Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Alternative Lifestyle

Here’s the thing: Renovating a house that’s 130 years old is folly, pure and simple. The fact that we’re experiencing the wettest spring on record, like ever, since records began, is just an plot point. And, in ironic hindsight, last summer was the driest on record. You may recall we were meant to begin the reno then, but the City fucked it up for us… To address the elephant in the room, no, the builders are not currently on schedule, and the reasons are completely force majeure. We cannot blame them for the outputs of global warming.

Brief depressing sidebar: Global warming is terrible in all the ways – macrocosmic and minute. Small silver lining? TO may eventually be one of the most livable places, once the West coast has been crippled by that impending earthquake (sorry West Coast), and the South is uninhabitable from drought and heat. We’re far enough north and not predisposed to the blights that will be the end of many other places. We are land-locked but we have a Great Lake and adequate water supply. Our economy is sound and we are a seriously, one might say absurdly, commerce-based culture. You don’t live here so much as you work here. I know, sounds fun. But till things get worse, the impact of global warming on this microclimate may continue to be rain, damp and cold. Toronto was a fine place to live, weather-wise, until about 15 years ago. Now the formerly-short springs are non-existent and the winters vacillate wildly. The rain and grey (really it’s more taupe than grey) are omnipresent for, literally, months at a time. It’s like merging all the crappy elements of English weather with BC weather with a bit of Norway thrown in. And, I regret to inform you, unlike London, Victoria and Tromso, this city is full-on ugly without a blue sky and the sun.

But back to my house and its renovation schedule. In addition to the time-sucking weather, we’ve identified a substantive issue in the foundation-digging phase. I’m not going to get into it for many reasons, not least of which is that my freaking out over the internet isn’t going to solve the problem. That's why we have a team of competent builders, architects and structural engineers. Furthermore, these stories are best told at the end of the trial, over a massive martini, in one’s newly landscaped – and envy-making - back garden. Let me just reiterate that renovating a house that’s 130 years old is fucking folly. And really, having undertaken this, even given that I could have bought 2 houses in Baie St. Paul for the quoted cost of this renovation, I’d have been na├»ve to think it wasn’t going to get more complicated and more expensive still. My refrain for 2017: It’s just money.

To address the other elephant in the room: Since I have gone through all of the misery of moving house once, and I appear to be happily living elsewhere (though it’s more accurate to suggest I’m residing), do I wish I’d just sold the Victorian row house and gone somewhere else? Well, if ever one were going to answer that with a hell, yes, it would be now, but given that the housing market in Toronto has gone super nova this year (even more so than the super nova insanity of other years), I need to temper my answer somewhat. In short, what’s happening in this housing market is quite different than what’s happening in Vancouver, for example. Our issue isn’t so much foreign investment driving up prices but actual lack of supply. You simply can’t find a house to buy. And if you can, the price has shot up by 30 per cent in this year alone and probably 200 per cent in the last 15 years. So, while I could sell my house for a small fortune right now, really, I’d have to spend a larger fortune to find another. Not to mention that my small fortune would be smaller, in the absence of this home improvement, for having known about (some of) the structural issues because I’m a discloser.  More to the point, any new downtown house would likely be in way worse shape than the one I currently own. Because, no question, I’ve done right by my home. I have fixed it, nay – lovingly restored it, multiple times over. But no scenario is near-perfect without effort of some sort. And the trajectory I’m on is not for the risk-averse. Did I mention I’m kind of risk-averse? Oh well...

Times are very strange right now, that’s for sure. Liminal doesn’t quite describe it. I live in a place that seems less home-like than many an AirBNB I’ve rented (not that I can fault the place, it meets every need). My kid is only nominally a kid and soon she will leave to begin a life of her own. My old job is my new job and I’m trying to figure out how to express my new self within the usual dynamic. (Note: My old/new job continues to be kind to me in every way and for this I am very grateful.) So much money is going in so many different directions. And it’s not like spending it is fun. I’m not relaxing in Europe. In fact, I’m so far from the finish line that it seems even more impossible to imagine it now than it was before this whole thing got started.

And yet, I can’t say things are bad. The money is quantifiable. On some level, it lives in a spreadsheet. I still go out for fine dinners – to new, fun places now in a new 'hood. I have a quiet, clean place to live. I don’t have to parent in that perennial, exhausting fashion of my friends with young children. My time is mine, more that it has been in years. Scott and I are getting on like 2 lovers on vacation, which is bizarre given that we are generally bickerers when the stress is up. While this city is not at its best, weather-wise - and I’m not at my best once I’ve lived through 9 months of terrible weather - the likelihood is that it’s going to improve. (Note: I’m not stupid. I’m resigned to a wan summer and it does make me angry.) Despite the damp and cold, systemic pain is being kept at bay by a years-long overhaul of my lifestyle – on just about every front. Sure, it hovers, but I’m managing. Despite constant stressors, I’m looking rather good these days.

