Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Sunday, July 5, 2020

It Took a Pandemic for Me to Learn to Cook, and Other Lessons from Lockdown

Wow, has it really been four months since I last posted something on here?  Three and a half of them have been spent working from home, hunkering down with Sylvester.  There have been few outfits worthy of documenting, but lots of books and films enjoyed.  Sylvester has been spoiled with regular treats, brushing, lap time and pets.  There have even been a couple of brief bursts of creativity, but overall, it's been pretty quiet.

This is the fanciest outfit I've worn since March.  The skirt was made by Jenny Rossy and purchased at the Etsy: Made In Canada Toronto show last fall.  I fell in love with the pattern and the pockets!

No mincing words here - the last few months have been a shit show all over the world (especially in the large country south of me) and I know how lucky I am to still have a job, and a safe place to spend the lockdown.  Many people don't have that luxury, and as I stop and reflect about the last few months,  I've realized there are several things I have learned during the pandemic.

Even a "Solitary" Can Have Too Much Alone Time

Initially I didn't know how I would handle working from home - the only people I see on a daily basis are the people I work with, and with that social contact gone, I have definitely felt isolated.  However, my personality and life experience has left me better able to adjust to staying home alone than many other people.  I grew up an only child with two working parents, and spent more time alone while I was growing up than was probably healthy, but that was my situation and I adapted to it.  I learned to enjoy my own company and entertain myself with creative outlets such as drawing and writing.

Initially, I didn't miss having people around (aside from a couple of my closest friends), or having to deal with public transit on a daily basis.  I welcomed the extra time that would have been spent on my daily commute to be able to read and watch things.  Some of the books I've enjoyed recently include the Thursday Next series by Jasper FfordeJonathan Van Ness' memoir Over the Top, and The Nickel Boys by Colin Whitehead.  I've also watched an endless number of series and films on Amazon and Netflix.  I'm currently enjoying the BBC series Ripper Street and rewatching Schitt's Creek; other things I would recommend are:  13th (Netflix), The Lighthouse (Amazon Prime), Under the Skin (Amazon Prime), Disclosure (Netflix) and the Stratford Festival at Home series where every week you can watch one of the plays from a previous season of the festival that has been filmed for home viewing.

I thought I was doing pretty well, but by mid-June, I was feeling constantly tired, and having periods of sadness and depression that I hadn't experienced in some time.  Time spent alone can result in constructive reflection, but it can also mean too much time spent in one's own head, which has never been a good thing for me. When I was finally able to have a few "distanced" visits with the occasional friend it made the world of difference for me (and my mood) and near the end of June I even ventured into my favourite retail store, From Mars, which is something I wasn't sure I would be comfortable doing.

I had some extra money from not purchasing anything but food for the previous 3 months and was happy to be able to get a couple of new things and support my good friends' business at the same time.  I was positively giddy to be chatting with other people (while keeping our distance).  One of the things I came home with was the jumpsuit I'm wearing in the photo above.  It has pockets and as you can tell from the way I am holding the sides out, is loose-fitting.  We are in the midst of a heat wave with temperatures of 30 degrees and above every day and I have been so happy to have this to wear.  The photo was taken on June 28th, which was the 50th anniversary of the first Gay Rights March, held one year after the Stonewall riots, hence the rainbow flag makeup.

Having More Free Time Does Not Equal More Creative Output

When the lockdown started here (the last day I worked in the office was during the week of March 16th), I was determined to put the extra time I had at home on evenings and weekends to good use by being both productive and creative.  I  cleaned out the closet in my kitchen, and my kitchen cupboards,  I washed winter clothing and put it into storage, cleaned and polished winter footwear, and mended a few things.   I had already started working on a creative project spearheaded by my friend Melanie, and decided to paint another pair of jeans.
I didn't know how I would feel about these jeans when I finished but I actually love them (the back of the left leg is also painted)
The photo below is the result of some leftover creative inspiration after I finished my project for Melanie.  I also put a couple of photos on my Instagram (@fcfashionista).  I definitely wish I had more wigs to play with.

Portrait of woman in purple with cat

By the middle of May, I entered a period I shall call "Eh, Fuck it".  My creative output dwindled to  a few IG posts celebrating my collection of vintage hats, and when I ran out of hats, I ran out of inspiration.   I started to live vicariously through the daily updates on Vix's blog about the wonderful garden she and her partner Jon had created, and their home decorating DIY's .  I live in a small rental apartment so home renovations and gardening weren't options for me, but I couldn't even muster up the energy to write a blog post or hem a dress.
I Finally Learned to Cook

My mother worked outside the home from the time I was about 7 or 8 years old, and she did not enjoy cooking or baking (for which I now have more sympathy since I have been working full-time).  I learned how to heat things up in the oven, fry things in a pan, and make a basic tuna casserole but that was about it.  I didn't know what spices and flavours worked together, or what to do with vegetables aside from cook them in boiling water.  As I made friends with people who are good cooks, I've picked up bits and pieces along the way, but I've eaten a lot of frozen meals in my time.  And then three things happened:  I was diagnosed with Celiac disease, I started watching the occasional food show on Neflix, and the COVID-19 Lockdown.  

