Friday, May 25, 2012

Last class

So, most of May I've been working on this still life in the studio.

As always, you start with the dots

Eventually developing the contour, and then, as I said, go on to refine, refine, refine.

...and refine...

Finally, you move on to values.

Ultimately, the thing that I wanted to know is how do you draw something white on a dark grey paper using black charcoal. It's quite the balancing act, getting the values to go back down the scale far enough to imitate reality. It's hard to explain.

Stephanie painting her lemons is doing the same process only with the added level of aggravation of colour.

Here's where we left it today.

One more class left to finish tomorrow.

Then I'm going to have to take a long break. I've been doing well, racing out of the house every morning to get the 8:06 train into Rome to get to class by ten. Class is three hours, on your feet, then the train back to S. Mar or the office to spend the rest of the day working. It's been going just fine, but I've started to reach a limit and am now getting really, deeply tired. Tired in a way that it difficult to get over in just one night's sleep. So, a break.

Also, I am totally out of money. I've paid up to the end of April's classes, but am now back in the red to the tune of about 1200 Euros, so for a while anyway, classes have to stop. I'm so broke, in fact, that it's why there aren't more transition photos in the still life posts. I ran out of both batteries for my camera and money at about the same time. For a while at least, doctor's bills are going to have to take precedence again.

And I'm going to love sleeping in!


Thursday, May 24, 2012

Eating cake

Well, here we go again.

I had an interesting conversation with the endocrinologist yesterday. She tells me that my troubles (which are not terribly serious...don't get all in a tizzy) are likely related to damage to my thyroid caused by the chemo. I have no clear idea what exactly the thyroid does, and I'm not that interested. She seems to know what she's doing and I'm too tired to look things up. So, I'm being sent back to the drawing board, in this case, the blood test clinic with which we have all become so familiar. The ladies will be happy to see me again, no doubt. And this time with hair!

I thought it was funny though, and a sure sign that I'm in Italy. Apart from telling me that my thyroid and various other things are probably all messed up, she spent a great deal of energy trying to convince me that my diet is "very restricted" because I won't eat pasta, bread or sugar. She kept trying to suggest that if I would only start the day with a small bowl of pasta for breakfast, I might feel better. I can see we're going to have an uphill battle.

Picture it, and you will get an idea of how surreal it is to live here. There I was, arguing with my doctor that no, I really wasn't ever going to eat junk food. Not now, not never. No way. You can't make me.

We're going to get on fine, I think. She's very sweet. I especially liked it when she said, very sympathetically, "Don't you miss a little treat? A little cake now and then? Don't you like cake?"

So cute. And soooooo Italian.


Pacey Soup for the Teenaged Soul

Couldn't find the embed.

I know LOTS of people who go to Comic-con, but I was never interested until just now.


Wednesday, May 23, 2012

A conversation between colleagues

Me and a fellow Catholic writer:

Me: Ever have one of those days when you think everyone else is doing better than you are?

Her: Ever have one of those days where you wake up and go to the bathroom?

This is someone with whom a few months ago, I had a conversation about how no one in our generation ever feels like a qualified grown-up. The whole concept of grown-uphood, the state of knowing what the hell you're doing most of the time, is extinct. We Gen-Xers and down, were all raised by people who thought that never growing up was their highest aspiration. (Or in some cases, were not raised at all by anyone.) Is it any wonder few of us are getting married before 30, and a lot of us are not getting married at all?

Hands up everyone out there who feels like they just don't ever know what the hell they're doing, what their life is supposed to be for, or how to do what is expected.


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

... and really,

who can resist such a cutie...

Yes, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, I am, in fact, a girl.


Monday, May 21, 2012

Be a man!

For God sake! KISS THE GIRL!!!

OK, I've been in bed, sick, since Friday. To keep myself amused while awake, I've been watching back-to-back episodes of Dawson's Creek and thinking about boys.

