Who’s taking the dogs out? Woof, woof

In times of stress, it seems we all are. I’ve been dog hiking a lot lately. Cate explored the kinds of things we do to find meaning in the world in the face of despair in her recent post on sadness and moments of grace . For me, it’s always walking with dogs in the woods. It’s a time and a place of calm and joy. And while I could experience the woods on my own there is just something very special about spending time on a trail through the woods in the company of a dog.

It’s guaranteed to lift my mood. I think it’s because you can’t help but see the world from the dog’s eye point of view. Mud! Puddles! Squirrels! Sticks! Ponds!

Susan visited last Monday we walked Shelby (left) and Cheddar (right) through the Westminster Ponds. Shelby and Cheddar are very good friends. Susan and me, too.

Sarah visited Sunday and we planned to revisit that route with Cheddar, below. (Thanks Google for the prettified image.)

But my mum hurt her back that day and sent us a message, “Could you take the little guy too?” The “little guy” is Charlie, her new rescue dog. We were a bit concerned about how’d he’d be a long walk through the woods. Turns out he was just fine. Charlie hopped over logs and frolicked through the leaves. He drew the line at swimming in the ponds. Too cold.

Here’s Cheddar and Charlie:

Turns out it’s not just us hiking with dogs in the woods. It’s also Hillary and Bill Clinton.

I’ve been feeling so heartbroken since yesterday’s election and decided what better way to relax than take my girls hiking. So I decided to take them to one of favorite places in Chappaqua. We were the only ones there and it was so beautiful and relaxing. As we were leaving, I heard a bit of rustling coming towards me and as I stepped into the clearing there she was, Hillary Clinton and Bill with their dogs doing exactly the same thing as I was. I got to hug her and talk to her and tell her that one of my most proudest moments as a mother was taking Phoebe with me to vote for her. She hugged me and thanked me and we exchanged some sweet pleasantries and then I let them continue their walk. Now, I’m not one for signs but I think ill definitely take this one. So proud. #iamstillwithher #lovetrumpshate#keepfighting #lightfollowsdarkness

See the story here.

 

Canine Fitness Coach: Don’t Celebrate Your Skipped Meals (Guest Post)

The last time I wrote about why my dogs are my fitness heroes, I talked about how they’re always motivated, and exercise for joy, not for calorie-burning.

This time I want to talk about their adorable yet irritating tendency to beg food from anyone they meet. This includes their ability to deploy their beseeching eyes and convince almost anyone that they’re on the brink of starvation.

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Seriously though we are about to collapse from lack of snacks

But my poor dog training skills aside, one new lesson I am trying to learn from these beasts is that hunger is not a reason for celebration (though they do admittedly often see it as an emergency). There’s this trap that I fall into entirely too often, particularly when I’m busy (though the frequency of this state of busy is itself an issue for discussion), which is to eat far less than I know I should, mostly because of poor time management. Now, this is a pretty common problem, and here’s some ways that people like me talk about it:

“I know I should have, I just didn’t have time to eat lunch today.”

“There just wasn’t a break between classes and things just had to get done, so I just couldn’t eat before training.”

The problem, though, isn’t just the skipped meals. It’s the fact that secretly, humblebraggily, I’m proud of having skipped them. This pride is a holdover from a mentality that calories are bad (they aren’t). But being secretly proud of your skipped lunch should make as little sense as being secretly proud of your skipped workout, because both types of activity (eating and exercising) are important.

For one, the quality of my training definitely goes down when I haven’t eaten enough. Though I don’t get hangry like lots of people – it’s more like… hinconsolable. And in case you haven’t tried sobbing your way through a circuit, I can assure you it’s not recommended. Especially given that said sobbing usually takes place in front of my partner, who works in the fitness industry, and can’t stand calorie-counting, weight loss based approaches to exercise, or his girlfriend tearfully attempting to wall ball.

Food is great. We don’t function well when we’re lacking in it. And we probably shouldn’t take pride (even secret pride) in things that are hurting our overall well-being. Especially if the only reason we’re taking pride in these things is because of an unhealthy relationship to food and eating.

So here’s the official recommendation from the canine fitness coaches I live with.

Don’t skip meals if you can help it. And if you can’t help it, don’t view it as somehow beneficial or a bonus calorie deficit. Oh, and if you forgot to pack lunch, maybe there’s a friend who might be persuaded to share.

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Hello yes I am very interested in pasta salad

 

Real life fitness, or why I’m dog jogging

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In an ideal world I break up my day. I take Cheddar out for a walk, I write for a bit, then maybe mid morning, I go for a run, shower, and then bike into my office. Oh, summer days. Walking, running, biking, and writing, all before noon.

