Friday, December 23, 2016

Full Wheel

Today I went into the sewga room (really,  it's the single-purpose yoga room these days, cuz for how long can one ride on past activity?). I couldn't decide what to do. I'm recovering from an eye infection (but it's almost gone, thankfully, as it made me look like I'd been hit in the face and it hurt like hell). I'm not in a high-pain moment but it's really damp outside (which can be tricky for me). I'm also very tired. I know it's important to be active, to lift weight, but right about now I feel it's even more important to retain some perspective on movement.

As a sidebar, you know I've had some time to consider the nature of mobility. I've also had a lot of time to consider what it means to gauge everything by one or 2 indicators. So often, I think about how perhaps I've lost pose X, or my ability to do Y, instead of being super fucking grateful for how much extraneous flexibility and strength I actually possess. I mean, how much do I need? What is it that I'm searching for when my time to regenerate is focused on abstract loss? It's no new question, natch, but what would practice be like for everyone if, as a society, we started to laud the stiffness and weakness of which we are all, to some extent, comprised?

You've heard it again and again - I mean, I've said it again and again - one's practice is in no way dictated by how a pose looks. I wish I had been able to understand this in my youth, though youth is rarely wise. I wish I'd spent more time engaging subtly to gain awareness about how a microscopic movement can produce transformation, sometimes merely for a moment, other times forever. But evolution is on its own timeline.

When I say my practice is random, I'm both entirely serious and probably wrong. I walk into the room and I intuit what to do next. I ask my body the question. I listen intently for the answer. I push aside what I want to hear. I listen again. And I'm continually amazed by what craziness I get up to. Sometime I do whack interpretive dance without music (?!) Sometimes it's MELT and body rolling. Sometime it's lying in therapeutic poses, doing pranayama, for an hour. Sometimes I hang in ropes - I do every pose using some sort of prop for traction. I rarely practice with online classes in the winter, but I have a bunch of them. I prefer restorative and alignment classes (though I do vinyasa too).

Today was a strange day. Today I did active back bends. Ah, these used to be my prized poses, the ones that made me lively and flushed. They gave me access to the the dark flip side, as it were. These, and the inversions, were my go-tos. I haven't done urdhva danurasana (full wheel) in a long time - maybe a year - and I really don't know how the impulse came but I gave it ample opportunity to wander away, and it didn't. First, I worked on thoracic and sacral opening in a variety of traditional Iyengar set-ups (using chairs and belts and blocks). Then I did some rope work for traction. Then I got on the floor, with one belt around my upper arms and another around my upper legs (not regular practice for me but I'm not doing backbends on a daily basis and I wanted to be stable). I spent about 30 seconds fighting with my anxiety (not of doing the pose but of not being able to do the pose or of causing myself pain). Then I smacked myself metaphorically, like any good Iyengar teacher of the 90s, and I lifted up. Cuz thinking more about it wasn't going to get me anywhere.

A minute or so later, when I came out of the pose - which didn't cause pain - I lay on the floor and argued with myself. Should I do it again? Did I want to do it again?

I did not repeat the pose, though I wondered if it would have been fun the second time. I did not repeat that pose because it only needed to be done once. I used my muscles. I flexed my flexibility. I bore weight (all these things that are important for my spinal health). And the person I am, right now, needs to expend the minimum amount of effort for the maximum gain. It would have been hard to keep going. I would have achieved more. And in that achievement, I may have brought on pain.

How many times have I caused myself injury because my desire to achieve outweighed my better judgement? How many times will I do it in the future? No sense in worrying. Today my body and mind got it together and we came up with a viable plan. Can't wait to see what happens tomorrow.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Knotty and Nice

I'm sitting in my living room, practically shivering, imagining a world in which the entire first floor of my house will be equally heated (and entirely warm). Admittedly, I just drank some almond milk straight from the fridge and I'm not wearing a double layer - unless a large scarf and shearling slippers count. But man, I can almost feel excited by the prospect of the reno when the temp drops to minus 8. I'm really hoping (understatement) that stable indoor temps will help keep pain (which doesn't like cold or wet) in check during the winter months.

But this post is not about that. This post is about knitting - and unknitting - a subset of the craft that every knitter should get with to some extent, IMO, if perhaps not to this extent:

The Jan Sweater by Susan Crawford
This sweater, the second thing I ever knit, was suboptimal from the start. It's how I learned yarn-overs (a lacework stitch), something I've really never loved, even if I've grudgingly accepted them. The fit was all wrong - too big everywhere, too wide in the boat-neck (I actually had to seam it up after the fact), too see-through (given colour, yarn-weight and the holes). I didn't enjoy the pattern. Susan Crawford patterns, I have learned, are not to my liking. The instructions are weak (and slim, in keeping with the vintage thing) but more than slim they're weak.

Destined to be something much better than the sweater ever was~
I used Excelana, also by Susan Crawford, yarn which I wouldn't recommend. Firstly, I believe you have to buy it online - and it's just not that exciting. Secondly, there were SO many knots (like, regular knots) holding every skein of this yarn together, that those myriad balls you see above are as much because I had to snip the yarn every 50 yards, as because I didn't snip my side seams cleanly. There are only a few comments on this yarn in Ravelry and one of them indicates that this hasn't  happened only to me. I can forgive a few knots (like 2) in my artisanal yarn, but don't make my life a misery. Also, what does it say when you can't keep your yarn in one piece as you spin it?? Finally, it's not expensive (though it's not cheap for those who have to ship it and pay the exchange), and it doesn't feel high-end. It's got a somewhat generic feel - even as I imagine it is EXACTLY like what affordable yarn in wartime England would have been like.

I've been thinking more and more about this whole "rip back a sweater" thing and I've put my money where my mouth is. To wit, in the last year I frogged a sweater 3/4-finished. I ripped back 3/4 of this to improve the bust fit (so it's still not done) and now, I've gone whole hog and undone a whole finished garment.

Not only am I reminded of my newbie-knitting parents sheer horror at the thought of losing a stitch of work (till you get what's happening, it can be so awful not knowing how to fix things), but it's a pretty awesome metaphor. I mean, it's hard to deconstruct something back to its component parts, even if you're very laissez-faire. When you mess up a cooking project, you get to throw it out and start again. Like, with new material. There's something so in-your-face about the way yarn comes undone. About how it teaches you the value of your work, which is to say, it's only as good as what you've learned and what you'll do next. People, there is liberty in this activity. But man, it's hard.

It's messy, it's scary (What if you snip the yarn accidentally? Note: You probably will.), It's a reminder of the sometimes endless-seeming journey you've traveled (you remember all the stand-out bits, bad or good). It's a perfect visual representation of disintegration. It's a mega recontribution to your stash which, let's just say, may be adequately robust already.

By ripping back a sweater (perhaps a nice cashmere one from a thrift shop) you get to see your work in reverse - which is actually illuminating. Doing this will make you a better knitter. And I don't mean in a spiritual way. It'll provide an opp to see how things come apart so that you can be better at putting them back together. It'll also teach you about how much you've learned since last you touched that garment you're, ahem, yarn-retrieving.  (Let's give it a euphemism, shall we?)

I've decided, in future, if I'm at all on the fence about a garment, I will rip it back after blocking (or sooner). It will not torment me in my closet. Hopefully I like the yarn (so that I'll want to knit with it again) but, if not, I'll give away the yarn. I also intend to some of reclaim some of my other already-closet-hogging, hand knit sweaters. Gotta admit, if I never want to work with a particular yarn again, chances are that I'm not going to rip that one back soon - cuz it's a lot of work. Like a couple of hours to do it well (and depending on the amount of yarn to rewind).

I always thought the hardest part about the unknitting process would be contextualizing the loss of time - and feeling inundated by yarn I've already experienced. Now I realize that the yarn is different every time I use it. It molds (literally) to the thing I am creating. And, inasmuch as I am its machinery, it is as prone to nuance as I.

