What I learned working out every day in July

IMG_1918On Tuesday night last week, I found myself skipping rope and doing side planks in a random pop-up “boot camp” type class taught by my spinning teacher.  That was my final entry in my “work out every day in July” streak.

I don’t know exactly *why* I decided I wanted to work out every day in July — I think it actually happened because I roused myself from a stupor at 8 pm after a travel day on July 1 and went for a short run, and felt energized and happy.  And thought, what would happen if I tried to get out and do some kind of intentional movement every day in July, even when I didn’t feel like it?

I wrote a little bit about what I was discovering about the emotional benefits of moving every day about a month ago.  I definitely felt more clarity and much greater awareness of the relationship between exercise and mood.  (Spoiler:  it’s important).  But I also learned a bunch of things about my own habits and that elusive thing called motivation. In no particular order…

  1. Everything that looks like intentional movement beyond your day to day “counts.”  I’ve made this assertion before in our posts about “218 in 2018” — but my 32 workouts in July (I did two in one day, once) ranged from overt “workouts” (the boot camp class or runs) to long bike rides (alone and with friends) to yoga classes and videos to paddling a canoe and camping to deliberately riding my bike all over the city for errands to deliberately walking to errands/dinner.  And every one of these activities made me feel calmer, happier and accomplished.


2.  Be playful — think less about “training” and more about “movement.”  When I started this little streak, I was clear that I wasn’t trying to build strength or improve times or get ready for an event — that I just wanted to move every day.  Sam and I have had a lot of discussion about the need for rest days when you have training goals — and I agree.  But that’s not what this was.

One of the things about just needing “to move” every day is I got less rigid about what I did to move — and discovered a kind of playfulness I don’t bring to my movement very often.  I played with a kind of underwater skateboard in someone’s pool, went for a long  paddle on our non-travel day on a canoe trip (and ran into a lady moose bathing!), and, in the last week of the streak, did a handstand for the first time in yoga practice.


I was ridiculously proud of myself.

So by the time I got to skipping rope in the pop-up class on July 31, I was just 8 years old again.  Hopscotch, anyone?

3.  The voices in my head that say “just skip today’s workout” are persuasive and diverse, but are worth overcoming. I have been running for 23 years, and I cannot count the number of times I have actually gone so far as to put on running clothes and then flopped back onto the couch or into an online rabbit hole and never made it out.  This happens a lot to me.  But with this streak, that wasn’t an option — I was going to work out, I just had to figure out how.

There are a LOT of factors that make it easy to skip days, and I saw them all in this month.  Work stuff that piled up against a need to get to a friend’s for dinner (with the burgers!), with a thunderstorm in the mix (I squished in a 4km run that ended in the rain, and was 15 minutes late for dinner).  Very hot  busy day and no time for a run plus a shower (I walked 5 km to meet a friend for dinner and a movie instead, and accepted that I was going to arrive damp.  They ordered me a drink while they were waiting).  Spinning studio closed because of issues with construction upstairs — hence the pop up bootcamp class.  A Sunday that was overloaded and included an early meeting an hour away, brunch with a friend even further away, sausages in the brunch that did NOT lend themselves to running, a flat tire on my bike, and severe ennui with running in my neighbourhood  — I ended up willing myself into my running clothes at 7 pm, texting a pic to my cousin for accountability, taking a bike share bike down to the beach, and having my fastest, strongest and happiest run of the year).


 4.  Plans should be loose.  In this framework, weirdly, I found it better to NOT have a plan for what I was going to do on any given day.  Because it is July, I have a less rigid work schedule — so I tried to listen to what I needed, and look at what was actually happening in the world.  A couple of times I planned long bike rides but woke up and took stock and realized my body needed yoga instead.  Another time I spontaneously drove out of the city for a 60km ride at 3 pm on a Sunday.  Honouring what I felt like doing felt like a huge gift to myself, and gave me that same kind of airy, restorative rhythm that traveling alone does.  I know this is a huge privilege — and it’s summer, light, and less busy.  But listening to what I actually needed let me work my body hard over a month without hurting it.

