If we went to lunch…

If we went to lunch_feistyharriet_March 2017I love meeting friends for lunch, I love the quick download/upload of life things and thoughts and frustrations and struggles, both trying to pack in the most important pieces into an hour-long break. Although this doesn’t happen as often as I would like due to schedules and kids and work and distance and all the things, if you and I were to meet up for lunch, this is what I would tell you.

  1. I will be downright giddy about how much I love my new job. No, but for real. This has been a total game changer for me and the happiness and light-heartedness from having a healthy work balance is invading every other part of my previously grumpy life. I feel like I can breathe again! I know I’ve talked about this a few times here in the last couple weeks, but it’s just SO DIFFERENT and SO MUCH BETTER than where I was!
  2. I’ll tell you that for the first time in over a decade I finally have a job at church, something to do other than sit by myself on the back row. I will be working with the young women, ages 16-18, and I cannot IMAGINE a job that is better for me. I’m only a few weeks in, but I can already tell this is exactly where I need to be.
  3. I’ll probably gush a little bit about my new “Plan Out Your Life, Harriet! (Or At Least The Week)” plans that are centered on a spiral bound calendar-notebook planner book (that I bought on clearance, because, of course). I have a full month calendar view, plus a double spread for each week with a couple of categories I can fill in, one for appointments, one for my daily housekeeping To Do lists, and one to schedule out my other goals like writing and exercise. I have really loved getting a better handle on when I need to do what to stay on track with my priorities, it’s amazing how much easier and more effective this is for me with a paper and pen version over an app.
  4. I’ll ask you what you are reading, and then tell you about the last book I read and loved, which is “A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War” by Joseph Loconte, which talks about how J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis were WWI veterans AND bffs, and how they used their experiences in the horrific trenches in France to influence their writing, specifically, the ancient wars of Middle Earth and Bilbo and Frodo’s quest; and the world of Narnia with great evil and goodness in each character. This was SO fascinating and made me want to re-read the Lord of the Rings books AND the Narnia series.
  5. Depending on how our conversation goes, I may get brave and tell you that for the last several months Mr. Blue Eyes and I have been going to couple’s counseling, and it has been so hard and so worth it in every way. We have been married for five years, but those five years have been unconventional in every possible way, living in different states for the majority of our marriage, dealing with court battles to have more contact with his kids, moving stresses, new job stresses (between the two of us we’ve had 5 jobs in 5 years)…it has been a roller coaster. A few months ago we reached the point where we both knew we needed some outside and professional help and we have both been trying to learn how to be a better spouse and a more healthy and well-rounded person, friend, and sweetheart.
  6. I doubt I’d make it long without squeeing about this next thing: as a five-year anniversary present to each other we decided to go on our first real vacation since our honeymoon. We’ve been on trips to see family (NOT the same as a vacation), and we’ve been on many long weekend adventures, but an actual week-long vacation just the two of us? Yeah, it’s been a long time coming. This spring we are going to BELIZE and GUATEMALA and I am so very excited about the whole thing. We’ve got almost everything booked, just doing a little more research on one of the ancient Maya ruins we want to explore. The first half of our trip will be spent on a tiny little island off the coast of Belize, it’s so teeny that cars/trucks are not even allowed, just bicycles and golf carts and fish tacos and beachy sunsets viewed from a hammock. It will be so dreamy! The second half will be spent in the jungle in Guatemala with howler monkeys and ancient ruins and possibly some time in a canoe!? Ya’ll, I am ridiculously excited about this adventure!!





PS. The lunch pic up at the top is from a delicious lunch at Serial Grillers, a delightfully macabre food truck turned brick-and-mortar restaurant in Tucson. You can order a Sweeney Todd, a Texas Chainsaw Massacre, or a Jason (meaty OR vegetarian!). Recommended!

Confessions of a Bookaholic: Brains

Book Reviews- Brains and Neuroscience

I have a thing with learning more about how the brain works,. I love reading books about weird medical industry outliers, and I love reading neuroscience stuff about how neurons fire and misfire and are mapped and re-maped, and I love love LOVE when the an author can write about how and when the right brain and left brain come together (see: Proust review below). It’s hard to find a really engaging armchair neuroscience book, and I’m not saying that one of the following six is that book, but you will most likely enjoy one of the first three.

(Unless you’re a psychopath, the only read The Psychopath Inside, and start a club with author James Fallon (nope, not Jim, James) because he’s kind of a psychopath too. Oh, sorry, should have given a pre-emptive “spoiler alert!” there. My bad.)

