Get Some Fresh Air – Self Care Month Day 7

So I know that yesterday I advised keeping warm, and that still stands, but please also consider opening a window. Or all of your windows. At least for a bit each day.

Here’s the thing – indoor air quality can be worse than the outdoors. Stuff like dust, mildew and pet dander can trigger allergies and asthma; furniture and carpets, especially new, will off gas; and all the scented crap people use to cover up the smells and stuffiness of their homes can all contribute not just to rhinitis but possibly to depression as well. And let’s not even get started on cigarette smoke.

Opening up your windows for a few hours each day lets fresh clean air in and lets the old stale air out. Most rooms only need windows to be open around an inch to allow for air circulation, and an hour or so is more than enough time to clear out the stuffiness from most rooms. Obviously, if it’s cold enough outdoors to make your windows freeze shut, wait a day or two, although I’ve been know to run around defrosting windows with a hairdryer just so I could open them to air our my apartment.

This circulation of fresh air will go a long way to making you feel better and making your home more pleasant to be in. If you absolutely can’t open the windows then be sure to get outside for a bit every day and to keep your place as clean as possible so that allergens don’t build up.

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Things Are Heating Up – Self Care Month Day 6

Flaxseed Heating Pad by LalaTextures

February is cold. Here in Toronto, the first two weeks of February are typically the coldest of the year. For many of us with illnesses such as arthritis, or chronic injuries (old sprains, herniated discs), the cold weather also means extra aches and pains. Keeping warm is an important self care activity at this time, as being able to move without pain means we’re more likely to get up and do things, which will make us feel more energized and less depressed and anxious.

Heat is also an important part of the recovery process for injuries such as torn tendons and ligaments, which have poor blood flow, as it draws blood to the areas being warmed and helps promote new tissue growth.

How to add heat? Warm baths or showers always help, but you can’t stay in the bath forever. Exercise, even gentle movement such as tai chi, keeps muscles and nerves warm and loose. But if you’re hurting bad you might not have it in you to get up at all. This is why I believe that every household should have a variety of heating pads.

The easiest ones to use are the microwaveable shaped bags full of flax seed. There are plenty of places to buy these, but they’re cheap and easy to make. I recommend flax seed over other fillers such as rice, as they hold the heat better, and don’t dry out. Add some lavender flowers for some aromatherapy as well, if you like. If you make your own heating pad, make sure that it is cotton, linen or another natural fibre, as synthetic fabrics can catch fire when you’re heating the bag in the microwave. (This actually happened to me.) I now make my bags out of a cheap muslin cotton and then also make a cover for each that can be removed when the bag is in the microwave, or for washing (hot necks = sweaty), or if you want to sprinkle some water on the cover to create a more soothing wet heat.

Obviously you can also turn up the thermostat, but if your furnace creates a dry heat (and most do) consider running a humidifier on low, for at least part of each day. This won’t do much to keep you warm, but it will help with the “February flakes” (that dry itchy skin that most people get over the winter), will keep household static down, and will help fend off winter nosebleeds (yep, it’s a dry air thing) in those that are susceptible.

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Boost Your Signal to Noise Ratio – Self Care Month Day 5

In olde internet times, we would talk about the quality of the information we’d encounter by referring to the good stuff as “signal” and all the other crap as “noise”. So a high signal-to-noise ratio mean that the group or community was enjoyable and useful. If the ratio was low, then that meant it was mostly people cluttering up a space and not contributing anything good. Believe it or not, back in olde times most of us actually cared about adding only good, quality information to the places we congregated.

Today, however, even before current political events, the whole of the internet is full of noise. Oh, you can still find good stuff if you hunt for it, but often it gets drowned out by the crap. And often the crap just makes us all feel… crappy.

Most of our noise tends to show up on social media, where we put up with links and posts by friends who we care about, even if we don’t really care about the topic they’re discussing. So today, to make your life more serene, some filtering tools for social media.

Facebook Purity is a plugin for the desktop that allows users to filter pretty much every single thing that shows up on a Facebook page, from all the stuff in the sidebars to certain types of posts. If you really don’t want to know that your Uncle Bob liked that post about the white supremacist, well you can filter that. Facebook Purity also offers a text-based filter, which means that all you have to do is add “Trump” to that box and any post that mentions the US president by name will not show up in your feed. Some stuff might still get through – it does not work on shared posts or posts where someone refers to him as “that asshole” instead of by your filtering term, but it does a great job of clearing out the majority of stuff you don’t want to see. Sadly this plug-in only works on desktops, and not on mobile devices. For my own sanity, I’ve deleted Facebook from my phone, but I totally get how that can be the hardest thing ever to actually do.

