fitness · nature · walking

Happy Christmas Bird Count

Happy Christmas Bird Count to all my friends who observe.

What’s it all about?

“Each year, Ontario Nature member groups organize bird counts in their communities across Ontario as part of holiday traditions. A festive holiday tradition, the annual Christmas Bird Counts (CBCs) welcome birders of all skill levels to these free events.

CBCs bring community scientists around the western hemisphere to count as many different species, and individuals of those species as possible over the course of a single day within a 24-kilometre diameter circle.

Join a bird count in your area this holiday season to contribute to bird research in North America.”

What’s the fitness connection?

Read The Surprising Health Benefits of Bird-Watching in the New York Times

“It’s no secret that spending time in nature is good for your mind. Studies show that even a stroll through a city park decreases stress, sharpens concentration and improves long-term mental health outcomes.

A few studies suggest there might be something especially healthy about birds in particular. One, published in October, found that just being near bird song improved mental well-being.

Birds are “accessible and equitable, because they’re everywhere in every habitat,” said Holly Merker, a guide for the National Audubon Society and co-author of the book, “Ornitherapy.” Even dense cityscapes offer rock doves (often incorrectly called pigeons), sparrows, hawks and falcons.

There is less research on the physical benefits of birding specifically, but evidence does suggest that walking regularly can help you live longer. And as any bird-watcher will tell you, the lure of the next bird inspires you to walk farther than you normally would.”

Photo by Jeremy Hynes on Unsplash
fall · fitness · nature · season transitions · Seasonal sadness

Is there a way to redeem November?

I love September. It’s the first month of the university year. There’s lots of things to do on campus. I love the bustling atmosphere of all the students returning.

🍁🍁🍁🍁🍁🍁

October is Halloween and pumpkins and while some of the days are dark and grey I find the brightness of the yellow and orange leaves helps.

Here’s Michael Enright in praise of October.

🎃🎃🎃🎃🎃🎃

December is all seasonal celebrations, concerts, family, holidays, gifts and joy. It feels very cozy and I love the music.

🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲

While January is cold and snowy here there’s often a lot of bright sun beaming off the bright white snow. Also the days are getting noticeably longer. Usually I head south in January and get some winter bicycling in.

☃️☃️☃️☃️☃️☃️

February and March can seem long I know but again there’s sun and I’ve got spring in my sights.

☀️☀️☀️☀️☀️☀️

But November? The leaves are gone. It’s not yet snowy, mostly grey and cold and rainy. It’s dark when I go to work and dark when I come home. There aren’t even any good holidays in November. I’m Canadian, remember. We did Thanksgiving in October.

☂️☂️☂️☂️☂️☂️

November is objectively the darkest and worst month of the year. I need a way to redeem November. I should be able to find something good about November. But what?

❓❓❓❓❓❓

Your suggestions and ideas about redeeming November are welcome. And while I appreciate that some people can lean into the misery and kind of revel in the worst month of the year gloom, that’s not me. I need ways of making it through November, and for this year, I need ways that don’t involve more outside exercise. As I rehab my knee that isn’t going to happen. I need to know what you like about November. What’s November’s good side? Somebody has to like November, right?

Goodbye October. Hello, November.
fitness · habits · meditation · nature · October

Christine’s Meditative Afternoon

The Thanksgiving holiday gave me the opportunity to have a nice, slow start to my week on Monday.

I took Khalee for a walk and, even though it was windy, I took time to tune into my surroundings, noticing how the leaves have changed (or fallen), how the river noises are quieter, and how everything smells a little different right now.

A light haired dog on a green leash. Shadows from the dog and her owner are being cast on nearby grass.
It was kind of windy today but Khalee and I still enjoyed our walk. Image description: a photo of a light-haired medium-sized dog on a green leash is facing away from the camera while standing on a gravel path next to some grass. My shadow and Khalee’s are visible on the grass. Because it is late afternoon in autumn, the sun is low so our shadows are VERY long and we look disproportionately tall.

