Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Removing the filters

...of my insecurities and body issues, I see the Shiny Gym and its users in a new light. When I first went, all I saw was the fit young men and women in glowing health, lifting weights, on the machines barely breaking a sweat. I wore my fitness gear uncomfortably: black lycra bottoms and my long sleeved running tops, covered up by a sweater. I did not feel worthy in this Temple of Fitness, Health and Beauty. 

I've only been going a month. I went shopping for new fitness gear: loud, bright and I've been showing off my arms. I still have my sweater for when I start, they believe in air-conditioning and it's a bit chilly until I get going. 

The people at the desk and the other trainers greet me and we have small chats about the weather and my rather colourful leggings. What can I say? They were relatively inexpensive, comfortable and they make me feel great. 

The other users? Well, they aren't looking at me, but I am looking at them, mostly in wonder. 

There's the guy who looks like he fell off the Grateful Dead Tour Bus, stubbed out his toke and threw on some shorts. There's the woman who should be an exotic dancer: she's drop dead gorgeous, long straight hair, dancer's physique and a smile to melt the ice in anyone's Pimms. There's the identikit gay couple flirting and showing off to each other as they lift small mountains balancing on medicine balls. There's the woman who can't walk, but still goes large on the leg press; the man for whom walking is a challenge and kicks butt on the rowing machines. There's the two nearly-retired women, really good friends who chat about their pensions, children, husbands and work throughout their session and into their clean-up time. They smile and laugh as they sweat and pull tired and insecure women into their conversations. There's the granny who came in her cardigan and loafers to walk a few miles on the treadmill. The 50-something woman who carried out a conversation with the sweaty guy on an exercise bike next to her while she pounded the arse out of a treadmill for half an hour. 

When I started I didn't think there was a place for me. I have been physically lazy for most of my life and it shows in my posture, my aches and pains, and the flabbiness and weakness of my muscles. Now, when I finish my workout, I want to high five everyone there. I suspect it won't be long before I start thumping my chest on deadlift days. I'm now wondering whether in a few weeks time, I could include some yoga or Pilates classes to get some flexibility into my regime. 

As awesome as it is right now, there's so much more I want to do. I want to run again. I want to be fit enough to run/bike/walk to the gym, do my workout and get home again without needing to ring someone to pick me up. I want to go on bike rides around the countryside with Dave. I'm hoping that I've got the next 45 years to make up for the sloth of the last 45 years. 

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Have you seen my Plot?

Procrastination is going well, thank you for asking. I have done a load of laundry, dug out the kitchen, loaded up the dishwasher, done the dishes (that couldn't fit in the magic cupboard) and sorted through my wardrobe (and will be re-homing 3 bags of clothes). Not bad for a morning's work, if I don't say so myself. Unfortunately, I am no closer to coming to a conclusion about my plot. I wonder if I am over-complicating it somewhat? This is supposed to be a paranormal romance, so the focus must be on the budding romance. However, the imprint also demands an exciting plot to go with it. There's a reason why I'm procrastinating and until I can resolve this issue, I'm not going to be able to plant my butt on the seat of my chair and start writing proper. 

*sigh*

Funny isn't it? I've been having a little stress and thought I'd procrastinate by blogging and the act of writing has shown me the problem. Don't you just love this process? No wonder I'm interested in counselling etc, everything goes on at a subterranean level. Clearly, I'm going to have to ease up on myself and slide into the process. Planning an 85,000 words novel is a completely different kettle of fish than writing a novella of 15,000 words, and I thought that was hard enough.

Anyway, I was nominated to do Seven Random Facts about me (that you may, or may not already know), by the lovely Tara, who ironically enough, I met on my first ever creative writing course. 

Seven Random Facts About Me (cause it's all about me)

1. I now wear a nose ring rather than a tactful nose stud. I woke up a few weeks and realised that as I am moving Heaven and Earth not to work in an office again, I don't have to pretend I'm normal anymore.

2. I don't miss TV. Although I have internet, I no longer pay for a TV package. I do however, have NETFLIX and I have boxset marathons of any TV series that takes my fancy. 

3. There are three baby name books on my desk. It gave Dave about two seconds of WTF?! until he figured out why I have them. It gave me two seconds of mirth watching his face. 

