A blog about the amazing things teenagers do, about writing for teens, books for teens, and occasional forays into my world and the world of publishing.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Combatting Writer's Butt--Walking and Writing

I’m writing this from a treadmill at my local gym. Yep, walking and writing, that’s my new thing. It’s my way to combat writer’s butt.

In a former life, I had small kids, I ran around the house chasing them and cleaning up the messes that they made. This helped me stay in some semblance of shape. When my kids got older I made it to the gym 4-5 times a week and I loved to run outside. I completed a half-marathon and a few 10ks back in 2005. As much as I’ve been in denial, times have changed. When I started the whole writing thing, I found myself sitting more and more. My favorite place to write was (and is) the couch in front of the fire.

A year ago, my youngest son started school, and I started writing more seriously, I spent more time at the computer, and since I was now sending out queries, I had to have the rejection chocolate handy. Now with a book slated for publication (insert scream of joy/exhilaration/disbelief here) writing has become a job. With deadlines looming, kids on crazy schedules, and oh yeah, housework, dinner, laundry, (etc. etc. etc.), my gym/running time has become non-existent, (and rejection chocolate has nothing on on-submission and now revision chocolate.) Hence, writer’s butt has crept up on me.

And it’s not just my butt (or my thighs or my stomach) that are suffering because of my long hours on the couch. I have found that although I’m trying to fit more into my day, I have energy to do less. For my health and sanity, I needed to find a way to be active without spending hours at the gym or on the road running.

I’m a big multi-tasker, (what mom isn’t?), so when I read about the idea of a treadmill desk, or working/writing and walking, I knew it was something I needed to check out. I googled treadmill desk and came up with several articles and ideas based on research by Dr. James Levine of the Mayo clinic. I loved the idea, but I don’t have an extra $4,000 to invest in the treadmill desk found on Amazon. Another website suggested building a desk onto a treadmill, but again, a good treadmill, like the one the author suggests you build the desk on costs $1,500-$2,000.

I started looking on Craigslist for a good used treadmill, but I wasn’t finding anything in the price range I had set for myself. I needed another solution, and quick, because I’m not a patient person and my butt wasn’t getting any smaller. In my Googling, I came across the Surf shelf, a plastic shelf that you can strap your laptop to so you can use it while you walk. Most of the reviews on Amazon for the Surfshelf were good. I already have a gym membership, and since the Surfshelf said it would fit on any treadmill, I decided to try it. This was a $40 solution, (plus my $30 a month gym membership).

I’ll be totally honest. When I opened the package for my SurfShelf, I thought it looked cheap. The idea of strapping my laptop to this contraption scared me. Have I mentioned that I call my laptop “My Precious?” (said in a Lord of the Rings, Golom voice). But I didn’t have any other solution, so I loaded the SurfShelf into my laptop bag, waited for a slow time at the gym so I wouldn’t be totally embarrassed if this didn’t work (10:00 on a Friday night), and headed to the gym. With much trepidation and doubt, I strapped the surf-shelf on, secured my laptop, and started up the treadmill.

In just a few minutes I went from skeptical to amazed. The SurfShelf actually fit on the treadmill at the gym, the keyboard was at a comfortable height for me to work, and it felt secure. (Does it sound like I’m doing an infomercial? If I am, I’m not getting paid for it.)

I had to make the text on my laptop the size of a page width so I could read it. Once I did that I found out I could write fairly well while walking at 3 mph. (Dr. Levine's research and everything else I've read recommends a slower pace than that.) The first day, I burned off almost three hundred calories. The hour went by so fast, I was surprised when I looked at the clock and it said after 11:00.

That was three weeks ago. Since then I have used my SurfShelf several more times. I have walked up to three hours with a break after every hour so the treadmill can cool down and I can stretch and go potty. I have written 1,500 to 2,000 words, critiqued for my group, revised, and even written a blog post. (This one.)

The advantages of walking and writing at the gym are these:

  1. I’m writing and burning a lot more calories than I would if I were sitting.
  2. I’m away from my house and the distractions of laundry, dishes, etc. I realize all of those things have to be done, but sometimes I spend my whole day cleaning and don’t get to the writing part. Leaving the house reinforces to me that this is my work time.
  3. My gym doesn’t have internet access, so I don’t have the distraction of the internet, although this can be a plus and a minus. The internet for a writer is a necessary evil. I’m able to focus better, but I miss being able to do instant research while I’m writing.
  4. I feel like the motion, and maybe the flow of blood to my brain helps me focus so my word count is actually up from what it is when I’m sitting down.
  5. If I’m using equipment at the gym, I know it’s high quality, and someone else maintains it for me.

The minuses for writing at the gym are:

  1. Funny looks.
  2. The gym itself can be distracting—Televisions, other people’s conversations, music, the hot guy lifting weights across the gym, (but that also could be considered research, right?) I like to wear headphones to keep myself focused, even if I’m not listening to music.
  3. No power source at the gym, I can only work for the length of my laptop battery.
  4. I can’t write and walk and write whenever. My gym has late hours, but it still requires a ten minute car ride to get there.

Other minuses for me have been that my back, legs and feet do hurt after I’m done, but I’m getting more used to it, and frankly, my back hurts when I sit on the couch and write all day too. However, I am looking for better shoes.

I should point out that I started in okay shape. I’m only a few pounds over what my BMI says is normal for my height, and I can still run three to five miles continuously.

