Wellness Wednesday: We Show Up Because It’s Fun!

I’ve been blogging as a subscriber to Laurie Denomme’s WECOACH Workouts for five months now.

WECOACH Workouts has helped me reach a new fitness level. Laurie’s shoulder, back, and hip exercises allow me to twist to look behind me more easily when I’m backing out the car. I keep my workouts interesting by incorporating Laurie’s 7 foot positions, and my knees and hips are much happier. My stamina has increased, along with my energy level. I’m a little more lean. I can run further, swim longer, walk faster. When I got back into the pool after my 2019 illness, I was simply grateful to be in the water. Laurie has brought me a long way.

I’ve been exploring Laurie’s WECOACH Workouts with a group of my South Florida neighbors in our HOA community pool. Three mornings a week, two to seven of us show up about 8 o’clock and hop in the water for a 50 minute online class with Laurie. Some of us work. Some of us have kids. Some of us could sleep until 10 very happily. But we get to the pool. We even call ourselves The Mermaids. Now and then, a Merman joins us.

The morning WECOACH Workouts class in my community pool
The morning WECOACH Workouts class in my community pool (that’s me in the hat)

What really keeps me showing up at the pool is this amazing group. They are kind, supportive, and funny. And as each one has grown in confidence and skill in the water, she shares what she’s learned with others.

Today’s blog is about WHY? What has made this experience something we make time for? I asked this morning’s class participants to consider the question, and here is what they said.

Taking care of ourselves

C and me in the pool
C and me in the pool. Or is it ET and friend?

It is great to have fun while we work out to take care of ourselves. It is easier to do it when you are with caring friends.

Connie

What Connie doesn’t take credit for is instigating the entire effort. She learned to swim last year, overcoming a lifetime of fear of the water. She asked me to help her practice, and so my early morning schedule began including the pool.

Learning new things

I am learning English and French! “Very good!”

Rosa
Holding a plank position in the water is a great core exercise!

Rosa, who has lived most of her life in Colombia, is not only improving her language skills but also has made the most progress in her water skills. Look at the satisfied smile as she demonstrates a plank with a pool noodle during one of Laurie’s plank variation workouts!

Challenging ourselves

While the exercises are challenging, we are in a good mood, joking and helping one another, stress free.

Carol

Carol joined us recently, and she has made great progress in understanding how to use the water’s resistance and buoyancy. In fact, she’s taking the plunge and has started swim classes! Confidence abounds in this group.

Having attended the class this morning is undoubtedly why I find myself in a happier mood than usual. I appreciate the positive effect.

Carol

Feeling energized

I’ve noticed that I have more energy now that I’m doing these classes.

April

April—who missed “class picture day” in the pool😊—is also a recent addition to our class. The pool noodles she contributed to the class give everyone a chance to play with different buoyancy and resistance.

Finding our limits

One of Laurie’s trademark phrases is “your feel- good range,” as she encourages each participant to explore the movement within what feels good to our bodies. Evelyn, who also subscribes to WECOACH Workouts, has taken to using the phrase independently during our pool time.

You’ll know from my face when I’m in my “feel good range.”

Evelyn

Having fun

In a word, fun!

Carol

We laugh and talk and have fun, I just enjoy the time with you all.

Rosa

I enjoy the laughter and fun as well as getting to know my neighbors.

April

My kids have their play dates, now I have my own fun time, I love playing with friends at the pool. And the best part is that I am still able to proudly say to my doctor “yes I do“ when the uncomfortable question comes up: Do you work out? 😊

Olga

So subscribe today and discover the fun that awaits in WECOACH Workouts!

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Wellness Wednesday: Top Ten Reasons to Do WECOACH [Water] Workouts

Founder Laurie Denomme’s WECOACH Workouts draws on 30 years of water exercise teaching experience to create member-exclusive programs that include: water workouts, land workouts, tips to help us feel our way to better results, and success trackers to help us recognize our progress. Here are my top ten reasons to subscribe to this unique, results-focused exercise program.

10. Using a pool is like going to the gym (only without the dreaded mirrors)!

Buoyancy and resistance combine to make the water a place we can move with total ease. Water workouts can also improve heart health, make muscles stronger, and even improve bone health. Pool stairs are great for stretches and pushups, pool walls help with resistance and balance work, and shallow to deep water depths target specific fitness results. All you need is a coach.

Laurie Denomme, founder of WECOACH Workouts

9. There’s loads to choose from!

Subscribers to WECOACH Workouts can choose to follow the schedule of classes organized within each monthly program—Move Better 2.0, Everyday Strong 1.0, and Everyday Mobility 1.0 are all available now, and Laurie is always at work on the next program. You can also pick and choose your classes a la carte to suit how your body is feeling—whether you want to work on your core, back, shoulders, hips, or knees, you are sure to find the experience you’re looking for.

