family · fitness

In search of at-home watery summer outdoor fun

It is officially summer now. The solstice was yesterday, Saturday June 20. We’re having a hot spell in the Northeast, which means I just installed my bedroom air conditioner unit more than a week ahead of my usual schedule (I always shoot for July 1 for no particular reason).

Today, I was taking a break from an online bioethics conference (which involves sitting at my computer looking at an endless– if very interesting– list of powerpoint presentations with audio). The break was the perfect antidote to sitting: hauling plastic chairs and stools downstairs to the driveway to soap, scrub and hose them off, in preparation for spruce-up spray painting.

As I said, it’s hot hot hot outside. I had a garden hose in my hand, multiple spray settings at the ready. It didn’t take long to put two and two together. Dual results: clean plastic outdoor furniture and a soaking wet, refreshed, happy Catherine.

This reminded me of how much fun I had as a child in my yard with garden hoses, sprinklers, kiddie pools, and a Slip ‘n Slide. I think my original one looked a bit like this:

Vintage Slip 'n Slide box, with  drawings of white kids sliding on a wet piece of plastic on grass.
Vintage Slip ‘n Slide box, with illustrated kids sliding on a wet piece of plastic on grass, and more people waiting for their turn.

Apparently they’re not designed for adults. Bummer. Look here for ominous tales about Slip ‘n’ Slide hazards.

When I got back inside, dried off, changed clothes, and sat down at my computer, I took a minor detour from bioethics talks, and searched for water-delivery-system fun toys or contraptions for local summer fun. It turns out there’s little to nothing for grownups. Here are some of the things I checked out.

Backyard inflatable splash/spray pads:

68"/1.72 meter round inflatable spray pad, with family of four totally photoshopped to make it look like they all fit in it.
68″/1.72 meter round inflatable spray pad, with family of four totally photoshopped in to make it look like they all fit in it, which they don’t.

Novelty backyard sprinklers for kids:

Backyard sprinkler with both 1) kids totally photoshopped into it; and 2) the water spritzing photoshopped, too, as loads of reviewers said it hardly worked at all.
Backyard sprinkler with 1) two kids poorly photoshopped in; 2) fake-looking grass; and 3) water spritzing photoshopped, too, as many reviewers said it hardly worked at all.

Kiddie wading pools, of which there are many variations:

Note: I searched and looked at a lot of pool-related products, and not one of them had pictures with black kids or black families. Not one. Perhaps such photos are out there, but they are not used for advertising any of the hundreds of products I perused.

If you have a bigger space or grander wet and wild ambitions, here’s something for you:

16'x30' (4.8x9.1 meter) inflatable waterslide/pool. Now that's what I'm talking about.
16’x30′ (4.8×9.1 meter) inflatable waterslide/pool. Now that’s what I’m talking about.

This baby weighs 375 lbs (170kg) costs $USD 275/day to rent. It also requires a large area for maximum frolicking fun, either wet or dry.

Sadly, none of these options were what I had in mind. I live in a three-family house that’s been condo-ized, and I’m the second floor owner. We share a backyard, but in reality I never use it. I do use my back porch a lot, but even a small wading pool seems like a very bad idea.

Here’s a promising idea: maybe I could have something like this for refreshing water dunking from time to time.

But what if it’s just me, in need of outside cool-water immersion? Yes, I could hang a solar camp shower bag on my porch and get a cool water shower outside (you can tell I’ve really been avoiding those conference presentations today), but where’s the wild and giddy fun in that? Sigh.

So readers, you heard it here, maybe first: I think there’s a marketing opportunity here: fun water toys for 1) adults; and 2) anyone who lives with minimal outside space, like a porch, deck or balcony. Any thoughts? Product ideas? Recommendations for items I’ve missed? I’d love to hear from you.

covid19 · family · fitness · strength training

Mixing it up with bags of sand and jugs of water

A few weeks before official ‘stay at home’ recommendations were issued, I left the gym and started working out at home. We started out strength training with resistance bands, the TRX and a lone kettlebell.

