Life Lately: Excitement & Doubt

Grand Canyon with Colorado River

I feel like these two words pretty much sum up the last several weeks. I finally got confirmation yesterday that I will be able to move to Alabama and keep my current position with my company. As of right now, I am planning to move back in late February or early March 2018. My dad needs time to get things set up and I need time to wrap my head around the reality of actually moving! (And also, winter is the best part of Phoenix, so it makes sense to enjoy that part before heading east!)

Reality is already starting to set in. I’ve committed to moving back to and being involved with my family. There is a big part of me that feels like I’m jumping from the proverbial frying pan right into the fire. Do I really, really want to do this?? Truthfully, no, I don’t. But my grandmother needs me right now and I need to get out of Phoenix. This is just one step forward down the path I’ve finally chosen. That last sentence has become my mantra…

I’ve also just recently come to realize how much power authority involvement in my firm I will be giving up. Right now I’m in the office most every day. I can see what goes on, interact and build relationships with my coworkers, play office politics, help out with various issues, join staff meetings, bake birthday cakes, etc. etc. When I move, I’ll be a one-woman show most of the time. I’ll no doubt be back to Phoenix for a few weeks during the year for meetings and big holidays, but it’s definitely going to be a very different dynamic. I know this is a sacrifice that has to be made if I’m going to move forward with my master plan, but I don’t for one second think it’s going to be easy.

I will miss all of my coworkers, but especially my dear, sweet friend M. We do stuff outside of work on a regular basis and there’s not a single day we aren’t in each other’s office to chat about things. We’ll still chat every day (online), but it won’t be the same. I’ll also miss my Phoenix friends outside of work. I’m going back to my childhood home, but I really only have one friend there that I’m still close with. So this is going to be a pretty drastic change in social life as well. I know how this is going to sound, but it’s my truth – I would almost prefer a clean break than a half-break. Right now this is just a separation before the divorce – all of the components are still there as a reminder of what was, which is bittersweet at best.

Clouds reflected on pond with reeds, Alabama

I know that with time all of this will be the new normal, at least until the next change. I know that I’ll grow, make friends, maybe (hopefully) strengthen my family relationships, and eventually move on to the next big change. All of that calms me down when the panic sets in. I did, after all, choose to make this happen. It was, and is, my choice. I know that for my health and happiness this is the right move.

But I also feel like hiding the doubts beneath the excitement is disingenuous. May 2018 would mark 10 years in Phoenix. I haven’t lived anywhere nearly so long since I left my dad’s house. This place, these people, deserve reflection and perhaps a little remorse, for I doubt very much that I will ever move back here. As various friends have moved away over the years, I’ve been struck by how difficult it is to be the one left behind. I’d forgotten how equally hard it is to be the one moving away.

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Life Lately: Heat Wave

Phoenix weather forecast

June 20-25, 2017

OMG you guys… I went on my adventure to Spain last week with my friend, had a lovely time, then returned to the deepest level of hell. My dad would say that’s being overdramatic, but there was one day where flights were canceled because it was too hot to operate the planes!! Ugh.

Monday morning I walked into the Orange County, CA airport with a sweater on; I walked out of the Phoenix, AZ airport and lost my breath. It was so hot my eyes felt like they were shriveling up in their sockets. Yes, it is a “dry heat” – ta! for the reminder – but let me enlighten you a bit on that “dry heat” – go and turn your oven on to 400 degrees (350 will also work for a 110 example; 400 is needed for the 120 effect). I’ll wait…… When pre-heated, place your face near the door and open it. That woosh that happens when you first open the door, that’s what it felt like walking out of the airport.

And Monday wasn’t even the hottest day this week! Tuesday flights were canceled because it was too hot for the planes to operate (seriously)! By Friday there were pictures all over social media showing various things melting. Luckily, the heat wave is supposed to break tomorrow, but summer is only just getting started…

So, why am I still here? Excellent question. This will be my 9th summer in Phoenix. When I first moved here, I was actually a fan of the heat. It was, after all, a “dry heat,” which at the time was much better than the tropical humidity of Miami, FL. All I really cared about was that it was warm, sunny, and free of major natural disasters. Phoenix is my shining example of that whole “be careful what you wish for” adage. Unfortunately, every year the summers are a little more difficult for me to take. I know what’s coming, but the temperatures never fail to surprise me somehow. I suspect it’s those lovely winters that do such a fabulous job of lulling me into complacency. I have a growing respect for the methods of the snow birds (summer in the north, winter in the south).

