family · fitness · motivation

Sam craves early mornings but just how early?

Readers know that I’m a morning person. Here’s my piece on the allure of very early mornings.

I’ve written lots about finding time that way and sometimes about how I can struggle with it.

Still it’s my go-to way of finding time for work and for fitness.

If I’ve got a big thing due the next day staying up late to finish it doesn’t occur to me. Instead, I go to bed early and set the alarm at 4 or 5 as needed, even 3 rather than staying up late.

I admire celebrities who are very early risers. How does The Rock, for example, find time to work out? He gets up super early. My Rock app alarm time gives me the option of getting up at Rock Time. I can get set my alarm for whatever time he chooses. Usually that’s at 330 am.

I reported on my week with the Rock Clock here.

Now Mark Wahlberg has one upped the Rock, sharing his sleep and workout and prayer schedule with the world. He gets up even earlier at 2:30 am. He’s in bed by 7:30 pm.

Here’s a plea to save Mark Wahlberg from this schedule.

Can you imagine going to bed at 7:30 and rising at 2:30? He does it he says to get the exercise out of the way before his family wakes up.

For Wahlberg and the Rock looking fit is part of their job. They need those muscles and those visible abs.

I’m an academic dean. There’s no merit pay for muscles in my role. But still I’m fascinated by the super successful extreme early risers.

My mother’s theory, at least I think it’s my mother’s, is that nothing good happens in the evening. Usually it’s a time to sit around and relax. Few people write or workout in the evening. Instead, so this theory goes, we eat cookies and watch television.

(Note to friends who are super productive night owls. I see you. I know you. And I know it’s not true for all people. That’s why I attributed the view to my mother. Sorry mom.  I know night owls who struggle with trying to fit into society’s norms around work and schedules.)

But for people like me who are “Alive, Alert, Awake, Enthusiastic”  in the morning, the evenings can be a sink hole of inactivity.

We likely need some of that down time, true. But how much?

As far as getting to your goals, it’s wasted time. But I’m never tempted to turn on Netflix in the morning. The most procrastinate-y stuff I get up to is dog walking and house cleaning.

So the morning, the early morning, feels like the best time to exercise.

How about you?

weight loss

Exercise and weight loss, in the news again

Lots of people are applauding this story that’s been making the rounds this week.

I liked Yoni Freedhoff’s comment on Twitter about this study, and the resulting media attention, that anyone who thinks this is good news has probably never tried to sustain a commitment to an hour a day of exercise.

Also, in the news is this story about the weight reducing benefits of bike riding. Now I love riding my bike as much as the next person but I find hours and hours on the bike don’t make much difference to my weight. I reread the story more carefully and it turns out the weight loss benefits of cycling amount to 1.6 pounds. I’m not sure that anyone who is concerned about losing weight cares much about 1.6 pounds.

Finally, in the exercise-weight loss news world there was this story about Americans exercising more and also gaining weight.

I’m with Yoni Freedhoff (again): Exercise is the world’s best drug. It’s just not a weight-loss drug.

There are so many reasons to exercise that have nothing to do with weight loss. Here’s 11 of them.

We need to sever in our minds the connection between working out and losing weight.

I’ve read the research. See Why you shouldn’t exercise to lose weight, explained with 60+ studies .. and The science is in: exercise won’t help you lose much weight but still even for me, I’m sometimes surprised. How about you?

Photo by Everton Vila on Unsplash Lovers share a silhouetted bicycle ride, hands reaching out to each other against a pink sky
accessibility · aging · fitness · Martha's Musings · motivation

Courtesy, seniors and fitness assumptions

By MarthaFitAt55

I’ve discovered that I can be seduced by click bait. I see the headlines, and boom, there I am reading an article and fuming over the ridiculousness of it all.

It’s pretty easy to dismiss screamer headlines and their unsubstantiated content, but sometimes, you get drawn into an article because you just can’t help yourself.


So I went there and was appalled and a little angry. Appalled as the article recommends not offering seniors a seat as standing is way better than sitting. Angry because the article makes no mention of the risk of falls from a lurching bus or tram.

