Wednesday, January 28, 2015

What 'exercise more' means to me

I just read a good post on exercise by Wine and Olives and it has inspired me to write about what physical activity I want to shoehorn into my life this year. I want to read this post when I'm in a slump and remind myself of what I want and can do.

Last year, before getting married, I sweatily threw myself around my living room a lot and completed the 30 Day Shred .... in 2 months. I had many a few rest days but I pushed myself because I wanted to look hawt at my wedding. Day 1 Level 1 was as hideous as I expected but after literally one day of exercise I was feeling the benefits. I remember sitting in a chair and feeling my muscles pull myself into sitting upright and thinking "is this.. is this what FITNESS feels like?".

I stopped after the wedding (of course) but the level of fitness this gave me means I can jump right back into Level 2 without feeling the burn too much even if I haven't exercised for a few weeks. The first time I ever completed Level 2 I literally couldn't move myself from a prone position on the floor for 15 minutes.
Thank you Jillian Michaels and your scary eyebrows for shouting at me when I was just about to give up my squat thrusts. "IF YOU'VE GOT IT FLAUNT IT LADIES NO SHAME!" I actually love you.
Let me give you a little idea about the sort of lazy sloth I was up until this point. I had the obligatory ballet lessons for a bit as a child but I did not excel. I could barely do a plié (bending your knees apart as far as you can while keeping your heels on the ground) and the teacher declared I had a 'short achilles tendon' in my heel, an excuse I have used ever since to explain my clumsiness and inflexibility. I was then in our primary school netball team and we lost every single game of every single season, it was sort of a tradition. Once we scored a goal.

My secondary school years passed with horrible PE lessons - hated and with as little effort expended as possible. Could anything be worse that getting dressed in a changing room of girls and standing around in the cold year in and year out? All my extra curricular activities revolved around music, not sport.

At university I went to the gym once with a friend and then never set foot in the place ever again. I did have a short stint of attending aerobics classes with another friend (I will never forget the hilarious night I went to 'high impact' aerobics by mistake and the 20 minutes spent crawling up the stairs when I got home) but if you skipped a week you felt left behind the next time so this quickly evaporated.

I really like walking and cycling so it's not like I never did any exercise. My BMI has always been dead centre of the 'healthy' bit, I was fairly happy with my body but I put on weight round my middle so that was noticable if I ever gained a couple of pounds. I didn't consciously set aside time to exercise or keep fit, so my general fitness was pretty low.

Skip to 2011 and I got pregnant.

I gained 3 stone during my very inactive pregnancy (with a tiny 6lb 5oz baby...!) so I was not a pretty sight after I gave birth.

For anyone who hasn't had a baby, my sincere apologies but this is what 10 days post-partum looks like. Fat, haggard,  pale, clammy and weepy with exhaustion, boobs exploding and wearing stained pyjamas:

Luckily I was able to breastfeed and I dropped the weight pretty quickly without making any effort at all. Two years later towards the end of breastfeeding my legs were sticks... and I was feeling pretty good.
Needed a haircut though
I have no scales so I don't know how much I weighed at this point. I was fairly skinny but had no muscles or fitness level so that doesn't count for much. I also think I had a little diastasis recti, separation of the abdominal muscles after pregnancy, which has improved so much since I started actually getting off my arse and moving about:

This is last May - the difference in my profile between Day 1, Level 1 of the Shred, after Level 1 and after Level 2. I hadn't even done Level 3 at this point! Cheating slightly by wearing different trousers on that last shot.
But on to now.

I am no longer breastfeeding and I have only myself to blame if I put on or lose weight. I have fluctuated a bit but I want to keep roughly the weight I am now (10 stone - I've lost half a stone since the summer for no reason I can fathom - I am 5ft 8) or maybe slightly less but mainly - improve my general fitness and strength. 

I have finally made the very obvious discovery that exercise makes me feel good, I enjoy it and want to do it for myself. This is a mental turnaround that some people don't ever experience so I should be grateful.

