Turning 40 during Quarantine

I turned 40 this week.

The time leading up to this age has been a really hard time while I have been changing jobs. I found a workplace I loved because the culture was great, and I loved all the people I worked with. But the work itself became too much for me in the stage of life I’m in right now.

So many times, I haven’t been sure what is next. Finally I decided to apply to graduate school. I have wanted to do that so many times, but I would have had to do an online program. My local university just got a program that is right up my alley. I applied, and now I can’t wait to hear back.

I’ve been so sad that the entire world is a big unparty right now. I had planned to have a dance party in my back yard to celebrate this year, and now it is postponed.

I’ve been hiking with only my Quarantine Crew to console myself.

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My daughter has started taking dramatic black and white selfies and making them the wallpaper of my phone. I pretend to be annoyed with her hijacking, but actually I love the little surprise every time.
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She is named after her great-grandma – my dad’s mom. Grandma just passed away shortly after all the things shut down for the pandemic. I had to watch my grandma’s graveside service on my cousin’s Youtube stream. That was hard, but I look forward to a celebration and memorial of her life in the future.

For the last few years, every time I saw her I tried to take a selfie with her, because you just don’t know how long you will have your grandmas. This is the last one from when she came down to visit almost exactly a year ago. She has the most beautiful smile, and when I saw this picture it made me sad and happy at the same time. She lived a great life, and I will feel lucky if I can be in some ways like her.

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Somehow 40 makes me feel a little more like a grown up. I’m a little more satisfied with my choice to go to school and change my work situation. I hope that this satisfaction is the harbinger of more self confidence and comfort in my own skin to come.

On my birthday, the quarantine crew and I went to Snow Canyon State Park. We had the place to ourselves. We hiked a little, then went and sat in the sand. I laid down with my bare feet in the sand and fell asleep for a brief few minutes while my kids played happily all around me. Not even promising a tasty dinner could get the boys to leave easily. We got curbside pickup sushi and pizza on the way home.

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My dear husband also made a secret Facebook group and had a bunch of our friends come and write me happy birthday messages on my driveway. There were poems, pictures, and many kind greetings. I loved it. At the end of the day, I looked at all of it and just about cried. I think I have been at the edge of tears, or in tears so many times over the last weeks about the virus situation that I’m getting better at holding them back. Or maybe I’m cried out? Anyway, it was full emotional joy. I loved it. Too bad every day of quarantine can’t be my birthday, huh?

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A Simple New Years Resolution

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A couple of years ago I resolved on something life-changing. I am so happy I did it. I can’t remember if it was January, but I do remember that it took me a long time to truly change a life long habit.  I was at the Dollar Store the other day, and the cashier expressed his surprise when I pulled out my reusable shopping bags.

“Are you from California?” he asked.

“No,” I said. “I just trained myself to use these. It was really hard to go against the way I was raised,” I joked.

Joking aside, it took more persistence than I expected to change the habit. A couple of things made it possible, so I wanted to share a few of them.

Forgiveness

First I decided that I would take the approach I learned about from a stop smoking program. It said, “If at first you don’t succeed, quit. Quit again.”  I discovered it’s easier for me to do something hard if I allow myself to fail at it over and over before I succeed.  When I started, I left my shopping bags in the back of my car, and I don’t know how many times I walked into the store without them.  I finally figured out that if I mentally associated the produce bags as my warning marker, that helped me cue “plastic bag avoidance.” Since I usually go to the produce section first, I felt less stupid going back out to my car because I hadn’t filled my cart by the time I remembered.  I don’t know how many times I had to make myself turn around and go back out to the car, but after a series of those walks I finally remembered to get the reusable bags before going into the store.

Bags I Liked

I have a dear long-time friend who totally gets me, and one Christmas she gave me several small re-usable IKEA bags, like THESE.*  I loved them instantly. They folded up so small, and they fit right in my purse.  Purse carrying women are really at an advantage in this resolution. (That doesn’t mean men can’t make it happen, of course.) Since those first few bags I have also bought a few more to add to my stash. They are very sturdy, and I haven’t had to throw any of them away yet. I even bought a bunch of sets of constellation ones on Amazon* to do a giveaway for  marketing at my work. The bags were a hit, and we had more entrants than usual in our drawing.

