Sunday, May 31, 2020

Rest and Refocus - Stay at Home Photo Diary and Reflections (Part 1)

April was the first full month of staying at home in earnest.  It started off with Wes's birthday, which we celebrated with many pounds of Boiling Crab for two spread out over our dining table.  We joke about how drastically different our birthdays were—a hundred people sharing food without masks on just six months ago is now totally unimaginable.  We never saw this pandemic coming, or what it would do to life as we knew it.  Ironically, being in a physical state of "lockdown" has actually freed me of some self-inflicted demands that should have been addressed long ago.  It almost felt like a much-needed change of pace that my mind and body desperately needed.  I am also ever more aware of and thankful for what we have during this crisis—safety, health, financial stability, companionship, and a kick-ass yard—things that not everyone has.  To be able to have positive things to say is a total privilege, but I do feel that having optimism is not limited to those with privilege, and vice versa.  Seeing optimistically is how humans find a way to go on.

As for me, although I definitely get sad that we don’t have kids to spend our long quarantine days with (we would have, if I had carried our first pregnancy to term), I’ve realized what a blessing it is to have this time together as a family of two. We always have spent a lot of quality time together anyway, but from the stories I have heard from coworkers and friends with children, it’s been really a test.  I am always envious of them anyway, but in this situation it was easier to breathe a sigh of relief that my body decided that the time wasn’t right for us yet.  I go back and forth, though.  Wes recently consoled me by saying that we are not wasting time, but buying time—look at it that way.  I acknowledge that when it’s something you want so much that others have, it’s hard to be very optimistic. But having to wait is a good way to build resilience and make more husband-wife memories while we still can.  And I daresay that we do still have hope.  I finished all of my fertility testing prior to the crazy shutdowns and nothing was problematic, so our fingers are crossed.

I definitely felt stuck in the beginning—lost in this state of discombobulation.  I do miss the dynamism of being with people face to face and having more places to be.  That mad morning rush of making my coffee or tea while filling my water flask, checking my phone, and packing my lunch, was comforting in its own chaotic way.  Now, I basically do everything from home—my job, my yoga classes, my hangouts, my meals.  There's not even a lot to do at the skilled nursing facility and barely any home health.  Everything from supermarkets to hiking trails is now essentially a danger zone.  The only safe haven is home.  

Don't get me wrong, I've always loved being home.  But, I always had this weird perception that "sitting around" was unproductive.  The sudden lifestyle change that the pandemic has brought on has forced me to stop glorifying hustling and to start noticing the benefits of slowing down.  I used to feel so very important with a full Google Calendar and many weekend plans.  But now, I have actually been able to focus better on my job, to finish one thing at a time, to choose when I want to do yoga, to eat slow lunches with Wes every day, to make time for long-lost homey sorts of hobbies that "I'll get to when I'm bored."  I've just been able to realize how actually liberating it feels being in one place all day.  I am grateful for this opportunity to take some deep breaths and feel zero shame about being more "idle," and to prioritize things that make me feel creative, humored, and relaxed, rather than dependable, responsible, and indispensable.  I think that some part of me always knew that I needed to get to this point mentally, but I was conditioned to the idea that working extra and receiving affirmation for it equated to my personal worth.  The mentality has gotten me to where I want to be, but it's also caused me years of undue pressure and anxiety that no longer serves me.

Wes has always tried to tell me to take it easier, but I had to learn this on my own.  He, himself, can also be guilty of being a workaholic, but the difference is that he doesn't really mind it.  He doesn't let it annoy him, and he doesn't attach any guilt to it.  Also, he is both an introvert and a lover of all home economics, so staying off the streets has been a breeze for his personality type.

For a long time before the pandemic, Wes has been working from home given the nature of his job, so he has had more time to figure out his WFH mojo.  He routinely gets up from the desk to do his "yoga," which is tending to the yard (especially the lawn—his pride and joy).  The pandemic did awaken something inside of him, though.  Towards the end of April, he rediscovered his camera equipment in the garage, and suddenly he was taking photos of everything.  It's been interesting to see what he's been able to capture in our daily lives—from birds in the yard that I never knew were there, to pictures of me enjoying my new routines...or pictures of me struggling with figuring out how to do my job.  I admire him for this hobby in photography, not only for the skill that he has, but also the attitude behind it.  There is something inherently optimistic about the willingness to take photos.  Similarly, there is something inherently satisfying about going back to edit them.  Taking photos embodies the idea of slowing down and appreciating the aesthetics of otherwise mundane moments.  It also helps us remember more.  Someday, we'll look back on these quieter days and perhaps yearn for them, just like how we look back on our travel photos and hope to go back one day.

(There are some photos from my phone mixed into this photo diary because Wes didn't bring out his camera until later.)

This is our first Spring living here as homeowners, so the yard had many surprises in store for us.  The weather was great all month and we picked many bucketfuls of plump oranges from our trees and shared them with neighbors.  We were pleased with how great these oranges tasted, as we had done nothing special to the trees whatsoever.  


