Thursday, December 31, 2020

2020 Goal Reflections

New Year's Eve is a particularly good time to look back on the year and reflect--what did we do? What were our goals? Did we meet them? Last New Year's, Bryce and I wrote down our goals for 2020 in my under-used bullet journal. 

I just reread them and HAHAHAHA'd and then put my head down on my desk, dejected. 

Then I remembered, "oh yeah, we made those goals PRE-PANDEMIC." 

I have to be kind and recall, the me who wrote those goals, many of which are not fulfilled, had NO IDEA that only three months into the year everything would become very, very stressful and "normal" would become relative. So forgiving myself all the things that were left undone or completely abandoned is reasonable. 

Even if they aren't on the list, I want to think on the things I did achieve this past year. That DESPITE a global pandemic and DESPITE a very not-normal world and DESPITE a lot of stress, fear, and anxiety...I did manage to get some shit done.

1) I expanded the front hill garden on the right side. 2019 me wanted to attack the giant bramble hill on the left, but 2020 me knew that was unrealistic. But I am pretty proud of how the hill garden grew. Hard to see it all, but there were so many pretty switchgrasses (Ruby Slippers, Shenandoah, Cheyenne Sky), mistflower, and ferns (including a painted fern called Godzilla, that will apparently grow to be nearly 3 feet tall, which sounds amazingly prehistoric and I might have to get a dinosaur garden sculpture for it).

2) I created a whole new garden space, my "birdbath garden," which is right out my office window. Turned out to be a key spot as I spent A LOT MORE TIME at my desk in front of that window this past year. There were annual Black and Blue salvias,  red lobelia,  verbena bonariensis,  liatris (well, one got to flower this year, the rabbits beheaded the rest), and a new butterfly bush. I saw so many butterflies, hummingbirds, and even a hummingbird moth.


3) ANOTHER new/expanded garden space! This is on the hill going up the side of the house from the driveway, and started with a boatload of daffodils I planted in the spring. It doesn't look super impressive since it's Year 1, but there's narrowleaf mountain mint,  helenium,  pink lobelia,  astilbes galore,  dwarf bleeding heart,  purple verbascum, and campanula. Then I put in some coreopsis since it did so well in my corner garden, but we'll see what comes back! Always nice to have new garden space.

4) We painted the house a lovely dark color and replaced the siding on the "weather side" of the house. We painted our front door a fun butternut squash orange that makes me happy every time I see it. Also, a small thing that made a huge difference was replacing the door in our bedroom to a tiny deck that turned out to be grandfathered and not particularly structurally sound (plus the source of a giant yellowjacket nest IN OUR WALL that you COULD HEAR, a favorite space of wasps, and an area with absolutely brutal sun in the summer) with a window and no deck. Sooooo much better. Can't find a "before" picture, but it was a door with a window and a broken seal, and it was half the glass size. 

 5) Bryce made that campsite area behind our house, and then we worked together to clear up the pond a bit and get it even more campy! 

1) So many of the things I had on my list were impacted by the pandemic. HOWEVER, I did become Special Ed Lead Teacher for my building, which was a goal of mine and came to pass. A bit of a trial by fire, being lead teacher for the first time in a pandemic with hybrid model school, but I guess if I can do it now, I can do it anytime! I have no desire, NONE, to ever be an administrator, but I do enjoy being a teacher leader. 

2) I did join the Diversity Council, and have done a lot of diversity and equity work in my building. Including being the point person for the apparently very controversial Black Lives Matter In Schools t-shirts and support days on the 19th of the month, which landed my district in the news and had some back and forth before the district-level administration wisely concluded that teachers wanting to participate in this county-wide conversation celebration were looking to support students and build awareness, and not looking to attack kids of police officers or teach kids that the police are racist or go marching down the hallways shouting "No Justice, No Peace." For the love of all that is holy, it was a hot mess but we worked through it and have lots of good work that we're doing. I got a fun catalog full of amazing Black History stuff (my favorite is a t-shirt that you can put your school's name on that says, "Black History Happens EVERY DAY: Learn, Live, and Celebrate the Legacy") and looked to see how come it came to me and it was addressed to "___ ____ Middle School Black History Program Director." Which is NOT my title but was pretty damn cool that someone saw the catalog and said, "yeah, that needs to go to Jess."

