Finding Home Between The Pages

I don't know, it must be a mid-life crisis, but over the past year or so I've become increasingly homesick.  For Victoria, yes, but more specifically for the blue-grey house I grew up in on Winchester Road, surrounded by Garry oaks.  For life with my family, who drove me crazy (and who I drove crazy) but who ensured I was never alone, for better or for worse. 

Of course, you can never go home again. Winchester Road was sold a decade ago, and is now covered in cheery pale green siding, its orchard of trees ruthlessly culled.  My brother has his own family, who I love dearly.  My parents would be appalled to have their almost-38-year-old daughter and her special needs cat move in, I'm sure.  Nor would I enjoy it.  So, life goes on, but I have to find ways to combat the homesickness, by looking for home elsewhere.  It's not always easy, living in alone in a city I didn't grow up in.

One of the places where I can go home again, is the library.  It's a different library, mind.  The bustling Richmond Brighouse Library, surrounded by the Minoru sports complex, housed with the Richmond Museum and the Media Lab, is nothing like the quiet Nellie McClung branch of the Greater Victoria Public Library that I visited at least weekly for the first 24 years of my life, where I spent hours doing homework after school.  But it's close enough to do the trick.  It smells the same.  The hushed busyness is the same.  And of course, the books are there, which will always, always be home. 

Yesterday was a lonely day, for no particular reason.  I had spent all day Saturday surrounded by friends.  Perhaps it was the contrast between that Saturday activity and the solitude of Sunday morning that made me feel sad. I got up late in the morning, spent some time sewing, but felt too listless to attack the list of chores I had scrawled out for myself on a note and left on my kitchen counter the night before.  I got in the car, and without really realizing where I was doing, ended up at the library.

I wandered around aimlessly for a few minutes, picking up and putting down books, not sure what I was looking for.  I (ahem) paid my overdue fines.  After not being immediately inspired by the choices before me, I went to one of the library catalogue computers and stood there for a moment, considering what to search for.   As I stood there, a little girl who looked too little to even reach the computer, let alone use it, came and stood at the computer beside me.  She had a colourful yellow plastic bookbag strung over her shoulder, with a nametag stuck in one corner.  "Serena," it read, in thick red marker.  Her black straight hair was pulled back from her forehead with a pink plastic band that matched her pink and white striped t-shirt.   I briefly looked at her as she grabbed the mouse and began to move it determinedly around the screen.  She was small for her age, but probably 8 or 9 years old and stood on tiptoe to reach the desk.  She was small, but old enough not to break the computer, anyway.  I turned back to my own search.

In a few seconds, the little girl grabbed my elbow.  "But, how do I do a search for a book that I want?"  I looked down at her, surprised.  Did she think I worked there?  I looked around to see if there were any staff members nearby, or if she had mistaken me for someone she'd spoken to earlier.  There were no one.  I looked at the man at the computer on the other side of Serena, to see if he might be her dad.  He studiously ignored us, so he either wasn't her dad, or wasn't interested in helping.  

"You want to search for a book?" I asked stupidly. 

"Yeah," she said.  

"OK, umm, well, let's see, you've got to go up to the top there, to that space beside the orange button, and type what you want - what book are you looking for?"

"Wings of Fire," she said.  

"OK, so, let's type in 'Wings of Fire' and see what comes up."  We typed, then we clicked, and waited expectantly in silence for the search results to return.  The leisurely pace of the library's catalogue was too much for Serena.  She clicked the mouse impatiently over and over again.  I gently took the mouse out of her hand.

"The library computers are slow," I said.  "Let's just wait and see what happens."

"I need the sixth one," she said as we waited.  "I've read the other ones."

The search results finally arrived, showing dozens of entries for Wings of Fire, a fantasy series by Tui Sutherland.  Serena looked blankly at the search results.   I scrolled for her.

"OK," I said, "So we've got book 5 -"

"I've got that one," said Serena.

"Book 4..."

"Got it."

"Book 10..."

She said nothing, looking overwhelmed.  She clutched the straps of her book bag and looked at me, saying nothing.

"So - do you know where you got the last book from Wings of Fire?  What part of the library?"

"I think - over there."  She pointed vaguely in the direction of the YA section.

