Time to get serious about losing weight

My wife told me that new studies suggest carrying weight around your belly is the worst place to be fat. I was never aware that you had any choice in where you carried your weight, but the news dismayed me a little bit. I’ve been developing a rather worrying pot belly for the last few years – mostly as a result of a desk-based work life combined with a really lazy diet.

There are penalties for rocking the pot bellied look: you’re at an increased risk of heart disease and diabetes. And you don’t want either of those things knocking on your door.

I’m not a doctor – just a slightly freaked-out dad/geek who’s been sitting on his ass for too many years. I’ve done a little bit of reading around the topic – here’s a good quote from a website called A Healthy Me:

Fat around the midsection is a strong risk factor for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and even some types of cancers, says Samuel Klein, MD, the director of the Center for Human Nutrition at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri.

Despite many years of studies — and an overabundance of potential study volunteers — experts aren’t exactly sure why people with large midsections are such frequent targets for disease. They do know that fat cells actually regulate metabolic functions, and many experts believe fat cells in the belly release especially large amounts of fatty acids, which wreak havoc on a person’s blood sugar and insulin metabolism.

Many other sites are talking about a recent study commissioned by pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline called Visceral Fat and the Weight Debate which goes on to link belly fat to serious diseases. Now, that report may be in their interests (since they’re a maker of a weight loss drug), but for me it’s a kick up the ass to do something about this pot belly. Time to lose weight and tone it up. But how?

Avoid quick fixes

I’m convinced that quick fixes are a fool’s errand. Professor David Haslam, one of the authors of the Glaxo report reminds us:

Crash diets can do more harm than good. Invariably weight is put back on, with some of the weight regained accumulating as visceral fat.

My best guess is that in order to have a lasting effect on my own pot belly, I need to get some combination of better diet and increased exercise. Possibly with an emphasis on toning up that abdomainal section and burning the weight off that area.

I’m certainly not a fan of pill-based or surgical solutions. Maybe it’s my inner hippy, but I think a lifestyle change is the best way to tackle this problem. A better diet (my local Chinese restaurant will probably go out of business) and finding a way to work regular exercise into my routine has to be the way to beat this.

Losing the weight?

I’ll certainly consider doing an initial weight-in and perhaps photoblog the process as well to chart the journey. We’ll also have to consider writing some posts about healthy eating and exercise.

And if you’re a bit of a diet or exercise buff, please consider signing up and sharing your expertise with the rest of us lard arses!

Photo attribution: Tobyotter on Flickr (no, that’s not my physique!)

How to Make French Toast

I recently rediscovered the joys of French toast – a delicious mix of whisked eggs and bread, all fried to golden perfection. No, it’s not particularly healthy, but it’s a tasty treat and fills the gap if you’re not in the mood for a huge dinner.

Here’s how I make French toast – I prefer it fairly plain, but others like to add their own flavours to the mix. And I should mention that as an alternative to pan frying, you can grill the bread instead, but it’s messier and not quite as satisfyingly tasty!

Ingredients

  • 2 large-ish eggs
  • 2 slices white bread (I operate on the rule of 1 slice per egg)
  • Ground black pepper
  • Salt
  • Cooking oil

Method

  1. Put some oil in a large frying pan and heat on a high heat
  2. Crack your eggs into a bowl and whisk them until they’re smooth
  3. Add a little ground black pepper to the mix to taste
  4. Dip both sides of your bread into the egg mixture and place them in the pan
  5. Fry until both sides are a crisp, golden brown
  6. When finished, you might want to place the toast on some kitchen roll for a minute to dry off the excess oil
  7. Serve it up on a plate, add a little salt to season it and munch away.

If you’ve got any tips to improve on this, or indeed any variations on this recipe, feel free to share them in our comments area!

Communion

Rachel did her First Holy Communion yesterday, the high point of a long week of preparing the house for invasion by relatives. We are anti-houseproud. We just don’t care. Except on special occassions, then we rush around like mad things painting, decorating, cleaning and tidying.

