6300 miles/10,100 kilometers

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Taking Logan to the airport to say goodbye for six months was surreal. The drive from Missoula to Spokane is unbelievably beautiful, with cloud-covered mountain passes and little mining towns nestled by the highway, and we both discussed everything but his impending flight to go thousands and thousands of miles away. After we said goodbye at the gate, I drove home in a daze. I knew I couldn’t be emotional because a 3 hour drive on the highway is not the place to be a compromised person, and I compartmentalized everything and drove home without really remembering it. I came home and slept like a corpse, absolutely exhausted and horribly sad and hollow feeling. Our house echoed and felt devoid of the soul it had when we moved in.

It’s been a month now and life hasn’t become “normal” again. I want to sleep a lot still. I keep my space neat, much neater than it was when we lived together, and joined a gym. Cooking hasn’t happened- lots of raw veggies, sandwiches, yogurt and cold dishes. It’s hilarious how sad my diet has become since his departure. I would always know Logan was cooking when I’d smell garlic, basil, cilantro, olive oil in the pan, and other familiar smells. The sounds of the house have changed and so have the smells. No more of his cologne or our clothes hung together in the closet, even if only for a little while. Much of my grad school habits have returned: long walks alone, people watching,  having a quiet drink alone, writing in my diary, devouring books, finding quiet spaces, and letting my mind unravel and go all sorts of places. It is peaceful, familiar, and a tiny bit sad, but not entirely empty of happiness.

These were from one of our last walks in the park here in town, taken with my ancient SLR camera, which we didn’t position correctly, to my odd delight.

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Sensitive skin + eczema: Treatment, support, and questions.

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“You been in some fights lately?” a stranger joked as they saw my hands one summer. They were raw, cracked, bleeding, and red. It was summer, too hot for long sleeves, and I weakly joked that yes, I had been brawling.

This was not entirely false- my body and I were indeed at odds with one another. Eczema, which had affected me as a child, went away until I became a stressed-out college student. It mostly stayed on my arms, though, and I accepted its presence as a bother, nothing more.

However, around 2015, my hands were a mess and I struggled with embarrassment and confusion. This was a new, awful form of eczema, replete with tiny clusters of blisters, insanely itchy skin, cracked and bleeding parts, and overall, extreme physical discomfort. I couldn’t do dishes, handle any acidic foods, or do much that would exacerbate my skin.  I found out that I had gotten one lovely variety of eczema that affects solely hands and feet- JOY.

It’s 2018, and I have, for the most part, found peace and (mostly) respite from my eczema. It’s been on my face, made me nervous for dates, kept me sleepless from itching, offered me up to public humiliation, and made me feel ugly and undesirable. I made this post to show affordable products that help me immensely, answer some basic questions, and offer some links I’ve found both helpful and supportive.

The low down: 

Eczema is basically your body’s inability to produce it’s own protective layer over your skin. This results in vulnerable, rashy, often raw skin. Sometimes it’s mild and just a small patch of dry, red skin and sometimes it can take over your body- everybody is different. It affects 30 million Americans, and there are multiple kinds. I have atopic dermatitis and dyshidrotic eczema.

Eczema is a mysterious bastard, and people don’t know exactly why we get it. It’s been theorized it’s an immune reaction or an allergic reaction, but why and how we get it is unsure. People in polluted areas and cities get it more, and people who have other immune issues like asthma also have eczema, and it could also be genetic! So basically…it could be anything, everything, or nothing at all. Trust me, I know this isn’t helpful.

First and foremost if you suspect you might have eczema go to a dermatologist. A good one! They might take photos of your eczema to track any changes, and they can help you find medicine that will work with your lifestyle and the severity of your eczema. If your derm isn’t taking you seriously, tries to put you on steroid creams or steroids over and over again, find somebody who makes you feel heard.

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Products/things I use and love that help: 

-Vitamin D, Vitamin C, fish oil, and Vitamin E supplements. There is some evidence that taking vitamins that help build your skin’s resilience can help with eczema. Your skin is always trying to heal and repair itself and these vitamins may help your body do that. I figure it can’t hurt.

-AQUAPHOR!!! Aquaphor is my favorite thing. Lotion can hurt raw skin, and one thing that eczema needs is protection. I apply Aquaphor to all my patches- on my face, my hands, my arms, where ever. I may apply bandages over the Aquaphor so it can work better. It isn’t a lotion- it’s a cheap but amazing ointment that you can find at any drugstore for around $5. (It also makes an amazing lip balm!) It’s also super safe around your eyes if you’ve got anything there! This is my number one thing in my life, and I don’t know what I would do without it.