When I came home, I took down the load of clothes I had hung earlier. (It was a fine day on clothes, as the saying goes.) This task can be pretty mundane (or even boring) but today it was routine in a good way – repetitive actions with positive results.

A line of laundry in the late afternoon autumn sunlight
The repeated actions of hanging (and taking down) laundry) are meditative in their own way. Image description: a line of laundry hanging in my yard on a late autumn afternoon. The sun is shining through leaves so there are patches of sun and shadow The clothesline stretches from my patio to my shed so aside from the laundry, the photo shows some potted plants, a lawn chair with a red pillow, my patio rail, and some trees and my red-painted shed in the background.

As I turned with my basket of clean clothes, I noticed how inviting my swing looked and I remembered how much I enjoyed meditating while sitting there cross-legged the other day.

An outdoor shot of a hammock and a large round swing hanging from trees in the corner of a backyard. The grass in front of the trees is covered in brown leaves.
Two of my favourite parts of my backyard. Image description: a photo of one corner of my yard where my brown and orange hammock hangs from two trees and a round swing with green trim hangs from one of the branches. My wooden fence is one background and my (still green!) grass is littered with crunchy brown leaves.

So I decided to meditate there again today.

An outdoor shot of a woman (from the shoulders up) in her backyard.
No, I’m not actually meditating here, obviously. I was trying to use the back camera on my phone and took umpteen photos, each more bizarre looking than the last, and I fluked into this one. I decided to roll with it. Image description: an outdoor photo of me in my backyard. I am sitting on a round swing but it’s not visible in the photo. I am wearing a blue fleece jacket, my light brown hair is pulled back from my face in a cloth band, and my eyes are closed. I am smirking and I’m wearing one headphone. Grass, trees, my fence, (and part of my orange and brown hammock) are visible in the background.

And that brings me to 51 days of meditation in a row.

When I opened the Insight Timer app today, it offered this very appropriate quote for how I felt at the end of my meditative afternoon:


Mental health is not a destination,
but a process. It’s about how you
drive, not where you’re going.

– NOAM SHPANCER, PHD

I liked how, today, I have ‘driven’ myself calm instead of driving myself around the proverbial bend.

Wishing you all ease for the week ahead. Please try not to cram 5 days of work into a 4 day week. 💚⭐️

advice · camping · fitness · habits · nature · self care

To Get More Active, Inconvenience Yourself

I went summer camping with 5 friends recently. We went biking, swimming, kayaking, and hiking—regular outdoor physical activities one might do while in The Nature.

During this time, I noticed how often we were up and moving around to do simple tasks and chores throughout the day, even when we weren’t out out doing the recreational exercise activities.

When we wanted to go to sleep, we had to put up a tent. When we wanted to make a fire but ran out of wood, we had to scavenge or head to the conservation office to buy more. When we wanted to brush our teeth, it was a walk or a bike down the path to the loo. Whenever I misplaced bug spray or sunscreen, I was up rummaging around to find what I needed.

A campfire at night with wood on the ground
There’s exercise to be had in scavenging for firewood!

Not everything was within easy reach when you are camping: there’s often a little added effort to find, get, or make whatever you need. Without all the conveniences of home, we were moving, walking, bending, and stretching in short bouts all day long.

Like most people, I often establish habits and use tools that maximize convenience and comfort when I am at home. How much more physical activity might add up in my days if I intentionally made things slightly less easy for myself? What if I chose to knead bread without the mixer, walk to my mailbox rather than stop after my commute home, use one tissue box at a time rather than plant them in many rooms of the house?

Wall-E holds a plant next to a spaceship
Wall-E Theatrical release poster (fair use)

The animated Disney movie Wall-E tells a story of how, in the future, people have every luxury thanks in part to the machines they invent; consequently, they become totally inert and lazy. The moral of this cautionary tale is that excessive convenience and comfort will diminish our ability to think and act and move for ourselves.

