Sunday, February 26, 2012

Maintaining Optimal Weight

The principle to maintain body weight is simple - match your food intake to your physical activity. To practice this principle in real life is not easy to many people.

In US, according to a USA Today report, 1/3 of the population is obese! Though the number might be an exaggeration, I do see more obese people around than 10 to 20 years ago. The root cause is those people eat too much with not enough or little physical activities. The other extreme of the proof of the principle is what happened in some African countries where there is famine, Somali for example. All I see on TV was people there - adults and children alike - were skinny because they had little to eat! Enough of the negative examples.

My Approach

Exercise regularly: jogging twice a week two miles each time on weekends; walking twice daily on weekdays - during morning break and after lunch. Have early dinner ( 3- 4 hours before bed time) and no food after dinner. I wrote about this a year ago in the post "Staying Fit and Young". It really works. My weight is typically +/- 5 lbs of my healthy weight of my college time.

Talking with friends and family about my approach, I realized that it was necessary to add a bit details to the approach.

My Methods


Many people who finally decided to exercise usually set a very high standard for themselves - like excise 30 minutes a day, run 1 mile a day and do 30 sit-ups everyday ....To most people this is not sustainable, and thus they usually give up the exercise in a week or two, even a day or two, and end up with no exercise at all.

I have a two-tier exercise routine - walk 15 minutes twice a day, around 10am and after lunch during weekdays at work; jogging 2 miles twice a week on weekends. When I am too busy at work, I will skip 10am exercise, and shorten the after lunch walk time. When I don't feel well or there are many household matters to take care of during the weekend, I would cut the two mile jogging to 1 mile or even half mile.The key is flexible on the amount of exercise but keep the routine going - to make it a habit.

Last Saturday we had a few things going on in the household - Nicholas's recovery from a prolonged fever, and Justin's Science Fair, my routine was disrupted. So I exercised a little bit during our library trip - I left Nicholas in the library to look for his books and I walked around the pound behind the library for 15 minutes or so.

Controlled eating time

This practice involves no dieting at all except time control: Have early dinner ( 3- 4 hours before bed time) and no food after dinner.

I was +5 lb over my optimal weight about 4 years ago. I practiced the eating time control rigorously. On top of the time control, I had been really busy, and within a year, I was at -2lb. My doctor noticed the weight change during my annual physical, but he also noticed that all my blood indices were at optimum. However  my weight continued to drop due to the fact that I was used to the practice and I had been really busy at work. I was at -5 lb to my optimum weight and looked skinny in 2009/2010!! I was at -7lb for a day after our 2009 ski trip adventure.

I decided to reverse my eating control from no food after dinner to have some snacks after dinner every day since 2011. On top of that I  was also determined to have a minimum of 8 hour sleep a night. After a year of feeding after dinner and ~ 7 hour minimum sleep time, I reached +3.5 lb at mid February from -5lb a year ago .

Mindful of the momentum of weight gaining, I decided to restart the practice of "no snack after dinner" again. Once I had the habit of having snack at late hours, it was hard to get rid of it. For a few days, I just felt hungry around 10pm and went on to have some snacks. I knew I was not hungry, the feel of hunger was due to the eating habit. My solution was to drink some water when I felt hungry after dinner. Within a couple of days,  the urge to eat at night was gone. Now I am back to my controlled eating - "have early dinner (on or before 7pm) and no snack after dinner."

Exercise regularly, early dinner and no food after dinner are all it takes to maintain one's optimum weight.

No need of lap band surgery, no need of dieting, and no need of medicine for weight loss.


1) I monitor my weight weekly at work where I use a regularly-calibrated scale at nurse station. My ideal range of weight is +2lb/-1 lb of optimal weight.

2) On special occasions, I do eat really late and eat a lot - like Thanksgiving night, New Year's Eve. What I do next day or two is all veggie for food, more exercise than usual

Saturday, February 18, 2012

A Visit from Novelist Jacqueline West - by Nicholas

Allan's Note: How exciting it would be if you get a chance to talk with the author of your favorite novels! That is what happened to Nicholas  - the author of  the novel series "Elsewhere" visited his school on "Author Visit" day. Nicholas read one of the books already and is on the waiting list at local library for another. He actively participated the author's presentation - asked and answered questions. He was really proud that he was rewarded with a signed "Elsewhere" bookmark.

