Diary

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.  

Authentic Dani.

As part of the personal journey I'm on that started with this

post

, I'm taking

Brene Brown

's online course that accompanies her book,

The Gifts of Imperfection.

  Each week a reading assignment is provided along with an art project of some kind.  

This week, the topic is authenticity.  Brene says authenticity is something we can all consciously practice - she calls it "

the daily practice of letting go of who we think we're supposed to be and embracing who we really are

."  That really resonated with me after the day I had today.   

First, I should say by way of disclaimer, it was a wonderful day, filled with family and the opportunity to practice my art by performing onstage.   My parents were here to see my show, and we went for brunch.  My nephew Cal was born on Tuesday, and as new grandparents, my Mom and Dad are obviously excited.  My aunts and uncles are excited.  Our friends are excited.  Our acquaintances are excited.  It seems that darling Cal (and he really is darling - I'm not allowed to post pictures yet or OH, I WOULD) is the main topic of conversation and enthusiasm in our family circle and in our extended circle of friends.  It's very hard for me to not imply and internalize a message from that: the message that it's good to be settled, it's good to have kids.  It's very hard for me to not feel like "less-than" because I do not have these things.  It's very hard not to think there's something wrong with the way I'm living when it feels so different from that of my brother, my cousins, my parents' friends' kids, the ones I grew up with, who were my contemporaries.

So this idea to be authentic - to be who I really am and

let go of who I think I'm supposed to be

- felt really powerful to me today.  I think I'm supposed to be somebody's wife.  I think I'm supposed to be somebody's mom.  I think I'm supposed to own a house by now.  Weigh less.  Feel more balanced, calm.  The fact that I'm not, or that I don't,  really does make me feel like I am not a whole person, a lot of the time.  I feel like these are badges of honour that I'm missing - visible signs, that LOOK! SOMEBODY LOVES ME, or I HAVE STUFF - and that the absence of these symbols means something about my worth as a person.

I know it's insane.  It's just how I feel.  And so the idea that I should try to let go of those feelings - the idea that those feelings are WRONG - and that (to link back to Brene's initial lesson) I'm imperfect but still ENOUGH - well, that message was received today, somehow. It might not stick, but it's there today, which is a big deal.  

The art journaling exercise today was to find a photo of myself that reflects who I really am - to wade through old photos to find images that provide emotional resonance for me (rather than photos where I think I look good or cool).  That was a tough exercise, because I self-censor so much - there just aren't photos of me that exist if I don't think I look pretty, or less fat, or cool.  Anything where I think I look weird, goofy, chubby, stupid - those pictures just don't exist.

I won't tell you which of these photos won the contest as revealing my authentic self, but these are the photos that made the shortlist, for what it's worth.  These are photos that remind me of times in my life where I have felt truly myself, felt permission to be exactly who I am, nothing more, nothing less.

(A

pologies Dad for the hungover (?) sleepy Pops picture - and RIP Blue Pierre Cardin Bathrobe, 1979 - 1994

.)

Again, apologies Cathy - but we were

both

making silly faces...

Letting Go of Perfect.

My name is Danielle, and I'm a perfectionist.

I feel like for those who know me well, this statement is not a surprise.   It is a surprise to me.  I dislike enough things about myself to believe that everyone reading this will scoff, "You're clearly not a perfectionist - look at you!"  

Well - yes.  Look at me.  I am looking at me.  And that voice that criticizes myself, that dark corner of my heart that despises so many things about myself? That's the perfectionist.   It's the perfectionist who loudly declares how RIDICULOUS I am, that everyone can SEE that, what a JOKE.  The perfectionist does not see the lawyer, scholar, singer, writer, actress, world traveller, volunteer, devoted kitty-mama and friend.  The perfectionist sees a loud, ugly, fat, obnoxious loner who doesn't own a house, doesn't have a husband, doesn't have kids, is too old to continue auditioning for musical theatre, and isn't as good a lawyer as she pretends to be.  That perfectionist voice is the last one I hear before I go to bed.  It's the first one I hear when I wake up in the morning.    

