Saturday, September 15, 2018

Thoughts or Feelings?

I don't know what epitaph they'll inscribe on my headstone (or if I'll be cremated, more to the point), but I really hope it's not: Nothing was ever good enough or If you want something done right, do it yourself. But honestly, I'm either stuck in a strange astrological vortex wherein everyone is seriously phoning in quality or I'm pathologically fussy. And, btw, I've ruminated on this for a couple of years now so I'm going throw my take into the ring: I'm in the vortex.

Now, you might not agree - which is actually why I'm writing this post. Sometimes, when one is so fixed in one's on place, one can be misguided (I suppose). So, in full disclosure, I am compulsive about order. What this means, for my brain, is that everything needs to be positioned in a certain way (no need to explain the specifics, it's boring enough to live through) and smudges, scuffs and schmutz are the very bane of my existence. Sometimes, when I notice disorder as I define it, and other people are around, I cannot stop myself from starting to clean or reorganize, while simultaneously apologizing for the hideousness we've all been forced to look at. I've spent many a dinner party pruning the back yard.

I'm semi-regularly advised that I must relax, that no one else notices these things, that I'm distracting in my distraction. The reason I didn't invite people over for the 5 years before we did the reno is because there was so much imperfection, like everywhere, that I couldn't subject people to it.

I realize that, while my reno has re-established a sort of glory that this house may never have seen previously, that doesn't fix my compulsiveness. One of the hardest elements of my particular psycho-profile is that I am magically drawn to all evidence of disorder and non-negotiably compelled to assuage it. This is not a tendency I have developed. I was born this way. As mentioned, my long-term memory is not my strong-suit, but memories I have all share disorder as a sub-theme.

My post so far is somewhat prejudicial, I realize. Of course, I imagine, you must believe that I'm the issue here. But I truly don't think I am, not that my nature is helping anything.

My (custom, which is to say, not cheap) kitchen was largely remade because it was shoddily put together the first time. The cupboard door edges weren't beveled (?), the clasp openers (I don't like handles) were inferior and constantly disconnecting so they had to be replaced. The drawer rollers were like something out of IKEA circa 1978. In a misguided effort to fix cupboards onsite, an uncareful kitchen guy broke one of my absurdly expensive quartz countertops, which then had to be replaced (and not on my dime).

We spent 2 hours cleaning a wall of windows today because, though we've had professional window cleaners in - and our house cleaners have taken a run at them every time they been - said windows have been so ineptly destreaked, they continued to be a blight to behold. I know, post-renovation, one's windows continue to accumulate dust. But that's not what I'm referring to here. Part of window-cleaning involves recognizing that casings are part of the freakin' windows, no?

I could go on for pages but every time I look at something I'm distracted by the need to fix it. To wit: When readjusting the doors and improving the slightly asymmetric structure of my fireplace built-in, the peeps left silicone crap all over the quartz at the hearth. How can I read a book while that's going on?? Also, I'm not going to apologize for expecting perfect symmetry in that built-in. If it was good enough for the medieval Italians, it's good enough for me.

But enough complaining. I know - it's unattractive.

Though I'm conflating issues (work done by others and desire for "things done right" according to me) I'm curious to know how you manage your need for order. For starters, do you have one? If not, please tell me your secret - and I really hope it's not "my brain just works this way"! :-) Do you find it difficult to enjoy your space because you're compelled to improve it, rather than just to be with it? Do you have any "be here now exercises" which you apply so that you can just sit there on occasion and not feel like everything is falling into decay? How do you have people into your home to do things / clean things / fix things and not feel like, in lieu of paying them for their service, you should actually be lecturing them on the inferiority of their work.

Please know, when someone does something well, on the one hand I'm amazed and thrilled - and incredibly complimentary/grateful. On the other hand, it's as it should be. I would never provide you with less than I expect for and of myself. Isn't that the way the world should work?

Thanks so much in advance for any insights you can provide.

Sincerely, That Girl Who'd Prefer Not To Feel This Way All the Time

PS: FWIW, my husband completely shares my ire re: the ineptitude of much work done, but he's less traumatized by disorder than I am. So some things actually bother him as much as, or more than me, while others irritate him in a way he can completely ignore.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Flight Path

No doubt, Toronto's most knowable weekend for good weather is this one. I know this because I await it every summer, partly with ennui, partly with excitement. It's the air show weekend and I LOVE the air show. By and large, this city is wasted on me because I don't much like interacting with strangers for the pleasure of culture and entertainment. Call me excessively lazy (I am). Call me overburdened with lots of stuff that makes me excessively lazy on my off-hours (also true). The air show, however, that one comes to me.

I don't know if I will be able to impart the strange magic of this scenario but I'll give it a go.

Inevitably, the sky is blue (if sometimes hazy). On the Friday before the long weekend, the planes come to town and undertake their rumbling practice runs so that, for 3 hours per day, over each of the three long weekend days, I am treated to a spectacle of incomparable proportions. It's like God put my house in their flight path. All I have to do is go up to my third floor balcony, which is as high or higher than any house around me (though not commercial buildings, of course), and wander from side to side, taking in 180 degree views and an unobstructed sky. I truly cannot put a price on this.

The Blue Angels open the show in stunning formation, twisting in a triangle of 6, their wings glinting in the sun as they swerve by overhead. At first, it's impossible to tell the difference between the dragonflies and the planes because they come into one's frame of cognition at the same size and proportion. The vapor trails sometimes give it away, but not quickly in the haze. The afterburners always get the point across.

Unquestionably, the most amazing moment, the most affecting, is when the F18 flies by. It comes so close, so extremely low (like 500 feet above my balcony), and the impact is unparalleled. I don't know how it is that I'm ok with noise so loud it shakes the windows - with a scary-ass war plane in my own personal theatre. But it puts one in mind of another theatre, one wherein life and death hashed it out, and on any given day there was a winner and a loser.

When I work with food, I never fail to think the same thing (every single time, even if I don't follow my own edict on occasion): I cannot waste any of this. And at the next moment, a subtle, but deeply ingrained sensibility comes to me, the consciousness of people in death camps, in war time, struggling to survive with next to nothing. It is my function to treat my fleeting privilege with unyielding respect.

When I watch the air show, I'm put in mind of that privilege yet again - in the largest, reverberative, most palpable way. To observe the silver elegance of battle planes overwhelms me with the glory of human innovation, and to hear their deafening, rumble brings a momentary, visceral awareness of the chaos of violent, senseless death.

I don't mind telling you that I cry my way through the air show every year - all the more reason that it's perfect I don't have to travel to see it... I cry because I am transported to a time and place where that sound would have been pure joy and relief - or utter terror, the worst awareness imaginable.

The air show is the way we allow fortunate, peaceful first-world urbanites to tremble in fear momentarily, to be reminded of the perfection of good-fortune in the guise of entertainment.

As the F18 stint comes to a close, it is joined by a P-51 Mustang, a single-seat fighter, introduced in the deep days of WW2. They fly in formation, directly in front of my terrace, maybe 20 feet apart, their black underbellies sucking in the light, wispy smoke trails of different consistency behind them. They are beautiful symbols of victory and the prevalence of human intervention. I hope I never hear such planes in action, but I hope I always hear them on the last weekend of summer. Wishing you this kind of experience over the upcoming days... xo

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Brief Enlightenment

You may know that I just returned from a week in Quebec and I'm compelled to reiterate what I've pummeled home on Instagram: it was a magically restorative event. There are so many fascinating (to me) tales to relate, and I'm sure they'll come out in time, but one stands out this morning...

On Friday, we returned to Quebec City from Baie St Paul, on a train that goes so slowly that we like to joke that both cyclists and boats both beat it to town in an imaginary race. From there we took a navette from the Chutes Montmorency to the main train station and then we walked 10 minutes to the hotel. This is Scott's annual opportunity to bitch about the cobbled streets (he wheels the cases) while declining, 7 times, to take a cab because who wants to get into another vehicle when you can have some exercise.

Usually, at this point I am very out of sorts. I've been on a zillion forms of transport over 3 hours, my bizarre form of competitiveness has long since set in and I become freakishly determined to "win": I will be first in line (despite that I have assigned seats - cuz who hasn't seen oversold seats?!), I will find the navette's new waiting zone before the little old ladies from the back of the train, I will get the last "bottle" of wine in the cart (though there's a full fridge of them at the back, I suspect). It's tiring. Moreover, of recent years, I am generally also managing some sort of discomfort, if not flat-out pain.

Look, I know myself, which is why I book this vacation down to the very last detail. I know which rooms I will be sleeping in, the minutiae of their views, what the beds feel like. I know the restaurants I'll visit for dinner. I know the routes to all of the fun things, the best way to trespass in all of the places I like to trespass (cuz I am a badass that way). I know the freakin' servers by name at this point.

