To sleep, perchance to dream …

“Your life is a reflection of how you sleep, and how you sleep is a reflection of your life.”  Dr Rafael Pelayo

“To sleep, perchance to dream – ay, there’s the rub.”  These words were spoken by Prince Hamlet as he contemplated suicide and death.  I’m not contemplating either of those things, but I would love to be able to sleep each night and feel refreshed when I wake up.

biscuit_tin (2)There is a link, so the health bods say, between sleep deprivation and weight gain.  I don’t know whether it’s because of the fact that you’re awake for more hours and therefore prone to straying into the biscuit tin, or if there’s other reasons why.  If you Google ‘sleep deprivation and weight gain’ a whole raft of links turns up, some realistic and factual, others more silly and unbelievable.

I have to say, though, that I do believe this to be true.  I’ve found, weirdly, on nights when I have had a decent night’s sleep – and by decent, I mean actually sleeping from the time I drift off to sleep to the time I wake up, without having to get up to go to the loo several times in the night – I actually weigh less.  It might only be a pound but if I don’t get a good night’s sleep, very often I’ve put on a pound, sometimes two.

It might be worth keeping a food/sleep diary for a week or so.  You can add to this how you’re feeling on the day as well as our moods often affect what we eat during the day, and also, what we eat can affect how we sleep.  I’ve found, for example, that if I eat strawberries too late in the evening, that I have stomach problems and that keeps me awake.  Strawberries – and most other berries, although I’ve only experienced it with strawbs – ferment in the gut, and the churning feeling that goes on can cause a lot of discomfort.  If you’re going to eat berries, either have them at lunch time or as a mid-afternoon snack and just have a yoghurt after your evening meal.

Having kept the diary for a week or two, look back over it and see if your mood affected what you ate, and if that in turn affected how you slept.  If you’re not an emotional eater, it could be your choice of foods at certain times of the day that play havoc with your sleeping patterns.  There is the food combination diet which suggests you shouldn’t eat proteins and starchy foods at the same time. Starchy foods include, rice, wheat, even potatoes.  It suggests having non-starchy vegetables with ocean vegetables for a healthier option.

I’ve never tried this diet so can’t say if it really works.  I’m sure there are people out there that would swear by it and you can always give it a go for a week or two and see if your sleeping patterns are improved.

Dieting is all about trial and error. What works for one person may not necessarily work for another and it pays to not give up after a day because that’s not long enough to see if it would work.

cute-cats-sleeping-8 (2)Sleeping, however, is important to your well-being and how you’re able to function the next day.  I know if I haven’t had a good night’s sleep for a few days in a row I always feel sluggish and unwell.  That, in itself, can be a potential for disaster right there: because when you’re not feeling well, or if you’re feeling tired, the temptation to eat ‘naughty’ things goes up another couple of notches.

Believe or not, going out for a brisk walk, out in the fresh air (with or without the pretend dog at the end of a pretend lead) is often all that’s needed to give you that much needed boost.  And you never know, that little bit of exercise might help you to sleep better.


Dogged determination

“A dream doesn’t become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work.”  Colin Powell

catIt crossed my mind that dog walkers are supposed to be fit; they have to take their dog out in all weathers so that he can relieve himself, and read the lampposts, tree trunks and any other vertical surface to see who, of their mates, has been by recently and what messages they’ve left.

Having cats, I can’t see Casey and Gibbs agreeing to go for a walk each day. They are bone idle in the autumn/winter months, lying around all day, peering at you through half-closed lids.  The summer months were very different though; up and outside after breakfast each morning, all day long, barely saw anything of them. They were just being bone idle in the garden – under the patio table, or wedged under one of the shrubs for shade.

It’s funny though, because some years ago, when I had a whole batch of other cats – 6 in total – one of them hadn’t come home so I went up the back alley behind my back garden and began calling the missing feline.  I stopped every few steps to listen and I turned around to see my other five cats all in single file behind me.  All stopped, waiting, and then when I set off again, they did too.  I had no idea cats would go for a walk.

A friend had a Jack Russell dog and five cats, and she said every night when they took Jack – the dog – (unsurprisingly) for a walk, all their cats came too.

In the absence of a dog, however, I could pretend that I’m actually walking one, as I go out for my walks each day.  I could hold my arm outstretched and lean backward as if the dog is taking me for a walk. Of course, this might alert people to the fact that there is a crazy person out on the loose, and the authorities would be notified.  Is it a criminal offence to impersonate someone out walking their dog? I hope not or I’m guilty as charged.

