Couch to Five K: Gertie Grit and Getting Fit.

One fateful day in the vineyards at the end of January, I decided to prove to myself that I was fit. I was on a roll – after 31 days of abstinence, I had successfully put an end to my equivalent of the Pavlovian reflex, which involved salivating and grabbing a large wine glass and a bowl of peanuts as soon as I heard the cork pop on a bottle of rosé. I’d walked 145 km over the month. It would be a piece of cake. I checked that nobody was looking, and set off. The result was pathetic to say the least – 30 seconds later, I was hugging the nearest tree, consumed by burning lungs, nausea and a stitch as Mrs Playmo tutted and smelly dog looked on in bemusement. I was not fit. The image of myself puffing along out of breath behind a possible future grandchild on a trike (think Damien in “the Omen”) made my mind up. I had to get fit. And to do so, I needed grit.

Grit was the stuff that I brushed out of stinging grazes when I fell off my bike as a child, and also the stuff I needed to get back on the saddle and try again and again until I finally got to the end of the garden path without kissing the tarmac. Gertie Grit had disappeared off the radar as HMS MM entered the murky waters of middle age, and was found gagged and bound on a chair in a corner in the dark side of my mind. She had been taken hostage by my inner bitch, who took a swig of rosé, scratched her navel and informed me that I was far too old and set in my ways to change anything now. That was a red rag to a bull.

So  I downloaded the C25K programme from the NHS website – a nine week programme with three half-hour outings a week that gradually take you from short running and walking intervals to running for 30 minutes non-stop. This is done with the help of a cheerful young lady called Laura, who talks you through what initially feels like a 30-minute survival course for trainee GI’s, apparently impervious to the fact that you are inches from keeling over. Yet believe it or not, seven months later MM has gone from gasping for breath to gasping for a run. So for anyone who has downloaded the app and is tempted to give it a whirl, here is MM’s guide to C25K.

Gladys proudly showed the girls the gravity-defying plastic bra she had stolen from the NASA test lab. It would be ideal for running C25K. Picture from (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Gladys proudly showed the girls the gravity-defying plastic bra she had stolen from the NASA test lab. It would be ideal for running C25K. .
Picture from (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

  1. Get kitted out.

Running requires very little financial investment (that sinks your first excuse). Girls should acquire the appropriate female scaffolding to restrain the lesser spotted boobs, which already have a natural tendency to migrate southwards. Without control, you’ll either knock yourself out on your first run or they’ll stretch so far that you’ll be able to wrap them around your neck to keep your ears warm by Christmas. You’ll also need trainers – and forget the ones you’ve had in the cupboard since that aborted new year’s resolution you made back in 1984. Embrace new footwear technology – your body will thank you for it. As for the rest, a t-shirt and a pair of leggings will do fine.

  1. Be safe.

This does not mean kitting yourself out with a flick knife, or running with a baseball bat stuck under your knicker elastic. In the unlikely event of being attacked, the smell of a runner’s armpits after 4 kilometers is probably sufficient to put any assailant off. What ‘being safe’ means is simply doing what you expect your teenagers to do – tell someone where you are going, what time you are leaving, and when you will be back. You are more likely to go arse over tit into a hedge than you are to get abducted by aliens, but if you do have a problem then someone should know where you are.

MM tried out her skills at smashing an aggressor's teeth with a baseball bat, before establishing that it was too big to fit in the waistband of her shorts. Picture credit: Par Center for Jewish History, NYC [No restrictions ou Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

MM tried out her skills at smashing an aggressor’s teeth with a baseball bat, before establishing that it was too big to fit in the waistband of her shorts. Picture credit: Par Center for Jewish History, NYC [No restrictions ou Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

  1. Get an iPod, phone or MP3 player.

An absolute must, if only to follow the programme and avoid hearing yourself gasping for breath on the way around the run (I scared myself when my headphones fell out – it sounded like I was being chased by a rabid black bear). If you follow the C25K programme, the lovely Laura will chat all the way around and tell you when to run, when to walk, and congratulate you on your achievements. If you are anything like me, you will give up on her when you get bored with the dismal music (I’m sure that Laura didn’t choose it) and are fed up with her not inviting you around for a cuppa and a Hobnob after your run. There are plenty of alternative apps available that let you run the programme using your own music playlist, so go for it – Laura has so many fans that she won’t notice you’ve shelved her. Just one word of warning: for safety, make sure that the volume is low enough to hear cars coming up behind you. Not to mention other runners if you stop for a wee behind a hedge.

