Monday, November 30, 2009

North Shore Bliss

I love the tranquility of the ocean and the sand, the balmy weather, and the waves smacking against my body. So simplistic, it is a reminder of the ebb and flow of life itself. The sand feels like brown sugar on my body and the salty water caresses my skin. This is one of my favorite places in the world, the North Shore on Oahu. I have been here several times, and my body resonates with mother nature on the North Shore. Words do not begin to describe the calm I feel here. It truly is a special place in the world. I am compelled to make another journey here again soon, as the ocean is calling me. And, I always listen to the call of nature--it is in my spirit to do so, and I feel an obligation to my soul and the Universe.

This photo is symbolic of how I feel about my life. Open and ready. If you observe this pose, you can see that I am offering my being to the beauty of the ocean, the sun, and I am sinking into the earth. There are certain points in my life where I have felt more open and less guarded. This is a time where I felt I was offering my body to mother nature. And, that is how I feel right now, at this very moment about my life.

I could not find a better pose that is symbolic for my feeling in life at this time. After the grand European tour, which I have promised to post more photos and stories (and I will), there is a calmness about my being. I was both anxious but excited about the tour before I left, because, inevitably and invariably, I knew there would be challenges along the journey. I could not deny the fact that my travels would go without incident. As long as I could retain my passport, a little cash and my credit cards and other identification, I knew I would be okay. It's kind of like trying to be a survivalist in the urban jungle. Pretty silly, but I don't think a lot of people in the world are equipped to be world travelers. But, I did it, and my life experiences in a few weeks time rivaled that of several years of my life, and that's pretty interesting.

At any rate, after coming home, I threw myself into the gym, only taking a couple of days off the recover. I think both Amazon fantasists and general civilians alike can appreciate my efforts in the gym. I do not quite understand it, but I am stronger than ever, nearly rivaling my strength when I lived in Holland with Sas training at Kneet's Gym. I never thought I would see that day again. My life is cyclic, and since I travel a lot, sometimes it is difficult to stay on a normal schedule in training. However, I am fortunate enough to have found a very good man, JJ, that is pushing me to be the best I can be--both inside the gym, and outside the gym. How exciting is that? I rarely have anyone that would even remotely begin to challenge me, not only in the gym, but in other areas of my life to inspire me.

I generally train alone and just try to find someone that can give me a quick spot. I have also decided to help a friend of mine, Jason, who used to train with Romeo, my old training bud, who recently moved to Oregon. It is a great position to be in, because, although I do not have the time at the moment to dedicate to training people, I will assist friends in my inner circle gratuitously, and I have other people helping me in my training. It's a good feeling, because I enjoy helping others, and it also reinforces my own knowledge.

I have also decided to go for my Russian Kettlebell Certification in April. This training methodology is also known as "Hard Style", and Pavel Tsatsouline pioneered the revolution of hardstyle RKB training. I have a good foundation already, now all I have to do is continue to swing, clean, snatch and a few other exercises daily to hone my skills. Hard Style is different from competition style. Competition is more focused on economy of motion, and the number of reps on can achieve. While I am interested in that, it is not my primary focus. It is yet another facet of training that I can add to my arsenal, and it will only help improve my quality of life and others.

My goals in training have always been on functionality, power, and last but not least, aesthetic. I don't know how many people I have told this to in the gym this week! Sometimes I think I should have a business card that states these objectives and actually begin training people, but at this point in my life, I am not ready to take on personal training, although I have done it in the past. I simply enjoy helping and educating others. Therefore, I like to incorporate a lot of power movements, whether it is powerlifting techniques, RKB, sport training, or simply bodybuilding movements. Power and speed are largely intrinsic, however, proper training methodologies can enhance this. Diet and some exercises allow for an aesthetic physique. I always know that you are what you do or eat. So, how one trains, and how one eats, is how one will end up looking. Pretty simple, huh?