Which leads me to ….

IMG_18185.  Rest matters.  Even though I was working my body every day, I did it in a way that gave different parts of me opportunities to rest.  A lot of the workouts were yoga, which, while strength-building, also kept me aligned and supple and grounded for the runs and rides.  When I walked, I listened to non-political podcasts.  I tried to get as much sleep as possible.  And whenever I could, I took to a hammock.  I’m lucky enough to have one on my deck, and Susan is brilliant enough to bring one camping.  Hammocks are the best.

6.  Every time you move, you are building overall health, for now and as you age.

One of the things I was working on throughout the spring was a giant project about the role of mitochondrial health in our health overall.  There is huge emerging evidence that exercise prevents cellular aging by boosting mitochondria. This speaks directly to all of the reasons I want to stay fit — to age well, with good mobility, with strength, and with emotional balance.  I have written about this endlessly, but I felt it this month.  Even though I wasn’t doing anything deliberate to “get stronger” or “faster,” that run on July 29 was my most comfortable and fastest in at least two years, and I got into a handstand for the first time since I was 10. I felt the tightness in my thighs and hamstrings loosen up.  And I slept better.

I DID take a day off active exercise on August 1, mopping up a bunch of undone work and housework before taking off on a short holiday.  But I still did a few sun salutations and stretches.  My body asked for it.  And my streak taught me to listen.

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives and works in Toronto and blogs here twice a month.


Moving through the world alone

IMG_1747I wrote last week about trying to move my body intentionally every day in July as a way of “breathing in unison with the world.”  After a pretty stressful couple of weeks, I needed a really restorative weekend — a kind of shivasana from work and the news and a family loss.  Saturday I didn’t leave my house — I cleaned and did yoga and read and lay in my hammock — and then Sunday, after making a quick breakfast for a friend, I left the city and went for a 60km solo bike ride.

It was hot and it was perfect.  The route meant I only had to stop two or three times, very briefly, and I just rode and felt the road, bumpy and smooth, felt my hands hold me safe. I got home and though my body was hard-worked and I had to sit at my desk and do some work-work, I felt perfectly happy, perfectly restored.

While I was riding alone, I was thinking about a conversation we’ve been having among the blog writers about traveling alone.  When I was on my way back from Bhutan in May, Catherine commented about how comfortable I seemed traveling alone, and asked how I’d learned to be that comfortable.  I get this kind of question a lot — when I ran into someone at a Hannukah party last year I had only “seen” that year via social media, she gave me a huge hug and immediately asked how I was brave enough to travel alone.

I’ve written a few times about my evolution from being a person who was anxious about everything to being a person who has traveled alone in many many countries where I don’t have the language or even the most basic understanding of How it All Works.  For me, it really parallels why I needed to ride by myself last Sunday — I need the restoration of moving my body completely at my own rhythms, through space and time and whatever is swirling in my soul.  When I am with others, no matter how much I love them or enjoy being with them, I’m orienting myself to what they need, adjusting my rhythms to theirs.  There is something profoundly selfish and beautiful and grand and life-giving about orienting myself to just what I need.

I do have worries when I travel or ride alone — I’m not experienced at bike repair, so when I rode my bike alone across Latvia and Estonia last year, I said a little Tire-God prayer every day when I reached my resting place and I hadn’t had to deal with a flat or broken spoke.  And sometimes, when I travel alone, I go to places that I wouldn’t go if I was considering the safety of a companion — the most obvious example being a trip I made to the Democratic Republic of Congo two years ago.  (That’s a whole post in itself, but I had been traveling to places adjacent to the border for ten years, it was a pocket of momentary calm, and I wanted to see the contrast with Rwanda and Uganda, which I know fairly well.  But when I found myself in a tent at least 50 m from anyone else in the forest, rehearsing how to say “can I please put my clothes on before you kidnap me” in french before I went to sleep, I did wonder at my decision-making. And had to take a sleeping pill to get through the night.  And in fact, that park was closed to tourists in May this year after 12 rangers were killed and two British tourists were kidnapped by rebels).

