Sunday, August 26, 2018

Brief Enlightenment

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

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

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

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

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

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

But I digress excessively...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 9, 2018

The Calm During the Storm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 6, 2018


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Hard and Fast

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That's all I got today.