Stuff I Loved in 2016

Stuff I Loved in 2016: The Mysterious Package https://www.mysteriouspackage.com unusual gifts adventure

Photo credit: The Mysterious Package Company

Happy New Year, my friends! I’m sure most of you are as relieved as I am to have a fresh start.

I always do a round-up of the greatest products I discovered during the year, but I figured everyone would appreciate a break from blogs last week, so here it is–better late than never, I say!

I am not affiliated with any of these products, so I don’t receive any kickbacks from mentioning them, sadly. 🙂 They’re just too good to keep to myself.

Best Products

Mysterious Package: If you’re looking for a unique gift, look no further. The Mysterious Package Company will send the “victim” of your choice pieces of what appears to be a real-life mystery. If the recipient hasn’t heard of the Mysterious Package Co., so much the better–he or she will believe the mystery is genuine until the final reveal letter. Most of the packages are creepy, but there are a few with a science fiction flair. Some recipients have even called the police, who confiscated their packages as evidence–that’s how genuine they seem.

Imagine having a starring role in an adventure!

Word to the wise: These adventures don’t come cheap. The least expensive one is $99 USD.

Focus: This distraction-eliminating program is super easy to customize and saved my butt during the 2016 NaNoWriMo. A free trial is available, or you can download it for just $19 USD–well worth it. It comes with a long list of pre-banned websites, but if you have discovered other time sucks, you can add them too. I love the ability to schedule the program in advance. From 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the week, I will not be able to access Google, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube. Watch my productivity skyrocket! If you really need to get out of the program, you can, but for those with no willpower, there’s a special setting that won’t let you access the blocked sites during your “Focusing” time–even if you restart your computer or turn the program off. So far I haven’t had to resort to that.

If you slip and try to access a banned site, Focus will show you a motivational quote. You can customize those as well, deleting the ones you don’t care for and adding your own.

TeeTurtle: While settling on my brand, I found myself conflicted. I write dark fiction, but I also have a weakness for all things adorable. Did I have to sacrifice my love of kawaii? As it turns out, no.

Friday the 13th T-shirt by TeeTurtle

TeeTurtle is proof that horror doesn’t have to be scary or gory. They have a wide range of soft, irresistible shirts for all genders, and almost every Thursday everything on the site goes on sale for $12 USD. Even if you don’t love horror, there’s tons to choose from. Narwhale socks, perhaps? All I know is, I’m set for any horror con in the foreseeable future.

Word to the wise: Do NOT put TeeTurtle shirts in the dryer–hang them instead. They shrink like crazy. Also, their “Women’s Fitted” shirts are in junior sizes.

Dragon Draper Necklaces: When I first saw a photo of one of these necklaces on Facebook, had to have it. I was thrilled to discover these wearable works of art are handmade by a fellow Canuck. While the site warns that it will take a considerable amount of time to receive your custom necklace, I believe I had mine in less than a month–not bad at all. She makes lots of other lovely pieces as well.

Dragon Draper Necklace - photo copyright Aelia Petro www.artbyaelia.com

Photo copyright: Aelia Petro www.artbyaelia.com

Word to the wise: I got the Aurora Borealis model shown above, and while beautiful, the colors aren’t quite as bright or dramatic as they appeared in the photo.

Rocky Mountain Soap’s Root Beer Bubble Bath: A bath is a real treat for me, and this bubble bath makes it even more so. It really does smell like root beer, results in tons of fluffy bubbles, and best of all, there are no icky chemicals, no sodium lauryl sulphate or other irritants. Pretty awesome treat for $14.50 CAD. Now, if they’d only make a bigger bottle….

Best Helpful Blog

Roland Yeomans authorI’ve gotta admit, the first time I visited Roland Yeoman’s blog, I was taken aback by all the different fonts and colors and graphics. I had no idea what I was in for.

Over the past year, Roland’s posts have become some of my all-time favourites, as he cleverly uses the words of history’s great thinkers (Sigmund Freud, Mark Twain, etc.) to dispense writing and life advice. Each post is written as if Roland is interviewing the subject’s ghost, and I always find at least one gem of really helpful advice while being in awe of his skill–it really does seem like Mark Twain is giving us advice from beyond the grave. What a clever idea! Definitely worth checking out.

Your turn! What was your best find of 2016? Have you tried any of the items on my list? If so, I’d love your opinion. What blog helped you the most last year?