3) A teacher colleague and I started a Social Justice Club that is limping along (hard to get a new club going when kids are in school 2 days a week but we're trying!). 

4) I haven't yet had a nervous breakdown due to the stress of pandemic teaching. A small thing, but an important one. Sadly I think the "yet" is an important modifier, as cases rise and this new variant makes itself known I am getting more and more nervous. 

1) Note it doesn't say "weight loss." I'm going for strong, which is good because the pandemic stress goes straight to my belly. I was AWESOME at doing virtual Pilates classes 2-3x per week, every week, all the way through to the summer. The summer even saw me able to do outdoor classes at the new Mobile Studio, an open-air trailer. I love how strong Pilates makes me feel. I hate how once school started, it became VERY HARD to keep up with it. I was so tired. The showering when I get home kind of sucks away the motivation I have to do anything else after, because why shower after a long day of walking COVIDy halls if you can't immediately put soft, cozy pajamas on and try to relax a bit before doing more school work? However, since I was sucking at doing it, I did jump on an opportunity to do semi-private in person lessons at my teacher's in-home studio, which she cleans and sanitizes to hospital grade, keeps the windows open, has an insane air filtration system, and never has more than 2 established, known clients at a time, always at least 10 feet apart and masked. At first I was super nervous, but it felt SO GOOD to get back on a Reformer, and unlike the online classes, I felt too guilty to skip  because a) I didn't want to lose money, b) I didn't want to screw her over if she was being nice and wasn't going to dock me, c) sometimes I just don't sign up for the online classes because I know I'll be tired, which then becomes self-fulfilling. This has been a bit of a gateway drug of sorts to get me back into the swing of things, and now I'm doing classes more regularly(ish). 

2) We're walking a lot, but mostly on the weekends. Because of the whole shower situation. And break has been great for long walks. I actually did so much better with fitness when we were on lockdown and all virtual, because while that was stressful in different ways, I didn't have all the protocol maintenance to help us feel safe at home to contend with. 

3) SUPER UNDER THE WIRE since we did it today, but we bought an exercise bike. Apparently, you can get really nice magnetic upright bikes that fold up. We just need something for cardio when we can't walk. Or when we want to do something different. I am excited, because I did the bike at the gym (although preferred the elliptical, but those are BEASTS to have at home), and when we stopped going to the gym (you will NOT find me in a gym-gym during this pandemic, no way) I missed that cardio part. Also I read my kindle on the equipment, so that will give me a 2-for-1! 

1) Well, I sucked sucked sucked ass on this one. I don't know why I am so scared to branch out, to put things out into the greater world. Still haven't done it. Did more research on places to submit and stuff like that, but ultimately I chickened out. And it felt like more of a fail because of the whole "oh, pandemic, SO MUCH TIME to do that thing you've always wanted to do!" but then I forgive myself because THERE WASN'T ACTUALLY THAT KIND OF PRODUCTIVE TIME. Being in an anxiety state all the time kind of makes it difficult to do new and exciting things. 

2) I did keep blogging, and I'm trying to be more consistent about it since I love this so much. I really, really try not to fall behind but it's been sooo hard with all the stress of school. 

3) I have written some pieces, some stuff, and I'm trying to get in the habit of priming that pump and writing every single damn day, apart from this space. I love it so much, and I don't understand why I keep choking on it. Sigh. 

Obviously we didn't take any vacations or anything, didn't get to see family who live out of state, and have had minimal adventures. We did discover a ton of local trails, many walking distance. We had our campfire nights, and Bryce is cooking up a storm. But no Scotland, no Washington State, no Maine, no California, no Texas. A lot of Pinterest travel. A lot of fantasizing about having a tiny house somewhere off grid but yet with a flushing toilet (I really want to like the idea of composting toilets, but I just can't get over how like a litter box it is). Looking up places to hike all over the world once this is over. I did read 91 books this year, so that was like many mental vacations.

