Saturday, February 28, 2009

Returning to center

Heading into March I hadn't really had time to think about which goal would move front and center for me...up until last week. When the Universe is sending you a message it's helpful if you pay attention. So, without further ado my goal this month is to return to my center, and focus on my martial arts practice. And to keep things simple, I plan on doing my form every day.

In Taiji, we practice a form called the Yang set, which has (I think...) 108 movements divided into three sections. If we practice it at a fairly moderate pace it takes about 15-20 minutes to complete. Every Saturday morning, it's part of class, and in each movement you can learn so much about where you are mentally, physically and even spiritually.

Some days when we do the form, I get lost watching the birds and squirrels and feeling the breeze on my face, or the sun shining down. Sometimes, I get lost in the movement and feel surprised when we're suddenly done despite the feeling that we just got started. It's in this form that I realized my balance was completely shot after dealing with the plantar fascitis in my feet, and learned that you work much harder when you forget to breathe along the way. I also learned that although you may learn the sequence of movements in a short time, it may take a lifetime to explore, experience and master them.

This past weekend my instructor suggested that I come to class and do the form, and nothing push-ups, no other work, just the form. I almost cried at his suggestion, which says a lot. I didn't make it to class and of course, felt guilty until I remembered that he said he would support me regardless of my decision. He did make it clear, that what I needed the most was to return to my practice, return to my breath and return to my center. And, in a world that tells us to sit back and take it easy when we're not feeling well comes his message that we should get up and move, and sweat, and work.

It makes me realize how much I miss being immersed in this art form. I miss my old Dojo, my old Sensei, the kicking, the punching, the sweating and the grappling. I even miss the bruises I'd get on occasion! They were badges of honor, which represented my hard work and determination. Don't get me wrong, I love my classes, and I could spend a lifetime learning from my instructor, the problem is me...I have to find the time to do so.

In focusing on my form every day for this month, I hope to find the time to return to my center, and to find my focus and intention once again.

And I didn't even flinch

I spent the good part of 2008 trying to overcome a lifetime aversion to the color pink. It's a long sordid story, but I've had issues with that color my entire life. At forty-plus years of age I decided last year to make peace with my demons and although I may not embrace pink, I should learn to accept it.

It was a year of small, quiet triumphs, and deep soul-searching that culminated in a weekend of pure, pink, shock-therapy. I walked away feeling less hostile about the color, but not joyfully embracing it. Until this weekend.

My current purse died an untimely death. The autopsy will probably show too many items shoved into it's generous pockets, or perhaps an over-reliance on the rugged, yet elegant straps. It was the perfect blend of glam and bling, and I didn't want to let it go but I had to come to terms with needing a new purse and soon.

After a week of being house-bound I decided to venture out looking for a purse and on a secondary note a bag for my classes. My class bag has also been showing wear and tear, but I haven't allowed it to die for years. I decided that both bags must go and this was the weekend to lay them to rest. Here's one last photo; their flaws may not be evident on the surface, but I promise structurally they were headed for disaster.

After a fairly short shopping trip I found two bags, in two separate stores. I know, it looks like they were separated at birth...and they may have been. The purse (on the left) is actually larger than my last one, much deeper...but also more narrow. (You can't see her slim figure in this photo). For my class bag, I opted for a more subtle, simple option. The two ladies are making themselves at home this evening, and it seems perfectly natural that I now own a honking-huge electric pink purse. This is girlihood in all it's glory.

And now the brick...

The universe has a progressive discipline policy in place. You know, similar to three strikes and you're out. First, you get birds singing, a breeze blowing and nature gently sending hints your direction. If you don't pick up on that level of subtlety, it progresses to level two. At this point, you're making notes, telling yourself it's time to pay attention...but maybe not this week, perhaps the next one. You openly acknowledge that the Universe may be sending you messages but you haven't really taken any direct action. Now to level three, the Universe chunks a hefty brick at your head, either knocking you unconscious or leaving you flat on your back. Last week, I got my brick.

Bronchitis...and one week of feeling pitiful in my bed. A week of phlegm, fever, a runny red nose, and a piles of Kleenex everywhere. I've been telling myself for a couple of months that I need to get my health back on track, that I've lost focus, stamina and determination. I've wanted to lose weight, meditate more, get back into running, and fighting (yes...I do mean the kicking and punching kind). I think back to a couple of years ago when I had completed my first triathlon and I felt invincible, charged, strong and ready to conquer the world.

Last week, I even lamented the fact that I don't seem to have as much energy as I used to...and that I needed to go see the acupuncturist, get my allergies back under control and become stronger. And, I put those on my list of things to the near future...right along side the grocery list, the laundry and other petty items. In the process, I ticked off the Universe who decided it was time for a more overt discussion.

I sniffled on Monday, lay sick in bed on Tuesday, but came to work Wednesday morning. After I felt miserable and defeated, I decided to go home...with a side trip to the doctor. I thought it was allergies, which were part of the problem, but the heart of it was acute bronchitis...the contagious kind...the kind that leaves you whimpering on the coach for several days.

