Saturday, June 2, 2018

Tours: More Walking and Hiking Than I Thought I Could Do!

At the Ponte Vecchio
Between my knee pain from patellofemoral syndrome and my foot pain from hammertoes, for years I've had some limited mobility. At first I could hardly walk or stand. I could no longer ride a bicycle or walk down stairs. At my local YMCA I had to use the disabled locker room, because I couldn't do the stairs. With each diagnosis, I went through anger and depression. My thoughts ranged from "What?! I'm not even halfway done with life!" to "I give up."

I dutifully attended my physical therapy appointments, and initially did all of the prescribed exercises. Once the intense pain subsided, I often slacked off, lazily skipping my exercises until the pain returned. And some exercises made the pain worse, so I had to stop doing even gentle squats or leg presses.

But over time, I got better. I was able to get rid of the stool in my classroom, because I was able to stand. I eventually was able to walk down stairs again. I hike, walk, lift weights, and swim. And my husband and I have even started going on walking and hiking tours.

Two years ago we went on vacation to the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Park with Road Scholar. The trip was fantastic, and the guides were wonderful.

This spring we went to Italy. Again, fantastic guides and an amazing experience. Walked and walked and walked. On cobblestones, marble floors, and up and down stairs. Most days I had sore feet, but so did everyone else. And oh, what an experience!

The Colosseum in Rome
Stairs in the Colosseum

Walked all over the Forum, and up Palatine Hill for this view

Walked many stairs in Rome!
The Vatican

Gallery of Maps in the Vatican

The Pantheon
Inside the Pantheon
Bernini's David

Ancient Roman Sculptures 

Ponte Vecchio in Florence

Ponte Vecchio
Michelangelo's David
Brunelleschi's Dome at the Piazza del Duomo
Market Stall

Meat Counter

Inside the Palazzo Vecchio

Walking Around Florence

Doesn't every city have a dollar store?

Catching the high speed rail to Venice

The Grand Canal
Bridge near our hotel

One of our wonderful Road Scholar guides

The Grand Canal

Venice alley

Fashionable Italians
Replacing a bulb

Fresh fish

Gondola ride

Venice Canal

Gondolas near Piazza di San Marco

Venice light

Venetian windows

Glass blower on Murano
Murano canal

A night cruise

New and old together in the Jewish Ghetto in Venice

Monday, May 28, 2018

A Footwear Experiment

Barefoot is still the best!
It's been five plus years since my last post. I've been busy with life, and through many changes: fledging a young adult into the world, retirement, learning to make mosaics, becoming a watercolor painter in earnest. And through it all, my knees and feet have survived pretty darn well.
Watercolor sketching at the beach 
Last year I unwittingly did a foot experiment. My feet had been feeling great, so I gradually wore other normal shoes more and more, and my Vibrams less and less. Nothing crazy, no high heels. But not my Veebs. Eventually I noticed that my feet were hurting, mostly in the ball of the foot. The pain became more and more persistent until I could no longer avoid it. I tried lots of things: massage, epsom salt foot baths, ice, rest. Those things helped a bit, but the pain wouldn't go away.
A lovely beach hike
Then I finally realized that I had stopped wearing the Vibrams altogether.  I put them back on. Wore them for one day. And after just one day, the pain was gone!
My four favorite pairs of Vibrams: all Komodos
So now I make sure to wear them at least a few days a week. My foot muscles need exercise, just like the other muscles in my body. And they need stretching, and massage, some tender loving care every so often.
One of my favorite places to walk
I'm still an avid fan of "The Veebs."  My Vibram shoes have proven to be a lifesaver for me. I'm now on my fifth or sixth pair of Vibrams. It's definitely time to buy a new pair!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

A New Kind of Torture

As they say on one wise website,, "If you’re smiling, your doing something right and if not, then stop, rest, and recollect."

My new kind of torture is the pain in the ball of my foot.  This pain is mostly in the left foot.  It comes with every step.  In mid-November, it was starting to bother me, so I started listening to my feet.

What did I do?  I switched from my Vibrams and Vivo Barefoots back to New Balance running shoes and Clarks some days.  I added padded insoles.  Removed a corn.  Rested as much as possible.  Which is hard to do when you teach elementary school, and trying to keep tabs on all 30 students for 6 hours.  I iced, I massaged, I soaked in the hot tub.

In early December, I decided I was rested enough to go on a hike.  Thinking this was just a 3 mile jaunt, I was optimistic, so wore my veebs but brought my running shoes just in case.  Ooh, man!  It turned out to be 6+ miles, and steep trails.  I cried the last half of the hike.  Haven't been able to go for a hike or even a walk since.

