On Traveling, Toronto and Ghost Towns

 

If the city of Toronto and I had a relationship status it would be, “it’s complicated.”

November 11th, 2017 marked the 6th year anniversary of my move back to the west coast and yet, whenever I meet anyone new, one of the first things they always ask me is, “do you miss Toronto?”

After years of having to answer this question, I’ve perfected my answer.

I miss my friends. I miss eating at my favorite Nicaraguan restaurant. I miss the diversity and being able to get almost any kind of food, any time of day (like 24hr Jamaican takeout). I miss walking down Queen St West on a sunny day. Sometimes I miss the nightlife (although I doubt I could still keep up with my old party schedule). But do I actually miss living in the city? Not really.

When I moved to BC, I traded the excitement and conveniences of big city life for a more balanced lifestyle. Things are better for me here. I’m healthier, I’m less anxious and I’m generally happier.

I haven’t been to Toronto for a proper visit in 6 years and don’t really feel sad about it.

After years of going back and forth to see my family, I’d rather spend my money traveling to places that I haven’t been before. Besides, it’s cheaper for me to fly to LA than it is for me to go to Toronto — and you know how much me and Joe the Intern love The California.

(Besides, people should come visit me. We have the warmest weather in Canada. And beaches. And fresh sushi for days. I mean, it’s pretty fucking rad here.)

This is what I tell people, but the truth is more complicated.

Toronto gave me a lot of things. Wonderful friendships. Love. Awesome professional connections. Assertiveness, drive, ambition and the ability to hustle.

However, Toronto was also the site of a lot of soul crushing, worst-moments-of-my-life, heartbreak. My last two trips there were bitter sweet. I had a wonderful time catching up with friends, but it also felt like memories and reminders were around every corner.

Toronto isn’t the big, bad, concrete jungle that a lot of Canadians make it out to be. It’s a great city. Really. But going back there is emotionally complicated for me. I know I’ll eventually come visit Toronto, but for now I’d rather travel to places where I don’t have to deal with the same kinds of uncomfortable feelings.

I used to wonder if my aversion to Toronto was all in my head, until this past October when I missed my flight home from Cancun (police incident on the freeway) and found myself in T.O for an unexpected ten hour layover.

I thought of calling one of my close friends to stay with her, but she now lives in Newmarket and it wouldn’t be worth the long drive. Instead, I went to apply for a hotel voucher from the airline. Half an hour later, I was settled into a grim airport hotel where everything was a faded brown hue, including the stained carpet.

Maybe it was the jet lag or the shock of finding myself removed from the high-voltage colors of Mexico, but when I pulled back those beige filmy curtains and looked out the floor to ceiling windows of my hotel room, I was struck by something.

This is not my home anymore and I don’t want to be here.

The feeling was so intense that it contributed to my decision to decline a work opportunity that would bring me back to Toronto the following week. On the flight home the next day, I felt a huge sense of relief as soon as the Pacific Ocean came into sight.

This is all to say that it’s okay to know what feels like home and what doesn’t. It’s okay to protect your emotional well-being. Don’t feel guilty about any of it.

That isn’t to say that the city of Toronto and I aren’t on speaking terms.

Between four red-eye flights to the Caribbean over the past four months, Toronto and I have cobbled together a new relationship of sorts. It involves groggy 4am breakfast sandwiches at Tim Hortons, followed by a lengthy browse through the Jo Malone duty free shop (aka heaven) — a ritual I now look forward to every time I pass through YYZ.

There’s lots of friends to hug, babies to meet and new homes to celebrate, so I know I’ll eventually make it back to Toronto for a visit sometime in the near future, but for now “complicated” works for me.

On Money, Goals & Guilt

(Photo credit)

It’s been a few months since I shared my plans for the New Year and wrote about some of my regrettable purchases from the prior twelve months, so I thought it was time to check in.

I chose the word “Shift” as my theme for 2017 because I want to make some dramatic shifts with my career, finances and personal life. Of all the annual theme words I’ve chosen over the past five years, this is probably the one that’s resonated the most with me. Whenever I’m making a decision – however small- the word pops into my head and I ask myself, “is this choice going to shift me in the direction I want to go?” Even though I still make choices that aren’t always in line with my goals (eating that bag of Doritos, taking a cab when I could take the bus, buying that pair of shoes) because I’m an imperfect human being, thinking about shifting has at least made me more conscientious about my actions and what effect they may have long term.

