Channeling My Inner Farm Girl

A couple of weeks ago, I put in a new raised bed for our vegetable garden.  For the frame, I “repurposed” the former bottom bunk of my son’s bunk bed (he’s moved up to the top and is using it as a loft).

Bunk bed on its side next to the grass I’m going to remove

Usually for big physical tasks like removing sod, I call for my husband to help me out. But, alas, Mr. Muscles was busy exercising the muscle between his ears and writing a paper (he took two classes this Spring and was crazy busy). So, I was forced to woman-up and do the job myself.

I used a shovel and cut the sod out chunk by chunk, then shook each clump of grass to get as much dirt off as I could before I tossed the grass into the wheelbarrow.

All the sod cut away, one clump at a time.

As I worked, I started wondering — how did I know how to do this? I realized I  must have learned it from  my Dad.

My Dad is in the middle surrounded by his female offspring and next to his mother

We had a vegetable garden every year, and I remember my Dad showing me how to shake off the grass clumps to save the soil. I feel like I don’t remember many details from my childhood, but I do remember the big tomatoes and cucumbers that Dad grew every year.

My little sisters, with Tamara holding a basket of Dad’s produce

My little sister and brother, showing off the produce from the garden

And I wondered about how my Dad knew what to do, and that led me to my grandparents. They also had a backyard garden, plus my Grandpa was an amazing rose gardener.

My grandparents on their porch, with some of my Grandpa’s roses showing below.

I lived with my grandparents for a few years when I was in junior high school. The walkway into the backyard was narrow and it ran next to a planting bed that my grandparents planted with flowers and herbs. As I walked to the back yard, I’d brush the parsley and smell the zinnias that were growing in the bed. To this day, whenever I chop parsley I’m transported back to those golden days in  a sunny California yard.

My Grandpa and my uncle, with the garden behind them.

I’ll have to ask my Dad and my uncle, but I assume that their parents taught them to garden. My grandparents grew up in Belleville, IL, which was home to many German farmers, and my Grandpa grew up on a farm. So I wondered, as I shook the soil out of the clumps of grass to make my new planting bed, how far back could I trace a line of farm people who had done the very same thing? And as I thought about that long line,  I realized that I want to continue it. And that means getting my boys away from their computers and out in the yard more so that they, too, know how to grow their own food.

My new planting bed, planted with tomatoes (surrounded with red plastic).


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Pigs are cute!

I’m starting a campaign to raise awareness of pig cuteness.

Micro piglet hugs strawberry.

Hint: You can go here to sign the petition to ask Tyson to stop using gestation crates.

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A Mother’s Day Epiphany (or What I learned from Captain America)

Yes, I just saw The Avengers and am somewhat fixated. But I really did learn something from Captain America!

You’re welcome.

For Mother’s Day, I wanted my family to help me in the yard. I’ve let it run to utter chaos and was too overwhelmed to even begin alone.

Weed city

And not only did I want help, but I wanted to be in charge. I wanted everyone to do the things that I saw as high priorities, without arguing, complaints, or even discussion. Due to the awesome powers that all Mother’s get on Mother’s Day, they agreed. But the situation was not without its challenges. My team consisted of:

  • My husband, who always has ideas about how he wants to do things
  • My teenage son, who hates weeding, bugs, and getting dirty unless he’s playing soccer
  • My 9-year-old, who freaks out at any task that he perceives as overwhelming

When we were getting ready to start, I could already hear the rumblings. “You know I hate weeding.” “I’m not doing that!” I had a moment of absolute dread that this would turn into a nasty struggle of trying to force children to work by threatening to take away their electronics. But then, I had a moment of inspiration! I remembered the scene in The Avengers when Captain America takes charge and gives everyone an assignment that’s perfectly suited to their talents (“Hulk…Smash.”)

So, I put my teenager in charge of mowing (no weeding involved!)

Yes, that’s his phone in his hand.

I put my younger son in charge of rolling the wheelbarrow around the yard picking up the weed piles. (I also gave him the job of supplying everyone with lemonade if they got thirsty.)

Rolling the wheelbarrow was fun!

I gave my husband a tasks that employed his organization skills and his muscle power (but forgot to take any pictures of him).

And I put myself in charge of weeding.

Lost in the dandelion jungle

The result? Several hours of uncomplaining cooperation from the entire family. This is a minor miracle. It was  an even better gift than a 2/3 weeded front yard.

No more dandelion jungle

Beautiful mow job!

Weed-free zones!

So, a big thank you for a fabulous mother’s day to my wonderful husband and sons!

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The 2nd annual Thin Mint Challenge is on

The rules:

1) We each get one box of thin mints

One box each

2) The contest lasts for 1 month

I LOOOOVES me some thin mints

3) Anyone who drops below 4 cookies left in their box within that month is disqualified. (4 cookes = 1 serving according to the Girl Scouts — have you ever stopped at just 4 thin mints?)

My husband takes cookies out of his box.

The prize: Winners get to split a prize box of thin mints! (Last year my two boys got to split the prize box.)

My younger son's strategy -- put his box way up high where he can't get to it easily.

