Wednesday, 31 December 2008

That uphill climb

I believe I'm heading in the right direction. I am down from 138.2 yesterday to 137.2 today. The long, slow road to recovery seems to have begun.

Interesting discovery. This is the first time I've made a serious effort to count my daily caloric intake since I 'changed my lifestyle' at the end of 2003. I used Weight Watchers' point system for about 9-10 months at the beginning, after that I just tried to make healthy choices and keep my portions at a reasonable size. I have never had any real idea of calories.

All the charts and graphs-- and the personal trainer I hired back in October-- have advised me that at my height and activity level and weight, I should eat 1800 calories a day to lose about a half a pound to one pound a week. I determined when I started keeping my food diary that for the first few weeks I would track my food without trying to plan to hit a certain number. For the last four days, I have made an effort to avoid junk (chocolate and biscuits), the way I used to do when I feel I was doing well--and when I weighed 131 pounds! Guess what. For three days running, my total caloric intake has been under 1500. I have eaten just like I 'used to' eat when the weight just kept falling off, seemingly without effort. (Other than the effort to eat a piece of fruit instead of the cakes and crap at work). I am going to continue to monitor my calories and rate of loss to try to establish what my personal baseline is for daily caloric requirements to reach and maintain my ideal weight.

I've re-read 'The Secrets of Skinny Chicks' over the last few days, as inspiration. I do find that book very inspiring. The author suggests you write a dream goal ('something you can only imagine achieving in an ideal world'), long-term goals ('things you should be able to achieve with a lot of work') and short-term goals ('things you can accomplish right away').

When I weighed 200 lbs and first embarked on a healthy lifestyle, my 'dream goal' was to weigh 137 lbs. I don't know how I arrived at that number, it just sounded good to me. When I surpassed that goal, I was amazed. And now, 137 is an unacceptable weight to me. So now, my dream goal is to weigh 129 lbs and to look not just toned but leaning toward the look of an actual athlete. Something only imaginable in a perfect world. Me, looking like an athlete, with arms like Angela Basset's or Jari Love's!

My long-term goal was to establish an exercise routine. That is well-entrenched. So now, my long-term is to not be complacent. Lift heavier and jump higher. I want to keep pushing myself to improve. I want to be able to do all my press-ups in every workout on my toes instead of only a few, I want to be able to do a pike on the stability ball, and to do upward bow in yoga.

My short-term goal was always to stay focused on the here-and-now so as not to get overwhelmed by it all. That is the formula for success for me. To remember that the only choice that matters is the one I'm making right at this moment. Whether to have hot chocolate (60 calories) or plain Caro (10 calories). Whether to do an easy cardio or go all-out with a 60-minute sweat-a-thon. It's the little things that really count. By being realistic rather than emotional about it, by making little choices moment to moment, anyone can achieve anything. I'm learning this lesson all over again.

Yesterday's food
Breakfast: peanut butter & jam toast with caro
Snack: homemade brown rice miso soup
Lunch: broccoli, cauliflower and carrot with brown rice and mung beans, a small pear
Snack: 2 red plums
When I got home: a tsp of peanut butter and corner torn off a wholewheat roll
Dinner: Tivall vegetarian escalope, roast potatoes and garlic brussels sprouts
Snack: Staffordshire oatcake and jam
During the day, 3 chewy mints
Total calories, 1478

Yesterday's meditation

Today's food
Breakfast: peanut butter and agave nectar toast with caro
Snack: a pear, a small wholemeal roll with 'Sheese' dairy free cream cheese
Lunch: leftover veggie chili and short grain brown rice
Snack: 50g dry apple oat cereal and a cup of hot chocolate
Dinner: trio of noodles with tofu (wheat udon, black rice udon, and yam cake noodle stir fried with carrot, cauliflower and red bell pepper) served with tiny side dishes of smoked takuan pickle and pickled ginger
New Years Treat: 250ml cava demi-sec
Total calories: 1,980
(Looking over it, I should have skipped that cereal snack and the hot chocolate. That would have knocked me back to 1,720. And less the cava it would be 1510! See how those little things add up).
On the plus side, though, I have done three workouts today: Firm Upper Body, Firm Standing Legs and yoga.

Today's meditation
Kundalini yoga set with Maya Fiennes 1 hour

Monday, 29 December 2008

Japanese wonder noodles!

Well, it's back to work tomorrow, 9-6. Then I have Wednesday and Thursday off--wahey!

This blog entry is just a shout-out about shirataki noodles. I tried them for the first time tonight and was very pleased. If you haven't heard of them, they are noodles made from konnyaku (a Japanese tuber) flour and are virtually free of calories and carbohydrate. They're nothing really but water-soluble fiber. The great thing is they take on the flavour of whatever they're cooked in. I just had a big plate of pasta with a mushroom tomato sauce for only 165 calories! I am well chuffed with this discovery, and have gone straight to Japan Centre's website to order more. ( sells packets for only 69p each).

Here are some links if you're curious to know more:

Konnyaku and shirataki FAQs

Shirataki noodles

Miracle Noodle

Today's food
Breakfast: 2 slices wholemeal toast with peanut butter and jam
Snack: mango smoothie
Lunch: leftover chili with wholemeal pitta and 'sheese' spread
Snack: half a punnet of blueberries
Dinner: shirataki noodles with spicy tomato stir-thru sauce, mushrooms and basil; steamed broccoli, carrot and cauliflower

Today's meditation
45 minute body scan guided meditation--I didn't sleep through the whole thing this time! Only about half of it. Ha!

Sunday, 28 December 2008

Welcome back the light with Winter Sadhana and Detox

'Sadhana' is a daily spiritual practice. The word comes from Sanskrit and means 'a means of accomplishing something.'

I've decided to start a winter sadhana 7 days after the winter solstice--that's today! Traditionally, the sadhana should be practiced between the hours of 4-7 AM, known as the 'ambrosial hours', but I am going to do my practice as and when I can. I might try to do some early meditation, but I am not putting any pressure on myself to do that. Just doing the sadhana is discipline enough, in itself. My commitment is to 45 minutes a day of yoga and/or meditation. I will be following a CD for the meditations. The yoga/meditation aspect of my sadhana will last 8 weeks.

My detox is a mung bean and rice detox based on the solstice mung bean and rice diet handed down by Yogi Bhajan. Traditionally, this is a 40-day diet, but I will follow it with variations for 14 days. If I decide to go through another cycle, I will. The recipes are taken from 'The Kundalini Yoga Cookbook' by Ek Ong Kar Singh.

So, what it is I hope to accomplish using these means? I hope to embed a more solidly established meditation practice in the day-to-day of my life, and I want to clean out my system of all the rubbish I've eaten lately (and for the last year, to be honest!) and kick start myself on the road to losing some weight. I would like to lose 7-14 pounds over the course of 2009.

Today's food
Breakfast--a bowl of cooked amaranth with no-sugar strawberry jam and a cup of plain Caro
Snack--2 red plums, 1 slice of tomato basil Ryvita, 1 slice Cheatin' Meats turkey and some iceberg lettuce
Lunch--veggie chili and a wholemeal pita
Snack--fresh strawberries
Dinner--stir-fried asparagus, carrot and red pepper with mung beans and brown rice
Snack--Staffordshire oatcake with strawberry jam

Today's meditation
10 minutes vipassana (silent sitting)
45 minute 'body scan' guided meditation--Today was the first day I tried this. To my shame, I slept through nearly the entire thing. So now I know not to try this lying on the bed by candlelight. Looks like this is a job for the yoga mat and overhead lighting!

Friday, 26 December 2008

You, Walt Whitman

When I was younger, I detested Walt Whitman. I thought he was an annoying, arrogant egotistical list-maker. But the truth is, I was just a callow youth, and over the years of teaching high school English, I came to love Walt Whitman. If you haven't read him in a while, here are some of my favourite segments from the poem 'Song of Myself' in 'Leaves of Grass':

A child said, What is the grass? fetching it to me with full hands;
How could I answer the child? I do not know what it is, any more than he.

I guess it must be the flag of my disposition, out of hopeful green stuff woven.

Or I guess it is the handkerchief of the Lord,
A scented gift and remembrancer, designedly dropt,
Bearing the owner’s name someway in the corners, that we may see and remark, and say, Whose?

Or I guess the grass is itself a child, the produced babe of the vegetation.

Or I guess it is a uniform hieroglyphic;
And it means, Sprouting alike in broad zones and narrow zones,
Growing among black folks as among white;
Kanuck, Tuckahoe, Congressman, Cuff, I give them the same, I receive them the same.

And now it seems to me the beautiful uncut hair of graves.

Tenderly will I use you, curling grass;
It may be you transpire from the breasts of young men;
It may be if I had known them I would have loved them;
It may be you are from old people, and from women, and from offspring taken soon out of their mothers’ laps;
And here you are the mothers’ laps.