  1. Get support and be accountable to somebody.

If, like me, your family reacted to your announcement that you were taking up sport by falling off their chairs laughing, fear not. Sign up to the C25K community on Health Unlocked, a forum full of real people just like you who get beetroot red faces, sweat buckets, fall victim to self-doubt and know how to deal with the gremlins telling you that today’s run can wait until tomorrow. They will give you answers to the things you need to know and don’t dare to ask, like whether you should run in granny pants or G-strings or even go commando under your lycra. They will boot you out of that door with a grin on your face when you were determined you were never going to run again. If you could harness all the positivity generated by this forum, the planet would have a whole new source of energy. So sign up, and get to know people who are all on a quest for better health.

how_i_think_i_look-scaled1000

This is definitely right. But we all look the same, and nobody else really notices. You’re just another nutter wearing trainers. No idea who the pic belongs to but it’s all over cyber space.

  1. Believe.

Believe in yourself. Running is as much about mindset as it is about physical fitness. Cheer yourself on, and do so shamelessly. Don’t compare your achievements to anyone else’s, only to your own expectations. There will be bad runs. But however long it takes you to run that mile, it is still a mile. And however little or however slow you run, you are still running laps around the previous you, who is still sat glumly on the couch holding a glass of wine in one hand and pinching a roll of belly flab with the other.

  1. Forget self-consciousness, and embrace your bloody-mindedness.

Other people will see you, but don’t imagine that they are judging you – to passers-by, you’re just another nutter wearing trainers, and most offer a smile and a supporting comment and not the jeer or insult you were expecting. And the others? Who cares. You don’t know them, and you’ll probably never see them again.

If running isn’t sweaty and messy, you’re not doing it right. You will be bright red. You will scream insults at your iPod because you suspect that Laura has deliberately added thirty seconds to that minute she asked you to run. You will want to give up, but Gertie Grit won’t let you, because if you do, you’ll feel like a failure. Within very little time, you are going to yell at yourself, immune to the stares of OAP’s walking their dogs as you tell yourself you’re an effing wimp and you’re going to bloody well make it to that tree, end of story. And when you finish each run and tick another box, you are going to find yourself whooping, screeching, punching the air and dancing. And you won’t care who is watching. Because you’ve found your grit again. And that’s worth its weight in gold.

Multifarious Musings from Outside the Comfort Zone.

A non-writing author is a monster courting insanity. It appears to be true of bloggers too. I can already hear the rumble of discontent and the budding debate about how, when and indeed if a blogger could or should be considered a writer… but this blogger is propped up in her bed, coffee cup at hand, and her Sunday morning neurones don’t want to go down that road.

Kafka’s words have been leaping out of the screen at me for weeks – I came across them on a crowded Google image screen during a hectic day at work, and put them carefully on my desktop as a reminder that I needed to give myself some writing time. I have been away from the blog for a while – although I have written many posts in my head during my thrice-weekly sallies outdoors, the hamster wheel of self-employment has been turning far too fast for me to find blogging time since the beginning of the year – both a blessing and a frustration for a self-proclaimed “word nerd”.

We are all multifaceted, and MM is no exception. We constantly evolve and as we do, we sometimes ask ourselves if there isn’t something more to life than our immediate comfort zone. We occasionally feel an inexplicable and insatiable need to empty the closet of our mind and refill it with new things, yet cannot bring ourselves to banish certain comforts. So we package them up carefully, put them away on a shelf for future reference, then turn towards exploring personal change and renewal with the reassurance that we have not burnt all our bridges behind us.

A need to challenge and test myself reared its head at the end of 2014. Waking up to the same old me peering over the edge of the reassuringly comfy slipper of my life every morning, whilst pleasant and reassuring, had also become strangely predictable, tarnished by my frustration of being unable to eliminate the small, niggling imperfections that are constantly putting a grain of sand in the otherwise perfect machinery. Papounet often laughed and said, ‘Happiness is the spacetime between two mishaps”: life is never perfect, and there will always be something providing the legendary cloud on the horizon. This links up nicely with the candid wisdom of MMD (MM’s Dad – love you, Dad, ‘cos I know you’re reading this -) when I whined “It’s not fair!” as a child: “Yeah. Well, life’s not fair.”

