Monday 18 February 2019

Fit for February - My 28 Day Fitness Plan for Cancer Research

Last year I began Michael Mosley's HIIT ( high intensity interval training) and resistance exercise regime coupled with a low carb eating plan. For six months I went on a low carb diet and have only recently begun eating wholemeal bread again. And even that is a rare occurence. I never have pasta, potatoes, rice, pastry or biscuits. I do allow myself a few squares of 85% dark chocolate and thin tortillas. My breakfast consists of whole-rolled oats and blueberries and for pudding I usually have Fage Greek yogurt with fruit. Or I make my own chocolate cake from red kidney beans with sweetener. It actually tastes very moist and chocolatey. My sugar intake is generally low now. Although sweet potatoes are carbs they have a lower glycaemic index than the ordinary spud and are better for us all overall. And I don't miss sugar!

Since I know how to exercise reasonably efficiently these days it seemed a good idea to participate in the Cancer Research UK Fit for February fund raiser. I'm being sponsored to stay fit - a win-win situation!

I'm so pleased my target of £50 has already been overtaken and I aim to raise £100 by the end of February.
This is my Fit for February plan:

February 1 onwards:
day 1   step ups x 20
day 2   standing dumbbell (arm) crunches (with weights) x 20
day 3   step ups x 20

There was heavy snow on the ground from the end of January and it was impossible to go for walks or even get the car out for the fitness spa where I swim. I started gently because I hadn't exercised much since Hogmanay.

day 4  4 reps of step ups x 20
day 5  8 reps of step ups x 20 and 4500 steps (we went for a walk once the snow had gone)
day 6  HIIT - warm up, star bursts: 2 reps x 20 and 4 x run-in-place for 20 seconds at high speed
day 7  harder resistance exercise 8 x 20 step ups including more challenges

After a week I'd got back to my indoor exercise regime from last year. All I needed was to add 9000 steps  (a walk into town and back) daily.

day 8  4 reps of step ups x 20
day 9  standing dumbbell (arm) crunches (with weights) x 20
day 10  HIIT - warm up, star bursts: 2 reps x 20 and 4 x run-in-place for 20 seconds at high speed
and  harder resistance exercise 8 x 20 step ups including more challenges
day 11  4 reps of step ups x 20

When I followed Michael Mosley last year I needed to exercise like I did on day 10 but for three times a week. With the added workouts I'm doing now I'm unlikely to be exercising more overall on a weekly basis. I'm just spreading out what I normally do over seven days instead of three.

day 12  5000 steps
day 13  standing dumbbell (arm) crunches (with weights) x 20
day 14  HIIT - warm up, star bursts: 2 reps x 20 and 4 x run-in-place for 20 seconds at high speed
and  harder resistance exercise 8 x 20 step ups including more challenges
day 15  4000 steps
day 16  standing dumbbell (arm) crunches (with weights) x 20
day 17  3000 steps plus HIIT - warm up, star bursts: 2 reps x 20 and 4 x run-in-place for 20 seconds at high speed and  harder resistance exercise 4 x 20 step ups including more challenges
day 18  standing dumbbell (arm) crunches (with weights) x 20

The beauty of this plan is that  it's cheap - and I only borrowed the dumbbells. The rest of my exercise schedule is done without any specialist equipment and costs £000. What I've failed to do is to cover 9000 steps daily nor am I swimming three times a week at the moment. However I have continued my standing dumbbell arm crunches which I didn't incorporate into my plan last year. And I'm doing indoor exercises daily. I could continue raising money for CRUK by doing 10,000 steps daily but March can still be bleak and it might not be nice enough outside. Either way what I've achieved so far is, I feel, a good start. Michael Mosley's team advises having rest days too.

From this week I intend to swim more often and get back to walking 9000 steps daily. When the weather is warmer and drier it'll be more inviting for a power walk!