Some people wander from place to place and they find the constant in themselves. I find the constant in a new inch of height in the cedar in my front yard, in the modulated curve of molding against a century old plaster wall. I find the constant in the room where I’ve practiced yoga thousands of times, staring out the window at the flowers, flowers that now line a bin out back. (My dwarf lilac didn’t make it, btw. It was unceremoniously executed last week and I use that term specifically.) To suggest that I can be where I am is as true as it is impossible because I’m tied to the ties and they’re like vines that grow slowly. But what I've learned recently - and it's very cool shit - is that there’s no reason I can’t be a traveller, unencumbered. After all, this may be as close as I come to living in a new city for a long, long time.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

A Little Bit of Knowledge is a Dangerous Thing

A couple of Sundays ago, I undertook an unassuming biochem experiment on myself, to see what would happen, if anything, to my blood sugar level if I drank alcohol without eating at the same time. Apparently, in some people, drinking alcohol in the absence of food lowers blood sugar. And yes, to address the elephant in the room, I have gone through a zillion little needles because, seriously, I'm not moderate but I am curious. (BTW, while the process isn't painful, it is irritating. One gets little bruises on the fingers pretty quickly. I feel for my diabetic friends who have no reprieve.)

So here's something that's leaving the repertoire stat, whether it's warranted or no: drinking any amount of booze on an "empty stomach". BTW, when I speak of drinking, I'm not talking about hard liquor or umbrella cocktails laden with sugar. On the distant heels of a robust breakfast* (admittedly more than an hour earlier), 4 oz of red wine lowered my blood sugar to the low end of normal** and might or might not have led to a really shitty, possible low blood sugar experience later in the aft. 

To clarify - I ate again an hour after drinking the wine (a few pieces of salami), thought I was sated, and then 30 minutes after that I felt legit hungry, so I ate more salami and some pistachios. My point is, I didn't just drink a glass of wine after more or less fasting for 16 hours. I ate protein and fat at breakfast and then again for a snack. But, while I was pleasantly sitting in a chair eating that lunch, I started to feel the feeling.

As for the feeling - here's how it goes when it's bad (note: I paid as much attention as I could to observe the fast cascade of symptoms, which usually just feels like an onslaught). First up I felt icy-strange, vaguely depersonalized. Then I got hot and cold at the same time and neither temperature would take hold. Effectively I felt feverish on the outside and freezing on the inside but that doesn't really describe it. There was a tinny sensation - like there was metal around me and I could taste or smell it. I became confused - even as I'd been concentrating on something, with no issue, moments earlier. The thing about confusion is that you know something's not right but you can't figure out what the fuck is going on. My arrhythmia kicked into gear. I was lightheaded. I could feel my body searching for some normalcy - a steady heart, the groundedness of my corporeal self. I mean, just the nausea almost had me on the ground.

I did stand, prob not wisely, because I was desperately looking for an escape. On some level, I knew I had to get some food though I couldn't figure out what. (In retrospect, it couldn't have hurt to take a swig of maple syrup, but I wasn't thinking clearly.) As I walked the few feet from the chair to the counter, I also knew I had to get down on the ground because everything was swirly. Note: That's when I got it that things were really not going well. My descent was more by collapse than intent but I was able to make it lighter than it would have been otherwise.

Scott was on the third floor of this fucking rental mansion we live in currently and he couldn't hear me calling, not to mention that I wasn't yelling very loudly. After some period of time that was probably a minute but felt like an eternity, I dragged myself to my phone and called him. No answer. I pressed the button again. He was asleep and his phone was in the other room. Finally I texted: I need help. Somehow he woke up, thought he'd heard me calling him (I wasn't at that point) and came downstairs.

Long story short, he brought me a shawl and pillow (I was on that floor for a while), some water and quickly toasted me an English muffin with a ton of butter - why did neither of us think of maple syrup or a freakin' cookie for the quick fix?? After about 10 minutes of sitting on the floor, becoming gradually less wrecked, I moved to the couch where I fell asleep for about half an hour. BTW, I knew, even as I lay there feeling crappy, that this would be a perfect time to test my blood sugar, dammit, but I could not move to get to the gizmo (or work the gizmo, who am I kidding?). I was pretty cold after all of this. Eventually I moved myself to my duvet-covered bed where I sort of slept for 2 hours. When I got up, Scott brought me some blackberries and a piece of gouda, and some more water. I was fine after that.

I'm sure you'll agree that this is not the kind of thing one wants to experience on repeat. The only thing I did differently on this day, vs other days, was to drink a glass of red wine on a relatively empty stomach. Not that it's the first time I've ever done that (and I don't usually end up on the floor under that circumstance). Were the low normal reading after the wine and the subsequent horrid experience independent of one another? I hope not. I'd like to think I've identified a problem and a solution at the same time! :-) In truth, this isn't the first time I've experienced this fugue and it's been happening since long before I knew about blood sugar, not that it's a regular occurrence. Not having been able to distinguish one biochemical response from the other, I've previously assumed it was an anxiety response. It would be bizarre to determine that this kind of horridness is fueled by low blood sugar fueled by wine on an empty stomach - because that's stupidly avoidable. What the fuck else lowers blood sugar, cuz I need to know! Bring on that lancer, baby. 