For Twitter, I am a huge fan of the app Twitteriffic. This one is mobile only, and not desktop, but it also allows users to “muffle” tweets based on user name, hashtag or text. Muffled tweets show up in your feed with minimal info, typically user plus the topic/user/hashtag you’ve muffled, which allows you to open that post or ignore it.

Don’t forget that muting on Twitter or unfollowing on Facebook are also great ways to take a break from someone without removing them completely, or without them knowing that you just can’t deal with their shit at the moment.

Do not feel obligated to read all the stuff in your social media feeds, especially if it stresses you out. You are absolutely allowed to filter, cull or even take a complete break if you feel the need.

And finally, please consider using good Netiquette – if you are writing or sharing posts on social media about things like Trump, make sure you’re using common keywords (“Donald Trump” instead of “Lord Dampnuts” for instance…) or hashtags to make it easier for others to filter out those posts if they don’t want to see them, while still being able to read the other, non-triggering stuff that you’re posting.

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Get a Good Night’s Sleep – Self Care Month Day 4

Five more minutes! We’ve all heard, or said, this refrain. Some of us multiple times each morning. But a proper sleep is the most basic, and one of the most important, forms of self care.

I mean, I know why people don’t sleep enough, because there is so much to do and not enough time to do it in, but sleep is not only when our bodies rest but when they repair themselves.

So it’s time to figure out how much sleep you need each night, and then re-organize your schedule to ensure that you get it. Cut and cull that other stuff, hire or delegate some of it out if you can, but block off that time for sleep and stick to it.

Then, follow these tricks to make your bedroom a place where sleep comes easily…

  • make sure linens, mattresses, and pillows are comfortable and supportive, replace if they’re not (it’s February, hit a white sale!)
  • ensure that the room is as dark as possible so your brain knows it’s time to sleep and can produce melatonin
  • find the right temperature – for most people this is generally on the cool side so you are more inclined to snuggle under the covers
  • beds are for sleeping and sex only – remove all other stimuli such as TVs from the room
  • turn off back-lit devices at least a half hour before bed, read a book instead
  • go to bed and get up at the same time every day, even weekends
  • a white noise machine can help drown out distracting noises for light sleepers
  • if you share your bed with a partner, consider separate beds or even separate rooms. Crazy? Not at all – you’ll both get a much better night’s sleep without someone tossing, turning or snoring beside you
  • Consider a sunrise lamp so that you’re not waking up in the dark

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Pat a Dog – Self Care Month Day 3

Selfie with Wiggly Corgi

Or a cat, or a bird. I advise against chasing down animals in the wild, but having animals in our lives has huge health benefits, from increasing our circle of friends and acquaintances to lowering stress.

Having a dog will get you up and moving, for both walks and play; will likely make you more organized (they’re sticklers for a schedule); will give you plenty of opportunities for a hearty belly laugh; and are always on hand to offer an ear or a snuggle when you’re feeling down.

If having a pet isn’t practical for you right now, you can visit friends with pets, volunteer at an animal shelter (bunny snugglers wanted!), look at pictures of animals online, or even get a stuffed animal to fill some of the gaps. (Seriously, before we got our current dog, I was going through a depressive period and bought a toy sloth named Cyril. Cyril lived on the back of the sofa, and sat on my lap while I watched TV. He was quite the critic, and would wave his long arms at my husband when he disliked a show and wanted it turned off. He was also an expert at the UK museum-themed quiz show, Quizeum. Claims he never got an answer wrong, beating some of the best historians in the world.)

Whatever way you choose to interact with animals, they can help you feel better in both the short and long term.

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You’ve got to Move It, Move It – Self Care Month Day 2

No, wait, come back. I didn’t mean you have to, you know, jog… or anything. I promise. But if we’re going to be honest about self care, we do have to talk about exercise.

Seeing as we’ve hit February, it’s probably safe to say that there are fewer people at the gyms than there were a month ago. If you’re still going, or never stopped, kudos to you. You probably don’t need self-care advice.