Thanks to everyone who has sponsored me thus far. Can we make £100 for CRUK? See my facebook page for an update and do make a donation - even £2.50 goes a long way. By the end of February I hope to be able to say I'm walking daily and swimming three times a week on top of my HIIT.

It's good for me and good for CRUK.

Yippee and heartfelt thanks!

Sunday 17 February 2019

Poor Nelson - vegans & pets

This morning, for once, Nelson crept into our bedroom quietly, rather than bounding in or chasing us and hiding under the valance. I was listening to BH - my Sunday morning treat - and explained to him that if I was vegan I might not agree with keeping him as a pet. He didn't seem to react. And it shows he does vaguely see us as masters in our own home because he occasionally cries out ahead of his entrance to the bedroom - as if he's asking for permission to enter. Overnight, when he's not out killing mice and squirrels, he sleeps downstairs on a thick, fluffy blanket which his aunties gave him at Christmas. He rarely sleeps on our bed.

Now he's almost nine he does doze more. He certainly perpetuates his habit of sleeping in the guest bedroom most afternoons. That's fine but he loves meaty cat food - something  I doubt plant-based food eaters would condone. Indeed I've been told pet ownership is something vegans really don't agree with at all. Although two vegans I know very well each own a dog and they've never said to me that having a pet is something they don't hold with. And we love vegan food - just not all the time.

It just so happens Nelson isn't a pet that vegans would necessarily be concerned about. He was a rescue cat; his heavily pregnant mum had been found wandering and forlorn by a lovely family who took her in and helped her give birth. She and her tiny kittens were well cared for at Bath Cats and Dogs Home until the kits were weaned. After all the kittens had been adopted - Nelson was one of them - the lovely family took the queen home with them. The family even came to see Nelson on his first day with us - the day we collected him from the cats' home. 

My understanding is that vegans don't like the fact that we 'own' our pets. If I am correct ownership goes against their belief in animal rights. However I may have got that wrong. But as we are giving what-would-have-been-a-stray cat a warm, loving, food-filled home we are likely doing the right thing. We are certainly not keeping him in a cage on a meat farm. I regularly donate to charities who rescue dogs - especially - from such harsh, terrifying places. And we are not using him to breed like the poor animals in a puppy farm. In this case it's the females who are at risk by being kept constantly pregnant. They must be worn down with it. And they never go out for walks or play. Just get mated, give birth and suckle their young. I quite understand why vegans are opposed to factory farming - especially for sentient creatures like dogs - especially - and cats.

And of course I agree with caring for animals properly and find dog and cat farms abhorrent. I also don't like the idea of buying an animal as a pet from a breeder - unless the nursing dogs or cats are truly well cared for and aren't expected to be constantly mated. Our family were very careful in choosing a breeder for their first labrador. And a fine animal he turned out to be. 

But I don't want to give up Nelson nor the idea of having a pet. Although he can be a tyrant - we are his slaves when he's hungry - he also provides warmth, companionship and interest. And, of course, woe unto you if you're a mouse looking for a warm house in which to reside. Nelson will get you, mousey! 

Our cat would have been a stray or an inmate at an animal sanctuary if we hadn't adopted him. 
He wasn't born in a pet shop, nor is he the result of forced breeding on a puppy farm. Thankfully he wasn't rescued from a meat farm either. I think we are doing the right thing caring for and keeping a cat. I don't, however, think we are going to convince him to eat plant-based  foods. (Although he eats grass and licks cat mint in the summer months).

 I knew of one family of four cats - all strays - who were content to eat vegetarian cat food. I think if we tried that with Nelson he would ambush us and grab us round the ankles until we gave in. Cats like meat, don't they? 

Saturday 9 February 2019

The Red Cross or Lifestyle Choice - take your pick?

After last week’s thick layers of four-day-old snow dissolved out of sight in heavy downpours, traffic swept past once more and the post got through. 