I’m in the groove …

“The dance is a poem of which each movement is a word.”  Mata Hari

hulahoopSo I was stirring my porridge for breakfast and I decided I would use the time (while stirring) to do some exercises.  There are limits (and safety issues) when cooking so I wasn’t intending to do star jumps or anything too risky.  No, I thought I’d do some hip rotations pretending I had a hula hoop and I had to keep it from falling.  I kept stirring the porridge while gyrating my hips with my invisible hula hoop and I had a little tune going round in my head to keep me motivated.

Other than hip gyrations I also pretend that I’m pole dancing in a seedy nightclub somewhere.  I do a sort of squat movement where I crouch down a little bit – I can’t go too low because I’ll end up with a pan full of porridge over me – but I try to do squats.  I have to confess to never having danced with a pole before unless you count that one time I danced with Piotr Stanislav in a dodgy club in Ibiza back in the 80s.

Casey and Gibbs – my cats – came in from wherever they’d been outside and glanced at me as they walked past the cooker to their food bowls and began eating their breakfast. I continued gyrating and they both looked a bit perplexed.  They haven’t actually seen me do this before. Sometimes on the Wii Fit I do the hula hoop exercise but I’m not usually stirring porridge at the same time.

I do, actually, have a hula hoop and I’ve tried, unsuccessfully, on many occasions to master it. One of the reasons I have trouble with it is that my rooms are quite small and I probably have, although quite unintentionally, the largest hula hoop in the world.  You see, I live in a Victorian cottage, built in 1901 for the workers in the orchards in my area of Kent.  The Earl Haig, Lord Raglan and Lord Eardley, (all pubs as well as proper people!) and a few other noble bods had orchards and farms and they built workers’ cottages on their land so that their employees all had somewhere to live as well as somewhere to work.

The cottages were very basic: usually two up, two down with an outside toilet (if they were lucky).  Over the years as people have bought them they’ve added bits to them, put the toilets inside, created a bathroom and kitchen and generally brought them up to habitable standards.  Only not accommodating enough to have a hula hoop.

As they’re Victorian cottages, built towards the end of Queen Victoria’s reign, I have mused that she would not probably have fitted into my front room – which other than the miniscule bathroom – is the smallest room in the house.  Her skirts would have swept the floors as she walked from room to room which would have been quite handy for housework purposes but I do think, had she tried to master the hula hoop, she would not have been amused.

Cats are pretty clever animals.  They nap a lot, conserving their energy for dawn and dusk which coincides with when their prey are most active so it’s no secret to anyone that cats will sleep probably for 18 – 20 hours in a day.  It’s what they do when they wake up that is of interest to me.  They stretch.  First the front half of them, then the back half.  I never think of stretching when I get up out of bed.  But it makes sense.  The spine compresses when we’re asleep which is why, when we first get up – or even while we’re still in bed – it is a sensible idea to stretch up and make ourselves as tall as possible.

On days when the weather has been too foul to go out (and I do draw the line at going out in torrential rain with thunder and lightning!) I put a CD on and pick out a track I like to dance to and I get in the groove.  I pretend I’m in a nightclub or at a party.  To make it authentic I put my handbag in the middle of the room and dance round it.  I don’t go as far as wearing white high heeled stilettos though – that WOULD be silly!

Casey and Gibbs sit on the sofa shaking their heads wondering how they can find somewhere else to live where the woman of the house isn’t quite as mad as this woman.  They weren’t around in the 70’s so don’t understand the concept of dancing round your handbag in a nightclub.  Gibbs gets up and despite the rain, heads for the catflap.  He’s had enough.  He doesn’t get the hip thrusts and bum wiggles and hands in the air as this middle-aged woman with a red face circumnavigates her handbag in the centre of a tiny living room.

Casey, loyal to a ‘t’, stays resolutely on the sofa. He is relieved, when eventually, said red-faced middle-aged woman finally stops making a fool of herself and plonks herself next to him on the sofa.  Face glistening she leans over to him: ‘that was good, Casey.  You should try it,’ she says as she flops back against the cushions clutching her chest.

Size isn’t everything – or is it?

