fitness · planning

Little buds of optimism in January

It’s January. It’s cold. It snowed this weekend. Here’s what it looks like outside my house:

Wintry snowy scene (about 3 inches/6 cm) outside my house.
Wintry snowy scene (about 3 inches/6 cm) outside my house.

Of course, other places got more snow this weekend:

Two brave Newfoundland snowplows, making their way to open up a highway (yes, that's right).
Two brave Newfoundland snowplows, making their way to open up a highway (yes, that’s right).

Yeah, it’s January.

Despite all this January-ness, I’m finding little signs of spring. Yesterday I noticed that a few of my orchids are putting out new shoots with buds.

These orchids, by the way, are the champions of consistent, independent plant performance. I bought them at IKEA years ago for $11.99 apiece, and they have kept blooming and re-blooming, with very little help from me. What can I say, I think they like it here.

Budding plants are my favorite sign of optimism for the future. We don’t know that blooms will happen, and in the case of these orchids, it’s going to take some time for them to come into full flower. But as long as I pay a modicum of attention to them, they’ll do what they do, and I’ll be rewarded with blooms like these (this one’s from last March):

White orchid blooms in various stages.
White orchid blooms in various stages.

This week, I was feeling some budding of my own optimism. I signed up for the Bikes Not Bombs bike-a-thon for this June 14. I’m doing the 30-mile ride and fundraising for this organization that gives bikes to kids, teaches them how to ride and maintain bikes, and how to be good world citizens through bike riding.

Bikes not Bombs bike-a-thon-- I'm registered!
Bikes not Bombs bike-a-thon– I’m registered!

And yes, there’s a little fundraising.

Getting started with donations-- $25 down, $175 to go.
Getting started with donations– $25 down, $175 to go.

Signing up for a June charity ride has got me feeling excited about spring and summer riding already. Of course, I’ve got to pay attention to preparation (yes, this means riding the trainer) in order for my riding to be in full flower by June. My orchids and me– we’ve got some work to do. And this is the time for it.

Color me smiling.

Smiling emoji, filling in for smiling Catherine.
Smiling emoji, filling in for smiling Catherine.

Hey readers, what are you thinking about this January? Any budding thoughts or plans for spring and summer activities? How are you feeling about them? I’d love to hear from you.

planning · Sat with Nat

On the cusp of a decade Nat thinks about longterm goals.

In October I turned 45, which makes this the year I’m exactly half my grandmother’s age.

I was asking her about what life was like for her at 45. She had been a grandmother for 3 years and I was her second grandkid. She has 9 now and at least 9 great-grandchildren and a step great-great granddaughter!

She told me it was in her 40s that she had a lot of aches and pains so her doctor prescribed some morning stretches and to walk every day. She still does her stretches and walks. It is clearly working for her.

I’m probably a couple years away from being a grandmother but who knows? My kids are 18 & 20. These things are not in my control.

In my chats with Gran we often talk about how life is filled with unexpected things. Looking over the past 10 years we’ve both had struggles and great joys. When I think about the next 10 years I am humbled.

I think it is important to make long term plans even if mine rarely survive a year. My plans for 10 years from now include things like saving for retirement, learning how to even better manage my mental health and enjoy moving my body.

My kids will likely be moved out. I want to still be walking lots, doing yoga and cycling. Who knows what else?

I’m mindful to cultivate inexpensive hobbies. I’ve decided that triathlon needs too much expensive equipment and a much more robust commitment to training than I’m willing to make.

I’ve tried rock climbing. My partner and oldest son love it. Me? Not so much.

I’m lucky that I have many friends 10 to 20 years older than me who share their joys and challenges around self-care, fitness and family.

From what I can tell the next 10 years will see a shift in my caregiving responsibilities so I’d best stay in shape to support my resilience.

It may seem a bit odd to take motivation from a possible future 10 years from now but it totally works for me.

A small stain glass peice of art shows a cyclist speeding down a steep hillside.

“Descent” by Paul Brown

This art reminds my partner and I each day about the thrills of cycling and the joy it brings.

