Can you dig it?

My parents-in-law recently got an allotment. I'm not sure if that's a universal concept so here's a wee definition from allotment.org.uk:

"In the UK, allotments are small parcels of land rented to individuals usually for the purpose of growing food crops."

(See also Wikipedia for difference between an allotment and a community garden)

They put themselves on the waiting list about a year ago as they don't really have space for veggies in their own garden. Finally their number came up, and it turned out to be one big mofo of an allotment so there's plenty of room for Gareth and me to join in. We've always wanted pumpkins but don't have the space to give them a proper go – remember the micro pumpkins of 2009? I hope to grow a shitload of kale too.

But first, we must dig. The plot is absolutely choked with weeds. Layer upon tangled layer of weeds, about a foot deep. Like a giant stinky weed trifle. With occasional wooden planks, old potatoes, plastic bags and a 6-foot piece of guttering thrown in for flavour.

Edit: I totally want to try a kill mulch to snuff out the weeds, as suggested by the lovely Debbi!

I think it's going to be the ultimate metaphor. For lard-busting. For life.

It takes ages. It feels like you're getting nowhere. Just when you finish one bit you turn around and see metres and metres of un-dug space and you want to cry.

Some days you are in love with it. The pissweak November sun warming your brow; the promise of a sandwich at noon.

Some days you hate it with a passion. Surely we'll be done soon? It's only been twenty minutes.

Some days while you're wrestling with a particularly stubborn weed, some smart arse will shove a pile of grass down the back of your jeans.

Some days you can't stop smiling from the simple pleasure of hanging out with loved ones. Some days everyone gets on your nerves ("Can I just make a small suggestion?") and you long to whack them over the head with your garden fork.

But then you remember it needs time. And consistency. And there is pleasure to be had in the process. Just gotta keep on diggin'.

Allotment

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Why gardening is like weight loss

Wee-greensWhile shoving a few seeds in pots and washing bugs from the crevice of lettuce leaves hardly qualifies me as a gardener, I’m finding this growing malarkey so addictive and relaxing. With all that learning and bumbling error, gardening is a great metaphor for life. But I know most people come here for the lard busting chat, so it’s time for another episode of… Dodgy Weight Loss Analogies!

It’s best to start small
I nearly went beserk on my first visit to the garden shoppe – OMG obscure berries and fancy tomatoes and potatoes with girly names! We should get chickens too! And keep a goat in the bathroom!

It was just like the old dieter’s mindset: Must lose 2 kilos, revolutionise lifetime of crappy eating habits and do 5 gym visits by Sunday!

So I slowed down – starting out small meant less chance of falling into a defeated heap two weeks later. I internetted “easy plants for absolute beginners” and settled on salad leaves and herbs for my debut.

Knowledge is power
If you’re out of your depth you can’t be afraid to ask for help. In this case it’s been my father-in-law, gardening blogs and “The Kitchen Gardener” by Alan Titchmarsh – a very straightforward book that explains the basics in gentle, encouraging tones. Whenever a plant does something weird or looks close to death our mantra is, “Ask Titchy!” The good thing is, the more you learn the more confident you become and eventually/hopefully you’ll get bold enough to test your own thoughts and ideas.

You gotta get dirrrrty
You could shove seeds in the ground then admire a la distance while hoping for the best. But if you want sexy results you have to get mucky. You have to nuture your babies, water them regularly and patrol for snails. As with lard-busting, it all boils down to time, sweat and toil.

From little things big things grow
At first it looks so pointless and insignificant – a broken pot, some dirt and £1 packet of seeds. Then you spy a tiny hopeful shoot pushing through. Then suddenly a few weeks later you’re greeted with a lush spray of poncy salad leaves. Just like when you start your healthy quest, a brisk walk and forsaking Pop Tarts for porridge can feel like it will never amount to anything. But give it time and patience and those small efforts sprout into bigger rewards.

