Monday, December 28, 2009


Rest.  This is a word that many of us say. but few of us actually do.  Taking a rest from work, school, working out, hell life in general is a novel ideal - but in practice many of us fall short, seeking the comforts of "keepin busy" in order to complete some unseen goal in the future.  But, after my holiday trip to Spain for X-mas break, I came to fully understand the value and need to rest in regards to my life.  I learned a valuable lesson in the trip - I like my new life and all that it entails and my body liked the rest it got from constant running and lifting.  Let me explain...

I was in Spain for 8 days over X-mas this year with Mike.  Down in Sevilla, we packed clothes and shoes to run and workout.  We had it planned out in advanced: we were to lift 3 times that week and run 3 times, cook most of our meals, and bring food on the plane.  We were going to maintain the lifestyle we stick to in the UK, Period!  But, I forgot one tiny detail...we were not in the UK (and Mike apparently forgot that we were not in Thailand as he sports the lovely American travel outfit on one of the coldest days in Sevilla) and those little comforts of defined familiar footpaths and forests, a gym that we knew how to navigate, the supermarkets with foods we understood and knew, and a kitchen that was stocked with our favorite spices and condiments did not translate into Seville.  Staying at a friends house, the kitchen was great - but it was not ours.  The supermarkets had food - but not the same as what we were finally getting use to in Bristol.  The running paths were there- but the pissing down rain left us unable to explore the city in this fashion.  We found a gym, but the equipment was a little outdated and the treadmill skipped while in motion - not really a good thing when you want to go forward.  Basically, in a city where people work little, smoke lots, and go out to all hours of the morning trying to live a "healthy" lifestyle becomes a bit more work. 

But, Mike and I did walk - we walked and walked -  geo-caching one day in the process.  The walking did me good as I was able to let off steam and little stress - until it pissed rain and my leather shoes gave my blisters, but I digress...  I can't lie, I was a bit worried about my fitness level coming back to the UK.  My half marathon is in 13 weeks, so I will begin a schedule once the New Year starts.  The thought of running 13.1 miles is getting more and more nervous, scared, and excited as the days past.  Can I really afford to not run for 8 days?

Well, I answered my question today and it was a big YES!!  The run on the treadmill felt good, really good, and the hill sprints afterward even better (well then I threw my lower back out after trying to do a damn burpee by the request of my trainer, but I digress).  My body had recovered from the intense 2 1/2 months of workouts by myself and with my trainer.  My legs were fresh, my mind a little clearer, and my enthusiasm increased after realizing that I like my lifestyle back in the UK.  I like working for the organization that I am at, conducting the interviews and hanging out with new people.  I like the hiking I am now doing, exploring new parts of nature that I once before felt were off limits.  I like waking up early and going to bed at a decent hour, forsaking the pubs for a good nights sleep.  And I like the thought of pushing my limits in this race, March 28th 2010.  So overall I can say the "rest" in Sevilla was good because the 4 and 6 am nights really made me see how much I like to sleep and rest during those times.  So as the New Year approaches I still maintain my goal of taking control of my life, in all means and ways possible.  Happy Flippin New Year Everyone!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Cities and Growing Older

It's amazing how growing older can completely change your outlook on life. When I was in my early 20s I thought I had my whole life planned out.  I was to get a Ph.d in Biological/Forensic Anthropology, work in a university and do cases on the side, get a man, and live in a big city doing "city things" (whatever the hell that means).  The outdoors and I did not get along and I was fine with that because I thought that I was not suppose to "do" the country.

In my mid-20s I was still on the city track, but the career focus took a slight turn.  I found out during my Masters program that I hated forensic anthropology, preferring to work with living people instead of dead.  I still wanted the Ph.D so I made a decision and switched my focus of study to Socio-Cultural Anthropology.  After three years at Michigan State I switched my focus even further - tossing the idea of examining the use of race in genetics research and changing it to understanding the intersections of national and ethnic identity within the UK.  Nothing really that drastic to be honest - I still saw myself with a Ph.D and working in the academy.

Now I am 28 and find my future to be more uncertain then when I was 20.  I am still studying and am in the middle of my fieldwork in England.  I love it and see myself really get more involved in issues of national identity, immigration, policy, ethnic identity, and ideas about democracy and civic participation.   So essentially I have gone from looking at dead people's skeletons to understanding how living people try to keep "others" out of "their country" - good stuff!  But what has drastically changed is my idea of where I want to live.  I find that I now don't like cities - I find them claustrophobic, sterile, and overwhelming.  Now I know cities are different all around the world, but the more I visit them the more I want to get out of them.  For me the countryside and the mountains replace architecture, busy city centers, and trendy nightclubs/bars.  Don't get me wrong, cities can be great  - but I realize it really is whatever floats your boat.  In my life, at this time, the concrete jungle is being replaced by rolling hills and mountainside valleys as places to explore and enjoy.  I am ok with this.  Who knows when I get older my feelings will certainly change again.  But until they do I plan to embrace my new tastes.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Beer + Deer = Saturday Night

Most people on Saturday night call their friends, get dressed up, and go off to the pub/bar/club to drink, dance, socialize, and at the end of the night mate (if you're lucky).  But after a while this routine can get a bit boring.  The older I get the more I realize that I don't like to always go out on a Friday or Saturday, making myself look half way presentable to stand around in a crowded bar, push my way to get an over-priced half stale drink, and yell at the person next me in order to have a conversation.  Frankly, it gets old and I get tired as hell a lot earlier than I use to.  Call it being in a 3 year relationship, call me old, shit even call me annoying,  I don't care but - what you can't call me is boring because while most of Bristol was out in pubs pounding back drinks, I was out in the dark with a torch in hand taking a "walk" through the woods of Ashton Court/Leigh Woods with some good friends.  Over the course of three hours I walked through some mud, had some laughs, drank some beer, saw a shit load of deer, and managed to crack my crotch over a steel fence - beat that Saturday night!

