Meatless Monday Ideas for Carnivores

As part of my sustainability goals for 2020, we’re doing Meatless Mondays as a family. Except for the dog, that is.

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I must have… meat…

My husband is a carnivore second only to the dog, so I have been working on ways to keep him satisfied and not deprived. Here are some ideas for magical meatless meals:

Chick peas (aka garbanzo beans) – Protein and fiber in one place – what’s not to like? Sure you can buy them canned, sure, but for really nice chick peas, buy them dried and cook them yourself. It’s a lot cheaper ($2 or $3 / pound) and the texture is better. Soak them overnight in plenty of plain water (for at least 6 hours), drain, and then simmer in salted water for about 1 hour, or 30 minutes in the Instant Pot. They have a buttery texture and take well to spice – try some crushed red pepper in a hearty sauce!

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Italian style spicy chickpeas in tomato sauce

Lentils – Another protein and fiber one-two punch. These cook more quickly than chickpeas and have a texture that lends itself to soups and stews. I like the French style lentils, as they’re a bit more durable than other kinds, but it’s all good.

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Curried French lentils with butternut squash and spinach (and a few chick peas for good measure)

Chili – Purists will argue that chili should NOT have beans in it, but who cares? When you’re making a vegetarian dish, it’s a given that beans will star. I like to use either black beans or kidney beans, plus some plant-based meat substitute to bulk things up, plus lots of onions, peppers, tomatoes and corn. And a lot of spices – smoked paprika really works wonders to bring flavor to anything. Feel free to top with cheese or sour cream and some thinly sliced scallions.

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Vegetarian chili

More cheese, please! You need to be careful with cheese because it can pack as much saturated fat and calories as red meat. For Italian dishes, I like to buy part-skim ricotta and mozzarella to save some fat and calories, but I always use good imported Romano or Parmesan. Here’s some manicotti in a quick tomato sauce, getting ready for the oven.

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Vegetarian manicotti in tomato sauce

Go for grains – A lot of less-common grains make the base for salads and soups. Barley in particular is filling and satisfying, and its texture stands up to whatever you throw at it. I like to parcook barley in plain water until it’s almost done, then take it off the heat, add a generous amount of salt, and let it stand covered for 15 minutes or so. This barley salad is great for summer with watermelon, feta, cucumbers, peppers and other goodies.

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Barley salad

What kinds of meatless meals do you enjoy?

Refashion Runway, Here I Come!

Refashioning or upcycling textiles into new designs has been really fun and satisfying, so I resolved to push myself more in 2020. Here’s a gallery of projects from the past couple of years:

I didn’t have to wait long. I was chosen to compete on “Refashion Runway” – a friendly sewing competition sponsored by Beth Huntington, aka “The Renegade Seamstress.”

Yikes! There are 15 contestants who have put up some fabulous looks using textiles that had a previous life. Here’s a rundown of the competitors with some of their choice refashioned looks. I am so impressed with how these sewers combine textiles and shapes to create something super cool.

While I am no slouch in the sewing department, my refashioned looks have been a bit, shall I say, basic? I have upcycled and refashioned mostly large flat pieces of fabric, such as a sari, a blanket and not one, but two tablecloths. My most ambitious project was creating a nightgown out of an old bathrobe, and while I like how this project turned out, it’s not exactly a garment I wear on the street. In public. Or even in a photo on this blog.

So, I gotta step it up.

The first project, which starts January 18th, is “Statement Sleeves.” We were given the basic challenge parameters in advance, so we could start planning. There are few guidelines for each challenge; we’re meant to interpret it for ourselves. I assume this challenge means we need to create a big, showy sleeve in an refashioned garment. Statement sleeves broke through as a trend a few years ago as a kind of antidote to the sleeveless look of the early 2010s. It’s still going strong, to judge from all the ruffles, puffs, pleats, cutouts and other sleeve designs you see out there.

I really like a dramatic cuff on a sleeve, so that’s my jumping-off point.

RuPaul

In my closet, several misfit discarded garments wait for their chance to shine. That’s your cue, awkward linen dress!

