Saturday, July 05, 2014

On Belonging.

I've been thinking a lot lately about what makes us feel like we belong.  As a single person, it's often easy for me to fall into the trap of thinking that I need a significant other in order to not feel alone.  That I just need to belong to one person, and that'll be enough.  It's common that I find myself reflecting that "If I just had someone, I could…(fill in the blank)."  But I've had to start speaking to myself sternly about this, because there is so much evidence in my own life that this idea is incorrect.  There are so many other ways for us to belong: to our families, our co-workers, our friends; to theatre companies and sports teams and charities and churches.  I think that if I choose to feel alone (which I admit, I do often), it is because I am not actively reaching out to those communities that I actually do belong to, saying, "I feel lonely," or "What are we up to tonight," "I could use some company," or, and probably more importantly, making things less about me: "How can I help?"    "How are you doing?"  "Can I pitch in somehow?"

It's tough sometimes, though.  It's tough to always feel like I'm the only one to make the effort, that my social life is at the mercy of my much-more-important friends with spouses and/or families.  It's easy to retreat into my own solitary world, look at my phone longingly to see if someone has texted or called, hunker down with Curriecat and commit myself dramatically to a solitary existence.  This despite having wonderful friends, family and colleagues.  I can't walk two blocks in my neighbourhood without bumping into a friend to say hello to.  

So, yes -  I realize that the only reason I feel like I don't belong is me.  Because I do belong.  I care about people and they care about me. And it's up to me to reach out and ask for what I need and to more importantly ask what I can give back.

I belong to this crazy, loving, sometimes infuriating family. As the only "out of towner," I forget that sometimes, and feel left out, but it only takes 5 minutes (and a matching apron) to remember.

Vancouver has some really great community events, including the Dragonboat Festival, which I've missed since I moved to London.  I've decided next year I'll have to put a team together - I miss paddling.  Yes, even early morning winter practices where your hands can barely hold the paddle, you're so cold.  So it's definitely time to get back into it.

Events like Streetfood Fest really show that Vancouverites do have a desire for community, to get together and hang out.  Every Sunday we bask on this little astroturf "beach," play pingpong, and line up 30-deep at the food trucks circled at Olympic Village.

Even when I'm alone, I'm not really.  As I type this a grey cat is curled up with her tail on the computer screen.  

Monday, June 23, 2014

To London. Again!

Oh, life changes so much from moment to moment, doesn't it?  My life now hardly resembles itself one year ago.  I spent most of 2013 head down, in back to back shows from January to August.  It was a wonderful, exhausting, fulfilling experience.  This year, I've had the stability of working with one client, at one job.  Although I was so happy (and continue to be so happy) to have made the choice to move in-house, I traded my flexibility in terms of working hours for that chance, and I haven't had the same opportunities to be onstage.  But in place of performing, I've had travel.  So. Much. Travel.    

And now - more!  In July I will be heading back to my other home, and spending the summer in Southampton and London, working in my company's UK offices.  In fact, today I've sorted out all my accommodation: our company's seaside flat in Southampton and a cute Brixton studio with an outdoor pool (!) in London.  And I won't be back until September.

This is exciting, of course.  Connecting with friends, having the luxury of time to fall back into my old routines - an opportunity I didn't have when I visited in January/February - it really will be in some ways like coming home.  I'm excited, I really am.  This week I bought my first theatre tickets, to see Carey Mulligan and Bill Nighy in David Hare's Skylight, which opened last week to rave reviews.  

I'm also anxious.  I'm sure I sound melodramatic and silly, but I'm leaving Curriecat behind.  For the whole summer.  I have trusted friends who will be staying at my apartment with her, but she and I will be apart for longer than we have in her. whole. life.  We haven't spent more than 10 days apart in 8 years.  Just thinking about it makes me tear up.  I know, I'm a schmuck, but she's my baby. 

I'm trying to be positive and focus on the exciting part of this amazing opportunity I've been given, but it's difficult to leave behind the little animal that has been my immediate family for almost a decade.  Any suggestions on how to keep in touch with my kitty while I'm gone gratefully accepted.