-BandAids for protecting my hands. Cheap, easy, and effective. They can help any especially raw parts heal. I do not use antibiotic creams at all, and only use Aquaphor  to protect my skin.

-ProTopic prescription ointment. This is a non-steroid cream that I use only in extreme cases because it burns a lot. I do not use steroid cream because long term use of steroid creams can make your skin thin, sometimes permanently. Since I have had eczema for years and it hasn’t gone away, I got my derm to prescribe me this. There is also a children’s version that has less of the working ingredients to be sensitive to their bodies.

-Aveeno lotion. Aveeno, I find, makes great sensitive-skin lotions. I also adore their baby lotions and bath products, because the ingredients are so gentle. I use this on my hands as soon as I wake up and before I go to bed, and keep a little tube in my work desk and in my car.

-Scent-free and dye-free laundry detergent. If you have ultra-sensitive skin, your sheets and bedding and pillow cases can also aggravate whatever is going on. Using a sensitive-skin friendly laundry detergent is huge! I use some from my natural food bulk store, but Arm & Hammer also makes a detergent I really like.

Aveeno Baby oatmeal bath packets. These are affordable and amazing. Oatmeal helps calm the itch and a warm (not hot!) bath is amazing for relaxing. Oatmeal baths helped me as a child, too, when I couldn’t sleep.

-Lukewarm/cool showers.  Hot water strips your skin of protection and will exacerbate your eczema a lot! If you can’t help but take hot showers, make them short. Get out quickly.

-Gloves for doing dishes and yardwork. These will help protect your hands, which can be areas prone to eczema and irritation. They have saved me, as hot water doing dishes a lot made my hands not only painful but also made my eczema never seem to go away.

As you can see, I use mostly affordable products that after years of experimentation work for me. Everybody is different. It can take time, so be patient and gentle with yourself.

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What about diet? 

There are some theories that eczema, and some other immune issues, may be caused by gut bacteria abscence or imbalance. I don’t know if I buy these 100% (you can find out more online) but I did find that when I consistently ate probiotic foods, avoided sugar, and ate healthier, my eczema was more manageable. That being said, is that real? Or was it placebo effect? I can’t say. I’m not a doctor or a nutritionist, but it did help.

What about (insert other treatment here-wet wrapping, pine tar, bleach baths, etc.) 

I don’t know about anything else, but there is a super helpful sub-Reddit for eczema sufferers where you can ask questions, get feedback, and swap stories. It has not only been an immense source of support, but I’ve also answered lots of questions with my own experiences. If you’re new to everything, also look for answers here at the National Eczema Association. The Internet is one of the most helpful and supportive places I’ve ever found, and lots of people who may feel shy sharing their stories in person are more than happy to help you figure out things like how to help your children if they’ve got eczema, what if your girlfriend/boyfriend/person has eczema, how different meds have helped different people, etc.

What if my girlfriend/boyfriend/child gets diagnosed? 

If you’re asking this question at all that’s a great sign. Do your own research and quietly help your person make changes if they’re an adult. Maybe buy some products on your own as a quiet “I see you” gift- Aquaphor, lotions, oatmeal bath packets, sensitive-skin friendly laundry detergent, etc. and check in with your person if they’re seeing doctors. If you’ve got a child, oatmeal baths and doctors visits may become the norm. There are lots of resources for parents online. I know my parents had a tough time, but ProTopic helped me a lot when I was little.

Secondly, eczema can make your person feel very unsexy. Be gentle, kind, and especially loving. Our body is pretty much betraying us and giving us ugly lizard skin, and it sucks. Let us know we’re still cute, okay?

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That’s all I’ve got for now. I’ll probably update this as time goes on, but please don’t hesitate to leave questions or comments. I’ve had eczema for years, and it’s impacted my life, but it’s something that can be managed and accepted and you’re definitely not alone.

Black and white reflections

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Odds and ends of a strange month. I got my Canadian work visa from the kindest border agent and then had the most awful experience coming back to my home country. I stayed out late and saw people I rarely see, found a dead bird behind the auto repair shop on my way to work, ate at a diner outside Spokane in eastern Washington, spent some time by the sea with my mom in Bellingham the night before getting my visa, and photographed flowers sprouting everywhere here in Missoula. It’s 90 degrees outside and I miss those weird spring days where you still might see snow on the mountains and have frost on some bits of the yard.

