Monday, September 3, 2018

My Blog Has Moved

Hi All!

The time has come for my blog to make the move over to WordPress. All new posts can be found at I hope you'll wander over, take a look, and subscribe so you'll get email updates everytime I post something new. Thanks for following my journey this far and I hope you'll stay in touch through my new site.

Thank you,

Friday, June 22, 2018

Four Years an Oregonian!

"We can only be said to be alive in those moments
when our hearts are conscious of our treasures."

~Thornton Wilder~
Today I celebrate my fourth year as an Oregonian. On this day, four years ago, I arrived in Portland after driving 2,000 miles over the span of three days from Wisconsin, car packed to the brim with only the essentials: Cole, my camera, camping gear, laptop, bike, and clothes. The laptop crashed somewhere in Utah and my bike was stolen within 6-months of arriving in Portland but Cole and I remain intact. Since that blustery hot day of my arrival, I have been on a mission to explore the Pacific Northwest in every direction, feeding my soul with all that the area has to offer and this past year has been no exception. In addition to my adventures in nature that I've come to expect year after year, there have been a few transformational occurrences as well.

I hiked the Bayocean Penninsula on the coast, the Deschutes River in the Columbia River Gorge, and various trails in Forest Park in Portland. I camped and hiked with friends at Northrup Creek in the Clatsop State Forest and took several road trips to Eastern Oregon exploring rivers, waterfalls, state parks, and abandoned towns and buildings. I also took several road trips to the coast to explore beaches, state parks, islands, and creeks. Most memorable this year, I took a day trip to Panther Creek Falls on the Washington side of the Columbia River. Not only is it memorable because of the slackliner I got to watch balance high above the rocks below while Panther Creek Falls rushed down in the background, but that was the day the Eagle Creek fire broke out, forever altering roughly 50,000 acres of the pristine landscape on the Oregon side of the Columbia River.

Outside of my adventures in nature, there were a handful of other excursions this year as well. Thousands of people flocked to Oregon for a front row seat to the solar eclipse. I chose to stay put in Portland but I did wander over to the Willamette River waterfront to photograph the people that gathered there to watch the eclipse. I finally attended the Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival this year, albeit on a rather rainy and muddy afternoon. As has become a yearly tradition, I attended all three nights of the Banff Center Mountain Film Festival at Cinema 21, an event that always stokes my appreciation for the outdoors, the triumph of the human spirit, and the art of filmmaking. For the first year ever, Cole, looking quite dapper in his pug-tux, and I attended the Pug Crawl, a fundraiser for the Oregon Humane Society. I spent the fourth of July with a friend in the West Hills and had a panoramic view of everyone's fireworks display, from Vancouver to Gresham. And what year would be complete without a couple of concerts? This past year I got to see Leif Vollebekk perform at the Doug Fir Lounge and the Wood Brothers at the Crystal Ballroom, both spectacular shows.

After suffering some health issues suspected to be chronic fatigue, I learned to slow down and began exploring the concept of minimalism. I quickly realized that minimalism was helping me to focus on what was most important in my life and the things that truly mattered. I began hosting monthly dinner parties as an opportunity to stretch my culinary muscle while also spending quality time with the people who are important to me. I sold and donated many of my belongings, including chopping off 8-inches of my hair. I also realized that financial freedom was one very big key to so many things that I had been seeking so I decided to sell my car, and downsize to a studio apartment to save money and pay off debts. It also helped me decide that it was time to finally drop my ex-husband's last name and choose a whole new last name to start a legacy that was truly mine, all while honoring Cole's significance in my life.

My photography endeavors were as varied as my experiences this past year. I finally began my Legacy project, a portrait and storytelling series of childless women over the age of 60. I opened my Etsy shop to sell photographic prints and merchandise and also converted my photography website to a new (and free) platform. I launched a new second website that helps the female traveler and her canine companion navigate all that Oregon has to offer a nature enthusiast. I had my first photographs published in a book and I also participated in my first ever PDX Squared photo contest. I learned of the Immigrant Story at one of the brown bag lectures at the Portland Art Museum and felt compelled to get involved so I started volunteering as a writer/photographer with their organization dedicated to combating xenophobia. Lastly, I donated again to the annual ShelterCare Art Gives Hope fundraiser, this year two color prints on glass, while also attending the event in Eugene to see the bidders in action.

As usual, Cole was by my side throughout all of the adventures this year, having a spectacular time hanging his head out the car window, running on beaches, leading the way on hiking trails, and getting in some quality play time with his pug friends. Unfortunately, he suffered some setbacks too including a urinary tract infection, an ear infection, a ripped dew claw from playing so hard during a playdate, a stomach bug that had both of us not feeling so hot, and even a strained leg muscle from overdoing it at the dog park shortly after our move to our new neighborhood. It seems his age may be starting to catch up with him so I got him some stairs to help make getting on and off the bed a little easier, as well as a nice big comfy dog bed, in case he ever not feels up for the climb into bed.

