Sam gets her first ever pedicure right before the bike rally

Tanned white feet with pink toenails resting on a white lawn chair

Right before the bike rally I did a new thing!

It’s on the list of feminine beauty rituals I’ve never tried. It’s a long list. Longer than you might suspect. But now you can knock one item off the never tried list, the pedicure.

Catherine was in town for a few days before the 1 day ride so we could get some work done. We talked about information and habit change, which she blogged about this week, and about whether there are medically distinct categories of overweight and obesity (though we both hate these terms). Catherine is interested in the public health question of where we should focus our attention.

And on our long day of walking around Toronto and talking about all the things, Catherine put in a plug for an uplifting pre-bike rally pedicure. Sure, why not, I thought. Live a little. Try new things.

I contacted Cate since I know she does this stuff and worries about the ethics of it all, like how well the people who work there are treated.

Here’s our feet after…

Thoughts? Short and simple, I loved it. Loved the process and the result. Weeks later they’re still pretty and pink. I also liked the “doing a fun thing with a friend” part of it all.

Why haven’t I tried it before?

I’m always a bit queasy about feminine beauty rituals. They’re part of a package I try to reject. No one has ever plucked my eyebrows. I’ve never had any body part waxed. And I resist the offer of my hair dresser to get rid of the peach fuzz on my face to make it easier to apply foundation. How about I just don’t wear foundation?

With each new thing, I think “wow, really? women do that? I had no idea.”

I nearly changed hair salons this year because the place I go and love, which doesn’t ask to colour my grey hair, started hosting Botox parties. Ew.

I’ve also read lots about the working conditions of women who paint nails and pamper hands and feet for a living. Grim. See here.

I also worry about each new thing I try as upping the ante, becoming the new normal. Like will I feel underdressed the next time I’m wearing summer dresses and sandals without painted toes?

It’s also different when you’re older. Previously my scruffy feet looked athletic or outdoorsy. My worry now is that they look like I’ve given up on myself. I’m letting myself go. Whatever that means. Plain toenails! Gasp!

I’m worry about that too with makeup which I’ve never made a habit of wearing.

Like Tracy and her eye lashes extensions though I wasn’t sure about my painted mails in all contexts. With pretty strappy sandals and a dress, they looked great. But I wasn’t sure about them stuffed into socks and crammed into my bike shoes.

Oh, and they also they waxed my toes! So that’s another thing I can tick off the list of feminine beauty rituals I haven’t tried.

On the positive side, maybe it all balances out in the year of branching out and trying new things. Yes, a pedicure. But I also used my first power tool and didn’t die. (I was helping to fix the canoe rack that Sarah built last summer.)

I might get another pedicure. But next time I’m keeping my toe fuzz.

Here’s my painted toenails post bike rally in flip flops complete with the usual scrapes and chain ring grease.

Last bike rally update, by the way. Thanks to an anonymous donor I made my $5000 fundraising goal. Thanks everyone!

Consistency and Confidence (Guest Post)