What I'll also say is that I will not experiment on myself again without some sugar nearby - not that I have any proof that this was a hypoglycemic incident. In the event that I brought this on myself, I'm a total idiot. My motto: Experimenters, be prepared.

So, today's questions (for the blood sugar savvy): Does this sound like a non-diabetic hypoglycemic episode? Could a small amount of alcohol, taken in the absence of food, lead to this sort of outcome (given food timing). Have you ever experienced anything like this and, if yes, what steps have you taken to avoid recurrence? Let's talk!

PS: It has occurred to me that what allowed this to happen is more systemic than I've assumed. I've been eating no grains or beans and not so many carbs for a few months now. My blood sugar may be generally lower as a result. Furthermore, I drink about 25% of what I used to. I can't imagine this, but maybe my tolerance is lower. Plus, I weigh somewhat less. So the response I had, if blood sugar related, may have been influenced by these factors.


* Look, I don't like eating breakfast - robust was a wet cappuccino with collagen peptides (8g protein), an egg and then, an hour later, my hot chocolate (utterly equipped with fat and calories). Secretly, when I make this drink I usually replace the water with heavy cream on top of the unsweetened coconut cream... And I do eat vegetables, just not in this post.

** For reference, my fasting level was 5.2 mmol/L, after breakfast it was 6.1, after the food-free wine experience it was 4.3. Next time I could test was 30 min after dinner and it was 5.4. How I wish I'd had the wherewithal to test during the "episode".

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Monitor

So back to the food lifestyle (i.e. my sustainable version of the anti-inflammatory protocol diet), I've done something nutty even by my own standards: I bought a glucose monitor. Look, I didn't online-shop this one. I went to the pharmacist and told her my rationale (see below) and she suggested that, while she's never had a non-diabetic person purchase a glucometer, sometimes doctors do prescribe them to their patients when they're trying to figure out blood sugar things. Apparently, I could have got a prescription and the device would have been free. It was worth the 75 bucks to me to avoid having to spend 1.5 hours getting to, from and waiting for the doctor.

The Rationale: I've been wanting to confirm what's going on with my blood sugar for, like, 10 years. When I say I believe I have a hair-trigger response to food - and more specifically to not eating food regularly enough or in the right way - I'm not being glib. I've observed this multiple times a day for as long as I can remember. It's only in the last 3 months that I realize I ate simple carbs to forestall nausea (which is recurrent every few hours and not the result of stress - trust me, I'm an expert on my stress-response), shaking, tachycardia (I have SVT), headache and deep irritation followed by the kind of hunger that is desperate for sugar in a way I cannot describe (like drug addiction drive). My mother took me to the doctor for this when I was a kid and it was determined I had hypoglycemia (a diagnosis that seemed out of whack). In retrospect, I think it was idiopathic post-prandial syndrome but there's no way to know until I have a better sense of my blood sugar levels after fasting, before meals and after meals.

I can say that the one thing that's different in the last 3 months is that I eat a ton of fat and few simple carbs. My protein intake is about the same. I've gradually increased my fat intake to, oh, 60 per cent of my diet - healthy fats - and I am much less shaky. Yeah, I suppose this is ketogenic but that's not my goal. I'm just trying to find a way to eat that makes me feel stable (bizarre concept peeps) and, on experimentation, this has provided the best response to date. When I start to feel shaky - because I am really resistant to eating regularly and I do believe this is learned/habitual - I eat a tablespoon of fat (fish oil, mct oil, coconut oil, avocado oil) - yeah, out of the bottle, and it buys me a little bit of time to find food without nausea or shaking. I can see that my consumption of alcohol, while not motivated by low blood sugar levels, works to keep them stable in the absence of food, or the presence of small amounts of food. (Update: Actually, today I learned that booze lowers my blood sugar levels to the very lower edge of the normal level. I do appear to have lower than average blood sugar at certain times of the day.)

Let me be clear right now - I am acting as my own experimental subject. Needless to say, I am not suggesting that anyone else do what I'm doing. This is the latest step in an engaged conversation with my own biochemistry and it comes on the heels of many years of introspection.

But back to the monitor...

For starters, you practically need a higher degree to figure out how the fuck to use this thing (which is actually multiple bits and pieces). Don't worry - there are videos and tons of guides. I'm not one of those peeps who gets as much from reading instructions as I do from looking at all of the moving parts and independently figuring out how they go together. But this requires reading.

Also, everyone I've told about this (I've been planning this purchase for a while), thinks I'm insane because you have to lance your finger with a tiny needle (to get a drop of blood, which is how the blood sugar is tested). Let me make this perfectly clear: If that freaks you out, don't do it. I am in no way afraid of needles, blood or pain, though my preference is not to inject things, cuz that's creepy. There are so many people in this world who have to undertake this monitoring process multiple times a day and they manage elegantly. For me, to test my blood sugar 3 6 times a day for a few days is entirely baby-style so I don't intend to make something out of it. I can assure you, lancing barely registers on the pain scale. Barely. (This isn't to suggest that diabetics don't have a rough road because testing 7-8 times a day, life-long, is a totally different story and one I'm happy not to have to entertain.)

