Better & Bolder, the Blog

This blog is a mix of the Fab&Healthy emails (now Better and Bolder) and more personal writings about my own journey to health and wellness. Enjoy!

Just hard enough and lots of rest

hands up


It’s been a lot of fun to watch amazing athletes reach for their best at the Rio Olympics. 

This article from Mens Health (December 2011) features tips from Olympians but its really advice that works for all of us. 


The article addresses the question of how hard should your workout should be. The authors explain, "If you're so sore it hurts to lie down in bed, you'll know you took it too far. And if the pain is in your joints rather than your muscles, you may have done something wrong.

Ill add that we dont need to be sore after every workout. Each workout should have a purpose, and that purpose may be fun or relaxation. It may be that you wish to improve your mobility, which wont result in next day soreness.  

However, if youre aiming to increase your strength, understand that the workout will be uncomfortable at times and you may feel sore the next day. Remembering that youre in control of it, and that you dont have to go so hard that you ache, may increase your willingness to suffer a bit. 

Meb Keflezighi, who is 41 years old, just finished 33rd in this mornings Mens Marathon in Rio. In this recent article from Outside Magazine, Meb tells the interviewer this about how to train as an older athlete:

People say, “Go the extra mile.” But that’s not always a good idea. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve tried to go one mile less. [What's important is] staying healthy and being consistent. I still get my share of injuries, but, as I write in my book, Meb for Mortals, it’s about “prehab instead of rehab.” You’d rather do one less mile and be able to say, “I could have done more,” versus “I’m totally drained.” In physical therapy, people will ask me, “What hurts?” And I’ll say, “Nothing hurts. I just need to be tuned up. I’ve put my body through a lot of stress, a lot of mileage, and I want to get it taken care of before it becomes a problem.” You’d rather get to the starting line healthy than just be one percent over-trained. 

The message here is to work just hard enough, not too little and not too much. Invest at least as much time and energy in recovery and injury prevention as in the workout. 

Another tip is to keep it short. I do not love my upper body weight routine, but I like the results. I do it twice a week and Im done in under 20 minutes, which helps motivate me when I really would prefer to skip it. I also attach the weights to another workout, either a run or a ride on the ElliptiGo. That way, Im already warmed up. My body is already in exercise mode. 


Another piece of advice from the Men’s Health article is to change up your routine. Some exercise programs have variety wired into them, such as Nia classes, and other  forms of fitness, such as walking and running, can get monotonous. It can help to change where you walk or run. For instance, I live on the bosque trails, which means I go out my door for my run or walk or ElliptiGo ride. Its beautiful here! and I still crave variety. Ive learned its worth the extra 20 minutes to get in my car sometimes and head to a new portion of the trails or go to a new neighborhood to walk. 

In addition, we can vary our speed during a walk or run. Throw in some pick ups in which you increase the pace to a huff and puff level for a minute. You can do this even when its just you and a friend on a nice walk to catch up. This New Yorker article about older athletes (Meb and Bernard Lagat, who finished 5th in the mens 5000m) cites a physician and researcher, Michael Joyner, who believes we can keep up our speed as runners, even past 40, in part by doing interval training. The other part? Dont get injured. 


There’s another component to training that is important for us at all ages. Even Olympic athletes gain weight if they dont eat well. Theres an adage that you cant outrun your diet. Regular exercise helps us find and maintain a body weight and composition thats great for us (and for each of us, in different parts of our lives, thats individual). However, even regular intense exercise doesnt mean we can eat whatever we want. Some foods play havoc with our metabolism; some foods seem to function in such a way to store fat more efficiently. Its not just how much we eat but what we eat. When the Men’s Health article explains how to calculate calories, thats off base. Read in the article about how Ryan Lochte gained 13 pounds of fat in several weeks from a fast food diet even though he was burning more than 6,000 calories each day. Of course, how much we eat matters but it’s not all about calories in and calories out. Check out this article about why its not just how much you eat but also what you eat that matters. 


The best piece of advice here is to target your weakness. When I was teaching Nia in my early 40s, I noticed that the day after doing side kicks in Nia, I was sore and stayed sore. I decided that side kicks werent good for me. I decided the problem was the move, not me. Really, it didn’t occur to me that I wasn’t strong enough. A decade later, when I started running, I discovered that I have some weakness in my hips, which resulted in running injuries. I started a series of exercises to increase my hip strength - and now my running is better and I can do those side kicks.  

If theres something you cant do, consider that there are muscle imbalances and weaknesses. Your knees dont need to be strong, but your legs do. What might happen if you did specific, targeted exercises designed to make your butt and legs stronger? Its easy to work the same muscles, even in a dance workout such as Nia, and back off on any movements that we know can lead to strain and injury. Work on building a stronger support system. 

This gets more and more important as we grow older. We are going to get weaker unless were working on getting stronger, and its going to take more work (and especially more focused work) to get strong.


I leave you with this piece of Olympic inspiration. Kristin Armstrong won her third consecutive gold medal in the womens cycling road race, and this mama of a five year old son did it the day before her 43rd birthday. 

Now get out there and do what you love. 

Body Love PR

just hands belly bw


Summer is my time to dive deep into my training, whether it’s Nia or running. I thrive in warmer weather and, more importantly, have lots of time and energy because I’m on break from my full-time job teaching at CNM. 

This summer I immersed myself in running. I joined two running groups, met new people, went for runs in different parts of town. I set big goals: to PR (a personal record time or personal best) in 3 distances — the 5K, 10K, and half-marathon.

That half should have been the easy one. I had raced only once before, two years ago, and injured myself three weeks before the race. I ran a conservative pace, finishing in just under two hours. I learned from that experience that I needed to do some running-specific strength training. I was delighted that this strength translated to better Nia technique. 


I learned so much this summer. I’m still digesting it all. 

I learned that I need to eat smaller meals and do so more slowly because my digestion post-menopause is more challenged. When my running increased to over 30 miles a week, I needed more fuel. I don’t know is if my metabolism slowed or if I was frantically shoving in calories, but I gained weight once my training intensity increased. I interpreted this as a message: my body wasn’t thriving on the additional running miles. It isn’t terrible to gain or lose weight. Our systems, though, seek equilibrium and when a balance is upset, I need to look to see if it’s a positive change or a sign of some distress. My gut intuition is that the additional stress of additional running was more than I could happily handle. 