I have a few conditions for exercise:
  1. It needs to cost no money apart from an initial outlay of things like weights, mat and DVD (already done) - i.e. no gym membership or expensive exercise classes.
  2. I must use my very limited child free time to do it in. Doing a YouTube workout or going for long 10000 step style walks are impossible when accompanied by a three year old.
  3. I cannot sacrifice all my child free (read 'playgroup') time to exercise as this is the only time I have to do freelance work as well.  Gotta pay that mortgage. This is why the 20 minute Shreds are a Godsend. I am already doing bits of work in the evening or to the tune of Thomas The Tank when I resort to telly at about 4pm on my non working days and I can't survive in this world without a couple of hours of downtime in the evenings to watch Netflix or crochet and besides, after I've eaten dinner I can't exercise.
  4. Which brings me to - I have to exercise when I haven't just eaten or I feel like I have to puke. How does anyone overcome this one!? With all the stuff going on in my life, having to keep a pre-schooler eating healthily and cooking for a man with the world's fastest metabolism this is basically only happening at the moment first thing in the morning after playgroup drop off, but only if I miss breakfast and have it later that morning. Believe me, cooking and sorting dinner for three separate people at three separate times in my tiny galley kitchen so I have time to Shred after 'bedtime hour' at my house would be enough to finish off the hardiest fitness fanatic. Believe me I have tried it.
  5. I am still unable to overcome my fear of public exercising so I must do it indoors, alone, or unobtrusively walk. I want to get over this at some point and try running outside but I think I will put this off a bit longer..
So here's what I am doing and am going to continue to do:

On the days I am at work, rain or shine I will aim to do 10,000 steps as recorded by the Pacer app on my phone. 10,000 is apparently 'highly active' as judged by the WHO, and that's good enough for me. It's actually a lot harder than it sounds! It means walking to work and back which I do anyway, going for a 45 minute walk on my lunch break and doing a couple of site walks each day (each site walk is about 1000 steps) up and down all the towers, right to the end of each bailey and along each curtain wall.

On the days I'm not in work (and with absolutely no rhyme or reason to my work rota that could be any number of days) AND it coincides with one of the three mornings Mostyn is in playgroup I have from 9.45 to 11.45 to myself in the morning - on these days I am going to Shred Level 2 or Level 3 followed by a shower and then whatever freelance work I can fit into the time I have left.

If I have a spare day, less freelance work or a free weekend day when I'm not working and Huw can take Mostyn out I am going to do the Boost Metabolism and Burn Fat, workout which is another classic Jillian. This is a 55 minute work out (including 5 mins warm up and cool down) of which I have only ever managed to complete 39 minutes before I have to lie on the floor praying for death to come quickly. I guess my goal for the next few months is to be able to do the whole of this workout comfortably at least once a week.

When I have more time (haha) I will try some new fitness related things but this is as much as I can manage at the moment.

Finally - should I ever forget, to add to this excellent reddit thread on the benefits of weightloss that don't involve being skinny.. are some other benefits I have noticed:

- I get more done. When I exercise something inside my has more enthusiasm for tidying, getting out of the house, sorting through a pile of stuff. I feel like I'm on a roll.

- I feel good mentally as well as physically. I feel proud of myself, like I am fulfilling some destiny of my ancestors. We are designed to move around a lot and I haven't been doing that until recently - discovering a new kind of discipline over my physical self makes me feel like I am doing what I was really intended to if this makes any sense. When I was on maternity leave and found myself anxious, tearful or not knowing what to do with my new baby if he cried, wanted to feed for hours, was grizzly or wouldn't sleep I would make a conscious effort to step back and ask myself what would a 'cavewoman' do? - this would get me back in touch with my instincts and I would cuddle, feed, relax and go with the flow as necessary. This might seem bizarre but I am experiencing a similar feeling when motivating myself to exercise. I need to be as in touch with my body as I am so practiced at being with my mind.

- I am setting a good example for my son. He is so interested in my exercises and knows that you have to exercise to be healthy. I want exercise to be a part of his life in the way that it never was for me as a sedentary PE-phobic child.

