Tuesday, January 29, 2013

A leap of faith

In the past few months, and in one case over a year, I've met some fascinating women -- all Buddhists, although that may not be relevant -- who are what I guess can be called true 'free spirits'. By that I mean that they don't have permanent domeciles, but roam the country and/or world at will. Yet, they are far from homeless. Their ages vary -- some are quite young, early twenties, others I'd guess to be in their 40's. Their stories are all different, but the lack of domecile and nomadic life ties them together.

When I was in California at the hermitage I met several of these who really stand out in my mind. Two were older, one younger. One of the older ones caught my attention the most, because everything she owned was in her backpack, including a tarp that she used as a tent. She was not new to this game -- had been roaming for 20 years or so, as I recall. She'd come to this location for an annual moonlight kayaking event, had stayed over at the hermitage for a week or so, paying her way with work. She was flying off somewhere else afterward. She'd lived on the lava beaches in Hawaii, spent time in Mexico and places I can't remember. Stayed with friends or in her little tent, or did some housesitting. She was signed up with some housesitting registry. She's probably had paid work from time to time if she's stayed someplace for awhile, but no real job. The thing I wondered the most,  but didn't ask, was where she got the money for the plane fare when she traveled. That's still a mystery. She wasn't rich -- or showed no signs of wealth, anyway. Not a trust-fund baby. But she was happy. Cheerful all the time, willing to do anything asked of her.

Another was newer at the game, also one of the older ones. She'd sold everything she owned and quit her job in San Francisco maybe 6 months previously, determined to 'go forth' in the Buddhist sense, but without ordaining. She'd spent some time at a place near San Francisco -- don't think that was Buddhist, but some eastern spiritual practice. Had spent 3 months at the IMS in Barre, MA prior to the hermitage, where she was staying, I believe, for 2 months. She at least had a car, but no home, although she did have friends she could stay with between gigs. She was scheduled to go to Nepal, I think it was, accompanying a nun. She didn't have money -- was upfront about it. Didn't know how it was all going to work, but trusting that it would. And so far, it had. She too, was happy and smiling all the time.

The third was a young woman who'd spent her time after college going mostly to Goenka centers in Europe and the west coast, had ended up at the hermitage doing mostly cooking, but also various other duties. She lived in a big tent that she'd set up in a clearing on the edge of a cliff, on the land, with a great view. She left after about 6 months and went to spend some time with her family then struck out, last I heard, to work on an organic farm. Another happy, smiling person.

Then in September at the Goenka center I met a couple of other young people -- a man and a woman -- who also spent lots of time at various Goenka centers, where volunteers are always welcome and needed for preparing meals during the retreats. He was a gifted cook, she could do anything. Both had great attitudes. She was going on to Chicago, I think it was -- maybe Detroit -- to work with some non-profit group for awhile. Two more happy, smiling people.

Young people like this generally have families to help, whether financially or as a home base, or both. By the time we reach our 40's and beyond, that's not as likely to be the case, if we have family at all.

Over a year ago when I was at Bhavana for the first time, I met a resident who I'd guess to be in her 40s who was also something of a free spirit, with no real home base. She'd spent many years in Alaska, and while I don't know her whole story, at the time I met her she'd been a resident at Bhavana on and off for a year or two, tended to spend her winters in Florida where she taught yoga, mostly to seniors. She's also a writer and gets some income from that.  She's been in Florida for over a year now, even has a home base, although it's temporary.
If you're wondering where I'm going with all this,  I find a real kindred spirit with all of these women and their many counterparts. It's what I think I should have done much, much earlier in my life had I known it was possible. I've roamed the responsible -- or at least semi-responsible -- way, always having an apartment, furnishings, and a job. There is that in me that wants to do it now, and yet it seems absurd at my age. I would be very happy to pack a few belongings and my computer into my car, and take off, footloose and fancy-free. No home base, nothing to suck up money and tie me down. There are enough Buddhist centers where I could stay and work for varying time periods. But, so far, I'm chicken. I want to do it, but I'm not quite sure I'd like it and then where would I be? I'd like the roaming part, no doubt, and there is a network out there of people who do this and know the ins and outs. Maybe after a year or so of happily making this work in this country I'd be willing to sell my car and try other countries -- Asia, housesitting in Mexico, etc. The opportunities are there -- but what a leap of faith!