Plus, as I’ve learned, change happens in small increments. Progress isn’t always visible right away. It’s cumulative.

So, how am I doing with my goals and intentions? Let’s recap.

Be Frugal.

At the beginning of the year I made a “no buy list.”

I also challenged myself to not purchase any new clothing items until at least May. The only category I really followed through on was not purchasing books (more on that in a second!) I did alright with the other items: Makeup (I spent $10 on a Nyx liquid shadow), Art (I more or less avoided any art binges, but I did spend $30 on an autographed Erykah Badu print I saw on eBay) and I bought my Mom and I matching George Michael pins for mother’s day ($30). However, the “no clothing and shoe purchases” rule was an epic failure. I bought some shoes. I bought some clothes. I replaced some basics. I felt varying degrees of guilt about almost all of it.

But then I had a moment the other day. It was right after I paid off the entirety of my two credit cards. For the first time in a few years, I’m completely free of commercial debt. So, apparently I must have done something right the past few months.

I’m still sticking to the no new makeup or book purchases rule, but I’m allowing myself to buy a few things as long as I’m still prioritizing putting money into savings every month. 

Wear the lipstick and earrings.

This is going well…I guess? I bought a couple of new earring & necklaces sets when H&M and Forever21 had a 70% off sale and have been experimenting with those. Still rocking a bold lip. Not everyday, but often enough.

Learn to cook something new every month.

This has been touch and go. While I’ve learned how to make Ropa Vieja (Cuban beef) and perfected my plantain frying skills, I think the goal should actually be: just cook more at home, period.

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Get to Wardrobe Zero.

This is going well. Although I’ve added some things to my wardrobe, I’ve pulled out an equal or greater number of items to be donated or sold. Wardrobe zero, here I come!

Get to Bookshelf Zero.

When I did my taxes a few weeks ago, I was shocked and kind of appalled at how much I spent on books in 2016. I’m not even going to give you a number. Long story short, I feel like I’ve done really well with this goal. Out of the 25 books I’ve read in 2017 so far, I only purchased two of them as e-books. The rest have been from my TBR pile or the library. I also spent $10 on another Prince coffee table book because, reasons. Overall, so much better than last year. I might even challenge myself to not buy anymore books for the remainder of the year….

PS. Are we friends on Goodreads?

Get to Beauty Zero.

With the exception of an overpriced container of Kevin Murphy curl cream that I’m not really feeling (#regretpurchase), I haven’t added any new products to my beauty arsenal.

Fitness Goals.

I’m still doing pole classes and still loving it. New fitness goals: be able to do the splits again and get to the point where I’m not self-conscious about wearing a sports-bra as a shirt at the gym. I imagine this will involve a combination of even more core work & some self-acceptance. Stay tuned.

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Be Limitless.

I struggled with this one. After crashing and burning in April (brought on by trying to do too many things at once) and having a major crisis of faith (should I even be a writer?) I realized I do have limits. I’m most effective when I’m focusing on one or two big goals. As my writing coach recently told me, “your priorities are an asset.” In other words, I’m capable of doing all the things but not all at the same time. Right now I’m all about working on my book, staying fit and being frugal, so I’m just going to focus on that. The ballet, cooking, crafting and learning to drive will just have to wait.

This is all to say that making sustainable changes takes time. Even if you feel like you’re failing, stop and do the math –  there’s probably a few things you are doing right. Focus on those and keep moving forward. At least that’s what I’m trying to remember these days. 

How are you doing?


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My Bummer-Proof Guide to Getting The Most out of 2017

 

The world may be going to hell in a knock-off handbag, but I’m determined to make the most out of 2017 no matter what.

In December I participated in Molly Mahar’s Stratejoy Holiday Council for the 4th year in a row. I love the Holiday Council – it’s  a great way to wrap up the past year and plan for the one ahead. The course encourages everyone to pick a theme word for the year and five “ways of being” that embody your theme.

The theme I chose for 2017 is shift While there’s lots of things I love about my life, there’s certain pivots I want to make in both my personal and professional life for 2017. I want to expand my career, save money & finally move back into an apartment/home of my own.

To make my goals happen I’ve chosen these five ways of being in 2017:

BE PERSISTENT

Stop letting myself off the hook. Give fear the middle finger & persistently pursue my goals. Embrace positive forward progress over perfection.

BE BAD-ASS

Wear more red lipstick. Tell brave stories. Show confidence. Remind myself regularly that I’ve ‘totally got this.’

