Reflections on roundedness

Excuse the alliteration there.

Roundedness has many meanings in my current state.  For one thing, as I sit cross-legged on my couch, laptop in lap, my increasingly globular belly encroaches on my keyboard view.  I have to reflect on what that feels like for a moment.  For one thing, when you see pregnant women, you often think warm, kind thoughts about their state – bringing new life into the world.  It seems like such a happy and picturesque existence.  I am here to warn that the photos you see on pinterest of lovely pregnant ladies looking maternal and serene, perhaps offer a glimpse of a rare and lovely moment – but on the whole do not reflect reality.  As least, not mine.  I don’t sit around all day mulling over my belly and the new life I’m creating.  Rather, at almost 27 weeks – on the cusp of the third trimester, I marvel at the fact that maternity clothes, which I bought early and used to be swimming in, now fit me.  I look at my body and I don’t even know it anymore.  Whose thighs are these?  Whose hips? Where did my previously toned arms go? Where did these boobs come from?  Why do my ankles have to look like that?  And, holy shit are my feet sore!  My belly – well, that was to be expected.  The rest, I wasn’t as prepared for.

It’s hard losing control of your body.  And it’s weird that someone I’ve never met is kicking me from the inside.  Kicking my cervix, kicking my ribs, occasionally causing a mug I’ve gently rested on my belly to quake from a rogue elbow jab from within.  I think people expect that as a woman you are somehow prepared and intuitively knowledgeable about these things. I’m not!  All I know is that my bed has become a structural challenge that requires several pillows propped in just the right spot to make me feel at ease.  My hips, always narrower than my shoulders, are no longer.  They ache.  They are moving.  My posture is changing.  My body is operating under the command of hormones and I no longer have a real say in the way things go around here.  By the end of the day, my entire belly feels stretched to its limit.  I wonder if there is enough shea butter and vitamin E in the world the allow it to continue to grow without bursting.  Then I remind myself that I am only just beginning my third trimester.  And then, I get a bit nervous.

Meanwhile, as I observe these bodily changes day to day, during what I’ve heard is one of the biggest periods of growth, Rick and I are taking on some fairly challenging things.  Rick began an entirely new career as a teacher this fall.  He teaches honors Algebra II and pre-Calculus at the highest-ranking school in Colorado.  Let me say it again, he has just begun his teaching career.  It’s no small task to be thrown into an incredibly rigorous and notoriously grueling school as a first year teacher.  He is burning the candle at both ends.  I try to pick up the slack.  I manage dog responsibilities, cook dinner, keep the house in order, and arrange doctor’s visits and birthing classes and doula interviews.  There is also the small matter of my full-time job where I am taking on major projects and doing an increasing amount of travel.  WE are burning the candle at both ends.  We are a tired pair.  In our lives at this stage, we have not found the ideal balance of well-roundedness that I think we both strive for.  And we both are intimidated knowing that we haven’t even HAD the baby yet.

This morning I had a little bit of a breakdown.  I had a hard week at work.  We hosted a going away party for some friends last night, so I was getting the house ready all week, and Rick’s mom is staying here for a few days.  We have a lot happening! Plus, we haven’t had a weekend at home in a month! This morning when I woke up, I guess I just felt the strain. As Rick and I talked in bed, I found my eyes tearing up, asking him to remind me that he still thinks I’m pretty.  (He tells me all the time, actually. So clearly that wasn’t really what I needed to hear.) I guess it was my overly simplified way of asking him to reassure me that all the stress and pressure at home and at work and changes to my body and our lives won’t change what WE have.  I needed to know that the way we understand each other and work together and approach the world with a unified front wouldn’t be undermined by the myriad changes in our lives.

When I look at Rick, his strength and his character and his toughness draw me to him.  It makes me stronger and tougher and better. He is such an inspiration to me each day and he drives me to set the bar higher. When I look at myself and I feel sore and tired and, well, pregnant, I feel bad that I can’t give him the full support and encouragement that I want to.  I feel like I am falling short trying to be the best employee, the best wife, and the best-prepared mother.  I feel constantly as though I need to give more and be more.  Perhaps it is my hormones, or my pitta drive that makes me feel like I need to live up to external standards and measures of achievement. I don’t know what it is, but I do know that I am tired.

