Review: Snood

Me in a snood, looking excitedIt’s reached that point in the year where its getting horribly cold. Pretty enough on a Christmas card, much less appetising when its 1 degree outside, and you are heading off to work on the bike at 7am.

This year, I treated myself to a snood. I would recommend it.

It feels like still having the duvet wrapped around you, even as you brave the icy streets. The one I have even has airholes for your mouth, so you can breath through it without feeling like you are suffocating.

I do whole-heartedly advise you to splash out on one, if you do any winter cycling. However, I have a long history of complaining about cycling, so it would be remiss of me not to complain just a little bit…

Problems with a snood:

Reduced peripheral vision

It hardly seems much, but the snood overlaps the edge of my face by around 1cm. It’s amazing how much this affects my view of cars, especially when peering over my shoulder for overtakers.

If possible, try to peel back the edges just parallel with your eyes, since the feeling of being cosy is definitely diminished a bit by being run over by a lorry.

The terrors of snood condensationCondensation

As soon as you stop moving, the warmth of your body and the steam from your breathing rapidly cloud your vision.

Once you set off again, the flow of cold air sorts it out, but I have gone almost completely blind at traffic lights a few times!

Looking like a serial killer.

I have not problem with looking like an idiot – see lycra trousers – but there’s something a little bit bank-robber-esque about covering ones mouth and nose. More than a few people have commented on my sinister appearance.

 

Problems aside, I love my snood, and I wish you all well in your snooding over the rest of this winter!
Have an emotional snood story? Why not share it below…

 

Looking back at 2015

I’ve started to write this on December 30th, sitting on a train in Lincolnshire at 7:30am, on my way to work. It’s still completely dark outside, and half the country is still on holiday. I feel slightly jarred, like the alarm clock went off, but no one else has had to get up.

Feeling disjointed is somewhat appropriate – it aids my reflections on the last 12 months.

2015 has been a year of experiences. We’ve lived in three continents; I’ve had an epiphany in healthy living, exercise & weight loss; my medical skills, for the first time, feel formed; and, as a family, we’ve started to have some clarity about how we want to live.

Home

This year has shaken my understanding of home. In many ways, “home” still means “Epping” to me. My parents live there, I grew up there – the streets feel familiar, comfortable and safe.

“Home” is any place that has touched your heart.
Leaving doesn’t stop that.

But in a much more practical way, our lovely house on Woodthorpe Avenue in Boston is home. It’s the place we can best exhale. We can kick off our shoes, settle comfortably onto a high chair on the breakfast bar, and watch the chickens, dogs and children flap around in the garden.

YEditedGroupPhotoet Restore Church, full of our friends, is also home. We seek the heavenly realms together, we drink moderately bad cups of tea together and we laugh about the projector turning everything purple again. This whole year has been a mess of realising that “Home” is any place that has touched your heart. Leaving doesn’t stop that.

If you’ve read Harry Potter, there’s a concept where Voldemort tears apart his soul and stores it into objects that have emotional value to him. That’s not quite how I’m feeling – home is not a horcrux – but there’s no doubt that putting roots down involves investing a part of oneself.

Now I’m coming home
I’m coming home to you again
I hope things haven’t changed
New Found Glory

Many homes

This year, “home” has been Mseleni hospital in South Africa. It’s been Sea Point in Cape Town. Jackson in Missisippi. Alterna community and Koinonia Farm in Georgia. QC Family Tree in North Carolina. Grace & Main in Virginia. The Simple Way and Inner Change in Philadelphia. A little bit of us still lives in the homeless shelters of the Catholic Worker movement in New York City

IMGP3158

Returning to the UK has brought us face to face with the contradiction of “home”: it means a state that is temporary and yet, somehow, extraordinarily enduring.

Our idea of home is shaped by the setting and society we live in. This year it’s meant our children sitting naked, in dusty mud, next to the road. It’s meant seeing giraffes on the drive to the shops. Getting excited about a visit to the town café that pretty much only sells chips. Friends who have never had – and will never have – the life opportunities that I take for granted. Patients who have never slept in a bed, and thus don’t know how to sleep when they are admitted to hospital. Evenings without a TV, without electricity, without water, spent cooking pizza on a wood fire, and laughing. So much laughing.

