Tuesday, 29 April 2008

A Thousand Splendid Suns

Ah! How beautiful is Kabul encircled by her arid mountains
And Rose, of the trails of thorns she envies
Her gusts of powdered soil, slightly sting my eyes
But I love her, for knowing and loving are born of this same dust

My song exhalts her dazzling tulips
And at the beauty of her trees, I blush
How sparkling the water flows from Pul-I-Bastaan!
May Allah protect such beauty from the evil eye of man!

Khizr chose the path to Kabul in order to reach Paradise
For her mountains brought him close to the delights of heaven
From the fort with sprawling walls, A Dragon of protection
Each stone is there more precious than the treasure of Shayagan

Every street of Kabul is enthralling to the eye
Through the bazaars, caravans of Egypt pass
One could not count the moons that shimmer on her roofs
And the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls

Her laughter of mornings has the gaiety of flowers
Her nights of darkness, the reflections of lustrous hair
Her melodious nightingales, with passion sing their songs
Ardent tunes, as leaves enflamed, cascading from their throats

And I, I sing in the gardens of Jahanara, of Sharbara
And even the trumpets of heaven envy their green pastures

Saib-e-Tabrizi 17th Century

When I think about Afghanistan, I think instantly of burkas, bearded men, bony little boys carrying machine guns, dust and flies, degradation and terror. I see billows of smoke rising from the Twin Towers, the surreal sight of a plane disappearing into it in a ball of fire.

When I think of the women of Afghanistan, my only image is this famous portrait, 'Afghan Girl', which featured on the cover of National Geographic in 1985. (It turns out she was a refugee during the Soviet War around which so much of this novel revolves.)

There are so many things about Afghanistan that I never really considered. The people there are real. They feel the way I feel. They long for the things I long for: love, security, freedom, fulfillment. For many Afghans, these things have been denied them by forces entirely outside their control. I knew this, but I didn't know it. Few things can bring home to you the big picture of a people better than a close look at an individual life.

'A Thousand Splendid Suns' is the story of two Afghan women, Mariam and Laila, brought together by circumstance as the wives of the same man, Rasheed. He doesn't love either of them; instead he is terribly abusive to both--to Mariam because she failed to give him a child, and later to Laila because she bore a daughter instead of a son. The two could not have been more different, Mariam a plain-looking bastard daughter of a wealthy cinema owner, who refused to acknowledge her publicly and who married her off, after her mother died, to the far older Rasheed when she was just 15. Laila the blonde, green-eyed daughter of a gentle scholar who treasured her beyond all measure. We see them forging a bond as they survive life with Rasheed and under the oppressive Taliban rule. Spanning fron 1974 (when Mariam was 15) to 2003, the novel shows the Afghan refugee crisis not through the lense of a television news camera, but from the point of view of two wounded and helpless women.

At its heart, though, this is not the story of Afghanistan. It is in some ways a cliched family saga. The plot is predictable, the ending as satisfying as one of those 'problem' dramas seen on daytime television. In other words, you don't have to be afraid of it because it's won a few awards. It's not literary fiction--it's just a good read, which might change your perspective on what's been going on in the Middle East for the last 30 years.

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Cardio Dance Fusion

I'll start this review by saying that I did this workout for the first time at 6.30 this morning, so I don't recall much of it in very great detail!

This workout is touted as an intermediate workout, and I think that is an apt description. It's a cardio workout with some dancy moves rather than a dance routine that gives you a workout, and for that I am grateful. I am not a dancer, was not on the drillteam in high school, and barely managed to pass American square and round dancing to earn one of my two requisite PE credits in university. (For the other credit, I chose archery.) So to say I am not graceful is an understatement. Fortunately for me, this workout only mildly resembles dance, and could be intimidating only to beginning exercisers or people who do Body Pump style workouts exclusively.

I don't know why I keep buying these Transfirmation era Firm workouts. I haven't really liked any Firm workout since the BSS4 series. I guess it's misguided loyalty to the force that started me on my fitness journey. I have just found the last several Firm workouts to be lackluster and a bit on the boring side. Some of them are abysmally cued, although thankfully Alison is the lead on this one, and she is very, very good at cueing.