A whole year has gone by since Papounet died, and the jam-jar moments continue. A jam-jar moment is what happens when the sight of a trivial everyday object, such as a half-empty pot of blueberry jam, opens the floodgates on the dam holding back a lake of memories and emotion. Yet losing people you love teaches you unexpected lessons that make you a stronger person. For me, this lesson was that although we are all relatively anonymous and unimportant in life’s great plan, we all make a lasting impact – good or bad – on more people than we imagine. Papounet, Grandma, Uncley, Rick, Grandpop, Auntie Laura, Mamie and many other people I loved who are no longer here today had helped me to kick existentialist ass – we do play an essential role in other people’s lives, whether it is intended or not. I remember taking this photo of a poster last summer at the gardens of Heligan, one of my family’s favourite haunts in my home region; I realised at that moment that although people disappear, they remain very much alive in my everyday life.

IMG_5461

I am currently reading a book that illustrates this beautifully – written by the Bishop of Norwich, Graham James. (When I said I was stepping out of my comfort zone, my parents will probably agree that this is a prime example.) Called “The Lent Factor”, it takes a fascinating approach to Lent and describes 40 people he refers to as his “travelling companions”. All deceased, they influenced his life in one way or another. He illustrates through the chapters how people, even those we meet fleetingly, can affect our vision of life and our relationships with others: “They are all part of my personal pantheon. They have all joined with and crossed and belonged to each other through their influence on me and what I believe and the person I have become.” We are, indeed, very much the product of our interactions with others, and in turn, we can affect what others become, often without knowing it.

Losing someone who had this effect on our lives is also a reminder that each day should be savoured as if it were the last, and this feeling has been reinforced for me as I see the world around me dive into a spiral of unfathomable evil resulting from a twisted, blinkered vision of humanity. But in my immediate bubble, all is well. So one year after Papounet’s death, I pulled on my trainers and took his memory for a run. As I jogged through the vineyards, I felt the sun on my face, admired the bright expanse of yellow rapeseed set against the mountains and the blue sky and the gnarled fingers of the vines awaiting the summer, and told him how happy I was. That life is good. That we have not, will not and cannot ever forget him. That we have no idea how much time we have here on this earth, but that we all have the choice to leave a positive trace for someone behind us to keep and build on. Just like he did.

 

The Dry January Experience.

One of the many alcohol-themed pictures decorating my kitchen. This one was given to me by a girlfriend who knows me all too well.

One of the many alcohol-themed pictures decorating my kitchen. This one was given to me by a girlfriend who knows me all too well.

Just over a month ago, I opened the fridge, and the bottle of chilled rosé winked provocatively at me from beside the orange juice carton. My hand wavered on its way to the juice, and all willpower promptly dissolved. Once poured into a delicate stemmed glass, the rosé provided the illusion of a luxurious reward for the end of my day.

Now don’t get me wrong; I’m not exactly the female answer to Gérard Depardieu. Lindsay Lohan could drink me under the table within minutes. I’m a typical example of the mother who reaches for her first glass of rosé whilst simultaneously burning dinner, tripping over the dog, emptying the washing machine and resolving conflicts between her offspring.

That evening, I was irritated to see that “wine o’clock” had become an automatic reflex that wasn’t so much a pleasure as a habit. Many people have told me that if you can’t do without something on a daily basis, it is an addiction. I have often wondered if that means I need therapy because I cannot go to bed without having cleaned my ears with cotton buds. Or if I should consult a counsellor from “Peanut Addicts Anonymous” for my daily fix of Arachis hypogaea. When exactly does a daily habit become an addiction?

I didn’t find an answer to my question on internet, but I did find Alcohol Concern’s website, and a challenge called “Dry January”: no alcohol for one month. I liked the idea – an opportunity to prove to myself that I really did have more self-control than a golden retriever discovering a tennis ball machine in the back garden. If I was addicted, I’d be clawing my way up the curtains in despair within days.

So I signed up. I apologise to Dry January, because I cheated and used my parents’ UK postcode. Please forgive me, DJ, and consider letting non-UK residents take part without having to lie through their teeth next year. We expats in wine-growing countries could add a whole new slant to your statistics: here in France, a litre of droolingly drinkable plonk costs less than petrol in the UK, giving us a temptation rating equal to that of a four-year-old left to his own devices in a Cadbury’s warehouse.

Gladys showed the collateral damage caused to her provençale villa after inviting her English pals to try a selection of best wines in the village.

Gladys showed the collateral damage caused to her Provençal villa after inviting her English pals to try a selection of the best wines in the village. Image credit: Wikipedia Creative Commons.

Over the month, I regularly read Dry January’s Facebook page, a real source of inspiration. My resolve was considerably strengthened by the determination and solidarity of those taking part – the challenge worked a charm because people can encourage each other and be accountable to each other. Being accompanied is clearly a key factor to successfully achieve any major life change.

