Feathered Aspen

A thirty page long post about turning thirty…


I turned thirty yesterday.  The morning started as it typically does with tears, pancakes, and bargaining.  Somehow, I managed to get both girls into the truck and Lily dropped off by 8:30 am.  I gave Lily a kiss and then Lu and I headed to an appointment to get a hitch installed on our truck.  On our way, it started to snow.

We ran while they worked on the truck, and an hour later, we were ready to drive home.  Chilled, we chopped up veggies for a soup and boiled water to put in a hot water bottle.  Snuggled up on the bed, Lu played while I tied a mala necklace I’ve been working on as a gift to myself.

After lunch, we headed to the thrift store.  I’ve been overspending my monthly allowance the past few months, and I’m feeling a need to embark on a spending Sabbath, but I decided to follow my impulse and comb through the isles, picking out a couple of small treasures along the way.  I do love thrift shopping!

We picked up Lily and drove home.  I finished my mala while Lu slept in the truck, and then Joshua surprised me with a slew of my favorites:  a tray of nachos for an appetizer, a sweet card assembled with the help of Lily, a can of cold La Croix, and later, my traditional birthday salad with beets, pecans, blue cheese, and spinach in a balsamic vinaigrette.  We went on a little walk through our chilly neighborhood, and afterwards, Grandma came up and we all had Berry Chantilly Cake.  Joshua sure knows how to make a birthday special.

So I have a confession to make:  turning thirty makes me a little sad.  I teared up twice yesterday, and in anticipation of this birthday, I had a few intentions.  One was a project.  I wrote a bunch of letters, I made some gifts for other people, and I carefully selected the stones for a mala.  Once I was done with all of that, I was going to write.  I was hoping to process why, even when I’m more content with my life than I’ve ever been, I’m not totally comfortable with getting older.

Well, the letters haven’t been sent, though they’re all written and most of them are in their envelopes.  My mala is looped around my neck, and it’s my favorite gift I’ve ever given to myself.  Last night was lovely, and I’m finally seizing the opportunity to sit down and write.  But even after all of these little projects, I’m still not sure what to make of this milestone.

Joshua breezed through his thirtieth birthday with a thirty mile run and stocked the liquor cabinet with nice whisky, scotch, and gin.  He did not seem shaken, nor concerned.  Thirty was just another birthday.  He reminds me that we’ve done a lot.  We’ve traveled around the world, married, had two children, and lived in different cities.

And it’s true.  We’ve done a lot.  I’ve learned so much, and life is good.  But that’s not where this weirdness is coming from.  I’m not sure where it’s coming from.

Anyway, I thought I’d use this post as a gathering.  Of memories and lessons and favorite things.  This is a photograph in words of where I am and what I’m thinking of at thirty:


In parenting…  Oh man.  There are so many lessons to be learned here.  I’m sure that they won’t end and I’ll be an old lady (much older than 30!) and still be learning them.  I think my first lesson in parenting was surrender.  It was a process of saying goodbye to the life I had before and then the forging of a new life.  It’s surrendering to the emotions and needs of my little girls (something I’m not always good at).  It’s surrendering to a slower schedule.  Surrendering a life of individuality and self-designed pursuits to life as a unit.  Where decisions are made collaboratively and input is gathered before forward progress is made.  Where compromise and negotiations are as necessary as regular, frequent meals and lots of sleep.

And I know I’ve joked about it before, but my children are also my spiritual gangsters.  In fact, I took a thirty minute break just now to sit with Lu while she had her very first temper tantrum.  As her sister has taught me before (many, many times), I must let go of the feelings that rise up in me:  impatience, frustration, inadequacy, failure, guilt, dismay…   And simply show up.  Be near.  Be present.  I will not help if I react.  We will not move forward if I fight it.  The only way out is through, and so I sit with my hands open and turned skyward.  Ready for a hug or the chance to kiss the top of your sweaty head.  I’m certain I’ll still be learning this, down to the very last tantrum of my very last child.  It’s one of the hardest to learn.

In marriage…  Marry a man that gets hotter every year.  Go for the sensitive, nerdy ones.  And of course, never go to bed angry.  Notice when your partner is vulnerable or hurting, and show up or show concern.  Explain how you feel and ask your partner to do the same.  Consult one another on big and small decisions.  Go on long runs together.  Make time for each other.

In friendships…  I’ve discovered, after many years of feeling slightly bruised of heart, that people have different ways of showing love and different needs when it comes to friendships.  Sometimes, my most natural interpretation of an unreturned invitation or a quiet, pensive exchange is not the correct interpretation (in fact, in my case, it almost never is).