Everyone else though, those of you who are considering self care to be curling up on the couch with some TV shows or video games – and there’s nothing wrong with that, in moderation – should know that it’s still important to get some semblance of exercise. Outdoors is best, because there’s also fresh air and sunshine, but if it’s just too cold, you can still exercise at home. And exercise, despite what they tell you at the gym, is anything that gets you up and moving. Housework like vacuuming, for instance; scrubbing floors, painting. If your self care goals included getting some stuff done around the house or generally keeping a regular housework schedule, you’re already halfway there. And don’t forget the workout you get from shoveling snow.

Given that self care varies for all of us depending on our own abilities, skills and general health, let’s not feel bad (or make others feel bad) just because we’re not training for a marathon. My daily exercise routine includes walking the dog at least twice a day (this is my cardio workout – corgis make up for their short legs by walking extra fast so we do a couple of miles a day at a pretty good clip), and around an hour a day (usually 3 minutes of exercise at half hour intervals) of a combo of stretching/yoga/tai chi specific to certain areas where I have chronic injuries. I also dance, gently, for 3 minute intervals, a few times a day, to keep muscles and nerves loose and warm and to promote healing to my injuries.

I don’t try and do more than I can handle, and I try to be proud of myself for the effort expended instead of down on myself for not doing enough.

At the very least, try getting up every half hour and stretching, dancing or just walking around the house for a few minutes and see if it improves your general sense of well-being.

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Let There Be Light – Self Care Month Day 1

Welcome to February. February sucks.

In the northern hemisphere, February is likely to be the coldest month, and the time when we’re most likely to feel down, either because of mental health issues such as Seasonal Affective Disorder, or just because the cold weather makes it feel as if there just isn’t that much to do.

This year, because of political issues in the USA, most people I know are also feeling very anxious and tightly strung as we all try to wrap our heads around what asinine idea or edict the US president is going to come up with next. As people’s rights quickly disappear and the population tries to unite and fight this freakish narcissistic oppressor, more than ever, we all need to indulge in some self care.

As far as I can tell, there doesn’t seem to be an official “self care month”. Google pulls up some references to it being in July, and I found a website that says November, but really, if there is ever a specific month when we all need some self care, it’s gotta be February.

So I have a full month of things anybody can do – and they’re mostly small, inexpensive things – to feel better and get through the month. They are February, northern hemisphere-specific things (ideas such as sitting in a garden, or lying in the grass and looking at the sky are not super-practical right now), so YMMV depending on where you live, but I think most things will be relevant in some way.

I hope you enjoy, and that this month of suggestions is useful to you.

Let There Be Light – Self Care Month Day 1

I’m starting my self care suggestions with the one that has been the most helpful to me over the years, which is light therapy.

The Mayo Clinic explains light therapy…

Light therapy is a way to treat seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and certain other conditions by exposure to artificial light. SAD is a type of depression that occurs at a certain time each year, usually in the fall or winter.

During light therapy, you sit or work near a device called a light therapy box. The box gives off bright light that mimics natural outdoor light.

Light therapy is thought to affect brain chemicals linked to mood and sleep, easing SAD symptoms. Using a light therapy box may also help with other types of depression, sleep disorders and other conditions. Light therapy is also known as bright light therapy or phototherapy.

I use two types of light therapy to help me feel better in the winter months; the first is the light therapy box. These come in a variety of styles and strengths, but for all of them, you simply sit in front of the thing for about an hour each day. I keep mine on my desk and turn it on when I start to work. Stronger versions require early morning use as the bright light can mess up circadian rhythms if used too late in the day, but I use my lower intensity lamp around noon each day and have no problem. It really does help me feel brighter and more cheerful, especially in the afternoons when I’m likely to experience a slump.

The second lamp that literally changed my life was a simulated sunrise lamp. This is a lamp with an alarm clock that starts gradually getting brighter until the alarm goes off, filling the room with a warm glow, sort of like a sunrise. More expensive models have a more authentic light (pinkish glow as opposed to yellow) and can include radios just like a standard alarm clock, or even a selection of sounds so you can wake up to birds singing instead of the typical alarm noise.

For anybody who hates getting up in the dark, especially in winter, I cannot recommend this product enough. My mornings went from “garr, I don’t wanna!” to cheerfully looking forward to my day, just as I do in the summer when the sun in shining in the window.

Speaking of the sun, while we’re not currently close enough to the burning sky orb for our bodies to make Vitamin D (and we’re too covered up in the cold for our skin to absorb it anyway), being outside on a sunny winter day can also help if buying these lamps is out of your budget. Just getting up and moving around and being outside in the fresh air can go a long way to making you feel better.

