Tag Archives: Exercise

Travel Tuesday: Modest canyon northwest of Austin beckons birds, hikers

Sometimes, the best sightseeing is right in your back yard.

If not literally, practically in the back yard.

My Beloved and I discovered a hidden gem only six miles away from our Texas condo. It took us more than a year to spend some time there, and really, it is too bad, especially considering it’s an outdoor venue that is particularly alluring in a pandemic.

The gem is the Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge, about 45 minutes northwest of Austin and Lake Travis. Imagine the Grand Canyon on a much smaller scale. The comparison is apt because at one time, some version of the Colorado River probably ran through it. In practice, it means you can enjoy the place without all the crowds. And admission is free.

The promotional literature brags up this place for birders. The rugged terrain has spared old Ashe juniper and oak woodlands from logging and shelters some of the best golden-cheeked warbler habitat. Elsewhere in the 27,500-acre park, the open country supports another songbird, the black-capped vireo. Both songbirds are endangered, and the refuge is critical in preserving and restoring their homes. Because of its importance to the birds, this refuge has been officially designated a Globally Important Bird Area.

But I didn’t even notice the birds—it’s a great place to take a quiet walk. Mostly flat, it’s fairly easy to traverse, but there is enough elevation changes to make things interesting. At high points, one can see all the way to Lake Travis and beyond.

Layers of limestone, up to 1,000 feet thick in some places, underlie the refuge. In Spanish, “balcones” mean balconies and is a reference to the limestone terraces clearly visible in many part of the refuge. In some places, huge boulders litter the terrain.

Indian paintbrush flowers, also known as prairie fire, lend drama to the scene.

We hiked through the refuge in spring. As elsewhere this time of year, wildflowers can be found here, too.

There are three trailheads in the park: Doeskin Ranch, Warbler Vista and Headquarters. My Beloved and I traipsed around Warbler Vista, intending to walk a trail for 45 minutes or so. We took a few wrong turns (more our fault than poor signage) and finished our walk two hours after beginning. Oh, well. The detour was pleasant, through mostly shaded forest. The most dramatic part of our hike was through Quarry Canyon. This was like walking around a Grand Canyon in miniature. It’s not shaded though; prepare accordingly if you’re taking on this hike during a Texas summer. The refuge recommends you wear comfortable walking shoes or hiking boots, bring water and carry along protection from the heat or cold (the refuge is open 365 days a year sunrise to sunset). Birders should bring binoculars, and dogs are not permitted.

When you come to a fork in the road, take it

An enterprising rock sculptor is at work on the walking paths around my Texas residence.

I described this interesting two-foot-tall rock formation to my mother, and she explained, “That’s an inuksuk!”

Well, you learn something new every day.

And then my dad chimed in, and he said, “It’s a cairn.”

Why, yes, it’s that, too.

An inuksuk is a manmade stone landmark, or cairn, for use by the Inuit and other peoples of the Arctic region of North America. A cairn is a man-made pile or stack of stones; the word cairn comes from the Scottish Gaelic.

Inuksuit (plural for inuksuk) and cairns are often used to mark boundaries or paths.

The creator here in my housing development is not some kid playing with rocks. Well, he might be a kid, but he understands the meaning behind the formations because they are built in forks in the road, as if to draw attention to the traveler’s choice.

When I brought my Beloved down the path on another day, I found another, smaller inuksuk near the first one I found.

On another path, I found an enormous formation built on a stone wall, at sort of a T in the path.

I rarely meet anyone on these paths. It’s odd to think someone took a few minutes or more to find and balance the rocks, and yet I see them only in my own isolation. It is a strange but special communion.

These works of art or navigation are a bit ephemeral. A few days after I brought my Beloved down the first path, the smaller inuksuk was just a pile of rubble. All evidence of its existence was gone (except my photo).

Speaking of ephemeral, how about a beautiful sunrise. I snapped this picture off my deck. If I were a better photographer, I would have a picture of the sunrise behind an inuksuk (alas, I am not that photographer). Given the deep freeze most of America is experiencing (even here, in Texas!), I think a warm picture of the sun might be the balm we all need.