In spring, my digestive upset sometimes followed me into my run and at least twice I had to stop running due to gut pain. This led to fear. I eventually worked out how much to eat and drink in the morning (not much) and how long before running to do so. I seemed to be fine most runs. If my gut started talking to me on the run, I talked back: “it’s okay, calm down, nothing to do now while we’re running, I promise you can come back online in a bit.”

Longer runs presented a bigger challenge. On runs over 90 minutes, it can help to take in some fuel and water. I didn’t want to wake up my GI tract, so I usually just gutted out the run. It seemed to work. I practiced gulping some Tail Wind, a rehydration drink with a bit of sugar, but I rarely took in more than two ounces during the run. Really, I seemed to be fine. 

In July, I injured my calf on a long run. I had done too many miles and too many fast hard workouts in too short a time period. Though I cut way back on my training and received a variety of healing treatments, some of the pain wasn’t resolving. It was worse after Nia then after a run, though, and I thought I’d be fine to race the half-marathon. 

I wasnt fine on the race. Around 11.5 miles, my calf seized up with a sharp pain. I could walk but couldnt run. Once in my car, I finished the Tail Wind and then had a protein and cucumber smoothie on my drive home. I felt nauseous, which is unusual for me post-run. I drank a bit of water and ate a bunch of food and hung out with friends, which strengthened me. I rested, iced a bit, and took arnica each hour. I noticed at some point that I was peeing less than usual. By evening, I couldnt walk. I took a hot bath with epsom salts, cuddled with my husband for a while (best medicine ever), and slept. 

I woke this morning knowing my error. What had worked for me in training runs — taking in only a few gulps of fluid — wasn’t sufficient when I was running a hard pace over concrete and asphalt with my adrenaline pumping. Though it was a cool morning, I remember noticing how much I was sweating early on. After giving myself the first five miles to settle into my groove, we had been averaging an 8 minute per mile pace over the next 5 miles, and it was getting more difficult for me to hold that. I realize now that I needed more fluids and sooner because the racing demands were so much higher than on a training run. 

I have some regret over this error, of course, but also a sense of satisfaction: I figured out what happened. I got the lesson. My analytical mind really enjoys this aspect of training. I’d rather choose to feel satisfied than regretful. 


I love being very active. I confirmed this summer that I’m happy to do a workout in the morning and again in the afternoon. I love being able to do some very hard workouts.  I am not nearly as happy to rest. I am especially unhappy to take time off to heal when I want to be walking, hiking, dancing, and running.

This summer I learned that I don’t enjoy the super long runs. I’m good to about 10 miles, which is under the 90 minute threshold. I would get anxious before a long run. I would get whiny and cranky on the run. It felt like work. That is not why I run. 

This summer I learned that I could survive a really bad race. I’m sad, a bit embarrassed, but I’m also relieved to be done with it. 

Sometimes it’s great to take what we’ve learned and go back to do better. If I enjoyed the training for this distance, I’d be all over that possibility. But I don’t enjoy the training, so I’m done. This summer I learned I could fail at a goal and be okay with it.


Before the race, I had promised my body we wouldn’t race that distance again. I don’t always succeed at self-love and body love. I fuss over my weight, my belly. I am frustrated with my digestion. Because surgical menopause means for me lower levels of both estrogen and testosterone than most women my age, I bring fear and even negative talk. I have worried that I will get less strong every year. The reality is that this year Im stronger than last year. Its possible I can be just as strong or even stronger next year.  Fear wont help me be stronger. If Im not stronger next year, thats okay too. Being afraid isnt okay. 

It is a high level of self-love that allows me to let go of a performance goal in order to honor my body’s needs. It is a supreme honor to listen to my body and respect what I hear. This summer I learned another way to love my body. 

I keep in my calendar a sentiment that I want to be sure to look at throughout the month. I move this from one week to the next. It says: “I want to be hopeful, not stuck in the past. I want unconditional love in my relationship with my body. Less attachment, more trust.” I inched my way closer to that this summer. Body Love PR. 

Adventure, Part 2

me and Lo


Last month my theme was adventure. Could I have an adventure a day? 

Overall, I pushed my boundaries a bit, dared myself a bit. I wouldn’t say Whooohooo! that was the most adventurous month of my life! Instead, it was a gentle push to spend some time in the unknown. Well, I pushed gently. The universe slammed me. 


In running I sought adventure, for instance, by challenging myself to run further than ever before. One week in June I ran 38 miles, which isn’t a ton for many dedicated runners but it was a first for me. 

I sought out new trails. On a long run, I headed down a path I hadn’t gone before. I let myself get lost, knowing that eventually I would figure out where I was. 

I sought out new people to run with. I contacted people I hadn’t met yet but who are part of a group with which I’m affiliated (the Oiselle team of runners in Albuquerque), and set up a walk or run. I went running in the foothills at dusk - so powerful! so fun! How had I not done that before? 


In Nia, I chose to create choreography on the fly, which is always a bit nerve-wracking and a challenge. That’s where experience meets adventure. The more experience we have, the more we know, the better we can set off on an adventure into the unknown. We’ve got tools we’ve developed over time and we have knowledge to tap into. Knowing stuff helps us when we get to the place where we don’t know stuff. 

I also started wearing shorts to Nia like it was no big deal. It is a big deal. I feel exposed and even transgressive. One website for grandparents warns us about Fashion Over 50, “No matter how good your legs are, no mini for Mimi!  An inch or so above the knee if you have great legs. But nothing shorter.” FabOverFifty concurs that our shorts should come just above our knees, not higher. 

To teach Nia on an especially hot day, I wore shorts and someone told me my legs looked strong. Here’s another adventure: I accepted the compliment without deflecting. I know. I didn’t even deflect in my mind. I didn’t explain my thighs were “too big.” My legs are my legs. 