I guess the worst that could happen is that I'd end up in some senior housing somewhere, which is probably what I'll do anyway. So why not have some fun in between? And if I'm going to do that, I'd either have to store all this stuff, or buy new [used] stuff wherever I end up. I'm not attached to any of this stuff, would happily let most of it go. There's a new life waiting out there, somewhere. All I need to do is let go and trust, and see where it leads me.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Eat more to weigh less

OK. Remember last week after whining about no fat loss over 3 months I said I did some research? Well, I've done a whole lot more since then, and have drastically changed my diet and less-drastically changed my workouts. The result? Down a pound or two in weight (one today, but consistently two for the previous few days), down an inch in my waistline, no changes elsewhere.

BUT -- I've been eating so much I am stuffed most of the time and actually don't want to eat as much as I'm supposed to eat!  First I found this great site that convinced me that I've been eating far too little for far too long. While this might sound counter-intuitive, in the end it makes sense. You have to reset your metabolism by eating the amount of calories your body needs to maintain its current weight, rather than lose weight, for awhile, then gradually lower to weight-loss calories. I might not have paid attention to this, but I've heard it before and had forgotten. I also didn't realize I was eating too few calories. I wasn't hungry, didn't feel deprived of food. But I also had a constant craving for things I 'shouldn't eat'.

I  haven't yet been able to eat the actual number of calories for weight maintenance -- have been going with weight loss numbers because even that fills me to the brim and makes me uncomfortably stuffed, which isn't desirable either. As the week's gone on, I've learned a bit more about managing this, but it's still not easy. And it's not even fun! Because of course, the calories all have to be healthy calories, not junk-food calories. No more food cravings, at least.

I looked at other sites, too. One concerns controlling the hormone, leptin, which has a lot to do with regulating body weight, and which isn't released when too few calories are ingested. This site/diet requires eating only 3 times per day -- no snacking -- at 5-6 hour intervals, supposedly giving the liver time to do it's work and the rest of the body organs time to do their work at digesting the meal and releasing hormones. I find it odd that he says 'don't overeat or have large meals' yet wants all those calories to be in only 3 meals. So far, I've found it impossible to meet both. This site was interesting and useful, too. As was this one, which is chock full of great articles on the entire subject of fitness and weight loss as well as HIIT, which is also something I changed this week.

HIIT is something I've known about for a long time, to some extent. I've 'always' known that interval training was desirable -- high intensity sprints alternated with rest periods -- and I've been doing that already with the cycle machine. But reading about this in several places also taught me that it's not necessary to spend long periods of time doing this, that the old 'long workouts at low intensity levels burns fat' theory has been replaced by HIIT. High Intensity Interval Training. And the trainers say that the best results with their clients come from 20-25 minutes only. You need to get your heart rate out of the 'working' zone and up into the anaerobic zone close to your maximum heart rate during these workouts. This does lots of things, which you can read about on some of the above sites if you're interested. They all talk about it. I've enjoyed it with the bike. It's fun.

Aside from these changes, I've also latched onto a theory of eating differing amounts of calories each day, on a schedule. One low day (today for me) followed by a high day that's also a good time to have a 'cheat' meal if you want it. Pizza, beer, whatever floats your boat. The other five days vary somewhere in between the low and high days. This also helps with fat loss.

Will all this work? I don't know yet. But I do know that I've eaten like a pig, have no desire to eat this much and especially not more, and there haven't been any measurable upswings in weight or inches.  It'll take more than one week for the body to re-adjust, so we'll see what happens this week. I hate counting calories, and eating more costs more, which doesn't bode well for my budget, but I'll make it work one way or another. And it's been easy to see that I really was eating too few calories, so my body will probably be healthier in the end.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

How do you fix a sluggish metabolism?

I guess you can call this a frustration whine.

I've been exercising 6 days per week for almost 3 months now -- first just weights and walking, then for the past month or so, the bike. And before you ask, I'm careful about what I eat. Not perfect, but careful. This past week I was especially careful.  I eat plenty of protein, including soy protein powder after workouts.

This morning was my weekly weigh/measure-in, and it's consistent with what it's been since before this all began! Still!!!!!! The only difference is that since I started this I have gained 5 pounds. I understand the whole 'muscles weighs more than fat' thing, and I expect that's part of it. But what's with not burning off any of this blubber on the body while I'm adding muscle?

I know my metabolism is sluggish -- has been for years, which is what got me into this state of blubber to begin with.I couldn't walk enough back in Brookings to burn it off, stop it from larding on. And I took long hikes or walks on a daily basis. I have thyroid issues, but I take meds for that and don't see how it's a contributory factor. I guess anything's possible.

