Saturday, June 17, 2017

Gift

So, I wasn't super psyched about my bday. The weather was shit (although it didn't actually rain), it was on a Monday and I ended up having to work though I had the day off. But strangely, despite that suboptimal constellation of events - it was my freakin' birthday and I made sure everyone knew so they would comp me things. (What? I'm not proud.) I also told everyone that I'm 47 so they would respond with the obligatory you look so young! I intend to work this angle indefinitely, irrespective of accuracy. Youth, people. It's an attitude.

(Brief Sidebar: Make no mistake, a reno is not good for one's youthful mien. I don't know how to quantify my level of stress because I don't have a classification system that supports it. In the words of my day job: this construct is not contemplated within the terms of my current level of experience. I don't want to lead you to believe that this is because its badness is beyond fathomable. I've actually felt more oppressively stressed on a number of occasions in years past. For example, so far - and I'm not taking anything for granted - having a reno is way less soul-crushing than having a baby. Because renos don't wake up screaming.)

At any rate, each year, my friend Nicole takes me on a garden tour. The tour moves around and we've been going for so many years (at least 12) that we've watched it travel out from the centre (the tiny, creative urban gardens that we love and can relate to) to the increasingly affluent "interior suburbs" as I call them. I LOVE the garden tour like a person who is twice my age - and, while we're creeping up on them, the tour is largely comprised of women of a certain age who like to apprise you, sometimes at length, about their own personal experiences of growing plant x. This year, a small dog followed me from garden to garden, who can say why?, to the great dismay of the volunteer staff who kept saying sternly: "Ma'am, your dog cannot enter the back yard." No matter how many times I advised that it was not my dog, that they were welcome to pick him up and remove him, I could tell the volunteers did not believe me. It was odd. Strangely, as we walked from one batch of gardens to the next, a woman going too fast in a big-ass German SUV, rolled down her tinted window and bellowed at me: "Have you seen a small black dog?" and it's not like I was the only one walking down the street. (Um, thought I, get your ass out of your car and start actually calling his name. Your dog ain't gonna know you're looking from behind a steering wheel.) Ah, rich people...

We wandered, on a beautiful, sunny, sweltering day from gorgeous home to gorgeous home, sneaking a peak at indoor swimming pools (behind the shubbery), admiring yet another elm or birch (or peony). Usually, I finish the tour with a heady sense of status anxiety. Don't misunderstand, I take it on for the joy of seeing the gardens, but I always feel vaguely crushed by my inadequacy in the end.

It's silly, I know. I'm generally confident. I recognize that I have a great life. I'm sure I have great taste :-) I have never had one moment of self-doubt when reading Vogue magazine though I cannot afford most of the fashion and all of the models are a foot taller and infinitely more waifish than me. In fact, some of my happy memories include dissecting Vogue with a bottle of wine and a bag of all-dressed chips. But, God help me, Home and Garden throws me into a tail spin.

As they say, age brings wisdom - whether one fights it or not, it would seem - because, this year, as I ambled and peered and petted the flowers amongst gorgeous, classical architecture - in a 'hood I knew intimately from my affluent youth (talk about triggers) - I was entirely unmoved. In fact, during this day, I felt that I saw but one house and one garden because everything looked EXACTLY the same as everything else. There was no creative impulse in this place (east Rosedale meets Moore Park, in case you're wondering). Not one home owner was there to show his or her personalized garden. I imagine they were all in Muskoka... There were no tiny gems, no well-won flowers, coaxed despite the climate. The hard scaping was all expensive and well-maintained - and apparently all acquired from one vendor that doesn't feel the need to reinvent the (elegant) wheel. And for all that, I didn't envy it. I didn't want it. I just didn't give a shit.

In fact, I was vaguely irritated that people of such means could be so inherently bland. There was so much squandered opportunity. Moreover, for the first time ever, I fully perceived the unending effort and money that goes into maintaining a grand, cookie-cutter Edwardian home - because one's primary goal is to look just slightly better than the neighbours (if homogeneously). For the most part, these people work and work and work (as do we all in this centre of commerce), and there's no time to do much more than to pay others to take care of everything. These people don't have energy for (or interest in) being creative, at least not according to their gardens. And that's just not me.