I, too, have dealt with my own fair share of health issues this past year. In addition to the chronic fatigue, I have experienced a lot more than normal back issues. After yet another muscle pull that had me laid up for three days, I decided to talk to my primary care physician to see if we could do some new imaging to get an idea on what's been going on in my back since my surgery 13 years ago. That imaging accidentally found a mass on my kidney, suspected to be kidney cancer, which would have otherwise gone unnoticed for possibly another decade. Never have I been so grateful for my chronic back issues until now. I am now awaiting surgery scheduled for July 20th to remove the mass via a robotic-assisted laparoscopic partial nephrectomy. I am looking at a 6-week recovery time but then should be as good as new again and can resume my Pacific Northwest adventures with Cole.

Overall, it has been quite the year. Despite not having family nearby, I still feel truly lucky to call Oregon home. There are so many beautiful natural places, talented artists, and delicious food spots. I've come to greater appreciate the friends I've made and connections I've built with my coworkers since moving here. So much has happened in the four years since that day I took a leap of faith and decided to pursue a new life in the Pacific Northwest. With a renewed appreciation for the fragility that is each of our lives, I look forward to seeing what this next year brings. I suspect the sunsets will look a little more colorful, the spring flowers will smell a little sweeter, and my bucket list will have a little fewer items left unchecked.

Watch this video for a tribute to
my fourth year as an Oregonian.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Lucky Accidents

Peter Iredale shipwreck at Fort Stevens State Park
I've found myself rather busy these past few months. I completed the transition of my photography website to a new (and virtually free) platform, I saw the Wood Brothers perform at the Crystal Ballroom, and my (aka Bender's) guacamole recipe won the appetizer category of a charity cook-off event. Cole and I traveled with a friend to Astoria for the opening of Austin Granger's Correspondence exhibit at the Lightbox Gallery followed by a quick visit to Fort Stevens State Park to catch the Peter Iredale shipwreck amid a spectacular sunset.

Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival
I hosted a housewarming/birthday party on St. Patrick's day and even had the opportunity to grab a birthday drink a couple days later with a previously Facebook-only friend who just happened to be in town for a night while traveling back to Michigan. I was treated to a spectacular performance of Hamilton at the Keller Auditorium after a lovely dinner on the opening day of the eagerly anticipated Porter Hotel. I resumed hosting my Second Saturday Soirees and finally attended the very muddy Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival in Woodburn one rainy afternoon.

Urban Landscape submission for PDX Squared 2018
Keeping with tradition, I attended all three nights of the Banff Center Mountain Film Festival World Tour at Cinema 21 and also started volunteering with an amazing organization called The Immigrant Story as a photographer/writer. I donated another two prints to ShelterCare's Art Gives Hope fundraiser in Eugene and went head to head with a hitchhiking yellow sac spider in the rental car on the way home the night of the event. I participated for the first time ever in the annual PDX Squared photo contest as well as the Oregon Humane Society's Pug Crawl parade.

Hiking in Forest Park on Memorial Day
And last but not least, completed my first hike of the season with a small group of friends in Forest Park on Memorial Day.

Amid all of that fun, I suffered several incidents where my back went out. Realizing that it had been 13 years since my back surgery, I figured it might be useful to get some new imaging done to see if it could help explain what was going on. My primary care physician at Legacy Medical Group scheduled an MRI for May 26th. Shockingly, that scan didn't provide a lot of useful information to explain my back pain but did reveal a 3.4 cm mass on my left kidney which would have otherwise gone unnoticed, possibly for another 10 years.  A CT scan was immediately scheduled for May 31st to get a closer look. That image showed information that was not reassuring to my primary care physician so I was referred to a urologist at the Oregon Clinic. After meeting with the urologist on June 7th, it was determined the best course of treatment would be to perform a robotic-assisted laparoscopic partial nephrectomy to remove the mass, suspected to be kidney cancer.