My week has been consumed with refreshing the woodstain on our fences. They were looking especially weather-worn after we skipped a couple of years on the fencecare regimen. It took three, maybe four, days and encompassed the garden shed, which was recently discovered to have housed an entire civilisation of mice during the winter. (note: never leave newspaper in your shed – it’s great bedding material for furry critters).

In a stroke of minor genius, I took this opportunity to finally ruin a pair of jeans I should’ve thrown out months ago. Nothing like splatters of woodstain to finish off old clothing.

We both ended up in a minor frenzy because we had to put work on the back-burner for much of the preparation, then with house guests on Friday and Saturday night – our busiest night of the week, work-wise – we got next to nothing done. And when you’re self-employed, not getting any work done is a big cause for concern!

In the midst of it all, the Communion thing happened. Regular readers of this blog will know that I’m an out-and-out atheist. But that aside, I know how much of a milestone Communion is – it’s one of the first big events you experience along with the rest of your class. You’ve got a little bit older.

I remember my own Communion. Being made to stand with various classmates who I may or may not have been close to and adopt a pious joined-hands pose. The horror-story styles of early 80’s country town fashion will be evident in those photos. Thankfully, Rachel’s attire was an elegant and timeless design, so she may not be as mortified when she looks back.

They do Communion a little differently these days though. No mention of transubstantiation – the idea that the bread and wine literally become the body and blood of Christ. I was a little taken aback by this during the ceremony. I’d teased the kids about eating skin earlier in the week and they’d given me blank stares. Now I know why. I don’t know why they’ve dropped the references to “This is my body”, perhaps so as not to gross out the children, I can’t say. I do think it’s a total cop-out though, as the whole idea of Communion is that they’re ready to receive the sacrament. They should surely be ready to understand the core belief that the priest ‘magically’ transforms the bread into flesh during that ceremony.

But ho-hum, let’s drop the atheist agenda for a moment. It was still a lovely day for Rachel. She had her highs and lows, as you’d expect – lots of excitement and adrenaline in the early part of the day. I actually warned her that she’d get really tired, really quickly. She did. Some diva-behaviour ensued. I think like Lisa and myself, having a housefull of guests is bittersweet. It’s lovely to see folk and spend time with them, but there’s literally nowhere in your house that’s peaceful.

And in the end, we barely saw Rachel after we returned home. While we were busy with the adult guests, she was enjoying the bouncy castle we’d hired for the back garden and receiving visits from her friends. Today’s been so placid by comparison – after the last of the overnighters went home, we did some tidying and finally relaxed. I found myself sitting on the stairs (coolest – literally the coolest – spot in the house) reading a magazine. The Communion co-incided with a heatwave. And while the blue skies are a joy to look at, it’s three-showers-a-day hot around here!

Next week: getting back to normal. And working out what the hell we’re going to do during the summer when we’re working from home and the kids are off school.

Damn you, volcanic ash cloud!

Lisa went over to London yesterday for the press launch of Britain’s Got Talent. And got stuck there, due to huge clouds of volcanic ash which have caused airports to shut down all over the UK.

At the moment, it looks like it may be Saturday or later before she can fly home. Luckily, her sister lives in London, so she has a place to stay until such times as flights are allowed to resume again.

It was only when I tried to explain to the children what had happened that I realised how sci-fi the whole thing sounded. “It’s these volcanos in Iceland,” I said. “What, the shop?” asked Jake. “No, Iceland the country. The smoke from the volcano has formed a gigantic cloud and all that smoke is blowing toward our country. And because the smoke and dust is dangerous to planes, all flights are cancelled until the air clears.”

It does sound a little bit post-apocalyptic, doesn’t it?

This means it’s been a stressful week back in the house. It’s virtually been me, on my own for the last five or six days. I’ve cooked dinners, done school runs, built new bunk beds for the boys, and much more in between. What I haven’t managed is getting any work done. That’s been virtually impossible.

I could moan. I want to. I suppose the consequence of being stranded at home is a feeling of utter isolation. The kids have been great, but I haven’t spoken to an adult in ages. There’s a certain satisfaction in taking care of the housework and maintaining a degree of stability in the household, but – is this it?