Then when we had a guest instructor, I wore booty-freaking-shorts to class. Tiny shorts for my tiny ass. I SURVIVED. No one cared. The universe did not suffer a traumatic event.


I had another adventure in Nia last month, and I would have forgotten about it if I hadn’t written it down. My adventure in Nia was to find out what I can do to heal. 

My digestion has been challenged this past year, and I finally went to a gastroenterologist who scoped me at both ends (endoscopy and colonoscopy) plus ran blood and stool tests. He found inflammation in my throat and gut but nothing else. He didn’t find any causes so I’m chalking it up to age and the post-menopause change in hormones. It was good to rule out dangerous stuff that requires medical intervention but it left me with the question of what to do to heal.

Y’all think I’m just up there teaching step here, step there, cha cha cha. There’s that, and that’s most of the time. On this day, I brought with me a desire to hear from my body and unconscious through the dance. 

I needed to start the journey to healing by going beyond what the medical doctor could give me. I was going to dig into my history and I was going to engage the fear and sorrow of the child who could not speak. The routine Mystere is choreographed to music by Cirque du Soleil. It’s moody and lyrical and even epic at times. I started class and let myself go. 

First, I felt the sorrow of having berated myself all day that day. How unkind I’d been to myself, how unforgiving and harsh. When I extend that energy to myself, I extend it to my family, too. Judgmental, unsatisfied, and worried. 

Then I allowed myself to hum and sing, to make some noise. I allowed myself to picture this: me at 4 years old - but also not - you know, in that dreamlike way —and I was somehow able to say: get out! get out of my mouth! get out! I am teaching class, leading choreography, and holding this healing vision, and almost-not-quite crying, all at once. The lump in my throat dissipated. 


I know my digestion issues are physical. Real. The doctor can look and say, yes, gastritis, esophagitis, inflammation. I didn’t create those out of trauma. But maybe they resist healing, just a little bit, because these spaces are infected with a trauma that I couldn’t describe, couldn’t explain, couldn’t fathom at the time. 

The doctor I see for acupuncture says the lump in my throat is called plum pit, which “refers to a subjective feeling of something stuck in the throat which can neither be swallowed down nor spit up” (link). It’s energy that’s stuck. I have thought that the transition from a menstruating woman to a post-menopausal woman is difficult in part because we no longer have monthly flow. We don’t have that cycle of hormones. We don’t have blood that waits and then is released. How might our energy change when we don’t flow our blood? 

I work out hard. I like the feeling of my heart pounding. I like the feeling of sweat. I like when my breath changes, somewhere around 20 minutes into a run or ElliptiGo ride, and I’m breathing hard and relaxed. My nervous system settles in. I look at the sky. I feel grateful. Everything changes. 

This is my flow - running, riding, dancing, breathing. Still, it has not been enough. I’ve grown impatient. I eat well and move well and do my best to rest well. I take the Chinese herbs and return to acupuncture each week. In the past, that’s been enough to bring me to greater health, but I remained stuck.

I spent hours on the internet, researching, to see what I might be missing. I consulted the Tarot, and then again, and then again. I focused on my solar plexus. I listened to my healing meditations and took deep breaths before eating so I could eat in a relaxed state. I would be patient. I would eat more slowly.

I began to feel sorry for myself, which is the opposite of adventure. I was working this physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, and my digestion was stagnant and the lump in the throat remained. Wah, wah, poor me. Poor impatient me.

I tried to focus on the positive. I was getting enough to eat and loving everything I ate, gorgeous organic veggies from the farmers’ markets and fresh chicken and duck eggs from our neighbor. Yet I began to get a bit depressed, which pissed me off because it’s summer and I’m on break from my work at CNM, which is about as awesome as it gets. 


Recently, a session of visceral manipulation with a focus on my vagus nerve seemed to help the most. Oh, man, I love when getting the right support is what shifts things for me. This is important: I was ready for the support. I’d done the prep work. That part is all me.  

It may be a slow process of doing everything I can and waiting for the change. This is a challenge. I have to trust that what I’m doing is enough and listen in case there is something more I need to do. I have to wait in that unknown space. Do and wait. Act and wait.  


The big unknown, the biggest of all, came at the end of the month as my old dog Lola got sicker and sicker.  Some part of me knew this was coming, yet I held out the hope that this was a sickness from which she might recover. 

I compelled her to drink water. I stuffed medicine down her throat. I fed her tiny bits of food from my hand until she refused even her favorites. I sat with her, sometimes petting her and sometimes just sitting on the floor near her while I worked on my laptop.

This dying is hard stuff. I thought of my sister dying and my father. How does it feel to lay there in pain and know it’s not going to get better? Or to fear it will get worse? How long will it take to lay there, clinging to life while life gets more difficult with each breath? My fears of death and dying clawed at me while I cared for Lola. Could I help her heal or was it better to help her let go? 

Was I doing enough for her? On some level, I felt the guilt of not being able to save her. My rational mind knows: She was old and dying; I can’t save her from death. I couldn’t save my sister. That hasn’t stopped me from feeling as if I have failed. I am not enough. I am not worthy. 


A round of antibiotics had her feeling and walking a bit better, and she tried going up and then down the stairs in our house. That was it. She stumbled down, and her health and energy rapidly declined from that point. Two days later, I was sure she wasn’t going to recover. Another two days later, it was clear to the whole family that she was at the end. We made an appointment for her to receive an injection to end her life, and it was the right choice and right time. We were all with her, and I like to think that mattered to her. It certainly mattered to us.

I had already been crying hard for a few days. I wailed when the vet told us she was gone. I sobbed when we threw dirt on her in her grave. I woke up the next morning just as bereft and even more lonely. I exhausted myself with grief. 

About 24 hours after her death, I declared it was time to take a break from this grief. I went into the back room and lifted weights, and my son was there to coach me again on form. I felt stronger. Life went on. I am still crying but I’m not sobbing. I still hurt but I don’t feel overwhelmed by the hurt. I’m not done grieving my loss. Im done being under water in it.

Some of the guilt has dried up with those tears. I may have cried some of that out. I did what I could do for her, and I did what I could do for my sister.

