Tuesday, 9 June 2015

You've Got Mail

Who remembers the excitement of setting up their first email account and the ping of receiving your first electronic missive?

Back in 1999 when I set up MPAD, from what Mrs P describes as a cupboard under the stairs, I truly was excited when my friend Matt, who worked for an IT / web company, helped me set up my account. 

I can still remember the address: mark@markpicken.initiative.net, although I can't remember who the first email was sent to, or received from, as very few people I knew back then were online. 

Fast forward 16 years and the sound of emails coming in sometimes fills me with dread, especially when I come back into the office from holiday (as I have just done following half term). 

No. 30 on my #40before40 list (yes, I'm still working on finishing it off, but life has been busy lately and I've not got round to blogging, ok?) was to: Use email less at work and other means of communication more e.g. phone calls.

I have to confess that I have failed in this challenge. Quite spectacularly if you were to look at my inbox. 

But I am doing something to try and solve it now. 

I felt like I reached a tipping point during half term as the numbers in the little red circle on my Apple Mail app on my iPhone and iPad increased.

The problem with the notification system on the phone is that unless you go into settings and switch it off, then it continues to grab your attention.

So, I have to admit that I did check and clear every mails fairly regularly during the break.

I ran a quick straw poll on LinkedIn and Twitter on my return to MPAD towers to ask how people deal with emails during holiday. 

There were some really interesting and useful responses (see the LinkedIn debate here), and some, er, more forceful replies.

One useful comment on Twitter sent me through to a BBC article entitled ‘Should holiday email be deleted?’.

The article focused on the work of German vehicle manufacturer, Daimler, to support staff with their work / life balance.

Basically, when people go on holiday at Daimler they set up an out of office message that tells recipients that their email has been automatically deleted and that if it’s urgent to contact another member of the team. 

According to Daimler spokesperson, Oliver Wihofski, 99% of responses are positive.

Anyway, back to phone notifications. I have switched them off several times before when on holiday - last June I switched roaming off on my phone when we went to Brittany and only switched back on to make a post on Facebook about England's dismal World Cup performances....

But what makes me sweat is when I switch them back on after a relaxing break.

Depending on how long we’ve been away it can vary from 800, 900 to 1,000 messages.
Then begins the soul destroying task of hitting delete, especially as at least 95% of them are junk or spam.

There is also the guilt that’s associated with seeing an email that’s been in your inbox for a while that you know you should have replied to, but for whatever reason, you haven’t.

I love podcasts and on Reply All they came up with a great idea to solve this - Email Amnesty Day - a day where we you can reply to any email loitering in your inbox as if you'd only just received it.

A great idea, but what I'd really like is a day that would allow you to send emails to people, but they’d have to wait at least 24 hours before replying, or they had to call you.

So, what am I doing to solve this middle class / first world problem?

At work, we’re starting to use the messaging system on our cloud based CRM system, Podio, much more. 

Although the uptake has been slower than I would have liked, as everyone is so used to sending emails, it is starting to work really well, especially as I am out of the office a lot.

I’ve also split up my inbox, thanks to this suggestion from Chris Rickard on LinkedIn, into ‘Priority’ and ‘Non Priority’ folders.

That’s taking a little time to implement, but I’ll get there.

I’m also very tempted by the auto-delete system, so will be speaking to our IT guy.

But, despite these ‘issues’ I think email has been brilliant for me and the business. It’s helped us to generate work and build relationships with clients and suppliers.

And it was over emails, 10 years ago, that I started to chat to the now Mrs P when she was working at the West Briton, so eat your heart out Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks......

Monday, 9 March 2015

I fell off the vegan wagon and went on a cheese bender during dinner with Nick Clegg

And what a cheese bender it was: three courses - grilled halloumi to start, risotto with a big slice of goats cheese for main, and a selection of Cornish cheeses for desert.

I made it from Sunday (1st March) to 8.30pm on Thursday (5th March) without any meat, fish or diary before I succumbed to an excess of cheese.

I'd been invited to a Lib Dem dinner in St Ives on Thursday by Julia Goldsworthy (Camborne and Redruth Prospective Parliamentary Candidate) with Nick Clegg as the special guest.

The Deputy PM had spent St Piran's Day on a tour of Cornwall, and the dinner was too good an opportunity to miss.

The restaurant was able to provide a vegan option, but at the point in time I sat down at the table to check the menu, I was absolutely loathing this particular #40before40 challenge.

