Thursday, July 31, 2014

Food Thing I Love

Chapel Hill Toffee
No one is paying me (or giving me free chocolate) to say this, but I freakin love Chapel Hill Toffee. I buy it from Whole Foods when I'm in NC and, this time, when M went to see my parents she bought a couple of boxes back for me. (Thanks Mum!)

I just learned that the company delivers to Canada. (Here's hoping the shipping charges aren't crazy.)

This candy is compellingly delicious - a deceptively light but rich layer of pecan English toffee covered in dark chocolate and dusted with ground pecans. It's sweet but balanced, neither English nor American (and more exciting for the lack of identity). The texture is part crunch, part sticky. The mouth feel is awesome. It's fine - but it's not expensive or fancy.

I'm eating, ahem, a few squares, enhanced by a great Tempranillo.

It's a good thing I can't find this stuff in TO or I'd be stock piling it.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Yoga Adultery

A long, long time ago - like in the early 90s (?!) - the Ashtanga method of yoga came to town. Formerly, it had only been available in happening centres like NYC, London and Santa Barbara. But it did arrive in TO in fairly short order, this is that kind of city, and I remember the moment when first I heard about it.

I was a strict Iyengar practitioner at that time, a teacher. To go to another studio - to learn another method was like fucking around. A similarly renegade yoga friend conspired with me to attend one of the first classes at the studio on Spadina Ave., in the fashion district. Back then, it really was a fashion district (in the manufacturing sense of the term) and the studio was in this hideous, hole in the wall factory space up a creaky flight of stairs and down a long hallway. I was totally midtown back then so you can only imagine my horror. I spent the meditation intro looking for bugs.

It wasn't too long, however, before things got into full swing and I had no chance to think about anything other than my body in motion. I was mesmerized by a practice, the likes of which I'd never done before. It was a scandalous sort of yoga, to my mind, as theretofore, I'd  been indoctrinated in a method that espouses structural (re)alignment, and long-holdings over everything. It was so fast, so free, so relentless (in a different way than Iyengar), so grungy. When I finished that class - and there were maybe 5 of us in the room - I was lighter than air. And nauseated. I had never sweated so much.

Don't misunderstand, it in no way compromised my love of (and belief in) my first method - if anything it entrenched it more deeply. But I was young and monogamy was hard to do. I secretly began to take a weekly Ashtanga class.

Over time, when the method became popular, my (non-teacher) friends would ask to join me. Sure, said I, I love a yoga companion. Inevitably they would lose it half way through the class (and I should clarify that these were very traditional ashtanga classes, not the hybrid kind that one sees everywhere these days). These women were fit, but they were not yogis. I saw near-injury more times than I care to remember.

Around the same time, someone in the yoga community told me about this crazy video that had been released by Crunch studio - a yoga video! I read a review in Yoga Journal. I was intrigued. I secretly bought a copy of it for my VCR. It cost a fortune as it was imported from America. I watched the video. I tried the class, with guilt - I mean, it was a fitness video pretending to teach yoga. I was pretty uptight back then.

Here's the thing. I didn't hate it at all. I was all ready to judge it, but it was a fascinating little class. Please note: It was in no way yoga! Sure, it was called "The Perfect Yoga Workout" but it was more of an homage to yoga through a fitness lens than anything strictly yogic. There was much talk of breathing, and very little instruction about it. The poses were rarely named, much less in Sanskrit.

As I watched the video, it came to me. This was the perfect segue from gym-yoga to ashtanga. (Y'all know it's always the gym-goers who want to take up the yoga known for burning the most calories.) It was perfect, not because it inculturated anyone to any kind of yoga, but because it moved through many of the required poses and even introduced vinyasa sequences of sorts (though not the Ashtanga ones). It did this quite intuitively. The instruction was clear (if light on yogic specificity). It was safe, unlike your average ashtanga class for your average class-doers. That was unusual back then (and maybe it is now too?). It was also challenging, if not really challenging.

The most egregious thing about this video was the way the (very sweet and adorable) teacher pronounced the word "forward". In any given yoga class, that word is used 100 times, and every time this woman said it incorrectly (foe-word), I got a little bit more hostile.

From then on, when a friend asked to come along with me to Ashtanga, I'd lend her the video and suggest to her that she do it twice in a row (that's about 75 minutes or 15 minutes shorter than an average level 1 studio class). If she felt entirely comfortable with all of the actions and the pace (which is on the moderate side, IMO), if she didn't sense that she had struggled with the flexibility/strength ratio, then it struck me she'd be ready for the physical aspects of an ashtanga class in principle. In truth, you need much more strength and flexibility in an actual class, in my experience, than you'd ever need to do that video. But it was a better indicator than, say, a gym yoga session or, worse, a step class.

You may be wondering why the hell I'm telling you this.

Well, I've been looking on the interwebs for crazy fitness videos to (theoretically) do at home and, quite accidentally, I came upon The Perfect Yoga Workout on You Tube. Like for free. The world has change so much, Fitness Seekers! It had been years since I'd thought about Sara Ivanhoe, the instructor, but I was instantly compelled to try it again.

And, you know what? It hasn't aged badly! Of course, the word "forward" is as problematic as ever it's been, but maybe that won't upset you.

If you're wondering whether you should try a studio Ashtanga class, or how (if your fitness life is on a non-yoga track / you're of a certain age) you could incorporate a bit of vinyasa at home, try this twice in a row and see how you feel:

And of course, please tell us!

Monday, July 28, 2014

A Blog By Any Other Name...

A few of you have commented, or emailed, to let me know that you actually enjoy hearing about my fitness exploits. I find that amazing (though, of course, I try to write engagingly about all the topics - even those about the drab things) because, on my blog travels, I tend to tune out those sorts of posts immediately.

