Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Number One Ladies Detective Agency

I have been reading The Number One Ladies Detective Agency Series of books by Alexander McCall Smith. Although this is an old series that started back in 2003, I never was able to "get into" the first book when I started to read it years ago. It was only when the HBO series came out last spring that I decided to give the books a try again.

What made the whole series really come alive for me was the excellent audio book version read by a narrator who really drew me into the story with her rich voice and Bottswana accent. Precious Ramotswe, the lead detective in this story, is a "traditionally built" middle aged woman who is proud to be exactly what she is - calm, smart, and a solver of "small things" not "big things" like murder, but small things that affect people's lives most deeply. Her observations about human nature are so profound, that one minute I'm laughing and the next I'm jotting down her nuggets of wisdom so I can cling to them for future reference.

She is the loving Earth Mother who takes a slow, easy approach to life that relaxes me and calms me as I read. Far from boring, the series is character driven but once you step into the pages and immerse yourself in the lives of these imaginary people, they seem as real as can be. They are people you dearly WISH were real. I just finished reading the 9th book in the series, The Miracle At Speedy Motors, and I'm hoping the series never ends.

Now I'll go have myself a cup of Bush Tea, which Madame Ramotswe (pronounced "Ra-MOTES-way") drinks whenever she wants to relax and think deeply about a problem. I found that this mystery series is so popular that The Republic of Tea has actually come out with a "Botswana Blossom" natually caffeine-free Rooibos blended tea with Citrus, Blossoms and nuts in honor my favorite mystery series heroine. I daesay, Madame Ramostwe herself would approve. It's a good way to unwind at the end of a long day.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

I Found My Refuge in a Monastery

Serene. That's how I feel after returning from the most relaxing and satisfying weekend at a spiritual retreat held at a monastery. The Benedictine Sisters were doing a workshop retreat on "Centering Prayer."

I arrived on Friday evening, straight after work and met up with two other retreatants who had driven in from Topeka. We checked into our rooms had dinner together. Guess which room I got? #8 - which is my lucky number.

The room was so quaint - a small very comfortable twin bed. A dresser. A rocking chair. A small desk. A shared restroom. That was it. But it was wonderful - a quiet room with no TV. No computer.

At first, I worried that I'd be the only non-Catholic there, but most of the retreants were non-Catholic and from a variety of different backgrounds. The only thing we shared in common was a spiritual thirst and a longing for inner peace. The sisters made us feel right at home.

We were at the workshop all day Saturday and most of the day Sunday, but with breaks for exploring the beautiful tree-lined campus and many quiet places to meditate, pray, do journaling, to read, to walk, to talk with others and even a bit of time to knit. I found myself staying up late just so that I could spend a bit more uninterrupted quiet time alone. It was wonderful!

Sister Michaela, our retreat leader, was very inspiring. She talked about her own experiences with Centering Prayer and taught us intellectually at first, guiding us through the concepts conceptually. Then she had us practice the technique, which was a receptive kind of prayer focusing on a sacred word of our own choosing. We spent some time contemplating our word - and then trying it out during an initial practice session. We all discussed our experiences, then practiced several times the first day, broken by periods of talk, exploring the campus -- spending time alone and together. We also went to chapel and participated in their services. It was moving and amazing to observe.

As a group of 16 retreat members, we really bonded with one another for the short time we were there. Each person was unique, interesting and I enjoyed meeting each one. In fact, I have their email addresses and hope some of us can keep in touch.

We ended this afternoon with our final centering practice session, and then we left, returning to our "real lives." I hope to bring at least a small part of that peace back with me into daily life. But I know I need to keep meditating - because it's so much easier to be peaceful when you have low-stress situations such as a retreat. The real challenge is to BE that person I was there, and try to be that helpful, kind, serene person with my family, my coworkers, my friends in everyday life.

I hope to refresh myself again at a return visit in the future. Now that I've found such a special place, I will cherish it and return.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Taking Stock - Destash, UFOs, and Massive Frogging On Tap for Rest of 2009

With the three day weekend, my Mom and I visited Sprouts yarn shop yesterday. I love that store. The good thing about that place is that they have tons of projects knitted up on display. Several of the little Noro cardigan sweaters were tempting and called out to me, promising that they would be so cute, and knit up fast, and yeah, yeah, yeah, I've heard that story before. Though I came SO CLOSE to being lured in by yet another project. But I petted the pretty yarn (Noro - how can I resist you?) and then I set it back down and backed slowly out of the shop empty-handed.

I've largely been avoiding yarn shops for all of 2009, except an occasional purchase of shawl yarn which is something I really do use and don't tend to hoard. The reason is, I still have SO MUCH, even after giving away quite a bit back in 2008. I still have a lot of it - and it's starting to feel overwhelming, more like a burden than a pleasure.

So during this long and lovely 3-day weekend, I'm going to once again catalog my yarn stash, make note of the projects that are in limbo and make a firm decision to finish up or rip projects that have been sitting around for several seasons half-finished. It's time to knit it, rip it, or get rid of it.