John M PerkinsAnd it’s meant eating sweet potato wedges with John M Perkins. Jugs and jugs of sweet tea. Contemplative silence in LaGrange, and board games late into the night. Cooking pizza for the entire residency of Koinonia farm. Shaving heads and eating chocolate.

In Charlotte, it meant reincarnation through recycling, through gardening, through relationship, through reimagining an unloved locality. And a little girl doing a poo in a public water fountain. It’s meant permaculture, community gardens, ultra thick milkshakes and sitting on porches in Danville. In Philadelphia it meant pizza (home == pizza), and gunshots, and an understanding that all of us need our home to be sustainable. New York meant $1 pizza slices, enjoying glorious mess surrounded by healing people, and my first ever visit to a board game cafe!

Returning to the UK has brought us face to face with the contradiction of “home”: it means a state that is temporary and yet, somehow, extraordinarily enduring. In common with many others who have crossed cultures, there will always be a discomfort in us, even in situations that have been familiar to us for years.

wp-1451644198031.pngHealth

Alongside learning more about the mental framework we use to fit into the world, I’ve also come to terms with my physical existence here.

For the first time, I can say I genuinely love exercise. I even hate running a bit less!

Sure, 2013 was the year I decided to start losing weight. And 2014 was the year that I realised healthy eating is going to be a life long commitment. But 2015 was the year I started to understand the link between health and happiness.

For the first time, I can say I genuinely love exercise – I even hate running a bit less! I’m more aware than ever how rubbish I feel after an episode of gluttony – Ben & Jerry’s, I’m talking to you here – and I’m starting to have the self control to just not go down that path.

I’ve hammered out a few personal milestones, such as my first Triathlon, my first sub 25 minute 5k, and consistently dropping below 70kg. I’ve also managed sustained periods of exercise, accountablity and weight management – see my blog series: six kilos in six weeks.

Medicine

babychris-800x817Working in South Africa was a privilege – a scary one at points. Having a baby named after me was a highlight, as was being signed off as competent to perform caesarian sections without supervision. It was also the first time I’ve ever worked with a degree of autonomy, and the only time I’ve been at a grass-roots level in the midst of the community I live. Being a doctor… at home.

When I was 17, I made a decision to apply to medical school. I’m now 29.

As I look towards the end of my training, I know that the only way I’m going to be able to sustain the enthusiasm and purpose I need is for my career to have integrity. When I was 17, I made a decision to apply to medical school. I’m now 29. It’s only at the end of this year that I will no longer be on a training scheme. I’ll actually be an adult, able to apply for a job where I get told in advance where I’ll be working, what hours I’ll do and how much I’ll be paid! I’ll be able to raise concerns and suggestions for improvement without putting my entire career at risk! Brill.

In 8 months, I’ll be able to choose my hours, select my workplace and start to explore my sense of vocational calling. Medicine needs to line up with our life goals, my heart and my sense of home. Who knows exactly what shape that will take, but its an exciting prospect.

Next

The bible is full of phrases like this:

“And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.”
Mark 8:34-35

When I read a passage like that, I think: “I’m not really doing that”. I’m not saying that I believe God calls us all to martyrdom; but I do believe a luke-warm 50% lifestyle simply doesn’t cut the mustard.

SAM_0952I’ve become certain of one thing this year: we desire to live out the gospel. Really live it. Not half live it, tacking on a bit of grace and love to a plastic Western lifestyle, but LIVE it. Our hope is to explore, sacrifice, pray and practice until “The Kingdom of Heaven is near” starts to resonate with us.

“Home” this year has meant common threads: friends, community, adoption, Jesus, vegetarianism, pizza, board games, fitness, laughter… shared values in others that reflect the hope we have for this life.

One of our mentors, Colin, recently said to us “You need to find your tribe“. As we continue to explore what and where “home” is for us, I think God will make it clear to us who our tribe is. Maybe it’ll be through pulling on some of those common threads, and more importantly, following back to the heart behind them, one that says “My God; my neighbour; our life together.”

