour of your skin.  I have 35 years of obsessive exercise, diets, cycles of starvation, and more self-loathing than you can even imagine to prove it.  The fact that the study didn't even start to address that complication shows just how flawed, and harmful, it is.

In making a huge, oversimplified news story out of a controversial study that does not even scratch the surface of the psychology of food, weight, body image and media influence,the media is once again giving voice and validation to judgement, bigotry and shaming as legitimate opinion.

And I won't stand for it.  

Seeing myself reflected in the media over the past year has made me feel worthy: of love, of admiration, of health.  OF HEALTH.  Shaming me into trying to lose weight by only making clothes up to a certain size (I'm looking at you, Abercrombie & Fitch and Lululemon) didn't make me feel those things.  Publishing glowing articles about Gwyneth Paltrow's latest cleanse didn't make me feel those things.  Fat jokes on YouTube by dude comedians didn't make me feel those things.  It was seeing myself, or someone who I could identify with, on a cover, in a story, in an Instagram post, that made me want to love myself.  And doesn't everybody deserve that?  Shouldn't our media reflect who we really are, whether that's thin, fat, tall, short, able-bodied, or 

not,

cis or transgendered?  And every colour under the rainbow?  And wearing a hijab, or a burqa, or a turban?  

So,

TL/DR:

1.  I am a hot, sexy, athletic, healthy, plus sized woman who can do more push-ups than you and has the most fierce style ever EVER.

2.  Magazines, TV and marketing couldn't shame me into loving myself, the only way that happened was by seeing myself reflected in the media: by showing me that I existed, was worthy of depiction, and could be part of the story.

3.  Size shaming appears to be one of the last acceptable forms of prejudice disguised as health concern-trolling, and it's not OK.  Just as we won't let Donald Trump's hatred make a comeback, we won't let shaming of people for

any

aspect of their body go unaddressed.  

4. Fat is not contagious.  Nor is it monstrous, or deserving of being "othered."

5. Diversity is good.

6.  Health is good, and we need to celebrate and applaud those actions we take for our health, which can come in many different packages.

7.  Don't let stupid hateful people be on the radio.  This includes Donald Trump.  I'm tuning out the noise and focusing, in the immortal words of Crystal Waters, on

100% pure love

.  

The Work of Being Happy.

Back in January, I decided this would be the year of self-care.  The year of not setting ambitious goals or striving outrageously to accomplish things.  The year of being a bit kinder to myself.  I was so so tired.  I was tired of feeling disappointed in myself when I didn't achieve superstardom, unlimited wealth, Olympic-level fitness, true love, a family, and professional accolades.  I was tired of feeling like I was struggling to succeed - when really by most people's standards I was doing just fine.  I figured there had to be an easier way to live.  Or, maybe there wasn't, maybe I was/am a perfectionist for life - but at least I could make peace with that way of living, if I spent a year being "ordinary" and still couldn't be happy.  Maybe the struggle would be sweeter if I knew I was happier struggling than going with the flow.  Weird, but that's what I was thinking. 

I did (and did not do) a number of things during this "Year of Dani."  They were, for the most part, seemingly small "no brainer" things to me, really - basic life skills that I had just forgotten to do in my pursuit of "greatness".  

I moved, to a neighbourhood less bustling than Gastown, where I could sleep, and read, and go for walks on tree lined streets.  I started cooking at home and taking my lunch to work.  I didn't audition for shows I didn't want to be in (sounds easy, is actually hard, when you are desperately afraid of being forgotten).  I said no to volunteer opportunities I was presented with if they didn't make my heart sing.  I stayed at home and read books - real books, from the library, with pages, rather then e-books on my Kobo.  

I went for walks, and sometimes I ran. I gardened on my little balcony.  I didn't shop when I was sad or lonely (because shoes make you less lonely!), I wrote it down in my journal, or admitted to someone that I was sad and received a flood of support in return.  I went to yoga, but not obsessively, as I have in the past.  I meditated.  I napped.  And I made one gigantic life decision: I changed jobs, leaving a job I loved and was completely emotionally invested in, to one with a shorter commute and a less frenetic workday pace, where I became responsible for a smaller portfolio of work, that I could leave on my desk at the end of the day rather than carrying home in my heart.  

