© 2013 jen

Fit-tastic Update: Speaking My First Language

{Photo credit: Bettie Newell}

Every time I play my ukulele I think about how much I just love it. How it makes so much more sense to me than almost anything ever has.

For years, I spent my time with a handful of hobbies: working with my hands making things, singing karaoke, connecting and telling stories with friends. I’ve always been interesting in doing work that challenges me and has the right amount of heart in it. I need to feel what I’m doing and it needs to matter to me.

The other day I wasn’t feeling well, and I spent 13 hours crocheting a sweater I’m working on. As I continued crocheting away, I realized there was a rhythm to my crochet – tiny, little, fast stitches, that stitched up into a bigger piece – with a beat steady enough to tap your foot to. I never realized that I was drawn to the rhythm of craft.

PicMonkey Collage

Instagram photos: Jen Neitzel



I’m feeling really good these days. Healthier than ever. Not every day is a perfect or healthy day and whenever I have an off day I feel a bit worried that I’m losing my health again, but then the next day I’m back to my strong self and reminded that everyone has an off day, even when they are strong and healthy.

I know too that living with this chronic disease means that I’ll always be more vulnerable to possible sickness, which makes me want to stay as healthy as I can so that I can weather whatever sickness storm comes my way.

I’m still exercising and finding that my strength is really surprising. Recently I’ve been lifting between 10 and 20 lb weights in my exercise class. No one in my class lifts weights this heavy. Most of the women lift 3 or 5 lb weights in my class, but our trainer has been trying to get us to use heavier weights, so some of the ladies are up to 8 lbs sometimes. Even my trainer has been like, “Damn, Jen. I cannot believe how strong you are.”

It’s pretty ironic to be so much smaller and to be so much stronger at the same time. I trip on that pretty regularly. Moments like, when I’m at the grocery store and the clerk says, “Can I get you a cart?” And then I realize I’m carrying heavy foods in my arms, but they don’t feel heavy to me. I carry them effortlessly.

I absolutely love being this strong. I love the ease it brings to everything I do.

Today I weigh 193 lbs. I’m down from last week, which I think was 199. I really think part of my weight gain has been muscle because I’m seeing more and more muscular parts popping up all over my body. I am, by far, the strongest I’ve ever been in my life.


The ukulele and singing have all of these same components:

A way of connecting with people through emotions
Something to do with my hands
Something to challenge my brain

I couldn’t have imagined loving learning the ukulele this much or finding so much pleasure, peace, excitement and joy from such a small little wooden instrument, but I really do.

Every time I play I have the distinct feeling that this language of music is my first language and I’m only just learning it now. English is so much more confusing to me than music is – sometimes words just frustrate me.

Music is intuition and heart.

Music brings relief.

I did have the opportunity to play music as a kid, but only the instruments that the band offered at my school. I played flute for one year and sax for a year. Neither were instruments that I could sing along with. I was pretty good at both of my instruments, but not great. I practiced, but not like I do now. I had a lot going on at home when I was young and it was hard for me to concentrate on anything, but I do remember really enjoying playing instruments, and I loved singing in choir.

Actually, every year was a toss up, which would I choose? My voice or an instrument? I could never have both.

What I’m feeling now is an entirely different experience. I sing loud and strong with my ukulele (Myrtle). I play till my hands and throat ache. I make people laugh and bring myself and others (if they allow it) to tears with music. I go to places with my voice that I never would have when I was younger. I sing edgy songs and sweet songs. Sometimes I sing it pure and true, other times gritty and bluesy.

Did you know that there are many health benefits to singing? It’s true! Here’s a little graphic that explains:


I don’t judge it. I just let it out.

I’m still learning. I’m not an expert. Sometimes I’m slow. I make mistakes all the time, but it all makes so much sense. I can feel my mistakes and I know how to correct them. Every day my playing is a little bit stronger.

I can feel the rhythm in my bones. I can feel the emotions in my throat. I can strum with the intensity I need to convey what I’m trying to say with my little Myrtle and my voice – both working together to create the sound.

There’s a connection that happens with an instrument and singing. It’s like the ultimate satisfying self expression.

Why didn’t anyone ever tell me this before? Why didn’t I know?

I’m just glad I know now.

There was a time when I felt sad that I never got to develop my musical style. I’d sing my occasional karaoke song and think it was a shame that I didn’t get to do more with music and then I’d get back to my regular life and forget it mattered to me, again.

But I finally decided it was time to give myself something I’ve always wanted. Music lessons with an instrument I really like, one that I can sing along with. I started lessons in January.

And, I really *like* it!

And I practice.

And I get a little bit better every day.

And I’m learning my first language at 42.

I have no sadness about what I didn’t get musically when I was younger anymore because I’m too busy enjoying the musical bliss I’m in now.

Nowadays, whenever I feel any emotion that I want to change: a little down, worried, or maybe I’m just too happy and need a place to put my spazziness – there’s Myrtle. Waiting for me.

It’s never too late to go after the things you’ve always wanted.

Today is always a good day to begin something you have always loved – like me and Myrtle.

This is proving to be a beautiful love affair.

What about you? What do you wish you were making time for? What did you want when you were young? Is it time to give that to yourself?



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  1. By Jen Neitzel » Pad Thai – Gluten Free!! on June 1, 2013 at 3:37 pm

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