When I ask other people why they like to travel alone, I see my own experiences reflected back. One friend said “What I like most about travelling alone is that I have only myself to rely on. As part of a couple for the past 30 years, you sometimes forget the “you” that existed before the “them”. You forget how naturally resilient you are, how curious and how open to adventure. Travelling alone gives me an opportunity to reconnect with those parts of myself I have not seen in awhile and to recognize my own abilities. Travelling alone brings me back in touch with my mind and my body – but most importantly, it gives me glimpses of my soul.”

Another friend — also married — echoed her. I like the quality of time when traveling alone. It seems to pass more slowly/fully (in a good, not boring way) and I tend to reflect more in real time when traveling along.”

When I ask other people why they are reluctant to travel alone (or why they think I’m “brave,”), some of the responses are what I expect — “I’m afraid of trying to navigate in another language and not being able to figure it out” or  “I like having a shared experience to continue to discuss and reflect on again and again after an adventure” or “I don’t know what to do with myself at night, when I don’t really feel safe going out alone in strange places” — but others really touch at the most tender parts of ourselves — like fear of assault or a fear of being judged as “less than” for being seen to be alone in the world, encountering one’s own deepest shame or sadness at being single.

Those tender parts of me do get evoked too, but for me it’s a kind of anxiety-driven crankiness that can show up in incredible impatience in the transitional points of travel — finishing the Estonia trip and tripping over a very unhelpful young hotel worker who made it very difficult to store my bike, dealing with a pugnacious woman in the security queue in the airport in New Delhi who kept pushing my backpack from behind and loudly denounced me as “holding up the line by reading.”  (I was reading and moving, trying to be patient with the long queue).  I am not at my best in these encounters, and sometimes I think I like to travel alone so the people I care about don’t witness this part of me.  (Ask my exes about this sometime ;-)).

But that’s just a fraction of my experience — and probably a fractal of my real life as well.  When I travel alone, I am reminded that I am comfortable being seen to be single in the world. There are many many reasons to value being partnered and to have companions weaving through the years with you — but that isn’t how my life has unfolded, and some of the comments I get from other women I encounter while traveling who really envy my freedom remind me that I have something precious too.  I get to be an Auntie in a global sense, and I get to carve out my own adventures on this unpredictable gorgeous planet.

When I was in Luang Prabang in Laos last year, in my five (delightful!) days alone between organized bike trips, I wandered into a small monastery and came across this post-it note on an old painted door.

Image of old yellow and red painted door with two post it notes, one in Lao and one in English: “if you want to [be] strong learn to be alone please”
Traveling alone, riding alone — this is the way I’ve learned to be alone.  And at this middle aged point in my life, this is how I keep discovering my strength.

What about you?  Do you travel alone?  What version of yourself do you live into?


Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who is based in Toronto but planning a trip to Uganda and Kyrgystan next month.



“Working out” every day in July

Morning 6 km run on the trail beside my mom’s before my aunt’s funeral.  I need more sunscreen.

As many of the readers of this blog know, Sam, Catherine and I are part of a facebook group called “218 in 2018,” which is a simple way for people to support each other in working out 218 times this year.  Sam and I did this last year and hit our 217 number, with a little hyper-activity at the end.  We’ve both written a lot about why having a number goal motivates us, what counts as a “workout,” and the joy of accountability.

The one place we disagree, though, is on what total number goal is actually “the right one.”  Sam is a big advocate of not setting a days-worked-out goal too high, and making sure you build in rest days.  She has a lot of science to back her up that recovery time is really important.

I have a bit of a different approach.  I agree with her completely about the need for recovery when you’re training for something — when you’re working out to improve stamina, distance, build strength, etc., it’s definitely important to have restoration and rest time.  That’s how your muscles repair and you rebuild your energy stores, hydration, etc.  That I completely agree with, and when I’m training to run a race or do a bunch of long bike rides, I need rest days.