Mind your own business
It’s easy to get Garden Envy when the neighbours are retired and have more time and fancy equipment and fancy flowers and whatnot and all you have is a rusty spade and a half-dead strawberry cutting. I was no stranger to lard-busting jealousy either – She’s losing weight faster than me! She’s got a personal trainer! She doesn’t have to work! Rah rah rah!

But you have to focus on your own situation and budget and channel that energy into making the most of the tools you have to hand. You might have a second-hand DVD instead of a personal trainer… but you still have YOU and your own imagination.

PERFECTIONISM IS FUTILE
Holy moly this is a lesson I need to learn. So often I’m frozen into inaction for fear being undeserving or doing something wrong or rubbishly. But the gardening is showing me that it doesn’t bloody matter if you cock up. It’s more fun to let go of the outcome and plunge your hands into the soil. What’s the worst that could happen? The plant might cark it but you only lose a few hours of your time or a few pennies for the seedling. Failure is your friend. Embrace ineptitude!

Some things are beyond your control
You can be diligent with your diet or pamper the hell out of your plants, but sometimes the weather turns nasty or a pheasant craps on your head or a snail gnaws away at your resolve. But at least you’re DOIN’ IT, baby.

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Eating Disorder Pigeon and Friends

There are two bird feeders Yard  in our back yard. Not long after we moved in, Gareth appointed himself chief caretaker. He treats the birds very well, tut-tutting when they spill the seed boxes or crap in their water dish.

We first got addicted to bird watching during the lazy days between Christmas and New Year. Much of the scant daylight hours were spent by the windows with a cup of tea and a running commentary on the feathered soap opera.

I tend to view the world through my stomach so I was worried about the consequences of feeding the birds. Were they being fed elsewhere? Did they need any more food? Would our abundant bird buffet tempt them to eat more than they needed? Were birds in tune with their hunger signals? Did they have the power to eat to the point of satiety then fly away? Can you tell I was reading a lot of intuitive eating books last year?

Anyway, as it turned out, "eat like a bird" means different things to different kinds of birds.

This little robin is called Benito. He is the undisputed boss of the garden.

Benny

Benito is not a big eater; he seems quite indifferent to the food. But he objects to anyone else getting their beaks on "his" stash. He likes to sit on a fence post and survey his domain with his shrewd little eyes, daring other birds to come mess with him. He doesn't care how big or small they are; he'll take 'em on. The other day an innocent green finch hopped onto a feeder and Benito swooped right down and shoulder-barged him off the perch! I know birds don't really have shoulders but it's the best way of describing the violence of the manoeuvre. I can relate to this kind of territorial behaviour, especially if roast potatoes or chocolate rations are involved.

Benny again

This teeny guy is a blue tit. He's a bit of a grazer. He starts with a nibble of Fat Snax – crusty balls of lard, seeds and insects. Then he'll have a go of the peanuts and finish with a few seeds. He's very brief and dainty about it.

Upside-down

The blackbird is quite similar in eating style except he stays at ground level and adds worms to the mix.

Blackbird

This pheasant is a weirdo. Pheasants are like Scotland's small answer to kangaroos. If you go for a nice Sunday drive, they will wait for the precise moment you drive past to hurl themselves onto the road.

Our backyard specimen hangs around the table like a dog, hoping for scraps. Every now and then he'll gaze longingly up at the feeders and give his wings a half-hearted flap, but then decides he's better off just waiting for someone else to drop something.

Pheasant

Then there are the rooks. They are the teenage boys of the garden – noisy, unwieldy and hanging about in gangs.

They do a lot of skulking.

Bird on a wire

And a mega load of eating. They batter the feeders until they topple to the ground, then scoff scoff scoff 'til every last seed is gone. Teenage boys in cheesy commercials for bread or crumpets or whatnot, clattering into the kitchen after school. I'm staaaaarving Mum, what's to eat? Except here the rooks don't bother to ask and I'm shouting out the window, "Slow down and leave some for everyone else, you greedy glossy bastards!"

Nom nom

Would you cop a load of the beak on this fella?

Chop chop

My favourite bird is the wood pigeon. One pigeon in particular. His name is Eating Disorder Pigeon.