“You better cut the pizza into four pieces because I’m not hungry enough to eat six.”  Yogi Berra

frightened_scaleOne of the best dieting aids I have is not the bathroom scales that shrink in fear each time I go into the bathroom, praying ‘Oh God, don’t let it be today, please God, not today!’  The best dieting aid I have is a plate.  Not just any plate – I hasten to add – but a ‘slimmer’s plate’.  My Other Half (who eats what he likes and is a very slim 6’ 2” hunk – whereas I try to eat healthily and I’m not slim and I’m a 5’ 4” chunk!) bought me a ‘slimmer’s plate’ from a boot fair recently.  Around the edges and in the middle are various items with their calorific values.  I don’t pay any attention to the calories, however, because I don’t count calories.

The special thing about this plate – and why it is the best dieting aid I have – is because it is SMALLER than the usual sized dinner plate.  Most dinner plates are about 10 inches in diameter – some are even larger – whereas this one is a bit smaller – probably about 8 inches.  The great thing about those 8 inches is that they have saved me thousands of calories (even though I don’t count them) since the Other Half gave me the plate.

I always thought I ate healthily.  Indeed, what I put on my plate WAS healthy but the amount I had on my plate possibly WASN’T healthy. It’s easy to think that the food you’ve just cooked and dished up is the perfect meal.  It might well be. BUT – and there’s a bit but (and I’m not referring to my derriere!) if you have the usual sized plate of 10 inches, there’s a tendency to fill the middle bit – to not leave any spaces, right?  Now, you may have a steak, salad, possibly a few sweet potato fries on this plate but if you’ve filled all the space, you might be eating over your calorie allowance for the day.

I have noticed that I do put less on my smaller plate and guess what? I’m not hungry either. What does this mean, I hear you ask?  I shall tell you forthwith.  The mind is easily tricked into thinking ‘huge white space on a plate must be filled at all costs or I’ll instruct the stomach to complain loudly until it gets more food.’

With the smaller space filled, the mind is tricked into thinking there IS enough food on the plate and the stomach IS NOT instructed to complain loudly because the stomach already knows its full.  I put less on this slimmer’s plate than I used to put on my other dinner plates and it’s because I save roughly 350 – 450 calories a day (although, don’t forget, I don’t count them) that I have let go of almost 2 stone (28lbs) since just before Christmas 2017.

If you’re looking to let go of some excess weight, maybe in time for a holiday, or maybe because you want to feel happier and healthier, then try putting your food on a slightly smaller plate. Weigh yourself on the day you decide to do this, then weigh yourself about 4 weeks later and see if you’ve managed to reduce those hips and thighs. And let me know if it worked for you as it does for me.

Perhaps this is one time when size might matter.slimmers plate2.JPG

Be a rebel!

‘A little rebellion now and then is a good thing.’  Thomas Jefferson

Be a rebel! No, I’m not talking about taking up arms and fighting for a band of mercenaries. Not that kind of rebel.  I mean – do something out of the ordinary.  Do something that you wouldn’t normally consider doing.  I sometimes wear my Olay night cream during the day just for the hell of it! And recently, I went the entire day wearing my knickers inside out although that probably wasn’t as much about being a rebel, as having a senior moment, so we’ll skip that one!

Day to day, most of us live our lives in pretty much the same routine.  We get up at a certain time, have breakfast, rush out of the house and catch the same train to work each day.  Even if you’re a stay-at-home person like me, I still have my routines that I try to stick to.  I’m not OCD about it all; there are some days when for whatever reason, I’m not dressed before lunch time but I’ve usually had a brilliant idea for either my website, or one of the four books I’m currently writing, or even this blog – and rather than wait until I’m washed and dressed – and losing momentum while I wait – I sit down and write it out of my system.

Sometimes it does us good to do something different.  Go to the cinema in the morning or the middle of the afternoon for a change.  No, it won’t necessarily be heaving with people when you go, but that’s the joy of it.  You can watch the film in peace and quiet and actually enjoy the quiet, rather than hearing the constant rustle as people unwrap chocolates.

There is something about doing that – going to the cinema in the middle of the day – that feels slightly ‘naughty’ as if you’ve bunked off school and missed double science or maths. And that in itself makes you feel different.  You’ve got one over on ‘authority’; you’ve jumped ship to enjoy your day in a slightly different way. Psychologically, that will make you feel better.

There is a ‘Stepford Wives’ feeling about doing the same repetitive things over and over again, day after day, at the same time in the same way.  That’s why it’s so good for your morale to break out of that mould and cast your inhibitions to the wind. You can become overly focused on dieting, or exercising so that it becomes the most important thing you have to do each day.  This is not healthy.

