Working From Home

I have worked from home for a long time. For a lot longer than we’ve been in the throws of a pandemic. So you would think I’d have it down by now. 

Here’s the thing though: in the past I only needed to work-from-home for a small number of hours each week, say 15 or 20. These days I am clocking a lot more than that. 

I think the best preparation for me for working from home was graduate school. Unfortunately, when I was in graduate school, I was incredibly undisciplined with my time and therefore had absolutely no boundaries between work-time and non-work time. This meant that I was sort of always working while never really getting anything done. I’d be distracted and busy with other things during the time when I should have been at my computer, then I’d scramble to read and write when I should have been sleeping or feeding myself healthy food or cleaning my house. 

It wasn’t cute. 

I mean, I got the job done in the end, but it wasn’t the healthiest period of my life, mentally or physically. 

Now-a-days I have another full-time job that I work primarily from 6 to 7:30 am and 4:30 to 8:30 pm, and sometimes during the middle of the night to boot. I am a mom to these adorable tornados of emotion. 

Violet is 3 and Lydia is 6.5. Photo credit: Joni Roberts

These gals and their Dad make it so that I don’t really have the option to work during non-designated work times. Being a parent has forced me to get my shit together and be purposeful about working when I am supposed to work. 

I have done it by creating this imperfect little cave in my basement, aka my office. 

As you can see, I have a very high-tech standing desk, a coffee cup always wanting to be full, a record player, a library of journals, a space heater to keep the place cozy, a fancy diploma, some of my show posters, and best of all: a scrappy little meditation shrine. 

You know, normally, I’d stage this room a little nicer before taking these pictures and posting this blog, but I am working on the whole not-needing-to-be-perfect thing. And that’s what this office is good for anyway – I close the door to the rest of the house and the rest of my life so that I can “go to work” like any other job. 

And when work is particularly onerous or I can’t seem to concentrate, I use the same 45/15 method I used to write my dissertation. I set a timer for 45 minutes, during which time I cultivate single-minded focus on one task, not texting or checking email or refilling my coffee. And when that is done, I set a timer for 15 minutes where I can do any of those other tasks, or whatever else I need to do. 

Sometimes I set my butt down on that meditation pillow. Other times I pull one of my old journals off of the shelf and thumb through my past. Sometimes I go upstairs and make a snack. 

Looking at old journals – feeling the accumulation of age and the demands of parenthood and the distance between my remote outpost and some of the things I love – with a certain kind of eyes I can feel forlorn and longing. Recently though, on my skips down memory lane, I encounter a girl who wished for discipline and structure: commitment to a yoga practice, to cut down on alcohol, to eat healthy, to be a better member of her community. I remember her: though buoyed by youthful friendship and lustful love and exuberant parties and the freedom of her whole life ahead, she was also confounded by the malaise of the unencumbered.  

That’s the upside of being encumbered as fuck. My sweet girls keep me tethered to a daily routine. There is a satisfying momentum to the day after day of it. It feels grown up and grounded and good. 

These days, all weekend, I just want to stay home: the four of us luxuriating in three day weekends, as is the custom in this corner of the world, with Rafal working 4-10s and the girls with a 4-day school week and me putting in less than 40. We lounge Fridays and Saturdays and Sundays in front of our wood burning stove, reading and baking and breaking up sibling brawls and watering the plants and reporting the status of the moon out the window. 

You’d think after spending all week here I’d be itching to go someplace else. 

That time will come, rest assured, when I simply can’t stand the sight of these four walls any longer. But for now, we are drinking up autumn, allowing it to get colder and colder without our fussing about it, and just simply letting ourselves rest.  

I’ve got nothing much to complain about. Not yet. 

See you again soon. Xoxo.  

Let’s Try This Again

Good morning, world. Once upon a time, when I was living deep in the remote interior of Yellowstone National Park, this blog was my lifeline. In the years that have passed, I have built a new life. A busy, stressful one in which I care for two small kiddos, work two jobs, volunteer, workout, and hold myself to an unrealistic home-cleanliness-standard. This schedule doesn’t leave a lot of time to write. It seems, however, that I could use another lifeline. So here I am, making time.

Yesterday was my birthday and I turned 38. I celebrated all weekend by spending hours at the Bozeman Library, enjoying French pastries, napping, taking baths, taking walks, reading The Dharma Bums again, doing yoga, preparing a huge Mediterranean feast with everything from scratch (pita, falafel, roasted veggies, raw veggies, tzatziki, hummus), having a bon fire complete with Rafal’s homemade brownies, and getting an hour-long massage.