If you’d like to see my picks for 2015, you can find them here.

IWSG: Going all the way

Believe

One question has made me more insecure than any other.

“How’s the writing going?”

The reason this seemingly benign question used to fill me with horror is simple. How was my writing going? Most of the time, it wasn’t.

Not that I wasn’t writing. Every week I produced thousands of words–for journalism articles, press releases, ads, and websites. By the time I was finished, I rarely had the energy for my own projects. So they–and my dreams of being a full-time novelist–languished.

I always thought it was smart to have a Plan B. Problem was, my Plan B kept taking over. Plan A never got its moment in the sun. It was relegated to my “spare” time, whatever the hell that is.

Frustrated with the corporate world, I quit my day job at the end of 2012. I promised myself I would finally give my own writing a fair shot. Instead my freelancing took over. Before I knew it, I was working 14-hour days again. I was spending more time on my own writing, but it still wasn’t enough. It continued to get crammed into the little remaining space I had left in my day.

If I’ve learned anything over the years, it’s that life is short. It’s too damn short to keep putting my dreams on hold for a Plan B that was supposed to be temporary–it’s been temporary for over twenty years now. I have a crazy idea that–if my credit union agrees today–will finally allow me to go all-in with my career as a novelist.

It’ll be a huge life change, and I’ll definitely have to make sacrifices, but you know what? I’m ready.

When I told one of my friends what I planned to do, she said:

“Can you imagine a world where you would regret doing that?”

Nope. No I can’t. Perhaps this idea isn’t so crazy after all.

While I’m sure I’ll face many insecure days on this journey, what I’m most insecure about is that my bank will say no. So cross your fingers for me, fellow writers! I’m about to go all the way.

I’ll update this post later to let you know how the meeting with my credit union goes. If you could do anything in the world, what would it be?

UPDATE: The jury is still out, as my banking rep needs more information. However, based on his manner and his lack of helpfulness, I’ve decided to wait until my former, long-standing rep gets back from vacation. I think it’s worth waiting a little longer to make sure this is done right. I’ll keep you posted! Thanks so much for the kind words and support. You guys ROCK.

Insecure Writers Support Group BadgeThe purpose of the Insecure Writers’ Support Group is to share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds. To see a full list of IWSG authors, click here.

Dear Teen Me…

Teenager

While I don’t do blog hops anymore, for this one I’ve made an exception, because

  1. I’ve always enjoyed reading “Dear Teen Me” posts. I think they’re a great idea, and I hope they’re actually reaching some of their intended audience–teenagers–rather than being a purely narcissistic exercise.
  2. I learned about this particular blog hop from Stephanie Faris, who I’ve come to think of as a friend after years of blogging. Stephanie is an amazing person who goes above and beyond for other writers without being asked, so if she says “Hop,” I will ask “How high?”

Without further ado, here’s what I wish someone would have told me before I hit the teenage years.

Dear Teen Me,

    • Don’t get upset when your peers call you “weird.” Take it as a compliment. Those same people will be envying your interesting life later on.
    • Don’t rush to get a part-time job just because your friends have one. You will have to work your entire adult life, and you already get an allowance. What do you need the extra money for? Take a couple summers off and really enjoy them, since those are probably the last commitment-free summers you will have. And you will miss them later on, believe me.
    • Take a year off after high school and travel. Don’t worry so much about getting a job–the work will come. Instead, travel the world. If you can’t find likeminded friends to go with you, there are lots of great tour groups that will introduce you to amazing new people. You won’t regret it.
    • Don’t date a guy because you’re afraid of what he’ll think of you–or what his friends will think of you–if you say no.
    • Don’t date a guy because your friends tell you to.
    • Don’t listen to people who say cruel things. The things they say are about them and their own issues, not you.
    • Don’t use your wit or humour to make fun of other people.
    • When you’re in Grade 11 or 12, a teacher will talk you out of pursuing psychology and urge you towards journalism. Don’t listen–take a few courses and discover for yourself if forensic psychology is what you’d really like to do. Otherwise, you’ll always wonder.
    • Adults don’t have all the answers, even though they sometimes act like they do.
    • If a boy gets angry when you want to spend time with your friends on your own, that isn’t love–it’s obsession.
    • If a boy tries to push you into doing something you’re not ready for, he doesn’t deserve to be in your life.
    • Don’t hate your body or your face. I know it’s difficult, but someday you are going to look back and realize how beautiful you were, and regret you wasted so much time hating yourself.
    • Spend your money on experiences (TRAVEL) instead of stuff. Anything you buy now you won’t want in two years. Trust me.
    • Don’t stop driving when you get to college, even if it’s awkward or difficult to keep your car. It’s your ticket to freedom and independence.
    • Not everyone is going to like you, and that’s okay. Don’t stress over the reasons why or worry about being nice to everyone–some people don’t deserve it.
    • This too shall pass.
    • Submit your writing to someone–anyone. There are lots of magazines out there. Start sending your work into the world, and keep sending it. If you truly want to be a writer, don’t keep your stories to yourself–share them. Enter more contests.
    • Talk your parents into hiring a professional photographer for your grad photos. You’ll thank me later.
    • Never listen to people who tell you that you can’t. You can–and will–do anything you set your mind to.
    • Enjoy your teenage years. Yes, they’re tough–some of the toughest years you’ll ever have to face–but you have incredible friends, and you’ll miss them later. Appreciate them now, and don’t regret a second you spend with them.

