fitness · season transitions

Winter pandemic socializing: moving to Plan B

Remember pandemic summer? It now seems a glorious idyll, compared with the stingy light emissions, dead leaves and cold reality of mid-November. It’s all headed downhill from here. And not in a good way.

This picture may seem unrelated, but a) it’s a downhill mountain bike; and b) it conveys a grim coolness, to which I aspire.

During those lazy hazy days of late summer, I wrote a blog post about prepping for winter, in which I laid out some ideas for ensuring cozy continuous COVID-free contact with friends and family. Visions of patio heaters and down-filled onesies danced in my head, and the prospect of changes in temperature seemed like no problem at all. We just throw heating appliances and polartec fleece at the problem, and it vanishes.

Several months later, I’m finding that plan A isn’t the solution I hoped it would be. Friends and I are still meeting outside some, but as winter gets closer, the cold and damp is less inviting as a backdrop for leisurely socializing. I yearn for the coziness of my living room, with its comfy sofas and soft throw blankets and smoke-free fireplace video, courtesy of Netflix (I prefer the one with no soundtrack– just the crackle sounds).

Crackling fireplace on Netflix.

So, I’ve ditched my previous plan and am now working on Plan B. This new plan consists of the following:

  • Running a HEPA air purifier in my living room/dining room area to help reduce aerosols (I picked one after reading extensive reviews on this site);
  • Having a supply of both N95 masks and high-quality disposable masks for guests to wear while inside my house;
  • Arranging my living room/dining room area for comfortable and generous social distancing;
  • limiting guests to one or two others at a time;
  • limiting or giving up meals together inside (so to maintain mask wearing inside);
  • limiting my circle of guests to a very small number of them;
  • Faithfully Zooming with a larger circle of friends to keep in touch, even when the Zooming itself seems like a chore;
  • Reminding each other that this isn’t forever– there will be spring and vaccines and ebbing of caseloads, as is the way of things.

IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: I’m not making any claims about the benefits or risk reduction of any of these actions I’m taking. In particular, the combo of air purifier and serious mask wearing indoors for a small number of people is just something I’ve decided to try. And, it’s based on reading and talking with knowledgable folks. But, this is an area of great uncertainty and unknown risk. I’m doing me here. You do you.

I’m taking on whatever risks that go along with this plan because I really value and need social contact of various sorts with the people I care about, and I’m making this call. It’s possible (even likely) that things will change and I’ll have to come up with Plan C. Luckily, there’s an entire alphabet at our disposal, so we can pivot and shift and improvise as we learn what does (and doesn’t) work.

Readers, what are you winter pandemic plans? Are you all-outdoors-or-bust? Are you doing some indoor socializing? I’d love to hear what ideas you’ve come up with.

fitness · season transitions

Catherine considers (the radical idea of) shifting to morning exercising

I am not a morning person. Never have been, even in childhood. My mother would glide into my room, singing, and I would pull the pillow over my head, hoping she wouldn’t see me. Yes, this happened the last time I visited her, too (she’s in her late 70s and I’m in my late 50s). Even from the comfort of my own home, if I’m called upon to get up earlier than say, 9:30am, I have to set an alarm and give myself time to emerge from feeling like the walking dead.

A chimpanzee, wrapped in a multicolored sheet, simulating unhappiness upon waking in a tree. That’s my best guess.

The onset of menopause has made me more of a night person, not less. In addition to late night hormonally-induced internal temperature fluctuations, I started having trouble getting to sleep before say, 2 or 3am. That’s pretty darn inconvenient, even for a lucky person like me, who has a flexible work schedule.

The cherry on top of this insomnia sundae has been the pandemic. Since March, my so-called “regular” sleep schedule has shifted to 2am–10am, with occasional nights when I am up until 4am. Aargh.

Whenever I tell people about my unhappiness with my night owlishness and insomnia, they invariably pepper me with questions (which feel a tiny bit accusatory), and suggestions (none of which are remotely unfamiliar to or untried by me). Here’s a list of reasons why people have trouble sleeping, compiled by this slightly irritating article. Note that every item except for one starts with “YOU…” , as in “YOU did this– what were you thinking?” The last one blames the room temperature, but who do they think set the thermostat? YOU.

