Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be one of those posts about how your hard work now will pay off later.
In fact, this is a post about trying to schedule LESS work for yourself.
I just got back from my first work conference in many, many years. The event was held in British Columbia and I live all the way on the other side of the country in Newfoundland and Labrador.
I have a lot of stress around travelling under normal circumstances (I’m not afraid of flying, I find being at the whims of the airline schedules nerve-wracking) and that stress was intensified by concerns about Covid.
And, of course, flying across the country, across multiple time zones (there is a 4.5 hour difference between home and BC), added another layer of trickiness to the whole process. My flights to BC found me getting up at 2am to be at the airport form my 5am flight, and after complications, delays, and waiting for flights, I had been up for 26 hours by the time I got to bed that night. My flights home were less complex but I took off in Nanaimo at 3pm Sunday and got home at 11am on Monday – a schedule that included a 5 hour wait in Toronto airport in the middle of the night.
I’m home as I sleepily write this on Monday night and I am finding myself grateful for something my past self did for me.
When I booked those flights, I thought about how I would probably be extra tired right now from traveling, time zones, and from several days of peopling, and I put a note in my calendar to protect myself this week.
It might not seem like much but that note to ‘keep schedule light’ made me mindful of taking good care of myself. Every time I turned to add something to this week in my calendar, I had a reminder that my capacity was going to be reduced right now and that it would be a good idea to schedule accordingly.
Obviously I have certain commitments and obligations this week, and I have to keep preparing for my black belt test on the 19th, but I managed to avoid adding very much extra to my schedule and I feel very relieved about that.
So, Team, I would like to invite you to help your future selves a little.
If you have busy or stressful times ahead, how can you give yourself some extra space in your schedule?
Can you avoid taking on extra things at that point?
Is there anything you can drop or reschedule?
If you don’t have a lot of control over your schedule, can you give yourself permission to take some things a bit slower or do them in a easier or more straightforward way? (i.e. Even if you can’t take a break, can you cut yourself some slack?)
Sometimes, giving yourself a little extra space can be as straightforward as reminding yourself after a long weekend that you can’t get as much done in a 4 day workweek as you can in a 5 day week and to consider that fact when you make that week’s schedule.
This may take some practice. We’re all very used to pretending that we work at the same capacity all of the time and then just gritting our teeth and struggling through our low-capacity weeks.
In fact, if it hadn’t been for the fact that my flights home were on two separate dates, I probably wouldn’t have thought to cut myself some slack this week. But I am so very glad that I did.
And no matter whether you manage to cut yourself a few moments’ slack, to go easy with your self-talk in a busy time, or if you can organize your schedule to accommodate your lower-capacity times, I think you deserve a gold star for your efforts.
Taking good care of ourselves in this cult-of-productivity world is a challenging thing and your efforts count.
PS – Your future self will thank you for anything you do to make their life easier.
When I walked into my Saturday morning “conditioning class” at my regular gym, Coach Beth said “Nicole, you look so summer-y!” “Summer is my season!”, I confirmed. I don’t know if it is because I was born a couple days after the summer solstice or if I naturally prefer carrying around less layers or I just thrive on longer daylight hours. Regardless of the reason, when we finally reach warm weather each year, I feel as though I come out of my crustaceous shell just a bit more. I look forward to more outdoor activities. I embrace my summer athlete.
I walk everywhere, all year around and find more opportunities to walk in the summer. I run all year round, but the distances get longer and the outings become more frequent in the summer. I can also go out much earlier which works for me as a morning person who runs in the city and prefers the quiet early morning streets.
During the pandemic, my regular gym was doing outdoor classes in the park which I attended regularly and loved. I loved the fresh air, small group of regulars and a great conditioning workout. Understandably, since the gym has been able to resume regular indoor classes, they have ceased doing outdoor workouts.
Very early in the spring, I attempted a half-assed attempt at gathering some of the regulars for our own hill running at the park. But, it was too early, too wet outside, and too cool for park workouts, now that there are many other options again, and that didn’t pan out.
My park workout loving, inner summer athlete, was interested when, about a month ago, Newsgirls announced they were going to organize boxing in the park starting late spring. Newsgirls had a studio space that closed during the pandemic. It describes itself as “a safe space for women and Trans* folks to explore the sport of boxing”. For the upcoming boxing in the park, we had to fill out some red tape and then Savoy, the owner, would let us know about times, etc.
