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.

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