Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Excess Loser - weight-loss TV realities

I realize that many journalists and media bloggers will probably have already put pen to paper on this subject, but I wanted to compose a few thoughts of my own before reading anyone else’s opinion. If you don’t watch reality shows, in particular that specialized genre that most folk enjoy watching while eating a big bowl of ice cream – this post may not be relevant to you. But if you do enjoy shoving sugary, fatty food into your gob while watching others sweat their asses off, read on friend.

I watched every episode of the new season of The Biggest Loser last week, and quite enjoyed it despite some howls from Twitter (and everywhere else) about the overtly “skinny is beautiful/fat is ugly and undeserving of love” theme this season. I empathized with the contestants, and their stories resonated with me. I could very much relate to the young girls in particular – I have always been overweight for my entire adult life, and up until I met my fiancée at age 26 I had never had a boyfriend.

But the more I watched, the more unsettled I became. Yes, traditionally the trainers had always yelled at the contestants in previous seasons. Their first workout was always an opportunity to film sequences of large people sweating and straining, of them giving up and being exhorted to greater efforts by their trainers. They would reveal the demons that had haunted them and the trainers would use this information to remind them why they were there.

And underlying it all this time was the message – if you don’t lose weight, you will never find love. No wonder so many viewers have gotten a queasy feeling in their stomach. The show has always flogged the ‘weight-loss is good’ message but turned it into a competition. Not sure if this was to make the show more interesting by introducing a political aspect or simply to motivate the contestants more, but it was always there. Recently the Australian version introduced an education aspect into their weight-loss regime, brining in a cook and a doctor to talk to the contestants about healthy eating and habits. I applauded this as the more information they receive that they can use outside the boundaries of the show the better. And at the same time the viewers were being educated as well with health facts about everything from their bio-age to things you can substitute for white rice.

The introduction of The Commando last season as one of the trainers has also added a more interesting element to me personally. Yes, because he’s insanely physically attractive – but also because his training style is so very different from Shannon, Michelle and Tiffany. His military background means that his approach is about teaching independence, resourcefulness and most of all, self-confidence. This aligns nicely with what I have read about training programs in US Special Forces such as Delta and British and Australian SAS. (I don't know why, but these groups have always fascinated me. Probably because they're so stealthy and cool and shit).

This season however, the added element of having only singles has changed the show substantially. No longer are we rooting for our favorites because we want them to be healthy. Instead we are being told we should be cheering them on so they can get skinny and get some action. It has left a bad taste in my mouth.

It wasn’t until I was watching Excess Baggage last night that I realized that I don’t have to put up with that sort of crap from my favorite reality TV show. Here was a show with the same premise, but an entirely different approach. Here’s the things I liked and that I predict will mean that this show will win the ratings war hands down this year.

- The Host – Kate Cebrano is a breath of fresh air. Compare her cheeky joking with Dipper in the opening scenes of the show with Hayley Lewis’ stilted, scripted delivery. I’m not hating on Hayley – in fact I think she has done a wonderful job the past few years – but Kate is much more natural and has the added bonus of being goofy and able to laugh at herself.

- The Premise – There was a remark last night from someone on the show that summed it up best – it was something like “this show is not about seeing who can lose the most weight". Yes, the “Spirit Walk” where the contestants found presents of meaning to themselves was a touch contrived, but it provided the perfect vehicle for us to hear a bit about their back-story without a series of endless montages. The show has firmly sold itself as a journey of self, not of shedding kilos. Not only are contestants wanting to drop some weight, they genuinely want to make their life better. And they don’t need the motivation of winning money to do it – they’re clearly doing it for themselves (with a little bit of self-promotion thrown in). On offer is a donation to charity, instead of a pot of cash for one person. Is this something that Channel 9 borrowed from The Apprentice perhaps? The celebs not only get to lose weight, learn about health and promote their brand – they get to look good working for a charity while doing it.