Teenage me

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Depression: The Silent Killer

candle

November 27th and 28th are grim anniversaries for me–on both days, a wonderful person I loved lost his battle with depression. I initially wrote this post for my friend Stan Mak, who passed away on November 27th, 2013, but I’m sharing it again in memory of Jevon Mastrangelo as well (November 28th, 2007). November is a tough month for many – if you are struggling, please remember that depression LIES. You are loved, and you are making a difference in the world, even on the days you can’t get out of bed. Someone out there needs you, though you might not know it. Please share this post with anyone you think might need it. – With much love to Jevon, Stan, and everyone who is struggling or has struggled with this terrible disease. <3 You are NOT alone.

It doesn’t matter if you don’t believe in the devil. The devil believes in you.

Depression is a silent killer. Why? Because we don’t believe in it. Much like a boogeyman under the bed or a monster in the closet, we don’t believe it exists.

And that’s when it gets us.

Because, above all else, Depression plays for keeps.

We lost a wonderful man yesterday. His name was Stan. He was 43 years old. He had two darling little girls, and he loved his wife. He had a strong network of amazing friends. He was talented–a well-known sound guy in the local film industry, he had a great eye for photography, and could whip up some wicked fried rice. He was responsible for some pretty amazing Halloween costumes too.

Stan was obsessed with music and movies. And above all, he had a good heart. Stan cared about people. He loved them with everything he had to give and could be the most caring friend, brother, son, husband and father you’ve ever seen. He had a great laugh–it seemed like he was always smiling.

And we lost him.

People will say he killed himself, but the truth is, my friend Stan had a disease. A terrible, horrible, insidious disease that made him feel nothing but despair. That robbed him of his joy. That convinced him he had nothing left to live for.

Depression killed him.

People who are dying of this disease usually know. Every day is a slow, excruciating exercise in treading quicksand. It’s a fight just to keep one’s head from going under. Some people do all the right things, like Stan did.

They talk to their friends. They try to go out and have fun. They struggle to find joy in life. They go to the doctor. They take anti-depressants.

But just like chemotherapy doesn’t always cure cancer, doing the right thing doesn’t always cure depression.

And the more we refuse to believe that depression is, in fact, a serious DISEASE that kills people every fucking day, the more it will steal the people we love from us.

For every Stan who goes for help, there a million more who suffer in silence.

If you lived in fear of the boogeyman, would you admit it?

We say depression is a weakness, it’s a choice, it doesn’t have to be that way, the person who is ill should fight it or hold on or wait or try a little bit harder….

Bullshit.

Do we ever say people who die of cancer could control it? Or should have been stronger, or fought harder? Why is a disease of the body given so much more respect than a disease of the mind, when the mind controls everything? There is no body without the mind.

Suicide is a big ugly guilt bomb that explodes over everyone.

But if we waste time feeling guilty, we’re missing the point.

Guilt is all about us, not the person we lost.

Depression wants us to feel guilty, because then it wins. And hey, if we feel guilty enough, maybe it can claim another one of us.

When a loved one dies of cancer, what do we do? We get angry. We raise money. We hold fundraisers and awareness events and yell, “Fuck you, cancer! We’re not taking this lying down! You’re not going to take another one of our friends.”

So why can’t we do that for depression?

