23 December 2014

Make Your Own Holiday Traditions

In the fall of 2007 I made a decree to my family: "I will not be celebrating Christmas this year," I said authoritatively. "I'm not going to get you anything, and my gift to you is that you don't have to get me anything in return. Kthx"

A year out of college with a new-found love for the outdoors, I was going to take all of my extra money (and what I could eek out of my paltry vacation time) to transport myself for 10-glorious-days to Patagonia. No. Not the store. The place.

Torres Del Paine in all it's glory. Photo by Ryan Thurston.

With three friends, I embarked on my first-ever backpacking trip. We opted for 'difficult'. Bright-eyed and fresh-footed, we set out on the 5-day W-Trek through Torres del Paine National Park - a place where distances aren't measured in kilometers, but in hours. Those hours, we decided while on the trek, were determined by a bunch of Chilean guides running from point to point with nothing but the shirts on their backs to see who could get there the fastest. The shortest time was how long they told everyone it would take.

I have a few really old blogs about my 5-days on the trail, but to give you the general gist: the trip was amazingly transformative and influential in the future of my life outside. I learned that I could suffer more than I thought I could. I learned that I was capable of so much more than I imagined. I smiled bigger than my face thought possible, and I cried giant crocodile tears when I thought I couldn't hike any more with camp still hours away.

Patagonian Christmas Tree
The trip also served as an introduction to how other cultures treat the holidays/Christmas. Much of South America is Catholic, and we saw many Christmas trees and holiday decorations while we were in town. We spent actual Christmas day on the trail - the 4th and hardest day of the trek.

I'll always remember that day.

We hiked 14 hours. Up and down and up again. I finally got to the tent to take of my boots and my ankles were the size of grapefruits; the blisters I acquired days before festering beneath a layer of foot-saving duct tape. By all accounts I was miserable. But today it still stands as the best Christmas ever. And then we took a boat back back to town and took showers and everything was better again. And we were greeted by loads of holiday decorations - on December 26th! The humanity! They remained when I left on January 1.

Christmas Ankles

When I returned to Seattle I realized just how much this trip meant to me, and vowed I wouldn't participate in the whole "consumerism" part of Christmas again. Not because of political or socioeconomic or any of those other "hippy" reasons people choose not to participate, but more because taking Christmas decorations down on December 26 and making people work on Thanksgiving and Halloween crap everywhere in August is all just wrong. Plus I just fundamentally disagree with getting people a bunch of shit they don't need.

Case in point: Do you remember what you got for Christmas last year? What you gave? I'll give you a minute to think about it....




Exactly. So now I just don't give gifts. And I don't expect or want any in return. Not having to give a gift is the best gift you could ever ask for. No malls. No shopping. No wondering if that thing you ordered online is going to arrive in time. Glorious, right?

I want to be clear though that I do still CELEBRATE Christmas. I love everything about it. The giving spirit. The decorations. The endless supply of fattening sweets. The COSTUMERY!



Instead of gifts I've designed my own traditions. The beauty is you can choose how to celebrate - which for me means more international trips (Aus/NZ for the holidays 2010-11; Thailand this year) and of course my holiday cards.That was my one consolation - I won't send gifts, but I'll do cards. Thus my new tradition of holiday cards was born. And you all know I love sending cards.

I've never put these all together before, so here is a look at my holiday cards beginning in 2007. Curious what I did this year? Well too damn bad - those are in the mail and I can't spoil the surprise. Want a card next year? No problem. The only catch? You have to send one back. Ain't nobody got time for a one-sided card exchange.

2008. I hadn't yet discovered text overlay...






10 December 2014

Pivotal Life Choices

One of the benefits of getting older is the ability to look back on your life with a certain understanding and perspective about how the different choices you made delivered you right to where you sit at this exact moment. As you're reading this - as I'm writing this - a certain set of things had to happen in a very specific order to bring my words to your face. Which is my rather crude way of saying everything happens for a reason.

Not to go all "hippy" on your or anything....

Pivotal Life Choices - In Photos.

But I DO believe there is a reason for everything, even if you don't understand it at the time. In a recent post about friendship, I made the argument that sometimes you need the gift of time to realize someone's value in your life. Some are friends for a reason, some are friends for a season, and some are friends for a lifetime. You won’t always know why you knew someone until long after you don’t talk anymore, but that doesn’t make them any less valuable to your life.