Before I resolved to avoid using single use shopping bags, I used to throw grocery sacks full of wadded up used bags away on a regular basis. I hated doing this every time. Since my efforts to use only reusable bags, I have run out of plastic bags a couple of times. My family is still working on avoiding single use bags, and sometimes I end up forgetting my purse.  Still, Forgiveness, right? Better to try than to do nothing.

External Motivation

Do you ever read the news and just want to give up? I have been reading about the devastation in Australia currently, and the koala situation alone is enough to make me want to take a week off of reading the newsnot because it doesn’t matter, but because I can’t handle it.  Whenever I think about these environmental problems, I ask myself, Can I really do anything about that? I can’t fly to Australia. I’m not a trained firefighter. I can donate money to organizations who can do something, but donation is limited by my need to feed and shelter myself and my children.

When I avoid using plastic bags, I feel like I am DOING something.  At the grocery store today they gave me a 5 cent credit for each bag I used. That incentive would not motivate my five year old to pick up his dirty clothes off of the floor. When I use and reuse my bags, the benefit is intangible. I feel good. I may not be doing everything. But I am doing something. It is very small, but it’s better than nothing.

* These are not affiliate links. I just LOVE reusable shopping bags and want everyone to get some and use them and feel the joy with me.

Happy Autumn

I have to say Happy Autumn and not Happy Fall because the word fall makes me think of falling. Then I think of elderly people, and how terrible falling is for them. Then I think, what kind of sick person says, “Happy Fall?”

Then I think, All kinds of nice people say that every year in September. And I get stuck in a loop, laughing and rolling my eyes at myself. So Happy Autumn everyone. I feel like that’s clear enough, and none of us have to worry that I’m poking fun at their stability issues.

My daughter got after me today for not putting out the fall decorations. She made this cute one here:

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She gets this art out when the weather turns chilly, and I love it. I love that she made it. I love that she gets it out. Why should I go to all that trouble when she is making my life so much better by doing it? I am much older than she is.  If I climbed the stepladder in the storage room⁠ it could get precarious.  You and I both know how older people deal with falls.

You might also notice the Mexican table runner. One of the reasons I have had less time to write was that I was watching four cute nieces and nephews while their parents, my sister and her husband, went to Mexico for their anniversary. She brought that runner back for us because my sister is pretty much always thinking of others.

We had so much fun with the children, and here is some evidence:

IMG_6203All of my nieces and nephews are very bright, of course, and one nephew in particular is incredible at origami. He totally made this awesome little thing. I don’t know what it was. I like to think it is an elephant, trunk raised in the air, ready to trumpet. I do know that it would take me an inordinate amount of time to concoct such a thing. That boy pumped out loads of super cool paper stuff while they were here.

Their grandma came to help, and she cooked tons of food, including incredible tamales.  She also did many, many loads of laundry. I came to the conclusion that what every mom really needs is an extra mom in the house.

Horizons

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A couple of weekends ago, I went to a ladies kayaking trip that started with a tour of Waterhole Canyon and a short hike out to the Horseshoe Bend near Page, Arizona. I took the picture above with my 10 or so year old, crop frame, digital SLR, and a borrowed wide angle lens from my father in law.  My husband has a better camera, which I often borrow, but I felt less nervous taking my older camera down the river with me.  I was really happy with the photo, even though the bend is photographed a thousand times a day, and my photo is in no way unique.  I held my camera in the air high above my head in the hope of getting an even better shot. Because I did that, the horizon was pretty unlevel.