8. When you jiggle, no one sees it!

Water gives you the freedom to move without being scrutinized. Our submerged bodies can wiggle and jiggle happily out of sight. Luckily, our WECOACH Workouts coach Laurie demonstrates the class with underwater and above water video that makes the classes easy to follow.

7. You get to know your classmates!

Water promotes relaxation, laughter, and friendship, sometimes in unexpected ways. As our newest recruit, R, was learning how to use a pool noddle, she suddenly found herself belly up and flailing. I quickly came to her rescue, leading to a moment of togetherness. You can’t hug a person for dear life without becoming MUCH better acquainted. Our Spanish-language friendship instantly jumped from usted to tu, and we are now amigas sirenas—mermaid friends—for life!

6. Your confidence gets a boost!

The smiles that bloom on the faces of people who have just learned a new skill are contagious! When R mastered bicycling on a pool noodle, there was no stopping her. And when E realized she was doing a side plank, wow, a complete Cheshire Cat, ear-to-ear grin!

5. You can talk back to the teacher.

During a WECOACH Workout, we feel as if Laurie is talking to each of us individually via the screen of my iPad, and we act as if she can hear us, too.

E retired from a robust career as an educator in the Palm Beach County Schools, where, she says, she was known for silencing rowdy students with a powerful look. Oh, how those students would enjoy hearing their teacher laughingly talking back to Laurie as she leads us through a class. Laurie: “You got this!” E: “I don’t think so! Is it nine o’clock yet?”

In fact, Laurie DOES encourage comments and questions from WECOACH Workouts subscribers, and she answers them personally.

4. It feels good!

Water supports the joints while pushing back against the muscles, providing a near-perfect workout environment.

I can feel every muscle moving! If I were in the gym, I’d be feeling pain all over. But here, I am taking care of myself while I exercise.

C, who has returned to water exercise after being away for several months

3. You can learn another language.

Oops, that’s just my neighborhood pool class! E doesn’t speak much Spanish, and R doesn’t speak much English, but as they work out with Laurie they are each picking up a word here and there.

Muy bien! Very good!

E and R encouraging each other during WECOACH Workouts

2. It’s fun!

When I tell the people at the senior center that I’m having fun in a pool, they just kind of look at me. They know what fun is and what a pool is, but they can’t see how they go together!

My neighbor E, a retired Palm Beach County Schools educator

E has taken the initiative of talking to the center about getting a water exercise class going in their underused pool. She may just show up in her suit and do a demonstration of the ease with which you can move in the pool, especially for seniors who are mobility-impaired.

And you’re never too old to play in a pool.

1. The time flies by!

A couple of days a week, I get some laps in while E and R take a WECOACH Workouts class. It reminds me of when I would put on a Barney tape to keep my toddler busy while I did some household chore. My daughter was in good hands back then, and so are E and R now. The time moves quickly by, and then we’re doing the last few minutes of the class together.

Great workout!

Laurie Denomme

Amen!

Retired Palm Beach County educator E

Wellness Wednesday: This strategy is helping me combat binge eating

It fills me up.

Me, in conversation with my therapist.

I wasn’t describing binge eating, a habit that developed in my late teens. Going on 68, I continue to examine the drive which stands in shocking contrast to all my healthy behaviors like a lifetime membership in Weight Watchers and a daily exercise regime which helped me recover from a near-fatal illness in 2019.

Binge eating feels driven by emotional desperation. I need. I need. Feed me. Feed me. Although the subsequent gorging on carbohydrates follows as if the only possible response, I end up feeling stuffed without feeling satisfied.

Binge eating doesn’t fill me.

But meditation does.

Meditation calms the beast

Twice daily, I stop, step away from whatever I’m doing, go outdoors to a chair in our garden, and sit for 20-30 minutes.

When I do this, I re-calibrate my thermostat from “I’m too busy to sit down” to “I’m just here, breathing.” It has worked wonders in reducing stress-induced eating which otherwise can sabotage a day, a weekend, or an entire week.

So, how have I managed to make this change? There are a few key steps that have helped.

Put it on your calendar

When I worked in an office, I learned that scheduling time on my calendar for my midday workouts kept that hour free from meetings. I recall the conversation that made the point, when a colleague said that she needed to see me at a certain time but saw that I had a meeting on my calendar. I almost said, “Oh, that’s just my workout.” But I kept my mouth shut, and of course we found another time to meet. And I got my workout in.