Knitting brings it all up, as every knitter knows. It's as much an act of meditation - of grace - as prayer or therapy. I struggle with the ends of my yarn because, in order to use every yard, I must find a way to use every freakin' yard. Yes, this is an affect of my OCD, but it tells me about myself. I don't like to rip back finished work (or do I?) because it's like loss or waste. I can't bear reknitting with the yarn because it denies the satisfaction of acquisition.

But here's what I didn't know and what has made all the difference: Unknitting is its own kind of craft! Have a glass of wine. Watch a movie. Do a good job of it (I did not, particularly, so I lost about 30 g of yarn due to short lengths). Start with a garment made up in a yarn you care little about. Do NOT snip your main fabric when you go after the seams. Wind the yarn in to your fave kind of ball. Be considered. Note: I don't intend to soak the kinks out of my yarn, at least not at this point. I'll do what a Ravelry friend suggested: swatch and block that swatch for a long time before leaving it to dry.

Unknitting is just as miraculous as knitting and its made from the same component parts. You get to touch yarn. And you get to start again. Maybe that next thing you make will be everything that the last thing was not. How sad would it be not to have a go at that experience?

Honestly, if you can bring yourself to do it, take some unloved knitted thing apart this week - and tell me about it. It will be nothing like you expect, I promise.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

It's Been a Long Month

Thank you so, so much, everyone who commented on my last post. I had no idea my reno is such a topic of interest! FWIW, I have every intention of torturing you with stories about it (and pics). Why keep that gift to myself? :-) And, gotta say, overwhelmed or no, I feel like a part of me is amputated when I don't write.

So many things have happened in the last month - too many to relate. Maybe it would be best to return with some fodder about knitting (light, and all, even if ripping back a sweater isn't fun). Alas, I've experienced death (my best friend's much loved and admired father), grief and adaptation. There's been pain and, I can't lie, fear.

But in those moments of fear (which, for me, are inextricably linked to physical pain) there's a lot to be learned. In fact, I may have learned more from pain than from anything else I've ever experienced. It takes no prisoners and it doesn't pander. Having said this, in no other context is Stockholm Syndrome more beneficial. One has to make friends with fear - the emotional manifestation of pain - to trust it. What you can't beat, join, and all that...

My most recent encounter with death (and they are all different even as they're all the same) has taught me that, in order to accept mortality - inevitable human decay and ending (that thing I fear most of all) - one has to be exposed. It stands to reason that the best way to accept the continuum of life is to see it from all sides. I realize this is banal to read. But to live it is profound. We must normalize pain, death, fear, loss. They are worthy and human. They give ballast to the things we seek out intently (love, prosperity, health, contentment).

Big thoughts aside, I am always informed by my yoga practice. The benefit of being an early adopter is that I have the opportunity to watch this faction age as I do. Really, I suspect this community's dialogue is going to help everyone, at any age, because we're all on this trajectory. But for me, a woman of a certain age, who sees the subtle erosion of athleticism in her practice, it's rather kind.

Often these days, when I practice - and when I practice through pain my sequence is an odd array of methodologies wrapped in the philosophy of pranic yoga - I remember a moment in my early years of teacher training. I was demonstrating chaturanga dandasana (push up) while my teacher expounded, interminably, on the pose. I stayed there seemingly forever. She smacked my arms and militaristically commanded me to rise, time after time, with attention to the energy in the pose. She advised us all that my attention was scattered. You should know that this asana has always been my nemesis - even at my most physically capable. I can hang out in high plank indefinitely. I can bring myself to the floor and hold the plane. But pushing back up, from the full pose, has always been some variation of miserable to impossible. Effectively I am stuck.

In my mid-40s, I do the pose with knees down. It's just sensible. Why the fuck would I contribute to pain to feed my ego? I need to retain strength, not to prove my prowess.

But here's what I posit: There are so many experiences you will never be able to contextualize until they're just memories.

Today, as I did full chaturanga in an effort to strength-train (and remembered my teacher training moment), I recognized for the zillionth time that my attention was not scattered - had not been scattered. I realized at the level of my bones and nerves that I've never been able to locate the graceful exit in this pose because my body can't find it. My body can find so many things - so many other poses, so much joy, so much depth, ecstasy - but it cannot find the ergonomic stasis required to lift out of that full pose elegantly (if at all) probably because I've got fucking osteophytes all over my spine, messing with the dynamism, and they've likely been there since my late teens. No fucking surprise I can't do it. It doesn't define me.

So here's where I'm going with this post. The next time you can't find something - closure or peace of mind or some stupid physical outcome that in no way defines you - remember that, someday, the fog will clear. You may still not find what you're looking for, but you'll know why it's lost to you and you'll accept it.

My teacher used to say that she didn't know what would happen when she could finally attain (mega-complicated) Pose X. She suspected she'd go up in an illuminated puff of smoke - illumination being the unsaid subtext. (In no small irony, she cut herself the slack she couldn't give to others.) I'm telling you there's no puff of smoke. There's just the emerging awareness that comes with experience.

So I welcome everything. I welcome life and joy and death and sorrow and pain and whatever each is there to tell me. Intermittent limitation is a gift, because it shows, in containment, what will eventually come. There's liberty in that, I propose. But then what do I know?

Monday, November 7, 2016

That Post That Every Blogger Writes Eventually

The trajectory of a blog is rather knowable, as it happens. One senses the ebb and flow. As a serious reader - and a pretty conscientious contributor, for a decade, give or take - I'm rarely surprised when the light dims in one of our metaphoric spaces. And it's rarely without a considerable degree of regret that I say good bye to one of my long-time blog friends.

I'm not much of a mover-on. I've managed to invest myself in every loss I've ever felt, at terrible personal cost, I might add. I hold fast. I do not give up. And, damn, I love to talk. Good conversation is my drug of choice. It's the thrum that underpins everything for me. And writing is its right-hand man. To those of you who also write, I don't need to speak of its delicious pleasures. What is more wonderful than words that hang together?

Which is why I find myself in the most absurd of situations - about to draw the curtain on a decade of community. I've hesitated to commit to this for weeks. I knew, when I took the new job, that my responsibilities would be upended for a period of time. But I've also felt for months that my life has called upon me, ever more, to Be Here Now. My kid needs me, my job needs me, my house needs me. My husband needs me. And I need space. The truth is that I have as much to say as ever (for which I am so grateful), but I have no time to say it (when I have energy) and no energy to say it (when I have time). At at some point, one needs to recognize that the virtual - though as real as anything real - cannot be prioritized.

I want to say - and this is not a platitude - that I care tremendously about you. Not "you", as in a spectrum of generalized readers. I mean you. You have heard me. You've commiserated when things have been truly hard. You've shared my joy and successes so many times over. You've taught me lessons - metaphoric and practical - and you know I love to learn. You've shown me wisdom when I've been at my wits' end. You've indulged my ego. You've kindly set me straight.

You are not an abstraction. My husband probably knows you by name - well by blog name, that is. Your feedback shows itself in the clothing I wear daily, in the crafting that comes a close creative second only to my writing and communicating here.

It seems likely that I'll reclaim this space again. Lord knows I intend to when the opportunity presents itself. But it won't be what it has been - it never is. It won't be the thing I've dedicated myself to, multiple times a week, for a decade, unceasingly. So I want to acknowledge this loss. I want to acknowledge what this place has meant to me and what it will always mean to me - a sign of  commitment and creativity which brings community - my greatest joy. It's the place where I have come to know you and to be your friend. So thank you very much and much love. I mean this sincerely.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Finished Project: Sweet Jane Pullover

My Sweet Jane Pullover is finally complete:

Disclaimer: As per all plain stockinette garments, the beauty is in the hand and in how it fits and wears. I can't say that these photos show off this pullover to its best effect. And while it was carefully blocked, it hasn't been worn, which is why the sleeves look vaguely wonky. I did a bit of assertive blocking in the upper arms and you can still see the pin points. They disappear completely when worn, of course.

