Category Archives: Being me

Mourning Christmas Before Embracing the Future

Christmas is tidied and boxed away. It’s officially over for me, and will be the last time I have a homestyle Christmas with all my inherited ornaments that belonged to my mother and my family until about 2020.

My pasta angel, one of many beloved ornaments. That’s Israeli couscous for the hair, for crying out loud. What’s not to love? I’m sentimental about these things.

I’m sure people have thought I’ve been a little heavy-handed in my ramblings about the end of Christmas on social media, where I’ve been openly sad and sentimental, but it’s been quite an emotional process for me. I don’t believe in shutting that down and going, “Oh, Steff, you’re being stupid, it’s just stuff in boxed and Christmas will be just fine with or without your ornaments.”

You may like to disregard your emotions, but I don’t. I’m living in the present. Right now, I’m sad my Christmases are over and maybe are on the verge of changing forever. I don’t know what the rest of my life entails after September of this year. Yeah, you can argue that none of us “know” what the rest of life entails, but most of us think we have a clue. I’m removing the rug from under my feet entirely and I don’t know what follows, at all. Period.

Deep down inside, you ask me what I think follows my departure from Canada in October, what those five years of travelling around the world will entail, and I will tell you two words: Amazing adventures.

I think I’ll be living the life of dreams. Not just my dreams, but a lot of people’s. I think I’ll have adventures I can’t even begin to imagine, meet people I couldn’t conjure up for a story if I tried. I think I’ll learn incredible things about the world, prove stuff to myself. I think I’ll become fearless, excited, passionate, and happier than I’ve ever been.

That’s what I think. It’s what I believe deep in my soul.

But this past weekend, I’ve been sad and in mourning, and it’s a process I need to see through. In a way, I’m burying a lot of memories and heartbreaks and joys when I put Christmas in the storeroom this weekend. I’m putting away future comfort and laziness and sentimentality that comes from having a proper Christmas in one’s own home.

Change — good or bad — can (and should) be mourned and clung to and felt deeply before the next chapter comes. I’ve had a proper “goodbye” to every place I’ve ever lived, and when I’ve moved on, it’s been with zero regrets. Always zero regrets. Some sadness for a time, but no regrets.

The thing is, I’m not unhappy here in Victoria. I’m not. I’m the happiest I’ve been in a long time in some ways. I’m sad that I feel I need to take such extreme measures to regain financial security in my life — to leave my home country and see places elsewhere that I can live for 40% less. My adventure is born of financial necessity as much as it is desire. I’d rather be leaving out of sheer wanderlust than as a creative retirement-savings approach after all my adversities wiped out my savings, but that’s life.

I’m glad I allowed myself to be sad and frustrated this weekend, that I gave myself the permission to be a bit weepy and get resentful over the need to leave and undertake this massive life-change. I need to get that feeling out of my system and the only way to get it to leave is by letting it enter in the first place.

Before I went to bed last night, all sad-faced that it would be my last night with MY Christmas tree until 2020, I took the time to finally look up airfares and logistics. I discovered that even including a flight from Vancouver to London, then to Croatia, plus my whole first month of lodging, and the 16 days I’d like to rent a scooter for while I’m there, I will be at about $75 more than it would cost for a month of living where I do, including utilities but not including car rentals or bus or cabs, let alone 16 days of scooter fun.

And now Christmas lives in this box. This is Steff’s Travelling Christmas show, containing just four little ornaments, and it will come with me until my time abroad is done. Including my Polar Express bell. Because I believe in Christmas.

Then I was so excited and giddy that I couldn’t fall asleep until 4am. I mourned my present, identified my future, and went to bed accepting that Christmas was now in my past, and I was only nine months from beginning world travels.

In fact, I’ve decided my last day in Victoria will be my 42nd birthday. What is the answer to life, according to Douglas Adams and the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy? 42: The answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything. Right, well, I’ll take that.

