advice · commute · covid19 · ergonomics · fitness · habits · planning · self care

Habits to Offset Being an End-of-Day Grump After Back-to-Work Commuting

Shortly after coming home from my work commute the other day, I found that my partner (and cat) could barely stand to be around me. I was being a total grump—tired and irritable. Why?

I had spent the last two days commuting by car (an hour each way, plus more travel between sites), then sitting for hours at desks that were not my own. Being vehicle- and desk-bound used to be my work-a-day norm. But, after only a few days back at work, and despite all the travel, I felt unusually sedentary and yuck.

A woman hunched over her laptop while seated at a desk
A woman hunched over her laptop at a desk. Posture posture posture!

I have worked from home during most of the COVID-19 pandemic. This means I’ve had the luxury of walking or exercising before or after work (most days!), and taking short stretch breaks anytime I’ve needed to in a private and comfortable space of my own. More control over how, where, and how much I sit.

You may be thinking—with all this privilege, 5 hours in the car over 2 days is not, relatively speaking, a big deal. Boo hoo, Elan. (At first I thought that too.)

Yet, because I am trying to be mindful and notice things more, I realized maybe I hadn’t prepared myself sufficiently for what back to work would feel like for my body.

Reminders are for people who need reminding. Here is a brief list of reminders for how I might show up more prepared for my return-to-work days a (and be less of a grump around those I love afterwards).

  • Leave 15 minutes earlier than I need to and park at the far end of the parking lot to have time to walk and stretch before sitting in the office.
  • Bring more water and veggie snacks than I think I will need in order to stay hydrated (and avoid the snack machine).
  • Schedule in-person meetings to end 10 minutes before the hour, and use that time to get up and move around, perhaps reacquainting myself with the buildings and their outdoor spaces.
  • Assess the ergonomics of my seated position in my car and in my hoteling office work spaces—try to notice my posture and pack what I need to adjust myself.
  • Make time to stretch before getting back into my car near the end of the day.
Cats and trucks lined up on a highway
That’s me, third car on the right.

What else could help me to manage feelings sedentary and grumpy during return to work? Please share your ideas in comments below!

Dancing · Fear · fitness

Dancing Alone

I am interested in how dancing connects us with others, such as when dark dancing provided a community for dancers during the isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time, dancing with others can also inhibit us, especially when we fear that others see us as bad dancers out on the dance floor.

Today, my post today reflects on the people who need neither community nor coping mechanisms—they dance boldly and fearlessly to music around others, even if they dance alone.

Woman in red dress twirling alone on a coloured rug
dots dancing alone on a busy pattern” by supermattzor is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.

Dancing with himself

Recently I was at an outdoor country music festival stage show—supporting a friend who was supporting her partner who was in the band. The set started for about 30 people sitting or standing in the warm sun.

Soon I noticed someone dressed in cowboy hat, jeans, and boots who had started dancing at the side of the stage. He looked about 80. He was the only person dancing. I gestured to my friend over to him, and she said, “Oh, that’s Bev. He always dances, no matter what music is playing.”

I learned more: Bev has special notoriety among local musicians for coming out to so many shows and always, always dancing. Bev has even been featured in a music video by my friend’s old band.

Jenn Marino & the Hearts – Got Me Movin’ featuring Bev Camp

Not dancing but watching

Watching Bev shuffle out moves like a one-man line dancer, I thought about the (very few) number of times I was brave enough to be the first one up and dancing. I get my itchy feet from my parents, who have always loved music and for years enjoyed two-stepping and square dancing. But the risk of being seen as the weirdo dancing by herself has, more often than not, kept me rooted in my chair.

Some guy in front of me pulled out his phone, training it on Bev rather than on the band. When the guy noticed me noticing him, he smiled and gestured towards Bev in a conspiring way, like I should agree that Bev was making a spectacle of himself dancing alone, so it was ok to record him.

Before the set was over, Bev had moved closer to centre stage, continuing to dance as if he didn’t even notice anyone else was there. We all noticed him, but nobody joined him.

Dance like no one is watching

I didn’t speak with Bev, but I guess that he doesn’t dance at live music to make a spectacle of himself. Bev is there for the music. Maybe he does it to maintain muscle strength and agility, or maybe he just no longer fears what other people think. Maybe Bev doesn’t feel he as if he is dancing alone: his dance partner is the music.