But by the same token, I’m fairly sure I’m doing a good job on my own. It’s just impossible to get any work done, and that’s my biggest concern at the moment.

I am an Atheist Dad

I am an Atheist Dad, and I’m coming out of the closet.

Actually, I was never really in the closet. I parted ways with religion when I was roughly 16. The provability of Christianity’s claims was a sticking point.

Growing up in Northern Ireland was a large part of it. I grew up in the midst of a conflict that I was never sure was about religion or politics. Certainly, the notion that Ian Paisley was some kind of spiritual leader of the ‘Unionist’ people always raised a question mark with me. I think around that time, I was witness to a bomb in a car park near where I worked that killed an off-duty policeman.

I think that galled me – how mixed up religion and politics were, and how entire groups of people could divide on the basis of religion. Honestly, what sort of God allows his identity to become mixed up in a vile little war where two sets of Christians were fighting it out for the right to call themselves either British or Irish?

Oh, the religious will tell me it’s all about being tested and about the strength of your faith. But I require evidence, and God was never in evidence in Northern Ireland.

Anyhow, God eventually slipped away. He never really made any attempt to restore my faith anyway. Either way, there’s no doubt in my mind that there’s no grand God watching us from the sky…

I’m not one of those fundamentalist atheists. It’s mostly live and let live with me.

However, I don’t agree with hiding the fact I’m an atheist from the children. But when our kids are taught about religion in school, they’re only taught to be Catholics. That’s indoctrination. We don’t teach them about other religions at the start because they might ask the awkward question: how do we know which religion is the right one?

Our oldest child caught on quickly about my atheism. I don’t know how. She may have got suspicious when I’d dodge her questions about religion instead of lying to her. She’d definitely picked up that I never went along on the rare occassions Lisa took the kids to mass.

The reality of working from home

Frazzled. That’s how I feel today. It’s been a crushing week in Daddyville.

It’s been tough going for a couple of reasons. First: the kids have been off school for Easter, meaning they’re constantly around the house looking for food and entertainment. Second: our second car broke down, leaving me stranded in the house whenever Lisa’s in Belfast attending to her mother.

As I hinted at the end of that last post, I’m gradually, almost grudgingly, being drawn into the role of full time house husband. Today, I’ve been looking after the kids (Daniel’s slipping into a worrying phase of biting and hitting – picked up from two very viscious little critters down the street from us).

While Lisa was still in the house, I tried to jump start the car. No luck there, clearly it wasn’t the battery. I phoned the mechanic, who lazily said that he’d try to pick it up sometime today. On a Friday? He still hasn’t turned up and it’s 5:50pm. A weekend without wheels awaits.

So I tried to get a bit of work done on the website. No energy for writing, I tidied up a few things and was glad to see some contributors on the site had submitted some new posts. I find writing 20x harder when the kids are home, because the constant distractions derail my train of thought every time. If I’m not too tired, I’ll do my writing in the evening.

Turning my hand to the house husband thing, I decided to scope out a few recipes. The instability we’ve gone through recently has led to us eating far more take-aways than usual. We need to get on the home-cooking bandwagon again. So, I’ve picked out a few recipes from around the web – Chicken Caesar salads, Irish Stews and pasta salads that I can turn my hand to next week. Maybe they’re not the healthiest, but I can add them to my repertoire of cheese toasties and carbonara. You’ve gotta start somewhere, don’t you?

And after all that bouncing around, I stumbled upon this post about Myths Of The Working Parent. Fantastic. Even just looking at the timetable at the top of that page, I realise I wasn’t imagining the fatigue. And something in the back of my head wants me to drink myself to sleep, except I know I have to get up and do it all again tomorrow. I don’t need a hangover for a companion.

A quiet moment…

It’s the end of a tough week here. The cancer situation continues to impact our lives in ways we’d never imagined.

Lisa’s spending increasing amounts of time in Belfast looking after her mother. It’s a life of shopping, doctor and hospital appointments and tending to her mother at home. She fits in work when she can, but it’s difficult for her. And, as I know, when you’re embroiled in a situation where a parent has cancer, your taste for other things in life tends to dry up. You become absorbed in the crisis.