I wonder if this feeling that life is getting overwhelming comes to all pregnant women?  I know stress definitely is normal, and I wonder if I am conflating external stressors with my internal hormonal tides.  It’s hard to say.

When we got engaged in March of 2013, some of the best advice we got was to just relax and enjoy the time we had together as an engaged couple – knowing we had the future ahead of us and each other.  I fall back on this advice now, telling myself to enjoy these moments of just Rick and me, (and Adelaide the puppy, of course) knowing that together we’ll get through the challenges we face.

Max and Eitan – A Love Story in a Converted School Bus Down by the River

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Antonias Gaze – Max and Eitan

So, let’s talk about engagement photo sessions.  When did they become a thing?  Or have people always roped their significant others into finding complimentary outfits, wrapping themselves in homemade quilts, and gleefully embracing at sunset and I somehow missed it?

When Rick and I got engaged we were, let’s call it “frugal.”  We needed something for a Save the Date, so we roped in our talented friend, Bec, at Miss Bakes into taking some incredible photos for us down in Byron Bay.  It was ideal because Bec wouldn’t have dreamed of making us pay her for her incredible skills (though we did shell what we could at her), there was beer, there were surfboards, there were dolphins, and Bec and I outnumbered Rick and forcibly made him hold a string of origami hearts.  Had this last part never happened, I would not be entirely convinced of his love and we might not be where we are today.  It was demoralizing and demeaning to Rick.  I rolled up his pant legs and forced him to be photographed with calves exposed while gallivanting in the surf.  I am a horrible woman who enjoyed myself thoroughly at his expense.  So in many ways it was a typical engagement photo shoot. But yet, I am not convinced it was the normal deal.  I left with too much of a buzz.  And I think they should all go like this.  So, I offered to help a sister (mine) out for the day and aided in the torture and abuse of her fiancé for the sake of some adorable photos.  So, without further ado, I present to you: Max and Eitan – A Love Story in a Converted School Bus by the River.

As a prelude, I have been without camera for a few months recently.  I cracked the LCD display on my DSLR and it petered along for awhile before going belly-up on me.  I was planning to replace or repair it, but hadn’t sufficient motivation.  Then two things changed: 1) I got pregnant, and 2) my sister needed engagement photos for a Save the Date — a match made in consumerist heaven.  I bought myself a new (refurbished) upgrade Nikon D5200 and was back in happy photo land.  Now I can happily document mild photographic spousal abuse and what will soon be my cherubic fetus/infant/toddler/terrible two-year-old.  It will be glorious.

So, back to Max and Eitan.  I love this couple, mostly because I have to by some sort of familial rules, but also because they  manage to keep me interested with their antics. They went to high school together.  Back then, Eitan had a big mop of curly blond hair, which my sister was drawn to in the way that sophomore girls are drawn to exciting senior boys with wild, untamed locks.  She pined over him from afar back then, and it wasn’t until much later that they were able to connect and learn that Eitan had a serious weakness for freckles, and that they both really, really, really like dogs.  So they went rafting together.  It was a fateful trip.  Max dislocated her shoulder and Eitan lost his keys and his dog got attacked.  Then Max missed her flight home.  So they hung out some more.  And so it began…

They have rafted the Grand Canyon, lived in a converted school bus, and been ski bums.  Now they embark on an entirely more adult journey… marriage!

Let’s see whether they can pull of looking adult and in love for 45 minutes in their back yard:

Max and Eitan

Antonia’s Gaze – Max and Eitan

So far, so good!

Antonia's Gaze - Max and Eitan

Antonia’s Gaze- Max and Eitan

Questionable amounts of tongue.

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Antonia’s Gaze – Max and Eitan

Looking fairly presentable for a couple that sleeps in a school bus by the river.

Silverthorne Engagement Session

Antonia’s Gaze- Max and Eitan

Cute!  

Silverthorne Engagement Session

Antonia’s Gaze – Max and Eitan

Ok.  This is pretty stellar.

