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In Praise of Snowshoeing: Physical, Financial, and Mental Health

Snowshoeing out from our backyard with my daughter (who took the photo).

The personal finance bloggosphere is filled with comparisons between financial and physical fitness, and many FIRE bloggers are also marathon runners, tri-athletes, hikers… The “badass” way to go about physical fitness is to do it without paying a gym membership, but that presents challenges for some of us.

Obstacles to free physical work-outs in the winter

Snow covers my part of the world for a solid 4-5 months per year, and it limits free fitness options. Swimming? Not a chance! Cycling? It happens, but only with an element of danger and lots of odd gear. Running? On a mild winter day, packed snow on side-walks and paths, sure. But that’s not the way most winter days happen around here. Severe cold snaps, icy conditions, deep snow, and strong winds often make winter running very iffy.

“Well, what about skiing?” you might ask. Sure, but it’s not free! The costs of skis, poles, boots, and helmet – even second hand – add up, especially when combined with the expense of ski passes.

“Cross-country skiing is free,” you might say. “And outdoor skating is too.” True. But while you can step outside your front door to run or cycle in the summer, most of us can’t cross-country ski or skate with as much convenience. Usually there’s a significant drive involved. On a weekend, no problem. After a day of work? Not always appealing.

Snowshoeing: frugal and user-friendly

The answer to these obstacles? Snowshoeing!

“But it’s not free! You have to pay for the snowshoes.” True. The cost of snowshoes is on par with the cost of running shoes or a bathing suit, and it’s less than the cost of a bike. In other words, it’s in line with the expense of gearing up for “free” summer work-outs.

“There’s still a drive involved, and you said that’s ‘not always appealing.'” The expanse of nature necessary for a decent cross country ski is way bigger that the space needed for good snowshoeing. Chances are you can walk to a place that works for snowshoeing – a local park, for instance. And if you do need to drive, it will almost certainly be a short drive. You don’t need vast tracts of open land to snowshoe.

“What about the whole ‘severe cold snaps, icy conditions, deep snow, and strong winds’ thing?” You can snowshoe in all of the above as long as you bundle up (and use snowshoes with ice grips). The only condition that might limit your snowshoeing is a winter thaw that melts the snow – in which case you can put on your running shoes and go for a jog.

“But I’ve never done it before! It’s too hard.” No it’s not! Skating, skiing, snowboarding, and cross-country skiing all require unique skill sets. Snowshoeing doesn’t. If you can walk, you can snowshoe.

Snowshoeing and physical health

According to this article at Your Guide to Winter Adventure we can burn from 420-1,000 calories per hour during a snowshoe trek. It’s a sport that accommodates a wide range of athleticism. If you’re a newbie or not in great physical shape, it’s fine to snowshoe for a slow-paced 15 minutes. As you get stronger and more fit, go for longer periods of time, speed up, and include any slopes or hills around in your path.

In the article, Dr. Declan Connolly of the University of Vermont is quoted: “‘Snowshoeing is an effective, low impact, and safe form of exercise to change body composition. It burns up to twice the number of calories as walking at the same speed … Snowshoeing utilizes major muscle groups which, when combined with a higher metabolic rate in cold weather and the added resistance of moving through snow, results in a high-energy activity.'”

Snowshoeing and mental health

SAD (seasonal affective disorder) strikes many of us who live where winter happens. Symptoms include low energy, problems with sleeping, and a general sluggishness.  I remember talking with a colleague about my own siginificant case of SAD last winter. “You know what made a difference for me this winter?” he said. “Cross-country skiing. Just being outside made a difference.”

He’s not the kind of guy to give pat answers to problems, but I thought that he was over-simplifying things. Still, I took his advice to heart this winter – via regular snowshoeing – and it seems to be making a difference!

The Mayo Clinic, offering “lifestyle remedies” to SAD advises the same:

  • Get outside. Take a long walk, eat lunch at a nearby park, or simply sit on a bench and soak up the sun. Even on cold or cloudy days, outdoor light can help — especially if you spend some time outside within two hours of getting up in the morning.
  • Exercise regularly. Exercise and other types of physical activity help relieve stress and anxiety, both of which can increase SAD symptoms. Being more fit can make you feel better about yourself, too, which can lift your mood.

