Vacation re-entry would be easier with more fish tacos

Caye Caulker Belize 1_feistyharriet_April 2017

A few weeks ago Mr. Blue Eyes and I took the most lovely, long-planned and saved for vacation, we spent most of our time on a tiny Caribbean island, lots of hammocks and fish tacos and scuba diving; and then we hopped inland to visit some Mayan ruins before the sad-to-be-leaving-but-looking-forward-to-proper-AC-and-Diet-Dr-Pepper flight home.

And while I am not lounging beach-side or feasting on ridiculously cheap fresh-caught fish, I still kind of feel like I’m on vacation. The weeks leading up to our adventure were crazy stressful for both of us, mostly in a general Life Is Stressful way, but also with trying to make sure to have everything we needed taken care of for this big adventure. Life is still a little stressful, but not NEARLY what it was, and we are both literally glowing from spending a week in the Caribbean. Well, Blue Eyes is glowing and golden; I’m mostly just covered in sand fly bites that make me look like I have some kind of pox.

This may be surprising (but it totally shouldn’t be), but I can be super Type A, and I planned this vacation out like crazy. We don’t have the luxury of extra time, but do have the luxury of a little extra money, so we planned to spend our money in ways to maximize our time (meaning all travel was pre-booked, even down to the golf-cart taxi to take us and our luggage from the ferry to our Caribbean AirBnB). I spent the two or three weeks before we left finalizing all those little travel details on top of making sure our technology was all in order (cameras charged, memory cards emptied, details on phone use while abroad notated), ordering foreign currency for two countries, trying to memorize the exchange rates (2:$1 / 7.333:$1), making sure our credit and debit cards wouldn’t get flagged for fraud if we needed to use them, finalizing travel insurance, printing out every. single. confirmation. in triplicate, just in case, having the post office hold our mail while we were gone, asking a kind neighbor to come babysit my plants and make sure they didn’t shrivel and die, packing my suitcase and then re-packing my suitcase several times, having lengthy conversations with my sister on what shorts or cover ups I could leave home without missing (she was right on every single one) and what would be essential to my happiness, buying waterproof mascara and stocking up on sunscreen (I went through 3 full size tubes in one week, SPF 85, SPF 45, and SPF 30, and that is a post all by itself)…you know, the usual.

Or, maybe that is 100% not The Usual when people go on a big vacation, and maybe it was part of the reason why the weeks leading up to our trip were kind of stressful? Whatever, that pre-planning made our week away SO much more relaxed and we ended up coming in significantly under budget because I had a 15 oz bottle of SPF 85 IN MY SUITCASE and didn’t have to spend $20 dollars for a 4 oz tube, or, maybe $80 dollars for four 4 oz tubes (and $80 more for SPF 45, and $80 more for SPF 30, and, and, and…).

We’ve been back for a week or two and life is mostly back to normal…kind of. I mean, I still honestly feel like I’m on a part-time vacation. Let me explain: I still go to work, I still take care of my garden, I still make dinner and do the washing up and on Saturday I had the tremendously glamorous job of shampooing the family room rug and furniture, which is the epitome of Not A Vacation-y Experience. However, for the most part, life is easy-breezy. I’m not going to the gym every night in anticipation (uh, dread) of spending a week in a swimming suit; I’m not cutting out all sugar and carbs and happiness anymore; my To Do list is short and mostly unimportant… I spend my evenings reading…and slowly am going through and editing my photos…and, uh, hanging out on the patio and enjoying the last of the semi-pleasant weather…? I mean, I honestly feel like I’m still on vacation a little bit. And I’m afraid if I start writing about it here it will break the spell.

Dammit, I probably ruined it; it’s 1:24 am and my body is not at all interested in sleeping despite work as usually in the morning, and maybe that means the vacation spell is broken now anyway? I don’t know, but it is nice to stretch my write-y muscles here again, fish tacos or not, I’ve missed this little corner of my world.

So, what’s been up with you? Fill me in on everything.

A Day In The Life: Last Friday

It’s been forever since I did one of these posts detailing the minutia of my day. I love reading other people’s schedules and thoughts and opinions, so here it goes. A Day in The Life of Harriet:

9:45 pm: Plow through sorely neglected feed reader, see Lacey’s post, consider doing “A Day in the Life.” Also manage to reduce unread posts from 769 to a more respectable 13 unread. Yes, entire categories were marked “read all”….which is precisely why I put my blogs into categories: Favorites/Comments; Cooking; Fashion; Design; Not Girly Blogs; Trial Run; Travel; Mildly Entertaining; Family. (That first category is the one that gets 95% of my attention, always, the others are often skimmed for titles and then marked as read.)

