Aiming at 40...

The first person to ever refer to me as middle-aged in print was my friend Rod Dreher.  On the one hand, I appreciated the publicity.  On the other hand, I was 34 at the time, and I may never entirely forgive him.  Still, the shock has waned, and I have come to terms with the fact that if I'm not middle aged now, I will officially be so on August 15 when I cross the line into my 40s.

To be absolutely honest, hitting middle age bothers me not in the slightest - my feeling is that every year that takes me away from being 14 is a really, really good one - and the further the better.  I would go back to my 20s or G-d forbid, my teens for a bazillion dollars and being made queen of the universe.  My life has only gotten better as I get older.  My Mom, her in early 60s, reports that pattern continuing, so I see no particular reason to worry about it.  Yeah, I'm more prone to hurting myself.  On the other hand, I'm not quite as stupid as I was when I was young (or at least so I think ;-)), so I think it is probably a net win for me.

I'm looking forward to my birthday.  For Eric's 40th we held a giant bash.  I didn't really want a giant bash for my birthday - particularly since it is sandwiched in between two other bashes - Eric and I finally had an official Jewish wedding back in October, in fact, a pirate-themed wedding (the kids insisted, who am I to argue when you are finally being made an honest woman of surrounded by your children who range from 11-6 ;-)) with tons of friends present, and Eli will become bar mitzvah this year in April.  So I didn't feel a strong need to have a big party - instead, we'll probably do what we normally do for summer birthdays, both kid and adult - eat too much cake (something with berries in it), have our usual friends over for lunch, watch the kids play in the creek and get filthy and relax.  I can put those parties on in my sleep, since I've done them every year since the kids were babies.

I did want to mark 40 in some way, however, by doing some of the things that I've been meaning to do all along, but never seem to find the time for.  Rather than presents, I really wanted to up my skill set and either improve or learn some things I don't know.  So I am officially publishing (because then I can get y'all to nag me about it ;-)) my list of goals for my 40th year.  My hope is to take some classes or follow around my more skillful friends and get a new set of super-powers as part of my official entry into geezerhood, because, after all, old ladies with super-powers are cool.  Fighting old age is pointless - the goal is to keep having fun during it.

Here's my list:

1. Learn to make a decent quilt.  I have a love-hate relationship with sewing - I love the idea and hate the reality, but it is such a useful skill.  At this point, I'm only a bit above 7th grade home ec, and all of that is self-taught.  I have made a couple of picnic quilts out of old blue jeans, and have a half-made hand-quilted scrap quilt around, but this time I'm going actually master the basics.  The problem I have had over the years is that I really am more interested in repurposing old fabric than in purchasing new - much as I admire the results of serious quilting using new fabric, I have yet to see anyone giving a course around here in patchwork with used fabric.  Still, I think I'll just suck it up and take the local quilt store's course, and then adapt to my own needs.

2. Get my woodworking/home repair skills up and running.  These are pathetic, frankly, and there's no excuse for it.  Both my father and step-mother are quite good at these things, and I just didn't pay attention.  Honestly, both woodworking and sewing suffer from my lack of liking for anything that requires precision - but it is time to just get over this and master at least the basics.

3. Learn to shoot properly.  My father taught me the basics as a kid, and I can handle a gun in the ways that most farmers need to - to put down livestock close up.  But I'm not especially competent, and while I can clean a rifle in a basic sense, I don't really feel competent with guns, even though they are a necessary tool of my trade.  I'm a terrible shot (crappy vision) as well.  In my "if I'm going to do it, I'd like to do it well' spirit of things, this is on my list.

4. Learn to take down a tree well.  I basically won't touch anything of any real size, because I'm scared of the trees and scared, frankly, of chainsaws.   I use a buck or crosscut saw in our own woods, but only take down things small enough not to make me nervous.   Time to grow up and get over it.

5. Up my home brewing and wine-making skills.  I can make a competent beer and a half-decent wine, at best.  I've got all the information, I've got all the tools, I simply never have sat down and played with it enough to really get any good.  I will make time.

6. Master not losing my temper with my kids - so much.  Ok, I'm never going to get this one down perfectly, but one of the things about fostering is that the kids get scared by adult anger - usually because adult anger has been historically pretty awful and violent.  It is a really good reminder that you shouldn't yell - and of course, I shouldn't yell anyway.  I really try on this one, but I do yell at the kids more than I would like.  My main project here is simply to train myself to make a joke rather than yell - kid respond better to it, and I'm happier with myself when I don't raise my voice.

