On cactus, and living in the Valley of the Surface of the Sun

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In my short time as a resident of the American Southwest I have come to appreciate some of it’s thornier and more beautiful parts: the desert plants that thrive under the harshest of conditions. In the early spring I loved taking my camera with me on walks through my neighborhood to photograph some of the spikier and thornier specimens in people’s yards. Then, you know, temperatures soared and I retreated back to the air conditioning, where I have stayed.

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I see my northern neighbors celebrating cooler temperatures, the coming of fall fashions, pumpkin spice everything, and exhaling that the heat of summer has passed. Meanwhile, it’s still 100+ every day here and my cabin fever continues to rage. Locals keep telling me that Arizona’s fall is coming, and looking at the weather patterns I only partially believe them. It will be in the 90’s through October before finally cooling off to temperatures where I can breathe, but for me, 70 degrees is a perfect summer day, not appropriate for November and December. I truly don’t know if I will ever fully adapt to life in the low desert; the high desert where there is frost and snow and plummeting temperatures at night? That I can do. But without the elevation of those ancient plateaus, Phoenix and the surrounding suburbs just bake, and bake, and bake, for MONTHS on end.

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The soul-sucking heat, the neverending blistering sun, the subsequent cabin fever…it makes me anxious and irritable and, in general, makes everything worse. I somehow feel that a few days of truly cold temperatures would solve a fair number of my internal turmoil, the cool temperatures calm me and help me think more clearly. I am sharper and more logical, more productive and happier when my body is not fighting itself and my surface-of-the-sun environment.

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I have had to negotiate a lot of adjustments since I moved to Arizona: new work routine (which just changed again), new dynamics with Mr. Blue Eyes and his kids, new dynamics with my own family and friendships to accommodate the distance, and new relationships with friends and colleagues here. Those are the pieces that keep my going, the beautiful desert bloom, the cactus flowers…but the damn heat is the always present spikes and cactus spines, the constant that must be negotiated multiple times per day. When walking to the mailbox has the potential to give you heat stroke, the weather doesn’t just disappear into the background. Perhaps it does for those who are used to the fire-breathing sky, and perhaps in time I will adapt. If my love of Charles Darwin has taught me anything, it is that species will always adapt to their surroundings (or they will die out, but let’s not focus on that option, mmmkay?)

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Arizona Meteor Crater

If you are the kind of nerd that I am (and I like to think that you are; Hello, Nerd Friend), you will remember the week in elementary school that you learned about the Barringer Meteorite Crater in Arizona. You know, the giant ball of iron that zoomed in from space, made a fantastic hole, and probably killed off the dinosaurs? Ok, that last part isn’t true, it wasn’t THE meteor (which was, by all accounts, one of many significantly larger ones), but the Arizona meteor was a pretty big one, and because the plains around it are still completely desolate, it’s easy to imagine mass extinction. A few weeks ago Mr. Blue Eyes and I decided to go on an adventure close-ish to home, and the crater was near the top of my list.

Arizona Meteor Crater_feistyharriet_July 2016 (3)The crater is massive, over a mile across, 2.5 miles in circumference, and 550 feet deep. You can see a bit of white in that photo up there, those are outbuildings from the mining operation that used to be at the base of this pit.

Arizona Meteor Crater_feistyharriet_July 2016 (7)This is a piece of the meteor that made the impact. Most of the 150 foot rock dissolved upon fiery impact, but from time to time the ranchers in the wide open spaces around this crater find pieces of this heavy nickle-iron space-debris on their land. The largest piece found so far is about the size of an infant car seat and weighs something like 1,400 pounds.

Arizona Meteor Crater_feistyharriet_July 2016 (4)Blue Eyes and I wandered around the museum, took the tour out to the edge of the crater, were curtailed on said tour due to a nasty-looking storm brewing to the north, but did check out several fixed telescopes to get a better look at the geology of the crater, some old leftover mining operations that were hauled down there by mule, and the debris from a small airplane that crashed in the crater, not taking into account the wind in there it was unable to get out and smashed into the rocky sides of the pit.

Arizona Meteor Crater_feistyharriet_July 2016 (2)The museum was small, but had a lot of interesting information on meteors, meteorites, and history of the area. Blue Eyes is a mining geek, and a dirt & rock geek, and I love space stuff…so we frankly had a blast at the museum. Man, science is awesome.

Arizona Meteor Crater_feistyharriet_July 2016 (1)As we were leaving the storm we’d been watching turned into a pretty intense summer thundercloud with speedy winds whipping it across the plateaus. Glad we weren’t on the rim of the crater for that, but am also kind of bummed we didn’t get to go exploring a little more.

Arizona Meteor Crater_feistyharriet_July 2016 (5)Uh, this is not at the crater, this was a wrong exit that I insisted was correct, only to be met with some weird tribal-alien ruins of what once was a money maker on historic Route 66.