- The Contestants – having a “celebrity” (I used the term loosely, perhaps “well-known personality” might be better) teamed with a “regular” person is a stroke of pure genius. Not only do we get to cheer along with the Average Joes, we gain an insight into the lives of folk with a higher profile and their struggles. EVEN FAMOUS PEOPLE HAVE HANG-UPS OMG. This appeals to the voyeuristic nature of reality TV viewers and allows us that forbidden, tantalizing glimpse into the lives of the people we read about in New Idea. The two-person team idea is itself also different – instead of multiple people, there’s only one other person to mentor and encourage. Interesting. I suspect it’s the Average Joes that might end up doing more mentoring instead of the other way about.

- The Support Team - the trainer and the nutritionist are new faces, but straight away we can sense the difference between this show and Biggest Loser. Even the language they use is different. It's supportive instead of aggressive. The trainer knows where they are at because he has been there.

- Lack of a Meanie – every reality show seems to have written into it one person whom the viewer is obviously supposed to hate. This is achieved usually through creative editing, out-of-context remarks and post-incident to-camera testimonials where other contestants are encouraged to bitch about them. I’m looking at you here, My Kitchen Rules. But despite a couple of remarks around one of the contestants not “bonding” immediately with his partner, and another about him being “hard”, there is nobody to really hate amongst this group. Dislike, yes, or feel disappointed in, but not hate. (I suspect Darryn is just a bit of an over-achieving, driven narcissist, personally. He just needs to work on realizing not everybody else is too).

- The Location – stunning scenery makes it all prettier. And ups the difficulty factor when you’re working out in 40 degree heat, I guess.

What do you think? It’s a big call I know, but Excess Baggage really pressed all my buttons, whereas Biggest Loser is starting to stink like mayo left out in the sun. I know which show I'll be watching from now on.

Monday, January 30, 2012

A step in the right direction

Today I'm coming clean about something - my foot pain.

I haven't blogged or tweeted about it, which is unusal, given that I normally bore the pants off you all with mundane details like these. Not sure why, except that it was something that I hoped would go away like a strange rash that you notice after your tropical summer holiday.

For the past few months, I've been experiencing pain in my right heel when I get up. When I got out of bed especially, but also when I stood up from my desk at work or the couch at home. It would get better as I walked around only to return the next time I got up on my feet. Over time it became a dull ache all the time.

A sane person would have gone to the doctor by now, yes? Not me. Though I have been to the GP several times since I had this pain I couldn't bring myself to mention it. This, from the girl who isn't the least bit squeamish about pap smears. Crazy, I know. I was still hoping it was a temporary thing. I have never had trouble with my feet in my life!

Eventually my complaining reached a level where mum heard about it. She told me the same thing my partner had a month ago - it's the terrible cheap shoes I wear.

I am a cheapskate when it comes to shoes. I cannot remember the last time I purchased a pair that didn't come from either Spendless Shoes or Rubi Shoes. One of my life goals is to stop buying bloody cheap shoes. And because I don't wear heels, they are all flats, and the result is that there is about 2mm of cheap synthetic sole between me and the pavement at any given time. No wonder my feet are protesting after 4-5 years of this treatment.

So I still haven't gone to the doctor. I did however screw up my courage and google my symptoms. I'm pretty sure I've got a heel spur in my right foot, probably one developing in my left because it's sore now too.

On the weekend my mother was kind enough to purchase a new pair of shoes. They are Diana Ferrari Supersoft. They are expensive but we got them on special at Myer. I am 100% sure I haven't worn a pair of shoes that cost this much in at least 10 years. It's humbling.

By the time we got home from walking around the shopping centre, my feet were in excruciating pain. I had to lie down the rest of the afternoon and mum gave me a footrub. Later I managed to hobble the few blocks to dinner in my new shoes. I am very glad to finally be doing something about this issue.

I'm also going to purchase a pair of orthotic inserts from the chemist. And stop doing stupid things at my desk like sitting with my legs up balacing on the balls of my feet and my knees touching the underside of my desk. I have no idea why I do this, and have only been doing it since I started my new job.

I guess I'll keep you all posted. Happy feet = happy Sarah.

Do you have any bad foot experiences? Do you have more troubles with them as you get older?

