Monday, June 29, 2015

From Pain To Equilibrium: Be Here Now

One of the unexpected upsides of the pain I am often managing is the new amount of body awareness with which it has provided me. I've been trying to understand my now physical landscape, well, for as long as I've observed it. At first, every time I thought about how the current Kristin struggles in yoga poses (in ways I never did before), I believed that I had likely been doing them incorrectly for many years, perhaps counter productively. (I should clarify that I have always struggled in certain poses - as do we all. Bodies are unique and yoga poses defined. It would be almost impossible not to meet roadblocks. But I'm speaking of the nuance of asana. How could things have seemed easy then and so hard now? How can things that seemed so hard then be so irrelevant now?)

Of course, with more consideration and over time, it occurs to me that my body was entirely different 25 years ago. My connective tissue, perhaps genetically destined to become over tight and brittle, was supple then. Years of dehydration - and I used to be so dehydrated given that I'm that girl who feels anxious about having to pee 3 seconds after she leaves the house and so, would opt not to drink on the go - really fucked me up. The stress of raising a child with a personality that isn't anything like mine, of working very hard, of having a life and all of the things that go with it, of plain "advancing age" (and yes, I know I'm not old) - these things have changed my body irrevocably. Maybe if you're north of 50 and you're reading this, you're somewhat amused by my realization. I know it stands to reason that life and age (and these things are one to some extent) change one's body. However, I'm just coming to this concept viscerally now. This is the first time I've been this mature.

When I say that my body has changed irrevocably, I do not mean to imply that it's on a steep trajectory in a particular direction. That may also be the case, but I don't think that life or bodies work that way when one proceeds with consciousness. One's body is a meaningful reflection of a particular stage. This is so clear when observing an adolescent who embodies the confidence of strength, borne of youth and the biological optimism it entails.

Right now my body is a certain way. It moves in a certain way. It feels a certain way. When I stand up, initially it hurts everywhere. When I propel myself into motion, that pain dissipates quickly. In the same way my internal self doesn't know why, all things being equal, my midsection had changed shape, I don't know why the pain is there. Yeah, there are lots of books to explain everything. I've read them. I've applied the principles. One outcome of that application is that my migraines are almost gone (at least I choose to ascribe this improvement to my actions), which is no small feat. Another is that, as I seem to throw up randomly after eating certain things, I've stopped eating lots of foods.*

The thing that's beginning to take shape, mentally - specifically when I do yoga - is that I am engaging with the body I have, not the one I had. Not the one I will have. This body, unlike the one of early youth, talks back. It's nervy (literally). It speaks to me in ways that require me to listen, or to suffer. But when I listen, we engage - this body and mind, and I am that much more present in the world.

Maybe the reason that I used to move so effortlessly into forward bends (not that I really did, I often felt stuck, even if no one but a good teacher could see it) is because I was pushing. Maybe the reason I felt stuck was because I was pushing. I have rather flexible muscles from a lifetime of "conscious usage". I also have fascia that sticks like a bitch. So I can take it easy and move annoyingly slowly into my flexibility, or I can push it and feel pain for days. I'm going with slow for the win, even if it's so at odds with my nature that I encounter endless dissonance.

This post was actually inspired by this photoessay which apparently chronicles the last practice of BKS Iyengar at the age of 95. As I've written about, he died in August and leaves the kind of legacy that few will ever achieve. I have no idea whether these photos really do show Mr. Iyengar's last practice (that seems macabre for no good reason), or simply one of his final physical practices (I suspect his final practice was in shedding his coporeal form), but when I look at them, I am galvanized to continue. None of us knows what's coming next. We can only be our best selves in our best bodies and play at the margins of discomfort. It's that edge which illuminates the sweet spot - even as it seems very close to the bone.

*FYI, I don't take this lightly - or any of a variety of other crazy things going on with my body. I am seeing specialists to verify what's up, if anything, other than the stupidity of perimenopause. Honestly, this phase is bananas awful. I can totally understand how people go crazy in midlife. It's taking all of my cognizance to keep it together. And FYI, I truly don't want to be that girl who puts a bad spin on a stage that we will all go through eventually - if we're lucky. I'm a problem solver! But fuck, it's really horrible for some people and I recommend that you should try to avoid it for as long as your genes will allow go into it with graceful awareness.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Weather Notwithstanding...

Greetings from the land of wet and cold. My only consolation (well, aside from being on vacation and all) is that it's even wetter and colder in TO. And I'm not there! To quell my weather-related malaise, I'm eating a phenomenal chocolate pot de creme with salty chocolate crumb topping from the patisserie up the road. Got me an espresso by my side and some wild strawberries from Jean Talon. Scott's trying to convince me to have a hard boiled egg (usual breakfast fare) but it ain't happening.

They are very pretty eggs though:

This was the scene for many tables. There was no type of egg you couldn't find.
Happily we made the most of gorgeous, sunny yesterday. We went up the mountain for our usual lunch at Pavillion. I swear, that place has to be some kind of front. I've never seen more than 5 tables full and I've gone there multiple times. And the food is good! I mean, it's not Zagat rated or anything, but everything is fresh and the desserts are awesome and you look over this:

I don't know about you, but I'd take mediocre food for this patio experience. The server, who's always there (they only need one - I mean there are 5 occupied tables in the whole place), is not the friendliest guy. This time, Nicole, M and Scott had a bet to see if we could win him over and, no joke, by the end of the meal, he came up to tell me that we were a delightful table the likes of which he rarely serves. Note: We are always delightful - manners being utterly relevant. And really, the subtext of his comment was that we were delightful for anglophones. So I don't know how much politesse we can accord to him. :-)

After that, M and Nicole went to the botanical gardens and Scott and I went walking on Laurier east, which is about 10 minutes from our place. The architecture is phenomenal, as everyone will tell you:

In case you don't already know this, the rationale for external staircases was to allow for more square footage inside some very tiny early 20th century flats. These days, some of the apartment duplexes (including the one where we're staying) have been converted to two story dwellings so the staircase has been moved, natch, to the inside. But you still see a lot of second floor doors and interesting features that weren't removed during remodel.

Got to love a modern infill:

The courtyard beyond this front gate was a secret garden. We didn't take pics because the front door was at the far side and we didn't want to be intrusive.
On our journey, we bought some tonic and cider and brought it back to chill while we embarked on our third adventure du jour, Parc La Fontaine. This is about 10 minutes in the other direction:

I told Scott not to photograph me (Lord, photographs of me, these days, are hard to look at), but he pretended not to and then did - which is why I'm at the very side of this beautiful view. Parc La Fontaine, named not for its fountain but for a former Chief Justice (like in the 1800s), is a total gem in the middle of everything.