Who can say why I came by this joyous epiphany? Time is a teacher, after all. But I've been banging my head against this wall forever. What changed? Is it that I've finally undertaken the creative redesign of my dreams (or occasional nightmares)? That I finally feel empowered? Is it that I'm living rich-adjacent in my own right and, frankly, I'm unimpressed. I really don't want to live in a block party 'hood that fund raises for a dunk tank. What the fuck, people? I don't want to get to know you after a 10-hour day, though I'm very happy to wave and say good morning (and even to help you should you require it). I'm a downtown girl who finds tremendous pleasure in the standoffish oasis of the urban home. It's not big, but the bones are good. I can be anywhere in 5 minutes. When I want the best El Salvadoran food in North America, I walk up the block. It's right next to awesome Ethiopian and some damn good Nicaraguan too. Plus there's table-cloth bistro, when I'm feeling the need for oysters and cava, albeit in the other direction.

My (front) garden reflects my love of monochrome and tidy verdance. It's an expression of my obsessive compulsive nature, a metaphoric chess board. My former back garden (which will be recreated, post-reno, in a new motif because, why not?) was an ode to floral phasing, respectful of the limits of the landscape. It transcended what it was originally, a sad melange of concrete and lane way.

These spaces will never be perfect but they elevate what's there. Beauty is much more enticing for the the decay that surrounds it. I've always regretted that I see decay in everything but it's my way. Show me anything - I'll find its problem and then I'll solve it. I cannot skate on the surface, though often I wish I could.

My current reno is the very embodiment of this. We have unearthed what was submerged and now we're paying the price (in all the ways). But challenges are meant to be resolved. And homes are meant to be a reflection of the self, at least in my opinion. So that's the gift I got on turning 47. Not bad, I think you'd agree.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Intuitive

There are different kinds of healthful eaters and I fall into a category that doesn't eat kale. That's actually not true. I eat kale whenever it suits me, which just happens to be rarely. I had a really bad experience with it once so I'm gun shy. What can I say? I'm not a tree-eater. Anything that reminds me of grass or trees isn't going to get my love, unless it's contained holistically in some dish that I enjoy.

I do like quite a few vegetables and vary them in my diet but, honestly, if you ask me about my food impetus, they don't rate. They're a pleasant accompaniment, a reprieve from the substantial.

Moreover, while I believe in eating vegetables for health (though I'm only motivated by desire), and while I know we need to treat this world better and consume less meat, I eat it or fish/seafood pretty much daily, in small amounts.

I'm effectively a person who doesn't eat sugar, processed food, beans (though I flirt with these because I like them) and grains of any description. My wine consumption is regulated, but I've hit a sweet spot.  Oh, and it happens that I'm not super into vegetables.

These factors can coexist and I am, nonetheless, a healthful eater- though some of you may be wondering wtf I actually do eat (read on). But, here's the thing, I've spent a shit ton of time over the past 6 months considering what food resonates. What food gets me off? Because, remember, when I started this thing I was beyond satisfaction.  I inhabited emptiness, or it did me, and everything was cavernously bland.

I'd been such a mess of sugar addiction that it affected my sense of taste. Sure, I'm a food discerner from way back, but there was always a fundamental disconnect between my appetite, my hunger - and the needs of my autonomic body. I was driven by an irrational, semi-regular compulsion to eat sugar in whatever form was easiest.

It sounds really bad when I put it that way...

So I made a decision. In my new landscape, I would only eat food that I want. If the thrill was elusive, my job was to find it. I've undertaken this with sincerity :-)