This grass is very dark to be from the white heads of old mothers;
Darker than the colorless beards of old men;
Dark to come from under the faint red roofs of mouths.

O I perceive after all so many uttering tongues!
And I perceive they do not come from the roofs of mouths for nothing.

I wish I could translate the hints about the dead young men and women,
And the hints about old men and mothers, and the offspring taken soon out of their laps.

What do you think has become of the young and old men?
And what do you think has become of the women and children?

They are alive and well somewhere;
The smallest sprout shows there is really no death;
And if ever there was, it led forward life, and does not wait at the end to arrest it,
And ceas’d the moment life appear’d.

All goes onward and outward—nothing collapses;
And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.


Having pried through the strata,
analyzed to a hair, counsell’d with doctors, and calculated close,
I find no sweeter fat than sticks to my own bones.

In all people I see myself—none more, and not one a barleycorn less;
And the good or bad I say of myself, I say of them.

And I know I am solid and sound;
To me the converging objects of the universe perpetually flow;
All are written to me, and I must get what the writing means.

I know I am deathless;
I know this orbit of mine cannot be swept by the carpenter’s compass;
I know I shall not pass like a child’s carlacue cut with a burnt stick at night.

I know I am august;
I do not trouble my spirit to vindicate itself or be understood;
I see that the elementary laws never apologize;
(I reckon I behave no prouder than the level I plant my house by, after all.)

I exist as I am—that is enough;
If no other in the world be aware, I sit content;
And if each and all be aware, I sit content.

One world is aware, and by far the largest to me, and that is myself;
And whether I come to my own to-day, or in ten thousand or ten million years,
I can cheerfully take it now, or with equal cheerfulness I can wait.


I know I have the best of time and space, and was never measured, and never will be measured.

I tramp a perpetual journey—(come listen all!)
My signs are a rain-proof coat, good shoes, and a staff cut from the woods;
No friend of mine takes his ease in my chair;
I have no chair, no church, no philosophy;
I lead no man to a dinner-table, library, or exchange;
But each man and each woman of you I lead upon a knoll,
My left hand hooking you round the waist,
My right hand pointing to landscapes of continents, and a plain public road.

Not I—not any one else, can travel that road for you,
You must travel it for yourself.

It is not far—it is within reach;
Perhaps you have been on it since you were born, and did not know;
Perhaps it is every where on water and on land.

Shoulder your duds, dear son, and I will mine, and let us hasten forth,
Wonderful cities and free nations we shall fetch as we go.

If you tire, give me both burdens, and rest the chuff of your hand on my hip,
And in due time you shall repay the same service to me;
For after we start, we never lie by again.


I have said that the soul is not more than the body,
And I have said that the body is not more than the soul;
And nothing, not God, is greater to one than one’s self is,
And whoever walks a furlong without sympathy, walks to his own funeral, drest in his shroud,
And I or you, pocketless of a dime, may purchase the pick of the earth,
And to glance with an eye, or show a bean in its pod, confounds the learning of all times,
And there is no trade or employment but the young man following it may become a hero,
And there is no object so soft but it makes a hub for the wheel’d universe,
And I say to any man or woman, Let your soul stand cool and composed before a million universes.

And I say to mankind, Be not curious about God,
For I, who am curious about each, am not curious about God;
(No array of terms can say how much I am at peace about God, and about death.)

I hear and behold God in every object, yet understand God not in the least,
Nor do I understand who there can be more wonderful than myself.

Why should I wish to see God better than this day?
I see something of God each hour of the twenty-four, and each moment then;
In the faces of men and women I see God, and in my own face in the glass;
I find letters from God dropt in the street—and every one is sign’d by God’s name,
And I leave them where they are, for I know that wheresoe’er I go,
Others will punctually come forever and ever.

And as to you Death, and you bitter hug of mortality, it is idle to try to alarm me.


And as to you, Corpse, I think you are good manure—but that does not offend me;
I smell the white roses sweet-scented and growing,
I reach to the leafy lips—I reach to the polish’d breasts of melons.

And as to you Life, I reckon you are the leavings of many deaths;
(No doubt I have died myself ten thousand times before.)

I hear you whispering there, O stars of heaven;
O suns! O grass of graves! O perpetual transfers and promotions!
If you do not say anything, how can I say anything?


There is that in me—I do not know what it is—but I know it is in me.

Wrench’d and sweaty—calm and cool then my body becomes;
I sleep—I sleep long.

I do not know it—it is without name—it is a word unsaid;
It is not in any dictionary, utterance, symbol. 1310

Something it swings on more than the earth I swing on;
To it the creation is the friend whose embracing awakes me.

Perhaps I might tell more. Outlines! I plead for my brothers and sisters.

Do you see, O my brothers and sisters?
It is not chaos or death—it is form, union, plan—it is eternal life—it is HAPPINESS.

The past and present wilt—I have fill’d them, emptied them,
And proceed to fill my next fold of the future.

Listener up there! Here, you! What have you to confide to me?
Look in my face, while I snuff the sidle of evening;
Talk honestly—no one else hears you, and I stay only a minute longer.

Do I contradict myself?
Very well, then, I contradict myself;
(I am large—I contain multitudes.)


The spotted hawk swoops by and accuses me—he complains of my gab and my loitering.

I too am not a bit tamed—I too am untranslatable;
I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.

The last scud of day holds back for me;
It flings my likeness after the rest, and true as any, on the shadow’d wilds;
It coaxes me to the vapor and the dusk.

I depart as air—I shake my white locks at the runaway sun;
I effuse my flesh in eddies, and drift it in lacy jags.

I bequeathe myself to the dirt, to grow from the grass I love;
If you want me again, look for me under your boot-soles.

You will hardly know who I am, or what I mean;
But I shall be good health to you nevertheless,
And filter and fibre your blood.

Failing to fetch me at first, keep encouraged;
Missing me one place, search another;
I stop somewhere, waiting for you.

Thursday, 25 December 2008

The Day the Earth Stood Still

Viewing the original version of The Day the Earth Stood Still 57 years on, it's easy to dismiss it as one of many 50s SF B-movies, but to do so would show a terrible lack of insight. The film was definitely an A-lister, meant for an adult audience. Produced at the height of the McCarthy era, the film takes on the cold war and the red scare, suggesting that mankind is so far gone that nothing short of intelligent life from another world (if not divine intervention) can stop our rapacious need to destroy. Contrary to popular belief, Klaatu never says that he intends to save mankind from itself. Rather, he actually says that he is uninterested in earth's 'petty squabbles' and it is only because man's recent nuclear capabilities have made it a threat to other worlds that his people have decided to step in. Considering that the world had just witnessed the Third Reich, the Holocaust, and the unleashing of the atomic bomb, one wonders what Klaatu would class as a 'serious fight'. The people of earth are given two choices: either submit to being policed by Gort and his cohorts (who are entirely unstoppable and programmed to respond to any sign of violence with deadly force), or face total annihilation at the hands of Klaatu's people. Having stopped all the machines on earth for half an hour to prove his power, Klaatu and Gort then fly away, leaving mankind to make its choice.

The 2008 version of the film takes a different tack. Its message is environmental. Klaatu is not a humanoid, but has taken on the form of a human (to reveal what he was 'before he was human', he says, 'would only frighten you'), and has come not to preserve the safety of other planets but to preserve life itself on earth. In the new version of the film, humanity is seen as a threat to all other life on earth. It is only the human species that lives out of harmony with the 'web of life.' Klaatu's people have been observing us for a very long time, and he has been sent to obliterate us in order to protect all other species here and to ensure that earth remains capable of sustaining life, as it is one of the precious few in the universe with that capability. The annihilation begins in a fascinating, and I must say really scary way, and is only halted when Klaatu himself sees that there is a chance, however small, that humankind could evolve and bring itself back into balance with nature. Unlike in the original version, though, humanity is not left with a choice. When Klaatu makes the earth stand still, he doesn't do it for 30 minutes--he leaves it that way. Technology is dead. Nothing works anymore. Presumably, nothing will ever work again. If that doesn't bring us back into harmony with the earth, I don't know what would! As he warns Helen Benson, the scientist who aids him on his mission, the only chance for survival means a complete change to our way of life. Think about what a complete lack of technology would mean. The population would decline immensely, bringing our population back into a natural balance with other species. We would not be able to live in certain parts of the earth--we would return to our rightful habitats, take up our real diets again, and find ourselves back in balance with the other species living on earth. At least, that's the message I got from this film. It is far, far harsher than the original. They are left with the chance to do nothing-- mutually assured destruction is their option, and they can keep their technology, to be guarded over by an alien one. But the 2008 film's human race is simply sent back to the stone age, where perhaps we belong. And, presumably, from whence we will evolve along more harmonious and enlightened lines the second time around.