And, I didn't really care that I had broken the plan - the cheese was so good. 

My fellow dinners seemed to revel in my delight at being a rogue vegetarian for the evening. 

Falling off the vegan wagon in style - grilled halloumi
Mmm goats cheese risotto
Cornish cheese with frozen grapes....

So, how was the challenge for me?

Well, during the week it felt bad. I went into it feeling unwell anyway, but spent the first five days being ill and feeling nauseous.

I had to take time off work, I struggled to concentrate and I didn't want to eat what I was meant, or had to, in order to get enough energy on board. 

I also started to feel resentful at the cost of vegan-friendly food.

Cutting meat and fish was never the issue for me.

It was eggs and cheese that I missed the most, especially as I've attempted to eat more protein and less carbs over the last year.

Mrs P provided brilliant support, did the research, produced a meal plan and cooked up some amazing vegan food (she actually faired a lot better than me).

My snacks during the day were fine for a vegan diet, so I carried on with those (although I seemed to enjoy them less than normal), but I just couldn't get enough energy from my breakfast or lunch.

It got even harder when the girls both wanted scrambled eggs for breakfast.

Bryher enjoying scrambled egg for breakfast
Olivia enjoying scrambled egg for breakfast
While the girls were eating scrambled egg, I was eating scrambled tofu

During the week there was a lot of debate and comments on Facebook and Twitter with vegan friends, as well as people we'd been recommended to follow.

And while I totally understand the ethical and sustainable reasons for being vegan, it was never the driving factor for me with this challenge.

It was to see if I could do it, as well as see if there were any health benefits.

It's difficult to tell if there were any health benefits. I did lose weight in the first couple of days, but that was probably from being ill, and it was back on by the third day.

I didn't have the energy to get out to do any training during the week, but I found I ran out of steam playing football on Saturday and when I went for a run on Sunday.

And I didn't enjoy having to go back to eating more carbs and sugar, and think that left me feeling drained.

I was also a bit unsure about the processed nature of a lot of vegan foods, and was slightly baffled by a recipe I found that called for vegan chorizo.

To me, it seems to defeat the object to eat vegan chorizo or Quorn chicken pieces.

I also felt annoyed by the cost of vegan-friendly food - this small piece of vegan flapjack (below) was priced at £2.50.

Okay, so it was homemade and did taste good, but it is possible to buy a piece of homemade flapjack from the Saturday farmers' market in Truro that is double the size for half the price (I know it probably has butter in it).

An expensive piece of vegan-friendly flapjack

One of my friends, who is vegan, commented that a minor suffering in my wallet or diet is nothing compared to the suffering of the animals used in food production.

And while I applaud his commitment and understand where he is coming from, I actually think that the high cost of vegan / natural food is a big issue, and one that potentially puts people off, especially those with families.

And while I've generally grumped about this challenges, there were some great food moments (as you will see from the pics below).

Vegan chocolate torte

Homemade dairy free pizza with beetroot, artichoke hearts, mushrooms, olives, rocket and pine nuts
Some of my homemade vegan flapjack
However, the flat white with soya milk was slightly unusual.....

I wasn't sure about the flat white with soya milk
What next?

This was probably the toughest, and least enjoyable, #40before40 challenges that I've undertaken in the last year. Running through mud and diving into a skip filled with iced water during the Rock Solid Race was more favourable!

But despite that, I've actually had a vegan lunch and dinner today (Monday 9th March).

It was good to have eggs for breakfast this morning, and I felt so much better for having the protein. My energy and concentration levels were much better and back to normal.

We're also considering some of our buying habits - we already get the bulk load of our eggs and meat from the Cornish Food Box - but we will now look into getting locally sourced milk from there as well.

On top of this we're also going to try and eat more vegan / vegetarian food.

So, we didn't make two weeks, but there is a good chance that some of the changes we made will continue for the foreseeable future.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Blog hijack: Mrs P’s take on the Vegan Challenge

I have been watching Mark’s 40 before 40 with mild amusement, and of course, encouragement -  I’m a nice wife like that. And I’ve been happy to sit on the sidelines, until the vegan challenge came along. I was intrigued. I’ve been happily tucking into meat, dairy and eggs throughout my 32 years – yet I find vegetarian food really tasty. It would broaden our eating horizons, be better for the planet. Plus I thought it would re-boot my diet and lifestyle and get me out of a weight loss and fitness plateau.