BE FRUGAL

Both in time and money. Use the library & public transit more. Spend mindfully. Save for a rainy day. Use what I’ve got at my disposal instead of giving in to instant gratification.

BE CONNECTED

Use social media to connect instead of distract. Do activities that get me out of my comfort zone and allow me to connect with my community, both online & in person. Write about things that will be helpful to other people.

BE LIMITLESS

Go big. Do the thing. Shift forward into fulfilling my goals. Know that there’s no cap on what I can do.

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Speaking of bad-ass, if you haven’t checked out my friend Casey Palmer‘s blog you should. Not only is Casey a top-notch Dad & all around human, I’m continually impressed with how much he does while juggling a career/fatherhood/marriage & blogging. Case and point: every year he posts a list of 100 things he wants to accomplish in the 12 months ahead.

As a naturally anxious person, just the idea of a 100 item to-do list is enough to give me heart palpitations, so I decided to be uber realistic and make a list of 12 things I’d like to do in 2017. One for every month.

1. Wear the lipstick and earrings.

When you work from home it’s so easy to fall into a fashion rut. But I’ve noticed that my friend Kate (who also works at home) is always posting photos where she looks super cute in fun jewelry & gorgeous lipstick. I have fun jewelry and lots of lipstick…I could do this too! So, my intention is to actually make it happen: wear my nice clothes, accessories and a bold lip even though I mostly just work out of coffee shops.

2. Get to Wardrobe Zero.

What exactly is wardrobe zero? Good question. For most of my adult life I’ve always had a large rubbermaid bin of clothes that are either off season (i.e. sweaters, bikinis) or need to be sold or donated. This bin sits in storage and takes up space. While I like the idea of creating a capsule wardrobe, it’s not realistic for me. Instead, I’d like to get to the point where everything I own fits in one smallish closet – in other words, a closet without waste aka “wardrobe zero.” If I can see everything I have in one place, I’m hoping this will discourage me from accumulating items I don’t need. I have one more bag full of items to consign in May and then I’ll officially be at wardrobe zero. Wahoo!

3. Get to Beauty Zero.

I did this about 5 years ago and it was so rewarding. Basically this just means using through all the products I have (including samples!) so I can get a better handle on what I actually use and like, so I can get away from buying products that I just end up abandoning in favour of more new products. Who needs 8 different kinds of shampoo in my shower? Not me.

4. Get to Bookshelf Zero.

I have a bad habit of stockpiling books. In an effort to embrace frugality this year I’m working towards bookshelf zero. This means reading everything in my to-read pile before buying more books. If I’m feeling particularly motivated, I might even start to tackle the 30+ books on my e-reader! If I manage to stick to this goal I’m treating myself to a hard copy of Roxane Gay’s Difficult Women.

5. Learn to cook something new every month.

[2/12 COMPLETE] Every year I say I’m going to cook more and every year this goal falls to the wayside. I decided to be super realistic this year. If I can learn one new dish per month, I’ll be happy. So far I’ve taught myself to make KimChi fried rice and Cajun Dirty Rice. Yes, things are still pretty rice-y around here, but it’s a start.

6. Take pole dance classes.

[IN PROGRESS!] I’ve wanted to take pole classes forever – because, who doesn’t want to spin and hang upside down while Rihanna plays in the background? I took an intro class in January and fell in love. It’s now been about six weeks of classes and I have the inner thigh bruises to prove it.

7. Take ballet classes again.

 This is next on the docket after I finish up the next round of pole classes.

8. Get my drivers license.

Jeebus, it’s time. I keep saying this, but let 2017 be the year I finally cross this off my list.

9. Publish at least 3-5 articles in American outlets.

After taking the Pitch Like a Honey Badger course, I finally found the courage to pitch some of my dream publications. If you’re a freelance writer and want to expand into new markets I highly recommend this course!

10. My own apartment.

 This is one of my top goals for the year (along with some big professional ones.) Real estate prices are insane here and rents are on the rise, but I’m hoping that with the help of this Pinterest board that I obsessively update, I can manifest the hell out of this goal and find the perfect place.

11. Get my Barre certification.

[MAY 2017] Over the past few years I’ve become addicted to barre fitness to the point where I’ve toyed with the idea of getting my certification to teach. There’s a course happening in May. Depending on my work schedule, I’d really like to take it. This is kind of a stretch goal: if it happens, it happens but if it doesn’t, I’m not going to beat myself up about it.

