Sunday, November 5, 2017

The Universal Cowl

I'm starting to understand the ways in which having a reno is every bit as miserable as parenting a baby. Those occasional waves of anxiety - out of nowhere - that veritably wind one, the nausea, that omnipresence - never being able to escape otherness and new accountability that continually fucks with one's identity. I'd like to tell you I'm better at it this time around. I mean, I am better, mercifully, because I never want to be less elegant than I was when I was coming to terms with motherhood. But I'm not better enough.

No question, this shit is 100 per cent Buddhist. I had a kid and, in addition to it being nerve-pingingly intense, I was no longer what I had been. I didn't realize that I'd care about what I had been and honestly, in retrospect, I don't think I did. What I cared about was stimulus management.

Some people are creatures of habit because they're inflexible or, maybe, because they're dull. I'm a creature of habit because every new thing displaces the things that came before it and I have to come to terms with that, tetris-style, and it leaves me fucking unmoored. There's a reason that I won't bring something into my life without careful consideration. I have to find somewhere to put it.

To wit in the most pedestrian terms: I ordered some new yarn, sight unseen - very standard-issue sock stuff which I've used before. I wanted white and navy to recreate the recently finished object below, my first foray into fair isle and one which I enjoyed tremendously:

Midwinter Neck Warmer by Runningyarn

Alas, I took this when there was no natural light so it looks washed out. But it does show SNOWFLAKES!
The store had only had white-white in stock, not cream. I debated whether it would work, suspected it wouldn't and ordered it anyway. I mean, the freakin' yarn store, formerly up the block from me is now effectively down the block from me. No big deal. Scott went to pick it up. When he brought it home and I opened the bag I was absurdly fussed. Of course, the colour was wrong. Instead of wrapping it up and putting it in my bag for a Monday return, I obsessed for a good 10 minutes. It was so ugly. Why had I taken the risk? I knew the shade was wrong but I'd inconvenienced myself anyway. Now I had to be in the midst of hideous yarn, albeit hidden away across the room (but still taking up space), and I wouldn't be able to cast on my project. Note to reader: I also bought other yarn which worked just fine and allowed me to cast on immediately in a different colourway.

OMG people, I'm talking about a fucking skein of cheap and cheerful yarn. Imagine how I'm managing being 8.5 months into a 5.5 month project with no end in sight and a truly unprofessional construction team. (I'd like to say those people don't know what's going to hit them at the end of this bullshit but I suspect they do and they just don't care.)

Do I wish I'd never started this? I don't know. That's kind of like asking: Do I wish I'd never been born? It's a fait accompli and it will continue on its unknowable trajectory. My displacement is about me. That truism about perspective being reality is apt. Sadly, I am seriously attached to my illusion of control. Honestly, as it fails me again and again in every way as it pertains to this reno, I do not know what to do. What is a world without control? Random stupidity? Random joy? This whole random thing is NOT ok.

What is one to do? Well, my jam, when I'm beside myself, is to engage my brain fully. I spent years avoiding fair isle (stranded) colourwork because, um, that shit looks hard. In truth, I've tried it on a few occasions, every now and again, and I was so mediocre (ok, bad) that I was disinclined to continue. Well, no time like the present to get good - especially when a skill is so difficult to develop that it leaves me with no mind-state to feel existential chaos. (See what I mean about the illusion of control?) Do you ever knit for 12 hours straight because you can and the stitches, slipping quietly from one needle to the next, create the most gorgeous brain-groove?

From the existential to the practical: I may suffer under the illusion of control because I'm human that way, but my perfectionism is getting itself in check. There's a great 80s song by the Roches (a name I always thought was pronounced the Rosh but actually they call themselves the Roaches) called Everyone is Good in which there is a big-ass lyric, IMO: Forgive yourself for everything, having once been blind.

The great thing about experience is that it speaks of temporality. I couldn't do stranded colourwork until I could, and even though my first project is flawed (some of those interior floats are a mess),  it is creation. Time was, I would have laboured over its imperfection. Now I see that, for all its flaws, it's also beautiful because it's the incarnation of a moment in time - a moment in mind. It's how I gave up control and let my autonomic self do the work.

I am a strangely un-tense knitter. Sure, my nature is akin to a bouncy couch spring, tightly wound and a pain in the ass for all that, but somehow, when I start to knit, the tension recedes. In fact, I'm the only person I've ever come across (though I'm sure there are millions of us) who needs to tighten up her tension while stranding. If you fall into this category, may I suggest that you work with a springy, non-superwash, wool? Skip the silk, the fibers with drape, because drapey yarn tends not to recoil and, if you're on the loose side to begin with, you want to create a feedback-loop with an assertive yarn that talks back.

Yarn is my universal translator. It takes all experience and contextualizes it. It expresses the biggest things in the most compact, most visible, most tactile way. Sometimes things are impossible-seeming for their scope but that's a fallacy. The universe of the fair isle cowl is just that - thousands of stitches cohering in organized chaos. And that's creation. Nothing till it's something. And very stimulating, for all that.

Monday, October 30, 2017

A Local Death

I was not surprised when I heard that Gord Downie died, I mean, he had terminal brain cancer which he publicized extensively in the 18 months before his death. But it shook me. He's not my one-true musician, but for most of my life, he's occupied my domain. I remember the first time I heard the Hip on CIUT when I was 15, his strange voice, set to bar guitar, was the musical equivalent of a frayed nerve. The band really hit in the late 80s - back when I would visit friends at Queen's (in Kingston, Downie's hometown, where they often played). Of that era, there are few hits I dislike more than Blow at High Dough - a song I always thought was irritating and played in such high-rotation that one could scarcely scan the airwaves without landing on it (in Toronto, that is). But the sound was easy and jangly, very of the time.

When I was at university, an acquaintance got a sweet gig taking photos at concerts and she needed some extra assistance. We were scheduled to shoot the Hip at the Horseshoe only, somehow, wires got crossed and we ended up seeing The Grapes of Wrath instead. I was so disappointed - though I do recall loving that gig. I felt very Rolling Stone that night. I finally saw the Hip in concert in my 20s, where I don't even remember...

No doubt, Gord Downie is part of the Ontario lexicon, but he's also a trade-marked creature of Toronto-proper. I remember, after M was born, the first time I left the house to go food shopping. We'd been having groceries delivered because I was a total mess but finally Scott convinced me to walk the 3 minutes to the Dominion (yes, we used to have a grocery chain with that hilarious name) where I promptly proceeded to run into GD in the most literal fashion. He was quite gracious and I was so sleep-deprived that I didn't notice it was him until he walked away with his two young children and Scott said, way to smack into Canadian royalty. I remembered thinking, if Gord Downie slums it at Dominion with his kids on Sunday morning, then so can I, not that I made another trip of that sort for many months afterwards. 

Our paths were interwoven though he hadn't the slightest idea of who I was. My daughter parties with his older son. My oldest friend's son is his son's best friend. He was always on the radio, supporting a cause. He was a facet of my locale. Take that Sunday I went to get yarn at the now-defunct Lettuce Knit in Kensington Market. The streets were closed while the band played an impromptu concert, and one that was dearly embraced by a pop-up crowd.

The last time I felt this sort of shaken was when Natasha Richardson died. I was not a particular fan but I was so horrified by the pathos of it all, that a woman in the prime of her exciting life, could be cut down by something as moronic as a bunny-hill ski-fall. This was no Michael Shumacher event. A young woman took a silly tumble, while holidaying with her teenaged son, and then she freakin' died. I obsessed about this for weeks. I was vaguely afraid to walk down stairs for a month.

Here's the thing: we're all very here until we're not. I think about this often. I think about it as I walk to work and I see the quotidien vistas that define me. This place is my village and I'm watching it age and change - and, some things, die. Every day I walk past Hart House, where I got married in the chapel. I walk past the building where I was meant to have an economics exam but, traumatically, messed up the timing. I walk past the restaurant where my parents met the first guy I lived with (I still go to that restaurant, albeit infrequently). It was also the place that my child last saw a de facto uncle, sacrificed at the alter of divorce. 