Perhaps dancers are gawked at and teased by those who want to dance but lack the courage to do so. I am still not always able to (as the platitude goes) “dance like no one is watching.” But I will cheer on Bev and others like him, and maybe enjoy the music a little bit more, knowing there are beautiful, brave people who don’t need anyone’s approval to just go ahead and dance.

kids and exercise · meditation · mindfulness

A Mental Playbook for When Exercise Sucks

In a Washington Post article (1991), “The Pleasure Principle in Exercise,” the author provides a “research review” on the importance of enjoying exercise in order to persist with it:

“study after study shows that the people who stick with exercise are the ones who truly enjoy their activity. They don’t view their workout as one more chore to cram in but as a play break that’s one of the highlights of their day” (p.4).

Teenagers running down a streer
Smiling teens running (i.e., not me) in gym class.

This article, published around the time I was in high school, reflects what I have been told for years: ideally, exercise evokes the fun of childhood play and creates a rush of endorphins. Exercise should feel good.

But I recently realized this narrative doesn’t fit with my experience. Starting in middle school (think fitness testing, track and field, etc.), I often felt like exercise sucked. Tired, out of breath, achy. I knew I should exercise, that I should like it, but in fact the effort didn’t feel pleasant. Teenage me thought: why pursue bodily discomfort on purpose? So when high school gym class finally became optional, I stopped exercising altogether.

Mental Aspects of Physical Fitness

Car wash
Meditation: a car wash for your brain?

The disconnect I have felt—between how I should and did feel about exercise as a young person—was made clear to me during my first meditation weekend. It turns out I have had different ideas about meditation as well. I thought meditation was like a car wash: you went into it feeling dirty and unhappy, and somehow came out feeling shiny, happy, and clean.

Meditation, it turns out, is more about noticing what I am feeling and experiencing (good, bad, different), then leaning into that experience. Meditation involves concentrating on letting go of judgements, expectations, and the need to change what can sometimes be difficult feelings and bodily sensations. Meditation is a kind of mental playbook for managing how to show up for sometimes uncomfortable situations or emotions.

Purple mandala on a wall
Mandala for meditation practice.

Mindfulness, the “noticing” part of meditation practice, can be taken to other activities (I further learned). It’s why, I put together, there are so many mental “check-ins” during yoga practice. Noticing tension and discomfort at its first sign can help me to be present in–but without automatically seeking to judge, avoid, or change–what I am experiencing (unless there is pain that will imminently lead to injury, of course). And, indeed, I did find through our yoga practice that it was much easier to handle discomfort in my body when I noticed and accepted that it was there.

There are critiques of mindfulness, namely as a self-help discourse that convinces stressed out folks collective suffering is in their heads rather than a societal issue. I don’t disagree with concerns about how meditation and mindfulness are (mis)understood and (mis)used in Western culture, but I am still learning about them as they relate specifically to my own fitness practices, so for now I am keeping an open mind.

Mindfulness During Exercise

When I was a kid I didn’t have a mental playbook when I wasn’t loving the exercise I was told I should be loving. Without a mindful approach, I immediately leaned away from the tension and discomfort caused by physical exertion and effort.

Now, in my mid-life, I think the so-called “pleasure principle of exercise” is wrong for me. As I continue to explore physical activities (many for the first time in a long time), I am not going to try to convince myself that exercise will always be a “play break” or a “highlight of my day.” (Sam looks at some actual research in her post Rationality and the Hatred of Exercise.)

Instead, I am going to try to be mindful: to notice and accept the tension, discomfort, and other sensations I feel whilst being physically active. I am going be try to be really present when my exercise sucks.

Ironically, it may be precisely the goal of seeking to notice my discomfort (rather than striving for its enjoyment) that may get me to exercise more often. I’ll let you know how it goes.

challenge · cycling · fitness · traveling

Five Decisions that Shaped a First Cycling Trip

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

Elan’s bike, Zoë, with much cycling gear gifted and borrowed.

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

Cheery friends, and our mascot, Hammy.

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

Very Wet Elan.

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.

Water flowing on the trail.

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

Do not ask when the buttertarts will come, yet be assured that they will sometime arrive.

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

Kind trail stewards make available pay-to-take provisions for trail users.

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.

A relatively dry part of the trail. Not pictured: much wind.

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.

