Category Archives: Being me

All of My Words and All of My Work!

I’ve spent my weekend writing for money. Big, fat, juicy American dollars.

I neglect to come here and tell you, my fine minions, of when I have those writings available, but much writing has entered the world by my hands in recent months — all of which I keep forgetting to share with you.

I do a lot of writing for money over at BuildDirect’s “Life At Home” blog, which has been nominated for one of the web’s best remodelling sites. There, I write on everything from environmental news to decor choices.

You can support me financially by “liking,” “sharing,” “tweeting,” and “+1ing” all my work by using the social-share buttons found at the bottom of each post. Fact is, we’re compensated for how things perform socially, so I’d love if you could be a part of giving my work wider readership. It feeds the Steff, you know.

Any sharing, liking, loving you do is very much appreciated by moi. Enjoy the reads and thanks for your support.

Here are some of the many articles you can find under my name.

The Solar Explosion: Clean Energy’s Brightest Star

In this one, I regale you with many of the recent promising advances in solar technology and why solar’s brightest days are ahead of us.

Down In Smoke: The Hidden Costs of Smoking At Home

Realtors dread listing homes that have been smoked in. Why? Here’s the science, and logic, behind what a financial hit smoking can be when selling a home.

The Self-Storage Money Pit: Things to Consider

The storage industry earned $23 billion of our money in 2013. It’s a huge expense that many people are undertaking unnecessarily. Read on to find out why I’d rather sell everything I own than deal with storage for 5 years while I travel, and learn some alternatives to storing your excess.

The Whys & Hows Of Home Insurance

I think this is a must-read if you’re not covered. I consider insurance pretty much my most important monthly expense. I’ve never missed a payment or been without it, even when I was unemployed and scared of losing my home. When is the last time you adjusted your home insurance? Are you adequately covered? If you’re not covered, I’ve got good reasons you should be. If you are, I’ll tell you how to get a more accurate reflection of what your coverage SHOULD be.

Co-Living: When Sharing A Large Home Makes Sense

Co-living” is taking roommates up a notch and finding a way to live comfortably no matter what age you are. Here in Vancouver, it means several people breaking the law and renting a large mansion together. Where there’s risk, there’s reward. Read on to learn more.

Decor & You: Moving Past Grief At Home

It’s unsettling when someone you live with dies, and it can be hard to know when to move on and change the home accordingly. Having been down that road, I’ve got helpful tips on the “stages of grief” when it comes to home decor and finding a new normal.

Should You Build a Secret Room in Your Home?

Here’s a fun post I enjoyed writing and I think you’ll get a giggle out of it. Because… superheroes! Villains! Secret rooms! HUZZAH!

The Hard Truths About Decluttering

If decluttering was easy, you wouldn’t have to read this post to get motivated. But decluttering is life-changing, empowering, and you absolutely should do it. So read this.

Can New Bedding Help Your Sensitive Skin?

New bedding helped MY skin, and improved my sleep! In fact, spending $250 for a new wool comforter & pillow on sale over Christmas was some of the smartest money I’ve spent. I’ve stopped throwing my comforter off because I was hot at night. I’ve stopped sweating. I’m the perfect temperature every night. If you have skin conditions, bad bedding can make it worse, thanks to clammy conditions and more. Read on!

Invest In Decor: What To Look For In Furniture & Acessories

When you buy cookie-cutter furniture from IKEA and other mass sellers, you might get a great product you’ll enjoy using, but what you likely won’t get is good resale value. Read on for tips on what to look for so your home will have style but also give you a good resale price when you’re done enjoying your choices in a few years. And hey, those unique pieces? Might even be cheaper than the cookie-cutter budget alternative!

Artefacts of the Americas: The Haida First Nations

Articles like this are passion projects for me, because I essentially lose money with all the research I do. Still, this is a great example of a topic I really love and am proud of, so I want to share the knowledge and get others excited too. I’m very happy this piece was well-received and widely read.

6 Tips for Mouse-Proofing Your House

I didn’t expect this article to be among my most popular this quarter, but clearly I’ve underestimated how many people have suffered invasions of the mousey kinds. No worries, I got your back. Here’s what you need to know.

Tips for Staying Sane While Co-Living with Roomies

Like the title says, because ARGH, ROOMMATES!


