Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Orange Soup

I made this soup today and couldn't think of a good name for it. It turns out orange, so I'm calling it Orange Soup because that's much shorter than Carrot and Sweet Potato Soup with Coconut and Coriander. That sort of name always sounds poncy and foody to me. I had some leftover baked sweet potatoes and a fridge full of carrots (because I forgot I already had carrots and bought a mondo big bag of them the other day--oops, another senior moment!), so I concocted this:

1 large onion, chopped
6-8 carrots, chopped
4-5 garlic cloves, minced
a dollop of cold-pressed organic coconut oil
2 large baked sweet potatoes, peeled and mashed
3-5 Tbs vegan bouillon powder or to taste
2 tsp ground coriander
1 Tbs piri piri sauce or other hot sauce (not too vinegary)
1 sachet coconut paste or about a half cup of coconut milk (the canned stuff not the liquid from the middle of a coconut)
salt and black pepper to taste

Saute the carrots, onions and garlic in the coconut oil until golden and softening. Add enough water to cover all fairly deeply. Simmer until carrots are soft. Add sweet potatoes, puree the lot and season to taste with all the other stuff. You might want to add more water to thin it down; adjust seasoning accordingly. I'm sure this will taste better as it ages, so feel free to have leftovers. (You could sieve this to make it smoother, but then you'd lose the natural fiber, which might be defeating the object.)

That's it!

May all beings be at ease.

The beginning of the beginning

If we're willing to give up hope that insecurity and pain can be exterminated, then we can have the courage to relax into the groundlessness of our situation. This is the first step on the path. ~Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart

I'm going to tell you today why you should give up hope. Yes, that's right--give up hope!

We've got this idea that hopelessness is a bad thing. We tell ourselves (and each other) not to give up hope. Whatever you do, don't lose hope.

Hope springs eternal.

Hope floats.

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all...

There's this notion that we should be constantly striving for something , something more, something bigger. Something meaningful. We think we ought to be heading toward something, moving toward a goal, working for the future. Always looking for something better. Always reaching out for something stable, something that will last, something that we can rely on. That hand to hold on to. That fine day when everything will be okay, and nothing bad will ever happen again. If we don't give up, if we don't let that little bird ever stop chirping in our souls, if we don't stop wishing for things to be good, then--like magic-- bad things won't happen. And even if they do happen, that little bird must still go on chirping, through the gale and the storm, because that's what it means to be human, blah, blah, blah.

This concept of hopefulness is actually driven by fear. What we want is lasting security, but a little life experience can tell you that there is no such thing as lasting security. We want very much to have some reliable, comfortable ground under our feet, but as Pema Chodron points out in When Things Fall Apart, 'we've tried a thousand ways to hide and a thousand ways to tie up all the loose ends, and the ground just keeps moving under us.' Hoping for security is not ever going to free us from fear. Because there is actually no such thing as lasting security, this hope is ultimately the cause of all suffering and fear. It's only when we begin to accept the truth that nothing can be relied on to stay the same that we can begin to release the fear.

The first noble truth of the Buddha is that when we feel suffering, it doesn't mean that something is wrong. What a relief. Finally somebody told the truth. Suffering is part of life, and we don't have to feel it's happening because we personally made the wrong move. ~Pema Chodron

In other words, no amount of planning, scheming, buying insurance, taking vitamins, paying tuition, wearing the latest fashion, doing a thousand sit-ups or whatever it is you might be doing to provide yourself some security in this life is going to work. Things do fall apart. Things go wrong. Bad stuff happens. You didn't make it happen and you couldn't have prevented it from happening. So just let go of control of the universe already! You were never in control of it to begin with.

This is not a nihilistic attitude. Nihilism rejects all morality and sees our existence as devoid of meaning. Hopelessness in the Buddhist sense sees our existence as rich with meaning, though not necessarily the meaning we hope for. (Ie, if we are good, if we do the right things, then we will be taken care of.) Letting go of 'hope' is the beginning of freedom.

Accept and appreciate impermanence and change and you have taken the first step toward the dharma. When change comes and you don't blame yourself for it, wonder where you went wrong, wish you could go back and do things differently, ask the universe why you deserve it, or feel dread of the further changes that are looming on the horizon--then you will know that your feet are on the path to hopelessness. Free at last.

Hopelessness is the basic ground. Otherwise, we're going to make the journey with the hope of getting security. If we make the journey to get security, we're completely missing the point. We can do our meditation practice with the hope of getting security; we can study the teachings with the hope of getting security; we can follow all the guidelines and instructions with the hope of getting security, but it will only lead to disappointment and pain. We could save ourselves a lot of time by taking this message very seriously right now. Begin the journey without the hope of getting ground under your feet. Begin with hopelessness. ~Pema Chodron

When we are hopeless, we are free to live in the moment. We're not busy picking through the rubble of the past or attempting to construct the future. We can enjoy right now. We can eat because it tastes wonderful and fuels our bodies and does no harm to others. We can exercise because it is joyous to move and to breathe and to sweat. We can look into the eyes of a loved one and not regret the fight we had last week or worry that they will get sick or be taken from us next year. When we let go of hope, we are free to live right here, right now.