Before I begin I want to clarify something.  I am not trying to say that I am "better" because I don't necessarily like the bar scene.  On the contrary I am really trying to illustrate how much I have seen myself grow into a woman who is taking control and dictating how she wants to live her life.  Although I am strong willed I, like many others, can be easily persuaded to do things I really don't want to do.  For a while I haven't really liked going out on the weekends - I didn't like the hangovers or what it was doing to my body. Once in a while is cool with me but I really prefer hanging out in people's homes with some good home cooked food and wine, or exploring something random. But, for some strange reason I didn't want to really admit this - weird and kind of stupid I just thought I would be seen as "boring" or "uncool".  Now, I honestly just can't be bothered with it all - so hanging out in the woods last night with Mike and Alex and Vic (the red neck loving, Utah crazy British couple in the earlier posts) was liberating in a way.  To each his own and I am finding "my own" to be the outdoors, whether in daylight or moonlight.  I like what is does in terms of keeping my mind and body sharp and I like the people I am meeting in these new environments.  But I digress...onto the night!

With beers in our rucksacks and torches in hand and on heads we set out into nearby Ashton Court, a large wooded area just a few miles outside of Bristol city.  The night was crisp and clear, with stars dancing in the night sky lighting the way through the dense woods and open plains.  Throughout the walk Vic and I talked non-stop and Alex and Mike walked ahead telling us to "shhs" so we could see deer.  At one point we saw a bunch of doe and fawn behind the fence in this picture, their eyes like green dots in the thick darkness.  After cracking open a beer ("because we could" as Vic said) we continued on until we came across a holiday party in the old Ashton mansion further into the complex.

While leaving the grounds we had to hop a 4 foot steel fence - technically the estate is not open at night so we kind of just came in through an opening in the surrounding fence so we kind of had to make our way back to that opening.  Now since the fence was not that tall I thought I could just kind of hop right over it.  Trying to be cool, I ended up slipping, with the end result being my crotch painfully landing right on top of that steel fence.  If I was a man I would have needed ice. 

Anyway, making our way back we had to cross through a deer walkway.  Vic and I just kept talkin and walkin until Alex said "would you two shut up and look to you're right!"  As we stopped and turned a clan of deer - stag, doe, and fawn - were starting back at us in the dark.  The points of the stag and the bodies of the deer in the silhouette made a dramatic impression upon the landscape.  No words were spoken for a minute and we just watched in awe as more and more deer joined the herd.  It was like a Wild West show down as the deer sized us up and we just stared back in amazement.  After a while we heared what sounds like a fawn crying...then silence...then another fawn crying...then silence...then more of the stag lets out this cry.  If I were fluent in deer I am sure it would translate to "Get you're asses off my territory" - or at least that is how Vic and I interpreted it.  So we turned and walked our asses as fast as we could out of there until we reached the little gate and were "safe" in the open dark plains. 

As we made our way back to the car Vic and I continued our conversation - a nice "getting to know you" talk in which we shared past stories and future plans.  At one point I looked around me and realized that I was in the middle of a forest, in the dark of night, walking through mud - and I was happy.  Truly happy to just "be" - to just be in the moment with little else on my mind but not falling down and keeping up with the others.  And you know what, it's a nice feeling to have.  So for me beer + deer =  a damn good Saturday night.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Easy vs Simple

My body is sore.  Not that "oh I have a little soreness in my knee or shoulder" but that "God DAMN I can't move or breathe to hard without swearing and grunting" type of sore.  It comes and goes, mostly comes after a training session and goes before the next to only re-emerge and start the process once again.  Just when I am comfortable with a routine or workout my trainer (God bless his little ass) flips the script and I leave the session a sweaty stinky mess - and sore the next day.

Now, I can't complain to much.  As of yesterday I am down a full 20 lbs since I started September 24, 2009 and 7% body fat.  Not to bad if I say so myself (and I do). My body is leaning out and I can start to see myself again in the mirror.  It is a face I had lost for the better part of a year (and a bit longer if I am being honest with myself).  But the work it takes to get back to the face, and body, I want and remember is unbelievable.  I realized that this journey is teaching me something really important - the different between EASY and SIMPLE.  Let's break it down.

Life is really it is.  You are born, you do that whole growing up thing, you get a job or get married or be a bum, you might have some kids or a dog, you get older, and then you die (and yea I hate to break it to you, you will die).  That is simple - but it doesn't mean it's easy.  Being a kid is not easy, nor are the different inequalities associated with what type person you are.  Relationships aren't easy, they take time to foster and work.  School and jobs are not easy, you must "prove" yourself worthy to be in school or have that job and once in you must then "prove" you belong.  Again, depending on your race, class, gender, sexual orientation, religion, age, disability, (you get my picture) your life may be more difficult than another s.  People around you are not easy - some are too loud, too noisy, too smelly (I live in Europe, lets be real), or just plain annoying.  Then that whole death thing is kind of downer as well - "When will I die?  How will I die?" are not easy questions to ask or answer.  So, simply put, life is not easy.

But in society we are trained to always find the easy way out and if it doesn't work just give it up and wait for the next easy fix.  In terms of weight management and fat reduction this becomes a problem.  It is not easy to lose weight - but it is simple.  Eat less and move more...or burn more calories than you consume.  That sure as hell ain't easy, but the diet industry makes it seem so.  Take this pill, eat this food, do this workout - 20 minutes a day, eat all you want and lose weight - its all a bunch of hype but people buy into it because it seems easy.

So I finally came to realize the difference between simple and easy.  Simply put I make sure I burn more calories than I consume.  But I accept that this is hard fuckin work (excuse the "fuck").  Being conscious of what goes in my mouth, training at least 5 times a week and making the time to do so, coming to terms with soreness and stepping outside my comfort zones, signing up for races that I am afraid to do - all of this is not easy but I have come to realize it is necessary for my own personal understanding of what is healthy for my body.  I was ok with the fact that school and academia were not easy and so I work my ass off to get to where I need to be.  I realize that having a relationship is not easy so I work to make sure we stay connected as we both grow older and change.  But I never realized the work really needed to keep my body at a healthy body composition until I began to consciously work at it.

To everyone out there doing the 30 day 30 run challenge, the 50 day Tom Venuto holiday challenge, or any other training regime realize that what you are doing is not easy, but its simple.  Work it out.

Sunday, December 6, 2009


This piece is a little different from the rest as it deals with my academic side - a side I thought I would not address in this setting. But I have come to realize that anthropology as a disciple and academia as an institution are deeply intertwined in my personal identities and goals. After presenting at the 2009 American Anthropological Association's annual meeting in Philadelphia, PA I realized that I can mold my different interests and identities together in order to create a life, and a career, that I want to live.  Let me explain.

