Confessions of a Hopeful Burner

Yesterday morning at ten a.m., the gates to Black Rock City officially opened for the 2014 Burning Man event. (That link will take you to the “What is Burning Man” page, for those who do not know. I am not in a place to describe it, as I have never been. But that site will give you a good overview.)

The gates then closed unexpectedly again this morning, as a giant thunderstorm swept through the Nevada desert turning the entire Playa to mud, making it impassable for the 70,000 some-odd attendees to drive in and set up camp.

The only reason I am not there now – sitting in a giant immovable car line with like-minded festival goers – is that my dad decided we shouldn’t go right after his chemo treatments were over. He finished August 7th, and is slowly recovering. While I look at the chaos, I am inclined to think it was a blessing we didn’t go this year. I am also a little sad to be missing the experience that is drawing me to the event in the first place.

Although everyone who knows about it has an opinion (it’s full of dirty hippies, it’s a giant orgy, it’s no longer relevant now that the rich people are going, there are too many drugs, it’s just another music festival but more work, you have to get naked, …), I have talked to enough people who have actually gone to realize that it is all of these and none of them. What I know is that it is an adventure. And I want to go.

What I will miss this year mostly is The Embrace – a sculpture of two people emerging out of the desert floor. Inside are spiral stairs that allow people to climb to the top of this 72-foot structure and look out over the mountains. I saw the drawings a few months ago, and have spent a good part of the day watching the live feed from the Playa hoping to catch a glimpse of this impressive undertaking. It will not be there next year. Here is a description from their site: “The interior will consist of two cavernous, cathedral-like spaces, one inside each body, with ornate, Gaudi-esque elements including chandeliers in the shape of human-hearts, the size of Mini Coopers.”

Can you imagine?

When I hear the stories of people who have braved the sand-storms, the searing desert heat, the hours upon hours of waiting in line to get in (even on a normal year), the inability to shower, or sleep, or cool off…I admit I get a bit wary. And the crowds. I’m not a crowd person. I need space and alone time and quiet. I also like to be clean and well-rested. Even watching the live webfeed last night, I got a little overwhelmed. And I was sitting in my living room in my pjs.

There are many decisions to make between now and next year, because there are so many ways to do Burning Man. (Apparently for the elite, you can spend $25,000 for a fully functioning camp, catered meals, and showers. I’m not going that route. )

It’s a week-long event, but you don’t have to go for the entire time. You can easily show up Wednesday or Thursday and go home Monday morning. You can sleep in a tent or you can bring an RV. You do have to bring all your own food and water (lots and lots of water).  And somehow secure tickets. And you have to choose your companions.

My dad is the clear driver behind going, so I’m pretty certain he’s in. My mom and Joe are still firmly rooted on the “Why would you want to do that?” side of the fence, and from what I have learned in the past few months, it is not advisable to go to Burning Man unless you really really really want to go. It’s a bit like hiking the Grand Canyon. Pain, discomfort, crazy expense, and inconvenience are all part of the experience. Julie, who has been dragged to the Grand Canyon hikes by my dad in the past, is another likely attendee.

Why do people do this then?

Because on top of all the difficulty, they also experience Beauty. Community. Love. Transcendence. This is what I am hoping to find next year when I go.

I went to church yesterday and Reverend Susan talked about how our faith calls us to constantly search for Truth by pushing past the stagnant pools of conformity and tradition (I think this is paraphrased from Milton). And in the end the Truth is manifested when we live it. My hope next year is to dwell in a community of people who understand this idea and practice it out in the middle of nowhere for one short week at the end of the summer.

Until then, I’ll just keep watching the live feed and saving up for my Airstream trailer.