EDP

EDP has a hunger that can never be satisfied. He visits multiple times a day and doesn't graze or nibble. He just eats and eats and eats. One day I watched him while eating too many Caramel Digestive biscuits and, perhaps longing for a kindred spirit, I thought there might be a touch of the compulsive about him.

EDP at work

When he perches on the water dish on his tiptoes (tipclaws?), sticks his head into the little window, the rest of the world ceases to exist. Benito pesters and the rooks squark but EDP does not budge. Once I timed him and he munched for 40 minutes straight.

EDP on ground level

I shouldn't project my own issues onto an innocent wee bird, but just say he does have food issues, are we enabling him with this constant seedy smorgasbord?

Or perhaps it's perfectly normal consumption for a bird of his size. Maybe he just really loves his food. In that case, what will he do when we move house in May? It's not like he can take up kickboxing to fill the food-shaped void in his life. Then again we're not the only middle class saddos with bird feeders in this village, so I'm sure he won't go hungry…

Now look at this blue tit watching EDP tuck into the lard ball. One might say the angle of that little blue head is totally judgmental, but that would be paranoid!

Watching, watching

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Feats of Strength and Stupidity

Shera_2 I’ve been feeling kinda strong and feisty lately with all my kickboxing and weight training, and last night I gave Gareth a stunning demonstration. He was checking the kitchen floor for loose tiles and asked if I could help him move the washing machine. Two minute job, nae bother.

Separate laundries, a.k.a. utility rooms, are not common on the tiny isles of Britain. At least not in our sector of the housing market. So the washing machine is usually in the kitchen, wedged under the counter.

Ours machine is clunky and heavy so shifting it is a two man job. But I wanted to prove my brute strength and usefulness so I started dragging it out myself.

"Whoa!" said Dr G, "Nice one, She-Ra!"

I beamed.

"Can you just move it a little bit more to the right?"

I tugged with a Monica Seles urrrghhhh. There was a CRACK. Then a whoooosh. Then Gareth was almost knocked off his feet by the mighty jet of water that shot straight into his belly.

"You broke the hose! Turnitoff turnitoff turnitoff!"

"What? How? Where!?" I helpfully threw my hands in the air.

The severed hose writhed and the water spewed, rapidly flooding our stupid little kitchen. Gareth fought his way to the cupboard under the sink. Washing powder, garbage bags, shoe polish and sponges plopped into the water as he dug around for the switch.

Finally there was silence.

"I’ll get a towel," I said.

"This has done nothing to improve your reputation for having No Practical Skills."

"This wouldn’t have happened if we lived in a civilised country where laundries are not just for a privileged few!"

So apparently the hose is attached to the washing machine with a screwy-in-thingy and the screwy-in-thingy snapped right in half. Hopefully I can track down a new hose soon as it would be nice to wash the 27 towels it took to soak up the chaos.

"What were you trying to do there?" Gareth was laughing, despite being soaked to the bone, "You’re always so violent. No more kickboxing for you!"

It seems funny now but last night it felt like the straw that soaked the camel’s back. I  wanted to throw myself into the puddle and thrash like a toddler. This Fixing Up The Flat bollocks is getting old. Why does Two Minute Job task turn into an ordeal? Why can’t we just live in a dorm with a futon and a cardboard box?

I think Dr G has had enough too, going by his expression when he sat down on the couch last night and stretched his feet out under the coffee table, only to smash his toes against the microwave I’d neatly stowed there. Mess! Destruction! Trip hazards! Floods! Enough!

And what the hell does this have to do with weight loss, you may ask. Well. Perhaps we could fashion yet another weight loss analogy. Weight loss is like moving a washing machine because… people will tell you that it’ll be be quick and easy and painless but the reality can be very very messy and make you very very cranky.

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You’d Butter Believe It

Last year in a post called Why Stripping Wallpaper Is Like Weight Loss I reckoned that you could pretty much turn anything into a crappy metaphor for lard busting. Sunglasses, chickens, bananas, etc. I’ve got another one for you today: Making Your Own Almond Butter Is Like Weight Loss. Ohhh… yeah!

