Reverb 16 | December 31 | Hope

Hope. What are you hopeful for in the new year?

I don’t have a Bucket List in the traditional sense.

Mostly because, despite loving to plan, I don’t want to prescribe. And partly because it sort of feels like tempting fate– as soon as I declare I want something, that something starts slipping through my fingers.

Instead of a list of things I need to do before I kick the bucket, I think of a list of things that fill my bucket.

I am glad I am writing this two days too late, because I am hopeful that yesterday (New Year’s Day) was just a foretaste of the feast of a great 2017. Aaron and I woke at the crack of dawn (after only 4.5 hours of sleep and, aside: I am not designed for staying awake until midnight anymore) and drove to the North Shore of Lake Superior–about 4 hours from home. Tettegouche State Park is host to a variety of trails, including ski and snowshoe, and a section of the Superior Hiking Trail.

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At the suggestion of the park ranger, we donned our snowshoes and headed for an area called The Drainpipe. We could see from the tracks that many other snowshoers had simply arrived at The Drainpipe and then retreated. But we could also see that sometime this winter, someone had gone up this narrow, nearly vertical path. So we tried it too.

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And what it unlocked to us was a section of the Superior Hiking Trail that has been untouched since the snow started falling this season.

The woods were silent and a gently blowing snow made everything glitter. We were setting our own path (with the occasional helpful guidance of the blue blazes that mark the through-hike). It wasn’t always easy, even with snowshoes, to tromp through the knee-high fluff. But we were oh-so-rewarded with the opportunity to be somewhere no one else has been yet this year.

 

 

And at the end of the day, after a warm meal and bellies full of delicious Fitger’s beer, I mentally put yesterday’s events into my bucket. The bucket I hope to fill with the best adventures and newly blazed trails before I kick it over in my final act of living.

And my hope is that the rest of the year is just like yesterday. A year of trail-finding and setting my own way, of climbing the Drainpipes after everyone else has turned back, of asking, “What’s over here?” and having an adventure partner who always says, “Let’s go look!”

Yes, 2017. Let’s go look.

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Reverb16 | December 11 | Favorite Things

Favorite things. Post a photo of your favorite things– it can be holiday related, or just something you are really fond of year round.

I know that people and places and experiences are always supposed to bring us more joy and happiness than our Stuff and Things, but sometimes a Thing brings you closer to those people and places and experiences, so you can’t help but love the Thing quite a bit, too.

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That is how I feel about her.

I don’t know if it is customary for people to name their canoes, but this one is called Antelope Wells, after the name of the outpost at the terminus of The Bike Trip That Should Have Been But Wasn’t. We took her out to a little urban lake near our home, christened her with some Glenlivet from a tiny travel bottle, and promised ourselves that the adventures weren’t over.  The heartbreak of the canceled bike trip was still sharp, and I can’t speak for Aaron, but it would at times wave over me unexpectedly and in ways so profound I was unprepared. Bringing her home helped channel that into learning something new and planning for a new expedition, albeit of smaller scale.

We spent all summer paddling around the local lakes. Aaron learned some useful canoe strokes, I learned that the large pocket of my life jacket held a 12 oz. can of beer perfectly, like a beer coozie you wear. I carried around a half-empty travel sized bottle of Glenlivet in the other pocket.

We planned a four night trip to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness for late September. A place relatively close to us that we visit all too rarely– our last trip being in 2011 when we were newly dating, inexperienced campers. In the intervening years, we have gotten a lot smarter about outdoor living, picked up some excellent gear, and gotten into a campsite rhythm (Aaron sets up the tent alone, Kate does most of the kitchen and water-fetching duties and I know it all sounds very Traditional Gender Roles and I don’t even care because I have a 0% success rate of keeping the tent pole out of my eye when setting it up).

And on that trip I drank whiskey while my husband fished.

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I sat cozy in the canoe, floating on glassy lakes, talking about everything and nothing; the only sound punctuating our conversation was the gentle whirring of the fishing reel and resident loon calling.

