Monthly Archives: November 2011

A trio of thanksgivings, a triad of pies and a trillion things to be grateful for

Pies for Thanksgiving

The festive season is here, its advent marked by Thanksgiving. A full holiday in the US, and much more like a UK-Christmas than Christmas. I am feeling full, blessed and nostalgic, which I think is the point of this time of year and marks the end of a psychological evolution in me, which I  can illustrate through my three thanksgivings. It also marks the start of my love for pie (the psychological and pie developments may be interlinked), and I share 2 recipes and 1 drool-worthy picture below. Finally, I do as I am supposed to, and muse on what (or whom) I am grateful for in my life today.

So, 2 years and 2 months ago (give or take) I arrived in the US as somewhat of a mess. 6 months previously I had been all lined up to complete a postdoc with a wonderful woman at Oxford University. Then I dated a Yank (actually, a Brit transplanted to Yank-dom some 25 years previously) and got a job offer at Yale. Then David Allison, in the space of a single phone-call, convinced me to chuck that in to come to UAB. What can I say? He was charismatic. And I am extremely impulsive. Said boyfriend-of-questionable-Yankdom hit the roof and said: it’s him or me (it’s OK, he doesn’t read this blog). I now kind of understand his reasons, which I will not share out of respect. But back then – I didn’t, so I didn’t believe the Yank-wannabe, so I just blithely signed the documents for UAB and sported their sweatshirt for the remainder of my PhD. Which, strangely enough, I am wearing as  I type now. But I digress from my digression. Mr Failed-Brit was deeply unimpressed. To the extent that he started cheating on me, fairly obviously, which I did not admit to anyone else, except myself. Occasionally. (But everyone knew anyway).

This lead to a rockstar FIT about 3 weeks before departure in which I announced there was NO WAY I was going to UAB, and this Allison-bloke (of whom I had miraculously never heard) and this nice Arnett-woman (who had offered to mentor me) could stick their data and their postdoc where the sun don’t shine (which is a difficult place to find, indeed, in Alabama). My ex-officemate  heard the howls from literally across the office hallway and talked some sense into me, with a cunning mixture of humour, and gentle pressing on my academic ambition. So, I boarded the plane, bawled my eyes out within 20 minutes of being seated, explained the situation to the hostess and got a swanky upgrade to Business Class.

Nice upgrade not withstanding I arrived in AL not entirely sure I wanted to be here. Heck – I didn’t. By the time thanksgiving rolled around, said not-quite-a-Brit-not-quite-a-Yank had moved in with another woman, still come and visited me (I don’t think that woman knew), been dumped by me, got together with said woman officially while texting / emailing me how we were meant to be, and 1 day before told me that I had harmed his children’s mental health by dumping him, and I could make it better by taking him back (while he was with the woman? That bit I never figured out). Luckily my best friend of much ferocity and protectiveness, Clio, was out for thanksgiving and banned  me from Skype and the telephone. She also set me up with an awesome thanksgiving and I will ALWAYS love her for picking me up and keeping me going.

Mess with my friend, and you'll feel the rough end of this Starbucks, alright?

But, thanksgiving number 1 was marked by a distinct decision to be as British as possible. To cook things in the British way, with another Brit, and experience thanksgiving as a transient piece of fun that wasn’t going to be part of my life anymore.

Thanksgiving no 1

I stayed another year. I got to have thanksgiving part 2. This was spent at the Chinese Buffet, with my boyfriend, and then driving to Tuscaloosa for a very messy night. It was great, but I call it ‘The Lost Thanksgiving’. I had no idea where my future was, and I was scared.

Thanksgiving no 2 did give rise to the best photo ever, however

This year, times have changed. I got married. I fell in love with UAB. I fell in love with the American academic system and how it pushes and challenges you. The opportunities that are here. While I will always love genetic psychiatry, and I hope it will have a place in my research future, I also love lipoproteins and insulin resistance and specifically gene-nutrient interactions (both with genes mediating dietary influences, and diets mediating gene expression). My postdoc mentors taught me about integrity and thus I learned to trust myself and my decisions. I prayed a lot. I didn’t so much accept that I might stay here, but actively pursued doing so, and looked forward to it. I embraced that America, and American traditions will be a big part of my life.

