On ruts (and vacuums, apparently)

Lately I have been wrestling with a MAJOR desire to get rid of everything “extra” in my life. I’m not talking about relationships or commitments, I’m talking about stuff. In the last month or two I suddenly am feeling suffocated by stuff, piles and piles of stuff. The almost non-existent closets in my house seem to be bursting (although, they actually aren’t) and it seems that every corner is “temporarily” housing a half-finished project or stack of things (also, not true). I’m not entirely sure what is going on in my brain to make me believe that I am going to be buried alive by unnecessary stuff…although, truth be told, I legitimately feel that way a lot of the time.

Now, my house is not a maze of piles, it’s fairly tidy, no one would assume that I am a budding hoarder. Nor do I particularly believe I am a budding hoarder…except, well, I might have something like 20 empty glass pickle jars in the garage….no reason, I just think they are a nice size, and they are glass, not plastic, and I think they might be useful someday…? Ok, so maybe a *little* bit of a budding hoarder. Don’t judge too harshly.

Here’s what I think: I think that I have been in a rut for a long time and I’m finally coming out of it. Without an actual medical diagnosis, I’m gonna call it: for months and probably years I have been noticeably depressed and unhappy and that has affected every other aspect of my life in large and small ways. I can finally see a faint pathway leading out to the rest of the bright, shiny world and I am desperate to get rid of everything that has been holding me back from that glorious sunshiney version of my life. Where constancy and sameness feels comforting and cozy while a big nasty Depression has its foot on my neck, now that I’m trying to shake all that dust off those “comforting constants” are suddenly oppressive. I have a palpable and tangible urge to run as far and as fast as I can. This is a new feeling, it’s strange and kind of unnerving. And exciting. And scary.

For most of my life I have been completely content with “good enough for now” and have sacrificed what I really wanted for something that was close, but not quite. Now, I’m a logical realist, my hopes and dreams have never been out of the realm of possibility, but they do require some long-term planning and a lot of patience, both of which I excel at but haven’t exercised in my personal life very well.

I bought a vacuum this week, not a $1,000 top-of-the-line machine that will steam your curtains and make you a smoothie, just a well-rated, not-on-sale model and I paid an extra $20 dollars for the automatic retractable cord because that is one of my favorite features of my no-longer-will-turn-on vacuum (RIP). Now, I vacuum several times a week, it’s an easy way for me to feel like my house is more put together and keeps the dust allergens at bay and my FitBit thinks I’m taking a walk and awards me activity points. Are you bored to tears yet about my home cleaning appliances!? It’s cool, part of being an adult is getting excited about a retractable cord on your vacuum. As I was comparing features and prices I had this very sudden and kind of sad realization: this is the FIRST vacuum I have ever purchased and the first new vacuum I have ever owned. For the last 16 years I have had a hand-me-down vacuum (from my grandmother, my aunt, my brother, my Dad, a friend). AND I’VE NEVER ACTUALLY COMPARED VACUUM FEATURES BEFORE. I’ve just accepted—gratefully—whatever reject was on its way to the donation bin and called it good enough. So, while most people would consider spending $100 on a vacuum a low-point in their week I am THRILLED TO DEATH about it. A vacuum! I just bought my own vacuum! One I got to pick from a zillion different models and options and with the exact features I want. I feel a little like a depressed 50’s housewife swooning over the latest nifty gadget, but also a lot like a liberated adult woman who picks out her own damn household appliances and pays for them too, thankyouverymuch.

I’ve been losing weight, and the clothes that currently fit me are YEARS old but mostly in great shape, I bought quality pieces back then and they have been worth the investment. I’ve held on to them, hoping they would fit again sometime. And they do, and I hate them. I’ve been putting shirts and pants in the Goodwill pile in the garage for weeks, I’m thisclose to giving up on some darling dresses that just don’t fit me the way I want them to, maybe they never did and I didn’t care? The point is, I care now; what used to “good enough” is no longer acceptable, I only want “great” and “wonderful” and “irreplaceable.”