List of things that YOU did that may have caused YOU to have trouble sleeping.
List of things that YOU did that may have caused YOU to have trouble sleeping. And whose fault is that?

Just so you know: I’ve tried changing every single one of these things (and sometimes all of them), and still haven’t had long-term success in shifting my sleep hours.

This very-delayed sleep onset schedule has wreaked havoc on my outdoor exercise plans. I just don’t love walking or cycling alone outside after dark, especially in late fall/early winter. And when I start my workday at say, 10:30am, it’s hard to take a significant break to head outside before dusk hits. Yes, taking a brisk stroll after lunch seems like a good idea, and it is a good idea. However, given my work habits, it has maintained its idea status, failing to transition into activity.

So here’s an idea: schedule and do my outdoor walk or cycling in the morning. Well, first thing in MY morning. It would be a big change, as I am not very alert when I wake up, and it takes me a while to get myself together. Actually leaving the house within say, 30 minutes of waking is a radical idea. But, it would do a few things:

  • I’d get outside in the light;
  • I’d get some exercise earlier in the day, which would be an interesting experiment for my sleep schedule;
  • I’d be less stressed about when I was going to get outside, as it would already be done first thing;
  • It might help me be more energetic when I settled down to do work.
  • It might improve my mood– both exposure to light and exercise upon waking are touted as winter mood enhancers.

I must confess that, on the very rare occasions that I’ve done early morning exercise (generally because someone’s talked me into it– yes, I mean you Samantha and you Janet), I marveled at how lovely it is to be outside in nature in the morning. So there is precedent for this action.

Making this shift won’t be easy. Here’s a list of things I’d have to do in order to make this work:

  • Actually try it.
  • At least once.
  • Maybe a few times even.
  • Don’t think about it.
  • Just go.
  • Outside.
  • How about tomorrow?

I mean, how hard can it be? These people seem okay, and they’re outside in the morning.

So there it is, readers. I’ve come out with a one-step plan: go outside first thing in my day. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Have any of you tried to and successfully (or non-successfully) shifted your exercise schedules? I’d love to hear about it.

#deanslife · covid19 · habits · health · nature · season transitions · self care

It’s just another pandemic Monday!

For some reason, Mondays are harder in pandemic times. I usually like Mondays. I’ve always liked the ‘back to the office’ energy, getting down to making lists and schedules for the week ahead, ‘how was your weekend? convos with colleagues, a bike ride the office, and lots and lots of coffee. These days there isn’t much of that. Instead, I look at my calendar, think ‘wow, we’re still doing this’ and start my first videoconference at 8 am.

My last public speaking event was March 5, 228 days ago. March 10 my calendar just says, ominously, “cancel all flights and hotels.” My first COVID-19 contingency planning meeting/conference call was March 13, 220 days ago.

Ever since I’ve been here in Guelph, working from home. This is a helpful reminder of the real date.

In July I wrote, “There are no boundaries any more. Life is one big blur of working at home, exercising at home, and relaxing at home. I occasionally look at my shoe collection in puzzlement. Will I ever wear real shoes again? I still have underwire bras hanging off a doorknob, neglected, and I’m wondering why I ever thought they were a good idea. These days only my comfiest of sports bras are in regular rotation.”

In light of the No Boundaries and the Great Big Blur, I’ve been thinking about restructuring my work week a little. Lots of things are busy during the weekend, out in the world, and I’m often working on the weekend. I’m wondering about taking some weekday time to ride trails, take Cheddar for hikes, and appreciate the outdoors. That’s the weekday/weekend trade but there’s also the daytime/nighttime swap. Yes, lots of work hours are fixed but if I am working into the evenings anyway, why can’t I squeeze some outside time in the sun into my day?

It’s hard to start work when it’s dark and finish after it’s dark again. Why not get out for a ride or a walk in the middle of the day?

Are you still working from home? How are you coping? 220 or so days in, are you making any changes to your schedule?

fitness · season transitions

Fall fitness: back in/on the saddle again

It’s really properly fall now– pumpkins (and pumpkin spice infused items of all sorts) are everywhere, the light is changing in quality and quantity, and temperatures are falling.

I love fall. Usually.