I have spent a lot of time in the Plateau over the last 25 years so I can say with certainty that it really is amongst my optimal neighbourhoods. It is strangely like where I live in TO, from a convenience perspective and given its proximity to the downtown core. It's also a true residential space within an urban backdrop (if less urban that the tall/dense/pointiness of Toronto) - a quality I love about city-living. The laneways are better-groomed, and more treed than ours at home. There's less graffiti and much less tagging. The architecture is as distinctive as Toronto's though, in general, much more appealing (think NYC mixed with rural Quebec). The high-streets are replete with stores that sell the necessities and many fun spots (restaurants, bars, retail shops etc.). What it has in spades, over Toronto, is green space.

In my home-town they just love to chop down the trees. The minute greenery approaches the phone wires (and why the fuck aren't those wires buried at this point, as in the upscale areas??), say bye-bye. It makes for a rather so-so landscape, especially on the streets where the houses aren't so hot. Note: You'll still spend a million bucks on that ugly house.

In Mtl, numerous structural challenges are minimized by beautiful, urban landscaping. When you amble by, you can peer into "white-painted" houses that are inches from the sidewalks (not to mention that it's hot here in the summer so lots o' peeps keep their front doors wedged). The result is a pretty clear view straight through some gorgeous homes - tall ceilings, elegant plaster walls, updated kitchens and bright, well-maintained, tiny back gardens. Note: Just about all of the front-facing windows are covered with curtains or translucent film, so these very publicly-situated homes are still very private. But yeah, I'm one of those peeps who will peer beneath your curtains if there's a little view to be had. To my credit, I'd expect no less of you if you walked by my house (which is much more open to view, if set back much farther from the street and somewhat elevated from the road) on your vacation.

I have always wanted to live in this 'hood and, in my sweet vacation property, I'm once again having the experience. This is so much better than hotelling, my friends. Sure, hotels have their purpose but I am so done with them, in general. I love living like the locals.

Montrealers (or fellow visitors): What's your fave place in this city? Do you share my perspective on the Plateau? Let's talk!

Friday, June 26, 2015

Peaking in the Plateau

Scott likes to call this vacation: Toronto in Montreal. I'm disinclined, as the whole reason I've left Toronto is to find the otherness of Montreal. He has also been warning me, like, for years, that sleeping in a house, 2 inches from the edge of the road, in the Plateau in the summer, would be more noisy than I can handle (note my legendary noise sensitivity). Um, it was so quiet that I couldn't sleep. It was like the freakin' country.

We're situated slightly north of Mont Royal. As one approaches our residential intersection from the south, the hum of voices from the patios and restaurants with floor to ceiling windows, buzzes increasingly, like a hive. As one moves through it towards our pied a terre, it fades. There is no bass thud. Idiots aren't revving their cars nor speeding by. There is no drunken stupidity and disrespect.

What I love about Montreal is the cultural predilection to find and claim joy. This winter climate is amongst the harshest - harsher than most will encounter. It lasts, more or less, from December to May. Wandering the streets in late June, watching women with their babies in carriers and toddlers in tow (Lord, there are a lot of children in this 'hood), you can feel the vibrancy, the gift of ease. Everyone is eating ice cream. All the time.

Ain't nowhere nicer than Montreal when the weather's good:

These sidewalk gardens are ubiquitous...

One of those rare moments when my child is smiling (and I'm around)...
We're off to Jean Talon market today - not that we haven't already stocked up on the most fun of foods and wine - or to mention that we've got lunch plans at Quartier General and dinner at Salle a Manger. Friends of ours arrive today and tomorrow and we'll be having a little barbeque or two in our back garden away from home:

Yeah, it really is that nice.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Summer Sewing: The Finale

Well, I met my challenge (not that I positioned it that way): 5 garments in 5 days. Sure, one of them (Hepworth dress) isn't going to be in regular rotation (at least, I don't think it will - with new garments you never can tell...) The other 4 should be well-worn: a denim floral mini skirt, a long-sleved jersey dress, a three-season jacket (or 4 if you live in Ireland) and this one (the ubiquitous Jalie 2921):

Jalie 2921 - Scarf Collar Top
I do love this top for its utter wearability and serious chic-factor. It's like pyjamas that look great. Wanna eat a huge meal? No problem. Want to dress it up? It'll do that. I love it best with jeans though. It skims the full hip so it's waist-lengthening.

When last I made this top, I hadn't yet created my T shirt sloper (at least I don't think I had). So this time, when I went back to it, I had to review it against that sloper - even though my other 2921s fit well in the shoulders (purely by accident) - to ensure that it wasn't just good luck first time around. The only alterations I made first time were to shorten the whole thing and to make it a bit smaller in the waist (I wanted it to mimic my curvature). It's still a longer-T on me, but I like that about it.

Amazingly, this top is almost identical to my sloper. It's a bit roomier in the waist and hips, not that I'm complaining, and a bit longer. Other than that there were no changes to consider?! Well, of course, I'm a tinkerer, so there were a couple:
  • My other versions were a bit too low cut - as I'm short from shoulder to cleavage (remember my highly projected boobs are high-set on my chest. Yeah - I've got that centrefold cleavage). Also, I'm short (so there's less span for the boobs). To compensate, I raised the neckline by 1 inch and it's much better-fitting. The other version - esp. given the insane length of the ties and their consequential heaviness - pulled down on the neckline showing a bit too much skin.
  • A propos of that, I shortened the ties by 8 inches. Yeah, you read that. I basically shortened them by half and the new proportions are much better on my frame. Those ties are simply too long - unless you're tall AND long-waisted AND you intend to tie a bow (and even then maybe still). I don't want a bow. My preference is to string it through the opening underneath the neck (see below) or to tie it once and let the ties hang (also shown):

I think you would agree that one doesn't need ties that dip below the high hip. If nothing else, they get heavy and they fall into one's food!

Here's the back of the top - alas, the dress form is crooked (as is its wont), so it looks whack. I promise, when I wear it, the shoulders are of even heights.

I used a fuchsia rayon knit with about 40 per cent stretch cross-wise (and about 20 percent length-wise). The pattern calls for a fabric having 40 per cent stretch in both directions but I'm not long and the top is already long enough. It's also adequately roomy, curve-appeal notwithstanding, so it's not like it's going to ride up on me. The fabric was about 12 bucks a metre, on sale at FabricLand. Must say, fuchsia rayon jersey is a bit of a staple in this house. I have 3 other remnants and I can't figure out if they're actually the same fabric (or just slightly different), which is why I keep buying more. A gal can't have enough hot pink in the wardrobe, ya know.

So, I've got some practical, easy to pack, easy to layer, wrinkle free garments to take with me on my trip. Not bad for 75 - 100 bucks (which is what 2 dresses, 1 skirt, 1 top and 1 jacket) cost to make. I went through about 8 yards of stash fabric and now I'll get to wear those lovely yardages, which is the point, after all.