Thanks for reading this, and thank you to everyone who has been part of home for us this year. Have a great 2016!

PS. I leave you with a song that is very much on the same page as us…

Board Gaming in December!

I love spending time with people, and I love crushing them in games of skill, humour and imagination. Hence why I’m a proud member of…

boardgamesgroupfacebookBoston Board Games group

Meeting on sporadic nights in and around Boston, we get to try out various exciting new games. All games are fully explained by nerds experienced board gamers, and beginners are welcome.

Go on… join the group on Facebook!

We’ve play games like Lords of War, 6nimmt!, Carcassone, Coup, 7 Wonders, Dead of Winter, Android: Netrunner, Between Two Cities, and Discworld: Ankh Morpork. In other words: no Monopoly, just fun new table based explosions of co-operation and competition.

Last night…

My wife was away, so I sneaked in a cheeky board game session. Given that if something is worth doing, it’s worth blogging about…

Betrayal at House on the Hill

BetrayalHouseHillBetrayal at House on the Hill is a tile based game where you explore the three floors of a house with your companions. The tiles are random, and only appear as you walk through a doorway from a previous tile, so there’s a nearly limitless range of possibilities for the layout of the house.

The premise of the game? You explore the house together until, at some unpredictable point, something horrible happens.

At that point, one of you is sent out of the room with a page of new rules to read, and the remaining explorers have some other rules to absorb.

12465364_10154293656351111_814896827_oSuddenly, the game gains a combative game, with one player trying to bring an evil ghost to life, or summon a monster, or releasing a swarm of vampire bats (no spoilers)… and everyone else trying to stop them. The re-playability is great, since every mansion will be totally different, and there are 50 unique scenarios, decided by where and how the horror is triggered.

Our game was a lot of fun; I became the traitor, and rather enjoyed hunting down James & Jamie, then hacking them up with an axe. They managed to gain control of the horror, but didn’t have time to finish their final objective before I caught up with them…

boxLevel 7: [Escape]

Level 7: [Escape] is one of my favourite games, and I’m always keen to sneak it out of the cupboard. Again, there’s no board, just a steadily expanding map as you panic your way around the level, picking up new room tiles.

Cursed with a slightly complex rulebook, its strength lies in its theme – you are attempting to escape a crazy Government laboratory, hiding from the guards and aliens, occasionally attempting to use them against one another to held you escape.

12465688_10154293656651111_348408277_oYour abilities are shaped by your Adrenaline level. Feeling calm and collected? Your intelligence increases. Heart racing and agitated? Your strength jumps up. The only downside… you run out of adrenaline card, you die. Too much adrenaline? The aliens get super attracted to you and start spawning all over the place.

Each mission steadily unfolds, but there comes a crunch point: Lockdown kicks in, leaving you a set number of turns to escape before the doors are sealed… forever!

Our mission involved setting the aliens on the guards, opening a route for us to reach the elevator. Our plan was beset by problems immediately, when a clone attacked James on his first turn, and knocked me out on mine. Eventually, the aliens did kill all the guards… but then James and myself found ourselves trapped and pulverised by a huge Hybrid.

This gave Jamie just enough time to boost his adrenaline into overdrive, shove the Hybrid out the way and sprint to the elevator, moments before it sealed shut… leaving two of us alone with the aliens. His innate untrustworthiness put him in good stead for our next game…

Coup

Despite it being a stalwart of the gaming scene for several years, I’ve never managed to find myself at a table with Coup, so I was happy that James brought it.

A microgame, lasting just a few minutes per round, your aim is to knock out the other players. Each player gets two cards representing characters in the royal court, such as Duke, or Ambassador. Each had different skill, but the key? You don’t know what cards someone has.

So a player with the Captain can say “I’m going to take your money now”, and you have three options. Lose the money, say “I don’t think you have the Captain”, or pretend to have a cards that lets you block the theft.

