Menstruating in the Mountains

I recently submitted this letter to Outside Magazine in response to an article I saw come across my Facebook newsfeed several times. I wanted to share it with you here, too!

Dear Editor,

While I can appreciate the sentiment of Heather Hansman’s praise of IUDs in the backcountry. (“The IUD is the Most Important, Underrated Piece of Outdoor Gear I own”), I’d like to argue that talking about backcountry bleeding need not be as shameful as she suggests. If you think that talking about periods can’t be funny and easy, you’ve never met my former boss, Doris Kolodji. When I was an anxious 16 year old headed for a ten day Girl Scout canoe trip, Doris stood in front of our group and boldly discussed minimal impact menstruation. “You might be nervous about it now, but by the end of the trip, you’ll be so close with everyone you’ll be shouting from across the campsite ‘open up the trash! Incoming!’ and chucking your pads from the latrine trail.” True, I’ve never quite witnessed that scene, but I can attest that a real openness about all things menstruation that can develop if you foster it.

In Hansman’s piece, she mentions leading teenagers on trips and having girls pull her aside to hesitantly ask what to do if their period makes a visit in the woods. I urge anyone leading others in the backcountry to bring up the matter well before putting anyone in the awkward position of having to ask. I followed in Doris’s footsteps on this when I returned to work fore her as a canoe guide after that formative first wilderness trip. My favorite way to broach the subject these days? Bring out a variety of rolls of colorful novelty printed duct tape and Ziplocs to make the sort of trash bag Hansman describes- but way more fun. My husband can attest that I use every camping trip as an excuse to buy a new print of duct tape.

Lots of us menstruate, for lots of reason- we have an IUD but are the 50% who get our period (a statistic Hansman notes); we are using another contraceptive because we like the monthly reassurance that we aren’t pregnant (or for other reasons); we don’t need a contraceptive because we aren’t heterosexually active or we are and would like to conceive. As someone who menstruates, a piece of outdoor gear that I consider important and underrated – nitrile medical gloves like you find in your first aid kit. I wear the gloves while taking care of this business, then inside out them around my trash, tie it off and stick it in my festive Ziploc. This way I know I won’t touch anything messy next time I open my baggie nor do I worry about meticulous hand washing (especially important when water supplies are scarce or frozen).

Menstruation and contraceptives are two topics we should all be more comfortable talking about, both in the backcountry and the frontcountry. I applaud Hansman for speaking to the later, and I hope that this letter can inspire more conversation on the former.

Sincerely,

Atiokokan Kae

 

Phone Coozie

If you’re a man, you don’t have the luxury of storing your phone in your bra to keep it warm. Or maybe it’s hard to get to your bra under all those layers. Or maybe your iPhone 7+ just doesn’t fit in you B cups like your old flip phone used to….enter….the phone coozie.

phone coozie front

Solving your dead battery from the cold problems since 2017. I had just finished the rough draft of this project when I saw a similar product being sold in a store. I was told it was designed by a ski patroler at the same mountain I work at. I too, had thought it might be a marketable idea. But, for now I’m going to just put it out there for you to steal my idea.

phone coozie back

My product does have some features the retail one I saw did not. It has a hole for the camera and the screen is visible while in the coozie. The downside to this, of course is that it is not as well insulated as if the screen was covered. So, if it’s a super cold day….enter the handwarmer pocket on the back which should more than make up for it.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a pattern to share, size will vary by phone. The fleece is double thick all the way around. Most of it was trial and error.

 

 

To My Single Friends on Valentine’s Day

I love you. I wish I could look you in they eyes and tell you, without a doubt, that someday the void you feel today will be filled in exactly the way you want it to be. That if you just stop looking for a partner, one will find you. Bliss will be forever yours. I know we both wish the future was as predictable and happy-ending filled as a children’s movie.

I think perhaps this May, on Mother’s day, I will feel the same way you do today. Last Mother’s day I was blissfully looking forward to becoming a mother; a month later I lost that pregnancy. There were those who looked me in the eye shortly after and told me that I would someday become a mom; that they themselves carried a healthy child after they had a miscarriage. It came from the most generous, loving place in their heart. And it sounded so familiar, so much like what I’d heard from coupled friends when I was single.

