One woman’s beginner intro to rucking

28 May 2024

Whew! Pals, I did not mean there to be such a big gap between today’s post and my last one – but such is life at the end of the school year, I suppose! :) Thanks for being here. Onwards to today’s topic…!

If you had told me a few years ago that I would get into rucking, I probably would have looked at you in confusion – and asked the number one question submitted to the question box when I asked what you wanted to know about rucking on Instagram a few weeks ago: um, what is rucking?!

Well, friends, John and I are a few months into this rucking adventure, and I’d love to share what we’ve experienced so far – the good, the hard, and my advice if you’d like to try it, too. Let’s go!

What is rucking?

Rucking is simply walking with weight on your back – simple as that. Unlike hiking, it doesn’t need to take place in the woods (though it can!). Rucking is an important part of training for many branches of the military, and so the idea of rucking as exercise kind of moved in popularity from military communities out into the wider world in the last decade or so.

Why were we interested in getting into rucking?

Funny story :) In the last year or two, an interview with Michael Easter popped up on one of John’s regular podcasts, as part of a publicity round after publishing his first book. We did a double take – Michael was a fellow graduate of our college class, and in fact was an English major alongside me! It is not common to see a classmate pop up in the news – we went to a tiny school! – and so this was an unexpected delight. In the book and in the podcast interview, Michael extolled the benefits of rucking, which was the first time I remember it piquing our interest. His enthusiasm was later echoed by Peter Attia and others, until it felt like we were hearing about rucking everywhere we turned.

What appealed to us about rucking:

It would not require adding anything additional to our schedule. It might seem silly, but this was the biggest one for me. Since we were already in the practice of taking a walk several times each week, we could simply add weight and get more out of what we were already doing. Balancing the need to exercise with all the other things I want to do is a constant struggle for me, so this was huge, and easily what got me on board so quickly.

The health benefits. From my understanding, rucking builds muscle and strength while improving cardio and endurance. (You can burn up to three times more calories than walking alone.) The pressure the weight puts on your muscles and joints also helps to build bone density, which is particularly important for women.

It’s simple. You just need a pack, some weight, good sneakers, and a place to walk. There are no fancy moves to learn and no subscription to buy.

It’s outside, and can be done with others. We’ve been able to incorporate our kids (more about that below!), and though we haven’t yet participated in any group rucks, we enjoy being able to ruck side by side.

This article lists more benefits of rucking, and I agree with many of them!

How we got started with rucking:

Last fall, John bought us each one of these ruck plates – 20 pounds for me, and 35 pounds for him. (Experts suggest starting with 10-25 pounds and gradually scaling up until you’re carrying no more than 1/3 of your body weight.) We put the weights into normal backpacks we already owned and set off on our first ruck.

It was awful. We were both terribly uncomfortable – the plates sat low on our backs and bounced as we walked – and ended up cutting our first outing to less than ten minutes. I freely shared my very negative impressions with John, ha.

We returned the plates (that was a heavy box to ship off at UPS, yikes) and decided to go all-in with official GoRuck gear – backpacks and plates. We got another 20-pound plate for me, and this time a 30-pound plate for John. This was a leap of faith – our initial attempt was not a positive experience, and the GoRuck gear is not inexpensive – but it seemed like our best option if we wanted to make a real go of it.

While the GoRuck gear was noticeably more comfortable, the weight quickly fatigued my shoulders and back and caused pain between my shoulder blades for the first few weeks. I would complain bitterly to John on even our short 10- or 15-minute loops – somehow it made me feel better, ha – and constantly adjust my straps to try and relieve the pressure.

But we kept going! John gamely encouraged me to “embrace the suck” (which is apparently something that rucking people say), and slowly, over several weeks, the pain started to lessen and we were able to increase our distance. Now, half a year later, we regularly ruck for 30-40 minutes several times a week with no pain or fatigue, at a sub-20-minute/mile pace.

Our thoughts on rucking so far:

Rucking has been a great workout for us. When I have my pack on, I can feel my whole body working — particularly my calves, glutes, rear, and core. I’m grateful for that.

That being said, the greatest delight I take from rucking is twofold: first, as I alluded to at the top, I feel like I’m gaming the system by getting more benefit for my body without adding anything to my schedule. It feels like some sort of cheat code and I am HERE FOR IT. I suppose I’m working both harder and smarter? :)

My second source of delight is knowing that I’m doing something that will make future-me grateful. My bones don’t feel any different right now – I can’t notice any changes and haven’t looked at any scans – but just knowing that what I’m doing today (even when it feels hard), is making it more possible for me to enjoy my favorite people, activities, and places for a long time to come is thrilling for my future-oriented, big-picture-loving brain and heart.