I'm going to miss this face.  Amazing Curriecat portrait copyright Michal Russell,

Sunday, May 04, 2014

My Earliest Memory.

I carry a very vivid recollection with me:

A split-level house in Richmond.  Spring sunshine is streaming through a crescent-shaped window in a white front door, falling on golden wood floors.  Footsteps echo loudly; the house is empty.  

I am sitting on the front stairs in the hallway, sticking my short stubby legs out in front of me to admire white sandals.  I smooth my pink bunny - a combination of blanket and puppet - over my knees, touching the soft satin of his ears.  An adult, whose face I can no longer remember, sits on the stair below, and asks me how old I am.

I hold up two fingers, and pronounce proudly, "Two."  Then I correct myself.  "Two and a HALF."

There are other snapshots that are linked to this memory: of dancing on the wood floor, to hear the clatter of my own feet.  Of staring at blue and red wallpaper in an empty bedroom, printed with the smiling faces of Raggedy Ann and Andy.  

This is either my first real memory, of our move from Richmond to Victoria, where I grew up, or it's something I've imagined, based on stories I have been told.  That's the funny thing about memory, though - it can feel as real as right now.  And maybe that's all that matters, is what feels real to us.  

Friday, April 04, 2014

Neighourhood Food: Finch's Tea and Coffee House

I discovered Finch's, located at the corner of West Pender and Richards, in 2007 and it's been a favourite ever since.  I used to be able to spend a leisurely Saturday morning/afternoon reading my book, sipping on a steamed soy milk with maple syrup, and picking away at a delicious sandwich, but now it's so busy you can't get in the door a lot of the time - which is really my only complaint.

  NO, I do not mind that it takes a long time for my food to be made.  It is fresh, carefully crafted, and always delicious.  If you're in a rush, this isn't the place for you and the food isn't meant to be enjoyed quickly anyway!

I highly recommend the Pear Baguette (prosciutto, pears and blue brie, with walnuts and olive oil), but also really enjoy the Applewood Smoked Cheddar baguette (filled with fresh lettuces, cucumber and tomato and liberally sprinkled with salt and pepper).  The oatmeal chocolate chip cookie is my favourite (beware: it has raisins), but somehow the cookies are always magically warm and gooey.  

The decor here is also charming, cozy and non-pretentious.  Great for breakfast too.  While it may not look like much from the outside, Finch's is a great place to have a meal or spend time with friends.

The Smoked Applewood Cheddar Baguette.
The Oatmeal Raisin Chocolate Chip cookies.  Somehow always magically warm.  
* This review appears on my Yelp page, which you can visit at for more reviews.  Thanks to Yelp for making me Yelp Elite '14!

Blink and You'll Miss It.

I feel like when I went to sleep last night, it was a chilly December evening, the darkness creeping in by the afternoon, and here we are in April, with the sunlight stretching longer into the evenings as each day passes.  The time flies so fast it's frightening.   I wanted to check in and give a micro-update on my whereabouts.

In January I headed to the UK for the first time since I moved home in late 2009.  I wasn't super-excited leading up to that trip.  I didn't know if I'd get back to London and insist on staying, throwing away the good life and the good people in it that I have cultivated in Vancouver.  Instead, I just felt happy to be there - and happy to come home when the time came.  I walked over every familiar inch of my city, caught up with friends, saw a show (the fabulous The Light Princess at the National Theatre), and had a guided tour of Parliament thanks to my old friend Stephen Doughty, now Stephen Doughty, MP.  I met my UK colleagues, and visited our London and Southampton offices.  It was a wonderful visit and in some ways put to rest my life there.  Home is truly Vancouver now, and there is some peace in knowing that. 

Carnaby Street on a Saturday night.

Big Ben as seen from Cromwell Hill. I had a chance to sit on debate in the House of Lords as well as the House of Commons.

