Profile in Awesome: Aimee Rathbun

Here we are, friends! It’s finally Wednesday and today is the day I promised you Under the Tapestry’s first Profile in Awesome!  YAY!

Today, I would like to introduce you to my friend and yours: Aimee Rathbun.  Aimee was my next door neighbor in the dorms at Michigan Tech and I loved her instantly.  She is basically the definition of awesome and I want to scream it from the roof tops…

This blog is my roof top!

When I asked Aimee if she would be my first profile, her response was, and I quote, “Oh my fish, I’m so flattered!”  The fish was an autocorrect, but I like it so much better than gosh.  Let’s go with that.

So, here she is, Aimee in her own words– oh my fish!

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Hi, Aimee!  Thanks so incredibly much for agreeing to be my awesome guinea pig.  I’m really excited about this little segment and you have been on my mind for a profile in awesome since the idea first started taking shape in the back of my mind.  To start, why don’t you tell everyone a little bit about yourself… how do you typically describe YOU?

Well, I usually describe myself as slightly nerdy, I like to read and swim and ride bikes.  I like photography and quilting and working on my house.  I live in Alaska and I love it, but I miss the Great Lakes.  I miss my family and friends too, of course.  I bought a house, got a dog, joined a church, a swim club and a polo club– feels good to put down some roots!

One of the things that I find most awesome about you is your incredibly bravery.  A few years back, you embarked on a huge journey when you packed up and moved to Alaska.  Where did that kind of bravery come from and what was it like when you got there?  Tell us about the adventure!

I know you’re going to tell me I’m eating too much “humble pie”, but I don’t feel like the move up here took as much bravery as people think.  Part of the story of me ending up in Alaska has to do with moving to Flint, MI after I graduated from Tech.  I don’t think I need to go into the exact reasons I hated living in Flint, but I hated it.  I felt so trapped there.  I disliked it immediately and was looking for a new job (in West Michigan, Wisconsin or Minnesota) for an entire year.  Looking back, I was depressed.  I think I was down enough that Alaska didn’t seem that scary, at least not compared to staying in a city I disliked, at a job I disliked and without any friends.  I had to make a big change.

I had ended up in Flint because I was looking for a job in Michigan and Flint’s in Michigan.  I was able to spend more time with my parents than I did while I was in Houghton and I was even close enough to watch some of my youngest brother’s swim meets during his senior year of high school.  A few months after I started I met another new engineer, Katie, who happened to have moved in across the parking lot from me!  Eventually she introduced me to one of her friends, who lived in Alaska and ended up sending me a job posting for a job up there.  I went “ha ha, yeah right” and then immediately thought “wait… I guess… maybe… why not?”

Anyway, it turned into the most amazing 6 months of my life– interviewing and visiting Alaska for the first time (in the winter!), quitting my job and leaving Flint, taking a few months off to travel, driving to Alaska with all my worldly possessions in the back of my Jetta and starting a new life up in Fairbanks.  There are so many things I could say about that time.  It was just such a blessing to be able to spend time with family and friends– I spent a week in Mexico with Adriane, a week in Houghton for Winter Carnival with my brothers and friends and a week in Florida visiting my grandma and aunt.  And everything fell into place so marvelously.  I ended up in Fairbanks with neither a map nor a place to stay (my first stop was a Wendy’s with wi-fi) and a week later I had an apartment and a bike.  One day I even thought “I wish I had a pull chain for the ceiling fan, I wonder where you even find those in stores.”  Thirty seconds later I parked the car, opened the door, and sitting in the packed snow of the parking lot, between my door and the car, was a pull chain.  Whether it was coincidences, gut feelings or God, I’ve never felt more blessed or more like someone was looking over me than I did those 6 months.

When you moved to Alaska, you didn’t know very many people.  You are super lovable and I’m sure people took to you right away, but how did you go about putting yourself out there to make friends and develop a social network in your new home?

