Sunday, February 25, 2007

Frugal Accessories

My wallet fell apart this week and I headed to KMart this weekend to find a new one. I intended to spend no more than $10 on a new wallet and it worked out better than expected: I found a purse on clearance for $3.50 and a wallet on clearance for $2.50. Can't complain. I haven't been sticking to my budget lately. I finally decided to scrap it in favor of something simpler, namely, the advice Ms Slick received from her father as quoted in the current issue of Money Magazine: "He told me if I always pay my bills with one-third, save one-third and screw around with the last third, I'll be okay, no matter how much I earn". I just need to go to the bank and adjust my savings plan to deduct a third of my paycheck instead of the current amount, continue to pay my bills as usually, and have some fun with what's left.

I got a Day I Chest session in yesterday: flat BP, pushups, single arm pec deck and skull crushers. Everything felt easier than last weekend and numbers increased slightly. I've been adding amusement to the 1 minute cardio intervals by holding a db as I get on and off the step; anywhere between 20lbs and 50lbs total depending on my mood.

Gym was quieter than expected, probably due to the rain. Two guys came in as I was finishing the skull crushers and to my shock they didn't start with bicep curls, but began with bent over rows, upright rows, push-ups and tricep extensions. Then they did curls...

Friday, February 23, 2007

Another Sport

I've always thought Canadian gun control laws were ridiculous. Don't get me started on the $1 billion we spent on a useless national gun registry... I'd always planned to get some shooting instruction if I ever had the chance to live in the US, but after I moved I had so many things on my to-do list that I didn't get around to it. Then these stupid signs started appearing. Every time I went to the local library or to Gym Two I saw them on the door and got annoyed all over again. The annoyance was such that it motivated me to sign up for an NRA FIRST Steps class at a local range. FIRST stands for Firearm Instruction, Responsibility and Safety Training.

The class was this week and it was great. I had my laptop with me and I took notes the entire time we were in the classroom. The range time was lots of fun even though it was very cold. I had come straight from work so I was in a skirt and pumps and my legs were freezing, but I think the cold improved my concentration. The instructor of the class was a woman and all the students were women except one. At one point when we were all on the range the instructor addressed us as "Ladies", and the guy piped up from his booth "And gentleman!". :-) I can't say enough good things about the experience, and I highly recommend it. The instructor was extremely knowledgeable - she's 52 and has been shooting since she was 8 years old - and she had a good sense of humour as well. I can't wait to go back and practice what we learned. The range has "ladies night" one night a week where women can come shoot with no range fees. Now that I think of it, I can't see myself going to a ladies' night at a bar, but I can see myself going to a ladies' night at a range...

I now have another reason to improve my grip strength and pay attention to my brachialis and brachioradialis muscles, which are not among my strong points. I can also see that this is going to do good things for my concentration and focus. I just have to remember to wear layers.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Regrets, I've Had A Few...

For example: not going to the away basketball games last night. The girls won by 17 points against a team they had never beaten before, and the boys won in overtime by 1 point. I keep thinking about the Ziglar quote: "The chief cause of failure and unhappiness is trading what you want most for what you want now". What I wanted now was to go to the game. What I wanted most was to do my job well: get my grading done and prep my next units. I went with the most over the now, which I know was the right decision. I've told students that you have to take care of your responsibilities first, before you get to do the fun stuff, so I should live up to my own rules. But darn it, of all the games to miss... Fortunately, one of the players came by my classroom this morning to give me a first hand account. Next year, I'm blocking off all the basketball games on my calendar as soon as their dates are published.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Assessment Shmassessment

Headed to Gym Two yesterday morning for the free fitness assessment that comes with my membership. Waste of time. It began with the height test. Trainer told me that I'm 5'3''. Um, no. It would be nice, but I've been 5' 1.75'' for as long as I can remember (I pretend it's 5' 2''). Then he tells me that my weight is 150 lbs and my body fat % is 27%. I suppose it's possible in whatever alternate universe his scale inhabits, but no other scale I've been on in the past month has been higher than 143lbs. And as for body fat % - the guy actually tells me with a straight face that body fat % and BMI are synonymous. I think I tuned out at this point, but not before we had the following exchange.

