Too Much Time on Your Hands? Ha!

I have now been self-isolating for 25 days. As the days have worn on – and as the virus has ravaged New York and other parts of the United States and the rest of the world – I have been trying (and partly failing) to Keep Calm and Carry On, as the British say.

It’s hard to concentrate at work. I have been giving myself something to look forward to at the end of every work day as a bit of a reward. One day I took an online Pilates class. Another day I tidied up the perennial beds. At some point, I dug out the yogurt maker and cooked up a batch:

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Homemade yogurt – not worth the effort, but a way to kill time

We ran out of bread, so why not bake some?

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Multigrain bread – tasty!

This recipe from Cook’s Illustrated was excellent. You use a multigrain hot cereal mix as a starter. We ate the last of it this morning in French toast – divine!

Then I got cocky and tried to make hamburger buns:

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Hamburger buns – not rocks – honest

They came out like hockey pucks – edible but dry and misshapen and dense. At least the toasted sesame seeds were tasty.

I’m not one to be defeated, so let’s play around with the Instant Pot! I tried making a turkey barley soup.

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Barley-palooza

I misread the recipe and put a pound of barley into the pot instead of a cup of barley. It swelled up every drop of turkey stock and affected a risotto-like texture. So why not call it “bar-zotto” and eat it with some grated Parmesan? It wasn’t half bad. There’s still plenty left if you’re peckish.

The sun came out – time to hit the garden. For years, I have been meaning to relocate some blueberry plants to encourage better cross-pollination and protection from berry-thieving birds (if the plants are grouped tightly, one piece of bird netting should cover the lot). So I dug up some plants and moved them, replanting with a good dose of fertilizer for acid-loving plants.

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New home for blueberries

There is so little traffic and noise in my neighborhood – we live on a normally busy street – that I can clearly hear all the spring birdsong. In an hour or so I counted 18 species, a few by call alone.

My house is old, with the ghosts of gardens all over the place – a wisteria vine here, a decaying stump there. In the middle of the lawn, this blue-striped quill appeared, ready to delight anyone who came across it:

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Squill making an appearance

Every night after dinner I sew 10-15 cloth face masks. My nurse friends take some to work, while others have been given to relatives, neighbors and friends.

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More masks

Finally on Friday I had to go to the supermarket. There’s only so much barzotto and hardtack a gal can eat, amirite?

The trip took 2 1/2 hours and cost me $330. I wore a mask, gloves and a hat. When I got home, I stripped to my undies in the laundry room and threw everything – including my sneakers – into the washing machine to scrub on the “sanitary” cycle.

The market was out of all kinds of weird things – no salt, no Romaine lettuce, no flour or cinnamon, no chicken breasts, no macaroni and cheese mixes, no 1% milk, no cleaning supplies of any kind, except for some feeble-looking “all natural” stuff that might be a bit better than vinegar or lemon juice.

I figured I might as well live it up – I bought a rack of lamb, a kosher chicken, an organic pork loin – all the cheaper cuts were sold out. I bought a $5 jar of applesauce and four funky-looking oranges called “Sumo” for $1.50 apiece. A big bag of Costa Rican coffee. A bag of frozen wild-caught shrimp from the Gulf of Mexico. Organic onions and potatoes and milk.

Americans have been hoarding toilet paper. We are not guilty of this (we conserved – as a child, my grandmother admonished me that “a lady only uses four squares.”) Still, we were down to our last two rolls. The store limited each shopper to one 12-roll bundle. I felt lucky to get it.

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In the diary aisle by the display of creams, a man was arguing with someone on the phone. “They don’t have quarts of heavy cream! They only have pints of heavy cream! I looked and looked and that’s all there is!” This went on for a minute, while he shouted  all the various creams and quantities available into the phone. I stood by  (six feet away, natch), waiting for reason to arrive on the scene. Finally I suggested that he buy TWO PINTS of heavy cream, as each is 16 ounces and a quart is 32 ounces. He looked at me like I was crazy for 10 seconds. Then his face lit up like I was an angel from heaven. I never have received such fulsome gratitude in my life. He grabbed two pints and bolted for the checkout.

