Friday, April 21, 2017

Closet Case

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 17, 2017

Vertex

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, April 15, 2017

On Track

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

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

This was our destination in the Junction:

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Where There's A Will...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Fight and Flight

My husband likes to say that anything worth having is worth fighting for, and so he and I fight for everything to prove its worth. Truer words, man...

As I have spent years fighting for this reno, its worth is currently inestimable, though all-too financially quantifiable. You'd think I might feel something other than, well, a bit of anti-climax at this point. Today I went to visit the house. Scott forced the issue. (I did not want to go. I felt photos were adequate. He felt they were not.) He's the boss of the project management so I have to tow the line occasionally. I expected to be anxious and horrified and traumatized and amazed. I was deflated to be none of these things.

It looked just like the photos, but with better scope. I was not traumatized, rather I was entirely neutral. I mean, how are we going to get to the point where the whole house is new if they don't tear shit down?

I will say that I'm extremely glad that there are no bathrooms, no kitchen and, soon, a pit where half the house is, preventing me from living there. Cuz that would be intolerable. Honestly, I have gone from begrudging everything about this rental-in-a-new-'hood situation to thinking money well spent. And I'm still kind of traumatized by the move. In my 15 minutes at the site, I became so allergic and cough-y that it concerns me what they're unearthing.

I can't be arsed to hook up my computer to my phone (practically dead), but I have posted some photos on Instagram that might interest you...

The hardest part, unsurprisingly, was looking at my backyard (if we can call it such a thing). They actually chopped down one of my trees (and not a negligible one!), which I felt was strictly speaking unnecessary - though it did enable them to put the bin in a convenient spot. Bizarrely, my dwarf lilac - arguably in the worst spot ever - is untouched (can't say that'll last, though). I'd would love to preserve that tree, not that I'm optimistic.

The house is absurdly claustrophobic at this point. It's dark, grimy. It's also so small-seeming. I mean, it is not large (nor small) at around 2000 square feet. Certainly big enough for 3 people. It has 4 bedrooms, after all. But, lord, it appears tiny. Admittedly, I'm renting a mansion right now (I imagine about 3000 square feet but I'm not great at determining these things), so maybe I've been corrupted? I think my perception is being messed with, too. There are no walls where there once were and that makes the rooms seem narrow and shallow and short. Even my living and dining room (which will not be torn down and will experience only the cosmetic improvements of new floors, windows and a paint job) seem minuscule. I am optimistic that this is momentary and that the new structure will make a reasonably-sized space look spacious. But right now it's very underwhelming.

Look, I may have some delayed freak out but I doubt it. I'm pleased (and surprised) to say that I'm just fine with the upheaval. It's infinitely better than the waiting was.

Early days, though, I realize. I am not naive. I know that this is serious undertaking. It's like the new baby, whom you care for using the life-energy you built up, unknowingly, prior to her birth. That energy is finite, and it's valuable. But I've given this house-baby so much more forethought than I ever gave my actual one. The rental house is the reno-version of self-care. Moreover, it appears one may really only lose one's core identity once (at least I hope so, but I'm giving this idea a run for its money so I'll keep you posted). Interestingly, I ran into at least a dozen, seriously miserable-looking new parents on my walk home from my demolition site, and all that came to mind was: Thank God I don't have a baby to deal with. I'm going home to make some food and drink some wine. And then I'll knit the evening away. 

So far, having a mega-reno is much less terrible than having a baby. Let's see if that lasts.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The Grand Dame

When we speak of the reno here, we refer to the house as the grand dame. We like to say that she's gone in for a hip replacement. (Yes, those who anthropomorphize their homes are 110% more likely to freak out during home improvement than those who see the bones as, well, something other than actual bones. But that's not how we roll here.)

I haven't gone to the house since the site crew started the tear down on Monday. I'm preparing myself to have a look on Saturday. But Scott's there daily and taking photos of everything. Here's a brutalist view of the back yard from Monday:


No one's going to say that TO in early April is anything other than hideous, reno or no. BTW, the sky has been that shade of grey for 5 months now. There's occasional reprieve but not enough to make one anything other than desperate for California. For what it's worth, the fence is now gone, as is the pergola. They haven't destroyed the plants yet, but they're the next to go. I have given some of them away but it's tough to move well entrenched root systems at this time of year. Most of my decade-old plant-life will be killed in the next few days. Fellow gardeners, I'm sure you feel my pain.

I've declined to show photos of the huge bin (out of the shot) and other ugliness. But I'm sure my aptitude for those views will change as I acclimate to reconstruction.

FWIW, you can see the third floor reno in the photo (the window-dense area at the top of the house). Everything in the foreground of that - the full "addition" bump out from which the wooden chute descends - is a goner. We estimate that add-on was created in the 50s. It was terribly constructed, not linked properly to the foundation, and has caused structural stress in the last 50 years. The basement will be dug out beneath this area, when the structure is removed. A new basement entrance-way will be built. A 15-foot piece of the common foundation on the south side of the house - down that little pathway on the right, near to attached structure, will be stabilized. That's the big deal. That's what's costing fully 30% of the fortune we are spending. That's where the project will be knowable and 6-months in duration, or complicated and longer-lasting. Cuz when you work on a house that's 130 years old, you don't know what you're going to find - even having undertaken as much forensic prep as possible.