One thing I'll say about this sewing experience: I was very chill. Well, I was chill by my standards, which is still intense, I realize, but I like to view that as focus. I wondered if, given that I haven't been doing much sewing of late, I might be rusty and things might go awry. But if anything, it went better than ever it has done. I've spent a lot of time learning this craft over the past 6 years and, really, my skills stand me in good stead. I didn't feel inclined to freak out when things went wrong - as they always do - because I had years of work-arounds to apply to potential fatal errors. And they all worked. Even the hem on the Jalie top (one step above dog's breakfast - it's zig zagged, peeps) is not bad. I just didn't have it in me to set up another machine (the cover stitch) so I simply turned and stitched. I couldn't use interfacing, as I usually do, because T shirt hems get and look weirdly tight when it's applied. Rayon jersey is not my sewing machine's forte, so I just had to weigh the cost to benefits and make a call.

Over the years (and with hindsight - not to mention a few kicks up the head lately, which really puts perfection into perspective) I've learned how to do what works - not what I feel needs to be done to suit my vision of perfect stitching. And it produces a much better finished product - not to mention happier experience.

What do you think of Jalie 2921? Do you like the capsule collection? (I know, there's one thing you haven't seen - I will photograph it when I get home. I'm just not in the mood right now and I'm on vacation!) Has your sewing improved when you just decided to relax? Let's talk!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Summer Sewing: A Jacket and Another Dress

I've got good news and less good news and I'm going to take the initiative to lead with the less good cuz why not get it over with? I remade the Hepworth dress, that which served as the backbone of the Appalachian milkmaid bridesmaid dress (made for my sister last year). I did it as I said I would, in contrasting fabric skirt/bodice, the bodice being stretch Japanese dot cotton and the skirt a great rayon denim in dark blue.

Let me say, my workmanship is stellar. Honestly, I could wear this thing inside out and it would look good. I used beautiful fabric, the properties of which I predicted fairly well. I took my time (well, the fucking pattern gave me a run for my money and it took 10 hours over 2 days). Point is, I had nowhere I had to be so it was, ahem, relaxing. When something didn't work, I ripped it back and fixed it (Lord, the tedium). There are about 8000 steps to making this thing and it doesn't even have sleeves?!

In the end, I put it on my dress form to photo for y'all and I was SO underwhelmed, I couldn't stand it. Admittedly, it looks like shit on the dress form (the trajectory of my bust is not adequately duplicated, by it, to show off the perfectly fitted princess-seamed bodice and you know I'm not taking a picture of myself this week). But seriously, it's the most boring dress on the planet. Last time I made this (over 63 muslins and a version for my sister), I thought it was the materials and colour schemes that brought out its conservative side. But honestly, it looks almost as boring in my sassy black dot / dark denim combo and I don't know how it's possible. There's just something weak about the Hepworth. Don't misunderstand - it's well-drafted; it's a good pattern if you like "suburban traditional". For me, alas, there's no edge.

One other thing: The fit is good. I mean, I could certainly continue to refine it if I made it again (though why would I?). I managed to produce a woven dress (yeah, with 10 per cent stretch woven fabric, but still) that fits pretty darned well. Isn't that my holy grail (sort of)? But I've just spent 4 paragraphs talking about something I can't be bothered to show you. So let's call this the not so good news.

The good news is that I also made the StyleArc Harper Jacket for the third time and I've really got the hang of it this time. Literally. (I gave away the other two versions to people who liked them as I wasn't convinced about a) the fit on me or b) the finishing techniques.)

One jacket 3 ways!

Open - which is actually very pretty and drapey on a real person. It doesn't grip on me like it does on the fabric dress form. Trust me, it's flattering.

Half-closed - I've opted to use the interior closure to show you this version (but you could do it either way)
Fully closed - this version has an interior eye (attached to the seam allowance on the right shoulder) and an exterior one (that pokes through the seam allowance on the left side). Both hooks are on the edges of the tails of the cardigan jacket.

 In case you want to see how the interior closure works, here you go:

The eye is attached to the seam allowance and the hook reaches up to hang from it. If you finish the seams, you can stitch the hooks directly onto the seam allowances at the bodice hem (where it meets the centre front) and you won't need to bother with the fabric patch (designed to rest over the top of the finished area to conceal the stitched closure). At least I think that's what it's supposed to do.
Note that I can't confirm this is how it's supposed to work. I find StyleArc instructions practically useless and their photos inevitably confuse me but I think this is what they were getting at.

The back:

A lot of peeps have indicated that they don't like the jacket closed for themselves but I find it very flattering and practical. I made this for Irish weather (which is apparently 16 degrees and partially cloudy, pretty well constantly).

Unfortunately you can't see how pretty the fabric is in real life. I got it for 10 bucks a metre (half price) at FabricLand. (It was one of the pieces I had to buy twice because I confused it for another material I needed 0.5 a metre of and, if I hadn't bought more, I'd only have had half a metre of it to work with). It's got great drape but it's really structured. And the colour is rich. This garment looks expensive, which is just how I like 'em.

On the topic of fit. I've written about this jacket on a number of occasions. Here you can see how it was originally way too long and big, but on the second go round (scroll down to the stripey version contained within the same post), I was starting to get a sense of the right proportions for me. The Harper fits VERY large, out of the envelope. You should size down and then be prepared to make it smaller still if you're slim in the arms or narrow in the shoulders.

My latest version is more compact still. I made the arms and shoulders a little bit narrower, shortened the height of the armscye and finished all the seams (turned them under), which shortened the overall length by another half inch. The pattern instructs that you leave all of the seams unfinished. Look, I like a raw seam as much as the next girl, but the outcome of NO finishing is that it looks, well, unfinished, like something you made using a beginner pattern. If you're new to sewing (though not too new) - this is a great pattern as written. Otherwise, it's easy enough to turn under a seam. I agree that the seams are long (and it's hard to keep the topstitching entirely consistent) but it really clarifies what finishing actually does for a garment. There's not much to look at on this jacket so every detail counts.

At any rate, while this isn't my most gorgeous stitching (it's adequate, but not perfect), the fit and fabric are great, which is all anyone's going to care about. I'm glad I gave this one another go.

Thoughts or feelings? Have you made either of these garments? Do you like the Harper?

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Summer Sewing: Lady Skater Dress

There's no way to take a good photo of this dress, when unworn. It's one of those garments. And y'all know that navy just doesn't show its stars in my photography. I've given it a go though, just to prove what I've been up to :-):

My love of this pattern is boundless. It's so aptly drafted for my specific body that it's as if I devised it myself. In truth, I did numerous rounds of alteration, so in some ways it has been drafted for me.

