fitness

Middle aged menstruation: an update

So one year ago exactly I wrote a post about being 53 and a half and still menstruating.  It remains one of the most read and commented on posts of all time on this blog.

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Clearly, I hit a nerve.

A uterine nerve.

red tentI think it’s because we don’t really know what to think if we’re middle aged menstruators.  What are our cultural touchstones?  Where is our Are you there God? It’s Me, Margaret.  Where is our Red Tent?  

I’m joking, but I’m pointing to something important.  If we are still menstruating vigorously at 53 or 54 (as I am, at this very moment, I might add), what version of womanhood are we enacting?  We have no models, no icons — just our own rarely acknowledged experience and absurd calculations (my math tells I’m on something like my 14000th tampon across my life span).

russian-nesting-doll_2634595This is an invisible version of female embodiment.  There is wide cultural exploration of the notion of the invisibility of aging women, but this is like a Russian nesting doll of invisibility within invisibility.  I have reached the age where I’m not seen as a potentially mate-able female by the broader world, but no one told my uterus, which is continuing to thicken and shed, thicken and shed, a door opening and closing on a motion sensor triggered by a random bird flying around on the periphery.

Last year my post about still menstruating was kind of chipper.  Hey, being a late menopause-er is actually good for your longevity, and for your heart and bone health!  Maybe the estrogen is keeping me energized and my skin young!  I may have better brain function and memory longer!

A year later, I don’t feel quite so chipper about this.  I feel fatigued, more hormonally anxious, more crampy.  Like it’s a guest I had a great time with the first night, but now they just won’t. leave.  And they’ve started snoring.

The cultural tropes around period identity are all about the glory of fertile womanhood.  Margaret and her bust-improving pals, the ladies of the Red Tent — their bonding is around their fertility, their tie to the moon and the earth, the Power of Woman to Give Life (or, in the suburbs of the 1970s, kiss boys for the first time).  But for us middle aged menstruators, it’s a paradoxical identity.  Our tie is about the absence of an absence.  It’s the persistence of something that has outlasted its usefulness, something we don’t talk about.  Even our physicians just shrug and acknowledge that we are outliers, no harm, no foul, no meaning.

So what is there to learn in this limbo, in this absence?  What is our Red Tent?  In this space between crone and fertility goddess, where are we? Where do we foregather?  What do we uniquely know?

I’m not sure how to say it exactly, but I think one of the things I know because of this is something about a meta-view on what drives me, what makes me happy, what makes me fearful and anxious.  My particular extended dance version of peri-menopause is that the time that used to be occupied by a kind of cranky but predictable PMS now brings fatigue and, often, a kind of hormonal anxiety storm.  These moments seem to fuse the weepiness and disorientation of puberty combined with a deep knowledge about adult darkness and fear for the world.  Susan and I often commiserate about this, sort of joking that this feels like when we were 13, but now we have “real problems” — and the spiral of hormonal anxiety can bring a kind of existential despair about the world, along with wakeful insomnia where we can’t imagine getting through the tasks of the next day.

But we’re in our 50s.  And even as we’re experiencing them, we know those storms will pass, that the force is temporary and its weight an illusion.  Climate change and the state of global politics isn’t — but we know we’ll be able to cope with it, again, in the morning.  But there is knowledge to be distilled from the anxieties that make themselves known.  When we let ourselves stay in the eye of it, we see real wisdom, the deepest questions and yearnings about who we are, who we can be.

The great thing about being 54 and having a few tools at our disposal is that we then have the capacity to look at those moments and reflect, understand what we want and who we are more fully, more deeply.  And we have the strength, the force of will, the — dare I say, grit — to do something with that knowledge.

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I remember once, when I was in my early 30s, having dinner with a woman who was turning 50, and I asked her what she had learned she would want to share with younger women.  The question made her uncomfortable and sort of pissed off.  I think it was the first time I really realized that the wisdom that “comes with age” also requires engagement with self-reflectiveness, clarity about what aging is meaning to us.  And if we don’t have that, aging makes us feel only loss, deterioration, fear.

I have long appreciated the notion that women’s , 60s and 70s can be a “gift of time” – a space to be creative and fully authentic, unleashed from roles and rules.  I am coming to believe that this time of straddling of fertility/menopause can be a gift of self-reflexivity.  The hormones, the cramps, the fatigue — they’re not fun.  They’re not the journey to self-reflection I might choose.  But their noisiness helps me not ignore things I should be paying attention to. What do I want to be doing as I enter the semi-retirement decade?  What IS my legacy?  How can I navigate the world with grace?  Where am I operating out of fear or safety, and how can I change that?  How do I want to care for my body as it ages?

What about you?  Are you over 50 and still having periods?  And what meaning are you making of it?

 

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Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives, works, and cramps in Toronto.  She coloured her hair grey last week but still can’t make it look the way it did when she left the salon.