Who you allow in your life is a choice. You make choices every day which ultimately determine the course of your life. An example: 

A little over four years ago I attended my first run with the Seattle Anti-Freeze Runners. At 6 miles through Madison Park, it was the longest run of my life. But with new friends to keep me company along the way, the run went by fast (not me, I was NOT fast). Before I knew it I was leading our weekly Tuesday Trot, and went on to co-found the Thursday Beer Run, which I still lead today.

I don't know if I've said enough how much joining run group has changed my life for the better. It's now my main source of motivation, challenge, friendship and FUN. We run beer miles, attend silly parties in ridiculous costumes, and are there for each other in times of need. I've helped run-group friends move, watched their dogs, laughed with them, cried with them, dated them, and stayed friends with them after the whole dating thing didn't work out.

Ultimately, we've formed a coalition of adventurers taking a proactive approach to be our best selves. I like people who take an active role in their own happiness.

Run group May 18, 2012. We miss you Stas.

Joining run group was a choice which proved pivotal to who I am today. And since this is my blog and I make the rules I'm going to go ahead and decide you get THREE PIVOTAL CHOICES in your life. These can evolve as you get older, or be 'major' enough to stand the test of time. The exercise of identifying these choices is cathartic, and I would argue critical to recognizing the role you play in your own life. Many people just "experience" life insofar as it's something that happens to them. Don't be those people. Don't let life happen to you.

I challenge you to identify YOUR three pivotal choices, and share them if you so choose. You're about to start a new year - 2015 - and it's helpful to take a look back to move forward. If you want to know where you're going, you need to know where you came from.

It would be unfair for me to ask you to do this without doing it myself. So in the spirit of a digital version of I'll show you mine if you show me yours, here are mine:
  1. Sticking with band. I was going to quit the clarinet for good after having a less-than-supportive music teacher in middle school (see photo above from 6th grade). Then, the Bozeman High Marching Band was selected to march in the Parade of Roses in 1999 - the year I would be a freshman. The high school band director did a heavy recruitment campaign, and I joined. "I'll just do it for one year," I told myself. But then I fell in love with band and the people who love band. I not only stuck with marching band, becoming the Drum Major my junior and senior year, but I threw myself into music. My last two years of high school 4 of my 8 classes were music performance. I based my choice to attend the University of Washington in large part due to it's stellar marching band program (a runner-up in this "pivotal choices" exercise). Joining band my freshman year of high school ultimately resulted in me ending up in Seattle.

  2. Joining run group. I explained this above, but to add some extra color which feeds into my third point.... My first run was in 2010, right as I was coming out of a big post-breakup transition period during which I lost 20lbs and made fitness a much bigger part of my life (I wasn't always this crazy-active person - hard to believe I know). I met a nice guy on that first run, we became friends, and then we dated for over a year. But it didn't work out, and it took me longer than I expected to recover (from the cumulative gravity of both-breakups no doubt). During my post-breakup quarter-life-crisis, I made very real plans to move to Boulder, Colorado. Allison and I did a recon visit, I made a follow-up visit for final interviews, and I was all set to relocate. Only,

  3. I didn't move to Boulder. I turned down a job offer there and instead chose a life in Seattle. I landed in Seattle for college, but felt like staying here was never a conscious choice. By NOT moving to Boulder and choosing Seattle, I became, what I hope will be, a Pacific Northwesterner for life. During that same time I was introduced to backcountry skiing and learned to embrace the rain and clouds, knowing it meant snow in zee mountains. To further my ties here, I re-embraced run group and joined the Board of my college marching band alumni association. You see, it's all related.
Calling out these choices so publicly only makes me think of so many more I could have listed, but they just didn't quite have the muster. That's the fun of looking back on your life with the perspective of time. What if I hadn't gone on that trip or taken that job or let that guy kiss me? Would my life be completely different? Probably.

Or maybe not. I very well could have ended up sitting here writing this for you to sit there and read. We'll never know. No matter what choices you make in life, you'll always wonder about the road not-traveled. That unknown challenges you to make the most of your choices. And that's what makes life so fun.

05 December 2014

Because You Don't Always Win at Skiing

I've been lucky enough to have some of you readers for a long time, and you've seen my dedication to the blog ebb and flow. Sometimes I have tons of inspiration and no content, and other times I'm so overwhelmed by fun stuff to write about I just buckle under the pressure, or get started and quit halfway through (see: Norway).

