Christ. It’s been seven months since I updated and I was so good about it for the first part of last year, too! The last seven months have been an absolute roller coaster, and A LOT has happened! I suppose it’s best to break it down by months. Ladies and gentlemen, please fasten your safety belts and keep all limbs inside the vehicle during the ride…WHOOSH!
I was back this year as a Crew Chief. This year we were in Nacogdoches, a town that I had been to a few times in high school and college since my high school bestie’s grandma lived there. This year’s dig was a Spanish mission site next to a Caddo village, so super cool! I love mission sites. It’s actually three separate sites, but I ain’t going into that. You can click on the link to learn more about it. My bestie Christina and her kids, Will and Sylvie, came this year and we all shared one chaotic house together. There was much Mario Karting and hide-and-go-seek amongst the young’uns.
In true Heather fashion I was sick with walking pneumonia, which I figured out AFTER I got there. Whee. I’d had a horrible cough since May and I finally was having breathing issues. I called the Teledoc and got antibiotics. Stay tuned because it doesn’t end there.
Day One I was informed that most of my crew were newbies. Huh? That’s unusual. Apparently being a teacher means that I got to teach all the greenhorns the ropes. That’s fine, except they stuck me on a hill…in a 2×2. Not exactly ideal for teaching new diggers, but whatevs. Unfortunately, all the new people were at orientation all morning so I started digging on my own. Suuuuuuucked. They showed up eventually and we got crackin’. We were in the storage area and guess what we found? A lot of big pieces of storage jars going down the slope in a diagonal direction, which I duly mapped in. Here’s one of the pieces.
I decided to tap into my British archaeology training and have everyone go backwards in a line. Usually I’m like, “Eh, pick a corner and whip out the dirt until you’re down to level.” Nope. Because we were on a slope, the lower bit was already at level so we had to bust out the top a LOT. So it was easier to have everyone working in tandem at the top and go backwards and down.
Someone got a great shot of me teaching the crew how to excavate pottery. Aw look, teaching in action!
Unfortunately, I discovered that there were eleventy-billion chiggers on site. I know what chiggers are but I had never experienced that particular hell which is being feasted upon by the little bastards. My ankles were turned into a bitten mess. Fortunately, I began spraying my ankles and socks and boots down with repellant for the rest of the week, which pretty much stopped me getting more. Unfortunately, the damage had been done. Hang on for THAT story.
I honestly didn’t take so many pictures this year because I was so sick and in charge, so a lot of paperwork and such. But here’s some more.
Nora and I discovered this amazing restaurant called Dolli’s Diner and I swear they have the BEST biscuits and gravy I’ve ever eaten. We got rained out for two days, so Nora and I wound up going twice. I’m honestly looking forward to eating there again this coming summer.
Pissed off Body
Here’s the thing…I have this weird autoimmune disorder with a very complicated name that I honestly can’t remember, but it’s like Skeeter Syndrome . What it boils down to is that if I get too many concentrated bug bites in one area of my body (like my ankles) my body flips out and starts attacking itself. Yeah, whee. My legs started swelling and the itching was unbearable. I will NOT post the picture. It’s gross. The only thing that works is oral Prednisone. Yeah, steroids. Another call to the Teledoc and there you go.
So remember that I was on antibiotics for walking pneumonia, right? Guess what steroids do to your immune system? It suppresses it! So I was getting better, my cough started improving and then…it got worse. By the time I got home my chigger bites were better but my cough was horrible. I saw an urgent care doctor because I was NOT going to Scotland with that cough. The doctor was like, “So…yeah…steroids kind of negated the good work the antibiotics were doing and it got worse. So…let’s try another round of different antibiotics.” There was also a huge fight with my insurance company to let me have a friggin’ inhaler because I couldn’t catch my breath. I finally got some Albuterol and it made a huge difference. By the time I was a few days into my Orkney trip I could breathe again!
Oh my gosh, the whole family went to Toronto to see my high school bestie, Lynette. We hadn’t seen each other since 2005 when she moved to Canada to get married. 😊 I missed her like crazy and she’d never met Paul or Nora and we’d all wanted to visit Toronto, so we went up there for a long weekend. It was so much fun, and we all had a good time, despite Nora getting a blocked ear (what the hell is it with my family and getting sick while we travel?!). We ate at so many amazing restaurants. The food scene in Toronto is seriously incredible. We visited the beautiful University of Toronto campus where Lynette works.
We also went to the Shoe Museum. Yep, a shoe Museum. It was super interesting and way bigger than I imagined it would be. As you can see, Nora and I had a little bit of fun.
