Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Wonderful break

I have been off work since 4 pm, 24th December. It has been WONDERFUL! Hubby and I have done absolutely nothing but eat and watch DVDs. We didn't exchange gifts this year, but we have been having an awesome holiday just lazing about. Make no mistake, we have done a workout each day (today's was Cathe's Kick Punch & Crunch, and man am I sore from it already!), but it's been soooo nice to just watch UK's Strongest Man and Star Wars and so on, and eat biscuit after biscuit and drink cup after cup of coffee.

When Hubby visited his parents last week, they gave us £50 each for Christmas, so you won't need three guesses to figure out what I've been doing. I ordered a tarot deck and a book about tarot! The rest of the money I hope to spend on a couple of new workouts, as soon as something catches my eye. Unless I buy something tarot-related with it first.

The deck I chose just really amused me and I had to have it.

The Housewive's Tarot

It's described as 'Far from Heaven' and 'Leave It to Beaver' meet the Rider-Waite-Smith tarot deck. Packaged in a retro-style recipe box, sporting red and cream gingham backs, all the cards are illustrated with graphics taken from period advertisements. It is absolutely hilarious, and gets great reviews all over the internet.

Here's the website (although it doesn't tell you much): www.housewivestarot.com

The Devil card is a chocolate cake with long, stockinged legs, holding a cigarette in one hand and a martini in the other. The Judgement card is a lady whose butt has been morphed into a rump roast standing aghast on a bathroom scale. And the Death card is a jar of out of date mayonnaise with flies on it, surrounded by rotting tomatoes. Every card I've seen online has made me laugh. Had to have it. I love all things 50s retro. I may have to have a 50s retro day when this arrives, and watch 'Pleasantville'.

I also bought a book called Pictures from the Heart: A Tarot Dictionary, which is highly recommended and contains explanations of tarot symbolism. Can't wait to see that!

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Four of Pentacles

This card makes me smile because I can so relate to it. A young man sits on a bit of stonemasonry in front of a smallish city/townscape. Swathed in a dark cloak, he has wrapped himself around four golden pentacle coins. Hunched over the one in his lap, arms wrapped around it, chin resting on it, he has two more under his feet and one balanced on his head! He looks for all the world like a little kid trying his best to hoard all the toys, or like a puppy that has gathered things around itself, gripping them in its mouth and between its paws.

He's nicknamed the miser and he gets a lot of flak, but I can't help but warm to the old boy.

'Me! Mine!' says this card. He's just a young thing, look at that face. It's open and innocent--it's practically guileless. He has earned a bit of cash, or gained some sort of security, a bit of groundedness, a bit of whatever it is that makes him feel safe--and he ain't letting go. He doesn't want to lose it. His face says, 'This is mine. You can't have it, thank you very much. I'm not interested in taking yours, but I'm going to make sure you don't slip up and get what's mine. Those over there are YOUR toys. These here are MY toys. You don't touch my stuff, I won't touch your stuff. We'll both be happy.'

A lot of people are living their lives at Four of Pentacles level. I know I do. I certainly wish no harm on anyone. In fact, I wish prosperity and joy to all of them. I don't want to take what anyone has got, and I don't spend time envying what they have, either. I just want what I've got--MY money, MY time, MY energy, MY attention--and I'm not willing to give one iota of any of it to anything not of MY choosing. It's not personal--I just come first. To me, that's what this card means. It's saying, 'I don't wish ill on anyone, but this stuff is mine and I intend to keep it.'

Look at that guy's face. He's leaning toward you. He has an open expression. He's willing to be your friend. He'll definitely talk to you. Might share ideas, a laugh, maybe have a real heart to heart. He might even decide to give you one of the coins--if HE decided to. Because HE wanted to. (He probably won't but he might!)

Of course, I know that this is a low level of personal development. We have to learn eventually that no amount of clinging is going to protect us from loss. But this lesson, I think, is hardest in the area that pentacles represents: things of this world. The physical realm, our comfort as physical beings. Think about it. For all your big talk, would you willingly ease your grip on your warm home, your supply of clean water, your endless access to food, your physical survival and comfort? I bet not. And that's just one level of worldly clinging that this card addresses. Surely we can all relate.

Overall, this is probably not 'technically' a positive card. It shows there's some growth required. But I believe it's a very human card, and sometimes, a necessary card. Certainly a very normal phase, at the least.

I'm honest enough to say, when it comes to altruism, I'm not quite there yet. Neither is the lad on this card. The two of us, we understand each other.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Three of Pentacles

An archway, beneath which are 3 more archways. 3 circles within 3 circles--3 pentacles within the circles. Three is the number of creativity, results and achievement, and that's what this card is about.

The pentacles are worked into the stonemasonry of a church--they are not coins. This the only card in which the pentacles are not depicted on gold disks. To me this means this card is less about money and more about the actual labour of our hands, its products, and how we get the concept of the work out of ourselves and manifested as a finished thing. The creative process, then the physical process.

In the left arch stands a stonemason. He is elevated on a crude wooden bench, in the middle of doing some carving. His head is above the heads of the other figures in the scene--possibly because as he is the one who brings the vision from idea to reality, he is the superior--he is the one doing the magic of craftsmanship.

There are 2 figures in the right archway. One is wearing a rather outlandish cape and hood in blazing red and orange. Perhaps he is dressed in the 'current fashion' of his age, which always denotes affluence and looks very impressive at that moment, but also always looks ridiculous a few years later. He is probably wealthy and he obviously has his own ideas about how the mason's work should look. He is most likely the architect of the design, or a patron--but he lacks the skill to bring his idea to fruition. He might represent creativity or creative spark.

The other figure is a cowled monk. This is his church. He appears to be listening very intently to the exchange between the mason and the man holding the plans. In some ways, he is caught between the two of them--he can neither design nor create. And yet, he is still very important. He has the power to veto everything, stop the project entirely. He is the last word. He also seems to represent tradition and authority.

The card seems, then, to represent tensions:

  • fashion/trends/fads vs tradition/ authority
  • the inner guide of the artisan vs constraints from the outside
  • seeking guidance from the two (creativity/trends and tradition) yourself
The three figures might also represent the three aspect of the self: the physical (mason), the mental (the architect), and the spiritual (the monk)--but that to me seems quite forced. The pentacles are in the stonework, so the mason is the star of the show here.

So this card is about how you approach your worldly concerns--the way you make a living, the way you approach worldly things. Whether you seek guidance or follow your own inner guide. Whether you follow the latest fad or go with the traditional route. And what the outside world thinks of your work--and how you let that affect you.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Two of Pentacles

I step into the frame of the card and suddenly I am in a port town. I can smell the sea and hear the waves lapping. There's the oceany smell of fish and salt, the call of gulls, and the sound men working on their boats and on the docks. Hammering and bells. Waves are crashing heavily against the beach somewhere in the distance.

The juggler is on a boardwalk, and there are lots of people around. This is a crowded, busy place. The people are dressed in clothing of a bygone age. Mixed eras. Aran sweaters. Ladies in long skirts with kerchiefs on their heads. No one is paying any attention to the juggler, though he by far is the most colorful and outlandishly dressed. He is switching two disks from hand to hand while stepping from one foot to the other. It seems an odd thing to do, but he makes it look natural. He keeps the disks moving in a figure 8 motion, but there is no band of infinity visible around them. His expression is neither happy nor unhappy; he watches the disks closely as he passes them from hand to hand. People keep brushing past us and some of them bump into him, but he keeps juggling.

'How long have you been doing this?' I ask.

'Long time,' he answers, still looking at the disks.

'Is it work?' I ask.

'More like a calling,' he says.

I frown and look around. Everyone is so busy, going about their seaside tasks. Men in boats, women with baskets of fish, laundry, towing at little children. There's a bustle, but it is a quiet bustle, steady. It fits in with the setting. Everything is muted in tone, lots of misty grey. The sky seems so big. The sea is the colour of slate. There's a cold, brisk wind. And the smell of hot grease--a chip shop.