I do not read fitness blogs. When I considered starting my own blog, 6 and a half years ago, I weighed my subject options carefully - yoga or fashion. I went with fashion because, despite my love of yoga (and my great respect for it), it doesn't strike me as the liveliest subject for a blog. I don't regret my choice. Of course, over the last 6.5 years I've realized that I can just write about whatever the fuck I want and call it "lifestyle". Can't tell you how much I appreciate that.

The last decade has seen me through numerous personal shifts (what decade hasn't, really), which is why my fashion blog became a sewing and knitting blog and sometimes it's a travel blog and other times about interior design and food. Things that are relevant get written about. And I suppose, the New Regime is relevant inasmuch as I seem to be committed to it, if only out of vanity.

So, I suspect I will occasionally turn my attention to the topic of my gym experience, not to bore you with the specifics of how I've done some unpleasant exercise, but to accurately contextualize my life.

On the flip side, you may note a lack of posting about sewing lately. That's because I haven't done any. Vacation was followed by the need for an extra rest. When the weather is good, I'm gardening and sitting in the shade. After last winter, I'm not fucking around: Make hay while the sun shines, people. Happily, I can knit while sitting in the shade, which is why you continue to hear about that. I realize that I made a whole summer plan, and I'm the kind of person who sticks to the plan, but I'm just not motivated right now. Especially since I seem to be spending quite a bit of my spare time jumping up and down. Y'all know, there's only so much time, which is why I resisted the jumping up and down in the first place.

The good news is that I'm on target with the knitting and, natch, I still intend to sew all of the stuff in the plan. But maybe I'm going to have to rename this capsule "Summer and Fall Crafting".

So, today's questions: Is your sewing derailed by good weather? Do you find that your fitness regime cuts into your time for more creative endeavours? How do you manage that? Do you care?

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Die Cut Vest: Gauge and Yarn Deets

So, I was able to achieve an appropriate gauge to continue with the Die Cut Vest.

As discussed, what I required, in order to predict a finished width of 41" (after removing a couple of extra inches from the centre back) and a length of 18.5" was gauge of 6.75 stitches and 9.75 rows in one inch. As life isn't perfect, I got 7 stitches and 9.5-9.75 rows in an inch. That'll get me a finished length of 18 inches, which I can live with, and a width of 41" once I remove 2-2.5 inches from the centre back seam.

To clarify, the pattern suggests a 3mm needle. I'm working on a 2.5mm and, while the fabric is dense, I prefer it to the looser fabric I achieved on the 2.75mm needle. As it happens, once I started reading the Ravelry reviews in detail, I discovered that everyone has trouble getting gauge on the 3mm needle. Seriously. And most resort to a 2.5mm to get gauge. So the only explanation I can imagine for lots of oversized versions is the 9 inches of positive ease that the pattern doesn't clarify. I suspect everyone has made a size (or two) too large.

As you know, I'm a loose knitter so I'm not aiming to get gauge. It wouldn't be possible without the fabric turning into cardboard. A few of you suggested that I modify stitch numbers to achieve the finished garment size I'd like. There are 2 reasons that isn't a viable option for me at this time:
  • I'm just not interested in doing anymore math than I already have to make a shapeless vest, but more to the point...
  • The lacework panels are worked over 12 stitch repeats (remember, they're worked vertically, along the length). In order to change my stitch counts I'd need to drop 12 stitches (way too much length) or to totally reconstruct the lace pattern (outside of my current skill set).
But happily, I can still manage the dimensions with my best-choice needle size, so all is well.

Well, all is well except that I find myself knitting lacework for the second freakin' time this year (not to be confused with lace-weight - which is the annoying distinction of the Karner Wrap)?!?

Peeps, I don't appear to be liking it any better than I did last time. Lord, what a fussiness. The reason I'm putting up with it is that I only have 70 rows of lace work on each panel (140 rows total, each row having 125 stitches). It's not endless and it culminates, on each side, in a sea of stockinette. So you go from feast to famine, or hard to boring - not always a bad thing in a knitting project. And, at least, there are no sleeves!

But really, my goal in this post is to tell you about my yarn choice.

You know that I love Quince and Co. and that it's my go-to stash brand in fingering and sport-weight yarn. You also know that I have frequently expressed my hatred of linen. But what's a girl to do when a) linen is all the rage and b) a cute and interesting garment is constructed for a linen yarn?

She buys the Quince and Co. linen (aka Sparrow):

Quince and Co. Sparrow (linen in fingering-weight)
I know, I swore I'd never buy linen of any sort. I even had a chance to feel this linen (and to dislike it) on a few occasions before I bought 5 skeins for the Die Cut Vest. Thing is, the vest is meant for linen. Sure, I may not like the finished product. I'm all prepared to give this one away. But you can't use wool to make something designed for linen.

On the plus side, one doesn't overheat when knitting this in July. (In full disclosure, this July is shit-cold.)

Thoughts about Sparrow so far:
  • I went with the Pigeon colourway. It's GORGEOUS. Too bad they named it after the world's most pedestrian bird.
  • The yarn has beautiful sheen but it still feels like kitchen string.
  • It's splitty, but for some reason its splittiness isn't problematic.
  • It knits slowly. There's a kind of effort in knitting with linen.
  • It does become much softer with washing - and you can wash the crap out of it. This stuff is strong, if not delicate.
I've only got 10 rows into the first lacework panel and I feel I'm almost finished with the first skein. Yeah, I did knit 2 swatches that I can repurpose, but I hope these skeins feel smaller than they are or I'm definitely going to need more yarn. And, on the topic of turning Sparrow hanks into skeins: Egad. I wound the first hank by hand (with Scott) and it disintegrated 5 times before I found a groove. I don't know how this would wind on my ball winder but I'm kind of scared to try.

Today's questions: Have you wound Sparrow on a ball winder? How did it go? Have you used the Pigeon colour? What do you think of it? How do you feel about linen - and by all means, be honest. I mean, I hate the stuff! Let's talk!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Fit or Die

I appear to be incapable of knitting anything - even an unfitted, rectangular vest - without doing the math. And thank the knitting goddess, really. Cuz if I hadn't done a gauge swatch and an hour of recon, the Die Cut Vest would be unwearable, I'm pretty sure.