Mark and I approached the challenge in our usual style. He told anyone who would listen what he was up to (just as well he’s in PR), while I, being the strategist, did a LOT of reading. Meal planning, research, shopping lists, thinking about what I could eat for different meals.

And this is what I discovered – the good, the bad and the ugly.

The good:
My skin feels so much better. I suffer with stress, and it shows in my skin – beauticians have been horrified at how dry it has been this winter. Not anymore – take a bow, avocados, nuts and seeds.

I felt my energy levels were up. I was the sprightliest I think I’ve ever been on the school run!

A rainbow of colour on my plate. I finally was making my 5 a day! A full spectrum, from beetroots and carrots to leafy greens.

Reduced caffeine. Bog standard PG Tips tastes a bit gross with almond or oat milk. Plus I work in an office of 9 people – whilst they don’t all make tea, there are at least 6 tea runs on an average weekday. So I stuck to the odd cup of earl grey and hot water and lemon. And I haven’t missed it.

Not missing meat at all. That was surprising.

God bless Archie Browns – the ultimate veggie cafĂ© where I could have a working lunch and feel normal. My fellow diners loved it too.

Discovering some great bloggers with inspirational recipes.

The bad:
Not particularly a cheap week on the food bill – nuts and snack things plus anything you might need to boost nutrients are ludicrously expensive. I wanted to get Chia seeds, swayed by the likes of Millie Mackintosh and her Instagram diet, to go in a nut roast and my breakfast smoothies. Not happening at about £12 a bag. That’s more than I pay for wine!

At least two slip ups involving dairy. Some contraband goats cheese on Wednesday night at a PR dinner. Mark also smuggled me some cheese-board remnants from another dinner, probably because he succumbed too and wanted an ally. I also snuck some cow’s milk into a single cup of tea on Saturday.

Loop holes. I am a professional diet cheat – did you know that curly fries are vegan? And Tesco value falafel? I suspect processed frozen food isn’t really in the spirit of things.

Late night toast binges with avocado or humous. Because if you’re used to high protein, lower carb, you never quite get the same “full” feeling.

Nothing to report in terms of weight loss – call me vain, but I was expecting some sort of action there. Probably explained by the two points above.

Discovering some smug bloggers. And as much as I’ve loved Deliciously Ella, she’s a bit too sunny and positive for this cynical, frazzled mummy.

The ugly:

I ended on Saturday night with an intensely bloated stomach. I’ve not eaten this much carbs or sugar for a long time. I looked pregnant again. All this gas can only emerge one way….

The conclusions:
I’ve taken a break from the vegan challenge today to take stock, and it’s been lovely. I’ve had eggs, smoked salmon, cow’s milk in my tea, all enjoyed mindfully, and I’m about to tuck into some amazing sausages from pork reared by friends of ours.

I’m really happy to cut down on my meat intake – for environmental and sustainability reasons more than anything. I also feel the milk industry is totally unsustainable. The girls drink a LOT of milk so we currently buy 4 pints of semi skimmed from Tesco for £1, which is kind on our household bills, but how is this kind to the farmers, much less the cows pumped full of hormone to produce it? For less than a price of a bottle of wine, I’d like to start sourcing our milk at a fairer price.

But in the medium and long term –I feel empowered that I can actually give something up (meat particularly) for a week without thinking about it. I think my efforts are best spent cutting down on my wine intake (sad but true).

I reckon clean and lean is the way forward for me. I’m thinking a kind of 5:2 vegan/veggie diet is the way forward. A couple of days a week vegan, a few veggie and a few with a bit of high welfare, decent meat. Minimal wheat and less alcohol.

I think that’s what old-fashioned dieticians would call a “balanced diet” and “everything in moderation”. Funny, that.

Monday, 2 March 2015

Going vegan: Day 2

Today has been a struggle. 

When you considered I'm only 48 hours into this challenge, then it is a slight concern. 

I've felt hungry most of the day and feel like I really missed my eggs for breakfast. 

Porridge with linseeds, sunflowers seeds, pumpkins seeds, maple syrup and oat milk. 

Before the more protein diet, this is pretty much what I had everyday for breakfast for about eight or nine years (swap maple syrup for honey and oat milk for soya milk). 

Even on honeymoon in America when Mrs P would be tucking into quesadillas, I'd be having oatmeal. 

I always got hungry fairly quickly after eating porridge, which seems to go against what people say, but since starting the day with omelette I can last longer before needing to snack.  

