End of an Era

kettlebell child's pose.jpg


Last night, our kettlebells instructor, Helga to you, taught her last class.

“Hi everyone. I’ve been thinking about this for awhile, and I’m quitting.”

She set her bag down and explained. She told us about the near-constant searing pain in her shoulder. She’s battled it off and on for the last 2 years. She’s had massages, chiropractor treatments and cortisone shots. She’s had X-rays, too. Nothing seems to totally get rid of it, save possibly complete rest. She got a full-time job a few months back. Making it in to teach night class has become increasingly difficult as well.  She’s taught for 6 years.

While out on a run this morning, I thought back over the classes I attended. I remembered learning how to swing correctly. Trust me, that took more than a year. Morning classes I didn’t bother to put on makeup, except for maybe lipgloss or lipstick.  After breakfast and coffee, I threw on clean workout clothes and drove up the hill to the gym. Over time, I acquired callouses. They peeled. Sometimes they bled. I got bruises on my forearms and sometimes my legs, if I knocked myself with a bell. I took on larger weights as I mastered an exercise. Sweat ran into my eyes. We did innumerable jump squats, reaching for the sky like frogs on steroids. I found muscles I didn’t know I had. We passed large balls from outstretched legs to outstretched arms, like a band of Cirque du Soleil rejects. All of this set to the lilting background music of Ozzie, AC/DC and Guns N Roses.

And I loved every minute of it.

For now, us merry few who are regulars will take turns teaching the class. But it won’t be the same. Each of us came face to face with the limits of our inner resilience under her instruction. We pushed past them and found new levels to play on.

“You know,” Helga said to me with a smile as we stretched out at the close of class, “you guys are the reason I kept coming back.”

She’s the reason we kept coming back. She made us feel like we could take on the world. Thanks for everything. So long, sensei.








circle kids(source)

I taught in the schoolagers class at church last night. Suddenly, a flood of tiny people approached me. They looked way too small to be in regular school.

“How old are you?” I asked one little girl.

She held up 4 fingers.

“Uh…you need to be in the preschool class.” Turns out several of the new little ones wandered down to the wrong room. My super assistant escorted the rogues to the correct location.

Yet one stayed behind.

“I don’t wanna go!” one little boy protested. He stood no more than 3 feet high in his baggy t-shirt and shorts

“You’re not in school. You’re only five,” his big brother reminded him, smirking a bit.

“I’m five!” the boy told me, tiny hand held up with all fingers in view.

I hesitated. He seemed like he’d be a handful. I wondered if I wanted to deal with behavioral issues. His bottom lip quivered. He desperately wanted to be big. Little Jimmy needed to be included with the big kids. His older brother would have liked nothing better than for Joey to get gone. I’d missed something, though. It’s summer. I’d forgotten kids get promoted to the next grade after the school year ends.

I leaned down to Jimmy. “How about we try it tonight?”

Jimmy nodded, his face lit with anticipation.

I flashed back to earlier in the week. I called a meeting to talk about purchasing procedures at the city. We’ve had some conflicting policies, and I wanted to hash it out with all my bosses in the room. We discussed what the state laws dictate and what the city allows. Granted, we got off on a tangent about sidewalks and asphalt and how best to repair them, but that’s beside the point. We acknowledged the problem and came up with some solutions. Then…

“We need to get the attorney involved. She’ll know just what the thresholds are for purchasing and projects. I’d like the three of us there,” said the director.

I was not among the Big Three. Those included my immediate boss, the superintendent and the director himself. I felt a little left out, since I’d called the meeting, brought up the problem and provided some solutions. I wanted in on that discussion. It affects how I do my job. I don’t like getting pertinent information second hand. It can get diluted along the way.

So I felt Jimmy. Everyone wants to be included, to be part of the group. And you know what? Jimmy did just fine. He threw rocks once, which I discouraged. He tried to take balls from other kids. Discouraged that, too. He ran around and chased balls instead. He rode down the slide. He fell face down in the pea gravel once.

“Somebody watch me! Teacher, watch me!”

“I’m watching!” I called.

Jimmy spun around a pole. I smiled. I see you, mister. We all have to start somewhere. We can make mistakes and learn from them. You’re going to be just fine, picking yourself up and growing along the way. So am I.