 

 

 

 

 

fitness

Why I like lifting heavy things

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The mirror in our locker room says Never Apologize for Being Strong

I took up a New Thing in the past six months:  a feminist version of cross-fit style workouts, which I’ve written about here and here.  It’s literally the first thing I’ve ever been willing to get up to do at 7 am.  I’m a wee bit obsessed — because it’s given me a whole new, unexpected fitness identity.  Despite a 25 year history with running, yoga, cycling, spinning and a healthy acquaintance with the gym, until I turned 54, I’d never lifted heavy things.

squat2We had a “summer of strong” program at my gym (a woman-only, small class space called Move whose philosophy I love).  At the end of six weeks, we spent two weeks testing our heavy lifts.

Over those test days, in deep concentration on alignment and form, I danced with higher and higher weights.  I partnered with a tiny blonde woman young enough to be my daughter to encourage each other to deadlift way more than we ever imagined (10 lbs more than my body weight), back squatted and benchpressed higher and higher numbers, and most memorably, tangoed with Kelly, the founder of our studio, who is just returning from having a baby — to keep adding increments to our strictpress as the community around us cheered us on.

img_9292Strict press means lifting a barbell up above your head with just your upper body strength — no force or movement from your lower body.  It’s hard.  Numbers don’t build quickly.  It’s the nemesis move for many people in their lifting.  (You can see from my face in this oh-so-flattering pic how hard it is).

The purity of strict press appeals to me, even though I’m not “good at it.”  And that moment where Kelly and I were poking each other gently forward, each of us reaching the height of 3 x 65 lbs — it was emotional.  For me, because it made me feel stronger than I ever have in my life.  For her, because she really felt her strength for the first time after pregnancy, birth, post-partum hormones, sleepless nights. This little video where you can hear our community encouraging us tells you something about that feeling.

The video also ends with me slamming the bar against the rack, as my coach is encouraging me to do — “like a teenage boy, not a dainty lady.”

IMG_9296I was chuffed to add my numbers over the two weeks of testing to the community chalkboard — and I also started querying *why* this newfound strength feels so very important to me.  Even though I like watching the numbers add up, like that little stretch for more, it’s about a lot more than my predilection for counting things.

There is something that feels… renegade… being a 54 year old (who’s still menstruating, by the way) becoming stronger than I’ve ever been in my life.  It’s like I’m strutting up to all of the things that are changing in my body and life because of aging (insert long list here) and saying yup, I get that, no problem, I’m with ya, but hey, I still have some magic to unfold here.

My body has changed.  I don’t think anyone would look at my lined face and not recognize I’m in my 50s.  I’ve gained weight in the past couple of years in the predictable middle-50s way, the thickening of the middle — and since I’ve started working out at this gym, gained a few more pounds in muscle.  My jeans don’t fit.  That number on the scale is significantly higher than it’s been since I first embarked on being a fit person when I was 30.

I don’t look like I did when I was 40 — heck, I don’t look like I did when I was 52 — but I am finding I am starting to love the way I look.  (I don’t like my clothes not fitting, but I solved that problem a month ago).  I like looking in the mirror at the gym and knowing that I feel comfortable knotting my top up even though I’m thicker through the middle.  I love the fact that I can see muscle in my shoulders and my arms.  I love the ripples in my legs.  I feel like I have a trunk, like I have roots, like my branches can hold anything I hang off them.

Lizzie O’Shea wrote a piece for the Guardian last year exploring the relationship between feminism and the small victories and empowerment of weight training.  I particularly liked her description of what happens as we become stronger and more muscular:

“[Strength from lifting heavy weights] is about expanding out. A large butt is an achievement; thick thighs are not a source of shame; arms that strain the seams are an accomplishment. Rather than seeing your body through the lens of others, you feel it swell and harden under the quixotic influence of your own agency. When I started to lift heavy, my clothing began to feel tight – less because I was using it to keep my embarrassing bits in, and more because my muscly parts were busting out.”

IMG_9380That “quixotic influence of your own agency” is what I’m feeling.  I’m in my 50s, but I’m really in my body, owning it.  Not fighting time — riding it.  Finding out what’s true now, today.  And how I can play with that truth.

And what’s true?  I can learn a whole new way of relating to my body. I can lift more than my body weight.  I can almost benchpress my youngest sister.  I can hold my own body upside down on my hands for more than a minute.

It’s a new kind of honesty.  When I’m standing in front of a barbell with 135 lbs I’ve just deadlifted and I’m trying to decide if I can add another 10 lbs, I have to be brutally honest with myself.  I know if I overreach, I could hurt myself.  I have to know what I’m truly capable of, what’s a good stretch and what’s ego or stupidity.  I have to walk that line between wanting to know — really KNOW — the limits of my physical strength — and the tempting narrative of “wouldn’t 150 lbs be a freaking awesome number to write on that board?”