7. Expand my cheese-making repetoir a bit.  Oh, and on another related note, my sausage making skills.

There are lots of other things I really want to learn as well, but that's probably enough for one year.  What about you?  Even if you aren't turning 40, there's probably something on your list, right?




More like this

Turning 40 was no problem at all for me. Turning 50, well, that felt more like a transition into elderhood than turning 40 did - a welcome one, to be sure, but bittersweet as it means a serious grapple with the fact of death, those of the people I love and my own someday. But your mom is right, life gets better the older you get, so long as you keep on learning and keep on moving your body. Neither should be any problem for you, and they aren't for me.

I too would like to improve my sewing skill. In fact this winter I will be shopping for an older sewing machine, say 1950s-1960s pre-computer chip era, and a foot treadle, to put together into a foot-powered sewing machine. That will make big mending projects, like mending our sheets, easier. It may give me a toehold into the informal economy as well.

Once I finish summer planting later this month, I plan to finally get started on repainting the original part of the house. I've repainted the two back bedrooms due to their having gone through mold removal, but the four original rooms and the bathroom remain as they were 10 years ago when we bought the house. I don't enjoy painting but I can do a passable job of it.

Our fall project is to build a good-sized garden tool shed. My garden tools are scattered across a two car garage, of which one half is my DH's workshop, and our basement. Even then I have no place to store my garden cart, so it stays outside all year long. Not good for it. Also my DH would like to have the portion of garage shelving my garden supplies occupy for his tools, which are overflowing the remaining shelves (most of the shelving!). We'll build the garden shed close to the garden and attach gutters and downspouts to direct the roof runoff into a 500 gallon water tank. That way we can gravity-feed collected water to the vegetable gardens. Our house is lower than the vegetable garden so the water we collect from the house roof goes to other uses.

There was one thing my father ever told me girls couldn't do. That was use a chainsaw. Nothing else was ever off-limits as a child. It skewed my sense of womanhood forever. Most men are threatened by a woman who doesn't see or hold herself to limits and I never understood till I was in my mid 30s that I act like I don't have limits when other women DO act that way. The reason he said girls can do chainsaw is that if you hit a knot or a problem in the tree you don't have enough upper body strength to control the kickback and it's been known to maim grown, and experienced, men. And he's right. I use a chainsaw now, that fear of death makes me think through my cuts and to look really close at the tree first. I won't do big old growth ones either but medium down to smaller I will. Mainly because cuts that take too long numb out my hands - small wrists get vibrated to the point of numbness easily (I love my porter-cable belt sander but that has the same problem) I learned to pay attention to how it felt and the feedback my body was getting for how easy the cut is going is invaluable. Good for you that you will be practising and learning more in this area!

That is a um... daunting list. I would make it a ten year plan (but I'm a whole lot lazier than you.) Put the easy stuff first to give yourself a sense of accomplishment, and that way you will be able to tick off more than one goal by this time next year. And believe it or not the chainsaw is probably the easiest, just be careful and follow the rules ;-))

In regards to your first item in your list I can completely understand with where you are coming from..

If you use quilting fabric to make quilts I would highly recommend this book for making quilts out of scrap fabrics:

Well there are many different books on the site, but they are really great at helping to use up scrap quilting fabric along with helpful tips on quilting.

I learned how to quilt from a Guild Member that was twice the age of my mother and taught me on using old scraps of fabric for quilt making. The important things to look at are fabric choice (the type of fabric that you are intending to use, what is it made out of, what was it's intended purpose, etc) and then how to put it altogether regardless if you have a pattern or not. Geometry comes in very handy, wasn't always my strongest pursuit at the time!

Also here's a handy quilt calculator:

Using scraps and making them into quilts has been a long fun passion of mine! Also check out and see if you have a local chapter for Quilts of Valor, Home of the Brave, Guild Sewing Group, or even a Prayer's and Squares. They will have people that understand how to make quilts pretty much out of anything and usually with scraps. You don't have to know much and you will get to learn the basics while at the same time providing charity to a cause.

Because I'm an old guy (well past the allotted three-score-and-ten), I don't see forty as being 'middle-aged', but that's just the view from out here near the end, I guess.

As for getting better at taking down trees - for anything bigger than 7 or 8 inches diameter at chest height, you're better off having a pro deal with it. Anything bigger than that and you're dealing with a lot of mass and a lot of weight; especially up near the top, so the tree can, and will, go any whichaway if you don't read it right and it can kill you quicker than you can get out of the way. I was a 'pretend' logger/woodcutter for a couple of years back in the early 70's and I dropped and cut trees nearly every day during that time. Never did get very good at 'reading' them - especially the bigger ones - and more often than I like to admit, they nearly got me. I asked a bona fide logger for advice about reading a tree once and he said it's always a 'best-guess' proposition.