In case you think this is the most boring form of travel ever (and then you'd be in good company), you should be me for a few weeks. Not only do I loathe excessive stimulus of the type I feel I cannot control (and that's technically most of it), but my day-to-day life is like something out of a film set in insert big city here, all about the chaos of urban mid-life - endless meetings one really shouldn't fuck up, decisions one also shouldn't fuck up, constant activity, stealth parenting, expenditure of every sort, regularly shitty weather. It's like the inverse of a movie set in rural England where the peeps live in a bucolic home, with a trail of fireplace smoke coming from the chimney, looking at their sheep graze the well-tended grounds at sunset.

I'd like to clarify - things are getting much better (and I banked on it that they would - I'm nothing if not calculated about risk). They are changing. I am changing. My home - the backbone of this lifestyle - has changed and continues to do so. I know this is a moment in time, if one that feels never-ending. I also realize that I'm creating a framework that will sustain me, hopefully exceedingly competently, for the rest of my life. Carving out one's reality is a bitch sometimes. I get it. The reason so few people realize their potential, however they define it, is because it takes super-human effort and it's much more palatable to do less now and worry later. I don't want to worry later.

But I digress excessively...

We arrived at the hotel. The room was available. We freshened up, snacked at our local, and started the adventure.

Two things: Walking in a town where you know a lot of things, but not everything, is very adventurous. Everything that deviates from the norm is utterly exciting. Every subtly distinct view. Secondly, my lunch consisted of shucked oysters and good Cava, two things that seriously moderate how I feel like nothing else. When I eat oysters I feel the life of the creature descending within me. It's sacred. I say thank you to each oyster as I ingest because it gives its life to me palpably.

Here's where it gets good: The weather was actually perfect. I have been in the most mercifully low-pain moment over the last couple of weeks (ameliorated still more by my new fave thing, more to come in another post!). Honestly, I felt relaxed and at ease in my body - like I remembered it, before it became so clamorous for attention.

We started to walk up the cobble-stoned streets, up and up and up interminably (as it goes), and I just felt better and better and better. Lord. I felt like Jason Bourne mixed with a superhero whose fingers grow long and sticky to scale buildings. My reflexes became insanely sharp. I was able, as in days of yore, to slice my way through insane crowds without even trying. My spatial reasoning was amazing. I felt totally strong and secure in my body. At no moment was I out of breath and I was bounding up a freakin' hill in a crowd in full sun.

I turned around and Scott, with whom I'm paced well in general, was nowhere to be seen. He couldn't keep up. It was magic! What followed was an hour of walking amidst perfect beauty, qualifying every detail of the profound, almost hallucinogenic, experience I was having. FWIW, Scott did not resist. It was infinitely more enjoyable than listening to me dwell on the nature of pain and existence.

What's amazing about this is that it actually upended my récit de la décennie: that I'm exhausted beyond measure, stressed, over-worked, traumatized and rickety.

I know that, if I experienced this, I can experience it again. It is not beyond the realm of my current corporeal state. Sometimes, when one lives with a lot of pain, it's challenging to remember that one is not broken. It just feels that way.

I don't know who to thank for this amazing moment in time but my gratitude is excessive. I could dwell on the factors that produced the outcome: raw nutrients, a week of quiet, the end of two years of torment, elements of the heat spa, some complement of my 8000 methods for managing discrete styles of pain, 5 of which are always in some form of play. There's a universe (though I don't know how, given the number of potatoes I ate hourly) in which my walking high might have been an outcome of fat-adapted exercise. I've read numerous accounts of this phenomenon and it's always seemed like a suspect state of ecstasy to me but, hey, if that's what was happening, then fat-adaptedness for the win!

I don't really care right now. Cuz when I look back on this trip, I'm going to remember the joyful embodiment of my elegance and strength. And I'm probably going to eat more oysters, natch, cuz one must experiment!

Thursday, August 9, 2018

The Calm During the Storm

Tuesday night, it poured dramatically. We got 130 mm of rain in 2 hours and my basement (situated on an underground creek) remained dry, unlike practically everyone else's in this entire town. Here's to spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on a refinished basement! Scott and I decamped to the sewga room, lay over bolsters with the lights off, and (with amazement and awe) watched a vast sky show us a lightning storm of impressive proportions. The sound was enjoyably tinny and dense, an auditory representation of security. After 90 minutes of communing with the deluge from the inside, while conspiring about all of the house changes we've made and will continue to make, I suggested that our time there was the home-reno equivalent of staring, love-drunk, over one's perfect baby in a crib. Full disclosure: I don't remember ever doing that with the kid but we sure are high on ourselves for creating this home.

The sewga room is, on balance, a cathedral. Strange for a girl who doesn't much believe in organized religion. The windows are crosses within crosses, dare I say "crucifixesque". Patterns repeat in 3s and 4s. Four scalene triangles (or are they obtuse?) bound by 3 linear rectangular beams, each dropping from the structure's 18 foot apex at different angles. Three spherical pendants. Four panes of windows with sub-panes - square or rectangular depending on how you view them. It's a love letter to geometry - much like sewing or yoga.

This place is still so much a work in progress. We've got to get the kitchen insufficiencies sorted. There's nothing in the living and dining rooms but furniture destined for the basement and furniture in the basement destined for the upper floors. My bedroom has yet to cohere. Ditto with the bathrooms which are now looking more lived in since we hung some pics and added some plants. The back yard, which was really coming along, amazingly, has stalled this week. (Note: I don't much care at this point as long as it's done by mid-September. It's not like I was ever gonna have a vista by the fall...) Don't get me started on the front-basement demo that slated for early October.

But last night, when we looked out that window - an arguably unlovely urban view, now so redeemed by an endless expanse of sky - it was brilliant. Scott disclosed that he has "really enjoyed" the process of designing and decorating with me which, if you know either him or me, is absurd. Lest you think this was a romantic gesture (and, in its own strange way, it was), what he actually said was that he anticipated the experience of working with me would be horrifyingly miserable and, to his great surprise, it was vaguely fun. So take from that what you will :-)

Secret note to reader, there are 2 tricks to that: 1. It finally clicked, all in a rush, that it doesn't matter what Scott doesn't like or what I don't like - only what we can agree on. And it seems, given all of the options in the universe, we're likely to find, whenever required, design that we can both appreciate equally. 2. I'm an awesome online shopper and Scott HATES to shop. So I've found all kinds of items (from numerous sources) that I knew I liked and let him decide which of those he liked best. If he didn't like anything, I probed about what wasn't working and what he was looking for, within the spectrum of my own interests, natch. And then I found it. And ordered it. And then it was delivered. So far, so good.

I'll have you know, this isn't my natural sweet spot. I prefer to get exactly what I want, with no negotiation, and I'd rather search in real shops (when it suits me). But I also like to be married.

To live in this place is a kind of ridiculous fortune. I am sandwiched between 4 desirable food zones. I walk to work in 35 minutes (or take one of 4 types of readily available, affordable transport). I have 4 "real-sized" bedrooms, 2.5 baths with radiant heat, a spectacular kitchen layout which - while compact - is impressively functional. There are 2 terraces, two gardens. The front of my house is an elegant testimony to the past while the back is a modern rendition of our needs and desires. It's cozy. It's delineated. Imagine watching movies and knitting, while snow falls quietly, with the two-sided fireplace lit, food cooking on the (sexy) stove. No question, this is a winter house. Which is cool, cuz I live in a winter culture.

But more than that, it's finally cohesively well-made. Sure, most of it was remade a few times over the last few months before it became well-made, but now this house is SOLID. Noise is vastly reduced due to a) new triple-glazed windows, b) acoustic sound insulation pretty well everywhere (including ceilings) and c) a newly-brick wall. The HVAC is good (if not stellar). No floors creak or bow and they won't for the next hundred years. The newel post and railing are stability itself - and beautifully wide, taking advantage of breadth created by removing the wall between the stairs and the dining room. It's tiny grandeur. The dining room and living room have been restored (wherever possible) and renewed with an eye toward restoration (when necessary). Old and new collaborate. To my eye, it is a feast.

Though I may be fussy, this house is not; it's awesomely pragmatic. It will be enhanced by its next phase of habitation. It will follow our lead but, in truth, the house knows that it's a vital functionary, that it has been for 130 years. We may be the elusive party in power but it is the bureaucrat that will outpace our tenure.

I'm not all here yet, but I'm more here than I was - and I'm game.

Monday, August 6, 2018


One of the more interesting things that's happened in the last 3 weeks - not that I'd call it enjoyable - is that I have learned a thing or 12 about the perimenopausal hot flash. You know this whole midlife hormonal shift thing can be kind of miserable. So many things, that work just fine for so long, all of a sudden, just flip the fuck out. Look, I'm no stranger to night-sweats, which I've been having monthly, for 3 days before my (still clock-like) period kicks in, probably for going on 2 years now - but the hot flash is its own special thing that, till 3 weeks ago, I'd all but not yet experienced. I just assumed that a hot flash is a night sweat that happens in the daytime but apparently that's not the case.