Some people who actually know anything about fitness will be internally screaming BUT WHAT ABOUT DIET?! In answer to that, I know I know. I am logging my food on MyFitnessPal to get a general idea of what I am supposed to be eating. I have found that I naturally stay just within the calorie allowance that maintains my weight which explains why I'm not overweight - but I do eat too many biscuits.

Some links I find cheering and helpful:

xxreddit: The secret to fitness - "The easiest change to make is usually a positive one: Adding something in. Rather than trying to STOP eating chocolate, STOP drinking wine, STOP sitting on the couch... You should try to START drinking a few glasses of water every day, START having one piece of fruit at breakfast, START with a 15-minute walk this weekend. For most people, these changes are manageable. It could be that you hate water (I used to!) so you start with sparkling water with a slice of lemon in it. Perhaps you start with just one glass of water a day, then after two weeks of that you add another glass of water each day. This is how slowly I'm talking about. It should feel absurdly easy to meet your short-term goals and stick to them."

Another reddit link: 30 things to love about exercise (none of which have anything to do with your weight, size or what you look like)

Sorry for the length, I've been writing this post for days and it crept up on me.

If anyone wants to be my friend on Pacer or MyFitnessPal let me know!!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Vegetable Growing Cheat Sheet

 I found this on Tumblr and I'm just putting it here so I don't lose it!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Sufis - Idries Shah

"Humanity is asleep, concerned only with what is useless, living in a wrong world.... Do not prattle before the People of the Path, rather consume yourself. You have an inverted knowledge and religion if you are upside down in relation to Reality. Man is wrapping his net around himself. A lion (the man of the Way) bursts his cage asunder." 
- The Sufi Master Sanai, teacher of Rumi, in The Walled Garden of Truth (1131 C.E.)

Eleven years ago I was eighteen and packing to go to University. I asked my father for a couple of books to take with me. He handed me two battered books, The People Of The Secret by Ernest Scott and The Sufis by Idries Shah.

In the turbulent weeks that came with my first term at University I completely forgot about my books, only to re-discover them a few months later while hibernating in bed after a nasty bout of freshers flu. I started reading The People of the Secret and barely left my room for the next few days in order to finish it. I remember writing down lists of questions and ticking them off as I answered them as another piece of history or knowledge snapped together like jigsaw pieces in my mind. I'm glad I read it first, because it was everything I needed to hear as the final shaky foundations of my angsty teenage atheism crumbled, and prepared me for the next book.

I initially knew nothing about The Sufis, only faintly what Sufism was (Islamic mysticism or something similar?) and that it was written by a man my father knew who died when I was eleven. I have read the book and it has had a great impact on me. On that I am not qualified to elaborate and all I can do is urge you to read it yourself. Here is how I read my copy, a chapter here and a chapter there: I highlight the parts that jump out at me, and then go through the section again and try to focus more on the parts that didn't.

Ending my great risk of 'prattling', I'll pass you on now to more qualified reviewers, John Bell and John Zada writing for Aljazeera on The Sufis as an antidote to fanaticism:
"This month [October 2014] marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of “The Sufis”, penned by the late Idries Shah. This classic by one of the foremost authorities on the subject was written for a western audience caught in a vogue of Oriental spirituality cults, or an overly academic approach to Sufism. The book was designed to help readers come to better grips with what constituted genuine mysticism, and to provide a sense of Sufism’s universality, which according to Shah, went far beyond its role in Islam.
Shah asserts that genuine Sufis are followers of an age-old tradition of experiential knowledge that is flexible and ever evolving, and which aims to bring its adherents to a true understanding of the nature of reality – which the biological brain or the culturally blind mind, operating in a certain mode, cannot ascertain on their own.

Sufis, Shah says, far from necessarily being members of an Islamic sect, have always existed within different faiths and cultures, including those of early antiquity that predated Islam.

It is not a system of thought or an academic process, Shah explains, but a living state. Indeed, Sheikh Abu El Hasan Fushanji sums it up: “Formerly, being a Sufi was a reality without a name. Today, it is a name without a reality.”

