Finding my way back to the gym

I have had a long and complicated relationship with exercise, my health, weight, and my size, and I have gone into this several times over the years here on the blog. I’m not going to go into it all again, don’t worry (there’s over a decade worth of archives for y’all to rummage through if you’re curious). For the newer readers among you, just know that:
1) I am as lazy as all get out
2) Really. I am supremely lazy.
3) I weigh more than I should.
4) I have PCOS and part of my particular presentation is insulin resistance which makes it a) very easy to gain weight and b) bloody difficult to loose weight.
5) I have joint issues (primarily wrists and back) making some of the exercise I used to enjoy (archery, rowing, yoga) almost impossible.
6) Before you say anything about swimming being a joint-kind exercise, I’m not a swimmer. Just… not.
7) I did actually used to go the gym a lot (like daily) and genuinely enjoyed it, then I got an office job and moved cities and sort of… stopped. Then I turned round one day and a decade had passed.
8) Have I mentioned I’m lazy?

None of this is exactly earth shattering and put on the page it doesn’t look like much, but it’s important to know the background.

In the last few months I’ve reached a point in my life where I have said “enough is enough!” I’m 34 now and it’s only going to get harder to get healthier. Note, I said healthier. I am being firm with myself and NOT making it about a number on the scales or my clothes size. My goals are to be able to take the stairs without getting out of breath. To be able to run for the bus. To try and head off at the pass even more of the health issues I am at risk for due to my size. To be more confident in the body I do have and to take care of it.

That being said, is weight loss something I am aware of? Yes. I know the number I am now and I know my hypothetical “goal” number. I have worked out that number after careful consultation with my doctor and knowing what is best for my particular body and set of health issues. Ideally I will loose 10-20kg (20-50lbs) over the next two years. That will probably equate to being a dress size smaller? Maybe two in some stores? Nothing more.

To reiterate: The weight loss in and of itself isn’t the goal.

Nor will this blog become all about weight loss strategies and gym workouts and things. Because UGH, so not my thing.

Enough about what this ISN’T. What IS it?

Well, as I was merrily striding?jogging?tromping? (what *is* the appropriate verb to describe the action on a cross-trainer/elliptical?) away on the cross-trainer last night, I started to think about all the barriers I had been putting in my own way to stop myself getting to the gym before this point. I now have three months under my belt and honestly? I am enjoying it. I couldn’t go last Friday and actually found myself missing it and was antsy to get the make-up session in on Monday.

I know. Who am I and what I have I done with Cas? A real X-Files situation, as a colleague said.

But I do. I like that I am moving with my body for once, not fighting it. It does what I ask it to and is responding when I push it. I like that I go at the end of the work day and can vent frustration and clear my mind. I like that I am doing something and working towards a goal. I like that little smug feeling I get when I say “I am going to the gym/when I went to the gym…” For someone who has as many issues surrounding her body and her perception of it, to actually feel connected with my body whilst I exercise? Phenomenal and terrifying and wonderful, all at the same time.

So how have I got here? Well, it’s not been quick to happen. I have been talking about going to this particular gym for at least a year, but I never followed through. I’ve been acknowledging the need for more exercise for quite a bit longer than that.

It all started to click in the summer last year when I started seeing a counselor regularly because my depression was winning and I needed help. I also started to embrace my “little steps” philosophy, something – funnily enough – influenced in part by an interview with Terry Crews where he recommended treating the gym like a spa. Rather than trying to make big, sweeping life changes and then failing and feeling awful, I break things down into little achievable chunks then build on them gradually. The first achievable step on the way to the gym for me, was walking to/from work and taking the stairs more. I also started doing habit tracking in my bullet journal around the same time because it turns out? I am motivated to tick boxes off and get gold stars.

On the one hand, walking to/from work every day seems a long way from hitting the gym regularly, but it really is the first step. When your activity level has been basically zero, ANY improvement is a good improvement. And it started to have a positive effect in that I was enjoying the walk and, by last Christmas, I voluntarily went on long walks because I was getting antsy when I didn’t get some exercise! Total 180 on my behaviour for the last few decades, I must stress.

Come January 2017, I set out my resolutions, the over-arching theme of which was “do SOMETHING”. I see these resolutions as my “mission statements” for the years ahead, and I then did some brainstorming to think about what the little steps making them up might be.

So I decided that I would start by going to the gym once a week. I am fortunate because there is a good local council-run gym just a five minute walk from my office and it isn’t too expensive whilst still having all the equipment you’d expect a modern gym to have and be in good repair. I dug out my sports bra from the last ill-fated attempt at an exercise regime, bought a really cheap pair of jogging bottoms, found a baggy black t-shirt, took a deep breath and… went.

Reader, I went. And it wasn’t awful. The staff on the front desk were welcoming and helpful – my first session was even free to see if I liked it. The changing rooms weren’t crowded and had a private cubicle so there was no need for the dreaded public changing situation. I remembered how to use the machines – just recumbent bike and treadmill to start – and no one stared at me judgingly. I was startled by how familiar it felt. Even though I hadn’t been in a gym setting in over a decade, my body remembered these exercises. I even tried the rowing machine but my back quickly put a stop to that, which is sad but we can’t have everything and I need to work with what my body does NOW, now what it used to do. I put in a respectable 45 minute workout and at the end? Felt good about it. Sure I could do it again.

