Catching Up, Part 2: Pandemic Gifts
We got past our record shattering hot June weather last year and the rest of the summer was mostly normal. I can’t remember any standout heat, and the forest fires east of the mountains and to the north and south of us didn’t affect us too much. There were some orange sun days, where the setting sun looks unearthly from the smoke haze, but not as bad as years past. This year we’re having a cold, wet spring – May and June have been setting records for rainfall and the rivers are up to the point of nearly flooding, which is super unusual this late in the year. But much more normal than last year’s heat, for sure, and much preferred. I could use some more sunshine though. I don’t think it’s going to warm up significantly, and it’s raining again this afternoon, but we will hopefully get some steady sun after tomorrow, July 4th, when summer usually starts around here.
I got my vaccinations last spring (2021) and felt better after that – I know they aren’t a fail safe against contracting COVID-19, but it does give me a measure of comfort. Virtually no side effects either (some tiredness and arm soreness after the first one). I got my booster (third shot) in January but am not feeling as urgent about a fourth shot. I’m not big on getting a lot of vaccinations – I don’t do annual flu shots, for instance – and while I believe in the principal of vaccines, I don’t just go for jabs willy nilly. Plus my exposure level is pretty minimal. But I will probably boost the COVID at some point, for sure.
It’s been a long couple of years with COVID 19, for sure. And for this introvert, not all of the changes and adjustments of “social distancing” were entirely negative.
Working 100 percent from home for 2 years was really a long-held dream come true for me, and I consider this part of the pandemic to be a gift (and feel very fortunate to have a job where I could do this). I went into the office a few times over the 2-year period. There was a core team there of folks whose work couldn’t be done from home, and some extrovert types who preferred the office. Sitting at my desk masked all day on those days wasn’t ideal, but it was a way to show up and be counted/accounted for. But no commute was even better than I thought it would be – 2 hours of my life back every day (hundreds of hours not spent in traffic) was amazing. Less stress and no need to get up early to get dressed and prepped for the office, and hundreds of dollars saved for the gas and parking I no longer needed for going into the office were the financial bonuses I didn’t anticipate. And, even better, fewer people on the road means less fossil fuel being burned and tons less carbon into the atmosphere, and the planet benefits big time as well. Win-win-win.
The other gift was, of course, time with the dogs. It’s especially poignant with another devastating loss recently (can’t write about this yet as it’s too raw – my Instagram has the post @macfinnfarm). I am so glad to have had this extra time with my family, my family being my dogs. Spending time with them—even if they just sleep all day long while I work—has been beyond priceless to me.
Two things – the gifts I didn’t foresee – were my hair and my weight. First the hair. Like many, I began coloring my hair sometime in my late 40s. The gray was coming in strong and highlights at the salon were expensive and couldn’t keep up with it. I chose the at-home color route instead of letting it go gray, and for a time liked the results. After a while though, and especially when the roots showed I was more than 75 percent gray, it became tedious. I liked my long hair, and getting out the Miss Clairol every 4 weeks, then every 3 weeks (roots became noticeable after 2 weeks, and I was using that L’Oreal root spray – basically spray painting my part brown– to hide the white stripe of my parted hair) was getting to be more than tedious. I would try to do it on the weekend – half an hour of applying the color, then sitting with it for 25 minutes, then rinsing out…I just hated it and felt stuck.
I talked to my hairdresser about going gray several years ago, and it seemed the only way was to let it grow out. So I was effectively painted into a corner – letting it grow out was NOT going to be attractive (unless I cut my hair into a short pixie cut, which I didn’t want to do – fully gray and sporting an “old lady haircut” all at once was more than I could contemplate), and wouldn’t work in a professional office setting. The average person at my work is 25 or 30 years my junior, and the ageism I already felt would be notfun if I came to work with half grown roots, aside from the look not being professionally presentable.