Today I bring you (my younger readers or those who are fortunate enough to miss this) a primer of perimenopausal symptoms. Let's start with the diff between the hot flash and night sweats: Night sweats, causing one to wake in a panic of perspiration after having (seemingly) maintained a nice and normal temp under covers, are really unpleasant. You wake up disoriented, freezing, soaking and feeling gross. Often, the active fix is enough to wake you up for a couple of hours potentially just before day break. And, if this phenomenon happens to you (as it does to me) deep in the PMS hate-on phase, well, it's not so fun for those around you.

Hot flashes, a crystalline metaphor for midlife, are entirely different. For starters, you feel them as they come on (day and night and day and night), not simply in retrospect. FWIW, I asked approximately a zillion women to explain them, prior to my own encounter, but no one has been able to do so to my satisfaction. Here's my kick at the can: What happens - at least to me - is that my interior starts to feel like the molten centre of the earth and then that feeling manages, through some unknown conduit (I mean, maybe it's knowable but I've only been having these for 3 weeks so give me some time!) to make its way to every surface of the skin. My feet - always freezing little blocks - are the harbinger. They heat up as if cozied by coals. It's pleasant until they get so hot that I have to rip off my socks and step on tile. Gradually, I also feel an emerging heat sear in my torso, chest, neck and head. It's a bit like cooking from the inside out. And natch, there is sweating but it's more of a dewy kind than the deluge of sweating at night. Again - you can experience these numerous times, all through the night. They just wake you at the onset (or if they don't, you're unaware on the flip side).

Not that I'm much in favour of either but, on balance, I'll take a hot flash.

When my mother was going through this life stage she was tormented by a few specific things: flashes, mood swings and brain fog. Honestly, the hot flashes made her miserable but, for my money, the brain fog was the most challenging. At one point, my sister and I were vaguely concerned about a diagnosis of early-onset dementia (sorry Ma!). (Note: in the years following menopause my mother's brain resumed its previous and spicy sharpness so I can only assume it was hormones. Also, my sister and I were young and hormonally chaotic in our own right when we were making this assumption, so take from this what you will.)

One of the beautiful gifts of intermittent pain is that it puts everything into perspective. My mother was so unhinged by the hot flashes (she really suffered) and I suspect I might be too if I weren't managing what I hope to be the most significant of my own perimenopausal boulders: pain. Now, my pain is definitely more knowable than it ever has been, but pain is not particularly knowable. It's strange to say this but I am so grateful to have experienced many types of pain on multiple occasions because now, at least, we are acquainted. Pain is miserable but it's ignorable (to some extent) when you disassociate it from the darkest well of fear.

The first time I had the right knee issue, the left foot issue, the left hip issue, the right shoulder issue, the migraines, the searing ear thing (that brings the tinnitus), the myofascial grip of my entire torso - I was fucking afraid. Now when I meet these, and they have all recurred a minimum of dozens of times (if not hundreds of times), I send them my compassion. We're in this together but I have nothing to gain from defining myself by my pain and so I have to accept its presence while fundamentally rejecting it. This sort of mind-fuck is apt to make one quite adaptive.

Youth may be wasted on the young but middle-age gives what it knows we can take. I'm incredibly grateful that, though my memory is not good (never has been, but def it's worse now), my mind is agile. Even as I go through a phase known to unmoor far greater minds than mine, I'm with my self. I know myself.

Other than the night sweats, the hot flashes and the pain, I'm coming through this life phase rather well. Sure, it doesn't pay to get cocky. This post is about expressing gratitude - not poking the bear :-)

I didn't feel, when I was young, that hardship was a force for good. I grew up in a family with a deeply entrenched narrative about luck and worth and I have to say, now I don't believe that good fortune is anything other than just that. It's not a sign of one's familial primacy. You are lucky until you're not and, if you're really lucky, the day you're not does not appear. The next best option is to experience things that throw you into chaos - things that make you think, feel, consider - things that make you stronger and broader and deeper than you were. When you start to understand that this is "good fortune", then you are wealthy beyond measure.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Hard and Fast

Today I woke up, drank some coffee and - before I could talk myself out of it - I went to my bedroom to unpack. I got through 6 boxes, marginal by anyone's standards, but my room is 6 boxes less crowded and (OMG) I found my bra stash.

I wish I hadn't gone out and bought 2 new bra sets, which almost 3 weeks later have yet to arrive from UK, because if there's any human who never needs to purchase another piece of lingerie, I am she.

For starters, by shopping my closet boxes, I now own 10 "new" sets, most of which are fucking GORGEOUS Empreinte styles. Note: I can only fit into 1 size of Empreinte bra (because they don't sister size and the difference between cup and band sizes is so bespoke that it fits or it doesn't). My Empreinte moment, which lasted near a decade, came to an end a few years ago when my body shape changed. Due to a reversal of shape change - I mean, I do not have the shape I did at 35 but I prob have the same general volume - I've got me some fine new bras!

Y'all know I'm more of a minimalist than average (if not at all a true minimalist), but I am SO not down with Marie Kondo. I did not read the book (who needs to, every article on the planet has precis-ed it into oblivion) because I do not like being told what to do. Do I need some lady who's likely half my age to tell me that if something doesn't bring me joy I should chuck it immediately??

Today I put practically all of my clothing at the back edge of the closet because none of it fits. I have suits I spent a thousand bucks on gathering dust because they're a couple of sizes too big at this point. There is no fucking universe in which I'm going to ditch that clothing because I may need it again someday and it's a) very well made and b) stuff I'd prefer not to replace on the basis of potential short-sightedness.

Be mindful of your wardrobe because you are an evolving being and it's every bit as much fun to find new things in your closet as it is to go out and buy or make them. In fact, in some ways it's more fun cuz it's free.

After this energetic spurt, I went to do some yoga (man, that room is a beautiful studio), hand-washed a bunch of things (how I missed my 2nd floor, flat railing that doubles as a clothing rack) and put together my week of supplements (albeit a truncated version of the old regime).

When I went to the rental, I opted not to do any of the regular self-care things I had done prior to the move, which was counter-productive in many ways but, hey, I was struggling. Of course, to counter-balance this, my diet changed radically (which no doubt, has helped my inflammation in the ways that all of the sacrificed elements of the regime do too), but I must be vigilant to side-step pain, and that, my friends, I most certainly have not been.

Since returning to my real house (construction zone though it is), I am back to body scrubbing, supplements, yoga and making my own potions. I did cook in the rental house - and I had a lot of fun re-engaging with that skill. But, not-fun fact, the cabinets in my new kitchen are my greatest reno disappointment - though I'm confident it will be set right, one way or another - because, while the kitchen's super well-designed (by me, I might add) and gorgeous to look at (superficially), the finishing is shit. It's awesome till you try to open the cabinets and drawers and then the flaws become entirely evident. I'm not going to dwell on this because dwelling is my kryptonite, but cooking has been challenging because it means I have to, well, open all the cupboards.

To switch gears, a few posts ago, Barb told me about a new book she read that changed her way of eating. The marketing-forward title didn't grab me - it's called The Obesity Code and it's by a Toronto diabetes specialist named Jason Fung - but I listen to my blog friends so I went out and bought it. People - you have to get this book. If you are the skinniest mini in the land, you still need to read it cuz it's not about obesity. It's about blood sugar stabilization and hyperinsulinemia. Obesity is only one of the many fun symptoms of blood-sugar disease - and all of these symptoms are manageable by getting rid of the highs and lows of blood sugar spikes (caused predominantly by eating fiber-free carbs, straight-sugar and processed foods).

Look, I know, this is an impossible sell. You need to do this when and if a) you perceive you need to do this and b) you are ready, potentially, for one of the worst interim periods you can imagine.

But here's the thing. What I got from this book wasn't all the good intel about hyperinsulinemia. I knew that already. What changed my relationship to food, on reading this book, is that I am no longer afraid of forgoing it. Fasting - a concept you know I loath - has become my friend. I'm now able to understand why I've always hated breakfast, large volumes of food, why I've always felt controlled by eating. The less you eat - and the more those meals are stabilizing by being high in fat and protein - the less frequently your blood sugar rises. Sure, we all need food but we need a fraction of what we generally eat, and 99 per cent of us do better eating that food in specific batches i.e. no grazing, within specified windows of time. Once you get rid of the delicious, delicious, druggy-delicious carbs, you don't feel compelled to eat. And you don't need to eat that much to live very happily, without shaking or feeling sick or hungry.

Never say never cuz I've introduced intermittent fasting into my life - corroborating the way I used to want to eat (cuz food made me feel sick, but I didn't understand that the carbs were fucking up my instinct by fucking with my blood sugar), but never managed to achieve.

And it's so not hard. Really. (Well, it's so not hard cuz I've already done the incredibly hard part.)