In “The Sufis”, we learn of the fascinating, and little-known influence that Sufis have had on the world, including Europe and the West. We are shown, for example, how the music of the Troubadours, the writings of Chaucer and Dante, medieval chivalry, and Freemasonry, as well as many less overtly mystical cultural fruits, are linked to the Sufis of the East.

Many of the “giants” among them are household names all over the world: Jalaludin Rumi, Omar Khayyam, Saadi of Shiraz, Ibn al-Arabi, al-Ghazali – just to name a few. It is partly through their achievements that the idea of Sufis as strictly Islamic mystics is perpetuated. But Shah uses them in this book for illustrative purposes. The most famous Sufis, he suggests, are exemplars of what humans east, west, north and south can be.

Indeed, given the rather strange state of the world, the type of thinking outlined in “The Sufis”, and other books by Shah, may be more needed than ever. With its flexible and organic approach to life and its refreshing lack of exclusivism, Sufism represents a powerful counterpoint to the dogmatic and violent fixations of extremists everywhere. In contrast to the closed extremist, oblivious and often inimical to his or her context, the Sufi might be defined as one who is open, through experience and learning, to any, and all, possibilities appropriate to an ever-widening horizon of contexts."
The Idries Shah Foundation has embarked on a programme to re-publish many more of Shah's books, all as relevant (or more relevant) today as when they first appeared, given the state of the world we are living in.

The East, where this knowledge sprung from, may in particular benefit from a reintroduction, which is why subscriptions to the foundation have made it possible for 32,000 books by Idries Shah (which include children's books [scroll down]) and related Eastern classics to be sent to Afghanistan — where they are going to be distributed for free to schools, universities, and public libraries. It's like the literary equivalent of the rediscovering of the crafts used to build the original Minbar of Saladin.

The 50th Anniversary Edition of The Sufis is physically stunning in design and quality, reflecting its inner content. It is a book that will be read and re-read by me for the rest of my life. 

For £12.99 on Amazon you can't go wrong.

Full disclosure: I was contacted by the Idries Shah Foundation and offered a copy of their new 50th Anniversary paperback edition of The Sufis. They invited me to mention it on my blog which I am very grateful for as it has caused me to reflect on the effect the book had on me and how I must read it again soon.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

30 Totes and Bags to Sew - a fantastic new craft book by my sister-in-law

Know someone who likes sewing? I've just found their perfect Christmas present!

My sister in law, the very talented Angharad Handmade has written her first sewing book, 30 Totes and Bags to Sew! This is the UK title, the US title is 'Tote-ally Amazing' and if you are into crafting or sewing in any way you must check it out immediately!

I'm not the most skilled at sewing myself.. (as my previous shoddy attempts will testify) but I know lots of people who and I know this will interest some of you.

This book would be the perfect Christmas present for the seamstress in your life: I've flicked through a copy and I'd be hard pressed to find a craft book more functional, colourful and fun. The instructions are detailed enough for even a needle-phobe (like me) to follow, with colour photos of every step, fold out patterns and extra info on sewing techniques, materials and tools.

I'll stop rambling and hand you over to Helen to share more details herself...

"The book focuses on the Tote bag, that's to say a bag with two handles, and I really wanted to include as broad a range of designs as possible, so inside you'll find projects ranging from a teddy bed tote for young children, to an oilcloth car caddy, to a velveteen evening bag. There are also lots of techniques covered such as reverse appliqué, kanzashi flowers, embroidery and freezer-paper stencilling. I'm so pleased with the final appearance of the book; the team at Quintet and my editor Julie Brooke have done an amazing job with beautiful photography and layouts - it has a spiral binding with hardback cover which has to be my favourite thing as a consumer of craft books as it means you can have the book open flat in front of you whilst working through a pattern. There are also plentiful colour photographs to illustrate the steps, as well as full-size pattern pieces in an envelope at the front of the book."

A few of the bags from the book. The possibilities are endless. 30 bag designs.. infinite fabric choices.... it will keep you busy for many years!

Here's a YouTube thumb through so you can get an idea how well written and snazzily designed this book is!