Truth be told - writing is HARD!

But every now and then, something will come out of my fingertips through no effort from me and the end result will surprise and delight me. "Where did THIS  come from?" I wonder aloud to myself, bemused at my own....bemusement. I've finally learned to stop asking questions and just embrace creativity when it strikes. So after spending a day "skiing" on Heliotrope ridge one day last month, I came came home and was surprised to feel compelled to capture my experience despite the incredibly long day.

Below I've pasted what came from my fingertips. I hope you are amused.

Some context: Our day was...icy. A big surprise to me, as I had spent the previous weekend skiing fresh powder on the same line. I posted this original trip report to the forum Turns All Year - used primarily by backcountry skiers, so the language below is a little more technical than you might be used to seeing from me. For additional aid in your understanding, a weather window implies calm conditions in between storms, a high freezing level indicates softer snow conditions down low, and a whippet is (not a dog breed as my just-now Google search would imply, but in fact ) a ski-pole with a sharp end you can use to hault your downward progress in the event of a fall.


Heliotrope Ice Skating Competition

Last weekend I was high on life after winning at Heliotroping. (Trust me, it's a thing which one can win.) I let the hubris get the best of me and looked at the "weather window" for this weekend and saw only the GOOD. Sun? Yes! High freezing level? Yes! Another weekend of awesome slaying at Helio?? YESSS!

But let's be honest here for a moment: after looking at the report last night, we all knew it was going to be an iceskating competition up there, and I do not know how to do a triple lutz. I don't let that stop me from wearing a tutu though...

In further display of my misplaced enthusiasm, I agreed to meet Imran and Jill at 5:15am at the 65th Park and Ride. Why? Well, to get first track on ZEE ICE of course! 

Jill and Imran. Ice Lovers.

Drive time was about 3 hours because we took the scenic hwy9 route and stopped for the requisite potty break at the ranger station. We were hiking by 8:45, made it to the (much icier than last week) waterfall by 9:20, and were suffering up the ridge by 10am. The trail, just like last week, was covered in a layer of black ice - although the creek crossing were much less perilous this go around. 

Hoar Frost on the hike up. This grows right out of the ground.

We reached the top of the ridge (about 6k) and ditched our shoes in favor of ski boots, which were only marginally better. Why oh why didn't I get those micrcospikes I was talking about last week? Or at least bring real crampons?! Ski crampons are useless unless you are ON your skis....

Gingerly we worked our way across the upper hilly/creeky/rocky ice section. I took a spill trying to go "off-piste", and my whippet with the rubber tip protector was no help whatsoever. Good thing Jill was there to bring my painful clawing-at-the-ice to a halt.

A pair of skiers ahead opted to work up the Coleman while we headed west toward Heliotrope. Only in ski boots, the going was slow. We had to kick in each step, and even then the purchase was very minimal. I'm fairly confident on steep, icy stuff (see MixUp Peak report) but even this had me clenching my cheeks. Our route was still shaded, making it hard to differentiate between bad ice and really, really bad ice. You'd get overconfident with a few decent steps only to come crashing back to reality with a single bad step.

Careful. Caaaareeeefuulllll.

Eventually we made it to our "high point", a rock outcropping at the base of the bowl at roughly 6200'. It was 11:30am. We took one look at each other, and each reached into our bags to grab out our beers. We were done. To further solidify our decision, I hiked up about 100' to ski down. I have no doubt you could hear those 5 turns from miles away.

Shortly our party of three became a party of 12 when a few different teams of Canadians descended on our "safe spot". They, too, lamented not bringing their hockey skates. They sent a reconnaissance mission, with Jill en tow, up about 500' only to return with the same conclusion as me. Apparently the top turns were "a little better", but not by much.

Recon mission

So, we hung out for a while longer, Imran played some "golf", and the three of us headed down. We did put our skis on to traverse through the rock and "snow" to our boots. Again I took the ridge down in ski boots for better purchase, then we "enjoyed" the standard slog out. 

The golf series. Jill was behind, and I was in front, and we happened to capture the exact same moments from different angles. Amusing.

No, but seriously, I had a fun day. The sun was out (briefly) and Baker was stunning (as always). We just didn't get the goods. Sometimes you're right, and sometimes you're....less right. 

