Day 8: Our apartment in Mostar

Above is a picture of our apartment in Mostar. It's comfortably furnished with hardwood floors, large windows, two bedrooms and a decent bathroom. We're the first tenants since it was completely renovated.

But it hasn't been without problems. The first time I had a bath, when I pulled the plug water started to flow up out of the drain in the floor. When we first ran the washer, water gushed out of the wall during the rinse cycle. When we did the dishes, water leaked out from under the kitchen cabinets. Mold is forming on the walls, and the bed is practically a petri dish. 

The landlord cleared the bathroom drain to some degree, but then it started to stink, because the plumber had hooked up the floor drain to the septic system. The washer now drains into our tub. And as for the kitchen problems, the plumber advised us to keep the door open when we cook and to reduce the heat (obviously never cooked in his life).

Our heater broke too, and the electrician has been promising to come for two weeks now, but fortunately the weather has warmed up. It was about 15 degrees today.

The worst is that we pay more for this apartment than we paid for our place in Vancouver. But we're foreigners, and it's tough for foreigners to find cheap rent--the locals see us as dollar signs. Despite the problems with our place, it's bright, clean and spacious. We could have done a lot worse.

TODAY'S WEIGHT: 166lbs. At noon, before stuffing myself (see below)
FOOD HIGHLIGHTS: Had guests, so I overate. 6 pieces of pizza, a big mocha, two cookies, coke. Not good. And I'm a-flyin' on the sugar. Woohoo!
EXERCISE: 15 minutes pilates, 6km walking

Day 9: Learning a New Language

Most people who speak multiple languages learned those languages as a child. Very few people learn new languages as an adult, and most who do learn out of necessity--e.g. they immigrated to Canada. This is with good reason.

Unless you've learned a new language as an adult, you are unable to comprehend what a massive task it is. I know, because I couldn't. Gina said to me in June 1997, "Let's learn how to speak Bosnian so we can talk to all our new neighbours." Like a complete moron, I replied, "Duh, okay." I did not realize at that instant that I was committing to years of agony and tears, thousands of hours of study, and two years of life in Bosnia. I did not realize that I would be spending all my retirement money to live in Sarajevo, or that I would make three visits to Europe without seeing France or Germany or England.

I now speak "superior" Bosnian (or Croatian, or Serbian, or Serbo-Croatian--whatever you wanna call it, it's all the same language). At the end of '97, I could introduce myself. At the end of '98, I could introduce myself, ask you how you are, and understand the reply. At the end of '99, I could construct simple sentences. In the summer of 2000, we moved to Bosnia. By the end of 2000, my vocabulary had expanded to a few thousand words and I could communicate on many subjects. By the end of 2001, I could discuss complex subjects with ease. During 2002 I forgot lots, but now, in March 2003, I'm pretty much where I was at the end of 2001, minus some vocabulary.

The key to learning a language is total immersion. Despite hundreds of hours of study and a trip to Bosnia, I made little progress the first three years. But in the 15 months of our first stay in Bosnia, I became a fluent and capable speaker.

That's not to say it's over. I still study every day, I still use my dictionary every day, and I still struggle every day. I still can't understand the evening news. I still can't understand slang. I still make a fool of myself. 

So what I really wanted to say is this: Don't say to yourself, "I should really learn Spanish someday." No, you shouldn't. Not unless you married a Mexican, or you're lost in Mexico, or you're a real sucker for punishment. It takes years and years to learn a language, no matter how smart you are. If I had had any concept of how large a learning task this language was going to be, I never would have started. But I'm in too deep to stop now.

TODAY'S WEIGHT: 168 lbs. 4pm.
FOOD HIGHLIGHTS: 4 pieces of pizza, 3 baked potatoes, 2 cookies, 3 homemade doughnuts. I'm gonna start giving you my overall impression of whether I progressed or regressed. Today is a MINUS day (regressed). Too many doughnuts.
EXERCISE: Pilates workout, 4 km walk.