It instantly develops into a game of bluffs and challenges: the reward, victory; the stakes, failure. We played 5 or 6 rounds, and whilst Jamie continued to, frankly, be really evil, it was a great end to the evening…

That’s all! Feel free to drop a comment below, or check out the post from November

New phone? Try my favourite Android apps…

Found a new Android smartphone under the tree this year? Why not try a few of my favourites…

I apologise: I don’t usually write stuff that’s so click-baity. However, I was struck by how useful one of my apps was yesterday, so I thought I’d recommend 6 of my faves for anyone unwrapping a new Android phone this year.

By the way, I don’t get any money for sharing this stuff, so you don’t need to worry about me being biased: I just love efficient things!

mightytextMightyText

Site: https://mightytext.net
Price: Free, premium options (which I don’t use)

Manage your texts from any browser on any computer.

This fantastic app is something I genuinely don’t understand how people cope without. So much easier than tapping out texts on a little touch screen, you can access all your text messages, respond to replies and generally manage that whole world of communication way more efficiently.

It even notifies you on your desktop PC when you get new texts. My phone spends all day in my coat pocket, whilst I’m in continuous contact on my computer throughout the work day.

smsbackupSMS Backup+

Site: SMS Backup + on Google Play
Price: Free, donate option for 93p, which you should do!

Keeps a permanent backup of call logs and texts in Gmail.

This bad boy has saved me hours of hunting down tit tats of information. Every single text I’ve recieved since 2013 is store in a folder in my gmail account, linked to the name of the Google contact in my address book.

You install it, you forget about it, and then when you are visiting that friend you saw two years ago and need his postcode again… you already have it! Well worth making a donation for.

4.-MyFitnessPal-Android-iOS-Windows-Phone-FreeMyFitnessPal

Site: MyFitnessPal.com
Price: Free.

The most efficient way to track calories and lose weight.

I suspect I would still be fat if MFP did not exist. As any of my blog readers will know, I’ve managed to get on top of health and fitness pretty heavily over the last year. A cornerstone of that has been the simple truth: you need to eat less calories than you use in order to lose weight.

Calorie tracking is a bit tedious, but MFP manages to minimise that. Using it, I estimate that I can keep track of 98% of my daily calorific intake with around 4 minutes work a day. This seems to have a reasonable benefit-to-effort ratio.

I recommend it purely because its got the largest database of any of the calorie tracker apps. The larger the database, the more likely you don’t have to try any work out calorific value from raw ingredients, which is possible but time costly.

Week 5 weight graphLibra

Site: Libra on Google Play
Price: Free, donate option for £2.50 which I recommend!

A nice graph with some simple stats for your daily weights

I weigh myself every day, and recommend it for my patients trying to lose weight. It keeps you motivated (and guilty), and gives you a more accurate picture of your weight over a week than a single measurement. If you’ve ever read The Hacker’s Diet, this app is for you…

Libra is dead easy to use, gives you nice graphs, with a great weighted average so you get a useful measure of your overall direction of travel. It also works about a few neat stats, such as estimated calorie deficit based on your weight loss: I’ve previously found this to exactly correlate with my diet and weights.

Google KeepGoogle Keep

Site: Keep.Google.com
Price: Free

Simple post-it note app with effortless sync to all your devices.

You know when you need to remember to buy milk? Or you have a list of dates someone told you to keep free? Or a not very important password that you occasionally need? Google Keep is there for that data.

Its instant to use, works great on Android and on the web, and gets the job done. Does it do everything you could ever possibly need? No. Does it do a reliable, well designed job for you with no questions asked? Yup.

Pocket Casts

pocketcastsSite: Shiftyjelly.com/pocketcasts
Price: £2.49

The best podcast app out there, makes listening and hunting for new ones a breeze.

My phone died the other day, so I picked up my wife’s phone, logged into Pocket Casts, and was listening at the point I’d been interupted about 3 minutes later. That alone explains how great this app is.

For discovering new podcasts, listening to old favourites, and for doing all the hard work for you, with automatic downloads, and auto-deletion, I’ve not tried anything else that comes close.

Try it out, and find those boring runs, drives and cycle rides way more interesting. Eventually realise you’ve listened to 30 hours of Dungeons and Dragons role play in the course of a month, and wonder if there’s something wrong with your life…

That’s all for now… Got any apps you’d recommend? I’m all ears… leave a comment below!