I’m not particularly motivated by pushing myself to complete challenging physical tasks (that’s all John), but increasing the likelihood I’ll be strong, mobile, and independent in the future? That will get me off the couch.

Rucking with kids

A last aspect I wanted to circle back to: though my rucks have mostly consisted of 30-40 minute rucks around our neighborhood thus far, John has set off on longer routes – and he’s taken our two older kids (5 and 8) with him. (They don’t carry packs!) On many Sunday afternoons this spring they’ve set off on treks around our town, a little platoon of adventurers, five miles or so at a time. They’ll stop along the way to play at a playground or get ice cream downtown and return after a few hours, tired but happy. June and John even rucked to our friends’ house one memorable afternoon – 10 miles!! (To be fair, I picked June up toward the end – she completed 9 of the miles :))

I like to think this might be just the beginning of our family’s rucking adventures together. From keeping us connected to keeping us fit, I’m hoping it will be a part of our family’s culture for many years to come.

What questions can I answer for you about rucking? Has anyone else tried it? I’d love to hear!

May 2024 goals

7 May 2024

This past month was the month that made me seriously consider using a project management platform for personal projects.

On the one hand, this feels… ridiculous. Our life is not a business! Our days are not that complicated! Do I really want to log in and see overdue tasks glaring at me at home, too?!

On the other hand, it’s hard to argue with the practicality. I’m grateful to be bound deeply to several roles and communities, and most of them come with responsibilities. From organizing the kindergarten breakfast in our neighborhood, to hosting gatherings for friends, to pulling together an event at church, I’m increasingly seeing the appeal of organizing my to-dos by both date and project. If it helps get the right things done at the right time, why wouldn’t I?

Still, a part of me resists the bureaucratization of such tender, somewhat homely undertakings.

What do you think, friends? I’d love to hear your thoughts (especially if you already do use a project management platform at home!) in the comments.

But first, the month ahead…

On my calendar:
— Teacher Appreciation Week! We’re going with favorite (fun, in our cute downtown) restaurant gift cards for our kids’ three primary teachers, local ice cream shop gift cards for secondary teachers, and small Target gift cards for specials teachers. And hand-painted cards for all (above!), inspired by this cute print!
— Mother’s Day! I’m organizing a flower bar for the ladies at our church, and celebrating my own wonderful mom and mother-in-law. (Details at the end of the post–moms, don’t peek!)
— Two family camping trips – one with Shep’s BFF and one with lots of friends from church – and a June-and-Daddy overnight, 16-mile (!!) hike at Pilot Mountain! John just realized he’s going to be sleeping in a tent for three weekends in a row this month and he was not pleased, ha.

What I’m loving right now:
— We have not historically been breakfast-for-dinner people, but these breakfast burritos have made their way into our regular rotation. I usually add cut fruit on the side and sometimes a pack of the TJ’s microwaveable Spanish rice.
— After three active summers, my pool shoes have bit the dust. Reordering in the olive green!
— John gifted me the Harborview Herringbone blanket in cornflower for Christmas, and it is truly a couch delight. Soft, cozy, but lightweight. Would make a great Mother’s Day present to go in on with siblings! (In fact, my sisters and I did this a few years ago for our mom with this one!)

As a reminder, you can find allll the things I’ve loved over the last few years neatly organized right here!

What you’re loving right now:

This is where I highlight a few items here that have been popular in the last month with fellow readers, based on my analytics. Here’s hoping this will help you find something you’ll love!

— The colorful pullover I’m obsessed with from a new-to-me British brand (as seen here).
— The best best sunscreen, mentioned in my beauty post.
— The cutie mini bowls we use for everything around our house.
— The conditioner we use for June’s long, thick hair.
— And the $6 5×7 photo album that made my Christmas memory keeping a lot simpler.

Last month on The Connected Family:
The Low-Screen Road Trip, Part 1: Why?
The Low-Screen Road Trip, Part 2: What to Do
— The Low-Screen Road Trip, Part 3: Where to Stop
— The Low-Screen Road Trip, Part 4: A Play-by-Play

What I read in April:
The Anxious Generation | Full review here. Needless to say, I loved it. Highly recommend for parents, grandparents, educators, and everyone who cares about future generations.
The Vanderbeekers On the Road | As delightful as always :) June and I have just one more to go in the series!
Flying Solo | I very much enjoyed this author’s debut a few years ago, but this follow-up was just so-so for me. I didn’t relate to the main character’s motivations and the whole thing felt a bit flattened by internet homogeneity. I did like that it was set in and included characters and elements from the same small Midcoast Maine town as the first novel.
The Funeral Ladies of Ellerie County | A great summer pick with more depth than your typical beach read! The characters are memorable and the setting (a small Midwestern lake town) really takes a starring role. This book was written by my friend Claire (will never stop being cool to have author friends!!) and because I’m so used to reading her essays, the person I know her to be crowded to the front of the reading experience – but I’m sure I would have enjoyed it even if I didn’t already like her! :)

My reading list for 2024, if you’d like to follow along!