I eat between noon and 8pm. I generally eat 2 meals. I do not snack. Snacking just raises blood sugar and makes me feel bad. I don't stress about it when this plan doesn't work out but it usually works out. One of the meals may be a large salad with protein and fat. The other is often straight protein with a side of fat. I drink as much booze as I want (wine, natch) and I don't really want that much lately. Coffee and wine are fine, in moderation, cuz they don't spike insulin. It's easy to cook for this diet. There are many gorgeous meals to be had. It is not in any way restrictive. I mean, I eat a zillion calories of fat per day and it all tastes great.

But again, this nutritional overhaul has happened in phases for me. It's had to cuz I'm so freaked out by change. I do not recommend intermittent fasting (of the many different varieties which the book explores) until and unless you ditch the carbs. With carbs, it's impossible.

I love not having to think about food the way I used to. I love not being compelled by my appetite. I love not having to spend as much time or money or energy eating (I know that sounds weird. I wouldn't have expected this from me.)

I have no idea for how long I'll do this. I'm a human being and my life will no doubt introduce things that may require me to manage my diet differently. I may ditch this altogether and "relapse". Addiction is addiction and, while it's hard to come by fentanyl (for example), we all have to eat and everyone's doing it, out in the open, constantly. My relationship to food is profound, non-negotiable, sometimes joyous and other times horrible. It's an expression of who I am, of where I'm at, of what matters to me at any given life-stage.

That's all I got today.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

In Which I Bury the Lede (As per Usual)

I should be doing many things right now, namely: unpacking my clothes (which means I have to find the majority my clothes), massive clean up of M's bedframe (that was somehow removed from under protective plastic at the beginning of the demolition and can't be moved till "de-hazmatized"), reorging a basement that's so full one requires gold-standard tetris skills to manage it (and till this is done, furniture that isn't supposed to live upstairs is piled in a corner of my living room) - I could go on...

The thing is, I'm exhausted. I'm exhausted on pretty-well every level. I'm about to go back to work tomorrow (after a two-week "break") and I don't even know how my intellectual self is going to resurface. I'm trying to find the spark but I'm like a lighter at the end of its fluid.

My nature is compelling me - I'm scared shitless that, if I don't get up and work on everything right fucking now, I'm going to lose my will (already rather non-existent) and I can't bear to spend the rest of my life in this state of chaos. In case you're wondering about the veracity of one's mind being a bad neighbourhood that one shouldn't visit alone, I'm the very instrument of this misery. I'm the bomb I need to detonate. Scott keeps promising me that he won't lose his will and that, if we do even two hours a week, things will get done eventually. I just didn't think that things would continue to be so challenging, even though Scott warned me constantly, in an effort to prep me for ongoing stimulus.

On the flip side, I'm sure I'm learning many excellent life lessons I'm going to appreciate next year.

But talk about burying the lede. This post is about how - despite the flaws in my brain-state - my broken faith in humanity is being restored - in large measure because I am the most fortunate person on the planet when it comes to friendship.

Let's take a moment to dwell on that: I have awesome friends who show me love and acceptance and support at every turn. They call me to check in. They lift hundreds of pounds in boxes and furniture. They manage my work portfolios when I'm on vacation. They buy me dinner and dessert and listen to me chatter incessantly. They give me beautiful bottles of pink bubbles (that are real Champagne!). They inspire me with their diverse experiences and philosophies.

I have always said that, when it comes to friendship, I won the freakin' lottery. They should write on my gravestone: She reveled in friendship because she had the best friends.

Which brings me to the most fantastic experience I had yesterday. Gillian - who truly is as adorable in real life as she is in your blog feed - made a point of it to invite me to a sewing meet up (despite my not having looked at a machine in 18 months) and sweetened the deal by a) picking me up / taking me there, b) making me a NEW dress that actually fits (Lady Skater, my fave design ever) and a gorgeously-fitting new black T-shirt, c) cutting me out a Camino Cap T pattern plus fabric while d) standing by me with confidence-inspiring words while I serged it together amongst a group of utterly lovely women. And then she gifted me a copy of the "dress of the summer" pattern: The Fiona Sundress. Can you imagine such generosity?

Not only did Gillian take me away from the overwhelming in my own environment, but she guided me through an experience that might have been differently overwhelming, but wasn't, by making it normal. That's the mark of a terrific teacher and an excellent friend.

But let's go back to the part where she made me a dress and a top. I freakin' need that dress and top! They fit so beautifully. She chose perfect fabrics (I will post photos soon, I just have to take a shower before anyone sees me in anything). The dress is in animal print! What I learned yesterday, what metaphorically smacked me in the head, is that I have to stop with the goddamn fitting perfectionism. Lord, people - Gillian didn't even have my body there when she cut out these patterns, and the clothes fit.

Let me say this in front of an audience so I cannot back track in the future: Perfection is the enemy of the good because there ain't no good once you slice it to shreds - 3/8 of an inch at a time.

My goal as a sewist, over the coming months, is to go slowly (I don't need to make a capsule wardrobe in a weekend - not that this ever worked, given my natural pace) and to make the assumption that I'm not so much a special snowflake on the fitting front that I can't make a change or two to the vertical dimensions and call it a day.

If I want to be different - and I do - if I want to grow as a person and as an artist - then I need to see things through a different lens. If I can sever myself from perfectionism when it comes to the things I make - the things that are supposed to bring me joy - then I will be able to transfer that awareness to the other areas of my life.

Yesterday Gillian gave me a wonderful gift that I will not forget, one in lieu of the beautiful clothes that she made for me. She brought me closer to myself, and for that I am very, very grateful.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Just Right

Let's shake it up today, let's go light...*

Let's talk about how, when you go through a big experience or 5 (like a couple of moves, a reno, transitioning a new government or having a kid grow up and go away for a while), your body may change in any number of ways. And when it changes, chances are none of your clothes, namely bras, will fit. And if you've just moved, your stash of bras in every size may be nowhere to be found.

No joke - I have spent the last few months looking increasingly unglamorous. But I don't judge. For starters, I don't have time. Then there's the whole energy thing. I mean, I've gone to work without makeup. Multiple days in a row. My work bestie Michael loves to say to me, whenever feasible: Hey, you washed your hair! (I feel compelled to confirm that, whenever I have fancy meetings I find my best fitting garments, wear makeup and do wash my hair. But the rest of the time...)

Here's a thing that I haven't had a lot of exposure to in the past: shrinking size, NO fucking tone. I mean, in all of my past, even if I was unhappy with the dimensions of my shape, I was toned. Tone was kind of my thing. What with massive over-training (I now understand) and a tendency towards tautness, I've sometimes had a layer of fat I disliked, but it was nicely held in place by a few muscles and firm skin.

I've done approximately no yoga in 6 months. In truth, I've done relatively little to maintain fitness in the last 18 months (I mean, practically nothing by my standards), but in the past 6 months it's been a non-starter. I've also been walking less than usual because I'm always late for something - work, inspections - or in pain. (Ain't gonna get into this topic now, but be assured that pain management is a constant.) Unquestionably, if you want to maintain your health in the face of a degenerative but remitting condition, you should not be leading my current lifestyle.

Then there's the fact that I've been nauseated for 6 months. When I say I can't eat, I'm not joking. I'm actually starting to wonder if my hideous 7-months of morning sickness wasn't caused as much by pregnancy hormones as by stress hormones. I routinely have to stop myself from throwing up by any means possible. I'll go days only able to eat one food - like a toddler. Hot dogs and custard win by volume. If hot dogs are actually poison, I should be more worried than I am. Sometimes wine is the only thing that I can stomach. I know this is not optimal. Honestly, its tangy, astringent taste turns off the sick-feeling so that I can eat a few bites of food. Alas, at this point, wine has also started to turn my stomach so I can't use it as leverage. My urge to mood-alter is stronger than just about anything. Thank God for design shows and knitting.

All this is to say that I have lost some weight (on top of the weight I lost when I stopped eating the SAD). I can say from first-hand experience, when you wear clothing that's too big, it looks bad - every bit as bad as wearing clothing that's too small. But it's not uncomfortable (cuz all is delightfully loose) and it creeps up and all of a sudden one looks rather frumpy. Mind you, worse than ill-fitting clothing is an ill-fitting bra.

I am embarrassed to tell you that I have been wearing bras that are 2 sizes too big and they look horrid. Seriously - in case you think that a too-big bra isn't a big deal (I mean, it's not like your boobs don't have enough space), think again. I should post photos (which I'll never do) just to show you the ughness of it all. Middle-aged, projected breasts that are proportionately large, have a tendency to look so sad floating around roomy cups. Something I've learned: at a certain moment (esp when one has lost weight in the breasts in middle age), you need the bra that fits to produce lift.