#6...I find this one gets easier as I get older...maybe I'm just tired.

My forties have been a time of growth....letting some stuff go, accepting myself a little better...I finally think I have some wisdom; the ultimate gift of aging:)


Sharon, my grandmother lived to be 95, so I have over a year yet before I have to call myself middle-aged - and I'm 46 :)

I mentioned the chain saw thing to my handyman once, and he was emphatic that I NOT undertake that. He's a bit brotherly-protective toward me, bless him, and insisted that he'd be glad to do all of my chainsawing for me. Better yet, he actually DOES.

I poked Kathy Harrison to teach me quilting when I saw her over Memorial Day weekend... we should totally have a weekend together! She's pretty good with cheese-making, too. She wants to learn to knit... we can teach her that!

I don't own any weapons right now, but plan to acquire a rifle and a pistol here soon. I have expert shot medals in both *buffs fingernails* I think there's potential for a really awesome skilling-up weekend here!

I have a big Norway maple that I've been procrastinating with - because as Martin points out trees are very, very heavy and will fall where they want to, not where you tell them to. I'm still a novice, but I don't know if there is anything quite like that stab of terror as the tree starts to move and you realize that it's going and there's absolutely nothing you can do now except stay out of the way and hope you were right about it not falling on anything important. But I need to take this maple down this week so I can plant some cherry trees.

By Andy Brown (not verified) on 05 Jun 2012 #permalink

But less dramatically, my goal is to get skilled with repairing our old 6-paned windows (sanding, painting, glazing) in way that makes it look like a human, rather than a chimpanzee, has been working on them.

By Andy Brown (not verified) on 05 Jun 2012 #permalink

Absolutely on the "older gets better." The year I turned 50 was great, and the whole 50-something decade was a major hoot on too many fronts. And being 60-something is off to a great start, too.

Goals? Getting out of Phoenix is taking a while but it's started: I bought a house 400 miles east and we're fixing it up (it's only a few years younger than both of us together!) After that, it's back to doing physics again.

By D. C. Sessions (not verified) on 05 Jun 2012 #permalink

Well, I AM turning 40 this year (yea, us!) and have to agree - it's getting better all the time. I agree with you on #2, #3, and #6 - and then adding physical strength/running to my list. But really, my main goal for now (and for a while now, sadly) is to keep working through all the useless clutter in my house and paring down to that which is needed and useful. it would help so much more if I hadn't spent much of the past 39 years as an irredeemable packrat...but no regrets.

I'm 64 and this year I've gotten into yoga in a big way -- I use an on-line site whose instructors complement my life views and who stress "listening to the body". Live classes didn't cut it for me because I found nearly everyone there half my age and 10 times my yoga experience! Also I finally figured how to adjust my bike handlbars so more than 10 minutes of riding doesn't numb my hands. Upping my stamina and getting my sense of balance back! I like gently turning back the physical clock...

FYI, I think I've given the wrong impression. It is not my intention to take down really serious major trees myself. But right now, if it is bigger than me, I don't do it ;;-). I want to go up from "itsy bitsy" to "low medium" on the tree thing - I have no ambitions to seriously log.

I've been cutting fairly serious trees 100 yo +/- white pine and similar oak, maple, and ash on my employer's property for fire wood and as of late, some to take to an area saw mill. Maybe I'm a fool, but I've gotten somewhat comfortable with the idea of cutting large trees.

The biggest rule I follow is never to cut a tree that is within striking distance of anything we care about. That means nothing near a building or shed, near a road and/or power lines. Of course people, equipment and vehicles are well out of the way before the sawing starts too.

I also have my pick of 140+ acres of land that has been growing and regrowing largely undisturbed for 100 years now. This means that when I want a large tree for timber, I get to be very choosy about straightness, lean, direction of significant branch weight, easy escape path to run (diagonally) away from the falling tree, and so on. I'll cut significantly leaning and crooked trees because they simply cannot help but fall in the direction they want to lean. Straight, vertical trees go in the direction of the wedge cut, especially when they're helped by numerous plastic wedges hammered in behind the saw bar as the latter completes the felling cut. I actually complete the felling most times with the saw engine off, pushing the tree over while hammering the wedges in. Things are much quieter then and I can hear the tree start to groan and crack which translates into "GET AWAY!"