Interestingly, our neighbours to the north (on the left of the pic, their house barely visible in this pic, saved us lots of money and effort by stabilizing the foundation on the north side of the house when they did a major basement reno 5 years ago. While this wrecked my original plaster on the common wall (since fixed), I'm not complaining now! The take-away here: When you live in a Victorian row house, your reno is your neighbours' - on either side.

To give a sense of the big-picture change to come:
  • New basement entry-way and stairs
  • New basement in the back third of the house (digging out beyond where the original basement ended) This will add about 300 sq feet to the size of the structure. As I've said before, this reno is not about increasing square footage. In fact - the City doesn't consider basement floor area as house footage so, technically my house is staying exactly the same size, though the shape is changing slightly. It is not my intention to finish this room in any meaningful way. The next owners can do that. My husband wants to finish it. We're not.
  • New back room / den*, will include fireplace of some sort (but maybe not wood stove because EVERY human being on the planet has provided sensible, and unique, reasons why this is a very bad idea). At what point does a girl heed the message?
  • New kitchen (plumbing changed)*
  • New sewga room*, will include professionally-installed (sexy) yoga rope wall and custom furniture for sewing (no, I haven't yet found a carpenter)
  • 2 new bathrooms on second floor*
  • New floors throughout first floor
  • New lighting throughout the entire first and second floors (in new and pre-existing space)
  • New painting of entire house - and maybe the outside too
  • New windows throughout the home (including really gorgeous ones along the back wall of the first and second floors)
  • New deck with gas hook up to BBQ (which we do all year - currently in the elements), new wooden overhang for weather protection
  • New cedar fencing and hardscaping in the new back yard (may include lighting)
  • New landscaping of the back yard, including a tall tree
  • New, insanely appealing gas stove / conventional oven (brand tbd), dishwasher, microwave (which I haven't had for 10 yrs). You may recall my fridge was recently replaced because the one we had, 25 yrs old, bit the dust. I'll also plumb-in the sexy-ass-car-version of espresso machines. Man, I really went flashy with that appliance. Occasionally, my American largesse emerges.
Fuck. That's a lot of shit.

Look, this is the first and last time I intend to undertake a project of this scope, so I'm not holding back. All I can say is that I'm very grateful to have got into the housing market in TO when I did (early 90s) because I would never be able to afford this house in its current state, much less in its renoed state, if I didn't have the equity bestowed by time - and hard work. This market is absurd. You cannot find anything for less than a million bucks, and, below 1.5M, it's seriously hit and miss. And that's for places sized under 2000 square feet that aren't even an easy walk from the subway. So, while destruction ain't my jam, the end-state - if well-achieved - will be stunning (and retirement-supporting).

And, despite how I feel overall these days, my money's on me that I will achieve this well. I've got skin in this game.

* refers to actual new build, not just redesign

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Interpersonal Game Theory

My trickiest task as a writer is to stick to the topic at hand. I'm so parenthetical in real life, it's hard not to be tangential on the page. And given how infrequently I blog these days, I want to put it all out there!

No mind, I'll do my best not to wander.

A number of people have asked me how I'm adjusting to the move (and the fact that the tear down starts on April 3). I don't know how to answer this question because, in any given hour, I feel 6 different ways.

Sometimes I'm very pleased by the spaciousness of this new house - and, really, it's spacious. The neighbourhood is totally different, even as I'm quite familiar with it because it's only a 25-minute walk from my "other house". It's much more of a hub than I realized before I moved here. And I love that. I just wish I didn't feel so annexed. Ha! You know you're a true urban-dweller when a place with a few trees and some stand alone houses (not too many) throws you over the edge. If you want to hear my latest first-world issue, it's that my commute time has doubled. Yeah, I know that most people won't cry for me given that 15 minutes (by public transit) has turned into half an hour. But that means my walk to work is almost not doable at this point, unless I leave an hour for it (not that I've had any time to walk to work in months). And the 15-minute walk from the current house to the subway is along a wind corridor. So inclement weather is a bitch. The other issue is that I pick up the subway further east than I used to. Which means that it's almost impossible to get on a train between 8 am and 8:40 am. The train is just too packed by the time it gets to my new stop (think Tokyo). Look, I knew this would be the case and I'm getting with it. But I can't say that it makes the weekday mornings fun.

As for the impending deconstruction of my home - well, I'm just not thinking about it. This is the usefulness of marriage. One can ignore the unthinkable.