At some point, I stopped feeling guilty about my first dog, Tasmin. She was my buddy and my spiritual guide. She helped me grow up. Then I got married and had kids, and Tasmin didn’t get much of my time and attention. I wasn’t in town when she died. I felt terribly guilty that I hadn’t done a better job of caring for her at the end of her life. I really hadn’t. Still, over time, the grief and guilt faded. I don’t miss her, though I think of her with lots of love. 

Some day, I won’t cry about Lola. I won’t miss her except maybe a little. That’s how life is. I still cry about my sister, but not often, and I don’t know if I miss her much. Yes, I just wrote that. She’s been gone so long. That’s scary, too, isn’t it? How we fade. How it’s okay that we’re gone. We’ll be mourned and cried over, then the tears slow down, and eventually there’s just a warm thread of love and gratitude for the one that’s gone. When all of us who knew my sister are also dead and gone, that’s the last thread. 

That’s how it will be for me, and that’s how it will be for you. We’re here, we’re connected, we’re gone, we dissipate. 

I’m not okay with that yet. I’m not okay with diminishing. I am still reveling in moving my body with fierceness and joy. I am still invested in adventure.

I need more days without adventure, too, it seems. I need to work less. I need to do lots of things more slowly or with more gentleness. Eat more slowly, have sex more slowly, heal more slowly (and with lots more help). I am discovering who I am at 53, post-menopausal with adult children, and the changes, the differences, sometimes feel huge. Sometimes, they feel great, too. 

There’s a sweetness in remembering our past and wanting that again. The memory is sweet. To have loved that moment or person or place or time so much that we ache for it, that’s sweet. 

At 53, I’m certainly more than halfway through my life. I hope to be kicking ass in my 90s, but that seems a pretty reasonable end point. I’ve done already the major stuff— grew up, got educated, married, raised a family. That means a whole lot of years left to explore life outside of my career and outside of the responsibilities of mothering. There are decades ahead of an undefined life. 


It’s been a helluva month. I have to remember that we get what we ask for, and I need to be especially ready if I call for adventure.

Lola

Screen Shot 2016-07-04 at 6.43.01 AM

I am deeply grateful for the kind words and condolences posted on FaceBook from friends and family. The internet and social media really is amazing that way. It’s the perfect amount of connection, just a little pulse of love and understanding. I feel supported. I am wiser with other’s words and insights which focus me again and again on the love our family shared with Lola for 11 1/2 years. 

My boys  my husband Hugh and my son Ailin  came through for us big time.  Hugh is the one who stayed with her through the night, sleeping outside, after the vet came to the house with acupuncture and antibiotics. That night Lola let loose with days worth of pent-up shit onto the kitchen floor and onto Hugh as well. He got her outside  she could still walk at that point  and cleaned up. Then he set up a lounge next to her favorite spot in the yard where she was able to sleep. He watched over her.  

It was Ailin who was clear that, yes, taking her to the clinic for euthanasia was the right thing. Wed be all together, he said, and she wouldnt die alone in the night. Ailin was right. We had a few hours to say goodbye. We looked at baby pictures and talked about her  remember this? Remember when she stole a roasted chicken off the table as we were setting up to eat dinner outside? She was so quick about it and there wasnt a bone or scrap left so at first we didnt even know what had happened!  We stroked Lola and told her what a wonderful dog she was. I thanked her again. I sang her the Lola songs. My mother came over for a last visit, and we fed her ice chips. Lola planted her face in the bowl, sucking up chips, and then rested her head there because she didnt have the energy to hold her head up.  After 24 hours of discomfort (pain? probably) and agitation, unable to rest, she finally gave up, soon after my mother had gone and just an hour before our appointment at the clinic. Even her breathing seemed to slow and calm.  Lola was ready. It was time. Hugh carried her to the car and then from the car into the clinic. Then, after, he carried her body, streaming a final release of urine and shit, back to the car. 

My boys dug her grave. Im thinking: this is Ailins first grave. This is the first time this young man has had to bury his companion. All I can say is that I hope its not his last. I hope he loves many dogs. He loved Lola and cared for her and in the end, he buried her. Hugh suggested we bury her with a bone  that dog loved food  and her water bowl, too. Hugh wrapped her, shrouded her, and laid her on her favorite dog mat. I added a small crystal that had belonged to my sister. Then I cried hard again but I was better. It was done. She was at rest. 

I am surprised at my level of grief. I wailed when she died. I am crying again this morning and I know I cry for myself, my loss. Lola had a good run. Im sorry she couldnt stay young for longer. Im grateful there was only this one week of her life when she couldnt go walking on the bosque. 

I need dog energy in my life. I totally get that whole dog/god thing. Lola was an animating spirit for me. Lola was a perfect anti-me. She was utter sweetness, wholly trusting and uncomplicated. She was, in truth, not very bright. She was, of course, present in each moment, unless I asked if she wanted Walkies, in which case she practically danced in circles with anticipation.

Yesterday I was heart-broken; today I am just very sad. Today I have that clarity of, okay, it was time. I miss Lola and truthfully I miss Lola-who-was-a-bit-younger. I miss the dog who could walk with me for hours and who bounded easily in and out of the ditches where she loved to soak in the water. 

Caring for an older and sick companion animal is a sacred task. This past week as she was sick, I thought often of my sister (Lola and she shared a birthday). My sister died slowly of cancer; she fought it but knew she was dying. This dying process - so slow sometimes, so unpredictable - can be painful and terrifying, and I reflected on that all week as I sat with Lola and considered how best to care for her. I reflected and trembled because I am scared of both death and dying. I remember my lack of patience as I sat with my sister when she was sick. I did not care for Lola perfectly but I approached it with more awareness and connection. As I grieved, I thought of the family members of those who died recently in Orlando; I thought of their absolute mourning. That’s what Lola’s spirit has always done for me: connect me, again. 