Snowshoeing: What’s not to love?

It’s cheap, easy, and convenient. It offers a great physical workout and an effective remedy to SAD through the winter months. You can do it on your own or with others. What’s not to love about snowshoeing?

Your comments are welcome.


When Young Adult Children Need Help: Rescue or Coach?

  • DD2 = Dear second daughter
  • DD3 = Dear third daughter
  • DH = Dear husband

The phone call

I woke up to the phone ringing. The bright digits of my old clock radio impressed the time upon me: 5:08 am. I got up swiftly, fully awake. Full of worry. “What’s happened?” I wondered. Our two youngest had bussed to Toronto for a Lana Del Rey concert, and my first guess was that they were in some kind of trouble.

“Mom?” It was DD2’s shaky, weepy voice. “I think I’ve got food poisoning.”

Not the worst of the possibilities that had flashed through my brain, but the floodgates of maternal compassion were set to open

“It started right when we got back from the concert,” she continued. “I had a stomach ache, and when I threw up I thought I’d feel better, but I didn’t. I just kept throwing up. I’ve been up all night. I tried to take a sip of water, but I threw it up right away… Just a sec. I have to puke.” I waited, cringed at the sound effects. “There’s nothing left,” she said when she returned to the phone. “But it doesn’t stop.”

Poor thing!!

The bus tickets

DD2 and DD3 were staying at their cousin’s apartment in Toronto, and there was no way they’d be able to use the bus tickets they’d bought for their return trip home later that day – a Tuesday. I texted DD3 and advised her to contact the bus station to see if it would be possible to get a refund or to exchange their Tuesday tickets for Wednesday tickets. “I’ve thrown up 5 times today,” she texted back. Two sick daughters!

I went to work and kept my cell phone close at hand. “If you need me, just call and I’ll take the day off and drive to get you,” I’d told them. Was it food poisoning? The flu? Maybe salmonella? It was so frustrating to have them five hours away!

They found out that they’d be able to get bus tickets for the next day at a 50% discount – $20 each. Not what we’d hoped for, but it wouldn’t break the bank. The concert and all other costs associated with it were on them, not us.

DH’s brick wall vs. my jellyfish

In her book Kids Are Worth It, Barbara Coloroso identifies three types of parents:

  1. The “brick wall” parent is domineering and inflexible.
  2. The “jellyfish” parent sets no boundaries and is infinitely flexible.
  3. The “backbone” parent asserts structure with a degree of flexibility.

Coloroso presents the backbone parent as the ideal. She advises brick wall parents to loosen up, and jellyfish parents to toughen up. Most parents are inclined one way or the other away from the ideal, but all of us can fine-tune our way to the structured flexibility of a backbone.

DH and I learned about Coloroso’s parenting continuum years ago, and since that time, he has been moving away from his brick wall as I have been moving away from my jellyfish. I don’t know if either of us has actually reached Coloroso’s backbone ideal, but we’re both closer to it than we were when we started out.

Bus terminal troubles

DD2 and DD3 stayed at my niece’s apartment for an extra day. My poor niece came down with the flu that Thursday – confirming that it was the flu all along. On Wednesday, our daughters weren’t yet well enough to eat, but they thought they could manage the bus ride home, and DD2 phoned Greyhound to confirm the time of departure and cost of the tickets.

“11:30. $40 each,” said one phone attendant. What about the 50% discount? “There is no discount,” she insisted.

DD2 phoned again. “11:30, and since you get a 50% discount, it will be $20 each,” said a different attendant.

When they got to the terminal, they explained their situation to one of the ticket-sellers. “You won’t be able to buy a ticket from us right now,” she said. “Our computers are down. Here’s a number to call to get your tickets.” DD2 phoned, explained her situation, was put on hold … Dial tone.

Back to the ticket-seller. “Try this number,” she said. DD2 phoned the new number and explained the situation yet again. “We can’t give you a discount” was the answer she got.

