Sat with Nat

My high blood pressure 7 year anniversary. Notes to my younger self.

Recommended soundtrack: feeling groovy by Simon & Garfunkel

My social media memories nudged me this week with a series of posts about getting a high blood pressure diagnosis.

Re-reading my first post about my thoughts and feelings

https://fitisafeministissue.com/2014/04/13/i-cant-fight-genetics-guest-post/

I wish I could whisper a few words in my younger self’s ear. I can’t change the past 7 years but maybe you know someone who can benefit from this hard earned wisdom.

Bar none, the thing that made the biggest difference was medication. When I look at the most effective and clearly linked to outcomes, the choice to take my morning pill is #1.

I wish I hadn’t worried so much about food and alcohol. I eat now pretty much how I did then but there was a lot of hand wringing and pointless worrying. I was already eating in accordance with Canada’s Food Guide. Lots of vegetables, a little grain & protein and fruit.

For alcohol, I went sober, renegotiated my relationship with alcohol, chose to drink again and feel good about how my alcohol use feels like a choice.

I’ve done lots of movement, some of it is “working out” but the thing that has stuck and remains my foundation is walking. A lot. Like 10 km a day. It feels easy. It feels sustainable and it doesn’t hurt my body.

I did not go for gastric bypass and I’m glad. My weight has fluctuated from 268 to 200 and all over the place in the last 7 years. My blood pressure remained the same. It’s my veins, not my weight, that are my challenge.

Yoga makes regular appearances in my routine and my relationship with it has blossomed into one of deep appreciation and respect.

There is no one thing that will regulate my blood pressure, it’s a complicated system. I’ve learned to chill the fuck out about a lot of things.

Having a robust social, emotional, physical and fitness support network has definitely been the best part of the past 7 years. I like to think my sharing has contributed to that great support.

So my advice, if you or someone you love is looking, is relax. Access the kinds of health services that make sense to you. Figure out the small things you can change and sustain. And then chill. The. Fuck. Out.

It really works!

A picture of Natalie smiling with her progressive lenses on and much longer hair than she’s had in a very long time. And look at that smile.
equipment · Sat with Nat

Seasonal Maintenance

Recommended listening: Just Dropped In (to see what condition my condition was in) by Kenny Rogers

Approaching the end of winter I noticed my gear and myself look a bit haggard. So I took some time to mend coats, darn mittens, and put mink oil on leather footwear.

Two mid calf brown leather boots are laying sideways covered in dirt and salt
These eight year old Blundstones are looking a bit rough.

At the beginning of winter and mid-season is a good time to take care of winter gear. It is a nemonic for me to check in on myself and reflect on movement and nutrition.

After the mink oil is applied the boots are supple, waterproof, and looking like they are good for a few more seasons.

I’m grumpy but no more so than is usual for me this time of year. I’m achy and that is educating me on why so many Canadians seek warmer places each winter. Overall, I’m doing not too bad.

This past February, thanks to the right gear and work-from-home flexibility, was the first February my step count didn’t take a major hit. With our dog Lucy motivating us and my beloved’s devotion to his step goal we sloshed through slush and tip-toed across ice to keep our 10 km daily treks going.

Our routine needs little maintenance as inertia keeps us rolling. I have noticed I’m slipping on keeping a lunchtime free of meetings. Some days I work later than I mean to. It’s easy to get pulled in to taking boundaries for granted.

So I took a vacation day yesterday and finished up small, lingering household to-do things like conditioning leathers. It was grounding and soothing. I thought of my dad and how he taught me to sharpen knives and maintain my garden tools and footwear. I look forward to seeing him in person (hopefully soon!).

These are small things that mean my gear and myself will be our best and be around for a good long time.

Natalie stares at the camera half smiling  Michel peers over her shoulder   The sun is bright behind them but they still have toques and thick coats on
Sunny day selfies are my favourite, especially when I don’t need a parka!

Do you do specific things this time of year?

Sat with Nat · walking

Taking steps to bridge the distance

Recommended Soundtrack: The Distance by Cake, Stuck Here Again by L7, Walk by The Foo Fighters

I’ve been thinking a lot about social media & connection during the past month. The link between me, the writer, and you, the reader, and how these delicate tendrils of connection join us in this moment. It’s wondrous and powerful stuff in these times of social distance.

The song by Cake, about going the distance, sums up the past 11 months for me. There has been a serious lack of speed and connection.

I have written a lot about walking since August. It’s been a gift even as my partner, our dog, and I shuffle through the finite sets of loops from our house, feeling stuck here again.