That’s my work going forward, to keep her spirit with me and let it continue to animate me. I don’t think there’s a heaven and I’m not sure there’s reincarnation. My belief is that spirit disintegrates  the way our bodies do. Neither is destroyed but is transformed. I won’t recognize Lola in the worms that eat her buried body or in the birds that eat the worms. Her spirit perhaps then transforms the same way by becoming part of something or someone else. While I live, though, my memory of her keeps some part of her spirit intact. I am also transformed; I will never be the person I was before my relationship with Lola. Blessed be. 

Adventure

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What if every day in June I did something adventurous? What if every day had some kind of adventure?

I am aiming for an adventure a day in June.

Learn something new and practice

June 1- I ran the bosque trails using what I’d learned the day before from a fabulous run form coach, Janet Runyan. I focused on three things — hinge at hips, lats down to connect to hips, arms relaxed with hands near hips. It went like this: get the hinge, lose extension. Extend, lose the lats. Get the lats, relax the arms, whoops, lost the hinge. For six miles, I was finding each one again and adjusting. When it came together, even for just a few moments, it felt great, perfect. We don’t really learn something until we practice it. Practice is an adventure. We discover, we take risks, we fail, and we go at it again. 


Make a plan

June 2 -Do you ever worry that you’ll throw a party and no one will come? That would be every party I ever have. One year we were a small group, much smaller than the usual summer potluck, and, really, it was lovely. I could talk with everyone, and the atmosphere was very relaxed. Now that’s part of my plan, that whether big or small it will be wonderful. Plan on life being wonderful. 


Do what I always do, and do it differently

June 3 -  Instead of jumping in the car, I got on the ElliptiGo and rode to the library and then the food co-op, La Montanita. I’ve never used the Go for transportation before, only for a workout on the bosque trails. Today’s adventure required some courage and faith. Courage to mix it up with the cars and to try something new and to trust that the bike lock would be sufficient. Faith that it’s a good world with good people and all would be well. I knew it was an adventure because I had a bit of excitement and was a tiny bit anxious — and then I felt accomplished afterwards.


the adventure I didn’t want to have

June 4 - This day’s unexpected and really not very welcome adventure was discovering that the hybrid battery on my Prius is dying. 

Would I keep putting in money to repair this car? 

Would I go into debt to buy a replacement? 

What was the wise choice? 

What is the intuitive choice? 

What’s my desire? 

How will I make my decision?


Go someplace new

June 5 - So today I’m buying a car. I had trouble sleeping last night. I’m starting to shift from oh hell no into this is exciting. A new car should be a huge luxury, a wonderful treat, the sweetest of adventures. I’m shifting my focus. I want to be in love with my car. I want to feel grateful and satisfied. I want to believe I deserve nice things. I want to worry less about the debt and just handle it. It’s not the best but it’s not unmanageable. If this is where I’m going, I want to go there solidly.

The plan for today’s adventure, however, originally was not to buy a car. The plan was to run the foothills with a new running friend. 

We started the run at the Michael Emery Trailhead at 7:15 am. The first mile was up and up and up. Laura let me talk and talk and talk. I talked about relationships and my worries, and I talked about buying a car. We were running hard over the trail. An hour later, I had sweat out my grief and worries. It’s too beautiful for worries. It’s too beautiful for how small I am. 

We took the Littles on an adventure: to hunt for ripe mulberries on the bosque. It was hot, and the twins were tired, but they gorged on the purple berries, the juice dripping down their faces so they looked like young tiny vampires. Our hands were stained blue. 

After lunch and a rest, I set out to buy my white 2016 Prius 2. I took her out on a short date and then committed to a long-term relationship. 

I’m pretty wiped out by this day. I should be in bed already but I’m on the couch, re-watching The Martian, a thrilling and funny adventure story about people who are really smart and have lots of courage and heart. We all love a good adventure story, yes? 

BSO one year later

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A year ago at this time, I was preparing for an elective and life-altering surgery. I was, right up until the day before the surgery, certain it was the right choice for me. 

The day before, though, I was seized by the fear that this was not the right choice. I threatened to back out, to cancel the surgery, to keep my ovaries. Were you there? In that Nia class? You all talked me down. You promised to send prayers. 

It worked. From that moment on, I was calm. I had dinner with friends and we laughed and played games. 

I woke early the day of surgery. I went for my last run with all my parts and said my final goodbyes. I thanked my ovaries for all they’d done for me. 

I was calm as the nurse started my IV. I was calm talking with the anesthesiologist, the one who told me that the effects would wear off in hours. (I knew he was wrong, and he was. The short-term memory loss I experienced the next day freaked me out, but it wasn’t unusual and it went away soon after.)

Recovery from surgery is emotionally and physically tough. I didn’t need pain pills. It wasn’t that. My throat hurt from intubation. The anti-nausea medicine made me so dried out, and I stopped them as soon as I could. Turning over in bed hurt. I felt wounded, vulnerable. 

The night before my surgery, my daughter bought me warm, fuzzy jammies, which I wore day and night for the first week of recovery. When I pulled out my winter clothes last month and saw those jammies, I had a feeling of dread. My body and spirit reacted to the memory of what it was like to have been wounded. I had felt so supported after the surgery — and I was, incredibly nurtured and supported by friends and family — yet the sensations of that invasion, the memories of the woundedness — stay with me. I put the PJs in the giveaway bag. 

In the week following the surgery, I experienced a heart-breaking regret. I had hurt my body. I had taken out healthy, functioning organs. In the months that followed, the regret lessened but didn’t dissolve. I began to run again, but I was slower, and I got injured, again. I worried a lot that I didn’t have the testosterone I would need to build muscle. I was old. 

I started experiencing digestion trouble this past summer, and one of the symptoms was feeling bloated and feeling full too easily. This is one of the few symptoms that a woman with ovarian cancer might feel. I realized that if I still had my ovaries, the symptoms would have scared me terribly.  That felt like a win, that I had this intimate experience of knowing that the surgery was doing part of what I’d intended, which was to be free from my fear. 

