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August 2019

A Strong Advocate

Back in April, I started a "conversation" here about wellness -- specifically about fitness, and especially as we age.  Based on your comments, I'd say we all pretty much fall into one of two camps:  

(1) those of us who have discovered strategies to make fitness a part of our lives, and 
(2) those of us who would like to.

I thought it might be helpful to have some of the folks in the first camp . . . share their fitness and workout strategies with those in the second camp.  First, I shared my sister Diane’s story– about developing a walking routine for the long term.  Next, I shared Carolyn’s story – about mastering a self-directed fitness/video routine.  Then I shared Patty’s story – about developing a fitness/support community to stay active for the long haul.

Today, I’m happy to bring you another personal fitness story.  This time, I’m going to introduce you to Claudia. . . a true advocate for women’s fitness, and one of my personal fitness role models.  Claudia has been active since meeting her husband – and as you’ll read, has upped her game as she ages.  I used to focus my own workouts entirely on cardio activities – running, swimming, kickboxing, dance, spin classes, etc. – but Claudia helped me realize how important strength training is . . . and challenged me to get stronger!  I’m hoping her story will help you think about your own strength, and inspire you to make fitness a priority in your life.

Claudia at Mt Israel Summit

Claudia, a knitter and former blogger, is 54 years old and married with no kids.  She’s a self-employed lawyer who mostly works out of her home office – which gives her lots of flexibility in her daily schedule as to when she can work and when she can play.  She points out that her life experience probably won’t resonate with busy moms trying to juggle working for a boss and parenting, but she can certainly speak to women at her stage/age and older who objectively can find the time to work on themselves (if they choose to do so).

I asked Claudia why she “bothers” with fitness, and what she gets out of it.  Here’s what she told me:

“Let me start with a story.  I have been actively riding a tandem bicycle with my husband for close to 30 years. So I always thought of myself as 'in shape.'  But when my husband broke his ankle a little over 10 years ago and couldn’t do his usual chore of taking out the garbage, I got quite a shock.  I was too weak to lift up that barrel!  What?!?!  How did this happen?

It turns out, after age 30 people start losing muscle mass at about 3-5% per decade and muscle loss speeds up in your 60’s.  The only way to prevent this situation is strength training.  Bicycling, walking, gardening or doing daily activities that make us feel like we are 'active' won’t cut it.  Without strength training, we are destined to become weak.  That means me, and that means you too.  Unless you do something about it starting now. Maybe you’ve had a similar experience to mine, seeing my elderly mother struggle to use her weak arms to pull herself up in bed.  That is not going to be me if I can help it.

After realizing that I was way weaker than I thought, I bought a book to learn about weightlifting (it was the New Rules of Weightlifting for Women by Lou Schuler), joined my local Y and briefly got some instruction from a trainer.  I started lifting weights and, with a short break for back surgery and recovery, haven’t stopped for 11 years. 

Fitness, further defined as being strong, is important to me because I don’t want to be 'that old lady' who has to ask a big strong man to put her carry-on in the overhead bin. Besides busting patriarchal expectations that older women are weak (which is fun, I’ll admit) being strong makes my everyday life easier. 

Like many women, I spent much of my twenties and thirties thinking that my goal with fitness was to make myself smaller, so as to fit into cute clothes and meet societal expectations of beauty.  Now in middle age, my goal with fitness is to make myself bigger.  Not in the physical sense necessarily (although there is nothing wrong with females building big muscles) but in the sense of feeling powerful and strong.”


What does Claudia's workout routine look like?  Claudia goes to the gym twice during an average week.  She does a mixture of bodyweight exercises -- pull-ups, push-ups and the like -- and weight training using dumbbells, barbells, and machines.  In the winter, she goes to a spin class at the gym twice a week, with perhaps a ski or trail run or a hike in addition to that.  When the weather is nice, she rides the tandem bicycle outside on the road or in the woods (Yes!  Claudia says tandem mountain bikes are A Thing!) as many days/evenings as possible, given her and her husband’s work schedules.  This works for Claudia – because it’s a good mix of strength training and cardio/endorphin therapy (which helps her deal with job stress).

When I asked Claudia how she “fits fitness into her life” she gave me the absolute BEST answer . . .

Rather than making my fitness routine fit into my life, I make my life fit into my fitness routine.  Why?  Because I’ve realized that the most important thing to me in my life is waking up every morning and feeling well.  There is nothing, and I really mean nothing, more important to me than my health.  I can’t help my family, my clients or anyone else if I’m feeling unwell.  And there is no 'healthy' without being fit.”


(I told you.)
(Role model.)