I am a little concerned about the effect of static electricity on my laptop. Every time I move my hands from the keyboard to the treadmill I get shocked. I’m not sure if that’s doing anything to hurt my laptop or not. Also, I keep a hand towel with me because my hands get sweaty and I’m worried about what that will do to my laptop.

Overall I’m really pleased with my experiment, but it’s still a work in progress. After hitting the gym three times last week and watching what I ate, I dropped two pounds. Still a long ways from my goal, but it’s definitely progress.

I am still looking for a used treadmill on Craigslist, so I can walk/write whenever I want to, but for now I’m happy with the way my walking and writing is going. I’ll keep you posted.

So tell me, how do you feel about this whole idea?

How do you stay in shape through long hours at the computer?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Teens Doing Great Things--Chinook Reaches out to Japan

Moved to tears. That’s the only way to describe how I felt when I walked into Chinook Middle school on Wednesday, the day after the coin drive to raise money for Japan was announced. Four long plastic tubes lined the office window to hold the students' donations, (see Friendships Bridging the Pacific for more details about the coin drive). The tubes were there so the Chinook students could see which pride, (North, South, East, or West), had donated the most. When I left the school in the middle of the day on Tuesday, the tubes were empty. By the time I came in the next morning two of the tubes were nearly full. As I watched, another student came in to deposit his donation. He completely filled one tube and the extra money had to go into a big plastic jug.

It was supposed to be a penny/loose change drive, but there were ones, fives, and even twenties wedged into the tubes. One girl brought a big jar of change, then when she saw the bills that were donated by other students she decided to bring in twenty dollars of her babysitting money. By Thursday the tubes were abandoned because there was just too much money coming in to fit in them.

The culmination of the whole week was an assembly on Friday. The Japanese student performed an exercise routine and a dance for the Chinook students. Their performance was met with bleacher shaking screams and applause. Then Ms. Rae, Chinook's principal came to the front. Her voice cracked with emotion as she announced that the money was still being counted, but the Chinook students had raised well over a thousand dollars. With matching funds from Cultural Homestay International, (the organization that brought the Japanese students to the US), more than two thousand dollars is going to the American Red Cross relief efforts in Japan thanks to the Chinook students.

The Japanese coordinator of the group, Toshiki Hirose, thanked the students from Chinook not only for their friendship, but for their humanity. At the goodbye party that night, Mr. Hirose expressed the same sentiment to the host families. He pointed out that during the week they were here, he and the 26 students relied on the kindness of strangers for a place to stay, food to eat, transportation and basically everything they needed. Although I have hosted exchange students before, I had never thought of it that way.

As I look back, the entire week was a lesson in humanity for everyone involved. We learned that a smile means the same thing everywhere. We learned that people are compassionate and generous, no matter what they look like, what language they speak, or how young they are. We learned that we are more the same than we are different.

I appreciate the lessons I learned from the students at Chinook and the students from Japan. This week renewed my hope for the future and confirmed my belief that their are kids doing great things on both sides of the Pacific.


The money has been counted and the total amount donated by the students at Chinook Middle School was $1,695.43!

Way to go Chinook!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Two Party System--Exchange Students Learning about the US

Our Japanese student, was only here for a week, so she only had a few days to learn about the US. We decided that one way to show her what life was like for a teens here was to introduce her to the two party system.

The Birthday Party

Tuesday was my daughter's 13th birthday. One of her friends (who is also a boy, but not to be confused with a boyfriend, no hand-holding in the halls or anything), was concerned that what I was doing with the exchange students would overshadow the celebration. After all, you only officially become a teenager once. (Although in my daughter's case you can act like a teenager for years beforehand, but that's another post.) This friend decided to organize a surprise party. Our Japanese student, her sister, and four other Japanese students who were staying with my daughter's friends came to the party.

I'm sure there were some moments where the Japanese students thought the American kids were crazy. For example, to make sure my daughter was surprised, twenty of her closest friends, including the exchange students, crammed themselves into a corner behind our bar. And waited. They were there for a good twenty minutes before my daughter came home. The surprise was worth it. My daughter had no idea so she screamed and laughed and made a good scene.

During the birthday party, we introduced the exchange students to some classic American party traditions, (or maybe they're just traditions that my daughter's friends came up with). The first was sucking the helium out of the party balloons and talking like Mickey Mouse. The second was, after the traditional "Happy Birthday," blow out the candles thing, you shove the birthday girl's face into the cake. (Aren't best friends great?)

After all the party guests (and the walls and chairs and floors), were cleaned up we moved onto party games. It took a little bi-lingual explaining, but everyone got into the games. We played the ever popular middle school game where one person is blindfolded and they have to guess whose lap they're sitting on by asking the person to oink like a pig. Based on the laughter and red faces this game was embarrassing and entertaining for guests from both countries. Eventually the Japanese students taught us one of their own games. They all sat in a circle on the floor and played a game with flat marbles. It was kind of a mix between marbles and finger pool.

The Pajama Party

The second traditional American party that our exchange student got to experience was a pajama party, or sleep over. The seven girls, including three Japanese students, watched movies, had a pillow fight, and stayed up late talking and laughing. (At 2:00 am, I was wishing the language issue was a little more of a barrier.)

The next morning, we had sausage, pancakes and Japanese egg cakes, (Tamagoyaki). The recipe, written and illustrated by my exchange student, Haru, is below.

Experiencing the two parties with my kids and with my adopted-from-Japan-for-the-week-kids made me even more aware of how much the same teens are, and how easily cultural differences are forgotten in the midst of just having fun.