It feels like a pure kind of honesty about what’s at the essence of my strength.   As Sam wrote about last week, at this point in our lives, there are some things that just are behind us, regardless of willpower or training or effort.  I’m never going to run fast or far again, and my metabolism is just plain slower, and my skin is only going to get more lined and weathered, and I wonder if I’m ever going to sleep well — really sleep — ever again.  I’m slower, I’m heavier, I’m tired. But my body is showing me something from the inside out — I have roots, I have branches, I have a strong powerful trunk.

IMG_9476As O’Shea wrote in her piece, this confidence expands outward.  On Tuesday, I also cut off my hair and coloured it grey.  Yes, a trendy, expensive, chrome version of grey, but grey nonetheless.  I wanted to see how it felt.  Turns out, it makes me feel even stronger.

I’ll keep playing.

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives and lifts heavy things in Toronto.   

 

 

 

fitness

Grit, part 2: taking charge of my own bike

Last week, I wrote about our cycling trip to Newfoundland, which was, as Sam put it, an “immersive experience.”  The riding was tough but all consuming, the land was gorgeous, and the overall effect was to lift us completely out of the things that dominate our daily lives.

In my post, I called the force that takes over in this kind of experience “grit” — the dig-deep, find-your-animal kind of movement.  Finding that grit also gave me the push to tackle something I’ve been avoiding my whole life:  putting my bike back together after we got home.

I think of myself as a pretty committed bike rider, ever since I first got on a bike when I was 7 and took off for independent explorations.  But one thing I’ve never been confident about was the mechanics of it all.  I’m going to confess something now that I can’t believe I’m going to admit:  as much as I fight this, I have a deep-rooted inner dialogue — a barely conscious bias — that fixing your bike isn’t something girls do.  In my queer landscape, this translates into “this is a butch thing” — and I have a story that it’s not something I can do.

The bonkers thing is, I happily do many things that can be described as “butch” things — I have power tools, I drill things, I assemble things, I lift heavy things, I chop wood, I climb ladders and fences to hang things, I rewire light fixtures, I fondly stroke visible muscles on my legs and arms.  There is no other area of my life where I make an internal division between masculine/feminine things and decide that I “can’t do” the masculine thing.  (Well, except for wearing a tux or a masculine-cut suit — I do not suit this look).

I know this about myself, and have fought it — but the bike mechanics thing is my nemesis.  Two years ago, I spent a day doing a one-on-one basic bike mechanics course with an excellent not-male bike mechanic, and I have all the tools and manuals and good intentions.  But even doing that, my quiet internal story was, “oh, if my bike breaks on the road, I can always get someone to take me to a bike shop.”

Here is another confession:  I have never replaced a tube.  I know *how*, and I have assisted at many, but the one time I tried to do it on my own — about 20 years ago — I wrestled with the tire jacks getting the tired back on and ended up punching myself in the mouth and then taking it to the corner bike shop.

I expressed some of this anxiety on our first night in NFLD when we were eating dinner before tackling the assembly of my bike (I was the last to arrive).  I had paid my bike shop to pack mine up for shipping, with the rationalization that it was a brand new bike and they could tweak some things at the same time.  And now I had a bike-in-a-box that I had to ride 92 km the next day.  “It’s so surprising you have this anxiety,” said Sam or Sarah or Susan.  “I KNOW!” I said.  “So who’s going to help me put it together?”

Sarah led the putting of my bike together, while I held things and encouraged her, and Sam sat on the folding camp chair and read us what we were going to do the next day until the mosquitoes drove her inside.  (Susan quite handily put her own bike together).

Sarah and I had a few confusing moments because the disk brakes with thru axles made putting my back wheel back on a bit weird — but I just thought, “oh Sarah’s an engineer, she’ll figure this out.”  Letting go of the accountability altogether.

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When I rode the bike around the parking lot to test it out, it felt like magic. My bike was in pieces, and now it was a bike again. A magic a “person like me” wasn’t capable of.

At some point during our trip, when I was singing the praises of my new bike, Sam asked if I’d start bringing my own bike when I traveled instead of renting. “Yes!” I said.  But my anxious inner dialogue was: but I’ll never be able to put it together myself.

Somewhere amid all the road and emotional grit of our ride, that anxiety transformed into determination. On the night before we left, I first asked Sarah to help me again, to pack my bike up this time.. Then something clicked and I thought, I’ll just see how far I get.

Packing up the bike behind our motel room wasn’t super fun. The foam wrapping bits kept flying around the parking lot, the case kept falling shut on my head, and I struggled to figure out how to get the back wheel to drop out. Figuring out exactly how to pack it in the rented case was a bit of a puzzle, and it didn’t look as tidy as it had when my bike shop did it.  And found myself adjusting some cable that wanted to poke out when I had to open it at the airport security the next day. But I did it.