A week after I got home from England, it was off to Maui to meet up with my parents.  After a few detours in Los Angeles and Honolulu, and a very bumpy ride thanks to the Pineapple Express, I spent a week in one of my favourite places. 
In the I'ao Valley on a rainy Monday.
Keawakapu Beach.

I returned home from Maui refreshed and relaxed, but walked into a bit of a shitstorm in my personal life, and within days it felt like my vacation had never happened.  So, in March it was off to Los Angeles with my travel buddy Cathy, to get out of my own space again and get some perspective.  
In Runyon Canyon. 
Waiting to watch a taping of my favourite, The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson.  I was delighted to get a chance during a commercial break to chat with Craig.  He was sassy and snarky and Scottish, just as I'd always imagined he would be.
While we spent a lot of time walking and exploring, and spent four days in and out of the Disney park (notice the bandaids on my toes from blisters!), I did find a good chunk of time to spend right here - staring at the water and doing absolutely nothing at all.  It was glorious.
Thanks to Yelp I was able to find some of the "cooler" parts of Anaheim, where we were staying, including this great "Park n' Read" in the middle of the Centre Street Promenade in downtown Anaheim.  
Cathy and I sipped coffee from the excellent Ink and Bean cafe and read Tom Sawyer aloud.

My focus during the past months has been settling into my job as Corporate Counsel at Peer 1 Hosting.  For the first time in a long time I can say I really love my job.  I love the people I work with, and I love what we're doing.  This past week I have spent working closely with my colleagues from the legal team on planning for the year ahead.  On Monday we went to the Top of Vancouver, the revolving restaurant, on top of Harbour Centre.  I got to see my home and neighbourhood from a whole new perspective:
Gastown.  My village.
On Wednesday night we all went up Grouse Mountain to the Observatory for dinner, and to once again take in some breathtaking views of the city:

Sunset on Grouse Mountain.  April 2, 2014.

So, that's how four months passes without you even knowing it.  A combination of hard work, travel, and a little heartbreak.   I'm now easing my way back into some theatre after an extended hiatus, and am currently in rehearsals for Looking, a Norm Foster play which goes up at the Shaw Theatre on May 8th, and a community production of the Sound of Music that opens at the end of May.  It's been a slightly uncomfortable feeling, being away from performing for so long, but as usual I managed to keep myself busy - which means I'm finding now that I've thrown theatre back into the mix that I'm so busy I can't breathe.  This whole "balance" thing is so difficult when you have so much you want to accomplish.  

Friday, March 07, 2014

Theatre Review: Beggar's Opera

Seven Tyrants Theatre  has remounted their successful 2013 production of Beggar's Opera at Jericho Arts Centre, and Caitlin and I made the trek to see it last night.   Adapted and directed by David Newham from the classic 18th century opera by John Gay (which also inspired the Threepenny Opera), the show features new music by Daniel Doerksen that crosses multiple genres, with self-conscious homages to jazz, rock, musical comedy and pop.  The story is told in 10 "Fantasias," or song sequences designed to communicate a particular plot point or a character's point of view.  

I will start by saying the show is weird in the most delightful way.   David Newham has made a choice to create a world that is surreal and almost absurd.  The characters are all dressed as easily recognizable "types:"  the whore, the thief, the "virgin," the servant, sporting garish, almost-kabuki style makeup and at times, using commedia dell'arte style masks.  The tale is a relatively simple one, but the stylized movement, the deliberately poetic and stilted dialogue, interspersed with decidedly modern music, made it hard for me to follow the story.  At intermission, I turned to Caitlin and our friends Dawn and Vanessa, and said, "I love it!  I have no idea what's going on, but I love it!"  

What Beggar's Opera lacks in linear narrative, it more than makes up for in visual spectacle, bursts of startlingly effective comedy (which completely and self-consciously subverts the "serious" nature of opera), and great use of the ensemble, who are present and doing interesting things in the background of every scene - almost interesting enough to be distracting at times, but for the most part they operate effectively as a kind of Greek chorus.  Catherine Burnett's choreography is more movement than dance, but it effectively contributes to the mood of each "Fantasia" and is visually cartoon-like in places (it reminded me in places of The Triplets of Belleville), making use of lighted scrims to play with shapes and shadows.

