What Is Ambition? How Do You Measure Success?

Photo by mgkaya/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by mgkaya/iStock / Getty Images

Ever since I finished my Master's Degree in Journalism, I've been constantly knocking myself down for not doing everything it takes to nab a coveted spot as a daily journalist, relentlessly pursuing the next story and trying to navigate a profession whose landscape is shifting at the speed of light. While it's true that jobs are few and far between in the profession, I've known plenty of fellow graduates from the same program who've managed to make the "hustle" work and are now behind the camera, reporting or traveling the world covering feature stories. Throughout the years since graduation I've thought to myself:

1) Maybe you're just not good or dedicated enough to work a daily beat 

2) Maybe you lack the drive and ambition it takes to truly be a journalist

3) Maybe those who hold the coveted senior positions can sense you don't have what it takes

4) The longer you are out of the game, the less of a chance you'll ever be able to get in it

Much of this negative self-talk is so repetitive that lately it's actually become boring to me. I imagine that so many other creative professionals have probably experienced similar doubts, because who knows when you've truly made it? Is it when you hit the top of the corporate ladder? What if you're not on that sort of track? What if your paycheck and life's passion are totally separate entities? Can you ever fuse them together? 

Lately, I'm trying to blend more of my creativity into aspects of my day job.  If I am not working full-time in writing, I will "pencil in" as much of my passion into my career. My coworkers and friends are a huge inspiration for trying to make my side-hustle into a every day hustle. Hustling is such a weird word, right?

The fellow writers in my life often bounce their lifestyle essays off of me for editing as I do with them when I'm thinking of pitching something to one of the major newspapers or magazines. We are sounding boards for each others writing. I think having so many fresh perspectives has actually strengthened our work. We try not to compare ourselves to other writers who have written more in any given year, or who've been published in dream publications. Instead, we try to accept that everyone has their own pace and timeline.

The thing that's changed the most for me lately is how I measure success, because I've spent way too much effort thinking of myself as a professional failure. Success, to me, is never giving up on doing the things you love, even if you're doing them in a way that is different from the more beaten path. You might not get to where you're going as quickly, but what doesn't come easy for us often teaches us more than what does. 

So, if I can relay anything at all to you, it's that you're doing much better than you think. xo

How Long Until My Brain Gets It Right...

A couple of months ago I texted my husband, who was in bed at a reasonable hour while I was out drinking with friends, the following self-loathing dribble, "What if sadness is just a part of my DNA?" I can't remember how he responded, and since I've accidentally smashed my phone on a concrete floor, it will forever remain a mystery to me. 

But I started wondering if this statement is indeed true?  Should I wave up my hands and use sadness as a blanket excuse for all of my impulsive or avoidance behaviour- the medium pizza that I gorge on, the one too many beer I kick back, the funds in my bank account that always seem to be on a downwards trajectory, the running shoes that I neglect near my front door?

It often seems like inertia is my kryptonite. I tend to start the week or month off with the best of intentions for self-improvement, but as soon as my emotions take a swan dive I'm all too quick to duck for cover under comfortable blankets or park myself in front of the television. My intention in writing this mini-rant is not get any type of sympathy, but rather to ask others how they get through their self-imposed personal barriers?

They say that we are all of our worst enemies, but for once I'd like to befriend myself. I'm just not so sure where to start. I'm the queen of taking shortcuts, even if I'm not doing myself any favours in the long run. I'd love to hear whether any of you have ever experienced great difficulty with motivation, and how you propelled yourself forward?

Why I Choose To Live As a Maximalist: More is More

Photo by tomap49/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by tomap49/iStock / Getty Images

Minimalism is a hot buzz word almost everywhere you go, but especially when it comes to lifestyle and design. There are countless blogs and Instagram accounts dedicated to the "less is more" aesthetic, the "whatever brings you joy" way of life.  But what happens if everything brings you joy? Please note that I'm not talking about hoarding, as I am capable and frequently able to throw things away, but rather the personal choice to live surrounded by many, many, many of my cherished things.

I really dig that people embrace minimalism, and if it works for them and helps keep their spirit and life uncluttered, then all the better. But personally, I'd rather have a house filled with everything than nothing. A wardrobe filled with unusual colours, textures and whimsy than clean lines. I want to see organised chaos everywhere I look. I want a house overgrown with flowers and plants and two of everything. Here's a bit of the background story to what led me to become a Maximalist.

Maximalism in reaction to our parents & Maximalism as a way of connecting us to the past

My husband's man cave is filled with momentos. Luckily, he's also a Maximalist of sorts. 

My husband's man cave is filled with momentos. Luckily, he's also a Maximalist of sorts. 

I believe that we are all, to a lesser or greater extent, living in reaction to our parents. So it comes as no surprise that my mother leans more towards minimalism in reaction to her own dad being a pack-rat. As a kid, I was always told to put everything away, to not have too much clutter out on display. As I grew older, my elaborate collection of CDs and troll dolls were all given to other kids or to The Salvation Army rather than kept as cherished items for the next generation to explore. 

I understand that my mom's decluttering intentions were good, and I definitely agree in donating what you don't need. But what if I wanted to pass down one of those trolls to my future children, or play them some early Radiohead off of the original CDs? With a background in journalism, I view cherished items as a way of communicating our past to the future. I see possessions as tools for investigation and storytelling. The more you have, the more the future has to work with.

Maximalism in reaction to depression

Can you spot my sacred pitcher that I plan to use only for sunflowers?

Can you spot my sacred pitcher that I plan to use only for sunflowers?