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Arizona Summer vs My First Vegetable Garden

This is my first experience with an Arizona summer, and while I am halfway though it, I am sooo over the heat. I have managed to make a solid dent on my Summer Bucket List, which has been good. I could complain about the heat forever, but I am trying really hard to complain about focus on other things.

So far my biggest complaint obstacle thru the insufferable Arizona summer is the cabin fever. My long history of skin issues (cancer, cancer, cancer) means I can’t just slap on the sunscreen and hop in the pool all afternoon to beat the heat. I do go to the gym several times a week just to get my body moving a little without having ankle-to-wrist-plus-hat coverage, and that has helped quite a bit to combat the feeling of being trapped in an (air conditioned! yay!) cage.

Mr. Blue Eyes built me some fantastic garden boxes in our backyard revamp, and I filled them up with seeds and tiny vegetable plants and hoped they’d make it. It’s been a bit of a learning curve: my yellow squash and zucchini have died; a crazy-even-for-here heat wave withered my peppers and herbs (123* F?!? ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!); the birds have had a heyday with the tomatoes, pecking them to pieces. BUT! we rigged up some shade to protect most of our little plants and I found some bird-repellant holographic tape to scare the birds away.

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In the last few weeks the butternut squash and watermelon bed has gone crazy with trailing vines all over the place and about a dozen squash and four watermelons all growing nicely under those broad leaves. In the last two days I’ve picked FIVE tomatoes and the one remaining bell pepper, and there are some darling baby eggplants that will probably be ready to pick next week.

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I am ridiculously happy about my little plants, it’s been fun to watch them grow (and frustrating to watch them wither and die) and has given me something to look forward to, as stupid or silly as that sounds. I have been doing some research, and apparently you can replant several different things in mid-August and get a second harvest in October or November, and lettuce and spinach and peas do really well over the “winter” months, so I’ll be trying that, for sure. We always had a very big vegetable garden while I was growing up, and I know how to keep veggies alive…but the climate here is VERY different from my Rocky Mountain hometown. Hopefully I’ll have a little more success moving forward!

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Summer Bucket List: 2016

I don’t know about you, but where I live summer is in full force. We’ve got summer vegetables available at farm stands, summer activities on weekends, kids in and out of the pool, and (COMPLETELY INSANE) summer temperatures. It was 103 last Wednesday and I still haven’t quite gotten over it. And this isn’t even the worst heat of the summer. It’s gonna be 118 before I know it. Summer in Arizona is going to be very different from my summer’s in the relatively mild Salt Lake City. I can’t just hop in my car and escape to the mountains for some mid-70’s temperatures and plenty of leafy shade. I mean, saguaro cactus give just enough shade for a really skinny person to stand in. My Summer Bucket List for this year (and all subsequent years) will look very different than previous lists, heading outside is more of an Arizona “winter” activity, not something that is at all enjoyable from May – October.

I have been firming up some work scheduling things and personal vacation-y things, the calendar was looking kind of…full. So I did the math: for a six-week long stretch I will only be at home in my own bed for six nights. Total. On average, one night per week for six weeks. Now, that sounds ridiculously overwhelming, but the good news is that every single one of the places I will be visiting (for work and for fun) are cooler than the Valley of the Surface of the Sun. So, despite knowing that kind of travel will be exhausting, I am looking forward to a little respite from the face-melting heat.

Summer Bucket List: 2016

      1. No sunburns, no tan lines, and religious sunscreen application!
      2. Finish up the landscaping in the backyard (the hardest part is already done, just some concrete work, finishing off some planter boxes, and laying the sod).
      3. Schedule a personal day off from work: go to a spa, get a massage, a pedicure, take myself out to a nice lunch, and maybe a movie, just because I can. (This should happen immediately after the 6 weeks of travel hell.)
      4. Go camping! Preferably somewhere higher in elevation, cooler, and leafier.
      5. Keep my backyard garden boxes alive! I need to rig up some shade to protect the baby veggies from 10 hours of the blasting Arizona sun.
      6. Eat at least one full meal harvested entirely from the backyard garden.
      7. Make homemade ice cream happen.
      8. Visit four new National Parks.
      9. Go to a rodeo!
      10. Tackle and manage a joint budget with Mr. Blue Eyes.
      11. Continue my current health and exercise regimen. (The good news is that the gym is heavily air conditioned, so while outdoor hiking may be a November and January activity, treadmill and exercises classes will be perfect when the temperatures soar.)
      12. Read a LOT of books. Inside. With the AC blowing directly on me.
      13. Finish the last bit of painting inside our house: 2 rooms and a closet.