I find that the extreme temperatures wreak havoc on my body now days. I suspect the FM is to blame for that, but I’m mostly left counting down the days til there may be a break in the heat and dreaming of winter destinations. My whole outlook on climates has done a total 180 – bring on the snow! Although I’m calling this a lesson learned and heading to more temperate climes. I can always visit colder – or hotter – places, but there’s no need to live in one or the other.

Tossa De Mar, Spain

Along the Spanish coast

Yes, ladies and (perhaps) gentlemen, after almost a decade, I finally have a plan for my future that feels right, even exciting! Tentatively, this plan is to move back home to my dad’s house early next year. In an interesting turn of events, I will be keeping my current job and working remotely. If things work out okay, we may even open an east coast office; we’ll see how that goes. My five year goal is to get myself back in grad school for an MA in English Literature. Law school was my family’s dream for me; my dream was to be an English Professor. I tried their way, now I’m keen to try my own. I also have about a hundred ideas for things to do in the meantime, thinking of which keeps me sane during the long hours of intense sunshine. I have finally landed on a plan that I’m sure about – I haven’t felt this way since college to be honest, and it’s so nice to be excited about the future again!

I think I’ve needed to take a step back to reevaluate for some time now, but I had to wait until I was ready to understand what that meant. This plan allows me to stay in my comfort zone just enough to not be afraid to move forward with it. I’ll be able to help with my grandmother, and I’m hopeful that this will be just enough change to alleviate most of the stress that triggers the FM flares. It won’t be all rainbows and butterflies, I know that. I’ve resisted moving back for 15 years; I’m well aware of what awaits me. But I’m willing to give it a go, to take this step back in order to better see what my next step forward will be. The fact that I’ll have seasons again (even if not quite so pronounced as they might be elsewhere) is just a huge bonus! (smile)

Roadway through the painted desert, Arizona

My first “featured” photo on Instagram! @instagramaz

So life lately has been a combination of naps in cool places (heat fatigue is real), daydreaming about the future, and trying to appreciate every final moment here in the desert. There’s been a fair amount of travel in there as well (smile), but that will die down now until September (yay Alaska!).

Oh yes, I suppose there’s one other thing I wanted to share today… I’ve created a photography website! I’m not quite sure to what end exactly, but I felt compelled to create a separate space for my photos. It really all started with Instagram (as things do) and snowballed from there! The site doesn’t have much on there yet, but it’s been fun getting everything set up! I’ve got quite a few post ideas for this space, which I’m planning to share now that the travel is done for awhile. Then again, they say the road to hell is paved with good intentions. I wonder if that’s how I ended up here?! (ha!) Probably best to put those good intentions into play and actually post lest I land myself in another heat wave! 😉

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Life Lately: Keeping Options Open

Upper Antelope Canyon, Arizona

I’m writing this from my dad’s house in Alabama. My BFF’s son turned 1 this week, so I took a long weekend to fly back for some friend time and forest bathing. My friend and I have been friends, quite literally, since kindergarten, and times like these make me realize how fortunate I am to still have her in my life. Now I have my “niece” in California and my “nephew” in Alabama – I’m all set!  (Ironically, their mothers both have the same name, so now I just use their kids’ names to differentiate 🙂 )

I admit that I’m normally not terribly excited to come back to Alabama. My family and I have some major differences of opinion, but it’s a relief to see those mellow a bit with time. I felt like I needed this trip – I needed to see green things, put my feet in the grass, listen to the birds sing, and just breathe. So that’s where I’ve spent all my spare moments these past few days between grandparents and birthday celebrations and it’s been lovely.

So lovely, in fact, that I’ve found my thoughts going in a wholly surprising direction. It’s not a big secret that I’ve been wanting to move east. I’ve been looking at opportunities to do just that for almost a year now, but nothing has felt quite right. Recently, however, I’ve happened upon some potential options much closer to home that started me thinking about moving back here. As in back to my dad’s, as in the place I swore up and down for over a decade I would never live again (at least until retirement, and then only maybe). I have officially gone mad.

But the more I’ve thought about it this weekend, the more right it feels. There would be several ways it could play out and all of them potentially beneficial to myself and to my family. My grandmother really isn’t doing well since my grandfather’s passing, and it would be nice to be able to help her more. She’s been my mother figure since I lost my own as a teenager; I would love to be able to help her out even a tenth as much as she’s helped me through those years. There’s potential that I could even keep my current job and work east coast projects. At least until I am ready to make the transition into this other thing I have in mind…but that’s getting way ahead of myself.