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I got be in this sunset. And just minutes after this shot, I got to hear the wolves howl.

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I got to follow moose tracks down a muddy portage trail, watch an eagle dine on a fine fish breakfast, swing in my hammock on the shore of a silent lake, paddle through a gentle rainstorm, build fires every evening, and talk (or not talk) to my husband late into the night until the sky was so spotted with stars you could hardly see the space between them.

Favorite people (well, person). Favorite place. Favorite experiences. All brought to me by this Favorite Thing.

 

A Reflection on 72 Hours of Wilderness

I have been attempting to compose, organize, and draft my thoughts on my recent trip to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCA) for several days now, but it is much harder than I thought.  Perhaps, much like the photos I captured while there, my storytelling can’t really do that part of the world the justice it deserves. 

I thought about giving you the play by play– detailing each lake, each portage, each mosquito-infested campsite, and relaying the horrors that are northwoods latrines. 
But it still didn’t seem big enough.
So what I came up with is quite a bit simpler, a little more abstract.
To be in a wilderness so dense and unspoilt is an incredibly humbling experience. The moment the paddle shatters the reflected forest on the surface of the cool, clean lake I had to involuntarily surrender control to my environment. The weather, downed trees, nosy wildlife; they all have the ability to overpower the skills I bring with me.  There is only a small smattering of people, scattered few and far between, and travelers can’t count on seeing anyone.  You certainly can’t count on anyone having a working communication device. 

Those things in mind, I think it is a space that redefines ‘trouble.’  To be in trouble here at home (flat tire, late bus, broken appliance, and so on) is really to be inconvenienced.  To be in trouble in the BWCA is to be in trouble.

To be in the BWCA is also empowering.  There is that beautiful feeling of chasing (and then catching!) an experience many people don’t get to have.  It is a place ripe for accomplishing many things, from the simple breakfast cooked over a camp stove to the 232 rod portage.  It fosters a great sense of independence and self-reliance.  At the same time, it makes one put a lot of trust in the person they travel with– trust that that person will have your best interests and safety in mind, trust that that person will communicate, trust that that person will not get (too) frustrated. 

I think I may have said this about rural North Dakota too, but if there is such thing as ‘God’s Country,’ the BWCA is it.  I cannot think of many places that I have been to that inspired me with a sunrise, amazed me  and challenged throughout the day, instilled great fear and respect for my surroundings in me as the sunset washed the world in a purple shadow, and then gently rocked me to sleep with the most stars I have ever seen in one night and the gentle lullabye of wilderness in the nighttime. 

My words, like photos that just look like water, trees, and sky, do not begin to really describe this magnificent place.

On the Plains of North Dakota

Beautiful? Sure.  For a little bit.

By hour 8 on Interstate 94, headed westward through North Dakota from Minneapolis, this view gets a little old.  In fact, by the 8th hour in the car you have run out of stories for your road trip teammates to catch up on your hectic summer life.  You have already passed the giant bison in Jamestown:
and the world’s largest holstein cow in New Salem (I don’t know those people):

