Barbara: Moving your body…in spite of everything

Krissie wanted me to come back and talk about moving. I’ve been thinking a lot about it anyway. Moving. It’s easy to do when you’re healthy, when you’re young, when you’re fit and slim and all those things.

But what if—like many of us here—you aren’t?

So this happened: remember that post when I talked about crying after Zumba class? That was the first Big Moment.  Then we went to England for CR’s mum’s funeral. In January. It was soggy and wet and cold and my bones ached the entire time. I had what I’ve now come to think of as an “episode” like some Victorian novelist—my whole body aflame with arthritic pain, but especially my knees. I had to go to bed for two days when we got home and burrow into the covers.

And moment #3—I discovered I have given myself an allergy to NSAIDS.  When I stopped taking them, I realized how much my knees hurt.

Like, all the time. I gave up Zumba and limited gardening and took any downhill hiking off the menu and it was still not enough. A day with my granddaughter could leave me in agony. If I did two long walks in a row, I’d pay the price.

One thing and another and another, and I finally called the surgeon and asked if we could talk about options. By which I meant I was ready to listen to him talk to me about replacements.  He did the x-rays, sat down with me and said, “You lasted a lot longer than I thought you would.”

Even I could see that the bones are resting right on top of each other, bristling with spurs and things, all the stuff that makes knees hurt.

So I’m doing it. Both knees, one at a time, August and January, so you can send love and healing if you wouldn’t mind.

In the meantime, I need to stay strong and healthy. I get very cranky when I don’t get enough exercise, but how do you do that with all those limitations?  That’s almost exactly what Krissie was asking the other day, and it’s an important question.  How do we move when it hurts or we’re old or fat or whatever? What can we do to keep ourselves going?

We start with a goal, as with anything else.  I have two goals:  #1-to keep the muscles in my legs and especially around my knees as strong and healthy as possible; and #2- to avoid gaining any weight.  If I can lose a little, that’s fine, but not adding is the most important thing.

So how do I do that? My usual plan is to walk a lot, but there are a couple of issues with that right now.  My dog is 12 and he suddenly can’t walk the full hour every morning. I have to alternate, one day an hour, the next 30 minutes, the next just 15. Often, I’ll let him rest completely the next day.  He loves to go, but he gets exhausted.

Giving this consideration to my dog allowed me to wonder if I could offer it to my body as well. I have a longing for exercise, and it’s good for me, but what if I changed the way I think about exercise?  For years, I’ve pushed hard—Zumba and Nia and hard, long hikes, and hundred mile treks and intense weight-lifting three times a week and all those other things.

But lately, it’s just not that much fun. Remember when I cried after Zumba? I haven’t gone back since. I mean, even I know that’s a sign I need to stop. I tried some yoga classes, but although I found a teacher who is in his sixties and not that flexible, it’s actually hard for me to move in and out of a sun salutation fast enough to keep up with the class. I’ve come to feel nervous about trusting the stability of my right knee, especially, too, so I took that off the menu, too.

So what’s left? Garden season this year has been a test of respecting my limits. I can putter as much as I like, but if I’m going to do any serious gardening, like digging or planting or weeding, it has to be strictly limited to once a week. Strictly.  And even so, I’ll know I did it.

I’m still walking. Not 10,000 steps every day. Some weeks, it’s much less because I’ve done something else like the garden or had the girl over to chase around.  That’s also an acceptance point—that it’s okay to let go of a goal that worked before but isn’t working now.

The thing I’ve added is tai chi and qi gong every Saturday. It’s an excellent practice, and reminds me that I don’t have to punish my body to exercise and move it.  It seems so slow and easy, but every Sunday, I am aware of all the muscles I moved.

The thing about tai chi is that it is particularly great for arthritis sufferers, especially the warm-up, which moves every joint in the body, precisely because those slow movements are designed to open the frozen places and get chi moving through them.  Moving, unfreezing.  I highly recommend it if you have a local studio. In my class, there are people of all ages, sizes, and abilities.

The final thing I’m doing is swimming. Nothing huge, nothing demanding. I just go and swim for a half hour, easy laps, different strokes, until I feel like getting out.