I am married to a photography professor, and he would probably never have published a photo like that.  He constantly drills into his students to level their horizons when they shoot. If they miss it, it’s an easy fix in post. I have loved photography for a long time, too, and I know this about horizons.  But I was in a hurry when I processed the photo. I have a job, four children, and am taking a college class this semester, so I am often in a rush when trying to do something I love.  So when I corrected the horizon, it was still a little off. You can see it here:

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I went ahead and posted this imperfect picture on my husband and my photo page on social media. Almost immediately one of my husband’s past students came online and started criticizing the horizon.  I can understand his distress. He saw it on Alex’s page, and he knows darn well that Alex knows better.  Unfortunately for me, this student did not know what an insecure emotional small child I am on the inside when it comes to my photography. His words were devastating. I made a joke about it, and he came right back with critical words again. So I deleted the post. It is embarrassing to admit how thin skinned I am.

Even worse, it reminded me of a time when I was younger and made an unappreciative comment about an incredible quilt that was very detailed. It wasn’t my style at the time, but it was still an amazing feat of craftswomanship.  The quilter leaned in and politely pointed out that she reads the comments.  I immediately felt terrible, but I was SO grateful to her for helping me realize that behind the screens we consume every day are real people, with real feelings. When they share something they create, it is a courageous act of vulnerability.  I hope that I am wiser now, and more respectful to those who open themselves up that way.

Now that I have had time to step back and look at the big picture, I remind myself that the trip was not exclusively about the stunning beauty we were so lucky to see.

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Waterhole Canyon

It certainly didn’t hurt to be surrounded by breathtaking sandstone and emerald water. The sun melted away all of our cares. We ate food out of cans and pouches, and some of our apples baked like they had been in a solar oven.

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Glen Canyon Dam

Sure, it was grounding to feel small in contrast to the engineering feat of the dam. The natural wonder of the canyon and river gave me a healthy sense of my own insignificance. My tent mate got me up in the middle of the night to look at the milky way surrounded by the canyon. That was pretty magical.
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What I really loved most about that trip, though, was not the photographs I took away. It was the stories I heard, the new friends I made, and the old friends I came to cherish even more. So, if I share a picture with a flaw, and someone doesn’t like it, I guess I’ll be okay. I have a lot of friends who will probably still let me float down the river with them another day.

First Day Back to School

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It’s back to school day for my older kids. My sixth grader had to leave on the bus at 6:45 a.m., so we said goodbye to him early this morning and then went on a quick walk before the next child left at 7:15 a.m. One of our neighbors was out walking too, and she asked if this was a happy day or a sad day, and in unison Alex and I said, “Yes.”

It is a relief every year to send the kids back to school, and resume the structure that goes with it.  We are so much better about putting our kids to bed on time during the school year.  It means more sleep for us, and more quiet time while they are asleep. Often in late July, or early August, I find myself making an appointment with my counselor just to deal with my late summertime woes.  Then school starts, and I can quilt and read at night, and everything gets into a predictable routine. Suddenly my mental health improves.

Still, I’m going to miss the otter pops, trips to the library and swimming pool, and late nights reading library books.  It’s so nice to not have to go anywhere or do anything for long periods of time. This summer we did not take a big family vacation. We just went to a couple of family gatherings and reunions. We spent a little time at the lake, a little time hiking, and a lot of time reading, riding bikes, and generally lounging.

This year, my youngest starts kindergarten, and next year he will go to school full time.  When my oldest went into kindergarten, I cried like a baby. But the next two I was able to mostly keep my composure. This morning I felt calm as one of the teachers took him to the small blue chair at the very short table for his testing. I filled out my set of blue papers on the clipboard.

I threw away the car seat this week. All four of my children used that car seat, and when I put it in the gray dumpster, I felt a twinge of sadness, but I didn’t come apart (like that other time I threw away part of their childhood). I think I’m ready to move forward.

After testing, this morning I went to get a muffin at the local coffee shop with one of my best friends, and my youngest child. He had apple juice, and I had a raspberry peach muffin that was pretty heavenly.  He scolded me for not getting him any food, so I broke off a piece for him, and we all enjoyed the cool morning before heading off to our work days.

I have a little bit of mom guilt for not planning an elaborate kid centered vacation this summer.  But I decided that some times it’s okay to just letter summer be, and enjoy the simple pleasures of a fully dedicated rest. Guilt is optional. That’s my motto.