So I knew one person in the state when I moved up here, and I ended up dating him.  And then we broke up… and I was sad and lonely and quickly realized I was at least 4000 miles from my friends and family.  Earlier I said I didn’t feel that brave moving to Alaska… well, this is what took some serious bravery.  I let myself mope for a week or two and spent some time at open swim (when the going gets tough, I swim).  I started trying out churches.  I found a masters swimming group, tried it and loved it.  During the announcements I heard about the water polo club.  So I went.  I visited a church I loved.  After church I drove to a quilt shop in town and signed up for a beginning quilting class.  I was totally uncomfortable in these new social situations but I’m a firm believer in “fake it till you make it*.”  (*I don’t generally think people should be “fake”, but I mean smile and be friendly even if you’re nervous and feeling awkward…  soon enough you’re not even faking it.)  Even though I didn’t make any lasting friendships in quilting class, I’ve amassed an amazing support network of friends through swimming, water polo and church.

Tell me about adopting your sweet pup, Bentley.  What does she mean to you?

Bentley brings so much joy and love into my life!  I met a few dogs at the Anchorage shelter but Bentley was so soft and calm and quiet.  All she wanted was a belly rub!  I think she sleeps in my bed most of the day and I’ve heard “I’ve never seen a dog sleep so much” so I think she’s the right fit for my quiet life and small house.  She’s covered in big and small scars.  Her vets and I don’t know where they came from, but I have a feeling it was a run-in with a car or other dogs (or both!).  She cracks me up and makes me smile all the time.  When I have a bad day and am feeling road-ragey or crabby, I walk into the house, hang up the keys and look at this sweet dog wagging her tail so hard that it’s whipping her eyes and she’s squinting up at me… and my heart just melts.  When I feel like the worst person, she looks at me like I’m the best.  She’s taught me about unconditional love and how to take care of someone other than myself… all very important things.

Bentley
Bentley (gorgeous girl!  AND Aimee took that beautiful photo!)

I know you love to read and I always enjoy your recommendations (I’ve read Peace Like a River twice now and adored The Snow Child).  How do you choose what you’re going to read next and what do you like most about reading?  What are some of your favorite books ever?  Do you ever re-read books?

I’ve always loved to read– my mom used to panic when it’d take me 30 minutes to walk 3 blocks home from elementary school because I was reading the whole way!  My parents read to us a lot when we were little, and I think Mom recommended Peace Like a River to me in high school.  I loved the story when I read it back then and really valued the relationships between the siblings and their dad.  When I re-read it again a year or 2 ago, I was able to focus on the religious part of it.  Another favorite is Life of Pi, just because there’s so much to think about in that one too.  I generally don’t re-read books (though I’ve read Peace Like a River and Life of Pi twice each) unless it’s an accident.  There are just too many I haven’t read yet!  Now I’m in a book club, so that helps a ton with finding things to read.  Often they pick books I’d never choose for myself, and I love that.  I think my favorite books are ones where I can totally picture the setting or the characters…  I’m an engineer so I’m not good at describing literary things but at the beginning of the Time Traveler’s Wife, the author describes a meadow in southern West Michigan.  I was reading it in an airport and I swear I could SMELL that meadow!  Most of the books I like are more uplifting and magical.  I feel depressed when I read too many sad books in a row.

One of my favorite things about you is your family– you Rathbuns are so fascinating and super fun!  I’ve never met a happier family!  Tell me about your mom and dad (best love story ever!) and those brothers of yours!  What was it like growing up a Rathbun and how did your family impact the person you are today?

Well, my parents met when they were both student janitors in McNair Hall at Michigan Tech.  We grew up visiting the UP, wearing Tech clothes and talking nerdy around the dinner table.  I have 2 younger brothers and despite my parents’ best efforts to un-brainwash us, we all ended up going to Michigan Tech too!  My middle brother is an amazing geological engineer with people skills I’ve always been envious of.  He lives in Vancouver, BC with his lovely wife (my new sister!).  My youngest brother is a computer whiz who used to count binary with my mom at the dinner table.  He’s living on the east side of Michigan with his boyfriend.  Our family has always been full of love and laughter.  In the past few years we’ve gone through lots of transitions– kids growing up and moving away, my youngest brother surprising us when he came out, adding a spouse into the mix, my parents moving out of my childhood home, etc.– but through it all nothing’s changed.  OK, so we travel a lot more to see each other and we need a few extra chairs at family dinners, but wherever we are still feels like home when we’re together and we love each other unconditionally.

Pretty please brag a little bit about your quilting… (and photo evidence would be awesome, if you wouldn’t mind me sharing some!)  How did you get into quilting and how did you learn?  From your mom?  What is your favorite quilt?  And what do you enjoy about it?

