Chasing Off the Winter Blues with Exercise

Happy Saturday! The house is quiet, as the kids spent last night at their grandparents. Wade and I went out for supper to celebrate our fifteenth anniversary. We should really do something for our anniversary that doesn’t involve stuffing ourselves. Though it was delicious. We didn’t even have room for the cake we brought home from the grocery store, so now it’s breakfast. (Hey, the kids are gone, so why not?)

I love January. It’s a long month, and winter is usually pretty brutal in January, but this year we’ve got so much to keep us busy that I didn’t even have to make any resolutions about exercising more and living healthy! I joined the Futsal league in town, and our games are Sunday nights (starting tomorrow!). I’m one of only three girls in the league so that will be interesting…and the sports guy from the paper came during our orientation scrimmage game so I’m already in the papers playing Futsal.

The kids started cross country ski club last week. I guess the technical term is “nordic skiing.” I bought myself a pair of skis so I can ski with them every Saturday afternoon. The trails are beautiful and the class is set up so that I can ski with some parents while the kids do their drills, and then join the kids on the trail for the last half of the class. Since the kids take their loaner skis home every week, we plan to ski the trails every Wednesday afternoon as well.

With swimming on Tuesday and Thursday, fitting in a spinning session and a running session once a week, I’ve got fitness happening every day and that is exciting. It’s impossible to get in a rut with so many different disciplines to train in! I track all my workouts using Endomondo, because I am then challenged to beat my own personal bests and impress myself with how many kilometres I can travel in a year. From April to December of last year I went 684 km (running, biking and swimming) and however you add that up, it’s more than zero.

Just a few years ago I only exercised incidentally. You know, taking the kids for walks, the occasional hike or a single game of badminton. To be committed to my own health with regular exercise has energized me and I’ve learned that I do like sports after all. That was a complete surprise after the negative sports experiences of my childhood. I think it’s important to take a no-guilt approach to exercise. A little bit is better than nothing, and you’re stronger than you think are the two mottos that push me to continue.

I just joined Instagram and stuck a couple of photos of skiing with the kids from Wednesday on there that you can check out if you want. It’s definitely easier taking pictures with the phone when I’m wielding skis and poles than my clunky Nikon. (I love my Nikon but it’s not exactly sleek.)

My oldest turns ten this month and she desperately wants to go downhill skiing for her birthday. I think we’ll try to make that happen, but lessons will be mandatory. Wade and I have skied twice in our lives, and it’s been nearly twenty years since our last time. I think my parents will want to come just for the laughs.

How do you cope with the mid-winter blues? If you’re struggling, trying adding some motion to your day. It sure helps me.

11 Encouraging Fitness Tips for Art Geeks

“You’re a runner, right?”

People keep asking, and I never know what to say. They usually get an “Um, I guess so?”

After all, I don’t run far, and I don’t run every day (my average lately is twice a week) and I certainly don’t run fast.

But the truth is that running is only part of the story anyway. What really excites me, and I hope will encourage you, is that over the last few years, I changed my life.

In two years I went from slug to (self-proclaimed) supermom and it’s been a great journey. I’ve learned a lot; maybe my success will inspire you! 

  1. Don’t compare yourself to others. I find my best encouragement in seeing how far I’ve come, not how much better or worse I am than someone else. Most of the runners I know are faster than me. I would give up if I were trying to keep up to them. I love setting (and breaking) new personal bests on time and distance.
  2. Set goals. For me it was my first triathlon that got me committed to fitness. Later it was running 5km, then running a ten-minute mile. I’ve also tried running a certain number of miles in a month. The well-known Cool Running Couch to 5K running planis a great start for anyone.