It all began in the livingroom but with the nice weather we’ve moved to the back deck and the back yard. The first purchases were a mount for the punching bag and a giant tire for flipping.

Recently, we’ve added sand bags and water jugs to our lifting repertoire. Both work well for workouts with partners who lift different amounts. Here it’s me and my 22 year old son who significantly stronger than me.

I confess these purchases were his, both the inspiration and the execution. He’s been planning and provisioning for our back deck workouts. In the “220 workouts in 2020” someone called me a “badass.” That’s partly true but it’s more true I raised one and he is good about including his mom in his workouts. He owes me for all the time on the 401 when he played rugby! Also, it’s nice to workout with company.

The sandbag is one large bag with handles and then smaller bags filled with sand go inside. You buy the bags and the sand separately, of course, for reasons of shipping.

What do you do with sandbags? Pretty much anything you’d do with dumbells.

See 12 Sandbag Exercises That Work Twice As Many Muscles in Half the Time.

What’s the advantage of working out with sandbags?

First, there’s the one I mentioned above. You can load up the bag with a different number of sandbags for different people or different exercises.

Second, the instability of the sand gives the workout an added edge.

“One of the most versatile tools you’re probably not using, a sandbag is great for when you want to work out but also don’t want to spend all day working out. With a sandbag, the center of gravity is always shifting, because the sand moves back and forth, causing your core to engage in a different way than with a stable weight, even when you aren’t doing a core-focused exercise, explains Patrick McGrath, a certified personal trainer at Project by Equinox and SLT studio in New York City.”

Here’s a sample sandbag workout.

If you find they are all sold out online, there are lots of DIY solutions. Fill up your own bags with sand. We’re not travelling now anyway. You can also weigh them using the handy scales that we used to use to weigh our luggage–back in the before times.

The water jugs are the same idea. We have two sets of different sizes and you can (obviously) fill them up with different amounts of water. As with the sand, the water is unstable making for an extra challenge.

Today we used the heavy water jugs for deadlifts and farmer walks.

But here are some more ideas.

I will say that we aren’t the neatest when it comes to filling and emptying the jugs so for us it’s a good thing that these are outdoor workouts. Also, I think the lawn appreciates it!

covid19 · family

Mourning the Optimism of March and Staying Active with Kids in May (Guest Post)

by Jennifer Szende

Today, I am mourning the optimism of March 11. The last ‘normal’ thing I did before the pandemic shattered so many parts of our home life was to sign my kids up for summer camps. In a moment of inspiration, I also signed my 5.5 year old up for a ‘learn to ride a bike’ course. I was focused on the future. On planning. On aspirations. I look wistfully back at that day, and I miss the part of me that was able to plan so coherently. Any future orientation is difficult at the moment. 

On March 12, school closures were announced for our jurisdiction. The day after that, parks and recreation programs were shut down. The day after that, most private and indoor recreation spaces chose to shut down (the climbing gyms, the trampoline park, the pools). A couple of days after that, even the playgrounds and most outdoor recreation spaces were covered in caution tape. 

Our family is very active, and also very activity oriented. My kids are 3 and 5 1/2, and in ‘the before times’ we went to the climbing gym as a family every week. Our kids were always in swimming classes. The kids had yoga at school, and physical education every few days. We have the kids in skating classes and circus camp, and our kids are fearless at every playground play structure within a 3km radius of our house. The kids had unstructured outdoor time more than once per day.

Any one of those options feels unfathomable right now. 

The first phase of the pandemic shut down hit us hard. Many of our activities were in spaces that could not be modified to accommodate physical distancing. The kids had a number of birthday parties cancelled, their climbing classes were cancelled, their daycare was closed, and many of their friends disappeared from the neighbourhood. Some friends left the city to help with physical distancing from their front line worker parents, and most others retreated to backyards and indoors. 