To multiply the accountability factor, I made the promise to you lot, my super blogger pals, who checked out my daily exploits and kept me on track… because I promised, and I hate looking like a loser. And finally, I swore an oath of abstinence to P.F. and my three bemused offspring who (for once) were stumped for words before falling off their chairs and rolling on the floor laughing.

The aim

The aim was simple on paper: give up alcohol for one month. As I’m an eternal optimist, I added an hour of exercise every day for good measure. I have been terminally allergic to sport for all my adult life, and it was as good a time as any to gently get back on track. Having never worked out the interest of paying for the privilege of running on a treadmill in a giant cage full of lycra-clad, poney-tail swishing hamsters with gadgets strapped to their arms and leads sticking out of their ears, I decided to get outside with Smelly Dog and explore. It doesn’t cost a penny, and you don’t have to inhale the smell of other people’s armpits or suffer the humiliation of being thrown off the running machine.

We quickly worked out a circuit through the local vineyards (that’s what you could term Dry January karma). Once we had established that we weren’t going to give up, we invested in a pedometer. We shunned the über-sexy “name and shame” gadgets that shamelessly broadcast everything bar your knicker size and the number of times you fart as you wheeze your way around the local park, and went for a cheap and monastic version that keeps our modest accomplishments (distance, number of steps and walking time) to itself.

Result? We have walked over 203,000 steps, or 145km (90 miles) over the month. Walking is amazingly good for the soul, particularly when attempting abstinence for the first time in 12 years. Excuse the pun, but motivating music, sunshine and great countryside are ideal to lift a trainee teetotaler’s spirits.

So, how did the abstinence go?

The first week, I surfed the virtuosity wave. I was a disdainful diva when faced with a glass of wine, even declining champagne on the beach to toast in the new year. By the middle of the second week, however, the saintly queen of self-control and restraint was glowering, Gollum-like, over her glass of Perrier and lime, as she observed a grinning PF savouring his evening beer.

Ch-ch-ch-ch- changes….

Once I had got through the first two weeks, I started to notice the first benefits of the experience. The first, blatantly obvious change was in weight and volume. I’m not talking about myself here, but the recycling bag. I never thought I could feel virtuous at the local dump, and it had bugger all to do with the environment.

The recycling run, before Dry January. Photo credit: Annabel Symington.

The recycling run, before Dry January.
Photo credit: Annabel Symington.

I was in bed snoring shamelessly before ten and was awake before the alarm at 6.15. My skin was looking better. I had more energy, and was smug to see that I could still exercise a little discipline over myself. I was half–way there – so it would be silly to crack now. I had a spring in my step I hadn’t felt for a very long time.

I was fitter, too. Although weight loss wasn’t a decisive factor for me, I have lost 5 lb and banished two inches of muffin top from my waistline, which is definitely better than a slap in the face with a wet kipper. Like many other people on Dry January’s page, my problem was the inexplicable need to substitute one treat for another – let’s face it, if you replace half bottle of wine by a bucket of cocoa and a family-sized bar of Dairy Milk every evening, you’re not likely to see your waistline shrink much.

A mystery is solved…

However, the most unexpected effect of stopping alcohol was a surprise: my multiple dashes to the loo mysteriously ceased. I used to blame it on the coffee, but discovered mid-January that I had been barking up the wrong tree. Alcohol is a diuretic. It sends a message to your kidneys telling them to empty your body of any water it comes across,  gagging and holding hostage a hormone called vasopressin who would otherwise be telling your kidneys to absorb water on arrival. Without this message, your bladder does a Hoover Dam impression every ten minutes. So the next time you’re at the pub and you see people dashing for the loo every ten minutes, you now know why: when Herr Hormone’s away, the bladder plays.

I was eating less rubbish. Here again, alcohol was the culprit: it opens up your appetite and makes you reach for those salty nibbles. The salt makes you thirsty, so you head for the fridge and fill up your glass, then the alcohol presses the « hungry button »…. bis repetita, ad nauseam. Less alcohol = less nibbles. Less nibbles = less fat + less cholesterol + less weight. Not exactly rocket science, but a winning equation nevertheless.

So what’s next, you ask ?

I’ve got used to this new routine. I am now capable of looking at the bottle of wine that has been in the fridge since December… and leaving it there. And there it will stay. I’ll be sticking to my lime & Perrier… for the moment.