These lifestyle changes have been accompanied by really hard work in terms of changing my attitude.  In smothering my negative inner voices, in actively choosing a different way to be, every day.  In choosing not to be critical of myself, in taking one day at a time, in choosing love over negativity. In convincing myself I am entitled to be happy, even without the perfect career, the perfect body, the perfect wardrobe, the perfect house, husband, baby.  It's a conversation I have to have with myself every day.  That I am wonderful as I am.  That every day is wonderful exactly as it unfolds.  That I am exactly who I am meant to be, and exactly where I am meant to be.  I write these words to myself on post-its at work, that only I can see.  I set my alarm on my phone for random times of the day, so that when the alarm goes off, I repeat these loving thoughts to myself.  I say them out loud to friends, who respond with resounding celebration when I say "I deserve to be happy."  

Now, as we head into the last months of the year, it feels like all of the very tiny incremental changes that I have been making over the year are crystallizing into one great gigantic big ball of happiness.  It's actually kind of magical.   Work is going well and I am valued for my contributions.  I saved enough money to buy my first home, a quiet place on a street lined with trees that looks out onto the Fraser River, which will be mine in November.  I've lost enough weight (20 lbs, give or take) that I notice, even if no one else does.  I'm singing as much as I want, with the people I want, when I want.  I sleep well.  It's work, absolutely, but the weird thing is, when you put in the work, things feel...effortless.  I can't explain that paradox, but I understand it now.

The other day, my mom said to me, "It's like you've said, 'Oh, sod it.  I am going to try happy.'"  And it's true - in trying to be happy, I've made myself happy.  It is so much work, every single day, but I'm happy.  Imperfect, sometimes frustrated, sometimes lonely - but happy.  I'm choosing happy.  I can't wait to see what miracles unfold as we head into the close of this Year of Dani.

Imperfect, unremarkable, happy me, at this very minute.

7:26 pm.

It feels like it's been a long time since I cried.  Yet this month seems to have been filled with a lot of tears, both of hurt and happiness, but also when the beauty of something has been too much to bear. 

I feel things.  

Sometimes too many things.

But I am feeling them, without fear.

It feels raw, and I feel like I should flinch to avoid being hurt.  I need to find some resilience.  Or find some peace in that fragility.

It is dusk, and I am sitting alone and content, the last vestiges of sunlight pouring in from all sides.  The doors are wide open, and Currie is perched on the deck outside, staring intently at me as I write.

"What are you doing?" I ask her, when I look up to see her yellow-green eyes fixed on me.  She meows a reply, then yawns, stretches, and steps back inside, and past me.  

We are happy here, in this moment. 

There is still so much hurt.  And sadness.  And loneliness.  But it is accompanied by a visiting peace, and a growing awareness of moments of joy.  And grief in the moments that have passed without it.

This is Sunday.

I can't tell you how sweet life is in my new home.  I thought myself a hardcore urbanite: I loved the grit and colour of Gastown, the mix of upscale, industrial, hipster and downtrodden that made up my neighbourhood of the last five and a half years.  And then I found my little oasis in the middle of not-so-glamorous Marpole, and suddenly none of the cool coffee shops, bakeries, clothing stores or bars that surrounded me mattered anymore.

So it's true - most of the restaurants and cafes that surround my new home are...not great, or else not designed to be that welcome to Canadians of the whitey-whitebread persuasion such as myself, with all-Mandarin or all-Cantonese menus and staff that don't really speak English (that being said, I have ventured into a few anyway and found a number of gems).  But I have a wonderful dining room that has light that streams in from the east, and with another window that opens up onto views of trees and mountains to the north, so it's not a hardship to eat at home.

Yes, it's a fact that the only speciality food store near my new home is Safeway.  But I have a kitchen that I delight to spend time in, and since I moved in January I have spent many happy hours cooking away on my new stovetop.  True, I haven't visited a "hot" restaurant in...well, months really, but I have re-discovered my cookbook collection and found some new recipe blogs that I adore.  There's no good coffee, true - you can't count the Starbucks at 64th and Granville - but I have a perfectly good machine to brew my own, not to mention a well-loved Bialetti stovetop espresso maker that Edy and I purchased in Rome years ago.  

I worried when I moved out of Gastown that the new neighbourhood and the lifestyle (or lack thereof) that it presented would not be "cool" or "exciting" enough for me.  Instead, I've found that I nest more - I've looked inward rather than outward to develop a home life.  I'm happy to spend a quiet Sunday at home, as I'm not exhausted from waiting for the bar underneath me to close at 4 a.m. in order to get some sleep.   I don't mind waking up to hear lawnmowers and birds singing (OK, I like the birds more than the lawnmowers, it's true).  I love being able to hear the rain on my roof.

Cornmeal-Raspberry Pancakes, homebrewed coffee, the Georgia Straight on the table and Michael Enright on the radio.  The new Sunday.