Seniors riding a bus
Image shows seniors riding the The Rapid (the bus system serving Grand Rapids, Michigan


The Reader’s Digest version is this: older people need encouragement to keep fit. Sedentary activity, including sitting on public transport, leads to negative health effects. Encourage them to be active, like taking the stairs or walking for ten minutes a day. In fact, the expert quoted in the article says we should “think twice before giving up your seat on the bus or train to an older person. Standing up is great exercise for them.”

For those of us under 60 with a reasonable amount of calcium in our diet, the risk posed by an unexpected lurch or stop on the bus is at most a possible wrench or at least a bark of our shins against someone’s briefcase or shopping bag.

For seniors, it’s a different story. I found a guide encouraging active living habits for seniors on line, and even it warned them about the risks of sudden stops on public transport. To wit,

“It is also important to be alert so that you do not accidentally get injured on public transportation. Busses and taxis are notorious for being rough rides, and during quick turns or stops you may jerk forward in your seat. If you are not paying attention, then you could fall out of your seat and injure yourself. Always hold onto the bottom of your seat or onto a railing in the bus or taxi to keep yourself secured.”

According to Indiana University, the impact of falls is great:

  • Falls are the leading cause of a move to skilled-care facilities, often long term.
  • 20-30% of those who fall suffer moderate to severe physical injuries including breaks, cuts, and bruising.
  • Falls often result in long-term pain.
  • Falls involving a hip fracture lead to 10-15% reduction in life expectancy.
  • Older adults who fall are likely to worry about the future and loss of independence.
  • Loss of self-esteem and mobility leads to decreased activity and eventually inability to perform activities of daily living.
  • Because of decreased confidence and physical functioning, patients who fall are likely to fall again.
  • Elderly who fall are less likely to take part in beneficial activities like exercising or socializing because of a fear of getting hurt again and the embarrassment of a fall.

I don’t know about you, but if I were 65 or older, I would rather be seen as someone in need of a seat rather than someone in need of a hike. Mostly it’s simple courtesy as one should never assume that one is either fit or unfit. Maybe they’ve just come back from a rousing afternoon with the grand children; perhaps they’ve just spent time in a gym pushing weights around. Who knows? Sometimes, we just like to sit and watch the passing scene out the window.

Next time I see a senior, I’ll ask them if they want my seat and let them make the choice, not me.

— MarthaFitat55 has been working hard to build strong bones and muscles so she can keep standing for a long, long time.


Mental Health and Exercise: It’s Science (Guest Post)

I attended a workshop this past week headlined by Dr. John Arden, a Psychologist and author. His regular folk friendly book is called Rewire Your Brain (Arden, J. B. (2010). Rewire your brain: Think your way to a better life. John Wiley & Sons.). In it you will find all sorts of interesting things about brain anatomy, neurochemistry and the oft referred to “brain plasticity” that is all the rage in much of the literature on changing behaviours or understanding why behaviours may be hard to change.

There was a lot about the workshop I liked and a little chunk I hated. I will get that chunk out of the way first because it’s relevant to the blog and then move on to the things I liked that are also relevant to everyone.

Brain health, mental health and physical health are all related (no surprise here). He spent a lot of the time explaining the importance of “neurogenesis” which is essentially the production of new connections in the brain. Making new connections, especially in the front part of the brain and the parts of the brain important in regulating stress, contributes hugely to resiliency in mental health. His position is that without a functioning capacity to create these connections, people have a very much harder time recovering from stress and trauma, leading to various anxiety mediated and mood disorders.

So what inhibits neurogenesis? Aging, Chronically high cortisol, Pot and Obesity. 

What promotes it? Excercise, Fasting, Fewer calories consumed, Food Quality (especially the presence of high quality Omega 3) and Weight loss.