But summer is soon ending. I’m a professor and my schedule is about to change radically. Soon there’ll be undergraduate students, and classes, and meetings, oh my. Today I had meetings starting at ten, not the earliest start to the work day, I know, but also a work dinner and reception that would go until 8 pm. That’s a long day to leave a dog, even with my mother next door.

So come 8 am I strapped on the waist leash and took Cheddar out for a run. It’s the busy professor’s perfect combo, the dog gets a walk and I get a run. But it’s not a perfect compromise.

This morning wasn’t perfect for sure. It was garbage day so there was some interval training involved. Run/stop/sniff/repeat. There was also some hopping and jumping and leash biting. (He does best if we run in the evening when he’s more tired or after we’ve romped in the backyard first to get the puppy stuff out of his system.)

But when I’m busy, in the real weekday world of late August and September, it does mean I get to move and so does he.

Does back to school mean a change in schedule for you? What do you do to fit movement in? Any compromises you’d like to share?

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Put Yourself First? (But What About the Dog?)

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One common piece of advice is “first things first.” If writing is the thing you struggle to fit into your day, then do it first.

When Tracy and I were struggling to find time to work on the book, we set ourselves a goal of working on the book first thing for 30 minutes.

And would-be runners and cyclists and yogis get the same advice. Do it first! Before your day gets in the way, we’re told. Ditto those who want to establish a meditation habit. Start your day with meditation.

Personally, this kind of advice has never really worked for me. I figure the people who offer this advice don’t have children, or dogs.

When I tried the ‘writing first’ thing with the book the only way to do it was to tiptoe to the bathroom and take my laptop into the bed. Otherwise, Cheddar, my dog, would hear me and want love, food, access to the backyard, and shortly after that, a walk.

Really what happens first in my day is coffee and getting people out the door and often, unless someone else steps up, a dog walk. Lately I’ve been walking Cheddar through a nearby nature area, The Coves. And while it’s not really meditation and it’s not serious exercise, it is a little bit of both combined with natural beauty and the great outdoors. And when we get back from our walk, Cheddar snoozes and then I write.

(I was talking about the conflict between writing first and dog walking, and a friend and I had fun making Cheddar memes.)

If you’re a dog owner, or the parent of small children who get up at 5 am, how do you handle the “first things first” advice? Do you make it work for you? Or like me, do you just find it unrealistic?

cheddar8

 
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My 2016 resolution: work less and live more (Guest post)

Two weeks ago I made a New Years resolution, sort of by accident. It was the end of the semester, I’d just finished a pile of grading and was looking ahead to ten days of panicked administrative work, with a shoehorn or two of panicked research labour shoved down the sides. I suddenly realized it was Christmas time – aka, the winter BREAK – and I was about to be in a situation where, in the words of the great Dr Seuss, no break would be coming.

That’s when I REALLY started to panic.

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I’m one of those lucky women who, at least on the surface, appears to have a really flexible life. My job’s only set hours are the time I spend in the classroom and in my office hours. I can ride my bike in the middle of the afternoon whenever the weather permits, and I can spend Monday mornings at yoga with a group of older women who are mostly retired. But there’s a catch: not having set hours, while sporting a type-A academic’s personality, means I’m hard on myself: I take on a lot of work and I value doing it thoroughly. So when I’m not in my campus office or in the classroom I am inevitably working from home, or racing between meetings with colleagues and artists across Southwestern Ontario. (I teach theatre and performance, and run the theatre studies major and minor at Western University.)

I also have no children, and currently no partner. Which means I feel added pressure to take on labour that consumes time which might otherwise be filled with child care or nurturing a relationship. That’s not to say I am unduly pressured or compelled by colleagues who are parents; for me, it’s also a coping mechanism. If I’m working I’m not thinking too much about the things in my life that are missing.

Because I’m relatively free of responsibilities at home (my dog is an exception; she is an old but sporty girl, and likes a nice walk, or two, or three, or four in a day…), I can spend a lot of time doing the sports I love.

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(Like many singles, I’m obsessed with my companion animal. Emma visits the swans in Stratford, ON, and the Olympic rings in London, UK.)

I ride three times a week; I row twice a week (more in season); I swim, try to stand on my head at yoga, garden, and walk a lot (see above, re sporty dog). Like Nat Hebert, who writes in this space on Saturdays, I know my sporty lifestyle is a huge privilege, economic as well as social.

