Rambles · Uncategorized

Reflections on a government shutdown

I’m a federal employee. My day job consists of putting on the National Park Service uniform and going to work in a fort and kind of having the best time ever.  I’m blessed that I really do love what I do. Austin is also a federal employee, but of a completely different sort – the sort that puts on a uniform and goes to work when no one else does, because he’s active duty military.

Of the two of us, I am the one who spent January 20-22 furloughed, unsure of when the government would reopen, what would happen to my job, my paycheck. His status was also uncertain, but he still had duty. He went to work. I sat at home, afraid to go to the store, afraid to get involved in a project, afraid to do anything but live stream C-SPAN occasionally on my phone to see what the status of the Senate was.

This isn’t to get political. I’m not taking sides, or pointing blame. I can’t. I don’t want to. I just want to reflect on the three days I spent wondering how things were going to turn out.

I know that the shutdown isn’t as stressful to all employees as it is to me. But talking to other employees around me, we all had similar stories. In 2013, the shutdown lasted 16 days, and threw off pay for at least two paychecks afterwards. I was working for a contractor, and was not paid for half of the shut down because the contractor wasn’t making any money with the park closed, so they let all of their employees go, and rehired them when the park reopened.  I was in my first semester of graduate school at the time, so staying home and studying Biology wasn’t a huge problem for me – I was already broke, and didn’t have anything to do and my Bio grade benefited from the intense study at the beginning of the semester. But my meager savings had to make up for the deficit in my pay, and I felt that lack for months afterwards.

Now I am lucky that I am more financially stable, and that I could have lasted a longer government shutdown and the financial hit wouldn’t have been as severe. Not all of us are that lucky, and many of us are living paycheck to paycheck, and that creates it’s own stress, compounded when the status of the next check becomes uncertain.

When we went back to work, I was surprised to hear more than one visitor tell me “Welcome Back!” as I walked through the park on Tuesday. I replied, always, that I was glad to be back, and happy that they came to visit us. As I tell visitors every day “Thanks for visiting, if you didn’t, we wouldn’t be here!” The National Park Service is a very “customer service” oriented agency. I still want to cross stitch a phrase I heard from one of our regional employees when they visited after we were damaged in Hurricane Matthew “Service may be our last name, but it’s our first priority.” I think that’s why people get so upset when we are closed due to a government shutdown, because we are the visible element, the Good Face that people see and recognize.

The stress of the shutdown was physical – I ate a lot of ice cream. I broke out in acne that would have shamed my teenage years. Mentally, I was kind of in a fog. My antidepressants were working overtime to keep me on an even emotional keel, and that kind of ended up with… nothing. But my body was manifesting the symptoms of stress even if my brain wasn’t, and even a week later, my body is still showing signs of a thyroid flare with shedding hair, psoriasis patches, etc.  I keep reminding myself to give myself some slack, to be kind to my body. I’m not doing anyone any good if I ignore the signs and don’t let myself handle my problems.

The government is funded until February 8th. I may be stocking back up on Klondike Bars (mint chocolate chip or Reese’s, all the way) in preparation, just in case. If nothing happens, I don’t have to send another closure e-mail. I can ration out the ice cream over weeks and months, if Austin doesn’t find the Reese’s ones first and make them disappear. The cats will avoid having to look at me weird for being on the couch on a Monday afternoon.

And we can keep taking selfies in front of park signs whenever we travel, because we’re dorks.

I love my job. I love my agency. I love this country, and everything it stands for. I love the people in it – even the ones I disagree with. Part of loving them is knowing that you don’t have to like them very much.

Let’s just work through this together, and remember that it’s not the people on C-SPAN who are hurting, it’s the ones watching C-SPAN, worried about affording groceries.

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Meal Planning as Self Care

If there’s one thing that I’m bad at, and I openly admit it off the bat, it’s self care.

I’m a Hufflepuff, okay? I take care of everyone and everything else above myself. I sometimes even find myself thinking of my cat’s comfort before my own (let’s be honest, that’s obviously how it should be, but some people don’t get that). When my self care starts to fall down lower on the Priority List of Life, it’s often doing so in kind of a.. sneaky manner.  I can still be working out 2-6 times a week (yes, that’s a wide margin, but c’mon, it’s WORKING OUT). I can still be bringing packed lunches that are evenly healthy to work every day. I can be going to bed at 10:30 at night.

But I’m also not putting much effort into my lunches, and eating them is a chore because I’m not really thrilled about it. Getting my tasks finished so I can go to bed early makes me feel bad if I choose not to do something – like putting away laundry completely – to accomplish it. I can be doing the workouts as a feeling of obligation, and they don’t really benefit me physically because I’m just going through the half hearted motions.