4. Much to Boy's annoyance, I still call him a teenager. He's only been able to vote for three years and stopped being a teenager two years ago. My excuse? I'm an ageing parent and he was a teenager for longer than he's been an adult. It's a lot to get my head around.

5. In ten days time, I will officially be middle aged (hopefully). When I look in the mirror I see the signs of ageing: grey hairs and wrinkles. Truthfully, I am excited for the future. While there are people my age who are beginning to think about retirement in 15 - 20 years time, I am thinking about establishing myself as a writer, my training to become a counsellor and whether or not I'll be able to run 5k in sub-30 mins. After 43 years of sitting on my backside, my body is ready to be pushed. My Life is finally taking off. 

6. I am that slightly out-of-step, culture of youth mum. I say "down wiv da kidz" and try to be all current. Boy is kind and doesn't roll his eyes, but I see the amusement in his eyes as I get it ever so slightly wrong.

7. The older I get, the political I become. I am impatient with people on social media who aren't going to vote. I find I am sharing more and more politically themed posts on Facebook and Twitter. I sometimes wonder if I am the only person who ever paid any attention to history when the struggle for socio-political reform was taught. 

By the way, if I was Empress of the Universe, our society would be inclusive. If a person worked 37 hours a week or 16, they would get fair recompense for their labour, no matter their race, gender or gerbil. Fresh fruit, vegetables and meat would be less expensive than junk and processed foods. There would be no tuition fees for university students. The NHS would be the institution it was meant to be, before it was monetised and run down. There would be proper public transport. 

In case you hadn't noticed, I'm an idealist. That can be your bonus number 8. 

Monday, April 20, 2015

Too Much of a Good Thing...

...is wonderful. Don't ever let anyone tell you otherwise. It's Monday morning and like most Mondays recently, I'm moving slowly. I'm gathering myself for the week ahead. I had hoped to start writing this week, but I realise looking at the plot outline I worked on over the weekend, that I'm a bit of a coward.

A good story is all about the conflict and how our intrepid heroine gets her dessert with proper whipped double cream and her man. I've been tiptoeing around and the plot is a bit like the cucumber you left for a month in the bottom of the vegetable crisper - you could kinda see what it should be, but it's all mushy, squishy and smells bad. Not what a writer needs. 

Therefore, this week I will be thinking of ways to torture my poor heroine. My readers and I will only see what she's made of in how she gets through that obstacle course. As always, it's not what you say, it's what she does that's important. 

I also have to remind myself that I am not writing Game of Thrones. I don't need to quite go into gratuitous character torture or culling. On the other hand, GoT reminds me the stakes have to be high, so high as to seem out of reach, but she's got to stretch her muscles. 

This week, I am going to have to learn to be a sadistic God and come up with things to throw at her. Wish me luck.

On the other hand, I'm beginning to see the work at the gym paying off and it's got bugger all to do with the scales. My confidence is coming back up. Did I tell you I invested in some new gym gear? I look like a gym bunny on LSD now. I feel fabulous wrestling into my gear and swagger around the gym. The motivation has finally kicked in, to the point where I abandoned Dave on Saturday to go do Leg Day. Happily, he was still here on my return and was able to provide TLC when I hobbled through the door. We spent the rest of the weekend curled up on the sofa watching trash on Netflix, but even managed to go for a walk at dusk. 

I've also got to the fun part of the whole strength training process - the humungous appetite. Unfortunately, people think that in order to lose weight that hours and hours of cardio is the answer. After all, they can check their stats and think "I've burnt 450 calories, go me!" The problem with that is the calorie burning process stops as soon as they step off the treadmill. Strength training on the other hand, keeps the calorie burning up hour after the workout ends. Rebuilding muscle requires energy and it's got to come from somewhere. My focus isn't about weight loss, it's about dumping my body fat and building dense muscle. If you start bleating on about muscly girls be warned, I will have to slap you. 