Somewhere along the way it became a bit of a running joke that I’d try to take a selfie with my sweetheart and the dog. It started as a photojournal of the days so I could have a sense of time passing. It’s become so much more:

“After reading about your step goals I started a 30 minute a day goal…”

“I love seeing your walk pictures, it reminds me to go out…”

“Thank you for the laugh and the nudge that it’s not too cold out…”

The messages have been coming pretty regularly that a silly photo of us on a walk is a gentle reminder to my friends that:

-we all need movement

– there can be joy on the hardest days

– every step can connect us to our goals

It’s that bit of connection as we learn to walk in the winter again, finding our footing and each other over social media.

It’s not a hug or a shared meal but it is a subsistence trickle of connection based on a snapshot of a moment. I think part of it is the everyday, not-epic-at-all nature of the photo. When taken in context of a couple hundred days it is impactful.

I’m still here, you’re still there. Our time in this moment is fleeting. What will you do next to sustain your sense of connection?

I’ll probably call my mom or my sister. I’ll then go for a walk and post a picture about it.

Natalie smiles at the camera, wearing a knit grey toque, knit green mittens and yellow crocheted cowl. yes, she made those herself and is totally bragging about it. In the background her partner Michel is a blur in his grey toque and brown leather jacket. Their 40 pound dog is excitedly grabbing Michel’s arm wondering why everyone is indulging in a selfie when it’s cold and dark out and we really should be on our way.
Sat with Nat · WOTY

Nat’s Word of the Year is Rest

Recommended Soundtrack: Lay Me Down by Loretta Lynn featuring Willie Nelson

I thought about a lot of things I could focus on in 2021. While I thought restore, recover, re-emerging, recharge…what I really need is to rest.

For folks like me, who are privileged to work from home, there is a real problem of overwork. Even when I’m mindful of the hours I work it’s the pace & intensity that has really ramped up. No more casual coffee with colleagues after a meeting. They can be booked literally back to back.

There’s also the emotional work of supporting folks and it is exponentially more intense and frequent. Both in my paid work and social life. There seems to always be that one more thing I can do.

Many times in 2020 I would get to the weekend and sleep. Sometimes a whole day punctuated with 2-3 hour naps and a loss of interest in anything.

One thing that has drastically improved is my sleep schedule. Keeping the same routine regardless of the day has me now routinely getting 8 hours of sleep.

I fall asleep quickly & sleep soundly until the morning. I’m less groggy. No more 2 am wake ups. I sleep until 6. It’s marvelous.

So I want to keep this newfound bounty of sleep. More than that I want to honour the pace of my body, the need for rest, relaxation and not being productive.

When I rest I can meet the next challenge fresh. I can tap a reserve of energy for a big push.

My fitness plans are waking, yoga and cycling. Nothing epic, nothing impressive because I will need time to recoup from 2020 and be sure I don’t wring myself out in 2021.

I don’t need to justify my existence by being productive or impressive or inspiring. I need to take care of myself like a good friend would.

I’ve really enjoyed reading the other words folks have picked this year. Are you up for picking a word? What will it be?

Natalie smiles with her eyes closed while her beloved gives her a kiss. Thank you to Ruthless Images for our wonderful photos.
new year's resolutions · Sat with Nat

Nat’s 2021 Stop Doing List

Recommended Soundtrack: This One’s For The Ladies (THAT LUNGE!) by Rufus Wainwright…trust me

A million years ago I wrote My 2017 Stop Doing List. I’m a big fan of keeping commitments and tasks to the minimum required to get results but struggle to find balance. Maybe it’s because I’m tired? Or overcommit? Or am ridiculously optimistic about what I can do?

Whatever the cause, I often notice my plate gets too full. I remember to add new things but forget to stop doing other things to make room. Then I get tired. And cranky. And overwhelmed. And anxious. And depressed. Seriously not good. Sooooo here’s my new & improved Stop Doing List for 2021!

Stop letting my expectations get away from me

I’m highly creative and that means I can imagine all kinds of things but it also means I can accidentally set too high of expectations that I can’t meet. So. Smaller, achievable, incremental goals this year.

Stop comparing myself to others

I’m on my own fitness/wellness journey. I can learn a lot from others but this isn’t a competition, it’s a collaboration.

Stop and think before taking a new thing on.

Is this something I’m passionate about? Is it in line with my goals? What opportunity cost does this have?

Stop limiting myself

That sounds like a direct contradiction to other stopping steps but it is about not artificially limiting myself. I thought a lot about What I have achieved in 2020. I’ve learned I overestimate what I can do in a day but underestimate what I can do in a month/year/remainder of my life.