'All of these people are juggling, you know,' says the juggler.

I turn back to him. 'Can't you ever stop?' I ask.

'Not really,' he says. 'I can break up the pattern, pause a bit maybe. But you just have to keep going.' He shifts the disk in silence a few times. 'I don't mind it actually. It's just what you do. Gotta keep going.'

I look at the people. They're all going about the business of life. They don't notice the steady, rhythmic pace of it. They're all just living. That's not something you just stop.

'Even if you get dizzy, get jostled, even if you drop one of the darn things, you just pick it up and keep going,' the juggler is saying.

My eye is drawn to a woman in a gray headscarf who has a basket of fish. I suddenly am standing in front of her. She looks up and hands me an empty basket. It is just like the basket I have decided to keep my tarot cards in.

'Thank you,' I say. 'What do I do with it?'

'Put stuff in it,' she answers.

I am puzzled. 'How do I carry this if I'm supposed to be juggling?' I ask.

'Juggle in your head, carry in your heart,' she says.

'Oh,' I say.

'Trust me,' she says.

I am back in front of the juggler. He's a handsome lad. His hair is damp from the sea air. I tell him good-bye and step out of the card.


This is an exercise called 'Entering the Card', where you meditate on stepping into the world of the card and report what happens. You are meant to approach a character you see in the card and ask for a gift.

I found this exercise very useful. Some interpretations of this card suggest it is about continual change, like a mini Wheel of Fortune. In some instances that might be the case, but to me it indicates persevering in the basic duties and tasks of life; in the midst of many ordinary distractions and the general bustle. Concentrating on the task at hand, not allowing one's perspective to be skewed--mindfulness.

Total Immersion

Sorry I 've been away for so long, I've been completely immersed in my new interest in tarot. I have set aside my Osho Zen deck for the moment in favour of the more traditional Universal Waite. I am now engaged in an Intensive Deck Study, and I have committed to studying one card per day every day until I complete the deck. So I will finish 8th March, 2010. I may be posting about a lot of it here.

As part of the study, I have committed not to buying any more decks or working with any deck but the Universal Waite. I also have committed to doing a 3-card daily draw in the morning, and a Celtic Cross in the evening.

Tarot is a wonderful thing. The cards are so beautiful. I'm glad I decided to add this to my hobbies.

On another note, I weighed 138.8 this morning and it's only 2 days until Christmas break! Yay!

Saturday, 12 December 2009

My first reading (and first daily card)

I received my Osho Zen Tarot a few days ago and have spent some time familiarizing myself with the cards, as well as the Rider-Waite/Universal Tarot. Last night, I tried my first small reading. I settled on a layout called 'My strengths'. I simply laid out 4 cards that I chose from the shuffled deck, fanned out in my hand, and put them out face down, left to right, representing:

1. My strength now
2. How I can ulitize that strength
3. Where this may lead
4. The strength I need to develop

I pulled the cards with intention, laid them out, then turned them over and studied them for a long time. I consulted with my books (the Osho Zen little white book, and 'The Tarot Bible' by Sarah Bartlett.) I made some notes and puzzled on it for awhile, discussed with Derek and then this morning wrote up my reading.

This reading seems to be saying to me that I am in a place right now where I am seeing through some of my illusions, that I am seeing my life with unusual clarity. It is true that I have been doing a lot of thinking lately about various aspects of my life--my financial future, my job, and my spiritual practices. I have even recently set a 2010 goal for myself to 'find a way to reach out to others that is true to myself.' And each morning lately, I have been chanting for freedom from 'the great illness', ie, illusion. So when I turned over the card that says my greatest strength right now is 'Awareness', I smiled to myself.

The 'Awareness' card in Osho Zen corresponds to The Chariot in Rider-Waite. The Chariot card can indicate, and I quote, 'You have reached a place where you can stand up for your beliefs and make decisions based on what you want rather than on what others assume is right for you.' Well, isn't that exactly what I said in my last post!

Because I am having this moment of clarity, the cards suggest that now is a good time to strike at one of my most damaging delusions--one of my biggest fears, which has developed through layers of an overactive mind, the pain-body and illusion--fear of interacting with other people, of being more socially active. The card is called 'Participation', the 4 of Fire. I feel that to do this in a way that is true to who I am, I should develop them through my interests. I should keep the interactions at a level that is acceptable for me. I should try to say YES at least occasionally when I am asked to join in something. I should allow myself to be more expansive, more tolerant of others, to realise and feel that I am part of the rest of life. But the 4 of Wands (which the Osho Zen 4 of Fire corresponds to) is not really about tackling your fears. It is 'heralding a time of rejoicing and celebration'. The Tarot Bible says it is 'a blessing in any layout.' It means happier times are ahead. I do have a fresh confidence about who I am and what I have achieved.

According to this spread, the road that Participation may lead to is Guilt, 8 of Clouds (Rider-Waite 8 of Swords). There are 2 cards from the Cloud (Swords) suit in this spread. It is the suit of 'thought, connection, information, ideals and self-expression.' I must admit I was very puzzled and upset by turning over this card. How could awareness and participation lead to Guilt? But within the tarot, you are supposed to look at the cards and say what you see. On the Osho Zen card, I see a woman with her eyes closed being clawed at by the demons of her thought-life, but with a flowering branch overhead. On the 8 of Swords card, I see a woman who is blindfolded and bound to a tree. She thinks she can't escape, but her bonds look like she could slip them pretty easily if she chose to try. Neither woman can see. Both are suffering, but both seem to be suffering because of their perception of their situation. Participating with other people makes me feel vulnerable and afraid, and it occurs to me, so does celebration and happiness! The first because I am afraid of being judged during social interaction, or of not behaving right, not saying or doing or thinking the right thing. I know I am awkward to be around socially because I don't drink, I'm vegan and I don't like to stay up late--most of things people seem to find fun, I find awful and I hate all eyes turned toward me because I'm the one being awkward. And I've always sort of freaked out in groups larger than 2 or 3 people and just clammed up and said nothing. And the longer I stay silent, the more awkward I feel and the less likely I am to ever speak, even when spoken to! The second because--as I said in my last post--happiness might bring about bad things. Like the 'Fates' might take notice of an overabundance of joy and try to balance me out!

(On the other hand, I must consider the layout position of this card. It's what the road may lead to. So it could be that I do try to 'participate' more, feel bound by it, and feel guilty for not wanting to carry on with socialising! So I must be open to the possibility that even if I give it a good go, it might turn out that I'm not so sociable, and I will need to find a way to deal with that.)

The cards suggest that the strength I need to develop right now is Consciousness, Ace of Clouds (Rider-Waite Ace of Swords). A picture of the Buddha. A depiction of a hand emerging from a cloud clutching a sword, at the top of which is a crown dangling vegetation and plumage. The Buddha card and the Ace of Swords both work to cut through illusion. The Tarot Bible says, 'The suit of Swords represents the rational and logical, but it indicates that the rational mind leads us astray and the sword is to cut through the illusions of our principles, our ideals, our fears. These 2-edged swords remind us that we must facd our deceptions, illusions and fears--and that the logical must work with the wisdom of our heart.'

I need to develop the strength to cut through my illusions about the right way to behave, the right way to be a friend, and the delusion that others perceive me as strange or a burden or unworthy of being involved. If they thought that, why would they keep inviting me? I must 'believe in myself and be ready to leap into action'--to me, this means being willing to say yes, to have the confidence to take part.

Overall, this is a very positive reading. At first it caused all sorts of anxiety. I balk at the notion of social interaction, and yet, it's an issue I continue to struggle with. So clearly I have business left to do in this area, and the cards seem to be saying now is the time to work on it.

So what am I going to do? I have idly suggested a few times to a work colleague that she should come over and watch movies with us. Next week, I'm going to set a date for that. And next Wednesday night, hubby and I are going to a Quiz night.

