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.

family · fitness

Celebrating mothers: a Fit is a Feminist Issue roundup

Today is Mother’s Day, and here at Fit is a Feminist Issue, we pause and celebrate all the mothers: ours, yours, the moms we see and know and don’t know, all of whom do endless work around the clock to keep our world right-side up. We thank you and we love you!

Sign saying "We like you, too :). Which is true.
Sign saying “we like you too 🙂

We’ve written a fair bit about mothering, mothers, motherhood, the work of mothers, etc. here at the blog. Since I’ve got the Sunday beat, I’ve been writing about mothers on this day. Here’s some of what I’ve done:

My mother, Beth, is a fun and joyful person (at least some of the time…) Both she and my dad loved to dance, and they were super-smooth on the dance floor. She also played basketball in high school and tennis through adulthood. She now likes walks in parks and on the beach and also mugging for the camera, as she’s doing here, showing off a poncho Christmas present.

My mother Beth, showing off her new Christmas poncho.
My mother Beth, showing off her new Christmas poncho.

Our blogger Mina has written about activities with her mother and enjoyed working out with people of a variety of ages. She even illustrated it:

Self portrait stick figure of Mina doing Nia

Nia with my Mum

Sometimes we have to be our own mothers, directing ourselves to rest, recover, and engage in self care. Cate, Tracy, Christine and Kim have all written on the importance of rest and recovery– thanks for helping to mother us and yourselves, too!

I’m not a mother. I’m an aunt, a teacher, a friend, sister, daughter, neighbor, volunteer, etc. My friends who are mothers have taught me a lot about patience, persistence, grit, compassion, occasional sternness, and love. On this blog, I try to send that out and also take that in– from the other bloggers, from you the readers and commenters, and from the feelings of connection to this community.

Happy Mother’s Day to us all!

A child and mother (Unsplash).
A child and mother (Unsplash).
dogs · family · hiking · nature

Walking in the woods with Cheddar and Gavin

Walking is tricky these days. I have good days and I have bad days. I’ve been worried about my future walking. I’ve been jealous of friends posting very high step counts on social media and angry at friends who say they can’t imagine a life without walking.

Saturday was glorious. Here in Guelph it was 13 degrees and sunny. Cheddar needed walking and my son, Gavin, and I wanted to go back to the Rockwood Conservation Area. I did all the right things. I’d biked that morning (Zwift in Central Park), and stretched, and taken pain killers. My knee is always better after riding and that’s a great thing.

I’d just a read a story about seniors with knee osteoarthiritis being encouraged to take brisk walks. So I figured an afternoon dog hike might be a good thing, on balance.

Also, I read that taking at least 20 minutes out of your day to stroll or sit in a place that makes you feel in contact with nature will significantly lower your stress hormone levels. It had been a stressful week at work. I needed this walk more than Cheddar.

It worked! We walked 5 km on mostly level trails and boardwalks, saw some beautiful scenery, met lots of dogs, and had a great afternoon. I was relieved that my dog hike days aren’t over. I think Cheddar was happy too!

Here he is with other family pets napping after the walk.

cycling · family · fitness · Wordless

Sunday cyclists in East Potomac Park, Washington, D.C, #WordlessWednesday

From 1942, from the Library of Congress, free to use and reuse photos, https://www.loc.gov/free-to-use/bicycles
Collins, Marjory, 1912-1985, photographer
family · fat · feminism · Sat with Nat · yoga

Nat ponders being the crying woman in pigeon pose

I’m laying face down on my mat in Sleeping Pigeon with tears streaming down my face. I’ve been there for 3 minutes or so as the tendons unfurl in the heated yoga studio and I cry.

I’ve learned I carry tension about work in my neck and shoulders but worries and stress about my family are in my hips. I joke sometimes that my family is literally the pain in my ass.

I’m in a yin yoga class thanks to my friend & neighbour Kim. We visit on the walk to and from class. The Sunday afternoon routine has become our touch point and my moment to reflect on my wellbeing.

The slow pace of the 90 minute class promotes patience and acceptance. Pigeon is a challenge for my round body, it takes a couple minutes to find the right configuration of meaty thigh, Buddha belly and boobs and then the real work starts.

At first I feel a burning in my hip, a band of lava wraps around my socket then radiates out over my whole body. It’s very uncomfortable but rarely drifts into pain.

I breathe.

My mind wanders as the hip fibers unfurl and I come back, breathing, and watching my body react to the pose. The burning passes, like so many annoyances in my life, and the pleasant settling against the mat begins.

I breathe.