Today, I schedule my meditation breaks at 11 and 4, and they are announced by an alarm on my iPhone/Apple Watch/iPad. I have the luxury of being home most of the time, and simply walk out to my meditation chair.

I’m off the clock

Me, to my husband, and also to myself

Link to another good habit

All of us connect things in our daily schedule: creating the to-do list after breakfast; walking the dog before doing the dishes (and with any luck someone else has done them when you get home!); the step-down behaviors—chamomile tea, calm music, reading in bed— that lead our body to sleep. The experts call it habit stacking.

The best way to form a new habit is to tie it to an existing habit.

Tara Parker-Pope, New York Times

I already have two events scheduled for late morning:

So, when my Easy Kegel notification goes off at 11, I take my iPhone and a piece of fruit and head out to my meditation spot. My 2 minute exercise on the app brings my focus inward, I eat my snack mindfully, and then it’s eyes closed, seeking peace.

Engage the mind

It took a while to relax into nothingness, and I am not always successful at staying in the zone once I find it. Structure helped.

When I began this practice, I needed to engage my mind, to distract me from being distracted. This 54321 sensory exercise pulled me into the present.

This exercise evolved. Some days, I counted how many shades of green I could see, or how many different types of bird calls I could hear. Eventually, I noticed myself settling in for brief periods of just being there. And one day I noticed I was no longer counting, only being.

Practice, practice, practice

Here’s the hard part. You actually have to do this. The more you do it, the more you realize how much you need to do this.

Some days, it’s easier. Some days, not so much. Some days, you forget. The next day, you get it back on the schedule.

Because for me, meditation fills me up, way more than a box of carbs.

My meditation view
My meditation view

Wellness Wednesday: WECOACH Gives Us 20 New Ways to Jog…or Is It 60?!

Walking for the first time two months after my May, 2019 illness in Amsterdam.

I have written about how plantar fasciitis put an end to my running on dry land in upstate New York years ago, opening the door to working out in a new environment, the water. When I retired to South Florida, I became a water fitness instructor.

A ruptured aneurysm and six weeks in an Amsterdam ICU stay in 2019 sapped me of all my strength. It took me another six weeks of hospital rehabilitation to be able to stand on legs that felt like empty cardboard tubes. I walked onto a Florida-bound airplane a month later.

Literally a step at a time, I dedicated myself to engaging my body into living my life. Somewhere along the way early on, I corrected my gait from heel strike to midfoot strike, allowing my body to better absorb the impact, and keeping my stride under my torso. Now, I’m able to run 3 miles several times a week. My plantar fasciitis is dormant.

Returning to gentle jogging on the South Florida beach

WECOACH Workouts

Running, though, with its repetitive, pounding movement, is hard on a body. For a well-rounded workout, I continue to exercise in the water. Water’s buoyancy supports the joints while water’s resistance increases the intensity of the movement along the entire length of the muscle.

As we move through the water, all of our movements are resisted. That is a beautiful thing because it means that we are training through the entire range of motion.

Laurie Denomme, WECOACH Workouts

WECOACH Workouts founder Laurie Denomme is my water coach. Laurie’s 6-7 Formula trains the body to be flexible and strong by moving in 6 directions — front to back, side to side, and left and right rotation — and in 7 foot positions — neutral, wide, narrow, turned out, turned in, left foot forward, and right foot forward.

The 6-7 Formula improves range of motion, connectedness, and balance.

Laurie Denomme, WECOACH Workouts

20 new ways to jog in the pool

Recently, Laurie married running and water in a new workout: Twenty New Ways to Jog in the Pool. In addition to the 6-7 Formula, Laurie has you running forward, backwards, sideways (can’t do THAT on land!), and in circles. She encourages us to experiment with intensity, feeling our way from light, to moderate, to vigorous effort.

My pool pals O and E, both former runners, recently did this workout with me. Buoyancy made it easier to move; although they were breathing hard, they were able to keep going without stopping for 30 minutes, far longer than either one could have run on land. They felt the workout throughout their bodies. O can’t believe that she’s worked up a sweat, and E tells us that she sees her new fitness level in her dog’s tiredness after a walk.

Levels add core work

Notice how Laurie gets her heels down to the pool floor every time? This rebound impact is the most commonly used. You can change to grounded impact by submerging your shoulders, keeping your toes, but not your heels, tapping the floor. You’ll feel your core engage and your legs stretch. Suspended impact is most easily done in deep water, getting everything off the pool floor while the torso remains vertical. It’s all core.