Today, I am back at the work-from-home grind. Trying not to be distracted by the laundry, feeling both rested and tired at the same time. 38, amiright?

Last month, I went to Hawaii. I had been longing to travel there since I was a child, and I sobbed with joy as the island of Maui appeared through the clouds from the window of the plane. It was an absolute dream come true. I was so overcome with gratitude, in fact, that I asked Rafal if we could go to church. Not knowing how to navigate the customs of most religions, and not wanting to be spiritual tourists, we attended the mass with which we are familiar: Catholic.

I have many reservations about the Catholic faith. I was baptized, participated in the major sacraments, and attended Catholic school until 8th grade. As a philosophically-minded child, I thought through the tenets of Catholicism in great depth, asking myself what I truly believed. In the end: I fundamentally disagree that one religion is right and all others are wrong. I do not believe in repression as a way toward salvation. I do not believe that humans are fundamentally flawed, born as infants with original sin. Weddings and funerals aside, I had not attended mass in at least 20 years.

But I do believe in love, in kindness, in community. I do believe — as the homily for this particular mass espoused — in owning less stuff so that our spiritual lives might become more rich.

While I was on the island of Maui, I read Megan Griswold’s The Book of Help: a Memoir in Remedies. In this story, Megan seeks countless forms of New Age healing. I was inspired to take a more active role in healing myself, creating my own spiritual rituals, and finding some kind of unique path.

Back on the mainland, I am engaging in traditional therapy twice a month via zoom. I set up a modest little shrine and I am mediating most days (though I’m not good at it). I am taking a break from a more vigorous workout practice to reacquaint myself with the yoga mat. I am double-fisting self-help books (right now Ilana Mulstein’s You Can Drop It! and Holly Whitaker’s Quit Like a Woman) with an audiobook chaser (just completed Pema Chodron’s Getting Unstuck and now onto Tara Brach’s Radical Acceptance). I’m trying to drink water and eat veggies and get enough sleep. It’s a lot.

I also randomly picked up The Dharma Bums again and I can’t stop reading it. I love getting lost in the adventures of Ray and Japhy, always identifying with the Jack Kerouac protagonist and never with the flat, few-and-far-between female characters. And when I get caught up feeling too jealous or nostalgic for what’s happening in the book, I remind myself that I already had this lifestyle — shoeless and drunk on idealism, galivanting in the forest and taverns of southern Illinois — and that this was but a season for these well-meaning weirdos as well. I remind myself that Jack Kerouac drank himself to death at age 47. My life has gotten less exciting in my teetotaling years, to be sure, but at least I believe I have many more of them to come.

Although Pema Chodron tells me, “Death is certain. The time of death is uncertain. So what in your life is most important?”

Probably what should be most important is spending quality time with my kids. This is something I am always already working on. There is always so much that needs to be done, and a nagging part of me that needs it to be done perfectly. I’ve taken to scheduling time with my girls like any other item on my to-do list so that it is understood (by me) to be equally (probably more so) important.

I’m also trying to write. Evidenced here. If the Beats — what with their inherent white male middle class privilege set aside for one second — could produce so prolifically and profoundly through the myriad veils of intoxication and addiction, then I think I can find a few minutes to scribble down something to keep my mind straight and my feet on the ground.

I got a grant from the Wyoming Arts Council to get a projector and a screen. I told them that if I had these materials it would give me the push I need to write a new one-woman show. There I go again, making formal commitments in order to make myself do things I ought to do just because I want to and they are good for me.

The mind is a tricky place.

That’s all for now. ❤

slippers > socks

Today a friend was putting together a fortune teller look for a murder mystery party, and we were texting some ideas. This prompted me to look for a photo of myself dressed up for Halloween a few years back. The best place to find this image was on my blog.

Halloween 2016

Well gosh darn it if I haven’t opened this thing in a long time. By the looks of things, I haven’t posted a word in over a year.

Scrolling back through the pages in search of that Halloween photo, I was reminded that I like using this blog as a document of my family life. In our current times, it has been hard to feel like I have anything “important” to say, like I don’t need to take up space.

But maybe not everything said needs to be important. Maybe some things can just be mundane, and plain, and not such a big deal. If you feel like reading along with my admittedly curated, though still imperfect, familial tales, I’d be happy for you to come along. If you’d rather spend your precious time taking in more critical, educational content, well friends, I completely understand. For me, for now, I think I need to spend some time looking at the boring stuff.