Swimming in the very large hospital gown pre-MRI
The four-hour surgery will be performed on Friday, July 20th at Adventist Medical Center in Portland. After at least 2-nights in the hospital, recovery at home is expected to take 6-weeks. During that time, without family nearby, I will need to rely on friends in the Portland-area to help care for Cole, prepare meals, get to and from doctor appointments, and pick up prescriptions. As a rather self-sufficient, independent, type-A personality who has been taking care of myself pretty much since the age of 16, this is going to prove to be a rather a difficult process for me. All in all, I realize I am incredibly lucky. The mass was caught early and I am expected to be deemed cancer-free as soon as it is removed from my body. I should not need any radiation or chemotherapy, they'll just need to monitor my kidney with CT scans and/or ultrasounds for approximately 7-years to make sure the mass doesn't come back. Once fully recovered from surgery, I should not notice any difference in my day to day life and I should be able to resume my adventures with Cole and friends exploring and photographing the Pacific Northwest and beyond.

If you would like to keep current with my condition and recovery please visit my Meal Train site. To help financially, you may make a donation through that site, or you can help by purchasing one of my photography prints here.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

The Birth of a Legacy: Kristin Cole Photography

Dear Followers,

Once upon a time, I was married. Twice in fact, but this post is about the last time, not the first time I was married. This second marriage is how I came to have the last name of Roosmalen. I'm not married anymore, so why do I still have this last name? Having changed my last name from Sowinski to Kleifgen and then back to Sowinski after my first marriage ended, and then to Roosmalen after the second marriage, I was not eager to go through the name change process yet again after the second divorce. During my second marriage, I had also done a lot of work to make a name for myself in the community and develop connections with people throughout the country and other parts of the world. Part of me was worried I'd lose some of my social capital by changing my name. I figured it was just a name. What did it really matter? As years went by, I slowly began to regret my decision.

The relationship with my ex-husband ended in the most absurd act when he chose Valentine's day as the day to confess he never loved me and that he wanted a divorce. As if that were not enough, I also learned he was having an affair with a woman in his accounting class. They had even spent time in our home while I was away on the east coast for a work trip. Our entire relationship was a lie.  Every day for five years he told me he loved me. Every. Single. Day. These were not small "I love you's", they were arms stretched as wide as they could reach to convey how much he loved me "I love you's". And every bit of it was a lie and I had no idea. If a person I trusted and loved could hide the truth like this from me, how in the world would I ever trust another person again? This is something that plagued my life (and relationships) for years. At one point after the divorce, I even contemplated suicide. It was not a good time to be me.

Fast forward nine years later to today and I'm living my dream of living in and photographing Oregon and it's pretty darn amazing. When it comes to my photography, I've received awards, had work accepted into juried shows and included in art auctions, have been published in books, and have even given public presentations. I've truly begun to make a name for myself in the photographic community. But wait. It's not my name at all. It's HIS name. I decided 2018 would be the year I would officially put that all behind me and reclaim my identity. After a simple online search, I discovered it was quite easy for one to change their last name in Oregon. All I needed to do was simply fill out a form, pay a fee with the cashier at the courthouse, and wait for the paperwork to come in the mail. All I needed to do to get the ball rolling was choose my new last name. My first thought was to go back to my maiden name but something about that didn't quite feel right. So if I didn't want to go back to my maiden name, and I could choose any name I wanted, what name should I choose?

As I've been working on my photography these past few years, I have given a lot of thought to my art, my brand, and my life. What does it all stand for? What do I want my legacy to be? What name would encapsulate the essence of all the answers to those questions? It didn't take long for a name to come to mind: Cole. My pug, Cole, came into my life shortly after my marriage ended and I took a new job managing an animal shelter. Cole was surrendered by a woman who recently went through her own divorce and found she didn't have the time for him that he needed. I instantly fell in love with him while filling out his surrender paperwork and quickly proclaimed to the other staff members that I would be adopting him. Although that job ended up being a bit of a disaster, I'm fairly certain it was destined to be so he and I could meet. We were both abandoned by those who were supposed to love us most. We shared a deep scar that no one else could see but us.

I often refer to Cole as the best thing that ever happened to me. He has remained steadfast in all of my adventures. He rides shotgun on every road trip and snuggles into my sleeping bag at night on each camping trip. Every great photo I capture and share, it is he who is by my side, just out of the frame. He's watched each time as I packed up our belongings and moved us either across the country or just across the city. He sleeps by my side every night and snuggles with me every morning, it's truly a miracle I ever get out of bed and to work. I rarely feel lonely because he's always curiously watching me every step of the way and interjecting his own antics along the way that make me laugh. He brings great joy not just to my life but to everyone we meet along the way. Ask anyone who has ever met him and they can attest to what a special little soul he is.

Cole is a kind, adventurous, loving, and beautiful little being that is thoroughly infused into every trip to the coast and hike into the mountains of my Pacific Northwest adventures. He is just as much a part of the creative process as I am. He represents everything I want my life to stand for. What better way to honor the importance he has in my life and to create a legacy through my art that will live long after his time here is complete? Cue the birth of Kristin Cole and Kristin Cole Photography. As I begin to change my name on social media, I hope you'll remember my journey to this name and what it stands for when you see it. Cole and I still have many more adventures to look forward to, I hope you'll continue to follow along on our journey.