I am an anthropologist.  It's what I do and what I have come to love.  But, in recent years I have intensely began to question my relationship with this field.  Surrounded by pretentious middle and upper class white students and faculty who view me as "the minority on minority fellowship" I have developed a jaded view of the purposes and intent of anthropology as a disciple.  I came into this field with the purpose of trying to tackle issues of inequality and human rights through research.  Now, as a 5th year Ph.D candidate, with two Masters in different aspects of the subject, I have come to question the sincerity of the disciple I was so enamored with when I was 14 years old.  Facing institutional racism from all universities I have attended, dealing with colonial mindsets, being seen as the "other" by so called colleagues, coming to terms with white privilege at every turn, and understanding the impact of sexism within the larger academia I have come to realize that without anthropology I would never had realized these larger processes were operating...but that it is also the practice of anthropology by larger anthropologist which allows these inequalities to exist (within the academy). (Yes, I said it!)

But, yesterday in a session that honored the memory of Katherine Dunham, an African-American anthropologist who created the Dunham technique in dance, my faith and excitement for the field came back with a vengeance.  "The Matriarch of Black Dance, Dunham used dance as her ethnographic representation.  In the session I attended various Black anthropologist (junior and senior faculty) used dance, song, instruments, script, and the audience to illustrate the impact and importance Dunham had on the deconstruction and reinterpretation of ballet.  The overall presentation was spell-bounding as the academics brought the theory and technique to life, bringing a much needed energy and creativity to the presentation format.  After the two hours the group was given a standing ovation.

This talk breathed new life into my academic bones as the thoughts and techniques I only entertained in my head were given a space to become reality.  The creator of the format, Dr. Elizabeth Chin from Occidental College, is trying to shake up the dusty old academy and allow for new and more innovative forms of expression and dissemination.   As a student this was what I needed.  The use of visuals and art has always been in the back of head with little pieces coming to the surface, but fear of denial and "unacceptability" keeps the rest hidden.   Not now.  The spirit of Katherine Dunham was brought back to life in that session.  Now I look forward to bringing my creative side into my academic endeavors.  The old academy needs some shaking up and I look forward to being apart of that change.

Now I journey back to Bristol with new ideas in my head and new energy in my heart.

Sunday, November 29, 2009


A few days late, but oh so worth the wait , Thanksgiving 2009 was great (I just had to do it)!  But seriously, my first Thanksgiving in the good old UK was a day of non stop cooking and cleaning and a night of food, drinks, friends, and Pictionary.

 Mike and I spent all of Thursday shopping, picking up the ingredients for our feast on Friday.  Flour, cornmeal, macaroni, cheese, turkey, ham, veggies, fresh herbs...and more plates, utensils, chairs, towels, glasses and a borrowed table and chairs from our neighbors were collected that day in order to make Friday's feasts a hit.  Friday saw a 6:45 am start for Mike.  Prep was a few hours and cooking began once the clock struck 10am.

I channeled my mother and made the infamous mac and cheese and cornbread.  Mike focused on the turkey and ham, mashed potatoes from scratch, napa cabbage salad, and broccoli.  We both sorted out the deviled eggs and tray of cheese, meats, and crackers for appetizer and Mike found he had bakers thumb when he whipped out a homemade sweet potato pie  (including making the crust), toffee bars, and no-bake cookies.  By the time the guests arrived at 7pm we were tired and unable to eat.

But, oh the rewards of it all when the 4 couples who came dug in and had themselves a big American Thanksgiving dinner.  6 Brits, 1 Frenchmen, and 1 woman from Prague left us a bit worried that our American foods would be ill received.  Yet, most came back for seconds and the wine was always topped up.  (Below are our Breacon Becon hiking, Utah red-neck loving British friends Alex and Vic).

Our friend Pierre (who is the Frenchmen if you hadn't guest) was my favorite of the evening.  As he navigated through the sea of food his senses seemed overwhelmed with "What tis this?" rolling off the tip of his tongue every 2 minutes.  It's interesting as staples in my kitchen growing up like mac and cheese and cornbread are really an exotic dish to many others.  A sweet tasting bread that is not desert, rather a side to go with veggies (like collard greens) seemed odd to some.  But, everyone tried the dishes with praises sung all around.

We couldn't ask for much more.  After dinner Pictionary was played, with four different accents and nationalities around the table making the game a long slow process (oh and the wine and cognac didn't help either).  By 11:20pm people were tired, stuffed, and drunk.  The night ended with guests leaving with doggy bags in hand and a small taste of an American holiday that leaves me thankful for making new friends in a country that I am coming to love as the weeks pass.  So to all I say Happy Thanksgiving. 

Friday, November 27, 2009

Holiday Challenge

(Song for your enjoyment while reading. One of my favorite that gets me going when I am down. And you know you love country in that undercover way!)

In my weight loss post a few weeks back I mentioned a book that really got me to focus make on my my health and mental well-being.  Well that author, Tom Venuto, has created a Holiday Challenge that I accepted on November 22, 2009.  Some of you may be asking yourself, why in the hell would you do that?  Well, I'll tell you why...cause I want to.  The fact that I actually want to makes me excited to do it.  Let me explain.

Holidays can be alot of fun.  Friends, family (if you like yours), booze, food, and jolly good times.  Really, after Halloween the holidays are crammed down our throats as department stores begin to decorate, Christmas music is pumped out 24/7 (starting at Starbucks), and people start to make plans for Christmas parties and holiday travel.  It is all around us and in that frenzy many times we forget about what the holiday season is suppose to be about, along with our own sanity and well being.  We begin to stress over getting others the right present, getting to the stores at the butt crack of down for the right deals (I mean really, who in the hell thinks its a good idea to camp outside of Best Buy for a TV or Nintendo Wii?  I'd rather look for a hot one on the corner and pay $10 bucks more and avoid the insane moms with the strollers who want to run you and you're little dog over, but I'm just sayin), going to all the right Christmas parties, and making sure family members are happy.  So really, the holidays can make you go crazy, have you eating to much, drinking even more, and by the time New Years day rolls around you are tired, bloated, look 3 years older, and all you really want to do is have a lie in - but you can't cause it's the New Year and you need to make that New Year's resolution to drop weight and get into a bikini by summer.  Damn, I'm tired even thinking about it!
Sister Big Bone (couldn't embed it -damn copyright across international borders infringement)!