My previous opinion on pie. Note the inverse correlation between my disgust for pie, and my BMI

That is not to say that this has not happened without hardship. I have faced that so much of who I am, and my culture, and my heritage is recessing into the past. It is just not going to be a part of me. Yes, I can occasionally cook British food but it is just that: occasional. An event. I have lost the British way of celebrating Christmas… I don’t dress as I do in London (quite frankly, sick of the back handed comments, or of plotting my route to my desk to avoid them)… it has made it especially hard to lose my name upon getting married. Husband said he ‘didn’t mind at all’ what name I used, so I hyphenated. I was upset to find out he won’t take on the hyphenated name (as is fairly common in Europe) and sick to my stomach to find he expects the children to have his name.  So, not only am I going to be removed from my heritage a lot, but removed from my children too! It never occurred to me it would be a problem – but he just says ‘you came here… you take on American ways’ (AL-ians do often conform to the stereotype of not exactly embracing women’s lib), but it is so hard to do it all the time and lose more and more of myself. I already knew that I would raise my children the US way (it’s not like I am going to make them stand out) – even though so many things just don’t seem right to me…

Anyway, I had a very American thanksgiving and it marked my joyful willingness to embrace many aspects of this culture as part of my own. And it was very wonderful. I spent time with very close friends / pseudo family and felt safe, loved and grateful. I am honored to have been part of such a happy occasion, and will always be grateful to my hosts for making me feel so included for one of the first times since I arrived here. Which is all anyone can ask for, right? That and pie.

The boy bakes a mean pie

This year, I embraced the quintessentially American PIE (not crumble… or tart…. or pastry but PIE). And not mince pies neither. With help (and ensuing hilarity) from the hubby, we made pear pie, and plum-frangipani pie (OK, the last one was not very American as every American I know (with the exception of Stella) shocked my multi-cultural foodie soul by saying ‘what is frangipani?’ over and over again).

Frangipani! Yum!

Here is where I got the recipe:

http://www.passionateaboutbaking.com/2011/07/baking-vanilla-almond-frangipane-plum-tart-the-last-of-the-plums-well-almost.html

Even if you don’t make the pie, check out this blog for some of the most gorgeous food-porn photography. Passionate about baking: I am your slave. It was good – I would have sweetened the base slightly, with Demerara sugar, as that part was quite bland. But otherwise the tartish plums worked well with the sweet (but not overly so)  frangipani. With the addition of some homemade leaves:

Leaves. Not 'eyes' (Wesley) or 'sausages' (Hemant) but autumnal leaves. Got it?

it also looked pretty stunning.

Imagine the leaves on this, and it glazed with melted apricot jam. Drool.

Then came the pear pie. This was easy peasy.

Ingredients

1 Pilsbury pastry case

6 firm slightly underripe pears

1.5 tsp cinnamon

.5 tsp all spice

1/2 cup white sugar

3 tbsp lemon juice

Basically: Line pie tin with crust

Get husband to peel and slice pears. Toss pears in other ingredients. Layer in pie crust and bake. Devour

Don't you just want to sink your teeth in?

And then, Stella brought over a pie for the college football! She made an Amish funeral pie, and it was my p0st-workout carb up with a large dollop of fat-free Greek Yogurt. And it was delicious. Think sweet raisins, with a tart filling, and then an addictive bite with the nuts.