When all is said and done, it was a pretty good year despite everything else that happened around us. We are surviving, maybe even thriving (even though it is exhausting and sometimes my job feels like a form of Russian Roulette). We managed to have fun and do stuff that made us happy even as it felt like the world was burning. 
I think, though, that I am going to make some very, very low-key goals for 2021. Nothing too crazy. I can always try to overshoot. (But not that whole Shoot-for-the-moon-even-if-you-miss-you'll-land-among-the-stars bullshit. No, no you won't. You will fall back into the atmosphere and burn up. Womp-womp...)

Happy New Year's Eve, may you be able to (safely) celebrate the end of this year and hope for a better one ahead.

Monday, December 28, 2020

The New Tree

 Well, we did it. The artificial tree is up, and I have to say that I LOVE IT. It's not quite the same as a "real" one, but it has: no needles everywhere, no sticky sap giving me hives, no fear of cat death from tree water lapping, no wondering where to put it when it's done, no lingering guilt over sanctioned tree-murder... and for positives, it HAS A REMOTE for the lights, which sparkle like stars, it fits ALL our ornaments, it's bigger than any tree we could safely transport in our cars (7.5 feet tall!), and it can live in the attic. I thought I would be all grudgingly okay with a fake tree, but man, I feel all in on it, even though the branches feel somewhat like mascara wands. 

I thought I'd share some of my favorite ornaments. Sadly, we couldn't find my puffin ornament (it's SOMEWHERE, I just don't know where), and this is not exhaustive, but here's the ornaments and stories that go with them: 

Love this book-toting mouse. Saw it a year ago and toyed with giving it away but couldn't part with her!

This is the newest, a Danforth Pewter Snowflake Bentley 2020 ornament. Trying to make this a tradition. Also love the owl peeking from the back.

This is also new, from our administration at school and the Tech teacher, who churned out one of these FOR EVERY STAFF MEMBER. Nice, right?

A beautiful hand-painted owl

Another owl, with slightly evil eyes and apparently placed where it can remind me that the tree has joinery. Hmmph

This was part of a set from Target within the last couple years, the rest is a bluebird in a scarf and an owl, but this reminds me of BingBong from Inside Out. So fun and also terrifying.

Speaking of terrifying, this was a gift to Bryce last year -- his very own Cthulu blown glass ornament! Hilarious, a Lovecraft Ancient Evil One on our tree, watched over by the fox that goes with the owl up above.

Beautiful, woodsy new home ornament. And a violin!

Bryce loves a woody tree car, and we have them hidden around the house all season (pillows, pewter ornaments, etc). So old-fashioned.

This is special, it was from the family of a young man with autism who I taught for three years in a unique situation where we were 1:1, when he was 15-18. This was the last year.

Also special, flowers from my grandmother's funeral. I love that she always has a spot on the tree.

Ahhh, Cape May! Used to go there in summer with my best friend, her mom, and her aunt, until she started having kids and I started not-having-kids. Someday we'll go back!

These are super special: 

These are each part of sets that my best friend bought me in 2006, sort of new-start ornaments. I had lost a lot of ornaments when I left my first husband. There was a box when I went to pick up stuff but I didn't feel safe or comfortable going inside the house formerly known as mine, so I had to be fine with whatever was there and chalk the rest up to loss. Christmas 2005 was pretty much a disaster as my marriage imploded spectacularly with the revealing of horrid secrets right before Christmas, and my dad whisked me away to L.A. so I could be somewhere totally new. So my first Christmas, sort of on my own (I was already dating Bryce at this point, but just, and living in my parents' house they'd bought for retirement), I got to have sets of brand new ornaments. I cried my eyes out because it was such a meaningful, thoughtful gift. And they go on the tree every year! 