"OK, let's go over there, then," I said, picking up my own pile of books and tucking them under my arm.  "Do you know that they file books by author here?"  She gave me her blank stare again. 

"So if we find the Fantasy section, we can look for "Sutherland" and find all the books by Tui Sutherland in one place," I explained.  Serena still looked at me, her face inscrutable, but I started across the library floor, and she followed me.

"I wasn't sure where to look," she said, "Because I don't know if Tui Sutherland is a boy or a girl."  She smiled up at me, for the first time.

"That's a good question!" I said.  "I don't know either!  Maybe we can look on the back of one of the books when we find one." (We did - Tui is a she).  

We scoured the fantasy shelves until we found "Sutherland", and there they were - dozens and dozens of copies of the various Wings of Fire novels.  "So, there they are," I said, gesturing at the shelves.  Serena broke into a wide grin and immediately focused on the task at hand, busily sorting through the volumes.  "Thanks," she said absently, as I started to walk away somewhat sheepishly.  "You're welcome," I said.

I waited in line to check out my books with a smile on my face, and drove home with the feeling of loneliness that had weighed me down in the morning having abated.   I spent the evening with my nose in a book, and didn't feel lonely at all.  Once again the library had given me just what I needed.    My homesickness was successfully diverted by remembering what made me feel at home: a little bit of community, a chance to be of service to someone, and a story - one to write, and one to read.  

Half Way Through the Shopping Ban. Or, How I Utterly Failed at the Shopping Ban.

So, I lasted until the end of February.  

Up until then, I'd been really focused on the three "goals" of the Year of Enough, which are:

  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.

I really focused on my goals.  I volunteered my time with the Canadian Cross-Border Legal Coalition, and hung out at the airport providing pro bono advice to people affected by Trump's Muslim ban.  I went to marches.  I joined the Conservative political party just so I could have a say in their leadership contest and help thwart racist politicians like Kellie Leitch becoming their leader and potentially Trump 2.0.  I realized how tired I was from shows and started saying no to auditions, something I haven't done since 2010 because I've been so terrified of being forgotten or losing my right to identify as an artist.  I went on a lovely holiday to Maui and resisted the urge to shop.    I felt like I was really living my goals.

But then, the "stuff" started to creep back in.   The Ban disappeared, without me even consciously knowing it had disappeared. It's taken me forever to write about this,  because I'm still not really sure why it happened, but it became important to me to say that the Ban has, for the past several months, been a failure. 

I had a big life change in the beginning of February when I changed jobs.  I went from an office where I didn't feel understood or appreciated, where there was little socializing, to my dream job, in terms of the work, people and culture.  My job went from being a place that I went for 7.5 hours a day to being the centre of my life, in a very positive way.  I suddenly felt more supported and happy in my professional life than I ever had before.  I'd found my "forever" job.   

You'd think being so happy would make it easier to stick to my goals, but it hasn't made it easier.  Every day I have wonderful people tell me that I'm OK.  That I'm more than OK, I'm pretty great, and a valued member of the team.   I feel like I belong.  I feel accepted.  So suddenly the need to change hasn't seemed so urgent.  Maybe that's a positive.  It probably is.   But it's also caused me to get lazy with my goals.

That initial feeling of joy and belonging is how the Stuff first happened:  I shopped in celebration.  I was happy, joyful, even, in my new role, and shopping is a way that I celebrate.  So, that seemed OK by me.   Treating myself to a new outfit to celebrate a new beginning felt fine.  I was liked, so I liked myself, so I deserved the Stuff.   The reasons for the Stuff had changed: it was less about making myself feel better about myself, my life, or the world, and more to treat myself, show myself "love", to reflect the love and acceptance I was feeling in my life. 

But the Stuff has started creeping in not just for positive, encouraging reasons.   It's a convoluted explanation, but stay with me. 

While this career move has been a joyous one, it's created some change in my life that has caused some stress that I think I'm only really starting to process.   IMPORTANT IMPORTANT NOTE: This stress is almost entirely self-inflicted.  It's not that my new bosses are suddenly insisting on certain things that are stressing me out.  They have high but reasonable expectations, and don't ask me to do anything that they don't do themselves.   And more than that, they genuinely care about me and my well being.  It's just that I, as usual, want to throw myself in and do a good job, make them happy, and go above and beyond, so everything feels very high stakes, very do-or-die. As a result, there are changes that I have made to meet expectations - my own, or perceived expectations, which are maybe not the healthiest choices for me.