Quick detour: No, I haven't finished the Karner Wrap, the world's most boring and endless project. It seems I'll need to make this my project to knit when I'm working on other projects that I actually enjoy less. On the plus side, it's really gorgeous and I can see how it's going to be very useful. And chic. I don't think it much matters if it takes me another couple of months to finish the second half.

But back to the Die Cut Vest...
Die Cut Vest by Sara Morris
The most difficult thing about this vest is getting your head around the construction. It's knit along the vertical plane from centre front lace panel to centre front lace panel. (Well, there's a seam down the middle of the back, if you choose to follow the instructions, so technically you knit 2 halves and then join.) My point is that your vertical gauge affects your horizontal plane (width) and your horizontal gauge affects your vertical plane (length). It's a bit of a mind fuck.

What further adds to the challenge - if you don't get gauge - is that the pattern is written with a combo of length by row count and length by inches (remember, affecting width) instructions - so you can't just sub your own gauge into the equation, change the number of rows you work, and assume it's all going to be ok.

When you look at this vest, you might think - as I really, really wanted to: There's no shaping to speak of. It's perfect for winging it! 
Do not be fooled.

Reason Why You Shouldn't Wing It No. 1: Thing is, my gauge is VERY off. And from the looks of many versions I've seen, so is everyone else's. The pattern dictates 7.5 stitches and 10.25 rows per inch on a 3mm needle. Recognizing that I knit loosely, I swatched on a 2.75 mm needle and my gauge was still only 6 st and 9 rows, after blocking. That's crazy off - on a smaller needle.

In real terms, what this means is that my vest dimensions would be 6 inches wider and 4 inches longer than the pattern's had I just started knitting with my "predicted" smaller needle size. If I'd gone with the original (3 mm) needle, I can't imagine how bad the end product would have been?!

I should say that the fabric is very dense, even having only gone down one needle size. I'm loath to go down another, but it's really my best recourse. Cuz even if I go down another size, I can only hope that I'll nudge my (very off) gauge to 6.75 stitches and 9.75 rows per inch. Happily, that would allow me to achieve the exact length I want - 18.5 inches (2.5 inches longer than the pattern specifies). In terms of vertical gauge (determining width), I'd be able to cut 3 of those extra 6 inches of width. I'd deal with the remaining 3 inches by removing width from the centre back of the vest. In this case, that's as easy as cutting about 15 rows from each side of that centre seam. Gotta love less work!

Reason Why You Shouldn't Wing It No. 2: Here's the thing. I intend to make the size 32. The pattern specifies that this size refers to a full bust circumference of 32 inches. (Side Bar: As you know, I'm ok with lots of negative wearing ease, even when the garment is supposed to have none.) The ridiculous thing about this vest, however - and please review the totally confusing pattern schematic to confirm this for yourself - is that the size 32 actually knits up to a bust circumference of 41". The designer has added 9 inches of ease into the pattern and doesn't mention it anywhere??? If you want to know, you've got to dig around the schematic or read the instructions and devise a schematic of your own. I did devise my own schematic based on instructions because the one provided is really inadequate.

It's no wonder that most every Raveler's finished version (except for the one modeled in the relevant issue of Knit.Wear) looks like a sloppy, oversized mess. Even if you get gauge this thing is likely bigger than you'd want it to be. Add to that the predisposition of the average knitter to a) avoid swatching on unfitted items and b) consider only horizontal gauge when they do swatch and it's no surprise.

Stupidly, sometimes your unfitted garments require more fitting than the fitted ones.

Next up: I swatch for the second time, on the 2.5mm needle, hopefully to get gauge that will permit me to make this garment. Remember, I don't need even need to get pattern gauge. I just have to manage to gain .75 of a stitch per inch and .75 of a row per inch. This should be interesting... Oh, and wait till I tell you about the yarn I've chosen.

In the meanwhile, thoughts or feelings?

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Stash Enhancement

In truth, July has been a wash up on the crafting front. But what I've neglected in sewing, I've made up for in buying! I have a couple of gorgeous new fabrics to show:

Liberty of London Dufour Viscose Jersey
Liberty of London Tana Lawn Summer D
For starters, let me tell you that I've never bought a Liberty fabric before. We do have reasonable access to the Tana Lawn in TO, but the jersey I have never come across before. In truth, I didn't even know that Liberty made jersey (though I'm sure that admission makes me seem very provincial).

I purchased both of these at Ewe Knit. (BTW, you can purchase fabrics and yarns online if you're not in the close surroundings.) I do sense that Ewe may be better off changing its name to something like Ewe Knit and Sew because, about 6 months ago, Claudia started stocking a variety of quilting fabrics. More recently she began stocking the Liberty Tana Lawn and, just this week, she got her first shipment of Liberty jerseys. I wonder, however, how many people realize that sweet fabrics are to be found in this well known yarn store.

I'm not going to suggest that Liberty is cheap-and-cheerful anywhere, but it's competitively priced here and I love that I can take a 15 minute walk and come home with all kinds of fabric including stretch fabric, the type I prefer, sewing and knitting notions and zillions of awesome yarn options. So often, one experiences the sad closure of a store that has met all the needs (Caban, anyone?). But it's terrific that Ewe has joined the 'hood because I love the stuff they stock.

A bit on the fabrics:
  • The deliciously soft, woven (tana lawn) is an awesome, moody landscape that reminds me of a rural winter. I have no idea of what I'll do with the 2 yards I purchased, but it affected me the way no pretty floral ever could. Of course, I was recently reminded that it's a directional fabric, just to make it trickier to work with! But I know I will use it well, at some point in the future.
  • The viscose jersey is a riot of Catalan colour, but it's busy in a way that's so intense that said fabric pattern actually recedes into neutral. Gillian has been doing some great video fabric reviews lately wherein she debates the stretch properties (and other features) of her newest fabrics, which has put me in mind of describing this one to you. The Liberty jersey is not spongy but it has an excellent weight. It's got about 50 per cent stretch in the width and 25 per cent in the length. The recovery is excellent as is the drape. I mean, it should be. This stuff is 40 bucks a yard. It's a perfect weight for a knit dress. It's got enough heft and drape to skim beautifully without being so heavy that it drags. Of course, the fabric is vibrantly dyed, per its pedigree. FYI, it's quite wide (56 inches).
So, today's questions: Do you like Liberty fabric? Have you used it? Did you know that Liberty makes stretch fabric? What do you think of my choices?

