Thursday, December 10, 2015

My Christmas Miracle

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus and he came a little early to my house this year. There is little I can say that can convey how thrilled I am about my new kitchen, so I will let the photos speak for themselves. I still have to install the window treatment, so the window is currently bare, but I just couldn't wait to share the new space with all of you who have been following my renovation journey. 

In case you are skeptical of miracles, allow me to start with the BEFORE photo. You may change your mind. 

Kitchen BEFORE 
(not shown - a florescent overhead light-the only light)

Drum roll please.......

Flooring Detail

Pull-out Pantry (much needed)

Benchtop (countertop) Detail

This happened in six weeks. There are people to thank. Our cabinet maker, Brad Weis and his wife Sheree, who put up with my many detail changes during the planning stage and assured me the time-line was doable,  Steve's brother, Brad Shields, who is the electrical genius in the family and offered up his services at the family rate! Rob Griinke the builder who added a partition wall and seamlessly covered up all the old powerpoint holes in the walls and ceiling - I even forgive the drywall dust that still lingers! Thanks also to our very sweet and kind next door neighbour, Trudie, who provided a few home cooked dinners and volunteered to give the place a once over before I arrived home.

But most of all I want to thank my amazing, hardworking man, master of demolition, tiling, plumbing, painting and project management, Stephen Shields who managed to pull off this job in six short weeks motivated by a deadline, but more importantly, and this I know for sure, his desire to make a dream come true for first ever brand new kitchen designed by both of us and inspired by our favourite kitchen at Kyeema, our Fraser Island treehouse getaway where we have cooked and shared many memorable meals.  Thank you so much my darling, my Santa, my love. 

Manufacturer Credits
Cooker - Smeg (gas cooktop, electric oven)
Dishwasher - Bosch
Fridge - Samsung
Microwave - LG
Cabinetry - B.S. Weis Cabinets
Mixer - Gessi Emporio
Sink - Oliveri

Monday, November 16, 2015

Milestones and Memories

One of my favourite mother/daughter movie scenes
from Easy A

I think typical milestones are often over rated. I know we all tend to remember the big birthdays, the weddings, the graduations and we have the photos to remind us as these are usually times when the cameras are flashing. We look back at the photos weeks , months and years later and pause and reflect. We remember the day, the weather, what we wore, who was in attendance and all those wonderful things. These are standard, typical passages of time that most of us, especially parents tend to celebrate with our kids. 

But I think there are other milestones. The less elaborate ones. Moments that become etched in our memory that are perhaps even more important in some ways. I experienced exactly such a moment this past weekend. It was the first time I witnessed my daughter in charge. For the first time in our 21 years together on this planet, it was she who took the reins. I was visiting her in her world. Her hood. She was my guide. She knew the Ottawa transit system, the names of the various neighbourhoods, the best spots for coffee, for vintage records, for bargain clothing shopping and she took me by the hand and led the way. It was a shift I will forever remember. Oddly, we did not take many photos, no selfies at all in fact. We just hung together, walked together, ate together, chilled together and neither of us felt the need to record it with our cameras. 

As you know, if you know me at all, I am a bit of a chronic capturer of images. What we did this weekend though was not all that photo worthy. It was really just memory worthy. We had a girly spa morning at the hotel. I put a colour rinse in her hair and shaped her brows. We ordered in Thai food on Saturday night and watched a movie together and laughed, a lot. We talked. We napped. We kind of just kept the schedule light and spontaneous. She got to meet an old high school girlfriend of mine and although she could have been bored with all the conversation that steadily tripped down memory lane, she was mature enough to realize that just being present and listening would likely let her in on some of her mother's past that until now she might not have known. (thank you Tracy for not telling her everything!).

I knew saying goodbye was coming this morning and I felt the emotion rising in me as early as last night. We don't have a date planned for our next visit. We won't have one planned until at least the new year and that is unsettling. The full-on Christmas decorations in the shops tugged at my heart and at least once I had to exit a shop before it became too much to bear. It is the one holiday that I find most difficult to navigate now that we are living on opposite sides of the globe. In many ways, I just wish it would disappear. There are way too many memories and far too much sentimentality attached to that time of year. I asked her if she was bothered by the fact that we would not be together again this year and as I searched her face and her eyes for any trace of emotion, she calmly told me she was not. It made me realize that it is not a problem for her, it is only a problem for me. So, if it is OK with her, maybe, just maybe, I can let go of this burden of guilt I heap upon myself every time I hear that damn Charlie Brown Christmas CD playing everywhere for what seems like the entire month of December. And, since it has always been our favourite yuletide music, maybe this year, I can listen to it and smile and think back to this past weekend and really feel OK, knowing she is perfectly OK.

That might be the second milestone of 2015.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Opening Pandora's Box

An opal ring flanked with two diamond chips. A silver palm tree charm. A vintage ivory necklace. A ruby and diamond bumble bee pin. A cabochon amethyst and diamond ring. Tiffany boxes filled with silver x's and o's. 

Jewelry I don't wear anymore. 

Jewelry that marks my relationship journey.

As I sifted through these remnants of my past last night, it took me to times and places of joy and sadness that I had not visited in awhile. These are bittersweet time travels. Recollections of happy times intertwined with heavy emotional decisions and conversations with the men who were significant in my life. Some, more so than others. 

None of the jewelry worked for me anymore. Some looked dull, some ill-fitting, some I once found beautiful, but now did not suit my tastes. I inspected each piece and recalled the moment I received it and how I felt when I wore it, before moving on to the next and the next and the next. There was a heaviness in my heart as I worked my way through this box that held these symbolic markers of my life's journey thus far. 

At the time, each piece was meaningful to me. Now, each piece is still meaningful, but in a different way.  They are reminders of who I was and where I have been and times of celebration  that I cherished before now.  As my life has changed and I have moved on, these remnants of past relationships remain. But they remain tucked away in a box, in a safe, with the bits of me that wore them then. I can't get rid of them. I don't really want to get rid of them. It would be like casting parts of myself away and even the parts that failed to succeed in love are some of the many bits that make me who I am today.

The woman that I am today is an accumulation of all those chunks of gold and silver and diamonds and gemstones that rest quietly in that box, influencing my choices and reminding me that I can and have gone on without them.

Even though they are locked away, I can always see them.

And I am grateful to have them.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

There's no Place like Home, There's no Place like Home

My new flag?

I have always been a morning person but since I moved to Australia, I am even more of an early riser. It is no doubt a combination of the hot weather and the kookaburras that start their laughing around 4:15 am and the fact that the sun goes down earlier than it does in Canada in the summer. In the peak of summer here, we start tennis at 6 am and by 8 am you are feeling the sun's bite and drenched in sweat. There is no other option than to play early. If you want to do any gardening, it has to be done at the crack of dawn as well. 

After two years I am sort of into a rhythm. I rarely stay up past 10 pm. If I have had a really physically active day, I am under the covers (or laying on top of them) by 9 pm. It won't be long before I have become my parents who are in bed by 7 and up at 4 (kid you not). Maybe it has something to do with aging. Frankly, in their case, I think it is just plain crazy. But, to each his own. I have never been a fan of getting up before the sun is at least threatening to appear.

I am telling you all these riveting facts as a lead in to what I really want to say today, which is how much I am going to miss my new home over the next 6-7 weeks. I am going to miss my avian wake-up call and observing the play of light on the palm fronds out my patio window and the grazing kangaroos up at the soccer field at the end of my street. After the many challenges that changing countries has presented to me, it occurred to me this morning that I finally feel settled here in the land down under and in this quirky small town I now call home. 