'Every day in every way, I'm getting better and better,' that little sign might say on your bathroom mirror. Or it might say, 'Today is the first day of the rest of your life.' Cross it out and draw a big smiley face and write, 'Abandon hope.' You'll know what it means.

May all beings be at ease.

Sunday, 24 February 2008

Kundalini Yoga to Detox and Destress with Maya Fiennes

I ordered this DVD on the same day I ordered Mantra Girl's Intro to KY & Chanting. This DVD serves as a good introduction to kundalini yoga and has a very different style to both Mantra Girl and my beloved Ravi Singh and Ana Brett. Maya Fiennes is a concert pianist and yoga instructor and the wife of Magnus Fiennes (who is the brother of actors Ralph and Joseph Fiennes). She lives in London. I guess she must check her Blackberry every day, too, because I sent her an email asking where she got the fabulous necklace she wears in her DVD and she answered me by email the next day! (Unfortunately for me, she designed it herself and is not producing them for sale. Too bad!) Click here for a clip of Maya to get a glimpse of her and that necklace. :)

This practice is heavy on the spiritual side of kundalini yoga, and possibly a bit light as far as being a full-body workout. In the introduction to the workout, Maya mentions that kundalini yoga is meant help us prepare for the Aquarian Age coming in 2012. Ravi and Ana also talk about this on their website, but steer clear of this sort of talk on their workout DVDs. Yogi Bhajan, founder of kundalini yoga as practised in the western world, taught that the Aquarian Age, also known as the Age of Awareness, is coming in 2012. It is the next in a succession of astrological ages each lasting roughly 2,000 yeas. We are in the transition now from the Piscean Age until 2012 when we enter the Aquarian Age fully. In the Aquarian Age, so they say, we will witness a radical change in consciousness, human sensitivity and technology. The central change of this new age will emphasize an increased sensitivity and evolution of our power of awareness and a new relationship with our mind. You've probably heard a lot of things described as 'New Age.' These days the phrase is used to describe anything that's kind of mystical, eastern, pagan, or basically not Judeo-Christian,etc. But actually, 'New Age' refers to the belief that the Aquarian Age is upon us very soon. I don't have any particular thoughts about this as I am somewhat skeptical about these things, but I can say that Maya Fiennes' presentation of kundalini yoga and its philosophies is nowhere near as playful as Ravi & Ana's. You get a sense from Ravi & Ana that they have some deep-seated beliefs, but they are lighter with it in their workouts. Both Mantra Girl and Maya Fiennes are radiant and serene, but are more serious in their presentation of kundalini yoga philosophies. No grains of salt offered here.

Anyway, after the introduction, Maya spends about 20 minutes leading us through spinal flexes and stomach grinds, etc, before moving on to a yoga set that is meant to cleanse and detox our adrenals and liver. More arm work here, some ab-focused work, cat/cow, twisting, leg lifts, etc, and ending with a meditation. Throughout the workout, Maya is encouraging and accompanied by recordings of herself singing and chanting traditional kundalini mantras. Sorry I can't give you a full breakdown of each set--I waited too many days after doing the workout to remember precisely what we did.

Overall, it is an okay KY workout and worth the 4 quid I paid for it at Amazon Marketplace. If she makes more DVDs I will buy them. And that necklace!

May all beings be at ease.

Saturday, 23 February 2008

Mantra Girl presents Introduction to Kundalini Yoga & Chanting

I got this DVD the other day, having waited a long time for it to go down in price. I finally managed to find it for £4.53 on Amazon Marketplace. I tried the DVD on Thursday. It was wonderful!

Mantra Girl, whose name is Erin Kamler, is a singer, voice coach, and yoga instructor. She leads this workout, with four or five other equally fresh-faced California girls seated behind her, wearing a beaded bra and baggy, split-up-the-leg 'genie' trousers. The group are seated on the grass on sheepskin mats (traditional in kundalini yoga) with Malibu beach in the background. Throughout the workout, Mantra Girl's music is heard, as is the sound of the ocean. It's very soothing.

The warm-up comprises stomach grinds, shoulder rotations, 'the washing machine' (twisting side to side with the hands on the shoulders--try it! It's one of my favourite kundalini exercises!). Then there is a good sciatic nerve stretch for the backs of the legs made up of single then double forward bends. Next comes stretch pose to activate the navel centre. Then slow to fast cat/cow. After that, you do yoga mudra to modified camel, over and over again. This really works the quadriceps and triceps, bends the back and opens the heart chakra. The set ends in camel pose with breath of fire, then rest in child pose. Actually, this entire sequence is referred to by Mantra Girl as the 'warm-up', so the warm-up lasts a VERY long time!