(Again, if it turns out the guilt is a result of realising I'm not really the sociable person I decided to try to be, perhaps this sword would be cutting through some illusion about how I'm 'supposed' to behave or what I'm 'supposed' to want out of life.)

This morning when I got up, I did my first daily card reading. You shuffle, cut and pull one card and it's your card for the day. I pulled 9 of Swords--another Sword card! It shows a picture of a grieving Zen monk, and is called 'Sorrow'. What! Today is my day for sorrow? But I consulted a book and I was really surprised to read this interpretation, which follows on so perfectly from yesterday's reading. Here it is word for word:

You and you alone can act to set yourself free from all those negative influences of the past. You are feeling very cut off from people, very separate, as though no one can see through to the real you underneath.

The pain and sorrow of the past will not fade instantly, but it will fade. What you can do now is begin to open up and let the sun in.

For this to happen, you must begin to dig all of the loneliness out of your present and communicate your feelings to others.

You must begin to open up--don't stay in isolation! You may well have to look around and discover new channels in which you can being to relate effectively to those around you. You alone can do this work. It can take either a long time or it can be surprisingly short. Which are you going to let it be? Come on, get cracking and dig your way out! (Step-by-Step Tarot, Terry Donaldson)

Freaky! It just seems to follow on so perfectly. Out of 78 cards, I pulled a card that answered so neatly to the reading from the day before. This is really intriguing. And today's card does seem to be urging me to take action toward more social get-togethers.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Retrospective and looking forward

'So this is Christmas
And what have you done?
Another year over,
A new one just begun...'

December is a time for reflection. I just bought my 2010 'Sacred Journey' journal, and have been working on my retrospective, and looking forward.


It's been a good year. My days have slipped past, one after the other, in a haze of routine contentment. More or less.

As usual, I started the year in a regimented way, making very strict plans for myself. I spent a lot of time trying to organize my mind and my year, setting lofty, worthy goals, and carefully modifying the journal. I blogged about it. Looking at it now, it seems like a lot of pressure to put on yourself to expect to get everything perfectly colour-coded and all tasks 100% complete.

I feel I learned a lot about myself in the first quarter of 2009 by reading Eckhart Tolle. I learned about the 'pain body'. (I blogged a lot about that, too). It seems to me I've been doing much better with the 'melt downs' since doing that introspective work. In fact, hubby says this best year I've had since he's known me, as far as meltdowns go. None of them this year seemed to have anything to do with my personal life, but with my driving anxiety and those pesky lessons I was taking!)

Which leads me to my proudest accomplishment of this year: getting my UK driving licence. It took me 18 months of lessons, half a dozen books, a complete set of flower remedies, hours of meditation, chanting and hypnosis tapes, and even a session with an Emotional Freedom Therapist (which I recommend!) to get me there. But I did it!

April and May were very tough months. My Dad died in April, my son graduated from high school in May. That was an unplanned trip home in April, and a planned one in May. Both were fraught with emotion to deal with. Distance has made it easier to cope, but that was a difficult time, which rippled into the next few months. In fact, I'm still not sure I've dealt with Dad's death. Grief takes a long, long time.

I believe, though, that this year I have finally detached from the guilt associated with my son. He is who he is and he does what he wants, and I have relinquished control of the situation. (Control which I never had anyway). This has given me a rather numb sense of peace. Whatever happens has so very little to do with me, and I accept that. I think of him with interest, affection and concern, and what I feel is a healthy detachment. I have learned that keeping my head out of the past is the key to freeing myself from the guilt. He is nearly 19. No longer a little boy. I have given myself permission to let go, and this year, I seem to have finally accepted that permission and begun to do it.

I got rather bogged down in introspection at one point in the year and dropped out of Facebook, stopped posting to this blog, and stopped all reading of self-help or other books. I took a break from all of it until after my driving test and I believe that was good for me. I was starting to get 'magical thinking' about it all.

It's interesting where my exploration has taken me. I've discovered an intense interest in the most unexpected things. Crystals, flower remedies, chanting. None of this seems very Zen--but that's okay. My sacred journey belongs to me. I can do and believe what I want, and I can move through cycles and phases of practice and growth as I want. This is freeing and beautiful.

For years I have lived in fear of my financial future, worrying about my fate in retirement but unable to face the daunting prospect of taking action. Last month, I finally started looking into this. We are making a start toward investigating our options and creating a plan for our future. I am very proud that we are taking this step, looking forward instead of back--although we have to constantly remind ourselves not to waste time regretting inaction in the past, or fearing the future. For the first time, I feel hopeful, I feel positive. Maybe I won't be a homeless old lady dribbling in a corner after all. I have a good 25 years to build up a nest egg, and during that time I also must remember to live my life then and there as well as save for the 20-odd years after work is done. The goal is a pension and savings to cover rent and provide our needs. We're seeing an independent financial adviser in the new year (after Mercury is out of retrograde!) Hubby says he thinks that my releasing the guilt about my family has allowed me to move forward. Before, I couldn't look forward as I was chained to the past. I remember during that Emotional Freedom Therapy session, I kept saying over and over to the therapist, 'I can't let go of the guilt, I don't want to, I can't'--it was because I felt that the guilt was my only tie to my family, that somehow, if I let go of that, my separation from my son would be permanent and complete. But what it actually has done is free me. Not tormenting myself does not mean I don't love him. I can't say I'll never have another meltdown about this. But now I see things differently than I did (or rather, I see them clearly instead of seeing my illusions abou them), and as he becomes more of a man, I am sure I will feel even safer to move on.

And finally, the job. I recently had a job interview for a post I didn't want. Thankfully, I didn't get it, and I've been thinking about why I went for it. Once you get past the surface reasons--it was a step up from my current post, it was in a 'nicer' part of the county, and it is closer to where hubby works--you get to the truth. The real truth is, I am very comfortable in my current post and in my domestic situation. This is the happiest I have been, day-to-day, in my entire life. So comfortable that there is a subconsious fear that something bad is bound to happen to destroy the situation. And so, to prevent the bad thing that you don't want, you try to instigate a change yourself that is sort of what you want, or something you ought to want. At least, if change is inevitable, you can be the one in control of change. It's a fucked-up solution to a non-problem, but I'm convinced it's the reason behind a lot of the decisions that people make. I hope I don't forget the lesson that it's okay to be happy and pointless to try to circumvent the unexpected.

Looking forward

When I first started using the Sacred Journey journal, I chose them because they contained a lot of blank pages that I could paste things over or use to make notes on. The pagan elements of the journal bothered me. I found them frightening and distressing, and I would spend hours in December making them more usable by ripping out pages with references to cards, divination, spirit guides, etc. I quickly plastered them over with exercise rotations, charts for recording my weight, and snippets from the sanitized version of Buddhism that I had selected for its lack of imagery or 'heathen' practices, Zen. (It was the easiest thing for my Christian-reared mind to deal with--sitting in silence seemed so much safer than some of the other stuff out there!)

This year, I've learned to let go of my fear of occult and esoteric practices. I've learned to recognize and avoid what I call 'magical thinking'--which is ironic because as I've learned this, I have been moving toward seemingly 'magical' tools. I used to put so much hope into my spiritual practice--hope that it would somehow magically change me, change my circumstances, change my life. I did that with my Christianity, and later with my Buddhism. I felt that if I prayed and believed hard enough, or later, if I emptied my mind in mediation enough, that my problems would melt away. When nothing magical happened, I blamed myself for not doing it right, not having enough faith, not being worthy. I can see this now. Ironically, as I've moved toward crystals, flowers, chanting of mantras, I've become freer of magical thinking, because I view these practices as tools to explore the subconscious mind, to bring out of myself what is there. Even if that means just accepting the situation for what it is. In fact, especially the ability to accept a situation for what it really is! In and of themselves, these things hold no power or meaning. The only magic is in me.