So, what can I say about this knit?
  • It's not difficult but you have got to like short rows because they're everywhere (hem, shoulder shaping, sleeve head).
  • It's boring knitting. So, so boring. One perks up at the thought of the short rows, if only for novelty.
  • Amy Miller, the designer, most definitely has the tightest gauge on the planet - if her pattern recommendations are anything to go by. As mentioned previously, I had to go down 3 needle sizes and I still obtained a gauge that would produce a finished sweater many inches too large. I think her patterns are quite chic, well-instructed and innovative, but we're at opposite ends of the gauge continuum. As a result, it's unlikely I'll knit one of her patterns again soon. There was too much math and near-constant sizing consideration to justify the simplicity of the end result.
  • A propos of the bullet above, there's a point to be made that, if you have to go up or down by more than 2 needle sizes, you're going to have to work hard at reproducing the pattern - unless it's something unfitted, like a scarf, and you like the fabric produced by working with the proposed needle size.
In terms of sizing:
  • You must fit this perfectly for you, or it will look hideous. Pay careful attention to the shoulder width - which must align with your shoulder tips exactly. The arms should be fitted too - though perhaps not as extensively as mine are! Note: My Quince Chickadee is very yielding (if springy), so blocking achieved my objective. But I would give myself an extra half-inch of circumference in the upper arm next time, if only to avoid having to assertively block.
  • If the length isn't also perfect, you'll look wide or boxy. I blocked the short side to 16" of length, and the long to 23", and I might have gone a bit longer (by an inch) on either side. I actually undid the finished hem at the end - such a pain in the ass once I'd bound off 200 plus stitches in rib - and I added another 5 rows to the rib because it really was shorter than I liked. I'd add another inch still, above the hem short rows, were I to make this again.
  • Obvs, this garment has no waist shaping but the pattern instructs A line shaping under the bust. I opted to go straight down from the bust (i.e. 38" all the way) and that toned down the volume. If you are a waif - or you have a small bust - then the true A line may flatter. If you have proportionately large breasts, I suggest you tread carefully with the dimensions. I'm still on the fence about whether I love the fit through my mid-section but I'll have to see how my opinion changes with wear because, one thing I've learned: My relationship to my handmade clothing changes as a garment becomes familiar. I become less critical (and often more pleased) over time. Unless I never wear it, that is.
  • I always find it ironic that the hardest sweaters to size are the ones without shaping. Remember the 80s, peeps...
  • Unless you have very long arms, you're going to want to cut a number of inches off the length. If I'd worked as the pattern instructed, the ribbing would have covered half my hand (and the instructions are for a 3/4 sleeve?!) Others have corroborated this on Ravelry.
In terms of the yarn (which I've written about many times before):
  • Quince Chickadee is a very springy plied yarn. It manages to walk an usual line between "nice" and budget - almost like Cascade, but of somewhat higher quality (not that Cascade is in any way low-quality, but it is mass-produced at a certain price point). This makes it quite a good choice for projects requiring lots of yarn. Quince colours are infinitely better than Cascade's, IMO, and the post-blocked hand of the fabric is firmer. There are no synthetics added to the wool. There is no super washing. Quince holds its shape. It's durable. It's doesn't stretch out notably after blocking. In fact, it tends to shrink a bit. I really love whatever sheep are used to produce this yarn. Unsurprisingly, it has a more Northern feel than a Peruvian yarn. There's nothing halo-y or drapey about it. But it isn't at all like that woolen-spun, toothy/crunchy thing Brooklyn Tweed's got going on. 
  • Quince works well for many of the kinds of patterns that appeal to me. It's entirely soft enough to wear against the skin but it doesn't bag out. It's particularly good for cowls, mitts, gloves and hats, btw, because it keeps its shape, it's got great stitch definition and it's warm.
  • What I don't love about it is that it's quite robust for weight. The fingering feels like sport to me. The sport, like DK. The DK is almost like worsted. And because it holds its shape and springs back - it's not delicate. It can seem a bit thick. You might wonder why I don't just size down when I use it and, you know, I've considered it. That's probably what I'll do next time. If it were easier for me to buy (I have to order it online), I'd experiment. I wish I didn't have to purchase in large batches to justify the cost (which is still acceptable to me, even with the exchange rate). America-dwellers: You can often find it in store - or with very reasonable shipping - and the price point is fantastic. For you, this yarn is a terrific bargain and I urge you to support your economy.
  • Never put this in the dryer unless you want a child-size result at the end. You can machine dry it briefly, when almost air dried (to block it to a smaller size) but be careful.
What I did differently this time:

Usually, when I knit a sweater, I weave in the ends before wet-blocking, because I want a finished garment as soon as its dry. But, as you know, I really don't wear any of the dozens of sweaters I've made (some have been given away, 10 sit in my closet). Once you weave in the ends, unraveling a sweater becomes a very unpleasant and challenging task - like it wouldn't be already, what with undoing a hundred hours of work?! This time, I wanted the option to just rip it back immediately, if the fit wasn't right or if I felt I'd never wear it. Then at least, I figured, I could restash the yarn.

Alas, I have issues with this concept. Even more depressing than sacrificing time, unknitting a newly-complete garment is not appealing on other levels. It feels like mending / alterations to me. Or like watching reruns. I don't like to revisit the past, even if it is ecologically-minded. How can I buy NEW soft, delicious, addicting yarn if I still have masses of it in unwound projects? I mean, if I just unravelled the sweaters in my closet (some of which I do have a strange, sentimental attachment to - if only as learning experiences), I'd have so much stash yarn, I wouldn't know what to do with it. And part of my issue with some of those sweaters is the yarn itself! It may have knit-up nicely but I didn't like working with it.

I recall reading about some guy who actually unravels his latest garment whenever he wants to make a new one, because one is enough. Who has this kind of fortitude and obliviousness to novel tactile experiences?

I did opt to weave in the ends, in the end, because I do think/anticipate/hope this pullover might be worn semi-regularly - not in spite of its plainness, but because of it. It's a neutral-toned, blank slate with interesting lines. Which is generally what I wear. What I can't say is whether my perception of its chunkiness (you know I wear FINE denier, RTW cashmere most of the time) will preclude me from choosing it. And if that happens, really, I'm not making any more sweaters. Not until I get a knitting machine and teach myself how to use it (and given my current lifestyle, this may be many years hence). Famous last words, I realize. But let's see how this goes.

I was concerned that blocking first would produce more visible woven-in ends that wouldn't stick as well (given that water and drying didn't integrate them into the main fabric). I needn't have worried. I actually think it was a bit easier to weave in this order - and the final ends are completely invisible / stay put.

So that's everything I have to say about this project. But what about you? Do you like it? (Feel free to be honest - I mean, I'm not the designer! :-)) Would you wear it? Have you made it? Any thoughts on Quince yarn? Let's talk!

Friday, October 14, 2016

Bra Review: Unlined Piper Longline by Cleo

That unlined Cleo Piper longline I've been waiting for just arrived and it is ALL that:
I mean to take my own pic but I cannot say when that'll be. In the interim, please enjoy this photo from Dreams and Underthings.
No question, it is a rare, as-yet released bra that raises this degree of expectation and lust. Most who wear full bust/small band sizes have felt terribly neglected when it comes to unlined longlines because, well, they simply haven't existed till now. Sure, about 5 years ago, the regular full-bust players started producing seamed (but lined or lightly padded) versions. Note that those don't play nicely with projected breasts. Moreover, having tried them, I find that the engineering isn't noteworthy - the bands are wussy, too short and incline to buckle.