But for the first summer in a long time, I’m not training for anything.  I did a big bike trip in Bhutan in May, and I’m not doing the Bike Rally or the Triadventure, and I’m not planning to run any races.  I’m just trying to … be.  To be more motivated, to feel strong and resilient.  I’m feeling a lot of stress — the World (I just can’t even), immediate politics (the shift in the provincial government has Not Good implications for my business, plus, COME ON!), and my aunt died last week.  These are all things that can lead to me spending way too much time lying on my bed listening to podcasts, procrastinating work, and not moving my body.  Reading the news and feeling anger, despair, fear.

So after missing a chunk of my 218 workouts in June because I was sick and unmotivated, I decided I wanted to try to “work out” every day in July.  I wanted to see if I could build my mental and emotional resilience through deliberately moving my body every day.

legs up the wall with a weight on my feet before my yoga fundamentals class

I’m using my 218-workouts definition of “workout” as a deliberate episode of moving my body outside my day-to-day life.  This is day 13, and I’m observing that it’s simultaneously daunting, motivating and energizing.

So far, my workouts have included: a bunch of short runs (4 – 6km), some of them more joyful than others, most of them super hot; two yoga classes (flow and fundamentals), and one set of online yoga videos; a 60 km (super-hot) bike ride; two days of walking more than 20,000 steps while lifting boxes for a fundraising yardsale; and a one-hour (6+km) brisk post-dinner walk after eating a ton of pizza at my mom’s.

Making my niece ride bikes with me in the heat

That list documents what I did, but it doesn’t carry any of its actual meaning.  That 6km walk was the first moment totally to myself where I wasn’t working or fundraising in days.  It was breathing space I sorely needed between traveling to my hometown and the day of my aunt’s funeral.  I walked past where my dad lived for 20 years after my parents’ divorce, reacquainted myself with my yearning 14 year old self.

One of those runs was after 8 pm, when the sun finally waned and — again — I was catching my breath after taking the train home from Montreal to Toronto with my friend and her toddler twins, and after spending a weekend with my 12 year old niece.  I love all these children with a passion — but I needed to breathe.  I had to force myself off my bed but I came back a different person.

Making more deliberate choices to move also led me to a hot, important walk with my little sister and my toddler nephew along the river after the funeral, and the clear choice to call on not one but two yoga videos for regrounding after my cat opened the screen door herself and I had to climb fences to rescue her from my neighbour’s terrace.

I’m noticing that I have a little bit of approach anxiety — eek, I don’t want to run, do I have to?, I only have an hour — but the moment I feel my body slip into its jogging rhythm, I breathe differently.  I arrive a few minutes early for yoga and lie with my legs up the wall, breathing.  I have no time or speed goals, and no pattern — I just want to move and feel myself present in my body, to feel flexibility slowly ease back into my muscles.  If I notice “this is a slow run,” so be it.  It just is.  This is a time when it’s important to fully feel my feet on the ground, to remember to breathe.

At my aunt’s funeral, I sat with my cousin who had lost her 18 year old son two years ago.  It was her mother-in-law who died. We held hands and sang along with Hallelujah and Let it Be and wept.  She whispered “we’re breathing in unison.”

We were.

That’s what moving every day is for.  To find my unison with the world I’m moving through, to breathe deeply when my heart is racing every time I look at the news.  To find that presence to be as grounded as possible, to trust that I can move when I need to.

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives, works and breathes in Toronto.  She writes for this blog on the second Friday and third Saturday of every month.


Wellmania: Misadventures in the Search for Wellness (Book Review)

We don’t review a ton of books on this blog, but Sam came across this one and asked for a volunteer to read and review it.  I quickly said yes, because this is exactly the kind of thing I like to read in the shower:  a “lighthearted” tale of an Australian woman’s “misadventures in the search for wellness.”  Basically, a blog in book form.  (I’ll get to that whole reading in the shower thing some other time.  It’s a family quirk.  Once you get over the fallacy that books should be kept dry, whole worlds open up).