Revisiting my April goals:
Film Annie in April (Done!)
Write the second lesson of the TCF course (I changed tactics a bit and decided to focus on completing one-hour blocks of work versus completing certain lessons. I took things down to the studs and worked on the outline this month!)
Complete at least 50 hours of deep work (21)
Read chapters 7, 8, and 9 of Outlive (Done!)
Take the Birds & Bees course with John (Yes!! Finally! Loved it.)

May goals:
— Complete at least 40 hours of deep work (My work rhythms have changed a bit this month and I have way more meetings than usual… trying to set a realistic goal so I can hopefully reach it!)
— Thoughtfully prep for Teacher Appreciation Week and Mother’s Day
— Make a loose plan for summer days at home
— Edit Annie in April
— Complete a sweep of the loft
— Finish the 2015-2019 photo album! (Just 2019 to go!!)
— Read chapters 10-11 of Outlive

I also have weekly goals of connecting with my parents and completing one hour of work on the TCF course, and am tracking how many times I do a crossword puzzle at lunch, strength train, and ruck.

As a reminder, many of these are drawn from my 2024 goals!

Along with your thoughts on using project management platforms at home, I would love to hear how you’re celebrating Mother’s Day and Teacher Appreciation Week, if they’re applicable to your stage of life! This year, I opted to get my mom a membership to her favorite botanical garden in Maine, and my mother-in-law tickets to an outdoor NC symphony concert for an upcoming visit! They’re both the type to not prefer physical gifts and/or buy themselves the things they want, so I was pleased when I landed on these ideas :) (This would have been perfect for my MIL, but was sold out!)

Affiliate links are used in this post!

Family spring break trip to Jekyll Island Club

30 April 2024

After a scoot to Florida last year with the whole Thomas fam, we happily returned to Jekyll Island for this year’s spring break. While I love the idea of doing different things for our spring breaks, and I hope we will in the future, Jekyll sure is hard to beat in this season of life: relatively inexpensive, a quick road trip away, and warm, beautiful, historic, and bike-able – among other pluses.

Even as we returned to a familiar location, we managed to sneak in some novelty along the way. I’d love to tell you about it and share a few photos, if you’d like to see!

The first big change for this visit was where we stayed. On our last two visits, we chose to stay at the Jekyll Ocean Club – and loved it both times! The suite set-up is perfect for families, and it’s a dream to be steps away from the beach and right upstairs from the in-house restaurant.

This year, we opted to stay at the Jekyll Island Club, the Ocean Club’s sister property. Located about a mile away on the marsh side of the island, it’s a beautiful historic property built in 1888. The Island Club is a little more grand and formal in feel (there’s a croquet course on the front lawn!), but friendly to families, too. When we saw that staying in the turret room (!) was only about $100 more per night, our decision to switch properties was made.

For us, it was more than worth it. The kids loved winding up and down the circular staircase, sketchbooks and markers and stuffies tucked under their arms, while John and I sat on the lower balcony, Spanish moss under our feet and the beautiful marsh view just beyond.

The second big change was that we traveled with friends! Not in a formal way – it was more akin to a happy accident – but dear friends from home overlapped with us for most of our stay and so we got to enjoy Jekyll in a new way, side-by-side. While they were staying at the Ocean Club, we met up for dinner twice, for a late afternoon on the beach, pool time, a bike ride out to Driftwood Beach, and more.

Our kids loved playing together and it was a delight to get to enjoy each other’s company while they did so. Aside from camping, this was the first time we’d ever really vacationed with friends. Although I’d consider this the most-casual version of “vacationing with friends” (we didn’t stay at the same place, share all meals, or match up our itinerary from the start), it still had the thrill of something new. Not all good friends are good friends to vacation with, but these ones certainly are!

In the midst of those two changes, we enjoyed many of the same things that keep us coming back to Jekyll. On the first night, eager to stretch our legs, we walked to dinner at Red Bug Motors Pizza. It’s a tiny spot with average food, but the walk along the golf course was lovely and the playground right next door was fun while we waited for our order.

The next morning we rented bikes from Jekyll Wheels to complete our fleet for our stay (we’d brought my bike and June’s bike from home, and rented a bike for Shep and a bike with bike seat for John and Annie). We then biked to breakfast at 80 Ocean, which is at the Ocean Club – their waffles are legendary with our kids and always their favorite meal of the trip :)

Then, we biked out to Driftwood Beach, a 10-mile loop. It still shocks me that our kids’ little legs can do it, but the bike path is almost extremely flat, so that helps. We brought lunch from The Pantry, and John and I sat on a blanket and chatted for over an hour while the big kids explored down the beach and Annie puttered around in the tide pools, perfectly content in her own toddler world.