Gym 1.0 (And I Promise Not to Write About This Again Anytime Soon...)

My goal today (she writes optimistically) is to post twice - as I have 2, entirely different things to talk about. If you care about the New Regime (Kristin's exercise in midlife solipsism), keep on! If this topic irritates, no worries - next up, new fabric...

OK, so today I went to the gym. As with all things one dreads, it was no where near as bad as I'd expected. Instead of going for a spin class (which might have overwhelmed me), Scott suggested that we go together and he'd show me how to work the bike, elliptical machine and rower.

First up, let me say this: I blended in entirely. Except for my tendency to use a zillion more cleaning wipes on every machine than anyone else, I seemed totally gymish - and I wore the same outfit that I had during my gym phase in the 90s. Yeah, back in the 20th century. That outfit consists of a black sports bra (though my new one is SO superior to those of yore), a black sleeveless top, black Lulu lemon short shorts (these work for everything) and my black and white Nike Air's from 1992. They're like, third generation Nikes - so hilariously in your face - but Scott swore that they do not look any different from anyone else's. And seriously, they're still in good shape!

But I know the gym is not about the outfit. I used 3 machines, as referenced above: the bike, rower and elliptical, in that order. I did each for 15 minutes. I don't remember anything about the settings but I know that Scott set them at a reasonable level.

Undoubtedly, the rower was the most fun and the elliptical was the hardest. Stationary bikes are totally boring. Without the real world going by, and the avoidance of street danger, riding a bicycle is much easier than it would otherwise be. Cranking up the gears makes your legs hurt but it doesn't reproduce the freedom, and challenge, of real cycling. I suppose a class makes it more fun cuz you follow an imaginary course and someone else's instructions.

At any rate, though I struggled not to feel sad about the hamster-like state of everyone in the gym, I was surprised to enjoy the rowing. It was meditative. And I was even more surprised to find that the elliptical machine is very good for increasing the heart rate. It was like running, skiing and stair climbing at the same time. The machine monitors your heart rate as you glide and mine was smack in the appropriate high zone for my age - so I was going at the right intensity for me.

Apparently, I can get in and out within 45 minutes (this time took an hour because of orientation).

Did I find it fun? I wouldn't say that - but it was entirely tolerable. I didn't feel overly germ-encrusted and it didn't rain! I intend to go back on Wednesday - weather depending.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The New (Fitness) Regime

In case you're wondering about the New Regime (term courtesy of fitting friend S) - though if you're  bored by my solipsism, my apologies - I have taken next steps (ha!).

A couple of days ago, I joined Scott's gym (the Y), which is to say he expanded his membership to the Family category. As he's done this 3 times (not that I've ever asked him to do so before!), he was sort of irritated but, natch, he complied. I visited the gym to learn more about how they keep things clean, available classes, machines etc. It really has it all one requires. Or far more, if one happens to be me.

My current thoughts are these:
  • I will go to the gym 1 or 2 times per week as I gain a comfort level with the environment / determine whether it is meant to be. I will do either a) spinning (Lord...) b) gravity machine class (this is kind of like a Pilates reformer but with buttons and it apparently produces a reasonable cardio component) or c) a machine session with combo of rowing and elliptical. My goal is to be in and out within an hour, but you have to sign up for the classes 30 min in advance and they don't do this online (dark ages, anyone?!). I'm going to aim to go to less busy classes which, hopefully will obviate the need to sign up more than 15 min in advance. Of course, I want to get in and out between 5:30 and 6:30 like the rest of the planet. We'll see if this is in the cards.
  • I'll do inversion and stretch-intensive yoga for 45-60 minutes 2 times per week, starting with that miserably entitled "30 Day Shred" internet class (which is 25 minutes in duration, not incl cool down, and incorporates lots of cardio/jumping).
My current plan is to do a total of 3-4 sessions a week: gym sessions lasting 45-60 min and home sessions lasting 75 min (30 of which is hard cardio). If I can't be bothered to get to the gym, I'll sub with home or vice versa (if, by some miracle, I determine that the gym isn't bad).

This will be in addition to my long-standing 60 plus minutes of walking per day (my method of transportation).

This will eat into the amount of yoga I'm doing but, as long as it doesn't impact negatively on my flexibility, I can get with this for whatever amount of time seems reasonable. I mean, I can always add extra yoga of whatever sort I'd like, if I feel the need. That'll be its own thing, however.

If this doesn't yield any results of the slimming variety - and, remember, I'm not doing this for the good of my health! - I'll have to consider adding an additional cardio experience or switching up my cardio vs strength ratios. But unless I find this fun, I don't want to do more than 6 hours per week (over 4 sessions). My hope, needless to say, isn't that cardio, by its very nature, is going to make me slim (I do realize that most of slimming - for most people - is achieved by diet) but to increase the dynamism of my waning metabolism.

As you know, I've cut out booze from Monday - Thurs and my diet (though amped up via hols) is generally healthful and moderate. I really don't want to prune it any more unless I absolutely have to because that will definitely impinge on perhaps my greatest pleasure in life - eating.

I really don't know how this is going to play out but I suspect it will have less to do with my overall motivation to sweat than my ability to get with the gym environment (and to be bothered to get to it). It would be a welcome side-benefit if I could find a way to enjoy this sort of fitness because it provided me with endorphins and a sense of physical well-being (something I've been sorely lacking for the last couple of years).

