Reverb16 | December 25 | Picture

A picture is worth 1,000 words. Show us one picture that sums up your day, your family, what you are thankful for, what is important to you.

I didn’t take many pictures on Christmas Eve (besides the one drinking beers in a ski chalet) or Christmas Day. While I wasn’t in a social media blackout like I often do over some holidays, I was enjoying just being fully present in the celebrations.

While Christmas Eve was a flurry of activities– breakfast and gifts with His Family, skiing, dinner and gifts with Her Family, candlelight church service– Christmas Day was not. It was quiet. We went to my sister’s house for breakfast, in which my contribution would also make a great children’s book. The title would be, “The Cat Ate My Coffee Cake!” We celebrated a collection of my niece’s earliest steps. We opened lovely, thoughtful gifts. We drank coffee and told stories. It was everything about spending time with my family that spending time with my family has always been– comfortable, relaxed, reflective, funny.

We went home and had a relaxing day, just the two of us. I spent approximately 7 hours hunched over a jigsaw puzzle. Aaron was doing something with power tools. The animals, crazed by the packages and ribbons strewn about the house, chased and played. It was everything about spending time at home that spending time in our home has always been– comfortable, a little bit noisy, funny.

Unrelated: My dad did snap this picture and it’s not the worst photo of a person who’s kinda, sorta okay (wink, wink). 

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Reverb16 | December 24 |Traditions

It’s Christmas Eve, and Hanukkah starts tonight. Show us a photo of your favorite family traditions, decorations, or a special moment from the day if you celebrate.

As I posted on Instagram, Christmas Eve:

One of the hardest parts of marriage is combining/balancing our existing holiday traditions. One of the best parts of marriage is starting new ones. A few hours on the slopes and a couple of beers with this dude is pretty special. 

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Several years ago, I would have not been caught dead downhill skiing. Now this is part of the holidays I look forward to the most.

Love is weird like that.

Reverb16 | December 23 | Preparations

Preparations. Do you like to prepare waaaay in advance, and be prepared for every scenario? Or do you just do things on the fly by the seat of your pants?

 

A story that gets retold often, from my youth, that explains so much about who I am as an adult:

My mom reports that I always had to be given about a dozen warnings that something was going to change, particularly if we were going to leave the place we were in. She would say, “Katie, in 20 minutes we are going to go to the store.”
“Katie, in 15 minutes we are going to stop what we are doing, put on our shoes, and leave.”
“Katie, in 10 minutes we are going to leave.”
“Katie, in 5 minutes we are going to stop what we are doing and get our shoes.”

I like starting every week knowing EXACTLY what is going to happen that week. What days am I working out and do I need to go to work early to accommodate that? What days am I making dinner? Do I have any ‘co-curriculars’ this week? What exact time do I need to be in each place? How exactly am I going to get there (I take a lot of public transit, so figuring this out isn’t always so simple)? Which exact days do I have “free time” and exactly how much time is that?

A conversation that make me cringe:

“What time do we have to meet so-and-so for dinner?”
“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe around 6ish.”

And also:

“Where are you going to get groceries?”
“Probably Lunds.”
“Which Lunds?!”
“I don’t know.”

I don’t know why I care when Aaron hasn’t chosen a grocery store, but I don’t like the uneasiness of not knowing.

I do know exactly what motivates this behavior, at least as an adult.

First, I have long prided myself as being a fierce and independent woman. The thought of being in a position that might be perceived as a damsel in distress does actually distress me. I don’t want to rely on others for help, especially for things I could have prevented or prepared for with just a bit of effort. I don’t want to be caught unaware or unprepared in a situation I cannot get my own self out of. Ever. It’s why I still carry a paper map and jumper cables in the car (even though I can hardly use either!). It’s why I almost always make sure to at least have some cash and enough change for bus fare.

Second, is the low-level but pervasive feeling that it could all crumble. I don’t entirely know what “it” is, but that idea that at any minute things could go so dramatically wrong that life completely changes. I know that, lots of times, those kind of events cannot be prevented, but I feel compelled to at least try. This anxiety has probably worsened since I got sick in the spring, and now I wish to go to the ER for every bump, bruise, or odd ache. It’s not normal, and I am learning to cope with it.