However, even though this is my new home, I still call Canada my real home. I have been telling people all week that I will be gone for a few weeks. The mother/daughter team at the local Organic Patch grocery shop, my tennis ladies, my hairdresser, my neighbours, the stall holders at the weekly markets and anyone else who has gotten used to seeing me regularly. I don't want anyone to think I have disappeared and that I will be back. 

For the next few weeks, I will be deer-spotting and quail watching in B.C. and playing the role of Great Aunt Deb. After that, I will be looking out for elks and big horn sheep near Calgary and Banff with my dear friend Patti before heading east to Ontario where with any luck I will spot some brilliant red cardinals and blue jays and some pesky raccoons. The days will be shorter and colder but my heart will be warmed with many hugs and time spent with my family and cherished friends. I might even get a glimpse of that cute new PM of ours when I spend a few days in Ottawa with my girl. I wonder if there will be Trudeau groupies hanging out on Parliament Hill? Am I too old to join them? 

I have two homes now. 

It is possible to love two places at the same time.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Laundry as Therapy

As the weather is starting to warm up here in Queensland, the renovation here at number 29 will be taking a hiatus...well, for me anyway. While I am in Canada for 6 weeks wondering why the hell I chose to come in November, the kitchen will be gutted and replaced in my absence. This seemed like a stroke of genius to me when we started to plan the timeline. Am I right ladies?

I will be packing away the dishes and pots and pans and all the other kitchen gear toward the end of this week. I will miss the dust and dirt and noise and chaos and come home to a brand new kitchen. That's the plan anyway. Tim the toolman here will set up a table with a microwave, a kettle and use the BBQ for cooking. The fridge will move to the dining area and it will not likely bother him one iota. I, on the other hand, would find it very disruptive. So, every time I start to whinge about the cold rainy November weather in Canada, I will remind myself that it beats living through a kitchen renovation in a heat wave. 

The house is transforming nicely. I will have 3 rooms left to tend to when I get back. My trip will also give me some more time to think about how and what I want to do with the remaining spaces. My sinuses need a break from drywall dust and my neck needs a break from painting ceilings. 

Oddly, as much as I am looking forward to seeing my family and friends, I am feeling sad about leaving my new home and life here. I am feeling quite settled here now and with that feeling come the routines and rituals of life that I love. Just yesterday as I stood at the kitchen window watching the freshly laundered sheets blowing in the breeze it made me smile to think how far I had come. When I first arrived here and saw that most people here in this town hung their laundry to dry outside, I was perplexed. Why don't they use dryers? But now that it is part of my domestic life here, I actually like it. There is a peaceful quiet zen like quality attached to this chore that I like. When my girl was here earlier this year, I watched as she awkwardly hung her laundry the first few times before she got the hang of it (pun intended). One day as I watched her, I noted she was very particular about matching the colour of the pegs for each item and it surprised me. I did not think that sort of thing would matter to her, but clearly it did as she would sort through the peg bucket looking for colours that matched. I tend to go with a multi-colour scheme, but not quite willy nilly. I like the peg  colours to compliment the colour of the item being hung. Call me anal, but it almost turns the activity into a creative exercise. 

The clothes smell so lovely - especially bedding and linens. There is always a chance the birds will make a mess, but so far it has only happened twice. Not bad considering it is an every other day event around here. There is a bit of an art to it as well. I try to balance the clothes to catch the sun or breezes in the most efficient manner. I turn black and brightly coloured clothing inside-out to protect it from fading and sheets are hung symmetrically in half to create a fold line later. When I step away from the chore, I position the Hill's Hoist facing the most practical direction and then watch as the first strong breeze mockingly spins it off course making me realize I really had no control in the first place. Mother Nature is in charge from that point forward. 

As I sit here writing this account of one of life's simple pleasures, the radio drones on in the background and I hear a story of a man being arrested for raping a 2 year old girl and it makes me wonder what happened in the early life of the rapist that led him to commit such a sick and depraved crime. 

My guess is he never derived any joy from hanging laundry.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Ready for Check-In

There was a day when I dreaded Mondays. That was back in the days when it meant the start of a new work week and going to a job I despised. All that has changed now and Mondays are generally relished. It is catch up day, blog day, quiet day after a busy get the picture. This renovation that has been on the agenda non-stop since early September is well underway and the weekends are big days of productivity since my resident handyman is available for two solid days to tackle all the jobs that I need help with and require skills I do not have. I feel so lucky to have him.

We were on a mission to finish off the guest room makeover this past weekend and I am happy to say, mission accomplished. There are a few finishing touches to complete, but I reckoned it was ready for the reveal. You would think that a simple small 10 x 10 room would be a quick fix, but it took almost two solid weeks of effort to pull it together. It had been pretty neglected and every square inch of the space needed attention. If I had to compare it to something or someone, I would have called it Pigpen...the character from the Peanuts comics. The old wardrobe was past it's prime, in disrepair and way over-scaled for the room, the carpet was gritty underfoot, the walls were desperate for fresh paint, the windows were dirty, the old blue vertical blinds were; well, old BLUE vertical blinds, the ceiling fan was an old clunker of a thing and at some point the resident child had stickered it with stars and it was BROWN. Everything had to change.

It is the first room off the living area heading down the hall, so I decided to carry the paint colours from there into it as well. Two reasons for that are that I wanted it to flow from one part of the house to the next and more importantly, I had leftover paint. We demolished the wardrobe and pitched it piece by piece out the window. It was not worth saving or trying to repair and it took up nearly a quarter of the space. Despite storage being an issue in this house, it was not really all that necessary in a guest room. It would also allow me to change up the floor plan and move the bed against a different wall so whomever is laying in the bed can enjoy the view out the window from a more comfortable angle. Hmmm, maybe a new place for my siestas!

Guest Room Before

For the record, this photo above here actually looks better than the room did. The doors of the wardrobe were already off when I snapped this beauty and of course you cannot see the dirt in detail. So, once the room was emptied and blinds removed, the work began. It took me a whole day just to prep the walls and fill all the holes from previous hangings and wash it all down with sugar soap and hot water. We took the old ceiling fan down and as it was on its last legs and we decided to economize by moving the old living room fan in there after a sanding and fresh coat of black spray paint. I love it when we can re-use or re-purpose with a good result. The ceiling, walls and trim painting took a few days and once that was done, rather than rip out the old carpet, I decided to see if steam cleaning it would bring it back to life for awhile yet. I actually liked the carpet, a simple camel coloured Berber, a classic really, and I have always liked grey flannel and camel together. It is a great spillover from the fashion world into interior decoration. I also happen to know that it is a great colour for hiding dirt. It had been years since I had hired a steam cleaner and done carpets myself, but it was well worth the effort and the carpet really came up nicely. It was worth saving. My back did not really agree, but she got over it in a couple days.

My next challenge was to try and figure out a way to provide at least some storage. With Ikea nearly 4 hours from here, that was out of the question and the local Bunnings (the Home Depot of Australia) did not have any flat pack wardrobes that I liked. As I was leaving Bunnings, disappointed in their selection, I happened upon a display of metal cabinets that looked sort of like tall narrow school lockers. They had a hanging bar, 3 shelves and were nearly the exact shade of grey of my trim paint. We were going for a bit of an industrial chic look here, so my design radar was activated immediately. I figured if it did not work in the room, it would work in the garage, so it was worth a go. At $129 it was also well within the budget. Between that, a row of hooks on the wall and a small chest of drawers, that should be plenty of stow space for a weekend stay for most visitors.

Tim the tool man here had that locker put together in no time and it snugged into the corner perfectly. The new blinds were sized and mounted, the new/old black ceiling fan installed and the furniture moved back in all by late afternoon Sunday, our self-imposed deadline. While all this was going on, the ex-owner of this house showed up at the front door with a cheque for us as we had overpaid on the rent prior to buying the place. I invited her in to see the progress thus far and she was pretty impressed. We were doing all the things to the place that she had always wanted to do one day. It got me to thinking how that is exactly what happened to my old house in Toronto after we sold it. I was so thrilled to see my old house transformed and now here I was transforming her old house. 