DH responds

Tired, hungry, and still sick, DD2 phoned home. DH runs his business out of our house, so he was the one to answer. He listened, commiserated … and coached her not to give up. “There must be someone there who can do something about this,” he said. “Find that person and explain your situation again. Emphasize the discount policy you were told about. And don’t be put off. Just stand there until you get your answer.”

DD2 soon phoned him back – gleefully. She had spoken with the attendant directing passengers for the bus they were hoping to take. She explained the sickness, the cancelled ticket, the mixed messages about a 50% discount, the downed computers, and the unresponsive phone service. The attendant considered, consulted, and came back to answer.

“There’s room on this bus. Go ahead. No charge.”

DH then phoned me to let me know all was well. Our sick daughters were on their way home, and soon I’d be able to lavish them with molly-coddling (which I did very frugally). DD2 had lost 15 pounds and DD3 developed a fever. Mollycoddling was definitely appropriate.

Good thing I didn’t get that call!

It’s a good thing DH received that tortured call from the bus terminal. I know what I would have done if I had answered: “Just phone that first number again and buy the tickets at full price. We’ll pay.” I’m sure it’s a response they would have welcomed.

But they got so much more out of DH’s response. It gave them the opportunity to …

  • … learn not to give up even after multiple tries.
  • … discover the power of negotiation.
  • … develop confidence in their ability to work towards a solution.

There are times to rescue young adult children, but more often, there are times to coach them. It’s not always clear which option is called for. DH coached in a situation that I believe would have led many parents to rescue. I think our daughters got the best deal from him.

What would you have done? Do you tend to be a brick wall or a jellyfish? Your comments are welcome.



Getting Away From “All-Or-Nothing” Compulsions

DH = Dear Husband

A history of maxing out financially

A month ago, I tried to explain one of my New Year’s resolutions for 2018: “A less S.M.A.R.T goal that I have is to fine-tune the self-discipline that I’ve been building over these last 5 years … I’d like to take another step away from the ‘all-or-nothing’ financial compulsion that I’ve always had.”

I definitely have a compulsion towards maxing out. Financially, it manifested itself in different ways over the years:

  • As a teenager, I’d spend all of my allowance before the month was up and beg and whine for an advance on my next month’s allowance.
  • In my twenties, I would go into credit card debt and overdraft on a regular basis, counting on my next pay to get me out of both holes.
  • In my thirties, I wanted it all: a big house; part-time as opposed to full-time work; multiple activities for our 3 children; cleaning service; gym membership; plenty of “treat-yourself-therapy” like going out to restaurants.

Then life stepped in – in the form of DH’s job loss,  followed by years of career uncertainty and financial stress – and forced a change. A slow, stubbornly reluctant change it was too – even though all circumstances combined to send the message loud and clear: “You need to change!!”

Maxing out in other areas

Most people are in too much debt, and for those of us who have come to recognize it and try to do something about it, there’s something else we eventually have to acknowledge: The poor choices we’ve made financially are not rooted in a lack of math skills; they’re rooted in character flaws.

One of the character flaws I’ve had to acknowledge in myself is linked to this maxing out tendency. It’s the flaw of living reactively instead of proactively. Again it has manifested itself in different ways:

  • “I’m SO tired! I’ll just do the dishes and make my lunch in the morning.” (= Time crunch for morning commute.)
  • “I don’t feel like going to the gym, so I just won’t exercise today.” (= The no-work-out blahs.)
  • “I got caught up in Netfilx. I won’t have time to clean the house today.” (= Burden of accumulating to-do list.)
  • “This is delicious! I’ll just eat one more… OK, another one… Now this one is the last one…” (= Feeling full & gaining weight.)

Fine-tuning self-discipline: morning commute

Just as it took a significant rock-bottom experience to get me to become proactive in managing our personal finances, the rock-bottom experience came into play for my morning commute. A couple of weeks before Christmas, a series of snow storms resulted in 3 consecutive commutes of 3 hours, 2 hours, and 1.5 hours each for my normally 40-minute drive to work.  It was truly life-suckingly awful!