I've been chasing perfect for a long time.  For every A I got, there was an A+ to be had.  For every degree I got, there was another one I had to reach for (I'd still be going if the money hadn't run out).  For every law firm I got a job at, there was another, BIGGER law firm to get a job at.  For every show I got to perform in, there was another one that I really needed to be in.   When I've got a night to myself at home, I beat myself up about not going out.  If the house isn't perfectly tidy and doesn't look like a magazine, no one can come over, and I can't relax and read a book.  If people come for dinner, that better be the most perfect, Martha Stewart-inspired party you've ever seen.   I've falsely confused perfection with being loved, and being loveable, even to myself. 

My perfectionism doesn't come out of some extreme self-love, a desire to strive for the best because I'm worth it.  I know this because the flip side of my perfectionism is shame. I strive for perfection to outrun the shame, but because I can never achieve that perfection, I spend much more time mired in the quicksand of shame than celebrating my successes.   For everything that I  have "failed" at, whether that was true failure or just failing to meet my own ridiculous standards, I feel a deep, deep shame and dislike for myself.  My weight yo-yo's are the perfect example of that.  Gained a pound?  Well, I'd better give up then, because I failed.  Pass the cookies, it's all over.  I'll punish myself by eating another one.  And maybe another.   The vicious cycle continues.  I hate myself for not being perfect, so I eat another metaphorical cookie, I become further away from perfect, I hate myself some more.  Dating, too.  I've put up with horrible treatment from horrible people that I would never introduce to my worst enemy, because I think that's what I deserve, because I'm so horribly flawed.  I have not dared to let myself love people who I think I do not measure up to.

Criticism, even from people who have no business being critical, or whose opinions we should not care about, becomes deeply wounding to perfectionists like me, because we attach a sense of shame and blame to having "failed" to measure up to some real or imagined standard.  

I don't know where this idea that I had to be perfect came from. I do not blame my parents for some deep dark wrong they did to me as a child.  I was a difficult kid - I hear those stories a lot - but they also loved me so hard it hurt.  And yet somewhere along the way, I heard and internalized the message that to be loved by myself and others, I need to be perfect.  I love other people whole-heartedly, flaws and all, but myself, no.  

Perfectionism is an insidious thing.  It means that when I accomplish, I must accomplish more.  It means when I fail, I feel a shame so deep I feel embarrassed to be around others, and would gladly avoid myself if possibly could (that's not a suicidal thought, mind you, just a desire to not be me).    

But lately, I have started to ask myself, what is the end goal of my being perfect?  What's at the end of the rainbow, that unattainable goal that I keep striving for?   Where am I killing myself to get to?  What is it that is so worth being so terribly hard on myself every step along the way to obtain?

It's love.  Being loved.

I'm not talking just romantic love (although that's always nice).  I feel loved by my friends, and my family.  I have felt loved by romantic partners.  But the key ingredient that's missing is loving myself.  Not only do I keep thinking I need to be perfect so someone else will love me - I need to be perfect so I can love myself.   

And that's the tragedy of it.  I will never be perfect.  And unless I seriously start thinking about how I think and feel, and changing some of these damaging thoughts and behaviours, I'll never love myself.  And that's a really, really sad place to be.  

So I'm letting go of perfect.  I have to.

I have zero idea how to do this. Honestly, I don't.  I have no idea how you put aside something that you feel in the very core of your being and choose to feel something else.  We as a society cannot explain what makes us fall in love with other people, how the hell can we explain or teach how to fall in love with ourselves?  So I know this is going to be a long, long, difficult, sad, frustrating process full of demons and discomfort and roadblocks. I don't know where the road even starts, but I know that much.  I also know that I am so very very tired of aiming for perfect, and failing miserably, and feeling such shame at my own existence.  There is so much beauty in the world, and it is so, so sad that I don't let myself be part of it.  

It's a big thing for me to be this honest on my blog.  I have always limited myself to humorous, witty posts about "perfect" moments in my life - world travel, cooking adventures, theatrical endeavours, and other accomplishments that make me appear very together, a real whole person living a fabulous life.  I have a lot of fear around putting these words out into the world, admitting that Oz the Magnificent is nothing but a facade.  But I also feel like I have to give voice to some of the things I'm struggling with, so that I can benefit from the wisdom and understanding of the people in my life who have maybe been in the same place.  Or the people who are already able to be their own best friends, who can teach me the tricks of the trade.   I'm committed to living with the discomfort.  There's really no other choice.