Where do you draw your motivation and inspiration for fitness from?

cycling · Guest Post · planning · running · yoga

A different kind of running (Guest post)

By Shawna Lewkowitz

The lessons learned while being active are ones we can use in every part of our lives. My own journey of running and doing yoga taught me plenty and served me well for when I decided to leap into a whole different kind of running, as the NDP candidate for London West in the Federal Election. 

For years I was a regular runner but like many, I didn’t come to running until later in life and it took me a while to see myself as a “real” runner, whatever that is supposed to mean. I made my way from 5ks to 10ks to half marathons, always believing marathons were out of reach for me – meant for the actual real runners. People who were of course more athletic and capable than I was.

As you can imagine, the decision to run in the election wasn’t a simple one either. I’d asked and supported many women to run and founded a local organization,  Women & Politics to support them when they did. But for many reasons, when previously asked to run, I’d always said no.

 This time was different. I still went through the cycle of questions: Am I really the right person to do this? Do I have the grit to make it through the inevitable criticism, long days and hours of campaigning? How will I make this work with all the other responsibilities in my life? What will the impact be on my family? And most of all, do I really want this? Questions that were similar to the ones I’ve asked myself in other situations.

Before doing marathons, I wasn’t sure I was capable of running 42.2 kms or perhaps more pointedly, doing the training to run 42.2 kms. Before doing yoga regularly, I didn’t think I was capable of a daily yoga practice. I eventually learned that like everyone, I am always capable of more than I think I am and that big challenges usually excite us and terrify us in equal measure. So, after lots of conversations, soul searching and contemplation, I took the leap and said yes to being a candidate. 

Running and yoga proved to be great teachers for an election. During the actual campaign period, the days were long and extremely intense. Twelve hour days or longer, with at least half of that spent out door knocking were the norm. I consistently woke up tired. But just like training for running, I put on my shoes and headed out the door. There was no “if” about it, I just did what needed to be done.

But none of us do anything truly on our own. When I was training for marathons I did so alongside a supportive running community and encouraging friends and family. In my daily yoga challenge, I had a consistent online group of like-minded yogis. For my election run, I had an amazing campaign team working with me and an incredible partner and two teenage daughters who all who took on the bulk of our family responsibilities. They made it easy for me to focus on what I needed to do. 

I treated the pre-campaign period before the election was officially called, as my “base training”. We were door knocking and listening to people all summer long. The time spent walking and listening for those months laid the foundation for the six-week election period (the marathon). Not only the intense physical requirement of campaigning but also the intellectual and emotional considerations of being “on” and in tune with people’s needs.

My many years of doing yoga, brought a calm and clarity to the emotional experience of campaigning. People shared really hard stories at the door and they trusted us to do something about the issues they were facing. At times it was overwhelming – the pain and struggle people live with is real. When overwhelmed by the immensity of it all, I would go back to focusing on being present, listening and offering up a platform that I absolutely believed in. 

There were also the inevitable negative reactions at the door. Misogynistic comments about my appearance, my obvious feminism and my stance on gender issues. Men who would argue with me just for the sake of arguing, who would slam doors in my face and call me names. People who would make racist or homophobic comments to volunteers. But honestly these interactions were minimal compared to the positives experienced at the door. 

There will always be people who think we aren’t capable of accomplishing our goals – exercise, work or personal wise. They will put real and imagined obstacles in our way. The key is to see them for what they are and to stay focused on what we set out to do. The hate only drove me to push harder and as a runner, I know how to push hard. 

I did ultimately end up losing the election, but we ran a campaign I can say I am really proud of and I have absolutely no regrets about running. I’ve trained for races I couldn’t complete before. I know what it feels like to put your heart and soul into something and have it turn out differently than you hoped. But it doesn’t make the journey any less worthwhile and if anything, it prepares us even better for the next time we show up at the starting line. 

The lessons learned through being active have relevance to all areas of our lives. It is one of the many reasons we lace up our shoes, get on our mats, bring out our bikes, show up for that game, make time for that walk – we know the value is in more than just the moment. That our commitment to moving more, and reaching our goals helps us to do more, cope better and feel healthy in all areas of our lives. 

