Better for It.

dearselfAlas, another year is coming to a close. With that, comes the reflection of goals and dreams unmet in the past 365 days and the opportunity to start anew. This practice is particularly poignant for me this year given the vast number of milestones I anticipate celebrating next year. While some of these are goals, others are just a proof of mere survival, but all hold meaning to me. This includes:

  • Turning 40
  • Celebrating my 10th wedding anniversary
  • My first and only child starting kindergarten
  • Graduating with my MBA

To mark these milestones, I started surfing Pinterest several months ago looking for that perfect bucket list of items to accomplish as I sail over the hill. Many of the lists, memes, and words to live by resonated with me—so much so that I started folders and sub-folders within my Pinterest profile marking running goals, health goals, parenting goals and 40-year old bucket list goals. The laundry list of things I could do got very long quickly… While this all started out as fun, this also happened to be timed with finals, the holiday frenzy of Christmas and complications with an aging father. Needless to say, it went from fun and inspirational to gut wrenchingly impossible, very quickly. I could barely find time to shower let alone conquer the world.

It was about this time Twitter served me up this article from Harvard Business Review. This article focuses on your framework at work but I easily found this applying to my life. In my quest to keep moving forward, I had given up control of some things that really mattered to me. It was easier to keep piling things on than saying no to keep the overwhelming sense of guilt at bay. The task lists piled and life seemed to spiral out of control. As a control freak, this is a quick road to burn-out, irritability and feeling hopeless.

This past month, after hitting submit on my final paper, I took a time-out. No freelance. No schoolwork. Vacation. Reading. I spent time with friends, mailed thank you cards, and made sure I was present at Christmas. I cooked great food and drank cocktails of my choice. I didn’t bake, even when my kitchen-aid mixer glared at me for going unused during her prime season. I looked at my freelance contracts and let go of a few that were far from fulfilling. While it is hard to walk away from money, it was liberating to retake control of the small things.

And so it leads me to this post and the inevitable New Year’s Resolutions. I’ve whittled my list down (thanks to the help of a book called Grit, highly fascinating and I definitely recommend it) to just one with a few milestones to lead the way. It is cliché but as I watch some people near and dear to me struggle with health complications and saying good-bye to loved ones, it has meaning to me. And so, as I fly over the hill, my New Year’s resolution is to simply strive for a healthier and whole me.

Doing so, means saying no more. This will definitely not be the year of yes. It’ll be the year of, let me think about it and get back to you. My time and energy will be spent investing in my family, friends and frankly me. I’ll still volunteer and give back when I can, but honestly, it’ll be a lot more inward than outward this coming year.

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It also means walking across a few lines. Topping the list – my first trail run. Initially, I wanted to think big, so I figured I’d do a complicated half-marathon in my neighborhood. It frankly didn’t even sound fun and to my disbelief, does not award finisher medals. After some soul searching, I thought, Why?!?!? Why set myself up to suck at something so bad?!?!?! I’ve done the whole finishing last thing so no need to repeat that chapter.

So I’ve revised that goal to a 10K at Mount Bohemia in October. Last May, I took a trip that way and really reconnected with myself. I figure what better way to celebrate that, than by crossing a finish line in that same neighborhood. I have a series of races I’ll run leading up to that, all allowing me to train in a realistic manner.

A few months later, I plan to walk at commencement. It is something I’ve never allowed myself to do and I figure after 4-college degrees, it is time. Plus, I’m somewhat confident (as is my pocketbook) that at this point, I’m done with spending thousands of dollars on a sheet of paper to confirm my self-worth. No offense to higher education but it is time to be a lifelong learner outside of the classroom.

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Beyond that, there are a few other things up my sleeves but more on that to come. Bottom line is I’m ready for 40 and am just getting started. Don’t get me wrong, the self-doubt is certainly alive and well but I’ve learned that my Sisu is in fact grit and my passion is improving. So, worse case on this trail run goal, I find myself meandering through the woods of the UP during fall peak healthier than I’ve ever been before… and that’s a pretty awesome consolation prize. In the meantime, here’s a snapshot compliments of Nike of my life in the gym…

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How’s that hopey changey thing treating you?

Thanks to David Litt and his fabulous memoir about his time as a speechwriter in the White House, I couldn’t get those words out of my head today. It also so happened that today was one of those days I had plenty of time to think. It makes for an interesting combination (and to everyone on the Bean/Bear Lake trail today wondering who I was talking to, I’m not crazy. Just processing yet another mid-life crisis out loud).