Kristin Cole

Sunday, February 18, 2018

New Year, New Beginnings

Cole and his buddy Spike pooped out on New Years Eve
Cole and I rang in the New Year with a very small group of friends at home. We ate pizza and played games while the dogs played games of their own. We called it a night shortly after watching the ball drop. It was a wonderful, impromptu, low-key night and exactly what the doctor ordered after my rough end to the year. Since my apartment lease was up for renewal just around the time the new hotel next door was nearing completion, I decided to look around town and see what else was out there. It didn't take long at all to find a super cute studio apartment in Northwest Portland near all my favorite shops and restaurants. Since the place I was living at was unwilling to negotiate the rent increase and the place was running such a great deal on rent, I put in my notice and spent the next month or so preparing to downsize before the move. I sold a lot more things including my couch, coffee table, end table, dresser, and several pieces of art.

Cole on moving day
Unfortunately, this is right about the time my old back issues stopped in for a visit not just once, but three times within the month. I began to worry that I might be approaching the need for another back surgery, after all, it had been 13 years since my last one. Luckily, a round of oral steroids seemed to do the trick and I was able to productively participate in my own move last week, with the help of my amazing friends! The move itself started off a little rocky: there were significant issues picking up the U-Haul (note to all of you out there: don't opt for the "self-pickup" at the U-Haul on NW Quimby St in Portland, Oregon). I also was blessed with the pleasure of getting stuck at the train crossing both coming and going. To add to it, my IKEA bed frame did not want to come apart and since it would not fit in the elevator, my poor friends had to finagle it down three flights of steps. In the essence of efficiency, I had ordered pizza and beer earlier in the day to be delivered to the new place at 8pm but the delivery person came early and called me while we were stuck at the train crossing so she had to wait a bit for us to get there, hence we enjoyed warmish pizza and slightly warmer than optimal beer. After that, things went much smoother and the unloading went pretty quick. We all hung out drinking beer and cider in the new place until around 11pm or so before everyone went their own ways. After returning the U-Haul, and taking Cole for a quick walk, I fell fast asleep in my new place. The next day I unpacked, hung pictures, and recycled my moving boxes in less than three hours. It quickly felt like home and I was immediately happy with my decision to relocate and downsize.

Great light in the new place!
Now being car-less and a couple miles from work instead of right across the street, I have become a public transit commuter and with that brings all sorts of new adventures in Portland. This past week of commuting to work has gone fairly well. The morning commute is pretty quick and painless but for some reason, the commute home seems to take longer than it should. One night after work, I missed the streetcar by about 10 seconds which was super frustrating and Thursday night the streetcar had to shut down at one point due to a malfunction in the rails at an interchange section leaving me to hoof it on foot a good deal of the rest of the way home. One morning after I got off the streetcar to work, a saw a car blow through an intersection downtown and narrowly miss getting hit by the Max (light rail) by a mere second or two. That would have been a disaster for so many people! 

Cole's new comfy dog bed
I took Cole to Wallace Park last weekend to check out the dog park and to introduce ourselves to the neighborhood. As expected, Cole played hard with the big dogs. He ran around and around for about an hour or so until he appeared to be tired and ready to go home. Unfortunately, as soon as we left and began walking home, it became clear he was moving slower than usual. Once we got home, I could easily see that he was limping and by the end of the night, he appeared to not want to put much pressure on his left, back leg at all. I got him in for an appointment on Tuesday morning with his vet and the diagnosis was fairly good: just a strained muscle. He was prescribed five days of anti-inflammatories and appears to be doing well now but still needs an x-ray during his next dental cleaning appointment in April to see if anything more serious is going on and/or if we need to adjust his activity level, in case the x-rays show arthritis. It's hard for me to believe Cole is a senior pug, he's always been so active and athletic. I guess time catches up with everyone but part of me hoped he would somehow just live forever.  Today I picked up a nice plush and cushy dog bed for him so if he doesn't want to jump up on the furniture, he can comfortably rest at floor level. I'm also going to look into getting some steps for him to use to get on the bed. The hardwood floors in the new place are a bit slick for him and several times now he's failed to land in bed with his running jump starts, definitely not good for his aging body. Nonetheless, we will adjust to the demands his aging body requires and will find a way to keep the adventures going as long as he is comfortable doing so.

