Because life is so damn crazy and confusing

My friend Elissa and I were chatting today – and by chatting I mean we had a long text message convo while I was at the office trying to re-enter life as a working woman as opposed to a woman of leisure, fishing, and enjoying the sweatshirt weather. For some perspective, this is what I was looking at a few short days ago:

2013 BC Trip-30

 

Far preferable to a computer screen and fluorescent lights. It was a long day of trying to be productive and not necessarily succeeding. I did manage to submit an expense report which only took me about 3 hours. I have been submitting expense reports since I was in my early 20s, and the process always annoys me. That didn’t help my back-to-work mood in the least.

As you might imagine hearing from Elissa was a welcome break to this particularly rough day. She wanted to talk about writing and books – two of my favorite topics. She asked if I find writing to be A) Cathartic B)  Invigorating C) Frustrating D) Fulfilling or E) Worthwhile. Well all of them, sometimes at the same time. It is also a method of discovery for me – there are many times I don’t know how I feel about something unless I write about it. Thus, the title of this post. Life is crazy, and confusing, and so I write to figure it out.

Which may sound a little silly when I write a blog mainly about living in Phoenix and going out to eat (a lot). I get that.

So then we switch to books, because it’s a natural progression from one to the next. She asked if I had read The Outlander series, and I have not. But I started reading about Diana Gabaldon and she has become my new idol. She lives here in town. Elissa and I must find a way to meet her.  She wrote her first book when she was about my age, and it appears she had small kids running around at the time. She decided she wanted to see what it took to write a novel, not intending it to ever be read, and came out with over 800 pages. And there are now 7 books in the series, which apparently are all impossible to put down.

I intentionally keep my blog short so I don’t lose the attention of my readers. Can you imagine being able to keep someone riveted for 800 pages?

So I will read The Outlander, after I finish The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz. I have to be done by next Monday (!) for a book club I was invited to join. I am so excited to talk about writing with a group of people again. I used to belong to one when I was much younger, and they kicked me out – I might be the only person I know who has been kicked out of a book club. I will try to be on my best behavior this time around.

 

 

 

Street Taco Night in the ‘hood

Driving home from dinner last night, we pass The Newton. This will include a Changing Hands bookstore and a restaurant by Justin Beckett called Southern Rail. (If you click the first link you can see the architect’s rendering of the building.) Joe commented about how cool it will be and how he wouldn’t want to live anywhere else in the Valley than our neighborhood. This should come as no surprise to my readers, since I often (always) talk about how great it is to live in Central Phoenix (charmingly referred to as CenPho by the locals. We are the SoHo of the Southwest I suppose. Ha.)

While I love this new development, all of the great restaurants, fun shops, cool people, and proximity to live music venues galore, there are a few things I dislike about where we live.

Shopping – It’s not horrible, but it’s not great either. I would really like a DSW nearby. Our Michael’s is tiny. We are getting a Whole Foods soon which is terribly exciting, and some would argue that Biltmore Fashion Park is great. It does feel, however, like everything shopping related is just a tad bit lacking. Everything is a little smaller, more cramped, crowded which leads to….

Parking – You can always tell when an area has a parking issue by the preponderance of valet stations. I hate to valet my car for two reasons: One, I never have cash on me. Two, I don’t like other people touching my car. And the places that don’t have valet – such as the Camelback Collonade – the situation is dreadful. Don’t even think about going there after ten a.m. on the weekends. (I did today, with two kids in tow – one of them not mine – to buy school supplies at Staples.) And finally…

Crime? Homelessness? Safety? – I can’t figure out how to accurately label this, because it’s not just about one of them. It is not unusual to see people walking down the street talking to themselves. Or passed out on the sidewalk with a 40 in their hand. I am asked for money nearly every time I get out of my car. We find beer bottles in our street some mornings, and graffiti on the trash cans. (Once we even woke to find the entire wall next to our house decorated with giant male genitalia. The best part was, the “artists” used the sidewalk chalk the boys left outside. Nice.) There is quite a bit of crime in the area and this house was broken into on Christmas Day a few years ago. (In that incident, the thieves used a little red wagon in the garage to haul off the television set.) I don’t necessarily feel unsafe, but I do know there are places very nearby that I wouldn’t want to go alone after dark.

I don’t want my out-of-the-area readers to get the idea that Phoenix is super-urban. The City of Phoenix itself stretches from way way way up North down to the other side of South Mountain. I really believe you could drive 3 hours in one direction and never be out of city limits. And when you tack on The Greater Phoenix Area,  it becomes impossible to drive from one side of town to the other without stopping for a bathroom break. It’s a hard city to pin down, and even in our area the vibe of the neighborhood changes by block.

So when I get all uppity about where I live and why it is the greatest place on earth, remember that I am speaking of a tiny little subsection, and it isn’t all rainbows and unicorns. But when I read about what they are doing at The Newton, and how both companies talk about the need to create spaces for people to gather and enjoy life, I am happy to be here.