Next comes the 'auric set'. Mantra Girl says that the aura extends out from the body for 9 feet in all directions, and the exercises in this set help to cleanse and strengthen the aura. Well, I don't know how my aura was doing after this set, but my arms were like limp spaghetti. The first exercise has you go into down dog, lift one leg straight up, then lower the head toward the floor with the arms and push back up again. It's sort of like a down dog push up, and it is TOUGH. I'm sure my form was terrible, and I can guarantee my mind was not in a meditative state. (It's hard to meditate when you're swearing). But after a few repetitions, I was beginning to see how Mantra Girl could have arms like Sarah Connor in 'Terminator 2'. Just when you think you're going to collapse and concuss yourself, Mantra Girl tells you to switch legs and do it on the other side. This exercise works the arms, the standing leg's calf and quadricep, and the lifted leg's hamstring and buttock. The abs and back are also engaged to maintain balance. It seems to be an excellent full-body exercise. I was very grateful that there are relatively few repetitions!

After the push-up things, you sit in easy pose again and hold your arms out in front of you grasping the left hand with the right, forearms facing in, and lift them over your head and down again, in a big wiping motion. Up down, up down, up down, breathing in as you lift and out and as you bring the arms down. This goes on for at least three minutes, at a vigorous pace, and I felt like my shoulders were on fire by the end of it. But did the arms get a break after that? Oh, no! On to another shoulder set, this time you hold your arms out in front of you at shoulder level, then open them all the way back behind you as far as you can, then bring them back together in front of you again in a sort of swinging motion. Close the eyes and breath in as you swing the arms back, breath out and briefly open the eyes when the hands come back in front of you again. Same vigorous pace as the wiping set, done again for about three minutes. I couldn't keep my arms up at shoulder level, my shoulders were too tired. I had to do the set by swinging my palms down at about hip level, then bringing them back up again to chest level at the front. Poor DH couldn't keep up at all and just sat there with his chest caved in and head hanging down during most of that set. He gave up the ghost in the middle of the aura wiping set. LOL

After the arm swings, you hold the arms out to the sides again and bring the hands to the shoulders, out in, out in, again and again. By this time, your shoulders and arms are pretty much numb!

The DVD ends with two meditations. The first meditation lasts about 3 minutes and is the traditional kundalini yoga chant, 'Ek ong kar sat nam siri wahe guru.' You chant it

'ek ooooooooooooooooonnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnngggggggggg kaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaar,
sat naaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaam, siri
wa heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeey gu-ruuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu.'

This chant means, 'There is one Creator who is the Truth within me. Indescribable wisdom, indescribable ecstacy.'

The next meditation involves the rhythmic chanting of the word 'Har' with accompanying hand motions. Cupped together in front of the chest as if to receive something, then moving up in a circle to meet again at the top of the circle with the palms facing down. 'Har' means 'creative Infinity'. When you say the word, the 'r' is sort of like a 'd' or a rolled 'r' that only rolls once. As you chant, it starts to sound like 'hara'.

I enjoyed this workout very much and came away from it feeling refreshed in myself and with noodly arms and every muscle feeling stretched.

I intend to order Mantra Girl's other workout soon, 'Advanced Kundalini for Spiritual Warriors.'

May all beings be at ease.

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Super easy falafel recipe

Falafel Recipe
Dump the following ingredients into a bowl:
1 can of chickpeas, drained
1 slice of wholemeal bread
2 Tbs flour, any type
1 medium onion, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
Use a hand blender to puree this mixture. Then stir in the following:
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp salt
a few grinds black pepper
a handful of chopped fresh parsley
You can let this sit in the fridge for an hour, or proceed on to the next step at once.
Roll the falafel mixture by the spoonful into balls. You might need to wet your hands to keep it from sticking. Place the balls in roasting pan. Add a tablespoon or so of olive oil to the pan and roll the balls around to coat. Bake the falafel balls at about 350 F until they are as brown as you want them. They will probably flatten out and turn into patties, but so what. It's just dinner, not a science project.

To serve, I usually put these on top of mixed salad and have with a sweet chili dressing and soy yogurt. Or you could make a sandwich with them, which is traditional, using pita bread, chopped onion, tomato and cucumber.

This recipe works!

It's based on one from the wonderful book, Vegan with a Vengeance by Isa Chandra Moskowitz.

Monday, 18 February 2008

What's for dinner tonight?

So here's what we're having for dinner tonight. It is a typical meal for us.

Wholemeal Couscous with Carrot and Onion
1 large white onion, peeled and minced very fine
about 5 carrots, peel and chopped into very fine dice
2-3 Tbs good olive oil
1 cup wholemeal (wheat or barley) couscous
2 cups water
1 Tbs vegan bouillon powder (we use Swiss Marigold)

Mix the onion with the olive oil in a cold saucepan. Bring the mixture up to a mild heat. Cook the onions on this slow heat until they go limp and smell sweet. Let them continue to cook for a while. They should NOT be browning, but may start to go pale gold as the sugar in the onion caramelizes. Add the carrot, stir, pop a lid on the pot and let it cook for 10-15 minutes. Check and stir,replace lid. Keep checking until the carrots have gone soft. Could take as long as 30 minutes. Add the couscous and water, turn the heat up high, cover the pot and bring to boil. Turn off heat and let the couscous stand to absorb liquid completely. Set aside.

Braised Cabbage
1 small head mild flavoured cabbage (tonight it was pointed cabbage)
Core the cabbage and cut in quarters or eighths. Slice each up into quarter-inch wide ribbons. Pack the cabbage into a saucepan. Put just a bit of water in the bottom of the pot. Cook over low heat, checking often, until cabbage is done. Season with salt and pepper.

