covid19 · fitness

On not fitting into one column, or: mental health is tricky!

Scrolling through Facebook, I just saw this graphic, designed to help us figure out how we’re doing at any point during the pandemic.

4-column graphic, from "thriving" to "surviving" to "struggling" to "in crisis".
4-column graphic, from “thriving” to “surviving” to “struggling” to “in crisis”.

A FB friend who both teaches and has been a healthcare worker posted it; it’s from this useful website for healthcare workers, to help them identify signs of stress, burnout and need. Man oh man, do they deserve all the help, support, sympathy, admiration and eternal gratitude we can muster.

I think we can all relate to the areas and symptoms listed above. And of course, as the symptoms pile up, so do our feelings of stress, burnout, exhaustion and loss of control.

But as I looked over the columns, I found I didn’t fit neatly into one. That’s okay– mental health is tricky and complicated!

This graph showed me a way to do a kind of self-inventory of important and different stress markers. I gave some thought to how they are doing now, and how they have changed over the past 6–8 months. Here’s what I noticed.

Sleeping: in the past month, my sleeping has really improved. For 6+ months of the pandemic, I was awake until 3am, but have rolled it back to 12:30–1:30am. For me, this is a big win, as I now have more alert, happy and productive morning time. I attribute this partly to increased mediTation (morning and evening) and also to increased mediCation: I’m taking 100mg/evening of Gabapentin, often prescribed off-label for menopausal temperature fluctuations and insomnia. So sleep has moved into the sort-of-thriving category.

Work: it’s a logistical and emotional rollercoaster. I love rollercoasters, but end up screaming a lot. The same is true for teaching right now. My students are having so much trouble focusing, remembering, following through, maintaining, responding– you name it. And completing? Ha. Not happening.

But they are good at emailing me: apologizing for not managing or coping or being stoic or soldiering on or gutting it out. I appreciate their courage and am touched by their trust in reaching out. Responding, reassuring them that it’s okay to turn in whatever whenever, however they can manage it, is what I spend a bunch of time on. And it’s exhausting. So which column should I put that in? How about Orange– struggling? Ok, done.

Social connections: I live alone, but see friends safely outside, and will see a couple of folks (one at a time) inside occasionally this winter, which I blogged about here. I’ve made a plan on risk reduction as it works for me, and will adjust as local conditions/rules do. So that feels Green: Thriving!

Physical health, aches and pains: well, I’m 58, teaching from home and not nearly as active as before the pandemic. But: I’m also doing daily yoga, stretching, and am getting outside more than I was. Hmm… Greenish-yellow, with the occasional orange day?

And then there’s General Anxiety Level. Honestly, is anyone not in the Fire EngineRed category some of each week/day/hour? Enough said.

Oh, I forgot Food: do I self-medicate with food? Yeah, sometimes. Delivery pizza or Chinese dim sum–Mmmmm… I’m cooking more now– I love fall/winter cooking, and those dishes feel very self-care-ish, soothing and comfy, with yummy vegetables that feel good to my system. So I’d say that fluctuates between Green and Orange.

In sum, I think my life looks more like this graph:

Pretty and complicated graph: I’m titling it Splotches of Many Colors.

Looking at these columns, I was also grateful that I’m not having feelings of hopelessness, total loss of control, inability to focus, inability to sleep, the need to numb out or self-medicate in the ways we do. Just seeing what’s in the Red column increased my gratitude for my life as it is.

What about you, dear readers? Do these columns help you pinpoint where you’re fine and where you’re not fine? Do you fit comfortably in one column, or does your state of being spread out over the whole color spectrum? Does knowing this help you, make you more worried? I’d really like to hear from you.

We always say “we’d really like to hear from you”, but in this case, it’s extra-true (if that’s a thing). We’re blogging about issues that come up in our own real and internet lives, but we would love to know what you’d like to read about. Let us know how we can help.

fitness · Guest Post

The Fastest Game on Grass (Guest Post)

by Anna Creech

Raven and I met for coffee for our first date. She was brilliant, funny, and cute, and I wish we could have sat and talked longer, but she was late for a skills practice with some new recruits in this odd little team sport she’d joined the year earlier. So, we made plans to meet up again later that week. Things went well from there, and eventually I’d learn that this odd little team sport is a 400 year old game from Ireland called hurling (or camogie for the women’s only variation).

To keep some skills up over the winter, we had been visiting a nearby park with a racquetball enclosure that was perfect for practicing hitting and catching the ball, called a sliotar. My sports background is mainly slow-pitch softball and sandlot baseball, so I have some skill with hitting and catching, but that translated only but so much to hurling.

The first hurdle to learning the skills to play hurling is picking up the sliotar. You have to pick it up with the hurl before you can transfer it to your hand. There are several methods for doing this, but the basic idea is to angle the hurl so that the thinner edge catches the underside of the sliotar and scoops it off the ground. Here’s a brief demonstration video of one method (the easier one, IMHO):

Now that you have the sliotar in hand, there are a couple of ways to transfer it to a teammate or try to score. One is to pass it by hand, or hand pass. However, unlike with softball or baseball, you can’t just throw it. You have to toss it up slightly and then bat it with your hand to your target.