It’s October again. It’s chilly outside. Although I wouldn’t know because I have not left the house. I am a little bit embarrassed by this, but not enough to trade my house slippers for actual socks. My summer seasonal job with the National Park Service has ended, and I have resumed my role as a work-from-home mom. I spend my time compulsively cleaning, tending my woodstove, working for a local education foundation, volunteering, eating way too many snacks, trying to get a six-pack (yes those last two are in direct opposition), spending time with Rafal and the girls, and re-reading Eat, Pray, Love.

In this fine piece of literature, of which this is my third time through, Elizabeth Gilbert contends that every city has a word, one locution that embodies the vibe of a place, one term that sums of the underlying beat of a spot on the map.

I’d hesitate to call this place a “city.” But in reflecting on what word would encompass the Mammoth/Gardiner community, the first thought I had was outside.

I am in the process of helping the organization I work for hire an Executive Director and through this process I have learned more deeply than I already knew, that people don’t move out here for the money. People make sacrifices to come out here for the lifestyle.

People move here because they like to raft, ski, hike, hunt, photograph wildlife, or ride horses. People move here because they want to see mountains outside of their window, elk on their lawn, public lands in every direction.

It’s funny because my own family just kind of landed here. We followed a series of opportunities that brought us to this cute little accommodating place. We didn’t come to Yellowstone specifically to be outside, though for the five years we have been lucky enough to enjoy this place, we have endeavored to embrace the local philosophy.

Maybe I just spent so much damn time outside all summer that I am content to cozy-in for a while. I keep giving myself permission to rest, but this resting is taking a lot longer than I thought it would.

It was a long and unusual summer as a park ranger in Yellowstone. I was deeply divided about whether or not to take the job in 2020, as it seemed like a huge risk, but it ended up being truly fun and magical.

The visitor center was closed and all guided walks and talks were cancelled, but visitation to the park was very high. As such, I spent just about the whole dang summer just walking around and telling folks where to find the bathroom. We had such wonderful weather, my team was amazing, and I can definitely think of way worse jobs.

Have I mentioned how much I love wearing this uniform??

Outside of work, we didn’t do too much this summer. We camped a little, we hiked a little, we hung out a lot in the yard.

Lydia graduated from preschool, we demonstrated in support of Black Lives Matter, and sweet baby Violet turned two.

It was a warm summer of simple pleasures. Although we really did miss having visitors. Our house is so welcoming. We’d love to share it with friends and family again when its safe and prudent to do so.

Towards the end of the summer, my closest friend, Mary Beth, swiftly and suddenly moved away to Pennsylvania. It still hasn’t really sunk in all the way. I just feel like we are really busy so we haven’t seen each other in a while, and instead just text a lot.

My love for Mary Beth is really deserving of its own post, but for now I’ll just mention that her birthday, Moms-only (and one non-mom) campout was probably the highlight of my summer, most especially the epic No Talent Show Throwdown, which included ukulele songs, line dancing, a Shoop dance, Savage, and an original Ode to MB rap song, which even our neighbors at the KOA seemed to enjoy.

We didn’t know she was leaving us when we were lighting it up at the campground, but in retrospect it was a perfect and appropriate send off.

So now we hunker down and get ready for the long, dark winter. My woodstove and my oven are both up to the challenge. I know I need to buck up and make sure me and the girls get some time outside. I’ll try to take time to go inside too, to dig up some stories to tell and some things to write about.

Staying sane and healthy this winter is gonna take some effort. I think I’m ready for it. But I may need another day or two before I am willing to put on socks.



Sweet Violet

Last September, we welcomed the most joyful little being into our family. In celebration of her first trip around the sun, here is a recap of our first year with Violet.

September – October – November

Baby Violet arrived after an easy birth on the 23rd of September. Some highlights of the next few months included an overnight stay in a Forest Service cabin, Halloween, and Mama’s 35th birthday.

December – January – February

For once, we did not travel for the holidays. Instead, we cut down our own Christmas tree and decorated our house. We introduced Lydia to Home Alone and Home Alone 2. In January, our fierce dynamo turned 4 and we had a lovely cowboy-themed party. During one week in February, we got over 5 feet of snow. Other things that happened here: Lydia did 5 weeks of downhill ski lessons, we endured a government shut-down, and we took trips to Missoula and Great Falls.