When your brain is unhappy, everything that was once bright can go dull and grey. Having experienced depression at points in my life, I naturally gravitate towards bright colours and florals, signs of embracing every moment of life. They say that colours can affect mood, so I surround myself with layers of green for serenity, as well as countless shades of pink, since it's the colour that makes me feel powerful. The books that have helped make me who I am are displayed on my bookshelf, upright, sideways, anyway I can store them. I even purchased a blue ceramic glazed pitcher not for it's functionality of pouring water, but so that I could buy myself sunflowers to put in it. To me, creativity trumps functionality. I want life to be like a still life painting. 

Maximalism can save you money

Kitchens were meant to celebrate life!

Kitchens were meant to celebrate life!

Buy less stuff, only buy what you need, save money etc. Okay, I get that. But holding on to things can also save you money. Need something for a recipe? Your kitchen is already fully stocked.  Need to decorate a gift? I have an entire basket filled with gift bags and bits and pieces of ribbons and stuffing from past gifts that I can reuse as future wrapping items. I also sometimes make my own cards from those items, and use bright washi tape to cover old picture frames. If I hadn't held on to everything, I would have likely had to go out and buy each item. So keeping tons of stuff does has its benefits, right? 

But beyond everything, living as a maximalist simply makes me happy. It doesn't mean I'm constantly going out on spending sprees or being wasteful. It simply means that I choose to live in a way that comforts me and inspires me to be creative. At the end of the day, stuff is just stuff, and what matters most is the love that surrounds you. To me, my things are just tiny reminders of all the love I've been lucky enough to have in my life. 

So what about you? Do you identify more as a Maximalist or Minimalist? I'd love to hear about it.

5 Lessons a Tropical Vacation Can Teach You About Work/Life Balance

A snapshot from my most recent vacation in La Palma, Canary Islands. 

A snapshot from my most recent vacation in La Palma, Canary Islands. 

You've just returned from an incredible vacation. You've enjoyed the warm temperatures, the scenic vistas, and all of the fresh air. You try to remain in the afterglow, but suddenly you're right back where you left off, spending countless hours at your desk typing and grabbing snacks from the vending machine. As your tan fades, so does your spirit. You wonder why you can't keep that "vacation glow" in your day-to-day reality?

Well, maybe you can. As much as the post-vacation blues happen to almost everyone, I've discovered some things that have eased me out of my post-vacation slump. Here are my tips for incorporating some of the elements of vacation-life into your everyday, so that the shock doesn't hit you too hard. 

1. Nature, Nature, Nature 

When you're on vacation time, the view is ever-changing. You notice the palm trees outside your window, you smell the earthiness of the vegetation during your hikes, and the salt in the air invigorates you. These small details keep you in the present and away from your e-mail. While your city commute might not offer the exact same type of enchantment, nature is still somewhere under the asphalt.  I recently commented to a friend how beautiful the snow was outside of a café window, and try to immerse myself in nature as much as possible everyday.

2. Treat Yo'Self

Vacation mornings are often the stuff of dreams. You can take your coffee and croissant on the boardwalk. You make time for splurges, maybe booking spa treatments at the hotel. That self-care mentality is often the first thing to get neglected when you are back in the daily grind. That's why I make time each weekend to use my gym's steam room and massage chair. Self-care doesn't have to be costly, but the effects of a bit of healthy indulgence will definitely show in your overall well being. 

3. Togetherness

I've joked with my husband that on our last trip I saw more of him in two weeks than I have in 10 years. Although I exaggerate, there's a grain of truth when you think of all the time you spend with your loved ones without really seeing them. Especially in the era of smartphones, it gets harder and harder to have a meaningful conversation without the temptation of distraction. Even if I haven't seen my parents in months, we sometimes reunite just to start using our devices instead of catching up. My proposal for more togetherness is to go on outings where you ditch all your devices so that you really can invest in what's most important. I personally found that when I was hiking in La Palma without access to the internet, I learnt so much more about the person I've been living with for the past decade than I ever anticipated. 

4. Mindful Eating 

This one is hard--and I'm by no means a guru, as this week alone I've had beer almost every night and many, many fries. But when I was on vacation I ate things that provided fuel for the activities I'd be doing that day. Breakfasts were often composed of yogurt, fruits and an egg or two. When I'm not on vacation, I let my stress dictate what I eat, and stress always like the idea of potatoes.

I'm still working on this one, but my suggestion is to think of food as fuel rather than comfort when you can, but not without moderation (because sometimes it just feels good to go for the spuds).  

5. A Sense of Adventure 

When you were a kid, your imagination had the ability to transform everyday landscapes into magical places and spaces. With age, it becomes harder and harder unless you're staring off into a crystal blue ocean. We tend to feel a certain degree of apathy towards our surroundings. Which is why it's good to shake things up a bit!! Even if it's just going to a part of the city you're not familiar with, or making a point to stargaze when there's a clear night, treating your everyday surroundings with a sense of mindfulness and awe can work wonders on the spirit. So stop reading and get outside, why don't you? Adventure awaits!!

xo J

The Anniversaries We Don't Talk About

Photo Credit: Lauren Kolyn Studio

Photo Credit: Lauren Kolyn Studio

My mother-in-law has always embraced the theory that whenever you are going through any sort of mental anguish that you can't quite pin down, it's because you're psychically living out some sort of anniversary. Say, the death of a loved one or the day you lost a job, or the month a relationship ended. She believes that you can't really compartmentalize things, that some sort of energy from past pain will always rear it's ugly head at some point, often when you least expect it.

Wise lady, huh? 