I’ve come to realize that uncertainty is one of the hardest, cruelest parts of life. I’m sorry I can’t offer you the reassurance you deserve. I’m sorry that life isn’t all roses and chocolates and I know those aren’t even what you want right now. You know as well as I do that if that is what you longed for, you’d buy them for yourself. (And you’d buy them tomorrow, when they go on clearance :))

My husband gave me a valentines day gift once, the first year we dated. A pair of [real nice technical ski] gloves. You know how little kids are with gloves? I know, I teach skiing to three year-olds. They lose them all the time. Let’s just say I’m like a little kid when it comes to gloves and I haven’t gotten a Valentine’s day present since.

I’m totally okay with that. And I’m trying to be okay with the fact that I’m not a mom right now. In the months that have passed since last spring I’ve sat in the ER with a terrified seven year old at ten o’clock at night; I’ve let a tired, tearful, ski boot wearing three year old plop on my lap for a story; I’ve held my weeks -old niece who doesn’t know she should’ve had a cousin born the same week.

The classic definition of both Valentines day and Mothers day is to celebrate the love found in this very specific relationship between either, depending on the holiday, romantic partners or mother and child. And then of course, we must buy stuff to symbolize that love. Rather than guarantee that either of us will end up celebrating these holidays as they are intended to be celebrated, I’m going to offer this.

I’m going to offer love. There is enough to go around- don’t let anyone else tell you there’s not. You are loved by and love many. Perhaps you and I are just wiser than those who try to contain their love to one relationship or another according to the holiday schedule. Perhaps that’s why I mentioned some of the children that I’ve “mothered” without myself being a mother. I know there are many who’ve received your love without being your lover. I consider myself one of them.

I absolutely, positively, without a doubt a hope that someday the void you feel today will be filled in exactly the way you want it to be. But I can’t and won’t insist that will happen. For now, I will tell you I hear you and I’m sorry about that void. Let me know what you need*.

(*Unless it’s a pair of gloves and you’re anything like me.)

Unexpected Heartache

I recall a particularly dark, lonely, night, driving to grocery shop by way of a back road that bypassed the streetlights and North Conway’s tourist traffic. I was still crushed from breaking up with my first boyfriend a few months ago. I’d just moved two and half hours from the suburban town that had finally started to feel like my first post-college home to accept my “dream job.” I’d convinced myself the move was a risk worth taking, though it barley seemed like a risk at the time. This job was “the one;” I’d build a new life around it.

Listening to the radio, the word “God” jolted me to check the dial and see if I’d accidentally tuned into a Christian station. Nope, it was still public radio. I’m not sure where God fit into the conversation, but it made me focus as the commentator was discussing how applying for jobs is a lot like dating. A light bulb went off in my head- of course it is.

The voice went on about how we reinvent ourselves after a breakup and we need to do the same thing during a job hunt. I had just purchased a new snowboard to leave behind all the memories of skiing with my ex, so I could relate. I had no way of knowing this plan would fail and I’d marry a skier.

I arrive at the grocery store that night and walk around in a daze until a small child runs up and hugs me on the legs. “That’s Miss Kae,” she tells her mom. I still chuckle as I look back on this moment because I had no idea who she was.

For this new job, I traveled around to different schools doing outreach work and clearly leaving a decent mark on some of the students. I loved the kids, even if there were too many to learn their names, I loved the teachers, and I loved the value of the work I did.

But something was missing here, and I eventually fell out of love with what should have been my dream job. I did not have the stamina or perhaps the desire to work the 50 or 60 hour weeks it endlessly required. My supervisors poured their heart and souls into the organization. Since they put in these hours so effortlessly, it was difficult to explain why I wasn’t inclined do the same.

My heart broke as I realized this wasn’t the job I thought it was- the job I’d stay at until I retired, or at least until the retirement benefits began to accumulate. I was surprised to be brokenhearted over a job.  It made me think back to that conversation on NPR- if looking for a job is like looking for a romantic partner, then a break up with either is painful.

It dawned on me that what I grieved was not the job I’d had, but what I thought the future at this job would’ve held. The potential, the possibility.

