I thought some of my readers would like to see the small sign on the front counter at the auto repair shop in a large Arizona city where I brought my van for work. FYI, the owner of the shop is very nice and personable and does not seem like a nut (gun or otherwise).
In February 2015, I had a house/dog/cat sitting gig at a home across the street from Los Olivos Park in Phoenix, Arizona. On the first morning I was there, I took photos while the dog and I were out for our morning walk.
There are many picnic tables scattered throughout the park and even some barbecue pits. Unfortunately, only two of the picnic tables are under a shelter. (That’s two tables under one shelter.) So in the long, hot Phoenix summer, if you and your friends want to sit at a picnic table, you might get some shade from a nearby tree, but you’re mostly going to be in the sun. The woman I was house sitting for told me that on weekends she sees one person stake out the covered shelter territory early in the morning in preparation for a party later in the day.
The park also boasts a disc golf course. On Friday afternoon, there were several groups playing disc golf.
There are two sand volleyball courts too. It’s hard to get a good photo of a net, so I didn’t even try.
Even with the big playground, picnic tables, a walking/jogging path, and disc golf and volleyball courts, there’s still plenty of room in the park to toss a Frisbee, kick a soccer ball, play catch, or just run around and spin in circles. Los Olivos is a huge park.
It kind of looks like a jail. I didn’t actually have to use the facilities, but I peeked in, just to see what it looked like. It wasn’t horrid or terribly dirty. It was better than park restrooms I’ve seen in New York City and Richmond, Virginia. As the dog and I were wandering around the park before 8 o’clock on a Saturday morning, a city truck pulled up to the restroom building. Workers were cleaning the restrooms.
Along with the olive trees in the park, there are some palm trees. Palm trees are not native to Phoenix. Well, neither are olive trees, for that matter. Learn more about the palm trees in Phoenix here: http://www.examiner.com/article/the-palm-tree-story-of-phoenix and the olive trees in Phoenix here: http://www.garden.org/regional/report/arch/inmygarden/3656.
Dogs are allowed in the park (obviously, or I would not have been walking the dog there). There are signs in the park stating that all dogs have to be leashed at all times. Not everyone follows this rule, so anyone visiting with a dog companion should be cautious and alert.
The park is open from 6am until 10pm. There is plenty of parking on the streets on both sides of the park, but there are signs saying it is illegal to park in those spots from 10pm until 6am. Parking is also allowed in the two good sized lots behind and on the side of the senior center. The entrance to the back lot is off of Devonshire and the entrance to the side lot if off of Glenrosa.
On Friday evening, an older, brown Dodge van that had been retrofitted with the proper accessories to be an ice cream truck stopped on the street alongside the park. While it was parked, the song it played was the instrumental version of “Union Maid” by Woody Guthrie, particularly the part that goes
Oh, you can’t scare me, I’m sticking to the union,
I’m sticking to the union, I’m sticking to the union.
Oh, you can’t scare me, I’m sticking to the union,
I’m sticking to the union ’til the day I die.
I thought that was a little bit weird, but it made me happy too.
It happened just about the way I thought it would.
On Friday morning (as I was eating breakfast), my boss showed up at the campground and told me that I could leave on Sunday. Basically, I had to work the rest of Friday, then on Saturday, and then I was done. Originally, I was supposed to leave the next Thursday, but I was so ready to go and happy to leave earlier than planned.
The maintenance guys had gotten the yurts completely down and hauled away the day before. My main job in the campground was to ensure the yurts weren’t stolen, so with them gone, the highers-up decided that I could go too.
Also, the gates to the parking lot were to be closed and locked on Sunday. On Monday the Forest Service was to close the trail in order to cut 149 hazard trees. With the trail closed, there was no need to have the parking lot open and no need for a parking lot attendant.
I had the van packed with all of my belongings except my bike by early Sunday afternoon.
On Monday morning, I got up around 5:30, after a restless night of little sleep; I typically don’t sleep well the night before a trip. I loaded the bike into the van and drove off into the dark.
I left the mountain as the night was dying* and met the daylight as I drove along the river.
I saw a fox in the middle of the road, its canine eyes shining in the brightness of my high beams. It didn’t run from the van, but walked briskly down the yellow line. I followed it slowly for several yards, excited to watch it. It was the first fox I’d seen all summer. I didn’t even know foxes live on that mountain, but now I can say confidently that they are there.