Stony Creek Cabin

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Late spring at a Forest Service cabin nestled in the Beaverhead Deerlodge National Forest. A moose had been bedding in the front lawn of the hundred year old cabin, a creek rushed loudly and busily across the road, farmers drove by in trucks kicking up dust clouds, and we made a fire that we sat by, quietly chatting, for hours.

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3 am and we could see stars and planets and satellites. I felt alive and happy, connected to new friends and old ones by the fire and the woods and the sounds of outside. The cabin was one hundred years old, and as I slept a little resident mouse ran back and forth along a beam near my head.

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In the morning I found moose tracks, wild strawberry plants, shooting star wildflowers, and lots of other evidence of living fauna. We had to drive over a water-logged road because Rock Creek was overflowing with runoff, muddy and fast. We were tired and happy together, breathing clean air.

 

First Yellowstone trip of the year!

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April in Yellowstone is kind of a crapshoot. You never know if you’re going to have a blizzard roll in, a bunch of hail, or a perfectly clear, beautiful evening. You could literally encounter anything- elk in your campsite, bears, unruly humans- and you have to be prepared for all those options.

We drove through Paradise Valley, past the fast-moving, brown Yellowstone River, admiring the cloud-covered peaks of the Absaroka range. We got to the Mammoth Hot Springs campground. A park ranger let us know we got the last campsite in the area (yes!!!) and we proceeded to pitch our tent on the raised platform. This was the first time we would be sleeping in our new-ish tent that we had gotten for a ridiculous steal at an REI garage sale.

After pitching our tent we drove to the terraces at Mammoth Hot Springs, and walked on the creaky boardwalks all over. The smell of sulfur belched from the ground, and there were dozens of cow elk scattered nearby, many of them pregnant. I wondered when they would be surrounded by their small, awkward calves and hoped I’d get to see some soon!

I ran into an old classmate from my Swiss college on the boardwalk as we were coming down. I hadn’t seen Heather in over seven years, and here she was! We hugged, and I shook my head in bewilderment. After attending Franklin College in Lugano, I feel so lucky to have my world be so small that I get to have experiences like that.

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Logan and I bemoaned the stupidity we already saw visitors exhibiting. We saw women try and pet the pregnant cow elk, and behind my gritted teeth I let out a vile hope that the elk would charge or kick somebody who dared to disrespect their personal space. Red dogs, or baby bison, cavorted outside our campground, and people got way…too…close…to photograph and marvel at the tiny little devils, who were dwarfed by their much larger, scarier mothers and fathers.

Yellowstone is best before Memorial Day weekend and after Labor Day, but it was still so awful to see so many people stressing out wildlife and putting themselves in danger. I usually refuse to visit after June starts because it just gets to be too much- I tend to become enraged so often seeing the ridiculous amounts of idiocy being exhibited by humans, so I just stay away.

Regardless, it was a beautiful, sunny day. Logan and I tried to go to the Boiling River, but the river was moving so swiftly, full of run off, and there were so many people crowded in the hot spots that we decided to try again tomorrow morning before too many people were awake. This plan was ultimately foiled.

We went back to our campsite and started a fire with dry grass, newspapers, and matches. We made some hot water for tea and cooked kielbasa, and then a hard wind came down, accompanied by fat, unapologetic drops of rain. We got into the car (the tent was being blown almost vertically by the rain) and waited it out. Soon, hail pelted the car. We looked at each other and wondered if we would need to get a cheap motel in Gardiner, because if the weather kept up this way there would be no way we could sleep in our tent, even with the rain fly on and it being sturdily staked in the ground. The wind was just too much!

Luckily after about 40 minutes it all subsided, leaving us with a beautiful full moon and some fluffy, nonthreatening clouds. We spent the evening eating and sitting by the fire, having a beer or two and just chatting in the way that a fire encourages people to talk. Eventually it was time to retire, and we crept into our little green tent and nestled into our sleeping bags. I slept like a rock, not waking until about 5 am, when the birds began to serenade us and the sun began to slowly make itself known. Logan stirred, and I rolled over, wanting to sleep in but also wanting to get up and get to the Boiling River.

