Thursday, May 31, 2007

Names withheld for reasons which will become obvious.
Warning: TMI post follows.

I am attempting to take good care of myself. The universe is fiercely testing my resolve, but I am determined to persevere. I am a true Leo, born on the first day of August and in the Chinese year of the Dragon (among the last post-WW2 baby-boomers), so I have reserves of tenacity it has yet to plumb. Bring it, baby!

I went to my GP earlier this week reporting symptoms I mentioned before: vertigo with incipient headache, and some weird edema in my ankles and lower legs. My BP is a little high (138/90) but lower than the two previous readings (all three together showed as descending). However, that is the likely culprit for both the severe edema in my lower legs and the vertiginous migraines. I saw a neurologist and since May 20 I've been taking 400mg Riboflavin daily, which has almost totally wiped out the chronic recurrent migraines and vertigo I had for the previous 4 weeks (and it worked miraculously fast, too). But a couple of days ago the vertigo and headaches returned and they are hovering. And the edema is coincident with a very faint recurrent chest flutter and a pinching sensation left of centre (which of course was flying under the radar during my afternoon exam - only occuring in the am and evg, and hence not audible under the stethoscope. How does it know?).

Given my symptoms and my family tree of genealogical medical histories playing the top ten tunes on the obesity-related hit parade, including numerous cardio-vascular diseases and assorted cancers, they are wisely booking me for a cardiac ultrasound, an exercise/stress test and a 24-hour halter monitor (I think I will request 48-hours).

It all seems a bit of an ironic cosmic jest. I've had surprisingly good health so far. I have spent 42 years on this earth, most of them rather sedentary except for two periods of physical fitness in 1992-96 and 2000-02. I am lucky that despite my tendency to zaftig Rubenesque proportions I hadn't yet developed any of the associated life-threatening complications. But at 40+ I am clearly at a chronological crossroads and as you know I started earnestly doing something about it.

I spent the past several months improving my fitness in advance of summer training for the September 60km walk for PMH (the Weekend to End Breast Cancer). I embarked on this journey from what is probably best described as enlightened self-interest: I have pretty good reasons both to want to build a healthier lifestyle into habitual behaviour for the rest of my life, and to raise awareness and funding to support people battling breast cancer and the research to end it. Also, fear of pain is a powerful motivator and since this endurance test is not the sort of thing for which you can "cram" right beforehand, it made me get out and move regularly since the New Year. I am at the point where 8-10 miles walking or biking are totally doable. Now I need to build in the get-out-and-do-the-same-the-very-next-day stamina. Instead I am under orders to stay off my feet as much as possible until the swelling and blood pressure return to normal.

My symptoms are really only partly of physiological derivation, largely exacerbated by the cumulative stress of recent months. The reactive fallout from personal choices I made in recent weeks was a blow that left me a bit shell-shocked and I am certain it triggered my current physical condition.

I have to withdraw from an intolerable family member in order to protect myself. This person is a holocaust survivor who functions at a very high level on the surface, but effectively conceals a borderline personality disorder characterized by unpredictable private outbursts of enormous rage, verbal and physical abuse. God knows they have very good reasons to be the way they are and are coping remarkably well, given formative years spent under horrifying conditions. I have tremendous compassion and empathy, but after a lifetime of attempts to appease their engulfing neediness, mollify their defensiveness and still achieve anything resembling balance in my own life, I finally realized last month that I just cannot do it.

Now I am dealing with a bizarre mirror situation while preparing for the upcoming arts festival. The material and artists are good, but despite my best efforts I've had escalating confrontations with an artistic director who refuses to accept that as artists we have a right to decide and state what we are and are not willing to do (and then she, of course, has choices w.r.t. how she responds to that information as well). For months now she has refused to hear the word “no” whenever my soprano colleague or I say it; instead she has temper tantrums and then starts to cry!

This person is a truly brilliant poet & composer. Unfortunately she is very disorganized, wasting vast amounts of time being chronically late, scattered, overextended and unprepared, and by repeatedly digressing into her own personal issues in the middle of rehearsals. She is also utterly wrapped up in her personal victim ideation and complains about her vision not being respected, wheedling and using emotional manipulation to get her way, while dismissing our input and concerns.

