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I saw Gravity last year, before the award nomination season, because I’d heard it was good and it seemed to be the sort of movie best seen on the big screen (and it was). I liked it a lot – and was especially interested in how the story unfurled with really only one character. The series of unfortunate events did touch the ceiling of my suspension of disbelief, and I agree with the criticism that the inclusion of the backstory about her daughter was clumsy and unnecessary (it strikes me now, long after the viewing, that it would have been a hell of a lot more interesting if her motivation and drive to survive was a mystery instead of the somewhat trite idea of overcoming loss) but I still liked it a whole lot, and enjoyed the hell out of watching it.

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Loudmouth

My father told me an old joke once – I must have been in grade school or thereabouts and asking him about his martini. It went something like this:

Man enters the bar.

“Give me a dry martini”

“How dry would you like it?”

“Just whisper vermouth over it”

Bartender serves the drink. Man grimaces ….

“Loudmouth”

I have no idea why that joke has stayed with me all these years, but it came to mind when I looked at a recipe I just had to try in Whitewater Cooks, Pure, Simple and Real, a Christmas present from my bother. I’d heard it was a good cookbook – it was originally published in 2005 and is in it’s 18th printing – and had been asking for it for awhile1. It starts with my personal favorite, soups.

The first to catch my eye was Baba’s Borscht. First of all: soup. My memories of borscht are limited to a couple of occasions when my Dad made it – and I think he only made it a couple of times because it was not popular with us kids. Although, that didn’t stop the recurrence of other unpopular dishes, so perhaps it didn’t live up to his and Mom’s expectations either.  The only thing I could remember was the one thing I liked: sour  cream.  This recipe doesn’t call for sour cream, and is the borscht equivalent of a very very very dry martini in the level to which it relies on beets.

I’ve a selective relationship with beets: I adore beet greens, I enjoy pickled beets, I like beet juice, and I like grated raw beets on salads. I do not, however, particularly like cooked beets. I’ll eat them, but I’m still sort of stuck on what to do with all the beets I’d need to support my beet green habit2. This is a recipe for borscht for those who don’t like beets – I’m pretty sure they are only there for color (and as a consequence chose to use the usual red beets instead of the golden beets that were on sale) – and are ultimately discarded after boiling.  This is a tomato-based borscht3.borscht

Borscht!

This is, like the aged eggnog recipe4 one I should have read through more carefully before beginning. I did read it through – just mistook that it makes 12 QUARTS for that it served 12 (really – how many recipes makes 12 QUARTS!!). So in that 12 quarts, there is the boiled off flavor of 2 beets. It’s a slightly difficult recipe in that the recipe itself isn’t entirely clear, and that it’s fiddly because it needs two very large pots to make the 12 QUARTS.

And the results were very tasty, indeed.  I took about half the soup into work – where it vanished pretty quickly in an office filled mainly with people who, ah, don’t focus on their vegetables, so it gets two thumbs up. The downside is that it makes 12 QUARTS and uses two pots – but I’m still not ruling out making it again.  But I am looking forward to the other recipes in the book.

1 I have far too many cookbooks to buy any on my own. I will never outcook them.
2 I try to follow other people when buying beets at the Farmer’s market after once being behind someone who was having the vendor remove the greens for discarding and I got a giant pile of greens for free!
3 I didn’t know there was such a thing either – it’s a much less famous variant
4 Where I didn’t realize how much I was making until I was getting ready to measure out a LITER of bourbon. Tasty. Far, far, far too much.