Comparative Religion


I went to Ruby’s 4th and 5th grade end-of-the-year class picnic yesterday. The clouds couldn’t decide what they were doing. It was sunny, with a cool breeze, most of the time. Hordes of kids chased a soccer ball. Others queued up for the swings. One white Maltese got walked, a lot.

I found Ruby at a picnic table. She’d already started on her pre-packaged pb&j, courtesy of the hot lunch program.

“Hey, Ruby,” I said as I started to sit. I nodded hello to the sandy-haired boy across from us.

“Hi,” he said, shooting up and sticking out his right hand. “My name is Peter*,”

I blinked a couple of times. Huh?

“Hi, Peter,” I said, taking his hand. Couldn’t leave him hanging. “My name is Susan.”

“Nice to meet you, Susan,” he said, smiling. “I’m the son of Peter Johnson, of Peter Johnson Realty.”

“Oh, right. I know who he is.”

We both sat down.

“I like your manners,” I said to Peter. Highly  unusual in 10 year olds, I thought. What’s the angle? Is he into Ruby and trying to make a good impression with her mom?

“How’s your day going?” Peter asked me.

I smiled to myself. Good manners, part two.

“It’s going well. And you?”

“Good, so far,” he said.

We ate in silence for a few minutes.

“So,” Peter broke the silence. “What do you do?”

Um. I swallowed my bite of egg sandwich.

“I work for the city.”

“What do you do there?”

“I’m in public works, “I said. I explained about the water utility (briefly) and the roads, garbage service and the like.

“Oh,” he said. He paused a minute, chewing his sandwich. “Do your guys pick up the bags of trash by the side of the road, the ones picked up by the community service people?”

“No, “I said. “That’s all part of the court system, I believe.”

I chatted with Ruby about her lunch. She liked the cookie but left the carrot sticks alone. Somehow, she’d gotten too many of them in her young life. She may never eat another.

“What does your husband do?” persistent Peter asked.

“He works from home,” I said, hoping to shut this down. It was getting a leetle awkward. He wasn’t asking anyone else questions.

“Oh, “he smirked, “so he does laundry and cleaning. A house husband. Like that?”

I laughed.

“Oh no, baby. He’s got a doctorate. He works for a university, just does it from home.” So there!

Insert uneasy pause here.

“I have kind of a personal question,” he hedged.

What now, Pete, my boy?

“What religion are you?”


“Oh, I’m a Christian,” I said. Then added, “You know, in a couple of years, you won’t be able to ask that,” I stated, Mom warning face on.

“I know, ” he said, then sighed. “My parents told me talking about religion and politics make people uncomfortable.”

Indeed, Petey.

“You’re Mormon, right?” he said to the Hispanic boy on his left. The boy nodded.

“I’m a Christian, too, ” said the small boy in a hoodie balancing on a ball to Peter’s left.

So much for that.

“And you, Peter?”

“Yes, I’m a Christian, too. I attend Valley Christian Church,” he affirmed.


Ruby and I went off to check out the dogs at the dog park. But I wondered about Pete. Why all the questions? Is he an only child? Maybe the youngest in a long line of children, raised on grown up conversation? Future journalist in training, or simply precocious?

But really. What’s the fuss, after all? Can’t we ask questions and get to know each other’s true selves without freaking out? I don’t have to agree with what you believe or how you practice. But I don’t have to be a jerk about it. Heck, we could even become friends. We can say what we stand for and be accepted; no subterfuge required. Just ask Peter.

*Name changed to protect the curious.

Kettlebell Evangelist

kettlebellsLast week, I attended my first kettlebells class in, oh, 10 months or more.

The class itself incorporated exercise balls, passing the ball back and forth between feet and hands while lying on our backs. Ouch. Oh, and I can’t forget get-ups, five on each side. I wobbled on weak legs for the last one.

One of the class regulars said, “This is all your fault, Susan. We haven’t worked out like this in months.”

I had to grin. I knew it to be true as sweat dripped off me. I was sore for several days afterwards. Welcome to the jungle, we’ve got fun and games…

Going back to work in 2015 put the kibosh on morning classes. They got cancelled, anyway, due to low attendance. Night classes, right after work, tugged at my heart. I wanted to spend that time with my family. It seemed indulgent, driving up to the gym instead of going right home after the 8-hour slog.