Since that week, however, I have not had a single time crunch commute. I’ve been way more proactive about getting myself prepared for work with plenty of time to spare. I used to think in terms of “How late can I go and still get there on time?” Now, I have no desire to cut it close. I want to give room for unexpected traffic slow downs so that there is no need for white-knuckle commuting. And if I arrive at work earlier than I need to – as I usually do now – that’s not a problem at all.

Stepping away from “all-or-nothing” fitness

I have written multiple times about my poor performance with discretionary money management. It was to help my personal discretionary account that I decided to quit my gym membership at the end of last summer. Much to my surprise, that move resulted in more regular exercise for me.

When I had the gym membership, I would think in all-or-nothing terms. Either I would drive to the gym, take the cardio class, do weights, drive home, shower – or I would do nothing. Now, I’ll go for a 40 minute snow shoe or  a half hour run – or a walk. It’s OK not to do a full-on work-out (that takes over 2 hours when you add the drive time). Getting lower-key physical exercise on a regular basis is just fine.

Proactive house-cleaning

As I wrote two weeks ago, house-cleaning is so much easier to do when the task is shared. After years of doing it on my own with resentment and without ever getting on top of it – it is relatively pleasant now to do my share of it every weekend, knowing others are doing their part. It doesn’t take the will-power to do it that it used to.  It’s easy to find the self-discipline to keep on top of house-cleaning now that it isn’t so draining.

Self-disciplined eating? (Oh well…)

I hope to “fine-tune the self-discipline” of eating too, but I haven’t yet. I had a “This is delicious! I’ll just eat one more…” experience yesterday … AND the day before.

But I think it’s coming. True, proactive self-discipline – as opposed to compulsion on the highly controlled end of the spectrum – has the potential to be widely applied. It’s had a positive impact on my finances, commuting, fitness, and house-cleaning. I believe food is next : )

Do you find that as you develop self-discipline in one area, it spreads to another? Or do you find that self-discipline is specific – that is doesn’t transfer? Your comments are welcome.

*Image courtesy of flickr.

Reading Aloud: An Old-Fashioned, Frugal Pastime

  • DD2 = Dear 2nd Daughter
  • DD3 = Dear 3rd Daughter

My mom’s odd practice of reading aloud

My mother had the odd habit of reading aloud. On her own.

I was able, as a tiny child, to identify “Mommy’s book,” and I knew somehow that when Mommy was reading out loud, I was not to interrupt. My brother, in giving his eulogy for Mom at her funeral service 2 months ago, said, “In the lean years with young children, Mom proved she could handle anything — as long as she could read for an hour or two every afternoon. One of her quirks was that she read to herself aloud –and she would do this at full voice, with great expression, as if she were addressing a classroom of 30 students.”

I remember a friend coming over to my place mid-afternoon one day when Mom happened to be reading. We passed by her in silence, receiving the smile and the raised eyebrow of greeting that said, “I see you, and you are welcome, but I can’t say anything to you right now. I’m reading.” We walked into the kitchen to get a snack, and my friend finally broke the silence. “Ruth!” she whispered in agitation. “Your mom is reading out loud!” I had realized by this point that not all mothers did, but I wasn’t fully aware of how weird it was. My friend continued, “And she’s putting SO much expression into it!”

A life-long habit

Right up to her last days, Mom continued her expressive daily reading. My sister, who along with her husband had taken Mom to Italy only 2 months before her death, shared this story at Mom’s service:

“Mom would read aloud on the deck of our cruise ship cabin. She would send Mark and me off to the gym or out for a hike so she could have the space all to herself. Little did she know that an audience was gathering next door. We met our neighbours in the hall one day and they told me how they loved the way I was reading so expressively to my elderly mother. I resisted the urge to accept this ill-informed compliment and corrected them. It was all mom!

They had been inviting their friends to their room, all of them leaning into our shared wall, listening as Mom brought The Goldfinch to life for them. As they left, they said they would be recommending on their cruise evaluation form that Mom be hired onto the ship’s entertainment staff. ‘Reading time with Jane’ would surely be a hit!”

Wisdom in frugal leisure from the past

I remember one young mother speaking to me after Mom’s funeral service. “Your mom was so smart to do her reading every day! She knew what she needed to do to make it all work!”

