Tag Archives: family

To Truly Dance

Dear Mom,
You died on Saturday, April 1, 2017. It was a surprise. I was skiing in Whistler, British Columbia, as likely of a place as I was to be as anywhere.  I’m grateful there weren’t many things I still needed to say to you. In the time since, I’ve told our story so many times: after dad died- I grew up close to you, close to the church. We grew apart, bitterly on my behalf, when I left the church and moved west.  I found my own truth and we pieced it back together slowly, like the beautiful blankets you made for Soren and I. The last few years of your life held some of our most honest and loving conversations. The most recent lesson: that feeling the same faith is less important than feeling each others humanity.

A few more favorites:

The air smelled thick of cut grass and the quiet, high-ceilinged church- I was 9, and stood up for the first time to give a testimony in Wednesday night church. I was just back from summer church camp full of newfound confidence. The cicadas chirped outside in the sticky midwestern summer. I shared a short truth about overcoming my fears at summer camp, you beamed. My faith is different now, but no less strong- you made faith cool.

I was 13 when you were finally able to tell me about my half-brother in Australia- he was half a world away, wondering who I was. I was so mad at you- his existence seemed to refute the moralist foundation you raised me with. Ultimately, welcoming him openly into our family inspired us all to a greater sense of compassion and honesty. I can only hope to learn so much from my own indignities.

At 17 you let me drive your new car and two friends 1500 miles to spend two weeks on our own in the Wind River mountains. When we got out, you flew to Jackson to shuttle us back to the car, feed us, and send us off on the drive home. You experienced the mountains differently than I do, but loved them no less. You refused to let the fears of the world darken the light of your experience, or mine.

We were eating at Lulu’s Noodles during the spring of my freshman year at Northwestern. I was terrified, because I had met you for lunch to tell you I was dropping out of music school. To my surprise, you took it in stride and cheered for me to enjoy a more relaxed version of college. That’s when I learned your dreams for me were nothing less than exactly my own.

I skipped my graduation from Northwestern to go on a NOLS course in Alaska. Instead, you sent 5 dozen cookies up to our expedition because I was part of a winning team in my college design competition. it seemed out of place at the time, but I realize now it was the sweetest way that you could say you were proud of me. You always knew how to celebrate the important things.

Last Christmas we went out for deep dish, the whole family of us. Over the years I had always ducked the opportunity to pick up the check at a family dinner but in 2016 I was glad not to skip the chance. You always lived with the assumption of having enough to do the right thing- whether you had a lot or not. There was always enough.

And that is the point- we had less time than we all hoped, but it was enough. I’m still learning how much you cared for us, how great of a mom you were. I think you’re proud of me- I hope you know how proud we are of you.

“Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing.
And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb.
And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.”   (Kahlil Gibran)

Climb on, mom.

You can enjoy some of my mom’s ideas through her lecturing and writing work for the Church of Christ, Scientist- her most recent piece is particularly excellent. Our family is deeply grateful for your compassion, however there will be no service. You can honor Lois most meaningfully through a donation to her church or to Mountain Home Montana



My mom loves cherry blossoms. Last night I went for a leisurely run from my house down to University of Washington and just took a few pictures on the way. Yes, it was crappy light, so I touched up the light and color on a few of them. Regardless it’s a good season in Seattle. This one is for my mom.

“Allow. That’s most of what we have to do, is just allow it. We may not understand now, or ever, but we will feel it, we will feel our lives.” (Andrew Given)


We're not in Montana any more.

We’re not in Montana any more.

I walked casually through the Depaul University campus. The evening was mild for December in Chicago, and it felt good to take a little extra time to notice the classic architecture and urban vitality of the campus. Exploring the northside on foot with friends was standard entertainment throughout high school and college. I love the trees in the city, oddball shops, and ethnic restaurants that are best discovered on foot and over deep conversations. It’s fun to feel the parts of myself that are homegrown.

“The Local Option” has one of the best selections of craft beer on the north-side, and has been a fun place to meet old friends. I spent last Friday night there with a few characters from various parts of my life- including two friends that I have known for over 20 years now (check them out, here and here). If I lived in Chicago now, I would still want to hang out with them just as much as I did when we were growing up.

It's not Christmas unless there is bowling.

It’s not Christmas unless there is bowling.

My 8 day trip to the midwest was challenging and affirming. Seeing my family for the first time in two years felt essential. My grandmother recently moved into a new facility in Columbus, OH that offers full service care for her advancing years. Her new digs are essential for providing peace for everyone in our family. Spending Christmas in a nursing home wasn’t ideal, but I couldn’t imagine a better or more important place to be.

My older uncle is developmentally disabled, and I’ve never felt comfortable taking the lead in providing the support he needs during family gatherings– until now. With my mom and younger uncle supporting my grandmother, stepping up was necessary. Funny that when you do it, it’s suddenly a lot easier and a lot more fun than you thought it might be.

Uncle Steve, I love you.

Uncle Steve, I love you.