Finally around 7 am we got up, put on bathing suits, and headed down the road. It looked like there were no cars in the lot! Yes! Upon driving closer, we saw why: the park rangers had locked the gate, which was a sure sign that the Gardner River had been deemed too fast and dangerous to stay open for visitors. We barely missed it!
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We went back to our campsite and made coffee and cooked the rest of our kielbasa for breakfast. We then decided to drive through the whole park to see what it looked like. Once we got outside Mammoth the temperature dropped rapidly, and we saw layers of snow that had been plowed off the road piled high. Mated pairs of sandhill cranes stalked in shallow streams, and we saw bison partially hidden behind curtains of billowing steam from the volcanically-heated waterways and geysers. There weren’t many people out and about, and we marveled at the sun glinting from mountain tops and how green everything was already.

On our way home, we stopped at Norris Hot Springs to soak for a bit, because we were at the bare minimum going to get to soak in at least one hot spot! Red-winged blackbirds and yellow-headed blackbirds and mountain bluebirds trilled and called from the marshland around the hot spring, and we let ourselves relax. We shouldn’t have- as I drove over the mountain pass that lies before Butte, a freak snowstorm swept over us. Massive amounts of snow were falling, and the road was quickly getting full of slow-moving, careful cars. The heat in our car gave out, and I had to ask Logan to wipe the inside windshield so that it wouldn’t freeze up and block my vision. It was late April, and we were in the middle of a fucking blizzard?! I cursed my way over the pass, knowing that as long as we went slowly and carefully we could make it to the other side.

Eventually we did! It was quite a journey. We got home after 10 hours in the car in one day and collapsed in our beds. It’s always an adventure going to Yellowstone, no matter what you expect will happen.

The Oregon Coast

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It’s pouring rain outside and the lights flickered a little bit. I thought, “thank goodness for a full computer battery and the weird little LED lantern we bought for camping”, if the power did indeed go out.

I finally these pictures scanned, and they make me feel things. We stayed in Seaside, Oregon for one night, thinking it would be the sort of resort town that idealizes life, and instead it brought out all the ugly things one pushes to the edge. We stayed at a B&B that was beautiful, but it was so windy that going outside was nearly impossible. Tried to find a good place for a martini or something strong and nice, but instead found only dive bars and tourist-y places that had the veneer coming off of them far too quickly. We did our best and found sushi, seafood, and bad mixed drinks. We saw people who go on dates to gamble, each taking a twenty dollar bill, and one bar had a garish plastic rat stuck in the wall. It was a strange town, vaguely sinister, and we were quite happy to pack up and leave. Perhaps in the summer it’s a slightly better place to be? People seem to think so!

Driving the Oregon coast was strange and beautiful. Lots of little towns strung together by a highway, some barely held together by the bookends of a church and a bar, others flourishing with multi-story buildings. Woods, rolling hills, the sea and tributaries flowing into the sea, which we followed as we drove. We got out periodically to eat, take pictures, breathe in the salty air, and relish the warmth of the already-present spring. I want to go back, very badly, but with one exception: I think Seaside, for whatever charm has made it a destination, will remain a place in my past.

A brief interlude in Portland.

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After 13 hours on a train, we got out at Union Station and took an Uber to the house we’d rented. The driver bemoaned the uptick in rent, the crazy amount of people moving into the city every day, but eagerly told us about the cherry blossoms, spring, and the local music scene.

Portland was a lot of what I had assumed- full of young people with eclectic ideas of fashion, lots of niche coffee shops (one catered entirely to basketballers and sneakerheads), and so many restaurants I wondered what the failure rate of eateries in Portland was.

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It was also a city full of theater, art, parks, and beautiful buildings tucked away in quiet places. It bridges the beautiful, deep Columbia River, and we walked over one of the bridges that link the city together, and looked at the large ships anchored on the edges of the river. We tucked ourselves away out of the expected rain in a pub dedicated to British soccer that was wonderfully grimy and character-filled. We tried to get tickets to see the Portland Trailblazers play, to no avail. I ate a lot, walked a lot, and the humidity did things to my hair. I admired Childe Hassam paintings and saw Toulouse-Lautrec lithographs and made fun of statues with historically questionable quotations attached. It was a much needed, humid, warm (er) respite from the unyielding grip of Montana winter. 27745408978_43926b02b6_c40903606394_2ea45b0872_c40903610514_a88c989bce_c