Storytelling was a form of entertainment as far back as when people first started to gather around a fire. And reading aloud was a common form of leisure right up until the middle of the last century. Cable TV, Netflix, and Youtube have largely replaced the joy of reading, and they’ve all but obliterated the practice of reading aloud.

The only contexts where reading aloud is at all common today are those involving children: the classroom, where teachers test the skill of their students, and the home, where parents read to their young children before bedtime.

True confession: I love reading aloud too

I suppose it’s not surprising that having been raised by an out-loud-reader, I was drawn to reading aloud myself. I used to love reading bed time stories to my children, and I tried to make the nightly ritual last for as many years as possible. Eventually, each of my 3 daughters told me enough was enough, and I accepted it with regret. (My eldest was 16 years old. After having read all of Jane Austen’s novels to her, I started on Dickens. We made it half way through David Copperfield when she gently told me it was time to cease. She finished the book on her own. Sigh…)

As a high school teacher at a school with many English language learners, I was thrilled to find out that one of the best ways to promote proficiency in English was to read aloud to students! I took full advantage of that permission for as long as I was a classroom teacher. Now, as the teacher-librarian, my once-yearly Jane Austen Book Club gives me only the rare occasion to indulge in reading aloud.

An unexpected opportunity: sick daughters

Last weekend, my two youngest went to Toronto in advance of seeing Lana Del Rey in concert Monday night. They thoroughly loved the event. But almost as soon as they arrived back at their cousin’s apartment, where they were staying, DD2 felt sick. I had heard that the flu was particularly bad this year, and DD2 got it with a vengeance. Nothing stayed down. She couldn’t eat or drink. Within a matter of a few days, she would lose 15 pounds.

DD3 soon showed signs of the flu as well, and the two sisters were stuck in Toronto all day Tuesday – unable to take their scheduled bus ride home. Their bewildered cousin continued to host them until they were able to leave on Wednesday – and then she got sick too.

Reverting to childhood comforts

DD2 lives downtown, but she came home to stay for her days of recovery. DD3, who did not at first  suffer as severely as her sister, came down with a fever. By the time Saturday rolled around, they were both able to eat most foods. And while they were still weak, they were no longer completely incapacitated.

It was DD2 who asked me: “Mom, can you read to me?” Yes!! I ended up reading The Rosie Project, by  Graeme C. Simsion, and they loved it! For hours, we were sprawled out on DD3’s bed, giggling at the sweet awkwardness of Don Tillman’s observations and conversations through the first several chapters of the book (which I highly recommend to anyone who hasn’t read it).

We were back in the old days. Not just our old days – the days of their childhood – but the days when reading aloud was a normal leisure activity – even among adults – even healthy ones. So thoroughly enjoyable! And frugal to boot!

Reading aloud: Is it in my future? (I hope so!)

DD2, about 90% recovered, has gone back downtown, but I’m hoping that DD3 will want to finish the book. And not on her own. I would love to read a chapter or two a day to her over the next week or two. And while I don’t think I’ll ever take up my mother’s odd practice of reading out loud alone – I need an audience of at least one –  I do hope I’ll continue to find excuses to read aloud in the years ahead.

Did either of your parents do something that nobody else’s parent did? Are there old-fashioned, frugal pastimes that you enjoy? Can you help me think of more excuses to read aloud in the years to come? Your comments are welcome.

*Image courtesy of

Frugality, Housework, Household Dynamics

  • DH = Dear Husband
  • DD3 = Dear Third Daughter

Giving up cleaning service for debt-reduction

When we first started our journey out of debt in June of 2012, one of the expenses we let go was a house cleaning service once every two weeks. It was a good frugal move, saving us $200 per month. It was also the most challenging move of our overall mission to get out of debt.

“Why?” you might ask. “What’s the big deal with housework? Everyone’s got to do it. Just do it!”

I’ve tried to give an answer to that question in various posts over the years. Here is one I gave 5 years ago:

“I hate cleaning. Most people don’t like cleaning, but what I’m talking about goes way beyond the general dislike. It’s a uniquely fierce loathing. I’m able to discern it in others when they have it, and I feel an automatic bond with them. But most people don’t understand. They have a ‘suck it up, Princess’ attitude to any whining, so I pick my audience carefully when the need to vent arises.”