Don't get me wrong - I'm all about hiking - as long as there's the possibility of skiing at the end of the rainbow. If you are however, deluded into thinking there will actually be skiing tomorrow at the end of this rainbow quest, I have to say you will not, in fact, win at Heliotroping.

Not winning at skiing. But winning at having the most (delicous) fun. Who knew ice tasted so good?

26 November 2014

How well can you REALLY know someone?

People say I’m intimidating. A good friend recently told me she doesn’t feel like she knows me very well despite having traveled together to another country and knowing each other for years.
I’ve heard this for much of my life actually. “You’re intimidating.” In high school I was on our Speech and Debate Team. I know what you’re thinking – of course debate competitors would find me intimidating: I love to argue and always have to be right! But, you see, I didn’t compete on the debate team. I performed in the Humorous Oral Interpretation and DUO Interp divisions – both Speech categories – in situations where I was meant to be funny. And I was funny. I got seventh in HOI at State, and my DUO partner Danny and I won the grand prize at our high school talent show. 

See? Not scary.

Me and my band/drama buddy James in high school.

Yet something about ME was unapproachable to my competitors (and some members of my own team). I wore a black suit and pull my hair back into a tight bun, but then again, so did everyone. What was so different about me?
As I got older, I had to let this “criticism” go a little bit. I'm short and have strong opinions and a big personality and maybe that's intimidating. Instead I choose to look at myself like this: when I look in the proverbial mirror, I see myself as welcoming and approachable and fun and an ambassador-of-ridiculous. It makes me really happy when I can connect people to each other. I like to be the one who organizes and makes decisions, and who others see as a source of information and support. Just last week I had three friends call me to be a job or housing reference – I love that sort of thing!
I strive to always be true to myself and lead my life in an authentic way. I’m always incredibly touched (and often surprised) whenever someone says they’ve been inspired by something I’ve said or done. I’m so grateful when people take time to read my little blog and tell me what they think. I’m open to new ways to be silly and welcome others to embrace their own crazy sides knowing I won’t judge them for it.
I feel like all of these things are incredibly obvious, but maybe not. I often wonder, “other than my bitchy resting face, what about me is hard to get to know?”
But I suppose I’m like anyone. I have a very private side. There are things I just don’t want to talk about, or things I rarely talk about. I can be sensitive. I’m picky about who I get to know at a deeper level. I like to make new friends, but only if it doesn’t disrupt the normal flow of my life. If you wanna go climbing or running or skiing I’d love to get to know you better, but if you’re looking for a movie buddy or want to grab happy hour after work or invite me to your mid-afternoon party on a Saturday I’m afraid you’re out of luck. 
I’m highly critical of ignorance. Be informed. Know what you’re talking about if you’re going to have a strong opinion. Don't just spout something you've heard or read - regardless of source. I’m unforgiving when it comes to language and grammar. Learn the difference between Your and You’re and we’re going to get along just fine.
Which is my way of saying I’ve decided I'm like an avocado - a little tough and rugged on the outside, but full of good delicious substance once you get through the skin. Be careful with skin though, because even if you can’t break through, I do bruise easily - something you as an outsider might never see. Then even under all the mushy stuff, there's still this really, really tough core few will take the time to bore into. I’m not even sure I know yet all of the things in the core – but isn’t that the excitement about getting older? Unearthing new and unforeseen quirks and passions which make you uniquely you?

What would you be?

As we grow up we learn evermore about ourselves: our motivations, aspirations, what makes us happy, and ultimately, why we get out of bed every morning. As we learn about ourselves we learn about the types of people we want in our lives – those who reflect back something we see, or want to see, in ourselves. Some are friends for a reason, some are friends for a season, and some are friends for a lifetime. You won’t always know why you knew someone until long after you don’t talk anymore, but that doesn’t make them any less valuable to your life. You may have only gotten to know that ONE part of them, but it's the part that sticks with you that matters.
One final story – my best female friend Allison and I have known each other for going on 13-years (sheesh!). That’s the entirety of our adult lives. She’s seen me go from this angry, cynical tight-wad with a chip on her shoulder to someone who smiles more than she frowns and understands the value of being generous. I’ve watched Allison transform from a quiet-wallflower unsure of herself or her direction into a gregarious, magnetic-personality making her own way in the male-dominate profession of scientific research.
Allison and I haven’t always seen eye to eye. We haven’t always been super close. Like any relationship, our friendship has ebbed and flowed. And even though she's my best friend, I have often wondered what I would do for her – what would she really need – in a time of crisis. It's my barometer for all friendships actually. I wonder things like: What would make her feel better? Should I go over there? Bring ice cream? Order pizza? Tell her a funny story? Should I make her talk about what happened to distract her from what's going on? Should I just leave her alone entirely? Try not to be one. more. thing she has to worry about?