Cape Kiwanda

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It was windy, blustery, loud, and sandy, and yet so beautiful I wanted to sit down and watch the waves for hours. We walked through the dunes and emerged onto the beach, unprotected and being bombarded by wind and waves. The wind threw pieces of sea foam across the beach, and I jumped down on them as they flew in my direction. We let the wind not so much caress as assault our faces and senses, because the view was spectacular. It was unkind to people, and so we had the beach to ourselves. Everything was different, less saturated browns, greys, and greens- even the water looked dull and matte in color. Birds were whisked away by the wind and we watched them move quickly above our heads. It was too cold to stay for long, and too windy to be truly savored in the way we would have liked, but it was still epic and it made my think about the meaning of my life, how small and somewhat silly my existence is, and yet how marvelous it was for me to see this beautiful expanse of sand and sea that was so indifferent to me.

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Ruby’s Cafe

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I love hole-in-the-wall diners. The coffee is generally weak, the food semi-average, but the decor, the patrons, the chats, and the traditions that diners invite beckon me.

Logan and I tried to go to Paul’s Pancake Parlor, which apparently is amazing, but it was packed beyond belief. We drove a block and found Ruby’s Cafe, which hasn’t altered its interior decor since the 1970s, or so it seemed.

I love places that don’t budge. The Uptown Diner in downtown Missoula recently closed, and that was a big blow to the budget diner scene here. I love going places where a good chunk of the patrons are regulars, where the goal  isn’t to be hip or new. Diners are a part of Americana that don’t respond quickly to changes, and there is comfort in that. You walk in, sit in a booth, and know that the menu will have the usual options (pancakes, sausages, hashbrowns), and that the coffee, as mediocre as it may be, will be hot and full of caffeine.

It’s been over three months… so here are some updates in film.

Hello likely non-existent readers! I am not dead, nor in cryogenic suspension, nor in a coma, nor anything un-conscious.

In the last three months, I cut my hair off, which turned my wavy long hair into a short, bouncy, loose bob with full curls, and I couldn’t be happier!

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In March I turned twenty-seven, and this year I want to give fewer fucks about things I cannot control. I want to control who I give my energy to more, and where I put it. My anxiety and fears often threaten to spill over to contaminate parts of my life I don’t want them to.

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I’ve been trying to shoot medium format film that my aunt gave me for Christmas, and so far it’s been more failures than anything else but it’s been so fun giving it a try!

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Sharing space with all the critters around here, and finding that several walk the same paths that I do.

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This spring I’ve been feeling a lot of things and have been trying to go to rallies, marches, talks, and forums to help cope with and change what is happening around me. Spending time with my family and loved ones helps as well.

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It’s April and winter is not giving up quite yet. I put away my snow boots, and as I type a snow storm is raging outside our kitchen windows. The back door blew open from the gusts! It’s been miserable being teased by the seasons like this. However, we do have some beautiful buds on our trees and the beginnings of our iris flowers are poking up through the beds of leaves that covered them all winter. I cannot wait to hear more birds (we already hear northern flickers, robins, chickadees, and meadowlarks!) and see more flowers bloom. Crocuses are popping up everywhere too!

Sorry for my absence. Time never seems to make enough space to let you do everything you want to. I’ve been writing, researching, working, trying to go on runs, eat healthier, and do the self-care things I need to. That being said, I’ve got lots of thoughts and blog ideas swirling around, so I hope you’ll see more of me!

Tulips, coffee, and snow.

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I got asked what I wanted to do this weekend. “Nothing” was my reply. Proud to say I did very little, and thought a whole lot. Went on walks by the Clark Fork river to see little bird footprints on the ice that remains. Stopped by a boutique that usually has clothes I swoon over- but lately, money has been something I’ve been trying to save, and new clothes are not environment or budget friendly, and so I think I’ll save my cash for some thrifted things from Goodwill the next time I feel like I need a new physical object in my life. 39697840161_d1bfd3b833_c39697844731_71afa22233_c

Logan and I went to the movies, to see “The Shape of Water”, and I cried so hard during that I had to re-apply my eyeliner after. We ate popcorn and marveled at the amazing soundtrack and how Guillermo del Toro created a movie that is so beautiful and strange. We drink gin in a dark, crowded bar with friends. I scared away a man who was attempting to gain my and a female friend’s affections after finding my coat on the floor, because I was looking at a beautiful painting of a woman’s spread legs called L’Origen du Monde, by Gustave Courbet, on my phone. This late-19th century painting is so gorgeous, with rich tones and loving details. The man walked away clearly thinking I was a pervert, and I stated, “you came from one” as he left. Nothing draws in men and scares them away quite like vaginas.