Women do not have the ability to build muscle mass like men. We simply lack the testosterone to do so. Yes, the female body builders you see are incredibly defined and bulky. Here's the thing, they are on incredibly strict regimes, with every calorie accounted for to keep off the body fat and all of the hours in their day dedicated to working to look like that. Unless you are prepared to be totally obsessed and committed, it's not going to happen to those of us part-timers. Oh, here's a totally fabulous article why women should definitely not lift weights.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Progress Report

You'll remember I was whinging at my lack of organisation a couple of posts (weeks) ago? Well, I sat down and worked out a bit of a timetable for the blank days and then Easter happened. Last week, I was just about chewing the carpet in frustration of not being able to get on, but I had other things/people to prioritise. This week I began.

Monday got off to a very slow start, but there was a start. Yesterday, I hit the ground running and despite being led slightly astray by social media, I kept on target. The organisation certainly worked yesterday and it seems to be working today. If I can keep it up I'll be able to sit down and start writing next week.

I've been using my time to do all the ground work I should have done before I sat down in front of my laptop in February. But that's okay. I don't look at it as wasted time. The time I've spent nurturing my creativity, working on the foundations of this project has got me to this point. The next few days are going to be crucial, I've got a story arc to plot up and the challenge there will be to ensure that I've got all the conflicts covered. There probably will be swearing. I apologise in advance.

My time at the gym is beginning to pay off. Yesterday, for the first time in about 10 months, I was able to deadlift! How happy does that make me feel? I hear you ask. Ecstatic.

Dave gives me the look when I talk about deadlifting, I'm going to assume you are too. Let me explain. As a weedy and fairly wimpy woman, the act of walking up to a weightlifting bar is incredibly intimidating. Deadlifting is a move for buff, muscle-bound weightlifters who need a stick to wipe their bum...wrong!

Deadlifts are a compound exercise that works the quads, glutes, spinal erectors, abs, traps and upper lats. It's a deceptively move, you pick up the heavy thing and you put it down again for  5 sets of 8 - 12 reps. Simples. Hah! Form is everything. Get your form wrong, you will hurt yourself. Every lift you have to concentrate: keep your chin and chest up, push from your heels, focus on your breathing, keep the move smooth and seamless. It's all about control.

I still can't quite figure out what it is about this move that gives me The Freakin' Awesome. It doesn't matter what I lift. Yesterday, I started with just the bar which is 20 kg and then went on to lift 30 kg. I suspect it's the fact that I am facing my fear - I am a weedy, wimpy woman - and beating it into the fucking ground. How can I possibly think I am that, when I can pick up that bar loaded? Deadlifting challenges all the assumptions I have about my limitations. I have to stand taller, I have to support myself better when I deadlift because I know I'll hurt myself if I don't. Today, I have to be upright because I ache if I don't

Today, I can name the muscles that worked. I am practically bouncing off the ceiling with energy. I was up before the alarm, got a load of laundry on, got the dishwasher empty. I've got a lot of work to do today and I'm charging through it. I won't go to the gym today, I know if I am to keep on building my strength, recovery is just as important as the sessions at the gym.

With the programme I'm on, I have to be realistic about my weight. I have maintained my weight just under 9 stone for over six months, with the usual monthly hormonal fluctuations. I'm losing inches everywhere and that confirms I am losing the body fat and building more muscle. I am going to get to the point where the scale will not be my friend, but hopefully, I will be the same size I am now. I will then laugh at my BMI. I am trying to eat more meals and more regularly, just smaller portions with a greater emphasis on fruit and vegetables. I thought about going back to the 5:2, but my weight is happily in the "normal" part of the graph. Yes, I could try to lose weight but my concern is that I will lose the muscle with it and I want a strong body, not a thin body.

Last year, I was asked a very good question that I couldn't answer: how do I get the motivation to start and keep doing the exercises? At the time, I was going to the gym and running regularly; I hadn't hurt my back or wrists or had the three weeks off and then the horrible months of my existential crisis. Now, I know how to answer that question. 

You can't wait for motivation or inspiration to start anything. You just have to go for it. Motivation and inspiration are like the wall flowers in at a village dance, you have to hit the dancefloor first and start busting some moves. Once you start dancing, they'll join you and then you can all get down and groove.