I don't have those answers. I don’t think she’d be able to answer those questions for me. But at the end of the day I know she, and all of my other friends, would be there for me. And I for her. That's what friendship is all about.
And really, what more do you need to know?


13 November 2014

75 Steps to Becoming a True Seattlelite

Awesome poster from Ork Photos
Ahh Seattle. The land of perpetual rain and grey skies where sunshine dare not enter. Home to tech giants Amazon and Microsoft and the awkward tech-nerds who come with them. A city of hipsters wearing socks with sandals and talking about how much growing their own organic tomatoes makes them feel more connected to mother earth or some such bullshit. Oh, and traffic. Seattle has really, really terrible traffic.

Despite all of these negative associations, out-of-towners are discovering and moving to Seattle at an alarming rate. With only a few 'local's left, Seattle is becoming a city of transplants - I know folks from Wisconsin, Idaho, California, Massachusetts, and all of the other states I can't remember right now. I must confess that even I am a transplant (Montana). But having lived here for the entirety of my post-high school, adult life, I feel I have 12+ years of qualifications making me fit to identify what it means to be a true Seattlelite.

One of Seattle's most recent "acquisitions" is my friend Lisa, who moved here in February from Schaumburg, Illinois (for those of you without Google Maps, it's a far-out suburb of Chicago). She's now the proud owner of a Washington State driver's license (and license plates!) and is well on her way to becoming a Seattle native. Sure, she still owns an umbrella and doesn't know how to parallel park, but she's WORKING ON IT! Okay!?

Prior to her arrival I started sending her a list of things she needed to do when she got here. Visit the market, walk through the arboretum....you know the drill. This list eventually morphed into a gift idea (I like doing nice things for people sometimes) and thus became the 75 Steps to Becoming a True Seattlelite. Like any great list, I had help and asked my friends for their own ideas of things that are uniquely Seattle. They delivered, and this list wouldn't have been possible without the brain-grapes from Allen, Allison, Hexar, Jason, and Q, who gave me fantastically creative and funny suggestions. Thank you.

Then I took all of the ideas and sorted them into five categories of ascending 'Seattleness':
  1. Total Noob
  2. Greenlake Power Walker
  3. Hipster In Training
  4. Chicken Coop Owner
  5. True Seattlelite
I found some sweet photos on the internet, did some inDesign-ing, and voila! The official list was created. I bought the neighborhood map (pictured above), printed my own creation, had both framed, and presented it to Lisa as a birthday gift approximately 2-months after her birthday because life is hard and I can't do everything on time all the time. But now, in celebration of my own-half birthday today I share with you this amazing list.

You're welcome internet.

Click to enlarge and zoom in
©Kristina Ciari, 2014

03 November 2014

How to Be Happier

We're busy. Things move fast. A problem only compounded with increased age and added responsibilities. Our online lives are supposedly helping us in this new-world. We're always connected, making it easy to feel like we're efficiently staying in touch with the people we care about. But all we're really doing is blindly scrolling through social media updates, consuming information, and not adding anything to the conversation.

Don't get me wrong, I love me some social media. It's the primary way I communicate, and is a large part of my job. But I'm also a bit of an old soul. I like to read real books and write with a pen and paper and unplug for hours or days at a time in the mountains. These things make me feel happy - more like me - and I can tell when I've gone too long without taking time to detox from technology and just ... be.

Even though I know what I personally need to be happy, I still always read those How To articles about increasing your happiness. You know the ones: Do THIS For 10 Minutes a Day and Be Happier, Eat More of THESE for a Happier Mind, Why You Should Meditate/Practice Yoga/Go for a Walk for a Happier Life. 

One common theme in these articles is the concept of doing something nice for someone else. Until recently, I just wasn't fully sold on this idea. I don't do a lot of gift giving - I haven't celebrated Christmas in nearly a decade - and I don't typically get people birthday gifts (although I do love to celebrate birthdays).

There is one thing I really love though: sending and receiving cards in the mail. It's a dying practice, but some of my very favorite people are those who still send cards to say thank you, happy birthday, or hey, I was thinking about you and just wanted to send this card to let you know.