Six kilos in six weeks: The end

wpid-wp-1447062912089.jpgRead the first post in this series here – Six kilos in six weeks: finishing what I started.
Just a warning, I’m going to be talking about weight loss, dieting and body image. If you struggle with your relationship with food, or have any self image difficulties, you may find it hard to read.

And the grand result is…

endomondoI lost 4.1kg. I feel pretty good about myself. This whole series was never really about weight loss “numbers”; it was about getting healthier. My achievements include:

Isn’t the maths wrong?

Lots of people enjoy getting their knickers in a twist about calories. Google “calorie myth”, and find a million different websites arguing about the idea that calorie deficit is the most important part of weight loss.

Maintaining a decent calorie deficit led to a decent amount of weight loss.

Happily, we can test the theory:

weightloss week 6 highlightCalorie Deficit

During this challenge, based on my approximations, I’ve run up a calorie deficit of around 36,500 calories. That means, I’ve eaten around 36,500 kcal less of food than I’ve burnt by living, breathing and exercise.

Weight loss

According to my calculations, each 7,000 should equate to around a kilo of fat loss. That would mean I should have lost around 5.2kg. I’ve lost 4.1… is the maths wrong?

Where did that 1.1kg go? 

In the last 6 weeks, I’ve done just under 32 hours of exercise. I think its a fair assessment to say that I’ve probably put on at least 1.1kg of muscle.

Conclusion

I’m pretty confident in saying that maintaining a decent calorie deficit led to a decent amount of weight loss.

I could have eaten healthier foods, sure, but just sticking to a low calorie diet meant I ate way more green veg, because if you eat chocolate, you end up hungry. And the exact mix of foods you eat doesn’t have much impact on weight loss.

The diet also encouraged me to exercise. You go for a run, you get to eat more nice things. The evidence is pretty clear that physical exercise is really good for you. Its healthier to eat a bit of rubbish, and burn it off in exercise than to be slim, but unfit.

Macros!

The other side of the coin regarding calories is what they are made from. My key discovery over these 6 weeks: meeting macro targets and calorie targets at the same time is hard work, and likely not very helpful.

I have uniformly found that, for me, not bothering to keep track = weight gain.

Its hard enough work keeping track of all your calories, and comparing one option with another. When also trying to add in proteins, fats and carbs, it becomes much harder to have confidence about any single option:

For example, what’s better, an omelette, or two sausages? It can become a little paralysing having to always think “well, how much fat, and carbs, and protein, and calories do I have left today?”

Anything that makes keeping track of what you eat arduous increases the chance you won’t bother. I have uniformly found that, for me, not bothering to keep track = weight gain.

How to effectively manage my food intake to lose weight?

Therefore, my advice to fellow weight loss devotees? Keep track of calories.

If you are doing a fair amount of exercise, you may want to also try to hit a 0.8g of protein per kilogram of bodyweight target. Let the fats and carbs take care of themselves, allow your decision on eating something go like this:

  1. Do I have enough calories left for this today? !If not, you can’t have it!
  2. Will this fill me up? Then you realise the two sausages, mushrooms and huge pile of broccoli are probably a better option than the single cookie.
  3. Which has more protein? So you look at the lentil and tomato bake, and realise the chickpea omelette might be the more effective option. You soon also realise the protein heavier option will likely be more filling anyway, so you stop at point 2 before ever reaching this step.

Changes, changes, changes.

weight loss over 6 weeks

Above is the whole catalogue of weekly pictures. I’ve been aiming to maintain at around 67kg until after Christmas, at which point I’m going to hit myself with a range of new goals.

Shout out thanks to Jon Smith for nagging me, and texting me daily to tell me to “put down the butter dish and walk away”. Check out his ace 5K running app at RunwithKick.com

Results

These were all updated live from a central database, so feel free to check back daily for updates…

Why we should go to Mars

It’s nice to share something aspirational from time to time.