Because trust me, depression needs to have its ass kicked.

Do it for Stan.

I love you, buddy.

How a Writer Feels When Her First Book is Released

Cover

The title of this post is a bit of a misnomer, I’ll admit.

I can’t tell you how all writers feel. I can just tell you how I do.

Today is the day my very first published book will be released. I now have things that I’ve dreamed of having since I was in grade school–a publisher, an editor, and (hopefully) an audience.

It’s surreal.

Even though today is the day The Bear Who Wouldn’t Leave is officially for sale, people have been reviewing it for over a month, mostly thanks to my publisher, who distributed those handy advance copies. Here’s my early impressions of what it’s like to go from unpublished to published.

It’s an odd feeling to know strangers are reading your work

Not friends. Not family. Or well-meaning beta readers. Even when you send your work to critique groups, you know most of the critics. You usually know exactly how tough they’re going to be.

Not so reviewers. You don’t know if someone is going to be in a bad mood when they pick up your book, or hate the fact that you have a publishing deal and they don’t. Maybe they’ll just hate the topic of your novel, or the level of violence, or the fact that your antagonist is a cursed stuffed panda, because they have a soft spot for stuffed pandas. It’s not something you can prepare for.

I’ve found that old adage, “Prepare for the worst and hope for the best,” is the most you can do. But I admit I still flinch whenever I see a new review on Goodreads–that’s the “preparing for the worst” part of me.

People will be wonderful, but not always the ones you expect

In addition to my writers’ group, my boyfriend, and my closest friends, the people who have been the most supportive–and incredibly, unbelievably so–have been the friends I’ve made online. One woman reviewed my book and gave me feedback on two other manuscripts, simply because we hit it off on Facebook. Another has worked her butt off helping me make connections in the industry and get reviews, and I’m still not sure why, beyond the fact that she’s a fabulous person. The amazing family that is Samhain Horror has astounded me with their constant support and encouragement–these are all writers who hadn’t heard of me just a few months ago (a few weeks, in some cases).

But others, including people I’ve been in writers’ groups with, friends, and former co-workers, haven’t managed so much as a, “That’s nice.” I’d heard the same from other authors, and all I can advise is not to expect anything from anyone, as difficult as that might be sometimes. That way you won’t be disappointed. At the very least, focus on the ones who support you and forget about the ones who couldn’t be bothered. It’s human nature to focus on the negative, but it won’t do you any favours.

It’s a little anticlimactic…and a bit of a relief

My book is on the market today, but pre-orders have been available for over a month, so it feels like there’s already been a lot of watching sales numbers and doing interviews and writing guest posts and soliciting reviews. Now that the big day is finally here, I won’t be surprised if it doesn’t feel any different from the days before it. But part of that’s my fault–I didn’t plan a launch-day celebration.

My advice? Plan something special, even if it’s a simple lunch with a friend. You only have your first publishing experience once.

It opens doors

This book has already accomplished two amazing things for me–I was able to write a post for Chuck Wendig’s Terrible Minds blog (swoon!) and I was welcomed into an amazing community of horror writers.

I’m not sure what’s next for me, but I do know that I’m ready to unleash this bear upon the world. To everyone who pre-ordered a copy, wrote a review, invited me on their blog, and otherwise encouraged and cheered me on, thank you so much.

A writer is nothing without her friends

That one almost goes without saying.

The Bear Who Wouldn’t Leave: 

Amazon | Samhain | Kobo | B&N | Trailer

Haunted Travel: Writing with Ghosts in Transylvania

The infamous Bran Castle.

 

It may just be the most amazing writers’ retreat ever.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say it is.

This summer, I’ll be in Transylvania for the Horror Writers’ Workshop.

What better place to craft a scary story than in the shadow of Bran Castle, which inspired Bram Stoker as he was writing Dracula? Or inside an actual haunted house?

The Horror Writers’ Workshop is hosted by Richard Thomas, an author of five books, including Transubstantiate (Otherworld Publications, 2010) and Disintegration (Random House Alibi, 2015). He will be holding workshops and one-on-one critiques each day of the week-long event.

I’ve never met Richard, but he’s already been extremely welcoming and gracious, which is impressive, considering I registered on Saturday night. The same can be said for the conference organizers.