The World’s Strongest Librarian: A Memoir of Tourette’s, Faith, Strength, and the Power of Family, by Josh Hanagarne (5 stars). I loved this book in every way. Hanagarne’s love of books, his struggles with Tourette’s, his thoughts about family and faith. This felt so real, so honest, and so completely refreshing, despite having some truly difficult pieces about Tourette’s and the causes, treatment options, and prognosis. Hanagarne works in my home library, the main branch of the Salt Lake City library, and he discusses lecture series that I actually attended and describes the glorious architecture, AND IT IS STUNNING! All sky-high windows and open spaces and modern sculpture, it’s one of my favorite places downtown. So, immediately I loved this book more than I probably should have (after 2 pages) because of the location in my heart-home. However, I also deeply appreciate Hanagarne’s respect for his faith, but also his hefty dose of reality about it. The Mormon church has some truly beautiful doctrine (that is not in the very famous, bawdy musical), but there is also a lot of weird cultural stuff, some tied to doctrine, some that isn’t but is pervasive in Mormon areas. It’s a tricky line to walk, but he handles it perfectly without lampooning the church or the faithful, and without trying to convert the reader. (I had zero idea going in that the author worked in one of my favorite buildings or that he was Mormon, and his love for my home and his treatment of my religion was such a delightful surprise and certainly contributed to how much I loved this book.) Hanagarne focuses on his Tourette’s diagnosis and how it affects his life, some of the treatments options he tried, ranging from truly bizarre to extra scientific, and the ways he learned to deal with repetitive short-circuiting of his brain. (Technically this book is more memoir than scientific brain treatise, but my blog, my rules, so whatever.)

Proust was a Neuroscientist, by Jonah Lehrer (5 stars). I have wanted a book like this for a VERY long time, Lehrer writes eight essays about groundbreaking artists and their work as it is reflected in neurology principles, most of which weren’t discovered and principle-ized until well after the artist’s work was published (and, more likely, the artist was long dead and gone). He discusses four novelists and their topics of writing (Walt Whitman, feeling; George Eliot, freedom; Marcel Proust, memory; and Virginia Woolf, self) and how each of those topics have direct neurological roots that Whitman, Eliot, Proust and Woolf clearly define and explain long before scientists discovered the proof. The other four chapters discuss similar principles of how we as a consumer experience art (Auguste Escoffier’s amazing epicurean creations; Paul Cezanne’s use of color and form and light; Igor Stravinsky’s music; and Gertrude Stein’s use of language) and then goes on to define the neurological process that allows us to enjoy and crave umami, or how a Stravinksy symphony affects our brain differently than Wagner or Beethoven. This bridge of art and science was glorious in every way and I think I must own this book to flip back through my favorite sections again and again.

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, by Cal Newport (4 stars). For the most part, I really loved this. I think Newport has a lot of really great suggestions and research. His rant about social media got me a little “meh”…never does he provide as an option the idea that you limit your social media consumption through a specific strategy, it’s either all-consuming or you delete your accounts. So, that was annoying. (Example: I log out of all social media apps when I’m done scrolling so I never receive notifications to distract me. Is it a pain to have to sign in? Not really, it takes 2 seconds. Not receiving push notifications from Twitter/Instagram/Facebook/Whatever has GREATLY reduced my attachment to and time wasting through social media. Win-win.

Hallucinations, by Oliver Sacks (3 stars). I like Oliver Sacks, his book “The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat” was pretty great; but this book is….it’s meh. He seems to prance over some of the deeper causes of hallucinations, he refers to larger segments he’s written about this case or that patient or this syndrome/disease/whatever in another book–he seriously cross references his own books a TON–and his definition of hallucinations ranges from drug or alcohol-induced episodes, to concussions, to allergic reactions, to legitimate deeply rooted psychological issues, to nightmares and PTSD. It’s…it’s just too broad without enough deep science to back it up. Not my fave.

Smarter: The New Science of Building Brain Power, by Dan Hurley (3 stars). This was okay, but not great. The basic premise surrounds whether or not there are activities or exercises we can do to strengthen our brains and make us smarter. The short answer: yes, to a degree. Things that make your brain run smoother and faster can increase it’s capacity: listening to classical music stimulates neurons, but only a little. Getting enough sleep and plenty of exercise strengthens your neuro-network, but only a little. Brain-stimulating puzzles and play can increase your capacity, but only a little. In combination, you may be able to increase your brain power a little bit, but only by a few IQ points. Now. If you have had some kind of brain trauma there is a lot more room for improvement, healing, and growth, but no one wants to wish crippling brain trauma on a person in order to prove “get smart quick” schemes.

The Psychopath Inside: A Neuroscientist’s Personal Journey into the Dark Side of the Brain, by James Fallon (2 stars). The first two thirds of this book I quite enjoyed, I mean, it’s an interesting twist to have an actual psychopathic neuroscientist (who is in denial about his psychopathic brain) be writing a book about psychopaths and their behavior. The last third, however, Fallon begins to really drill down into his own behavior and psychopathic tendencies, his mania and relationship patterns….and, he’s a SUPER ass. Writing a memoir reflecting on all those things makes him more of an ass, not less of one. It was almost unreadable, to be honest. If you’re looking for a better book about psychopaths, I’d recommend Jon Ronson’s “The Psychopath Test” instead.

Other Brainy Recommendations:

More books about brains and neuroscience.
All book review posts on ye olde blog(e).


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!)