Someone referred to me as an athlete not long ago, and I laughed outright.
"No really," he countered.
"Not really." I retorted.

I hate exercise for its own sake, and I've certainly never thought of myself as a jock.I am completely devoid of the competitive gene, and frankly, I am too clumsy for team sports. I also lack depth perception, it seems, a requirement for catching softballs. I was guilted onto a team by a former lover who claimed we did not spend enough time together.  We split up soon after I spent several games waiting anxiously in the outfield to be hit in the head by a ball.

"What about your bike?" He asked. 

Although I've always ridden a bike for fun and transportation, a couple of years ago, inspired by a friend, I decided to try my first Century ride (a hundred miles) signing up for one in Maine and the challenge was on. I researched strategies (when I say research, I mean reading publications, prowling the Internet, but most importantly, talking to other women who rode).  I researched gear and nutrition and scheduled rides to build stamina, sufficient speed, and strength. Oh yeah... like an athlete.

I am not intimidated by the class of riders who practically drop me in the parking lot (where rides usually begin) because they are not my competition: I am.  The Greek notion of athletics implies combatents, competion, and prizes.

Our notion of athleticism implies empowerment, a stronger, more fit and healthier body and body image that emphasizes what I can do, not what I look like.  Becoming an athlete is a way of focusing exercise to make it more fun and rewarding. Declaring oneself an athlete is about attitude as much as about ability

The first step is to take yourself seriously. Own it. Talk it up with friends (they will become excited and want updates), with people at parties, and under no circumstances do you ever, ever put yourself down. Only speak in positives and what you want to accomplish. 

   Set goals: They can be as simple as walking four miles in an hour or as elaborate as a full or half marathon or charity walk.  There are so many sports to choose from. What do you love? Hiking, rowing, soccer, kayaking, running or power walking, basketball, volleyball, softball, marshal arts, surfing, flag football,  yoga, tennis, swimming...the list is endless. How about  folklorico dance classes or surfing lessons?
   Get help: Find a mentor or hire a coach or take lessons.  Often there are classes or gym trainers that can help. Sport businesses like R.E.I. often offer classes that help  you. City fitness initiatives and the Parks and Recreation activities can be a resource.  Research equiptment, training schedules, other people's experiences. 

   Create and keep a training plan. Keep it simple and doable for you. I found bike riding plans which included long daily rides. I knew I would not be able to commit to such a schedule, so I created one of my own that included interval training which help to build strength. You also might find that training is also about a regime with weights for strength and yoga for flexibility.  Enter training on your calendar and keep to it. Give it the importance it deserves. 
   Find or create a community. Find people to share your enthusiasm and training.
          If you find a team, it is settled, but for single sports, enlist friends to form running/walking groups, for bicyclists find or form group rides, find gym partners. 
   Rethink nutrition: You are fueling your body to perform, not trying to drop a dress size (although a fitter body can have all kinds of added perks). Skip processed foods and eat fresh vegetables and fruits, good oils, and lean meats or other proteins. 

   Find inspiration: Memoirs, magazines, blogs, friends. Find the inspiration you need to get through the tough times. 

   Celebrate your "wins." Just not by eating a whole cake all by yourself.


July, July

Proud Mary
I wish these long, hot afternoons could last forever. We get out in early morning to take long hard bike rides before we retreat indoors to read, make love, visit the library (ours is gorgeous), or have an iced cup of coffee at a local place and catch up on feedly.com where I get the headlines from my favorite sites everyday.  Evening finds us out of doors again for a walk, or at a local bar having a glass of wine and small plates of botanos.

What else does Dress Muse love about July?

La Course of Le Tour de France  On July 27th "coinciding with the final stage of the 2014 Tour de France, the elite of women's cycling will come together on July 27th for the first edition of La Course by Le Tour de France. The event is destined to become an iconic race in the women's calendar." I can't wait. 

Trader Joe's Espiral Vinho Verde - a Portugese white wine that is light, dry, and effervescent, very inexpensive, my favorite summer drink when the temps hit a hundred plus. We're eating it with any version of figs that we can come up with.  I like fig jam with walnut bread and a cheese tray or as a base for fig and prosciutto pizza. Or if I'm not in the mood to cook up the figs, I just layer them on the pizza dough (I roll out puff pastry) add gorgonzola  and fresh rosemary and prosciutto and invite some friends over to show off.   