What makes it good?
  • I've used the right fabric. It's got some heft but it's still quite light. It also has very good recovery.
  • All of the vertical proportions are perfect. That real waist seam, the one that everyone has to lengthen? Well, I don't.
  • The unmodified skirt length is one of my best: just below the knee. I don't hem this dress. I like the raw edge as I feel it gives it an extra dimension and modernizes it. Furthermore, the degree of fabric undulation (dictated by the properties of the fabric and the angle of cut) is just lovely. It's full but minimally so.
  • The neckline is a great depth and, because the shoulders are cut narrow (like me), it sits in a flattering way.
Alas, I started this too early in the day, without coffee, and I made a couple of tactical errors that cost me time. One of my challenges was my fabric layout, which was in no way carefully considered and which left me with a need to cut the back skirt in 2 pieces, rather than on the fold. I have made this garment with 1.5 yards before but this time, due to my lack of forethought, I only had a (total) mess of 0.3 of a yard remaining. My piece of jersey was also messed up at the edges so I lost a bit of fabric. I don't know why I was so laissez-faire. The piece seemed large enough before I started cutting.

I also feel that I could have made the waist a bit smaller. I'm having a body dysmorphic moment and I appear to be overestimating slightly in the hips and waist.

At any rate, this is today's wardrobe addition. I feel that this and yesterday's skirt are going to be very useful wardrobe additions. Thoughts or feelings?

What You Can't See

If you use any commercially-available cosmetic or personal care product - and you're in the VAST minority if you don't, you might want to read this post. Cosmetic preservatives are not a "nice to have", they're a must. Toxins be toxic, peeps, and the only way to keep them out of hydrous (water-containing) products is by preserving those products. (Note: those oil-based products can be as natural as natural gets - that's why I love them so and sell them!!)

There are no proven, all-natural preservatives on the market at this time. That's not to say that there are no natural options or that they definitively don't work, but they're not well-studied (potentially cuz there's no profit in it for the Man, I realize). FYI, the leucidal preservatives (relative market newbies that are made from plants and are on the more natural end of the spectrum) have a pretty bad rep and you need to use them in very high concentrations, by comparison with the synthetic versions.

What I didn't realize till recently is that many commercial "natural" brands hide their preservatives in the ingredients list under the INCI nomenclature "Fragrance" (which is a preservative containing product).

You often can't see or smell mold and yeast and fungus and gram negative bacteria in a hydrous product until they're rampant (and sometimes not at all). But put a sample under a microscope and it's a horror show!

I'm not going to suggest that test-tube cosmetic preservatives are something you'd want to eat. I'm certainly advocating that they be used in the recommended volume (which is always a very small amount). I stay away from the ones that seem unnecessarily evil (those containing parabens), though I'm not a scientist - so I read and make my determinations at a layperson level. It is possible that Big Cosmetic Pharma is fucking us over. But it's absolutely certain that nature will, if we use an unpreserved hydrous product more than 3 days after it's made.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Summer Sewing: Floral Denim Skirt

Almost a couple of years ago (egad, how time flies), Gillian, Andrea, Sara and I met up in Kitchener. It was a really enjoyable (predominantly knitting-oriented) day, but we did hit up the local FabricLand, which is where I got the stretch floral denim I used to make this skirt today:

My TNT short denim skirt - New Look 6843
I bought a 1.65 yards (it's 56" wide with 30 per cent crosswise stretch). My plan was to make a structured sleeveless summer dress but I never found the pattern. Really, I wanted to remake a RTW dress I've had for 20 years that seems to fit at every size. But this is great fabric and I want to use it, not to let it languish in the stash. So I opted to use almost a yard of it on this skirt and I don't regret it.

I altered the pattern very slightly, yet again, to give a bit more room at the full hip and waist. Alas, it was overkill so I ended up having to do a bit of after-the-fact surgery because, when I put on the finished skirt, there was some fabric puffing (pooling?) at the hips. Here's what I mean by surgery:

If you enlarge the photo, you'll see 2 lines of stitching, at each side seam, for about 3.5 inches from just below the waistband. That's because I had to remove about 3/4 inch of fabric at the hips to (more or less) fix the fabric puffing. To totally fix it, I'd have to be much more serious, aka remove the waistband, and there is no way I am doing that given that my quick fix takes care of the problem at anyone's gaze but mine. And mine is too critical.

You can see how the skirt is a bit square, squarer than me. But this fabric has much more stretch than any other version I've made - even if it is the most structured fabric I've used. I suspected, given these variables, that the newly altered skirt might be a bit roomy. Mind you, the idea of making something too tight fills me with anxiety right about now. I want to see the forest for the trees.

A propos of this, it ain't my best zipper insertion but I hit it on the first try and I felt no compulsion to fuck with adequate:

You'll never notice that the seam allowances on either side of that zip don't quite meet unless you're staring at my ass. On the plus side, I my waist band is awesome. Not only does it align perfectly but it's very tidy on the wrong side:

I used my fave method for waist band insertion.

This took about 5 hours, not bad by my standards, and I'm pretty happy with the finished result.

Whatcha think?

I'm On Vacation and I'm Seriously Happy About It

So much to say... I've been getting myself organized for the holiday extravaganza that has (mercifully) just begun. Today's Scott's birthday. Soon we're off to Mtl (no surprise this year). What is a surprise is that my mother is taking my sister and me to Dublin and the Ring of Kerry!! So, like some crazy world traveler, I'll be leaving from Montreal, second year running, to go to Europe. I sense I should make this a habit. :-)

The net result is that I'm going to be away from work for 3 full weeks (and weekends, natch). Other than when I was half-dead from pertussis, I've not taken this much time, all at once, away from work. I'm vaguely giddy. Honestly, I'm burned out and I need a chance to work on my own schedule, to eat and drink on patios, to pursue creative things, to do some yoga, unfettered by other responsibilities.

So question 1 is for the peeps with knowledge of Ireland. I've had some awesome feedback about restaurants not to be missed (a coworker is married to a guy from Dublin and his brother is a chef there. They spend about a month a year in Ireland. Not a bad advisor, huh??). But I'm looking for lunch suggestions and bra boutique suggestions and other cool store suggestions and great things to see suggestions (we're happy to go to castles, churches and creepy places). Are there any foods not to be missed?

I'm sad to say that I am not a beer drinker. At all. Like, of all the booze it's the only kind I can't get with. It's like bread soda. But natch, I'm going to drink a Guinness. Perhaps in its homeland, it will appeal to me. To clarify, our trio of gluten-sensitivity (I'm a newbie in this camp, but the other two are hardcore) will share one, I suspect.

I do intend to post while traveling, as long as the mood strikes. It usually does though, so I expect you'll hear as much from me as always - only in better locales!