Silverthorne Engagement Session

Antonia’s Gaze – Max and Eitan

Some pretty good stuff from these two.  They may transition to a career in modeling PFDs or paco pads.

But wait…

Silverthorne Engagement Session

Antonia’s Gaze – Max and Eitan

 Did someone mention sandwiches?  Eitan is so hungry!

Silverthorne Engagement Sessions

Antonia’s Gaze – Max and Eitan

 Help!  Max is trapped in this tree.  Eitan offers her flowers, but no help getting down.

Silverthorne Engagement Session

Antonia’s Gaze – Max and Eitan

She finds her way down and into a forest-themed re-creation of “American Gothic”.

Silverthorne Engagement Session

Antonia’s Gaze- Max and Eitan

The session slowly unravels. Eitan uses local hardware to open a bottle of cider.  Max finds protective glasses to match her vest.  She looks meaningfully into the camera.

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Antonia’s Gaze – Max and Eitan

The session ends abruptly as Eitan and Max walk off into the sunset to get sandwiches.  Eitan tips me for my time and effort in his own unique way.  We all live happily ever after.

Can’t wait for the wedding!

Katahdin with Child (Preggers)

I climbed a mountain last weekend. And so did my fetus. We had a jolly good time.

Katahdin is the highest mountain in Maine and the final ascent of the Appalachian Trail.  It’s actually a climb I’ve had my eyes on for a few years, since my sister was in school in Lewiston, ME.  I knew it was a challenging climb then and thought it would be a fun activity for a visit. We never got around to it.  I blame beer.  

Well, now several years later, it took Rick’s mom finishing her 10-year journey to section hike the AT to get me out there, 5.5 months pregnant, climbing massive boulders with re-bar holds in a thick fog, hoping to make it to the summit. I was nervous about it, really unsure exactly what was in store and whether my changing body would be up for the challenge.  In the last couple weeks I have “popped” as they say, and I have a belly now to match the early growth I felt (and saw) in my boobs, butt, and thighs.  I am becoming a curvy woman!   I wasn’t sure my new curves, looser joints, and unpredictable balance would be up for the challenge, but they were and I’m glad we got out there to join her in crossing this major accomplishment off her bucket list!

I must say that climbing Katahdin isn’t easy.  Rick and I were both sore the next day.  It’s a day hike, but it pretty much goes straight up for 5 miles and then straight back down.  The trail is very rocky, and probably at least 40%-50% of the time we were “hiking” we were actually climbing hand over foot to make our way up and around VERY large boulders.  It’s actually the kind of hiking I love most.  The challenge of having to piece together a route helps to distract me from the hiking – which was especially valuable now because I am getting to the stage of pregnancy where my feet and back get sore and my legs swell.  (Yes, pregnancy is lovely isn’t it?)  They say to plan for 10 hours to hike Katahdin, and we were right on the mark – of course our party consisted of a 63 year old woman, a pregnant woman, and a guy wearing flip flops so we certainly weren’t about to set any speed records.  It was a long day of hiking and by the time we made it back to the bottom, my legs looked like sausages from swelling.  After settling into a bit more of a sedentary existence post-half marathon, a 10 hour day of hiking was a BIG day for me. 

All in all, the hike was a really good one.  Rick had suggested I think of it like I would a 14er here in Colorado (because I was getting nervous about the difficulty and starting to wonder about bail-out plans if something went awry for me), but it felt a bit harder than the 14ers I’ve done.  There were some very technical sections that rival some of the harder 14ers in Colorado, and certainly were more technical than any climbs I’ve done here – though comparable to some I’ve done in Utah.  I googled (many times over) “hike Katahdin pregnant” to see if I could find any accounts of it being done to get a feel for whether I was being stupid.  So, I am writing this blog with the hope that I can provide some insight for other pregnant ladies who might be considering giving it a shot. 

There are some major points worth mentioning about hiking Katahdin pregnant.  First off, let me get my caveats out of the way. I am starting from a healthy baseline of being active, and hiking, running, and doing other forms of exercise regularly. I have had no complications or reasons for concern in my pregnancy. Secondly, I am just over the halfway point of my pregnancy and am not HUGE yet, though I definitely have a belly to work around. Third, as with any break from normal activity, it’s probably a good idea to run your plans by your doctor.  I did and she said that I should go for it – there would be no better time than now! 