The two films offer fascinating perspective on the cultural mores of the times. Klaatu in the original film is a blatant messianic figure, going by the pseudonym of 'Mr. Carpenter', an obvious reference to Jesus. Klaatu also speaks of the 'almighty spirit' when asked if Gort were able to bring him back to life: 'No, that power is reserved to the almighty spirit.' In fact, Klaatu is practically entirely messianic: he arrives from heaven with a message to save mankind, which no one wants to hear, goes by the name of Carpenter, is killed and resurrected, delivers his 'Divine Commission' and ascends again into heaven, leaving mankind to make its choice (accept his message or be damned!).

The contemporary Klaatu offers only a vaguely Buddhist perspective. He shocks a dead man back into life, and when Helen Benson's stepson grieves for his dead father and begs Klaatu to resurrect him, he says nothing about an almighty spirit. 'Nothing ever truly dies,' he says. 'The universe wastes nothing. Everything is simply transformed.' Well, Thich Nhat Hanh could not have said it better himself! Either tha is a Buddhist sentiment or the ultimate message about recycling, but either way it is hardly messianic. There is a Jesus-esque self-sacrifice, but nothing heavy-handed, and we get the feeling that there will be no resurrection from it, not to spoil to the entire plot.

I also find it interesting that throughout the 1951 film Klaatu refers constantly to 'your planet', 'your world' and the people of earth say 'our planet' again and again. Yet in the 2008 version, the first time a human (Regina Jackson, representative of the US President) refers to 'our planet', Klaatu turns to her sharply and says, 'Your planet? No. It is not.' I really love that scene:

Jackson: Do you represent a civilization?
Klaatu: I represent a group of civilizations.
Jackson: Where is this group of civilizations?
Klaatu: All around you.

Klaatu: Do you speak for the entire human race?
Jackson: I speak for the president of the United States. Now please tell me: Why have you come to our planet?
Klaatu: 'Your' planet?
Jackson: Yes, this is our planet.
Klaatu: No. It is not.

I couldn't help but think, 'I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees.'

Well, I could carry on about the depiction of women, the parent-child relationship, and the special effects, but I'll stop here.

I really liked this film. I even liked Keanu Reeves's wooden perfomance. Who better to play someone who is awkward in his own body than someone who has always seemed awkward in his own body?

Someday, people are going to look back on this film as a moment frozen in time, where you can see all sorts of things about the way we view ourselves, each other, our planet, women, parenting, governments--just like you can look at the 1951 version now. And I think that's how the new version captures the spirit of the original. Intentionally or not.

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Lean Mode Color Code: Not Your Usual Food Diary

Okay, I know I just bought Richard Simmons' Food Mover on eBay not long ago. But it didn't work out for me! I might use it someday in the future. I just kept forgetting about it and because it's divided into food groups, I found it a bother to figure out how to track my true calorie intake when I wasn't so disciplined. I mean, you can't close a veggie window when you've eaten a chocolate truffle, and there weren't enough fat windows for an indulgence like that. And of course no sugar windows. So I would end up closing all the windows and saying, well, I've eaten more calories than I'm supposed to. Wonder how many.

So anyway, I saw this Lean Mode Color Code: Not Your Usual Food Diary online and went ahead and ordered it. I know some people use online or computer-based programs for food-tracking, but I'm old-fashioned I guess because I do actually enjoy writing with pen and paper and I LOVE coloring and decorating with highlighters, colored pencils, and markers. I've used it for the last 3 days and enjoyed it! I think I might stick with this for a while--hopefully until June, which is how long the book lasts. I'm just writing down everything I eat to see how many calories and so forth I actually consumed. I am going to do that for awhile before I try to do any modifications for weight loss purposes. Then I can a good baseline and also have a look at my eating patterns. I've been using the recipe calculator at Spark People to analyze my little recipes for a nutritional breakdown. So far I like doing this!

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

This is it.

The above cartoon is from the New Yorker, and is referenced in Jon Kabat-Zinn's book, Wherever You Go, There You Are.

'People don't usually get this right away,' Kabat-Zinn writes, 'They want to meditate in order to relax, to experience a special state, to become a better person, to reduce some stress or pain, to break out of old habits and patterns, to become free or enlightened. All valid reasons to take up meditation practice, but all equally fraught with problems if you expect those things to happen just because now you are meditating. You'll get caught up in wanting to have a 'special experience' or in looking for signs of progress, and if you don't feel something pretty quickly, you may start to doubt the path you have chosen, or to wonder whether you are 'doing it right.'

This is a way of looking at meditation that I have often struggled with. When sitting, I often get thoughts to the effect of, 'Is this a waste of time? What is the purpose of this? What am I supposed to be getting from this?' It's natural to think this way, and with most human endeavors, that kind of thinking is reasonable. It's only with meditation that the point is not what you're getting out of it. The point is clear ackowledgement that what is happening is happening.

But here's something that Kabat-Zinn says that really hit home with me. I'm not sure what I should do with it:

If you do decide to start meditating, there's no need to tell other people about it, or talk about why you are doing it, or what it's doing for you. In fact, there's no better way to waste your nascent energy and enthusiasm for practice and thwart your efforts so they will be unable to gather momentum. Best to meditate without advertising it.

Everytime you get a strong impulse to talk about meditation and how wonderful it is, or how hard it is, or what it's doing for you these days, or what it's not, or you want to convince someone else how wonderful it would be for them, just look at it as more thinking and go meditate some more. The impulse will pass and everybody will be better off--especially you.

What do you make of that??

Sunday, 14 December 2008


Every year at this time, I have a look at the goals I set last year and sit down with my next year's journal and start coming up with some goals for next year. I've been doing this for a long time. But this year, I have questioned the value of it.

It's not because I haven't met a lot of the goals I've set over the years. In fact, I've achieved the major milestones I planned as long-term goals: lost weight, kept it off, increased fitness, bought a car, built up a bit of a savings nest egg, got married, got my UK citizenship. The only long-term goals left from the list are to get my driving licence and buy a house. I'm sure those will also happen. Of course, there are also many goals that I have not met, lots of elaborate plans that I've not carried through on, and lots of things that I thought ought to be important that I tried to force to be important, like going out on a regular basis, making an effort to get more involved in the community, stuff like that. And I've set goals year after year related to establishing a regular meditation practice, none of which I've consistently followed through on.

I looked at the 2009 journal this year and the thought of filling in all those places reserved for goals just made me feel--empty. I want to move beyond all this striving. It just felt to me like setting goals keeps my eyes always toward the future. Every day, I strike off a day from my month-at-a-glance page, I tick that I've done my workout and met any other obligations for the day. Then the day is gone. I've wished it away. I've got up in the morning, got ready for work, been there all day yearning toward quitting time, gone home, got through my workout while thinking about what to cook for dinner, got through dinner while watching TV, gone to bed thinking about the next day. All those moments passed me by, and how many of them have I paid any attention to? Even though I keep a blog dedicated to mindfulness! I might spend 5-10 minutes a day, tops, in mindfulness. And no, I'm not trying to criticize myself or set some sort of 'mindfulness goal' about it, although it might sound like that...and I don't regret leading a quiet life, I'm not saying I wish I'd been out at parties or anything like that. I don't mean, what did I accomplish? I mean, what did I notice myself actually doing? What was I aware of while doing it? I can tell you. I was caught up in the continual storm of past and future, and I completely let the present slip away from me. Even as I type this, I am thinking about what I'll take for lunch tomorrow, wondering what time I'll get to bed and how many hours of sleep I'll get, thinking about how I have to cancel the doctor's appointment first thing in the morning, feeling guilty that I haven't called my parents in a while, and constantly having images from the past--sometimes the quite distant past--flick into my mind. It's the 'ongoing story narration and mental time travel', ruminations and self-referential judgements that occupy all our minds all the time--unless we consciously learn to rise above it. That's what I mean.

So this year, I've sat and looked at those blank pages a lot. I've looked over the journals from the last few years and thought about it all a lot. The pages are filled with notations about how I must do better, I must try harder, I must improve! This sort of striving toward the future and working for goals is applauded where I'm from, America, that 'land of opportunity', where you can become whatever you want if you work hard enough for it. I know I was always raised to think it was a good thing, and I do think it's a good thing. There's nothing wrong with working hard. But how about a radical thought. How about working hard while being present in the moment that you're working, instead of striving for the goals some time in the future? How about eating a healthy meal while thinking about the beautiful earth that produced it, the people who worked so hard to raise, harvest and deliver it, and the miracle of how our bodies make use of it for nourishment? How about being present in your miraculous body while exercising, feeling the joy of movement, the pleasure of being alive in a physical body right then and there?

What if the only goal you set for the entire year was to be present in the moment? Not to live for the moment, but just to be present in each moment. What would you be like by the end of the year? What miracles of growth would have occurred in you? Where would you end up after 31,556,926 seconds of present moment living? And with what serenity would you meet whatever was occurring then?

I look at the face and hear the speech of people like the Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat Hanh, Eckhart Tolle and other people who I consider my teachers and boddhisatvas, and I see a level of peace and serenity, hear a depth of love and forgiveness and acceptance that no amount of striving could possibly achieve. And all of these teachers have only one lesson: you have only moments in which you live. Are you paying attention to them?