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Book Review – The Neapolitan Quartet by Elena Ferrante

My Brilliant Friend
The Story of a New Name
Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay
The Story of the Lost Child
Elena Ferrante

It’s January and with this chilly month comes the typical list of resolutions, including the one to read more. I don’t necessarily want to read more, but I do want to keep better track of what I’m reading. I have a tendency to not bother writing about books that I don’t care much for, but in truth, I can learn as much about life (and writing) from books I dislike as those that I enjoy. I’m also getting a jump on the book a week goal by counting books 3 and 4 of he Neapolitan Quartet as my first two books of 2017.

Recently I was headed to the library to return book 3 (Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay), and pick up book 4 (The Story of the Lost Child), when a neighbour stopped me to ask if I was enjoying the series. They’re intense, I replied. She was concerned about finding time to sit down and read any quantity of the book with two small children around, and at first I suggested that she find herself some “me time”. But in fact, I almost have begun to think that these books are best read only a few pages at a time.

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Book Review – 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl

fatgirl13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl
Mona Awad

It’s not easy being a fat girl. It’s hard to find clothes, airplane seats and uncomfortable and everybody seems to have an opinion on your girth. Especially yourself.

Mona Awad’s 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl is a collection of 13 short stories presented as a novel (the title and format cribbed from Wallace Stevens’ 13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird), telling the story of Lizzie/Beth/Elizabeth from her teenage years to adulthood and her ongoing struggle with her weight.

Each story explores Lizzie’s self-loathing at her body, mostly from her own first person point of view, but occasionally as viewed by someone else in her life. These stories are dark, and not just because the character is part of Toronto’s Goth scene in the earlier part of the book (Awad actually places her characters at a Goth concert that I promoted in 1997, leading me to believe that at least some of the material is auto-biographical, because I distinctly remember the two girls she bases Lizzie and her friend Mel, on)… Awad seems to find the worst traits of her characters and magnifies them to make nobody, least of all Lizzie, sympathetic.

As she matures and loses weight, Lizzie renames Beth, then Elizabeth. She struggles to stay thin, to the detriment of many relationships, and her personal style changes from Goth to something more indie and then finally to someone who shows up to work BBQs in too-tight designer dresses. She counts every calorie eaten and burned and begins to realize that it won’t actually change much.

While I found Awad’s writing sumptuously beautiful – gal can turn a phrase like nobody’s business – I wanted a better ending than what she gave readers. Of course, life seldom has perfect storybook endings, and in that respect, Awad is far more honest about her subject than many. But like so many other reviewers, I wanted some form of redemption for Lizzie – some self-acceptance or self-compassion, a way of using the death of her mother as a catalyst for positive change instead of just becoming the living embodiment of her. But by the end, Lizzie is still drowning in her loathing – both of herself and of other women, and you just want to find her and give her a hug and maybe some cheese.

13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl is a very concise picture of how western society views women’s bodies, what we all do to win approval for how we look – especially from men, and the attitudes we develop when we care too much about appearances. The cover wittily shows the word “fat” as partially erased, reflecting how Lizzie has erased her personality along with her body fat. Almost every other review I’ve come across mentions how Lizzie is such a terrible person for the things she does and how she treats people, and how she lets herself be treated, and I think that’s a concise assessment.

If losing weight and staying thin means counting every calorie and fighting over gym equipment and generally being miserable, then finding some way to love yourself, stretch marks and all, seems like a much better goal for the fat girls of the world.

This is an important work, one that all women, of all sizes, should read. But the moral taken away should really be one of love yourself, love your life, accept who you are, and stop fucking trying so hard, it’s not worth it.

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I’m An Adult Now – Steam Cleaners

dog_carpet

One of the important parts of adulting is knowing the how, when and why of keeping things clean. When I recently posted to Facebook about steam cleaning my sofa I got an incredulous reply from a friend exclaiming that they didn’t even know you could do such a thing, and please would I explain how.

So let’s start with the fact that all fabric things around your house get dirty. Or at least dusty. Here at House O’ Fits, things such as curtains, throw cushion covers, table runners and bed spreads get laundered on a quarterly basis. I use the change of season (solstices and equinoxes) as my calendar guide. Linens that are more delicate or harder to dry, especially if they don’t come in direct contact with skin/hair or pets (things such as pillows, feather duvets and feather or wool mattress pads) generally get washed annually. (Yes, I said washed… I totally wash my feather linens and put them in a dryer – they turn out fine.)