When I am on the ball? My meal planning is the best part. I can know that I have not only my lunches for the week packed up with single serve portions, but I’ll have dinner parts ready too, all ready to just throw together and eat.

Here’s what I have on the docket for the week:

Shrimp and Veggie Bowls with Ginger Dressing

3 oz of cooked shrimp, roasted broccoli and carrots, cauliflower rice and ginger dressing to make it extra delicious.

2% or full fat Greek Yogurt, in 1/2 cup portions

Protein and fat are your friends in keep you from getting hangry in the office and throwing things.  Or maybe that last part is just me? Either way – greek yogurt is a powerhouse, but full or some fat makes it seriously delicious and gives it the real staying power. Your body needs fat in moderate amounts to function properly

Cherries
I wasn’t a cherry person for 99% of my life. Then I went to Michigan last fall for a training, and, my word, cherries. There’s nothing like actually getting cherries from Traverse City, the Cherry City itself. I grabbed cherries from one of the road side fruit stands (that operated on the honor system!) when I was in Empire and haven’t looked back since. I guess my thing was more that I didn’t like cherry flavoring like the stuff you get in medicine as a kid.. but real cherries? Gimme. Gimme all of them. Costco had them for a great deal and I grabbed a container to have as my lunch dessert all week.

Egg Cups with Bacon, Spinach and sliced turkey
I love these. I pop two of them in the microwave for a minute, make my coffee, pack my lunch, and I’m out the door to eat them (they’re so portable) as I drive to work.

Knowing I have everything taken care of (on top of extra bacon and some protein pancakes prepped for quick dinners), I know that the bulk of what I eat this week is ready to go. It takes a load off my shoulders. I’ve gotten better about not buying extra groceries, because I know how much I need for the meals I’m making.

All of that? Leads to less stress. Less anxiety. Better food prepared for me. I plan, I execute, I enjoy the benefits.

That’s how meal planning acts as self care, because it helps me get the major points of my life in line for a week at a time. I spent most of this weekend deep cleaning my apartment and getting my physical space in order as a way to take care of my mental space. I’ll leave you with the super pretty flowers that I bought myself as a reward for getting it all done:

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Garden Therapy

I live in an apartment, which means I have limited space for just about everything – cabinet space, furniture space, closet space, cat space. It also means that I have no real way to plant a true, in the ground garden. 

But I have a patio. 

Previous apartments have seen different attempts at container gardening from me, even just collections of plants sitting on shelves as I try to keep them alive indoors. 


Some of these efforts were more successful than others. 

Now, with the patio that I have in my apartment, I’ve been bitten by the plant bug again. 

I tried to grow tomatoes and peppers, but they decided the life I offered them was not satisfying for them and died…. as in, I watered them one morning, went to work, came home to browning, half dead plants that never recovered. 

My basil plant has been extremely successful, and seems to be contemplating taking over a small country sometime soon. 


I replaced the dead vegetables with more hardy, perennial types, such as shrimp plants, a small gardenia bush, milkweed, and some calla lilies that I was tempted by in the garden center. I can’t remember the two small plants I bought for smaller containers… but then again, I’m terrible with names anyway.  I have also been a weak willed person when it comes to the Costco seasonal garden center and obtained a few pots from them, of different varieties and begonias. 

The point is, the process of repotting, caring for, maintaining my garden makes me happy. It’s a peaceful place to sit in the evenings, with the requisite citronella candle lit to keep the Florida Mosquitos at bay. There is also satisfaction in knowing that I can keep more than a mostly self sufficient cat and less self sufficient boyfriend alive, I suppose. 

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Grand Canyon Memories

I have mentioned that I have, quite possibly, the coolest job ever, right? The job that believes so much in the mission of the agency that it sends all of it’s new permanent employees to the Grand Canyon for two weeks so that we can learn about the agency as a whole, and network with people from across the service. 

It was also, for this semi-adult who has lived a very small-radius life for most of her days, the longest that I had ever been away from home. 

Weird, right? In this day and age of technology and access to travel, I was nearly 28 before I left home for two weeks at a time. I never did sleep away summer camp, my family didn’t take long vacations elsewhere. I was traveling on my own (with coworkers, but still) for two weeks to a place I had never been. 

It was terrifying and exhilarating. 


The Canyon is one of those places that completely succeeds in making you feel small. The wonder of the training I was at, is that you can be in such a place, and manage to not feel alone while feeling insignificant. 

We went chasing sunrises, played in the snow, marveled at the elk, hiked for sunsets, cooked big dinners and bacon and pancake breakfasts, played loud music and sang around camp fires. It was the first time I had been in a room full of 50 people, and secure in the knowledge that I shared some kind of common ground with each and every one of them. We all work for the same agency. We all believe in the mission. We’re all away from home. We’re all freezing. And we’re all happy to be there. 