    Triumph after completing the Try-a-Triathlon, 2010

  3. Don’t spend too much money. Aside from investing in a treadmill, I spend very little on fitness. New running shoes every one-two years (right now I’m liking my year-old Asics), and the cost of swimming at the pool ($5.45, 1-2x/week). It is very easy (and guilt-inducing) to buy all the gear before you start a fitness program, and then never use it. Start the program first, then reward yourself with a piece of cool gear as you reach a milestone. I am still waiting to reward myself with a GPS fitness tracker!
  4. Don’t feel guilty if you miss a workout (or several). I was very discouraged this year when I was sick for the entire month of January. I worried about how much ground I’d lost and expected that I’d feel like I was starting over, but I was pleasantly surprised with how quickly I regained my strength. You are not back to square one if you backslide for a while. Every workout is an investment in your health.
  5. It will be hard. I have never sweated as much in my life as I do now. I like it, because in my mind it signifies an achievement. There’s a fine balance between babying yourself and not working hard enough, and over-extending and getting discouraged (or injured). I find that I can usually push myself to do more than I think.
  6. Fear is a good motivator. One of the main reasons I started exercising was because I was getting older; I was afraid of finding myself middle-aged, in poor health and with no foundation of physical strength with which to fight illness or disease. I’m now stronger than I have ever been in my life, and maintaining that strength has become a factor. I also like training for an event that is a little bigger than anything I’ve done before – the fear I won’t be able to do it is another great incentive to train hard!
  7. Fear is not the only motivator. I have lots of little strategies for getting moving. It is much easier to talk myself out of a workout than into one, especially early in the morning when my bed feels so cozy. I need good arguments to get going, and save them up to pep talk myself! One motto that I’ve been repeating lately is “If you had started your run when you first started thinking about it, you’d be done by now.” I also often remind myself of how crappy I feel for the rest of the day after giving in to the ‘dark side’.
  8. You can do it alone. You don’t need a fitness buddy (although I’m sure they help). I’ve done 90% of my fitness training alone, and I’m a pretty social person. Working out alone means you are free to choose your time, place, distance and speed without compensating for someone else’s preferences. You are doing this for you, so you can do it by yourself.
  9. Less is more than nothing. I can’t commit to a full hour of exercise each day, and I don’t beat myself up about it. Initially I could only handle about twenty minutes, and often only three times a week. Ignore the workout recommendations that tell you you’re not doing enough. Do the best you can, and try to build it up gradually. Feel good about what you DO rather than guilty about what you don’t.
  10. Try something new. I tried cross country skiing this year and loved it. I started a cycling program this spring, training for my second triathlon. I kind of hate cycling, but it’s good to know that! When one discipline gets boring, it’s good to have something else to try, or to do different workouts over the course of a week. I have enjoyed doing four different sports each week through the spring and summer (swimming, cycling, running & soccer) and I’m certainly not bored! Different workouts also strengthen different parts of the body, which is good. Getting better at a few sports makes me interested in exploring new ones.

    Playing soccer 2012; Photo courtesy Roland Action Photography

  11. You don’t have to be hardcore. I am pretty happy with the level of fitness I am at. To increase my fitness level further would mean making sport my hobby, and that’s not what I want. I am still learning to make peace with the little “baby tummy” that won’t go away, because at this point I am just not ready to take the extra steps that would see it disappear. I am also not going to do any Ironman (or half-Ironman) triathlons; the time investment is just too great, though I would love to do an Olympic-length triathlon; maybe next year!

It’s all in your mind. Looking over this list I’ve realized that much of what has helped me is about mindset. If you can replace “can’t” with “can” you will change your life. If you’re like me, you won’t do it perfectly, you won’t do it every day, but as you train your mind to reject excuses and celebrate your successes, you’ll have a lot more successes to celebrate!

Finishing my first Super Sprint Triathlon, 2012

Post-triathlon, celebrating with my family, 2012


Birthday Blowout

Something you may not know about me is that I love to bake. I am always trying new recipes and for my birthday I love making an elaborate cake that’s really decadent. And it was my birthday yesterday!

I couldn’t decide on the right fancy cake recipe to try, nothing really seemed right, until I happened upon a recipe for deep fried ice cream. I LOVE ice cream and have always wanted to try it (it’s on my so-called bucket list!) so I downloaded the recipe, prepped the ingredients and invited a few friends to join us for an ice cream party on Sunday after church.

I still got it! (The ability to blow out all my candles, that is.)