(Sidenote: have you been clothes shopping lately? Why does every store seem to think that the height of spring fashion is athleisure or tacky fringed RTW circa 1992!? I have seen more broomstick skirts and janky denim jumper-dresses than were in my 5th grade class picture. It’s abhorrent. All the dress pants are cropped (huack) and the blouses have a distinct hippie vibe. I am not impressed.)

So. This is what coming out of a depression looks like? I rhapsodize about buying a vacuum cleaner while simultaneously berating “fashion” designers; I want to chop off all my hair and get rid of everything I own. Frankly, I sound a little bit like I’m in the midst of a nervous breakdown, which is maybe a necessary part of resurfacing after years of living in gloom?

Who knows. After years of sitting quietly (but miserably) in my deepening rut I’m just happy to be moving again; and I like to think that I’m climbing out, not digging in.

ABC Mondays

Activist: For the last few months I’ve been trying to be more active politically, whether that is a rally or a protest, or going to a legislative meeting, or confronting racists/sexists/Cheeto-ists where I find them. Ya’ll, the root word of “activism” is “active” and it’s no joke. It can be emotionally exhausting, yet I simultaneously feel guilty for not doing more, giving more. I’m still working on finding a balance to keep myself in Activist Mode but also to still be able to take care of myself and give my brain and heart some space to unwring themselves in order to move forward.

Brothers and Sisters: I have two older brothers and two sisters (one twin, one just younger), we have always had pretty decent relationships (teenage years not withstanding), but the last year or two I feel like I’ve leveled up with my siblings. It helps that finally we all have phones capable of sending/receiving group texts, so there is a constant flow of jokes and memes and hilarity in my inbox on the regular.

Carbs: I’m not eating any right now and I’m still in the feeling deprived stage. I WANT ALL THE BREAD AND COOKIES! Cardio: After a few weeks I’m back to feeling comfortable in my cardio regimen and ready to add something else to it (wha!? Who is this person asking for MORE exercise stuff and less cookies? IMPOSTER!)

Dirt: In the last few weeks we’ve added several TONS of dirt to our front yard. Literal tons. The dirt-work is finally done and next up is some more plants! (Yay plants!)

Ear Wax (skip if you get queasy): For reasons I absolutely cannot understand my left ear is producing wax like it is the sole supplier for end-of-the-world emergency candles. It hurts, it’s itchy and achey, and the amount of crud that comes out of it…well, I spare you (the rest of) the details, but, ew. Probably need to see an ENT in short order.

Flowers: During my Sabbaticalette I planted a ton of little wildflower seeds in tiny little seedling cups that I could then transfer to a larger bed once it was done. The stupid wind turned over and destroyed HALF of them. Starting over. (Insert metaphor that I am 100% not interested in right now because I’m still pissy about the damn destroying wind.)

G-chat: At my last office g-chat was blocked and there was no WiFi in the building. Neanderthals! At my new office g-chat is encouraged as an inter-office communication tool and I am LOVING it so much. I missed you, g-chat!

Hair: Ya’ll, my hair is RIDIC long right now, when it’s down and straight the ends are past my natural waist. I have a cut scheduled with my Hair Guy later this month and I’m very back-and-forth on “keep it long!” and “chop it all!” Thoughts? (Also, I miss my lavender hair, just might do that again too.)

Imposter Syndrome: I am a fairly successful career person, yet I sometimes get this crippling fear that I have no idea what I’m doing while EVERYONE ELSE has their lives 100% together. Imposter Syndrome is such a monster, it sneaks in to ruin perfectly lovely moments and experiences.

Just Do It: When I’m in a funk it is often (although NOT always) because I’m flailing at a project or an Important Life Thing. I usually feel a million times better if I just do that thing, figure it out and plow through, doesn’t need to be perfect, just needs to get done. (Other times I need medication to get out of the funk, and that’s okay too.)

Khocolate: Khocolate is some version of fake chocolate (usually, quick-set sugar-free jello pudding), it is not great—just like krab is a super poor substitute for fresh crab–but it fits in my “no carbs, no sugar” regimen right now and takes the edge off.