So, seeing that a shitty anniversary of my own is just around the corner, I've approached early 2017 with kid gloves, asking that I be spared the worst of it if I keep my head down and not question anything. But that's not really how life works, is it?

So, I'll just come out and say it: 10 years ago my husband was diagnosed with cancer and both of us went through the darkest period of our lives. 2007 was one year we'd gladly erase from the history books. We'd been dating for a little less than a year at that point and had no idea what lay ahead. He was stoic in his pain - perhaps he had to be - as it was literally his life on the line, not mine. I completely fell apart, my already precarious state of mental health unraveling even further.

I don't know how we did it, but we got through it. With that fact in mind, some would say that this year should be a year of blessings and celebrations, a milestone of having come out of the worst of it together, intact. But, who's to say we ever really come out of anything truly intact?

As I've continued to have small lapses in my mental health over the years, it's clear to me that one thing from that horrible time in our lives has never left me; which is the feeling that everything that I hold near and dear to me can be swept away in a second. It's a reality that every single human being faces, every minute of the day.

But, as someone who finds uncertainty intolerable, the mere idea that the things I love can be taken away seems to stalk me everywhere I go. It sucks the blood out of the moments that I should be enjoying. It takes the relaxation out of the simplest things, because, I am always on the lookout for the disaster in the distance. My obsessive mind tells me that in order to be safe, I need to solve the unsolvable, become untouchable. Make my life so safe that nothing can harm me or those around me. My rational mind knows that this is an impossible task.

So what can I do other than move forward? Saying to myself, "I was vulnerable back then and I will be vulnerable again. Things will happen to me that I might feel will destroy me. I choose to open myself up to this vulnerability, because resisting it will only make it all the more daunting."

Perhaps, for all of us, there will be moments where we feel that we've lost our center and need to make our way back again, but not before we feel out the edges of our fear, become familiar with the most terrifying and threatening bits of our psyche. 

In February, my husband and I will be going on our honeymoon in the Canary Islands. We will be hiking around volcanoes and past landslides. It will be the first time that we travel together. A moment to pause and admire the unfamiliar, to be brave and adventurous and most of all, to have fun!

I want to look out at the sea and raise a glass to shitty anniversaries. To know that although some of them still haunt us when we are tired and weary, they haven't made us less curious about the road ahead or less willing to face it together. I want the water to know that even if it were to rise up and meet us unexpectedly, we'd greet it holding hands.

Ready as we'll ever be. 

Thankful for This Life, As Is

Photo by Borut Trdina/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by Borut Trdina/iStock / Getty Images

You can feel your disappoint pool in the extremities of your body first. You feel heavier these days, and not just physically. You want to cry or hit something, but you're an adult so you just go on with your half-smiles, hearing yourself make small talk with others without being sure of what you're saying. You tried for something that you didn't quite achieve, you think that this is just another dull trinket to add to your string of failures. Everyone around you has things you wish you had. You want a dog. You want a child. You want a house. You want to move forward in your career. You want to make more money. You picture yourself in this life of wants. You close your eyes for a second to take it all in. 

You are setting the scene for Thanksgiving at an actual table. This you is perfectly in control and always in demand. Your clothes are nicer. Your hair is cut. You are thinner. There are always fresh flowers in a vase somewhere nearby. You imagine that you are happier. But a friend of yours once warned you that the minute you achieve something, the focus shifts to the next goal. You don't even grant yourself the courtesy of a minute to appreciate what you have succeeded in creating so far. You're only focused on the brighter stuff of the future. 

So I challenge you to this:

Take your imaginary table settings and toss the load of them to the ground. Take the glossy imaginary magazine you thought you'd work at by now, and throw it into the recycling bin.  The kids, the dogs, the clothes, they can wait. Go meet the person who has loved you for over a decade and catch a movie. Remember to look up at the stars tonight, even if the city lights obscure them. Travel to the market with your makeshift family this weekend and get some soul food to set up on your existing scratched up coffee table. Call your parents and tell them you love them. Prepare to celebrate the blissful events that lie ahead for your closest friends in the upcoming weeks. Be thankful, truly thankful, for the this life of yours that you have. As it is, not as it could be. Can you do that for me? Can you at least try?   

 

 

   

What a Week in a Cast Taught Me About Mental Health

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"What happened to your flipper, friend?"

"You've broken your wing, darling!"

"I once did that myself slipping on the side of a pool in Cuba!"

Just some of the comments I've received in the past week from both friends and strangers alike, since I broke my right wrist successfully saving a goal while playing soccer. It was the first bone I've ever broken, and even the crunch of the wrist snapping back had a sense of dignity about it. I took one for the team, so to speak. When you break something visible, at least in my experience, people froth with empathy and camaraderie. I've spoken to more strangers on the subway this previous week alone then in my whole life. People are quick to share their own stories and are instantly protective of you. Children stare in awe at your injured limb covered in hearts and get-well-soon messages. You can accessorize your slings and even glue confetti to your cast. You can wear the plaster openly and with pride.

People have asked me whether breaking a wrist hurts, and I've wanted to say, "not a sliver as much as anxiety." I walked around for 10 or so years with a 'fractured mind' before I found the right help to start healing myself. There's hardly a tell-tale glimmer in a stranger's eye (or lack thereof) that indicates that they too have also suffered from anxiety, depression or what have you. "I too once cried outside of a convenience store because I thought my life was spiraling out of control," doesn't make for great subway small talk.

We are quick to share our stories about broken bones, but missed days at work, mental breakdowns and burnouts, are our burdens and buried secrets. I do think a great deal is changing, though. New dialogues are beginning to take place, but you still have to go out searching for them.