I know what you're thinking: That show, which was really bad, was mercifully ended several years ago now, so what are you doing? Why aren't you watching something with some moral and intellectual content like Buffy or Star Blazers? And yes, you'd be right, and I'd be embarrassed about it if I hadn't already admitted to you guys that I'd read all the Twilight books.

This show about rich teenagers, played by 20 year-olds, living in dream homes in some little coastal town in somewhere vaguely New Englandy/Martha's Vinyardy, so far, seems entirely to be about which of the two lead males is going to be the first to nail one or both of the two lead females. Glancing at YouTube videos of later seasons, I see that for the most part, this is what it keeps being about.

The writers seemed to think that the most interesting character was it's namesake, Dawson Leery, whom they present as a dreamy-eyed, 15 year-old, nice-guy who pines after girls but doesn't know what to do with the ones he gets, thinks Spielberg is the greatest film maker of all time and who keeps an ET "collectible" stuffed toy beside his bed. His "best friend" is a dewy, leggy, doe-eyed "Joey" who longs for the safe, cuddly, child-man to twig into why she continues, long after she has ceased to care about the art of film making, to come over and watch movies and sleep over in his bed (!!huh?!!) all innocent, like-when-they-were-kids.

In the first episode, Dawson-the-aptly-surnamed falls hard in crush with pouty-lipped ingenue Michelle Williams who has appeared in the tiny outback town to do penance by living with her (narrow-minded bigot Christian...zzzzzz) grandmother, after undergoing some dark and mysterious "bad thing" in the fabled opium dens and slave markets of Marrakech New York City. (I think she dies of cancer in the end because the writers just didn't know what to do with her when Whiney is finished with her and she ceases to be an interesting plot foil for the Perfect Bermuda Love Triangle.)

I hear the show was tremendously popular. And I think I recall hearing it's name bandied about some time in my mid to late thirties.

I've made it through to the end of the first season for one. single. reason: Pacey Witter, budding Real Man and Droopy's other "best friend" who spends all their mutual screen time together telling Blondie to man-up and Kiss. The. Girl! Any girl! just pick one and get going! Or decide not to. But for the love of Mike, fricken be a man about it.

Nice man-purse there dude, bet the chicks really dig it...

Pacey is supposed to be the dumb, smart-alecky "class clown" character who gives comic relief to the endless tedium of the emo teenybopper-talk. But in the 13 episodes I've watched so far, he has been the only character to develop the slightest shred of ... well... character. He's stoic. He keeps his feelings close to the chest. He has a rotten home life but doesn't perpetually moan about it. He knows that keeping up a cheerful demeanour, delivering one-liners, chasing (and catching) girls, punching bad guys and occasionally sticking it to the man, even at the risk of disaster, is more fun than his friend's perpetual hand-wringing and he spends a good deal of effort charitably smacking Blithery up the side of the head to try to jump start the wretched boy's testosterone generator.

Pacey is depicted as a smart-but-under-achieving good guy whose family has rejected him as the "loser" who will never amount to anything. Pacey thinks he is a loser, especially with girls and expects to be the one who stays behind in tiny Capeside pumping gas or tending bar. He's supposed to just be the sidekick.

In fact, Pacey is the one who, in the first ten episodes:
- Initiates an affair with his 36 year-old bombshell English teacher after plausibly falling in love with her
- Then when they're found out, manfully throws himself on the grenade for her, lying to the school board, saying the affair was a rumour he had started to make himself feel cool, destroying his own reputation to save hers;
- Tries to get a distraught Joey to stop drinking at a party after Mooney ditches her;
- Punches a much larger and older student making inappropriate advances on the now-drunk Joey;
- Steals the show with good natured manly charm at the snootily horrible Miss Capeside beauty pageant;
- Drives Joey to the prison in the middle of the night so she can be reconciled to her incarcerated father;
- spends all his remaining efforts boosting Twaddle's ego and pushing him together with Joey because it's what his best friend really wants but is too pathetic to try to get, even though he, Pacey, is now also in love with Joey;
- and finally is, in fact, the first one to actually KISS THE GIRL.

