2021 in the rearview

Aiyeeeee! Where have I been for three months?

Autumn was a lost cause. I spent most of it awash with stress and anxiety, mostly over work. Burnout is real, y’all. After almost ten years with Automattic, I’m struggling to figure out how I fit in to a company that’s grown to ten times the size it was when I joined, and I’m mulling over what I want my career to look like in my 40’s. Right now, it’s this mishmash of skills and strengths and weaknesses that have yet to be clarified, and the uncertainty is exhausting.

But I’m coming back from Christmas with a renewed sense of determination to redraw those work/life balance lines in permanent ink. I feel rested and refreshed for the first time in many, many months.

Christmas itself was a blast. It’s probably gauche to say it, but for the first time in my adult life, we are not living paycheck to paycheck, so we splurged! Lots of new toys and goodies for all; my personal favorite is a mother’s ring with our family birthstones set in it. We also snuck in a quick trip to southern Maine to see my brother and sis-in-law and do some post-holiday shopping.

Ellie also celebrated her 13th birthday in December, and I’m still reeling at the idea of having an honest-to-goodness teenager in the house. To celebrate, we planned a spring break trip to New York City, where we’ll stay in Times square and see Hamilton and Harry Potter on Broadway. Hopefully by April the current COVID wave will have subsided!

Looking back, my 2021 wasn’t terrible. Echoes of 2020 showed up, but there was also more light, more time with family, and more travel. We’re all fully vaccinated and boosted, so the kids went back to school in person — that alone helped 2021 look better than 2020. Family vacations to the coast and southern Maine kept us from feeling cooped up. I didn’t get to go to France as I’d hoped (boo), but I used the money to buy myself some new furniture, so now my office feels cozy and inviting.

Gwen joined the middle-school basketball team this fall and played in a few games. It’s pretty cool to see how much she’s improved over the short season, and I’m glad we’ve found something to help her expend all that extra energy.

Tim was hired at Wirecutter in the spring, and started a master’s degree shortly thereafter (he got straight A’s this semester!) We paid off our vehicles and home loans and put aside a healthy nest egg for future home renovations/vacations/oh-shit funds. I scaled back to a 4-day work week and we’re not even feeling the pinch. Money can’t buy happiness, but not having to worry about money has definitely increased my happiness. 🤷🏻‍♀️

As for me, I painted, a lot. I filled up a large file box with paintings and sketchbooks. Having a regular creative practice is good for my mental health, and I love that I’m working with a physical medium rather than digital for once. I think I’ve come into my style over the last several months of near-daily practice. I’ve also acquired way too much paint. 😅

Speaking of mediums, in what is arguably the most unexpected turn of events in 2021, I took up cooking. I’ve been using meal kits, which has helped me pick up the basics — things like “at what temperature is chicken done” and “how to make a simple roux” are no longer mysteries — so I’m feeling more confident in the kitchen and more adventurous in preparing things from scratch. But it’s hard to argue with the simplicity and convenience of having all the ingredients pre-packaged and delivered. We’ve also tried dishes we probably wouldn’t have otherwise; I’m enjoying more Indian, Middle Eastern, and Mediterranean flavors, lots of rice bowls and curries and veggie dishes. 😋

I’m entering the New Year feeling hopeful. The latest COVID wave is surging, but there’s reason to think it will abate soon. It’s time to hibernate, so it’s not like we have a lot of places to be anyway.

And I have things to look forward to in 2022! I’ll turn 39 in a couple weeks. 😱 We’re taking the kids to New York and Bar Harbor…and maybe even Disney for Christmas?!? I have a sabbatical coming in the fall, and I think we’ll make some much needed repairs and improvements to this house. I’m ready to soak it all up, come what may!

into the fray

At some point in October, life mysteriously returned to “normal”. The kids went back to school. We got our booster shots, and even scheduled the first vaccine for Gwen! Speaking of Gwen, she joined the middle school basketball team. And work got intense for both Tim and me.

Suddenly we’re all juggling full schedules. People expect us to be places at specific times; places that *aren’t* a Zoom call, I should say. We’re eating way more McDonald’s than usual.

Suffice it to say, this has not been the gentle easing-into-normalcy I’d hoped for. We’re in zero-to-sixty mode and I was not built for these speeds. I’ve been so drained and nappy that thought my anemia might have reared its ugly head, but my last checkup suggests not. I’m just not used to all this life stuff after a year and a half of being quiet.

I am spending a lot more time in the car now that the kids have places to be. The other day, even my car decided it was too much, and I ended up with a flat tire in the school parking lot. (OK, that might have had more to do with the roofers we hired this summer leaving screws all over the driveway, but still.) Though I technically know how to change a tire (I even remembered how to use the jack!) I didn’t have to put my knowledge to the test; Tim drove in to help.

Gwen’s schedule is especially busy, with practices and games almost every afternoon. Basketball is the sport of choice in our area, so it’s kind of a big deal, but Gwen is rising to the challenge. She hasn’t complained once about having to stay after school for practice, and I’ve noticed improvements in her technique after a couple games. And after so many months of staying at home, it’s a thrill for her to be able to play with other kids.

