Walk

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.

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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.

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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.

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Lila

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.

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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.

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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.

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She Sleeps

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Many of you have been following this saga for a long time: my daughter has never been good at sleep. I tried all the tricks over these three years: everything I read, everything that was suggested, and everything I could dream up. Believe me, I tried it.

For the past year or so, the only thing that worked was lying in bed with her—often for an hour, sometimes two—until she fell asleep. Add naptime and bedtime routines onto this, and I would spend hours on hours, each and every day, chasing toddler sleep. It was not uncommon for me to spend upwards of an hour coaxing her to nap for 45 minutes. And this was an improvement! At least this way I could just relax and listen to an audio book, as opposed to nursing, rocking, or walking her in a stroller (as I’d done in years before). At least this way, she slept through the night (as long as I was in bed with her). Some evenings I could relax into my podcast as I put her down, but other days I felt restless, resentful, and defeated.

“It’s not fair!” I would think, knowing full-well that, no, parenting is not fair. “Other parents don’t have it like this,” knowing full-well that every single parent has their own worries, struggles, and shortcomings. 

Rafal had taken to sleeping in Lydia’s bed (what we’d always called “the guest bed,” because she’d never once slept in it), while Lydia and I sprawled across the Master. By Lydia’s decree, bedtime was Mama’s job only, which meant I could never leave her with a sitter, or even with Rafal, during naptime/bedtime without major anxiety. The worst part was that she clung to me like a barnacle during the night: I could not leave the nest for any reason without triggering a meltdown. Don’t get me wrong, lying next to her sleeping body was a salve to my soul, and yet it was also a trap.

I started listening to Magic Lessons (a podcast by Elizabeth Gilbert) where she helps artists get unstuck. Across both seasons, there was a trend of mothers waking up at 4:30 am so they could have time to work before they had to care for others. I was angered by this, jealous and motivated, both. “4:30” became a beacon. It was something I needed to create. “You’re never going to find time,” Elizabeth tells us, “You’re going to have to make time.”

During this period, I was up to my eyeballs in ghostwriting work. Though I was still completing the same number of assignments each week, my editors were wanting deeper, more in-depth work. The same number of articles was taking twice as long. I was earning more money, but I was running out of hours. Forget about blogging or writing things that interested me. I was stressed out and stretched thin.

I decided to try the old “chair next to the bed” method of getting the kid to sleep, because I needed to try something. The first few nights involved tears and fighting, Lydia protesting, “Mama, please snuggle in the bed,” first adamantly, then sweetly, then desperately (my heart twisting in knots, but remaining firm). I sat in the chair for two hours each night during that first week. The next week I traded out the chair for a little toddler bed, in order to preserve my back. I would lie there cramped on a baby-sized mattress while my (then) 2-year-old had my queen-sized bed to herself. I would think, “Something is wrong with this picture,” shaking my head at the silliness of the scene.

We did this for several weeks. She was falling asleep better and faster. But I was still sneaking out of the room after she was asleep. She would still wake, worried and upset, if I didn’t come to bed within a few hours. She still wouldn’t let me out of bed in the morning.

Then she got sick. I don’t know if it was the flu, because we’d all gotten flu shots, but something nasty got into her. She had on-again-off-again cold-like symptoms that lasted for two weeks. During which time, she was irritable and cranky to a level that I’d never seen in her before. She must have been miserable, and I felt bad for her, but by the end of the week alone with her—after a week of tantrums and whining and irrational requests— I just snapped. I called Rafal crying. I couldn’t do it. I was screaming at her. I felt totally unhinged.

I needed help. I needed time.

Rafal immediately stepped up his Dad game, taking on childcare as soon as he got home so I could have some time to work. He took on bathtime and jammies and evening books. It was a huge help, but I still needed to take back the morning.

