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.


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.


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.


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.


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.