Sunday, April 30, 2017


So back to the food lifestyle (i.e. my sustainable version of the anti-inflammatory protocol diet), I've done something nutty even by my own standards: I bought a glucose monitor. Look, I didn't online-shop this one. I went to the pharmacist and told her my rationale (see below) and she suggested that, while she's never had a non-diabetic person purchase a glucometer, sometimes doctors do prescribe them to their patients when they're trying to figure out blood sugar things. Apparently, I could have got a prescription and the device would have been free. It was worth the 75 bucks to me to avoid having to spend 1.5 hours getting to, from and waiting for the doctor.

The Rationale: I've been wanting to confirm what's going on with my blood sugar for, like, 10 years. When I say I believe I have a hair-trigger response to food - and more specifically to not eating food regularly enough or in the right way - I'm not being glib. I've observed this multiple times a day for as long as I can remember. It's only in the last 3 months that I realize I ate simple carbs to forestall nausea (which is recurrent every few hours and not the result of stress - trust me, I'm an expert on my stress-response), shaking, tachycardia (I have SVT), headache and deep irritation followed by the kind of hunger that is desperate for sugar in a way I cannot describe (like drug addiction drive). My mother took me to the doctor for this when I was a kid and it was determined I had hypoglycemia (a diagnosis that seemed out of whack). In retrospect, I think it was idiopathic post-prandial syndrome but there's no way to know until I have a better sense of my blood sugar levels after fasting, before meals and after meals.

I can say that the one thing that's different in the last 3 months is that I eat a ton of fat and few simple carbs. My protein intake is about the same. I've gradually increased my fat intake to, oh, 60 per cent of my diet - healthy fats - and I am much less shaky. Yeah, I suppose this is ketogenic but that's not my goal. I'm just trying to find a way to eat that makes me feel stable (bizarre concept peeps) and, on experimentation, this has provided the best response to date. When I start to feel shaky - because I am really resistant to eating regularly and I do believe this is learned/habitual - I eat a tablespoon of fat (fish oil, mct oil, coconut oil, avocado oil) - yeah, out of the bottle, and it buys me a little bit of time to find food without nausea or shaking. I can see that my consumption of alcohol, while not motivated by low blood sugar levels, works to keep them stable in the absence of food, or the presence of small amounts of food. (Update: Actually, today I learned that booze lowers my blood sugar levels to the very lower edge of the normal level. I do appear to have lower than average blood sugar at certain times of the day.)

Let me be clear right now - I am acting as my own experimental subject. Needless to say, I am not suggesting that anyone else do what I'm doing. This is the latest step in an engaged conversation with my own biochemistry and it comes on the heels of many years of introspection.

But back to the monitor...

For starters, you practically need a higher degree to figure out how the fuck to use this thing (which is actually multiple bits and pieces). Don't worry - there are videos and tons of guides. I'm not one of those peeps who gets as much from reading instructions as I do from looking at all of the moving parts and independently figuring out how they go together. But this requires reading.

Also, everyone I've told about this (I've been planning this purchase for a while), thinks I'm insane because you have to lance your finger with a tiny needle (to get a drop of blood, which is how the blood sugar is tested). Let me make this perfectly clear: If that freaks you out, don't do it. I am in no way afraid of needles, blood or pain, though my preference is not to inject things, cuz that's creepy. There are so many people in this world who have to undertake this monitoring process multiple times a day and they manage elegantly. For me, to test my blood sugar 3 6 times a day for a few days is entirely baby-style so I don't intend to make something out of it. I can assure you, lancing barely registers on the pain scale. Barely. (This isn't to suggest that diabetics don't have a rough road because testing 7-8 times a day, life-long, is a totally different story and one I'm happy not to have to entertain.)

I just started this morning and I'll keep you posted, though I can appreciate my blood sugar levels are probably the most boring thing imaginable to anyone other than me. I do love that we live in an age where this monitoring is possible.

Kristin's Coconut Milk Hot Chocolate

Let me leave you with a hot chocolate recipe that I "made up", not that hot choc recipes are rocket science. It's SO insanely delicious, you might want to drink it every day. It's fab for curtailing hunger and moderating anxiety because the fat involved (medium chain fatty acids, from coconut milk) goes straight to the brain where it can be used as an alternative source of fuel to glucose. Also, the cacao (or cocoa) powder contains cannabinoids which get together with your brain's endocannabinoid receptors and produce the most fantastic sedative effect. But really, all that aside, it's really stabilizing for those of us with the hummingbird metabolisms.
  • 2 tbsp unsweetened cacao or cocoa powder (use the good stuff and avoid dutch-process), mix with a bit of water to create a smooth sauce. Use fork or small whisk.
  • 1 can (798 ml) coconut milk - use the kind from BPA-free cans, organic, pref without guar gum. Put the cream in a saucepan. Discard the liquid. Add a bit of water to re-liquify the cream. Don't use too much because the cream will thin as it warms. You can always add more water later.
  • Pinch salt (smoked is good)
  • Tsp vanilla extract (the real stuff)
  • Tsp maple syrup - use the least amount of syrup you can while still getting with the taste. It should not make the coconut choc mixture sweet. The taste should be neutral between the bitter, salt and sweet, but not more bitter than you can stand. What you're looking for is richness, not sweetness.
Mix all of these together and stir till silky and lump-free on low heat. When it heats to point that you can see steam, turn off mixture and leave for 10 minutes to cool and cohere. Then turn back on - again on low heat - and wait till it comes almost to a boil. This will give a very silky, glossy texture to the choc. The texture should be what you like - so add water as necessary. I use very little water cuz I like it to taste like Mayan hot chocolate (really dark, bitter and thick). You may not be able to drink the full amount (which comes to about 8 oz). I don't have an issue with this but do keep in mind that it's somewhere around 500 calories of saturated fat. It's really good fat but, if you're eating a lot of carbs in your diet, you shouldn't overdo it with this. Fat plus simple carbs (sugar) equals weight-gain in many. If you eat very few carbs / sugar, you can make this part of your daily diet - though you may want to talk with your doctor if you have high-cholesterol.

You will know pretty quickly if it's not right for you. It'll seem too fatty and rich. If it works, you'll feel fantastic very quickly and it will not seem fatty at all. Also, you may need to adjust to the relatively low sweetness if you're used to eating chocolate sweet.  1 can use 1/2 tsp maple syrup before it starts to taste like dirt (though it's a pleasant, ground-like taste). Some peeps are put off by it. You can always add a bit more syrup, half-tsp at a time, to get to a place that works for you but be very discriminatory.

This is perfect as breakfast (you can prep it the night before and store in fridge in the saucepan for next morning) or dessert or meal replacement (on occasion). If you're one of those people who can't eat once you get shaky, you will prob be able to stand this because there's no chewing involved and it's taste-neutral. If you are anxious, it will calm you down. Trust me. In a rare few, the high-concentration of cocoa/cacao may make you actually high, so I've read. I can attest to the fact that my brain is very happily responsive to chocolate, hence my daily consumption going on 25 years.

Today's questions: Have you ever monitored your blood sugar with a glucometer? How did it go? Do you love hot chocolate made with coconut milk? Have you ever tried a low-sugar, high-fat, high-cocoa version like the one I've suggested above? Let's talk!

PS: I've posted a photo of the hot choc on my Instagram page in case you want to see what it looks like.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Closet Case

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 17, 2017


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, April 15, 2017

On Track

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

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

This was our destination in the Junction:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Where There's A Will...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Fight and Flight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The Grand Dame

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* refers to actual new build, not just redesign