On another note, I made the decision last week to leave the job I've been doing for the last 8 months. (I will return to my former role.) The decision was complicated - my current role was a promotion, the subject matter endlessly fascinating (and, by any estimation, very important). I'm not going to devolve into details, but this is relevant because it gives a bit more context to the, ahem, rich tapestry of transformation in which I find myself currently. In part: I cannot work 60 hours a week (at a relentless pace) while also managing a degenerative disease, a family life and a major home renovation. Coming to grips with my limitations, at this middle-aged time of my life - the time when career push may well have meaningful professional and financial impacts for the future - has been humbling. No question, my ego and my confidence have taken a hit. But I'm sure as hell not the first person that's encountered this sort of dilemma so I'm keeping it real. Not many people have the options I do and I'm incredibly grateful to be able to be able to turn this particular train around. There will be another and that journey/destination will be the right one at the right time.

You see what I mean about the tangents.

If you can believe it, this post is neither about home nor work, but about sugar/systemic inflammation. I know, way to fuck with you! I've been doing this lifestyle diet thing for 3 months, and I thought I'd talk about how it's impacting the way I look and feel. To clarify, I don't have a scale so it's going to be tricky to tell you that I've lost a certain amount of weight, though intriguingly, I did get weighed at the doctor's, right before embarking on this plan, because they needed accurate weight to determine sleep-testing parameters. I'm sure it's on file. So maybe I'll ask about what my new scale-weight is next time I'm there (which is all too often these days).

I'm looking for the book with my most recent dimensions but it's nowhere to be found, unsurprisingly, so I went to my latest online measurements (stored in the Custom Fit database, though from when I can't remember cuz I forgot to note it in the data set) and recalculated on that basis. It would appear that my dimensions have all decreased in size. My waist is 2 inches smaller, my hips - never a place where I gain weight - are also an inch smaller. My full bust measurement has decreased by an inch and I note my bras are not fitting in the same way. Fortunately, I have bras in EVERY size and I'm in no way hard-pressed to restock. My under bust measurement is down 2 inches and my over bust measurement has decreased by 1 inch. I mean, when one loses an inch from the biceps, that's notable. I don't have lower body measurements to call on at the moment but, from the way my clothes are fitting, I suspect I've lost a reasonable amount of circumference in the upper thighs and derriere. This is where weight deserts me first. Actually, weight leaves my face first and many have commented that my face and neck look "very dewy" or "refreshed". Those closest to me have said, point blank, that my face and neck look much thinner. Don't worry, if anything's aged me by 10 years it's all the shit that's going on around me, not the loss of a few inches. :-)

Note: It's possible that this dimensional shift is caused by loss of muscle mass, given how little movement I've had a chance to do lately, but I am being exceedingly careful in my dietary choices to avoid that potential outcome. I consume more than enough calories (I believe, not that I've been keeping a count lately, no time) and most of them are from fat and protein. I will say that I'm frequently nauseated and I often don't like to eat, but again, I think that's as much about my emerging relationship with food as anything.

Note that I have managed a house move (a huge stressor from my perspective) and a job shift within the same week and I did not stray from the "healthy lifestyle" path. This proves to me that eating for emotional reasons is a very useful technique - which becomes all the more palatable when one opts to forego that path. Oh well. Let's chalk it up to skill development.

I don't feel as if I've returned to my optimal/comfortable size and shape - that which preceded the transition of perimenopause - but I'm moving in that direction. With some time to exercise, I suspect it's within the domain of possibility within the next few months. This is very encouraging though I'm not one to count my chickens.

So I'm here to tell you, if you wonder whether giving up a vast swath of the foods you enjoy will make a meaningful difference to mid-life weight gain, the answer is definitively yes. Sorry, I have no good life advice to get you from here to there. There's no fucking way in hell I'd be doing this if not to reverse and delay serious pain and its root cause. And I'm seriously vain.

On the topic of vanity and middle-aged weight gain, I can attest to the fact that, once that weight goes, one does look younger in the frame (if not in the face, for some). And I, for one, look infinitely less frumpy.

But how do I feel?

Well, this one's hard to contextualize given a few factors: it's the end of winter (generally when weather and dampness have been at their worst for longest and my pain reacts badly to those), I'm beyond stressed and I'm in the midst of a variety of treatments (jaw related specifically). I've also not done yoga (in any meaningful way) in almost 3 months. Partly this is about lack of time but it's also my decision to step back to unlearn some of the body-memory that may be limiting me in improving pain with yoga. Yoga is soon to be reinserted into the equation.

I definitely feel different, though to quantify it is currently challenging. I feel lighter (which no doubt has diminished some of the physical stress on my stressed-out skeleton). I'm also more able to discern what's happening with my blood sugar at any given moment. Lord, if there's one thing you do for yourself this lifetime, go through the misery of giving up sugar (and it's HORRIBLE) - at least for a couple of months, so that you can learn what it is to be at odds with your blood sugar. When you can stabilize your blood sugar, you can function with so much less effort. Note: It's sadly dull. Be warned.