I'm not going to stop -- eventually, something will surely get the metabolism going again. I just wish I knew what to try that I haven't already tried. I probably need more activity than I'm getting, too -- but I don't know where or how to get it, especially in cold, wet weather. Today is sunny and due to hit around 60, so some gardening is in store, perhaps a leisurely (not workout type) walk.

I must say, my legs are really, really happy to have two days off, after this past week. Upper body stuff tomorrow, back to the bike on Tuesday. Cycling 6 days in a row, sometimes twice a day, was tough on them, but it's all worth it. I can see -- feel -- the improvements in my strength and endurance already, and that, my friends, is where it's at.

Sure would be nice to lose some blubber, though.

Later: OK, I answered my own question with a little intense internet research. Some things are within my power, others may not be (the ever-present sleep issue). But I'm gonna change some things around and see what happens. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Searching for the Sweet Spot

Growing old is a process. One is aware of the changes as years pass and yet -- at least for the stubborn ones like me -- it's not always easy to accept that while our minds may still be youthful, our bodies are aging. Even healthy bodies age. No arguments about that. It's my belief that to a large extent we control how well our bodies age -- by making choices such as exercise over lethargy, nutrition over fast food, smoking or not, and so forth. But that doesn't stop the process, which all the while continues in the background regardless of how well we feel, how healthy we are.

So, where's she going with all this? I'm going to being at a place where my body is reminding me of its true age. Not in any awful way -- I've not developed any illnesses. But, I have been pushing my body with exercise and have found that I'm just going to have to slow it down a bit. The question is, how much?

For example. For weeks now there's been a bit of a muscle or tendon pull in my right shoulder, in the back.  Clearly exacerbated by all the upper body exercise with 12-pound dumbbells. So, I decided to channel Greg and listen to what he would have told me, which is to take a week off and let it rest.

Greg would no doubt not have told me to do what I opted to do instead -- which is increase the intensity of my cycle machine workout from 3 days per week to 6 days per week! I've had the machine for less than a month, and while I've tried (really, I have) to take it slow, let the body get used to the new muscle use slowly, I still haven't done it slowly enough. Apparently.

This week, I also opted to begin doing two 30-minute sessions per day, rather than one 45-minute session, because my heart rate, erratic as it is, doesn't yet return to a good number quickly, so it runs high past the 45-minute cut-off for cortisol control even though I slow down the intensity of the workout for 10-15 minutes ahead of time. This way, I get a good workout on the bike, do some abs afterward, and get in almost 45 minutes while letting my heart return to normal. That seems to work. Good news and bad news: my abs have really strengthened over the couple of months I've been doing this, and I can do far, far more that in the beginning so I push it -- abs fine, back not damaged, but achy.

What's different is that doing it every day, with increased intensity, wasn't a very wise move! Again, I haven't damaged anything, merely produced lots of aches and pains in places where I wouldn't expect them, as well in places where I would expect them.  Yesterday, one day into the new regime, my right knee was acting up enough that I didn't do the second 30-minute session. Again, listen to the body, let it rest. That knee has had it's share of problems over my lifetime, and I'm not sure exactly when it started. All those miles of pushing a heavily-laden bike up and over Rocky Mountain passes probably didn't help. But I've also taken a few nasty falls while hiking, with that knee invariably taking the brunt each time. So it's cumulative.

So, this morning I tried to find a magic gear and speed that would keep the heart rate in the right place and keep less stress on that knee. We'll see if that works. Feels OK at the moment. The logical thing to do would be to take a day of rest, go back to doing this every other day, but there is no way I am going to take a week off from no exercise at all! Nor do I want to release my commitment to workout 6 days per week. That's where the stubborn part comes in.

I'm really not going anywhere else with this. No more philosophy. It's what's on my mind, and as you know, whatever's really on my mind generally hits these pages -- the release of writing is a beautiful thing. Even if the writing is not.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

North Carolina in the Spring

Ahhhhhh -- life is almost back to normal! Carbonite finished it's transfer a short while ago, around 7am. Documents, music, photos and such all appear to be where they should be. Quicken works, my photo software works (that was a real question, because it's old and doesn't have an updated version available), Legacy files are there (genealogy) but I had to download the latest version and to open it requires restart, and I don't want to restart right now because there are a couple of things I need to know from Carbonite, when they open their chat service this morning and I don't want to lose the window that has the download info on it. My old Office seems to be working -- I was using it yesterday, another article to look over for Sayalay.

What's missing? Crucial stuff -- like all of my Firefox bookmarks (hundreds, probably!) and all of my email info. It's probably here, somewhere, but I haven't a clue how to find it and get it into the right place. I'm a little nervous because under 'documents and settings' on the download, there's an ominous red warning: "File not Found". Which file? Everything is still on the old computer, so it's not lost, but it was my understanding that these things were recoverable from Carbonite -- it's one of the reasons I wanted it.