Last spring, I reconnected with a friend from my time there who told me that the organization’s director had terminal cancer. I soon found myself standing among hundreds of greeting cards thinking that Hallmark had never considered the possibility that through word of mouth I would hear that my ex-boss at a job I didn’t really like was terminally ill and I’d like to send him a note. C’mon, Hallmark, doesn’t this happen to everyone?

Two weeks ago, I learned he had passed away. My heart broke again. This man’s passion was his work. He touched so many lives in a community big enough to not to know everyone’s name; but small enough to see everyone at the grocery store. He touched my life in ways I can’t articulate but still deeply value.

I haven’t sent his wife a sympathy card yet. I plan to, but I am sure that Hallmark has no clue how I feel right now. I’m not really sure how I do, either. But I’m trying to embrace the reality that heartaches, like hugs in the grocery store, aren’t always predictable, or even from an identifiable source.

8 years of “adulting” 8 years of Obama

I graduated college the year Obama was sworn into office. It just dawned on me that Barack Obama has been president my entire adult life.

I’m one of the oldest people who can say this (I’m counting my four years living on a college campus as pre-adult life). I remember the night Obama was elected the pure euphoria that surrounded my college campus. How cool is it that the first vote I ever cast in a presidential election was such a historic one?

We were in the midst of the recession that election, and at first graduating college seemed ominous- would there be jobs for us? I can’t give Obama credit for everything, but the message of HOPE that he preached rang true with my class. My adult world as I know it, as it directly effects me, has always been a world in which Obama was president. The economy in which I’ve looked for and thankfully landed jobs, the healthcare system in which I’ve been treated (and billed- or not, I’m looking at you Birth Control), were all under Obama’s influence. The kids I taught in a Houston, TX public school saw inspiration in a leader that looked just like many of them.

I don’t know what it’s like to be an adult in a world with a different president. I have some idea from watching the adults around me when I was younger; from trying to make my own sense of things. But I’ve never been an adult in that reality.

photo-5

I just passed on this awesome book by Nerissa Nields to a younger coworker. Hoping I’ve figured out the gist of it by now, even as things change.

Am I scared of what our new reality will look like? Of course. But I cannot overlook that because I am straight, white, able-bodied, cisgendered, born in America to a Christian family, my fears are nothing. Nothing compared to those minorities fearing for their safety, their rights, their dignity as human beings.

I wish I could say something heartfelt right now to calm those fears. But I don’t know what to say. I’m not in your shoes and I’ve never been an adult in a time like this. Sure, I can continue to offer that I will look for the good in all of us. I will continue to offer sweaty hugs.

I will forge on and figure out what it means to be an adult in a world without Obama as our president. But I’ve got 68 days left to enjoy Obama’s good looks, sports analogies, and sense of humor. And I’m looking forward to December 1st, when, thanks to Obama, I will become eligible for overtime pay.

This four year old has pretty much got it nailed how I feel. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XgtSt_xBwvg

Thank you, Obama, for setting the bar so high, for all our future presidents.

Frog and Toad

I’ll be honest, I voted for Bernie Sanders.

Not yesterday, silly. I voted for him in MARCH. In the months since, I’d been won over by the idea of voting a Hilary Clinton into office. When I woke up yesterday morning, the news was full of reports assuming this would happen. The sun was shining, people were talking to each other in line at the polls, and I thought for a second that the most pissed off I’d be that day would be when I realized my failure to get an “I Voted” sticker had cost me a free slice of cake at the bakery!

I felt so confident about the outcome that I ignored my husband’s requests to stay home and watch the results with him and picked up a shift patient sitting at the hospital (we’re buying a house; we need the money, I reasoned). I ended up watching as the polls closed and the results rolled in, sitting in the ICU, sharing the moment with a man who told me he voted for Trump because he couldn’t have Bernie. Over the course of the shift, the tide turned from his sadness about the projected outcome to my sadness as the opposite happened. I focused on chatting with him about his family, on keeping him as comfortable as possible. I tried not to let on who I voted for, but neither of us could really ignore what CNN was flashing across the screen. We both agreed this campaign season had been brutal.