We made breakfast one morning, scrambled eggs and cottage bacon, with strong coffee and watching the snow slide off in heavy chunks from our neighbor’s metal roof. Part of our fence came off due to the weight of the wet, wet snow. I found cat tracks in our yard- we have two cats, one very beautiful and black and smart, one orange tabby that is very stupid, and they seem to like meandering through our yard. We watched a lot of “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” on Netflix, and my lust for vintage cars and their curves and impracticalities has arisen again, as it does periodically.

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One afternoon, I wracked my brain trying to think of somewhere to have a glass of wine and read- and came up with nothing. Nowhere in my town has a space that is cozy, private-ish, and serves alcohol. Everywhere is sleek, open, trendy, or too dark for reading. I found myself with a shortbread baked good and a latte instead.

I bought tulips on a whim because we’ve got a minimum of four months of winter to go, and damn the lack of flora here. Perhaps it’s the Dutch in me, but I find tulips to be the best flowers, even if they don’t smell (fun fact thought: the Dutch brought their tulips from Turkey). Even as these red and yellow little things have been in our house today they’ve opened up a tiny bit, drinking in the light that flows in through our big windows.

In short, this weekend was quiet, slow, and not planned in any way. I spent a lot of time thinking about details, observing things, having cold hands, and not feeling the need to get anything done.

Books, mornings, and priorities.

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The other night, as my film scanner hummed, showing me what the chemical baths had done while they danced with my film, a good friend was over and we were chatting about what mattered. Books, travel, good friends, good wine, being kind, and loving, loving, loving. She left here with two books to borrow, and I will borrow a few from her. I’ve been loaning books out more, because they do no good just sitting on our shelves.

I loaned her The City of Fallen Angels, a book by John Berendt, about a mysterious fire in a famous opera house in Venice. In one or more ways, there are characters who are connected, be they corrupt Italian businessmen, old Venetian glass-making families, writers who had boxes there, etc. and he weaves together a tale of an old, eccentric, rapidly-changing but still very traditional city. It was one book that I bought this year and have re-read twice.

I loaned my mother the new book The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore. Kate, who is not a historian, nonetheless went headfirst into doing amazing research to reveal the true stories of the thousands of women who were employed in radium dial painting factories in the first half of the 20th century, and who often got sick and/or died due to ingesting and working with the radioactive substance. Government ignorance, corporate greed, a poorly-working legal system, and the fact that these women were often working class meant that many died before their stories could be properly heard, and many didn’t even know what was causing them to have brittle, broken bones or cancers that suddenly appeared on their youthful bodies. It made me send out many thankful, grateful thoughts to those brave women, and our worker safety systems and legal system are now much more comprehensive because of what these women did. It was one of the books i devoured in Hawai’i, as pictured above.

It’s been snowing relentlessly here, and I’ve been in a more combative mood being inside and working as much as I have been, with little to no sunlight for me to enjoy. However, one of the best parts of my days have been waking up early, getting dressed, packing a book (right now I’m reading Season of the Witch: How the Occult Saved Rock and Roll by Peter Bebergal) and walking in the snow, which camouflages my footsteps, and making my way in the quiet morning before most people are up, and walking the mile or so to a coffee house to read and hold a hot cup of caffeine in my hands for a few minutes before going to work. Mornings are sacred to me, in that they are quiet, private, and much more likely to be not interrupted by the same going-ons that happen at night. Drunken men unaware of personal space, loud trucks zooming about, groups of people huddled like penguins slowly making their way to a bar or a restaurant. None of that is there in the mornings, and I love the purposefulness of them. Nobody tries to make the world too aware of themselves before the sun is up, and I dearly love it.

Something else I love and miss is traveling. The friend that stayed with us talked about going to France with her fiance this summer, because they both have kept their heads down and have been working so hard for so long, they feel they need to look up, look around, and go do something. I told her she needs to not question it, find a flight, and book it before she can say no to herself. Americans love to suffer, to struggle, and to glorify the two. We take pride being the last sucker at work or the first one in the office. She knows this, and both of us feel shame at wanting to go and spend money on trips and on good food, but I feel that my quality of life is so much better when there is something planned, something to look forward to. Keeping ones head down and just working with your eyes forward means you never get to see as much, and I think that even though we have horrible wage stagnation, most of us have lots of student debt, and most of us will never dream of owning real estate or new cars, that we can still do and live and breathe and thrive. We can thriftily plan a trip across the sea so we can give hugs to loved ones not seen in ages, or buy a nice block of expensive cheese here are there. Denying oneself constantly is foolish, and while last year was a huge exercise in no to such Epicurean joys due to my unemployment, now that I am gainfully employed I feel so much better about going to a nice dinner with my boyfriend, about dressing up or spending a little money on something that matters to me, like saving for my trip to Brazil to see Logan at the end of the year or booking a cabin somewhere quiet.