Another way is to strike the sliotar with the hurl, which can be done for passing any distance from short to long, depending on the situation. To do that, from a soft/baseball perspective, you have to pitch to yourself. Getting the timing and placement of my pitches and swings right took me most of the winter and spring months. And, I was really only working on my dominant side. Recently I’ve started practicing more on my non-dominant side, because there are many in-game situations where you need that flexibility.

You can also kick the sliotar or hit it on the ground, which happens more often in our scrimmages than I would have expected.

Receiving a hand pass or strike takes some practice as well, but also a lot of mental fortitude for those of us not used to bare-handed catches. I’m frequently amazed by how seemingly effortlessly and painlessly more experienced players will catch a strike. A sliotar hit off a hurl can travel at speeds ranging from 50-90 mph (80-150 kph).

Lastly, you can hold the sliotar in hand and take up to four steps, but after that point, you can only bounce or balance it on your hurl. So, another skill I have been working on is balancing the sliotar on the hurl while moving. I’ve managed to keep it on while weaving around cones at a brisk walk so far. I consider that a success, given how long I’ve been practicing.

As the summer progressed, I started going to the field where the camogie team practiced (socially distanced) one night a week. I wasn’t yet ready to try my new skills with actual players (besides Raven) yet, so I took that time to walk/jog the track around the field. After a while, I would help out during practice by shagging the balls they hit at the goal and tossing them back to the coach to save them time and give me some softball fielding practice. Then one day, the coach asked me if I was going to do the whole practice with them, and that was that.

What I wasn’t quite prepared for was the running. So much running. Our camogie practice warm ups begin with a lap around the football field (we use those for practice/games because the dimensions and goals are close enough, and there aren’t hurling fields in my city), followed by side steps across the width and back. Then it’s drills that focus on specific in-game skills, but still so much more sustained movement than my softball body is used to.

The competitive season for the mid-Atlantic teams was canceled this year due to COVID-19, as you might expect, but we’ve had a few informal scrimmages against a nearby team. I didn’t feel like I was ready for an actual game with rules and performance under pressure, so I focused more on attending practices. I would be at the scrimmages to cheer on my girlfriend and teammates, though.

Then in late summer, we were at a scrimmage, and they were trying to have a camogie (women’s only) match without pulling in substitutes from the men’s teams, but we were short one player. Our team captain turned to me and indicated I could fill in as goalie. I was not dressed to play nor prepared to play, but she continued to insist that I would play. Finally, she said in her lovely Irish lilt, “If you didn’t want to play, you should have stayed in the car.” Shortly thereafter I found myself nervously guarding a goal that was much, much too large for me to keep a very small ball from repeatedly going in.

I’ve now made it my aim to learn how to keep goal. It gives me more focus in my practice sessions. Plus, the goalkeeper doesn’t have to run all that much.

If you’re interested in learning more about hurling, there are lots of videos on YouTube, from tutorials to matches. If you’d like to find a club near you, check out USGAA or Gaelic Games Canada.

A photo of Anna Creech

Anna Creech is the Head of Resource Acquisition and Delivery at the University of Richmond, which is a fancy way of saying she’s in charge of the department that buys all the (library) things. In her spare time (mainly pre-COVID), she plays recreational softball and sandlot baseball, lifts weights, manages the inflow of new music at a community radio station, and sings in two women’s choruses.

fitness

Latissimus Dorsi: an Ode

“It’s like your ass but it’s for your shoulder”

These were the words of the mysterious and infamous Coach Alex today as we chatted about our session. I had asked for a private session because I was struggling with some aspects of the training classes. Anything that involved overhead lifting was generating issues in the front of my shoulder and my neck, something that I knew wasn’t supposed to have issues, given what I was doing and the light weights I was using. I have always struggled with “upper body strength”. Year after year, trainer after trainer I had attempted to do something about this. Small weights, the lowest reps, the lightest springs on a reformer and time after time, something would go horribly wrong. I would have an injury, an ache, a stitch or a downright inflammation and I’d have to stop. I’d go back to focussing on what I was okay at, mostly core (which I am spectacular at) and lower body stuff. This isn’t really terrible for function, power from the core can do a lot of hauling around. I did wonder, however, what it was about lifting heavy things with my upper body, or doing pushups that was so infuriatingly difficult.

Apparently, it’s the simple things. When doing a squat or a deadlift or a lunge, one must activate the glutei. When doing anything at all with a shoulder, ya gotta activate the Lats.

It’s not that I didn’t know this. I’ve heard it many times, “Set your shoulder blades”, “Pull down your arm pits” and any number of variations on “Activate your Lats”, but I guess I wasn’t doing it enough because, oh boy, do I know where they are now! Out of the hour I had booked with Alex, about 30 minutes of it was spent with my lats engaged somehow. Overhead press? Lats first, no weights at all. I tried to lift my arm until the engagement faltered. I didn’t lift it very high and I realized, finally and emphatically, why my neck was unhappy with this movement. It would get totally involved as soon as the lat engagement failed and that was most of the time. Oops. Back to basics for me.