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Awkward linen dress from a friend … can you carry the water?

My friend Emmeline gave me this dress last summer. She wore it once but found it … just … not … her cup o’tea. But the fabric was nice, so she gave it to me with encouragement to refashion it.

The first thing I did was to wash and machine dry it with other laundry three times to soften the linen-cotton blend up and to let any shrinking get nice and shrunken. Trying it on, you no doubt notice a few pros and cons:

Pros:

  • I like a high-contrast print, which this for sure provides in navy and white.
  • It’s big and long enough to give me some fabric to work with.
  • There are no darts or zippers and few seams to complicate a refashion project.
  • The hem and sleeve hems are split, offering some design change opportunities.

Cons:

  • I am not crazy about the “junior high school art teacher” swishy brushstroke motif.
  • It has no lining, and the “wrong side” of the fabric looks pretty bad, as the navy bleeds through.
  • The neckline is awkwardly proportioned and has a crummy facing.
  • The fabric remains a bit stiff and ungainly despite three journeys in the washing machine and dryer.

Clearly, this is not going to work as a dress, no matter how it’s refashioned.

My big idea is to turn it into a duster-style jacket. I think I will cut it right up the middle, self-face the raw edges, recut the neckline and add some darts for shaping, front and back. Maybe a contrasting lining? It will need some help as the wrong side will be on display even more as a jacket.

But what about the sleeves? That’s the whole point of the challenge. I am thinking a cuff – in the same contrast as the lining – with some accent hardware or other bling to edge this look up a bit.

I had nothing suitable in my closet of misfit garments, so it was off to Goodwill to see what they had.

Score!

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Goodwill raincoat for $9.89 – 10% off

This red rain jacket has a lot to work with as it’s fully lined. The zipper was broken, which is probably why someone donated it. And it has a cute drawstring in the hood, which can be repurposed easily.

Red is my favorite color! And the contrast with navy and white will look chic (I hope).

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Raincoat – ready for some refashion fun!

I have a good week to play around with my ideas before the contest starts. Wish me luck!

Resolutions for 2020 – Distaff Style

Self-improvement plans – what else would we distaffers do on January 1?

A few quick resolutions then, before we get to work:

  1. Style: I did Me Made May for the whole month last year (even while on vacation) and for most of the year, really. Now that I have a reliable jeans pattern, there’s nothing stopping me from wearing Me Made Everyday. So I am going to go for it!

I got started this morning with a nice long walk in the park with the hubs and the dog in Me Made Jacket (Simplicity 8843), the Jasper Sweater from Paprika Patterns, and hat by Green Pepper Patterns.

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Me Made Cold-weather outfit

I made the sweater last week out of some poly-cotton blend sweatshirt fleece with a muted plaid design.

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Paprika Patterns Jasper Sweatshirt

To add interest, I did the cuffs, side panels and collar on the bias.

2. Gardening: My vegetable garden really put out this year. Amending the soil in my two raised beds helped so much. I found a reliable set of tomato plants and other veggies to grow from now on. I was kicking myself for not doing a better job of tending to the plants and harvesting. So I am planning to do less, but put more effort into what I have and not let anything go to the bugs or go bad on the vine.

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Tomatoes anyone?

3. Fitness: Seek out a real posture plan. I played around with various posture exercises and finally found something that seemed to work. I need to hire the trainer who did this workshop for some private sessions, to make this a regular thing. I am hopeful that I can stop my hunchback development and maybe even undo some of the damage I’ve done.

4. Housework: I have one simple goal. Keep the kitchen floor clean! With a dog around, it’s a chore. I always feel like my home is at its best when the kitchen floor is vacuumed and scrubbed. So that’s the big goal here. Exciting, right?

5. Sewing: For sure, I am going to continue with my “sew edgy” look for the office. I need to find a simple dress that I can make a TNT. I also need a few blouses, and I really need to make a proper suit. For casual wear, I will perfect the jeans. I realize that while I have been playing around with a lot of indie pattern companies, I have been disappointed with some results compared with results from Big 4 (although there are exceptions), so I am going to focus more on Big 4. I have plenty of fabric and patterns at this point – so I am going on a “fast” at least for the first half of the year.

