Saturday, December 28, 2013

A new cookbook and new running shoes

One of the things Santa brought me for X-Mas was a new cookbook, in fact several of them.  Vegan with a Vengeance by  Isa Chandra Moskowitz has been around for a while; probably still one of the best-selling vegan cookbooks around.  The first recipe I tried was the scrambled tofu.  Pretty mundane but always welcome for breakfast/brunch, with some nice toast, salsa on the side and a cup of coffee. 

Scrambled Tofu from Vegan with a Vengeance by Isa Chandra Moskowitz

And on the running front:

Trying out new running shoes:  Hoka One One.  One hundred percent the opposite of minimalist running shoes, the Hokas have a nearly 2-inch thick sole (even more at the heel) and they absorb a huge amount of the foot-strike impact.  So far so good, have been running and walking with them for a week (about 20 miles or so) and my really really bad case of plantar fasciitis has thus far not reared its head.  Longest run this week was 5.2 miles - haven't gotten close to a 5-mile run in months!  Holding thumbs that the pain will stay away even when/if I start to pick up the mileage.

Super-thick heels on the Hoka One One running shoes


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Should you travel to Africa?

Following on the tragedy that took place in Nairobi last weekend, we have had quite a few questions from travelers about the wisdom of traveling to East Africa or Africa for that matter.  Here is more or less what we tell them:

In almost 15 years, there have been just two notable terrorist attacks in East Africa, namely the Kenya/Tanzania embassy bombings of 1999 and now the Westgate attack in Nairobi.  So compared with practically every other part of the world include the USA, there is no reason to consider East Africa a less safe destination now than in the recent past.  Visitors' exposure to populated areas - where attacks ordinarily take place - is almost nil, perhaps a quick overnight in Nairobi and that is that.  In the game reserves and other remote places where visitors spend 90% of their time, the risk to life and limb is practically zero due to the absence of public roads & population. 

One can never predict the insanity of angry or marginalized groups, but on the whole East Africa has proven to be a very safe area to travel.  We really don't see that changing.  Due to the fact that it does not share a border with Somalia, Tanzania is probably an even better choice than Kenya but I am very comfortable recommending travel to either country.  As well as to Uganda, Rwanda and Zanzibar (which is of course part of Tanzania).

Here is an e-mail which we sent to several of our clients who will be traveling to Kenya over the next few months.  We did not have any cancellations, one party just opted to change from Kenya to Tanzania.


What occurred in Nairobi over the weekend is a tragedy and our condolences go out to the survivors and the families and friends of the victims.  The sad thing about this kind of senseless attack is that it never advances the cause of the perpetrators. It only serves to further inflame the situation and exacerbate existing conflicts. 

That being said, we just wanted to touch base with you because we know that these kinds of events attract a lot of publicity.  Well-meaning individuals, friends & family may in fact question your wisdom in traveling to Africa.  If so please feel free to share some of my thoughts with them.  If you have traveled to Africa before you will know that on safari you are very safe, and with people who know their way around the area, with years of experience.

It is our sincere belief that by traveling to Kenya you will not be unnecessarily exposing yourself to risk.  Unfortunately random attacks - whether inspired by mentally insane persons, political fanatics or terrorists - are a worldwide phenomenon and none of us are 100% safe - anywhere. 

As we all know they can and do happen anywhere:  Lower Manhattan, the Boston Marathon, London underground, a movie theater in Colorado, Spain, Oklahoma City.  The list goes on and on. The world is not a safe place and there is nowhere to hide.  A localized attack in one of these places does not reflect on the safety situation elsewhere in a country or continent or region.  So it does not follow that an attack on a mall in Nairobi makes all of Kenya or by extension East Africa or the entire continent of Africa, a risky place to travel.

It may sound banal but the greatest risk to life and limb is right at home and on the road.  The two places where people are most likely to be injured or killed are in their own homes or while driving on a public road.  We tend to lose sight of that when confronted with dramatic images of aircraft crashes, buildings imploding, bomb victims running in terror and so on.  As a percentage of the total population of the USA, the number of people who are injured or killed in a terror incident is exceedingly small.  Yes it is devastating for them and their families, but the publicity devoted to incidents of this kind drowns out the fact that they are very rare. The vast majority of us are much more likely to fall off a ladder, burn ourselves accidentally, slip in the bathroom or be hit by a careless or reckless driver.  Or fall victim to some kind of disease or chronic health issue. 