So, getting to the meat of things, my strength levels are up, and I have lost about 8 pounds over the past month. I intend on getting bigger, harder, and shaplier in the next several weeks, but stronger as well. I am able to close grip benchpress in the Smith Machine nearly 300 pounds for reps, and all of my other lifts are up significantly. I am working on my grip strength for RKB training. Last year I did nearly 200 snatches with both hands in a 10 minute test, with a 16kg RKB, which is what women use in the open division for hardstyle qualification. This is nearly double the qualification standard. So I know I will not have a problem qualifiying for the certification. My goal, however, is to be be able to make the men's open qualification in the 5-minute snatch test, and that is 100 combined snatches with both arms in the 5-minute test with the 24kg RKB. Now, that would be a good goal for me. I am snatching the 20kg right now for sets of 10-15 reps, alterating arms, and taking a bit of rest in between sets. It would take me a while to get up to 24kg, however, I do not think it is something that is unattainable. Right now, I do not have a problem I am also working on athletic movements such as power cleans, snatches, deadlifts and squats. It is a great feeling getting my power base back where it belongs. Tonight, I did some Russian Deadlifts with 225lbs very easily and I did not lose my grip at all. It felt good, clean and "right"!

I think it will enable me to do overhead lifts and carries that much better and I have some friends that are professional wrestlers that will be able to teach me these lifts even better. It's all a matter of time before I can really perform them, and that is all too exciting for me.

So, it has truly been nose to the grindstone lately, but with pleasure in more ways than one, as I know how to enjoy life! No fear of that, my dear friends. So, stay tuned, as I will continue to deliver to you my progress in training, and my celebration of life.

Carpe diem!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Heavy & Late

If you read my posts regularly, several posts back, I told you that I carry my virtual office when I hit the road for travel. Since I was going to be in Europe for quite a while, I thought I would streamline my bags down. I left a lot of stuff including shoes, boots and summer type clothing I wore in Las Vegas, at my good friend, Al's, in Escondido, California. Upon arrival to London, United Kingdom, I was actually idiotic enough to bring two big Rimowa suitcases. For some odd reason, I thought it was going to be pretty cold there. And, since I have lived in Holland a couple of years ago, as I recall, both London and Holland are pretty cold this time of year, and Frankfurt, same thing, and the rest of the countries I would travel too, it would be cold and probably rain. Much to my surprise, the weather was very mild and I did not need any warm weather clothing. So, I left one huge suitcase at the hotel in London, and thought I would just pick it up on my return to the UK. As I stated in the last post, I paid for a lot of overages in luggage. Turkish Air was quite liberal with the weight, though, back to the UK. Generally, when I travel, the airlines tag my bags with two tags about 80% of the time. That is "heavy", and "late". Go figure. See the little icon man bending his knees and using both hands to lift the bag? How funny is that? When I was in the Turkish airport, they have to send you luggage through a preliminary security check for metal. This bag I had to lift up onto the conveyor belt. All I really did was just hoist it up and kick it up with one knee and it slammed down on the belt. At least it did not have "late" marked on the bag.

You are probably thinking, "Why has Amber resorted to such a boring photo?" Well, I know I have spoiled you with the past several months with cool photos but I think this little tag was so funny. It's the little things in life and the stupid things I do that make me laugh at myself.

On a sidebar note, I know I have been a bit slow in posting here. Again, I have taken the liberty to settle into my training routine, my house, and friends here in Albuquerque, and attend to my website business. I have also taken over my old training partner's client, Jason, and told him I would help him train. We have made amazingly great partners thus far. I just show him certain exercises and how I like to be spotted. He is catching on very well, and is eager to learn. It inspires me, too, because I am forced to teach, and become more of a leader with him.

I have been amazingly strong, and I will post some videos soon of my progress and training in the gym. I have been regularly close grip bench pressing on the Smith machine around 275x10 reps for triceps. I just want to pile the weight on a get stronger. I love getting bigger, too, but being stronger is more important. I have always enjoyed training for power, speed and functionality. That's way more important to me that anything else. Getting bigger is just a cool byproduct of training heavy. My bodyweight has held steady at 210 pounds. My goal is to get leaner and harder without losing any weight. I would accept a few pound weight loss, but the idea is to gain lean body mass. So, I am on the quest to accomplish my goals. Jason is a hunter, and he just got a 4x5 elk this season, and he has been giving me some elk steaks. I eat a lot of bison and ostrich as well. I just love wild game. I think we all need to have a more Paleolithic diet and eat more wild game, vegetables, roots, and some fruit. More of a hunter/gatherer diet where we foraged for our food. Think about how hard we do not work for our food nowadays. I can roll out of bed and be at Trader Joes in 30 seconds! My ancestors had to go out and hunt the bison. Our bodies really are not used to processed grains and obviously anything processed. The only processed thing I will easily accept is vodka. Oh yes, and my red wine. That's not so bad, is it? I always say, "Never trust anyone that doesn't drink".... I am not suggesting encouraging heavy boozing, but I think you understand what I mean.