Friends celebrating the end of a great cycling trip.
fitness · fun

Geocaching

“Time for some bush-bashing! Don’t worry, it’s less than a two.”

This is what my friend said as we peered into a steep incline of densely grown trees and shrubs off the side of a highway near Halifax, Nova Scotia. She meant that the difficulty of finding the oldest geocache in Canada was considered to be “relatively easy” (within 30 minutes) and “along well-defined paths with no significant elevation change or overgrowth,” as per the standardized geocache rating system.

“Where is the well-defined path?” I asked.

My friend smiled. “It’s a joke among geocachers that you find the path to the cache on the way out.” Then, she disappeared into the bushes.

About Geocaching

An open cache cannister with a Travel Bug and a trinket on a rock.
An open cache cannister with a Travel Bug and a trinket on a rock.

My friend “Alispice” (her geocacher name) uses a GPS and/or mobile device to find hidden containers called geocaches at various outdoor locations. Since global positioning technology first became available to the public after May 2, 2000, (a.k.a. Big Blue Switch Day), there are over 3 million geocaches around the world. A free and family-friendly activity, geocaching offers a combination of treasure hunt, recreational activity, and exercise.

Caches are hidden everywhere. It’s likely there is one of over 20 different types of caches within 161 metres of you right now. A geocacher places a cache, shares location information and maybe a hint, then other geocachers search for and log the cache when they find it.

Alispice holds a micro cache found in Halifax, NA. She's good at finding very small things. Used with permission.
Alispice holds a micro cache. She’s good at finding very small things.

The more caches you find (especially the ones that are hard to get to), the higher you rise in the geocacher rankings. Geocaching apps are used to track global rankings, personal stats, and other information, such as progress on “challenges” that involve finding multiple caches according to specific criteria.

A Crash Course in Caching

I learned about geocaching during a short holiday with Alispice in Nova Scotia. It’s not all “bush-bashing.” We found caches on the downtown Halifax harbour front, in the nearby town of Dartmouth, and on the rocky shale and sandstone of Peggy’s Cove on the Chebucto Penninsula.

A picture of a large cache logbook, with entries from 2006.
A large cache logbook, with entries on the page from 2006.

It was a delight for me to pause on the discovery of a cache, read the names of those who signed the log before us, and ponder over the trinkets that are sometimes left in the containers. While I was musing, Alispice got promptly back on her device for the next cache. As of this post date, her highest number of caches in one day is 172.

For some, geocaching can be a hobby and a lifestyle. Because caches are everywhere, I suspect that seasoned geocachers like Alispice have to make a concerted mental effort to stop thinking about finding caches when they are going about their daily lives.

I also learned that caches can draw attention to special places. For instance, there were a few simple caches at the Africville museum and park. As we walked around and read the information plaques in the park, Alispice explained that the caches there may have been set up to attract geocachers visiting Halifax who would not otherwise know about the history of this mostly Black Canadian community.

What Geocachers Do (and Do Not Do)

When geocachers are not caching, they may be stocking up on supplies (purchasing log books, travel bugs, O rings, etc.). Or, they may be meeting together at local and international geocacher gatherings called “events,” and participating in Cache In Trash Out environmental initiatives; these activities help to preserve existing cache areas, beautify outdoor spaces, and minimize the stereotype that geocaching is “littering.”

Alispice opening a small cache at Peggy's Cove.
Alispice opening a cache at Peggy’s Cove.

Such events also build community for people participating in a recreational and largely self-organized activity. HQ and volunteers together encourage geocachers to follow etiquette and courtesy rules when placing and locating caches. In what is described as the geocacher’s creed, respect for place, property, and other people is of the highest importance.

More About Geocaching

The best way is to learn more about geocaching is to get out there and try it, but here are some general info sites for Muggles (what geocachers call non-geocachers like me):

I had a great time, and got plenty of exercise, trailing a geocacher for 3 days. I’m not quite ready for the cognitive load of a ever-present, never-ending, world-wide treasure hunt. But I will be sure to cheer on the next people I see searching the bushes in unexpected places, hoping they are close to their geocache discovery!

Alispice and Elan at the oldest geocache in Canada. Trees and a sign that says Geocache Lane behind them.
Alispice and Elan at Geocache Lane in Nova Scotia, the oldest geocache in Canada.
advice · Dancing · Fear · fitness · media

Bad Dancing

FIFI bloggers have shared many beautiful and uplifting posts about the aerobic, aesthetic, historical, cultural, and social aspects of their dance and dancing.