Our initial coping mechanism was to head out on long walks and bike rides. Big parks, long trails, and stay away from the main roads. As more and more businesses succeeded in shutting down or moving online, the trails and sidewalks became too crowded. We now tend to prefer alley ways, because they are wide enough to accommodate physical distancing. 5.5 and her dad initially headed out on a 5km bike circuit with her training wheels still on her bike. They did this most days for a week, while the 3 year old and I would head out with a balance bike and a jogging stroller, and would combo bike/walk and push until everyone had received their requisite vitamin D. 

Within 2 weeks, we started to work on removing the training wheels for 5.5. My partner removed both pedals AND training wheels, and turned the bike into a balance bike. After about 3 days, we put the pedals back on the bike. We pushed the bike up to the school yard (by this point, there was caution tape on all of the playground equipment, and plastic bags covering the basketball nets, but the open concrete space remained open). My partner turned his back on 5.5 while he put his jacket down on the school steps, and he turned around to see the kid pedalling past him. She had figured it out without the requisite parent running along behind the bike, and no one could suppress a smile. 

So much for the ‘learn to ride a bike’ course.

All things considered, we are doing great. We get to spend time with the kids when they would normally be cared for by other people. We get to witness the firsts, and be part of the excitement. They are growing up in tangible and exciting ways. My 3 year old is much more confident on a balance bike and scooter, and my 5.5 year old is working on tricks with her bike. The kids have learned to play together. They are working on throwing balls and chasing butterflies. They are excited to look for weeds in the garden. They re-draw the chalk obstacle course in the driveway after every rainfall. They climb fences, and chase bubbles as is appropriate to their age. Yesterday, they got absolutely soaked through jumping in puddles in the rain – and proclaimed it “The best day ever”. We try to get out every day, and encourage dancing along with any and every viewing of Frozen II. 

Thanks to a recent New York Times article, I now know that the recommendation for kids ages 3 to 5 is 3 hours per day of physical activity. That is a lot, for an age group who sleeps about 12 hours and eats about 6 times per day. I suspect that we make it occasionally, but I doubt that we hit the target more than 3 times per week. But for now, we are doing just fine.

Yesterday, on May 15, the city announced the official cancellation of all summer camps. I am still mourning the optimism of March 11. The future filled with Nature Camp and Learning to Ride a Bike and sending my 3 year old to swimming lessons without a parent in the pool. We are doing okay in this new world where we are forced to live in the moment. I barely look at the forecast these days, because what would be the point? I’m not looking forward to the future, and I am okay with focusing on today. But I play over March 11 in my mind on a regular basis, and grieve the future that was but will not be.

A child, but not Jenny’s child, riding a bike up a grass hill.
Photo from Unsplash.

Jenny Szende is a philosopher, writer, climber, cyclist, and mother based in Toronto. 

family · fitness · strength training

Backyard fitness and being in this for the long haul

It’s gradually been dawning on us, here at home in Guelph, that fitness-wise, we’re in this for the long haul. I stopped going to the gym awhile ago now. On March 9th I wrote, Sam decides to take a break from the gym. And by “this” I mean working out at home.

If there were a work Covid-19 bingo, for sure one of the squares would be about this being a marathon and not a sprint. I even wrote a Dean’s blog post with that as a title. I hope I wrote that before we all got sick of hearing it. Maybe not. And while I am sick of hearing that phrase too I am only now realizing that it’s not just about work. My personal life has changed too. I won’t be flying anywhere soon.

And the more that I think about it, the more I realize, that even if gyms re-open, I’m not going back anytime soon. I’ve written about my 7 part physical distancing fitness plan and about the missing puzzle pieces of my at home plan. Now the missing pieces are mostly filled in. I’m getting lots of physical activity and it’s helping me with stress and sleep. It’s also a source of pleasure and achievement in these strange times.

I expect I’ll return to the gym if we have a vaccine or if/when we have reached herd immunity without a vaccine or I suppose if we develop effective treatments for Covid-19. Either of those options is more than a year away. Before that I am more likely to go back to our 24 hour discount gym, in the off hours, than I am to the campus fitness facilities.

Maybe I’ll change my mind. But right now I’m thinking if I can do a thing with less risk, I’m going to stick to that path. Hence, the backyard gym.