But what about carpets, rugs or fabric-covered furniture?

Dudes, these should also be cleaned. Not constantly, but at least somewhat regularly.

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Book Review – Four Great Books About Strong, Amazing Women

lilacgirlsNot by design, my fiction selections recently have all been about strong, amazing women, and have all been written by women. This is the general inclination of my taste in fiction anyway (more Colette, less Hemingway), but there seems to be a general consensus in the mainstream that there just aren’t great stories about strong women out there. I think that’s an incorrect assumption. There might not be as many stories with female protagonists as there are male, but there is some great fiction available featuring fabulous gals doing memorable things.

Lilac Girls
Martha Hall Kelly

What do a New York socialite, a Polish underground resistance fighter and a Nazi doctor all have in common? Not much, actually, but in Martha Hall Kelly’s Lilac Girls their stories weave together through the time period of WW2 and the following decades. Polish teenager Kasia is sent to the all-female concentration camp Ravensbruck where Herta, a young German doctor, takes part in experiments on Kasia and her sister. Years later the sisters are helped by socialite Caroline to receive medical treatment to fix the damage done by the Nazi testing, as well as to track down Herta to ensure she can no longer practice medicine.

The strongest of the stories here, and the most heart-wrenching is Kasia’s, based on the true story of Nina Ivanska, which details the treatment of the camp prisoners, including the tests done on the “rabbits” of Ravensbruck. The guilt she feels at causing her sister, mother and some neighbours to also be picked up in the sweeps of Polish resistance fighters plagues her long after she is free from the torture of the camp. I felt that Herta was not explored in as much detail as she could have been, and there are whole periods where we do not hear from her (such as her time in jail, trial at Nuremberg, etc) that might have, if not made her more sympathetic, at least been a window into what she felt, or was thinking, during the tests she did on innocent women. We get her emotions and thoughts when she first arrives at the camp, and when she is fleeing from the allies, but not much to help us understand the why of her actions during the tests.

As Caroline doesn’t interact with Kasia until decades after the war, Kelly has given Caroline a fictional storyline to interweave her plot with the other main characters. While this love story would be a great novel on its own, it felt distracting interspersed with what was going on with the other characters.

Overall, though, a truly interesting story that had me searching the internet for more information about the Ravensbruck rabbits and how they recovered from their atrocious treatment.

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TV Party Tonight – The Royle Family

theroylefamily

There’s some serendipity in how Greg and I came to find ourselves marathoning all three seasons and five specials of The Royle Family recently. We had been watching a UK series called Born On The Same Day, which followed three notable Brits who were all born on the same day. On July 2, we watched the episode that included Ricky Tomlinson, who played Jim Royle, only to discover the next day that series star and creator Caroline Ahearne had died of cancer on the 2nd. Greg found a torrent of the whole series, and having read many gushing recaps of the show in the wake of Ahearne’s sad death, we started watching.

Winner of many awards, much-loved by Brits since the show first ran in 1998, The Royle Family is a slow-moving comedy of the single camera variety with no laugh track and not much action. Much of the humour comes from the repetitiveness of the dialogue (mother Barbara asks her daughter and son-in-law what they’ve had for their tea in every episode), and the family dynamic of a council house family in suburban Manchester.

Billed as a slice of life of the typical low income family, the general appeal of The Royle Family seemed to be that the characters were so relatable. Stories abound of perfectionist Ahearne agonizing over ever syllable of dialogue, and accents, inflection and facial expressions play a big part in the humour of this show that is predominantly about a family sitting around watching telly. (more…)

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Theatre Review – The Elephant Girls

The very best live theatre is the stuff that piques the curiosity and sends the viewer off down a rabbit hole of learning and experience.

Shortly after my husband told me about an upcoming BBC series about the 40 Elephants, we came across a listing for Margo MacDonald’s one-woman play The Elephant Girls at Buddies in Bad Times. Part of Buddies Pride programming for this year, the play moves on to the Winnipeg Fringe Festival and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival later this summer.

MacDonald tells the story of the 40 Elephants through the eyes of the fictional Maggie Hale (partially based on the real-life Maggie Hughes/Hill, a high ranking member of the group). The all-girl gang associated with the Elephant and Castle gang, and estimated to have been in existence for almost 200 years, came to their heyday in the 1920s when thirty or so of the women at a time would swarm shops like Selfridges, pocketing jewelry, cosmetics, clothes and accessories, then dump the stolen goods in a get-away car to be fenced.