Sigh. What is wrong with this list? He didn’t highlight the studies that he based this stuff on but I did pay very close attention to how he talked about these things. The thing that made me very miffed was his constant and consistent conflation of “Obesity” with lack of exercise and poor food choices. He went on for a while about the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines by fat cells and talked about metabolic syndrome. It is believed that these chemicals are a big part of why our moods go to hell when we are chronically stressed and not doing enough good things for the body. The articles you see about depression really being about inflammation are based on this science. These are medical facts. But he basically said “tell your clients they have to lose weight to get better”. Great, a prescription with a 95% failure rate. Set ’em up for failure, I’m in. He didn’t acknowledge that BMI measurements of obesity often don’t mean squat. He didn’t acknowledge that fat people can be fit and lacking any other markers of metabolic syndrome. He even said (astoundingly) that if you are going to put on weight, you should put it on as a pear shape instead of apple, as if this is a conscious choice. I was so angry at this point I couldn’t speak. And what made me angrier was the fact that he was clearly  utterly well meaning and a victim of the blank spots in his particular silo of knowledge. ON TOP OF THAT, he was talking to an audience of mostly women.*FEMINIST HULK SMASH*

Okay, enough of that. The good news here, however, was the reiteration of the connection of exercise with improved mental health outcomes. Exercise has been shown to have epigenetic effects on the brain, which means it promotes turning on gene expressions related to nuero-plasticity. It promotes the production of various growth factors in the brain which means more connections are formed. It promotes activity between those connections and, in a fairly dumbed down nutshell, the activity (especially in the left frontal cortex) allows for better mood, learning and adaptivity to adversity. Basically, it’s magic.

However, it is important to note that, like all magic, initiating it requires a clear intent. Lots of my clients tell me they exercise and nothing happens. They do not magically feel less depressed or anxious. That is because exercise is really good at creating optimal conditions for changes but if you just go brood about all the stuff you usually brood about or, more realistically, go back to your dysfunctional life and relationships without questioning them, it’s still hard to change. The role of therapy is to help people change both their physical condition (by encouraging more self care through movement, better quality food and sleep) and to help people reframe their understanding of what is happening relationally in their lives. Sometimes that reframing can be a challenge to a singular poor relationship. Sometimes it can be a more daunting challenge to a systemic adversity that blocks them in the form of racism, class inequality or sexism to name merely a sliver. I understand better than ever how these things work together now.

I wrote a sternly worded evaluation that took up the whole back page regarding my critique of the way he flung the word “obesity” around like we all knew what we were talking about. I hope he takes it to heart.

Food, Sleep, and Exercise. Keep your brain happy!
Weekends with Womack

Industry and Nature side by side: urban kayaking in Adelaide

Kayaking is an activity you can enjoy just about anywhere there’s water. Of course you have to pay attention to features like tide, current and wind patterns, the topography of the area, bigger boat traffic, and also any natural predators or dangerous plants or animals. For instance, I went to the beach Saturday at Semaphor Beach in Adelaide, South Australia, with friends, when I encountered this sign:


Snakes? There are SNAKES here at the beach? What am I supposed to do about this?

I was told that snakes can hang out in the dunes, so don’t go walking there. Okay, I guarantee I won’t. And I didn’t. And my beach experience was snake-free. Yay.

Sunday I had a reserved a kayak with Adventure Kayaking SA (South Australia), pretty much the only outfit I could find that rents kayaks at a launch site relatively close to downtown Adelaide. They are great—they rent both kayaks and SUPs, offer instruction and tours, and their staff are knowledgeable and friendly. Here is their facebook page if you’re in the area.

To get to the launch spot I had to drive basically through the Port of Adelaide, which looks like a port area—lots of warehouses, shipping containers and cranes, and other big industrial structures. Then, turning onto Garden Island Road, I saw a large power plant, with this sign:

Screen Shot 2015-11-08 at 9.50.46 PM

“Inlet temperatures may exceed safe swimming limits.” That made me wonder just what the melting point of my kayak is— not information I had previously considered salient, but there you go.

Driving on, I stopped and took this picture of what was behind me.


I was starting to get the feeling that the kayaking place was right next to a nuclear testing site. But on I drove. And I arrived to see a nice-looking park with the kayaks all set up and ready to go. Whew.

The Adventure Kayaking SA folks were able to provide me with everything I needed as a slightly more experienced kayaker. I got a better fitting (more snug, with narrower cockpit) boat, dry bag, better paddle, and no need to spend time on instruction once they determined I knew what I was up to. They just made suggestions on where to go, and helped me launch. And I was off!