But I want to talk about bad dancing. Not defining what is bad dancing (too subjective, or in the case of trained dancing, too specialized). Rather, I want to consider how we respond to the fear of bad dancing in social situations that can creep on the edges of our minds before, during, or after we dance.

Dancing, the media, and us

If you’re of a certain age, a single one word brings to mind the epitome of “bad dancing”: Elaine.

Elaine dancing, from Seinfeld.

If you’re not quite at that age, but close, here’s second word that sums up dancing so bad it’s good: (the) Carlton.

Carlton dancing, from Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

Both tv sitcom clearly characters find joy and freedom in their dancing. Yet, these scenes also capture some not uncommon worries about dancing: folks laughing behind our backs without our knowledge (like Elaine), or being seen and judged when we dance (though I realize that race, class, and culture ground the joke of Carlton dancing to a Tom Jones song as well).

The media not only reflects but can also amplify our worries. Elaine’s scene reminds us that wedding and parties are places where dancing is a social expectation. We might start to compare our dancing with the many mainstream media celebs and performers who dance with more style and grace (thanks to professional training). Also, there are TikTok dancers around to remind us how much money we are not making from our own dancing.

I bet my non-existent jazz flats that—even those with actual dance training—most folks at some point have wondered whether they were a bad dancer, or if others might have thought so. Just last week, after a fun house dance night with about 12 people I avoided watching the phone videos that were shared around because I didn’t want to watch myself, or see others watching me.

Am I a bad dancer? Part I

How do we respond to fears of being regarded (or regarding ourselves) as a “bad dancer,” or at least not a very good one, when dancing in social settings?

There are lots of ways, most of which fall somewhere between the Elaine (totally surprised/defensive) and Carlton (hyperaware/embarrassed). Read on to see what strategies you have used, and let me know what I have missed.

  • You can seek out ways to reduce your inhibitions to care less about how you (or other) feel about your dancing. “Liquid courage” is a common method. There’s even a study that suggests that if you find the “platform of effective intoxication,” alcohol can actually make you a better dancer.
  • You can choose ironic dancing, an exaggerated form of dancing that is intentionally self-deprecative, as this DJ describes. (Think the Robot, the Sprinkler, or any other passé dance craze). Some may interpret your ironic dancing as making fun of not yourself but them on the dance floor.
  • You can accept that you are not a trained dancer, but dance anyway—just for fun, relaxation, or exercise. Perhaps you are someone with the congenital condition known as beat deafness, in which you cannot distinguish rhythm or move in time to it.
  • You might get constructive and practice dancing, as suggested by the advice in this Steezy blog post: take time watch online dance lessons, practice in front of a mirror or in safe places with friends, and take in-real-life dance classes.
  • You may embrace your dancing as a form of resistance or protest—to white/middle-class/ableist dance norms, the hyper-regulation of bodies, and other forms of systemic injustice. I will never forget for the first time watching Childish Gambino (Donald Glover) in his music video “This is America” (warning: violence)—his dancing had me re-thinking my assumptions about what dancing is, who dancing is for, and why dancing is such an important form of representation and resistance in BIPOC communities. (See this Atlantic article for more.)

Am I a bad dancer? Part II

Upon re-watching Elaine after her let-loose dance scene, I didn’t find myself sharing in her friends and employees’ teasing. Rather, I wished Elaine would have taken her own advice from her wedding toast: “Here’s to those who wish us well. And those who don’t can go to hell.”

In her post Bad Dancers?, dance and fitness instructor Karen Kiefer writes, “A dance floor will always have people with different styles and knowledge levels about dancing: which doesn’t mean they are good or bad dancers, just people enjoying themselves for an evening.”

This is a reminder to you (and me): when you have an Elaine and Carlton-level love of dancing, don’t ask the question—because then the answer doesn’t matter.

curling · family · interview · kids and exercise · team sports

Curling Together: Interview with Dale Curtis and Joanne Tarvit

Joanne Tarvit has grown up curling competitively, just like Dale Curtis, her mother. This interview shares what it’s like for them to curl together as a family, what curling teaches kids, and how women can thrive in curling at any stage of life. The full recorded interview is below the edited transcript.