Somewhat ironically, I am generally not an overplanner on vacations, where most people tend to spend a lot of energy planning and maximizing their time. There is no itinerary for daily activities– not a lot of pre-scoping restaurants or things to do at our destination. I often just show up and see what happens. I don’t know why I can so easily turn the overplanning off as soon as I get out of town. Perhaps I need a vacation from that, as well?

Reverb16 | December 22 | Anchor

Today’s prompt is supposed to be about a holiday party gone wrong, but I don’t really have a distinct story and I think this post would then just become a long, sad rant about how hard it feels to make anyone happy over the holidays. So, I picked a different prompt from year’s past.

Anchor. What kept you tethered in 2016?

The most awesome part of my marriage is that it is to a man who is always redefining himself and striving for better, faster, stronger in himself and in our relationship. You will often hear us say the phrase “hashtag, no plateau” to each other. It is a reminder to each other and ourselves to never get too comfortable, to never stop, and to always want what comes next.

For us, the saying “the only thing that is constant is change” is very real.

And in the midst of all that change– some unexpected and turbulent, and some quieter and planned– he remains my anchor. This year maybe more than any other. Thank God for his candor, his patience, his ambition, and his subtle love.

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Reverb16 | December 21 | Time

Time. It’s something we never have enough of and can never get back once it’s spent. How do you prioritize your time? What would you like to make more time for?

I spend too much time:

  • Worrying.
  • Watching bad television.
  • Reading internet drivel.
  • Thinking about what to wear, cook, or do next.
  • Procrastinating.
  • Complaining.

I don’t spend enough time:

  • Reading books.
  • Working out (besides running. But, like seriously girl, do a sit up).
  • Cleaning the house or doing laundry.
  • Learning something new.
  • Improving at the things I love to do, like cycling or writing.
  • Traveling.

I see the list and know what I should do. Less of the things in the first list, and more of the things in the second list. It makes sense on paper, but is harder in real life. I do not understand why social media and crap television are such strong sirens and why I repeatedly crash on the shores of wasted time.

[FIRST WORLD PROBLEM AHEAD– THIS IS ESSENTIALLY A RECAP OF MY INCREDIBLE PRIVILEGE AND FORTUNE] Part of my struggle with time management is making choices, right? I have sort of been a Jack of All Trades, Master of None for a significant portion of my adult life. And I kind of like living that way, but sometimes I would like to master something. But putting more time into, say, cycling, means time away from running or reading. And should I really be learning something new if I can hardly keep up with what I already have on my plate? I don’t know. And it all means time away from the house, where I already think we hardly keep our heads above water between the cleaning and the pets.

But tonight, I am keeping this brief because I have spent this entire quiet, pre-holiday week with my face buried in books (I am on the third one since Sunday) and this is time well-spent.

Reverb16 | December 20 | Achievement

Achievement. Tell us about one thing you did or overcame this year that you are really proud of.

This year has been a long list of failures and false starts.

And I am not used to failing.

So not used to it, in fact, that this year when I didn’t get a job that I didn’t even want, I was still mad that I wasn’t their first choice so that I could, inevitably, turn them down. Super mature, I know.

But I am used to quitting. In an effort, I think, to save myself from eventual failure. Like, if I see failure coming, I quit. Or at least lower my own expectations of myself.

It’s not the person I want to be, but it is the person I am.

That sort of changed when I was diagnosed with Bell’s Palsy. And it probably seems weird that a relatively benign illness can have such a profound impact on a person, but it does. And where it really comes from is those few hours you don’t know that it is benign and harmless. Those hours you debate what is better to face*: a stroke, a tumor, or multiple sclerosis. Those few hours in the ER have dramatically impacted my life– the way I approach novel or scary things and the ways I want to spend my time and energy.