About a week before her 3rd birthday, I decided I was ready. On January 22, all through the day we talked about how she was a big girl and about how she could sleep in a big girl bed by herself. We rehearsed saying goodnight, and how Mommy would close the door, and Lydia would fall asleep. I took a nap with her in the big girl bed, just to get her used to it. Then that night, after bath, and jammies, and a story, and some snuggles in the rocking chair, I said goodnight. AND SHE WENT TO SLEEP. Around 3:00 am she woke up with a whimper. I went in, and patted her back, and she fell asleep again. That was the last time she has woken up during the night.

It’s been two weeks of Lydia sleeping in her own bed, in her own room, through the night. It’s been two weeks of “Goodnight! I love you!” and closing the door and walking away. It’s been two weeks of waking up early to do yoga and write. It’s been two weeks of morning coffee in peace.

It is straight up revolutionary.

It is quarter to 7 and she’s still asleep. I almost don’t know what to do. I have more time in the evenings to spend with Rafal, and I get to sleep in bed with him at night. I have time in the morning to work or workout or just get my head on straight. I am a better mom and a happier person because of it. And Lydia: she is so much happier too. 

I still ask myself what went wrong with this whole sleep thing, like, was all of this my own fault? But I don’t want to dwell on that. I don’t know what I’m doing, I’ve never known quite what I’m doing, and all the books and all the advice, well, they just don’t always work.

I am doing my best. I’m much better at asking for help. I’m open to trying new things. And the point right now is: she sleeps. For now, that’s more than enough.

 

When Did Blogging Become Bragging?

When I first started this blog, I did so because my partner, Rafal, wouldn’t let me share images of our baby on social media. We compromised on starting a blog: a place where I could document our sweet Lydia and the process of raising her. It was an innocent enough prospect. And then the baby came . . .

This morning I read that 80% of mothers experience the “baby blues,” characterized by worry, exhaustion, frustration, feeling overwhelmed, inability sleeping, and loss of enjoyment in normal activities. When I was a new mother, people would ask me if I experienced postpartum depression. I would say, “Where is the line between true depression and just having a life that sucks?”

I love my daughter so much. I wouldn’t take it all back. But having a baby catapulted me into a life so different, so much lonelier, and so much harder than anything I’ve even done before. I still feel overwhelmed. It is still harder to experience joy in normal activities when a small person is yanking on the bottom of my shirt. I’m still worried almost all the time.

This experience–dark though it was at times—taught me about sacrifice, about selflessness, about giving. I am a more complete person for it. And out of sheer desperation, this experience made me a better writer. My blog became a place for questions and struggles, for honest reflection and arduous growth. People enjoyed reading it, because at its heart it said something true.

Over the years, as the difficulty of motherhood has dulled, my writing has grown dull alongside it. This blog has become just a receptacle for my family adventures: a place that glosses over the tough stuff, and makes my life seem just healthy and fun.

Sometimes it is those things. I work hard to foreground those things. The adventures contained within this blog are true, and they reflect much of what I prioritize in life. They’re just not the whole truth. And while I’d like this blog to be, in part, a kind of photo album for my family, I’d also like it to be something more.

For a while now, for me anyway, blogging has become something closer to bragging. So here is a little dose of truth: there is a flip-side to having all of these adventures. There is a reason we have every single weekend free to go camping and hiking and la la la. We’re not near family, we don’t have many friends, and I don’t have a career. We stay in motion so that we don’t get lonely. We go outside because it’s the only thing we have. We have outdoor adventures because we don’t have a lot of money to do much else.

The mountains here stand in for family. For years on end, I dreamed about coming back to Montana. The universe (and my partner) brought me here. Each day I step outside and feel grateful. But these mountains, like just about everything in life: they come at a price.

In the cold of these winter months, I’m striving to keep it more real. I’m trying to let the part of me that needs everyone’s approval fall away. I’m trying to figure out who the real me is, and to let that person shine through.

Stay tuned, my friends. It’s likely to be a bumpy-but-beautiful ride.

Here Comes the Snow: A Recap of Summer

This morning we woke in a snow globe. Summer has ended, and fall in the mountains is here.