“Impermanence is a principle of harmony. When we don’t struggle against, we are in harmony with reality.”

~ Pema Chodron, American Tibetan Buddhist

I bow to you

My namaste view.

On my way to yoga practice this morning, three deer bounded across the road in front of me. While saluting the sun, a couple of fish put on a show of jumping out of the water. Their wings spread wide, a couple of turkey vultures soared above us yogis.

I spent an hour this morning doing yoga on the beach and admiring the fauna. (I also flicked a couple of wormy worms off my yoga mat, which might be considered more contempt than admiration, but let’s not focus on them.)

Any exercise outdoors can be beneficial, but for me, outdoor yoga in particular is rewarding. We begin by sitting still and breathing. This grounds me in any locale, and when I am sitting on actual ground and breathing fresh air, it’s even better.

And a beach as a location for just about anything can’t be beat. A lot of people imagine a beach as their happy place. Sand, soft and solid at the same time. Waves lapping on the shore. Unremitting sunshine. Maybe a little breeze. A beach offers all four elementsearth, water, fire, airour yoga meditation this morning had us meditating on our gratitude for these elements. It was refreshing, even more cleansing than a good shower. For an hour, I wasn’t thinking about work or grocery lists or housekeeping to-do lists. I was thinking about the bigger picture of the earth and my small place in it. A awesome place to begin thinking about gratitude on the day before Thanksgiving.

The beach upon which I pondered my place in the universe is on Lake Travis, near Austin, Texas. Most of this man-made lake is rimmed with rocks, nearly impossible to traverse. But the water level is unusually low, revealing this bit of sandy shore.

A drought causing low water is bad news. But I found a shred of beauty, even in the bad situation.

This pandemic may be like that. Maybe you’re celebrating Thanksgiving in an odd way because of COVID-19. It’s not usual or maybe not welcome. But maybe there’s a bit of beauty to be found.

Never skimp on roses.

When I returned to my home after yoga, there was a knock on the door. I flung it open, and there stood a masked deliveryman holding a colorful Thanksgiving bouquet, a gift to myself to decorate my holiday table even if it won’t be decorated with some of my favorite family members.

I am wishing you a moment of peace to find reasons to be grateful before the big holiday. May you find beauty and grace.

An affirmative practice


This is not me. But she looks pretty flexible, right?

Yoga … yes.

Lots of people say “I should do yoga.”

Yes, you should.

After a friend on Facebook wrote about accomplishing 90 yoga workouts in 90 days, I said, “I should do yoga.” I wasn’t up for the equivalent of a workout a day, but I hadn’t been doing much of anything physical since we’d moved into our renovated home and I was feeling the effects: Weak, inflexible, prone to hurting myself just by putting my heavy purse in the back seat of the car.

So in December, I signed up for a hot yoga class and committed to doing three yoga workouts a week.

In the past six months, I reaped all the rewards you read about consistent yoga practice: I’m stronger, I’m more flexible, I sleep better and I’m less cranky. Last week, I visited my local yoga studio five times in one week, and I’m patting myself on the back for it (because I’m so much more flexible, see, I can pat my own back). The key word in yoga practice is practice. I can’t do every pose and I still lose my balance frequently, and I lose track of my breath, and roll my eyes when my yogi asks me to do something challenging. But I keep practicing. And some days, my body cooperates.

I had done a yoga workout here and there in the past but never hot yoga. Hot yoga is tougher but it pushes me in the way any good sweaty workout does.

The next time you drive by a yoga studio or your friend mentions her yoga workout or you read a piece about the benefits of yoga (like this one), say yes. Give it a try. Your body will thank you.

Taking to water like a couple of ducks

It’s not secret I’m a big fan of water. I mean there’s the whole hydration aspect of it, and you can’t beat it for getting you clean.

But I was born in the land of sky-blue waters (hello! Minnesota has been the Land of 10,000 Lakes on its license plates as long as Missouri has been the Show-Me State), and I spent many-an afternoon as a junior high schooler getting pruney and water-logged at the Wadena pool.