I just started this morning and I'll keep you posted, though I can appreciate my blood sugar levels are probably the most boring thing imaginable to anyone other than me. I do love that we live in an age where this monitoring is possible.

Kristin's Coconut Milk Hot Chocolate

Let me leave you with a hot chocolate recipe that I "made up", not that hot choc recipes are rocket science. It's SO insanely delicious, you might want to drink it every day. It's fab for curtailing hunger and moderating anxiety because the fat involved (medium chain fatty acids, from coconut milk) goes straight to the brain where it can be used as an alternative source of fuel to glucose. Also, the cacao (or cocoa) powder contains cannabinoids which get together with your brain's endocannabinoid receptors and produce the most fantastic sedative effect. But really, all that aside, it's really stabilizing for those of us with the hummingbird metabolisms.
  • 2 tbsp unsweetened cacao or cocoa powder (use the good stuff and avoid dutch-process), mix with a bit of water to create a smooth sauce. Use fork or small whisk.
  • 1 can (798 ml) coconut milk - use the kind from BPA-free cans, organic, pref without guar gum. Put the cream in a saucepan. Discard the liquid. Add a bit of water to re-liquify the cream. Don't use too much because the cream will thin as it warms. You can always add more water later.
  • Pinch salt (smoked is good)
  • Tsp vanilla extract (the real stuff)
  • Tsp maple syrup - use the least amount of syrup you can while still getting with the taste. It should not make the coconut choc mixture sweet. The taste should be neutral between the bitter, salt and sweet, but not more bitter than you can stand. What you're looking for is richness, not sweetness.
Mix all of these together and stir till silky and lump-free on low heat. When it heats to point that you can see steam, turn off mixture and leave for 10 minutes to cool and cohere. Then turn back on - again on low heat - and wait till it comes almost to a boil. This will give a very silky, glossy texture to the choc. The texture should be what you like - so add water as necessary. I use very little water cuz I like it to taste like Mayan hot chocolate (really dark, bitter and thick). You may not be able to drink the full amount (which comes to about 8 oz). I don't have an issue with this but do keep in mind that it's somewhere around 500 calories of saturated fat. It's really good fat but, if you're eating a lot of carbs in your diet, you shouldn't overdo it with this. Fat plus simple carbs (sugar) equals weight-gain in many. If you eat very few carbs / sugar, you can make this part of your daily diet - though you may want to talk with your doctor if you have high-cholesterol.

You will know pretty quickly if it's not right for you. It'll seem too fatty and rich. If it works, you'll feel fantastic very quickly and it will not seem fatty at all. Also, you may need to adjust to the relatively low sweetness if you're used to eating chocolate sweet.  1 can use 1/2 tsp maple syrup before it starts to taste like dirt (though it's a pleasant, ground-like taste). Some peeps are put off by it. You can always add a bit more syrup, half-tsp at a time, to get to a place that works for you but be very discriminatory.

This is perfect as breakfast (you can prep it the night before and store in fridge in the saucepan for next morning) or dessert or meal replacement (on occasion). If you're one of those people who can't eat once you get shaky, you will prob be able to stand this because there's no chewing involved and it's taste-neutral. If you are anxious, it will calm you down. Trust me. In a rare few, the high-concentration of cocoa/cacao may make you actually high, so I've read. I can attest to the fact that my brain is very happily responsive to chocolate, hence my daily consumption going on 25 years.

Today's questions: Have you ever monitored your blood sugar with a glucometer? How did it go? Do you love hot chocolate made with coconut milk? Have you ever tried a low-sugar, high-fat, high-cocoa version like the one I've suggested above? Let's talk!

PS: I've posted a photo of the hot choc on my Instagram page in case you want to see what it looks like.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Closet Case

In case you think I'm joking about everything in my wardrobe being some shade of blue or grey, behold my current closet:

This includes summer hangables on the left side, my only aim at colour. That weird pants hanger came with the place.
In addition to this, I have a chest of drawers (could we not come up with a less arcane way of describing this furniture? Is it 1682?) for yoga clothes, lingerie (a huge component of the wardrobe), jammies, sweaters and skin care components (what? that's totally normal). My current bras are no longer fitting, due to loss of inches, and my rainbow of other sizes is packed up in the house being renoed. Like, behind a boarded-up door. So I'm not being minimal on the bra front. I've already had to order 3 new sets. :-)

I've never been a true minimalist. I don't throw everything away if I haven't worn it in 5 years. Some things only get worn every 5 years. But y'all know I'm not a hoarder in the remotest sense. This recent move was an opportunity for me to pack up only the most relevant (as I saw it) clothing for 3 seasons.