Day 10: Fat: The Before & After Shot

Holy smokes, what a difference 20 pounds makes.

Holy smokes, what a difference 20 pounds makes.

In response to requests (okay, one request) I am posting my "before" and "after" shot. The picture at left is me today at 170 pounds. The picture at right is what I hope to look like at the end of my 90 days. That's me at 150 pounds, about two years ago.

So I'm 11 days into my fat fight. The picture is keeping me motivated. And so are you--the thought of having to write about it at the end of the day keeps me from stuffing my face and makes me do my Pilates workouts.

My fat-fighting ideas have changed somewhat now that I'm trying to put them into practise. Here's what I said I would do, followed by a comment on what I'm actually doing:

  • Do an 8-day lemon juice fast starting next week. Nah. Too tough. And it would probably just give me temporary results while throwing off my metabolism.
  • Cut out all desserts except a small home-made mocha. Um, I've been having a cookie or maybe two a day.
  • Use skim milk instead of whole. I've made the switch to 0.5%, and it's not so bad at all.
  • Never take a second helping. I've been really good here, but I make sure that my initial helping is nice and big.
  • Pack nutritious snacks so I don't stop in at the bakery. I haven't been packing snacks, and it's cost me a few trips to the bakery (bakeries are absolutely everywhere here--there's always one within 500 feet).
  • Do a Pilates workout every day. Not quite every day, but every other day for sure.
  • Walk everywhere (this should be easy 'coz we got no car) I have definitely been walking a lot.
  • Run 25-35km a week as soon as my ankle recovers. My ankle is severely screwed up--I twisted it while running a month ago--and I don't think I'll be running anytime soon. I really need some physical therapy.

So this is the recap: I gotta cut out the cookie a day. And I gotta get my ankle better so I can run.

TODAY'S WEIGHT: 168 lbs. 9am.
FOOD HIGHLIGHTS: Small mocha. One cookie. Spinach pasta. Twix. Curried mushrooms.
EXERCISE: Short pilates workout, 6 km walking, 4 km bike.
SUMMARY: Thumbs up

Day 11: Two beautiful web sites by yours truly

I worked last week. NetEffects, the St. Louis consulting firm I used to work for, had me add a database-driven job listings section to their web site. I also updated the look slightly.

Check it out:

And here's a link to the last project I worked on before I took parental leave: Playground Homes

TODAY'S WEIGHT: 167 lbs. 9pm.
FOOD HIGHLIGHTS: Small mocha. Scoop of ice cream (couldn't avoid it without being rude). Pasta. Baked potatoes.
EXERCISE: Pilates workout, 8 km walking.
SUMMARY: Thumbs up

Day 12: Toilet paper in Bosnia

Toilet paper in Bosnia is not like toilet paper in Canada. It's much thicker, and it's pink. It's really thick--like paper towel. You don't have to fold it in half or in quarters or anything like that. This stuff's built to wipe. When you go to the store to buy toilet paper, there's only one option: pink, paper-towel-type toilet paper. It comes in bags of 10 rolls, and costs $2.50. It's a deep pink, not a light pink. The texture is really coarse. It's usually perfumed--you might want perfumed toilet paper too if you had to use a john like this. After using it for a total of 16 months, I still prefer Canadian toilet paper. I mostly like the color better, but Canadian TP is a lot softer, too.

TODAY'S WEIGHT: 169 lbs. 1pm. I really gotta start doing this at a consistent time.
FOOD HIGHLIGHTS: Some chocolate. Very bad. Decandent mocha at the Italian bakery. Also very bad. Brocolli pasta, cheerios, bread, tomato & cheese.
EXERCISE: 10 km walking
SUMMARY: Thumbs up, 'coz I walked off all the bad stuff

Day 13: Food in Bosnia


So I'm thinking a lot about food these days, now that I only eat half as much.