So, my goals for 2009 have been drawn from some notes I jotted down in a notebook in May 2008. I read Eckhart Tolle's 'A New Earth' and copied out some lines I considered striking. It's something I often do. And I've found a quotation to answer all the 'goals' in my 2009 journal:

'Nothing is going to make us free because only the present moment can make us free. that realisation is the awakening.'

Personal Growth:
'Nothing that you can find out about yourself is you. Nothing that you can know about you is you.'

'Both abundance and scarcity are inner states that manifest as your reality.'

'Joy does not come from what you do, it flows into what you do, and thus into this world from deep within you.'

This one answers both Personal Relationships and Belongings:
'The fact is: whatever you think the world is withholding from you, you are withholding from the world. You are withholding it because deep down you think you are small and that you have nothing to give.'

There are several other goal-setting pages, but I'm not setting any goals on them. I'm going to put in more quotations instead, that remind me of what is really important.

And every year I write something on the title page of my journal that is meant to be the main focus of the year for me. Here it is for 2009:

Your purpose is to be where you are and do what you're doing,
because that's where you are and what you are doing.
Until you get up and do something else.
Then that becomes your purpose.

~Eckhart Tolle

Can you imagine what attention you could pay and what satisfaction you could get from the most mundane task if you turned your hand to it as if it were your very purpose in life? The point is, as you have only the moment in which you are presently living, whatever you are doing in this moment IS your purpose in life. Get it?

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Sacred Journey Journal

I've been preparing my 2009 journal. This is one of my favourite things to do during the month of December, setting up my next year's journal. I've been using this particular journal since 2003, and I love it! It's designed for people who use Tarot cards, but I adapt the multitude of pages inside to use how I want.

Here's the website: The Sacred Journey

This year I've got a page called 'My Heart Calling' (not finished yet), 'My Credo' (still working on that), a two-page spread called 'Monthly Fitness for 2009' where I've created a simple chart to record monthly weigh-in averages and any pertinent training notes. (The past 2 years I've kept several more complicated charts that tracked measurements, how many press-ups I can do in one minute, all sorts of things, but this year I'm simplifying them to the one chart). There are 6 more pages for setting up goals, but I'm not sure what I'm going to do with those pages. I am beginning to feel ambivalent toward detailed goal-making at the beginning of the year. More on that later in a later entry.

For each month, I've prepared a page to record my daily weigh-in, name of the workout I'm doing, and a place to tick it after I've done it. I've decided not to preset my rotations this year. I'm going to wing it. I think I know enough about how to balance my workouts to do that now. On the month-at-glance calendar page, in addition to appointments, etc, I've decided to track certain things using highlighters, like in the Streaming Colors Journal. (I tried to keep a separate Streaming Colors Journal in 2008, but abandoned it in May. I prefer my Sacred Journey journal, and can easily incorporate the idea of using highlighters there.) I've set aside one page per month called 'Meditation, Flower Remedies, etc' where I can record notes about those things (this page was originally called 'Affirmations and Gratitudes' but I found trying to fill them in over the last 5 years to be laborious and unrewarding, so I changed them), and one page is divided into two halves, which I've labeled 'Must do this month' (for things like getting the car MOT'd, dentist appointments, whatever), and 'New Things to Try' where I will list ideas of new things to try that month. I'll tick them when (if) I do them. (These came headed 'Opportunities' and 'Goals', but I've found those headings too pressurizing, so I changed them.)

There's also a 'Symbolism' page for each month, which for the last 2 years I've used to make a collage of clippings, ticket stubs, etc, to represent what we did that month. I will continue that this year. Then there are the week-at-a-glance pages, with the days on the right page and the left page called 'Blessings, Gifts and Strengths'. I am going to make an effort to write something for each day. As in previous years, at the end of each month I have a page called 'Highlights and Insights' and a page divided down the middle where I can record the books I've read and films I've seen this month. It's fun to keep a running total of both for the year!

I absolutely love my journal. Does anyone else keep one?

Monday, 8 December 2008

The Secrets of Skinny Chicks

I just finished reading this book and it is fantastic. It says everything I've ever said to people who ask me how I lost weight and how I maintained it. Plus, it is a guide to take you that step further, from a 'normal' weight range to cut and hot--if you're willing to do what it takes to get there. (I have managed to get to a normal weight, and have spent the last couple of years wondering how to get to 'really cut'--or even a little bit cut to the point that people who see me would say, 'Oh, she must work out a LOT'.) This book offers a real-life look at actresses, body doubles, fitness models and other super fit lovelies, so you can read up on how they do it and decide for yourself if you want to go that far or stay where you are. When you've read it, you'll know the truth, the whole truth, and the skinny-forever truth about the matter. The size-6 bottom line.

Part 1: Deciding to Make the Change
This section is an oblique caveat to the contents of the book. The implication here is that if you embark on this level of scrutiny to your diet and exercise, you must be aware (and beware) of the possibility that you could go over the edge into an eating disorder if you aren't careful. What you have to do is decide at what weight and what level of discipline you are willing to live your life. There's a HUGE spectrum between sedentary shlub and bulemic marathon runner! Heck, there's a 40-lb range just in the 'normal' spectrum of the BMI. For my height, my 'normal' range is 115-155 lbs.) The question is, where in that spectrum do you want to be, and are you willing to face the truth of what it takes to get there, and then put it into practice every day for the rest of your life? Because in this book, there's no question that you want to, at the very least, be at the top end of 'normal', if you aren't there already.

Part 2: The Secrets Unveiled
This is the best section of the book, to me, because this is where we get the profiles of the real women who have put the work in to become 'skinny chicks'. We get complete profiles of 21 fit chicks--what they eat, how they workout, all their vital statistics, plus what a nutritionist, personal trainer and a doctor have to say about their regimes. It's illuminating! These women don't eat much--and they work out a lot. Here are 2 samples (the book goes into great detail about everything, I'm just giving you the bare minimum):

Sazzy Varga, actress
5'7", 126 lbs, dress size 6
35-25-35, BMI 20
1 child
daily caloric intake 1420
works out Mon, Tues, Thurs, Sat 30-45 minutes (bike, treadmill, floor aerobics, pilates, weight training)

Alex Barker, accountant
5'10", 155 lbs, dress size 10
36-29-40 BMI 22.5
1 child
daily caloric intake 1600-2100
works out 6 days a week, running 5-6 miles per workout, plus 20 minutes of free weights and 10 minutes of abs 3 out of the 6 days

The author then explains 50 secrets (really top tips) from the skinny chicks and makes suggestions as to how 'real women' can put them into practice. (I don't like the phrase 'real women' because it has come to mean 'fat lazy women who won't make time to care about themselves'--I don't want to be a 'real woman'. I want to be a skinny chick!)

Here is a random sample of the 50 tips. Bear in mind that there is nothing earth-shattering or new in this book. You know why? There is no earth-shatteringly new way to become a skinny chick! It takes hard work!

#12 Have a cheat day once a week to eat what you want.

#13 Have a 'no excuses' mindset.

#17 Get a portion size wake up call.

#26 Portion foods out. (She means when you buy something, get straight in there and portion out into baggies or containers and put it away. Good tip!)

#42 Focus on the good things you do get to eat.

#47 If man made it, avoid it.

See what I mean? These don't sound like anything new, but the author explains them well, gives great examples and has really good ideas about how you can apply these tips to your life.

Part 3: Putting the Plan into Action

This final section gives you more basic information about food (calories in, calories out), exercise (cardio to burn fat, weights to keep burning at rest), and a little pep talk at the end.

I guess there are a lot of women out there who would read this and still say, 'Get real. I can't do that. I won't do that.' That's fair enough. You don't have to do anything if you don't want to. Stay fat forever, your choice. But if you really want to get skinny, if you really want to know how 'real women' do it, then read this book. It is the truth--the whole truth--yes, the size-6 butt TRUTH!!

Now I'm going to add my profile:

Carla, library assistant
5'7", 136 lbs, dress size UK 10/US 6
32-27-36, BMI 21
1 child
daily caloric intake: no clue
works out 5-6 days per week, 45-60 minutes--all home exercise done to DVDs

Sunday, 30 November 2008

Eat, Pray, Love

'Eat, Pray, Love' hs been rhapsodized over by Oprah and loved by many, recommended to me personally by online chums, and on the bestseller list forever. So I thought I'd give it a go.

It's about a 34-year-old writer who gets divorced and decides she wants to take a year out to go on a quest for 'herself'. After some thought and few (what she considers) 'signs', she decides to spend 4 months each in Italy, India and Indonesia: Italy because she likes the language and the food, India because she's into yoga and meditation, and Indonesia because a 'medicine man' in Bali once told her that she'd go back there one day. Also, she liked that all the countries start with 'I'.