Recently I told my mother how, all my life long, I used to routinely forego food until I felt that sick tug of shakiness and omnipresent craving because that's how I liked to feel when I started to eat. She was shocked and horrified. I had no idea that this wasn't a normal approach. Disordered eating can sneak up on you, peeps, and it can happen independent of those big ticket ailments like anorexia or bulimia. Just sayin'. Having gone through withdrawal, I really do wonder the degree to which those with big ticket conditions experience said conditions, in part, because their brain chemistries are fucked up beyond belief because of uneven blood sugar.

I've read that eating in an anti-inflammatory fashion (and I'm doing this in a modified way, in no sense extremely) can take up to three years to do its systemic damage-control. Most people do start to feel better within 3 months, but three years is a long time to hover in the brink. I don't see that I have much of an alternative right now, except to embrace this choice as a meaningful enabler of my future health. In a worst case scenario, it'll have been a really dry few seasons.

I will say that my tinnitus is still all too there and I have times of bad pain, though it's somewhat less systemic-feeling than it has been and it doesn't linger as endlessly.

So that's all the news that's fit to print today. Hope your weekend is going well. Peace out.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Rocket Girl

There are some things one should really only buy from Italy. Shoes, flashy cars and, yeah, espresso makers.  And no one's ever going to accuse me of being self-denying. To wit, meet my precious:

Rocket Cellini Evoluzione V2
I have made 8 espressos in the last half an hour. Sure, a few of them went right down the drain. But I'm so jacked up on caffeine right now, I should be able to unpack every box in the next 2 hours :-)

This machine hovers in the sweet spot between commercial- and consumer-grade. It works for home and light-commercial purposes and it'll likely last 20 years. Moreover, the heat exchanger (2 pressurization systems) allows one to make the espresso while also foaming the milk. And the foamer does not fuck around.

We also bought a good Italian grinder (the Lux). It's not the one that costs 1300 bucks so we'll need to play about with a knob to set the right grind. Once we find that, though, this version is every bit as good as the $$ one at half the price.

I can tell you that pulling a perfect shot is both complicated and eternally simple. I deliberately went with a semi-automatic machine because, people, I'm not a robot. I want to engage with my coffee, not to simply press a button. And every time I open the brew lever I am miraculously transported from greasy, grey, late-winter TO to endlessly beautiful, mid-summer Barcelona. Mentally, I'm on a terasse. This whole house smells like a cafe. I'm using some pre-ground beans (Faema gave us a batch ground to the correct consistency for practice purposes) and the taste is crazy delicious. It's caramelly and bitter with some cocoa undertones - I'm not into fruity beans. I steamed all the kinds of milk from skim to homogenized to determine what will make the best foam. I'm leaning towards the full fat for a thick, milky pour. Note: these beans must be jacked on caffeine because, even as a daily 3-shot drinker, I'm jittery right now.

This machine plumbs into the waterline which, obvs we won't do till we bring it back to the "new" house in the fall. In the meanwhile, we can use its water reservoir which, while quite robust, still required 2 refills while Scott made his own batch of coffees.

I've spent 15 years wanting a gorgeous machine and Scott has always used the same refrain: Wait till we renovate and put in an espresso counter. Secretly, I believe that was his way to avoid bringing any new appliances into an overstuffed kitchen and, really, he doesn't like to commit when it comes to the gizmos. Remind me to tell you about the ice cream maker fiasco of 2010.

The time for delayed gratification has been and gone. This is the season for living like a grown-up - a grown-up with great taste. We have a huge, if not chic, front porch (maybe 300 square feet) that'll be totally perfect for knitting while coffee drinking this summer. Now I just need to find that real fur blanket...

Friday, March 17, 2017

Movin' On Up

Yeah - I'm supposed to be moving shit right now. I can hear my husband muffle-yelling at me from the third floor. What can I say? I need a few minutes to chill.

Here's a photo of the dining room of house we're vacating. Disclaimer: The whole fucking house looks like this:


Truly, at this point I cannot tell you if I'm so stressed that I've come out the other side, or if I'm in denial the likes of which is so significant that nothing can touch me. Occasionally I think of all of the elements of this reno I haven't even contemplated yet and I feel a wave of panic. But I can't encounter those necessary steps until I get through this one.

So let's focus on the objective positives:
  • The weather is changing and I can tell it's gonna be fine living amongst the residential peeps. The downtown area is famous for reckless deforesting but fancy homeowners in the satellite neighbourhoods know how to fight the system. This house has some very nice light and a north/south orientation.
  • While I'm not living amongst the establishment proper, I'm pretty fucking close. And, let's face it, this is probably as close to this sort of vibe I'm going to get cuz, when all is said and done, I'm freaked out by homogeneity. I wrote this post 6 years ago and strangely, today I'm moving right next door, if only temporarily. Wychwood Park is the idyll in that link, Wychwood is my surrounding 'hood. Hillcrest is across the road. The stupidly gorgeous, organic hipster market cum artist commune is at the end of our dead end street (well, across a fence we can't get through, so we have to go up and around). OK, it would appear that I should look at a map more often. (Apparently, I overestimated how far north our new place is (everything is north when you live south of Bloor) and the market is both north and east of the new place. But still - it's only 10 minutes away.) I can almost imagine that I've moved to Toronto for a short-stint and I'm living as one imagines the natives do. It's not particularly real, but it's liminal reality.
  • Weekend market aside, I'll have 2 of the best grocery stores in TO within a 5 to 7 minute walk (and on the way home from the subway). I can tell you right now, if there's nothing else I miss about this adventure when it's over, it'll be the all-out access to best-in-class groceries.
  • Did I mention we have 6 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms (one of which is on the main floor). In my current home we have 4 bedrooms (albeit of reasonable size). We're each about to have 2 rooms of our own in addition to common space. Decadent, I'm sure you'll agree. Sure, one of the 6 bedrooms is a glorified closet, but it's nice enough and it'll be perfect for yoga. Plus, when you have minimal furniture, what do you need with a zillion rooms.
I know that there are many pluses I haven't had the chance to consider as yet. And figuring those out will be fun. One thing I love: The best cappuccino machine vendor in the city (perhaps country) is a block away. And I think I've chosen the model that'll sit at the espresso station when we finish the reno:

Rocket Giotto Revoluzione v2
No reason I can't buy it next week though, right?

Saturday, March 4, 2017

The First of Those Ten Posts about Sugar Addiction I Promised to Write

I'm only sort of joking about writing 10 posts on this topic because its impact is everywhere - systemic and personal. There isn't a part of the complex continuum of human experience that sugar doesn't touch, in the West, anyway. And whatever it touches, that thing gets fine.

This post is not about how sugar will kill you. (Note: I appear to be in the mood to tell everyone what everything is not about. Let's hope it's a phase.) This post is about the no-shit thrall it has me in and how fucking miserable it is to have had to remove it from my personal human experience.

I've said to a bunch of people, over the past 6 weeks that, if sugar were heroin, I'd be in a facility detoxing. I am not joking. And I don't even have to hide for shame because, sugar - it's legal, it's in all the fun foods, it's in many of the not fun foods. Everyone eats so the issue is theoretically omnipresent. I can talk about it and you can laugh and it's all good.

But it's really not good.

Allow me to give the requisite high-level overview:
  • Seven weeks ago I eliminated all sugar, all grains (every last fucking one of them including the ones you've never heard of), 90% of booze (except for up to 15 oz per week in course of 36 hours on Sat/Sun. If I don't drink it then, it's done till the next week), all legumes, all soy and every last form of junk food. If it doesn't have 8 ingredients or less, all of which you'll find in nature, I don't eat it. You know how I secretly judge people who do this, right?
  • What does that leave? Organic or grass-fed everything that falls into the meat, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, vegetables (even the occasional starch or nightshade), fruit - but only the berries, pears and apples - unless you count coconut. I like to call coconut my new food group. BTW, I've always enjoyed coconut but even I'm finding it hard to keep the love. I also eat dairy, albeit in moderate full-fat amounts. And most beloved, one daily, dry cappuccino with 2 or 3 shots of espresso. Fair Warning: I may lose it on anyone who suggests I should give this a miss. My genetic testing showed that I have a caffeine-sensitivity gene thing that goes along with my vitamin D issue gene thing. (I know, my science-speak is impressive. Caffeine exacerbates the vit D issue.) I of all people should be giving the coffee a miss. But it's going to be the last fucking thing to go. On the upside, I down it with 16 grams of collagen protein which I gleefully stir into it while taking 2000 IUs of Vit D to offset the damage. Yup. I've become that person, but it's the subject of another post.
  • How else does my anti-inflammatory approach correlate with other genetic test results? I'm not gluten or dairy intolerant, gene-wise. But I sure have got rid of the gluten. For me, it's pretty easy (if meh) to live without grains. Legumes I love, but I don't miss them overly, though I may have at first. Weirdly, I don't care about anything but sugar. The degree to which I care about booze is only the degree to which it fucks with my blood sugar. Because apparently, that's my high of choice. But, in a sugar-free vacuum, I'll take a good chocolate bar before alcohol, any day. I miss the junk food, particularly fried carbs with weird coatings, preferably laden in sugar. Do you know that popcorn is a grain?! Lord knows what I thought it was.
  • Why am I doing this masochistic thing? Because my body pain is caused by systemic inflammation and sugar, grains, booze and processed foods are the most inflammatory foods out there. In the event that one will have direct, or indirect, inverse correlation with the other, I'm on the hook to verify. Sugar addiction is the flaw in the design of human evolution. Just watch every metabolic syndrome documentary ever made or read the literature (high and low). Go to any mall in suburban North America. Consider diabetes, an epidemic that's going to bankrupt the global health care system unless we start to make serious cultural shifts and stop burning out our pancreases by mainlining sugar. Note to reader: Of course, this is true, but I'm only saying this because I can't eat it.
  • One more thing: I'm pretty stringent. The only goddamned reason I'd ever consider doing this for my health. And it won't work if I don't do it consistently. The smallest amount of sugar (subject of yet another post) makes me actually tingle, esp. if my blood sugar is low. I feel it happening in my brain and I love it. And then it's gone. And then I want more. So I stay the fuck away from it and life seems endlessly flat.
When I stopped eating in the way I had, in some sense, I lost my identity. Hear melodrama if you must, but that's not the angle I'm working. I had lived under certain ebullient terms that worked for me, and they are gone. For the first three weeks, I felt the numb thud of craving, followed by a sinking feeling of loss, in practically every moment (to say nothing of being sick as a dog).