The doctor treated my wrist applauded me for my high-tolerance for physical pain, but it's only because I'm feeling better than I ever have mentally that I'm so calm. Physical pain has luckily been a fleeting romance for me, but for some it's also a chronic battle. I never want to imply that any one type of pain is greater than another.

It's just that in my case, a broken wrist is something I can mythologize in a way that I never can with my mental health, because the after-shock is still there, tiny little earthquakes rumbling under the surface.

So for everyone who is walking around with chronic mental health issues, I want to applaud you for your high tolerance for emotional pain. I hope that your doctor one day calls you a champ for your endurance. I hope you find whatever you need to ease your pain, and while we throngs of strangers may not all be automatically rushing to your side to offer our help on the subway, know that we are all there with you anyhow, the invisible ones.

Wedding Planning in the Age of Pinterest

Photo Credit: Lauren Kolyn

Photo Credit: Lauren Kolyn

I often wonder how my mom would have managed if she had thousands of early 80's images to compare herself to, when planning her own wedding back in pre-internet 1982. Would she have reconsidered the hat shaped like a little boat, if it was deemed to be last year's style? Would she have fretted over appetizers that were not curated down to the infused bone marrow (is that even a thing)? How would my parent's generation have reacted to an influx of 'Best Day Ever' signage on top of wedding cakes, when we all know that there are a lot of other really, really good friggin' days out there? Like, maybe, my best day ever was when I drank a lot of wine with my best friend and passed out on the couch after she gifted me a fragrant bouquet of cilantro?

I've raided through my parent's wedding album and found some pictures taken by my mom's brother (no professional photographers needed, folks). If anyone is posing, it's less of a smug 'all eyes are on me' kind of pose and more of a 'deer caught in headlights' kind of pose. People seemed to be less accustomed to the spotlight back then. Perhaps because they didn't need to heavily brand their weddings, or their love. They simply got married, if that was their kind of thing.  

Now we spring for engagement photos, and fairy lights, in hopes that a friend will say 'this is so unique. I haven't seen it on Pinterest a million times yet." It sometimes feels like I'm trying to one-up every other bride that has ever gone through the process before. Maybe add some lavender to my baby's breath bouquets so that I'm not just doing the typical-rustic-outdoor-wedding thing. Oh shit, someone's already done that, too. There's a certain relief in knowing you can't be original these days, because it opens up the possibility of being flawed, and real.

Having been with my partner for almost ten years, I know that the real moments are on the couch watching television when we should be at the gym. If I could host all my loved ones on my couch we'd probably get married there. And yet for this one stressful, delightful, fairytale, overdone night we are going to dress in clothes nicer than the ones we have in our closet, we are going to give you the highlight reel of our past that probably doesn't include the time we whipped our Courtney Love/Kurt Cobain Halloween wigs at each other after a big blowout, and we're going to get hitched.

Maybe none of moments will be Instagram-worthy, maybe they will. But I'm quickly realizing that's not what I should be setting the bar for. So let the chips fall where they may. Maybe my cake will melt a bit. Maybe I'll rip my dress or get too drunk and say something awkward. And maybe in those moments you'll catch a glimmer of the two of us, the people that we really are, the imperfectionists who just happen to love eachother. 

 

The Grey Day Toddy

Sunday comfort can be equal parts virtue (tea) and vice (whisky) when you are nursing a sore throat and also thinking about loved ones during difficult times. A hot toddy is the alcoholic equivalent of a bear hug. So when you make yours, don't skimp on the whisky.

The Grey Day Toddy (Original Recipe)

1.5 oz Single Malt Whisky

1 tea bag of Earl Grey Tea

2 Star Anise Pods

2 Cardamom Pods

1 tsp. Liquid Honey

-Boil your water and steep your tea for a couple of minutes (2-3).

-Add in your whisky and spice pods and let steep for an extra minute.

-Stir in your honey and enjoy while piping hot.

-Follow up with a warm bath and a couple of episodes of the Gilmour Girls for good measure.

The Prelude to Comfort and Joy

Photo by brickrena/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by brickrena/iStock / Getty Images

Many people claim that the holidays are a tough time for them, especially when they’re alone, find themselves far away from home, or have not-so-fond memories of the ‘most wonderful time of the year’. For me, it’s the lead-up to the holidays, the gray zone of November and early December, when it hasn’t quite snowed yet but most of the trees are bare and remind me of arthritic hands. If I’ve ever thought of myself as a well-adjusted person, all the weather has to do is remain grey, and suddenly I want to rent out a sizable rock to crawl under until it’s time to put up decorations.

As much as I like to partake in a variety of holiday festivities, I’m not what you’d call a true, blue die-hard. No feverish Xmas countdowns or full-grown man elf will appear anywhere on my social media newsfeeds. The holidays, for me, are more about the light, both literally and figuratively. My anxiety-riddled brain seems to rebel when the hours get shorter and shorter and there’s a certain existential dread that washes over me. I find it harder to take in those little moments of joy during the day and I can’t wait to get home to drown myself in wine and mediocre television series.

The minute the soft glow of holiday lights start lining the streets, and glittery decal can spotted in just about every storefront, it somehow counteracts my ennui.  I’ve wept outside holiday displays for no good reason, where little mice under floorboards are being tucked into bed on Christmas Eve. I’ve reveled in the glimmer of a beautiful menorah. I’ve rejoiced in the light that is reflected off of heaps of snow, and would welcome a mammoth snowstorm over a splash of winter rain.