For most people, Transylvania is synonymous with the real Dracula, otherwise known as Vlad Tepes, a dictator who ruled Wallachia in the 1400s. Tepes earned his nickname (Dracula means “Son of the Devil” or, historically, “Son of the Dragon”) by impaling his enemies and otherwise torturing them. Even “Tepes” is a nickname–it means “Impaler.”

This workshop will not disappoint. I’ll be able to visit the house where Dracula was born, along with a notoriously haunted forest.

I’d always thought the vampire legend was something trotted out for tourists, but Tausha Johnson, one of the workshop organizers, tells me that isn’t the case.

“Transylvanias are seriously superstitious. For them, vampires and the living dead are not just folklore,” she said.

As a horror writer, visiting Romania has been on my bucket list forever, and I’m so excited to be able to walk the same streets as Stoker and Dracula.

If this sounds like the perfect retreat for you, there are still five spaces left! A deposit of 350 Euros will hold your space.

Have you ever been to Transylvania? If so, what did you think? It’s definitely the ultimate location for a horror writers’ workshop, but I’m curious…for those writers who work in other genres, where’s the perfect place for you? Where would the ideal romance or fantasy-writers’ retreat be held, for instance?

P.S. If you like this post, you’ll love my round-up of some of the spookiest places in the world.

Photo credit: Jaysmark. View license here.

The Great Difficulty of Accepting Compliments

So, The Boy and I have this couple’s journal. It requires us to answer questions everyday.

On January 9th, our task was to describe each other in one word.

For me, The Boy chose inspirational.

Which led to a great big discussion about how I don’t see myself as inspirational. (Yes, I’ve since apologized and clarified that I wasn’t picking on his word choice.) I just never thought in a million years that anyone would see me that way. I was surprised. Floored, actually.

To me, inspirational people have done something truly great with their lives. Marie Curie, Sally Ride, Muhammad Ali, Martin Luther King Jr., Harriet Tubman…to me, they are what inspirational looks like.

But then The Boy explained that where I am and what I do is exactly where he’d like to be. He finds that inspirational.

Oh.

And I realized that arguing this point was as dumb as him telling me he’s not a good photographer because he’s comparing himself to the best in the world.

There are levels of greatness, just as there are levels of inspiration. Intellectually, I know this. Emotionally is a whole ‘nother ballgame.

I wrote about striving for 100 rejections yesterday, but the truth is, I can handle dozens of rejections more gracefully than I can take a single compliment.

While I strive to get better at this, if you say something nice about me, you’re bound to get a joke or something mildly self-deprecating in response.

Which I’m sure is annoying as fuck. I apologize. I’m really trying to improve.

It’s small comfort to know that at least I’m not alone. Last year, a local reporter wrote a brilliant column about how women tend to disparage themselves. I identified with it so much that I shared it on my author page, only to be (gently) lambasted by someone who’d complimented my appearance and hadn’t liked the response.

No one wants to hear excuses. They don’t want to hear how you were taught from a young age that feeling good about yourself = vanity, or about your early experiences with abuse that crushed your self-esteem, or the bullies who told you that you were ugly, or anything else.

They just want you to be confident at all times, because confidence is attractive. Unless you’re perceived as too confident, which comes across as vain.

It’s a fine line.

In the meantime, I will practice saying “Thank you” without the disclaimer. If you tell me I look beautiful in my new author photos, for example, I will try really hard not to say it’s because I had a great photographer.

Sorry!

I’m still a work in progress, clearly.

Do you have trouble accepting compliments, or are you comfortable with them? And if you’re comfortable, please oh please share your secrets!

Thanks for reading!

How I’m Going To Break My Addiction Once and For All

Welcome back, Dear Readers.

2015 is going to be my year for battling personal demons…and kicking their respective asses.

It isn’t going to be easy, but neither is making a living as a freelance writer, fighting in the ring, and writing six novels.

I figure I’ve got this.

I’ve talked about breaking this particular addiction before. Embarrassingly enough, that was in 2011, and if anything, it’s even worse today. Working in an office kept it in check, but now that I’m at home, I have almost constant access to this particular demon.

I’m talking about my addiction to Diet Pepsi.

Why am I still struggling with this? Well, there always seemed to be a bigger challenge I was facing. This gave me a built-in excuse.

“I can’t train for a fight and stop drinking Diet Pepsi at the same time. It’s too much pressure.”

“I can’t start eating healthy and stop drinking Diet Pepsi! The Diet Pepsi will be my treat.”

