Summer Bucket List: A Recap

Today is the first day of Fall, which for most of you means you’re elbow-deep in scarves and blazers and pumpkin spice. For me it means that the long stretches of triple-digit temperatures are FINALLY behind us, but it’s still sweltering on the regular (yesterday it was still 103, btw). Back in May, when it was also sweltering, I posted a fairly ambitious list of things to accomplish over the summer, and despite a LOT of unanticipated changes and craziness over the last few months, I am so proud of myself for really sticking to my plans, which were pretty great to start with.

Summer Bucket List: 2016

    • No sunburns, no tan lines, and religious sunscreen application!
      Yes, ma’am!

Arizona Backyard After 5_feistyharriet_May 2016

    • Finish up the landscaping in the backyard.
      Yep! Also done! And it looks SOOO GOOOD!
    • Schedule a personal day off from work: go to a spa, get a massage, a pedicure, take myself out to a nice lunch, and maybe a movie, just because I can.
      This….did not happen. I need to revisit this idea, stat.
    • Go camping!
      Yep! National Park camping, FTW!

Arizona Backyard After 4_feistyharriet_May 2016

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    • Eat at least one full meal harvested entirely from the backyard garden.
      Mostly yes. It wasn’t a full meal in one sitting, harvest times being staggered and all, but we ate as much produce as our backyard garden would churn out: tomatoes, peppers, butternut squash, herbs, and my fridge is still full of eggplant.

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    • Make homemade ice cream happen.
      Yep. Batches of strawberry, black raspberry, and peach. Delicious!

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    • Visit four new National Parks.
      Three/four. I only made it to 3 new parks (Joshua Tree, Sequoia, and King’s Canyon), but also visited a few National Monuments, so, I’m counting it done.

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    • Go to a rodeo!
      Absolutely. Strawberry Days Rodeo is one of my favorite traditions.
    • Tackle and manage a joint budget with Mr. Blue Eyes.
      Ish? I don’t know if this is complete, meaning finished, but it has been tackled, and tackled again. It’s a work in progress, basically. Merging lives is hard, ya’ll.
    • Continue my current health and exercise regimen.
      Yes! I haven’t lost as much weight as I did in the spring, but I have been steadily improving my speed and distance. I still feel fluffy, but a lot less fluffy than I have for years. This goal will continue for the foreseeable future.

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    • Read a LOT of books. Inside. With the AC blowing directly on me.
      Yep, yep, yep. Fifty-nine since summer started (ok, since I posted this as an item on my summer to-do list).
    • Finish the last bit of painting inside our house: 2 rooms and a closet.
      Well…the closet is done… Ahem.

Ok, so overall, a pretty decent summer, with a lot of food-based highlights…which I didn’t quite realize until I started looking for images for this post, ahem. Additional wins included presenting at a non-work-related conference with a non-profit I’ve contributed to the last couple of years, and starting a new job here in Arizona.

My previous lists and successes, here.

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A million colors of white

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I dabble a bit in painting, I would hardly call myself even an amateur, really. But it’s a fun hobby and I get a ridiculous amount of joy from an afternoon in my little studio with all those little tubes of paint, mixing and painting and remixing and painting on another layer.

There are probably a lot of lessons to learn from mixing and painting, but there is one that I can’t stop thinking about. If you’re trying to make an interesting painting–contemporary, abstract, realistic, whatever–you need lots of layers and subtle differences in color. Red is never just red, in fact, it’s most interesting when it’s got a little green in it. Blue is most interesting with a little orange or yellow in the shadows or highlights, respectively. And white and black are the most realistic when there are bits of all the other colors mixed in.

That image up there is a still life by Vincent Van Gogh hanging in the Art Institute of Chicago. From across the room it looks like floppy white roses; but when you come up close, one white rose is lined in lavender, another in seafoam green, blues and purples, yellows and reds are probably more frequent than straight up Titanium White, the whitest white.

Consequently, the deepest, velvety black patches of paintings have bronze and purple, forest green and burnt umber, and sometimes even stripes of silver or yellow to offset those deep, rich dark colors. (Also, coincidentally, it’s a LOT harder to get a decent cell-phone photo of all that variation with unforgiving museum lighting and guards nervously pacing, anxiously intervening when they think you are too close. Ahem.)

I like to think about people in terms of those flowers, and the dark skirts of Victorian ladies, or the sumptuous midnight backgrounds of Dutch portraits, with gorgeous browns and vibrant reds and inky blues. We all have undertones and edges that change who we are, that reflect where we have been and what we have experienced. The variations and changes, the subtle glint when the light changes, the differences in perception depending on where you stand.