Shawna is an instructor and community-based learning coordinator in Social Justice and Peace Studies at King’s University College, founder of Women & Politics, and the past Federal NDP Candidate for London West. She does all kinds of active things that feed her soul but her favourite is getting lost in the woods with the people she loves. 

food · habits · nutrition · planning

Make-Ahead Breakfast Meal Prep–Oatmeal!

Catherine recently mentioned her desire to do more meal prep. I love to prep ahead my meals for the week. I have a Sunday routine in which I make enough breakfasts and lunches to last me through Friday. These little containers give me peace of mind–reassurance that I will be well-fed without a hassle all week. If dinner has to be on the fly, that’s somehow more manageable than breakfast or lunch. For me, the hardest part of making meal prep a routine was consistently coming up with the plan before I went to the grocery store on Saturday. If I forgot to think about the entire meal–forgot a serving of fruit, or didn’t think to check if I had enough eggs–then the meal prep would be off for a whole week. So, in the spirit of helping others prep, I thought I’d share some of my recipes and shortcuts.

Today, Oatmeal.

I eat oatmeal at least 6 days a week, sometimes twice a day. Here are some of my favorite ways to prepare it in advance. I make it a complete meal with coffee, a couple eggs, some plain Greek yogurt and fruit, if there isn’t some added to the oats already.

Easiest Apple Oats.
This is my go-to oatmeal. It is endlessly variable, depending on what sounds good to me and what fruit is seasonal at the time. Apples are the easiest, since they stay pleasant all week, whereas pears, bananas, peaches and such can eventually become brown and soggy. Canned or dried fruit are options as well, of course.

1. Set out as many reusable containers with tight lids* as meals you are preparing ahead (I make 6 at a time, eating one the morning I prep).
In each container, place the following:
½ cup old-fashioned oats
¾ cup water
a sprinkle of cinnamon
1 tbs coarsely chopped nuts
1 tbs raisins, dried cranberries, or cherries
½ a chopped tart apple

2. Store covered in the refrigerator. When you are ready to serve the oats, remove the lid and cook in the microwave 2 minutes, or until the oats have soaked up the liquid.

3. Serve with a little brown sugar, milk/nondairy milk, or Greek yogurt on top.

Slow-cooker Steel-cut oats
These are just as easy as the last recipe, you just cook them ahead. Using the slow-cooker allows you to avoid the regular stirring and management that cooking steel-cut oats on the stove-top requires. These cook in about 30 minutes on the stove, if you want them faster, but be aware that they can stick and burn if not regularly stirred.

1. In your slow-cooker, place the following:
1 ½ cups steel-cut oats
6 cups water
Tsp or so of cinnamon and/or anise seeds

2. Cook on low heat overnight, or at least 8 hours, until most of the liquid is absorbed and the oats are chewy.

3. If you want to add fruit, add it now after it has cooked. Otherwise, it breaks down over the long cooking time and becomes unpleasant.
Optional add-ins to stir in now:
6 Tbs raisins or other dried fruit, chopped if appropriate
6 Tbs chopped walnuts or other unsalted nuts
3 chopped apples

4. Divide into 6 containers, cover and refrigerate until needed.

5. Serve warm by reheating in the microwave when you’re ready to enjoy it. This will thicken up considerably when it cools, so I like to serve it with milk (or actually soymilk, since I’m lactose intolerant) and a bit of butter and brown sugar.

Muesli
I like this variation in the warmer months or when I need to pack breakfast somewhere where the extra liquid would be unwelcome. (Note that TSA might give you a side eye on this one, so I don’t recommend it for breakfast on a morning flight in the US.) Multiply the basic recipe by as many servings as you want in advance.

