Healthy Alternatives to Torture

“I suggest surgery, but I have to warn you, the success rate of this procedure is not…perfect. And there could be complications.”

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I blinked at the doctor sitting across from me with a pasted-on smile that said “I’m trying to be polite, but let’s hurry this decision. I have to make up time today.”

“I think I’ll discuss this with my husband, and let you know asap,” I muttered. My heart thumped a crazy beat.

What did I expect from a surgeon? I exited and never went back.

I’d been through many doctors, massage therapists, and physios with little or no relief to my back issues. I was desperate. Let’s face it, what does a writer or an illustrator do when sitting is out of the question for longer than ½ hour? Longer would have been torture, and it’s hard to concentrate on being creative in that state.

I know, I know, you’ve heard me expound upon my glorious stand-up chair.

3 in 1 chair

But the picture of relief isn’t quite complete without the full treatment regime.

For all of you who are determined to relieve (or avoid) back issues due to constant sitting, here’s what I’ve found after years of constant pain in my lower back and investigations into avoiding said pain. Every back is different but this is for lower back pain, around the sacroiliac region.

Enter a different physio. What surprised me the most was the vast difference between physios (and chiropractors for that matter). You have to go through a few, unfortunately, before you find one that works.

This fellow took me past my instinctive guarding in my movements and insisted that I was too young to have this lack in range of motion. I of course argued that he needed to know my history a bit better. However, I thought I’d humour him just this once. His approach was logical enough, to strengthen the tissues around the area to take the strain off the bones, while increasing my range of motion.

But here’s the kicker. If you are as determined as I am to not feel like an eighty-year-old yet, you have to put in the effort. Not much, but there it is. Or you can face the pasted-on smile doctor I mentioned above.

Here are some exercises and stretches that work for me. I couldn’t find the exercises on the internet to show you, before I had to remind myself that I CAN draw. So please refer to the below, rather unprofessional sketches for visual reference. (Especially if you are anything like me – totally visually oriented) Before you start, exercise to warm up the muscles. I go to the gyn and hop on the elliptical or go for a vigorous walk.

Strengthening exercises for lower back:

Lie on your tummy. Stretching your arms ahead of you and legs straight, raise your left arm and right leg for a second or two. Then the other side. Do about 30 to begin and work up. This is really good to strengthen all those itty bitty muscles around the spine.

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Do a plank. On your tummy again, raise up on your elbows and toes holding your body straight. Hold for 30 seconds to begin with. Then work up.

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The horrible clam exercise! Lie on your side with an elastic around your lower thighs. Open your knees against the restriction. Do fifteen at first and work up.

exercises

Stretching exercises for lower back:

Knees folded under you on mat, bow down arms in front reaching. Go into cat stretch. Hold for about 10 seconds. Repeat about 10 times. (I use this many times a day while writing/illustrating. Go into crouching position illustrated below, and feel the stretch on your lower back.

exercises 1

On a mat, fold right leg in front of you, foot under left hip (or pointing that way at least) Lean over your leg. Don’t push it, just feel the stretch on your butt. Hold for about 15 seconds. Work on the other leg the same.

exercises 2

Lie on your back with legs up, bent at knee. Swing them from side to side holding the stretch for about 10 seconds.

exercises 3

 

And there you have it! Not too hard right? It takes me about 10 minutes after I’ve warmed up. I do it 3 times a week or so. (The cat stretch I do many times a day because it feels good!)

 

So, do you have any exercises or stretches that enable you to sit for hours in front of a screen?

 

 

 

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From a Word Processor to Paint Brushes

“And the winner of the 2013 American Christian Fiction Writer’s YA Category is… Loraine Kemp!”

I was dumbfounded! But over-the-top-excited!

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My writing goals seemed to be forging ahead with two contest wins and acquiring an amazing agent in the same year. There was little doubt in my mind about where God was leading me and what my future had in store.

How completely wrong I was. At least for the next few years.

After a year of working with the agent and sending my novel in various directions, lukewarm responses were the result. I felt deflated and confused. “But, but God, I thought…”

That’s when a completely new direction was literally dropped in my lap.

I’ve always been an artist (I’ve provided illustrations for 3 novels to date) but when my buddy Karen Autio asked her publisher to offer the job of illustrating her historical picture book Growing Up In Wild Horse Canyon to me, I couldn’t say no, and signed a contract soon after. With my writing goals not being realized, I had some time on my hands.

To say I was overwhelmed by this illustration project would have been a gigantic understatement. I hadn’t painted for years and the book is an advanced picture book with 28 full-colour pictures that needed to be designed and painted. Not only was there research involved with making this historical fiction come to life (Karen had already done a mammoth amount already), but I also had to take many pictures in Wild Horse Canyon, which was a two-hour hike from our city.

In 2003, a wildfire devoured most of the trees in the canyon, so I had to rely heavily on my imagination to construct the illustrations that took place in the canyon.

I was also deeply worried that I wouldn’t physically be able to illustrate that huge a project under a deadline. Just thinking of it, my back cringed, as sitting for hours on end sent my back into spasms.

I felt strongly that this was a test of faith and that I had to trust God was with me on this one. As grace would have it, I now own the ideal set-up for illustrating: a stand-up chair with many positions available and an adjustable-height table. So far so good.

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To start the process, a year and a half ago, Karen and I talked about each illustration. Normally illustrators and authors don’t work together, but Karen’s historical knowledge was invaluable. Tiny rough drawings of each scene (thumbnails) were finished first, and approved by the publisher. Then came the full-size drawings, again approved by the publisher. Then last fall I began the process of scouring through my thousands of photos (scenery, horses, other animals, and local students posing as historical characters) and painting the illustrations.