12. Get crafty.

This is another stretch goal, but I’d really like to follow through on turning Joe’s handsome mug into some large scale art prints like I mentioned in this post. I’d also like to create an album(s) of my favourite Instagrams from my two California trips. It wasn’t until I saw this post on A Beautiful Mess that I remembered how much I miss having actual photo albums to look through. Phones are great, but it would be nice to have hard copies of all of these photos.

What do you have on deck for 2017? Share one of your goals for this year in the comments!

How to Create The Perfect Reading Nook With O.co

You may have noticed that things look a bit different around here! I’ve been craving a different look for this site for a while now, so yesterday I made the jump and changed things up. I’m kind of in love with the new design!

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about self-care.

When the term “self-care” started to make the rounds in the popular lexicon, I initially envisioned sepia hued scenes featuring lengthy candle-lit bubble baths, cucumber slices delicately placed on eyelids and gallons of herbal tea – all set to an Enya soundtrack.

My reaction was, “ain’t nobody got time for that” and “Enya? Really?”

I knew that self-care was important, but the more I was reminded that I wasn’t doing these things that everyone told me I should be doing, the more I felt like I was failing at being an adult human.

What I didn’t understand, was that not everyone’s approach to self-care is going to look the same.

For example, I love to read – especially new fiction and memoirs by female writers. I used to think my obsession with books was just that – but I’ve learned is that it’s so much more. I read every weekend morning and every night before bed. It’s not only an enjoyable hobby – it’s become part of my own self-care ritual. I go to the gym and do other things to look after myself but reading is always a constant.

Taking time to slow down and treat myself to new stories, perspectives and ideas, feels incredible. As someone with a naturally anxious mind, reading is my go-to reset button. Whenever things get foggy in my brain, I can always focus on someone else’s words. Re-set. Repeat. Plus, reading voraciously helps me grow as a writer.

I love the idea of having a specific area in my home to enjoy books (although, let’s face it – I read everywhere: the sofa, in bed, on my patio..) To my delight, the lovely people over at Overstock have once again stepped in to help me create the perfect reading nook in my home office/bedroom.

Because I’m all about keeping things budget friendly, I used some pieces I already had from O.co and mixed them with new items to create (what I think) is a pretty cozy nook in the corner of my office.

Here are some of my ingredients for the perfect reading nook.

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A comfortable chair.

This is going to be different for everyone. But, I decided to go with this Eames style armchair from O.co that I already had in my office, with the plan to upgrade to something more plush when I have a bit more square footage. 

Good Lighting

Even if you’re reading on a back-lit e-reader, good lighting is key. I’m a big fan of floor lamps. For my reading nook I chose this Catalina Chrome Arc Floor Lamp. I love the look of this lamp in person, but as you can see from the photo below, it’s much bigger than I expected (that’s what she said!) It’s a bit too big for the room and I’m pretty sure if I stay seated under it long enough I’m going to get beamed into space, but I love it and I’m excited to use it as over-the-sofa lighting in a different space. 

Glam Ottoman

There’s something really nice about being able to kick your feet up. I was so excited when I found the perfect Moroccan style Ottoman for my space. The gold leather adds a dramatic pop and doubles as a side table where I could rest a tray or a small stack of books. I’m kind of obsessed. 

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Luxurious Textures

The perfect reading nook needs to have a certain degree of coziness. I’m all about adding luxurious textures to your space. My go-to white mid-century chair got 110% more comfy when I draped this New Zealand Sheepskin Throw across it’s back.

Coffee

Always.

Great Reading Material

If summer had a literary theme, it would be “the summer Simone read all the female memoirs.” I really enjoyed This is Not my Beautiful Life by Victoria Fedden and am looking forward to picking up Jessi Klein’s You’ll Grow Out of It in the near future.

Unplug

Grab a good book, some coffee and unplug! Although I like to keep my iPhone handy so I can update my Goodreads account and take #bookstagrams of whatever I’m reading, I try to keep my reading time as free of tech as possible. Taking some time to unplug from your phone is an act of self-care in and of itself.

Et voila! 

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As you can see, the scale isn’t exactly perfect but everything is versatile and I’m excited to use all of these pieces when I move into a new space.

What do you guys think?!

Thanks to O.co for making this post happen. An alternate version appeared recently on the Huffington Post. I received all the items free of charge in exchange for my honest assessment of the product.

