Adjusting my “winter” expectations and activities: an Arizona primer

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I moved to Arizona in December, but coming from a place where December weather is inside weather or play in the snow weather, I didn’t quite realize that in Arizona December-March weather is the most glorious hiking weather.

So, last “winter” I spent doing my normal winter activities: making soup, curling up with a book, and unpacking boxes. By mid-February it was already in the 90’s and summer with truly heinous hot and sticky weather arrived in short order. By June I had major cabin fever.

This “winter” I decided to spend as much time as possible outside in the glorious blue-skies-and-low-60’s weather. I puttered with my plants. Mr. Blue Eyes and I added a giant kidney-bean shaped garden to the front that is almost to the stage where I can plant it (I say “and I” but he did most of the heavy-duty lifting, like, shoveling out gravel and shoveling in truck load after truck load of dirt). And, because Kayla told me to, I started hiking.

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Hiking through the Arizona desert and hiking in Utah’s Wasatch Mountains are not the same. But, after spending many hours wandering through the cactus, I have come to appreciate the desert trails and find their treacherous beauty (cactus spines, yo, they are no joke!).

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Being outside but not roasting was so good for my soul. For my birthday Mr. Blue Eyes gave me a guide for 60 hikes within 60 miles of Phoenix. I hope to be able to check every one off while I live here, or, you know, at least all the cool ones.
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A huge bonus of hiking in January-March is that everything is ridiculously green, I mean, I felt like I was in a cactus garden most of the time. There were wildflowers and green cactus and other spiky desert plants everywhere. I wouldn’t know what they look like in July because when it is 120 degrees I will not be wandering around in a shade-less state park. BUT! Right now? Everything is gorgeous.

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I will state a caveat about this adjustment to Arizona winter: I still had to go find some snow. The elevation increases rapidly as you drive north from Phoenix, and Flagstaff gets snow storms on the regular. Blue Eyes and I drove up there simply to find some snow, we played in it, photographed it, drove around in it, he snuggled into his beanie and I reveled in freezy cold air on my face. I’m adjusting, but this adjustment is a slow one for me, and I am trying to honor and respect that without pushing myself too much to embrace the desert. (Also, as reported earlier, do not hug the cactus!)

Love Where You Live: Episode 1

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If we have had any semi-meaningful conversation in the last 18 months you have probably asked me how I am settling into Arizona. And I most likely responded with some variation of “I’m not, really.” This move wrenched my roots in a pretty violent way and the adjusting and reframing expectations has taken a toll on their already fragile and dangling state. I still get all choked up whenever I think about my home, my mountains, and seasons with months of cool and downright frigid weather. My heart doesn’t feel like it belongs here, although I am trying to fit here. I have made a few friends, my little vegetable garden is one of the happiest parts of my life, and my work directly places me in a position to help Arizona students succeed in a college or postsecondary education (and the vast majority stay in Arizona to explore those options). So, I’m trying.

A few months ago I read This Is Where You Belong: The Art and Science of Loving the Place You Live by Melody Warnick. I wrote MANY notes in the margins (and some rants and “See? Told you!” scribbles as well…I sometimes have one-way conversations with the printed page, apparently). Warnick has a seemingly simple list of things that, if tackled, will help you put down roots in a new place:

  1. Walk more
  2. Buy local
  3. Get to know my neighbors
  4. Do fun stuff
  5. Explore nature
  6. Volunteer
  7. Eat local
  8. Become more political
  9. Create something new
  10. Stay loyal through hard times

Ok, so none of those really seem that hard. Right? Um, apparently yes, they are kind of hard.

In church yesterday I kept thinking about how to go out of my way to help other people, to serve them, to love them. There is the obvious political move of a protest or rally, or making donations to organizations that support the work I care about. But I also started thinking a lot closer to home, closer even that attending my monthly legislative district meeting. I’m embarrassed to admit that I don’t know the name of any of my neighbors, people in my neighborhood, sure, but no one two or three doors on each side of me, or across the street.