The workout consists of a warmup, a 'club' segment, a 'Latin' segment, a 'Jive' segment, a rather long cooldown/plie segment and some stretches. All together it's just shy of 45 minutes. I suppose out of all of them, the plie segment was my favourite. It made me feel a bit like a beginning dance student doing stretches and moves in practice. I also enjoyed the Jive segment because I could actually follow the steps fairly well and we spent a lot of time in the air so my heart rate got up. I have never liked Latin dance moves as I am completely uncoordinated and don't enjoy all that hip grinding cha cha cha type stuff. Plus my heart rate fell during that segment, so I felt as if I had not used 10 minutes of my workout time to the utmost. I need to be burning off cookies and bread during my workout, not standing in the floor taking little mincing cha cha cha steps with my elbows out. But someone who never exercises would certainly have got their heart rate up doing that, and it is an intermediate workout.

Don't get me wrong, I did work up a sweat, and I do intend to do the workout again, probably. But it's going to be something I only grab when I don't feel like working hard or I can't face the Club Step.

Bottom line: If you like real dance, this might disappoint. If you want to workout really hard, this will definitely disappoint. But if you want a middle-of-the-road cardio that doesn't use the step or require much of you (no dips or lunges for example), then you might want to give this one a try.

Viewing on Friday!

Today I paid £250 security deposit on a 2004 Ford KA Collection in vitro green. Some guy on eBay is selling one and has a 12-photo slide show, so click this and you can see what my new car is going to look like. (If we decide to go for that one, of course. It's subject to viewing).

Ford KA Collection, vitro green

Friday, 18 April 2008

We have a winner: Ford KA!

After much deliberation and backward-and-forwarding, we briefly decided to go for a VW Fox, with the proviso that if the sales guy at VW couldn't provide us exactly what we wanted, we would default instantly to the KA. (To be honest, we liked the KA best from the outset, but our heads were turned by the prestige of the VW badge. I must admit I had misgivings and hesitation about the Fox due to the wishy-washy nature of the reviews from reputable sources such as Which?, What Car, and Top Gear. And most of those same sources came through with strong support for the KA.) I called the guy at VW yesterday and was told that it was 'very impossible' to find a VW Fox with air conditioning. As air con was our one and only requirement, that pretty much finished Fox's brief claim to our hard earned cash! I then called the young guy at the Ford place and told him what we were seeking in a KA and he said, 'No problem.' So it looks like we're getting a Ford KA! We are looking for a 2006 Ford KA Style Climate, and Short Round (as we have nicknamed the young sales guy who's working with us) seems to think he can find one real quick.

It turns out that no less than 4 of my colleagues at work drive a Ford KA. Every one of them said to me that they would recommend it unreservedly. One lady is on her second KA (they've been around 12 years now). Another lady has a Ford KA and a Ford Escort. She says they never use the Escort and she would like to trade it for an additional KA!

Insurance is a bit of bugbear because DH is a new driver and I'm a learner driver on a provisional licence, but having shopped it to death, I've found a quote for an only moderately painful £392 a year. (The quotes varied wildly from £360 to over £1000!) That's with Liverpool Victoria, so I believe we will go with them when the time comes.

This is the interior of the Ford KA. We like the curvy design and DH found the controls and dials easy to see and understand. I'm of the opinion that if you can't tell what everything is the minute you get behind the wheel of a car, the design is flawed. There are too many twiddly bits and cutesy touches in most cars these days. They cause distraction and undue stress!

Here's a close-up shot of controls. Nice and clear and simple and attractive!

The rear seats fold down to allow for a pretty decent amount of storage space when needed. I mean, you can't haul your mum's prized china cabinet in it, but I'm sure we can fit in enough tofu and canned beans to last us a decade in that thing! Tesco here we come!

Anyway, Short Round assures us he can get us into one for £5000. The What Car target price for a brand new KA Style Climate is £6960; Parkers suggests that a franchised dealer should sell a 2006/56 Ford KA 1.3i (70 ps) Style Climate with an average mileage of 20,000 for £5430. So all in all, I think we are negotiating a good deal. Can't wait to see what he finds for us!

Wednesday, 16 April 2008


I just spent over an hour (about three total over the last couple of days) applying online for a secondment that closes tomorrow. When I tried to save it after all that time, it disappeared. It is now after midnight. I'm NOT typing it all again. It's my fault for not doing it in Word first, I know.