Single arm row? Lats! Elbows back, not up, squeeze the shoulder blade at the end. I had 3lbs in my hand and I thought I was gonna die with the burn. Okay okay, I get it now.

Flys? No lat, no take off. I finally found my deltoid again too. What are these little muscles that fatigue in 20 seconds or less, what has been doing the work instead? My neck knows that answer and it’s happy I’m finally paying attention.

Finally, the push up! Think a pushup isn’t all lat all the time? WRONG! I was flabbergasted to find that when I engaged everything I was supposed to engage in the down, the up was easy! Well, easier maybe. The point is, I am a lot stronger than I thought I was when it comes to push ups, I just had to figure out how to DO them. It’s okay, it took what? 40 years or so? Better late than never I guess.

When I think back to time at the gym with the lat pulldown, weights probably too heavy for me and using my arms instead, I feel a little sad at all that wasted energy. All of this does reinforce my belief that GOOD GYM TEACHERS MATTER. I guess if I have to wait until my 50’s for a decent gym teacher to come my way, I’ll just count myself lucky that one came at all.

I promised an Ode which, according to Oxford Languages on the internet is “a lyric poem in the form of an address to a particular subject, often elevated in style or manner and written in varied or irregular meter” so here it goes.

In the early morning when I wake from slumber, were I to defy push myself from bed to coffee mug

It is you, Latissimus Dorsi, that I electrify with the promise of warm elixir

And when I brace to lift my tiny globe above my ears, like Atlas, I engage your subtle sinews and am heartened

I pull my struggling cat to my breast for unwanted snuggles and you are complicit in his indignity

I push my dog’s foul breathed face from mine as she disturbs my nap and you are there

In all things, stable yet just out of awareness, an unsung underarm wonder, Latissimus Dorsi, my friend and companion of both sides of my self.

A diagram depicting the muscles of the shoulder from https://anatomyinfo.com/shoulder-muscles/

fitness

COVID took my sense of smell (Guest Post)

Image: A spiral-bound sketchbook open to a line drawing of the anatomy of the inner nose.

Past contributor Michelle Lynne Goodfellow was diagnosed with COVID-19 in November 2020. To pass the time during her quarantine, she wrote about her COVID experience.

(CW: disordered eating, eating disorder recovery, bingeing, food restriction)

They say loss of smell is one of the symptoms. Some say it should even be one of the defining symptoms – it’s so specific, so telling of COVID, especially early on.

For me, it didn’t happen until a few days in. Or maybe it happened so gradually, I didn’t notice until I couldn’t ignore it anymore.

I put on my essential oil diffuser for the first time in a few days, but this time I couldn’t smell it. I wondered if I’d forgotten to turn it on after I filled it.

I checked. It was on.

Hmm. That’s weird.

I went to my box of oils, and pulled out the peppermint. Removed the lid. Sniffed deeply. Could I smell it? I smelled… something. I think. 

Here. Try this. I grabbed a bottle at random, and without looking, raised it to my nose.

Oregano? Oregano or… marjoram?

I looked at the label. Lemon. 

Shit. Fuck, fuck, fuck. Fuck shit.

(Which is also what I said when I first found out I had COVID – minus a few shits, and plus a few more fucks.)

You have to realize, I love my sense of smell. Loved. Loved my essential oils so much. This is not good.

I ate my lunch after that. Was taste gone, too? I ate a prune. Tasted sweet, but that’s all. None of the wine-y, rich flavour of prunes. It was like chewing a sweet, nonspecific gummy candy.

The rest of my meal was the same. I could distinguish salty and sweet, maybe a hint of acidic. And that’s all. The food felt like bland lumps in my mouth, where I was used to savouring explosions of fragrance and complexity.

Since then, I’ve realized that I still feel hunger. I still crave food. But the food merely fills my stomach. It nourishes my body, but not my soul. I can barely finish anything. I just don’t enjoy it anymore.

The implications of this feel really vast, to me. Not only do I love to smell beautiful things, I also really love to eat delicious food. (And cook – I love to cook! A big part of that is the scents and the flavours, for me.)

Life is definitely weird, without smell. I thought everything seemed flat because of how sick I felt, but now I realize it feels flat because a whole dimension of my experience is missing.

Most people get their sense of smell back, after they recover from COVID. But not everyone does. I don’t think I’ll be very happy if mine doesn’t come back.

(Content warning: eating disorders)

One positive effect (for me) is the impact on my appetite, and my ability to regulate the amount of food that I eat.

I’ve struggled with Binge Eating Disorder since I was a teenager. COVID shutdown last March (combined with ongoing trauma therapy) triggered a recurrence of my bingeing. Since the beginning of October I’ve been using a mindful eating technique that includes no snacking between meals, but no restrictions on what I eat at mealtimes. I’ve been really successful at eliminating snacking (eating when I’m not hungry), but I’m still working on becoming mindful of when I’ve eaten enough at mealtimes.