This post has been longer than I planned, but once I am inside my mind darts back and forth like an excited bird in a cage. I have written about how one has much time to think during the long, dark winters here in Montana, and mine is not immune to that. I’ve been quietly trying to write more and be more generous with my writing, especially here.

A happy accident- shooting with Kodak Portra

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My dearest aunt knew I wanted Kodak Portra film for Christmas.

However, when I opened up the box, out came two beautiful boxes of Portra, but in medium format!

I rarely shoot 120mm film, mostly because the camera I have that uses 120mm film is old and not the most high quality machine in the world. It’s a 70+ year old Argus Argoflex TLR, with a Bakelite body and a not-super-bright viewfinder. Nonetheless, if I am patient, it can give me lovely images that make me quite happy. I knew that I needed to just use the film and take advantage of the fact that this lovely camera I got at a garage sale would never again have such high-quality film inside of it ever again.

If you don’t know, Kodak Portra is considered one of the gold-standard films out there. It’s grain, skin tones, and color are generally accepted to be the best. As such, it’s not cheap. I’ve never myself splurged on Portra, except for a roll here or there, and I’ve always been so happy with how rich the blues are, how perfect the creams and yellows show, and how alive my film feels once I scan it in.

So, here are a few shots from my wee little old camera, armed with some of the nicest film I have ever been lucky enough to shoot. Some moments by the icy Clark Fork, a quiet sunny moment in my favorite bakery, a still-life on our large kitchen table, and waiting for the car to warm up. Unexciting but still real, felt points in time and space.

Montana in reality.

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39555871392_62f6eab42f_c24717623767_97060edd7d_c27808798589_058f140e58_cMontana is a myth. It’s a myth of fly-fishing paradise, quiet valleys all to yourself, the biggest, starriest sky, the friendliest folks, and the Last Best Place. It’s where people like Justin Timberlake and John Mayer come to “find themselves”- which really means, they’ll go to Big Sky or the Gallatin Valley to be around other ridiculously rich people, just in a more rural setting, to play pretend when they drop into a dive bar. A year or so after they come, they’ll produce albums with ridiculous titles, where they’re draped in blankets or something rugged and look like they’ve been busy doing things outdoorsy.

I prickle at all of that. It’s all fluff and disconnected from the reality of a lot of us who dig our cars out of the drifts made by the plows- if you’re lucky enough to live somewhere the plows actually come. It’s de-frosting your car with a hairdryer because freezing rain made it impossible to open your doors. It’s waking up on Christmas Eve to -25F and drinking hot tea like it’s your lifeblood because it’s so fucking cold out. Everybody looks uglier with 4-5 layers on, and hypothermia ain’t cute either. It’s breathing in the forest fire smoke in the summer and accidentally finding yourself hot-springing with people who will later have sex, actual sex, in the hot spring while you’re turned around (which is very rude, and also not sanitary). It’s waking up to the opening of rifle season and having it sound like World War I outside, but it’s really just the first day of hunting. It’s carrying bear spray when you hike because they’re real and out there, and you’re so glad they are. Montana is realizing the sleeping bag you brought is not nearly warm enough in May, because May in Montana is a camping crapshoot.

I say all of this knowing that I have fully fallen under the spell of Montana’s charms. I’m lucky enough to have been raised here. I’ve stared at the sky, come across fresh bear tracks, heard elk bugle, and I’ve seen otters play in the river. But those are precious moments, not normal at all. Something about seeing Montana so totally glossed over, made into something poetic and so #hashtag worthy, just fools you into thinking it’s all craft breweries, perfect campfires, tying flies, star gazing, and downhill skiing with a side of rugged, outdoorsy Hemingway-esque masculinity. In reality, the reason that there is so much literature about this place that inspires others is because you can do a lot of thinking when you’re stuck inside for months at a time. Having such a long, cold, dark winter makes us go crazy in the summer. We relish spring because Primavera is a flighty wench here, gracing us for only a few weeks. Autumn is even more fickle, coming only if she decides to, while Winter may stay into June or come as early as September.