And so, next year, I'm not modifying the Sacred Journey journal. I am going to use it as written. I have even ordered a set of tarot cards to use with it. 2010 is my year of openness, open to myself, open to all paths. Free of magical thinking--I hope!

  • May I let go a bit more of 'control of the universe'.
  • May I not make elaborate, detailed plans that no one could live up to.
  • May I recognise what's right and beautiful about me.
  • May I accept what's backward and dysfunctional about me, and work on it in a loving, nonjudgemental way.
  • May I reach out to other people in a way that is healthy and right for me, and true to the person I am.
  • May I lay the foundations for a financial future that will meet my needs.
  • May I accept that it's okay, in the book of my life, to leave some pages blank, while filling others edge to edge. But not to leave them blank out of fear.

I think as I move deeper into my 40s, I'm getting comfortable with accepting myself for who I am. I'm finding I struggle less and less within myself. I am coming to terms with societal expectations vs what I really want. I find I don't care so much what other people think.

I am whole. I really am.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Daddy cool

I wanted some comfort food last night and thought I'd try a vegan mac and cheese recipe, having read about one on Anna's blog. I had a look at Susan V's Mac and Cheese recipe on Fat Free Vegan, then compared it to the Mac Daddy recipe in Isa's Veganomicon. Susan's recipe calls for all sorts of stuff I don't have--garlic powder, onion powder, tahini (which I don't like), and it's supposed to taste like Kraft mac and cheese, which I never liked, so I decided I liked the sound of the Mac Daddy recipe better. When I went to make the recipe, of course I changed everything. I nearly always do that, if I'm not confident that what I'm reading is going to be yummy. I ended up making something all my own, based on Isa's recipe, and it was really good. Hubby and I ate it all in one meal. Here's my creation:

Pimpalicious Pasta

Cook half a package of wholewheat shells (I couldn't find wholewheat macaroni in the shops), drain and set aside (I like stodgy mac and cheese, so I cooked this just a little past al dente)

For the sauce
3 cloves garlic, crushed, cooked in 1 Tbs oil
several grinds each pink salt and black pepper
pinch dried thyme
2 cups water
1 Tbs Marigold vegan bouillon powder
1/4 cup chickpea flour
1/8 tsp turmeric (or to desired yellowness)
1 cup nutritional yeast flakes
1 Tbs lemon juice
1 tsp French's yellow mustard
1/2 pkg Cauldon tofu

Whisk together all ingredients except tofu and cook in saucepan until thickened. Add tofu and puree with hand blender until smooth. Pour into a small casserole dish and stir in the shells. Make sure the pasta is swimming in sauce. Too much pasta and it will be dry. Bake until bubbly and browning on edges.

This came out tasting rich and more-ish. The shells were all full of the gooey sauce and the pasta was chewy on top from being baked.

Word of warning, it didn't taste a thing like cheese. We sure did like it, though. If it had tasted like cheese, I would have had to throw it out. (Last time I went crazy and actually bought some parmesan cheese to put in something, we ended up throwing it out because it had that horrible dairy whang to it. Never again!) We had this with some steamed greens, and it was yummy.

If you don't like nutritional yeast flakes, don't bother with this recipe. And if you think you're going to end up with something like Velveeta, don't bother, either. I mean, if you want cheese, just eat some cheese! If you want something gooey, satisfying and vegan, though, try this one. We loved it.

(By the way, as usual, the photo is nicked from googling and choosing a photo that looks the most like what I made. Because as usual, I forgot to take a picture!)

Friday, 27 November 2009

Sweet potato pie (vegan, of course)

2 cups cooked, mashed sweet potato
1 cup plain or vanilla flavoured rice milk
1/4 cup corn starch
3/4 cup dark brown sugar or 1/2 cup maple syrup
1 Tbs molasses
3 Tbs oil
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp each nutmeg, clove, ginger
1-1/2 tsp cinammon

Combine ingredients and pour into a prepared pie shell. Bake at 400 F until done. Allow pie to cool completely to set.

The pie is darker in colour than you might expect because of the molasses, but it has a delicious, holiday flavour and silky texture. Not wiggly, like you would get from eggs, but very unctuous, and quite filling. It is best served chilled, in my opinion.

I made this last night for the first time and we really liked it. I am taking leftovers to work to today because I'm sure no one has tasted sweet potato pie there! If they don't like it, I'll bring back the remnants. :)

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Okay then

I had a job interview yesterday that I was dreading. I applied for the job for just two reasons: it's the only step up from my current post, and it's closer to where hubby works. The actual job itself, I was not keen on doing. I guess that came through in the interview because I was not selected. My reaction was as joyful and relieved as it is for most people when they GET the job.

Why are we always questioning and pushing and thinking we should be striving to achieve more, or to move on? Why is it not okay to just like the job you're in, because you can do it easily and everything is comfortable? Why do we have this idea that we should be pushing the envelope, looking to be 'stretched and challenged', moving away from comfort and complacency? Yes, I said complacency. Why is complacency considered a bad thing? Even the word 'complacent', which actually literally means to find peace in something, has come to have a shade of meaning that there is a danger in being okay with your situation as it is. Well, maybe I don't want a grit of sand that I can turn into a pearl. Irritation and 'challenge' (which really means stress!) at work are not required by me, thank you.

I suppose the Buddhist perspective on the danger of complacency is the clinging to the illusion of permanence, the delusion that we can by force of will (ie, by fearing change) keep bad things from happening. That's not what I'm talking about here, at least I think it's not! I can also say with some confidence that I am not afraid of change. If a job came along that I really wanted, I would leave my current one in a heartbeat. But it would have to be one that I REALLY wanted, and not one that I 'ought' to go for.

Occasionally I forget that I'm leading my own life. I start hearkening to what other people think or how other people might perceive things or behave, and I make decisions based on what other people might do or expect me to do. Other people might apply for a job that's the next step up, even though they don't really want it. They might be able to bluff their way into it, then tolerate it. But I'm not other people, I'm me. Sometimes I forget that it's my life and it's okay for me to live it how I want. Strange but true.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Not as bleak as I thought

I found out some good news.
  • By the time I reach state pension age in 2033, I will have worked exactly 30 years and 4 months--just enough to qualify for the full state pension. I have sent in my pension forecast application to see how much that would be, but as a rule of thumb I've done some preliminary figures using the 'average' state pension.
  • I used a Social Security calculator to see what I would qualify for having worked for 15 years in the US. It was more than I thought.
  • I sent off to Arkansas Teacher Retirement to see what I will receive based on the years I taught in the US. It was more than I expected, PLUS I can start drawing it 7 years before I reach state pension age here. So I can be investing that money!
  • I am in a local government pension scheme, which it turns out is the best pension scheme available in the UK. It will leave me better off than I thought.

So I took these sketchy preliminary figures and added them together. According to that first draft of a forecast, I will be drawing pretty much the same amount in retirement that I earn now. If the same is true for Derek (we are working on his now), then our income in retirement will look a lot like it looks now. Which means if we never get to buy a house, it doesn't matter. If we can afford rent now, we can afford rent then. I can't imagine us ever needing to live better than we do right now. We are perfectly comfortable with our level of spending and our lifestyle.

I'm trying to be realistic about this whole house-owning thing. Until the early 20th century, the majority of people in the UK did not own their own homes (only 30% did). In Europe today, 2/3 of Germany rent their accommodation. Half of Austria does. Of course, in Europe they enjoy much stronger tenants' rights, but still. Owning a property is not the be all and end all of existence, nor is it a guarantee of security for the future. It's just a big fat headache is what it is. And a major financial burden.

Maybe someday we'll buy a house, but if we never do, I'm not going to sweat it anymore. I'd rather have a big fat pension than a miserable little house.