I can’t see myself stopping the outdoor activity, simply because it makes me feel good. So here’s the deal… C25K. Couch to 5K. I have had the podcasts on my computer for light years, and now that I’ve got my body used to regular activity, I want to give it a go. So lift your glass of whatever to me as I try to move from my two factory setting speeds, stop and start, to three: stop, start, and run. One day at a time.

Mrs Playmo sobering up in the stream after drinking an entire bottle of champagne to celebrate my completion of Dry January.

Mrs Playmo sobering up in the stream after drinking an entire bottle of champagne to celebrate my completion of Dry January.

Grateful thanks to all who followed Mrs Playmo’s adventures this month. The conclusion is coming up soon… we are currently trying to track down Mr Playmo, who has disappeared without a trace….

Sinusitis and Shower Power.

I am feeling sorry for myself. True MM tradition dictates that whatever can go wrong will invariably do so at the wrong time, and my health is no exception to the rule: bugs equipped with their equivalent of blaring music, ice boxes, barbecues and gazebos moved stealthily into their comfy new quarters in my sinuses on Sunday evening and have been partying there ever since. It is a bank holiday weekend: nuff said. MM has a head like a lead balloon. Any tilting movement makes me feel like it is going to fall off and crash to the ground, before rolling along like Marie-Antoinette’s bonce on her worst day ever on the Place de la Revolution.

Having sinusitis is a little like having a massive hangover, but without having had the pleasure of getting drunk first.  Let’s just say that my head has been hurting for the last 24 hours. It is sitting on my shoulders, a huge, heavy bowling ball of throbbing pain. My eyes are standing out on sticks like wobbly martian antennae. My nose feels like it is auditioning for a role in Cyrano de Bergerac, and I could swear that my upper teeth are making a bid for freedom, like a herd of enamel horses trying to escape from their reinforced slime enclosure as an out-of tune rendition of Black Beauty is played in the background. I would love to be able to let off some of the pressure in my plumbing, but the taps are welded shut. As my kids would say, “Snot fair”. Quite literally.

Yet this morning, in true MM mode, I was determined not to let my day be wrecked by the lousy bunch of bacteria whooping it up non-stop within my facial piping. I almost imagine them as cute little one-eyed midgets in stripey PJ’s; the evil, bacterial side-kicks of Ken Dodd’s diddy men. Giggling evilly, they are clanging on my twisting facial tubes with miniature, bacteria-sized spanners, and bouncing their offspring up and down on my nerve endings, booting at the inflamed tissue with their bovver boot-clad feet. (I hasten to add at this point that I have only taken aspirin. Honest.)

A shower is a great way to wake up and get your ideas into synch. I shuffled into the bathroom for a shower, determined to make the most out of the beautiful, sunny day that had greeted my puffy eyes when I opened the shutters. I would emerge a new woman: beautiful, germ-ridden and ready for a day in that beautiful sunlight.

Some people sing in the shower, and some people scrape the dead skin off their feet with their finger nails. (Honestly. I saw someone doing this in a public swimming pool, and I didn’t know whether I wanted to drown him or run.) Others dream of their Prince or Princess Charming, winning the pools, writing a block-bluster or walking into the garage to find that someone else has cleaned it up and neatly organised the winter shoes into labelled boxes. (All the aforementioned is true for me – except for the Prince Charming, because I locked him up in the tower years ago and have been exploiting him for attention, beer and chocolate ever since.)

English: shower head Deutsch: Duschkopf mit st...

I bet that Winston Churchill made up his best speeches under the shower. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I give myself pep talks in the shower – I coach myself up for my day. Imagine the Rocky equivalent of motherhood with less body hair than Sly Stallone, armed with a bottle of shower gel rather than a machine gun and sporting flabby sidecars on her hips instead of muscle on her arms.

I review everything I need to get ironed out, organised, stopped, started and otherwise dealt with, and for the time that I am under that generous stream of hot water, anything and everything is possible. Life is easy, peasy, lemon squeezy. I am invincible under that shower head, armed with my optimism, my supermarket razor and Bigfoot’s shaving foam. I have even discovered the parallel between washing your hair in the shower and putting on weight. Haven’t you?  It’s simple. It’s clearly mentioned on the bottle that the shampoo gives you “extra body”. It cannot be a coincidence – after years of the stuff running down my body on its way to the plug hole, it has worked. My rear end and thighs have slowly progressed to plumper proportions. Think about it, and wash your hair in the sink next time. Or go for the stuff that says it straightens hair instead – the worst that can happen is to end up with a butt flatter than Jane Birkin’s chest.

