Tag: brownie points

2014: The Year in Review

Happy New Year, readers. 2014 was a challenging year in so many ways, probably the defining moment was experiencing violent crime in April, which had health repercussions that lasted the entire rest of the year, but it had its high points as well, with an epic amount of travel: as well as enjoying London, there were trips to Stockholm, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Santiago de Chile, Corfu, Yorkshire, Nice, Paris and Brussels. Let’s take a look at the highlights.

January

The start of the year found me obsessed with health and fitness. I was in the gym nearly every day, breaking personal records for distance swimming and doing weight training. I weighed myself excitedly and danced a lot because the exercise was pumping me full of endorphins. I wasn’t seriously dating anyone but I had a couple of dates with Disraeli and The Young Scientist and they rather gratifyingly fell in love with me, because I was using a contrived but successful technique called The Method that I learned off the Head Honcho, who I was still crushing on like a little girl.

Tune of the month:

Super Cat ft. Heavy D and Frankie Paul: Big and Ready

Look pon me now, a me big and me broad, and me park me BMW inside a big garage.

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February

Mid February found me slim, rippling with muscle and ready to take up boxing. This was an unusually good and somewhat unprecedented peak of strength and fitness, even though I didn’t recognise it as such at the time because I wasn’t doing any running. I started using the punch bag in the gym, looking around for someone to teach me and reading the websites of special boxing gyms, as well as using the online dating site to search for boxers, as an alternative to dating the French.

On the 18th of February I was overjoyed when I finally achieved my goal weight of 133lbs. It took more than two years to get there. On a cloud of triumph and victory, I started wearing bikinis at the pool.

Travel: a weekend in Stockholm, with historic architecture and delicious hot chocolate.

stock

Tune of the month.

Dr Alimantado: I Am The Greatest Says Muhammed Ali

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March

Travel. Shanghai.

shanghai

A Dream I Dreamed by Kusama Yayoi.

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Hong Kong.

temple

hk flowers

Tune of the Month. You need to get up and dance for this one. Jah! Rastafari!

DJ Kool: Raggae Dance

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April

Santiago de Chile.

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May

Corfu.

town 3

november

Tune of the month. Super Cat on a spiritual tip, I love him, he is gorgeously sincere in a way that makes me want to take my clothes off.

Super Cat: Jah Run Things.

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June

Yorkshire. A mysterious and magical place.

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Back at home, we went to the Parliament Hill Farmers’ Market in London.

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It was a month in which I continued to be hung up on the Honcho, for no good reason, with crisis after crisis until we couldn’t stand each other any longer. At least there were some great dance tunes to carry us through. This turned out to be the last time I spoke to him in 2014.

Boris Dlugosch ft Roisin Murphy: Never Enough (Sir Piers & Ed Funk Club Mix)

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July

In July, nothing happened. I started taking prescription drugs and was stoned for a month.

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August

I cheered myself up by getting Botox and was amazed and overjoyed with the results. Did a better job of improving my mood than the happy pills. Started to date Charlie. The music continued to be full of soul.

The Ikettes: I’m Blue

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September

Went to the South of France and decided to stop taking drugs.

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October

TLYW’s fourth birthday. Launch of the Brownie Points themed season, which is turning out to be a quite a long-running one, that expands the range of possible TLYW Achievements. I didn’t do a lot of dancing in October but I managed to read some improving Literature and made a decent size payment on my mortgage.

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November

Paris.

restaurant 3

relief

Brussels.

brussels street

lace collar

I broke up with Charlie, bought a new oven and started cooking. At the end of the month, met Leroy and instantly fell in Crush with him.

Rufus & Chaka Khan: Sweet Thing

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December

I performed Home Improvements by having my windows replaced, had something of a themed season around donating to fight homelessness, and celebrated Christmas for an entire month.

gift lights

snowmen tin

Tune of the month: hardcore disco to see the year out. Get up now and free your inner drag queen by parading around the room. 10/10 for Fabulous. Happy New Year.

Do you wanna funk? Won’t you tell me now? If you wanna funk, let me show you how.

Sylvester: Do You Wanna Funk?

The Fourth Day of Christmas: Snowmen, Whales.

Today is the fourth day of The Christmas You Want and it is going great. I went out for a walk this morning and discovered that my chest is still congested with flu, but no matter, that is not going to stop me enjoying myself at home.