Recently my friend Jason made another trip around the sun. He wasn't overly excited about this particular milestone, and instead of celebrating he chose to quietly remove his birthday from Facebook, and had planned to spend his "special day" ignoring the fact that he was now one year older. 

I had other plans.

Like me, Jason is a bit of an "old-soul". He listens to jazz and appreciates time in the mountains and cooks things from scratch and, most importantly, takes the time to truly connect with people in a meaningful, authentic way. We've recently experienced a huge amount of loss in our friend group. Through it all, Jason was steadfast in his support of everyone, making sure we all knew he was there for us, but also how he felt about us and WHY he appreciated us in his own life. 

Jason and I, all dressed up.

If anyone earned the right to not celebrate a birthday, it was Jason. And I wasn't about to drag him out to one of my ridiculous surprise theme parties. Instead, I wanted to honor the person he is by helping him realize just how much he means to our community here. So using social media (I know, I know) I set up a private FB event about a week before his birthday and invited 100 of our mutual friends to participate.

The ask was simple: send Jason a birthday card and write a personal note about what he means to you. That's it.

I had no idea what to expect, and of course Jason had no idea what was coming. But what happened next truly was remarkable. First, he got 4 cards. Then 7. Then 13. Then 13 more. And they just kept on coming. By his birthday he had received more than 40 cards. All from people in his life who care about him. And each one with its own personal flair. 

Equally remarkable was the sense of community it built for many of us participating. Without my prompting, someone posted a photo of their card on the event page. Lots of folks 'liked' that post. Then more people posted their cards. And I shared my card. The Michael who was in Wisconsin shared his card and the sentiment that he hoped it made it from the boonies in time. And so on and so forth. The cards...the cards were great.

Some of the cards. One of them is mine.

Of course Jason was very confused by the sudden influx to his mail box. He sent me many text messages trying to get to the bottom of the "Birthday Card Fairy" mystery. He sent photos of the cards, which I turned around and shared on our event page for everyone to see. Then I had folks asking me every day how many he had received. "Did Jason check his mail yet?", they would ask. "What's the total up to now?". "Did he get mine?!?". The excitement for all of us "behind the scenes" was pretty fantastic.

All of this had a profound and unexpected affect on me personally. I knew what was coming, yet being a part of the surprise for Jason made me incredibly happy. I found myself walking through the dog park reading updates with a huge, shit-eating grin on my face. I mean, I was THAT GUY at the park, and I didn't care. Not one bit. All I wanted to do was grab everyone and tell them about this amazing gift that doing a simple kindness had given to me. Knowing what it meant to Jason, being a part of making his unwelcome birthday a cause for celebration, was incredibly powerful.

Cards cards everywhere.

After the big secret was revealed, Jason and I talked a lot about what the Card Mob meant to him, and in turn how it affected all of us involved. I invited him to the secret event page, and after reading all of our funny updates to each other, this was his reaction:

What you did changed my world and I am so grateful. This is the most wonderful thing that has ever happened to me. Besides being the best birthday present EVER the personal notes have meant so much to me. Thank you so much for sharing such nice and wonderful things. I could hear and see each one of you as I opened the card. To say I am touched does not even do it justice. I can't even being to describe the love and respect I have felt. Thank you all for the best birthday ever. 

Ultimately, this shows how much a random act of kindness CAN change the world (even if it's just your small, immediate world), and more importantly can change YOU. It's a wonderful feeling to truly touch someone's heart. Jason likes to say the heart is an emotional muscle and becomes stronger with exercise. I have to agree with him. And we all will benefit from being better at telling the people in our lives just how much they mean to us.

Which is my way of saying all those studies are true. You really SHOULD go do something nice for someone, whether you know them well or not. Hold the door open for a stranger. Tip an extra buck at lunch. Buy dinner for your friend when you normally go halfsies. Call someone you care about but haven't talked to in a long time and tell them what they mean to you. Buy a book of stamps and use them all by the end of the year sending cards to people you care about.

It will change you. I promise.

Happy Birthday Jason.

29 October 2014

Turns All Year Months 31-35

Last week I told you about the triumphant completion of 3 years/36 months of Turns All Year. I feel like I write enough about skiing that you're all probably sick of it, but this is my blog and I want to celebrate ALL of the months I haven't specifically mentioned since celebrating 30 months in April, so here you go, a blog devoted to months 31 through 35.

