On cactus, and living in the Valley of the Surface of the Sun

Purple Cactus flower_feistyharriet_April 2016

In my short time as a resident of the American Southwest I have come to appreciate some of it’s thornier and more beautiful parts: the desert plants that thrive under the harshest of conditions. In the early spring I loved taking my camera with me on walks through my neighborhood to photograph some of the spikier and thornier specimens in people’s yards. Then, you know, temperatures soared and I retreated back to the air conditioning, where I have stayed.

Agave teeth_feistyharriet_San Antonio Botanical Gardens

I see my northern neighbors celebrating cooler temperatures, the coming of fall fashions, pumpkin spice everything, and exhaling that the heat of summer has passed. Meanwhile, it’s still 100+ every day here and my cabin fever continues to rage. Locals keep telling me that Arizona’s fall is coming, and looking at the weather patterns I only partially believe them. It will be in the 90’s through October before finally cooling off to temperatures where I can breathe, but for me, 70 degrees is a perfect summer day, not appropriate for November and December. I truly don’t know if I will ever fully adapt to life in the low desert; the high desert where there is frost and snow and plummeting temperatures at night? That I can do. But without the elevation of those ancient plateaus, Phoenix and the surrounding suburbs just bake, and bake, and bake, for MONTHS on end.

Red spike cactus_feistyharriet_April 2016

The soul-sucking heat, the neverending blistering sun, the subsequent cabin fever…it makes me anxious and irritable and, in general, makes everything worse. I somehow feel that a few days of truly cold temperatures would solve a fair number of my internal turmoil, the cool temperatures calm me and help me think more clearly. I am sharper and more logical, more productive and happier when my body is not fighting itself and my surface-of-the-sun environment.

Hairy Agave_feistyharriet_April 2016

I have had to negotiate a lot of adjustments since I moved to Arizona: new work routine (which just changed again), new dynamics with Mr. Blue Eyes and his kids, new dynamics with my own family and friendships to accommodate the distance, and new relationships with friends and colleagues here. Those are the pieces that keep my going, the beautiful desert bloom, the cactus flowers…but the damn heat is the always present spikes and cactus spines, the constant that must be negotiated multiple times per day. When walking to the mailbox has the potential to give you heat stroke, the weather doesn’t just disappear into the background. Perhaps it does for those who are used to the fire-breathing sky, and perhaps in time I will adapt. If my love of Charles Darwin has taught me anything, it is that species will always adapt to their surroundings (or they will die out, but let’s not focus on that option, mmmkay?)

Harriet sig

Advertisements

Moving is hard: three months in Arizona

Three months ago I packed up the last of my belongings into my Mini Cooper, bade a last, tearful goodbye to my dear city, and started the long drive south from Salt Lake to Phoenix (about 700 miles). I cried for the first several hours, my heart sad and heavy to leave my beloved city, family, and friends behind. Eleven hours later I arrived at my new home. Blue Eyes and his kids had thrown together a Welcome Home party, complete with posters, balloons, streamers, cupcakes, and a bouquet of flowers. I cried all over again.

Moving is hard, yo. The best thing has been living with Blue Eyes, seeing him every day instead of every other weekend, and figuring out how to finally merge our lives together after years of living apart. There have been a lot of adjustments for both of us as we try and navigate our days and weeks and months, some have been easy adjustments, and some have been a lot harder. We’ve both had some growing pains, for sure. I think the hardest thing, however, has been a lack of a network here. Of course I still have my dear friends and family to rely on, we chat, text, email, and all the rest, but it’s not the same. I have made some tiny little baby steps towards finding a group of people here, I know they exist, the trick is to figure out where they are hiding. Yay, for the internet, for helping boost those fledgling relationships along!

Aside from the obvious best/worst things about moving (living with Blue Eyes/missing My People), here are a few other things, three months in:

Things I like:

Clear air with blue skies and sunshine. Winter in Salt Lake City is famous for some of the worst air in the world. No, really. The mountains/ski resorts are gorgeous, but down in the valley the air tastes like chemicals and you can walk around in an army-issue gas mask and no one bats an eye, although they may ask you where you bought such a  brilliant device.

The house, for the most part. It’s not my dream house, but there are some really lovely components, and I can disguise most of the not-so-ideal ones with some paint and art and books. For the first time in forever I have a bedroom large enough for a King-sized bed, and it is glorious. I also have a yard for the very first time, and we’ve been working to get it cleaned up, this week I’m planting our vegetable garden! Next up is a patio with fire pit.

My home office with it’s large window, walls full of books and real art, and a nice comfy chair where I can curl up and do some research or pleasure reading. My office also doubles as a little art studio, and I’ve loved having better access to my paints. Granted, it is also a lot quieter and lonelier than working in an office with delightful co-workers, but the physical space itself is far superior to a badly lit desk in cubicle-land.

Things I miss:

The mountains!! Goodness, how I miss my mountains. Locals keep telling me  that there are mountains here, and they point to a cactus-covered hill and I try and nod and smile, but inside I know they have no idea what they are talking about. That’s like trying to convince someone that a small pond is really the ocean. Sorry, no comparison.