Even upon learning that it was “just Bell’s,” the truth was no one knew how long I would be dealing with it. For some, facial paralysis clears up in just 3 weeks. For others, 6 months or more. Many of us have lingering effects that aren’t as dramatic as facial paralysis, but still require a significant amount of adaptation. I suffer from constant ringing in my ear and an inability to modulate volume in my right ear– meaning background noise and the conversation happening right next to me all come at me at the same volume and I have a really hard time picking out the pieces I am supposed to be hearing and ignoring the pieces I am not.  I am also missing the “low vowel sounds” in that ear. A’s, O’s, and U’s. My left ear compensates outrageously well in normal situations. So much so that in a November hearing test, 6 months after the initial onset, I cried because it was the first time I realized those sounds were gone.

All this to say, “just Bell’s” is not as simple as it sounded in that first week.

Early on, I knew I had a choice to make. And I really made it in that first 12 hours when I bravely decided to go into work with my face paralyzed. That choice was not to hide from the things that are hard, and to stop quitting. Everyone said, “Oh, if this happened to me, I would stay home until it cleared up!” But after feeling like I might be facing numbered days, I certainly never again felt like I had 67 days to waste waiting to not be scared anymore. I hope I never do.

I just lived into it.

I went to work. I went to social gatherings. We traveled. People stared. People asked a lot of questions. I took pictures of myself and proudly half-smiled in the pictures others took. I dribbled a lot of beer down my shirt. We laughed about it. I was honest about it– the good and the bad.

And then, when life served up more shit sandwiches, I lived into those, too. It wasn’t always easy, it wasn’t always fun, and it wasn’t without heartbreak or loss.

But it was good. It was so, so good.

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*no pun intended, but it certainly is a good one! 

Reverb16 | December 19 | Littles

Little Ones. Whether you have kids of your own or not, there is likely a small person about who would like your attention. Tell us about what the kids in your life are asking for this season. Do you have any rules about how much to gift?

There’s a new Little in town this year.

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Bah. She slays.

This Spunky Brewster is my niece and she joined the family in February, making this holiday season my first real opportunity to spoil her until she bursts get her a few gifts. At 10 months old, she is getting SUPER fun so all I want to do is buy a bunch of stuff so we can have a SUPER fun time together. But my sister and I are cut from a similar cloth when it comes to our opinion of Stuff & Things: less is more, experiences are better. I followed that (more or less) this holiday season and tried to keep the amount of Stuff & Things to a minimum. And compared to what I wanted to buy this little lady (the moon, the stars, a screen-accurate Yoda costume), I think I did pretty well. I can’t say exactly what I got her, because she might be reading this (she’s super intelligent and she gets it from her auntie), but, based on my complete lack of knowledge about babies, I tried to stick with things that are:

1) good for brains,

2) fun today and could be fun still in 2-3 years, and

3) one sentimental, but useful!, thing from the heart.

I avoided things that make any outrageous sounds, because at my wedding 3 years ago I learned that my sister is better at revenge than any of us ever knew. I do not want that exacted on me with an army of light up, noisy toys.

Reverb16 | December 18 | Treat

Treats! Show us your favorite treat for yourself- it could be a favorite holiday indulgence, or a little gift you got yourself to reward all the gift buying you’ve been doing for others.

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I do love me a sweet treat. Or an expensive, “I worked hard on [insert project], so I totally deserve this thing that I will now buy myself.”

But the best treat I can give myself is time for myself, which I generally fill with running. Slow running, because that’s just the person and the runner that I am, and that’s okay.

Running is where I do most of my best thinking. It is where I do almost all of my praying. It is the fastest way for me to diffuse anger or to bring in some much needed peace. When everything else seems out of control and crazy, running reminds me of the beauty in pattern and simplicity– the steady beat of my footsteps, the deep rhythm of my breath.

There is this… movement? Or collective awareness, maybe, often referred to by the title of a book and video called “Slow is Fast.” It’s this idea/awareness that you can live or work in a place for a very long time, and never really see it until you slow down. Literally. In the case of the book, it’s these dudes who sort of rediscover parts of California when they take a 700 mile bike trip. I feel like I get that with running.