The Celiac diagnosis meant I would now have to make most, if not all, my meals at home.  There is very little gluten-free prepared food out there.  And unless I wanted to eat oven-baked chicken with rice or boiled potatoes the rest of my life, I'd better up my game.  I discovered Samin Nosrat,  a cook, teacher and author of the book Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, and the host of the documentary on Netflix of the same name.  Watching the documentary was a major education for me about the elements that went into a flavourful, well-prepared meal.  I promptly went out and bought a large box of kosher salt, which I use in almost everything I cook, including oven-roasted potatoes and vegetables, brined chicken breasts, pan-fried gluten-free gnocchi with vegetables, and several other simple, but tasty meals I've learned to prepare.  I'm eating healthier than I every have in my life, and I have the pile of dirty dishes after every meal to prove it.

And Cut My Own Hair

For those of us with very short hair, being denied our regular hair maintenance (I get mine cut every three weeks) leads very quickly to chaos.  After 6 weeks had passed since my last cut I decided to take matters into my own hands and borrowed my neighbour's clippers.  Doing the back was challenging and it didn't look as even as I would have liked, but overall, I thought it looked pretty good.  Now I'm researching brands of hair clippers with the intent of purchasing my own so I can reduce the number of times I need to pay for a professional touch-up. 

Face Masks Are The New Fashion Accessories

As soon as the lockdown started I began wearing a face mask whenever I went out run errands, especially if I had to take public transit.  If you've followed me for a while, you know that my lungs are my achilles' heel, and while I don't get pneumonia like I used to since I started getting the pneumonia vaccine (yet, it exists), a simple cold will leave me coughing for 4 - 6 weeks.  I know that a mask will not necessarily protect me from the COVID-19 virus, but wearing one makes me feel less anxious in situations where I'm not able to distance from people, and it keeps me from touching my face.  I also haven't had a cold since I started wearing one, so that in itself is a win.  There are so many hand-made fun fabric patterned ones out there that I've acquired at least a half-dozen over the last couple of months.

Clockwise from top left:  "blah blah" mask from @ladyprintmaker, black and white reversible mask from @irinarapaport, plaid mask and satin "secret" mask from @clairefleurynyc

Nature is the Best Television

Near the end of last summer a giant green caterpillar crawled up into the overhang of our front porch and spun a large cocoon.  We didn't know what kind of caterpillar it was, or what it would hatch into, and when a few months went by and nothing emerged, we assumed something had gone awry, and were a bit sad, but then we forgot about it.  Winter came and went, and before we knew it, it was May.  I was standing on my neighbour's porch, just under where the cocoon was, and I glanced upwards and saw this...

We rushed around to the front of the porch, and to our surprise, there were two of the biggest, and most beautiful, moths we had ever seen, engaged in what we assumed to be Moth Sex.  We knew they were moths because of their giant furry bodies.  Out came my camera and what turned out to be an  coupling that lasted for over 6 hours was documented for posterity.  

Thanks to Google, I learned that these are Cecropia Moths (male on the left with larger antennae, female on the right with the larger body), North America's largest native moth (their wingspan is between 5 and 7 inches), and a member of the giant silk moth family.  The adult moths have no mouths, or digestive system, and therefore don't eat.  They live for approximately two weeks, and their only purpose is to mate, and reproduce.  Which would account for the extra-long mating session, because really, if that was the only thing you got to do in your short life, wouldn't you want it to last as long as possible?  The female moth is full of eggs when she hatches and after mating, she lays her eggs and dies. Kind of sad, huh? 

So you can see the brown cocoon behind the two moths.  After the couple departed I took the cocoon down to examine it, because it seemed awfully coincidental that a giant moth would suddenly appear in exactly the same place as a cocoon.

hand for scale - the cocoon was made of long, silk-like fibres

Inside the outer cocoon was another smaller, fuzzy one, and inside that was the pupa.

I spent a lot of time reading online about the life cycle of the Cecropia Moth, and even watched a video that showed how the caterpillar (which matched ours from the previous summer) changes over the winter into the awesome winged creature that emerged the following spring.  I'm pretty sure that "Our Moth" was the female because you can see the impression of her smaller antenna and rounder body on the hard shell of the pupa, which was cracked open.  The opening that the moth had crawled through was incredibly small, and I so wish we had seen her hatch!

 Nature is truly awesome!!

And Last, But Never Least...

 I would not have made it through the past four months without this guy

It's been as much of a challenge for Sylvester to adjust to having me home all the time as it has been for me.  There are many times when I'm working when he will sit by my chair and cry until I give him attention or food and it can drive me crazy.  I'm surprised he hasn't gained weight from the extra treats he gets just to give me a couple of hours of peace and quiet (and he hasn't, I've weighed him).   However, when we have our daily snuggle time (see photo above), I realize how grateful I am that he is isolated with me.  I don't know how he will react when I finally return to the office full-time, but I'm sure that there will be a lot of disappointed pets out there when things open up completely (whenever that will be).
What have you learned during the past few months?