Can I just say, alarm bells started going off for me at once. Right, who is this chick? What has her life got to do with me? She spends the first quarter of the book talking about how her ex-husband takes her personal fortune, which she keeps reminding us is not inconsiderable. She keeps mentioning her successful plays and books, her New York apartment, her this that and the other. And what makes her think that eating her way through Italy, then locking herself in a meditation cave in India, then moving on to 'experiencing' the curious ways of the Balinese is a way to enlightenment? (Or as Ace Ventura says, 'to achieve spiritual creaminess, and avoid the chewy chunks of degradation'. Ha) What's more, what makes her think we're interested in her privileged version of personal existential angst and discovery? Even though I have spent many times myself lying sobbing on my bathroom floor, when I read about her doing it, my main response was, am I supposed to care about you now? I am not sure how I can have so many feelings in common with someone and still come away as ambivalent toward her as I felt.

So...not a good start, then. Still, I kept reading, even though I could see right away that I would find this Liz Gilbert annoying and intimidating if I met her in person. (She talks a lot about being tall, blonde and slim, and having a life-of-the-party, outgoing personality. Great. Rich, beautiful, at ease with others, successful--but unhappy. Poor Liz.) BUT people had recommended this book to me, they said I'd like it! So, on I read.

In Italy, Liz eats A LOT, learns Italian, and spends a lot of time admiring the 'dark-eyed beauty' of Italian men. Well, I couldn't relate, preferring wholesome vegetarian fare and pale, lanky Englishmen. I couldn't understand what these 4 months were supposed to be teaching her, and by extension, me. From what I could gather, she drank a lot of wine, wandered around 'experiencing' Italy and gained 23 pounds. So basically, she needed an extended vacation. I guess there's nothing wrong with that, if you can afford it. But what does it have to do with anything? She kept saying she wanted to find a balance between pleasure and devotion, then declares that she put her yoga mat in her suitcase and did not meditate once the entire time she was in Italy. Nice balance.

I got through the Italy segment because the India segment was supposed to be the part that I would like, so I was told. In India, Liz goes and lives in an ashram for 4 months, to study a yoga taught by a particular guru who she wouldn't name because she didn't want the ashram to be overburdened as a result of the book. (Okay, then. Expecting overwhelming success, are we?) Of the three segments, this one was my favourite, but that is faint praise. In the ashram, Liz complains of the vegetarian food but packs away enough of it that one of the other participants nicknames her 'Groceries', and spends most of her time either scrubbing the temple floor or trying to tame her monkey mind.

There were some good sentiments in this section:

So I've started being vigilant about watching my thoughts all day, and monitoring them. I repeat this vow about 700 times a day: 'I will not harbor unhealthy thoughts anymore.' Every time a diminishing though arises, I repeat the vow. I WILL NOT HARBOR UNHEALTHY THOUGHTS ANYMORE. The first time I heard myself say this, my inner ear perked up at the word 'harbor,' which is a noun as well as a verb. A harbor, of course, is a place of refuge, a port of entry. I pictured the harbor of my mind--a little beat-up, perhaps, a little storm-worn, but will situated and with a nice depth...

You may not come here anymore with your hard and abusive thoughts, with your plague ships of thoughts, with your slave ships of thoughts, with your warships of thoughts--all these will be turned away. Likewise, any thoughts that are filled with antry or starving exiles, with malcontents and pamphleteers, with mutineers and violent assassins, desperate prostitutes, pimps and seditious stowaways--you may not come here anymore, either. Cannibalistic thoughts, for obvious reasons, will no longer be received. Even missionaries will be screened carefully, for sincerity. This is a peaceful harbor, the entryway to a fine and proud island that is only now begining to cultivate tranquillity. If you can abide by these new laws, my dear thoughts, then you are welcome in my mind--otherwise, I shall turn you back toward the sea from whence you came.

That is my mission, and it will never end.

Here are a couple more good quotes:

You should never give yourself a chance to fall apart, because when you do, it becomes a tendency and it happens over and over again.

I need this message!

God dwells within you, as you.

God dwells within you as yourself, exactly the way you are. God isn't interested in watching you enact a performance of personality in order to comply with some crackpot notion you have of how a spiritual person looks and behaves...

To know God, you only have to renounce one thing--your sense of division from God. Otherwise, just stay as you were made, in your natural character.

This one pops up when she decides she wants to become 'the quiet girl in the back of the temple' and realises that as Miss Suzy Cream Cheese it isn't going to happen. Well, speaking as the quiet girl in the back of the temple who has always put pressure on myself to try to be more outgoing, I can relate to having the toxic notion that what I am is not what I'm supposed to be. So I need this message, too!

On the other hand, there are things about the India segment that I don't like. I am not comfortable with her interpretation of some of the concepts she aspires to share. She talks a lot about God. Her version of what 'God' means does not sit well with me. I was also put off by her opinion of zazen (called 'vipasanna' in yoga)--the practice of just sitting. Just sitting dead still, no thoughts, no chants, no mantras, no God talk. It is an austere practice, but I give the girl credit for trying it out at dusk in India, sitting dead still while being lunched on by mosquitoes. As she says, that is certainly a strong lesson in the concept of impermanence--that no thought, no discomfort, no pain, no joy lasts forever.

That lesson was only half a page, though. The rest of the time she seems intent on seeing a 'God' as being in control of her life in a way I can't share, and in a way that I feel doesn't line up entirely with yogic or Buddhist concepts. I guess I just have to say, I identify with her need to still her mind and feel loving acceptance of herself, but that's about all she and I seem to agree on.

Another thing that frankly bothered me about this India section was all these breakthroughs she purports to have had there. It's not enough that she's learn to accept herself and to sit still. Oh no, she's seen a 'pounding blue energy' that felt like it was twisting her head off and leaves her 'literally panting'. She's heard a voice roaring out to her 'YOU HAVE NO IDEA HOW STRONG MY LOVE IS!!!!', after which she emerges from the meditation cave 'like a warrior queen'. She sits on a roof and has a vision of her and her ex-husband's 'two cool blue souls circle each other, merge, divide again and regard each other's perfection and similarity.'

I mean, come on. Give me a break. My teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, whom I would consider a bit more enlightened than Liz Gilbert (!) aspires to nothing more than to be able to sit quietly, in perfect awareness that he is in this moment and no other, that his butt's sat on the floor and his breath is going in and out. Perfect awareness of the present moment. I would prefer one second of that to what Liz Gilbert describes. Perhaps she really did see and feel those things and is not embellishing, as writers are wont to do. But I fail to see the benefit or the point of such experiences, even if she had them. Surely calm and ease, a sense of 'of course'--the sort of thing described by Eckhart Tolle for example, is preferable to all this blue thunder and lionine voices.

Anyway, Liz then jets off to Bali to live with that medicine man. She meets up with another healer called Wayan and finally takes up with a Brazilian man called Felipe, with whom she finds 'love'. I'll spare you the details, other than to say that the medicine man and Wayan adore her, Felipe tells her she's beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, she gets a bladder infection from having too much sex with Felipe and the book ends with Wayan buying a house with money donated by Liz and her many friends around the world.

The end.


Read it if you want, and please add your thoughts in the comments here. I'd to love to hear your opinion, especially if you managed to get more out of it than I did!

Friday, 28 November 2008

Kettlebells and books

I have been doing kettlebell workouts 3 times a week this month. My weight hasn't gone down, but my measurements have returned to where they were 5 pounds ago. That's really cool.

So far I'm really enjoying the kettlebells. They are challenging and fun to do. They make me feel powerful, and I'm finally starting to get that little cap of muscle on the shoulder, right above the tricep, that I've coveted for so long. I hope that thing gets massive! I love that look.

I've got three books on the go at once now:

Not Buying It, the story of a woman who makes a pact with her husband to buy nothing for an entire year. (Apart from food and basic bills). So far it's been a quick read, but not that engaging. It's hard to see where two self-employed writers who own a New York apartment and Vermont bungalow are coming from, plus it was written in 2003 and references a lot of current events which are no longer remotely current! I'm over half done with it, but am unlikely to finish it. I'm losing interest in what happens to them or what they 'learn' from the experience.

Eat, Pray, Love, covers a year in the life of a writer who decides to find herself after her divorce, by spending 4 months each in Italy, India and Indonesia. Italy for food, India for the spirit, and Indonesia for love. I must say that while I identify with the narrator in some ways, she is a bit too privileged and self-absorbed for me so far. But then, I'm still in Italy with her, and can't get into all the gelato eating and rhapsodic accounts of the beauties of Italian men (preferring as I do, pale English types!). People have recommended it to me for the India segment, so we'll see.

The Secrets of Skinny Chicks, which is targeted at women like me who are in the normal weight range but who desire that cut, fit look of fitness models and Hollywood actresses. It profiles 21 women, detailing their vital statistics, eating plan and exercise programme, to show what you have to do to get and stay that way, so that you can either make the decision to stay where you are and let it go, or kick it up a notch and get there yourself. This one just arrived today, and I have plunged into it already. I think this is going to be a needed reality check for me.