While there were no standout numbers in terms of songs that I went away humming, Doerksen's use of many genres was impressive, and one number that parodied "Mack the Knife" (in reference to heartthrob highwayman Macheath) had the audience giggling and applauding.  The band (including Doerksen on guitar and Phyllis Ho on violin, as well as several cast members chiming on on recorder, sax and accordion) was fantastic, and the cast were enthusiastic performers, if not necessarily all accomplished singers.  Sharon Crandall's Mrs. Coaxer was a vocal highlight, and some of the three part harmonies between the "Whore's Chorus" were delightful.

I have to give a particular shout-out to my friend Chris Lam, who very nearly steals the show playing dastardly butler Filch.  Chris is a master of physical comedy and a mere change of posture, the raising of an eyebrow, the shrug of his shoulder, had the audience in stitches.  Also he stood on one foot for a very very long time in the finale, with nary a wobble.  Well done sir, well done.  

Is Beggar's Opera a perfect piece?  No.  Is it a brave one?  Yes, and absolutely entertaining.   To see a large ensemble cast fully commit to the craziness and the spectacle of this original work was just wonderful, and the production values in terms of lighting, costume and makeup were great.  If you have a chance to see it, do - it's running at Jericho Arts Centre until March 14th.   I am looking forward to seeing with Seven Tyrants gets up to next.  

Score:  4 out of 5 (Dani) Lemons.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

NY Resolution: No More Jargon

There is a word that many of my beloved colleagues use to describe what I do in the legal department, and in other departments that provide documentation or language to colleagues and clients.  And this word is: "verbiage." For example: "Dani, can you put together some verbiage on topic X for this client?" Or "We need you to approve this verbiage."

Where in the heck did the word "verbiage" come from? It seems to be firmly entrenched in corporate jargon now, along with expressions like "I'm going to reach out to X on this issue" or calling something "actionable."

Here's the thing, though. These things don't necessarily mean what we think they do, or worse: they don't mean anything at all (Actionable? Huh?). For example, the dictionary definition of "verbiage" is: "speech or writing that uses too many words or excessively technical expressions." Gosh, I know I'm a lawyer but  I do try very hard not to use too many words or be excessively technical in what I say, so calling my work that is kind of insulting.   And unless you're grabbing me for a hug (hugs always welcome!), you're not "reaching out" to me - I'd prefer if you contacted me about a task you'd like me to perform.  Or called me with regards to a work request. Or emailed me with a question. 

Doesn't sound as fancy, but it's much more clear, don't you think? 

Let's make a resolution for 2014 to say what we mean, and mean what we say. 

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Lifehack: Replace Your Countertops for Around $20.

I moved into the Woodwards Building when I moved back to Canada in late 2009.  The building was brand new, and I'm the only person who has ever lived in my suite.  I have to say - the construction is not holding up well.  Sliding pocket doors fall off their tracks regularly, the floors look horrible, several shelves in the fridge are broken, the baseboards need painting (my Pops is coming to my rescue on the painting front this month - hooray for bored retired fathers!), and the countertops - well.

The countertops are defective.  As a renter I haven't been privy to all the communications with regards to the countertops, but the story goes something like this:  the engineered marble countertops are defective in terms of the material itself - the marble wasn't "engineered" or sealed correctly.  So my high-gloss countertops quickly (like, within a month or two) turned to shit.  Even water stained them.  

My charming kitchen counter.
The strata filed a claim with New Home Warranty, who argued that it was not a defect in workmanship, but the material itself.  The developers argued otherwise.  So, the strata has been embroiled in countertop litigation for years, and my countertops have become more and more ugly.  At one point, the developers hired a company to come in to do "remediation," which meant sanding off the finish, and trying to get rid of the worst water stains.  Some of the stains were too ingrained in the marble to be removed, and the sanding off of the topcoat did nothing to protect against future stains.

The ugliness of the bathroom counter. 