Luckily, I loooove to swim, so I'm still active a few times a week.  I also had two weeks off for the holidays, and cancelled the plans to walk around San Francisco and hike the hills.  Lots of movies, reading, and crafting.  Back at school this month, I use my rolling chair and my stool as much as possible.  I sit on desks, tables and counters whenever I can, reminding my students that only I can do this, because I'm an "old lady." 

But it's getting me down.  Yes, even sunny, optimistic me.  Pain can do that.  I've spent some sleepless nights, laying there wondering what I'm going to do for the next fifty years if I can't hike or walk.  At the end of a long day teaching, especially after a field trip, my temper tends to flare as the soles of my feet throb with every step.

What now? 
The torture continues. 

I've thought of going back to the podiatrist, but she was the one who told me there was no therapy, that I would have hammertoes, and eventually surgery.  She convinced me to order expensive custom orthotics that make my toes float in the shoe, so I can't avoid walking the old heel-strike way. Besides, they don't fit in any of my shoes.  I may consider talking to her again, but only after doing my own research. 

So today I dug out my old over-the-counter orthotics with the metatarsal bump that I bought at Footwear over a year ago.  Some relief.  Icing and resting more.  And doing some online research. 

Anybody out there have an answer?

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Too Much of a Good Thing

It's true: too much of a good thing can be a bad thing.

I've been wearing my veebs for a year, working, walking, hiking, and singing their praises.  Now I have a new problem: foot pad pain.  It feels like a bruise all over the ball of my foot.  The left foot hurts more than the right. 

I tried resting it for a few days, icing it off and on.  Tried walking again, and ouch!  Treated a few corns.  Even went back to my old, cushiony running shoes.  More rest and ice, then made the mistake of going on a hike with my husband.  It was way longer and way steeper than I was led to believe.  Now they hurt all the time.

I should probably go back to the podiatrist, but what is she going to tell me?  Those vibrams are bad for my feet?  I should wear the awful orthotics, which will require buying all new shoes?  Those vibrams made my hammertoe situation much better.  I do not like the orthotics.

So I'm trying a new thing.  Swimming 3 times a week, which gives me my cardio workout without stressing the feet.  No walking, just using the elliptical machine at my gym, so no more pounding.  And soaking these dogs once a week in a warm epsom salts or baking soda bath.  And yes, I am wearing my old-lady running shoes and my Clarks, with a gel insert I picked up at the drug store. 

The veebs are waiting patiently in the closet.  I hope to be ready for them by spring break.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Count Your Blessings

There's nothing worse than not being able to walk. 

Well, maybe there is something worse.  Not being able to see would be pretty lousy, and not being able to talk would really put a cramp in my style.  But in all of my fifty years, the times I've felt the most depressed were the times I couldn't go for a walk.

So, on when I'm feeling down and hopeless, I need to remember, at least I can walk now.  And some day, when I can no longer walk, I will still be able to swim, or draw, or sew, or read, or talk, or SOMETHING. 

It's always a good time to count your blessings.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Don't Lose Hope; Follow Your Passions

Sometimes we are motivated by the most unlikely events or people.  Other times we have such a strong intrinsic motivation that outside forces do not easily dissuade us.

This week Sir John Gurdon won the Nobel prize in physiology or medicine with Shinya Yamanaka for their work as pioneers in stem cell research.  Mr. Gurdon was not encouraged by his teachers to be a scientist.  On the contrary, his dreams were dismissed as "ridiculous."

 Gurdon school report, aged 15

"I believe Gurdon has ideas about becoming a scientist; on his present showing this is quite ridiculous; if he can't learn simple biological facts he would have no chance of doing the work of a specialist, and it would be a sheer waste of time, both on his part and of those who would have to teach him."

View this Sir John Gurdon video.

This story brings to mind my experience with a Spanish professor in college.  I was a Spanish major, and loved speaking Spanish in high school, but had very little success in Dr. Lopez's class.  I was nowhere near ready to discuss literary criticism of the works of Federico García Lorca or Don Quijote.  I decided to take a semester in Bogotá, Colombia to immerse myself in the language and culture.  When I asked Dr. Lopez for a letter of recommendation, he laughed at me. "Susan, you will never learn Spanish."  Rather than be dissuaded by his lack of confidence, I knew I had to prove him wrong.  And I did.  Upon returning to the U.S. after my semester abroad, I approached my old professor and showed him how my Spanish had improved, no thanks to him.

