Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Stick it out

I meant to post at the weekend, but I’ve been pretty busy, because THE D. B. MOVED UP HERE YESTERDAY!

I’m a little bit happy.

No, that’s not really an excuse for not posting on Friday or Saturday, but since he’s moved into my parents’ house, we had to move all my brother’s stuff out of the room he’ll be sleeping in. Which took a while. Also, I had to blitz my own room as it was, to put it mildly, total chaos, and if the D. B. had seen it that way, I wouldn’t have entirely blamed him if he’d had second thoughts about the whole marriage thing.

However. We got it all done, and he arrived at lunchtime on Sunday, and spent the rest of the day cooing at each other in a revoltingly soppy manner, and trying to get his new laptop to connect to our wireless network. And it’s been the first day of his new job today.

What with all of this, I have not been to the gym since Thursday. This is the first skipped session in quite a while, and it does worry me slightly. I’ve never had the D. B. around full-time while I’ve been doing this. Will I keep it up? Or will I want to dash home to his arms rather than going for my session? He has made the odd noise about joining my gym, but I don’t know how serious that was; he’s not keen on spending large sums of money on himself. (Yes, I know this is meant to be a virtue.) It’s up to him, but I really hope he does join, because otherwise – there’s no denying it – I will feel guilty for going.

But Thursday. On Thursday I had a dental check-up, and my free-weights induction.

Of the two, the dentist’s was vastly more scary in the event. (Only because I’m a wimp – my teeth are fine.) The free-weights, which I’ve been dreading and putting off for months, was fun. There were supposed to be three of us, but I was the only one that turned up, so I got one-on-one attention. The instructor was the same guy who gave me my Nautilus induction, way back when I was scared of those machines too (I should just rename this blog I’m A Total Coward and be done with it, shouldn’t I?) My gym has the most helpful instructors. They are all really nice, and this guy is no exception. He actually remembered me from eight months ago.

We started out on the Olympic platforms, and the instructor told me how to do a deadlift.

Now, I have been trying to make my mind up to try free weights for a long time. Months. And my primary source of motivation has always been Krista’s extremely full, thorough and funny site (go and explore – there's TONS more than I've linked to). So I’d looked at the “Dork to Diva” pages many times, trying to educate myself a bit.

And it’s all paid off. “That’s a perfect deadlift” said the instructor as I sank down the first time, concentrating on not rounding my back, and on keeping my heels still and shoulders over toes. (Of course I told him I’d been reading up – and where). Unfortunately, I did have a slight case of beginner’s luck – as my muscles got tired, proper balance became more difficult, and I don’t think I ever managed quite as well again!

I was expecting the squat to be more difficult, also – and it was. But I have practised it unweighted, and so it didn’t feel nearly as weird as if the movement had been completely new to me. Apparently both of these exercises are “all about sticking your bum out”, and I have a natural talent there. Anyone who saw me in ballet class as a small child would have no doubt of that…

But I think I can master both of these, and that the dumbbell exercises I want to do won’t be an impossible challenge either. I will still be using at least some of the machines, because apart from anything else, I’m just using practise weights for the deadlift and the unweighted bar for the squat and chest press, until I feel the form is right. That will still be a bit of a workout for a while, judging by the way my muscles felt on Friday… but it was a good sort of hurt.

And on a closing note, go and read this post. So much of what YP says is what I thought and felt for years, but could never express nearly so well...

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Backwards & sdrawroF

Post-workout yesterday, I showered, washed my hair, and stood combing it out in front of the big mirror in the changing room. Without thinking I tossed it back over my shoulders, and in the mirror saw a T-shirtless girl sitting on the bench behind flinch backwards.

I’d sprayed her with now-cold water off the ends of my hair. Very clean cold water, but still… Note to self: do not shake wet self like dog. You are a human; use a towel.

It could have been worse. Back in the days when I used to play football, my pigtail was a bit of an offensive weapon on rainy days, as it’s over a foot long and, when soaking wet, very heavy. Fair’s fair, though: it smacked me in the face as I turned about as often as it smacked anyone else.

The changing rooms at the gym were redone recently, and although they are much more salubrious than they were before, there are rather a lot of mirrors, set at angles to one another. I could live without this. I don’t mind seeing my reflection from the front, but catching sight of my rear as I’m walking to the showers… not so good. How is it that a person always looks so much wider from behind? Blast you, mirrors! I know I have a big bottom: do you have to rub it in?

There’s also the optical illusion produced by one set of mirrors, which are set not quite at right-angles to one another. This gives the illusion that your body is half as wide again. Also that you have one and a half heads, mind you, but even so it’s not encouraging.

