Monday, 30 September 2013

Giving up coffee

I recently agreed to give up coffee on the advice of a trusted health practitioner who informed me that it's poison to the body and our kidneys just can't deal effectively with the toxins (chemicals) in coffee, including decaffeinated. I had been used to at least one cup of strong black 'proper' coffee a day and most days it would be two large mug-sized drinks. I certainly wasn't looking forward to forgoing my coffee but, in truth, it wasn't as difficult as I thought it would be; at least initially. The first, say, five days I suffered with a headache and pains in my legs. These, of course, were the withdrawal symptoms which I was fully prepared for. Once these had passed I was surprised at how relatively easily I had given up this so-called poison.

But then I began to miss it dreadfully - not only the actual taste but everything associated with a cup of coffee. It had always been something that I had looked forward to mid-morning - that daily treat - the savouring of it and that wonderful aroma. I also drink tea (mainly Earl Grey) but found that I needed to vary it with herbal and fruit teas, but they are all so 'thin' in comparison to coffee and, although refreshing, not nearly as satisfying. I tried "Barley Cup", a coffee substitute made from  roasted barley, rye and chicory but, even made with two heaped teaspoonsful, this is a weak-tasting coffee imitation and not something to my taste.

As I say, it wasn't just the taste of coffee. When out and about with family, "stopping somewhere for a coffee" was a given, even a ritual, rather than a suggestion that needed agreement. And on our regular trips to Portugal to visit our daughter, I so looked forward to my daily cup of delicious Portuguese coffee.

Stopping for a cup of black or herbal/fruit tea is just not the same. The anticipation and enjoyment of going into a coffee shop has gone. On the plus side of things, I no longer feel stressed except, ironically, when I'm stressed about not allowing myself a coffee. Will I continue with this self-imposed deprivation? Just a little bit longer...

Friday, 27 September 2013

A reminder about positive thinking

Two weeks ago I attended 'Learning Live' the annual conference for members of the Learning and Performance Institute. Over the course of the day I sat in on three seminars, one of which was delivered by Andy Whittaker on 'The Art of Being Brilliant'.

In a nutshell, the session was all about dealing with issues in a positive way and choosing to be positive. That's easy to say but not so easy to put into practice. Andy's tip is to tell yourself that you can do anything for 4 minutes, which includes making yourself think positive things for that short period. The amazing thing is that it works for just about any situation. For those of us that are procrastinators (myself included), doing the thing you've been putting off  for just 4 minutes makes it seem eminently achievable. It's a pain-free way of getting started and those 4 minutes will inevitably extend to more before you've even noticed.

If you're having a bad day, get into the habit of forcing yourself to think of something that is positive about the day or the situation and just be in the best possible mood for 4 minutes. Ask yourself, "what would the very best version of me do right now? How would the very best version of me react to this situation?" Another trick is to smile while you're thinking about it.

Lastly, Andy urged us to understand the impact we have on others. Nobody likes being around pessimistic or complaining people. Our negativity can trigger negative feelings and reactions in others. So make an effort to have a positive impact when you meet and relate to people and help them feel good too.

To follow Andy on Twitter: @artofbrillandyw

Thursday, 26 September 2013

The thing about September

September’s a strange, uncertain month. I find myself waiting for the summer to end and for the autumn to start, in a kind of limbo. The house is cold inside but outside it’s invariably still warm. Washing hung on the line early in the morning is still damp by late afternoon. I notice how the evenings are drawing in preparing us for the colder, darker months ahead. I persist in wearing my summer clothes but I feel chilly and resort to adding a cardigan. A glass of white wine in the garden in the early evening feels somehow too cold and thin; red seems more palatable. Salad days are fading and are beginning to give way to hot meals eaten earlier in the evening. The grapes on the vine are desperately trying to ripen before the last of the summer warmth disappears. Everything seems to be slowing down. The last of the summer roses are hanging on trying to convince us that summer’s not yet ended, but the few yellowing leaves on the trees and shrubs have a different opinion. My 'flip flops' are swapped for slippers: the summer duvet for a heavier one. Crane flies - "daddy long legs" - keep appearing indoors and spiders are beginning to make their way into the house looking for a mate. Meanwhile, I’m planning on going conker hunting this weekend to keep them away.Yes, it really does work.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

The power of music

The other day I was watching a movie and it crossed my mind, yet again, that without the background music that accompanies so much of the drama we watch on television and in the cinema, the experience would not be nearly as emotive or powerful.