I cannot even begin to describe how intimately I know some of the stretches of sidewalk in our neighborhood. I know how different the Minnehaha Creek sounds under the bridge at Chicago Avenue from the gentle bend it takes leaving Lake Harriet. I mark the changing of the seasons by this rabbit statue in a tiny triangle park along the running path. She gets a red Christmas bow in December and a beautiful flowered crown around Easter. Through the summer she gets spoiled by dirty, sticky hugs from the kids riding by on bikes and scooters.

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I count the ducks I pass and often report a post-run Ducks Per Mile (DPM).

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Infinity Ducks Per Mile on this day.

I don’t remember the real reason I started running, but I’d guess it was out of vanity. I was in my early 20s, after all. I signed up for more races then– maybe to prove that I was a “real runner.” I still race, but I find the real satisfaction is found on the long, slow distances on the weekends. Church of the Sunday Long Run.

This year, when I realized injury had prematurely ended my bid to run the Twin Cities Marathon, I wrote this about my running this year:

At Mile 2 of today’s run, first I cried. Then, immediately, I forgave myself. I am beautifully and wonderfully made, inside and out. I am not a “good” runner, but I’m doing it anyway, because I am not ashamed of my pace or my body or my running form. I am proud of the work I put in during this training cycle– it was my most diligent one ever. I worked hard and I will not have a finisher’s medal to show for it, but instead I have collected sunrises, lakeside loops, and moments when I wanted to quit and didn’t. That is a worthy prize.

Reverb16 | December 17 | Beauty

Beauty. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Show us a picture that is beautiful to you- the more unconventional the better. If you’d like to write about it, tell us why.

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I think this is one of the most beautiful things I did this year. Or rather, I let someone else do to me.

There’s a tattoo shop just about 2 blocks from our house that is 100% ladies– lady owners, lady artists. I dig that quite a bit. So when I decided I was finally ready to get a tattoo, I knew that’s where I would go. I scanned their portfolios and found an artist that had done a lot of work in the style I was looking for– a lean towards the strong outline of classic tattoos, but creative enough to apply that classic style to new imagery and scenes. I wanted to avoid some of the things that are trendy in tattoos right now to avoid a piece that looks dated.

I emailed her a few ideas; we chatted in a brief consultation. And then I waited. For seven months she was booked up. I decided that it was better to be seeing an artist that is in high demand than one that has a lot of free time on their calendar…

In May I went in for the first sitting– to do the outline and start the color on the bike. I was so nervous the day of that I threw up. I was terrified that as soon as I did it, I would have buyer’s remorse and would want my un-inked leg back.

Did I mention I had never seen the final design until the stencil was affixed?

I totally trusted her– I gave her some examples of the style I wanted, I listed some things that were important to be included (the mountain, the tent, obviously the bike, which I provided photos of), and a lot of it she brought to the design– the overall layout, the awesome oak leaves and acorns that provide the frame, the beautifully intense colors.

The first sitting was about 5 hours. Not until September did I go back to have the color finished in another 3-4 hour sitting.

Never once have I experience buyer’s remorse. In fact, maybe quite the opposite (which I hear is common after people get their first tattoo): I am always dreaming up what the next one could be.

Not only do I think the tattoo is beautiful, I think it makes me beautiful. I don’t know how to describe it, but it feels like it fits me and belongs with me. Not that my right thigh was ever lacking in any serious way, but that this artwork somehow adds so much. As I mentioned before, I feel like every year I am watching myself grow in a way that results in me becoming more unapologetically myself all the time and I consider this tattoo to be a part of that growth. It makes me feel strong and beautiful and reminds me that I have lived a great many of wonderful experiences so far.

Reverb16 | December 16 | Travel

Travel. Where did you go this year? What was your favorite? Where do you plan to or want to go next year?

This year was about getting away while staying close; and instead of focusing on the distance traveled, focusing on the other things I can do to truly be someplace else.