Nora and I also went to see Hamilton together. She loves history and has been jonesing to see this show. I honestly had never seen it, believe it or not! We don’t have Disney+ because I refuse to bow to the Mouse. It was a wonderful show and we both had a really good time.
Paul and Nora flew home from Toronto while I flew to…
Yep, I went back again this summer! And friggin’ Loganair LOST MY LUGGAGE! FOR TWO WEEKS! It was so ridiculous. All of my meds were in there, which shame on me for packing them but WTF I have too many to fit into my carry-on, so screw them. The hardest was that I had packed my dig clothes, which I needed for health and safety (long pants, thick socks, hiking boots, hat, all that stuff). I absolutely could not go out to the site on Rousay without that stuff. I had to buy all new clothes and everything and the only real drawback to Orkney is that there are NO plus size stores. Lucky me. I was just slightly too big for TESCO, but I made do out of the men’s department and forget about bras. God bless Marks and Sparks because they got affordable stuff there quickly. I also found a few things at the charity shops (thrift stores in the US), of which there are A LOT! Fortunately, my Air BnB had a washer and I was able to cycle through and just keep washing stuff every two or three days.
The hilarious part was that I made the news! Yep, I was on BBC radio twice. My claim to fame, I guess. A few people recognized me on the street, which was kind of strange. Kirkwall is not very big. They did a follow-up when my luggage finally showed up…2 weeks later.
My friend Angela came up from London to stay with me for two weeks, and honestly she was a godsend. Because I didn’t have my anti-anxiety meds my brain went whackadoo a few times, though I was surprisingly ok for the most part considering the stress I was under (I’m off them now). Angela was my antidepressant. 😊 She kept me distracted and greatly entertained! I did make it out to Rousay for a two days to visit St. Mary’s, the site of my dissertation. It was super cool to be out there and the weather was gorgeous the second day, unlike 2022. I spent a lot of time in the Orkney Archives doing research, so I was warm and dry and not out in the wet.
I wound up extending my stay for almost a week. There were no more affordable places left in Kirkwall so I had to hike on over to neighboring Stromness and stay at the Orca. Wow, that town is pretty! It’s so much smaller than Kirkwall and so chill. I really loved it there. The library is beautiful and overlooks the harbor, so you can see the ferries coming in and out.
And coming home brings me to….
I took the overnight ferry from Kirkwall to Aberdeen and then a train from Aberdeen to Manchester because screw flying. I just got my wayward luggage back. I wasn’t about to lose it again. I was already losing my mind…
The next day I was on a flight to Orlando, Florida with a bunch of Brits who were psyched to go to Disney. And then there was me, who was like, “Screw Disney. I just wanna go back to the land of blistering heat and breakfast tacos and margaritas!” We got in late to Orlando, where I was supposed to make a connection to Austin. I had to change terminals, which means after I cleared customs I had to go BACK through security and the line was ridiculous. By the time I got to my gate my flight had left. I was so pissed off and American Airlines were complete assholes about it. Like they seriously acted like it was my damn fault the TSA had two lines open for well over 1,000 people. They’re just as bad as Loganair. Screw both of them.
Oh my god, Orlando!
So, there were no more flights that night and I was rebooked for the next morning. They were absolutely no help at all in getting a hotel, so I hopped on hotels.com and found a place nearby. My friend Michelle lived (she’s since moved) in Orlando and she swung by the hotel and took me out to dinner, and we just hung out and chatted. It was a relief to see a friendly face in a place I’d never been to before. Someone was really looking out for me on that hellish trip, but I got home all in one piece. Thanks, Michelle!
I got home a few days before work started up again. BLEH. I pretty much had to turn around and go back to work, so I was pretty tired.
I had COVID. Thought it was allergies, it was COVID, so there went all my sick days early in the year since the district decided they weren’t going to pay us anymore to stay home and not infect anyone with this horrible virus…real smart, guys. Thanks. This was my second time having it and it really kicked my butt this time around. I was tired for a good six weeks afterwards, not good when you’re working full time and trying to write your masters dissertation!
The rest of the month was basically me finishing up and research and writing…
Oh yeah, and Paul announced we were going to Orkney as a family for Thanksgiving Break because he found cheap tickets there. WHAT?! I was just there! And my luggage is still recovering, thanks!
Went to the TAS Annual Meeting and was still writing. Yes, seriously, I was writing at the conference! I did make a huge breakthrough in interpreting my data while I was there, and I chalk it up to being around so many brilliant archeologists. All those brains rubbed off on me.