Well, by 9am this morning I was starving, although I managed to keep going until 10.30am on water and green tea. 

Snacks during the day at work are the same as before. Morning: peanuts and then celery with peanut butter. Afternoon: oatcakes with peanut butter. 

A Rick Stein-inspired stew with chickpeas, potatoes and tomatoes. Normally we have this with salted cod, but we replaced the fish with tofu. We also added spinach. 

It was lovely and tasted great, but again I was pretty hungry soon after. 

Despite snacks and copious amounts of green tea, I had to make an emergency dash to local veggie shop, Archie Brown's, to pick up some vegan chocolate. 

And while the 'chocolate' did the trick in giving me an energy boost, it did have a negative impact on my wallet: £5.68 for two small bars. 

There does seem to be a common theme with the cost of vegan-friendly food. We'd been recommended chia seeds, but at £11.99 for a not very big bag, I gave that a miss. 

Here comes the non-science part

Really struggled today with being hungry. It affected my concentration at work, which was not ideal as I had a lot to catch up on. Still not 100% recovered from the bout of manflu. 

I really want to eat eggs in the morning!

Sunday, 1 March 2015

I'd like to order the vegan option please......

Sunday 1st March

A phrase I've already started to use, and am probably going to be uttering a lot more over the coming two weeks / month (not fully decided on the timescale yet) of this vegan challenge.

Despite this blog being called #40before40 and the fact that I turned 40 just over five weeks ago, I am carrying on with some of the tasks I didn't get round to before the big day.

I am being joined on this challenge by Mrs P, who has done a lot more research than me and sorted out a meal plan for the next fortnight.

It's great to have her support and she is going to be contributing to this blog along the way.
How she will cope with at least two weeks off the cheese will be an interesting social experiment......

I had a bit of a meat and dairy blowout yesterday on the last day before becoming a temporary (probably) vegan: American pancakes with scrambled egg for breakfast; flat white; leftover Chinese for lunch with pork, beef and chicken; and chicken fajitas for tea.

Mmm American pancakes with scrambled eggs and honey
Flat white with real milk
Chicken fajitas.....

What am I going to miss the most?

Well, I eat a lot of eggs and cheese.

As part of my bid to tone up (see last blog entry), I attempt (and often fail) to have a diet that is more protein than carbs. As a result of this, we get through a lot of eggs each week.

I also like to snack on cheese during the day and night.

I've probably being eating more meat since I altered my diet about a year ago, but in the 10 years Mrs P and I have been together we've never really had a weekly menu that is heavy on animals.

We've generally balanced it out with fish and veggie food.

How's the first day been?

It's been pretty good, although I have had bouts of hunger.

I went out for an earlyish run and then attempted to recreate my normal protein breakfast, but instead of omelette I opted for avocado and sunflower seeds, with a bit more mushroom than normal.

At least Nando's garlic peri-peri sauce is vegan-friendly....

Attempting a 'normal' breakfast sans eggs

I probably should have gone for porridge, but as we were having wholemeal pasta with homemade (vegan) pesto for lunch and wild mushroom risotto for dinner, I didn't want to have too many carbs.

But I found myself getting really hungry after lunch and started to snack on fruit (apple with cashew butter, as well tidying up one of Bryher's half-eaten bananas).

I've really enjoyed eating less carbs over the last 12 months and do feel better for it.
I've also cut out a lot of fruit, as prior to my personal training sessions I could eat around five pieces a day, every day, which is a lot of sugar.

Biggest obstacles

Not going overboard again on carbs and fruit
Not eating the girls' leftover ice-cream
Not tucking into some cheese and cream crackers with butter (right now)

At least the vegan-friendly snacks seem okay

Here comes the non-science part

I weighed myself this morning and was 13st 1lb.
Generally feel okay, but getting over a bit of sickness / manflu from Thursday and Friday

Monday, 23 February 2015

Tone up

Right, this is my fifth attempt at writing this particular blog post.

For some reason, the ability to write about my toning challenge has completely evaded me over the last couple of weeks.

Maybe the part of my brain that is linked to writing witty and verbose copy has turned to muscle....

Anyway, let's see how I go writing this tonight (I'm missing the Walking Dead for this #FFS!)

I'm going to write using the medium of bullet points.

Imagine all these bullet points set to The Eye of the Tiger (here's the link so you can listen at the same time)

There, now picture me in lyric doing some lunges......