My mom had taught me how to sew and she learned from her mom (my dad’s mom sewed a lot too!).  My Grandma J is a prolific quilter– she made a quilt for each of her 30-some grandkids and then many, many other ones.  Mom made all of our halloween costumes and used to hem my pants for me but wasn’t ever really a big quilter.  In Fairbanks, I found a Singer sewing machine at a garage sale (“I’ll give it to you for $15 if you take it before my wife gets back.”) and actually put it in a pannier on my bike and rode it home!  About a year later I took a quilting class and found my current machine at an estate sale and I’ve been unstoppable since then!  I even taught my mom a few tricks (rotary cutting and lots of starch!) and she’s enjoying quilting a lot more.  Every time I am making a quilt, I’m thinking about my Mom and Grandma and the recipient of the quilt.  I think it’s a lot like praying!

My favorite quilt is a quilt my mom, grandma and I made for Walt and Leanne’s wedding.  We asked all their friends and family to send us a scrap of fabric and Mom, Grandma and I sketched out ideas on the back of a Big Boy placemat.  We ended up making a patchwork background of 6″ squares with 5 or 6 bigger applique blocks of flowers.  Finally, we appliqued vines, leaves and flowers over the patchwork.  The white flowers on the vines are apple blossom (For Walt, Michigan’s state flower) and pacific dogwood (for Leanne, British Columbia’s provincial flower).  The flower blocks have meanings too!  Grandma and Mom did most of the applique (I have no patience for hand sewing!) and Mom came to AK to help me put together the top.  So many people sent such sweet notes with the fabric that I actually scanned and cataloged the notes and fabric from each person, and starched, ironed and cut each square (and there are a lot of squares!).  I even made a book– it has pictures of us making the quilt and then the back is the fabric and notes.  I love knowing where each fabric in a quilt came from so I wanted them to be able to have a reference.

Look at the gorgeous quilt!!
Look at that gorgeous quilt!!

Tell me about your love of nature and passion for photography… I definitely remember Copper Country Cruising with you, my hands on your steering wheel as you leaned out the driver’s side window to snap pictures.  And even now, my office features eight of the gorgeous pictures you took of the UP.  Is that part of the draw in Alaska– the great outdoors?

Ha!  I don’t remember that but I don’t doubt it either!  Probably better than what I do on the Mackinaw Bridge though (stick my head out the window to look down the grate WITHOUT anyone grabbing the wheel!). I don’t know what my draw to photography is but I do know Sunday I drove to church wearing hot pink sunglasses (with rosy, polarized lenses) and I thought “I wish I could capture this and share it!”  Bright sun and fall colors against dark clouds and everything was extra intense with those sunglasses!  Sometimes I wonder if I should just enjoy it, instead of working so hard to try and capture it to keep it forever…  who knows.  I love capturing patterns and colors and things most people don’t stop to look at.  I can also totally tell my state of mental health based on the pictures I take.  I took very few pictures in Flint and the ones I did seem brown and gloomy to me.  In good times the colors are vibrant and bold (I’ve taken some awesome ones this year!).

And, of course, as a woman in STEM I can’t help but talk up your career a bit.  Civil engineering is clearly your professional calling.  I’ve never met a person more excited about sewer systems than you!  What attracted you to civil engineering?  What do you enjoy about your day job?  Do you ever feel like it matters that you are a woman on the job?

I benefited greatly from “Take Your Daughter to Work Day!”  I spent the morning watching my mom working on a computer and playing with a label maker.  I spent the afternoon traipsing through a construction site with my dad.  My Dad’s a civil engineer too, so I think I was just kinda always around it.  Now that I think about it, my first sentence was “why man put dat dirt dere?” so maybe it was always meant to be.  And the last time I was home I got a tour of my dad’s latest project– basically they’re building a building INSIDE a building I remember visiting when it was built!

I guess I’ve gotten used to being in the minority as a woman.  I have 2 brothers and no sisters, I was the only girl in my section in band, I was one of 3-5 women in my civil classes (of about 50) in college… so it doesn’t feel weird or unusual to me and I’ve learned to hold my own.  Also, I was raised to believe I could do anything I set my mind to, so I’ve never really felt limited by being a woman.  I’ve come across supervisors who believe women can’t be engineers (you know, because our brains are different) but I’ve been fortunate that they’ve never been my direct supervisors (or I didn’t know it!).  Actually, half of the civil department here is female.

