Back of the Pack

This morning, my legs clocked 11 miles on the tri-county corridor. Several things happened while I slowly made my way across a tiny portion of northwest Wisconsin.

First, my goal of finishing the race in under 3-hours in two weeks isn’t happening. Not by a long shot. I had a hunch this might be the case. It started with a lack of ambition on the diet, followed by a few too many episodes of House of Cards and of course, quality time hanging out with my son versus clocking additional miles.

I’d by lying if I didn’t say I was disappointed. But, I’m still going to lace-up and run in two weeks. Even though I won’t hit my goal time, I’ve earned a darn medal. And more importantly, this whole training thing has taught me something about myself that is amplified by when I cross that finish line.

Several years ago I started a book called Back of the Pack. I haven’t finished it, in part because the story is evolving. And, there was a brief moment where I thought my story would change. That, I would fall in love with running and start training harder and finish in the middle of the pack. I’m not sure why I thought this would happen because the truth is, I dislike running. I hate that my legs hurt and sweating is pretty disgusting. I still dread the day I might lose a toenail. And, I’m always afraid my bowels are going to let me down.

But, there’s something to be said about doing something you aren’t good at. There is something rewarding about casually saying, I’m running a half-marathon and watching the look of disbelief by the person on the receiving end of the conversation. There’s something to be said about crossing that finish line and even surprising myself, not because I finished but because I lined up knowing I’d finish last.

As someone who is a memoir junkie, I had always thought I’d find my passion early in life. That I’d find the one thing that really made me excited about life and then I’d pursue that and ultimately become great at it because that’s what the self-help books say.

For much of my life that was true. I only pursued things I was good at. If it came naturally to me, I’d call it a passion and make it the focus of my life. But, I always knew something was missing. Ten years ago, I decided to do something about that. I quit my job and started over. While I loved producing news and the highs and lows that come with managing a newsroom, I knew I didn’t want to be defined by my job.

Fast forward 10-years and I can definitely say I’ve achieved that. I no longer feel my greatest accomplishments happen while I’m on the clock. I’ve found my greatest joy in things I genuinely suck at. If you’ve seen my garden, the outtakes of my photography or my attempts at painting our house, you know what I’m talking about. Not to mention this whole mother thing—I don’t have a clue. In fact many mornings I wake up and look at Jake and genuinely wonder how I’ve managed to keep him alive for the past 20-months.

These experiences have taught me more than any book. What I’ve learned is that maybe my passion is not having a passion. Instead, it is about getting up in the morning and saying, who or what do I want to be today and then going for it. That simply living life on my terms is enough. Sometimes, more often than not, this means finishing last or completely screwing up. It is a humbling way to live life. But at the same time, I can honestly say I’ve never been happier.

In two weeks, I’m going to run the Journey’s Half-Marathon in Eagle River. I’ll line up like everyone else. And, crossing the finish line in the back will be just as sweet for me as for those who finish first. But, I’ll also visit the cement park and play in the park with Jake and hopefully enjoy some awesome bakery treats at some hole-in-the-wall coffee shop. These experiences will be equally as exciting. And for that, I’m grateful.

The Gardening Bond

The Gardening Bond

gardening The loon is back on Moon Lake. The snow is quickly receding. Soon, Hauser’s will be opening for their annual perennial barn sale. Spring is here. With that, comes the joy of planning and planting this year’s garden. I’m aiming for low maintenance this year. In part, because I hope to spend lots of time gardening with Jake. Last month, an essay I wrote about Jake and I gardening ran in Northern Gardener. I’m a huge fan of this magazine so I was pretty honored they ran my essay about like on Moon Lake. And today, I want to share it with you.

Gardening Bond

In theory, I love gardening. In actuality, at the height of muggy, mosquito-infested evenings here not too far from Lake Superior, where the weeds outnumber my harvest three-to-one, I sometimes find myself hunched over, silently cursing about putting myself through this misery.

Most years, the first glimpse of goldenrod yellow crocuses poking through the last remnants of dirty snow inspires me to plan, plant and harvest yet another year’s worth of bountiful blossoms and hardy vegetables. I am an enthusiastic gardener while the snow is melting and as the first crops green up. As the weather warms and my excitement fades ever so slightly, little treasures from the garden keep me coming back for more. There is that first, sweet crunch of a sugar snap pea. My senses awaken as the calm scent of fresh mint clashes with the intense garlic smell coming from freshly cut garlic scapes. Nearby, tiger lilies and hens and chicks multiply before my eyes, while hollyhocks and lupines shoot out luscious shades of purple that Crayola can only dream of re-creating. These are the gardening moments I live for.