The point?  You will not be putting yourself in harm's way by going on safari in Africa.  The specific areas you will be visiting are no more dangerous than much of  the USA - or practically anywhere else. Putting one's life on hold and canceling plans to do things and go places is not a solution.  It boils down to exchanging one set of risks for another, while robbing yourself of the joy of living and experiencing new things, new experiences and new places.

Our destination management company in Kenya - Origins Safaris - have a spotless safety record and they will take every precaution necessary to keep you safe and away from any area that may be considered vulnerable or dangerous.   

Of course once you are on safari out in the bush or on the coast you could not be in a more peaceful and relaxed setting, with almost no personal safety issues due to the absence of cities and and heavily populated areas. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

My old Acura

What do you do with a 17-year old car that you are completely upside down on, as in you've spent much more on it than it is worth?  Easy answer - you keep throwing more money down the same rathole. And keep hanging on to the thing for sentimental reasons. 

Yesterday my old 1996 AcuraTL 2.5 - one of the increasingly rare 5-cylinder versions - threw a bit of a vehicular fit when the alarm rather alarmingly went off for no apparent reason when my son tried to start it.  With no way to stop the alarm - the only remaining key does not have a mechanism for that - he had to disconnect the battery.

Well it turned out that an old problem - bad battery cables - had reared its head again.  I had asked our automobile repair shop (we've used them for 15 years+) to fix the problem about 2 years ago but they  ignored me.  Not this time.  The new cables have been ordered and will be installed today.

What is next?  Can't be the air conditioning, radiator or alternator, those have all been fixed.  As was the - ultra expensive - oil leak.  Every time I pick it up from the Hondacar Center it is $500+, never less...  And sometimes much more.  I console myself with the thought that the car is paid for.  Most of the time.

Diet Notes:

Getting back  on a more strict 'No S' regimen is showing results very quickly.  Just since last Sunday, my weight has dropped by nearly 3 pounds.  I think running again - albeit just 3 times per week for about half an hour per outing - is also starting to make a difference.

I will make it a mini-goal to be down to 180 lbs by next Tuesday for the weekly boot camp at Terry Hershey Park with Miriam Terc. 

July 10 2013:

Weight: 183.8
Bodyfat percentage: 22
Miles run:  0
Strength + conditioning: 50 minutes @ LA Fitness with Amy
Mountain bike:  8 miles (40 minutes)
July 9:  'No S' GREEN day

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Supermarket blues

Once again my local Randalls (owned by Safeway) did not have an express check-out lane open at 5:30P yesterday, with the store crowded with dinner shoppers.  When asked, a manager said: "Most people have more items (than you), so we don't keep the express lane open."  Really?  He denied that Randalls is trying to force more people to use the self checkout lane, which I positively detest.

Forget about it Randalls, I won't darken your door again.  We do have a choice you know.

Whole Foods is one of them, but the closest WF is almost 5 miles from our home - and not easy to get to, on the other side of Beltway 8.  We have a new Fresh Market opening in late July, barely 500 meters from our driveway down Memorial Drive, that might be the ticket.  As long as they stock extra-firm tofu...  If not, I will just have to drive the 3 miles or so to Trader Joe's on Voss Rd.  Where they are smart enough to make checking out a pleasant experience, unlike the service-challenged managers at Randalls.

I am getting a little burned out on steelcut oats.  Latest favorite breakfast cereal is Kashi GoLean with a whopping 10g of fiber (42% of RDA) in a 1-cup serving.  It contains a little honey - oops!  Sorry to the bees responsible but I am going to have to overlook that.  I like the crunchiness of the cereal with its 'fiber twigs' and 'soy protein graham's.  As much protein as an egg, to boot!

One more grocery note:  I spent more than $6 on a tiny 4.4 oz bottle of Marmite yesterday.  South African would cringe at the price, and I do too, even after more than 20 years here.  I guess I just can't do without the stuff!  And it is loaded with Vitamin B-12, a sorely needed supplement for us vegans. 

July 9 2013:

Weight: 184.6
Bodyfat percentage: 22
Miles run:  2
Strength + conditioning: 1 hr
Mountain bike:  0
July 8:  'No S' GREEN day

Monday, July 8, 2013

Gym doubts

I'm not sure if I need to continue my LA Fitness Gym membership ($33 per month) which costs me an additional $100 per week for 2 X 1-hr sessions with the Personal Trainer.  Nice as she is - and knowledgeable - it is difficult to justify such an expense as I am perfectly capable of designing my own workout sessions - using the home gym.  I will think about this for the next few weeks and decide by the end of the summer.