I am just going through some of my travel photos and will be posting some of them soon, as promised about my journey to Europe. I thought I would be way more tired from the trip, however, conversely, I feel quite invigorated!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

European Tour Finale in Istanbul

I knew that this European tour would test my resilience, endurance, patience and mettle. I started my journey in San Diego, and then off to Vegas for the Olympia as I stated in an earlier post. Then, it was off to NYC, London, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Zurich, Milan, Rome, Athens and Istanbul, London and finally back to NYC. I have always wanted to see Italy and Turkey, and now I had my chance. I took a friend of mine, Mark, to Amsterdam with me, and we were patting ourselves on the back over how well my trip had been going so far, and how we arrived early at the airport and things were going so smoothly. I still had several cities for something to go awry. And it did. When you travel a lot, your chances of something going wrong are increased dramatically. It's bad enough that I barely get to airports on time in the USA and with too many overweight bags. I tried to streamline my bags, but alas, it was still too much weight by European standards. I ended up paying nearly $1,000 in baggage surplus. I vowed that on my next journey, I am only going to pack the bare necessities, and if I need something, I will just buy it.

The first major mishap of the journey occurred when I miscalculated my timing out of Milan to the airport. It took me well over one hour to get there. I should have asked the clerk at the front desk so I could time it out. As it turned out, I could have made my flight into Rome, but the Easyjet clerk told me I should just wait for the next flight. After leaving the Netherlands, Germany, and Switzerland, English was a secondary language to everyone, even in airports and public places. I found myself speaking one word at a time, very slowly. Most of Western Europe has a good grasp of the English language, but Italy, Greece and Turkey are entirely different. It becomes very frustrating when something goes wrong, like overweight luggage, missed flights, or one of my sponsors trying to find me in the airport. After the missed flight to Milan, I had no choice but to sit in a pizza place and catch up on emails. Milan was beautiful and I walked through the fashion district (very much like Beverly Hills), and I had a great dinner at the Blvgari hotel where a friend took me. I got a massage in the hotel, much needed, and enjoyed the spa. The room was free due to my Platinum status with Starwood. It was a beautiful room with a normal king sized mattress, which is unusual in Europe, as they usually just put two twins together and I end up falling in the damned crack. I hate that. So, I was very happy that it was a genuine king mattress. I like to sprawl out when I sleep. I am also a dangerous sleeper, as many a lover has told me that I elbowed him/her in the middle of the night when I turn.

I finally ended up in Rome, and my hotel was on the main street where all the fashion and fine dining was. I got yet another great room. Luckily, I had a great sponsor that grew up in Rome and took me out to sight see to all of the famous places, including the Coliseum, the Vatican, and many of the fountains. When I got home, coincidentally, I ended up watching a Gregory Peck movie called "Roman Holiday" with Audrey Hepburn. It was such a classic movie, and the fountains were easily identifiable. Since I enjoy watching a lot of foreign flicks, it's always cool to have been to many of the locations in the films.

From Rome, I ended up going to Athens, and although I made the flight on time, when I arrived in Athens, my luggage did not make it. So, I had one of the nicest suites in Hotel Grande Bretagne, at one of the finest hotels in Athens, and I had my scrubby flight clothes on. So, this forced me to rethink how I will travel in the future. One, I will bring a small carry on with my essentials such as toiletries, makeup and a change of clothes. I had to go to the pharmacy just to get the basic stuff. This trip was truly a lesson on how to travel, economize and get to the airport extra early. Not on time, but early. Because you have to account for the fact that you don't know where the hell you are going in the airport, will probably end up getting lost and asking a bunch of people directions that do not speak English very well. I have learned not to be shy and ask the first most competent looking person that may be able to help me. It was not so bad when I traveled from Amsterdam to Frankfurt, Frankfurt to Zurich, and Zurich to Milan because it was all by train. Granted, I had too much luggage, but I knew I at least had it, and I got to the train stations on time.