Sure, this is a silly bit of blog fodder. I have more than enough body fat in my stomach and boobs to keep me going in a famine. No one ever died from eating little, because of stress, for an interim period of time. I'm confident that my new sewga room - the ceiling of which is my own modernist Sistine Chapel - a collaboration between height, angles, wood, spheres and pink light - will encourage me to regain some tone. And mercifully, bras exist in all the sizes. Which is why I have bought these sets, of late, in the correct dimensions (I hope). In full disclosure: I haven't even been wearing matching undies these days because I can't find the will?! but this is about to change.

All I'm saying is, peeps - wear the clothes that fit! Things that fit highlight the beauty in every silhouette. Things that are too big are as unappealing as things that are too small. They glare. They call attention from what matters - the body they sheath.

PS: I will never stop harping on this idea.

*...because I truly can't bring myself to talk about the current prevalence of violence in my city - violence that - in the last month - has impacted my own neighbourhood and those adjacent, violence that yesterday killed two girls that could have been my child or yours). We've got to make it near impossible for everyone who's neither a legit farmer/hunter nor a police officer to access guns. People who experience serious mental health issues, gangs - these are two of the cohorts that use guns to willfully shoot and kill children (and other people whose lives are just as important). Violence is going to happen but it should be much harder to achieve than it currently is.

Saturday, July 21, 2018


Perfectionism is a bitch. FWIW, I do not consider myself a perfectionist, 90 per cent of the time, but this reno is bringing up all of my big-time issues. It's is like sugar addiction - relentless in its drive to consume and to be consumed.

It's pretty safe to say that, at this point, the reno is not about the reno. It's about me. It's about how I acclimate, how I accept, how I engage (or do everything feasible to avoid engagement - because engagement is so fucking all-encompassing and it sickens me).

While I do what I can to forget about parenting, early or otherwise - I mean, right now I have 6-months of child-free living (as the kid is at Katimavik) - I'm continuously reminded of the moment my daughter was born and it's incisive.

The circumstances of Miranda's birth were traumatizing. No question, we were blessed with good-fortune in that she made her way here robustly, nervily. But, as a person who (only in retrospect) understands the sickening push-pull of stimulus, that was a mind-fuck to end all others.

I don't have many regrets - and even those I have seem unnecessary, anachronistic - but I wish that I had found a way to engage with M when she was born, not to have blamed her for the chaos that unmoored me, but to have been joyous for something I had created with love and effort. I wish I had not sent her away with Scott and my mother and the midwives. I wish I had not said: Get that thing out of here. Sure, I was legit half-dead and tortured by the idea that she might die, but I'm certainly not the only one who's found herself in these circumstances. I mean, all you need to do is watch Netflix to get that. Those mothers still embrace their babies, despite shock and pain and the unknown.

This may seem absurd, but I want to feel about my home the way I couldn't feel about my daughter: I want to accept it, despite associated imperfections and momentary, if incessant, discomfort. I want to feel confidence relating to it - willing to acknowledge its fundamental beauty, recognizing that perfectionism is an illness because it is the barricade of contentment.

I cannot change the past but it's my spirit guide to the future. It is because I didn't have the means to be "better" then that I can find a way to be different now.

When perfectionism prevents joy - when it's the greasy film between what you have made and how you perceive it - well, it's maladaptive. It's challenging for me to accept this. How does one accept anything but absolute perfection? How does one find perfection in the imperfect? It just isn't there.

My new brick wall is the salve of this home. It's chipped. It's paint-splotched. It's multi-coloured in a completely random way. When the morning sun shines against it, one sees the irreverant reflection of reality - different colours and textures and saturation. It defies flawlessness with its mass and strength. It says: If you don't love me, you can just fuck off because this is how I'm supposed to be and, if you don't get that, it's on you.

Perfection is the least perfect thing because it brings pain. Acceptance is perfect so I have to broaden my scope to find it. And I will. But man, liberty is expensive.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

The Latest

As I write this, 9 trades are working on the house:
  • The tile guy came back for the 30th time cuz he didn't finish the job on any of the other 29 occasions.
  • Three kitchen people came back to functionalize the cabinets that look great but don't work (do not even get me started on this because I'm seeing red, no pun intended).
  • There are 4 painters trying to get through the painting and finishing.
  • There's the fireplace guy, who's fixing the final glass and showing me the ropes.
Fortunately, there are movable boxes everywhere (and not set-up furniture) because they're using pretty well all of the floor space to fix and finish.

But there's much yet to be accomplished in this phase of the reno. (Note: There's all kinds of additional stuff that needs to begin in the next few weeks - things that were not contemplated as part of the original build, rather, new requirements given that parts of the house destabilized as a result of the new build. When I speak of this phase, I'm referring to the stuff that was supposed to be done before we moved in...)

Since our hardscaper didn't meet the timelines he assured us that he could (the backyard was supposed to be complete by Sunday - instead, he's weeks away from finishing another job and didn't bother to show or clarify until I managed to reach him), I look out my windows at mounds of garbage that should have been long-binned, amidst dirt and encircling wildlife (cats and raccoons abound under these circumstances). I may, in fact, have the pleasure of renting my own bin and cleaning up my own construction site f I don't source a solution somehow- note to reader: that's not my idea of time well-spent i (esp. since I paid people to do this 3 times over). Ever tried to find a hardscaper in July??

Alas, while I'd love to shut my black out blinds and just ignore it all, they're not on the windows because the blinds peeps didn't cut them optimally the first time so they had to refine them and, apparently, this takes longer than making them in the first place.

The lighting also continues to need refinement. I will say, last night some shit was seriously put into perspective when the electrician incorrectly positioned his ladder, while aiming to reach a misplaced pod, and almost killed himself. No joke. It's utterly MIRACULOUS that the worst of it is needing to refinish a part of the floor that was damaged. He managed to jump off the ladder just as it grabbed at his freakin' crotch?! and somehow it didn't crash through a piece of glass / wreck the upstairs railing / destroy walls etc. But really, who the fuck cares about a floor that can be fixed. I am so glad that guy had good reflexes - though his placement of the ladder, in a two-story section over a stairway, was utterly stupid. It's strange when near-disaster becomes good-fortune. PS: The floor held up spectacularly, all things considered. It's scuffed but there's only the tiniest dent. Oak is truly superior wood.

The evenings are the challenging time. That's when I have to look around at everything that's not adequate, though it should be. That's when I can't find any of the things still in boxes, so that I can live in my house like, well, I actually live here. That's when I see the peeps and the feral animals staring into my backyard. That's when I have to shore myself up for whatever bullshit is going to come the next day - and the dozen people who will arrive starting at 8 am (if we're lucky). It's a mind-fuck to, on the one hand, loathe the activity (because it's SO disruptive and I'm so angry about the trades being here largely to fix things they did inadequately in the first place) - but also to be so grateful for it because it's the only way the affronting problems can be resolved.

I'm so out of my comfort zone. My house is generally my best reprieve from over-stimulation - except for now, when it's the sole source of all that stimulation. Tahiti is looking pretty good right now, just sayin'.

No question, this house is not photo-worthy on any level. I know that this end-stage is a moment in time, if one that feels interminable - that it's always darkest before the dawn and all that shit - especially when you have to live amongst it while it all unfolds. Mercifully, we have internet again, after 4 days without (which is a serious issue when you work from home, as Scott does). This means I can, once again, mood alter with the only thing that vaguely undercuts the sickening anxiety - Grand Designs. Somehow, watching the more complex, expensive, visionary and miserable projects of other unsuspecting home renovators really takes the edge off. I mean, those people have it BAD. I'm also availing myself of terrific weather and patios with good cocktails.

I realize my narrative needs to change. It needs to change because I don't want to be the bitter lady who spent 4 years of her life (once all is said and done) realizing something beautiful, only to begrudge the process to the extent that joy can not be found. I used to be friendly and optimistic. Right now I'm brittle and mistrustful. A smudge ceremony is in the near future. As necessary, so will be an appointment with a therapist.

Forgive me for my angriness - I don't do things half-assed, including feeling the feelings. I promise that, as soon as I have the slightest amount of bandwidth, my goal will be to reveal the many beauties of this home - and to appreciate them with the requisite gratitude. I just need a bit of time.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

The Eyes of the Home

I should not be writing this post right now. I should be packing or shopping or cleaning or confirming something. I know this because my husband is so in my face that he could blow an eyelash off my cheek. So. much. bossiness. I get it. We're at that primal moment when war behaviour is destined to emerge. The kid's gone so he can't control her process. That leaves me.

Just for the record, I know that when you're moving next Saturday, you have to pack all the things before that day arrives. I don't need to camp for a week.

But that's not what this post is about. This post is about my choice of windows. Unquestionably, I knew what I wanted: Crittalls, from UK. They're steel framed, generally single-glazed (esp. in olde days) because they are designed for a temperate climate. I love the skinny horizontal mullions. I love the black frame, the smallish panes. They walk that tightrope of old, industrial and new. When facing a small, green space, there is nothing more beautiful IMO. They're moody but they let coziness shine through.