On the first morning after the white-out I received two letters. In one envelope there was a persuasive testimony from someone who’d been a rough sleeper. His biography accompanied a monochrome image of him as he was then. He’d had a long beard, wore many scarves and a bobble hat and carried a huge pack - the burden of the homeless. Because he gave up drink, which he said kept out the cold and helped him forget, he now had a job and a flat. He helps others who live the life he once lived. It persuaded the reader to donate to the charity he now works for.

In another envelope a stapled, thick card booklet of subdued whites and rich, inky-blue hues announced the latest Farrow and Ball colours. For someone sleeping rough interior decor is the last thing on their mind, although perhaps their dreams are of richly decorated rooms. I can’t tell.

The following day a package from the Red Cross showed more images of others in crisis - this time of children and the aged in Yemen, some with missing teeth. Other pictures were of the elderly, lonely, poor and cold in this country. In the same post there was a flier advertising the services of a dental-whitening practitioner. Perhaps the toothless in Yemen have reveries about bright, white, pearly teeth. I imagine, though, that they have more pressing needs.

This disconnect is a little like watching a documentary on television, in real time, about the work,say, of the Trussell Trust and the huge increase in the numbers desperate for food banks. And then, in the commercial break, being blasted with tv adverts for deep crust pizza and gooey puddings. From that, before the investigation into deep neediness in the UK resumes, we are shown ads for products to help us slim. With another blink of the eye we are returned to watching people clutching vouchers for three-days’ worth of food handouts.

We flip from one reality to another as if we share those experiences, all at the same time and all with an equal weighting in our lives.
But it isn’t so. My reality isn’t that of the dying in Yemen nor is it that of the glamorous forty-year-old with shiny white teeth.

A recent article on facebook led to an outcry from social media followers. A reporter had lived for one week on state benefits and was left with £6 in his pocket with which to buy an evening meal. He learned very fast to buy a whole cabbage and chicken as both would feed him, in different guises, for almost a week. He realised that his usual post-work drinks were a no-no, that he’d never have a take-away nor another ready meal again if he only had £6 left at the end of each and every day. A trip to the cinema was out as was travelling on a bus. While he experienced these abrupt changes to his former well-being: - his lack of choices, his non-existent social life and lack of any small luxury - the outcry from others was that his endurance had only lasted a week. If you know that this week you have to walk everywhere, can only afford very basic food, can’t see any mates for a drink and have to go to bed early to stay warm then, for one week, you’ll cope. Readers protested that a week on the margins of society was not long enough. Most impoverished people are continually without spare cash. They cannot have a change of shoes, and not just for one week but for next month, next season and the foreseeable future. So why bother living like it for just a week? What does it teach you? 

The juxtaposition of suffering with trivia on the tv must detract from the seriousness of the ‘Man Alive’ type documentaries, wouldn’t you think? An investigation into society’s ills shouldn’t be bombarded with adverts for things most of us don’t need and the subjects of the documentary can’t have. Which reality is real? Are we in danger of being exposed to extremes - both of deep poverty, need and squalor and of conspicuous, sickening opulence? 

Wouldn’t it be sensitive to stop the adverts, just for once, while viewers concentrate on the important messages about our failing welfare system? 

I found it hard enough in Delhi, in the eighties, to see beggars in rags rattling their tins under a banner advertising slimming products. 

Such juxtaposition could be avoided on the airwaves. But what do I do about my letters? I suppose I could simply open the ones from charities... But would I evade important communications if I stopped opening every other envelope? It’s highly likely I’d miss something important.

I fear I’m stuck with a promoted reality, unless, of course, I get rid of my tv and all access to social media. Whether it’s in fliers, in tv adverts, in inserts inside magazines or just in pop-ups on social media, the two worlds of desperate need and lifestyle opulence simply don’t marry. How must it be for someone feeling hungry, who wants half an hour’s relaxation in front of the box, to be bombarded with ads for prosecco and a 'chocolate bouquet' when they only have a tin of beans in their all-but-bare cupboards? 