He has passion, charm, strength of character, is able to put his friends' needs before his own and comes through quietly every time someone is in a tight spot. He is, in short, the only interesting thing on the show, the only character so far that I care enough about to want to find out what happens to him, and the one on his way to secure, confident Alpha Maledom.

The thing is, and this is the point of the post, I think Hollywood thinks that he's not. I think the writers think that Drivelly and Joey are what the show is about. I get the feeling that the incredibly tedious, repetitive and irritating "drama" between Leggy, Snivelly and Pouty is supposed to be what the show is primarily about. But so excruciatingly dull has it been that I've just been fast forwarding over their scenes.

I've seen this before. Shows that were supposed to be about the politically correct, in-touch-with-his-feminine-side, safe intellectual, that often had a hulking, manly, doltish but ultimately well-meaning sidekick, nearly always end up being about the sidekick. Does anyone remember Meathead's real name? Can anyone now imagine Luke getting the girl? (Luke was so pathetic they had to make Leia his sister just to stave off the remotest possibility that Han Solo wouldn't get her.)

Did anyone see that British TV miniseries Life on Mars? It started out being about an enlightened, up-to-date, sophisticated modern man going back in time to the brutish streets of 1972 Manchester where he was supposed to show the barbarous thugs of the previous era a thing or two about modern policing, good nutrition, the dangers of sidestream smoke and being sensitive to the emotional needs of women in the workplace. Instead, John Simm got smacked around several times by Philip Glennister, ultimately learning how to drink, beat confessions out of suspects and chase women and bad guys in a '68 Mustang.

"The initial idea was for a humorous ... programme that overtly mocked the styles and attitudes of the 1970s." Then something strange happened. Modern, sophisticated, politically correct, in-touch-with-their-feelings British women fell madly in love with...Glennister, and emphatically not the weedy John Simm, at least until he'd toughened up a bit.

And this was something the BBC Actually. Didn't. Expect.


I don't actually remember a great deal of detail about my adolescence. And the bits I remember I wish I didn't. But I do quite distinctly remember the whole boy-girl thing. Having no parents around, I went through quite a lot more of it than perhaps I might have otherwise. It took me a long, long, long time to figure things out. And in the end, one of the big things I got was that I had no time for "modern" men.

Because, and here's the kicker, the Dawson Leerys of the world weren't actually the "nice guys". They were too weak. They had so much angst and enjoyed their angst so much that it made them useless.

So far, Flouncy has done nothing but wring his hands over whether he should or shouldn't "go out" with one, both or either of the two girls. This utter inability to gather up his gonads and act, for better or for worse, has made him useless as a friend to every other character, and has driven The Girl who (thinks she) is in love with him, to become so exasperated she is going to take a scholarship to France. France!

Moreover, after a school year of will-I-won't-I with Limpy alternately pining for her and rejecting her, Pouty's grandfather has a stroke and she has nowhere to turn but...dear heaven! the useless Dawson... who is so wrapped up in his little Hamlet imitation, that he utterly fails to be any use to her in the crisis.

The "nice guy" is such a pathetic dishrag he is incapable of being a good man.


Sunday, May 20, 2012

Ye still got it, bro...

My old bloggie buddy Evil Steve is tweaking the Traddie tiger's tail in Crisis, and it's just like the old days...
Never known for our collective charisma or charm, those who self-identify as “Traditionalist” can often be about as much fun as a leaky bottle of lemon juice at a paper cut party.

Steve, you just go to the wrong parties, man.


Expat Life

Something happens even to the most Anglo-Saxon, Germanic, rules-n-regulations Canadian brain when you live in Italy for a while. And if it doesn't you don't survive here. You run in a panic back to the lands where things at least make a modicum of sense. You can always tell the people who were cut out to live here and the ones who will run screaming back to the 1st World after six months of life in La Dolce Madhouse.

It can take a while to understand the way Italians think, and when you finally start to get it, it all becomes hilarious.