Then Lisa died. There’s plenty of cancer in my immediate family — breast, lung, thymus, skin — but no ovarian cancer. Lisa was who I knew who had battled (and it is a battle) ovarian cancer. Lisa was funny and warm and caring and smart, but probably what drew me to her was that she, too, is Jewish. That shouldn’t matter much but it made me feel more connected. One reason I chose the surgery is that I knew what Lisa had faced. Another layer of regret about the surgery dissipated when Lisa died. It would be churlish and disrespectful to regret a surgery that could prevent what she’d gone through. 

A month or two after the surgery, a friend asked me how I was doing. What I felt was, eh, I’m okay. I said was, ask me in a year. I had the sense that it would take a full year before I would know. 

Now I know. I feel great. 

I still have a sense of loss. I still remember what it was like to be wounded. How strange it is to be unconscious while others handle us, cut into us. I still remember what it felt like to be so nurtured and cared for. I still remember how spiritually and emotionally lifted I was by that care. 

I still feel some regret. I still feel relief and at peace.

I still feel strong. Maybe I feel even stronger. 

Menopause - not too shabby

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So far, it’s better than I’d feared it might be. Whew.


Fear number one: I’m going to miss having a monthly cycle. I’d liked the rise and fall of emotions. I enjoyed having those few days of easy tears before the bleeding began. I liked knowing where I was in life. Of course, once peri-menopause messed with my regularity, I didn’t enjoy the process as much. 

What I’ve found is that it’s freaking amazing not wondering whether I’m going to bleed. It’s a pain in the ass to be bleeding on a vacation. I hated being at work and, oops, gotta run get my supplies. It’s a delight to know I will always not be bleeding. Really, like, tra la la, I’m free! I hadn’t anticipated that I would enjoy that part so much. 

I’m also still as sentimental and easily emotional as ever, and I love that. When a young student told me about his sister nearing death, tears came to my eyes. That empathy is right there at the surface for me. A few months ago, I’d invited the Agnews for lunch. To prepare, Siobhan was in the kitchen making her wonderful vegan, gluten-free pizza and oh-my-god-amazing chocolate cake. Hugh was helping clean up the kitchen. There is something immensely satisfying for me when we’re together as a family, working on a project, getting ready for guests, whatever we’re doing that’s mundane and joyful. Hugh stopped to put on some music - tapes! he got out some cassette tapes! — and played an old Bruce Hornsby tune, a sad sad song, “Lost Soul.” I began to cry.  I walked to my husband and clung to him, crying. He knows the drill. We’ve done this before. He doesn’t have to ask what’s wrong. He knows he’s just supposed to hold me. I finally came up for air and explained, “That’s a very sad song.” Then we laughed. 

This is what I might expect when my hormones are galloping. But they don’t gallop any more. They don’t thunder through my life. I thought without their strong steady pulse that I wouldn’t be so easily moved. It’s a great joy to be moved to tears by my family being with me. That song is as old as my daughter is, and the passage of time felt sweet and satisfying, not scary at all.

On that beautiful fall day, Hugh and Pete went off with the twins while Diane and I talked. The guys took the twins outside to draw with chalk. Later, back inside, they climbed with the children up the stairs, down the stairs, up the stairs pushing the exercise ball that’s bigger than a 17th month old, down the stairs again. I’m so glad those twins aren’t mine. I’m so glad I’m not in my 30s. I’m so glad I get to be a part of their lives in this way. And how perfect is this timing? That just as my own children have become adults, I have a set of tiny humans to watch grow and help nurture. I get to help nurture the tiny humans’ parents as well. I can no longer create tiny humans and the loss of that is offset by something so perfectly right and perfectly timed: being a part of someone else’s new family. Joy is brighter than loss, and the passing of time acquires sweetness when I focus on the joy.


Fear number two: I’m going to miss my testosterone and estrogen, in that order.

In perimenopause, I already experienced that it seems so much easier to become injured and that I heal less quickly. I’ve already found that I just don’t build muscle the way I used to. 

As I gained weight and my running times slowed, a lot, I began to resign myself to a less athletic future. I knew some people were rocking the weights and still running fast in their 50s and 60s but I didn’t seem able to keep up. 

Then I changed my diet (see this post) and I got young again. Not young young, just actually my real age young. As I lost weight, my running times improved. I ran a faster 5K race at 52 and in menopause than I’d ever run before in my life. Ha ha! That’s a win for the power of our minds to fuel our performance. As I trained, I came up with a new motto: no ovaries, all heart. I run faster now because I push myself more. 

I wonder sometimes if I could be even stronger and faster with the hormones my ovaries would have provided. That’s a really fruitless wondering.


My husband remembers a time, a perfect afternoon when the kids were much younger and the four of us went for a hike in the Sandias. It was both mundane and spectacular, and my husband had a sense that if he’d died right then, it would be okay. He was that full. He had his wife and kids, and he was walking in nature, and everything was right. There was nothing more important than that to accomplish. His life had meaning. 

I had that moment one day this fall. It wasn’t a perfect day or even a particularly special one. I just woke up and knew: I’ve done what I needed to do. This has been a really good ride.

This doesn’t mean I’m not looking forward to the next forty years. I really am. In fact, I’m probably more excited and positive about aging and my future than I’ve ever been. Those first 50 years are hard work. Being a kid can be overwhelming. Then we’re figuring out careers, love, the whole family thing. It’s great, for sure, and constant work. I don’t have the energy I had when I was younger and here’s the secret sauce: I don’t need it. I don’t have so much I need to get done.

I sense opportunity. I sense I can make thoughtful choices about how I want to grow older. I can choose how I want to live in my body. I can choose to be kind. I can choose to be fierce. 



Thinner

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Thin people are allowed to be thin. I am not allowed to be thin. I can possibly be not fat, but never thin. Thin is for other people. Even owning, “I am not fat,” causes alarms to go off in my head. I’m not sure I’m allowed to say that. 

For those of us who decided at some point that we were fat, losing weight feels somewhat unreal, definitely potent, and possibly dangerous. 

Perhaps we feel guilty or even spooked. It’s as if I’ve stolen a gift and I have it undeserved. 

My body feels quite happy at this weight. I feel both solid and light. I do not feel unashamed.