I like to keep a tidy house.  I like nice things.  And my countertops are so bad that I found myself, in the dead of night a few nights ago, researching how much it would cost for me to replace the countertops myself.  Which is insane, because I rent.  And is further insane given how little investment the landlord has made into the upkeep of the suite to date.  I have found myself putting more and more "clutter" on the kitchen counters to cover up stains.  It was getting ridiculous.

So I needed a solution to the countertop problem that cleaned them up, didn't cost a lot, and wasn't irreversible since I am just a tenant.  What I came up with was: Macktack.  Sometimes called contact paper, I'm talking about heavy duty self-adhesive shelf liner.   I took to the internet, found that other people had done this to great success, and so off I went, countertop measurements in hand, to Home Depot.

I bought two rolls of "granite" look contact paper, at a cost of $8.97 each.  That was enough to cover my two large kitchen counters, and my bathroom vanity, which was also badly water stained.

Here's how I did it:

1.   I washed down my counters with soap, and dried them with a towel.

2.   Starting on the far end of my countertop, I started cutting out sheets of paper, leaving several inches of overlap.

3.  I peeled the backing off the backing paper a few inches at a time, and smoothed the paper down using a credit card (I switched at some point to a Starbucks card, I found the edges easier to use) as a kind of a squeegee.   Peeling off the paper only a few inches at a time allowed me to ensure the paper was going down smoothly, without air bubbles. 

4.  When it was time to lay another piece, I overlapped it with the previous sheet by about half an inch. When I hit sink or stove or other such obstacle, I used an Exacto knife to shape the paper. 

5.  When the entire thing was complete, I popped any remaining air bubbles using a pin.  

6.  I bought clear silicone caulk ($2.99) and caulked around the sinks in the kitchen and the bathroom (badly, but it's clear, so you can't tell just how badly), and around a few corners.  

Laying the paper.

Curriecat is dubious.  And cute.

Doesn't the bathroom look sooo much better?

Believe it or not, that's the "less cluttered" version of my kitchen.

I'm really happy with how these turned out.  They're not perfect, and I don't know how long they'll last - I may have to re-paper them at some point, and that's OK.  Because they're a heck of a lot cleaner looking than they were before, and I can put some of the "cover up the stains" clutter back in the cupboard.   I would use a speckled pattern like I did, because the pieces blend together well (harder to see the seams), and the business masks any imperfections.  Sure, it's not super-stylish, but it's a good, temporary solution to an everyday problem. 

New Favourite Semi-Guilt Free Treat: Cakes in Mugs!

It's the New Year, so we'll all be on diets for the next - week?  10 days?  I thought I'd share my favourite sinful "diet" snack of the moment:  cakes in mugs!  They take 1 minute and 40 seconds to cook, have very few regretful ingredients, and satisfy the need for something decadent to snack on. Trust me guys, these are good.  You'll feel like you've had a treat.  Plus they're portion controlled so you can't really overdo it (well, you could, you'd just have to go to the effort of making another one, and if you do that - well, that's just dedication and you go with your bad overeating self).


3 tbsp of any cake mix you like
1 tbsp of fat free sour cream
1 tbsp of egg beaters or some other egg substitute (I use Egg Creations)
a smidge (around 1/8 of a tsp) of baking soda

Spray a coffee mug with Pam.  Mix all of the above ingredients in the mug.  Throw it in the microwave for 1 minute and 40 seconds.  When the microwave dings (or beeps, or microwave-sound-of-your-choice), flip your mug over into a plate or a bowl, and garnish as you like, or as your Weight Watchers points allow.  I like using a tablespoon of fat free, NSA pudding (I use Hunts Snack Packs, 60 calories per pack).

I'm serious, you just made a cake in less than 5 minutes.  You're amazing.  You should probably go brag about this on Facebook.

Here's tonight's cake mug:

 Rainbow Chip cake mix, vanilla NSA pudding, some leftover Christmas sprinks.

And last night's cake mug:

Devil's Food cake mix, chocolate NSA pudding, grated 70% chocolate.