The first few days of this hol will be spent here. I've decided to do some sewing, not that I need anything in particular. I just feel like updating some pieces (and revising fit, in a couple of instances, to suit those small, but notable changes in shape). Not to dwell, cuz it gets boring, but I'm struggling with body image right now, not something I tolerate well in others. So I'm smacking myself up the side of the head and reminding myself that a) I am able b) stylish c) a competent sewist and, more to the point, fitter d) able to discern the changes for what they are and to manage them e) more than simply a body and f) unremittingly hot as far as my husband is concerned. I'm also a hormonal mess who continues to function, pretty fucking well, with a number of mid-life health concerns. So I'm going to take this moment in time for what it is and make pretty things that fit me beautifully and bamboozle everyone into thinking I've still got that figure - or maybe even determine that the figure I have right now is just as attractive, albeit different.

Brief side note: I have no idea of how celebrity women actors deal with this shit. Sure, many of them are well-off, but to lose one's livelihood when one's body changes (and for 80 per cent of us, it's going to change, at least somewhat), when one's hormones are at their most intense. It's so unfair. Not to mention that we gain confidence and perspective in age - two things that are likely to improve an actor's ability exponentially. Um, I have no idea how I got off on this tangent but I also feel outrageously bad for the animals in the zoo and the unloved gardens. I'm having a sensitive moment.

OK, back to sewing plans. My goal is to:
  • Make things I've made before. Why? Cuz I know how to fit them with minimal insanity and I also know they'll be worn.
  • Use stash fabrics. I'm not buying more stuff. I have enough. It's just a matter of aligning what I want to make with the fabrics I have available. Gotta say, I'm glad I've started buying 2 yard minimums. Broadens my options, even as it may leave me with unusable scraps.
  • Get a little bit fun (but not insanely). I'm going to use some new-to-me fabric combos. It's a risk, and I may end up with wadders. Or it could be genius success!!
  • Hilariously, I'm likely to make pretty well the same shit I make every time I do a spring-summer capsule collection: denim skirt, a couple of dresses, a top and a destructured jersey jacket (I am going to Ireland after all). Here's a link to my prep document, in case you're interested in seeing what I've considered. It also shows how insanely process-oriented I am. I spent all night researching the stash and aligning it with patterns in the inventory and rereading my posts on the items and looking at other fitting reviews. In some ways, I find this as enjoyable as sewing.
  • Every fabric I will use has some stretch. Even the denims. Even the Japanese dot. I've come to realize that I don't like the restriction of woven fabrics with no give, even when they fit. And if you're not seriously toned in all the places, a bit of stretch (even 10 per cent) can make a huge difference in drape and fall. You can still make very structured garments with fabric that stretches. And it will go a long way to skim over the areas that you'd prefer to play down. I'd argue that the best structured garments have 10% stretch. That allows for some containment without being restrictive.
Questions 2 and on: What do you think of my fabric and pattern choices (if you've checked out the prep doc)? What's your take on stretch fabric for structured garments? As a sewist of a certain age, have you found that sewing helps you to keep a level head about changes to your body at a transitional stage? Regardless of life stage, can you relate to this issue of everything morphing, in terms of fit - even as the numbers may not have changed that much? Let's talk!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

I Got A Parcel!!

I can scarcely believe my good fortune when it comes to friends. Look at what I arrived home to last evening (after a really long day):

Evie knows how I LOVE the UK snack food and she didn't hold back on her birthday gift to me. You can't even see all of the amazeballs stuff:
  • Skips (prawn-flavoured weird textured, styrofoamy chips that I love beyond belief)
  • Twiglets. Gluten-freeness can eff-off. These things are delicious (and maybe even vaguely healthful, though that's not why they've been on my top 5 list of chips, like, forevah (since I lived in England as a teenager).
  • Chocolate eclairs - which made with awesome English chocolate (wait - the package says "Made with Belgian Chocolate"?!) - are terrific. Ask me how I know.
  • That's a salted-choclate Galaxy bar, peeps. Um, who's been into the salted chocolate since the freakin' 80s?
  • There's a UK-version Dairy Milk. The Canadian ones are a PALE comparison to the quality of these.
  • Finally there's an awesome box of herbal tea. It's fantastic and made of one of my fave flavour combos on the planet: black currant and licorice. Seriously, find something made with these 2 things and eat it. You will be powerless against it's deliciousness.
I am totally hiding this from my kid.

(Thank you Evie!!! Edible gifts really are the best. xoxoxo)

Monday, June 15, 2015

Curio (Potions for Skeptics): CURIO Baby* Massage

As far as I'm concerned, the indicators of a good gift are these:
  • It's unique.
  • It looks good.
  • It smells good.
  • It does what it says and it does it well.
  • It's not mass produced.
  • It's easy to obtain.
  • It does the thinking for me.
  • It's of high-quality.
  • It makes a statement.
Y'all know I frequently shop on Etsy (have done for many years now) - particularly at Xmas - because it's so easy to find darling and original gifts.

I'm pretty psyched to have the opportunity to give back, as it were, when it comes to producing high-quality, event-specific presents. I've been thinking about CURIO holiday gifts for months now - since long before I started the business, crazily. Yeah, I do realize that it's June, but gifts are so enjoyable to plan!

At any rate, recently my friend Jeanette and I collaborated creatively. She needed a baby shower gift - preferably massage oil - and was curious to know what I might be able to provide. Oils are an excellent bonding vehicle. When my daughter was small, I frequently made up mini batches of massage oil, which I'd apply - mainly on her abdomen, with gentle, clockwise strokes. Once you've had a baby, you don't forget: It's a time of concern, of exhaustion - of being, sometimes, overwhelmed.

Baby massage is a fantastic way to calm, soothe and balance not only the baby (which is key, of course), but also mothers and fathers who could really use some essential oil TLC.

Enter: CURIO baby* Massage

C'mon, is this not a sweet gift?? Each oil is designed to encourage bonding, via infant massage, and to serve a particular aim:

Balance: This oil is as much about the parent as the baby. The rich scent of geranium is uplifting, but light. Geranium EO is often recommended by herbalists to restore female hormone balance. Neroli is used to promote digestive balance. Neroli is also a mood-booster - its beautiful scent relaxes and elevates one's spirits.

Balance Ingredients: Organic Apricot Kernel Oil, Vitamin E (in Organic Sunflower Oil), Neroli Essential Oil, Geranium Essential Oil (2 oz)

Soothe: New digestive systems can be fussy. Chamomile is used for its anti-inflammatory properties and its propensity to reduce tummy misery. Lavender promotes circulation. Orange essential oil is widely used for its carminative properties, to ameliorate digestive complaints. This oil is best applied by clockwise motion on the abdomen.