Later, once the sun was up, I moved into the desert and passed through a forest of Joshua trees. I wasn’t sure those crazy plants were Joshua trees until hours later when I did a Google image search. It was also hours later when I realized I should have stopped the van and taken photos of them. I was so hellbent on getting out of the desert while it was still somewhat cool, I didn’t even think about stopping.
I made it to the highway exit travel mecca ( with a Pilot truck stop, a Love’s truck stop, a Flying J truck stop, AND a TA truck stop, as well as about twenty-five food and drink options) around noon. I did my laundry at Pilot, then caught up on my email at McDonald’s. I slept in the parking lot of the Flying J, which was fine except for too much light and too much noise. It’s going to take some readjustment to sleep in civilization.
I’m at McDonald’s again, using the free WiFi and electrical outlet to write this dispatch. I was going to try to do without coffee today, but when I realized I was falling asleep while writing, I decided to get some. When the young woman behind the counter asked for 75 cents for my small coffee, I realized she’d given me the senior citizen price. My vanity clashed with my frugality, and I had to decide if I should tell her I won’t qualify as a senior citizen for at least another 15 years (60 is the senior citizen milestone, right?) or take the discount. Frugality won, and I took the discount with silent dignity.
Shortly, I will get back on the interstate and head to MegaBabylon to visit friends. As I walk through the parking lot, I will probably notice once again how big and wide and open the sky seems here, then remember it’s because there are no trees to frame it.
* I stole the image of dawn as the night dying from Robert Hunter’s lyrics for “Sugar Magnolia.” I was listening to the song as I went down the mountain, and this time when I heard that line, I was hit by Hunter’s brilliance.
It had been hot by mountain standards, although folks coming up from the flat lands were bringing reports of triple digit temperatures. The heat must have broken in the wee hours of the morning, because I woke up cold just as the earliest sunlight was brightening the curtains. Luckily I had a warm blanket at the food of my bed, and in my half sleep I juggled it over myself. There is something exquisite about being cold and then warm, about being able to go back to sleep as the morning creeps in.
In Trinidad, Colorado, one of the things to see is the train on display at the edge of the Safeway (supermarket) parking lot. The train consists of Engine 638, a coal car, a passenger car, and a caboose.
Right there with the train are flags representing all 50 United States, in the order in which the states were admitted to the union. It’s fun to look at the flags and decide which are cool and which are stupid.
On the morning after the first suicide of the year, I walked out on the Bridge.
It was just after six o’clock in the morning. The air was cool enough for legwarmers under my long skirt and flannel over my tank top, and the sky was the fresh pink of daybreak.
I wasn’t sure what I wanted. I wanted to pray for the man who had jumped 18 hours before, but I feel silly when I pray because I don’t believe an old guy with a beard and a long robe sits in the sky listening to what I have to say. Maybe I wanted to meditate, but “contemplate” was probably closer to what was on my mind. I wanted to ask for rest for his soul. I wanted him to be at peace. I wanted my energy to touch his energy in a way we had missed in life, but thinking that made me feel too woo-woo and new age-y. I wanted some connection with the man, something I didn’t know how to express even to myself.
I wanted to give thanks for my own life too, to express gratitude that I haven’t succumbed to the darkness I sometimes feel near the Gorge, usually at night, when I’m alone in my van, wondering what I’ve really accomplished in my life, wondering why I do what I do day after day, wondering why I’m even walking the earth.
My new friend Zack was an angel to me two nights before, the night before the first suicide of the year. I was walking to the restroom to brush my teeth, and suddenly he was there, for no logical reason. I didn’t recognize him at first. The light was fading and he was skulking around looking for snipes. I walked into the restroom and heard footsteps following me. I was thinking oh shit when he spoke my name, and I realized I had met him and his lady the day before. We talked a bit, and just before we went our own ways, he said that happiness has to come from our hearts, that we have to decide to be happy.
Thank you for that, I said as I hugged him.
Maybe we fight the darkness by deciding to be happy. Deciding isn’t a magical antidote that guarantees everything will be happily ever after. Deciding won’t make all the negatives disappear. But deciding not to dwell, not to wallow, on the negatives seems like a step away from the darkness.
As I walked out on the Bridge, I let the beauty of the Gorge wash over me. I’m always surprised and delighted by that beauty, no matter how many times I see it. Seeing the Gorge never feels routine.
I felt a sense of peace slide over me as I walked. I hoped the man who jumped knew peace too.