Foods I love to eat and so I eat them pretty well as much as I want, as often as I want (and I'm not known for my moderation):
  • Full fat dairy, theoretically, in unrestricted amounts (but I must remain mindful, in the scheme of things, to ingest this food group in balance with the others - because I could eat only dairy for the rest of my life and, let's face it, that wouldn't really be smart): butter, cream, yogurt, cheese, milk... Cream is my perfect dairy. Sometimes I drink 4 oz of heavy cream at a go, in one form or another. Dairy has a notable effect on my mood, it calms me the fuck down and it makes me happy. I just have to perfect my creme patissiere without grain sugar or flour (but 1 tsp maple syrup) so I can eat it for dinner when the mood strikes - and use it in dessert, natch. With berries. It's high in good mood chemicals, protein and fat. What's not to love??
  • Other oils - cuz if I'm going to eat vegetables (and I do appreciate them for their many gifts), they need to be oily. Also, oil is good on or in everything.
  • The coconut in all it's forms, but particularly the cream and oil (notice a trend?).
  • Meats that are on the more raw vs more cooked side. Preferably salty and saucy.
  • Potatoes - but not in large quantities and generally smothered in some sort of fat (or rich sauce). I particularly love roasted and mashed.
  • Cacao/Cocoa/Chocolate - Also ridiculous mood enhancer. It tastes like earth and when you mix it with fat, it's soporific. But without sugar, this is a totally different food than any choc bar (even the 80%).
  • Pistachio nuts (and I eat other nuts but these are my faves). Really salty or spicy ones.
  • Eggs for their spectacular versatility. They give richness to everything.
  • Bacon. Look, let's just give this one its own line item and move on.
  • Berries, pears, apples, stone fruits - the things that make the best crumbles
  • Coffee and wine - in moderation, but only because if I have more than 3 shots of coffee in a day, I start to shake (sad) and when I drink booze as I used to, it makes me feel sick. Note: It would appear, though I didn't realize it at the time, that I used to drink wine as a blood sugar stabilization mechanism. Now that I don't eat sugar, I don't find wine anywhere near as biologically compelling (though it is a beautiful accompaniment to meals).
With few exceptions, I eat for texture first. That's what makes or breaks food for me and rich textures are endlessly pleasurable. Next I taste for umami. Then sweet. With sugar, I want only a tease. I love the dense, fatty, saucy things (in proper proportions). I do live in a cold climate, after all.

Also, I don't love chewing unless I'm in the mood (which is strangely infrequently in the scheme of things). What do all of my faves (soups and sauces and mashed potatoes and mince and scrambled eggs and drinking chocolate and soft cheese and vegetables sauteed in sauce) have in common? You don't have to feel like chewing in order to enjoy them. Note: This isn't about my TMJD for the most part. It's about an undercurrent of physical revulsion at the thought of eating something that must be chewed/absorbed. Yeah, I agree, it's fucking weird. I used to mask my aversion with a constant infusion of sugar and simple carbs.

I've decided not to worry about any of this. This is how I'm eating right now. It suits more of me than it doesn't suit (which is more than I can say for my former eating styles). I only eat what I want. If I desire sweet things before savoury, I eat them. If I want a quarter stick of butter in my scoop-sized mashed potatoes, I eat it.  If I want veggies braised in bacon fat, I eat them. I do not restrict salt or spices or fat or protein. I also welcome fruit and sweet-aligned foods (cocoa, wine, coffee). I pair them with the most stupidly fatty and moldy cheese I can find.

Is this low carb or ketogenic or primal, I have no fucking idea. It seems that most of my calories come from fat but nuts, fruit, veg and dairy have carbs and I eat them daily, sometimes in substantive quantities. I drink wine sometimes. I make dessert many nights of the week. I just cut the sugar almost entirely, eliminate the grain and use beautiful dairy, fruits, eggs and spices. You'd be amazed by how dessert can serve as an decadent main when you do this well. I don't know if this is healthy on paper. I know it's healthy for me.

Is it immoderate? Well, maybe, if you don't like the idea of mainlining fat, but does that matter if the end result is feeling and looking better? One could say I am exceedingly moderate about the sugar and grains. I sense I'm a vegan's nightmare.

Is this a good idea for others? Who can say? It can't hurt to try if you have mood or memory issues, an arrythmia, chronic pain or an illness caused by systemic inflammation or degeneration. Bio-available fat stabilizes the nervous system. But who can say what impacts come to those with high lipids or fat-sensitive systems? We are not all the same. We shouldn't all do the same thing.

So, today's question: What kind of eater are you? Emotional, Whole 30, health nut, gluttonous, austere - define yourself in the moment :-) and let's talk!

Saturday, May 27, 2017

When Feeling Bad Is Good

So, I tried another experiment. I'd love to tell you it was calculated but, in truth, I saw macaroni and cheese and chocolate stout cake on a menu and I decided, fuck it. I was gonna eat all the sugar and processed grains and no one could stop me. When Scott tried to take a bite of the cake, I went after him with my fork (in case you're in any doubt of the addictive nature of these foods). I added insult to injury with a glass of wine. Oh, and I started the day with half an english muffin (something I've done only 3 times since January). Hmmm...

Oh Lord, people. I was so sick, so fast. And, almost 24 hours later, I'm still feeling mighty bad.

So, what happened?