There's about a zillion more ornaments with stories, but seeing as how it's supposed to be Microblog Monday, I'll stop here (which is still over the rules, sigh). 

Happy holidays to you and yours!

Want to read more #Microblog Mondays? Go here and enjoy!

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Creating Holiday Happiness

In a world where everything is filled with doom and gloom and terrible news and isolation and fear, I want to create some joy, dammit. 

I need to. 

I have been feeling really, really low lately. The cumulative impact of the pandemic is just weighing heavily. Teaching in person in a pandemic with soaring numbers and no testing and a film of rosy denial settled all over school is insanely stressful. I worry about getting sick. I worry about getting Bryce sick. I don't see anyone else, so I don't have to worry about that, but with the information out about possible long term cognitive impacts of the virus, I am TERRIFIED of getting it and also passing it to Bryce. He has a special brain. I like to think I do, too, but his mathy sciencey PhD-y brain is kind of our (gluten free) bread and butter. It makes me want to vomit and it makes me very upset to think that the job I absolutely love could change our lives forever in such a negative way. 

So, back to the idea of this post -- JOY, not further doom spiraling. 

I absolutely love decorating for Christmas. I love sending out cards, those photo cards that typically are covered in children. I love finding presents for people that I hope they absolutely love, and wrapping those presents in fancy ways. 

This year, we did a photo card again (we have one for every year since we were married, which is a fun little time capsule) but did not do a photo shoot. We did "photos of the pandemic" that we took ourselves because that's the kind of year this is. It wasn't funny or silly like previous years, although we could have done pictures of us in pajamas or business-up-top-and-cozy-bottoms. I firmly believe that my family of two can have these photo cards and illustrate that families come in different sizes. I get an insane amount of joy putting these together and sending them out, and then looking at each year (I have a box with now 12 years of cards).

 Here is the 2020 card:

I don't know why the text came out so insanely tiny on the back. But maybe it just makes it an extra challenge, like an eye test for the holidays. 

We don't have a tree yet. I am still mildly resentful about having to pick one up, by myself, at Home Depot last year. It had to be small so I could pick it up myself and shove it in the back of my Subaru, and neighbors who happened to be there helped me get it in too, but it was worth it to have an actual tree in the house. And, I guess, to save a somewhat scraggly last minute tree that ended up looking lovely in our living room, even from the deck outside: 

I didn't want to go get a sad tree by my lonesome this year. I wanted Bryce to have to get it, or go with me. But there was nowhere we felt comfy going, and so this weekend Bryce ordered our very first artificial pre-lit tree. It's 7 1/2 feet tall, which is the tallest tree we've ever had, and it is being delivered tomorrow. I have been assured that it's the environmentally-friendly option, that it will last year after year after year, but it still makes me sad that it's not real. Probably it will make me less sad when I'm not constantly watering it, sweeping up dead needles, freaking out that the cat may drink the tree water and die (not sure that's actually a thing), or worrying about fire hazards. And of course, not worrying about where in our yard to dump it when it's done. That always seems wasteful, although I like to think that putting it somewhere in the scrub brush area of our property it provides a habitat for...something. 

Otherwise, I've decorated up the inside, and even splurged on some new decorations for a spot I've been dying to decorate: 

Bryce has since put some fairy lights behind "Merry Christmas," which is lovely and cozy.

I guess I do have a little tree, but can't put any presents under it. 

Love our mantel decorations, including the card I received twice from the same friend that always has a place of honor in the middle.

The dining room side of the fireplace. Not sure if you can see that the little black owl statue on the right has a Santa hat on.

The world's tiniest reindeer pulls a ginormous sleigh, while I tempt fate with a zillion tiny fires.

And of course, our woodland critter countdown -- every day we pick a new critter from the bag. It's such a fun ritual!

The outside got a wreath courtesy of my mother-in-law: 

Lit at night(ish)

Iced in snow during the day.