I’ve never been tested for Seasonal Affective Disorder, but I know I’m not the only one who finds the slow descent into winter tough. It seems to me that we all retreat further into ourselves around this time of year. I live with my fiancée and come home to a warm meal and a sweet gray house cat. My life is filled with plenty of friends and books to ignite my imagination and transport me from this northern climate. Still, with the ammunition of a relatively happy life, I find it no match for the fear that the darkness will one day swallow me whole. I know it’s just a fear, but it’s potent when it brews inside my head for too long.

The artificial light is both a distraction and a promise. It signals that in less than a week's time, I will get on a bus and travel the six hours home to Montreal to visit my parents. I will wake up to an old, diabetic Yorkshire terrier at my feet named Roxy, she will hop onto my lap and snort, making me feel whole again. I will listen to my father talk about his tennis buddies, and watch my mother knit another hat for me in lime green yarn. I will wear it no matter what it ends up looking like. My brother will talk too loud and I will love him for it. I will mockingly roll my eyes at him with his wife, but we both know deep down that we wouldn’t be complete without him. I will try on my wedding dress while chugging back eggnog and hope that I can still fit into it by June of next year. I will silently thank the universe for allowing me to lean on my family, time and time again. I will wait for my fiancée to join us and he will see a subtle change in my face, lines easing from the number of hours I’ve spent staring into the family fireplace. Light therapy in its most basic form.

Now, just to get through the rest of the week.  I tell myself that I have to resist making excuses.  That I have to urge myself to walk outside even when my bones feel chilled, or show up to parties even when I find myself more easily distracted and less in the mood to talk. To resist overfilling myself on coffee and croissants, thinking they could magically protect me from my worries. To resist falling asleep at 7pm because it feels much easier than staying awake.  I joke with coworkers that I’ve got a case of the ‘Pre-Holiday Blahs’, package it up in a way that can be easily understood. Because what exactly is the truth? That I’m a full-grown woman who’s still afraid of the dark? I’d rather hum underneath my breath “let it glow, let it glow, let it glow” until someone answers my plea.

In Praise of The Dancing Buddy

Knock-knockedup-crying.jpg

Photo Source: Universal Studios

It's been said that each friend fulfills a different need in our lives. There's the 'shoulder-to-cry-on' friend, the 'tough-love' friend, the 'redecorate your apartment' friend. Depending on how many friends you have, the list can fan out longer than a country kilometer. 

But if, like me, you're a newly-minted thirty-something who's been in a relationship for almost a decade, goes to bed around 9pm every night, and takes a lot of 'artful' pictures of your cat, then no friend is more useful in helping you create a balance in your life then the 'always up for dancing' buddy.

I met my own dancing buddy when I was doing my MA in Journalism at Western University in 2011. I found that as long as I kept dancing, I missed my family and boyfriend far less. It was a compulsion that burned a lot of calories, better than, say, crying myself to sleep with a bottle of wine on my nightstand (I did that sometimes, too). And so we danced, a lot.

What I didn't realize is that I'd keep up this habit of dancing my stress away long after I was back in my natural 9-5 habitat. Rain or shine, work night or weekend, my dancing buddy is still always up for an adventure. Unlike our early twenties, when the object of the dance floor was to look as cool as possible, anything goes now. We once wore rain boots to a bar because it just seemed practical on a drizzly night. We've also dragged along my partner, who functions more as our chaperone as he gently sways to the music and gives the stink-eye to anyone who gets too close.

She's the reason why I've mail-ordered a tight, sequined dress, even though I'm 30 pounds overweight, the reason why I sometimes eat pizza at 2am and witness polite convicts getting arrested while making small talk with us about Canada (this was in NYC last summer). Heck, she's the reason why I rightfully feel young, and have adopted the catchphrase "she makes me feel young, goshdarnit!"

And so to everyone who's feeling a little lackluster with their day to day routine, I suggest you seek out your own dancing buddy (if that's your thing) or if you've already got one, thank 'em. 

"We've come a long, long way together, through the hard times and the good. I have to celebrate you baby, I have to praise you like I should"-Fatboy Slim

Mood & Food: A Meditation in 'Bad' Habits

                         

                         

As I sit on the couch, this beautiful Sunday afternoon, scooping Arahova spinach dip onto bacon cheese slider flavoured chips, I think long and hard about why I chose this particular snack instead of say, baby carrots and dip. I am in no way, shape or form a food expert, nor do I pretend to be, but rather a human, who like many other humans, has a not so simple relationship with food.

I mean, I love it, worship it, praise it and sometimes want to make out with it when I'm feeling blue, but lately I wonder if all foods love me back equally. To understand myself better I thought I'd do what I always do,  which is to write out my relationship to something, in this case grub, and see what surfaces.

As a kid, food was pretty much insignificant to me. I ate it when I needed to fuel up, or in between climbing a tree or throwing a temper tantrum. I remember liking generic stuff like Kraft Singles. The 80s were an awesome time where suburban parents kind of just fed their kids whatever was there, without worrying that they weren't getting enough kale in their diets.

As a teenager, I deprived myself of many of the comfort foods that I now enjoy today, not because I was heavy, but rather because I thought that it would clear up my acne-ridden skin. I was acutely aware of what seemed to me at the time, pock-marked skin, and the only way I felt I could control my self-disgust was by eliminating everything I thought caused breakouts.

By my twenties, my skin cleared up on its own and I started experimenting with calorific foods like poutine, croissant, and ice cream in all its varieties. I was still quite active back then, so the food renaissance hardly impacted my waistline. I remember when I started to date my partner, I could split a steak with his mom and not yearn for the taste of more. Food wasn't the last thing on my mind, but it also wasn't always the first thing.