Kind of like dreams being paid forward. I like that.

Guest Room After

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

She Cleaned up Nicely

Living in a small house feels really great for me at this stage in my life. I  love the fact that there are no stairs or multi bathrooms to clean. One level navigating is such a breeze. In this part of the world it also means there is no basement, so the challenge is storage and the fact that everything is in sight including the laundry room. It forces you to get organized and keep hording at bay.

It also means that everything that once got relegated to the basement, now gets relegated to the garage (shed in Australian). Since most sheds here in small town Queensland are not much more than a giant metal building lurking somewhere in the back yard, they are not the most convenient spot to store anything you actually care about. Sure, they are great for tools and garden gear and your car, but they are not airtight or temperature controlled, so they get extremely hot inside. There is also the added feature of scurrying geckos and spiders and all things creepy and crawly (waiting for the day when I see a snake curled up on my car hood (bonnet in Australian). Whenever I do retrieve a box or something from the shed, I carefully inspect the item for life forms. It keeps me on my toes I suppose. That sounds better than freaked out Canadian on constant vigil for Huntsman spiders.

But, back to the small space challenge. The laundry area in this house is also the back entrance to the house and serves as the pantry and linen closet and is adjacent to the toilet (water closet), so you can see that it is a high traffic zone here at Deb and Steve's Tropical Oasis. It was also tied for first place with the kitchen for the most dated and ugly space in the house. It also seemed like a good place to begin renovating. There was nothing we could do with the actual physical space in terms of expanding it, but there was plenty we could do to improve the use of what space was available. There was room to add shelving and closed storage and with a few repairs to the floor and fresh paint, new lighting, new door hardware, updated taps and a new laundry sink, it could certainly be revived and transformed into a more functional and visually pleasing zone in our humble abode. 


The highly visible location and high traffic zone in this house has gone from dingy and utilitarian to fresh and clean and functional with a bit of added kitsch that definitely agrees with my positive chi now. What was once an eyesore and a room that I hoped people would not notice is now a space that actually feels happy to me.


Let's just hope a Huntsman family doesn't want to move in to new digs. 

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Double Blinded

It was a pretty productive but exhausting weekend here at number 29. The painting of the living and dining rooms got finished and new blinds installed (good riddance BLUE verticals), the long-delayed stainless steel backsplash in the laundry was erected and a new pendant light over the dining table was connected. Sounds like simple tasks...however, we have learned that nothing is as simple as it seems here at Deb and Steve's tropical oasis.

I had received a quote from a window covering company here in town and not only was the price high, the delivery time was 4-6 weeks which would have meant putting the old blue blinds back up on my newly painted architraves and so I decided to go the quicker less expensive route and buy ready made shades and install them myself. Sounds great in theory, right? After all, my windows are standard sizes and I live with the handiest man I know. Although the shades came in the right widths for my windows, they would not fit with the brackets on an inside mount. This was tantamount to the look I wanted. I had painstakingly painted all the window trims out in a dark grey (Taubmans Grey Moggy), hoping to achieve a framed portrait effect when looking out at the tropical foliage and distant bushland. They would need to be cut. So, each roller shade had to be carefully disassembled completely, hardware hack sawed to size, fabric measured and precisely trimmed, then reassembled, x2 for each window as I had chosen double day and night shades. We cleared the dining room floor to make a space large enough to conduct this operation and after  5 hours of measuring twice, cutting once and crawling around the porcelain tile floor on our hands and knees, we had beautiful custom fit window treatments for about a third of the cost of contracting them out. 

Next up, bunging up the backsplash  (splashback if you are Australian). This was not too difficult other than the fact that one of the cut out holes for the plumbing was a bit tight, so we had to grind out the steel a bit. Once that was done, we adhered it to the wall and it quickly cemented itself to the drywall. Affixing the taps would be a cinch we reckoned. Think again. One thing we are learning quickly as we renovate is "never assume". The faucet and taps we purchased and installed for the washing machine matched the ones we were about to install on the laundry tub. (You may recall my reference to them as the jewels of the room - like Paloma Picasso X's). However, these were a bit different...NOT what we assumed!  So, had we checked the fit prior to sticking the Stainless Steel on the wall, we could have solved the installation easy as. But now, we had no room to manoeuvre through the steel wall and there was no way we wanted to rip it off now. The tool necessary to do the job was unavailable yesterday, so today as I write this blog, the laundry room tap installation is incomplete and awaiting the arrival of my handiest of men to bring home the tools for the job later today.

The third renovation task of the weekend went smoother than the first two but not entirely as we had hoped either. We knew going in that the dining room light fixture was not going to hang centered over the table, but we are a hopeful pair and so we forged ahead "just to see" how off it would look. I believe his words were - "the light is great darl, but the position is a bloody shocker, eh?" I agreed and made a mental note that some of my Canadianisms were rubbing off on him. Eh?

A new ceiling fan was on the agenda for the lounge room, but by the time we got to number 4 on our list, a quick read of the installation instructions calling for something necessary that neither of us had ever heard of, forced us to surrender for the weekend and as it was getting damn close to wine o'clock, we put that job on the list for the electrician that needs to come and move the junction box in the dining room and move a few power outlets. 

As I sit here at my dining table looking at the dividing line between the  kitchen that is still in it's original state and the dining room in it's fresh new look, I can see how far our humble abode has come in the last few weeks. I would love to "assume" the kitchen renovation will be completed by the time I get back from Canada in December but we all know that assumptions can often make an ass out of u and me.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Doors

Out with the old

Aahh yes, THE DOORS! And I ain't talkin about Jim Morrison. Mind you, it was not unlike being a rider on the storm this weekend as the re-hanging of the interior doors that I expected would take a couple of hours max, turned into an all day event on Saturday. Did I mention how much I love renovating? 

I took the time to remove all the interior doors and hinges and door handles so I could sand and paint and replace the hardware. For the last 10 days the doors have been on saw horses out on my patio undergoing a transformation. Sanding. Priming. Two coats of paint. Both sides. I was so stoked to see them back in place in their new shining glory. The new stainless steel hinges were screwed on and as it really is a two person job, Saturday was the big day. We carefully carried each one to its original home and reattached them to the freshly painted architraves. As we swung each one to check the fit, it was as though the doors had been on a 10 day cruise feasting and drinking and putting on the mandatory 5-8 pounds. They would not close. They crowded the stops. How could this be? We bought the exact same hinge size...or so we thought. When we held a new hinge up to an original hinge we discovered the problem. The space between the pin and the plate was off by a couple of mm. Hardly noticeable at all, but enough to cause the newly mounted doors to resist closing. 

So, we had a couple of options. Move the stops further on the jambs and ruin my brand new paint job that took two weeks, or move the screw holes over on each door. The latter seemed like a less invasive procedure, but it required major doctoring, as the holes only needed to move a little bit meaning the old holes would need filling. We were off to our second home to get more supplies. I knew I should have bought shares in Bunnings before we started this journey! So, we had to put some wood and glue in a total of 24 holes, let it dry and re-drill new holes. Hence, a two hour job took all day. We reminded each other that we were experiencing mere first world problems but it was still frustrating and by the time beer o'clock rolled around we were more than ready since the fit was only one problem.

The striker plates for the new handles were a different size than the original plates. On Saturday we re-mounted the old plates so the doors would close and decided to search out replacement plates another day. On Sunday we were back at Bunnings - they know us on a first name basis there now, and were thrilled to find the same size plates in a matching finish...but only 3 out of 4. Surely no one will notice that one is shiny chrome and not brushed nickel. We could turn it into a game, like those "find the difference" photos in magazines that I used to love as a kid. 

