I’ve done Nia lots of times since and I’m still a pretty goofy dancer but I have a grand time thanks to the atmosphere that Elaine creates.
Since I trust Elaine to ease me into new things to be gloriously awful at, last week, I checked out her drop-in class for a program called Ageless Grace.
I had no idea how hard it is to draw a circle with your left pinkie while drawing a triangle with your right big toe.
And how relaxing it is to pretend to be pulling taffy, in all directions, in time to some music.
And I wasn’t alone in this fun. My Mom, my sister Denise, and 27 other people joined Elaine and grinned, laughed, and sang our way through a series of exercises designed to encourage neuroplasticity and fitness.
And while I can’t exactly judge if it did those things for us, I can definitely tell you that it encouraged fun.
The target demographic for the class is seniors but it’s useful for anyone who is interested in challenging their brain. (My almost-48-year-old-ADHD-brain loved it.)*
All of the exercises are designed to be done in a chair so the participants can focus on the movements instead of worrying about falls.
Denise and I stood for the whole thing because we both have body quirks that are exacerbated by sitting. It was tricky but trying to keep our balance while doing dexterity/mind-body exercises meant we got to laugh at ourselves a little more than everyone else. (Pretty sure our Mom got in an extra snicker or two at our expense, too.)
So, the long and the short of it, is that I am just as gloriously awful at the Ageless Grace exercises as I am at Nia dancing. And I had just as much fun making mistakes**the whole time.
I began my bike tour just over a week ago on August 21st. So much has happened that I hardly know where to begin. Each day has lots of challenges to troubleshoot, but there is plenty of joy too.
In Exeter my biggest challenge was being kicked out of the free campsite because I was in a tent, rather than an RV. When the by law officer stopped by I had just laid down for a much needed nap, prior to a much needed massage appointment – the timing could not have been worse. As a result, I didn’t get a nap and was 20 minutes late for my massage… even though I packed things up so hastily that I needed to completely unpack and repack later. It threw off my whole day and gave me greater empathy for folx who are displaced from tent cities.
As I was repacking more effectively my cooler fell and a full jar of pasta sauce spilled all over the place. All day it had been one thing after another, so I looked at it and wryly commented to myself “that seems about right!”
Fortunately, there’s a delicious and low cost Thai restaurant that took the edge off. That night I stealth camped for the first time and left early in the morning. Earlier in the week friends had suggested an a great stealth camping spot in Exeter, so I had an instant back up for the night.
My greatest joy in Exeter was getting to know a couple folx living in poverty. They reminded me of some of my friends from Sanctuary London… the place where I feel most at home… most at ease… most like I can just be myself no matter what. Josh* and I had a couple convos that were rich with a sense of common humanity as we shared our struggles and dreams. Then about an hour before I rolled out of town, an older gentleman who I’d previously asked for directions, came over to ask about my trip plans. He wandered off after a short chat, but about ten minutes later he returned with the most thoughtful care package imaginable… even more so given the poverty he was experiencing himself. Each item had been carefully chosen… an extra tie strap, an instant soup pack, juice crystals, protein bars, and a fruit cup. It made my day.
A major challenge and time suck along the way has been organizing my bags effectively so that I can easily access what’s needed for the day… preferably without unpacking anything not needed. This is a huge pain… but after unpacking and repacking countless times, I think I’m getting better at it… I *really* hope I am!
A few of my greatest joys so far:
Washing my hair in an actual shower (rather than a sink) or on the beach (with biodegradable soap of course!)
Monarch butterflies *everywhere*
Sleeping under the stars
Breakfast on a nearly empty beach the night after a big storm
Countless convos with curious folx
Car Free Sunday (with live street music) in Kincardine
And randomly meeting Mike Darmon – a fellow active transportation advocate!
August 2021 is looking more like August 2020 than I might like in terms of the pandemic. As a result the pause on my gym membership continues until January 2022.
August is also the month when we start to lose the evening light and activities that depend on the light come to an end. The evenings are getting dark early for outdoor riding. No more weeknight Snipe racing either.
It’s not all bad news. I did just order a new fancy wheel off bike trainer from Speed River Bicycles and I’m about to sign up for Zwift Academy Road. I’ll blog more about that later.
August is also the month the blog celebrates its birthday. Happy 9th Birthday blog! (We’re also coming up to our 5000th post. Wowza!)
August is also my birthday month.