I felt like we needed more. So I went out and decorated our skeletal bushes: 

And our pine tree out front:


And even our mailbox: 

I feel this overwhelming need, in a time where everything is so dismal, to spread joy and happiness everywhere I can. To make the magic of the holidays something special for a couple of 40-somethings without kids. Everyone deserves some magic!

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

An Antidote to Doom

I suck at blogging right now. Then again, I am feeling pretty sucky and down in the dumps in general.

Maybe it's because I am exhausted to the bone from teaching, STILL IN PERSON, with an 8.8% positivity rate in the county where I teach. It is more stressful every day. 

Maybe it's because when I get home I literally feel like mush and struggle to function. 

I cannot wait until break. A week from today I will be there. And by there I mean at home, no longer going into what feels increasingly like a gauntlet of germs and exposure.

Since I have limited brainpower at the end of the day, I scroll mindlessly on my phone. (Not social media though, that is pretty much a guarantee of doom spiraling.)

And I discovered the antidote to "doomscrolling" -- JOYSCROLLING. Click on the link and you will be treated to sights and sounds of Iceland, including PUFFINS. And some great music, and delicious food being cooked, and waterfalls and rainbows and ocean. 


Friday, November 27, 2020

On Thankfulness and Grief

Sometimes Facebook throws out gems of wisdom, and this week I saw one worth sharing: 


It's meant to apply to this pandemic holiday, but oh man does it apply to infertility, too. LITERALLY ALL OF IT. 

The tiredness. 

The missing normalcy. 

The grieving heart. 

Swap out "It's okay if you wish the holidays would be the same as they have been in the past" with "It's okay if you wish the holidays looked different from what they have in the past." 

My favorite is, 

You can cry for what you are missing, and at the same time give thanks for all you have.

It's a double whammy, I would imagine, for people fresh in the throes of the pain and loss of infertility, adoption, resolving differently than you'd hoped -- those losses AND the loss of the pandemic (and the pandemic amplifying the uncertainty of treatment, of finances, of stability, of the ability to pursue parenthood). 

This sums up my feelings on loss. You can BOTH see the things that are missing, and be happy about what you have. One does not cancel out the other. I can be grateful and happy for my health, my marriage, my home, my job, my family, and my friends... and also feel the loss that the holidays usually bring because my immediate nuclear family is me, Bryce, and the cat. I can be grateful for that reality, and also mourn my 35 ghost embryos, two that got further than the rest but still didn't stay, and 8 of which became a double lost dream through embryo adoption. They didn't thaw, they didn't take, they were our loss and another couple's loss, and added some hefty guilt to the mix as well. I can mourn the adoptions where we weren't chosen, those moments where we thought we could become parents imminently but just weren't quite right for anyone to say, "I want THEM to parent my child." 

I really dislike the culture that shoves gratitude down your throat. The "Well, at least you..." culture. It diminishes grief. It diminishes the fact that grief doesn't have an expiration date, that it is ever-evolving and cyclical and able to be triggered at any moment, no matter how happy and grateful and fortunate you are in other arenas.

When I commented on Mel's Thanksgiving post, I realized... It's been THREE AND A HALF YEARS since we made the decision to resolve childfree. It blew my mind. In some ways it feels like a lifetime away. In others it feels more fresh. In the comments you say what you'll bring to the virtual table, and you say where you are in life (usually infertility but doesn't have to be). It amazed me that I am in such a different place than holidays past -- that I feel truly resolved, that I can look at my house and see the life we have and not ghosts of the life that just never came to pass. 


It doesn't mean that grief doesn't live there, inside my rebuilt life. It just has further to go to seep to the surface, unless something cuts deep enough to cause an immediate bleed. 

It doesn't mean that while I will enjoy the (increasingly dwindling) cards that will be coming through the mail, that I won't also notice fertility friends' kids who are now nowhere near babies, signalling a passage of time and a widening gap between my life and theirs. 

It doesn't mean that while I will decorate my house for Christmas and participate in traditions Bryce and I have cultivated over the years, that I won't also feel a twinge of sadness that we will have no one to pass these traditions on to. That much of our collected treasures will likely end up donated and enjoyed by people we don't know, we hope. 