 

And then if you’re not tired of me yet, here’s stuff that doesn’t put money in my pocket but it’s a total labour of love — my writing on my new travel blog, which will be where I record my big adventure spent travelling the world for five years.

thank-you

Pondering the Pineapple Express

The “Pineapple Express” isn’t just a stoner movie that’ll have you hitting the Cheetos, it’s a weather phenomenon that instills dread in the hearts of West Coasters.

It’s days of unseasonal warm weather coupled with dreary heavy clouds, battering rains, and sometimes winds. It’s not like monsoons in the tropics, it’s just medium-to-heavy rain that seems endless, for days. With the humidity between 90–100%, it feels like you’re walking around in a wet paperbag for three to six days straight.

There’s some localized weather phenomena that affects where I am, Victoria, BC, where “the shadow of Mount Rainier” is said to save us from about 50% of the rain that falls in Vancouver. We might be just across the strait, less than 100km from Vancouver, BC, but they’re a rainforest, and downtown Victoria ain’t. Half the rain, baby.

Between the rain, back in 2013 on Victoria's Clover Point.

Between the rain, back in 2013 on Victoria’s Clover Point.

But you wouldn’t know it on days like these. Not because of all the rain, but because all the clouds sock us in and that moisture’s still THERE, it’s just holding out to put out for Vancouver. I guess Victoria doesn’t drive a flash enough car to woo the likes of this rain.

Still, like a school boy on a hot date, those clouds are fit to explode, and I feel the pressure as it slowly rolls overtop this island, starting its dump further up the coast as it lays into Vancouver.

It pounds behind my eyes and the back of my head. I can even feel the little shifts. Clouds clear in a patch above me momentarily, and so will my head. Rain resumes, so does the foggy brain. It’s baffling.

They call these “low-pressure fronts.” It’s evident even in the people. We trudge and grumble. There’s a “rainy-day hunch,” too. We don’t even know we’re doing it — it just happens when walking down the street in heavy rain. It’s a forward slouch with a hunching of the shoulders, and it effectively ensures more like a 60–40 rain-split, where your back gets most of the wetting action.

Cept those days where you’re walking into a headwind and then you’re just screwed, bro. Done. Those are the days you get rain-soaked straight up to mid-thigh. God help you if you’re not wearing water-resistant clothing, or better yet, Goretex. I’m not the only former Vancouverite who’s had 2–3 layers of clothes all get soaked under a “rainproof” jacket on the very bad, no good, wrong rain day.

One of THOSE days. I dared to shoot photos in the wind and rain. Luckily *my* gear worked. But 95km winds will give you THIS face.

One of THOSE days. I dared to shoot photos in the wind and rain. Luckily *my* gear worked. But 95km winds will give you THIS face.

We grumble and whine and moan, but this rain becomes a part of us. Day after day it grows prohibitive and inconvenient, not to mention mind-numbing and depressing, but the odd heavy rain becomes something we almost cannot live without.

I loved to the Yukon in 1994 and spent the year living in Whitehorse. When you think “Yukon,” you think endless snow, so naturally it must get quite a bit of moisture, right? But you’d be wrong. It’s incredibly dry. It snows in October, then pretty much just stays dry and sunny and cold until April, when it rains a couple times and the snow finally melts.

I’d moved there in October, after Vancouver’d had a three-month dry spell. By the time I saw and smelled rain again, it was the following April and I hadn’t seen rain in 10 months. I cried, I was so happy to see it.

So today as the rain pounds and batters the streets, and I sit with all my windows open while enjoying the unseasonal warmth, I’m loathing the dreariness despite enjoying its idle, and dreaming of when I will live in a place with more sun than rain in winter, and wondering if I might miss these Pineapple Expresses one day.

After all, there’s a catharsis that comes with rain. Like if it rains any harder it’ll even wash away my sins. It’s soul-soothing and permissive. My inner-Catholic is a big fan of rain and all its symbolic cleanliness.

I feel I’ll be betraying all my lineage by escaping this climate. From the Barra Islands Camerons in the Outer Hebrides to my Viking MacNeills, Irish Monks, and my Breton line, they’re all foul-weathered people. They overcame the challenges of the land, sea, and skies, and thrived in it.

I have the luxury of failing them all and wimping out. City-folk. Pah!

As a result, I’ll be letting the rain dictate my weekend. Food, cleaning, writing, sloth, Netflix, drinking, reclusion. All fine and glorious things. All behind the rain-streaked windows, wearing comfy jammies and sporting bedhead.

No shame, man. No shame.

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.