Of course, my tent-trailer and Coleman stove camping experience was still relatively easy and convenient, but I realized that adding some purposeful inconveniences in my daily life could lead to a little more physical activity that I might not even notice.

What are some small inconveniences you maintain for a little more physical activity each day?

nature · self care

In her next life, Bettina wants to be a surfing hippo

That’s it. In the title right there.

I don’t know if any of you have been watching what a friend of mine described as “peak millennial”, the new Netflix documentary “Our Great National Parks”, narrated by Barack Obama. If so, you’ll know what I’m talking about. If not, here’s the official trailer, and right away at 0:05, you can catch a glimpse of my new favourite animal: the surfing hippo.

The official trailer of the Netflix documentary “Our Great National Parks”.

These wonderful beasts live in Loango National Park in Gabon. They hang out in freshwater lagoons during the day, but at dusk, they stroll down to the beach to catch some waves. They then drift along the shore with the current to where they know the best juicy grass to grow, and graze on that overnight.

I don’t know about you, but that seems like a pretty desirable lifestyle right now. When I was in high school in the UK, I was a lifeguard and part of our training included surfing to really get to know our local beach and its currents. I loved it, and one of the very few gripes I have with where we live right now is that it’s awfully far away from the sea. Catching those waves was always so much fun and really gets your mind off of everything going on around you, and as we know, things are hard right now.

Just watching these majestic creatures drifting through the water and playing in the waves last night made me feel infinitely more relaxed (a Yoga with Adriene session just before may have helped too). If I believed in multiple lives, I would definitely want to be a surfing hippo in Loango National Park in my next one.

I’ve only seen one episode so far, but if you need soothing, I would highly recommend “Our Great National Parks”. Stunning pictures of epic nature, animals, and Barack Obama’s calming voice, it’s a winning combo in my book.

advice · fitness · health · hiking · meditation · nature

Hiking with a Book

I almost always go on 2 to 3-hour hikes with friends. I enjoy the great conversation topics, the companionship, and the treats we often enjoy together afterwards.

But one recent morning, and for the first time, I found myself wanting to go on a solo hike outside. Because I also enjoy the company of books, I decided to bring one with me.

The place

three trees and water (The Thames River, London, Ontario)
Spring! Photo by Elan Paulson

Hiking with a book is not exactly like reading in your backyard or on a deck. One of the best parts about hiking with a book is that you have find a spot to read. While I was outside primarily for exercise, I was also side-questing for the best place to stop. On the hill or by the water? On a rock or a log? Behind or facing the sun?

Once I hiked as far as I had wanted to go, I doubled back and settled on the best of my mentally shortlisted spots: a great, flat tree stump that was surrounded by trees but also eye-line to the river. It was perfect!

The book

On sites like Bustle and Goodreads, and on blogs like thehikinglife there are lists and lists of books to take along hiking and backpacking. But I am mostly a short-distance hiker who is not really drawn to stories about radical feats of extreme hiking.

Cover of One Story, One Song, by Richard Wagamese

Instead, I brought a book I had just bought: One Story, One Song (2015) by Ojibway author Richard Wagamese. He is one of my favourite writers, and it was a happy coincidence to read Wagamese’s reflections on what he has learned from the land while being on the land myself.

The experience

Out in the crisp spring air, on my solo hike I savoured both the hike itself and anticipation of stopping to read.

When I sat and read, I paused between chapters under the section titled “Humility,” which put into relief some of the petty challenges that had wound me up over the past week. As I looked at the water and listened to the little birds chirping and flitting around me, I thought quietly about my own humility.

When I resumed the rest of my hike, book in pocket, I set some positive intentions for the upcoming week based on what I had read and thought about. In the middle of my busy week, I plan to find some quiet time by recalling what I had read and where I was when I read it.

So, this week I discovered how outdoor reading that is “bookended” by some alone hiking time can be replenishing for both body and mind. I definitely recommend it!

