Dame Angela Lansbury died yesterday. In addition to her show Murder, She Wrote, I had fun last year listening to this podcast about her fitness book Positive Moves. I even tried her fitness video, which you can watch here. They only reinforced all the good feelings I had about Jessica Fletcher as an active role model, that I blogged about last May.
I have been re-watching Murder, She Wrote for pandemic relaxation. I admired Angela Lansbury in the role of Jessica Fletcher, author and sleuth, back when it first came out, and watched the show regularly. Now that I am approximately the same age Jessica was when it was filmed, I love her character even more.
Lansbury was 58 when the show debuted, and from the opening credits of the very first episode, Jessica is casually active in so many ways. She walks, cycles, skis, jogs, rides horses, and dances. She travels widely and fearlessly. She is both clever and wise. I remember admiring those things about her when I was younger. She was a bit of a role model even then.
Now that I am older, I have been noticing and learning new things about the show. Especially in the early seasons, Jessica treats a diverse cast with dignity and respect. Long before the age of Black Lives Matter, a much larger immigrant community, Indigenous issues and disability rights, Murder, She Wrote tackled some of these issues and represented all those communities on screen – sometimes because it was relevant to the plot, and sometimes simply because they were people.
Jessica is widowed, but never remarries or has a romantic entanglement despite many male characters being interested in dating her (and one offering marriage). Apparently, this was something that Lansbury herself insisted on, in order to keep the focus on her character as a mystery solver. She also has a panoply of strong, interesting older women as guests on the show. Half the fun has been checking the bios to discover (or rediscover) stars from the 30s through the 60s.
Almost 40 years after she first appeared, Jessica Fletcher is still a role model for me. And apparently for others too. Aside from articles about the Jessica Fletcher effect (cycling inspiration for women as they hit their 40s), there are websites about “what would Jessica do”, as well as Twitter and Instagram fan sites. Dame Lansbury is still active at 95. Now I have new life goals, still inspired by her.
Diane Harper lives in Ottawa, where she is currently working from home and riding her bicycle, walking, dancing, and riding a horse as often as possible. She does not solve murder mysteries.
A friend has a daily goal of 15 minutes of movement, so I thought she might enjoy tracking her efforts as part of the Facebook group 222 workouts in 2022. She wrote back that she didn’t think it would be a good fit because people who do 10k hikes and own Peloton bikes would not be interested in her 15 minutes of stretching or struggles with a 20 minute dance routine of warmups and isolation exercises.
My response to her original post this was to share this cartoon, and the comments below it.
“If you read all the posts, there are plenty who are doing 30 minutes of yoga (I am doing that series and it is a lot of just sitting and breathing). But many of them won’t finish the 30 day series. I know I didn’t finish until about May last year. Late last year there were a lot of “I took my elderly dog for a slow shuffle” posts, and through most of the year many of us posted #slmsmph (stupid little walk for my stupid mental and physical health). The thing is, it doesn’t matter what you do, except to you. The rest of us are just there to be cheerleaders. There are weight training, indoor cycling and gymnastics workout posts that are irrelevant to my interests and abilities. But I like to look at the pictures, especially when people go outside to do a walk or bike ride. Having it pop up in my feed every day helps me remember I want to move, even if it is just to walk to the park and back (takes me about 20 minutes).”
She wasn’t convinced, but that’s okay. The year of tiny pleasures is also about doing what works for you.
My tiny pleasures right now are all things that don’t require me to leave the house because it is too cold. I am focusing on my on-line ballet classes, with some yoga offered by a work colleague, and the occasional gentle movement class with a local studio. I have abandoned that 30 day yoga challenge already.
As soon as it gets a little warmer, I look forward to getting outside with friends. A short walk with some duck watching, as I did with my buddy April recently, was a joyous hour of connecting with someone I haven’t seen in too long. That shared time was more precious than the thing we did (though 5km on a frosty day was nothing to sneeze at).
I am holding these two images close to my heart for 2022. The first reminds me that not every fitness activity needs to be exciting or a big challenge. The second reminds me that the best part about being active that I get to spend time with friends.