First intrigued by the story of the 40 Elephants in author Brian MacDonald’s Gangs of London (no relation to the actor of this piece but he is the nephew of one of the main Elephant and Castle gang members from the era), Margo MacDonald has done extensive and diligent research into the gang to give voice and flesh to a small cast of the most important characters and events.

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Delight of the Day – The Most-Loved Recipe

recipe

Here in Toronto, we don’t often have a lot of events akin to the car boot sale or flea market. (We have flea markets but they’re posher things with a mix of antique dealers, local artisans and food trucks.) People wanting to get rid of stuff, especially if they live in flats, tend to either have a yard sale or, during the warmer months, just leave their unwanted stuff out at the curb with a big “free” sign on it.

A few weeks back, Greg was walking home from somewhere and came across a collection of cookbooks on the edge of someone’s lawn. They were old and dusty, but he grabbed a vegetarian gourmet cookbook from the early 80s that he thought I might like, or would at least get a laugh out of. When we dusted it off and opened it, this handwritten recipe for Cocktail Cheese Crisps fell out.

Obviously much-loved and regularly used, the recipe calls for butter, a type of processed cheese, flour, cayenne pepper, worchestershire sauce, tabasco and… rice krispies. And once the brain gets past the pseudo-weirdness of this combination, it starts to sound really good. I mean, look at that piece of paper… somebody really, really loved these cheese crisps. So much so that we worried that the owner of the cookbook this recipe had been slipped into might be missing it. We actually discussed taking this stained, crumpled, torn bit of paper back to where Greg had found the book and sticking it in the mail slot.

If I can track down the Imperial cheese (one I hadn’t ever heard of, but Greg knew of it), I am more than a little bit inclined to make these just to see what all the fuss is about. But if your name is Michelle and you recently put out a stack of cookbooks in the College & Dovercourt area and you want your recipe back, give me a shout.

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The Man in the Blue Jacket

I never met Bill Cunningham. He never took my photo and published in in the New York Times. But like millions of people around the world, the news of his death at 87 this past Saturday brought me to tears.

He seemed – from the 2010 documentary about him and from the voice-overs he did for his weekly “on the street” column – to be a truly genuine person. Eccentric as all get out, but honest, humble, hard-working and funny. Cunningham had an eye, you see, that not so much noticed trends, but that started them. He photographed everyone from the rich to the poor, the only criteria being that they were wearing something unique and attention-catching. He had no interest in celebrity (“I’m not interested in celebrities and their free dresses. I’m interested in fashion!”), and would not take so much as a glass of water when photographing events – meaning he was free of any obligation to include anyone other than those whose style he felt truly inspired by.

Cunningham started taking street photography in the late 1960s and always worked in film, keeping the negatives of every photo he’s ever taken, filling row upon row of filing cabinets, documenting the changing styles of the street for half a century. He was apparently approached once to do a book based on his archive but later backed out. I dearly hope that whoever takes control of his estate recognizes the value of his work and finally turns those photos into a book.

Scratch that – I want a series of books. Hundreds of pounds of books – to rival that massive molecular gastronomy collection from a few years ago – that literally documents western street fashion for the past half century. Donate the proceeds to FIT or the Met, or use it to create scholarships in fashion and photography, just please, can we have something tangible to remember him by?

Some other people whose writing I admire have documented their meeting with Cunningham. Check these out if you want more on the mahvellous man and his work.

Cintra Wilson for GQ Magazine

Forest City Fashionista

Idiosyncratic Fashionistas

My own Ode to Bill from 2014.

And if you haven’t seen Bill Cunningham New York, watch it now. If you have seen it, watch it again, it’s worth the 2 hours of your life.

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Book Review – The Lost Art of Dress

If I ran the world, every child, starting at about age 10, would be required to take some kind of “home”-related course. I hesitate to call this home ec, because there are certain connotations to “home economics” of olde tymes, but rather a course where all children, regardless of gender, were taught basic sewing, cooking, and home repairs, plus maybe some woodwork and basic plumbing and electrical. So, make an apron, build a bird feeder, bake a cake, hang some wallpaper, wire a lamp, learn to do basic taxes.