It was fall peak on the Superior Hiking Trail, hence my paid hiking gig. I hit a trail that’s “moderately challenging” after torrential rain. While I’m not qualified to write technical trail terms, I’d say “moderately challenging” went to “muddy nightmare and potential leg breaker for an out of shape mom with an injured back” within a quarter mile of my car. A wiser and younger version of myself would have turned around. I didn’t. Hence, these shots.

I finished off the trail (and a pair of really nice Brooks running shoes) muddy and smelly but happy. I did it. Last time I hit this trail I was pre-kid and 20-pounds lighter, still actively backpacking on the weekends with a 45- pound back on my back. I must say, sipping my single serve Moscato (which actually holds three glasses) from the Grand Marais Municipal Liquor store listening to the sounds of Lake Superior just footsteps away from my room for the evening is a much better deal. But, either way I did it.

Anyways, I learned a few things on the trail today. And, it goes something like this.

How’s the whole hopey changey thing going for you Probst?

Pretty dam good if I may say so myself. Sure, I have my ups and downs—but as the eye candy (aka hiker) on the trail told me today, “it gets pretty muddy up ahead. Best to just embrace it.”

Embrace it? Seems a bit extreme. But, similar to the muck on the trail, I’m finding ways to endure and manage it. Can we say new shoes?

Next year I turn 40—time to roll out the existential crisis carpet. Add to this, we’ve booked our first family vacation that involves Jake flying the friendly skies. Steve and I celebrate our ten-year anniversary. Jake starts kindergarten. I’ll finally have my MBA in rural healthcare. Our library expansion project will be done. I’m buying a new car. Plus, given my inability to process milestones without some sort of unequivocal piece of nonsense, I’m sure I’ll complete some sort of stretch goal race that’ll leave me achy and sore for days and provide countless social media posts about the misery called training. But, whatever the challenge, I’m confident that I’ll end upright and after my injury last month, that’s a huge win for me.

These incredible highs will be coupled with the lows of an aging father. Countless trips to Cloquet. Praying to a God I don’t even know exists, in hopes for a miracle that won’t happen. Questioning my inner strength and whether I’m good enough. Does he know how much I love him? Do I make him proud? Does he know how much of me is a direct reflection of him? (Just ask Steve about me reading grocery store ads out loud). At times, it is too much. But somehow I endure. We all do, right? Watching friends and colleagues endure incredible heartbreak, I’m reminded of how lucky I am to have more time. And, at the end of the day, isn’t that what we all want? Just one more day. One more hour. One more minute.

I was fortunate that I didn’t know anyone who died in this past week’s tragedy in Las Vegas. But, it was a brutal reminder that our time here is finite. This doesn’t mean I won’t squander precious minutes watching This is Us or drinking wine with friends. But, it did make me pause. Take stock of what and who matters. To look at what I’m doing, and, why. And the truth is, despite my occasional ability to anticipate problems that don’t even exist, I’m finding that deep down, I’m all hopey changey inside. I still believe I can and will make a difference in the world. And, that’s pretty awesome.

I hope for the few folks still reading this, you recognize you’re probably doing the same if not better. Don’t ever lose sight of that. Because this hopey changey gal believes we all deserve to make our mark.

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Oh my gosh! I’m four?!?!?!

JakeHijacking mom’s blog again. I notice she’s been pretty MIA on this blog thing anyway. It is like she’s working full time and going to school full time and thinks she’s just too busy… but I’m sure she’ll be back at some point. In the meantime, I have something extremely important to report. This week I turned four. Next month I start pre-K and I just bought my first backpack.

This was a big year of milestones for me. I had my first pre-k assessment and passed with flying colors. I can sing my ABCs and can count to twenty. I color, draw and love cutting things with scissors. This included one little lock of hair on my head when mom and dad weren’t looking. They were quite dramatic about it. In my head, I was like, um mom, it is just hair and it’ll grow back. Parents I tell you.

I love talking. I tell lots of stories and am constantly asking questions. I also like to challenge mom and dad. Sometimes I say and do things that frustrate them, but then they pause and are proud of the fact that my witty and hilarious comments just mean I’m developing cognitively. While I know they are proud, I still occasionally find myself in a time out chair to “think about what I’ve done.” I don’t mind. Sometimes I need a break.

That said, I find saying sorry solves a lot. No offense but if grown-ups are so smart, why can’t they figure out how far “I’m sorry” goes? But, mom and dad who are a bit slow, are starting to catch on. Now they are starting to challenge me on what I’m sorry for, which is a bit tougher to figure out. But, I’m learning.

