Dorm Boots, Physical Hobbies and Sedentary Hobbies

As a reward to myself for getting up at five in the damn morning to get my long-neglected swim in, I decided to blow off housework to knit, finishing these little slippers, called Dorm Boots. They seem to have originated from an old pattern in the early part of the Twentieth century, they developed and updated over the years. I’ve seen variations that were knitted flat (I freely admit I found the pattern too confusing) to the variation you see here, which was knitted in the round.

I made them out of some scrap yarn I had left over from my latest shawl. Like the shawl, these things make me absurdly happy.

They’re very easy. All you need to know is how to knit in the round, decrease left and right, purl and sew up a seam. The bottom of the slipper is actually knit open, and you sew it up at the end. If you want the pattern, click on the image. It’s free, and quite useful.

I was questioning the garter stitch at the soles, but I think I get the point. You really do want a little texture on them. I’ve walked across the tile floor in my kitchen and the texture, even with acrylic yarn, is enough to reduce the chance of slipping.

For people who want comfy house-socks that are warmer than the thin ones you wear under your shoes, but don’t really want to commit to a heavy slipper, this is a good intermediary. I would also consider them good bed shoes for people who wanted to wear socks to bed.

I made them out of acrylic, and I think I would only want to make them out of an easily washable yarn, unless I were to make the deliberate oversized to felt on purpose. I’m tempted to try that, as I have some heavy brown Fisherman’s Wool left over that would make a warm slipper, indeed.

Ah yes, getting the swim in.

I’d been neglecting working out for some time, and was spurred back into a proper routine by a couple of things. First, I threw out my back. I have never in my life had back trouble before. It’s awful and painful and if you’ve been through it, I don’t have to tell you anything. If you haven’t? It sucks. It was from sitting in a bad chair and not working out. I fixed the chair while my back healed well enough to move without much pain, then I got back in the pool. I’d always had a strong back, so that was a bit of a shocker.

The other was a comment my son made while he was visiting for Thanksgiving. My parents had sent up with him a box of memorabilia from my childhood. In it were a few swim team ribbons (I never got better than second place, and I’d been on the swim team for longer than I’d remembered!), a bunch of pictures of me on various soccer teams and several Karate (Isshin-Ryu) certificates. He commented that he did not know that I was an athlete when I was a kid.

That brought me up short.

I don’t think of myself as an athlete or even a former athlete. Yes, I know. If you train to swim two miles in open water, you’re an athlete. All I can say is that I don’t think of myself that way. I didn’t think of myself as an athlete as a child, either. I was always gently encouraged to have some physical activity to engage in most of the time and I liked swimming and dance and soccer and Karate. But I was never a star at any of them. I did it because they were fun, and stopped when they stopped being fun.

But I never really could get into exercise for the sake of exercise, even though, yes I need to move or my body breaks down! Taking a walk? Well, it’s nice as a way to socialize with someone, or while listening to a book or something, but I don’t love it for the activity itself. Running? Running is for people who can’t swim. Exercise classes? *shudder* Not unless they’re highly skill-based, and in that case, I’m into it because I’m learning the skill. Weights? Okay, ya got me. I get a kick out of lifting heavy stuff.

But while I know that I do need to make sure to move my body regularly to counteract my sedentary profession and other hobbies (knitting ain’t exactly active, is it?) I always need a physical hobby to make sure that I’m active enough. And that’s the thing. I see myself as having a physical hobby – not as an athlete.

Creation and Re-Creation

Yet another 750 Words.

I have this challenge going with myself in terms of daily practice. I’m trying to write 750 words a day every day for a year. I may or may not wind up doing it, but I figure if I fail, I will still have regularly and consistently practiced my writing more than if I had not set this little goal for myself. So, there’s no real down-side to it.

However, a year is way the heck too much to face. I’m breaking it down month by month, and the site I use to track my words makes it very easy with monthly challenges. Each month you can sign up or not for it. If you do it, you get your name on the Wall of Awesomeness. If you fail, you have your name put on the Wall of Shame.

My name has been on both walls before 🙂

As an additional little spur, when you sign up, you can set a reward and a punishment for it. Mine for this month:

•    If I succeed, I will… treat myself to a new bathing suit

•    If I miss a day or more, I will… swim 4000 yards in one session.