This is why I still do not have a before and after shot again today. No one space is complete yet. I do have a before and after of the hardware and doors, which is a pretty good sample of the contrast between old and new. The doors all work now and they look fresh and updated and now I can leave the confines of the hallway and move into the lounge room with my paint brushes and rollers. The laundry room is still waiting on the stainless steel backsplash and shelving to be installed. The backsplash is more than a week late as the fabricator is suddenly swamped with work and our small job likely got moved to the bottom of the priority list. 

In with the new

My plan is to live with the simplicity of the plain white doors in the hallway for a bit and then decide if I think they need to be embellished with some decorative trim application down the road. I don't want any traditional moulding as the goal is to keep things more modern and clean-lined...but I am not ruling out a more contemporary treatment to dress them up a bit.

They have already come a long way for now. Think I'll let them live in their new skin for awhile. They are fresh enough to make me want to sing "Hello, I love you" and what door doesn't know and love that song?

Monday, August 31, 2015

His Lessons Live On

Dr. Wayne Dyer

Despite my two decades or so of working in the biz and knowing that renovations always take twice as long as you expect, I still find my own pace of progress surprising and frustrating. Mainly it comes down to that old expression; "Many hands make light work." That's the rub. From Monday to Friday I only have my own two hands and on the weekend I double that number to four. I need a team, not a doubles partner. 

All of this will no doubt contribute to my growth and acceptance of Rome not being built in a day. Back in the day, I used to tackle these home improvement projects with an obsessive mania. I would drop everything and spend every available minute on the task at hand to the exclusion of the rest of my life. My family and health would take a backseat to the cause. I wanted the job done quickly, so life would get back to normal as soon as possible. One difference between then and now is my available energy and my priorities. I still want to eat healthy, exercise and have a life outside my renovation. Without outside help, things are going to take longer. 

And this is where the passing of one of my spiritual gurus enters the picture. I was saddened to learn that Dr. Wayne Dyer passed away on Saturday in Maui at the age of 75. He has been an amazing source of inspiration on my journey through this life. A few years ago one of his books actually saved me from the depths of despair. I was on my way to London for a March break holiday with my daughter and I had been under tremendous stress at work. I picked up a copy of Excuses Begone at the airport. I was in the midst of separating from my husband, I was in a conflict with my employer and I needed to focus on the special time with my daughter. My anxiety level was through the roof. 

I started reading it on the flight over the pond and continued reading it at night while my sweet girl slumbered in the bed next to mine at our hotel. I was so stressed out, I could not sleep. With each chapter of enlightenment, I felt myself becoming  more calm. I finished the book with a renewed solution to all the stresses that were confronting me. The main message I took from that book was this. Every time you are doubting or worried or full of fear, ask yourself this one simple question. IS IT TRUE? 

Will the world end if I leave my husband? Will I end up destitute on the street if I get fired from my job? If I quit my job? Will my family disown me for making choices they disagree with? Am I too old to start over again? Am I strong enough to endure these changes? The questions were endless. However, when you take these and other questions about your life and then ask IS IT TRUE? Nine times out of ten, it is not. The world will not end, you will not become a homeless person, your family will get over it, you're never too old and yes, Deb, you do have the strength.

Since that time, I have used this reasoning frequently. It is positively amazing how often it works. So, in terms of this renovation, when I get frustrated or anxious about how long it is taking, I have stopped and asked myself IS IT TRUE? a few times now.

ME:  I cannot live with all this mess and disorder around me.
ME:  No, I can, so just relax.

ME:  I need to get this house done before I can relax.
ME:  No, I can still relax, just like I did before we actually bought this house. I will just have to get used to being surrounded by renovation clutter...paint cans in the hallway, ladders leaning on the walls, splotches of test paint on the walls, drywall dust, etc., etc.

ME: I should have had at least one before and after shot ready for my blog by now. 
ME: Only in your own mind Deb. Stop putting so much pressure on yourself to perform to some kind of unrealistic schedule for completion. The world will not end if you're not ready.

This is how this simple question works for me. It seems almost ridiculously simple really. However, until I read Excuses Begone, I would just get so ramped up with anxiety putting pressure on myself and those around me, it was unhealthy. I would forget about my own self-care and caring for others and I now know that those things are far more important than finishing a project in record time. 

Thank you Dr. Dyer for this gift. You gave so much to the world before you passed and it is the kind of gift that keeps on giving. He was a wise and spiritually evolved human being that will be missed. If you have never read any of his many books, I highly recommend them. 

I do hope a wonderful new journey has just begun for him. 


Thursday, August 27, 2015

Botox for the Home

I am using my blog this morning to avoid painting my ceiling. There is only one thing worse than sanding my architraves and that is painting the ceilings. It's messy and by the end of the job my neck will be crying uncle louder than the voice that gleefully announced - "No worries, I can paint the whole house by myself!"

I have also spent the last few days testing various shades of grey on the walls of the living room (lounge room in Australian). I now have a dozen splotches painted in various locations of three shades that graduate from too light to too dark and am leaning toward the one in the middle that in classic Goldilock fashion seems "just right". However, before I commit, the sun needs to come out to confirm my choice and just when I needed "sunny Queensland" to live up to its name, clouds fill the morning sky here and are not giving me a reading on the possible "right" grey. Had I got my confirmation, I would be off to Earle's Paint Place to order up a few cans of "Athens" grey. Instead, these clouds are forcing me to get my painting cap on (literally) and hold my head tilted backward for the next few hours as my face enjoys a spray mist of latex just to add insult to injury to my sprained neck muscles. 

Once I get into the painting, I am OK. It is rather meditative actually. It is akin to mowing the lawn; each swipe of the brush or roller improving the look of the wall, covering the old ugly colour and other blemishes, like photo shop for drywall. A miracle really. It just took my laundry room from 1982 to 2015. Talk about transformation! It was like a wrinkle cream that actually worked. Hmmm, could I be on to something? Maybe a bit of ceiling paint on my forehead will iron out that furrow between my brows that seems more and more prominent with each passing day. 

If it works, I'll let you know. I will text you as I am boarding my private jet to Mustique as hundreds of women line up at Earle's for a gallon of  Decomama's Flat Ceiling White Miracle in a Can. 

A girl can dream. ;-)

Sunday, August 23, 2015

New Jewelry for Decomama Downunder

Another weekend of renovating has come and gone dear readers and I regret to inform you that there will not be a reveal shot again today. That is not to say that things are not progressing along quite nicely here at Deb and Steve's Tropical Oasis (my new name for our humble abode). No, on the contrary, we got quite a bit done this weekend. Some of it major (new laundry tub and upper cabinet installed) and some of it leaning more to the tedious but necessary (replacing 3 small floor tiles that had cracked over time and caulking the throne in place and the final sanding and painting of the linen closet doors). 

One day in the hopefully not too distant future there will come a time when all prior oil based painted trims and doors will become a "remember when?" and we will be able to just slap a fresh coat of latex paint over everything without having to sand and prime. Most older houses are unfortunately slathered with that stuff from the past. It requires so much more prepping and time to complete what should be a quick wash and two coats of paint. However, the finished product is so great that the painstaking journey to get there is soon forgotten, not unlike the labour of giving birth. 