So with that said, my major thoughts on hiking Katahdin while pregnant are related to the weather conditions, equipment, and flexibility. 

1) Check the weather – Avoid wet conditions

 Katahdin is all rocks, many of which are covered in lichen and can be slippery.  A fall on rocks anywhere is bad when you’re pregnant.  A fall on Katahdin with very limited rescue access could be a disaster.  It is VERY important to check the weather forecast before you go – so check the weather with rangers and on your own on your phone before you go.  Conditions can change quickly, but you can prepare yourself for most things if you do a little research ahead of time. A bit of moisture adds an element of challenge – fog and drizzle are often unavoidable on a stand-alone peak so be prepared for it.  But, as a pregnant woman I would not hike Katahdin in rain. Avoid it if possible, and if you get caught in the rain due to changing weather, take things as slowly as possible up there.  Peak-bagging is not worth the risk of hurting yourself or baby.

2) Trust Your Equipment – Wear good shoes!

Make sure you have a pair of boots or shoes that you know will provide you with good traction and ankle support for this hike.  For me, a major help was wearing my heavy-duty hiking boots.  I thought about wearing some trail running shoes, but now that my body weight is distributed in ways I’m not accustomed to, I often feel a bit unstable when I am out hiking. My hiking books have a Vibram sole that rarely slips and helps me feel confident in my footing, even in slightly wet conditions like I experienced.  Plus, ankle support is a must on uneven surfaces with loosening joints. 

3) Be prepared for some climbing – Ditch the pack if you can

If you think Katahdin is a “hike” you better think again.  In many places it’s a scramble over Volkswagon (or larger)-sized boulders.  In some places the trail is helped by the inclusion of small pieces of re-bar, just where a hand or foothold is lacking.  So, it’s not a walk in the park and there are plenty of places where you will have to climb and still find ways accommodate your belly.  One thing I did (or was forced into, but appreciated later) was ditch my pack.  I love wearing a backpack, and feel very comfortable with it, but my husband told me that there was no way he was going to let me wear one.  I thought about fighting him on it, but decided if he wanted to carry the 4 Nalgenes I packed to avoid dehydration, I wouldn’t argue with him.  I don’t regret that.  You’re carrying enough extra cargo.  If you can skip the pack, do it.

4) Trekking Poles – Your new best friend

I never hike with trekking poles.  But, as I began to plan for this hike I talked to some friends who had through-hiked the AT and got their impressions of Katahdin and what I could do to accommodate my condition.  Trekking poles was one suggestion that I do not regret listening to!  They saved me many awkward bends to balance myself, because they allowed me to stabilize myself while remaining relatively upright. 

One thing, however, is that when you get to the (long) section of climbing over boulders the poles can be a bit annoying to carry along with you.  You will have to do a lot of squatting and bending and throwing a leg or a hip up to get some leverage as you climb over boulders.  This is when you can be glad for a little extra flexibility (Thanks, Relaxin!), and enjoy it.  But, be aware, the trekking poles can become an annoyance at best, and a liability at worst, depending on how you use them in this section of the climb. In the balance, my feeling is that they did me a lot of good and I’d recommend bringing some along, but just be careful with them.

5) Be realistic – Have a bailout plan

Some real limits exist during pregnancy. Your joints aren’t as stable, and you may suffer from more fatigue than normal!  That’s OK!  If you don’t feel comfortable and confident in yourself as you hike Katahdin, remember that you can always stop.  There are other days and opportunities to climb.  Consider having a few check in points with your hiking crew along the way to assess how you and others feel, and truly be honest about whether you have it in you to do a long, strenuous, and technical hike.  There’s no shame in saying that today isn’t your day. You might be preventing a much more serious situation! 

6) Hike with others

Always a good idea – an even better idea at this point in your life!  If there is any kind of emergency, you will want to be with people who can help.  Hike with a group!

