Ohhh, let’s talk about wanting.

I don’t know about you but a significant portion of my life is spent wanting things. At times this is fantastic, because when I want to be a better writer, or a better mother, or a healthier person, this wanting is the wolf at my heels spurring me to run faster and try harder.

Wanting something different for myself – more elegant prose, more patience, more greens – is what kicks my motivation into gear. Being able to envision an alternate reality – a better reality- inspires me to take the steps I need to get there.

But when this wanting turns from wanting to be different, to wanting to have different (or more, or better), well. That’s anther story.

I was doing pretty well in this department until we bought this sweet little old-lady house. Because I love this house. It feels like a sweet old shelter dog that we have adopted and are going to lavish love on until its last days. I have PLANS for this old-lady house. And there is nothing I love more than making our home beautiful and warm, and welcoming to those who enter it.

It used to feel frivolous, this desire to create a beautiful space. I no longer feel silly about it though. We all need walls and floors and things to sit on and curl up in, blankets to warm us and dishes to eat off.Might as well make them beautiful.

The issue is space, and wanting to fill it.


Like this space. Currently occupied by one lonely piece of art – my favourite piece of art, given to us by my grandparents as an engagement gift. It is a young deer drawn by a famous German art forger. It used to hang in the study of my grandparents house, where we slept when we stayed over. It is the last thing I remember seeing before I fell asleep on those nights.

Anyway here it is, the sole occupant of this wall by our front door. But oh! Wouldn’t it be lovely if that sweet fawn were to preside over a rustic console table like this one?

Or perhaps its spare lines would be better complemented by a battered old library card catalogue?

I think I just wet my pants.

I look at that space  – among dozens of others – every day, and I want to FILL it. I want to fill them. With things – all the things!

But because I truly believe in having less, living with less, loving a life that is less, I have to rein myself in.

And I do it by asking 4 questions:

  1. Do I need it? This one is the worst, because the answer is almost always no. Ugh, no I don’t technically NEED a console table or battered old dresser. We never come in the front door, and neither does anyone else. It would stand empty, and its only purpose would be to fill the space. Do I need that?
  2. Can I make it? This is for things that pass the first test. For example we do need a kitchen table. And rather than buying something new, I am refinishing one I bought secondhand off Kijiji. Which brings us to number three…
  3. Can I buy it secondhand? If I need it, and I can’t make it, can I buy it secondhand? Furniture, clothing, some appliances  – everything that can be purchased secondhand, is.
  4. Is this the BEST quality I can afford? For items I need, can’t make, and either can’t find or aren’t appropriate to buy secondhand, I try to buy the best quality I can afford, so I only have to buy it once. If I am buying sandals, I try to purchase well-made, beautiful, durable shoes that will last ten times as long as $3 old navy plastic flip flops.

What this list means for me, in this stage of extreme nesting, is that I am resisting those purchases that I don’t truly need, while making the ones I do, as beautiful as I can.

For me, beauty is a need. And it’s not just me. People all over the world in all societies since the dawn of time have sought to create beauty in the environment around them. I believe it is a deeply felt human need, so I don’t feel guilty for acknowledging it anymore. We need art, we need music. We need spaces that make us feel good, and warm, and peaceful, and reflected.

So I am shaking off the urge to fill space just to fill space, and instead thoroughly enjoying the process of filling the needs of our family in this house.

Thus, the front hall table is a pass. I don’t need it. And all of those months cramped into our tiny house in Squamish, didn’t I lust after just the sort of space I am trying to fill, now?

We do, on the other hand, need window coverings so that our neighbours aren’t subjected to the daily sight of me wandering around in various stages of undress, so I am turfing the table and instead investigating options to find fabric, or happen upon gorgeous well-made curtains.

I need a desk, to sit at and ruminate behind, so I am painting a door I found downstairs. Having a door desk has been on my love-to-have-it list since I discovered the demon world of Pinterest a few years ago, and with a filing cabinet under one end and who-knows-what under the other, PRESTO! Beauty.