Inside, we have the TRX and yoga mats and resistance cables. We’ve also got a kettlebell and a lone 8 lb dumbbell. We’re pretty well set up for riding inside too though as things loosen up in Ontario, I’m looking forward to physically distanced rides with friends. Obviously, there’s still some shopping to do. Outside, we now have skipping ropes, the punching bag, and a giant tire. Between those things and the phone tabata app, and a few family members to work out with, it’s a good time.

Usually I envy my big city friends with their boutique gym options and a vast array of theatre, music, and food options. But right now. I’m feeling pretty good about life in my small city where we have a backyard and space to flip big tires. The streets aren’t crowded for walking and running even if the city parks haven’t re-opened yet. Yes, I’m privileged to have these options. I’ll totally understand if others choose differently.

Come winter we may end up with even more indoor fitness equipment in the room that was our livingroom but is now mostly a two person home office which turns into a home gym when we break for lunch, or do yoga after work or before bed. I’m not sure it will return to its pure living room status. On and off, I think we’ll be working at home (those of us whose jobs allow it) for awhile yet.

What fun piece of backyard fitness equipment would you buy if you had the summer ahead of you?

birthday · family · fitness

Happy Birthday Mallory!

Happy birthday cupcakes!

My daughter Mallory, herself a fit feminist, has blogged here a few times.

Mallory Goes Thanksgiving Canoeing

Using “Carrot” to Earn Fitness Rewards 

Six Things I Learned on my Six-Week Bike Tour 

Our Algonquin Canoe Trip

My (Accidental) Barefoot Triathlon

Today is her birthday. She’s turning 28 years old. That strikes me as unbelievable. Some days I still feel like I’m 28! I’ve written lots about making fitness part of my family life and Mallory is a big part of that story.

She does some things that have never really been part of my life–swimming and rock climbing, for example. Together we both love camping and cycling. She’s also an intrepid outdoor adventurer, having done lots of solo tramping, in New Zealand, and winter camping, here in Ontario. I’m in awe of those things.

Thanks to covid-19 we’re not together physically for her birthday. And we aren’t camping or biking or rock climbing or swimming. Instead, we are physically distancing. We’re doing our part to flatten the curve. We’ll save the real party for later but today we’ll chat on Zoom, and have cakes in separate houses and separate cities.

I’ve been annoyed lately at the all people posting about how what we are being asked to do is simple and easy, just stay home and watch Netflix. But being apart from your children–even if they’re adults–on birthdays isn’t easy. Even a few weeks ago we were all talking about going away together for the weekend.

These are pictures from just a few of our adventures together. There will be more.

Happy Birthday Mallory!

220 in 2020 · climbing · family · swimming · yoga

Bettina has some news: exercising while pregnant

CW: discusses pregnancy

Last month, I blogged about my February slump. It’s true that I always find it harder to motivate myself towards the end of winter than at the beginning, but this year I had an added difficulty that I didn’t mention in my post because it was still early days: I’m currently 16 weeks pregnant, meaning that in February I was in the middle of first trimester fatigue. I. Have. Never. Been. So. Tired. In. My. Life. (Anyone who is tempted to counter this with an “ooooh, it’s going to get so much worse once the baby is here!”, please refrain in the interest of my sanity.)

Picture of a pregnant woman (not me) holding her belly. She’s much further along than I am, but I am definitely starting to show.

As a result, I’m now so far behind on the 220 in 2020 challenge that even if I kick things up more than a notch, I likely still won’t make it to 220 this year. Because come the end of August (due date: 30 August) and probably even before that, I probably won’t be doing much exercising for quite some time. I’ll keep reassessing what exercise means to me as I get further along and of course after I give birth, and I firmly plan on doing things, but I’m also not going to push myself beyond my limits. If I need a night on the sofa rather than in the pool, I’m going to give myself that.