I must be crazy. Absolutely mad. I have to be to even be considering this. Yet I’ve talked it over, in part anyway, with my dad and he seems on board with the idea. He has a lot of room here on the farm and there’s another dwelling that could be all mine with a little paint and TLC (okay, a lot of both but still). It would be a bit of a reset, a slower (and cheaper!) pace that might really be what I need to try to get some stress and my health concerns under control. My biggest con (among a well sorted and on-going list) is my pride – I’m not sure I could come back here and not see it as a negative set back instead of a simple step back. I would have to face up to and accept a lot of things I’ve been avoiding for many, many years. It could be the best idea ever or a total failure. Who knew moving home would be a leap of faith??

Anyway, all of this is just speculation at this point. I have a lot to think about and there are still several things that need to play out before I can make any final decisions. I haven’t given up on D.C., I’ve just opened up another option. We shall see which one plays out best in the end – I leave it up to the Universe!

Upper Antelope Canyon, Arizona

In other news, I’ve officially checked off almost every item on my Arizona bucket list! Last weekend we made it up to Antelope Canyon for a photography tour and can I just saw – wow! I was super impressed with the canyon (obviously), but also with the number of tourists up there (in a slightly different way). My first trip to Page was nine years ago and it was almost a ghost town. Too bad I didn’t visit Antelope then! I’m happy for the town and all of the lovely sights in the area that are getting their due attention. I just hope that they can figure out the best way to grow together sustainably. Anyway, I’ve been editing photos and hope to share more very soon!

Next month, I’m off on a very impromptu girls’ trip to Barcelona! My California friend and I have been talking about Spain for years, so it’s hard to put into words how special it is that we’re going together. I’m more excited for this trip than I have been in a long, long time!

I’ve also been feeling inspired to write again. I’m hoping the long, hot days of summer bring an opportunity to ease back into some personal pursuits. I feel like other things have taken priority for far too long – I’m looking forward to reevaluating and getting back into those things that make me happiest! That also includes reading more – one of my secret bucket list items has always been to read the classics, so I (somewhat randomly) downloaded this list and the fun has already begun! I feel like it’s a bit ambitious, but it’s a life goal so there’s time. (smile)

Toadstools trail, Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, Utah

Life is funny. You can go round and round (and sometimes quite literally around the world) only to find the answer you’ve been looking for right where you started. Apparently there was more to The Alchemist than I gave credit for… Perhaps it’s time for a re-read while I’m busy trying not to overthink some major decisions. But you know, as long as change is finally and indeed coming, I find I am content.

P.S.
As always, feel free to check out my Instagram for the latest adventures!

P.P.S.
You may have noticed a change in my Instagram name – all part of a new venture I hope to share very soon!

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Autumn Nostalgia

Alabama dirt road

These photos may not be the most technically adept, but when I see them I’m always reminded of home. They bring back such vivid memories of fall in southern Alabama – football games, bonfires, snuggling with boys, laughing with girlfriends, baking with my mom and grandmas, and the start of the holidays. I’m immediately a teenager again and I can still feel that same confusing tug deep in my heart for some great unknown.

This week’s challenge is “nostalgia.”

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Life Lately: Au revoir August

San Diego California, Pacific OceanWeather: Warm & Humid
Days til Fall: 31

We’ve actually had a proper monsoon season this year, which means two things – 1) the temps have been reasonable and 2) it has been so humid! You’d think coming from the south I’d be used to the humidity, but turns out it doesn’t take long to adapt to the “dry heat” of the desert. It’s a trade-off I suppose, but in the end I’ll take the cooler temps any day. Who knows, maybe Arizona will have a proper fall by the first day of fall this year! (A girl can dream…)

For the past several months I’ve really struggled with feeling in control of my life. It felt like things kept popping up to dictate my time and energy, creating obligations that made me increasingly resentful. I find that this tends to happen when I don’t have enough alone time and it’s incredibly frustrating. The last couple of weeks I’ve made a much greater effort to plan my time, stick to the script, and say “no” to those things that I don’t really want to do. This has meant disappointing a few people, but it’s really helped me feel (slightly) more in control and balanced. I’m still working on finding the balance between happy in the present and planning for the future; at least now I’m on level ground to give it a go!

San Diego California, Pacific Ocean

My cousin made it out for a long weekend earlier in the month. Despite all warnings, she was definitely unprepared for the heat (bless her heart). We ended up heading further west to the coast for a little sea breeze. We stayed one night in San Diego and one in Huntington Beach. She’ll tell you that her favorite part was a proper Sunday-Funday on the beach (complete with champagne and good company), and I won’t lie, it was my favorite too! (smile) I sent her home with a sunburn, no glasses, a (partially) shaved head, and a new perspective on life.  Overall I’d say the trip was a success 🙂 (At least she didn’t go home with the tattoo she randomly decided she should get… I convinced her to save that one for another trip lest I never be able to return to Alabama again!)