As I said in last week’s post, my main goal for Taekwondo this year is to be willing to be *seen* in class. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about how to build the mental and physical confidence to do that.
Obviously, for the mental confidence, there is going to be a certain amount of just ‘go for it’ involved, a willingness to accept the possibility of appearing foolish if I make a mistake. I can’t practice that until I am actually back in class but I am going to do some meditation and other practices to help me with enduring the discomfort I know I will feel.
Luckily, I’m not generally one of those people who needs to feel like they are doing things perfectly, I just need to feel like I have been steadily working. I don’t so much mind making mistakes if I have been putting effort in so I have to commit to practicing consistently.
The need to continue practicing my patterns goes almost without saying. For the record though, I am going to practice each pattern at least twice a week so I am never caught off guard by a request to perform any given one.
Aside from that though, I have realized that I really want to improve my overall fitness and strength so I can have a better sense that my body will do what I ask it to. I don’t mean to give the impression that I don’t have strength or that I lack body confidence right now, I just want more.
I have always had trouble with consistency with my fitness training. Aside from my class time in Taekwondo, I find it challenging to schedule exercise. It seems like everything else has to fit in first and if our lives get busy or someone in my family is sick, my exercise time is the first thing to go.
I don’t want that to happen any more so I have to create a smoother path to a regular exercise habit – having my exercise clothes ready, having a plan for busy days, picking specific exercises and a dedicated time to do them. I know from past success in other areas that choosing my actions in advance means I am much more likely to do them in the moment.
So, my next step must be to make some advance choices about exercises.
I know that I want to have stronger arms and I want my arm muscles to be visible. I am already decently strong but I want to see a muscle when I look in the mirror. That’s going to require a variety of arm exercises.
I want to be able to feel more power in my strikes and my blocks. That means I need greater strength in my core. My back and I flatly refuse to do crunches, so I need a variety of ab exercises. The fact that those exercises will help my back is a bonus.
There’s a certain way my body moves and feels when I am getting enough cardio. There’s a strength in my movement and feeling of cooperation in my muscles. Those are good things and I want to feel like that all the time, so that means there is more cycling, more time on the rowing machine, more walking, and more jump rope in my future.
I want to refine my kicks. I’ve got good accuracy but I’d like to increase the strength and height of my kicking. That’s going to require some leg work and some hip work, so I’ll be doing a lot of lunges and squats and stretching.
Usually, I have trouble seeing how individual pieces make up part of a greater whole but the process of writing about these exercises has given me a strong mental picture of how they all fit together. I suddenly feel really excited about putting this program together for myself and bringing the results of my efforts into my classes in the fall.
One of my reasons for joining Taekwondo in the first place was that I wanted to have a warrior’s body to match my warrior’s mind. I do have a strong, capable body now but I want to inhabit it even more fully. I want to be more charge of what my muscles will do. I want to have even more strength. There is always room for a warrior to become more powerful.

Christine Hennebury is a storyteller, writer, creative life coach, and martial artist who lives in Newfoundland and Labrador. She is the founder and Chair of the Association for the Arts in Mount Pearl and the President of the St. John’s Storytelling Festival. She wishes she could help you be a little kinder to yourself – you are doing just fine.

My new scale doesn’t tell me what I weigh, and I like it that way

A bathroom scale that says "you are not a number"

I really hate scales.  I think I’m not alone here.  There are loads of comic strips with scale jokes, but I will spare you because they all seem to presuppose that the scale is an authoritative judge and we are the irrational defendants whose weight is a crime.

And with respect to this scale hatred narrative, you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t.  If you weigh yourself, then you’re generally appalled or ashamed or enraged or depressed.  If you don’t weigh yourself, then you’re avoiding your responsibility, which is to confront the reality which is the numerical judgment of your total worth.

Okay, maybe that sounds a bit dramatic, but this is the story that whispers in our ears from time to time.

I went to a conference in the Netherlands in June, and the keynote speaker was a behavioral economist named Dan Ariely.  He works on lots of ways to better understand why we behave in various ways, and to figure out some ways to help us achieve some of our goals that we have trouble with (e.g. saving money, losing weight, etc.) .

In this talk, Ariely mentioned a study his group did in which they tested out a hypothesis:  that weighing yourself every day helps you focus on health goals, and may help with weight loss.  This is something lots of medical experts also believe, but it hasn’t been tested.  The problem is:  people hate weighing themselves.  Why?  Well, if you weigh yourself, says Ariely, one of three things will happen:

  1. You’ve gained weight, in which case you’re depressed.
  2. You’re the same, in which case you’re not happy (because you haven’t lost weight).
  3. You’ve lost weight, in which case you become anxious about the next time you have to weigh yourself, worrying that you might regain some of what you lost.

When you put it that way, it sounds unpleasant all around.

Part of the problem with scales is that they register changes all the time because our bodies are changing in weight all the time.    Body weight has very high variance– we can fluctuate up or down 2kg or more in any given day, and it doesn’t mean anything.  There are scales on the market now that register one-tenth of a pound change.  This is really irritating to me, as there’s nothing good about this information– it’s just part of the noise of the variance, but it has the power to make me feel really bad.

Of course there’s a really simple solution to this problem:  don’t weigh yourself.  That’s a perfectly fine option.  Lots of folks who write for this blog and who read this blog do (or rather, don’t do) exactly that.  I say huzzah to that.

But for me, I can’t seem to leave this scale thing alone.  This is because I do want to track my weight changes over time and because I do have health goals that involve weight loss if possible (yeah, these things are complicated; you all know this as well as I do).

Enter the scale that doesn’t tell me what I weigh.  Here it is:

The Shapa scale, a bright orange disc on my bathroom floor with a white S in the middle.

The Shapa scale, a bright orange disc on my bathroom floor with a white S in the middle.