As I neared the end of the Bridge, I looked across the street to the south and saw something my brain at first couldn’t understand. I could only make sense of what I saw by thinking someone had set out life-size, three dimensional target practice dummies that looked like rams in what had been a parking area before it was blocked off by the Department of Transportation. Then I realized the creatures looking up at me were moving, alive. Six bighorn sheep were right next to the road, watching me, wondering what I would do next.
I was afraid they would try to cross the road and one would get hit. I walked across the highway slowly and softly told the sheep they shouldn’t be so close to speeding cars. They moved back as I approached, but didn’t leave the empty lot. I perched on the barrier blocking vehicles from entering, and five of the sheep moved closer to the fence separating the empty lot from miles of the Pueblo’s sage. The one sheep that stayed in place kept eating from small patches of lush green grass that had shot up after the monsoon rains. Its mouth moved fast, as if film were being played at high speed. The sheep seemed to be goofing around, trying to make me laugh, but really, that’s just the way its mouth moved when it ate.
One by one, the other five sheep bounded gracefully over the low barbed wire fence and were back in the safety of the sage. Finally, the last one quit munching grass, walked to the fence, hesitated, then jumped across. I had barely breathed a sigh of relief when it hopped the fence again and moved back into the former parking lot to get more of the delicious grass. I continued to sit in silent awe, watching sheep on both sides of the fence, feeling blessed to witness their breakfast.
The sheep in the sage slowly made their way closer to the Gorge. The lone sheep in the parking lot seemed oblivious as the rest of the herd moved farther away. I could no longer see the other five sheep when number six decided it was time to get back to the group. It didn’t seem to want to jump the low fence, but looked for some other way to get to the other side. It approached the tall hurricane fence on the west side of the empty lot and trotted back and forth along it, getting visibly agitated and stamping its feet. It was cut off from its family and not sure how to join them.
I considered getting closer and trying to point the sheep in the right direction, but quickly realized the idea was ridiculous. This creature was not a Disney cutie or barnyard friend. This animal was wild, strong, and a least a little pissed. It might not realize I wanted to help, might instead feel cornered and attacked. While I wanted to have a magical, spiritual moment saving a wild beast, I was more likely to be kicked in the gut by a being living just fine before I can along. I stayed where I was.
The sheep walked over to the lower fence and hesitated, then sailed over into the sage. Go! Go! I silently cheered. There was another low barbed wire fence to clear before following the other sheep into Gorge, but a foot caught in the wire and the sheep crashed to the ground. I gasped, but there seemed to be no serious damage. The sheep was on its feet in moments, then disappeared under the Bridge and into the Gorge.
What connection do I make between these big horn sheep who travel in the Gorge and the man who gave up his life there the day before? I have just the vaguest idea, an idea I can barely grasp and can’t articulate. I feel like the answer is somehow connected to my understanding of my own state of grace.
Someone once told me that grace is a gift we don’t deserve, something given to us for no reason we can understand. I walked back to my van in a state of grace, blessed with a life I’m not sure I deserve, a life that on this day included a moment with bighorn sheep.
(The bulk of this post was written in late summer of 2013, edited in August 2015.)
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again
Mesa, Arizona has an outdoor permanent sculpture collection. Humpty Dumpty is one of my favorite pieces in that collection, and I took this photo of him in March 2015. I love his yellow bowtie that matches his socks! I love his metalic shirt and the color scheme of his striped bodysuit. Most of all, I like the big, big smile on his big, big face!
Kimber Fiebiger creates bronze sculptures that range from fun and whimsical, to classical and contemporary. She lives in Minneapolis yet her sculptures have been sold all over the country where she has won numerous awards.
My friends took me to Ikea. I’d never been before. I guess I’d never really needed to go. A couple of winters ago I was staying in Austin and thought about going to the one nearby, but then I realized the “nearby” Ikea was 28 miles away.
Now I needed a blanket, a soft blanket, a blanket that was the right size for my bed, so I asked my friend if we could go to Ikea together. She said yes, and when she mentioned the impending excursion to her other friend, that friend wanted to go too. So we were a Sunday afternoon threesome moseying through Ikea.
I could have gotten an adequate blanket at Wal-Mart, and I did look for one at thrift stores, but I didn’t find anything that was just right. Besides, I like felt like I needed to shop at Ikea at least once. Whenever people talk about Ikea, I’ve been the country bumpkin who couldn’t relate to what they were saying. I felt like I needed the cultural experience of Ikea. I don’t mean some sort of Swedish cultural experience. I mean the American cultural experience of going to Ikea and buying home furnishings.