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(Those are Susan’s wheels in the background).

IMG_9148The whole flight home, I had a thrum of anxiety. Was it safe? Could I put it back together? Or would I do something irrevocable and ruin my perfect, intrepid companion Gudridor?

The case arrived intact, but I put off opening it for two days.  Then, suddenly, I was determined. So were the cats.

The process was not… simple.  It was all unfamiliar, like trying to cook in someone else’s kitchen with random utensils picked up by the side of the road.  I found the fork weirdly slidey, and then I put it on backwards (which I didn’t realize until much later).  The front wheel went on fine, and then… the back wheel.

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The chain looked like this –>

Just in case you’re not familiar with bikes, it’s not supposed to look like that.

I cannot overstate how long it took me to unravel the mystery of this looped chain (a thing that apparently happens when you let your chain go slack).  There were texts to Sarah, a youtube video she found for me, a phone call with my brother in law, and some unhelpful advice from my neighbour as I sweated over it in the hot sun on my terrace.  (“Your hands are really dirty!” he observed).

Three clues got me through it:  Sarah’s assurance that if I hadn’t taken the chain off to screw it up, I wouldn’t have to take it off to fix it; the cute british guy in the video telling me it meant up had become down and vice versa; and my brother in law saying, start with the derailleur and then go from there.

I finally got the chain set to rights, and then wrestled with the back wheel, trying to figure out where the eff I actually needed to stick the cogs into the chain to make it all work.

Sarah suggested I look at my road bike to see how *that* situation all worked.

Literally for more than an hour, I had my road bike and my touring bike up on their faces in my living room, trying to figure out just how to move the derailleur — surprisingly sproingy! — to get the wheel on.

My brother in law tried to walk me through it on the phone, but he was calling me from his motorcycle, which I disapproved of, so I decided to give up.  I sat on the couch and had a gin and tonic and looked at my upended bike for a while.  Then I went to bed.

Sarah texted me to ask if I’d fixed it.  I admitted I’d given up.

But something clicked.  I didn’t want to be that person.

I got up, stripped off my jammies, put on the grease-streaked gloves, and within three minutes, found the correct angle.

Click, whirrrrrrrr, flllllllk.

That was when I noticed the front and back brakes were on different sides, and the front wires were twisty — how could I not notice this?   I unscrewed the handlebars, flipped the fork around to the right direction, put on the seat — and there it was.  A bike, again.

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The next day, I rode it 20 km.  It worked.  I made a bike.

Grit. Getting under your skin and dislodging old, useless stories.

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Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who blogs here two or three times a month, and who knows she should take the wheel on and off a whole bunch of times just to feel really confident.  She’s working up to that.

 

 

fitness

Grit (part 1?)

As Sam has posted, a bunch of us went on a bike trip in Newfoundland last week.  It was an awe-inspiring trip in many ways.  First, the place is just stunning — it’s pretty in that “this is almost too lovely and quaint and inviting to be true” kind of way:

 

 

 

But it’s also stunning in a primal, earth-at-its-essence kind of way.

 

 

More than all of that, I remain awed that we actually rode what we rode.

Newfoundland is a place of grit, the first place Europeans are known to have landed in North America (Norse people nearly 500 years before Columbus), a place that has been home to countless generations of indigenous people (gone now for the most part because of settler genocide), a place of people who have made life and culture out of fishing and the sea, and who have weathered poverty, the collapse of the cod fishery, an unforgiving climate and remain notoriously generous, welcoming, kind.

It only makes sense that riding in Newfoundland requires a pretty significant helping of grit.  Our total trip, from Deer Lake to L’Anse aux Meadows (the viking settlement), was more than 600 km — 600 hilly, cold, wet, windy, insect-ful kilometres.

I’m a pretty strong rider, and I have this fancy new adventure bike (which I love — more about this later!), and I’m known for my persistence.  And I found some of these rides unbelievably hard.  And when you are climbing more than 1300 m over a 92 km day, or riding 87 km in an average temperature of 3 degrees C, mostly soaking wet and freezing, or engaged in a primal, solo battle with trickster, murderous cross-winds — on these rides, you do have to wonder — why do this?

This question was a frequent topic on the road for me and Susan.  It wasn’t the kind of riding where it was easy to ride side by side chatting, most of the time, but we did have a running dialogue about “why are we doing this, exactly?”  

There are certainly some facile answers to this question — I wanted to be with people I love and enjoy, I wanted to see a part of the country I’ve always been drawn to, I wanted to see L’anse aux meadows, which has captured my imagination since I was 10, I like an active holiday.  But there are bike trips and there are Bike Trips.  There is riding gently on the Tuscan coast and staying in crumbling, sun-kissed inns, and there is riding through rain and cold and swarms of midges and mosquitoes, eating a sandwich in a ditch, battling with wearying wind, and then cooking your own food and sleeping in a tent. This is not for everyone.