I made – okay, assembled – Melting Snowmen Cookies! Look!

snowmen tin

I actually assembled them last night when I became frustrated with how much I still totally suck at using the Xbox. I scoffed two of them today and they are beyond delicious. The base cookie is a chewy oat and raisin flapjack cookie from Waitrose, the recipe for decorating them is here on the BBC Food site and the only change I made was to cut up jelly diamonds to make their noses because I didn’t have any orange beans. I didn’t exactly intend to make 12 but I found I had a lot of icing so that’s how many I ended up with. They are SO YUMMY. I might make a tradition out of doing them every year from now on.

snowmen rack

snowman close up

I also did some reading today. In something approaching a miracle, today was the day that I finally finished reading Moby DickBloody hell. It might be the longest book I’ve ever read. It’s taken weeks and weeks. Today, I finally completed it. This is especially, tremendously exciting because it means I’ve officially started earning the Classic Literature Brownie Badge. I will update the Brownie Points page later but basically winning this particular badge means reading a few of those huge great bricks of Classic Literature that one should read before one dies and rarely does. It was immense and I really do feel like I’ve achieved something by finishing it at long last. I’ve ticked it off the list. Hurrah! I will do a review another time, it needs a post to itself as it is such a big book, but this is to record that today is the day I boxed it off. See what productive use I am making of my Christmas holiday!

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I’ve also done some more work on my colleague’s baby blanket today which is great as that is something else that needs to be brought to completion. I am just sewing together squares but it all takes time, so I am happy to see progress. This is exactly what I wanted my holiday to be.

Tonight’s dinner is cod fish cakes with parsley sauce and a selection of steamed vegetables (broccoli, courgettes, carrots, green beans). Tonight’s video entertainment is, of course, Moby Dick, I have opted for the 2011 two-part TV drama starring William Hurt as Captain Ahab. That’s three hours long in total so I should get plenty more work done on the blanket while it is playing and finally, as I took the precaution of a short nap this afternoon, I should have some energy left at the end for some gaming. I am thinking of reverting back to the PC and finding out if I can remember how to play Bioshock Infinite. So that’s me, and it only remains for me to wish you continued Christmas joy and a wonderful evening.

Midnight: Mac and Cheese

I am so glad I did Christmas stuff when I had the chance because work has gone crazy now. You can tell it is serious business because Friday night is about to turn into Saturday morning, and I am still writing long, businessy documents, which is what I have been doing all day.

I am bored and restless. Leroy hasn’t called to say he is coming over this weekend and therefore I have stopped caring about the area that used to be my waistline. That’s why I just went to the kitchen and cooked home-made mac and cheese for the very first time in my whole life. I am not even joking. I just made a cheese sauce from scratch, properly, the kind where you weigh out butter and flour and cook them in a pan to make a ‘roux’ (a whatnow?), then carefully add milk and cream, then only add the cheese at the end. I don’t know if I did it exactly how you’re supposed to, but I certainly TRIED, using this recipe from the good old BBC. I am so impressed with myself! I am eating it now, served with crudely chopped red onion and a handful of watercress stuffed down the side. It is YUMMERS.

mac and cheese

Here at TLYW we don’t exactly collect standard Achievement Points for cooking, but we ARE working on the Chef Badge as part of the Brownie Points themed season, and I get a Chef Badge credit for learning to make a new meal. So hooray for that! I am going to update the Brownie Points page right now because I can afford to take a few minutes for that while I am eating. I am going to be up all night working anyway.

Hooray, I am getting a day off sick, with bonus Classic Literature.

I have to do one phone meeting at 11am, then I am off work on sick leave for the rest of the day. Yay! This is good as I am in a horrible condition.

I am going to go back to bed and spend the day attempting to read a book, because I have started working towards the Classic Literature badge.

I have arbitrarily decided that to win the Classic Literature badge I have to read 5 novels that are generally agreed to be Classic and that I would normally regard as too much work.

I have started reading The Crying of Lot 49, by Thomas Pynchon, also Moby Dick by Herman Melville, which I tried and failed to read a couple of years ago. This time I am going to read it properly and finish it.

I am not sure what the other three titles are going to be, but I am strongly considering The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoyevsky and The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, by Laurence Sterne. These are not firm decisions, though. I reserve the right to change my mind if I think of things that I want to read more urgently.

It is fish for dinner again this evening, Satan help me. I have to cook fish two nights in a row. Perhaps I will be in the mood for it after a few hours of Moby Dick.

moby dick

Chef.