I start to get bored, more waves of heat and pressure move around my hips, glutes, hip flexors and thighs. Each release triggers thoughts and feelings about how I’m challenged in my roles as parent and partner. It has been a very rough go and each band of fibers releasing brings those tensions top of mind.

I breathe.

The tears well up as I imagine enduring through these tough times. Resilience hardens to resolve. Not the flippant, tied to a time of year resolution, but the grim determination of leaning in to my problems.

I breathe.

The time comes to leave the posture and I hesitate. Here, on the mat, in this vulnerability, no one is asking more, there are no other needs to fill, just me, my body, and my heartache.

I’m that fat middle aged woman who cries in Sleeping Pigeon now and I don’t see that stopping any time soon.

My partner recently went on a Vipasana meditation retreat and has shared many great tips on living in the moment and not avoiding the negative sensations in my body. I’m someone who has a complicated relationship with my physicality and my mental health. I often work out to care for both.

My feminism has grown to be a place where I honour my body and don’t worry about my appearance. I work out in resistance to a world that tells me women my age should be invisible, wear loose clothes and not bother anyone.

In a small way, splayed out on a floor, in Lycra, taking up public space and crying are about being visible and existing for my own sake. I like to think other women are encouraged by my messy self and do things that work for them too.

My fitness activities aren’t a punishment or about achieving a specific appearance, they are for me and my well being alone.

I hope you are discovering and doing those activities that meet your needs this year too. It’s a selfie of Nat’s face with a wry smile and slightly messy, short brown hair. She happens to be at her desk at work and trying not to let that bum her out too much.

Sure, we can do this!
family · holidays

Merry Christmas to Sam

Oh, Christmas. 

There’s so much that’s difficult about the holidays but one of the things I love is getting gifts from my family members. That may seem obvious. What’s not to like about new shiny stuff? But what I love are the identity affirming aspects of gift giving. These are the gifts that say, I see you, I know you.

What’s relevant to the blog are the gifts that recognize sporty me. I got sailing booties and a spray top from Sarah. I love the feminist fitness themed t-shirts I got from university age son. See above. And Jeff got my commuting bike in order for winter riding with snow tires and fenders. Part of the gift was putting them on.

The winter bike tires aren’t studded. They’re more like car tires. Here’s the Mountain Equipment Co-op description: “Studless tires for northern winter, these ones grip when other cyclists are left spinning their wheels. Hundreds of lamellae (tiny biting edges, like those found on gecko’s feet) interlock with slick road surfaces.”

I’m looking forward to trying them out.

Did you get any fitness-y gifts that recognize your sporty self? Please tell us about them in the comments.

family · fitness · motivation

Sam craves early mornings but just how early?

Readers know that I’m a morning person. Here’s my piece on the allure of very early mornings.

I’ve written lots about finding time that way and sometimes about how I can struggle with it.

Still it’s my go-to way of finding time for work and for fitness.

If I’ve got a big thing due the next day staying up late to finish it doesn’t occur to me. Instead, I go to bed early and set the alarm at 4 or 5 as needed, even 3 rather than staying up late.

I admire celebrities who are very early risers. How does The Rock, for example, find time to work out? He gets up super early. My Rock app alarm time gives me the option of getting up at Rock Time. I can get set my alarm for whatever time he chooses. Usually that’s at 330 am.

I reported on my week with the Rock Clock here.

Now Mark Wahlberg has one upped the Rock, sharing his sleep and workout and prayer schedule with the world. He gets up even earlier at 2:30 am. He’s in bed by 7:30 pm.

Here’s a plea to save Mark Wahlberg from this schedule.

Can you imagine going to bed at 7:30 and rising at 2:30? He does it he says to get the exercise out of the way before his family wakes up.

For Wahlberg and the Rock looking fit is part of their job. They need those muscles and those visible abs.

I’m an academic dean. There’s no merit pay for muscles in my role. But still I’m fascinated by the super successful extreme early risers.

My mother’s theory, at least I think it’s my mother’s, is that nothing good happens in the evening. Usually it’s a time to sit around and relax. Few people write or workout in the evening. Instead, so this theory goes, we eat cookies and watch television.

(Note to friends who are super productive night owls. I see you. I know you. And I know it’s not true for all people. That’s why I attributed the view to my mother. Sorry mom.  I know night owls who struggle with trying to fit into society’s norms around work and schedules.)

But for people like me who are “Alive, Alert, Awake, Enthusiastic”  in the morning, the evenings can be a sink hole of inactivity.

We likely need some of that down time, true. But how much?

As far as getting to your goals, it’s wasted time. But I’m never tempted to turn on Netflix in the morning. The most procrastinate-y stuff I get up to is dog walking and house cleaning.

So the morning, the early morning, feels like the best time to exercise.

How about you?