I'm letting go of perfect, and settling for loved.  Let the journey commence.

Secret Allies.

I'm in Orlando for work, and heading to Atlanta tomorrow.  As I was heading to my hotel room tonight, I passed a teenage girl with the same green hair as me.  We gave each other the secret cool-green-hair-girl salute.  Her mom gasped and insisted we take a picture together.   Afterwards, I told the girl a secret: "I'm a corporate lawyer.  Please remember, you can be whatever you want to be, it doesn't matter what colour your hair is."  I hope she remembers.  She promised me she would. 

On Belonging.

I've been thinking a lot lately about what makes us feel like we belong.  As a single person, it's often easy for me to fall into the trap of thinking that I need a significant other in order to not feel alone.  That I just need to belong to one person, and that'll be enough.  It's common that I find myself reflecting that "If I just had someone, I could…(fill in the blank)."  But I've had to start speaking to myself sternly about this, because there is so much evidence in my own life that this idea is incorrect.  There are so many other ways for us to belong: to our families, our co-workers, our friends; to theatre companies and sports teams and charities and churches.  I think that if I choose to feel alone (which I admit, I do often), it is because I am not actively reaching out to those communities that I actually do belong to, saying, "I feel lonely," or "What are we up to tonight," "I could use some company," or, and probably more importantly, making things less about me: "How can I help?"    "How are

you

doing?"  "Can I pitch in somehow?"

It's tough sometimes, though.  It's tough to always feel like I'm the only one to make the effort, that my social life is at the mercy of my much-more-important friends with spouses and/or families.  It's easy to retreat into my own solitary world, look at my phone longingly to see if someone has texted or called, hunker down with Curriecat and commit myself dramatically to a solitary existence.  This despite having wonderful friends, family and colleagues.  I can't walk two blocks in my neighbourhood without bumping into a friend to say hello to.  

So, yes -  I realize that the only reason I feel like I don't belong is me.  Because I do belong.  I care about people and they care about me. And it's up to me to reach out and ask for what I need and to more importantly ask what I can give back.

I belong to this crazy, loving, sometimes infuriating family. As the only "out of towner," I forget that sometimes, and feel left out, but it only takes 5 minutes (and a matching apron) to remember.

Vancouver has some really great community events, including the Dragonboat Festival, which I've missed since I moved to London.  I've decided next year I'll have to put a team together - I miss paddling.  Yes, even early morning winter practices where your hands can barely hold the paddle, you're so cold.  So it's definitely time to get back into it.

Events like Streetfood Fest really show that Vancouverites do have a desire for community, to get together and hang out.  Every Sunday we bask on this little astroturf "beach," play pingpong, and line up 30-deep at the food trucks circled at Olympic Village.

Even when I'm alone, I'm not really.  As I type this a grey cat is curled up with her tail on the computer screen.  

My Earliest Memory.

I carry a very vivid recollection with me:

A split-level house in Richmond.  Spring sunshine is streaming through a crescent-shaped window in a white front door, falling on golden wood floors.  Footsteps echo loudly; the house is empty.  

I am sitting on the front stairs in the hallway, sticking my short stubby legs out in front of me to admire white sandals.  I smooth my pink bunny - a combination of blanket and puppet - over my knees, touching the soft satin of his ears.  An adult, whose face I can no longer remember, sits on the stair below, and asks me how old I am.

I hold up two fingers, and pronounce proudly, "Two."  Then I correct myself.  "Two and a HALF."

There are other snapshots that are linked to this memory: of dancing on the wood floor, to hear the clatter of my own feet.  Of staring at blue and red wallpaper in an empty bedroom, printed with the smiling faces of Raggedy Ann and Andy.  

This is either my first real memory, of our move from Richmond to Victoria, where I grew up, or it's something I've imagined, based on stories I have been told.  That's the funny thing about memory, though - it can feel as real as right now.  And maybe that's all that matters, is what feels real to us.  