I am trying to escape the wanting, by infusing the basics with beauty. Painting and sanding, and refinishing, restoring. Progress, but not for progress’s sake alone.

For beauty’s.


Like a real human being!

First of all, I can’t thank you enough for your kind words about Dana. It is such a strange thing to figure out how to process, and I just knew her from an online group. I can not begin to imagine what her friends and family are going through.

I hope that all of the stories pouring out from everyone that knew her can help those who are missing her by knowing what an impact she had,and what a legacy she is leaving behind.

It’s times like this I wish I was religious. I envy the comfort that faith can bring.

Now I am going to switch gears dramatically and talk about superficial nonsense. Because sometimes that’s all you can do. 

I washed my hair. It was just too much, I couldn’t deal with it. I felt gross, my pillows felt gross, I was spending eight hours a day staring in the mirror and examining my scalp while sighing deeply.

I think I made it to just over three weeks, and I am utterly convinced that using absolutely nothing to wash your hair simply can not work. (cue the chorus of “I told you so!”s)

Although I admit the worst was day 3-4, and it got better from there, it eventually reached a sort of plateau of greasiness and was nowhere close to feeling clean.

Gross. Gross. Gross.

Gross. Gross. Gross.

I love weird eco-friendly stuff as much as the next person, and I am usually OK with it taking a little more time or effort to do, but the trade off is that it has to WORK. There is no point martyring yourself for the cause.

All of the weird shit that I do, I do because it works just as well as what I was using before (if not better), but with the added bonus that I can make it myself, it’s non-toxic, it’s simple, and earth-friendly too.

This simply did not work for me. My hair was lank and waxy-feeling, and weirdly linty, like I had become Pigpen and airborne crap was coming in contact with my hair and just…sticking to it. UGH.

I have never been so excited to mix my shampoo and conditioner in my life. I can’t stop touching my hair. It feels sublime.

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In conclusion: You’re welcome. I tried it, and now you don’t have to.

(But if you haven’t tried making your own shampoo and conditioner, definitely try that!)




Dana - SweetMadeleine.ca

Paper Cranes, by Melissa Z Photography on Etsy

When I was pregnant with Olive, I went online a lot. It was mostly to ask silly questions I was too embarrassed to ask in person to my midwife or any other human being, for that matter. Things like, “Can I dent my baby from poking it too much?” or “How much bigger are my boobs really going to get?”

You know, normal pregnant-woman concerns.

In my travels around cyberspace I found, and then joined, a birth group on BabyCentre.ca.  The group was made up of women from all across Canada who were expecting in October 2012. Over time the group migrated to Facebook, became and remained a constant source of encouragement and support as my pregnancy progressed with each new obstacle (placenta previa! gestational diabetes! c-section!).

This group of strangers served as my community, my village. They were there for me when I was exhausted and rootless and trying to write my book with a newborn. They were there for me when we moved and moved and moved again.

We still write daily. Babies have become toddlers, many are pregnant again. I have always been blown away by how close I have become with these women – most of whom I’ve never met.



We lost one today.

That sounds so ridiculous. We didn’t lose her, she died.

She died.

It’s impossible.

She was a fabulous woman. A wife and a mother.

She had a daughter the same age as Olive.

She had been battling cancer since midway through her pregnancy. I still remember when she first posted about it. Her hand was bothering her, she couldn’t use her fingers correctly. She had no idea. Neither did we.


We have walked the road alongside her for the last two years. We couldn’t do much, this group, and I know that many of us wished we could do more. I have wished it almost every single day.

I thought of her often, trying to send hope and strength her way. I thought of her especially during tough days with Olive, days where exhaustion chased my heels and frustration flew from my lips. I would think of her, doing everything that I was with one hand and trying to fight a fatal disease with the other.

It was incomparable.


We did what women do. We did what little we could. We sent care packages filled with tea and magazines for her hospital stays, which became more frequent as time went on. We sent photo books. We chipped in for a photo session for her family.

