squeeeee

Y’all, I’m going to France.

I made a really expensive purchase. A totally selfish, 100% impulsive, “OMG what did I just do” purchase. I found this amazing retreat through one of the class instructors, and after wrestling my fleeting hesitation into submission, I booked it.

And the flight. And bought the supplies. I’m committed.

Ahhhhhhhhhh!

I hope COVID doesn’t get in the way. I hope I’m not totally out of my depth. I hope I remember how air travel works. I hope I remember how to Human.

(I hope people like me? Let’s put it out there. I hope people like me.)

It’s been almost seven months since I started a daily painting practice. This is a heck of a way to celebrate!

bar harbor, 2021

Our big family vacation got off to a rough start, as we made the difficult decision to put Stitch down the weekend before we left. I would rather have “The Sex Talk” a million times over than have to sit down with my kids and tell them we’re putting a pet to sleep, but we made it through. We figured the trip would be a good distraction from our sadness, and thankfully it was.

I haven’t been to Bar Harbor since Ellie was a baby, so about 12 years. It’s a popular Maine tourist spot on Mount Desert Island, close to Acadia National Park. We thought this time of year would be less hectic than, say, July or August; there are no inbound cruise ships due to COVID, so crowds weren’t bad.

Our room at the Bluenose Inn was set on a hill with views over Frenchman’s Bay. We had this stunning landscape to take in every morning:

The kids spent a lot of time in the pools when we weren’t out and about. Gwen continues to improve her swimming skills, while Ellie prefers to bob around in the shallow end. I brought my art kit and fiddled around with my paints while keeping an eye on the swimmers.

We didn’t plan many activities, preferring to keep things low key. We drove up Cadillac Mountain in Acadia for some great views of the surrounding island:

One of the few things I scheduled in advance was a three-hour ferry ride to see some local lighthouses and wildlife. This proved to be about 2.5 hours too long for the kids’ interests, but we did see lots of terns, puffins, and harbor seals about:

We played mini golf at Pirate’s Cove and found I am still terrible at mini golf, no surprise there. The rest of the time, we wandered around Bar Harbor and shopped and ate tasty food in actual restaurants. I got a massage and wore not-sweatpants and nice blouses every day. It was a welcome return to normalcy and a nice break from…whatever it is we’ve been doing these last many months.

rest in peace, stitch

Stitch joined our family on a whim in the fall of 2002. She was the last of the litter, a tiny tuxedo spitfire who introduced herself by crawling up Tim’s shoulder and perching there, expectant, as if to say, “I’m ready, let’s go.”

She slept soundly in my lap on the 45-minute drive to our Brewer apartment; Nala was mostly Tim’s cat, and it appeared Stitch would be mostly mine. She trotted into her new home and greeted Nala by rearing up on her hind legs, asserting her dominance in one fluid motion. Nala might have been twice Stitch’s size, but that didn’t matter. “Though she be but little she is fierce.”

Stitch loved to climb. Her small frame and sharp little claws made it easy to scale the curtains and our legs. She chased laser pointers up the walls to impressive heights. At bedtime, she’d crawl under the covers and snuggle up between us, making me paranoid one of us would roll over and squash her. Even full grown, she was a tiny cat with a short, stubby tail. We called her “The Stitchenator” and decided she had plans for world domination, a la her namesake from Lilo & Stitch.

Stitch moved with us from Brewer, to Bangor, to Orono, and finally to the County. She stood by and watched disapprovingly as we adopted Pippen in 2007 (yuck), had kids (big yuck), brought that godawful dog-thing home in 2012 (torture), and adopted Ginger in 2018 (why must you torment me so?)

She liked to keep me company while I worked in my office by climbing my chair or laying on my keyboard or snoozing on the floor. Her favorite sleeping spot was her pillow (which also happened to be my pillow when she was feeling generous).

Nala passed away at 14 years old, but Stitch, who was only a few months younger, was still as spry as a kitten. We joked that she’d probably outlive us all; that coastal Maine grit is sturdy stuff.

Over the last several months, the old girl started to show her age. She gradually lost her vision, to the point where she regularly bumped into things and couldn’t find her way around. Her weight fluctuated, so we spent a lot of time with her at the vet, adjusting medications for her blood pressure and thyroid and treating chronic bladder infections. By the time we made the difficult decision to put her to sleep, she’d stopped using the litter box, had stopped snuggling or purring, and was only mildly interested in food. She spent most of her time sleeping, drinking, and peeing on the floor. It was time. I bundled her into her crate, snuggled her until the end, and said my goodbyes.