And when I have to boil it down, I really love my street. I love the eclectic nature of the people. I love to come home to a house full of kids, only to turn around 30 minutes later and have everyone gone to another house. And I really love street taco night. Our next door neighbors drag their grill out to the end of the driveway and grill meat. There is beer and wine and babies walking barefoot on the hot concrete. Our incongruous gathering mostly happens during nicer weather, but I suppose today everyone is just flat out tired of summer.

08-18-13 tacos 2 08-18-13 tacos

 

 

 

 

For the record, I am afraid of whales

I suppose it is good I live in the desert, and I’m trying to remember that as I sit here in the heat. We arrived last night at Sky Harbor and the temperature was 111 degrees. That feels so much worse when one has spent a week in cloudy, cool, lovely weather of Vancouver Island. I wore a jacket! I sat with the windows open! It very much was like winter in Phoenix, actually, and it made me long for December.

A few quick highlights of our trip:

  1. Joe caught a shark. If you run into the boys and ask what was the coolest thing ever, this will be their answer. (It was a mud shark. Maybe 2 feet long. But very much a shark.)
  2. An Orca swam under our boat. His fin was taller than me.
  3. While this was happening, I was doing my best to breathe and not freak out completely.
  4. We picked blackberries on the side of the road.
  5. Deer liked our backyard. Probably because there was a giant apple tree and yummy grass.
  6. The Canadians like their hamburgers mixed with breadcrumbs. Anyone on the Paleo diet should be warned. It is through some small miracle that Jack did not have a single allergic encounter on the trip.
  7. No one got seasick, even when we spent 6 hours on a small fishing boat in rough water. Bonine saved the day, and even though it is not meant for kids, we all took it religiously.
  8. We spent one night in Vancouver. Our kids are not big city kids.
  9. The Canadians that we encountered were not overly interested in good wine.
  10. Joe also caught a salmon. We ate it, and likely have ruined ourselves for eating seafood in Arizona ever again.
  11. There is a yarn shop in Nanaimo where I spent 45 glorious minutes by myself while the boys puttered around and looked at seals. I bought some yarn called Marrakesh by a Canadian company called Hand Maiden. The yarn is made of silk and baby camel hair. There is nothing in the world that is softer or more incredible than this yarn.

It was, in all, an epic adventure for the entire family. I have quite a few photos to go through, and I have to thank BorrowLenses for renting me a great telephoto lens for my D90. I fretted over the choices, but in the end I went with an 18-200 so I wouldn’t have to change lenses during the trip and it was perfect.

Here are my two favorite whale shots. The first is a younger female jumping out of the water to celebrate the fact that the older male caught a dolphin.

08-17-13 Orca jumping

This is the male, with the giant fin, swimming towards us. He dove briefly, and resurfaced on the other side. I did not die of shock.

08-17-13 Orca swimming

After seeing these animals in the wild, and watching them dive and surface all around miles of the Strait of Georgia, I admit I am ashamed of the fact that I have ever given money to Sea World. While it is true that our boys got bored at times while the Orca dove down to do whatever they do at the bottom of the ocean, and there weren’t people in Orca costumes tweeting their whistles to make the animals jump on command, it is quite obvious to me now that the habitats created in an environment like that are never sufficient for these giant creatures. I have no intention of jumping on some crazy band wagon of protest about it, because overall I quite understand how our culture teaches us how we should be entertained. But we won’t be going back to Sea World.

Even with the heat, it’s good to be home. I’m ready to go back to work, the kids are excited for school to start on Thursday, and hopefully at some point they will start going to bed at a normal time. (It is now after 10 and they are still getting up to tell us one thing or another. Perhaps their teachers can tire them out.)

 

 

 

Phoenix Municipal Court Jury Duty, quite delightful

Now, I realize the bar for jury duty experience is pretty low. As they say in my business, it’s not tough to move the needle when it’s pinned to zero. Just the tiniest of changes can make a huge impact. Even so, I have to give a great big shout out to the Phoenix Municipal Court for the improvements they have made to the jury experience.

I must first disclaim that I am one of those people who wants to get picked for a jury. I buy in to the fact that it is an important aspect of what makes our country a great place to live. When I was in high school, my American History class traveled to Washington D.C. to compete in a competition regarding the US Constitution. (I completely digressed here and tried to find a photo from my Senior yearbook at Corona del Sol. Somehow the group that went to DC on some kind of weird tour made it into the book, but our group, who studied and competed and…well, did NOT win*….we did not make an appearance. The only evidence I have is the various people who went along with me writing notes about how great a trip it was. (Second digression – reading what people wrote in your yearbook 23 years ago is so fun. I highly recommend it.))