To show you all the different stages, I will take one illustration and walk you visually through the steps.

Here is the small thumbnail sketch of the ‘First Contact’ illustration where the fur traders are meeting the native first nation’s band, the Syilx. It is about 3″ by 5″.

first contact thumbnail

Then came the full size drawing. After some research I added a fish drier in the background. The below illustration is about 8″ X 10″

 

first contact full size

 

Now you will have to forgive my bad photography of the painting steps, as my camera wasn’t good at the time. But you will see that I start in one corner and progress.

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I found out that the pinto, (brown and white horse) needed to be changed to an appaloosa, a much coveted horse by the band. The coat my fur trader wore wasn’t going to work. So out came the white paint and the changes were made.

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In addition, the western saddle was not used. A lower, more close-to-the-horse-but-very-uncomfortable saddle had been used. After I spoke to a consultant, I decided that the clothing should have been more what you see below, plus I needed to have an elder overseeing this meeting. (Penciled in below) I had to move the woman and her kids next to the fish dryer to accommodate the elder.

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Almost done. However the rolled blanket on the horse’s saddle is one from the Hudson’s Bay company, not the Pacific Fur Company. Out came more white paint. Plus I completed the rest. I’d had many more tries to get it right than you see here. In all, probably four more changes were involved.

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And just for fun, here are a few more pictures from our book. You will see even more on my website, http://www.lorainekemp.com and look under my portfolio. Or go to my Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/lorainekempartist. Our book will be out this fall and you will see much more on this site about it. It is for kids and adults alike.

The below is a young Syilx man on a vision quest, sort of a ‘coming of age’ occurrence for every young man. Here he is painting the rock faces.

finished vision quest

The below is all about the beginnings of the young in Wild Horse Canyon, a ponderosa pine,  and the wild foal jumping over it.

foal and seedling

Now don’t think for an instant that I am going to get rid of my word processor. I have some ideas for novels that I want to expand on that will need some illustrations as well. I feel that I have learned a great deal about myself and the strengths that I have through this complicated process that I would never have found out if God hadn’t pressed me in this direction. My plans were derailed for something else God had in mind for me, and I’m happy now with that, though admittedly I was not in the beginning. I’m still also a writer, and will always be. I just needed to be open for God’s new gifts for me.

One thing I’ll be eternally grateful for, is that during the contest mentioned above, I was taken on as a Scriblerian. They rock!

Have you ever been sure of your directions and then had the rug pulled out from under you to reveal a new direction?

 

My Seven Secrets to Ease my Writing Woes

Here I sit in a long line to get into the United States to pick up my much anticipated ‘stand-up’ chair at a fedex depot in Bellingham. I’ve searched long and hard for yet another option for me to use while writing and illustrating, and of course I couldn’t find anything like it in Canada. If you’re like me, you’ve had issues with back pain resulting from the hours spent in a sitting position. So to avoid the delays and paying for the shipping costs, we drove to visit my son in Vancouver, are now dropping across the border for some shopping at the strip malls, and at the same time we will up my chair at a fedex depot.

Oh, how I took those pain-free sitting hours for granted when I was younger! I would spend almost the whole day, totally engrossed in whatever project I was working on, be it writing my fiction stories, illustrating a book, or researching for that book or a writing project. Little did I know about the afflictions I would soon have from those hours of sitting, and just plain age related changes to my lower back.

Now, I know more than I ever wanted to know how the sitting position is probably the worst for backs. My trips to see physiotherapists, chiropractors, x-ray clinics, surgeons, acupuncturists, naturopaths, personal weight trainers, etc. have given me a good idea what works and doesn’t work for my particular problem. But enough whining, here are some of the solutions I’ve come up with!

1) To decrease the strain on my lower back, health professionals and friends have suggested certain exercises. When I stick to them, (I also have an arsenal of excuses why I don’t stick to my exercises all the time) they help to strengthen the small muscles around the spine so it isn’t taking the whole brunt of the sitting abuse.

2) Drugs! Yes, I take ‘em: herbal anti-inflammatories, glucosamine, MSM, topical creams as well as my prescribed drugs. I do hate them though, so I only take them when needed, or I have a deadline of some sort.

3) I have a stand-up desk to go along with my stand-up chair! Or I simply stand and work making sure I support my arms so my shoulders don’t become my next problem area!

stand-up desk

4) I limit my time of pure sitting to about a half hour before I get up and wander about, get a snack, do some stretches etc. Anything to change it up.

5) I have an amazing inflatable ball that I sit on. This is great in that you can change your position by rolling slightly on it, mobilizing your back and strengthening it at the same time.

sitting ball

6) I have a kneeling chair! This distributes your weight on to your knees and puts your back in a slightly curved position. (Which I’m told is good)

kneeling chair

7) And now, last but not least, my stand-up chair! It is still eagerly awaiting its new owners in Bellingham. So to show you what it looks like, I copied a picture off the Ergodirect.com site. (It also converts into a kneeling chair, which of course I don’t really need as I already have one.) But the leaning position is great because you aren’t putting your back into the dreaded sitting position, while it distributes your weight down your back to your feet as you stand.

stand up chair

I have also heard of treadmill desks whereupon people can work while walking slowly. This would be great, except many things I need to do require my body to be completely still. (i.e. illustrating.)

So…. Your turn! Have you found anything that helps you work at a computer?