And yes, I am grooving people. Next week: running! Oh yeah baby.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Creative Celebrations

You may or may not have gathered that I have a girl crush on Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat, Pray, Love and Signature of all Things. I developed this crush early in February when I began trawling TED for videos to watch and inspire me. Lo! I found this. A couple of days ago, I revisited this video and I realised something quite disturbing. I have never properly honoured my own creativity. Yes, I did the BA in Creative Writing but afterwards, I dithered and Life happened and I allowed myself to drift away from it. I didn't follow anything through. I got caught up in "real life" and "bills" and trying to find a way to compromise and be sensible. Look how well that turned out.

I've been exceptionally lucky in the company I keep. My friend Julia, a fab poet is also a poetry tutor. As it turns out she is not only an excellent friend, she is an excellent tutor and when I said that I had stopped writing and started trying to coax life back into my creativity, she set me a goal: write a poem a week. Bless her, she's been fielding my feeble attempts since then, with great humour and even greater encouragement. Not only that, but she has also been sending me poems to get my juices flowing again. 

What can I say? It works. I am finally beginning to feel like myself again. Properly myself. I wanted to share one of the poems that Julia sent through. When I first read it, I got goosebumps, honest to goodness goosebumps. 

‘Thirteen Ways with Figs’

1.

Silence the village gossip with nutty figs
rolled in crushed peppercorns.
Layer the fiery fruit in a jar between bay leaves.
Store in a dark place for three days.
Leave your offering on her doorstep.
   
2.

Sweeten your mother-in-law,
a small, crepey woman in a black dress
smelling of mothballs,
with stuffed quails roasted in thick balsamic sauce,
followed by ricotta-rose cheesecake and marzipan-filled figs.
Spill velvet-pink petals over her plate.
   
3.

Soothe inflamed ulcers and lesions
with a steamed fig, slippery elm, flaxseed poultice.
Wrap around the weeping skin in a muslin cloth.

4.

Pick a ribbed fig from the tree at twilight.
Split the dark cocoon in two.
Rub the wart with amber pulp and seeds.
Tie the halves together again.
Bury them in the flinty earth
under the waning moon.
   
5.

Cure fatigue, insomnia or nightmares
by boiling milk poured in a pail
with sun-baked figs and turmeric.
Add lavender honey to taste. Drink slowly.
   
6.

Bind three white Cilento figs
with a crimson ribbon for dreams of love.
Place the fruit under your pillow.
In the morning,
loop the ribbon around your waist.
If your heart is in your mouth,
sear it, eat it with figs.

7.


Beguile your partner with fig-leaf absolute
dabbed along the curve of your neck.
Wear almond blossoms in your hair.
Dance on a terrace with a view of the harbour,
to the flashing grin of an accordionist
who smells of sulphur and plays like the devil.
Clap your hands. This is no time to tiptoe.
   
8.

On a balmy midsummer evening, wrap up your al fresco meal
at the warped wooden table under the plane tree
with blistered grilled figs, spoonfuls of soft mascarpone
drizzled with orange blossom and rose water.
Smell the mimosa.
Don’t wipe the sugary smudge from your chin.
Carry the sated silence to bed.
   
9.

Arouse your lover with plump, purple figs in a cool bowl of water.
Break the thin, moist skin with your fingers.
Close your eyes. Listen to your breathing.

10.

On a windy day welcome your new neighbours across the pasture.
Make them feel at home with capocollo,
a sausage of figs, almonds, pistachios and cinnamon.
Fold in leaves
left in a basket on the porch. Follow the dung
trail home, a wasp
hovering at your shoulder.
   
11.

In autumn, line your pantry shelves with jars of fig jam
scented with cardamom pods. Seal in the sunshine
with smooth wax discs and screw-top lids.
   
12.

Feed a hungry family
with slow-cooked pork loin and Adriatic fig stuffing.
Serve with golden polenta. Garnish with watercress.
Open bottles of the full bodied local wine.
Taste the olive-wood smoke,
the measure of November’s indulgences.
   
13.


When the sky pops and hisses with stars,
celebrate the year’s trailing tail.
Prepare fig fillets stuffed with amaretti biscotti
and smoky chocolate slivers.
Serve with steaming espressos before midnight.
Va bene.

Michelle McGrane


Update: Julia has some incredible news, her new poetry collection called Bird Sisters will be published next spring. Please pop over and say congratulations! [click here]

Thursday, April 09, 2015

The girls are back in town

Prising my eyes open this morning clutching my coffee, I was somewhat surprised to see a man in a Land Rover and trailer pull up in the drive. Not only did the man in the aforementioned vehicle pull up, but he reversed to the gate, did a cursory check of the field and then there was messing about behind, where I could not see. The trailer started rocking and then, suddenly - there were four cows! 






