Artist's Way,  MidLife

The Artist’s Way for Midlife – VITALITY

I am currently working my way through Julia Cameron’s newest Artist’s Way series, It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again – a program specifically targeted to help those in midlife discover creativity and meaning.

This week I focused on chapter ten: Reigniting a Sense of Vitality.

I continue to follow the four cornerstones of the program:

  • Daily hand-written Morning Pages (wrote 7 out of 7 days)
  • Weekly solo Artist Dates (wandered the aisles of craft stores)
  • Two 20-minute solo walks per week (walking the basset… AND treadmill)
  • Ten weekly Memoir prompts (this week focusing on ages 46-50)

Isn’t it a law of physics that states an object in motion stays in motion? If so, then I witnessed science in action. Last week’s post on baby steps transitioned to this week’s treadmill habit. YES… I am taking that first step toward better physical health.

Here’s the thing.

I don’t feel like a sluggard. While I spend most hours in a chair or seated on the couch, my brain is running marathons. It NEVER stops. Consequently, I “feel” as though I am exercising. But my new fitness tracking device tells me otherwise. Left to my own discretion, I take less than 5,000 steps a day (sometimes, far less than that).

It’s embarrassing to admit. But confession is necessary for healing.

In the spirit of taking baby steps, I decided my first goal should be a stretch but achievable. I know I can walk 10,000 steps a day because I’ve done that. But can I do it consistently after a three-year hiatus? Probably not. So instead, I set a goal of walking 7,000 steps a day – every day – for the next three weeks. After Labor Day I plan to increase the pace.

For the past six days, I have met this goal. But my lifestyle demands I plan to walk. It doesn’t just happen automatically. I now set my clock early so I can walk  25 minutes (about 1.5 miles) before starting the day. I also walk that same distance at the end of the day before starting dinner.  Gradually I will increase that time to thirty minutes a session. This activity, plus walking the Bassett, will yield me that daily step count goal.

What does this have to do with Julia’s weekly session?

I researched the word VITALITY: Capacity for the continuation of a meaningful or purposeful existence; exuberant physical strength or mental vigor.

I then looked up the word EXUBERANT: lavishly abundant.

This is what I want for this 3rd Act of Life. I want to live it with passion and abundance. I don’t want to merely exist, I want to thrive!

When I sat down to journal the memoir prompts for the week, I realized the ages we were asked to focus on (46-50) were the most stressful of my life. If you referenced the term “sandwich generation” in the dictionary, my photo would be front and center. The demands of being a mom to three adolescent children, as well as being the primary caretaker of my aging mother, suffocated me.

While I could write a book about the five years I cared for Mom after Dad’s surprising death, I will save those details for a later time. Suffice it to say, Mom did not handle it well. She could not keep track of her medications which caused auditory hallucinations. With great pride, she claimed she never cried after my father’s death, but holding in that grief caused her mental and physical stress. She suffered from high blood pressure but also orthostatic hypertension. Consequently, the drugs often combatted one another and needed constant refinement. She grew tired of the frequent hospital visits. She didn’t like being told what to do (or what not to do). So… she gave up.

Mom was never an exercise enthusiast, but she even refused to attend the social gathering of chair aerobics with the octogenarian neighbors. She loved to read but soon gave that up. She enjoyed country music but wouldn’t turn on the CD player. By the final year of her life, Mom was a mere shell of the woman I knew.

My mantra became: I’m learning to live by watching my mother die.

That was in 2011.

Somehow in the subsequent seven years, I’ve focused on mental health at the expense of the physical. In reality, if I want to live with vitality, I need to strengthen physical, spiritual, relational, emotional and mental health. I need to make self-care a priority and stop waiting for it to magically happen. I need to adjust my perspective from physical exercise is a punishment to believing it is a blessing. With Julia’s encouragement and my fitbit as motivation, I am taking those necessary baby steps.



  • Pat

    Molly, I’ve been hoping my FitBit gives me the feedback to move more each and every day. So far, not so much. I still have days where I’m lucky to hit 3000 steps. Unfortunately yoga, while movement, doesn’t add in steps! Like you, I need to plan it in more. I did today… added in a solo walk between appointments. It only added in 2500 steps…but better than none! Good luck with your morning and evening walk plans.

    • Molly Totoro

      Oh Pat… can I confess how relieved I am to hear someone else struggles to hit 3,000 steps? I thought I was the only one… why do I do that?!