I can't take a step without inhabiting this place. I mean, when Scott and I met on the streetcar (do y'all know that fun story?) Day for Night had just been released and we bonded over (the truly brilliant) Nautical Disaster. There's a reason the media refer to the soundtrack of one's life.

When my grandfather died I was in my early 20s. He died quickly and I didn't know what to make of death at that point. At some sparky philosophical moment in my thirties, I decided that he was effectively still alive because I am alive (as are all of his children and grandchildren). We recreate him in our activities. We're guided by his former methodology. In some empiric way he's with me when I drink Cinzano, when I eat certain food, when I craft. During a conversation, in my teens, I completely horrified him, an old, traditional southern Italian man, by disclosing that I would never change my last name if I got married - because my last name is mine and why on earth would I give it up for somebody else's? I stood by that pledge. But what about when I'm gone? How will he be here? (Note: I'm not so meta that I can get with the idea that every generation justifies the last. My child never knew my grandfather, just as I never knew countless family members of the recent and distant past. I cannot vouch for them. I don't know how or if they live in me.)

I didn't know Gord Downie but he knew me. Sure, he didn't know me - he got me, like he got millions of others, through the mystical lens of poetry and music. He got me in that he was a dyed in the wool southern Ontarian (and it's hard to make this sound epic or deep but, much as Billy Joel has elevated the bridge and tunnel set, Gord Downie gave us sonic credibility - a way to grasp our dangerous landscapes and emotions). This morning, as I walked to work, I saw the remnants of a bakery,  twenty years gone. I got coffee at Sam James where everyone knows me. I took pictures of more homes being demolished and rebuilt, and I listened to Gord Downie's posthumous release, a love letter to his family and band mates, to his dog, to Lake Ontario. I cried and cried, not because a mortal person died of illness too soon, but because this world is ever-changed for every such loss.

I really don't know what it means to have been here and I wonder if I ever will.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Status Update

By some Thanksgiving miracle, I'm here to advise that things are happening - framing is 80 per cent complete. Sure, this time last year I posted about how there is NO way I wouldn't be back in my post-renovated home by Thanksgiving and that was my non-negotiable, bottom line. Everyone in construction assured me that I'd be back by the beginning of September - not optimism, flat out lies. But whatcha gonna do? Happily, we will be having roast vegetables, roast lemon capon and homemade pumpkin pie today. We will also be siting on the couch while we eat. Honestly though, it's just a convention to sit at a table while one dines. What's wrong with cozy spot on a couch?

We got some red roses and a really nice bottle of cava, not to mention that it's the most summer-like day for a fall holiday ever. I really love summer in fall. There is much to be grateful for.

But let me tell you where we're at with the house. To date, we've:
  • Expanded a foundation around a boulder
  • Corrected the foundations of 2 neighbours
  • Created a full-depth basement that now travels the entire length of the house
  • Replaced a rotted load-bearing beam
  • Replaced a dry-rotted two-story wall
  • Created the framework for 5 new rooms (sewga, 2 bathrooms a kitchen and a sitting room), and
  • Replaced the stairs and walkway from the basement to the backyard

What's remaining, as far as I can remember and in no particular order or order of magnitude:
  • Installing the heating, electrical, insulation, and plumbing - and all of those necessary systems
  • Actually outfitting all the rooms that have been built i.e. kitchen cabinets, pantry, showers, floors etc.
  • Installing a yoga wall in the sewga room
  • Replacing all of the windows at the front of the house (and getting the windows into the new build)
  • Installing a fireplace (I'm going with 3-sided glass and gas because, despite my undying love for the scent of wood smoke, not one person (even the fireplace installer) could recommend a woodstove.
  • Opening the load-sharing wall between the staircase and dining room (this will NOT result in open-concept), which involves installing beams in existing walls and ripping up the ceiling to reinforce the second floor.
  • Installing some new sort of balustrade (or glass?)
  • Affixing a brick veneer to the entrance wall, opposite the dining room.
  • New lighting throughout the house
  • New painting throughout the house
  • Reconstructing the wrecked-up dining room
  • Fixing the stairs (they need to be sanded and repainted) 
  • Hardscaping the backyard
  • Landscaping the backyard, including bamboo in boxes, to be set up outside the kitchen window for what I'm calling a panda-scape.
  • Furnishing the new spaces (we recycled a lot of our furniture that's been around since the beginning of time, and certainly before we had any taste).
That sounds like rather a lot.

So, I'm keeping my fingers crossed and moderating my consumption of alcohol to the best of my ability. And feeling rather thrilled - for the first time since this saga began - about this architecture meeting my needs:

That's Marcus the framer, in the sewga room. What it lacks in width it makes up for in height!
Everyone thought this roof was crazy. The builders questioned it. People said it would look weird. But as my mother likes to say: no guts, no glory. I think it's fantastic. There will be wood panels or beams (scandi style) on the massively tall ceiling and a beautiful floor. It's going to be outrageously light in this room (note the window to the left of the wall of windows - it is not small), I'll be able to sew without overheads, even on a cloudy winter day!

And, to get super-controversial, I've decided against putting a bathtub in either of the new bathrooms (and the one in the basement is just a powder room). I'm putting in showers and I'll install a tub, as required, before I move in 20 yrs, in the event that people still bath at that point. Why no tub?? Um, because I hate them, they take up space, I feel entirely unstable getting in and out of them (and like I'm bound to slip while I'm in them). I love a sexy shower with bells and whistles and maybe a seat, you don't have to put a curtain around it if you like glass, and I do, and that makes for an infinitely more spacious-seeming, freakin' tiny bathroom. And as for the argument that children need them, my kid's been having a shower since she could stand up (not that all buyers necessarily share my perspective).

So, here's to a Kristin-post that isn't all doom any mayhem.

Today's questions: What do you think of the all showers/no tubs decision? Are you in camp bath tub? Do you think I'm insane? And how do you like the crazy ceiling? (Note: If you hate it, feel free to desist from being entirely truthful.)  FYI, the roof doesn't look strange from the back of the house - you can't see the crenelation from that view. It's only from the third floor balcony that the shape of the roof is discernible. Have a great weekend, everyone. Kxo

Friday, September 22, 2017

Wherein I Decide to Take the Long View

Well, hey there. It's been a while. Generally, when it's been a while, I've been itching to write for weeks. Not this month. This month is kicking my ass in many ways. I almost wrote "in all the ways" but, frankly, that's just not true and I don't want to get into a pissing contest with the Universe.

In terms of work, I'm on the sexiest project of my career. That's very cool, on the one hand, and I'm thrilled have the opportunity. On the other hand it's absurdly challenging and this alone would be enough to keep me up at night. You know it's far gone, though, when scary-ass work is less scary than life. Last weekend I was almost looking forward to incessant briefings (wherein I'm in the hot seat) because that's not where I live. Sure, it's a core, but it's not my fucking home.*

And then there's the pain. It's not a great moment on this front. The last couple of weeks have been barely bearable. I have enough experience now to tell you that chronic pain, when it's there, adds a layer of effort to everyday life that "regular" people cannot understand. BTW, I'm really glad they can't understand cuz no one should have to live this way. I'm managing as best I can; there's a trajectory and I have to see it through. But it would be pretty fucking hard to do my life right now, without pain, and pain is a constant undercurrent that takes so much energy to compartmentalize (the only way I can keep going).

I don't want to dwell on the negative, not because I don't love dwelling, but because I have so little bandwidth remaining that I can't spend it that way. And frankly, this is my time to expend this kind of energy. If not now, when? I want to have a gorgeous home that meets my vision and that's a fucking hard thing to achieve. I want to be respected in my career and to set myself up for the most interesting projects in the future and that takes a shit-ton of commitment. I want to help my kid to achieve and to manage waves of crushing stress she doesn't yet know how to navigate, but I'm not sure I'm the optimal teacher. I mean, coming home after 10 hours of meetings, only to deal with financial planners or builder matters followed by reviewing/editing my kid's assignment (always due the next fucking day, can she not plan ahead just slightly???) is not something I do particularly elegantly. Note: That's an understatement.