Thirty-five candles will not fit on a deep fried ice cream ball, but otherwise, the dessert was fantastic! I am definitely making them again, despite the haze of oil that lingers in the air after deep frying in my kitchen. What a fun day we had! And when eleven kids are a part of the festivities, you can be sure you’ll be getting the LOUDEST birthday serenade you’ve ever had. And just because they had so much fun the first time, they’ll sing it again. Louder.

On Monday, my actual birthday, my mom, sister and I had a girls’ day out, shopping and eating more ice cream. I scored two new tops and a new dress, and boy, does it help to have two other experienced shoppers along to critique in the fitting room! I really miss shopping without kids.

I came home to my new Keurig coffee maker (a gift from my wonderful husband who hates coffee and is scornful of my mocha habit – such an unselfish gift on his part!) and to three happy kids who were excited to tell me about their adventures in spending the day with their dad. Five-year-old Wecco piped up, “Dad was acting a lot like you today, Mom!”

And the birthday party isn’t over yet. Tonight I’m hosting a “charity crop,” selling off a huge pile of paper and stamps I’m purging from my scrap room, with all the funds raised going to buy sewing machines for women in India. I love that it’s going to a crafty cause, and that I can open up my studio again to my friends and neighbours. My birthdays keep getting better, and I’m so thankful for all I’ve been given.

How Large is Large?

I sat up late last night making Christmas gifts and thinking about Christmas memories. Of thirty-five Christmases, not a lot stands out. (I think that’s the sign of a consistently happy life – the blur of sameness in events.) Maybe I’m just getting old and lousy at remembering stuff. Once upon a time my memories were my life and I prided myself on remembering details, but I’m becoming more and more aware that I don’t keep track of memories the way I used to.

I think I was about fourteen the year we had no money at Christmas. I mean, I was the child of missionaries, so most years we had no money, but this year was especially so. It was probably right after we’d built our house in the village. While the wood was all local, chopped down and hand “slabbed” into planks for the house, roofing metal costs a lot, and that year we were broker than broke. Christmas shopping in Papua New Guinea was always an adventure anyway. If we were fortunate enough to get a to town to do our shopping, we never brought a list. The only way to find a gift at the trade stores (emblazoned with names like Cool Mart, Easy Mart, K (for Kimbe) Mart) was to look at everything and hope you found something that would suit the person for whom you were buying. Inventory at developing country trade stores tends to be pretty random. My sister and I loved the aerosol body sprays that K Mart carried – all but one disgusting scent called “Fire” – and of course that was the one we were always given. It’s like a gift law, right?

The year I was fourteen though, we hadn’t even been able to go shopping, not having enough money to leave the tribe to take a break and visit a larger centre. We had to order gifts from the supply buyer, keeping in mind that we couldn’t really afford to buy anything, and trying to describe what we wanted to purchase so that a stranger would be able to understand and find something suitable. That was the supply buyer’s job. He took orders from missionaries in remote locations, purchased their goods, packaged and sent them in by plane, truck or grass-skirted villager. For a while one of Dad’s friends was our buyer, and he used to write goofy notes on some of our orders. Like the cans of baked beans that bore the Sharpie-lettered lyrics, “Beans, beans, the musical fruit…”

There’s a lot of margin for error in transmitting a shopping list to a third party, especially when you do so by short-wave radio. Also not a lot of room for secrets, but we managed to make our lists and send in our requests. For Mom Dad had asked for a certain book – I think on flora & fauna of New Guinea – and we kids had asked for a “large basket” to keep magazines in. I think we are still waiting for the book, twenty years later. What was in stock in the store the last time we’d been there was never available again – the nature of trade store shopping. And the “large” in “large basket” was larger than we’d expected – we kept our week’s laundry in that monster for years.

Christmas morning was not a drama of dreams come true. My sister and brother and I were the new owners of quality beach towels and new hot chocolate mugs. And I don’t think I felt particularly gracious about it. Being broke is not fun when you’ve grown up believing that wanting something bad enough will make it true. But we sweated around the two foot plastic tree, slightly melted from the lights (did I mention that many trade store products are there because they didn’t pass quality control regulations for North America?), read What Child Is This?, the Christmas book our family has treasured for thirty years, and thought of family and friends back home, enjoying a “traditional” Christmas.