Now, all of you (fortunately) living in California (and Italy and Australia etc.) likely do not understand what 3 seasons really means - esp. if one of those seasons is winter and another is "spring". In short: It means a shit ton of clothing is required because you never know when it's going to snow, pour with rain. sleet or hail, be 40C in the shade, have wind gusts of 100 km an hour or be hot/cold (an interesting TO phenomenon wherein it is both hot and cold simultaneously and for which it is impossible to dress) for days at a time. There is NO fucking way to predict the weather here. To wit: Yesterday, as it poured relentlessly for 10 hours - the kind that trashes your shoes in a minute and potentially kills the cherry blossoms in High Park for the second year running - I observed an hour of wet snow flurries. People, that's not ok but that's how it is here. Our trees are still bare, if starting to green. We've had a reprieve from the months of gray but that goes as fast as it comes and then the most terrible melancholy rises to the surface. We all feel it. It's a cultural phenomenon as distinct as this weather pattern. When I say that people in TO go insane when the spring (sort of) hits, I'm not joking. We're a people in the grip of unknowable, but miserable, weather for fully half the year and by March we are done. Note: Since we rarely experience storms that cause millions in damage, we don't see a lot of air play. But this weather is spirit-crushing. Read any Ontarian blog from early March to mid-May and you'll see what I mean. That's when we full-on lose it.

I own upwards 10 coats - all of them are still in regular rotation. This doesn't include the rain gear.

Anyway, long diatribe aside, I decided to use this move as an opportunity to experience my inner-minimalist. I only brought half of my clothing. In truth, I recycled 50 per cent of the other half because I do that occasionally...

If you check out my IG, yesterday I did a bit of sale shopping. Now, if you know anything about this move (which we did ourselves, like college students?!, because my husband would not relinquish control), you'll know that we do not want to bring back one thing more than that with which we originally moved. Except an 80 lb espresso machine.

But my current 2 pairs of denim leggings are both too baggy and frayed at the inner upper thigh. My staple, a striped T shirt, needs seasonal replacing as those really get worn to shit.* My "lounge" wear has become hideous through overuse. I wish that those Gap crew T shirts weren't out of stock everywhere, including online, because there won't be another shipment till after the summer, according to the SA. And, on that topic, OMG people. We need readily available long-sleeved t shirts all year long! Everywhere in the world. How can they stop making these in February??? M and I have been sharing a pair of rain boots for a year because I gave my Hunter wedges away (too heel-like, too heavy). Then our shared pair died. I went all out crazy and bought 2 new pairs because, hey, I figure the rain is never going to end if I don't. Also, they were so on sale I couldn't believe it.

Short story: I have thrown out the ratted T shirts (they have holes!), the frayed leggings, the rubber shoes with tears. And I replaced them all-too conservatively. Partly cuz I don't want to have to move shit and partly because I couldn't find the requisite number of t shirts for lounging and sleep.

On that topic, since I cannot shut up about it, I went to Kit and Ace to seek out other Ts and there were some fantastic options. They cost 148.00 CDN before 13% tax. Sorry, I can't do it. Not for a T shirt I'm going to wear to watch TV. No high-street store had anything remotely useful. Nor did The Bay?! I'm actually feeling T shirt-drought anxiety!

So, today's questions: Is everything in your closet the same colour? Can you tell me where the hell to find a fitted, hip-length, crew neck, long sleeved, black/grey/navy T shirt at this time of year? (Under 40 bucks before tax pls! I trash those things.) Am I the only one who still has denim leggings in rotation? And, if you live in southern Ontario, how's your mental state at this point? Let's talk.

PS: Last day of vacay here, and what a truly necessary and health-affirming holiday this has been. I do hope I'll have the opp to continue to post more regularly once I return to work because, really, I love this space...

*FYI, while I have no use for J Crew (so bland, so badly made), they've come up with a short-sleeve T shirt style this year that is extremely flattering given the cut and fabric. I do recommend you try the style. The sleeves are longer than others (half way to elbows) so if you like arm coverage, this may be the T for you. I really like the neck-line and length. Size down. This knit fits large given a copious amount of stretch with great recovery.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Vertex

As I write this, I am ensconced in a rather unusual, brilliantly-constructed vest by Julie Weisenberger:

Vertex Vest by J Weisenberger
Intriguingly, as it blocks, it takes the exact, simple bell shape of a sleeve (flat) pattern piece (with strategically placed holes), but getting there is circuitous.

For starters, here's my end result - artful, if not useful, I know:


I'm not going to sell myself short here - this garment is fairly gorgeous. And it's gorgeous not just because of the ingenious pattern (though that didn't hurt!) but because I fitted it really effectively (if way more "on the fly" than is my usual style). Moreover, I chose the right yarn for the job (Americo Briza) and I understood what kind of fabric (in terms of openness and drape) I was working with. Sometimes you get this right, sometimes it goes sideways. I do have a bit of concern that the vest may stretch irrevocably but the fabric has strangely good recovery so far. Bamboo/alpaca is a very odd combo. On a side note, I don't know why Americo is so niche. It had a store downtown for many years and it still has an online shop. With the exchange rate, the prices are great in the UK and US and it's some of the most impressive yarn (as an overall collection) that I've come across.  The Briza was not easy to use - it took me 9 months to figure out how the amount I had could work with a pattern without looking too granola (the colourway is complexly marled, but not one I ever gravitate towards though I do occasionally buy it. It's one I associate with hippies and couches.). This yarn doesn't come in any colours I love (there are only 5 colourways and they're all on the dirt end of the spectrum) but I was so impressed to see it knit up that I bought 1600 yards on the spot. Didn't hurt that it was 25 per cent off because of the closing sale.