Soothe Ingredients: Organic Apricot Kernel Oil, Vitamin E (in Organic Sunflower Oil), Chamomile Essential Oil, Lavender Essential Oil, Orange Essential Oil (2 oz)

Calm: Lavender and jasmine essential oils have been used for thousands of years to encourage cheer and relaxation. This article speaks more about the potential positive impacts of jasmine, specifically it's anxiolytic properties. Lavender is a sweet-smelling, natural antibacterial.

Calm Ingredients: Organic Apricot Kernel Oil, Vitamin E (in Organic Sunflower Oil), Lavender Essential Oil, Jasmine Essential Oil (2 oz)

One doesn't mess around when it comes to babies and essential oils. I've researched those that are considered safe, and beneficial, for infant use. I've also spent a lot of time considering the appropriate ratio of essential oil to base oil (0.3 per cent). This volume of essential oil is small, but discernible. In fact, it's also perfect for grown-ups who prefer a body oil that's very lightly scented.

Jeanette purchased the Trio, for her friend, but these oils are also sold individually for parents and babies, or for adults, of course. BTW, the Trio comes with a complimentary gift bag and tissue which you can assemble on delivery, if you intend to offer this as a gift:

Each massage oil comes in a 2 oz, blue-tinted glass container with pump closure to facilitate one-handed access. Each is seriously delicious. As always, if you're interested to learn more, please check out my Etsy shop.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Mini-Bra Review: Cleo Kali

I decided to take the plunge and buy the Cleo Kali - which I heard fits very similarly to my increasingly-appreciated Lori (scroll down in that link). I chose the crazy-ass neon-yellow version cuz, why not? I'm looking for ways to expand my lingerie personality.

It really is that fluorescent - and I dig it! Pale ladies can wear this. Trust me.

I got it in the 32 band - because the Lori fit perfectly (recent tight band issues notwithstanding) in that band size. Um, that was a mistake. The Kali band is a full 2.5 inches shorter (unstretched) - at the same size - than the Lori. Apparently the Lori is a true-to-size-fitting 32 but the Kali is standard-issue Cleo one-size-small. Update: Before sending it back, I measured the "32" band. It was 24 inches unstretched and 28 inches stretched. That's really not on, IMO.

I'm sending it back for a version that's one band size larger and one cup size smaller (remember, this equation will yield the same cup volume as the one I just bought and I'll do a proper review then. I've just purchased the Cobalt colourway cuz the neon is entirely gone, everywhere, in my size. They just put it on mega-sale (after I bought it of course) and the stock is gone. On the plus side - I do love the blue version and I got it for 20 per cent off at Figleaves. That's still pricier than the yellow set I found on eBay but whatcha gonna do? (For reference - Neon set was 50.00 all in, from eBay. Cobalt set (newer colourway) was 70.00 all in, from Figleaves UK.)

Let me just say for now:
  • I really like this Cleo style shape and material. It's not as industrial-feeling as most of the very deep cup, boobs-on-a-plate offerings they do (Melissa, Ellis, Lily) and, given that this is a partial-band bra (not fabric under the underwires), it's great for those of us with short waists.
  • It gives a very different shape than the boobs-on-a-plate offerings. It's not as useful for very deep, full-on-top, heavy breasts because it doesn't have the underband, the fabric is less firm and the shape is different.
  • I've never tried the Lucy - it doesn't appeal to me and it's know to be best for full-on-bottom shapes (I'm even with some upper fullness and high set roots). I'm starting to think it might actually work for me, having now tried 2 similar (if slightly more "open on top") Cleo styles. Interestingly, I have tried the Marcie - the other Cleo offering that's recommended as a fitting bra for all newbies trying to determine the correct size. It was awful. So I suppose I fall into the Lucy fit-category which is quite surprising to me. Note: The deeper Cleo offerings model the Marcie and I wear many of those quite well.
  • Size up in the band. Really. Even if you're between sizes. Unless this one's an outlier, the band fits super small.
  • The undies are less saccharine - and more wearable - than I thought they'd be:
That ruffle, which always looks serious in photos, is fairly discreet. I do wish this bra came with a thong though...

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Calling Card

I decided to get myself some mini-cards to include in my orders - and to give out (because somehow the skin care always comes up and peeps want to know more). The part of me that doesn't like to waste paper (or to spend money on meaningless advertising) is at odds with the part that is coming to realize that she will genuinely benefit from an easy way to supply a smidge of useful info about the brand.

I went with MOO cards cuz the company has a good reputation, the site is easy to navigate, the product is high-quality - and it's not absurdly expensive. I'm happy with the Kristin-"designed" outcome (even if it is a first attempt which I may modify over time):

It's simple and direct, like CURIO. But the luxe is in the detail:

Do you see that cardstock? Oh, these are so beautifully substantial. They're more than 3 times the thickness of regular business cards and it's tactile heaven. I'm assuaging my eco-guilt by having bought the mini-cards, which are half the size.

BTW, don't email me at that address quite yet - it's one of the many things I'm in the process of setting up! Y'all can always find me using the email address shown on the blog or via my Etsy store.

Now I'm off to make face cleanser for a bunch of testers (aka friends), some more shampoo and conditioner (the sample sizes from a couple of weeks ago are almost done) and to complete a couple of custom orders - one of which may become a regular offering because it's awesome. 

Remind me to tell you the story about how my kid is refusing to use my shampoo and conditioner - devised specifically with love for her, you might recall - because it creeps her out that it doesn't come from the store. Ah, teenagers. Let's just say her hair's about to get very grimy.

But about the cards, what do you think? Silly vanity project or smart marketing? Pretty cardstock or needless expense? Have you used MOO? Let's talk.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

In Which I Go On (at Length) About Perspective

Let me tell you a story - a really, long freakin' story but one that's going to be interesting, I promise. Even if you care nothing of face cleanser (and I don't know who could possibly fit that description), this is going to hold your attention. It's about natural skin care and how the medium is the message, the medium being advertising in this case - branding more to the point. I've got some peripheral chemistry to throw in, you know, for kicks, and some germ-phobia that I come by rather naturally. Get a drink.

OK, so I started making face cleanser prototypes a couple of weeks ago. As I've mentioned, I'm not making oil-cleanser (a worthy undertaking that just isn't my thing). I'm using surfactants and a bunch of other things that can be tricky to pronounce. The vast majority of those things originate in plants, even as some of them are rather refined. A couple of things have been born in a test tube, cosmetic preservative, for example.

Here are the ingredients in one of my recent batches (as per the cute label I devised):

Neroli Hydrosol, BSB (plant-derived surfactant blend), Cocamidopropyl Betaine (plant-derived surfactant), Aloe Vera, Glycerin, Pro-vitamin B5 (Panthenol), Oat Protein, Rosemary Extract, Crothix (to thicken), Essential Oil blend, Germall Plus (preservative)

Let me tell you what this recipe produces: A slightly pearly, mildly sudsing, nicely viscous, moisturizing (but oil and dirt removing), fantastic smelling, truly cleansing (but not drying) cleanser.