I'm not going to dwell on the specifics of the reno because, inasmuch as many aspects of this process are disappointing to me, my complaints are not going to facilitate anything productive. Moreover, this process is so cyclonic that, in any given week, I will have gone from utter despair to vague hopefulness. In the end, if my involvement can provide any assurance, we will have an excellent finished home. I need to take the long view, not because I'm measured, but because I'm outpaced. It's the only way I'm going to have any sanity at the end of this. So, will this take twice as long as it was supposed to (and only that much longer if I'm lucky)? Yup. I can either fester with hostility about how we got here - and be tormented by the costs involved in time over-runs - or I can be massively grateful that I currently live in a comfortable house, in a nice neighbourhood, while chaos runs its course.

The problem with vision is that it isn't fortitude. I'm continually reminded of Orpheus, the need to stay the course without looking back. There is only the present, which will lead to the outcome, and my job is to remember that. (BTW, I'm not so far gone that I don't realize that comparing my scenario to that of mythological Greek prophets ain't particularly woke. Mind you, isn't that why Greek mythology came to be? So peeps like me wouldn't feel so philosophically unmoored??) Scott and I are learning so much about ourselves - our style, our biases, our baseline expectations - and our ability to influence dynamics. But be under no illusions, potential big-time renovators: This process is a fucking full-time job. We have definitely encountered challenges, that I may speak more about once all of this is complete, but don't imagine that spending more money will get you better site management. It's just a crap-shoot. Cuz, trust me, I did ALL the research anyone could have done, and more, and I'm still disappointed. If you a) know what good management looks like and b) are incapable of just standing aside and hoping it all works out in the end, you will be managing your own project to a greater or lesser extent. Know that going in and you can save a lot of money (and disillusionment).

On that note, I've taken the day off work to have a meeting with the builders. After that, I intend to go to crappy-place's fantastic patio to drink more sbagliatos than is strictly sensible. Needs must, and all that. Mercifully, the weather supports my plan.

*Another stressor, though I don't dwell on parenting minutiae here, is that my kid is now in Grade 12 and it's the make-it-or-break-it year academically. This has been an adjustment for us all. Simply in terms of the administration that accompanies planning for university/college, it's a job. And, of course, it calls attention to the fact that my child may be living in a new city at this time next year. I never thought this would concern me but now I'm not sure how I feel. Well, I'm sure I feel she should stay home for one more year to gain additional life skills, with my support. I have a whole plan worked out but I'm not confident she's game. But seriously, there's going to be a fantastic house in it for her! I mean, we live in urban-centre Toronto. You could do worse than to have your own space in a gorgeously renovated century-home downtown. Especially if your parents intend to give you freedom. How do people manage with more than one child???

Sunday, September 3, 2017

What Do You Think of This (Salon)?

Oh, Park Slope, you give so much to the people of means:

Emily Blunt's home, courtesy of Apartment Therapy. I cannot believe she's selling it?!?!?!
Note to Reader: You have to look at the whole house tour to get a sense of how truly massive it is.

Kristin, what do you think of this? Well, I love it, but more for the architecture and overall vibe than for the interior design, which could have been made a zillion times more functional. I mean, who needs 2 chairs looking at a mirrored wall?? But hear me out.

This is effectively the layout of my house. Sure, my first floor could fit in this room (if you folded it in half) but see that bay window? The foyer? The orientation of the staircase? People, I can relate. When I first walked into my home, I knew I would buy it and it was because it channeled this vibe, writ mini.

I love many styles - mid-century, Edwardian, Victorian, chalet, robot-modern industrial, pretty-well anything English-looking in a dark-walled, brooding way - but this is the architecture that makes me wonder about past-life theory. I mean, I cannot encounter it without feeling entirely at home. I've been here before. And I'm super habitual. It's a mark of how much I like the rug that I wouldn't rip it out in favour of those wood floors, unhindered. Look at those freakin' floors.

Now, I do think you've got to have a shit ton of space to waste it so spectacularly on this layout. This room is not for living. It's for waiting in or passing through. And that's ok, I guess, though I would do it differently. In fact, if there's one thing about this house I dislike (in terms of the architecture), it's the massiveness. Hard to feel cozy here.

But what about this, other than the gift of its bones, do I love? The admixture of modern lighting and original features takes a sassy approach. I approve. I love the mash-up of painted wood in the salon against the original wood in the foyer. (In this respect, I'm no purist. You try living in NYC in winter. One needs light.) I think highly of brightly-coloured furniture against a minimal, neutral background. It's punchy, but it doesn't overwhelm.

So, what do you think?

Monday, August 28, 2017

What Do You Think of These (Bathrooms)?

Some days, I fixate on one palette, as evidenced by these intriguing, European bathrooms:

German house from Desire to Inspire. Seriously, look at the whole tour. It's luxe, if not my scene...

Spanish house from Desire to Inspire. Is it just me or can you spot a Barcelonean place from its floors alone?
See a theme? In full disclosure, I'm not one of those people who shies away from pink. My house was painted very pale pink from top to bottom. Admittedly, it was that way when we bought the house but, when I repainted, I kept the pink.

Kristin, what do you think of these? Well, what I love about them is the textural quality of each. They're pretty busy on either the floor or the ceiling, but the rest of the room balances that out, to my eye. And in both instances, mirrors give scope. Mind you, it's scarcely like these rooms need additional scope. They're huge by comparison with the size of my new bathrooms...

Re: German bathroom: I do love rads, that door molding is lovely and the sink is huge. Mind you, the wood is too yellow-toned for the pink, IMO, and it looks like you could stab yourself on the edges of that structure (would we call it a vanity?). I love that this is set up differently than most bathrooms - to suit the realities of the space rather than to force the "standard bathroom" orientation of things. The lighting is pleasingly soft, but the lit mirror means one can apply makeup day or night.

Re: Barcelona bathroom: Honestly, that floor. I love it just cuz it reminds me of Barcelona! I adore the height of the room, the huge window and shutter. I love the mirrored backsplash under the sink. I love the juxtaposition of light colours with black and the rosette on the ceiling (though it's strangely placed given where the WC is). I don't like marble much but, given the choice, this is how I'd use it. (Note: marble is a pain in the ass, IMO. I don't recommend it.)

Moreover, I find both of these bathrooms kind of sexy (if one can apply this term to a bathroom without seeming weird). I think I will be aiming for sexy in the new house.

But what about you? What do you think of these?

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Renovation as Metaphor

Having spent much of my life supported by physical order and the knowability of structure, I have said - at least 100 thousand times: I am not the kind of person who does that. And by that, to be clear, I mean any number of things - going to a rave, jumping out of a plane, eating bugs, camping. But never have I used that phrase so often as when I'm discussing renovations. Which is kind of strange since, prior to now, we have done one major structural reno on the house (the third floor) and numerous smaller ones (a bathroom, for example). It's not like I've never done this before.

Last week, we decided (like every idiot who's ever done a major renovation) to increase the scope of the project in a rather meaningful way (financially and structurally), at which point it came to me viscerally: I am the kind of person who does this. I mean, not only am I doing it, but I'm doing it more.

On the rollercoaster that is this project, somewhere between the hideous height and that ok plateau that goes through the splashy water feature, I can tell you I would do a bat-shit crazy, absurdly expensive reno any day before I'd parent a baby. I think I may be finally coming to terms with how tortuously anxious I was as a new mother. I was unceasingly panicked at the thought of losing my child (after a pretty fucking horrible first few days). My hyper vigilance was my way of convincing myself that I could forestall danger, the unacceptability of loss. If only I used my will and constancy, if I did it well enough, then everything would work out. And in the process I became a shell. (OCD peeps, it's not just lots of hand-washing.)

But this is not about that. This is about how, while it may take me a while to get there, once I make a commitment I am all-fucking in. Really. There is no half-measure. (Again, likely a function of my neurochemistry or, shall we say, my personality.)

Brief sidebar in case you follow me on Instagram: The fucking builders haven't even started the fucking framing that was supposed to begin last week during a projected 7-10 rain-free days which are now inching towards a close. I don't even know if the timber has arrived. So I'm not getting all "I love renos" cuz we've broken the back of this...