Amish funeral pie

Amish funeral pie a la Stella

So what am I grateful for? I am grateful for many, many things. But, mostly for people. For Wes, who is kind and caring and good at teaching me what true selflessness is. Who is a steadfast and loyal husband, and full of many jokes. Who loves me, and professes his love, through my best and worst. Who counter balances my impulsive ‘let’s do it’ with a considered ‘let’s plan for it’. For Matthew who far more often than me, stands up for what he believes in, and remains true to his values. For Clio, who is going through the worst time, but displays awe-inspiring strength and is still the girl I have the most fun with (and is really my one-true love). For Stella, who not only bakes great pies, but has given me my drive and ambition back, and shown me that it is OK to stand up and go ‘no… I have thought about it, and decided to do it MY way. And if you don’t like that, that’s OK, but I respectfully disagree’. And who also taught me to set goals and strive for them, and be pleased when I reach them, but not lose my sense of self worth if I don’t smash every one. For Donna and David who have been supportive, kind and caring mentors through a tough transition. Who have helped me exceed any expectations I had for my postdoc, and who remain unbelievably dedicated to my future happiness. For David who challenges all my preconceptions of myself, and Donna who stands behind me while I smash them. To all of David’s family who genuinely treat me as one of their own, when the very worst thing to me is that mine are so far away. For my (old) family who are very brave and supportive about me being so far away and for my (new) family who are so welcoming (I got called Auntie Lekki – woo-hoo). And for Walter, Dinah and Bobby. Who keep me warm at night (occasionally because they have peed on the bedsheets, but mostly because they are snuggle bunnies). And that names just a few.

Right! That’s thanksgiving  done. Onto Christmas (the VERY BEST holiday of all).

Check it out - a homemade advent calendar. More Christmas crafts to come.

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Battle at Big Creek, Tough Mudder week 7 and reflections on some life choices

A section of Big Creek Trails

The earliest start yet took me to a new state for a trail run; at 3.30 am, the boy packed up some warm jumpers, two fired up puppies, a stash of snacks, and a grumpy ‘just started my TOTM and have cramps’ wife, and started the 3 hour drive to Roswell, Georgia for Xterra’s “Battle at Big Creek”. 8k (me) or 16k ( brave fools) as you wished. I arrived, glad the boy had allowed vast amounts of extra time (which I did not feel glad for at 3.30 am) as we had forgotten the change over from Central to Eastern time. But we made it fine, I got my neat little registration pack, some time to chill and warm away the Raynaud’s in the car, and time to be vaguely disconcerted that I had been registered as a 31 year old.

It was not in a state park this time, rather a “greenway” in a urban area. The trail was OK from a scenic point of view. It was fine, and it was great to be out among the changing trees, but there were no nice views and no sense of being it in endless nature (which is something I do in general love about trail running). It might not have been helped that our route missed the water. Whereas I am already planning the 2 hour drive to take my friends to hike the stunning Monte Sano in Huntsville, I am not especially planning a return trip here, although if passing, I would happily stop for a hike.

So, why did Xterra’s pick it? Well, post race, I read that they do it because of the challenge. It is one of Xterra’s hardest terrains, based on technical difficulties, steepness and condition of the trail. And Xterra’s are hardly known for mollycoddling their participants.

I knew at the start that 2 weeks wasn’t really enough to train for an 8k from 5k standard, but I am traveling much of the rest of this month so this was my only hope of getting a monthly race in. In the blistering cold (my tongue actually went numb) I enthusiastically started somewhere near the middle and slowly picked people off as I made my way to the front. It was uphill, but that was OK, as after my lesson from Monte Sano I had been doing some hill training and practicing on the undulating ground near my house. Undulating. Undulating. Not nearly 3 miles of pure climb that was so steep the trail had to wind its way up it, rather than take a direct path. Hmmmm. About 2 miles into it I was pretty miserable and thinking “I am either going to have to hate hills or train for them more”. I suspect it will be a mixture of both.

I got my head down, and at around 3 miles, started to get in the zone more and enjoy it. I picked people off one by one and felt pretty good about it. I ignored the aid stations and just pushed on, and could see around a few bends, so see that I was doing pretty well among the women – there were only maybe 5 or 6 in front of me, of which the 3 absolute spring chickens told me I was 2 nd or 3 rd in my age group. Time for a final push as I hit the last mile marker – and push I did. I sprinted for that finish line, passing one woman and making myself 2nd, which was a wonderful feeling. I gave it all, and at the last 400 meters I was overjoyed to see the end in sight. Just one more hairpin, which I negotiated with vigor… Until this happened

Ow

Yes it did hurt, although the cold saved me some of the immediate pain. I watched 2nd and 3rd place jump ahead of me

She nixed me to 3rd... fair and square

and even though I sprang up, my intended sprint to the finish line became a running hobble. Ah well, the disappointment of just losing out on a medal as 4th in my age group smarted more than the leg, to be honest.