I’ve effectively become a full-time house husband – which has its up- and down-sides. Mostly downsides, to be honest. I spent a full eight hours on Friday cooking, cleaning, washing clothers and dishes and preparing the house for guests who were staying over. I should be working too, but it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find a window of time in which to get anything productive done.

To cap it all off (moan, moan), I’ve got this weird insomnia thing going on at the moment. I go to bed, then my arms and legs get restless and I end up bouncing around the bed trying to get comfortable. A couple of nights this week, I’ve ended up going downstairs and watching TV until the sensation fades and I drop off. Usually around 4:30am.

The house-husband role is a bit of a daunting task. But it’s becoming necessary. We’ve no idea how long this situation is going to continue for, and we need to set up some kind of routine for the kids. They’re feeling Lisa’s absence, and they’re becoming difficult as a result. Especially the older two – 8 and 6 respectively – are not responding well to coming home and finding mum missing.

As this looks like an increasingly long-term thing for us, I need to step up and stabilise the house. That means thinking about meal plans for the week. Knowing what’s coming up for the kids – appointments, various classes, what homework needs done each night. I need to keep the washing of clothes and dishes running smoothly – we’ve never been good at those. And of course the house needs to be kept clean. But the worst part of the last couple of months is our diet has become abysmal. We’re eating crap daily because the mealtimes aren’t being planned.

On the dinner front, I’m thinking about meals that we can make batches of – chilli, stew, things like that. These’ll get us started while we refine the menu and learn how to make healthier and tastier meals. Any ideas? Tell me in the comments!

(p.s. I know this sounds like a ‘me me me’ post, but I can’t really speak for what Lisa’s going through. I do think it’s important to mention the knock-on effects though, which is why I’ve written this post from my own point of view.)

There’s no such thing as a bad year

It must be said – since about April last year a ton of things have gone horribly wrong for us. We’ve been worried about money, whether we can continue to run a home business. My father was diagnosed with cancer and died.

Phew, that should have been the worst thing to happen, right? Wrong. After the funeral, my mother and youngest sister went to mush and remain that way. Instead of being comforted by the show of support from my father’s sisters and brothers, they spent more time criticising and bitching about them, which was distressing to hear.

To make matters worse, the other sister was caught stealing from my mother, and when confronted by me, tried to claim that I’d assaulted her in doing so. We can put this down to her myriad of mental health ‘issues’, or we can say that she’s just a truly toxic individual. Needless to say, she wasn’t remotely assaulted – she was caught out stealing during an extremely difficult time for the family and chose to lash out in the most vile way possible.

Then, in the late autumn we discovered that Lisa’s mother had got cancer. Not only was there the very real possibility that she would die from the disease, there was the prospect of yet another family cracking under the strain of this disease. I’m not ashamed to say it – my own family’s poor behaviour after my father’s death has left me scared and distrustful of people under stressful situations – some people crack up entirely, other people make it about themselves, and other people become solid and stoic and dependable.

And that’s where this last twleve months has been a good thing. I think Lisa and I can be self-critical to the point of self-loathing. But this year proved to us that we’re a great team, and above all else loyal, strong and resilient.

Lisa doesn’t get enough thanks for just being a tower of strength to everyone around her. She gets on with things, doesn’t ask for thanks or praise, she just does the right thing every time. And even when she’s struggling, she gives of herself fairly readily, although we’re both realising that giving too much often leads to being taken for granted. So we’re learning to strike the right balance between helping others and not damaging our own lives.

More than that, I think we both know that we’ve grown in some very profound ways. Dealing with so many huge events all at once has made us much more tolerant of little foibles and gripes that used to seem major. I think we now see the long game – the consequences of our actions in the future – and don’t react so quickly to events surrounding us.

We know who our friends are. There have been people who supported us in subtle ways throughout the events of the last year. And there have been people who leaned on us heavily, used us without a single thought for what we were going through. As a result of that, there’s been a subtle recalculating of our priorities for the future.