Ariely and his team had an idea:  we don’t really need to know how much we weigh.  What we need to know over time is whether our weight is the same, up a little, down a little, up a little more, or down a little more.  So they developed this scale, called Shapa, that does just that.  It comes bluetooth enabled, with an app on your phone.  Part of the screen looks like this:

A screenshot from the Shapa app, with daily weigh in info (when you weighed yourself) and an optional mission for some activity or cooking.

A screenshot from the Shapa app, with daily weigh in info (when you weighed yourself) and an optional mission for some activity or cooking.

You bring your phone with you to where the scale is, and weigh yourself.  It takes a few weeks for Shapa to calibrate what your average weight is, and what your weight variance is over time.  Once it does that (and it won’t tell you those weights even if you ask nicely!), then when you weigh yourself, it will give you a message and a color.  Mine today looked like this:

A screenshot of the results of my weighing myself- I'm blue, which means "good", which means my weight is the same.

A screenshot of the results of my weighing myself- I’m blue, which means “good”, which means my weight is the same.

The scale keeps the weight variance to itself, and just tells you whether you’re the same, up (one or two standard deviations from the mean) or down (one or two standard deviations from the mean).  Though it says this in a more encouraging and colorful way.

I love this.  What I want to know is how my weight is responding to any changes in my activity or eating, and this scale tells me that without the burden of all those fluctuations which just vex me.  Of course, our clothes and mirrors and partners and selves and other cues can tell us about our bodies.  But I really do like this.  I like the daily attention to myself, and it’s offering me an occasion to think more about what sorts of changes I can or want to make to see if I can effect weight change over time.  And it is also telling me that weight isn’t the only thing that matters.  My weight has stayed the same over the past 6 weeks since I got the Shapa scale, but I feel like my clothes are a little looser.  This is probably because I’m in better physical shape (thank you Bike Rally for motivating me!).

That’s interesting information for me, too– that I can feel better, do more of what I ask of my body, and feel better in my clothes in the face of silence on the part of my scale.  Maybe I like that best of all.

What about y’all, dear readers?  Do you have a relationship with scales?  What is it?  What do you think about this crazy idea of a scale that refuses to tell you what you weigh?  I’d love to hear from you.

Lifting in Everyday Life: Self-Image and My Weird Love of Physical Labour

There’s something about physical labour that is very satisfying in a way that’s different from working out.

One of my favourite essays is “Eating Dirt” by Charlotte Gill. It’s about her summers as a tree planter in BC. In it, Gill captures the full-bodied exhaustion and mysterious bliss of physical labour as she recounts 12-14 hour days of hiking and planting trees.

Tree Planters

Image Description: Three tree-planters have large canvas sacs around their waists with hiking packs on their backs. They hike along a hill in the forrest overlooking hills with trees.

Over the last five years, I’ve been involved with seven moves, some of which were my own. There’s a joke in the Netflix series, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt where one character says that she’s started a new workout routine where she moves furniture around, “My trainer is this Israeli guy with a big truck and…” (just then she figures out that her new form of exercise is just helping people move).

Perhaps one of the things I find satisfying about physical labour is the tangible sense of accomplishment. This isn’t to say that working out doesn’t also give me a sense of accomplishment; it’s just different. Knowing that I can move all the contents of my apartment into a truck, and out of a truck into a new home is pretty cool.

I don’t always feel as tough and strong from lifting pieces of metal up and down at the gym. (Again, sometimes yes. But it’s different to know you can lift big heavy objects…or is this just me?)

Or maybe my appreciation of physical labour has something to do with the fact that my main work is sitting at a computer for large chunks of the day, either reading or writing. I’ll admit that my enjoyment of physical labour is probably because I get to choose when I engage with it and I don’t necessarily have to do it every day.

One of my part-time gigs is working in the taproom of a local craft brewery in Toronto. When I’m not pouring beer, this involves a lot of heavy lifting, loading and unloading things, moving kegs and other heavy things. There’s something very practical about it all: Move object from point A to point B because you have to or because you need that keg over there. And by the end of the day, the feeling of “Wow! I did that!”

One of my friends joked this spring that by the end of the summer I’d be “ripped” from working at the brewery. She wasn’t wrong. I have noticed muscle growth in my biceps and shoulders that makes me feel big and strong. Maybe what I like is knowing that I don’t have to ask someone bigger than me (i.e., a man) to help me complete physical tasks that need to get done.