This is what it's like:
On the train to Fiumicino Airport there are never any ticket-checkers. Is ticket-checker even the right term? I have occasionally found myself debating with friends over the correct way to identify the person who checks your ticket on the train. I used to call them conductors, but Dr. J said, "If that's the conductor, then who's driving the train?" So I decided to call them ticket-checkers.

It might be that there's some residue of morality left in my brain after so many years in America, but I actually buy the ticket for the Roma Termini/Fiumicino line at least one out of every five trips to the airport. Out of at least a hundred trips to the airport, I've only seen a ticket-checker once, and that was because a man got robbed and the ticket-checker was needed to record everything for the police. So, technically, not even on that occasion was the ticket-checker checking tickets.

The price went up since the last time I bought a ticket. Now it costs €12. I asked the ticket-seller why the price was so high because I remembered it being just €7, the last time I bought one. The man rolled his eyes and fired back at me that tickets haven't cost €7 for "yeaaaaaaaars," upon which I surrendered my fare to the ticker-seller feeling that he had more than justified the price increase.

As usual the ticket-checker was nowhere to be seen and, as usual, I felt like a schmuck for buying a ticket. I looked around and began to scrutinize the people seated near me. I thought to myself, "I bet he didn't get the ticket... she didn't get one either... I'm the only idiot who paid the fare! Well, at least I am honest, and I'm helping the train company, which is going bankrupt anyway."

When I'm riding the train ticketless, I go through a similar thought process: "Oh no! I am the only one on the train without a ticket! Why am I such a cheapskate? It'll be soooo embarrassing if the ticket-checker comes. He'll give me a fine and everyone will stare. Look at him, I'll bet he has a ticket. She definitely has one. I had better go and look for other people who might be ticketless so we can share the blame for the train company's continued failure."

If, in the future, I ever do get checked by a ticket-checker while I am in possession of a ticket, I am going to come right out and tell him, "Yes I bought a ticket, but your company is full of lazies just the same and I can't wait until it goes out of business so the French can buy it and manage it properly!"

My own version of this happened when some friends visited. I picked them up at the airport, two friends and their wives, and I helped them buy the Fiumicino tickets, since they insisted that I had to be mad to suggest they just get on the train...So we went to the kiosk and they paid up after I told them what to ask for and we got on the train.

At Trastevere, I suggested that a cab to the hotel would be easiest but the tram would take us right there and would cost nothing. We got on the tram and again, they asked me about tickets. I pulled out my wallet where I keep my stash of "emergency tickets" and handed them around.

"Where do we get them stamped?"

"Stamped?!" I said in alarm. "You don't. I've lived here three years and have never seen the ticket guys on the trams."

But they are Anglo North Americans and are used to rules actually having meaning. So I said, "OK, just stand next to the stamping machine and I'll keep my eyes open. If the ticket guy comes on, just stamp the tickets like you just got on." This satisfied them and we had a more or less painless ride to Argentina. When we got off the tram (no ticket guy...duhhhh) they asked what to do with the tickets.

"Give 'em back," and I stuffed them back in my wallet.

You keep up the Rules Matter idea for a while living here, but eventually, everyone gets worn down. The country is actually set up that way so that the only way it works is if everyone cheats.

Here's an example: the train/bus/Metro/tram pass that I buy every month (yes, I do) costs me 63 E. And to me, that seems like a hell of a good deal. In fact, it's probably the best transit deal I've ever had, and I've lived in the two most expensive cities in Canada for many years each. I've also lived from coast to coast to coast, and visited and travelled around nearly all the major cities of my country, plus New York, Boston, Washington, Seattle, Chicago, London, Manchester, Birmingham and Liverpool, and in all those places, the transit system hasn't been as good or as cheap. In Toronto, if you live in a place you can afford to pay the rent (ie: waaaaaaaaay far away from where you work, in a horrifying suburb) you pay twice, once for a commuter pass to get into the city, and again for a city pass to get the subway, trolleys and buses. Here, it's all one thing, and the one thing is less than the Toronto pass, by a fair bit...even with the exchange. So I pay up, and don't mind it.

