Thursday, December 27, 2012

Year in review

View from Copper Mountain, Co.
A 12,000-foot rock I snowboarded down at the start of the year.

Base camp comes before the peak

Here we are at year's end, and what a year it has been. This past summer's adventures on the lakes and rivers have been some of the most memorable I can recall, and they lead right into a busy fall, full of some very enjoyable weekends spent in the woods. I received this fresh take on life after moving back to the Northwoods in the early spring, but that wasn't possible until I decided to step up and take charge of where my life had been before then.

While working in marketing for an international company in Minnetonka, Minn., I realized I despised the person I was becoming - the person they wanted me to be. At my job, I disliked forcing products down people's throats, I was not profits oriented, and I had very little in common with the suburban drones I worked with. People who were more concerned with their next automobile purchase, or picking a restaurant to dine at according to which one they were least jaded to than they were with the colors and shapes in the sky (not to mention you hardly ever saw the sky).

In my personal life nothing felt real. I was told that a work/life balance is what I needed, and PTO was available for that. They told me to take my breaks and work only the minimum hours because I should maintain the separation of 9-5 and everything else. Not to mention, there was no connection with nature necessary in the city, and as time ticked by I began to feel my eyes, too, going dim...

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Peace be with you

The most wonderful time of the year

The soft glow of hundreds of tiny Christmas tree lights bashfully illuminate the room. The scent of cinnamon apple candles extinguished the night before still lingers in the house, mixing with the pervading aroma of freshly brewed coffee. My feet are stuffed under the couch cushion and wrapped in a quilt that's drawn up to my torso. On the windows is a hardy layer of frost and fresh snowfall, but beyond them we cannot see, as it is before sunrise.

We sit in silence, contemplating nothing but the moment, making it last as long as possible because we all know by now this level of serenity lasts for only a little longer than a heartbeat. A heartbeat that happens once a year. The only discussion is when someone brings up a short story from years ago - some inside joke that only the four of us could ever truly appreciate - some ancient anecdote from a morning just like this one. The objective is to make a memory like all those in the past, to thread a few strands of memory together, to recreate and respect a tradition. The hope is that in the end we might add up one morning each year, blur them all together over a lifetime, and create one collective experience that's larger than the sum of its parts. Together, with my two brothers and my sister I sit, and we immortalize Christmas morning.

This cozy, winter morning tradition is special to me, I hope that goes without saying. While some people opt to spend the holiday on a tropical getaway or avoid spending time with their families, I keep coming back. Sure I grumble sometimes, and I complain in the days leading up to Christmas as a stressed out American tends to, but when the clock ticks midnight and I'm surrounded by the silence of these snowy Northwoods and the sleep burdened breathing of those I care about the most, I recall with great weight why there is no place else I'd rather be.

There are wrapped gifts under the tree, there always have been. When we were younger it was difficult not to start tearing at them upon waking, but now I think we all agree that makes things go too fast. So instead of small, rabid hands tearing and shredding colorful, patterned paper, there are now more precise measures taken. Instead of crawling and playing in the paper, ribbons, and boxes on the floor while screaming in the faces of the action figures we unwrap, we sit on furniture, find the seams bound with tape, and slowly disassemble the decorative gift-wrapping. Rather than dancing around the room in footy pajamas while shouting praise to Santa Claus because we received that one gift we really wanted, we turn and convey our gratitude with “thank you”, give a hug, shake a hand, etc.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Snowed in

How to be carefree in a blizzard

Last weekend I got caught in a snowstorm. I had been visiting friends and family in River Falls, and though there were rumors a snow system was moving in, I was unaware of the magnitude of white fluffy stuff we were about to encounter. The snowfall began just before midnight on Saturday, and for the next 24 hours it did not stop.

The flakes fell from the sky so densely it looked like fog outside. At night the snowfall caught the street and Christmas lights of the town and swirled the yellow, red, and green rays into a living, breathing, motion-obsessed work of art. Nature seemed to be demanding that good citizens be outside catching snowflakes on tongues, and it wouldn't take no for an answer. It was like living in a movie - everything seemed magical; everything was made new, fresh, and beautiful. The brown stale of October and November was cleared away in a single overnight, wrapping up the world in a brilliant blanket of white like a present on Christmas day.

Brick buildings, lamp posts, trees, fields, and river banks - all bright and stunning in the daylight on Sunday, and still the snow continued to fall in sheets of damp fluff. The roads, of course, were impassable. So, instead of driving 190 miles back home, I hunkered down with family.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Sharpen your focus

Dull blades don't cut well

Do you ever wake up early in the morning to get an early start on something? Be it work or travel or cooking? Getting a head start helps you pace yourself so that time doesn’t become a stressor, and your day unfolds a little easier. Or perhaps you’re more of a night owl, and you prefer to stay up late the night before something needs to be done, so that you can sleep easier knowing everything is finished. Whichever your preference, I’m wondering if you enjoy it?

I ask because productive people have different styles of being productive, and I think that says a lot about personality and lifestyle. I also think that as responsible people, it’s important that we try different methods to see what works for us. When it comes to work, we owe it to ourselves to learn the ins and outs of how we’re most economical and most effective. Knowing that about yourself makes you that much more dangerous not only in your personal life, but in the workplace as well i.e. you understand how to produce quality consistently.