In retrospect the failure one is a little dumb. My next Really Long Swim is probably going to be 4,000 yards whether I succeed in writing every day this month or not. And the reward is also kinda silly. I own one good workout bathing suit and I really should own two — just to switch out between workouts and make them last longer, ya know.

I am very happy with how I spent yesterday evening. I spent about an hour knitting. It was wonderful.

So, all this doing, doing, and doing I’m doing. Goodness me, why is this such a big deal?

I think it is at least in part because I’ve become more keenly aware that I am not immortal. For all that I take pleasure in video games, I’d rather leave behind a sweater and written material than I would hours of playing a video game.

It’s not that I think pleasure doesn’t count or have its place. I do. My general make-up is probably more pleasure seeking than most (You guys do realize I swim because it’s one of the few exercises I find fun, yes?) and I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad thing. But I think that, for me at least, when the pleasure intersects with the productive, it seems like a better way to spend a limited life.

Productive is a funny thing, though. Think of the term “recreation.” You break down that term and it’s re-creation. You’re re-creating something (probably your physical and emotional center) and if you don’t do that, you’re not maintaining your SELF very well.

In thinking about it, I wonder if “fun” is even a good term for when I am actually joyfully in the moment. I find those moments when I am teaching a class, or writing a piece, or when I get a new client as much as when I am knitting a sweater, swimming or sitting on the deck of a cruise ship watching the sun come up.

And except for when I am sitting on my butt staring out over big water (something I do love to do immensely) most of what I’m talking about is less about re-creating than about creating. I’m sure if I were a fictional character, that my fondness for creating and my pleasure in sunrises would be some sort of metaphor the author would use to indicate character traits.

Speaking of doing and creating, I have a busy day today. Need to get all dressed up to see a client, do some shopping, and write some articles for another blog I do. But, of course, I need to get in those seven hundred fifty words, and I’m still about a hundred words short.

Word count, I think, might be great for getting you to sit your butt down and write substantial work, but I also think that trying to hit word count can make you write a fair amount of drivel as well. Then again, the drivel can be edited out, and you can’t edit unwritten words. So writing volume has to count as well. Right?

How do you re-create? Does it involve creating something? Or does re-creation for you require stillness? I expect my frantic need to be doing and making would be the despair of a Zen master!

Another Jelly Bean

This is totally going to be a rambling piece to get my words in.

I was reading an interesting article about training for an event. The metaphor the author use was a jelly bean and a jar. Each workout, each training session, no matter how good, bad, short, long, successful or not, was one jelly bean. The idea was that to be prepared to participate in an event, you needed to put a certain number of jelly beans in the jar.

I am definitely doing that swimming. Sure, sure, I have my epic swims like last weekend, and oh my word was it fun, but the more usual swim is the 5:30 am one where the most exciting thing I can say was that it was done. And that’s cool.

I think it also applies to other endeavors. We love flow when we are working on something we enjoy or want to improve, yes. We love to get into that zone where the words are flowing, or the sculpture we’re creating just soars. And those moments are wonderful and godlike. But unless we come to the practice of what we are doing often enough to fill our jelly bean jars, we’re not going to invite flow, nor are we going to improve.

It comes to me very strongly as I am writing these words. Honestly, I had intended to write some drivel about housework, my swimming and how I love my new coffee maker. And I was going to be a little contemptuous of it.

My practice of writing a certain amount each day as a free-write is no more worthy of contempt, though, than any swim I do, no matter how clumsy or awkward I feel as I am doing it. Both are a jelly bean in the jar — another practice session that needs to be done that not only helps to refine technique or skill, but also is another opportunity to invite flow.

So, as I am doing this free-write, I am now stuck for more to fill in those words. I hate running out of gas or running out of an idea before I hit those seven hundred fifty words, and yet it does happen a lot.

What I want to write and want to do is fill in this space with something really profound and interesting. It suits the vanity better. It’s hard to remember that to keep writing has a value in and of itself. Just like keeping swimming does when I am working out.

I think we get the idea that working out is like a Rocky or Karate Kid training montage. Those movies are fun, exciting and even inspiring, which is cool. They’re also misleading about what daily practice, the really IMPORTANT stuff, looks like. That jelly bean in the jar might very well be licorice, just saying. But it’s a jelly bean nonetheless and it takes up its proper space in the jar just as well as the orange. (Yeah, I like the citrus-flavored jelly beans best. You got me)

I’m slowly learning that dailyness might not look brilliant in the experience, but it is that very dailyness of effort or creation that does make for a body of work that looks awfully impressive when taken over time.