20 X 3 levels = 60+ ways to jog

So, using the three levels and varying the effort, there are an almost unlimited number of ways to jog in a pool. You’ll be getting a whole body workout that will increase your resilience, your endurance, and your happy-chemical endorphins.

Perhaps the best part of all is that running in water feels like play. And when you laugh, you are breathing! It’s all good.

The WECOACH Workouts subscription

You can browse additional classes on Laurie Denomme’s WECOACH YouTube channel. When you’re ready for more, for less than a dollar a day, subscribe to WECOACH Workouts 14-day, 21-day, and new Everyday Strong 1.0 28-day fitness programs. There, you’ll find a class schedule, tailored workouts, coaching tips, even a progress sheet. All you need to add is you!

Each member-exclusive program includes water workouts and tips to help you feel your way to better results. Download your success tracker PDF in “resources” and watch the video tips provided in the selected program playlist. You’ve got this!

Laurie Denomme, WECOACH Workouts

Wellness Wednesday: How WECOACH Workouts Prevent Swimming Injuries

Water keeps saving my life. I turned to the pool when plantar fasciitis curtailed my running fifteen years ago, discovering that resistance and buoyancy build body-wide strength. I was a personal trainer and water exercise coach when a ruptured aneurysm landed me in a Dutch hospital halfway through a cruise in 2019, with the muscle mass to support my comatose body for six weeks in the ICU. Muscle memory and determination to drove my ability to move during the subsequent years-long recovery.

The day I was able to lift my arms out of the water was the beginning of returning to swimming.

Swimming under the palms
Swimming under the palms

Swimming taxes the body

As I renewed my commitment to swimming, I experienced the soreness that comes with re-connecting with unused muscles and ligaments. My neck hurt from turning my head and my shoulders were tender as they drove my arms through heavy water. My lower back ached as I ventured into dolphin kicks. My knees felt the strain of the breaststroke frog kick.

Swimming is non-impact, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy on the body. The repetitive nature of swimming strokes puts us at risk for injury. Swimmer’s shoulder is the most common, with rotator cuff injuries, tendonitis, and bursitis resulting from the shoulder moving in multiple positions as the arm pulls the swimmer forward. Swimmer’s knee is a close second, deriving from the position of the feet, knees, and hips in the breaststroke kick. Neck pain and lower back pain are also frequent in swimmers.

Many of us think we can power through pain, that it’s just a matter of getting stronger. So, we double down on our laps, seeking those endorphin highs, the magic moment when the air and the water vanish and we’re just moving through space with the sound of our breath as our only company.

We’re half right. It is about getting stronger, but not by doing the same thing that got us hurt in the first place.

WECOACH Workouts

Last month, I shared the first of my new series of First Wednesday fitness posts about WECOACH Workouts, a comprehensive new water workout subscription from my mentor Laurie Denomme.

This month, Laurie has helped me understand how better biomechanics can help us swimmers avoid being kicked out of the pool by our own bodies.

Meet your scapula

The scapula—the shoulder blade—is the core of the upper body. It’s the locus through which upper body force is distributed.

Laurie Denomme, Founder of WECOACH Workouts

No fewer than 17 muscles attach to the scapula, making these shoulder blades the core of upper body strength. And if those muscles are weak, the results are felt in the shoulder, including the rotator cuff.

Scapular stability = less shoulder/neck pain

When the scapula is both free to move and stabilized by strong upper body muscles, that’s the key to avoiding swimmer’s shoulder and neck pain. 

Laurie Denomme, Founder of WECOACH Workouts

Our shoulders tend to get stuck in a rounded, forward position due to weakness in our back muscles. The muscles in the front of our shoulders and our chest become tight and short.

The beauty of the water is that buoyancy and resistance provide an excellent environment in which to strengthen our back muscles and stabilize our scapula.

Think about squeezing your shoulder blades together each time you reach your hands away from your body.

Laurie Denomme, Founder of WECOACH Workouts

Try this WECOACH Workouts drill to work on keeping your scapula DOWN and IN as you swim: Move Better Drill #1. Strengthen Abs and Back with Swimming Strokes.

Core stability = less back pain

And whenever the shoulders are stacked over the hips, the core muscles are engaged, supporting lower back muscles.

See how to stabilize the scapula and strengthen the core in Laurie Denomme’s Upper Body Interval Workout #1 Preview:

Seven foot positions = less knee pain

The external rotation of the leg in the breaststroke kick can inflame the knee ligaments. Prevent overuse damage by incorporating external and internal leg rotations into your warmup and cool down.