Apparently, this cow’s name is Salem Sue.  Thanks, Google!
The land, while beautiful, is so empty that even your game of “those are my cows” has fizzled.  There simply are no cows to claim.  As the car travels west, the soft, flat landscape of the Dakota plains begins to give rise to a few rocky bursts as we hit the very earliest signs of the North Dakota Badlands and one road trip teammate cracks an “I like big buttes” joke that gets far more laughter than it deserves. Everything is funny during the 8th hour.
The road is flooded about 50 miles out of Dickinson, ND (our final destination) and everyone slows to a painful 45 miles per hour after sailing across the state at 80 or 85.  Passengers are overwhelmed by the feeling that we never want to be in a car again. For the rest of our lives. 
Phone calls and texts from Dickinson start coming in with less than an hour to go: “We’re all checked in, can’t wait to see you guys!” “Are you close?” “Will you pick up at least one case of beer?” “I think the groom’s dinner includes free beer and wine.” These messages feel like twinkling lights on the horizon– we will make it and it will be good.
And it was good.  In truth, as boring as the drive can be at times, you cannot at some point be overwhelmed by the beauty and serenity of huge plots of land that remain virtually untouched.  It made me think, If there is such thing as ‘God’s country,’ this truly must be it. And there is a charm to small towns that cannot be matched by the excitement and glamour of bustling cities.  Residents and strangers alike are all old friends, and life moves at a pace that allows one to truly enjoy a lively conversation over a hot breakfast and the summer breeze caught in the veil of a new bride.
Though a thousand-mile-round-trip-in-the-span-of-72-hours mini-vacation wasn’t always riveting, the truth is I would have traveled much further and much longer to celebrate the wedding of dear friends, who now embark on a far greater journey of love, partnership, and compromise. 
May they continue to laugh at one another’s ‘big butte’ jokes and not take every opportunity to kill the other’s cows with each passing cemetery.

25 Things of Importance from My 25th Year

I kicked off the 25th year by going to the Red Bull Flugtag in Saint Paul.  Grown adults, about 6-8 per team, build falling flying machines and throw them into fly them over the Mississippi river.  Very fantastic way to celebrate one’s birthday!

Brewhouse Triathlon in Duluth, MN.  This trip also included my first time swimming in Lake Superior and a chance to see the beautiful tall ships in a special event in the Duluth Harbor. 
The Muddy Buddy Race, where I learned that ski slopes are for skiing and mountain bikes are heavy.
A pop/rock concert with my grandma at the Target Center (American Idol on Tour).
Two lovely camping trips to the North Shore with two lovely friends, one of which who has a gift for cooking over a fire.

A trip to our nation’s capitol, which I think should be called the City of Learning.  You cannot possibly be seeing Washington, DC right if you do not learn something.  Also got to see an exhibit by one of my favorite contemporary American artists, Chuck Close.
Defended my Masters thesis on a sunny Tuesday afternoon.
(So I am using my calendar to make sure I don’t miss any important events) I wrote “Christmas Tree Extravaganza” on a weekend in December and at first couldn’t figure out what on earth that meant.  But then I remembered: it means even as an adult, there is something very safe and a bit magical about getting to go to the home where you grew up, even if it is only 15 miles from your current home.

Right away into the new year I met someone who weekly reminds me to ‘chill out,’ taught me to play frisbee golf, also has good taste in beer, tells wonderful stories from around the world, routinely emails me “must hear this” music, and provides a lot of perspective when things feel chaotic.
The ladies of the family took a clay tiles class.  The lesson? Canvas and paint just makes more sense to me, but I did walk away with at least one awesome coaster and a cool trivet.
Had an article I wrote about going to ASA Fastpitch Nationals as a young teenager published in the ASA Softball magazine.
Weekend trip to Fort Myers, Florida to watch Twins Spring Training, hang out with two fabulous ladies, and eat delicious seafood at quirky restaurants.

Moved into my first “on my own” apartment in a quiet Saint Paul neighborhood.  Quickly discovered how expensive that is. 
Celebrated Mom’s first 5K finish at the Get in Gear 5K at Minnehaha Park!
Toured local brewery, Surly, and fell in love with their story (I was already in love with the beer).
Bought a kitty.  Rescued a kitty.  I already can’t remember what my home was like before he walked under my feet, meowed constantly, and left little bits of shredded [fill in with: paper, cardboard, styrofoam, flowers, spider plant]. 
Celebrated the graduation of 2 lawyers, a dentist, and a physical therapist.  My friends are freakishly smart.
Traveled to Decorah, IA for good beer and a lot of potato salad, good friends, a trombone quartet in a farm garage (as deer ran across the field- no kidding!), and 5 people in a tent.  Oh, and a dog the size of a horse. 
A long and trying few weeks responding to the North Minneapolis Tornado.  Today, I am proud to have been a small piece of the puzzle that helped bring the needed resources to those affected and hopefully in the coming months we will see a stronger Northside. 
Personal best time at the Buffalo Triathlon. Thank you, less hilly bike course!
Hung my first art show at the Minneapolis Skyway Senior Center.  Apparently drew a lot of opinions from some of Minneapolis’s most experienced citizens…
Went to several Twins games (finally seeing Target Field) but the highlight had to be watching one from a suite.  Nothing makes me a fan like free food and cushy seats.
Enjoyed the Ordway’s production of “Guys and Dolls” with Mom and Kim for Mother’s Day/Kim’s birthday.
Accepted and sponsored to present my work at a national summit in Atlanta, GA.
Started selling artwork on Etsy.  Sold 2 so far, although only to people I know…

