Friday Link Feast #1

Atlas If you're lazing about on a Friday afternoon – perhaps waiting for your long weekend to start if you're a lucky, lucky American – here's some links I've been meaning to share:

  • Charles Atlas Will Make A Man Of You!
    Forget your new-fangled Wii Fit! Todd Levin, the funniest bloke to ever set foot on the internet, went back to Charles Atlas, the original godfather of fitness, and followed his 1922 "Dynamic Tension" course for a month.
  • Beetroot, Squash & Halloumi with Chilli-Herb Dressing
    This recipe from Helen Graves is a cracker for your Help! There's A Vegetarian At My Table file. It's the most blow-your-socks off flavoursome salad I've had in a long time – savoury, sweet, fire and crunch in every brilliant bite. I've made it twice this week and already plotting its next appearance..'"
  • The Sustainable Seafood Dilemma – Clotilde of Chocolate & Zucchini has an excellent take on this incredibly complex issue with some great links and debate in the comments. I've always loved my sushi and fish n chips but the guilt, the GUILT! It's all become too much.
  • Do you use a washing up bowl?
    There's a rowdy discussion over at my non-fat blog about what I thought was a uniquely Scottish phenomenon, the plastic washing up bowl. Aussies thinks it's weird but the Brits will defend it to the bitter end.
  • Let them eat cake (and ice cream) – Some interesting thoughts on the differences between premium and less expensive ice creams – what are you really paying for?
  • 12 Ways To Secretly Practice Yoga At Work
    Abby Letz of Heartfelt Yoga had some great tips and thorough directions over on Elastic Waist
  • The Chocolate and Peanut Butter Gallery
    One of the things I love most about America is how you bring together peanut butter and chocolate in a myriad of ways. This site is "dedicated to the world's two best ingredients".
  • From Losing to Lifting
    Our pal Marla wrote a corker of an article about the profound effect weight training has had on her life. One choice quote: "I'm less intimidated by the opinions of others—and no small part of that is mentally muttering 'dude, I could kick your ass

Float like a lead balloon, sting like a flea

Kapow Things have gone up a gear at kickboxing, for the most pathetic reasons.

I was perfectly happy in my rut at the Monday beginners class with my trusty partner V. She was petite and light on her feet while I lumbered and failed to distinguish left from right. But we made a good pair – always urging the other to hit harder and kick higher; both in love with the faux violence.

Then V said she fancied adding in the Wednesday night Intermediate class, did I want to come? Her pal M was going to start too. Alas, I was in the midst of Moonwalk training and didn’t have enough legs to fit it in.

That was my first twinge of panic. What’s wrong with our cosy wee beginners class? Why would you want to join the scary class with the scary chicks with the fancy team trousers?  And you’ve found someone else to go with too? Am I not enough for you?!

It tore me up inside, knowing V was learning new moves without me. But I played it cool. Sorta. I joined the Wednesday class as soon as my Moonwalk wounds had healed.

But then! Then she had to go and buy the fancy trousers! The bright blue team dacks with the white stripe up the sides. Once you get the trousers, you mean business.

And then! V said she wanted to get into sparring. That’s when you start thumping actual people. Now I know some of you lovelies out there are proper martial arty types who do proper fighting, so please don’t laugh at me. It took me six years to graduate from punching the air at Body Combat class to punching a focus pad, so I wasn’t planning on punching people for at least seventeen more.

V was placing a big order at our favourite online martial arts shoppe and asked did I want anything? I ordered the protective puffy hat, the shin guards, the gum shield and the padded shoe thingos with no intention of using them. But if V and M were ordering sparring gear then I had to at least create the illusion of interest so I wouldn’t be written off altogether.

People ask me all the time, "How do you stay motivated?" Well, you can spur yourself on by sticking an unbecoming photo on your fridge or training for a charity event… but don’t underestimate less noble motivations, such as:

  • jealousy
  • fear of abandonment
  • desire to not look like a sissy in front of your friends

They fire me up just fine and dandy.