 

On many of the hours on this trip, I went into my sort of head-down, high efficiency, total flow-focus that marks my particular brand of grit.  (The thing that, in a past version of me, made me an excellent marathoner).  I can pedal past the “this is uncomfortable, wow there are icy rivers in my shoes, is this what hypoTHERMIA feels like, OMG these effing black flies, this wind is going to throw me in the ditch and no one will ever find my body” internal dialogue and just dip into the essential part of me, where physical and emotional strength meet and thought becomes secondary.  I can tap into the part of me that is animal, just engaged with moving, the outside world, the potential inside me.

This is the flow that evokes the wisdom our guide repeated many times when I climbed Kilimanjaro 10 years ago:  “The mountain is the mountain.  Today is today.”

There aren’t many places — or ways of moving through places — that summon up that sense of absolute presence.  And I need it.

I keep thinking that this kind of grit-pushing effort comes down to knowing why you are riding your own road. And conversely, riding this hard road can teach you what that meaning is. Fighting with wind, fighting fatigue, finding your untapped grit, hours on the bike — it clarifies things.

For me, it clarifies how important it is for me to get in flow with that grit-version of me.  I don’t need to live there all the time — after the wettest, coldest day, Susan and I took a day off and got a ride to the next town and a tour of the area and all its history and tragedies with Steve’s dad Bill.  That was good.  And I was ready to get back on the bike the next day for our longest day.

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Grit.  Not good in your shoes, but good in your soul.

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Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives and rides in Toronto.  This is a picture of her on a nice little hike on a day off riding on this trip — look how serene she looks.  She likes to count things, and this is her 100th post for this blog.

 

 

 

 

body image · clothing · femalestrength · fitness

Making peace with our changing bodies

“When you get thin again, can I have your bigger clothes?”

Someone at a party asked one of my friends that last week.  If I squint really hard and ignore toxic body shaming culture, I might be able to imagine that this person thought she was giving my friend a compliment.  “That’s a great outfit!  You’re such a fit person you’ll lose that baby weight just like that!  You’re so pretty in that — I wish I looked like you!”  I guess?

My friend is a fitness instructor, a former body builder, and someone who has fought disordered eating, body shaming and body obsession for a long time.  Her mission is to support women to love their bodies for what they can do, whatever shape or ability that is, to help them build emotional and physical strength.  She’s absolutely beautiful, luminous and kind, inside and out.

She had a baby six weeks ago.  She worked out throughout her pregnancy in a careful way, had a healthy birth and gorgeous wee baby, and has worked hard to love and be at peace with her larger body.  She went to that party feeling like she looked great.

And this one comment completely knocked the breath out of her, shredded the colourful, silken threads of self love she’d spun, painstakingly, one at a time.

***

HM The Queen Attends Trooping The ColourBody shaming and body policing are so much a part of our culture that a lot of the time, we don’t even notice them, unless they are shockingly overt — like this gym in Connecticut that sent out an email telling its customers to grab their excess flesh and imagine what that would look like in summer photos — “god forbid, a side pic sitting down!” — or the dank pockets of the celebrity internet that define women only through their bodies and competition.  I won’t link to these places, but one of this week’s headlines speaks for them all:  With the spotlight strong, can Duchess Meghan outdo Kate Middleton’s success in restoring her pre-baby body?

Most of these moments are so woven into our day to day lives that they’re noteworthy only when they hit us right in the most tender parts of our souls.  But whether or not we notice them, they twist how we experience ourselves.  And even when we have huge feminist reflexivity about this, we still get entangled.

***

Over the past few months, I’ve been committing some of those body shaming microaggressions on myself.  I’m 54.  I’m not quite menopausal, but Things are Definitely Changing in my body.  I’m fit and active — I’ve worked out 148 times so far this year, and am well on my way to hitting 300 or more again for the year.  I’m loving feminist crossfit, and training on a sweet new bike for this trip I’m doing with Susan, Sam, Sarah and others in Newfoundland in two weeks. 

But I’ve also gained weight this year.  Even though several people have commented on how “buff” I look from the crossfit, have said I look fit — even hot — all I see is a heavier, thicker middle.  My clothes don’t fit — not my favourite jeans, or a lot of my work clothes.  I’ve become that middle aged woman wearing crossfit shoes, leggings, a flowy top and an Interesting Scarf to everything.  It’s disheartening to have to shove piece after piece of clothing back into the closet.  And I’ve taken to making comments about myself that chastise myself for the weight gain.  Out loud.  To others.  You know the ones.