Proud Mary is a great site that makes a connection with artisans around the world
who, “receive a fair wage for their work and we are committed to creating long-lasting, sustainable relationships with these talented men and women.” My favorite pieces are the brightly colored woven bags  and white tunics and summery shifts.

Beaches -  The salt in sea water is healing, not to mention the great way it has with my hair. Body surfing and swimming, and banging around in a small DaySailor in the bays (Corpus Christi is the second most windy city in the U.S. and the sailing in Corpus Christi Bay is great) is just a road trip away for us.  My favorite beaches are at South Padre Island and its wilder northern sister, Mustang Island. I sit under an umbrella and read and apply more sunscreen and think about the Gulf shrimp I'm going to order for dinner. Hard days. 
South Padre Island

Melanie at Black Swan Yoga
Swimsuits seem to me as more athletic gear than fashion statement, but still, I want to look good. I order all my suits from Lands End. Since I am long-waisted, I can order them in long. Lots of pretty styles, but I stick to a simple tank in several colors. 

Black Swan Yoga - I am so lazy about getting to the yoga studio so I found a great substitute that gives me a daily workout in my own garden: inexpensive online Yoga sessions from Austin's Black Swan Yoga studios.  I like Melanie's channel. 

It's summertime. You know how the livin' is.


Summer Reads

As Nina Sankovitch wrote in the Huffington Post, "The only real injury that can be done to a book lover is time wasted on a book that does not offer anything new or lovely or moving"  So with that in mind, if you have not read The Elegance of the Hedgehog by  Muriel Barbery or Donna Tartt's new novel The Goldfinch, which just won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for fiction (followed by lots of interesting controversy), then long, languid summer afternoons are the perfect time to do it. I envy you your pleasure.

Other summer suggestions: 

The Giant's House by Elizabeth McCracken - a lonely and pragmatic New England librarian loves a young man suffering from "giantism," he cannot stop growing.  Although an unlikely heroine “…in the course of the novel, this secret romantic's hard shell cracks open in the heat of a most peculiar passion.”  (New York Times) This novel is written with some startling good lines. A lovely elegy on love. 
Chris Abani’s  GraceLand is a 2004 novel which tells the story of a teenager named Elvis Oke, who impersonates Elvis for tourists near his ghetto of Lagos, Nigeria, is trying to make it out. It is beautiful.   Check out Albani’s piece "On Humanity" for TED Talks: It is extraordinarily moving.

Novel Bookstore by Lawrence Cosse is a "novel is at once a wish-fulfillment fantasy for bibliophiles, a love story, a satire of the contemporary literary scene, and a mystery, complete with a patient young police prefect of a literary bent.” (Washington Post)  

City of Bohane by Kevin Berry: The New York Times states, “The extraordinary first novel by the Irish writer Kevin Barry, is full of marvels. They are all literary marvels, of course: marvels of language, invention, surprise. Savage brutality is here, but so is laughter. And humanity. And the abiding ache of tragedy. “  The language may be difficult at first, but that will wear off: It is a cross between the Irish literary tradition of Yeats or Joyce crossed with  Eminem, and the early story telling of Springsteen. How could you resist that?

I will host a book group dinner this month that is a reminder of my time in Spain: herbed olives, Spanish tortilla, good bread and a green salad. I usually serve a locally made mango sorbet with fresh fruit for dessert. Be sure and add red pepper flakes to the herbed olive recipe for a little heat.

The perfect summer dinner is simple, made ahead of time (so you don't miss the talk), and is served cold or at least room temperature. Spanish tortillas are a great way to finish off any vegetables that are still in your crisper. My favorite are sliced zucchini, tomatoes, and potatoes.  I usually top generously with hot Spanish paprika that I still have from Barcelona. 

Slip into a pretty summer frock, pour the chilled vino verde or tempranillo and settle into an early evening of book talk with the smart kids.

Anne Willi’s simple clothes remind me how elegant summer clothes can be.