And then she was gone, the last vestige of our college lives. Stitch did not achieve world domination, but she dominated our hearts for 19 years; an admirable feat for a runty little scamp from downeast. If I’m honest, she was always my favorite.

Rest easy, Stitchy.

feeling the burnout

Hi, hello, yes. It’s been a long winter. Spring has finally sprung, the grass is bright green, and the apple trees are blossoming. New beginnings are just around the corner; I’m starting to see the light at the end of the pandemic-shaped tunnel.

All this new energy leaves us restless with the status quo. My kids have zero interest in school right now. Truth be told, neither do we; juggling two jobs and two kids’ school schedules is for the birds. Even our sweet Ellie, the geeky powerhouse she is, is complaining of Zoom fatigue.

It does not help that we planned a vacation, and now that brief five-day stretch in mid-June is top of mind for everyone in this house. You can practically feel the desperation for a change of scenery rolling off us in waves. It’s not even an elaborate thing; we’re spending a few days at a hotel in Bar Harbor. Hardly unfamiliar territory, but boy, you’d think we were getting ready to jet off to Europe. We’re researching restaurants and tours and shopping, and yes, we’ve left plenty of down time in the middle to hang out at the pool.

I even booked a massage. I AM SO READY.

Then, in the excitement and haze of vacation planning (vacation! planning!) Tim suggested we should do something just for the two of us, so I found the cutest oceanside resort and put a down payment on a long weekend in August. We may not make it to Canada this year, but damn it, we’re not staying home all summer.

Meanwhile, I paint every day whether I feel like it or not. It’s been five months of that, and I see a little progress. I would like to get to the point, skill-wise, where there are fewer happy accidents and more conscientious, consistent outcomes…but I’ll take the happy accidents for now. 🙂

I’ve also taken up cooking, which is wholly unlike me. We subscribed to Hello Fresh (discount code in case you want to try it, too) a couple weeks ago, and I find prepping and making a meal after my work day is a nice way to decompress. I actually look forward to it! Both making the food and eating the food. 🙂 Plus it gets me out of dish duty, haha.

closer to fine

I thought I last wrote maybe a week ago? But time marches fast, because it’s been over a month since my last post. There’s just so much going on!

I changed teams at work, shifting from design to development, so I’m having all the impostor syndrome feels. I’m keeping my head above water, but it will probably be a few more months of floundering before I shake it off. Just keep swimming, just keep swimming. Several of my favorite work people have left in the last few months (over the last year or two, really), which is pretty depressing.

Tim started a new job last week, working as a software engineer at Wirecutter. I’m super proud of him; interviews and code tests were his full-time job for a while there, and I know how much stress that caused, but as a long-time Wirecutter fan, he’s basically found his dream job (again). We’re re-learning how to assimilate two jobs into our daily life, with the added bonus of juggling the kids’ schoolwork. I miss my house-husband, but having two incomes means less pressure on me, more work done on the house, more family vacations. It’s a great thing for our family, and as with everything, it will take time to adjust.

I also got vaccinated this month! I got the J&J one-time vaccine just before they stopped giving it. So far no negative side effects, although I did spend the day after the shot in bed and whiny. All in the name of boosted immunity! But with the prevalence of new variants, we’re still playing it safe. The kids’ school closed down to in-person learning for the first time since December last week due to a COVID case, if we needed any proof that we’re not out of the woods yet.

In less gloomy news, I set up a painting table in my office so I have a dedicated workspace for making art. It’s much more inspiring than my dining room table:

I’m still painting every day, and I bought a scanner so I can turn some of my paintings into prints. You can follow along with my progress on Instagram.

Finally, last week I traveled for the first time in over a year, with a last-minute road trip to upstate New York. Unfortunately the circumstances weren’t so happy, but I spent some quality time with Mom, and saw my aunts and uncle for the first time since my brother’s wedding.

I was wondering why I felt a bit unmoored (can I use that word without it sounding like a pun? No, not really) and overwhelmed this week, but then I look back at the last month, and I guess I have good reason to. We’re coming up on the sixth anniversary of Dad’s death; this time of year will always feel a little rough, even in the best of times, which these are not. There’s still a pandemic, there’s still injustice and unrest, and the new normal is still pretty fuzzy.

So yeah, good things are happening…but I’m tired, y’all.

a year in pandemic-land

Hello! I am alive, and my brain is very, very full. I am not feeling eloquent, but I should write things so I don’t completely forget how to human.