March – April – May

In March we moved into a new house! Right across the street from our old house! This big beautiful house is perfect for our family and we have plenty of room for guests ❤ During this time, Rafal turned 34, Lydia finished up her first year of preschool, Violet went on her first camping trip, and Nico returned to work as as Interpretive Ranger.

June – July – August

Summers are busy for us with both parents working full-time. Lydia and Violet attended Little People’s Learning Center, our local daycare, and it was a wonderful experience for both girls. This period held lots of wonderful visitors: my mom (who Violet dubbed Ya-ya); Rafal’s boyhood friend Kris, with his sister and wife; and Dave, Sam, and baby Blue. Violet started sleeping through the night (praise!) and also started walking (yes, walking) at just 10 months old.

September 2019


September came around again so quickly, we hardly even realized a year had passed. We camped at Granite Hot Springs (near Jackson, WY) to celebrate the closing of the summer season. Lydia started preschool again. Violet just keeps growing, her walking now a run and her babbling taking the shape of words. The girls are becoming the best kind of friends.

Either she is a really easy baby or I have somehow become a much better mom. Or maybe in the busy-ness of family life she just fell right into the fold. I don’t know how to explain it. Violet just fits right in with us and has brought so much joy to our lives.

Happy belated birthday, sugarplum. We love you to the moon.


New work, new cracks

“Looking out over the expanse, it didn’t seem like I had any time to make art with. But up close, in the everyday moments, I started noticing the cracks. And in these precious spaces there is no writer’s block, there is no self-doubt, there is no reason not to try.”

This is a line from my one-woman show, The Interior. I am talking about finding “cracks” of time to write when I had a small baby. A brief moment to write would present itself and I couldn’t dally. I had to quickly say what I needed to say. Although I had very little time for working, I produced quite a body of work.

It’s different now.

Now I have more time to let the fear set in, the second-guessing, the convincing myself that I don’t have anything important to say. When I wrote that show, I was living in the interior of Yellowstone National Park, and now I live at its headquarters. In the interior, I was enveloped in anonymity. I didn’t have the internet at home and I wasn’t digitally connected to anyone around me. My blog and online publications were accessible only to strangers or friends and family from other places who were more-or-less already on board with my politics and my past. I was writing for people who already loved me.

When I moved up here, everything felt different. They call this place “the fishbowl,” and I suppose that means that everyone has a front row seat to your life. In the interior, I was lonely. None of my friends there had children, so I always felt on the outside. Also, I don’t drink so that adds to my incompatibility. The people I lived with there were wonderful, and I miss many of them, but anyplace where the community turns over about every six months will always feel transitory. Its soil just isn’t conducive to roots. Up here, I was welcomed immediately. I was invited to the weekly mom-group, and I went every week. I watched my shy two-year-old—who had rarely been around other kids—blossom. These women became my friends.

This place is far less ephemeral, far more family-friendly. It feels less like living in a far-flung national park, and more like just living in a really small town. A really small town on the border of rural Montana and rural Wyoming. A predominantly white, predominantly straight, predominantly Christian small town. A place where I do have the internet, where my online persona is wide open to the people I see in real life. This has made it hard to write.

It’s been almost two years since I moved here and in this time I have written very little. What little I have written has been about how hard it has been to write (present document included). I would sit at the computer and all I could say was how I didn’t know how to be true to myself without worrying about making waves. I wanted to be accepted in this idyllic place that had welcomed me before even really knowing me.

Last Friday, I had the opportunity to perform The Interior to a sold out audience at a local cafe. For one hour, I stood in front of my community and told stories from my life. I told stories about being broken by motherhood, about struggling to reconcile my past with my present, about trying to be a better person than I am. This isn’t my most controversial show, to be sure. I could have told stories with a heck of lot more shock value. But I stood there, eyes and heart open, and told some of my truth.

With every word that came out of my mouth, I felt lighter. With each line, the subtext was here I am. (As these three words so often are in what we say and what we make.)

The Interior was about having a baby and starting a new life. I have again just had baby; I have again started a new life. The Interior was about the perseverance of artistic expression: so I am called again to persevere. My version of “making work in the cracks” looks different this time around. This time it has less to do with my schedule and more to do with my fear.

When my horse-obsessed daughter turned four, I bought her a wrangler-led horse ride. But when she sat on the horse, it was oh-so-much bigger than she had imagined. It was oh-so-much-scarier than she expected. It was impossible for me to hold her hand. I said, “Sometimes we have to do things that are scary.” She took a deep breath and she rode that horse.

So now it’s my turn. Here we go. 