Leggings: I….I kind of don’t get it. I mean, I have two or three pairs, one is a pair of “fancy” leggings from one of those MLM companies, and they are soft and comfortable, but I only wear them for a few hours at night or in the morning IF we have Mr Blue Eyes’ kids staying with us. Otherwise? Um, I don’t really wear pants at home because I feel like I’m suffocating. And in this case, leggings = pants. And I don’t wear leggings to work because they aren’t dressy enough. And for 9 months of the year it’s too hot for pants of any sort anyway (it’s 90 EVERY DAY THIS WEEK!) so why bother? Can we still be friends even if I’m off the leggings boat?

Mountains: There are some sort-of mountains around Phoenix, nothing like my snow-crusted rocky ones back home, but they have their own allure. My office window looks right out on one of the bigger ones and I love watching the light change the colors and shapes throughout the day. (Do I gush about my new office too much? Sorry/Not Sorry. It is SO MUCH BETTER and I won’t shut up about it. Yet.)

Nausea: I mentioned up there somewhere (points for emphasis) that I am not eating very many carbs right now. I’m not perfect in my quest for a (temporary) carbless existence, however, and every so often I’ll have a cupcake or a piece of bread or whatever. And that almost always makes me nauseous, more the sugary cupcake than the wheat bread, which, noooooooo!!!

Office Supplies: There is almost nothing I love more than buying office supplies. My last office was very drab and black and gray, so everything I added to my desk/bookcase was in bright colors. Aqua fan! Hot pink mouse! Navy-striped mousepad! Fun art! My new office is more yellow-beige and red…and the aqua and hot pink and navy clash a bit. Ahem. I think the solution is to go shopping, right!? Can’t have a hot pink mouse with a brick red wall, that’s just TACKY, right!?

Painting: I miss spending some time with my oil paints and a canvas, I need to schedule this into my week on the regular. I know if I don’t purposely block out time for this activity it just won’t happen.

Queens: Did you watch The Crown yet on Netflix? Do you love it!? I’ve been creating a list of all the queens and empresses and lady rulers that I want to read up on; I love seeing that list get longer and longer as I find out more about the women who reigned!

Refinish: There are 18 things in my house that need to be sanded down and either repainted or restained or refinished in some way. Maybe next winter? I dunno, it’s just too dang hot (already) to even consider it. Blergh.

Summer: It’s here in the Valley of the Surface of the Sun and I am not happy about it. I hope we have a few more cool (or even cool-ish!) days before the triple digit temperatures are the “norm” but I highly doubt that will happen.

To Do Lists: One of my resolutions this year was to better manage my time, especially away from work. Whelp, the good news is that after a few months of trial and error I’ve finally found a system that I really like and helps me get all the things done that I want/need to, and in a reasonable time frame. My big secret? A spiral-bound paper planner just like the one I first started using in Junior High (but, no school mascot on the cover this time).

Under-roos: I need new ones. I feel like I always need new ones. WHY do I feel some need to hang on to ratty underpants when I am PERFECTLY CAPABLE of buying proper ones!? Come on, self, be the adult already! JUST GO BUY NEW UNDERWEAR! (TMI? Eh, I’ve expounded on a lot worse.)

Vacation: This spring Mr. Blue Eyes and I will be going on an Exciting! International! Vacation! Beaches and jungle will be involved, and this is the catalyst for getting over those last hurdles of my “in shape” goal. This will be our first proper vacation (vs long weekend) in YEARS and I am so excited!

Weight: Last year I lost a significant amount of weight, I’m buckling down again this spring and finally starting to see some results. Woot!

X-Wives: I’ve written a little about Mr. Blue Eyes’ x-wife, she’s a PIECE OF WORK. Now, the good news is that after many MANY months (and years) of baby steps (and two steps forward, eight steps back progress), the last little while has been…relatively normal? It’s weird. I am constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop, but the moderate peace and quiet has been revolutionary for all parties involved.