Do you hike with books? What do you read, and where?

inclusiveness · nature · self care · yoga

Yoga Outside

When it’s cold outside, and I’m lying on my couch in a Wordsworthian mood, I think about my summer fitness activities. Doing yoga outside for the first time was one!

Over the years I’ve done yoga almost exclusively inside (including stretching in my bathroom). What I remember about inside yoga:

  • Get there early to get a spot where you want to be–the mirrors or the walls, the back or the front, near or away from the door.
  • Can be a tight fit. Tape on the floors so you know where to park your mat.
  • People half ignoring you, half checking you out.
  • Water bottles, quick dry towels, and stretchy outfits outside of my price range.
  • Bells and bowls and Buddha statues and instrumental flute playlists.

This is a broad brush. I am certain yoga studios have a range of vibes. But the juiced-up versions of inside yoga seem to encourage focusing on all the wrong things about yoga. When Sam sent around this link, US-based yoga studio popular with celebrities opening first Toronto location, I could only imagine this chain’s next level of bougie. (As the lead image suggests, it’s teal-only yoga wear there).

Trying Yoga Outside

This past summer, when the studios were closed due to COVID, a few friends and I signed up for a morning outside yoga class. And when I say outside I mean we were on the grass next to the parking lot of a local craft brewpub.

A woman is meditating in a half-nose pose with her arms above her head - Sanjali padmasana. Back view
“A woman is meditating in a half-nose pose with her arms above her head – Sanjali padmasana. Back view” by wuestenigel is licensed under CC BY 2.0. So, not me.

Yoga outside immediately felt different from yoga inside. Sunshine, grass, trees, sky, breeze. A smallish group, there was friendly eye contact and slightly sheepish smiles. No floor tape–my choice of mat placement was shade or sun. Folks brought water, but registration also came with a beer, which you could drink after the session–or during, as our yoga instructor did.

When I stretched to the sky, I reached for tree branches. When I rolled a bit off my mat, soft grass cushioned my body. When I relaxed in savasana pose, the sun warmed my face. The traffic, bugs, and uneven ground were all noticeable, but they somehow made me feel more connected to my place and space. I didn’t need or want bells or a flute playlist.

Yoga in North America

I am far from the first to note that North Americans culturally appropriate yoga. As Yoga International’s Arundhati Baitmangalkar says, “Yoga is a spiritual practice. It is a way of living. It’s a practice of self-study and mind management. It is a way of thinking, speaking, being—and more. Yoga is a part of Indian culture and heritage.”

Doing what I will call “middle-class white person yoga at 11 in the morning, beer in hand” was definitely NOT reflecting the culture and heritage of India.

But being outside meant no appropriated or commercialized artefacts or symbols. The instructor was inclusive and supportive in her instructions. She was not South Asian, but her shape and size was that of a regular person, not someone who stepped out of a Lululemon yoga ad. No teal.

Baitmangalkar goes on to note that in many studios the goal is a workout, not yoga. I fully accept that the outside yoga was more of a workout. But my friends and I were also looking for some mind management and self-care after having struggled with supporting others during the COVID pandemic. We wanted to reconnect with our spirits and the world that day.

I am not recusing myself of participating in cultural appropriation by doing craft beer yoga, but being outside the inside studio made me consider how I might further educate myself and engage with yoga living. I’m going to start with some of the recommendations in Baitmangalkar’s article.

For those who practice outside yoga regularly, please share your experiences in the comments!

fitness · nature · walking

Walking To Catch Up

I think I am developing a new Sunday habit – a walking chat.

Or maybe a chatting walk?

Either way, I’m having a great time catching up with friends while we walk along various trails in my community (and near by.)

A selfie - I’m sitting in the driver’s seat in my car wearing sunglasses, a black  baseball cap, and a blue fleece jacked with a Fastsigns logo. The sign is shining on the lower part of my face and I’m smirking.
I always bring my smirk on a walk. You know, just in case. Image description: A selfie – I’m sitting in the driver’s seat in my car wearing sunglasses, a black  baseball cap, and a blue fleece jacked with a Fastsigns logo. The sign is shining on the lower part of my face and I’m smirking.