A lot of us struggle with “getting back” to fitness.  I know when I had a too-long bout with tendinitis in my ankle a few years ago I struggled with not being able to work out the way I really wanted to work out.  It was hard for me to even imagine ever feeling like I’d be able to move without pain again.  And I know there are many of you who have been away from fitness for so long that you’re having a hard time getting back to regular exercise.

Well.  Claudia has been there!  A few years ago, she had back surgery and was not able to exercise for about a year. Here’s her story:

“In June 2014 I had back surgery to repair a disc in my back that had gone wonky and resulted in nerve pain down my leg.  I was on the couch, unable to exercise in any way for about a year.  It was during this period of time that I came to understand how important a healthy, fully-functional body really is.   I resolved then that if I was ever so lucky as to be able to return to my fitness activities, that I would be grateful and never take my health for granted.  So far, I’ve kept this promise to myself.

When I recovered from the surgery, I returned to exercise very slowly.  Over time, I walked halfway down my street, then all the way, then around the block.  I tried a tiny bit of weight on one machine, then a tiny bit more, then another machine and every week, bit by bit, worked my way back.  I had setbacks when I over-did, which were mentally tough to handle. There was crying and bitching, but eventually I could manage the strength to dial it back and re-try.

I would say the most helpful thing I did to avoid going down the rabbit-hole of self-pity and the mindset of 'why bother' was to keep a journal.  Being able to see my progress over time, even if it was super slow, helped motivate me to continue.”


I asked Claudia if she ever gets bored with her workouts.  Her reply?  “Sure I get bored.  Sure, some nights I’m super tired and don’t want to get off my butt and head to the gym. Or I’d rather spend my time doing something else.” 

So what does she do when she’s feeling . . . unmotivated?

  1. I work out with my husband. If I’m unmotivated, likely he isn’t having that problem and peer pressure pushes me out the door.  Vice versa, of course.  If you can recruit your partner or a friend to be a workout buddy, fitness gets a lot easier.
  2. I keep records of my strength workouts. I used to actually write down the exercises I did, the weight and the repetitions in a paper notebook.  Now I use the free app Fitnotes (for Android and Apple).  These records keep me accountable to myself for how often I show up at the gym.

Claudia also points out that “once you have gained some strength you don’t want to lose it.  Were I to stop going to the gym, I’d lose the ability to do the number of pullups and pushups that I’m proud to be able to do. So even if on a particular day I’m not feeling it, the knowledge that regaining strength is harder than keeping it up in the first instance, motivates me.”

I asked Claudia what advice she has for others who are trying to add more fitness to their lives.  I’m hoping her reply will help motivate you to take a hard look at what changes you can make in your own lives.

“Before the 'how' of specific exercises or strategies, comes the 'why' -- the will to do it. Let me try to speak to that.

Listen to your self-talk. 'Oh I would never have the patience for that.' 'I have to try day.' 'I don’t have the time/money/energy.'  'God I hate exercise!!'  All these words really mean the same thing: you aren’t willing to prioritize your health.

Next, you might consider asking yourself why this is true.  Deep down, do you think that the consequences of not being fit will never actually come back to bite you?  Do you have so much to worry about today, that you can’t worry about what happens tomorrow?  Do you feel guilty about spending time on yourself?  Unpacking and dealing with the 'why' of not prioritizing health might be the most important step to make fitness a real and lasting part of your life.

The likely reality is that you find the time/energy/money to do lots of things that aren’t work or feeding yourself and your family or sleeping.  Consider taking some of that time you might spend knitting (!), watching your favorite TV show or a movie or reading a book, and use it to improve your health.”


I hope that Claudia’s words will challenge you to think about your own fitness habits – whether you already work out regularly or not. 

Several years ago, when I started talking to Claudia about strength training, I had never really considered adding weight training to my regular workout routine.  I can tell you now . . . it has been an absolute game-changer for me!  I’m stronger now -- maybe stronger than I've ever been in my life.  And that feels really good.  After all, that’s my goal – to be strong all the way to the end of my life.

How about you?  Are you ready to make fitness a priority in your life?  Are you ready to be a “strong old lady” with Claudia (and me)?


PS – I asked Claudia if she’d ever taken Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies quiz, and how she falls on that “spectrum.”  So . . . she took the quiz, and ended up scoring as an Upholder.   Claudia went on to say, though, that she thought it was a “pretty superficial assessment tool,” commenting that although she’s very diligent about keeping her commitments, she’s “extremely stingy” about making them in the first place.  Claudia says she “cares about few things” but that she “cares deeply about that small number” – and that she isn’t sure that sort of behavior was accounted for in the quiz.  Based on that . . . I’m going to guess that Claudia is really a Questioner!  ;-)


Start Your Engines

I'm up north . . . where "starting my engine" still happens.  Just at a more relaxed pace!