* Possibly the vainest challenge on my #40before40 list
* Never about a six pack (yeah, yeah - it was really)
* Improving overall fitness
* Strengthen core
* Improve posture (he says slouched over his laptop)
* Never had an issue with legs (running and football)
* Upper body strength a bit rubbish
* Always carried weight around my tummy
* Spent most of September to December 2013 with a football-related groin injury
* Mrs P got me personal training sessions for my 39th birthday with Felicia Sheingold (visit her website and get down and give me 10 burpees now!)
* Did lots of squats, reverse lunges, press ups, crunches, weight work and burpees (I love burpees!) from January to May
* Attempted to eat more protein and less carbs and sugar
* Carried on doing reps at home (often with one of my daughters acting as a makeshift weight)
* Groin injury sorted
* More defintion (thumbs up from Mrs P)
* Still got more work to do (I blame cake)
* Better core strength
* Finished 277th out of 1880 in the Rock Solid Race in Exeter
* Played six football games in 18 days at the end of the 2013/14 season
* Knocked 11 minutes 56 seconds off my Classic Quarter time
* Finished 18th out of 200+ runners in the Rok 5k
* Did my first fell run
* Got down to under 13st (12st 13lbs) for the first time in 15, possibly 20, years.

There, great work people. Take a drink of water, and check out some of the action shots below!

Rock Solid Race, Exeter

About to start my leg of the Classic Quarter

Grrr fell running
Post fell run mince pie

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Run Forrest Run

Number 4 on my #40before40 was to run 850 miles in 2014.

Flashback a decade and setting this target would have seemed like a dream, rather than a potential reality.

Growing up I'd always I enjoyed watching and taking part in sport: football, tennis, cricket, swimming, hockey, basketball and rugby. 

Although running was one of the sports at school I didn't really take to. I think that point was bought crashing home when I stumbled across the line to finish last in the 800m at school sports day when I was about 15. 

It was a bad performance, although not as bad as when I was entered for the javelin, even though I'd never shown any particular skill in this area.

I was number 13 to throw and as I ran up on a grey, drizzly summer's day, my less than grippy trainers gave way below me and I slipped over. Cue mass howls of laughter from the sidelines as the javelin went about 30 cms over the white line and I landed on my arse.

I somehow kept my feet behind the line and avoided a foul throw, meaning that my misery was compounded and the throw was measured. 

As I entered my 20s, I became less active and, for a number of reasons, developed a pretty poor lifestyle. I was unhealthy and overweight.

When I moved to our old flat to Falmouth when I was 29 I decided that one of my challenges I wanted to achieve before I was 30 (in 2005) was to lose weight and get fit.

So, I started to run.

To begin with I could barely get round Pendennis Point, which is just a couple of miles, but I kept going. I kept setting myself targets and kept, literally, plodding away.

I got to the position where I could run round Pendents Point in one go without walking, so I pushed it a bit further, and then a bit further.

By 2008 I'd run my first half marathon (Truro) and my first marathon (New York). I'd also taken part in two triathlons (Perranporth and Helston).

And like Forrest, I just kept running (also, we don't have a shed, so to get some space from the girls and to clear my head instead of going to the shed, I go running).

At some point in late-ish 2012 I downloaded the Log Your Run app to my phone. I wanted to keep a record of how much running I'd done.

On New Year's Eve 2013 I checked the app and it said I'd run around 800 miles.

"Wow!" I thought to myself. That was great, but I think I can beat that. 

So I set a target of 850 miles, which I thought would be achievable, but also push me a little bit.

Now, on checking the Log Your Run website, I discovered that on New Year's Eve 2013 I'd misread the data on the app. It had showed me the amount of running I'd done since I downloaded the app, not since January 1, 2013.

In fact I'd 'only' done 664.1 miles during 2013.

Running total for 2013

And instead of getting up to 850 miles, I'd recorded 522 miles in 2014.

Running total for 2014

There are a couple of reasons for the drop in miles: I played a lot of football in April and May, which meant I was unable to get out running; and I started having session with a personal trainer, so I often did sets of reps instead of going for a run.

Despite being down on my targets, I'm chuffed with the total for 2014. 

There were some great runs and events thrown in, such as the Classic Quarter (where I beat my 2013 time), Rock Solid (where I came 271st out of 1880 entrants) and the Rok 5k.

I'll just have to see if I can increase the miles to 800 + in 2015!