And I did, the next week. And the week after that. Each week I would do a little more – one level harder, or an extra 30 seconds. Or on a hard week, just staying on what I knew I could do because there is value in achieving even that. Little steps, but pushing gently to see where the edges are. I’ve added the cross-trainer into the programme now and – I’ll be honest, the first time I tried it, I thought I would die, but even after three weeks I am leveling up. I can feel the difference. I’ve got a FitBit which measures heart rate and already I am seeing that improving. I am having to work harder to raise it, it is returning to resting much quicker, and the resting rate is getting a little lower.

Yes sports bras still suck. I still go the colour of a ripe tomato after 30 seconds and stay that way for hours after. Sweaty men clustering round the weight machines are still intimidating. But fuck that. I am enjoying it and that is all that matters.

I’m still not quite ready to go twice a week yet, but baby steps. I just managed 15 minutes on the cross-trainer without wanting to die at the end of it last week. I’m taking the win and putting a gold star in the bullet journal.

In which I confess things about code

I have a confession and my confession is this:
I have a masters degree in computer science and am an out-and-proud geek, yet I couldn’t code my way out of a wet paper bag.
Ask me to use existing software to work out the viewshed analysis of an ancient Mesopotamian settlement, or display the pottery distribution of an Egyptian burial mound and I am *there*. I’ve even been known to set up the odd blog and website in my time, tinkering with templates and settings and what-have-you. I wrote this post using markup language to make certain words bold and create the hyperlinks and so forth.
But ask me to do anything more complex than working out why something isn’t displaying as italic on a webpage and I am lost. Honestly, anything more involved than coding a simple webpage (and let’s not forget using tables for layout was still an accepted practice when I learnt, gods help me) and I am stumped.

Suggest I create a computer programme from scratch? I will laugh and laugh at you. And then go hide under my desk hugging my MacBook, sobbing, feeling like a traitor to my geek-self.
Coding is a skill set I have just never learnt.

I’m clearly not scared of computers or technology and I have been playing with them since my father first brought one home in the late 80’s. I cut my geek-teeth on DOS and the C: prompt.

Somewhere along the way, however, I fell into the role of playing with (and frequently breaking!) the software that my brother coded. I became all about making existing software dance to my tune – learning what could be bent to do what was needed, and what you just had to work around because “it wasn’t built for that”. When faced with these limitations however, for some reason, I never thought “well, the tool I want doesn’t exist, so why don’t I just make my own?”

Which is crazy, when you think about it.

Because I am, first and foremost, all about learning the WHY. I have to figure out how things work and their underlying logic. It’s why I am constantly trying new things, picking up new hobbies. I am driven to understand how things are put together. So it would make sense, wouldn’t it, if I was to learn more about how the software I love playing with was coded and put together?

It’s not really because I doubt my ability. I’ve just… never learnt. Is that because I was never given the opportunity? Was it assumed that the boys would learn this stuff whilst the girls would just learn the touch-typing? Did I mentally just put this stuff into a “the things my brother does” box and move on to other things?

No matter.
2015 seems like the perfect time to change that. And Emma Barnes couldn’t agree more – her clarion call in the Bookseller lays out wonderfully all the reasons we should, every one of us, be reaching for that how-to guide. (Whilst Publishing-centric, the argument holds true for any industry really).
It really isn’t rocket science. Learn to code and you will be much better prepared to understand what is possible and to know when the tech-heads are having a laugh and taking you for a ride. You’ll be better placed to articulate what you actually want. You will be able to understand the limitations – certain things HAVE to be done certain ways because you decided things right at the beginning. Do ISBNs have 9, 10, or 13 digits, for example. Only code the capacity for 9 into your programme at the start and… Oops! Time and money to fix.

I’m not saying we all have to become professional coders and build our own Twitter, or version of Word, our own publishing platform, or a remote control that turns the kettle on in the morning three minutes before the alarm goes off so it’s boiling when I stumble into the kitchen…

(OK, someone has to build me that. NOW.)

I’m not saying you have to build a whole new thing from scratch. We can’t all be the ideas people and we can’t all have the desire, or quite frankly the time, to be the next Silicon Valley innovator. But in this day and age of open source, RaspberryPIs, and APIs, I do think we all need to educate ourselves and learn at least the basics.

Computers don’t scare me. Code, for some reason, does. A little bit. So here I will make my stand and say “Enough”. I will not be defeated Ruby, or Python, or Java, or (insert programming language here). I am reaching for the coding tutorials and I am excited about it.

I really am.

Who’s going to join me?