When I heard the first class was going to be on the coming Sunday, I already had my weekend workouts scheduled in my head. Conditioning workout on Saturday and long run on Sunday. My brain doesn’t love changes to schedules. It starts worrying that if I mess things up, I won’t get my long run in or something similar. I wasn’t sure Sunday would work for the new boxing class. In the month between expressing interest and now, I had become comfortable, again, going back inside the gym for the Saturday conditioning workout. Prior to that, I was doing my long run on Saturdays and figured I could do boxing on Sunday. My workout buddy, Laura, had arranged to go to the boxing class, as well. I was looking forward to trying the class with her and I recognize the benefits of mixing things up here and there. After going back and forth in my brain, I made myself comfortable with going to the outdoor boxing class on Sunday and getting up extra early on Monday for my long run.
The boxing class was to be from 10-12 on Sunday. Usually I am done my long run by 9 am and at Boxcar with coffee in hand at that time. This may sound weird to people who aren’t so schedule-oriented, but again, I had to get myself adjusted to the new schedule. I woke up at 6 am. Had coffee with my husband and dogs in bed. Walked the dogs. Went for a long walk with Gavin en route to Boxcar, which opens at 9 and had coffee BEFORE my workout. I was a little out of sorts on my way to the park, thinking I would rather be done my workout at this time, rather than starting it. But, of course, once I started, I forgot about my own weird mind ramblings, and I had FUN.
The weather was PERFECT. About 20 degrees Celsius and mostly sunny, with a bit of shade from the trees and a nice breeze.
Savoy was as easy-going and fun in person as I pictured from following her online. I would say the overall vibe of the workout was “easy-going”. We filled out forms. Savoy joked that there was a rule that every time we said “sorry” throughout the class, we would have to drop and do 10 push-ups. We talked about boxing names. I had thought mine would be Rev as an ode to my Mom’s side of the family, where there were some well known boxers in Toronto in the 40s. But, I was wearing my Cycology tank top and Savoy suggested my boxing name be Cyco (a kinder spelling of Psycho).
With the formalities taken care of, we were instructed to do two laps around the track, two sprints up the hill and one, going up, backwards.
I used to do hill sprints during the park workouts, but not since the fall and the hills were shorter. These hill sprints were challenging. They are also something I should be doing anyway to complement my endurance runs.
After the running, Savoy told us to do our own stretches for about 8 min. With these instructions, I carried out some of the active stretches that Beth used to have us do at the park.
After stretching, it was the ab workout. No problem, right? Except, it was 3 rounds of 8 ab exercises. We forgot about this after the first round and were surprised to be reminded that we had to do all exercises twice more. It was a challenging and good workout!
After the ab workout, Savoy spent some time showing us how to wrap our hands. Despite dabbling in boxing at various gyms, I had never been shown this before. Savoy has a dry wit throughout and between jokes, she showed us how to wrap our hands and explained why we were doing so, to protect our wrists and knuckles.
With our wraps secured, Savoy took us through a series of 6 punches. We played with those for about 15-20 min. My FitBit lost its charge partway, so I wasn’t able to check the time, which was cool.
Next, we donned our gloves and she instructed us through different pad work. Laura and I were partners and had fun practicing and chatting throughout. Savoy, good naturedly joked that this was one of the perks of Newsgirls vs more serious boxing clubs. Chatting wasn’t discouraged. Just saying sorry was and Laura and I both said sorry once, which resulted in us dropping for push-ups.
Following the pad work, Savoy had us practice throwing a tennis ball, back and forth. I had momentary “elementary school gym class flashback anxiety”, but it was all good. Laura and I continued to catch “most” tennis balls and continued chatting and laughing under the trees.
Before we knew it, it was after noon. Time to get on with the day. It’s always good for the brain and soul to try something new and the two hours playing and learning new skills in the park was a pleasant addition to the weekend. We also noticed a group drawing in the park, as we were leaving, and noted that we should find out who was organizing it.
On the way home, a guy with a table set up outside the local Scientology branch asked me if I wanted to “take a stress test”. I didn’t know what he was talking about at first but quickly caught his table set up Scientology books in the corner and I said, “ahh, no thank you”. As I was walking away I thought I could have said that punching in the park was more effective for stress than anything he was proselytizing, but because I was in a good mood, I just carried on my way.
When Elan posted her story of a stormy Guelph to Goderich ride, it made me think, as summer approaches, that it might be nice to have a summary post–which we can update from time to time–which lists local biking trails we like. The conditions are that they are dedicated trails–bike only, or multi-use–and that they’re in this region of Ontario. Oh, also they are wide and not particularly technical, best for gravel bikes or hybrids but no mountain bike, or mtb skills needed. With the pandemic I did a lot more trail riding than usual. I liked that it was local and also safer than road cycling.