But now, something’s changed. Things have settled down at home. And I need more fun in my life. You might argue sweating to 80s metal rock while swinging a heavy cast iron cannonball with handles sounds more like a torture technique. Well, yes, there’s an element of that. Yet pushing to the outer limits of my strength and stamina brings a great rush of joy. You could claim endorphins. Sure. I don’t deny that. Endorphins keep us coming back for more.

I think it’s more, though.  For me, chasing excellence in any form fuels my spirit. I don’t ever want to settle for good enough. I’d like to see what else I can do. I want to feel my best every day, strong and happy. That said, I’ll never be the skinniest girl. I like food. Probably won’t be the fastest or strongest, either. But I can be the best me, with energy and joy enough to go around. So call me a kettlebell evangelist. Moving your body can change your mindset. Come one, come all, to the house of sweat and pain. You’ll uncover a better attitude as you transform your body.

Kettlebell Holiday

I taught kettlebells again today.  I hadn’t planned on it, as it’s July 4, but some folks expressed interest in getting a workout in before the evening festivities began.  Of course, those folks didn’t show up for the class.  But a good friend and I did.

I made up a hybrid workout.  Wanna know what we did?  Here ya go.

The Power of 10 Workout

Two-handed swings
Figure 8 to hold

Do 3 sets of the above 2 exercises, 45 seconds on, 15 seconds off between each move.

Then, ladders.  This is a series where you do one exercise, rest a few seconds, then start at the beginning again.  So first up, high pulls.  We did 10 per side, right and left, and rested.  Then we did the set of high pulls again but this time added on the next exercise, which was racked forward-and-back lunges.  Rest, then start at the top again, adding a new move at the end. I think of this like a progressive workout, similar to the old game of “telephone”, where each person adds something to the original secret going around.

10 High Pulls – right and left
10 Racked forward-and-back lunges – 5 per side, right and left
10 Goblet squats
10 Hip raises
10 Pushups
10 Dead lifts
10 Cleans – right and left
10 Triple crushes
10 Chair squats
10 Sumo squats

10 Half get-ups – 5 per side, right and left
10 Crossed-leg hip raises – 10 per side

And to be completely honest, we didn’t get through the last rep adding the sumo squats.  My hand opened up. Well, more specifically, a callous on my left hand.  The skin peeled back like an apple. I didn’t fancy bleeding all over the mat and bells. Because that *can* happen.  I’ve heard.

“I think this’ll be our last round,” I told the other attendee.  “My hand is shot.”

He grinned and nodded.  He was only too happy to be close to done.

Even cutting the ladder workout short, it still took up about 30 minutes of class.  Not too shabby for planning on the fly.

I have some thoughts after teaching my 7th class.  Teaching the class keeps me accountable.  I can’t slack off and use baby weights.  I must be careful to use correct form.  I also need to gauge the amount of effort expended in the room.  Can the class do the work?  Where is it hitting their ability level – too easy, too hard or just right? I’m also learning to tailor the class to fit the needs of the group.  What I want to do might not be what they are up for.

And so it is with most of life.  In relationships, we pay attention to what edifies others.  How we speak and our actions can help or hinder others.  Sometimes, I make things too hard. I put up obstacles and talk myself out of good things. I would say I’ve got a varsity letter in making my life too hard.  I hope I haven’t done it to others.

We ended today’s workout with a 2-minute high-low plank, my friend’s choice.    Boy, that plank challenged me; my body shook during the last 30 seconds. The give and take of life can make it richer and broader. Often, stepping back and letting others offer input makes sense. I don’t have to have all the exercises or all the answers, carrying it all.  I just need to show up.

For those of you subscribers, I apologize for the bizarre post of yesterday.  WordPress has a new interface and I’m still getting the hang of it.  Onward and upward.


Locked Out

We need these for class.

I want the Hello Kitty one.

This morning I went to kettlebells class, like usual.  I stepped up to the security door.  Beep!  The red light flashed.  I pulled on the door.  It moved but held fast.  That’s funny, I thought.  I swiped the fob again.  Beep!  Red light blinked again.  The door stayed shut. Now what?

Bill, a classmate regular, walked up beside me.

“Bill, I’ve been doing kettlebells for 4 years now, and I can’t seem to open the door,” I said.

He laughed.  Bending down from his considerable height, he performed the requisite wave. His little gray key worked just fine.  Man.