Oddly enough, my little indulgences only caught up with me at 23, after another brief period of depriving myself while struggling with a particularly rough bout of anxiety and depression. As the story often goes, as soon as I felt better, my appetite seemed to triple, as did my girth. Everything not only tasted good again, but out-of-this world. It's something I've since never really gotten a handle on, not that I think that weight management is something you can just lasso. 

You see the thing is, I'm not someone who will tell you that upon deep reflection I finally saw the light and I now swear by detoxifying smoothies and kombucha-what-have-you. I like those things just fine but I also like slathering liver pate onto a French baguette. At a deeper level, the thing I struggle with is that I'm the kind of person who regulates my mood with food. If I'm feeling tired I eat. If I'm feeling stressed I eat. If I'm feeling overjoyed I eat. Which is to say that it's not only life's lows but also its highs that catapult me into a place where I eat too much.

I was at a party last night, and I could almost see snapshots of myself in my mind's eye, reaching for just one more slice of pumpernickle bread, one more forkful of key lime pie, just another swig of grapefruit beer. All these things are not inherently bad, just that I often feel like I'm reaching beyond them for that spiritual fulness that I never quite achieve. A wise man once told me that if you want to lose weight, you need to think up more creative and long term reasons for doing so than to just look good. And so, as I mull over ideas on how to be more mindful towards both my body and well, mind, I come up with the following reasons:

-Because I want to be kinder towards my heart

-Because I want to run faster when playing soccer

-Because I want to climb my apartment stairs without panting

-Because I want to bend down with the graceful ease of a ballerina

-Because I want to really savour the food I taste, whether it be pizza or pineapple, without squirming in anticipation of the next bite

-Because I want to teach my future children that you can enjoy everything without guilt, but also respect your body enough to feed it a fruit or veggie once in a while

-Because, because, because...the list goes on forever. But I know that whether I get married next year in a size 10 dress or a size 4, as long as my body feels strong and active, and as long as I continue to hash out my relationship with food, I'll be happy.

So stranger, what's your food story?

Game of Cookies

It's been a while since I've posted, but the 5th season of Game of Thrones deserves some sort of commemorative nod. I've been searching for years for a simple sweet and salty chocolate chip cookie recipe that could overthrow all other recipes and rule over the Seven Kingdoms.

Of course, one never has to look further than Bon Appétit to find greatness.  This classic cookie is both chewy and crispy, sweet and savoury.  Perfect!

So take tonight for yourself.  Pour yourself a glass of wine or crack open a beer.  Leave the drama to the TV set or laptop as you indulge in the world's favourite show.

Salty Chocolate Chip Cookies (based on this BA recipe)

Ingredients

1/2 cup butter, melted

3/4 cup Turbinado sugar

1/2 cup white sugar

1/4 cup of powdered sugar

2 egg yolks, 1 whole egg

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 1/2 cup of all-purpose flour

1 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. kosher salt

1 cup of chocolate chips

a few pinches of kosher salt to sprinkle on top

Instructions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil.

1- With an electric mixer handy, mix the sugars and butter together for a couple of minutes.  Add the eggs and vanilla and mix well.

2- Pour your dry ingredients (flour, salt, baking powder) into the wet ingredients, mixing little by little until well combined.

3- Fold in your chocolate chips and roll into palm-sized balls.  Flatten a bit with your hands and sprinkle each unbaked cookie with a tiny bit of kosher salt. Bake for 10-12 minutes, until the edges and bottoms of your cookies are golden.

These cookies taste phenomenal right out of the oven, so tell anyone who wants to wait for them to cool to take a hike.  Royalty waits for no one.

 

On Secrets & Surprises

I'm extremely impatient and can rarely keep secrets. My closest friends know this about me, which is why it's a good thing they didn't fill me in prior on some events that transpired last weekend.

I'm the kind of person that will describe to you, in great detail, the present I bought you for your birthday before I gift it to you, just in case you don't like it. My motto is over-sharing is caring, which makes it hard for me to keep tight-lipped about anything.

But last weekend, as my fiancee and I walked into a room of our closest friends, not knowing we were being thrown a surprise Southern-Themed engagement party on Valentine's Day, it finally clicked. People keep secrets and plan surprises because it's that much more magical when it happens!!! That evening, I almost collapsed on the floor of excitement as I realized our v-day dinner was actually a gathering of friends both near and out-of-town, who had spent the whole day cooking and planning and decorating just for us.

It's hard to describe the surreal feeling of that much love and thought channeled into one room, so I'll leave it to pictures, mostly of delicious southern-inspired food (think mac n' cheese, fried chicken and okra) and mason jars filled with delicate flowers, plus a sweet Earl Gray cake that I won't soon forget.

It's interesting how the events leading up to a wedding are sometimes a celebration, not just of a union, but of unions. I feel closer than ever to my friends, connected by each others ups and downs, appreciative of this generous slice of joy they've gifted us.  

What is one of the sweetest surprises that you can recall in your life? How did you feel after it happened? Please share.

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Ideas To Ditch The Flowers & Dinner Reservations

When it comes to Valentine's Day, I'm like a sponge that soaks up everyone's feelings about it, the enthusiasts, the skeptics and the downright haters. There are so many different vibes about this overly-commercial day that I'm kind of happy it falls on a Saturday this year.  Not because I plan to forgo celebrating, but because I think it gives everyone the flexibility to make it whatever they want it to be. Single, taken, whatever!