What do you think?

Are you able to balance building on your strengths & the familiar with trying new things? How do you do that?

I’d love to hear about your perspective.

Photo credit Ruthless Images. Headshot of Natalie outside and backlit from the sun. She is smiling and feeling pretty good about life in general.

holidays · motivation · Sat with Nat

Reflecting on vulnerability, resilience, and limits

Recommended Soundtrack: Free Your Mind by En Vogue

I don’t remember exactly when I realized I was at higher risk of COVID 19 complications than others my age. Sleep apnea, asthma, high blood pressure, and weight are all factors in folks outcomes. As a result I got quite risk averse in the summer and as it turned to fall the second wave started. I didn’t ride my bike outside. When restrictions loosened in my community I kept my own restrictions in place.

This awareness of my own vulnerability and that of people I know & love really impacted me. It shook free the last bits of invulnerability I had left.

That vulnerability feels at odd with how incredibly resilient you and I have been. If you told me last March I would work from home for a year and do it well I would have laughed. Not possible! Nope! Me? Arguably the most social person on the planet, working AT HOME ALONE? Unfathomable, yet that’s exactly what I’m doing.

We’ve experienced loss of loved ones, friends, and anticipate more loss. Economic impacts, the loss of social rituals, group activities…

And yet, there are so many things we’ve learned this year and changed. From hand washing and social distancing to the benefits/limits of technology to connect us.

I learned I can stick to an exercise routine and dial in my nutrition. Working at home and not going out with friends brought those two components into sharp focus.

I’ve learned I can walk more, stretch more, sleep better, and be more present in my life. That’s mighty powerful stuff.

The upheaval of the year and my responses to it have made me realize something profound about self imposed limits, especially around fitness.

By reflecting on all I learned and what I’ve changed, I realized it’s time to let those limits go. It’s humbling and scary to realize there are a great many things I can do when I need to.

Michel in the foreground and Natalie in the background, arms up in a celebratory pose at the end of a 5 km Christmas Day walk. It’s a snowstorm and Natalie is knee deep in snow.

So while I’m cleaning up from the holidays I’m packing up old ideas of constraints and limits. Yes. There’s risks and vulnerability and things I need to do to be safer during a global pandemic. There’s also a whole lot of potential to do radically different things. New scripts. New connections. New ways of moving through the world. Most importantly, new priorities.

I don’t know how this ruminating will impact how &. when I move my body but I’ll be sure to share where I’m at in January.

Head to toe shot of Natalie in a snow covered field. Her parka is open so she can show off her super cute orange knit sweater, the hem of a new merino wool camisole and new grey mukluks.

For now I’m feeling hopeful and confident in facing the coming weeks. After all, looking back over the year, I dealt with a lot and am the better for it.

dogs · Sat with Nat · walking · winter

Making a December to Remember

I have been using walking as my 1 non-negotiable daily movement since August. I’m privileged to live in a neighbourhood that I can walk safely in day or night. I’ve also outsourced my motivation to our dog Lucy and my partner Michel.

It’s been super helpful but the consistent daily routine has made all of our days kind of the same. They are starting to blur into each other as we stroll through our daily loops. Like the robot obits in West World we keep acting out the routine… ad nauseam. The same streets around our house around the same time. We see the same neighbours with the same dogs and children. So we’ve been trying to mix it up.

The lights and decorations on houses has definitely enlivened our evening walks in the dark. We are gearing up for all kinds of weather. In one day we saw sun on our morning walk, rain at lunch, and a snowstorm in the evening.

I read somewhere that getting out whatever the weather helps us enjoy the seasons more. I decided to not bother with new rain boots, opting instead to mink oil some mid calf Blundstones I have still kicking about. They keep my feet dry and are high enough for puddle jumping.

We are thinking snowshoeing might help break up the monotony and our awesome neighbours have offered to loan us racquets to try once the snow gets good and deep.

I’m taking selfies when it feels fun to capture moments of levity and maybe spread a bit of joy.

Michel, Lucy and I are out on a walk, covered in snow and looking adorable.

I’m hoping all of this will help me curate positive memories and buoy my spirits.

Are you finding the days running together? If so, what are your strategies for staying tethered in time?

cycling · Sat with Nat · Zwift

So you want to zwift? Let’s talk money

Recommended soundtrack: You Spin Me Round by Dead or Alive

This post is co-written with my beloved. These facts may help you either: win the argument to invest in zwifting or defend your budget against lifestyle creep.

What is zwift?

It’s an online virtual cycling game with different worlds, group rides and races. Sam has written a lot about her adventures. If you click on Zwift at the top of the post you can see all the great posts.