And while I wish I could share with you the secret to making lasting friendships, I’m afraid I’m also still learning this.  So far, all I’ve got is show up, keep trying, and be open.  Something strange about me is that I often have less than glowing first impressions of some of my most favorite people.  Oddly enough, I’ve learned not to trust my first impression and to still make the effort to get to know people.  Doing this has given me some of my dearest friends.

In family…  Ok.  Dear loved ones, please don’t take this personally, but I’ve learned that I’m not able to share my kitchen.  It drives me bananas.

I feel like the lesson I’m still learning is how to stay present and connected, even when there are many miles between us.  It’s not something that I excel at, and in fact, sometimes I’m downright terrible at it.  But I suppose one of the things I’m learning primarily through their example is forgiveness.  I’ve been forgiven for my imperfections, and I think that’s a beautiful thing to offer someone.

In mental health…  While everything in moderation is certainly a nice motto, I’ve learned that, for me, a Sabbath works much better.  If I’m getting a bit too compulsive checking my technology or having feelings of inadequacy and/or envy coming up from social media, it’s good for me to take a break.  It gives me time to heal and regain a bit of moderation.  The same goes for sweets and carbs.  Sometimes I need a bit of a break to restart.  And, as I mentioned earlier, I’m about to embark on a spending Sabbath.  For me, there’s nothing quite like a challenge to help me recalibrate.

Run.  Running is my pillar.  Seasons wax and wane, I move, have babies, and do different things, but I’ve run through it all.  It makes me feel strong of body and heart.

Seek connection.  I may not always find it, but oh, do I need it.

Read books.  The self-help kind, the hard kind, the kind that are an escape.

Write to figure out what you think.  To keep memories.

Learn to love yoga, to meditate, to slow down.  Learn to smell everything, to notice all of the flowers.  Stop to marvel over creatures.  Learn to pull your children into an embrace, to hear their heartbeats and breathe in their smell.

Get rid of things.  As many things as you can and then more.  Don’t become so addicted to buying more that you fool yourself into thinking that you can’t do with less.  Be clear about meaning and value and sentiment.

Listen to podcasts.  Feel a sense of connection and expansiveness to a big, bright world full of ideas and fabulously beautiful, smart people.

Try not to gossip.  Try not to complain.  Try to find the good.  Try to be thankful.

Be thankful.

In work…  Remain positive.  At the end of the day, tell the sweet story instead of the bitter one.  Build up each other.

(Somewhat more cynically, this is where admitting your weakness and asking for help has not been so great.  While this was always encouraged in academics, in my professional settings, I had to learn that how I described myself was largely how I was seen in the work place.  When I was positive and had good things to say about my classes and my students, I was evaluated similarly.  Not so much when I admitted my struggles.  I think this isn’t something that people would be super pleased to know, but it hasn’t been all bad.  Being positive helped me feel positive and while I didn’t admit my weakness to my employers, I became good at problem solving.)

And finally, don’t be afraid to start over.  Or even if you are afraid, do it anyway.

In life…  Travel.  Write it all down.  Invite all of your friends over for pizza or veggies on the grill in the summertime.  Eat an entire watermelon with a melon baller (buy a melon baller, or at least announce loudly that you’d like a melon baller and then have your aunt buy you one…  Thanks Ruth ;)).  Learn to love the ritual and comfort of a hot drink in the wintertime and a cold one in the summer.  Go swimming to feel weightless.  Hike above tree line to feel expansive.  Do hot yoga to warm up on cold winter nights.  Sleep with your babies and carry them everywhere.  Buy flowers.  Decorate with Christmas lights.  Shop at thrift stores.  Burn candles and use essential oils.  Learn how to sew.  Make something.  Dream big.  Think that you might be wrong.  Trust your gut.

Thirty memories

In all of the letters I’ve just written, I’ve included memories.  By now, I’ve written hundreds.  I can’t pick the thirty best, but here are thirty good ones:

  1. Exploring my grandparents’ property, walking through the old corn rows, climbing up deer stands, and combing the woods until we found the pond and streams to hop over. I loved playing in the barn, climbing up the bales and then swinging into the scratchy hay down below, kicking up dust motes and hearing pigeons and swallows fly from their nests.
  2. Long canal boat rides through locks and dams and stopovers for fish and chips. I remember laying out in the sun, watching everything slide by.
  3. Searching tide pools on the shore. Finding small fish and sea anemones.
  4. Driving through the country with my mom and stopping on random country dirt roads to walk.
  5. Swimming in Lake Mille Lacs, Lake Elmo, and Lake Superior. In college, finding lakes and swimming all the way across them and back.
  6. The sound of my skis on cold snow and feeling fast.  My favorite course was in Biwabik, hilly and lovely.
  7. Cross country. The girls, the running, the races.  Such sweet friendships and such a lesson in setting a goal and going after it.  I’ll never forget my fastest races and that feeling of accomplishment.
  8. Dahlin. She taught writing and Humanities, and she was my best teacher.  She pushed me to do better and think differently, and I think it was the first time I took risks academically.  It was the first time I loved poetry and the first time I appreciated art.
  9. Driving into Tacoma for the very first time, ready to go to a school I had never seen. Feeling relieved that it was just as lovely as I had hoped with Mt Rainier high on the horizon and the Sound stretching out below.
  10. Backpacking down the Washington coast on a leadership training. Seeing otters dive down for clams, float on their backs, and crack them on their breastbones.  Sleeping in the sand.
  11. Hiking through the Hoh Rainforest with tall trees and so.much.rain.
  12. Skinny dipping in Ross Lake and hiking to the top of Desolation Peak. Reading Dharma Bums in Religion class.
  13. Traveling for the first time in Peru and Ecuador. The salt flats, Lake Titicaca, Cuzco, Cuenca…  Teaching in Loja, crazy adventures in NeverNeverLand, bathing in hot springs and walking through colorful markets.  Swimming in the Galapagos.
  14. The first time I saw Oscar, a sweet little black dog shaking in the back of a kennel at the Tacoma Humane Society. When they brought him into the meet and greet room, he came over, circled round, and planted his bottom in my lap.  I was his.
  15. Driving down to New Orleans, through the Wallowas in Oregon, the Grand Canyon, up through New Mexico and across Texas. All in our little red Hyundai with everything we owned.
  16. Living in our first place just the two of us. Working a heartbreaking, confounding job, but getting through it together.  Driving across the bridge to the West Bank, driving up to Schwarz.  The windows that were painted shut, the missing floor boards.  The metal detectors and the unreliable electricity.  The fear and the frustration, and in the city, the parades and the food.  The wet heat and the Mississippi wide and high.  Running along the levee, biking over to the Ponchatrain.  Broad fig leaves tapping at our bedroom window.
  17. A hot summer spent growing strong biking through Grecian hills. Eating olives, yogurt, walnuts, honey, and stuffed tomatoes.  Laying on the beach in the sun.  Growing sooty from sleeping outside on the ferry.  And at the end of the summer, getting married.  In an apple orchard surrounded by so many loved ones.
  18. Our trip. The Six Month Sweat, as I like to call it.  I’ve noticed in the writing down of memories how so many of them come from travelling.  Those extraordinary moments rise to the surface.  They’re set outside of normal time, and every day is memorable.  That incredible bike ride, hiking the Wicklow Way, exploring a little bit of Spain, walking through fairy castles in Cappadocia.  Drinking tea above the Bosphorus.  Flying to Delhi.  Beautiful Leh.  Driving that terrifying road from Leh to Manali.  Cooking classes and yoga in Dharamsala.  The train ride to Varanasi.  Crossing the border into Nepal.  Exploring Kathmandu.  Meeting up with K and Stacy in Pokhara and rafting down the Kaligandaki.  Hiking the Annapurna Circuit and Sanctuary and then going back to Kathmandu so that we could go out again and hike Langtang, Temang, and Gosaikunda.  Walking through Delhi at night.
  19. Camping up on Weminuche Pass with Joshua. Reading Born to Run and scheming the start of our little family.
  20. Being pregnant with Lily. Walking to work each morning and watching the sun rise over the mountains, the snow fall, coyotes chasing geese.
  21. Exploring the foothills with Brian and Brittaney.
  22. Anniversary dinners at Duo.
  23. Convincing K and Stacy to move to Denver and starting a long and wonderful tradition of meal sharing.
  24. Oh Heavenly Day by Patty Griffin began playing the moment I held Lily for the very first time, and it was.
  25. A lovely labor with Lu.
  26. Our trip to Mexico. Swimming in Cenotes and exploring Isla Mujeres.  Sharing our love of new places with thI’me girls.
  27. Staying at home with the girls. Pancake mornings followed by adventures through the city. Train rides and long walks, playgrounds and play dates.  Walking through the Botanic Gardens and watching Foxy and Shmoxy at the Art Museum.
  28. Trips to Moab and Santa Fe. Time spent the four of us.
  29. Throwing parties and feeling thankful for these children, these friends, this family.  Eating too much good food.  Drinking wine.
  30. Walking out on Point Reyes with a backpack of wine, cheese, and bread. Watching the ocean and carrying Lily on my back.  Knowing I married the best man.  Laughing so hard I had tears streaming down my face.

I’m so blessed that I could easily write 30 good memories from the last year, much less the last 30 years, and there are so many more that aren’t on the list, and so many people who have made this life blessed.  And if you don’t see one of you here, let’s sit down and talk and find a list of our own J

Thirty(ish) favorites

Favorite podcasts…  On Being, The Lively Show, The Birth Hour

Favorite books…  Anything by Barbara Kingsolver (except, sadly, The Lacuna), Small Wonder by Ann Patchett, more recently, I’ve loved reading Juliet Marillier and I quite like The Secret Life of Violet Grant.  I just finished listening to My Accidental Jihad on audiobook, and that was a really good book.

