Thursday, July 13, 2017

From Pain to Equilibrium: This Really Is A Thing

A few peeps have emailed or commented to ask about how my “anti-inflammatory-esque lifestyle” is going, whether the pain is gone. I figure, at this point, I should approach the question more holistically than nutritionally because, while I understand my body differently, with more nuance in each passing month, I cannot attribute improvement to just one approach.

The thing about chronic pain (intermittent or otherwise) is that it often isn’t caused by one factor – and it’s generally resolved (or managed) by many solutions that take years to parse together. I’ve been on the anti-pain scavenger hunt for a few years now. In retrospect, I know I’ve had musculo-skeletal and nerve pain since childhood and it went entirely unheeded, because I didn’t understand what was happening and adults don’t assume that children are in regular pain. Then it went away, but would routinely recur in one form or another in my 20s and 30s– frequently in neck and head. Then I got pertussis in my early 40s and, man, that fucked me up. I’ve been dealing with the fall out ever since. Add some mid-life hormonal chaos into the mix and there’s my own personal factoral soup. (Note: It’s way more complicated than this but you get the gist.)

I spent the first 4 years of my pain-management experience focused on bio-mechanical fixes, diagnostics, body-work and supplements. The ones that have been infinitely most useful, depending on the day, include my Yoga Tune-Up balls, my acupressure mat and pillow (the bed and head of nails, as I call them), vitamin D, collagen powder, massage, acupuncture and my self-devised body-work plan (which focused initially on therapeutic yoga, traction/hanging, breath-work and fascial release).

I’ve spent the last year focused on diet, with the express aim of reducing systemic inflammation, specifically as I now know I have non-negligible osteoarthritis which is thought to be motivated by my genetics and a family history. Oh, and I’ve also given a lot of attention to neuroplastic techniques for pain reduction, which is more of a mental-shift than wholesale new activity, because all of my body-work is fundamentally neuroplastic.

Each of these things has reinforced the others while numerous other approaches seem to have had no impact, so they have been abandoned. It’s impossible to say whether – in the last year - a critical mass of techniques has finally started to yield more significant improvements than ever before, but I do believe that the dietary changes have been key. Mind you, so have all the others, as far as I’m concerned. The thing is, I may get a massage once a week but I eat multiple times a day. So I do think diet has created a kind of pathway to cohere all techniques – a metaphoric service tunnel in the house that is my body/mind.

Having said this, I still can’t quantify exactly how I am improved. I still experience pain and sometimes it is severe. I still crave sugar and that is emotionally very difficult. I’m still stressed out by all of the things in life that stress all kinds of people.

So what’s changed?

I’m glad you asked! What hasn’t changed? I’m older, I’m wiser, I’m more aware of interdependencies (of biochemical and other varieties). I now know why it is believed that I have pain (a diagnosis) – though I’m so naïve that I don’t realize there are many people with infinitely more gnarled skeletons than mine and they feel little or no pain. I have also come to understand how a mechanical issue (jaw malocclusion) has had rather significant impacts on my ability to sleep, breathe and pretty well do everything else one does with one’s mouth. I now have a bespoke mouth gizmo to undercut the negatives but I may need to get more extreme about the medical dental devices in the future.

There are people who spend less time on their careers than I’ve spent on my pain condition and I still have pain. But I’m less afraid of it than ever before because I don’t feel like it’s controlling me anymore. As we know, pain is something that happens in the brain, not in the muscles and bones and fascia and joints and nerves. Sure, all of those things express the impact, but the source of this issue is the best place to target it. I do believe that the huge shift I’ve undertaken – the essential flip in my ingestion of carbs and fat – has helped my brain tremendously but not in the ways you might expect. I don’t think my memory is any better. I’m still anxious (and BTW, I in no way begrudge my anxiety – it makes me who I am and I know it’s as protective as it is antagonistic). Anxiety is also comorbidly associated with pain – as are many of the other conditions I just naturally happen to have been born with. If ever there were a candidate for chronic pain, I am that individual. But I am mercifully introspective. My sensitivity and my intelligence (note: I’m not going to underplay this - I’m smart and I own it) have given me so many mechanisms for improvement. I feel everything, physical and otherwise. I feel all of the bad and all of the good. I feel it deeply and broadly and incisively in ways that sometimes threaten to smash me up. But my awareness will also fix me. Mark my words.

Somehow, stopping the sugar/grains/processed food, limiting the booze and legumes and amping up the fat has made me better able to understand the contingencies between my body and my mind. I feel the gear shifts in my brain that bring about the gear shifts in my body. And they are so calibrated, so nuanced, it’s bizarre. For example, eating fat has somehow allowed me to understand (convolutedly, of course) that I have to be less active than I’d like. Sure, I can do vinyasa yoga with the best of them but it’s not good for me. It looks good but it brings pain that lasts indefinitely because I by-pass all of the warning triggers that my biochemistry is sending. I’ve used body-work just as I’ve used sugar – as a numbing agent. If I don’t want to be in pain, I have to listen. I have to slow down. And that’s something I don’t do naturally. I’m not wired that way and it’s very hard for me, to vastly understate it. Fat curtails my natural impulse to act constantly. It’s soporific. For some people, that’s not helpful. For a person who is compelled by everything -it may be a saving grace.

I have one other ace in the hole. Another tactic that's vastly changed the pain situation for me, but I'm not going to discuss it on the blog. If you suffer with pain, you're a regular reader/I know you, and you'd like to reach out, feel free to email. What I will say is that, like fat, it targets the pain where it lives, and - along with the dozens of other things I do on a daily basis - it's been a game-changer.

Am I cured? No. Am I on the road? I suspect yes. I mean, if nothing else I am INFINITELY less puffy and I can wear my rings for the first time in 3 years. That's an external sign of reduced internal inflammation, which will eventually lead to reduced pain, I can infer. Moreover, when I have pain (even pain that would probably floor most people), I can generally live "normally" i.e. go to work and work hard. My family life, my non-work energy, definitely takes the hit, but no one said balance is easy.

So that's my update on this topic. I welcome any questions or comments - cuz sometimes these days, despite stats that prove I have many wonderful readers, I do feel like I'm blogging in a vacuum...

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Not For The Faint of Heart

I keep waiting for a fun moment (and one which isn't overwhelmed by one sort of stress or another) to tell you about how fantastically my reno is coming along. I've decided I might as well just get on with it, cuz the fun part has yet to materialize.

If you follow me on Instagram (and you should, cuz I take lots of photos), you've seen a few pics. BTW, that's as close to my house as I've got, in real life, in months. Sure, Scott's there daily because, apparently it doesn't matter how much you spend on a reno, you end up managing the job. Seriously, and sadly, I have yet to encounter a person in construction who didn't disappoint me in some way or another. (Wait - I had an awesome plasterer who used to be in this band. I loved him and now he's retired.) The construction industry is profoundly broken in Toronto. I'm not quibbling about the quality of work, but if I told you how much we're spending - and how much we're doing - and how FREAKIN' engaged we are (and I don't mean like evil micro managers, I mean, you give us a job and we meet, nay exceed, your needs and direction), you'd be on my side.

I don't do things badly. Allow me to clarify: I do things as well as is possible within the realm of my abilities, which are not negligible. And, if I'm paying you almost twice the amount that my original fucking house cost, I expect the same of you.