Definitely a hobbling run

But as ever I learned a lot, and that is an important part of the process. More important than medals, right? Ahem. I learned

*Again, check the course, check the course, check the course. I actually couldn’t have gotten any more info for this one, but it did remind me of the value of knowing the course. I trained how to be able to sprint / run up brief-ish hills and recover on the way down, and the long climb just destroyed me.
*Find it more about the race. This was one of Xterras 3 national qualifier races, where runners who want to run in the Nationals have to place in all 3. So, the were more elite-recreational runners than the just recreational runners I encountered last time
*Better to eat before the race and not need it, than to need it half way around. I ate a light breakfast (200 kcals) at 5 and then ran at 8.30 because it was “just an 8k” and when I train I often do these fasted. But, I don’t train as hard as I race and the hills required extra input, so I could have done with more food
*Along those lines, eat carbs the night before. I tend to avoid all non vegetable carbs in the evening (bar the occasional glass of wine). This works fine for general training, especially as I do a lot of it in the evening as I get often stuck into my work with my morning coffee, whether I intended to or not. Somehow an oatmeal carb up in the morning isn’t quite as efficacious as evening pasta.
*Wear less! Because it was cold I wore a jumper to run. It was great for about 2 minutes, then I spent the next 5 minutes annoyed I was hot and the next 30 secs slowing down and stumbling because I was taking it off. Then the rest of the race struggling to keep it tied around my waist. Recreational Jumper = bad decision. Considering a long-sleeved sorts top for December runs.
* My iPod lies! It cheerfully yelled “1/2 way point”… And then about 6 mins later I came across the actual halfway point which was somewhat deflating. More annoyingly, it yelled ‘1 mile to go’ causing an all out of burst of speed that could only last a mile, when there were in fact about 1.8 miles left. Really deflating was hearing “Congratulations! Workout complete” and not even being able to see the finish line. As someone who does not love running, it is a mind game for me.

*Don’t fall. This may be the best tip of all.

So Tough Mudder training, week 7.

This may have been my best training week yet. I completed the full DAMY complement of workouts, felt great for all of them, and did some extra. I didn’t feel at all worn out, although as I am now in week 8, I am feeling some tiredness and really just doing the set schedule, not throwing anything else in. But, very happy with this week. It went a lil’ something like:

Friday – DAMY weights A, 35 mins steady state – DONE

Saturday – Hill sprints, DAMY weights B – DONE

Sunday – 8K run (+ hills) – DONE

Monday: DAMY C (weights); Interval B – DONE

Tues: Hill sprints; DAMY D (legs) – Changed; no hill sprints due to lack of sleep and an early meeting

Weds:  Functional training (plyos) – DONE

Thurs: Kickboxing (maybe; have a 5 mile (8K) race on Saturday so may be fixing to rest). – DONE. So glad I went, Gabe’s kickboxing is the best 😀

Week 8 plan

Friday – rest for race after a hard week

Saturday – 8 k + DAMY B

Sunday – 8K run (+ hills)

Monday: DAMY C (weights); Interval B

Tues: 5k interval run + DAMY A in the am (arms); DAMY D (legs)

Weds:  Yoga in the am,  Functional training (plyos) pm

Thurs: Kickboxing

And some life choices this week

I am sure you have all heard the industry “pick two of three” paradigm. Is is where you can pick two of these for any given project:

Cheap
Fast
Good

You just can’t have more than 3. So, if something is done cheaply and quickly, it isn’t gong to be done well. Conversely, if it is done well and quickly, then is going to cost a lot. I once turned to David and said “I have had an epiphany. Women cannot be smart, cute and healthy”. It takes some qualifying as I picked catchy words. By smart I meant very successful at work. By cute, I meant well turned out with good clothes with styled hair and neat make up. By healthy I meant regularly active and eating healthy, homemade food. So, if I am going to work long hours and go to the gym a lot, I am going to look a mess. By the time I have packed up all my lunch and filled my bag with that, I don’t have time to co ordinate a decent outfit and shoes or have space in my bag for make-up. I’ll be barefaced and chances are: in my trainers all day. David thought about it and said to me “I think what you are saying, Lekki, is that you can’t do everything in life”. Spot on.