10 books that have stayed with you

I have been nominated for the ’10 books that have stayed with you’ challenge by the Lovely Leen. Here they are, after not too much thought and in no particular order:

1. Jane Eyre (Charlotte Brontë)
2. Yes Man (Danny Wallace)
3. The Darkness Visible (William Styron)
4. The Crow Road (Iain Banks)
5. Harry Potter (J. K. Rowling)
6. The Famous Five series (Enid Blyton)
7. Wolf Speaker (Tamora Pierce – ok, pretty much any Tamora Pierce, but this one was the first I found)
8. Neuromancer (William Gibson)
9. Cryptonomicon (Neal Stephenson)
10. Day of the Triffids (John Wyndham)

Nominate yourself. Or don’t. Your call 🙂

Happy day!

The Nephew was born yesterday, so I am kinda like this right now:

Because my brother accidentally named him after a comic book character, The Nephew will henceforth be referred to as Code-name Marvel.

Despite being twice the size of Little Star when she was born, he’s the spitting image of his big sister. I’m not sure the world is going to be able to cope with this much cuteness…

Questions Meme

Oh, internet question memes, we love you so much, you gift to uninspired bloggers everywhere!

This from Tembrooke via Tumblr. I’m not tagging anyone because I only really use Tumblr to keep my Sebastian Stan/Captain America/Teen Wolf addictions fed.

1. What’s your favorite board game?
I love a good game of Chess, but it’s really hard to find someone to play with. Monopoly is a close second.

2. How many books (roughly) did you read in the past year?
Around 200 – 3 to 4 a week is fairly standard.

3. What franchise do you like better, X-Men or Avengers?
Avengers at the moment.

4. What’s your favorite musical decade (70’s, 80’s, etc.)?
I have a soft spot for early 2000’s

5. If you could live in any time period in history, which one would you choose?
I quite like now actually – I’m rather attached to modern plumbing and electric kettles and affordable printed books (gods bless Allen Lane and Penguin). It would be quite fun to be running around in the 1920s though I think, so long as I had money.

6. How many foreign countries have you visited, if any?

7. Have you ever re-read a required book from school to see if you still liked/hated it?
Yep. Jamaica Inn, and still loved it. Great Expectations, and still hated it.

8. Name a TV series you’d like to see rebooted.
I don’t fully get the whole “re-boot” thing, if it is rebooting for rebooting’s sake. I’d just like for there to be more awesome stories being told, be that a reboot of an old idea, or something completely shiny and new.

9. Do you believe in luck?
I lean more towards Karma.

10. Which Harry Potter book did you like best?
The 1st, because it was a completely unexpected gift.

11. What’s your favorite Pixar movie?
Wall-E (and Brave).

Any other questions for me? Chime in in the notes/comments/Twitter/Ask box. You know you want to.

Because it’s been a shitty week

My brain is wibbling right now and it sucks. Lots of people I’ve spoken seem to be having similarly sucky times right now, so I hereby decree today Baby Dancing Groot Day. Because everything is better with a Baby Dancing Groot.

Dancing Groot video

Dancing Groot gif

So this just happened in the #brightmansions kitchen… Gincake (with recipe) #365

So this just happened in the #brightmansions kitchen... #gincake #365 @estriel @pollygcs

Gin is good. Cake is good. Friends are good. So what better way to christen the Bright Mansions kitchen than by combining the three? The original recipe came from here, but we tweaked slightly.

Ingredients – for the cake

  • 385g plain flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 230g unsalted butter
  • 350g caster sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons freshly zested lime rind
  • Juice of one lime
  • 60ml gin
  • 60ml tonic water

Ingredients – for the glaze

  • 225g icing sugar
  • 5 tablespoons gin
  • Juice of 1 lime

Ingredients – for the icing

  • 320g icing sugar
  • 2-3 tablespoons gin
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Zest of a lime or two


  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F / Gas Mark 5 / 170-190 C
  2. In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, salt and baking powder. Set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until soft, light and pale.
  4. Add one egg at a time, beating each one until fully combined before adding the next.
  5. Add in the lime zest and vanilla.
  6. Add in half of the dry ingredients and mix until fully incorporated.
  7. Mix in the gin, tonic and lime juice, followed by the rest of the dry ingredients.
  8. Pour into your greased/lined tins/cases.
  9. Bake for about 40 minutes until golden and until a knife stuck in the middle comes out clean.
  10. While the cake is baking, mix up the glaze. Mix up the icing sugar with about half the gin and the lime juice. Add more gin until the glaze is very runny. If you need more liquid, add in a bit of tonic water.
  11. As soon as the cake comes out of the oven, prick it all over and pour the glaze over the top, allowing it to soak in the cake.
  12. Cool completely.
  13. Mix up your icing, aiming for a very thick consistency. Spread across the top of the cake and cupcakes.
  14. Decorate with a sprinkle of lime zest

Things we learnt

  • The recipe made 1 x loaf cake and 18 x muffin-sized cup cakes.
  • Depending on your oven, and what size cakes you decide to make, the cooking time does vary. The cup cakes were ready at about 30 minutes, the loaf cake took a good 15-20 minutes more as it was much deeper.
  • Sift your icing sugar. No one likes lumpy icing.
  • If you need slightly runnier icing, add a squeeze of lime juice. Do this REALLY cautiously, because it only takes a drop to turn perfect icing into runny goo.
  • This is a really simple recipe, but it does take time. And make sure the cakes are fully cool before icing.