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On an old classmate’s recommendation, I watched Chimamanda Adichie: The danger of a single story as my next TED Talk:

Really, a beautiful talk about how prejudice is born of just having a single story, and the critical importance of having many stories

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Egg Nog

Almost two weeks ago, I crossed one more item off of my 40B440 list – I really need to keep up with my blogging – I made aged Egg nog (9.25.2010). Although I probably should have been more clear on my list, as it doesn’t seem to me that the process will be complete until I drink it. It tasted pretty damn good immediately after mixing and I understand it will get better with age. For those of you a bit squeamish about the idea of drinking a beverage composed in part of raw eggs and cream that has been left to sit for weeks or months consider this: the majority of the beverage (both in terms of calories and volume) is 90 proof (45% alcohol by volume). And some curious scientists at NPR tested it by spiking a batch with salmonella and drawing up cultures periodically. The result: after 3 weeks, no salmonella left alive!

I used the recipe linked to here, but apparently only part of my brain engaged when I was looking and buying the ingredients and supplies: I should have looked and THOUGHT about quantities. Really? A recipe that calls for a LITER of bourbon?

A GALLON jug?

I’m going to have to have a party …

 

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2010 Resolutions – April Status

Well, I’m still not being as diligent as I’d hoped in reviewing my resolutions.  I think perhaps I should reframe my expectations to something I actually think I can manage. So I will aim for once a month, but will (try) to consider myself satisfied with twice a quarter. And I will try to keep reminding myself that I’ve already surpassed any other year.

And I already know that May is going to be very hard on me – so I’m trying to prepare myself to cut myself some slack this month. Like I’m any good at that – but that is an area where I could use some improvement.

Work towards being as fit as I’ve ever been.
This is going pretty well. I had lost more than 15 pounds – but I’ve fallen pretty far off the PCP wagon in the past few weeks and am not only disappointed with myself, but am unhappy with the loss of strength and likely gain in weight that came as a consequence. It’s foolish to beat myself up over it – especially as it’s less a result of lack of discipline and will and more a result of my life taking an abrupt detour as my priority has been family first and personal desires second. While I am not happy about it, I really can’t argue with the fact that choosing things that make my life even a little easier right now is the sensible thing to do.
On the plus side, I am finding that I’m craving a PCP diet, I really am missing being well rested and having a good hard workout, and I’ve signed up for the beta-run of Patrick’s Kung-Fu Body project. The first few weeks off of PCP I had some serious doubts that I’d find it as easy as I’d hoped to stay on the PCP plan. But after a few weeks of slacking, the urge to get back to pushing myself physically and the dissatisfaction with food treats began to kick in, and now that the initial hedonism is over, I think I’m mentally ready to go back. If life will let me.

I gather the KFB will be similar to PCP but with an emphasis on flexibility and agility over strength and with a mental/meditative aspect. I’m actually even more excited about this than PCP – mostly because it falls so well into what I want (now that my strength is up, I’m wanting to improve my flexibility), especially the mental component. Also, I’m looking forward to getting back onto a more disciplined way of living and I miss the routine of the PCP. It doesn’t hurt to have external support while I continue to push towards my size/weight goals, either.

I did/have found it difficult to balance a good strength training workout with serious training for running. To seriously do running training, I need to put in considerable more time to the aerobic portion of the workout – more than just substituting running for jump roping (and I usually find it tempting to go just a little bit longer), which means either I cut back on the time spent strength training (which feels like I’m slacking) or I spend more time (which, really, I just can’t affort). So in the absence of the KFB, I should learn to accept a redesigned (and shorter) strength training regimen. This may be a moot point: KFB starts in a week, and it’ll be at least half a week before my life will more resemble normalcy. But I’m thinking I may substitute running for jump roping in the KFB, no matter what Patrick says.

In the other areas of health – in terms of preventative maintenance – I’m good and shouldn’t have much more to do for a year or so – unless something crops up.
I have not been doing nearly any blog writing since PCP ended – which is a little surprising. Or perhaps not, now that I think on it. I guess that I needed a de-gassing period before settling back into a routine, and maybe expecting to immediately fill my new found free time with activity was demanding a little too much from myself. What do I keep saying about needing to make myself have some really leisure and relaxation? But I think that I’m ready to go back, once life permits.
I STILL have not done a monthly essay for F=S, and I do intend to remedy that, but am not sure how to do so.