We’ve been mostly at home for a full year.

I ate inside a restaurant for the first time last week, with a friend I hadn’t seen since 2019. It was so good to sit in a public space and chat over food and drinks. The menu was overwhelming. I could have had anything! A sandwich! A panini! Soup!

I ordered…pizza. The thing we’ve had for takeout every other week since the pandemic started.

You see? I have forgotten how to human. Remember travel? Remember unmasked faces? That’s OK, I don’t, either.

I’m studying for a role change at work, which means I wake up thinking about algorithms and Redux. I look at games online and wonder how they’re coded. Then I close my laptop and pick up my paintbrushes.

I’m still experimenting, scratching that creative itch every day. It feels so good to doodle again, to feel that creative energy and the satisfaction of making things. I, a 38-year-old woman, have to resist the urge to show everyone in the house my latest paintings. “See? See what I made?? Look!!” I stop short of hanging my art on the fridge.

Thankfully that’s what Instagram and this blog is for.

Meanwhile, life is creeping toward normalcy. My mom got her first dose of the COVID vaccine this month, and the Maine government suggests Tim and I will be eligible in June. The weather is getting warmer (albeit slowly). We’ve entered the last trimester of school, and will probably send the kids back to in-person schooling in the fall. Tim is interviewing for remote work positions. The eldest is tentatively scheduled to go to camp this summer, and we’re hopeful they’ll open the Canadian border so we can visit the Maritime provinces and have some semblance of a vacation this year.

Things are looking up!

practice makes practice

Winter can be a dull slog, so I’m painting all the flowers in all the pretty colors.

Playing with watercolors after work and during breaks is my new favorite thing. My Animal Crossing island is feeling woefully neglected since I picked up these brush pens. (Also discovered buying watercolor supplies is addictive. So many brushes! So many paints!)

We’re almost finished watching The X-Files for the fifth time (maybe sixth? I don’t really know). We skipped season 9, because I can’t enjoy the series without Mulder. I’d forgotten how *bad* season 10 was.

I also taught myself how to solve a Rubik’s cube! So I can add that to my resumé of useless skills. Like I said, winter is a slog; anything I can do to relieve the brain boredom is a good thing. Which reminds me, time to learn that Animaniacs song about the states and their capitals…

the spark

I picked up some new art supplies on a whim, in hopes it might inspire me to keep up a regular creative routine. I’ve been pretty consistent about sketching or painting on my iPad, but using actual watercolors is a whole new thing. Practicing in Procreate has helped my brush control, though. This was my first watercolor in the new notepad and I was surprised at how well it turned out.

covid celebrations

Christmas was only a little weird with the absence of extended family, but we made it work with Zoom and texting. We stuck to the usual traditions: Spent a little too much, ate a little too much, drank a little too much. It was a nice, relaxed holiday at home.

We also celebrated Ellie’s 12th birthday in December! Holy carp, where did the years go? How did our little bundle of mad cackles and songs turn into such a thoughtful, loving young lady? Well, OK, she’s still full of mad cackles and songs, as evidenced by our New Year’s photos:

It’s rare to catch her without headphones on; watching crafting videos on YouTube or listening to the Stardew Valley soundtrack on repeat, I suspect. She’s caught on to the fact that working from home means wearing a sweatshirt every day so your classmates don’t see you’re still in pajamas. Despite spending most of her 11th year in pandemic hell, she’s still our big girl, our bright-eyed kid.

And I missed Gwen’s birthday back in September; second child syndrome strikes again. Gwen is our wild child with boundless energy, whose every emotion is multiplied tenfold. Of all of us, she’s probably been most deeply affected by COVID. Even though she’s doing well in school, she misses her friends and her freedom. She wants to go places and do things, and our tiny bubble is, well, tiny. She’s found some solace in cooperative games like Animal Jam, and diving deep into the world of Pokémon.

We’re all gaming a lot these days (*cough* Stardew Valley, Among Us, Cards of Darkness, the NYT Spelling Bee, Animal Crossing, and something called Phogs *cough*), with the exception of Tim, who has taken up a mantle of household maintenance. He’s installed a neat and tidy power outlet system for the TV, added smart switches to some of our existing outlets, and had a three-days-long battle with the sink and dishwasher to re-plumb the whole thing, from which he emerged, victorious. That’s worth celebrating, too.

I have a birthday coming up in a few days, and I expect it will be uneventful. Uneventful is a good thing in times like this.