This past year I went on a lot of adventures, including five foot races. Each one I ran a little faster – culminating with the Little Minnow Run in Hayward where I ran Flash fast. For those not into my lingo, that’s like super fast. I like to tell people I won that race but mom and dad seemed to see the finish line differently. I also did my first Tractor Pull, joined and quit gymnastics, got my first library card and continued to refine my wrestling and fighting skills. I love any action figures that fight, Transformers, and dinosaurs. And, I dominate on the baseball field. I can hit a whiffle ball hard enough that mom and dad are now scared to pitch to me, unless it is a super soft ball. Seriously, you hit them a few times in the face and they get sooo dramatic. In other words, I’m your standard little toddler boy.

I’m still a full-time daycare kid. I’ve made lots of friends and enjoy playing all day. My nights are filled with boat rides, reading books, Candyland, puzzles, playing hide and seek, going on four-wheeler and boat rides and baking. I love making (and more importantly eating) blueberry muffins. This year I even picked my own berries. I also planted a garden with mom. Turns out our deer friends really liked our garden that made mom really mad. But, I still get to eat raspberries and we had lots of sweet peas that were super yummy! This summer we have 4, now 3 chickens. I occasionally gather eggs and love chasing the chickens to bed at night. They don’t listen very well and seem to scatter when I try to direct. But, mom tries to be patient. And, they always seem to eventually end up where they need to be. And, I’m getting better at making sure my crocs are poop free before running around the house.

Vacations tend to revolve around extended family and my favorite place in the world—the green cabin. I love, love, love the cabin. We go super fast on our boat and I even get to go tubing with my cousins. My dad’s an awesome driver and mom just clutches the raft praying I don’t injure myself. We also do something else I’ve grown to love at the green cabin, happy hour. It is an odd name for what is also known as snack time at daycare but the snacks usually include cheese and crackers that are so yummy. I love cheese. When it comes to cheese, I’m a true Wisconsinite.

I’m a daddy’s boy big time. I love exploring with dad. I love my sleep but occasionally love slipping into bed with daddy in the morning. Daddy lets me fight and shoot guns… but only at pop cans right now. He also lets me pee off the deck. I also got to be in a parade with him again since I don’t know if you know, but my dad’s a pretty big deal. He’s certainly my hero.

All in all, it has been another whirlwind trip around the sum. I’m excited to see what the next year has in store for me but for now, all I can say is life is good on Moon Lake.

Jake from Moon Lake

My Mother’s Legacy

I’m finally starting to get it. It wouldn’t be a Mother’s Day weekend without reflecting on life before and after mom. I used to dread this weekend, in part because it often left me trying to discover how to carry out my mother’s legacy. But, it never dawned on me that perhaps my journey was part of the answer.

Towards the end, my mom would often wait up for me at night to chat about life. Conversations would jump from the adventures of Jane Austen to high school crushes and my plans to be a journalist. She’d always say, I know you’ll make the right choice and whatever you do, just be happy.

After she was gone, I wanted to do something special for her. I wanted to capture those late night conversations in a book and share some of the magical and at times tough stories about growing up with my mother. I thought of it as a way to heal and help others, while ensuring her legacy carried on.

But, each time I tried to pen this next great American story, my words fell flat. How do you put to paper the stubborn, crazy, open-minded, smart and witty woman named Karen—or to me simply mom?

Over the course of twenty years, I’ve started and stopped over a dozen versions of this story. Sometimes via journal entries, short stories, blog posts or even anonymously submitted essays to the New York Times. But, it never seemed like enough. Until now.

This past year something in me clicked. Maybe, it is because I’m a mom now. Or, maybe as I grow older I realize that sometimes the easiest answer, can in fact be the answer. That perhaps in all of these years of trying to do more and be more and write more and share more and explore more, I am in fact living out my mother’s legacy. And, for her, that is enough.

When I look at Jake, my heart swells. I now know that he will be my toughest and greatest accomplishment. In fact, he already has exceeded anything I could ever achieve in life. And, despite all of the mistakes I’ve made in life, I think if Karen were here today, she’d be proud.

Sure, she’d shake her head at me about some of my choices and challenge me to think about what’s next. She might frown upon my inability to recreate her perfect pancakes and my less than stellar cribbage game skills. But, she’d love that I’m finding my way in this overly complex world by simplifying life. By striving to remain me. And to find happiness even in the saddest of days.

This Mother’s Day weekend I’ll run another race. I often run this race with mom on mind. I think of her watching me and wondering what possessed me to torture my body this way but being proud of my stubborn attitude and unwillingness to quit. This year will be no different – but rather than contemplate how to carry out her legacy I will remember that I am her legacy. And as long as I keep showing up and doing my best, that is enough.