Well, the first 30 minutes were a blur of utter bliss. Oh, I was high and so freakin' happy. I cannot explain how awesome I felt.

The next 30 minutes were a sad, sugar come-down. I started to feel a bit shaky. Given what I now know about blood sugar, I sense I went into a rebound low. I walked for about 30 minutes. By the time I got home I felt nausea - not surprising since I'd just eaten @ 1000 calories of sugar which I didn't bother to stabilize with anything like fiber or healthy fat or protein.

Then I got super miserable. I thought I might have to end it all as a result of the weather. Truly, I feel this way even with stable blood sugar, these days. It's been raining for weeks. A good day means it only rains half the time and it gets up to 15C. Even the people who don't mind rain are losing it. Those like me are in a perma-melancholic state. But it was particularly pronounced, this misery.

An hour later, I had to take a nap. I had a terrible headache. When I woke, I felt like I'd been hit by a truck. I didn't want to move but I knew I had to. When I stood up, I was dizzy and my bones/joints hurt terribly. In case I've been wondering whether my new lifestyle/diet has helped my pain, well, I've got my answer. The arthritis, as they call it, kicked in big time.*

Never mind specific symptoms - on a meta level, was so out of sorts, I didn't know what to do with myself. To calm myself, I picked up my needles. When I tried to knit, I noticed that my fingers were super-clumsy. I couldn't gain a rhythm. My body stiffened.

At that point, I ate just about the only thing that didn't make me want to throw up - a handmade coconut oil, cacao, almond butter cup (low in sugar, high in fat and protein) and I drank about 20 glasses of water. Later, I ate a salad for dinner and some pistachios. It took forever for the night to go by but eventually it was a reasonable time to go to sleep. When I woke this morning, my fingers were SO swollen it was crazy. Like old times. My stomach is still a mess.

Wow. I have gone off-road on a few occasions, of course. Usually that means an extra glass of wine or an extra tsp of maple syrup in my drinking chocolate. But I've really avoided the wheat flour to date - partly because there's nothing good about it - unless it's non-processed or from Italy -  and I don't actually miss it (not like I miss rice, for example - and even that I can avoid without difficulty). All that comes of eating it is having eaten it and likely wanting more (as it's in all the yummy things).

Will I do this again? Um, yeah. I'm pretty sure I'll forget how bad I'm currently feeling and the lure of cake will once again set in. But it's not going to happen soon, that's for sure. Also, next time I do it, I'm making the fucking cake cuz my baking is incomparable.

Till then, yours in austerity, K

*We can call it whatever but I'm pretty sure it's sugar and grain induced autoimmune response (aka systemic inflammation). Feel free to disagree, as no test can substantiate this. I'm telling you, I lived the result and I'm sure that's what it is.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Knitting Through The Stash

I’ve been doing a lot of knitting lately but, somehow, my output is down. I can’t explain it. Between January and May 2016, the year of workaholism, I knitted 17 projects. Between this January and May I’ve knitted 8 - and there's currently one project on needles. Am I making more complicated projects this year? Not really. Sure, February was a bit of a wash, with the move, and I have knit some yarn-intensive scarves this year (as opposed to smaller accessories). But I find it hard to believe that these two factors have lead to a 50% decline in productivity in 2017. I do love Ravelry because it gives me endless useful data (and it allows me to contribute to a data stream that will inform other knitters for years to come). And it keeps me honest. I suppose I could compare yarn weights and yardages of individual projects to confirm that my assessment of down-output is correct. One thing's for sure - I'm not knitting any less frequently. Note: I suspect my willingness to plan in ever more detail and to rip back work I'm not loving may be leading to longer spans knitting one item...

Of course, it doesn't matter. Well, I say it doesn't matter but I knit presents, for the most part, all year long and I never have an issue finding good homes for the finished objects. To some extent, knitting is my gift stash - my boutique of hand mades (which do not look home made!). On the one hand, I knit often (and quickly) because that's how I roll. On the other hand, I get to knit all kinds of strange things I might never have come to organically because I'm committed to using my stash yarn (even if I do replace it more frequently than necessary). That combo leads me down a very productive path, for the most part.

My urge to destash (well, not so much to destash as to use the yarn I've purchased because I desired it it and I wanted to use it) has resulted in finished objects that , in retrospect, I'm very happy to have constructed, even if I wouldn't have chosen them under different circumstances (which is to say if I'd had larger yardages of remainder yarn).