For three weeks, things were really fucking bad. I don't know how my colleagues tolerated me, although they were incredibly tolerant. Sometimes, when I got  bitchy or stared at them as they ate muffins or chocolate, they'd make jokes about the absurdity of my detox. It defused the bomb.

Scott had the much harder job. That man is a saint and I don't say shit like this ever. I couldn't go 3 sentences without bringing it back, in some way or another, to how my life was broken without delicious, sweet things. And I wanted to talk constantly. I could not shut up about sugar and how lost I was and how life is effectively colourless without sugar. Or about how Big Sugar's going to be the end of humanity (which I do believe, by the way, but really...). Or about how everything he was eating was going to kill him. I know. I'm a tough sell right now. But I'm doing really well by comparison with last week.

I mean, this week I have all of the same feelings, but they're not as intolerable. There's occasional reprieve. On some level, this fast has broken me. Oh, sure, I'm in the lure, but I'm far enough away to feel a little bit safe. The sad truth is that the thing I miss most is the thing I've got to stop missing in order to actually be ok with this lifestyle scenario. And you know I don't want to do this. But my ever-practical side is adaptable. My brain will eventually find the same sexy joy in this diet as it did in my last (God help me for writing shit like that) because I need to find beauty and satisfaction in eating. It's non-negotiable for me.

Moreover, while this way is so dull, it's so stable. I am never hungry and I never crash (though thinking of eating often makes me feel physically sick, I imagine for emotional reasons). When I do have to scrounge up a meal, there's a lot of delicious and decadent good-for-you food out there. More to the point, I'm a really good cook. What can I say? I'm no prodigy of crafts but I'm confident with food. I get food and drink. Cooking is a meditation of gratitude, a way to invest a small part of yourself into what will nourish you. It's how you introduce yourself to your meal. I forgot how fun it is to cook (because I got angry at people I was cooking for and not cooking was how I punished them. But really, I punished myself. You know how that is.) Cooking is the new eating, I like to say, because it's where you first meet your meal. But it's labour-intensive. It's my urban, first world way to hunt and gather.

Anyone who tells you that you can eat this way (organically, sustainably), as affordably as you can while following the standard American diet, is fucking lying. On one level, you're addicted to sugar because it suits the economy. If you subsist on the cheap franken-foods, it's because they're designed to make you love them (whether you can afford better and realize that you should eat better). The only way I can bring myself to approach this lifestyle is by eating the most desirable healthful foods and they cost. For a family of three, we used to spend 900 bucks month on groceries. I know that's a lot but I live in the heart of a big city, in an expensive country and I don't limit myself. That price included booze, fwiw... We now buy way less booze and I'm still spending about 200 bucks a month more overall. Mind you, we're eating more of the food we buy and those meals are so nutrient dense that they're giving a lot of value for the money, even if the cost is absurd. What I don't do much now is eat out, not because I can't find food to eat, but because restaurants without wine and dessert are very depressing to me. Also, most of what I cook tastes better than restaurant food because I'm controlling the taste factors that matter to me.

To some extent sugar is a metaphor for my decadence. With no irony, I do recall relating my current experience to the fall of Rome, recently. Sigh. It's also a great drug and I'm bereft to see it go. For how long will I do this? Who can say, but I imagine quite a while because it could take a year to observe potential changes in pain, stiffness and bone/joint health. I also want time to consider potential interdependencies with yoga, my arrhythmia and my brain chemistry. Living balancedly is excessively dull, but very smooth.

Today's questions: Have you removed all the fun foods and did it work to diminish whatever issue you manage? Are you a sugar addict with a capital A? Have you ever overcome an addiction (to anything) and, if yes, can you relate to what I'm describing? Let's talk.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Back to the Studs

I don't know that I've ever gone this long without writing something non-work related. Moreover, I'm not sure that there's anyone who still checks this space. But sometimes one needs to talk, listeners notwithstanding.

In case you're wondering, I could not begin to outline the events of the past 3 months. Just on the topic of the reno alone, Scott's managing a spreadsheet with 180 deliverables BEFORE we move into the rental. (Note to potential readers: We have rented a house to live in for the duration of the reno. It's in the "real"end of a swanky 'hood. Once you are on the hook for 4K a month in rent whether you go to a good hood or a slum, you might as well live large. That's home rental in the big city... Alas, it's more like 9K to go furnished so we have the fun of moving twice and renovating!) That spreadsheet doesn't outline our work DURING the reno, which (it has somehow just occurred to me) includes a shit ton of interior (and landscape) design. When my mother asked me who my designer was, I told her she was part of my team. FWIW, Scott and I are the other members of that team.