Yardwork: Mr. Blue Eyes and I have been spending the last couple of Saturday’s transforming our front yard from its former expanse of gravel into something a little less rocky. The backyard got a nice cleaning (weeds, debris, piles of schtuff), and the front yard has a new kidney-bean shaped raised bed ready for cactus and bushes and desert-loving wildflowers. I’ll show you all the pics soon.

Zzzz’s: My FitBit tells me that most nights I get about 7 hours of sleep; my brain tells me that most days I wish it was closer to 9 hours of sleep. Sigh. Never enough hours in the day.

Adjusting my “winter” expectations and activities: an Arizona primer

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I moved to Arizona in December, but coming from a place where December weather is inside weather or play in the snow weather, I didn’t quite realize that in Arizona December-March weather is the most glorious hiking weather.

So, last “winter” I spent doing my normal winter activities: making soup, curling up with a book, and unpacking boxes. By mid-February it was already in the 90’s and summer with truly heinous hot and sticky weather arrived in short order. By June I had major cabin fever.

This “winter” I decided to spend as much time as possible outside in the glorious blue-skies-and-low-60’s weather. I puttered with my plants. Mr. Blue Eyes and I added a giant kidney-bean shaped garden to the front that is almost to the stage where I can plant it (I say “and I” but he did most of the heavy-duty lifting, like, shoveling out gravel and shoveling in truck load after truck load of dirt). And, because Kayla told me to, I started hiking.

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Hiking through the Arizona desert and hiking in Utah’s Wasatch Mountains are not the same. But, after spending many hours wandering through the cactus, I have come to appreciate the desert trails and find their treacherous beauty (cactus spines, yo, they are no joke!).

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Being outside but not roasting was so good for my soul. For my birthday Mr. Blue Eyes gave me a guide for 60 hikes within 60 miles of Phoenix. I hope to be able to check every one off while I live here, or, you know, at least all the cool ones.
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A huge bonus of hiking in January-March is that everything is ridiculously green, I mean, I felt like I was in a cactus garden most of the time. There were wildflowers and green cactus and other spiky desert plants everywhere. I wouldn’t know what they look like in July because when it is 120 degrees I will not be wandering around in a shade-less state park. BUT! Right now? Everything is gorgeous.

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I will state a caveat about this adjustment to Arizona winter: I still had to go find some snow. The elevation increases rapidly as you drive north from Phoenix, and Flagstaff gets snow storms on the regular. Blue Eyes and I drove up there simply to find some snow, we played in it, photographed it, drove around in it, he snuggled into his beanie and I reveled in freezy cold air on my face. I’m adjusting, but this adjustment is a slow one for me, and I am trying to honor and respect that without pushing myself too much to embrace the desert. (Also, as reported earlier, do not hug the cactus!)

Sabbaticalette: Week Two

Whelp, my sabbaticalette is officially over and I am back at work, which has been exciting and wonderful in its own right. I intentionally took time off between my old job and my new one to try to decompress a little, get my heart rate and stress levels back to a manageable number, and to just be for a minute.

My first week, naturally, was JAM PACKED FULL of projects and activities and crossing things off The List. I don’t think I overdid it, I maintain that I needed to clear those things off my proverbial plate in order to get some relaxing in.

My second week? Oh man, those days were gloriously unstructured and downright slothful. The last two days I got a little antsy, but overall it was also exactly what I needed.

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I caught up on my 6-weeks-neglected feed reader.

I finished watching The Time Inbetween, one of the top-rated shows in Spain about a young woman during WWII who gets caught up in dressmaking and spying and espionage between Franco’s civil war and Spain entering WWII with the Germans. I mean, it’s in Spanish with English subtitles, so unless you’re fluent you do have to read the TV to figure out what’s going on. But it was wonderful. Recommended (via Netflix).

I went to lunch with a friend and I made fancy lunch at home–you know, an actual cooked meal instead of eating bits and pieces of leftovers while standing in front of the fridge. (I should note: I actually really love cooking for fun).