Police Incident.

On Saturday I met my friend Rosie for coffee at 49th Parallel Coffee Roasters.  It was a beautiful day and since it might be one of the last beautiful days we have in Vancouver until, well, May,  we decided to sit on the patio.  About 10 feet away from the patio, on 13th Avenue, there was some police tape, and the alley behind the cafe was cordoned off, with some police officers standing by.

On my way into 49th Parallel, I had noticed a crowd gathering by the police tape.

"What's going on?" I asked one bystander.  They explained that there was a man barricaded in a house in the alley, who had apparently set the house on fire the night before, and was now refusing any entry by the fire department or police officers.  He was waving a knife around.   At that point I counted about 15 police officers, some in tactical "SWAT" style gear, and figured they had the situation more than under control. 

We were sitting on the patio talking when all of a sudden I started sneezing uncontrollably.   Then, while Rosie was staring at me quizzically as I sneezed again and again, she started sneezing too.  Then we started coughing.  And everyone around us started coughing and sneezing, and choking.

"Oh god," I choked.  "I think they're gassing him out!  Quick, get inside!"

The crowd gathering on 14th and Main to watch what was going on.  They had a better vantage point than we did on 13th.  Photo credit: Georgia Straight. 

As we gathered our stuff and made our way into the cafe, Rosie looked over at the cops manning the police tape.  They were outfitted with masks, and stood watching us, arms crossed, and laughing.  They were

laughing

.  

That was it for me.  It would have taken not even 5 minutes for them to walk over, say, "We'd like to clear this patio, please get inside," or ask 49th Parallel's staff to do so, and close the garage doors to the patio.  Not only did they

not

do that, but they laughed. 

I have been very sympathetic to Vancouver police officers.  I see the beat some of them walk in my neighbourhood every day.  I watched them clear street after street of drunken hockey rioters.   But they lost some support from me in the way they handled this incident.  They would have compromised nothing by asking us to go inside.  It wouldn't have been a red flag to crazy knife wielding guy in any way whatsoever.  They wouldn't have even needed to tell us why they wanted us to go inside.  It was a simple gesture that would have saved a number of us a very uncomfortable afternoon and evening (and even day after) of sore throats, itchy eyes and runny noses.  This was a communication fail and an absolute disregard for affected community members.

So, now I've been tear gassed.  I can cross that off my bucket list, I suppose.

On another note, 49th Parallel is one of my favourite cafes in town.  Beautiful coffee and amazing ambiance - just beware the chemical weapons. 

The amazing Venezualan Latte at 49th Parallel.  Ask for it without the tear gas, and with extra foam. 

On Balance

Oh, poor neglected little blog.  Here you've sat with nary a post to be had for months on end.

The thing is, I've been kinda busy.  Actually, really busy.

At the beginning of 2013, I set myself a number of goals.  One of them involved increasing my participation in quality, challenging musical productions.   It's been wonderful to actually accomplish that:  with Assassins, Spamalot, Brief Encounters and A...My Name is Alice.  But, I'm tired.  Between rehearsals, shows, one-off concerts and performances, learning how to play ukulele and accordion in record time, my passion is beginning to feel like...well, work.    And some of the other goals I had set for myself, with regards to my health, my professional growth, my relationships with friends and family, have suffered as a result of this focus on performance.

So, in the name of balance, it's time for a break.  At least until the end of the year.  I want to see how it feels when I have to choose what I do in the evening, rather than simply consulting my rehearsal schedule to see where I have to be, and when.  To read a book.  Take a dance class.  Cook a meal.  Have tea with a friend.  Pet my cat.  Re-align some of my priorities.

So, watch this space.  Hopefully I'll have some new adventures to report, soon.

Birthday Weekend Update

All I wanted for my birthday this year was some family time.  So on my birthday, June 29, Alex and I went on an overnight camping/hiking trip to Sidney Spit, on Sidney Island, and then I headed to Victoria for a backyard barbecue/campfire with my family the next evening.  Alex and I topped the weekend off with a hike up Mt. Finlayson on Canada Day in 40 degree heat, which I admit was a bit ridiculous and not that fun.  But, we did it anyway.  I spent Canada Day evening in an air conditioned theatre watching The Great Gatsby with Roger and Elizabeth, which was a nice rest after trudging up hot rocks all day.  All in all, it was a perfect birthday weekend.