But when I was sick, I didn't buy a monthly pass for a year, and there were certainly times when I went in to the City for doc's appts, and forgot to buy a ticket (which is only 3.60 E one way). I got nailed twice. Once the guy just said, looking at my bald head, "Oh, you're going to Gemelli? Just buy a ticket when we get to St. Peter's." Another time, I was coming home from a day out, I think we did some museums or something. We had just barely made the train and I didn't have time to buy a ticket, so I did the thing you're supposed to do, and went to find the ticket guy to ask to buy one, (technically against the rules, but any ticket guy who refuses to sell you a ticket... possibly with a .50E fee... is a jerk). When I found him, he was chatting up a bunch of over-dressed women and when I ahemed, he turned around, and in a jovial tone said, "What's wrong with your hair?" I smiled and whipped off my hat and said, "Chemotherapy." He said, "Oh, go sit down."

The joke is that if you don't buy a monthly pass, and you commute in regularly, as long as you are coming and going during regular commuting hours, you will probably only get nailed once a month or so. And the fine is 50E. The pass costs 63E... so, you know...

Finally you learn that there just is no sense in throwing away good money. And that's the moment that you realise you've started to think like an Italian.

Or you go nuts.

Or you run back home.


Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Sugar makes you stupid

Having just spent the evening dipping the tip of a dinner knife into the jar of Arancia honey, I can attest that sugar does make you dumb. Makes you dumb enough, in fact, to want to eat more sugar. Sigh...

This just in via a FB friend:

"Too much high-fructose corn syrup could do more than just make you fat: It could also make you stupid."

And, whatever you do, don't tell the truth about food, nutrition and health...

The North Carolina Board of Dietetics/Nutrition is threatening to send a blogger to jail for recounting publicly his battle against diabetes and encouraging others to follow his lifestyle.

Chapter 90, Article 25 of the North Carolina General Statutes makes it a misdemeanor to “practice dietetics or nutrition” without a license. According to the law, “practicing” nutrition includes “assessing the nutritional needs of individuals and groups” and “providing nutrition counseling.”

Steve Cooksey has learned that the definition, at least in the eyes of the state board, is expansive.

When he was hospitalized with diabetes in February 2009, he decided to avoid the fate of his grandmother, who eventually died of the disease. He embraced the low-carb, high-protein Paleo diet, also known as the “caveman” or “hunter-gatherer” diet. The diet, he said, made him drug- and insulin-free within 30 days. By May of that year, he had lost 45 pounds and decided to start a blog about his success.

The Diabetes Warrior tells us all about it.


Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Viva Christo Rey!


Taking a day off

Not from work, but from going into the City. I seem to have found my limit. I've been trekking into the City every day for the last few weeks, and running about doing lots of Things. Art classes, interviews, writing, Pilates session, and getting home late in the evening, having exactly enough energy to say good night to the cat, climb into my jammies and fall unconscious. The alarm goes off at 5:45 every morning and I do it all again. And my body seems to have finally had enough.

I like Rome, (as long as I don't have to live there) especially the part about walking through the little windey streets, the little shops, the antiques in the windows, the Baroque art on the corners of the buildings. I like turning a corner and finding mysterious ancient things embedded into medieval walls; busy little out-door fruit and vegetable markets; little out-of-the-way churches with their hidden treasures, incorrupt saints, 5th century mosaics and icons, a Roman temple in the basement, a Caravaggio in a side altar...

But man, is it tiring! I don't mind the train ride, I can put up with the buses and know how to avoid the crowds, and I'm happy with the amount of exercise I'm getting and the unexpected bouncyness I've been experiencing, but last night I found The Wall. I was up at 6, had six hours of classes, dashed back to the office to do an emergency article (on my supposed day off) and literally ran to my Pilates therapy session at eight (let me tell you, running up the Via Angelico in tourist season is a feat of nimble agility that I'm surprised I'm capable of, when just walking down a street in Rome is like playing Asteroids); back to the office, clicked send, and on the 10:30 train. By the time I got home at 11:45 I was so close to sleepwalking that I'm glad I didn't bother to make anything to eat - I would have set the house on fire. After gulping down a few spoonfuls of yogurt I was almost unconscious before face-planting into the pillow.