I’m Sick

It has been a couple of years since I have come up against the fact that there is something wrong with me, and I have no control over it.  I guess that is a bit of a fatalistic view, because I absolutely can decide what I eat every day, whether I take my medicine, what time I go to bed, how much I exercise.  But as far as those lifestyle factors getting rid of my illness, my doctor tells me it is “not expected.”

I go through varying stages of grief with this problem. At first I was very angry at my body for betraying me. One of my core values has always been good health. I love eating healthy food, exercising, growing food in my garden, and I even love having good mental and emotional health.  I think I appreciate these things because good mental health does not always come easily for me. That is probably why I have placed so much value on healthy eating, exercise, and lifestyle habits. There are so many things I can do and have done to maintain good forms of health.

At my first appointment when I was diagnosed with my illness, my doctor told me that this was not my fault. Tears started streaming down my face. I have done so many things to preventatively maintain my health, and none of them worked.  I am seropositive with rheumatoid arthritis, and no matter how much bone broth I brew, no matter how many walks or bike rides I take, and regardless of the sunshine I gather, I can’t change that fact. It’s not my fault.

When I was first diagnosed, I told quite a few people in my family. They started telling me stories of people who were diagnosed with RA, and then did X, Y, or Z, and it went away.  I found these stories increasingly frustrating, because so far, I had not found A, B, C, X, Y, or Z to be effective. In fact, I even called my counselor, whom I love dearly, and who has helped me in so many ways, and she told me that she was diagnosed with it incorrectly, and that I should get a second opinion.

So why am I talking about the thing that pains me  most in my life on my gratitude blog? I need to talk it out because there are some things I am grateful for in this journey, and here they are:

Acceptance. I thought I knew what acceptance was before I had to accept this part of my life. I was wrong. I now know what it is to deal with something I never thought I would have to deal with. I remember the darkest morning of my journey, when I couldn’t squeeze my shampoo into my hand without pretty excruciating pain.  I had been trying so many different things. None of them were working.  And the voice inside my head finally said, This is your new reality.  I had to accept that my life has changed to one that includes this pain.  I had to decide that I would keep getting out of bed every morning, and keep showering, even if sometimes I just felt like not doing that. I had to accept that life sometimes is what it is. And accepting it really helped.

Connection. One of the things that has come with my illness is that I have to lean on my partner Alex more. I have always been extremely independent. I don’t like to need other people. I don’t like to ask for help, and even when it is offered my natural inclination is to say, “No, thank you,” and struggle along myself.  I would rather carry a large anvil across town to the piano park than call someone and ask to borrow their truck. I don’t know why I am this way, but it makes it hard for some of the people closest to me to feel connected.  Oddly, I love it when people ask me for help. I guess it is because when I help other people, I feel connected to them. So I am grateful for my illness because it has forced me, in a way nothing else could, to rely heavily on my husband Alex. I couldn’t get by without him, and I can’t express my gratitude for the deepening of our connection enough.

Empathy. As someone who enjoyed pretty good health for much of my life up until the last few years, I used to be less patient than I should have with people who were going through health problems. It is ironic, because I have a whole pile of nurses in my family who are so loving and always caring for everyone they talk to – “Here, I have this Health Thing, and I want you to try it and see if it works.” I don’t know where the nursing wentI didn’t get it in my blood. I think I got a little bit of acid in my blood, so maybe that’s where the stupid arthritis came from. But I digress. Since experiencing times when I couldn’t get out of bed, and had to call people and cancel things that I was in charge of, I have grown in compassion for people who Just Can’t.  It’s okay to not always be able to do everything. Captain Marvel is fiction. I am not her, and I don’t have to be. I don’t have to expect anyone else to be her either.

My Hands. If you google RA, there are some pretty scary pictures of what it does over time to joints, particularly the hands. Having those images in mind, every day when I use my hands or sometimes even just look at them, I’m deeply grateful for them. I’m grateful that I found  my love of quilting earlier in life and have made so many, and still have many more years of quilting to look forward to with fully functional hands. Medicine will make this possible, and I guess that’s one more thing to be grateful for.