After a gray morning, the sun popped out and lit up a brilliant blue sky when we arrived back at the Island Club mid-afternoon. The kids were desperate to get in the pool, so we did that before cleaning up for dinner at The Wharf, the restaurant steps away from the Island Club.

The next morning was also gray, so after biking to 80 Ocean for breakfast (more waffles!), we drove out to Horton Pond to see if we could see any gators. The skies opened up while we were pulling in, but we dodged the raindrops to get to the observation platform and spotted a few despite the rain. We were stranded with a kind couple from Ohio who had been vacationing in Jekyll for 18 years – it was fun to chat!

From there, we visited the Georgia Sea Turtle Center (more about that here), had lunch at The Pantry, and then met up with our friends for a gray late-afternoon exploring tide pools at the beach.

We then hustled to our rooms to change before zipping back to the Ocean Club for dinner. The kids were beyond thrilled to be seated at the kitchen bar, where they had a front-row seat to the wood-fired oven and pizza-making station. Very fun and memorable.

The next morning we had breakfast at the Island Club restaurant’s buffet. It’s fun to eat in the formal dining room, but I might skip it next time – hard to compete with those waffles, ha. We spent some time exploring the grounds and cottages before meeting up with our friends for another bike ride out to Driftwood Beach (!). I don’t think our kids would have agreed to 10-mile rides on back-to-back days, but the lure of riding with friends and playing together at the beach was overpowering.

Afterwards, we briefly swam at the Ocean Club pool before hustling back to the Island Club with a thunderstorm at our backs. We met back up with our friends at Driftwood Bistro for a last dinner together of simple, classic, yummy Southern favorites before one more night in the turret and one more breakfast of waffles before heading back to North Carolina the next morning.

Each day with these people is precious. I’m so grateful we got to return to Jekyll this year, and to add another layer onto our spring break memories. Thanks for letting me share a peek, friends!

Our 2021 trip to Jekyll Island
Our 2022 trip to Jekyll Island

You can change your traditions

17 April 2024

Something simple today!

A few years ago, I began a new holiday tradition: filling in a Christmas memory book.

This checks out, right? Holidays, traditions, and intentional memory making are kind of my thing (or, one of my things, anyway!), so this wasn’t a surprising development. What may surprise you, though, is how poorly I stuck to the tradition in the years since. I filled in about half of the questions the first year, and then a handful the second year… but always a bit half-heartedly. The prompts felt repetitive, and my answers weren’t capturing what actually mattered to me about the Christmas season.

This past year, I never pulled the book out of the Christmas boxes. And wow if this wasn’t Cultivate What Matters 101: if a goal (or a tradition, or project, or memory book) doesn’t really matter to you, you’re unlikely to follow through. 

(Cut to me, not following through.)

So I sat with that for a minute. On the surface, this memory book seemed to be checking all the boxes: I love Christmas and value celebrating it in a meaningful way. I love writing. I love records that add up over time. Still, this book wasn’t doing it for me! As I packed away the Christmas boxes, though, I hit on something that I thought actually would be meaningful to me…

As longtime readers know, I pour significant time and effort into creating our Christmas cards and newsletters each year. It’s a project that connects me to my grandmother and to fond childhood memories of sitting around a table with my siblings and parents, adding our signatures one by one to the year’s letter. It scratches my creative itch, it connects me with people I love around the country, and it satisfies my desire to tell a story about the year as it’s ending — to tie a bow on it, if you will. It delights me to no end.

What would be meaningful, I realized, was finding a better way to enjoy those Christmas cards I work so hard on, as well as a few photos from each Christmas season. No, it’s not a 1:1 switch, but once I realized that this mattered much more to me than recording what we ate on Christmas Eve (spoiler alert, it’s always the same) or what songs everyone was loving that year (spoiler alert, they’re almost always the same), it was an easy one.

Now, our Christmas cards, letters, and photos live in a simple album that’s easy for everyone to flip through. I couldn’t love it more.

I know this is a tiny, simple switch, but to me, it”s emblematic of a larger idea, and so it seemed worth sharing, in case you might need the same reminder I did:

You can change traditions, no matter how long they’ve been running or how much money they cost to get off the ground. You can tweak them, refresh them, or scrap them completely.

You can change the way you capture memories. You can start something new (even if it won’t capture your whole marriage or your kids’ whole childhood!) and you can retire something that no longer fits (even if you’ve invested many years into it!).

Saying goodbye to what doesn’t matter (or what matters less) makes room for the things that matter more (and the things that matter most). That’s a reminder I always need. You, too?

Friends, I’d love to hear: have you scrapped or significantly changed a tradition or way you record memories? It can be really hard!