There are two big draws to this area for kayakers. One is that you get to kayak in a dolphin sanctuary. You’re not allowed to approach them, but they end up swimming near you anyway—they’re smart and friendly and playful. I took a ton of pictures, but it turns out it’s rather hard to get a good picture of a dolphin 1) with your phone; 2) from your boat; and 3) while the dolphins are above the surface or doing something interesting. This was the best I got, which was actually much closer than it looks here:


On the facebook page for the kayak place, they have a lot better photos. This one was taken with a SUP group that was out when I was there. You can actually see them:


The area where we saw the dolphins is bordered on one side by a mangrove swamp, which looks like this:


If you continue down the inlet, however, you get to this:


Those are barriers across the inlet keeping you from that power plant, I mentioned. Not able to stop myself, I did put my hand in the water, which was warm, but not the temperature implied by the sign. Whew again.   Here’s another shot of the mangroves plus powerlines.


The other draw for boaters in this area is the Ships Graveyard.  In the larger area, about 40 abandoned remains of ships are sunk or partially sunk in shallow waters. I got to paddle right up to a few of them. Here’s a view of one wreck:


You can actually go all the way around it—here it is, in its rusty beauty, from the other side, viewed from the bow of my boat:


Again, we ran into barriers not much further along, as that power plant takes up a lot of space. However, there was enough nature and water to keep me happy for a few hours on a very sunny and hot spring day (33 C/91 F).

Somehow I keep experiencing (and posting about) the urban or industrial outdoors. What’s so great about it? I mean, isn’t it much nicer to find some more pristine natural area like here:


Or here:


Yes, these are gorgeous, travelogue-like images of what being outdoorsy means. Trips like these are great, where you’re far away from life and civilization. But—we don’t always have the time, the money, the access, the organization or logistics to go far away. We do, however, often have the time and access to natural spots near our own backyards.

My kayak instructor Spencer talked to us about the local adventures he sets up for himself and friends. His trips often take place less than 20 miles from where he lives, but involve challenges of elements—wind, tide, temperature, rain, snow, maybe even dark of night—in places he knows very well. I like that idea—it’s a good one to keep in mind when you need a quick or cheap or easy jaunt to sweep out the everyday cobwebs, just in time to return home to dinner.

My next local cheap urban-y outing will be when I return to Sydney in late November. My plans are to swim in as many of their tidal sea baths in the area as I possibly can. Some of them are here and they are beautiful. I doubt I’ll get to all 44 listed here but will report back on my progress. In the meantime, readers, where have you gone close to home that gave you nature plus urban/industry experiences?

Weekends with Womack

Everyday exercise and car-free living, or how I learned to stop worrying and love hauling groceries

G’day blog readers—I’m now relocated to Australia for the next 2.5 months for a sabbatical work trip (with adventuring on the side). Right now I’m in Sydney for the month of October, visiting here to do some research, chat with people and give a talk. I’ll be moving on to Adelaide for a few weeks to chat with other folks and give other talks, then back to Sydney until mid-December. All this is rather thrilling, as I haven’t had a long trip like this for many years.

Long-distance travel is definitely a shock to the body, especially when it involves sitting on places for many hours (15+ for my LA-Sydney leg; ugh). There’s been a lot of research on the effects of jet lag on athletes. The effects range from insomnia to gastrointestinal distress to lowered cognitive and physical performance. Two main non-pharmacological treatments are recommended for jet lag: 1) natural sunlight—get outside and move around in the new environment during the day; and 2) time—give yourself a few days to get adjusted to the new time zone, schedule and cadence.

So, in service of taking my own advice, after I landed early yesterday morning Sydney time (and had a nap—yes, I know that’s kind of a no-no, but it was not optional), I headed out into my new neighborhood to get food, purchase some groceries for my flat, and explore a bit.

It’s just lovely here in Sydney—it’s high spring, flowers are blooming and this weekend temperatures are in the 90s (33 C right now). I enjoyed walking around, checking out houses, gardens, and seeing what shops were in my area. I got a coffee and brunch at a café, then walked about 15 minutes to a grocery store to get some supplies.

Man, I forgot how sweat-inducing it is to haul groceries for any length of time on foot! Usually when I’m home in Boston I either use my car or ride my bike and put groceries in the panniers. I did bring my road bike with me, but have not set it up yet (that is my project for later this afternoon). Even so, this bike doesn’t take a rack (long story, trust me on this), so I’ll have to use my backpack or just carry them on foot.