Also, we have become aware that she tries to play us off against each other. She has actually commented that she cannot fathom our lack of competition and she really seems to resent our mutual support. I’ve been informed by my comrade in this insanity that (among other things) the A.D. actually told her that SHE is giving ME some terrific opportunity (like I need her to build my career?). That's a very interesting notion, since but for a visa snafu 4 years ago with the goodfellas at US immigration flexing their new-found muscles and delaying my application (it's still pending, BTW... LOL), I would have been performing with Des Moines Metro Opera, and as a result might by now be regularly engaged with Chicago Lyric Opera, Houston Grand, et al... Quite frankly, versatile dramatic mezzos don't grow on trees. Okay, then.

... And meanwhile she is regularly bad-mouthing the other soloist to me! Both of us are being told by everyone we know in the biz to get the hell out. We’ve decided to be professional, support each other and just stick it out for this festival, (so as to not let down all the other participants).

So right now I'm just hanging in there for another 10 days and thanking God for my husband/soul-mate/best-friend/biggest-fan, my good friends and colleagues, my excellent therapist, and the ever-growing light at the end of this tunnel. And when I feel ready to do more than seriously contemplate felony homicide: I knit instead. One stitch, two stitches... very zen.

Despite the behind-the-scenes personality issues, the festival (June 8-10) is shaping up to be a fabulous weekend of chamber music, theatre, poetry, folk music and activities on the south shore of Lake Simcoe near Jackson’s Point. Then I will have another completely different concert June 23 with several talented operatic colleagues.

Summer will be slower, but I am planning major household organization & minor repairs, I have a new knitting-pattern design commissioned due mid-summer, and I will have lots of new music to learn and make performance-ready for 3 very different gigs in the fall: a kitshy cabaret-and-popera fundraiser gala for Hospice Thornhill, two concerts (I am also producing these) for Holocaust Education Week, and a preliminary concert of a new piece that’s being written (just for me!) about the visionary Canadian artist and writer Emily Carr.

And hopefully, with my health and the weather cooperating, I'll be increasing my training for September and Weekend to End Breast Cancer.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Some days you're the windshield.
And some days you're the bug.

Friday, May 25, 2007

This was an absolutely terrific day.

I had one whole day off from responsibility - no work, no rehearsals, no errands, no laundry. I had good food, good company, good knitting, and met charming people.

DH and I started our day with a sleep-in and a snuggle, and then we trotted over to the fabulous Thai restaurant for their incredibly delicious Friday lunch buffet. Exquisite - as always. And the company was great too! I am so lucky - I am married to my best friend and soulmate and after nearly 24 years together we are still madly in love, still find each other very interesting, enjoy great conversation at length, and laugh together a lot. (And his kisses still make me weak in the knees!)

In the afternoon I finally got to meet my sister-of-the-soul Rochelle in person: She's my Not-so-Secret-anymore Pal and it is a match made in heaven (Thank you, Robyn!). Rochelle and I have so much in common it is like we were separated at birth. And she has spoiled me thoroughly and absolutely beyond any hope of redemption. Warning to any future SPs: Rochelle and Laura before her have set the bar very very high. I consider myself a fairly lavish gifter, but I must humbly admit that I have been completely outclassed. The next few days are going to be crazy for me, but after the weekend I will post a detailed pictorial of the stupendous bounty with which Rochelle most recently blessed me (today).

Rochelle came over to my place to pick me up, then we wandered down to Knitomatic where we got to hang out with the fabulous Haley for a while and play with the fibre - Rochelle acquired several skeins of lovely butter-coloured lace weight Misti Alpaca and some purplicious Fleece Artist silk-wool sliver/roving, while I succumbed to the charms of one skein of Handmaiden Silken in a stunning indigo/royal/ocean/blueberry colourway and some Cherry Tree Hill Silk & Merino DK in an exquisite multi-pastel palette (yes, I said pastel - stop snickering, I can branch out a bit for spring).

After this small snack of fibre sustenance, we hit the road again to attend the Yarn Harlot's Canadian book-launch. Folks, if you've read Stephanie's blog or any of her books and articles, you already know this is one very smart and funny lady. But I have to tell you - you ain't seen or heard nuthin' until you have heard her speak in person. She shines the light on the foibles of knitters and the foolhardiness of muggles with an artless wit and a subtle natural command of irony - and in the process she takes no prisoners.

There were hundreds of knitters (to the awe and amazement of staff at Chapters/Indigo - GTA knitters represented!) and we were all helpless at her feet, laughing and cheering uncontrollably as she skewered the muggle media, and business community for their inability to see past their preconceived prejudices about knitters, and she occasionally hoist us on our own petards, albeit ever-so-gently and lovingly, all witnessed by the rather overwhelmed and dare I say sheepishly bewildered bookstore staff.