A terrible cold is going around London. I know a few people who have had it. Charlie succumbed to it just before I set off for Brussels. I am so, so glad that it didn’t get a grip on me while I was away doing that trade show. I thought maybe I was going to escape it altogether, but no, here it is. It broke out today in full force and now my nose is like a large red turnip and I am streaming with snot. I tried to go to bed three hours ago, at 9.30, mainly because I was no longer capable of doing anything else, but the snot factory that I call my face woke me up again.

So, while I am awake and pumping myself full of Sudafed, let’s talk about food. It seems like the right time. As you know (and can see from recent photos) my diet has been way out of control in recent months. No wonder I’ve been putting weight on. The happy pills, both while I was on them and while I was withdrawing from them, gave me crushing fatigue and I’ve been using huge doses of sugar and caffeine to try and keep myself awake. Added to that, I’ve been eating all sorts of comfort food, like pastry and pasta and fried cheese, Satan help me, and then I act surprised when my weight keeps climbing and climbing.

It needs to stop now. I am acutely aware of that, not just because my weight is rising so frighteningly fast but because my clothes are uncomfortable on me. All my bras hurt me. I can only wear them for a few hours at a time because they cut into my flesh. It’s time for emergency action, so it’s handy that the new cooker has arrived.

Because I don’t do things by halves, and because we are having the Brownie Points themed season, which emphasises developing new skills and doing new things, I have decided to take the opportunity to go for the Chef badge. I have arbitarily decided I can win this badge by preparing my own breakfast, lunch and dinner, in-house for five days. That’s 15 meals. You should bear in mind that I normally do zero food preparation unless you count breakfast cereal and occasionally microwaving ready meals. So five days of home cooking is a lot. It is even more of an achievement when you consider what I am going to make and where my cooking skills are. If you forgot, I made quite a decent chilli in 2012 and even a Christmas dinner in 2013, but also it took me exactly two and a half hours to make lemon cupcakes when the recipe said ‘ten minutes’ so there you go. And that accounts for most of the cooking I’ve done in the four years that I’ve had this blog so there’s that. As you can see, then, preparing all of my food in my own kitchen for five days, using a cooker that I don’t know how to operate, is going to be more of a challenge than it first appears. But at least it will be good practice for Christmas.

Earlier today I did meal planning and grocery shopping, so I have food and I know what I am going to be eating every day, I just don’t know whether I can cook it. I knew that meal planning would be essential because if I am left to my own devices I will eat the above-mentioned breakfast cereal and ready meals and when I am not doing that I will eat melted cheese paninis from the nearby cafe. None of this is good for my waistline. I knew that I needed to plan a whole week of meals and to save time and avoidable fuck-ups, I wanted someone else to tell me what I should eat.

That’s when I went to my bookshelf and pulled out James Duigan’s Clean and Lean Diet, not because it isn’t a great steaming pile of crap, but because it is the only diet book and one of the few recipe books that I own. I bought it as a result of peer pressure when I used to go running with my friend. She, like James Duigan, was not notable for her critical thinking skills, on the other hand she lost two stone on this diet and as it mostly tells you to eat fish and lean meat and fresh vegetables instead of cheesecake, I could see why it would work.

I don’t recommend this book to anyone, okay, I just want to say that. Here are some things you should know about it before you rush out and buy it.

  • James Duigan has no relevant education or qualifications to be talking to people about food. He is a self-styled ‘nutritionist’, this is a totally meaningless and unregulated title and I could call myself a nutritionist if I wanted to. He is in fact a personal trainer who has over-reached himself, no surprises there.
  • The one person who is willing to endorse him and his book is Elle Macpherson, the model, also not known for being overburdened with intellect or relevant qualifications. I would no more ask Elle Macpherson for medical advice than I would ask Jenny McCarthy.
  • The book itself, where there is actual text, and not just colourful pictures, is full of the most laughable, superstitious twaddle about ‘toxins’ and the need to ‘detox’. No-one should be taking this seriously. It is the 21st-century equivalent of blaming your fat on witchcraft.
  • There is a lot of padding in this book in the form of lists of foods that James has decided are okay, bad or terrifyingly bad, based on his need to fill up more pages.
  • The final section of this book is like a magazine feature about exercises, like lunges and squats. It mainly relies on photos, to fill up more pages. All I can say is, if you haven’t found your way into exercise yet, it doesn’t matter what you are eating because diets won’t help you, and if you really know so little about exercise that you need James Duigan to show you photos, then you are screwed. Buy a pair of trainers and go for a walk. Jesus Christ.