Find a better way to balance work, me, and trips up to Boston.

I’ve been making a little progress on this, if incrementally, and even if alot of it is simly due to practice. Firstly, it is much less wearing on me to drive up Saturday morning and take Friday to relax and a good night’s rest beforehand. Secondly, it really helps that I embrace the expectation that I will not get anything I want done during my time up there or travelling, and make the conscious choice to give my weekend to Mom and Dad. And lastly, it helps to set my expectations for what I do once I returned home to NJ to a doable minimum – with time for relaxing. I don’t always manage all this – and with driving up to Boston every weekend for a month this is harder to manage than usual, but it all helps. It also helps to both whip myself into getting chores and etc. done during the week and to give myself an evening or two to simply chill out.

Of course, this inevitably means less time to work on my other projects. I’m less successful at being sanguine about that.

Slow down and simplify my life.

I continue to make small steps and have been making more conscious decisions to not do or expect to do something because I’m more aware that either I really don’t have the time, or I will feel rushed and frustrated to make the attempt, and to try to simply do one thing at a time. I’ve also been more aware of trying to take things more slowly and enjoy the process.

I want to be better about writing down one or two things I did or accomplished each day, and am thinking that I need to do something a bit more proactive. I was better about logging it when I was tweeting about it. But I found the tweeting boring and stopped. Maybe I should reconsider how I tweet and revisit the idea of a gratitude journal. And I should definitely consider making it a part of KFB. I’ve bought five bunches of flowers and have lit candles maybe half a dozen times this year.  I need to remember to light candles more often. I need to make journal writing a more regular and honest part of each day.

Continue to work on having better time management.

This remains a work in progress. The calendar I bought at new years is very helpful for planning ahead and pacing work, but I’ve noticed that I’ve begun slipping about using it. I think I stopped using it so much when I kept it full of loose bits of paper and have not worked to get back in the habit now that I’ve cleared it out – and I keep collecting paper in it. Grrr. I’ve also started to develop a habit of planning the next day’s work the day before. I’m working on really cementing that habit, but haven’t made alot of progress. I’d like to try to start every day with 5 minutes spent on my calender, to get me back into the habit, and to start the day thinking about what I want to do with the time, instead of simply letting things overtake me. Really, the only way to do what really matters to me and to manage my energy levels is to pay attention to what I intend to do and what I actually end up doing.

I’ve made barely discernable progress in making better estimates for how long to spend on things, or getting enough putter time. I did track my time for a week, but have yet to sit down and examine the results to cull what I learned. I did notice right off that I can lose alot of time to interruptions and distractions so that is one very clear area for improvement. I also noticed when I went to the grocery store more than once a week, and a few other things that I don’t remember right now because I didn’t sit down and think about it right away. Which is a learning point right there.

I’ve decided not to do things a growing number of times because I’ve known it was simply wishful thinking that I could manage them in addition to other things I planned. With the exception of taking a mental health day (a hugely successful and good idea – at least this time around) I’ve not planned any time for me or for a vacation. Taking nearly a week off while Dad is in hospice really doesn’t count. I haven’t had a vacation day in a quarter and need to be sure that I break my bad habit of waiting until I’m really feeling burned out before planning a vacation. May is going to be pretty busy – especially with catching up with everything I need to do – so I  really just need to plan a a long weekend and just do something about it. I’ll need to take some time for Dad’s memorial, as yet unplanned, and for a trip to Vermont for a family memorial, so something separate from that. I need to do something for me.

Work on actually working to become a writer.

I’ve done little towards this except daydream. I more firmly intend to take a bigger step towards this – it’s long past time to start doing the things that matter to me. This will be my next major focus after I feel I’ve made sensible strides towards my resolution to be as fit as I’ve ever been – and this means sometime before the end of KFB.