In the Before Times, I probably would have just waited until we could swing a time to sit down together in someone’s house or a cafe and we’d catch up on each other’s lives while we snacked and drank tea.

I’m still strongly pro-snack (and pro-tea) but here in the During Times I don’t find it as relaxing to be in cafes or even in other people’s homes. I’ve met a few people for tea – sometimes on patios and sometimes inside – but I’ve also missed seeing a lot of people who I would normally catch up with in person every few months.

Recently, my friend Elaine wanted to bounce a few ideas off of me and I was about to suggest that we meet on Zoom on Sunday morning when I impulsively suggested that we meet for a walk instead.

As I was starting out on my ideas walk with Elaine that Sunday, my cousin Sheri, who I haven’t seen in ages, texted me about walking with her later that day. I jumped at the chance for two walks and two chats and I really had a relaxing, connected-feeling Sunday as a result.

This past week, my friend Sandy and I realized that we had gone too long without a chat and decided that this Sunday, we would take our conversation on the road. (Ok, so it was actually a path but it had the same effect.)

We did an hour’s walk and crammed in about 3 hours of conversation. I suspect that anyone overhearing us thought we were on fast- forward 😉

And, once again, my Sunday found me feeling relaxed and connected.

Two people's shadows among the shadows of leaves on a gravel pathway. There are fallen leaves among the gravel and there is a patch of greenery on the upper left side.
Sandy and I are VERY shadowy figures indeed. Please note that Sandy is not that much taller than me nor does she have a triangular head. Shadows can be deceiving. Image description: Our shadows among the shadows of leaves on a gravel pathway. There are fallen leaves among the gravel and there is a patch of greenery on the upper left side.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’d still love to cozy into a chair with my hands wrapped around a cup of tea and have in-depth conversation but right now those conversations aren’t as relaxing as they once were. I get distracted by the ambient anxiety of living in our Covid-world.

And Zoom chats are good but they can’t fully replace being in someone’s comforting and invigorating presence.

Walking to catch up is the perfect solution for me. I get to have a bit more movement in my day, I get to actually SEE my friends and, we get to have the sort of wandering and satisfying conversations you can really only have in-person. 

I’m definitely making plans to do this regularly and catch up with everyone I have been missing. 

Who’s up for a walk next Sunday?

A wide gravel path with trees and grass on both sides is in partial sunlight. A park bench painted in rainbow/Pride colours can be seen ahead on the right side.
This not the road less travelled, it’s the path we took! Image description: a wide gravel path with trees and grass on both sides is in partial sunlight. A park bench painted in rainbow/Pride colours can be seen ahead on the right side.
Black Present · fitness · nature

NY Times readers of color find joy outside

In case you don’t get the Race/Related newsletter from the NY Times, I wanted to share a few of the lovely photos and reflections on the joy of the outdoors, submitted by NYT readers of color. They made me smile and encouraged me out the door (I’m writing this an hour before going swimming with Norah).

Leesa: I am in loving motion with CoCoBaby. Yes, I named my bike. Street hustling and sidewalk flowing every morning and every evening, with her. She brings me joy — my CocoBaby! She helps me forget my woes and absorb myself with nature: the sultry heat of the summer sun, the crisp fall air with crunchy leaves under her tires, the rainy downpour of the Pacific Northwest rains. Riding on CocoBaby is a mindful meditation of how to be present and breathe in my joy, my gratitude for life and every adventure in between.
Leesa and CoCo Baby, her two-wheeled friend.
Leesa and CoCo Baby, her two-wheeled friend.
Roslyn: My mother tells the story of how at age 3, she put me down to feel the sand on my feet for the first time at the beach and I shockingly took off, fast, racing straight toward the waves, chubby arms extended, as if I knew how to swim. I did not. But I have always loved the water.
Here, I am walking one of many paths along the Palisades, the water and New York City skyline to my right, with my favorite four-legged girl, Moxie, in tow. Paired with endless sky, I can remember how small my worries are, and I am thankful for this bit of time where it is my Moxie, the water and me.
Faith and her dog Moxie, standing on the Palisades, the Hudson River in the background.
Roslyn and her dog Moxie, standing on the Palisades, the Hudson River in the background.
Faith: One day last year I went kayaking in the bayous of City Park in New Orleans. As I shoved off from the bank, the rental attendant looked concerned.
“Have you used a kayak before?” she asked.
“Yes, I know what I’m doing,” I replied.
It struck me a few minutes later — I did know what I was doing! Because I did not grow up with any regular tradition of outdoor life, I’m a little proud of myself for learning to handle a kayak.
Faith handling the tandem kayak while her son Eli rocks some great sunglasses.