Fortunately, I'm never doing anything construction-related again, after this (although Scott has some exotic pipe dream about creating a studio on the laneway). He can have that studio as soon as I forget about, and pay off, this reno. No prob. What's keeping me going is that, once this is done - and done well - I can revel eternally in the dinner party stories it's going to net. I can see myself moving from that phase of life in which I advise about the miseries of parenting into the one in which I warn everyone, dramatically, to just go buy a luxury condo.

So far, we've eaten into our healthy contingency fund with gusto having discovered 3 unanticipated issues. Two are foundation-related (and we knew this would be the source of any serious trouble that might arise) and one has to do with the fact that my house was apparently being held up by toothpicks and newspaper. As you can imagine, none of these issues has been a cheap fix. When it comes to the foundation (and the load-bearing beams), one does not fuck around. I was so hoping I might, at some point in my ownership of this second child home, be able to throw all the money at the fun stuff. Ah, dreams.

In truth, were I to do all of the things I really want to do (in the price point of my choice) - without increasing my non-basement square footage by one cubic inch - I'd be on the hook for 800K. Maybe more. And that's just an insane amount of money to throw at a wood-frame row house that's 120 years old - on top of all of the other renos I've done, that is, and the original cost of the home (which was, mercifully, reasonable for its day). To clarify: My budget is NOT 800K.

I also feel the need to clarify that, despite my modern-style crassness on the money-talk front (and I'm one of those people who tells it like it is, if not in great detail on the internet), I am not a woman of unlimited means. No doubt, I have a good career and I've made some sensible investments, but I will be paying this off without a trust fund. To wit: I'm starting to reconsider that whole climbing up the executive ladder thing... I know that the likelihood is high I will see ROI and, yet, it is to be confirmed.

The other day, as my husband spoke with our neighbours about the latest way in which we would be utterly responsibly, directly improving the value of their home, he almost started to cry. Every time the phone rings, every time the rain starts - and it's fucking epic, like we've never seen before - we wonder what's coming next.

Of course, all of the other stressors of life - our work, parenting a challenging near-adult, pain (in my case), being displaced - don't really improve the situation.

I wish I could show you my new window design, with excitement - because Scott and I designed it ourselves and it's really fucking chic - but I'm too absorbed in the dirt to go there. And today I learned that we probably can't order the windows (that take months to arrive) until the framing is up (which should have been well before now) because, given the nature of the design, said windows might not fit perfectly otherwise.

We don't even have footings in the ground.

It costs 5K a month to live elsewhere, while I continue to pay all of the bills that go with my regular life and home, and every time we come across a challenge, the clock on our return is reset.

Our one non-negotiable, the deciding factor in our choice of builders, was: Get this done on time. If we need to spend more, we'll consider it. If you need answers from us, just call. We are decisive, we are responsive, we are knowledgeable and we do research. We have a fucking structural engineer and architect on speed-dial. We will not hold this up. We are motivated.

Not that anyone will admit this to us, but at this point, I'm pretty sure the duration of this project may expand by 50%. And, while I can't blame the builders for the act of God that is weather, I can blame them for losing my crew (over the 6 weeks it rained least this season) because they didn't have the wherewithal to make a decision that would have kept the train on track.

Am I being catastrophist? Oh, my friends, you do not even know the depths of my catastrophism. It's an art-form. I mean, I'm a lady with an anxiety disorder and a heart condition. I'm not in a happy place right now and I'm ok with that.

Am I being unfair to the builders? On reflection - and you know that's my thing - I believe that I am NOT being unfair. But you'll never know. No question, I do righteous indignation like no one you've ever met especially once I've decided you're an idiot. But before I'm unfair, I'm strategic. I'm not short-sighted enough to risk my relationships when things are in play. I mean, I'm a negotiator in my day job. I got this.

So the project marches on. I'm exceedingly grateful to say that, 3 days ago, when the latest crisis occurred, the firm did what we hired them to do. They kept us informed, honestly - and Scott and the architect created a path forward in two hours. (Why the builders didn't come to us with a solution is another story, but I'm not going to waste my time on that disappointment.) I'm also grateful to say that they've made some extremely impressive headway on the foundation (and they're doing good work). Maybe we've forged a new relationship. I'm willing to accept that possibility with gratitude, even if my trust and respect is eroded.

When I had a kid, and I realized that it was way more stressful that I ever could have envisioned, I knew I would never do it again. I understood that I was not suited to it, despite my love for my child (which I feel is obligatory to say, though I sense it should stand to reason).

If you were to ask me - and trust me, everyone does - do I wish I hadn't undertaken this? Do I wish I'd sold my house and moved elsewhere and left all this bullshit to someone else? I can't say my answer is yes.

I am not having fun. I am a bitch much of the time and I'm frequently freaked out. But some part of me knows I can do this. I do believe, fundamentally, that this project is going to work out - if not on the smooth trajectory of my choice. I do believe, deep in my heart, that I will make this home beautiful because I've put my stake in the game - and frankly, because I am an artist and technician at my core. Plus I've got fucking good taste. So, on with the show.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Dear Kristin

One of my fab readers, who appreciates her privacy, sent me an email yesterday on the topic of my last post. It occurs to me (and this reader told me she would be receptive to a response in post format), that the whole point of having a platform is that it gives an opportunity to pool information and provide potential advice to those of us we may not know personally, but with whom we likely share many common experiences.

Below, I've described the reader's situation - and my response. Of course, I am NOT a medical professional so any sort of medical response would be irresponsible. Moreover, I have (thankfully) limited exposure to the issue at hand. But that doesn't mean I don't have opinions! I sense your feedback would be quite welcome - in the event that any of you has encountered a similar challenge. So on with Kristin's version of an advice column...

The High-Level Scenario:
  • The reader's husband, in his late 50s, recently had a heart attack (one artery with blockages, 3 stents).
  • She describes his pre-heart attack diet as "not SAD (i.e. standard American diet) but not perfect". He's quite active, fyi.
  • He's gone on statins, though that's not his doctor's preferred approach. He is in the process of adapting to a very low-fat, vegetarian diet of the Ornish variety because the doctor's preference would be to lower blood lipid levels by diet vs medication. FYI - the Ornish approach encourages approximately 10% fat...
  • Having said this, the patient will remain on statins for a year, per medical advice, given the specifics of his experience.
  • The reader is particularly concerned that the combo of statins plus a very low fat diet might have eventual cognitive impacts. Dementia does not run in his family.
  • The reader is thoughtfully avoiding inundating her husband with many conflicting pieces of information at a time when he's adapting to a new landscape.
  • The reader is in favour of a more "Primal" diet approach (i.e. the kind of diet I have been eating since January).
  • She's concerned that genetic testing would no longer be useful because the undesired outcome (that one tests genetically to avoid) has already occurred.
Kristin's Take:

For starters, Lovely Reader, I am thrilled that your husband is recovering from his health set-back! This is excellent news and it should be celebrated at length, IMO :-) Secondly, I want to acknowledge that a serious health concern affects both partners in a long-standing relationship. On some meta level, you have had a health crisis too. Your life has been dramatically altered by this unexpected occurrence. You may feel the need to change your own lifestyle to support your husband, even if you wouldn't have otherwise, and that may have impacts you can't predict (or aren't looking forward to). You're already confronting a contradiction between your own views on diet and health and what your husband has been integrating from his health care team. I have confidence that, as this scenario becomes more knowable and "normal", this may be easier to navigate but, in the meanwhile, I think it's important to own your approach to eating while also respecting your husband's path forward. It seems you have a great partnership so that should be doable, if potentially tricky at first.