But most importantly of all, as buffetted and battered as this year has left us, we profoundly love our little family more than ever. Because when everything else has been tough, and challenging and painful – and it has been a painful year – our family has been growing closer than ever. We can take comfort in how Rachel (our eldest) is growing up – a wisecracking little madam, but also a wise little soul. She’s starting to see our personalities and identify the things we like and she loves nothing more than a late-night conversation, which is the best time to get her to share her day!

Jake is affactionate and shy and loveable as always. He’s the artist in the family, and goes through a rainforest’s worth of paper making drawings, cartoons and crafting bizarre items at the kitchen table. Daniel – the baby of the bunch – is starting to come into his own. We’re fighting a constant battle to keep him away from video games. He’s addicted. But he’s starting to go out and play a bit more with friends in the street.

And though they sometimes have their meltdowns, our little fivesome remains a close-knit, loving family. So when everything is at its absolute worst, we can look around ourselves and feel good that we’ve got such a great bunch. And that’s why it’s been a good year – because the bad stuff is in the past and we still have our family.

An epic tantrum!

Rachel had a memorably epic meltdown a couple of days ago. We’d gone to one of the local outlet shopping centers where there’s a Subway that we frequent. Afterward, we let the kids run round the pirate park for a while to burn off some of that excess energy.

Before we went, Lisa and I wanted to pop into Next to look at a few new clothes – you know how the children always come first in clothes shopping when everything you own is misshapen and ugly. Time to buy a couple of new shirts.

At first we browsed around in peace. I picked up a couple of nice shirts, Lisa found some new jeans and stuff. The kids followed around in fine fettle, tolerating the experience but not exactly loving it. Until Rachel spied a little pink hat, that is.

The hat itself was a bright pink, a kind of woven material with a couple of garish feathers attached to the front of it as some weird kind of decoration. It had an elastic band to attach it to your head, and oh…it was tiny. It actually was a better fit for the teddy bear Rachel had brought with her than it was for Rachel. The hat was clearly a novelty item or one of those little pieces a girl might wear to draw attention to herself. In other words, it was more of a toy than a serious fashion item.

Naturally, Rachel wanted this for herself. We initially said no. It’s not our policy to encourage impulse buys, but I guess with Christmas just behind us, the message had been forgotten somewhat. So, I asked how much it was. “Only £44,” came the reply. Well, I laughed before I had time to control myself! “£44? Do you know how much money that is, Rachel? Absolutely not,” I told her.

The tantrum began about a nanosecond after that. It wasn’t fair. She never got anything shewanted (despite the fact that the boys were happily following us along without making a single request). She started trying to hide in the shop, and I followed her – partly to make sure she didn’t get lost or abducted (it was a busy shop) and partly because I thought the comedy value of being followed around would shake her out of her tantrum.

Nope, no such luck! Eventually, I had to take her by the hand and lead her out of the shop where we waited for Lisa to finish. But she grumbled and complained the entire way home. At one point I lost my cool and told her not to make any more noise, because she was grounded for Friday and she’d be grounded even more if she kept talking. When we got home, she was sent straight to bed to think over her behaviour.

The next morning, I came downstairs to discover she was already awake. But instead of trying to raid the house for goodies, she’d made herself a bowl of Weetabix. Clearly she was on a charm offensive! The behaviour being much improved, we both talked to her individually. I had a chat to her today about how she didn’t really need the hat and that sometimes we – as her parents – were going to refuse to buy things, either because they cost too much money, or she didn’t need them or we simply might not think having that item was in her best interests.

It’s not often she has these volcanic meltdowns, but when she does, they can be a mixture of funny and frightening! But in the main, there’s no point trying to talk to her about it until she’s regained her composure.

How do you guys handle tantrums in your family?

Daniel and the wrist-slashing incident

Right, let’s talk about the night of 1st July 2009 and the bloody, wrist-slashing adventure that ensued.