Fake Chicken Fillet
We like the ASDA Meat Free Chicken-style Fillet for an occasional treat. Ingredients: Rehydrated soy protein (56%), Rehydrated wheat protein (32%), vegetable oil, methyl cellulose (stabilizer), potato starch, yeast extract, cane juice, salt, garlic powder, pea fibre, carrot fibre, onion powder, beet fibre. 25g protein, 154 calories, 5.5g fat (of which saturates 0.6g)

(In case you're curious--and I was--I looked up methyl cellulose. Here's what I learned:

Methylcellulose (or methyl cellulose) is a chemical compound derived from cellulose. It is a hydrophilic white powder in pure form and dissolves in cold (but not in hot) water, forming a clear viscous solution or gel. It is sold under a variety of trade names and is used as a thickener and emulsifier in various food and cosmetic products, and also as a treatment of constipation. Like cellulose, it is not digestible, not toxic, and not allergenic.

Methyl cellulose is sold under the brand name Citrucel.

So basically, it's a food bulker and also a remedy for constipation. Right!)

To go over all, gravy made from Bisto chicken-style gravy granules. (Not vegan as it contains egg and milk powder, but as I've said many times, I do eat traces--TRACES-of animal products.) I always use the cooking liquid from our vegetables to make the gravy with. That way we don't pour any nutrients down the drain. So tonight the cabbage water goes into the gravy granules.

Derek and I eat a meal pretty much like this every night. A whole grain, a few vegetables, a protein source. (The protein source rarely involves a fake meat that incorporates a synthetic laxative, I hasten to add! It almost always involves soy, wheat or bean in some way, though.)

Would anyone be interested in regular posts about what we eat? Believe me, it's simple food, it's quick, and it's kept me at 134 lbs for a while! So there must be something good about it.

May all beings be at ease.

Sunday, 17 February 2008

Contemplation of the week

Be kinder than necessary, because everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.

I read this on a message board at It really hit home to me this week. On our particular thread there, one of us this week suffered a miscarriage. I personally recieved the news about otosclerosis. No doubt every person on that thread has a story to tell that they haven't told.

I've struggled with compassion, with metta, or loving kindness. I have searched within myself for loving kindness toward others, and I have tried very hard lately to focus more on other people than myself. At last I'm beginning to really feel more compassionate toward others. Metta for me is starting with these imperfect ears of mine. Then it must move outward to the rest of me, then to those I love, then to those I am ambivalent about, then to those I actively dislike. I send compassion to everything about me, everything about them, everything about all. Realising that we are all fighting some kind of battle--engaged in the struggle to overcome obstacles, to find our way in this life, to make peace with ourselves and each other--this helps me. I'm facing problems with my hearing. Everyone is facing some sort of struggle, too.

I've been reading about Tinnitus Retraining Therapy and intend to request from the consultant my ENT is sending me to (and perhaps my GP) that I be referred to receive it. My tinnitus has been getting louder and louder, and I need some support. I am certainly not going to lie down and give up with this. I am going to explore all avenues of support available to me. I am going to be proactive. But I am not going to live in denial of whatever this hearing loss may mean. I love my ears. I love the way they pick up sound, however imperfectly. I am grateful to them. I smile to them. There's no reason why this is happening to me, no way it could have been prevented, no blame. Only peace to be made with it. I have to start where I am.

I've downloaded this free software sound generator and highly recommend it:

Aire Freshener

May all beings be at ease.

Thursday, 14 February 2008

So much beauty, so much joy


Guided from the primal core and beginning,
Guided through every moment of experience and activity,
Guided in my heart's deepest truth and being,
Guided by the unseen infinity of my higher self.

Click this link, minimize it to return to this page, and meditate upon the lovely mandala above while comtemplating the rich meaning of the kundalini yoga mantra sung by Deva Premal.

I know I can be trusted to make the right decisions for myself. And I have the strength within me to deal with whatever happens in this life. I have the love and support of family and friends. I have so much. It is a beautiful life, and we are all beautiful beings. I am going to wring every bit of loveliness out of this life. I will not falter. I will not succumb.

May all beings be at ease.

Wednesday, 13 February 2008


The ENT thinks I may have otosclerosis. This is a condition where the stapes bone (the 'stirrup') in the middle ear becomes fused because of bone overgrowth. The stapes bone is the last bone in the middle ear (and the smallest bone in the body) leading from the ear drum to the cochlea. It transfers the vibration to the cochlea and ear nerve, which sends sound signals to the brain. If this diagnosis is correct, then my hearing loss is not age-related, high-frequency hearing loss (which is what I was told two years ago) but conductive hearing loss caused by a progressive disorder that can eventually lead to severe hearing impairment and ultimately total deafness. The rate at which this happens is described as 'gradual'.

Needless to say, I am sick about this. I have been reading online sources of information for the last three hours and my eyes are very tired. All the websites say the same thing. When I first read that this disorder, untreated, leads to deafness, I did burst into tears. But that didn't last very long. One thing at a time here. I am not deaf yet. I don't even know for sure that I have otosclerosis. One ENT at Nuneaton's GE Hospital thinks I might and has referred me on to the next guy. So just slow down.