2022 isn’t shaping up to be a great year on the global scale, but I intend to make it as pleasurable as possible at my tiny scale. I will make opportunities to connect in person for walks or outdoor swims. I will continue to draw inspiration from my virtual friends at 222 workouts. And I will garden (good workout, good for the planet, good way to spend time with friends and neighbours). Mostly I will grow food, but I will also plant some flowers.
It is winter swimming time again, and I’m thinking about the rules. Sometimes they seem silly and arbitrary.
Sometimes they actually might be wise, depending on distance to populated areas or water conditions.
Back when the pandemic first started, my friends and I did a lot of debating about whether we should continue to swim outdoors. Pools were closed, of course, but it was too early in the season for lifeguarded beaches (not that we swim there anyway).
How far did we need to stand or swim apart to prevent transmission? Would we put an unreasonable burden on the health care system if someone got into trouble? Were we setting a bad example for inexperienced swimmers who might try to copy what we were doing? Most importantly, were we being really honest about our biases, and assessing the risks to ourselves and others accurately?
Eventually, we found solutions we were comfortable with, and continued to swim through 2020 and 2021. Open water swimming and cold water dipping experienced a huge surge in interest during that period.
This surge did push some communities to block off access to local water holes. The fenced-off area above was blocked this week, shortly after we dipped in water that wasn’t even waist deep. The ice was several inches thick and someone had needed considerable force to break it.
With the resurgence of COVID, I am once again rethinking whether and how I can swim or dip safely. Although my friends and I model safe behaviour, provide advice and some have even offered video seminars, I keep reading about people wanting to dip or swim by walking over ice to get in the water. This is dangerous.
The ice can cut you and you won’t even feel it; you could fall through a thin spot; you could have difficulties getting back out of the water; you could slip under the ice if the water is deep enough and there is a current.
Breaking holes in the ice can be dangerous for others, too. Dogs, skiers, walkers and snowmobilers also go on the ice. They could easily go through an unmarked, partly frozen swimming hole. If there is no open water you can reach easily and safely, consider joining the folks who enjoy winter sports.
The Memphramagog Winter Swimming Society’s event is still scheduled to go ahead in late February, and several of my friends are planning to attend, if the borders are open. That means they need to practice. So for now, I will keep going into the water, even though if feels really really cold since we can’t go as often as we would like. Last week, it was all we could do to swim ten strokes.
But maybe not. With COVID numbers rising, I am increasingly uncomfortable sharing a car. We are all vaccinated and boosted and we can wear masks or drive separately, but the open water is an hour’s drive away. That’s a lot for five or ten minutes in the water.
What about you? How are the latest COVID numbers affecting your risk tolerance for fitness activities?
Diane Harper lives and swims in Ottawa. She is looking forward to strapping on her skates or skis over the next few weeks.
2020 was a strange year. The things that used to bring me joy, just aren’t the same. Choices for entertainment were limited, and who we can do those things with even more so. So far, 2021 hasn’t been much different.
I’ve never been very athletic. Competitive to a fault, I gave up on sports at a young age because my body just wasn’t good at doing the things I wanted it to do. As a little girl I was told “scars don’t look good on girls” so I wasn’t allowed to do the rough and tumble things I really wanted to. As I got older sports and fitness were just another way to obsess about my body size and be disappointed in it once again.
A few years ago, I took up powerlifting and fell in love. The intensity, the competition, the fact that the contest was over almost before it began was what drew me in. But living a year in relative lock-down, trying to work a day job, manage a new business and trying to educate two children under 10 was intense enough. The thought of doing another hard thing was just too much.
And that is where Skateboarding comes in. My 9-year-old son was the first to start. A great way to be outside, get in some exercise and socially distance. Then, my husband bought himself a board because he wasn’t going to be left just watching the fun. It took me a bit longer, but I finally gave it a try. My 9-year-old coached me and cheered when I didn’t immediately fall.
The next weekend we took it to a skate park, where two young girls, clapped and cheered for me, so happy to see a mom out there giving it a shot. Boys looked at me wide eyed, not believing what they were seeing and other parents mostly looked confused.
It was like learning to ride bicycle all over again. The wind in your hair, feeling like Bambi taking her first steps, learning to balance and feeling the terror. It was exhilarating. I was hardly moving and my watch caught my heartrate at 168 – turns out being scared will rev you up and make you sweat, for no apparent reason! Like riding a rollercoaster, the fear ebbs and flows and when it all becomes just a little too much – you can just jump off!