I have finally gotten serious about studying for the PMP certification. It’s quite the process, but I’m hoping it’ll be worth it in the long run. Assuming everything goes to plan, I should have this out of the way by the end of the year. If/when I actually pass the exam, I’ll share the resources used and any additional tips/tricks that seemed useful. I don’t want to jinx it in the meantime!

San Diego California, Pacific Ocean

September promises to be a busy month with camping, Wyoming, and Iceland all on the calendar. I am finally getting excited about Iceland and all the beautiful scenery. All of the big plans have been finalized, so now it’s just a matter of deciding what to see in what order (which is my favorite part)! Once I’m back from that trip it’ll be time to start planning the next big adventure – a move to the east coast. That’s a scary sentence to write, but also so exciting! The thought of being somewhere that has a true autumn actually makes me tear up a little!

San Diego California, Pacific Ocean

I won’t lie though, I will miss these sunsets ❤

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Mammoth Site, South Dakota

I recently discovered the Roadside America website/app (for iPhones) and it’s quickly become one of my absolute favorite references for finding weird/cool things/places to see/visit. While in South Dakota I took full advantage of my brother’s iPhone and we happened upon the Mammoth Site of Hot Springs, South Dakota.

The Mammoth Site is both a museum and an active paleontological site. More than 26,000 years ago, large Columbian and Woolly mammoths were trapped and died in a spring-fed pond. For centuries the bones lay buried, until discovered by chance in 1974 during excavation for a housing development when earth moving equipment exposed a fossil. Luckily, the Mammoth Site was preserved and today it is the world’s largest Columbian mammoth exhibit and a world-renowned research center for Pliestocene studies. To date, 61 mammoths have been identified, along with the remains of a giant short-faced bear, camel, llama, prairie dog, wolf, fish, and numerous other plant and invertebrate fossils.

I thought the coolest part of this site was the fact that it is both a museum and working dig site. There are programs each summer when volunteers come to the site to work – all under the curious gaze of the visiting public. It made for a rare opportunity to see work in progress and to gain a better understanding of exactly how such site are run. And, honestly, I found it way more interesting to see the bones in situ vs in a more clinical museum setting.

One of the most amusing facts of the whole tour (for me anyway) was that so far, all of the mammoths found have been male. Apparently they just happened upon this nice little water hole, thought to go for a swim, then couldn’t climb back up the slippery sides. Kind of a sad story, but for some reason it just seems like a very male scenario (sorry guys).

Overall, I definitely found this place to be worth the price of admission and a few hours of your time. If you have kids, even better!

P.S. I apologize for photo quality – the lighting here was all over the place and I only had my cell phone (rookie mistake not bringing an extra battery for the SLR – oops!).

Mammoth Site, South Dakota, archaeology

This model was totally surreal – those bones are just SO big!

 

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Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge: Old Photos

I took these photos of these plate portraits of my couple-of-greats grandparents while I was home over the 4th. I found them absolutely fascinating – from the facial expressions to just how well they’ve held up over the years. They also give me a whole new appreciation of digital photography (and editing)!

This week’s topic is “older than 50 years.”


Cees BWPC Badge

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Devils Tower National Monument

Devil's Tower National Monument, Wyoming

One of the other sites on my list for this road trip to western South Dakota / eastern Wyoming was a visit to Devils Tower National Monument. The Monument was about a 2 hour drive from where we were staying in Rapid City, but the scenery made it well worth the effort. (smile)

Devils Tower is a butte in the Bear Lodge Mountains (which are a part of the Black Hills) in northeastern Wyoming. It rises quite suddenly almost 1,300 feet above the Belle Fourche River, standing 867 feet from base to summit. The area was designated as a monument by President Theodore Roosevelt (beginning to see why he made the mountainside at Mount Rushmore) in 1906.

This site is considered sacred to the Lakota and many other tribes that have a connection to the area. Local tribal names for the butte include Aloft on a Rock (Kiowa), Bear’s House (Cheyenne, Crow), Bear’s Lair (Cheyenne, Crow), Daxpitcheeaasáao, “Home of bears” (Crow), Bear’s Lodge (Cheyenne, Lakota), Bear’s Lodge Butte (Lakota), Bear’s Tipi (Arapaho, Cheyenne), Tree Rock (Kiowa), and Grizzly Bear Lodge (Lakota). The name Devil’s Tower originated in 1875 during an expedition led by Col. Richard Irving Dodge when his interpreter misinterpreted the name to mean Bad God’s Tower, which then became Devil’s Tower. All information signs in that area use the name “Devils Tower”, following a geographic naming standard whereby the apostrophe is eliminated.