Courtesy of PhDcomics.com

This has recently come back to me as work went crazy for the grant. The grant took up a lot of time, and pushed back my other work, so the crazy-busy schedule will continue while I make up for it. And the lack of evening eats into my weekends as I have to do the cleaning. Tidying, cooking etc has to be done then. Then I have my sport which I love, and also eats my time. I loved my race this weekend, and loved the uninterrupted 6 hours it gave me with my husband. Thing is, I also wanted to go to a friend’s house and watch the game. I knew if I did that, I would not get all my house stuff done, and I would not get as much work done. It hurt, but I declined. I realized I was making a choice. The house is at a stage where it could not be left without environmental protection coming and trying to save us from ourselves, but technically work could be. However – there would not be many serious repercussions if I delayed work a little. I don’t have any immediate deadlines, and my work for today is largely a job app, when I have a promising K award and 2 exciting interviews at places I would love to work on the horizon.

So why do the app? Because I need a back-up, sure. But also because it is for NIH which would be an enormously prestigious position. And one that really allowed to conduct my Science for the next 5 years in a very stimulating academic environment. So, my career is going very well at the moment, yes, and I have better than average career prospects. But I will fight to make my prospects elite. I really care about my latest project and I want every shot to be able to complete it, and to be able to complete it in the best environment possible. I don’t know where that is yet, and I suspect I will only find out through applications and visits and tang to people on visits.

So I guess I am says that I felt I made a decision on Saturday. To prioritize my career over my social life, even though my social life is very woeful at the moment and my career is great. I am surprised how easy this decision came and how well it say with me. We all make choices and we have to live with our choices. I think it helped me to sleep better and enjoy my choices knowing that I was making them, and why.

IMAGE credits

http://alpharetta.ga.us/index.php?p=136

http://vadlo.com/cartoons.php?id=241

DAMY Health week 5 & 6; Tough Mudder training week 6

Waaaaah. It has been a tough week on the old “slough off 15 of the 25 post American lbs in 12 weeks” attempt. But, while not making any great physical progress (in fact, there was somewhat of a back-slide), I made some good mental health progress. Huzzah.

So, weeks 5/6. Along with fighting an incredible amount of lethargy I was also dealing with insane hunger and sugar cravings.  Hunger that made me feel unfocused and dizzy. Hunger that left me unable to play table tennis for more than 30 mins (although it WAS dinner time, and I HAD just workout out for 50 minutes and I DID steal some points off my victorious hubby). I gave it a few days and then emailed Amy of DAMY Health, seeing as I was especially concerned about my drop in athletic performance. Wow, I thought I would just get some quick “21 tips to break hunger”, but she responded within 48 hours, making me list everything I was eating and all my workouts. She went through my meals & snacks one by one, and either OK-ed them, or fixed them. In essence we got: A LOT more protein (some 30 g or so), which makes sense as the weight training is up to 4 days a week, and if I lift… I lift pretty heavy. Not quite the ball buster days of yore, but not too shabby either. We also got way less sugar – she switched out my beloved frozen peas and put in green beans, zucchini and broccoli (yeach! I did not follow that last one!). Oh, and she doubled my lunchtime whole grain carbs, and pretty much ordered me to have a pre-bedtime snack (Oh, you want we to force down delicious delicious chocolate pudding or peanut butter on celery eh? Oh go on then…). Immediately I felt better and Amy emailed me both the following days to check in and make me write down my diet. Not bad for a one off $98.