It helps a lot that we're not in the house where I had a room set aside for a nursery, where I had a room that WAS a shell of a nursery. It helps that I don't have to go down the steps and see the Christmas tree and stockings on the hearth that I imagined each year would NEXT YEAR be joined by a third stocking, presents for a baby, some year a child or children racing down the steps to see the magical transformation. Our house now has never had that dream living within it. It's harder to see what we lost quite so viscerally. And for that I am so very grateful. 

This is a hard time for many people, harder now that we are in a pandemic, people are grappling with family loss and financial hardship and isolation and health worries, on top of other issues that complicate the holidays. 

Give yourself grace. Give yourself (and others) the right to both enjoy the happiness and gratitude of the holidays AND feel those losses. To not slap a smile on all the time or always answer with "I'm good! Great! Okay!" all the time. To be honest about where we are in these unprecedented pandemic holidays. It was hard enough before, to feel the pressures of so much joy and togetherness when inside you might at times feel sad and alone. 

I hope you have space for the grace, for the love you can give yourself and others who need to remember that it's a balance, that you can be both happy and sad, both grateful and feeling that something/one is missing. Being able to sit in both of those feelings is what makes us beautifully human.

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Home and Adventure

I was tooling around Pinterest (trying to waste my time there instead of Facebook, ha), and I came across a farmhouse-style sign that looked strangely perfect for us. 

I'm not going to lie, I hate most farmhouse-style signs. Like the ones that say KITCHEN or LOVE LIVES HERE or IN THIS HOUSE, WE (and then list of things that family does or doesn't do, and for some reason, not cleaning sticky floors is a common bullet point, which makes me wonder about ant infestations, which doesn't make for good decor if you ask me). My least favorite is ALWAYS KISS ME GOODNIGHT. I'm pretty sure I've mentioned this before... I see this advertised as an over-the-bed, romantic-type sign, but all I can think is if you need a sign to remind you to give your significant person a goodnight kiss, then you have bigger problems. By all means, if goodnight kisses aren't your thing, that's fine, but a reminder sign on a two-by-four seems like a sad commentary. 

I have bought the occasional farmhouse sign though. I bought this one, when we were going through our transition of trying-to-adopt to resolving child-free. Which was a BIG transition that took a full year (maybe even two) to feel like a reality we were living and learning to love and then loving (mostly).

It was small, and it had a message that spoke to me in the moment. I still have it on my desk in our new dream house, which makes it sound a little obnoxious from the material standpoint, but from an emotional standpoint it's perfect. The gratitude is for our little family of two. 

The sign I found more recently on Pinterest haunted me, and eventually I tried to find it to buy. Of course the link was dead (oh Pinterest, your dead links or links to weird unrelated sites/products kill me on the inside). So a couple of weeks ago I did a search, and found one on Etsy that was just perfect. 

This sign is small too, but bigger than the Gratitude sign. It's hefty, framed in rough wood. But it's only maybe 12" square. It came from a shop in Mississippi, that apparently has many religious and faith-based things (which this in my mind is not). When it came, much like the Love Bats, I couldn't hold off until Christmas. I had to give it to Bryce RIGHT NOW. 

Because again, it wasn't solely a gift for Bryce, it was gift for us and our life together: 

Doesn't that just sum it all up. It was like an extension of our wedding vows, and our way of life, really. It's hanging in our bedroom, and makes me insanely happy when I see it. 

It feels particularly appropriate given the pandemic, as our adventures pretty much have to be at home. And we've done a great job of that, with making our spaces adventurous, like our backyard adventure area with the pond. And all the hiking adventures that we take locally. And all the adventures that we will hopefully get to take when this pandemic is over (which I hope is a reality-based statement). And in all those adventures, no matter where we are, we will be home. Because we're together. 