Anyway, I have an interview next Wednesday for a job in a library near where hubby works, which whould be a promotion for me, and our chance to move to the south of the county where things are 'nicer' (if more expensive). It's just a temporary 12-month post, but I can take it as a secondment, if I decide to take it, so at least I'll be assured of a post in the county council when the year's up. Nervous about it--it's all human resources. But I guess experience in that field would be good to have. People always need HR.

Monday, 16 November 2009


Just heard on the morning news:

  • First time buyers of homes has fallen by 2/3.
  • First time buyers must come up with a 25% deposit. The average house price being £165,000, that means the deposit is on average £38,000.
  • The era of the 100% mortgage is gone. The 75% mortgage is here to stay.
  • The average age of the first time buyer is 35.
All of this means to me we are never, ever going to be able to afford a property. Our entire combined savings of the last 7 years is not enough to pay the deposit, much less the duties and all the costs associated with moving and setting up a new household. At the rate we're saving, I'll be in my mid 50s before we can even meet the deposit--and who knows how much a deposit will be by then. We cannot save at a higher rate than we are. I am already putting nearly a third of my take home pay in savings. We can't help it if our earnings are not very high.

I feel quite despondent about this, not because I particularly want to own a home, but because I am concerned about where we are going to live after we are no longer able to work. The savings we have now are being built up with a view toward pensions investments, not down payment on a house. And there's not enough there for that. Our pension gap is enormous.

I wonder where we are going to live and how we are going to live when we get too old to work. There are no children to take care of us or take us in.

I still have at least 25 years left in my working life to sort out the best thing we can figure out.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Lovely day

It's been a lovely day on my own today. I made some banana bread that I saw on The Post Punk Kitchen website. I made my own version:

Banana Bread

1/2 cup each brown and white sugar
2 cups wholemeal spelt flour
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg

3 very ripe bananas, mashed
5 Tbs vegetable oil
1/4 cup water
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp cider vinegar

Preheat oven to 180C. Grease and set aside a loaf pan. Combine dry ingredients in one bowl, wet ingredients in another. Mix the wet into the dry. Pour into pan and bake for about an hour.

Let it cool completely, as it is actually better after it has aged for a bit. Or you can eat it hot, each to his own!

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

I'm not a fan of Christmas, but I've already got a wish list!

Amber stud earrings. I've really got into amber lately. It's so pretty!

10kg dumbbells, for those times when I feel I could do a bit better than the 8kg which is my max weight now.

Ladies' Haulin' Hooks. These grip-assistance devices are designed to assist when lifting heavier weights, to avoid having to stop reps just because your grip is exhausted. (This happens to me a lot now that I'm lifting heavier. For example, the other day I was doing sumo squats with my barbell, and even though my legs were not entirely exhausted, I had to put the bar down because my forearms and grip couldn't hold the load any longer. This type of device is supposed to really help with that issue.)

All of which (except perhaps the amber earrings...) will help out a lot if I get my main wish, Chalene Extreme!!!! This set of DVDs contains 15 workouts broken into 3 phases:

BURN--Moderate weight training workouts using 12-rep sets to help start the fat burning process.

PUSH--Heavy weight training--beyond the comfort zone--to build strength and muscle.

LEAN--Back to moderate weights but incorporating dynamic moves to burn tons of calories and strip the fat off the new muscle you've built.

There are also cardio and abs workouts in the rotation, and I've already bought the latest 'add-on' cardio, so once I get the weight-lifting (original) set, I'll have the whole darn thing!

The entire system takes 90 days, then you enter a 30 day 'Lean for Life' phase, then you can do the whole round over again if you like.

I really, really want Chalean Extreme (fondly referred to by fans as 'CLX').

In the meantime, though, I've just ordered Original Buns of Steel on DVD. It shipped today and I cannot wait to try it out. Made in 1987, it is a total cult classic and said to be one of the best butt-burners ever! Creator Greg Smithey is a sports physiologist and supposedly invented the routine to use as part of training for pole vaulters.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Love at first buff

So we were channel hopping through infomercials on Sunday morning, as we often do on a Sunday. We love to sit and make fun of the advertisements for the strange fitness products out there. 'I can get my abs AND my cardio done in only 3 minutes a day!' a bizarrely-bosomed fitness model beams, swinging herself side to side on a gizmo that looks like the body of an old lawnmower with some bicycle handlebars attached to the top. We have spent many happy mornings sipping coffee and laughing at the over-the-top agony of 'old-fashioned, back-breaking crunches and boring hours spent in the gym.' Why are all the 'before you buy this product' segments in black and white featuring people who look like they're being force-fed that bitter stuff from the middle of a pecan?

Anyway, Sunday morning we caught Susan Lucci selling her 'Youthful Essence' microdermabrasion kit. Now I have seen her selling this thing for years and never gave it a second thought, other than to wonder why it costs so much and why you have to sign up to get her little pots of crystal creme every month. I have to admit, though, that for the last few years, scrubbing with a wash cloth just hasn't been effective in getting rid of flakiness of my skin. I can wash, put on moisturizer, and still, when I put on my foundation makeup, it gets caught in the little tiny dead skin cells and that makeup shows up the scaliness until I feel like I must look like a lizard person. I mean, it's really noticeable, at least to me. (I had to actually get really close to Derek and point to get him to see what I meant. So okay, most people aren't as close to me as I am to a mirror when I'm scrutinizing my skin.) Still, I've felt self-conscious about it for some time, to the point where I don't even bother wearing makeup most days because I feel my skin looks better without it. Blotchy is better than scaly.

Anyway, after watching her infomercial, I thought I'd look into the microdermabrasion world. It turns out there are lots of little gizmos just like Susan Lucci's available out there. I did a lot of online shopping and reading of online reviews, and settled on the Roc Renewex Microdermabrasion Expert Kit. I found it available at Amazon Marketplace for £15, ordered it Tuesday night, and it arrived today!

I've used this thing for the first time tonight. I cannot believe what a difference it has made to my skin in only one use. It feels like an absolute rose petal. The literature that accompanies the kit says visible reduction of fine lines, etc, in 4 weeks. I can't wait to see how my skin looks after 4 weeks of this, if tonight's any indication.

Here's all you do:

1. Wash your skin as normal, using your normal face wash. Pat dry.
2. Put a bit of the microcrystal cream on the dry sponge of the applicator. (It feels like the finest possible grit you can imagine. Tiny, tiny little beads of aluminum oxide, which allegedly is what dermatologists use for microdermabrasion.)
3. Turn it on and smooth the stuff on your dry face, applying no pressure, just moving it about a bit. (The applicator is like a vibrator with a soft sponge attachment. Who knew!) Don't stay in one spot too long. Do this for 2-3 minutes.
4. Rinse your face with warm water, pat dry and apply moisturizer.
5. Clean the sponge with soap and water and air dry.

This process is to be repeated 2-3 times per week if you have normal skin, 1-2 times per week if you have sensitive skin.

I came out of the bathroom, and said to Derek, 'What do you think?' And he said he could see a difference at once in my forehead. I had him feel my face and he said it was very, very smooth and soft and he could definitely feel a difference.

I can't wait to see what happens when I put on foundation tomorrow!

Sunday, 1 November 2009

What is it about vampires?

I'm suffering from vampire overload for the last few years and am unwilling to invest my time or interest in all these postmodern vampire movies for tweenies ('Twilight') and Southern gothtastic TV shows ('True Blood'). They don't know from vampires! They've taken all the mystique and replaced it with superfast motion werewolf battles or writhing blood-soaked orgies. Gross!

In my day, our vampires were dead sexy, and gentlemen, too--weary and misunderstood, just looking for their queen to make eternal life worthwhile. Here are my favourites:

1. Frank Langella in the 1979 film 'Dracula'. Langella is the sexiest screen vampire, in my opinion. Although he is a frightening bloodsucker (the scene where he peers in Mina's window hanging upside is freaky!), he is a true Gothic romantic leading man. No wolf eyes, fangs or blood trickling from the mouth to be seen. Lots of soulful looks, fantastic droopy-sleeved chest-revealing shirts, soft kissing and roiling smoke effects, though!