Soon, spring will be here and we're looking forward to all the blooming flowers and photo opportunities they present. Until then, Cole and I are holding up in our beautiful new space with great books, food, music, and wine to pass the time. Be sure to check out my new Oregon travel blog and Etsy shop when you have time, I'll be updating both soon in the coming weeks! 

Kristin Roosmalen Photography on Etsy

"Thinking "here goes nothing" could be the start of everything."

~ Drew Wagner~

Sunday, December 31, 2017

A Look Back at 2017

I'm fairly certain this recaps my feelings about the past year fairly accurately. In all seriousness, between politics, relationships, natural (and man-made) disasters, finances, and health, 2017 has been one of the most difficult years I can remember. That's not to say there weren't good things that happened too. Overall, it's been a challenging and transformative year and hopefully, that means something good for the year to come.

On some levels, the year started out well. I had just left my roommate situation in St. Johns and moved into my new apartment downtown alone which was so good for my mental health. I had found a wonderful therapist who I was seeing on a weekly basis. Shortly after the move, I started dating and subsequently fell in love with an amazing guy while simultaneously diving head first into my photography. I had just received an honorable mention in Coast Weekend's photo contest, did my first No Strings hanging at Blue Sky Gallery, and had a photo included in the MemberSPACE show at Newspace Center for Photography.  I was also elected to the Board of Directors for the Portland Photographers Forum, was running monthly networking Meetups at Blue Sky Gallery while also doing monthly gallery sitting shifts there too on top of my weekly Saturday volunteer shifts at Newspace Center for Photography. I had also been asked again to donate two photographs to Expressions, the annual art auction for ShelterCare's homelessness prevention program. Meanwhile, Juan and I were spending lots of time together going to concerts, film festivals, artist talks, walks, movies, watching football, and going out to eat. We took a weekend trip to San Francisco shortly before my birthday and had plans for several more trips on the horizon. On my birthday I learned that a photo I submitted to Lightbox Gallery in Astoria was selected to be included in a month-long exhibition. But that's when things took a turn. Juan had been struggling with his own mental health issues for some time and two days after my birthday, unexpectedly and suddenly broke things off between us to work on them. I understood he needed to do what was best for him but was devastated nonetheless. I had come to love him, something I never told him, and thought he was someone I could spend the rest of my life with. The months that followed were extremely difficult for me emotionally, and honestly, still are on certain levels.

Two days after the breakup, I was scheduled to present a collection of my photographs at Newspace Center for Photography as part of their Slideshow night. I was uncertain how I was going to get through it. To get up in front of a large group of people and talk so openly about something that was so personal to me in the midst of the pain I was going through seemed nearly impossible without breaking down. Luckily, I was stronger than I realized because I not only did well, but my work was well-received and several folks came up to me afterward to talk to me about it. Not too long after that, I attended the opening of the very first exhibition, Kinesis, in the new coSPACE gallery of Newspace, in which four of my photographs were on display. I went directly from that show to Astoria for the weekend to attend the opening of my other show at Lightbox Gallery. I had to keep putting one foot in front of the other and outwardly successfully did so but not without a lot of struggle internally. I was worried about Juan, I was frustrated that he pushed me away, and I was angry at myself that I wasn't fully present and enjoying my photographic successes. To top it all off, we had a new administration to contend with that made each day a new nightmare to wake up to. I was missing my family and friends in Wisconsin so much and felt so alone and far from home. I broke down and cried every day when I was alone, sometimes before I could even make it into my apartment after work.

I figured the only way to get through all of that was to keep moving forward. I continued my work with all of my volunteer endeavors as well as my meetings with a subset group of people from the photo critique group at Newspace to launch a new photography zine called 1/2 Stop. I did the event photography for Pacific Northwest Hospice Foundation's annual gala, had three photographs included in the Oregon Society for Artists show and did my first photo shoot and interview as part of my newly crafted Legacy project. A remodel at work presented an opportunity for employees to have their art hung and I happily contributed a handful of photographs to display. I was still struggling with the breakup though and decided to take the money I had set aside for a trip to Spain with Juan to fly my best friend, Lana, from Wisconsin out for a visit. She too had recently gone through a breakup so the timing was perfect for us to be together. I planned an action-packed three days for us and showed her around Portland, the coast, the Gorge, and even Mt. Hood, introducing her to some of my friends along the way. Shortly after she left, I got really sick, yet again. A theme that had seemed to be developing over the past few years.