The jewelry in the laundry room is next. The washing machine taps are on and I am thrilled with the design we chose. They remind me of Paloma Picasso X's, without the swirled tips. Now one would argue as to why the design mattered for these, but when your laundry room is also the mud room and back entrance and pantry and linen storage and entry to the toilet, you can imagine how many times per day I walk past these taps. The old ones were ugly utilitarian plastic relics from the 70's that screamed "Look how cheap I am!" Ugh! They have now gone to join that ghastly toilet roll holder in the land fill, or the next garage sale. I removed the hinges from the closet doors as they were covered in at least three coats of paint. Apparently they are brass and there might be someone who will want to buy them at that same sale. One man's junk is another man's treasure I suppose. I might have been tempted in the 80's to polish them up and re-use them, but brass is not going to work in the current plan,  unless it is some sort of fabulous modern light fixture just to mix the metals up a bit. We'll see.

About a week ago, I decided that I wanted to hang some large white letters that spelled some word related to laundry. Two days later I was out for coffee with the tennis gals and there was a gift and decorating shop attached to the cafe and as I walked in the door...BAM!, there they were. Exactly what I was looking for! How's that for manifesting? They will go up last. The finishing touches are always the most fun. 

I may not have mentioned it thus far, but this renovation is not supported by an unlimited budget. In fact, we are trying to save where we can and splurge where we think we will get the most bang for our buck. For instance, as I mentioned earlier in this blog, we replaced three cracked floor tiles. The original tiles were no longer available. The cracked tiles were right at the entry to the room and the entry to the toilet. We searched around in vain for replacements and then it occurred to me we could cut three tiles out of the floor under the laundry tub where they would not be missed! This simple solution saved us hundreds of dollars on new flooring that was otherwise not bad at all. It is simple off white 2 inch squares that actually quite suit the space. With the cracked ones gone, the floor is now restored to it's original former glory. Sure, new flooring would have been nice, but the colour was fine and it works with the  new palette. This will free up more money for more important flooring changes elsewhere in the house.

The palette of greys we have used are offset by white which is always a fresh clean look, especially in laundry and bathrooms. The stainless steel laundry sink and backsplash
 ( splashback in Australian-yet to be installed) work well with the greys as well. Now we are going to add some warmth with some open shelving in wood...Kwila to be exact. It is a wood used often here in Oz and I really love it. It is used for fencing and decking and various other outdoor applications, but I like it for indoor shelving as well. It is also a part of the new wall design we are mounting in the toilet so the two rooms will tie together nicely when they are finished. 

Further down this renovation road we will be using Kwila on the exterior changes too, so knowing this, we are blending the outside with the inside so the end result with give us a nice smooth flow and feeling as you transition from outside to inside and room to room. It works well with mid-century modern furniture and as I mentioned, adds some warmth to greys and stainless steel which will also be a big feature in the kitchen as we plan to do a more restaurant/industrial style look in there.

That's it for today. Decomama Downunder has to get back to work. These peach walls ain't gonna paint themselves!

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Ascending the Throne


Unlike those home design  make-over shows you see on TV, real home renovations never get completed in 48 hours or two weeks or whatever deadline they claim to have to meet to add drama to their shows. For instance, it has taken me all week to finish the new paint job in the WC. The trim needed sanding and priming and two coats of paint. The walls and ceiling needed some repair and two coats. In between, we have lives.  Most renovations take waaaaay longer and shows like that set unrealistic expectations. I already knew this going in, but even with all my years of experience in this business, even I imagine it will happen faster than it does. 

The water closet (toilet) is not complete yet, so there will not be a big reveal shot here today, however, I am happy with the progress.  It was one step forward, two steps back this weekend here for Decomama Downunder. The throne that we chose (OK, that "I" chose) was all about the design. I wanted a clean lined, modern commode that would give an instant sense of current to the crap cave. The original toilet was curvy and much to my surprise, the cistern was not even made of vitreous china. It was plastic.. PLASTIC?! Wow, that was new to me. I did not even know they made toilets that were half and half. The pan (bowl) was solid, so I just assumed it was all made of the same material. That is what I discovered when shopping for the new one as well. They still make some that way. I liken that to fake flowers. I abhor fake flowers and turns out I feel the same way about plastic toilet cisterns. Ain't happenin. Not now, not ever.

We sprung from our bed with the kookaburras on Saturday morning fresh-faced and ready to tackle the installation of the new dunny (yup, that's Australian for toilet). There was an immediate problem with the position of the hole to hell and the position of the exit pipe on the underside of the new latrine. It would make short work of whatever needed to pass through it, but maybe too short. However, after much measuring and re-measuring and hopeful expectation, Tim the Tool Man here said he reckoned we could make it work. Whew! Then I heard a bit of cursing as he emerged from the WC, measuring tape in hand, and announced that the water pipe was in the wrong position too. This design was just not working and creating far too much grief. Ready to admit defeat, I said, pack it back in the box. Clearly we needed to choose another style. Both a bit deflated, we headed out to look at other options. Nothing we saw compared or excited Decomama. The day was a bust. The only thing to do now was go home and drown in our sorrows. It was beer o'clock. 

Weekend days are prime renovating days when my handyman is available. We were down to one day. Sunday dawned and once again the kookaburras laughed as we tried to sleep. One thing about my handyman is he is determined and he likes to solve problems. He arose refreshed and as I was making coffee, he was out on the patio unpacking the doomed design of a toilet. He was wielding his measuring tape again. He looked hopeful. I could see this installation was on. He had an idea. We took one last pee before the water was turned off and filled some buckets with water...just in case.   We would either have to install a new piece of pipe outside and drill a new hole in the wall to move it over a couple inches, or see if we could just cut a hole in the internal wall and coax the pipe to the right a bit. 

Of course, that required a trip to Bunnings (the Home Depot of Oz) to purchase a less bulky tap, adding another hour of "toilet out of service" to the day. By now I had decided to curb my water consumption and began to think about setting up a temporary pee pot in the garage. Our small house only has one toilet. It is only a disadvantage at times like this. It is also the reason that the toilet has a room of it's own. I can luxuriate in my bath and not have to worry about being evicted for poop emergencies. 

So, those issues behind us now, we got to a point where we could actually put the bowl in place. We read the directions, and read them again and again. If you think Ikea assembly is confusing, have a look at dunny assembly instructions from China. One missed step sends you backwards and we took at least two steps backward with each step forward. By now my anxiety level was escalating. As I was really just like Vanna the calm and lovely assistant - pass me that spanner, pass me that screwdriver, pass me a hammer...I kept my fear of toilet installation failure at bay by cooking. Afterall, I figured that a well-fed plumber was better than a cranky hungry one. So, as the smell of nutty cinnamon granola and banana bread wafted through the house, slowly but surely we got closer to the moment when we could christen the new crapper. 

The moment arrived (6 hrs later) to try the first flush and we stood, holding our breath and peering into the bowl. We watched the water disappear and then reappear and then waited to see if anything was leaking around the bottom on the floor. I exhaled, relieved there were no signs of moisture anywhere but inside the bowl. Do it again. Still good. One more time - this time with the full flush, not the half. Woo Hoo! Success! And it only took two days!

Tim looked at me and asked if I wanted to try it out first. Naw, you go, I said - you're faster. I took my turn next and wiggled and adjusted my bottom noticing how it felt so much different from the old seat, a bit harder perhaps and less contoured. We had not tested it with paper yet, so I stood and turned and watched to see if it was going to perform well with this addition. It has less water force than the old model but I am happy to report still does the job. 

Three bums up!

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Gone, before she was Gone

The Victor Ave House in Riverdale (centre)

There are people who come and go in our lives. The ones that go often become nothing more than a faint memory. But sometimes,  memories of the ones that go hover incessantly; their personalities perhaps larger than life or the impact they had on you sticks with you and despite their absence, you drift back to the times you had with them. 