While exercising has been tough, it also hasn’t been non-existent. I stopped bouldering essentially as soon as I knew I was pregnant. I went once in early January only to find that I was scared of falling the entire time I was on the wall. A lot of people boulder at least through their first trimester and possibly longer, but not me. I don’t want to climb in constant fear. But I am still swimming with my team, albeit a little slower than before. I’ve been running as well (much slower than before), and I’ve been doing yoga. I’ll report a little more on how these have been going in my post next Wednesday! In April, I’m starting a prenatal yoga class. I want to keep all of that up for as long as I possibly can. As I move into the second trimester, I’m hoping to get some of my energy back and also still be able to do most movements. So far, so good!

Also, I’m ridiculously thrilled and terrified in equal measure to become a parent. We are having a son, and we plan to raise a strong, fit feminist.

I would be excited to hear about your experience with working out while pregnant! Feel free to share in the comments.

dogs · family · fitness · yoga

Yoga with Adriene (and Cheddar)

I’m sporadically doing Yoga with Adriene this month. Usually it’s Adriene and her dog Benji and me and my dog Cheddar on our respective mats.

I’ve loved all the photos of people doing yoga at home with kids, with dogs, and with cats too. People are sharing them on social media. This weekend I’m doing Yoga with Adriene in a conference hotel in sunny Tuscon, Arizona. The big upside? Space and time to myself.

I realize that paying for yoga classes in a studio is one kind of privilege. Another kind of privilege is having a house with space to do yoga at home. The only room in our house with yoga space is the living room and it’s usually occupied. I’m self conscious, really self conscious, doing yoga with an audience, even a family audience. Also people talk over Adriene’s instructions.

Starting next week, for the first time in twenty seven years, I’m going to have an empty nest. No kids at home once the youngest goes away on a university exchange to Australia. Maybe his room can be the at home yoga studio?

Where do you do yoga at home? Who keeps you company?

fall · family · fitness · habits · Martha's Musings · motivation

Keeping fitness a priority when winter hibernation calls

by MarthaFitat55

It’s turning into a lovely fall here in the far east of Canada. The cold crisp air is a nice complement against the crunchy leaves and the gorgeous fall colours. When the sun shines, brisk walks are great, but already I can feel the desire to burrow, to get cozy under the quilt, and to ponder the virtue of hot tea or hot chocolate on swiftly darkening afternoons.

A line of leaves changing from green to red. Photo by Chris Lawton on Unsplash

It’s the time of year that I find the most challenging in maintaining my fitness routine. This fall seems exceptional — my local pool has been closed since the end of August and won’t reopen until November; my work schedule is a little wonkier than usual; and I am managing some home repairs that will be most appreciated when we are in the deep of winter.

To keep myself on track, I have booked out my training time in my calendar. I know it might get moved around, but at least this way I won’t book something else by accident. When I see the weekly schedule, I know I have made fitness a priority.

I have started slotting out time for other things as well. I’ve always enjoyed doing handwork (although I am an atrocious knitter) and this summer, while on a car trip, I crocheted a whole dish cloth. I signed up for a quilt course in September and to keep on top of the project, I slotted out a chunk of time during the week and on the weekend.

A friend of mine told me years ago she found chunking up projects to be really helpful. Breaking things down into smaller bits makes large things seem achievable. As my schedule grew more challenging, I found chunking my time into slots reserved for fun things not only got me through various projects but also offered a welcome distraction.

I got my Fitbit involved as well. I have a timer set off to go at ten to the hour. This alarm reminds me to get up and move, because all too often I am likely to stay in my chair writing one more paragraph so I can call it done. I’ve already incorporated little tricks like parking at the far end of the lot, going up the stairs whenever I can, or timing myself to see how fast I can get up the hill.

When I was younger, I looked at scheduling as something rather regimented and limiting. Now that I am older, and have way more on my plate, I find scheduling is really helpful on several fronts: fitness, food/grocery planning , family fun, and me time. Balance is what I am aiming for here; not perfection.

Image shows a calendar opened to September. Photo by Estée Janssens on Unsplash

Scheduling helps with consistency and for me, if I want to keep on track with my fitness goals, creating routines is what works for me. I know there will be days when the snooze button calls and the duvet wraps itself even closer around me. I also know by choosing optimal times for training and building in the time for the things that matter, I will be able to keep getting my fitness on.