We lost home ec in the 80s because it was considered sexist… in my junior high, all but two girls took home ec while the boys were shuffled off to shop class.

But a lot of good came out of knowing how to sew, and repair garments – skills that we’ve almost completely lost today.

In The Lost Art of Dress, author and historian Linda Przybyszewski traces the history of the sewing component of home ec, from late Victorian times to the 1970s and 80s when such courses were removed from most school curricula. The women (and men) who developed and taught these courses were known as “The Dress Doctors” and as individuals and teams, they created home ec programs, fashion and sewing books, and garment history programs for universities, schools and 4H clubs, and were responsible for teaching generations of young women how to dress.

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Smörgåsbord – Mamakas Tavern

mamakas_mule

I am terrible these days for going out to try new restaurants and either just not taking photos or taking a pile and never uploading the things. So hurrah that it’s only taken me about a month to remember that we had a fantastic meal at Mamakas Tavern.

Mamakas is a fresh take on Greek cuisine, and it’s being touted as the best Greek restaurant in Toronto. It’s certainly a few steps up from the tired pile o’ dips and sad souvlaki typically found on the Danforth, and it’s scored fantastic reviews from both The Star and The Globe in the past few months. Which is why the place was packed on a Tuesday night.

Chef Chris Kalisperas and owner Thanos Tripi keep the menu innovative and fresh, based on what is good that week – many things we had (below) or that were on the menu during our visit have since been replaced with other dishes.

Enjoyed it very much, stoked to go back.

Above: A Mataxa Mule cocktail with Metaxa 7, ginger beer, lemon and lime, and cardamom bitters.

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Book Review – Some Wear Leather Some Wear Lace: The Worldwide Compendium of Postpunk and Goth in the 1980s

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Some Wear Leather, Some Wear Lace: The Worldwide Compendium of Postpunk and Goth in the 1980s
Andi Harriman and Marloes Bontje

Back in the 80s, when Dave Vanian put on white face and Siouxsie slithered into a black rubber skirt, part of the UK punk scene morphed into Goth. It was still just plain old post-punk then, maybe “deathrock” for reasons of trying to explain the fascination with vampires and spiders and fishnet, but it was all we had, and we were happy for it, if for no other reason than it gave an awful lot of freaks and weirdos a place, music, and style, that allowed an expression of their darker side.

Over almost 40 years, Goth has shape-shifted a hundred times in a thousand different directions. The classic post-punk style, now known as “trad goth” was forced to step aside for new and interesting variations and influences, from cyber and Victorian steampunk to perky, Lolita, nuGoth and for a while there in the late 90s, world music, folk music, and even Goan techno. All of these offshoots are valid (sub)sub-cultures in their own right, based on a distinct look and sound that sometimes only minimally references back to the original movement. But if you came of age in the 1980s, then that original post-punk style is still the only “real” Goth look, no matter how it might be dressed up otherwise.

Chronicling the decade of post-punk and Goth are Andi Harriman and Marloes Bontje in their 2014 publication Some Wear Leather Some Wear Lace – The Worldwide Compendium of Postpunk and Goth in the 1980s. Looking at the music, the style and the clubs, predominantly in the UK and Europe, that shaped the scene, Harriman and Bontje explore how Goth developed and grew throughout the decade.

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Book Review – Please Kill Me

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Please Kill Me – The Uncensored Oral History of Punk
Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain

With apologies to junkies past and present, fuck me, junkies are tiresome. Nevermind that the majority of the most creative talents of the punk generation were hooked on something, and that the junk might have had some bearing on the work that is their legacy, most of the people that made up the punk scene of New York in the 70s were strung out, misogynistic, assholes with a Nazi fetish. And I say that in the nicest way possible.

The origins of “punk” notwithstanding – we’ll hand the coining of the term to the Punk Magazine crew (channelling William Burroughs) although I love the story of Marlene Dietrich using the word to describe Johnny Thunders – and the argument about which side of the pond birthed the “movement” also being irrelevant, the scene back in the day was barely able to stand upright, let alone have their shit together enough to actually be rebelling against anything.

Please Kill Me, the 1996 oral history by Punk Magazine’s Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain documents the progression of the New York scene from The Velvet Underground and Andy Warhol to the deaths of Stiv Bators and Johnny Thunders, documenting, along the way, the creation and break-up of bands and relationships, all told via snippets of interviews, strung together both chronologically and by topic. Imagine a documentary with interview clips of people laced throughout and it makes more sense.

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