Gorilla Scratching Head

MM scratched her head. How could that volume boosting shampoo not only have increased hair growth, but also weight gain? (Photo credit: Wikipedia) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Anyway. I digress. Back to our sheep, as they say in France. The hot water and I listed all the important and not so important things I would accomplish today. MM in the shower is an unstoppable force who could solve the Isreali-Palestinian conflict with no more than a deftly aimed spurt of shampoo and a lick of supermarket conditioner as the bath toys look on in admiration. Mountains and mole hills were thus put back in their respective places, and the ruffles of life were smoothed away by the beating warm water. A timetable was drawn up for MM’s busy day. Translations, bills, shopping, kids, cars, cleaning…. Although my head remained fuzzy, the day’s horizon cleared in synch with the diminishing velcro on my shins. Things were looking up. The day was promising.

Then someone knocked on the door. The razor slipped. Our mater familias par excellence bent her head to stem the bleeding on her shin, and swore as the blocked piping complained and her head hurt. I looked through puffy eyes out of the window at the sunny weather outside. Hell, things could be worse…..  This could at least provide a strange and pointless post for my blog. My readers now know that I wash on a regular basis….. pass the aspirin.

Resolutely resolved to make no resolutions.

Across the world, running shoes are waiting patiently in the dark depths of cupboards, whispering to each other that their time has come: not for the end of the world, but for the chink of light meaning that they will be hauled on to post-festive feet and taken out for a run a year after their purchase. The local vineyards will shortly be taken over by squads of red-faced and lycra-clad sportifs puffing uncomfortably along in their sale-price Nikes as their iPods set the pace. Then their numbers will rapidly dwindle, until the last running shoes return to the cupboard and await either a charity-shop hop or next year’s harvest of unattainable resolutions.

2012-233 Pretty Shoes

 Photo credit: mrsdkrebs

Running, swimming, smoking, drinking …. We are fast approaching the date when the human race tries to out-do itself, deciding to take up this and give up that. Sports trainers and nicotine patch manufacturers will shortly be rubbing their hands in glee across the globe as the number of miraculously motivated, gullible pigeons triples overnight.

 

 

How on earth did we dream up the daft idea that the New Year would give us the motivational wherewithal to give up smoking/lose 20 kilogrammes/get healthy/put the keys away in the right place and otherwise totally change overnight? Apparently the Babylonians were the first to imagine the impossible, and the human race has been deluding itself on an annual basis ever since.

 

I could, of course, resolve to wake up as a whole new woman on the first of January. A new, improved version of MM : an updated, organised model sporting the female equivalent of fully-chromed bumpers and leather seats, and ecologically fuelled by organic vegetables and cod liver oil.

 

Imagine MM as the new, Swiss army knife-type of mater familias who achieves everything with a smile and still has time to pop out for a facial and make herself beautiful for her other half’s arrival. Sounds dubious, but let’s imagine, just for a minute. Let’s reverse all my inadequacies.

 

Victorinox Swiss Army knife, photo taken in Sw...

Add a head, and you have Wonderwoman.

You know the type. She deals with bills as soon as they arrive, and files the evidence away within the hour rather than stuffing it into a drawer and forgetting about it. She does not consider lifting a beer glass to her lips every evening to be a regular sporting activity. She has a strict food budget for the week that she never exceeds, yet feeds her brood on balanced meals that would turn Jamie Oliver green with envy. She rigorously applies a weekly timetable that includes cleaning the fridge and ridding the car boot of smelly dog’s hair. A perfect mother, she never gets tempted by the fascinating depths of a book or WordPress to the extent that she forgets the washing machine full of soaking clothes until it is discovered by an indignant teen wearing loud lycra underpants at 6.30 the following morning. She looks like a woman rather than a combination of a Yeti and Freddy Mercury, does not leap with joy at the sight of a pair of leather boxing boots in a charity shop, and can survive more than 30 minutes in a pair of high heels without swearing and slinging them into a corner. She hasn’t poked her fingers through her tights since she was at school and never has her skirt hem hooked in her knicker elastic on her way out of the loo.

 

The list goes on and on. But if I woke up like that, I think that my family would be nonplussed and even scared by the transformation. And it definitely wouldn’t last long, simply because it’s not me, but rather the way I think people expect me to be. It’s no wonder that resolutions don’t work.

 

So does this make resolutions a no-go zone, given that so many people set their sights so high that they are sunk before they even begin? Maybe not. Maybe we should see this in a more philosophical light: Every journey starts with a first step, and each day is a journey in itself. Taking one day at a time could therefore be the key to success for realistic aims, and is easier to deal with than the words « never again ».

