Tag Archive | Ellen Barrett

Run through the jungle

Our free-range garden this year is populated more by compost uprisings than deliberate plantings. The results have been surprising.

Our free-range garden this year is populated more by compost uprisings than deliberate plantings. The results have been surprising.

Life continues to feel like a run through the jungle, never stopping, never slowing down, pushing vines and branches aside, and never knowing what lurks behind the next bamboo stand.

But Creedence Clearwater Revival’s unforgettable song pulses through my head in a more literal than metaphorical sense almost daily when I look at or enter our wild backyard garden this year. Vines are everywhere. Vines we didn’t plant.

Seems we have a compost-seeded thicket that’s full of surprises. As in the vine that ate Manhattan – or would if turned loose. We thought at first that it was a watermelon, something we did plant that disappeared. Then we decided it must be cantaloupe, until one burst as we were waiting for it to turn tan. Nope, we have honeydew melons of all sizes on the ground, hanging over the fence, from tomato-plant cones.

We also have tomato vines snaking across the ground with green tomatoes of all sizes and varieties everywhere you look. And, for some reason, the squirrels seem to have backed off right as the grape tomatoes are coming in – and they are delicious. Better late than never, though we’d about given up hope.

Occasionally we find banana peppers and eggplant hiding under the vines. Free-range gardening has been interesting.


Our other jungle, a bamboo stand, keeps marching across the yard and now through our brick patio. The dogs and grandkids love to play in the bamboo, and nothing else will grow there. All we can do is try our best to contain it to that area. You can see below how far it’s advancing. Excuse the mess of a yard.

Tess just happened to pose right between two baby bamboo patches. She likes to pose for photos, and the bamboo loves to grow.

Tess just happened to pose right between two baby bamboo patches. She likes to pose for photos, and the bamboo loves to grow.


Grammy's new green makes her smile. The old green did not.

Grammy’s new green makes her smile. The old green did not.

Speaking of green things, Mother’s living room at her new home was a very dark, drab olive (with a dark gold ceiling and dark drapes), until Liz got through with it. Now it’s a lovely pale celery-ish green with a bright white ceiling, and Mother couldn’t be happier. Liz and Brent spent a day there while I babysat, then Liz did the rest of the work.

Except the touchups and cleaning of the paint-dots on the hardwoods, which were my turn.

Tuesday night as Mother and I worked on touchups and cleanup, I was on my hands and knees flicking paint flecks with my thumbnail and washing them off with Windex. Made the mistake of saying, “Ouch,” with Mother in earshot.

My shoulders are delicate since my rotator cuff surgery came partially undone – my fault and I’m banned from weight-rooms for life – so Mother ordered me to stop.

“No, I’ve got to finish this. I’ll just switch hands,” I told her. (Is it sassing if you’re 58?) She fretted but I kept going.

She, on the other hand, kept bending at the waist since she can’t squat or get on her knees (she’s still flexible as heck) to flick some flecks when she let out a loud, “Ouch!”

“What?!” I asked her. She mumbled that it was just her knee – it really hurt sometimes lately when she bends over.

“Well, you stop that,” I told her. “You can’t be getting hurt.”

“No, I’ll just do this area ….” You get the picture.

I just started laughing on my hands and knees.

“We are two stubborn women,” I told Mother.

She burst into laughter at that – and kept working.

The stubborn-off was a tie, I’d say.


Should be interesting next April when we go to Florence and Venice for her 80th and my 60th birthdays. She picked the cities, I booked the hotels and flights. We have her doctors’ blessings to go, so via andare.

I’ve been across the Atlantic twice without my trusty traveling companion and man I love, but those trips were with groups. This will be the two old stubborn gals on an adventure.

I’m brushing up on Italian.


ZOOM STEMMARI_NeroAvolaSpeaking of Italian, I’ve discovered a Sicilian wine worth sharing, Stemmari Nero D’Avolo. It’s in my favorites list now. Love how it tastes and that the grapes are grown with sustainable farming.

And that it’s from Sicily, the next place in Italy I want to go. I’ll let you know after we try the chardonnay and pinot noir.

I expect them to be fabulous, too.


power-fusion One last thing in this random run though a blog post: Sometimes it’s good to go back to something you haven’t done in a while to see how your
skills/strength/balance/memory/whatever are holding up. So, with that in mind – and because I’ve missed her – I’ve pulled out my two favorite Ellen Barrett exercise DVDs again. ellenbarrettgracegusto

Still love them, still love her soothing personality – she is one of the nicest people I’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting with (literally, as in in person in my previous life as a fitness columnist, and more than once). I wrote about them 2 1/2 years ago or so, so I won’t rehash the workouts, but I will recommend them again.