I know in my head that I’m fit and strong.  I have a lot of joy from moving my body.  I know that some of my weight gain is muscle, and some of it is being 54 and endlessly menstruating.  Because I’m still having mostly regular periods at this advanced age, I seem to be always experiencing the PMS-y hormones that make me bloated.  I also have some gut issues that contribute to bloatiness.  (And god knows, I probably sleep with the light on).

And at the same time, I’m in the “menopausal transition,” which includes, as this study puts it, “unfavorable alterations in body composition, which abruptly worsen at the onset of the menopausal transition and then abate in postmenopause.”  Those “unfavorable alterations” are basically an increase in fat mass in the average woman that doubles every year for the key time of menopause (about three years), and a loss of lean mass.

Our bodies change when we’re 12 or so, and it’s unnerving then. Pregnancy is a hormonal carnival.  A few people’s bodies seem to experience birth and breastfeeding without any noticeable lingering effect, but most are changed in some way forever.  The waxing and waning of hormones affects our mental health, our energy, our appetites, our sleep, our metabolism, our immune systems.   Peri-menopause is another unpredictable extravaganza, and then there is all of the older life stuff.  There is no “set point.”  It’s dynamic, always.

That is life, and this is what my body is at this stage of my life.  Just like my post-partum friend’s body is what it is.  There is no “back to normal” — there is only forward, aging, changing bodies, and the challenge of loving ourselves as we are, finding our fierce warrior selves.

The force of all of this shows up in so many ways. My friend said this morning “I don’t mind my bigger body but I hate that none of my clothes look good, and I can’t afford to buy new clothes right now.”

Not fitting into my clothes is a big trigger for me, too.  After she said that, I had a warrior moment.  (Well, a warrior moment with a credit card.  I’m privileged in that I can afford this, right now).  I  went on a mission to my favourite store that features affordable Canadian designers.  I decided I was going to leave with a wardrobe of work and dressy casual clothes that made me feel good in my body, felt good on my body, inspired me.  I realized I hadn’t actually bought new warm weather work clothes in about three years, always waiting for that moment when my other clothes would fit me again.

I bought five dresses, two pairs of leggings and two tops.  They fit me well.  They flare and cling in the right places.  I feel strong and pretty in them.  I feel grown up, not middle aged.  (This is Emmylou, checking them out).

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They’re a departure from what I’ve been wearing.  And trying them on, having a good shopping experience, finding things that work for my body as it is — I tilted back up into liking myself again.

I think I’ll go get an ice cream cone.

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives and works in Toronto. She blogs here two or three times a month.

fitness

Making room for others

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This is Guðríður Þorbjarnardóttir (Gudridur Thorbjarnardottir), an Icelandic saga hero.  More than 1000 years ago, she was among the first settlers from Iceland to explore and settle in Greenland with Erik the Red.  She then traveled to North America, where she became the mother of the first European child born in North America, Snorri. In her lifetime, she was probably that most traveled woman in the world — she made eight ocean journeys, crossed Europe twice on foot, and explored and settled new lands. During her lifetime, Iceland and Greenland became Christian, and in 1010 she made a pilgrimage to the Pope in Rome, then returned to her son Snorr’s farm in northern Iceland, where she had a church built and ended her life as a nun. (I hope to see her settlement at L’anse aux Meadows National Historic Site when we do our bike trip in Newfoundland in July — you can read more about her here and here).

I came across the statue of Gudridor when I was traveling in Iceland with my niece on the long weekend in May, and she became my instant hero — a woman who clearly embraced life with gusto and courage and defined her own terms.

Coming across Gudridor — feminist traveler — while I was traveling with my almost-13 year old niece made me reflect again on my identity as a solo traveler. I travel alone a lot, literally and throughout my life.  I’ve written and reflected about it a lot, this embracing of the solo that I’ve evolved over the past decade or so.

For a lot of people, traveling alone is the novel, the thing that they are experiencing anew out of busy family lives.  For me, it’s just a given now — a part of my identity that I’ve cultivated and a thing that I seem to really need for restoration, alone time. 

I genuinely have to be reminded that it isn’t the norm for a lot of people.  Back in January, I was in Melbourne, Australia, sitting with my book in a crowded trattoria, happily enjoying a pizza and a glass of wine, when a woman came up to me and said how brave I was — that she would *never* eat in a restaurant alone.

I was truly taken aback.  I didn’t think I looked like I was bravely pretending to read while blinking away lonely tears — I was actually bemused that it was even something anyone would notice about me.  I chalked it up to Aussie extroversion and left it at that.  (I wish I’d had Gudridur to toss into the conversation there as a true example of intrepid-ness.  Not, you know, eating a pizza in an English speaking, super-safe western city).