It manages to be quite effective for those with dry, balanced or oily skin, as long as they're not on the outer margins of either extreme. It works very well for me (thanks to rosemary, neroli, surfactants and my EO blend) and I've got super oily skin. But it's not drying, given the inclusion of protein, Crothix and glycerin. I hope you'll agree that it's not dense on ingredients. My goal is to stay as simple as possible.

Here's a bit more about the proposed benefits of specific ingredients, just to keep it fun:

Neroli hydrosol: One of my fave floral distillations, this not only smells awesome - slightly like orange blossoms - but it's good for oil control and, in some brands, it's used for acne-control.

BSB: This is a low sudsing blend which is known for gentleness. Often included in baby products.

Cocamidopropyl Betaine: Long name, but it's even more gentle than BSB. It comes from coconuts, 100%. Apparently it suds better than BSB. I don't know if I concur.

Aloe Vera juice: This is pure, not cut with other stuff, and it's apparently full of protein, calcium, magnesium, zinc, vitamins A, B12, C and E, essential fatty acids as well as amino acids and "skin rejuvenating" enzymes.

Panthenol: I mean, this protovitamin is in everything. It's moisturizing up the yin yang - an emollient and a humectant.

Oat Protein: This is a moisturizer that's known for its ability to impart "softness" to the skin.

Rosemary Extract: Not to be confused with the essential oil or any of the other 8 zillion versions of rosemary, this is an amber liquid taken from the rosemary leaf. It's astringent (good for keeping oils in check) and it imparts the feeling of tone to skin. 

Crothix: This one's from a test tube. It adds thickness to a surfactant-water blend that otherwise feels like watered-down shampoo. Modern skin care has trained us to relate to a product with a certain viscosity. I use a tiny 1% in my formula but it transforms it from thin to plump. This substance is also moisturizing.

Essential Oils: So as not to make this post even longer than it's destined to be, let's leave this blend a mystery. But the EOs are all therapeutic-grade (whatever that means) and designed to bring skin-balance and sensory pleasure (Kristin's special domain!).

Germall Plus: While, this product is the least concerning of the many cosmetic-grade preservatives I've researched, I'm aware it's a tough sell. Don't worry, I'm gonna sell it. Though oil-only products do not get germy (but will eventually go rancid), as soon as you mix water and oil, you create a beautiful environment for bacteria, yeasts and mold. Germall Plus is a broad-spectrum preservative that, when used in the appropriate volume - which is a miniscule 0.1 - 0.5% - kills all the crap that could produce a bad infection, or kill someone who's immuno-compromized. Diss it all you want. I'm going to test the shit out of some naturally preserved product as I recently found a fab way to order test kits online. (I'm waiting for a 10-pack to arrive.) But until I'm sure that grapefruit seed extract is going to keep microbes at bay, I'm using the Germall.

Brief digression: These cleanser ingredients fall into 3 camps, as far as I'm concerned: "natural", "test tube lite" and "hardcore".  I put everything but BSB, Germall Plus and Crothix into the natural category. We can agree to disagree if you'd like. There's no real definition of natural, after all. Test tube lite ingredients are BSB and Crothix. BSB is plant-derived, but it's more refined than some other surfactants (and less refined than others). Crothix is considered to be entirely non-toxic but it's not natural. The Germall is hardcore, needless to say. 

As it happens, I'm open to using other surfactants - decyl glucoside, for example. It's an ECOCERT-designated product made of plant sugar. But I've heard that this stuff is useless at suds - which I require, even if they're not popular these days. It can also be a bit filmy, apparently, if used in ratios above 5%. I'm going to try it (I have some, I'm just not motivate), but I'm not overly optimistic. On the topic of Crothix, I'm also happy to use other thickeners, though I don't have concerns about this product, based on what I've read.

I'm decidedly not interested in foregoing the 0.5% of preservative that will prevent my potion from becoming a vat of germs. Again, I intend to experiment with the natural preservatives even if testing is simply a moment-in-time undertaking. I will leave some naturally preserved hydrous product in a window for 2 months and then test it. Am I happy to go all-natural as long as I'm confident that it's feasible? Yes. But currently I seem to have 3 choices: 
  • Make un-refined, plant-based skin care bi-weekly and store in fridge. Ain't my lifestyle, alas.
  • Make plant-based skin care as needed (every few months), with natural preservative. Likely to produce germ-filled products. Not happening until sample-tested. I fear potentially harmful germs. Mind you, if grapefruit extract keeps the bugs away, I'm happy to use it in place of something from a test tube.
  • Make plant-based skin care, as needed (every few months), with cosmetic-grade preservative. In appropriate quantity, will prevent microbial growth for up to 2 years. Test this product on a variety of occasions, over lifespan, to confirm effectiveness.
A couple of other things before I get very sassy with the whole idea of style over substance.
  • I'm pretty serious about using minimally refined and unprocessed skin care - when it stays on my face and soaks into my skin (like a face moisturizer). The surfactant/oil/water-based cleansers (face, shampoo, conditioner) wash off, so I'm not particularly concerned by a small amount of chemical refinement.
  • What I really like about this cleanser is how beautifully it actually cleans my face without drying it out at all. I've actually never encountered this in a product before.
  • While I don't like how surfactants and sulphates impact the environment, I don't believe (at this time, based on what I've read), that they're particularly, directly dangerous for people. Most of us use them in most of our personal care products (from health food or drug store), and have no negative reaction. Having said this, I don't want to unbalance the earth by contributing to an over use of these products. This cleanser employs small amounts of high-quality surfactants so it doesn't suds overly much. I mean, it suds enough to make me feel alright (cuz I loathe the feeling of washing my face with something that doesn't cut oil), but not an iota more.
  • I'm amazed by the quality of product I can produce as a home-chemist. It's not like sewing - where the crafter generally can't compete with the quality of most RTW brands - because (s)he just can't source the highest-quality fabrics. I really think that, at this point, that the skin care crafter is on a pretty even playing field with the commercial producer. It's a very well-organized field of endeavor.
OK, but here's where I'm going with this topic. These same ingredients are correctly labeled by INCI nomenclature, you know, the science-y sounding words. When written that way, here's what's in my simple, fairly natural and, in my opinion, sustainable cleanser:

Citrus aurantium amara (Neroli)PEG-80 Sorbitan Laurate, Sodium Trideceth Sulfate, Disodium Lauroamphodiacetate, PEG-150 Distearate, Sodium Laureth-13 Carboxylate, Quaternium-15 (BSB), Cocamidopropyl Betaine,  Aloe Barbensis Leaf Extract (Aloe Vera), Glycerin,  DL-Panthenol (Panthenol)Hydrolyzed Oats (Oat Protein), Rosmarin officinalis leaf extract (Rosemary Extract)PEG-150 Pentaerythrityl Tetrastearate (and) Aqua (and) PEG-6 Caprylic/Capric Glycerides (Crothix), Essential Oil blend,  Propylene Glycol and Diazolidinyl Urea and Iodopropynyl Butylcarbamate (Germall Plus)

Once again, the original (and the label version - for space reasons if no other!):

Neroli Hydrosol, BSB (plant-derived surfactant blend), Cocamidopropyl Betaine (plant-derived surfactant), Aloe Vera, Glycerin, Pro-vitamin B5 (Panthenol), Oat Protein, Rosemary Extract, Crothix (to thicken), Essential Oil blend, Germall Plus (preservative)

Pretty interesting, no? It takes some perfectly real, discernable ingredients and makes them sound clinical. And it implies that some other ingredients (which are considered entirely safe for use and present in teeny quantities), comprise a "meaningful" volume of the product.