My hunger immediately decreased. As I swapped a lot of the fruit for protein / WG combos I immediately craved less sugar. In fact, I was back to the miracle start of the beginning of DAMY where I was not literally counting down the seconds to each meal. Good stuff. My recovery also increased tonnes – I completed every workout on DAMY (and there are a lot, and they are tough. Think 4 weight sessions, one plyo session, 2 steady state sessions, 1 HIIT and 1 HIIT + plyo, OUCH) and even got my HIIT to be hill sprints (why? why do I do this to myself) and threw in an extra 12K. Banging. Did it all… loved it all… felt great.

Then, week 6 and weigh day came. 1.5 lbs more. Really? Really? I waited a day and weighed myself: same. Waited another day: .5 lb more? Life hates me. And no shift in inches. And if I was brave enough to post the progress pics I take for Amy… you’d see some lack of definition. Gah. But, DAMY made me define non weight related goals at the beginning of the program, and I focused on these instead. Some of these were:

-To stop the endless restrict-stuff myself cycle.

-To stop living my day by the scale. Bad scale day = bad day must end.

So, with that in mind, I just soldiered on with the corrected diet, smiled and tried not to let it get to me. I didn’t have any other ‘treats’ that week at all. When I emailed Amy with my weekly check-in I explained this to her, but said it could be water weight, and yay! I was sticking to my other goals and wasn’t life great and that’s the end of that.

Amy is not so cavalier with her clients. While yes, she was pleased that I seemed to be developing more stable, sustainable eating habits, she wants me to email her all my food from yesterday (on a Sunday! Sneaky!), and is upping the intensity of my workouts a little. I am supposed to break them into 2 and do cardio in the am and weights in the afternoon (or vice versa) rather than one long session. I also have to skip between weight reps to keep my heart rate up. Bleurgh. I was in a happy rut groove, which may explain the lack of progress 🙂 But, I am glad to be working with Amy. She is a cheerleader and very positive, but not going to take sloppiness for an answer (nor not eating all your fibrous veggies it would seem. Ick). I’m looking forward to giving it a go.

So… those stats. Boo. I look forward to better news next time (although next time is slap bang at time of the month, so it may take a few extra days…):

Starting / after 2 weeks / after 4 weeks / after 6 weeks:

Weight: 143.5 lbs. / 138.5 / 135.5 / 137

Chest: 37 / 37 ” / 37 “ / 37″

Waist: 30″ / 29″ / 28″ / 28″

Hips: 38″ / 37″ / 37″ / 37″

Onto Tough Mudder week 6

This was an awesome week of training. I completed everything, ran the furthest for me yet (ha!), recovered like a rockstar ready to get at it the next day, and generally loved it. I didn’t really dread any workouts, just the first steady state as I was saving my knees so did it on the elliptical.

Friday – DAMY weights A, 35 mins steady state – DONE

Saturday – 5K, DAMY weights B  – DONE

Sunday – Steady state 7 mile jog – DONE (7.5 hahahahaha)

Monday: DAMY C (weights); Interval B – DONE

Tues: REST – Changed, long jog completed.

Weds:  DAMY D (legs); interval A – done, hill sprints DONE. Y-e-e-e-e-e-s

Thurs: Kickboxing (this is a good proxy for DAMY’s 6th ‘functional’ workout – lots of core stuff). Oh, I missed this. Boo. Had too much work with a grant due to UAB the next day. Changed.

Week 7 plan:

Friday – DAMY weights A, 35 mins steady state

Saturday – Hill sprints, DAMY weights B

Sunday – 8K run (+ hills)

Monday: DAMY C (weights); Interval B

Tues: Hill sprints; DAMY D (legs)

Weds:  Functional training (plyos)

Thurs: Kickboxing (maybe; have a 5 mile (8K) race on Saturday so may be fixing to rest).

I feel I am getting closer and closer to Tough Mudder fitness (sadly also to the race – eeeep). My core is getting a lot stronger, and I am completing more and more of the push ups (even when doing them immediately after lifting weights for shoulder training). My jogging / running is better and I am using the same weights for 15, rather than 12, reps. All I need to learn is those darned pull ups. Soon. Overall: super fitness progress (for a non-sporty person like me). And in 4 days time: Georgia trail race: wooooo 😀