Last year, I didn’t even try to win. According to my taste buds, one serving = half a sleeve of thin mints. I’ve already had two servings since we got our boxes after dinner.

First taste of thin mints

This year, I’m going to see how long I can resist the lure of the second sleeve.

Oh, and I forgot to mention rule #4, which is mostly for the parents — no fair buying additional boxes of thin mints to supplement your supply.

I’ll let you know how the challenge turns out.


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Taking the show on the road

I went for a bike ride with my husband today. It was a “training ride” to see if I’m ready to ride the Chilly Hilly, a 33 mile ride round Bainbridge Island that officially kicks off the local  cycling season. The Chilly Hilly is this coming  Sunday. I’ve been riding my stationary bike for 30 minutes most days, but I’ve missed a few days recently. (One of my other goals is to stay on top of my grading and course prep and the two goals — exercise vs. work — have been competing for my time. I can pedal while I surf or blog, but it’s hard to really concentrate on things like grading.) But still, I’ve been doing  a little cycling, so I figured I had no excuse not to try a training ride.

me next to my bike

What is that strange green thing behind me?

Notice that I wasn’t oozing enthusiasm. To tell the truth, I was pretty anxious about the whole thing. In my head, it wasn’t just a bike ride — it was a bike ride wrapped up in a whole rats’ nest of hopes, expectations, and fears.

First, there’s my husband.

You've done this before, haven't you?

My husband is a serious cyclist. He rides hard, often, and long distances.  And he likes hills — big ones, like the size of Mt. Rainier (which he’s ridden around twice in a ride called RAMROD).

That's a flaming sprocket tattooed on my husband's rock hard calf

Although my husband said multiple times that he wanted to go for a ride with me and that he was happy to go at my pace, I couldn’t help feeling a little intimidated by my riding companion. (I’ve never liked holding other people back — one of the reasons I was never particularly good at team sports was because I always got way too self-conscious and anxious that I would make a mistake and mess things up for the team. Self-consciousness pretty much obliterates coordination.)

Another thing that was freaking me out is that this “training ride” was a test for the entire future of my marriage.  Maybe I’m exaggerating just a bit, but both my husband and I have hoped that we would someday do some bicycle touring together. You see, I used to be a cyclist too. I once had my own rock hard calves. I commuted by bike, took daily rides of 5 miles just for fun, and took longer rides of 25-50 miles on weekends. Because I wanted to. So I hoped “when the kids got older” and I “got back into shape” that I’d start biking again and join my husband. Somehow, while I was waiting for the kids to get older, I got more and more out of shape. And now the gap between those dreams and reality seems huge.

Plus, the whole aging thing kicked in. I used to be able to pull off a whole lot more. Not train for something and just rely on youth and guts to see me through. My first 50-mile bike ride was like that — I hadn’t really started biking yet and had no idea what I was signing up for. I showed up for the ride on my steel frame bike (heavy) and wearing Levis. I did the ride, but man was I sore (and chafed) afterward. One of the realities of out-of-shape middle age is that I can’t “just do it” anymore. I’ve wondered if I’ve left everything too long and too late, and started to believe less in the dream of cycling with my husband. And I worry about that, because I feel like my husband has been patiently waiting and I wonder what will happen if I disappoint him.

I took all this mental baggage with me on the ride, which turned out to be a little bit like pregnancy:

  • For the first third, I was very anxious and not feeling my best. (Puffing like a steam engine up the hills. There’s no hills in my living room!)
  • For the second third, I felt great and was actually enjoying myself. (Look! The pussy willows are in bloom! And the heather! And doesn’t the lake look pretty?)
  • For the last third, I was just tired and wanted the whole thing to be over.

The pretty lake!

Part of my crash during the last third may have the been the fact that I didn’t have any lunch. I’d had a coffee from Starbucks and wasn’t feeling hungry, so I didn’t really think about it. During that last third, I thought about it. That and the fact that I couldn’t feel my toes.

Taking a break during the last third of the ride

My husband said he was cold  (because he wasn’t working up enough warmth biking at my pace–grrr), so we decided to make a stop at Starbucks for hot chocolate.

Hot chocolate and a cake pop at Starbucks. I never wanted to leave that squishy chair.

After the break, I felt tons better. I swear I could feel my cells sucking up the glucose and making me a whole new woman. So, we headed out again for the “fourth” third of the ride — the short, flat distance between Starbucks and home. Please don’t hate me for my bad math. It really felt like the ride happened before Starbucks and that what happened after was separate. When I told my husband my pregnancy analogy, he said the last bit was the time after you have the baby and forget about the pain of childbirth enough that you decide to do it again. Hmmmm.

So what did I learn? I learned that I could do it. It wasn’t a huge ride by most people’s standards, but for me — with my current fitness and exercise levels — it was a challenge. And I rode with my husband. I did something with him even though he’s better than me at it. (If you know us, you can imagine how I feel about that.)

End of the ride. 11.3 miles, 1 hour and 20 minutes (included the stop at Starbucks). That's about double what I've been doing at home.

Do I want to do it again? Yes. Overall, I enjoyed the ride and my husband said he did too. He was also very encouraging, reminding me that when he first started cycling about 12 years ago he’d come home and complain after a 5-8 mile ride.