I've had very few surprises. The only one that could have been fatal, was when one large, nearly 100 yo red maple - a tree with a fair lean and some twist as well, JUMPED OFF the stump as the hinge fractured early in the fall. The lesson there, learned early, was never cut all the way through the hinge or even nearly so on leaning trees. Use ample wedges hammered in instead.

Some other times I misjudge a tree's neighbors and I get to thinking that the tree I'm cutting will have the weight and momentum to plunge through the neighbors' branches and instead end up with a hung up tree, but that usually happens on smaller, adolescent trees which I can pull backwards with a tractor to complete the fall. I did have one large oak hang at a near perfect 45 degree angle into another large tree, deep in the woods once and in that case I had to put warning tape around it and wait for Mother Nature and Old Man Winter to complete that job, but that was only one out of a lot of trees. (This was about half a mile into our woods, well away from the school buildings, neighbors, etc. My only concern was hunters and hikers from the neighboring sportsman's association that sometimes come onto our land, even though they have about 80 acres of their own land.)

Most of the firewood I've cut has mainly been adolescent trees that were attempting to take over old pastures and fields. Cutting them was a piece of cake.

My own, new-to-me land in Maine was cut over severely about 50 years ago and just doesn't have anything in the woods that I'm even remotely worried about cutting. The only substantial trees at all are right around the house. There is a planted Lombardy poplar that I kind of want gone that towers over the house. That will be cut by professionals using large, professional cranes and so on, when I get to calling them.

By Stephen B. (not verified) on 06 Jun 2012 #permalink

My biggest issue with aging is that I *hurt.* Most days a little, some days a lot and some nights I hurt enough to have trouble sleeping. Most of that is from chronic injuries caused by various forms of overuse and I can't bring myself to regret any of that and in fact I still do a lot of it whenever I can. I doubt I'd be in a better health place, physically or mentally if I never ran up a mountain or wrestled a kayak down a river.

But mostly... yeah, I don't wanna go back. If I could have the uninjured body with the fast recovery time AND the lessons learned over the years that would be great -- but given a choice I'd pick where I am at now.

Well, I turned 55 yesterday. As others have remarked, chronic pain is a problem. Left lower back and hip in my case.

It doesn't matter if you're using a chainsaw or a handsaw to fell, it's equally easy, difficult or dangerous. Chainsaws make it faster; and speed can kill. That being said, I think if we couldn't afford fuel for anything else, I'd put it in the saw. It's the biggest "leverage" of any fossil fuel use we have.

Re: Summer cooking. In our maritime climate woodstove cooking in the summer isn't daunting, and there's only a few weeks a year when solar cooking is practical. We use the woodstove about 6 months of the year, frequently with soup on the back in winter; the rest of the time a propane stove is fine. WTSHTF, we may have to figure out a methane digester, though I don't know if we can produce enough to cook on. We already poop in sawdust buckets and use humanure, methane production would add some infrastructure and more steps to the process.

Middle age has worked out well for me, but I am only 52; I'm hoping there's lots more of it ahead. Tip for quilting with used fabrics: find the least worn bits of cloth to work with. If the fabric you cut from is worn too thin, the quilt won't last, and you run the risk of being highly annoyed at how much work went into a project that didn't survive more than a couple of years with a houseful of boys. For the homemade wine: When starting out with Welches grape juice, after two years, you can still taste the Welches. After three years, it's amazing! I had some sitting on oak chips in gallon jugs for three years, and it tasted a little like a port when we finally tried it. We didn't let the first few batches age long enough. Hope your projects all work out successfully! fourty you are just a baby! At 64 the years just seem to fly by. No health problems except a creaky hip so lucky. Still able to do what I like although a long day of gardening can slow me down the next morning. Remember a special 94 year old lady I cared for in the nursing home who told me she woke up in the and it always surprized her that she couldn't hop out of bed--her spirit felt 19 when she woke up.

I applaud your list and think I will work on one myself. Might I say that taking quilting classes is a good idea. And please, treat yourself to new fabric.....when you put time/effort in a quilt you deserve to work with quality materials. Pick colors that make your heart soar. The woman who machine quilts for me showed me her first quilt made with Walmart fabric...beautifully made but faded and limp....she then repeated the same pattern and her new quilt is vibrantly gorgeous. There are many internet sources of fabric at reasonable prices. Go to and get on their catalog list.