I've read a number of reviews of this cobalt-shade, unlined Piper (not that there are tons of them because this bra is newly-released). It would appear to fit a broad variety of different breast shapes - tall roots, short roots, wider or narrower breasts, full on bottom (everyone agrees it excels for this subset), a bit full on top (but not overly). It's odd to hear of this degree of modularity in a bra.

I'd read one review and think: Phew, this one's going to work well for me, I know it. Then I'd read another and start feeling concerned. But I needn't have been.

I can now corroborate that this bra also works for the even/full bust (that which is equivalently both lower- and upper-cup "full", having considerable projection). My bust is high-set on my chest, but my roots are short. This gives me functionally even root-height and I do not find this too high at the underarm. The wires may be a bit wide, but there's enough depth in the cups to avoid shape-distortion. There's also enough centre-projection (and dimension to the outer cup piece) to allow for projected breasts to sit front and centre. The gore's a bit wider than the close-set might prefer, but my boobs are very close together and this gore tacks without issue.

So let me tell you why, IMO, this bra is so easy for so many:
  • The band of a longline, when it really fits the person who's wearing it, provides an optimal amount of support. This support is not only flattering (and tends to improve the lift-ability of the cups given that wider bands distribute weight over a broader surface area), but it's good for those who may experience back or shoulder pain due to bras that are too loose in the back (or too flimsy of fabric) and too small in the cups. This band's robustness, in addition to its deep cups (see more below), make for a bra that's very comfortable.
  • In full disclosure, the cups are constructed in such a way that generally doesn't work for me as there's a reasonably horizontal seam (not as diagonal as I prefer) delineating an upper cup from the under cup. What saves the day, IMO, is that the under cup is actually 3 pieces, vertically seamed). This construction provides a lot of volume for full on bottom breasts. 
  • Moreover, the horizontal seam is set above the bust apex, to diminish the cup shallowness which this sort of seam tends to produce. Also, because the lower cup is so volume-friendly, those who often use the volume of an upper cup to redistribute full on bottom projection (and most full on bottom peeps who wear the wrong size do this) are able to use the upper cup volume for its intended purpose. That's why those with projected, even, or slightly functionally full on top breasts, who also have lower fullness, can wear this without feeling like the upper cup is too closed.
  • Finally, back to the band: It's the perfect length for me, a short-waisted gal, and the plastic boning is adequate to keep things in place. You could replace the plastic with metal, easily enough, but unless your ribs flare or you have some strategically-located, flare-producing torso flesh, I don't think it would be necessary. Because it has 5 hooks/eyes, it doesn't need to be overly snug to provide optimal support. But I don't find this band particularly snug.
 Now let's talk about how it looks:
  • This bra is much more luxe-seeming than any other Cleo bra I've come across. The fabric is great. The eyelash lace is soft and delicate, but not weak. The colour is as delicious as everyone else says. The Cleo Piper is gorgeous - and really sexy - and it's a great foundation garment under slim-fitting clothes. I actually think it's a steal at the cost, which is one of the reasons I bet it'll be very popular - and one of the reasons why it's selling out fast.
The bottoms, an adequate, plain brief in matching fabric, are in no way up to the standard of the bra. A high-waisted, lacy number - or even a good thong - would create a more attractive set. These undies are merely passable. And they fit on the loose side. I hope that if this bra sticks around that Cleo will up its game, on this account, to perfect the finished look.

Today's questions: Have you tried this bra? Did it work? Do you want to buy it? Think it's overrated? Let's talk!

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Structural Stability

The amazing thing about taking forever to start something one is conflicted about doing in the first place (mega-expensive and extensive renovations, anyone?), is that it allows for the most pervasive - dare we say, totally absurd - scope creep.

In the time that we've taken to nail this reno down (i.e., figure out the nature of the structural challenges, come to terms with it emotionally and financially, consider the alternatives, arrange financing, vet architects and design/build firms and contractors and just about everyone else on the planet, close pre-existing permits, get new permits, deal with stupidities in the municipal system requiring super-human approvals (designed to provide the City with cash), clean out our fucking fire-trap of a basement (this is ongoing) etc.), most of the like-minded people we know have done their entire renos and had a few new-home holiday dinners since.

No one's going to accuse us of being proactive.

Let me clarify - the reason that this has taken so long is, in part, because Scott and I have been at odds with the process in one way or another. He doesn't want to start because he's the designated hands-on project manager and he knows what he's in for. (Note: even though we have a project manager on the job, you know - one we're paying, this ain't our first time at the rodeo. We get that we're the ones who will manage the outcomes, when all is said and done.) And it's not like Scott doesn't already have a full-time job.

My conflict arises from my perpetual anxiety about destruction of this place (before reconstruction). Order is my salve. How will I handle the chaos? Just the chaos of preparing for a reno fills me with dread.

Allow me to remind you that all of this started cuz I wanted some fucking French doors.

The most recent turn of events isn't about timing - this thing is on schedule for a March-April start. It's about scope. For a variety of complex and boring reasons, the proposed price of this upgrade has skyrocketed still further (like by another 33 per cent) and we'll be tearing down still more of the house. At this point, the only part of the ORIGINAL house that will remain is the front third - the part worth salvaging. This consists of an entrance hall, stair case, dining room, living room, upstairs hallway and 2 bedrooms. Given that I live in a row house (which is attached to our neighbours at both sides, at different places on either side), one set of our neighbours will have an interesting summer along with us: We're tearing down part of our house that is currently attached to theirs. Don't worry - they know about it, it's entirely legit and our builders are insured up the yin yang. Also, apparently this happens with extensive row house renos. Not that I've ever seen it.

At this point it's firm: we're going to have to move out because there won't be any accessible bathrooms. Or much of a house to speak of. (On the plus side, we'll have 2 new bathrooms at the end of the day). Just the thought of moving out temporarily fills me with horror. And what does temporarily even mean? Goddamn it, I'm going to be back in this house by this weekend next year (Thanksgiving) because that's my non-negotiable end date. Have you ever tried to find a new house in an appropriate neighbourhood of an absurdly expensive city for some period of time that you cannot predict? Seriously, just that is enough to throw me over the edge. More to the point, when does one just say fuck it, and move elsewhere permanently??

We've had that discussion too, btw. And given my love-feelings for this home (which, frankly, have eroded over the past 3 years of increasing decrepitude), it's pretty shocking that we did.

But this is what we keep coming back to:
  • We love our location and that's the one thing you can't create after the fact.
  • To move, even down the block, would likely cost us (in the end) about as much as doing this reno - even after all of the scope creep. I'm not going to move into a place that isn't completely "done" and, downtown, those places are like unicorns that generally sell for 300K above asking.
  • Even if I were to move, I wouldn't know what elements of that new house are destined to fall apart or under-function once I take ownership. We spent our first 10 years in this house fixing it foundationally. In fact, this next reno is as much about structural improvement as anything else. I don't want to go somewhere new and then have to spend time and money fixing the things that can't be revealed at a showing or a cursory inspection.
  • When this is done, I will have EXACTLY what I want (well, within the limits of my budget and general floor plan). Exactly what I want probably looks like a 3 million dollar place in Summerhill Gardens, but that's not in the cards. My house will still be 15 feet wide and attached to its neighbours, but man, those 15 feet are going to be chic (and over multiple levels).
  • This renovation will structurally stabilize a piece of history for another 125 years and I am a steward of this home. When I sell it, it's going to be worth that much more because it will be a) gorgeous, b) functional and c) stable. Houses that fit this bill, in central TO, are pretty rare. This is going to form a relevant portion of my retirement fund so I need to invest in it now to recoup the benefits.
  • And on that topic, now's the time when I have as much disposable income and financing credibility as I've ever had. I also have the energy (well, this is debatable but I'm not seeing my aptitude for major reno increasing as I age). If this is going to happen, let's get on with it.
But honestly, it's taken me more than an hour to write this little update, because finding the words means I have to accept what's coming. And I don't know that I truly have. When you find out someone you know is going to have a first baby, there's that moment when you feel happiness for her, but it's quickly followed by a fast (almost panicked) thought about how it is impossible for anyone to understand the magnitude of what she's set in motion. Let's face it, the transition to first-time motherhood is beyond the comprehension of anyone who hasn't lived it. In some ways, and I don't want to overstate this, of course, it's as destabilizing to one's foundation as war (sleep deprivation of epic proportions, constant screaming (everyone's), endless effort just to function at a baseline level, the loss of control over daily life, the loss of basic impulse to preserve identity, potential damage to one's body, potential financial hardship, damage to the primary relationship). Yeah, I get that procreation is a human drive and that many people don't struggle to this extent - probably because they're too tired to feel anything or their oxytocin is high-grade - but I did.

