Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Pacing Myself, Staying Still -- Keeping Fitness Real

"Embiggen" this photo to get a better view of the exuberant, joyful transformation of the formerly drab, industrial cement silos at Granville Island -- by Brazilian artists Os Gemeos as part of Vancouver Biennale  
 As much as I enjoy my running and love my yoga classes, it's been tough to fit in enough workouts over the last four to six weeks. The term's schedule had me teaching at 10, so I had to be running by 7 to fit in an hour and still catch the 9 ferry (yes, some might run after getting home at 6, but my circadian rhythm doesn't work that way -- ugh!). I'm pleased (proud even!) that I averaged two early-morning runs a week over most of the fall, but it's been a challenge.

My schedule hasn't meshed very well with yoga classes either, as my favourites (Rise'n'shine, Yin Yoga) run from 9:30-10:45. While I began the semester determined to manage two yoga classes a week, the afternoon session dropped out of my rotation by October, and this past month, with the extra demands of marking and of weekend trips to Vancouver, I've had several weeks without any class at all.

In fact, I would have to say that one of my big fitness achievements over the past few months has been developing an ability to let my discipline go, occasionally. While running or practising yoga is often a great way to relieve stress and to feel a satisfying sense of accomplishment amidst never-ending to-do lists, I'm beginning to recognize that sometimes my body (and mind, perhaps) just need to be still. And that's okay.

Developing confidence that I can, occasionally, maintain fitness with less output has not been easy. Quite the opposite. I feel distinctly un-easy when I feel 2, then 3, days pass without a workout. My preference, especially after having trained for the marathon earlier this year, is for 3 hour-long runs during the week, and a longer run on the weekend. To balance the running, I do best with two weekly stretching classes (yoga this past year, Pilates before that). But the reality of the academic year combined with our need/desire to visit family in Vancouver frequently means weeks without enough yoga to balance the running -- a recipe for injury; it also means that my exhaustion and my desperation for a quiet hour to myself, just resting or reading, gets pitted against my dogged allegiance to a training schedule.

 Over the last few weeks, though, I've very consciously chosen to hold myself still at certain times, at the expense of a workout. Clearly, I've established enough discipline that getting out for a run (even in the cold and the dark!) isn't a struggle. Now the discipline, I recognize, is in trusting that my body isn't a lying sluggard when it wants to stay home with a book. I have a deeply seated tendency to accuse myself of laziness, so accepting stillness as part of my overall fitness approach requires a vociferous internal advocate. One day last week, the only completely unscheduled day in three weeks, a day when I had the whole quiet house to myself, that internal advocate helped me decide against going to yoga class in town. Against my worries that I hadn't yoga'd for a week, that I was going to begin a downward spiral that would see me injuring myself, then becoming slothful, then eating too much of the wrong foods. . . . Well, let's just say that a saner self prevailed, and I gave myself the gift of quiet.

Of course, I balanced the loss of the long, luxurious yoga classes with stretches spread out in small packages during the day, and I never let two weeks go by without a longer class. Similarly, while I've gone as long as a week, back in late November, without running, I've otherwise made sure to manage one short (8 or 9-kilometre) run and one longer run each week, and I've got my long run up to 18.5-kilometres at least once a month.

The lovely result is that I've nurtured myself through the toughest part of the term, maintaining enough foundation that I'm ready to set an upward trajectory once again -- and to do it with joy. I've had some marvelously invigorating runs lately, such as this beauty on Monday morning around Vancouver's False Creek. And with this week's freer, work-from-home schedule, I'm able and keen to ramp things up now. Yesterday I eased into a lovely 75-minute yoga class, a fairly gentle Hatha (Rise n' Shine) and tomorrow I'll celebrate with another 75 minutes, this time a Yin class. Yummy! I've already had two great runs this week, so I'm on track for three short runs and a long Saturday run this week. Ready to set some new goals for the New Year.

 The goals just might include practising stillness more often. They might include more breaks, or experimenting with ways to maintain rather than always feeling I have to push ahead. They might include building in more fun to my run, more social time as part of my fitness.

Or the goal might be to register gratitude with each and every run.
Weather and scenery such as I ran through on Monday make that easy!