From Summer to Fall

I really don’t want to write these days. I also don’t want to read. I have developed an aversion to words on the page. Rafal keeps encouraging me to write — sometimes resorting to guilt tactics, like “your blog is a record for our family” — but I haven’t been able to bring myself to do it.

Part of it is that I don’t know where to begin. So much has happened since I was blogging on the regular. But I’ve found my way here to the keyboard today, so here’s my attempt to bring us all up to speed.



This summer I had the honor of working as a ranger in Yellowstone National Park, and it was awesome. I was an Interp ranger, which is to say not a Law Enforcement ranger. My job was divided across three tasks: roving (walking around specific areas of the Park and talking to people), working the welcome desk at the Visitor Center (answering myriad questions and helping visitors plan their trips), and delivering programs (writing and performing guided walks and talks).

If you know me then you are not surprised to know that giving programs was my favorite part. I did the Fort Walk, which toured historic Fort Yellowstone, and detailed the history of the US military’s management of the Park. (Yellowstone is 34 years older than the National Park Service). I did the Terrace Walk, which toured the Mammoth Hot Springs Travertine Terraces, and dropped both historical and geological knowledge of the area. I did a short 20-minute wildlife talk, during which I got to demonstrate how to use bear spray (using an inert can). And finally, I researched, wrote, and delivered an original evening program at our small outdoor amphitheater.

Screenshot 2018-11-06 at 2.31.35 PM

Frankly, I was perfect for the job.

I had a lot to learn in terms of natural resources (most people who do this job have a background in forestry or something similar), but I what I lacked in that area I made up for in terms of storytelling, research skills, and personal knowledge of the park.

Rafal and I had only one day off together each week, and every other week we used that day to go to Bozeman for groceries, errands, and the miscellaneous luxuries of town. On top of that, I was exhausted from being pregnant and working on my feet all the time. So we didn’t really do a whole of lot of fun summer stuff.  

But we did manage to camp at Buffalo Bill State Park (and it the process save a man from drowning), float the Yellowstone river on innertubes (spending two hours longer on the river than intended and getting sunburned), host visitors (my mom, Rafal’s mom, Mary & Vince, Monika & Rob), and attend the Montana Folk Festival in Butte.


My mom and Rafal also brought Lydia to an event in Bozeman called Digger Days, which may have been the highlight of her life thus far. (Unfortunately, I had to work.) And in early September, Lydia started preschool. 




On September 21st, I delivered my final Terrace Walk of the summer (which was my longest and most physically rigorous program). As I finished the walk, I made a joke about how I successfully made it through the season without going into labor on the terraces. I realized then that I didn’t have a single photo of myself as a pregnant ranger (aside from a few selfies), and I asked a visitor if she would take one. (This is the glamorous NPS maternity uniform.)


I started having contractions that afternoon. Here I am with my friend, Madi, after about three contractions.


I was supposed to work my final day of the season on September 22, but I did not go into work that day. Instead, I had mild contractions all day. That night, we dropped Lydia off at our neighbor’s, the Youngs, and drove the 1 hour and 15 minutes to Livingston Hospital. (We stopped at Follow Your Nose BBQ for take-out on the way.) By 9:00 pm my contractions had stalled out, but we spent the night at the hospital.

The next morning — September 23 — active labor started in earnest at 5:00 am. The hospital kitchen wasn’t yet open, but my nurse brought me coffee from the employee area (because even in labor I need my coffee).

I was the only patient in the birth center and my room had a view of the mountains, for the true Montana-birthing experience. Labor was fast and intense. By 10:25 am, she was born. (No epidural, btw.) 


Violet is a calm, sweet baby. She nurses great, she sleeps pretty good, and she has a peaceful disposition. Lydia is a loving big sister and a great helper. Of course, sometimes she’s jealous. Sometimes Violet is inconsolable. Sometimes I’m too exhausted to do anything at all. We are all adjusting. We are all trying to find our new groove.  

In the days since Violet’s arrival, we enjoyed Rafal’s month-long paternity leave, hiked a few trails, and celebrated Halloween. We stayed in a forest service cabin. Lydia started yoga classes.

I am writing this on November 5. The roads into Yellowstone closed today to let the snow accumulate. (They will reopen December 15 for over-snow travel.) Yesterday, Rafal put the winter tires on the car, and this morning we woke to a fresh coat of snow.