It may sound negative on the surface, but they compliment the other side of my personality: the lazy, complacent underachiever. Sometimes it doesn’t occur to that I could be pushing myself harder until I see someone else pushing themselves harder and then, frothing with envy, decide that perhaps it’s time to up the ante.

So in addition to the Wednesday night class, last week I graduated to the Monday Advanced class, again because V and M were doing it. It was so intense I almost spewed all over the mirrors and that was just the warm-up. I’ve never felt so incompetent in my life. I’m paranoid that I shouldn’t be there and the proper fighter chicks want me dead.

But I kept up. I need to remember that I was hopeless when I started the beginners class too, and hopeless when I started Body Combat in 2001. Baby steps, etc etc.

I’ve also had a wee sparring session. To psyche myself up I put on all my gear – puffy hat and gloves and gum shield (we call them mouthguards in Australia) – and asked Gareth to hit me.

Honestly, the tiny tap to my well-padded noggin was about as powerful as a mosquito’s fart but I shrieked, "You’re a prick! I’m calling the police!"

It is hard to describe the gut-wrenching alarm of seeing a punch coming at you for the first time. You spend your life avoiding that kind of thing, so it’s unsettling and unnatural to deliberately seek it out. I had a big sook, ripped off all my gear and vowed to eBay the lot.

But a few days later I rocked up to the class to try it for real, not wanting my pals to think I’d gone soft. I had to ask V to tie on my padded shoes for me because I was panicking too much to figure it out.

Finally, ready to rumble. V and I touched gloves. Immediately every technique fell out of my brain. Kick? Punch? What? Where? How?

I could not connect my brain with my arms and legs at all. Instead I muttered, "Shit! Shit! Shit a brick!" and turned into a human punch bag.

Just when I thought I couldn’t possibly be more shit, I had to swap to one of the experienced chicks. I was so intimidated, despite her being so polite and only using 2% of her actual fighting power. She was literally instructing me how to attack her, but my legs and arms just froze up and said, WE GOT NOTHIN!

At the end of the session I had to spar with our instructor. Arrgh! Honestly, you’ve never met a bloke so encouraging. He has built up a safe, friendly atmosphere and a great team who are so supportive of each other – even clods like me. He shuffled round saying,  "Just go for it! Don’t be polite!" But I felt so bloody uncoordinated and embarrassed and wanted to go home and eat toast. He wouldn’t let me give up though. Eventually I managed to loosen up and connect a few moves, thanks to him pretty much standing there and telling me exactly what to do.

Oh yes. Champion in the making.

But still, at least I had a go. There is a perverse satisfaction in doing something that scares you. I thought the biggest fear would be the Flying Fists and Feet but I was too busy being consumed by the Fear of Looking Like A Dickhead. When it comes to physical activity my mantra has always been, to butcher a phrase: It is better to stand still and be thought a fool than to move around and remove all doubt.

So this is uncomfortable ground but I am going to keep trying. I was overdue a change in routine and I know that many things great things in life start out feeling awkward. Better to be filled with dread and nausea as you explore new frontiers than languish in a rut. Besides, I gotta at least pretend to keep up with my mates for awhile before I go waving a white flag.

Tell Laura I Love Her

Laura from Leeds! Are you out there? Thank you for Amazoning me the bloody brilliant Last Shadow Puppets CD. I combed through my emails and there’s a freakishly high amount of Laura’s but the Leeds is throwing me. If you’re out there I’d love to say thank you properly 🙂

In other news, I am guest blogging at Limes & Lycopene today as part of Kathryn’s most excellent 31 Days to a Better Diet series. The post is called Tricks & Treats, all about how I overhauled my approach to treat foods, for want of a better term. Honest guv, I’m not always a Zombie!

A sample:

"I sat down and made a list of my favourite foods – all the things that filled my senses and left me truly satisfied. Instead of just writing “chocolate”, I specified particular brands or recipes. It sounds like a dorky thing to do, but it’s helped me to make more mindful choices. I remind myself that there’s a big difference between my grandmother’s homemade caramel slice and the cheap supermarket one that tastes like sand."