Life has been quite the adventure for us, and not always pleasant. The years of pain and setback and lost dreams were incredibly difficult. But we had a home in each other, so we came out the other side of it. We have had amazing moments, like building our new life together and finding the house that is our dream home and perfect for the life we now have, not the life we'd hoped for. But a beautiful, beautiful life all the same. We are both adventurous in our ambitions, and in our desires for fun (food, hiking, vacations with adventurous things, but not too adventurous, because honestly we're big homebodies). 

It's so lovely to have a little sign that affirms all of that, to hang in our bedroom, like a secret lovenote to each other.

Monday, November 16, 2020

#Microblog Monday: Beauty in Letting Go

I saw this on social media and it spoke to me:

Found on Pinterest

This was one of the most beautiful Autumns I can remember. I actually got distracted driving because the trees were so insanely gorgeous: vibrant reds, oranges, golds, russets, and even purples, sometimes all on the same tree. It was breathtaking.

It never lasts, though... Even though it was SO gorgeous for SO long, the wind eventually came and the leaves fell and swirled about on the road and now we have the bare stick trees of winter. 

But now we have winter proper to look forward to, and while there's things to grumble about for sure, it is a season of intense beauty in its own right. The snow that sparkles when the sun hits it, ice glazing the trees, frost on the windowpanes, downy flakes floating slowly from the sky, cozy warmth inside while snow blows and swirls outside...

The lesson I take from this is that it is gift to receive the beauty of each season and see that over the annoying things (raking, shoveling, allergies, frozen toes). To enjoy it while it lasts and then look forward to the next beautiful thing. To let go of things that can't stay the way you'd like them to, which is a hard but necessary lesson in a pandemic. At the same time, the little things can be appreciated and celebrated more when they aren't around all the time. It makes them even more special.

Want to read more #Microblog Mondays? Go here and enjoy! 

Sunday, November 15, 2020

A Completely Amazing Anniversary Gift

When I gave Bryce the Love Bats for our anniversary, he absolutely loved them. He also weirdly took it as a challenge, and kept bemoaning that he didn't have anything nearly as thoughtful, and was at a loss, and our anniversary was going to suck because he was meaningful-giftless. I sort of felt like taking the Love Bats down, because the intent wasn't to make him feel lacking but to be a present for the BOTH of us, but I resisted and eventually he hatched a plot. 

Every October Bryce takes a week, just for himself, to do projects around the house and just plain take a breather. Doing his PhD at the same time that he is working a significant corporate-y job means that a lot of things go by the wayside, like hobbies and house projects and stuff like that. The October week has been a staple of Bryce's life before his PhD, but it's even more important now that he's so stinking busy. 

I totally forgot that he had that week off, which was working out great for him and his gloriously nefarious plans, until I came home early that Monday with shingles pain and informed him I was pretty much out the rest of the week and would be home. 

He was so upset and I couldn't figure it out, and then he said, exasperatedly, "YOU FORGOT THAT I'M OFF THIS WEEK, and I'm working on your present. You being home is kind of making it hard to keep this secret... I'm so disappointed because the secrecy was EVERYTHING." He was actually quite bereft over it. 

I promised him that I could put myself in just my office or the bedroom, and I did have to teach a couple virtual kids and Wednesday I'd be teaching the virtual day from home (although in pain and probably that wasn't the best idea), and the rest of the time I could hole up in the bedroom with a book or Netflix. He was like, "ok, but you can't look out the windows. At all. Any of them." 

I was SO INTRIGUED. What on earth was he doing? I also had to promise not to ask questions, so I was dying of curiosity and also really really trying to honor his wishes. Which I did, except I had to eat lunch on Tuesday and I thought it would be nice if I did my own dishes and when I was doing that, I accidentally looked out the kitchen window and saw him in his bright yellow slicker near the brush pile. I felt terrible and looked away, and then later that afternoon, Bryce came in, disgustingly muddy, and said, "I have to shower and change, but then I can show you your present. But no questions until then." 