I imagine that, if I'd just had a heart attack of this magnitude, I'd be pretty fucking afraid. I mean, I'm fearful of far less frightening things! And I'd probably react reflexively at first: I would shout from the rooftops that I would never do X again (or Y). I would probably follow my doctor's advice to the T (additional research having not yet been done, cuz I wouldn't have been expecting a heart attack!) And I think that's a reasonable response when recovering from such an experience.

However, over time, I'd either come to really respect my doctor's advice, or wonder if there are better approaches for me, based on my own personal biochemistry and the many other factors that make me "me". Your husband may come to this conclusion too - or he may be on the road to long-term low-fat living. (Who knows, he may adapt to it fantastically.) That's his choice.

In this instance, I actually think that genetic testing would be really useful. Some people have high blood-lipids but do not possess the gene variant associated with late-onset dementia (APOE4). I don't know to what extent non-APOE4 carriers are susceptible to dementia when put on statins and a long-term low fat diet. There's probably some useful (and even more very sketch) info out there, so no time like the present to find out what exactly is going on with his specific genes - and the nature of the high-cholesterol he might have.

I also don't know to what extent your husband's heart attack was caused by high-cholesterol and I wouldn't in a zillion years hazard a guess. Having said this, I've heard that it's often triglycerides (as much as LDL) that predict heart attacks and there's some evidence out there to suggest that cutting down on processed foods and sugar can lower triglyceride levels precipitously in some individuals. Your husband's doctors may be able to provide all of the answers to his questions - or you may choose to do additional testing of the vaguely "alternative/integrative" variety to come to your own conclusions.

One thing I will say: when people don't eat fat, they eat sugar. And eating sugar under these circumstances may compound the heart challenge in the long run (never mind the impacts of healthy fat). I do believe that fat protects the brain and that evidence supports this. Whether the risk of dementia due to low-fat diet is higher than the likelihood of a future heart attack is a complicated question and determining the answer is likely going to take time and research.

It's possible that statins will be less-often prescribed in the next few years. Moreover, given your husband's doctor's disinclination to prescribe them, it's possible he may not stay on them for long enough to have any impact in the long-run. I wouldn't really worry about them in the short-term but I'd do all the research and consider how my own blood lipid composition relates to the studies that are out there.

No question though, my bias is against the low-fat vegetarian diet. If research and evidence were to definitively support that my own body would be better-off for eating this way, I'd likely bite the bullet. But I don't think the evidence points this way for most people and I would NEVER do it on spec. (Even the pre-"healthy fat/low sugar diet-obsessed" Kristin ate lots of fat, if much of it unhealthy.)  On the basis of my reading - and pointedly, my own experience - I believe that most bodies need healthy fat (maybe not in volumes the likes of which I eat, but probably more than 10 per cent) and they generally benefit from animal protein (a readily bioavailable source for those who may struggle with metabolic syndrome, which is implicated in heart attacks for some).

So I hear your concern about the Ornish diet over time. The thing is, though, that through considered research, that which happens organically, you can work together to determine whether your husband's specific issue would be best ameliorated by the low-fat plan currently suggested by the doctor. I mean, if she's a good doctor, she's likely going to engage with your questions and the information you bring to her. Her perspective may change over time. Follow her advice, by all means, unless you determine that there's another approach that would work better for your husband, given who he is (genetically, biochemically, emotionally, mentally etc.) He's infinitely more than the heart attack he's just experienced, and my advice would be that he should live, very exuberantly, with that in mind. xoxoxo

Readers with life-experience: Please chime in! Feel free to disagree with me (politely, preferably :-)). I'd love for our reader to gain info from those who know the score.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Gene Genie

You'd have to be really new to this space to not know that my 40s haven't been smooth sailing on the health front. Add to that my family history, namely triple-negative (non-hormonally receptive) breast cancer, and one doesn't even need my natural propensity for hypchondria to feel somewhat concerned about what may be around the corner.

But here's the thing: Everyone's health is a crap shoot. There are those that have never encountered one medical misery in their lives, who end up being felled by some mystery ailment (or a streetcar) in very short order. I know, not up-beat reading, but it's true. You live only in this moment and, on some level, that is tremendously liberating.

If there's one thing this decade has taught me it's not to count my chickens.

Just yesterday, I was sitting on the (glorious) patio of my (other) neighbourhood local, which we call "crappy place", cuz really, the food is only tolerable for the atmosphere, and I was reminded of how, last summer, my tailbone was a jumble of terrible discomfort. I couldn't sit down for months without feeling such pain - and terrified. What did it mean, I ruminated endlessly (cuz that's what I do)? It pretty well tanked my last-summer, stupidly expensive Canadian vacation. But there I was, yesterday, sitting for hours (the service is one of the things that leads us to call it crappy place), endlessly joyful that my ass was comfy on a metal chair. Half the time, life is just perspective. And the other half the time, I suggest simply waiting it out.

Where is this cheerful post going? Well, on to genetic testing, natch. What's an obsessive-compulsive ruminator to do, if not to poke at the clasp of Pandora's box. (Does that sound dirty??) Of course, this isn't my first kick at that can. I did DNAFit last year. Note: I wouldn't recommend  that platform though I learned a lot. As far as I can tell, the raw data isn't made available which makes it pretty limited information, in the long run.

What I would recommend is 23andme, now that they've got FDA-approval to release personal info on 12 genetic diseases, numerous other traits (fluffy and other), drug interactions, ancestry info and more.

For example, wanna get that pesky BRCA 1/2 gene mutation info out of the way? You can do it seriously affordably with this test. In truth, I wasn't particularly concerned about most of the diseases for which my genetic predisposition was tested. I sense that this test is best marketed, in its current iteration, for those of Ashkenazi Jewish heritage - a population with some serious and unfortunate genetic propensities, at least according to what I've read.

Of course, the kind of breast cancer I have an unknown, statistical likelihood to encounter, is not tested for at this time...

But here's the thing, I can't help but to consider that, if I'd known 20 years ago about my early-onset osteo-arthritic bones - likely turned-on in childhood - I might have been able to forestall some seriously unpleasant outcomes to date. Maybe not. Maybe I would have been young and stupid and unconcerned. But I doubt it. Knowing what I know now has, bizarrely, improved the quality of my life. It's given me a map, a way forward. And for this I am grateful. Sure, I really wish I weren't managing a potentially serious degenerative condition. But really peeps, there are worse ones out there. To understand even a potential source of my pain has made that pain, when it comes, bearable and (somehow) less frightening.

But I didn't spend 200 bucks CDN (on sale!) to learn about the BRCA gene mutation, which I don't have. Oh no, I did it to learn about a potential propensity for muscular disorders (a thing I am legit concerned about), Parkinson's (my father has a tremor-condition which is not Parkinson's but still concerning), and - you guessed it - Alzheimer's and late onset dementia.

This is the point in this post that you should click off if you don't like reading about dementia. Trigger-alert.