If it turns out that I do have this, there are two alternatives, apparently:

1) Get a hearing aid and have hearing checked at least once a year to monitor hearing loss.

2) Surgery called a 'stapedectomy', which removes the stapes bone and replaces it with a plastic and platinum prosthesis.

Well, the very idea of having a prosthetic middle ear bone fills me with dread. Add to that the statistic that while 90% of patients enjoy improved hearing as a result, 9% have no improvement or worse hearing, and an amazing 1% of patients actually lose their hearing entirely as a result of this operation--WHAT! 1% of patients who just had a hearing loss when they went under knife, then come out 100% deaf! To me that is a chance that is just too high, at least right now. If my hearing were so far gone that I had nothing to lose, maybe. But right now I can hear. This specialist will have one hell of a time convincing me I need a prosthetic device in my middle ear. Even if it turned out successful for a time, I hope to live another 40 or 50 years! Will that thing last 40 or 50 years? Would I be just a very hard of hearing old lady without the prosthesis (letting the disorder proceed naturally) or a completely stone deaf old lady because my prosthetic devices slipped or caused necrosis? I just think now is not the time for surgical intervention.

More later.

May all beings be at ease.

Sunday, 10 February 2008

"I'm good enough, smart enough, and doggone it, people like me. "

I've been writing affirmations in my journal at the beginning of each month for years, but to be honest, they always felt forced and fake. Saying them to myself felt stupid, so I would write them, forget about them, glance at them with a guilty feeling every week or so, then reluctantly churn out a new set at the beginning of the next month. What good did that do me? What a useless exercise. Time to try something new!

Aspiration practice is different from affirmations. Affirmations are like telling yourself that you are brave and compassionate in order to hide the fact that you secretly feel like a loser. In practising the four limitless qualities, we aren't trying to convince ourselves of anything, nor are we trying to hide our true feelings. We are expressing our willingness to open our hearts and move close to our fears. Aspiration practice helps us to do this in increasingly difficult relationships.

~Pema Chodron, The Places that Scare You

(The four limitless qualities are loving-kindness, compassion, joy and equanimity.)

Affirmations are like screaming that you are okay in order to overcome this whisper that you are not. That's a big contrast to actually uncovering the whisper, realising that it's passing memory, and moving closer to all those fears and all those edgy feelings that maybe you're not okay. Well, no big deal. None of us is okay and all of us are fine. It's not just one way. We are walking, talking paradoxes.

~Pema Chodron, Start Where You Are

This is my contemplation for the week.

"Giving up hope is the most important ingredient for developing sanity and healing. As long as you're wanting to be thinner, smarter, more enlightened, less uptight, or whatever it might be, somehow you're always going to be approaching your problem with the very same logic that created it to begin with: that you're not good enough. That's why the habitual pattern never unwinds itself when you're trying to improve, because you go about it in exactly the same habitual style that caused all the pain to start.

...Whether you get meditation instruction from the Theravada tradition or the Zen tradition or the Vajrayana tradition, the basic instruction is always about being awake in the present moment. What they don't tell you is that the present moment can be you, this you about whom you sometimes don't feel very good. That's what there is to wake up to."

~Pema Chodron, Start Where You Are

When am I ever going to learn this lesson? What have affirmations ever got me, other than the uneasy feeling of lying to myself? It's time to embrace the truth of the matter. Am I ever going to be a grown-up, to be 'completely at home in my world, no matter how difficult the situation'? When am I going to know that I'm doing or thinking something because I want to and not because I ought to?

When I stop fighting it, that's when! I start where I am. I refresh my perspective. I already have everything I need.

We are one blink of an eye from being fully awake. Be at ease.

Saturday, 9 February 2008

What I eat

Anna requested vegans who have lost weight to tell her what they eat. So here goes:

I would say the bulk of my calories come from whole grains.I try not to repeat the same grain twice in one day--that's just a little thing I do, I have no idea if it is of any nutritional benefit other than variety. For example, if I have wheat toast for breakfast, I will have oats for a snack, quinoa at lunch and brown rice at dinner. Not wheat-wheat-wheat or rice-rice-rice. I also get in perhaps more seeds and nuts than the average person. I have tofu or other soy-based protein three or four times a week, beans some meals, and a few meals a week are just veg and whole grains. I get roughly 50-70g of protein per day, but I don't count them. I have no earthly idea how many calories, but a few half-hearted attempts at tracking it suggests somewhere around the 2000 calorie mark, I think. (Don't quote me!) I don't drink anything but morning coffee and then water for the rest of the day. That doesn't strike me as weird but people do seem to think it's odd. I don't drink fruit juice and count smoothies as food, not drink. I use soy milk in foods but do not drink it by the glass. I really do drink just water. That was a switch that was not hard to do, and now the thought of drinking a Coke just seems disgusting. I can't manage it; it's just too yuck. We also don't drink alcohol. I might have a glass of wine two or three times a year, but that's it. It's expensive, fattening and gives me a headache--who needs that?