Now, some of you might be thinking "damn Nicole you sound like Scrooge on a good day."  So, let me explain further.  For me the holidays are a time of celebration and mourning.  My family is not that close.  They are not that keen on keeping in touch once you leave the Chicagoland area.  I am never in that area, therefore I tend to be on my own during the holidays.  In the past I traveled and didnt think anything of it - I made this front like I didn't care.  Yet, as I get older I find myself longing for that family connection - no matter how much of a pain in the ass they can be (and are to be honest).   I look at Mike and his family and I see how a family can be.   Yesterday his whole family was over at his Aunt's for Thanksgiving and they skyped him to say hello.  It was like something off of a tv commercial - the whole family is over talking and cooking and the one son is off somewhere else in the world.  But through the wonderful advantages of internet they can be together.  It made me sad as I longed for that with my own family, but I know it will never happen.

However,  instead of me drowning my sorrows in cheap wine and turkey, what I can do is focus on my own goals - and one of the main ones is to get myself in a body that can go long distances and not be in pain.  The holiday challenge seemed like a logical avenue to pursue.  In doing this the holidays are not a time for me to be sad, but instead they become a time where I can learn to enjoy myself in new surroundings with Mike, make new friends, and get out there and explore.

So, I have 50 days to transform my body composition in the hopes of winning a 5-day all inclusive trip to Jamaica.  Do I think I can win it?  Well, HELL YEA I DO!  A body composition challenge focused on body fat lose, not just weight lose, is exactly what I need to keep my spirits and hopes up this holiday season.  I am tired of having to travel to escape confrontation with the holidays.  This Christmas Mike and I go to Spain to be with another friend who has just moved to Europe, but for New Years we will be celebrating it at our flat, with one drink in hand and stomachs flatter (I know that sounds counterproductive but roll with me here).  I wouldn't have it any other way.  As the days go on I will keep updating my status, but know that this challenge was just what the doctor ordered for me this holiday season.  Waddle on friends...

Monday, November 23, 2009

And now the moment you were all waiting for...

Ok not really, but here is footage from that crazy hike in Wales.  Notice the sound of the rain against the cover of the phone (you thought I was going to say window pane!).  At this point we were still heading on, thinking we could hold out on the weather.  But, Mike's pants were taking a beating so Alex constructed the infamous hillbilly trousers.

Oh the joys of iPhones on mountain tops. Life can't get much better!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

At least I had on the right pants!

I often exaggerate for the hell of it.  Stories are made for exaggeration and I love to tell a good story.  But on my hike yesterday in Wales with Mike, Alex, and Vicky no amount of exaggeration can compare to the actual events that unfolded in my first attempt to hike a small mountain in Southern Wales.

Mike and I are newbies to this whole hiking culture.  I told myself that once I moved to Bristol I wanted to begin to hike. The region is known for its walking and hiking trails, and the landscape leaves you coming back for more with its breathtaking rolling fields of green and jagged rock formations.  Our first walk was a gentle 2 1/2 hour country stroll in the posh Cotswold area with another couple we know.  One small hill was about as intense as we got that day, so Mike and I were looking for more of an adventure.   Well, we got what we asked for when we met Alex and Vic.  Meeting initially at a couchsurfing party in town we got together with them last Wednesday.  Mike and Alex had some "man time" rock climbing at the local center and Vic and I met at the pub to talk about me playing on a local netball team (very British game that I don't know a hell of alot of about but I'll give a go as the Brits would say).  Vic and I got to talking and found out that we both liked hiking, so we decided to go on a hike Saturday in Wales.

I realized before we went that I needed some kind of hiking pants.  Rain and wind are common in these parts and I know my baggy sweatpants weren't going to cut it.  So Mike and I went to a local outdoor shop in town and I got myself a pair - Mike decided that he didn't want to make the investment so opted to wear jeans.  This would be prove to be a dumbass mistake - but we will get to that later.

The day of the hike we meet up with Vic and Alex at their house.  As we put our stuff into their car Mike and I notice they both have their own day packs, walking sticks, base layer clothing, and GPS devices.  All we had was a small day pack from Mike's backpack, some sandwiches, a camera, and raincoats - but I at least had on the right pants.  But, what the hell, it wouldn't be that bad right?

We arrive after an hour and a half drive, during which we made 2 pee stops, went searching for a Geo-cache on the side of the road (will explain in a later post), and I attempted not to throw up in the back seat due to car sickness on the small ass Welsh winding roads.  Coming up to the start to the start of the climb Alex comments that the clouds are a bit low, and visibility is only about 15 meters, but he has blankets, food, a first aid kit, and GPS so if we get stuck we can make shelter. I am thinking - "What the fuck (excuse the language for some) is he talking about?"  But I smile and say cool.  Then we begin and I tell you I was shitting myself on the ascent up.  The first 25, not 5 or 10, but 25 minutes was a straight uphill walk.  As my thighs began to burn from the unusual movement over rocky uneven ground I began to think to myself - "I am really doing this!"  Vic stayed back with me and we played name the US states and UK counties.  Needless to say she knew a hell of alot more States then I did counties, but it made the initial climb up easier.

Reaching the ridge we kept walking.  The flat ground felt a lot better, but the wind and rain kept coming.  By this time Mike's pants are soaked so Alex decides to make him some hillbilly trousers (video footage to come later).  Taking bin liners Alex wrapped them around Mike's legs and duck taped them up.  Lasting a total of 5 minutes, the liners decided to quit as the rain and wind kept coming.  All I can say is that I told him so, but really mother nature did a better job of showing him to respect the elements.

But, after the wind picked up more, to the point we were all walking on slant with the wind howling at us as pelts of rain are stinging our faces, we decided that we needed to turn back so that we could make it down to the car.  Walking back we had to cross over a small deep puddle and then a small waterfall.  Now, being the newbie I mistook light dirt for a rock.  So I stepped out on this imaginary rock and ended up with half my leg in water and mud.  Mike pulled me out as I am shouting "goddammit I thought it was rock!"