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I haven’t been blogging much lately (or taking a whole lot of pictures). I’ve been working on other projects and I’ve been caught up in the flow. But with the season changing I thought it would be fun to look back over the summer we’ve had, and get my readers caught up with what we’ve been up to this past month or so.

It was a summer of car camping, playing, and getting settled in Mammoth.

Nearly the whole month of June was dedicated to packing, moving, and unpacking again. But I did find time to volunteer at the Grant Visitor’s Center, perform The Interior in Grant Village, and do a bit of exploring in the park.

Then on June 23, we arrived at our new home in Mammoth Hot Springs. We hiked, we decorated our house, and Lydia joined the local playgroup.

Our first official summer get-away came the weekend of July 14. It was the first weekend of the summer that we had zero errands and zero obligations. So we traveled up and over the gorgeous Beartooth Highway, visiting the Montana towns of Silver Gate, Cooke City, and Red Lodge. We spent the night in an Airbnb tipi, and spent the weekend having fun.

The next weekend, we discovered the Boiling River–a place where steaming hot thermal water mixes with the cold Gardner river to make a delightful swimming hole. (Lydia and I would frequent this locale for the rest of the season.)

Next came a back injury for me and a visit from my pal Sabrina. Lydia turned two and a half. We soaked in the healing waters of Chico Hot Springs.

August was busy & amazing. The first weekend of August, we camped at Fairy Lake Campground (north of Bridger Bowl) and spent our days at the Sweet Pea Music Festival in Bozeman.

The second weekend we camped at the Snowbank Campground on Mill Creek. We soaked at Chico again, and hiked the trail to Passage Falls (where I stripped down and dove under the waterfall).

After that, Kristina and James came for a visit, and stayed for a whole week. During this time, we hiked, soaked, and laughed. I got to play tour guide–driving Kris and James down the whole length of Yellowstone National Park–and hostess–cooking meals and entertaining. It was great.

Then the four of us (Kris, James, Lydia, and I), plus Rafal (who was a surprise, last-minute addition) went to stay the night in Grant Village. We made pie iron sandwiches around the fire and visited with some of our old buds. Then the following morning, the five of us rose before dawn, drove down into the heart of the Tetons, and set up camp for the day. Gradually, we watched the moon make love to the sun. We felt the air turn cool, saw the mountains turn purple, and heard a flock of geese exclaim with wonder. We were witness to a breathtaking total solar eclipse.

One week after Kris and James said goodbye marked our anniversary. Rafal and I celebrated nine years together by taking a five-day road trip through Idaho. We stayed in the beautiful Syringa B&B in Salmon. The next day, we hiked up into the paradise of Goldbug Hotsprings. The day after that we explored the volcanic caves of Craters of the Moon National Monument.

Our anniversary trip fell on Labor Day weekend, and we thought this would mark the end of summer. But we were wrong!

Another visit from wonderful friends brought another delicious dose of adventure. Kelsey, Cam, and (their dog) Janis came to pay a visit to Wyoming-Montana. With them, we soaked in the Boiling River and at Chico (again), and we camped along Mill Creek. Through them I discovered that another friend, Wyatt (with whom Kelsey and I rafted the Grand Canyon in 2013), lives just up the road in Emigrant. The morning after camping, we all met for breakfast at the WildFlour Cafe, and then went for a float on calm water (Lydia’s first time in a raft!)

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The day after that–Sunday–we all met again for a whitewater adventure through Yankee Jim Canyon. This time, another friend from the Grand Canyon trip just happened to be passing through town! Tom (aka Roach), Wyatt, and I spent most of our time on the Grand on the same boat. And all these years later, here we were on a boat together again, once against orchestrated by Kelsey (and by the universe) who introduced us all in the first place. It was hot and sunny and magical. Lydia is sure to grow into a River Rat.

Here we are just one weekend later, and our lawn is littered with snow. The temperatures are looking low in the forecast and more snow is scheduled to fall. I pulled out some of my favorite sweaters and Lydia is wearing her boots. I welcome this snow, this change, and I hope it is smothering the fires nearby.