A late post about summer camping

Apparently my last post about the heat was the equivalent of a rain dance. Tuesday morning around 5:30 a downpour started that didn’t let up until afternoon. There were flash flood warnings on phones across the state, and this time they were for real. IMG_4227

My car is low to the ground. At one point I worried I might be that girl, stuck in a flood, rescued by helicopter from the roof of my Mini Cooper. I wasn’t that girl, thankfully, and I did finally make it to lunch. Even though it is raining again right now, this post is not about the delightful, incredible rainstorm that drowned my doldrummy side and let the joyful Phoenista back into the world. Instead, lets talk camping.

Over the summer – on one of my dad’s better weeks – we loaded our Jeep and his pickup with tents, stoves, fake fires, clothes, blow-up beds, sleeping bags, long underwear, and a dog and headed up to the White Mountains.

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You might notice that Lola is not really a camping dog. She likely won’t be invited back.

Everyone else had a grand time. (My grandmother used to say that. “We had a grand time.”)

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Nick doesn’t really like to fish as much as he likes to hang out in the boat.

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Joe, Jack and my dad think fishing is the bomb.

That last photo is about halfway through my dad’s chemo treatments. You’ll notice he kept his hair and his sunny disposition. We all weathered the cancer storm as best we could and it was inspiring to watch him fight through something so difficult.

I pretend to live my life in the moment, and be grateful for what I have and recognize the beauty in the most difficult situations. This experience has taught me that I need to step up my game in practicing what I claim to be my own values. I spend more time than I should worrying about too many things – what will happen in the future, what people think of me, how I need to lose weight, what I should do with my career.

The second night of our trip Jack had an asthma attack right before bed. I was able to get him calm and asleep, but it rattled me as it always does. I lie awake for many hours listening to my family sleep around me. At around ten, an owl started hooting in the far distance, with a crow answering. I listened as they traveled closer – hunting, or exploring, or who knows what.

It freaked me out. Owls are symbolic of death. I’m already terrified enough, I don’t need some literary archetype showing up in my campsite to scare me further. And on top of all of this I had to pee! I am grateful that I spent a great deal of time in the wilderness in my younger days and I know how to do my business quickly without accident. Walking back to the tent, I’m certain the owl was flying silently right behind my head, because his next call made me jump. I finally fell asleep a bit later after the wildlife left me in peace.

The boys started school today and it was a joy to see the returning families and meet new people. “How was your summer?” is such a common question, and for me the answer is difficult and not short. It was terrible to sit in chemo treatments, it was hot, I struggled to keep up at work during such emotional turmoil. I was also reminded to be joyful and grateful more than I usually am. So in all it was a summer to remember, I suppose.

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End of Summer Staycation!

I say it is the end of summer because I desperately want it to be the end of summer. I know people in other parts of the country are getting ready for sweaters, cute boots, and sitting on the patio sipping red wine by a fire. Yesterday afternoon my car registered 111 degrees, so we are a ways off from that.

But summer is ending in the way that our boys go back to school this Thursday. Days of lying around doing nothing on the weekends will be replaced soon by soccer games, scouting events, and homework. I decided we needed to resurrect our tradition of spending the night at The Scottsdale Princess to prepare ourselves for the upcoming year.

I don’t know if the Staycation is a Phoenix phenomenon. The local resorts and hotels are desperate for business (because really, who wants to come visit in the summer? No one.) The local families as desperate for a break in the horror of trying to entertain exuberant children indoors.

We have been fortunate enough over the years to stay at many local resorts and compare their various amenities. Biltmore (I don’t like the pool at all, and there is only one semi-lame water slide), Westin Kierland (where we were lucky enough to get locked on the opposite side of a fence from our kids and to watch a guest vomiting into a trash can at 5 p.m. – it’s that kind of party), Marriot Desert Ridge, Hyatt Gainey Ranch (love the spa), and the Pointe Squaw Peak (which is trashy and gross, and shouldn’t be included in this list other than I have been there. Any why haven’t they changed the name? The mountain it is named after changed its name over ten years ago. Perhaps it is time for Hilton to remove the racial slur from the resort name? Just a thought.)