And so, on Thursday I went for an acupuncture appointment where I was told that I needed to get my health back on track (it's not too far off though), get more heat going (i.e. cardio) and pay attention to the messages my body and others are sending me. And, on Friday, when I called my martial arts instructor telling him I may not make class on Saturday he also told me to get back on track, find my balance, and return to my practice. Which I will, and quite soon.

Just to clarify

Since we're talking about may have noticed that my choices are not all low-calorie, health conscious, high-fiber, low-fat options. I'd love to work my way into cooking with those items in mind, but the things I can pull together quickly and efficiently are just not meant that way. I mean really, pot's a big old hunk of meat...and a yummy one at that.

I do need to lose weight this year, I gained quite a bit in 2008 and thankfully because I do work out it doesn't show as much...but I know it's there. The truth is that the idea of cooking often, and cooking uber-healthy is just overwhelming to me. And I don't need anything else to overwhelm me right now. I need simplicity, I need balance, and I need efficiency in my life.

So, I decided the first step was to get away from eating what is convenient and therefore packaged, processed and artificial in many cases to move towards real food. Yes, if we're counting I did make homemade macaroni and cheese and dammit, it was great. Not as good as a salad perhaps, but my version simply had cheese, a little milk, a little flour and butter and macaroni...nothing else. I made a big batch, split it into little ramekins, and froze half of them.

My philosophy is simple. I can control what goes into the food, and cut down on unnecessary items like sugar, salts and the dreaded high-fructose corn syrup that has snuck into so many of our foods. I also feel that my food supply is much more safe, sound and salmonella-proof, although I really would die for a peanut Clif Bar right about now ;-)

I don't know that anyone who knows me would really criticize me on this one, but just in case some random stranger decides to start following my blog and wants to lecture out, I've got a crock pot and I'm not afraid to use it!

Progress report

It wouldn't be the end of the month without some type of progress report on my goals. I cooked, and more often than I did in January or any other month for that matter. Here's a brief list of my February accomplishments.

The winners:

  • Quiches (yes, multiple ones): I managed to make six this month, and they have served me well for breakfast, lunch and dinners. And, I currently have several pieces frozen just in case I go into withdrawal. I honestly don't know why I haven't made more at home before, they're way too easy. My favorite one? Arugula, corn and bacon...with a little blue cheese. The last one I cooked? Spinach, mushrooms and a bit of corn. Every bit as yummy as you can imagine.
  • Pot roast: I even got out the slow cooker for this one, and included potatoes and carrots in the mix. I probably overcooked the veggies, but the meat was amazing. I don't say this lightly, but I could have eaten bowls of that meat for days on end...literally bowls of it. Major thumbs up, and I'm cooking it again tomorrow, and I don't want to get my hopes up too high but I'm breaking out the bowl!!!
  • Turkey meatballs: One of my new favorite goodies. The first batch was the most faboo...and with a little marinara sauce, I was in heaven. I thankfully froze half of them (in convenient 4-count bags), which provided me with a slice of heaven on more than one day. The last batch I made included chopped up carrots which added to their wholesomeness.
  • Potato risotto with sauteed Swiss chard and spinach. Didn't know you could do a risotto with potatoes? Think again. Didn't realize Swiss chard and spinach compliment each other quite nicely, lesson learned!
  • Kale chips: A little time consuming, but tasty. I may have to give them another try soon (especially since my fridge is teeming with kale at this very moment).
  • Mashed cauliflower: Yeah, odd concept but actually pretty good. I didn't have the consistency correct (it was a little too chunky), but I did manage to eat all of my cauliflower this month. And, in the process learned it was also a cruciferious veggie to boot...and I always thought you had to be green. Go figure!

Honorable mentions:

  • Slow roasted pork ribs with Chinese five-spice mix. Good concept, not too thrilled with the pork.
  • Pork roast: Edible, decent flavor but made me decide I don't like pork as much as I thought.
  • Braised short ribs: Great potential, but after only one bite I left them sitting on the stove overnight instead of in the fridge. I would consider trying them again, but for the number you buy you don't get much meat...I'll keep looking for more though.
  • Turkey meatloaf: Turkey in any loaf form is not desirable. Smaller meatballs are however.

Rest in Peace:

  • Turnips, kohlrabi and extra lettuce that I forgot about. Sorry guys, it just wasn't in the cards.

On the horizon (especially since I'm on a roll):

  • Portuguese kale soup
  • Pot roast!!!!!!!
  • Baked won tons
  • Homemade granola bars (Official note: Clif Bars is out of my Peanut Toffee Buzz until late I'm forced to make my own creation)
  • Edamame hummus
  • Kale pesto (with a yummy recipe for a pizza....)

Friday, February 27, 2009

Could you take a peek?

The entire month, a part of me has wished someone with a video camera would break into my house for the sole purpose of looking in my fridge. Their hope may have been some sleazy expose on how horribly people eat at home. Maybe there were other episodes showing the dark and moldy side of celebrity lives when you open that one door in the kitchen. I however would be gleeful, giddy and ready for the cameras when they came and opened up my fridge. And, I would just step back and tell them to behold the beauty!