Mammoth feels like a real home to us. I have recently joined the Electric Peak Arts Council (through I’m not officially on the board yet), so I’ll help program arts events in the area. An old friend who lives in Bozeman and I got together to hike (and hope to do so again). I go to yoga class and to playgroup. I was asked to be on the board of the co-op preschool (that Lydia can start attending in January).

I’m still writing how-to articles, and I started work on a short book. I’m still exercising and keeping the house clean. Lydia is growing and learning. We both really enjoy these toddler days–she is bright, and busy, and surprisingly chill. Rafal is working very hard and finding a nice groove with his new career. Yesterday we all got flu shots.

We are doing the family thing, but also the friends thing a little bit too.

We are a little exhausted and a little excited and a little curious about what this season will bring.

In the words of Queen Elsa, let the storm rage on, Yellowstone! The cold never bothered me anyway.

Boz Angeles, Montucky

Living in Mammoth, we are just a ten-minute drive from Gardiner, Montana. In this little tourist hub, you can find some overpriced groceries and a few other delights, and we make our way to Gardiner regularly. But when we need a big load of groceries, or when we just want to have fun, we usually head an hour and half up the road to the college-town/ski-town of Bozeman.

Bozeman, Montana is both a little more bougie and little more redneck than it might seem at first glance, earning it the nickname “Boz Angeles, Montucky.”

Picture this: as you’re enjoying an artisanal Brazilian bowl and local microbrew on the patio of an upscale local restaurant, you’re likely to see a mullet-man behind the wheel of a mud-covered monster truck, a swarm of college kids riding their bikes, or a dude riding a longboard with a bright yellow kayak attached to his back. Honestly, Bozeman is pretty cool.

This weekend, we decided to make our Bozeman trip into a two-day event. On Friday, we got off to a late start (getting some things done at home). But we got all our things packed while Lydia napped, and headed off. We traveled 30 minutes north of Bozeman, and then another 30 minutes down a bumpy dirt road. Here we found Fairy Lake Campground: our headquarters for the night.

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Tate made camp while Mama made coffee. As I boiled water for pour-overs and reheated a lunch of cauliflower nachos, Lydia helped Rafal hammer in the tent stakes. Then she played around in the dirt, while Rafal and I relaxed in our camp chairs.

Once we were fed and set up, we got back into the car, traveled back down the bumpy road, and headed back into town. We did some shopping, some chilling, and some errands. We stopped for some take-out sandwiches. Eventually we made our way back to camp for the night.

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We got into some cozy clothes, snuggled into our family sleeping bag, and passed out under the starry sky. In the pre-dawn hours, a family of mountain goats came to graze right next to our tent. (No image, sorry.)

The next morning, we slept late (past 8:00 am, which is practically noon to us), and woke groggy. We made some oatmeal and coffee, and casually broke down camp.

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We drove for the third and final time down the longest, bumpiest dirt road and back into Bozeman again. This time, we headed to Lindley Park for the 40th Annual Sweet Pea Arts Festival.

We saw live music, theatre, and dance, including an awesome hip hop dance group called the Groovaloos. Lydia played at the playground. Rafal and I had chicken on a stick. Lydia ran with kiddos for hours on end. She even got her face painted (for the very first time) and got a balloon!

All of a sudden, while watching the Groovaloos (and watching Lydia dance with a circle of new friends) we simultaneously remembered that we had to go to Costco! It was 5:30 pm! Costco closes at 6! Rafal said, “Oh well, we’re not gonna make it.” And I said, “No way! We have to go!” and took off running. As we were flying through the festival (pushing Lydia in the stroller) a teenager girl turned to her friend and exclaimed, “That jumpsuit is sick.” When teenagers are complimenting your outfit (calling it “sick” no less), you know you look good!