She told me to send her the stamped plans.

I am not moving my sewing gear to the rental cuz, fuck, I'm designing a home and I've been too absorbed by the endless trivia of pre-design (contract negotiations - that fucking contract just got signed, engineering, moving and architectural plans) to even begin to think about things like tiles and fireplaces and floors and windows. Don't worry. I've got this. There are few things I like more than making decisions.

Anyway, this post is not about the reno. It's about the current watchword of my life: reconstruction.

To me, it feels like there is nothing that isn't being ripped back, excavated, exhumed. My office building has gone through 6 months of serious refacing - with all the noise and grime that goes along with it. My job is about reforming an entire sector of the health care system. I've given up almost every food I love for health reasons (that's about 10 posts-worth of info I'd just as soon not write down) and, truly, I am existentially transformed and grief-stricken by the loss of my favourite touch point, of self. One thing I'm sure to write 10 posts on, eventually, is my addiction to sugar which - do not be under any illusion - is hardcore. If we were talking about heroin, I'd be institutionalized. Instead, I just pick my ass up every morning and go to work.

I'm not going to tell you I'm tired. I was tired a year ago. Now I float by on my sleep-deprived wits (part of that overarching Kristin health item), or so I tell myself. My career is omnipresent. I'm working at 7 am, at 7pm. I do all kinds of things I'm unsuited to. But this post is not about my job.

I feel I need to provide the broadest health strokes before I can tell you what this post is about. In brief: I have osteoarthritis everywhere they've looked, namely hips, entire back, neck, jaw. It's fairly entrenched, which is to say it's been there for at least 20 years. Based on the genetic testing I've done, I personally believe this has to do with my propensity to have difficulties metabolizing vitamin D (which affects bones and joints as y'all know). To wit: I had my vit D levels tested after months of taking 6000 IUs a day and my levels are still only borderline normal to the low end. Note: The doctors have no opinion of my theory so take this as you will.

The most problematic zone for the OA is my jaw. You may recall I've referred to my most intolerable health concern, which I don't like to discuss, very bad TMJD. At this time, it seems there's no disc left on my left side so it's bone on bone and a joint that dislocates routinely. Explains my hideous headaches though! It also explains tinitis that started a few months ago. Alas, the problem is exacerbated by a structural issue from birth, as my jaw didn't form properly (numerous expensive scans have recently proven). This probably allowed the OA to take hold in a joint that is rarely implicated as it isn't weight-bearing. Just FYI, It's not a good joint to fuck up.

There's much more to this story like the fact that the structural issue interferes with my breathing when I sleep (I did a sleep test). I don't have apnea but my blood deoxygenates numerous times a night, which moves me from deep sleep to light sleep. They estimate (on the basis of test results) that I get very little REM sleep and likely haven't for a decade.

I just like to point out that I am a fully functional human being who doesn't get much REM sleep. I think, under the circumstances, I am fucking killing it, even if I haven't had a chance to interior design my new home three weeks before tear down.

The story is more involved than this, and rather concerning, but let's leave it at: knowledge is power.* Because, really, it is.

You can see where I'm going with this theme of reconstruction.

Yesterday I was doing some weird yoga pose, something I have rarely done in the last 2 months because a) I have no time to pee and b) changing my entire diet has left me with no time to do anything other than cook (unless it's work). While I was experiencing the pose, it suddenly hit me: my body was tireless in seeking what it knew. It was grasping, trying to find a space it had fallen into thousands of times before in the guise of "desirable structure". Those who do yoga know what I mean about how you find your pose with muscle memory and, occasionally, grit.

There's this bodywork construct wherein muscles are "locked long". The theory is that a muscle may get "locked", by tight fascia, in its lengthened position (recognizing that muscles don't lengthen from the centre like taffy). It's the very definition of how "doing what you always do" "brings what it always brings". And if that were biophysical closure, it wouldn't be a sensory trap. Add a little order-induced OCD (man, I sound like a fucking mess! :-)) and you can entrench some pretty deep kenisiological troughs.

Here's my point finally, thank god I'm sure you'll agree: I need to take my practice back to the studs. Every yogi is advised to bring the mind of the beginner to her practice but I've got to bring the movement too. I need to isolate the glitch spots so that I can retrain them. This ain't no small task.

I suspect it's easier to renovate a fucking house.

I have recently discovered my neuroplastic gifts, which we all have in miraculous reserve, though many will never exploit them. I'm exploiting them. And I urge you to do the same because encountering yourself at the meta-level is really all that. I mean, it's kind of everything (she says, floating in a vat of her own bourgeoisie).

Way to add another reconstruction to the mix. At some point I'm going to get good at this.

PS: If you're still there, please say hi! I have truly missed you.


*FYI, I'm working many medical and alternative angles which I can't possibly get into now, but know that I am managing the shit out of this thing.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

New Year

Last night Scott and I went out for a walk (at 7:30, I'm not 35, after all). It had been days since I'd gone outside. This "vacation" has been punctuated by long stretches of in-home activity - sorting, going to the dump (that's the extremely appreciated friend-with-a-car part of our experience), trying to find a place to live (do not get me started), getting party-wall permit letters done... I could go on.