Jacqueline West, the author of the Books of Elsewhere came to my school on January 17, 2012. She has written The Shadows, Spellbound, and The Second Spy. Coincidentally I read The Shadows already!  So far she has only written these 3 books. But in the author visit, she said she plans to make a series of 5 books in total, one each summer before working on a book for teenagers.

She gave us a PowerPoint slide show called - The Story of a Story (Or How a Book Becomes a Book). The presentation covered the writing process from her inspiration (she saw a creepy, spooky house every day on her way to middle school combined with things that she liked or interested which gave life to the Books of Elsewhere)to the publication (her editor and illustrator, how they worked together)of her book. She started out with what she was like during her childhood. Then she moved on to books that she liked as a child. Surprisingly, she liked The Hobbit as well as books with talking animals in them, some of them which I enjoyed reading as well. Then she talked about what the experience of writing was like. It hardly surprised me although the fact that she took breaks in between writing and that she once nearly deleted her story did. She then included a group discussion on her books, a reading from The Shadows (the entire chapter 4), a game (a fun and exciting game sort of like name that book in which the author gave us the first sentence of a book and we were asked to name it), and a Q/A which I enjoyed.

I really liked Jacqueline West’s presentation and the added bonus was that I got a signed Books of Elsewhere bookmark from her. But sadly, I have lost the bookmark and so I am desperately trying to find it.

Appendix: the books of Elsewhere

The books of Elsewhere, Volume One: The Shadows - Old Ms. McMartin is definitely, dead, and her crumbling Victorian mansion lies vacant. When eleven-year-old Olive and her dippy mathematician parents move in, Olive is right to think there's something odd about the place--not least the strange antique paintings hanging on its walls. But when she finds a pair of old glasses in a dusty drawer, Olive discovers the most peculiar thing yet: she can travel inside these paintings to Elsewhere, a place that's strangely quiet...and eerily familiar. Olive soon finds herself ensnared in a plan darker and more dangerous than she could have imagined, confronting a power that wants to be rid of her by any means necessary. It's up to her to save the house from the shadows, before the lights go out for good.

The Books of Elsewhere, Volume Two: Spellbound - With no way into the house's magical paintings, and its three guardian cats reluctant to help, Olive's friend Morton is still trapped inside Elsewhere. So when Rutherford, the new oddball kid next door, mentions a grimoire - a spellbook - Olive feels a breathless tug of excitement. If she can find the McMartins' spellbook, maybe she can help Morton escape Elsewhere for good. Unless, that is, the book finds Olive first.

The Books of Elsewhere, Volume Three: The Second Spy - Some terrifying things have happened to Olive in the old stone house, but none as scary as starting junior high. When she plummets through a hole in her backyard, however, she discovers two things that may change her mind: First, the wicked Annabelle McMartin is back. Second, there's a secret in an underground room that unlocks not one but two of Elsewhere's biggest, most powerful, most dangerous forces yet. With the house's guardian cats acting suspicious, her best friend threatening to move away, and her ally Morton starting to rebel, Olive isn't sure where to turn. Will she figure it out in time? Or will she be lured into Elsewhere, and trapped there for good

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge

According to the wildlife refuge's website: "Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1962 as a haven for migratory birds and other wildlife. 14,345 foot Mt. Blanca of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains provides a stunning backdrop for this 11,169 acre refuge."  Northern pintails, Sandhill cranes, and Canada geese stop at the valley refueling for their journey to northern breeding grounds in spring time; Nesting shorebirds (American Avocets, Wilson’s Phalaropes, White-faced Ibis), and water birds (American Bittern, Sora, Black-crowned Night Herons) arrive in summer. 

There was not much to be seen at Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge during winter time,  we visited there nevertheless after our Wolf Creek skip trip.