Traveling alone is easy for me.  It’s comfortable.  It’s flowy.  I can follow my bliss blah blah blah.  (Most often, that bliss is a long bike ride or hike followed by an excellent dinner and bedtime before the sun goes down).  But traveling with my niece, I had to consider whether maybe — just maybe — my foregrounding solo travel (and my joy of living alone) might mean I’m maybe — just maybe — not as good at making room for other people as I could be.

My niece is awesome, and we had a wonderful time.  We made up car games, and co-wrote a long, winding magical story out loud that started with some elves that lived inside a mountain, and we had floating massages in the overpriced but luxe Blue Lagoon.  We hiked up magical mountains where we made wishes, and to waterfalls, and to old lighthouses, some of them in the rain.  We chased the geysirs and made up a song about the baby lambs and laid on the ground revelling in the glory of Kirkjufell mountain and waterfall.  We chased down bakeries in search of excellent bread and doughnuts.

But throughout the trip, even as I was having a great time, I had a little sotto-voce story going on that I wanted to go for a much longer hike, wanted to do more things in a day, wished I had more time to stop and just get lost in this amazing world by myself.  A sense, almost, that our hikes “didn’t count” if they weren’t long enough or push me to my limits.

IMG_7733My niece is, you know, Very Much Her Own Person. (Being a person and all). When I suggested we do a planned hike up a mountain even though it was raining, she just looked at me in genuine disbelief.  The lukewarm promise of a hotspring just wasn’t an allure.  (“Wouldn’t we already be wet?”).  Her rhythms are different than mine — she doesn’t love committing to a long hike while we’re still in the car, but when we landed in places that she liked, she frolicked with absolute joy, lying on the ground, finding every angle, crawling down into holes — and wanting to stay far longer than I normally would have, once I’d dutifully trudged up to the top and back down again.  When she told me to lie down on the ground in front of Kirkjufell and feel — just FEEL!  — how soft it was, something clicked.

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Later, hiking to an abandoned farm in Thingvellir national park, where I planned the hike and was the only one with the map, my niece asked me how far we had to go.  And something clicked again — I was marching this girl along based on my own internal vision of the afternoon, and she was compelled to go along with my rhythms.  I’d tried to pick a route I thought was doable and interesting — but I’d basically been the orchestrator of the whole experience.

Paying attention to my niece’s rhythms made me realize that in most of my life, I have a self-defined rhythm — how fast I walk, when is the “right” time to walk or ride vs. driving, when I want to go to bed, when I want to eat, how long I want to spend on decision-making about where to eat.  I’m very dug in — and highly resistant to following other people’s routines or movement agendas.

Turns out, that’s not really the most relational way to operate.  And it took thinking about that experience from my niece’s perspective to really get how much I tend to either expect people to match my movement agendas, or just withdraw and do things on my own.

I had another pivotal moment when we came across the Gudridur statue.  It was about 5 pm, and we were on our way back to our hotel after a day of exploring the Snaefellsnaes peninsula, getting blown about and generally having a great time.

On this side of the peninsula, it was less windy, and the sun had just come out, the Icelandic golden hour.  Behind Gudridur, there was a beautiful beckoning trail I could have walked on for two or three hours, mostly along the edge of the sea.

If I’d been on my own, this would have been exactly what I did.  But I knew my niece didn’t have it in her (she was tired from our windy walks, and Gudridur did not get her all fired up the way she did me).  I had a pang of regret — I wanted my little Gudridur walk!

But I also had my niece in the car, and we were both hungry.   And I had another instalment of our magical train-making elf saga to make up.  So I got back in the car, waving at Gudridur.

I had been to Iceland once before, by myself for a few days about four years ago. That time, I had a completely self-directed, what-I-feel-like-in-this-moment trip.  I got lost on non-existent trails on the tundra, nearly blew into the ocean on the western tip of the Snaefaellsness peninsula, nearly lost the door of the rental car to wind, drove around the most amazing landscape in the world listening to podcasts and stopping to take photos whenever I felt like it.  And when I got tired of the wind and the rain, cuddled up under a woollen blanket in my favourite inn in the world.

Being in Iceland with my niece, there was less flow and more negotiation. But there was more joy, more singing and more doughnuts.  And we have something shared we both gave to each other.

It’s a lesson.  Aren’t they all?

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Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives and works in Toronto, and travels around the world with an open heart.

fitness

In which Cate runs down the street with a medball on her shoulder

IMG_medshoulderI’ve been raving — here and elsewhere — about how much I love the feminist cross-fit studio I’ve been going to for a few months now, Move.

In my previous post I wrote about how I love the mission of founder Kelly Taphouse and her team to focus on women’s strength and confidence, and how the team of coaches is focused on form, encouragement, safety, and figuring out your own goals.  There’s no talk of weight, or body shape, or “bikini bodies” or food.

It’s a safe, empowering, fun zone, and I’ve made it to 2 or 3 classes a week since February — which is unheard of for me.  (I’m still doing some spinning, running and yoga as well, but less intensely).