1. Using a wide rubber spatula, stir together in a large bowl:
½ cup old-fashioned or quick oats
¾ cup plain Greek yogurt
½ tsp vanilla (cheap fake vanilla is fine for this)
½ coarsely chopped apple
1 tbs chopped nuts
dash cinnamon
optional but recommended:
½ chopped orange or a whole tangerine
some grated citrus zest

2. Press the mixture into a container that seals well and store up to 5 days. Optional but delicious–drizzle with a little honey before enjoying!

Your turn: do you have a favorite way to prep oatmeal in advance? I’d love to hear about it! And do let me know if you give any of these a try and how it goes!

*Oh, as a side note, any reusable container with a good lid will do for these. We have switched over nearly entirely to a set of Pyrex storage bowls in the last year. The lids are pretty tight (sometimes there’s a little liquid loss in transit, if I’m packing it to work in the morning), and the bowls are nice to reuse since they don’t take on flavors like plastic can. I caution you to not heat the lids, if you have these, though. They do not hold up well in the heat.

Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher. She can be found eating oatmeal, picking up heavy things and putting them back down again in Portland, Oregon.

aging · flexibility · health · illness · injury · nutrition · planning · schedule · self care · training · weight lifting

Sam gets frustrated with midlife precision and the complications of fitting it all in

There’s a story we tell here on the blog. Do the things you love, whatever movement fits into your day is good movement, eat what your body feels like eating.

Regular readers, you know our drill. It’s a relaxed, forgiving tune we sing around here most of the time.

Regular readers know too that I’ve been struggling a bit with that tune. These things are all true, I still sing that song, but at the same time things are getting more complicated with age and with injury. I’ve written before about doing things that aren’t fun (so much painful knee physio!) and about rest. Tl;dr: It’s complicated and sometimes I get frustrated.

Bitmoji Sam pointing at the word “lies”

It’s especially more complicated as we age. It’s especially more complicated for those of us with performance oriented fitness goals. Martha and Marjorie Rose are serious about their lifting. Kim and I have cycling goals. Others run and race. Cate is often preparing for her next big solo adventure. Christine is training for her next martial arts test.

As a group we’ve got a lot going on. We all do some strength work, some aerobic activity for endurance, some aerobic activity for intensity, and some activities for flexibility and mobility. For me, right now, it’s physio, weights, cycling and yoga.

I don’t mean to sound whiney. I’m not really complaining. It is what it is. But what it is is not simple or easy.

Sam’s bitmoji lifting weights.

So we’re busy but what do I mean by “more complicated”?

Do you remember when if you had a big project due for work or school you could just stay up all night, maybe even for a couple of nights, and push through? If you were working late you could skip meals, no problem. Aging takes away that ability for most of us. We need to be more organized and scheduled with our work and with our lives.

There are new rules for everyday eating too. For example, there’s a whole list of foods I don’t eat late in the day not because I’m concerned about my weight but because of heartburn. Oh, midlife. Lots of my friends are pretty scientific about their caffeine consumption. Luckily, I can still drink regular coffee after dinner but I think I’m the last in my friend group who is able.

All of these changes are present as we age as athletes too.

Here’s Abigail Barronian talking about the aging athlete, “It’s no secret that our bodies change as we age. Muscle mass and strength decline, it takes longer to recover from hard efforts, and our capacity to handle high training volumes can diminish. On top of that, mobility decreases and we become more prone to certain injuries. When an older athlete stops training, their fitness deteriorates significantly quicker than it did when they were young—and building it back is much harder.”

So given all the constraints it’s hard to be relaxed about things. Fitness in midlife and beyond requires more structure and thoughtful planning. If it used to be the fun, intuitive, freewheeling part of your life, that’s a tough psychological change too. Mostly it’s still a lot of fun for me but these days I’m finding the planning and organizing a bit stressful.

First, as we age rest becomes more important and it’s harder scheduling workouts and scheduling rest days, not to mention getting enough sleep. Aging athletes need more rest between tough workouts. I love rest but even for me sometimes the recommended amount of rest feels like too much. In recent years we’ve discovered that aging athletes can still work out hard. There’s no need to dial back workout intensity but there is a real need to rest more between workouts. We don’t recover and bounce back the way we used to.

