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.

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.

VT Paid Sick Leave Law Explained

There is a pie sitting in my fridge right now. Why? Because while discussing the state of our nation and our economy with a friend, I roughly cited how dismally low the federal minimum wage was. Living in a state where our own minimum wage is a whole $2.35 higher than the FMW (but still nearly impossible to live on), my friend couldn’t believe the FMW was possibly as low as I’d stated. A bet ensued, and I won a pie. The FMW, if you were wondering, is $7.25. If you don’t believe me, please bake me a pie.

This is to say that I enjoy reading and talking about labor laws as a past time. But googling news stories on some of them makes it really hard to determine just exactly how they will effect any given individual, such as myself. So, I’ve gone straight to the source for you, and am open to bets on my accuracy of interpretation.

So, I looked at the exact legislation that our governor signed into law regarding paid sick leave. VPR actually had a fairly good post that answered some, but not all of my questions.

The VPR post mentions that employees that work 18 or more hours a week and 20 or more weeks a year are entitled to paid sick leave. Personally, I was very enthusiastic to hear that some seasonal employees (like me!) would be covered. But, I was curious how it would actually break down.

The answer is: for every 52 hours an employee works, they earn one hour of paid sick leave.

This is why when the media has talked about it, they sum it up that, in 2018, employees will earn 5 paid sick days. Here’s the math:

52 weeks a year * 40 hours a week = 2080 hours worked in a year

2080 hours / 52 (the mandated accrual rate) = 40 hours of paid sick leave

40 hours sick leave / 8 hours a day = 5 days of sick leave

Why did I say in 2018? Well, because although the law goes into effect in 2017, employers can cut you off at just 3 days in 2017. Also, in 2018 and beyond your employer can also cut you off from accruing more than 5 days a year, if you work more than 2080 hours a year.

Sick days roll over year to year. This is not true for a seasonal employee, like myself who is technically terminated each spring and rehired each fall at a ski resort. I will start each November with 0 sick days, however, the sick time I earn in November and December will carry on to the next calendar year and the remainder of that ski season then, when I transition to my warm season job, I will start back at 0 again, even if I worked there previously. (My current warm season job, because it is a small business, doesn’t have to let me use paid sick days until 2019. More on that later). Then the next November, back to 0. And the November after that.

But of you work the same job all year, they roll over year to year. Pretty cool.

Employers can make you wait up to a year to use your sick days if you are a new hire. During that year, however, you will accrue sick leave.

Those salary employees who are overtime exempt (which starting December 1st, will include less employees than it does now), may be limited to having a maximum 40 hours per week counted toward the 52 hours needed to earn 1 hours off.

Small employees with 5 or less employees do not have to offer paid sick days at all until 2018, and even then, all employees can start accruing sick days but can be made to wait until 2019 before they are able to actually use a paid sick day.

Per diem employees are not covered.

Of my six jobs in 2015, just one of them would qualify me for paid sick leave in 2017. (To be fair, one job was in New Hampshire, so this VT law wouldn’t apply. One job was per diem, two were too short of a season, and one was too few hours a week).

Phew! That’s a lot of details. No wonder the media outlets assumed no one cared. But to the folks who may be earning sick leave for the first time in their lives, this is HUGE. We want to know when and how! Because we’ve worked when we’re sick and it sucks.

And now some more math, for those wondering how much this will cost employers. Let’s say you make $10.40/hour. We’ll pretend its 2018 and you’re getting the full 5 days per year.

$10.40 an hour * 53 hours = $551.20

Why 53 hours? because, assuming that sick day is actually used, it ‘s like getting paid for a 53rd hour for every 52 you work.

So let’s divide $551.20 by 52 hours to get $10.60. Remember, you only actually worked 52 hours, but got paid for 53.

To really over simplify things, this paid sick day law, for an employee making $10.40 an hour is the equivalent to a 20 cent raise. Once again, that assumes that the paid sick time is actually used. Some folks rarely get sick, and might prefer the raise, but the paid sick time is the law. Don’t forget that new employees, who generally wouldn’t be eligible for raises, don’t have to be allowed to use sick leave until a year is up.