There is a rumour floating about the ether that it could not possibly have been the real Stephanie Pearl-McPhee as the lady both (a) was wearing a skirt and (b) had actually shaved her legs. However, rest assured that we do have genuine identity verification: three different samples of her signature from the book-signing were collected, the chain of evidence was scrupulously maintained, the handwriting compared to previous examples and they all passed the most suspicious scrutiny. You can't be too careful.

I regret that I have no pictures for you, but Rochelle took several and I will happily link to her blog and to postings that others are sure to make in the next several days, so that anyone who missed this event can enjoy it vicariously.

This whole day was the perfect mini-vacation from the current eddies of insanity whirling around me. Renewed and refreshed, MezzoDiva now returns to her previously scheduled programming.

The next few days I will probably be MIA from the blog as I am busy rehearsing for the upcoming Blue Bridge Festival, June 8-10 with Ardeleana: I have 6 different concerts in 3 days and a play which is practically a 30-minute monologue, so right now I am just hanging on to the raft as we hit the rapids.

Friday, May 18, 2007

High-fibre spring-fling, a clothes-encounter of the summery kind.

KnittyAmy recently posted about the frustration of fickle fluctuations in personal size, especially when it comes to making your own hand-knitted garments. Like the many commenters on her blog, I’ve wanted to get this issue out into the open for a long time. It’s quite a dilemma. We crave the satisfaction of a beautiful top or sweater or whatever well-fitted personally crafted item lovingly made by our own hands for ourselves. But what do you do when the only certain thing about the size you will be when the cherished item is finally a FO is that you cannot be certain?

From a desire to improve my own health and fitness and to simultaneously do some good in the world, I recently committed to walking 60km in 2 days next September in the 2007 Toronto Weekend to end Breast Cancer. It’s good to have a medium-long range goal to keep me motivated about ongoing regular physical activity, and a feat of endurance like those 60km is a pretty good one: there is no way to cram training for that kind of thing into the last couple of weeks, so I have to haul my ass off the sofa on a frequent basis starting now (or rather a couple of months ago), and this activity has been documented here semi-regularly since the winter.

I will NEVER be a sylph. It is just not in my biological destiny to become "skinny" or "thin" or "slender" or "slim"... I will probably always be somewhere in what is referred to as the plus-sizes. But even without dieting per se, as I keep adding more physical activity to my life, unless the basic laws of biology and physics change, there will be some kind of significant changes in my personal shape and size.

Well I really hate the idea of knitting up something that I love and then having to rip it out and start over, or even worse, having a steeked garment and being unable to rip it out and salvage the yarn for another size or another project. So lately I’ve been knitting several different socks, some arm-warmers, headwarmers, and a couple of scarves while the sweaters, tops, and other body-fitting garment projects were placed on temporary hiatus pending the results of my current fitness-&-health endeavours.

But it’s spring/summer-time, warm and pretty spring time, when a knitter’s thoughts turn to lovely soft cotton, silk and bamboo, in bright colours, pretty pastels or gentle neutrals, for cute little tops, tanks and Tshirts. I feel such a great urge to make up something cute and warm-weathery to wear ASAP. But wait – how can I know what size to make? How can I make it as adjustable as possible? Alas, I am bereft!

Please chime in with your thoughts. And stay tuned. This one will definitely be continued…

BTW: that's Rubens' painting of the Three Graces up there. They don't seem very concerned about their measurments. Neither should we, unless health concerns enter the picture. Put it another way: a waist is a terrible thing to mind.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Here's another contest post for SP10, Robyn's group - contest#5.
Q: blog about what you do while knitting. Is there a unique way you like to cuddle up with your yarn and needles? Do you watch TV?... listen to the radio? A podcast? Do you drink tea? Coffee? Wine? Do you have to wear slippers? Do you have to have peace & quiet? Do you have a fave spot?
My most usual knitting spot is on the bus. Since I am vehicularly challenged (I do not drive) my primary form of transportation is Toronto's public transit system, also known as the TTC or "the better way". In the good weather, I often substitute my bike for the purpose of getting around, but I haven't yet figured out a way to bike in traffic and knit at the same time and stay alive, so I save the knitting for when someone else is doing the driving.

I am not a bus snob and so I bestow my knitting presence equally on my fellow transit riders on the subway and streetcars.While engaged in my transit knitting activities, I am usually entertained by the sharp staccato strains of multiple mobile-phone enthusiasts, who are all apparently compelled to relate to their listeners (and to everyone in a three-mile radius) the entire vast compendium of minutiae that comprise their existence in one conversational encounter at audibly threatening decibel levels.