Which one of these versions is obfuscating things?

It's a bit like freaking out when you discover that you've been wearing a bra that's 3 cup sizes too small. Your boobs didn't get any bigger for discovering the truth about size. And really, unless you're pretty serious about it, you're already using most of these (vetted) products - and many others that are possibly, infinitely worse for you and the world. 

The more I "do" chemistry, the more I respect the composition of things - composition of the finished product and of the components that make it up. I highly encourage it because it facilitates a very practical skill - chemical discernment. Note: I do realize that I am beyond novice in this field and I'm speaking entirely from that vantage point, but I know so much more about this topic than I did last year - and it's empowering

Lord, if you've made it this far, you deserve a cookie. I'm curious to know your thoughts on this topic. Are you one of those peeps who washes her hair with baking soda? Do you buy off the rack at Sephora with nary a glance at the unpronounceable ingredients? Do you shop where the labels show you what you want to read? Seriously - let's talk!

Monday, June 8, 2015

Sign of the Times

Though it's still cool here, much of the time, I can see summer on the horizon. This evidence is irrefutable:

First rose bloom in my garden this year...
I've lost a lot of plants over the past two - very bad - winters. But, this time last year, I planted 2 rose bushes and they are bursting with health and growth. I just stand outside and stare at them.

Curious to know: When do roses bloom in your part of the world?

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Birthday Weekend

The older I get, the more I celebrate - which is why I've begun the birthday long weekend tradition. That gives everyone an opportunity to buy me a delicious meal :-)

This birthday's been pretty terrific so far (and only 60 per cent of the way done). Yesterday I went to Bar Raval for lunch with Scott and my friend Sandra (it was awesome) and Scaramouche for dinner. Let's just say my husband is very generous as those amazing dining experiences no doubt cost most of a mortgage payment.

June 5, my actual birthday, is apparently also National Donut Day in the US. Very strangely, since I don't actually like them, I managed to eat the majority of 2 donuts at Bar Raval - and I sure wish I'd taken some photos first. One of them was gorgeously filled with creme Catalana and the other was topped with a delicate smear of dulce de leche on which was crumbled a generous amount of smoked jamon. Both were less donuts than salty bread, fried to perfection, with a little bit of creamy and sweet thrown in for good measure.

Scaramouche, which is always awesome, did not fail to impress. My filet mignon was cooked to perfection and, as always, there was coconut cream pie for dessert. Fun story: On Thursday, I went to my coffee shop on the way to work and chatted with my usual crowd. One of my coffee friends, Rocco, on hearing about my plans for the following day, said: Don't forget to have a piece of pie for me. Which just goes to show how a) famous that pie is and b) the degree to which Toronto really is a small town. I'm starting to wonder if Rocco might be a chef - just based on the crazy food conversations we inevitably end up having randomly at 8am.

Another birthday tradition, and one I've written about on a number of occasions, is the garden tour I take with my friend Nicole, every year, which is always held on the first weekend in June. Well, last year the horticultural peeps opted not to host it, for some bizarre reason, and Nic and I were at a loss. But this year it bounced back in force: They held the tour on Toronto Island.*

Toronto Island is an oasis in the midst of a lot of ugly. Our city isn't known for its natural beauty. From the dock, however, you can see one of the best vistas TO's got to offer:

And here's a shot of me taking a photo of the city:

Do not ask me how it happens, but every year we get the most spectacular weather for the garden tour. There's rarely a cloud in the sky which, given that I don't live in the friendliest or sunniest place, is like an eternal birthday miracle.

We went to this surprisingly good restaurant on Ward's Island and drank sparkling wine from a can?!

It was off-putting but not unpleasant :-)

Then it was off to see some cultivated nature. Note: Toronto Island, which is actually three islands which we seem to refer to as if it were one, is a micro-climate. Islanders seem to be able to grow many of the things that we, 5 minutes over the narrowest part of the lake, struggle with (rhododendrons, for example).

These gardens are not the most tended we've ever seen but they are the most lush - and they're surrounded by the incomparable natural beauty. Wild isn't my general garden preference - it's too untended for my OCD - but I do love to see how the other half live. I took photos of the neater plots:

The allium was everywhere.

This house is the most gorgeous thing ever. Talk about a million dollar view. It faces the CN Tower.

We did have one outrageously horrible moment when one of the garden owners looked at my abdomen askew and asked me when I was due. Fucking hell, people. OM fucking G!? In case I've been under any illusions that my stomach is that of my pre-perimenopausal state, I guess I can throw that idea under a bus. The woman realized immediately after her comment, that she'd been very misguided - and utterly stupid - but the damage was done. Might I add, she looked infinitely more pregnant than I do. I called Scott immediately, to freak out and to confirm that I don't actually look pregnant (not that Nicole didn't have her work cut out for her for the rest of the day). I told him, under the circumstances, I was ready to throw myself into Lake Ontario and be done with it. He gently urged me to reconsider: Like, for the baby... HILARIOUS!

Please tell me I don't look pregnant!
At any rate, I managed to pull myself back from the edge. After all, I've done nothing but eat for the past 48 hours, and I was slouching. Now it's off to have a glass of wine before my next festive meal. Wish me luck!

*Toronto Island is a residential community of about 800 people, many of whom have lived on properties - leased for 70 years, from the city - for most of their lives. The waiting list to lease is about 25 years long, and the process is by no means transparent. When your name comes up, you may get a property that's falling down - and 140K - or one with a city and water view that will easily run you a million bucks. If you've read Margaret Atwood's The Robber Bride, part of it is set on the Island. It's got a truly rich history and those who live there do not consider themselves city dwellers. It's not surprising - they basically live in cottage country, 5 minutes from downtown. The beaches are gorgeous - particularly Hanlan's Point, which is clothing optional. Note: It's a nude beach. No one ever wears clothes there, not even me.