Would you describe how long you’ve curled and your greatest curling accomplishment? 
Joanne and Dale. Used with permission.

Dale Curtis: I’m not sure I want to say! It’s probably been 55 years. I think I only missed one season when I was living down in the United States. My greatest accomplishment in curling would be when I went to senior women’s nationals in Ottawa as skip. 

Joanne Tarvit: I’ve been curling for 28 years. Mom had me on the ice when I was about 5 and I don’t think I’ve missed a season. My greatest accomplishment in my curling career would be winning back-to-back silver medals at the Canadian National Championship with a group of girls from Brock. They’re a great team.

How long have you curled together, and when did you start?

Joanne: This is our fourth season playing together weekly at the St Thomas Curling Club, but we’ve been playing bonspiels together for 20 years.

Dale: I introduced Jo to curling when she was 3 or 4 years of age. My brother David, her uncle, was Icemaker at two different clubs in Brampton and we lived close together. The ice was installed in September or early October, and I would often help because it can be a 24-hour job. Jo would come with me. David would actually sit her on the rocks and push so she could ride them down the ice! 

Then we got Jo on the ice at 5, and I was an instructor in the Little Rocks program. The rocks the children use are about half the size and weight of the regular rocks that adults throw. It was a bit later, when she was skipping a team of kids at 9 or 10, and was handling the pressure of it all, that I thought, oh she can really do this!

Joanne: At our home curling club in Brampton, it was my mom, uncle, and grandparents as well! I felt a lot of pride knowing that my family was curling there and now, it was my turn. So I absolutely loved it as a kid. I was so lucky that mom was willing to come out, not just for those two hours on a Sunday afternoon for the Little Rocks but really anytime. I would want to go throw and she’d be like, yep let’s go and practice. I had a parent who not only loved the game but was really good at the instruction side of it as well when I was young. 

As I got more into the competitive side of the game, around 12 and 13, I started to feel a little more pressure, but only because our whole family has many provincial championship banners hanging out at the club. It was a constant reminder. At one point in our life we had three generations, all playing on the same team in a bonspiel, so those are some really special memories for us.

What does curling teach kids like Joanne who play at a young age? 

Dale: A curling team is only four players, so the team dynamics are much different than hockey teams or basketball teams. Curling teaches kids about their responsibility to the team, to the importance of committing for the season. 

The game itself is played over at least two hours, so patience is involved, too. When the game is not going your way, you have to learn to control yourself emotionally, to set little goals for yourself. Emotional control is so important because the game is not over until it’s over. Kids have to learn that their body language on the ice affects their teammates. It teaches young people about sportsmanship. So I think curling really does teach a lot of life skill lessons for young people.

Joanne: I will add there is kind of a leadership element to it as well, one that doesn’t necessarily have to come solely from the skill position, like a captain. Every player in curling has a unique role, so they need to be able to bring positivity to their position. Curling has really helped me in many aspects in life, knowing that I can bring something positive to a team or group of friends, or just collaborate well with whoever I work with.

Is it challenging for kids to acquire those self-regulation and interpersonal skills in curling? 

Dale: Yes, and you see it in the youngsters when they’re first starting out. We have a lot of broom banging when kids don’t make their shots or the game isn’t going their way. I think that’s why Jo likes the sweeping aspect to the game rather skip because sweeping offers an emotional release.

Joanne: Absolutely I was a broom slammer. I’ve slowly moved away from it, but every now and then I’ll still let one slip. So self awareness and being able to use strategies to work through that frustration, because you still got another rock to throw or you’ve got six other rocks that you have to have to play. You have to learn to be able to forget quickly. Curling has been the catalyst that has helped me learn that whenever I am stressed or any kind of anxiety comes up, my best release is any kind of physical activity. 

Now that you are both adults, what is it like curling on the same team? 

Joanne: We have been able to play together since I was 10. And now into my 30s being able to do that still and at a fairly good level has been a ton of fun. We could be continuing to do this for the next 20 years if mom wants to. It’s creating memories. We talk about bonspiels and events all the time around the dinner table. I think one thing we do have to be careful is that not everyone in the family curls so not that our dinners shouldn’t be solely about curling, but it does tend to happen.

One thing that’s unique about playing together is that we’ve watched each other play, well, for my entire life, at least, and so we know what it looks like when each other has a really good throw. We are able to provide that deep level of feedback. 