And with that, I think I have exhausted my tips on hiking Katahdin (or any challenging climb) while pregnant.  The major plusses are a huge feeling of accomplishment, and the knowledge that some day you’ll be telling your kid that he or she already did X, Y, or Z in utero!  In our case, Baby Frankie got to accompany Grandma L while she finished hiking the AT.  Not bad for a baby!  :)

Head, shoulders, knees, and toes…

Check. Check. Check. And, check.

I don’t normally take the time to post two days in a row, but today was pretty fun and I wanted to share just a few bits of it.  Frankie made an appearance during our ultrasound visit and was very cooperative with the doctor and technician so we got to see all the goods – except the ones we didn’t want to see!

He/she has all the standard parts, which was great news.  He/she was moving around and showing off too.  We were fascinated to see the way his/her skeletal little frame moved and operated of its own accord.  Honestly, as my friend Jess was just saying to me this weekend, people think that as a woman you should be more prepared for the feelings that come with pregnancy – but my thought the whole time was “Holy shit!  That thing is inside me!”

We had one revealing moment where the baby put it’s hand against the wall of my uterus, so we could see its whole bone structure and there was no doubt that the hand was Rick’s.  He has engineer hands – square and straight across the fingers.  I have very differently shaped hands, and the hands we saw looked nothing like mine.  I smiled a bit, thinking of the saying “never marry a man unless you would like to have a son (or daughter) just like him.”  I was happy to see Rick’s hands come through loud and clear.  Hopefully Baby Frankie will take on some of his other qualities too.

We also had a chance to finally see the birthing units at the hospital we are probably going to use.  I had to say that I was not particularly excited.  The nurses were awesome and so helpful and friendly, but the bottom line is that I hate the feel of hospitals and this was hardly different, even though they try to make the rooms comfortable and cozy and do a lot to accommodate those who don’t want to feel like they are in a hospital.  I like that there are jacuzzi baths, squat bars, birth balls, and all sorts of other helpful tools, but I don’t know…  it’s not quite the birth experience I am envisioning in my head. I think for me, perhaps a lot of reading about home birth early on has shaped my judgments. There was not a lot of natural light, and all the machinery felt stifling. Birth seems like something that is so sacred and should happen in a place that feels comfortable and safe and peaceful. I think I will have to do a lot of mental gymnastics to feel that way about the birthing units at Rose – though they really are nice.  While I think home birth is something I would love and may want at some point, I think for the first time around I might want to go a more traditional route.  It’s hard to say and based on today’s visit I will have some real thinking to do on the matter.

Halfway there and other observations from the middle

Today marks 20 weeks in my pregnancy with the being we call Baby Frankie.  It’s hard to believe that I’m halfway through sometimes.  In some weeks each day felt achingly slow, and others just flew by.  Today, for the first time, someone who had not been told I was pregnant, felt bold enough to bring it up.  As she said, and I guess I must accept, I am now “obviously with child.”

It’s funny how hard it can be to accurately determine at what point you cross over into the “obviously with child” realm as opposed to the “possibly getting a bit chunky” realm.  Early on you feel like everyone must know that your extra paunch is baby-related, when in fact they probably haven’t even noticed it.  But soon enough you begin to think you are successfully flying under the radar and begin to wonder how you’ll start to share the news when it becomes necessary.  In some ways, I am glad my body broke the news for me. I’m happy to have moved into the former category, because it really gets old just feeling fat.  Honestly, for me I think that has been one of my hardest challenges in pregnancy.  As someone who has struggled with my weight for all of my life, including some short, dangerous interludes with anorexia and bulimia, simply feeling grateful for and accepting my changing body has been hard.  More than accepting the increased mass, has been the challenge of relaxing control over the things my body needs, what I can do, and my lifestyle generally.