I don’t have a moral to this story, except maybe this: The Christmases I remember are the ones that weren’t perfect.

My Homeschool High School (Missionary Kid) Experience

I often joke that I am the poster child for the “unsocialized homeschooler.” In 1989, my parents moved to the country of Papua New Guinea to be missionaries in a tribal village on the island of New Britain. I was in eighth grade, and I graduated just before we returned to Canada in 1994.

People coming to Papua New Guinea for the first time usually experience “culture shock.” It’s a small country, but rugged, and over 800 languages are spoken by the tribal people who live in grass huts on the coasts, in deep valleys and on mountain ridges that are often only accessible on foot or by helicopter. The people are incredibly friendly, but their lifestyle is dramatically different from western culture. In our village, they tended gardens of sweet potato and taro root, and fished with hooks and spears in the ocean that lapped just a hundred feet from our doorstep. How I loved waking at night to see shadows cross my walls as a lone fisherman drifted with his lantern in an outrigger canoe!

Getting an education in a tribal village is very different from that experienced by today’s North American homeschoolers. There were no support groups, no dual credit college courses, no extra-curricular sports and arts programs, no internet research (even today internet service in much of Papua New Guinea is extremely unreliable). My brother, sister and I completed the required number of pages each day, graded our own work and took bi-weekly tests on the material. We usually started our school year in August and finished in May, and completed our day’s assignments by noon, a basic course load of math, social studies, science, language arts & grammar, and spelling. I took French for two years, and learned more pronunciation than vocabulary.

I missed most my rosy ideal of what a “normal” student’s social life would be. In the tribe, I had only my sister’s friendship and letters from friends in Canada for company. I spent so much time writing letters to my friends! The culture and language barrier meant I had only the most shallow friendships with teenage girls in the village, who were usually concerned with adult issues, caring for siblings or their own babies. My dreams of boyfriends were hazy imaginings, while as one of the few white girls in the area (my sister being the other one) my every action felt exaggerated and I didn’t even dare look a village boy or man in the eye for fear of it being misinterpreted as sexual interest. I used to worry that when I did return to North America, I wouldn’t be able to look at or talk to boys because I had needed such great reserve in New Guinea.

Seventeen years later, I am in my fourth year of home educating my own three children, and I hope that they too will graduate from home, as I did. Despite the lack of support, my limited social experience, and “missing out” on extra-curricular classes and clubs, I would not exchange my high school homeschool experience for anything else. The freedom I was given in homeschooling gave me opportunities to explore my own interests and ideas and it was so fun! From my earliest childhood, I loved creating art, and in the tribe, I may not have been able to take art classes but I explored so many creative ideas – drawing, painting, learning calligraphy, making puppets, writing music and stories that I then illustrated. We pored over our twenty-year-old World Books and wore out the pages of our set of Childcraft encyclopedias. We bought fish, massive tuna from local fishermen, and packaged and sold them to missionaries in more land-locked villages, using our profits to buy bicycles so we could ride daily to swim in the ocean or our favourite fresh-water spring. We learned to swim proficiently and explored the coral reef with snorkels, or on foot when the tide went out. We visited World War II wrecks and listened to village legends about the Japanese occupation. We marched through enormous bat caves and hiked into remote villages to visit friends or attend a tribal church service. I listened as my father told a village, in their own language, the gospel for the first time, and learned that even though I would have chosen a more traditional teenage circumstance for my own life, I was right where God wanted me to be, and I could trust Him through it.

In his book, Lies Homeschooling Moms Believe, Todd Wilson says that your child will be who they are meant to be. I don’t know if my parents lost sleep over their decision to educate their children in such a remote location and the opportunities we might miss in the process, but I hear and see daily the concern from parents that in homeschooling, their children might miss out on something vital that they need in order to succeed in life. Often this holds parents back from home educating their children, or gives them a sense of self-doubt as they make choices for their children. How encouraged I am to trust that it’s not all up to me! God can take our circumstances, whatever they are and wherever they are, and enable us to not just survive, but to thrive.