The Vertex took way less yarn than I anticipated (only about 1100 yards for a tunic length vest) but that's for a variety of reasons:
  • I never got gauge though I approached it (sort of) when I went up 2 needle sizes. That's very rare in my world because I'm not a tight knitter. Also, this fabric is light fingering. To use a US8 needle on a yarn that thin and light would ordinarily produce a really open fabric without much integrity - not what you're going for on a long garment with the potential for a lot of drag. But I swatched this - no joke, in 7 needle sizes - and the US 8  created the best texture. Smaller yarn on a larger needle uses proportionately less yarn than other combos.
  • Side bar: I love chainette yarn. There, I've said it. It produces fabric integrity, but also drape - a really appealing combo. Chainette structure is known for improving garment recovery in most fibers, but I suspect that bamboo and alpaca work optimally with chainette to enhance the perception of fullness and stitch definition without adding heaviness. Effectively, this yarn is a soft cloud.
  • I amended every dimension of this strange construction - and in most of those instances I went down in size (see my Ravelry notes for deets). I made the skirt panels shorter which allowed me to make the bodice in a size small even as I'd used the number of stitches associated with the medium (I wanted to make the size best to fit over over my full bust.) If you don't make the skirt (once seamed or grafted) in the size instructed then the bodice pick up won't work (at least not with the number of stitches the bodice instructs). I made the fortunate decision to cut @1.5 inches off the centre back width of the skirt, mainly because I was worried that it would hang too long on the bias if I didn't. What I didn't realize at that time was is that it would also facilitate the best fit outcome by "allowing me" (aka "requiring me") to make a small (side front bodice) and an xsmall (back). This was frankly, a good piece of luck, because I'd paid little attention to the construction - even as I knew it was edgy and unusual, at which point I realized I'd actually have to start concentrating. And that's when I spent hours on the rest of my fit alterations because it is not the sort of piece you can phone in, fit-wise. My foremost bodice alteration, other than ensuring that I liked the bust circumference, was to shorten it above the skirt and below the armscye. Again, I took out 1.5 inches in length and this vest is as long as I would like it to be. Next time I'd actually shave an inch off the width of each shoulder. For me, this is no fabric hog. 
What this means is that I've got 460 yards of challenging-to-use (if really special) yarn continuing to live in the stash and I suspect it will be as tricky to find the right pattern for the remainder as it was for the initial yardage. It's not a colour that thrills me, even as I recognize its neutral, minimalist utility. Plus it's splitty and slippery. Not my jam to knit. You have to look down too frequently.  Mind you, can you imagine how much someone is going to love whatever I make with it, eventually? Santa indeed!

While I was really on the fence about this garment till the minute I put it on, post-blocking, I can tell it's going to be endless useful and it's so unlike any other hand knit (or RTW, for that matter) that one is likely to find. Also, it looks and feels like it cost 650 bucks and I'm not exaggerating. What my latest knitting adventures have taught me is that attention to detail is non-negotiable, even if I'd prefer not to think. I've also learned that I'm improving - at choosing yarn, at figuring out what to make with it - and at sizing patterns (even the ones that don't knit up in a linear fashion).

I spent a few years making every sweater in the land - and learning so much in the process. But it takes a while (25-odd sweaters in all the gauges and dozens of other projects) to really know how to get the outcome you envision. And I'm not going to take it for granted, because it's all too easy for one variable to give and the whole thing falls apart.

Mind you, achieving the desired outcome (the one envisioned) is so gratifying. Not only does it produce something wearable and enjoyable, but it reinforces the lessons and experience that define me as a knitter.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

On Track

Yesterday was gorgeous. Sure, today it's pouring with rain but I cannot begrudge that (esp. given that it's normal "springtime" in TO - the ugliest season of the year!). Yesterday was as gorgeous as two weeks of constant, driving rain are hideous.

We went walking, of course. This new 'hood, while on the cusp of fancy, is also on the cusp of industrial. Basically, if you walk 2 blocks in one direction you get mansions and if you walk in the other you encounter a wasteland. Serious wasteland. But the sky was so pretty that even the factories looked good.

This was our destination in the Junction:

Somewhere in TO I've never been before!
My husband went to pick up a synth he'd had fixed. Usually, he fixes them for himself but the instrument in question is very complicated so it went to the professionals.

It took about 45 minutes to get there from here. Along the way we walked some distance on Geary Ave. This place is so ugly, right across from the garbage-strewn train tracks, and yet there were people sitting out on benches and on makeshift folding chairs. Somehow this place is totally "happening". (Also, Torontonians in spring are sort-of crazy and I'm not being glib.) You will find the most niche, most awesome artisanal shops of the coffee and booze variety along this desolate strip. When I walked by Blood Brothers, on the way back from the synth shop, it was lively with people drinking flights of beer and having crazy snacks. I almost wished that I liked beer because I could tell something special was happening. Happily it wasn't a wine place or I would have got lost there for the afternoon!