Way back in July 2006 Clotilde of Chocolate and Zucchini fame posted a recipe for homemade cashew nut butter, or beurre de cajou as they so elegantly say across the Channel. You grind raw nuts in a food processor until the natural oils emerge and transforms into a preservative-free trans-fatless natural goo. I was dying to make an almond version, but was convinced I couldn’t be trusted not to gobble the whole jar with a spoon.

Eighteen months later, I try not to say that sort of thing. I don’t like to think of foods as dangerous or triggers or any word that implies that I am a powerless, out of control fruitloop that needs to be muzzled at farmer’s markets. So I felt I was ready to pulverise some nuts.

Almond butter is delicately grainy and almonds are very nutritious, don’t you know. But it is pricey. £1.80 for a tiny 170g jar! It’s a lot cheaper in the USA – I lugged a big jar of Trader Joe’s stuff back from Chicago. It had honking huge shards of almond that stabbed the roof of the mouth in a painfully pleasant way. But once that ran out I was back to the expensive one, which made me recall Clotilde’s recipe. Hmmm, I said in a tightwad tone befitting of one who has lived in Scotland almost five years, I could buy a half a kilo of raw almonds for the same price and make my own! THRIFT-O-RAMA!

Back in January, I bought my bag o’ nuts and prepared to churn out another shitty metaphor.

Making almond butter is like weight loss because…

1. You start out with a lumpy mess!

Ab4

Ho ho ho.
This is actually 500 grams of raw almonds, which I toasted in the oven.

2. The fundamental recipe is simple
Dump almonds into food processor, process at high speed until creamy. That’s all there is to it! Eat less, move more! EASY!

3. The reality is painfully slow and messy and tedious frustrating as hell.
I hit the button.
And I ground and I ground and I ground.
And nothing happened.
So I looked at the clock. Ground some more.
Grind grind grind.
Sweat swear sweat.
Nothing happening!
It’s not working! WHY ISN’T IT WORKING?! The recipe said it would work!
Twenty minutes of solid labour and all I had was almond clods!
This blows. WHAT’S WRONG WITH ME?!

Ab3

4. When you least expect it, it all comes together.
By this point the food processor was almost too hot to touch. I was waiting for the smoke to appear. But after twenty five minutes the first trickle of oil oozed out. BROWN GOLD! And then finally it started to take shape.

Ab2

5. The end product may not be exactly what you’d dreamed of. Might a bit rough. And lumpy.
Or look like complete dogs droppings. And I’d overtoasted the nuts – our oven has two settings: Cold Indifference or Cremains, so you can never get things right. But perfection is for… perfect people. This stuff had character! It was delicious too, subtle and creamy.

I also managed to eat it in a sensible manner, spread over a series of breakfasts (with Bonne Maman apricot jam, CHOICE!) I didn’t attack it with spoons or write odes of longing when we were apart. There’s hope for me yet.

CONCLUSION
This mega jar of almond butter was a bargain at just £2. Of course that doesn’t account for labour and half an hour of electricity. But just like the lard busting, sometimes the most effective method is not the most efficient!

Ab

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The Great Wall

I’ve spent the past two evenings stripping ancient wallpaper in our hallway and it’s been quite exhilarating. I know I’m nearly 30 and definitely old enough to legitimately do such things to a dwelling, but DIY still feels like reckless vandalism. I kept waiting for the Mothership to jump out of the cupboard and say, "What do you think you’re doing, young lady!?"

All those hours of steaming and scraping gave me a lot of time to ponder in a Calorie Flabshaw sort of way how wallpaper stripping is a great metaphor for weight loss. I reckon you can turn almost anything into a crappy lard-busting metaphor – chickens, bananas, sunglasses, making risotto (feel free to raise a challenge) – but wallpaper removal is particularly good and cheesy.