I'm that girl who reads everything about cholesterol, the APOE gene and statins. Note: Do your fucking research peeps, before you ever go on a statin drug. Cuz it's possible that your high cholesterol levels, if you have the variant of the APOE gene most associated with Alzheimers (that would be the APOE4), may act as a protective factor. Peeps with the APOE4 variant may have super-high blood lipid levels, as a protective mechanism, because those peeps don't metabolize cholesterol (gold, by the body's standard) particularly well in the brain. Look, I'm no scientist or doctor, but anyone on a statin should be seriously clear about the potential impacts - particularly as new research seems to be showing that they don't do much to prevent death.

At any rate, I'm fascinated by dementia and the genes that predict it, as many of us are. My grandmother, now 96, was sharp as a tack until she went on statins a couple of years ago. Now she's a shell. Sure, it's possible one's going to hit the wall at some point - and mid-90s seems to be as good a time as any - but it was strange how that happened (and how anecdotally causal it seems).

Y'all may know that I am rather attached to my ability to problem-solve and my general cognitive well-being. Who isn't? Really, I was secretly hoping to find I had 2 copies of the APOE2 variant, the one that's so protective that they inject mice with it to cure them of induced-dementia. Note: This double variant may come with its own issue of the cardiac variety. Genes, peeps, they're so fussy.

To break it down, and I won't get too sciency cuz I can't be bothered to go back into the program to re-read all of the stats and I'm not a scientist, as we've established, about 1 per cent of peeps get 2 copies of APOE2 and they have a lifelong likelihood of 0.6 per cent of getting Alzheimers. Woohoo for them! Most of us fall into the APOE3 category (@60%) and this is the default, having 2 copies of that variant. Those with 2 copies are not considered to be at genetic risk for Alzheimers. Then there's some subset of the population (2% of Euro ancestry? can't remember) that has 2 copies of the APOE4. Effectively you can have the following allele options: 2-2, 2-3, 3-3, 3-4, 2-4, 4-4. No question, it's not optimal to have any 4s. But if you're going to have any 4s, it's better to have only one. I'm not going to sugar-coat this, if you have one variant of the 4, your likelihood of getting Alzheimer's is 22-35% by age 85. If you have 2, that stat goes up to 50-68%.

Let's detour for a minute. Let's talk about how, it really doesn't matter what your gene profile says (on some level) because your lifestyle, your epigenetics, are going to have a lot to say about what ends up happening to you as you age. This is why I get up every morning with manufactured confidence that my bones are going to work with me, and not against me, for the next 50-odd years.

Moreover, most people who currently have Alzheimers don't have the 4 allele! Remember, most of the population doesn't carry it. Lifestyle really is key, it would appear, or only those carrying the 3-4 or 4-4 combo would be managing this terrible illness.

Let's also consider - on the topic of dementia specifically - that there has never been so much funding poured into any illness because it's becoming so fucking epidemic that there's no ignoring it. Sure, I suspect that diet is a massive contributing factor - yet another reason why determining one's genetic propensity is useful, because then you can knowingly alter how you eat (if theoretically knowing that the Standard American Diet is going to kill you isn't enough). My point: It's never been a better time to be predisposed to getting dementia, even as there's never a good time. They're going to have some cures within the next 5 years, I predict.

So how did I fare? I'm very grateful to be in the largest cohort for those of Euro ancestry: APOE(3-3). Let's face it, this is your likelihood too, regardless of your heritage. Only 1 per cent of peeps are practically immune and only 2 per cent of peeps are seriously, genetically predisposed. @20% of people, across heritages, have that 3-4 variant, which isn't optimal but isn't as concerning as the 4-4.

You may not want to know. I wondered if I would. I took the test considering that I might never read the results. That lasted all of 5 minutes because, in my domain, knowledge is power. Something's going to kill us all and, IMO, our responsibility as people is to live as well as we can until we can't any longer. Avoiding the facts doesn't change them.

What would I have done had I discovered I was in that potentially unfortunate 2 - 20 per cent? Um, I would have researched the SHIT out it. Frankly, I've been doing that for a couple of years, so I'm pretty sure I would have done what I've more or less done already - got rid of most sugar, grains, bad fats, junk food, cut down on booze a lot and upped the fat content I eat dramatically. I'd prob have gone even more "healthy fat" keto than I've already gone - and I'm pretty far gone (in case you see the glossy quality of everything I eat). Strange how this seems to be the answer to improving numerous conditions, conditions that were nowhere near as prevalent before Big Sugar addicted so many (and made the idea of fat so fear-causing). Yes, I realize I sound like a conspiracy theorist.

If you're predisposed to dementia, it's possible that your brain doesn't metabolize cholesterol optimally. Cholesterol is not evil. It's your mind's fuel and it makes you healthy - cognitively and otherwise. I'm not going to devolve into the small category of people who really need to worry about it; the majority thrive on good fat. Anyone with a mood disorder or epilepsy can corroborate this. I'm also not going to get preachy. Do you research. Make your own choices. Be happy having made them.

So that's today's tale. But I wanna know: Have you done this test (or similar medical genetic testing)? What's your predisposition and how do you feel about it? For those who haven't tested, are you worried? Blase? What do you wish you could be tested for (presuming it's not available currently)? Please, let's talk!

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Restash and Planned Projects

You know you've gone crazy when it takes almost 2 hours to wind yarn skeins. Admittedly, I encountered challenges (ain't it always the way??). But still, 9 balls of yarn - @2400 yards of fingering weight - takes a while. Especially if you hit tangles. And that doesn't even include the 10 skeins/ 1700 yards of Berroco Quechua, a new sport-weight yarn made of yak, merino and alpaca:

Berroco Quechua in Raven colourway - I appear to be the only person in the world who's bought this so far. Apparently this yarn just came out...
I intend to make a sweater out of this, probably starting in August. These are the latest options:

A-symmetrie by Cecilia Flori - this one is a bit shapeless but I do love the neckline.

Finlaggan by Kate Davies

Blackberry Cabled Cardigan by Alexandra Charlotte Dafoe
I'm  leaning toward Finlaggan. I guess I'm having a cable moment. I do have a slight concern that the Quechua may be a bit drapey for a classic cable cardi, but I'll verify that when swatching. The stitch definition and ply of this yarn are really lovely. It has a luxe feel that belies its price and I'm pleased to be a guinea pig.

I also bought this sock yarn, which I justified (it being an impulsive buy) by promising the remainder to my friend Jeanette, who bought it and is making a pair of socks with it right now:

Turtlepurl Yarns Striped Turtle Toes in The Artist
The remainders of her and my socks will be enough for a third pair. Note: For me (and I use @72g or 250ish yards of yarn on a pair of socks), buying 2 batches of Turtlepurl yarn (4 mini skeins designed to make 2 pairs of socks) actually yields 2 pairs. It's still pricey for socks. I got this batch on sale for $31 after tax but 62 bucks for 3 pairs of socks (or 2, if you knit differently than me), ain't cheap. The colour scheme is strangely riveting given that I don't love orange, baby blue or purple and I generally hate them together. Go figure.

Per yesterday's post, I've come up with a good plan (I think) and I'm amazed that all of the yarn I purchased is what I hoped it would be (in terms of colour, hand, quality and usefulness). I'm happy with my riff on Sonja's Starting Point. I'm going to use a deep yellow and a very green, saturated teal to round out Sonja's colour choices (a variegated, speckled cream, a grey and a cream). Effectively, I'll have swapped the navy blue and orange red she used in her version for the green and yellow:


This isn't where I saw myself going but I like it a lot. The breakdown is:

Quince and Co Finch in Peacock
Koigu KPM in 2405 grey
Shibui Staccato in Brass
Shibui Staccato in Ivory
Madeline Tosh Merino Light in Modern Fair Isle

I flat out copied the variegated Tosh from Sonja - and I liked her light and accent colours (cream and grey, which coordinates with the variegated yarn). The 2 "colours" are seriously saturated, very appealing. I do love knitting with yellow, though I rarely get the chance (because I never seem to buy it?!).