When I have been on diets in the past, from the moment I wake up, till the moment I go to bed, my every thought is about what I can eat.  From right after breakfast, I am planning what I want for lunch and after lunch, I think about what I can eat for my dinner.   And that isn’t healthy, either. To be so focused as to not be enjoying your day, your life is just not good for you.

I don’t tell myself I’m on a diet any more. And I don’t ever begin a diet on a Monday because it is a busy day and therefore can be too stressful.  Tuesday is a better day to begin a diet (or any challenge) and I believe you‘ll have more success if you start on a Tuesday.   If you have a sensible breakfast (porridge, for example) you are less likely to get hungry a few hours later and reach for the biscuits or snack bars.

Instead, I tell myself I am eating sensibly and my brain accepts this and doesn’t go into sabotage mode. I also tell myself that I am ‘letting go’ of my weight instead of ‘I am trying to lose weight.’  When you lose something, you want to find it, don’t you? If you lost your car keys you search high and low until you find them.  ‘Lost weight’ has a habit of finding itself back where you didn’t want it so let go of your excess weight.  And you can do this by mentally visualising baskets of yellow fat (disgusting sight) being lifted up to the skies with balloons – up, up and away, never to be seen again.

So do something just for yourself that you wouldn’t normally do – and enjoy the experience.  Be a rebel for a change.


Bare necessities …

‘What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the master calls the butterfly.’

I was in the bath this morning and you might ask ‘so, what is special about that?’  The answer is ‘nothing’. But – my bathroom is downstairs next to the back door.  As my bathroom is small (bijou still doesn’t adequately describe it) I leave the bathroom door open otherwise it feels as if I’m in a cupboard. Next door’s cat – Clive – came hurtling through the cat flap to escape the torrential downpour giving me a cursory glance as he made his way to Casey’s leftovers from breakfast.

There are some things that should never be seen and Clive should never have seen me naked.  I could imagine him later cosying up to his Man, in a bid for some one on one bonding, off his whiskers on an over-indulgence of catnip, telling Man all about ‘the lady next door’s bits and pieces dangling everywhere.’  How can I ever look Man in the face again as we chat through the trellis on top of the fence that divides our gardens? And no doubt, Clive will be smirking in the background, unless, of course, he’s seeing a feline psychiatrist dealing with PTSD (Pets That See Dangly-Things)

That got me thinking about our pets in general.  Cats, dogs, hamsters, gerbils, all the pets that reside with us humans do see us with all our glorious imperfections yet they still love us.  The hamsters and gerbils are a bit unluckier as they are in cages and couldn’t get out of their prisons unless they are ambitious and start an Alcatraz type escape plan and fashion papier-mâché look-alikes curled up asleep in the straw while they whittle through the bars before making a bid for freedom.

But dogs and cats spend the most time with their people, don’t they? They see us in the mornings when we’ve just got up; they see the tousled hair; the tatty dressing gown and slippers; the morning dog breath yet they don’t rush to get away from us.  We are their best friend and any minute now we’ll be putting down a dish of awful smelling pet food which they will wolf down with relish.

If we go out of the house for any reason for any length of time they greet us as if we’ve been on a round the world trip and been away for years.  Such is their pleasure at seeing us again.  I even get the ‘Oh my God, am I pleased you’re back, I was about to ring all the hospitals’ routine off Casey when I pop up the road to post a letter – a round trip of about 5 ½ minutes but you’d think I’d been gone for months the way he greets me.

And that set me thinking on other things. Our cats and dogs see life in very simple terms.  They eat, sleep, defecate, get exercise and interact with their human family each day following much the same routine as the day before.  They are genuinely pleased to see us each morning when we get up, and each time we return home from wherever we’ve been, whether that’s from a shopping trip, from school, work, holiday, or just to post a letter. We are the best thing since sliced bread in their eyes.

Don’t we owe it to ourselves to greet each day with as much enthusiasm as our pets do? To see the positive rather than the negative? You know, if a cat isn’t happy with his home life and family, he votes with his feet.  He’ll find another home without a bye your leave or thank you to his former home.  But it’s a sad fact that even a dog that’s been abused or neglected by his owner will still wag his tail with hope and love shining from his eyes.

I watch my cats, Casey and Gibbs, as they stretch after a sleep.  First, they stretch the front part of their bodies, and then their back half.  Then they’re good to go.  Stretching is so important to do when we first get up out of bed.  While we sleep our spine compresses.  That’s why, if you’re measured at the doctors’ surgery or a hospital in the morning, you’ll be shorter than if you’re measured later in the day.   Not a lot of people know that!