Monday 4 February 2019


Yes it’s no longer January but the year is still  young and raw. Time for a big clear out. 
Why now? Well - not only is it a new year, and time for the process of turning over a new leaf, but we have so much clutter I must sift-and-sort. I have two so-called walk in-cubby holes/rooms that are so full I actually can’t walk into them. I open the doors to these areas and shut them again. And before you ask.No. I’m not a hoarder!

For those of you who read my blog last year you’ll know I had a slipped disc and I never did manage any meaningful spring cleaning. Hence the sifting-and-sorting I would have done last January never happened. Here we are, twelve months later, and a year’s worth of clutter has built up since then.
On top of that I found it difficult to sort through and dispose of my mother’s personal items when she died in late 2016. Emotionally and practically I was getting round to thinking about the sift-and-sort of mum’s pieces in 2018 but my back wouldn’t allow such rigours - lifting, stretching, moving stuff is a no-no for someone with disc issues. 
Finally, earlier this year, we also stored some personal belongings for a friend of ours. And we’re planning a car boot sale. Hoorah! With that in mind I feel a greater inspiration to get on with it. There are other reasons for doing a sift-and-sort at this low time of the year but I’ll leave those details for a later date. 

w/e 26 -27 January 2019: sift-&-sort day 1&2
The big sort begins. I couldn’t quite face the mini-kitchen attached to our bedroom so I started clearing the inbuilt wardrobe instead. It was chocker-block with Christmas decorations and old clothes and sheets we use when decorating. Towels and blankets from
mum’s house were really bulky and ancient but they had no stains nor holes. They are fine for a charity shop.
I also cleared two chests of drawers. Richard now has all twenty pairs of socks in one place. And a low-down chest of drawers and inbuilt wardrobe are practically devoid of anything to do with us. Wipe out the memories. The wardrobe and drawers are empty. Hoorah!

Monday 28January: sift-&-sort day 3 
It’s all very well sorting out all our wardrobes but the now-empty coathangers and clothes protectors have to go somewhere. To create more space I emptied the bathroom cupboard and put spare towels and protectors in there.
Possibly an odd decision. 

Tues 29 January: sift-&-sort day 4 
Cleared the bureau drawers today and Richard cleared his wardrobe. Our bed is now piled high with bin bags labelled ‘charity’ or ‘dump’ or ‘car boot’ and even more coathangers. I took a photograph of the colossal mess and, instead of the ‘internet of things’ I labelled it ‘the bed of things’. I had to clear it by midnight so I could actually get into bed. 

Weds 30 January: s&s day 5 
I was teaching today so I cleared my pupil’s work area and emptied my bedside cabinet of newspapers, magazines and crossword puzzle books. 
Just so my pupil could get up the stairs safely 5 fat bags labelled ‘car boot’ had to go somewhere else. 
Not much achieved today.

Thursday 31 January: s&s day 6
The big one: tackling our mini kitchen. Next to our main bedroom we have an ensuite shower room and, through another door, a mini-kitchen. If we tidy all this up we could rent it out through AirBnB! This was the hardest job - I knew it would be. But it had to be done. Now the mini kitchen needs a lick of paint but at least it’s empty.Hip, hip hooray!

Friday 1 February: s&s day 7
I moved a clothes rail full of clothes in protector bags into the mini kitchen. I also threw out stuff from the top of cupboards that had been there since about 2003... (why since 2003?) Generally got our bedroom and mini kitchen and ensuite shower room looking reasonable again. I posted another picture of the ‘bed of things’. And it got a few 😀likes.

Saturday 2 February: s &s day 8
I bunged all sorts of bits and pieces and old bills into ‘one big bag’ for sorting tomorrow. I made my study as tidy as I could and waved bye bye to old psychology ‘A’ level teaching notes. I haven’t taught psychology for almost nine years. It’s time for all my student workbooks and handouts to go. Another picture of ‘the bed of things’. It’s looking like there are fewer things- finally.

Sunday 3 February: s&s final day

Too tired to do much and now it’s a case of where do I put this paper clip?