As such, here are some recent photographs from my cheap new phone, of that long, dark Winter. Of us really having to blowdry our car doors open, with two extension cords to get the damn thing all the way out to the car.

2017, you can rot in hell, but I’ll remember you fondly.

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Wow, 2017, what a simultaneous adrenaline rush of a year. I felt like I was always battling a dumpster fire outside my house but also consistently smiling while doing it.

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Biggest accomplishments: Writing a really, really solid thesis I was super proud of, defending it, and getting my Master of the Arts degree from University of Victoria. I got to write about an incredible, strong, funny, complex, and real woman named Evelyn Cameron, who settled in Terry, Montana in 1891 and died there in 1928.

Also, having a military professor at a school in British Columbia tell me he was grossed out by my conference presentation in Qualicum regarding blood transfusion techniques in World War I.

Getting to move in with Logan in our little yellow house. We dated long distance while I was in graduate school and have only ever gotten to spend a few months at a time with each other. Moving in with somebody, which I’ve never done, was terrifying and a fucking blast. We managed to get our shit together and put everything we owned (very little) and donated furniture (a lot) into a U-Haul and a truck and unpack it all, without injuries. However, at the end of it, Logan did say “you’re about 70% weaker than I thought”. Oops!

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Biggest setback: Spending four months unemployed in Missoula, feeling like a garbage person and having really really bad mental health days. Being unemployed as somebody with an advanced degree, a good work ethic, and an able body was humiliating and uncomfortable. Sorry to anybody I vented to a bit too much during that time- I felt paralyzed with frustration, anger, and fear.

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Places I went to: We went to Glacier National Park in July, and did some hiking and photographing up at Logan Pass! I made Logan take a picture in front of the Logan Pass sign, which he did but only begrudgingly.

Logan surprised me with tickets to see Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds in San Francisco, so we went and stayed with my friend Adrienne. We got to soak in an Edvard Munch show at the SFMOMA, which was absolutely a joy, eat some really good Malaysian food, pho, and see the famous/infamous San Francisco Bay fog creep up all around us. At the Nick Cave concert I openly wept a few times.  It was amazing.

In March I surprised Logan as he flew back to the States from Brazil and we got to see Patti Smith with our friend Mary, who has been busy kicking ass in law school. We also go to see the Guillermo del Toro show at the Minneapolis Museum of Art! It was so wicked to see the props and the art that influenced his films, which I love so much.

In May I went to Cape Cod with my family to see my dad’s side of our family, and I got to spend time by the Atlantic, bought a really lovely dress, ate a lot of amazing food in Provincetown with my aunts, and saw Exa, my amazing friend from Boston. 35305006476_a766fbd820_c

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Goals I set in 2017:

To photograph myself more, and not hide behind the lens as much. I did this quietly, in the morning, on my long walks before most people were out. I still get too nervous to ask people to take my picture!

To get my MA done this year on time! Somehow, with a really intense writing schedule from my thesis supervisor (Thanks Dr. Cleves!) it happened. It not only happened, but I got to write something I would call compelling, and I seriously enjoyed putting my thesis together and molding it from a pile of documents and a lot of muddled thoughts.

To roll with the punches more. I am a bit controlling and introverted at times, as I have spent much of my adult life living in places without a lot of friends or people to check in with, and as such I have become independent to the point that to this day it’s difficult for me to let others drive me around or trust that when Logan goes to the store he’ll get everything we need.

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For 2018 I want to: 

Learn Portuguese really, really well so that when I go to Brazil this year I can speak and understand what people are saying, or at least some of it.

Save more money so that the things I need (a visa to Brazil, plane tickets, student loan money) are taken care of and there’s a little left over.

To photograph more medium format film- I haven’t shot more than ten rolls of 120 film in my life, but I always love it, and I love scanning it in. The perfect square is also a very satisfying thing to look at, and the negatives are SO BIG and BEAUTIFUL!

To watch more film noir and crochet more. In 2015, while I worked a really awful job with the worst boss(es) you could possibly imagine, the only thing that saved my sanity was coming home, watching an old movie, and making something with my hands.

Make photographs I am proud of and get more creative with my photographs. Maybe even make a little money off of them this year!

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