Uh, what? I mean, I’ve lived here for over a year. A YEAR! None my immediate neighbors attend my church, so I haven’t gotten to know them by default of seeing them every week. But it surprised and then angered me that I hadn’t gone out of my way to introduce myself. So, goal for this week is to spend some time in the kitchen whipping up some homemade baked goods and then delivering plates of happiness to a half-dozen front porches.

I’ve decided to do better about incorporating these seemingly simple ideas into my life here in Arizona, in the hope that I will find myself fitting here just a little better. Some I’ve just barely scratched the surface, like local politics and exploring the outdoors. Some I’ve been working on for a while, like creating and tending a veggie garden in my backyard, and exploring local eats for date nights with Mr. Blue Eyes. In another week or so the raging heat will descend and stay until November or so (hi, locals, my heat tolerance is about 78 degrees, not 98 degrees, so for me, yes, actually, “summer” is 9 hellish months long), I really am hoping I can figure out some solutions to the months and months of air conditioned cabin fever. The last two or three months of normal-person temperatures have been glorious, I’ve been outside hiking and puttering around in the yard and just hanging out on the back patio with a book and a drink.

What neighborhood (or municipal/county) things do you participate in? What do you love? Wish you did more of? How did you fall in love with your city? Or, do you WANT to fall in love with your city? If so, perhaps we can form an online support group to figure out how to love where we live.

Friends! Phoenicians! Fellow Book Nerds!

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Friends! Phoenicians! Bookworms! Lend me your ears! Or, your eyeballs! Your scroll fingers? Or…well, this is getting kind of macabre, I don’t want a pile of body parts, just pay attention mmmkay?

This Saturday, February 11, is the annual and legendary VNSA Used Book Sale in downtown Phoenix. The basics: half a million books–HALF A MILLION!–organized by genre then alphabetical by author (mostly), lined up on HUNDREDS tables and stacked in open boxes underneath, hardbacks are usually $2-3, paperbacks $1-2, and fancy coffee table or art books are $5-10, depending on the title/size/etc. All books are half price on Sunday. They’ve got classics, a huge kid’s section, history, biography, cook books and hobby books, sciencey books, rows and rows of fiction. Books are collected via donations throughout the greater Phoenix metro area all year long, and volunteers organize and run the book sale. All proceeds go towards literacy in Arizona. Friends, this is the best thing that has ever happened to me.

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So. I’m the nerd who sleeps in the parking lot on Friday night to ensure an excellent place in line, and because it’s the kind of nerdy thing that makes me happy. If you show up at 8:00 am when the doors open, you’ll probably wait 60-90 minutes in line…maybe? I honestly don’t know, the latest I’ve ever arrived was 4:30, we waited 30 minutes after the doors opened, but it wasn’t worth trying to wake up at 3:45, I’d rather stay tucked into my parking lot sleeping bag (with ear plugs and eye mask) until 7:00, thank you very much.

Anyway, I feel liked I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention it, this is my Black Friday, the day I buy the most things, but they are all on a SUPER deal, and proceeds help ESL programs and 1st grade reading groups and Title 1 students get up to grade level. Yep, this is my Thing.

In their Rare Books inventory for this year they have a limited, numbered edition of My Mortal Enemy signed by the author, Willa Cather!! WILLA CATHER! A few years ago they had a first edition Huck Finn for auction. Ya’ll, if only.

I don’t shop the rare books room, I rub elbows with the other bookish plebeians amongst the stacks (and stacks and STACKS!). You are welcome to join me, this year, next year, whenever. I think this is my 9th year attending the Book Sale, it’s not going to be something I give up. Read about my other tips for Book Sale attendance here.


Don’t pick up the cactus

Yesterday I sat down, gave myself a little pep talk, and did a Really Hard And Scary Thing. Upon completion of The Thing I had butterflies in my stomach and spent 30 minutes rage-cleaning* my house to try and burn off some of that frenetic energy. It’s a waiting game now and I hate waiting, hence the rage-cleaning. (*Rage-cleaning is a manic maid state I get in most often when I’m pissed, but, apparently, also when I’m anxious and also when waiting for results after completing a Really Hard And Scary Thing.)