My gear.

Alex's gear.  Note: we had to carry this all a kilometre into our campsite from the Sidney Spit dock.  Oh, don't worry, they said.  There are wheelbarrows.  Which other campers had totally hoarded within their own campsite...

The back view from our campsite.

The front view from our campsite. 

Master camper. 

In Grade 5 I taught my class how to set up a tent in 3 minutes or less. 

Our mother taught us how to camp with class, OK?  Alex is BBQ'ing my birthday dinner. 

I forgot to bring my flip flops so Al's became the "Family Flip Flops."  Meaning, I wore them the whole time.

We got a lot of good walks in while we were on the island

.

Victory!  A wheelbarrow for the return trip!  We guilt-tripped a family who were letting their kids use this as a toy.

Hook Spit.

Fordie Cat really likes my hiking boots.

When we got off Sidney Spit, I had a nap lying in my parents' backyard in the shade.  

The view from my nap.

Dad's pond.

On top of Mt. Finlayson.

Freedom 33.

Student loans are a dangerous thing.  They're easy to get.  And once you utter the words "professional school," banks are eager to line up and throw money at the doctors, dentists, accountants and lawyers of tomorrow.  That's how I managed to finance three degrees, a visiting year at McGill, and a post-graduate program at London School of Economics.  And it wasn't just enough to scrape by.  It was enough to travel, enjoy London theatre, to see and experience the world.  

When the time came to pay those loans back, I wasn't worried.  After all, I was a lawyer now.  I thought I'd always be making stupid money.  Who cares if it took me 25 years to pay them back?  I could afford it. I thought I could afford a lot of things that suited my newly minted stature as a yuppie.  And the banks kept calling and offering more money, and the monthly payback numbers kept growing.   

After my first several years in big-firm practice, including my years in London, where I worked harder than I ever had before and clocked in more all-nighters than most people will experience in a lifetime, I was burnt out.  And I had to keep working hard, had to stay on the big-firm treadmill, because the big-firm salary was the only way I could afford to make those monthly paybacks.  The numbers were starting to grow faster than I could run.  

By December 2009, I was too tired to keep running.  And I was at a point where the choice to be a lawyer had been taken away from me. I had to do it, there was no walking away.  The Golden Handcuffs which I had willingly thrust my wrists into in order to live the lifestyle to which I thought I was entitled, were starting to chafe.  I wanted to options - to practice law or not, to stay on the big-firm track or not - and I needed to make some changes to open those doors.  

I cut up all my credit cards.  I consolidated all my loans.  And I began paying them back at a rate that amounted to more than half my take-home pay.  I was still making stupid lawyer money, yes, but I was living on a budget smaller than I had set for myself as a freewheeling London student.  I was 29.  My loans would be paid off sometime in 2013.  That seemed a long, long way off.  I jokingly called my new lifestyle the "Freedom 33" plan.  Life, I said repeatedly, would begin at 33.

On June 28, a day before my 33rd birthday, I pressed a button on my online banking, and paid off the last of my loans.  It was very anticlimactic.  I didn't feel different.  I didn't feel free.  I didn't suddenly see my whole life open up in front of me.  But - it is a good feeling, this clean slate.  

The new challenge is to keep to the strict budget and cash-only lifestyle I've been living for almost four years.  With Canadian household debt currently at 165% of disposable income, I don't intend to become part of that statistic.  It's tough though.  When people say, "Oh, treat yourself to that car/ring/condo/pair of Manolos/Indonesian holiday, you deserve it!"  I think, Yeah, I do!  I deserve that!  It's hard not the be proud, the way you are when you finish a long run or a hard workout.  And it's hard not to want a treat as a reward for your efforts.  

So, tomorrow I'm going to celebrate my birthday and my freedom with a number of my friends, on my rooftop terrace.  And that's what I deserve.  The rest can wait.