While kids are whipping around me flying around corners and jumping stairs, I am counting my pushes and reminding myself to bend my knees, sometimes out loud, to my own embarrassment. There have been injuries. Mostly bruises, some impressive, some forgettable. I did bring myself for X rays after an ugly fall while trying to board to the market. Turns out, real life boarding is much rockier than the smooth surfaces at the skatepark. Nothing was broken, but I sprained both hands. At the same time. Wear wrist guards. Do as I say and not as I do. Please. For your own good.
I took two weeks off to heal, put on my wrist guards and got back on. I was not going to let an injury beat me. I started slow, my heart racing, but warmed up quickly, back to the mediocre skater I was before. I bought myself this rad new board. I am not letting it go to waste.
If you’re looking for something exhilarating, stress inducing, and maybe a little foolish, skateboarding might just be for you!
Rachel Holden is the 43-year-old Founder of Uplift Ventures, a real estate investment firm creating new housing options for renters in Ontario. She’s also a mom to two kids, a powerlifter while not in lock down, and has little regard for her own safety. She can be reached at Rachel@upliftventures.ca.
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.
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?
University classes here don’t begin until mid-September but south of the border friends are already teaching their first classes, most of them online, or in “remote alternative delivery mode” as we like to say during the pandemic. That’s to distinguish them from courses that have been designed as online courses.
We’re all just getting used to it. Everything is new. For professors and students alike. It’s not what we want. We mostly want to be teaching face to face in a world without a pandemic. But this is what we have and we’re all doing our best.
A friend taught her first class and spotted a student doing sit ups during the class. Oops! A clear breach of Zoom etiquette not to turn off the camera first.
Really, the student was just following the advice of the New York Times, Sneak in Some Exercise: “When you can’t slip outside for a walking meeting, turn off the video and sneak in a short desk workout or stretch session.” Well, except she forgot the ‘turn off your camera” bit.
If I were to turn off my camera (shhh!) I’d do Adriene’s Yoga at Your Desk. Mostly I can’t because mostly I’m chairing meetings. But it’s my favourite workplace at-your-desk set of yoga moves.
The ads in my digital media news feeds know what I’m up to. Which is to say staying at home, working from home, exercising at home, spending time with family, and napping. I’m also dressing differently now my life is one big blur of working, exercising, doomscrolling, eating, sleeping etc.
Enter the nap dress. I swear ads for different versions of this dress make up half of the advertising I see these days.
Rachel Syme writes, “Since sleeping through the night was not happening, I figured an outfit specifically designated for daytime dozing might be just the thing. One could theoretically wear a Nap Dress to bed, but it is decidedly not a nightgown. (For one, it is opaque enough to wear to the grocery store.) It is not the same thing as a caftan, which, though often luxurious, is more shapeless and more grown-up. It is not a housedress, which we tend to associate with older women shuffling onto the stoop to grab the morning paper, the curlers still in their hair. A housedress is about forgetting the self, or at least hiding it under layers of quilted fabric. The Nap Dress, on the other hand, suggests a cheeky indulgence for one’s body, and a childlike return to waking up bleary-eyed hours before dinner.”
In “The Uneasy Privilege Of The Daytime Nightgown,” Veronique Hyland talks about the politics of who gets to wear a daytime nap dress during the pandemic. It’s not frontline workers, grocery store clerks, transit workers, and people driving UberEats to pay rent.
“I can appreciate the aesthetic appeal of a nightgown. I get that they’re comfortable, and who doesn’t crave comfort right now? It’s possible that I’m projecting way too much onto a few yards of fabric. But the nightgown, especially as daywear, strikes me as reactionary. Its evocations of passive Victorian and pre-Raphaelite femininity feel like an uncritical throwback to those eras’ mold of white female fragility. The styling of these images evokes sleeping beauties or Ophelias, or worse, invalids. Fashioning yourself as a tubercular Victorian might once have felt ironic; with millions in the grip of a real pandemic—one that is disproportionately affecting Black and brown communities—it feels Marie Antoinette-at-the-Hameau-level out of touch. And in 2020, the idea of “checking out” and into the seductive world of blameless slumber that the nightgown invites us to, does too. It serves as a reminder that while some people are taking to the streets, others are taking to their beds.”