Might it mean some folks see less of a raise than they would have otherwise as this goes into effect? Of course. This math was to show the potential magnitude . There really is not such thing as free lunch. Because realistically, if we gave everyone 20 cent raises instead of paid sick days, they may spend that money (rather than saving it for when they need a day off) and still show up at work sick. Which, keeping people home when they are sick is the entire point of this law.

One more caveat- remember the minimum wage? You’re actually only guaranteed to get the state minimum wage while you are out sick. Which would make the above math moot except my hope is that employers would take the high road and give the same rate as the hourly pay.

Heck, employers are welcome to take the high road all over the place and give employees more sick leave then required! Who knows where this might lead!

 

 

How to Prepare for a Greenhouse Job

This is written for my mom, who is excited to start her first farm job (besides coming to work with me) this week.

  1. You already know it’s warm in a Greenhouse. Being in there all day will make your skin shrivel up from the heat and humidity and soak your shirt with sweat. Dress in light, loose layers that allow for sun protection and won’t make you overheat! Scrub pants and woven button ups are easy to find at Goodwill.
  2. You will sweat more than you ever thought possible. If you aren’t sure about proximity of potable water to your workstation, I love the Igloo half gallon jug to refill my 1 liter bottle that I carry with me. The Igloo jug is always on sale at Dick’s for Little Leaguers this time of year, and it’s insulated and will keep you water cold. For my 1 liter bottle I often opt for refilling seltzer bottles or making my husband drink a gatorade so I can have the bottle (their more durable than seltzer). Sure, I love my Nalgene with the Bernie sticker as much as the next UVM grad, but I love it enough to not want to loose it. On the occasions it does come to the farm with me, I can rest easy knowing it is bright orange. Never use a green water bottle.
  3. A bandana around the neck, drizzled with some ice water from your Igloo Jug can be your best friend.
  4. Sun hat. Sunscreen.
  5. If you’re anything like me, you will water the plants, as well as your shoes. Even if you don’t, your feet will sweat buckets. Bring a change of shoes or at least socks and change at lunch time.
  6. Wear comfy shoes. Sneakers or the like are fine and breath well, work boots are probably what OSHA thinks we should wear. The temptation is there and I’ve seen it done, but DON’T wear sandals.
  7. Bring sandals for the drive home!
  8. If you plan to run errands after work and this kind of thing bothers you, bring a change of clothes in case you are covered in potting soil or smell like fish emulsion.
  9. Food. Lots of it. You may want to think about snacks you can eat quickly with dirty hands like cheese sticks or bananas. I like to put my lunch in a hard sided cooler so I look bad@$$ like a construction worker. Low blood sugar + heat and humidity is not good.
  10. Plastic trays may not look like something you’d cut your hands on, but nor did a stack of paper before you got the first paper cut of your life. Wear gloves or at the very least know where the band-aids are (if not in your pocket).
  11. Cut your nails short. I don’t mind a little dirt under the nails but when they start to catch on things and get all funky its no fun. I suppose wearing gloves all the time might prevent this, too.
  12. Work gloves to me are like workout tank tops. You can never find the perfect one, can never have enough, and need a full quiver to have the right pair at the right time. Some folks swear by the rubber palm type because they allow great dexterity but they make you sweat a lot. I find the knit with painted dots gardening variety to be more breathable than rubber and more nimble than leather.
  13. Bring a knife. My favorite is a simple single blade buck knife with partial serration. Leave the full blown Leatherman at home, its weight may pull your pants down and, like the Nalgene, you’ll be bummed if you loose it.
  14. Take no offense to any critique of how you water plants. You may hear a lot of “water the soil, not the leaves,” but find in practice this is not possible. I have heard conflicting opinions of what individuals consider too wet or too dry for a plant so just do your best and take it all in stride.
  15. Go get ’em!!