Image Description: A drawing from a textbook that features a leotard-clad man lifting a heavy barrel or keg over his head. (Sadly, could not find drawings of women lifting kegs.)

In my last post, I wrote about buying a new bike, and elsewhere I’ve written about my intense fear of urban cycling. In the last month, I’ve used my bike exclusively to get around, using transit maybe once in over a month. Doing so has completely changed my perspective of what I’m capable of. It’s freeing, really. Knowing that I can take myself places under my own physical power is exciting and awesome.

I suppose part of my newfound love of physical labour is about seeing myself in a new light. When I first started writing for this blog maybe ten months ago, I used to see myself as someone who wasn’t very physically capable or active. I saw myself as physically awkward, not very strong, not capable of performing certain physical tasks. But physical labour proves these self-doubts wrong in a very tangible and visible way.

I can no longer delude myself into thinking I am not physically capable or active if I can bike 30km’s in a day, or lift fifty pound kegs from point A to B, or move an apartment’s worth of stuff.

Slowly my self-image has started to change. And perhaps another ten months from now I’ll be accomplishing things I wouldn’t think possible now.


IMG_8480I was traveling for half of July, and a big chunk of that was a bike trip in Latvia and Estonia. The trip was heady and lovely for so many reasons — new space to explore, days and days by myself on the bike, pushing myself past comfort, coping with wind and boredom, feeling the strength of new culture.  When I wasn’t on the bike, walking and walking and walking and running in Riga, in Tallinn, in St. Petersburg.

There is huge privilege and joy in discovering a new place from the saddle or from your running shoes.  You start to make it yours, and even the embarrassing trip-and-fall on a construction thingy in front of a pile of tourists just becomes punctuation, part of the adventure.

This kind of active travel also creates empirical physical accomplishment — mileage in the saddle adding up on my strava app, one or two entries ticked off every day in my “217 workouts in 2017” facebook group.  The mindful presence of moving my body through a landscape blended smoothly with the concrete physical listing of what I’d done — it was a Thing, this bike trip.

And then I came back, to a hot steamy Toronto and a pile of work, and my everyday step counts and my entries in my “217 in 2017” log ground to a halt. It’s easy for me to move a lot when I’m traveling, when even dragging my bag a kilometre and a half to the train station has an overlay of adventure.  Then I get home, and it’s sultry muggy summer, and I’m sitting at my desk with no time for the 75km ride I yearn for, forcing myself out for uninspiring runs every second day, every step muffled and boring.  Trying to remember what it felt like to have activity built into my days.  Activity punctuated by a steady stream of amazing meals.

Ah, the post holiday let down, where I’m making toast and peanut butter again, eating it at my desk, trying to remember how strong my body felt just a week ago.

A week after I got home, I was on another plane, this time for work.  A mini cross country trip to do some focus groups with victims of crime.  My job on this project is to hold the space for people telling the rawest of possible stories, stories of murdered and trafficked children, one woman sharing the most profound experience I’ve ever heard of meeting with her son’s killers after they’d been convicted.  Truth, reconciliation with the worst imaginable experience in this life, the most open humanity ever.

As I did this work, the reason to run came flooding in.  Sometimes running and walking far and riding are adventure, are exploration.  Sometimes they’re discipline, intentional building of strength. And sometimes, they’re elemental, a deep need to have feet in contact with ground to drum into me a deep reminder of my own humanity.

On Tuesday, I politely requested a key to the tiny gym at the airport hotel in Winnipeg after my meeting, and stuffed a hard treadmill workout, mile and half-mile speed repeats, into the time before my next flight.  Then Wednesday, in Vancouver, I coordinated my meetings and my life to run around the seawall in Stanley Park.


I’ve done this run many times.  I lived in BC for a year a little while ago, and have been lucky enough to be drawn to Vancouver for work a couple of times a year.  It’s the perfect run, a 12 km loop from my hotel, no stops except those you choose to make.  (And one annoying TV shoot at the beginning).  Just you, the seawall, English Bay, the thread of others making their way around on foot or on the slightly separate bike path.

Vancouver is suffering right now, smog hanging in the air from the wildfires across the interior.  The air quality was a bit challenging, and my feet hurt as much as they did in my uninspired runs in Toronto earlier in the week.  The usual deep August blue and crispness of the seascape were missing.  But it was my feet touching down on the seawall, my body moving through the landscape that makes me feel alive.  Feeling privilege of my community, the work I get to do, the life I have.