Their strange music is often accompanied by a persistent obligato of contrapuntal shrieks and hollars from packs of adolescents apparently driven to outdo one another in both volume and excessively crude hilarity. These delightful diversions inevitably leave me contemplating the judicious application of sharp and pointy objects to the perpetrators, but thus far I have refrained from such antisocial behaviour.

I will knit sitting down or standing up, usually on a circular needle to avoid the otherwise inevitable precarious chasing of the aforementioned sharp pointy objects down to the other end of the moving vehicle. I generally choose to knit socks while in transit, but not exclusively. As long as the project is of a manageable size, it's fair game for transit knitting.

I have on occasion attempted to juggle both my knitting and a coffee-flavoured beverage, though only while seated, and due to a less than appealing experience, I don't do this anymore. Well, not much, anyway.

Nine times out of ten, while knitting in transit I am approached by someone who is curious and intrigued by what I am doing. Often the commentary consists of something wistful along the lines of: "Wow... I knit a scarf once, but I could NEVER do that!". In my self-appointed role as the transit commission's knitting-in-public good-will-ambassador, I gently explain that it's all really the same two stitches, knirt and/or purl, and the skills obtained in knitting said scarf are very easily transferrable to the making of more interesting projects, with only some patience and the aid of a good book or a willing mentor (easily to be found at any LYS and SnB gathering).

Often I am approached to give an impromptu lesson in some simple technique right there on the bus, as on the occasion when the grandmotherly lady swathed in a voluminous burka and seated just to my left had been a knitter some years before but had somehow forgotten how to cast off and therefore had a great pile of almost finished items languishing in a closet. I demonstrated a simple cast-off, slowly and carefully taking her step-by-step through the actions, while her daughter, seated across from us with her own young progeny, provided a simultaneous translation of my instructions, as the older lady spoke no English and sadly my facility with Arabic is rather weak.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Colour me Happy!

So I finally schlepped myself down to Romni Wools to pick-up my umbrella which has been waiting there for almost six weeks. I accidentally left it the last time I was there (for the training-walk/yarn-crawl on April 1st!) because I was tired and distracted by the pretty soft and shiny fluffy things and because I left there carrying significantly more than I had when I came in (I'm sure you can fill in the blanks). So with my senses overwhelmed (Romni is an experience that always leaves me reeling. SO much yarn, so many textures and colours all in one place), my hands extremely full and my body tired... it was pretty easy to forget on the way out that I had an umbrella with me when I came in.

Well, I have always said that things happen for a reason. I may not know what that reason is at the time, but there is surely some kind of purpose to all the seemingly accidental incidents in my life. As a favourite fortune cookie says: Life must be lived forward, but can only be understood backwards.

So while in Romni I decided to casually peruse their ginormous bookshelves, just for a pleasant diversion.

Really, I was just browsing...

Until I saw this:

Let me tell you that my inadvertent classically-trained scream scared the living daylights out of everyone in the store.

When I finally recovered enough composure to slap myself silly for not even thinking to look there in the first place (you wouldn't believe the contortions I have been going through in vain attempts to obtain this book), I apologized to the sales staff, the patrons, and everyone in a four-block radius. Then I calmly sauntered over to the cash register to claim my prize.


Wednesday, May 09, 2007

My wonderful SP10 pal sent me these pictures of the beautiful Creatures of the Reef shawl she gave me.

Ahhhh... Better than 1000 words.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

I'm overwhelmed with goodness!

As a true diva and a quintessential Leo also born in the year of the dragon (the ultimate acquisitive creature), you have to know I LOVE presents, particularly of the hedonistic variety. So my eyes have been popping around here at the goodies I've been getting from my SP10 Secret Pal.

Life and circumstances have conspired to delay the photo opportunity that would show off (albeit inadequately) my loot and her generosity. So this post is rather late in the making, and all I can offer is a humble mea culpa (though rest assured I have been profuse in my thanks via email).

Without further ado, I give you here the full pictorial essay of the bounty I have received from the sly "Unicorn94" -aka- my SP:

Package number one began with this cushy chenille. It will make a lovely scarf or headwarmer and mitts set for next winter. I confess that at first the yarn snob in me was uncertain about it, but if I'm truly honest I have to admit to a residual childlike glee for all the novelty yarns that exploded on the knit scene in recent years and seem to have vanished just as quickly. The diva/dragon/magpie in me still loves all this flashy and fun stuff.