See Recovery and aging athletes: A guide to train smart and stay strong

A colleague of mine, and former bicycle racer, who is now 59 years old, put it something like this: “In my twenties I recall being able to do five or six hard workouts a week and race back-to-back days without any trouble.

In my thirties this changed to three or four hard workouts a week and it was more difficult to race back-to-back days. In my forties, two or three hard workouts a week were more than enough, and racing back-to-back days was a bit of a challenge. In my fifties, one or two hard workouts a week were enough and recovering from a race took me about a week. Now, approaching 60…don’t even ask.”

The rest and recovery time of a 20 year old athlete is significantly different than that of a 45 year old athlete. It’s different again at 55 and so on. But this means that taking training plans off the internet won’t work. Often they don’t allow enough rest.

From Here’s how to get stronger after fifty: “As you age, your body bounces back more slowly from intense exercise. Successful older athletes should take their recovery as seriously as their training. “Younger athletes can get away with a poor lifestyle and still perform, but older athletes cannot,” Swift says.”

When I was younger it was just a matter of juggling, fitting in the activities I wanted to fit in, amid kids and a busy work schedule. But as we age there’s also the matter of resting between workouts which becomes more and more important. I’ve long been a fan of deliberate rest days and every coach I’ve had has talked about their importance. Except now they’re more important and I don’t have a coach to make sure I take them.

Likewise for lifting, as we age there’s more need for rest. I read a study recently that claimed for midlife women lifters the right ratio for strength training is two hard workouts followed by one easier workout with lighter weights. I’m not sure if that’s right or not but the main point stands, it’s complicated.

I’ve read too that after 50 you should move to two rest days a week of which one can be active recovery, gentle cardio or yoga maybe.

What am I trying to fit in? The big and important thing is knee physio and strength training. Say three days a week. Next up is cycling, also three days a week. I would like to do hot yoga twice a week. And I also want to take a complete rest day. Oh and also I have to be flexible and fit things in around a very demanding work schedule.

Wish me luck!

(Update: I see Catherine just purchased a training program that works in all the elements including rest. That’s one solution to fitting it all in. Go Catherine!)

Bitmoji Sam is holding a pillow. The text reads “rest up.”

Second, food is more complicated too. For me, there’s some planning involved. I have medication I have to take each morning on an empty stomach and then wait an hour before breakfast. That’s tricky. I also have medicine I have to take after breakfast because it can’t be taken on an empty stomach. Oh, and I need to get to work sometime.

There’s also this whole thing about aging athletes and muscle loss. Our bodies use protein less effectively so we are supposed to eat more of it, some with each meal. I also need fewer calories to get through the day–thanks also to aging– so protein takes up a good chunk of the calories. Add vegetables. Where’s the room for other food? That’s not easy to organize either.

See Muscle loss is in the news again for more details.

Bitmoji Sam ponders her lunch options

Thirdly, for pretty much all of us there are complications related to injury. My knee is an ongoing thing and recently Tracy injured her Achilles. When that happens you’re doing workouts but also physio and in my case massage therapy too. It can feel like a lot to manage.

Now maybe you might think that one doesn’t need to take it all so seriously. You can walk to work, stretch once in awhile, and do work around the house. And that’s true. You can. But if your goals are more about maintaining fitness as you age and not losing muscle, it’s complicated. Mostly I’m good with that. But I confess that some days I just want to not think about what I’m eating or when I’m next riding or lifting and curl up on the sofa with a mug of hot tea and a book.

Bitmoji Sam on a purple bean bag chair with a red book and a mug.

How about you? How do you fit it all in?

fitness · habits · motivation · planning

Facing Forward to Find More Fitness

Despite fitness triumphs in some areas in the past few years (hello, 3rd degree blackbelt), it’s been a while since I have been really happy with my overall fitness level.

I’ll develop some good habits for a while and then life will take another curve. That new factor/time management challenge will team up with my ADHD and I’ll have trouble fitting more than the bare minimum of exercise into my schedule.

And, then, I’ll find myself sliding a little bit further away from how I want to feel, further away from what I want to be able to do.