For me, it will be. My 42nd year will be incredible. I can’t even begin to imagine how well I will adapt to living a nomadic life. I am absolutely certain I can and will do this with great style.

For now, though, when times of fear come, I will accept them, process them, and move past them. When sadness strikes, I will let it linger until I’m ready to move past it.

There aren’t a lot of people on this planet who’ve gone and said, “All right, this fixed-life thing isn’t working. I’m going to travel the world.” What, less than 1% of people have ever boxed their life up to travel for over a year, let alone five years? It’s not a common practice, to be sure.

How can anyone tell me the “right” way to properly prepare for walking away from everything and embracing the whole world? Who is anyone to tell me what the right mindset is in leading up to that big day when I pack up just a few items of clothes, forsake much of what I own, and bail on my home?

No one can tell me how to move through this phase of my journey. I know what I’ve been through, what I’m leaving behind, and why I’m moving on. I know what I’m dreaming of. And I think I know how I need to emotionally prepare for my time abroad.

Yesterday I was sad about my tree. Today I’m literally tingling with excitement that the tree is down, about to go away, and now I have only 9 months to experience all the “last time” moments living here, in this amazing city, in this amazing apartment, as I stare down the advent of the journey of a lifetime.

Of Eggs and Errors on a Holiday Afternoon

My kitchen is now a disaster. I made Eggs Benedict. For the first time ever, Hollandaise sauce stumped me. I failed not once, not twice, but three times. Angered, since I’ve never failed it before, I made it a fourth time — changing the bowl, changing the temperature, and even having cold water on-hand to toss in to stop the change-of-state before it cocked me up again.

Victory, motherfuckers.

eggsAfterwards, after having poached the eggs twice and vowing never to buy jumbo-sized eggs again, I looked down on my plate and realized I had never before so aptly or tastefully presented my refusal to quit or accept failure.

Because: Victory, motherfuckers.

It’s strange, isn’t it? When one little weird, messy, fattening episode can so succinctly sum up so much about who we are.

I feel like it was a very wasteful exercise, but for about $3, I proved something to myself. A completely unintended benefit, but I’ll take it.

I’m full now. It was lemony richness and everything I could have hoped for the first, second, and third times I tried making it.

***

New Year’s Day looms. I don’t know if I will accomplish all that I have envisioned. I’m trying to downsize by 10–20%.

It’s just a big nod to my dreams of heading abroad. I want to feel like I’m paring back life in preparation toward stuffing it all in boxes for a few years. So far, confronting my books has been emotional. I’m not ready for that yet. And should I? The age of paper is dying. Who’s to say they won’t escalate in value? Is it too soon?

And yet I’ve chosen some. I will choose more. It will not be easier.

It will, however, crystallize the fact that I’ve really begun to move toward my goals. That’s no small thing. Making your present surroundings reflect who you’re trying to be can be huge in achieving all that.

In the meantime, there’s more to do. I’ll get it done. It’s the kind of thing that doesn’t hurt to go slowly — take 20 minutes to tackle a new cupboard, approach it on a piece-by-piece basis.

***

You may not realize it, but I write about domestic stuff like this all the time — from home decor solutions and architectural writing through to environmental news and the ways we live in cultures around the world.

It’s nice work if you can get it. You can read all those writings here.

The more you share, the more eyeballs my work gets, and the more everyone on all sides is happy. If you know pro bloggers, support the work they’re doing. It keeps us all employed.

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Cutting Paper Snowflakes: Having a Moment on December 1st

I should be in bed. 12:43 am, work comes early. I’m writing by the glow of the Christmas tree on my right (with an assist from my monitor). To my left, a fog-rimmed half moon rises.

I’ve spent my evening cutting out paper snowflakes, eating carbonara, watching the (adults-only, and awesome) documentary I Am Santa Claus, and drinking wine, after a long day of work punctuated only by escaping to buy my best friend a Christmas gift, myself an alpaca knit toque, and some jam. Ahh, Christmas craft fairs, for the win.