Ah, but at least I had on the right pants.  Through high winds, constant rains, and a leg in a muddy wet ditch my lower half remained relatively dry throughout the walk.  Mike on the other hand, with jeans on and hillbilly over-trousers did not fare so well.  Soaked through completely, once we reached the car they had to come off.  Now, this would not be so bad if we were going home but wet, cold, and hungry a pub with a good fire was in order.  So, with a blue beach towel around his waist Mike walked into the local pub with his American kilt on and warmed himself by the fire with a Jameson on the rocks in hand.

Overall, it was an amazing day.  I learned that gear is essential, along with a change of clothes.  I learned that walking sticks are the best thing ever invented - ok well not the best but they come in handy going down steep inclines in the rain.  But, I also learned that I can conquer my fears.  I always dreamed of climbing mountains and trekking through barren lands, but I was always afraid of actually going through with it.  Doubt is more crippling than any disease as it makes you complacent in your everyday.  For me, my everyday was not fulfilling.  Yesterday, in the wind and rain on the side of that ridge with good people I felt alive.  Truly alive.  That is a feeling I never want to give up.  Although we had to turn back, I know I am getting closer to my goal of conquering my fears and climbing a mountain on my 30th bday in South America.  So I learned yesterday that with a little determination, a few laughs, and a good set a pants I can make it.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


This will be short and sweet.  It has been 8 weeks since I began to focus on me and results are showing.  My trainer today poked, pinched, and weighed this body of mine and now I am down 16 pounds; about 10 inches over my chest, back, waist, and thighs; and 5% body fat from when I started.  Who said a bit of sweat and a hell of a lot of "f you's" don't pay off!  Next time, a piece on the holiday season.  Stay tuned...I know you are waiting!

Oh and for the curious this is me being very British...enjoying a proper walk through the countryside.  Cherri-O for now

Sunday, November 15, 2009


Today is my dad's birthday. He would have been 75 years old. Three and half years ago I was in Seattle, WA with my friend Agatha. We were traveling up to Vancouver, BC in Canada the next day. I was to give my first professional talk as a Ph.D student, on a panel with my adviser. At 10:00pm Pacific time I received a call on my cell phone from my 16 year old brother Sean. Agatha and I were about to go out for dinner and drinks. I answer and say "What the hell are you doing up?" Sean replies "Dad's dead." I don't remember much after that. The rest of the weekend was a blur as I gave the talk and mostly drank. The rock of the family, and the sanity of my mother, died that night.

So who is my dad?  Well to me he was a funny, smart-ass, ginger, caring guy.  Oh, and he was old (I mean when you baby pic is in black and white and they used those bulbs to take it you know your old).  His age made him different from the other dads when I was growing up.  By the time I was born he was already 45, was born in the Second World War, lived on rations, contracted polio before antibiotics were discovered (I mean that is pretty damn old), been in the Air Force, ran bootleg liquor in Oklahoma, and had married and divorced.  I was to be the first of 7 kids my mom and him had together (with two passing away), but dad was already a father so when I was born on August 21, 1981 I had an 18 year old brother to look after me.

Growing up on the far Southside of Chicago with a stay at home dad who looked like Santa Claus and a mother who no one ever saw made my family the odd ones in the neighborhood.

But, you know what I liked it.  Times were hard but it made who I am today.  I learned quick that "normal" was relative.  I also learned that my mom had alot of issues that my dad kept secret.  So I guess my dad was also a good mediator.  He knew when to talk and when to keep quiet, what to tell and what to "forget."  After he died, I saw the work he had put into the family to keep us together.  It killed him in the end really.  His mind and body just gave up as old age and the affects of polio rippled through his body.  I was told he died of pneumonia, but I will never be sure.  Mom can never give you a straight answer. 

But today I remember who he was, and is, in my heart.  Dad was my best friend.  I told him when I first kissed a guy (his response was to tell me, after I asked why the guy wouldn't talk to me again, to "not give it up so easy next time" with a big laugh attached), he bought my first pads and bras, watched me play sports in high school and college when he could, and ordered me my first Archaeology magazine (even though I was doing Anthropology he at least got the overall field right).  We would talk every other day when I moved to Louisiana and then to Michigan (one day he told me I needed friends).  I would ask for his advice and he would always say "I can't live your life, you have to decide what is best for you."  I liked that because even though he missed me and worried about my random travels around the country, he let me be free and allowed me to explore places, things, and ideas that he never could imagine.  He loved me for me and that is all you can ask for in a parent. 

This picture was taken on his 68th birthday.  I was living in Louisiana and my older brother Rob and his wife were still stationed in Sicily.  Schyler was in college somewhere in Iowa and the other three kids were in Chicago, living at home.  All 7 of us had not been in the same country, in the same state, or in the same house for 10 years.  So we decided to surprise dad and all come home.  Rob bought my ticket up and picked me up from the airport.  Dad was already shocked to see his oldest son and daughter-in-law in the country, but he was double shocked when he walked up the stairs and saw Schyler and I sitting in the kitchen.  By this time I had lost 70 lbs, grown my hair long, and wore make-up.  My dad looked at me and said "You're beautiful".  It was the sweetest thing anyone had ever told me.  I looked at him and said thanks and gave him the cowboy hat you see in the picture.  Being dad, he said "Ok no more surprises, I don't think my heart can take it."

So now he is gone, but his spirit is somewhere.   Us kids have become a little closer since his passing, but the family is a bit broken.  My mother can't stop her grieving and so takes is out on us, but I am learning to deal with her.   As I come to terms with my dad's death I realize that all I can do is pass on his memory to my kids and let them know that their granddad was a one wild, crazy-ass man who I love with all my heart.  In my quest to live my life I honor my dad.  

Happy birthday dad.

Thursday, November 12, 2009


Mike (my boyfriend for those not in the know) likes to cook.  I mean he really likes to cook.  Since moving to the UK, and being without a job at the moment, Mike has taken up cooking as a past time.  Recipes taken from Gordon Ramsey (right) and Jamie Oliver (below), along with a bit imagination has made Mike a wizard in the kitchen (and it leaves me time to do work).  It also helps cut costs as we hardly go out to eat anymore and its been helping me drop this excess weight in preparation for the half marathon.