To keep it brief - a change in pace for me - here are just five photos, my favorite one from each month.

Month 31: Mt. St. Helen's Mother's Day Ski
Honorable mention to the Mt. Glacier attempt White Mountain Summit trip.

People complimented my outfit, which is of course normal-sauce. Added the balloons though, which made it all the way up and down! Photo by the talented Greg Sheehan.

Month 32: Mix Up Peak
Honorable Mentions: Inter Glacier (Lisa's first glacier experience), Mt. Baker in a day, Mt. Adams in a day.

60-degree climb sans-ropes in a tutu? Sure. This'll be an exciting ski! Photo by Nick Drake.

Month 33: Laps on Paradise

Rainier on Rainier. The very best.

Month 34: Flett/Russel Glaciers

See previous caption. I love the ridiculous number of skis behind me. 

Month 35: Laps on Mt. Hood

Theresa, Jill, and me. Nothing like a lap in a tank top! Photo by Random Snowboarder Dude.

25 October 2014

Celebrating Three Years of Turns All Year

I love that the Pacific Northwest is home to something like Turns All Year. Broadly, TAY is a group of people who count the number of consecutive months in which they ski with the goal of doing it for a solid year. Each consecutive year becomes both easier and harder (man am I STILL doing this? - I'm STILL doing this!), and the summer months are always sure to be a bit spicy.

For each crazy rider participating, TAY means something different, allowing the individual to determine their own success. For some it only counts if you earn your turns; others think you need to hike at least 1,000'. To me it means I spend at least an hour with skis on my feet - going up or down. Riding a chairlift or not.

That John Muir - He knew what was what. 

In October, I reached the level of dedication (read: crazy) most in the TAY community would consider a legitimate benchmark: 36 consecutive months of planks on snow. That's three years of consecutive-month'ed skiing, and I like hope to get 36 more!

What's even more amazing than the skiing though, is the community around TAY. Just two years ago I had a really hard time finding backcountry ski partners. Now I feel blessed with a huge group of partners - some found through the TAY website, some discovered on Instagram (Instafriend (copyright Nick Drake)), and others through my current ski friends. I remain grateful to all of the folks who took on more risk to let me tag along early on in my TAY career.

There's a mountain back there. We promise.

To mark this milestone, I set out with the usual suspects: Theresa and Nick (who were themselves celebrating 4 years and 5 years TAY respectively) to our favorite place - Mt. Rainier. We left Seattle late - half on purpose and half because apparently we forgot all of the things we would need - and arrived to Paradise when it was barely still "morning". We were hiking before noon and started skinning a few hours later just above Pebble Creek (7,300'). The fall colors were beautiful, and Rainier just had a fresh dusting of snow, showcasing her beautiful contours.

Fall is in the air.

Mountain Creek.

Rainier's lower flanks. A hundred years ago the glacier came down this far.

Inclimate weather met us about 7k, but we were undeterred and knew if we powered through the cloud, we'd meet sunny skies soon. Sure enough, Rainier delivered:

Just as we dumped our pack, Nick and Threresa realized they basically had all of the colors of the rainbow!

Skinning fools.

I love how he pops with the blue background and bright clothes!

Always all smiles on Rainier. Not pictured: me nearly falling over trying to get my ski back in the right place.

We arrived at Camp Muir just before 4pm to have the place to ourselves. The last thousand feet of skinning was a bit spicy, by which I mean incredibly icy, but we were making good time and were committed to making it to Muir. Winds were high so we loaded into the shelter, brought Owly out to play, drank some Rainier beers (duh), and fueled up for the icy descent.

Brr. Let's get inside!

Looking down from Muir. You can see the icy sheen. Photo by Nick.

Owly loves skiing.

The descent was NOT icy and we were VERY stoked! With 2500' to ski, we only stopped once and instead focused on enjoying the fast and responsive first 1000', the still-reasonably-fun middle 1000', and the last 500' of glop back to the transition point.

Time to RIDE! Photo by Nick.

We absolutely had not anticipated such good skiing, but what genuinely surprised and delighted us was the spectacular sunset we got to see on our hike out. I mean. Seriously. One of the most beautiful things I've ever seen in my life. Rainier with fresh snow. Pink/orange alpenglow on the west side of the mountain. Clouds floating in and out offering ever-changing light on zee mountain. These do not do it justice, but this is all I've got:

The beginning.