“I can’t write a novel in 30 days without drinking Diet Pepsi! I need that caffeine-laden, carbonated goodness to get me through the long nights of writing.”

You get the picture. There was always a reason not to stop.

Such is the way with addictions.

But each year I get more and more concerned with how much Diet Pepsi I drink. I know it’s terrible for my health, and the old excuse that it’s my only vice isn’t holding water for me anymore. What if smoking was my only vice? Would I still be so cavalier about it? In a word, no.

Since my mother was diagnosed with osteoporosis a few years ago, I became even more concerned about diet soda’s affects on my bones. I already know what it can do to the teeth. It’s scary stuff.

There are other reasons I want to quit. Here’s just a few:

  • All that money adds up. It would be better spent somewhere else.
  • I don’t want to be worried about finding my next “fix” when I’m traveling in another country.
  • I’m tired of feeling dependent on something that comes in a can.
  • It’s bad for the environment. Yes, I recycle my cans, but how much energy does that require? And what if the island we move to doesn’t have a sophisticated recycling plant?
  • It’s embarrassing.
  • Since I don’t have a vehicle, I often have to depend on the kindness of friends to haul my cases of Diet Pepsi home. (When it’s on sale, I go crazy!)

I’ve given up Diet Pepsi once before, but it was extremely short-lived. I got to the weekend fine, started craving it, and gave in to the suggestion that I have “just one.” That was enough to get me hooked again. Plus, I still had a lot of it in the house.

So, based on some extensive web research, here is my ultimate quitting plan.

This week, I’ll cut my consumption by 25%.

Next week means another cut–by 50%.

The week after that, I’ll have a can every other day until it’s gone. After that, no more.

I’ve made the difficult decision not to have it again after this month. Once it’s done, if I really want an occasional treat (and I do mean occasional), I’ll have a regular Coke. I’m not worried about getting addicted to Coke because of its calorie content. One of the reasons Diet Pepsi had me in its clutches for so long is the fact that it’s calorie free. And I won’t keep Coke in the house.

Yesterday was my first day, and it was easier than I thought, but I realize I’m still in baby-step mode. But I’m hopeful that, at the end of this month, I’ll be able to tell you that this particular monkey is no longer on my back. Wish me luck!

Have you given up a bad habit? How did you do it?

Thanks for reading!

Top Ten Finds of 2014

Turn your home office into a gym!
Sometimes I stumble upon something that is too good not to share. Here are the Top Ten things I found in 2014.
Some of them surprised even me. Especially number four!
(No one has sponsored me, given me a pat on the back, or otherwise given me an incentive to mention these products. They were just too good to keep to myself.)
1) The TrekDesk: Writing is not the healthiest occupation in the world. Writers spend a lot of time sitting, which has proven to be detrimental to our health. Thankfully, some genius created the Trek Desk–a workspace which fits neatly over any treadmill.
Walking at a slow and gentle speed while you work may add years to your life. When you consider that, it’s worth every penny.
2) POREfessional Agent Zero Shine: I have one of the shiniest faces on the planet, and not in a good way. I should have bought stock in anti-shine powder and oil-blotting wipes. Unfortunately, nothing I tried lasted longer than thirty seconds until my dear friend Niki introduced me to this wonderful product, which actually works. It comes with an adorable little brush built in and is a light powder, which is great for those of us who don’t wear foundation. Highly recommended!
3) Heart Core Design’s Stacking Rings: I love these little sterling silver rings so much that I’ve bought eight of them. Yep, me–the girl who is downsizing. They are beautiful and expressive, and the designer does custom work as well.
4) A Lifesaving Shoe: I admit it–I’ve made fun of Crocs and Holeys, calling them the ugliest shoes in the world. But when I was staying with my parents for Christmas this year, I put on one of my mom’s pairs as a joke. And it was a revelation! I’ve had terrible heel pain for months (yes, I’m seeing a specialist in January), and as long as I wear these shoes, the pain is gone. The shoes I wore aren’t Crocs or Holeys, but an even cheaper knockoff. There’s no brand name on the shoes at all, and they feel like they’re made of foam rubber, but they’ve temporarily saved my feet. I’ve linked to Holey’s as the next best thing. (And don’t worry, I still won’t be wearing them outside the house.)
5) Lemony Flutter Cuticle Butter: Every year I resolve to take better care of my nails, and each year I fail miserably. This product is so awesome that 2015 might just be the year I follow through. It smells amazing–like real lemongrass, not a synthetic, fake lemon fragrance–and it’s super thick and fun to use. I noticed a difference the first time I used it. It’s a bit greasy, so make sure you don’t plan to do anything afterwards but rest and relax for a while. * Please see note at bottom of post.
6) A Journal for Couples: When I bought this to put in The Boy’s Christmas stocking, I wasn’t sure if he’d go for it. After all, not every guy wants to write in a journal with his girlfriend. But we both really love this gift. It’s a three-year journal, and each person writes the answer to 365 questions every year. It’s fun, you learn a lot about each other, and you see how your answers change over the three years. Plus, the space for your answers is so small that it really doesn’t take a lot of time. Questions include, “What’s crucial to you right now?” and “Who are your heroes?”
7) Hours of Fun for Felines: This collapsible cat tunnel was the best twenty dollars I ever spent, but when I said that in my Amazon review, the price immediately increased to thirty. Wtf? In any case, if you hesitate buying cat toys because your felines never play with them, you might want to try this tunnel. I suspect it’s best with multiple cats. It’s hilarious to watch them play in this thing. They go crazy!
8) Speaking of Cats…: This sweatshirt isn’t bulky, and it’s incredibly soft and comfortable. And appropriate, especially when you have three fuzzy family members.
9) Best Summer Dress. Ever: It’s pretty. It’s comfortable. It’s fun. This dress couldn’t be any more perfect. I love, love, love it. It seems to be out of stock right now, but Modcloth always releases versions with different patterns and colours in the summertime.
10) Owl Christmas Lights: When I saw these, I knew I had to get them for my Christmas tree. They’re even cuter in person. So glad I bought them!