I’m savouring the day, the weeks, the months. This might be the last time I decorate a home for Christmas for five years. FIVE YEARS. I love Christmas. I love my version of Christmas. It would be strange and odd to live under other people’s ideas of Christmas for a half-decade. To travel the world, though, I can make that sacrifice. And wherever I go, I can always make paper snowflakes. I’m a pro now.

But this exactly is why I favour the long-term approach for leaving. If saving money is the goal and I can save up to 30–50% per month by living elsewhere, shouldn’t I leave sooner than later?

Well, frankly,I’m under no illusions that my life is anything but great right now. I may have some operational shortcomings in which I fail to maximize on my life’s awesomeness, but the bones are there, man.

I’m not in a rush to LEAVE this. I’m just wanting something new. That saying you don’t know what you got till it’s gone? Wrong. I know what I’ve got. So, I’m aiming to at least get close to “overstaying my welcome” as opposed to “premature departure.” I don’t ever want to regret not living in this particular apartment just a little longer.

If it goes as planned, next Christmas I’ll be enjoying the holidays in Croatia, a predominantly Catholic country that does it well. I’ll be just a few weeks away from a late-January/February trip to Istanbul in an attempt to photograph snow  falling in the Old Town. (Which is currently my desktop wallpaper, by dilemmanya.)

snow_in_istanbul____by_dilemmanya-d4oecxk

I know where I am. I know where I’m going. I may want the world of travel today but I also know I will have frequent times of fatigue and weariness where I miss owning a bed, having a routine, and knowing EXACTLY what is around me. Which is what I have, and am savouring, now.

I’m a woman of two minds right now, but the one I’m “in” is the one that’s got my attention tonight.

And that means the kaleidoscope glow of a tree, snowflake-filled windows, and a bed that’s all mine, from which I’ll pad away in the morning, and restart my work week.

Tonight I know it’s 24 days to Christmas, and less than a year to the adventure of a lifetime.

Both are working for me. Night, minions.

I’m working on the first of the books to come about this life-changing journey/goal/dream I have. If you want to be alerted when it’s coming together for your reading enjoyment: Join my seldom-mailed Mailing list! 

Is Happiness a Place?

photo 1I’ve watched three episodes of Bourdain’s Parts Unknown since last night and now my thoughts are consumed by food and culture.

It surprises me how much I’ve been thinking about food, culture, and the next phase of my life — in which I sell most everything I own and take up the wanderer’s lifestyle for hopefully the next five years.

I had to write a foreword for my cookbook last week and it made me more contemplative than I expected. What did I value in life? Why? What did I want more of? And I found myself echoing in the words I was writing. I too was lost “in the whizz-whizz/whoosh-whoosh pace of city life” I’d been writing about. I work too much, live too little. But I have a goal in mind: Five years abroad, and a year to go before I want it underway. The clock is ticking. The end is in sight. The race is on. Yada, yada.

Watching Bourdain wax poetic about the timeless lifestyles of Granada, Spain, or Ecuador, or Peru, or Croatia, or… It all makes me realize how far off the mark life is here in North America, or where I’ve been living. Or how I’ve been living. Life here, though, is all about the Benjamins. Or would be, if we had American currency.

With one of the most costly lifestyles in the English-speaking world, Vancouver (and therefore Victoria, where it’s only marginally cheaper) has suddenly become a struggle to live on a budget. A lot of people I know, if they can work from home and aren’t tied down, are taking the risk of living abroad. Some have made permanent ventures of it. And why not? If one can tap into a different lifestyle in a place that, after so long hamstrung in Vancouver, where life feels like a vacation because everything feels new and shiny for a year or more — well, why not? And if it’s 30–60% cheaper? Fuck, yeah.

I understand that we have it pretty good in Canada, and that’s where our money goes, but I also think it’s pretty ethnocentric to make bold claims like “best place on Earth.” After all, there’s a lifestyle in places like Spain and Ecuador and other fantastic places where they do have long vacations every year, and they focus on life first/work last, and they celebrate real food and wine and nature, and they do it all for cheaper than we do here, while still having a nice social safety net for the citizens.