Living downtown. I lived in the city center for almost 15 years, for me it seems like living anywhere else is kind of pretend. I am in the suburby-suburbs now, with lots of similar houses (all of them that particular brand of Arizona beige). There are very few not-chain restaurants and the ethnic food leaves a lot to be desired, the one Thai place is pretty meh, and the sushi place is hardly worth the trip. There are not any Yelp-rated restaurants within 10 miles of us; it takes almost 30 minutes to get to decent street tacos, for crying out loud! This is a far cry from dozens of delicious options within a 1.5 mile radius. We are on the edge of a suburb of a suburb…it’s…it’s been a rough adjustment.

The weather. I am not one of those who hates winter, or the cold, or the snow. I love boots and scarves weather! I love wearing tights with my skirts! I love suiting up and tramping around in the snow, exploring on snow shoes, and then curling up with a blanket and some hot cocoa to warm up. I love the seasons, however, the summer is my least favorite. I just don’t do well with the heat and all that sunshine, my skin can’t handle it. So, when it was 92 degrees on February 10 I very nearly packed up my car and moved north, I just cannot deal with that kind of heat. I did a little research, for 7 months of the year the average DAILY temperature in the Phoenix area is over 95 degrees and for 3 of those months it’s over 105 DEGREES (40.5C). All those people who kept saying “it’s only hot for a little while” are damn liars. It’s sweltering for three-quarters of the year!! I don’t think there has been a week since I moved in where I didn’t crank up the AC a bit to prevent sweat from pooling on my skin. I…I am really dreading the heat. I will most likely be parked inside from April thru November. Ugh.

 

The next three months will hopefully have more friends and roots put down here, finishing up our backyard and–fingers crossed–being able to harvest some vegetables from our garden.  I have regularly scheduled trips back to Salt Lake for work and am able to swoon over my mountains and have lunch with friends, eating delicious Thai food (or sushi, or whatever) within blocks of my office.

Harriet sig

 

 

 

When you have your dream job, but you still have to move away

I know it is totally not okay to talk about your job online, but I’m gonna blab for a minute.

The short story is for the last 18 months I’ve been working in what feels like my dream job. The position was created specifically for me, I manage a growing state-wide program with plenty of ongoing funding and support, I get to work with under-served populations I feel very strongly about in an area I value (vague enough for you?). Our data show incredible amounts of improvement in almost all of our geographic locations.

Last summer I took a graduate-level course through the University to learn more about my field and the group of people who help deliver my program around the state. I learned a little and got access to some excellent resources and discussions…but honestly? I was not wowed or amazed by all this BRAND NEW INFORMATION. My department (boss and co-worker) wrote a huge chunk of the curriculum based on data that we all are pretty well-versed in, so if I had no concept of the course contents I’d be a lot more concerned.

I also attended the national conference for the program I manage and…I also didn’t learn a ton. My state is at the forefront of what we do; so I shared a lot of our best practices and have fielded many requests for copies of our resources and documents, but after 3 days of conferencing I had exactly two solid ideas for improvement of the program and it’s delivery in my state. Two. (For scale, I shared about 30 ideas, all really, really great ones.)

So…what am I trying to say? That I’m the Super Best Employee and everything I touch is gold? Ha! Not even close. I was incredibly lucky to be in the right place at the right time with an fantastic, supportive and long-seeing boss, the type who can Make Things Happen and is able to see the long-term view of a project and how it can grow, and together we set up the structure to support long-term growth and improvement.

I have a big, state-wide meeting tomorrow to wrap up the program for the year. I am driving to Arizona on Saturday to join my sweetheart and all of my things and start life anew there.

This has been the plan for the last nine months, I made no secret about my plans and intentions when talking to my office colleagues, I wanted my boss to have plenty of time to figure out her next steps, plenty of time to hire a replacement and let me have a few weeks with them to transfer some of the industry knowledge into their spongey, new-hire brain.

My replacement has not been hired. My position has not even been posted because–again, due to an incredible amount of luck and a supportive boss–I will be keeping my dream job, move to Arizona be damned. I signed the contract a few weeks ago, I’ll be working remotely and coming back to Salt Lake a few times a year for meetings and trainings and program delivery. You guys, this was perhaps the one, single thing that has kept me sane over the last two months. The idea of not having to start from scratch in a job hunt, the idea of not truly leaving the colleagues I respect so much, the idea of not walking away quite yet from this program I built and poured my soul into.

I AM KEEPING MY JOB!!! I AM KEEPING MY DREAM JOB!!!

Will there be new challenges in working remotely, working from home, and being primarily alone all day? Sure. Absolutely. Am I more than capable of tackling those challenges head on? I like to think so. I shall begin that process Monday, there is zero down-time in this transition. Just enough time for me to drive 700 miles south and plug in my computer.

Gah! I love technology so much! Yay for email and webinar and video conferencing! Yay for file sharing and cloud storage and office iChat. [Insert wild-waving, cyber arms here.]