Crittall Windows
Photo from the Crittall website linked to above.
Alas, the only Cdn vendor that approximates this look is Pella and the cost was going to be about 54K for 2 walls of windows. Yeah. Partly that's cuz I live in Canada and everything here costs much more than elsewhere in NA and prob than most of Europe. We have few economies of scale.

Ironically, had the original builders not fucked me over, I could have bought these windows 4 times and been no worse off. But that's not how this process goes.

In the absence of the Pellas, the architect suggested something unappealingly generic so Scott and I spent a weekend redesigning the drawings and came up with what we call "a little bit Crit". We pulled this look off for 12K (but note the full window budget was 25K and we replaced all windows in the house except for those on the third floor which was renoed 5 years ago):

Small portion of the back wall of windows - only decent shot I've got, currently. 
These are vinyl outside (to last through the winter), triple-glazed and wood on the inside, painted black.
Notice the absence of casings. We inset the windows and finished with a U channel (in stark contrast to the fancily cased Victorian windows at the front of the house). We offset the vertical mullion and skinnied up the horizontals.

But until earlier this week, while I LOVED the windows, both Scott and I were vaguely dismayed because they didn't look Crittall at all:

This is the other back wall of windows on the second floor - aka Kristin's sewga room, re-envisioned.
See how un-Crittall those gorgeous windows are? By later this week they'll look like the downstairs ones inasmuch as they'll be painted black.

Here's my point: I looked and looked and looked at those windows all the freakin' time and I couldn't figure out where we went wrong. I mean, I was more than happy to get with the windows I got, but (not being a profesh designer and all) I couldn't understand why they didn't look Crittall. And then it hit me - they needed to be painted black.

I know - really self-evident. Perhaps I seem dim. But till I figured it out, it eluded me.

My other points are these:
  • You can design whatever you want. Whether you get it in the end depends on many factors outside of the scope of your control but, in theory, you're in charge.
  • You don't need to spend a zillion dollars - but you do need to be creative. Also, unless you're REALLY creative, you will need to spend to some extent. 
  • Break it down. What do you like about what you like? You really need to see what's going on in a granular way in order to recreate a look.
One other point: As I continue to go back through years of posts wherein I discussed design and what was then the impending renovation, I'm pretty amazed to find that I spoke about doing all of the things I've actually done, to some extent or another. To suggest I don't have a process is flat-out wrong. My process is dialoguing here. You don't need a mood board if that board is already in your mind.

On that note, I can no longer ignore Scott bellowing at me from the third floor. Off to roll up a mattress prematurely.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

In Which I Remind You that Renos Suck

Lest you think we're sliding into that "reno sweet spot" (what with our move back to the house happening on July 14), please be assured that there is no such thing. On today's laundry list of compelling issues that just slide off one's back (sort of), the motor on our furnace blew and it did something to the gizmo to cause all of my pipes associated with my new AC unit - and the actual AC unit - to freeze solid.

Let's look at the bright side: We're having a massive heat wave so the unit should be thawed by tomorrow morning when our HVAC guy comes to fix the situation. Moreover, our HVAC guy is one of the few trades I can respect - and he's giving us a huge discount on the fix. (He was not the cause of the issue!)

On the less bright side: the heat wave - in the absence of working AC - means my paint is drying at the pace of an actual snail.

Also, it would be good to know when my 12 new doors are going to arrive, like, optimally before I move in - not that anyone can tell me.

Oh, and the counter people (aka the Princesses from Vaughan, as I now refer to them) have advised that they can't confirm our installation date and time until Monday (the day they're supposed to arrive) because the person who looks that up on the computer is away. Also they just don't give a shit about my tiny job. It didn't go over well when I suggested that it must be rather difficult to run a professional business the size and scale of theirs without having, perhaps, 2 employees (out of 100) who understand how the computerized booking system works. Yeah, I know. Not my most strategic move but I'm ready to explode.

Then there's the fact that extreme heat may impact drying timelines for my final floor seal - which could have implications for all kinds of things that I cannot broach right now without becoming vaguely hysterical.

Also, the fix for the stove vent (you may recall 4 separate trades managed to mess this up independently with nary a second thought) is entirely sub-optimal from my vantage point. My husband spent 5 months designing the most beautiful mechanical wall you've ever seen - which is no small feat in a house that's 15 feet wide - because his hate-on for the ugliness and wasted space produced by bulkheads is rivaled only by my profound disappointment in this entire process. The only reason I didn't go full-on reno-zilla is that he swore to me that a 4-inch high valence, coming down from the ceiling,  truly wasn't going to bother him and he begged me to let it go for everyone's sanity.

By the way - this is merely a short-list of today's issues. I can't remember them all without looking at a spreadsheet. (Wait - now I remember but I just can't bring myself to write it down.)

Add PMS to this list and it leads to a fun tale about how, today - when I ran out for 5 minutes desperate to find something to eat between multiple work crises while simultaneously having a heady debate about tiles with Scott, on the phone - I had to quickly switch gears to lose my shit on some idiot who decided to cut in the line I had been standing in for far too long. I didn't even start the argument. She had the audacity to imply that I was being rude by not tolerating her breach of protocol (Canadians tolerate) and, at that point, I was done. Oh, that woman didn't know what hit her (namely a barrage of multi-syllabic in-your-faceness, the subtext of which was fuck off bitch). It was quite a spectacle. Unsurprisingly she backed down a) cuz possession is 9/10ths of the law and the cashier was already checking me out and b) when you go at someone without cause and that someone comes back at you hard, you gotta carefully consider how crazy she actually is.

When that was done, I remembered that I was still on the phone with Scott. He confirmed that I was "scary like a lawyer" and then he decided it might be more fruitful to talk about tiles tonight.

Over the past few weeks, I've heard first-, second- and third-hand tales about multiple people who can't get any traction on their renos, currently in play. Like none. They're, 6, 10, 18-months in, living in their basements, eating takeout, bathing their children in a kitchen sink. While I'm incredibly critical of the broken-ness of the building industry - and I will continue to be this way until I find a way to fix it (and I will find a way) - these stories make me understand that I do have traction - albeit builder-grade* (the worst concept ever). Sure, it's taking a veritable furnace of life-energy from two perfectionist overachievers who should probably be more mindful of their health, but I will move back into that house in less than 2 weeks - and I will have bathrooms and a kitchen - if not interior doors. Goddess-willing, I will also have initial backyard hardscaping, blinds, wood beams, a sexy barn door and a bunch of new kitchen gizmos (if no furniture, cuz really, who has money for places to sit?)

*On this topic, is it not sad that this term refers specifically to mediocre workmanship. Like, you can have good work or you can have "builder-grade". Take back the night, Builders. Find the pride in your industry because you're the only thing standing between us and the devolution of architectural value everywhere.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Let's Get This Party Started

A while ago, when I was trying to articulate "my style", I wrote a bit about my design objectives and process (which some of my friends refer to as my scary-ass "non-process"). I find it interesting to reflect on these posts because I continue to feel all of those feelings - and to work in this haphazard way - but I also have a much more integrated understanding of my style and approach now, having been put on the hook for (aka given the opportunity to) design at every turn.

So let's have a moment with a Kristin-reno photo that isn't only posted on instagram. And remember, if you want to see house photos, you really should check out that insta link:

Kristin's and Scott's New Kitchen - unfinished but getting there!
I find this space profoundly pleasing. Even incomplete, I see how it's going to look (not generally one of my strong suits, fyi). The countertops are going to be pure white quartz, which goes up the wall a few inches as backsplash (not the cheapest finish I've chosen, admittedly) and my fancy-ass Bertazzoni dual fuel stove* will be on the other side, with a thin sheet-metal backsplash. It's the tiniest bit industrial, but mainly warm and sleek. I live in a horrible climate in a city that is architecturally rather suspect. My interior needs to scream hygge.

I feel I'm at a point that I can articulate what I'm going for and, of course, I'm not one to hold back! I want this house to be sexy. I want it to be the sexiest fucking little space that ever was. I want people to leave my dinner parties utterly hot for one another because my interior is messing with their minds.

No question, there's a way in which this space is the kitchen-equivalent of the midlife crisis sports car. But it's much more than that. It's shiny (reflective), briefly colourful (cheerful), uncluttered (zen), wood-forward (warm). The proportions are beautiful.

On the topic of kitchen renos - this one was rather affordable (in the scheme of unaffordability). I went with cabinets that are obvs customized and of good quality, but mid-range in cost. I'm not replacing my fridge or dishwasher. They both work, I feel they can meld with the eclectic scheme so I'm not changing them until they fall apart. Sure, this place might be sexier if you didn't see the fridge, but that would be opulent. Moreover, lest we never forget, I've paid for this (not cheap) reno twice. I've got to pick my poison.