And I’m so happy about this.

Yes, one of the big perks I see about this trip is the opportunity to get a lot of everyday exercise in addition to the road riding and kayaking and swimming and nature walking I have planned. This blog has posts about everyday exercise here and here, among other places. I also hear that Sam and Tracy have a chapter on it in their upcoming book. 

There are loads of studies tracking the positive effects of urban car-free living, vs. car-dependent suburban or rural living. As we know, science is complicated—urban living tends to be associated with higher stress whereas rural living can provide stress reduction, for instance in its proximity to nature. But, it’s also been suggested that urban environments can promote increased physical activity, provided there’s enough access to services and facilities.  Again, the story is complicated: for lower-income people and populations that already suffer from health and income disparities, urban living is not so great for their health.

I’m aware of and very grateful for the privilege of the job I have and the opportunities to travel to interesting places, do stimulating work and live in areas that are safe and accessible to services. I’m also very aware that this change presents an opportunity to shake up my previous habits and restart some new ones, a little bit at a time. That means for me now moving around without a car. I’ll be adjusting my timing for shopping, for going to the office, for meeting friends. I’ve brought bike commuting clothing and comfortable knocking-around-town shoes and sandals. I haven’t purchased a Fitbit to track all this, but will be seeing how it feels over time to increase my everyday activity (in addition to planned exercise and sports). And I’ll report back.

Stay tuned also for a blog post on how a change of environment and location and social group affects my eating habits. I’m quite interested to see what happens here, and will let y’all know. For now, g’day and see y’all next week.

Weekends with Womack

Shake it up, baby: finding new active activities

This weekend I was at a party with some old friends I’d been house mates with back in the 80s. Some of you readers may not remember the 80s, but those were the days of perms and poodle hairdos, like this one:


My poodle perm didn’t even look that good.

At this party, former house mate Nancy told us about a friend of hers who is in physical therapy for arthritis in her ankle. The therapist told her to do two things:

1) get outside each day to do some activity;

2) learn something new each week.

Nancy’s friend, who must be a conscientious sort, set about to do just that. With respect to 2), she has so far tried a few new things. She rented a bike and decided to relearn how to ride. Apparently there were some hitches in the proceedings, which necessitated walking the bike back to the shop a few times (e.g. chain fell off), but eventually she was rolling down her local bike path. The following week she bought a basketball, went to a local outdoor court, and got some kids to teach her how to shoot hoops. How cool is that? Next week she plans to go kayaking with Nancy.

Is this a great idea or what?

As much as I love my primary sports (cycling, squash, cross-country skiing in winter), it’s possible to get in a sports rut. And lately I’ve been feeling a little restless, not knowing exactly what I’m looking for, but casting about for some novel experiences. Nothing radical like running off to join the circus, mind you, although they do teach trapeze courses in Boston and my friend Steph assures me it’s big fun.


Well, flying through the air with the greatest of ease is probably not my thing, but I am trying a couple of activities that feel new-to-me, as I haven’t done them in a long time.

First up is an ocean kayaking skills course. My friend Janet signed both of us up for a 2-day ocean kayaking course that takes place actually in the ocean. I say this because lots of ocean kayaking courses are done in rivers and lakes, as it’s quieter, easier and less daunting for beginners. I’ve done some ocean kayaking and even blogged about it here. But my skills are rusty and also limited—I’ve never done an assisted rescue at sea, much less a self-rescue in the ocean.


But we’re going to learn these skills and much more. I’ve always wanted to take a sea kayak trip off the coast of British Columbia, paddling near orcas. Doesn’t this look awe-inspiring?


Yeah, it scares me a little, too. But it’s exciting to move outside your comfort zone, develop some new skills, check out a completely different sports subculture. Starting with the summer course seems like a move in the right direction.