30 Totes & Bags to Sew: Quick & Easy Bags for all Occasions 
£14.99 by Helen Angharad Henley 
A book of 30 bag designs ranging from the fun to the functional. The book has a hardback spiral binding for ease of use, allowing it to be opened out flat as you work. Full-sized pattern pieces are included in an envelope at the front of the book.
144 pages with colour step-by-step photography.  
Published in 2014 by Search Press Ltd. 
ISBN 978-1-78221-096-2

Enjoy :D

Monday, October 20, 2014

Autumn Exploring to Penallt Old Church


We went on an autumnal walk from Redbrook to the tiny Penallt Old Church, a 13th Century Grade 1 listed building that turned out to be much more interesting that I first thought.

We walked in and someone had made these wonderful harvest festival displays of colourful fruit and flowers on every window ledge. Rainbows of apples, pears, berries, chinese lanterns, courgettes, sheaves of wheat, gourds and pots of the last autumn flowers.

Trying to get a picture of this treehouse in someones garden on the way up.

It started raining but it didn't matter!

The ancient parish chest (13th Century!), hewn from a single trunk of wood. What did they keep in it??

He finally wore his scarf!

The door of the porch, which was built in 1539, still bears the date carved into the door.

The view from the top.

There was a lot of industry and mining in that area, all lost now, but you see remnants everywhere, old millstones, pipes overgrown with weeds and ivy and apparently, dates carved on wall stones!

Looking up the Wye river from the old railway crossing at Redbrook.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Minbar of Saladin

I recently saw a really interesting documentary called Stairway to Heaven about a fascinating subject I knew nothing about - The Minbar of Saladin. It's a story of strange coincidences, sacred objects, almost extinct crafts, a quest for rediscovery and quite bizarrely, Prince Charles. I found it really worth watching and so I'm sharing it here with you! It's not very long but I guarantee you'll be thinking about it for a while after it finishes.

A minbar is a the name in Islam for what can be compared with a Christian pulpit in a church. However unlike a pulpit, a minbar is often shaped like a small tower with stairs leading up to it and is elaborately decorated. The Iman stands at the top and delivers sermons to the worshippers below.

The most important minbar in the world, dating from 1187, was the Minbar of Saladin. This incredibly beautiful and elaborate wooden construction was installed in the great al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem by Saladin, the first Sultan of Egypt and Syria who led the 12th Century Muslim opposition against European crusaders in the Eastern Mediterranean.

For 800 years the minbar ranked among the world’s most precious masterpieces of Islamic art, being built entirely with the principles of sacred Islamic geometry and using no nails, screw or glue, only many thousands of separate pieces of precisely carved, interlocking, patterned woodwork blocks.

The original Saladin Minbar, photographed in 1900
In 1969, the minbar of Saladin was burned to ashes when the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem was attacked by a fanatical Australian Christian.  This was a incomprehensible loss to the Islamic world so very quickly, consideration of its reconstruction began. While researching the design, it was realised that the Islamic craftsmanship necessary to build the minbar was all but extinct.  And so the search began to find someone able to recreate the minbar, the final result of which would take over 30 years to realise...

The story behind this project prompted a resurgence of traditional Islamic artisanship and artistry in Jordan, with the help and support of HRH The Prince of Wales and HRH Prince Ghazi of Jordan.

If that video is awkward here's a link to a YouTube playlist with all 5 parts. The final part gets cut off but by that time the story has been told.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Inspiration XIV

    Gertrude Käsebier. The Picture Book, 1902. Taken from the book ‘The Woman’s Eye’, Anne Tucker (ed.), Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1973

Calendrier Magique (October),  Manuel Orazi, 1895

Charles Rennie Mackintosh (Scottish, 1868–1928), The Fort, 1925-26

Claudio Bravo, Khabyas, 2002, oil on canvas

Did you know that Cranes were widespread in the UK until the 17th Century? They were over-hunted for food and their wetland habitats were drained and destroyed until they finally died out. Lots of town, village and field names with ‘cran-’ in them are actually derived from ancient names related to cranes.
Here’s a juvenile in Slimbridge Wetlands where over the last 5 years they have been slowly and carefully rearing 100 crane chicks and releasing them back into the Severn estuary. We saw a wild one from the hides that look out over the river.