And I could do with encouraging at the moment. The numbers on the scale are not going anywhere. Or rather they are, but only up half a pound, down half a pound, and up again. Yes, this has happened before – twice – and then I’ve suddenly and mysteriously lost five pounds at once and gone back to zigzagging, just at a lower number. But it’s driving me barmy. I’m not doing any less exercise; probably more, in fact, and I don’t feel that food has been particularly bad (well, except on Sunday when my grandparents took us out for lunch). I could cut calories a bit further, but am worried about messing with my metabolism, and there is no point in losing quickly only to find I can’t sustain it.

On the other hand, I’ve finally booked a free-weights induction. On Thursday. Although I’ve really enjoyed doing the Nautilus machines, and will probably keep on with some of them, I think I’ve gone as far as I’m likely to go with many of them. I record my progress in a notebook, and mostly have been working at the same level for weeks without much prospect of improvement. I can see that you can’t go on adding weight forever, so it’s probably time to learn something different.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Normal service resumes

This morning I woke up at 8.30. Grrrr.

I am not pleased with myself.

What's worse, for some reason part of my brain thinks I have a license to be unhealthy today, and has led me to consume a vanilla-and-honey yoghurt smoothie and some chocolate which I really didn't need and wasn't hungry for. It's not even emotional eating; it's brain-turned-off eating.

I'm posting to draw a line under this, because it is silly, and stops NOW.


Thursday, October 13, 2005

Il pleut sur la ville

Maybe it’s silly, but I always feel reluctant to do a sad post. In a way, writing a post that said “I’m really down today” might make it official, whereas if I don’t write it down, I hope I’ll be able to move on quicker and get to the stage where, when I think back to it later, I’ll wonder what all that was about and tick myself off for being a drama queen.

So: I’m feeling better now. This could be something to do with having had enough sleep the past couple of nights. For several nights in a row I had been still awake at three (or later) in the morning, which is Not Good. The next day, all is gloom. I can’t concentrate, my head hurts, I turn into a grumpy cynic and am convinced nobody likes me. (I have been a bit lonely recently, but it is entirely my own fault.)

Ever since the nights started to draw in and the mornings began to get darker, I’ve had difficulty getting out of bed. Not that I’m ever a morning person, but it just seems less painful in summer, particularly as the temperature difference between bed and room isn’t so great. (Not that my bedroom is particularly cold, but it feels cold by comparison with bed.) How on earth do people who work out in the mornings do it?

I try not to be a night owl. The world is not set up for the nocturnal, and it’s a pity to waste daylight. And what with work, I’ve been tired in the evenings, so shouldn’t have had any trouble getting to sleep – except that it doesn’t work like that. But having slept through my alarm on various occasions last week, and on Monday, this couldn’t go on.

On Monday night I took extreme measures. That is to say, I took a hot-water bottle and a cup of hot milk to bed with me, before midnight for once. Such a rock’n’roll lifestyle I have. Once there, I read a couple of chapters of Dorothy L. Sayers – I’ve read all her books so often now that they are infinitely soothing – and actually managed to have the light off in about 20 minutes. Wow.

Same measures last night, with the result that I woke up at seven BEFORE THE ALARM. And I felt fine. This doesn’t happen. As a result, I had time to have porridge and a cup of coffee and was in work by 8.15. Tell me I can keep this up…

Another disadvantage to not getting enough sleep is that I tend to make poor food choices to perk myself up – drink too much coffee, and eat more than I really need to. If you never wake up properly, you’re sluggish and therefore cold, too.

So eating has not been miraculously healthy recently. In particular, last night’s tea was a bit of a carb-and-saturated-fat-fest: pasta parcels, cheese sauce, Müllerice (reduced-fat Müllerice, but still). And broccoli, but I don’t think that exactly counteracts the rest of it.

The gym, on the other hand, has been fine. I seem to be well in the routine of 20 minutes on the treadmill (intervals), Nautilus, 20 minutes on the cross-trainer, three days a week. Three sessions I can do, but various people I know who are losing much faster than me do five, and now I’m worried I should be doing that. But I don’t really think I can, unless I learn to get myself up earlier in the morning (see above).

Now that I’ve got used to it, I like the cross-trainer better than the stationary bike. Music is evidently the key – once I get in the rhythm, I can just dance along (well, provided it isn’t some annoying rap track with a slow beat. Or “Beautiful”. Why, remind me, did I not just change the channel or pull my headphones out of the socket? That never occurred to me at the time).