This is what makes us human. This is what makes us interesting. And this is what makes us so dang hard to understand each other, and so beautiful to each other when we finally can see all the colors and undertones and variations that work together for each, individual person.

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Around, and around, and around

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Do you ever feel like you fluctuate between two opposite extremes? One day you want fuzzy slippers and leggings, the next some killer shoes and a sharp blazer that Stacy, Clinton, and Tim Gunn would swoon over. Or maybe one day you’re all about salads and lean protein, and then next it’s chips and guac, mac & cheese, and a bucket of ice cream.

Right now, I’m caught on this particular roller coaster, constantly swinging from side to side, with a few moments of contentment somewhere in the middle. One day I want a lovely back yard and garden (which are truly lovely, and I still love them) and the next I want to sell everything and spend my life wandering. Or I want a nice, stable, dependable job with state benefits and a reserved parking spot…but then I want to spend 3 years in a creative commune and, I don’t know, go hunting for berry pigments to turn into dye, or paint, or pie (I’m not entirely sure what happens at a creative artist commune, clearly.).

When I get knocked off kilter, it sometimes takes me a while of flailing around to find my center again. I feel like I can see where that center path is, but I keep missing it, criss-crossing it haphazardly, but slowing the pendulum swing…eventually I’ll find my feet confidently walking where I want them to be, and until then, I’m just trying to survive the ride.

It occurred to me in the last few days that I probably need to be on medication. Again. I have always dabbled around the edges of depression and for the last few years have also been fighting anxiety attacks and overwhelming moments of panic stemming from everyday situations. I’ve tried therapy and meds, and more meds and different therapy. And those things have all helped to some extent; but depending on how extreme and powerful the forces in my life…well…I think it’s time to up my meds.

 

 

I know that part of my issues of late have nothing to do with my brain chemistry, they would be shitty for anyone in my shoes. I also know that my particular brain chemistry sometimes needs a little boost to stay even. So, while I know my doc–who is well acquainted with my brain–wouldn’t hesitate to re-write me a prescription for something to help me manage my day-to-day; part of me wonders if that’s a cop out. Wonders if it’s my brain, or if it’s just the situation. I don’t want to be broken, but I also sometimes wonder if I’m gas-lighting myself. And then I remind myself for the umpteenth time that regardless of why, it’s okay to not be okay. And it’s okay to take meds, or go to therapy, or do whatever it is that works in order to get back to a place of feeling okay again. And when I, myself, try and convince myself otherwise…well, that’s not a very healthy behavior, now is it.

Oh, the hamsters in my brain, if you could only see and appreciate how they work, and how they work me over. It’s exhausting.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?)

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Everything is on fire

I like to think that, most of the time, I can handle the immediate responsibilities of a crisis without a) losing my shit; b) having a meltdown; or c) running away. Car accident? I know what to do, I’m calm and collected, even while in pain. 13-year-old drops a moving chainsaw on his thigh? Yep, I’ve got that covered too (with obvious appropriate steps taken to get said kid to a doctor ASAP). A work colleague suddenly cannot meet a deadline? I can prioritize and put in extra hours to reduce the possible emergency to an inconvenience. And if, heaven forbid, there is some kind of natural disaster and people need water or shelter or whatever I can deal with the immediate steps to make that happen. I am able to absorb shock and stop it, instead of allow those shock waves to be amplified by my own freak outs and then reverberate along and freaking other people out too.

However, the thing that I have a really hard time with is feeling like things are okay, things are progressing and moving forward, only to discover that my legs have been chopped out from under me. To feel like you’ve been climbing up this staircase, careful and trusting, and then realize that the staircase is melting; someone has accidentally (or on purpose) set it on fire. At that point, you only have a few options: jump ship and hope the fall doesn’t kill you; or you take a breath, grit your teeth, and run down through the smoke and flames, knowing that once you’re on solid ground you’ll probably never be quite the same. I know the file won’t kill me, but the burns are going to leave a sizable mark.

I’m on fire. Everything is on fire. I can’t see through the smoke and my chest aches and I can’t breathe. I literally wake up at night coughing and gasping for air, covered in sweat, trying to stave off the eruption of a full blown panic attack. I’m trying to get clear of all the smoke and fear, but my legs don’t work they way they are supposed to and I feel like I’m running but not moving anywhere. I curl up, cradle my head in my arms, and wait.

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