By consciously using different foot positions, we train our feet, ankles, knees, and hips to move through a wider range, building flexibility and strength. It’s a simple and very effective way of beginning to expand your range of motion.

Here is Laurie Denomme demonstrating how WECOACH Workouts strategically uses seven foot positions: normal stance; right foot forward; left foot forward; feet wide; feet narrow; feet turned out; and feet turned in.

Cross-training = fewer injuries

As much as I love the endorphin high that swimming generates, I do laps only twice a week, usually Mondays and Fridays. On Wednesdays, I am back in the pool with friends for WECOACH Workouts like this:

Three days a week, I do a land-based workout that includes jogging or biking, lifting weights, and stretching. And Sundays I take one whole day off, sometimes in my pjs! And, of course, there are walks every day with our dear rescue Lab, Kumba.

How to prevent swim injuries

  • Scapular stability: watch your shoulders!
  • Multidirectional training: work your legs in all directions!
  • Vary your workouts: keep it fun!

Next month: How WECOACH Workouts Improve …. [stay tuned!]

Wellness Wednesday: Rediscover the Joy of Moving with WECOACH Workouts!

I’ve done water exercise for two decades. It gave me the muscle mass body used for fuel during my six-weeks in an Amsterdam ICU in 2019. Water exercise helped rehabilitate my body during a long year of rehabilitation. And water has expanded and deepened my friendships in my South Florida neighborhood as I celebrate full recovery with water workouts in our community pool.

After all these years of life-affirming experiences, I figured I’d pretty much done what there was to do in the water. Nope, it was about to get even better.

My new discovery

I am thrilled to have discovered a new approach to water exercise that is making my brain and body even more resilient. Laurie Denomme’s Wavemakers® and WECOACH Workouts are transforming teachers into coaches, class members into partners, and routine exercise into a full-body preparation for life.

We are a community on a mission to help people feel, move, and live better.

Laurie Denomme, WECOACH Workouts and Wavemakers®

What if YOU were in charge of how you move during an exercise class instead of struggling to keep up with an instructor? What if you could FEEL the difference in your body, energy level, and confidence almost immediately? What if LAUGHING were encouraged? (Hint: It’s a good way to know you’re breathing!)

Laurie Denomme WECOACH Workouts Overview Video

I’m having so much fun that I don’t realize I’m exercising. I just know that I feel better, but my daughter has already noticed that my posture has improved.

My neighbor E after a few weeks of WECOACH Workouts

Movement made easy

Laurie Denomme’s WECOACH Workouts is new subscription exercise program that packages Laurie’s 30 years of experience into on-demand workouts video and audio pool workouts, plus land workouts to keep you moving. WECOACH Workouts uses distinctive arm, leg, and whole body movements that engage all of your muscles, and Laurie’s coaching will engage your brain in feeling your way to better fitness. With WECOACH Workouts, you take care of yourself, tailoring movements to fit your body, making every exercise right for you.

It feels like dancing.

My neighbor O after a few weeks of WECOACH Workouts

Results you can feel

When you listen to your body, it will tell you how to feel your way to better results.

Laurie Denomme, WECOACH Workouts and Wavemakers®

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to pick up your grandchildren, carry your groceries, or even stow your own carryon in the overhead compartment? Wish you could enjoy a walk without needing to rest so often? Here is what Laurie’s clients say about how WECOACH Workouts has changed their life.

I’m steadier on my feet.

I can do stairs again.

I’m back to playing golf without hurting.

I used to be reluctant to go out to dinner with friends because it took me so long to stand up. No more!

Rediscover the joy of movement

Want to exercise without feeling like you’re exercising? Get a workout without noticing the sweat? Build your confidence while you strengthen your body? Tailor movement to suit just you?

Get the exercise your body needs with WECOACH Workouts. Here’s a sample:

Laurie Denomme WECOACH Workouts Demonstration Video

Excited? Want to know more?

Every month, Laurie and I will share how WECOACH Workouts—through video and audio workouts, mobility and walking tests, exercise tips, and live Q&A sessions—can help you rediscover the joy of moving.

Ready to try it out for yourself? Click here!

Wellness Wednesday: The Restorative Power of Love

Amsterdam ICU
Amsterdam ICU

The presence of my husband, daughter, and sister around my bed in the Amsterdam ICU—holding my hand, stroking my face, speaking to me even when I was intubated and under heavy sedation—is one reason I did not succumb to the ruptured aneurysm and my body’s six-week fight to live in 2019.

There is a restorative power to love that I experienced then, and that I continued to experience throughout my recovery and rehabilitation.

And I’ve seen the healing power of love in the transformation of our rescue black Lab, Kumba, from vicious attack canine to the calmest, sweetest dog in the neighborhood.