Needless to say, I haven't yet gone to the gym (the Regime just started), but my goal is to get there tomorrow. Sara, a serious gym-goer, is going to join me to help me get oriented. Of course, it's supposed to be all rain, all the time tomorrow. What else is new?

So, today's questions: Whatcha think of my crazy plan? Does it seem balanced? Do you foresee the need for tweaks? Have you worked out on one of those gravity machines? Do you like the Y? Let's talk!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Exercise and Bras and Putting Them Together (Part 2)

Let me start by saying thank you! As always, you come up with the best advice and I really appreciate your sharing your exercise and bra feedback. I absolutely intend to incorporate your suggestions into my emerging fitness plan. At the top of the current popularity heap are: going to the gym, with gloves, and working on elliptical and rowing machines and doing an online video called 30 Day Shred (could they not come up with a less unpleasant title?!) a couple of times a week (followed by my own yoga practice). 

I really loved all of your comments - which were written with such thoughtfulness. FWIW, I can see a world in which interval running might occur (at least sometimes when weather permits). I mean (see below), I've got the bra for it! Oh, and on the topic of bringing equipment into my home: I wasn't particularly clear when I suggested that I don't have the space. I cannot abide visible equipment in my midst. There is no place to put this equipment that it wouldn't be visible. That's why it can't happen.

Before we talk about bras, perhaps you'll indulge me with another couple of questions.

The Questions: How often do you work out? And for how much time in each session? If you've managed to bring fitness to your regime after a time of weight-gain due to hormonal influence (pregnancy, menopause, endometriosis, PCOS, birth control etc.), how much cardio did you have to incorporate to attain your desired benefits.

The Considerations: If you're wondering why I've been langouring over this change for some time (even as the issues, that cause me dissatisfaction, persist), let me explain:
  • I'm not reflexive about the activities I pursue. That's why it took me till I was almost 40 to take up sewing and now I am obsessed. That's why I've been doing yoga and walking regularly for 25 years. I start as I mean to go on. And, till I'm ready to do something whole-heartedly, I'm not ready.
  • I have done intense cardio at other times in my life when I felt much better, physically, than I do right now, and even then I found it unpleasant. But as I now feel physically fragile, much of the time, I'm worried about unbalancing myself and leading to new or exacerbated challenges. I'm gradually overcoming my resistance because, frankly, what I'm doing isn't working and I do know about the positive relationship between hard activity (heart rate increase) and overall well-being. Sometimes you have to take a risk.
  • I'm going to be honest here. I'm not in this for the joy of the cardio experience. (I walk and do yoga for that purpose.) My goal is not specifically fitness (I'm pretty fit, though one can always be moreso). My goal is to lose fat in a specific spot. I do recognize that fat does not leave one's preferred zone on command, though I have to hope a shake-up will produce the desired impact. My goal is to retain my former shape while, to the best of my ability, also retaining my former lifestyle. 
  • My issue isn't easily resolvable because I'm not being particularly flexible. Mind you, better to know myself and to generate a sustainable solution - even if it takes time and still-emerging motivators - than to jump in without due consideration.
  • A propos of the bullet points above, I know I need to do something that I will be inclined to continue because it meets my lifestyle. The weather here sucks for months of the year. I don't imagine I'll be dragging my ass to the gym on a crap, dark evening and there are weeks of those. I'm very concerned about germs, so I don't want to put myself into crowded classes, esp. when the weather gets bad and everyone is sick for months at a time. I have a lot of responsibilities - and pursuits - so I have to consider how I can include new exercise in my life in such a way that it doesn't eat into my evening hours overly. 
  • The one thing I can say about myself is that I work hard when I decide to work hard because I am intently self-motivated.
The Strategy: 
  • Information gather to confirm "best" activity, optimal duration and number of weekly sessions
  • Get rested and ready (inasmuch as it's possible)
  • Determine requirements and kit up
  • Just Do It and all that shit
I must continue to gather info: What activity will be most palatable? How much time should I dedicate to it, how often? How will I intersperse it with yoga? I'm a researcher by nature so I've been polling up a storm :-) My recently-ended vacation (sob) was destined to interfere with any habit-forming, so I opted to wait until after Europe to begin - even as I've worked to ensure that materials and infrastructure I may require are available. I'm going to unjetlag and get myself reacclimated to work and life this week, with an aim to finalize a direction for the cardio portion of my life rather soon).

I still need to ensure I have the appropriate gadgets and shoes (I believe I do since I've only worn the runners I got years ago a handful of times) but at least the bra is sorted:

The Sports Bra: I bought the Shock Absorber N109:

This purchase was an accident. Though I'd read about this brand for a long while, I never imagined that they'd have it at The Bay. What works even better for me is that the back size is insanely small but the cup size (at least as far as I'm concerned) is generous.  Because I could go up a band size and down a cup size, I was not sized out of the (limited though admittedly much more wide-ranging than usual) department store offerings. I take a 34 back in this style and it is as snug as I would ever want to go. I've read that many sporty-ladies go up two band sizes. Some also find it small in the cup but I think that has a lot to do with breast shape vs. volume. You can find a lot of info about this brand on A Bra That Fits.

This bra is a combo encapsulation/compression model. Its interior construction permits adequate space for a very projected breast but the rigid underband and inflexible shell fabric keep everything taut. The encapsulation comes in the form of an interior sling with cylindrical openings (not really cups) for the breasts. The compression comes from an  exceedingly strong, stretch free overlay (the part that's visible) that attaches to your body with a wide and intensely snug band.

This bra really stops bounce - like miraculously. I could distance run and nothing would move.

But here's the thing - it's designed for a seriously full-on-bottom breast. If you are full on top (or even balanced), you may find it overly large in the bottom and too closed at the top. It's not a perfect shape match for me though my breasts are less voluminous on top than they used to be. I do find it's a bit roomy at the base of the "cups" but I manage to be able to move things around to achieve a balanced spread of breast tissue. It's also designed for a narrow frame - the shoulder straps are very close set and could potentially cut into the neck area depending on how you are shaped.