(Which is eating-disorder-recovery code for: I’m still often overeating, although not bingeing.)

Since losing my sense of taste, however, I can easily stop eating when my body’s full. I just don’t crave food anymore.

(Still not worth the loss of my sense of smell, though. Just saying. But if I could maybe carry this lesson forward if/after it comes back…?)

Michelle Lynne Goodfellow is a writer, artist, and maker. You can see some of her creations on her Instagram feed.

fitness

Body image and self-compassion: Guest Post

I got an announcement on a listserv earlier this week about an eight week supported group about Body Image and Self-Compassion, and the topic intrigued me. So I contacted Naomi Reesor, the organizer, to ask her to share its intentions and background with FIFI readers. I interviewed her via email. Thanks so much, Naomi, with being so generous with your time and heart.

Can you start by just telling me a little about yourself?

I am a registered psychotherapist (qualifying) working out of The Compassion Project in Hamilton. I work with a variety of individuals who struggle with anxiety, depression, trauma, OCD, gender/sexuality identity, body image, and more. This has been my first year working as a therapist in private practice, but I have been involved with the mental health field for the last five years working with a variety of clients through crisis counselling over the phone and providing supportive case management to homeless individuals living in the shelter system.

I identify as a white queer woman and use “fat” as a descriptor for my body. While I have had my own struggles with body image, I recognize that I also have the privilege of existing in what would be considered a “small fat” body in which I can still shop in most department stores and fit in common spaces. My whiteness, cisgender, and able-bodied identity also means I do not experience the same discrimination as others who face intersecting oppressions. 

Outside of work, I am a person who loves taking care of houseplants, watching RuPaul’s Drag Race with friends, and doing outside park workouts with my inclusive fitness trainer!

The title of your workshop — “body image and self compassion” — really intrigued me.  Can you tell me a little bit about the purpose of the group?  

The idea for the group originated by seeing both personally and professionally the impact that the pandemic has had on our relationship with our bodies. In general, people have been more confined to their homes and have less access to movement. At the same time, there has been an obvious increase of fatphobic jokes about gaining weight during the pandemic that only increase this negative feeling towards our bodies.

This group has been developed to help explore these complicated feelings towards one’s body particularly during this time, and specifically by deepening our self-compassion.

Tell me a bit more about self-compassion in this context?  

The basic idea of self-compassion is having the same care and empathy to ourselves as we commonly extend towards others. In this context, it is allowing ourselves to engage in kindness and understanding towards what we consider as inadequacies and imperfections with our bodies. We will also be taking a look at how we can extend compassion towards ourselves as a person who is going through a difficult time during the pandemic, and help normalize the changes that may be occurring in our bodies by recognizing the shared experience with others.

Naomi in “professional mode”

What’s your hope for what participants will experience around their relationships to compassion?

I’m hoping that through engaging in exploration and experiential exercises, clients will be able to foster compassion for their own struggles and discomfort, as well as gain a better understanding of how certain oppressive structures work against the idea of showing kindness to ourselves.

What led you to this topic?  What made you want to step into this space?

I began becoming involved with body positive spaces about 10 years ago when it was more of a niche internet movement. It helped me immensely to see others who looked like me showing themselves love and kindness, I have learned that self-love is a journey that ebbs and flows. These days, the idea of body positivity is more understood by the layperson but it has also been commodified and capitalised on in a way that sometimes pushes out the more marginalised individuals in our society in order to seem more sellable and palatable. It is important to note that the body positivity movement originated from plus size black woman who are now often pushed out of this same space.

There is also the fact that we may find ourselves feeling guilty if we are not able to engage in feeling positive towards our bodies while they go through changes. I want to be able to explore the complexity of these topics and allow ourselves the capacity for empathy during the low times, rather than sticking with the presumption that body positivity and self-love is always a linear journey. While the pandemic has really accentuated the need for this exploration, this has also been a topic that has been on my mind for a while as body positivity becomes more mainstream, yet seemingly also more exclusive.

Who are you hoping will participate in your group?  What will you be doing?

I am hoping that anyone who is looking to explore negative or conflicting feelings towards their body will be open to joining us! We will be working through how we develop negative perceptions about our bodies, what we want out of our relationship with our bodies based on our own comfort levels, and exercises for developing a kinder and more compassionate relationship with our bodies. This will involve both in session activities as well as homework exercises to try outside of the group.

What would you like readers of this blog to know about body image and self-compassion?  What message would you like them to carry?

Approaching exploring body-image through a self-compassion lens does not mean that we are going to increase your self-esteem or encourage you to embrace your own beauty. We want to be able to explore the idea of being worthy of compassion and respect regardless outside of how we feel our bodies look to others. If you are eventually able to get to a place where you are comfortable and happy with your body – amazing! If you are struggling to accept your body or going through re-occurring feelings you thought had already been processed, let’s explore how we can find compassion for this struggle and compassion towards your body instead of constant self-criticism. I want to hold space for this idea that there are so many ways to show kindness and respect towards our bodies whether it be self-love, body positivity, body neutrality, or body liberation.