Traumatized rescue

Kumba pawshake
Kumba pawshake

When he was flown from a shelter in Puerto Rico to South Florida in late 2019 by Labrador Retriever Rescue of Florida, Kumba was so thin and sick that the LRRoF vet was surprised he could even stand. It took two months of medical attention—and foster family love, including being in the pack of the foster household’s two other black Labs—to get Kumba back to health. We just happened to be the lucky family that was first in line when Kumba was ready to be adopted.

Per LRRoF requirements, we brought our daughter’s Lab (and our daughter) to meet Kumba during V and Pancho’s visit from Florida’s west coast. Kumba was a little nervous around Pancho, but a complete soulful sweetheart around us. The match was made, if we could wait another month while Kumba completed recovering. On Super Bowl Sunday 2020, we brought Kumba home.

Kumba becomes Cujo

That’s when we discovered that Kumba was Cujo.

On my husband’s first walk with our new dog, Kumba lunged at our neighborhood’s friendliest dog, snarling, teeth bared and eyes wild. It was a shocking behavior that his foster had not seen. Perhaps being in the pack had given Kumba a sense of protection, but now, alone on a leash in a new environment, Kumba did what he probably did in the shelter fending for himself. Or maybe this is who he was. We had a choice to make: take him back, or help him. We looked in those soulful eyes and knew we had to help. Or at least to protect him and other dogs from this menacing behavior.

Kumba snuggle
Kumba snuggle

We brought in a trainer, Alison Chambers, who confirmed that we had a very good dog who was anxious about other dogs. In our first lesson we learned how to read Kumba’s behavior and how to begin forging the relationship with us that might just lead him out of anxiety and vicious self-protection. We had just one lesson before the pandemic locked everyone down.

Over the next month, I did my best to avoid other dogs on our morning walks, reinforcing positive behavior, but Kumba tensed, pre-attack, any time he saw another dog. Worse yet, he shocked us by dashing out open doors to attack unsuspecting dogs who were doing nothing more than walking by. He snarled, teeth snapping, at our neighbors’ friendly golden, Lexie, when she approached too quickly. There was never blood drawn but the psychic damage and our neighbors’ anger was real. We needed to protect him, ourselves, and others. We bought a muzzle.

The muzzle helped. The social distancing imposed by the pandemic helped— being kept a safe distance away from other dogs (and their people) gave Kumba reassurance. The gentle, sweet dog who loved nothing more than curling up at our feet (or next to us on the couch) began letting go the anxiety and the defensive behavior.

Kumba makes a friend

Then, Kumba made his first dog friend—Reese, the dachshund-golden mix who is the self-appointment goodwill ambassador of our community. Hallelulia! Other small dogs followed—Adam the French bulldog, Cookie the Shitzu—but it was when Kumba greeted German shepherd Myla that we knew he was getting better. Well enough to invite Pancho back.

The first few hours were tricky, but Pancho and Kumba soon established self-protecting force fields that allowed them to share a space without crossing personal boundaries. Another huge step forward for our sweet boy!

Labs Kumba and Pancho
Labs Kumba and Pancho

Finding his people gave Kumba confidence. Finding his bliss—retrieving—gave him a purpose. He was a fragile four-year-old dog who didn’t know how to run, catch, and retrieve when we adopted him. The hours of that pastime have added physical and psychological resilience to our six-year-old happy dog, as I wrote in a post about the magic of finding the thing you were meant to do. Our pup is happiest with a ball in his mouth.

Kumba laser-focused on retrieving

But would this new-found confidence help Kumba over the hurdle of re-making the acquaintance with dogs he previously snarled at?

Love restores

The answer is yes. The power of love restores. Kumba is now completely relaxed around Lexie, the Golden up the block who he snarled at, and he is the dog in the neighborhood who gives nervous dogs and their owners the confidence to approach us. He is such a good host to visiting dogs that he’ll even allow a guest to make herself at home on his bed. ”Mi cama, tu cama,” he is saying to Lila, the sweet girl who hangs out with us on the weekends while her mom works.

Lila on Kumba’s bed
Lila on Kumba’s bed

And around the newest pup in the block, Kiwi the tiny powerhouse? Kumba just kind of smiles and shakes his head at this bundle of confidence. Can you see the thought bubble over Kumba’s head? ”I don’t understand girls, but they’re fun to have around.”

Neighbors Kumba and Kiwi
Neighbors Kumba and Kiwi

Yes, love is a powerful thing, inspiring the best in us all.

Memoir Monday: Life is a Carnival!