So today, I called Andrea and said I was staying home. I guess even on a diet of green vegetables, fish, raw whole-milk diary products and fruit, with plenty of fresh air and exercise, there is a limit. Good to know.

~ * ~

Here's a recipe:

What's the worst thing about the healthy, no-sugar, low-carb lifestyle? No chocolate, you say? No more dessert? What a lack of imagination...

Mascarpone chocolate mousse
(Single serving)

1 oz unsweetened mascarpone cheese
1 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
a little home made full-fat yogurt
2 tsps raw, unpasteurised honey
1 fl. oz. whipping cream

Mix the mascarpone, honey and cocoa powder in a bowl (use a fork or the cocoa goes all over) until you've got a nice thick dark creamy paste. If it is too dry, add a little full-fat yogurt (recipe to follow). Whip the cream until very stiff and fold into the chocolate and cheese mixture.

That's it. It's a chocolate mousse that is quite stable (the milk products don't separate) and is jammed with protein, calcium, vitamins and chocolatey, creamy wonderfulness.

1 0z mascarpone - 127 cal / 0.6g carb. Vitamin A and calcium
1 fl oz. whipped cream - 97 cal / 1g carb. Vitamin A and calcium
1 tsp honey - 43 cal / 12g carb. Vitamins B6, C, Riboflavin
1 tbs cocoa powder - 12 cal / 3g carb. Iron, protein


Sunday, May 13, 2012

Just for the record

I wish everyone would shut the hell up about effing Mothers' Day.

I don't have one, indeed, haven't had one since I was 15, and now am absolutely certainly never going to be one, so Mother's Day can go jump as far as I'm concerned.

I suppose this makes me Evil.

Thank God I don't have a TV. Facebook is bad enough.


The Church in Italy

Where it is forever 1976


and never Christmas.

(This chasuble is the featured item at one of Rome's most important and up-to-date ecclesiastical suppliers. V. posh neighbourhood, around the corner from Sopra Minerva.)


Still life

Working on this still life set-up in class right now. It's a humdinger.

But like everything else, you start with dots.

Gradually build up a contour...

And then refine, refine, refine...

Values this week.

Don't fear the still life.


Female? Feeling insecure?

Click here for manatee therapy.


Thursday, May 10, 2012

What. The. Hell?

Someone has said it's a cnidarian called a "Deepstaria enigmatica," which taxonomic designation filled me with skepticism.

But apparently, they're a real thing.

Seriously Nature, is it really necessary to be this weird?

I've mentioned before how I feel about radial symmetry, right?


Wednesday, May 09, 2012

April Art Classes

Things have been going swimmingly in the studio. I've worked through two full segments of the Cours de Dessin, the Cast Drawing and the Portrait Drawing and am now working along with a painting class doing a still life drawing in charcoal.

I took pictures for y'all, showing the progression from blank paper to (more or less) finished drawing. I won't give away all the secrets, but this will at least give an idea that there is actually a process involved and that it can be learned. No magical Harry-Potter "talent" gene required.

Starting April 9, I dived right in to the Cast Drawing. (Wanted to do the skull, but Valentina had already called dibs).

As with any drawing project, it's not about drawing eyes, nose mouth and ears in the right places. It's about putting the darks and lights together in the correct balance to give an illusion of 3-Dness, with the darker darks drawing the eye back in space, and the brightest highlights appearing to come forward.

But first, you start with plotting the points, top and bottom, and left and right extremes first, followed by a careful map of all the significant points. Then you join them up, and voy-lah! a contour.

Then you go through doing the same thing with the values (that's "shading") inside the contour, so in the end the whole thing looks rather odd.

Which is what makes it fun to put in the first values that suddenly transform it from a rather odd-looking abstraction to a thing that starts to look like the object...

and starts making some visual sense.