We’d only buried my father at the weekend, and with that rather large event behind us, there was suddenly a metric ton of paperwork to take care of. Notifying all the various companies he had accounts with, getting utility bills transferred into The Mother’s name and dealing with a few legal matters. Not to mention the insurance claim for their disastrous trip to Lourdes.

Since it was the school holiday, we took the entire brood down to the parental home – hers now, not theirs – with the intention that the kids could play with their cousins while we sifted through his paperwork and got everything in order.

We arrived in the evening, too late to get started, and the kids went nuts. Stick six kids in a small house and watch as they race around dangerously. Repeated nagging – as always – failed to have any impact, but we kept nagging anyway. I was in the back garden talking to the brother-in-law when we heard a tinkle from inside. Unusually, this wasn’t followed by the sound of screaming or ‘angry parent discovering broken ornament’ noises.

Despite the lack of activity, I wandered inside to see Daniel sitting on the floor in the hallway. Something was wrong, but I couldn’t place it. Noticing a change in the light was the first clue that one of the glass panes in the door was smashed. Lisa came running past me, realising that he’d punched through the glass. She discovered a grotesque, deep gash in his wrist and he was starting to bleed heavily.

She screamed at me to get a towel as she cradled him on the floor, and I admit, it took a minute for me to react. Once she had the towel, I had the phone in my hand talking to the 999 service. I can’t even remember dialling – if it was me or someone else.

That was the point pragmatism kicked in, and I explained calmly to the operator what had happened, where we were and that we needed assistance. They ordered a paramedic and stayed on the line until the guy arrived. Lisa continued to apply pressure to the wound – possibly a side-effect of watching too many medical dramas, but it worked out well in the end. Anyway, the paramedic came in and dressed the wound and took him and Lisa out to the nearest Accident & Emergency in a town 30 minutes away. I followed in our car.

I remember just before jumping in the car, my mother and sister both looking at me dubiously. “You can’t handle the sight of blood, are you sure you’re alright to drive?” they asked, noting that I’d already gone deathly pale. I don’t know what propelled me, but I followed the medic and was arriving at the hospital at the same time Lisa and Daniel were. Some speed limits might have been broken in the process.

Whatever adrenaline we’d mustered during his initial wrist-slashing drained away quickly after a few hours waiting in the A&E department. We all felt knackered. And to cap it all, it was the same A&E that my father had been brought to when he collapsed at home and before he was admitted to cancer ward. I even recognized the same staff from that night, and so soon after the funeral, found it hard to cope with. These people wandering around doing their jobs probably didn’t remember the man brought in with breathing difficulties and his worried family. And seeing that place again brought it home how quickly everything changed.

Anyway, that plus the tiredness plus the jagged wound plus the not having eaten anything were slowly taking their toll. Eventually, one of the doctors came in and started trying to remove the dressing from Dan’s wrist. Blood had dried to it and he screamed in a mixture of pain and fear. We tried to distract him while she tried to get to the wound, but eventually she gave up in frustration and called some colleagues in to help.

I took a back seat at that point, but suddenly started feeling dizzy. Yep, that was the colour draining out of my face. This had happened before, and I knew what was about to happen. I muttered to Lisa that I was feeling faint, and she pushed me into that old head-between-the-legs position. Oh, but it was too late for that. I propped my head on my arm on the side of a desk and slowly, gracelessly, slid to the ground as the world literally disappeared and everything went black. The last thing I remember is Dan watching me as my face slid past his on the way to the floor.

The drama queen in me must’ve surfaced, because I remember hearing myself muttering that I couldn’t take this anymore and blah blah blah. shamefacedly, I decided to go and wait in the car while Daniel’s wrist was X-Rayed.

The Update

As you might imagine, this post was written months ago. I wanted to record the event, but forgot to post it.

Daniel’s wrist eventually healed. We were worried that he would have problems using his hand as a result of severed tendons, but by doing the exercises that we’d been given at the hospital, he has recovered.

He still has a horrendous, ugly scar running across his wrist, and he’ll probably always have to explain what happened when people notice his wrist and ask. On the other hand, he’s become much more cautious about touching windows and doors – which is not a bad thing considering.