Our office went to a work from home status in late March of 2020 (we were classified as an “essential business” but many other businesses like ours had been working from home for several weeks by then). At that time, we were all thinking we’d be back to normal by June. Haha – remember that? In mid-April I dutifully colored my roots, a little late, as was typical (later than usual because there was no one to see the inch of white of my part). It looked great when done, as it always did, but ugh, I just hated the doing of it. And of course the chemical aspect wasn’t something I liked either – the hair dye, even “Ammonia free!” products, just didn’t feel great to be putting on my scalp. As the weeks went on and return to office looked like it was going to be longer than anticipated, given how the virus was ravaging our country, I realized that I would have no better time to finally go gray like I’d been wanting to do for years. So I let it go. The first few months weren’t so bad; I could use a baseball cap in public and cover the worst of it. About 6 months in it started to get unavoidable with regard to the half-grown-out look. Not attractive at all, but I wasn’t going out that much – lock down was real and I was keen on avoiding a coronavirus infection. At almost a year in, I began to see what it was going to look like. And I liked it! I got a haircut to get rid of some of the old brown/dyed hair, so the contrast wasn’t so acute, and kept letting it grow. After about 18 months the transformation was nearly complete. I had a serious haircut/style then, and got rid of all but an inch or two of the brown. It was the shortest my hair had been in years, but I was officially gray! And I’m happy to say I LOVE it. I’ve had one more cut, and all the dyed brunette color is gone. My hair isn’t as white as I expected it would be, and the texture and thickness is different too (thinner/not as coarse, and seemingly less of it/not as thick), but I’m very happy with it. I especially love NOT having to spend 2 hours every 3 weeks processing it with chemicals on my head.
And my weight! Like many, I gained weight during the first year of covid – I was less active working from home, and didn’t have any kind of structured exercise routine. Walks with the dogs were so boring to me (Daisy didn’t like them so much, Farley was too old, and Pal was/is all bird dog on leash, and it’s not so enjoyable for me) and, for me, walking dogless is even worse. And my eating habits weren’t the best. I don’t eat a lot of junk food or processed food – I like to make real food – but in my intermittent fasting style of eating, I would eat a LOT at each meal. Like, a recipe that made three or four servings would be one meal. Good, fresh food, but too much of it. And a pint of premium ice cream on a Saturday night of Netflix wasn’t uncommon. The clothes were getting tighter and my self-esteem and shame about my weight was getting worse. After a year I finally decided it was time to do something. I just didn’t want to “diet” again – the idea of restricting or depriving myself just made me angry. But the other alternative, at that weight, was to buy new clothes in the next size up. Nope.
So I tried one of the popular online programs I kept hearing about, bought a scale, and figured if I hated the program after the two week free trial I could cancel it. Well, I did hate it. I was hangry and the program’s silly/immature banter and excessive use of acronyms and hashtags just irritated me. so. much. And I wasn’t losing much weight. But I was determined and I stuck with it. I found an online “support group” on social media – others in my age demographic also using this program – and that was really helpful. After about a month or so, the constant feeling of hunger was diminished, and I kept counting calories. After a month I was down about 5 pounds. So I kept at it. And kept at it. The eating light became second nature, and I began to feel better about myself as the weight continued to come off. I plateaued for about a month at about 6 months in (over the holidays) but kept at it. After about 9 months I was close enough to my goal to ditch the program (and the fee$) and kept at it. I’m down about 45 pounds now, and have maintained this for 6 months now. I even got down to 50 pounds gone at one point, but didn’t stay there too long. I’ve begun doing a LOT of walking too – with a new dog (more on him later) that made it more fun, and it’s been good for both of us, physically and mentally. It feels really good to have gotten rid of that bulk; something I don’t think I could have done with the daily grind of commute and office stress (poor eating habits and work-related stress is a factor for the weight to pile on in the first place). I’m down two sizes and need a belt to keep my jeans from falling off (old lady butt syndrome = my youthful glutes are gone, haha!) and tops that felt and looked like I was wearing sausage casings just a year ago are now slipping off my shoulders they’re so loose. Gray hair and slender and fit for my sixth decade – I’ll take it!