So, yes.  It's been a good move for me.  A very good one. When I started looking, desperately, in November, I was trying to escape a situation that I think my body and my heart knew were no longer healthy for me - that I needed peace, and refuge, no matter what my trend-loving, hipster-admiring brain told me about living in Gastown.  I felt like I was in flight from terrible anxiety and unrest. So I'm content that today my day will consist of throwing some meals together for the week to come, brushing Curriecat's coat out on one of our two balconies, sitting in my living room and staring at the rooftops, cherry blossoms and mountains that make up my view, perhaps going for a walk in Fraser River Park, and then heading to Granville Island for a rehearsal.

Maybe I'm mellowing, I don't know. Would it be nice to have someone here to mellow with?  Sure.  But if this is what 34-almost-35 looks like, I think I'm OK with that.

Home Is Where the Heart Is.

When I moved to my new place in Marpole, my bedroom was an extremely important consideration.  Gastown had always been loud and bright. Over 5 years there, I learned to ignore the lights in the courtyard outside, and the lights of SFU Woodwards across that courtyard, which remained on all night.   But I never got over the noise, from the Charles Bar, crazy people or drunk people shouting outside, and the hum of air vents on the many buildings close by.  I have never been a great sleeper, but over the past few years it's become even more difficult for me to have a good sleep.  In the past years, 2 -3 sleepless nights a week has become the norm rather than the exception.  It wasn't unusual for me to be up and awake until 4 in the morning on a regular basis.   By the time I moved, I was desperate for quiet, and for somewhere I thought I might be able to sleep.  I chose the north facing suite, which faces into an alley and residential backyards, rather than the south, to avoid even the little bit of street noise you could hear in the south suite from West 70th Avenue.  

In my past few apartments, my "colour" theme has been turquoise and yellow: bright versions in the living areas, more muted shades in my bedroom.  But for whatever reason, when I moved to my Marpole place, I suddenly decided I wanted my room to be red.  My spare room in Gastown had been red, full of bright artwork and a graphic poppy-printed bedspread (when one of my movers saw my bed he said "Wow! It's Remembrance Day up in here!" - maybe not the most sexy thought), and that's what I decided I wanted in my bedroom. I've since picked up another red-themed bedspread (isn't it always nice to have two - one for when the other's in the laundry?), but continued on this "red" path.  

When I was young, my parents let me choose the decor for my room in our house on Winchester Road, where I grew up.  I asked for red and white hearts, and they wallpapered half my walls in crisp white wallpaper with hearts.  My bed had a red and white striped quilt (which my brother and sister-in-law have on their bed now).  When my grandmother, my Dad's mom, passed away, I inherited her four poster bed, which my Dad painted white, with tiny red wooden hearts affixed to the headboard.  My dressers were painted white with red drawers.  Every Valentines' Day, another item with red and white hearts made its way into my room.  And I loved it.  It stayed that way until I was at least 16 and too cool for hearts.

As I began picking up bits and bobs for my new bedroom here in Marpole, I found myself drawn to stuff with red hearts again.  It occurred to me that I really liked the idea of a throwback to my childhood sanctuary.  Not to be a kid again, or to have a wish to go back, but to move forward with some connection to the "me" that was a kid in that bedroom.  To connect to the home I grew up in, which I sorely miss - this somehow made me feel closer to my family, who aren't around on a daily basis.   My dressers were already a throwback - they were also my Dad's mom's, and sat in my own parents' bedroom on Winchester.  My dad repainted them for me when I came home from London with no money and no furniture.  

Then I started to find things I already had, that I wanted out  and visible, because they made me feel even more connected to family, and to that essential sense of myself and where I came from.  I put vintage pillowcases on the bed, which my Mom noted had lived in Marpole before, in the home she grew up in a few blocks away on 62nd.  They had belonged to my grandmother, who lived her whole life in this neighbourhood, but who I never met.  I put out some vintage glass dishes, which I remembered sitting on my grandfather's bathroom counter when I was a kid, one filled with soap and one with cotton balls, but which my mom told me her mom used to store her hairpins in.  

It's all Valentinesy up in here.  Curriecat doesn't care as long as her pink blankie is on the bed.

The heart that started it all.  This was an Opening Night gift from my director, Rick Tae, when I performed in "A…My Name is Alice."  It hangs on my bedroom door.

The "doggie dishes."  The only thing I asked for from my Grandpa's house when he passed away, I remembered fishing out cotton balls and little hotel soaps from these as a kid.  My grandma Annette used them for her hairpins.  That's her on the left.

My dad thinks all the hearts are "too foufou".  That may be so.  I am unapologetically foufou.