Monday, 24 November 2008

Padmasambhava (Guru Rinpoche) mantra

Om ah hum
benza guru
pema siddhi hum

This is the mantra I chanted this morning for 20 minutes. It is a lovely mantra and left me feeling very peaceful and calm.

It does no good to put too fine a point on translations of mantras. The words merely evoke shades of meaning and signify multiple things. But here's a go:

Om ah hum

Om is the sound of the universe, represents the All, the infinite, the perfect, the eternal.

Ah opens us up to receive the All. It is the expression of wonder and direct awareness.

Hum is the movement of the Om into the heart. It is expansiveness, infinity, essence and oneness moving through the prana (breath, the 'h' sound) into the heart, the awareness.

Benza guru

Benza is the Tibetan pronunciation of 'vajra', or thunderbolt. The thunderbolt represents the moment of enlightenment, diamond-like understanding.

Guru has a meaning of 'light from darkness.'

Pema Siddhi Hum

Pema is the Tibetan pronunciation of 'padme', which is the lotus. The lotus produces a beautiful flower out of the mud. It represents all sorts of duality, the base and the exalted coexisting, and blossoming one from the other.

Siddhi means accomplishment, attainment, perfection

Hum once again is the understanding or containment of the All in the heart.

The mantra is a both a prayer for this attainment and a celebration of the fact that we have all already attained it. It is an invocation, a welcome to the present moment where such a union can be acknowledged.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

The Book of Atheist Spirituality

No review here, just this quote:

And then, all of a sudden...What? Nothing: Everything! No words, no meanings, no questions, only--a surprise. Only--this. A seemingly infinite happiness. A seemingly eternal sense of peace. Above me, the starry sky was immense, luminous and unfathomable, and within me there was nothing but the sky, of which I was a part, and the silence, and the light, like a warm hum, and a sense of joy with neither subject nor object (no object other than everything, no subject other than itself). Yes, in the darkness of that night, I contained only the dazzling presence of the All. Peace. Infinite peace. Simplicity, serenity, delight.

...It was as if a perfect chord, once played, had been indefinitely prolonged, and that chord was the world. I felt fine. Incredibly fine! So fine that I didn't even need to notice it or hope that it would last. I can scarcely even say that I was walking--the walk was there, and the forest, and the trees and our group of friends...the ego had vanished: no more separation or representation, only the silent presentation of everything. No more value judgements, only reality. No more time; only the present. No more nothingness; only being. No more frustation, hatred, fear, anger, anxiety; only joy and peace. No more make-believe, illusions, lies; only the truth, which I did not contain, but which contained me. It may have lasted only a few seconds. I felt at once stunned and reconciled, stunned and calmer than I'd ever felt before. I had a sense of detachment, freedom and necessity, as if the universe had been restored to itself at long last. Was it finite or infinite? That was not the question. There were no more questions, so how could there by answers? There was only self-evidence. And silence. And the truth--but without words. And the world--but without signification or purpose. And immanence--but without its opposite. And reality--but without otherness. There was no faith, no hope, no sense of promise. There was only everything--the beauty, truth and presence of everything. This was enough. It was far more than enough! A sense of joyous acceptance. A sense of dynamic quietude--yes, like an unlimited courage. Rest without fatigue. What was death? Nothing. What was life? Only this palpitation of being within me. What was salvation? Only a word, or else this state itself. Pefection. Plenitude. Bliss.

'This is what Spinoza meant by eternity,' I said to myself--and naturally, that put an end to it, or expelled me from it. Words returned, and thought, and the ego, and separation. But it didn't matter; the universe was still there, and I was there with it, or within it. How can you fall out of the All? How can eternity come to an end? How can words stifle silence? I had experienced a moment of perfection, of bliss--just long enough to realise what these things were.

Get this book. Read it.

The Book of Atheist Spirituality
by Andre Comte-Sponville

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Going okay

So today is Day 4 of my new food plan. I weighed 136.0 this morning. So far, no weight lost. I haven't eaten any chocolate or junk, though.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

DAY TWO, 6 small meals a day

Meal 1--6.30 AM--1/2 cup oats, 1/2 cup soy yogurt, 2 Tbs raisins

Meal 2--10.30 AM--1 slice bread, 1 tbs peanut butter, 1/2 banana (in other words, 1/2 of a peanut butter and banana sandwich)

Meal 3--12.00 PM--spinach and mixed leaves salad, 1 tbsp salad dressing, 1 apple

Meal 4--4.00 PM--the other half of the PBB sandwich

I can't remember the other meals because it's now Sunday!

6 Small Meals a Day, DAY ONE

1800 calories total

Meal 1--6.45 AM-- 1/2 cup soy yogurt, 1 tbsp peanut butter, 1/2 banana (blended together), 2 slices wholemeal toast, 1 cup Caro, 1 glass water

Meal 2--10.30 AM--1/2 cup short grain brown rice, 1/2 cup spring greens, 1/2 cup chick peas (all seasoned with smoky paprika)

Meal 3--1.00 PM--1 large red tomato sliced, leafy green salad, 1 Tbs salad dressing, 3 brown rice cakes

Meal 4--3.30 PM--a pear (I couldn't eat anymore than that!--I was supposed to eat the pear with meal 3 and then have what you see below as meal 4--but I was not hungry enough for it yet!)

Meal 5--5.30 &6.30 PM--1 small potato, 2 Tbs parmesano reggiano, 1/2 cup spring greens (all seasoned with basil and organo) I ate half of it when I got in, and finished it after my workout

Meal 6--1/2 cup roasted carrots, 1/2 a roasted red bell pepper, 1/2 cup quinoa, 4 oven chips

I've still got 2 fruits and a dairy and a couple of other portions left! I can't eat it all. I keep going over it to make sure I haven't got the count wrong. Wow. 1800 calories of real food is a lot. Or maybe it's that eating the right combination at the right time keeps you feeling full all day. At this point, I'm finding it hard to believe I can feel this full and still lose weight. Hope it works!

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Eat like an athlete?

Eat 6 meals a day for weight loss

I've read for years about eating '6 small meals a day,' and while I do eat 6 times a day, by no stretch of the imagination could they be construed as meals! I read the above article today and felt motivated, so on the way home from work I stopped in Wilkinson's and bought 12 small air-tight containers. I am going to try this 6 meal a day lark, and I'm going to do it for real.

Here's the thing. I've got this Food Mover that tells me how many portions of everything to eat. My trainer, Craig Gilkes, advised me that if I ate 1800 calories a day I would lose .5-1.0 pound every 2 weeks. So my thinking is, if I divide those food portions up into 6 meals a day, I will get to eat every 3 hours, I will get protein in reasonable doses at regular intervals, and hopefully I will be too busy eating my meals to nosh on rubbish.

The Food Mover advises at 1800 calories, in servings:

7 carbs
4 fruits
6 proteins
4 fats
6 vegetables
2 dairy
2 'extras' (30-calorie snacks)

So that would break down into something like:

1--Breakfast--2 carbs, 1 dairy, 1 protein, 1 fat, 1 fruit (Example: 1/2 cup oats, 1/2 cup soy yogurt, 1 Tbs almond butter and a banana)

2--Snack--1 carb, 1 protein, 1 fruit (Example: 3 brown rice cakes, a serving of pureed chickpeas and a pear)

3--Lunch--1 carb, 2 protein, 1 fat, 1 fruit, 3 veg (Example: 1 small potato, 2/3 cup of puy lentils, 1 tsp olive oil, 1.5 cups mixed vegetables)

4--Snack--1 carb, 1 fruit (Example: 2 Ryvitas and a small bunch of grapes)

5--Dinner--1 carb, 2 protein, 2 fats, 3 veg (Example: 1/2 cup brown rice, 1 cup tofu, 2 tsp peanut oil, 2 cups mixed vegetables)

6--Snack--1 carb (Example: a slice of toast??)

This looks good and it's way more real food than I'm eating at the moment. Looking at it like this, it's a lot more like how I ate when I was in my weight loss phase, only I tended to pack the food into lunch and dinner, with small carb only snacks. This way, all the meals are reasonable size, although I have packed more protein into the lunch and dinner than in the snacks.

Well, it's a start, and I'm excited! I will do cooking in advance and pack things in these little containers I bought and hope for the best.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Rethinking my food intake

I've been looking for something to inspire me to make better food choices and get myself back on track to improving my fitness level and appearance. I found this great article by vegan kettlebell instructor, Mike Mahler!

Making the Vegan Diet Work

The points I found most interesting:

Without enough fat in your diet, your skin will dry up, your energy will plummet, and you will look like death. Getting 20-40% or more of your calories from fat is a good way to go. Load up on healthy fats such as: Hempseed olive oil, almonds, walnuts, marine algae DHA, pecans, almond butter, and avocadoes. Also, many vegetarian diets are free of all saturated fats, which is great for the most part. However, some saturated fat is required for optimal health, so get some coconut oil or coconut milk in you diet as well.