He stepped inside and waited on the other side of the door.  See, the rule states we don’t let anyone in, or risk a hefty fine. Everyone must use their own key. Great.  Now I felt like a complete moron.

I fanned the plastic piece of sweaty entry over the sensor and gained…nothing.

Dave kindly opened the door for me.

“Thanks,” I said, trying not to seem ungrateful.  I mean, the lousy system used to beep at me all the time, because I had to jerk the door open. Every single time I yanked on it, it stuck. It yelled at me on a regular basis. That was bad enough.

One of the other gym members saw my grand entrance.

“You know, my fob stopped working when my membership expired,” he offered.

Oh, that must be it!  As of June 4, I officially reached 4 years of gym membership.  Hard to believe. Long ago, a good friend of mine from church invited me to come to a class.  I pooh-poohed the idea for a long time.  I thought, How hard could it be?  I’m already running more than 20 miles a week and lifting weights at home. I’m training for a half marathon, for goodness’ sakes!

Boy, did I have a lot to learn.

I look forward to class now. I’ve taught it myself a few times.  Kettlebells built up the strength in my shoulder and helped me rehab after my running injury.  Kettlebells strengthened my lower back. It’s not just vanity muscles, but functional fitness.  I can do my daily tasks with less effort now.  I can lift 2-ton-sized boxes of cat litter all by myself now.  Stuff like that.

I learned how important form is.  Hard to concentrate on form while you’re running.  Kettlebells is a stationary exercise, for the most part.  You stand and move the bell around.  You keep your shoulders locked down and your abs tight.  Well, those who have 6-packs, I guess.  And, even after all this time, there are still some exercises I haven’t quite mastered.  My snatch lacks one element.  I found that out only today.  Back to the drawing board.

I’ve made good friends. We’re a motley congregation of folks.  We all have different goals and fitness levels, not to mention different ages. Some members have inspired me and some I have inspired in return.  We push each other toward excellence.  Barring that, we give each other a hard time.  Like the back row heckler who told our instructor that I was finishing the challenge too early today and needed to go up in weight on the squat presses.  So I did.  And almost revisited breakfast.  Thanks, buddy!

Lastly, I now know the words to every popular AC/DC, Poison or Ozzy song from the 80s.  I would rock on “Name That Tune”.

I’m grateful to my friend who invited me to class and helped get me hooked. I’m happy to have a gym a mile from my house. I can go anytime (ha!) and get my glow on.


 This post, based on true events, was powered by Taylor Swift songs.  Don’t judge.

Friday Fundamentals

For reals.

For reals.

There’s a gal in my neighborhood who walks every day, rain or shine, down Olympic Highway.  Olympic Highway isn’t really a highway in town; just a main thoroughfare.  It has a pedestrian walk on one side of the concrete median.  She trudges along in raingear.  She hikes with purpose through the damp, foggy mornings.  Sometimes she’s in a purple fleece coat.  Other times she’s wearing  a bright neon raincoat, hood up.

She used to come to kettlebells.  She and I had the same silver, purple and gold Asics (GT-2170, if you’re wondering.  Still my favorite running shoes).  Mine I used for running, hers for urban hiking.  We struck up a slight, shoe-based acquaintance. Then she quit.

“Susan, I couldn’t take the music!” she whispered to me one time, shaking her blonde-gray curls in consternation.  Well, it is an acquired taste.  Ozzy and ACDC and Poison and such.  But I can’t imagine swinging a huge metal object to Bach or Mozart.  Not happening.

Sometimes I pass her and her husband as they traverse the way, me running up and them striding down. We smile and say hello, waving through the Shelton dew.

“Don’t you get tired of the same route all the time?” I asked her once.  “I lose motivation running the same route over and over.  Gets incredibly boring.” True story.

“Oh no,” she told me.  “I just get on autopilot and go.  I don’t have to think about it,” she smiled.  “Besides, my husband buys me a coffee every morning at Starbucks and it’s waiting for me when I arrive.”

Pretty good gig.  Pretty great husband, I think.

I saw her this morning after class, heading down the hill. Rain, then hail, poured down on her.  Now it was my turn to smile as I drove past . She carried a bunch of pink rhododendron blossoms in her hand. They bobbed along in time with her steps. Her walk has become a meditation to her, a daily habit of movement and thought and processing.  I understood.