I'm starting that cataloging process today.

I've decided that FOR ME stashing is no longer a good idea, and certainly hoarding is a mindset I want to release. So for the rest of 2009 (final 3 months), I'm releasing, purging, and using what I have. I'm going to be finishing up the UFO that are still ones I WANT to finish - releasing the rest.

In a future installment, I'll let you know which UFO's will be given a stay of execution.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Diet Secret - Modular Eating

You've heard of Modular Knitting, right? Not everybody likes it, but essentially it's where you knit a series of small pieces and put it together into a whole garment. Well, what I've found is working well for me on the diet front is to do what I call "Modular Eating."

Just to preface this, I am still on Jenny Craig and check in with my diet counselor weekly, and I still eat some of their foods, but I've also branched out to supplement with some of my own healthy snacks and meals.

No matter if I'm eating a Jenny Craig meal or one "on my own" I still eat basically the same. I eat three small healthy meals and two snacks per day - that means, low fat, low sugar, low sodium. The low sodium part is very important. Lots of vegetables and 2 fruits per day to fill me up and meet the nutritional needs. I also take a daily multi-vitamin as this has been proven to help weight loss.

I eat small, healthy meals that are very simple. They are NOT huge on variety and are small in portion size. Too much variety tends to reawaken my need to eat for pure taste rather than what my body needs. It could be cereal, skim milk and a fruit. It could be oats, particularly in the winter. It often is an egg or two, with 1 slice of whole wheat toast and turkey or veggie bacon. Typical lunch/dinner meals are: 2-4 oz of lowfat protein, veggie or salad selection, lowfat dressing and grilled veggies. For snacks, I like Jello 60 calorie pudding snacks (gets in a milk selection), the Dannon Light & Fit yogurt (80 calories); Mott's Natural Applesauce, 1 stick of skim milk cheese. Favorite veggies: Birdseye Steamers - veggies that you can pop in the microwave and steam. They are delicious and fast.

When I do eat Jenny Craig, they are typically 250 calorie meals that are low in fat, salt and probably are equivalent to many other diet frozen foods such as Healthy Choice.

If I eat out, I like to eat 1/2 of a Burger King Veggie Burger. McDonald's favorite snack is their yogurt parfait thing with the fruit. If we eat at a steak restaurant, I order a very small steak or split one with Bob. I eat a potato without the junk on it with grilled veggies.

I try to cut up plenty of fresh veggies on hand and have them ready for when I get the munchies. I package them up in plastic bags to toss into my lunch bag each day. But when I don't have time, I never hesitate to buy precut veggies or salads. The important thing is that they remain readily available in my fridge at all times. I have to admit, veggies are something I have to FORCE myself to eat, so I try to keep the ones I like available and eat them before eating other foods I might prefer. When I get in my daily veggie allotment, I don't find myself overeating as much and feel "fuller."

What have I eliminated from my former eating? Popcorn (that's a red light food for me), ice cream, regular hamburgers and fries. Most fatty desserts. Doughnuts (yuck how did I ever eat those?) Bagels (Bagels I do miss you!!). Gravy. Creamy sauces. Rolls, bread and carbs. Fast food sandwiches in general. High-salt processed meat. Fried foods. Potato chips.

Now mind you, I am not perfect on this diet, not by any means. I still have a ways to go. Ideally, I'd like to lose another 10-15 pounds, but even if I don't lose another pound, I'm much happier where I am now as opposed to where I was a year ago.

Sometimes I splurge and eat the old, unhealthy stuff, but I don't beat myself up about it, I just realize that this type of old-habit "comfort food" eating is what once made me 20 pounds heavier in the past. If I want to maintain my current weight, which I have for 10 months, then I need to eat simply, keep myself to the basic foods I know that I like but don't like so much that I go overboard.

By having a few standard foods and snacks that I buy regularly from the store, I don't get overwhelmed by too many choices. Same thing with restaurants. Most places we go, I can eat SOMETHING. I know ahead of time what I need to order. The only thing I really can't do and stay on program well is Chinese Food. I LOVE it and occasionally indulge - but that's a total diet killer. Whenever I eat it, I gain a few pounds and have to get back on the straight and narrow really quick!

Another thing that is crucial: don't get overly hungry. When you are starving, you can almost never make a good food choice. So eat often. Plan to eat in modules that you know are easy to make, buy and eat. That's my diet tip of the day - and I'm mentioning it because I am reminding myself of what brings success for me so that hopefully I can continue following it for the best results.

My big diet bugaboo remains eating to comfort myself, especially late night snacking or weekend indulgences during high-stress times - but my good friend Phyllis reminds me that often when I THINK I'm starving, especially if it's night-time, I'm probably just tired and can benefit much better from going to bed rather than to the refrigerator.

Those are my tips. If you have any to share, please let me know.