I do think it's optimal to buy a sports bra having tried it on, in store. There are so many variables to consider with this sort of purchase that your likelihood of easily finding the right size and shape, online, is slim. Most brands only make one or two styles of sports bra, so you often have to try multiple brands to determine what will work. Much easier to manage that in a department store or boutique. I got lucky - but if I'd bought my regular size in this bra, online, I wouldn't have been able to do it up.

The price is right, btw, at 50 bucks. I've also heard you can find it on sale sometimes.

So, that's my sports-bra scenario. Anyone else use this bra? Thoughts about it? Remember, I'd love to hear about duration and frequency of your cardio work outs! Please do tell. And let's talk.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Exercise and Bras and Putting Them Together

So I'm home. It's raining and I'm hallucinating(ish) from tiredness. Fun times.

Let's break through post-vacation malaise with a little post about exercise and sports bras.

(No, you are not also hallucinating. I did just write the word sport before the word bra.)

As a person who chooses merely to avoid jumping as the means by which to avoid undue bounce, this isn't one of my go-to areas of expertise. But desperate times, and all. I'm gearing myself up for some sweat-inducing cardio to improve the shape of my mid-torso in this exciting phase of life.

What cardio, specifically? I have no fucking idea. Ashtanga is out of the question (I'm just not fit enough for it - and it's frankly dangerous for the middle-age practitioner, especially if she hasn't been doing it regularly since youth). Running is just too horrible to consider. I am not shaped like runners who run without injury (though, depending on who you ask, that's nobody). Gym classes seem the most suited to me, except that I am very concerned about germs and the idea of touching things at a gym is pretty unsettling. I'm also disinclined to modify my schedule to suit that of a class. That turns a 1 hour experience into a 2 hour experience, most of the time. Swimming is out of the question. Pools are like public baths. Just thinking about them makes me freak out. Yeah, I could do a video (aka some kind of web streaming thing) but my house is 125 years old and it can't handle regular impact. Cycling is a possibility, but it's totally weather-dependent for me, and the weather here basically always sucks. Not to mention, it's not my legs that need help.

So let's start this post with a little survey:

Pretend you're a 44 year old woman who doesn't much like to sweat (but is coming to terms with its necessity). You spend a fuck of a lot of time either at work or crafting. Other time you spend managing a household. Or parenting. You do Iyengar yoga regularly, though to support the need for restoration and hormonal balance, not for cardiovascular improvement. You walk 1-2 hours daily, but that's a wash from a body-mod perspective (your body is utterly adapted to it). You are, to understate it, unmotivated to touch things that are germ-covered. You don't like most weather. Your main concern is midsection fat caused by perimenopause. Alas, strengthening exercise - totally achievable with your current yoga practice - makes for strong abs and back under a layer of unappealing fat.

What exercise do you do???

If you can find anything left after that extensive list of limiters, I will buy you a chocolate bar!

But onto the more resolvable issues - what sports bra to wear when one chooses the, ahem, burn? I am in no way qualified to compare the sports bras as I am the fancy lingerie. I've had experience with the Panache (I bought it for M and it works very well for her). I've read lots of posts by lots of women with different issues when it comes to boob size and shape and sports bras.

Sports bras, as you likely know, come in two basic styles (or a combo of the two): encapsulation and compression. Different sporty ladies prefer one or the other depending on their need for bounce control. Please note - sports bras can do their thing without wires so if you don't want bounce and you don't want wires, there's choice. While I'm a strong proponent of the under wire, I draw the line at under wire when exercising. That shit is painful!

The runners seem to like the compression style best - the standard-issue boob squashers. As a person with lots of projection over a small span, I hate the feeling of my boobs being squashed together in that fashion. But it does tend to stop the bounce. The Enell is an example of a compression bra with a wide fan-base. (Note: I've never seen one of these IRL, much less tried it on. This ain't a review.)

Disclaimer: My perspective is that squashing one's breasts together for hours at a time does not lead to happy boobs. Anecdotally, women who go from wearing bras that are too-small observe an improvement in the shape of their breasts when they begin to wear bras that fit well. From my vantage-point, compression bras don't fit breasts well, even as they have an important role to play in alleviating bounce and securing the Cooper's ligaments. Take that for what it's worth, btw (and do feel free to weigh in)!

The encapsulation style seems most popular for the ladies of my shape - projected breast volume on a narrow frame. That's cuz compression really has nowhere to go on shapes like mine. I need projection! Encapsulation styles, which can still work very well without under wire, have an interior soft-cup sling often within a compression frame. Here's a photo (in a useful review) of said sling in the Freya sports bra. Note: I did try on the Freya sports bra years ago and it was a disaster. I mean it's uniformly considered to be the most hideous of the sports bras, though many women swear by it. But, on me, the wires were horrendously wide. It somehow made my boobs look way larger and wider (east-west nipples) all at the same time. I do feel that the Freya is best for a woman with a wide frame and wide roots.

Update: Of course, underwire cup models of sports bras also work on an encapsulation basis.

The challenge with pure encapsulation models is that they don't tend to resolve the bounce factor adequately for women with medium or large breasts.

Which is where the combo model comes in. The combination style gives you the best of both worlds. (Or the worst of each, depending on your vantage point.)

Next up, I'll tell you which type of sports bra I purchased, complete with a review.

Till then, please do help me to brainstorm on the exercise front. And let me know which is your fave sports bra model and why!

Friday, July 11, 2014


The grace of travel is that it's difficult so when it's time to leave the sadness can be borne.

But would that I had another week here, or a few days even. I've barely scratched the surface of this infrastructure.

Today, on our last day in Barcelona, we went to see the famed Sagrada Familia (the unfinished church, active construction of which has continued for more than 100 years). Let me assure you, it was as much a hardhat zone as a place of worship. Really, for its masterful architecture (and it has outlasted, one can argue, the religion it serves) its current format disrespects - dare I go there - its religious proposition.