 

 

So this year I will continue being realistic, both about myself and others. Being happy is a long-term project. Forget taking up sport or losing weight; I will settle for just being myself. I’ll take things one day at a time, because you never know what life will dish up for you tomorrow, and small bites are easier to chew. Enjoy the smallest things that don’t cost a penny, like watching my family on the beach. Listen to my gut feelings, but look before I leap. And last but not least, I’ll take care of those I care about, but look after number one too, because as my grandma always said, « no other bugger will do it for you ».

 

What are your thoughts on New Year’s resolutions?

 

The last thing I have to say on this post is to wish you all a happy, healthy and fulfilling year, and thank you for keeping me company in the WordPress world.

 

The new body that cost me peanuts.

Regular readers (this is where I tell my Dad I love him) may remember that three months ago, I was sadly kissing goodbye to my daily peanut fix. After the family doctor’s request for me to pull my socks up and remove some cholesterol from my plumbing, I had a good long think and decided to give real healthy eating a shot.

I decided on a new start for all things gastronomic: goodbye peanuts and fat, hello fruit and veg. The peanuts were given the old heave-ho, and I bade a fond farewell to crisps, cheese, butter, cream, and their pals coconut milk, red meat and charcuterie, who were all shown out of the door with a firm handshake and no bad feelings. The cream was replaced by tins of slim and sexy non-sweetened, evaporated milk: 7% fat instead of the 30% found in crème fraîche. O% fat yoghurt provided me with calcium (there’s no point trading in strong bones and teeth for low cholesterol). I started playing around with new recipes, and even dared to feed my family meals without meat from time to time.

I stayed the course, and after three months navigating in low-fat seas, I am proud to say that it worked – to the tune of a 16% decrease in my cholesterol, which is now below the official threshold. I am proud of myself.

Wonder Woman Crucified for Milk

Strangely enough, the biggest achievement for me was to have kept on track; the proof that I can find motivation if the reason is valid. The prospect of being as skinny as  Wonderwoman and her lycra-clad crowd never motivated me. Yet when I was faced with the uninviting prospect of clogged-up arteries and the possible consequences,  I realised that seeing my kids grow up was the biggest source of motivation I could imagine. Avoiding any health problems which could be considered as self-inflicted became a necessity.

Happily, mother nature has thrown in a little compensation for my good behaviour.  Whilst I was carefully controlling what went into the machine, she was quietly chiselling a pound off here and an inch off there. The bathroom scales were adamant: low-fat eating leads to weight loss. I have dropped 7 kg (just over a stone), and 9 cm have disappeared from my waistline, another 9 from my hips.  Confirmation came in the form of my jeans hanging around my rear end: Houston, we now not only have builder’s bum, hip bones and a waist, but we also have access to the clothing box in the garage with “too fat for this now” scribed on it. And it’s not finished: my skin’s great, and I have bags more energy.

So anyone out there who is looking for a cheap and foolproof way to drop a few pounds, here it is. Forget Fatkins, Poo clan, Fate botchers and the rest of what I call the “pay to delay” diet tribe. You are the key to your own success, you don’t need to pay for miracle books, pills, gadgets, or humiliating meetings. Just decide to put your health first, eat real food, and ignore the rubbish – even if you don’t think you eat that much. Put the car keys away and walk the short trips. The pounds will automatically drop off. It’s a win-win situation. It’s so simple, it’s stupid. It’s all about a permanent change of lifestyle, not just a few weeks before going back to your old habits.

English: Wild Malus sieversii apple

English: Wild Malus sieversii apple (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last but most definitely not least, the whole family is eating differently now, with lardons and crème fraîche only making temporary appearances on the menu, and red meat and pork pushed out of line for more vegetables, fish and chicken. No children were harmed in this experiment, in fact they are all as lively as ever and still finish their plates before leaving the table.

Coming out: an unlikely addiction.

The first thing I did after getting my blood work results (see “Me and Mr C” for more details) was to bite the bullet and go to hear my G.P’s verdict. I sat in the squeaky chair, and nervously tweaked the lab paperwork I had in my hands.  The air conditioning unit wheezed gently overhead but somehow didn’t manage to cool me off. I was already anxious about standing up ten minutes later, apprehending the squelching noise of my thighs parting company from the chair. I had committed the schoolgirl error usually only committed by newbies in the South: Shorts and plastic chairs don’t mix in high temperatures.