Then it's just a matter of darkening the darks, pulling back the plane changes to give the three-D effect, emphasising some things with sharp contrasts and dark/light changes, and diminishing others with softened edges and darker shadows.

All of which can really only be achieved once you've got the background in.

It's only with the background in that you can start to see how dark the darkest darks have to go, in order to keep up the right balance to create shadows and bring up the highlights.

On to Portrait Class...


Monday, May 07, 2012


he really gets going at about 2:07


Quick! Someone call Rob Paravonian!


Sunday, May 06, 2012

Primal cookies!

What can you do with a day that is so un-Italian, so wet, so cold, so windy, so damn Yorkshire-like that all you want to do is lie around watching Game of Thrones? Bake cookies!


1.5 cups almond and hazelnut flour
1.5 tablespoons local, unpasteurized honey,
.5 teaspoon nutmeg
mix one egg and 3 tsbs milk
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsbs rice flour
1 oz sweet butter
1tsp salt

Mix all ingredients thoroughly, adding about half the egg and milk mixture. Spoon onto a greased cookie sheet, bake at 350 for 15 minutes.


Guilt-free, wheat-free, nutty cookies to have with your tea.

Oh yes! I'm the Queen of Pastry!

(NB: all amounts above are vague estimates. What I really did was pour a bunch of stuff into a coffee bowl, making it up as I went along by taste. So, you know, copy with caution.)


When nerd spies meet

they give a sign and countersign:

"Elen sila lumenn omentielvo."


~ * ~

O's P. Loafing around on Sunday Afternoon Prize for identifying the countersign above.

Now, add your own in the commbox while I watch the latest Game of Thrones.


Saturday, May 05, 2012


If I have to do the Dorian Gray and the [H-word] has pushed the rapid aging button, I want to get old like this:

And this



OK, I'm obviously turning into one of those obnoxious Modern People. I started Pilates today *, with a class at a nice place in Rome that doesn't charge the earth, is friendly, clean, modern and seems to be populated entirely with other women and gay men. I did two classes today, in fact, which may not have been the brightest move. Nonetheless, I was so enthused that having done so surprisingly well at the Machines class, (it's weird, bear with me) I thought I'd just dive in and try the mat exercises ... at which I did somewhat less well. (It was pretty comical, actually, I kept falling off the foam tube thing. But everyone else seemed to manage it, so I figure better balance will come in time.)

And truthfully, though I spent the morning doing more exercise than I've done in at least ten years, I don't hurt, haven't had the expected collapse or nap attack and actually feel better. A little achey in the leg where I stretched some of the tendons and muscles that were damaged by surgery, but nothing terrible. And I was able to come home and do my work, which is a huge bonus. A big problem has been that I've got to do two things a day, class and work, and have sufficient energy really only for one, and class comes earlier in the day, which means my work has been suffering, and I've been fighting exhaustion. What I most hope to start with is that energy will increase, and the permanent state of exhaustion will begin to recede.

And most of all, I really, REALLY enjoyed it. Way more than I was expecting. It has been about 20 years since I've done any serious exercise programme, since the end of my fencing period. When I was fencing regularly, about three times a week, I was also doing strength training and fencing-specific exercises to hone my form, speed and precision. I was 24 and I was bullet-proof, baby.

I've never forgotten that wonderful feeling of being completely inside my skin, totally in control of every movement. It was like being a superhero, and I really missed it. I dabbled a little in Vancouver with various martial arts, taking a Wushu class here and an Aikido class there, a Crane Karate class over there, but nothing stuck, and I let the whole thing lapse in the last ten years. I've missed it, and today, though I was obviously the slowest one in the class, I felt it again. I could be bullet-proof again. It's thrilling.