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Sew Edgy office outfit – a favorite

6. Sustainability: A friend who’s a sustainability consultant really made me think about the nature of consumption and waste. I am proud that I don’t do fast fashion and that I will mend and alter clothing. I take public transportation, walk or bike most places. I have a few “upcycle” and “refashion” sewing projects in my head for this year. I feel I could do more, however, when it comes to food. We are doing Meatless Mondays as a family, and on my own I will do more meatless meals (my husband will be challenged to do Mondays as it is). I also am going to buy fewer prepared things in plastic containers – I am talking to you, deli soups and salads! Seriously, it’s not hard to make soup. I’ll probably save $100 a year! I sewed up some simple reusable bags for produce, and I always use tote bags at the store. And I am going to stop buying the occasional to-go coffee unless I can get it in a reusable insulated mug. I already do this with water – why not with coffee?

7. Diet: I just gotta kick sugar. I feel that very badly. I can go for weeks without any, and then I have some, and it’s just a spiral from there. I am not sure how to tackle this one, except to go cold turkey. I need to research more, but it’s happening.

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The last pie, for a while anyway

8. Career: I started last year doing a weekly work reflection on Friday mornings. I’d write down a few accomplishments, networking wins, personal achievements and other notable events from the week. This is a great idea because at work, weeks turn into months, turn into years, and then you have to get a new job, and you go to update the resume and you can’t think of what to say! This exercise takes 5 minutes and it really helps. I am getting started by updating my LinkedIn profile and resume with key accomplishments from 2019. Also, I am trying to network more. I need to be “heads down” at work and more collaborative and social.

9. Family: This is a tough one. I feel that I have neglected my husband and family at times, especially my in-laws. There’s no excuse – we live so nearby – but weeks go by without a word to or from anyone. Even with my husband, we have well-established routines that make it tough to break out. So I am going to make more of an effort on all fronts. Sometimes a simple call to say “hi” or an impromptu date night is all we need to get out of the rut. I will take care of my mother when she has knee surgery later this month, so I can use that time to visit a bit with others to get the year started off well.

10. Reading: I have done well with reading more female authors, but I feel I need to do more to read writers from different nationalities and races. I got a Barnes & Noble gift card for Christmas, so I plan to pick up a few things to get started. I general, I am going to try to read more and do less “faffing about on the mobile” while on my train commute. Now that my grad school is done, I will have time to open my mind more in other directions.

11. Giving back: We made an effort  in 2019 to give more to charities, and we succeeded in increasing our contributions by a thousand dollars over the course of the year. I also have done a bit more charity work with groups I support by in-kind contributions of time and expertise. In fact, I won an award from one charity I support with weekly editing and coaching of college students. I miss volunteering with local groups, though – I managed one event in 2019 – a bike-a-thon – so I am going to try to do two events in 2020.

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Biking for charity – $500 raised

12. Activism. I will admit it: I dread 2020. I am terrified that Trump will get re-elected. I have little confidence that the Democrats will get their shit together. I worry that the economy will thank, and while that would hurt Trump, it’s going to hurt a lot of other people too, so I don’t exactly wish it. After he was elected, I made a plan to so something once a week to #resist. I wrote letters to Congress. I attended rallies. I got educated on the issues. I sewed a shitload of pussyhats. I donated money to groups under siege – Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Anti-Defamation League – I could go on. I have kept up some of these activities but have let others slide. This is a do-or-die year. I need to step it up.

Thank you for reading! I wish you all a happy healthy 2020! (Except Trump.)

A Suit for Work – Sort Of

I really need a suit for work. So I made one. Sort of. While this is okaaaaaayyyyy… it’s not really a suit and not really suitable for work.

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Kinda sorta suit

I suppose this is a suit in that it’s a two-piece outfit made of the same fabric. The black is a ponte knit and the gray is faux suede. Somehow, although both fabrics have been treated the same way, the jacket fabric looks darker and more luxe than the skirt fabric. Hmm.