“So!” The family G.P. beamed at me. “Have you read your results? It’s all fine apart from….”

“The Cholesterol”, I muttered darkly, avoiding her eyes like a kid who knew she was about to be deprived of telly for the next three months.

“Do you eat a lot of charcuterie? Cheese? Red meat?” In France, these are the three biggest cholesterol culprits. I am reasonable in my consumption of all three, and told her so. Except when Bigfoot cooks up pasta (with buckets of lardons, crème fraîche and Gruyère) or steak, chips and Roquefort sauce, that is.

A “pêché mignon” is a great French term. “Pêché” is a sin, “mignon” means cute.  It would be best defined as a weakness, or a guilty pleasure. So with the French philosophy on life,  it’s nothing serious if you enjoy one small, harmless sin on a regular basis. Everyone has one, right? And for some strange reason, it’s never good for you.

I am no exception to the rule, and I wasn’t quite sure how to go about breaching the subject of my own pêché mignon with her.  For me, it’s what I call the PBP – Picon-Beer-Peanuts. Picon is my favourite magic potion: the elixir the Alsatians add to beer for instant perfection in a glass. If Asterix and Obelix had discovered this stuff, they would never have bothered about fighting with Romans.

Put the Picon in the glass and add the beer. It takes on a dark, caramelized look, and becomes slightly bitter with a fabulous taste of orange. Accompanied by a bowl of peanuts to nibble, it has been my trade-mark for years. Attempts to stop this evening ceremony have systematically resulted in failure.

Four bottles of Picon brought by the Alsace pal brigade for an apéritif. And no, we didn’t drink them all.

On receiving the test results, my first reaction was to throw myself at my computer keyboard, smoke rising as I desperately trawled the net to find proof that peanuts were good for me. What I found was the following: “A handful of nuts (unsalted) per day is good for you”. Further selective research informed me that bad cholesterol comes from animal fats. By carefully restructuring the information I had gleaned and omitting the terms “unsalted” and “handful”, I was victorious: peanuts were not bad for me. Ipso facto, they could stay, all was not lost. Hey, presto: clear conscience.

I cautiously proposed this theory to the doctor, whose eyes widened in surprise.  “But you can’t eat that much, surely?”, she enquired. An uncomfortable silence ensued. The air-conditioning unit hummed above my head as I stared at her goldfish, wondered how many times she had experienced the “coming out” of a peanut addict. I chose to give her the truth, embellished with a good dose of humour. I locked eyes with her.

“Umm…. Lets say that if you cracked open a packet now, I’d rip it out of your hands and finish it off within ten minutes. That I am capable of crawling over cut glass on all fours to the supermarket five kilometers away if I don’t have any left in the cupboard. That I am hooked to such an extent that I’ve even checked, to no avail, if the equivalent of Alcoholics Anonymous exists for peanut junkies. That I dream of being able to walk past the peanut shelf at the local store without grabbing armfuls of packets. That I am worried I could suffer from cold turkey and maybe maim an innocent passer-by. Do you get my drift?” Yep, peanut addicts are the forgotten sufferers of this world.

English: Roasted Peanuts author: Flyingdream

English: Roasted Peanuts author: Flyingdream (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Once she had recovered from the shock, she burst out laughing. Then she got serious. Her sentence was immediate and irrevocable: Peanuts are not our friends. Peanuts are bad for cholesterol levels. VERY bad. Peanuts should be consumed in small quantities.

I deftly returned the ball, underlining the fact that “small quantity” was not a term I could associate with peanuts, and glumly accepted that I had to give up my nutty companions. No worries, she reassured me: you can still drink a beer!  I sadly explained that PBP would have to become a thing of the past, as they are an inseparable team.  If I drink the Picon-Beer, I’ll be tempted by the peanuts, so they all had to go.

I left her office with a mission: to lower my cholesterol level and have a second blood test in  three months’ time. This means eating even less cheese, eggs, fatty meat, and of course, less peanuts. In the past three weeks, I am proud to say that I have kept on course. Even after a week in the Alsace, home to the infamously creamy, pongy and fabulous Munster cheese and the world’s best charcuterie (incidentally,  my heartfelt thanks to the friends who gallantly left the peanuts off the apéritif menu whilst I was there: you guys rock). I have no idea whether my cholesterol level has gone down, but I do know that I have more energy and better skin than a month ago. And for the moment, I’ve discovered that for every one thing you can’t eat, there are realms of other wonderful things to be discovered which aren’t bad for you. So whatever happens, it’s a win-win situation. Fingers crossed, watch this space……