But this year, we in the Northern Hemisphere are living with the uncertainty of what colder temperatures will do to our carefully distanced outdoor socializing and physical-activity making. My local yoga studio is likely not opening up for indoor classes, and the days of outdoor yoga are numbered. There’s Zoom, for which I’m grateful, but I really miss collective yoga classes.

However, one activity I’m feeling bullish on, even into the colder temps, is cycling. The past six months have not been an easy or active time for me– I was one of those people on Team Less during the pandemic. Sam posted a few months ago about this issue, declaring herself on Team More. Not that pandemic life has been easy for anyone– we’ve all had to find different ways to cope, escape, step up, or scale back.

Even though I usually ride a lot in the summer (often with my friend Pata), it just didn’t come together this year. However, now that fall is here (and the pandemic is still with us for some time to come), I feel like the fog is lifting, the feelings of overwhelmedness are receding, and some energy is coming back. I’m feeling ready to ride more.

I know, I know– it’s a little late. But hey– there are no bad days to ride (totally not true, but bear with me), just bad clothing choices. And bad tire choices.

So, moving through fall into winter, here are my cycling plans:

  • Resume weekly coffee rides (even if we’re drinking hot coffee from a thermos)
  • Take the bike with me when I go on local trips (I’m on Cape Cod now, with bike)
  • Take the bike with me when I drive to see family (1500km/1000 miles away) at Christmas
  • Do some exploring of routes/rail trails/parks within a few hours of home
  • Set up trainer for actual regular use in Dec/Jan/Feb
  • Come up with plan for zoom spin class or some such (I haven’t taken the plunge to go the Zwift or Peloton or other bike way… yet)
  • Implement aforementioned plan
  • Celebrate the fact that I already own gloves, hats, tights, jerseys, and jackets for cycling in cold weather
  • Report back to you good people, sharing successes, setbacks, and soliciting suggestions

I’ve got a road bike and a gravel bike (among others), in very nice condition and raring to go. Time to throw a leg over and get back in/on the saddle again.

Readers, what are you thoughts or plans for fall-into-winter activity? Do you have new plans, new gear, the same plans/same gear? Worries? I’d love to hear from you.

fall · fitness · season transitions · Seasonal sadness

Getting some light in my life

Usually at this point in the year I start complaining about seasonal dark, associated mood disorders, and the practical challenge of bike commuting and needing headlights, reflective gear etc.

See Struggling with September Sadness and The night is (soon to be) dark and full of terrors.

Occasionally over the years I’ve managed some good feelings about the dark and about September which brings more of it into my life. See I like it in the dark: Winter and the joys of night time riding and running and Sam is Telling New Stories. But mostly they’re bad news blog posts.

This year I’m working from home. The challenges are different. I can see that it might be dangerous to work all day and only think about leaving the house in the dark.

I’m going to try to make sure I leave the house during the day to get outside in the daylight even if I don’t have anywhere particular to go. Cheddar doesn’t care about goals. He’s just happy to walk. Or run!

Cheddar running across the grass

As a back up plan, I’m also bringing my anti-SAD lamp home from work. It’s not needed there now I am only in my office on Wednesdays. I’m also reading about how people who cope with much more dark than we do get by and even seem to enjoy it.

Northern Light Technologies Luxor Desk Lamp | UPC: 870681000084

As we enter the double whammy of fall dark and the second wave of COVID-19 and associated shut-downs, what are you doing to keep some light in your life?

fitness · monthly check in · season transitions · Seasonal sadness

Sam’s monthly check in: September was busy!

As usual, September is a blur. That’s true in both non pandemic and pandemic times. I’ve been a student, then graduate student, then Professor, now also Dean. September is always a blur for me.

This one was especially busy with lots of time with students, in my role as Dean and Professor, both physically distanced on campus and virtually on Teams/Zoom. The university is a hectic place as we carry on mostly remotely. So many meetings!

We’re also busy navigating our slow and cautious return to campus as a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic begins which will likely mean drawing back, restricting our activities further, and staying at home much more than usual this winter. There’ll be no warm weather biking for me in January. In a recent post Cate asked what we’ve been doing to nourish our soul, given that we are heading into a tough winter.