How about you? What tips or tricks have worked for you to keep your momentum going when fall moves in?

MarthaFitat55 is a writer who likes to get her fit on through powerlifting and swimming.

family · fitness · walking

Walking to school won’t help you or your 6 year old lose weight. Do it anyway.

It’s back to school and my social media newsfeed is full of delightful first day of school photos.

Here’s a photo of my very first day of school.

Five year old Sam with pigtails, a black jumper, white shirt and white knee socks. Photo taken in Grand Falls, Newfoundland.

My feed is also full of stories about how best to get the kids to school. And given our times lots of stories pair nostalgic stories of walking and biking to school with current day worries about the rise in childhood obesity. Surely there must be a connection?

But things aren’t that simple. See No Association Between Active Commuting to School, Adiposity, Fitness, and Cognition in Spanish Children: The MOVI‐KIDS Study.

What? Walking to school isn’t always associated with a decrease in childhood obesity?

The study concluded:

Walking to school had no positive impact on adiposity, physical fitness, and cognition in 4‐ to 7‐year‐old children….It would be of interest for future studies to examine the intensity and duration of active commuting to school necessary to provide meaningful benefits for health and cognitive performance.”

I like Yoni Freedhoff’s response to the study. “I don’t need to see “meaningful benefits” to want to continue promoting more movement and play in our children, and if we buy into the need for same, we’ll risk the cessation of programs that don’t prove themselves to provide perhaps broader reaching or more dramatic outcomes than could ever be fairly expected of them.”

To his response I’d like to add: Let’s care about walking to school for reasons other than weight loss. How about nature, community connection, mental and emotional health benefits of walking? As usual my worry, like Yoni Freedhoff’s, is that when weight loss isn’t an outcome people stop doing the thing even if there are lots of other benefits.

family · fitness · Guest Post

There and Back Again: Part 2

This is Part 2 of a 3-part series of staying active while travelling with kids. Parts 1 and 2 take place in Rome, Italy during the author’s travels there without her spouse, with a friend and the friend’s son, during a conference trip. In Part 1, the group goes cycling along the Via Appia Antica on a sweltering hot Roman summer day. In Part 2, they escape the city for the hills above Rome and kayaking on a crater lake.

We actually slept in a bit the morning of our kayak trip, and put in a few hours of work before we headed out on a transportation mode extravaganza that by the end of the day involved walking, taxi, minibus, kayaking, more minibus, train, and a taxi. The task: escape the heat of Rome as the mercury climbed to nearly 100 F (37 C).

Mission accomplished.

We went out to Lago (lake) Albano, a lake in a caldera above which rises the summer home of previous Popes and below which lie the wrecks from naval training battles. It was apparently host to the 1960 Summer Olympic canoeing and rowing events. Pope Francis apparently does not summer there, believing it to be too elitist, and has converted the residence to a museum. The locals appreciate the upside: crowds of devout Catholics and tourists used to flock to the area on hopes of seeing and being near the Pope AND the streets would be shut down by police and his guard. Now, tourists and city dwellers still come for the lake, but the traffic is entirely manageable and the numbers are not a strain.

A screenshot of Google Maps showing Lake Albano, an oval crater lake, with the Sport Club from whence we launched marked in green.

The whole group was quite excited for this one, as well: both adult women (myself and Randi), the two 14 year olds (my Son1 and Randi’s son) and my 11 year old (Son 2, the avid cyclist among us). It was a bit spur of the moment in response to the heat, booked just a few days before as I paged through AirBnB’s new Experiences feature. I hate to give a plug for them cause capitalism and ain’t nobody paying me, but they did hook us up with some folks we would never otherwise have found including the former competitive rowers and kayakers who run the kayak trip we signed up for.