Advice: The website makes it sound like this is doable in a day or 2. Maybe if you’re going fast and not carrying gear. We say, take your time and stop at some of the communities along the way. I loved my avocado and grilled sandwich at Em’s cafe and also homemade butter tarts at farmer’s stand en route. We also want to recommend Chef Bill in Midland, of Chef Bill Presents, who cooked up dinners to go for us to eat in the park. Thanks Sarah and Bill!
Highlights: The Tiny Trail and all the food along the way.
How about you? Which trails in Toronto have you ridden? Which do you recommend?
My favorite thing about summer is the knowledge that, at any time, I could run and jump in water. Ocean, lake, river, backyard wading pool– just about anything will do. All of them call my name throughout the season. My best real-estate fantasies include a backyard pool, with beautifully landscaped surroundings, all of which are magically maintained by unnamed third parties. Alas, I know (second-hand from my sister) how much work and expense a pool takes. So far, none of my friends have taken the plunge and kitted out their residences with a gorgeous aquatic oasis. But one can hope…
In fact, I’m lucky to live not far away from both ocean and freshwater places to swim and paddle. This summer, my plans include regular dips and laps and floats and strokes and landings and submergings, always surfacing for that big breath of air waiting for me.
Surfacing, taking big breaths of air. I think of those children and teachers in Uvalde, Texas, with no more breaths of air awaiting them, and my own breathing becomes more ragged from anger and grief. I’m not alone. Author and meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg led an online loving-kindness talk and group meditation on Friday night. One thing she said that resonates with me is that sometimes, the breath is not the thing that settles us. Sometimes it is sound, or a visual image, or a touch. Maybe it’s the feeling of the weight of our bodies in contact with a cushion, mat, chair or floor.
What always settles me and puts me in contact with the world and myself is the feeling of my body in (and even on) water. I feel feelings I rarely experience on land: I’m buoyant, weightless, sleek, smooth, strong, even patient. I know, right?
I don’t know what to do or say right now. I don’t even know how to settle my breath when I read about or focus on the horrors that are happening in the US. There’s a lot to be done, and I want to do my share, pull my weight. This requires strength and stamina and stability. I think that being in and on and around water– for me– will help me gather myself for the work to be done.
Readers, I hope one or more of the elements speaks to you and strengthens and sustains you. Thank you for reading.
That same year everyone applauded SI for including Hunter McGrady, whose fulsome curves defied the usual Swimsuit Issue body-type. Her inclusion was celebrated as a “breath of fresh air,” and I wondered whether anything having to do with the SI swimsuit issue is really a breath of fresh air. I don’t really think so, even if Hunter McGrady claims to be doing this not just for herself, but “but for every woman out there who has ever felt uncomfortable in their body and who wants and needs to know that you are sexy.” The same issue also included Serena Williams, a world-class athlete, to “prove” (to whom?) that a woman can be both sexy and athletic.
So this year we have a kind of repeat of all those themes — you can be curvaceous or in your seventies or have an unexpected “background” (their code for race or for ethnicity) and still we want to objectify you as a sexual object in one of our most popular issues of the year!
The editor in chief of this issue, MJ Day, doesn’t put it quite like that of course. Day says:
“We all deserve the chance to evolve. So in this issue, we encourage readers to see these models as we see them: multifaceted, multitalented—and sexy while they’re at it. The world may label them one way, but we want to focus our lens on all the ways they see themselves and how they own who they are. No matter your age, whether you’re a new mom, partner, sister, entertainer, athlete, entrepreneur, advocate, student, mentor, role model, leader or dreamer—or all of the above—we want to celebrate these women, their evolution and the many dimensions of who they are.”
But in the end, despite all of their many dimensions and talents, these women are just reduced to their sexy-factor. I should note that I am not opposed to sexiness. I and several of us from the blog have been open about our boudoir photo shoots. What gets me with the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue is the context. This is a magazine historically designed by men for men. And its main purpose is to cover sports news. What, I ask, do women in swim suits have to do with sports news and for whom are they striking sexy poses? If they want to do it “for themselves” they can do a boudoir photo shoot.