I said that my ideal renovation would, without changing the size of my house one square inch, cost approx 800K. I'm now flirting with that cost zone, for what it's worth, getting closer to it than I ever thought I would for, like, every good reason on the planet. And yet, the time not to spend was before I signed-off on a huge project that was unquestionably going to cost a whack of money. Now I'm doing it and I'm not going to forego something potentially spectacular because of a momentary little thing like a budget. (Note: I make these sorts of decisions with financial advice and, so far, this still looks like a good idea on paper, even if it sounds insane. Sure, could I be richer if I never did anything? Absolutely. But I'm not leaving my freakin' money to the cat orphanage and my kid will have an eventual place to live - or a shit ton of money to go somewhere else with.)

The scope increase, which should be doable "on time" (so hilarious because that concept is profoundly MEANINGLESS - what they're saying is that it will simply add to the vortex of "extra") sounds lite but is rather destructive (before it is reconstructive), even as it won't be anywhere near as destructive as everyone assumed. We're going to open the wall between the staircase and the dining room to allow light to get from the front to the back of my shotgun house. It's pretty clear that this will bring a really attractive reno into the realm of sensational. Like, Architectural Digest good.

Why have I resisted this - my mother's recommendation, please note, or she will be very displeased... Not because of the cost or extra time but because it means I'm going to have to destroy my original, Century dining room. And if you've known me for, um, an hour and a half, you know that I a) love my freakin' dining room and b) believe that one is a steward of history, not a killer of it.

See, given that it's a load sharing wall (dead in the middle of 3 houses that are partially attached), we're going to have to open the walls to put stabilizing beams in. And, more meaningfully, we're going to have to tear up the ceiling - with its plaster and foot-deep molding and rosette - to reinforce the joists of the second floor.

On the plus side (no joke), there doesn't appear to be any duct work running through that wall so we won't have to trash the entranceway too. At this point, there will remain but 3 original rooms in this house and every other one will have been gutted and/or torn down and rebuilt.

This is the equivalent of building from scratch when you live in a row house. Only it costs more and takes longer.

But, as Scott genius-ly suggested, to turn my mind around, those before us renovated thoughtlessly, and trashed a lot of history, leaving dysfunctional remnants. It's true. Also, apparently I can recreate my dining room so that all of the features will be recaptured (potentially even with reclaimed materials). It's making a philosophical sacrifice to create a new architecture that will be beautiful and well-made enough to survive for another century. Actually, to survive better. And since the builders accidentally wrecked the westernmost plaster wall in the dining room, when they tore off my kitchen, I've had to come to terms with the loss of some history already. (And yeah, that didn't go over well...)

Is this spin? Absolutely. But I'm on board. (And, please don't judge. The retro-fitting of one's principles is difficult.)

You know those shows on HGTV where the people work with architects and engineers and make crazy changes to their homes and it's painful to watch because they are insane with the scope change and the unknowns that become problems that need to be solved by doing more work? You know how you watch gleefully, maybe with a glass of wine, and you think: Lord, those idiots. Why did they do that? That cost is ABSURD. Do they really need to undertake additional unnecessary project X? God, look at that rotting beam they now have to fix and the foundation disasters and the boulder in the backyard that's too big to move. And then you take another handful of popcorn. (I really miss popcorn.)

People, I actually don't care about those shows anymore. They cause no anxiety. In fact, half the time what those crazy people are doing is functionally less crazy than what we have already undertaken. I'm on the dark-side. We're half way between here and there and I'm experienced enough now to know that I cannot control the outcome with my rumination. This is dangerous and unknown, just like raising a human being. But I am the person doing this and I'm not going to apologize for or undervalue it. We may be nuts, but we're also visionary. And that's worth a lot of money, time and effort to me - apparently.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

What Do You Think of This (Garden)?

Sometimes, I suspect that my mother doesn't like 84% of my design email fodder because she's crazy. How could it be any other way? The last few years have taught me I am unusual in that I truly cannot imagine that things I enjoy are anything other than objectively fantastic. Of course, I don't generally admit this to people.

Also, not sure about you, but I don't have a lot of chances to mull over art design with people. Maybe if I had more exposure, I'd be all "Oh, I can see how our opinions diverge".  Maybe my style would be more balanced and broader. Instead I'm rather committed to but a few things:
  • Cleanness - I need a space to be actually clean-seeming but also visually undistracting.
  • Colour - I like neutrals and wood tones but they usually don't cohere without deeper or brighter colours, IMO.
  • Warmth - Cuz Canada...
  • Architectural Intrigue
  • Practicality - Show me some kind of ingenious, attractive space-saver any day...
  • Elegance
  • Light
I think most people like most of these things - they're all good, no? But maybe now's the time to broaden my horizons.

Question: When you seriously change something up, do you prefer the idea of sticking with what you know (which is naturally appealing) or hovering at the margins of your edgy self?

At any rate, let's move the design to the outside world today:

Landscape Design of Tom Stuart-Smith courtesy of DesiretoInspire
Kristin, what do you think of this? Um, simply that it is perfection. I love the controlled wildness. I can't say enough about the colour scheme - purples meet greens and yellows. The water feature is relaxing but also has an industrial feel. It is truly reflective. I think this space is beautifully proportioned given its size which is, admittedly, very large. I love its low profile, how it uses natural topography to find balance. I can smell the cultivated nature.

But what about you? What do you think? PS: Check out that link for some utterly spectacular photos.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

What Do You Think of This?

So I'm considering a new blog series called What Do You Think of This? Effectively, it's a ploy to a) look at photos of (what I consider to be) interesting design and b) get myself, somehow, to a place that I can think beyond the pit, I mean, the healthful foundation, of my transforming home. Really, the pit is more metaphoric than anything, she says, trying to sound convincing.

Here's the idea: I'll find and post photos from one of my interior design sites. The photos will not be of one style or palette or room or locale. I will aim to make them relatable, whatever that means. The rooms will likely trend towards cozy and the homes/gardens compact, to resonate with the kind of home I'm building. I wonder if I'll come to regret writing that sentence if the only rooms that appeal to me from here on in are big! (Think: Mood Board, not "this is what I'm working with specifically".)

Then, I'll tell you what I like about the pic in question - and perhaps relate it to some aspect of design I'm thinking about for my own home.

I play a version of this with my mother on a daily basis. Note: She dislikes a full 84% of everything I show her, but I've got her number when it comes to places in Paris and Barcelona. Have I ever bothered to, um, save any of the house tours or photos?!?! Apparently, that would be entirely too structured for my interior-design brain which, I've recently discovered, is a fucking renegade. Do not tell her to organize in the way she does with, well, anything else. Style is a muse, y'all. Disclaimer: There is one other thing I undertake as unstructuredly as interior design and that's cooking. I refuse to follow a recipe. I commune with the food as I commune with spaces and I don't think mathematical structure helps overly, in those instances. Honestly: food and design are the same in that they are entirely associative. That's why there's relatively little, objectively bad design. (I'm going through an open-minded phase.)

So, for our inaugural space - and let's not put too much stock in any one photo - the Paris salon:

Photo courtesy of Apartment Therapy

You can learn more about this photo (and see a very French, full tour) here.

Kristin, what do you think of this? Well, it's in Paris (big city, gorgeous architecture both get points in my book). But in terms of the room itself, I love the light, the height of the windows and the juliette balcony. I love the textured walls and how they allow simplicity to shine. I love gold accents (though I do NOT like that table which one would get injured by routinely, I imagine, and which overwhelms the rug). I love that the only things that bring depth of colour into the room is the couch - and the TV. It's not that I support the overt visibility of TVs but I have a TV in my living space so I like to see versions of rooms that embrace the inevitables of living life. Who doesn't love the floors and the dimensions of the door? I'm fine with animal skin conceptually, but I don't think it's the piece, so much as the neutral layering that makes the rug integral. There are cut flowers - the essence of elegance, IMO, and a sign of nature within urban sprawl. But most of all I appreciate this room's cozy minimalism. It is not cold, even as there's very little in it. It's comfortable. Would go well with a glass of wine and some good music.

