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: Love Thyself

I’ve been reading Mary Oliver lately. Her poetry is grounded in the natural world, and the wisdom that conveys.  One of her most beloved poems is Wild Geese, which begins:

Sweet peas from my garden

Sweet peas from my garden

“You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.”

Sometimes when I read this, it makes me cry.

I have a friend I meet for coffee after church most Sundays.  We’re both metaphysical adherents, and we go to Unity in the Rockies, which my son Miles calls “hippie church.”

Anyway,  a few weeks ago, Heather and I both wearied, all at once, of the endless push toward “bettering” ourselves.  You know, trying to be wiser, kinder, more prosperous, skinnier (me), and have a better job (her).  So last week we agreed to embark on a program of simple acceptance.  I won’t divulge her goals, but my only task was to accept myself as I am, right now, in this very minute.  No making resolutions, no giving up all the bad foods and drinks, no battering myself to go to the gym even if I didn’t feel like it or go to bed early or get up early or anything else.  Continue reading

Barbara: Getting back on track

Here is my confession: I have not been very healthy the past week.  I’ve been guzzling alcohol, consuming the things I never let myself have like berry pies and nachos and eggs. If I slept six hours a night, it was a good night. There wasn’t a hint of exercise, although I have friends who got up and walked or worked out before the day started.

Uh, yeah. Never gonna happen.

I’ve just returned from the RWA conference, where I happily got to meet some of you (and you said you were eating more vegetables! And walking sometimes!).  I let most of my good habits go while I was there, because my focus is on the fun to be had with my friends, on the business information I might be picking up, and the roar that is the national confrence.  I love it. This year, I had dresses I loved, and good friends I felt comfortable with, and lots of good news, so it was an especially great time.

Now I’m home again, getting back on the wagon, and thinking about what makes us healthy.  Is it bad for me to eat all that fat and drink all that booze?  Yeah, kinda.  But I have rules even when I travel.  Here are some of those modifications.

#1  Sleep. I don’t have breakfast meetings unless I just cannot possibly avoid it, and I never schedule anything before 9, period.  I am a big sleeper and at the conference, I don’t go to bed early. At all. So if I want to function without all the crashing sobbing depression that comes from too much emotional overload combined with a lack of sleep, I have to give myself the morning hours to re-enter. I have to be able to sleep in, like a college student.

#2 Drinking. I love wine on a normal basis, bphotout it goes to my head pretty fast, and I don’t know if it’s the sugar or some additive, but it can give me headaches.  So I stick to beer.  It takes longer to drink beer.  I like the refreshing nature of it, and these days, there’s great craft beer everywhere you go.  Yes, it would be healthier to leave the alcohol alone, but that’s not going to happen anytime soon.  I LIKE beer.

#3 I bring healthy snacks with me and keep them in my room.  I asked a friend to take me to the grocery store when I arrived and brought pistachios, hummus, bananas and pita bread. Nothing brilliant, but it was better than eating eggs every morning.

#4 If there were vegetables in any form on a dinner or lunch menu, I ordered some of them.  Sometimes, as this was Atlanta, this was sometimes only a salad or some lightly prepared potatoes. It still counts.

#5 I skipped desserts.  Mostly. (There was that one dinner at bacchanalia with the peach empanada….but seriously, would you expect me to skip all of them?) I also don’t keep sweets in my room.  It’s easy to gobble down sugar under stressful circumstances and then crash, eat sugar, then crash, eat sugar, then crash.

#6 Whenever possible, I checked out the menus ahead of time to see what I could eat. I got into the habit of this when I became a vegetarian, but it works on all levels—it’s easy to get overwhelmed by a menu and then end up ordering some impossible rich thing you don’t even really want

It’s also possible, if one so desires, to check the calorie count of things ahead of time.  I do this for Starbucks, which is omnipresent in the US, and where a glazed doughnut is 450 bloody calories.  Not worth it when I can get a normal pastry for a couple hundred.

#7 Walk if possible to every outside event. Swim if I can. Don’t sweat it too much—just walking around such big hotels all day long every day is a lot of exercise.

#8 Give myself a pass if I have an indulgent day and get back on the healthy train when I get home.  Now that I’m back, I’m eating fresh fruits and veggies and my lentils and beans. Even though it was really difficult, I went to see Tabor the Trainer on Monday, partly to get more red blood cells back into my body after being at low altitude, but partly to honor the habit of trying to be healthy.  The reward was a deep sleep and a sense of confidence.

How about you? How do you handle vacations—and what are your biggest challenges? Food prepared by people you love? Habits that are hard to keep on the road?  What is your best trick? 


Barbara: Wellness Wednesdays–Making Peace With What Is

Welcome to Wellness Wednesdays.  I realized I had more to talk about than just exercise.  Lani has such a full schedule she has to bow out and I happily grabbed her spot.

Today, I was going to talk about swimming, because yesterday in the horrible, horrible heat—which many of you are now experiencing, too—I picked myself up out of my un-conditioned house and went to the pool at my gym. In the summertime, it is packed with children, and even the normally sleepy times are so overrun with teenagers in packs that it can be exasperating to say the least.  I will say more about coming to peace with teen girls and their hundreds of towels per day usage, but I have other things to talk about today.

Like making peace with What Is.

Here’s the thing:  I dislike intense heat intensely.  It’s not humid and I know everybody says that humidity is what makes it hot, but just try walking around happily in sunshine at 7500 feet altitude at 95 degrees.  It’s like having an iron on your skin at all times.

So, yesterday, there I was, too hot and trying to escape it and very grumpy. I decided that I had to do something. One of my life rules is that I am 100% in charge of my own happiness (not that I am particularly good at remembering this), so what could I do to make it better?

I could go swimming. I went. The outside lanes were packed and I didn’t want to go inside, so I plopped myself down in the 95 degree heat and waited.

And waited. And waited. Finally a lane was free and I leapt in—

It was absolute, utter, complete, deepest BLISS.  Cold water pouring through my hair. Blue sky overhead. Blue water beneath.  I’ve always liked it when you open your eyes underwater and see all that wavery light below the surface.  It’s a secret, thrilling world.  Mainly, yesterday, it was cool.  It improved my mood instantly.  I felt like my twelve-year-old self, off to the pool with my siblings for the entire afternoon, not swimming For Exercise, but playing. Paddling around in the water.  Daring ourselves to jump off the diving board. Learning to swim underwater with eyes open….all those things.  One way to be happy is to find that sense of childhood play.

Right this minute, however, there is a big fire devouring a forest just north of my neighborhood.  It started suddenly this afternoon and blustered out of control in less than two hours, already burning down homes and forcing evacuations and triggering the entire city’s PTSD, because it hasn’t been quite a year since the Waldo Canyon Fire burned more than 350 homes in one neighborhood in our city.  Continue reading