The second new-to-me activity is much less thrilling, but nonetheless something I’ve not done in years: running. Well, more like jogging. I’ve never ever been a runner. Even while training for a couple of triathlons about 10 years ago, I swam and biked, but didn’t run much at all. I sort of jogged a little and hoped for a miracle. And it was a minor miracle that I finished the running sections of those triathlons…

But recently I’ve been curious about running: wondering if maybe, if I actually train, maybe I could in fact finish a 5k sometime. It turns out there are apps for precisely this goal. I just started using the Couch-to-5K app, about which I’ve read some positive reviews. I’ve finished the first 3 workouts, and so far so good. The whole program is 9 weeks long, so we’ll see how this goes. If by then I can actually run/jog 5K, I may enter a race in the fall. What an idea—I never thought I would choose or be able to run a 5K race. Just the feeling of wanting this and trying it out is new and different.

Who knows how each of these new activities will go? Who knows what goals I’ll meet or what my skill or interest level will be in a few months? But for now, it’s enough that I’m shaking it up.

advertising · Guest Post · Weekends with Womack

Cleaning is NOT the new cardio: Women, housework and not working out

Tammy Wynette had it right: Sometimes it’s hard to be a woman. Especially when it comes to domestic labor. Tons has been written about how women, after coming home from paid work outside the home, commence “the second shift” in which they cook, clean, do childcare, and manage household needs. And despite the fact that the women’s movement is easily more than 40 years old, this situation is still pervasive. In the New Republic, Jessica Grose tells her own rather typical story:

“When it comes to housecleaning, my basically modern, egalitarian marriage starts looking more like the backdrop to an Updike short story. My husband and I both work. We split midnight baby feedings. My husband would tell you that he does his fair share of the housework, but if pressed, he will admit that he’s never cleaned the bathroom, that I do the dishes nine times out of ten, and that he barely knows how the washer and dryer work in the apartment we’ve lived in for over eight months. Sure, he changes the light bulbs and assembles the Ikea furniture, but he’s never scrubbed a toilet in the six years we’ve lived together.”

This story illustrates how gendered domestic labor often is. The above-mentioned husband assembles Ikea furniture, which is a one-off enterprise. But doing dishes and laundry, both ongoing enterprises, fall to his wife. And the data show that this is a common phenomenon:

Fathers do slightly more lawn care than moms—11 percent of working dads are out mowing the lawn on an average day compared to 6.4 percent of working moms. So that means dads are out clipping the hedges on sunny Saturdays, while moms are the ones doing the drudgery of vacuuming day in and day out. And this isn’t solely an American phenomenon. Even in the famously gender-neutral Sweden, women do 45 minutes more housework a day than their male partners.

So what’s a pressed-for-time 21st century woman to do if she wants to:

  1. work at a job for money;
  2. cook nice food for meals;
  3. wear clean clothing;
  4. live in a clean house;
  5. hang out with her clean and fed children;
  6. get some exercise?

Well, I can’t speak for all of 1–6  but there are some ingenious websites out there dedicated to helping women combine house cleaning and exercise. One of them urges women to “turn spring cleaning into spring training”, and offers 7 ways to “put the lean in clean”. Among the techniques promoted are:

  • Eschew vacuuming in favor of taking rugs outside to beat them; it will burn more calories.
  • Take multiple trips running up and down stairs to retrieve and put away laundry.
  • If you insist on using the vacuum cleaner, combine vacuuming with lunges.


Another site combines weight-loss and house cleaning advice:

Forget the gym! If women are really spending almost 2½ hours cleaning and tidying up every day, there’s plenty of opportunity to get a sufficient workout without even leaving home!

Housework is a great way to burn calories. But as is the case with any workout, the more effort you put in, the greater the benefit. In particular, polishing, dusting, mopping and sweeping are great for keeping arms shapely. Bending and stretching, for example, when you make the bed, wash windows or do the laundry are good for toning thighs and improving flexibility. And constantly running up and down the stairs as you tidy is a good aerobic workout.


A woman calling herself “Clean Momma” offers dozens of videos that purport to combine exercise with cleaning tasks; one of them promises “great arms and countertops” at the same time.

It’s obvious that these websites are trading on gender and class stereotypes in domestic labor as well as pushing a weight-loss-is-always-good-always-necessary message that we all know is wrong-headed, bad for our health, and bad for our self-esteem. Not to mention ridiculously time-consuming, taking time away from pursuing real projects and goals for ourselves. So, launching into a long criticism of them would be like shooting fish in a barrel.

