Mark Pilgrim Kia

You're never too old to study again.

The last time I wrote a varsity exam the hit TV show Twin Peaks was still on TV. About a year ago I started getting this niggle to start studying again. Not because my job required it, but I just wanted to get the neurons firing again.

We often don't follow the urge though, because life often gets in the way and we feel we don't have time and/or financial resources and/or emotional strength to start all over again.

Twin PeaksThat happened to me back in the early nineties. The year after completing my degree I enrolled to do a second degree in  Criminology... it lasted 4 months. I just couldn't muster up the passion to do it all over again. I preferred just chilling on the couch at night waiting for the next episode of Twin Peaks (because I wouldn't need an actual Criminology degree to figure out who killed Laura Palmer). Sometimes you need a clean break from studying. Mine was 24 years.

At the beginning of last year though I felt I was finally up for the challenge to do it all over again.

When I do motivational talks at corporates, I often use the example of learning to play a musical instrument. How many of us wish we had learned to play the piano or another instrument when we were younger, but just never committed to lessons? Well, why not start now? I decided to do it a few years ago. I'm a terrible player and am on Grade level 2, but by the time I'm in the old age home I'm gonna rock that place.

Mark Pilgrim
So in June last year I enrolled to do a MBA (Masters in Business Administration) through Edinburgh Business School (a division of the prestigious Heriot-Watt University in the UK). Jumping in the deep end while my enthusiasm was high, I started with one of the more feared subjects: ACCOUNTING. I spent many a morning over the past few months getting up at 4.30am to get in 2 hours of studying before the day started (and my girls woke up). There were days I wondered if I had what it took and if I really understood the material enough to pass the rigorous exam.

Honestly, I walked into the exam room in December with a lot of trepidation. If I failed, would I have the fortitude to re-write and also continue with the course? Would Nicole think of me as a failure? After 3 hours I walked out not quite knowing if I passed or failed (the joy of Accounting).

I got my results yesterday... 84%. In the varsity's classification system it is an "A with distinction". Thank God!

So now I'm back to getting up at 4.30am to tackle the next subject in the course.

I'm not alone in thinking it's never too late to go back to varsity. My old mate from 5FM days Steve Kirker (same age as me) just graduated with his Honours in Journalism at the end of last year (nice one brother!). My old class mate Lauren Gardener has just enrolled at WITS this year for a post-grad in Psychology.

I guess the point of this blog is, if you have the emotional fortitude, the message is... You CAN find the time. You're NEVER too old to study again. You've just got to WANT to do it.

Ironically, my wife never watched Twin Peaks back in the nineties, and with the new 2017 season coming up, I'm watching all the old episodes of the show again with her. If you bump into Nicole, don't tell her who killed Laura Palmer.

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Whipping my body back into shape

I've always been someone that looks after myself. I generally watch what I eat and go to gym a few times a week, but over time the food rules relax and before I know it I have an extra 5cm around the waist. It's so easy to say "yes" to the fries when you order out. About once a year I get a bee in my bonnet and get really strict with eating and lose those darn unwanted centimetres.

I am not some amazing fitness guru or health expert, but simply an average guy doing the basics. If you feel like losing a few kgs this is what I do:


Opti Grill
You have to have the correct tools in your box. First up, I always use my Optigrill to cook meat. It's like a George Foreman griller on steroids. It has intelligent settings so you don't have to keep opening the grill to see if your meat is done the way you like it. It measures the thickness of the cuts and knows how long the timing should be according to whether you want your meat rare, medium or well done.

It's great for steaks, chops and chicken. My tip though, if you're cooking chicken breasts (which are renowned for being dry), take them off the grill when it says they are cooked "rare". They are not under cooked, but you are able to catch them before they turn into the bottom of your shoe.

Cleaning it is easy as the grill plates just pop off and you can put them in the dishwasher.

Nutri bullet
My next little bit of magic is the NutriBullet. I use this if I feel like a mid-morning shake. The advantage of the NutriBullet over a traditional blender is that it doesn't remove any of the fibre, so you retain a lot more of the goodness. You can blend almost anything in this thing (I usually have a smoothie at about 9am, made up of a banana, carrot and almonds). It takes a few seconds to make and without too many loose bits, you can pop the container in the dishwasher afterwards. I normally make the smoothie in the morning and keep it in a flask until I feel like having it.

The trick to any healthy eating is to be prepared. If you're hungry and have nothing but junk food around you, you're gonna eat it. I am a tupperware king. If I know I'm out for most the day I'll make sure I have my smoothie and packed lunch with me.