He: What are your fitness goals?
Me: Lift more weight.
He: So, muscle strength?
Me: Lift more weight.

Then I did a 12 minute cardio test on a treadmill that ended with him telling me that my cardio was "Fair". I don't mind being told that my cardio level is "Fair", but how can a test that never got more intense than a stroll (seriously!) give a result of "Fair"? So I asked. Trainer says it's not a max test but a "Sub Max" test. Huh? I go for a leisurely stroll on a treadmill and you tell me my cardio is "Fair"?

Then we went out on the gym floor to do strength tests on TechnoGym equipment. I did an online search today and discovered that it's a Dutch line. I wonder why Gym Two chose it as their post-renovations line. I do not like these machines at all; they seem designed to take all the thinking out of working out. Just sit and do whatever the machine tells you to. And no, I don't think that's a good thing.

Trainer tells me I'm at the top of the scale on both the chest press and the leg press. If I can be at the top of the scale after my atrocious training schedule of the past five months, it means the standards they use for women are pretty damn low. Who comes up with these dumbed-down standards for women, anyway? And how can a woman who cannot do a pull up be at the top of a strength scale? Do the people who create these machines and assessments think that my fragile ego will crumble if the assessment identifies me as "average" or "weak"? To give you an idea of the numbers, the best I could manage on the chest press was a calculated 1 rep max of 113lbs, since my chest, shoulders and triceps were utterly fried from Saturday's workout. With legs sore from Thursday, the calculated 1 rep max on the leg press was 320lbs.

Annoyed by this so-called assessment and its six page printout, I headed to Gym One for an actual workout. I did a day II Back session, and added some good mornings for fun at the end. Felt much better after that.

Both the boys' and girls' teams won Saturday night. It was bittersweet to watch because these were the last home games of the season. My schedule over the next couple of weeks is too packed to see the last away games, so this is it for me watching basketball this year.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Snow, Fear and Happiness

When I left work yesterday snow was coming down and driving conditions were awful. It took me three times as long to get home as it usually does, and I was not heading out again in that weather. The one thing I miss about Jerusalem is my gym, and the one thing I miss about Toronto is the snowplows that head out with each snowfall to clear the main driving arteries.

Food was "planned off-plan" yesterday. I expect a certain amount of non-clean eating on PD days. Total damage was 1 glazed donut at the beginning of the day and one ice cream sundae at lunch. Other than that food was clean and I got good amounts of tuna, spinach and apples in. My colleagues were making fun of my lunch box and some suggested that my pop-top tuna cans looked like cat food. :-) Whatever. Now that I'm using canned food on a daily basis, I became curious about the history of canning.

Today the weather is crisp, the sun is shining and the snow is melting. I got up early and headed to Gym #1. I had the best Day I: Chest workout I've had in awhile. It was a combination of being very focused and having the Shuffle in my ears. I should have bought the little gadget months ago. I was and am still sore from Thursday's workout, but I had hoped for soreness when I chose to do squats and deads on Thursday. Sometimes I need that to remind me that I have muscles and that I was not meant to be a sedentary being.

A few quotes that resonated with me lately:

At EFS, Billy Mimnaugh:
The reason I’m bombing out is because I’m scared. I’m afraid that I won’t be what I once was. [...] I’m scared because I know I haven’t or can’t put the necessary effort into my training, and I’m scared of not living up to what people expect of me. Physically, I’m still very strong, but what made me a good lifter was I knew in my heart that I beat everyone in training. I knew that I could do anything I asked my body to do. Now, I go into meets knowing that my training is crap compared to what it was. [...] I need to start at the beginning and do what made me strong in the first place. Mostly, I have to get over my fear.
I'm not a powerlifter and I've never entered a meet, but I understand fear and I understand starting over.