A few things things which I dont like about LA Fitness:

  • No antiseptic wipes for the machines, god knows what kind of bacteria or other bad germs I might be picking up...  Last Friday they completely ran out of paper towels.
  • People lounging (resting) on the machines between sets.  WTH?  I even asked one guy the other day (while he was resting on a machine in-between sets) if he was using the machines.  He just nodded yes and continued to rest... 
  • Horrible music.  Is it really necessary to listen to Britney Spears and similar 'no talent' people almost all the time? 

What I do like?

  • The hours - they are open early and late.
  • The multitude of machines: you can try a new one every 4 or 5 days and won't run out.
  • The place is brand new so everything works, most of the time. 
  • Nice lockers and bathroom facilities
  • A large pool that is almost always available: now I just need to get Kathy to teach me some proper swimming strokes. 

Here is my planned 'Monday' circuit at LA Fitness:

Bench press
Military press

Shoulder pull-up
Pec deck

Glute kickback
Shoulder press

This guy's double is at my gym. Makes me feel a little better about my own 185+...

July 8 2013:
Weight: 184.8
Bodyfat percentage: 22
Miles run:  0
Strength + conditioning: 0
Mountain bike:  0
July 7:  No S GREEN day

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Back on the road again!

I am finally able to run again, after a forced lay-off of nearly 18 months.  Last week I ran three times (Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday) - no more than 30 minutes at a time. Even though I am running without any pain, I am still very concerned about re-aggravating the plantar fasciitis so for the foreseeable future that will be it:  3 times per week (Tue, Thu and Saturday) and no more than 30 minutes duration.  Will increase the duration slowly - no more than 10% per week - once I start feeling a bit stronger.

So what does it feel like to start running again?  Fantastic - and horrible.  Fantastic because at one stage there I thought I might never be able to do it again.  Horrible because said running is taking place in Houston in summer - even the minimum temperature is over 70F and it gets into the mid to upper 90's in a hurry, almost every day. 

Since I got back from Africa from my most recent inspection trip I have not yet gotten back into the gym, mostly because my personal trainer has been away or had other(better?) things going on.  From next week, I will start to re-integrate twice weekly PT sessions with the running.  I will try to do the gym session (with the PT) on Wednesdays and Fridays, and work on my own on Sunday and Monday, for a total of 4 times per week.

On top of that I'm planning on about an hour or so of mountain bike cycling on Sundays, Wednesday and Fridays (i.e. non-running days).   Will try to increase the Sunday bike outing to 20 miles+ as time goes by. 

And finally, it is time to kick-start another period of 'No S' dieting: no snacks, no sweets and no seconds on any days except those starting with S, or Special days such as public holidays, festivals and birthdays.

How about one more mid-year resolution?  We will be traveling to French West Africa (Republic of Congo) in November this year, so I had better shape up on my French.  From today I will be tackling  Rosetta Stone French lessons and from next week - or as soon as I can get my courage up - attending the French conversational meetups in our neighborhood.

July 7 2013:
Weight: 186
Bodyfat percentage: 22
Miles run:  0
Strength + conditioning:  50 minutes
Mountain bike:  14 miles, 1 hr 15 minutes.

Today's workout:  The Andy Routine (Wimbledon)

15 reps of each

Medball situps
Rocky solo with medball
45 degree twist with medball

Lying opposites with Swiss ball
Hip cross-over with Swiss ball
Reverse hyperextension with Swiss ball

Seated Ab crunch
Crunch with a cross
Pushups (aka press-ups)

Monday, April 29, 2013

Home gym vs 'real' gym

For years now, I have been sporadically working out in my home gym, which consists of a basic weight lifting station (with adjustable bench), a hanging heavy bag for boxing (sadly under-utilized!), and old but still working C-2 ergometer (aka rowing machine) and a combination of items which I use in the back patio.  These consist of a Swiss Ball, a medicine ball and various stretch bands which I affix to one of the walls and then push and pull in various directions.  Of course there is also an Atlas brand exercise mat for abs and other exercises.

About 3 years ago, using exclusively the home gym - plus lots of running - I was in peak condition with relatively low body fat, weight around 160.