I'm chalking it up as not meant to be. It was only a six month maternity leave cover anyway.

Man, I feel so dumb. I would love to hurt my computer--or at least that stupid website!

I feel very bummed out and utterly useless, particularly having spent the last hour writing a long brag-a-thon about what a competent and IT literate person I am. Rubbish. I can type fast, that's about it.


Car shopping

We went car shopping yesterday and tried three cars: Ford Ka, Volkswagen Fox, and Toyota Yaris. Still in the running are Ford Ka and VW Fox.

Ford Ka

The Ford Ka is very popular because it is cheap and cheerful. Despite its lack of street cred (like that matters to me), What Car guide gives it four out of five stars overall, and five out of five for reliability. DH enjoyed driving it and felt comfortable in it.

Ford Ka interior view

The front seats feel roomy and the dashboard is simple and friendly. The rear seat is very cramped, and there is hardly any boot space at all, but that doesn't matter so much because we wouldn't be carting around passengers very often, and with the cost of petrol I don't think we'll be buying any big items that need hauling!

One advantage of Ford is it is cheap and easy to maintain; parts are cheap and any garage anywhere can deal with a Ford.

Volkswagen Fox

Our other choice is the VW Fox, in particular the Urban Fox. The Fox is a newer car in the VW range, replacing the Lupo in 2006. They are VW's cheapest and smallest car. The ride in the VW was smoother than the other two we tested, and the engine had that distinctive VW growl, which I find appealing. The interior has a stark and simple design making it easy to use. Overall the car has a solid feel, and the colourful stripey seats are a happy and quirky note. There is plenty of room for two adults in the back seat, and the boot is larger than the Ford Ka. Which Car gives it three out of five stars, and can't rate it on reliablity yet because it hasn't been out long enough, but says it is comparable to the Polo.

Volkswagen maintenance is more expensive than Ford, but I wonder if it will need to be worked on as often.

Fox dashboard

Fox rear seats

So now we just have to decide which we want. Any input would be greatly appreciated!!

(About the Toyota Yaris...

I thought the ride was terrible and DH felt very uncomfortable trying to drive it and deal with the gear box. Overall, it was an unpleasant experience for us, so even though it is recommended with four stars by What Car, and in spite of the good reputation of Toyota overall, we are giving this car a miss. We just don't like it.)

May all beings be at ease.

Friday, 11 April 2008

So far so good!

I started the week about two pounds heavier than I weighed this morning. This is a good sign that my rotation is working! Here are the workouts I've planned for the '60 Days to Summer' rotation:

This week
6--Leg Conditioning from 'Kick Max' and Legs & Glutes Standing from 'Kick Punch and Crunch'
7--Firm Express Cardio
8--Aerobic Body Shaping (triceps still sore from this one!)
9--Fat Blasting Cardio
10-Lower Body Sculpt I
11-Firm Calorie Killer
12-REST--Kundalini Yoga Journey thru the Chakras

Next week
13-Slow&Heavy Chest and Back
15-Total Muscle Shaping
16-Basic Step
17-Slow&Heavy Biceps and Triceps
18-Cardio Sculpt Blaster
19-20-weekend trip to Liverpool

Week Three
21-Jiggle Free Abs, Abs add-on from Aerobic Body Shaping DVD, Ab segment from Cathe's Body Fusion DVD
22-Kick Punch and Crunch premix
23-Total Body Sculpting plus Abs
24-Advanced Step Challenge
25-Abs segments from Complete Aerobics and Weight Training and Maximum Cardio Burn
26-Cardio Dance Fusion

Day before yesterday I ordered two new Firm DVDs: Cardio Dance Fusion and Total Body Toner.
I just got an email that Total Body Toner has been shipped! And of course, Rhythmic Step is winging its way to my as we speak! (Thanks, Morandia!)

May all beings be at ease.

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Coffee and cases

I ordered Teeccino online the other day because of my new issues with palpitations. (By the way, they haven't recurred since I decided to give coffee and chocolate a miss. If they come back, I will go to the quack, promise!)