But, I’d like to suggest that there’s a more subtle form of this cleaning-as-women’s-primary-activity at work in hipper and more modern women’s media.  Apartment therapy, a home decorating/improvement/DIY website, features the January Cure, a month of cleaning, organizing and home improvement tasks. They are motivational and upbeat:

Do you want 2015 to be your best year yet? We believe that when your home is under control, fresh, clean and organized, good things happen throughout your life. If you are ready to get your place back in shape, the very best way is one manageable step at a time, during our once-a-year-only January Cure. By the end of the month, you’ll be sitting pretty in a clean, fresh, organized home. We can do this – together!

Every few days they publish another home-organization task. One of them—a better kitchen by Sunday evening—involves this as a weekend project:

  • clean fridge
  • clean cabinets, inside and out
  • inspect all contents of cabinets and get rid of stained, chipped, extra, unused items
  • clean all surfaces (using earth-friendly cleaners, of course)

Screen Shot 2015-03-21 at 10.17.33 AM

This is really impressive, but just reading this list makes me want to retire to the couch for the day.

All of the mainstream women’s magazines (like Better Homes and Gardens, Redbook, Good Housekeeping, Real Simple) emphasize the importance of very detailed attention to every part of one’s house. Maybe I’ve arranged my furniture incorrectly. Or perhaps I need to build my own laundry hamper, which is supposed to make laundry so much easier (hmmmm…)

Now, of course it’s nice to have a lovely clean house, complete with sparkling fridge, uncluttered cabinets, and maybe even a groovy new wire laundry hamper on wheels. But it’s worth noting that women are the ones targeted for these sorts of tasks. And what’s worse, we are at risk of reducing or eliminating physical activity from our daily routines because of the pressures to be responsible for creating an ideal domestic environment.

One recent study, analyzing factors influencing amount of regular exercise in middle-aged women, cited “disruptions in daily structure, competing demands, and self-sacrifice” as barriers to regular exercise. Two factors that were NOT listed as barriers were lack of time and menopausal symptoms. This is good news; despite changes in our bodies and time-crunched lives, women still want to exercise to feel good and be active with others. But we still have to deal with competing demands and self-sacrifice, and these pressures arrive at our doorstep in many forms.

So I say: step away from the vacuum cleaner, march past the cluttered desk, and avert your eyes while passing the laundry room—at least for long enough to get out there for a walk, run, swim, ride, yoga class, unicycle lesson, game of catch with your dog. The mess will keep until you get back home.

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Guest Post · meditation · nature · Uncategorized

We say goodbye, we say hello: out with winter activities, in with spring

Let’s take a walk

Into the world

Where if our shoes get white

With snow, is it snow, Marina,

Is it snow or light?

Let’s take a walk

excerpt from the poem To Marina, by Kenneth Koch.

Finally, after an unbelievably fierce winter here in the northeast, change is in the air—daylight savings time has returned, giving us more time after work to be outside. And temperatures are edging up, most welcome in Boston where we got pounded with 105 inches of snow this year.  A month ago, streets in Boston looked like this:


But now they look like this:


Not exactly pretty, but at least the driving is a bit easier.

One notable benefit of all this snow has been the instant access to great winter sports, even in urban areas. I’ve blogged about urban cross country skiing and also trying out new variations on skiing. In Ottawa, the Rideau Canal Skateway had a record-breaking 59-day season, which lots of people took advantage of.

rideau canal


My friend Teri, on a work trip to Ottawa, took the night picture, and even partook of some after-work curling—another northern winter activity (although here you can find out about the curling season, which in fact extends to May).


But all good things come to an end. The snow is melting, the late-day sun is beckoning, and it’s time to think about putting away skis, skates, snowshoes, fat bikes and cold-weather running wear. Time to bring out the road and mountain bikes, running shoes, and other springtime equipment. Samantha has gotten the jump on many of us already, restarting bike commuting.

You would think this would be deliriously wonderful news; it’s been a frigid and difficult winter, and I’ve not been on a bike in months. And I love to ride. But change can be hard—even positive change. It requires consciously shifting from one set of habits, one set of gear, one set of exercise partners and locations and muscle groups, to a whole different set. This happens for me on at least 3 levels:

Level one: logistical

Finding places to put the winter stuff while remembering where I stored the warmer weather stuff and deciding when to retrieve it is always a production. The cross-country skis, which lived in the back of the car all winter, are now in their transitional space (the hallway) awaiting being put away in the basement; repeat for lots of other gear and clothing. I also need to take my road bike for a tune-up before the season really gets going, etc. For those of us who are active and profligate about gear, keeping everything in its appropriate place in the seasonal rotation is a job.