Yesterday I showed a similar photo of the kitchen to a friend at work. Before she could catch herself, she gasped and said: That red comes off when the kitchen is finished, right? It's not actually supposed to be that colour?! And I laughed with glee! I was entirely unfussed by her admission of horror. Have at it, I say! You don't like this, no problem. Chances are I don't love your kitchen design (except inasmuch as it's an expression of where you live and what you like). It's no one's job to appreciate my kitchen but mine. And Scott, natch. PS: He is SO on board at this point, all pre-installation anxiety is rapidly diminishing.

What I loved about my encounter with my friend is that it was unscripted. And this space got a huge reaction. Sure, I'd have liked it more for her to say it was the best thing she's ever seen, but I am just so happy she had a reaction - that I created something worthy of response.

For me, interior design is art. Beautiful construction is art. Efficient placement is art. But my style of art may not be yours and that's alright!

What I've come to understand about my home is that it really is a little mansion! It's proportions are unbeatable, to my eye. It has individual rooms, all of which have individual purpose, and yet they cohere. It's old, it's modern. It's a little bit rustic, a little bit sleek. As I like to say, it punches above its weight. If it makes you think, even for a second, about what you like and what you don't - about what suits you - then I have been successful. Wait - I have been successful. At this point, it's just a matter of degrees.

*Before you predict that I went stupidly high-style (which one does when buying a fancy-ass stove), I got this baby on sale for half price (the model is now discontinued). It's also the small version, a) because I don't have more than 30" of width to spare and b) because I really don't need six burners and 2 ovens in my household of 3 / soon to be 2.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

And Now For A Terrific Story (That, Admittedly, Gets Off to a Slow Start)...

Three months ago my husband went to the doctor and found out his cholesterol was through the roof. In fact, they couldn't even tell him how bad it was because his triglyceride levels were too high to determine LDL levels. (Note: He's one of those stereotypical men who won't go to the doctor more than once in a decade, and then only after being nagged for 5 years by a woman.) But - here's the stupid thing - he'd actually gone for the same tests a year earlier and no one called him back with "bad results" (which is the don't call us, we'll call you policy. Except when they mess it up. Which they did because his doctor died shortly after he came in for the tests more than a year ago and then Scott's file was misplaced.)

Now, one might not worry overly, if one wasn't in one's mid-fifties with a family history of heart disease. Every man on both sides of Scott's family has died of some sort of circulatory heart disorder. Scott's father has had triple bypass surgery. His mother has a pace-maker. Both of his parents have been on mega doses of statins since first they became available on the market. Scott's father actually takes the kind of statin that stops your body from producing cholesterol AND the kind that stops your body from absorbing it. And his cholesterol is still high. 

Y'all also know about my feelings about statins. I am really down on them. Everything I've read points to evidence that a) you need cholesterol to keep your brain working throughout the span of your life b) you need it to keep sex organs happy and c) you can have high cholesterol (even VERY high cholesterol) and it needn't impact artery hardening or width, though it can, of course, in a subset of patients. I predict that statins will eventually be known as the drug scam of the early 21st century. Only time will tell if I'm right or wrong.

Of course, I'm not unrealistic. I know that my husband's medical treatment is not my call. I also know that when you've got family members dying at the Xmas table from heart attacks (no joke), you don't take a light approach - unless, perhaps, you happen to be the kind of person who doesn't bother to go to the doc despite your family history.

However, statins weren't on the table after Scott's initial visit because they couldn't determine his LDL levels. The doctor read him the riot act and told him to get 150 minutes of exercise per week, cut down on booze, cut down on sugar, cut down on saturated fat and come back for another test in 3 months. He also said: Then we'll put you on statins. The guy was something out of the Canada Food Guide.

At first Scott was pissed. I mean, our lives have been unpleasant enough over the last 18-months. To cut out everything fun and find time to exercise was not a welcome prescription. But he realized that we haven't been going through drama and hell to make our lives luxe and sexy, only for him to die prematurely from complications of high cholesterol.

In true Scott style, he just decided to give it his all. He went from arguing with the doc about not having time to exercise (and he really doesn't right now) to somehow getting an average of 250 minutes of really vigorous exercise per week. On my watch, but driven by his own goals, he gave up all grains (except for half an english muffin in the am), sugar (english muff doesn't get jam and coffee is cream-only!), most starchy carbs, all but 1 G&T a week and all processed foods. He opted to increase his vegetable consumption by 1000 per cent and I am not on that bandwagon with him. (Note to reader: The only thing I can eat right now without feeling like I'm going to throw up is hot dogs, no joke. So I'm no role model.) I also bamboozled him into taking fish oil and a probiotic.

That's all he did. He's still massively sleep-deprived. He's more stressed than he's ever been in his life. He's currently a workaholic by necessity. He's continued to eat 20 oz of steak at a sitting and all the meat, daily, with skin and fat on it.

Yesterday he went back to the doc to find out the results of another blood test he did last week. The doc was blown away - like stunned. Effectively, Scott has managed to eradicate generations of family predisposition in 90 days without taking a drug - unless you consider supplements and food to be drugs. His every level is now in the range of normal. Seriously, the guy went from being borderline diabetic (and he didn't even know it) to being cholesterol-normal in 3 freakin' months - which would be impressive for anyone, much less someone with family history who's working 14 hour days, sleeping 4 hours a night and doing the work of 5 people. Oh, and he lost 10 pounds (and he wasn't overweight to begin with).

In the words of my mother: Just goes to show you can eat a marbled cow weekly and still bring your cholesterol levels down - if you're willing to give up sugar.

Other note to reader: My mother's had the best diet in the world forever and she still can't bring down her cholesterol by eschewing sugar, so I'm not suggesting that Scott's results represent everyone's potentiality.

I'm writing to tell any of you who are on the fence - and no one was more on the fence than my husband: Before you go on statins or medication for type 2 diabetes or the myriad other drugs with potentially deleterious side-effects you'll prob have to manage on the flip side - give up sugar and grains for 3-6 months. Scott didn't even give it up entirely. I mean, he still eats fruit and drinks alcohol and he has that freakin' half english muffin every freakin' day. Of course, follow the advice of your doctor - though know enough know to when your doctor isn't giving you good advice - but, just for kicks, take the sugar and processed foods out of your diet and see what happens.

It could make every difference in the world or none at all. But you won't have the vaguest idea unless you try.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Watch This

Perhaps it won't surprise you to learn that I've gone through a spate of home-show binging and I've got a type. For my money, the show's gotta be:
  • Architecturally-motivated, which is to say the presenter is an architect/engineer or there's one on stand by in each episode.
  • Either entirely focused on the finished product (which is generally rather architecturally dramatic) or the in-depth renovation / restoration process. Anything flip-oriented, cheap-and-cheerful or DIY is of no interest. If the presenter's claim to fame is painting shit and making papier-mâché gizmos that hide crappy work, I run screaming.
  • Preferably English because North American home-show presenters are the bottom of the barrel, IMO, and yes I am casting aspersions on the majority offerings of HGTV.
In case you're looking for a few options that go really well with knitting and wine, may I suggest:
  • This Old House (the restoration standard and the American in the bunch)
  • The World's Most Extraordinary Homes (absurd eye candy!)
  • Grand Designs (this one will give you heart palpitations from the stress, in a good way)
  • I Own Britain's Best Home (this is really old but it only just made its way to my Netflix, note: it's the iffiest of the bunch but there's an Australian version too!)
  • Amazing Spaces (I have an unnatural affinity for George Clarke and his sidekick, who really is the brains of the team)
I actually learned about Grand Designs from my parents, cuz it's avail on US Netflix but not in Canada. Mind you, CBC runs the full 14 seasons for free, just sign up. When I was visiting for my mother's birthday, in the spring, they bamboozled me into watching it with promises of wine and popcorn. I was not excited by the prospect but, man, they hooked me by showing me the perfect first episode called North London (Season 11, episode 2), about a couple (the woman is an actor, the guy ran his own business till he sold it to pay for the freakin' reno gone rogue) who undertake the most INSANE of projects ever. BTW, I don't like the end result but the story arc is amazing. They have to negotiate 17 party-wall agreements before beginning the project and just the land - which has no street front - cost about a million bucks CDN. There's also another episode in this season where 2 London guys move to the country and make the most beautiful home (60,000 pound window - and by that I mean pounds sterling, not the imperial version of weight) while simultaneously developing a working farm and creating a craft brew business (Newbury, Season 11, episode 9). It's mind-blowing what people can accomplish.

It took us 2 hours to get through the North London episode because I literally forced my parents (with the power of my shrillness) to stop it every 2 minutes so that I could yell at the television set. I mean, we got through at least a bottle of wine between the three us during that time frame. Most of the time my ranting was a riff on: OMG, I had that happen! That boulder thing - check. That zoning issue - check. That moronic engineering error - check. That foundation disaster - check.  That thing with the builders, oy vey - check. The main distinctions between my experience and theirs is that they were living seriously low-brow during the years of construction (one room, two babies) and their project was triple the size and scope of ours. I sense I've experienced the microcosmic version of this process, but I aim not to come out of it in a similar fashion. (As I understand it from internet stalking, they have since divorced and sold the house.)