At Adam Campbell's Fitness Insider Blog:
I've never once regretted taking time out to exercise. Even if I have lots of work to do, just want to relax, or for whatever reason dread it beforehand. It's almost like magic. Work out, and you'll always be happy that you did. How many other things can you say that about?
On the flip side, I ALWAYS regret NOT working out.
So true. I never leave the gym unhappy. Whether it's the endorphins or the sense of accomplishment at moving more weight, it's an instant improvement to my mood.

I'm going to be subbing in a phys ed class next week. I'm not going to do any actual teaching: the kids all have their own programs to follow and know what they're doing, I'm basically there to keep an eye on them while their regular teacher is away for the day, but I'm still excited about the prospect.

Another basketball game tonight. I'm going to miss these games when the season ends, but I'm told that girls' soccer starts in the spring. I'm looking forward to those games too.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Gym Two

I made a mistake last night. Instead of going right to sleep I put a dvd in the laptop. I had taken Transam3rica out of the library earlier in the week, planning to watch it this weekend. The box looked interesting, but I didn't expect to like it: I don't like many dramas or comedies. I prefer action films with a barely passable plot and good fight choreography. But I liked this movie and its understated script so much I watched the entire thing and ended up going to sleep after midnight.

Woke up at 5:50am this morning and forced myself to take the gym bag with me even though I didn't want to. Between Valentine's Day and an in-school celebration, I expected work to be a food minefield, and it was: donuts in the morning, heart shaped sugar cookies at midday, and brownies at end of day. I had none of the above, and moreover, some kind soul left a bowl of apples in the faculty lounge, which was perfect because I had run out of apples and was too lazy (too cold to get out of the warm car, really) to stop at the grocery store this morning to get more.

At the end of the day I did a gentle squats and deads session at gym #2 (oxymoron there somewhere), stopping between sets to peer down into the basketball courts where my students were playing. The good: the bar has great knurling, which makes it easy to grip, and today marked the inaugural use of my new ipod shuffle (orange, in case you're wondering). Also, the girls' team won. The annoying: the dbs are old and rusty, and someone had left plates on the bar.

Not too many people around, a couple of teenage boys training biceps (what else?) who redeemed themselves with some very nice diamond pushups. Some older gentlemen doing curls (what else?), and a woman with superb shoulders and lats who was doing rope triceps extensions. I can't see myself ever choosing this as my main gym, but it will do for the days I can't go to gym #1.

Finished my workout and went downstairs to watch the boys play very hard, fight every step of the way, and lose to a very strong team. I was proud of them for holding their own and not giving up.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007


I have no idea where today went. I got to work by 7:12am. When the last bell rang I was at my desk, and when I looked at the clock again it was 6:40pm. That's three hours that just *poof* vanished. And I'm still taking work home. Did I mention that we had a snow day yesterday and I spent most of it at work? Can't wait for the long weekend.

On Sunday morning I have a fitness assessment scheduled at gym #2. They don't do calipers, unfortunately. Rather, they do the impedance body fat test, a strength test, an endurance test, and then they give you an amusing six page printout with lots of info. Tomorrow's workout will be at gym #1, because my students are playing basketball tomorrow evening and I want to see the game. Friday and Saturday will be at gym #2.

One of my students is going to interview me for the school newspaper tomorrow about my "fruit veggies and H20 only" policy. I'm trying to organize my thoughts so I can say everything I want to say on the subject.

Good reading: Skwigg's tidbits. The woman is inspirational. And her dogs are cool too.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

A Lunch Box Story

In a moment of weakness, I had agreed to eat a mini candy bar if one of my students scored 100% on the last test. Student scored 98%, so it was a narrow escape for me. Truth is I would have been happy either way; I love it when my students ace tests. This led to a conversation on the subject of fitness and nutrition. Turns out that at least one of my students didn't realise that the "before" picture I have hanging by my desk was me. Another student asked what was in my lunch box. How could I resist? I said a silent thank you to the powers-that-be that I had decided to organize and fill all my rubbermaid containers over the weekend, so I wasn't pulling out bedraggled half bags of spinach... I noted that I don't have to bring protein with me because my desk drawer has a sizable stash of tuna cans and salmon pouches, which they know because that's also the drawer that always has apples and bananas they're welcome to take. I then went through the contents of the lunch box: two apples, one banana, ~4 cups of spinach, a cup of frozen edamame, a bowl with dry oatmeal and a cup of frozen berries which are meant to go on top of the oatmeal.