This pretty pink stationary with a naughty black lace ribbon has a serious Victorian aesthetic, in my opinion. In this era of email and mobile phone I rarely get to write a personal note, but with this on my desk I am going to have to find more frequent excuses to practise a more genteel and ladylike form of communication.

Yummy coconut body-butter from the Body Shop! I'm a sucker for tropical scents and this delicious stuff smells almost good enough to eat.

But no need to consume the cosmetics. My pal has that covered too:
Okay. Can we just say here that if Lady Godiva had access to this chocolate decadence being sold in her name she would probably never have gone riding starkers with only her hair to protect her modesty. And in case you are so deluded as to think that box has anything in it, the contents are long LONG gone (though I shared them with DH because watching him enjoy edible treats is almost as good as sex).

I just had to share my good fortune and show off all these goodies so I called the DH over to show him too... then I saw the chocolate Matzos! I laughed so hard I nearly plotzed. See this package arrived just in time for Passover and let's just say that if you have to eat matzo for a week, it better be covered in chocolate.

More recently I opened a package from Cafe Press containing this and my morning coffee came snorting out my nose! (sorry for the image - I have no sense of propriety) It's a terrific mammoth coffee mug with the perfect logo! Of course, you realize now I'm going to have to shop for a whole set of knit-themed coffee-ware!

Shortly thereafter, package number two arrived on my doorstep containing yet more indulgence:

I've been very curious about this Austermann Step yarn infused with skin soothing aloe. I wonder if it will really make my hands feel good while knitting or help keep my feet soft... It's so pretty anyway that I can't wait to knit it all up!

My afore-posted craving for the patterns of Anna Zilboorg was not missed. My pal sent me this fabulous book of hat designs! Love, Love LOVE this!!! After pouring over this cornucopia of colourful patterns, I think I may use it even more than the coveted sock books.
My inner sex kitten purred when she saw this chic little box containing a vial of perfume and a pretty crystal pendant on a black ribbon.
I am going to wait until I unmask my pal to put photos of the two of us together in this lovely hinged multi-picture frame.
Because she also sent me the most beautiful hand-knit shawl in a deep blood red colour. I wish I had a good picture of it for you here, but none of the pictures of the shawl came out and I want to show it in all its glory. I will have to take it outside and spread it out in the sunlight to try and capture its beauty. (Dear SP - in the interim, if you have any good pictures of the shawl, please send them to me so I can properly flaunt it for all to see).

And after all of that, this beautiful card and the message inside actually made me weep.
Her warmth and sensitivity shine through all her communication and the thoughtfulness and care that has gone into these gifts only serve to reinforce that she is a lovely person and I will treasure getting to know her. I know this is the start of a lifelong friendship!
Thank you!

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

April 2007 in review:

25.5 miles walked. 0 miles biked.
Whew! Has it actually been a whole month since we talked about this?

I have good news and bad news. First the good news: I am finally over the first 100 miles hump!!!

The bad news is that my mileage was lower in April (25.5 miles) than it was in March (30.5 miles). I just didn't get out as often, but I did pull off one great longer walk (6.3 miles) at the beginning of the month and that was encouraging, since in September I'll need to be able to do some 37.5 miles in 2 days.

I have to admit I really fell off the training wagon in April. I found it very hard to make myself go out and move. Except for a couple of days it was so soggy and cold and dark around here that I just became rather hibernatory and cocooned in the house as much as possible.

Add to that the huge emotional fallout when my rage-a-holic b.p.d. mother, who had been behaving much too reasonably and rationally (I knew it was too good to be true), just couldn't contain herself any longer and dumped a s---load of her baggage on me, at the same time an artistic director was having her panicked nervous fits in my direction, and then a couple of days later I had a huge blowout with my husband (who stepped on the very last nerve I had left and unfortunately I over-reacted).

Also, I was (and am still) digging through three years of receipts. I got behind in the winter of 2004-05 and then for the last few years I just shoved all our bills and receipts in a box, so now I have to sort it all out. It looks like a giant confetti maker threw up in my kitchen and living room. I still need to finish this and get my act together again with the recordkeeping on a day-to-day basis so that next time it’s not such a huge effort.

So all in all, last month was a tough one for me. I was shell-shocked and recovering my balance in the aftermath of three separate episodes of huge emotional upheaval while busy with some intense rehearsals. It's no wonder my immune system was letting me know it was not happy and it's a good thing I listened to my body, but I spent more than one of the precious few gorgeous days in bed fighting off a nasty little bug. I’m better now thanks to lots of sleep, ginger tea, vitamin C, and that Cold/FX stuff.