We took a taxi to the train station where we were to meet at the end of one of the metro lines; since the line was closed for repairs, our options were limited. The taxiride took us past beautiful fields and a distant rural section of the Via Appia Antica that we hadn’t peddled out to the day we rode (See Part 1). At the station, we rendez-voused by the “old blue train car” and the guide piled us and a few other folks into their well-loved, battered minibus for a rude even farther out beyond the edge of the city into the hills.

A weathered blue street car takes pride of place in an open area with an enormous agave in front of it, sitting on train tracks that go nowhere.

The lake was formed by two overlapping craters. We set off from a launching spot amongst the reeds near the swimming beach.

To the left, reeds and grasses rise tall above the water. Other kayakers in the group have already paddled out ahead of me. The red tip of my own kayak is visible in the foreground. The water is sandy-colored in the shadows. The rim of the caldera rises in the distance.

We kayaked almost 7 km, out and back across to the opposite side. Randi and Son 1 shared a canoe on the way out, her son and Son 1 had solo kayaks and paddled together much of the way, and I paddled about at will.

Left: the author, sunwashed and hair not yet sweat-plastered flat. Second from left: Randi and Son 1 taking a short break from paddling, Randig resting an elbow on the kayak and leaning back to turn to smile at the camera. Third from left: Randi’s son in a quiet moment, face shadowed. Rightmost: Son 1, eternally with a silly face for a camera, reeds behind him near the starting point.

At various points we were all quite close together in a flotilla as the guides talked us through the plan for the day and the history of the area, with an English-language flotilla and an Italian-language flotilla. We weren’t able to see the ruins of the ancient Roman naval practices that litter the floor of the lake, but we are assured they were there.

From left to right: Randi’s son in his own kayak (short dark hair and pale skin, smiling), Son 1 also in his own kayak (grinning until his face has wrinkles, short dark blonde hair beginning to clump with sweat), Randi in her glasses and baseball cap (dark hair pulled back in a ponytail), and Son 2 (very blonde short hair and pale skin, grinning). The kayaks are all red. Behind them, the rim of the caldera rises, covered in lush green trees. Palatial homes step their way up the side of the hill.

Once we got to the opposite side, the guides stowed all the kayaks in a great big precarious-seeming pile and sat on rocks and ate sandwiches the guides brought and drank water and swam in the lake and NO ONE GOT STUNG BY JELLYFISH because there were no jellyfish. This seems an odd thing to mention, but several days before we’d gone swimming in the ocean and Son 2 got blistered fiercely in several spots. So, the enthusiasm for no jelly fish was strong. Everyone was glad for a break. One strange feature of the water was that it wasn’t very cool at all. There seemed to be quite warm spots, not just sun warmed but perhaps geologically warmed. We never did get to ask about this, but I wondered if perhaps hot thermal springs feed the lake from below or some other kind of geothermal heating.

So, no jellyfish. There were, however, at least four lizards that Son 1 spotted and loads of red dragonflies darting about above the surface. Randi’s old elbow injury acted up a bit by the time we got to the swimming spot, so her kiddo took over being her kayak companion, a job that has been Son 2’s on the way out. About halfway back (3/4 of the way through a quite long bit of kayaking), Son 2 got tuckered out. One of the guides offered to use her life jacket to tie his kayak to the back of hers. He paddled when he could and rested when he couldn’t and she was quite happy to help. Another guide did the same for an adult who was tapped out, and the guides said they were quite impressed that a kid his age had gone so far without needing help yet, which took the edge off of having to ask.

Because the trip was well-designed to include a nice break, multiple guides to help people get the most out of this kind of activity regardless of physical condition, and also included help from the guides when needed, a good time was had by all across a variety of ages and injuries and capability levels. Those who love doing hard work got to do hard work and those who love swimming got to swim and those who love watching lizards and bugs got to watch lizards and bugs and those who love not being in a hot city on a 90+ degree day got to be on a lake in a caldera instead.

NEXT UP: Part 3 of There and Back Again, in which we are back in the States, Randi and her son have gone back to their home, and Son 2 and I set off on our annual bike ride along some part of the Northern Lower Peninsula of the State of Michigan.