Subsequently due to the on-going plantar fasciitis issue I have had to stop running,but I did join a regular gym (LA Fitness) and work out there at least twice per week with a personal trainer.

The results so far have been unspectacular, mostly because my weight has not dropped.  At least it hasn't increased any further either!

So what do I like most about the 'real' gym versus my back-yard gym?

There are other people around, for one thing.  Always interesting to see what other folks are getting up to, and it is inspiring to see some of the 'beach body' types.  Also you realize all too soon that there are many other people in even worse shape than you!

I like the fact that the gym has literally dozens of machines, one for practically every part/muscle of the body.  It is really quite amazing to have such a variety of equipment - often more than one in the same category.  There are also rows and rows of aerobic stations.  Some of which - alas - I can't use right now, such as the treadmill.  The time will come.

LA Fitness also has a wide variety of free excercise classing ranging from spinning to AbWorks and more.  In due course I am going to join one of these on a regular basis. 

The big advantage of the home gym is of course that you don't have to travel to get to it.  Always available - literally 24/7.  My LA Fitness gym is only about 2 miles away so just over 5 minutes to get to, which is not bad.  There is also an economic incentive to use the LA Fitness facility regularly - which is of course the fact that it costs me about $30 per month! 

Sunday, April 28, 2013


I haven't made much progress with the weight-loss:  not running has just not been any good for my waist-line.  I try to get out on the mountain bike for an hour every day and succeed about 4 to maybe 5 times per week.  While fun and certainly taxing on the legs, mountain biking is just not nearly as effective as keeping the pounds off, at least not for this individual.

Unfortunately the plantar fasciitis is still around.  It is not painful when waking up in the morning and doesn't present any real issues in just getting around.  So I can do all the routine things such as walking around, the grocery store, going to the movies, a sport event, or whatever.  As soon as I start to walk any longish distance - a half or mile or so - things change.   I  start to feel the stress on the leg and by the next morning there will be some low-level pain and disomfort.  Back where we started.

I am now really close to the point where I am going to seek out a surgeon to do endoscopic plantar fascia release.  Will give it another few weeks as I have an upcoming trip to Africa starting on May 21 and lasting until June 19.

Something that is going well is my photography, getting the 'hang' of my new Nikon D-4 camera.  Here are a couple of pics I took last week at the J Fred Duckett twilight event at Rice University. 
The lens I used was a Nikon 200-400 Zoom with 1.7 teleconverter. f/6.7, 1/3200 sec, ISO 3200. With my D-300 I might get 'lucky' and get a shot like this. With the D-4 firing at 9 frames per second there is (almost) no luck involved,  All you need is a good angle, some side-lighting and enough depth of field. It helps to be able to push the ISO and still get nice detail as is visible on the hair.


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

'Won' my first Diet Bet

That was not too painful. I put in $25.00 for my first DietBet 28 days ago, cut down on the snacking and drinks a little bit, and exercised more (mountain biking and regular 3 times+ per week at the gym) and voila:  down 8 pounds from 189 to 181.  Got back $44 and change.  Will lend it to someone on Kiva and have already entered another DietBet starting today; the bet is $30.00.  My 'late afternoon' weight will likely be around 183, so will probably have to lose another 8 pounds - to 175 - to 'win' this one. It could get a little more challenging this time around.

First night ride on the Terry Hershey trail last night - that was fun! A perfect cloudless night with not a breeze, and remarkably quiet - all the better to hear the tires rumbling across the asphalt. Makes you feel fast even if you're not. I guess you could say I am 'almost' a biker now - just need the spandex and technicolor dream shirt. Not!

BTW for about $120.00 the Lumina 650 by NiteRider delivers a nice bright light which makes it a breeze - and very safe - to ride at night.  I had no difficulty seeing the trail and it produces enough light even on the medium or low setting to pick up anything of significance.  Easy to mount on the bike and easy to recharge from a computer.  Very light too.  

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Trader Joe's in the neighborhood

First time visit to the new Trader Joe's on Voss, yesterday. So much better than the Trader Joe's on Shepherd with lots of space, wide aisles, friendly and helpful employees, great selection of stuff that you can't get anywhere else. Quinoa and black bean tortilla chips with fresh salsa, anyone? And items like real wild rice, almonds and Trader Giotto's Olive Oil for a whole lot less than at 'Whole Paycheck'.  I also like the tricolor quinoa, veggie burgers, organic tempeh, canned soup, excellent value table wine and I am sure that I will be finding some new stuff in future.  Just a great little shop for vegans and vegetarians.  Yes they sell meat and other stuff too but the pre-prepared food section is just bursting with non-meat items, as is the meat-alternative section (tofu, tempeh, no-meat sausage etc).