What's an Excel geek to do?

So, I've spent this last month trying to cook more, and eat out less. Out of curiosity (and possibly boredom) I decided to see if I had maybe saved some money. I've actually used a tracking system set up at my bank called 'My Portfolio'. If you upload all of your accounts (credit cards, etc.) you can then track where you money goes. Pretty simple. So, I decided to compare how much money I spent in January on groceries and dining out versus February.

My hunch was that my dining out bills would have decreased some but my groceries may have gone up. I figured since I didn't stop on the way home to pick up food, and cooked instead the dining out would have decreased. And, since I was experimenting on home cooked goodness, the groceries would have increased.

The result? Dining was almost identical for each month (within $5), but groceries decreased $147 or a whopping 16.9 percent. Which was quite a surprise and a bit of a mystery that I haven't quite figured out...just yet.

And being the closet-Excel-geek that I am, I created bar charts. Pretty ones, in fact, to show the world this revelation. What I didn't factor in is the fact that I have no clue on how to upload charts into the blog. None at all, which makes me a very sad and pathetic spreadsheet addict with nothing to show for all my work. ***sigh***

A mad dash to the finish

Well it's almost the end of February, and my number of posts this month is dramatically lower than last month. One could argue that since my goal was to consistently blog in January, February was a month to relax and catch up on other things. This month has flown by, and even if we had 30 or 31 days to count, I think it would still feel like the shortest month of the year.

I've spent a large amount of this month in a very introspective mood, which may explain why I haven't been writing as much. There's a lot going on in my head, and in many cases things I'm not willing to put on paper just yet. I didn't forget my February goal however...I just didn't tell you about it. Kind of sneaky, huh???

So, any guesses on which goal won during the month of February???? Not to keep any of you in suspense, but it was #11 on the list, actually a semi-revised version. My goal was to simply cook more at home. Although I still like the idea of bringing my lunch more often, I started out with a very straight forward approach. Eat less pre-packaged, processed foods and just simply cook.

When I was growing up, my sisters and I learned to cook from an early age. In those days, packaged and boxed foods were more expensive and too much of a luxury for our family to afford. So, everything was made from scratch, from pizza sauce and pizza dough to desserts and dinner. As a result, I learned to cook most anything, and in a very improvisational style. For someone who loves to follow recipes, I would drive you crazy because I don't...and I think it's genetic because my entire family is that way.

You create food out of what you have on hand, and if you don't have everything on the list you make do...or make something different. I chose this goal for the month because of all the lovely veggies we've been getting at work through our farm to work program. The weekly supplies of greens and goodies has been a challenge for me to work through, and an opportunity to dust off my cooking skills, stock up on food in the fridge and freezer, do a little meditation in the kitchen...and perhaps channel my mom from time to time. It's been a good month in this regard, and I promise I'll write more on this even if it is a mad dash before the end of the month!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Plank, the Budo way

Every Tuesday I scurry off during my lunch hour for a little pain, sweat and occasional swearing. Timothy's been serving this up to me since last June and each week seems harder than the last. And yes, I do pay for this...each and every time.

There's something about working out that just does not inspire me. Heading out to a gym by myself never seemed to work, so I decided to go find a personal trainer. I had been given a recommendation for this place, and met Timothy, who's sweetness and charm belies the fact that he'll kill you each session and smile while he does so.

The sessions are short and sweet (less than 30 minutes) and the entire point is to completely fatigue your muscles in a short period of time with slow repetitions of very heavy weights. It's a crazy-tough, beat the crap out of you time, but it's also addictive. You even get used to feeling shaky the entire time you work out, but you do have to be careful when driving away!

He almost always finishes up with plank. In Timothy's world this means that you do plank while he lays a board across your back to check your form and then drops some weights on top of the board. When I first started he said if you're fit you should be able to do two minutes solid. My best time has never been past 70 seconds.

When I mentioned to him that I wanted to get those two minutes down he laughed. Why? Well, in his world, if you can do two minutes of plank at the end of the wasn't a tough workout. He finishes up with plank to squeeze every last ounce of energy out of your body. Two minutes only works, when you're feeling fresh.

I've done martial arts for a few years now, and they teach the principal of 'no mind' or 'mushin', where you are so present in the moment that you can overcome whatever physical distractions that pop up. Work has been a little stressful lately, and I wanted to just block everything out for a few more minutes during my workout. So, when I hit the plank pose today I dropped everything mentally, including my preconceived ideas of how long I could hold the pose.

And in that moment, I was able to slip into a different place and block everything out, the shakiness in my arms, legs and abs, Timothy counting down the time, and even the burn of the carpet under my elbows. I blew past the minute mark with no inkling of physical discomfort and hit 1:26 before I let go. I really think I could have gone much longer, not because I had energy to burn but because I was successful in telling my brain to let go and just be in the moment.

It felt good, actually great, but I don't plan on telling Timothy quite yet. Internet, let's keep this our little secret for now...