I felt angry about it often. It felt so futile. “You have cancer. Here’s a basket of tea and licorice and warm socks.”

But what else can you do? What else could we do? So we sent these small gifts, tokens, and hoped that they could stand in for what we couldn’t do and say what we couldn’t bear to. That we were scared, and worried and wished we could be there to hold her hand and make her laugh with bad jokes.

She didn’t dwell or wallow, as I think I would have. We tried to follow her lead, and we didn’t either. We spoke words of encouragement and told her we were fighting for her, right there alongside her. We cheered every shred of progress and rallied behind her with each small setback. We ran races and donated blood in her name.

We knew she’d kick it, beat it. We knew she’d win. It happens all the time!

It was impossible that she wouldn’t. She had a daughter the same age as Olive.

It was incomprehensible.


It was always there though, as much as we tried our best to ignore it.

That cold undercurrent.

The tests that didn’t come back with good news. Each new bout of cancer walloping her harder and harder. The pictures.

The reality was that it didn’t look good. She wasn’t beating it – but jesus christ, not for lack of trying. The strength, the sheer stubborn will of this woman! If it was a matter of grit, of determination. If cancer could be killed with character alone-

The photo session was for her, yes. We wanted her to get dressed up and feel beautiful – but it went unspoken that it was also for her daughter. To remember. We so desperately want to help her remember that her mother was gorgeous and vibrant and full of personality – something that was readily apparent even to us, this handful of strangers behind computer screens.

The tokens we sent felt so small. What we wanted to do was be a real community for her. We wanted to take care of her daughter so she could rest.  We wanted to bring her nourishing food and do her laundry and hold her so she could fall apart instead of being so fucking strong all the time.

We wanted to shoulder some of the weight she was carrying, take on the pain of the treatments, and absorb the shock of her bald head staring back in the mirror (even though she seriously rocked that bald head.)

We wished we could take her fight and diffuse it among us, we wished we could band together and give her our strength, but of course, we couldn’t. We were so limited.

I don’t know how she did it.

As a mother, I don’t know how she got up each day and faced down the very real possibility that her daughter would grow up without her. More than anything, that’s what leaves me shattered. I look at Olive, and can’t imagine not being here for her tomorrow. That takes a kind of courage I can’t even begin to summon close.

It’s beyond devastating.

That’s what shatters me and makes me tight with rage and incomprehension. I don’t understand how this could happen. I feel petulant and angry. I feel like throwing things and crying and screaming “It’s not FAIR”.

It’s not fair.

I didn’t understand, until this morning, that I was expecting a miracle. Not hoping for one, but fully expecting it. It had to happen. She was too strong, too tough, to determined for it not to.

It was too cruel for it not to.

We’re in pieces, this group of women with no real-life ties to her. We don’t know what to do, so we are doing what women do. We are doing what we can do. We are talking about how to help her daughter, her husband.

We are banding together in our shared grief and incomprehension.

We are coming together to remember this incredible woman who died too soon, who shouldn’t be remembered as losing a fight to cancer because this woman didn’t lose a fight in her life before this.

And I am writing, because it’s all I know how to do.

I’m so sorry, Dana. My heart breaks for you and even more for M.

I don’t understand how this happened, I don’t understand how this was allowed to happen to you. I wish we could have done more. I always wished we could have done more.

I’m sorry. I’m sorry we didn’t have more than tea and pictures. I’m sorry I don’t have more than words.

I’m so sorry. We will miss you so much, and we will make sure you are remembered.


Look, I know that lately social media has become little more than a vehicle for terribly déclassé displays of bragging and one-upmanship (look at my perfect life! Envy me! Like me!) and I usually try to just avoid getting into that whole thing, you know?

On the other hand, Adam and I are no longer sleeping on a mattress on the floor.

I know.

Sooooo not that it’s a competition or anything, but I think it’s pretty clear who won this round.

#movinonup, folks.


P.S. There’s a sleeping Olive in that bed. We weren’t the only ones excited :)