We arrived around 11am. We looked around the first few display rooms, then Ms. A said she really needed to eat. I was super excited. I had heard about the Ikea cafeteria, but I hadn’t even hoped we would have a food experience.
We walked through the line and the fried chicken fingers sure looked good. However, since I had been eating mostly cheese and bread for the last several days (or so it seemed), I decided to get something vaguely nutritious. I decided on the cauliflower and sweet potato stew with brown rice ($2.99), then added in a slice of garlic toast ($.69).
The vegetarian stew had a bit more color to it on the display photo. The garlic bread was standard frozen and reheated and could have used more artificial garlic flavor. The stew was pretty good, not rave worthy, but better than it looks, and rather tasty for department store cafeteria fare. (Ok, I admit, this was my first meal at a department store cafeteria.)
For dessert, I picked up a punsch roll ($.49). I had no idea what a punsch roll tasted like. I’d never even heard of it before. But hey, I was trying new things. Why not try a new dessert?
In real life, the green in the middle was more of a neon 80s green. I took a bite and tried to describe it to Nolagirl. The whole thing was chocolatey, which was good. The inside was moister than cake, but drier than pudding. There was something else about it that I liked, but couldn’t quite place until I took the second bite. Rum! It tastes like rum, I told Ms. A and Nolagirl, but that’s impossible, right?
Turns out I wasn’t too far off the mark. I Googled “punsch roll,” and this is what I found out from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Punsch-roll…
Punsch-roll (Swedish: Punschrulle) is a Swedish small cylindrical pastry covered with green marzipan with the ends dipped in chocolate, with an interior consisting of a mix of crushed cookies, butter, and cacao, flavoured with punsch liqueur.
This pastry is often called dammsugare (“vacuum cleaner”), referring not only to its appearance, but also to the supposed practice of the pastry baker collecting crumbs from yesterday’s cookies for filling. Other names are arraksrulle (as arrak is an ingredient in punsch) and “150-ohmer” (because a brown-green-brown colour sequence on a resistor denotes a resistance value of 150Ω.)
What I thought was rum was actually punsch,
a traditional liqueur in Sweden… produced from arrack, neutral spirits, sugar, water, and various flavorings. Arrack, originally a strong Indian liquor, was imported from Java and became the base ingredient for making punsch. Punsch usually have 25% alcohol by volume (ABV) and 30% sugar. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Punsch)
I enjoyed the punsch roll very much and would definitely eat one (or six) again.
After eating, I visited the restroom. Ikea has those toilets where you push the handle up for #1 and down for #2.
This was the first time I’ve seen such a call button outside of a medical establishment. (I didn’t technically need a photo of either the sign or the call button, but it’s fun to take photos of things I don’t see all the time.)
After eating and visiting the restroom, we set out to shop.
I didn’t really understand how the place was set up, and Nolagirl and Ms. A had to explain to me that the little rooms were arranged to give shoppers ideas of how items could be placed in the home. It isn’t enough to offer shoppers a bowl to buy; Ikea suggests to shoppers where and how they might use the bowl.
I saw several (many) things I liked, but living in a van means I have no room for glass jars and less room for furniture.
We finally made it downstairs, and I knew I was closer to my blanket.
So we grabbed a cart and took turns pushing it through the store.
The first thing I saw that I wanted was a tray with legs. The one I wanted was purple. I carried it around for awhile, but then decided I didn’t really need it for $7.99. It was really cool, but I am feeling no nonbuyer’s remorse.
The second thing I wanted was a metal garlic press. I haven’t had a garlic press in years, but when I had one, I LOVED it. I need to eat more garlic, and I think maybe I will eat more garlic if I have a garlic press. So I bought it for $3.79, and I plan to use it.
Did I mention how much stuff that store holds? Rows and aisles and shelves and stacks of stuff and stuff and stuff. The store was also full of people buying the stuff. At one point, I looked up and what I saw seemed like a feeding frenzy of shopping. I took this photo of a bunch of strangers shopping in Ikea:
I finally found my blanket. It’s called Tilkort, and it’s soft. It cost $12.99, and I love it. I wrapped up in it on the car ride back to my friend’s house. I can’t wait to sleep under it.