Two weeks ago I ran a half marathon up in Aspen.  It isn’t crazy or overly ambitious to take on something like that during pregnancy, people do it all the time.  But, it does elicit reactions from people.  Maybe that was something I needed – just to hear that it was impressive to run a half marathon while pregnant.  At times pregnancy feels like it overtakes me, and I feel a grasping need to cling to the bits of my life that have previously defined me as more than just a woman and a vessel – as special and sweet that role is.  I needed something to make me feel ambitious and assert that I didn’t need to scale back my life.  The half marathon was a good way to do that.  But, as I ran I did notice that not all was as it should be, or would be, sans fetus.  My knees and hips ached in strange new ways, and my tendons made their presence known.  It was a different race, and though I hardly planned to PR, even I was bit surprised at how slow I was and how much my limitations were obvious.  Again a few weeks ago I felt similarly.  We made plans to ride Mount Evans, as we do each year.  It’s a big ride from Idaho Springs up to the summit at just over 14,000 feet.  Almost 60 miles round trip, and tough.  I knew riding to that altitude pregnant was unwise, so I planned to ride just to Echo Lake, a nice 30 mile ride.  I thought if I felt good perhaps I’d ride on, but at Echo Lake I turned back.  You see, even with my handlebars raised for added comfort, there still felt like there was a melon wedged into my pelvis, which was a bit uncomfortable.  Also, even though it didn’t slow me down too much, I felt a tad irresponsible tearing downhill 15 miles back to Idaho Springs on the descent.  It’s one thing to put yourself in harms way riding fast down a busy road, but another thing knowing that a small mistake could prove to be doubly harmful while you’re pregnant.

I guess all this reflection is mostly to observe that as much as I don’t want to accept that pregnancy imposes some new limitations on my life, I have to do just that.  In two weeks we are booked to fly to Maine and hike Mount Katahdin at the end of the Appalachian Trail with Rick’s mom.  Will I be able to complete the hike?  I sure hope so, but I am beginning to understand that there might be very valid reasons why I shouldn’t or can’t.    Pregnancy, finally after 20 weeks, is truly manifesting itself in more real ways in my life.  It’s amusing that even with a nursery all set up and as we begin to start interviewing doulas and making a birth plan, nothing has felt REALLY real until I couldn’t comfortably ride my road bike or run.

As of about a week and a half ago, I could feel the flutters of life moving around inside me.  To me it felt, as I told my mom, like “I am housing an unruly bluegill in my stomach.”  So much for the romance of butterflies.  Tomorrow we have our 20-week ultra-sound where we can learn whether it is a boy of girl.  We are still unsure if we really want to know, so don’t hold your breath for any updates.    Honestly, to me it will be an adventure either way and I’m not really entirely keen on removing this little piece of mystery from my life.  Today there are so few things in life that remain a mystery – it’s beautiful to hold on to a little spark of possibility without building in expectations one way or the other.

I have been musing for quite some time now, and I should get back to more pressing tasks.  I guess I will have to share the highlights of our long weekend in California with you at a later time.  It was an incredible trip and I can’t wait to describe it in more detail.  Til then, I’m off!

Sand Dunes National Park

I sat awake in the cool night air, listening.  Around me the winds from the east were rushing down the mountainside. The aspens and meadow grasses surrounding me whirred with a steady rustling.  The noises felt ominous in the cool dark, as though they preceded a storm or an imminent bear attack, but in my little tent not even the puppy stirred.  It seemed that I was the only one startled awake in the blackness to wonder at what the night concealed from me.

I shifted position, recognizing that the pressures on my growing belly made for an interesting sleep experience on my thermarest.  I curled into the fetal position, facing the tent wall as it fluttered in the wind, glowing with the subtle light of the moon’s cool light filtered through the aspen grove where we camped.

Recalling the day that brought me to this spot, I smiled.  Rick, Addie, and I had piled into his car and driven the three hours to the Sand Dunes National Park.  Rick had visited before, but for me it was the first time and I was pretty excited.  Along the way, I watched the scenery fade from the familiarity of South Park, to the arid vastness of the San Luis Valley – a huge, flat expanse of harsh, unwelcoming land.  It once was a booming agricultural valley, but now it was mostly dotted with small, abandoned shacks, interspersed with large irrigation systems that periodically brought a shock of green to the swaths of brown grassland.  The valley is testament to the finite nature of groundwater and a warning to use it wisely.  In the heat of midday, the valley seemed anything but welcoming.  Heat vibrated up from the roadway, blurring the brown grasses that made their way, crisscrossed with only dirt roads, to tan sands.  As we pulled into a coffee shop to grab a chai and use the bathroom, a sign reminded us of the cost of maintaining the toilet and the need to conserve water. It asked us to flush only after multiple uses.  It asked for contributions to help pay for their tank to be emptied each month.  It seemed apparent that the valley was not thriving.