We don’t have a monopoly on lifestyles. In many places, living really is pretty good, and they’re honestly too busy living life to bother trying to sell an image of it. Here, it feels like it’s so fast-paced and distracted that we’re constantly being reminded of just how GREAT everything is and how WOW SPIFFY our world is so we don’t start questioning how ridiculous it is that we have among the least amount of vacation time in the world, with the longest hours.

It’s like that time a friend read The Secret and told me what a powerful thing it was, and I should read it, blah blah blah. And I said, “Dude. You’re not happy with your job, where you live, and your relationship is in tatters. Prove to me that The Secret works by fixing your fucked-up life and oozing happy-happy/joy-joy, and then maybe I’ll buy the book.”

If life here was so sensational and happiness was the natural byproduct of it, do you think we’d be selling Xanax and Prozac like it was going out of style? Do you think self-help books would be so endemic? If life’s so amazing here, why do we need to keep being reminded about it?

When I was living in Vancouver, I kept telling people I wasn’t happy there anymore. Everyone said I was nuts, it’s the best place on the planet. Well, I can tell you wholeheartedly that selling the dream ain’t the same as delivering the dream, and for me, Lotusland just wasn’t delivering.

photo 2But maybe I’ve just got a restless heart. This time and place, it’s not right for me. I don’t know where is, but it ain’t here, not now. Not today. I think, for me, the joy will come from looking. From going to one place and being blown away and thinking “Nothing can ever top this,” and then, boom, next town, next country — “Nothing can ever top this.”

What if there is no place better than where I am today? What if, for the rest of my life I remember about the magical two years I lived in a magical neighbourhood?

Well, that could happen. Sure. But it’s a pretty big planet packed with a lot of wow, and I’m pretty sure things get amazing anywhere there’s mountains, trees, ocean, good wine, beautiful food, and kind people.

Happiness, for me, is a state of being. Having the time to be in the moment, not distracted, not paying a ton of money for an experience. A quiet place, a few kind people, the ability to speak my mind (or stay silent), a great glass of wine or a tall lemonade or strong coffee, some nature near me or surrounding me. Usually many of these criteria get met when I get to feel “happy”. It’s the recipe for happiness we hear so much about. Or my recipe, anyhow.

But to get there, to have that, I need to spend another year working like a dog to set my plan in play. Taking moments like this to think about the what-ifs of living abroad, the potential that life might hold, it makes knowing I’m working through another Saturday and Sunday all worthwhile.

That balance will come. For a little while, it means I have to prove how much I want it. And so I shall. With that, it’s time to do some work.

Of Luck, Books, Loss, and Learning


Well, it’s been an interesting week. I’ve had family visit, some weird things go down, emotional highs and lows, and it’s just before 7 on a Friday night after a mentally-grueling day. Tomorrow, I finish my final edit on my first ebook and send it out into the world. My baby gets its walking papers.

Speaking of lows, Wednesday was the 15th anniversary of my mother’s death, and that oddly wasn’t a low this week. In fact, it’s the first time since she died that I didn’t think about her in a “Mom died today” kind of way on her death anniversary. Newer and stranger still is that this doesn’t make me feel guilty. After all, I’ll never forget my mom and I’ll never not be sad that she’s dead, but it’s like I said many years ago, that with each passing year that pain just becomes a little less dominant but a little more permanent, like a scar or faded tattoo, it’s a new part of me.

It’s just a thing. Death, grief, you don’t ever stop missing people you love. That’s the nature of it.my sunset

But I guess there comes a time when we realize we are as much shaped by our losses as we are our successes, and that becomes okay. Well, if you’re like me and you’re happy with the person you’re becoming in the face of all the things you’ve been over the years, then yeah, it becomes okay to be forged through fire and come out of it as steel, whether it’s by people dying or other adversity. It’s really okay.