Israel Hershberg (b. 1948), Maariv, 2000. Oil on canvas mounted on wood, 21.1 x 26.9 cm

The Blind Man - Saturnino Herrán 1904

not floundering

Sorry for not updating this blog recently. I was reading some of my old posts and thinking I really should write something here soon. Carving out time to sit down and write a post has been low on my list of priorities this summer - however I would still like to keep a record of my doings....

I've had a great summer, lots of things have fallen into place for us and sometimes I can't get used to this feeling of how grounded and stable we are right now with where we live, the house that I still can't believe is ours, our community, finances (finally!) and just how we go about things day to day. I am in a good groove at the moment and long may it last. 

Mostyn, who is now three, goes to playgroup three mornings a week (which he adores) and in that short amount of free time I have to choose between exercise, housework or freelance stuff, if I'm not at work. Usually exercise and freelance work wins, I never do nothing in that time. (I save my nothing for evenings from about 8pm, when Mostyn's in bed, we either watch Netflix or I play Skyrim while Huw works on music or programming upstairs. I've started learning to crochet so fill that time more productively!). I try to do a Shred Level 2 or 3, shower quickly and then an hour or so of work. This last week I've had too much work and a haircut to fit in my Shred so I need to get back on that. This year, for the first time, I have really begun to appreciate how much my body likes getting regular exercise. 

After we got married at the end of June everyone kept saying "doesn't it feel different now?" but no, it doesn't at all. After 7 years together what can possible change? The stress of organising and taking part in your own wedding is something I'm glad to have in the past... as someone who has never liked being in the limelight I think I did ok, though I don't actually remember a lot of it because I was so wound up! 

I was so worried about everyone enjoying themselves. It was a very small and low budget affair and I (and all my amazing family and family-in-law) did our absolute best to make the hall we hired look nice and have the day run smoothly - I played with my band for a bit, that didn't work our quite as I'd hoped as one member didn't show up and the other guys were all late but I think it was still nice. There was a bit of dancing and the BBQ was delicious. We couldn't go on until late because there were lots of young children there (including our own!) but overall it was exactly what we wanted. Low key, non traditional and intimate. No expensive wedding photographer - just family photos, only a few people in the room at the registry office, a handmade bouquet from my dad's wife, Huw's mum and dad doing the flowers, my mum making a gorgeous wedding cake, 15 punnets of local strawberries and cream. I really hope everyone who came had a nice time.

We walked into the ceremony room together with Mostyn and all his cousins to a piano track that Huw composed just after Mostyn was born. We chose brazillian and reggae music for when we were signing the book that reminded us of our time talking online that first year, sharing music over MSN and talking until 5am.

Wedding present drawn by our friend Lucy :D
Moroccan lantern from my sister
My friend made us an incredible quilt!!

We toyed with the idea of not having a wedding at all, just a registry office with 2 witnesses, but I'm glad we did. I saw friends I haven't seen for ages who came so far for it, and all of our friends were so generous and wonderful. With our wedding gifts we were able to buy a new sofa and get some bits for the house we hadn't been able to afford before. We decided to use both our surnames for all three of us, no hyphen.

Downstairs is now finished. We have curtains up ready for when the weather turns and some new floating wooden shelves that Huw has been wanting forever. It's so cosy down here now and I can't wait for Winter to come! I want our next project to be the bathroom, which I hate every element of, but I don't know when we are going to have the time and money to be able to do something with it.

I also learned to crochet last week and I've got lots of projects in mind for the winter. It's incredibly addictive and satisfying:

The top squares are what I made from wool I had left over from a peg loom rug I made last year. I'm going to send them to a lady on Instagram who joins donated squares into blankets for homeless people in South Wales!

I also made me and Mostyn mustard snoods from this YouTube pattern!

I got a large, unexpected and very welcome tax rebate so I bought this pack of 15 balls of wool chosen by Attic24 - the ripple cottage blanket they are designed for is a bit beyond me but I'm making little granny squares from the wool (I really like the colours) to make into a blanket.

I've got more things to say but it will have to wait! Hasta la vista...