Well, I spent September working hard, but also riding my bike, visiting with family outdoors, taking care of some basic needs (haircut and dentist) and reading fiction. I’ve been trying to appreciate fall for what it is, rather than worrying about what’s to come. Less anticipatory sadness more now is all we have. Thanks Nicole!

Sarah and I have been spending more time at the farm in Prince Edward County. That means loops around Big Island and racing the Osprey Nest to Osprey Nest Strava segment we created.

I’ve also started working on campus, one day a week. That means I’m bike commuting again, which I’ve missed.

Left; Sam wearing her pink sparkly helmet and her Art Gallery of Guelph Begging Bear mask.
Right: Pink Brompton leaning on rock outside campus building

Here’s my office on campus, my outdoor office hours, and an empty (usually bustling) student plaza.

Despite being busy I’m still riding lots (for me). I might make 5000 km this year.

I’m loving Yoga With Adriene’s PE series for young people. That’s where my yoga attention span is these days. And we’re going to push backyard personal training as far as we can into the winter months.

I’m trying to think like a Norwegian about winter: “ People in Svalbard (at 78 deg north) had a more positive mindset than the people in Tromsø (69 deg north), who took a more optimistic view than people in Oslo (60 deg north). In other words, the positive wintertime mindset is most common where it’s most needed. These positive attitudes were apparent in Leibowitz’s casual conversations; indeed, she says that many of her friends struggled to understand why you would not enjoy winter. They embraced the possibility of skiing or hiking in the mountains, and savoured the chance to practice koselig – a Norwegian version of Denmark’s hygge – which might involve snuggling under blankets with a warm drink in the candlelight. Far from dwindling in the dark, Tromsø’s community flourished in the long polar night. “There is this interaction between the culture that you’re part of, and the mentality or mindset that grows out of it,” says Prof Joar Vittersø, Leibowitz’s collaborator at the Arctic University of Tromsø.”

cycling · fall · season transitions

Fall noodling in the countryside

Big Island Bike Ride

I’ve written lots about how much I love fall riding. See here and here.

Fall is my very favorite bike riding season. All those beautiful colours, all that summer fitness, and sunshine-y cool weather. So much fun. See Reasons to start riding in the fall and Looking ahead: The quiet season and the joys of fall riding.

This weekend Sarah and I were at her family farm in Prince Edward County. We frolicked in the swimming pool. I did swim some laps but mostly I enjoyed splashing about.

We had friends visit for physical distanced BBQ dinners. We ate outside with lap blankets and toques!

This year I want to make sure we squeeze every last drop of pleasure and togetherness out of summer since we know we’re heading into a tough fall and winter.

We also made sure we got out for a Sunday bike ride. Our plan was to noodle around Big Island. What’s “noodling” on a bike? The dictionary says it’s the action of improvising or playing casually on a musical instrument. How does that translate to riding bikes?

Well, we had no speed goals. We went just as fast as we felt like. We were open to route changes.We stopped to adjust things on our bikes. We also stopped several times to take photos (see some of them above.) We smiled and waved at children and dogs. We chatted lots about houses and plans. We also created a new Strava segment, one that reflects the playfulness of the day. It’s called “Osprey2Osprey” and it’s from one osprey nest to another, It’s about 3.5 km. Later we’ll have fun sprinting that stretch and racing one another home but today was all about noodling.

We’ve got two more weekends with bikes planned, one more with road bikes at the farm and another, with our gravel bikes, on the Guelph to Goderich trail.

Here’s what our noodling looks like by the numbers!

fitness · season transitions

Sunset on summer: the beach in early fall

This weekend I’m in Nantucket, off the coast of Massachusetts. It’s my first trip here, and the island is lovely and verdant and oh-so Nantuckety: here’s what I mean.

The look of this place is very tightly regulated and very cohesive; all cedar shingles all the time. But the beaches are under no such ordinances, nor would they pay attention if the local town meeting passed some conventions on how beaches should comport themselves.

To me, beaches are synonymous with summer. My whole life I’ve gone with family to the South Carolina coast for swimming, walking, playing, and hanging out (including foolhardy sunbathing in my teens; glad those days are over) on the wide, hard sand coastline, with its warm water.