In a desperate attempt to help move on from the Juan breakup, I decided to try dating again, mainly as a distraction. It didn't take long though to meet someone who I surprisingly really liked and the day Lana flew back to Wisconsin, I had a first date with Matt. He and I took things really slow at first. He knew I was fresh out of a difficult breakup and seemed very understanding of that. We went out to dinners, drives through the Gorge, hiking, movies, and even a Memorial Day Weekend trip to Bandon. In the meantime, I learned that I suffered from chronic fatigue and needed to make some big lifestyle changes if I didn't want things to get significantly, and possibly permanently, worse. So I made the difficult decision to quit everything in my life except my job and relationship with Matt. In time, I met Matt's dad's side of the family and was pleasantly surprised to learn how nice everyone was. We soon decided to make things official between us and shortly thereafter even decided to move in together in the fall. But then some family issues in Pennsylvania called him away for what was supposed to be a week but in fact turned into almost a month. Without all of my activities to keep me busy, it was difficult not to overthink the situation and how we communicated long distance and dealt with stress. After his return from Pennsylvania and shortly after meeting one of his close friends, I learned he wasn't ready to move in together after all. Something about that last month or so didn't seem right and with this new information, I made the difficult decision to end the relationship altogether. I think part of me also knew that I wasn't really over Juan either so it was the best thing to do for both of us.

After that breakup, I decided to focus more strongly on my minimalism journey which I had started earlier in the year. I was still struggling with insomnia pretty bad and through minimalism, I was hoping I could reduce my stress level and focus on my mental and physical health more. Minimalism helped me focus on what was most important to me in other areas as well which birthed the idea for my Second Saturday Soirees in which I pushed my culinary comfort zone and gathered friends once a month for a feast. This fall, Cole and I began taking long walks in the mornings to explore and photograph different neighborhoods of Portland. I started doing more road trips with Cole to the coast, through the Gorge, and in Eastern Oregon. I began to think about my photography from a business perspective again and launched an Etsy site which seemed more easily marketable than my website to sell prints. I also began to focus more on my travel writing and launched a new website devoted to traveling in Oregon, Almost-Solo Nature Junkie. To help promote it, I created an Instagram account for Cole and started to get more active on Twitter.

Most recently, I came to the conclusion that I needed to make another big change in my life. In order to better pursue my dreams of traveling, I need to have true financial freedom. Without debt, the possibilities of where I can go are virtually endless. I made the difficult decision to sell my car, coincidentally exactly three years from the day I purchased it.  The process of driving to the sale was unexpectedly emotional, I didn't realize I would have such a strong reaction to letting it go. I couldn't get past how it felt as if I was abandoning my best friend and I cried all the way there and off and on the rest of the day. I had so many good memories wrapped up in that car, roadtripping with Cole, exploring thousands of miles of Oregon, Washington, and California over the last three years. Now is the time to focus on the positive though. I will use the money saved from that expense to pay off my credit card and old medical debt. It's going to mean a few adjustments on how I get around town but I feel confident I'll navigate all of that just fine. There are also a plethora of rental cars to choose from in town for those road trips Cole and I enjoy so much. Another step I'm taking toward this financial goal is moving to a studio apartment on the Northwest side of town in February. It will mean significant savings in my rent to further help my debt payoff with the added bonus of a new neighborhood for Cole and me to explore. It also gives me another opportunity to further minimalize my belongings which is a process I truly enjoy. It's an interesting process to go through and an eye-opening one at that. So much of our stuff really isn't needed to have a comfortable life. As I slowly sell things off, I see all the space that is opening up in my current one bedroom apartment and I think I finally understand what I've read a hundred times: the more space you have, the more things you will acquire to fill it up.

I'm not sure what to expect in 2018. I guess all any of us can do is trust that whatever happens is needed to get us where we're supposed to be. This year, I'm especially thankful for the friends who supported me, my family who loves me from afar, an amazing little pug who is always by my side, a job with a great company that has been so understanding of my health issues, and for the privilege of living in such a beautiful part of the country. Happy New Year to all of you and thanks so much for following this crazy journey that is my life.

Goodbye 2017!!!

Sunday, October 22, 2017

My #MeToo Story

I came across an article a year or two ago entitled Being A Girl: A Brief Personal History of Violence and felt inspired to write my own story. As usual when I feel inspired to write something, I create a draft blog post on Blogger, sometimes there are several posts in my drafts section at a time, waiting for the right moment to fully bring them to life and then hit the publish button to share them with whoever is so inclined to read them. Sadly, this particular post sat in my "draft" section ever since it's inception. Why did that happen? Well, it's scary to open up about something so personal, that comes with a slew of emotions and fears. Recently I became aware of the #metoo campaign and it strongly resonated with me. It was difficult to post my #metoo status though. Outwardly, it seems like such an easy task. We share how many things a day through our social media channels, why should this be that much different? But I felt vulnerable, exposed, and for some dumb reason: weak. I feared I would be judged or looked at differently by my friends, family, and coworkers.