The fruit and vegetables in Bosnia are like nothing you've ever tasted in North America. Before I lived here, I had no idea what worthless produce we have back home. It must be so genetically-altered and nutrient poor... Fruit here has a rich, deep taste. Oranges are more juicy, lemons are more sour, grapes are sweeter and apples are fruitier. Peppers make you pucker and tomatoes make you tingle. Most of the produce we buy here is grown by moms & pops in their gardens, just trying to make a bit of extra money. They grow it, pick it and bring it to the market. This means that you can't buy oranges in July or apples in March or grapes in December, but that's not normal anyway. Everything you have to buy in its season. (I didn't even know that produce had seasons before living here--it was always at the supermarket. Everything except mandarins.)

So food you make yourself is great. However, I really don't care for other people's food. Everything is full of oil and too bland for my taste buds. Their specialties are usually a mixture of peppers, potatoes, onions, flour and ground beef. The most popular food, a Bosnian specialty that the entire nation craves, is pita. Pita is a flat, thin dough that's filled with chopped onions and potatoes, lots of vegetable oil, salt, and then rolled up and cooked in an oil-soaked pan. Most people eat this several times a week. The other specialty is cevapi. Cevapi is little ground beef meatballs, thrown onto a pita shell with chopped onions. I don't really care for either, but if you're hungry and away from home, it's cheap and available on almost every street corner--pita for $1 a piece and cevapi for $3.

TODAY'S WEIGHT: 168 lbs. 8am. I think my scale is broken.
FOOD HIGHLIGHTS: In chronological order: Cheerios, broccolli pasta, tomatoe spaghetti, Corn Flakes.
EXERCISE: 6 km walking, 4 km bike to guitar lesson
SUMMARY: Thumbs up

Day 14: Hay Fever Medication


Some Claritin rip-off I bought in Vienna. It kills you as bad as the real thing.


I'm allergic to anything that's alive, to some extent or another. Humans to a lesser exent. Cats to a greater extent. Mold isn't so bad. Pollen kills me.

It's hay fever season in Mostar. My nose is running, I sneeze a lot, and my entire body is itchy. The worst itch is the one that's deep inside my head. It makes me want to remove my head, turn it inside out, scratch it with a steel brush, then put it back on again. But my head, like yours, is permanently affixed. So I have to consider other alternatives. The most obvious solution is take some meds.

Pills work great on the hayfever. Claritin, Benadryl, Allegra, they all wipe out my itchiness and stop the runny nose. But the problem is with the side effects. Here's how I react to the three major hay fever drugs:

Benadryl: I had just landed my big job in Corporate America at the EvilMegaBank. We relocated to St. Louis, where hay fever season lasts from March to October. So I took Benadryl. The first week on the job, I fell asleep on my keyboard three times. I finally read the package, and "drowsiness" was a listed side effect. "Getting fired for sleeping on the job" was not on the list.

Claritin: Claritin sucks every last bit of moisture out of your cranium. My throat gets dry, my eyeballs get dry, my nose gets dry. But the kicker is that it gives me nose bleeds. If I take a Claritin more than once in seven days, guaranteed I'm hanging my head over the sink for a half hour. That just ain't healthy.

Allegra: Allegra is proud to advertise that their drug has absolutely no side effects. That's because half the people in their clinical trial jumped off a bridge before they could fill out the follow-up survey. When I take this stuff I get so depressed I cry. Literally. In the last three years, I have broken down into hysterical sobbing three times. All three times, I was on Allegra (which, ironically, means "happy" in Latin).

So I'm forced to do a personal boycott of allergy medication, and stick with home remedies like sticking my head in a sink of ice water.

TODAY'S WEIGHT: 168 lbs. 10:45pm.
FOOD HIGHLIGHTS: Cheerios, spaghetti, calzones, cinammon bread
EXERCISE: Pilates workout, 3 km walking
SUMMARY: Thumbs up