*grin* My husband and I are watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy this week. One of the things we sometimes do is joke during walking sequences about how it reminds us of a Dexter’s Laboratory cartoon where the ditzy sister DeeDee is the Dungeonmaster and is constantly telling the characters, “We’re walking; we’re walking; we’re walking.”

And yet, that’s exactly how Frodo got to Mount Doom. Walking, walking, walking. Walking, step by step, not always making brilliant progress, but always making at least some, and never stopping. Each day brought the Ring closer to its destruction, even though the process was hardly glorious or exciting.

And that’s something I like about what I’m doing. No, my days are not gloriously impressive. That’s not the point. The point is to keep going. The point is to make some progress, even a little. Because each time one makes progress, it’s another jelly bean for the jar.

I’m halfway tempted to buy a jar and each time I do a swim, put a jelly bean in it. *Grin* then I’ll EAT those jelly beans as part of my feeds for a long swim. Swimmers eat jelly-like candy on long swims all the time, so it would be appropriate.

The idea is oddly appealing and happy.

Swimming and Snowballing

Me: I think it’s time for me to write a blog post.
The Prince: I guess it’s going to be about swimming.
Me: What in the world makes you think that?

Yes, it’s going to be about swimming. And it’s going to be about how things can snowball.

So, I’d had this Life-Eating Project for about a year, and I’d been quite ill for a few months before that. Between the two, I had not exercised much in about eighteen months. Once the LEP was over, and I took care of important family business (like getting my son off to college), I decided I needed to get a little more active.

Now my husband and I love to walk, and when it’s nice, we do. We also live in Northern New England where the weather is often not very nice. And, we can be good at finding excuses not to work out after a long day. But both of us are good at morning exercise, and what with our empty nest stuff going on, we decided that we’d start going to a local gym — him to do whatever weird people who like ellipticals and stuff do, and me to get in the pool like anyone who has good sense.

As I started swimming (my usual swim being about 900 yards because I was out of shape), I made a crack to my husband about swimming from Alcatraz. He really wants to take a trip to San Francisco, so in an effort to get me interested, he commented, “Okay, let’s do it in 2016!” (Our travel money for 2015 is kinda already committed to other trips).

I said yes. Then I realized that while it might only be a mile an a half from Alcatraz Island to Aquatic Park, I might want to do some research to find out what might make this a little bit of a challenging swim.

Remember, this started out as training for a mile and a half open water swim two years hence. This gets important later.

So I start reading. I read about tides and currents and cold water and hypothermia and the cold water goddess Lynne Cox. Then I start reading blogs of other open water swimmers and I discover that marathon swimming is actually a sport. In fact, and this is the cool part, it’s a sport you don’t have to get skinny to do.


Then I get to thinking that I need something to keep me committed for the interim (two years is a long time to hold interest for what is a somewhat modest goal) and I signed up to swim the Boston Sharkfest. I signed up to do it without a wetsuit mostly because finding one I could afford in my size ainta happenin’. So fine, I’ll learn cold water.

The recommendation is that you can swim a mile in 40 minutes. My best time on a mile is about 48:30, and when I started it was more like 56:00. So, speed goal. Yes, I’ll get there in time for the swim.

In looking for open water advice, I also signed on to a marathon swimmer’s board, and found myself interested in some open water swims about an hour and a half north of me. So, in another fit of insanity, and also to keep my training interest, I signed up for one of the shorter swims — a two miler.

One of the people on the board recommended that I try at some point this winter to swim that two miles in a pool to see if I could do it. My training schedule is such that I tend to do my “long” swim on a weekend morning. And it was only 2000 yards. A mile is 1740, so I tend to mentally tag 1800 yards as a mile for my pool training purposes. So we’re looking at a little under twice the distance I have ever swum in my life.

Figuring this morning would be a good time, I decided to make the attempt. I had a standard swimmer breakfast of a big ole bowl of oatmeal (with apples, ’cause that’s what I like) and a mug of coffee because I am a caffeine addict.

When I got in the pool, I was questioning the wisdom of this. I mean, I normally do my swim before breakfast, so I’m not used to swimming with anything in my stomach. (Not to mention the fact that my normal breakfast is bacon and eggs, so not as carb heavy as what I’d had this morning) I felt weighed down and sluggish for the first 300 yards or so, wondering if I was even going to be able to do my normal swim.