      So far, I do enjoy the morning walk. We will see how I fare once school starts next week 🙂

  • Sue from Sizzling Towards 60 & Beyond

    Another inspiring post, Molly and congratulations on taking baby steps. For me, achieving a goal must include these small steps along the way and also celebrating them. I love your mantra although sad, it is a reminder that we need to not give up on life but live it to the best of our abilities. Thanks so much for sharing and being part of the #MLSTL community. Have a beautiful week. xx

    • Molly Totoro

      I’m learning, Sue, that I have a difficult time understanding the concept of baby steps. Last week I decided to try yoga (along with my increase in daily step count). I figured an introductory video would be an adequate baby step. Not so. The video was forty minutes long and included several “inverted” postures. Halfway through I felt nauseous and had to stop for about ten minutes. I did manage to complete the final five minute cool down.

      Lesson learned? I not only need to start with beginner videos, but I need to limit my yoga instruction to about 20 minutes.

  • Terri Webster Schrandt

    Molly, I think I am your direct opposite when it comes to physical activity, although I can also be in the zone while prepping for my college classes, and not move my body much! I have a FitBit too and I aim for 10,000 steps a day and do reach that number 3-4 days a week. I applaud your getting your walks in, in what you call baby steps, better than not doing it at all! What is nice about fitbit, is you can add activity to it through the app to get that daily exercise goal ticked off. Nice to read this on #MLSTL!

    • Molly Totoro

      Well… my fitbit is actually a fitbit wannabe. I was afraid to pay the full retail price for the original. I wasn’t sure I would actually use it. I’m learning this $30 alternative is quite limiting and does not give an accurate step count. But that’s okay. It did its job. I know what I have to do to hit the 10,000 mark. It all comes down to self-discipline. I will have to rely on my bullet journal to give me the satisfaction of ticking off the exercise goal 🙂

  • Donna

    Hi, Molly – Thank you for another very inspiring post. Thank you also for the reminder that we need to continue to strengthen our physical, spiritual, relational, emotional AND mental health. I usually stop at one! 🙂 #MLSTL

    • Molly Totoro

      It’s hard to keep all the balls in the air, isn’t it? I think as long as we keep them on the radar and don’t neglect one for long periods of time, we are doing good 🙂

  • Natalie

    Congrats, Molly, for taking your baby steps. Please keep it up as I read somewhere that it takes about 21 days to form a habit. I’m disciplined when it comes to take care of my health. So far I feel fit and happy. I know my wellness plan is an ongoing part of my life. #MLSTL

    • Molly Totoro

      I’m learning this is a necessity, Natalie. While I have ignored my physical health for years, I figure “It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again” (to quote Julia) Thank you for the encouragement to keep on keeping on 🙂

  • Leanne |

    I bought a Fitbit in November last year and it brought exactly the same thing to my attention – I just don’t walk enough. I could spend all day sitting on my bottom if I could get away with it! I have been going for a morning walk for the last few years, but that barely got me to the 5,000 step mark, so I’ve added an evening walk with my husband and I aim for 8,000 steps – when the fireworks go off on my fitbit I give myself a mental high five (mind you I don’t reach my target more than a couple of times a week – usually I’m just over 7,000 by the end of the day). But it’s definitely a case of “use it or lose it” so I’ll be perservering too.
    #MLSTL 🙂

    • Molly Totoro

      Thank you SO much for sharing, Leanne! While I must purposefully add walking to my daily to-do list, I really don’t mind it. I’m not sure why I have such a mental block, but I am determined to adjust my perspective and develop a lifetime habit. I am cheering you on as well 🙂

    • Molly Totoro

      Ah… walks through the English countryside? I DREAM of such an opportunity 🙂 It is on my bucket list to walk a portion of The Cotswolds.

      I realized a few years ago that I use my hometown as an excuse not to walk. I reasoned… if I lived in a more exotic place (say a major city like New or Paris … or on the beach… or the English countryside) then I would walk all the time. But that’s a poor excuse for ignoring my physical health. I live in a safe city where I can walk outside if I want … but I also own a treadmill that takes any weather excuses away. It is a mental game and I need to adjust my perspective.

  • Sally Wessely

    Thank you so much for this post! I am stepping out of my comfort zone and trying to revive the love I once had for blogging. That has meant learning new things, and it has meant I will will meet new people. Today was the first time I ever linked to another blog. I’m so glad I did and picked my five posts to read. Your’s was the first.