When we couldn't find some item a store employee escorted us around the store to two different areas personally, and the checkout process was quick and painless.  No stupid card needed for discounts, and best of all they don't try to 'force' you to check out yourself, one of my pet peeves.  So sayonara Randalls and Kroger, with a Trader Joe's less than 4 miles from my house, you are fresh out of a long-time customer.

DietBest progress:  Down just one more pound to 181, very close to goal!  Will have to be extra-diligent this week to maintain at 181 in order to get my $25 back.  Which I will likely use to enter another DietBet right away! 

Monday, February 4, 2013

Dropping some elbees

A combination of 'no S diet' and increase in working out and mountain biking did the trick this last week: down a total of 6 pounds for the first 14 days on the DietBet.  Need to shed another 3 lbs over the next two weeks to get my money back.  Definitely do-able unless I fall into a big pile of donuts or a bacon and cheeseburger trap.  :-)

Really enjoying the mountain biking as a sub for running.  Still hopeful that in time I will be able to resume running, as plantar issues seem to be receding every so slowly.

Drove by a guy yesterday who had crashed into a metal retaining barrier on the trail, seemed to have badly hurt his shoulder.  Indirectly this was caused by a vandal who had knocked down a trail sign (warning of sharp S curve and steep downhill).  What a shame.  Even so the bikers need to take it easy on this mixed-use trail.  There is no need for excessive speeding and certainly not around blind corners.

This week my goal is to post 5 consecutive Green days on 'No S', could not get beyond 2 last week. 

Monday, January 28, 2013

Put some money where your weight is

Well, on to another chapter in the seemingly never-ending struggle to keep the pesky unwanted extra pounds at bay.  Still looking for those elusive abs which made a disappearing act in the 1980's and which have not been seen since.

This time around, I am combining the tried and tested 'No S Diet' (no snacking, no sweets and no seconds on all days except those starting with 'S') with a Diet Bet.  Check it out: Diet Bet website

The deal is you 'bet' a pre-specified amount such as $25.00 either in your own competition with a few friends or family members, or you join a larger group of people, each having contributed or 'bet' the same amount.  If, by the end of 28 days you reach your target weight loss (4% of your total body weight) you get your money back PLUS whatever amount was forfeited by players who did not make the goal weight loss.

Right now I am at the end of Week 1 on aFitFluentail bet with a total of 564 players.  So the total pool is $14,100.  One week into the game a total of 1,283.00 self-reported pounds have been lost, which represents an average weight loss of 2.2 pounds per person.  Pretty impressive!

On the No S front I am doing pretty well, but just can't resist the temptation for some late-afternoon snacking (usually hummus dip with chips of one kind or another).  For this week my remedy will be tea:  a fresh supply of oolong and white tea is at hand, so at the first pan of a snack attack, will fire up the tea pot and have some calming, soothing low-caffeine tea instead.  White tea is naturally extremely low in caffeine.  Oolong have more caffeine, but I was told that if you let the first brewing steep for just 30 seconds and then discard the tea, some 80% of the caffeine is gone.  You can still brew the same leaves 3 to 4 times after that.

Running?  Not at all.  My left foot plantar fasciitis is no longer chronic (i.e. I have no pain upon waking up or any time during the day) but as soon as go on a run or even do a long walk, some discomfort re-appears.  I will likely have the podiatrist do an MRI soon to see if they can figure out what the problem is.

However that does not mean that I am inactive.  To the contrary: have been doing very regular and very brisk 12+ mile outings on the mountain bike at least 4 to 5 times per week. pushing up my heart rate to well over 130bpm, sometimes over 140.  And have started working out with my favorite PT Amy, this time at LA Fitness just around the corner on Westheimer Road here in Houston.  Beautiful, large and spanking brand new gym with more machines than you can imagine.  I've used maybe 5 or 6 of the 50+ types available.  Clearly there are more muscle areas in the body that I am aware of or have been using. 

DietBet Week 1:  Lost 4 pounds, down from 186 to 182.
No S roundup Week 1:  3 green days, 2 red (snacking!).