That's how these things came to be:

The Vertex vest was a crap shoot - a strange, asymmetric vest that could be very chic or super granola. The yarn, bought in a moment of nostalgia last year, was also a crap shoot. It has great hand but it's an awkward colour, especially in a land so perennially taupe. It took forever to match it to a garment. I aimed to use as much as possible of the 1500 yards I purchased, because it's been strangely difficult to purpose. It's very silky with a ton of drape. It would make a great (if stretch-prone) blanket but I didn't have enough of it to go that route. The colour isn't flattering enough to wear against my skin without something to break up the beige. Vertex uses a lot of yarn for a vest, though less than the pattern suggests, but that's partly because I changed the dimensions - particularly vertically. I didn't want to go too long given that I'm short in the torso - and given the propensity of bamboo to stretch. (Note: the alpaca gives it a kind of resiliency, along with the chainette construction of the yarn, to mitigate over-stretch.)
Vertex Vest
I thought I'd give it away as a big-ticket gift (my mother knows what that means) but I couldn't do it. There's something so warm and comfortable and, strangely, even chic about this vest. It's not perfect but I could see myself making it one more time in a slightly sturdier fabric in a better colour.

What will I do with the remaining yarn? Probably, I'll make another Starshower. Having made it before, I know that I can use up all of the remaining yardage.

Lessons Learned: Don't buy taupe. Experiment with different fibers - it makes things challenging and interesting. Try a pattern out of the comfort-zone - but with touchpoints that are likely to make it work.

This Stockholm scarf, which I made in the round, is an interesting exercise in simple lace-work but I don't love knitting lace. Occasionally I do it because, damn, it looks pretty and when the pattern, yarn and yardage align, you have to adventure. This used every last inch of yarn I had - only the second time I've experienced this in all of my time knitting. It's wash/dryable, very feisty and soft. I've lost interest in cerise, of late, but I know this will be a popular gift:

Stockholm Scarf

No remaining yarn. I first used this yarn to make this sweater - but I never wore it (who needs a short sleeved sweater??).

Lessons Learned: Do smaller lacework projects to keep the process from becoming tedious. Don't work with the Filatura unless size doesn't really matter. This yarn stretches stupidly, the way so many superwash yarns do. That's why I'll no longer knit superwash unless the project is socks, something for a baby or something unfitted that gets a lot of wear. Because I won't hand wash and dry those sorts of things.

Then there's the two- (or more-) toned simple sock thing I've got going on. I've become comfortable with colourwork by using up random yarns together to make pairs of socks out of small remnants.


What will I do with the remaining yarn? Well, in the end, there's very little left (though enough to fix holes). The best part is figuring out how to use the complementary yarns in different ways so that you get more pairs of socks by inverting the pattern from pair to pair.

Lessons Learned: You can really use up every last yard of yarn if you're willing to get granular enough. Only 3g of yarn are needed for a toe. So get creative with socks - colour-wise if not pattern-wise. (But don't mix colour and patterns. They cancel each other out.)

The Binary Scarf gave me the opportunity to do a fancy-seeming Brooklyn Tweed pattern without using the yarn (which is a pain in the ass to knit with and scratchy against the face). But it's made in a BT-style neutral, albeit using Quince Finch:

Binary Scarf
I used unwound, not rewashed yarn in a colourway I never liked on myself (taupe with a pink undertone?!) Originally it formed the bulk of this sweater. I never wore that thing. So unknit it was. I do wish I'd started with washed yarn, so I could have seen how open the initial end result was destined to be. I'd have gone down a needle size. In the end, I shrank it a bit in the dryer to bring the pattern to the fore. Quince shrinks a lot, and quickly, but it doesn't seem to felt.

What will I do with the yarn left over? I still have 230 yards left over... I have no idea what I'll do with it. A matching hat, perhaps? I'm so not into knitting hats...

Lessons Learned: Don't make a patterned scarf with unwound, kinky yarn. It takes the fun out when you can't see the pattern emerge. And flat scarves are freakin' boring to make, no matter the pattern, unless there's colour work involved.