Over the years, my fondest V-Day memories with my partner have been the times when we botched it up royally. In the early days, he once slaved over a home-cooked dinner by candlelight only to have me stub my toe on a nail and worry that I might have tetanus throughout the whole meal. Another year, we made plans to go to this darling little restaurant not thinking that a late brunch of blood pudding and sausages would affect our appetites. By the time we got to dinner, we were so queasy neither of us could take a bite.  It's those kind of hilarious memories that shine brighter than jewels.

With that spirit in mind, here are some suggestions to make the day memorable, no flowers and hard-to-get restaurant seats required:

Celebrate your love of learning- Whether traveling in a pack, a twosome, or solo, a Saturday love-fest means that you can see the latest art exhibit at the AGO, watch the fishes swim at the aquarium, or contemplate the marvels of the universe at the science centre (sorry for being so Toronto-centric, but you get the point). I don't know about you, but nothing pulls at my heart strings quite like someone explaining the big bang theory to me.

Celebrate your love of food- Why spend a ton on an overpriced meal when you can have a culinary adventure in your own home? For a bit of food-nerd trivia, why not pick up a couple of diverse cheeses and cured meats each, and try to guess which region they came from. You can do the same with wine! I'll leave whether you want to include blindfolds and awards for good guesses up to your own discretion.

Celebrate your love of togetherness- With all the hyper-focus on romance during this one day, it's easy to forget about all the other sources of love in your life. Why not take a parent out on the town, get your in-laws a token gift, snuggle with your pooch or spend some time with your best friends watching movies?  This year we are getting together with a bunch of our closest buddies to have a family-style meal celebration. I can't think of a better way to spend the day!

Celebrate yourself- No matter what relationship status you tick off on your government forms, a little self-love is never a bad thing. I know that I'll take some extra care to make sure I exercise and drink my favourite tea, before truly starting my day on Saturday. What makes you feel energized and inspired? Ask yourself those questions.

Cocktail of the Moment: Lemon Lover's Spritzer

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I've got a bad case of Italiamania. Blame it on The Sopranos.  I only started watching the series this year, almost (not quite) 10 years since the final episode aired. I am happy that I waited until I was no longer a teen/young twenty-something to take in the complexity that is 'T' and his family.  I can honestly say that other than Six Feet Under and The West Wing (both of which I also starting watching years after they wrapped), The Sopranos is the best series that television has ever produced.

So you can understand how I'm in serious withdrawal since I said goodbye to the hilarious, tragic, hedonistic, masochistic, and sometimes even slightly heroic characters that make up the The Sopranos.   My heart aches with the knowledge that there can be no come-back movie because of the passing of James Gandolfini.  It just wouldn't be the same.

So I ween myself off of The Sopranos slowly by watching Lilyhammer (with Steve Van Zandt aka Silvio Dante from The Sopranos) and making myself a stiff Lemon Lover's Spritzer.

Limoncello is one of those liqueurs that is, in my opinion, very hard to stomach on its own due to its sweetness.  I remember buying a bottle of it when I was 17-years old and in Sorrento for the first time in my life,  totally enamoured with the lemon groves and the sea cliffs.  That first trip left such an impression on me that I even considered getting a lemon tattoo for a while.

I still dream of going back to the south of Italy with my soon-to-be husband, Jeremy, even though I visited as recently as 2006.   Perhaps our honeymoon will bring me back there for a third time.   At least now I'll have enough money to buy myself a real leather purse, maybe even a Vespa (not quite).

Until then, here's my recipe for Lemon Lover's Spritzer, a diluted version of the digestive that can be served after a hearty meal,  or even for dessert!

Lemon Lover's Spritzer

Ingredients:

1 oz. Limoncello

1/2 cup of Perrier

1 Lemon Slice

Instructions:

Measure out 1 oz. of Limoncello liqueur and pour into a flute or slim glass.  Fill the rest of your glass with Perrier. Take a slice of lemon and squeeze for extra tartness.  Throw the slice in and let sit in your glass.  Prepare to pucker your lips as you enjoy this drink.  I imagine that you could also switch out the Perrier for Prosecco for an extra boozy version of this Spritzer.

Salut!

On Perfectionism & Taking a Blog Breather

You've seen it happen before.

Blogs fall off the face of the earth, are left unattended and become a time capsule for their last post. I noticed my posts slowing down recently, before they came to an abrupt halt in November. I told myself it's because I was using a new program to blog that wasn't as easy to work with, or that I was too busy with other freelance projects. I told myself that it was because it was winter and it's hard to feel inspired in January.  I told myself a lot of things.

The truth is that it's a mix of fear and laziness that caused me to take a pause from blogging.

There are so many blogs out there that have nailed down the whole lifestyle thing perfectly. So many coquette versions of the 'dream life' out there that I myself subscribe to, that I sometimes wonder what the point is of continuing to write little soundbites about food, makeup, wine etc. when so many people do it better.

The idea of my blog in the first place was to celebrate imperfection, but I still find myself wishing that my pictures were a little more curated, that my outfits were actually 'post-worthy' and that my audience was the size of Texas. All these modern tools that allow us to share our lives with each other also seem to, at times, set the bar higher than any of us can reach.

This post is not a goodbye so much as a plan to get back to my original intention when I started blogging.  To celebrate the messier side of life and to deliver posts 'without a glossy finish'. What that looks like, well, I'm not sure yet. But I hope to have fun doing it.

Comfort, Joy and All of that Other Stuff

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I am writing this post in a dark room with only the twinkle of my fake Christmas tree and the glow of my laptop to light my way.  It's November 30th, arguably a day too early to be putting up decorations but since December decided to fall on a Monday and wreck everyone's plans, this will have to do. I've done no Christmas shopping, have gained enough 'winter' weight already that most of my holiday dresses from years past don't fit and haven't bought my tickets home for the holidays yet. Comfort and Joy. Anxiety and Lethargy.