Dale: For me, there’s not too many people that I would even ask about how I’m throwing. Jo’s coaching and training has given her as much of a critical eye as I have, I would say. So I trust the feedback I’m getting from her, probably more than anybody else in the club.

When I’m skipping and Jo’s throwing I trying to give her feedback as to what I’m seeing. I can be far more direct with Jo, and possibly not always as positive, in part because most other people are not curling at the same level that Jo is. So I think, maybe that comes with the territory—the higher elite curlers want more direct feedback.

Joanne: Once in awhile it’d be nice to know that I’m doing something right, mom! [laughs]

But, yeah, every game we play is an opportunity to practice and to learn. Mom has a very important competition coming up, so I have been trying to use these games to remind her of habits for keeping sharp. It’s a long season, and you can get what we call “lazy on technique.” So, I help to support her competitive game when we play.

Are there advantages or disadvantages playing together as mother and daughter?

Joanne: Like any kind of teammate, any relationship dynamic, you’re going to have good days and you’re going to have your bad days. There’s the odd day that we’re really not on the same page, and there’s frustration there. But I think, because we’re family, it rolls off the shoulder, so we’re like, “All right well, love ya.”

Having played with mom and watching her, I know her body language and style of strategy. When it comes to calling shots not a whole lot has to be said at times. But I’m also really comfortable at letting her know when I don’t think that’s the call here, and we should go with something else.

Dale: We know each other so well that I think that, at times, our emotions aren’t as much in check with each other as they would be with another teammate. We can be more raw with each other. If I’m in a bad mood, Joanne’s going to know about it, whereas if it was another teammate they may not know that I was in a bad mood as much.

Why is curling a good sport for fitness and health? 

Dale: Curling is a wonderful sport to get involved in from a social aspect and from a fitness aspect. It is something you can do at any time during your life that you know we can adapt body types, to the skill at any at any age.

Joanne: Yes, the incredible thing about it is that you can start when you’re five or you can start when you’re 60. It’s a welcoming sport—there’s a spot for everybody in curling. And it’s more of a workout than most people think actually! I know when I come up from sweeping I’m usually huffing and puffing and working to get my heart rate back down.

The amount of empowerment that really comes with playing as a female I think is a ton of fun, because we can play the game right alongside the men, right alongside anybody. It really doesn’t really make a difference who you are in this sport. Everyone can play.

How important are role models for women who curl? 

Joanne: Growing up as a young female we always were able to watch the Scotties, which is the national curling event. It always had air time and it was on every single year, and I think that’s unique when it comes to women in sport. For young girls who are playing hockey, I feel like the only time they get to see their idols play is every four years of the Olympics. So I felt very fortunate that I got to watch my idols every year compete at the Scotties and they’ve just constantly been adding women’s events to slams. Today, it seems like once a month you’re watching women on TV play. Other women play on TV, so I had something to watch and strive for.

Dale: I sort of went through the same thing when I was growing up. My mother ran the junior program at our club. I played with my mother in a regular league at the club for many, many years, and we did bonspiels together. It’s part of our family tradition that we’ve grown up with, and I’ve learned that nothing has to stop curling! I remember when my brother and I would miss our family Christmas dinners because we’d be playing or training and it was never really questioned. We were supported.

No matter what your life situation is, you should still be able to play. I curled when I was pregnant. As long as you’re healthy, you can just modify your delivery a bit so there’s no issue. I mean your body balance is actually lower as you go through your pregnancy, so it makes it quite easy really as long as you’re healthy and can keep your leg strength up. It’s great!

Joanne: Yeah I blame mum for my cold hands and feet, nowadays, because she played so long into her pregnancy with me that I was so close to the ice all the time!

What’s one piece of advice you have for each other about curling? 
Elan, Joanne, and Dale

Dale: I just hope that if Jo wants to continue her competitive path that she’s able to find a team that can showcase her talent, whether she makes it to the Scotties or whatever. I hope she continues to love the game and pursue what she loves. Whether it takes her to a high competitive area, or to continue doing club curling, she should do what she is passionate about.

Joanne: For mom’s upcoming competition, I’d say just soak up the experience! I know how competitive my mom is because I get it from her. So I say enjoy it and not worry too much about the wins and losses. They’re going to come either way because it’s sport and it happens. You’re playing on a world stage, so make memories and enjoy every single moment of fun.