And I’m grateful for it, believe me. As a feminist, I am hyper-aware that women in particular often get short shrift in mixed households when it comes to sports time. I ride with a cycling club that is easily 90% men; our long ride is scheduled for Saturday mornings. I’ve often wondered aloud what the wives of my fellow (male) riders are doing while the guys cycle 100+km and have breakfast with their friends. Typically this musing is greeted sympathetically, but most have been quick to point out that the ride is scheduled early on Saturdays so that the married men in the club can head home for childcare and other household duties. Which is marvellous – but it also sidesteps the basic good fortune most men in the club share: the ability to leave the house at 7:30 on a Saturday, while their partners take the first childcare shift.

So my free sports time is a wonderful privilege for me, to be sure. But it can also be a burden emotionally.

How’s that? Isn’t sport a great emotional release? Without a doubt. But for me – and even more for working moms and dads I know – it’s easy to convince myself that sporty time is ME time, and thus I ought not to grouse about not having other time for me in the week. In other words: I tell myself that I should work hard when I’m not sportsing hard, because I’ve already taken this huge chunk of time for me, for my sports. That turns, perversely, into negative self talk, where I insist to myself I should buckle down twice as hard, nose in the screen, because lucky me has just been out for a three hour ride. Isn’t that more than enough “me time”?

No, it’s not. And thinking it is is not a healthy attitude, either. The three hour ride is a pleasure and a blessing, but it does not, and should not, substitute for “having a life”. It’s a great PART of my life – just like cooking, eating, walks with the dog, reading books, watching great TV, seeing friends, and sitting quietly with a cup of coffee or tea are all part of my life, or should be. Having a healthy life means prioritising all these things, not feeling guilty about enjoying them, and not worrying while enjoying them that I should really be working.

Which means, of course, that having a healthy life means working less. More than that: it means being conscious of overwork, addressing it, and then choosing to work less. Or, when required, insisting on working less.

We live in a world that now insists, perversely, on overwork as a norm. Everyone is working more for less; the unluckiest among us work all the time and are not even paid enough to feed, clothe, and house themselves and their families properly and safely.

(This is a feature of the economic system under which most Western governments operate today: neoliberalism. It’s a system in which the shareholder is the most important beneficiary of human labour, and workers are valued only insofar as they can generate greater shareholder profit. Banks and the wealthy benefit most from this system; most other human beings are the underpaid and undervalued cogs in its machine. Governments today depend on shareholder profit and bank-sector stability for their own budget success [and thus electability], and so generally support this system at the expense of workers’ rights.)

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I fully understand that not all of us have the privilege that enables us to insist on working less – but that’s all the more reason for those of us who DO to insist, when we can, publically and actively, that all human beings should work only as much as is fair and feasible, and should be paid a living wage when they do.

Because it shouldn’t take a New Years resolution to have a life. Work-life balance is a human right. Somehow our culture, here in North America, has forgotten that. My hope in 2016 is to remind myself and all those around me of this basic fact.

A happy and healthy 2016 to you all!

Kim

 

A Very Big Little Paddle

I have been going to Algonquin in late August for a back country canoe trip for the last 8 summers. Usually I go with my friend Sarah and we are often the only women pair that we encounter on our trip. Three summers ago, at the end of the season, I bought a Swift Algonquin 16 Kevlar Fusion Canoe. It has Carbon/Kevlar Gunwales and weighs 36 pounds. I blogged about the freedom that gave me here. Last year, Sarah couldn’t come and I took Sam. It was the first time I’d been “in charge” of a trip and between that experience and a feather light canoe, I was ready to take on more. What kind of more? Well, how about me, my two teens, three friends (Sarah, Sam and her daughter) and my 71 year old mother?


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My mom has been saying for the past four years or so that she has always wanted to go on a real portaging canoe trip. When I came back last year, empowered by the freedom of that canoe, I knew I could make it happen and “it had better be sooner than later”, as my mom has observed.

My mom isn’t your usual 71 year old, although she is actually much like the folks who hang out at this blog. She came to fitness in her middle years and has been consistently active ever since. Her main thing has always been Pilates and the great thing about that system is it’s ability to scale up or down, depending on capacity, injury or illness. She has a trainer she has known for years who keeps her going. I told her as long as she could get in and out of the canoe and walk a path, she could do it.

She accomplished so much more. She carried some stuff and paddled pretty hard. She credits her swimming with giving her the strength to paddle like she did. She got in and out of the tent in whatever way worked for her and she was constantly thrilled by the whole thing.