So, what do you think of this? And, by all means, do my mother proud with your honesty :-)

Thursday, July 27, 2017


This post is brought to you by noisy, hot/cold, greasy rainy Toronto... Alas, ain't no work going on at the open pit house today. I could go on at some length about the fantasticness of my recent vacation in Baie St Paul (where Cirque du Soleil was hatched, weird little fact), about how the weather everything was perfection - but my Instagram feed says it all, in so many photos you could almost string them together for a time-elapsed movie. Sorry about that. More on that topic is in the works, but today's post has its own amusing spin...

When we were planning for the reno, one of the questions/concerns we had was about the sorts of things we might find while excavating our very old property - about ways in which this might add time or money to the project, given unknowns. Our shorthand referent for this was "a boulder in the garden". For example: What if they start to dig and they find, oh, I don't know, a huge rock submerged in the backyard?!?! Let's not draw any comparisons with icebergs, which certainly came to mind as we envisioned this unlikely, but terrifying, outcome.

Well, my friends, yesterday, while excavating, they found a fucking boulder in the backyard. I kid you not.

Of course, this notion seemed infinitely more devastating before we began the rebuild because, there's nothing like having to fix the rubble foundations of both of your neighbour's homes and repair a structural beam holding up your house to put a silly little boulder into perspective. Mind you, it doesn't make things any quicker or easier.

When the builders called us about this, Scott and I actually started to laugh. Sure, it might have been the post-vacay elation, or nerves, but honestly, it just seems so on point. And now that the boulder has been found - the very metaphor for our every fear - I suppose we can calm the fuck down.

Whatcha gonna do, right?

Thursday, July 13, 2017

From Pain to Equilibrium: This Really Is A Thing

A few peeps have emailed or commented to ask about how my “anti-inflammatory-esque lifestyle” is going, whether the pain is gone. I figure, at this point, I should approach the question more holistically than nutritionally because, while I understand my body differently, with more nuance in each passing month, I cannot attribute improvement to just one approach.

The thing about chronic pain (intermittent or otherwise) is that it often isn’t caused by one factor – and it’s generally resolved (or managed) by many solutions that take years to parse together. I’ve been on the anti-pain scavenger hunt for a few years now. In retrospect, I know I’ve had musculo-skeletal and nerve pain since childhood and it went entirely unheeded, because I didn’t understand what was happening and adults don’t assume that children are in regular pain. Then it went away, but would routinely recur in one form or another in my 20s and 30s– frequently in neck and head. Then I got pertussis in my early 40s and, man, that fucked me up. I’ve been dealing with the fall out ever since. Add some mid-life hormonal chaos into the mix and there’s my own personal factoral soup. (Note: It’s way more complicated than this but you get the gist.)

I spent the first 4 years of my pain-management experience focused on bio-mechanical fixes, diagnostics, body-work and supplements. The ones that have been infinitely most useful, depending on the day, include my Yoga Tune-Up balls, my acupressure mat and pillow (the bed and head of nails, as I call them), vitamin D, collagen powder, massage, acupuncture and my self-devised body-work plan (which focused initially on therapeutic yoga, traction/hanging, breath-work and fascial release).

I’ve spent the last year focused on diet, with the express aim of reducing systemic inflammation, specifically as I now know I have non-negligible osteoarthritis which is thought to be motivated by my genetics and a family history. Oh, and I’ve also given a lot of attention to neuroplastic techniques for pain reduction, which is more of a mental-shift than wholesale new activity, because all of my body-work is fundamentally neuroplastic.

Each of these things has reinforced the others while numerous other approaches seem to have had no impact, so they have been abandoned. It’s impossible to say whether – in the last year - a critical mass of techniques has finally started to yield more significant improvements than ever before, but I do believe that the dietary changes have been key. Mind you, so have all the others, as far as I’m concerned. The thing is, I may get a massage once a week but I eat multiple times a day. So I do think diet has created a kind of pathway to cohere all techniques – a metaphoric service tunnel in the house that is my body/mind.

Having said this, I still can’t quantify exactly how I am improved. I still experience pain and sometimes it is severe. I still crave sugar and that is emotionally very difficult. I’m still stressed out by all of the things in life that stress all kinds of people.

So what’s changed?

I’m glad you asked! What hasn’t changed? I’m older, I’m wiser, I’m more aware of interdependencies (of biochemical and other varieties). I now know why it is believed that I have pain (a diagnosis) – though I’m so na├»ve that I don’t realize there are many people with infinitely more gnarled skeletons than mine and they feel little or no pain. I have also come to understand how a mechanical issue (jaw malocclusion) has had rather significant impacts on my ability to sleep, breathe and pretty well do everything else one does with one’s mouth. I now have a bespoke mouth gizmo to undercut the negatives but I may need to get more extreme about the medical dental devices in the future.

There are people who spend less time on their careers than I’ve spent on my pain condition and I still have pain. But I’m less afraid of it than ever before because I don’t feel like it’s controlling me anymore. As we know, pain is something that happens in the brain, not in the muscles and bones and fascia and joints and nerves. Sure, all of those things express the impact, but the source of this issue is the best place to target it. I do believe that the huge shift I’ve undertaken – the essential flip in my ingestion of carbs and fat – has helped my brain tremendously but not in the ways you might expect. I don’t think my memory is any better. I’m still anxious (and BTW, I in no way begrudge my anxiety – it makes me who I am and I know it’s as protective as it is antagonistic). Anxiety is also comorbidly associated with pain – as are many of the other conditions I just naturally happen to have been born with. If ever there were a candidate for chronic pain, I am that individual. But I am mercifully introspective. My sensitivity and my intelligence (note: I’m not going to underplay this - I’m smart and I own it) have given me so many mechanisms for improvement. I feel everything, physical and otherwise. I feel all of the bad and all of the good. I feel it deeply and broadly and incisively in ways that sometimes threaten to smash me up. But my awareness will also fix me. Mark my words.

Somehow, stopping the sugar/grains/processed food, limiting the booze and legumes and amping up the fat has made me better able to understand the contingencies between my body and my mind. I feel the gear shifts in my brain that bring about the gear shifts in my body. And they are so calibrated, so nuanced, it’s bizarre. For example, eating fat has somehow allowed me to understand (convolutedly, of course) that I have to be less active than I’d like. Sure, I can do vinyasa yoga with the best of them but it’s not good for me. It looks good but it brings pain that lasts indefinitely because I by-pass all of the warning triggers that my biochemistry is sending. I’ve used body-work just as I’ve used sugar – as a numbing agent. If I don’t want to be in pain, I have to listen. I have to slow down. And that’s something I don’t do naturally. I’m not wired that way and it’s very hard for me, to vastly understate it. Fat curtails my natural impulse to act constantly. It’s soporific. For some people, that’s not helpful. For a person who is compelled by everything -it may be a saving grace.

I have one other ace in the hole. Another tactic that's vastly changed the pain situation for me, but I'm not going to discuss it on the blog. If you suffer with pain, you're a regular reader/I know you, and you'd like to reach out, feel free to email. What I will say is that, like fat, it targets the pain where it lives, and - along with the dozens of other things I do on a daily basis - it's been a game-changer.

Am I cured? No. Am I on the road? I suspect yes. I mean, if nothing else I am INFINITELY less puffy and I can wear my rings for the first time in 3 years. That's an external sign of reduced internal inflammation, which will eventually lead to reduced pain, I can infer. Moreover, when I have pain (even pain that would probably floor most people), I can generally live "normally" i.e. go to work and work hard. My family life, my non-work energy, definitely takes the hit, but no one said balance is easy.

So that's my update on this topic. I welcome any questions or comments - cuz sometimes these days, despite stats that prove I have many wonderful readers, I do feel like I'm blogging in a vacuum...

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Not For The Faint of Heart

I keep waiting for a fun moment (and one which isn't overwhelmed by one sort of stress or another) to tell you about how fantastically my reno is coming along. I've decided I might as well just get on with it, cuz the fun part has yet to materialize.