The jacket is Lekala 4114, which has a drop-shoulder yoke and bell sleeves.

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Wingspan courtesy of Lekala 4114

The jacket was a pain in the ass to make. In brief:

  • It’s a lined jacket, but there are no lining pattern pieces provided. Draft your own, sucker!
  • The square sleeves and armholes make for an adventure in geometry as you finagle four right angles together. Bulky mess!

There are other goofy things – like the technical drawing doesn’t show the back yoke – but I don’t want to bore you. To sum up: I think I’ve had it with Lekala.

I also made my own trouble with this jacket. I wanted suede cuffs, but I couldn’t work it out. They came out very bulky and crappy looking. So I left half the cuff as a facing just so I wouldn’t feel that it was a total waste.

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My hand stitching sucks though. So I guess it’s for the best that the facings don’t really show. You can get a peek at them here:

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Side view – with suede sleeve facings

The back gives a capelike appearance to the jacket.

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Rear view – yikes!

I didn’t adjust for my uneven shoulder, because I had no idea how to do that with the yoke. Oh well.

The skirt, as I have mentioned before, is the Osaka wrap skirt from Seamwork magazine. In this picture you can really see how the two-tone seam cuts right across the widest part of my legs and butt, making them look wider.

Also, looking at this picture, I notice that I was wearing brown – not black – tights. Sheesh.

Anyway, this is not a great suit, by even the most generous definition. Sew edgy? Meh. It meets some definitions but misses the mark overall. At least I tried. I think the pieces are wearable, but definitely not together. And I think I will add a zipper to the jacket so it sits better.

Books I Liked in 2019

Tied up with grad school and work obligations, I had to be choosy about what I read in 2019. As in past years, I made it a point to read more female authors’ work. Here are some recommendations:

Science Fiction/Fantasy

I started the year re-reading “A Wrinkle in Time” by Madeline L’Engle. Over Christmas, I saw the movie directed by Ava DuVernay, and it was … not how I remembered one of my favorite books of childhood. So I hit up the library and re-read the story. It’s still a fabulous story with a message that really resonates with me today much as it did when I was a child.

That put me on a science-fiction/fantasy kick, so next I re-read Ursula Le Guin’s masterpiece “The Left Hand of Darkness.” (Again, with the library.) The book is famous for exploring gender issues in science fiction. It’s strange and beautiful and I highly recommend it.

Then I re-read “Dune” by Frank Herbert – one of the most popular books of my youth. This book did not age well. While the planet and culture Herbert created are fascinating and inventive, the characters and story arcs seem pretty dated and even offensive today.

I continued to plow through the library’s science fiction/fantasy section with “American Gods” by Neil Gaiman – a deliciously funny and scary send-up of the way religion warps societies.

At this point, I gave up on my library visits  and sought out some new sci-fi books. I bought “The Power,” an award-winning book by Naomi Alderman, about a new deadly power that evolves in women, changing tipping the battle of the sexes to women. I highly recommend it, too.

I highly anticipated Margaret Atwood’s sequel to the Handmaid’s Tale, “The Testaments.” The original book changed my life in high school, and I re-read it recently in light of the never-ending shitshow that is the Trump administration. Sadly, the Booker Prize-winning “The Testaments” disappointed me. While some might find the story satisfying, I think it missed something deep and true about human nature and the American psyche, unlike the original, which cuts very close to home.

Nonfiction

I had read a lot of sci-fi at this point, so it was time to get real. What better way than with a book about people who live in a slum in Mumbai, India? “Behind the Beautiful Forevers” is a prize-winning nonfiction book by the journalist Katherine Boo. I was drawn to this book because I noticed these slums in Mumbai, right alongside the glittering modern airport.

airport slum

I was both fascinated and horrified – I took myself on quite a guilt trip but also came to understand more about Indian culture and ways of life. The book is dark and devastating and also funny and sweet in places.

