Burning Man Countdown…..

As you might guess, Burning Man preparation continues to consume my every spare moment. This Saturday, we will climb in our RV and drive to a town called Hawthorne, Nevada to spend the night, take one last normal shower, and head to the gates the next morning. We have been fortunate enough to connect with a group of campers that will give us a small community in the center of a giant city. Check them out here. 


I got a new watch. Events at Burning Man happen at specific times, and since my phone will not be attached to my body, I needed a way to know the time.


I also got some boots, to go with everything.

I vacillate between extreme excitement and total panic, sometimes within the same minute. When I described this to my new friend Julia (the magic person who produced a spare ticket for me), she suggested this is completely normal. And not only that, I am to expect a total meltdown at some point during this journey. Likely in the middle of the desert. I am not a stranger to total meltdowns, and know there truly is no way to prepare for emotional overload, other than to ride it out when it happens.

We have planned our snacks, beverages, sunscreen, lighting, earplugs, goggles, electrolyte replacement, water, bikes, clothing, gifts, schedules, and travel route. I have never put so much thought into one trip in my life. I typically throw my things in a bag the day I’m leaving and hope for the best. Living in the desert with no nearby CVS has me modifying my behavior.

Many people have reached out to me with a variety of concerns – all completely valid. Yes, spending a week with my parents in harsh conditions is a bit crazy. We have a system for conflict resolution, and plan to spend enough time apart that we don’t want to kill one another halfway through. Yes, there are lots of drugs passed around in every form. From what I can tell, they are not required. Oh, yes, people are often naked. I don’t recall nudity being harmful in and of itself, but I am duly warned. My moments of panic all surround these topics. What will it be like? Who will be there? What will we do for that long? What will I wear?

Already this experience has blown my mind. Last year, I watched the event unfold on the live web feed (which you can view here sometime soon – maybe Sunday?) I cannot begin to imagine what it will be like in real life. But I assure you, I will attempt to tell the stories here.

Burning Man 2015: Who, What, When, Where, Why?


Last year I wrote about how I wanted to go to Burning Man, but the timing was not great. Sometimes I post on Facebook about our preparations, my quest for a ticket (I got one!), and my hope that people will send money to various crowdfunding opportunities. It is only within the last couple of weeks that I realized I am going. I will be there. With my parents. Very soon. And so, for those of you who have been following the saga, here is an introduction to what we are doing.


My dad, also known as Legend, is the instigator, the driver, the spark behind our journey. He’s a badass. He taught me at a very young age that traveling around the world and placing  yourself in uncomfortable situations is the path to personal growth.

My mom. Owl. If you ever travel somewhere questionable or difficult, you want this lady in your car. She can find anything given the most rudimentary map. She can feed thousands from what she has in her fridge. She makes friends with all the right people, and creates a party out of thin air.

Me. Hensmith. (Phoenista to you all.) I’m 43, which shocks me every time I say it. I am only happy when I am planning my next trip. I have been known to sit on a plane to Europe with my laptop and calendar, deciding where I will go when I get back to town and have enough vacation saved up.


My elevator speech for people who ask is this: Burning Man is an art festival in the middle of the Nevada Desert, culminating in the burning of a giant man made out of wood. Usually, this answer makes people smile, nod, and avert their eyes. The more I talk, the more it sounds like a cult based upon ten principles, started by a man named Rod on a beach in San Francisco.

So here are the Ten Principles.

  1. Radical Inclusion
  2. Gifting
  3. Decomodification
  4. Radical Self-Reliance
  5. Radical Self-Expression
  6. Communal Effort
  7. Civic Responsibility
  8. Leaving No Trace
  9. Participation
  10. Immediacy

I read these and think “Yes yes yes! I want to live in that world!” I hope to spend some time prior to our departure writing about the Ten Principles and what I think they mean.


The gates to Burning Man open on Sunday August 30 at 10 a.m. Sometime on Friday the 28th or Saturday the 29th we will fire up the RV and start heading that way. It is nearly 12 hours from here. We are not supposed to arrive at the venue early. The man burns on Saturday the 5th. The temple burns on Sunday the 6th. Sometime on Labor Day we will head home, exhausted, dusty and tired.


Black Rock City is about an hour north of Reno under normal conditions. Apparently the wait to get in can exceed five hours. So we are bringing music and a deck of cards to kill time. Oh, and Black Rock City does not exist on any map, as far as I can tell. It is a modern day Brigadoon, except it shows up once a year instead of every hundred years, thankfully.