Sadly, this sort of harassment and abuse is so common place in our society that it just seems part of life and I sometimes forget that this is part of my own story, my own life, who I am, too, not to mention far too many of my friends as well. It's so ingrained into my life, that it doesn't even occur to me to really consciously think about it, like it's something that needs to be discussed and shared. It just "is what it is". I don't have the stories of men exposing themselves to me, or cat-calling (that I can specifically remember) like so many other women. My experiences are all a lot more personal than that, as if being harassed or assaulted by a stranger isn't traumatic and personal enough. My experiences are with family members, friends of family, boyfriends, men I've gone on dates with or run into when I was out with my friends.

Me, 5 years old
The first encounter I can remember is with a female neighbor, perhaps 8 or so years older than me. I never really knew if she was a friend or a babysitter or both (or neither) but I do remember her putting me in extremely uncomfortable situations. For some reason, she used to make me take baths at her house. I don't remember any specific event happening, like being touched inappropriately there, I just remember feeling like her presence in the bathroom with me and the whole situation not being "right". She was controlling, manipulative, angry, and had cruel and embarrassing punishments. For instance, when I once spilled milk on the carpet, she tried to make me clean it up by licking it off the ground. One time, she and her friend tried to get me to simulate sex acts on a stuffed animal. I was only five or six years old. I never told my parents.

Fast forward to my pre-teen years, a variety of subtle things started to happen. Once, a couple of middle aged guys from the neighborhood stood in the driveway next door with their beers in hand and just watched me mowing the lawn with my parents riding mower. They never said anything to me but their stares, grins, and coy gestures to each other made me feel....for the lack of a better word: gross. A male relative of mine once made a point to call out my early-developed breasts under my t-shirt and it left me feeling humiliated, dirty, small, and like I wanted to cover myself up and hide away from the world. He and I weren't alone, there were other people there and no one said a thing to him about it. I once received a crank call from boys at school, posing as a company doing a survey and if I answered their questions, was promised a year subscription to some teen magazine. I soon realized after they started asking things like my bra size, it was not a legit call. I felt scared and powerless and I didn't know how to get out of the call, apparently I was "too nice" to just hang up.

Me, 15 or 16 years old
Once I became a teenager, the problems only got worse. A drunk, passed out relative of mine once accidentally grabbed me between the legs, I assume thinking I was someone else, when I tried to wake him up. I remember feeling an immediate and intense sense of embarrassment and general sense of dirtiness all within a split second. I felt so ashamed, like it was my fault, even though logically I knew I did nothing wrong. I cannot convey in words how intense and immediate that shame was there, all from a split second action. Another time, a friend of the family, twenty years older than me, who I had a crush on for several years, decided to take advantage of that crush. One night, when it was just the two of us, we kissed and almost had sex. At the time I didn't necessarily think there was anything truly wrong with it, I was 14 and I liked him and thought if he liked me, I must be special. It was only when I got older that I realized that a 34 year old man has no business getting involved with a 14 year old girl like that, he should have known better.

At my first underage drinking party, I met a guy my age and we made out on the couch. I was spending the night with my friend, and we had told her mom that we were going to spend the night at one of her friend's houses but really, we had planned on staying overnight at the house where the party was happening. The party ended up getting broken up at the end of the night and we all had to leave. Having nowhere to go and not wanting to get in trouble with her mom, we and a couple of her guy friends ended up at the guys house who I was making out with earlier. We snuck into the basement and all slept in one spare room. This guy laid down next to me on the floor and kept groping me even though I continuously told him to stop. I was afraid to make a scene, we didn't have anywhere else to go and I didn't want everyone else to be mad at me so I just endured his unwanted groping. The first time I had sex with a guy I was 15 years old. I was curious but didn't really want to do it but was afraid that if I said no, he wouldn't want to be my boyfriend anymore so I slept with him at his brothers apartment, in their spare bedroom while everyone else was outside in the living room watching TV. Afterward, I felt sad, embarrassed, and again -- dirty. 

Me and my ex-husband at Homecoming
Not too long after all that, I met the man who eventually became my first husband and enjoyed five wonderful years without any incidences with him. That did not stop other guys though, at my job, guy friends, etc., from talking to and touching me in unwanted ways. After me and my husband got divorced and I started dating again in my early twenties, a revolving door of issues began. Too many to go into every single one but I can give you a few examples. I was once told by a guy who I no longer wanted to see that on top of him thinking I was the "most boring person he's ever met", that "sometimes a guy just needs a hole" and that was all I was to him. There were numerous times when out with my friends dancing that strange men would come up and get way too close, would grab my hips and grind their bodies against mine in uncomfortable ways. We just came to expect it as a part of going to places like that, just something we had to deal with. Once I went to an after-bar party with a small group of people I had met that night. While one guy, the one whose apartment we were in, started to kiss me, another guy stole my wallet out of my purse. Those two guys ended up getting into an argument after I called the thief out to give me my wallet back and the police got involved. I gave my statement to the police officer and she proceeded to tell me that I should "be more careful who you go home with". Apparently this was all my fault, according to her.