I don’t know the source of the above image but lots of friends have been sharing it on social media, some with critical commentary, some not.
I think it gets something very wrong. I suspect that most of us who are part of this blog community are to varying degrees both of these people. Fun comfort food, yay! Also, running streaks, daily yoga, and lots of time on Zwift.
Sometimes when I’m stressed because I’m sharing a small place with three other people all with our own busy work agendas or I’m feeling overwhelmed by the global pandemic more generally, I do Yoga With Adriene or take Cheddar for a long walk.
Sometimes like Cate I find I can’t do yoga. My mind is too busy. Yoga feels so slow and I’m easily distracted. I have even paused Yoga With Adriene to doomscroll. Really. Sometimes I’m stressed but my knee hurts too much to walk Cheddar. Or he’s already been out for three walks! He even hid one day because too many people had been walking him. He’s looking pretty svelte.
Last week I had a busy work afternoon that was super stressful. So much Zoom time. So many hard issues to discuss. I retreated to my bedroom with a bag of peanut butter M & Ms to watch BoJack Horseman, which I know is not an easy show but the thing is when I’m like this sometimes fluffy, easy, light shows aren’t enough to engage me. I’ve always liked BoJack, hard as it is. See BoJack Horseman’s running advice.
My point though, my main point, is that there aren’t obviously two types of people in quarantine. We’re all coping as best we can. Sometimes here that’s meant excessive/competitive baking. Sometimes it’s riding bikes indoors. And sometimes it’s laying in bed with BoJack Horseman and M and Ms.
I thought of going for an actual outdoor bike ride this weekend. The weather was lovely and things are opening up a bit. Restrictions are being relaxed, here in Ontario. There are lots of bikes out on the road.
An aside, I think we need more precise language. We weren’t ever in quarantine or lockdown. We’ve always been able to leave our houses for exercise.
I’m with Shannon on this,
Terms like "lockdown", "quarantine" and "social distancing" are often exaggerations. E.g., if you can take a walk (or roll) around the block, you aren't in lockdown or quarantine. I worry that these exaggerations fuel dangerous backlash against sensible public health measures.
Remember in France and Italy there were stretches when people could only leave their houses for medical reasons or to get groceries. There were also rules against cycling and against running more than a certain number of kms from your house. Even the UK enacted rules about how many hours of outdoor exercise were allowed. We’ve never done that.
But that’s an aside. Whatever the right term was for Ontario’s state of emergency, it’s true that some rules are being relaxed. Some businesses are reopening.
Maybe it’s still a lockdown just not a particularly strict one, Lockdown Light.
My weekend plan was to not ride too fast or too far and ride with a person I live with. But when Cheddar and I went out for a long Saturday morning dog hike I started to wonder about the wisdom of my plan. For the first time we had a hard time walking and maintaining social distancing. So many people! Also so many bikes. I started to wonder about passing people safely and about stopping at lights with other bikes.
When the day got busy and biking got away from us, I was sort of relieved.
Sunday, I got my Brompton out and rode to campus to pick up an HDMI cable from my office. That felt okay. But I think I’ll wait until a weekday, maybe even a cloudy weekday, to take my road bike out for a spin.
I’ll bring a mask with me in case we do need to encounter other people.
Here are some rules for riding safely in quarantine times, from Machines for Freedom, above.
🚧 QuaranTIPS on How to Ride Safely: ⠀⠀ 😷 Cover your face with a mask or buff, especially when in populated areas ⠀⠀ 📍Opt for routes close to home and less busy streets or areas ⠀⠀ 🏠 Consider staying in on weekends when streets and trails are busiest ⠀⠀ 🎒Bring everything you need with you! No gas station snack stops until further notice ⠀⠀ 🎶 Ride alone or with people in your household. Bored of riding alone? Try out a new podcast or Machines playlist! ⠀⠀ #machinesforfreedom
I also love that their model, above, looks like me on a bike. A larger woman on a bike. Amazing! It’s worth going to check out their website–this is not a paid endorsement–just for the diversity of their models. If I come into any unexpected money I’m buying a pair of their bib shorts.
And for now I’m sticking with this suggestion, “Consider staying in on weekends when streets and trails are busiest.”