Despite this beauty, as the summer lengthens, I find myself easily dismissing each of Mother Nature’s countless miracles as I swat the mosquitos and yank the weeds that aggressively choke out my carrots and overpower my asparagus. It is a constant love-hate battle.

Last year was no exception. Except that it was. I’m a new mom. In a heightened hormonal, sleep-deprived, angstridden world of motherhood, the burden of gardening weighed me down. In an attempt to manage expectations, I planned, planted and harvested substantially less. I looked away as the weeds dominated the empty spaces. As summer progressed, I found myself stealing early morning moments to do what little I could to keep the garden going. Those snippets of solitude energized me in a way I didn’t expect. It reminded me why I garden in the first place. It made me want to do more. And then the raspberries ripened. I tended to keep my son away from the garden in part because of his love for shredding, yanking and destroying anything in his path coupled with the random spots of poison ivy that seem to find their way within my garden fence annually. But, on a bright sunny day in early July, I noticed the first radiant red berries popping out of my raspberry plants. It was time to make an introduction.

I carefully carried my son inside the garden walls, checking for bees along the way because that’s what paranoid mothers concerned about allergies do. We approached the overgrown row of plants and, as I moved to lead Jake’s hand to pick that first ripened raspberry of summer, he had already grabbed it. A burst of red left him giggling as I watched yet another outfit get instantly stained beyond repair.

I tried again. This time, with my help, he guided the berry from plant to mouth. Jake’s eyes grew big as he discovered the sweet, delicate flavor of a freshly picked berry that no grocery store brand can replicate. He instantly wanted another. And another. This scene was played out time and time again throughout our summer. A season of firsts—first sugar snap pea, purple bean, crunchy cucumber, mouthwatering tomato and countless others.

With each harvest, a new memory for mother and son and a new reason to garden. By summer’s end, even the buzzing of mosquitos could not drown this newly discovered bond. For now, love wins again.

Predator Round-Up, Sea Cave Mayhem, Playing Hookie and an Unwarranted Pity Party

Newsflash: Last week I had an unwarranted pity party. It started during my 5-hour drive home from the UP after a weekend of bonding with women at a 3-day Becoming an Outdoor Woman camp (more on that experience in a different post). I left the camp recharged and excited about life. But then, I had a bout of road rage with an irrational SUV somewhere in God’s country. In the heat of the moment and cursing him out for almost running me off the road, I missed my turn. It was an important turn that resulted in my 5-hour drive being more like 6.5 hours… in a place where there is no coffee. Seriously, look at a map of coffee shops (or any shops for that matter) in the route from Big Bay, Michigan to Iron River, Wisconsin. It is dismal at best. (Although Mount Huron Bakery in Ishpeming and Marquette makes up for it… almost).

About this time, I came upon a small town where trucks lined the highway on both sides for as far as the eye could see. My heart jumped for joy believing that any winter festival that draws this many visitors, must be stocked with some fabulous food and a well-kept porta potty. Imagine my surprise when I learned at the epicenter of this UP traffic jam was dozens of dead animals hanging from a poll. It turns out this winter festival was in fact the Kenton Predator Round-Up in which sportsman harvest as many bobcat, coyote and fox over a 3 day period as possible. Despite my curiosity, I opted to not stop at Hoppy’s Bar in Kenton.

It was about this time, something in me snapped. A full-fledged pity party began. I was irritated. I missed my son. I wanted to be vacationing somewhere warm, drinking something indulgent, and sporting cute summer sandals instead of oversized fishing boots. By the time I got home, my mood had only lightened somewhat. Then I logged onto Facebook and saw friend after friend posting photos from somewhere other than here. I was instantly jealous.

This sour mood continued for a few days. And then this happened. A co-worker was connecting with me on a project and mentioned she was taking the rest of the day off to hit up the Apostle Island Mainland Sea Caves. The sun was out. Temps were above freezing. I had no pressing deadlines. So, after a few logistical phone calls, I crashed her party and checked out of work a half day early. For those of you who know me, this is unprecedented. I’m a planner. I don’t randomly use my precious vacation time for spur of the moment events. This was huge (my life is in fact this boring).