On the other hand, once I felt it safe to fool with the computer, I went into the control panel and found out how to have the laptop screen be blank when this one is in use. And to find out a few more things I needed to know. Thankfully, once the old screen was in control, it reverted to its full size -- no more letter box format!

We're due for a lovely day here in the south. It's overcast at the moment and may stay that way, but the temp is due to be around 73, and who knows, the sun may also make an appearance. It was nice to wake up to 65 degrees outside! Been nice for a couple of days, actually. I think I'll go out and do some garden cleanup after my morning workout. The greens bed needs some attention.

That knot in my tummy is almost gone. I can recognize it as fear -- I am terrified of computer issues and it may not go away completely for awhile, until I can feel with some certainty that all is well inside this sweet little machine.

Earlier this week I signed up for two retreats in April at Southern Dharma, in North Carolina. I swore I'd never go there again after my experience last March, but Ayya Sobhana from the hermitage in California is teaching the first one, followed a week later by Sayalay! It will be almost two years by then since I've seen Sayalay, and she'll be returning to Asia probably in the summer, so this will be my last chance to study with her for perhaps years. And, while I adore and respect Ayya Sobhana, Sayalay is my teacher. I know I will want to hug her in happiness and gratitude at being in her presence again, but I also know that's not generally allowed.  I got one of the cabins for Ayya's retreat, which is nice, but I was too late to get one for Sayalay's (they only have two, and registration for 2013 only opened on Monday!), so I got a tent platform, will borrow a tent from my cousin or, if all else fails, buy a cheap one. Anything to avoid the mixed-gender dorm. So, I look forward to some time in the beautiful mountains of North Carolina, in the spring. What could be better?

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

A mind of love

I discovered today just how simple it is to supply the necessary amount of 'something to do and something to live for' that I talked about recently. I take that to mean that the chore may not be as daunting or difficult as I'd thought -- although this was just one day and isn't likely to carryover long-term, so maybe not.

After my morning workout I hit the library, made a long overdue recycling run half-way to Rome, hit WalMart and Kroger on the way back, where I found a reply to an email I'd sent regarding an upcoming retreat, along with an email from my Malaysian teacher, Sayalay Susila, asking if I'd read over an article she'd enclosed, try to make the English 'more beautiful', and proof read. I worked with that for a couple of hours, until whatever creativity I had was gone, then switched over to work for the hermitage and balanced their December bank statements. After all that, I felt great! Productive. Satisfied. Serene. And I still feel great.

The key, I guess, is to find similar things to fill at least most of my days. The bank statements and other simple financial assistance for the hermitage will be there, but it's not enough all on its own. Sayalay sends similar requests from time to time, but not often. Something more regular would be preferred. Still -- I'm encouraged to think that perhaps I need only a few occasional drops to fill the bucket to an acceptable level -- rather than starting with an empty bucket, as often seems the case.

I found this article by Deepak Chopra to be of interest a few days back, especially the paragraph on how to inspire your brain. Much of what he wrote seemed obvious to me, but other suggestions left me with the thought that he was saying exactly what I'd said I needed last week. I've bolded those words, below, and I find I don't have any better idea about how to accomplish either of these things than I did last week. I don't have a personal vision, have never had success in pinning anything like that down. Attaching myself to a cause that is bigger than me is what I've been looking into doing, but again, what cause? Where does one find such a cause? I think one needs to be inspired by some great passion, and I don't have that. The closest I've come is a Buddhist teaching center in Burma, and that's a long way to go. I have much of that passion for the work being done at the hermitage in California, but I know in my heart that I would not be happy living on the premises. Cold, remember? And no music. I'll keep looking, keep thinking about it. Maybe something will magically click one of these days. Today was encouraging.
Take care of stress. Avoid dulling routine. Do something creative every day. Read poetry, spiritual material or anything else that makes you feel uplifted. Take time to be in nature. Bond with another person who is heartwarming. Pay attention to being happy. Make sure you take time every day by yourself to relax, meditate and self-reflect. Deal with negative emotions like anger and anxiety. Focus on activity that makes you feel fulfilled. Give of yourself. Follow a personal vision. Attach yourself to a cause that is bigger than you are. Take the risk to love and be loved.
There was a line in the article I worked on for Sayalay that reminded me once again of something I've long known, even mentioned on these pages from time to time, and which lurks near the surface of my mind most of the time as I seek this unknown fulfillment, this next step and probable next move in my life, a move I'd rather not make. 
The wise person sees that suffering and happiness do not come from without, but from within the mind a mind of love and claims nothing as his own.
Makes me almost want to stay here -- but then I think of the roof and the rotting floorboards, the mold, the cold winters, hot summers and noisy neighborhood. Would becoming a martyr to this house bring happiness? I guess it depends on how much love I can find within my mind. And I don't think I have enough to overcome all that!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Finally -- a new computer!