I actually started reading this book in the bath at Susan’s cottage way back in April, and about 60 pages in, I got out of the bath and, still in my towel, kind of ranted about the book.  “Listen to the way this woman describes her need to do this ridiculous detox!”

“My body was not a temple, it was a stockyard, where dirty animals passed through, where there was some horsetrading, it was busy and noisy and full of action.  Stockyards are dynamic places and useful things happen there.  But they’re far from the idea of the temple and they’re certainly not clean.”

It really set me off:  “She’s all ‘oh I was drinking and eating and sometimes doing party drugs and just generally having a good time so I decided to get CLEAN and of course the only way to do that is to STOP EATING FOR LIKE TWO MONTHS and let someone pummel me every day until I bruise.’

Susan, ever practical, said, “she wasn’t working then, was she?”

No.  Her whole job was this “detox” so she could write about it for a magazine.  And it took her to page 88 to even ask the question about whether or not this kind of radical fast was a good idea.  The first several chapters are full of “jokes” about how weak she felt or how her one spoon of rice on new year’s eve made her feel “full” or nonsensical explanations of the “theory” of fasting”:

“Part of the appeal — if you can call it that — of fasting or restrictive diets is the notion that you can reset your tastebuds.  It’s like a hard restart or system upgrade on your computer.  You switch it off and the buggy bits — the bits that crave salt and grease and sugar — can be expelled, and in their place your body will crave salads, vegetables and gallons of water.  Willpower isn’t necessary when this happens.  You just follow your cravings and they will lead you to the organic vegetable aisle.”

Spoiler alert:  it doesn’t work that way.  Of course she loses a ton of weight on this fast, but then the desire to, you know, be able to walk up the stairs, takes over and she starts to eat again and regains the weight.

That pretty much takes care of the “Clean” section of the book.  Then we have “Lean” (her years-long relationship with yoga, also done in obsessive every single day terms, coupled with colonic irrigation, though I might be confusing that with another part of the book). And finally we have the section on “Serene” (meditation and a quest for spiritual calm, in classes all over hipster neighbourhoods in Melbourne and Brooklyn, retreats in Sri Lanka and Bali, five day hikes in northern Australia).

The thing is, I can empathize with Delaney’s quest — I think everyone who reads this blog has gone down a lot of winding pathways trying to find balance between our sense of inner equilibrium, our strength, our experience of our bodies matching what we yearn for, wanting to find a way to be of the world but not pushed and pulled by endless distraction.

And while being a bit Breathlessly! Hilarious! in all of it (never trust a narrator blurb-writers compare to Bridget Jones), Delaney does have something of a critical gaze on what she’s doing.  She notes how much praise she got for being super lean after her fast, while saying clearly “this is not a real person’s body — this is not sustainable.”  She describes the irony of how the theoretically simple desire for wellness has spawned a complex, profit-based wellness industry, as well as the exploitation that comes along with any system that relies on gurus and acolytes (most notably, Bikram yoga).  And throughout the last section of the book, she explores why we may use Wellness to fill the space of morality, certainty and mystery that was once held by the organized religion for most people in the Western world.  All of this does help hold the skittery nature of her quest together, though I’m still never sure of her actual point of view.

The biggest problem with Wellmania is that Delaney tries to take an experiential tone throughout most of the book, and the nuggets of insight never really infuse her in-the-moment descriptions of what she’s doing.  You never know whether she really believes that her body is a stockyard or that detoxing is like cleaning out your filing cabinet.  And more problematic to me, I never figure out whether she ever comes to realize that there is no “one right answer” that will deliver the equilibrium and sense of inner/outer burnishment she yearns for.  In the final note of the book, she does acknowledge that “shooting for serenity” is an everyday, ongoing practice — but even in that, there’s an implication that “doing it right” means “doing it every day.”

In the end, it took me a couple of months to actually read Wellmania, because I was so put off by the “Clean” section.  I developed more affection for Delaney when I finally worked my way through the last two sections, and could empathize with some of her descriptions of wanting to hang onto the momentary wellbeing that come from focused presence in yoga or meditation.  As a shower read, I’d give it two and a half bars of soap out of five.