For nonfiction, I also read “Feminism is for Everybody” by bell hooks, the pen name of the feminist professor and activist Gloria Jean Watkins. The book is an approachable primer on what feminism is – and isn’t. I love hook’s simple language explaining how feminism is an antidote to the patriarchy’s institutionalized sexism. I also like how she challenges white cis bourgeois women (such as myself) to basically get our heads out of our asses.

More Fiction

I started but could not finish “The Tale of Genji,” an ancient Japanese work – a kind of proto-novel – written by a woman, Murasaki Shikibu, in the 11th century. The book follows Genji, a beautiful and charismatic young prince, through his loves and losses, victories and sorrows. The book starts with young Genji, dishing with his friends one rainy night, about the “ideal woman.” I read this in English translation, which included copious notes to help the reader understand the intricacies of 11th-century Japanese life.

I tried to read this after I saw a beautiful exhibit inspired by the book at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. I stood a long time looking at this screen, depicting Genji in exile.

Genji in Exile screen

I was fascinated because not only was the text ancient, but a woman wrote it! Sadly, for me the book was hard to get through and follow. There’s a lot of what we modern people would consider misogyny, rape and child abuse. But I imagine it’s a realistic picture of what was going on in Japan at the time.

I was interested in reading something new after that. Unfortunately, “My Year of Rest and Relaxation” by Ottessa Moshfegh was not what I was looking for. This novel tells the story of a beautiful privileged young woman who basically sleeps and shirks her life for a year, with no consequences. She emerges from her year richer and happier and more beautiful… blah blah. Awful.

My final recommendation – saving the best for last – is “The Overstory” by Richard Powers, the 2019 winner of The Pulitzer Prize. I loved this so much I bought copies for many friends and relatives. It was so beautiful and unexpected and thought-provoking. Please check it out.

Best and Worst of 2019

I am happy that I met all my sewing goals for 2019 and ended up with quite a few useful and well-made pieces!

My single biggest achievement (and #1 garment for 2018) was actually a three-fer. I made jeans! And I used the embroidery attachment of my machine for the first time! And I went to a sewing retreat!

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Jeans, bitches!

The jeans are Workroom Social’s Claryville Jeans. I can’t say enough awesome things about this pattern. LOVE. And as the jeans have worn (I have worn them a ton since I made them in September) they have conformed nicely to my bod.

Here’s another look at the embroidery on the back pockets:

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While the sewing retreat part of the jeans-making experience wasn’t for me, I am glad I did it. I learned a lot about myself and I have been thinking about how to apply that learning to next year.

Another goal was to make a garment for my mother. I made her a top from Lekala patterns, and she liked it so much, she asked for another one, in fancier fabric that she can wear for Christmas/New Year’s events. I sewed this up for her birthday in December.

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Lekala 4114

She picked out this gold polyester satin. Not the best, but I made it work. It looks better on than in this photo (I promise). I used the fancy buttons I got at LouLou in the Garment District in NYC.

I took the “RTW Fast Pledge” and made a goal to not buy any clothing except for things like socks and tights. I would have made it, too, if not for my vacation in May! It was so cold (unseasonably and unexpectedly) that I bought a few things on an emergency basis. I donated both jackets to a charity that provides coats to the poor, and I have worn the sweater a few times. So…. I am going to call this “a win!”

On the positive side, I truly did “Me Made May” this year – wearing at least one me- made garment daily for the whole month of May. Yay!

Here’s my biggest swing-and-miss from 2019: I didn’t do so well in my resolve to participate in fewer sewalongs and sewing contests. I get swept up in the excitement and camaraderie. I also hope to make new friends this way. It doesn’t seem to work out that way.

On the bright side, I won the January 2019 PatternReview contest with this ski jacket:

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Ski Jacket from Simplicity 8843

I had planned to enter this contest – and this contest only – but then I went on a binge of other sewalongs, contests and such. What happens when I do this? Let’s just call it a mixed bag:

I mean, there are no disasters here, but also not much that plays well with “sew edgy” looks. I did some stuff for charity (napkins and scrap quilts center top) and I passed the first round of the PatternReview Sewing Bee with that blue cardigan before bowing out voluntarily when the second round didn’t inspire me.