10:30 pm: Shower, brush teeth, pick out clothes and shoes for tomorrow like a 7-year-old all excited for the first day of school (all three of these things are a must every night or my mornings are shot).

11:15 pm: Sleep.

6:15 am: pssst. alarm, here, time to wake up
6:20 am: Ahem. Alarm.
6:23 am: Alarm!
6:30 am: ALARM!

6:35 am: ALRIGHT I GET IT I’M AWAKE YOU ALARM MONSTER! Scroll Twitter with only one eye open, internally fighting with myself to simultaneously get out of bed already and just curl up and go back to sleep.

6:47 am: Sync my Magic Bracelet (ahem, Fitbit) (I swear I’m not 7 years old!) which tells me that I was awake 6 times and restless 32 times, which is a pretty typical night for me. (I know.)

6:50 am: Out of bed, get ready, use curling iron to de-wrinkle the collar and placket of my button-up shirt. I don’t remember the last time I used an iron for this task. (Judgey eyebrows down, please.)

7:17 am: Make bed before heading downstairs. I am constantly surprised at how much easier this is when your room is large enough to allow more than 18″ on ONE side of the mattress…but I still miss my Salt Lake apartment, tiny rooms and all.

7:20 am: Leave for work. It’s a “late morning” because Friday traffic is so much lighter than the rest of the week (I usually leave between 7:05 and 7:10 am).
Commute: Finish listening to audiobook I Know How She Does It by Laura Vanderkam and decide a Day in the Life post is definitely in order. Also, decide Laura Vanderkam probably has no idea how most women live and work and “do it all.” Roll my eyes a bit. Or a lot.

8:00 am: Arrive at work. Order my usual Friday breakfast burrito from the cafe in my building (ham, egg and cheese, no potato) go up to my office while they make it, boot up computer, find address and stamp for a snail-mail card to my niece, walk back downstairs to mail letter and pick up breakfast.

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8:10 am: Scroll email, no fires to put out, so that’s good. Categorize and prioritize what needs attention first, color-code for reference.

8:15 am: Conversation with co-worker about upcoming annual report…blergh.

8:30 am: Start notes for this log, also first caffeine of the day. Diet Dr. Pepper 4EVAH! Also, it goes swimmingly with a morning breakfast burrito. Don’t judge.

8:35 am: Water plants in my office, I love having live plants AND a big sunny window to keep them happy.

8:40 am: Prep for weekly one-on-one with boss.

9:00 am: …twiddling my thumbs, boss is on phone call…answer a few emails.

9:15 am: FINALLY! Meeting with boss.

10:10 am: Ack! My meeting went long (was supposed to be only 30 mins) AND was delayed and now I’m late for my next thing. Rush out to XYZ High School where I’m volunteering at an event for the program I manage. Check in with site coordinator and get assigned to a computer lab where I will be helping students with college and FAFSA applications. The vast majority of students at this school live below the poverty line, which in Arizona means a family of 4 surviving on less than $22,000 per year.  I had a good conversation and experience with one girl in particular, her Mom never reached 9th grade and is a single parent who supports herself and 4 kids on $17,689/year. (!!!!) This girl has a 3.65 and wants to become a nurse, she’s got the grades to get into any program she wants, and she has the determination to finish it.

12:20 pm: Leave high school, still thinking about this girl and her family. Five people on less than $18k per year total! There are thousands like her in Phoenix. THOUSANDS! And hundreds of thousands more like her around the country. I wish I could help them all! (This is the part of my job that I love the most, btw. Seeing the program I administer make a difference in a student’s life trajectory.)

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12:30 pm: Lunch and a book–a full lunch break is essential for me to be productive at all during the afternoon. Veggie burger, sweet potato fries, and a giant Diet Coke (don’t judge). I’m reading The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson and am learning so much about the Great Migration of black families from the South to industrial cities in the North and West and some of the historical situations that current racial tensions are based on throughout the United States. (*I tend to only order veggie-versions of burgers these days, unless I’m making it myself.) (Make mental note to bring lunches more often next week, even veggie burgers are expensive.)

1:30 pm: Back at the office: churn out a draft agenda for a huge Commission meeting next week; emails to all high school counselors who work on our programs; 30 minute conversation with brand new high school, getting them up to speed; figure out some storage and spacing issues with our Executive Assistant; finalize press release for my program; approve scheduled social media for the next 2 weeks.

3:45 pm: Holy crap! Where did the afternoon go! Quick break to walk around the block while I scroll Twitter and Instagram.