All those things meet my goals without punishing my body for not being able to keep up.  I hope they’ll keep me healthy and strong through the surgeries and recoveries.  Speaking frankly, I can’t say I’m really looking forward to it, but I trust the results will be worth it.  In a year or so, maybe I’ll be back to long hikes, or least some ordinary ones.  Maybe I’ll be able to walk and garden on the same day, and hey—I’d love to dance again someday. We’ll see.

Do you have to work around a limitation in your moving? If you could set an easy goal for working around it, what might that be? What have you been doing in terms of moving your body? 

Barbara: Functional Fitness, English Edition

Last week, I had to make a fast trip back to the UK to support my beloved CR in the settling of his mother’s affairs, including her house. There was a funeral, too, of course, but funeralsthe abandoned abbey at Battle don’t seem to always require a lot of physical strength.

What did require stamina was two 12-hour flights (including lay-overs) in less than six days. It also took a lot of strength and stamina to unload and unpack and sort through all the things that were in the house.  It was not unduly cluttered or overwhelming, only the simple, sweet, ordinary flat of a retired woman with many pictures and plants and kitchen gadgets.   We had to bring down the detrius of two childhoods from the attic, which involved a ladder and passing things through a hole in the roof.  The days whooshed by, packing, sorting, packing, walking up to the village for a meal, walking up to the village to get more trash bags, walking around Cranbrook to buy a shirt (because….uh…someone might have washed a lipstick with her beloved’s white funeral shirt). One day we took a lunch break and drove to Battle (the site of the famous Battle of 1066, which really did change history) because it was only a few minutes drive and I’d never been there.  (“What?” said The Brother when I tried to puzzle out where the battleground was after realizing a church by the lawyer’s office was Norman, “you’ve never been there? It’s right by the tip (that would be the dump. I think). I’ve been driving there three times a day. Let’s just have a break and have lunch there.”)

So we did, and it was muddy but fresh and not raining, so we all got some fresh air and a bowl of soup and a tromp around an ancient battleground.

At times like this, I am grateful for the ordinary routine of ordinary exercise. Not to burn off fat or get a six-pack or give me a great ass.  No, just walking the dog every day to keep my body functioning.  Swimming sometimes to keep the shoulders loose and arms with enough muscle to be useful.  Lots of gardening (oh, does spring ever seem further away than in February??) to keep the body flexible and ordinary sorts of muscles working smoothly and strongly.

That ordinary sort of exercise, the sort I’ve been urging here so much, meant that it was possible to do all that flying, hauling suitcases and adjusting to jet lag, work really hard for several days, do all that was required for life.  I could simply do it.

A sudden upheaval of any kind is an extreme example, of course, but it’s also realistic.  Things happen in all of our lives that require ordinary, daily fitness. But functional fitness is important in all aspects of our lives.  You can not only show up when there is an emergency, but you can do things on your own to keep yourself moving and independent long into ancientness. You can carry a bag of cat litter or a bag of soil, shovel snow (at least light snow) and clean windows and pick up a child.

Regular routines create regular fitness.  How are you doing at building those ordinary routines into your life?  If you’re still struggling, what’s standing in your way?  Maybe it’s a mental block, maybe a physical one. 

Barbara: The delirious pleasure of a new skill

I’ve been promising to talk about my swimming journey since I started here, and I’m going to do that in a minute, but first a moment of illumination.

Collaroy Pool, Northern Beaches, Sydney by Sacha Fernandez

I can’t even remember when I first started getting in a pool. My father was a big, powerful swimmer and loved taking us to the local pools. I took swimming lessons at the Y when I was about five, I guess, but even then, I didn’t like to put my face in the water. When I was about seven or eight, I dove in a pool, cracked my head on the bottom and passed out.  My dad was watching and snatched me up before I drowned (no doubt the lifeguard would have done so in any event), but it scared the living daylights out of me.  Nothing could persuade me to put my face in the water again.

In tenth grade in Colorado, children are required to learn to swim. I dutifully learned every stroke—back, side, breast—but they couldn’t get me to breathe in the water for freestyle. No way.

Thus it remained for decades. I loved swimming, with my kids, on my own. I’m a strong swimmer, too, thanks to all the muscles from gardening.  It’s relaxing and enjoyable and easy.  I can swim back and forth for hours—back, side, breast.