Instead of celebrating the objectification of an ever more inclusive range of women, I can’t help but thinking a more positive step for women would be getting rid of the swimsuit issue altogether. I don’t know any women who would mind one bit, but I predict a huge outcry from the men who look forward to this issue and a subsequent loss of a sure-thing revenue item for Sports Illustrated. As long as we are willing to get on board with the objectification of women for an audience the vast majority of which is straight and male, to celebrate it as something empowering for women, and to congratulate it for “breaking barriers,” we are going to be stuck promoting that idea that women — all women — need to be sexy-to-men to be acceptable. Surely we can promote inclusion without having to piggy back on that relentless message about what makes women worthy.
I just got back from a few days of actual vacation in Cancun. On the first day, after settling in at the beach under some shade to read, my longtime friend and travel companion, Diane said she was going to go check out the spin class that was about to start in the pool. Yes, that’s “in” and not “by” the pool.
Not one to pass up an opportunity to try something new, especially when it is an unthreatening as a 30-minute spin class in an infinity pool beside a beach, I wandered up there with her.
The bikes look like spin bikes but they’re submerged. You can adjust the seat height up and down and the handles forward and back, depending how close you want them. The handles have two positions you can take: regular and sort of aerobar-style. There is a thing you can turn to adjust the tension from easiest to hardest. Of course you don’t wear bikes shoes that clip in. You slide your bare feet into a wide fabric strap that is supposed to keep them on the pedal and mostly does, but you can’t get the same solid up motion as you do when clipped in.
I’m not a regular spinner and I actually found the warm-up pretty exerting. When it was supposed to get harder by increasing the tension, I didn’t adjust mine much (which reminded me that one of the things I liked about the few spin classes I’ve done is that you can set your own difficulty level and it’s no one’s business but yours).
I’m not sure whether the bikes just weren’t very good or if spinning in the water is just not the activity for me. But I just couldn’t get a good rhythm going. The pedal stroke always stopped at the bottom. And so instead of a smooth cadence it made for a jerky and frustrating ride. This happened to Diane too.
For the novelty of it — spinning in an infinity pool overlooking the beach and Caribbean Sea in Cancun on a gorgeous day — I give it full points. But as an activity, let’s just say neither of us did it again. The next day we tried an aqua fit class. The day after that we floated around in the pool and did nothing. And the day after that we played in the waves until a lifeguard told us the red flag meant “no swimming allowed” and not “be careful” (it was ridiculous that no swimming was allowed that day. The sea was perfect).
As far as spinning in the pool goes, though I’m not likely to do it again, I feel fortunate and privileged indeed to have been able to try it in Cancun.
Early in the year, my friend invited me to cycle a 132-km rail trail in western Ontario known as the “G2G Trail” (Guelph to Goderich, which Sam has blogged about before) over the May long weekend. I said yes, though I hadn’t cycled seriously since summer bike tag with the neighbourhood kids over 30 years ago.
Thus began a series of decisions during a challenging but adventure-filled two-day cycling trip.
Decision 1: Get advice and follow it
From reading online articles about cycle touring I discovered water camelbaks. Where I got my bike tuned up I learned about comfortable saddle heights. I followed advice from fellow FIFI blogger FieldPoppy to spin at the gym in advance. Thanks to suggestions from friends, I purchased my first pair of shammy shorts and found myself unpacking and re-packing my gear 3 days ahead.
Result: Much gear and preparation that reduced my uncertainty somewhat.
Decision 2: Buy into shared optimism
We all knew it was going to rain. The weather report had not shifted all week long. But the sun was shining hopefully when we set out from Guelph. Wearing all my gear, I looked like I knew what I was doing. At every kilometre sign, one friend did a fist pump and whooped with excitement. “Will she do that the whole way?” I asked another in our group. “Yeah, probably,” was the reply.
Result: Sponging up the eager optimism of my more experienced cycling companions, I gained confidence that all would go well on the trip.
Decision 3: Weather the storms
That’s not just a metaphor–there was a real storm. On our first break, while happily dangling our feet over a stream flowing under a bridge, we started getting texts and calls from friends, warning us about the bad storm that had already struck town. Trees down, power out. Yet, high on optimism and snacks, we headed back out on the trail towards the quickly darkening sky.
Half an hour later, the storm hit us fully. The rain and hail that pelted our skin felt like glass. We were thrown off our bikes by the wind, and rushing water drowned the shale path. We had no time to find shelter as we were crossing a long, wide pasture area, so we took as much cover as we could behind a tiny tree. Since we were already soaked, we sat in the grass and had a beverage.
Result: When you can’t change something, go as far as you can go and then stop.