If you follow me on Instagram (and you should, cuz I take lots of photos), you've seen a few pics. BTW, that's as close to my house as I've got, in real life, in months. Sure, Scott's there daily because, apparently it doesn't matter how much you spend on a reno, you end up managing the job. Seriously, and sadly, I have yet to encounter a person in construction who didn't disappoint me in some way or another. (Wait - I had an awesome plasterer who used to be in this band. I loved him and now he's retired.) The construction industry is profoundly broken in Toronto. I'm not quibbling about the quality of work, but if I told you how much we're spending - and how much we're doing - and how FREAKIN' engaged we are (and I don't mean like evil micro managers, I mean, you give us a job and we meet, nay exceed, your needs and direction), you'd be on my side.

I don't do things badly. Allow me to clarify: I do things as well as is possible within the realm of my abilities, which are not negligible. And, if I'm paying you almost twice the amount that my original fucking house cost, I expect the same of you.

Fortunately, I'm never doing anything construction-related again, after this (although Scott has some exotic pipe dream about creating a studio on the laneway). He can have that studio as soon as I forget about, and pay off, this reno. No prob. What's keeping me going is that, once this is done - and done well - I can revel eternally in the dinner party stories it's going to net. I can see myself moving from that phase of life in which I advise about the miseries of parenting into the one in which I warn everyone, dramatically, to just go buy a luxury condo.

So far, we've eaten into our healthy contingency fund with gusto having discovered 3 unanticipated issues. Two are foundation-related (and we knew this would be the source of any serious trouble that might arise) and one has to do with the fact that my house was apparently being held up by toothpicks and newspaper. As you can imagine, none of these issues has been a cheap fix. When it comes to the foundation (and the load-bearing beams), one does not fuck around. I was so hoping I might, at some point in my ownership of this second child home, be able to throw all the money at the fun stuff. Ah, dreams.

In truth, were I to do all of the things I really want to do (in the price point of my choice) - without increasing my non-basement square footage by one cubic inch - I'd be on the hook for 800K. Maybe more. And that's just an insane amount of money to throw at a wood-frame row house that's 120 years old - on top of all of the other renos I've done, that is, and the original cost of the home (which was, mercifully, reasonable for its day). To clarify: My budget is NOT 800K.

I also feel the need to clarify that, despite my modern-style crassness on the money-talk front (and I'm one of those people who tells it like it is, if not in great detail on the internet), I am not a woman of unlimited means. No doubt, I have a good career and I've made some sensible investments, but I will be paying this off without a trust fund. To wit: I'm starting to reconsider that whole climbing up the executive ladder thing... I know that the likelihood is high I will see ROI and, yet, it is to be confirmed.

The other day, as my husband spoke with our neighbours about the latest way in which we would be utterly responsibly, directly improving the value of their home, he almost started to cry. Every time the phone rings, every time the rain starts - and it's fucking epic, like we've never seen before - we wonder what's coming next.

Of course, all of the other stressors of life - our work, parenting a challenging near-adult, pain (in my case), being displaced - don't really improve the situation.

I wish I could show you my new window design, with excitement - because Scott and I designed it ourselves and it's really fucking chic - but I'm too absorbed in the dirt to go there. And today I learned that we probably can't order the windows (that take months to arrive) until the framing is up (which should have been well before now) because, given the nature of the design, said windows might not fit perfectly otherwise.

We don't even have footings in the ground.

It costs 5K a month to live elsewhere, while I continue to pay all of the bills that go with my regular life and home, and every time we come across a challenge, the clock on our return is reset.

Our one non-negotiable, the deciding factor in our choice of builders, was: Get this done on time. If we need to spend more, we'll consider it. If you need answers from us, just call. We are decisive, we are responsive, we are knowledgeable and we do research. We have a fucking structural engineer and architect on speed-dial. We will not hold this up. We are motivated.

Not that anyone will admit this to us, but at this point, I'm pretty sure the duration of this project may expand by 50%. And, while I can't blame the builders for the act of God that is weather, I can blame them for losing my crew (over the 6 weeks it rained least this season) because they didn't have the wherewithal to make a decision that would have kept the train on track.

Am I being catastrophist? Oh, my friends, you do not even know the depths of my catastrophism. It's an art-form. I mean, I'm a lady with an anxiety disorder and a heart condition. I'm not in a happy place right now and I'm ok with that.

Am I being unfair to the builders? On reflection - and you know that's my thing - I believe that I am NOT being unfair. But you'll never know. No question, I do righteous indignation like no one you've ever met especially once I've decided you're an idiot. But before I'm unfair, I'm strategic. I'm not short-sighted enough to risk my relationships when things are in play. I mean, I'm a negotiator in my day job. I got this.

So the project marches on. I'm exceedingly grateful to say that, 3 days ago, when the latest crisis occurred, the firm did what we hired them to do. They kept us informed, honestly - and Scott and the architect created a path forward in two hours. (Why the builders didn't come to us with a solution is another story, but I'm not going to waste my time on that disappointment.) I'm also grateful to say that they've made some extremely impressive headway on the foundation (and they're doing good work). Maybe we've forged a new relationship. I'm willing to accept that possibility with gratitude, even if my trust and respect is eroded.

When I had a kid, and I realized that it was way more stressful that I ever could have envisioned, I knew I would never do it again. I understood that I was not suited to it, despite my love for my child (which I feel is obligatory to say, though I sense it should stand to reason).

If you were to ask me - and trust me, everyone does - do I wish I hadn't undertaken this? Do I wish I'd sold my house and moved elsewhere and left all this bullshit to someone else? I can't say my answer is yes.

I am not having fun. I am a bitch much of the time and I'm frequently freaked out. But some part of me knows I can do this. I do believe, fundamentally, that this project is going to work out - if not on the smooth trajectory of my choice. I do believe, deep in my heart, that I will make this home beautiful because I've put my stake in the game - and frankly, because I am an artist and technician at my core. Plus I've got fucking good taste. So, on with the show.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Dear Kristin

One of my fab readers, who appreciates her privacy, sent me an email yesterday on the topic of my last post. It occurs to me (and this reader told me she would be receptive to a response in post format), that the whole point of having a platform is that it gives an opportunity to pool information and provide potential advice to those of us we may not know personally, but with whom we likely share many common experiences.

Below, I've described the reader's situation - and my response. Of course, I am NOT a medical professional so any sort of medical response would be irresponsible. Moreover, I have (thankfully) limited exposure to the issue at hand. But that doesn't mean I don't have opinions! I sense your feedback would be quite welcome - in the event that any of you has encountered a similar challenge. So on with Kristin's version of an advice column...

The High-Level Scenario:
  • The reader's husband, in his late 50s, recently had a heart attack (one artery with blockages, 3 stents).
  • She describes his pre-heart attack diet as "not SAD (i.e. standard American diet) but not perfect". He's quite active, fyi.
  • He's gone on statins, though that's not his doctor's preferred approach. He is in the process of adapting to a very low-fat, vegetarian diet of the Ornish variety because the doctor's preference would be to lower blood lipid levels by diet vs medication. FYI - the Ornish approach encourages approximately 10% fat...
  • Having said this, the patient will remain on statins for a year, per medical advice, given the specifics of his experience.
  • The reader is particularly concerned that the combo of statins plus a very low fat diet might have eventual cognitive impacts. Dementia does not run in his family.
  • The reader is thoughtfully avoiding inundating her husband with many conflicting pieces of information at a time when he's adapting to a new landscape.
  • The reader is in favour of a more "Primal" diet approach (i.e. the kind of diet I have been eating since January).
  • She's concerned that genetic testing would no longer be useful because the undesired outcome (that one tests genetically to avoid) has already occurred.
Kristin's Take:

For starters, Lovely Reader, I am thrilled that your husband is recovering from his health set-back! This is excellent news and it should be celebrated at length, IMO :-) Secondly, I want to acknowledge that a serious health concern affects both partners in a long-standing relationship. On some meta level, you have had a health crisis too. Your life has been dramatically altered by this unexpected occurrence. You may feel the need to change your own lifestyle to support your husband, even if you wouldn't have otherwise, and that may have impacts you can't predict (or aren't looking forward to). You're already confronting a contradiction between your own views on diet and health and what your husband has been integrating from his health care team. I have confidence that, as this scenario becomes more knowable and "normal", this may be easier to navigate but, in the meanwhile, I think it's important to own your approach to eating while also respecting your husband's path forward. It seems you have a great partnership so that should be doable, if potentially tricky at first.