So tell me: do you struggle to make yourself work out? Or do you, like me, sometimes struggle to take a break? Does discipline come easily to you? Too easily? -- do you have to tell that taskmaster to back off occasionally? Do these issues of discipline show up in different areas of your life than your fitness?  I must admit that I'm wondering how my impending retirement will affect, and be affected by, my discipline. . . . 

Monday, December 15, 2014

Makes the Season Bright....or How to make Christmas shopping palatable

Home on the island again, after a ferry ride that included an extended orca sighting. A pod swam alongside us, with a few lovely arcing breaches to show off dramatic black and white markings. Oohs and aahs from the passengers that quickly moved to starboard for a sighting. Always experienced with a sense of grace, for me at least. . .

The house is so cold, though, and I'm huddling by the fire I've built, trying to finish my marking. While I do that, perhaps you'd like to know how my Christmas shopping plans worked out. . .

I bought one of these J Crew dolman sleeve sweaters for my daughter on Friday, then had to buy one for me. I'm not sure how they make such a boxy cut so flattering, but they do, and it is, in a very fine merino that feels swingy-comfy-great to wear. Mine's grey, but this teal is stunning on my daughter, very covetable. 30% off, so you could hardly blame me for jumping on the one-for-you, one-for-me program. . .


And then she tried on a pair of pants and I was just waiting around, so. . . Next thing I knew, there I was in the change room with a pair of these, in black.


Unbelievably comfortable. The wool is sweatpants worthy, plush, dense, no discernible itch, but the tailored pintuck down the front centre gives these a surprising polish, and they'll be warm enough for a February deep freeze. Also on 30% off, and it's a good thing I acted first because? Sold out! Watch for a rerun, though, and grab them if you live somewhere that does some cold regularly.

Another item I was lucky enough to grab, on sale, before it sold out was this cute little T. The SA who rang my purchases through wore hers under a black blazer, and I think I'll borrow that simple styling. Maybe with my wool (non) sweats for a you-can't-tell-I'm-really-wearing-pyjamas-at-work vibe....

See why I'm not hating the Christmas shopping?! Especially because B and I eased into it with
A lovely Rosé brut (Stoneboat from the Okanagan) and delish salads at Four Seasons' Yew Restaurant.

Why yes, we did decide to split a side order of Fries with our healthy salads. . .

It's all in the spirit of the season, no?


Sunday, December 14, 2014

More Christmas Blogging. . . Entertaining, shopping, noshing

Pre-Christmas-shopping fortification, exquisite French breakfast pastries and coffee at Thierrry, a precious quiet moment with Pater...

If my blog stats are any indication, the busy-ness of the season is already taking readers from the screen just as it's dampening my energy and ability and enthusiasm to write about anything other than gift-shopping and family gatherings....which, I suspect, can take on the smug tone of those insufferable Christmas newsletters.

Still, I somehow feel anxious when I'm not checking in with you regularly. I could take one of those one-week blogging breaks other bloggers do regularly to refresh their blogging spirits, but honestly? I suppose that, for me, I value the discipline of the regularity. Or my OCD tendencies are more pronounced than I recognize....

All of which is to say that here I am, with not so much to say except that I'm busy shopping for (a very few) gifts and spending time with loved ones. Yesterday, we hosted a small crowd (all family, immediate and extended) to shower my son and daughter-in-law with baby gifts and love and best wishes for an upcoming move.

Pater had made our tiny apartment sparkle with coloured mini lights and a wee artificial tree, and while I was home on the island marking last week, he'd put together an array of easy cheeses, fruit, olives, hummus, crackers along with wine and beer. Entertaining Made Easy 101. It felt good to host a fewtive event again--we haven't for years, in deference to work schedule, but keeping it simple made it possible. Yes, some crowds would demand a more sophisticated menu (at least a few hot hors d'oeuvres, gleaned from the latest cookbooks), but our emphasis was on relaxed, convivial fun, watching little girls get comfortable again with aunts and uncles and great-aunts and great-uncle.

I did get a few photos of the event -- my favourite is probably of a soon-to-be papa playing under the buffet table with a certain 6-year-old. I may share it once I get back to my regular computer with its camera hook-up.

Meanwhile, having spent a glorious afternoon shopping with one daughter on Friday afternoon (she booked off work just so we could lunch and shop together!), I'm meeting another today for a similar gig. (I'll have to be careful...I ended up doing the "one for you, one for me" gift routine the other day...the sales are so good and the shopping enabler at enabling!). Honestly, if you don't mind surrendering the element of surprise, this is a lovely way to Christmas shop!