2. Brad Pitt as the reluctant and brooding vampire, Louis, in 'Interview with the Vampire', continues Langella's tradition of the undead who yearns to be part of the world of the living. He's not sexy--if anything, he is ambiguous, being in love with a little girl and Antonio Banderas!-- He's just remarkably beautiful. Not sure if that makes him sexy, but I mean--just look at him!

3. Gary Oldman in 'Bram Stoker's Dracula', directed by Francis Ford Coppola. The movie absolutely awful. As someone elsewhere online remarked, Keanu Reeves bumbles around as if he's thinking 'What am I doing in this movie?' and Wynona Ryder looks stoned, but Gary Oldman is smokin'. He's not pretty, he's not handsome--he's just hot!

4. Chris Sarandon as Jerry Dandridge in 'Fright Night'. Everybody remembers the girl who turns into the freak with the red eyes and horrible too-wide mouthful of teeth, but Chris Sarandon certainly moistened a few pairs of knickers along the way, I'm sure. Hoo ha!

So what is it about vampires? I'm sure people have written loads about what makes vampires sexy. It has something to do with the intimacy, the penetration, the latching onto something and sucking the life out of it...now that I think about it, it's not so hard to figure out! Beautiful immortals. Dangerous to everyone except the girl they fall in love with (which of course will be you!). Eternal protection in their worshipful embrace and all that. No wonder they're so darn popular.

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Tamworth Castle 30th October 2009

We went to Tamworth Castle yesterday. We'd been planning to 'go somewhere' for a little Halloween treat, but we weren't sure where and didn't want to travel far. Then on the Gadget Show the other night, they featured Tamworth Castle as being haunted, and wouldn't you know it's only a 30-minute drive from here. So off we went. It was a lovely day, not too cold or windy, and I've noticed that you can actually see some autumn colours this year. (Some years, summer seems to slide right into winter in a misty, grey, shivery slippage, with hardly a sign of yellows or reds). There was a tree in the park outside the castle grounds that was absolutely showering yellow leaves, but I didn't think to photograph it.

So anyway, we were pleasantly surprised that admission to the castle was half price, so we got in for £5.00 total! Bargain.

Mwah ha ha! A suitably Hammer Horrorish angle on the castle front...

This is the entrance to the castle itself, passing through a courtyard. This castle is a hodgepodge of different eras...

Here's a view of the Elizabethan courtyard from above, when we went up to the Tower. (Every castle has to have a Tower!)

From the castle Tower, overlooking St Editha Church. (We went in that church. It was okay. Kind of Norman-y.)

So, Tamworth Castle is supposed to haunted by two ghosts, The White Lady, who haunts the Tower and is supposedly mourning for her suitor who was killed by a guy called Sir Lancelot (yeah, right!), and the Black Lady, who haunts a bedroom and Elizabethan staircase and was supposedly photographed in 1949 by some ghost hunters.

Spooky light by the Haunted Stair...

And that's the Haunted Staircase. I was kinda hoping I'd get a weird shadow, but I don't see anything here. I will say that the stairs are very creaky and if I were wandering around in there by candlelight in the dark of night, I'd sure think they were haunted.

At the entrance to the Great Hall, we were greeted by this random skull...

But the Great Hall not only had lots of other horned skulls, it had wrought iron candleabras from the ceiling and looked for all the world like a suitable setting for the movie, 'The Devil Rides Out'!

Here I am in a less creepy room.

And here is a stairway we found that leads up to a wall. It's a good thing I'd already been up to the top of that wall via another way, because there was no way I was going to climb those stairs. The camera flashed and illuminated this staircase, but when you peered up it in natural light, there was barely enough light to see where you were going.

And we're back out again...

It was a good Halloween visit with some spooky moments, especially in this child's room where there was an absolutely eery portrait of a little girl looming out toward you from over the fireplace, and on the opposite wall, a painting of a sleeping child--but it looked like it was either on its deathbed or dead already! Then I spotted some antique china dolls with faded eyes and I got the absolute willies and beat a hasty retreat--especially when I was trying to photograph the portrait and Derek shouted, 'Don't photograph it, it will come to life!' I yelped and got the heck out, I tell you!

Monday, 26 October 2009


My trousers are beginning to get looser!

I decided to weigh only once per week for the sake of my sanity during the weight-loss phase, and to my surprise yesterday, I was down 3 pounds from the beginning of the month. This morning, I took a good look at the way my trousers are fitting around the waist and butt, and yes, they are marginally looser. So I am heading in the right direction at last. I have faithfully written down every single thing I've eaten each day since 5th October. I'm not closely measuring it and definitely not counting calories, just writing it down.

I think the best thing I'm doing, though, is a good tough exercise rotation. Cathe's Slow & Heavy 3-day split, interspersed with cardio kickboxing (Chalene Johnson, Amy Bento and Cathe). I have been working hard, and I am seeing renewed definition in my upper body. Yay!

Thursday, 22 October 2009

'This'll burn some calories--and isn't that why we're here!!'

Chalene says this early in the workout I tried today, and boy was she right.

My new Chalean Extreme DVDs arrived today. I got 7 workouts in all, Disk 7 from the original Chalean Extreme (3 workouts), and the new set of 4 workouts that's just come out as cardio add-ons to the Chalean Extreme program.

Of course the first thing I did when I got home was do the first workout on Disk 7: Fat Burn Challenge. It is 30 minutes long and is probably the most intense cardio workout I own--but then, I haven't done the others from this set yet! Here's a breakdown:

1. Jump rope drills, 2 minutes.

2. Jumping Jack Drills, 3 minutes.

3. Plyo Lunges, 2 minutes 25 seconds. This consists of stepping into deep lunges, the deeper the better.

30 second break.

4. Football practice, 1 minute 12 seconds. You've surely seen the football players doing this one. You get in a squat stance and run in place really fast. Chalene calls out left, right, and 'HIT'. (That's where the coach usually gives a sharp whistle) That's your signal to drop to the ground in a push up stance, jump up, and keep running. Tough! But as Chalene says, at least you're not wearing full football pads and helmet! I cannot imagine those poor boys doing this in 100 degree Arkansas heat. I feel for them!

5. Plyo sculpting, with toner band, 3 minutes. This move has you side stepping side to side, and Chalene alternates with a standing thigh toning exercise. So you lunge side to side, then stop and raise alternating legs to the side working the thighs. Then back to lunges etc. This nearly killed me, as I did Cathe's Slow & Heavy Legs and Shoulders yesterday which has some really intense concentrated leg work in it. I didn't know this workout had leg work, or would have opted for a different one, but never mind.

6. Modified Burpee, 1 minute. You jump into a wide squat, put your hands on the floor, shoot your legs back into a pushup stance, then hop back into the squat stance and stand up again. You do 16 total burpees.

30 second break.

7. Moving Prisoner Lunges, 2 minutes. You step forward to a lunge, then step to the right (3 o’clock) for a second lunge. Then back to the front for another lunge, and continue. This move is modified by moving your hands from your hips during the lunges, to behind your head, and then straight up in the air. Then you’ll switch sides and do the opposite leg.

8. Crosses and Zig Zags, 2 minutes. Turbo Jam! Cross punches, mixed in with zig zags (for the obliques), and some knee lifts. Compared to what we'd been doing, this was almost like a break!

9. Squats/Sumo, 1 minute 24 seconds. You hop from sumo squat to standing up, jumping in and out. (Although to be honest, my sumo squats were a bit lame. But then, I was feeling literally lame! Legs like jello!)

10. Giant Leaps, 2 minutes 30 seconds. Leaping from side to side, like a skater's sweep. Very fun, I loved this segment.

11. Squats, 1 minute 30 seconds. Football again. You go from a regular squat to a 3 point football stance, back to the squat, continue to football stance etc. Chalene jumped these, but all I could do was squat and stand. Whew!