Putting this depressing fact behind me, I tried to focus on the dunes, but suddenly I was consumed by questions of if I would even enjoy the trip.  Through the wafting heat off the valley floor I could picture myself trudging across an unbroken, unshaded expanse of yellow sand with no water or cool air in sight.  A creeping panic began to rise in me.  If there is one thing that grabs my survival instincts by the balls, it’s the thought of unbroken and unmitigated heat.  My brain immediately flashes to visions of me shriveling to a parched and shrunken shell of myself, and collapsing in the heat, and never leaving the desert.  Though many landscapes evoke fear, to me, the desert is perhaps the most forbidding.

We drove into the park, however, and I reminded myself that today would not be spent on the dunes.  Today Rick and I planned to hike in the preserve where we could backpack in to a backcountry site to camp.  Abutting the dunes is the Sangre de Cristo Range.  The winds that bear down the mountains, combined with the prevailing winds barreling across the San Luis Valley, and the winding Medano Creek help to hold the massive dunes in their place.  Today we would hike up Mosca Pass, to the crossing point of the Sangre de Cristos, in a low saddle full of wild green grasses and aspen groves.

We hiked for an hour and a half, up the incline to the pass, and were there before we even knew it!  The hike was mostly shaded and gradual, and we were moving faster than we thought.  We reached the pass just as afternoon storm clouds began gathering on the horizon, so we turned back, took a dog-legged path off the trail, and made our way into a beautiful mountain meadow with a small creek running though it, wildflowers blossoming abundantly, and a tiny, miraculous, hidden cache of Columbines in a shaded aspen grove.  It was a little paradise, and after searching out the right spot, we set up camp at the edge of and aspen grove overlooking the meadow from above.

We made a fabulous meal, and Rick broke out two beers he had stowed away in his bag as a little treat.  As I sipped my shandy and watched the light fade while Addie bounded through the meadow grasses, I couldn’t imagine a better, more peaceful spot to rest my head and body for the night.  I felt a little chill as I sat with intention, trying to share this moment with the little being fluttering in my belly.

We lit a small fire and let the night fade away from us before crawling into our sleeping bags, reminiscing on the sweet perfection of our day.  Moments spent like this, together, away from the rush of life in the city, bring both of us back to ourselves and the simple things that bring a smile to our faces.

As we have been busy putting together a nursery, fixing up our home, and trying to establish ourselves in the new jobs, we occasionally lose sight of these simple pleasures.  Our trip to the Sand Dunes was a beautiful reminder from the universe that a mountain meadow filled with wildflowers can do more for the soul than weeks of dedicated work to “improve” one’s lot.  Reduction, it seems, is often the key to contentment.

Strengths Finder 2.0

During the interview phase for my current position as the Public Involvement Coordinator for a large engineering firm, I was given a personality test.  While I love personality tests like the Myers-Briggs, etc.  I also worried that a diagnostics test might reduce me (at least on paper) to someone I’m not.  As I talked to my (now) boss about it during the weeks leading up to my job offer, she assured me that my worries were misplaced and that she and the company used the information they gathered in order to better construct effective teams and ensure that projects are rounded out with the right personalities.  So, when I received my copy of Strengths Finder 2.0by Tom Rath, I skimmed it over it and quickly found the code in the back to go online and take my test – nervous but excited for my results.