At first, there was that flicker: if I could lose weight now, why couldn’t I have done this before? I really was a terrible person for being fat. Since my weight was under my control the whole time, I was out of control when my weight wasn’t under control. If I’m capable of eating this little, it’s terrible that I haven’t always been capable. (Yes, I know that voice in my head is cruel.)

There’s the fear, too, that when the weight returns, it will feel even worse. That we’ll remember what it was like to be thinner and we’ll know it was possible - so why isn’t it possible still? I can’t possibly be allowed to keep this gift, the gift of living in a body that is just the weight I like. 

A friend who is thin says my body is fit, which is true, and it’s true, really, whether I am this weight or twenty pounds more. I am not slim or thin, but fit. That is the constant reality of my body. That is something worth feeling pride about. 

I feel both delighted and guilty that my pants size has gone down and down again. I’m not trying to be skinny. I want to tell everyone this: I didn’t set out to get thinner. I just was having trouble with food, again, and I changed how I was eating, again, and then this happened, again. 

I like it a lot — like how I look, how I feel. I like the number on the scale and the tag on my pants. I feel I got lots of belly to go around still. My breasts, deflated, are much less full. They were full and ripe, exceptional, and have become the saggy breasts of a woman in menopause. Oh, right. That’s me. I don’t think I’m looking so great naked these days, but I don’t wish for the fullness to return to my breasts. I hold the possibly irrational belief that less fat = healthier breasts, with “healthier” being code for “cancer-free.” I have a not-scientifically-proven hope that finding a cancer is easier when the breasts are less dense. 

I feel guilty that women around me are hitting menopause and feeling their pants grow tighter. That happened with me, too, and I thought it was both inevitable and healthy. Maybe it was, for that time. 

Now I wonder if my body has figured out there are no more babies happening and we don’t need all that luscious body fat. I wonder if it’s easier to be thinner post-menopause for those of us in first world countries where our nutrition is constant, diverse, and superior. I don’t need extra weight in case of famine: my body has never known famine.

Still, I wonder if others eye me with suspicion or derision. I wonder if they think I’m eating disordered (hey, I never said I wasn’t, but weighing more didn’t mean I wasn’t).

My body tells a story, but it’s not the story that somebody else might think it is. 

October 2015


What Moves You On

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You will know your answer to this immediately.

What is a story you have about yourself that you don’t want anymore?

And this.

What story isn’t as true as you’d thought it was?

 

It’s fall. It’s Autumn, and soon the leaves will begin to release from the trees. We’ll see a beautiful, dramatic transformation as the weather cools and the earth responds, as vines turn red, trees become yellow, the bright chamisa fades to a desert dusty brown. 

Are you ready for your own transformation? What story can fall away? What skin will you shed?

Everything’s temporary. Your old story, your new story, all temporary. 

 

I had multiple stories about my menopause. As I gained weight, I believed: Weight gain in menopause for me was inevitable, even necessary.  In all parts of my life, I felt less motivation, less drive.  At 52, I felt old. I thought that I was just going to feel a whole heckuva lot older in menopause. Truthfully, I was resigned though bummed out.  

Then I had the good fortune of getting sick. Sick isn’t the right word, actually. It was more like progressively unwell. I was achy and slow, and the slowness manifested most profoundly in my digestion. Even after I'd eliminated extra sugars from my diet, I sensed I still had to make some big changes to heal my gut.

So here’s what I did. I tried an experimental diet called FODMAPS (see what Marc David of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating says about experimental diets, healing diets, and maintenance diets in this wonderful post about 3 Levels of Diet).

I also prioritized sleep by improving my getting-ready-to-go-to-sleep habits (so far, the actual sleeping part is kind of a Fail; I'm still working hard on this one). I began journaling, once in the morning and once in the evening. I listen to a wonderful healing meditation soundtrack. 

This experience of healing my gut isn’t about healing my gut. It’s about healing me —body and mind and emotions and spirit. 

Good nutrition heals us, according to Yasmina Ykelenstam who blogs about histamine intolerance. Consider this: there isn’t any one food that harms or heals us. There isn’t any one diet that’s good for all of us at all stages of our lives. As our lives change and our bodies change, our nutritional needs, limitations, and desires will change. 

Overall, I have been eating fewer things and smaller portions. Some of my habits of eating have changed. My blood sugar has steadied. Something marvelous happened then: I felt real hunger again. When I feel hungry, I feel just hungry, not that urgent need or emotional desperation along with the physical hunger. I feel hungry, I eat, and then I stop. 

This is an incredibly sweet experience for me. I have longed to feel hunger as its self and not as a threat. I like experiencing hunger and then eating just enough to be sated. I am not sure I can convey here the enormity of this most mundane thing. As someone whose eating has long been disordered, I have struggled to listen to the needs and desires of my body and respond lovingly. I am having a most profound respite - perhaps this is a change of habit and way of being, or perhaps this, too, is temporary -- in which hunger is my friend. Hunger is my ally, and we work together. 

Within a week of beginning this experimental diet, another truly beautiful thing happened.  My achiness went away. My achilles felt better than it has in years. I stopped feeling old. 

I dropped my menopause pounds. I increased the intensity and frequency of my workouts, and that feels fantastic — fun, energizing, natural, just the right amount. I am not sure I have all the drive and motivation that I used to have, and, you know, that feels good, too. It feels like a natural, happy shift. I don’t need to be who I was pre-menopause. I do need to feel vital. 

I recognize this season as a peak time for me. I'm coming out of a very nurturing time, the summer, and I feel strong and happy. This, too, is temporary. Autumn's beauty will fade and be replaced by a starker, colder landscape. The Farmers' Markets will close. I know that as winter approaches, my mood and strengths shift. Then again, just because that's how previous winters have been for me, perhaps that, too, is a story that will change for me. It's all temporary -- my stories, my successes, my struggles. 

What is unchanging is whatever I learn as I experiment and explore. My weight goes up and down. My mood goes up and down. I fall in and out of my best habits and practices. It's temporary, but not meaningless.

As I have shifted to a way of living that makes my gut happy, I’m inviting myself to look forward with more hope and excitement. Who will I be in menopause? How will I live as I manage this transition? What is possible for me now? What’s good and wonderful and juicy about being in menopause? 