So, stretch out several times during the day, not just when you first get up.  Reach up as high as you can without hurting yourself.  Then try and bend over, trying not to fart on the cat as you do so (a common occurrence in this house as Casey can testify).  Again, don’t overstrain the reach.  If you can touch your toes or the floor with your fingertips (not your boobs!) then great; if its only as far as your thighs or knees, that’s also great.  Baby steps.  Try a little bit more each day.   Before long, you’ll be doing cartwheels and handstands up and down the hallway.


Fail to prepare – prepare to fail

‘If you do what you always did, you will get what you always got.’ – Albert Einstein

How many times have you heard that statement: Fail to prepare – prepare to fail?  Preparation – or planning – is necessary for probably everything we ever strive to do, from taking – and successfully passing exams, to buying your first home, going on holiday, and changing your lifestyle.  Success requires careful planning.   Oh, you’ll get the whizz kid who’ll tell you that they got through school without ever revising and ended up at some prestigious university.  Or the couple who just went to the airport with cash in their pockets, looked up at the flight destinations and bought a last-minute ticket to Timbuctoo and found the hotel of their dreams once they arrived.  Yes, I grant you, these things do happen.  But for us ordinary bods life isn’t that easy.  Most of us have to work relatively hard to achieve the success we want, the grades we want, the job/house/holiday we want.

After yet another poor night’s sleep and lying on the sofa after breakfast feeling sick, empty and giddy, I had another one of those ‘aha’ moments.  The bad night’s sleep was not down to me sitting on the computer for hours, first let me get that out of the way; it was down to my internal organs rebelling about something – who knows what – and I was writhing about in pain.   At 4am I took myself downstairs to the bathroom and – well, I’ll spare you the gruesome details.  Casey and Gibbs had taken it upon themselves to guard me while I sat pondering; Gibbs in the doorway so no masked intruders or zombies could get past him, and Casey sat at my feet, looking up at me, a perplexed look on his face.  Night time Mum is definitely more scarier than day time Mum, with one eye closed and hair standing on end.  Seeing me at 4am is a very rare occurrence and they optimised the situation to their favour.  Once I’d finished in the bathroom, negotiated getting over Casey and navigated the doorway and climbed over Gibbs, I was about to turn all the lights off and go back upstairs to bed.  They had other ideas.  Both sat next to their food bowls and with upturned angelic face far too hard to resist, I caved and gave them another bowl of dinner or perhaps that should be a ‘pre-breakfast breakfast’.

Satisfied that they were happy, I bid them goodnight and went to bed.  I woke up less than four hours later feeling decidedly giddy and very unwell.  This is what a combination of late nights, early mornings, and poor choices throughout the day (not necessarily food, I hasten to add) will do to you.

The answer?  Well, I had to formulate a plan.  Obviously, my body is in the habit of going to bed late but it also wakes up early so I’m lucky if I get three or four hours a night.  Margaret Thatcher may have famously got by running the country – or ruining it depending on your viewpoint – on just four hours sleep but I need at least 7 or 8 hours.  Maybe Denis Thatcher was a highly sexually charged man and that was why she got so little sleep, but I don’t even want to think about that scenario.

So, a plan was needed.  And I came up with the simplest of ideas.  Before I tell you what it is can I just say that life never needs to be difficult.  Simplicity is best when it comes to making any decisions about anything; keep it simple.   There is less to go wrong when the plan isn’t laden down with complicated caveats.

In order to go to bed earlier, I would set my alarm clock for 7.00am.  I know a lot of people get up a lot earlier than that, but I am at home all day and having spent years getting up at silly o’clock to get a train into London every day, and getting home at all hours, I don’t really want to get up any earlier than that.  There is no need unless we’re doing one of our infrequent boot fairs, then I have to get up at 4 – 4.30.

Getting up earlier would hopefully kickstart my mind (and body) into accepting going to bed earlier.  And instead of saying I wanted to be in bed by midnight, I revised that to 11. If I could get to sleep shortly after 11 and get up at 7, then I would, hopefully, get about 8 hours sleep a night – which would be perfect.

In order to make sure I went to bed early, it was important not to have my evening meal too late, so I revised that time as well.  I decided I would eat no later than 7, earlier if possible and that would give my meal 4 hours or so to digest, hopefully eliminating the painful gut problems experienced last night.

Coupled with a short walk after lunch, or some vigorous dancing around my handbag in the front room if the weather was inclement, I had a plan. Let’s see if I can make it work.