Back to jury duty in downtown Phoenix. I was running late because I stopped at Copper Star Coffee on the way. This is by far one of my favorite shops in town. (On my brief hiatus from gluten-free living – the hiatus that caused me to gain 16 pounds and once again declare myself gluten-free – I ate a blueberry muffin and a peach muffin from their beautiful and tempting display of baked goods. There is no comparison to these muffins and anything else you have ever tasted. In your life. They are that good.) Not only is this a great place for coffee/tea on the inside, they are the only independent coffee place I know of with a drivethru. Brilliant.

I was running late, and yet I found the parking pretty easily. I don’t get downtown much as I have mentioned, and I tend to get turned around when there are tall buildings involved. (If you had seen me when I lived in New York City! I never ever knew where I was.) As I was holding my paper and looking confused, a woman in an orange polo shirt and a button that said “Ask Me!” asked if I needed help. Wardrobe notwithstanding – polo shirts on women always make me cringe – I was grateful for the assistance. How pleasant! Someone to direct me on my way!

The line out the door of the building was not so pleasant. Of course we all had to go through security and apparently everyone in the county needed to be inside by 8 a.m. I saw a sign that said “No Food or Drink” which made me nervous. I was prepared to claim my dependence on iced tea rather than hand over my drink, but as I got closer I noticed a caveat. “Jurors Excluded”. Well isn’t that nice?

I made it into the holding area and was pleasantly greeted and directed to the waiting area. It was like a theater. Comfy seats, cup-holders, large screens throughout the room. Coffee, tea and filtered water, lockers for my things, restrooms – all within a comfortable and calm atmosphere. After a brief and mildly inaccurate video describing the judicial process in America, we were welcomed by a judge and walked through the procedures of the day.

Then we watched movies! (We Bought a Zoo was first. I wasn’t happy about this choice because that movie makes me cry. But I survived.)

As we were entertained with the movie or at computer stations or drinking coffee, we watched the case load for the day. It slowly ticked down. Apparently everyone at court that day was not in need of our services, and we were released to our day by lunchtime. I was a little disappointed actually. Even though we are leaving town on the 11th and I have a ton of work to do between now and then, I was a bit disappointed.

 

 

 

It’s Friday night, where are you going to dinner?

As I have previously written, our family spends Friday nights at the Phoenix Country Club. (Click the link if you’re interested in my mixed emotions about this weekly ritual.) But for those of you without kids and living a free and easy lifestyle, you might be thinking of going out to dinner. I was lucky enough to do so last Friday with my longtime friend Julie, who makes many appearances here on the blog.

One thing about having strong opinions regarding restaurants is that my dining companions never seem overly interested in choosing where to eat. I am perfectly happy to select on my own, but I often fuss over this decision. (You may remember I had this same apprehension in choosing a lunch place with my friend Kim, visiting as she repatriates to the US from China. I chose Chelsea’s Kitchen in that instance and was a bit disappointed.)

Since Julie and I would be heading over to the Ole Brass Rail after eating, I wanted something in that neighborhood. I narrowed our choices to Beckett’s Table and Bink’s Midtown. I adore both places and knew Julie would enjoy either one, but my ultimate decision went with Bink’s. The only final deciding factor was the ability to make an Open Table reservation at 6:30 – Beckett’s was blocked off for the normal dinner hour and I didn’t want to chance being late to the show. (We were a bit late anyway, but it was our own lingering that held us up and nothing more.)

Bink’s Midtown is relatively new to the scene and was open this past March by Kevin Binkley as a sister restaurant to his ultra-fancy place up in Carefree. Apparently it is impossible to get a reservation there, although given the distance I have never tried this myself. (You’ve probably noticed I don’t like to travel far for dinner. It’s an affliction. The last time we ate at FnB, in fact, we stayed the night at the W in Scottsdale.)

This new creation of Binkley’s is much more casual in atmosphere, but the food is tremendously delicious. I had the dates to start with and I scraped up absolutely every little bit off my plate. Julie is on the Paleontology diet and I am gluten-free, so we did not sample the delicious-looking little biscuits covered in melting butter they brought to the table, and it made me a little sad. Julie ordered the gazpacho, which I was too busy to taste before she slurped it all down (she didn’t actually slurp, I just like that word.) When she mentioned to the waitress how much she would love the recipe, she was presented with a printed copy. Impressive.

Our entrees were equally impressive, or at least mine was. I wasn’t paying attention to Julie’s food much. But for me the highlight was the side of stewed tomatoes. Not something I would normally order, but I would encourage it if you go. They are served with two giant pork rinds of all things and are full of gingery goodness. They matched perfectly with my flat iron steak. Overall it was a delightful time and I can’t wait to go back and check out the patio.

You may wonder where I’ve been all week, and I have to admit I have spent all my spare time sitting with my kids either on my lap or next to me. I missed them like I would miss my hands if you were to suddenly cut them off. They got home on Tuesday and even though Nick has showed up at my bedside every morning before six, I’m not the least bit bothered by it. During the normal course of my life I do try to keep everything in balance and make sure I get enough time to write, read, watch movies, sit quietly. But this week I was so relieved to have those little monsters back I did none of the above.

Back to our regularly scheduled program….