Yes, the Sea Caves were busier than they’ve ever been when I’ve been there. Yes, I was a bit appalled by the number of folks I saw talking on their cell phone or shooting selfies even though I’m totally guilty of doing at least one of these things. But, somewhere along the way my mood lightened. I discovered that my life doesn’t involve cocktails on the beach…. right now. But man I’m blessed. I won’t bore you with the details but suffice it to say, crabby pants was squashed by the blessings in my life.
Looking back, it frustrates me that it took a day on a frozen beach to put things back into perspective. But then again, if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have gotten these great shots. And for those who missed the memo, the caves are now closed for the season. So for all those folks sipping margaritas in the blistering sun, I’ll see that margarita with a locally made mead and Mother Nature’s glory.

Apostle Island Sea Caves Set to Open this Weekend!

The latest from the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore… Sounds like the mayhem could start-up again in northwest Wisconsin again this Saturday! PS If you are looking for some tips on what to do while visiting, be sure to check out my post from last year… 

Apostle Islands Ice Caves Open for Winter Viewing

seacaves1Bayfield, WI – For the third time this winter ice has formed along the Apostle Islands mainland ice caves.  This time it has formed with enough thickness and extent to allow viewing of the ice caves along the mainland unit of Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.  If conditions remain as they are or improve, the Ice Caves will open on Saturday, February 28th.

The Apostle Islands mainland ice caves feature some of the most spectacular cliffs and sea caves found in the Great Lakes.  The features are different every year, as is the route to see them.  This year there is very little snow and a lot of glare ice, making the route exceptionally slippery.  Ice cleats (e.g., stabilicers) will be a necessity this year and ski poles are highly recommended.

Ice conditions can change rapidly, so it is important to keep safety in mind at all times.  High wind speeds, such as those forecast for the near future, is a factor that can quickly change conditions and cause decreased visibility.  Visitors must prepare for cold conditions and possible extreme wind chill.  Beware of ice formations falling from the cliffs.   Because of such slippery conditions, bringing your pet is not recommended.  However, if you do, pets must be on a leash and under control at all times and pet owners must properly dispose of pet excrement in trash receptacles.  Finally, don’t forget a camera to take home a tangible reminder of this spectacular landscape.

The sea caves can be reached from the end of Meyers Road, 18 miles west of Bayfield off State Highway 13.  There is a $5/person/day fee for those 16 and older for visiting the caves, regardless of access point or method.  Please bring cash.  There will also be an annual pass available for $10/person. The annual pass is only available at Park Headquarters in Bayfield (415 Washington Ave.) during the Ice Cave Event.

For the most up-to-date information, visit the park’s Facebook page:  https://www.facebook.com/apostleislandsnationallakeshore or call the 24-hour “Apostle Islands Ice Line” at 715-779-3397 ext. 3. Information can also be found on the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore (www.nps.gov/apis), Bayfield County Tourism (www.icecaves.org), and Bayfield Chamber of Commerce (www.bayfield.org) websites.

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2015 Apostle Islands Sea Caves Update

february2

Photo Courtesy: Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

This post is a general public service announcement for those who are stumbling across this site due to my posts last year about the Apostle Islands Sea Caves. As of today, February 4, 2015 they are not open to the public. In fact, the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore posted this shot of the Sea Caves on Monday.

Again, I’m just posting this because I’ve noticed a spike in traffic of people reading posts about my Sea Caves experience last year and I don’t want anyone coming up here thinking the caves are open. Should they open, please note there will be a $5 parking charge. This is a great deal and would help cover the costs that come with having so many people visiting this national treasure. While the Sea Caves aren’t open right now via walking on Lake Superior, you can still access them from the top via a great walking trail. There’s also plenty going on in terms of the Apostle Island Sled Dog Races coming up this weekend, along with the infamous Bar Stool Races and Book Across the Bay on Valentine’s Day. What better way to spend time with your sweetie.

Meantime, I’m looking forward to an upcoming expedition that’s going to include the Eben Caves in upper Michigan. Expect to see plenty of photos from that adventure in early March.