Vancouver cate


Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives in Toronto, where she is endlessly in search of equilibrium. (In this photo she’s in Vancouver for work two weeks ago, happily running around Stanley Park). She writes for the blog on the second Friday and third Saturday of every month.  





What it means to help

Thursday was a beautiful day in Toronto, perfect early summer sun and clear crisp air. The wind from the storm we’d had on Wednesday had finally subsided and I was cycling home from work, sailing along, trying to release some of the energy from the challenging meeting I was coming from.

As I rode across a bridge over a major highway, I looked up and saw a woman lowering another woman to the ground, as if she had caught her fainting.

I stopped to see what they needed.

There were two other cyclists stopped, one on the phone trying to call 911.  The woman who’d caught the other woman was now crouched on the ground holding her tight, urgently saying “I’m not going to let you do that!”

The first woman — I’ll call her Julie — had been teetering on the top of the railing of the bridge.  The second woman — “Rae” — had stopped her car abruptly, leaped out and tackled her to the ground.  I arrived about 30 seconds after this happened.

Over the next ten minutes, everything seemed to happen in patches.  Rae was holding Julie tight, telling her own story.  Two years ago, she was driving on the same highway below us and someone jumped in front of her car.  She’d done compressions on him long past the time the police arrived.  He hadn’t survived.  She spent months in therapy, felt like she had not been there for her kids.  She asked Julie questions, found out she had kids, kept telling her “You can’t leave them for your brother to raise.  You have to raise good boys.”

In middle of this, she kept lifting her head, asking “is someone coming to help??”

When I’d arrived, one of the other cyclists had been on the phone calling 911, but he didn’t seem to be able to convey the urgency.  He kept saying “she keeps asking me for information like my name.”  I asked if someone was coming and he said he didn’t know.

A TTC bus pulled up to ask if we were okay, and I got on board and he and I did a faster call for help.   The other two cyclists left, the guy saying he had to pick up his kids and leaving me his name.

As soon as I knew 911 was coming, I crouched down and rubbed both their shoulders lightly, exchanging names, reassuring that help was coming. Julie was crying, very drunk, and kept saying she just wanted to go home.

Other cyclists kept stopping to ask if we were okay.

We were, just.  Julie was gently crying, Rae was still urgent, trying to get Julie to look into her eyes, asking her where she wanted to go.  She named one hospital, refused another.  For several minutes, the three of us were alone on the bridge, the bus gone, the driver assuring us help was coming.

When the police arrived, they were kind, very humane.  When the paramedics came, they said they couldn’t take her to her preferred place, but the police said they would. Rae walked Julie to the ambulance so the paramedics could assess her physically to make sure she was safe to travel with the police.

When I told the story later, people asked if I was okay.  I said I was — that I’d witnessed a profound act of rescue and a surge of community caring, not an act of despair.  The despair once Julie was on the ground was familiar, not extraordinary.  I’ve seen and experienced deep sadness. What was extraordinary was Rae leaping from her car, her incredible capacity to be completely present, to be completely caring, deeply human.

The police remembered her from the previous incident, remembered that she hadn’t wanted to let go of giving chest compressions.  I said to the first one that she deserves a medal, and he said ‘tell that guy.’  I did.

What does this have to do with fitness, apart from my having been on my bike?  I think it’s two things:  presence and confidence.  I think being on my bike makes me absorb the world around me, makes me of it.  It didn’t escape me that — other than Rae and the bus driver — cyclists were the main people who stopped to see if we needed help.  We are a band of vulnerable humans close to the ground.

The confidence is something different.  I think all of my riding, all of my running and goal setting and solo traveling have made me more confident about unexpected situations, more confident about stepping in.  And last year I did a wilderness first aid course, which taught me how to assess a situation, keep everything calm, give the help I can, and get people the help they need.  I quickly figured out that Julie wasn’t physically in trouble except for being intoxicated, and that she was getting what she needed.  But I was also tracking that Rae was okay, and made sure help came and was connected.