Do I want to do Chilly Hilly this weekend? Not sure, but not saying no. (I did it 2 years ago without training at all and survived — but used the short cut to shorten it to 20 miles — so I could probably do it again.)

Do I have more hope that I can get back in shape and be “Fit by Fifty?” Yes. I’m going to try to hang onto that feeling and keep working toward my goal.


Filed under Fit By Fifty

Use it or lose it

If you happened to read my post the other day “23 1/2” and saw how exercise can prevent muscle loss as you age, Alex Hutchinson over at Sweat Science just posted a follow up: the benefit of exercise to prevent muscle loss only works for the muscles you actually use. So, an aging runner (or cyclist — sorry, honey) can maintain their leg muscles, but they’ll still lose muscle mass for the muscles they don’t use. In other words, you need to exercise all the parts of the body you want to maintain. Of course, right? Because it’s never easy….


Filed under Fit By Fifty

23 1/2

I’ve struggled with my weight and fitness my whole life, but recently the whole battle has taken on a more urgent note as I’ve added a new variable — aging — to the mix. What was hard before sometimes seems impossible now.

Recently, I saw a video that was really powerful and totally changed the way I saw the problem:

The video is great because it’s based on science and because  Dr. Evans does the work for you — he’s read the research and he distills it all down to the most important element.

But that’s  not why it changed my view.

I’m a scientist after all and I’ve read a fair amount of articles and papers on obesity and fitness. I even knew that 30 minutes of exercise a day gave many health benefits.

The difference for me with this video was how Dr. Evans framed the problem. Instead of saying essentially “It’s only 30 minutes a day! You can find 30 minutes!” He said something like “All you have to do is limit your sedentary time to 23.5 hours out of 24 per day.” I don’t know why, but that makes a huge difference to my state of mind.

You see, I’ve been trying to find that elusive 30 minutes a day for years. I’ve joined gyms, tried walking around my neighborhood, tried getting to the pool, or going for a bike ride. But my reality for the past few years has been that of a working mom — I work all day, then come home to my kids and home where there’s dinner to make, laundry to do, and rides to give so my kids can get to their sports and activities. Plus, because I’m a teacher and a writer, I’m always bringing work home. So, somehow, finding “just 30 minutes” to exercise always falls by the wayside. If I have 30 minutes to spare, I’d much rather spend it reading a book or checking facebook or my favorite blogs. 30 minutes for exercise was just one thing too many.

But when I flip the number over, and think about only 23 1/2 hours of everything else, I feel more motivated to exercise. It’s like, I have 23 1/2 hours out of 24 for all that other stuff. That’s almost the entire day. If I have almost the entire day of every day to get everything done, then 30 minutes, or 1/48th of a day doesn’t seem like so much.

Maybe that’s just me. And maybe you’re thinking about sleep and drive time (if I were to try to go to a gym, it wouldn’t be “just 30 minutes”). And that’s true. So, then I had to think about the best/easiest/most reliable way to get my 30 minutes in.

Enter this baby:


FitDesk -- A compact exercise bike with a support for your laptop

This was my Christmas present from Dan. (BTW, I don’t have anything to do with the FitDesk company so this isn’t an ad.) I asked for the bike because I was trying to figure out how to incorporate exercise into the life I already lead, rather than adding another thing. I already like to spend time on the Internet so… I’ll pedal while I do it!

Working exercise into my existing routine is the only thing that’s worked for me in the past. When I look back at the times I got fit, it’s because I did things like commute by walking or biking (walking up and down Comm. Ave in Boston as I went to and from the dorms to classes at Boston University, or bicycle commuting to UMass Amherst, NAU, and the UW). Working exercise into my commute meant I did it every day.

These days, my schedule is so tight with parenting responsibilities that I keep my commute as short as possible, which rules out biking. Plus my fitness has slipped so badly that even the 3 mile commute from the Everett train station to EvCC seems daunting. Maybe someday. The kids do keep getting older and more independent. Plus biking at home will help me get in shape so that I’m not afraid to try that again.

I have other fitness goals besides just biking 30 minutes a day. I’d like to get back to yoga because aging brings a lot of stiffness (and how is that fair? that you get stiff in some places and sag in others?!). I’d also like to pick up my weights again to get some muscle mass back. (Have you ever seen what happens to unused muscle as you age? If not, check this out:

Muscle Loss due to aging can be resisted by exercise

I copied this picture from the blog Sweat Science .) Basically, if you don’t use it, you lose it. Add to that the fact that muscle tissue has a higher resting metabolism than fat, and you start to realize  at least one reason why it’s harder and harder to lose weight as you age.

But I know myself — it’s easy to be ambitious, and even easier to get overwhelmed. So, for this year I’m going to focus on eating healthy and limiting my sedentary time to 23 1/2 hours per day.

Will it work? I’ll let you know if you’re interested. For now, I can tell you that I pedaled 35 minutes and burned 435 calories while I finished this blog post. 🙂

Blogging and pedaling

Blogging and pedaling (in my pj's!)


Filed under Fit By Fifty