I’ve been saying for ages that I want to ‘get back’ to how I used to feel and I want to ‘get back’ to  the way my body was. (To be clear, I’m not trying to get back to the body of my youth, just to the one I had a few years ago.)  

Then, this week, I read Cate‘s and Tracy’s terrific posts about acknowledging and appreciating the body you have and about how, when it comes to our bodies, we can’t go back, we can only go forward.

Their posts hit me hard.

In many ways, I am very accepting of my body as it is – I don’t wish that I looked different, for instance – but I have been spending a lot of time wishing I could go back to my strength and fitness level from a few years ago (which still wasn’t where I wanted to be but it was closer than where I am now)

All that ruminating made me think of this quote from Mary Engelbreit.

Image of a mountain road with rocks and trees on the right hand side and blue sky above. White centre text reads 'Don't look back. You're not going that way.' Mary Engelbreit  White text in the bottom right corner reads 'University of Liverpool Online Programmes'
Sure, it’s obvious but it’s not untrue.

And that, in turn, reminded me about how often I have joked that I never want to be like one of those stupid people in movies who always look back when they are being chased and end up falling on their faces (and usually getting caught).

This was all on my mind as we were working on our patterns in taekwondo on this week and Master Downey reminded us to look where we were striking because ‘Where your eyes go, your energy goes.’

That’s when everything kind of came together in my mind.

I’ve been wasting a lot of energy looking back.

I keep looking back at my old self while I move forward. I haven’t fallen on my face, not yet, but it’s a definite risk.

I need to look ahead. I need to send my energy in the direction that I am going.

I need to move my fitness forward, not backward.

I can’t go back to where I was. I can, however, figure out what I want to work TOWARD.

I’m going to stop looking back. I’m not going that way.

A multicoloured background with white text that reads 'Do something today that your future self will thank you for. (from slickwords.com)
This is my new plan.


*They aren’t my stories to tell so I won’t get into details but in the past 3-4 years, several family members have had major health issues and required my help. I am happy to have the flexibility to be able to help them and I am glad to be there for people who need me. Even though I am quite willing to  help (and grateful to be able to), providing this support does take time and something has had to give – my exercise time/energy has often been the thing to go. Thanks to my ADHD, once I get off track a lot of time can pass before I realize what is missing from my schedule.

cycling · fitness · planning · training · traveling

Sam goes spring riding with friends (finally!)

Sarah front and center takes a selfie. On the photo’s left are the blog’s Kim and Susan and on the right are David and Sam. We standing in front of the sign for Billie Bear Road.

It’s been a cold wet spring. As Tracy posted last week we’ve had a miserable few months of cold wet weather that hasn’t exactly been inspiring outdoor activity. I was envisioning months of outdoor riding leading up to our Newfoundland trip. (I think there’s still room, by the way.) Instead I’ve been riding inside even in May!

Well this weekend is the May holiday weekend in Canada and while the weather wasn’t perfect, it wasn’t terrible for riding either. Susan invited Sarah, David, Kim and me to her family cottage for the weekend and we all brought our bikes so could ride and get ready for our big Newfoundland adventure. Susan got to introduce us to her favorite nearby hilly road. You could tell it was warm and the holiday weekend because on Sunday there were three other groups of cyclists on that same stretch of road.

I think we all felt a bit rusty. Well, I did. Susan got to ride her fancy new bike. We all got to practise our group riding skills. The hills were demanding on the way up and “whee!”on the way down. I loved the hills. I wasn’t a big fan of all the gravel that had washed into the road. But there was a big smile on my face doing one of the things I liked most in the world, riding bikes with friends.

This week it’s back to work and back to my resolution of riding 20 km and writing 30 minutes each day.

The weekend ended wth the other great Canadian spring tradition, bbqing in the rain. Quite the thunderstorm. Thanks Sarah. Image description: Sarah in a red raincoat tending the BBQ on the deck with the lake in the background.

After riding there was food, of course. Here’s a bagel with black bean spread, avocado, and melted cheddar cheese. Yum!