In truth, I'm afraid that this reno - in its massive scope - is going to destabilize me as new-motherhood did. And, Lord, I'm not up for that. Yeah - I get that I became a mother in my late-20s and now I am an emotionally mature woman (most days), almost 17 years older. I have much more life experience than I did back then. I survived the descent into parenthood. I learned from it. I re-emerged. I also understand my triggers now, in a way that motherhood clarified like nothing else. And I have systems to manage anxiety, systems that have been years in design and application. Furthermore, one imagines that I have some sort of fucking perspective, at this point, yes? But I do crave order in my environment. It symbolizes my mythic internal order. It makes me feel like everything's ok.

You can see why I'm freaking out.

Any perspective you might have is so welcome -whether you've done a reno, had a baby, gone through both or neither. We all encounter ourselves at the edge for one reason or another. I'd love to hear stories about how the hard work was doable (if legitimately hard) and nowhere near as punishing as expected. I'll also take stories about the end supporting the means. And if there's someone out there who feels that tearing down and rebuilding a house was rather easy by comparison with new motherhood - please, leave a comment! I want to hear from you!

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Slow Fashion

Brief update: Somehow I wrote this entire post without realizing that it's "Slow Fashion October", as defined by Fringe Association. I must have been subconsciously absorbed into the hive mind?! On the plus-side, it reminds me that this is a concept I have taken ownership of as it's something I've been grappling with for quite a long time. Slow fashion is a journey - just like developing sewing skills or transforming the shape of one's body. It doesn't happen overnight. It comes with obstacles. It requires intensive consideration, and then pragmatism. And it's often the purview of the privileged. 

It's all well and good to talk about spending one's income intelligently, on clothing that will last many years - ensuring quality and supporting one's national economy and being seriously chic in the process. But it does smart momentarily.

To wit: this fall I've bought 4 things*
  • A black, crew-neck bodysuit in miraculous fabric from Kit and Ace of which I cannot seem to find a pic. It doesn't get more neutral - or easy to tuck - than this.
  • A navy pair of cropped pants (link is to pic of me wearing them) that are basically lounge wear that looks like work wear, also from Kit and Ace. I wear these once a week. Alas they are now sold out:
  • And, as of today, this cashmere blazer from Black Goat:

Note: I've had my eye on this jacket since I bought the world's luxest scarf...
While I absolutely love these purchases, I've sure as hell spent more money on them than I would have, on the same sorts of garments, high-street style. In fact, I spent more money on these 4 garments than I would have, 5 years ago, on all of my fall purchases put together.

Only one item was on sale - the pants - and they still cost in the neighbourhood of 200 bucks. Note to reader: Spend on the freakin' pants! Cheap trousers are easy to spot a mile away.

The bodysuit was definitely a stretch (pun intended) and I bought it entirely because I'm at the whim of awesome fabric. It was stupidly expensive for a glorified T shirt though, in my experience, Kit and Ace stuff wears awesomely (in true "technical fabric" style - whatever the hell that means). Also, if it shows the slightest bit of wear and tear, for 200 bucks, I will return it, for a refund, without a second thought.

However, I truly had to check my anxiety at the door when I bought the boots. I mean, you never know if boots are going to work until you start wearing them and I've made enough shoe-fitting errors, over the years, to be appropriately gun-shy. Particularly given that my shoes are my car. And, as a person managing early-onset osteoarthritis (the original wear-and-tear condition), I am not fucking around with the footwear.

Here's what made me take the plunge: I do already own these boots in the suede over-knee version (not practical peeps) and those fit well. The style is flat but utterly chic. The leather drapes perfectly. They're excellent for the thin-calved among us. They go with everything. They're wearable in winter (though not so much in snow). Furthermore, I am not prepared to buy another pair, in this style, made of plastic-covered fabric, designed to represent leather. (I think we call those "vegan".) On the plus side, those plastic-wearing years taught me that the style is eminently useful in my wardrobe.

I have one complaint about these boots (having worn them daily for the last couple of weeks): Initially, they smelled strangely like chemicals (vaguely vomity, to be honest) when they came out of the box. In truth, the entire Stuart Weitzman store smells that way so I think it has something to do with how they treat the leather. But I seriously considered returning them on that basis. I left the boots airing in my house, for 2 weeks, before determining that the smell had faded adequately. I still catch a hint of it occasionally, while wearing, and I am not impressed. For 900 bucks after tax, is perfection too much to ask??? I do believe, however, that the issue will resolve itself in the near-term.

All of this brings me to today's purchase: The cashmere blazer of my dreams. It's far less mumsy looking on me than in that photo (above), in large measure because I have boobs and a waist. The notched collar is chicness personified. This is the perfect garment to wear with work-appropriate denim (or basically anything else). It is timeless. The colour is rich, but neutral. The fabric is indescribably luxurious but oddly durable-seeming (for cashmere).

Intriguingly - I could wear all of these purchases simultaneously and they would all work together exceedingly well. Don't the fashion beings suggest that you buy such that everything in your closet is wearable with everything else?

Here's the thing. I need very few upgrades, on a seasonal basis, to keep my wardrobe running. I make a lot of my own clothing (if not recently) and those items are replaceable at a very reasonable monetary price (though at a rather steep cost if one considers the value of my time). I work my ass off and I've hit a point that I'm earning enough money to afford a semi-regular splurge. Moreover, those splurges become ever less necessary as I stabilize my wardrobe with timeless purchases which reflect my (fairly stable) style. I'm not buying to scratch an itch. I'm buying to meet a wardrobe need - and I intend to do this as sustainably, and elegantly, as my means permit.

So that's how I'm handling mid-life fashion these days, not that you asked...

But what about you? Does my system resonate? Do you spend to save? Do you shop for other reasons? Do you think I'm insane? Let's talk!

*Just FYI, lingerie doesn't count. 

Sunday, September 25, 2016

New Bras!

Hey - I've not been giving the lingerie much thought lately. (Honestly, I just hope it's clean these days. And matching. After all, I'm not a savage! :-)) Nonetheless, the bras - they find me! I have 2 new styles to tell you about - one that I am addicted to and the other I've just ordered online (after waiting MONTHS for it to become available)...

The Bra I Love Most Right Now: Sculptresse Chi Chi in Black and Taupe (Sadly the fashion patterns are hideous.)