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Soup for the soul

So what did I do with my Australia Day holiday today? I didn't go to the beach and play beach cricket, or have a barbeque with mates. I didn't drink shitloads of beer and listen to the Triple J hottest 100.

No. Because I am who I am, I made soup.

This hair-brained scheme occurred to me yesterday morning, when I was commuting through bucketing rain to my dreary, boring desk job. I thought to myself "well, tomorrow is going to be gloomy and rainy and miserable, so I may as well stay inside all day and make French Onion soup".

Where the French Onion part came from I have no idea. I do recall watching someone make it on Food Safari one night months ago though so maybe the kernel of the plan hatched back then.

So off to the supermarket I went yesterday afternoon, on a mission for toilet paper (incidental to this blog post, but the main reason I was going) and ingredients. I had spent most of my day googling recipes instead of working so I knew I had most of the stuff to cook with at home.

Lo and behold, today dawned sunny. Yep, sunny - blue skies, only a few clouds, it was even warm. Darn. There went my plan of curling up in my bedsocks on the couch with my snuggie on watching DVDs. And yet, I did not let the warmer temperature nor lack of rain deter me from my soup-making plan. I needed something to distract me from the housework.

Ingredients. Note I didn't end up using the olive oil or the sugar. These were from a recipe I decided not to use.

Onions with butter and a pinch of sale, ready to start sautéing. I also threw in a clove of garlic, finely chopped, because I had seen this in another recipe and figured garlic is great in anything. This part was awesome, it took half an hour and the house smelled amazing. God I love French cooking, they use so much butter.

Ok I forgot to take a photo of the sautéed onions, but this is after I added the beef stock and started simmering. Heavenly.

Finished soup! So good! Bread was grilled with Colby cheese as I wasn't buying fancy French cheese specifically for this.

I would just like to assure you all that this soup tasted amazing. I had two bowls for lunch and froze three more portions. I have never made this before and am usually a terrible cook so I am immensely pleased at the way this turned out.

The last soup I tried to make from scratch was the leek one from French Women Don't Get Fat and it was awful. I don't know if it's meant to taste like that or I stuffed it up but it put me off for a long while.

Here is the recipe I used, from Note I omitted the thyme because although I thought I had some, there was none to be found amongst our 367 bottles of herbs and spices in the pantry. Interestingly, the thyme is not listed in the ingredients but mentioned in the method. Anyway, it was fine without it!


Easy French Onion Soup
2 tbsp butter
6 medium-large white or yellow onions
1 cup water
6 cups good-quality beef stock
salt and pepper
thick baguette slices, toasted
sliced gruyere or havarti cheese

Cut onions in half, peel of dry outer layer, and slice onions thinly into approx. 1/4-inch slices.
Heat a large stockpot or dutch oven over medium heat. Add in butter, onions and a large pinch of salt.

Cook onions, stirring occasionally, until they are a deep golden brown and very tender, about 30-45 minutes. The onions will probably stick to the bottom of the pan in some places, and smaller pieces may even brown so much as to look slightly burnt – don’t worry.

Add 1 cup of water to the pot to deglaze, rubbing any stuck-on bits off with a spatula or wooden spoon. Add in beef broth, thyme and season with pepper and additional salt, to taste.

Cover the pot and bring soup to a simmer. Turn heat to low and cook for about 30 minutes to help the flavors meld before serving.

Under the broiler, melt a piece of cheese onto a piece of toast for each bowl you will be serving. When cheese has melted, use a spatula to transfer toast to a bowl of soup and serve.

If you have oven-safe bowls, toast and cheese can be placed on top of the soup and the whole thing can be put under the broiler to melt cheese.

Serves 6-8, either as a main course or a first course.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Lonelies

I'm alone. My beloved has gone away for work for a few days, and I don't know when he'll be back.

I'm away from C quite frequently, but usually I am at my parents and he is here. Now I am here and he is the one away. It's strange.

This is a different kind of absence - it's going to be a few days. I'm alone in the evenings a lot when he is working nightshift, and am used to going to bed on my own, but tonight there's a big gaping hole where C should be.

I probably shouldn't blog about being home alone in case someone reads this, finds out where I live and comes and robs/murders me, but hey. All my doors are locked!