Three years ago, I decided enough was enough. I was going to learn how to swim a proper free-style. I would take lessons and figure it out and practice until I got better, and then, eventually, I would be able to swim a mile without stopping. Even if it took a decade.

I hired a teacher, who was all of seventeen. She could not understand what I meant when I said I didn’t know how to breathe in the water. Continue reading

Barbara: Little things

Fairy Tale Series by

Fairy Tale Series by

Long time, no see!*

Traditionally, we all want to make big sweeping changes in January.  Out with the old, in with the new–so you toss out all the pasta and the cookies and resolve to work out four times a week and walk 500 miles per month.  Anyone who belongs to a gym dreads the January crowds and endures, knowing everything will be back to normal by February at the latest.

One of my spiritual teachers is a Native American healer who advised us to observe nature and follow the wisdom of the natural cycles. In winter, the daylight hours are short, which means we should be sleeping more, resting more, storing up energy for the coming spring.  Because of that natural cycle, it’s quite difficult to actually make big sweeping changes in January.  We want to rest, and we should rest.

This was never an easy thing for me to hear.  I’m a resolutions kind of gal–make plans, set goals, work hard, that’s me. I like having lists and goals and direction. But I do believe in the wisdom of nature. I do believe in the wisdom of the body and the cycles of the year, and I’ve been giving a lot of thought to how to make small, easy changes.  Here are a few I’ve come up with for myself.

1. Sleep more, just until spring. I’m going to aim for a whopping ten hours, because I’ve noticed that my joints feel better, my skin looks clearer, and I’m much more productive when I actually sleep that much. It’s a lot, I know. In America, that’s kind of a lazy amount of sleeping, but I don’t care. My body likes it. In truth, I probably only sleep around 8 1/2 to 9, because I take a book to bed with me and read for a long time before I sleep.

2. Swim more.  I keep saying I’m going to blog about my experiences with swimming and haven’t done it. This is another teaser. I like swimming and it has given Christopher Robin impressive muscles in his chest and shoulders. It doesn’t hurt my knees and feet. It makes me sleep like a lazy log. More swimming. Eventually, someday, I’d like to be able to swim a leisurely mile without stopping.

3. Be consistent with my little changes.  Consistency was a word that showed up for me at the end of last year, and it’s been helpful.  Every long time writer knows that showing up is the real battle, not the actual writing. We learn, early on, to show up and write even when it’s not exactly the thing we’d choose to do right that minute. Same thing with good habits. I might not want to haul myself out in the wind to walk the dog, but I’ve promised myself to be consistent, so I do.

4. Do more of the things I love. We went snowshoeing in Breckenridge last week and I had one of the best days I’ve had in ages (even though I was coughing through my scarf much of the time). I love hiking and snowshoeing and I haven’t been doing enough of them. I’m going to add in a really good hike or snowshoeing day at least once a month, more when summer comes.

5. Be loving toward my tender, lovely body. Feed it as if it were my toddler grandchild–good food, healthy food, nourishing food, and a few little treats. I sometimes give up wine and beer for January or February, and I’m doing that this month.  Clean eating and drinking.

That’s it for my resolves for this month.  This year, I’m trying something new by taking the seasons one at a time, seeing how it goes, listening, and making the next ones.

Can you come up with a few minor things to try this month? Maybe adding something like sleep or some new sweet habit that makes you feel happy? 

*Sorry to be so absent. I was knocked absolutely sideways by a flu that has been very hard to kick, followed by the Christmas joy/madness. Just now getting back on my feet. Promise to be here every other week for the coming season.

Barbara: Taking Care

I finally managed to log 10,000 steps today—the first time in almost a week.  It’s been frigidly cold and icy, which means two things: I have not been walking my IMG_5979darling dog at all. He’s had two major knee surgeries, and I can slip on stakes for my shoes, but he doesn’t understand that ice can make you fall down.

Plus, eh, it was windy. Bitter wind, down to 12 degrees….icy roads and walks. No.

I also haven’t been out much, since I chose to buy a Mini instead of something sensible last year.  How often do I need it? How often do I love my Mini? (All the freaking time, every minute I’m in it, and sometimes when I just catch a glimpse of somebody else’s Mini.)  We got out to tai chi Saturday (and yes, Mary Stella, it’s Taoist) which felt great, and I paddled around in the water while Christopher Robin swam laps the other day.