Work on pursuing my happiness, not what other’s think it should be, or what I think it should be, but what it actually is.

I’ve still done squat all towards this. But making successfull efforts to achieve my resolutions, changing the way I think, writing in my journal, is helping – and starting to work on being a writer will be another step forward.

Pay more attention to long-term goals.

I’ve made little further progress here, and may have slid back some. I need to get back to mapping out a change of focus for each month, working towards pacing my work, and penciling in plans to train for and run another marathon. I need to redouble my efforts in this arena– work towards developing career goals, plan this year’s vacations, and so on. This may be a resolution better measured on an annual, not monthly basis. But I want to keep my eyes on the prize and so far, I suck at it. I keep meaning to sit down and spend some time on this, but never doing so. I have started to work on my lists – lists of projects, things to think through, daydreams, etc – and this has in a very small way helped me start thinking about long term goals (and remember what I’ve already thought about, which is a huge step forward).

Start building a recipe binder

I’ve started – and have even referred to it once, but have done little other than add papers to a pile. Despite my PCP diet, there have been a few new recipes I’ve tried. I just need to have a better idea of what would be the best way to organize it for my own use, and put in a couple of hours to put it together. Not, I think, a project for May. I’d like to spend some time thinking about what I’d like to do, but I’m beginning to see this as a project for the autumn.

Be more aware of my finances.

I started tracking/balancing my TD account – and have been working to be more strict with keeping to my cash budget, but I’ve backslid and lost traction. My ancillary goal for February was to clean out my den – and I did squat all on that since. I need to get back on track. At the very least, I need to se up an environment to work on my finances in. I’ve been not good about tracking my spending, but have been better than I expected to be at holding back from buying unnecessary things, but backslid in April. It’s time to get back on track.

Spend more time keeping in touch with long-distance friends.

I’ve been pretty good at this recently. Mostly because I’ve been reaching out to friends to let them know about Dad. There’s been some internal resistence, but my head knows how much I get out of talking with my friends, so I’ve done it and am glad I have.

Cut down on TV

I’ve made baby steps in this direction – a few steps forward and a few steps back, but overall I’ve been pretty happy with my progress. I’ve also been more aware when I’ve used TV as a place to hide, and that’s OK, because it’s a choice, not a habit.

Make cultural activities a more regular part of my life
I’ve not made much progress on this. Perhaps this is more of a «I’d like to be the kind of person who..» than something I really want to do. Although I do enjoy it. But right now my focus is more internal – do I need to balance that with something external, or not spread myself all over the place?

Clean, organize, and streamline home.

I’ve made very little progress on this this month. But I am more mentally in a place to get rid of unnecessary stuff and still have hope that I’ll have significantly less stuff at the end of the year than I do now.

Consciously work on my photography

I’ve made a little progress – I’ve taken steps to take better photos indoors with a flash by a) remembering that I can change the ISO and buying a defuser (which makes a huge difference). I bought myself a new camera bag, which was a bit of an indulgence but is one that I’m very happy with and I think it’s helped me bring my camera to more places to take pictures.

Host more social events

I’ve made no further progress – although I still have good intentions. I’d like to host another game night, but it’s not sensible to expect that I’ll do anything in May or, very likely, June. So I need to line something up for July.

Read 50/50 for fun and for thinking.

I’m doing a bit better here – I just finished reading Making Ideas Happen with taking notes in the margins and intend to go through and think about somethings in the coming month or so. I’d still like to do more reading of either strip. I went through a little fallow period.

Write. Daily.

No progress. Need to focus.

Try on-line dating again.

Not yet.

Take stock of where I am now, so as to see what I can achieve in 2010.

This is partly done – I still need to consider what I hope to achieve in 2010

Every day write down what I’ve accomplished

I’ve been slipping. Need to keep at it and perhaps build.

Eat out of the Freezer and Pantry.