Devil's Tower National Monument, Wyoming

According to the Kiowa legend, before the Kiowa came south they were camped on a stream in the far north where there were a great many bears, many of them. One day, seven little girls were playing at a distance from the village and were chased by some bears. The girls ran toward the village and the bears were just about to catch them when the girls jumped on a low rock, about three feet high. One of the girls prayed to the rock, “Rock take pity on us, rock save us!” The rock heard them and began to grow upwards, pushing the girls higher and higher. When the bears jumped to reach the girls, they scratched the rock, broke their claws, and fell on the ground.

The rock rose higher and higher, the bears still jumped at the girls until they were pushed up into the sky, where they now are, seven little stars in a group (The Pleiades). In the winter, in the middle of the night, the seven stars are right over this high rock. When the people came to look, they found the bears’ claws, turned to stone, all around the base.No Kiowa living has ever seen this rock, but the old men have told about it – it is very far north where the Kiowa used to live. It is a single rock with scratched sides, the marks of the bears’ claws are there yet, rising straight up, very high. There is no other like it in the whole country, there are no trees on it, only grass on top. The Kiowa call this rock “Tso-aa”, a tree rock, possibly because it grew tall like a tree. {Told by I-See-Many-Camp-Fire-Places, Kiowa soldier at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, 1897.}

Devil's Tower National Monument, Wyoming

These “claw marks” form hundreds of parallel cracks which makes Devils Tower one of the finest traditional crack climbing areas in North America. Hundreds of visitors each year make the climb up to the summit. (Can you find the climbers in the last two photos??)

I didn’t look at any photos prior to our journey to Devils Tower, so I had no idea what to expect. Seeing this massive butte rise out of the gently rolling hills of northeastern Wyoming was…magical. Seeing it grow as we came closer, I was struck by how odd and out of place this bit of rock was – and I can totally understand why it’s considered a sacred area.

We enjoyed beautiful sunshine during our hike around the butte. We spent some time watching the intrepid climbers and taking a hundred photos of the rock, trying to capture the mystical feel of the place. I don’t know if I succeeded in that personally, but it’s certainly a location I’ll never forget!

Devil's Tower National Monument, Wyoming

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Wind Cave National Park

I must admit, when I originally planned this little road trip through western South Dakota, I had no idea just how much there was to see and do. In addition to Mount Rushmore and Badlands National Park, there’s also nearby Wind Cave National Park.

Wind Cave National Park, cave

Wind Cave National Park is located in southwestern South Dakota near Black Hills National Forest and Custer State Park. Established in 1903 by President Theodore Roosevelt, it was the 8th National Park in the U.S. and first cave to be designated as a national park anywhere in the world!

Wind Cave National Park, cave

In 1881 Jesse and Tom Bingham were also attracted to the cave by the whistling noise of the air coming out of the cave. As the story goes, wind was blowing out of the cave entrance with such force that it blew off Tom’s hat. A few days later when Jesse returned to show this phenomenon to some friends, he was surprised to find the wind had switched directions and his hat was sucked into the cave. This change in movement of the wind is related to the difference in atmospheric pressure between the cave and the surface.

The cave is considered a three-dimensional maze cave, recognized as the densest (most passage volume per cubic mile) cave system in the world. It is currently the 6th longest cave system in the world with over 140 miles of explored cave passageways. An average of 4 new miles of cave are discovered each year (and if you find a new chamber, you get to name it!).

This maze of passages is home to boxwork, a unique formation rarely found elsewhere. Approximately 95 percent of the world’s discovered boxwork formations are found in Wind Cave.

Above ground, the park includes the largest remaining natural mixed-grass prairie in the U.S. Bison, elk, pronghorn, and prairie dogs abound, so drive carefully and enjoy the view from a safe distance!

This was another park I was totally unaware of until we happened to see it on the map. Being a huge fan of caves, I made sure we saw this one! The tours are guided and the guides are very knowledgeable. It is a wet cave and there are a lot of stairs, so be aware of that before you sign up. Entrance to the park is free but the tours are available for a small fee. The boxwork is pretty phenomenal and make it well worth a visit – especially if you enjoy caves!

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