    I took notes. I wrote down the book you are working through. That sounds like a plan for me too. Today, I walked a mile and half at the Y and thought of how I just must do this on a daily basis, but I know in my heart that I must like you plan to exercise or I will not.

    I also wrote down what you said about learning to live by watching your mother die. That is a daily mantra in my head. My mother at 102 is teaching me so much on how I want the last years of my life to look. Honestly, I want them to look totally different than my mother’s last years have looked. I think you and I would have a lot of notes to compare on that topic.

    • Molly Totoro

      Oh Sally… I’m SO glad you are re-entering the blogging world. And this #MLSTL community is the absolute best!
      Yes, it does sound as though we have LOTS in common. I look forward to getting to know you 🙂
      Thank you for stopping by – and the kind, encouraging words.

  • Christie Hawkes

    7,000 steps every single day is a big goal in my book. On my running days, I easily reach 10,000 steps, but on the other days, 6,000 is a stretch for me. I love the idea of starting and ending the day with a walk. Good luck to you! #MLSTL

    • Molly Totoro

      Thank you for the encouragement, Christie! My “all or nothing” personality says I must walk 10,000 steps a day EVERY single day. You have kindly shown me it doesn’t have to be such a rigid routine.

  • Janet Mary Cobb

    Kudos Molly! I too struggle to hit my target of 10K steps every day. My biggest challenge is on Mon – Wed when I have client calls all day. I do better Thurs – Sun. If I don’t get in steps, I’ve usually ridden my bike. I’ve been trying to see if early morning Mon-Wed would work, but I haven’t been able to make it stick yet. This is absolutely on my radar — so perhaps we can help encourage one another in these baby steps….

    • Molly Totoro

      I would LOVE an accountability partner! While the morning walks have worked well this first week, I do wonder how I will fare next week when school starts (I must leave the house by 7:20 on Tuesday and Thursday). I’m also learning that I can jog in place during long commercial breaks in the evening. It at least gets me off the couch … and I can add about 300 steps per break 🙂

      • Janet Mary Cobb


        7:20 YIKES! Jogging in place is a good idea. Maybe consider walking after school on Tues/Thurs?

        I rode my bike about 6 miles and walked another (with 5 lb weights in my hands) today — much easier when the sun is shining and it is my day off! I am fortunate to own quite a bit of workout equipment — yet I get out of the practice of using it. This weekend rain is predicted so I plan to do my novel reading on the treadmill or bike. Then I hit two goals (reading and exercise) within the same hour!

        I’m happy to share my cell number if you’d like to connect to just send one another an evening text rating our success. I don’t own a fitbit but use Samsung Health to track my steps. Want to email offline to discuss the idea of being accountability partners?

        • Molly Totoro

          WOW … I am so impressed with your double workout day (and with weights, no less) 🙂
          I’d LOVE to be accountability partners, Janet. I will definitely email you. Thank you for the kind offer!

          • Janet Mary Cobb

            Ah – and today there were none! And great plans but then let puttsing on my computer ‘finishing paperwork’ take over. Perhaps tomorrow. But email me and we’ll get started.

  • Molly Stevens

    I just learned about you and your blog through Pat at Retirement Transitions. How have I missed you so long? We have a lot in common, starting with our first names. I love to read, became a writer later in life, am semi-retired, and working through the Julia Cameron book. I wrote a two part blog series about it – published the first one this week with plans for the second one next week. It is a wonderful book. I look forward to reading all your posts about it. And exploring your blog, too. I love to walk and so the walking part of the Artist’s Way is not an issue for me. Artist Dates has been my biggest challenge. I’m glad you are getting your steps in and approaching it with baby steps – an effective way to implement change. So nice to meet you!

    • Molly Totoro

      How wonderful to meet a fellow Molly! I’m excited to visit your blog (which I will do as soon as I published this) and see what you have learned from Julia’s program. Perhaps we can exchange Artist Date ideas? I tend to have several that I repeat over and over. I’d like to expand my repertoire 🙂

  • Mary Lou

    I’m going to research Fitbits. I’ve got to do something to set a fire under me. This past month I’ve been catering to my little ‘heart’ set back and not doing my usual 3 to 4 days of exercise. I am getting in a lot of catching up on #MLSTL blog reading though. Interesting that you mentioned “I’m learning to live by watching my mother die.” Mine taught me so much about living and dying with her indomitable spirit yet I’m also learned a lot of preventive measures to avoid joint replacements which run in my family. One of those measures is getting off my ‘butt’… LOL!