I did the first aid course because I do a lot of things that are a bit dangerous far away from help.  I learned some important techniques, but also learned that assessment and order are as important a part of first aid as splints and stopping bleeding.




This is a pitch for all fit feminists to get some first aid training.  The world is full of extraordinary moments, some of them with people with wounds of all kinds. It’s empowering to feel confident about being able to support in the way that’s needed.  And I think that’s a really important part of feeling strong and connected to the most vulnerable moments we encounter in this complicated terrible beautiful world.

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives, works and rides in Toronto.  She writes here twice a month for sure and more when she’s inspired.

equality · femalestrength · fit at mid-life · fitness · running

An open letter to Kathleen Wynne (Guest Post)

Many of us here at Fit is a Feminist Issue have long appreciated Kathleen Wynne — the Ontario premier who soundly lost the election on Thursday — as an example of mid-life female strength of all kinds, including her identity as a runner.  My friend Joanna wrote a powerful open letter to Kathleen about her impact as a role model, and I wanted to share it with the FiFI community, even though it’s technically not about fitness.  It’s very much about female strength ;-).

Hi Kathleen,

You won’t remember me, but we met a few times when you visited Overland Learning Centre. I’m writing to thank you for your service.

Watching you, I had the chance to see true leadership in action. I learned so much from observing you collaborate and problem solve and sow the seeds of political engagement in the new generation. This has made me bolder and clearer in my own goals, and it’s inspired so many other women as well.

These past few weeks have been the bravest I’ve ever seen you.   It must have been unbelievably difficult, but what you did was so valuable to the rest of us. It’s really important to show other women how to be strong in the face of defeat.  Of course it’s vital  that women attain success in fields previously reserved for men – we were over the moon when you became premier – but women also have to learn how not to crumble when they start to slip off that pedestal.  As Michelle Obama put it, “I wish that girls could fail as bad as men do, and be okay, because let me tell you, watching men fail up—it is frustrating.”

Over the past few months, you have shown us how to fail badly and be okay.  By “be okay,” I mean retain your composure, reaffirm your principles, and always sound like the smartest, most logical person in the room. By meeting failure head-on with unflinching honesty and even some humour, you demystified it, giving us all a little more courage.  When we fear failure less, we will be more daring, and glass ceilings everywhere will start to crack.

I wish I weren’t thanking you for this.  I wish I were writing to congratulate you on some new triumph, but each story has its own hero.  Thank you for being that person.

Joanna Warden



Joanna Warden is a Toronto language teacher who is reclaiming her inner Social Justice Warrior. She is currently working for the ifp program at the University of Toronto, Overland Learning Centre at TDSB and English Central ESL Resources. She is also the writer of the blog Teacherpants and grandmother to the adorable Ethan.


Riding into happiness


Two weeks ago, I rode by myself 26 km up a Himalayan mountain pass.  The up was unrelenting, and every narrow curve had a moment of anxiety about a potential oncoming bus, and I never quite got to the goal of my quest — a centuries-old nunnery tucked into the side of a mountain — but I was 100% happy.

In the week since I’ve been back from my too-short trip to Bhutan,  I’ve noticed that what comes out of my mouth when people ask me how it was, I say that I was 100% happy 100% of the time — and I can’t say that about any other experience I’ve ever had before.  (The zen lasted about five days after I got home — another record, I think).


At first glance, it makes perfect sense that Bhutan would make me happy — the one thing most people know about this tiny mountain kingdom is that they pioneered the concept of the “Gross National Happiness Index,” a national effort to focus on education, health, social cohesion and the other kind of indicators that everyone knows contribute to health and general wellbeing.  But unlike every health planning conversation I’ve ever been in here in Canada, the former King of Bhutan actually put the nation’s money where its mouth is.  (And he also converted the country to a parliamentary monarchy, telling them that he couldn’t know for certain that a royal lineage would always in the future have the people’s best interests at heart; and after writing the constitution, he abdicated in favour of his son, to give him experience while he himself was still alive.  This is a remarkable story).