50 Shades of Gray

I know, lame title. But, I just saw a promo for the movie and it seemed to fit this post. I’m a visual person. Winter, while beautiful, can literally suck the life out of me. So, I’m trying to find ways to bring color and live to Moon Lake. I’ve become fascinated with birds (which will be a whole different post but I’ve determined I need to invest a small fortune in a couple of lenses first). I’m also trying nurture my black thumb. So far, I’ve managed to keep an Orchid alive for 2 months, sprout some microgreens and urge my African Violet to re-bloom. And, after almost giving up hope, my Amaryllis decided to start growing as well. If this path of success continues, I should have a flower around my 37th birthday… I shot these with my little Olympus Pen E-PL5, which I have grown to love. Anyways, I thought if you are anything like me, these shots might brighten your day. Enjoy!

The Ugly Truth: My Real Year-in-Review

stevebethThis fall I contacted the talented Hannah of Stonehouse Photo to do family photos. I envisioned a warm, sunny day along the shores of Lake Superior with vivid red maples and golden oaks gently blowing in the background creating a backdrop Hallmark would envy.

I should have known better. Instead, Lake Superior dealt up an early winter storm complete with 40 mile an hour winds whipping off the Lake pelting tiny icy shards of rain into our skin. A grey sky and thick fog camouflaged any hint of fall color. Our photo shoot lasted all of 10-minutes before we surrendered to Mother Nature and made a pact to try again next year.

If nothing else, we could at least check off laughing in the rain on the shores of Lake Superior off our bucket list. The excursion, while fleeting, pretty much sums up how much of my year went. This was a year of humbling blunders for me where things never really worked out how I anticipated. I think motherhood does that to a person. Every time I thought I had things figured out, Jake reminded me that I in fact have no clue what I’m doing.

This, coupled with balancing an unexpected (and at time unmanageable) freelance boom, job transition, relational surprises and a variety of random setbacks, made for an interesting and somewhat messy year. I won’t lie. At times it was difficult. Downright depressing, frustrating and emotionally exhausting.

This is new for me—definitely a tougher transition than I expected. I like order. I like schedules. I like making to do lists so I can check things off. Instead, I am a planner operating for the first time ever without a 5-year plan. Heck, at this moment I’d settle for a 5-week plan or actually remembering to get our daycare schedule consistently turned in on time.

If I wanted to be dishonest, this would be the part where I say but it was these moments that made the great moments that much sweeter. But, this isn’t the inside foil of a Dove chocolate folks. This is my life and this past year wasn’t that great or pretty.

But, I’m learning. I’m growing. Evolving. Discovering that perhaps for me, imperfection is quite possibly perfection in disguise. I just need to manage it a bit better.

This past year has taught me that sometimes messy is ok. The world does not in fact stop if you leave dirty dishes in the sink and instead stack blocks only to have your son sabotage your creation in an instant. Kind co-workers will in-fact pretend not to notice the handprints of oatmeal on your sleeve, the lingering smell of diaper cream on your hands despite washing them twice, or laugh in your face when you mention your need to go potty. Friends will not question your lack of logic or question your agenda as you navigate this turbulent chapter of adulthood of just figuring things out.

While complex and messy and scary at times, life really can be as simple and amazing as a great cup of coffee and 5-minutes of solitude on your deck rediscovering how lucky and blessed you truly are in life. It helps when this solitude is interrupted with a strong, genuine, unconditional bear hug and a deep belly giggle from your son. While this year was trying at times, it was less trying thanks to the amazing people I am fortunate enough to be surrounded by. They keep me grounded, remind me on the tough days that things will in fact get better, and love me for who I am. It is pretty awesome.

Most importantly, I’ve learned this year the great thing about life is it is always a work in progress and you always get another chance to get it right. So, here’s to getting it more right than wrong in 2015. Granted, I’m not exactly sure what all that will entail for me next year. Similar to last year, I have no real New Year’s Resolutions. I don’t anticipate any major self-improvements or earth shattering achievements other than continuing to do my best. I will also return to running with a goal of the Journeys Half-Marathon in Eagle River in May. I know by including this in the post, I will in fact cross the finish line. The question is can I break that 3-hour goal I set last year. As part of this, it’d be great to shed some weight and improve my overall health. Yes. I know this is a bit cliché on New Year’s but honestly, who doesn’t want to look and feel better?

Beyond that, who knows what the next 12-months or 12-minutes of life will bring. Realizing this is an achievement in itself for me. To everyone who has been a part of this past year of my life, thank you for taking this wild ride with me!