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

 

Training Update: What am I thinking?

Confused? The idea for my first VLOG came about due to an upcoming assignment.

Next week I’m heading out to the Michigan Ice Fest in Munising. I’m going ice climbing. And no, that’s not a typo. This should be relatively amusing, in part because I’m not a huge fan of cold and I’m afraid of heights. That said, I love a solid adventure, the outdoors and the UP, so I figured when else would I try this if not now. In addition to my standard writing and photography, I’m also shooting video.

Today, I spent some time familiarizing myself with my new GoPro. And, because I’m a total dork, I thought I’d share some behind the scenes suffering of me training for my upcoming race in May. Don’t worry, I won’t inundate you with shots of my legs in spandex over this series of posts I plan to share. But, I do hope to share some of the beauty I see on the trails (once I’m outside) and a little bit about why I run and how tough it is for someone my size to build speed and endurance. Regardless of these challenges, I plan to keep slogging away.

In the meantime, I’m looking forward to a girl’s weekend in the UP. I’ve carefully plotted out coffee stops to fuel my way through something that’s totally outside of my element. I’m sure I’ll have plenty of shots and maybe even a few stories to share from my adventure.

How Pepe Is Teaching Me A Thing Or Two About Gratitude

pepeLife on Moon Lake tends to embrace the best of rural living and access to city services. My house is heated with natural gas. I can walk to the library, grocery store, pizza place, elementary school and even a winery on a nice Wisconsin day. But, I can enjoy the tranquility of living on a lake surrounded by trees listening to the sounds of whistling loons. It is a life I love. But, it also comes with some unexpected surprises.

Since entering the chaos that comes with parenting, Steve and I have become a little looser on where our compost ends up. Up until now, this flexible composting has resulted in the occasional squirrel, deer and extra birds. But this fall, while enjoying a binge of Scandal, I noticed a pair of piercing eyes pressed against my window. It turns out Pepe had found our stash. At the time, I was safe. But, I also knew that with a 2-year old, dog, three cats and a husband, this was going to be a problem. I gently, but firmly (aka barked orders), asked my husband to euthanize or quietly relocate our newest critter on Moon Lake. My husband found humor in my angst, patted my shoulder and told me it’d be alright.

Over the course of the next month, Pepe’s visits became more aggressive in nature. In addition to interrupting my television show, compost was missing and several successful garbage attempts resulted in a rather disgusting mess in our driveway. Despite this growing aggression from Pepe, my husband still felt it necessary to let Pepe reside and thrive on Moon Lake.

Things came to a climax in mid-October. Steve let Joey out right before we went to bed. There was an altercation. Before I even knew what had happened, Steve ushered Joey into our home in attempts to prevent her from absorbing the smell from Pepe. The only problem – she had been Pepe’s target and was covered with the hideous smell only a skunk can disperse. By the time I could react, our dog had ran wild in our house, rubbing her sprayed fur on carpets, rugs, blankets and my bed. The smell was overwhelming. Even moreso, when my husband casually asked me to confirm if our dog had been sprayed since he couldn’t tell for sure, I seriously questioned the intelligence of the man I love.

Thanks to Google, hydrogen peroxide and baking soda, we were able to salvage much of Joey’s fur (unless she gets wet). After doing 10-12 loads of laundry and breaking our dryer, many of the clothes and blankets were salvaged or destroyed…. With the exception of one. My favorite, plush, micro-fleece blanket that was a wedding gift. I love this blanket. But, despite washing it multiple times, utilizing countless dryer sheets and even leaving it outside to air dry for multiple weeks, every time I go to snuggle into it I catch this lingering whiff of Pepe. I imagine this may be some form of PTSD, but regardless it interrupts my precious sleep patterns.

For the past few weeks, my husband has encouraged me to remove the blanket from my bed. It could go in storage until next spring or permanently retire. But for some reason, I just keep hanging on to it.

As we enter the season of giving, I can’t help but think of the toxic things we love in life that we hold onto even when it is time to let them go. And how sometimes, we focus on them and miss all that is good in our life. Perhaps it is cliché, but last night while snuggling into bed after a weekend of prepping holiday cards, I couldn’t help but think, why? Why can’t I be more grateful for everything I do have and let go of the rest? It seems so simple on paper but seemingly impossible in my life.

A quick google search about practicing gratitude informs me that millions of people have ideas, suggestions and theories on how to be more grateful for what’s in your life. For me, I’m going to start small. If you are still reading this, there is a good chance you play a role in my life. Thank you for that. I don’t need a book or theory to tell me how blessed I am, in part because of the amazing people I’m lucky enough to call family, friends, colleagues or partners.

And, while this sounds silly, tonight when I go home I’m going to remove that lingering smell from my bed. And, as I get ready to enter the craziness that this time of year brings, I’m going to do my best to focus on what matters.

One last note, for my animal lover friends, Pepe lives. Immediately following his Saturday night encounter with Joey, he went into hiding. I’m confident he has not relocated but rather found a safe, secure resting spot somewhere on our property until next spring. My gut says this story is far from over… so for now… to be continued.

Mother’s Day Gratitude

My son turned 21-months today. Tomorrow I run my first half-marathon in a year. Sunday is Mother’s Day. This trifecta has my mind spinning with emotions – some high, some low – but all of it is topped with gratitude.

When I decided I’d run the Journey’s Half-Marathon six months ago, I didn’t realize it was on Mother’s Day weekend. For obvious reasons, this holiday is particularly difficult for me and many people I know. On the one hand, I want to celebrate the single most influential person in my life… while at the same time mourn her loss and attempt to let go of the anger of her choices. After 19-years of dealing with this turbulent, emotionally charged weekend annually (thanks Hallmark), I can say it is getting easier.

Don’t get me wrong. If I’m honest, I still haven’t 100% forgiven my mom. And, I still miss her terribly. I still tear up when I see heartfelt Mother’s Day commercials that are designed to tug at my heart and guilt me until my wallet pops open and I rectify those feelings by buying trinkets, cards and flowers. Kudos to these marketers by the way. It still works on me and I don’t even have a mother.

I think it gets easier as time goes on because I’m realizing how little control we have over some portions of our destiny. I had 18-years with my mom. She was an amazing mother who loved me unconditionally. Unlike so many of my friends, I had time to say good-bye. I knew my mom was dying, long before she took her last breath. I know without a doubt she knew how much I loved her when she finally passed.

This past week, I was shocked to hear the news about Dave Goldberg dying. I’m slowly working my way through Sheryl Sandberg’s book wondering where I fell on the continuum of career versus family. At times I applaud her efforts, while at other moments, I despise her. Now, I just feel her loss and am reminded that nobody can escape fate. Yesterday, a long-time acquaintance visited me at the hospital to talk about his efforts to pay it forward. Several months ago while competing in a ski race, he went into cardiac arrest. Call it fate. Call it God. Call it whatever you want… but a physician happened to be skiing behind him. For 25-minutes, this man conducted CPR on the trail and while he was transported via a snowmobile sled to an ambulance. Once at the ambulance, they were able to shock him back to life. Just a few months later, he’s back to bike riding and coordinating a free communitywide CPR class, forever changed but healthy, happy and alive.

I don’t know where I fall on the spectrum of grief. I know it is ugly and unpredictable. But in this moment, I can also say that I’m grateful to the woman who made me and this weekend I’ll do my best to remember all she did for me. Tomorrow, I run for me because she gave me the strength and courage to race, even if I suck. She taught me that it isn’t always about winning. That, just showing up and playing hard is enough. Even death can’t take that away from us and for that I’m extremely grateful this Mother’s Day weekend.

I love you mom. Always have and always will.

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.