We still had to purchase our perishable groceries, and I needed to get to Costco to get what I needed! We flew out the gate, and into the car, and down the road. Just as we were pulling into our parking space (with a few minutes to spare), I realized that I’d misplaced my phone. I picked up Rafal’s phone to try and call it, but just then my mom was calling him. The lost and found at the festival had called her to tell her they’d found my phone! It must have fallen out of my pocket right when I was luxuriating in the compliment of my clothes (yes, this sick jumpsuit has POCKETS).

We finished up our grocery shopping and then returned to the festival to get my phone. But since we were already there, we decided to stay a bit! I bought a bean burrito and Rafal had some Asian noodles that Lydia shared. Then the three of dug into the most incredible slice of apple pie, listening to the music play.

Finally, we loaded ourselves back into the car–which was now stuffed all the way full–for the last leg of our journey. We drove the hour and half toward home, through the spectacular mountain desert of western Montana, under the glow of the rising (almost) full moon.

Not a bad way to get the grocery shopping done. Not a bad weekend. Not a bad life.

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2.5

July 31 was Lydia’s half-birthday. Two and half, to be exact. And it feels like a huge turning point. I can feel the baby moments slipping away, as she grows more articulate and more independent each day.

Here’s just a handful of the adorable not-quite-baby, not-quite-kid-yet things she says & does lately:

– She says “slotion” instead of lotion, like “Baby needs some slotion.”

– She says “li-buh-wit” when she means little bit, like “Put li-buh-wit in my hand?”

– Anytime she gets nervous (or simply wants to be picked up) she comes close to me and says, “Mama’s got chu.”

– She says “hello-copter” (She is obsessed with “hello-copters” and airplanes.)

– Though she’s mostly grown out of it, she used to say “compingo” instead of computer. (Some friends of ours figured she was speaking Polish.)

– Her favorite thing these days is to ask us, “What does the ______ say?” And though it started with animals and people, it’s now advanced to all sort of abstract things like, “What does the heavy say?” “What does the moon say?” “What does the ‘lid-a-lid-a-lid-a’ say?”

– If I hurt myself, she runs over to kiss it, and then she asks so sincerely, “Is it better, Mama?”

My mom and I often celebrated my half-birthday growing up, so I wanted to do something fun with Lydia for hers. On Monday we spent the whole afternoon at the park.

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Then after Rafal got home from work, we drove to Gardiner and sat on the Tumbleweed patio. We drank iced teas, and Lydia had some milk. She seemed to grow older by the minute.

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All week long, Lydia wanted to go-go-go. Each day she would say, “Go to silver car! Go to silver car!” (Because she loves riding around in our big Nissan Pathfinder.) And when we would we say, “No we’re not going in the silver car right now,” she’d come back with: “Go to blue car?”

With a stroke of luck on Tuesday, I was able to get almost all of my writing work done, which freed up Wednesday afternoon and most of the day Thursday for fun stuff. So after Lydia’s nap on Wednesday, we got into our swimsuits and piled into the car. We drove just two miles down the road, switched over the stroller, and then strolled down the 1/2 mile walking path to the boiling river.

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The next morning, I had to go in to Gardiner to see my chiropractor, and of course my side kick came along. (The chiropractor is so great her with her; he has Lydia put her hands on my back and to help adjust Mama.) Afterward, we needed to kill some time before our Thursday playgroup, so we spent some more time on the patio of the Tumbleweed (conveniently right next door to the chiropractor), drinking smoothies and saying hello to the chickens.

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Then we made our way to the Gardiner elementary school playground, where Lydia spent the next two hours running and playing with her friends, and I got to chit-chat with the local moms.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: newborn babies are not my forte. The first year of Lydia’s life was tremendously difficult, and the second year was pretty hard too. To all the parents who said I would miss those baby days: I don’t miss them at all and I don’t think I ever will. When friends of mine with tiny ones exclaimed that “they’re growing too fast,” or that they wish “time would slow down,” I simply couldn’t relate.