In 1955, I learned how to walk to a Latin playlist

The earliest tunes I remember hearing were the Venezuelan rhythms of música criolla which the radio stations in Caracas played at night. Dad had an affinity for music—part genetic, his farmer father was a self-taught fiddler, and part born of listening to songs streaming across the South Dakota prairie night sky from Texas radio stations—and strummed Venezuelan tunes on his guitar. Mom, who had danced professionally in New York City and made every cha-cha partner look like a pro, played the smaller triple guitar, and even I got in on the act with maracas. This was our 1955 holiday card family photo. Looks like I was the lead singer, too.

Caracas trio 1955
Caracas trio 1955

I was just six months old when we arrived in Caracas for Dad’s first foreign service post and almost five when we left. With our maid Josefina as my doting caretaker, Spanish became my first language, and Latin American music became my first soundtrack, Mom’s cha-cha and rumba inspiring my toddler dancing. Apart from four years in Italy, the remainder of my childhood abroad was in Spanish-speaking countries—Colombia and Spain. Spanish is my intimacy language, the words coming from the deep well of home.

I was hard-wired to find a Latino husband, and tremendously lucky that he is kind, funny, loyal, and passionate about life. He’s also a drummer—maracas, bongos, and timbales occupy a corner of our family room, and salsa is the López soundtrack. Even our black Lab, Kumba, is tuned in—he was rescued from a Puerto Rican shelter and is completely unfazed by loud crashing and banging when my husband rocks out to music on his headphones.

In 2019, I re-learned how to walk to a Latin playlist

I learned to walk in Caracas in 1955. But I also learned to walk in Amsterdam in 2019 after a ruptured abdominal aneurysm and six weeks in the ICU sapped my body of the ability to move. Again, it was Latin music that inspired the movement, specifically the Queen of Salsa, Celia Cruz. I downloaded the African singer Angelique Kidjo’s album, Celia, onto my iPhone, and my Amsterdam physiotherapist Gemma plugged it into the rehab gym’s sound system during my sessions. Gemma held me closer than my high school boyfriend’s slow dancing bearhug as I took my first steps.

La Vida es un Carnaval, Life is a Carnival, became the anthem of my recovery, its syncopated rhythm lifting my spirits as the lyrics gave me hope.

All those who think life is unfair need to know that it’s not like that, that life is a beauty, it has to be lived. All those who think they’re alone and it’s bad need to know that it’s not like that, that in life nobody is alone, there’s always someone.

La Vida Es Un Carnaval, composer Victor Daniel

Watching Celia herself singing this song of triumph in the face of challenge brings me a new understanding of its meaning. A black woman without the duplicitous attribute of beauty, she made her way to the top of the charts in a male-controlled business despite a macho culture. When she points to heaven while singing ”there’s always someone,” you know she’s been propelled by an inner strength fueled by strong faith.

Today, I listen to Angelique’s version at least once a week while I walk Kumba. With every step I take, I give thanks to the higher power that kept me alive in 2019. Every day since I woke up in the ICU wonderfully thin (“Gosh, I can wear my wedding dress!” was my first thought, honestly) but unable to move (my second thought), I’ve been working my way back to life. Today, I am running, swimming, dancing. I am living life.

But I am also easily lulled into forgetting how close I came to not being here, taking my health for granted, letting life feel like a ho-hum grind.

Last weekend, I danced to La Vida Es Un Carnaval with my husband in my arms to the live music of Tito Puente, Jr. and his Latin Jazz Ensemble at the Arts Garage in Delray Beach. Gratitude. Joy. And a determination to live newly aware that every day is a gift. That every step is the beginning of a dance.

Life is a Carnival!

Wellness Wednesday: Know Your Breed, Find Their Bliss

When we met our rescue Lab in early 2020, a tick-borne illness had worn him down to barely 50 pounds. The folks at Labrador Retriever Rescue of Florida weren’t sure how Kumba was still standing. I, too, was thin and weak, just seven months into my recovery from a near-fatal illness in 2019 that had depleted my body of the ability to move. 

Kumba and me on a long walk in 2020
Kumba and me on a walk in 2020

We became each other’s support system on the road to full recovery. Morning strolls became long walks that improved our strength and confidence with each step, and now we run two miles several times a week.

Finding what we are meant to do

Thanks to steady exercise over the past three years, I’m back to swimming, an activity that floods my brain with endorphins that float my entire day. Submerged with the bubbles of my breath as my soundtrack for thirty minutes of rhythmical movement, it’s as if I’ve found what I was meant to do.