I’ll report back if I make it out their this work week
Today, I am mourning the optimism of March 11. The last ‘normal’ thing I did before the pandemic shattered so many parts of our home life was to sign my kids up for summer camps. In a moment of inspiration, I also signed my 5.5 year old up for a ‘learn to ride a bike’ course. I was focused on the future. On planning. On aspirations. I look wistfully back at that day, and I miss the part of me that was able to plan so coherently. Any future orientation is difficult at the moment.
On March 12, school closures were announced for our jurisdiction. The day after that, parks and recreation programs were shut down. The day after that, most private and indoor recreation spaces chose to shut down (the climbing gyms, the trampoline park, the pools). A couple of days after that, even the playgrounds and most outdoor recreation spaces were covered in caution tape.
Our family is very active, and also very activity oriented. My kids are 3 and 5 1/2, and in ‘the before times’ we went to the climbing gym as a family every week. Our kids were always in swimming classes. The kids had yoga at school, and physical education every few days. We have the kids in skating classes and circus camp, and our kids are fearless at every playground play structure within a 3km radius of our house. The kids had unstructured outdoor time more than once per day.
Any one of those options feels unfathomable right now.
The first phase of the pandemic shut down hit us hard. Many of our activities were in spaces that could not be modified to accommodate physical distancing. The kids had a number of birthday parties cancelled, their climbing classes were cancelled, their daycare was closed, and many of their friends disappeared from the neighbourhood. Some friends left the city to help with physical distancing from their front line worker parents, and most others retreated to backyards and indoors.
Our initial coping mechanism was to head out on long walks and bike rides. Big parks, long trails, and stay away from the main roads. As more and more businesses succeeded in shutting down or moving online, the trails and sidewalks became too crowded. We now tend to prefer alley ways, because they are wide enough to accommodate physical distancing. 5.5 and her dad initially headed out on a 5km bike circuit with her training wheels still on her bike. They did this most days for a week, while the 3 year old and I would head out with a balance bike and a jogging stroller, and would combo bike/walk and push until everyone had received their requisite vitamin D.
Within 2 weeks, we started to work on removing the training wheels for 5.5. My partner removed both pedals AND training wheels, and turned the bike into a balance bike. After about 3 days, we put the pedals back on the bike. We pushed the bike up to the school yard (by this point, there was caution tape on all of the playground equipment, and plastic bags covering the basketball nets, but the open concrete space remained open). My partner turned his back on 5.5 while he put his jacket down on the school steps, and he turned around to see the kid pedalling past him. She had figured it out without the requisite parent running along behind the bike, and no one could suppress a smile.
So much for the ‘learn to ride a bike’ course.
All things considered, we are doing great. We get to spend time with the kids when they would normally be cared for by other people. We get to witness the firsts, and be part of the excitement. They are growing up in tangible and exciting ways. My 3 year old is much more confident on a balance bike and scooter, and my 5.5 year old is working on tricks with her bike. The kids have learned to play together. They are working on throwing balls and chasing butterflies. They are excited to look for weeds in the garden. They re-draw the chalk obstacle course in the driveway after every rainfall. They climb fences, and chase bubbles as is appropriate to their age. Yesterday, they got absolutely soaked through jumping in puddles in the rain – and proclaimed it “The best day ever”. We try to get out every day, and encourage dancing along with any and every viewing of Frozen II.
Thanks to a recent New York Times article, I now know that the recommendation for kids ages 3 to 5 is 3 hours per day of physical activity. That is a lot, for an age group who sleeps about 12 hours and eats about 6 times per day. I suspect that we make it occasionally, but I doubt that we hit the target more than 3 times per week. But for now, we are doing just fine.
Yesterday, on May 15, the city announced the official cancellation of all summer camps. I am still mourning the optimism of March 11. The future filled with Nature Camp and Learning to Ride a Bike and sending my 3 year old to swimming lessons without a parent in the pool. We are doing okay in this new world where we are forced to live in the moment. I barely look at the forecast these days, because what would be the point? I’m not looking forward to the future, and I am okay with focusing on today. But I play over March 11 in my mind on a regular basis, and grieve the future that was but will not be.
Jenny Szende is a philosopher, writer, climber, cyclist, and mother based in Toronto.