The white top was not what I wanted. I entered a contest to make an outfit, so made a nice pair of black wool pants and planned a button-down shirt to go with it out of this pretty white striped shirting I bought. But, I had a problem with my sewing machine’s computer and it was in the shop for a couple of weeks, so I needed instead to do a top that I could construct on the serger or by hand. This top is the result. It looks really awful untucked, better tucked in. I am kicking myself that I used that shirting for something I don’t love.

I joined two Sewcialists sewalongs – one where I drew the color “coral” and other where I drew the word “funky.” I ended up with a wrap skirt (top right) and a top upcycled from a tablecloth (bottom left). Since these sewalongs really run on Instagram, and I am not an Instagram person, I miss out on the whole thing. Likewise for the charity projects for The People’s Sewing Army – if you’re not an Instagrammer, you get left out.

Finally, in my effort to stop making so damn many mistakes, I claim a partial victory. I have made my peace with the fact that I need to just baste a lot more. Basting does things that pinning does not (at least for me). So I resolve to baste even more in 2020!

Posture Exercises that Seem to Work

In the effort to correct a lifetime of poor posture, I have tried various exercises and stretches during the past few months. I have been more mindful of how I walk and stand and have tried to be straighter. Finally, I hit upon something that seems to work pretty well to correct my uneven shoulders, at least temporarily.

Here’s what I mean by “uneven shoulders”:

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Uneven shoulders in their natural state

The left shoulder is quite a bit higher than the left, as you can see. It’s also rotated a bit forward and makes a bit of a hunching lump in the back:

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Shoulder issues – the shirt is on grain. I am off grain.

A workshop recently on “somatic movement” offered to help, so I signed up. At the end of a one-hour session, here’s what my shoulders looked like:

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Even shoulders?

Pretty even! Wow!

But I am a skeptical soul, so I figured I’d be back to normal the next day.

IMG_20191120_125716 (2) Still pretty good, right?

How about the next day?

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A bit of the unevenness is back

And four days later, I was back to normal.

Still, that’s pretty good. I am interested enough to try somatics again.

The workshop started with everyone taking inventory of our bodies standing still and lying flat. If you just stand in front of a mirror, barefoot, and pay attention, you notice things. Maybe you’ll notice how your weight tends to sit a little heavier on one foot than the other, or maybe a bit toward the inside or outside of the foot, or back on the heel or forward on the toes. As you stand there, you may notice other things – one knee feels more fatigued than the other, or one hip seems to bear the load more than the other.

As you look in the mirror, you may notice things like my uneven shoulders. Or maybe uneven hips. Maybe one knee bends more, or you feel hunched over.

The same “inventory” works lying flat on the floor – you feel one hipbone more than the other, or your arms may splay differently. For example, because my high shoulder also is rotated a bit, when I lie flat on my back, my arm tends to twist with the back of my hand on the floor, while my other shoulder is better aligned, so my hand rests on the pinky side, more or less in a straight line. I also noticed that I can look further over my right shoulder than over my left.

We did a series of exercises where we stretched and twisted and reached. It was effortful, but not painful (for me anyway – people in the workshop had different abilities and fitness levels). Every so often we’d rest and take stock of how we felt different. If you’ve ever done Pilates or some other exercises where you take turns stretching or lengthening one side of the body, then another, you may have experienced this sensation. Each stretching exercise built on the next, so by the end of the session, we were doing some fairly complex moves.

We ended the workshop by standing in front of the mirror as we had at the beginning to take inventory again. Several people expressed “WOW” moments, including myself.

This is not some chiropractic hokum or new age feely-goody nonsense. It really seemed to work. The effect is temporary, because you’re meant to do these stretches every day and build on them over time, and I just did them once. After I am done with my grad school course (next week – not a moment too soon) I am going to sign up for a private consultation and get started on a regular regimen to see if it helps long-term.