Having said all of that, the recipe section in the middle is good. I say that, I haven’t made any of the recipes yet. But it looks good if, like me, you are searching for a lot of ideas for meals that are mainly about fresh produce and not so much Pot Noodles and Red Bull. Also, he will totally tell you what to eat at every single meal (no more breakfast cereal for me – wheat and dairy are right out of the picture, along with refined sugar) and I value that right now. I just wanted someone to do a whole week, if not a month, of meal planning for me, taking every single meal into account.

Here are some of the very portion-controlled meals that I will be eating over the next few days. With my cooking skills, or lack thereof, I expect to spend a lot of time in the kitchen, also a lot of time looking up how to cook on the internet.

Lunch, Day 1. Grilled Sea Bass. I have no idea how to make grilled sea bass, despite this, there is now a sea bass in my fridge. That is the very first time I have ever shopped at the fish counter at my supermarket and I am a bit scared to open the package. I have olive oil and I bought a roll of foil and a brush because those things seemed like they might be useful. I am pretty sure the new oven has a grill. Also note ‘beef fillet’ for dinner. I assume I can lightly fry this because otherwise I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with it. I bought some strips of stir-fry beef because they were relatively cheaper and seemed like they would be easy to cook.

lunch day 1

Dinner, Day 3. Grilled lamb chops, 100g. When I went shopping for lamb chops, something else I’ve never purchased before, I laughed when I found out how much 100g is. 100g is not lamb chops, plural, okay. It is one, very tiny, lamb chop. I bought a pack of four of these miniature lamb chops, one is in a tupperware box in the fridge waiting to be cooked on Wednesday evening and the others are in the freezer so that I can have the same meal again another day.

dinner day 3

I feel so proud of myself and I haven’t even cooked anything yet. It surely cannot fail to lead to new culinary skills and if I stick with the programme and keep going to the gym, I feel sure that I will lose weight. There are 14 fully-planned days of the very austere diet that you see above, then after that fruit is reintroduced and later on, after the 14-day introductory regime, you have more freedom of choice from a small selection of creative-looking recipes. You are allowed to have 1 cup of tea or coffee each day, and I think I will need it.

I will of course furnish you with photos as we go along, and when I’ve eaten my 15th home-made, Duigan-approved meal, I am claiming the Chef badge. In the meantime I am starving and I am going to eat a large bowl of delicious breakfast cereal because tonight is my last chance to eat wheat, sugar and dairy this side of Christmas. I am totally squirrelling away sugary treats for Christmas, which I am unusually excited about this year, for reasons that I will explain another time.

I think the Sudafed are starting to work. I just noticed that I’m not blowing my nose quite as much.

Swimmer.

OK, I am going for the Swimmer badge, as part of our Brownie Points themed season. In order to keep things nice and simple, and for the avoidance of delays, I have decided that the qualification for winning this badge is going to be swimming 500 lengths of my local pool.

Several months or a year ago when I was very fit (I only now realise), when I could swim for 90 minutes or even two hours without much difficulty, I could have polished off 500 lengths in no time. But that was then and this is now. As of now, I am very unfit and out of practice. I get cramp in my feet after swimming 20 lengths, and after 30 lengths I am breathless and red in the face. But I shall not complain, I shall just get on and do it. There is only one way to become fitter, and that is to exercise. There’s no way around it, you have to go through.

So that’s why I returned to the gym this evening, keeping my head down and not looking at anyone, for fear of bumping into Delroy the Beautiful or anyone else who might remember me from when I was thin and gorgeous less than a year ago, and swam 30 lengths.

30 down, 470 to go. 1 Health point.

Brownie Points!!! My First Badge.

I had such a huge, busy day yesterday, I can’t even tell you. If I wrote about all of it in detail I would be here forever, so you will have to make do with just the important part.

The day really started in the very early hours of the morning. I was awake because I was reading. I was reading because I was on the final pages of a book, the completion of which signified WINNING MY FIRST BROWNIE BADGE!! YAY!! I finally won the first badge of the Brownie Points themed season, and it only took me a month. I am so excited!! Here is my badge, and here is the Brownie Points page where you will be able to see the badges gradually stack up.

bookworm iconBookworm

Read three books to completion.

I read Dataclysm, by Christian Rudder, Orlando by Virginia Woolf and The Great Mortality by John Kelly.