Here is what it looks like from the air:

An aerial view of the Burning Man 2013 arts and music festival is seen in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada, August 29, 2013. The federal government issued a permit for 68,000 people from all over the world to gather at the sold out festival, which is celebrating its 27th year, to spend a week in the remote desert cut off from much of the outside world to experience art, music and the unique community that develops. REUTERS/Jim Urquhart (UNITED STATES - Tags: SOCIETY) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. NOT FOR USE BY REUTERS THIRD PARTY DISTRIBUTORS. FOR USE WITH BURNING MAN RELATED REPORTING ONLY - RTX130JD

An aerial view of the Burning Man 2013 arts and music festival is seen in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada, August 29, 2013. The federal government issued a permit for 68,000 people from all over the world to gather at the sold out festival, which is celebrating its 27th year, to spend a week in the remote desert cut off from much of the outside world to experience art, music and the unique community that develops. REUTERS/Jim Urquhart



This might be the most difficult question to answer. Why go out into the middle of the desert with 70,000 people, leaving behind nearly all the comforts of the real world, packing a bag that requires goggles, a bike, and 500 gallons of water? There is no air conditioning. You can’t buy anything. You are expected to take care of yourself, build the community, participate, leave no trace, and wear a fantastic costume. It sounds annoying in many ways. And it costs a lot of money and uses all of my vacation time. I’m still working out the why of it all, I suppose.

A subset of this question is: why now? This event has been going on for many years and has always intrigued me. I lived in the Bay Area, for crying out loud, where you can’t walk down the street without bumping in to a burner. There are times in my life this would have been easier on many levels. When I was younger, childless, able to withstand long periods without good sleep.

There are many reasons to stay home. Yet. I am drawn to the idea of people creating giant art, building an entire city, and then burning it down, sweeping up the ashes, and leaving. It’s a physical manifestation of impermanence; a spiritual ideal come to life. The creation, and the letting go of that creation.

More to come. It takes a lot of preparation to live in the desert for a week. Yesterday we bought dust masks, travel underwear, and 500 gallons of water. My mom and I need bikes, and lights for the bikes. And I need a costume. Or ten.





A Saturday Afternoon Downtown

Saturday we met some friends downtown at the Phoenix Public Market. Normally the outdoor market closes up shop at 1 p.m. and we rarely make it in time. But thanks to the craziness of football, they decided to make a party out of it this week and keep the booths open until 10. And Kalliope was there. A tiny slice of Burning Man right there in the light of day in the middle of town.


I’m willing to bet it was super fun to be there at night. But I’m more of a day-time cool mom, so we were there right at 3. There were hula-hoops!


And I took the boys up to the top – which I have to admit was a little scary. Here is Kristina, down below, having a fabulous time.


I am happy to report that I am still able to hula hoop. And honestly I could have stayed there all day, but a small pack of young boys is not easily amused so we moved on to the True DT Phx music festival.


Again, I’m sure (and I hope) this was way better at night. Just a suggestion to the organizers, it might be a benefit to hire bands with some type of following. People will come to hear great music, especially outdoors on such a beautiful day.


This is Captain Squeegee. 7 guys from Mesa who are all classically trained musicians and exactly one person who was singing along in the (lack-of) crowd. I can say that there were certain great moments for this band, mainly when the singer was playing his trumpet instead of singing. And I must give the guy credit for performing as if there were thousands of people. He pointed at my son and said something like “This is for all the children out there.” Jack turned to me and said “Mom, that’s creepy.

We did not go down to the NFL Experience, mainly because it costs 8 million dollars to get in and none of us really care enough about football. Our neighbor went and had a fabulous time, but he’s a kid who can recite where everyone went to college, what their stats are, and where all they have played. So he’s a little more in to the scene than my boys.

Overall the Public Market was a win, the True Music festival was not. I hope more people showed up later, although looking at the lineup I’m skeptical.

We hopped back in our car and headed back to Ten for dinner. My parents and boys had not yet been there, even though it was my fourth visit. Every single thing I’ve eaten has been amazing, and the steak is no exception.


The chef butchers this Denver cut himself, and made a point to come say hello to our table. They made Nick macaroni and cheese (not on the menu) and he declared it the best ever. Jack’s burger was also great, but he said next time he wants the steak. On Sunday they asked if we could go back for lunch. I would say they are fans.

This coming weekend promises to have a million more people and a million more activities. I’m sad to be missing American Authors play, but I don’t particularly want to spend $100 on a ticket and drive out to Glendale. I will likely take the boys downtown again to check out the Superbowl Experience, but this time I think we will take the light rail instead of parking. And there will likely be another visit to TEN in our future, because I haven’t tried everything on the menu yet.


A New Restaurant – how did I miss this?

One of my greatest joys in life is discovering something new, especially when it is a complete surprise. This happened to me last month when Augustana played at Crescent Ballroom and I just happened upon the show because I felt like going out that night.