It was, beyond a doubt, a life changing experience. I’m happy to be home, in my familiar surroundings and where I know where I stand. But I’m also glad that my envelope has been pushed a little further, a little more open. I want to see more, and now I’m more confident in my ability to get there. 

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I am more than a deployed sailor’s girlfriend. 

Almost four months ago, I stood on a dock and watched a Navy ship pull away until I couldn’t tell the faces of the sailors at the rail apart. 

This isn’t the first time my boyfriend and I have been separated by deployment, but it is the first where I have been here from the start, saving a boat that can’t see me anymore. In the months leading up to deployment, our lives had been a flurry of underways, stocking up for deployment, signing a new lease at the last minute, moving two days before Christmas, traveling to visit his family… even the night before he left, we were tying up loose ends by selling his car before he left. 

In the months since, it’s been my job to “keep the home fires burning.” This means keeping up with bills, housekeeping, packing care packages and playing go between for the world at home and his world at sea. I keep pictures of us as the background on my phone, hanging in the apartment, as part of the rotation of pictures on the background of my work computer. People see me, the navy blue digital camoflauge, and my boyfriend’s beloved face in so many places. It’s part of what helps me get through the day, constant happy memories. 

I can understand why people associate any negative memories with his being gone. The person who makes me happy is far away, serving his country and putting himself in danger, and all I can do is send peanut butter and spaghettios with snarky cards and rambling letters. I check my phone every five seconds out of reflex, in the hope that there will suddenly be a new message. I have an unlimited data plan for the sole purpose of being able to check my email and use Facebook messenger wherever I have service. 

However, my life doesn’t revolve around his absence, somehow. 

I go to work, I take pride and not in my work and doing my own duty. I am an intelligent woman who holds two degrees with honors and wears a flat hat with pride. I go to ReFit twice a week, take too much joy in grocery shopping and planning my meals for the week, hiking trails and building my patio jungle. There is purpose to my life, and I enjoy it. 
Yet there are days when I am sad, when the depression looms. Days like my birthday, the nights when the emptiness of the apartment echoes especially loud. This doesn’t mean that my sadness is because he is gone- I would be sad whether he was here or not. I am human, in my strengths and my weaknesses. 

I am more than my status as his girlfriend. More than just the absence of him by my side at functions. I don’t define myself as a Navy Girlfriend, but that doesn’t mean that I am not proud of it. 

The next person who says that my feelings, anything but pure contentment in life, is just because he’s not here may get respectfully punched in the face. My feelings are not tied to him, my definition, my worth, does not diminish without him by my side. 

I love him, I support him, and I will follow him to the end of the earth. But I will not let him define me. 

Sincerely,

The girlfriend of a sailor who happens to be deployed as well as lucky enough to be dating a smart, kickass woman like her. 

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Introductions

I am, truly, terrible at introductions.  I hate ice breakers – the part where people go around the room and introduce themselves, or say something, or whatever – gives me sweats. I literally spend the entire time building up to when I’m supposed to talk, blurt the information out, and then spend the rest of the time willing my heart rate to go back down.

If you can’t tell, I’m an introvert. (Or, as one of my best friends calls me when I’m being too attached to my couch: “a ridiculous introvert.”)

So here’s the basics:

I have the coolest job ever, in one of the coolest places ever, for an agency that I love more than anything. I’m a park ranger. Be jealous.

I have a Master’s degree in Public Health, a bachelor’s degree in music and history.  I have a thing for color coding. I love to cook, but I love to feed people more. My boyfriend benefits from this, but now it’s all channeled into care packages since he’s deployed.

He’s my favorite person, ya’ll.

In Fall of 2016, I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease called Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis.  Suddenly, my life long struggle to lose weight and maintain a healthy balance, even against my anxiety issues, became crystal clear. By crystal clear, I mean the color of mud, and about as opaque. Maybe that was the wrong phrase to use.

Whatever.

Basically, my body treats my thyroid as something that needs to be attacked and eradicated. Except your thyroid controls some really important things, like your metabolism. That’s where the issues start. I’m working on figuring out life with Hashimoto’s and how to move forward with regaining control of my health with a body that is programmed to destroy things, and it’s a bumpy road. Medication helps, and I’m doing far better than I was. Be prepared for some tales of Medical Mayhem, because I can’t stay out of the hospital for too long.

I should probably mention now that this isn’t going to be a very kid-language friendly blog half the time. I like creative words. Most of the best ones are curses.

So here’s the ride: I want to be an adult, and I’m getting pretty good at it, as a late-20’s (ohgoddon’tremindme) park ranger with a cat and an apartment and a budding career as a dog bed (see above). But I don’t want to act like an adult all the time. That’s what this blog is for: being an adult, without acting like one.

Does this hat go with this statue?

Let’s get this show going, shall we?

I’m Alicia, and I’m an adult.