What I'm knitting now:


Welcome Back Garter
I am knitting this one on a whim. And I'm not whimsical. There's a 3 skein version and a 6 skein version. Perfect way to use up a 400 yard skein and 5, 130 yard batches of fingering yarn - or 3 single skeins of 400 yards each. It produces a bias-cut shawl in garter stitch. Super fast, uncomplicated knitting on US 6 needles. And the colour possibilities are endless. I can totally see myself doing the 6 skein version when I've got moderate increments of yarn remaining from sock projects. But in this instance, I'm using 2 colourways I bought at the Yarn Frolic (Shelridge Yarns in Pussywillow and Sweet Georgia Tough Love Sock in Mink) and a third colour (Sweet Georgia Tough Love Sock in Slate) that I've already used some of to make a pair of socks, given that I bought 2 skeins.

If you're into colourwork, this is a fantastic, fun knit. If you're into buying single skeins of sock-weight yarn and they orphan cuz you never make socks, but you haven't got enough of the yarn to make much more than socks, this is a great pattern. The emerging mosaic is so enjoyable. I'm using merino with nylon so that I'll be able to throw this shawl in the washer and dryer.

If you want to destash, getting comfortable with colourwork is a worthy undertaking. I'm partial to stripes and colour blocking. I haven't had the chance to do to much in the way of intarsia or stranded yet. But I'm not afraid of these techniques and, sooner rather than later, I'm going to get bold and steek.

So that's a bit of a knitting update.

Today's questions: Do you obsess over your stash or do you eat through it with little concern for what may become of the remanants (or the full yardage, if it's a challenging fiber)? Have you got a recurring colourway in your stash that you never seem to use because you really don't love it, though it beckons in the store? Is your knitting 20 per cent for you and 80 per cent for your gift boutique? Let's talk

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Alternative Lifestyle

Here’s the thing: Renovating a house that’s 130 years old is folly, pure and simple. The fact that we’re experiencing the wettest spring on record, like ever, since records began, is just an plot point. And, in ironic hindsight, last summer was the driest on record. You may recall we were meant to begin the reno then, but the City fucked it up for us… To address the elephant in the room, no, the builders are not currently on schedule, and the reasons are completely force majeure. We cannot blame them for the outputs of global warming.

Brief depressing sidebar: Global warming is terrible in all the ways – macrocosmic and minute. Small silver lining? TO may eventually be one of the most livable places, once the West coast has been crippled by that impending earthquake (sorry West Coast), and the South is uninhabitable from drought and heat. We’re far enough north and not predisposed to the blights that will be the end of many other places. We are land-locked but we have a Great Lake and adequate water supply. Our economy is sound and we are a seriously, one might say absurdly, commerce-based culture. You don’t live here so much as you work here. I know, sounds fun. But till things get worse, the impact of global warming on this microclimate may continue to be rain, damp and cold. Toronto was a fine place to live, weather-wise, until about 15 years ago. Now the formerly-short springs are non-existent and the winters vacillate wildly. The rain and grey (really it’s more taupe than grey) are omnipresent for, literally, months at a time. It’s like merging all the crappy elements of English weather with BC weather with a bit of Norway thrown in. And, I regret to inform you, unlike London, Victoria and Tromso, this city is full-on ugly without a blue sky and the sun.

But back to my house and its renovation schedule. In addition to the time-sucking weather, we’ve identified a substantive issue in the foundation-digging phase. I’m not going to get into it for many reasons, not least of which is that my freaking out over the internet isn’t going to solve the problem. That's why we have a team of competent builders, architects and structural engineers. Furthermore, these stories are best told at the end of the trial, over a massive martini, in one’s newly landscaped – and envy-making - back garden. Let me just reiterate that renovating a house that’s 130 years old is fucking folly. And really, having undertaken this, even given that I could have bought 2 houses in Baie St. Paul for the quoted cost of this renovation, I’d have been na├»ve to think it wasn’t going to get more complicated and more expensive still. My refrain for 2017: It’s just money.

To address the other elephant in the room: Since I have gone through all of the misery of moving house once, and I appear to be happily living elsewhere (though it’s more accurate to suggest I’m residing), do I wish I’d just sold the Victorian row house and gone somewhere else? Well, if ever one were going to answer that with a hell, yes, it would be now, but given that the housing market in Toronto has gone super nova this year (even more so than the super nova insanity of other years), I need to temper my answer somewhat. In short, what’s happening in this housing market is quite different than what’s happening in Vancouver, for example. Our issue isn’t so much foreign investment driving up prices but actual lack of supply. You simply can’t find a house to buy. And if you can, the price has shot up by 30 per cent in this year alone and probably 200 per cent in the last 15 years. So, while I could sell my house for a small fortune right now, really, I’d have to spend a larger fortune to find another. Not to mention that my small fortune would be smaller, in the absence of this home improvement, for having known about (some of) the structural issues because I’m a discloser.  More to the point, any new downtown house would likely be in way worse shape than the one I currently own. Because, no question, I’ve done right by my home. I have fixed it, nay – lovingly restored it, multiple times over. But no scenario is near-perfect without effort of some sort. And the trajectory I’m on is not for the risk-averse. Did I mention I’m kind of risk-averse? Oh well...