The older I am, the happier I am about being a strong(er) person.

Stronger, But More Grateful Too

So, it’s a crazy week, right? I’m publishing my first book and now lapsing into reflection about the many years that have passed, the hardships I’ve known, and how tonight I’m thinking about a bike ride to get some pizza, some wine, some sun. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but two years ago I would’ve killed to be able to casually plan to drop $30 on a Friday night pizza/wine combination. Money was still very tight for me 24 months ago. I was having a lot of “budget days” then. And cycling into the sunshine for it, that’s another thing I feel grateful for. Life after back injury is no small gratitude.

Many times over the last 15 years I would’ve given so much to have my “lows” this “death anniversary” week merely be insomnia and a rough day at work. I chuckle at the thought of that being the “low” this week. It’s a good thing, to move on.

I’m sure some reader, somewhere is all “Pfft, you should’ve moved on years ago,” and to them I would merely say fuck you. One doesn’t choose to move on. One can try. One can even force the issue, but the reality is, you don’t move on until you move on. I’ve tried, I’ve forced it, I’ve rammed it into myself. It didn’t take. One of those things.

Last year, I had a friend tell me her daughter’s death day, year 14, was the last time it had wracked her with grief, and year 15 was when she had finally processed it and made peace with it too.

You don’t choose catharsis, catharsis chooses you.

Of Lucky Numbers and Me

My mom sold real estate in Chinatown, probably the only fishbelly-white redheaded woman ever to do so before year 2000. She ate a lot of wontons, loved stirfry, was the token white lady on the company tour to China, and loved immersing in their culture.

She was always thrilled when she’d find or get a new listing that had three or more 8’s in the address, including postal code, because she knew it’d be popular with the very traditional Chinese customers, who were often the high-rollers. It’s an “auspicious” number, foretelling great wealth and good fortune. Abundance in life. Lemme tell ya, I’ve had auspicious abundance since last year, when I moved into my apartment that has three 8’s in its mailing address.

Well, I registered my book today. The ISBN number not only has three 8’s, it also has four 9’s. Nine, it turns out, is the auspicious Chinese number for “long-lasting” and loyalty.

I don’t see these numbers as applying to just this one ISBN, but rather to my future as a writer.

Shush! It’s my fucking superstition, I get to interpret it any way I like. I’ll be auspiciously abundant and with great longevity.

The numbers have spoken.

And now I have some numbers to translate into pizza and wine. Hello, Visa card! (It has 8s and 9s too. Huh.)

Well, Hello You

This morning, I caught this on a stroll nearby. Beacon Hill Park, Victoria.

I haven’t blogged in, well, a really long time. Especially here.

I won’t apologize. Life’s tough, kids. Get a helmet. Sometimes people just stop blogging.

Did I stop writing? No. I just chose to do so when it came attached to money. Amazing what things like rent will do to one’s decision-making process.

That’s okay. I’m cool with it, yo.

Life, my dear minions, has been a fine and glorious thing. Okay, no. But good! Flawless? Hah! Far from. Good? Indeed. Or certainly improving at a likable clip, with many fun discoveries along the way. Which I’ll take.

A fiery sunset on Victoria’s Dallas Road earlier this fall.

I live in a super-cool new apartment. The kind I always saw in movies and wanted. 1930s, art deco. High coved ceilings, two kinds of beautiful hardwood floors, plaster walls. All that crazy old-school stuff that makes my heart go pitter-patter.

My hood’s the fabulous downtown part of Victoria, BC. It flies a little under the radar, but I love this city and it feels like I’ve come home after a long, noisy, distraction-laden trip.

Writing only when one is paid for it means leaving a whole lot of moments left in the air to evaporate, but for the record provided by my incessant iPhonography and Instagramming. It feels so hipster of me, but as the saying goes, the best camera is the one you got on ya. (Exhibits of which are provided in the photos on this post.)

Another sunset I captured on Dallas Road a few weeks back.