What's your story this Autumn? What lets go, and what moves you on?

In my own sweet time

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I want to talk about reflection, intention, and natural time. 


Last month, I wrote a post in which I described an unhappy eating routine: I was eating late at night and not liking how that felt. The habit felt super satisfying, and I wasn’t ready to give it up. 

This is what in Nia we call Natural Time. It means that we are letting things happen in the time they need to happen instead of in mechanical (clock and calendar) time. I knew that my eating habits were not as healthful as I wanted them to be, and I just couldn’t muster the energy to shift them. It wasn’t time. 

But I’d planted the seed. Just by being being aware and writing about it, I’d set the intention: this was something I wanted to shift. 

Then in the last few weeks of July, my late eating stopped being satisfying. I wasn’t enjoying what I was eating. I felt full all the time. 

I felt cranky, creaky, and old. 


So I set a date, August 2nd, and started a new habit: no eating after dinner. Along with that, I decided to cut out sweeteners of all kinds. 

Instead of the artificially-sweetened electrolyte drink that I was enjoying after a run, I started drinking lemon water. New habit. 

Those of you who get and read my Better and Bolder posts know that I’d talked about the beauty of drinking lemon water (squeeze half a lemon into water) first thing in the morning. I did it for a week, but didn’t love it.  Instead, I start my day with a big glass of water with Herbs Etc ChlorOxygen Chlorophyll concentrate. Does it work? Is it helpful? It’s supposed to build red blood cells and be energizing. I am totally down with the placebo effect if that’s all that’s going on. This is an entrenched habit, one I’ve followed for years, and it gets me to drink a big glass of water first thing. Great habit! 

Changing my great, entrenched habit to a new one — lemon water — wasn’t effective. But adding lemon water somewhere else — after a sweaty workout — works beautifully. I wasn’t ready to do this months ago when I wrote about lemon water (natural time), but the awareness was set up then. I was ready for it when the time and situation was right. 


We expect a lot out of ourselves — eat right, exercise well, be kind to animals, change the world. Some days, all we’ve got is managing not to yell at anyone and to make it to bedtime without catastrophe. Sometimes, that’s all we’ve got. 

That doesn’t mean that more isn’t happening, though. We may be reading or hearing about something and thinking: yes, that’s something I want for myself. We may be aware that we need a change and not quite ready yet to make it happen, but the awareness and the desire prepare the ground for that work. 


Not eating any sweeteners is a big deal for me. I love sweet. If I’d pushed myself to give up sweeteners when I wasn’t absolutely ready, I might have experienced longing and sadness and anger.

Instead, I’m experiencing joy. My vegetables taste much sweeter, and I’m enjoying my meals more overall. That’s the point anyway, isn’t it? To enjoy our food and to eat what truly, deeply, wholly nurtures us. 

I have one exception to my no sugar policy, which is a teaspoon of rice syrup dissolved in hot lemon water, and that, too, now seems sweet enough. I’ve gone from eating two huge apples a day to one small one or even half of one. I need less sweet to register the sweetness and to be satisfied. 

When I’m eating food with sugar (that’s all kinds, by the way, maple syrup, honey, coconut sugar, cane sugar, whatever), the urge to eat feels urgent, overwhelming, desperate, headache-inducing. A benefit of eating less sugar is that the cravings diminish. 


Here’s another huge benefit that I didn’t expect at all. Sugar and processed foods are inflammatory. I figured, well, I don’t eat that much so I’m okay. I was not okay. Once I gave up the sugars, the creakiness and aches after working out decreased, probably by more than 50%. It’s like I’d taken a miracle drug, only this drug was called No Mo Sugar. 

Let’s remember that every body is different. My 52 year old body on sweeteners is not the total picture and doesn’t describe what would happen for everyone. That said, there’s compelling research that an anti-inflammatory diet and lifestyle leads to aging well and living long. You may not eat much sugar, and you also may not know how much sugar you eat. You may not know how you might feel if you went from whatever you’re eating to none unless you’ve tried it. 


One of the most difficult habits I gave up when I gave up sweeteners was chewing gum. I’m used to having something sweet often. I’m used to having something in my mouth often. I’m used to the instant gratification of putting something in my mouth as soon as I felt the desire for it. I have craved gum more often than brownies in the past two weeks.

The sensation of craving something is unpleasant for me, and I want to fix it. The sensations of being hungry and tired are upsetting to me. I want to fix them, and food is an excellent fix. I don’t want to be with this unhappiness and these unpleasant sensations. Yet that’s just what I’ve been training myself to do in the past two weeks. 

When I feel tired, instead of reaching for food to rev me up, I — wait for it — rest. Being hungry and tired feels unpleasant, and instead of rushing to change those states, I just hang out with them. This is not easy for me. This is a challenge. I remind myself that I’m just hungry and tired, which is not so terrible. When it’s time for a meal, I eat. If I really need a snack and I can tell that food will fuel me for whatever activities will follow, I eat the snack. But if I’m bored or tired, I see if I can just wait for the next meal. 


I have on multiple occasions as an adult banished sugar from my life. Knowing that it’s inflammatory and that I’ll live longer does not affect me at all. Knowing that it’s inflammatory and noticing that I ache far less and can do the things that I love with more ease motivates me greatly. What motivates you?

I make no claims that eating daily without added sugars is my new and permanent way of life. Sugar is delectable and seductive. It is physically and emotionally satisfying. It’s very easy for me to eat just one bite of something and two months later realize that I’ve returned to eating sweetened foods every day. I’ll eat more, larger, sweeter apples to satisfy my sweet tooth, which in the end increases that jonesing for sweet things. 

My claim here is that I increased my awareness and set my intention well before I was able to put new habits in action and let go of the less desirable habits. My claim here is that change is possible, and beware that it may come in its own sweet time. 

I feel very happy to be enjoying what I’m eating and how I’m eating. That’s my prayer. That whenever or however I lose that, as inevitably seems to happen with me, that I can find it again in my own way and time.