Pioneer Farms Dig
Obviously, we didn’t do much digging this fall, though I had the opportunity to do some work out at the Lone Oak site. I declined to go because the weekends were really when I could get a lot of work done. I did take a day off because there was an opportunity to do some community archaeology at Pioneer Farm, which is like 15 minutes from my house. Nora came with me and taught her own groups independently how to do surface collection and how to dig and screen. One guy looked so confused when his crew chief was a 14 year old girl! He asked me if she knew what she was doing and I said, “Well, she’s been digging since she was 8 years old, so…yeah?” Proud mama!
And drinking way too much Sassenach for my own good…
And questioning my life choices…
I broke my toe a week before we were supposed to leave for Orkney. It wasn’t even a cool way to break it. I was climbing into bed and whanged it against the bedframe. Not much you can do for a broken toe except tape it up and let it heal. Whee.
I finished my thesis a full two weeks before it was due. BOOYAH.
So part of the purpose of this trip (besides the cheap tickets) was to see if Paul and Nora liked Orkney because it’s one of my choices to do a PhD.
Oooooooh boy was this long trip. We went for about five days, but getting there and back took another five days for a total of ten. We went via Amsterdam because that’s how the cheap tickets went. That’s cool. I’d never been to the Netherlands before.
Day One: Austin to Amsterdam.
Day Two: Amsterdam to Inverness by plane. I stepped off the plane. It was cold and raining and windy, so I took a deep breath and was like, “I AM IN SCOTLAND!” It seriously was like coming home. After a long break we went from Inverness to Thurso by train.
Day Three: Ferry from Scrabster (just outside of Thurso) to Stromness with the help of Dramamine (they’re not kidding when they say the North Sea in winter is scary). Bus to Kirkwall. Family was tired. Heather did virtual cartwheels because I AM IN ORKNEY AGAIN AND IT’S COLD AND RAINING AND I DON’T CARE!!! I made a fire and roasted my toes.
Day Four: Made my family take the rickety winter ferry to Rousay and we had an an amazing tour with Paddy from Rousay Tours. He was terrific and put up with all my extra banter because my brain was still fresh from finishing my dissertation the week before. We didn’t get down to St. Mary’s or Skaill Farm because it was sleeting (WHAT?!). We did have a tasty lunch at Saviskaill Beach and saw a happy seal bodysurfing. There were also a lot of rainbows and grey geese.
We went to the Empire Chinese restaurant for Thanksgiving Dinner. Hell yeah. Best lemon chicken in the world.
Day Five: I went up to the UHI Campus. Despite having been a student there for 2 years I’d never actually been to the campus! I met with Sarah Jane, my dissertation advisor, and said hello to a few of my professors. It was definitely weird seeing them in November. I got back to our Air BnB and we all walked down to Orkney Museum and explored all the fun shops on Victoria Street and Albert Street downtown.
Day 6: Saturday. Paul and I went and took a tour of Highland Park Distillery and were the only people on the tour! It was amazing. I did that in 2022 but there were a lot of people there because it was summer. Also, the distillery wasn’t running then due to an accident with the pipes. This time they were distilling and AW YEAH. They’re one of the few distilleries in Scotland that still malts their barley with peat, so it gets a distinctive smoky flavor, unlike other Scottish whiskies.
Paul greatly enjoyed it. We got to try some whiskey, too, and keep the little glasses. Nora didn’t go because you had to be 18. We left her at the cottage and she tried to explore Kirkwall on her own and got lost, but found her way back. I’m trying to foster some independence in her and make her more confident in traveling and exploring on her own.
Day 7: Sunday. I went to church in the morning at St. Magnus Cathedral, like I always do. That afternoon I said, “Screw this! I’m going to Maeshowe to try and catch the light from the sunset shining into the tomb.” Come on, you knew I had to do something archaeological! It only happens for 6 weeks out of the year and there’s a 1 in 7 chance of seeing it. I took Nora with me and we got lucky and saw the light coming in! It was AMAZING. Unfortunately, you can’t take photos. Nora and I saw some cute Shetland ponies on the way home.
Day 8: Time to make the long journey home. Bye, Orkney! Bus from Kirkwall to Stromness, Stromness to Thurso, train from Thurso to Inverness. We spent the night in Inverness at the Courtyard Marriot next to the airport. It’s a great hotel. We had a nice sleep there.