It’s been a good year.  I am feeling ready to head into the next quarter century!

“Those cows are mine,” the horse dog, 4 trombones, and other tales from south of the border

I know this is oh-so-late.  Forgive me. 

In the midst of a very emotionally and physically trying few weeks at work, I was granted my Memorial Day weekend and traveled to Decorah, Iowa.  I had previously only been to Iowa once and my experience can be summed up as: sludge in the hotel pool, stale donut for breakfast, an airplane engine for an air condition, and Ft. Madison prison.  Other than this trip, my ideas about Iowa came mostly from pop culture references such as:

This I like because, even though I don’t know these guys, they are demonstrating an important fact about Iowa– the highest elevation in the state is in a corn field. 
So, against my best judgment, I let myself be carted across the border on a sunny Friday afternoon, headed to Iowa.  Decorah, specifically, a place where 80 percent of the homes have gnomes in their yards or windows and no fewer than half the flagpoles fly the banners of Sweden or Norway, is an incredibly peaceful respite from the hustle of the Twin Cities. 
On the way, Aaron taught me a car game that I feel is perfect for driving through the heart of the Midwest: Those Cows Are Mine.  The rules are simple– if you see a herd or small grouping of cows, you simply exclaim to all other people in the car, “Those cows are mine.”  There is no counting of cows or herds; there is no score.  And if you see a cemetery, you want to be the first person to unleash havoc on everyone else’s cow collecting by declaring, “Your cows are dead.”  In all fairness, the passenger has a clear, insurmountable advantage in that they can look far and wide for the most hidden heard of cows to quickly claim as their own. 
Once I had claimed all of the Minnesota-Iowa cows I could, we arrived in Decorah and drove straight to Luther College, Aaron’s undergraduate institution of learning and tromboning and other things uniquely college/young 20’s.  The self-guided tour included the following distinct features of Luther College: The CFL, where music is played on a grand stage for a packed house; the Union; the library, including a Japanese rock garden under the stairs and a visit to the study corral Aaron used to do much of his research and writing; the library lawn; the music practice rooms; the art building; the science building; the gym where an infamous “Hard Body Plan” once took place; and various other significant buildings, landmarks, and lawns.
Decorah has a certain magnetic pull that seems to be an especially strong force on young men with large brass instruments in their trunks.  We met up with two of Aaron’s closest friends from college (as well as the joyous fiancee of one of them), who also are accomplished trombone players (trombonists? tromboners? I am not sure…).  One of the best parts of the trip was driving down some rural roads just outside Decorah, 5 young adults in a powder blue Prius, sunburnt and relaxed after a day of site-seeing and frisbee golfing, to a small white farmhouse.  We pulled in to see four chairs and four music stands pre-arranged for the evening festivities– a concert by a garage band, if garage band means impromptu trombone quartet.  It was an incredibly soothing experience for me, having just come from a city literally torn apart by disaster, to laze in a chair in the middle of the country and listen to four gentlemen make music and shoot the breeze.  It is here that we also met the horse dog, Magne.  Magne is a giant black Great Dane with the running gait of a fish out of water and sweet, sweet eyes.  While Magne is Norwegian for “fierce warrior,” I would describe him as a pretty gentle giant. 
I am realizing this post is starting to get long, and probably isn’t very cohesive… I apologize, but it is hard to weave into my own experience each of the stories shared by the young men about what the people and places in Decorah mean to them and this very strong kinship between them and this sort of fairytale place.  Every story has this fantastical, larger-than-life quality that makes you fall in love with all the characters.  I can say, hopefully with great clarity, that it is always wonderful to be welcomed into a group of close friends nearly immediately and with such warmth.  So much so, in fact, that sleeping 5 across in a 4 person tent is only crowded, but never awkward.