Not blogging, journaling, or any of that — it’s been a real release for me. A funny thing to say considering most of us writers like to write as a way of expressing ourselves. Until the day we decide that not expressing ourselves is the best way to express ourselves.

I talk to other creatives, people who live and die by the way of having thoughts and putting them out there, out in the world, whatever their media is, and they seem to get me when I tell them I just had enough. I had to walk away from words long-form for a while. Just… get a whole lot less introspective and a lot more “Ooh, shiny” in-the-moment-ness.

I wasn’t in a good place, kids. Not for a long time. I fought the good fight but inside I was losing the war. I didn’t get depressed or anything. Just real fucking tired. Bone-dragging, soul-smooshing tired, and that’s enough.

Just before Halloween we were blanketed with fog, a perfect time to visit old Gothic-ish architecture, like St. Ann’s Academy, a National Heritage Site downtown.

It’s not like I decided not to write. I just didn’t want to do it. Not for myself, and most certainly not for you.

Instead, I wanted to stand by the ocean and think deep thoughts. I wanted to let a world of mindfulness sort of drift away. I wanted to snap photos, watch dogs run, stroll through little stores, cook in my quaint kitchen, and watch a whole lot of Netflix.

I wanted to live for myself. Not for my friends, families, readers, connections, or any damned other person. I just wanted to be a party of one with more self-determination and a whole lot less bullshit.

An autumn sunset on Dallas Road in Victoria, par moi.I read once how Danial Day Lewis ditched the movie world to go off and be a shoe cobbler. Not even a big “Fuck you, Hollywood,” just a “Huh… shoes. Okay.” Sit there, make shoes. No big picture. Just one shoe, one stitch, one sole at a time. Make this one thing the best thing it can be. It’s a noble calling, being a skilled craftsman of any description.

I’m no Day Lewis, but I kinda had my own “Huh… shoes” moment. ‘Cept it was a little place called Dallas Road. A big shiny ocean. Ripply waves. Barking dogs. Fluffy clouds. Millions of honed-by-nature stones and rocks and battered driftwood scattered about a long shore on a big ocean to remind me how we’re all just put where we are and live what we do, and it’s a lot less complicated than we like to make it.

Like today, I had my back fixed. My chiropractor tells me my hip flexors hate me. I show him my stretch. I’m overdoing it, he says. Less is more. Only until I barely feel it, then “let the breathing do the work.”

Dallas Road’s Holland Point, which ate up most of my 2012. Just too beautiful to stay away.

And isn’t that just like us? We, the silly humans? Doing something far harder than it really needs to be? I bet lions and bears don’t “overstretch.” A bear of very little brain, indeed.

I don’t really know what I dropped in to tell you. I’ll start with: A very merry Christmas to you. And Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, and whatever else you got.

Will I be blogging more in 2014? Meh. Do you really want promises? Can I respect myself in the morning for a bit instead?

I would like to. As much as I’ve needed, wanted, enjoyed walking away from recreational writing, I identify as a writer. I am a writer. It’s what I do, how I am, who I am, why I am the way I am. How many more ways can I say it? I write therefore I exist. Apologies to the dead guy I’m paraphrasing.

Fog in late August. It was incredibly warm, so unusual for fog, and a beautiful day for cycling in Esquimalt, just over the bridge from Downtown Victoria.

What I can tell you is… I’ve been wanting to come back here lately. But this blog has some kinda legacy. Oof, does it. One needs a little mojo to step up to the “Cunt.” It’s been a happy, fluffy time of rainbows and growth of late. Not a Cunty mojo for me, to say the least.

That’s not necessarily a great thing either, happiness without a side of Cunt. I don’t regret who I was when I wrote this blog. For much of it, I really enjoyed the ride. I sort of stopped being her far longer ago than when I merely stopped writing it.

But maybe, just maybe, I’m coming full circle. In a better, wiser, older kind of way.

In any case. A merry Christmas to you all. Here’s hoping we can get it on again, blog-style, in the new year.