With less indoor projects to do now that it's been nine months since move-in, Wes has gotten really serious about the lawn.  He wants to figure out how to get rid of the dry patches and eliminate the weeds.  So he's done things like run new sprinkler lines, change sprinkler heads to make them shoot further, closely examine the sprinkler radius, tweak the frequency of watering, spray every inch of grass with humic acid, research weed killer solutions, re-seed the dead patches, drown out mole holes, and of course, mow, mow, mow.  I am realizing now how much of a labor of love it is.  

I did yoga outdoors in the shade and enjoyed the birdsong and greenery while he did all of that.  Yeah, I felt guilty about not helping him, but he convinced me that he doesn't consider any of it as "work."  I eventually realized this to be true and stopped feeling responsible.  

One of the reasons I came to yoga in the first place was for the refuge from life’s hustle and bustle, to stake out a time to focus on just me. I’ve been doing it consistently for nearly four years and it’s worked wonders on my mental health, physique, and self esteem, but sometimes going to a class was another thing to add to my full plate and somewhat of another source of pressure. Now, I can basically do it anytime without having to get into a car, park the car, change in the studio, and then drive home on the freeway. The stress of making it on time or performing for others (gotta admit that it’s a thing) has been stripped away by doing it at home. I’ve made gains all the same, though I miss getting direct feedback from the teachers and stopping by Trader Joe's or the cheese store on my way home. 

The birds and squirrels were very active...we don't know if it's because it's Spring or if we just have never stopped to take note.  We witnessed many animals of this little ecosystem mating, hunting, fighting, basically surviving.  I would venture to say that Wes had become borderline bird-obsessed at this point.  He even captured a priceless photo of one pooping, with the poop suspended in mid-air.  I will have to make a separate post about all of the animals and their quirky behaviors, but here are a few good shots!

I started my huge painting of Sedona and worked on it for hours at a time over many weekends—it was especially comforting to do this on the rainy days that we had.  It was quite the endeavor, but worth the challenge.  Painting is one of those things that I've convinced myself that there isn't time for, but turns out there is!

I picked up doodling again also, focusing my pictures on the joys and woes of daily pandemic life, such as clipping Wes's hair in the bathtub and lining up for groceries.  Little things that make us chuckle—things that we don't actually take photos of. (Follow @marilyndoodles on Instagram for more!)

Wes did end up tackling some house projects, including his first try at some electrical work, and drilling into the bathroom ceiling to install a stronger fan, eek!

One Saturday, we spent time hanging up some string lights in the front and backyard, a project that has been on my mind for months.  It involved tons of tiny zip ties, leaning ladders against tree trunks, a lot of joint visualizing, and improvising with a rake.  Was it worth it? Yesssss, definitely!

We laid cement blocks down over the dirt by the cars to make a surface to roll the trash cans over.  Moving trash cans was never high on our priorities list, but it made a big difference in creating a more spacious feeling in back of the house.  We were able to move the patio set that Wes built in the past out into the open and we also invested in a nice outdoor umbrella over it, after seeing how stupid the white party canopy looked over it.  We also ordered patio seating for the front—might as well make more places to chillax.

Wes experimented with yeast and flour in the kitchen and even attempted making his favorite thing to order from a HK cafe, the chicken steak with gravy, rice, steamed veggies, and complimentary side soup.  We tried to cook food from a variety of cultures to keep things interesting, and never actually felt like we missed eating out at restaurants.  I'm doing separate blog posts on many of these kitchen adventures and will include the recipes!  (this blog post would have been an encyclopedia if I tried to include everything)

Wes was funny and decided that he would take pictures of me doing telehealth.  Diving into this service delivery model for traditionally in-person school-based occupational therapy was both exciting and daunting.  I pored over blogs/articles/Pinterest/podcasts to understand how to pull off treatments remotely, scoured our house for everyday items that could translate to treatment plans, took advantage of Wes's workplace gadgets: a drawing tablet and portable webcam—things that I never thought I'd need for my line of work.  Wes was really supportive and I'm sure, very entertained.  April was also OT Month—what a month to be an OT!  I felt helpless at first, being so limited in my abilities to work with kids and families who needed the services.  It seemed like the validity of my work was in question—was I an essential worker if I wasn't going into the hospital or marching into the "front lines"?  It was tricky to sense whether families on the other side were unaware that I could help, or if they were literally unable to accept help.  There was no consistent way to communicate and no standard of practice.  I was spending far more time preparing for treatments and worrying about kids than ever before.  It was really, really strange.  But by the end of the school year, I felt like I had learned so much and gained new skills and perspectives that would not have been possible if it weren't due to this pandemic.

   Wes drew those animals.

I'm not sure how much longer my Type-A, extroverted, and restless personality type can stay at home, but I know that by redefining my idea of productivity and perceiving ordinary experiences positively, I can still feel like my time is being spent in a worthwhile way.  Although part of me is still addicted to the idea of producing results, such as completing a painting or, err, finishing this blog post, I think that I'm making progress with being less hard on myself.  Plus, these particular results were satisfying to attain the whole way!  Who knew that I would love being a homebody so much?

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