Every other day I take a 10mcg B12 supplement. I look for products with B12 and calcium added, such as soy milk and soy yogurt and some fortified cereals. My favorite brand of veggie mince has B12 and omega-3 fatty acids added, that sort of thing. I try to add ground flaxseed to food when I remember it. I'm working on improving that. My cooking oils are primarily olive oil, extra virgin coconut oil and cold-pressed sunflower seed oil. I also use oils for flavour, such as macadamia nut oil, walnut oil and pumpkin seed oil, but not often. I know that there is a theory that nut and seed oils are not meant for human consumption, but I don't subscribe to it. I believe oils in moderation are good.

I don't use any products that are 'fat free.' They are highly processed and full of chemicals. I would rather eat real food.

I have eaten a primarily vegan diet for three years. We do occasionally have a bit of parmesan cheese on things, and a few of our vegetarian products contain albumen (egg white), but that is pretty much my only concession to animal products.

My day's food intake looks something like this:

Breakfast--wholemeal toast (at least 3.5g fibre per slice) with about a teaspoon of almond or cashew nut butter and a teaspoon of no-sugar-added strawberry (or other flavour) jam; black coffee; 1 pint water

Snack--muesli (whole, raw jumbo oats with a variety of dried fruit and nuts) soaked in unsweetened soymilk, sometimes with ground flaxseed and/or hemp protein powder added; 1 pint water

Lunch--chickpeas or some sort of bean or tofu or falafel, a cooked wholegrain such as brown rice or quinoa, or perhaps bulgur or wholemeal couscous, mixed salad leaves (I usually don't add a dressing, but when I do I use an oil and vinegar-based one, no fat free products) and a piece of fruit; 1 pint of water

Snack--fruit smoothie, sometimes with 90% pea protein or hemp protein added OR oatcakes with dried fruit in them OR brown rice cakes with a lentil pate spread OR a punnet of fresh berries with soy yogurt; a pint of water

(After work, I do my workouts. If I do a sculpt workout that has left me particularly shaky, I will have a small bowl of muesli or a smoothie with hemp or pea protein afterward, sometimes. And more water.)

Dinner--slow-cooked kale with caramelized onions and brown rice OR a nut cutlet and some steamed or roasted vegetables OR a vegan pizza on a wholemeal crust OR veggie tofu stirfry with a whole grain; another pint of water if I can manage it. Dinner doesn't always involve a protein. It depends on what I had for lunch.

I have enjoyed good health and my body has reached a normal weight on this diet. Of course, I've been exercising as well.

I use this rule of thumb when filling my plate: 1/2 the plate vegetables, 1/4 plate protein, 1/4 plate starch. It's sort of like the diagram below, only without the milk, and the starch has to be wholegrain.

This is what I shoot for, but in reality, what happens is I often get more starch than veg, despite my efforts. (And then of course there's the chocolate, biscuits and other rubbish I eat at work. Argh!)

Below is a vegan food pyramid. It happens to line up very well with the way my husband and I eat.

However, as I would like to shed a few more pounds, I think we may slowly transition to a different take on the vegan food pyramid, as seen below. If I were more conscientious about always using the foodplate model, my diet would line up better with this alternate food pyramid, which I think would lead to better weight loss success and overall health:

Just click the images to seem them up close.

We'll see how it goes with transitioning from the bulk of our food being grains and complex carbs to vegetables and fruits. I don't want DH to lose any weight. Just me!

May all beings be at ease!

Friday, 8 February 2008

Can you hear me now?

All my life I've heard a ringing in my ears. When I was a little kid, I usually only noticed it when the room was silent. It was at school that I first became aware of it. The first time I read the phrase, 'The silence rang in his ears,' I took it literally. Silence always rang in my ears. It wasn't until I mentioned it to a friend that I found out that silence does not ring. I couldn't imagine a complete absence of sound. I have never in my life heard it. I asked my dad about it, and he told me he'd always had a ringing in his ears as well.

From early childhood through adulthood, I suffered from many ear infections, complete with rupture of ear drums. The ringing in my ears stopped being the sound of silence and became the constant background noise of my life. In my early 30s, I began to have chronic sinus infections accompanied by pain in the ears that I would take big doses of Sudafed to try to ease. I also have a sensitivity to the barometric pressure and have suffered from sudden and intense headaches when a storm front moves in. Thankfully this happens less here in the UK, where the weather is less volatile.

I was told years ago by a doctor (and all my later doctors have confirmed) that I have extremely narrow ear canals, so I have also battled all my life with compacted ear wax. It may sound silly, but ear wax can really plague you. It stops up the ears, can lead to infections, interferes with your hearing and causes a dreadful feeling of blockage and congestion. I've syringed my own ears in the past using a turkey baster! When you're desperate you'll try anything.

So anyway, as the years passed, I didn't notice so much that my actual hearing was affected, because I taught school and had control (more or less) over the level of noise in my environment. But when I went to work in a library dealing with the public, it became clear that I was having trouble hearing speech, and it wasn't just down to the accents! I also finally realised how loud we keep our television (on my account--DH's hearing is fine) when we went to visit a friend, and we asked him to turn the TV up loud enough so that I could hear it, but he said he didn't play his TV that loud and turned it back down. As a result, I could not hear the program and so I lost interest. At home I tend to have the subtitles on when we watch TV or DVDs, and DH lets me hold the remote control so that I have complete control over pumping up the volume very loud during quiet speech and then turning it way down during loud noises. (I'm sure the sound folks who spent so much time mixing those movies would not be pleased!)