This is their most well-known song – you might recognize it. When they played it about halfway through the show I said “Oh! This band! I know them!” (I’ve never been accused of being super-quick. And since I write a blog about what’s going on in Phoenix, this is somewhat of a detriment to me. Which is likely why no one pays me to do it.)

So last week I was taking a friend to see a movie at Esplanade because he had never been, a fact that made me gasp out loud. How could you miss this delightful experience? There are giant recliners. And people bring you wine. We were torn about where to eat. I wasn’t super hungry and he’s not super picky, so we thought about just getting food at the theater. It’s not great but not terrible either – just standard and dull bar food. We walked around where Fuego Taco used to be and much to my shock there was a new restaurant open for business that I did not know about.

So apparently Ten has been open a month. And has been mentioned in Chow Bella. And is a great place with cool owners, yummy food, and a bartender who actually cares about being a bartender. On my first visit, he gave us a small lesson on pouring beer and then made me this cucumber gimlet.


Since it was a Wednesday night it wasn’t too crowded and we got to chat with Chef/Owner Jeff Hostenske and his wife Jen, who is the one who encouraged him to follow his dream now instead of later. Quite impressive – I’m all about people following their dreams right now instead of talking incessantly about ‘one day’. (I’m the worst offender, as my dreams sit here on my shelf, probably growing mold.)

For dinner I ordered the braised beef tacos on the appetizer menu because I was not starving.


Yes, that is bacon and a fried egg with tacos. I ate every last bite, and tasted the hushpuppies and Cordon Bleu sandwich. Everything was completely delicious.

I was so excited to find a new place, I went back Saturday night. I’m happy to report it was crowded and Jeff did not have as much time for casual chatter. He was busy in the kitchen keeping everyone in the dining room happy and fed.

This time I had the pot roast. It’s one of my favorite dishes and I was not disappointed.


You’ll also notice my cocktail, which was made exclusively for me off the menu by Bretton, who you can see in the background. He asked what I liked and made things up for me as the night went on. Here was his final concoction:


Thank goodness for Uber. I have no idea what went into this final drink but it was delightful. I may have a tiny (ok, giant) crush on Bretton now. My goal now is to get a drink named after me, so if you go and see a Phoenista on the menu, know I have succeeded.


My Perfunctory Review of Freezing First Friday

Maybe I’m too lazy in general, or I just don’t like crowds and loudness. I’m also coming down with a cold, and the holiday mayhem wore me out. So maybe Artlink’s First Friday downtown this week wasn’t the best choice, and perhaps I shouldn’t even be writing this review. Because I sincerely believe First Friday is a great thing for Phoenix, and I absolutely want you all to run downtown and look at art as much as possible.

If you do, just be ready for DJs blasting atrocious electronic music from rooftops (I have nothing against electronic music, but bad electronic music is like bad country music. It feels like your ear canals have begun to produce acid instead of wax.) I have recently been given a brief education in the entire EDM scene, in fact, so here is an example of what I mean by good electronic music. (And don’t feel bad if you have to google EDM. I did too.)

Also be ready for roaming bands of teenagers, some dressed like stuffed animals. To be honest, I wish we had something like this to go to when I was a teenager, instead of sitting around eating cheesecake brownies at Coffee Plantation on Mill. Although I likely never would have dressed in a furry costume.

If you can get past these minor impositions, along with the often paralyzing crowds, and if you go with a better plan than I did (which was this exactly: go to Lost Leaf, wander around, search out food for my starving but amiable companion, see some art, don’t freeze to death), you will likely have an amazing time. There is a new trolley system that connects everything together – you can park at the Phoenix Art Museum, for example, and trolley all around to Grand Avenue, down to City Scape, then over to Roosevelt Row. It’s really brilliant.

Due to my general malaise, we stuck close to Roosevelt Row. Food trucks were aplenty so no one starved. As I started writing this, a mere two days later, I am confused about what art we saw in which gallery. I am trying to piece everything together, but EyeLounge is confusing me. I know we saw pieces by Merkel McLendon. (I am not an art writer, clearly, because I struggle to describe what we saw, or even how one would display such works at home. I recognized a lot of shoe trees repurposed as fish, and an Elvis themed wall display. I decided at the end I would really like to be friends with someone who collected art like this.)

In the crowded back room, or “Project Room”, the walls were filled with clay faces by Cheryl Brandon and Constance McBride. We did not go in, but I would like very much to go back. Something about a warm room crammed with people looking at clay faces on the walls felt uncomfortable. (I didn’t take any photos, but if you go to the gallery page linked above you can see two of the faces. You’ll get what I mean.)