So much fun. Made my legs sore in a good way. You won’t get hurt with these if you’re older but you will get toned with them, even if you’re younger.

My balance? Still pretty good. Could use some tuning up before Italy, so I’d better go for some Power Fusion.

Più tardi.


Flirting with time

Reading and thinking about the biology of aging this week (for a class) has had me thinking more than ever how people of a certain age who don’t exercise are just flirting with time.

Time may be quite a tease, but it will get you in the end with things like faulty balance, weak or stiff muscles, uncertain gait, and loss of confidence from being unable to do all the things we do that make life easy and keep us independent.

Like bending over to tie a shoe. Or standing on one foot to put on pants or on your tiptoes to reach for something on a high shelf. Or picking up your grandchild.

When we’re younger exercise often starts as a function of vanity. By the 50s, well, there’s still that, but it’s also to maintain strength and balance. Working out/exercising regularly might not literally add years to your life, but it will add life to your years in terms of pep in your step, youthful posture and confidence.

Not to mention the whole calorie-burning thing. And the cardio health considerations. And the apparent fact that exercise converts white fat into calorie-smoking brown fat so you can eat more and maintain your weight as you age.

Baby boomers, I’m talking to you. But also to your grown kids. And to your parents. Do yourselves a favor, even if you don’t “exercise,” and work on your balance. It’s never too early and it’s never too late.

If you want an enjoyable DVD to help you get started working on your balance, Ellen Barrett Live: Power Fusion  is great. And, for me, anyway, it’s fun, fun, fun.

Part yoga and part dance, the many repetitions of deceptively easy movements will have you sweating in no time – and wondering how that level of intensity snuck up on you.

You may need to adapt some moves (I have to tweak the arm movements to avoid damaging my refurbished rotator cuffs, for example); conveniently, you have a “modifier” to follow. Another example: I’ve never been very limber and can’t “thread the needle.” Probably never will be able to, but that’s ok.

In my 40s, I’d have struggled to thread that needle no matter how bad it hurt and what damage it did – and that’s at home in front of the TV, not in a class full of fellow she-jocks. Silly, huh?

I got over myself. These days I modify and move on.

Back to Power Fusion – I’d recommend it to anyone. Even if you can’t do the one-legged balance moves today, stick with it and you’ll get there. And you just might be able to outwit time.

Full of grace

Just did Ellen Barrett’s new workout, “Grace+Gusto.”  As always, she’s full of grace, and as always, she made me feel graceful, too. I venture to bet she can do the same for you, even if you’re out of shape and it takes you a time or two to get there.

I’ve been working out with Ellen through various DVDs for more than a decade. She’s had at least 17 years in the biz, but we met in person about 10 years ago, and I can tell you she’s one of the genuinely nicest people you can ever hope to meet. Mutual friend Melissa McNeese introduced us.

She rode a train from Connecticut to Manhattan just to meet some of my newspaper staff students a few years ago – when Connecticut was covered in deep snow and the weather was less than pleasant. But that’s the kind of person she is.

So I have a vested interest in her success, in full disclosure. I like her a lot. But if I didn’t totally trust her with my own partially broken-down 50+ bod, I wouldn’t unhesitatingly recommend her workouts to baby boomers (and their moms, for that matter). But I do, and I do.

Ellen’s a real person, down-to-earth and sensible, and this workout is shot in real time, with no breaks for touchups, and with real people in assorted shapes working out with her (that’s a standard EB touch). If there’s something you can’t do, follow the modifier or adapt on your own.

(My eternally ouchy damaged rotator cuffs require constant adaptation, for example. The grandbaby challenge keeps them on the edge, so I modify like mad on most days.)

She’s all about functional fitness – it’s nice to look good, but it’s better to be able to keep your balance and lift yourself up if you happen to fall, as Ellen points out during the triceps dips. She also talks about the benefits of aging, which is a happy bonus for us older gals.

But the best thing about Ellen for me is how happy I feel during her workouts. I can be a grumpy granny when I start, but by the end – no, by the beginning, actually – I’m a let-it-be Lolly.

Just had to share my endorphin high. You might want to get this workout, especially if you’re a resolutioner.

Carry on.