Hope you found a new treasure on this list! What was your top find of 2014?

* A note about LUSH: Their high-pressure sales tactics are insane! And annoying as (insert expletive of choice here.) To avoid this, shop their website. You may have to pay a little for shipping, but trust me, it’s worth it not to have to repeat “I’m just looking” to eight overenthusiastic, hyped-up perky types who are determined to show you how shower gel works.

Thanks for reading!

The Importance of Keeping Your Promises

Balinese children at a friend’s English school. Another friend and I
sponsored two children so they could attend as well.

It’s easy to get swept away when you travel, especially when you travel to a country that is radically different from your own.

If you’ve visited developing countries, it’s probably a given that you’ve met wonderful people who are in desperate need. You want to help them, but maybe you don’t have the means at the moment, with your bare essentials crammed into a backpack and a meagre travel budget.

So you make promises.

Almost everyone does.

Once you’re back home, jet-lagged and playing catch up at work, those promises are easy to forget. Or maybe you’ve changed your mind. That money you’d said you would donate might seem difficult to part with when the Visa bills roll in.

And packing up those old clothes and books takes so much time.

You put it off. You push it to the back of your mind. And eventually, you forget about it.

But the person you’ve made the promise to doesn’t.

What may seem like a small amount to some of us can make a world of difference to someone else.

And the promise of help–however small–is intensely meaningful to someone who can’t afford to eat everyday. Or go to school. Or get medical care.

With those well-meant promises, you are offering hope. All they have to do is wait patiently for you to get home, and you will follow through, right? You will remember their friendship, their kindness.

Can you imagine how they feel when they receive nothing?

What if you’re the only Canadian, American, or European they met that year? Doubtful, given the amount of travel that takes place in the world today, but still possible. Or what if you were the first experience they had with a Westerner?

When I traveled to Zimbabwe in 2001, I met so many lovely people. And most were in desperate need. The country was in the middle of an uprising, so tourism had dramatically declined, and with it many of the villagers’ sources of income.

I gave them everything I could spare at the time, and promised to send more clothes and shoes when I got home. I actually followed through, but it cost me almost $100 to send that box, which seemed like a lot of money. I never heard back from anyone, and I had no idea if the people who needed those things had received them or not.

As a result, many of those who’d been promised photographs from me never received them. I feel badly about that. I should have taken the time.

It feels good to know that you can make a difference, however small, in the lives of the people you meet when you travel. But if you’re not 100 percent sure you can fulfill that promise, please don’t make it.

It does more harm than good.


Has traveling inspired you to make a difference? Have you ever regretted a promise you made during a trip?

Photo credit: Greg Klassen

Thanks for reading!