One of the things I'll need to be looking out for over the next few days is self care. I tend not to take care of myself too well food-wise when I'm on my own. I don't cook unless there's someone else to share the meal.

To beat the alone feelings, I'm trying to formulate a plan. This plan will set out things to do over this evening, tomorrow (a public holiday, I plan to stay home all day as it will be miserable and raining), Friday and Saturday.

So far, the plan involves watching a movie and playing Farmville this evening, and cooking French Onion soup tomorrow. Maybe some scrapbooking. Any other suggestions for beating the lonelies?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Winter is Coming

[image source]

Yesterday I finished reading A Feast for Crows, a later book in the A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R. R. Martin. It was ace. I may have mentioned this series before, and Twitter followers will be aware of my recent obsession with these novels.

I first heard of these books through the HBO series, and watched it well before I started reading the novels. I seemed to hear about them everywhere – on twitter, on Facebook, celebrities – everyone seemed to be either reading them or recommending them. Finally it was a post from gnomeangel that encouraged me to finally buy the first book, A Game of Thrones. Her assertion that she wasn’t a normal fantasy-genre lover but had loved the series just sold me.

I am a fantasy reader from way back, as I have blogged about before, but I stopped after I finished university. I am familiar with Eddings, Feist, Williams, Anthony, McCaffrey, Lawhead, Pratchett, Douglass and the rest. But up until last year, somehow I had managed never to hear of George R R Martin, a fact which still amazes me.

This man is a genius. A bloody genius. And skilled in writing in ways I couldn’t have imagined. In addition, the epic scale of the world he has created in these books is just staggering. Sure, fantasy writers have been drawing maps and making up people and cultures to populate them with since Tolkien (and probably before) but it is not since J.R.R. that I have encountered such attention to detail in a world that has such scope.

Every continent has its people and each have towns, leaders, their own culture and customs. In Westeros, each noble house has a name, a seat, a house sigil. Each family has fathers, sisters, uncles, aunts, sons, daughters and wards. How George keeps track of them all is beyond me.

[image source]

But what I really adore about this series is that it’s solidly for grown-ups. It’s brutal, violent, full of swearing and death and violence. Characters commit the most heinous of crimes and others are noble and honorable. There’s incest and beheading and torture and betrayal. And deceit, plotting, machinations and intrigue of Machiavellian proportions. Love it!

One of the things I did not expect was how the author somehow manages to make me both love and then hate certain characters, and vice versa. As the story progresses, opinions you had formed in the first book are changed, and for some reason you start to feel sympathy for the plight of the person whom you first would have named as your most hated (for me, this was the case with Jamie, Cersei and Sansa). Uncanny.

My only problem now is the latest book in the series, A Dance With Dragons, is the last for now. And when I finish it, I’ll be waiting on tenterhooks for the next one, just like the rest of the fandom!

Season 2 of Game of Thrones will be shown in the US on April 1. Here’s hoping it won’t take long to reach Australia afterwards.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Do anniversaries matter?

[image source]

This evening I was languidly lazing on our over-sized couch, flipping through one of my birthday presents - Jamie Oliver's 30 Minute Meals. I saw a likely feast that was a) in my skill range b) didn't require a food processor c) didn't have exotic ingredients and most importantly d) might be something my other half would eat.

I showed it to C and asked him if he'd eat that. He asked what yorkies were and I explained they are like dumpling things. He said yes. I said perhaps I could make it for our anniversary...?

He gave me a strange look. Then he said,

"Baby, our anniversary was on Friday."

"What? It's on the 20th though! What's the date today?"

"The 22nd."

I immediately started tearing up and apologising. He just smiled and ruffled my hair. Told me it was alright. Admitted he'd thought about it.

"But why didn't you say anything! It's our five years!" I wailed.

He said he didn't realise about the five years part, but again said it didn't really matter that I'd forgotten.

I pulled myself together and realised the only person upset in this conversation was me. He really didn't mind. He wasn't fussed that we hadn't gone out, or cooked a special dinner, or given each other gifts.