Imagine watching a film all the way through with no music in it. I can't recall ever having seen one - even the silent movies have music. It's almost as if the producers feel they have to stimulate our emotions and reactions through music. But what about books? They can be immensely moving and powerful simply through the words written on the page. So why then can a film not achieve that same result without music? If words alone can stimulate our imagination, why do we need music to create the suspense in, say, a murder scene? After all, everyday life doesn't have a musical backdrop.

But I love the way music stirs our emotions. My favourite film of all time is "Out of Africa" and it's probably because I adore John Barry's wonderful soundtrack. It would be really interesting to watch the film with just the dialogue to see how different it would be and whether the acting and the story itself would be enough to hold my interest to the end.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Why isn't it acceptable to stick to the speed limit?

Two months ago I had the privilege of attending a half-day Speed Awareness workshop and I really do mean 'privilege'. Of course I didn't view it that way before I went, having reluctantly chosen to attend a workshop rather than have 3 points on my then clean driving licence. It would have been easier and cheaper just to accept the points, along with a fine of £60, as opposed to paying the £80 workshop fee, but there was no way I wanted points on my licence.

I was annoyed with myself for being caught speeding - I genuinely didn't know the speed limit on the road where I was caught by the mobile speed camera van parked in the layby. It turns out I was doing 36 mph in a 30 mph limit. But doesn't everyone have an excuse of some kind? Of course they do.

So, I went along to the local Holiday Inn venue on a Sunday afternoon at 2 pm not at all looking forward to spending the next 4 hours paying my penance. There were 24 other offenders crammed into a room, all of us looking resigned to enduring what was to come.

As it happens, the workshop was an excellent driving skills and Highway Code refresher. It was also highly interactive and, judging by the comments made on the way out, I'm quite sure everyone left feeling that it had been 4 hours well spent. I learned how to tell what the speed limit is wherever I am and I now appreciate why the 30 mph limit should be adhered to, and any other for that matter. There was a whole host of other useful tips and facts that we came away with but, most importantly, I left with a very real intention to be aware of my speed at all times and to stick to the limits as far as possible. It's just not worth risking the agony of killing a child, an animal or another road user, potentially getting a prison sentence and suffering the inevitable increase in car insurance.

But then came the hard part - putting my new resolution into practice for every single car journey. It really does take constant concentration and awareness of my driving all the time. My journeys now take longer and the 30 mph limit is particularly difficult to stick to. It's so easy to lose concentration and let the speed creep up unnoticed. The worst thing is that I always have someone on my boot now and so close that I can see the annoyance and frustration on their face in my rear view mirror. People just hate sticking to the speed limit, especially the 30s, let alone the 20 zones.

Not long after I attended the workshop, I made a 120-mile journey to visit my parents in Surrey. Most of the journey was dual carriageway and motorway but there were some single carriageway roads and villages to go through on the way. I resolved to do the whole journey sticking to the speed limits and drove at 70 mph on the dual carriageway stretches. Well, hundreds of cars sped past me during the journey, proving that the overwhelming majority of us exceed the speed limits.

I know I've turned into a boring, annoying driver, but I don't have to worry about the consequences of speeding any more. Most of all, I wish it were more acceptable and even 'cool' to stick to the speed limits.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Facebook is not for the depressed or lonely

Is it just me or does anyone else get really down after checking their News Feed on Facebook? It seems to be full of people commenting on all the interesting things they're about to embark on, or are doing or have done. It's full of photos of happy times with children and friends, social interaction, holidays, days out and restaurant outings. Yes, there are a few mundane comments about the weather or something that's gone wrong, but the vast majority of posts are extremely positive.