I continued to read and listen to audiobooks like crazy. I’ve finished 30 books so far this year and show no signs of slowing down.

I went shopping for pleasure for the first time in I don’t even know how long. Months? Almost a year? I didn’t go on a splurgy spree or anything, but I did buy a new pair of classy heels for my first day of work. At TJ Maxx. Ahem. My financial spending freeze experiments seem to be doing their job!

I planted some little seeds and puttered around with my flowers and vegetables.

I went on a really great hike at a state park near my house. I climbed/clambered/jogged 7.5 miles in less than 2.5 hours. There were zillions of cacti and wildflowers and it was cloudy and cool and, generally, perfect.

And the rest of the week? I slothed. I slothed so good! Part of me (the SUPER Type A part) is a little annoyed that I spent so much time doing essentially nothing; the rest of me, however, is thrilled about that choice. Good job, Harriet.

Love Where You Live: Episode 1

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If we have had any semi-meaningful conversation in the last 18 months you have probably asked me how I am settling into Arizona. And I most likely responded with some variation of “I’m not, really.” This move wrenched my roots in a pretty violent way and the adjusting and reframing expectations has taken a toll on their already fragile and dangling state. I still get all choked up whenever I think about my home, my mountains, and seasons with months of cool and downright frigid weather. My heart doesn’t feel like it belongs here, although I am trying to fit here. I have made a few friends, my little vegetable garden is one of the happiest parts of my life, and my work directly places me in a position to help Arizona students succeed in a college or postsecondary education (and the vast majority stay in Arizona to explore those options). So, I’m trying.

A few months ago I read This Is Where You Belong: The Art and Science of Loving the Place You Live by Melody Warnick. I wrote MANY notes in the margins (and some rants and “See? Told you!” scribbles as well…I sometimes have one-way conversations with the printed page, apparently). Warnick has a seemingly simple list of things that, if tackled, will help you put down roots in a new place:

  1. Walk more
  2. Buy local
  3. Get to know my neighbors
  4. Do fun stuff
  5. Explore nature
  6. Volunteer
  7. Eat local
  8. Become more political
  9. Create something new
  10. Stay loyal through hard times

Ok, so none of those really seem that hard. Right? Um, apparently yes, they are kind of hard.

In church yesterday I kept thinking about how to go out of my way to help other people, to serve them, to love them. There is the obvious political move of a protest or rally, or making donations to organizations that support the work I care about. But I also started thinking a lot closer to home, closer even that attending my monthly legislative district meeting. I’m embarrassed to admit that I don’t know the name of any of my neighbors, people in my neighborhood, sure, but no one two or three doors on each side of me, or across the street.

Uh, what? I mean, I’ve lived here for over a year. A YEAR! None my immediate neighbors attend my church, so I haven’t gotten to know them by default of seeing them every week. But it surprised and then angered me that I hadn’t gone out of my way to introduce myself. So, goal for this week is to spend some time in the kitchen whipping up some homemade baked goods and then delivering plates of happiness to a half-dozen front porches.

I’ve decided to do better about incorporating these seemingly simple ideas into my life here in Arizona, in the hope that I will find myself fitting here just a little better. Some I’ve just barely scratched the surface, like local politics and exploring the outdoors. Some I’ve been working on for a while, like creating and tending a veggie garden in my backyard, and exploring local eats for date nights with Mr. Blue Eyes. In another week or so the raging heat will descend and stay until November or so (hi, locals, my heat tolerance is about 78 degrees, not 98 degrees, so for me, yes, actually, “summer” is 9 hellish months long), I really am hoping I can figure out some solutions to the months and months of air conditioned cabin fever. The last two or three months of normal-person temperatures have been glorious, I’ve been outside hiking and puttering around in the yard and just hanging out on the back patio with a book and a drink.

What neighborhood (or municipal/county) things do you participate in? What do you love? Wish you did more of? How did you fall in love with your city? Or, do you WANT to fall in love with your city? If so, perhaps we can form an online support group to figure out how to love where we live.