Times are very strange right now, that’s for sure. Liminal doesn’t quite describe it. I live in a place that seems less home-like than many an AirBNB I’ve rented (not that I can fault the place, it meets every need). My kid is only nominally a kid and soon she will leave to begin a life of her own. My old job is my new job and I’m trying to figure out how to express my new self within the usual dynamic. (Note: My old/new job continues to be kind to me in every way and for this I am very grateful.) So much money is going in so many different directions. And it’s not like spending it is fun. I’m not relaxing in Europe. In fact, I’m so far from the finish line that it seems even more impossible to imagine it now than it was before this whole thing got started.

And yet, I can’t say things are bad. The money is quantifiable. On some level, it lives in a spreadsheet. I still go out for fine dinners – to new, fun places now in a new 'hood. I have a quiet, clean place to live. I don’t have to parent in that perennial, exhausting fashion of my friends with young children. My time is mine, more that it has been in years. Scott and I are getting on like 2 lovers on vacation, which is bizarre given that we are generally bickerers when the stress is up. While this city is not at its best, weather-wise - and I’m not at my best once I’ve lived through 9 months of terrible weather - the likelihood is that it’s going to improve. (Note: I’m not stupid. I’m resigned to a wan summer and it does make me angry.) Despite the damp and cold, systemic pain is being kept at bay by a years-long overhaul of my lifestyle – on just about every front. Sure, it hovers, but I’m managing. Despite constant stressors, I’m looking rather good these days.

Some people wander from place to place and they find the constant in themselves. I find the constant in a new inch of height in the cedar in my front yard, in the modulated curve of molding against a century old plaster wall. I find the constant in the room where I’ve practiced yoga thousands of times, staring out the window at the flowers, flowers that now line a bin out back. (My dwarf lilac didn’t make it, btw. It was unceremoniously executed last week and I use that term specifically.) To suggest that I can be where I am is as true as it is impossible because I’m tied to the ties and they’re like vines that grow slowly. But what I've learned recently - and it's very cool shit - is that there’s no reason I can’t be a traveller, unencumbered. After all, this may be as close as I come to living in a new city for a long, long time.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

A Little Bit of Knowledge is a Dangerous Thing

A couple of Sundays ago, I undertook an unassuming biochem experiment on myself, to see what would happen, if anything, to my blood sugar level if I drank alcohol without eating at the same time. Apparently, in some people, drinking alcohol in the absence of food lowers blood sugar. And yes, to address the elephant in the room, I have gone through a zillion little needles because, seriously, I'm not moderate but I am curious. (BTW, while the process isn't painful, it is irritating. One gets little bruises on the fingers pretty quickly. I feel for my diabetic friends who have no reprieve.)

So here's something that's leaving the repertoire stat, whether it's warranted or no: drinking any amount of booze on an "empty stomach". BTW, when I speak of drinking, I'm not talking about hard liquor or umbrella cocktails laden with sugar. On the distant heels of a robust breakfast* (admittedly more than an hour earlier), 4 oz of red wine lowered my blood sugar to the low end of normal** and might or might not have led to a really shitty, possible low blood sugar experience later in the aft. 

To clarify - I ate again an hour after drinking the wine (a few pieces of salami), thought I was sated, and then 30 minutes after that I felt legit hungry, so I ate more salami and some pistachios. My point is, I didn't just drink a glass of wine after more or less fasting for 16 hours. I ate protein and fat at breakfast and then again for a snack. But, while I was pleasantly sitting in a chair eating that lunch, I started to feel the feeling.