This is a 4 minute video summarising some awesome reasons why wasting loads of money and resources on going to Mars is totally worth it…

Six kilos in six weeks: the final push.

wpid-wp-1447062912089.jpgRead the first post in this series here – Six kilos in six weeks: finishing what I started.
Just a warning, I’m going to be talking about weight loss, dieting and body image. If you struggle with your relationship with food, or have any self image difficulties, you may find it hard to read.

How am I doing?

Not well. For some reason, emotionally, I just had a terrible weekend. I decided that a strict diet was not going to improve my mood, so I took off the brakes. I’d like to note that on both days I was still careful with my breakfast calories, avoiding having too big a meal at night, and generally still applied a modicum of self control.

Pizza featured slightly too heavily this week...

Pizza featured slightly too heavily this week…

I still, pretty impressively, managed miss my deficit target by 2540kcal in two days. In context? I was aiming to eat just 2400kcal, and I was 2540kcal over that target. More than doubling it. I’m really good at this eating thing, eh?

On the plus side…

  • I was under my calorie goal on two days this week…
  • …but on my worst day I was over by 1549kcal.

Overall, based on a basal metabolic requirement of 2400 kcal per day, I’ve averaged a daily deficit of 736kcal, leaving me just over 5000 kcal down for the week. Despite the weekend, its actually not my worst week – I did better than in week 2!

Getting sweaty

I suspect this is due to fitting in a lot of exercise: I smashed it this week. Cycling 26 miles to work one day helped, as did beating my personal 5km and 10km running times

  • Week 1: I burnt off 1157 kcal doing exercise
  • Week 2: 945 kcal.
  • Week 3: 2150 kcal.
  • Week 4: 2235 kcal.

This week? 3505 kcal burnt off! Press ups are getting easier, there’s a snap to my star jumps, and I’m easily breaching the 5 minute kilometre mark when I run.

WhaWeek 5 weight grapht is my weight?

I think we knew this was coming: I’m not going to lose 6 kilos in 6 weeks.

My weekend caused an uptick to the red average line that has likely scuppered any chances of a last minute come back. I start week 6 weighing in at 69.3kg, a devastating 3.4kg behind where I should be! I suspect there are a few reasons behind the slow loss – beyond my love of chocolate – but I’ll have a proper look at them next week.

I’m not demoralised – I’m approaching the fittest I’ve ever been, and I’m seeing a completely reasonable weekly 0.5kg drop in my red trend line. Losing fat is a long game, and it was always optimistic to aim for a solid thousand grams of it per week.

Macros!

Following my decision to try to improve my macros this week, you’ll be excited to hear that I performed… completely terribly! This week, I only ate 12% protein – every other week I managed more than 17%.

Challenged by some excellent advice from Andrew Lloyd, I’m rededicating myself to the challenge of hitting my protein targets; there’s no point in dieting and losing muscle mass instead of fat.

Changes, changes, changes.

Sorry – I promised Christmas socks this week, but could only find these with red bobbles on the toes…

 

weightlossweek5

This challenge has always been about getting healthier. I want to get my body fat percentage down to six pack territory, and I want to add some more weight. It’s going to take me longer than six weeks, but frankly, I couldn’t have done much better, not in a sustainable way.

  1. Stay at a 1200 kcal target. I completely failed at this last week, and it made me much more miserable: but there’s only one more week left and I want to win!!! When I continue the diet after these six weeks, I’ll be going back up to 1400: much more sustainable.
  2. Carry on the exercise. 2000 kcal of exercise is a nice amount for me. Going to carry on the same routine, but I think its unlikely I’ll manage the highs of last week.
  3. Try to eat 25% protein. It seems pretty likely that dipping much below 20% puts muscle wasting into the “a significant possibility” category.

Shout out thanks to Jon Smith for keeping me accountable, and texting me daily to tell me to “put down the butter dish and walk away”. Check out his ace 5K running app at RunwithKick.com

Results

These are all updated live from a central database, so feel free to check back daily for updates…

my other sites

Names Not Numbers charity - because individuals matter! MedRevise - free medicine revision for student doctors When Will I Be Sober? An alcohol sobriety calculator. Plenty of Room - The Lowry family and life.

board games

Cheap Ass Games - Inexpensive and Wonderful Tabletop Games! Cool Mini Or Not!