I turn 57 on Tuesday. Friends tease me about the multi-event birthday celebrations but with family scattered and with conflicting schedules, I tend to celebrate my birthday with friends and family over a few days.
Here’s photos from Celebration #1, with Gavin in Guelph.
Celebration #2 involved riding 57 km with friends and family.
It was a stinking hot day (heat alert!) but we did it. Actually almost 60 km for my 57th birthday. There are no rules for birthday rides in my opinion but I’m glad we managed the distance given the weather. Phew!
There’s more celebrating yet to come on my actual birthday, August 31st, including an afternoon mammogram. Wish me luck.
It’s happening for real– school is restarting in the Northern Hemisphere and lots of us are returning to in-person teaching or learning. Of course, the people with the other jobs have been or are dealing with the transition from remote to in-person work. I feel like I’ve not been sufficiently sympathetic up to this point. But now I am.
Returning to in-person work (outside of my house, that is) feels scary and weird. And when things feel scary and weird, making lists seems like a way to approach them. So here I go:
Try on work clothing to see what still fits. Oh joy.
Order a bunch of clothing online, now that I’m going to be teaching in person AND some things from February 2020 don’t fit well now.
Order a lot of masks, including N95 ones, for teaching in person, along with regular surgical masks to hand to students who invariably forget/destroy theirs. It’s going to happen.
Download a new meditation app (Calm), because if one is good (Ten Percent Happier), two must be awesome…
Plan, prep and cook meals on the weekends that I can thaw or pull out of the fridge when I get home from teaching, and other meals I can take to school for lunch. I prefer not to eat in a school cafeteria, and I certainly won’t have the spoons to cook after being on campus all day.
Up my meditation game to include a 15-25 minute sit each day (in addition to my early morning and late-at-night short meditations). I’m going to need as much equanimity as I can get as I shift into campus work mode. I’ve already started, so am hoping to keep it up.
Charge up my long-dormant fake-o FitBit to track my hopefully-soon-to-be-ordinary campus movement, which will: a) provide positive feedback/reward for each day’s courageous act of getting out of my house and car; b) provide data and set the stage for new goal-setting; c) remind me to accessorize with a real bracelet on the other wrist.
Pick an outdoor activity I would like to do on my way home from work, and do that activity. After all, I’m out of the house and in a moving vehicle– how hard can it be to swing by somewhere-or-other and swim or walk or cycle or do yoga or paddle? Honestly, this seems like a great idea. I think I might actually do it.
Put together a bag or bin with after-school playthings for swimming or walking or yoga or cycling or whatever. Wow– I think I might do this, too!
Give myself a break about how hard the transition to an on-campus regular work schedule will be. I’ve had serious insomnia for the past 18 months (and no thank you, I don’t need any sleep tips– I know them all). It’s not going away magically on Sept 2. My schedule won’t be ideal, but what is?
Give myself a break about how bumpy my transition is, especially in cooking and activity schedules.
Be flexible about what comes up in the course of the transition; if swimming is too complicated, how about walking? Or yoga? Or youtube dance videos?
Report back in four weeks’ time on how the transition is going. That car-tent is backordered, so likely I won’t have one, but for the rest of it, I’m looking to breathe and move through this.
And I can’t wait to see my students!
Hey readers, what about you? Are you in the transition back to school? Have you already done it? What’s it like? Are you headed back to in-person work? What’s working for you? I’d love to hear from you.
Every year at this time I am astonished that we’ve been blogging for x years, where this year x=9! On August 30, 2012, Sam and I each wrote brief little introductory posts about ourselves called “A bit about Tracy” and “A bit about Samantha.” These inaugural posts show our inexperience at blogging — we didn’t even include our photos! Indeed, many of our initial posts didn’t include photos.
I mention the point about photos because the past nine years have been, for us, as much about learning to blog as about doing our feminist fitness thing. We really were trying to find our way both in the fitness challenge and in what we were hoping to achieve with the blog. As some of you may know but many more recent readers will not know, we didn’t set out still to be blogging nine years hence. We set out to become the fittest we’d ever been in our lives by the time we turned 50, and we had two years to figure out what our respective (and unique) challenges would look like. We didn’t think anyone other than friends and family would follow us.
As the blog caught on, we realized we were wrong about that. Friends and family did support our efforts, but our feminist approach to fitness, down-playing weight loss and highlighting performance and even enjoyment (who knew!?), resonated with lots of people we didn’t know. Soon a lively community had sprung up around the blog. Spin-offs like the Facebook page, Instagram, and Twitter got established. Our roster of guest bloggers kept expanding. Then we had some regulars, which has now expanded to an authors’ group that is a community unto itself.