Why Stripping Wallpaper Is Like Weight Loss

  • If you want good results, you’re going to have to get hot and sweaty
  • You start out thinking you’ll blast it off quickly and neatly but it ends up taking a bazillion times longer
  • At first it’s almost fun… but soon novelty is replaced by NEVER-ENDING TEDIUM and you realise you’re going to have do the same thing over and over and over and OVER again
  • When things get dull, you look for shortcuts and/or alternative methods until you eventually admit that only time and hard work will do
  • Sometimes you scrape away for ages and ages and the wallpaper won’t budge, then just when you least expect it a great big chunk comes off at once!
  • Things can look grim and messy when you’re in the middle of it but if you persist it will come together eventually

At least I hope that one is true. Hmm…

Wallpaper

. . .

In other news, I’m daydreaming about boots. Knee high ones to wear with frocks and skirts. I’ve never worn ‘em before and I vow at the start of every Scottish winter, "THIS YEAR SHALL BE THE YEAR OF BOOTS!" But every year I talk myself out it, saying I needed to get smaller legs first. Just one more year! Then you will be Boot Worthy!

Well this will be my FIFTH Scottish winter and I say to hell with all that postponing. My legs are plenty bootworthy right now. They always have been, darnit. They are sturdy legs, and I’ll no doubt need wide fit ones from Duo or similar to accomodate my calves. But they’re strong and healthy, they’ve faithfully lugged me around through thick and less thick and I’m over this Waiting For A Skinny Day mentality. I’ll save my pennies and hopefully I’ll be clomping around town by Christmas. Woohoo!

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What’s Cookin’?

Well hello there. The eagle-eyed among you may have noticed that six weeks on, I have updated my weight in the sidebar. Three kilos in six weeks ain’t bad, but I was actually lower than that around week four. Two weeks of flu, inactivity and Green & Blacks chocolate got in the way. I neglected my Mini Missions and didn’t write down what I ate…

OVERBLOWN WEIGHT-LOSS ANALOGY OF THE WEEK: The fat-busting process is like having something delicate in a saucepan, simmering on the stove. If you’re not constantly watching and stirring, it all boils over or burns or gets sticky. Sure you’re sick of stirring, your arm is tired, you’re looking at the recipe impatiently and thinking, shouldn’t something be happening by now?, but you have to stay there at that stove baby! Stay there until the dish is done!

… anyway, the lesson has been learned. I have to keep my eyes on the prize, pay attention to what goes in my gob and keep the momentum going.

Last night I was back at the gym with a vengance. 45 blistering minutes of Body Jam followed by 60 minutes of Body Pump. Oh how I love my classes. I am far more productive, excercise-wise, when there’s some buff little freak up on a stage yelling at me and telling me exactly what to do. I guess that comes from being inherently lazy.

Some people find the idea of sweating in a be-mirrored room with 40 people daunting, but it’s really the quietest time of day for me. You can get a lot of thinking done while you’re squatting or lunging for five minutes. The music and the shouty instructor fade into the background, and you can start thinking… I mentally scan my To Do list, or think about television, or my next holiday, or, as in last night’s case, think about trying not to fart. My sister made a great tomato lentil soup on the weekend, but it’s still haunting me. Sticking your ass out and bobbing up and down really makes it hard to restrain.

I’ve decided to state my Mini Missions upfront, instead of the retrospective analysis. Maybe if I tell you all each week what I want to achieve, I will feel more inclined to stick to them. This week:

1.  No chocolate.
I ate three, yes three, 100g blocks of Green and Blacks Organic Milk Chocolate last week. Whoops. I’m going cold turkey.

2.  Three trips to the gym.
I’m working all 7 days this week (ouch) so no Sunday gym. The revised schedule is Body Jam and Pump on Monday (done!), Body Balance and Body Jam on Wednesday, and Body Combat and Pump on Friday. I should be getting paid by Les Mills for my ringing endorsements of their classes.

3.  Watch the after-work snacking
I’ve been gobbling toast and picking at food during cooking.

4.  Measure the peanut butter.
I’ve been slathering PB on the aforementioned toast. Sure it’s the natural stuff (no added oil or sugar, just ground up nuts) but it’s calorie dense and I have no idea what a tablespoon of PB looks like.