The subway stop banners near my apartment building perfectly sum up the potpourri of emotions that December brings out in many of us.  On the one side there is an ad for a warm coffee that promises you that every sip will be filled with ideal holiday cheer, and to the left of this banner is an ad for a number to call if you are in emotional distress.

As always, I fall somewhere in between, as I imagine most people around this time of year do.  Sometimes my nerves will make me feel like I'm trapped in a monochrome nightmare and sometimes I'll buck up, put on my ugliest snowflake sweater and rejoice in a sliver of momentary peace of mind.  If you're experiencing holiday stress or just general life stress and can relate, here's a little list of super obvious dos and don'ts that I find helpful around this time of year:

Do

1. Curl up with a good book near the tree 2. Meditate 3. Exercise, even just a little stretching helps 4. Lose yourself in your favourite TV series (just don't binge watch or you might feel even worst when you surface)  5. Dab a few drop of essential oil on your face (lavender does the trick)  6. Call a friend (chances are a familiar voice will perk you up) 7. Cuddle up under a knit blanket (nothing beats the sensation of being all wrapped up and toasty)

Don't

1. Dwell on all of the stuff you need to get done 2. Check your bank account constantly 3. Compare your holiday decorating flair to anything you see on Pinterest (those crafty types always make everything look so simple, but I bet in truth they were pulling their hair out hand-painting ornaments and acorns) 4. Tell yourself this will be the best Christmas ever (setting yourself up for disappointment) 5. Micromanage your family around the holidays (nobody likes a bossy-pants Santa)  6. Worry too much about your cooking (aim for edible)

Remember folks, it's only a month and after that we can all focus on something new, like breaking our New Years resolutions.

Sesame-Covered Halloumi Bites

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The idea of taking my favourite cheese, covering it in flour and sesame, and then pan frying it to perfection was almost too much excitement to handle this weekend. I'd seen the recipe in Chatelaine and wanted to try it out as an appetizer because, who knows, maybe I'll serve it for Christmas this year. My family is half Middle-Eastern so I know it would be a big hit.

One word to the wise, though. Make sure if you are serving these crispy little cubes before supper that you eat light afterwards. I ate my share of these bites and then was unable to touch my dinner.  Fried cheese is delicious but filling as heck. This popular cheese from Cyprus has a high melting point which makes it ideal for heat. Serve with a bit of drizzled honey or honey on the side to cut the saltiness. We paired these bites with a nice white wine from Galillee.

Sesame-Covered Halloumi Bites -recipe adapted from Chatelaine

Ingredients

I pckg of Halloumi cheese, cut into small cubes

1/2 cup of sesame seeds or enough to coat your pieces

1/2 cup of flour or enough to coat your pieces

A generous amount of sesame oil to coat frying pan

1 egg

2-3 tbsp of honey to serve

Instructions

1- Prepare cut cheese on one plate. Prepare another small plate with flour, and one with sesame seeds. 

2-in a shallow bowl, crack your egg and beat lightly.  Take your pieces of cheese, one by one, and coat in flour.  After coating in flour, dip each piece of cheese into the egg and then coat in sesame seeds.

3-Once all pieces are generously coated in both flour and sesame seeds, heat your oil on medium heat and pan-fry the pieces until golden brown on all sides. This process should take a couple of minutes only. Pieces should look crisp but not burnt.

4-Serve with drizzled honey, or your choice of dipping sauces. If you have any left over you can also serve in a salad. Enjoy!

Does Absence Really Make The Adult Heart Grow Fonder?

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The next couple of weeks of my life will be celebrating milestones and reunions.  There will be a dinner with a friend whose recently became a home owner, followed by my eight year anniversary with my boyfriend, and then a visit from my mom in early November.

It seems that much of my adult life recently has been lived in the anticipation of seeing people again, people who a mere decade ago or less were either right around the corner from me or living under the same roof. Unlike many of my friends, I never lived away from home during undergrad or took a semester abroad. It was only later on, during my Masters, that I resided in Ontario while my family and boyfriend remained in Quebec.  I think the result is that many of my amigos had an earlier taste of freedom, and the challenges that sometimes accompany it, than I did.

A perpetual late bloomer, I feel like the past few years have been a tardy onset of learning how to fend for myself in the great big world.  I've felt this most acutely with my parents. I often wondered if I remained in Montreal and tried to build a life for myself there, would I run to their house each time I had a hiccup or felt discouraged?  As it is, they are the first people I call in times of doubt. Although even in that respect, I like to think that I've gotten better at consoling myself.

My mom's impending visit, and my excitement around it, have got me thinking of the pros and cons of living away from one's immediate family.  It helps that we are six hours apart and not overseas, but I still wonder if quality really trumps quantity. I know that if I was still living in Montreal I'd probably be over every Sunday for dinner (at the very least) but would I be as jazzed to see her as I am now? 

Would I be working on an itinerary for what to do on our visit with such fervor, making sure that we hit all the places that I've wanted to share with her, the tastes, sounds, sights, that make Toronto more than just an alien city to me? 

I don't really have an answer quite yet.  All I know is that in the absence of physical proximity to my family, I sure think about them a lot more.  My mom, my dad, my brother and sister-in law, and of course the family pets.  I wonder whether I'll look back on these years and think that it was a mistake to live so far away from them, or that it was exactly what I needed to see them with the amount of love, respect and individuality that each one of them deserves. To see us each as separate but together and bound by deeper ties than just an area code.