Despite swimming the crawl at the speed of a crawl, I became a lifeguard and spent two summers teaching 5-year-olds how to swim (thanks, Shannon Whateveryournamewas for assigning me to the role no one else wanted but has served for excellent blog fodder in my golden years).

But as I’ve aged and gotten increasingly protective of my artificially colored hair, I’ve spent a lot less time in the chlorinated waters of a pool.

Until recently.

NOT me and my Beloved. But you get the picture.

NOT me and my Beloved. But you get the picture.

My Beloved and I joined a new gym (goodbye, Snap Fitness, you served me well), and I’ve spent a number of mornings getting my groove on in the pool during water aerobics classes.


Well, it’s not because I’m a fan of green hair (and I’m really hoping I can avoid the inevitability by keeping my ponytail dry — well, dryish).

My Beloved appreciates the lower impact exercise opportunities afforded by a pool of warm water, so I’ve been joining him and the grannies so we can exercise together.

Only here’s the thing: It’s not just grannies. And it’s not a bad workout.

I’ve been walking around all day today fully aware I worked out in the pool this morning. It’s not the same kind of sore as lifting bar bells that were too heavy, but I know I put my arms and legs and heart to work.

Another plus on the pro-and-con list: No one looks sweaty. We’re all just … wet.

Hey, today’s song list even had us underwater grapevining along to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and Ray Parker Jr.’s “Ghostbusters.” Oh, wait a minute. I suppose teenagers who were amazed by “Thriller” are grandparents now. But whatever. We weren’t dancing to the oldies. OK, the really old oldies.

It’s not like a summer run as the sun rises over the horizon, but water aerobics are pretty fun.

And splashing around the pool with my sweetie is better than icing on the cake. Because I’m burning calories instead of consuming them.

Yoga on the beach

Recently, I changed up my exercise routine with yoga. Instead alternating running with weight training, I’m alternating running with yoga.


It’s a great way to work out, stretch and meditate a little, all at the same time.

I can’t do yoga properly without guidance so I have to have an instructor or at least a video to encourage me to try a tricky pose or hold a pose longer.

Some yogis encourage you to hold an intention during class. So today I intended to be present in the moment and celebrate that I made it to Friday!

yoga on the beach

Recently, I had the opportunity to do yoga on the beach. On the beach! For a native Minnesotan, this was the definition of novel. The sun shone brightly, a breeze was blowing, I focused my eyes on a horizon where I could see only sky and water. Wow. I marveled at my luck. Who cares if I couldn’t hold a pose as long as the 20something teaching the class?! This was special.

That’s the kind of opportunities I seek out when I’m away from home. I feel like I really experience a place when I’m running its streets or breathing its air. It’s more real than sight seeing — better than taking a picture, though sometimes I do that, too.

Here’s a shot of what I saw in my shavasana pose — total relaxation.

corpse pose


Happened by a 10K in progress yesterday, and I thought, “That looks like fun.”

Me. Thinking a running race looked like fun.

Never would have said that seven years ago when I started running, just about this time of year. I’m been reading Runner’s World magazine long enough now to see the “Newbie” transform himself into a half-marathoner. And here I am thinking I should find a race and run in it.

Just for fun.

My enthusiasm this morning, when I was laced up and actually running in a cold rain instead of watching other people run, was dampened (excuse the pun). But still.

Ramblers are death traps

OK, my headline my be overstating my case, but I got your attention.

People who sit all day and watch TV all night — even ones who run 35 miles a week — have a higher risk of heart disease than people who move around all day. Mayo Clinic cardiologist Martha Grogan told the radio program “Here & Now” that sitting for more than four hours a day gives you the same risk of a heart attack as smoking. (Click here for the story.)

Today’s news comes on the heels of yesterday’s “Fresh Air” interview with author and fitness expert Gretchen Reynolds who said just standing for 2 minutes every 20 minutes can improve your health.