If you are interested in participating in Naomi’s group, leave a note in the comments or contact her through this link: thecompassionproject.ca.

Thanks so much to Naomi for sharing herself with the blog!

fitness · motivation · running · training · winter

Winter running has begun!

Image description: Headshot of Tracy, smiling, droplets of melted snow on face, frost on her headband (a paisley Buff), smiling, grey running jacket with melted snow visible, empty streetview of an intersection and a red brick building in the background.

Winter running! Just the other day I posted in my 220 in 2020 group that I have officially become a “fairweather runner” because I skipped a Sunday run a couple of weeks ago. Susan chimed in and said, “because it was a hurricane!” Well, maybe not quite a hurricane, but the winds were gusting up to 90 km an hour and it was pouring rain. Not many people would want to venture out in that.

Fast forward a week, and it was a mild 1 degree C and snowing on Sunday morning. This time I actually felt eager to get out there. It was almost perfect, easy to dress right (early winter tights, a short-sleeved t-shirt, a buff to keep my ears protected and my head from getting wet, and a windproof/waterproof running jacket), and it felt somehow inviting. If it’s going to be cold, I’d rather have cold and snow than cold and rain. Plus I’d rather run in light snow than in blazing sun on a hot and humid day (yes, I’m Canadian :)).

Lots of people complain about winter running. I’ve blogged about it before. See my old old post “Gearing up for Winter Running” where, 8 years ago I was trying to figure my gear for my first season of winter running. I also used to feel fearful about it (see “Getting over the fear of winter running”). Sometimes I’ve had to brace myself for it. Sometimes I’ve hit a wall with winter running. It has its pitfalls. Like it can be icy, which is a hazard. Sunday wasn’t at all icy, though some slush had started to accumulate by the time I was well past the halfway point. It was mild enough that the pathway stayed reasonably clear. That’s not always the case. I’ve run through heavy snow before and it is not fun when there is no clear path and you’re wading through snow or taking risks on the road (I do not like doing that but I have done it).

Winter running can also be dark if you run in the early morning or after your work day. Pandemic life means I can get around that this year by going for more lunch time runs. In fact, I have a pact with a friend in another city in which we run “together” at lunch time a couple of times a week. That just means we text each other before we leave and check in about how it went after we’re back. Running buddies can really help with getting out the door in less than ideal weather, even when they’re somewhere else.

This year I didn’t have to brace myself for winter running. That’s because the first real winter run that I did landed on a temperate day with a little bit of snow. I bailed once the week before, where at Tuesday lunchtime it seemed like a blizzard. My pact friend and I decided to go for a walk instead that day, and once we were each out the door we called and had a phone call, walking and chatting with each other instead of running (it’s good to have a back-up plan for when you just can’t even). Compared to that day, my Sunday snowy run felt absolutely lovely. And we’re in the early days of winter right now, so I haven’t hit the wall. That said, I probably won’t force myself out into the kind of weather that would make me hit a winter running wall if I ran in it regularly. And I’ve had winters where, because I was training for a particular event, I couldn’t afford to skip a long Sunday run just because there was a blizzard. This year, I can cozy up with a cup of tea and watch the weather rage if that’s what I’d rather do.

That must be why I look so happy in the pic I’ve used in this post. This year, I get to go out in the winter weather that makes me feel good, not like I’m battling my way forward with each precarious step. And if I don’t feel like it, I’ll do something else instead.

How do you feel about winter running?

cycling · fitness · Zwift

OMG. Sam did it. Sam completed Zwift Academy 2020.

This morning at 6 am, this was me. It took several alarms and a coffee but I made it to my bike on the trainer. My soundtrack was Happy morning songs.

Photo

In theory, it was an easy ride. In practice, not so much because it was less than twelve hours after finishing the last of the Zwift Academy workouts, #7.

The ride was full of people like me, racing to complete Zwift Academy 2020 before tonight’s deadline. I teach Wednesday evenings so that wasn’t possible for me.

What do you need to do to finish? “To graduate the Academy, complete the program’s 8 structured workouts and 4 additional Zwift Academy events, which can be any combination of Zwift Academy group rides, Zwift Academy segment group rides, or Zwift Academy races between October 1st and November 25th.” From the FAQ.

One person was doing this ride right after completing workouts 7 and 8. Ouch. Also, not possible for me. Eight was tough. See Anaerobic depletion is about as much fun as it sounds. But 7 was tougher. I think it was the hardest of the lot.

I have fond memories now of the earlier workouts and might go back and do Sprint! again even. All the workouts stay in my workout folder so I can repeat them again without a deadline this time.

I did it. It wasn’t easy but I’m glad I finished.