Wish me luck, comrades.

Finally, are there any UK people out there? I have been looking all over town for a copy of Slimming magazine’s Guide to Calories and Fat 2004 (or whatever it’s called) and I cannae find it anywhere! Has anyone spotted it? I know there’s online calorie counters but I want something I can fondle, y’know?

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The Nutty Professor

Being in the midst of losing weight is like being a mad scientist. There's so much zeal and exertion and obsession involved, you'd think you were ensconced in a laboratory, surrounded by test tubes and pinging machines, curing terrible diseases or inventing wacky machines. But really, beneath the white coat and unsexy glasses, you're just working on the All New SuperAmazing Fantastical BODY Project™!

I feel so protective of my Project. I get cranky when things stop me from working on it, or when I stop me from working on it. I've spent the last week in a cloud of snot, phlegm and fatigue, the novelty of which quickly wore off and was replaced by guilt. GUILT for taking time off work, GUILT for skipping the gym, GUILT for sleeping and eating too much toast. What percentage of my brain is wasted on guilty thoughts? Must get the boys in the Math department to tell me that one.

Anyway, last night I was still unwell but convinced every 60-something kilos I've lost would crawl out of a lard lake and re-attach to my body IF I didn't resume work on my Project, ie. get back to the gym. So I did. It was a stupid move. It was a 45-minute Body Jam class, and I could barely shuffle my way though it. I should have walked out but here was my demented logic: I was just about the biggest person in the room, and if I left the class, people would think, Hey tubby! YOU CAN'T HANDLE THE TRUTH! I mean, The Class!

How stupid is that? In the 3+ years I've been gymming, I realise that noone really gives a shit about what anyone else is doing. Everyone's there for their own bodies. Still, my paranoia was sufficient for me to lurch my way through my class despite limbs that felt like lead and a pounding head. I should have listened to my body, stayed home and went to bed early.

Another facet of the weight loss/Mad Professor analogy is the secretive nature of it all. If anyone sneaks into the lab and tries peeking under the white sheet, well! Just watch me freak out! Noone's supposed to look at my precious invention until it's perfect! Perfect, I say!

There were two such incidents last Saturday. I stood up after my haircut, and shook off what I hoped was £27 worth of chopped locks. My stylist took off my cape, looked me up and down and smiled, "Are you losing weight? Your pants are absolutely huge on you!". I blushed, secretly pleased that she had noticed, especially considering this was only the second time she'd cut my hair, and that was only 5 weeks before. Yet I quickly dismissed it, "Yeah! I spose! Maybe a little bit. But not done yet!"

Then I arrived at work an hour later, one of my colleagues Belfast Bob said, "Have you lost more weight? I can tell ya know" and I said, "I think so. Maybe. Anyway, I'm working on it."

Don't look! Work in progress! Not finished yet!

. . .

Yesterday my lovely boy left for a two-week trip to Canada. The first thing I did when I closed the door behind him was bawl for a good two hours. Not because I am some pathetic git who can't function for two weeks without a man, but because I just didn't like that whole saying goodbye crap. Reality was biting me in the arse – I'm Australian, he's Scottish, and I get kicked out of the country in 12.5 months time. And in that time, I am travelling for at least five weeks, he's away for at least 7, so add that all up it's bugger all time left together. Who knows what's going to happen, I shouldn't even speculate, but it was still a gnawing yucky feeling in my gut, knowing that sooner or later I will have to face up to that.

Oh what a lovesick twit I am. Did I tell you about my raging insecurity, my belief that him being away for two weeks will give him to wake up and realise that I am actually a moron? That I am not worth sticking around for?

You know what's funny about losing a whole stack of weight? Nothing really changes. All that happens is that you lose the thing upon which you used to hang all your neuroses and Issues™. Fat has a shape and a name, it's a tangible thing, a scapegoat, an excuse, a mouldy old sofa so familiar that has an imprint of your arse on it. So once you lose that, you realise you're stuck with your moronic core.

This entry is sponsored by the letters P, M and S.

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