This is not the cheapest shawl I've ever decided to knit. Even with one yarn already purchased (the Quince, which is pretty inexpensive), and every other yarn 20 per cent off, this will have cost me $150 after tax. Sure, I'll likely have remainders to feed into other patterns, but I can't realistically quantify the cost of items made with yarn remnants. I purchase the yarn to make a particular item, and that item bears the cost.

For $300 all in, I have enough yarn to make a) a pair of socks (and a second if I merge my yarn with a friend's), a large shawl and a sweater. I didn't pay too much attention to price this time, because I had access to a good sale, I knew what I wanted to make and I've been knitting long enough to know that skimping on yarn is not the way to go (unless you have no choice). These yarns all feel gorgeous - not that they are all luxury-branded. That Shibui silk/merino blend is pricey. Madeline Tosh provides good yardage for the price, but it's still not budget.

Best of all, I have a bunch of new projects to spice up my stash knitting (always happening in some format or another). It's important to have choice, to keep it interesting.

So that's my re-stash. Thoughts??

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Starting Point

When I noted this knit along (KAL) last month, I was highly motivated which is strange. See, I don't like surprises, which is why I rarely even consider KALs - until they're over, that is, and I can see what the finished object looks like. It's not that I don't like adventure - but I'd hate to spend my time making something I may not like the look of in the end.

Having said this, Sonja's instagram on the Starting Point was so compelling, that I had to buy the pattern at the very least. Look at the gorgeous colours she chose:


And when I saw how things were coming together, I started to salivate. Honestly, it's rare that I am so compelled by someone else's palette - especially as I don't love red. But look at how it turned out:


Insanely fantastic, right? (Sonja - in case you're reading this, I want your shawl!!)

But as the likelihood is that I'm not going to get that shawl in the mail, I may as well make up one of my own!  And given that it's Canada Day (Happy 150 peeps!), Ewe Knit is having 20 per cent off everything. What better time to replenish the stash??

FYI, Starting Point is a shawl that calls for @400 yards of 5 colourways - and what's suggested is 1 light, 1 dark, 2 moderate / accents and 1 variegated.

I went searching for the yarns that Sonja used to make her version but they were not universally available - and I was on a sale-finding mission. I also realized that I have a stash yarn that I may be able use in lieu of the orange/red (accent colour?) or the dark blue (dark colour?) - admittedly two of the shades that make S's shawl so fantastic and unique. To use one of my stash colours would a) eat up stash yarn b) save me a bit of money and c) work better for me, potentially, as I really don't ever knit with red (or wear it, for that matter). Note: Until I engage with the pattern in detail, I won't be able to confirm which yarns S used as her dark vs her accent. I assume the blue was dark and the red and grey were accents, but I can't confirm right now.

My proposed stash choice:

This Quince and Co Finch in Peacock is too green for my liking but I've got to use it up and it is nicely saturated. If I'm going to give this FO away, might as well use it now (as it's not a colour that I'm particularly into).
Have I mentioned that every shawl I've made lately has thrilled me and I can't bear to give any one of them away but I don't have a lot of space to keep adding to the shawl collection? I realize that these are the problems to have...

In the end, I did copy one of S's yarn choices (the Madeline Tosh Light in Modern Fair Isle):

This is the 2-ply version of the yarn, fyi. I chose it cuz the photo was pretty. I wish I could have found this in the 2-ply format...


It's a long-shot colourway for me, and a testimony to my love of it in the context of S's version, because I don't like knitting with single-ply yarns - even Madeline Tosh. I hope the grey flecks will complement my other choices...

Having figured out the variegated colour and, theoretically, one accent or dark colour (from the stash), I needed to find 3 others - a light colour, a dark colour and another accent colour. I straight up copied 2 of these from S, if using different brands and shades - a grey (accent) and a cream (light):

Koigu KPM in 2405 - I have a bit remaining in my stash to bolster the 2 skeins I bought today. This yarn is no good for socks but it's squishy fantastic for shawls. It's not this dark in real life - at least it hasn't been when I've used it in the past.
Shibui Staccato in Ivory. This is silk and wool with fantastic drape. I made this cardi from it previously in another colourway
Where I went off road once again is with my final colour, a light, but bold, choice, to act as either my second accent colour or, in an irony, the "dark" colour*:

Shibui Staccato in Brass
*Note: I'm still not sure if I will choose to use the yellow in lieu of the red in S's shawl or in lieu of the dark blue. So it may end up being the dark or the accent colour (and the jewel green option from my stash will form the other, presuming they play nicely together).

Now, here's the thing. When one is crazy enough to spend hundreds of dollars on yarn, online, one doesn't know, until one puts the actual colours next to each other, whether they will work. So, when I go to pick up these yarns in store tomorrow - if I feel that I've got a terrible mish-mash going on, I may have to branch out. I should be able to return / exchange the options I bought online today for others that may be more suitable. I only hope there's still some choice available.

My grey may not work with the variegated, for example - and the jewel green/teal option from the stash is either going to work with the yellow and grey or look horrid. I may end up buying a red/orange and a navy in the end...

But these aren't the only yarns I bought today, oh no! Having eaten through much of my stash, except in remnant amounts with which I'm making smaller projects like colour-blocked socks, hats and scarves, I have allowed myself to purchase an additional yardage for a new sweater (again wild card yarn I've never even touched before - so here's hoping I like the way it looks and feels!) and some crazy sock yarn which is impulsive and will leave a remnant amount that's hard to repurpose (TurtlePurl in The Artist). My friend Jeanette is also making socks in this colourway, which is how I learned of my love for bright purple and yellow (on occasion!) so I may gift her the remainder of my yarn so she can make a second pair.

More on these yarns and new projects coming up!

Today's questions: Have you ever seen someone else's work and been compelled to recreate it? Do you love the Starting Point shawl and have you bought the pattern - or did you actually participate in the KAL? Do you think my colours are crazy or do you think they'll work? Let's talk!

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Gift

So, I wasn't super psyched about my bday. The weather was shit (although it didn't actually rain), it was on a Monday and I ended up having to work though I had the day off. But strangely, despite that suboptimal constellation of events - it was my freakin' birthday and I made sure everyone knew so they would comp me things. (What? I'm not proud.) I also told everyone that I'm 47 so they would respond with the obligatory you look so young! I intend to work this angle indefinitely, irrespective of accuracy. Youth, people. It's an attitude.

(Brief Sidebar: Make no mistake, a reno is not good for one's youthful mien. I don't know how to quantify my level of stress because I don't have a classification system that supports it. In the words of my day job: this construct is not contemplated within the terms of my current level of experience. I don't want to lead you to believe that this is because its badness is beyond fathomable. I've actually felt more oppressively stressed on a number of occasions in years past. For example, so far - and I'm not taking anything for granted - having a reno is way less soul-crushing than having a baby. Because renos don't wake up screaming.)