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4:00 pm: Back to the grind. A little more follow-up and planning for next week. When I started at this job I inherited two full-time interns when I really only have work for one part-time intern…it’s been a struggle to keep them busy and engaged in meaningful work. Wrap up my last “To Do’s” for the week, tidy up my desk (meaning: stack the piles of papers nicely), and spend 10 minutes with the interns being social, not their boss (asking about their weekend, his class and project, her boyfriend coming home from Iraq, etc).

5:00 pm: OUTTA HERE! Starting a new book for my drive home, Nefertiti by Michelle Moran. I’m on a “women who rule” kick lately, I thought this would fit the bill nicely. A few minutes in I can’t help but feel a little disappointed that it is clearly historical fiction and not an actual biography. Sigh.

5:50 pm: Arrive home. Mr Blue Eyes and I have decided to have an “at home” date night, dinner is grilled salmon and a big salad made out of fresh-picked lettuce from the backyard garden.

6:00 pm: Lettuce picking! I have 12 little lettuce plants (variety of types), 9 spinach blobs, and 1 overabundant kale plant. I pick leaves from everything to keep it producing. I also trim the basil (heaps of it!), oregano, cilantro, and thyme, by the time I am done my largest bowl is a tower of carefully balanced greenery.

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6:15 pm: Carefully wash all the leaves and pat them dry, send Blue Eyes to the store for a tomato and an avocado.

6:25 pm: Chop the rest of the salad stuffs: green onion, tomato, bell pepper, mushrooms, almonds.

6:30 pm: Blue Eyes puts the salmon on the grill (mine with sliced lemon, his without), I start chopping and tearing up the now-dry lettuce leaves.

6:40 pm: Dinner! Seriously, this is delicious. Hello, SALAD! Big Bang Theory reruns are playing in the background.

7:00 pm: Dishes, including the pans, turn on the dishwasher (I do all the dishes every night, no matter what. I loathe a dirty kitchen in the morning!).

7:15 pm: We have decided to go camping tomorrow night, he’s researching some hikes, beautiful vistas, and campgrounds while I’m making cooking plans and packing lists. Flagstaff and Sedona both promise cooler weather (like, in the 30’s overnight!) and possibly some leaf colors! Swoooon!

8:00 pm: Netflix movie Tallulah which is…not a light-hearted comedy. What the what!?

10:00 pm: Get ready for bed. (Tomorrow is Saturday so I don’t have to lay out my clothes, but you better believe I have considered which of my favorite comfy t-shirts will be gracing my body in the morning.) (Please, stop judging me!)

10:20 pm: I have an unexplained and unexpected major emotional thing and panic/anxiety attack…trying to measure my breathing and count my heart beats….

10:45 pm: Still feeling shaky, I won’t be sleeping anytime soon. Blue Eyes is snoring (his day starts WAY earlier than mine, and he is patting my hand while he snores), so I carefully ninja my way out of bed so not to disturb him and go into my little studio/former office to use my oil paints while listening to that Nefertiti book.

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1:05 am: Painting is done, time to wash out my brushes. I carefully sneak down the stairs so Blue Eyes doesn’t wake up and think I’m a burglar.

1:18 am: Upstairs and crawl into bed; finally exhausted enough to sleep.


When “Blogging for Dummies” is actually a little too complicated for me

A few weeks ago I decided to act on an idea I’ve had mulling around in my brain for several years, the idea of actively trying to attract blog traffic. So, I ventured into the scary world of back-end blog tweaking, trying to install some plug-ins to help me track traffic and SEO and stuff…and about three steps in I realized that I was waaaaaaay over my head. So, like anyone born in the early 1980’s I started googling “self hosting for dummies” and “how can I install a plugin” and SUPER basic stuff like that. And I couldn’t get through more than the first two paragraphs before I was completely lost. After several hours I sent a text to my computer genius person, the Technology King, and clumsily explained my problem. He asked two or three questions, asked if I’d like him to just take care of it instead of try and explain over the phone and babysit me through every tiny step (YES!), and then he sent me this:

And he fixed it. Like, everything. In about 13 minutes he did all the magic coding and [insert tech terms here] stuff and I am now self-hosted, or, rather, Technology King hosted, because of course he has his own server, and he updated everything and ported it over, and gave me new options, and a whole lot of other awesome stuff I absolutely do not understand. Yet.

I’ve been tweaking things here and there, adding little bits of code and feeling super smug because it only took me 17 tries to upload a header with the words AND images where I wanted them; seriously, guys, only 17 tries. And it’s literally the same header as it was before, just, you know, slightly resized. Me and Microsoft Paint are gonna take over the world of technology, 17 tries at a time.