I knew a woman in my mid-late twenties who was one that has hovered for the last 30 years. She was a friend and  my landlady, even though she was only a couple years older than I was at the time. She was a chef in training back then and was working at the very exclusive and well known Scaramouche Restaurant in Toronto. Her father bought the house for her and working was really sort of lark to her because whenever she was between jobs, her father, Stewie, (sweetest man in the world) supported her.  She was tall (statuesque really) and blonde and confident in the way a woman who has never known scarcity and attended all the right schools and summer camps would be expected to be. Her friends were many and they all had nicknames that were like secret handshakes between them. She wore designer clothing and was always adorned in expensive jewelry. She was an only child of only child parents.She loved periwinkles. She had a bull terrier named Boris.  I envied her.

She rented the third floor of her old Victorian house to me in my last 2 years of university. She had a live-in lover she called Thomo, a gorgeous blue-eyed Brit who was a decade older and I spent many late nights after we all got home from our evening shifts working in restaurants (he was a chef at the old Inn on the Park (Four Seasons) and we would all need to wind down after our busy nights with a few drinks before I headed up to my garret to crash. She would sit and hold court on her king-sized bed that was encased in a sea of white bedding and down-filled pillows, chugging Henkell Trocken straight from the bottle. She laughed a lot. Her life seemed carefree and looking back now I recognize she had an air of entitlement.

I remember her lackadaisical attitude toward responsibility. It was unfamiliar territory for me. I would be enjoying a warm summer afternoon in the small courtyard behind the house and lament the fact that I had to get to work at my part-time job by 5 pm. She would turn to me and say things like, "don't go to work, stay here and have some cocktails with me." The thought of skipping out of a shift of work never occurred to me. I needed the money. I did not have a daddy paying my way in life. Or, she would go as far as to say, "you should quit that job". Then she would laugh and chide me until I reminded her that I needed that job to pay my rent to her every month. I was never certain if she was serious or just projecting her own attitude about work toward me. She was famous for her lavish dinner parties and she did indeed enjoy howling at the moon. On many occasions, I howled with her. 

She drove a VW Cabriolet and one night when I got home from work around 2 am, she said let's drive up to Thornbury! She had ended her romance with the Brit and was now involved with a man who lived up on Georgian Bay. She was spontaneous that way. I recall thinking - "really, Now?" She was already three sheets to the wind and I had likely had a couple myself, so we piled in her funky rag top and headed north, sharing a bottle of plonk along the way. After she downed the last of it, she flung the bottle up over her head and out behind the car, the glass smashing on the empty road, cackling maniacally like a witch as she did so. It's a miracle we survived that drive and the next morning I wished I had woken up in my own bed in my cosy garret when she announced she was not driving back  until the next day and I had to work that night in the city. This was a typical scenario whenever she was around. 

It became clearer and clearer as time passed that she liked the drink a little more than most. She had been married once in her early twenties and it did not last long. But she came away with all the accoutrements of a big wedding like Waterford Crystal, fine china and a down filled sofa and expensive dining furniture that most of her friends had not yet acquired in life. Most of us were still students or just starting out. It made her stand out and seem accomplished. She approached everyone, even people she hardly new with a bold brashness that declared her status and oozed privilege. The truth was, I had never met anyone like her and I was never really sure if I loved her or hated her. I also knew we were not cut from the same cloth. 

Those two years that I spent swirling in her social circle were times I have never forgotten. Life was one big party, blaring music, fabulous food, a never-ending supply of booze and weekends on Georgian Bay. I met my first husband the last summer I lived in her house and the space was too small for two, so the time had come for me to move out. Another single woman (an old camp buddy of hers) would gladly take over the space. It was much coveted. It will always be my most memorable apartment in Toronto. It was in Riverdale which at the time, was just becoming popular. Not long after I left, she and I had a conversation that did not sit well with me. She sidled up to me and told me that she thought I should know that my fiance had been flirting with her and had propositioned her on more than one occasion. It came as a complete surprise to me as I trusted him wholeheartedly. I decided she was just trying to stir the pot and wrote it off as her own self-delusion. I never did find out if it was true, but it created a wedge between us and I moved on in my life without much contact with her after that.

I would hear things about her from time to time, but my circles changed and eventually I did not really know what had become of her until I heard she had left Toronto and moved to Manhattan...the Big Apple..NYC. She had apparently declared herself an artist now and was painting large abstract oil paintings that she was selling for big bucks. Supposedly in the range of 35-40K a piece. Then I heard she had married Scott Weiland of The Stone Temple Pilots fame and now her last name was his. Another friend of mine that I met through her would get 3 am phone calls from time to time and would have to endure her drunken ramblings. At one stage she got a call from some godforsaken southern state bar that really worried her to the point that she called the local police there to let them know that this woman was in need of help. That was the last time she was heard from.

Until yesterday. 

My dear friend Cindy, aka Halifax Broad had decided a few months ago to try to find her and had come across some information on line that led her to an obituary. It was from  August of 2013. The name was Weiland but she was not certain if it was really our mutual friend. She left her contact info and that was all she could do. A couple months later she got a phone call from a woman I will call Nita, who said she knew Deirdre. She had been the executor of Stewie's will and had been doling out an allowance all these years.  She was indeed dead and she died a homeless person on the streets of Toronto. When she died, there was not a single person alive to call and report her death. Not a friend, a relative, nobody. She died without a will, so cremation was not allowed. She had her buried in a pauper's grave with no fanfare, no funeral, no headstone. Nothing. 

How did this happen to this once vibrant, larger than life human being? Well, it turns out she was eventually diagnosed with schizophrenia. It was likely exacerbated with alcoholism. Nita never knew the Deirdre we knew back in the 80's. She knew her as a schizophrenic woman who would call in the middle of the night demanding more money each month as her allowance would run out. She had no idea that her life had been scads of crazy (no pun intended) fun for years before her descent into mental illness. 

I could rattle off at least a dozen names from those days of people who knew her well and partied with her and spent lots of time with her that would surely want to know that she died. In the end, she had nothing more that a few pieces of filthy clothing and her binders. Many, many binders filled with her ramblings. She apparently took them everywhere, all that was left to prove she was alive and had something to say. 

It saddens me greatly to think that her life ended this way. Despite her disdain for work and an ordinary life, she was generous. She did not place much value on her things and would gladly share them with you. I recall borrowing some of her clothing a few times and she was always quick to offer food and drink, although maybe she just wanted someone to drink with. This is a clear case of someone who fell between the cracks. She must have eventually become so unattractive as a person that she put off everyone and ended up completely and utterly alone. The cause of death was reported as the result of tongue and throat cancer (she did smoke). The story about being married to Scott Weiland was fictitious, yet she did change her name to give credibility to her lie. 

I know there are some of my readers who will remember her and be shocked to hear this accounting of her life. Had any of us known of her illness, we might have been able to intervene years ago, but it is too late for that now. Not only did she die alone, she died 2 years ago and her old friends are just learning about it this week.  

I do hope she has found peace at last. If I could, I would tell her that she will always live on in my memory, that she was an unforgettable character, she was fun and talented and she was right about my first husband. I should have listened to her.

R.I.P. Deirdre Lynn Weiland (Shannon) 
Died August 20, 2013

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Decomama Downunder...Renovating - Week One.

Well, well. well. My oh my, how things can change. That should come as no surprise to me since over the last few years I have been the queen of change, but this one is a complete turnaround since my last blog.

If you read it, you will know that we were faced with being evicted from the house we have been renting. The owners had apparently come into some difficult financial times and needed to move back in, do a few improvements and sell the house to cover some debts. We had talked many times over our 18 month test drive of this humble home of the changes we would make if it were ours. The house itself is very ordinary, but the quiet and nature that surrounds it has been a joy - especially to me, since I am here all day while my S.O. is off winning the bread.