I bought the Teeccino in three flavours: Java, Mocha, and Vanilla Nut. The main ingredient in this 'herbal coffee' is roasted carob, followed by barley, chicory, almonds, dates, figs, and depending on the flavour, various other natural ingredients. The product is brewed exactly the same as real coffee, so you don't have to miss out on the pleasure of the brewing process. I love using a coffee press, so am pleased that I get to continue my tradition. The resulting brew is wonderfully dark black and aromatic. It is caffeine free and serving contains 65mg of potassium, 2g of fibre and 335mg of something called 'inulin'. I looked it up to confirm the claims on the label: It's a substance that occurs naturally in chicory root (and other things, but this herbal coffee mixture doesn't contain other sources). It is thought to boost gut and colonic health, help the body absorb calcium, and may also aid in absorption of iron from plant foods. Nice side effect, then.

But how does it taste? So far I have only tried the Java and the Vanilla Nut. The Java has a slightly bitter edge, mildly reminiscent of that bitter stuff in the middle of a pecan. There are other subtle flavours involved, but the distinctive sour taste of the chicory is fairly heavy. The Vanilla Nut, for me, goes down much better. The ingredients listed differ only by the addition of natural vanilla extract, but I think perhaps the other ingredients have been mixed in different proportions. When I drank the Java, I was not very much reminded of coffee. It was trying too hard to do a coffee impersonation, somehow, which made me search for coffee-ness and not find it. (That's my theory anyway). When I took my first sip of Vanilla Nut, I was pleasantly surprised to find that somehow it did taste something like coffee, albeit coffee with 'other stuff' in it (like a flavoured coffee). Maybe it was because my palate was distracted by the pleasant sweetness of the vanilla. I think they put more fig in this mixture as well. It has a lovely floral aroma and is very good. I will order more Vanilla Nut. Can't wait to try the Mocha!

The only drawback is the cost. I don't know why when people import things to this country they merely change the dollar sign to a pound sign. That means I end up paying twice as much for the same product, as the exchange rate is nearly $2.00 to £1.00. So Americans pay $5.95 for a can of this, I paid £5.95. In essence, $12.00 for a can. I should be used to this by now, but the injustice of it! I don't buy the notion that it costs importers a lot to bring it in. Tough! Give me a mark up of £1.00, fine, but why double the cost every single time! Argh. But the fact remains, if I want the product I have to pay for it. That's all there is to it.

On another note, I spent a happy two hours last night transferring my workout DVDs from their standard 14mm wide cases into 7mm superslim cases. This involved trimming about 1/8 inch from each end of the jacket to insert under the clear plastic part, but I did this while watching Battlestar Galactica. My workouts went from taking up one and half shelves to 3/4 of a single shelf--more room to buy more workouts! Huzzah!

May all beings be at ease.

Saturday, 5 April 2008

60 Days to Summer

(It's actually 77 days, but this is a rotation for 60 workouts...)

Time to start training for summer tank tops and shorts! I nicked this rotation from the Firm website--it's by Kirsten Palmer, and is actually targeted at June brides. (She calls it '60 Days to Wedding Ready'). But never mind! We can all melt some fat and be set to show off those guns in the golden summer sun!

Week 1: Heavy sculpting, focus on the lower body
Workout 1: Sculpt – lower body
Workout 2: Short cardio
Workout 3: Full length cardio+sculpt
Workout 4: Short cardio
Workout 5: Sculpt – lower body
Workout 6: Short cardio

Week 2: Heavy sculpting, focus on the upper body
Workout 1: Sculpt – upper body
Workout 2: Short cardio
Workout 3: Full length cardio+sculpt
Workout 4: Short cardio
Workout 5: Sculpt – upper body
Workout 6: Short cardio

Week 3: Focus on the core
Workout 1: Sculpt – abs/core
Workout 2: Short cardio
Workout 3: Full length cardio+sculpt
Workout 4: Short cardio
Workout 5: Sculpt – abs/ core
Workout 6: Short cardio

Week 4: Heavy sculpting for the whole body
Workout 1: Sculpt – total body
Workout 2: Short cardio
Workout 3: Full length cardio+sculpt
Workout 4: Short cardio
Workout 5: Sculpt – total body
Workout 6: Short cardio

Week 5: Cardio and total body emphasis
Workout 1: Full length cardio+sculpt
Workout 2: Short cardio
Workout 3: Full length cardio+sculpt
Workout 4: Short cardio
Workout 5: Full length cardio+sculpt