Most of my weights on the machines have reached a plateau now, where I can do 12 with a bit of effort, but can’t do the next level up. The exception is the leg press machine, which is still moving. I’ve got to 275 pounds on that now, which seems utterly ridiculous. But cool. I don’t know what a sensible target is on that, though. Apparently if you’re doing squats, your own bodyweight is a good target, and leg presses are only half as difficult… which would suggest you should be aiming to leg press twice your bodyweight? That doesn’t sound very likely.

Logically enough, the machines I’m making least progress on use the muscles I have most trouble with – the thighs and upper arms. I know that there are muscles in my thighs under the squish, but my upper arms seem to be doing nothing despite assiduous bicep and tricep work. I actually seem to have more muscle in my forearms – is this normal?

My calves are rock-hard these days from all the leg work, which is nice, but also discouraging. Because one thing I’d really like is to be able to wear knee-high (or at least three-quarter) boots. Flat riding-style boots. I’ve wanted some of those since I can remember, and I could never find any that fit because my calves are just too chunky. There are wide-leg ones available, but there's not so much choice of style (and yes, I may have a slight issue there. I want normal legs...)

So now the calves appear to be solid muscle and although they look better, they’re still chunky. Other bits of me have slimmed down – my ankles have, my waist certainly has. But there may be nowhere for my calves to go. “Maybe you should do fewer leg presses,” my sister suggests, and yes, there is a certain logic to that. But nooo… I don’t want to. Muscle burns fat, right? So if I lose muscle, I’ll lose fat more slowly, and I don’t want to do that, because it isn’t exactly evaporating at the moment.

There may be no answer to this one.

I still haven’t booked a free-weights induction.

I saw Serenity at the weekend, without knowing a thing about it except that Beth recommended it, and it was fantastic. Crouching Zombies, Hidden Star Wars. I could geek on for ages, but I won't unless someone posts a comment about it. G'wan.

It is extremely wet in Edinburgh, but I’m quite cheerful.

I'm going to go and buy some flaxseed now.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

"Strange how potent cheap music is..."

First things first – James Blunt.

Thanks for all your comments, people. It’s such a relief to find that I’m not the only inappropriate weeper, and that it’s not just me who thinks the song is a bit lame. Which it is. Crying at Great Art would be just about acceptable.

I was amused to see this letter in the Metro (our local free newspaper) a few days after the gym incident:

"My sister Annie is convinced James Blunt wrote the song You're Beautiful about her and that I was the 'other man' she was with when she smiled at him (on the Glasgow Underground). Thus I'm held responsible for ruining her chances of going out with a pop star and also for causing him to get depressed. If Mister Blunt is reading this then he should take heart. My sister is single and if he hangs around the Citrus club at the weekend then he should catch up with her..."

So there's hope for him yet.

I had a really nice weekend with the D. B.: I got to see his project and it seems very impressive to me. I went down on the Friday and his hand-in was Monday, so he did still have some work to do, but it was great just being with him. Somehow I never remember quite how lovely he is when we’re apart. I still think he’s lovely, but when we’re together it hits me afresh, and it’s a wonderful surprise.

Shock, horror – I made the tea on Sunday! You might have gathered that I’m not exactly the most domestic person you’ve ever met. As I live at home, usually the evening meal is made by the time I get home and rather shamefully, I hadn’t cooked a meal I was expecting anyone else to eat for months. (I do make my own tea from time to time, but I have low standards of edibility. If it’s reasonably nutritious, it’ll do.) But he was working, so I offered to make the tea and we had cheese soufflé, which rose, with new potatoes, carrots and broccoli, and then fruit salad.

I know that’s not the most difficult meal ever cooked. But I’ve been stressing slightly for months over the necessity of cooking once we are married, and I’m actually feeling much better about it now. It had just been such a long time since I had done it. As it happens, the D. B. is a much better cook than I am, but it isn’t really fair to expect him to do all the work!

On Monday he handed his project in. We stayed in town after that, celebrated with the other people from the course and then went off for a meal together. This was not the healthiest day I have ever spent. Chips featured heavily, while vegetables were pretty well absent. On the other hand, the weekend had contained quite a lot of walking, so I didn’t feel under-exercised.

The week after that was… a bit odd. I had made up my mind to audition for a musical theatre group that I’ve been involved with in the past. Last year, I didn’t get in to the show, but did some costume stuff for them so was still around. Various people had said to me that it was a shame I hadn’t got in, and that I should try out again, because they’d had an unusually high turnout. (“It’s not you, it’s me…”) The audition was on Thursday, so I spent the days before psyching myself up and humming the song to myself.