The country isn’t full of people running around jumping for joy, but people are kind, open, gentle and I never heard a raised voice.  And the stories I did hear from my guides and the people I did a homestay with confirmed that the nation’s money does go into universal education and healthcare — and people sure do love both the current king and the previous one.

The happiness index was one of the first things that intrigued me about Bhutan — and like so many of the people who travel there, I think I partly went there to probe my own sense of happiness and what it means to me.  And whenever I can see a country from the seat of a bike (or from the perspective of my running shoes), I seize it.

In the past few years, I’ve ridden bikes significant distances in Germany, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Laos, Estonia and Latvia. I rode across the last two by myself, but I’m not comfortable doing a self-guided solo trip in Asia (yet).  This is a bit of a conundrum for me, because I am far happier traveling and riding by myself than anything else in the world.  Traveling alone in general, and particularly riding alone in a place I’ve never been, is where I am most fully myself, most fully present to the world that rolls forth around me, the thing that gives me the space to be a person who can connect to others.

But even if I had felt super adventurous, you can’t actually travel to Bhutan without a guide of some kind (and a daily tariff far higher than other similar Asian countries — that’s where they get the money for all the happiness).  So with a little trepidation, I ended up booking a guided trip through Spice Roads.  (Who were great — use them).  But to satisfy my need to experience to the world I was traveling to without travel companions, I booked five days before the cycling portion and a couple of days after.

For that time, I had the same guide as we did as a group.  And from my perspective — he was the best guide I’ve ever had.  He was nice, he listened to me, we laughed at the same things, he had insight for everything I asked, and he shifted things based on what I wanted to do.  He was perfectly fine when I wanted to spend time meditating in a nunnery and outside a hermitage with a cat crawling on me, he walked an extra three kilometers with me to (fruitlessly) try to buy a flashlight in a village, and he made it possible for me to watch the Royal Wedding with an 84 year old woman during my homestay.  And most importantly, he got me a bike before the cycling trip formally started, and arranged for me to keep the bike a day later, even though that meant him riding it by himself 60 km back to his home.

The time I had on my own was the most fully present and cellularly-joyful I’ve ever had.  I explored temples, I ate momos, and on my last day, I gave into my impulse to climb one more mountain by myself.

IMG_0846The formal cycling trip itself was also epic. My group of four others was very nice — interesting people, easy to hang out with — but I think they had a different trip than I did.  They had a great time, but they also assessed and experienced the trip like you’d rate any tour —  — one complained about the wifi, one didn’t want to get up early, one didn’t like the food, one was frustrated that there weren’t enough activities when we were done riding; they wanted to guide to entertain them at dinner.  One of them did what I’ve always done before and continually compared the itinerary for distance and elevation gain to her garmin and was cranky about the differences.  Like she’d been ripped off if she’d been promised a certain elevation gain and her instruments didn’t reflect it.  (She didn’t buy my argument that if the topo maps said Thimphu was one elevation and the pass was another, we had obviously ascended that amount of distance).

Here’s the thing:  I’ve been all those people, and all of those complaints have come out of my mouth in the past.  But this time, I left my garmin at home, and I was actively practicing not having expectations.  The stuff that bugged my group — like the wifi — didn’t bug me, and more importantly, their complaints didn’t bug me.  I just rolled along with it.

I think that’s what I’ve learned the most from traveling alone — to lessen my grip on expectations, to trust that things will unfold as they should, to be open to what happens to be there.  In this way, I’ve climbed on the back of a stranger’s motorbike to find my lost hotel in Myanmar after a monk walked me to the wrong place, sat with a family of mountain gorillas in Congo, and shared a bottle of wine on new year’s eve with two young couples and all of their hopes for a more open world in Xian, China.  In Bhutan, I finally found the way to have that same space of porousness and accept

ance while I was traveling with a group.IMG_0941

Do you travel alone?  What makes it meaningful for you?

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives and works in Toronto when she’s not exploring happiness in the bigger world.  She blogs here on the second Friday and third Saturday of every month.