Check out the Nisqually Glacier in the background.

The middle.

The end :)

26 September 2014

Be a 'Vacation Taker'

Remember when you were a kid? You'd wait all year long counting down to the last day of school. Then, with great anticipation the last bell of the year would finally ring. You'd run out, blasting through the double doors, and immediately begin unabashedly celebrating the SWEET FREEDOM that is summer vacation. 

Every. Single. Year. 

Man - being a kid was the best.

Adult kid showing thumbs up for school's out. Helmet for adventure safety.

So what happened to us? When did we lose our enthusiasm for summer vacation? 

It's the beginning of autumn after an absolutely gorgeous Seattle summer. Sunshine is forecasted for this weekend and we know pasty Seattleites will be out en mass blinding people with their whiteness while soaking in the last summer rays. And now is the prime time to be thinking about a winter vacation to get outside. But most of us aren't. 

Instead we're stuck inside attending to our endless supply of electronic responsibilities. Kids enjoy 3-months of freedom from school "jail" but we adults continue suffering through the never ending work-year. Even when we do get outside, 97% of us have our cell phones within an arms reach. How is that time away?

Picture of a picture. This is how you enjoy Wilderness.

Work always seems to come first. We've adopted this martyr attitude of "I work harder than you" or "I put in SO MANY hours last week". It's an overworked culture of overworked people overworking ourselves into the ground. We have begun to distinguish ourselves with a badge of honor for being so terribly overworked. "Hey Johnny - I put in 83.26 hour last week, where's my merit badge?!" We're adorning ourselves with badges of suffering in the name of...what? Suffering?

American workers get less vacation time than the average first-world country (yes, we have a first world problem). Most of us only get 2 weeks off a year - I am lucky and get 3 weeks - a far cry from the 6-8 weeks that is MANDATORY in much of Europe. But even with just two weeks, we have a much larger vacation problem on our hands. Mainly: people just do not take their vacations. That two weeks just sits in this vacation vault to be used at another time. How about...now? I say - SUFFER NO MORE! Let us take our goddamned vacations! 

This mantra is less for me than for most. I actually hear with some frequency, Wow, you sure get a lot of vacation days.

My response? I don't get a lot of vacation days. I'm just better at vacations than you are. 

My last vacation. Skiing in Norway. Did not suck.

I get three weeks a year. I also have a generous employer who understands I work overtime and, as I don't get paid directly for those days, trusts I will build up comp time and use it to "flex myself out" as appropriate. And since I am good at vacations, I use it! 

How do I afford it? I mean, a trip to Norway ain't cheap and I work for a nonprofit. But, by prioritizing activity-based travel over pretty much everything else, I can make do. My priorities are thus: TRAVEL - Travel to ski, Travel to climb, travel to run. ALL of my days off are used for those things. 

To make it happen, I make a lot of other "sacrifices". I don't buy clothes. I'm thoughtful about gear purchases. I rarely eat out and make my own lunches. I bike when I can, and always try to carpool. I plan trips around locations where my friends live. I watch the prices of airline tickets like a hawk. Oh, and my proudest achievement is paying my neighbor for her internet. Let's just say it's better than any deal you'll ever get from Comcast.

In the past year and a half I have taken vacation time only thrice: once to Croatia for a weeklong climbing trip (I missed 6 days of work), once for a ski adventure in Norway (6 more days), and once to celebrate my sister's graduation in Montana (2 days). That's 14 out if the ~20 days earned, not accounting for the 15+ days of comp time (real number, I (happily) work a lot of overtime). I take those extra days off in the form of mid-week or end-of-week "hookey" days to ski big mountains, mostly with my badass tutu-skiing accomplice Theresa, or take long weekends to be outside. Because, you see, I know that time outside, away from technology, makes me incredibly happy, and a richer more well-rounded human being.

Well rounded. Or something.

Now I'll get to the point of my rambling, which is simply to say: you deserve a vacation. You've been working hard champ and it's time to get away. The vacation days stacking up on your paycheck are doing you no good and by god it's time to GO somewhere and DO something! Look in the mirror and say it with me! "I. Deserve. A VACATION!" 

Go to Kayak or Priceline or Expedia or whatever the hell else and just book something. ANYTHING! To anywhere. Then feel the sweet relief wash over you just knowing, for a few days at least, you won't have to answer to anyone but yourself.