The last thing I needed was a twin size fitted sheet. The least expensive 100% cotton sheet I could find was $7.99. I don’t know what sheets costs. Could I have gotten it cheaper at Wal-Mart? I have no idea. The sheet and I were both there at the same moment, so I bought it. Even if I could get a sheet cheaper at Wal-Mart, it would take me time and money to go out there, so any savings would actually be minimal.
I’d budgeted $25 to spend at Ikea. My total with tax? $26.78. Yes, if I’d been on The Price Is Right, I’d have lost the game because my spending was over the goal. But I was glad to get out of the land of temptation only $1.78 over budget. (My lunch money came out of another budget. Our original plan was to go to a new Cajun restaurant for lunch, but decided against that because Nolagirl was feeling ill and didn’t want to eat. I’m sure if we’d eaten at a real restaurant, I’d have spent more than $4.51)
I had a pleasant experience at Ikea. I’m not itching to go back any time soon, but I wouldn’t mind going back again some day if I actually need stuff. Shopping without a plan there offers too much temptation to buy stuff I don’t really need and don’t even have room for. I understand now how people could really enjoy going there and not even buy anything, especially parents who have left their small children downstairs in the kids’ play area. The upstairs is particularly peaceful, with soft lighting and tidy surroundings.
After paying for my purchases, I saw the food market area, but we didn’t browse there. I didn’t want to spend any more money, and I don’t really need any Swedish food anyway. Near the exit door, there was a large vat of Swedish meatballs, free for the sampling. I got myself one and ate it on the way out. It was absolutely delicious. It was so moist, so tender. It tasted like the Salisbury steaks from the TV dinners of my youth, but without the thick, gloppy brown gravy. Oh my god, I gushed to my friends. Next time I come here, fuck eating vegetarian, I’m having meatballs!
I took all the photos in this post.
The first time I saw the falls, the water was flowing fast and heavy. However, when I took these photos (in May or June of 2015), the flow had slowed quite a bit.
I took all the photos in this post.
I wrote the following on Wednesday, January 29, 2013, while I was spending winter months with friends in Austin, Texas.
After cooking and cleaning at C’s, I went to a spa for a massage. No, I’m not some fancy lady spending large sums of money on being pampered. I am doing a work exchange for this massage. I read an ad on Craigslist posted by an actress doing a one woman show. (Her name is Patrice Blue Maltas, and her show was The Butterfly Monologues. (Watch a YouTube video for her Creative Seed Workshop.) She was looking for a prompter, someone to give her the next line if she forgets. She is also a massage therapist, so she offered to trade massage for prompting or to pay money. I thought it was really cool that she wanted to do work exchange, that’s definitely something I am into, and while I totally love to get massaged, I’m not really in a position to pay for massages right now. So I told her I would do the trade, and she was really excited. She agreed to massage me for 45 minutes in exchange for my services as a prompter.
When we first spoke, she mentioned that she does some kind of massage that I had never heard of, said it was kind of rare. I didn’t know what she was talking about, so I just made some general positive noise of acceptance. On New Year’s Eve, I looked at her website and found out that she does “Ashiatsu Barefoot Massage: A combination of Tia-Thai, Avedic and Asian body work. In this massage the therapist is suspended with horizontal poles and massages the client with their feet. This is an advanced holistic deep tissue massage for chronic pain. It helps with digestive, lymphatic and circulatory systems just to name a few.” Yep, this woman massages clients with her feet!
When I first realized she was talking about massaging me with her feet, I was a little weirded out. But then I realized I would probably never get the chance to get this kind of massage again. Why not try something new? So I decided if she offered to do Ashiatsu, I would say yes.
Sure enough, when I called to make an appointment at the salon/spa she works out of as she instructed, the receptionist asked what kind of massage I wanted. I resisted the urge to shout, FEET!” but when she said “Ashiatsu?” I said yes.
The massage was the most amazing nonorgasmic physical thing anyone has ever done to me. It was a really, really good massage and so STRONG. I guess it should be strong, as she was able to put the weight of her whole body into it. When I get massaged, I want deep, strong pressure on my muscles. This one gave me what I’ve always wanted. Most of it was just on the good side of too much. Any more and it would have hurt. I had to breathe deeply through some parts of it, but that was good too. I could not believe what this woman was able to do with her feet. She didn’t just walk on my back. She stroked me with her feet. I wish I had been able to see what she was doing (or at least had someone see it and describe it to me later), but alas, I was lying face down and couldn’t see anything. WOW!