Honestly, I didn't even think food was something worth even writing about until a trip to the local Tesco this past Sunday.  That day we made our way to the store after a failed attempt at swimming in the local pool (damn families with their bazillion kids hogging all the flippin lanes, but I digress...). Mike wanted to make homemade wheat bread  and meat lasagna that day.  I was to bake a whole chicken and have a side of broccoli.  Good food, but nothing that shouts WOW (well the food was pretty damn good so a little wow might be in order).  While checking out the cashier made a comment that it was nice to see people buying real food, as most who come through her lines either have ready made meals or boxed goods.  This made me stop and think.  How come in a grocery store, with fresh produce and proteins, is it becoming a rarity to see people buying "real food"?

So when we got home I pulled out all the stuff we bought from the store and laid on the counter to see what was so mysterious about our food selection. 

My conclusion: nothing really.  It's just food.  For about $130.00 USD we were able to get enough things to last us for up to two weeks, minus veggies which last only about 5-7 days before we have to restock.  Now, I hear the argument that buying food like this is expensive, but that is bullshit.  When you add up the prepackaged meals, the take-aways, and the boxed goods many times you end up spending more money because you are still hungry due to the lack of nutrients.  Or, you hear people say they don't have time, but the same people seem to have time for the pub, tv, or to just sit around and bitch about how much time they don't have.  I use to do this, and this is what allowed me to get into a routine of binging, not working out, drinking, bitching about feeling fat, repeat.  When I would look at my bank account I wondered where all my money had gone - one day I realized, sadly, that is was mainly me going to restaurants and take-away shops.

Now some of you may be saying to yourself "Well in America we have the big fast food companies to blame with their advertisements and locations in disadvantaged areas that is causing a rise in obesity."  If you are saying that I would agree with you to an extent.  It is big business and in a capitalist system business tends to win, many times over basic ethical and moral concerns.  But, I think it goes a bit beyond that.  In the UK the idea of drive-through is not there because there is no space. Simple, so you think that their obesity rates are lower.  BUT, they aren't that much lower because instead of the McDonalds or KFC on ever corner you have Kebab shops, pizza joints, and Indian take-aways that are all open late for the "after pub" crowd, and they are cheap.  Liquor + cheap take away food on every corner = a growing epidemic of overweight unhealthy populations.  So it goes back the beginning of my post of why, as people, are we reluctant to eat real food anymore?

If you look behind the smoke and mirrors of all the weight loss shows, infomercials, diet books, tabloid coverage of celebrity weight loss/gain it  comes down to humans renegotiating our relationship with food.   Of course many may, and will, find holes in my theory, but I think when we find it "abnormal", or label people "snotty" or "pretentious", to buy fresh fruits, veggies, and meats then there is a problem.  When I was growing up we did not have a lot of money, but we ate mostly real food.   Now, I didn't understand the idea of portion control and balancing my plate, but overall it was real food.  When you are feeding a large family on little money my parents realized buying a few pounds of dried beans and a large sack of rice was more filling, more nutritious, and least expensive then sending the family down to McDonalds for a Big Mac with fries.  As a society were are now over-educated in some respects about food, and at the same time ignorant on basic facts about nutrition.  Maybe this is the new revolutionary idea that the young generation takes up on its quest to be an "eco-friendly green planet."  I don't know, but next time you reach for that packaged meal or that easy take-away snack ask yourself if you can wait till you go home and make yourself a proper meal.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

I don't like my feet off the ground

Yesterday was a day of learning.  First I learned that I had a tight groin (please see previous post for explanation) and second I learned I don't like my feet leaving the ground.  Let me explain.

I run here some of the time. I like it.  In the middle of the city there is big open space and footpaths all around.  It's a British thing - people should have access to public space and so the government makes sure there are parks and footpaths throughout the country for people to enjoy.  So when in Britain, do as the Britons and I use this public space for my enjoyment (see below).  Bristol then becomes a great city to really get out there and enjoy the English countryside.  Running, biking, canoeing, hiking, and yes rock climbing.  Situated near numerous gorges Bristol boasts a lively and active rock climbing culture.

So I thought to myself - "Self, why not try to do more things Brits do" - so Mike and I enrolled in a "tester" rock climbing course at a local center.

Undercover Rock

We go and I get all excited cause I think I going to love it and that afterward Mike and I will enroll in the beginners course, then we can get certified, and live happily ever after - ok maybe not but I thought as least this was one extreme sport we could do together.  Then I actually see the climbing wall. I look up and my heart dropped - "What in the hell was I thinking?"  But, I still think I can do this.  For this session there are 4 of us total, Mike and I then two British girls.  Our instructor Sean tells us that fear is natural so just go with it.  I'm like cool.  We get suited up (man I wish I had a pic, I felt and looked liked a slightly browned sausage with a helmet, but I digress...) and then it's my turn.  I step up and grab hold, I then make is about 2 feet off the ground, looked down and said "I don't like this." It took me another 5 minutes to take my hands off the wall, lean back, and safely belay down to the ground.

Ok, first attempt - its expected.  Mike goes and of course he climbs up the wall in like 10 seconds and gets to try harder and harder climbs during the hour.  Me on the other hand, I was his support.  I  tightened the rope as he went up and released it on the way down.  After three futile attempts by me my instructor says, well let's try you on the easiest route.  I'm like ok, so we go and of course its the kids wall.  Now, I know that I need to swallow my pride and realize that I am new to this and heights aren't my thing but your ego gets a bit damaged when, as a 28 year old woman, I can't make it past 2 feet off the ground and next to me are four 7 year olds climbing a difficult route...wait for it...BLINDFOLDED!  YES, a kids team were practicing next me and they were racing each other blindfolded as dads stood around cheering them on.  I, on the other hand, couldn't even go up the damn safety ladder next to the wall and just belay down.  At the end of the hour I was tired, my hands were sore, and my ego was slightly (oh hell, really), bruised.