And while I really needed some fresh air, alas, it was raining last night (sometimes freezing, sometimes regular). Not good weather for pain. (Apparently, it's really bad weather for osteoarthritis - which my husband has in his right large toe - to a rather extensive degree. We were out for 90 minutes and, by the time we got back, he was all but hobbled. I reviewed his foot with shock. I made him drink cherry juice and I rubbed it (yoga therapy style).) This morning when we woke up, it was way improved - far less inflamed. The sun is out in force today, miraculously for this time of year. It's dry and cold again.

I too began very stiff and sore today, particularly in my hips (the original seat of my pain, starting 20 years ago - but much less painful than the rest of my back most of the time, these days).

I swigged a ginger shot. Went into the yoga room, wherein I sat for a while, wondering what would come of my session. Some days are very fortunate. Some days I realize things (big and important, small and intriguing, part of a larger, emerging whole). My mind drifted first to self-inquiry. The stream of my consciousness: Why am I in pain, in my hips, of all places? and then Ah, Kristin, remember when you hated standing poses? (Ed. note: In the old days, during the first week of every month - the standing pose focus week in the Iyengar system - I'd be in semi-regular hip misery.) Then I thought about how so many yoga practitioners believe that being able to do a pose automatically imparts the benefits of that pose. I could do any damn standing pose proficiently - and I really believed I was feeling its benefit - but it would hurt me a good 50 per cent of the time (to say nothing of potential micro injuries).

Then it struck me. Standing poses are the way of the future.* But, as I know (and have been reflecting in my practice methods), sometimes I cannot do the full physical expressions of some of those asanas (the more weight bearing ones) without producing joint and myofascial pain thereafter. Sure, sometimes I'm fine, after the fact, but I often feel on the edge (which is unsettling and not the point of bodywork, IMO).

Increasingly, I've been doing standing poses at my rope wall. I can happily manage bearing @ 75% of my body weight on my hips, without running risk of causing pain, as long as I can keep my back hip open and as long as I can defer about 25 per cent of the weight of the front leg to the wall-attached rope at which I'm perched (traction allows for this).

I did many side-angle standing poses this way today. Because I could control the minutest of actions, I was able to have a really rich experience. I felt my musculature from foot to head on a number of occasions. I moved things around from the inside which allows for a lot of shifting, very little of which expresses itself in movement of the muscles and bones. When I did a supported backbend, instead of keeping my legs in my "regular" position, I extended them slowly in different directions, lengthened them to straight and observed how the movement (and limiters of that movement) interacted. My brain talked to my body. Increasingly I wonder if this sensation is straight-up neurochemical or meta. You know, energetic, for the Californians among us. I happen to feel that it matters not and, either way, I am privileged to have this awareness.

And then I went to my next thought wave: What is the relationship between pain and mobility?

Hear me out. In yoga, we talk a lot about quantifying pain as a mechanism by which we can ascertain safety in the pose. That's a post in itself, so I won't dwell here, but today I want to consider this question through the prism of myofascial and/or arthritic pain. All you need to do is pull up a website and you'll see pretty pictures articulating the simple (and hurtful) mechanism of joint and bone degeneration which drags muscles and nerves along for the ride. People with arthritis experience pain at a most interior (amorphous) level, sometimes extremely and relentlessly.  I posit that, when the arthritic person doesn't engage the affected area(s) in very frequent targeted activity, inflammation catalyses a decrease in one's mobility as pertains to one's previous full range of motion. But to move, except very consciously, can also bring pain. The less refined one's movement (and this is defined entirely by the individual), the more the muscles and bones have to work with brute strength - and if they misfunction just slightly - nerve compression can be the result.

Sort of sounds like you're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't.

But I believe that's a flawed perspective. What careful movement does is maintain mobility. And stability is in mobility. Incremental improvement and the delayed onset of serious symptomology are prime features of mobility. Mobility isn't a "nice to have" - it's core.

Yoga is the most profoundly personal thing I have ever experienced. I am a constant student in that I am always learning and in that I am sincere. Mind you, I spent a very long time being sincere and yet I couldn't quantify what was happening in my body. Ironically, though I was probably seeking contentment, pain has been the self-awareness tipping point for me - particularly given its phased onset. It's compelled me to move my practice out of my extrinsic body and into the crevices.  

So, if I must sometimes incur pain to be agile (and I speak of this as an intermittent outcome of a mindful practice) that's a trade-off I'm willing to make. Strangely, it's empowering. Because it makes me feel like my pain is meaningful, maybe even slightly volitional. It makes me feel like it's for the greater good.

*In truth, one doesn't need a degree in yoga to know that standing poses are indicated for arthritis / musculoskeletal conditions. But, really, it eventually becomes very clear that any number of poses which might, theoretically, be good, can actually be very harmful (likely because of how they're being performed but sometimes because a pose is not warranted).