I dropped Lydia off at school this morning and drove down to Gardiner with the baby. Wonderland Cafe is having “locals appreciation day,” so I got a free cup of coffee. I am snuggling and nursing and trying to write.

I don’t want to jinx it, but I have to say it’s easier the second time around. Either I’m better or she’s better or both. And I’m glad to be a Mammoth/Gardiner local today (not just for the free coffee). I always love the shoulder season. When for a quick moment it’s just us, and all of this is ours, and everyone is extra nice, and you can look around and see who really lives here. You can just feel the community. 

This community truly stepped up for me this summer and fall. From taking care of my kids to bringing over food to just extending their arms to hold my baby for a while: I feel very supported. It’s also fun to see these posters hanging up around town. It’s wonderful to feel like a part of something. (Note what’s happening in March.) 


So in case you haven’t heard from me in a while, I’m still here doing my thing: mothering, hustling for the arts, enjoying the outdoors, and once in a while trying to write.

I’ll try not to stay away so long.

❤ Nico 


Eleven More Weeks

I’ve been back to work — full time, outside the home — for four weeks now, and my season has just eleven more.


Just eleven weeks left, including this one. The rest of this week and then ten more. Then two weeks of lounging and nesting, and then a baby who hopefully won’t come any earlier than she’s due. This countdown is my mantra on these long and demanding days.

Just eleven more weeks where we are two parents working 40 hours each, with just one day off together each week. Eleven more weeks of extremely swollen legs and feet from standing eight or nine hours per day. Eleven more weeks of quick dinners and dishes in the sink and piles of clean laundry in baskets.

This has been a rough transition for us as family, but a really, really good one.

I love my job. Being an Interpretive Ranger is a coalescence of so many of my skill-sets, and even though most days I feel like just an overdressed tour guide, it is lovely to work a job that is based on protecting a beautiful place while helping people experience it. On my better days, I feel like I have something valuable to teach. On my better days, I feel like I have lots of people who are eager to learn. Plus, it is always fun to wear a uniform and soak up a little bit of public respect.

Yesterday morning, when I got dressed in my freshly ironed uniform, I felt like I might tear the seam of my pants. I was hoping to hold out on wearing the somewhat unflattering NPS maternity gear until at least the official start of the third trimester (which is Friday), but I couldn’t quite make it all the way. As such, yesterday was my first day as an unmistakably Pregnant Ranger, and that’s how it will be for eleven more weeks.

The world is such a mess right now, and I am dismayed by the things that are happening. Because of this, I have been reluctant to share just how good things are going for me. But upon further reflection, this attitude has been backwards: to be in a time of great suffering and not acknowledge your own good fortune is not the right way to be.

Instead, I need to bestow many big fat thank yous: to the village of people who are coming together to help raise my daughter, to my husband who is picking up new forms of slack at every turn, to my daughter who is brave and curious and embracing all these changes, to my co-workers answering my endless questions and putting up my earnest desire to do a good job, to all my brilliant professors who taught me how to do research, to the taxpayers paying my salary, and to my boss for thinking I would be a good fit.

It’s just a low-level, seasonal ranger job. It’s really no big deal. After childcare costs, I have just about the exact same amount of money as I made writing from home. But I’m just so excited to have found something that suits me and makes me happy and feels worthwhile.

It is research and performance. It is talking with people about all kinds of things. It is memorizing facts. It is answering questions. It is reprimanding visitors who get too close to animals or hot springs. It is putting on a good public face.

Meanwhile . . .

The basketball of my belly grows larger by the day.


This Friday will mark 28 weeks of pregnancy. Lydia is thrilled about being a big sister. (She will be 3 and a half soon, btw.) New baby sister is moving and dancing inside me all day (and all night). We are gathering the supplies. We are steeling ourselves against the storm of sleeplessness and vigilance to come. Life barrels ahead while I busy myself with ironing my uniform and polishing my boots and memorizing my programs.  

Life just keeps changing.


Just as I wrote my dissertation with an unborn Lydia along for the ride, I perform my ranger duties with the knowledge that I’ve got a passenger. I wonder so often just who she will be, how she’ll fit into this family, how she will help us to grow. One thing I can say for sure is that she will be loved.

Onward into another hot July day we stride.


For the past three months I’ve been sick as a dog. Or as pregnant as a dog. Or just plain pregnant.