In full disclosure, there are few peeps who have been raised more Catholically than me (especially in this day and age). I respect the Church enough not to go there, most of the time, because my beliefs do not align.

However, in this instance (and because I did not see it when I was in Barcelona last) I went for the architecture but I was astounded by the faith that fuels the engines. I was also astounded by the general lack of respect I observed. Where I come from, you don't take selfies directly in front of an Icelandic choir (the most beautifully composed, might I add). Moreover, you don't clap when it completes its choral exercise, but that's a whole different story... You do not wear club clothing (especially as the church rules stipulate modest dress). You do not speak in the central zone, demarcated from the rest as the meditative, prayer space. I could go on.

Um, let's interrupt this rant with some photos of the neo-Gothic (and seriously modern) marvel that is this place, shall we?

This sculpture, associated with the Passion of Christ, was beyond moving. The engraved doors, behind, were like nothing I've ever seen before.
That light is entirely created by the chromatic (and I do use this as a means by which to relate colour to music) stained glass.

There's something so Hannah Barbera about this exterior when you see it in photos. In real life, it's stunning.
Those pillars...
Have you ever seen stained glass like this? It's designed to be neither too dark nor too light because either extreme inhibits sight. This is a place of clear observation.

I know I sound like a crotchety old lady much of the time. (In truth, whenever I've played that game wherein you have to assess your "spiritual age", I have been 50 - like, since I was 5.) Righteously indignant is my natural state. I feel very strongly about how things should be and, when they fail to meet my expectations, the fire - like a dragon's breath - is unleashed.

It appears we return to the theme of Kristin's vacation: expectation.

My resilience was undermined by my kryptonite: terrible crowds, bright light and noise. Put these together and it's a recipe for my undoing. Thank God we had the foresight to book the tickets online. That meant we bypassed much of the queuing, though by no means all of it. We did have to wait in the unremitting sunlight for 15 minutes. (I forced Scott to leave our apartment with plenty of time to spare.) And then, the "pilgrim" hum, amplified by the acoustics - and at odds with audible construction - followed me ominously like a hive.

Scott swears he didn't know that a trip to the Bell Tower would be a claustrophobic horror - a descent even as an elevator drew us into the air and left us (unceremoniously) to make our way down an endless, dangerous stone staircase replete with constant opportunities to kill oneself by accident, by falling from unthinkable heights. Am I the only one who feels inclined to jump when confronted by heights? Am I the only one whose field of vision narrows (a propos of which, Lord, I was sorry to be wearing those progressives)?

I cannot begin to tell you of my thoughts during that part of the visit though a very nice Chinese woman, who walked in front of me, was kind enough to reassure me (in English) at regular intervals, saying such things as: This part is safe. Look, there's even a railing here. Yeah, to keep you from certain death.

On the way up, the elevator guide had a lively, foreign-language conversation with some other Catalan speakers. I could only pick out the words "claustrophobic", "scary" and some anecdote about people losing their shit half way through. I should have said no then and there, but Scott got all: It's going to be fine. They wouldn't let us do it if it were dangerous. Never listen to people who aren't afraid of heights.

I think it's safe to say I had a complex experience of the Sagrada Familia. And really, you must visit (despite the challenges) because it is a marvel in the truest sense of the word. Just don't go up the Bell Tower.

I drank my face off at lunch.

Sun, Sea and Sky

I have no words to describe the beauty I observed yesterday on Montjuic. From the citadel, we saw the unfathomable density of Barcelona city, on one side, and the splendor of the Mediterranean on the other:

Do yourself a favour and enlarge this panoramic shot. Alas, it does no justice to the real thing...
In the pantheon of my anxieties, heights is second only to bugs, so the fact that I look cucumber-cool in this shot (when actually I thought I would throw up), is really a testimony to the propensity of photographs to lie:

Yeah, there I am, gripping that seat for dear life. I know it seems like I'm saying: Oh, look at the Sagrada Familia in the distance! Really, I'm berating Scott for having lured me into the capsule of death (as I refer to those cable cars).

We did more "touristy" things yesterday than ever I have before (seriously) - the Olympic park, Placa Espanya, Miro museum, cable ride, Citadel - and every bit of it was spectacular because, when the weather is 25C with no humidity and you can see the world's most stunning views from every vantage point, what's not to love.

But one thing I will say, I loathe artsplainin'. I may have made that term up, just sub out "man" and insert "art", but nothing is more absurd, to my mind, than justifying surrealist symbolism with a kooky narrative. (And I did my degree in English Lit with a minor in Semiotic Studies?!)

Who the fuck cares if the butterfly is a symbol for erotic intent and arrows are like birds in flight?! It undermines an entire work of art to try and decode it because, really, at a certain point every fucking Miro looks the same. (In truth, I do love his sketches and early works, before the surrealist insanity kicked in.) I'm the first to admit that my knowledge of art history and theory is limited to what I've seen on PBS documentaries - and I like to visit art galleries and read articles. Point is, I'm not exactly learned on the topic. But I know enough to know that art is a subject of the heart. I'm never getting the headphones at a gallery again.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

In Brief...

I have so much to say, but no time in which to say it because I am living at the pace of late vacation. I continue to love Barcelona with fervor. The sales didn't hurt its case. :-)

I have done some public service research on the topic of lingerie shopping (for the non-matrix sizes) at a regular department store (El Corte Ingles). Your options, while not excessive, are not the disaster one experiences in big box North America. For starters, the brands are much more inclusive than in France (not that I had access to a big box store there) and they tend towards wider wires and shallow shapes. Having said this, the larger cup sizes aren't unheard of. I sense you're on good footing if you are not waifish and your breasts are on the bigger all-around end of the equation.