There are more than a few parts of my life that I’ve avoided and concealed from sharing with my family, and in particular my parents. It hasn’t been fun, but I’ve felt it necessary as I’ve defined my own adulthood. It finally felt safe to take down some of the boundaries over this trip, and I think everyone was able to breathe a little easier when I did. Describing this trip to friends in Missoula I keep coming back to the same important point: it was the most authentic time I’ve shared with my parents in 10 years. My mom has always said- “family are the people that God wants you to have in your life that you might not choose for yourself.” Mom is right, and God is wise.

Happy holidays from the Carlson/Spies family!

Happy holidays from the Carlson/Spies family!


Australian place names are just cooler than American ones- Katoomba is a bit of a tourist trap, but it’s also ground zero for outdoor recreation in the Blue Mountains National Park. As I’ve noticed in the past, climbing makes me feel more at home where-ever I am than almost any other thing I do. Even better, I met Alan two years ago in Squamish, B.C., and he and his leading lady Amy were in town for full on climbing holidays. We’ve been having a very good time.

(good to see an old friend)

I took the train up Wednesday morning, and after a trip to the post office and grocery, Alan says “how about a quick 5 pitches this evening.”
In a word- “yes.”

(more exposure please!)

While not the climbing wasn’t particularly beyond me, I’ve never climbed anything so exposed, and Alan’s mate Paul joined us for the fun while Amy rummaged for dinner. We had a good time- more on the phenomenon of “carrot bolts” in another post.

(top out stoke with Paul)

I got an unlucky finish with rope drag topping out the second crux pitch and felt a muscle tear in my back while yarding up the rope for the seconds. Despite the exceptional climb, it wasn’t the best way to start the trip.

Thursday morning was surprisingly misty and cool, but Amy and Alan were up for some adventure so we headed for another stellar multipitch at Pulpit Rock. Amy lead off, I got the gymnastic overhanging crux, and Alan (who climbs 5.13) stuck the 5.7 outward facing roof chimney pitch (yes, you read that right).

(misty, but pretty)

(outward facing roof chimney crack….)
Late afternoon found us racked up at a short sport crag, and despite best best effort at the 5.10d warmup, my back wasn’t up for steep sport climbing. Alan, and his friend Rhys however- proved the moniker that the Blue Mountains are “all about steep, hard, sport climbing.”

(pull hard, Skander, its steep)


I took today very easy, still on-siting 5.10c though and feeling my back badly. The scenery and company can’t be beat, and my friends seem to know everyone, so even just hanging out at the crags is a really good time. The Blue Mountains are one of the most unique areas I’ve been in and I’m truly loving my (very relaxed) time here.
I’m blogging from the phone, so posts might be limited and with typos, thanks for following! More soon!

(Amy, loving it)

(more steeps!)

(brilliant views from climbs, photo by Amy O’Toole)

Sydney, New South Wales

“On holiday” it’s a phrase that has a meaning that most Americans don’t really understand- but after 6 days in Sydney with my half-brother and his family- I’ve got a pretty good read on things.  “On Holiday” is about eating, lounging, doing all the fun things we don’t usually let ourselves go at and most importantly, not doing anything in particular at all.

On the other side of the Pacific.

On the other side of the Pacific.

Given my stop in Hawaii, I had almost zero trouble with jetlag, even though I left on Monday morning and showed up 10 hours later on Tuesday night.  Sydney is one of the great cities of the world, and even rolling home from the airport I was eager for a detour through the city streets.  Wednesday we hopped a ferry across the harbor, under the harbor bridge, and into the heart of things.  Photos to tell-

I love these kids- the background is nice too.

These guys are worth travelling 8,000 miles for- oh yeah, the background is nice too.

Top down view of the harbor from Sydney Tower.

Top down view of the harbor from Sydney Tower.

Getting a feel for old town in The Rocks district.

Getting a feel for old town in The Rocks district.

We’ve had a solid day on/day off pattern, with plenty of lounging around home.  The Cricket thing is big here, so my nephews made sure I had a complete experience.

Fully kitted up.

Fully kitted up.

In American baseball you "pitch," in cricket- you "bowl"- the difference is signficant.

In American baseball you “pitch,” in cricket- you “bowl”- the difference is signficant.

Most importantly though, it’s been over a year since I swam in the ocean, and Sydney beaches are truly world class.  Friday in Kilkare was nothing short of perfect.

Salt water.

Salt water.

Family beach day.

Family beach day.

Solar powered hot tub.

Solar powered hot tub.

My brother’s house is on the north side of Sydney, and perched close to Ku Ring Gai National Park, which means I’ve had a great opportunity to meet some of the locals.

They said hello first (literally).

They said hello first (literally).

Backyard entertainment.

Backyard entertainment.

Questioning my choice of flip flops for my hike.

Questionable choice of flip flops for a hike.

Names here are hilarious.

Say it as fast as possible.

Say it as fast as possible.

Really?  Bong bong?

Really? Bong bong?

I’ve spent the last day catching up on some professional commitments before I leave my computer and head out climbing, but this first week with the family has been worth the whole trip.  Even though he is my brother, we’ve (obviously) not spent much time together, and I’m looking forward to having some more time with him and his family after their vacation and some of my other adventures.

My nephew Morgan on the left, my brother Bob on the right- Sydney Harbor, January 2013.

My nephew Morgan on the left, my brother Bob on the right- Sydney Harbor, January 2013.