Apparently, this derelict section of town - and no joke, peeps, it's freakin' derelict; in the rain it's like the worst slum imaginable - is apparently rather niche. It's where they host memorable raves in some of the boarded up buildings that are, no doubt, unsafe. Aren't you happy to be introduced to the seedy underbelly of this frankly unattractive city?*

But the coolest part of my day was discovering a level train crossing?!?!? I didn't even know we had these in the city. Other than in the Junction proper, this is the only one I've ever seen. I walked down an unknown street and there it was! (Note: For me to walk down a TO street unknown to me is a tremendous thrill. This happens to me once every 5 years, maybe. Guess I need to get out more!)


You may say, Kristin, that photo above - where the train is coming at you - would have been tremendously dangerous to shoot. And you would be correct! But this isn't as it appears. First up, Scott's the one who took the photo and he did so after the train stopped, unexpectedly due to work being done on the tracks. But, what was totally crazy, is that, mere moments earlier, as we we were walking across the crossing - just like regular humans out for a day in the industrial park - the lights started flashing and the gates came down as we were ambling over the tracks?!?!?!? Honestly, I had no idea a train was even coming until I looked down the path and there it was. How those gates didn't hit us in the head, as they descended out of nowhere, amazes me. Trains, people, they come upon you suddenly. Now I see why we have all of those elevated tracks. Note: while the gates may have killed us, the train was nowhere nearby, despite how close it looks - it's an illusion. We couldn't even hear it.

PS: WTF are level crossings doing at the edge of a population-dense neighbourhood with children and pets??

Today's questions: How do you define beauty (of the geographic variety)? Does rain make you happy because it predicts buds and cleans the streets? Do you find grey-grit heartwarming (in the way I can only find that feeling in the sun)? Oh, and how about this question: Are there places you would never consider living only because of the weather, or do you think those who fuss about weather are, well, silly. Let's talk!

*I'm not sure if I've ever mentioned this on the blog, but I have a theory that the reason southern Europe is so fantastic is 90 per cent due to the weather (though, admittedly, that's my bias). Have you ever watched a Euro movie where it rains all the time? It's freakin' ugly, despite the (sometimes) gorgeous architecture. This is one of the reasons I couldn't acclimate to Ireland (pun intended) and why I left boarding school in England as a teenager. I don't care how awesome something looks in the sun, if it's depressing in the rain, to me it's depressing - especially if it rains most of the time. And, so, my friends, Toronto is ugly - even as it's one of the most awesome places to be from May to October. Of course, it lacks the enticing pedigree of all of the Northern European rain-zones, but then, apparently I'm not living here for the weather or the history.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Where There's A Will...

I often refer to my immediate family members in terms of their wills of steel. No joke. There's so much will being expressed that it could put a person on the moon. I have always thought of myself as the odd one out, in this respect. In practical terms, I am the odd one out. I mean, I live in another country.

If you'd asked me, until very recently, I would have said I was the infinitely most malleable of the bunch. I'm the one who would back down, in the end. What I didn't realize is that I never relented. I subverted. I internalized every feeling that was unpalatable to the bunch because, frankly, there was no way to win. I was going to move to that new country (or house or school district). I was going to go on that crazy trip where nothing was really planned (because excitement came of spontaneity). I was required to attend church every fucking Sunday, despite the fact that I disagree with organized religion (and specifically Catholicism). I would eat that dinner that overwhelmed me, if I had to sit at the table with the timer on until I eventually got punished and then was re-presented with the same food at the next meal. (Look, it was the 70s. Parents did that.)

My parents were not bad. They were very young and they did what suited them. They still do what suits them. It's part of what makes them lovable. They still move constantly and go to church on principle (my traditional father) and make huge decisions on a whim. You can bet, if they decided to reno a house, it would be done within 6 months of the initial thought taking hold. But, as my mother recently told me, she would never undertake such a craziness. There's always a better house to buy.

I don't have many memories. Scott likes to say I can learn anything in 10 minutes but I can't remember anything that happened last year. He's one of those people that says shit like: It was August, no wait, late July in 1982 and I was in BC hitch hiking when I saw this bear on the side of the road. Of course, I do remember fragments of things, however, things that now corroborate my subversion (and the small ways in which I tried to inflict myself on my people in the way I felt they inflicted themselves on me).

I remember walking in Hyde Park, having moved to London at the age of 4, the sky, not dissimilar to the shade we experience for months in the winter in TO, but this was summer. I was so angry to be there. I exuded hate for that place. I remember when I moved back to New York, for a brief period (just long enough to utterly fuck with my sense of order and stability), and my father asked me whether I'd like to move to Toronto and I said, no thank you. I do not want to move. And he said, well that's unfortunate. I remember the grip of grief because I would once again be displaced. I remember when I got a letter from my teacher in London, once I'd moved back to the States. I argued with my mother about how to open the envelope. Somehow, the argument escalated and I threw it in the garbage, even though I desperately wanted to know what it had to say, to reconnect with something from my past. I remember it was one of those Air Mail envelopes from a long time ago (it looked kind of military). Sometimes I can't believe that I'll never know what it said because I would not be controlled (ironic, I realize).