For the past three months I’ve done almost nothing. I haven’t blogged. I haven’t prepared healthy meals. I certainly haven’t exercised. It’s been all I could do to cart myself from the bed to the couch and try to make sure my daughter was safe. During this time I also took on a commercial writing gig that meant I spent 2-4 hours in front of the computer every weekday afternoon. I’ve been sleeping from 8:30 pm to 7:00 am every night. And since I still wear a fitness tracker as a watch, I can tell you that I’ve been getting between 1,000 and 2,000 steps during the day, mainly due to trips to the bathroom.

If you’ve never experienced this kind of thing firsthand, just try to imagine having an epic, soul-crushing hangover every single day for a stretch of 12 consecutive weeks. Imagine how you would conduct yourself. Imagine what foods you would to eat. It’s not healthy, let me tell you. And it doesn’t feel like me.

At 14.5 weeks pregnant, I’ve crossed the infamous first trimester threshold. I do feel better. I just don’t feel, like, all the way better. I’m still nauseous and I’m still exhausted, but I am slowly pulling myself out of the slump. Rafal has started cooking more dinners, which has helped me to eat at least one healthy meal per day. Two days ago, I actually practiced yoga. And today, against all odds, I managed to go for a walk.


There’s something else that’s been going on here: what they call “spring” in the mountains. Spring in the mountains means that even halfway through the month of April, we get 9 degree mornings with 6 inches of fresh snow. It means that most days are gloomy and cold. It means that I’ve been spending days upon days upon days without exiting my house.

When we lived in Grant Village, I had a rule about this: I had to go outside every single day. And rain or shine, cold or warm, damn near every freaking day, I kept that promise. In general, I try not to let any kind of weather bring me down. I love my collection of outdoor gear, and varying weather conditions are just a good excuse for finding the best combination of clothing items.

As a principle, I try not to be a wimp about the weather. But lately, that is exactly what I’ve been.

I could blame it on pregnancy, and maybe that’s true, but if I don’t find the strength to lace up my boots, toss on a down jacket, and greet the day, this spring is going to take me down with it.

The truth is, once you’ve finally made it outdoors, 30 degrees feels perfectly fine.


I walked only one short mile today, pushing my sleepy three-year-old in the stroller, but it felt great to get my blood pumping, to watch the bison scatter, to get a close look at the frosted sage brush.

I’ve got big plans for the summer ahead, and I need to be healthy enough to see them through. My writing gig is finished, my nausea is waning, and the temperatures are reluctantly creeping upward. I’m all out of excuses.

I must go outside and walk.





Nico is not the name listed on my birth certificate. Differentiated by just two letters, Nicole is the first name I was given. It was one of the most popular names of 1983, and when I entered kindergarten, there were five other Nicoles in my class. Always needing to be different, I experimented with variations and nicknames—Niki, Nic, Pinky—but I never felt that I’d gotten it just right.

When I went away to college I wanted to reinvent myself. I spent a long time thinking about what kind of clothes I would wear and how I would style my hair. It occurred to me that I could change my name to anything. I could be Jasmine or Tigerlily. I could be anyone, because nobody knew me. I tried introducing myself this way at parties, but I felt stupid and inauthentic.

During the summer after my first year of college, I was reading the book Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain. The history of 70s punk features the story of Nico, the German model and singer who Andy Warhol more or less forced into the Velvet Underground for one great album. (Incidentally, Nico wasn’t her real name either. That Nico was named Christa.)   

Seeing her name in print, I thought, “That’s so close to my name. I could just drop off the L and the E, and I could be Nico.” It wasn’t such a stretch. If my name were Christopher, no one would cry foul if I said my name was Chris. It wasn’t as far-fetched as calling myself Stardust. It was a fairly realistic idea.

Soon after I returned to school in the fall, I would join a student environmentalist group and meet the group of friends that I would romp with for many years (all of whom I still love, and several of whom are still close friends). I would introduce myself to these friends as Nico. They never questioned it. It has been my name ever since.


My daughter’s name is Lydia, but Lila (lee-lah) is the name she chose for herself. When she was small and we asked her name, Lila is what she would say. In a family that respects chosen names, it held on. We call her Lila most all the time, unless she’s being scolded.

I recently discovered that the word Lila in Sanskrit means “divine play.” In the Hindu faith, all of reality and all of the cosmos were created by the playfulness of the divine. In our most playful, sometimes we are the most serious. At out most joyous, sometimes we are the most devout. This is my Lila in a nutshell: both serious and goofball, both focused and free.

It’s a bit silly anyway, naming someone before you know who they are. As she grows, I want her to know she has the space to tell me who she is, not the other way around. Perhaps she will prefer different pronouns. Perhaps she will take an entirely new name.