Favorite runs…  Ashlee and I went on this run in Glendaloch.  Two lakes, two waterfalls, boardwalks, and a view.  My favorite running partner is Joshua, and in the past year, we’ve had a few dates on trail, which are the best.  I also love running for conversation!  What better way to have an uninterrupted talk?

Favorite cities…  Kathmandu, Santa Fe, Leadville, New Orleans.  Istanbul, Sevilla, Fira.

Favorite foods…  Huevos Rancheros.  I actually have a funny story about this.  Joshua asked Lily what mommy’s favorite food was, and she said, “Salad!”  And you know what?  I love me a good salad.  Try the Fiesta Kale Salad, my birthday beet salad, an Asian inspired cabbage salad, and you’ll see what I mean J  Also, grapefruit.  New peas and potatoes.  Baked camembert, portabellas grilled with Gorgonzola and balsamic.  A pulled pork sammie from The Joint.  A biscuit from Rise and Shine.

Favorite rituals…  I love making and consuming tea or coffee in the morning.  Recently, I’ve been trying to do less caffeine, and I’ve loved the Crio Bru brand cocoa and teas with cocoa nibs that are chocolaty and full bodied.  I adore lighting candles in the winter and using my diffuser to make the house smell like essential oils.  Watering my houseplants.  Turning on mood lighting.

Favorite crafts…  I’ve been sewing a lot recently.  I love making toys, and I’ve made a few items of clothing for myself, but I think my next project is some sweet pinafores and rompers for the girls.  Of course, I made the mala for my birthday, and that was so fun I’m already planning my next one.  I’ve always loved collage too, and seeing Lily’s card for my birthday reminded me how much I loved the therapeutic process of selecting images, cutting them out, and then creating an image.  I’m also really loving gardening these days.  I love my baby tulips and I.want.more.flowers.

Favorite places…  The Botanic Gardens.  A view of the mountains from Crown Hill.  Guanella Pass.  Kenosha Pass.  Arkansas Valley.  North Table Mountain.  Union Station.  Hopper Hollow Playground.  The thrift store.  Our home.  (This one’s too hard, so I’m just doing nearby.)

Favorite colors…  I have a thing for sea foam green.  There’s a lot of it in our home.  I also love pale pink and orange.

Favorite things…  My new Himalayan salt lamps, flowers, my oil diffuser, my orange Le Creuset.  Jeans, lipstick, good shoes, a beautiful tea cup.  My jewelry.  My rose lamp.  The house plants.  Shells, our artwork.  My Christina’s World print.  Our new chandeliers.

Favorite songs…  Oh Heavenly Day by Patti Griffin, Skinny Love and Bloodbank by Bon Iver, Send Me On My Way by Rusted Root, I Wanna Dance with Somebody by Whitney Houston, Hello by Adele, Fascist Architecture by Bruce Cockburn, Welcome Home by Radical Face, High and Dry by Radiohead.

Favorite movies/shows…  I thoroughly enjoyed watching Call the Midwife this winter.  In the past five years, I think the best TV I’ve watched was An Honorable Woman with Maggie Gyllenhaal.  So good.  Oh and Parenthood.  Made me cry almost every episode.  As far as movies go, I feel like I’ve seen less of those recently.  I still love Away We Go, Sweet Land, and The Family Stone.  I like movies that I can watch more than once and love every time.  I also enjoy a good suspense movie, like The Kingdom, Hurtlocker, or the Borne movies.


Well, if you’ve gotten this far, kudos to you.  I’m sure you’ve learned everything you’ve ever wanted to know about little old me and been thoroughly updated on my birthday angst.  I am, however, feeling better now that I’ve gotten a chance to write myself into my thirties, so thank you for your patience.  I have a feeling this is going to be a good year, a good decade.



Author: Ellie

Wife, Mom, Adventurer...

3 thoughts on “A thirty page long post about turning thirty…

  1. You always surprise me, my dear. The thirties will be wonderful: everything is in place for an amazing decade and beyond. So much love being sent your way . . . .

  2. Happy Birthday Ellie ! So glad to read your good memories of Wicklow. The first holiday of my retirement ,such an exciting freedom , was to walk in Ireland ,and the second half was the Wicklow Way . Now I think that the magical valley of Glendalough must have captured your thoughts as we talked about you and Joshua while we toiled up a hill ,so much slower than you and Ashlee ! But our 6 mile walk gave us stunning views of the lakes and mountains and the sun shone and the birds sang and Ireland celebrated its 100th birthday as a Republic .
    Thanks for taking the time to write and provide photos and videos
    Catherine x

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