So, hi. My name is Jenny, and I have RA. I am grateful for all the things I have learned from having this illness.

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For the Love of Your Mother

Tonight, I came upon my love of my daughter. She is a night owl, and has been from birth. She biologically wants to stay up until between 10 pm and 2 am, and sleep in until between 8 and 10 am.

As a baby, she stayed up until those late hours every night. As a toddler, she came over to her door and cried to be let out at bedtime until she fell asleep on the floor next to the door. I always felt terrible having to open the door and slide her out of the way to put her back in her bed.

Now she is an early teen, and she has spent the tween years perfecting the art of chatting me up when I come to say goodnight. “Are we doing anything tomorrow?” “So, how was your day?” “Is anything fun happening tomorrow?” “Did you know this really interesting story that takes me forever and a half to tell you, Mother?”  Okay, I’m paraphrasing on that last one, but you get the idea.

I, on the other hand am a morning person. I tire naturally around 8 or 9 pm, and drastically run out of gas at around 10 pm. I wake up without an alarm clock before 7 a.m. quite regularly. Early in the morning I feel bright eyed and bushy tailed, ready to face the day.  Exactly the way my daughter seems to feel about 9 pm.

We went to the river the other night, and the kids found tadpoles, and even a frog in that awkward teenage stage who hadn’t lost its tail yet. When we were done and got home after Normal Kid Bedtime, Daughter was ever happy to take a leisurely shower, and do heaven knows what in the bathroom for another hour before I finally went and nagged her into bedtime submission.

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Go to bed child, or you’ll be sleeping with the frogs.

Sometimes I think of our relationship as a sort of tragic romance, or maybe momance, since she and I love each other, but can never find the magical way to be together when we both feel great. Tonight during her excessive bathroom ritual, I started an angry tirade in my mind, as I often do. Imagined angry tirades are a fun  hobby, what can I say? I imagined my lecture to her, Daughter, these are the circumstances under which you are allowed to get out of bed and approach your exhausted mother: 1. Your bedroom is on fire.  2. You are bleeding. 3. You are crying. (At this point I started to realize) 4. You are scared or worried.  You have any problem that a mother might be useful in discussing …

I discovered that my love for my daughter overcomes the multitude of her late night sins. It doesn’t matter what is troubling her, I will be there for her, because she is my daughter. Even if I’m tired and grumpy, I love her and I want to hear what she has to say. What if she didn’t want to talk to me? That would be the worst. So my gratitude today is for these things:

I have a daughter.

She wants to talk to me.

My love for her is so deep that it surprises even my most jaded, tired, 11:00 pm mom self.

Summer Time

frog-1It’s Sunday night, and I’m just thinking about some things I love about Summer.

I love going to the library with my kids almost every Wednesday. We scavenge the children’s and junior fiction shelves for things to keep us reading all week. I initial their little tracker cards for their daily reading, and they pick a coupon. Then we go get their free french fries or donut, come home. They have an impromptu readathon while I get lunch or dinner ready, depending on what time we went.

As often as I can sneak in at bedtime, I read picture books to my youngest. He is five, and for awhile he got lost in the mix because we had aged up our bedtime reading with the older kids. Alex read them all of the Harry Potter books. I tried to take turns on that one, but Alex is a gifted reader and did so well at the voices that after awhile the kids wouldn’t let me read those to them any more. He has been working his way through The Lord of the Rings series with them now, and it’s slower going with me sliding my picture books into our mix.

Summertime also means a chore / exercise / play time / screen time spreadsheet that Alex created. The kids follow it so their days have structure. Since I have been working, Alex mostly gets to enforce it. I am grateful for that.

I love hiking with them. The picture above is a little frog they discovered with their cousins on a hike we took this summer. While we were walking I had to pull back from my hard working, task oriented self to let the kids wade in the water and examine details like frogs. I had the impulse to push everyone along, and hurry them down the trail. But that is not summer. Summer is for stopping at each curve in the creek, and seeing what we can see.