At any rate, each year, my friend Nicole takes me on a garden tour. The tour moves around and we've been going for so many years (at least 12) that we've watched it travel out from the centre (the tiny, creative urban gardens that we love and can relate to) to the increasingly affluent "interior suburbs" as I call them. I LOVE the garden tour like a person who is twice my age - and, while we're creeping up on them, the tour is largely comprised of women of a certain age who like to apprise you, sometimes at length, about their own personal experiences of growing plant x. This year, a small dog followed me from garden to garden, who can say why?, to the great dismay of the volunteer staff who kept saying sternly: "Ma'am, your dog cannot enter the back yard." No matter how many times I advised that it was not my dog, that they were welcome to pick him up and remove him, I could tell the volunteers did not believe me. It was odd. Strangely, as we walked from one batch of gardens to the next, a woman going too fast in a big-ass German SUV, rolled down her tinted window and bellowed at me: "Have you seen a small black dog?" and it's not like I was the only one walking down the street. (Um, thought I, get your ass out of your car and start actually calling his name. Your dog ain't gonna know you're looking from behind a steering wheel.) Ah, rich people...

We wandered, on a beautiful, sunny, sweltering day from gorgeous home to gorgeous home, sneaking a peak at indoor swimming pools (behind the shubbery), admiring yet another elm or birch (or peony). Usually, I finish the tour with a heady sense of status anxiety. Don't misunderstand, I take it on for the joy of seeing the gardens, but I always feel vaguely crushed by my inadequacy in the end.

It's silly, I know. I'm generally confident. I recognize that I have a great life. I'm sure I have great taste :-) I have never had one moment of self-doubt when reading Vogue magazine though I cannot afford most of the fashion and all of the models are a foot taller and infinitely more waifish than me. In fact, some of my happy memories include dissecting Vogue with a bottle of wine and a bag of all-dressed chips. But, God help me, Home and Garden throws me into a tail spin.

As they say, age brings wisdom - whether one fights it or not, it would seem - because, this year, as I ambled and peered and petted the flowers amongst gorgeous, classical architecture - in a 'hood I knew intimately from my affluent youth (talk about triggers) - I was entirely unmoved. In fact, during this day, I felt that I saw but one house and one garden because everything looked EXACTLY the same as everything else. There was no creative impulse in this place (east Rosedale meets Moore Park, in case you're wondering). Not one home owner was there to show his or her personalized garden. I imagine they were all in Muskoka... There were no tiny gems, no well-won flowers, coaxed despite the climate. The hard scaping was all expensive and well-maintained - and apparently all acquired from one vendor that doesn't feel the need to reinvent the (elegant) wheel. And for all that, I didn't envy it. I didn't want it. I just didn't give a shit.

In fact, I was vaguely irritated that people of such means could be so inherently bland. There was so much squandered opportunity. Moreover, for the first time ever, I fully perceived the unending effort and money that goes into maintaining a grand, cookie-cutter Edwardian home - because one's primary goal is to look just slightly better than the neighbours (if homogeneously). For the most part, these people work and work and work (as do we all in this centre of commerce), and there's no time to do much more than to pay others to take care of everything. These people don't have energy for (or interest in) being creative, at least not according to their gardens. And that's just not me.

Who can say why I came by this joyous epiphany? Time is a teacher, after all. But I've been banging my head against this wall forever. What changed? Is it that I've finally undertaken the creative redesign of my dreams (or occasional nightmares)? That I finally feel empowered? Is it that I'm living rich-adjacent in my own right and, frankly, I'm unimpressed. I really don't want to live in a block party 'hood that fund raises for a dunk tank. What the fuck, people? I don't want to get to know you after a 10-hour day, though I'm very happy to wave and say good morning (and even to help you should you require it). I'm a downtown girl who finds tremendous pleasure in the standoffish oasis of the urban home. It's not big, but the bones are good. I can be anywhere in 5 minutes. When I want the best El Salvadoran food in North America, I walk up the block. It's right next to awesome Ethiopian and some damn good Nicaraguan too. Plus there's table-cloth bistro, when I'm feeling the need for oysters and cava, albeit in the other direction.

My (front) garden reflects my love of monochrome and tidy verdance. It's an expression of my obsessive compulsive nature, a metaphoric chess board. My former back garden (which will be recreated, post-reno, in a new motif because, why not?) was an ode to floral phasing, respectful of the limits of the landscape. It transcended what it was originally, a sad melange of concrete and lane way.

These spaces will never be perfect but they elevate what's there. Beauty is much more enticing for the the decay that surrounds it. I've always regretted that I see decay in everything but it's my way. Show me anything - I'll find its problem and then I'll solve it. I cannot skate on the surface, though often I wish I could.

My current reno is the very embodiment of this. We have unearthed what was submerged and now we're paying the price (in all the ways). But challenges are meant to be resolved. And homes are meant to be a reflection of the self, at least in my opinion. So that's the gift I got on turning 47. Not bad, I think you'd agree.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Intuitive

There are different kinds of healthful eaters and I fall into a category that doesn't eat kale. That's actually not true. I eat kale whenever it suits me, which just happens to be rarely. I had a really bad experience with it once so I'm gun shy. What can I say? I'm not a tree-eater. Anything that reminds me of grass or trees isn't going to get my love, unless it's contained holistically in some dish that I enjoy.

I do like quite a few vegetables and vary them in my diet but, honestly, if you ask me about my food impetus, they don't rate. They're a pleasant accompaniment, a reprieve from the substantial.

Moreover, while I believe in eating vegetables for health (though I'm only motivated by desire), and while I know we need to treat this world better and consume less meat, I eat it or fish/seafood pretty much daily, in small amounts.

I'm effectively a person who doesn't eat sugar, processed food, beans (though I flirt with these because I like them) and grains of any description. My wine consumption is regulated, but I've hit a sweet spot.  Oh, and it happens that I'm not super into vegetables.

These factors can coexist and I am, nonetheless, a healthful eater- though some of you may be wondering wtf I actually do eat (read on). But, here's the thing, I've spent a shit ton of time over the past 6 months considering what food resonates. What food gets me off? Because, remember, when I started this thing I was beyond satisfaction.  I inhabited emptiness, or it did me, and everything was cavernously bland.

I'd been such a mess of sugar addiction that it affected my sense of taste. Sure, I'm a food discerner from way back, but there was always a fundamental disconnect between my appetite, my hunger - and the needs of my autonomic body. I was driven by an irrational, semi-regular compulsion to eat sugar in whatever form was easiest.

It sounds really bad when I put it that way...