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

If I Could Turn Back Time

In December, after having some tests done in hopes of determining the cause of stomach issues I had been having the past year, I was diagnosed with Celiac disease (if you're in England or Australia it's spelled Coeliac).  I had always thought if you were celiac, you had severe reactions to eating gluten, but according to my doctor, there is range in the severity of symptoms, and fortunately, mine are relatively mild compared to those of other people I know who have the disease.  My doctor's advice after giving me the news was "stop eating gluten".  Sounds simple, but it is much easier said than done - the damn stuff is in so many things!  It has required a huge change in my shopping and eating habits.  This alone would have been challenging but at the end of December I got sick with a respiratory virus which hung on for over 4 weeks.  Between avoiding gluten and being sick, I didn't eat much for about 4 weeks, and was generally weak and exhausted.   

The Good News!  The coughing has pretty much stopped, and I'm learning to make simple meals at home that I can eat (my repertoire is pretty minimal, so if you have any gluten-free meal recipes that don't require a lot of ingredients or prep time, please pass them on - I do eat meat)

However, I would still like to revisit a simpler time - November 29th, 2019 to be exact...

That was the day that my best pal Heather and I went to Toronto to jointly celebrate our birthdays, and we had a big day planned.    Our first stop was at Sephora, where we purchased some false eyelashes and had one of their makeup artists apply them for us.  After all, we had tickets to see the Queen of Glam herself that night...

Yep, that would be Cher

And you can't just wear any old thing when you are going to be in the presence of a Goddess

We put on ALL the sequins! (my sequinned butterfly top is vintage)

I have loved Cher since the early 70's when I sat on my living room floor watching the Sonny and Cher show with my parents.  I loved everything about her - her exotic beauty, the flashy, body-revealing Bob Mackie costumes, and her quick wit, especially when trading quips with her then-husband, Sonny Bono.  She was everything I was not, but wanted to be. I bought every movie magazine with her on the cover, and one of the first record albums I bought with my own money was 1974's Dark Lady (I was 13), with a black and white photo of her on the cover holding a black cat.

Time went by and I grew up, but Cher stayed in my heart and on my radar.  I knew what songs she had released and what movies she made.  I followed the story of her daughter Chastity's coming out as gay, and later on, as transgender.   One of the few regrets I had in my life was that I had never seen her perform live, so when I saw on Instagram that she was going to be performing in Toronto as part of her "Here We Go Again" tour in 2019,  I spent a ridiculous amount of money (lesson learned - if you buy tickets from a re-sale website be prepared to pay insanely high service fees) on two tickets for Heather and I to see her.  I bought the tickets in April so we had to wait until November before we could actually go - it was like waiting for Christmas when I was a kid.

Was it worth it?
  YOU BETCHA!!!   

The opening act was Nile Rogers and Chic

Nile Rogers, co-founder of the band Chic, is an American guitarist, singer-songwriter, record producer, arranger and composer.  He has written and produced music for artists such as Diana Ross, Madonna, David Bowie, Sister Sledge and Duran Duran, and is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  We were almost as excited to see him perform as we were to see Cher.

 Vocalists Kimberly Davis (left) and Jill Jones sounded amazing

While Chic were on stage, the arena took on the vibe of a funky disco club, and we wished we were on the floor so we could dance.   It was really cool to look around us and see so many women in their 50's and older dancing in their seats.  I was disappointed that more people did not bother to dress up; we saw a few people in sequins and bling, and one young couple dressed in 60's Sonny and Cher outfits, but for the most part, it was hard to tell people were going to a concert and not a hockey game.  Sigh. 

The band performed "Good Time" and it was obvious they were having one on stage

Then, the woman we were all waiting for...

of course she was lowered onto the stage in a gold archway, because Cher

Warrior queen

For the next hour and a half she showed us that at 73, Cher is still a performer at the top of her game.   Her voice is in fine form, and I think she sounds better than she did 20 years ago.  Bob Mackie's form-fitting costumes showed off a kick-ass body that must take some hard-core workouts to maintain (plastic surgery can only do so much).  There were 9 costume changes for 14 songs which meant that she disappeared from the stage frequently, while we were left to watch a video montage or listen to an instrumental version of one of her songs. I would have liked more songs and less filler, but honestly, I was just thrilled to finally see her "in the flesh" (and there was quite a bit on display).

For the "Burlesque" set she wore the same costume as she did in the film.   The sets were effective and eye-catching and were done mostly with projections and lighting

the "Shoop Shoop" song

 She doesn't need to turn back time, she looks incredible now

I wish I would have got a better photo of her during her performance of "If I Could Turn Back Time" when she was wearing a mesh bodysuit very similar to the one she wore in her video for song from back in 1989.  When she came out on stage the audience went nuts.

She has ended every concert on this tour with "Believe"
I waited in line to visit the merchandise table after the show - I attend concerts so rarely that I made sure that I had the full experience.   I spent too much money on a long-sleeved t-shirt and a copy of the program but I was more than satisfied with our night out.   If you love Cher and weren't able to see her on this tour, there are plenty of videos from the various concert stops on Instagram and YouTube to enjoy.