On the way home Mike asked me what I thought was holding me back.  I thought about it and realized that I really don't like the idea of my feet leaving the ground.  This has also been my problem in learning to swim. I am ok up to 6 feet of water, but when I can't touch the bottom I freak out and sink - very counterproductive.  Same with the climbing business, I trust the rope and the pulley system, but once I can't put my feet on the ground, and all I can do is go up and rely on someone to bring me down to the ground, then the sensors in my brain and body shut down.  My legs start twitching and I looked like I'm cracked out on meth.  But, I don't want to give up.  Climbing would help me in my mountaineering so I think I may try hypnotherapy.  I have been talking about it for years, but what else can I do?  My mind is tweaked out and goes into overload once the ground and feet part ways.  So I'll wait a month and try again and next time I won't be next to blindfolded 7 year olds.  I mean DAMN! 

Friday, November 6, 2009

Tight groin

I never knew I had a tight groin until today.  Once a week I meet with my yoga instructor Nicole.  I found her on one day about 3 weeks ago while I was looking for a good astrologer - yes an astrologer.  Her prices were reasonable and I knew that I needed to become more flexible so my back would stop freezing up (oh yea and maybe drop some of the excess "lovin" I had accumulated over the past 12 month, but I digress..).  We emailed, she seemed legit and so I went to her house in Clifton (the really really nice area of town mind you) and...she ends up being American!

Yoga Nicole - she is the one on the right

It was funny at the time, although not as funny now on paper.  But, anyway, we talked about what I wanted to get out of yoga and she explained that in the first month we would go through the basic yoga poses before we did an actual flow.  I like this - I never really learned how to "do" yoga, so when I went to classes I was always in the back watching all the skinny ass, yoga pants and tank top wearing, women doing these intricate and painful moves.  I always thought that I had a weak core and tight hamstrings, explaining why some moves were hard for me to do.  Plus, standing over 6 feet tall makes that whole bending over, down, and backwards thing just plain unnatural and awkward looking.  But, today I was proven wrong - my core is actually pretty strong, you just can't see it through my excess layers of skin, yet!  Hamstrings are a bit tight, but nothing like they were before.  No, today I found out that I have a tight groin.  Yes, a tight groin and before you laugh it is painful man.  And really who in the hell thinks of their groin as tight and not think sex off the bat?  When did I find this out you may ask?  I found this out attempting to do this move called "Warrior 2"

 (In case you are wondering, no I have not turned into a skinny white lady who wears yoga pants and a tank top - this is a model.)  To correctly do this pose you have to have a long stance with your back foot pointed at a 45 degree angle - not 60 or 90 but 45 degrees.  The front leg should be bend, but not over the ankle and your hips should be pointed out, not in the direction of your legs.  Your arms come out and you pull back with your arms, but pull forward with your legs.  Point blank - this move hurt liked a bitch and I felt like someone was ripping my groin out of my body.

Yet, at the end of the session my body felt good.  A bit tired from the run this morning, but nicely stretched with sufficent "uh's" and "you want me to do what" released through the session, the overall meeting was good and I feel myself slowly understanding this thing called yoga.  So I continue to go to Nicole once a week until I am confident enough to walk back into the studio, knowing that I can bust out moves like this guy.

 Ok, maybe not...but as least I won't be intimidated by the overly flexible women and half naked men who "do" yoga with their slender chiseled physiques.  With my basketball shorts on and old t-shirt I will show them how this tall brown girl works a pose.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Weight Loss

   Ah the weight loss section.  As a woman living in the Western world issues with weight are almost inevitable.  Being to fat or to thin, not having enough ass or way to much, having to dark or to light of skin, boobs to big or to low - essentially any body part that can be picked apart and viewed as "not right" is constantly on the lips of the media and therefore on the minds of most women.  The ideal Western woman body (white, 5'7, long straight hair, big perky boobs, flat ass, small waist, and 95 lbs) is one that is unachievable for most, yet we all fall victim in trying to reach this unattainable ideal.  Celebrities are constantly in the news defending their "fat ass" or telling their "secret" of a skinny body.  Even Oprah  - one of the most powerful women in the world, I mean she picked and elected our last President for God-sakes - still feels like she has to defend her weight to the world.

I have my own weight issues as many women do. I am not unique in this respect and find it sad and infuriating that weight becomes the focal point of womanhood throughout Western society.  But, my weight loss, gain, loss story is one that is central to my journey and so I tell it as a way to finally get it off my chest.

I was "fat" - not "thick." "big boned," or a "little chunky" but good old fashioned "fat" growing up.  My mom is from the South and my parents owned a take-out rib restaurant so I was around rich, indulgent, enticing food all the time.   I ate when I was hungry, happy, and celebrating.  But, I also ate when I was sad, lonely, and scared.  The latter feelings are ones I felt most of the time.  My mother was a hard person to live with.  Her expectations of us, her kids, were ones that were, and still are, unfeasible.  So I ate, and I keep eating.  The more people told me I was fat, the more I ate.  Why not, I figured if you thought I was fat then I might as well live up to your expectations.  But, I was also tall, really tall, and so I also figured that since I was big one way might as well be big the other way.

Interesting enough I was also athletic and pretty good at the sports I played.  I found solace in volleyball as my height and weight were a benefit - well really the height, the weight just made things harder to do.  But it got me through high school, and living with my mom, and it helped me find an initial niche when I went to college.

OHHH college - I loved every minute of it and hated about half of it.  I entered college at around 270lbs and left weighing 333lbs.  I made friends, went out, drank, learned some stuff in class - everything you associate with college life.  But, I was never truly happy as I always knew I was the "funny fat friend" people could dump their emotions on.  I allowed myself to be a garbage disposal for others emotions (I was use to it with my mom so really didn't know any better) and I turned my body into a dump for food.  I didn't date because I thought I was ugly and fat, and I didn't take care of myself because I thought I wasn't good enough.  Now- before I go further I am not looking for sympathy.   I say these things because at the time they were real and part of my reality.  This was my worldview and everything I did was because this is how I understood myself.  But I digress...

Let's go on.  When I left college I was really unhappy with how I looked, how I felt, and who I was hanging around with.  My family life was not the best and the "friends" I held close to me were fickle to say the least.  I moved down to Louisiana on my own to start my Masters program and this is where I essentially started to change how I saw myself and the world around me. 