Every year as late August rolls in I reflect on what we have accomplished, both where our fittest by 50 challenge is concerned (there’s a book!) and how the blog itself has blossomed. It’s definitely a team effort these days. That said, people need to know that the real energy behind the blog comes from Sam, whose leadership has kept it thriving even when most of the others of us (myself included) have gone through periods where we’ve had to reduce our commitment or even take a total break for awhile (often to resurface again at some point).
I was going to blog today asking people to think about what they’re proud of. But then I noticed that just a couple of days ago Christine posted a wonderful “Go Team: Find a Win and Celebrate It”. She does that so well that it made me think of the many wins, large and small, that I’ve celebrated through the life of this blog. So many fitness firsts: first 5K, 10K, triathlon, Olympic triathlon, half marathon, around the bay 30K, marathon, bike with clipless pedals, open water swim in a wetsuit, group run, group training in the pool, bike ride with a group, velodrome attempt. I feel good about the wins of pandemic fitness, where it sometimes has felt like an accomplishment just to get out of bed in the morning and make it to a virtual workout.
And I consistently come back to the blog itself and the community around it as a win. Even when I fall to the periphery of the blog team, as I have done in recent years, I count Fit Is a Feminist Issue among the major “wins” in my life and I feel it is worth celebrating every single year. Yay to Fit Is a Feminist Issue on our ninth anniversary, and wishing us many more!
This is a time of year that I am always writing about canoe trips. There is always something that a canoe trip generates worth writing about whether it’s noticing that whenever I go into the park with a group of only female/non-binary identified folks, we are the only group of that description we see, finding my strength, taking my 72 year old mom out or just hanging with my favourite people.
One consistent element of almost every trip is my best dog. But this year, my excellent adventure with adventure friend, Cheryl, did not include Shelby the wonder dog. She is, a last, too old for me to feel safe to take her. Gone are the days when she could easily and delicately hop in and out of a canoe like a bunny. There was that one time that she stood on a rock about a foot square with all four paws and then, one at a time, she placed them in the boat, carefully balanced like an Olympic gymnast. She can’t scramble up a rock face any more. She has unreliable shoulders and, most distressingly a sarcoma on her front left leg. So, the idea of bringing her in, when I could not carry her out felt dangerous. It was also achingly sad.
Worse even was the look she gave me when I packed all that tripping gear in the car and left her at home. She knew what was happening, that I didn’t take her. SHE KNEW. That dog is old and weaker and creakier but she is also SMARTER than she has ever been. It killed me, that LOOK. So. . . what is a dog girl to do?
Take the dog camping.
That’s what I did. I took my dog camping. Car camping of course. There was a small-ish problem, in that outdoor recreation has become super popular in the pandemic and the possibility of finding a Provincial Ontario Park camp site, with it’s reliable clean and practical set up, it’s running potable water and guaranteed accessibility, that did not exist. So, I took a flyer on a private nature reserve, Limberlost Forest. I have hiked here for years and day hiking is free. It is an impeccably maintained place with beautiful cabins and cottages that I was familiar with. They had recently developed car camping sites in the interior of the property on a small lake. They were not booked. My dog needed a camping trip, so I took the risk.
I’m always conscious of the fact this is a feminist blog that is notionally about fitness and I so often just write about my life with tenuous connections to blog like themes but here is the link. First of all, car camping is just as exhausting as canoe tripping. I forgot that for some reason. You can bring more stuff, but then, there is more STUFF. You can bring a cooler and coolers need ice and ice is heavy and all the cooler food is heavy. The two burner Coleman and the bigger camp chairs and the shade tent and all the things. So many things. Car camping is setting up your bedroom and living room on a sand and gravel pad in a thick forest at the end of a recently bulldozed road into bush. Car camping in a private nature reserve doesn’t have handy taps with potable water. I brought my ceramic pump and we were on a lake. . .”set back from the lake” it said. Cool cool, I didn’t bother to ask what that meant. It turns out it meant up a steep hill in thick bush from the lake. And that meant to get to said lake, it was down a steep hill in thick bush to a swampy, mucky inaccessible lake front. Water is not optional so, functional fitness FTW. I spent much time precariously balanced on rocks and logs with my pump intake hose in the one place that offered slightly less swampy water. There were frequent breaks to clean the filter then back at it. Core, balance, legs, flexibility were all on display. The other technique was going down with my 20 litre portable wash bin and scooping up as much water as possible to bring it back up to pump. I did that a few times but I let my kid fuss with the pumping while I recovered. Oh, and all of this in 30 degree weather.