The Princess remains my favorite for a few reasons:

  1. It feels intimate. Most other resorts have all the pools lumped in one area, where the Princess spreads them out. The water slides are near the East Pool, and the expansive South Pool overlooks the golf course and has a giant hot tub.
  2. There is not a lazy river. (Incidentally, this is a mark against the resort for the kids.) If you’re not familiar, a lazy river is a body of water meandering through the property with water jets in the bottom that allow one to sit in an inner tube and float around without any effort. This particular feature tends to attract the same crowd that goes to the actual river – loud, obnoxious, drunk adults. On top of that, I can NEVER find my children. I spend way too much time walking the edge of the river, trying not to panic.
  3. Fireworks! I’m never sad when there are fireworks.
  4. DJ Splash and the techno party at night. I’m not lying. His name is DJ Splash. He sets up his stuff right between the two slides and blasts Katy Perry and other kid-friendly artists all night. I personally rode the slide to Ganham Style. Through a fog machine. Epic.

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The summer package of $150 includes a $50 resort credit that can be spent on food and beverage at the various outlets. With a $10 smoothie at the pool, it doesn’t take long to burn through.

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We started this tradition in 2010 right after I started working again. I was a single mom, I didn’t have a pool, and the weekend was extremely cool and fun for me and my boys. We swam a lot, but I don’t think we made it up for fireworks that year. We did get up early and walked out to the lagoon, making a short stop at a coffee cart where the boys each got a Sprite – I’m not usually a soda-for-breakfast type of mom, but we all make concessions on vacation.

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We really have a solid month and a half left of the miserable heat. To juggle homework and activities on top of it seems a bit overwhelming. I will be extremely grateful when Halloween rolls around and we can stand to be outside again. I also look forward to have something to write about other than the heat, my dad’s illness, and how long summer seems this year.

 

 

 

A Visit to Arizona Wine Country

Yes. Arizona has a wine country. Even many people who live here in the Phoenix area are surprised by this, so I imagine my readers at the farther reaches of the planet are thinking perhaps I am just writing about a dream I had after too many Moscow Mules.

Yet there I was in real life, in a vineyard an hour and a half out of town called Page Springs Cellars. 

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These poor grapes were suffering in the 100+ temperatures, but I suppose stress like that is good for fruit that is going to then be smashed and fermented for our pleasure. We opted out of the tour this time around and headed inside for a tasting.

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Having lived in the Bay Area for many years, the wine tasting experience is not new to me. Page Springs does not disappoint with its well laid out tasting rooms, beautiful patio, and even a food menu with small plates to select. We opted for the cheese platter and the Arizona Flight including one ounce pours of five different wines.

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The first wine, “Mule’s Mistake” is aptly named. It is a red blend with every grape known to man, including a bit of white for good measure. I did not enjoy it, but Joe thought it was good enough to have with dinner.

The second wine was a cabernet. Our host explained that due to the monsoons in Arizona, this particular grape has to be grown a bit differently than in climates without our monsoon season. The wine comes out significantly lighter than a cab from the Napa floor, where the summers are almost completely dry. I’ve always found it fascinating how you can take the same grape around the world, give it different soil and different weather patterns, and the wine that comes out is distinct to that region.

The final three wines on the list were also blends and I loved them all. A little spicy, but not in that zinfandelly way that I find so displeasing. (Joe swears it is because I haven’t tasted the right zinfandel. I still assert that there are some grapes that just don’t work for me. Pinot Gris is another. From the moment I smell it I am repelled.)

After our tasting we braved the heat once again to check out the deck overlooking Oak Creek. It was around 100 degrees out and probably 50% humidity. I hope to go back when it is not so miserable because it was such a lovely spot.

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We walked down this path and I was so taken by the bunches of grapes hanging overhead that I fell down the first step. Being the pro that I am, I only spilled a bit of wine on my hand and Joe’s arm – no clothing was stained in the accident. It probably helps that the glasses were stemless and I had a good hold before tripping.