Day 9: I woke up to this view of the Highlands and I DID NOT WANT TO GO HOME. Seriously. I wanted to stay right there and just stare. I wound up sending this photo to my painting teacher so he could Bob Ross-ify it. Aw, he’s gonna paint the Happy Little Highlands.
Inverness to Amsterdam and spending the night. I had no clue that there was an amazing buffet in the hotel. It was expensive but meh, it was worth it.
Day 10: We left Amsterdam late so we missed our connecting flight in Minneapolis. We were supposed to be back in Austin by 6:00. Nope. We got home closer to 1 AM. On the upside, Minneapolis/St. Paul has a really nice airport. As we got off the plane I made a joke about my Lutheran senses tingling and had a sudden craving for beer and hot dish, ohyeahyoubetcha. There was a shop with t-shirts that, and I kid you not, had “It’s a hot dish thing” and “Ohyeahubetcha” on them. I had a good laugh over that. We got home so late that Nora and I wound up not going to work the next day. We all slept in and did laundry. Jet lag suuuuuuucks.
Was…quiet. I applied for the University of Massachusetts at Amherst’s PhD program, of which I have like a 10% chance of getting into. I submitted my dissertation on November 30 and peace reigned upon my life for the first time in 6 years. *cue angels singing*
There’s not much directly archaeologically related going on right now because it’s winter. I’m doing some archaeologically-adjacent things on a personal level starting this month and next.
First, I’m whooping my ass into shape. Yeah, I’ve sad that before. My biggest issue is that I am really good at coming up with excuses for why I shouldn’t exercise, why it’s ok to eat badly, and blame my genetics. I’m built like a friggin’ Volkswagen. I’m not expecting to turn into a Ferrari, but I’ll settle for a…Subaru. Yeah. I wanna be a Subaru…safe, reliable, and can handle a bit of off-roading (stamina to get out to difficult sites…get y’all’s minds out of the gutter, damn it).
So I need to lose about 85 pounds. I’m not expecting to do it all this year. Hell no. But I am expecting to get most of it off. 60 pounds would be nice. Why am I doing it? Besides the fact that I’d like to live to see my grandkids, I want to be in better shape for when/if we move to Orkney in a year. So, what am I doing different this time instead of slapping myself when I try to make excuses? First, I’m playing around with Waybetter, an app that uses monetary incentives to motivate you to do better losing weight. I’ve never tried betting against my own lazy ass, so I figured it might be worth a try. I just started but so far, I really like it. The app is easy to use, and I like that it reminds you to check in and be accountable. Let’s face it. I’m forgetful and have the mind of a chihuahua on crack.
Second, I bought a new Fitbit because my old one is god-knows-where and it pissed me off. I need the Fitbit to better track my fitness and work with Waybetter.
Third, I AM CHALLENGING MYSELF! I’m going to give My Peak Challenge a try. My Peak Challenge is this incredible charity that Sam Heughan (star of Outlander and all around nice guy) started to raise money for a chosen charity and encourage people to challenge themselves. It doesn’t have to be a physical challenge. It can be something else. In my case, my challenge is to ride virtually all the way from Land’s End in Cornwall to John O’ Groats in Scotland on my stationary bike in a year.
Yep, that’s 874 miles or 1,407 kilometers. I figured I can celebrate my (possible) move to Scotland next year by cycling the length of the UK. Just for giggles I figured I can listen to the entire Outlander series on audiobook while I do it. Or maybe I’ll watch the show again while we all wait for Season 7.5.
I binged the whole show during the holidays. That’s how I find out about My Peak Challenge and I was like, “THIS IS PERFECT! LET’S CYCLE ACROSS THE UK! WHAT THE HELL AM I DOING?! I HAVEN’T EVEN BEEN DRINKING WHISKEY AGAIN! OH…MY…GOD….I AM GOING TO DO THIS!”
So thanks, Sam. Thanks a lot. I’m either going to virtually make it to John O’ Groats by December 2024, or virtually fall off a cliff somewhere in the Peak District. Maybe around Chapter 9,452 of Go Tell The Bees That I’m Gone or somewhere in the middle of Season 5.
On the other hand, I got some really silly Outlander presents for Christmas. What made it even funnier is that NO ONE in my family watches Outlander and had no friggin’ clue what “Sassenach” means.
Next month I’m going to an osteology workshop at Rice University in Houston. I’ll tell you all about in the next blog post. This post is already ridiculously long enough, so I’m going to find my long-neglected workout clothes and set them out because the bike ride to John O’ Groats begins tomorrow.
I’m already tired!