Do you work remotely? At home? Mostly via some kind of telecommute? Any tips you’d care to throw my way? Or blogs/posts I should read and pay attention to? Feed me, my people! This is a whole new mind-set for me!

Harriet sig

Going the distance

A few weeks ago Blue Eyes and I celebrated our fourth wedding anniversary by unloading a moving truck and hauling boxes to all the appropriate rooms in our Arizona house. We didn’t have a fancy dinner, or share a dessert, there were no flowers or cards or presents exchanged. I’m pretty sure we both collapsed from exhaustion and snored like elephants all night and woke up complaining of our aches and pains. Clearly, we’re super romantic and stuff.

(These are not the kinds of anniversary blog posts that win followers and earn sponsorships; just keeping it real over here. )

Mr. Blue Eyes and I have been together for almost five years, married for four, and when I do the math, my calculations tell me that we have lived in the same state for only 9 months.

Nine. Months.

To recap: Blue Eyes is a civil engineer, the kind who is in charge of building roads and bridges, pipelines and dams. He knows how to accurately use dynamite to blow up a mountain, he knows how to set up a power plant sub-station and manage the building of a power line hundreds of miles long. He is a Manly Man in every possible way. (He also lets me paint his toenails and routinely wins Dance Dance Revolution battles with his 11-year old daughter. So, there’s that.) These Manly Man work projects do not often exist within a medium-size established city. They exist in the far flung corners of the deserted West. So, that is where he has worked–for years. I’d see him most weekends (work schedule and time with his kids, depending), and we’d talk, text, and gchat constantly throughout the week. The last 14 months while he’s been in Arizona it has just been to expensive to fly back and forth that often and at over 700 miles the drive takes all dang day, and then some. For the most part, we’ve seen each other twice a month, sometimes more, a few times less.

Is it ideal?  No. Is it something I’d recommend? Not particularly. Did we make it work? Yeah. Mostly.

We have been long distance for so much of our relationship it’s hard to even imagine what it will be like living together. After years of living apart we will finally share the same house. I’m going to see my sweetheart every day, and we will eat dinner together. We’ll be able to watch our favorite shows curled up together instead of watch an episode and then have a phone conversation about it. We’ll share chores and a million little moments throughout the week that just cannot happen when you live several hundred miles apart for years at a time. We’ll be able to support each other better through our individual struggles and, and celebrate the accomplishments and milestones face-to-face. Every. Day.

Distance_feistyharriet
Image created for me by Ashley Collett Design.

You guys, the long-distance thing is almost over. I hardly even know what to say about that, words do not suffice.

Harriet sig

Four months vs one week

I know you “aren’t supposed” to talk about how busy you are and blah blah blah. I get it. But I’m gonna talk about it anyway.

My job is pretty cyclical, and mostly tied to the academic year. So “back to school” time–you know, back in August when I basically stopped writing here/doing anything else–was when life got super crazy in general, and then mid-September was a huge conference that I planned entirely and also presented at on two different topics. Seven hundred and fifty attendees, ya’ll! High school, middle school, and elementary school counselors coming for a day of professional development and workshops on helping underserved students (including students of color, low income students, minority students, and first generation students) and their families become college and career ready. This conference was almost twice as big as it was last year, and the sheer numbers were completely staggering.

Immediately following this event I launched the state-wide program that I manage, complete with a fair amount of traveling to trainings around the state, spreadsheets and documents being constantly updated, coordination with media and our ad agency for state-wide promotion, interviews and site visits. It is a ton of work and an even larger amount of satisfaction.

Somewhere in the middle of all of this I painted the rest of our house in Arizona and designed and supervised costume construction for a competitive Shakespearean team comprised of 50+ high school students (who ended up taking home all sorts of trophies). I squeezed in a trip to see my younger sister in Chicago, and a few little weekend jaunts to love on Nature a bit.

Starting in earnest in about mid-October, I began packing up my entire apartment. Ten thousand books (an approximation), a hundred pairs of shoes, and ten years of my life living in my lovely neighborhood.  The Saturday before Thanksgiving a dozen of my very favorite people showed up to help load all those boxes and bookshelves onto a rented moving truck. Blue Eyes and I left that afternoon and spent 2 days driving to Arizona–a loaded truck tops out at about 38 mph going up mountain passes and plateaus. I then spent 2 days unloading and unpacking like a crazy person, organizing books and setting up rooms to be cozy and homey.

And then, you know, we turned right around and drove back to Salt Lake for Thanksgiving dinner. I’m here for another week to wrap up stuff in my office and then my houseplants and I will make the drive south and become Arizona residents.

Looking back on this, I don’t really know how 4 or 5 paragraphs can truly describe the levels of stress and anxiety I’ve been under since July. In many ways I’ve had to force myself not to think about it because I did not have the time to be overwhelmed. I had to put my head down and plow through. I’ve been plowing a long time, and I’m exhausted.

One more week.

 

Harriet sig