Why would I want to do this?

Its a great way to train on your bicycle, regardless of weather, daylight, traffic or other safety concerns. With additional concerns around COVID 19 calling a friend to be your sag wagon or riding alone may not be appealing options.

So how much is this going to cost me?

Well. That depends. One fixed cost, regardless of setup, is the monthly subscription fee of $15 USD. You’ll need a smart phone, TV, tablet or laptop to run the software. You will need clip-less pedals & shoes and I highly recommend a fan. So let’s look at the options to make a set up.

The Ultimate Zwift Setup

If money is no object, a top of the range direct drive trainer or dedicated smart indoor training bike is the ultimate Zwift set up. Easy to set up, provides accurate power, speed and cadence metrics with simulated climbing, descent and terrain.

A fully kitted out smart indoor training bike blurs the line between indoor and outdoor experiences. You can even get variable fans that give you wind and the sights and sounds of an awesome trip.

These set ups cost anywhere from $3,000-5,000 USD. At first glance this is shockingly high. However, if you don’t have a road bike and you miss your regular spin classes, this may be a frugal option. All the other set-ups assume you have an existing ride. Both mine and my partner’s bikes were in the $2,000 USD range. So it’s more like spread out cost than truly being cheaper. One benefit is these high price point options are readily available since not many folks new to indoor cycling will go with this option first.

The full bike:

https://www.bikeradar.com/features/bike-of-the-week/wahoo-kickr-indoor-bike/

Smart trainers: https://www.bikeradar.com/brand/wahoo/

Middle of the Road

Instead of a direct drive trainer you are looking for a wheel on smart trainer for $500-750 USD. This uses your existing bike and a trainer tire. The tire can run you $60-120 USD. You will need a front wheel riser block for better stability. Those are fairly cheap, around $20 USD.

The challenge for this option is finding one. With COVID 19 supply chain interruptions it can be difficult to get your hands on this range of equipment.

https://www.bikeradar.com/reviews/training/indoor-trainers/resistance-trainer/saris-m2-review/

Bargain Basement Set-up

The most basic setup can be cobbled together from kit many cyclists already own. A bike, a wheel on dumb trainer/rollers ($80-120 USD), trainer tire ($60-120), cadence/speed sensor $100 USD, and an ANT+ Bluetooth measurement tool $20 USD. These supplies are mostly available when you need them.

Speed & Cadence Sensors

If you aren’t sure indoor spinning is for you skip the trainer tire. It’s optional if you, like me, spin for 20-30 minutes 2-3 times a week.

Conclusion

Depending on your existing resources it is not cheap to get into Zwift. It could offer variety, interest and social connection if you are missing those this year.

I decided I can happily spin without Zwift on my dumb trainer. I’m not performance driven for my spinning. It’s simply my high intensity cardio in my fitness plan . My beloved has a more structured approach and targets he wants to hit next spring. We were able to get him set up with sensors, trainer tire and our existing dumb trainer.

Our two bicycles clipped into trainers are in our dining room with a fan. We are using a music stand for the laptop and handlebar mounts for our phones.

If you are using Zwift what set-up are you using? Was cost a consideration? Please share your gear in the comments below and any winning arguments to either invest or be frugal. Have I captured the range? Is there a must have folks should know about?

Book Reviews · Sat with Nat

Nat reads “Every Body Yoga” by Jessamyn Stanley

The cover of Every Body Yoga featuring the author in one of her trademark pretzel poses that are the envy of many.

I have been following Jessamyn Stanley on Facebook and Instagram for a while. I enjoy her candid posts about how she is feeling, pictures of her in yoga postures and other great photos.

My fangirl status definitely leveled up when I got to enjoy this great video 30 Minute Yoga Sequence for Total Beginners. Jessamyn starts off matter of factly talking about props and maybe you can’t afford blocks. It was the first yoga video that addressed material and financial issues that can affect many folks at different times. Plus, she has this kind, matter of fact delivery that really works for me. Regular readers of this blog know many contributors are fans of other youtube yoga instructors. I’ve tried them and really gave other folks a go but I never really felt that those videos & instructors were for me so I kept coming back to what I could find by Jessamyn.

I was checking out her website http://jessamynstanley.com/ when I realized she had published a book. Friends, I am late to the game as it was first published in 2017. I knew I wanted to financially support an athlete & instructor that brings a lot of joy and wisdom into my life. I highly recommend if you are benefiting from anyone’s content that has products or services to invest in them too 🙂

So the book arrived. It’s a softcover of 222 pages filled with beautiful photography, personal stories and Jessamyn’s take on the Eight-limbed path of yoga. Each chapter ends with a section called “Questions Asked by (Literally) Every Beginner Yoga Student” that resonated with me.