I imagine that, if I'd just had a heart attack of this magnitude, I'd be pretty fucking afraid. I mean, I'm fearful of far less frightening things! And I'd probably react reflexively at first: I would shout from the rooftops that I would never do X again (or Y). I would probably follow my doctor's advice to the T (additional research having not yet been done, cuz I wouldn't have been expecting a heart attack!) And I think that's a reasonable response when recovering from such an experience.

However, over time, I'd either come to really respect my doctor's advice, or wonder if there are better approaches for me, based on my own personal biochemistry and the many other factors that make me "me". Your husband may come to this conclusion too - or he may be on the road to long-term low-fat living. (Who knows, he may adapt to it fantastically.) That's his choice.

In this instance, I actually think that genetic testing would be really useful. Some people have high blood-lipids but do not possess the gene variant associated with late-onset dementia (APOE4). I don't know to what extent non-APOE4 carriers are susceptible to dementia when put on statins and a long-term low fat diet. There's probably some useful (and even more very sketch) info out there, so no time like the present to find out what exactly is going on with his specific genes - and the nature of the high-cholesterol he might have.

I also don't know to what extent your husband's heart attack was caused by high-cholesterol and I wouldn't in a zillion years hazard a guess. Having said this, I've heard that it's often triglycerides (as much as LDL) that predict heart attacks and there's some evidence out there to suggest that cutting down on processed foods and sugar can lower triglyceride levels precipitously in some individuals. Your husband's doctors may be able to provide all of the answers to his questions - or you may choose to do additional testing of the vaguely "alternative/integrative" variety to come to your own conclusions.

One thing I will say: when people don't eat fat, they eat sugar. And eating sugar under these circumstances may compound the heart challenge in the long run (never mind the impacts of healthy fat). I do believe that fat protects the brain and that evidence supports this. Whether the risk of dementia due to low-fat diet is higher than the likelihood of a future heart attack is a complicated question and determining the answer is likely going to take time and research.

It's possible that statins will be less-often prescribed in the next few years. Moreover, given your husband's doctor's disinclination to prescribe them, it's possible he may not stay on them for long enough to have any impact in the long-run. I wouldn't really worry about them in the short-term but I'd do all the research and consider how my own blood lipid composition relates to the studies that are out there.

No question though, my bias is against the low-fat vegetarian diet. If research and evidence were to definitively support that my own body would be better-off for eating this way, I'd likely bite the bullet. But I don't think the evidence points this way for most people and I would NEVER do it on spec. (Even the pre-"healthy fat/low sugar diet-obsessed" Kristin ate lots of fat, if much of it unhealthy.)  On the basis of my reading - and pointedly, my own experience - I believe that most bodies need healthy fat (maybe not in volumes the likes of which I eat, but probably more than 10 per cent) and they generally benefit from animal protein (a readily bioavailable source for those who may struggle with metabolic syndrome, which is implicated in heart attacks for some).

So I hear your concern about the Ornish diet over time. The thing is, though, that through considered research, that which happens organically, you can work together to determine whether your husband's specific issue would be best ameliorated by the low-fat plan currently suggested by the doctor. I mean, if she's a good doctor, she's likely going to engage with your questions and the information you bring to her. Her perspective may change over time. Follow her advice, by all means, unless you determine that there's another approach that would work better for your husband, given who he is (genetically, biochemically, emotionally, mentally etc.) He's infinitely more than the heart attack he's just experienced, and my advice would be that he should live, very exuberantly, with that in mind. xoxoxo

Readers with life-experience: Please chime in! Feel free to disagree with me (politely, preferably :-)). I'd love for our reader to gain info from those who know the score.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Gene Genie

You'd have to be really new to this space to not know that my 40s haven't been smooth sailing on the health front. Add to that my family history, namely triple-negative (non-hormonally receptive) breast cancer, and one doesn't even need my natural propensity for hypchondria to feel somewhat concerned about what may be around the corner.

But here's the thing: Everyone's health is a crap shoot. There are those that have never encountered one medical misery in their lives, who end up being felled by some mystery ailment (or a streetcar) in very short order. I know, not up-beat reading, but it's true. You live only in this moment and, on some level, that is tremendously liberating.

If there's one thing this decade has taught me it's not to count my chickens.

Just yesterday, I was sitting on the (glorious) patio of my (other) neighbourhood local, which we call "crappy place", cuz really, the food is only tolerable for the atmosphere, and I was reminded of how, last summer, my tailbone was a jumble of terrible discomfort. I couldn't sit down for months without feeling such pain - and terrified. What did it mean, I ruminated endlessly (cuz that's what I do)? It pretty well tanked my last-summer, stupidly expensive Canadian vacation. But there I was, yesterday, sitting for hours (the service is one of the things that leads us to call it crappy place), endlessly joyful that my ass was comfy on a metal chair. Half the time, life is just perspective. And the other half the time, I suggest simply waiting it out.

Where is this cheerful post going? Well, on to genetic testing, natch. What's an obsessive-compulsive ruminator to do, if not to poke at the clasp of Pandora's box. (Does that sound dirty??) Of course, this isn't my first kick at that can. I did DNAFit last year. Note: I wouldn't recommend  that platform though I learned a lot. As far as I can tell, the raw data isn't made available which makes it pretty limited information, in the long run.

What I would recommend is 23andme, now that they've got FDA-approval to release personal info on 12 genetic diseases, numerous other traits (fluffy and other), drug interactions, ancestry info and more.

For example, wanna get that pesky BRCA 1/2 gene mutation info out of the way? You can do it seriously affordably with this test. In truth, I wasn't particularly concerned about most of the diseases for which my genetic predisposition was tested. I sense that this test is best marketed, in its current iteration, for those of Ashkenazi Jewish heritage - a population with some serious and unfortunate genetic propensities, at least according to what I've read.

Of course, the kind of breast cancer I have an unknown, statistical likelihood to encounter, is not tested for at this time...

But here's the thing, I can't help but to consider that, if I'd known 20 years ago about my early-onset osteo-arthritic bones - likely turned-on in childhood - I might have been able to forestall some seriously unpleasant outcomes to date. Maybe not. Maybe I would have been young and stupid and unconcerned. But I doubt it. Knowing what I know now has, bizarrely, improved the quality of my life. It's given me a map, a way forward. And for this I am grateful. Sure, I really wish I weren't managing a potentially serious degenerative condition. But really peeps, there are worse ones out there. To understand even a potential source of my pain has made that pain, when it comes, bearable and (somehow) less frightening.

But I didn't spend 200 bucks CDN (on sale!) to learn about the BRCA gene mutation, which I don't have. Oh no, I did it to learn about a potential propensity for muscular disorders (a thing I am legit concerned about), Parkinson's (my father has a tremor-condition which is not Parkinson's but still concerning), and - you guessed it - Alzheimer's and late onset dementia.

This is the point in this post that you should click off if you don't like reading about dementia. Trigger-alert.

I'm that girl who reads everything about cholesterol, the APOE gene and statins. Note: Do your fucking research peeps, before you ever go on a statin drug. Cuz it's possible that your high cholesterol levels, if you have the variant of the APOE gene most associated with Alzheimers (that would be the APOE4), may act as a protective factor. Peeps with the APOE4 variant may have super-high blood lipid levels, as a protective mechanism, because those peeps don't metabolize cholesterol (gold, by the body's standard) particularly well in the brain. Look, I'm no scientist or doctor, but anyone on a statin should be seriously clear about the potential impacts - particularly as new research seems to be showing that they don't do much to prevent death.

At any rate, I'm fascinated by dementia and the genes that predict it, as many of us are. My grandmother, now 96, was sharp as a tack until she went on statins a couple of years ago. Now she's a shell. Sure, it's possible one's going to hit the wall at some point - and mid-90s seems to be as good a time as any - but it was strange how that happened (and how anecdotally causal it seems).