So I made a decision. In my new landscape, I would only eat food that I want. If the thrill was elusive, my job was to find it. I've undertaken this with sincerity :-)

Foods I love to eat and so I eat them pretty well as much as I want, as often as I want (and I'm not known for my moderation):
  • Full fat dairy, theoretically, in unrestricted amounts (but I must remain mindful, in the scheme of things, to ingest this food group in balance with the others - because I could eat only dairy for the rest of my life and, let's face it, that wouldn't really be smart): butter, cream, yogurt, cheese, milk... Cream is my perfect dairy. Sometimes I drink 4 oz of heavy cream at a go, in one form or another. Dairy has a notable effect on my mood, it calms me the fuck down and it makes me happy. I just have to perfect my creme patissiere without grain sugar or flour (but 1 tsp maple syrup) so I can eat it for dinner when the mood strikes - and use it in dessert, natch. With berries. It's high in good mood chemicals, protein and fat. What's not to love??
  • Other oils - cuz if I'm going to eat vegetables (and I do appreciate them for their many gifts), they need to be oily. Also, oil is good on or in everything.
  • The coconut in all it's forms, but particularly the cream and oil (notice a trend?).
  • Meats that are on the more raw vs more cooked side. Preferably salty and saucy.
  • Potatoes - but not in large quantities and generally smothered in some sort of fat (or rich sauce). I particularly love roasted and mashed.
  • Cacao/Cocoa/Chocolate - Also ridiculous mood enhancer. It tastes like earth and when you mix it with fat, it's soporific. But without sugar, this is a totally different food than any choc bar (even the 80%).
  • Pistachio nuts (and I eat other nuts but these are my faves). Really salty or spicy ones.
  • Eggs for their spectacular versatility. They give richness to everything.
  • Bacon. Look, let's just give this one its own line item and move on.
  • Berries, pears, apples, stone fruits - the things that make the best crumbles
  • Coffee and wine - in moderation, but only because if I have more than 3 shots of coffee in a day, I start to shake (sad) and when I drink booze as I used to, it makes me feel sick. Note: It would appear, though I didn't realize it at the time, that I used to drink wine as a blood sugar stabilization mechanism. Now that I don't eat sugar, I don't find wine anywhere near as biologically compelling (though it is a beautiful accompaniment to meals).
With few exceptions, I eat for texture first. That's what makes or breaks food for me and rich textures are endlessly pleasurable. Next I taste for umami. Then sweet. With sugar, I want only a tease. I love the dense, fatty, saucy things (in proper proportions). I do live in a cold climate, after all.

Also, I don't love chewing unless I'm in the mood (which is strangely infrequently in the scheme of things). What do all of my faves (soups and sauces and mashed potatoes and mince and scrambled eggs and drinking chocolate and soft cheese and vegetables sauteed in sauce) have in common? You don't have to feel like chewing in order to enjoy them. Note: This isn't about my TMJD for the most part. It's about an undercurrent of physical revulsion at the thought of eating something that must be chewed/absorbed. Yeah, I agree, it's fucking weird. I used to mask my aversion with a constant infusion of sugar and simple carbs.

I've decided not to worry about any of this. This is how I'm eating right now. It suits more of me than it doesn't suit (which is more than I can say for my former eating styles). I only eat what I want. If I desire sweet things before savoury, I eat them. If I want a quarter stick of butter in my scoop-sized mashed potatoes, I eat it.  If I want veggies braised in bacon fat, I eat them. I do not restrict salt or spices or fat or protein. I also welcome fruit and sweet-aligned foods (cocoa, wine, coffee). I pair them with the most stupidly fatty and moldy cheese I can find.

Is this low carb or ketogenic or primal, I have no fucking idea. It seems that most of my calories come from fat but nuts, fruit, veg and dairy have carbs and I eat them daily, sometimes in substantive quantities. I drink wine sometimes. I make dessert many nights of the week. I just cut the sugar almost entirely, eliminate the grain and use beautiful dairy, fruits, eggs and spices. You'd be amazed by how dessert can serve as an decadent main when you do this well. I don't know if this is healthy on paper. I know it's healthy for me.

Is it immoderate? Well, maybe, if you don't like the idea of mainlining fat, but does that matter if the end result is feeling and looking better? One could say I am exceedingly moderate about the sugar and grains. I sense I'm a vegan's nightmare.

Is this a good idea for others? Who can say? It can't hurt to try if you have mood or memory issues, an arrythmia, chronic pain or an illness caused by systemic inflammation or degeneration. Bio-available fat stabilizes the nervous system. But who can say what impacts come to those with high lipids or fat-sensitive systems? We are not all the same. We shouldn't all do the same thing.

So, today's question: What kind of eater are you? Emotional, Whole 30, health nut, gluttonous, austere - define yourself in the moment :-) and let's talk!

Saturday, May 27, 2017

When Feeling Bad Is Good

So, I tried another experiment. I'd love to tell you it was calculated but, in truth, I saw macaroni and cheese and chocolate stout cake on a menu and I decided, fuck it. I was gonna eat all the sugar and processed grains and no one could stop me. When Scott tried to take a bite of the cake, I went after him with my fork (in case you're in any doubt of the addictive nature of these foods). I added insult to injury with a glass of wine. Oh, and I started the day with half an english muffin (something I've done only 3 times since January). Hmmm...

Oh Lord, people. I was so sick, so fast. And, almost 24 hours later, I'm still feeling mighty bad.

So, what happened?

Well, the first 30 minutes were a blur of utter bliss. Oh, I was high and so freakin' happy. I cannot explain how awesome I felt.

The next 30 minutes were a sad, sugar come-down. I started to feel a bit shaky. Given what I now know about blood sugar, I sense I went into a rebound low. I walked for about 30 minutes. By the time I got home I felt nausea - not surprising since I'd just eaten @ 1000 calories of sugar which I didn't bother to stabilize with anything like fiber or healthy fat or protein.

Then I got super miserable. I thought I might have to end it all as a result of the weather. Truly, I feel this way even with stable blood sugar, these days. It's been raining for weeks. A good day means it only rains half the time and it gets up to 15C. Even the people who don't mind rain are losing it. Those like me are in a perma-melancholic state. But it was particularly pronounced, this misery.

An hour later, I had to take a nap. I had a terrible headache. When I woke, I felt like I'd been hit by a truck. I didn't want to move but I knew I had to. When I stood up, I was dizzy and my bones/joints hurt terribly. In case I've been wondering whether my new lifestyle/diet has helped my pain, well, I've got my answer. The arthritis, as they call it, kicked in big time.*

Never mind specific symptoms - on a meta level, was so out of sorts, I didn't know what to do with myself. To calm myself, I picked up my needles. When I tried to knit, I noticed that my fingers were super-clumsy. I couldn't gain a rhythm. My body stiffened.

At that point, I ate just about the only thing that didn't make me want to throw up - a handmade coconut oil, cacao, almond butter cup (low in sugar, high in fat and protein) and I drank about 20 glasses of water. Later, I ate a salad for dinner and some pistachios. It took forever for the night to go by but eventually it was a reasonable time to go to sleep. When I woke this morning, my fingers were SO swollen it was crazy. Like old times. My stomach is still a mess.

Wow. I have gone off-road on a few occasions, of course. Usually that means an extra glass of wine or an extra tsp of maple syrup in my drinking chocolate. But I've really avoided the wheat flour to date - partly because there's nothing good about it - unless it's non-processed or from Italy -  and I don't actually miss it (not like I miss rice, for example - and even that I can avoid without difficulty). All that comes of eating it is having eaten it and likely wanting more (as it's in all the yummy things).

Will I do this again? Um, yeah. I'm pretty sure I'll forget how bad I'm currently feeling and the lure of cake will once again set in. But it's not going to happen soon, that's for sure. Also, next time I do it, I'm making the fucking cake cuz my baking is incomparable.