Great. Ok, Harriet. So what does this mean?

Am I actively trying to monetize my blog? Um, no.
Am I ruling that out for the future? …no?
Is it nice to have options? Sure. Even if I don’t completely understand what all of those options are quite yet.

Honestly, I mostly wanted to see if I could bump up my traffic a tiny little bit and figure out some basic SEO stuff. Which, given that I couldn’t figure out how to install a SEO plugin without calling for reinforcements makes the whole idea of me as the Queenpin of my own media empire completely hilarious.

But, even so, I have options now that I didn’t have before, and realizing how little I actually know about websites and code–despite blogging for 11 years–was super humbling. I’ve ever started looking around for some basic coding courses to learn some new skills.

So. That’s fun.

How much do you know about website building? SEO? Figuring out how to grow traffic in an authentic and organic way? Any websites I should pay attention to? Blogs? Podcasts? Whatever the next big thing is?


In which I discuss control freakishness and my need for a new script writer

It is a fairly well documented fact that sometimes I can be a bit of a control freak. Popular definition may give you the impression that my “control freakishness” means I have crazy-psycho reactions if even the teensiest detail is not My Way. Not so much. I also do not turn into a crazy Lifezilla type if faced with something I don’t want to do. Nothing like that (I hope). The Harriet version of “control freak” is more along the lines of “I freak out when I feel like I have no control,” with said “freak out” being something along the lines of absolute despair with a side of living in a perfect graveyard of buried hopes. I really really REALLY don’t like feeling like I’m being tossed around my Life and there’s nothing I can do about it. On second thought, perhaps this doesn’t make me a control freak, perhaps this just makes me normal…?

I feel like I am finally on the tail end of months YEARS of being tossed around, I’ve got a few weeks of craziness left and then I have a solid stretch of what should be no big plans and a general calmness at work.

Should be. And so help me, Karma & Murphy, if you throw a wrench in that dream simply because I vocalized it I will destroy you.

I’m sick of being tossed around. My freak controller has taken a serious beating of late and I am worn out. I’m tired of not knowing what is going to happen next, of not even having a vague idea. I have repeatedly thought that my life would be a fantastic soap-opera, what with the relationship drama, the crazy family situations, the “Past,” the events that border on completely bizarre…those three kids I didn’t know were mine…wait. No. Scratch that last one. That’s not a thing. (I promise, NOT a thing.) I just…I need a vacation from all of this crazy. I need Life to slow down a little bit so I can recenter and find my groove again. I need to give my battered controller a break so she can recoup and re-prioritize.

And then, after I have fully recovered, THEN we can go back to the crazy soap opera stuff, mmmkay?

As far as this My-Life-As-A-TV-Show thing goes, I want a better script! I want a new director with a brand new artistic direction! I want a new wardrobe lady! I want softer lighting and a team of airbrushers! I want better snacks! I need better snacks! I want a mini-series in an exotic location; Belize or Iceland or Myanmar. (And no cheating and using Manitoba as Iceland. I want the Real Deal.) I want more air-time with Mr. Blue Eyes! I need more time with him, just us, figuring “us” out in peace and serenity.

If I was the lead actress in that show I would sooo be lounging in my own (air conditioned!) trailer sipping Diet Dr. Pepper and rolling my eyes with my assistant (oooh! I get an assistant!) and rambling on about how “I can’t work under these conditions”, and “artistic differences” and blah blah blah.

…Do I sound like a freak yet? Maybe a little? Ok, as long as we’re on the same page. In fact, if only to emphasize how serious I am here I think a scathing letter is in order:

Dear Life,

Please stop with the crazy. Really. This has been going on for months years and it’s enough already. Besides, it’s The Holidays–summer totally counts as “holidays”–can you at least stop sucking for The Holidays? Or forever? Kthxbye.

Love, Harriet

…Ummm, so “scathing” may have been a bit of an overstatement; I’m exhausted and not quite cranky enough for “scathing.” Hopefully, Life will still get the message.

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Pretending Gives me Anxiety

Prickly pear_feistyharriet_april 2016

Some days it is almost all I can do to just be myself. I feel like I don’t fit in my skin, my brain and my heart are not on the same page, and sometimes panic attacks that come out of nowhere send me spiraling down to the fetal position where I hug my knees and try and remember how to breathe.

Real talk, ya’ll. Sometimes being Harriet is just hard.