A month later, I wrote:

“With DH’s constant work, I’m doing the grocery shopping, the driving of our children to their activities, the cooking, the dishes, dog-walking, logistical arrangements to make plans come together…  And all this on top of my day job… I brought this fact to DH’s attention last week, and he acknowledged it. ‘So why don’t we hire cleaners again?’ I asked. He recoiled at the thought and committed to house-cleaning on Saturday morning. We would both put in four hours, and get it done. I agreed and said nothing about my doubts. As I suspected, Saturday came and went with no house-cleaning. He had too much work to do. I did not take up the slack. And that’s how I plan to play it. Let the dust bunnies take over.”

What about getting the kids to help?

5 years ago, we had a 13-year-old and an 18-year-old living with us. (Our eldest was studying away from home.) Why couldn’t our daughters do the housework with me and get it done? That is a very, very good question, and the answer is not easy for me to acknowledge. There was some significant dysfunction in our family dynamics at that time, and DH and I could not make the whole “team work” thing happen.

Some parents manage to get through the teen years without upheaval. If you are in that category of parent, that’s great, and no doubt you did a number of things right to make that happen. We aren’t in that category. We had years of significant issues, and combined with DH’s career crisis and our financial mess it was tough. To-the-breaking-point tough. Could we have managed things better and avoided that chapter of hell? Certainly the money-stress had been of our making and it compounded all other stresses. Apart from that, I don’t know. What I do know is that at that point, we could not make family house-cleaning function.

Housework = something I wanted to outsource

So housework was a heavy burden for me. Something I didn’t like – that I resented – and that my energy levels were too low to do well. Just after the 3-year mark of our journey out of debt, we reached the milestone of having paid off everything except for the mortgage. We gave ourselves permission to hire cleaners again.

Another thing I gave myself permission to do after reaching that milestone was to stop teaching summer school. For the first 4 summers of our journey out of debt, I took on summer school as a way to earn extra income to bring the debt down. Now, since I was taking my summers off, we canceled the cleaning service for July and August because I had lots of time to do it myself.

Functional family housecleaning

Last summer, as September approached I decided I didn’t want to hire the cleaning service again for the school year. “Let’s try again to do it ourselves,” I said to DH. And we have. And it’s working! I think there’s a good chance we will never hire cleaners again.

The house-cleaning is divided into 3 parts:

  • I clean about half of the house.
  • DH and DD3 each clean about a quarter of the house.

Every weekend, I spend 3 or 4 hours cleaning. And it’s perfectly fine. It’s not the burden I found it to be 5 years ago. Why not?

  • I find it SO MUCH easier to clean when I know that other people in the household are doing their share of it too. When we happen to clean at the same time, it’s elevated to a strong bonding experience that verges on pleasant. (For real!)
  • Since I’m not doing it all myself, I’m not left with that depleted-but-still-not-on-top-of-it discouragement. I’m NOT depleted. We ARE on top of it!
  • The elements of dysfunction in our household have largely disappeared. There is no war to wage to make shared housework happen.

I have a friend who has often pointed out that since DH and I started our journey out of debt, our relationship has so clearly grown stronger. I haven’t always seen it, but in this instance I’m really struck by it. When a couple can work together to keep the house clean, it’s a VERY GOOD sign. When they can lead their children to take part in the effort, EVEN BETTER. A whole lot has to be going right for household house-cleaning to be done fairly, consistently, and well.

Ripple effects of debt-reduction

How have we managed to get from Point A to Point B? Just as I don’t have a complete understanding of how Point A happened in the first place, I can’t say definitively what has made things get better. But I do believe this: In facing our debt head-on, DH and I have had to deal with many of our respective character flaws, and we’ve had to confront areas of miscommunication and misunderstanding. As we’ve worked on these things, ALL areas of life have improved – not just our finances. Our household relationships are better. And we make a fine house-cleaning team.

Do you hate housework? Or is it not a big deal for you? How did your family deal with housework as you were growing up? If you live with others now, does everyone do their share of the housework? Your comments are welcome.

*Image courtesy of Hyperbole and a Half