We camped twice at the Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park in the spring. We first went in April so Aaron could do some fly-fishing in several trout creeks and the Root River. We took the dog, who was new to our family in April. We had the world’s lowest expectations for him because our last dog hated camping. But Obi? He loved it all. A 9-mile hike. Digging around the campsite. Eating sticks. Chillin’ in the hammock. Sleeping in the tent. He seems to be a big fan of camping/hiking– what a great fit for us!

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Hiking. And hearing All The Things.
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Hammock break. Is it easy to teach a 70 pound, long-legged dog to get in a hammock? No, it is not. Is it worth it? Yes. Yes it is.
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“Just five mo’ minutes, Kate.”

We went back in May to camp the night before the Almanzo 100 bike race. We ran out of cooking fuel while trying to make pancakes. That should have been a sign to just pack it up and go home, but we didn’t listen…

In June, we raced in a few mountain bike races that are part of the Lutsen 99er series. Aaron rode the 69er and I rode the 39er on a fatbike. We camped along the North Shore at Cascade River State Park. We would have stayed two nights, but Aaron biked himself halfway to death so we ended up in the ER for the better part of Saturday evening, and I said, “Nope. Hotel tonight.” Still, we each managed to have a pretty great bike race, we enjoyed the state park, and hung out in Grand Marais, which is like the Stars Hollow of the North Shore.

Admittedly, when we decide to go camping, we almost always gravitate to the North Shore. There is ample state parks and forests for camping, tons of stuff to see and do in the wilderness and in town, and the scenery is delightful. So, when we decided to get out of town in late July, we opted for a part of the state we don’t see often: the prairies of the southwest. We camped at Blue Mounds State Park, in a small stand of trees amidst vast and beautiful prairie. We brought the dog along again, and he was a champ. I think it is safe to say we both learned a lot about the prairie landscape and the important ecosystem services provided by strong, healthy prairies. We also visited the Pipestone National Monument and drove into Sioux Falls for coffee and delicious baked goods from Queen City Bakery on Sunday morning. We really enjoyed Blue Mounds, and I think we will easily find ourselves there again.

 

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The park has its own herd of bison.
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Completely wiped out after a day of hiking.
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Entirely too cool.

And of course, we took the Antelope Wells on her maiden wilderness voyage to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in late September.

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There really aren’t words for the BWCAW. It is serene and wild in all the most wonderful ways. The sunrises and sunsets are the best I have ever seen. The scenery is breathtaking at every turn. This year we had some really remarkable campsites (and one infested with mice– so the next time you think it will be fun to camp on an island, ask yourself if there is anything on that island that eats the mice). We kept an easy pace, opting for more time reading and fishing, and making good meals. We went to bed at 9PM almost every night. Ugh, it was just magic and every time I am stressed I imagine being back there.

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We rounded out that trip with several other adventures– on the front end, spending a night in Hibbing, the small mining town where Bob Dylan grew up. We couldn’t resist the mine overlook, and it was a pretty spectacular sight.

On the tail end, we intended to camp at Voyageurs National Park, since it was the NPS Centennial, but the waves on the huge lake proved to be a bit much for our canoeing skills, so we opted for a night at Woodenfrog State Forest and 2 nights at a lodge on Lake Kabetogama. We spent a good day in Ely at the Root Beer Lady Museum and the International Wolf Center, as well as all the wilderness outfitters and the local brewery.

For me, the best vacations include being outside and taking a moderate pace. I am more comfortable living “unplanned” when we are on vacation; I am more flexible to changes in plans and slightly better able to go with the flow.

I also have found it to be an incredible relief to disconnect completely with social media, email, and text. In the Boundary Waters, it was a forced disconnection. But now, I am more often opting to put my phone on airplane mode for an entire weekend that we are out of town or at least limit checking it to only texts and only for a short 5 minutes or so (essentially in case of emergencies). It is a lot easier to be in the ‘here and now’ of my own life when I can ignore the ‘then and there’ of everyone else’s life. And as much as I really like using and participating in social media, it is also really refreshing to have a break.