In 2006, I had my hearing assessed by an audiologist and was told that I was at the bottom of the normal range of hearing and had high frequency hearing loss. He advised that I may need a hearing aid in about 10 years.

Since that time, I feel that my life has become more profoundly affected by my hearing loss. I simply cannot understand conversations going on around me. I hear voices but not distinct words. I cannot hear what people are saying to me when they speak to me from a distance. I have to go over to them. If someone tries to say something to me conspiratorially in a low tone, forget it. I either smile and pretend I heard, or have to ask them to repeat it. I miss jokes and smile non-committally. I miss things in staff meetings and have to ask someone later what was said. Over the last 18 months or so, I have suffered from depression and anxiety about my hearing. On more than one occasion when I've had to ask my husband to repeat something more than once, I have burst into tears of frustration. In this time, my tinnitus (ringing in the ears) has grown worse. It is now more distinct and distracting than ever.

So what am I doing about this? I've been trying to work with the NHS toward a solution. There is no cure for nerve deafness; the only meaningful treatment is hearing devices. I've been waiting over three months to see an audiologist, and at last my appointment is next Wednesday. DH is going to go with me so that he can be there to help me talk to the audiologist and take in all the information that is given, and help me remember to ask questions about my treatment. I have an appointment with a nurse next Monday to get my ears syringed so that they will be nice and clean for the hearing assessment. (I saw the GP yesterday, and she said my left ear was nearly completely blocked with wax. *sigh*)

I have been researching the types of hearing devices for my type of hearing loss for over a year. The NHS does free hearing aids, but they are not very aesthetically pleasing and there is a waiting list of 1-2 YEARS for them. I cannot live like this for another two years. So I am going to get the NHS's prescription and go private.

For high frequency hearing loss, the top of the line technology is the open-fit digital hearing aid. There are many models, but so far I am attracted to the Oticon Delta. I have found three hearing aid dispensers in the nearby city of Coventry who sell the Oticon Delta, so as soon as I get my hearing assessed by the NHS, I intend to make an appointment and go see if they think this line is the right line for me. Have a look at this:

And here's what it looks like when you're wearing it:

All you can see is that teeny tiny little tube. It's virtually invisible and it has up-to-the-minute digital technology. It has been designed for mild to moderate high frequency hearing loss, which is what I've got. The open fitting means that sounds are more natural, the occluded feeling of in-the-ear hearing aids is avoided, as is the problem with chewing and noises inside your head. (People who wear in-the-ear devices can tell you about the cacaphony of eating!) When the canal is left open, some of those soundwaves can escape, allowing for a more natural sound. In the past, open canals led to feedback problems, but the digital technology overcomes that problem. Plus, it's teeny tiny! And it comes in loads of colours! And it's teeny tiny!

More to follow as this journey continues...

May all beings be at ease.

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

New toy!

The slanted risers arrived yesterday! Tonight I am going to do the cardio DVD that came with them, as DH will be busy filling in a job application. We will do strength training tomorrow. They are so cool. They make the inclined step very comfortable, so I bet DH and I will have to flip a coin over who gets to use them when. I guess we will have to just alternate workouts. The cardio workout is only 30 minutes, so I might tack on a second one afterward, depending how I feel. Full report later!

Edited to add:

I did the slanted riser cardio workout. It was only 30 minutes and not too taxing, so I added two step combos from Cathe's Low Impact Circuit to round it out. I'm sure the risers will be wonderful for what I bought them for--inclining the bench for weight lifting. But until someone else comes out with a more interesting slanted riser step workout, I probably won't use it much for cardio. Still, it's nice to have a short cardio for days when I can't be asked to work very hard.

Anyway, these risers are made of plastic, so the initial investment will eventually pay for itself. I'll still have this thing when I'm old and grey. Heck, it will still be here long after I'm gone, and some anthropologist will think it's some sort of altar to consumerism on which the flower of youth was sacrificed. (Actually, maybe that's what it is!)

May all beings be at ease.

Monday, 4 February 2008

Comtemplation of the Week

"However daunting a situation may seem, as soon as we say or do something, it is suddenly transformed. When the door of hesitation is unlocked, we enter a dynamic, fluid world, which challenges us to act and act again. The most soul-searching meditation on ethics leaves the world intact; a single word or deed can transform it forever."

~Stephen Batchelor, Buddhism without Beliefs

This week, may I remember that my thoughts and actions matter. I can make a difference. I do make a difference.

May my words and deeds this week be skillful.

May all beings be at ease.

Sunday, 3 February 2008

Three new books

I got three books for my birthday this year, all having to do with Buddhism and meditation!