I have had medium-levels of success with posting and then sticking to a summer bucket list in previous years, we’ll see how I do this year. Minus the “keep the backyard vegetables from burning up!” goal, these seem fairly manageable, even with six weeks away. Wish me luck!

What’s on your summer bucket list?

Summer Bucket Lists from previous years: 2015, 2014

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Moving is hard: three months in Arizona

Three months ago I packed up the last of my belongings into my Mini Cooper, bade a last, tearful goodbye to my dear city, and started the long drive south from Salt Lake to Phoenix (about 700 miles). I cried for the first several hours, my heart sad and heavy to leave my beloved city, family, and friends behind. Eleven hours later I arrived at my new home. Blue Eyes and his kids had thrown together a Welcome Home party, complete with posters, balloons, streamers, cupcakes, and a bouquet of flowers. I cried all over again.

Moving is hard, yo. The best thing has been living with Blue Eyes, seeing him every day instead of every other weekend, and figuring out how to finally merge our lives together after years of living apart. There have been a lot of adjustments for both of us as we try and navigate our days and weeks and months, some have been easy adjustments, and some have been a lot harder. We’ve both had some growing pains, for sure. I think the hardest thing, however, has been a lack of a network here. Of course I still have my dear friends and family to rely on, we chat, text, email, and all the rest, but it’s not the same. I have made some tiny little baby steps towards finding a group of people here, I know they exist, the trick is to figure out where they are hiding. Yay, for the internet, for helping boost those fledgling relationships along!

Aside from the obvious best/worst things about moving (living with Blue Eyes/missing My People), here are a few other things, three months in:

Things I like:

Clear air with blue skies and sunshine. Winter in Salt Lake City is famous for some of the worst air in the world. No, really. The mountains/ski resorts are gorgeous, but down in the valley the air tastes like chemicals and you can walk around in an army-issue gas mask and no one bats an eye, although they may ask you where you bought such a  brilliant device.

The house, for the most part. It’s not my dream house, but there are some really lovely components, and I can disguise most of the not-so-ideal ones with some paint and art and books. For the first time in forever I have a bedroom large enough for a King-sized bed, and it is glorious. I also have a yard for the very first time, and we’ve been working to get it cleaned up, this week I’m planting our vegetable garden! Next up is a patio with fire pit.

My home office with it’s large window, walls full of books and real art, and a nice comfy chair where I can curl up and do some research or pleasure reading. My office also doubles as a little art studio, and I’ve loved having better access to my paints. Granted, it is also a lot quieter and lonelier than working in an office with delightful co-workers, but the physical space itself is far superior to a badly lit desk in cubicle-land.

Things I miss:

The mountains!! Goodness, how I miss my mountains. Locals keep telling me  that there are mountains here, and they point to a cactus-covered hill and I try and nod and smile, but inside I know they have no idea what they are talking about. That’s like trying to convince someone that a small pond is really the ocean. Sorry, no comparison.

Living downtown. I lived in the city center for almost 15 years, for me it seems like living anywhere else is kind of pretend. I am in the suburby-suburbs now, with lots of similar houses (all of them that particular brand of Arizona beige). There are very few not-chain restaurants and the ethnic food leaves a lot to be desired, the one Thai place is pretty meh, and the sushi place is hardly worth the trip. There are not any Yelp-rated restaurants within 10 miles of us; it takes almost 30 minutes to get to decent street tacos, for crying out loud! This is a far cry from dozens of delicious options within a 1.5 mile radius. We are on the edge of a suburb of a suburb…it’s…it’s been a rough adjustment.

The weather. I am not one of those who hates winter, or the cold, or the snow. I love boots and scarves weather! I love wearing tights with my skirts! I love suiting up and tramping around in the snow, exploring on snow shoes, and then curling up with a blanket and some hot cocoa to warm up. I love the seasons, however, the summer is my least favorite. I just don’t do well with the heat and all that sunshine, my skin can’t handle it. So, when it was 92 degrees on February 10 I very nearly packed up my car and moved north, I just cannot deal with that kind of heat. I did a little research, for 7 months of the year the average DAILY temperature in the Phoenix area is over 95 degrees and for 3 of those months it’s over 105 DEGREES (40.5C). All those people who kept saying “it’s only hot for a little while” are damn liars. It’s sweltering for three-quarters of the year!! I don’t think there has been a week since I moved in where I didn’t crank up the AC a bit to prevent sweat from pooling on my skin. I…I am really dreading the heat. I will most likely be parked inside from April thru November. Ugh.

 

The next three months will hopefully have more friends and roots put down here, finishing up our backyard and–fingers crossed–being able to harvest some vegetables from our garden.  I have regularly scheduled trips back to Salt Lake for work and am able to swoon over my mountains and have lunch with friends, eating delicious Thai food (or sushi, or whatever) within blocks of my office.

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