Food rules

So what is lunch? In fact, what is breakfast and dinner? Let me say right off the bat, that I am not banting. Why, you may ask? Because I don't want to. It's as simple as that. I find that a lot of banting people try and indoctrinate you as if on some evangelical mission where they have to convert 5 people a day.

So I have no prescriptive eating plan, I just use some simple guidelines.

1) Gone is nibbing the girls' food (they often eat healthy, but also love things like chicken nuggets and mac & cheese).

2) Gone is the wine. Shit, how I miss that. They say a glass of red wine a night is fine, but my problem is, one glass is just enough for me to be happy enough to relax the rules and have a second glass, and a third. And then, after 3 glasses of wine, I want chocolate. So, no wine. Instead I drink about 3 cups of decaf green tea each night. It might not be wine in my hand, but at least I'm still sipping something in the evening.

3) Chocolate and all other forms of candy gone too

4) No sauces. If I want to juice up my meal I use olive oil or some apple cider vinegar

5) I'll sometimes have avo on cracker bread, but won't tuck into normal bread

By sticking to these rules I find that I can see a difference after 2 days. I wouldn't have dropped body fat that quickly, but that bloatedness disappears around my gut.

Some meals

Some people want examples of meals I eat so here are one or two things. It's by no means prescriptive and I'm not saying this is all you must eat. Just be sensible.

Woolies egg whitesBreakfast is always a double plated affair:
1) Small bowl of instant jungle oats (mixed with water and tiny splodge of milk). I sometimes add a squirt of honey

2) Egg whites mixed together and scrambled in a frying pan (use spray and cook, not oil). There's a lot of debate around eating the yolk, with latest research saying all is good as it contains a lot of the good fats and vitamins. I just prefer not to eat it when being strict, simply because that's what I've always done and I'm a creature of habit.  A good buy is the Woolies egg whites, which works out cheaper than buying the full eggs and tossing the yolk.

Mid morning I tend to have my nutri-bullet shake. I also carry 2 or 3 hard boiled eggs with me for those moments I want to pop something in my mouth (I squeeze the yolk out like a ripe pimple, but once again not saying YOU mustn't eat it).

Lunch/dinner is often the same thing:
1) Grilled chicken (cooked on the Optigrill)
2) Mashed sweet potato (it tastes just like normal mash. Simply buy the sweet potato in the packet from woolies, cook it in the microwave and then mash it will a little milk, salt and pepper)
3) Broccoli (once again, just steam a whole packet from Woolies and keep it in tupper ware)

Be creative, change the broccoli for cauliflower. If you're craving something like french fries, buy whole sweet potato, cut it into slices and grill it on the Optigrill. Have some avo on cracker bread. It's not about eating so clean that you might as well prepare for a bodybuilding competition. It's just about being sensible with your choices.

I still have a cheat meal and a glass (or 3) of wine once a week, and I'll lose a few kg over the next 2 to 3 weeks.

I'll post a before and after pic!

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Thanks Cape Town!

There's something so magical about Cape Town. I could point to specific things, but it really is about the collective. It's a magical city with breathtaking views and great to go to for a few days to get away from the hustle and bustle of Johannesburg.

Did I mention we left the kids behind with gran? So it was Nicole and I along with some close friends for a weekend of wine, laughs... and more wine.

Mark & Nicole Pilgrim

I love Johannesburg, but what makes Cape Town appealing is that there is so much to do within close proximity of each other. You're encouraged to simply walk from one spot to the next and if you don't feel like walking, UBER is always there (and extremely affordable as the distances are so short). We decided to hire bicycles and use a bit of pedal power.

Mark Pilgrim

We opted to stay at the Radisson le Vendome in London Road, about 50 metres in from the main promenade of Sea Point. It's bigger than a boutique hotel, but still small enough to care.

Le Vendome Radisson Blu

The staff were always there with a smile on their faces, which makes a huge difference when you're in a "home away from home" for a couple of days. It's one of these hotels where they welcome you every morning by name. Their attention to detail with the food was amazing (and probably the best chicken wrap I've had in years).

Le Vendome Radisson Blu

Le Vendome Radisson Blu

If you're looking for a great hotel in Cape Town, it's definitely worth checking out.

Thanks for a great weekend Cape Town. We look forward to coming back again very soon. A big thank you to Mark and the team at Tourvest Destination Management for assisting with the weekend (!

As I write this blog, we're sitting at the airport waiting to go back home. I miss my girls and my boys (my chihuahuas) and look forward to getting back to Johannesburg. As Dorothy said in the Wizard of Oz... there's no place like home.
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