It was almost painful for me to leave well enough alone. There were very strict rules around the rental that really prevented me from doing anything. I could not even replace the door handles on the cabinets or paint or replace light fixtures (OK, I admit, I did change two light fixtures). After all, it's what I do. Living with dated lighting and a host of other things that were well past their best before dates was a challenge for me. Well, I no longer have to hold back. Long story short...we bought the house. 

We avoid moving and I get to have at er! It has been just shy of a week since our offer was accepted and I have been like a whirling dervish ever since. I can hardly focus on one thing at a time. I feel like a greyhound just out of the gate, but instead of one rabbit to chase, there are about a dozen. We both agreed one of the first things to go would be the hideous toilet roll holder that we have had to look at several times a day for 18 months now. The only reason it was still there at all was because we knew if we took it off the wall, it would leave a big mess on the drywall. It had been there for a very long time, probably original to this 70's house. It was actually two ugly holders in one. (cue the Certs Commercial) The original holder had broken some time over the years and instead of replacing it, they just glued another ugly holder over top of the base of the first one. Both were white at one time but now they were that ghastly yellow that occurs with cheap plastic over time, not unlike the stained fingers of a grizzled old smoker. 

That decided, it would be the first room to tackle. The water closet. As we suspected, the holder was reluctant to leave it's home of 40 odd years. I kind of get it, as I did not want to leave after 18 months, so maybe this old holder was on to something. I tried prying it away from the wall but years of paint held it tight. I abandoned my screw driver and got a sharp edged chisel and hammer and still it resisted. Seriously? Knowing there was no hope at this point of avoiding a sizable hole in the drywall, I took a couple of good swings directly at it with a hammer. Whack! Whack! She hung on. Whack again. The front piece flew off, leaving the old base still intact. Now I was getting pissed. I summoned my inner wild woman and smashed the bloody thing to smithereens with a few more swings. Bits of plastic flew violently about until it finally came away and landed on the floor, leaving a couple of wall anchors clinging to the edges of the holes in the drywall and exposing the gory underbelly of 40 years of mildew and old blue paint that lived beneath. Eeewwww. 

Surely this will be just the beginning of many "eeewwwws" to come. The water closet renovation is underway. A new toilet was selected and purchased and the room has been painted. We are still hemming and hawing over the details of the space. Believe it or not, the roll holder is still undecided. With little else going on in that room to really make it unique or interesting, the roll holder really needs to be the main attraction. It is the first thing you see when you stand at the doorway and it was pretty much decided until we chose a light fixture that forced a rethink. So there we were in the middle of the night Friday, wide awake brainstorming what we now refer to as Toilet Roll Holder as Art. We are almost at a conclusion as to what it will look like. Suffice to say, it will not be a quick trip to the shops to grab something simple. Because, let's face it, that would just be too damn easy. 

I have taken before photos and once this space is complete, you will see the after here. The logical next space will be the laundry room as it is adjacent to the water closet and I plan to carry the paint colours out there. 

Decomama has a job. It feels good to be working again. 

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

What's Down the Road?

It's happening again. It is still sinking in as I glance over at my newly installed stainless steel shelves that we bought a couple of weeks ago, a desperate attempt at adding much needed storage space in the kitchen. Note that I said "the" kitchen. Not "my" kitchen. Anything we have added to this house is really ours and anything that was here already is really theirs. The reality of renting. After many years of being a homeowner, it is difficult to hold back from making too many improvements. When you own your house, each improvement is justified with the notion you are adding value to your home. When you rent, it only adds temporary satisfaction and more nail holes to fill when you leave.

At the time you try not to think of that day. The day you will leave seems like some distant moment in time. It has been 18 months in this house now and we were looking forward to the next 6 month lease renewal when the curve ball hit two days ago. "Mrs. MacFarlane? VIP realty here, I have some bad news." Initially I thought maybe the rent was going up. I braced for the number. "The homeowner's circumstances have changed and they need to move back into the house." I felt my heart sink and my thoughts were swirling. No, I thought, not this. "You have two months notice." I stood at the window and looked at my paw paw plants that were growing nicely and the Clivia I planted a few months ago that would surely start to show me an emerging bud any day now, my herb garden that seemed to be flourishing since the last feeding and felt the simple joys of these things slipping away. The hope and anticipation draining from my body and landing on the floor beneath my feet. A puddle of sadness. 

Two months. Where will we live? Will there be a garden? Will there be a pool? Will we have wonderful neighbours? Will kangaroos graze by my back fence? Will the kitchen be worse or better? How will I find the energy and enthusiasm to do this all over again? The 6th time since 2011. Whaaaaaaa! I need chocolate...and wine.

Now that it has sunk in, it has occurred to me that I have done it again. I have grown attached. Attached to this house, this neighbourhood, the birds, the sound of the kookaburras each morning in the bush across the road, the grey and white cat that hunts in my back yard, even the dated ugly kitchen (ok, so maybe not that). How do we avoid it? It is a well-known basic tenet of Buddhism. Attachment causes suffering. And what would it look like now if I was not attached to any of these things? Would I not feel defeated and sad or filled with sentimentality? Would I just accept this news without any pain or emotion and take the necessary steps to gather up my belongings (which have grown along with my attachment) and find a new place to live? That is what will happen. But before I go turning lemons into lemonade, I will linger a bit longer here in my puddle of sadness.

 OK, that's done.

So, time to pull up my big girl panties and do what needs to be done. Search. View. Negotiate. Purge. Pack. Sprain my back. Sweat. Move. Rearrange. Spend. Resettle. 

I must remember to leave my change of address for my birds. 

And hope they find me.   

Monday, July 20, 2015

Creating Health

Zoodles with garlic and kale

So the vegan journey continues. I am well past the two month mark now and there are some interesting observations. For starters, my overall health has improved. Not surprising. Just about every morsel of food that passes my lips is made from scratch. Yeah, I spend a lot of time in the kitchen. For some this may sound like drudgery, but for me it is a little slice of heaven. I find it creative and peaceful and at the end of every session I spend chopping, slicing, mixing and whirring in there, I have a tangible result and I feel productive. Some are more successful than others. 

There was a bitter pot of soup that was a flop and went in the bin and a vegan feta cheese made out of tofu that joined the soup. May they rest in foul tasting peace together. However for the most part the food has been very good, with some dishes deserving of  "seriously awesome". Last night for instance - the recipe was for Vegan Chikin Pot Pie. I did not use the faux chicken that the recipe called for and instead added more veggies and it was a real winner.  I am not a fan of all those fake vegan meats and cheeses that you can buy in the grocery stores. I find they can be as full of weird shit and preservatives as other meat-filled processed stuff that is available, so I make my own vegan burgers and cheeses so I know exactly what is in them and can add things that make them healthier and/or tastier. You could say I have become semi-obsessed with knowing what the hell I am putting in my body, and you would be right. 

I feel the same way now about cosmetics and anything that I slather on my skin. Eating is the not the only entry point for toxins. My household cleansers are all environmentally friendly and I practice organic gardening. One result of all these changes in my daily life is that it has taken away the guilt I used to feel about using toxic products that end up back in our soil and water table. As for the guilt I used to feel about killing animals, well that is a thing of the past now too.

Perhaps the most glaring thing I have noticed is how I feel after I eat my meals. Even when I eat too much at a meal, I never feel heavy or bloated. I like the new feeling. Another thing I like is never having to worry about cross-contamination in the kitchen when I am cooking. With no raw animal products being cleaned or cut up there is no need to worry about that. I have never enjoyed handling raw meat and chicken and I don't miss that at all, especially reaching inside the Thanksgiving turkey carcass to dig out that limp bloody wet bag of organs before stuffing that bird. 