The day I left Athens and was flying into Istanbul, my luggage turned up, amazingly enough. Luckily, Turkish Air did not screw me over on the weight of my bags, as I was permitted to have two carry ons. Although, I completely forgot about some of the toiletries and when I went through security the ladies that inspected the bags chucked a lot of hair products. Which was fine by me, as long as it was not my expensive facial products or perfume. The ladies saw my small bottle (probably about 4 ounces, which is still too much) of Serge Lutens perfume, very pricey by the way, and I just gasped and begged for them not to chuck it. Thank God they knew what they were looking at, and they chose to ignore it and put it back in my bag. So, off to Turkey I went.

The hidden gem of my entire trip was Istanbul, Turkey. I completely forgot that I needed a Visa, and I did not realize I also needed Turkish Lira (which is about 1.47 to $1.00). So, I got my Visa for 20EUR and picked up my luggage, and it was all there. I got into a cab, and realized that I must have had the craziest cab driver in Istanbul. First of all, he did not speak much English. So, I wondered whether I would even get to the W Hotel. It seemed to take a while, and my cabbie was very aggressive, swerving in and out of traffic, yelling at people, making hand gestures, and mad dogging every driver that got in his way. When I entered the cab, I immediately tried to buckle my seatbelt, but I could not find the bottom part to insert the buckle in. So, instead, I just sat in the back bracing myself. The cabbie looked up at me a few times, and all I did was just give him a sheepish smile and tried to look indifferent about his crazy driving. Even if I said something to him, he would not understand, so that would have been futile. At one point, he slammed his brakes, and we were literally only a few inches away from a fender bender, which resulted in him yelling at the driver in front of us. When I got out of the cab, all I had was a 50EUR note, as I was in "Euro" mode. The fare was only 27YTL. When I handed him the 50EUR, (about 108YTL, which is four times what the fare was) I just told him to keep the change. Typically, cabbies only get a bit of change over the fare not only in Europe, but also in Turkey. So, he probably called it a day after dropping me off. I was just happy to make it alive to the hotel and get rid of that driver.

I had a great host/tour guide while in Istanbul, Hakan, and he took me around at night to see the mosques and old buildings and fountains. He took me to a local place where they serve a typical sausage meat on bread and some dip and a yogurt drink. I liken it to our McDonalds. But only healthier. And then, he took me the following night to a nice restaurant. I always like it when my sponsors take me to a really cool local place, and also a high end restaurant to experience the food. I went for lunch to a really great restaurant called "Kosebasi" and the food was amazing. I crave it now, and I can't wait to go back for more.

My hotel overlooked the Bosphorous and was in a very upscale fashion district with great dining options and other amenities.

In these photos, you will see the detail of the ceiling of one of the fountains, and I am standing outside one of the most famous castles in the old part of the town.

Of all the cities on the tour I visited, something about Istanbul grabbed me. Perhaps it was the surprise of the diversity of the people and the sophistication of the city. I definitely want to go back and explore more and perhaps the night life on a grander scale. I am definitely going to pack less so I can come home with a few trinkets from the bazaar! And I want to return sometime in May when the weather is just about perfect from what the locals tell me. I got my hair done and a manicure/pedicure at a local salon, and it was only about 1/3 the cost of the service in a big city in the USA and they were pretty darn good. One of my biggest weaknesses is Lokum and all the great baklava, so immediately upon arrival, I took a little hike behind the hotel and got my fill. I swear I can eat an entire box of Lokum in one sitting. It's just too addicting.

After Istanbul, I returned to London and had a relaxing time with my friend, Mark, and we recapped the entire tour, and how I may do it differently the next time. As much as I say I would never do that again, I probably will. But, not on such a grand scale hitting so many cities. And, certainly not with all that luggage.

My body is finally recovered and getting back onto Mountain Standard Time here in New Mexico. I found myself falling asleep on the couch around 9:30 pm all last week. Probably because I threw myself back into the gym, mercilessly, and punishing my body by lifting hard and heavy. I always say I am just going to "ease back in" so I am not too sore. But amazingly, I am stronger than when I left for this long journey. The only thing I can attribute it to is my positive mental attitude, a lot of good quality sleep, my high proetin/wild game diet, and motivation. I guess that's what a good old fashioned European holiday will do for you. Most of the Europeans take about 30 days off a year, and it is typical for them to take several weeks off at a time. It seems to have an invigorating effect when you return to your normal day to day life.

I have a feeling I am just tapping into my global travels!