Every week my kids swim at the city pool. A couple of them are still not confident enough swimmers, so I watch them the whole time I’m there. It’s an exercise in mindfulness. I can feel my brain wanting to switch into distracted mode, going through to do lists for work, starting to rest, thinking about reading, social media or checking my email on my phone. The pool pulls me back. I have to watch the kids. I slowly count through the four of them, one at a time.

On one of our first swimming trips I was doing my slow watch, and suddenly a fully dressed mom was half-way across the pool. By the time my attention was fully on her, she was grabbing her little girl, who had been struggling, unable to get her face out of the water. A lifeguard had been completely oblivious, and was sitting on a stand immediately above the little girl.

The experience just brought home to me how fleeting life is, how quickly and how dramatically it can change. It made me so grateful for each afternoon, each moment I have to watch, to read to, and to just be with my kids.

One of my sons was extremely difficult this afternoon, throwing a high conniption fit because I wouldn’t let him watch a movie. I sat with him as he cried through a long tantrum on his bed. I’m glad I have this time tonight to sift through my thoughts in writingto reflect on how much I love the little darlings in spite of their occasional evil spells.

Change Your Mind

Something I have really been grateful lately is the opportunity to change my mind. I have changed my mind so many times, about so  many things. Sometimes I start to get embarrassed that I change my  mind so much. But is it really such a bad thing to do?

When I was in college, I knew I wanted to major in English. I also wanted to get a teaching license and minor in math, because I thought it would make me more marketable as a graduate. My sophomore year, I did a semester of watching other teachers at two schools. One of the schools was a huge high school. The other school was a remedial high school where kids who struggled at mainstream high schools attended.

I was so discouraged when I watched a group of eighth graders sit in a reading circle and realized that many of them were functionally illiterate. My heart absolutely went out to them, but the helplessness I felt in the face of their situation overwhelmed me. Looking at the amount of classes I would have to take to get a teaching license doubled that sinking feeling. It would take me a “super senior” fifth year of college to get through unless I wanted to study all through the summer every year. I dropped out of the teaching program at the end of the semester.

My math minor ended when I started to take a second year math theory class, and the class was so hard that I was afraid I would lose my scholarship if I finished. I dropped out.  Through my college experience I also started minors in Spanish and Communications, dropping both of them when I realized they would make me take 5 years, too, and I could only have a scholarship for four years.

I started to have a complex that I quit everything. I worried and worried that I am weak, and that I just don’t have what it takes to succeed. When I struggled to get my real estate license, and to decide to keep practicing as a realtor, the dragon of this fear reared its ugly head and blew fire in my face. “You are a quitter,” it hissed in my ear. For awhile, I listened, and wallowed in self pity.

Later, I questioned. Am I really a quitter? I thought about all of the quilts I have made. I thought about my caregiver project. I still have plans and dreams to work on both of those things. I thought about my marriage, which so far has lasted 15 years, and my kids, who are  13 and younger. I haven’t quit on any of those things, even when they got hard.

Just because I have stopped some things, doesn’t make me a quitter. It’s called changing your mind, and it’s one of the best things you can do when you are trying to move forward with your life.

I once received a wedding invitation that was followed a week later by a notice that the wedding was canceled. When I received that cancellation, I thought, “Thank goodness they changed their minds now instead of after the wedding!” It’s so much better to change course early than far down a road that is the wrong way.

I recently had to tell the senior members of my team that I had changed my mind about some decisions I had made at work. They were so gracious, and accepted my apology for changing my mind so often.

I like being reliable, and relying on other people. I think this is why it has been hard for me to let myself change my mind. But it’s also nice to be fully honest. Letting yourself change your mind allows for a happier and more authentic existence.

I once decided never to speak to a close friend again, because I kept hurting his feelings and feeling bad about it. Later, I changed my mind. Now we have been pretty happily married for 15 years.

If you are not sure if it’s okay to change your mind, let me just say that I highly recommend it.

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