So I'm off.... before I go, I'll just point you to the top of the right-hand column here, where I've posted some links to Christmas posts that meant a lot to me when I wrote and posted them over the past years. . . As always, if anything I've written resonates at all, I'd love your comments. A bit slower than usual responding lately, I'm nonetheless reading every one. . .



Thursday, December 11, 2014

Spirit of Christmas Past

I wrote this post four years ago, when Nola was just two but already had much to teach us about how to enjoy the joys of the season. I realize, as I wind up my marking and am released into Christmas preparations, that I could use a reminder about how best to keep the preparations themselves as joyful as any one day they're working toward.  Thus reminded, I'm meeting one of my daughters for lunch tomorrow after which we'll shop together for a gift she'll let me take home and wrap, to be opened on Christmas Day. I'll do the same with another daughter on Sunday. It's a practice I started last year, in frustration at not being able to "take on" the "chore" of Christmas shopping until my marks were submitted, mid-December, by which time the shops are crowded, the days frantic. I was delighted by how it worked, turning something from my to-do list back into the joy that it was meant to be, this gift-giving. True, I've surrendered the possibility of surprise, but for now, at least, the trade-off has been very favourable.

So getting ready for this weekend outing, I thought perhaps you wouldn't mind a repetition of the post expressing the spirit that inspired it. . . Here is that post:

Instead of being overwhelmed with Christmas stresses, piling up gifts under the tree to be torn open in an avaricious half hour, or stirring and baking and frying and chopping and mixing all our favourite foods to be devoured over one or two big days, I'm a fan of stretching out the little joys. I take my lead from a two-year old who, when first discovering the joys of the wrapped gift, is delighted to tease off the paper small piece by small piece. "I did it, Nana. I ripped it all off!"

Similarly, instead of trying to include everyone at our Christmas table or visit everyone over that one day -- oh, those early years of attending my family's Christmas Eve, then after having "our" Christmas morning together opening gifts, driving out to his family's Christmas dinner -- we spent the day with my mom on Saturday, taking her for a lovely long walk by the river and then out to the IHOP for lunch. Then Sunday we treated Pater's parents to a delicious brunch at Stanley Park's wonderful Fish House Restaurant with our three daughters, two of the partners, and Nola. Since the older folks don't host family gatherings anymore and live a bit far out for the kids to get to easily, those generations don't get together often enough. A lovely meal together, dressed casual-festive, in a wonderful setting (heritage building with vistas of surrounding parkland) -- what gift could surpass this celebration of family well-being and good fortune?!

Grandparents kept saying "Oh, the grandchildren are so good-looking" "Their partners are really nice, aren't they!" but especially, "That Nola is so smart" and "Isn't that Nola cute!" -- in other words, a gift that unfolded slowly. . .
Today, I'm meeting my sisters for drinks and then dinner. Yes, there will be some nasty forays into too-busy shops before that, but I'm hoping to get in and out before the worst of it, and I am pretty focused on what matters. I'm going to savour choosing a book for each of our kids and partners, and hope that it can be opened with this much anticipation . . .

I'm also going to remember that the gift itself isn't the important element, although I will choose as carefully as I can. Rather, it's the company in which we will open it, the feelings of love that, if we're attentive to what really matters, will accrue to the season for little persons like Nola -- who can keep teaching the rest of us the joys and gifts of Christmas

For years, when people would ask if I were ready for Christmas, I would answer something like "It's coming whether I am or not" signalling that I would cope with the day whatever my level of readiness. Now, I think I'm more likely to say that it's already here and that I'm making the most of it. The religious significance of Christmas is an important part of my upbringing and cultural background, but the date itself, the one-day celebration of Christ's birth, is a fairly recent construction historically. I still love the treasures of that one focussed Eve and Day, but I'm already beginning to open the Gift. After all, learning from a very small child is part of the meaning of Christmas, no?

How about you? What Christmas gifts are you already opening?

There it is, all over again, a good reminder for me, at least. And isn't it astonishing how much Nola's changed in those four short years? She had three great grandparents at the time; there's only one great grandmother left now, and she's unlikely to be with us next year. I'm so glad we slowed down and had festive morning together.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Drama, without Disaster, A Worrier Reports . . .