I am almost certain I do not get enough healthy fats in my diet. I was just complaining to Derek the other day that I need to buy some lotion for my skin, and I have dry patches popping up along my hairline sometimes, too, and behind my ears. Now that I think about it, this has got worse since we ran out of coconut oil a few weeks ago. I must remember to order more!

Get over the myth that fat makes you fat. In reality excess calories and especially excess carbohydrates are the culprits for high body fat. You will find that your overall calorie consumption will be less when you load up on fat as fat provides a steady flow of energy and reduces hunger tremendously. People on low fat diets are always hungry which is why low fat diets rarely work. Again, I do very well on high fat (30-40% of diet) moderate carb and moderate protein (100-120 grams per day). This is what I have discovered after being a vegan for many years.

It is true that fat is a calorie dense food, but I think you would have to try really hard to get too much fat in a vegan diet. I'm pretty sure if I measured my actual fat intake, it would be very much lower than the average omnivore's, and certainly lower than Mike Mahler's. To a degree, it should be, because I am female, smaller, and don't train nearly as hard as he does. But it probably ought to be higher than it is, and I should definitely consider reducing my carb intake.

When putting together a vegan diet make sure you focus on real sources of food. Avoid relying on fake meat products, soy milk, rice milk etc. These packaged foods are loaded with sodium and sugar and are okay as transitional options rather than staples. Focus on real food such as nuts, beans, veggies, and some grains such as quinoa and oats. Vegans tend to follow low fat, low protein, and heavy carbohydrate diets, which is a big mistake. Only a small percentage of the population will feel optimal on such diets.

Oh, dear, here's where I am so guilty! We eat some sort of packaged vegan option every single day. That is so naughty. I really must make more of an effort in the kitchen and get away from that. Veggie sausages are tasty, but what good are they! And I've just sat here and sucked down a shake made from soy milk and a banana. I am so guilty of being a soy-dependent vegan!

Finally, there is growing evidence that soy can increase estrogen levels, block mineral absorption, and decrease thyroid function. Others argue that there are many health benefits of soy. Regardless, I would leave soy alone as contrary to widespread belief it is not a necessary part of the vegan diet so why take the risk? Wheat gluten is even worse and is the worst part of wheat. It is a highly allergic and inflammatory food so avoid it like the plague. Seitan is garbage and I do not recommend it at all. There is enough variety in real vegan food sources so leave the fake stuff alone.

Now I disagree with Mahler on the point regarding soy. Soy foods such as tofu (bean curd), yabu (tofu skin), dou jiang (fresh unsweetened soy milk), okara (the strained pulp from making soy milk), edamame (fresh baby soybeans) are all staple foods in China and Japan. I'm sure he must be referring to weird products like texturized vegetable protein, which is what veggie burgers and sausages are made of. We eat a lot of that, I know we shouldn't. So I must stop buying that stuff, much as I love to eat them.

As to wheat gluten, I had a brief love affair with seitan, but I just intuitively have always thought it couldn't be that good for you. And eating more than a bit of it does bad things to the digestion. *sigh* So good-bye to seitan as well.

Mahler offers this example of a good vegan meal:

An example of a high protein vegan meal that I have often is three servings of lentils (24 grams of protein) mixed with two servings of pistachios (14 grams of protein and 26 grams of healthy fat), add two cups of broccoli and two cups of mixed vegetables. I then add one tablespoon of olive oil to the mix and I am good to go.

That sounds really nice. I could certainly spice it up with some seasonings and garlic, etc. I must get away from all the rubbish I've been eating lately. I'm sure if I ate this well, I wouldn't be as tempted to nosh on junk.

I also found this really good website!

The World's Healthiest Foods

It provides nutrition breakdowns for 129 foods.

Lots to think about.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Just a-swingin'

My kettlebell workouts are rolling along nicely! Last night I did Lauren Brooks' 40-minute workout with my 12kg kettlebell (Olga). I used Natasha for overhead presses and the overhead swing. Sore this morning!

I can't explain why I like kettlebells. By rights it should be quite boring, and it is so intense you can only do 2 minutes at a time then a 1 minute break to catch your breath. But I love the challenge! And after only 5 workouts, I am already looking more pumped! I wish I could get that post-workout pump look at rest. Leaning out will help achieve that, though. :)

My friend in the US has received my 2 new KB DVDs and is posting them on to me ASAP! Hooray, can't wait to get those!

I checked out Barack Obama's Audacity of Hope yesterday and am giving it a go to see what this guy is all about. From what I've read, if you know middle-of-the-road Democrat, you've got Obama. I also requested his other book, Dreams from my Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, which people say is the better book. Will report later!

In the meantime, check out this episode of South Park:

About Last Night

Click on Episode 1212 in the bottom right corner. If you can't view the episode because you're not in the US (urgh!!) you can still see most of the episode by viewing it in individual clips. It's hilarious! In fact, here's a wonderful clip right here:

We Will Name Him Sparkles

Followed by this one:

Game Over Mkay

Oh, just go and watch the whole thing, it's like, so totally freakin' perfect and ahhh-some!

Thursday, 6 November 2008


American politics, oh boy. Yee-hah, and as some dude on TV hollered at me yesterday, 'America's back, baby!'


So Barack Obama won the election and good for him. I don't know much about the man. The coverage of the election here has been very patchy and I haven't gone out of my way to find out more. I was never very involved with politics when I lived in America and feel even more disengaged now that I live in England. I'd rather have him than another 4 years of the Republicans, though.

Anna Down Under mentioned on her blog that her heart and soul are still in America. I don't feel the same. I'm not really proud to be an American because that was just an accident of birth. I am grateful to have been born in the Western world, obviously, because that's where the good life is, where we all live like kings and are comfortable and well-fed enough to be distracted by things like kettlebells and veganism and Republicans and Democrats. We've got problems in the West, but lack of health care and being on the dole are not quite as bad as having to drink from fetid streams contaminated with raw sewage and, if you're lucky, living in a dirt-floor shack made of scraps paid for by working to make cheap jeans to be sold in Wal-mart. We need to remember that our problems would be easy to solve if some of the power were taken out of the hands of corporations. Apparently it's really, really hard to do the right thing, even when the money's there. To me, it's just a little bit weird that America is so rich they can have poured so much money into just an election, money that equalled or surpassed the GNP of some of those nations in the 'developing world.' I guess I've just got a different perspective. And I have to admit I am sometimes embarrassed by America, the patriotism and jingoism and the scale of it all. At least it would seem that Mr. Obama is a tall and handsome, well-spoken statesman who won't embarrass us in front of the rest of the world.

Of course it's wonderful to have opened this new door in the political scene, where it might be okay at last to be an ethnic minority, gay, atheist, disabled, or otherwise 'different' and be allowed to hold office and have a voice. In that way, I'm hopeful. It's a huge step in the right direction. Maybe people won't have to hide anymore. Openly gay or atheist politicians! Acceptance of all. Wouldn't that be nice.

Now that the money's been spent and--hopefully--some of the rah-rah rhetoric dies down, we will see if Mr. Obama rolls up his sleeves and does something good for the world. He's certainly in the best position to do so.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Meet Olga and Natasha

Olga's on the left. She just arrived today. She weighs 12kg and has sat on my desk all day sizing me up. I don't think she's impressed. On the right is sweet little Natasha, who weighs 8kg. She has smudges of dirt from last Friday when we worked outside with the trainer. She's rough looking and I probably wouldn't have bought her if I'd shopped around a bit, because her grip is not very wide and it's kind of fat, and there are cheaper and better KBs out there. But I've got her now and after a training session and two workouts, we've kind of bonded. Olga has been menacing her since I sat them beside each other, but I think Natasha can hold her own. Olga I will have to take down a peg or two. She has to learn I'm the pack leader.

I ordered two more KB DVDs: Iron Core Way Vol 1 and Iron Core Way Vol 2. I am very excited to have found them for an excellent price in the US, and my intrepid chum in Arkansas has kindly agreed to forward them to me here in the UK, saving me an outrageous $80 US. (The same workouts are selling on a UK website for £24.95 each. Rip-off Britain strikes yet again. Thank goodness for the Internet!)

It's early days, but I can say after 3 workouts, I like using kettlebells! It's good fun and a killer workout! Yay!

Here's another photo of Olga and Natasha with the Monkeys, Malcolm and Melvin. Those monkeys have to get their little faces in all the photos around here! Cheeky buggers.

Edited to add some clips of the foundation of kettlebell training, the Russian swing:

Kettlebell swing--Lisa Shaffer

Kettlebell swings--High performance

1-handed swing

And some articles for further information on kettlebell training (the first one is especially good):

Russian kettlebells: the need to train like a man--especially if you are a woman!