Why I Stopped Drinking & Started Buying Art Instead

I have a complicated relationship with alcohol. While I really enjoy a good craft cocktail or glass of wine every now and then, there’s been times when alcohol wreaked havoc on my life – namely my early 20’s when I used booze to self-medicate; drinking myself into oblivion on a regular basis. It wasn’t that I couldn’t stop drinking – I didn’t want to. I liked the feeling of being out of control. However, after a lot of soul searching, growth and (let’s be real) therapy, I’m much better at setting healthy boundaries.

Although I can have one or two drinks and stop – the urge to just keep drinking is still there (& probably always will be) and it’s unnerving. Last year I slipped back into my old habits for a month and frankly, it scared me. So, combine that with the fact that booze makes me feel terrible in the morning (hangovers when you’re 30+ are no joke); it’s just easier to avoid drinking.

Lately I’m like the opposite of a Drake song: I’ve been working hard, wearing more clothes and going out less. 

The upside of not going for drinks and/or buying wine on a regular basis is that it’s freed up some money to put towards other pursuits – like building up a small art collection. I’m not yet at the place yet where I can buy a lot of original art works (unless they’re made by family members) but I have been investing in prints of pieces I really love.

My taste is art is pretty eclectic, but I’ve noticed that I tend to be drawn to pieces that are bright, modern, pop-art influenced and/or California-esque. I love images of influential women, men, palm trees and pools. Always lots of pools (I blame my grandparents.) Anything quirky and colourful is also fair game.

Here’s some of the artists I’m really into lately.

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M. Tony Peralta of The Peralta Project  is a New York born artist that “mixes New York City Latino grit with hip-hop culture to create designs that resonate with people from all walks of life.” The result is art that’s bright, pop-y and irreverant. I just purchased this Frida Con Rolos print and am eyeing up his take on another icon: Selena. He also makes pins & a host of other clothing + accessories!

ki arens prints

Kii Arens is an American contemporary graphic designer, pop-artist best known for his concert prints. He’s created visuals for everyone from Diana Ross to Radiohead. I discovered his work on Instagram and fell in love with his Sade & Lauryn Hill prints (two of my all time favourites.) I visited his LA LA LAND gallery when I was in LA and was able to pick up both for my collection.

Scott listfield prints

Scott Listfield is another artist I love. I discovered his astronaut paintings on Pinterest and have been obsessed ever since. His work is full of pop culture references that beautifully illustrate the feeling of being alive in this time and place – connected yet disconnected. Also, I discovered that he has a painting named Simone (!!!) and used to carry around a small plastic dinosaur (a la Joe the Intern) whenever he’d travel – so, basically I have a major artist-soul-crush on him. I recently added the pieces above to my collection.

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I also really enjoy the work of LA-based illustrator Chris Turnham. His work focuses on everyday scenes around Los Angeles that aren’t typically illustrated – like the 6th street viaduct. All of his illustrations have an authentic dusty, smoggy quality. I have his Two Palms (above) but I’m dying to get my hands on his Yuca’s Taco stand print. As someone who recently spent 12 days in LA eating almost nothing but tacos, it feels very…essential. 

Screen Shot 2016-08-03 at 1.04.25 PMMy current big ticket dream purchase? This oversized print by photographer Max Wanger, appropriately titled “The Dip.” Someday it will be mine. Oh yes, someday it will be mine.

In the meantime, I’ve decided to shift my focus to making some art myself. Ever since I saw Judy Ragagli’s work in Palm Springs, I’ve been toying with the idea of turning some of Joe the Intern’s photographs into full sized art pieces.  So, I was happy when the team at BestCanvas.ca got in touch with me. BestCanvas.ca takes your favourite photos and turns them into canvas prints. Whether it’s photos of your wedding, vacation, pets or (in my case) a very muscly GI Joe, BestCanvas.ca transforms your favourite memories into ready to hang art for your home.

When I told Joe about my plans to immortalize his image on canvas, he responded with his own set of demands. (“My one request is that you prominently display my image in a place of leisure – preferably over the bed.”) Joe and I don’t always agree about everything.

While I won’t be hanging Joe’s anywhere in my bedroom (I’m really trying not to alienate future suitors), I do think there’s potential to make some great wall art.

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(photo credit)

What do you guys think?!

This post was brought to you by BestCanvas.ca. All views are my own because that’s how I roll. Thanks for supporting posts that support Skinny Dip. 

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