Remember a few posts back when I said I was almost sorry I ever heard of Woot? Well, it's struck again. Actually, I was initially referred to Woot by somebody at TalkBaja, a Baja-oriented bulletin board kind of place where I hang out from time to time, for the purpose of getting a good deal on a new computer.  They've offered up a lot of laptops in the months I've been watching, including some very nice but very pricey Macs, but today's offering seems to me to be the best -- and the best bang-for-the-buck -- they've had so far, so I bit.  Maybe it's just the timing. Too many constant annoyances with this one, including this morning -- keeps freezing, is abominably slow even though it has a decently fast processor and isn't using a fraction of its disc space. Annoying. I've also been trying to decide between laptop and desktop, and have wanted a business-class machine for durability. If I end up in Mexico or even Asia, a laptop will be a necessity. If I end up in Asheville, well I'll just have a portable processor.

The monitor and my new USB mouse/keyboard can be attached to this. It even has a docking station outlet, although the station itself is not included. The techie-talkers on the Woot discussion board really like this thing -- and I go to the discussion board on all their computer offerings to see what people who know computers think of them. They don't hesitate to point out even the smallest lacking or issues with anything, and they raved over this one. This, apparently, is HP's top business laptop, built and tested to military standards -- dropping, dust, vibrations, you name it. Not a lightweight -- almost 7 pounds -- but since I'm not a frequent flyer that shouldn't be much of an issue. It has Windows 7, but in reading the specs it looks as if it'll also run XP software, as many of these do. I've done my homework over the past months, just waiting for the right deal to present itself. It has the i5 processor, and while I'd prefer the i7, it's a case where beggars can't be choosers and the i5 isn't slouchy. Only 2.5GHz, compared to the 2.8 in this one. Built in wireless, webcam and microphone. 4G ram compared to the 1G in this computer, 500G hard drive, compared with 2G on this one. Nice toy. And with my Carbonite backup, it'll be a cinch to transfer all my files to the new one. Knowing Woot, I should have it in a few days.

Maybe this buying binge will end now. Actually, it must. I'm poor, remember?

Friday, January 4, 2013

Hidden jewels

Some sunshine and a serious case of restlessness combined with a need to do something got me out into the garden today. Partly, I was curious about the state of the greens after some serious frost and mid-20's temps in the past week or so -- including the heaviest, today. I needn't have worried, for the most part.

What's behind the frost gard fabric? Lots of good stuff! Unfortunately, lots of weeds, too, which I mostly dispatched with my handy tool. The soil here is unbelievably loose and rich and beautiful -- nothing can get so deeply imbedded that it doesn't come up with relative ease. Even some of the big leeks that have been there for a long time.

Rainbow chard on the left, kale and romaine in the center, leeks of varying ages in the rear. The kale is sparse, mostly because I harvested most of it recently and it's growing back. It also looks a bit rough on the tips here and there from the cold, but may well recover. I think I commented recently how good this stuff is in a salad.

The romaine surprises me the most. I went out last week wanting to harvest some for lunch, found it frozen. Now, it's crisp and healthy as can be.

The chard isn't as successful as I'd like, although I've harvested and eaten some, need to do it again soon.

I didn't plant much garlic this year -- wasn't going to plant any because I didn't think I'd be here to harvest it. In the end I planted about a half patch, just in case. I'd hate to depend on grocery store garlic again.

I guess if there's one thing that comes to mind as a regret for leaving here when I think of doing that, it's the garden. I don't grow a lot anymore -- learned to grow what I can eat, not much more -- but I'll miss all the herbs, the garlic, the greens, the blueberries, and whatever I decide to plant from time to time. On the other hand, the weeds become harder to control around these beds each year. I can't keep up with them, am almost at the point of using Roundup, which goes against every grain in my body. Not IN the beds or near the food -- just in the walkways around the beds. Still.

And then there's that grocery store garlic to contend with, along with wilted greens and let's face it -- all this stuff tastes better and holds it's nutrients more if it's harvested moments before use. None of that will put a roof on this house, or transport it out of tornado alley, however.