After the cleaning session I took myself on a little walk, the night was cold and the stars were clear and I was feeling pretty darn proud of myself. Very adult-like. Responsible. Have my shit together. Etc.

And then I picked up a cactus.

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Ok, that’s not exactly true (it is totally and 100% true), I mean, I was walking along and I saw this really beautiful dried paddle of a prickly pear, you know, those tear-shaped “leaves” with cute little white polka dots on them? Well, this one had fallen off it’s momma plant and was all yellowy-cream and dried, the ridges looking a lot like the back of an octogenarian’s hand. The polka dots were a soft dark brown and the whole thing was arrestingly beautiful in gorgeous sepia tones with an almost quilted-looking pattern. I had to have it.

So I picked it up.

…Ya’ll, I must be some kind of serious Arizona rookie, because I PICKED UP A CACTUS WITH MY BARE HAND!

Those soft dark brown spots were, shockingly, not soft at all. They were actually strategically placed little defensive forests of bristley brown spikes that quickly transferred themselves from the prickly pear paddle to the fingers of my left hand. I yelped. I maybe cursed a bit. And, momentarily losing my sanity and thinking a game of Hot Potato was in order, I tossed the spike-infested prickly pear paddle to my other hand.

I’mma stop right there and slow it down:

I picked up a spiky cactus because it was so so pretty. And when I was legitimately surprised at the immediately pain of said spiky cactus, I THREW THE THING STRAIGHT INTO MY OTHER PALM!

Yep. That happened.

Almost 10:00 pm and I’m swearing up a storm on the sidewalk, clutching a (gorgeous!) cactus in one hand and shaking my other hand furiously, somehow thinking that cactus spike pain was like being burned, you just blow on it and it will stop hurting. Ha. Hahahahahaa. Nope. Not the case.

Mr. Blue Eyes and I spent 45 minutes tweezing cactus spikes out of BOTH of my hands. Any sense of greatness I felt for accomplishing that Really Hard And Scary Thing? Yeeeeah, totally gone. I’m sure there is a really poignant metaphor in this story somewhere (“Pride goeth before the fall”, anyone?), but to be completely frank, typing is giving me the distinct impression that I’ve missed a few cactus spikes in the pads of my fingers that will need some additional tweezing, stat. That’s also probably a metaphor.


The first year is the hardest

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One year ago today I left my beloved Salt Lake City and became a permanent resident of Arizona. A few weeks prior we had unpacked the moving van, but I had a few work responsibilities to wrap up before I could leave. I packed up my Mini Cooper, said goodbye to the dear friends who had been housing me, and sobbed as I drove south. Twelve hours later I pulled into my driveway and a little welcome party that Blue Eyes and his kids had been planning, balloons, streamers, cupcakes, big signs. It was tremendously sweet and the best thing to come home to, I’m sure I cried all over again. The last year has been full of so many adjustments, learning to live with Mr. Blue Eyes, trying to navigate my role as a stepmom, adjusting to working remotely and then re-adjusting to my new Arizona office. We’ve painted all the walls in our house, I’ve hung art and filled up the bookshelves, we built a backyard and have set off on adventures near and far.


I still don’t feel like Arizona is home. This valley is a harsh mistress, the sun and the heat continue to suck my soul (yes, it’s mid-December and I still have the air conditioner on), it has been slow going in making new friends and I have no family here. Our suburban neighborhood has been a huge adjustment from my downtown Salt Lake life. When I think of all My People who I left behind I still get a lump in my chest and tears in my eyes. I know, technology, we talk and email and text and heart things on social media. But, it’s not the same. I don’t know if this cracked earth will ever feel like it’s mine. And perhaps it doesn’t need to. Most people have one place they consider “home” above all others, sometimes it’s their childhood house, or their hometown, or their grandparent’s farm that they visited every summer, or something, somewhere.

I am not happy here.

There. I said it. There are good moments, good days, and sometimes even good weeks, but I am not happy.

Most people tell me that the first year is the hardest. My heart of hearts hopes that they are right. I truly hope that the next 12 months will have more acceptance, fewer days above 120* F, and more happiness.