Later, when I shared this story with Twitter, I realised that we will have a new anniversary soon - not the date of our first date, but of our wedding. Wow.

So is it just my beloved partner or do men, as a rule, not really care that much about anniversaries? Or is it just important to some people more than others, whatever their gender? Why do we celebrate yearly milestones like birthdays and anniversaries? Is it a way of saying "hey, congratulations, another year has gone by!" - or do we just like an excuse to give and get more presents?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Things are happening

The Tender Centre - warehouse of second-hand dreams

Things are happening lately. Mostly wedding things, but it's strange to be busy. My normal days involve work, cooking dinner, tv, maybe internet, sleep. Then repeat. Weekends are for housework and rare visits to the shops or library. Though none of these busy things are worth individually blogging about (except some of the wedding stuff, keep an eye on Surely a Bride in the next few days), they are worth mentioning.

In the past few weeks I have:

- had to say goodbye via Twitter to my dear friend B, who went back to the UK after a month's visit to her native land

- been to my parents' farm twice

- attended a scrapbooking day (bliss! And I won first prize, a new album!)

- bought my wedding dress

- sorted out our final wedding guest list (ANGST)

- made and posted invitations

- shopped for and bought a suit for C

- gotten wholly addicted to the Song of Ice and Fire book series (again)

- been to the movies (The Muppets)

- won two tenders at Tender Centre (in Toowoomba, as I always get questions about where this marvellous, wonderful place is. I won a French market basket and a huge framed botanical print)


- bought "shapewear" for the first time in my life. I understand it is also known as Spanx or Nancy Ganz.

On that point - seriously, women wear this stuff frequently? I bought it to go under my wedding dress (to pull in my little tummy and avoid all those embarrassing "Oh is this a shotgun wedding?" remarks. Related: NO I'M NOT PREGNANT). And it is painful. What it does do is hold everything in, which is the point, but I'm not sure how I'm going to breathe in it. Hmm. I'm sure I'll adapt.

So what have you been up to? Do you wear shapewear?

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Postal Heart Attack

This afternoon I had a Postal Heart Attack.

You know it - you're standing over the bin, opening your mail (the best tip EVER, can't even remember where I read it! It was on one of your blogs, I'm sure) and merrily throwing ripped envelopes in when from one emerges a bill that makes you look twice, your eyes focus on the little line that says 'Amount Due'... and then...


This occasion saw me charging out the front door to where my beloved other half was attempting to fix my car and demand loudly and at length for all the neighbours to hear how the EFFING EFF we had managed to double our phone bill this month.

After that I had a little cry, C cheered me up by reminding me we always manage to sort these things out, I had a shower and then looked at the bill again when I felt stronger.

I urge you all to learn from my lesson - NEVER go over your mobile data cap, if you have one. The excess charges won't be pretty. They will be excessive. And there's nothing you can do about it, because they give you fair warning.


Sunday, January 1, 2012

New Year

It's 2012. That's kind of mind-blowing to me when I think about it. The new year is so fresh if it was bed sheets I'd be snuggling into it sniffing the pillow cases. But then again it's just another day - why should an arbitrary calendar date change one's perspective?

I've been doing a lot of travelling this last week. We drove to Townsville to see C's parents for 5 days then drove back. I drove myself to the farm to see my parents yesterday and saw in the new year in bed after a few drinks on the patio. I'm not really a big fan of making a big fuss about the changing of the calendar, and I realised last night that some of my dislike of new year celebrations are a hangover from when I was single and used to experience That Awkward Moment When You Have Nobody to Kiss At Midnight OMG.

This year I didn't even get to kiss my beloved anyway, as he was working. I'll give him an extra big one when I see him to make up for it!

I also don't make resolutions. I used to, then realised that goal-setting needs to be a part of my everyday life, so I try to make resolutions to myself throughout the year! Lately these have revolved around finding my passion in life and working on finding a career that makes me happy. I'll let you know how that one goes!

This week mum and I hope to get a heap of wedding-related stuff achieved, so there might even be a blogpost upcoming for Surely A Bride. We'll see.

How is your holiday season going?


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