Till then, yours in austerity, K

*We can call it whatever but I'm pretty sure it's sugar and grain induced autoimmune response (aka systemic inflammation). Feel free to disagree, as no test can substantiate this. I'm telling you, I lived the result and I'm sure that's what it is.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Knitting Through The Stash

I’ve been doing a lot of knitting lately but, somehow, my output is down. I can’t explain it. Between January and May 2016, the year of workaholism, I knitted 17 projects. Between this January and May I’ve knitted 8 - and there's currently one project on needles. Am I making more complicated projects this year? Not really. Sure, February was a bit of a wash, with the move, and I have knit some yarn-intensive scarves this year (as opposed to smaller accessories). But I find it hard to believe that these two factors have lead to a 50% decline in productivity in 2017. I do love Ravelry because it gives me endless useful data (and it allows me to contribute to a data stream that will inform other knitters for years to come). And it keeps me honest. I suppose I could compare yarn weights and yardages of individual projects to confirm that my assessment of down-output is correct. One thing's for sure - I'm not knitting any less frequently. Note: I suspect my willingness to plan in ever more detail and to rip back work I'm not loving may be leading to longer spans knitting one item...

Of course, it doesn't matter. Well, I say it doesn't matter but I knit presents, for the most part, all year long and I never have an issue finding good homes for the finished objects. To some extent, knitting is my gift stash - my boutique of hand mades (which do not look home made!). On the one hand, I knit often (and quickly) because that's how I roll. On the other hand, I get to knit all kinds of strange things I might never have come to organically because I'm committed to using my stash yarn (even if I do replace it more frequently than necessary). That combo leads me down a very productive path, for the most part.

My urge to destash (well, not so much to destash as to use the yarn I've purchased because I desired it it and I wanted to use it) has resulted in finished objects that , in retrospect, I'm very happy to have constructed, even if I wouldn't have chosen them under different circumstances (which is to say if I'd had larger yardages of remainder yarn).

That's how these things came to be:

The Vertex vest was a crap shoot - a strange, asymmetric vest that could be very chic or super granola. The yarn, bought in a moment of nostalgia last year, was also a crap shoot. It has great hand but it's an awkward colour, especially in a land so perennially taupe. It took forever to match it to a garment. I aimed to use as much as possible of the 1500 yards I purchased, because it's been strangely difficult to purpose. It's very silky with a ton of drape. It would make a great (if stretch-prone) blanket but I didn't have enough of it to go that route. The colour isn't flattering enough to wear against my skin without something to break up the beige. Vertex uses a lot of yarn for a vest, though less than the pattern suggests, but that's partly because I changed the dimensions - particularly vertically. I didn't want to go too long given that I'm short in the torso - and given the propensity of bamboo to stretch. (Note: the alpaca gives it a kind of resiliency, along with the chainette construction of the yarn, to mitigate over-stretch.)
Vertex Vest
I thought I'd give it away as a big-ticket gift (my mother knows what that means) but I couldn't do it. There's something so warm and comfortable and, strangely, even chic about this vest. It's not perfect but I could see myself making it one more time in a slightly sturdier fabric in a better colour.

What will I do with the remaining yarn? Probably, I'll make another Starshower. Having made it before, I know that I can use up all of the remaining yardage.

Lessons Learned: Don't buy taupe. Experiment with different fibers - it makes things challenging and interesting. Try a pattern out of the comfort-zone - but with touchpoints that are likely to make it work.

This Stockholm scarf, which I made in the round, is an interesting exercise in simple lace-work but I don't love knitting lace. Occasionally I do it because, damn, it looks pretty and when the pattern, yarn and yardage align, you have to adventure. This used every last inch of yarn I had - only the second time I've experienced this in all of my time knitting. It's wash/dryable, very feisty and soft. I've lost interest in cerise, of late, but I know this will be a popular gift:

Stockholm Scarf

No remaining yarn. I first used this yarn to make this sweater - but I never wore it (who needs a short sleeved sweater??).

Lessons Learned: Do smaller lacework projects to keep the process from becoming tedious. Don't work with the Filatura unless size doesn't really matter. This yarn stretches stupidly, the way so many superwash yarns do. That's why I'll no longer knit superwash unless the project is socks, something for a baby or something unfitted that gets a lot of wear. Because I won't hand wash and dry those sorts of things.

Then there's the two- (or more-) toned simple sock thing I've got going on. I've become comfortable with colourwork by using up random yarns together to make pairs of socks out of small remnants.


What will I do with the remaining yarn? Well, in the end, there's very little left (though enough to fix holes). The best part is figuring out how to use the complementary yarns in different ways so that you get more pairs of socks by inverting the pattern from pair to pair.

Lessons Learned: You can really use up every last yard of yarn if you're willing to get granular enough. Only 3g of yarn are needed for a toe. So get creative with socks - colour-wise if not pattern-wise. (But don't mix colour and patterns. They cancel each other out.)

The Binary Scarf gave me the opportunity to do a fancy-seeming Brooklyn Tweed pattern without using the yarn (which is a pain in the ass to knit with and scratchy against the face). But it's made in a BT-style neutral, albeit using Quince Finch:

Binary Scarf
I used unwound, not rewashed yarn in a colourway I never liked on myself (taupe with a pink undertone?!) Originally it formed the bulk of this sweater. I never wore that thing. So unknit it was. I do wish I'd started with washed yarn, so I could have seen how open the initial end result was destined to be. I'd have gone down a needle size. In the end, I shrank it a bit in the dryer to bring the pattern to the fore. Quince shrinks a lot, and quickly, but it doesn't seem to felt.

What will I do with the yarn left over? I still have 230 yards left over... I have no idea what I'll do with it. A matching hat, perhaps? I'm so not into knitting hats...

Lessons Learned: Don't make a patterned scarf with unwound, kinky yarn. It takes the fun out when you can't see the pattern emerge. And flat scarves are freakin' boring to make, no matter the pattern, unless there's colour work involved.

What I'm knitting now:


Welcome Back Garter
I am knitting this one on a whim. And I'm not whimsical. There's a 3 skein version and a 6 skein version. Perfect way to use up a 400 yard skein and 5, 130 yard batches of fingering yarn - or 3 single skeins of 400 yards each. It produces a bias-cut shawl in garter stitch. Super fast, uncomplicated knitting on US 6 needles. And the colour possibilities are endless. I can totally see myself doing the 6 skein version when I've got moderate increments of yarn remaining from sock projects. But in this instance, I'm using 2 colourways I bought at the Yarn Frolic (Shelridge Yarns in Pussywillow and Sweet Georgia Tough Love Sock in Mink) and a third colour (Sweet Georgia Tough Love Sock in Slate) that I've already used some of to make a pair of socks, given that I bought 2 skeins.

If you're into colourwork, this is a fantastic, fun knit. If you're into buying single skeins of sock-weight yarn and they orphan cuz you never make socks, but you haven't got enough of the yarn to make much more than socks, this is a great pattern. The emerging mosaic is so enjoyable. I'm using merino with nylon so that I'll be able to throw this shawl in the washer and dryer.

If you want to destash, getting comfortable with colourwork is a worthy undertaking. I'm partial to stripes and colour blocking. I haven't had the chance to do to much in the way of intarsia or stranded yet. But I'm not afraid of these techniques and, sooner rather than later, I'm going to get bold and steek.

So that's a bit of a knitting update.

Today's questions: Do you obsess over your stash or do you eat through it with little concern for what may become of the remanants (or the full yardage, if it's a challenging fiber)? Have you got a recurring colourway in your stash that you never seem to use because you really don't love it, though it beckons in the store? Is your knitting 20 per cent for you and 80 per cent for your gift boutique? Let's talk

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 naïve 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".