For instance, I used to work from home quite a bit (and least one day a week, since 2011), and go home for lunch every day.  Being able to go home for a healthy lunch but also do a little meal prep for a healthy dinner, and maybe tidy up around my house (as tidiness and order are a big part of my mental wellness), was great. Working from home one day a week allowed me to throw on loads of laundry while I worked on my laptop.  At my new job, I'm in the office full time, 5 days a week.  While my most recent previous gig was usually finished by 4:30 or 5 at the latest, I'm staying much later at work now, and working through lunch, which is quite a common practice in my new office.  So the time I had every day to do some of the mundane things I need to do to help me feel calm and healthy, is gone.  It is really only a small increase in working hours, but its impact currently feels huge.  I'm often working through the hours I would normally go to my TRX gym, for instance.  Or, something will happen at work and I'll stick around and miss the class I reserved.  As it's a small gym, you get charged if you miss a class you reserved, so rather than getting charged for classes I wasn't making, I just...stopped reserving.  After a busy day surrounded by people in our open plan office, this introvert is often exhausted, and the thought of going home to meal plan and cook Whole30 meals is the last thing I want to do, so I go home and eat what's easy.  It also means that weeknight socializing is almost impossible for me, because I'm just too tired.  Weekends feel more for sleep and recovering from the business of my week than going out, or putting my house in order.  Suddenly a lot of the healthy habits I've been working on for the past few years, in terms of doing the things I know I need to do in order to feel love for myself, seem very far away. 

To say that I am aware of the fact that I am not seeing friends as much, that my training regime has been thrown off, that my house isn't as tidy as I need, that I don't have as much time or energy to meal plan, is an understatement.  I carry around this awful feeling of failure about it, while at the same time still feeling the joy, satisfaction and excitement that I do about my job. The conflict between those two feelings is so, so uncomfortable. And rather than deal with it, because the effort seems overwhelming and I am still concentrating all of my energy on my new job, I need to medicate it, numb the discomfort.  I medicate with...the Stuff.  Shopping once again is the replacement for the workout.  It's a reassurance that I'm OK, even if I know I don't feel OK.

So, that's not the greatest thing.  And like I say - it's self-inflicted.  Which makes it actually feel worse, because there's nothing a perfectionist-in-recovery hates more than knowing that the not-so-great situation they find themselves in is entirely their own fault.  That they fucked up.  Because then you PUNISH YOURSELF MORE.    

That's why writing about what I've failed at and how it's made me feel is important for me, although it's excruciating.  I need to say I failed and not have the world collapse.  So. yeah.  I failed at the Shopping Ban.  In order for me to not fail at Goal #3 ("I Am Enough"), I have to be OK with having failed at the Shopping Ban.   I have to be OK with admitting my failure, picking myself back up, dusting myself off, and trying again.  Half of the year has gone by, but that means I have half of the year to centre, re-focus, and try to do better.  My goals haven't changed.   But my attitude needs an adjustment.


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?


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.  ("


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.

Lifehack: Replace Your Countertops for Around $20.

I moved into the Woodwards Building when I moved back to Canada in late 2009.  The building was brand new, and I'm the only person who has ever lived in my suite.  I have to say - the construction is not holding up well.  Sliding pocket doors fall off their tracks regularly, the floors look horrible, several shelves in the fridge are broken, the baseboards need painting (my Pops is coming to my rescue on the painting front this month - hooray for bored retired fathers!), and the countertops - well.

The countertops are defective.  As a renter I haven't been privy to all the communications with regards to the countertops, but the story goes something like this:  the engineered marble countertops are defective in terms of the material itself - the marble wasn't "engineered" or sealed correctly.  So my high-gloss countertops quickly (like, within a month or two) turned to shit.  Even water stained them.  

My charming kitchen counter.

The strata filed a claim with New Home Warranty, who argued that it was not a defect in workmanship, but the material itself.  The developers argued otherwise.  So, the strata has been embroiled in countertop litigation for years, and my countertops have become more and more ugly.  At one point, the developers hired a company to come in to do "remediation," which meant sanding off the finish, and trying to get rid of the worst water stains.  Some of the stains were too ingrained in the marble to be removed, and the sanding off of the topcoat did nothing to protect against future stains.