According to the Website, we also saw this incredible photography exhibit titled “Smoke and Mirrors” by Sean Deckert. I have zero idea how these pieces were created but they left me astounded. If I had any spare money in the world I would bought one that somehow juxtaposed a photo of downtown with a photo of a mountain. As you moved in front of the picture it slowly changed, like magic.

Next we went to Modified Arts, where they have an incredible exhibition called “Visions of Phoenix: Reality and Surreality”. Again I was totally wishing it wasn’t so dang crowded because the paintings were cool. There were a few of the Westward Ho, which has long been a fascinating building to me. Once many years ago, my friend Justin and I convinced the front desk lady to let us in to go look around. It was one of the more depressing places I have ever been. You can see the former grand hotel slowly decaying along with the people inside. I keep holding out hopes that someone will buy it and bring it back to a great, swanky place. But then, where would all those people go? It is currently a low-income nursing home of sorts, and I’m guessing there aren’t a lot of other options out there.


A painting at Modified Arts

From there we wandered down Roosevelt and found a sign that promised live glass blowing. Live! You don’t want to miss that. It turned out to be a giant lie, however, and we found ourselves in a store selling bongs and pipes and t-shirts. Great marketing I guess, but I felt misled.

And I was cold. And tired. And clearly I had seen enough art because it was all swimming around in my head together. So we made our way to Mother Bunch Brewing for a cocktail and to rest our feet.


I wish we had come here for dinner. I love the vibe, the menu looked great, and they have Mason Sauvignon Blanc. We also tried the Gingerbread Ale, because it is still somewhat holidayish. I apologize for this fuzzy photo – I probably didn’t need more wine, but look at the great color of that beer. It was delicious.


I promise to go back, ride the trolly, visit more galleries, and develop a more coherent review of this event. For now I’m going to get under a blanket on the couch, take some cold medicine, and wait for Downton Abbey to start.

My New ‘Hood

About a month ago I bought a house and moved 1.2 miles. (For those of you wondering, Joe did not move with me. He’s still 1.2 miles away in the house we bought before Nick was born.) 2014 was quite a year. I try to make this blog mostly about why I love Phoenix and less-ly about my personal life, but clearly there has been a lot going on in my world.

So now I live off 7th Ave and Missouri, just North of Melrose (or the Gay-borhood, as described by my friend Barbra Seville.) I can walk to Hana, Sylvia’s, The French Grocery, and Mucho Macho Tacos. The fact that I can walk to a restaurant makes me inordinately happy and reminds me of the good parts of New York.

When I lived in Astoria, Queens there was a “Mexican” restaurant called Napoleon y Josephina that Parley and I would walk to when we were homesick for Arizona. I think the owners were actually Greek, and likely never made it farther South than Atlantic City, but pinto beans and rice can go a long way when you’re dying for any small thing that tastes like home. While poking around on Google today, I found a ChowHound post that mentioned Nap y Jos had closed. In 1998.

Let’s pause here for a moment to reflect upon that date. Because it was 16 years ago, meaning the winter I spent in New York was 18 years ago.


This is Parley in our Astoria apartment, back when we were young with no real problems other than the weekly exestential crisis caused by being terribly poor in an expensive town. At least we had a Christmas tree!

We are now on the brink of 2015 and I am settled into my little brick house in Phoenix. I have been surrounded by family, old friends who love me even though they know every horrible thing there is to know about me, new friends who love me because I am awesome and fun again, my boys who love me because they are boys, and chickens!


I am officially an Urban Farmer, which may be a trademarked name now that the Urban Farmer is becoming more famous. I even have a barn


And a pizza oven with fancy twinkle lights


My little homestead is complete and I am happy. Here’s a rundown of the places I can walk.

Sylvia’s – seriously great, old-school Mexican food. Terrible terrible terrible service. We went for lunch the other day and it was a hot mess of sitting forever, forgotten food, and a waiter who seemed like it was his first day in a restaurant. So weird and sad, because I love this place. I want it to be great! And honestly I’ll still go there, just not when I have anywhere to be.

Hana is hands down the best sushi in town. If you want to come over and go to sushi I’m in. It’s byob too, which I LOVE. LOVE.

French Grocery is phenomenoally trying to find its way. I hope it does. Everything I’ve eaten there is delicious. But it’s closed on Sunday morning, which is when I always think to go there.

Mucho Macho Tacos is delightful. They have tater tots! And they put them in burritos. Is there anything better? My only criticism is the Al Pastor taco has too much sauce. But close, delicious and fast tacos? Sign me up.

I’m likely not going out for New Year’s Eve. Crescent Ballroom is having an amazing party and I was supposed to go. But it might rain. And I’m a little partied out. But tomorrow is a new day and who knows what it will bring?

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.