But now! Now I do wish time could freeze, that minutes could slow, that this moment could extend itself into all directions. We’re in such a good groove, me and her. Of course, what makes her so delightful is the fact that she’s learning and growing with such voracity, such enthusiasm, gathering life in two small open arms.

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So in what feels like her final six months of babydom, I’m trying my best to be present each day. I’m working to bolster her journey and fuel her zest for life. I’m trying to let her be more than what I can make of her, more than what I am, beyond the limits I secretly wish for but won’t let myself implement.

So is so big and so smart, y’all. She really does blow me away.

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Attitude Adjustment

On Wednesday morning I threw out my back. Bad.

I had an out of town guest arriving later that afternoon and another set of friends were stopping by for lunch. My toddler was running around without pants on, and I needed to squeeze a workout in so I could log it with my fitness group. I was already struggling to meet a deadline for an editor who just kept piling things on my plate. Rafal kept telling me to email the editor and say I couldn’t handle so much right now. But I thought, “Nah. I can get it all done.”

Then I turned slightly to move a heavy vase of sunflowers from one surface to another and KAPOW, an electric sting that started at one hip and made its way across my lower back. I stood completely still, hoping maybe it wasn’t as bad as I thought. When I took a deep breath and tried to move again I realized it was worse. I had to stand a 45 degree angle.

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So of course I spent the rest of the day trying to learn a lesson: what was this injured back trying to teach me? It isn’t as simple as, “No, you can’t do everything.” Because admitting that I can’t do everything doesn’t somehow let me off the hook for getting things done.

The next morning I went to the chiropractor for an adjustment. (Thank goodness for my narrow proximity to town.) Perhaps the real message is housed within the concept of “adjustment” itself. The chiropractor did not heal me with one snap-crackle-pop. I’m still icing it. I’m still taking ibuprofen. I have to go back again this week, and for several weeks thereafter.

But it moved me a notch or two in the right direction; it helped to plant both of my feet equally on the ground. And maybe this injury can help adjust a few other things: my obsession with a clean house, my mania when it comes to working out, my inability to admit when I can’t handle what I’ve been handed, my rotten attitude when I can’t do what I want. Perhaps I can scale each one these back one notch, one vertebra. Perhaps I can pop each of these attitudes one degree in the desired direction. Maybe it will help me keep both feet planted, and move on.

I had to admit that I was injured, that I was vulnerable. I had to tell Rafal, “No, I can’t do that 4 mile hike.” I had to show my friend Sabrina (and her dog Zaza) a bit of Yellowstone by car. But they really didn’t seem to mind, and I got to say hello to Artist Point.

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Sabrina and Zaza hit the road on Friday morning, and Rafal and I were left wondering how to spend the rest of out weekend. Hiking was out, biking was out, driving long distances in the car was out. So we formulated a plan based on healing.

First, we made out way over to Emigrant, Montana (about a 40 minute drive) to check out Wildflour Bakery. (Breakfast food and coffee always soothe me.)

Then, we paid a visit to Chico Hot Springs (a beautiful hot spring resort just up the road from Emigrant). It was heaven.

We lounged by the pool, we drank non-alcoholic cocktails, we let our worries melt right into the natural hot spring water. Our little family unit tends to go-go-go, always searching for next the adventure. We’re not always good about slowing down. As Lydia rounds the corner of 2.5 (tomorrow to be exact), we need to try our best to savor these moments. We’re great at smelling the wild flowers, but we often need a reminder to stop.

Yesterday, we soaked in the fountain of youth: hoping it could keep our girl tiny for just one extra day, hoping it could heal our tired bones, hoping the joy would seep into our hearts. I think it worked. I think we all feel a little better than before.

 

 

Weekend Warriors

I’ve got a serious case of the Mondays.

I have a long to-do list, a pressing deadline, and a cup of coffee that doesn’t ever seem full enough. I slept an hour later than I wanted to, and I just can’t seem to pull myself together.

During the week I keep a pretty strict routine. On the weekends, I let it all fly out the window. Sometimes by Monday morning I am craving structure, and I catapult into my schedule with zeal.