Here's a little video I made yesterday morning, when I couldn't get to work because the storm shut down our little ferry. While it was at it, it tore up a few docks, smashed a boat or two, and I thought it was going to steal our copper firepan from that stone terrace. The chairs are very heavy, and I was sure they'd be fine, but then again, I've never seen quite that combination of high tide and stormy waves before. 

The waters did subside in time for me to get on the 9 ferry. By then, our department secretary had found my stack of exams and distributed them to my students, even found a colleague willing to invigilate them until I arrived. Funny, even after all these years teaching, missing student exams during formal exam period is always a big anxiety of mine. Last Friday, hurrying to campus for my first exam of this Exam Period, I found my back tire flat (we keep our car in a paid parking lot in town, there being no bridge to our island). With only 45 minutes until the exam started, myself with a heavy-ish backpack and the campus 40 minutes' brisk walking away, I called a taxi, then while waiting for it, called my husband who picked me up hours later on inflated tires to whisk me off to Vancouver. Disaster handily averted.

So when I heard the weather warnings on Monday afternoon, I made sure my exams were tucked neatly into exam booklets, all stacked in an easy-to-find spot on my desk, and I made sure our secretary knew exactly where to find them. Tuesday morning, when I learned our ferry wasn't running, I emailed her and set my back-up plan in motion. No disaster here either.

Right now, I'm home marking all those exams. We have another storm raging, powerful waves ramming massive logs against that wee stone promontory you see above, rain pelting down on the skylights I don't stand beneath in case the wind whips a bough off the nearby trees and smashes it through the glass. Drama. But I've dodged disaster twice in the last few days, albeit my own exaggerated versions of same. Today, I think the best place for me is by the fire, finishing up the term's work and perhaps even making a Christmas plan or two . . . .

And once in a while, I'll interrupt my marking to check in with your comments. You can tell me what stormy dramas you've lived lately. Or whether you're anxiety-prone like me and tend to see potential disasters more often than those around you. And whether, if that's so, your anticipatory worrying occasionally ends up being useful, as was mine in the case of my preparations Monday afternoon. . . .Or you can simply Oooh and Aaaah at the drama of those waters. . . . Whatever you write, I'll be reading with interest . . . 

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Is Nana Wearing out her Welcome?


It's definitely been all about the grandmas round here, whether mine or my children's or my own doting Nana self sharing photos and anecdotes. I did offer up a little What I Wore the other day (Nana goes Street Chic?), but otherwise, I'm afraid I'm going to stick to the theme a few more days, until I clear a bit more time. Marking continues apace, but I'm squeezing it between afternoons watching a newly 6-year old play with her birthday dollhouse (Playmobil is still awesome, after all these years) and making a 4-month old smile and chatter until she falls asleep in her dad's arms (by the way, I might have the world's best sons- and daughter-in-law).

Off to a family brunch now, to meet another very new little girl. Back in a few days, perhaps with a fresh perspective. But still very much a Nana....Thanks for humouring me and my virtual brag book. . .


Thursday, December 4, 2014

Sturdy? Street? A bit of Chic? What I Wore

Dressed for comfort, in my mind a soupçon of sturdy or street chic, on my way to yoga class yesterday. The Blundstones are in deference to icy docks, my mustard Gap khakis hide a pair of yoga tights, and despite two layers (including a cashmere sweater) under my old leather jacket (Mackage, a Canadian company I'm happy to support), I was grateful for the woolly, stylish warmth of the Aritzia shawl my daughter gave me last Christmas. It's a bulky wrap, to be honest, but so welcome during Shavasana (I often visualize it as a hug from her, which makes it even more appreciated).
Couldn't resist playing with different angles, as you can see. Blame it on my old Banana Republic know what a hat did for Frosty, after all....
I'm off to Vancouver again today, as soon as my students finish their exam. We have some Nola time ahead tomorrow, and on Sunday my sister's hosting a family brunch to introduce her new granddaughter to the clan. I'm so excited to meet this wee grand-niece (and to meet my nephew as a new dad, his brother as a loving uncle) and to have her meet her cousins. She and our little Frankie are only weeks apart. We're a family that has always been well supplied with little ones, but we seem never to take that for granted, and I suspect there'll be a good turnout, everyone impatient for their chance to snuggle. . .

And what are you up to this weekend? Remember to pace yourselves! It can get crazy this month!

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