I trapped all of my anger and grief into a small space behind my tonsils, around my ears. I would not speak. I would not give anyone the satisfaction of my oppression. I was a stone and my spirit was gradually petrified. Sure, my ears would hurt semi-regularly, piercing pain that nothing could interfere with. But no one could exploit my feelings because I absorbed them masterfully. Sounds kind of steely willful, no?

It seems that nothing happens in a vacuum. As I learned how to manage my emotions, ahem, I also learned how to learn. I was always thrilled to learn. It was an escape but it was also a game. I love tests. They're a chance to win but also to develop new internal pathways. Not sure how others learn, but for me it's palpable. I feel the sparks in my brain and they motivate me - like direction lights. But learning takes energy - it travels through one. I would feel the learning take hold in different places in my body but my shoulders and my neck would absorb it most specifically. They'd sometimes click into a gear with my ears and throat and hands. And I, like so many children (and adults), was a learning machine.

I could go on for some pages on this topic - on how and where experience has fossilized in my body. I have assumed this to be true for many years. But I have never been able to isolate these places. Moreover, as time and age and constancy have re-entrenched those pathways, they are so enmeshed with each other that it's almost as if they do not exist independently. Please be clear - on many levels, the pathways are now as immune to emotion as they were originally defined by it.

When I took up yoga at age 18, I was already in a lot of pain. It wasn't in my ears at that point. I did get bad headaches on occasion. I'd also lived with really bad leg pain (I have a feeling it was childhood rheumatism) for years - more on than off. And my left hip was already in terrible shape much of the time. While yoga was game-changing for my body (and it was the first physical thing to change how I felt, how I existed in my body), I undertook it in the only way I could. I withstood it. There was nothing I couldn't do because I had made the decision to achieve. Feeling was irrelevant. (I was young. What can I say?)

And so I spent years ignoring what my practice was telling me. Please don't misunderstand: I was so sincere and so sure I was heeding the message. I mean, I could feel things in my body and they were painful and pleasant and deep. But (a couple of years in) when I felt I was never going to be able to change my hip, or the pain within it, I just decided to embrace it. Over time, that pain did diminish (and so I felt the yoga had done its job). I did note that my front groins were absurdly tight but I was good at ignoring them. I could do all kinds of things with steel-like muscles, fascia and tendons.

As time went on, the muscles of my neck - deeply within, at the plane of my ears and occiput - became occluded and less distinct. It was maddening. I wanted to rip my head off, that's the only way to describe it, to get into that space, to diminish the angry pressure. Somehow I felt it might be useful to do 10 minute headstands to counter this. (Important note to reader: Very few people benefit as much from headstand as they destabilize themselves by doing it. Active sirsasana is good for relatively few of us living the Western lifestyle - but supported versions, well-taught, can be great. You have to really listen though, and most people can't do this.) I mean, I was doing 5 minute headstand, at the wall, the day before I had my kid.

I really started to notice the problem in my head, neck, jaw and upper back when M was a baby. She wanted to be carried constantly. At that point, I was unendingly sleep-deprived and I carried her because the alternative was interminable crying, which I could not stand. The sound of any baby crying makes me feel like throwing up almost instantly. This went on for years. Hell, I remember carrying her (with my bag and her backpack), a mile from school when she was 5. It was the only way to get her home. (It would appear that she inherited the will of steel.) In retrospect, this is when the arthritis started to take hold - and the myofascial pain that accompanies it. No wonder I was a mess as a new parent. I was dealing with clinical OCD, an anxiety disorder and near-constant pain. I have never felt so trapped in my life.

It's all well and good to tell someone to really consider her pain and its origins - to feel it deeply and internally so as to detangle - to disintegrate - it. People with no pain tend to be able to do this quite effectively. That's why they don't have pain. But for those whose pain is a preformative jumble of thoughts and feelings, of neurochemical patterning, I'm so sorry to say but you've got your work cut out for you.

There are few people as well-positioned as me to overcome this. I have enough money, enough time, enough intelligence, enough education, enough privilege and undeserved entitlement, enough sincerity, the willingness to work ceaselessly to fix this. I'm open-minded, I'm introspective. I have spent 5 years thinking of/feeling relatively little else, when all is said and done (and I've said and done a shit ton of things in that time). Hell, I've been thinking about chronic pain since I was 5 years old. I just didn't know what to call it.

This pain is my will, sublimated, and it would appear that my will is a force to give even my family's its reckoning. It's my way of saying, you have not won, you will never win. It's how my infant-self prevails. I only wish I weren't its victim. That young girl is as much me as she is eradicated by everything I have become. She can learn. Good bye to terrible grief, to anger that could light up a city. I would rather feel peace than loyalty.