This year I didn’t make it to the SC coast, as I usually do, because COVID. However, this short getaway to a New England island, with its own shore beauty, is feeling like a good way to bid goodbye to summer. The weather is coolish and windy, so I’m wearing a light sweater for daytime walking and contemplation. For sunset, it’s necessary to add a hat and jacket. I’m still barefoot– I mean, it is the beach– but the toes are a little chilly in the oddly cool sand.

Each day around 6:30pm we head over to the beach at Madaket, bundled up with beach chairs in tow, to witness the colors of the early fall sunset over the water.

Setting sun, hovering over the sea.

The air and sand start to cool down. Others join us for the show.

Sun, sinking below the watery horizon.
Sun, sinking below the watery horizon.

Everything is orange in tone, just for a moment.

Last reflections of sunset in the distance.
Last reflections of sunset in the distance.

The orange glow deepens, now in contrast with dark and metallic gray sand and waves.

Evening has arrived.
Evening has arrived.

Are we ever ready for the end of summer? In warmer climates, you can try to hang on for a bit longer; but here in New England, fall makes its presence known. There are hikes and fall riding (I love fall cycling!) to look forward to, but many of our outdoor activities will have to taper off or shift substantially.

One thing I’m learning from the past 6–500 months that comprises the pandemic is, nature is out there. Sunsets are out there. Beaches are out there. Summer is passing into fall. Another season is coming. I’m going to work on making friends with it, and continuing to go to the beach seems like as good a way as any.

So farewell, summer beach, and hello, fall beach. And I’ll be here when winter beach arrives.

Readers, do you have any rituals for bidding an official farewell to summer? Do you turn around and say, where did it go? Do you take each day as it comes? I’d love to hear from you about how you’re experiencing this natural change. Thanks for reading.

fitness · season transitions

In a late winter slump? Try these active indoor solutions…

This time of year is hard on our moods. I mean, it’s late winter and it’s blah outside (unless you live somewhere warm and lovely, in which case, congratulations and feel free to go wash your car outside in the sunshine). There are stalwarts among us who keep outside activity going through rain, sleet, snow and dark of night; however, most of us end up spending more time indoors, moving less, feeling cooped up and a little crabby.

Bettina summed it up beautifully– this is late winter slump time. She also put out the call to the rest of us– what are some strategies for making it through to springtime?

Well, Bettina and friends, thanks to 1) the internet, and 2) a lack of better ideas for today’s blog post, I have found some indoor workouts that should provide at the very least a change of pace, and maybe even inspire new fashion directions. Here we go…

Of course no indoor workout list would be complete without the OG aerobics videos of Jazzercise. It’s worth watching just for the hairdos and leotards (had to check spelling, as I was writing it as lyotard, a philosopher who I believe never recorded any workout videos). Here’s a perky example below:

Yoga videos are all over the place, and many of us have written about some of our favorite youtube yogis, like Adriene and Bad Yogi. But if you’re really looking to shake things up, I suggest checking out this 10-minute yoga video below, hosted by none other than the late great Dixie Carter, actor and star of Designing Women, one of my mother’s favorite TV shows. Here’s her video, which features a Linda-Blair-Exorcist-style vocalization at 5:19.

Now, you may be thinking, “enough already with the retro funny exercise videos; show me something new!” Gotcha. How about a parkour warmup you can do at home? This one is courtesy of Ronnie Street Stunts. Mr. Stunts has his own youtube channel, so you can do a deep dive into his parkour instruction, including (of course) a 30-day parkour challenge, which is here.

Is parkour too ho-hum for you? How about this: Scarf juggling. Yes, I can feel your skepticism from here, but hear me out: according to Jugglefit.com, juggling has many health benefits:

  • Juggling is a portable workout.
  • It makes you smarter.
  • It sharpens focus and concentration.
  • Juggling is the ultimate in stress relief.
  • It’s an exercise that doesn’t “feel” like exercise.
  • You can juggle where you are– no travel required.
  • Juggling helps maintain and increase range of motion in the arms and shoulders.
  • Juggling is beneficial for all ages and body types.
  • Juggling wards off cravings (really? maybe because you’ve got your hands full? dunno about this one).
  • Juggling is easy to do with friends and family.