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This turned out to be an unexpectedly interesting project. I like reading, I read all the time and don’t bother collecting any Achievement points for it, but, in all honesty, another reason why I don’t collect points is because I very often read things and abandon them before I get to the end. I think that’s very common, isn’t it. To read half of something and then lose interest, I’ve done that so many times. Also I’m very guilty of reading things that are lightweight and easy when in fact I would be much more stimulated and satisfied by reading something more challenging. Gradually rectifying that situation turned out to be what this first Brownie badge, the Bookworm badge, was about. First I read Dataclysm by Christian Rudder, which, while far from stupid (it is full of interesting maths, linguistics and social science) is a great example of the sort of thing I would read anyway even if I wasn’t trying to accomplish anything special, and I think I read it nearly in one sitting.

After that, it dawned on me that I should take the opportunity represented by this Brownie Badge, which is an invitation to do something different, by reading something that I’ve had on my list for ages and have been meaning to get around to, which is why I read Virginia Woolf’s Orlando and reviewed it here. I had to persevere with it a bit, not least because I was recovering from the happy pills, which utterly destroyed my powers of concentration, so it was kind of an effort and I’m not ashamed to admit that I used Sparknotes to help me follow and understand it when my brain was particularly fried. I loved it and it was really worth it, I’m so glad I read it.

Based on this small success, I went on to read The Great Mortality: An Intimate History of the Black Death, by John Kelly. It is a long, detailed and scholarly account of the Great Plague of the mid 1300s, beginning with its origins in the Eurasian Steppe and following its vicious journey around Europe, where it wiped out the population on the scale of a thermonuclear disaster over a period of about eight horrifying years. I began to read this book months ago and gave up on it the moment it became too much like hard work. Then, so much time elapsed that I found I had forgotten every word and had to start again from the beginning. This time, I stuck with it, concentrated, finally finished it as the sun came up. It was amazing and I will do a full review here as soon as I have time.

I want to say, without the new Brownie Badges project, I would never have made it to the end of The Great Mortality. I’d already abandoned it once and certainly would have done so a second time, had I even attempted it a second time, which is not usually how things go. But on this occasion, because I wanted the Bookworm badge, I stuck with it. I made time for it even though I was busy at work and even though there were many other things I wanted to do with my little bit of free time just as much. Now I have finally made it to the end, I feel pleased and well-informed. That’s why I’m so excited about the Bookworm badge that I’ve just earned. I saw it change my habits. I was already reading, but wanting to earn the badge made me read in a very focused way, making a priority out of reading, and sticking with worthwhile works of literature all the way to the end.

So that is great. I am collecting 1 Books point for The Great Mortality, and I am claiming the Bookworm Badge because I checked off all my objectives for that.

Next steps and further ideas, in light of this Brownie Badges project, which is turning out to be so much more interesting than I expected.

  • The way these gamification schemes always go is that no sooner have you collected an achievement, than there’s a bigger one or a more specialised one waiting. Therefore, I might go for another Badge that’s called something like Big Bookworm where the idea is to read six books instead of three. If I could do that, then I could follow with Super Bookworm, which involves reading nine books, and so on. I’m sort of envisaging five levels of Badge. So if the levels went up in increments such that there was an objective of  3 books, followed by 6 books, then a further 9 books, and so on. then I would have read a total of 45 books by the time I claimed the Ultimate Bookworm Badge, which would be quite something, wouldn’t it. The criterion for these general Bookworm Badges is that I can read anything I want as long as it has some merit. It can’t be crap. But they don’t all have to be related, by subject matter or anything like that.
  • I really enjoyed reading about the 1300s and it occurred to me that perhaps I could go for an Historian Badge. I was thinking that what I could do for that, or at least the first level of it, is pick a period of history that interests me, like the Middle Ages or the Tudors or whatever, read 2 books about it, visit 2 historical sites (plenty of those around London) and perhaps make or draw something that is relevant to the period. Could be good fun, couldn’t it. I became quite interested in Edward III while I was reading about the Plague.
  • Because I enjoyed reading Orlando, it also occurred to me that maybe I could do some sort of specialised Classic Novels badge. Just to keep me pursuing all those books that I haven’t read but think I should read before I die, like Moby Dick and The Count of Monte Cristo and so on. War and Peace. Or maybe this is too ambitious or not focused enough, I don’t know, I’ll have to think about it. I would have to decide ahead of time what counts as a Classic Novel.

Look at the time, I need to go to bed. More news tomorrow. One final thing: I went to the gym and swam today. It was very scary returning to the gym after so many months away and I hate my bulky, overweight body but there is only one way to solve that problem and the gym is it. So I swam. 30 lengths. 1 Health point.

I am totally going to start working towards a Swimming Badge.