Oh, and have a good sharp release every time.

See the full video recording of our interview [32:50].

fitness

What Improvement Awards Can Mean

MIP in Sports

Even if you don’t play team sports, you probably recognize awards like Rookie of the Year, Most Valuable Player (MVP), and Most Improved Player (MIP). These individual awards typically celebrate the distinguished performance of an athlete (over others of a similar skill level) in a game, competition, tournament, or season.

I wanted to learn a little more about the MIP award (reason forthcoming), so using a random Google search I found some MIP award criteria from various sports sites:

  • hard work and dedication (sports-net.org)
  • productivity, contribution to team success, efficiency (WMBA)
  • work ethic, determination, positive attitude in improving skills (GCMHA)
  • “made the most significant strides in their game as a player” (upsidehoops)
  • “the most progress during the regular season compared to previous seasons” (NBA)
a yellow ribbon on a blue background
Photo by Brands&People on Unsplash

It seems the criteria for MIP varies depending on the sport and what improvement looks like in that sport. MIP can recognize either effort or skill, attitude or performance, team or individual success, etc. Some awards require at least one additional year of play for comparison, while others do not.

What’s the difference between MVP and MIP? While the former recognizes “the best of everyone else,” the latter is more like “the best of everyone else at doing their own best.”

MIP is a Group Effort

By now you might have guessed–I was recently given a MIP award (through a vote cast by the team Skips in the Monday night league of the St. Thomas Curling Club). I started playing and learning about curling when the COVID pandemic first started. When my name was announced at our year-end banquet, I gave an awkwardly unprepared speech, took an all-smiles picture with the big club trophy, and sent a photo of my take-home trophy to my mom.

I’m writing about my MIP award not as a humble-brag but because it got me thinking about what else MIP can mean. This award celebrates an athlete’s best of their best, but it takes others to bring out out the best in them. When a team player noticeably improves, there is a team behind them fostering that improvement. Even competitors support the learning and growth process!

These are belated realizations for me: I’ve been mostly academic and not sporty, starting when I scored on my own team’s basketball net (and was benched for the rest of the season) in Grade 7. Decades later, until recently I haven’t played many team sports. I have neither belonged to a sports club nor been nominated for a sports award.

But now, after two years with the curling club and playing on a consistent team, I have a better sense of how my athletic abilities can develop a result of the patience, time, modelling, suggestions, corrections, and praise of others.

What the Award Means to Me

I have curled with a highly experienced and patient Skip (Dale Curtis), a positive and understanding 3rd (Joanne Tarvit), and a sweet and supportive Second (Mary-Ellen Bolt). All the other league players are kind and helpful, and our club leaders tirelessly volunteer to make regular league play and extra events happen. I couldn’t have improved at curling without all these people. I didn’t win MIP over anyone else; I won because of everyone else.

Elan Paulson holding a trophy behind a fireplace at the St. Thomas Curling Club. Photo by Elan Paulson.
Okay, so now here IS a little humble-brag: me and the big MIP in-house club trophy.

So, I’m gonna say this year I won not the MIP but the MBP: Most Benefitted Player. I benefitted the most from all those around me as I learned how to do the best of my best at curling this year. If you have ever curled with or against me and you are reading this—that means I have improved thanks to you.

advice · fitness · health · hiking · meditation · nature

Hiking with a Book

I almost always go on 2 to 3-hour hikes with friends. I enjoy the great conversation topics, the companionship, and the treats we often enjoy together afterwards.

But one recent morning, and for the first time, I found myself wanting to go on a solo hike outside. Because I also enjoy the company of books, I decided to bring one with me.

The place

three trees and water (The Thames River, London, Ontario)
Spring! Photo by Elan Paulson

Hiking with a book is not exactly like reading in your backyard or on a deck. One of the best parts about hiking with a book is that you have find a spot to read. While I was outside primarily for exercise, I was also side-questing for the best place to stop. On the hill or by the water? On a rock or a log? Behind or facing the sun?

Once I hiked as far as I had wanted to go, I doubled back and settled on the best of my mentally shortlisted spots: a great, flat tree stump that was surrounded by trees but also eye-line to the river. It was perfect!