So far, pretty good. The freezer is about half-way to empty. The cupboards still need some work, but most of that stuff was not PCP friendly, and with KFB coming up … I think I need to go through, organize, and dispose of what I’m simly not going to eat.

Create a List of 40 Things to do before I am 40 – and start doing them.

I’ve started, but I really need to get back to this. Time is running short. Working on my lists should help.

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WOOT! Congratulations TEAM!!!!

Well, first off –

WOW, am I glad I did PCP. Thank you Patrick and Chen and my fellow PCPers for all your help and encouragement! It has been a fantastic experience that I fully expect to stay with me in the weeks, months, and years to come.

A little Backstory

I stumbled across The Peak Condition Project, Patrick’s blog about his path to achieve Peak Condition a while ago. I no longer remember exactly when or how, but it was either at the tail end of his own project, or sometime when the first group of PCPers were going through the project. Something about the whole idea I found interesting, but it didn’t occur to me that it was something I could do, or was really interested in doing. This is primarily because:

In 2007 I resolved to run a marathon. I did so to raise money for children orphaned by the AIDs epidemic in Africa, to (I hoped) lose some excess weight, and to finally do something I’d been meaning to do for years. I trained and ran that marathon. I raised a good amount of money, and finally did something I’d tried and failed to complete a few times before. I did not lose any weight – you can’t run away from a bad diet, and (duh) running that many miles makes you more hungry so if you’re diet is poor … but while I’m proud of the fact that I trained and completed the marathon, it came with a price.

The biggest negative was that I very likely over-trained and was not motivated to do any sort of training for about a year afterward. (For those who think that maybe someday they’d like to finish one – watch this and remember that the bulk of the training is for the mind, not the body – and that’s where I failed, pushing myself past what I was really willing to commit to).

So when I first stumbled on PCP, I was just beginning to come out of my burn-out. For some magic reason, every little while or so I would circle back and check out who was doing the project and see how they were doing. Kind of like a confused homing pigeon, I suppose. Last year I got back into running again, and ran a half-marathon and began to think that maybe, just maybe, I’d like a positive marathon running experience under my belt.

Late last year, I again revisited the PCPers – and this time the “Next PCP Begins in:” caught my attention and I began toying with the idea of actually being a part of PCP. I thought, if I was serious about getting my health and fitness back on track, then I couldn’t just rely on doing it myself. I had to be willing to ask for help.

And this looked like the place for me to do it.

Two days before Christmas, I typed a shy email and quickly hit “send” and … it was one of the best decisions I’ve made.

Hurrah! And thanks again to Patrick and Chen and my fellow PCPers!

Expectations and Surprises

I expected PCP would work. I expected that if nothing else, holding myself accountable to a team of other people would keep me in line and on a healthier path. I did not expect it to work so well or to suit me so well. I expected to lose some weight. I did not expect to lose more than 16 pounds and at least 2 pant sizes.

I expected the workouts to be hard. I can push myself to keep going, but I didn’t think I could push myself past the hurt, or push myself to do all those icky strength-training exercises I didn’t like. I did not expect to so swiftly adjust to doing the hard, or to actually enjoy strength-training.

I expected the diet to be really hard. I expected to have to give up treats like cheese, fried food, etc. I did not expect that I would so seldom be hungry. I did not expect that my more frequent complaint would be that there was TOO MUCH food. I expected to eat the obvious good-for-you foods such as complex carbohydrates and vegetables. (I’ll confess I didn’t expect to have to give up salt). I did not expect how quickly my palate would adjust to less salt and sugar in my food. I thought that I’d be craving the foods I was giving up the whole time. I did not expect to wander through a grocery store (I still can’t figure out how to buy enough egg whites) the day before the end and TOTALLY NOT BE EXCITED. Celebratory post-PCP food binge? Not so much. Not really interested. Kinda of want a new toy – oh, wait, I have one – THE NEW ME.