For starters, my bra-fitting friend extraordinaire (formerly known as Veronica) is actually named Sam and she has opened her own shop in the east end. Alas, I'm about as far from the east end as can be (actually and spiritually - there's a divide, people!) so I see her entirely too infrequently. The boutique (called Broad Lingerie) is rather new and already developing a cult following. What I'd recommend - if you're making a pilgrimage from far away - is that you give her a call to ensure that she's got good stock in your size range. New business owners need to be prudent about overstocking and Sam's offerings are very popular. Trust me, there is no better fitter in this city and I know practically all of them. She's friendly, absurdly knowledgeable, respectful, collegial. She knows all the bras and, over 15 years, has seen pretty much everything. She understands that finding a bra that fits is about the wearer's interpretation fit as much as anything else. When you work with Sam, you have a partner in fitting - and I cannot say enough about how I appreciate that.

So, Sam ordered me the Chi Chi, in black, as a lovely gift, and I LOVED it so much, I  made her sell me the one she'd brought in for herself, in taupe!* Remember, she and I are boob twins (even though our body shapes and heights are completely different). I wear these bras at least twice a week and often more. They wear excellently, the ultra-soft but strong band is a joy. They provide AMAZING support and lift and that boobs on a plate shape I love. The upper lace is stretchy, like the Panache Jasmine's - but happily less flimsy - and the proportions of lace to firm under cup are better, IMO, in the Chi Chi because there's less lace and more non-stretch, under cup lift. It's also really comfortable. Though Panache wires are the firmest you'll find (and some people find them painful), I believe the brand has modified construction to ensure that said wires are more comfortably inset into the newer styles (Floris is another example of this.)

This bra will accommodate many different shapes but probably caters most to the evenly projected client. The stock photo, above, gives the impression that it's wider at the under arm than it actually is...

Until very recently, Chi Chi was made exclusively with the plus-sized wearer in mind. While this brand continues to make terrific bras for women in the 36-46 band with ample cup needs (up to HH), it recently started to make a couple of the styles in a 34 band. And those bands are quite firm. So, I can wear this in a 34 band and it fits fantastically.

Moreover, I can assure you that it is excellent for people with heavy or dense projected breasts. Though it looks very elegant and sexy (if not Cleo-style youthful), if you're an ample-chested woman - plus-size or no - and your breasts are heavy - this engineering is up to it.** Sam and I concur that this is as close to an Empreinte fit you'll find without going there. And this bra is infinitely more affordable and easier to size into (given that there are way more sizes to choose from and those sizes are more incremental than Empreinte's).

Cleo By Panache Piper Longline - Unlined / Unpadded

Photo courtesy of Dreams And Underthings - check out the review!
I've been waiting for this style for, oh, ever. A longline in a small-band / large cup proportion without any freakin' padding. I hate padded or molded bras, as you know, so I've got no longlines to speak of. I have no idea why every other longline on the market, which caters to this size range, provides only padded options. I really hope this works for me size- and shape-wise, in this phenomenal cobalt colourway, because there are actually no other offerings to try! Plus it's gorgeous, don't you agree?

There are few reviews at this point because it's just come out but, fear not, I will let you know what I discover. I am concerned that the wires will be too short for the channels (as the review linked to, above, indicates) and that the boning is plastic (which I find suboptimal from a support perspective). I also worry - quite legitimately - that the length will not work for me. I'm short in the waist and ever less narrow from my real waist to my hips. (That zone may have the same general proportions but it's inches larger than it used to be.) I'm concerned that this band will flip up if it cuts in at the wrong spot - especially with plastic boning.

Mind you, that eyelash lace at the hem is absurdly gorgeous so I have to try...

Today's questions: Have you tried either of these bras? If yes, whatcha think? If no, are you tempted? Do you think padded longlines are an affront? Would you never wear a seamed/unlined longline cuz you only love padding? Let's talk!

*Don't worry - Sam stocks both of these bras in store. 

** This bra, while it would work on a woman of any age, is particularly suited to the woman of a certain age. Breasts tend to become fuller and heavier at this time of life - especially if one has started off with proportionately large breasts - and good engineering is SO important to ensure maximum lift. It also caters to those with moderate monthly size fluctuations and to those who require more outer cup support, for example, if one's weight has shifted to the outer torso (as it may, in middle age). One other thing, just to clarify: Genetics-depending, dense or heavy breasts can still hold their own. When I say heavy, it's not a synonym for sagging or deflated. This bra is particularly good for those of us with self-supported fullness who need a lot of immediate centre- and lower-cup projection.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Work In Progress: Sweet Jane Pullover

Brief check in. This week has truly kicked my ass and, as usual, it's couch-lock time for Krissie. I'm really looking forward to having some bandwidth again, if only to move the crafting yardstick forward. Sure, it's not like I need anything new - and I've even knit up many Xmas gifts to date - but I feel so lackluster without a project to engage with. In truth, I have 2 projects - the second sock in a pair (never have I stalled on a second sock - and this is circumstance, not aversion) and the Sweet Jane pullover - which is a lot of freakin' stockinette (albeit in the round). I've never made a non-fitted sweater before (much less an A line one) and, man, it takes a lot of extra work (and yarn) because the whole thing is, well, bigger. This one's being knit with sport-weight, so it's not exactly quick - nor is it stupidly slow as it would be were I using fingering-weight yarn. I'd show you where I'm at, but it's utterly boring to view a stockinette sweater in process... Imagine a sleeveless shell widening slightly under the bust. In grey. Instead, here's a photo of the designer's finished work:

Sweet Jane by Amy Miller
Of course, I've had to go totally off road with my version of this sweater because I did not even come close to getting gauge. Pattern calls for a US5 needle and I'm using a US2 - and my fabric is still 3/4 of a stitch per inch bigger than the pattern calls for (that makes a big difference over 38") and half a stitch off per inch, in row gauge. There's an argument to be made that this sweater is not for me, given that I cannot begin approximate the size range using the recommended weight of yarn - on any needle.

Here's the thing, though. I just sucked it up and redid all the math. (Note: Simply making a smaller size was not going to work because even the smallest size, as instructed, would produce an end product that's too big.) I knit 4 swatches, decided which fabric I preferred, and then started taking notes. Mercifully, it's not like I have colourwork or cables to concern myself with.

And, natch, this is one of those sweaters wherein row (vertical dimension) gauge really matters because the hem is asymmetric and you need to start it in the right place. Not to mention that the sweater is loose under the bust, and then widens as it moves towards the hip. To mess up gauge at the bust - vertical or horizontal - would produce a really bad fit.

Why am I knitting a sweater when I've said, numerous times in the last year or so, that I'm done with this form of hand-knits, that I prefer slim, machine knits in luxe yarns?

Well, I'm a knitter, and when a pattern calls to me I throw caution to the wind. If this sweater works (and I've lived long enough not to get overly attached), I'll have a totally fun tunic to wear with skinny jeans. Moreover, I'm unhappy with the fitted sweaters I've made in part, I'm sure, cuz they really don't work optimally with my current, transitional mid-section proportions. Lately, I choose garments to show off my shoulders, arms and legs and this does fit the bill, no?

Curious to know your thoughts about this pullover? I find it rather modern, almost RTW (in a plush way). Do you like it? Does it bore you? Would you knit it? Let's talk!

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Yoga Therapy

People have asked me about the trajectory of my yoga practice these days and, I've got to say, it is like nothing I've done since I was in my early 20s (back in my hardcore Iyengar days when I was training to teach).

Brief side bar: For those of you who are unfamiliar with Iyengar teacher training, it is unlike any other. This is not gym-yoga teacher certification. I trained (seemingly endlessly) for 2 years before I took my "exam" and gained level 1 certification. Senior teachers have decades of training and certification behind them. Many of the Iyengar teachers I have known are infinitely more knowledgeable about functional anatomy than other rehab therapists - not that I'm dissing anyone. What I mean to say is that, for chronic structural and systemic issues, I'll start with Iyengar yoga pretty well every time because it requires specified, active and focused engagement on the part of the person receiving treatment. And a senior teacher is generally phenomenally capable (though not always). Plus, the nature of the relationship between the teacher, the student and the practice is highly refined. This is a questioner's modality.