12. Lateral Lunges, 1 minute 30 seconds. Side lunges to one side, hold and repeat, then switch legs. This feels great after all that legwork.

3 minute cool down

After this short workout, I was dripping. I didn't wear my HRM, but I bet I burned loads of calories. It was pretty much all jumping, but there is a modifier to show you how to keep it low impact with high intensity. Chalene rocks!

Can't wait to try the next ones! Yay, I love new workouts. :)

Monday, 19 October 2009

Three rules create an eater's manifesto. Read this book.

In Defence of Food by Michael Pollan. I read it in 2 days. If you haven't read it yet, read it. Get it right now, seriously.

Here's Michael Pollan lecturing at University of California:

In Defence of Food with Michael Pollan, University of California

This lecture is an excellent encapsulation of the content of the book and definitely worth watching.

And here he is in an interview:

Food News: In Defence of Food Part One

Food News: In Defence of Food Part Two

Food News: In Defence of Food Part Three

Food News: In Defence of Food Part Four

(This is a follow-up to his previous book, 'The Omnivore's Dilemma', which is truly excellent, but you don't have to have read that one to enjoy this one. Read them both, though. They're fantastic books. By the way, I emailed John Robbins a year or two ago asking him what he thought about the whole concept of 'orthorexia', and he doesn't believe there is such a thing, and that being concerned about what we eat is a good thing...however, I think Robbins and Pollan agree on nearly all points.)

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Lovely Sunday

We went to HMV today and bought some Hammer Horror Dracula flicks for Halloween for 3 quid each:

We watched 'Dracula has risen from the grave' (1968) today. It was completely ludicrous but strangely enjoyable, like all Hammer Horror schlock. (I read somewhere that Christopher Lee thought 'Risen from the Grave' was crap. But then, he thought that about several of his own films.) This one is a direct sequel to 'Dracula Prince of Darkness' (1966), in which Dracula is trapped under some ice right outside his castle. In 'Risen from the Grave', a priest exorcises Dracula's castle and places a big cross across the front door, so when Drac gets a little taste of some blood and revives, he can't get back in. He's truly pissed off about this, so seeks out the priest who did this so he can exact his revenge by killing him and his beloved virginal and buxom niece, Maria. Along the way, Dracky enslaves the local vicar whose church is 'in the shadow of his castle', lunches on a busty barmaid called Zena, pulls a giant stake out of his own heart because the guy who stabs him (Maria's boyfriend) is an atheist and refuses to pray while doing it, then manages to impale himself on a giant crucifix. Pretty gruesome stuff! Amazingly, while this film got banned in Finland and received an X rating in England in 1968, the Americans gave it a rating of G. We've never been much bothered by violence in the old US of A. But if there'd been any nudity or humping, hello! A little religious imagery, blood sucking and walking dead, though--eh, the kiddies can handle that.

After Dracula, we did Cathe Friedrich's Kick Punch & Crunch and now we're about to settle in and wait for episode 3 of the new season of House.

I can't believe the weekend's over already. They should be 4 days long.

Best chocolate cake ever

I made this cake yesterday and it was so good hubby and I ate it ALL. It is very, very easy and will make an 8x8 (or 9x7)" cake--so nice and small, just enough for 2 people to have cake 3 times in one day! Ha ha

Preheat oven to 180C. Grease a cake pan and set aside.

In a bowl, combine:

200g wholemeal spelt flour
150g raw cane sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
5 tablespoons of cocoa powder

In a jug, combine:

250ml water
6 tablespoons peanut oil
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp cider vinegar

Mix wet ingredients into the dry and pour batter into greased pan. Bake until done.

While it's baking, combine the following in a saucepan:

150-200g sugar
2-3 heaping tablespoons cocoa
enough water to make a medium thick paste
soy milk

Heat and stir until the sugar starts to melt and grains disappear. Add soy milk a tiny bit at a time to loosen up the mixture and stir and boil until it is glossy and thickening. Remove from heat, cover and set aside while the cake finishes baking. (I know these instructions are a bit vague, but I always eyeball this and do it by feel, so I'm not sure how to describe it. To be honest, I didn't measure the icing ingredients but just dumped stuff in the pan. You could always get a vegan icing recipe somewhere else online, but avoid ones that call for vegan margarine. Ick!)

When the cake comes out of the oven, allow it to cool a bit, then pour and spread the icing gently over the warm cake. It should not be too runny. It will firm up and make a glossy coating on the cake.

This cake is soft, moist, and the icing is fudgy. You would never know it's vegan or that it contains wholemeal flour. Now, if I could figure out a way to get rid of the sugar...

You could use different flour, different oil, and different 'milk'. You could use almond extract instead of vanilla...doesn't matter. Play around with it. But above is the exact recipe I used yesterday.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

2 workouts today

I did Turbo Jam Live Booty Sculpt + Abs today, then when hubby got home, we did Chest and Back on Cathe's Slow & Heavy. Two workouts in one day! Yay!

Booty Sculpt is a good workout, my legs were screaming. You use light dumbbells and a resistance band in this workout, and the leg work is a lot like that seen in Turbo Jam Lower Body Jam, except the workout is more informal (more dancy stuff during the moves) and Chalene walks around a bit instead of doing all the moves with the exercisers. It finishes with some pretty tough ab work.

Slow & Heavy is a 3-day split. One day you do legs and shoulders (we did that on Tuesday night), one day you do chest, back and planks (that's what we did tonight) and one day you do biceps and triceps (we've got that planned for Saturday). You can do them 3 days in a row, or you can do cardio on days in between. I'm doing the cardio in between option.

I really like the Slow & Heavy series. You lift heavy weights and for each move you do 3 sets of 8 reps, 2 beats on the concentric contraction, 6 beats on the eccentric. (So, for example, on split-legged squats, you put a barbell on your shoulders and go down for two, then slowly come back up for 6. On a chest press, you go down for two, slowly push the weights back up for 6. Etc. In the picture on the cover, she is doing plie squats. You go down for 2, back up for 6. She's holding a 40lb dumbbell there. I used my 12kg kettlebell as that's the heaviest weight I own. That's roughly 27lbs. Believe me, even though I was pulling only half the weight she was, my legs were FEELIN it.)

Today's work was Chest and Back. You do chest presses (3 sets of 8 supine, 3 sets of 8 on the incline), pec flyes (3 sets supine, 3 sets incline) , push ups (2 sets of 8 using the down for 2 up for 6 beat), bent over rows (3 sets of 8), ribcage pullovers (3 sets of 8) and deadlifts (3 sets of 8). Then you get on the mat and do supermans (32 total) and a killer series of planks. It's not an easy workout. But it's one of those that when it's over, you're so glad you did it! I just wish I owned some heavier weights and a really good, cushiony pair of weight lifting gloves.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Return to me

I read something this morning that has stuck with me all day:

If you aren't hungry enough to eat an apple, you're not really hungry.

Think about the times you've been really hungry and you managed to find an apple. Maybe it was on the trail during a long hike and you found it rolling around in the bottom of your back pack. Or you'd come in from yard work and found an apple in the fridge, all cold and juicy. It was so good, it was so appealing. It was the best thing ever, and you ate it and enjoyed every bite.

Now think about the times you were just foraging out of boredom and found an apple. Yuck, an apple. You pushed it aside to make peanut butter and toast, or stand and eat honey straight out of the jar, or maybe you got lucky and found a stash of snack cakes or some cookies. You didn't eat the apple, though. Mealy old apple, it's got a bruise. No way. Don't like apples.

If the thought of an apple doesn't appeal, you're not really hungry. I like that. It's a great rule of thumb.