Good reading: Dynamist Blog writes about an aspect of the D0ve ads that's not often mentioned. Be sure to click through and read her Atlantic article while you're there, especially the last line. (Found via Instapundit.)

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Seems Perfectly Sensible To Me

I'm on the phone with a former classmate who's teaching elsewhere in the US. I mention that I'm planning to get a second gym membership for those days that I can't get to my regular gym before it closes. She laughs. What's so funny, I ask. Well, she says, you're the only person I know who doesn't own a television, sleeps on an airbed, but buys two gym memberships...


I went today and actually signed up at that other gym. The weekend desk person wasn't sure what my discount was for working in the building, but I'm going to check back with her tomorrow at lunch time and pay up. Meanwhile, I have my id card ready to go. The lady who gave me the tour also said that they're renovating, which I hope is not code for "removing the squat rack and getting fancy shmancy electronic weight machines". To borrow a phrase from Mr. Heston, you can have my squat rack when you pry it from my cold dead hands... :-) The other nice thing about this gym is that they have Concept II rowers. When I visited today they were sitting empty and lonely. Tomorrow will be my first workout there.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Prayers, Nutrition Advice and A Selfish Thought

When I was studying in Israel I wasn't a regular at services. I checked out all of the services available at my school: the traditional, the egalitarian, the community, but never quite clicked with any of them. Now that I teach at a school that has morning prayers I'm at the egal service every morning. I like it; it gives me a chance to calm down and focus before heading into my day. And I have a new appreciation for the liturgy: that morning blessing that thanks God for "giving strength to the tired" must have been written with teachers in mind. :-) I follow the regular liturgy and add my personal requests, which usually involve asking the Almighty to help my students deal with everything they have to deal with. I've never, since I started praying regularly, asked for diet or exercise help. Seems rather lazy to ask for something for which I've already been provided with all necessary tools.

The reason for this lengthy preamble is that today one of these requests got answered in the affirmative. I won't go into details because it involves a student: let's just say student was not living up to their potential, and after today I'm more hopeful than I've been all month. I probably shouldn't be so optimistic because disappointment may lurk around the corner, but I don't care. I'd rather be optimistic as long as I can.

In nutrition news: I had a student come up to me at lunch time and ask me how they can stop eating so much junk food. This post at Alwyn Cosgrove's blog has been on my mind lately, so I started small: I told the student the reason they were eating junk was probably because they were hungry and that they need to make sure that when they do get hungry there's nutritious stuff around to fill that hunger. (Lo and behold, student admits they don't eat breakfast or dinner, just subsist on snacks all day.) I asked them to focus next week on 1. eating breakfast and 2. bringing two pieces of fruit every day for a snack.

That stupid ice cream is still in the fridge at school: I wish my colleagues would hurry up and eat it. How's that for a selfish and immature thought? :-)

Back to the gym tomorrow. I have some stress that requires a power rack, a skipping rope and a heavy bag.

I have to remember to request April 13 off work: I'm thinking of going to this summit in Little Rock. Looks like quite a line-up, and I've never been to Arkansas.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Stupidity Redux

Exhibit A: Got to my desk this morning at 7:15am, left my desk at 6:45pm. That's 11.5 hours. I missed Russian class last night, but the instructor, bless her, e-mailed the homework and materials to all the absent students. This Sunday will be devoted to Russian - I need to do some serious catching up. I bought a book of verbs last week and it is sitting accusingly on my bookshelf.