Well, I didn’t get in again. Probably I shouldn’t have tried out again, but I am incapable of bearing a grudge, and had persuaded myself that not auditioning was just cutting off my nose to spite my face. I’m not the greatest singer in the world, but I didn’t feel it had gone that badly. Maybe the others were all brilliant, who knows?

The people doing the auditioning were totally different this year, so it was without prejudice, and I don’t really blame anyone, but… well… I still wish I had got in. I love being in a show – the atmosphere of everyone working together, also the social life. This is partly selfish. It would be true to say I don’t have much of a social life at the moment. Post-university I seem to have fallen out of the loop, partly because many of my friends now live elsewhere, and the one uni friend who did live here has just moved away.

I could still go to some of the drama socials, but I don’t want to seem like a desperate hanger-on… is that pathetic?

In order to cheer myself up, I’ve been having a book orgy:

Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman
Thud! by Terry Pratchett
A Tale of Time City by Diana Wynne Jones
Four Ways to Forgiveness by Ursula Le Guin
Stardust by Neil Gaiman
Minor Arcana by Diana Wynne Jones
Stories of the Supernatural by John Buchan
Huntingtower by John Buchan
Castle Gay by John Buchan
True Tales of American Life edited by Neil Auster
Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

Now you know why I haven’t had time to write a blog entry for ages. Now that I write it down, I’m quite impressed by this list, especially since I also disposed of the newspaper most days, two copies of the New Scientist and a few other magazines that were lying around, and read Minor Arcana twice in that time. I mean, I’m a speed-reading book addict, but still.

In fact, I read Anansi Boys much too fast (in one sitting), and will have to read it again, more slowly. I’m beginning to feel that, much as I enjoy reading Neil Gaiman’s online journal, it sets up a very high expectation for his new stuff. Given that I’ve been vicariously present during much of the creation of Anansi Boys, I would have been really disappointed if it hadn’t lived up to my expectations, given that I’ve been waiting for it for all this time (the same was true of MirrorMask). So I almost didn’t want to start reading it, in case it wasn’t as good as I hoped. Whereas with Thud!, also new out last weekend, I knew it was coming only just before, and therefore didn’t have such a pitch of anxiety about it, even though I like Terry Pratchett a lot and would also be disappointed if he wrote a substandard book.

It’s all right though, because both books are good, although I notice that Thud! continues the trend I’ve seen in recent City Watch books to move further from “comic fantasy” to “quite serious book, with funny bits.” The tipping point for me was Night Watch, which isn’t really a comic novel, doesn’t contain much fantasy (well, there’s some time travel and a very brief zombie, but that’s it) and might well be my favourite Discworld book.

Anansi Boys, on the other hand, is definitely a comic novel, and contains some wonderful observational writing, although I will have to read it again before I’m certain where it lies on my personal Neil Novel Ranking (which currently has American Gods at the top – where it’ll probably stick – followed by Good Omens, Stardust, Coraline and Neverwhere).

I have been going to the gym (Four Ways to Forgiveness, Minor Arcana and Huntingtower were all partly read while on the crosstrainer) but if there’s a conflict between having time to exercise and having time to blog about it, exercising wins. It’s all been going fine, I think. I do wish the new cardio suite was cooler, though. The extra heat makes a surprising amount of difference – running is considerably more difficult. I’ve been trying to challenge myself, but am not making progress as fast as I’d hoped (and certainly not as fast as the Born Again Gym Bunny, who started running about the same time as me, I think, and has worked up to 10K. Why can’t I do that? Maybe because I don’t go every day).

Eating has been… OK, but I need to be a bit more vigilant, I think. More fruit, fewer carbs. After the Weekend of the Chips I got my period immediately, which confused things rather, but I think I gained a pound and then lost it again. So I was still at my lowest weight when I last checked, but it’s my lowest from 3 weeks ago. Which is not exactly progress.

On the other hand, I had a little milestone a few days ago. You know how I’ve been complaining that my jeans are too baggy? They’ve now reached the stage where they really don’t do anything for me – just hang there looking shapeless. I was vaguely wondering whether the time had now come to try some new ones on when it occurred to me that I have a pair of slightly smaller ones. I don’t know if there was a time when I physically couldn’t get into these – there may have been, but I stopped wearing them because they looked too tight.

Now they don’t. They look fine – in fact, I think they’re looser than when I bought them, which is a distinctly odd thought as I definitely had those at university. So I’ve presumably undone the damage that I did from taking very little exercise in my final year, which means I’m thinner than I’ve been for four years. I'm still trying to get my head around that...