Level two: physical

Changing sports or activities means also reminding oneself about the existence of muscle groups that may have been ignored for a while. This winter I skied and played squash, both of which use my legs, but in ways very different than cycling uses them. Lots of websites offer practical advice for ways to transition into spring cycling or spring running.  The message seems to be this: start slow and focus on the basics. This is no news, but sometimes tough to stick with, especially on that first spring day when you are bursting with enthusiasm.

Level three: metaphysical

Change is unsettling.  We’re used to our habits and the pleasures, associations, and even burdens that come with them.  This winter offered up a host of burdens– endless shoveling, treacherous driving, super-long commutes to work, and high heat bills.  But it also provided some opportunities and experiences that I’ll miss.

I now know the neighbors on my street much better through shared shoveling  and snow-driving woes.  To get one car unstuck on my street took representatives from Turkey, Japan, France, South Carolina, and New England; since then we’ve all waved and smiled when we see each other.

I also know some of my colleagues much better through carpooling to work.  The MBTA commuter rail in Boston experienced massive failure, and we had to scramble to find rides for people to be able to teach their classes.  I drove folks to and from school (usually a 50-minute one-way ride, turned into more than 1.5 hours) 3 days a week for several weeks.  It was time-consuming, but we spent time talking and joking and complaining and enjoying each others’ company.

When public transportation was running, I used it (there was no parking anywhere– trust me).  It was sometimes uncertain and often lengthy, but walking around town and taking two buses to get home felt like an accomplishment– moving through the city under my own power (there was lots of walking in sturdy boots this winter) and catching the bus reminded me of younger student days.

As for sports, with several of my women’s league squash matches were canceled due to storms and no biking possible, I had to improvise, often on skis, with friends.  So we skied all over the place– in my neighborhood, at nearby parks, urban woods, conservation lands, groomed ski places– wherever there was snow cover.  I renewed acquaintances with people I ran into who skate ski and bike race.  All of this felt novel, improvised, exhilarating, a little scary sometimes (it tested and stretched my skills) and really fun.

But for now that phase of active life is done.  I hope to hang onto some of the new habits– doing more regular carpooling and tooling around town on public transportation are good plans.  For sports, it’s time to turn to spring activities, which I love.  But it seemed fitting to note the passing of this extraordinary winter, in all its inconvenient and thrilling splendor.  I’ll miss you.  Except for the shoveling.

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Guest Post

Hygge vs The Winter Blues (Guest Post)

Spoiler alert, hygge is winning 🙂

Like many folks, I often find February a very difficult month. As I’m writing this post it’s -25C in London, Ontario and we’ve about half a meter of cold, squeaky snow on the ground and it is definitely February.

Natalie inside, -25C outside


The thing is, this year, I feel great in February. Usually by now I’ve lost all motivation to do much of anything. The 2 weeks of vacation in December is far behind me and time with my kids in March seems very far away, but not this year. This year I decided to stack the deck for my fitness and my mental health by learning from some of the happiest people in the world who also happen to have a very long, dark winter, the Danish.

Last fall I read about Danish hygge, the practice of being cozy, warm and in good company as a strategy for being happy in winter. So I started with inviting people over to spin at our house on weekends that rode with me in the fall.

Randonneur Dave and I sweat while my beloved takes a photo.
Randonneur Dave and I sweat while my beloved takes a photo.

I made sure to bake yummy muffins and scones, because after that hard work I think food tastes even better. Plus I find spinning indoors really mentally demanding on my motivation, good company and food help a lot!

thug Kitchen's Blueberry Lavender Scones and Post Punk Kitchen's The Best Pumpkin Muffin

Thank you Sam for introducing me to Post Punk Kitchen’s The Best Pumpkin Muffins, they happen to be vegan AND the easiest and tastiest muffins ever, clearly THE BEST.

So here’s to great friends, food and fitness keeping the winter blues at bay!