All of the shows I've suggested have one thing in common: each of the renovators/restorers, at some point, in some way (large or small) articulates that (s)he is utterly compelled by the project. Each guest acknowledges that this presupposes some sort of insanity because, to a one, s(he) is all too aware of folly that simply cannot be repressed. Each is there on the basis of one thing over all else: sacrifice and the compulsion to restore a part of history, or to assert vision that can't slumber in the margins of one's mind. As you can imagine, Scott isn't much enjoying the reno either, but he tells me frequently about how relevant he feels.

When I watch a good home show I see imagination transformed into action. It's so joyful to watch people express themselves through their quirky decisions, even when I hate those decisions. I don't frequently relate to the creative choices of others but, no question, Scott and I are in the same crazy club. We're people who don't have the good sense to enjoy the weekends (or weeks or mornings or evenings or vacations or anything really) because we're chasing, dare I say realizing, the dream. People who renovate have one thing in common and it's not spendiness or fortitutde or talent or unified vision. It's confidence. It's the arrogance of believing that we're more than the forces with which we must conflict continuously. These shows pull you along for that amazing journey. Do tell me what you think of them!

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Not Over Till It's Over

Writing here for the first time in practically 8 months, it's a bit like starting from scratch. And honestly, I can't write in the old voice, because I'm not that person anymore. I'm a "revised" human being, cobbled together like a child's plasticene model of a functional lady. To be clear: I'm very angry. I'm whatever comes after exhausted. I'm disappointed in humanity. I'm still carrying my metaphoric boulder up my metaphoric hill only it feels real, the constant weight of moving. It's been so un-fun for so long that I can barely remember unfettered enjoyment. There's always a caveat - the goddamn project and its endless goddamn problems. (Pls. note - I hate the project with the power of a million suns but I do not hate the house or the husband. In fact, I love them both more than ever.)

Don't feel bad for me. My emerging self is amazingly functional, if mostly miserable. Things that would have thrown me into a state of utter chaos, 18-months ago - now they merely gut-punch in a momentary way. In fact, it appears I've been waiting all of my life to apply my anxiety to something truly deserving, I just didn't know it. :-)

In November, after months of being dicked around, I had no crew, no plan forward. My house was a disaster-zone. At my lowest ebb, I didn't so much speak, as squeak, shrill with disbelief. I could not imagine how things could have come to this (I did SO much fucking research) or that things could ever get better. I actually lost all imagination because it seemed like a liability. I couldn't sleep. I couldn't eat. For the most part, I still can't. (Don't worry, I have adequate caloric intake from alcohol alone. And on the topic of honesty, you cannot go through this kind of experience without a spate of functional alcoholism.) Somehow I get my ass out of bed every morning and perform my full-spectrum modern-woman function. Somehow we've cobbled together the wherewithal, albeit in a state of shock, to get from there to here. But it's so not over.

(Subject of another post: The brick veneer on the front of the house exterior, always ugly, has decided to help us by falling off under the weight of carelessness and heavy construction. So, this job ain't done by a long shot. Next up - trashing the front porch and garden to rip off the front of the house and repoint the original brick. Also we'll need to hazmat-demolish the front/original part of the basement which, after my pipes burst this winter, is a den of mold. But, as row-house dwellers, we have to finish the hardscaping in the back yard before doing this because we need a way to leave and enter the house.)

This is the part of the story where I dwell on my husband, a mere mortal-turned-super hero whose cover is blown. He works 14 hour days, every day, running a business (where he treats everyone with respect) and GC-ing our renovation (where he also treats everyone with respect, though rarely is that sentiment returned in action). Obviously, I think he's a really cool person or I wouldn't have married him but I could not have predicted his level of competence in the face of near-disaster. I am blown-away by his efficacy and his endurance. He has spreadsheets of hundreds of columns - project plans and financial tables - which he monitors daily. He's on the phone with one trade at 7am and another at 11pm. He's constantly resolving serious issues that no one else can come up with a solution to address (even though those issues shouldn't have occurred in the first place). Eventually, I do intend to post a room-by-room inventory of changes to the house, for posterity. When you see how much we've altered, I imagine you'll think 2 things: Lord, how did he keep it all together and Lord, how much is all that shit costing. The answer to both of these things is, I have no fucking idea.

OK, I have no idea about the keeping it together. The money part I know. One simply shouldn't dwell overly. I mean, unless we start to earn more money, and I like to think this is feasible - or come into a sizeable inheritance - I'm not retiring early. But I am so incredibly fortunate. Many others would have lost everything under these circumstances. I've been given the opportunity - the choice - to spend money in this way. There's no more fairness to this than my hideous luck on the construction-front. When you spin the wheel, you get what you get. At some moment everyone has to decide whether to throw in the towel, or to double-down with investment on every level, and the essence of commitment is commitment. We are putting ourselves into this home, viscerally, dozens of times a day. We are this place - as much as everyone who has preceded us over 5 generations. And I consider those people in every choice I make.

The original owner was a municipal public servant in the early days of Toronto. The house was practically suburban in those years. He had 3 children, the youngest of whom died days before Christmas, at the age of 2 (and very probably in my home, though there's no sense of it that hovers). Shortly thereafter the family moved out and rented the property for many years. The husband died before they opted to retake possession. His wife sold it to the next people and she moved to Kensington Market after re-marrying...

Then there was the woman who owned it in the 1900s, for longer than any other owners to date - though we're fast catching up. It had originally belonged to her husband but he died young so she lived there with her daughters, who were rather modern ladies, all working downtown. This woman lived to her 80s and eventually the property was sold. The sisters moved to a house a few doors north.

The peeps who lived there before the couple from whom we bought the place were "the crazy old ones". They painted everything pink. Something tells me they were hoarders. We still hear stories from long-time residents (including our attached neighbours) about how the frail, elderly lady once ran down the block - wielding an axe - to get rid of a door canvasser. To her credit, apparently she warned the guy first. They were ancient yet climbed out the attic windows regularly to clean them - not that anything else was clean. They tarped the entire backyard, we understand, because they didn't like light.

Those from whom we purchased, entrusted the house to us though there was a bidding war and we were not the highest bidders. Partly, that's because we riskily agreed to take immediate possession, despite our ownership of another property, and they'd both managed to score tenure at UCLA in their respective professorial fields starting immediately. Partly - I like to believe - it's because we sent them a message assuring them that we would care for the home and become its stewards, explaining that we'd offered as much money as we possibly could. They left us the curtains in the front room, the ones made by his mother, from fabric she'd snuck out of Germany as she fled the death camps during WWII.

This home was shaped by those lives. It's shaped by ours. Now, when I nighttime property-stalk (I'm discreet but if you leave your blinds open I'm gonna look!), I can't peek at those properties in the same way. Before, I wanted all of the sexy Victorian homes. Now I cannot imagine living somewhere other than my home because I have no investment elsewhere. I'm not in those floors and walls and windows. I wasn't the source of their vision.

Every 5 minutes I tell someone I am never doing this again. (When Scott is with me, he says scary shit like: You'll forget about the misery and I really want to put in a coach house studio someday, or (worse still): You know there's realistically another year of renovation remaining once we actually move back in. Mind you, I can't say I regret it. In every moment I'm reminded of my firey desire, my fortitude. And honestly, I fucking love how it is coming together. I'm the only one I need to satisfy and I am largely very satisfied. This has contextualized my irrepressible confidence and reminded me of its value.

If you want to do a major reno and have fun, there's only one solution IMO (and I stand by this, though many of you may counter): Be fucking rich. Way richer than I am. Way richer than you are (unless you happen to be super wealthy, in which case you have my congratulations). You need to be able to rent a house and not worry about how much it costs when your project triples in time span. You need to be able to comfortably afford to pay for your reno twice in the event that you get fucked over by people. You need money to afford the team of people who will help you to litigate against the people who may fuck you over. You need to be able to take time off work without pay (or maybe just not bother with a job cuz you don't need one). You need to have the money to fly away on a trip when everything becomes soul-crushing, and it will, even if you're a zillionaire. You need not to worry about how every cost overrun may impact your ability to fund your kid's out of province university experience (even as your mind is blown and you are insanely grateful that your kid got into the best university in Canada).

If money is no object, you'll get from here to there pretty unscathed, I hazard to guess. Otherwise, hope to heaven that your health holds up and you come to love your partner more than you did in the first place. Hope that you have the visceral memory of a mouse. Hope that you love what you create to such an extent that the punishing journey of its achievement is an eventual afterthought. Hope that you become more, because of pain, than you would have been otherwise. And take the long view. Cuz really, there's no alternative.