From an exercise/posture/asana perspective there are detailed instructions on 41 poses with accompanying photos of 4 models in addition to the author. Jessamyn reminds us that yoga instructors and practitioners are more diverse than the pop culture image of a thin, white, young woman. She focuses on our inner journey that postures help us get at.

Jessamyn also includes several flows based on what the reader might need and then recipes for combining flows for a longer practice. These are prefaced by personal stories that are both uniquely hers while tapping into those universal experiences of the full range of human emotion. It’s a powerful combination.

I appreciate her joyfulness in the pictures and her writing. Jessamyn addresses the tough stuff about modern yoga and calls us in to try.

She is also an impressive athlete that has achieved a mastery of many postures. The books tag line is “let go of fear, get on the mat, love your body”. That’s a pretty inviting and encouraging call to action.

This book was what I needed to re-energize my at home practice. I last blogged about my practice back in June and it went off the rails in August. I refocused on walking but I needed something to help get me back into a daily yoga practice. This book was just what I needed.

For details on how you can purchase a copy for yourself or someone you adore check out the details here.

I’m not gaining any compensation or benefit from this book review other than sharing my appreciation for a great instructor.

Have you read a book that helped you re-engage with your yoga practice or workout routine? Let me know!

Sat with Nat · walking

Walking Whatever the Weather

Recommended soundtracks:

Walk like an Egyptian by the Bangles

Walk like Thunder by Kimya Dawson

Walking on Sunshine by Katrina & The Waves

Walking on the Moon by The Police

It’s birthday-aversary-giving weekend at The Hobbit House. I’m off for a great haircut this morning to kick off my 46th year right. Last night my beloved and I got photos taken in celebration of 25 years of togetherness. The rest of the weekend will be a mix of food, fun, rest and enjoying the beautiful weather.

But friends, the weather is not always beautiful. In our part of Canada we are well into autumn with cooler temperatures and rain. Like. Way more rain than the summer.

It was an arid summer so in some ways I got lax about my outdoor clothing as it didn’t really matter but now it does.

I’ve got amazing cold weather gear that is functional, fits and I like the look of. I know I’ll put it to good use when the snow hits. But, thankfully, it’s not snowing yet.

It is cooler so I picked up a pair of Keen clogs as I stopped wearing my sandals. I love the arch support and fuzzy interior. They are like cute little sleeping bags for my toes.

Army green clogs with the Keen brand signature over the toe sole. My son’s fiancé said they look like her Oma’s gardening clogs. I took it as a compliment!

I’ve got a number of light jackets & sweaters that keep me comfy on my walks. But. Like. Rain gear. I need it if I’m going to keep my step count up in the coming months.

My average monthly step count for the past 12 months.

The bar graph shows me a few things. Winter has always reduced my step count. Mostly because I slow down in icy conditions and the time I have for walking is usually fixed. It’s also the weather, hours of daylight and motivation.

The thing I find the most interesting is that my average this year is 7,200. Last year it was around 9,000 steps. Partly this happened because I lost my walking commute but also our puppy, Lucy, could not go for longer walks and we couldn’t leave her alone for long.

That all changed in August as my partner and I re-evaluated our fitness/movement goals. He wanted to increase our daily step count and I was happy to oblige. It started small, adding 1 block to both our 15 minute and 30 minute routes. We then aimed for longer morning walks of 45 minutes to a hour. Our short walks became 20-30 minute walks and before we knew it we regularly got 14,000 steps in a day. It was easy when it’s daylight before and after work, dry and warm.

I’ve been good and soaked a couple times this month and I’m SO OVER IT. So for my birthday I’m picking up some rubber boots with neoprene uppers. No more wet feet!! The trick will be finding ones with good foot support.

I’ve noticed that thanks to the dog needing the walk it’s become non-negotiable. At a minimum we are out twice a day and it has been so helpful. Walking has grounded me in the here & now when my whole self wants to be anywhere but here. I’m grateful for that.

I’ve walked sad, tired, happy, lonely, angry and silly with Lucy & my beloved. It’s helped our bonds, our partnerships and my mental health. So I really need this to keep going, whatever the weather, so I can navigate those life things that I don’t have control over.

Do the changing seasons impact your movement/fitness goals? Does environmental stuff (weather, temperature, air quality) influence the activities you do? I’d love to hear your perspective. Maybe you want to blog about it!