“Sitting for long periods of time — when you don’t stand up, don’t move at all — tends to cause changes physiologically within your muscles,” Reynolds told “Fresh Air’s” Terry Gross. “You stop breaking up fat in your bloodstream, you start getting accumulations of fat … in your liver, your heart and your brain. You get sleepy. You gain weight. You basically are much less healthy than if you’re moving. … If you can stand up every 20 minutes — even if you do nothing else — you change how your body responds physiologically.” (Click here for the full story.)

Which leads to me to this unscientific, self-serving conclusion: Two-story houses — with lots of steps — have healthier occupants than residents of ramblers.

I prefer the appearance of two-story houses, and all the houses I’ve owned have had two stories. (Heck, I think three- or four-story houses are impressive — I just could never afford one of those.)

But presentation aside, two-story houses win on function, too. To my way of thinking, single-story ramblers are a sign of resignation to being lazy or getting old. I’m going  into old age kicking and screaming, and all that kicking and screaming turns out to be very good for my health.

With my Beloved now working from his home office in the basement and me working in a bedroom on the second floor (alternatively known on some of our address labels as Suite 4 and Suite 2), I take the steps many times a day. Sometimes, I take the steps just to take a break. Usually the break involves a snack (sometimes a lower-calorie hug), but still, I’m moving. Our little 8-pound schnauzer is in good shape, too, what with all the to-ing and fro-ing.

I’m not ready for a stand-up desk or a treadmill desk, but the news that even a little movement is better than none is compelling. Compelling me to stand up and take a walk.

What are you looking at? Get moving!

This resolution is a stretch

No round of New Year’s resolutions is complete without an intention to lose weight or exercise more, right?

Isn’t that what everyone resolves on Jan. 1? It would seem so by the increase in volume at the local Snap Fitness.

I gained three pounds (which might be accounted for by an overly salty Chinese take-out meal or a big bowl of pasta for dinner) and I covered 1,005 miles in 2011, so I’m not too keen on losing weight or exercising more (how do I know I went 1,005.62 miles in 2011? Attribute that to a Garmin accurate to a hundredth of a mile and an obsessive streak of recording it; I just love my runner’s journal).

OK, enough with the obsessive detail, Minnesota Transplant. Sheesh.

I’m not resolving to exercise more, but I do, however, resolve to exercise differently:

I hereby resolve to stretch after every run.

My sciatica is acting up (do I sound like an old man?) and I think it may have something to do with the fact that my hamstrings are tighter than a 20-year-old’s creamy skin (oh, when you’re 20, you have no idea your skin is in the best condition it’ll ever be). And those hamstrings may be tight because, oh, I never stretch.

I used to do yoga regularly, and I’m thinking I could use a few more up dogs in my routine.

And so, in addition to making a comfy nest and embracing technology, I resolve to stretch.

Oh, and one more thing. If you’re into my annual new year’s resolutions, check it out here.

Tomorrow, we’ll wax nostalgic for the old year passed.

A great day for a run, blue sky and sunshine

Basketball doesn’t have PRs.

I played basketball in junior high solely because I was tall. Tall girls played basketball, that’s just the way it was. That I was completely uncoordinated and unmotivated, that’s besides the point.

There’s no I in team, it’s said, and basketball is a team sport. So it wasn’t a stat to track, scoring more baskets than one did the last time.

But in running, oh, it’s all different. Winning is great, sure, but that’s probably for the Kenyans among us. The way to track progress in running is by the holy grail of the PR: Personal Record.

I didn’t get a personal record in today’s St. John’s Oktoberfest 5K.

But I could have.

That’s the lure of the race. Even if a runner has no chance whatsoever of beating the high school cross-country runner who weighs 90 pounds soaking wet, a runner has a chance of getting a PR.

Now hear these excuses: I didn’t train for it. I ran yesterday when I should have rested. I forgot the race was today until 10 a.m. yesterday when a flyer in the drug store reminded me, oh, yeah, today’s the day for the Oktoberfest 5K.

But I showed up anyway. I ran. I earned a time of 29:08.

I’ll take that over a basketball game any day.