As I was running, I was re-running some of the previous forays around the seawall. Striding with my dear friend J I don’t see enough of. A walking date I went on with someone I met online when I first moved to BC, just to have someone to talk to.  A kind person, but far too long a walk for someone you haven’t met before and don’t have much to talk about with.  Later, wandering the seawall with my camera and a telescope with an ornithologist/wildlife photographer I was with for a couple of years, crawling on my belly to get a shot of a great blue heron with his fancy lens, pleased when he chortled his approval at my willingness to get dirty.

Running in new places gives me mastery of a new space in a way nothing else does.  But running in a familiar place also gives me illumination.  I’m not the person anymore who would sort of passively agree to go on a long, inescapable walk with someone I’m not sure I want to spend that much time with.  I’m not the person who lets myself get enveloped in other people’s passions.

I know my passions, and I’ve organized my life to live them as much as I can.  I’m very open to new things — goat yoga, anyone? wow, Uzbekistan sounds great! — but I’m also old enough, seasoned enough, to know the things that ground me.  And I’ve learned to do the work that makes the space for them. A long solo walk, and saying a gentle no to company if I really want to be alone. A slightly too hard 12K run I don’t truly have time for. A pounding music-infused treadmill workout when I’ve absorbed other people’s pain.  Asking a friend to meet an hour later for dinner to carve out the time for the 70km bike ride I need.

IMG_9345The Cate who walked the seawall in June 2009 with a stranger is a different person than the Cate who ran it in August 2017. I don’t know if I realized how much until it was spelled out in every footstep of this run.  So much of my work is with people who demonstrate incredible resilience, compassion, who strive for it.  I don’t know if I’d realized how much I’d been learning about resilience for myself doing that work.

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede. Cate lives in Toronto, where she works in the space of socially accountable education and change in healthcare and other public spheres. She regularly blogs here on the second Friday of every month, as well as when she has something more to say.

Fitness as a Feminist Issue: Let Us Count the Ways

Yesterday Sam and I were guest speakers at the Wellness Wednesday Coffee Break on campus for staff who work in the Support Services Building. They invited us to talk about the blog, how it came about, and what, as feminists, our “alternative” fitness message is.

We gave a little history of the blog — how we started it in 2012 to document our “Fittest by 50 Challenge” and then it grew into an amazing community. And we talked about what we see as five main “themes” that drive a lot of our blog content.

Here’s a poster we made for a different event a couple of years ago.

blog themes1

The blog still remains true to these feminist themes of equality, inclusivity, empowerment, aesthetics, and embodiment.

We spent about 20 minutes on the themes and then opened it up for Q&A. Questions ranged from “how do you take on the daunting task of changing people’s default views that equate fitness with thinness and “getting fit” with dieting?” to “what exactly did you do during the challenge (in terms of workouts) and what do you do now?”

It’s always interesting to present a feminist message to a group who, for at least some of the people in it, haven’t heard it before. There were lots of heads nodding as we talked, which shows that what we had resonated and maybe even influenced a few people to reconsider their approach.

Above all, we promote the idea that enjoyment is key. If your fitness routine feels like a punishing and joyless obligation that requires enormous discipline, it might be worth reconsidering what you’re doing.

When you think about fitness from a feminist point of view, what does that mean to you? Are there any themes not on our list that you think are worth highlighting?

Joh goes again!

Joh writes, “Après avoir parcouru 110 km pour Friends for Life le 30 juillet, je vais maintenant pagayer 10 km et pédaler 125 km pour Nikibasika. La mission de Nikibasika est de former un groupe de jeunes gens instruits, sensibles aux enjeux mondiaux, orientés vers les communautés et dotés de ressources pour leur permettre de générer des occasions de développement dans leurs communautés en Ouganda.
L’objectif de financement pour 2017 est de 150 000 $. Mon objectif personnel est de 1 500 $. C’est par ici pour contribuer :

In English: “After biking 110 km for Friends for Life on July 30th, I will now paddle 10 km and bike 125 km for Nikibasika. The mission of Nikibasika is to create a group of well-educated, globally aware, community oriented and well- resourced young people in Uganda, who will in turn co-create development opportunities for their communities. Our fundraising goal this year is $150,000, and my personal objective is $1,500. I would appreciate if you could contribute here: Thanks!”