As a patient, I continue to reject the prognosis of my podiatrist.  She examined my sore and swollen feet, and she told me there was no way to prevent the onset of hammertoes.  She asserted that my toes would eventually curl up permanently, my foot pad would move forward and stop protecting the ball of my foot, and I would eventually need surgery.  I am proving her wrong.  My foot strength and flexibility continue to improve through "barefoot walking."  My vibrams continue to be my shoes of choice for walking, hiking, even for work.

As a teacher, this story reminds me to encourage my students in their passions, and to withhold judgement about their future abilities.  For goodness sake, my kids are only 9 and 10 years old.  Their brains and bodies are developing at an astounding rate.  Each one develops his or her academic and social skills at a different rate.  A student may not be successful in a certain area this year, but later may jump ahead of the pack.  Why dissuade them from following their passions?  What I want to do is feed their dreams, encourage their growth, and push them on to higher heights.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Yikes! Taking Risks Leads to Growth

This has been a week of growth for me.  As a bitwordy player.  As a swimmer.  As a teacher.  And my willingness to take risks seems to be key.


Bitwordy is a game I recently discovered on Facebook.  Growth in bitwordy doesn't really count, because it only reflects my ability to procrastinate and waste scads of time.  How many words can you find in three minutes?  How much time can you waste?  How sore can your mouse hand get?  Facebook and games can be such valuable tools for connection and relaxation; they can also be time-sucking cyberdemons.  But growth is growth, right?

I love to swim.  I've been swimming since I was a kid.  Never had a lesson, just learned swimming with my mom and cousins during summer vacations at the family lakeside cabin.  My swimming has improved gradually over the years, first with advice from a roommate in college who gave me a few pointers on my breaststroke, later from reading magazine articles about swimming.  One article in Cooking Light gave tips from a swim coach.  Improved my freestyle arm strokes a great deal by imagining my arms as a windmill, turning and turning.

Last week swimming at the Y, I became frustrated with my slow kick while using a kickboard.  As I crept ever so slowly toward the end of the pool, I mentioned to the lifeguard, "I really need to work on my kick."  His reply: "At least you know you have to."  Yep, awareness, the first step toward getting better.  When I asked about adult swim lessons, the lifeguard said he notice I was kicking wrong.  I was bending my knees too much, and needed to kick from the hip.  So simple.  I felt kind of dumb; I've been kicking wrong for 45 years!

I tried the new kick.  It worked.  Now I'm very aware of my kick every time I swim, scissoring from the hip rather than the knee, keeping my legs straight.  I get much more power by pushing water with my entire leg rather than just the lower half.  It also tires me out!  Of course it does.  I'm using my quadriceps and hamstrings, muscles I don't usually use when swimming.

Another benefit of this new kick may be less knee pain.  As a therapy for my patellofemoral pain (poor kneecap tracking, worn out kneecap cartilage), I'm supposed to build up my quads and hamstrings.  This correct kick style could do just that!  As Mr. Lifeguard said, "You'll kill two birds with one kick!"  Today's swim was not as effortless and enjoyable as I'm used to.  I had to rest every two laps or so.  But I know that I'll become a better swimmer, with stronger legs and knees that hurt less.

I'm an elementary school teacher.  Fourth grade.  Been teaching for years, but I know I can always improve.  So I asked my teacher coach for some tips on behavior management.  She and I have been doing an intensive week-long coaching cycle.  She observes me for an hour each day, then we review her notes and my reflections every afternoon.  She makes suggestions.  I get ideas.  We make a plan.  I implement the plan, and she observes me again.

The result: growth!  My students have been more focused, more involved, and better behaved every day.  I've felt better, they've felt better. 

Don't get me wrong: this has been an exhausting week.  It's unnerving to have someone watching me teach every day.  It's scary to let someone see my soft underbelly.  And then to talk about what she sees.  Yikes.  I'm very lucky that my coach is someone I trust implicitly and respect greatly, otherwise this might not work.  Trust is key.  Humility as well.  So I'm exhausted, but inspired.  And optimistic that my teaching will continue to improve.

As my sister says, "That which makes us vulnerable makes us beautiful."  As Maggie Laura McReynolds of Lifeworks Coaching says, "Feel the fear.  Do it anyway."  I look forward to practicing my new strategies.  Thank you Bitwordy opponents!  Thanks, Mr. Lifeguard!  Thanks a million, teacher coach!