Read the rest over at Limes & Lycopene.

Sundae Bloody Sundae

One Friday night I was in the queue at McDonalds, gawking up at the menu board. Where are the caramel sundaes? Surely they still have the caramel sundaes!

I’d barely drank two inches of wine but that’s all it took. One minute I was there in the pub yapping away, and the next I was mumbling my goodbyes and heading for the Golden Arches in a trance. I could almost feel the ridges of the plastic cup in my hand, the flimsy spoon clonking against my teeth; the hot goo of the goods on my tongue.

I hadn’t eaten a Macca’s sundae for about five years – not because I’d gone all righteous and Spurlock about the place, but more that I’d cracked my thrice weekly habit and moved on to other vices. So it was strange that the swirly dessert popped into my head. It appeared right after a pang of panic and claustrophobia. Sometimes I still mildly freak out in social situations, and get an overwhelming urge to run and revert to hermit mode. On some level I still connect escape with food.

People talk about comfort eating or emotional eating but what about ZOMBIE EATING? I’ve found myself at the Cookie Table at work, staring down at the crumbs on my chest and thinking, What the hell happened there!? The feet and hands and mouth took over before the brain could make the connection between receiving the stressful email and grabbing the biscuits.

Other times I’ve been glassy-eyed in line at a coffee shop, fixated on the idea of my hand wrapped around a hot cardboard cup of overpriced beverage to soothe an undefined troubled feeling. Then I’ll take the first sip and come back to earth… Shit! What did I do that for!?

Back at McDonalds, I was jolted out of my reverie by the dulcet tones of a lady customer, "Arrriiiight hen, gis a Big Mac meal wi’ Diet Coke!"

I took in the spotty lad behind the till and the swaying drunks in the queue. Fark! How the bloody hell did I get here?

I left, walked home in the rain and watched telly.

Most times I have the ability to stop, tune in and realise I’m just stressed or anxious or bored or needing to pull a Greta Garbo – and therefore not shove something unnecessary in my gob. But sometimes I don’t even register that I’m feeling anything at all. It happens so fast and mindlessly that I don’t wake up in time.

Any other Zombies out there?

Note to self: Caramel sundaes are called toffee sundaes in the UK 🙂

Recipe Corner: Healthier Eton Mess

Strawberries! Quiiiick! Get 'em while you can! Get 'em while they're cheap! Get 'em while they're Scottish!

This is my August shopping mantra. For soon it shall be autumnal and dull and appleish, unless you want strawberries flown in from Guatemala at 70 pence per berry. So right now I'm shoving them into smoothies and salads and cereal and clinging onto summer even though it's pishing doon with rain outside.

My favourite ode to strawberries is Eton Mess. From the Wikipedia:

"Eton mess is a dessert of English origin consisting of a mixture of strawberries, pieces of meringue and cream, which is traditionally served at Eton College's annual prize-giving celebration picnic on the 'Fourth of June' … One anecdotal story is that the dessert was invented when a Labrador accidentally sat on a picnic basket in the back of a car on the way to a picnic."

Eton mess is basically a mangled pavlova, but with much less faffing. You take just three ingredients – strawberries, meringue and cream – and mix them all together to create a sweet, summery, chewy, delicious… mess. It's also relatively healthy on the dessert spectrum if you make a few tweaks.

1. The strawberries
A couple of handfuls per person. Slice half of them into large chunks and finely chop the others. This way you get nice bitey bits and plenty of smushy juices to seep into the other ingredients.

2. The creamy stuff
I use 2% Total Greek yogurt – a cupful per person. It's just as thick as the traditional whipped cream but obviously a helluva lot better for you. The slight tartness balances the mighty sweetness of the meringues. Many recipes add some sugar to the cream at this point, but you don't need it.