After that, I guess my body was pulling on that oatmeal for fuel because I felt better and was just cruising along. I had to share a lane for about half an hour, but after that, had a whole lane to myself. I love having a lane to myself.

After an hour, at about 2100 yards, it hit me. Holy mackerel, I can do this! I’ve got it in me, and I’m not too tired. (And holy mackerel, am I hungry!)

At 3000 yards, I had to have a chat with my left calf. It started cramping up on me.

CALF: Hey, slow down! (CRAMP)
ME: Not a chance. Former ballerina, remember? (FLEX) I am taking no shit from YOU.

So, with my left foot as a sea anchor for a bit, I swam on, then switched to breast stroke to give my pointed feet a change.

At 3200 yards, I started feeling sad. I didn’t want the swim to be over. My shoulders then informed me they were going to hunt down and torture my ego if I did not stop when I’d completed my planned yardage. So, I did.

At 3600, I stopped. I felt good.

I didn’t feel so good for a minute when I got out of the pool, though. both calves decided to cramp at once. While I’m sure the pool did not need to be treated to the sight of my rear end while I stretched that out, I didn’t want to be hobbling to the showers. Being a former dancer, I do know how to deal with calf cramps, and so I took care of it immediately.

I’m still a little wistful that the swim is over. I think…Yeah, I think that while I’ll still be doing Alcatraz in the summer of 2016, it may not be my biggest swim.

New Year's Musings

It’s a new year. I thought about New Year’s resolutions and really the only one I could come up with was to develop the habit of hanging up my swim towel and bathing suit immediately upon returning home after my workout.

But I like that resolution. You see, the resolution presumes that I’m going to be swimming, after all — a habit I’ve developed pretty solidly since the middle of last August or so.

I’ve been looking at my progress. It’s been so-so. I’ve dropped my average mile time down about eight minutes. That’s cool and all, but I need to drop it down another eight before some swims I intend to do this summer.

So, yeah, coaching. I’m lousy at accepting coaching, but in the Rule One* category, I really need to. Open water swimming can be dangerous. The “can be” moves to “is” if you don’t follow Rule One. And that’s going to mean coaching.

I’m eyeing the idea of developing a tolerance for colder water with a bit of despair. I hate cold, and I train in a pool that runs between 78 and 80 degrees. While I’m completely happy to put this off until about May or so, I’m going to have to get in the water then and start building up a tolerance. I signed up for the Sharkfest in the non-wetsuit category.

I did not do this out of any real macho sense. I did it because I’m five-two, and even if my diet goes well, will be weighing over 200 lbs by my swimming events. They simply do not make wetsuits in my size. Sure, sure, they make them for large people, but they make them for people whose size is at least in part due to height. For someone as short as me? Not so much, and certainly not for a price that won’t make me curl into a little ball sucking my thumb. Women my size are not often athletes. It happens, yes, but we’re not typical.

And yeah, I’ve got some pipe dream ideas about swims I’d like to do. But the only way to make a pipe dream a reality is to take daily incremental steps. One of those steps is most certainly developing cold tolerance.

I’ve been reading Loneswimmer a lot because he seems to obey Rule One (except for his habit of swimming alone 😉 ) and has written some detailed material on the biology of cold reaction and hypothermia. I suppose living in Northern New England near a really great hospital might come in handy. One would think they’re moderately expert in dealing with hypothermia.

There are other things I will be doing this year. Not so much resolutions, but things I need to do more, or do less. One of them is simply to create more. I need to knit more, write more blog posts, and sew more. Not want to. Need to. I do think the measure of a life revolves around what one creates. I don’t necessarily mean objects, mind. It could be a home, a family, a piece of software, a community or an idea. But I do think as humans what we do that matters most is in what we create. So much so that if I spend more time consuming than creating, I feel badly both mentally and spiritually.

It’s probably why I rather like cosplayers, the SCA, indie gamers, little bloggers, and all of that. It might be a little hobby, but it’s creating!

So what am I creating as a swimmer? A stronger, healthier body? Yeah. And it’s why I got into it. But to be honest, I keep up with it because I like it, and I’m happy when I am doing it. Probably I need something in my life where I turn off the information input flow and just BE for a bit.

*grin* And if you argue that means that turning off and not creating for a while is important, I’ll point out that most of the ideas for this article came to me while I was face down staring at that black line. I don’t listen to music or anything like that when I swim. I let my mind roam, poke at problems, and use my time in the pool to think. (When I am not trying to do a certain amount of math to quantify my workout, that is!)