My good deed done for the day, I approached the display and took a pint of half and half. Upon returning home, I realized I grabbed the fat-free shit instead of the real thing. Bah!

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No good deed goes unpunished

 

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.

The Lure of “Free” Patterns

Shortly after I started sewing apparel, I got into a “free pattern” kick. That is, FREE PATTERN! DOWNLOAD! DOWNLOAD! DOWNLOAD!

Some have been great (the Deer & Doe plantain shirt and the Maria Denmark kimono T):

Some have been “good for what they are”, such as the Sew So Easy bolero jacket (embellished heavily), the Halloween Hat Pack from Fleece Fun (made for the Womens’ March on Washington in January) and these three chemo caps I sewed for my mother-in-law’s friend from three different patterns found online):

And then there’s the stuff that just doesn’t work. Maybe it’s me. Maybe it’s the pattern. Maybe it was a full moon and Mercury was rising. Whatever. The latest disappointment was the Noelle racerback bralette from Madalynne:

 

 

I am reluctant to be too critical of a free pattern – getting what I paid for and whatnot. But this is really off. I made it out of stretch lace with a stretch mesh lining and about 4 yards of picot elastic.

For starters, the instructions stink. They’re written out but there are no drawings or photos to help. I had three major construction problems:

  • The instructions never refer to the lining (when and how you’re supposed to put it in). I just basted it on – basically treated it as an underlining.
  • The instructions for how to install the sliders on the straps made no sense. I just figured it out.
  • You sew picot elastic around the whole thing (the top, armholes, under the bust and at the bottom of the band). The instructions say to sew the elastic flat. So basically the elastic doesn’t do its job at all. I stretched as I sewed and it was not enough.

I wanted a bralette for Pilates – something soft and breatheable for exercising. I had made the Colette Florence bralette last year and loved it, so I wanted to try this style next. Unfortunately, this was a waste of time and money. The fit is very off – even stretching the elastic as I sewed, the bottom band is way too big and the underbust area does not remotely offer enough support and I can’t make the straps any shorter. And I’m a mere B cup. Also, the whole thing just looks sloppy and unfinished.

So, downloader beware? What are your favorite free patterns?

Why Hanker to Sweat with Strangers?

I went to Pilates last night for the first time in a couple of weeks. I had been going 1-2 times a week for years, but lately, like so many other health pursuits, I’ve lapsed a bit.

What is it about an exercise class? Why hanker to sweat with strangers? And why is it almost all women in these classes?

I pondered these things as I went through the shake-inducing classical Pilates workout last night. If you don’t know what Pilates is like, it’s kind of like if a yoga expert and a ballet dancer and a drill sergeant had a child (yeah, that’s three parents, but work with me here) and made a profession out of torturing everyone around them. But in a nice way.

At the recommendation of a friend, I started with Pilates about 3 years ago. Yoga didn’t do it for me; I can’t get into the whole “spiritual” component of it. Pilates, on the other hand, was scientific. Worth a shot.

I thought I was going to throw up my first mat class session. That’s how hard you work your core. I laughed at my inability to do a lot of these moves, while I marveled at the lithe young women  who could do them easily. The trainers were mostly dancers and a few had studied medicine of some kind. Unlike personal trainers, who seem to think that yelling and shame will get you to your goals, the Pilates instructors were kind. They understood the body’s quirks and struggles. They helped. I got better.

After 6 months of regular classes, I figured out how to do the basic moves with the precision of a Rockette and started working on more advanced moves. I didn’t need to attend the classes at $16 a pop anymore and could probably have done the workouts at home, maybe with a video class for company. Yet I still went to the classes.

I had hoped to make friends, but I made none. The classes were mostly college students with the occasional woman a generation older than me. I did belong after a while though. While I was still no dancer, I was competent and earned praise on occasion. So I kept it up. I got hooked into the small but exciting local dance scene and saw some great performances. An injury (unrelated to Pilates) took me out of Pilates for about a year. When I returned, everyone welcomed me back. What a nice feeling!

So I guess that’s why I go to these classes. I belong, in all my imperfect glory.