I thought that I had anticipated the hard parts – But I did not anticipate the time commitment that was needed. Underestimate the exercise time a little, grossly underestimate the food prep time (and all the grocery shopping ’cause I still can’t get it right), underestimate the blogging time. It was all time well spent – especially once I began to get the hang of preparing the bulk of my food on the weekends – but still unexpected.

I expected to slowly adapt to my adapting body – I didn’t expect that I’d begin to marvel each day at what I can now do, and how I (don’t) fit into my clothes. It’s like I woke up and found myself in a brand new body and I’m delighted.

I did not expect the 90 days to go by so Gosh-Darned fast!

I thought I’d be excited for the end, instead of a little lost and wistful.

The Road Ahead

Unexpectedly enough, I’m going to miss PCP. Not so much the time commitment, but the camaraderie, the sure knowledge of what my workout and diet was going to be, the growing pleasure in the progress I’ve made.

I’m going to keep going with a little PCP on my own. For one thing, I’m a little shy of where I want to be. I’d really like to work on my pull-ups and dips so I can do them without a counter balance. That’s just an itch I’ve got to scratch. And the whole bicycle thing … I’d like to be able to do 6 reps of 60 seconds without having to stop midway through. And for another – it’s finally sinking in that cross-training and strength-training will really help my running, so I want to continue to build on that.

But I’ll (mainly) retire the jump rope and devote my time instead to running. Goodness, I miss the running.

Rules for the Road

Since I finally dipped into the PCP world after reading other PCPer’s blogs, I thought I’d drop a few things that I learned from the experience in the hopes of helping a future PCPer. Here they are:

– chewy food is more satiating. If it’s a choice of 100 grams of broccoli cooked al dente, or 100 grams of broccoli blended into a soup … the first will sate you much more than the second. If it’s a choice between 100 grams of soft white bread and 100 grams of chapati – the chapati will see you a whole lot further.

– using markers to count jump roping helps alot (sidewalk squares, for example). Counting jump roping bored me out of my gourd. Too bad it took me weeks to figure out that I could just count to 100 and the jump to the next sidewalk square so I wouldn’t have mental thoughts like this: ” 725, 726, oh … wait.. was that really 725. Damn it. Need to be sure I’m not cheating. 625, 626 ….”

– That first photo might make you cringe, might later still make you cringe, but even though you didn’t believe him when he told you you’d be glad you posted it, Patrick is right: it’s lovely to be able to see your progress.

– Also in the theme of “Patrick was right and you were a doofus for doubting him” – a plastic jumprope is a million times easer to manage than a nylon woven one. A million.

– What you think is going to be hard may not be. For me, the diet wasn’t hard (it helps that I love to cook and love vegetables). The exercises were (mostly) not that hard. Consistently putting aside the time to weigh and prepare the food and do the workout and blog … that was hard. But committing to it gave me the results I wanted.

– It make life alot simpler to weigh out and package a weeks worth of meals over the weekend. It may not make for an adventurous week of meals – but food really shouldn’t be an adventure at every meal. And have the time for other things is really nice.

– You might think you’ve prepared to commit. You are prepared to work out hard. You are prepared to let go of bad-for-you-foods… but have you considered if you are committed to the TIME it will take to do the workouts, stick to the diet, participate in the group, and figuring out how to fit PCP into your regular life? Just make sure.

– when you need new clothes – buy new clothes. You don’t want your pants falling down at the wrong moment. Really, this is lesson you don’t want to learn the hard way.

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So Patrick unveiled our workout for our last (sniff) PCP day…

What a great idea – to go back to an early workout and repeat it. What a fantastic way to show us how far we’ve come.

I went back to day 1. HA! I could have done that workout in a ball gown – I didn’t break a sweat, and finished it in just about 10 minutes! The jump rope sets? Did them all at once, not tripping once. The pushups? I remember how hard I had to struggle to not do them on my knees … this time I didn’t even get my heart rate up.

Wow! That does hammer the point home 🙂

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