Spring Training 2011 and why the months of April (and maybe May and June), September, and October are going to be difficult

Hockey pre-season starts in September and regular season goes through April.  Play-offs and the Stanley Cup championships go all the way until the 2nd week of June.  

This makes it nearly impossible to also be a fan of a sport in which the pre-season starts late February and regular season starts in April (this covers the most critical period of hockey’s regular season).  Further, post-season play could end up stretching into October, overlapping with hockey’s earliest drops of the pucks.   
And, after all, I do live in the State of Hockey.  Not the State of Baseball.
But something makes me think I might slowly be turning a corner, and I may have to be a two-sport fanatic.  I am sure it has nothing to do with 4 beautiful days in Ft. Myers, FL, attending my first outdoor professional baseball games, third row tickets, ballpark hot dogs, fabulous company, or the awesomeness that is: a foam finger.  

100 Reads: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time

I made a lovely Sunday visit to Half-Priced Books yesterday and picked up this Mark Haddon novel for $6.  The story is written in the first person perspective of Christopher Boone, a British teenager experiencing life within the autism spectrum.  Although autism is not explicitly stated in the text itself, the story describes experiences and preferences that are undoubtedly characteristics of autism spectrum disorders, such as having all of the prime numbers from 1 to 7,057 memorized, an unexplained and severe disgust for the color yellow, an extremely negative reaction to being touched or hugged, and an inability to recognize and relate to complex human emotion. 
I am so far 42 pages in to this novel and found it hard not to fall in love with young Christopher as he so bluntly points out some of the nuances of language and human interaction that most of us take for granted.  The story has started with the discovery that a neighborhood dog has died from a garden fork wound and Christopher has decided to take up investigation of the dog’s murder. 
As a mostly non-fiction reader, I am happy to have found a novel that is holding my attention so well.  I think this is going to be a fabulous plane ride/poolside book for my extended weekend vacation coming up in less than 72 hours! 

Mobile Mugwump

No.  There’s not an “app” for Mobile Mugwump, although I suppose- in theory- you could be reading me from your fandangled smartphone/mobile device of the gods*.  Imagine for a moment, if you will, all the places you could enjoy me from if I went digitally mobile: work (you shouldn’t be reading personal blogs at work!), home (you really shouldn’t ignore that pile of laundry or the beautiful weather to read this child-adult complain), the bathroom (ugh, gross!), waiting in line (ahhhhh, you’re one of those people…).  On second thought, let’s just enjoy this from your computer. 

This Mugwump went mobile, analog style.  I spent an extended Labor Day weekend in Washington DC as the first vacation I have really had since spring of 2008.  I had a lovely time and got to see some of the cool things I hadn’t seen in my previous trips out there (hello Space Shuttle!).  Also of note, there are an abnormally high number of ducks making their summer home in the reflection pool near the Lincoln Memorial. 
Vietnam Memorial
Relief art at the World War II Memorial
Federal ducks are happy ducks.
Stars and Stripes on a windy, hazy DC day.
Memorial Wreaths at World War II Memorial.
Each star represents a member of the military lost in World War II.
I knew the East Coast was kind of different– they’re ducks come in a vertical model as well. 
He’s got my vote for 2012.

 
Surprisingly, it looks like a marshmallow.  A giant, atmosphere busting, zero-G marshmallow of exploration.


*  Someone may or may not be terribly jealous that Verizon’s RIDICULOUS plan only lets a loyal, timely bill-paying customer update her phone once every 2 years and has thus been left in the digital dust of cell phone technology.