By Diana Smith (not verified) on 07 Jun 2012 #permalink

I started a double wedding ring quilt after I finished college and got as far as cutting out all of the pieces and sewing a few of them together before life and other things got in the way. 20+ years and several moves later I decided that I either had to finish this thing or get rid of it. I finally did finish sewing all of the pieces together, and the development of long arm quilting machines saved me from having to look for a quilting bee to do the quilting part. I ended up paying someone to do the machine quilting for me just to get the thing done. Traditionally, a quilt is composed of 3 layers - the pretty top made of little pieces sewn together, the batting and a backing. Even after you sew all of those little pieces together for the top, laying out the 3 layers and stitching them together (usually done by hand) is a huge, time consuming task.

These traditionally made quilts are beautiful, but I've since found a more efficient, quicker way to make a quilt that is probably more durable than the traditional method. Sharon Pederson in her book "Reversible Quilting" shows how to make reversible quilts done completely on a sewing machine. Most of the designs use strips of varying widths combined with triangles to make squares (perfect for using up scraps or repurposed fabrics). The way you put them together finishes both sides of the square at the same time. Once your squares are done, then fabric strips are used to sew them all together into a quilt.

I made one of these as a wedding present for a niece, and was actually able to get it completed in a reasonable amount of time. As with any quilting, repurposed fabrics can be used, I think the trick there is to be aware of how much of each color or pattern you have and distribute it somewhat evenly throughout, or stick with just a few colors.

With all of the activities that you have going, this might be a way to fit quilting into your life.

By Diane Unger (not verified) on 08 Jun 2012 #permalink

I'm 52, very overweight, the proud owner of a 6-month-old M.S. thesis... and very determined to get back in control of my life. The thesis was the hardest thing I've ever done, even though I'm relatively good at writing. It triggered depression, and major work-avoidance mechanisms, really well. it took too long and left me unexercised for the last year of it. Between that and asthma, I'm a blob. Asthma is better-controlled thanks to a new drug regimen; so my goal for 2012 is to gain phyical strength and aerobic capacity; keep the depression in check; and finally figure out what I want to do with my newly-minted degree. Whether that means doing something in my field, learning how to grow greenhouse vegetables, figuring out to market my handmade jewelry, or whatever, I don't know; I just know my mind needs stretching. I'm 52, not necessarily a good candidate for an entry-level position.

I'm a quilter/sewer and rarely buy new fabric. Like new cars, fabric loses 60% of its value when you drive out of the lot. Alas, quilts I made made from used clothing didn't last long enough to be worthwhile. There's a third pathway. So many quilters buy too much that pre-owned new fabric is readily available in most localities. I bought the fabric estate of a woman with a shopping disorder--sold enough at $2/yd to break even, and kept enough to make quilts for the rest of my life. Most quilting guilds have a occasional yard sale where members sell fabrics they know they'll never use(mostly to each other--my husband says we're just shuffling our porfolios). Guilds are also a nice place to learn. Lots of advice on alternative methods of doing things. My guild makes quilts for shelters and families moving into Habitat houses out of fabric our deceased members bequeathed to the guild. I made my first several quilts of this donated fabric and gave them back to the universe, but I got experience without buying materials.

By Mary in Maryland (not verified) on 08 Jun 2012 #permalink

The book A Perfect Patchwork Primer (1981) has been a wonderful guide--maybe you can find it on Amazon?
Hold on tight--the 40s have their own dynamic--many people find that one way or another they end up questioning their life as it is and need to find a new relationship with their goals and aims in the bigger sense. sometimes this happens in relationships, sometimes work, sometimes physical health. I found running and physical fitness again; founded a business; and much more. I hope it goes well for you.

By Jennifer Lauruol (not verified) on 11 Jun 2012 #permalink

Come-on youngster, you can do this. At 40 we were in the process of adopting infant twins from the Dominican Republic. By 50 our family had moved all over the Rocky Mountain west and finally moved to the Midwest. At 60 I was getting ready to retire and cancer was getting ready to hit me. At 65 I retired, was re-hired, and moved to the country. At 70, where I now am, we have a new life, which our adult children are participating in, on a small farm and I am still working 40 hours a week.

I love your common sense and wonderful writing.

Gosh, I'm trying to remember why I called you middle aged. I guess I tend to think of people from 30 to 60 as middle aged. Maybe I'm wrong about that. Truth to tell, I didn't really start to think of myself as middle aged until I was about 35 (I'm 45 now). I was 32 when our first child was born, and by the time I hit 35, the difference between me then and me before I was a father was enormous.

By Rod Dreher (not verified) on 14 Jun 2012 #permalink

Great goals.
On a side note: I always suspected we were about the same age. And I would have bet that you are summer born :-)

I hit 60 in June, and its great. Never did master that not-yelling-at-the-kids thing, but my sons are now 31 & 26, and seem to remember their childhood fondly nevertheless.