Rummy, perked up beside me and started growling. He was completely unimpressed by this event. The sight of four cows galloping round a new field is quite something. For large creatures they don't half shift.

I had to see to the velociraptors and was a bit wary of interrupting the ladies' inspection of their new home. The coop is tucked away at the top, but actually in the field. Z's gardener, a man of few words and sly wit suggested that "you can run fast, can't you?"

Indeed. As he has previously noted, I am not a country girl.

The velociraptors were markedly subdued when I went in with their breakfast. The rooster, kept an eye out on these new neighbours. I retrieved the eggs and made it out safely again without incident. And if you think that I'm being unnecessarily wary...cows are very big. It doesn't do to startle them.


Remembering tales of Big Pinkie, I went and reinforced the human gate with a belt of mine. It wasn't quite as sturdy as I'd like. I no longer believe wide innocent eyes. I don't particularly want to be chasing after four cows around the village. It's bad enough trying to herd chickens.



Thursday, April 02, 2015

Clocks, Calendars and Organisation (or lack thereof)


The clocks went forward on Sunday in the bi-annual attempt to eek out the sunshine in the British Isles. Normally, I grumble and adjust the time on the microwave, car and heating and then swear because I can never remember how to change the time on the oven. This time however, I am completely out of whack. BST has completely thrown my body clock and I find I'm not sleeping and drifting around going "huh?" at regular intervals.

After some contemplation, I realised that it's down to the fact my time is now my own and I don't have any kind of routine at all any more. I used to like my routine. I could look at the clock and know exactly where I was supposed to be and what I was supposed to be doing. There's a certain amount of comfort in that. 

Nowadays, I keep a stricter diary, as in I make sure I write down appointments. I get engrossed in tasks and forget what I've agreed to do.   This week I was going to start implementing early mornings. Instead, I'm getting up later and later as the quality of my sleep has been quite poor. If I don't sleep well, nothing much gets done.

It also means that I don't have specific days when I don't work. When I say "work" I mean doing the creative stuff that might mean research, notes, journalling, thinking, plotting and indulging in creative tasks to fire my imagination. In other words, I am now pretty much working all the time and all hours. Given my reading is as important to my writing and that Netflix has become an integral source of research...there isn't very much I'm doing right now that isn't pointing towards my creative goals.

It isn't a bad thing at all. Except it means that the necessary things in life: food, laundry, pushing a mop around the kitchen floor so Rummy's feet don't stick to it, it's all a bit arbitrary. My bedroom is littered with clothes, both clean and dirty. Getting laundry done is easy, putting it away seems to be a challenge I'm losing right now.  Food is also a bit haphazard. I'm just as likely to eat a bowl of cornflakes as to cook a meal. I was spoiled over the weekend when Dave took the reins and not only fed me with extra, but he also dug out the kitchen. Emptying the dishwasher is also a bit haphazard and as I type this, there's a counter hidden under the pile, taunting me. 

A few weeks ago, I bought compost and seeds and stuff, with every intention to get growing things. The plan was brilliant. The compost is safely unopened, the seeds still in their packets. 

I could go all Organiser on my butt. Establish a timetable and attempt to stick to it. Social media isn't my friend as far as wandering off task. However, I've been resisting the temptation to artificially impose said timetable to experience what flexibility is really like. Apart from the constant whisper in the back of my head "none of this will pay for coffee, face cream and gym", I love it. 

I love being the Master of my own Destiny. After a productive weekend, I took Monday and Tuesday off to a) unwind and b) fight off Boy's cold he so thoughtfully brought back from Lincoln. Yesterday...I can't remember what I did yesterday. My legs remind me I went to the gym and there was some food shopping in the midst of that. Umm...whatever. 

This part of the writing process is slow. The background work will inform the quality of my writing. I was naive to think I could do it as I went along. The 4,000 words I produced in February won't be wasted. I wish I had been able to anticipate the time it would take to get myself better positioned, but there you go. It's all good. Everything is pointing me in the right direction.