The ugliness of the bathroom counter. 

I like to keep a tidy house.  I like nice things.  And my countertops are so bad that I found myself, in the dead of night a few nights ago, researching how much it would cost for me to replace the countertops myself.  Which is insane, because I rent.  And is further insane given how little investment the landlord has made into the upkeep of the suite to date.  I have found myself putting more and more "clutter" on the kitchen counters to cover up stains.  It was getting ridiculous.

So I needed a solution to the countertop problem that cleaned them up, didn't cost a lot, and wasn't irreversible since I am just a tenant.  What I came up with was: Macktack.  Sometimes called contact paper, I'm talking about heavy duty self-adhesive shelf liner.   I took to the internet, found that other people had done this to great success, and so off I went, countertop measurements in hand, to Home Depot.

I bought two rolls of "granite" look contact paper, at a cost of $8.97 each.  That was enough to cover my two large kitchen counters, and my bathroom vanity, which was also badly water stained.

Here's how I did it:

1.   I washed down my counters with soap, and dried them with a towel.

2.   Starting on the far end of my countertop, I started cutting out sheets of paper, leaving several inches of overlap.

3.  I peeled the backing off the backing paper a few inches at a time, and smoothed the paper down using a credit card (I switched at some point to a Starbucks card, I found the edges easier to use) as a kind of a squeegee.   Peeling off the paper only a few inches at a time allowed me to ensure the paper was going down smoothly, without air bubbles. 

4.  When it was time to lay another piece, I overlapped it with the previous sheet by about half an inch. When I hit sink or stove or other such obstacle, I used an Exacto knife to shape the paper. 

5.  When the entire thing was complete, I popped any remaining air bubbles using a pin.  

6.  I bought clear silicone caulk ($2.99) and caulked around the sinks in the kitchen and the bathroom (badly, but it's clear, so you can't tell just how badly), and around a few corners.  

Laying the paper.

Curriecat is dubious.  And cute.

Doesn't the bathroom look sooo much better?

Believe it or not, that's the "less cluttered" version of my kitchen.

I'm really happy with how these turned out.  They're not perfect, and I don't know how long they'll last - I may have to re-paper them at some point, and that's OK.  Because they're a heck of a lot cleaner looking than they were before, and I can put some of the "cover up the stains" clutter back in the cupboard.   I would use a speckled pattern like I did, because the pieces blend together well (harder to see the seams), and the business masks any imperfections.  Sure, it's not super-stylish, but it's a good, temporary solution to an everyday problem. 

New Favourite Semi-Guilt Free Treat: Cakes in Mugs!

It's the New Year, so we'll all be on diets for the next - week?  10 days?  I thought I'd share my favourite sinful "diet" snack of the moment:  cakes in mugs!  They take 1 minute and 40 seconds to cook, have very few regretful ingredients, and satisfy the need for something decadent to snack on. Trust me guys, these are good.  You'll feel like you've had a treat.  Plus they're portion controlled so you can't really overdo it (well, you could, you'd just have to go to the effort of making another one, and if you do that - well, that's just dedication and you go with your bad overeating self).


3 tbsp of any cake mix you like

1 tbsp of fat free sour cream

1 tbsp of egg beaters or some other egg substitute (I use Egg Creations)

a smidge (around 1/8 of a tsp) of baking soda

Spray a coffee mug with Pam.  Mix all of the above ingredients in the mug.  Throw it in the microwave for 1 minute and 40 seconds.  When the microwave dings (or beeps, or microwave-sound-of-your-choice), flip your mug over into a plate or a bowl, and garnish as you like, or as your Weight Watchers points allow.  I like using a tablespoon of fat free, NSA pudding (I use Hunts Snack Packs, 60 calories per pack).

I'm serious, you just made a cake in less than 5 minutes.  You're amazing.  You should probably go brag about this on Facebook.

Here's tonight's cake mug:

Rainbow Chip cake mix, vanilla NSA pudding, some leftover Christmas sprinks.

And last night's cake mug:

Devil's Food cake mix, chocolate NSA pudding, grated 70% chocolate.

Tea Party Challenge.