Y'all may know that I am rather attached to my ability to problem-solve and my general cognitive well-being. Who isn't? Really, I was secretly hoping to find I had 2 copies of the APOE2 variant, the one that's so protective that they inject mice with it to cure them of induced-dementia. Note: This double variant may come with its own issue of the cardiac variety. Genes, peeps, they're so fussy.

To break it down, and I won't get too sciency cuz I can't be bothered to go back into the program to re-read all of the stats and I'm not a scientist, as we've established, about 1 per cent of peeps get 2 copies of APOE2 and they have a lifelong likelihood of 0.6 per cent of getting Alzheimers. Woohoo for them! Most of us fall into the APOE3 category (@60%) and this is the default, having 2 copies of that variant. Those with 2 copies are not considered to be at genetic risk for Alzheimers. Then there's some subset of the population (2% of Euro ancestry? can't remember) that has 2 copies of the APOE4. Effectively you can have the following allele options: 2-2, 2-3, 3-3, 3-4, 2-4, 4-4. No question, it's not optimal to have any 4s. But if you're going to have any 4s, it's better to have only one. I'm not going to sugar-coat this, if you have one variant of the 4, your likelihood of getting Alzheimer's is 22-35% by age 85. If you have 2, that stat goes up to 50-68%.

Let's detour for a minute. Let's talk about how, it really doesn't matter what your gene profile says (on some level) because your lifestyle, your epigenetics, are going to have a lot to say about what ends up happening to you as you age. This is why I get up every morning with manufactured confidence that my bones are going to work with me, and not against me, for the next 50-odd years.

Moreover, most people who currently have Alzheimers don't have the 4 allele! Remember, most of the population doesn't carry it. Lifestyle really is key, it would appear, or only those carrying the 3-4 or 4-4 combo would be managing this terrible illness.

Let's also consider - on the topic of dementia specifically - that there has never been so much funding poured into any illness because it's becoming so fucking epidemic that there's no ignoring it. Sure, I suspect that diet is a massive contributing factor - yet another reason why determining one's genetic propensity is useful, because then you can knowingly alter how you eat (if theoretically knowing that the Standard American Diet is going to kill you isn't enough). My point: It's never been a better time to be predisposed to getting dementia, even as there's never a good time. They're going to have some cures within the next 5 years, I predict.

So how did I fare? I'm very grateful to be in the largest cohort for those of Euro ancestry: APOE(3-3). Let's face it, this is your likelihood too, regardless of your heritage. Only 1 per cent of peeps are practically immune and only 2 per cent of peeps are seriously, genetically predisposed. @20% of people, across heritages, have that 3-4 variant, which isn't optimal but isn't as concerning as the 4-4.

You may not want to know. I wondered if I would. I took the test considering that I might never read the results. That lasted all of 5 minutes because, in my domain, knowledge is power. Something's going to kill us all and, IMO, our responsibility as people is to live as well as we can until we can't any longer. Avoiding the facts doesn't change them.

What would I have done had I discovered I was in that potentially unfortunate 2 - 20 per cent? Um, I would have researched the SHIT out it. Frankly, I've been doing that for a couple of years, so I'm pretty sure I would have done what I've more or less done already - got rid of most sugar, grains, bad fats, junk food, cut down on booze a lot and upped the fat content I eat dramatically. I'd prob have gone even more "healthy fat" keto than I've already gone - and I'm pretty far gone (in case you see the glossy quality of everything I eat). Strange how this seems to be the answer to improving numerous conditions, conditions that were nowhere near as prevalent before Big Sugar addicted so many (and made the idea of fat so fear-causing). Yes, I realize I sound like a conspiracy theorist.

If you're predisposed to dementia, it's possible that your brain doesn't metabolize cholesterol optimally. Cholesterol is not evil. It's your mind's fuel and it makes you healthy - cognitively and otherwise. I'm not going to devolve into the small category of people who really need to worry about it; the majority thrive on good fat. Anyone with a mood disorder or epilepsy can corroborate this. I'm also not going to get preachy. Do you research. Make your own choices. Be happy having made them.

So that's today's tale. But I wanna know: Have you done this test (or similar medical genetic testing)? What's your predisposition and how do you feel about it? For those who haven't tested, are you worried? Blase? What do you wish you could be tested for (presuming it's not available currently)? Please, let's talk!

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Restash and Planned Projects

You know you've gone crazy when it takes almost 2 hours to wind yarn skeins. Admittedly, I encountered challenges (ain't it always the way??). But still, 9 balls of yarn - @2400 yards of fingering weight - takes a while. Especially if you hit tangles. And that doesn't even include the 10 skeins/ 1700 yards of Berroco Quechua, a new sport-weight yarn made of yak, merino and alpaca:

Berroco Quechua in Raven colourway - I appear to be the only person in the world who's bought this so far. Apparently this yarn just came out...
I intend to make a sweater out of this, probably starting in August. These are the latest options:

A-symmetrie by Cecilia Flori - this one is a bit shapeless but I do love the neckline.

Finlaggan by Kate Davies

Blackberry Cabled Cardigan by Alexandra Charlotte Dafoe
I'm  leaning toward Finlaggan. I guess I'm having a cable moment. I do have a slight concern that the Quechua may be a bit drapey for a classic cable cardi, but I'll verify that when swatching. The stitch definition and ply of this yarn are really lovely. It has a luxe feel that belies its price and I'm pleased to be a guinea pig.

I also bought this sock yarn, which I justified (it being an impulsive buy) by promising the remainder to my friend Jeanette, who bought it and is making a pair of socks with it right now:

Turtlepurl Yarns Striped Turtle Toes in The Artist
The remainders of her and my socks will be enough for a third pair. Note: For me (and I use @72g or 250ish yards of yarn on a pair of socks), buying 2 batches of Turtlepurl yarn (4 mini skeins designed to make 2 pairs of socks) actually yields 2 pairs. It's still pricey for socks. I got this batch on sale for $31 after tax but 62 bucks for 3 pairs of socks (or 2, if you knit differently than me), ain't cheap. The colour scheme is strangely riveting given that I don't love orange, baby blue or purple and I generally hate them together. Go figure.

Per yesterday's post, I've come up with a good plan (I think) and I'm amazed that all of the yarn I purchased is what I hoped it would be (in terms of colour, hand, quality and usefulness). I'm happy with my riff on Sonja's Starting Point. I'm going to use a deep yellow and a very green, saturated teal to round out Sonja's colour choices (a variegated, speckled cream, a grey and a cream). Effectively, I'll have swapped the navy blue and orange red she used in her version for the green and yellow:

This isn't where I saw myself going but I like it a lot. The breakdown is:

Quince and Co Finch in Peacock
Koigu KPM in 2405 grey
Shibui Staccato in Brass
Shibui Staccato in Ivory
Madeline Tosh Merino Light in Modern Fair Isle

I flat out copied the variegated Tosh from Sonja - and I liked her light and accent colours (cream and grey, which coordinates with the variegated yarn). The 2 "colours" are seriously saturated, very appealing. I do love knitting with yellow, though I rarely get the chance (because I never seem to buy it?!).

This is not the cheapest shawl I've ever decided to knit. Even with one yarn already purchased (the Quince, which is pretty inexpensive), and every other yarn 20 per cent off, this will have cost me $150 after tax. Sure, I'll likely have remainders to feed into other patterns, but I can't realistically quantify the cost of items made with yarn remnants. I purchase the yarn to make a particular item, and that item bears the cost.

For $300 all in, I have enough yarn to make a) a pair of socks (and a second if I merge my yarn with a friend's), a large shawl and a sweater. I didn't pay too much attention to price this time, because I had access to a good sale, I knew what I wanted to make and I've been knitting long enough to know that skimping on yarn is not the way to go (unless you have no choice). These yarns all feel gorgeous - not that they are all luxury-branded. That Shibui silk/merino blend is pricey. Madeline Tosh provides good yardage for the price, but it's still not budget.

Best of all, I have a bunch of new projects to spice up my stash knitting (always happening in some format or another). It's important to have choice, to keep it interesting.

So that's my re-stash. Thoughts??