Sadly, I was so discombobulated by my fall, I forgot to take a photo of the delightful deck. Trust me, it’s extremely unique and a great place to enjoy a glass of wine. You just might want to go during the cooler season as we were sweating by the time we hiked back up to the car.

Stay tuned for our adventures in Jerome. What a crazy little town that place is – lots of drinking and art and stairs galore.

Until then, here is a funny picture Joe took of me taking my grape shot. No fancy camera for me these days….

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Happy July, Phoenicians. We Will Survive!

Fourth of July Weekend!

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I envy all my friends around the country in cooler places, watching fireworks over the water and wearing sweatshirts. This time of year I try to remain in a Zen-like state, and remember that great suffering is necessary to appreciate beauty and happiness and love, etc. And when it does cool off again – sometime around Halloween – we will all skip happily through our cul-de-sac with extra joy.

But Halloween seems so far away, especially this morning when it was 97 degrees and 48% humidity when I dropped my kids at camp. At 8 in the morning.

Everything about life gets more oppressive, and my grey cubicle with fluorescent lights sucking energy directly out of my skull on a Monday morning is no exception.

So I took a break. Here I must express my gratitude for having a job that allows such a thing. I can escape when the corporate-ness of my basement becomes unbearable. I appreciate that. Not as much as I appreciate my couch and my new polka-dot pajamas.

Since I spent some time at the Art Table with my boys on Sunday, I was itching for some new supplies.

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One might look at this photo and think I have plenty of art supplies. I even have Mod Podge! Paints. Colored pencils. Sponges. Paper. Every kind of graphite pencil. Pens. Markers. Even a few leftover Christmas ornaments dying to be decorated. But what happens when you get out all your art supplies, at least in my house, is you realize what you still need.

Plus, my kids refused to go to Arizona Art Supply this weekend and instead opted for Michael’s. So I headed down to Indian School at 16th and perused the shelves of every type beautiful art making goodness. I got the boys some new canvas in different sizes, a few charcoal pencils for me, and another sketchbook. I was looking for someplace nearby to eat as I walked to my car, and Yelp reminded me of Middle Eastern Bakery Deli. (No link. Because there isn’t one.)

Joy in the midst of suffering.

Please, dear fellow Phoenicians, if you like hummus, or gyros, or feta pie, or pita, head over to this market on 16th Street. And if you’re gluten free – extra bonus! Even if you’re only gluten-free for fake reasons, I encourage you to try the gyro on gluten free pita. You will not know the difference.

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(Oh and look! It’s my new iPod Nano Joe got me in the background! Perfect for drowning out the sounds of the people who sit around me and yammer incessantly to clients.)

I also got a dozen pita in the freezer – of course they were completely thawed by the time I drove back to the office.

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(Also, my new sketchbook.)

I promise soon to give a camping update, and this weekend I’m going to Page Springs Winery which proves to be an action-packed post. Joe has suggested I become a professional blogger, since my topics seem to outweigh my time these days….

I read blogs. I still am not certain how one gets paid from writing them, but it is a great idea on paper.

Stay cool my friends. 16 more weeks until Halloween….

An Update

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It’s Sunday afternoon, my kids are on their way to their grandma’s house to spend the night, and I’m sitting in the back of Federal Pizza with my laptop,

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an F&A Veg Board (named after our friends Frank and Anu)

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And a grapefruit ginger wine cooler – a drink I have attempted to recreate at home without much success.

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It’s a simple syrup mixed with sparkling wine. Shouldn’t be so hard to make, but I can’t quite get it. So I have to come here – smart marketing….

It’s the end of June, and there is not much going on in Phoenix. If you are here, you know why. It’s hot out. We went grocery shopping around noon and the walk from the store to the car made us all drag our feet and feel tired. The only cure is the swimming pool. Or the movie theater.