Less than a year later, I found myself out with my sister and some friends in a bar one night. A guy there was buying us lots of shots. I ended up getting sick and throwing up in the attached hotel bathroom. The guy offered to get me a room so I could lay down and rest. As I sat on the floor of the lobby, resting against the wall, barely able to keep my head up, he was putting down his credit card with the hotel clerk to get a room. I'll never understand why that clerk didn't say anything -- clearly this was not a good situation. When me and the guy got to the hotel room, we ended up having sex. I knew going into this that it was a possibility but I was so drunk and sick and just wanted to lay down. After he was done with me, he left. As I laid on my stomach on the bed, feeling sick, I thought, "well, at least now I can just rest". Not too long later, I heard the door open and someone come in. I thought it was the same guy but couldn't be sure because I couldn't lift my head off the bed to look. Without saying a word, the guy put on a condom, something that didn't happen the first time, and proceeded to have sex with me from behind. I couldn't say anything, I couldn't move, I couldn't fight back. When he was done, never saying a word to me, he just left. It turns out the first guy gave his friend back in the bar the room key so he could "have a go" at me too. I never reported it. I thought the police would just think this too was my own fault; "you should be more careful".

Early twenties
After that, there continued to be a series of negative encounters with men. Some men were controlling and emotionally abusive. A couple different guys tried to coerce me into sleeping with them by threatening to kill themselves if I didn't. One time at a house party with some friends without my own car, I started to not feel well. The owner of the house said I could lay down in his room. I fell asleep for awhile but woke up to him crawling into bed with me. He had taken off my pants and started to use one of the dirty sex toys from a box near his bed on me. I told him to stop and tried to push him off of me but he crawled on top of me, squishing me legs into my chest, and wouldn't stop or let me leave. Fearful what would happen if I continued to fight, I froze until he eventually lost interest in me. Another time, a man who owned a hotel next to my favorite neighborhood watering hole offered me $100 to have sex with him. One "boyfriend" of mine once asked me to take my shirt off so his friend could see my boobs.

I'd like to say as I got older, these things became less common as I don't go out to bars and house parties like I used to in my twenties but sadly, I can't say that. Not all of these negative experiences are sexual in nature. Once at work, a male employee I supervised barged into my office, got in my face, and screamed at me, pointing his finger in my face, because he was angry about a conversation I had had with one of our board members. I was speechless and terrified in the moment and he ended up walking out of my office when he was done with his rant. I highly doubt he would have taken the same approach if his supervisor was a man instead of a 29 year old woman. I consulted the board on how to handle the situation as was told, "oh, he just needed to get that out, guys are like that, I wouldn't worry about it too much". This from the same board that when I questioned some of the numbers on the financial report was told with a placating pat-on-the-head attitude to not worry my little-girl brain about it. 

Me, now
Other situations are somewhat sexual in nature but less overt. I've been on a plethora of first dates through online dating platforms over the years. When there isn't a spark with someone, it's terrifying at times to have to avoid physical contact with them. One guy who I clearly was sending signals of "don't touch me" felt the need to force a kiss, even though I clearly was turning my head to avoid it. When I've told other guys that I don't see a relationship happening with them, they become angry and mean. I've had guys call me a "slut" because I didn't want to be with them, even though we had never had any physical contact. It gets to the point where you are afraid to say "no" sometimes. You never know how they are going to react. I used to think it was just me, that I was "too nice" or weak, shy, etc. -- that it was somehow a flaw in me, or that I was just "too sensitive". The more I talk to other people about it, the more I realize it is in fact not me who is in the wrong here and that this happens ALL THE TIME, to so many women (and men too).

The #metoo campaign has really helped connect the dots on the magnitude of the problem. I have only ever told these stories to one or two of my friends and never in such a public way like this. There are so many reasons why people keep secrets like this. I know for me, I used to think this was all my own fault, that I should have known better. That I shouldn't let myself get into situations where I'm alone with someone or in a place where I don't have a way to leave independently of who I came with. Slowly I have learned that nothing we do ever justifies these sorts of actions. They are never OK. I hope by sharing my story here, this helps others come to terms with their own experiences as well. Far too many people can say "me too" and it needs to stop.