Still don’t believe me? Well, try it out yourself, with help from this guy:

Now, the videos I’ve shown you so far may be a distraction, but they aren’t likely to help you get the jump on some of your favorite summer sports. I hear you– it’s time to offer a video that will be useful for activities you love, but which you can’t do easily in winter.

Take kayaking, for example. You can don a drysuit and brave the cold water (some do), or you can practice rolling and other techniques in a pool (I’ve even tried this). But that requires a lot of effort and hauling of equipment. Isn’t there something that can be done from the comfort of your living room? Funny you should ask. Yes, there is. In the video below, some guy shows us rolling techniques we can practice at home, on the floor, with children even (he’s got two little ones helping with demos and explanations).

I want to try this right now. But I have to wait until I finish this blog post…

Which I will do after one more at-home DIY full activity video that cannot fail to please everyone all the time. Yes, I’m talking about Soul Train line dancing. The video collection online is a universe unto itself. But here’s one to give you a taste or provide a sweet reminder:

When I was little, we never missed Soul Train, and often ended up dancing in the living room. It was fun then, it’s fun now.

So Bettina and all the Fit is a Feminist issue readers and bloggers, here are some suggestions for addressing late winter blahs. Let me know if 1) you try any of these; or 2) you have other suggestions. We want to hear from you!

aging · fitness · habits · holidays · motivation · new year's resolutions · season transitions

Words and Challenges for the New Year

Four days in, I’m still adjusting to this fresh start of a decade. We’re living in the 20’s now. A decade that makes me think my word for the year should be … ROAR.

My cousin introduced me to this word of the year practice about 10 years ago. Our guest blogger, Anne Simpson, wrote about her Word of the Year a few days ago. The idea is to distill your hopes, dreams, ambitions and challenges for the coming year into a word. What’s the one word you choose today to describe the year you are aiming for? A word that aspires to something greater, but doesn’t set you up for disappointment. A personal word that captures both who you are already (and you are just dandy the way you are!) and how you can refine that existing excellence. A word that will inspire you for the 364 days to come.

Vortex of black letters on white background
Nathaniel Shuman on Unsplash

Last year, I had some pretty definitive plans for 2019 related to one of my plays and my book that was publishing in July. I wanted to remind myself not to get too caught up in expectations. I also challenged myself to meditate every day. My word was PRESENCE. In 2018, I was immersed in book writing and my personal challenge was to not shop for clothes or shoes for the whole year. My word was ATTENTION. 

A quick note about these challenges I mention. I’m not one for resolutions. Or maybe I just don’t like the word, in the context of the New Year. There’s something about resolutions that always feels like someone/something is chastising me to do better. And I was never very good at sticking to resolutions. But I have developed a habit of setting myself a challenge for the year. And, weirdly, I generally manage to stick to my challenges. Could just be that the word is more motivating. My challenges are usually ways of being that I want to try on for size, with no commitment to extend after the year is over. You can bet I’ve shopped for some new clothes since 2018 finished.

This year feels largely unknown and fluid. Scary. I have some specific events I’m looking forward to–talks I’m giving in Princeton at The Present Day Club and San Francisco at The Battery; another reading of my play at Missouri State University; plus a new workshop series I’m planning with a friend of mine. I don’t know what any of these will lead to. I don’t know what my big project for the year will be. A new book? Another play? Rolling out the workshops? Plus, there’s my challenge for the year—no buying anything (except books/tv/film) on amazon. I may also go back to an alternate month no-shopping practice, because the prospect is peaceful to contemplate.

All in all, I feel open. Excited. Super daunted. And sometimes a little frustrated, because shouldn’t a woman in her 50’s be looking forward to a steadier, more settled year? That’s my voice of insecurity having her say. But she does not get to decide my word! So, given all that, what is my word?

I like ROAR , but that’s not it.

Here’s my always evolving list of possible words: illuminate … grow … strong … steady … being …  belonging … becoming … run … light … recharge … strong … vitality … engaged … present … discerning … happy … incandescent … yes … flow … curiosity … change … renewal … reliability … radiance … spontaneity … pleasure … simplicity

I like the potential these words embrace. This is a year about expanding and making space. I want to get to the end of 2020 and feel like I’ve tapped into new personal resources.

In that spirit, this year, I choose BECOMING.

What’s your word or challenge?