I never thought I would like working out in a group, and I never thought I’d want to learn the basics of Olympic weightlifting.  But here I am, 54 years old, (still menstruating regularly, btw, for those who were wondering, lol), still (sorta) running, still cycling and still spinning, still a yogi — and now, learning a whole new zone of movement.

The honeymoon phase of “whee this is fun!” is over a little bit, and now it’s just a Thing I Do. Last week, I made the commitment to buying six months worth of classes (a WHACK of cash) so I thought it would be a good time to reflect a little on why this seems to be sticking.

  1.  It reinforces my identity as a fit, committed person. 

I became a runner 24 years ago, which was my first time ever thinking of myself as an athletic type person.  Over those two and a half decades, the intensity of my relationship with movement has ebbed and flowed (I wrote about the notion that we get a number of different “fitness lives” here), but they all have their own flavour.

I think crossfit at Move has poked me into a new fitness identity — a kind of unwavering commitment I’ve only ever had before when I’ve been training for something.  IMG_8300 But even when I was a hardcore marathoner, I almost NEVER got up early to run.  And this week, I did this workout over there on the left on Wednesday at 7 am.  I don’t think I was the brightest light for the person I was working with, but I did it — with a little involuntary moaning when I was warming up.  (I am not really a morning person).

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Thursday at noon, I found myself running down the street with a medball on my shoulder (see photo above — I’ll spare you the video), as well as trying really hard to really get the motion of “hanging cleans”, a lift that involves flipping arms and elbows upside down as you bring the weights up to your shoulder.

That bar is “only” 45 lbs for those lifts — but it’s HARD.  I like being the kind of person who is trying to figure this out, who is trying to train my body to do something new.  I like being a person who is trying to get stronger.  It feels badass, and — reason #2 — it’s a counterpoint I need right now to a completely overloaded work life.

I do a lot of different things in my work.  I coach leaders, teach leadership, and design and lead large strategic change processes in healthcare and academic systems.  It’s very tough times in those worlds in Ontario right now, and my clients are under a lot of pressure.  Most have multiple jobs, huge demands and not enough resources — combined with a strong sense of mission.

My job is to help these folks find clarity, feel more grounded, feel energized to move forward — when they are feeling burnt out and undervalued.

I start out a lot of my days facing a group of people I’ve never met before who greet me and our processes with skepticism (and sometimes, honestly, lashing out).  I have to turn that skepticism around to help them find some sense of energy and — dare I say it, joy — about their work. Mostly I love my work and I’m pretty good at it, but it can be draining. Sometimes, it exhausts me.

Paradoxically, when I take that emotional exhaustion to Move, and push my body further, I get restored.  I feel stronger, less tangled, and supported by the community in the same way I have to support my clients.  I feel cared for — by myself and by the people and space around me.

Which brings me to #3 — learning something new in my body at 54 unleashes incredible optimism.  I’ve never been super great at translating verbal instruction into physical response.  That’s why I never took up team sports or anything that involved things you hit — I never knew what people meant when they told me to “choke up” on the bat or swing a golf club from the hips.  I seem to be able to do it with things I can figure out intuitively — yoga seems to follow that, with light touches from good teachers — but not so much with Things I Swing or Throw.  But the coaches at Move are such good teachers that I am slowly learning to translate instructions like “drop under the weight” into a little hop in my body.  I still have a hard time putting complicated sequences together — like the 7 steps of the “turkish kettlebell get up” — but I am discovering new, smaller muscles in my body — especially in my back and shoulders — that I’m recruiting into action for the first time in my life.

And that feels good to middle aged me.  My body still has new frontiers of strength to discover — it’s not all just new accommodations for my slower, thicker, hormonally different reality.  How magical is that?

My body is still middle-aged.  I’ve gained strength, but it’s muscle in the thicker, more sluggish body that seems to be mine now.  Since I started doing cross-fit, I’ actually a bit bigger, and some of my clothes fit *less* well.  (I seem to have abandoned jeans altogether). But — it’s a kind of bigger that is unleashing a sense of power.  I can stand on my hands and take my feet off the wall for 5 seconds.  I can lift 65 lbs above my head comfortably.   I can do 20 tuck jumps.  I am inching toward a full pullup.

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Feeling strong, finding new parts of my body and being part of a supportive, kind community?  Sign me up.

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I wrote this post and scheduled it, then went to a class this morning. One of the exercises was banded planks, where you plank and your partner pulls on elastic bands to try to test you. After the class, someone I see all the time but haven’t spoken to before came up to me and said “you were so strong on your planks! It was so inspiring!” Then we got into a conversation about why she likes her 8 year old daughter to come for child-minding so she sees so many women of all shapes and sizes working hard to be strong.

That’s why I love this place.

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives and lifts things in Toronto, and who writes here twice am month.