We did have a marvellous time. On the Saturday, we drove to another part of the park for a big hike along an accessible lake where we could all swim when we got hot. Shelby bounded around in her doggy zen way, thrilled to run and sniff and roll and stroll. In the evening, after I made a fabulous meal and we cleaned up. We had a little fire and then Shelby declared it was time for bed, grumbling half way between the tent and the picnic table, as she does, “It’s dark! Don’t you know it’s time to be inside?” When she came into the tent, malodorous as she was, she curled up at our feet and happily went to sleep, the most content dog. It was all about her after all.
As I type this, I am staying over in my mom’s house in Toronto with my dog and by the time you read this tomorrow morning, Shelby will be in surgery to remove the sarcoma from her front leg. I’m trying not to think about all the things that could go wrong with that. Instead, I’m just grateful that I could find and pay for my dog’s care, and hope that my nearly 12 year old lab has a few more camping trips left in her. Can you all hope with me and send the vibes? Shelby appreciates it.
There is freedom waiting for you, On the breezes of the sky, And you ask “What if I fall?” “Oh but my darling, What if you fly?”
This quote by Erin Hanson has strengthened me in an enduring way that only a couple other quotes can lay claim to. The start of it is engraved on my iPad as a form of resistance to the impact of perfectionistic ideals that often hold me back. But since my collision in 2013, these words have encouraged me to push beyond my comfort zone in countless ways.
As recently as last summer, I was super anxious about everything that might go wrong on a hypothesized weekend canoe trip with a friend. But interestingly, internalized ableism was a significant contributor to my camping trip fears. Because of this, solo camping (even bike touring) actually feels less daunting: I can go at my own pace without fear of slowing anyone down.
Even so, it’s plenty daunting! I’ve never biked on country roads, never ridden more than 40km in a day, and I pitched my first tent this July… I’m a newb in every possible way and I’m diving in anyway!
I finally made it out of London on Saturday evening and was shocked that I made it to Lucan without needing more than brief water breaks on the side of the road. Not sure if that’s thanks to electrolytes or adrenaline, but I’ll take it!
Even before I made it out of London there were plenty of hiccups! I figure that’s par for the course given the steep learning curve! But I’m fumbling my way through, figuring it out, and pushing back against gender stereotypes and ableist views that say I shouldn’t do this… especially as a solo female. I’ve heard “you’re so brave” way too many times already in response to these plans. Do people also say that to men embarking on solo bike tours? I’m guessing not.
Adventure was not the initial driver of this trip, but despite the complicated backstory it appears to be shaping into a delightful adventure. I’m doing all the things that excite and also terrify me… but I’m more excited than anything… which is a major shift even in the past few weeks! I’ve no doubt this adventure will significantly change me and the decisions I make through life… I think it already has in many ways. Because how could showing myself all that I am capable of not change me?
As my summer dance classes come to an end, I am reflecting on why I dance. It’s certainly not because I’m any good at it! And while dancers generally love to perform in public, as an adult student, I don’t perform in shows. It isn’t even because ballet gives me flexibility. It’s the exact opposite, in fact; ballet demands flexibility rather than contributing to it. Dancers spend a lot of time stretching so they can do the movements (I don’t stretch nearly enough, and it shows in my technique).
For me, dance is hard work. I am not strong or graceful. But the most difficult is the memory work. My summer dance teacher has new variations of every exercise each class. That means an average of ten different patterns of movement for about sixteen bars of music every night, before we move away from the barre and do short routines in the centre. Throughout, I am making my feet go one way while my arms (and sometimes my head) are doing something quite different. That is a lot of exercise for my brain as well as my body, and it is what makes dance so wonderful as I age.
According to a widely-cited 21 year study of people 75 or older published in the New England Journal of Medicine (https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/nejmoa022252), the only physical activity that appears to provide protection against dementia is dance. The study doesn’t explore what it is about dance that is so effective, but one of my former teachers swears that it is the combination of movement with memory work that helps build new neural pathways and keep our brains young. Every time I reach the end of class, I quietly celebrate the fact that I have fought off cognitive decline for another week, along with osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease. Dance: all by itself, it is the anti-decline-from-aging trifecta.