Kumba, too, has found what he was meant to do. Those frail 50 pounds are now a robust 80 pounds of bounding joy for whom catching and retrieving has become the highlight of each day. And there’s a big lesson in this. 

Biological fulfillment

As a Labrador retriever, it’s in Kumba’s DNA to feel incomplete without holding something in his mouth. Initially, chewing was his way of releasing anxiety when we left him alone. Over time, however, Kumba’s separation anxiety lessened, and his confidence in us and in himself grew. As dog trainer Alison Chambers recently helped me to understand, a huge piece of this change is the result of my husband’s daily catch session with Kumba. 

It’s called biological fulfillment.

Dog behavior expert Alison Chambers, owner of Complete Canine Training in Boca Raton, FL

At first, Kumba would run after the ball but not bring it back. Gradually, Kumba discovered the joy in the game, and today he runs fast and far and returns the ball at Ray’s feet over and over. When he’s had enough, he holds onto the ball and turns toward home, tail high and wagging. Labs retrieve. That’s their job. 

Kumba and the ball take a break
Kumba and the ball take a break

Find your dog’s bliss

We forget that dogs used to have jobs.

Alison Chambers, Complete Canine Training

Work like minding the children, herding sheep, hunting kept dogs engaged. The transition to indoor pets — what Alison calls “cuddly at-home figurines” — removed the work dogs were bred to do, leading to behavior problems.

Alison has three dogs. She treats them to different activities that make their breed happiest. Ruka, her Belgian malinois — a breed Alison describes as “a German shepherd on crack” — is a ring sport dog, bred to excel at personal protection. Sundays are “biting days” at a local training facility. Jett, Alison’s terrier, is a fearless pursuer — “He is not afraid to die,” Alison says — and has become Number Two in the nation in barn hunting, a sport that mimics rat hunting. Otto, Alison’s pit bull mix, goes along for the fun but is happiest laying in the backyard.

Jett, Otto, and Ruka
Jett, Otto, and Ruka

It’s amazing to see a dog who is genetically predisposed to do something light up when you give him the chance to do it. It’s like he’s saying, ‘Wow! How did you know?’

Alison Chambers, Complete Canine Training

 So, folks, find a ball, go to the pool, or head out for a spring walk — find what lights you and/or your dog up, and do it!

Wellness Wednesday: Pilobolus, Recovery, and Balance

Pilobolus BIG FIVE-OH tour

Last Saturday, my husband and I were in the audience of the Duncan Theater at Palm Beach State College for a performance by the legendary modern dance company, Pilobolus, part of its BIG FIVE OH! celebration tour. As we watched the remarkable ways in which the human body can move, morphing into shapes our brains interpret as other objects, it felt like we, too, were transformed by the experience.

… adventurous, adaptive, athletic, surprising and revealing of beauty in unexpected places … wit, sensuality, and stunning physical acumen …

Pilobolus Dance

Postponed by the pandemic

The tour was postponed, twice, by the pandemic. We had tickets to the 2020 show, when I was less than a year into my rehabilitation from a lengthy 2019 hospital stay from a ruptured aneurysm. Like at least one-third of long-term patients, I was unable to move when I left the ICU, beaten down by ICU-acquired weakness. Watching the performance on Saturday, I understood that I would have felt much different two years ago.

Feeling my body respond

Perhaps its my mothers’ dance genes that make me twitch when I watch movement, intuitively feeling the motion in my own body. It’s similar to when my husband, who competed in the Golden Gloves as a kid, watches boxing. I know to give him room as his shoulders and fists flick.

Sitting in that dark theater on Saturday, I felt my body humming with physicality, an ability to move that I’ve rebuilt in myself since awaking in the ICU. As Dr. Wes Ely documents in Every Deep Drawn Breath, his ground-breaking book about how to reduce the damage done to bodies as a result of life-saving measures:

…for every day spent inactive in the ICU, two or more weeks of activity were needed to rebuild that muscle.

The forty two days took me almost two years to recover. As a retiree in South Florida, I had the time, the support, and the environment that made it possible. Sitting in that dark theater, feeling the dancers’ movements flow through me, I was filled with gratitude.

How to adopt Pilobolus’ moves

Even more important to my story is the fact that I was a very fit exercise instructor when I fell ill. My body had a lot of muscle to use as fuel during my stay in the ICU. A weaker person might not have survived. Ever since, I have preached the benefits of exercise.

Pilobolus, which was founded by non-dancers in 1971, expanded its outreach during the pandemic to include classes in Connecting with Balance designed to improve strength, flexibility, and balance. There is a free class on Pilobolus’ Facebook page with Emily Kent once a month: check it out!