Fage_2

3. The meringues
Meringues are handy buggers to know if you want to make a lower calorie pud. And they're allegedly easy to make yourself – just egg whites and sugar, right? Ho ho ho. My last attempt looked and felt like "a plastic dog turd from a joke shop" so I buy them from the supermarket.

(Aside to Edinburghites: you could totally ponce this up with meringues from Valvona and Crolla – £2 each but they're HUGE and crisp on the outside and gooey in the guts! Rhi found 'em on her last visit. Hubba hubba.)

Here I used some mini ones from ASDA that were only 15 calories each. I used three per serve. Crumble them into a bowl with the strawberries. Plop on then Greek yogurt, then fold it all together.

Chopped

Spoon your Messes into a glass and take a photograph. Be sure to focus on the toaster in the background, so the Mess looks even more messy and indistinct.

Now tuck in a spoon while shouting, "Hurrah!" or "Top banana, old chap" or some other jolly crap that you might imagine blokes at Eton would say.

Mess

Here is a handy link to Google Image Search for more attractive Eaton Messes. Or you can check out Delia Smith's "About as Messy as a bouffant coated in seventeen tins of Elnet hairspray Eton Mess".

Eton Mess also works well with raspberries and other easily pulverised fruits. This tasty version has just 170 caloriesMesscals per serve. And only 340 calories if you accidentally eat two.

Must be the season of the bitch

I overheard two ladies having a chinwag outside the post office. One tall and thin with blue mascara and St Tropez tan, the other short and festively plump.

TALL:  And how are you getting on with your wee diet?

SHORT:  [beaming] I lost a pound this week!

TALL:  I only lost a pound this week, too.

SHORT:  …  *

TALL:   Then again, I’m already six pounds under my goal weight.

SHORT:  …

(* where equals the sound of a soul being destroyed right before your very eyes. Honestly, I’d take six pounds over an OompaLoompa complexion any day.)

8 Things To Do Before You Die

Loo What do you want to do before you kick the tin? There was a time when "be smaller" was the primary ambition but thankfully I diversified and remembered there were always many other things I wanted to do.

Roni recently tagged me for a meme where you have to name eight of them. I hadn’t properly put pen to paper since the Things To Do When I’m Skinny list of 2001, so it was nice to dream out loud.

  1. Spend a summer traipsing around Europe in a caravan, following the Motorcycle Grand Prix season.
  2. Stalk Follow Radiohead around the US on tour. Most likely not in a caravan.
  3. Tour around Australia and New Zealand with Dr G.
    People often do this in a caravan, but after many summers stuck behind stinky slow-arse caravans in the Scottish Highlands, I don’t know if we could join their ranks and live with ourselves.
  4. Re-read every single Babysitter’s Club book and see if I still identify with Claudia the most. Not because of her snappy dressing, just her penchant for hiding candy under her bed.
  5. Learn to sew and knit and crochet. Clothes, curtains and those dolls you stick over rolls of toilet paper. Because is there anything more offensive in the world than a naked loo roll!?
  6. Make a living from writing and/or a health/fitness/helping people sort of thing. A proper full-time living, not just a Breadloser one.

    How vague is that ambition? I need a mentor. Or a lobotomy.

  7. Grow a vegetable garden.
  8. Go on a road trip with Rhiannon and The Mothership when we’re totally middle-aged and curmudgeonly and do nothing but eat scones and potter around antique shops.

I should add:

  1. Rob a bank, to finance the above.

If anyone fancies joining in – what do you want to do before you drop off the twig? And make sure it has nothing to do with the size of your arse 🙂

UPDATE: I forgot that I want to learn to tango. The dance, not the carbonated beverage. And salsa. The dance, not the tomatoe-y dipping goo. And visit Italy, South America, France, Croatia, Japan, Jordan, Cambodia and lots of other bits. Travel on the Trans-Siberian railway. Learn to make sushi. Re-learn to drive (it is possible to forget). Overcome fear of sparring. Attend poncy cookery classes. TBC!