It is likely that one day she’ll no longer be Lila, and of course we’ll roll with that. I’m sure she will wear many costumes and titles on the long quest for who she wants to be. I’m just excited to be along for the ride, I’m hopeful that she’ll feel comfortable sharing her truth with me, and I’m curious to meet every stage of her along the way.

My own personality changes don’t happen as rapidly anymore, but I wouldn’t call myself static. I’m still wondering, I’m still growing, I’m still brainstorming about who I want to be. I’m pretty sure Nico is here to stay, though. Sometimes a name just fits.


Things You Can’t Quit in the Middle

“In Montana, you either love the weather or you suffer.”

–Adam Delorme in “This Is Home” 

Winter is long and hard out here at the place where Wyoming and Montana meet. Either you can succumb to the drab boring chill, or you can find a way to have fun. So I’m learning to downhill ski.


Skiing is something I’ve always wanted to do, and yet something I’ve always feared. Through the years I’ve been variously deterred by the cost, by the danger, by my out-of-shape lack-of-skill, and by my distant proximity to mountains. This winter, Rafal and I were able to squirrel a little money away, I’ve gotten in much better shape, and we have mountains visible from every window in our home. Skiing is still dangerous, of course, but sometimes you’ve just gotta be brave.

Rafal and I each purchased a “Learn to Ski in Three” package from Bridger Bowl (just outside of Bozeman, Montana). With this, we each got three lessons, three gear rentals, and three lift tickets (one for the beginner’s area, one for the lower half of the mountain, and one for the full mountain).

My first time out—on the bunny hill—I couldn’t believe how well I was doing. I didn’t fall, I was making turns, I felt surprisingly comfortable on my skis.

My second time out was far more humbling. My lesson instructor didn’t teach me much. Rafal and I, the two other people in our lesson group, and our instructor went once down the bunny hill, and then twice down the easiest of the easy green runs. That was the entire lesson. Her only advice was “try to focus on making turns.”

Following this, Rafal and I decided to go down the next easiest green run. Within minutes, I started *flying* down the hill. The bunny hill and the easiest green run are about the same pitch (meaning they are equally steep). This one was steeper: still considered “easy” of course, but more intense than I was used to. I managed to make several turns, but I wasn’t slowing down. Before long, I fell face-first, losing my poles, glasses, and hat in the snow. I hurt my neck and shoulder, but I bruised my confidence most of all.

And I still needed to get to the bottom of the hill.

Rafal came up from behind and found me in the snow. He helped me up, and I was trembling. My adrenaline was pumping. I was really shaken up. Had a magical fairy appeared and offered to lift me down to the apres ski bar, I would have taken her up on it. If I could have quit skiing (possibly forever) right then and there, I would have done it. But instead, I got up on my feet, and followed Rafal at a snail’s pace. As we made our way down the hill, I felt my equilibrium coming back. I was knocked back down to size, to be sure, but by the time I reached the ground, I was ready to get on the lift again.

This is why I like starting things I can’t quit in the middle.

When I was a kid, I was never a fast runner. I always quit playing tag when I was stuck being “it.” I could never last in a competitive sport. I quit softball and volleyball. I would always make up excuses in gym class. I’ve even been known to storm out on a heated game of Settlers if it seems like I’m getting picked on. I’m kind of a quitter by nature.

But activities that involve travel, laboriously propelling your body your space, they need to be completed. You can go forward or you can go backwards, but your legs (outfitted with boots, or skis, or bicycle tires) are going to carry you there. Whether you like it or not.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been deep in the woods on some trail somewhere, thinking, What would I pay to be home right now? Thinking, Is it farther to go forward, or turn around? Thinking, Why do I do this to myself? I almost never want to go, but I’m always glad that I went.

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On our first cross-country ski adventure of the season—when we accidently chose a very difficult trail, and the snow was still sparse, and they hadn’t started grooming—I fell a lot. I fell down so much that tears of frustration streamed down my cheeks. I’d never done the trail before, so I didn’t have a sense of how long the loop would take. I felt trapped: there was only one way out of this situation, and it involved traveling over snow. I had to take a deep breath and keep moving.

I trick myself into biting off more than I can chew. I get myself into situations that only I can get myself out of. I catapult myself into the unknown. Sometimes I pout for a little while. Sometimes I even sit down in the middle of trail and cry. But I always find my way back.

I’m learning to be less of a quitter. I’m learning to have fun in the snow.