Next up, a new FTP test to see if I’ve improved any. I’ll report back.

fitness

Exercising in a winter wonderland

I am not a natural winter-lover. I hated winter when I was a kid. Summer remains my true love. I partially attribute this to being born at the end of June. It was how I was acclimatized from an early age 🙂

I have been told stories of how I used to cry my head off when I had to put my snow pants on and go outside in the winter. As many Torontonians my age will say, winters were harsher back then. We had lots more snow. Or is it just that we were smaller and it seemed like more snow? I do remember a constant pile of snow lining Bathurst St., where I grew up, all winter long. It was MUCH taller than me all winter. Or at least it seemed it. We have had snowy winters in recent years, but there are many winters where we’ve had hardly any.

A photo from 1971 (I wasn’t born yet) of a Toronto blizzard. A person is pushing their car out of a snow bank. This is how I picture winter as a kid in Toronto.

As a teenager, I remember being too cool for hats and other winter accessories and running to the store at lunch with friends, and freezing, because we weren’t dressed properly. Not winter’s fault!

I don’t ski or skate. I am not good at things where my brain has to relinquish control to my feet. Particularly, on uneven surfaces. For this reason, typical winter sports didn’t helped me enjoy winter.

When did I start appreciating winter more? When I started running. I started running many years ago, in September. It was late summer, early fall, and I had just returned from a trip to British Columbia, where my aunt running head of me, while I walked, inspired me to start a running program when I got home. My first “race” was a 10K run in Ajax, a small city east of Toronto, in December. It was aptly called a “Chilly 10” or something like that.

So, my running program forced me to learn how to dress for, and embrace running outside, as the weather became colder and snowier. By the time I finished that first 10K, I was hooked on running and wanted to start training for my first half marathon. And while I hadn’t, yet, developed my aversion to running on treadmills, I preferred running outside. I enjoyed going places. Having a start and finish. Finishing at one of my favourite places for coffee is a delight.

It didn’t take long for me to notice that when I was dressed appropriately, running in the winter was pretty lovely. One of my favourite traditions which started that year, was running on Christmas morning. It’s always so quiet. And often, there is lightly falling snow. It feels so magical. Look at what a little “winter-lover” I became.

Is it Christmas morning? Not yet. This was Sunday morning at the park and those are tracks in the snow from my running shoes.

I’m not saying I wouldn’t choose summer over winter. I prefer summer, followed by spring, early fall and then early winter. I do not enjoy late fall because I find the adjustment to the darker days, harder and sadder, and I know what’s coming. By late winter, the joy in the season is getting old and I am ready for spring. Plus, in early winter, I can relish the idea that the days are starting to get longer, even if it is doing so at a snail’s pace.

My acceptance of winter running has spilled over into other areas of winter activity. When I was still going to the office for work, I walked most days. Even in the winter. People always found this surprising. But as long as it wasn’t exceptionally messy on the sidewalks (which isn’t typical in Toronto these days) and not one of the -30C with the windchill days, I’d much prefer dress for, and walk outside, than pile on to the stuffed streetcar. That’s just me. Although if we ever go back to the office, after this pandemic is over, I doubt I will be alone in this sentiment.

It’s old news that the pandemic has made exercising inside more challenging. In addition to running outside, I have been enjoying my outdoor park workouts with Move fitness club. There is a much smaller group partaking in these workouts these days. It’s not desirable to many. Each to their own.

A picture of our small group, between EMOMs (every minute, on the minute), in the park, last Sunday.
This day was not snowy but it was cold. And, I ‘m doing “pallof presses” which is the kind of thing that is good for you, but that I would never do on my own.

According to this article from Harvard Health, there are advantages to exercising outside, in the winter, including:

  1. “In colder temperatures your heart doesn’t have to work as hard, you sweat less, and expend less energy, all of which means you can exercise more efficiently.”
  2. “Winter workouts help you get exposure to sunlight, which may help ward off seasonal affective disorder, a type of depression that some people experience during the winter months.”

The article also talks about things to be cautious about in the winter, including “While cold-weather exercise is safe for most people, if you have certain conditions, such as asthma or heart problems, check with your doctor to review any special precautions you need to take based on your condition or medications.”

Here are some tips for cold weather exercise from the article:

  1. Wear layers (I agree, this is crucial as it keeps you warm and gives you flexibility as you warm up to de-layer).
  2. Protect your head, hands and feet (where heat will escape most easily).
  3. Wear sunscreen on exposed skin (face). Yeah it’s cold but you still risk getting a sunburn, especially around snow.
  4. Stay hydrated.
  5. Choose a safe surface.

A tip I would add is to not expect it to be the same as working out in the summer. You may have to modify your workout. You won’t be sprinting up hills or doing step ups on slippery steps. But there are good alternatives (running on the spot and high knees) and change can be good for you brain, in addition to your body.