I know Mother’s Day is a mixed bag for many of my friends and family. It certainly has been for me, for years. But, I wish you all peace and happiness on this day.

Missing you today and everyday Mom,

Your Baby Girl

 

Thriving Thirties Crisis Anyone?

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Another trip around the sun means I’m one step closer to the inevitable mid-life crisis that happens at 40. Or, at least that’s what I’ve been told. What baffles me, though, is nobody talks about the time between your quarter-life crisis and your mid-life crisis. That in-between time where so much happens your head spins. So this is a post about the unnamed, unknown crisis turned opportunity I’m calling the Thriving Thirties.

I was thinking this week, what a shitstorm of highs and lows, all in a decade. Ones you think you can anticipate, and in many cases long for, but society does a great job of masquerading into something else.

There is of course the biggie—my status. I went from girlfriend to fiancé to wife and now mother. Each time, I discovered my beliefs and understanding of what unconditional and unwavering love means were completely underrated. You hear about the sacrifice that comes with parenting, often when you are rolling your eyes at your parents, but experiencing it is a whole different ballgame. Talk about high highs and low lows. There really needs to be more about the tough days, because frankly I’ve never experienced something more challenging than raising a family.

My career took a backseat—something I never thought would happen. I changed jobs three times in my 30s, only to discover that while I know I want to make my mark in the world, I have no clue how to do it. Career advancement, which seemed to come so easily in my 20s, came to a screeching halt as I realized that living in a place I love, doesn’t always come with abundant economic opportunities. Guess what? I wouldn’t change a thing (other than my paycheck).

The lifelong learner in me had a near meltdown when I finally paid off my student loans and realized for the first time in 34 years I wasn’t attending or paying for continuing education. I opted to re-enroll for my 4th college degree creating a seamless transition from being a student to graduating at the same time my son enters school. And so the cycle continues.

And then there was the pursuit of happiness. Despite self-help books telling me that I could in fact wake up everyday and conquer the world and be happy, I seriously question the sanity of those so-called authors. Living the life that I want with those I want, where I want, means compromise. It means prioritizing and sacrificing and wiping boogers and changing diapers. It means long commutes, limited shopping, befriending Amazon Prime and fighting over things like uncrushed diet Mountain Dew cans scattered around the house. It means experiencing unmet dreams and acknowledging that sometimes life is bigger than your needs and wants.

Nobody warned me about the weight-gain that comes with an aging metabolism. Gone are the days of downing Dr. Pepper and munching on chips and Top the Tater while binge watching the latest season of Dawson’s Creek. Instead, I found myself hitting the pavement (literally) and crossing the finish line not once but ten times over the past six years, to barely maintain the weight gain that I’m lovingly calling my dirty thirty in honor of my attempts to do Beach Body at this size. The running highs and lows are a whole different post but if you had told me in my 20s, I’d have some of my heaviest and hardest conversations with myself wearing running shoes, I would have laughed.

My 30s did not result in endless afternoons hanging out at coffee shops chatting about the weather like the characters on Friends. Instead, it was spent scrambling to keep connections with lifelong friends on Facebook messenger and recognizing that many of those friendships would fade away, despite noble and in some cases knock down, drag down attempts to keep them. It was hard to let go at times but I find friendships now are easier—more based on common interests, shared values and day-to-day life experiences than the baggage of what you were once pegged to be.

And somewhere in all of this, I discovered that one of life’s greatest gifts arrived for me in my 30s. It frankly couldn’t have happened sooner. And, maybe I’ll change my mind after my next centennial crisis, but in this moment, I’m still a bit in awe.

I distinctly remember my quarter-life crisis. It played out like a bad after school special that left me leaving television news and moving to the Northwoods of Wisconsin. It meant abandoning bad habits, facing my demons and acknowledging that the person I was trying to be, wasn’t me. But, then my 30s hit and I discovered that instead of trying to be someone or something, I could instead, just be me.

Better yet, I could embrace it. There’s something empowering about grabbing life and saying, I’m good enough. I wake up everyday and I do my best. Frankly, that’s enough. It may mean 175% some days or surviving on others. And that’s ok, despite the self-help books saying otherwise. It isn’t that I don’t care. It isn’t that I don’t embrace life and all of its complexities and know all too well that we never know when our ticket is going to come up. Instead, it is acknowledging that some of the best things in life happen, when you just let them be.