My shift ended and I walked out into the cold, still night. Unaware of what had happened locally, I turn my car on to hear Sue Minter’s concession speech. Suddenly, I’m crying. Not so much for her loss, but because now I can see it coming. I can imagine another woman giving a concession speech.  Before my shift had begun, I’d looked forward to Hilary’s acceptance speech.

Sure, I’ve cried over news stories before. When people die. But I’ve never cried over politics before. This was a new one.

From looking at my Facebook feed, this is a new one to most of us. We are sad, angry, trying to find meaning, determined, and seeking what is right with the world. I saw both the 4-H Pledge and the Girl Scout Law posted by adults who were trying to come out of that cloud of sadness and remind themselves of what matters.

Today, I helped a Girl Scout troop put their uniform sashes on. I reminded them of how cool it is to be a part of an organization of girls all around the world. That they are “sisters to every girl scout.”

I pause when they recite the Girl Scout pledge and get to the part, “respect authority.”

What if that authority is Donald Trump?

Well my friends, if the lesson we are teaching these kindergartners is correct, then we give him all the respect we can. The children’s book Frog and Toad, with it’s intertwined themes of friendship and goodness, sits on a shelf in the classroom where the girls are meeting. I can hear the voice of my childhood- my dad reading aloud and quoting this book over and over. “‘Rules are rules,’ said the mosquito.”

I remind my adult self that now is not the time to whine over the rules of the electoral collage. “Rules are rules.” It bothers me to the core when kids struggle to loose graciously in a soccer match or something seemingly trivial. I hope that I can teach them to be better sports when loosing.

So today, I’m trying to practice what I preach. I’m trying to role model gracious loosing. I’m trying to show these kids what sisterhood and respect look like right in their own schools. These kids are the future, the light at the end of the dark tunnel of the next four years. They need us to guide them through that tunnel.

To remind them that there is good in all of humanity. To remind them what love feels like. To read them Frog and Toad aloud. Be there in this tunnel for our children, for our minorities, for those living in fear. Be there for your friends, your neighbors and yourself. The tunnel will end. Be there and be yourself.

Be yourself. Because you are not Donald Trump. You do not preach hatred. Even if you voted for him, I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt. I have to. I have to trust that there is some good in all of humanity; in all of the proverbial Frogs and Toads. I tried to find that connection last night in the ICU. I’m trying to help our children find it. And I know you’ll help them and you’ll seek it, too.

“The Table Where Rich People Sit”

“But my mother thinks if all the rulers of the world could get together at a friendly wooden table in somebody’s kitchen, they would solve all their arguments in the half the time.”

As I read Byrd Baylor’s words aloud over the weekend, this sentence stuck with me. Perhaps the next presidential debate should happen in someone’s kitchen.

I was introduced to The Table Where Rich People Sit at my first post-college “real job.” For an entire school year, I read it nearly every Friday to my departing group of students. The gist of the story is that our experiences in nature- like seeing cactus bloom or hearing coyotes- can be assigned a monetary value so that we realize how rich we are, even if our cash is low.

The book has a serious, contemplative, poetic nature to it. I’d never had someone laugh out loud as I read it (okay, except maybe some kid who was only paying attention to the kid next to him and not my reading). That changed this weekend as I read it out loud to a group of parents.

In the beginning, the narrator talks about why she called the family meeting to talk about money and “I say we don’t have enough of it.” She goes on about her “worn out shoes” and how her parents need more ambition; different jobs. When you read this to kids, they are probably all thinking “OMG, So true, I’m going to go home and use this on my parents.” These parents were cracking up, also about how true it is, that their child might say this to them.

It struck me how perspective is everything.

Of course, that is the whole point of the that book, as the discussion of the family’s actual cash flow gets brushed aside by the larger conversation of “a special plan where we get paid in sunsets, too, and in having time to hike around the canyons and look for eagles nests.”

If you’ve been able to fall asleep immediately following watching the presidential debate, I’d love to know your strategy. Debate yoga? As for me, last night you could find me on the couch, reading Byrd Baylor’s “The Table Where Rich People Sit.” If there’s anything I learned reading it aloud to adults this weekend, it’s that we are never too old to enjoy a children’s book.