Week 6: Increased cardio
Workout 1: Full length cardio+sculpt
Workout 2: Long cardio
Workout 3: Full length cardio+sculpt
Workout 4: Short cardio
Workout 5: Full length cardio+sculpt

Week 7: Increased cardio
Workout 1: Full length cardio+sculpt
Workout 2: Long cardio
Workout 3: Full length cardio+sculpt
Workout 4: Long cardio
Workout 5: Full length cardio+sculpt

Week 8: Full throttle cardio!
Workout 1: Full length cardio+sculpt
Workout 2: Long cardio
Workout 3: Full length cardio+sculpt
Workout 4: Long cardio
Workout 5: Full length cardio+sculpt
Workout 6: Long cardio

“The Final Four”: Stay active but choose short workouts
Workout 1: Short cardio+sculpt
Workout 2: Short cardio
Workout 3: Short cardio+sculpt
Workout 4: Short cardio

DH will be left out a few of those weeks where the focus is cardio, but he can always work out on his own. Plus there's no yoga, but I may be able to add some on short cardio or rest days.

I am starting this new rotation tomorrow! Exciting! I've been floundering for the last couple of months, just grabbing something somewhat at random--good to have a goal again!


I haven't posted in a while; I've been really stressed out. I've been challenged emotionally lately, particularly at work, and I haven't been dealing with it well. I've talked to my line manager... Overall, I've just been talking too much. Nothing has happened that can't be reigned in at this point. I just feel I have to curb my emotional response to things. I've always been emotional and an overthinker, but I must stop handing control of my life over to outside agents. I need to remember:

The only person I can control is myself.

The only person I can change is myself.

I can choose how to respond to things that upset me.

I can choose to care or not to care about a situation.

These sound great, but how can I put them into practice? I remember a long time ago reading (in Stephen Covey and later in Dr Phil) about a magic moment between stimulus and response, a sort of golden moment when you can make a choice about how you are going to respond to something. I have always had trouble identifying that moment, because I launch directly into my response. The resulting behaviour is often not at all what I would have liked to have happened. I later spend a lot of time ruminating and worrying over what I may or may not have said or done. What technique can I use to help myself slow down and find that split second before the response, so that I can make a better choice in what to do or say next?

I have read a lot in the last few years about mindfulness. In fact, the crux of this blog was meant to be about mindful living, but over the last several months
I have strayed from that and become embroiled in worries, doubts, fears, my own emotions and ego, and most damaging of all, I have clung tightly to the delusion of security and permanence. All the changes confronting me at the moment have revealed how I've never really let go of that delusion. The vain wish that things will stay the same, or that they can be perfect, has caused me much suffering of late. My teachers, Thich Nhat Hanh and Pema Chodron in particular, have told through their writings that I will be happier and more fulfilled if I stay mindful of the moment. If I detach myself a bit from my life and observe it. I have repeated this lesson to myself so many times, but I so often fail to put it into practice. When I feel an emotion, I am not meant to become that emotion but to observe that emotion. We say, 'I am angry. I am sad. I am happy. I am afraid.' It's just occurred to me that this language tells me that I AM the emotion. That there is nothing else about me other than that emotion. 'I am angry' is almost the same as saying 'I am anger' and it is certainly the case that when I am angry I do feel like the very embodiment of anger and I surrender myself to being anger, with predictable resulting behaviour.

Pema Chodron suggests that we take note of an emotion by labelling it. 'I am feeling angry. I am feeling sad.' Thich Nhat Hanh goes even further and uses language that distances us further from the emotion: 'I feel an emotion. There is a feeling of anger.' Both teachers advise identifying the emotion and taking detached note of the accompanying physical symptoms. 'There is a feeling of anger. My heart is pounding. There is a tingling sensation through my body.' It is at this point that we are taught to breathe deeply into the moment and watch ourselves feeling both the emotion and its physical effects. In all honesty, I have never, ever been able to take note of my emotions and, as Pema Chodron puts it, 'lean into them'. I have always, always leapt off the cliff face of an emotion into the turbulent seas of responsive behaviour.

But Monday is a new day. I think I will take a little statue of the Buddha or some other token to put on my desk to remind me of the techniques I have been taught by such wise teachers.

May all beings be at ease.