Exhibit B: The faculty lounge is a food minefield again. One of my colleagues had a birthday, and the custom is that the birthday person brings food goodies. This one brought corn chips, sour creamish taco dip, a homemade cake, ice cream, chocolate sauce and strawberry topping. It was a suckerpunch: I walk into the faculty lounge, which is supposed to be a safehaven, and the first thing that I see is a bottle of chocolate sauce on the table and a big sign announcing the new contents of the fridge. I look at the label in the hope of persuading myself to not eat this stuff: 7g fat per half cup, most of it saturated. And yes, I came back a couple of hours later, after a particularly frustrating interlude, and fully aware of what I was doing I put two scoops in a bowl and added the chocolate sauce and ate it. I don't like ice cream, I haven't eaten ice cream in months, I've never even had it in my fridge since I moved into my apartment. Bah! Now, a non-stupid person would just post the birthday list by her desk, and not go into the lounge hungry on days when people have birthdays.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Sustained by Spinach

10-hour+ days every day this week. No real exercise (by real I mean "in a power rack") since Sunday, even though the gym bag has been in the car, full and ready to go. I just do not get out of work in time to get to the gym before it closes. The only bright light has been nutrition. Thank god for bagged spinach. The other day I didn't even bother putting it in the container; just grabbed the half-full bag from the fridge and put in the lunch box. Did the same with the apples - still bagged from the grocery store, and the cottage cheese, which was in its original plastic tub. Speaking of the lunch box, its side is beginning to rip. I may have stuffed one too many things in there too many times. When it dies, I'll buy the bag I should have gotten in the first place. Four meals, especially veggie-intensive meals, take up a lot of space.

I did opt for basketball over ufc last week. Not much of a contest; I enjoy watching my students play. Oh well, there's always 68; I hope there isn't a basketball game on March 3rd. Couture was the reason I started watching ufc way back when, and I'd really like to see this card.

Stack of grading awaits... I have this rule that assignments that are properly formatted and turned in on time are graded and returned within two classes or the student gets a perfect score. That's what you get when a person who used to work in marketing switches to teaching. :-) More tomorrow.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Pearls of Wisdom

How's that for a presumtuous title? On this post, anonymous asked: How do you push yourself to change your lifestyle forever, for good, before its too late?? (Damn & blast, just realised that all the comments on that post are suddenly showing up as anonymous. Is that the fault of new blogger?)

With the caveat that what worked for me is unique to me, and everyone needs to find their own combination, here are a few things I've learned. I'm sure that I'll think up some more as soon as I hit "publish", so consider this the first installment.

1. Accept that this will take time. There are no quick fixes or magic potions. My first serious attempts to change to a healthy lifestyle were in took me till 2004 to get it right. That said, looking back, the years went by very quickly, they just seemed slow.

2. Become selfish. Place a value on your wants, your needs, your time. You don't have to help everyone or acquiesce to every demand that someone places on you. Practice saying "no" to people and it will be easier to say "no" to food.

3. You not only have to avoid certain foods and certain habits, you also need to avoid certain people, situations and locations. I don't think it's an accident that my big success came once I made the decision to leave my banking career, change to teaching, move to Israel for two years of study... There's a Hebrew proverb that says "meshane makom meshane mazal": he who changes his location changes his luck.

4.a. Read, read and read some more. I've been reading T-Nation since it was (that's 1998, I think). I've lurked on more lists and forums than I can remember.
4.b. If you are a woman, read information that is aimed at men. So much of the diet & exercise info that is aimed at women is infantalized and infantalizing. Pay it no mind.

5. Ignore any advice that comes from people who don't train, don't lift, and eat dreck. That includes advice from well-meaning relatives. Actually, that should be especially well-meaning relatives.

6. Never ever apologize or make excuses for the time you take to go to the gym, the money you spend on quality food, the time you spend to prepare six decent daily meals, the money you spend on a trainer. You don't owe anyone explanations. You earned the money, it's your business how you spend it. Conversely, don't preach to or bug other people about their food or exercise choices; their life is their business.

7. If you hire a personal trainer, make sure he or she can squat.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

In Brief

Very long days this week, so the promised Thursday post is delayed by a day or two - my apologies.

Trying to decide what I'm going to do on Saturday night: watch my students play basketball or head to the local sports bar to watch UFC.