I was hot, sweaty, and overall uncomfortable when I first arrived in Baton Rouge.  So, I decided that maybe I needed to lose weight.  I hadn't weighed myself in years, afraid of what the scale would say - "YOU'RE FAT DUDE!"  When I stepped on the scale, that is what it said.  333lbs.  Now, that is alot of goddamn weight for a 22 year old ex-college athlete to hold, even at 6'3".  So I joined LA weight loss and dropped over 80 lbs with them in 2 years.  Interestingly, I didn't really learn how to balance diet and exercise.  Instead, I learned how to manipulate what I ate to achieve a 2lb weight loss per week.   In doing that I began to have an unhealthy relationship with food once again.  This time I was afraid to eat certain things like "carbs" thinking this is what made me fat.  I didn't really work out because I was told lifting weights would make me gain weight instead of lose it.  Looking back the whole program was shit, but it got me results and in this world that is what the consumer wants - results.

During the summers of 2005 and 2006 I worked at two weight loss camps on the East Coast.  These places were great because it created a bubble where all I had to do was work out, watch overweight kids, and eat "healthy well balanced" food made for me.  So I lost more, this time the "healthy" way and was down to 210lb by the Fall 2006.  I looked damn good, but all I saw in the mirror was a fat girl who was just less fat.  No one warned me about the whole mental aspect of weight loss - not at LA weight loss, Weight Watchers, of the two camps I went to - and I didn't see it coming.  How does someone deal with looking at a whole new body and person after seeing themselves a certain way for 25 years?  To look in the mirror and not recognize the person staring back at you is a mind-fuck (excuse the language, but it really is).  So as I was trying to wrap me head around the new physical me I was also dealing with the death of my father, a crazy ass mother, living in a city that I hated, and completing a Ph.D. program. (Really I was dealing with life and how it can bitch slap you up the face three times and then bend you over, but again I digress..)  That is the thing fat camps and weight loss programs don't do.  They don't really teach you how to live in the real world and embrace a new lifestyle of healthy eating and exercise.

The Problem with the Biggest Loser Show

So over the next 3 years I went up and down in weight as I balanced a stressful Ph.D. program, applying for grants, and a new relationship.  The relationship was a good thing - we are still together and Mike moved to the UK with me to start a new life.  But the other junk really took over my life and so I fell right back into bad habits that I picked up as a kid.  I let food, and now alcohol, become my escape instead of running or lifting weights.  Issues with my mom, which I will write on in a future post, began to come back and cut away at my self esteem.  Being in academia with all the inherent psychological racism and elitism cut down the drive I had to keep going.  So I stopped eating healthy and I drank alot, ballooning back up to 280lbs by the summer of 2009.

This picture was hard for me to look at, but it was a reality check.  I moved away from East Lansing, MI July 6, 2009 and left for a 2 month trip around SE Asia, Istanbul, and Barcelona before settling with Mike in Bristol, England.  Throughout that trip I was uncomfortable, lazy, hot, and sad.  I saw amazing sights and met wonderful people but I didn't feel like me.  I was back to how I felt when I was 21 leaving college and going to Louisiana.  I had to take a step back and start re-evaluating what the hell I wanted out of life.  In order for me to be happy with myself I had to take control over what I put in my body as well as what I did with my body.  Did I want to be 30 and unable to walk - no.  Did I want to wake up with constant back pain the rest of my life - no. Did I want to buy another wardrobe because I couldn't fit into my clothes - no.   That is when I decided that I needed to start training for something and the half-marathon came to mind.

Now, I am down 10lbs, with a goal of getting to under 200lbs and 20-18% body fat by August 31, 2010.  It really is not that hard to lose weight - it is called eating sensibly and exercising.  Calories in vs calories out, but that is not sexy and it requires...guess what...WORK.   I am ok with that.  The other ways seemed like quit fixes for me - eat these things and you will lose weight or go away to a fat camp and shed all that unwanted excess lovin.  But really it took me years to put on the weight so it might take years to get it off.  Like I said in my first post I am happier all around now as I am living in place I like and have a boyfriend that is supportive and who I love.  I also started to invest financially in me - instead of eating out 3-5 times a week or going drinking I pay to have a trainer once a week and do yoga with an instructor once a week as well.  I keep a food journal and write down what goes in my mouth - this helped me see what I was actually putting in my body which allowed me to see all the crap I was disposing inside myself.  Then, as all academics do, I read a book that really helped me rethink the whole "dieting culture."

The Body Fat Solution.  I love this book - and no I am not trying to promote it for profit - it was the only pic I found that I could drag to my desktop and put in the blog!  But anyway, I like how Venuto first addressed the psychological aspects of weight gain and weight loss before he even thought about going into food and exercise.  He starts with explaining the power of the mind, citing scientific studies as his form of proof.  He says that positive thinking is a great thing - but not in the vein of The Secret.  He contends that when you start to think that you can do something, and you create vision boards, give yourself daily affirmations, and create goals that work towards the result, then you are training your mind to actually accomplish that goal.  So the positive thinking, or reinforcement, gets you to take action towards accomplishing something - like weight loss.  Honestly, this makes commonsense - but as my dad use to day not all sense is common (thanks Dad).

So the fact that he is grounded in science helped me to see the connection between the spiritual awaking of positive consciousness and the physical reality of "diet and exercise." 

I find creating goals, setting targets, and having a plan allow me to balance the various parts of my life.   Really, it is not that much more work.  We all plan our days, our weeks, even our years.  Our calendars are full of "to do lists" about work and social life, so why not include your physical and mental life on it as well.  If we don't take of our mind and bodies then how in the hell are we to be productive in any other aspects of our lives?  Don't believe the hype - you can't lose 30 lbs in 30 days if it took you 5 months to put it on - I mean it is simple math.  But you can take the same amount of time it took to put on the weight and work it off.  That is what I am planing to do. It took me really a year to put on the 70 lbs I gained and so I am expecting a year to take it off and then a lifetime of committing myself to truly loving my mind, body, and soul to keep it off.  Yet, this doesn't mean me trying to fit into some "ideal acceptable type."  Being physically, mentally, and spiritually healthy is my goal - not fitting into a size 4 jean because it is trendy.   That is where lots of people get mixed up - losing weight because you are unhealthy and your body yearns to be at a smaller more manageable weight is very different then losing weight because you feel pressured by society, your friends, or your family to fit some ideal.  So if you are on your own weight loss journey make sure you first understand WHY you are doing so before you begin.

Next time - yoga...