This is not one of those days.

So now that I’ve got the laptop open, Lydia is occupied with markers and stickers, and I’ve just made myself another strong pour-over, I thought I’d do something fun before getting to the nitty-gritty workflow.

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Our summer got off to a pretty slow start. The record snowfall this winter kept us off the trails for much of the spring and early summer. Then we had the surprise move, which took multiple weekends to pack, clean, move, unpack, and furnish a new place. But we are comfortable in Mammoth now. And summer is finally in full swing! Here’s how we spent the weekend:

THURSDAY

Rafal works four ten-hour days each week, meaning we get excellent three-day weekends. That also means Thursday night is our Friday. Even though I’d been cooking dinner in the crockpot all day, when Rafal walked in the door, I just said, “Can we go somewhere?” And he replied, “Hell yeah!”

Living in Grant there was never the opportunity to just go out and grab dinner, so we were delighted by this novelty! We went to Yellowstone Pizza Company, which Rafal proclaimed to be “the best pizza [he’s] ever had in the West.” (I’m still partial to Pinky G’s in Jackson, but this pizza was damn good.) We followed this up with scoops of Montana-made Wilcoxen’s ice cream at Yellowstone Perk, right next door. It was a great way to kick off the weekend!

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FRIDAY

Friday was meant to be a grocery day, but since we didn’t eat the dinner I’d prepared the day before, we decided to stretch it.

We live just a stone’s throw away from the famous bathing spot known as the Boiling River, where thermal hot spring water pours into the Gardner River. Due to the heavy snowfall this winter (creating higher-than-average water levels), this location was closed until about a week ago. Despite all the time we’d spent in Yellowstone, we had never dipped into this beloved pool.

Rather than get into the car and drive to the parking lot, we thought we’d try walking to boiling river! So we suited up, popped Lydia into the backpack, and set out. We took the Lava Creek trail down to the river and continued along the bank. In 30 minutes, we traveled from the threshold of our door to the glorious, steaming hot river!

 

Some places were too hot to handle, and other spots were freezing cold. I found a spot with both extremes on either side of me–Lydia relaxing on my lap–and settled in. It had been way too long since I’d been hot-spring soaking (or “hotpotting” as they call it here), and I was in heaven. I can’t wait to return in fall, winter, and spring!

 

On the way back, we took a different route, and I nearly shed tears climbing up the steepest hill with Lydia on my back. But we saw this beautiful young bull elk, so it was OK.

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SATURDAY

Saturday we had to go to Bozeman for groceries. We shopped, had brunch at Nova Cafe, and sipped tea and Townsend’s Teahouse.

I bought a new outfit that was so cute that I went into the bathroom and changed, and Lydia got some new shirts, too. It was a lovely day, and now we’re stocked for two weeks.

 

SUNDAY

Sunday was slated for a hike, and since we’d had such success with the Boiling River, we decided not to get cars involved. We geared up, put Lydia in the backpack, and walked right out our front door. We took the steep social trail about one-mile uphill to the historic district of Mammoth. Here we met up with the Sepulcher Mt. trailhead. We took this trail up past the Beaver Ponds, climbing to Clagget Butte. We made our way across the lush alpine meadow, overflowing with wild flowers, and then turned to back down toward the hot spring terraces. Lydia even hiked on her own for a while.

 

Finally, we made it back to the same trailhead, walked out through Mammoth, and made our way back home. The whole trek added up to 7.3 miles (over 3 hours and 50 minutes). It was steep and challenging and gorgeous.

We spent the rest of the afternoon watching a movie in bed. Then we drank decaf coffee to rally our spirits and forced ourselves to clean the house.     

MONDAY

That bring us up to Monday morning. I’ve already been awake for hours and I’ve crossed nothing off of my list.

Maybe now that I’ve taken a few minutes to catalog this restful/eventful weekend, I can put my shoulder to the grind. Only four long days until we can do it again!