In my mind, there are pros and cons to exercising outside right now. They are (not an exhaustive list):

Pros

  • the ability to feel like you have “mettle”, “grit”, “tenaciousness” (good, old-fashioned, bragging rights – which is what Insta was made for, no?)
  • once you are warmed up, you realize “it’s not that bad”
  • it can be beautiful if there is snow, sun, other outdoor elements that you might not appreciate if you were not working out, outdoors
  • in the case of a group workout in the park (spaciously distanced, etc.), you get the camaraderie and incentive derived from others
  • you are working out! movement is good any time of year!
  • there are winter days that are definitely challenging. But slightly cold weather can be easier to work out in than 30 degree celsius summer days.
  • you get to wear cute winter hats and other gear

Cons

  • it’s not summer
  • you may get a little damp from doing things in wet snow
  • you are not snuggled inside with your book, coffee and dogs
  • you will become one of those people who post “post-workout” pics, when your endorphins are pumping, and you can’t help yourself
  • you may have to resignedly admit that some winter days are just as nice, if not nicer, than some summer days
  • you have to do more laundry, because there are more layers that need constant washing

I wholeheartedly assert that people should embrace winter movement, in any way, that they are able. What about you readers? Do you enjoy exercising outside in the the winter?

Nicole P. with her toque and women’s 416 run neck gaiter, on her way to her winter park workout.

fitness

Finding out I had COVID-19 (Guest Post)

Image: Two weeks’ worth of days written on a sheet of paper on a clipboard. The dates are November 15th to 28th. The dates up to November 22nd have been crossed off, and November 28th is specially circled in bright yellow.

Past contributor Michelle Lynne Goodfellow was diagnosed with COVID-19 in November 2020. To pass the time during her quarantine, she wrote about her COVID experience.

In Ontario, where I live, there’s a website where you can check for your COVID results. And because I got my test done at a hospital, I could also use the hospital’s patient portal.

(They suggested they might post the results faster on the patient portal. Umm, no. Close, but the Ontario results page won that race.)

I tested at at 5pm on a Wednesday night. Starting Thursday around noon, I kept checking and rechecking every couple of hours.

Nothing Thursday. Nothing Friday morning.

Finally, around noon Friday, I tried again. Refreshed. Entered my health insurance information.

New screen. My heart stopped when I saw the red POSITIVE notice.

Lots of internal swears. Immediate call to my workplace, to let them know for sure. (I’d been self-isolating with symptoms since Wednesday morning.) Texted my sister, while simultaneously calling my 77-year-old mom. With whom I share a house. And who was sewing in the bedroom across the hall. (We’ve been communicating by phone or FaceTime (and Messenger) since Wednesday morning.) Chaos for about 10 minutes, while all the important people were brought up to speed.

I couldn’t believe it. Nobody could believe it. I’m the most vigilant, most diligent, most COVID-prevention-protocol-rules-following person I know. How and when did I mess up badly enough to get COVID? HOW DOES SOMETHING LIKE THIS HAPPEN?

(After contact tracing, we still don’t know. I’ve had no known, close contact with someone who’s also tested positive.)

My first thought was for Mom’s safety: PleasepleasepleaseGod don’t let her get it.

Please.

I didn’t care for myself. Wasn’t really worried for myself (although I still wake up every morning doing a cautious body check: Has anything changed overnight? No? Sure? Good…)

I don’t enjoy not knowing things. I didn’t like not knowing whether I had cancer or not. I didn’t like not knowing if I had COVID or not. Not-knowing sucks.

But my default not-knowing strategy has, over the years, become, Don’t worry until you know there’s something to be worried about.

Well, now there’s something to worry about.

This rule-following woman became the self-isolation poster child. Since Wednesday morning – not Friday, when I found out my result.

I live in my bedroom. I don’t leave it except to go to pee etc. in our home’s only bathroom, or to go outside for a walk on our property. (Or to occasionally get something from the basement, where I have a sewing and art studio that Mom doesn’t go into.)

I have five more days of quarantine, as I write this. Mom has a few days more than that. I have never so badly wanted to wish away time as I do right now. I want those five days gone. I want everybody (Mom) okay. If she doesn’t have symptoms by the end of my quarantine, she needs to be tested herself. And her quarantine will be over shortly afterwards. PleaseGod.

I don’t talk much about my mental health. Haven’t so far, anyhow. But the hardest part of getting COVID is managing the anxiety and the negative thought-loops that are my coping mechanisms left over from early childhood trauma. I’m in trauma therapy right now – have been for several months – and I’m getting a lot better at coping with stressors and triggers. Still. It’s been a ride.

I try to go for a walk outside every day. I can walk around my yard while in quarantine, so I do – several times around the edge of the whole property: down the driveway to the drainage ditch, across the front lawn to the treeline, along the treeline to the edge of the field at the back (with its stubble of wheat stalks left behind after the fall harvest).

Along the edge of the wheat field to the other side of our property, up over the berm planted with spruce trees and down again, beside the bird feeder that Mom watches from her living room recliner, along the side of the garage, and down the driveway again.

Four loops takes about 20 minutes. I’ve been wearing my Vessi waterproof shoes to trudge through the light dusting of snow. (The waterproofness works, so far. I should try to get a sponsorship. “Wear your Vessi shoes to walk around in your snow-covered grass yard during your COVID quarantine.” (Yes? Probably not…))

On today’s walk, I listened to the scared parts of me. The little girl parts, who are afraid of big, scary things like losing my mother.

And the grown-up Michelle let them be scared, and that was progress. She made space for their panic and their keening.