Having said that, for years I moved away from technical extremism of the method in favour of others - the lively, adrenaline-filled, highly aerobic forms. I was young, and youth doesn't generally favour "deep technique" at the peril of all else. Don't misunderstand, I've always been more of an Iyengar practitioner than any other sort, but I went "fusion" for a while - and likely will again. After all, variety is the spice of life, etc.

Let me say this now, and loud, and clear: I am profoundly grateful for my Iyengar training and my decades of regular practice. They have saved me time and time again - through chronic pain, acute injury, exhaustion, illness, anxiety and plain-old daily living. Furthermore, I know, with every practice that I undertake: I am capable because asana, increasingly, is second-nature. The more taxed my body has become, the more reliant I've become on the confidence imparted by body-memory. Because getting into many of the poses indicated in the Iyengar therapeutic practice*, is not something that most infirm or inexperienced persons can accomplish alone. It can be scary to invert, to tie oneself up, to trust a prop (or 10). Moreover, until you know what you're doing, it can be dangerous.

I think it's important to note the regrettable fact that, even with impetus, most people do not have the space, the (sometimes) pricey props or the knowledge to benefit from this practice at home. And those who don't live in major urban centres may not have access to the requisite studios and teachers to learn. Not to mention, the best time to learn something complicated is when you are young and healthy. Sometimes people come to the therapeutic Iyengar practice only after chronic illness has set in. A good teacher and commitment are CRITICAL, under those circumstances, but also challenging - and this scenario doesn't lend itself to one being able to benefit from therapeutic home practice in the short run. This is in no way to dissuade anyone from Iyengar therapy. I just want to qualify that the benefits come with sincere application and effort. It's not passive in any way.

Below is a sample practice that I might do on any given day. Most mornings I do about 20 minutes of traction work but I wouldn't call that a practice so much as maintenance. My average time in a  therapeutic session is about 75 minutes but, given how batshit busy my life is right now, I'm only doing that 2x per week.

I don't know when I'll return to standard-issue, active practice on a regular basis but I've decided not to give it undue consideration. Right now this is where I'm at and I'm so grateful to be able to accomplish what I need to in order to heal. When I get to the next phase, I'm sure I'll know it...

Kristin Sample Iyengar Therapeutic Practice**
  • Savasana 2 over wooden blocks / Corpse pose back bend over wooden blocks to open the thoracic spine (@5 minutes)
  • Tractional Uttanasana (Standing forward bend) with wall ropes at groin and then at upper thigh. Head rests on blocks. (@5 minutes).
  • Tractional Adho Mukha Svanasana (Dog Pose) with wall ropes at groin and then at upper thigh. Head rests on block. (@10 minutes)  This is probably the single most useful thing I do for pain management. It allows the spine to lengthen while the hips are stabilized. Gives intensive traction at the hips too.
  • Tractional Adho Mukha Svanasana - Twist variation (Dog Pose Twist). Ropes hold hips in place to allow for arms and torso to twist while hands and torso move right or left of the mat. (@5 minutes). I often hear numerous pops throughout my spine and neck in this pose.
  • Tractional Rope Sirsasana (Headstand) with hips supported by a rope sling. (@5 minutes) Awesome for balancing endocrine and nervous systems. Plus, extreme spinal traction, esp. at hips. To get out of this I bring my hands to the floor, straighten out of the ropes into Adho Mukha Vrksasana (Handstand) at the wall (@2 minutes). Then rest in Adho Mukha Virasana (Childs Pose) (@3 minutes).
  • Virasana (Hero Pose) followed by Adho Mukha Virasana (Reclined / Backbend Hero Pose) over bolster with upper legs supported by belt. This is weight-bearing on hip, knee and foot joints. It opens the psoas and moves deeply into the mid-thoracic, lumbar and sacral spine. (@5 minutes)
  • Tractional Sarvangasana, Setu Bandha Sarvangasana and Halasana sequence using a chair (Shoulderstand, Backbend and Plow Pose) (@10 minutes) This is a power-triumvirate allowing for long stay in a deep inversion, inverted backbend and inverted forward bend. Also stabilizing for the nervous and endocrine systems.
  • Upavistha Konasana (Wide Angled Forward Bend) with Twist Variations (@10 minutes). With adequate flexibility, this pose provides excellent spinal traction in a very sustainable fashion. The twists are terrific for moving into the hips, side body and lateral thoracic spine. Rest afterwards in Savasana for a couple of minutes to ensure that the hip joints are balanced. Sometimes my hip joint and sacrum click massively after this sequence.
  • Viparita Karani (Legs Up the Wall over Bolster) (@10 minutes) This provides cervical traction and is a supported inversion. It's very good for promoting cardiovascular and ciruculatory health.
  • Supine Upavistha Konasana, Legs supported by ropes. (@5 minutes). This provides an opportunity for my sacrum and the muscles around it to release. Very calming.

* The supported or therapeutic practice is only one form of the Iyengar methodology, but is central to the philosophy of structural and endocrine/nervous system health. When you do "regular" Iyengar practice, it looks much more like any other sort of yoga you'd find at any studio though it does make use of more props than other styles and it holds poses, statically, for LONG periods of time. 5-10 min in headstand is not unusual. Of course, you'll never be encouraged to undertake long holdings of complex poses until you have achieved a level of ability and awareness via less comple poses and modified versions of the complex pose.

** Note: For interest, I've provided the English pose names as well as Sanskrit but, really, if you are not familiar with the Sanskrit names, you probably don't know enough about the method be trying this outside of a classroom environment.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Just Say No?

I came across this article, yesterday, about a woman who group-takes ayahuasca, and I was rather entertained. I was also ever more committed to my "Seriously, people. Don't take hallucinogens!" stance. In full disclosure, I did try them (psychedelic mushrooms), once in my nervy youth, let's say legally, in Amsterdam. It was one of the worst experiences of my life. I felt like I was trapped in a Gaudi building, and not in a good way. The bright walls were melting. Time stood still. It was the longest 6 hours of my life (other than labour, it's own kind of hallucinogenic trip) and made me understand I am not the appropriate candidate to divorce my consciousness from reality as I know it.

I do find it hilarious when conservatives speak about the gateway nature of psychoactive drugs, as if every human being is predestined to fall under the thrall of being high*. Because I really don't believe that most people want to hallucinate. Anyone who's ever had a panic attack knows that it's profoundly wretched to be removed from oneself - to be fundamentally depersonalized

The idea of going to a new-agey vomit-fest, replete with ladies known as "helper-angels", and no stand-by medical assistance goes against every grain of my pragmatism. At least at that TIFF party, if you overdo it with coke, there's probably a doctor from Mount Sinai on hand.

But I know it takes all types and that, for every traumatized psycho-active drug taker there's another one who finds the meaning of existence. (Note: I feel utterly confident you can do that with a spectacular meal, but then I have access.**)

Chelsea Handler, not a public personality I generally recommend, did a vaguely interesting show about taking this drug, all the more interesting because she regularly indulges in all the drugs and has a noteworthy high-tolerance. Moreover, she's a human Venn diagram representation of the intersection of crassness and honesty, which is intriguing in this context, if not in most others. I'm sure you can find the episode on Netflix.

*Please note that I distinguish this experience from being stoned.

** OMG - I'm addicted to spectacular meals. Scaramouche, in my teenaged years, was a total gateway!

Sunday, September 11, 2016

It's Relative

I've spent much of my yoga-doing time engaged in a battle of self-accomplishment. It's not surprising, on balance. I'm a competitive self-improver. Sure, I only lock horns with myself, but you'd be surprised by how far you can descend into that paradigm.