It was almost dark and he was like, "Meet me outside." I was on the phone with my best friend and she was like, "he's not taking you in the woods to kill you, is he?" And I said,"That would make a TERRIBLE anniversary present. Unlikely. But I will text you after just in case." 

 He handed me a heavy MagLite flashlight, and we walked around the front of the house to the street and down the little dead end road that has an entrance to the flatter part of our backyard. We walked onto the grass, and I could see a light in the little tunnel-like part of our secret path behind the magnolia tree. 

As we got closer, it turned out to be a little red oil lamp hanging from a shrub. Bryce told me to take it, and we continued down, past a spooky ghoul and towards a squat pottery owl garden thingamabob. That marked the path that we were to go down, that and my skeleton bat Halloween decoration. 

Oooooooo, spoooooooky

This was a new pathway, and it was littered with all the gravestones that I had been looking for (normally we have quite the graveyard in my corner garden, this year I could only find one headstone which was a mystery now solved) and other fun treats: 


With the exception of the owl (which had been missing since the move), it was like all our Halloween decorations that I hadn't been able to find (or sadly had been relocated and I hadn't noticed, but in my defense, SHINGLES PAIN). All along a completely new path that Bryce cleared over Monday and Tuesday, with a brand new mini chainsaw he'd bought, to uncover the area by a pond we didn't realize was quite so pond-y, where the people who built our house had had a spot to sit (the bench was theirs, it needs some TLC and rebuilding of boards, but it's in great condition for the amount of neglect it's seen!). 

It was amazing, because of the effort and also it was basically our own haunted wood tour, which was lovely because we've been going to this night walk tour of the Genesee Country Village Museum at Halloween time and they do period reenactment vignettes by candlelight (we've seen Edgar Allen Poe and vampire themes pre-COVID), and we can't do it this year because of the stupid pandemic. So we got a little taste, minus local actors, in our own back-backyard! 

What's great about this gift is it's not just for's like a new little campsite that we just have to walk down the hill behind our house to get to. No trip necessary. We've used it twice and it's just lovely! 

You can see the trail here, and through the trees our house up top

I had my chair facing the pond, and Bryce had his by the cooking firepit he built

Our pond! We apparently share it with our neighbor.

Cooking firepit's virgin voyage

November sunset, from our backyard camp

It's kind of crazy that this is in our backyard. It's the far reaches of our backyard, to be sure, and it definitely underscores that the house we moved to when we remade our life is definitely more country than anything I've ever lived in. (Bryce is from Maine originally, so he's used to this sort of thing without the highway noise, ha). This was a short enjoyment visit, as I was in quite a lot of pain still and had vacuumed and cleared some vines, which was ill-advised, so we stayed until it got dark. 

Last night, though, we had a full on camp night from afternoon to early evening. Glorious that it gets dark so early and we can pretend we've had a whole night out there and then have time to have dinner inside and get into cozy clothes. It is so fun to walk back to the trail in the back and go to our "campsite." 

Bryce's bushcraft setup for splitting wood

Hot log-splitting man!

Oh hey little pond

A nice fire in the firepit, the non-cooking one

Just us chickens, hanging out by our campfire in our own woods...

Something fun and kind of magical about having tea from a "campfire."

We stayed long enough to see the stars come out, and to hear a great horned owl hoo hooting away in the pines across the marsh.

It is so special to have this space. To feel like we can get away, but still run up to a running toilet if we need to. That's a huge plus! I am not a camping girl (I like minimal to no creepy-crawlies, a mattress, indoor plumbing, and zero killers), but I think this is a slow grooming process that Bryce is sneakily doing to get me used to the idea. Maybe a camper thingie would be a nice compromise. It is awfully fun and almost meditative to hang out by the fire and watch the embers glow and burn down to ash. 

Well done, Bryce. You gave the Love Bats a run for their money, and gave us a different gift that we'll have to enjoy for years to come. Even though we're in a pandemic, even though things have been beyond stressful and I came down with the stupid shingles, this 11th anniversary was one of the most delightful and memorable in the books. I love this quiet, lovely life we've built.