Biking, hiking, paddling: all of these bring joy and offer ways to navigate the natural world. Seeing other people loving nature reminds me of my own relationship with it. And, like all relationships, it flourishes only when we tend to it. So I’m going to wrap up now, make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and get my swim bag together. See y’all later!

Readers, what kinds of experiences remind you of your love of nature? Do you have to go far, to a mountaintop? Can you get that warm feeling in your backyard? Let us know.

blog · camping · canoe · cycling · family · fashion · fitness · illness · nature · season transitions · Seasonal sadness · traveling

Blogging in September: My birthday, the blog’s birthday, back to school, and other themes

There are lots of things I could write about today. I’ve spent a fair bit of time pondering my choice of topics.

I was going to write about my annual thyroid cancer check up. It’s today. And if all goes well it’s my last annual check up. (Fingers crossed.) After today they’re every five years. My birthday last week was also mammogram day. It’s as if September weren’t a busy enough month for an academic. It’s also cancer screening season for me.

I thought about writing whether Tracy and I want to write a turning 60 book, to follow up our turning 50 project, Fit at Midlife: A Feminist Fitness Journey. We’re having dinner together tonight and no doubt the subject will come up

Let’s see. It’s also blog birthday season. As Tracy posted, happy 9th birthday blog! We’re nearly at 5000 posts too. That’s hard to believe. This post is 4990!

And the blog’s birthday and my birthday, not surprisingly given how the blog got started, are pretty close together. Another possible topic, what does 57 mean anyway?

Here’s a photo from my birthday bike ride!

Jeff, Dhurin, me, Kim, Ellen and Sarah on the birthday bike ride

At this time of year I often write about back to school and trying to stay physically active as work gets busier and busier. This year, unlike last, I’m back in my office. I’m not yet back at the gym.

I’m having big busy days filled with work and people. So many people! I gave a lecture to O-Week students (photo on the right) and hung out with incoming College of Arts students at our Food Truck lunch meet and greet (photo on the left.)

I also biked around meeting parents and students on move-in day. (Round photo at the bottom.)

Sam’s pink Bromption outside Zavitz Hall at the University of Guelph

I’m back in the office now, wearing (mostly) real clothes. I looked at my clothes the other day and wondered why there were so many pairs of yoga pants. Who needs five pairs of yoga pants? Oh right, work from home and the pandemic. I could write about wearing clothes again. I’m working my way back to real shoes but I am not there yet.

In recent years I’ve been suffering a bit from seasonal sadness and trying to tell myself new stories about fall and winter, leaning into the time of cold and dark. I’ve been trying to extend outdoor activities into the fall. We’re going canoe camping again one more time this fall. And we are also looking at more fall gravel riding plans. So there’s that.

I’m a bit nervous that the no travel thing is continuing and it looks like this will be another year in which I don’t get to go somewhere warm with my bike for the winter. I miss the southern US! I miss Florida and Arizona for winter cycling.

In the end, I just want to let you know how much we’ve been enjoying our time in Prince Edward County and likely will continue that into the autumn too.

How’s your September starting out as we move into the fall?

Here’s a farm frog and a some pumpkins.

Frog and pumpkins