A Quote

“I thought of myself as like the jazz musician — someone who practices and practices and practices in order to be able to invent and to make his art look effortless and graceful. I was always conscious of the constructed aspect of the writing process, and that art appears natural and elegant only as a result of constant practice and awareness of its formal structures. You must practice thrift in order to achieve that luxurious quality of wastefulness — that sense that you have enough to waste, that you are holding back — without actually wasting anything.”
--- Toni Morrison, The Art of Fiction, in The Paris Review, 1993


A Word (or two)

I heard both of these words in the news this week.  I think it's important that we understand the distinction.




What do you think?  
Does an angry rant qualify as a manifesto?


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It seems that there is such a push "out there" (in the world) to Read More and Read Faster.  As if . . . any of us could ever read ALL the books we want to read.  As if . . . reading more books would make us "happier" (yeah, I'm looking at you, Gretchen Rubin).  Last year, I made a decision to slow down my reading pace -- and to read more deeply and more thoughtfully.  For me, it's been all about the books themselves, not how many of them I can get through.  And that has made such a wonderful difference in my reading experience!  I'm enjoying reading at a more leisurely pace, I'm taking notes and saving quotes and favorite passages, I'm writing brief reviews, I'm thinking more critically about why I like certain books -- and why I don't.  

Anyway, if you're interested in reading more deeply, here are a few suggestions from David Mikics (who wrote the book on "slow reading"):

  1. Notice when you start to skip or skim sections.  Go back and try to read them again.
  2. Keep a dictionary nearby so you can look up unfamiliar words as you encounter them.
  3. Actively re-read passages that seem confusing.
  4. Use a highlighter or sticky-notes to mark passages that intrigue you, or when you are particularly taken with the author's language or turns of phrase.  Go back and review the passages after you've finished reading; maybe even "collect" them in your notes.
  5. Summarize or write a review when you're finished with your reading.


A Challenge


Summer is winding down.  
Get out there!  
Bask in it!


Here's to a good week ahead for all of us!

Because Why Not?

We've been up north all week . . . 


where I start every morning pretty much just like this.

I think we'll stay for ANOTHER week.
Because . . . why not?

(Summer will be gone before long, and I want to soak in every moment while it lasts.)

Happy weekend, everyone!


Three More Of Our Adventures in Alaska

We had so many great adventures in Alaska!  
Here are three more . . . 


1 - We went kayaking!

Ketchikan was our first Alaskan port, and after spending the morning exploring Ketchikan (and eating the first of many fish-and-chips-for-lunch meals) (because fish-and-chips in Alaska is amazing), Tom and I spent the afternoon on a guided kayaking expedition around the Tatoosh Islands (just north of Ketchikan).


The setting was absolutely lovely.  I wish I could share more photos of this most beautiful place and our adventure with you, but . . . I was busy paddling.


Although the water looks pretty calm, it was . . . the sea.  There were waves (which did freak me out a bit) (because although I do a lot of kayaking on our lake, there are never any waves).  And it was a windy day.  So every now and then, we would come around an island and . . . whoa!  Waves!  But for the most part, it was pretty easy paddling.  We saw deer and lots of eagles on our paddle -- including one that landed on a tree very close to us.  

It was exhilarating to be out in the kayaks.  I'm so glad we spent our afternoon on the water.

2 - We saw bears!

Although we kept our eyes open for bear sightings throughout our trip, while we were in Sitka we visited Fortress of the Bear, a sanctuary for orphaned bears in Alaska.  And there?  We saw bears!


This is just an awesome bear sanctuary.  Very well done and well maintained -- run by animal behaviorists who are passionate about their work.  It is just a beautiful spot for these bears - who would otherwise have been euthanized.

We watched 3 black bears . . . 


(I know . . . there are only 2 in my photo.  But there were 3.)

And several groups of brown bears.


It was such a treat to see the bears doing their regular bear activities:  foraging for food, climbing trees, frolicking, swimming.  We really enjoyed our time at this beautiful sanctuary.  (We never did see any bears in the wild during our trip.)

3 - We took a walk through the rainforest!

Before our trip, I didn't fully realize that we'd be in a rainforest the whole time.  I thought about mountains and glaciers and water . . . but I just didn't get the rainforest part.  In fact, for our entire trip, we were in the Tongass National Forest - part of the Pacific temperate rainforest ecoregion.

IMG_4508 3

The contrast between the forest and the water and the mountains is just stunning.  And I especially loved all the foliage and trees.


I wish my computer had a scratch-and-sniff feature for you.  Since it doesn't, you'll just have to imagine the fresh, earthy smell of the forest for yourself.


Alaska is just an amazing place -- and I'm so glad we went on this most excellent adventure!




(Cue soundtrack for today's post.)