When I decided last year to go on a super-diet to lose some of the weight I've been carrying around for too long (a diet that is still in progress -


- will it ever end?), I gave up a few addictions, and picked up a new one: tea.  I can't snack, I gave up baking, so I figured, hey - why not drink tea?  The beautiful selections at David's Tea don't help matters - delicious, pretty and affordable.  I've always liked tea and picked up interesting varieties as I found them.  But, with shopping for most other items on hold until I finish my diet, I guess I felt like I needed to have


 to shop for, and somehow, one flavour followed another and pretty soon I had about 50 varieties of tea in my cupboard.  Yep, that's right, I said 50.  

Don't get me wrong, I am well aware of how ridiculous this is.  It feels kind of gross, actually, given how much I'm working on balance and authenticity in my life, in all respects, for me to have such a ridiculous stash of, well, stuff.   Here I am trying to focus on what I need in my life, what's valuable, and this curious little behaviour has been quietly causing mayhem in the background.  This tea is just another form of "stuff" that I buy to fill a void.  Same as Reese's peanut butter cups filled a void, at one time.   Same as obsessive running once filled a void.  I've always had an addictive personality, and while I've been trying to work on the emotions that cause those addictions, it's obvious I have a long ways to go on this journey towards my best self.  Sigh.  I feel discouraged at how much work I have done and how much work I still have to do.

Obviously I can't get enough.  Thanks, David's Tea.

The tea station at Casa Lemon.

Yeah, that's a lot of tea.

So, friends, readers, please help me turn my tea addiction into something positive:

You are cordially invited to tea 

at the home of

Danielle & Curriecat Lemon

That's right, you're invited for tea.  At my house.  Even if you think, "well, I don't know Dani that well, I just read her blog every once in a while," or, "we trade snarky comments on Twitter," or "we're really just Facebook friends," you are welcome.   Take me up on the invitation. Please.  Come over, we'll drink tea, or many teas, and it will be fun, or it will be weird, or it will be awkward.   Bring a friend.  Bring a couple of friends.  Let's turn my consumption into connection, and turn a negative behaviour into a positive one.  

Email me

and we'll figure out a time for you to come for tea.  Wear a hat if you want.  Bring your own special cup 

if you want.  But just show up.  Me and the tea will be waiting.

Behold, the Mighty Zoku!

So, for my birthday my brother and sister-in-law got me the weirdest, coolest toy ever:

the Zoku

.  It makes popsicles on your counter.  In like, 5 minutes.  

Wacky, right?  But so totally cool.  They also got me the official Zoku popsicle cookbook.  I opened it and immediately shouted "I sense a new blog project coming on!"

That's right people.  It's popsicle blog time.

I started on Saturday night.  The first I made were the easiest, I think: peach pops.  Some of my own home-canned peaches, a little yogurt, agave and lime juice.  I mixed the ingredients together, and then poured them into the Zoku mould, which had been chilling in the freezer for 24 hours.  I filled it up to the "fill line," placed a stick in carefully, and waited, staring dubiously at the little thing as it sat on my counter.  6 minutes later - voila.  I pulled out a perfect pop!  I gave Andrew the first one and he said, "Mmm.  Peachy."  "Good peachy or bad peachy?" "Good."  And they were.

The Zoku's trial run.  I must admit, I was dubious.  I should never have doubted you Zoku.

Peachy pop!

Next up was the "Summer Morning" pop - honeydew melon (we used chinese honeydew, which are slightly different in colour and texture), fresh basil, and lime juice - and then sanded with sugar.  They were very tart, very basil-y, and I couldn't really taste the honeydew.  But they were certainly refreshing.  

Summer Morning pop.  Very strong, tart flavour.

I could tell after just a few tries that Zoku and I were going to become good friends.  So much so, in fact, that I made a trip to Williams-Sonoma today to buy some Zoko accessories: the "fruit wand" (which allows you to artfully place pieces of fruit in the mould), and the fruit stencils (starts and hearts), and the special "pour cups."  I opted not to get the Zoku storage case (my freezer is too tiny), but did not with interest that you can get a BIGGER Zoku, with 3 moulds - think how many more popsicles I could make!

I already have little jars of leftover peach mix and Summer morning mix in the fridge, and I've just made a mix for Chai Pops that I am dying to try.   I'll make do with my lil' red Zoku for now - but I'm envisioning an entire gourmet popsicle empire...