The book

On sites like Bustle and Goodreads, and on blogs like thehikinglife there are lists and lists of books to take along hiking and backpacking. But I am mostly a short-distance hiker who is not really drawn to stories about radical feats of extreme hiking.

Cover of One Story, One Song, by Richard Wagamese

Instead, I brought a book I had just bought: One Story, One Song (2015) by Ojibway author Richard Wagamese. He is one of my favourite writers, and it was a happy coincidence to read Wagamese’s reflections on what he has learned from the land while being on the land myself.

The experience

Out in the crisp spring air, on my solo hike I savoured both the hike itself and anticipation of stopping to read.

When I sat and read, I paused between chapters under the section titled “Humility,” which put into relief some of the petty challenges that had wound me up over the past week. As I looked at the water and listened to the little birds chirping and flitting around me, I thought quietly about my own humility.

When I resumed the rest of my hike, book in pocket, I set some positive intentions for the upcoming week based on what I had read and thought about. In the middle of my busy week, I plan to find some quiet time by recalling what I had read and where I was when I read it.

So, this week I discovered how outdoor reading that is “bookended” by some alone hiking time can be replenishing for both body and mind. I definitely recommend it!

Do you hike with books? What do you read, and where?

curling · team sports

In Praise of Rec Sports Volunteers

I like to express gratitude for things (like scrimmage) when I think more deeply about the positive impact they have had on my health and well being. Today, I want to praise recreation sports volunteers.

Elan smiles holding up a bottle of syrup, with the curling sheets behind her
Elan with her syrup.

I recently attended my first Sugar Shack curling tournament, called a bonspiel, as a member of the St. Thomas Curling Club. The bonspiel is named after the Eastern Canadian sugar shacks (in French, cabane à sucre) where sap is collected from sugar maple trees and boiled down into delicious maple syrup.

On bonspiel day, I played two games with my team, enjoyed chatting our opponents in the lounge afterwards, was served a delicious chilli lunch, and left with a big ol’ bottle of maple syrup. It was a great way to spend a winter Saturday.

Only after the bonspiel did I reflect on how smoothly the event ran, even with COVID restrictions still in place. Volunteers from the club took entry fee payment, assigned our teams’ sheets and times, and sold 50/50 fundraising tickets. They served food, cleaned up glasses and lunch dishes, and sanitized tables as people moved in and out of the lounge throughout the day. They kept scores, calculated winners, and gave away prizes. This amazing group of volunteers helped to make the event seamless and enjoyable for participants.

When have I noticed volunteers who support rec sports before? I think back to playing Pee-Wee softball as a kid, imagining there must have been many adults putting in time and effort to make our ball games happen each week. Among the volunteers was my mom–wrapped in blankets to brace against the Calgary spring weather–keeping score every game. She and other caregivers used the little free time they had to ensure we kids could run around outside and gain some important team skills.

In fact, it’s a bit overwhelming to think about the sheer number of volunteers that make children and adult rec sports happen worldwide. In villages, towns, and cities everywhere, people are showing up to sit on boards, apply for funding, coach teams, serve as referees or linespeople, organize events, take tickets, run concession, clean up afterwards, do the accounting. Some positions are paid, but I bet in most cases the time and effort outpace the financial compensation.

I could make a wild proposition and suggest that all volunteers should be paid. (For more of my economically unrealistic ideas, see my post on free exercise). But then I wonder whether the spirit of volunteerism–why people serve in the first place–gives people something that money couldn’t quite match. Maybe it’s not about the compensation: folks volunteers to support their family and friends, participate in a social activity, and give back to a sport that they love.

The word “volunteer” is from the Latin voluntariusvoluntary, of one’s free will,” which according to the etymology website was first used in the 14th century to refer to feelings rather than to action. To volunteer is an act the heart; one must have the will to serve others before the work itself gets done. Volunteering for rec sports is a labour of love.

I am so grateful to all those people who have volunteered in rec sports for my benefit (past and present); they laboured so I could have fun. How might I repay them for their efforts? Going forward, I could send notes of thanks, donate money to support volunteer programs, or carve out time to volunteer for rec sports myself.

At next year’s Sugar Shack bonspiel, it might just be sweeter to give out maple syrup than to receive it.

a hand hovers over a plastic tabletop curling sheet
Some curling lounge fun (i.e., more curling) with my team and our opponents between games.

What’s your take on volunteering in rec sports? If you volunteer, why do you do it?