I know it's a great thing to be positive, enjoy life and share your love of life with others but, if you're feeling lonely or depressed, I think Facebook is not a good idea. In general, people don't post to say they're feeling down or bored or fed up - it seems to be the accepted protocol not to write negatively. On the other hand, people do feel free to vent their anger about things or complain or state their annoyances - that seems to be acceptable - but I rarely, if ever, see any posts about someone feeling sad. I'm quite sure there are plenty of people sitting at home feeling that way, but they probably wouldn't feel at liberty to post about it for fear of spoiling the positive atmosphere of the Facebook environment.

I've been feeling very down of late due to many things that have happened in my life over the past few months and this morning I realised that whenever I check my News Feed I feel worse. Part of me wishes I could just go on Facebook and say, "Hey, I'm feeling bad today" but what would that achieve? Am I hoping for sympathy, invitations to meet up, or what exactly? And who is going to 'like' a comment like that anyway? What if no-one were to 'comment'?  No doubt that would make me feel much worse. So, I've decided to leave Facebook alone until I become one of those positive people again and can enjoy reading what others are doing. Hopefully it won't be long before I'll be sharing a few posts of my own again, even if it's just to state my annoyance about something.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Starting the 5:2 Fast Diet

Today I started the 5:2 Fast Diet as famously recommended and tried by Michael Mosley and Mimi Spencer.  If I had waited until tomorrow I may have felt differently and less motivated to try it - so I decided to take advantage of my state of mind.

I had already read Kate Harrison's book - The 5:2 Diet Book - which kick-started my interest and made me eager to try it.  My brother recommended Michael Mosley's book - The Fast Diet - which I am already halfway through reading on my Kindle.  (I love the way Kindle allows you to access books instantaneously.)

But back to this morning.  I woke up and suddenly felt that today was the right time to start.  I have to admit, though, that I still had my morning Digestive biscuit with my first cup of Earl Grey, knowing that it would have to form part of my 500-calorie allowance.  I had two further cups of Earl Grey and lasted without any hunger pangs at all until about midday when I decided to have some breakfast which comprised 100 g of Yeo Valley natural organic yogurt, 9 frozen blueberries and 5 blanched almonds.  I signed up to and used their excellent tool for calculating how many calories I'd had up to that point - 207 - so far, so good.  "This is easy", I thought.  A bit later I had some black coffee, followed by a licorice tea when a friend called in.  "This really isn't too bad at all", I thought to myself again.

By 3.00 pm the hunger pangs started and I have to admit that the next 2 hours were tough.  We went for a walk during that time which actually seemed to help a bit.  But when my friend left, I really needed something.  I tried another black coffee but it didn't alleviate the hunger and I succumbed to eating 1 green olive and a small raw carrot, adding a further 26 calories.  At the time of writing this, I now realise I'm going to exceed my 500 calories as I've planned to have a salmon fillet and vegetables for dinner.  However, it doesn't matter - if I make sure it's less than 600, I'll be happy with that.  It's now 6.37 pm and boy am I looking forward to my dinner this evening.  The one thing that is worrying me, though, is being hungry when it's time to go to sleep - that will be really hard.  I'll let you know in my next blog.  But tomorrow's a normal eating day - it's not so hard after all.

Monday, 28 January 2013

No replacement for pasta

Last night I tried out a Hairy Dieters' recipe - developed by Dave Myers and Si King aka 'The Hairy Bikers' - and it was a disaster.  They demonstrated their 'Skinny Beef Lasagne' on TV a while ago and gave it to a group of dieters for their feedback, which produced words such as "delicious, very tasty, gorgeous, amazing" and "you would never know there was no pasta in the lasagne"!  The trick was to replace the pasta with sheets of blanched leeks which, albeit unlikely, having been fooled by the taste team dieters, seemed like a good idea and worth a go.  Do not try this at home.  You will end up with a massive dishful of runny sauce which you can almost pour onto your plate.  When you scoop up some of the sauce you will end up with long slimy strings of leek hanging from your fork.  (Oxford Dictionary definition of "slimy" is "repellently smooth" - what a perfect description.)  I must give it credit, though, for tasting very nice - surprisingly - as long as you didn't look at it on the plate.  But when my husband said that it would go nicely with some pasta, well...