Here’s the thing: my knees were not hurting this morning. That’s quite a surprise. Have I had it wrong all this time? Is all the exercise hurting me, not helping?  After I walked, my hips and knees were both bugging me, but it was also a lot of snow, which is uneven, and the odd bit of ice, so I was careful and tense.

I don’t know. I’ve decided to go with super easy exercise, daily, for awhile and see how that feels. Still aiming for my 10K steps (I’ve been averaging about 4K) per day, but only swimming, walking, tai chi for maybe a month.  Just to see….

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving.  What are your plans for feasting, enjoying, but also taking care of yourself?  I give myself the pleasure of really feasting on the day, though it’s better than it used to be because I don’t eat any of the meat products and that means a lot less fat by the end of the day.  I do love pie, and asked my sister to bring pecan. But I’ll get a walk in early in the day, and on Friday, I’ll get to the gym for a swim or something.  We’ll eat oatmeal for breakfast every day to limit fats & sugars, and I’ll probably make of a pot lentil soup with veggies to have for lunches. Since I am vegetarian and my son (who is staying for 5 days) is a vegan, we don’t have the turkey leftovers, so I can get back to “normal” eating fairly quickly.  (I will say, however, that of all meat things, I miss roast turkey the most.  Both on the day and the turkey sandwiches the next couple of days.  My mouth is watering, just thinking of it….)

What’s up with you? What’s your plan for Thanksgiving?  I’m so grateful to know you all, to share this space with you….big hugs all around. 

Move It Wednesdays, Barbara: Listening to the BODY, not the mind

photo-81Two weeks ago on Saturday, I was really in the mood to blow off some stress with hard physical exercise. It was a long work week. We walked the dog a couple of miles, as is our Saturday morning habit.  We had plans to attend an introduction to Tai Chi in the afternoon, but that would be mellow and a little behind on my step count, so I went to Zumba.  It was a great, great class.  My favorite teacher.  A vigorous routine. And in the end, as a cool down song, we danced to Royals, my current favorite song (song of the book for Book 2 in my NA series), using a lot of Nia* steps, though I was probably the only one in the class who knew it and knows that the teacher used to be a Nia teacher at the Y.  I was sweaty and happy at the end, although I’d sort of ignored my knees a bit and had a feeling I’d pay.  My spirit soared, my mind was calm.

Within an hour, my knees said, “What the eff?” I sat in my favorite chair and iced them, as I often do. It usually calms them down. Continue reading

Make-It Tuesday, Barbara: Look What I Made!


randomAt the end of May last year, Christopher Robin and I went to Breckenridge for a long weekend.  I was resting, supposedly. Doing some research to continue a Georgian series I love.  But at four m the first morning we were there, a character woke me up.  Insistently. She said she had a story for me.

I tried to go back to sleep. She kicked me.

I got up.  By the time CR woke up, I had three main characters: a 19-year-old heroine I adore named Jess Donovan who is plucky and lost and really trying to make her way in a pretty hostile world where she doesn’t have enough tools, plus current boyfriend and the new won, a setting, and a page of synopsis. By late afternoon the next day, I had 67 scenes, in order. By the end of the summer, I had a whole book, the start of a three book series called Going the Distance.

Once in awhile, I’ve had a gift book. I’ve never experienced an attack book, but I will take another one, any time.

It’s New Adult, so I took a pseudonym, Lark O’Neal.  (This is thanks to my dear friend Christie Ridgway, who told me one night at the conference that she used to make up stories about being Batman and Robin’s sidekick, Lark. I immediately knew it was exactly the right name for this venture. Christie loved it, too.) Don’t be put off by the words “new adult.” It’s women’s fiction-y, romance-y, love and sex and the whole damned thing.  Trust me. 😉
And TODAY IS THE DAY!  Here is Random, Lark O’Neal’s debut. It’s my first totally indie-published book, edited by a team of professionals I’ve worked with in the past, cover designed by a team of brilliant artists (thanks, Mollie and Sharon), and I’m having so much fun I feel about 19 myself.

Buy it:  Amazon  Apple  Nook  Kobo  Paperback  (The iBooks and Kobo links are still not live, but I’ll be back to add them later.)