So, those are some of the benefits. The most difficult aspect I have encountered is the challenge of eating out in restaurants as so few of them offer vegan choices and I don't consider french fries a healthy vegan choice. Nor does a pathetic tossed green salad with bottled dressing and a slice of barely ripe tomato excite me. I would rather stay home than eat like that. If I lived in a metropolitan city, I would have more choices, but such is my present situation. There is one restaurant in Bundaberg that can and will cater to vegan diets with creativity and flare, but driving over an hour to go out for a meal is not the most practical choice. 

The other challenge that I have managed to politely deflect so far is having to defend my choices. The big question everyone always asks is how do you get your protein. From now on I am going to just tell people to google it. All the information you need about getting adequate protein on a vegan diet is out there and it is easy and a no-brainer so stop asking. Most people consume way too much protein anyway - you can google that too.  And yes, I do take a Vitamin B12 supplement and I use fortified nutritional yeast in many recipes, so I am not going to shrivel up and die anytime soon for lack of it. 

The best question of all though is ..."What do you eat if  you don't eat meat and dairy?" HUH? I eat every and all types of vegetables, fruits, grains, nut milks, coconut yogurt, nuts and seeds and I experiment constantly with various combinations and seasonings. My meals are inventive and delicious and satisfying. In fact, my cooking is so much more creative now than it has ever been. Now that vegetables are the starring role on my plate, I am finally whipping them into the culinary main event they deserve to be versus the boring sideshow they have been relegated to for way too long.

I have also discovered a whole new tribe. There is a big bad vegan world out there. We may be separated by miles but we are connected in the cyber world any time of day or night with a click. We follow each other on Facebook and Instagram and Pinterest and it will be a miracle if I ever live long enough to try all the tempting and tantalizing recipes I am accumulating daily. I have new vegan heroes like Angela Liddon, author of Oh She Glows and talented raw chef Doug McNish and Rich Roll,  and blogs like The One Ingredient Chef , The Minimalist Baker, The Sprouted Kitchen, Fork and Beans, Gluten-Free-Vegan Girl, Pickles and Honey, Vegan Richa, Hell yeah it's Vegan and on and on. 

The truth is, going vegan has been like a big new adventure in living for me.

One that hopefully keep me living long enough for many more adventures.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Eating Crow and Humble Pie

What's more annoying than a reformed smoker?

A reformed carnivore.

This morning I am neither smoking or ordering up bacon and eggs. No, I am eating crow, aka, a shit sandwich.  I have been preaching and the funny thing is, I hate preachers. I recall when my daughter first became vegetarian about 7 years ago, she would sit across from me in a restaurant and ask me how I was enjoying my baby lamb or little calf or my plate of flesh and I would reel her in and tell her that vegetarianism was "her" personal decision and that it was not right to judge or try to force her opinions on others and after a while she backed off and we all lived in harmony with our food choices.

This morning, one of my dearest friends told me I sounded preachy lately and she was absolutely right. Just because I have changed, it is no business of mine to try and change the world along with me. I think I have gotten a little carried away with my postings on Facebook and even though I had an inkling I was being annoying at the time, I still felt passionate enough about the relationship between food and health, that I went ahead and hammered my point a little too forcefully. The truth is, I don't know for sure if eating meat or dairy is the cause of illness, or if not eating them is the cure. Nobody really knows for sure. There is research to support both ends of the spectrum. 

There is a good chance I did the same thing to smokers when I quit smoking in my twenties. The difference back then was that if I did preach, it was not splayed all over the internet. So, to any and all of you reading this blog, I vow from this day forward to try not to preach. The last thing I want to do is annoy or offend the people I love and care about. I certainly see that there is no one right answer and to illustrate exactly how true that is, take a look at the following two stories. The first one is the story of Annette Larkins, a 70-something woman from Florida who claims her raw vegan lifestyle for the past 27 years has been her answer to the proverbial quest for the fountain of youth. The second story is that of the Guinness Book of Records world's oldest female body builder, Ernestine Shepherd,  who eats 10 egg whites and a handful of walnuts for breakfast everyday. Both of these women seem to be healthy and full of 

Vegan, Annette Larkins

Body Builder, Ernestine Shepherd

Maybe we all just need to do what feels right for us. The goal is not to live a long life, but a long and healthy life and how you get there is a very personal journey.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Good Enough

We do it to ourselves really, don't we? Just when  you think you have achieved or perfected something and are happy with the method used or the result, you take the bait. You see the headline or the tag line and instead of just continuing to scroll you click on it. 

The dreaded click. 

After all, why wouldn't you want to strike a better yoga pose, or bake a better cake or take a better photograph, or have a more mind-blowing orgasm, or be a better parent, or get more from your meditation practice, or have the most organized closet...or, or, or.

These are the continuous subliminal messages that flog us daily. Clearly the way you are doing it is not good enough. It's not fast enough or slow enough, or intense enough or tasty enough. It applies to our work, our relationships, our hobbies, our cooking, our possessions, our homes, our travel destinations, our skill at just about anything. Let's face it, none of us are good enough at anything. There is always a better way.

As much as I can see through these admonishments intellectually, there is still a latent curiosity to have a quick peak to see if maybe, just maybe I could change things up a bit to improve upon what I already thought was pretty good. It is almost as though you need to see if the difference between how you do it already and how someone else does it is just a matter of a quick and easy tweak that will elevate whatever it is to some sort of Nirvana. Not content with a simple bowl of hot oatmeal with cream and brown sugar like your mom always made you, no worries, make it like this and turn your morning bowl of gruel into a foodgasm.  

It diminishes your reality. That's what it does. Just when you think you have found the perfect little black dress, the September issue of Vogue poo poo's your choice. Think you have a wonderful loving and harmonious relationship? Look there - Sting and Trudie Styler practice Tantric sex and have the perfect house to boot! It's enough to make you stop the madness and just unplug altogether. Turn off the devices and put an end to the constant reminders that you can and should be and do better. 

The truth is, we can always improve because none of us are perfect. But do we really need to bother? And what is it that drives us to try? Why is perfection a goal at all, because even those who seem to achieve it in some area of their life often find it does not make them happy. The list of celebrities that we have at one time or another viewed as having achieved the perfect lives and then blew it all up in some way is endless. Think Robin Williams for instance, whose tragic departure from our world almost a year ago still saddens and perplexes us. So talented. So loved. So fortunate. So dead.

I had my own interesting discovery last week. My first boyfriend and first love who I had, until last week, thought had it all - or so it seemed.  I knew he had married the girl who came into his life after me, they had financial success, three children who were privileged to attend the best schools, a nice home and a summer cottage. I was happy for him. It seemed he had the happily ever after we all want. As I scrolled my Facebook feed I noticed a woman with a hyphenated name - hers and his. Hmmm, that was odd. I dug a little further and sure enough it turned out his perfect marriage ended some time around 2007. Sigh. One more fairy tale life bites the dust. It does seem that they have both gone on to re-marry and give it another go - maybe this time they will find that elusive perfect relationship. Maybe not.

The key for them and for all of us really may be to not expect perfection. Just wake up each morning and be grateful for how it is, and how they are and be thankful to be alive and perfectly imperfect. As much as I have come to find Dr. Phil annoying, he did have a couple of great ideas when it came to relationships. One thing he used to say that I have never forgotten had something to do with asking yourself "What can I do to make my partner's life easier today?".  The other thing he used to say was "How much fun are you to live with?" I think those two simple ideas are really effective. It prompts giving and introspection. And those two activities alone could be enough to achieve happily ever after as long as both partners participate. 

And on that note, I am going to the kitchen to make a pot of soup. Not the most mind-blowing, foodgasmic, gourmet's dream crock of hot nectar of the gods. Just a simple, nutritious, tasty pot of goodness, the way I have made it many times before. A "clean out the crisper" soup that will be less than perfect, but more than adequate.  

A "good enough" soup. Good enough for me.