Back in early June (which seems so very long ago now, doesn't it?), I agreed to test knit a new sweater design for Kirsten Kapur.  It was a design I knew I'd want to knit anyway -- really, a sweater that is perfect for my style.  Kirsten's timeline seemed quite doable for me, too, with an August 1 deadline.  I figured it would be nice to have a new sweater ready by the time fall came around.  And, besides . . .  I could knit on it while I was in Alaska!

I got my yarn, and I started knitting.


It's a great pattern to knit!  Very rhythmic.  Just enough texture to keep it interesting.  Lightweight.  Easy to knit in the summer.  And WAY faster going than I had expected.

As I was knitting, I was also thinking ahead (anticipating. . .) our upcoming trip to Alaska.  I thought a lot about what we'd be doing on the trip and what I should pack and what I might need.

And I thought . . . wouldn't it be nice to have a warm-but-light sweater in my bag?  A sweater . . . kind of like, well, this one?

we can never know about the days to come
but we think about them anyway

I decided to knit a little faster.


And guess what?


It was a PERFECT layer for my trip to Alaska!
(I wore it several times during the trip; here, I'm wearing it on a cool, rainy morning in Wrangell.)

And . . . if you're interested in knitting one for yourself, you only have to live with the . . . anticipation . . . for a week or so!  Kirsten will be releasing the pattern (called Snug Harbor) on August 15.   You can see the details of my knitting here on Ravelry.  (For now, it's not associated with the final release of the pattern, so this link may not work after August 15.  I'll try to remember to update it if necessary.)

How about you?  What are you knitting (or making)?

Drop Everything And Read

Last March, as I was contemplating intention and my plan to "live my best life," I had a eureka-moment (you can read about that here), which led me down a wellness path.  I set Tuesdays aside for wellness-related posts here on the blog -- so I can share what I'm learning with you.   After a rather inconsistent summer, I'll be getting back to more posts on wellness - and fitness - next week.  (Watch this space!)

IMG_5091 2
Another lily opening in my garden pond -- and absolutely nothing to do with today's post. Or maybe it does. You decide!

In the meantime, here's something for you . . . 
Related to wellness.  
And aging.  
And body image.  
And the wearing of swimsuits in public.  
And eating.

A couple of weeks ago, I stumbled across this Most Excellent Essay written by author Laura Lippman . . . about turning 60.  And accepting our (gorgeous) bodies and eating what(ever the hell) we want and (finally) accepting ourselves.  It's a bit of a long read (it will take about 15 minutes), but it's empowering and eye-opening -- and well worth the investment of your time.  (And it's written by Laura Lippman, so you can trust it to be highly readable and compelling!)

Go on.  Read it!
And let me know what you think once you do.


Monday Means . . .

it's time to . . .



A Quote

"There is some good in this world, and it's worth fighting for."
--- J.R.R. Tolkien

I found this little tree "volunteering" in a piling along the beach near Hoonah, Alaska.


A Word

We all know this word.  But did you ever look it up in a dictionary?


Do you have a favorite meme?


To Read

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I've never really been a horoscope kind of gal (my "sign" - Aries - doesn't really seem to suit me all that much), but I think it's kind of fun that LitHub has a "book club" featuring a new reading suggestion each month based on your astrological sign.  Click here to find out your suggestion for July.  Or to just find some interesting book selections, no matter your sign.


A Question


Speaking of astrological signs . . . what's yours?  Do you think your sign "lines up" with your personality at all?  And do you read (or even follow) your horoscope?


Here's to a good week for all of us!  Enjoy these waning weeks of summer.


PS - Typepad is doing That Thing again . . . where I'm not receiving email notification of your comments.  Which makes it super hard for me to respond.  Please know that I read and appreciate every one of your comments.  (And, probably in a day or two, ALL the comment email notifications will flood my inbox.) (Because that's how Typepad rolls.)


Hello, August!

August . . . when my garden starts to look tired, the back-to-school madness begins all around me, and I start feeling the pressure to MakeTheMostOfSummerAndDoItNow!!!  

Here's my August "bucket list" . . .


Some summer fun.  Some preparing for fall.  And a nagging task or two.

What's on your list for August?

It's a Bonus Day

When you visit the jury duty reporting website and find this message . . . 


it means Bonus Day!

I woke up this morning filled with gratitude.  I have a day in front of me that has been blocked out in my calendar for 6 weeks.  And now that day is . . .
Completely MINE.



What am I going to do with this wide-open, fresh-and-clear day?

  1. I'm heading to the gym for an early class that I thought I'd have to miss.
  2. I'm running a couple of errands.  (Hello new print cartridges!)
  3. I'm catching up on a big chunk of paperwork for a volunteer commitment.

And I'll probably putter around in the garden, too.  
Because where else would I want to be on a Bonus Day!


What are YOU doing today?