That's it, that's all.

When I showed my parents my room on FaceTime, my dad grumbled that it was too girly, that no boy would like red hearts.  "It's too FOUFOU," he said jokingly-but-not.  ("

YOU'RE

FOUFOU" I shot back.  Great comeback, Dan.)   But the reality is, no boy lives here.  It's me, it's my room, and the connection to home and to family, and the feeling of belonging that it gives me, are worth the risk of a boy not liking it.  Of course it's not to everybody's taste.  It might not always be to mine.  But things can always change, and for right now I need my room to be a place I feel cozy, safe, and connected.   Home is where the heart is.  Literally.

On Mindfulness, Balance and Being Deliberate.

2014 was one of the busiest years on record.  I spent almost three months total outside the country.  I learned tons about my job and the company I work for.  I laid on a few different beaches, and visited the Houses of Parliament in Westminster. I went through a shitty breakup.  I went to Disneyland.  I acted in three productions, one of which was a super top secret non-rehearsed full-length musical.  I put a painful professional chapter behind me once and for all with respect to a bad business arrangement.   I staged Evita in my living room with my friends for my birthday (of course I played Eva, don't be silly).  I sat on three boards, helped organize a shoe-themed fundraiser, and met my first nephew, the darling Charles Alexander, known as Cal.  I saw a dead body (really).  I climbed a giant mountain in Wales.  I dyed my hair green, and then purple.  I sang karaoke in front of my work colleagues.  And then, in the last days of the year, I moved house.  

As crazy/fun/wondrous as my year was, it was also draining, and kind of disorienting.  I was tired all the time, and things that had been fun, suddenly weren't.  Due to structural issues and neighbourhood noise, my home no longer felt like a safe place to be.  I felt like I didn't sleep - all year.  By the time this autumn came around, my workload felt unsurmountable, my free time felt chore-ridden, and I wondered if I would ever not feel exhausted again.  I never read anymore - ME! The English major with walls and walls of books lining her home!  I felt like being busy was keeping me from - something, I didn't know what - but it wasn't making me happy.

There are a couple of things that I have learned over the past year.  The first was that I can't do it all.  I really can't - and (surprisingly) I don't want to.  My approach over the past few years has been to throw myself into everything I'm asked, head first, and it has not served me well. That's what makes me tired.  And tired leads to sick.  And sick leads to sad.  I have learned that I can have a very little bit of everything, but not the whole lot - and maybe that's OK, to only have a little bit.  The second was, it doesn't have to be perfect.  I'm still working on that one.  The "it" is every aspect of my life really - from the roots of my dyed hair to the Curriecat fur that occasionally sweeps across the floor, to my really really really slow running and my sloppily cooked dinners.  It doesn't have to be perfect, but for the things that matter: my work, my art, my health, my friendships - it does have to be the best I can possibly do.   And sometimes it has to be the best I can do right at that moment.   

And so, the things I am focusing on this year reflect these lessons.  The goal is to help me put these ideas into practice every day.  Just because I understand what I just said above - that I can't do it all, that "it" doesn't have to be perfect - doesn't mean that I'm comfortable with those truths, or that, when I am lonely, or tired, or insecure, I don't revert to the manic business and accomplishment-collecting that have characterized many years of my life.  While some people may say, "This year, I'm going to get out of my comfort zone,"  my promise is that this year, I will stay IN it.   I will not take on everything.  I will say no.  I will build in time for nothing.   I will take the time to think through what I'm doing (there's the mindfulness for you), and make deliberate choices about what I can do, what I'd like to do, and what I'd NOT like to do.  I will reflect on the people I surround myself with, and how I'd like to treat them and be treated in return.   

In December I made a scary but so-far-wonderful decision about where "home" is, and am having fun creating an environment for myself that is comfortable, relaxing, somewhere I can bring my friends, somewhere I can be  be still, and quiet, when I need to be.  Somewhere I can sleep.   It's not trendy, it's not hip, but it is filled with sunlight, fresh air, calm, and Curriecat, which is all I need, really.  

It's not going to be easy, this being easy on myself.  It's very very disorienting and uncomfortable at times.  To say, "Today I think I will go to work, come home, make dinner, read a book, and go to bed.  And that will be enough.  That will be OK."  To say, "I think I've done everything I can on this work assignment, time to put it away for now.  And that's OK."  To say, "It's OK to just go for a walk."  It's scary, to think that at the end of this year I might not have a laundry list of things to say on Facebook, or Twitter, or this blog, that I've done and been and seen.  But I keep telling myself that's OK.  I'm OK.  And OK is just fine.