One of my most entrenched obsessive loops is about surpassing. Today, I can do X. Tomorrow, I will be able to do X+1. Tick the box. Move on. And the thing is, most of the time I do achieve because I apply steely logic and effort and the truest, best intentions. Also there's some good fortune involved. And then there's the fact that I torture myself if I don't meet my expectations. I'll go to any extreme to avoid that outcome...

You might wonder how it is that I ever managed to instruct anyone effectively. I assure you that the human mind is adaptive enough to apply insanity to oneself and good sense to others. Not to mention that we attract those who can learn, one way or another, from what we show them. Furthermore, I'm a pretty fun teacher.

But never mind how light-heartedly I apply myself to others, in my own mind and body I've been relentless. Which is why, over the past few years, as they have changed in all the ways, I have become increasingly confused. Strength turned to weakness, as I saw it. Lively courage came to cower. Energy became lethargy. Lightness sank. I have always been steady - mentally and physically - but as I've observed flexibility (and to a lesser extent, strength) taper, I've been beside myself. Not to mention that there's always a certain tension in my fascia. It's not that I seem stiffer but I have to work actively to stay agile. When I go from stillness to motion, everything teeters to find its keel. I know this is what age feels like - though how, I can't tell you because I'm not old, much less old enough to be feeling this way. How does one spend close to 30 years practicing a skill with dedication only to decline? Don't answer that.

Because even that question is rhetorical at this point. What the last couple of years have shown me is that yoga is about proprioception at the micro level. It's never been helpful to judge the look of the pose - and, oh, how I regret the upsurge of yoga as lifestyle if only because, back in the day, we were all taught that yoga is how it feels and then there were no pretzely, sexy creatures, gracing the cover of magazines, convincing us that this is how awareness feels. It's not even helpful, particularly, to judge how the moving parts intersect in a given pose (how the bones abut, how the muscles pull at their end points) because often the data is flawed.

In the end, it really is about withdrawal of the senses (that 5th limb I never really understood - it always seemed so vague). It's only when you can become every part of yourself, at every level, that you can see the macro in the micro. And damn, that's a worthy goal. Alas, too bad you can only find it when you stop turning everything into a goal. (It would appear I have my work cut out for me.)

So, under these circumstances, how do I continue to achieve? Well, aside from the fact that I really should get the compulsion under control, I think that achievement is in the life-long maintenance - in doing what allows me to align at the most discrete level, which I hope will enable me to eschew physical pain (after all, it's just one of millions of chemical strings) and to feel the grace of ease. My very mobility is fostered and improved by all of the work I do. Achievement for me is now is a lightness of being that I find, occasionally, when I allow my body to become my mind. Achievement is about abandoning my preset expectations. It's about feeling a tremendous gratitude for how I exist.

These are the things that Yoga Journal doesn't tell you.

*FYI, I'm very happy I was not a credible case - and I'm not suggesting that his call was incorrect, just that it seemed reflexive and based on a base-line that didn't necessarily take me into account.

Saturday, September 10, 2016


As of my naturopath appointment today, I've had three medical opinions that corroborate each other: My pain condition is entirely concurrent with the presentation of spinal osteophytes and degeneration (which extend into my hips). Oh, and I'm "very young to be dealing with this degree of osteoarthritis". According to everyone in the know, this must have been in active development for many years.

I don't want you to think that I've ignored this issue. Yeah, I didn't do the one thing that might have got me to a diagnosis sooner (full X ray panel), but then I really didn't think - in a zillion years - that this could have been what's going on. Sure, I worried I might be dying or managing a terrible degenerative disease (yes, I know arthritis is a degenerative disease and that it can be terrible), but arthritis is much more boring - and mercifully treatable - than the kinds of things I imagined. I did visit the doctor many times, but apparently I didn't explain things in language she could understand until my symptomology had become quite pronounced. My early visits were punctuated by vagueness, due to no fault of my own.

I said, in my last post on this topic, that arthritis doesn't run in my family. Well, apparently, it's best not to gain these details from my mother because she only considers her family history when providing intel. You'll be happy to know that she was tested, after chemo and radiation, to confirm that her bone health hadn't been adversely affected by cancer treatment and she learned, at that time, that, at 66, she had "the spine of a 26 year old". I don't know how one gets that degree of detail about spinal age but she was very pleased to learn about this, braggy even. Yeah, I know, I'm all sour grapes, but c'mon. I really hope, given that she has high cholesterol and young bones, and I have normal cholesterol and old bones, that I'm genetically distinct enough to avoid that triple negative breast cancer I've got a 50-50 chance of getting. If it's a deal, I'll take it.

Since then, my mum and I have continued our conversation, wherein I have reminded her of my father's neck surgery (@15 years ago - he received a bit of metal to do the job of discs that had stopped working), and my paternal grandmother's hip replacements (x2) due to falls and breaks that removed her from her independence in the last years of her life. At that point my mother remembered that 2 of my 3 paternal uncles are in constant, intense back pain that severely compromises their mobility and quality of life. They're approaching 70 but it's been going on for years. Why no one thought to mention this sooner is beyond me. I mean, it's not like I haven't been in hideous discomfort, on and off, for many years now. And it's not like I suffer in silence?!?

Look, this is all good. This information has already improved the quality of my life substantively. For starters, I'm having my Vit. D levels tested (my gene presentation indicates I need more than the average person) so that I'll know how much I need to take to ensure that my bones can absorb calcium far better than they do now. I already supplement with Vit. D but it's likely I'm going to need to take a lot more.

My yoga traction wall has been pretty close to life-changing. Even though I'm absurdly busy, and mentally over tasked right now, by carving out 20 minutes a day for partial or full hanging, I can diminish pain from an 7 out of 10 to a 1 out of 10 - and that reprieve generally lasts 12 hours.

I've been shockingly pro-cruciferous veg. No, I don't like them any more than I did 2 weeks ago, but now I'm viewing them as medicine. Plus, in restaurants they tend to be quite tasty. Also, three words: homemade cheese sauce.

I continue on my low-inflammation path with the supplements I was taking before, plus some new ones. Also, I drink fresh-pressed turmeric and ginger shots like an elite athlete. My juice budget is out of control.

Moreover, surprising even to me, I haven't eaten a bag of chips or crappy carbs for a week and a half. Yeah, I'm still eating chocolate - and I've upped my pistachio usage by like 100% - but I'm staying away from the inflammatory stuff because, seriously, I've got a measurable reason to do so. If I can reverse and/or control this situation, I'm going to do it. Feeling 80 every morning is not on.

Perhaps most meaningfully of all my tips and tricks, I've changed my attitude about pain. I feel it, but I refuse to listen to it. It's fear that that empowers a chronic pain brain-loop, but now I know what's going on. And knowledge is power. So I say "fuck-you" to pain multiple times a day, and it sure isn't doing me any harm.

On the positive side, my hormone panel came back and, rather surprisingly, I'm in very good shape on that account. Yeah, my estrogen is slightly higher than that of a pre-perimenopausal woman (like by a few points) and my estrogen is slightly lower (like by 4 points), but this is pretty small potatoes in the scheme of things. At my age, it's not unusual to experience hideous estrogen-dominance associated with all kinds of nasty perimenopausal shit.  At this point, I get the occasional hot flash (no more night sweats) and I'm bitchy (but that could just be my personality). Yeah, I know it is taking a toll on my figure but I'm even getting over that. I mean, gorgeous is as gorgeous does. And I won't be in hormonal flux forever. I'm pretty sure I've got time and means to lose a bit of abdominal girth once transition subsides. Not to mention that, if I finally do eschew the carbs for medical reasons, it's going to be that much harder to hold onto unnecessary weight.

Look at me being all optimistic! The more I live, the more I realize that I've got to manage diet-induced inflammation if I want to a) be pain-free and b) slim. I think this has finally hit home. But you know how I don't believe in peaking early. So let's not get attached. :-)