    • Molly Totoro

      Getting off the butt is the hardest part, isn’t it?
      I purchased a fitbit knock-off for about $30. It isn’t great (for example, I noticed the count is about 1,000 steps off from the tracker on my iphone), but I don’t care so much about accuracy as I do about motivation. At this point, I know what I have to do. And, like you said, it involves getting off the couch and lacing up the sneakers 🙂

  • Catherine Ensley

    Molly, I haven’t told you that I’ve been following this series with great interest, and I love it when you add the details of your life into the mix. It inspired me to buy Cameron’s Vein of Gold, which I read recently. It’s fairly similar, I suspect, to It’s Never Too Late. Writing snippets of our life history feels daunting to me, but as I am working through my scrapbooks (ever so slowly, frustratingly slowly), I am also re-reading the journals I wrote during those years. It is interesting (for lack of a better word) to look back on who I was then, as opposed to who I am now. Some of my attitudes back then make me ashamed of myself. At least, I can see that I have grown beyond many of those harmful or limiting beliefs about what my life was at the time, and is now.

    • Molly Totoro

      I am SO impressed with your scrapbooking endeavors, Catherine! I always have great hopes but then don’t follow-through. I just spent about two hours this evening cleaning out my “nook” to make room for scrapbooking. Hopefully it will motivate me to start.
      I actually have Vein of Gold, but I haven’t yet read that one. Perhaps I that will be my next summer project 🙂

  • Marya

    I really need to put that book on my to do list! It sounds awesome. I understand the struggles of not exercising enough. I have a couple of chronic conditions and that makes it hard. Most days I do either a Leslie Sansone workout or some yoga.

    • Molly Totoro

      I do enjoy Leslie Sansone – she is SO upbeat!
      I’d love to begin a yoga routine. Do you have any recommendations? I enjoy Yoga with Adriene on YouTube, but sometimes I’m overwhelmed by the number of video options 🙂

  • Johanna Castro

    Hi Molly, oh I know just what you mean about the sandwich years. I’m actively involved but from afar with brief periods of intense involvement. I find it mentally and physically hard, especially when you feel as if they are giving up. I too have bought a Fitbit to encourage more exercise. Good luck with yours steps and thanks for commenting on my blog earlier this week. #MLSTL

    • Molly Totoro

      Johanna… while these sandwich years are difficult, there is comfort in knowing we are not alone. It is always encouraging to hear others are going through similar experiences and share the same feelings. I know it is but a season of life, and there is light at the end of the tunnel.

  • Claire Saul

    Molly so good to find you – and at just the right time for some inspiration to take my own baby steps. I have chronic health issues and over the last few weeks recurrent dislocations have stopped me from any activity and I can tell you I do feel like a sluggard!! But I have use of my neighbours gym – yes a gym in their garden – and you have inspired to get myself onto the treadmill for a gentle walk this afternoon!!
    I have shared your link on my PainPalsBlog reg feature “Monday Magic Inspiring Blogs for You!”, have a fab BH, Claire x #MLSTL

    • Molly Totoro

      Claire, thank you so much for stopping by and sharing your challenges. I am indeed blessed by good health – and I do not take it for granted! I commend you for pushing yourself just a wee bit, while at the same time giving yourself the grace you need to heal.
      I cannot recommend Julia Cameron’s book enough. If you decide to read through it, I’d love to hear your review 🙂

  • Leslie Clingan

    We have shared many similar experiences. I am thankful to have found you and to be learning through your blog posts. I am slowly working my way through the third chapter. But can relate to this period of your life that you have shared here.

    My 91 year old mom has attempted suicide twice over the past five years which has taken the wind from my family’s collective sails. One day she seems fine, the next day she has intentionally overdosed. I, too, am learning to live or learning about life and aging through my mother’s decline.

    • Molly Totoro

      Oh Leslie… I cannot imagine the pain you are going through, although I can very much empathize. There are times I wonder if Mom used hospice care as a means of ending her life before her time. The doctor insisted she did not need hospice, but after a week of arguing with Mom, her doctor finally relented. And when Mom asked me my thoughts on the subject… I didn’t argue. Blessings to you as you walk through this difficult chapter of life 🙁

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