Do you have any New Year’s resolutions? If you do, are they guided by a principle in your life? If so, what are they?

* Do not be a fu^h^h^h fornicating idiot.

I Love it When a Plan Comes Together

I was checking out my swim times today. I had sworn I wasn’t going to be doing this, and that just getting in the half hour a day would be dandy.

And then I thought, “Hey, wouldn’t it be cool to swim from Alcatraz Island to shore? It’s only a mile and a half, why not?”

It isn’t that insane of a swim. People do it all the time. There’s even a triathlon based around it.

But for me, it might be a bit of a challenge. The recommendation is that you should be able to swim a mile in 40 minutes comfortably in the pool before you attempt the swim. This makes sense. Tides are very strong, and you need to be a very strong swimmer to cope.

This morning I swam .68 of a mile in 37:36. That puts me at about a mile in 55:18.

Friends, I have to shave over fifteen minutes off my time before that Alcatraz swim is anything but a really dangerous pipe dream.

Thing is, getting to be able to swim faster isn’t all of it. I need to get a wetsuit, and then train for distance in 55-60F water. Yes, people do the swim without wetsuits sometimes. I’m not all that interested in becoming the next Lynne Cox and am wimping out on the fun of conditioning myself to cold water swimming without one.

Thing is, that does add to the training. First I need to get strong enough in my comfortable 78F pool, then I need to train for the actual conditions of the swim.

I am not an open water swimmer by any means. Not because of any real limitation, but simply from lack of training. So, I am going to be spending the next winter getting my speed up on my workouts, then will be spending the year after that training for cold water, and open water.

Seems kinda goofy to spend two years training for a mile and a half swim, but I’ve spent my entire life in and about the water. I knew before I was potty trained that the beautiful, wonderful pool out there past the sand was a LOT stronger than I am, and that you had to respect it. Not hyperbole. I was sitting in my grandmother’s lap as a toddler on the shore when an unexpected wave knocked us rolling. Fortunately my grandmother was comfortable in the water and made it an adventure rather than something scary. A lifetime of incidents large and small have given me a deep respect for water.

While I’m spending this year getting my swimming up to scratch, I am also going to be studying open water swimming in general, what people do to prepare and trying to find a team of people to work with — probably a local swim coach, if I can find someone with some open water experience. I’ve already Lynne Cox’s book on open water swimming and it has some good stuff in it. I’m glad I have read it so early into my toying with the idea of an Alcatraz swim. I figured that all it would take would be to get into shape and some conversations with some locals. While it’s not going to take the preparation an English Channel swim would take, I’m still going to need to do more research than I thought.

Could I dive in and swim a mile and a half in open water to save my life? Probably. Do I want to create an unnecessary emergency situation? God no!

And it’s entirely possible that when it comes down to it, I lose interest in swimming in the SF Bay. It could happen. I could chicken out, or decide I want to spend money on something else (this isn’t going to be cheap, even though my husband is thrilled at the idea of going out to San Francisco in the next couple of years), or any of a number of things.

But at this stage? I can see no down side at all to training for this. So I spend a lot of time trying to swim faster. This isn’t going to hurt me, or have any real negative price. So even if it turns out to be a pipe dream, I do benefit from chasing it at least a little.

I think in general, that’s what this kind of crazy stuff is for. It gets you up and moving even if it doesn’t work out.

Exercise and Acceptance

I had a woman approach me yesterday in the gym asking when the hours for swimming were going to change so that people could get in the pool early in the morning.  I blinked at her, kind of confused and said that she could do so every morning.

She said, “The schedule says Lap Swim.  I don’t swim laps, I do water exercises.”

I explained that she’s quite free to grab a lane and work out in the water if that suits her fancy. She may have to share a lane if the pool is busy, but no-one’s gonna care if she swims laps, aquajogs or whatever.  We have everything from competitive swimmers with tons of gear and a workout printout in a sealed plastic bag to people who have to use a cane get down the ramp into the water and do aqua workouts with a belt to keep them floating in the deep end.

I love seeing that.  Working out isn’t just for the athletes.  Bodies need to move, but not all bodies can move in the same way.  I like the fact that the range is accepted and that no-one is made to feel as if they shouldn’t be there unless they’re training for a triathlon or something.