So in a long winded way, I discovered I know less in my 30s than my 20s. But this I know. At times I’m irritable and unbearable and cranky. I’m stubborn like my mother. I’m a bit odd. I crave meaningful connections but am an introvert. I love to try new things like roasting coffee and buying obscure plants that have no chance of survival (banana plants anyone) because it is fun to try and fail. I run races with mediocre times and battle the bulge, while still finding a way to love myself even though health blogs and beauty magazines tell me I’m obese. I tell really bad jokes and most times, people can’t even tell if I’m joking. I’m inpatient. I’m independent. I’m loyal. And the best thing is, all of this could change in a heartbeat because the thing I know most, is I’m a constant work-in-progress and that’s what makes me, me.

The Economics of Time

Let’s be frank. It isn’t on my side right now. I find myself caught in-between trying to keep up with the day-to-day, while struggling to find new and exciting goals to be excited about this year. It is an odd place for me to be right now, but I’m starting to think this may become my new normal.

I was listening to a Planet Money podcast last week, in which the economics of love was the focus. It is a pretty entertaining, and frankly informative episode. In it, the conversation around love being in abundance came up and yet many of us (myself included) choose to limit our love to one partner.

The economist cited a Nobel Prize winning economist’s theory about the finite complexities of time and how it is a valuable resource for all. Later on in the discussion, the notion of being with something that’s good enough removes the time for you to experience or pursue something that could be really amazing.

This really hit home. At the time, I was border line burned out due to a number of events colliding at the same time. Each day, I’d wake up and go through my to do list and find a way to cram it all in, but I was missing the luxury of just enjoying life. I realized that while project management is great, equally as great is just saying no.

This past week I stepped down from a committee I wasn’t passionate about and passed on a great freelance gig because frankly, money isn’t and cannot be everything. I scaled back from a half-marathon to a 10K. I got excited about a bathroom remodel project, only to step back and put it on-hold. At first, I was pretty bummed out. Frankly, I felt like a borderline failure. But, then I realized that by saying no to these things, I was making room for things like planting a garden with Jake and reading a novel on my deck and even continuing the Tuesday night fitness classes. That while I may not be running a half-marathon this spring, that doesn’t mean I can’t do the Shamrock Shuffle followed by a 1k with Jake—both of which sound a lot more fun. Sure, I want a new bathroom. But, I also want my sanity.

I have an abundance of hobbies. An endless checklist of items I want to do in the here and now because frankly, we don’t know when our time is up. But, in my haste to make the most of each day, my time to do more of what I love is getting squished out.

I never thought economics would remind me of that. Nor, did I think a Planet Money Podcast would make me pause and re-evaluate the time-space continuum. But, I’m really glad it did.

Year-In-Review

And in the end it’s not the years in your life that count. It is the life in your years. Abraham Lincoln

As I look back on the past year, my head and heart ache a bit. It was a whirlwind year filled with incredible highs and some tough lows. But, it was also a lesson in resiliency.

I’m not one much for ringing in the New Year. This year was no exception, other than at 12:01 am I was awoken to the sounds of my son heaving. Mopping the floor and soaking my son’s puke-filled Superman footie pajamas, I couldn’t help but think what an ironic way to ring in a New Year. This trend continued for much of the night. But, come morning, my son awoke with his usual zest for life with a desire to wrestle, be pulled around our lake on a sled and eat crackers and juice while wrestling with dad. Just like that, he bounced back.

My son’s resiliency always ceases to amaze me. But, it isn’t just him. This past year, I’ve watched some friends and colleagues suffer illness and loss that I couldn’t even begin to imagine. And, they’ve done it with such grace. When asked how, they simply say, you’d do the same. But would I? I’m not so sure.

Past experience has taught me New Year’s resolutions don’t work for me. But, that doesn’t stop me from hoping the coming year will find me being more resilient when things happen. That I will find ways to bounce back versus letting them consume me. To recognize that even while mopping up puke while millions ring in the New Year with champagne, I am in fact truly blessed. After all, for years all I wanted was to be mom. And, I am. That’s just one of many blessings I need to appreciate.

A girlfriend recently got a t-shirt that reads, perfectly imperfect. I totally want it. It sums up my life and well me. This coming year, I hope to improve upon a few things beyond just being resilient. Some I’m just not quite ready to share here. But, I hope to do so with a bit of grace and understanding that I’m a work in progress and that’s frankly ok, partly because of all of the amazing people that have chosen and continue to be an integral part of my life. I couldn’t do any of this without them. Likely, if you are still reading this post, that includes you. So thank you. I wish for you in the coming year joy and excitement and should life throw you curveballs, the resilience you need to power on.

Happy New Year-