Last night Joe and I were supposed to go see the movie Chef. We got a sitter, planned it all out, and then realized we weren’t the only ones with this idea because the movie was sold out. What the hell? Now, I realize there are theaters that don’t have reserved seats and a bar, but I don’t know why people go to them. I checked iPic and even Studio Movie Grill….no Chef playing. We were thwarted.

We triumphed over our dilemma and saved the evening. We threw out ideas and came up with Red Thai on 12th and Northern. Next to the Dollar Store. Johnny Chu also has Sochu House which is equally delicious, but for some reason this funny little anime shop is better. The Red Thai Chicken and Fried Rice is quite possibly the most beautiful food I’ve ever eaten. And to top it off, my friends Dave and Dina live across the street and they joined us. Fun was had by all.

I have so much more to write about – we went camping at Big Lake, visited the new Southern Rail restaurant, I came within a half inch of quitting my job, I sat through a chemo session with my dad, had the pleasure of seeing the new Kate Spade outlet in Chandler, and I turned 42. I’ll be back with more later.

My dad is doing well, incidentally. He just finished round two of four chemo sessions. He gets really tired after, but so far the nausea is completely under control and he’s not really losing his hair. For chemo, it’s going great. (Is that like saying “For getting punched in the face, it wasn’t so bad!”?) He was able to come camping with us and he had a great time. We are all grateful for this opportunity to spend time together, big scary illness or no…

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Six Days of Separation

Last Tuesday my dad checked in to Banner Desert Hospital out in Mesa to have half of his left lung removed. He told me this morning that he barely remembers anything from the week, which is probably a good thing considering what he went through. I’ve just returned home myself and I feel like I’m stepping out of a bizarre dream.

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I’m quite certain every hallway at Banner Desert looks exactly like this one and winds around in some MC Escherish fashion. I got lost going to the (best most amazing incredible) cafeteria yesterday morning, and even though I had walked this path around three times a day, in my hospital-fog I somehow found myself in an unfamiliar place. Everyone who walked by me appeared to be the type of person who could immediately shape-shift into a tentacled monster wearing white coats and quiet shoes.

Which is unfair, because every single person I encountered was helpful, friendly, and kind. (A stark contrast to my neighborhood hospital, Phoenix Baptist, where I felt like I needed to pack heat just to walk from my car to the building, and the staff seemed to believe we were a necessary evil as opposed to the purpose of their job. Maybe Mesa isn’t so bad after all.)

If I had any scrap of energy right now I would collect the names of the nurses and aides who took care of my dad and send them a note.  They all responded to our every need with a level of compassion and professionalism I have never experienced. Even when I called late Friday night after a particularly difficult day, the night nurse said “He is going to be fine and he is resting. You need to rest too.”

I’m trying to remember that.

Yesterday we all finally escaped those hallways and took my dad home.

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Yes, my badass father walked out of the hospital on his own two feet.

I rushed home, folded some laundry, we took our kids to Easter Brunch and I hightailed it back to North Scottsdale where my parents live. I worked out my dad’s pain med schedule, and asked him if he wanted to go for a walk.

Everything I have done with my parents since my dad was diagnosed on March 5th has been more vibrant, more important, more interesting and more powerful. This small walk around the property is no exception.

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We looked at every cactus, all the flowers, we checked the pack rat traps and saw some crazy funnel spider web.

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See that board? It goes across a little ravine in their back yard. We walked across it together. There are brilliant purple flowers and the three of us stopped to admire them. (Just to give you all a small peek into my mental state, I just looked up “board” to make sure I spelled it correctly.)

What an experience this has been. I am extremely grateful for the kindnesses of the giant net of friends we have. My kids have done their best to understand why I have been away, and how important it is for us to take care of one another.

All is well. Or as well as it is going to be. There is a new normal, and maybe tomorrow I will take a minute to myself to figure out what that means. For now, I will bask in the gratitude of the hundreds of people who have reached out and offered their prayers/positive energy/happy thoughts/support/advice/assistance over the past month and a half. Our road ahead is long and scary, but as Julie keeps reminding me, today is Monday….