And I go back into my room, and cross off the quarantine days on a self-made calendar. Five more sleeps. Five more sleeps…

Michelle Lynne Goodfellow is a writer, artist, and maker. You can see some of her creations on her Instagram feed.

eating · habits · holidays

Make-Ahead Breakfast Food Prep–The Pumpkin Spice Edition!

Last year I offered up some breakfast and lunch food prep ideas based on what I’d been eating at the time.  Appetites change, work from home has replaced “the office” for many of us, and I wondered if it might be time for another set of recipes.  Today, a few more ideas for make-ahead breakfasts.  I know we’re reaching the end of the “pumpkin spice” season, but I find these flavors wonderful and soothing as long as the weather is cold. 

Marjorie’s Homemade Granola–Master Recipe

I’ve been working on a good homemade granola recipe for probably a decade now.  I like to have some sprinkled over fruit and Greek yogurt.  I eat it for an afternoon snack fairly often as well.  I will first provide the master recipe, in which you can switch things up as much as you prefer.  Then, I will give my go-to version, for those of you who don’t want to make so many decisions.

one.  Preheat the oven to 300 oF.

two.  Stir together in a baking dish or large glass casserole:

2 cups old-fashioned oats, quick oats, buckwheat groats, other flaked grains, or a mixture of any of these

1 cup unsweetened flaked coconut (you can use sweetened, if you can’t find it unsweetened, but obviously, the final result will be sweeter)

1.5 cups coarsely chopped nuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, or a mixture of these

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp powdered ginger

three.  Heat briefly in a microwave and stir together:

2 tbs nut butter or coconut oil

2 tbs honey or maple syrup

four.  Add 1 mashed very ripe banana to the honey mixture

And maybe ½ tsp almond extract or 1 tsp vanilla extract 

five.  Pour the wet ingredients over the dry and stir until everything is evenly moistened.

six.  Bake until completely dried, stirring every half hour or so.  If it starts to toast too quickly, lower the temperature to 250oF.  Takes about 1 ½ hours.  

seven.  Allow to cool completely before packing into containers with tight-sealing lids.  Stays good, at room temperature, for several weeks.

My Go-to: Coconut Buckwheat Granola

Ingredients:

1 cup buckwheat groats (also called kasha)

1 cup quick oats (these seem to make the best, crunchy oat clusters in my experience)

1 cup unsweetened, flaked coconut

2 tbs all-natural crunchy peanut butter

2 tbs honey (really delicious with a strong-tasting honey like blackberry honey)

1 cup slivered almonds

½ cup chopped walnuts

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp powdered ginger

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 very ripe banana, mashed

Harvest Egg Bake

This custard is like a less-sweet pumpkin pie for breakfast.   In parts of the world where you are sadly without copious quantities of canned, winter squash puree, you could substitute mashed, roasted sweet potatoes.  One final note, if you want to substitute another milk, keep in mind that fats serve an important purpose in custards, keeping the proteins happy as they reach temperature.  A less fatty “milk” like almond milk or skim may split and create a less favorable texture.

one. Preheat the oven to 350oF.

two. Butter a large, 9×13 baking dish.

three. Whisk together:

12 whole eggs, or 6 whole eggs plus 2 cups egg whites

1.5 cups whole or 2% milk or soy milk 

15 oz can (about 1 3/4 cups) pumpkin puree

½-1 tsp cinnamon (honestly, I don’t actually measure this, I use a lot)

A few shakes of ground nutmeg

¼ cup brown sugar (or more, to taste)

1 tsp vanilla extract

Zest of 1 orange (optional but delicious)

four. Pour the custard into the prepared baking dish.  Then sprinkle evenly with:

2-3 finely chopped, good baking apples

⅓ cup raisins, dried cranberries, cherries, or a combination thereof

Maybe a few tangerines or a naval orange, finely chopped

five. Bake until just set in the middle, about 1 hour.

six. Allow to sit 10 minutes before serving.  Makes 6 servings.

Variation:  Harvest Oatmeal Bake

Follow the recipe, adding 1/2 cup additional milk or water to the custard and evenly spreading 2 cups of old-fashioned oats with the apples and fruit, gently pushing the oats down into the custard with a spoon.

Serve warm with a scoop of plain Greek yogurt, maybe a little maple syrup, and a tablespoon or two of chopped walnuts, for a satisfying, balanced breakfast.

Bonus “recipe:” Spiced Coffee

I make my coffee in a pour-over, but I would think this would work in a French press, too, you will just get a little more spice powder circulating in the cup.  But hey, the sludge is part of the charm of French press coffee, right?

Add to the filter with your coffee grounds:

A generous shake or two each of cinnamon and ground turmeric

A little nutmeg

Maybe a dash of cardamom

Sweeten and cream your coffee, if you like, as you like

Photo description: Pumpkins in a pumpkin patch. Photo courtesy of unsplash, photographer Christopher Rusev.

Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher. She can be found buying cinnamon in bulk, picking up heavy things and putting them back down again in Portland, Oregon.