I am thirty-three, and it’s only been the last couple of years that I’ve realized something: it’s actually much easier to be myself than to try and be anyone else. The general discomfort and lack of self-confidence most often come when I am trying to pretend I’m someone I’m not. Did you catch that? Pretending to be someone else ultimately increases my anxiety: pretending builds a beautiful but completely unstable house of cards, impressive, but ready to crash at any moment.

I don’t get far trying to pretend that I’m cool; I’m not. I can talk to someone for hours, but I very much prefer conversations about things that matter over Small Talk. Small Talk is boring. I am a nerd. I get excited about volcanoes and elephant psychology and North Korean history/politics. I will always love reading dense-ish non-fiction over watching some fluffy Netflix crap or devouring the latest YA series. I don’t like most popular TV shows because I get irritated at the messages that are being sent about how we should probably live our lives, I don’t like the social commentary that most often uses minorities or those who are somehow “other” as a jokey subplot linked with the laugh track. I think, more often than not, it sustains or increases prejudice against already marginalized groups instead of generating critical thought or inciting social change.

I don’t get (or even really care (anymore)) about what makes someone popular in the real world or online. I was sooo not popular in school, or in my 20’s, and doubt I ever will be. I do try to be kind, but sometimes when people are assholes basic kindness is impossible, and I don’t feel that badly about treating assholes with a hefty dose of their own snarky medicine.

Clearly, I am a barrel of laughs. I often have to force myself to not be so serious, to lighten up, to not pick apart every little thing. But, the truth is, I am serious-minded, and all the fluffy unicorn memes in the world can’t undo that part of my personality.

A few months ago I read, and mostly disagreed with, Marie Kondo’s Tidying-Up Magic. However, thinking about her ideas in the context of my online presence and blog (and not the physical objects in my home), perhaps she was on to something. What are the pieces of Harriet that truly bring me joy? It’s not a bright and shiny, well-lit and well-curated “lifestyle” social media feed. It’s not a styled online presence at all, actually. Every time I think I should post about X, Y, or Z to attract more traffic or get a few likes or a few shares, I feel like I stumble and fall flat on my face. I’m not a lifestyle blogger, and probably never will be. And…that’s okay. At this point (and I do give myself permission to change my mind), I don’t want to employ SEO tactics to increase traffic, I don’t feel any need to link up with sponsors to get my foot in the door (the door to what?) or to gain better visibility to brands or campaigns. Am I jealous of the fancy big blogs that bring in a livable wage? Sure. But I’m not a lifestyle blogger, I’m a writer. Or at least trying to be. I’m trying to figure out how to write down the stuff in my head.

I am feisty, I am a feminist, I will talk your ear off about social injustice for minority groups or whatever geeky book I’ve read lately. I cannot pretend that world events don’t affect me; they do. I critique advertising much more than I follow it’s not-at-all subtle nudges towards consumption-based buying behavior, and will quickly make mental notes of the pieces that feel disingenuous. I don’t care about being popular, but I do care about fostering individual relationships–meaningful relationships–with people both IRL and online. I do not have time for disingenuous, give me your real self, your authentic self, even just a small part of it. I don’t know what to do with the shiny and the pretend, but give me something ragged around the edges, I’ll take extra care with it. Give me something a little broken and I’ll bust out my Scotch Tape and a cup of tea and something to snuggle with and if I can’t fix it I’ll just employ gentle hair pats and the occassional one-liner to break the tension or make you smile.

And maybe, ultimately, that is more what I am than who I am. Perhaps I am the rough edges, the broken one, the lonely one, held together with non-decorative Scotch Tape and a hope for compassion. Maybe I’m just trying to fit in, knowing for damn sure that I’ll never make it as a Styled, Curated, Shiny Harriet because Harriet The Feisty Nerd will always get in the way, say something candid and honest and decidedly not “on brand” or “campaign approved.”

Remember how I said that it’s much easier to be yourself than to pretend to be someone or something you are not? Yeah. This is me. Messy and feisty, opinionated and sometimes jealous, unfiltered and sometimes a little sweary or ranty and almost always ready to fight for the underdog. Sometimes I’m selfish and sometimes I’m kind. Sometimes I’m forgiving and sometimes I guard that grudge to somehow protect my own hurt feelings, and sometimes I keep it just out of spite. Sometime I have my shit together and sometimes I eat raw cookie dough right out of it’s store-bought plastic-wrapped tube–not vegan, not gluten free, not free-range, not responsibly sourced. Just a tube of sugary trans fats.

I am a work in progress, and it’s easier to admit that than it is to pretend that things are great and everything is fine. Is it scary? Yes. Is doing something scary easier than sustaining something fake? For me? A million times easier, there is no house of cards that I must build and/or maintain, no illusions to feed, no shareholders to please.

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