Mom by her tent

Mom by her tent

The element of that trip that struck me most was how we experienced a mutual appreciation of each other that we had perhaps left unnoticed for many years. Like all moms and daughters, there have been “interesting times” between us. While most of that trash has been put out, the real understanding of where each of us are in our lives right now was not always at the forefront. But on this trip, she got to see a skill set of mine that was newer to her and I got to see how hard core she could be. I also got to give her time with her grand kids and grand dog that was super high quality. I got to feel like a good daughter and she got to feel like a good mom and grandmother.It’s not that we haven’t felt that before, but this experience somehow intensified this feeling between us.

It helped more that a lot that I had fantastic, supportive, hillarious friends with me. Sam and I drove our matchy matchy cars (Priuses)  with our matchy matchy canoes on top (she has a Swift Keewaydin 17, also with Carbon/Kevlar gunwales, although mysteriously heavier feeling at 47 pounds). Sarah and I had our competitive control freak moments. It’s only fair. She taught me everything I know about canoe tripping so asking her not to have an opinion is kind of impossible. Mallory kept her mother in line, on track and in the canoe (mostly, except the time she wasn’t). The children spoke actual words to us, a lot! And read books, paper books! My kids are usually delightful but this trip gave them an opportunity to step it up. It helped that they were actually having, you know, FUN. Finally, there was my Super Dog, Shelby. She has grown into a truly impressive canine canoe tripper. She stays still in the canoe, carries her own stuff, keeps away the chipmunks and is available for belly rubs at any random time.

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This trip accomplished the kind of thing that you hope a trip will. It was epic on every level, the beauty of the place, the friendships and family and the smoothness of execution. It was a trip I could only do because of the investment of time in strength and skill that everyone of us made in our lives, especially evident in my mom. I hope it sets a good example for my kids but I will try not to pressure them about it. After all, both my mom and me waited until we were closing on 40 before we woke up to the possibilities our lives could hold if we started to mind our bodies. Yes, an epic trip. We might do it again next year. . .

My taking it easy weekday triathlon

My plan had been to do a mini triathlon on the weekend. Do all three activities with very long breaks in between.

Two weekends ago I rode the MEC Century. Last weekend the Kincardine Women’s Triathlon.

Now this weekend was gong to be the ice cream run but I decided to give it a miss. There’s also a weekend long heat advisory but that’s not the whole story about ditching the ice cream run. See here for that.

Instead, I decided to make it a triathlon weekend by getting in one bike, one run, and one swim.

Part 1, Saturday morning: Bike 60 km with Jeff and Jacquie

That was actually our Plan B. Plan A was riding with our local cycling club. But their long ride was 170 km, and their short ride was 110.

And here’s what the weather looked like.

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Heat advisory: Temperatures will peak in the 30 to 32 degree range today and Sunday. Tonight will be a very warm night with overnight minimum temperatures in the 20 to 23 degree range. Humidex values will be near 40 during the afternoon hours today and Sunday…

Heat warning: A heat warning has been issued for a swath of southern Ontario from Windsor to York Region as the hottest weekend in three years is expected. Intense heat may trigger strong storms.

Heat and humidity is a guarantee this weekend across southern Ontario and Quebec, with Sunday poised to be the most oppressive day as temperatures reach the 30s while Humidex values approach ridiculous.

In light of all that we decided on a short ride, just 60 km total with our friend Jacquie.

And even though it was an oppressively hot day, I got three personal bests on Strava. Also had a great time catching up with Jacquie.

Part B: Run 5 km in the neighborhood. Fine. Stinky hot Sunday but I did it.

Part C: Swim in the quarry at St Mary’s

That never happened thanks to the loud, wet, wild, and windy thunderstorms that typically follow hot humid weather here. Action plan, weekend triathlon, aborted.

Monday morning I was feeling a bit dispirited by the whole thing. Less riding and running than of planned thanks to heat and no swimming thanks to thunder and lightning. Bah.

But I realized it was still doable.

Instead, I had a taking it easy, weekday triathlon.

I started with dog jogging with Cheddar. I’m trying to teach him to run with me following the advice of our guest blogger here. We got about 3 km of mostly jogging. That was Part A.

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Then my bike commute to work on my cross bike. I don’t race on the bike path but I went pretty fast anyway thanks to being late for a meeting. That’s Part B.

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And Part C, swimming with Nat and friends! Hi Nat, hi Terry, hi Bev, hi Phyllis!

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Thames Pool

An everyday triathlon, in the wrong order, with very long transitions!