This year I had someone (not at my company) say to me “yeah, you’re a woman, I know how you are, I’ve married 4 of ’em.”  I couldn’t even take it personally– in fact, it makes me laugh.  He has no idea what I’m like!  (Also, maybe he doesn’t know women as much as he thinks considering his track record!)

Finally, tell me about five things that you love, excluding Under the Tapestry, of course 😉

  1. My loving and supportive family and friends
  2. My dog
  3. Chocolate
  4. Good beer
  5. Wool socks

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Seriously.  Do you see how awesome Aimee is?!

In addition to the brilliant responses she provided, Aimee also added this quote:

In the midst of hate, I found there was, within me, an invincible love.

In the midst of tears, I found there was, within me, an invincible smile.

In the midst of chaos, I found there was, within me, an invincible calm.

I realized, through it all, that…In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.

And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger, something better, pushing right back. (Albert Camus)

Beautiful, right?

Aimee was recently in Madison for a special course in super secret sewer stuff.  (Ok, maybe not super secret, but it was sewer-related.)  Since a trip to Madison is much more manageable than a trip to Alaska, a third friend from Minneapolis (our RA, Adriane!) swung through Marshfield to pick me up and we headed down to Madison for a weekend of fun.  But not just fun…

On Saturday morning, Aimee, Adriane, and I went to a super cute little diner (Daisy’s, maybe?) and had breakfast followed by homemade cupcakes… because even breakfast should come with dessert when you’re with girlfriends.  We had a blast catching up and I think even our waitress was excited about us getting the chance to catch up because our cupcakes were on the house!  Icing on the (cup)cake, as they say!

In the 12 years that I’ve known her (whaaat?!  12 years?!), Aimee has reminded me time and time again of how important it is to follow your heart.  She reminds me of the beauty in this world, even in the dead of winter, and that fun that can be found even in the mundane (it was Aimee’s pink plastic bunny, after all).  So, Aimee, thank you for being a friend (a la the Golden Girls theme song) and thank you even more for sharing your awesomeness with my blog friends!!!

This is one of the oldest pictures on my Facebook timeline-- good stuff!
This is one of the oldest pictures on my Facebook timeline– good stuff!

20 thoughts on “Profile in Awesome: Aimee Rathbun

  1. Thanks Rachel! It’s a little nerve-wracking to spill my guts on the internet and whoa, I wrote a lot! Can’t believe it’s been 12 years since we met– so glad to have you as a friend!

      1. Yes! I knew it! I didn’t want to post a long thing to someone else’s mom… But you guys totally talked me into the apartment I got in Flint!!! I believe it was “Get the one with the laundry in the unit! You’re worth it!” And I totally count it as one of the first cogs in the gears that got me where I am!

  2. Love your blog Rachel! And now I’m especially loving it for this piece about a remarkable, courageous, AWESOME woman – Aimee Rathbun, my daughter! I’m so proud of her and I love to see what wonderful amazing women she has chosen for friends! You’re awesome too!

  3. Nice to ‘meet’ you, Aimee! You have a very interesting life, and you sound like a really cool person.

    “When I feel like the worst person, she looks at me like I’m the best.” <– you should really trust your dog–they know all sorts of things people don't pick up on 🙂

  4. Well done, Rachel. I loved reading your blog, and agree wholeheartedly with your reasons for picking Aimee as the subject for your first profile. I also was drawn to Aimee from the first, which happened to be at a masters swim practice in Anchorage. Simply put, she shines. Through her enthusiasm for her work, her intelligence, her warmth and her many interests and talents, Aimee radiates life. So far as I can tell, she excels at everything she does. Aimee is young enough to be my daughter – and I admit I feel quite motherly toward her – but she is one of my best Alaska friends. She may be 30 years younger, but she inspires me. Flint’s loss was a big win for Anchorage.

    1. Hi Becky! Thanks so much for your comment– I’m so glad that you’re up in Alaska loving the awesome Aimee Rathbun!! It makes me so happy to hear from you!

  5. Well dang. I love even the COMMENTS on your blog;). I love Peace Like a River, love that quote, love that you had cupcakes for breakfast, love this new theme and I’m sure I would love Aimee;).

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