The refuge is linked to US 160 via a 2-mile long gravel road. I had to drive really slow, ~ 2 -5 mph to minimize the shake and swing, so we had time to look around - there was not much to look at in the valley - the wetland that migrating birds are here for was dry; the grass and vegetation were dormant, creeks had no water in them, the pounds were half full. The scene was gorgeous when I looked into horizon in any direction - blue sky, snow covered rocky mountains all around. We moved on to drive through the 2-mile auto tour route to have a look of the place.  

As we were near the visitor's center, Lily saw a big bird on the tree at the Y shaped intersection of roads. When I stopped the car at good position to take a picture of it, it flew away. It turned out to be a resident hawk. There were supposedly many bold eagles wintering at the refuge along Rio Grande; it was very cold that morning, we did not take a hike to Rio Grande river bank and thus missed a potential chance to watch bald eagles.

We drove on slowly, Lily and I chatting, the boys watching a movie. A mile into the auto tour route, I noticed a "wolf" by a forested area - we were all excited: it seemed to notice us as well, walking slowly along the edges of the bushed area, and then it disappeared - we continued to discuss whether it was a wolf or a coyote. As we were about to leave the auto tour route, I noticed a "wolf" again! Lily exclaimed " you really have good eyes for wildlife!" - this time she caught the animal on camera. From Big Bend to Yellowstone, from Denali to Banff, I have had a good track record on spotting wildlife. My secret is - not expect to see much but keep looking, be prepared to see. When chances do come, I feel the thrill of discovery!

The trip to  Alamosa was not great, but not bad. I hope that I will visit the area in the future to witness the migration of SandHill cranes at spring time.

note: checking the refuge's website - there is no wolf in the area, so what we saw was coyote. Justin did a side by side comparison of photos of wolf and coyote - the difference between the two is really small.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Art of Baking Bread - by Lily

My friend got me interested in bread baking recently. Who wouldn't love a fresh loaf of bread first thing in the morning? So I got myself a brand new bread machine as a Christmas “treat”. It has dual blades with option of self-programmable process. I was eager to try it out.

My first loaf was done during the day because I wanted to watch the process and make sure the machine functions well. I followed the French bread recipe, my sons’ favorite, and the bread turned out very well, crusty outside and soft and chewy inside. Then I started to set up the machine at night time and program it so we can have freshly baked warm bread ready for breakfast. The first try turned out all right, a bit dense than the first loaf I made. I figured it’s because the liquid wasn’t warm so the yeast action was slow. I increased the time for kneading and rise and the second try turned out perfect. To wake up in the morning in the aroma of freshly baked bread is just heavenly.

Then I started being creative, adding different spices and trying different flavors. Things went awry. My bread was still good to eat but it was either too dense or having a gnarly top. This is like failed experiment, very frustrating, and I am determined to get it done right.

Saturday afternoon while I was browsing in the library, I realized that I should get a book on how to make bread. There were plenty to choose and I picked one with pictures and detailed explanation on techniques. Of course the book is about making bread by hand, not the quick and easy machine made bread. But the explanations on the action of each ingredient and the purpose of each step are very helpful. Each type of flour and yeast has its own trick, the amount of salt and sugar all matters, even the type of water makes a difference. I guess I didn’t fully understand the function of each ingredient before I started fooling around with the recipe, a big no-no in doing experiment! And with bread machine working overnight you don’t have the option to adjust the amount of flour or water during the process; the machine won’t wait extra five minutes for the bread to proof better if the yeast action is slow. So everything has to be fairly precise.

“Drooling” over the pictures of various delicious breads I also realized there is a big difference between wanting and liking to do something and mastering and perfecting it! It is the consensus that the bread made by hand kneading is the best. But how to knead the dough, how to fold it, how to recognize the texture of the dough at each step, all of these matter and all of these take experiment and practice to perfect. I guess I’ll have to wait until I retire to master that skill. For now, I’ll focus on getting a perfect loaf out of my bread machine every time (preferablyJ).