Still not good for the women shaped as I am. But I did find one bra (and I was hardly exhaustive) that fits perfectly (Felina Conturelle 80521 in Anthrazit - the grey colourway). It was even on sale, though the full set did cost $160 CDN. Felina is a German brand and the product is on the lady/sophisticated end of the spectrum. The offerings I found were all full-cup, and not like UK full-cup (which tends towards a balconette shape). European cup sizing is a totally different scene than US or UK so I sized up in the back and maintained my regular cup size. Since the EU cup sizes are one cup size smaller than UK (at least sometimes), I retained the same cup size (I think). Mind you, the shape is so different, it's hard to say what's going on. Definitely, the Felina back sizes are snug.

I also bought shoes (in Montpellier):

Arche Sakari in Nubuck
The Arche's (above) look very sturdy, I realize, but when you wear them they are quite elegant, sleek and architectural (as all Arche shoes tend to be). I have never been able to justify the cost in TO - esp. for suede - but these were about 150.00CDN and they feel like clouds. They also look terrific with most of my clothing and so will be walkable to work, in a way that isn't hideous like my new (and incredibly comfortable) orthotic Naots. I mean, the Naots are ok for a day at the Island or when on vacation (as no one will ever see me again), but to walk on my regular route, they are depressing.

The new shoes (below) however, are pure sexy - if on the sensible heel-end of sexy:

Wonder 2945
The ones I bought were in this colour, but in leather. They don't appear to exist in an internet photo, so this shot will have to do... Wonder is a Spanish brand, not dissimilar to Camper. These were very affordable in the sale (maybe 75.00CDN?).

I do love me some COS for the sleek lines and wide variety of basics. It reminds me of a Euro version of Club Monaco - very textural. I got 2 blue items, a long-sleeved T (unfinished on the sleeves and hem) and a high-cowl, tunic(ish) sweater. These were both 50% off so the total cost came to 75.00CDN, a ridiculous steal on any day.

Let me say this about European sizing: It is not catering to North American vanity.

And let me say this about the current crop of European styles: Is this the land of sacks or what?? I mean, the sacks are very lovely. They're made of beautiful materials. But a sack is a sack and I'm tired of it!

FWIW: You can posit that my new cowl tunic is a sack (it's loose fit through the torso and it has a curved hem at the thighs). The thing that saves it (aside from the fact that it's in a sleek merino) is that it is cut very small through the arms, shoulders and neck. If you're going to wear a sack, be very certain that the fit is perfection in the shoulders and arms. Otherwise, you will look like a raisin.

Said sweater will go very well with these:

Hue Original Jeans Faded Leggins
People, I know the denim leggings trend has been over for 2 years, but I was working this look before anyone, and I cannot give up on leggings that look like denim. What's not to love? These are made from a very soft denim with loads of lycra. The rise is mid-height. They come in a box like tights?! and they cost 50 bucks. You can't even try them on! It's hilarious. Honestly, now that I've worn them, I'll buy them on eBay from here on in.

I love the shop assistants, they are so helpful - so decisive - and completely comprehensible in Catalan (how, I don't know), the Spanish/French combo language they tend to speak in Barcelona. This region is very like Quebec in that it's a land "displaced". They're angling to separate from Spain though, it would appear, in the most pleasant way.

Crazily, I asked another person another question about the Basque yesterday. Learn from my mistakes. Seriously, do not ask anyone about the Basque. I don't know what it is but you will be met with shock and horror.

And on the topic of random, awesome meals: here's a shot of the most gorgeous paella we ate yesterday:

It was touted as vegetarian (not that I care) but I can assure you it was awash in seafood broth. Man, it was delicious.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014


Oh, peeps. It's like I've died and gone to heaven. I. LOVE. BARCELONA.

I love saying hola! I love the supermarket - it's like the land of custard. I love the boulevards. I love the people who are kind and cheerful and warm. I love the food - I had a superb meal for lunch (at 4:30 pm?!): a pasta with Iberian ham, some other kind of ham, cream and eggs followed by the hugest avocado vinaigrette you've ever seen, a chocolate cake-like thing that defies description and the most delicious coffee I have ever been served in Europe. It was a cortado - and by that I don't mean a Toronto cortado (aka a slightly drier than usual cappuccino). It was (and I can't tell you how rarely this happens) the perfect temperature.

I love the architecture, the weather, the horticulture, the sales, the shoes, and man, I love our apartment:
The view from our terrasse. Trust me, it is all that.
A small snippet of the living space...
In 1200 square feet, it's got 2 bedrooms, a separate (large), fully stocked kitchen, easy sleeping for 6, a dressing room (?!), a fantastic bathroom, original mosaic floors... Honestly, if you gifted me this place, right now, I would live here forever and would not change a fucking element of the design.

I'm writing this from my fabulous balcony, eating some kind of creamy, salty sheep's yogurt (I think that's what it is) watching the swallows and bats fly around. (Yeah: While I am completely freaked out by the tiniest bugs, I'm ok with bats and lizards, who the hell knows why...)

It appears that I cannot eat lunch at 4:30 and dinner thereafter. My stomach is having a bit of a flip out so we're snacking now, after wandering the insanely packed streets at 9 pm. It also appears that this culture does not sleep - or eat before 9:30. But so far, this apartment is silent.

Monday, July 7, 2014

A Very Good Meal

If you can believe it, and truly I cannot, Scott ordered the chicken...

The resto was very ambiant:

The view from my seat...
We ate everything on the freakin' menu, somehow, which wasn't difficult since it was a tapas joint. After dessert, they rewarded our efforts with some homemade Domincan rum infused with orange.

But, perhaps best of all, the walk home was spectacular:

Beachy reputation aside, this is a very poor part of France, with high unemployment, and one feels the disenfranchisement. Beautiful landmarks are frequently marred by garbage, graffiti or the decay of neglect. I'm not going to lie to you, this town isn't on my Best-Of list. Frankly, one can do better on a French vacation (Arles, for example). And I'm not just saying that because of the night from hell.

But, if you happen to be in the area, there's some good food and some even better people-watching. Tomorrow, on to Barcelona on the high-speed train!