The book’s general premise is that we all do better when we maximize our own strengths rather than focusing on bringing our weaknesses up to par.  It’s a philosophy that I definitely approve of – and while I don’t see too much harm in trying to improve one’s weaknesses, it seems to make sense to capitalize on your strengths first and foremost.  The book, in order to help people identify their strengths, asked questions on a sliding scale that helped inform an evaluation of 5 key strengths, from about 34 they’ve identified. After taking the test, I came away as the following:

1. Strategic

2. Achiever

3. Individualization

4. Ideation

5. Learner

At first, I was pissed.  To me these were the strengths of a total dreamer – minus the achiever.  I was hoping for something with more solid footing.  These were not the strengths I hoped to convey to a potential employer, and now I was stuck with them.  Who wants someone full of strategies and ideas and fascinated with learning?  As valuable as these things can be, they aren’t necessarily the makings of a stellar employee.  I honestly felt really despondent for a while thinking that this kind of profile shot me in the foot.  But when I finally got the courage to share my test results with my boss we had a wonderful realization that our strengths were nearly the same!  I took this as a great relief since she is a pretty young woman, who has risen to VP in the company, and built her own unique strategic communications group within an engineering firm – no easy task.

The Strengths Finder system is a fantastic way to help understand yourself and what you have to offer. Because the personality themes identified on the test are not your typical personality definitives – they are broader and more thematic, they offer a different perspective to analyze your personality.  For example, I was a bit confused by the meaning of my Ideation theme (lover of ideas, revels in taking the world and turning it over to look at it in new ways), but the more I read about it, the more I realized it really fits me!  And, it has been a major driver of some of my big life decisions.  Because I know that I can tend to be caught up in ideas, and get more entangled in creative thinking than planning I tend to naturally surround myself with two types of people – either those who help me idle away my time discussing and analyzing the world around me like my sisters, and my Dad; or those who provide me some structure and balance me out – like my husband, my best friend, and my mother.  In looking back at my life, some of my most bonding friendship have been with other Ideators who sometimes seem to understand and follow my thoughts better than other people, but my more fruitful and long-lasting relationships are with those who provide an analytical balance to my ideation – the people who help me give my dreams footing in the real world.

Similarly, I find that the skill of individualization really helps me hone in on personalities around me.  I tend to have a very intuitive understanding of what makes people tick and I take great pleasure in considering the topic and understanding its real-world ramifications.  But, being prone to individualization I sometimes fell into the trap of giving people more leeway than they deserve, or enabling behavior because I understand the root causes of it and feel sympathetic.  I find that I am often put off by generalizations; for example, I used to date a guy who routinely referred to people according to the sport they liked or the business they were in – I found it annoyingly reductive and often called him out on it.  I do well to balance my tendency to evaluate a situation relative to the personalities in it, with a healthy dose of considering how more general rules should apply.  This could probably have saved me many a bad decision looking back on my past.

My Strategic and Achiever roles did not surprise me too much.  Ever since I was a small child my parents have marveled at my ability to manipulate things and people around me.  Often this is seen as a bad thing, but I don’t think it has to be bad.  Just because I once (as A CHILD) used these skills to get my sisters to give me foot massages and help me clean, does not mean I never used my talents for good!  I did and do!  Strategic is a skill I’m proud of, and I think it indicates a good forward-thinking approach to life.  Achiever is what you would expect.  If there is a bar to reach, I tend to try to reach it.  I like to tick off the boxes and mark things as “complete” on my lists.  It is immensely satisfying to me to watch progress happen and to set goals and fulfill them.  No shockers there.

My last skill is learner – and I find that one amusing.  I tend to assume everyone likes to learn – but apparently they don’t! Lately I have really seen it in action.  Being pregnant it such an opportunity to learn.  For me, though it might not be something you’d expect, issues about motherhood and birth have always been a special interest.  I have always wanted to be a mom – be it a very abstract desire that I, even now, still am not sure I’m ready for. But, now that I am pregnant I find that I’m delving even deeper into reading and learning about the process.  I can’t get enough information.  Just how much I’ve been taking in hits me on days like today when I toured a birthing center.  Clearly I was the least pregnant person on the tour, yet I was the one with the most questions! Anyway, this has been a post of a lot of navel gazing self-assessment, which I’m sure is very boring.  But, I have to say, the Strengths Finder 2.0 book is a really interesting tool to look at yourself in a new and different way.  I think it is a wonderful tool to help people capitalize on their strengths and identify the patterns that function best and most productively in their lives.  I’d recommend it to anyone who is in a time of self-evaluation and change in their lives.  It can truly help to reformulate the way you see yourself and the ways you market your skills in the workforce.