Decision 4: Get past the counting mindset
Trail signs tell you how far you have gone, apps describe how fast you are going, watches share how long you’ve been going for, and digital maps show how far you still have to go. For me, counting minutes and miles was making the journey feel much, much longer, so I stopped. And when it no longer mattered the time or kms it took to get to where we were going (such as the Mennonite grocery store for fresh butter tarts), our destinations came a lot sooner.
Result: When my brain emptied of countdowns, it filled with good ideas, meditations on my work and my life, and thoughts of gratitude for the trip.
Decision 5: Feeling every moment, with friends
There were some great-feeling moments: seeing two fuzzy fox kits, discovering coolers of drinks placed by trail stewards, finally catching sight of our Milbank B&B after a long day of riding in the rain. I cheered when a sore pulse in my right quad muscle suddenly went away. On a downward grade I stopped pedalling and, looking up, was thrilled by the trees tops rushing above me.
There were also not-great-feeling moments: being cold, wet, and tired; annoyed at the ever-blowing headwind; frustrated by the muddy trail that slowed us down to a crawl. But by being fully present during those moments, and feeling supported by my friends, I stayed aware of what was going for me and those who helped me to get to where I was.
Result I: My group’s present-mindedness led us to appreciate all we had achieved together over two days of hard cycling. And our achievement let us be satisfied with ending our trip a little sooner than planned so that we could celebrate with warm pizza and cold drinks at a local craft brewery.
Result II: Me thinking about when my next cycle tour will happen.
Recently I have had a few tough swims where I felt like I had no bones. It was a feeling of complete complete exhaustion and uncertainty about whether I could make it to the end of the lane, let alone the end of the workout.
I don’t recall where that expression first arose. I’m pretty sure it was used by my son on days when he was being goofy. I know I used it to describe his ability to fall and never get injured; he never stopped moving! Maybe that was the connection I made with my own tiredness, trying to keep up with him.
Then I found an old note to myself about Noodles, an internet sensation last year. Noodles was then a 14 1/2 year old pug who would get his picture on TikTok each day. His pal Jonathan Graziano would help him up each morning. If he stayed up, it was a bones day. If he slumped back down into his comfy bed, it was a no bones day.
Elderly pug on a beige dog bed, with a man in a dark shirt behind him, hands in the air as if cheering.
What is a no bones day? “Bones Day” means you wake up feeling great, ready to take charge of the day and live your best life. A “No Bones Day” is a day for self care, taking a nap or playing it safe. The concept is similar to that of having enough spoons.
Ironically, there are numerous journals based on Noodles, so you can track appointments, water I take, or whatever. I want to laugh about them, and yet…
My fist instinct is to try and figure out how to get things done on no bones days: dancing around the bedroom to lively music, or taking a walk while working on my Duolingo German course.
I want to be more like Noodle. As the description from the children’s book about him says: Noodle isn’t sick or sad. Today, all he needs are extra snuggles and belly rubs. Jonathan soon learns that not every day can be a Bones Day, and sometimes a No Bones Day is exactly what you need to get through the week.
I don’t often have the luxury of napping, but I can work on getting to bed earlier. And like I did on Monday, I can get out of the water even though I haven’t pushed myself as hard or far as possible. Sometimes a swim can just be for fun – a wet belly rub, if you will.
The weather here in Newfoundland and Labrador is tricky at any point and doubly tricky on the May 24th weekend.*
I have spent May 24th weekends wearing shorts, I have been rained out of planned adventures, I have shoveled snow from in front of a tent. And, on several occasions, I have worn shorts, a raincoat, and then mittens all on the same day.
So when Saturday rolled around and the weather was beautiful, I knew that my usual Saturday stuff inside could wait.
I had to get outside ASAP just in case things took a turn.
Normally, this would be cause for a scrambly brain of indecision – Should I do yard work? Bring inside work outside? Make plans for my garden? Take Khalee for an extra walk? What is the BEST use of this time?
This time, though, I bypassed all of those questions and just asked myself “What would be the most fun to do right now?”
And that’s how I found myself in the sunshine, doing yoga on my patio, laughing at the way my shadow makes me look like a fur ball or some sort of tendrilly sea creature.
PS – For the record, Khalee and I took a long walk later in the day… and neither of us had to put on our mittens.
*Apparently, the May long weekend in Canada is not called ‘May 24th’ everywhere but that’s what we’ve always called it – no matter which date it falls on. If your brain hates that, imagine that I have said ‘Victoria Day’ instead.