I started recording my food in a little tiny notebook (NOT the Streaming Colors Food Journal, which made go very OCD over fat grams and protein grams and all sorts of grams no one should be spending time measuring) on 5th October. I decided not to put any pressure on myself to eat 'well', just to write down every single thing I eat. The first five days are not pretty reading. But then, the snacking began to slow down. And for the last 2 days, I have eaten 'clean'. No snacks. Lighter meals. Drinking more water. The first 4 days, I just wrote everything down. Then I started writing the time beside each item. That helps me see at what time I'm eating. You have to really be vigilant because it's easy to eat something, think you'll write it down later, forget about it and then remember it at the end of the day when you're looking over the list. Seeing it all written out is almost like seeing it laid out on the table in front of you. Sobering.

I haven't lost any weight yet, but as I'm in the normal weight range and I've only been eating relatively well for 2 days, that's no surprise! Conventional wisdom has it that you need a calorie deficit of 3500 calories to lose one pound. As I refuse to count calories and start down the slippery slope to that OCD madness, I haven't got a clue how long this will take. I'm hoping by February, the clothes that used to be loose will be loose again, and the rolls on my belly that used to be smaller will be smaller again. That's my goal!

Here's what I ate today:

6.50--smoothie made of brown rice protein, frozen banana, water, psyllium husks, ultrafine scottish oats; black decaf; pint of water

12.00--(I seriously wasn't hungry until 12.00--amazing!) homemade celeriac soup (leftovers) and a sandwich made of 2 slices seeded wholemeal bread, sliced tomato, roasted red pepper and iceberg lettuce; 1 onde-onde mochi cake; pint water

3.30--half a cup oats soaked in soy milk with added brown rice protein powder

4.30--(pre workout) 3 small handfuls fruit and fibre cereal from the box, maybe half a bowl? Pint water drunk during and after workout

5-6.00 Slanted Riser workout, then Fat Blaster

7.30--chickpea, courgette, red bell pepper and red onion korma; brown basmati rice; 1 wholemeal pita, toasted

That's it!

Yay, this is pretty much like I used to eat when I was doing great.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Celeriac Soup

This morning we had Isa's 'Fronch Toast', then after working out I had a pea protein and red berry smoothie, lunch was a veggie burger and a few homemade oven chips. So for dinner, I just wanted something kind of light. We bought a celeriac on the market yesterday, and so I made it into soup. This soup turned out to be so yummy! It is thick, and somehow creamy with a buttery mouthfeel. I have no idea how, as this is all I did:

Celeriac Soup

1 small yellow onion, peeled and minced
1 Tbs olive oil
1 finely minced peeled clove of garlic
approx 1/4 cup dry white wine
1 good size celeriac, peeled and cubed
1 medium red-skinned potato, peeled and cubed
2 bay leaves
8-10 grinds pink salt
pinch ground nutmeg

Heat olive oil in stock pot and saute onions. Let them sweat down but not colour much. There might be some light golden sediment--deglaze with the white wine. Add the finely minced garlic and cook a bit. Add the cubed celeriac, cover the pot, reduce heat and allow to cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the celeriac begins to soften. Add the potato, bay leaves, and enough water to cover all by 2 or 3 inches (or more). Cover and simmer gently until the potato and celeriac are very soft, about 30-40 minutes.

Remove bay leaves and puree with wand hand blender until creamy and smooth. Keep blending until silky smooth. It will happen. Add the salt and nutmeg and serve. The soup will be thick enough that you can dip into it and it will hold its shape on the bowl of the spoon. If you wanted yours thinner, you could add water, but most of the pics I found online show a thick soup, so I guess I got it right. It is really yummy!

After we ate it (as usual, I forgot to make a photo, because I forgot I was doing a vegan recipe to blog--it was just dinner after all), I looked online for celeriac soup recipes. They are all pretty similar. I think mine is the simplest, though. Most of the time, simple is best. I just wanted to keep the flavours light and simple so the delicate taste of the celeriac would shine through. It worked! And it's always so satisfying when I think I've made something up then I find out it's a classic recipe. Surely that means I can cook...Hubby had his with toasted bread drizzled in olive oil. I just had mine straight. Try it!

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Lentil Soup with garlic and tarragon

Hey, it's Vegan Month of Food again! As last year, I'm not posting fancy recipes, just the yummy stuff I make for our real meals.

So....this is what I made for lunch today.

Lentil Soup with garlic and tarragon

1 onion, chopped
5 cloves of garlic, minced
olive oil
3 handfuls of dry puy lentils
1 Tbs Marigold vegan bouillon powder
ground black pepper
ground pink salt
pinch dried tarragon
water to make soup of thickness you want

Saute onion and garlic, add remaining ingredients, simmer until lentils are very tender. Use a stick blender to puree the soup. Enjoy!

I had this with wrap made of wholemeal chapatti and a roasted red bell pepper.

here's what I ate yesterday

I'm writing down everything I eat in a little book. Not measuring or counting calories as of yet, just writing it all down. Yesterday was not good. I ate a lot of junk at work. Here's what the day looked like. I'm not going to divide it into meals but just make one long list:

1 slice wholemeal toast with 1/2 tsp coconut oil and some strawberry jam

shake made of 20g soy protein isolate mix and water

1 cup black decaf

sandwich made with: 2 slices wholemeal bread, Cheatin' Meats ham, fresh spinach, sliced tomato, roasted red bell pepper, mustard and burger sauce

1 oatmeal biscuit (Hob Nob) (ate this during tea break at a training session because I didn't want to open the falafels I had brought as a snack...stupid)

2 Jaffa cakes

2 Mingles

1 mini flapjack bite (this plus the Jaffas and Mingles were eaten in the staffroom after everyone else had left the room--yes, that old habit of thinking if no one sees you eat it you didn't really eat it has returned)

2 Cadbury Roses

1 chewy sweet from Portugal (Roses and chew picked up from staffroom table while doing lockup routine upstairs)

Salad made with: iceberg lettuce, shredded carrot, fresh spinach, roasted red pepper, 3 green olives stuffed with garlic (packed in olive oil), 1/2 small baked potato (cubed), 6 small falafel patties, nutritional yeast flakes

1 'veggie dunker' (like a veggie finger, made by Sainsbury's) and 2 oven chips (these were nicked from hubby's leftovers--he didn't have salad)

1 bowl of Special K with unsweetened soy milk, then when there was some soy milk left in the bowl, I went back and refilled it half way with more Special K (a favourite old trick of mine)
So, I have no idea what the calorie content of this day was, but that's not really the point. Calorie counting is not something you can keep up forever. The salad was my attempt to salvage the day after eating so many junky nibbles, although it's probably still pretty high in calories with the potatoes, and falafel and olives and all that. It's the junk food that concerns me. This is not untypical for me for the last 10 months or so. This is why I've gained weight.

Also, I had to work until 6.00 again last night. The timetable I've been on since April has me doing two 6.00 finishes each week, and I find it so hard to work out when I don't get home until 6.30 or 6.45. So last night I didn't work out. Fewer workouts, more food.

I also think I'm starting to feel my age. I am so tired on those 6.00 finish nights. And my workouts sometimes torque my knee a bit, and I feel it more in my left hip, which always made itself known to me in the past during workouts, but is now making itself known to me even more. I'm not saying pain, I'm just saying I 'feel' it. It bothers me that I never managed to get my body where I wanted it and now I'm feeling like I'm on a downward spiral, age-wise.

I forgot to weigh this morning, but I've written down my breakfast. Today is my day off--thank GOD--and I will work out today. Must keep trying.

And, Anna, you posted the 'dreaded butt-shot' on your blog...well, here's mine! Hubby took this picture of me when we visited Hardwick Hall a few weeks ago and when I saw this I was appalled. These jeans used to be loose. Now they're like leggings! If they weren't those 'stretchy' denim ones, I wouldn't even be able to get them on anymore. I was not thrilled with this photo AT ALL. (You can see by my expression I wasn't thrilled with him taking it at the time! ha ha) Click on it to get the full gruesome effect. LOL