Russian Kettlebells for Women?

Kettlebell Fitness

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Manga night and 30th anniversary of you know what

It's Teresa, me and Charlotte from the Tokyo Pop Recon event held at the library on Halloween night. We tried to dress up in a harajuku style. I ended up looking like a refugee from the 80s, Charlotte described her costume as a 'genetically modified butterfly', and Teresa kept it low key with manga hair and a cartoony T-shirt.

We had 32 kids turn up and although they started off shy and quiet (we had to convince them to come over and eat the snacks provided!), by the end of the night they had loosened up and were running around the library asking if they could have the leftover publicity posters and the Japanese packaging from the snacks! A good night.

After work, Derek, Teresa and I watched the 1978 John Carpenter film, 'Halloween'. Derek and I watch it every year on Halloween, it's a tradition. (The two jack-o-lanterns are also an annual tradition. This year we named them Russell and Rossy). As it is the 30th anniversary of the film, we had a small chocolate cake, embellished with a big knife plunged in the middle of it and little jack-o-lantern ornaments around it. We forgot to take a photo of it, though!

Teresa had never seen the film, so it was interesting to watch her reactions and explain to her the significance of the film to the genre and how it's derived from American urban legends. (She's from Portugal).

The next day I did my new kettlebell workout and we went to see 'Quantum of Solace' with our friend Mandy. Unfortunately, it was nearly sold out and we had to sit in row 5. I couldn't tell what was happening during the action sequences because of the editing and us sitting so close to the screen, so I slept through most of it! After the movie, I made Rice Krispie treats for the first time in about 15 years. I remember now why I never make them--I LOVE THEM! I could inhale the entire panful. Not good!

Anyway, back to reality and hopefully more sensible eating--starting tomorrow!

Friday, 31 October 2008

Average weigh-ins for 2008

January 134
February 134
March 134
April 134.5
May 134.5
June 134.5
July 134.5
August 134
September 135.5
October 135.8--In all honesty, 136

So there it is. Going up. All measurements up 1/4 an inch from January (except, and this is one of life's little jokes on me, in the chest).

The question is am I willing to do what it takes to put a stop to this?

Thursday, 30 October 2008

Stress and chocolate

It's been a tough few days at work. It seems that public libraries are falling apart in this country, and things are no different in my authority. Staffing levels are now set so low that when people take their annual leave entitlement and then someone calls in sick, we don't enough staff to even cover the front line, let alone do the behind the scenes work. There are 7 libraries in my division. My library is the main one in the division, and one of the top 3 in the county for customer footfalls and issues, and yet I have to take front line staff out of this busy library to work branches that do very little business at all. There are not enough of us to go around, and it is just getting worse and worse. I don't even normally deal with timetables, but the woman who does is out sick and so my colleagues and I have been doing it for two weeks, on top of the front line work and other work we have to get done. Anyway, it's an impossible situation, staff morale is extremely low and I have been eating a lot of chocolate in the staff room. Not good.

BUT, I think one reason I've had trouble sticking to my Food Mover is that I set the calories too low. I thought 1600 was reasonable, but this calorie calculator suggests my daily caloric needs are actually 2115! So that's too big a calorie deficit. I have changed the Food Mover to the 1800 calorie card and we'll see if I survive better without resorting to noshing on stuff.

My driving lesson yesterday was not so good. I am still making lots of errors that will cause me to fail. I have a long way to go. For those who have never driven over here, you just don't know how difficult it is. This country was not intended for cars, and the skill required just to get from point A to point B, negotiating awkward traffic situations and dealing with ancient road systems, then finding a place to park up and getting your tiny car into an even tinier space--well, it's just amazing. There are no wide open spaces here, no simple 4-way stops. It's assertive and highly skilled. Driving is so much easier where I'm from, rural Arkansas, where it's actually the case that if you can operate the vehicle you have sufficient skill to be a licensed driver. Over here, operating the vehicle is just the beginning. I don't know if I will ever pass, but my driving instructor assures me I will. I think I am going to stop scheduling lessons at the end of a work day-I'm just too tired to think. I will have to do them in the morning before I go to work.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

You're seeing a what!

Can you believe it? I have an appointment to see a personal trainer on Friday. His company is called Sparta Fitness, his name is Craig Gilkes and he's going to teach me how to swing the kettlebell safely! He is certainly patient. I've already taken up a lot of his time with questions and waffling around with figuring out a time to meet him and clarifying what exactly I want to learn. I'm looking forward to learning and will post a full report on the session after the fact. It's just amazing to me that I've done this. I have never done any exercise in front of anyone, ever, except when I do the weight lifting videos with Derek!

Friday's a busy day for me. I'm on the frontline all day from 8.15, more or less, then I have taken off a bit early to meet Craig, the trainer, for an hour. Then I have to shower and get dressed up in a harajuku style outfit (well, as much as I can afford to do on about 5 quid!) and get back to the library for 5.45 because I am hosting a manga meet-up from 6-8. Then after the event, a friend from the library is coming home with us and we're going to watch the movie, 'Halloween', as it's the film's 30th anniversary, and as you may know, DH is a huge fan and watching the film is an annual ritual around our house.

It may not sound like much, but I'll be pretty busy! The next day, I'm off work, but I'm going to Learn Direct for 2 hours of training in Excel spreadsheets (while Derek goes to Coventry to a collector show), then in the afternoon we're going to see 'Quantum of Solace'. We're having a houseguest, our friend Mandy from Chester, who is going to the show with Derek and then staying over until Sunday. I don't know how I'm going to fit my workouts in around all this stuff, or resist the temptation to eat all the junk I'm sure Derek will buy.

Update on the Food Mover. I did well for two days and my weight did a funky little plummet to 133.8, then the evil monthly came along, I ate chocolate and nacho chips, and this morning it's 135.0. Oh well. So far today I've eaten okay. We'll see if I can make it through the day. Gotta pace myself!

Saturday, 25 October 2008

By request: my scrambled tofu recipe

Okay, there are lots of scrambled tofu recipes out there, but this is one hubby and I like. It makes enough for 2 people, with wholemeal toast, etc.

1 box of silken tofu

salt and fresh ground black pepper

dried sage to taste

1/4 tsp turmeric

1/4 cup nutritional yeast flakes or more to taste

1-2 tsp chickpea flour, optional

1/2 a small onion, diced as fine as your knife skills allow, (about 3-4 heaping Tbs)

rice bran or peanut oil

Heat a nonstick skillet and saute the onions in a bit of oil. While they cook, combine the remaining ingredients in a bowl and stir gently to combine. The turmeric will color the tofu and add subtle flavour. Don't add too much turmeric as it will overpower the taste. The nutritional yeast flakes are important for flavour. You can leave them out, but for some reason they do add a more eggy taste to the mix, without tasting like eggs. Ha! (Chickpea flour and nutritional yeast flakes are available in health food stores and are common vegan storecupboard ingredients...)

Add the tofu mixture to the pan and combine with the onions. Panfry the mixture until as dry and cooked as you like.

We have this as part of an English breakfast: eggs, toast, grilled tomato and mushrooms and baked beans. This combo is known as a 'fry-up' and usually contains sausages and bacon as well, but obviously we don't include those, unless they're veggie sausages. I don't make a fry-up very often, and only do scrambled tofu as a weekend breakfast occasionally to have with just toast and beans. If you haven't eaten beans for breakfast before, be open minded! It's really nice! (Over here they're called 'baked beans', but Americans usually call them 'pork and beans'--the navy beans in a sugary orange-colored tomato sauce! I know , I know, but try it, really!)

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Cottage Pie

This is good to make with leftovers, so bear with the instructions.

You will need:

leftover boiled or roasted root vegetables--potato, swede, turnip--or just potato, which you are going to mash and seasoned with salt and pepper (don't add soy milk it's too strong a taste; if you must add liquid, try some vegetable stock but avoid any liquid unless the mixture is just too dry to spread; shouldn't be liked whipped potatoes, should be much stiffer than that, but you do want it pretty smooth)

a few carrots
a large onion
a leek
your favourite veggie mince
vegan bouillon powder
red wine

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Dice the carrots and slice the leeks and saute them in a bit of oil until they start to caramelize. Deglaze the pan with some red wine as you go. When the veg is well softened, add the veggie mince and some marmite thinned in a bit of water. Cook and stir to reduce the liquid. Add vegan bouillon powder, salt and pepper to taste. Add any herbs you want. Rosemary is good! You want to cook this down to a gravy-coated mixture that will hold its shape when packed. You can add some vegan gravy granules if you have some, or you can always thicken with a bit of cornstarch and water.

Pour the mixture in a casserole dish, spread the potato mixture on top and bake until the potatoes are browned and puffy on top.

Serve with additional gravy if you like, and a variety of vegetables.

Sorry there are so few details, but it really doesn't matter what you put in it as long as it is thick enough not to go running across the plate and it tastes good to you. Play around with it!