The health kick is probably a very good reaction to the Stuff that's been going on, and probably the best thing I could be doing right now, for a lot of reasons. But the cancer treatment, and its potentially devastating aftermath has, frankly, scared the crap out of me. Just the fact that I even had cancer still scares the crap out of me. And the medical facts are still a horror. Statistics are a bitch. After [H-word] I can expect a lot of very unpleasant things to happen, up to and including the generally shortened life-expectancy. Osteoporosis, recurrence, huge and hideous weight gain, sudden and irreversible increase in all physical aspects of aging, all the horrors of menopause, times ten, because it is surgically-induced and premature, sudden onset and dramatically increased.
Since The Surgery, I've been resting and reading, and waiting for the time to start working and coming back to life, testing to see how much I could do, precisely how much energy each of my activities takes, how much I could handle, and how much pain and exhaustion each of them would cost. I've actually been keeping a diary of sorts, to try to get a concrete idea of how much life I can live. And reading a lot to see what I could do to expand the life and minimise the cost.

I knew I had to do something about my poor beleaguered body. It's been a bit knocked about lately, and the news about what happens to you after all the stuff I've had really wasn't making me happy. The average poundage put on by women who have had [H-word] is 25 to FORTY!! Gahhh!! As if my self image hasn't taken enough of a hammering lately. Now I'm going to turn into a giant wobbly blob of hideous goo. With brittle bones.

Bloody hell! Bugger that. I've been reading about this stuff, and the basic rules still apply no matter what sort of hideous mutilating and castration you've been put through. It's the physics of the body: base metabolic rate + exercise = the number of calories you can take in per day without getting gooey and horrible. Increase either or both, and drop the caloric intake, and you win. It's just that [H-word] drops your metabolic rate, and the "average" woman is pretty sedentary. So, the first thing to do was to get the hell of that sofa. Which started pretty well on April 9th, the day I started going back to Andrea's art classes. This meant, between walking to and from the train, and to and from the station in Rome, about an hour of walking a day, five days a week, which seems to have been a good thing to start with.

I've been doing minute calculations for a few weeks, tracking the stuff I habitually eat, knocking some off the list and cutting back on other things (who knew a handful of hazelnuts would have the nutritional equivalent of a whole meal?), and as I've mentioned previously, totally cutting out processed white sugar, and nearly all grains. (Though I totally caved the other night at the Avengers, with a giant bucket of popcorn and a packet or so of peanut M&Ms and some gummy worms - but how often do I go to the movies?)

A bunch of other things, like not getting enough sleep, also slow down your metabolism, so I've started being really strict about bed time - no later than ten - and  almost all of these are more or less common sense. And yes, I've put on 3 kilos since my immediate post-surgery low of 74 kilos in March. At that size, I looked pretty good, though the surgery had made me kind of weirdly shaped, and I'm not interested in getting to be a skinny little thing. (Went there once, and it was... bad.) It just can't be that hard to maintain it.

And everything I've read about Pilates is that if you are relying on it alone to lose weight,  it won't necessarily outstrip the calories you eat. But it significantly alters your body's appearance, shifting things around, building muscle mass, and strengthening and lengthening your muscles.  It redistributes your muscles and fat, making you look better, even if you don't actually get smaller. And today, I certainly did feel my heart rate increasing, so it's got to be good for something at least.

The other [H-word] thing is osteoporosis, and I've been reading about that too, and fluctuating wildly between hysterical bouts of horrified, mindless panic and despair, (Oh, Hi Depression, nice to see you again...) and determination that IT FRACKING WELL WON'T HAPPEN TO ME. Apparently, exercise is, again, part of the solution. In the case of osteo, it's weight-bearing resistance and high-impact, basically weight training and jumping, dropping on your feet. I was surprised to see, however, that all the studies - I don't read stupid "support" websites, I read peer review journal articles - say that even a teeny bit of high-impact exercise per day will really do a lot towards staving it off. I was surprised at how little it takes. That and the HRT I'm on which is supposed to be very good for preventing bone loss.

Overall, I think it is just impossible for eating more green vegetables, fruit and high-protein food, ditching sugar and grains, combined with a bunch of exercise, to go wrong.

I just hope I don't bore you all to death talking about it incessantly.


* For which I wore trousers in public. First time since 1998!

Wednesday, May 02, 2012


H/T to the Evil Vicar