As for the feeling - here's how it goes when it's bad (note: I paid as much attention as I could to observe the fast cascade of symptoms, which usually just feels like an onslaught). First up I felt icy-strange, vaguely depersonalized. Then I got hot and cold at the same time and neither temperature would take hold. Effectively I felt feverish on the outside and freezing on the inside but that doesn't really describe it. There was a tinny sensation - like there was metal around me and I could taste or smell it. I became confused - even as I'd been concentrating on something, with no issue, moments earlier. The thing about confusion is that you know something's not right but you can't figure out what the fuck is going on. My arrhythmia kicked into gear. I was lightheaded. I could feel my body searching for some normalcy - a steady heart, the groundedness of my corporeal self. I mean, just the nausea almost had me on the ground.

I did stand, prob not wisely, because I was desperately looking for an escape. On some level, I knew I had to get some food though I couldn't figure out what. (In retrospect, it couldn't have hurt to take a swig of maple syrup, but I wasn't thinking clearly.) As I walked the few feet from the chair to the counter, I also knew I had to get down on the ground because everything was swirly. Note: That's when I got it that things were really not going well. My descent was more by collapse than intent but I was able to make it lighter than it would have been otherwise.

Scott was on the third floor of this fucking rental mansion we live in currently and he couldn't hear me calling, not to mention that I wasn't yelling very loudly. After some period of time that was probably a minute but felt like an eternity, I dragged myself to my phone and called him. No answer. I pressed the button again. He was asleep and his phone was in the other room. Finally I texted: I need help. Somehow he woke up, thought he'd heard me calling him (I wasn't at that point) and came downstairs.

Long story short, he brought me a shawl and pillow (I was on that floor for a while), some water and quickly toasted me an English muffin with a ton of butter - why did neither of us think of maple syrup or a freakin' cookie for the quick fix?? After about 10 minutes of sitting on the floor, becoming gradually less wrecked, I moved to the couch where I fell asleep for about half an hour. BTW, I knew, even as I lay there feeling crappy, that this would be a perfect time to test my blood sugar, dammit, but I could not move to get to the gizmo (or work the gizmo, who am I kidding?). I was pretty cold after all of this. Eventually I moved myself to my duvet-covered bed where I sort of slept for 2 hours. When I got up, Scott brought me some blackberries and a piece of gouda, and some more water. I was fine after that.

I'm sure you'll agree that this is not the kind of thing one wants to experience on repeat. The only thing I did differently on this day, vs other days, was to drink a glass of red wine on a relatively empty stomach. Not that it's the first time I've ever done that (and I don't usually end up on the floor under that circumstance). Were the low normal reading after the wine and the subsequent horrid experience independent of one another? I hope not. I'd like to think I've identified a problem and a solution at the same time! :-) In truth, this isn't the first time I've experienced this fugue and it's been happening since long before I knew about blood sugar, not that it's a regular occurrence. Not having been able to distinguish one biochemical response from the other, I've previously assumed it was an anxiety response. It would be bizarre to determine that this kind of horridness is fueled by low blood sugar fueled by wine on an empty stomach - because that's stupidly avoidable. What the fuck else lowers blood sugar, cuz I need to know! Bring on that lancer, baby. 

What I'll also say is that I will not experiment on myself again without some sugar nearby - not that I have any proof that this was a hypoglycemic incident. In the event that I brought this on myself, I'm a total idiot. My motto: Experimenters, be prepared.

So, today's questions (for the blood sugar savvy): Does this sound like a non-diabetic hypoglycemic episode? Could a small amount of alcohol, taken in the absence of food, lead to this sort of outcome (given food timing). Have you ever experienced anything like this and, if yes, what steps have you taken to avoid recurrence? Let's talk!

PS: It has occurred to me that what allowed this to happen is more systemic than I've assumed. I've been eating no grains or beans and not so many carbs for a few months now. My blood sugar may be generally lower as a result. Furthermore, I drink about 25% of what I used to. I can't imagine this, but maybe my tolerance is lower. Plus, I weigh somewhat less. So the response I had, if blood sugar related, may have been influenced by these factors.


* Look, I don't like eating breakfast - robust was a wet cappuccino with collagen peptides (8g protein), an egg and then, an hour later, my hot chocolate (utterly equipped with fat and calories). Secretly, when I make this drink I usually replace the water with heavy cream on top of the unsweetened coconut cream... And I do eat vegetables, just not in this post.

** For reference, my fasting level was 5.2 mmol/L, after breakfast it was 6.1, after the food-free wine experience it was 4.3. Next time I could test was 30 min after dinner and it was 5.4. How I wish I'd had the wherewithal to test during the "episode".

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Monitor

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.