Meditation Bliss: Inspirational Techniques for Finding Calm by David Fontana is such a cute little book. It's a paperback book targeted at teenage girls (according to the publisher), but I find it very appealing. It's filled with really lovely artwork, pretty girls in meditative poses in a variety of settings. The colours are muted pastels, and the text is gentle, encouraging and simple. There is basic information here about how to get started with meditation, and various techniques you can use in meditation, such as mindful breathing, affirmations, loving kindness, mantra recitation, mandalas, chakras, koans, letting go of the past, chanting OM, kin-hin (walking meditation), and more. The book does not approach meditation from any particular spiritual tradition, so appropriate for anyone interested in learning to meditate. Highly recommended, although it is a bit girly!

The second book is Buddhist Peace Recipes by Pushpesh Pant. I've never seen a Buddhist cookbook before, so I was thrilled to receive this from a friend at work. The recipes contained in this book are purely vegetarian, as you would expect of a Buddhist cookbook, and there are full colour photographs of each recipe. It's a lovely book. The book introduces the reader to the concept of the middle way and Ayurvedic, Tibetan and Chinese medicine. The recipes are then divided into soups & salads, snacks, starters, main course, rice & noodles and desserts. There is no real attempt to explain why each recipe is particularly "Buddhist", but there is a note of interest about Buddhist thought accompanying each recipe. Here's one:

Padmabha (Padma, the lotus, represents the seat of awakened knowledge, the heart. The reddish hue symbolises compassion and the discriminating deployment of energy. This curried dish is from the Thai Buddhist reertoire.)

6 oz tofu, cut in cubes
3-4 sliced red chilies
2 cups coconut milk
1 Tbs red curry paste
3 Tbs light soy sauce
2 tsp palm sugar
8 oz mushrooms
4 oz green beans
4 torn kaffir leaves
coriander leaves to garnish
salt and black pepper to taste

Heat 1/3 the coconut milk in a saucepan. Add the curry paste, soy sauce and sugar. Mix well. Add mushrooms stir and cook for a minute and a half. Stir in the remaining coconut milk and bring to boil. Add green beans and tofu and simmer until vegetables are cooked and gravy is just enough to coat. Salt and pepper to taste.
Add kaffir lime, chilies. Garnish with coriander.

The third book is Meditating with Mandalas by David Fontana. It is so beautiful! The book contains a fairly lengthy (50 pages) introduction to mandalas and how to meditate with them, the remainder of the book presents 52 full colour mandalas with accompanying suggestions for meditation. The mandala that appears on the cover of the book is called 'Nature's Harmony'. The author offers these suggestions for using this mandala:

1. Look at the sky, with its heavenly bodies, in the corners of this mandala. Then progress through the outer frame of the lotus motifs. You find yourself symbolically in the realm of mountains and clouds.
2. Pass through the next circle into the greenery of nature, where trees, plants, birds and insects abound. This is Eden, the natural paradise.
3. Finally, penetrate the mystic centre, which borrows from nature to express its divine creativity. Imagine the central circle as the cross section of a shaft of light that drills into your deepest self to awaken the spirit.

I'm sorry the image of the cover isn't really big enough for you to see details. The mandalas in the book are 9"x9", which is plenty big enough to see all the wonderful, detailed, meticulously coloured art work. I look forward to practising with this book--as soon as I buy a book stand! The instructions tell you to gaze at the mandala in the usual sitting meditation posture, with hands in dhyana mudra. So I need a bookstand, because I'd hate to prop this thing up and have it slide off my altar, possibly knocking over a candle and at the very least leaving me feeling none too peaceful! :)

I love my new books and am so grateful to have received them. Wonderful gifts, all!

May all beings be at ease.

Friday, 1 February 2008

I couldn't resist this. It's a journal that exists only to provide a separate place to log workouts--and you get to track them by filling in little white spaces with gel highlighters! It's just too much for my OCD to pass up!

The thing arrived yesterday. I sat and filled in all of January, set up my color-code for Feb and oh, joy of joys, it's 1st February and I can use this product as nature intended.

Basically for each day you get some lines to write down whatever info you see fit (for me it's the name of the workouts, time in minutes, and in some cases the amount of weight lifted). Then the real star--the little blank boxes. You get to designate a color and an area for everything you want to track, then if you do those things you color them in. If you don't you leave them white. The point being that a lack of color will motivate you to DO something to get to the unspeakable joy of using your pens and then seeing the glorious day-glo result. Yes!

I have chosen the following for the month of Feb:

purple--mandala meditation
blue--sitting meditation (zazen)
light blue--hours of sleep (this is in place of tracking glasses of water since I only drink water...)
green--no 'self' talk
yellow--no snacks in the staff room
light orange--cardio
orange--strength training
red--quality time with hubby

For today, I got to make 6 blue dots for sleep, a green for talk, an orange for strength training, but I did have snacks in the staff room and so far I've been online and DH has been watching TV so no quality time yet. No meditation yet either, but I'm so eager to get to that blue highlighter that I'm just about to go and sit for 15 minutes.

Isn't it weird what we can find motivational!

Hm, I wonder if this new thing would count as 'doing something different' for my No Diet Diet. Probably not, as scribbling cryptic little markings in multiple colors has always been one of my little kinks. I need to get back with Mark and find out when we're starting that up again with Phase 2!

May all beings be at ease.