Party like it’s 2006

I just re-published an entry from October 2006 by mistake. I haven’t really just returned from a rollicking weekend in Spain and the clocks haven’t really just changed back for winter, plunging Scotland and myself into darkness. If I keep doing this sort of thing my blogging permit will be revoked.

Man DOMS & Hundred Push Ups Update

You will be familiar with Man Flu, the medical phenomenon whereby a man with a cold will suffer at least 10000% more than a woman with the same symptoms. Turns out there is also a thing called Man DOMS. Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness is when you hurt like a bastard a few days after a strenuous workout. Naturally if you're a bloke, it's so much worse.

"I've got DOMS," Gareth announced, two days after hiking up two very pointy mountains in Glen Coe. "Severe DOMS. So whatever you do, don't poke my legs."

"When I had DOMS after the Moonwalk you did nothing BUT poke my legs."

"Yeah but I did it with a touch of class. It wouldn't be funny if you did it."

"I want my revenge!"

"No way man! I'm in agony!"

"When I was so DOMS-ed out after 26 miles that I couldn't walk you dragged me around the living room saying, Dance! Dance! Dance, Shauna! Dance!"

"Aye but you just went for a wee stroll in the dark. That was minor DOMS. My walk was really hard."

"So what've you got then? DOMS majora?"

"Yeah. You just had… DOMS trivialatum."

. . .

Hundred Bloody Push Ups Challenge Update #3

(Apologies if you're bored of push-up talk!)

I'm still stuck on Week 2 of the Hundred Push Ups Challenge (HPC). I reckon I could now pass the 16+ reps test in order to move to Week 3, but I want to improve the quality of the repetitions. I've got a dodgy shoulder from an old injury so my last few sets can get shaky and painful.

My solution was to move up to the next level of Week 2 – each week has three levels of difficulty depending on how many reps you perform in the initial test. I've finished Week 2, Level 2 and now I'll do Week 2, Level 3. Taking it slower means the six week challenge is going to take more like six months, but I'd rather do that and make sure I can do strong, deep push ups and not screw up my shoulder again.

Are any fellow Push Uperers finding it difficult to fit the three weekly sessions around your other exercise? How do you make sure you've got enough arms left? Right now I can only manage two sessions because they keep throwing in push ups at kickboxing and Body Pump. I can only take so much pushing up dammit!

If I've done the HPC the night before class I shake like a shitting dog. This makes me feel like a sissy in front of the hardcore kickboxers. I spose I could protest, "Let me explain violent femmes! I'm not a wuss, but there's this internet challenge thing…" but I'd rather resign myself to slower HPC progress and have enough arms for everything.

Death to Tapered Jeans

Jeans of Yesteryear meet Jeans of Today:

Jeans

The difference didn’t look half as dramatic as I’d thought when I compared them on the hanger, but I reckon some of that has to do with the new ones being a generous bootleg cut and the old ones being of the FUGLY AS SIN tapered-leg variety. Who invented the tapered leg and why haven’t they been drowned in a bucket yet? One pair is size 26, the other size 14 but they’re the exact same size round the ankles.

Can I have a seven-years-too-late rant about these godawful jeans? Thanks very bloody much, Fat Jeans Designer, for the ankle-strangling design that made me feel like a beach ball on legs. Thanks very much for the ridiculously long and saggy crotch – as though you thought I’d want room to carry an emergency picnic.

Jeans2

(Do plus size jeans come in more flattering shapes these days? Is the taper dead and buried?)

During my lard-busting I couldn’t wait for the day when I could stroll into a shop and waltz away with a pair of jeans without elastic or trauma. Of course now I realise that jeans shopping is a bastard no matter what your size. A friend persuaded me to try on skinny jeans recently. HA! Despite going a size bigger I couldn’t get them past mid-calf. I’m grateful for all the wide-leg styles out at the moment, because the wider thighs fit like regular on me, hehe.

(This post was inspired by Mrs Lard playing Russian dolls with her array of old jeans)

UPDATE: The taper is alive and well, my friends. Be afraid!