When we’re not shuttling kids to and fro, there is work to contend with. I’m in the process of role switching, which is stressful, and I’m still project managing for a small team of engineers through the end of the year. I also started a part-time schedule this month, so I no longer work on Fridays. Theoretically this will provide some stress relief, but I’ve only had one Friday off so far, and it was hella busy, so we’ll see.

my toughest critic

Gwen got a basketball hoop for her birthday, so we’ve been practicing basketball for “gym” on nice days. Let’s just say sports of any kind are not my thing.

Gwen: “I’m going to take a break, but I’ll be here to give you destructive criticism.”

Me: “Don’t you mean ‘constructive criticism’?”

Gwen: “Not the way I do it.”

I’m back at my desk after two weeks off from work, and I think I should be a professional vacationer. I vacationed the heck out of that vacation. I stayed at home and did a lot of painting and cleaning and cooking and shepherding kids to appointments. I make a pretty good hausfrau when I’m not holding down a day job, if I do say so myself.

Speaking of kids, remember that fleeting two-week period where mine went to school in a separate building and not on Zoom? Sigh. It was nice while it lasted, but then we got one of those “Your child has come into close contact with someone who has COVID” calls and we pulled both kids out, at least until Gwen can be vaccinated. That was a giant bummer, but we’re getting by. Ellie manages her own schedule like a pro, and my Mom is helping wrangle Gwen for short bursts of homework. I do miss the uninterrupted work time but it’s only temporary (…is what I’m telling myself…again…)

Oh look! Pretty pictures!

I realize this year has been one of my most creatively prolific. I always thought I was taking the easy way out by working in digital mediums (photography, illustration, design) but I’ve put many more hours into tweaking a single vector graphic than I ever have a single painting. Maybe that’s why I find the medium so freeing.

And bonus photos of my adorable pets for good measure:

just like that

And just like that, they’re back to school.

Middle schoolers: Seventh and fifth

I have mixed feelings.

The house is so quiet during the day! I have long stretches of quality time to focus! No one has Zoom-bombed me or run into my office to ask about dessert at 10 a.m.!

Our school is the only local district to not require students wear masks, and boy, do I have some strong feelings about that. The last couple weeks have been a lot of conversations, a lot of running the various what-ifs. Eventually we decided the mental health risks of not going back to in-person learning outweigh the physical health risks for the kids…for now.

And I hate that we have to make that choice, I truly do. I hate that all of us, no matter our opinions on mandatory vaccination or masking or COVID protocols, are stuck in this unforgiving situation. It feels like it’s been forever, and we’re all beyond tired of it. The “come together, stay home, flatten the curve, support our healthcare workers” honeymoon period is long gone, and now it’s just the drudgery of the new-normal with a pandemic on top. Boo, hiss.

So I guess it’s nice to get back to “normal”, but in my case that just means an added layer of anxiety as I wait for the other shoe to drop. Crossing my fingers and hoping for the best.

In the meantime, there’s work. I’m leading a small bug-fixing pod for the next couple months, so that’s keeping me busy. Automattic also started offering part-time arrangements recently, so I’m eyeing a move to four days a week starting in November. Love the idea of a regular three-day weekend.

When I’m not working, I’m cooking, cycling, or painting, and watching Miracle Workers. It’s providing just the kind of distracted humor I need in my life right now!

unsqueeeee

Y’all, I am probably not going to France. 😂

Oh, COVID, you tease! Given the rise of the Delta variant, and the number of airports I’d have to hang around in, I feel like I’d be asking for trouble.

Ah well. The good news is I have a ton of new paints to play with, and I’m still taking vacation. The kids will be in school most days, so I’ll have lots of time to paint.

I’m really into…whatever this style is lately. It’s messy, vaguely Seuss-ian? I dunno, I just really love playing with colors and shapes and seeing what happens when I put the paint on the paper.

We’ve been working on the house, cleaning out all the nooks and crannies that pile up with random stuff. Tim recently moved his office downstairs to a little room off the pantry, so my office suddenly has a lot of extra space. I share about 600 square feet with the guest bed and some general storage, but the rest of room is all mine. I ordered furniture from Joybird to set up a sitting area/reading nook and make the space a bit more inviting and cozy.

Part of the room is devoted to my new recumbent exercise bike, which I hope will help me manage my lipedema and stay active through the winter months. I started biking last summer when we purchased an adult trike, but the right pedal came off after only a few weeks, the threads were stripped and we never got around to fixing it. The new bike has the benefit of air conditioning and television and not having to worry about traffic. 🙂

Tim and I are taking a mini vacation to the coast for our 14th wedding anniversary this weekend. We’re a little nervous about traveling given COVID rates rising, but the weather looks good for spending time by the ocean. I think we might hit up the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens while we’re in the area, maybe do some light shopping. I’m looking forward to a few days with my favorite guy, a nice meal or two, and some relaxing by the pool.

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.