Thursday, July 23, 2009

No pillar of salt, I

As is the case many a day this summer, I am sitting at my mother's dining room table which I have sort of commandeered for my little "office," from which I organize my life, pay bills, make grand plans, figure out stuff, apply for jobs, seek new opportunities, and just generally plot the next big move ... and it is also where I write!

Writing has taken on many forms this summer, but among other things I have been cruising along on the old familiar Cuba project as well as toying with some other ideas. The main things I have "learned" by having this little stay-at-mom's-for-two-months-while-traveling-and-writing interlude are 1)yes, I would be content to live the solitary life of a writer working from home, provided there are plenty of chances to go to happy hours sprinkled in there and 2)it takes an extraordinary amount of discipline and organization to work from home; I daresay it can be even more work than working from work.

Now, especially about the latter, this is not a request for condescending I-told-you-so comments about how the full-time writing grass is always greener, and it is particularly not an invitation for comments about writing a book or working from home from those who have also never done it before. Just getting that out of the way. Discussing it, however, I find endlessly fascinating. Working with only self-imposed structure is terribly interesting. It's almost like a chemistry experiment, and you see what has a tendency to float to the top of your mental test tube. And by the way, this grass IS greener. Way greener than law school, or Borders, to name a few.

Through the miracle of Facebook I have been privileged to read at least a dozen updates a day from former classmates who are bursting with the stress of their impending doom bar exam next week and I daily marvel at how far away that world seems. I was trying to think of other experiences that are like that. When I came back from Korea, I was totally aware of not being in Korea. For months. I was nodding and bowing and trying to hand my money to the 7-11 clerk with both hands, and it took a while to get used to the U.S. of A. again. Other travels and experiences have lingered in various ways. Sometimes even a concert or book remains mentally present. But law school? It is just ... GONE. I seriously don't think about it until I read the next Facebook status update about someone's bar review stress. It's bizarre.

Meanwhile, I still pepper my conversation with various legal concepts, think about things I learned, despise Long Island, and have my email open all the time on my computer screen, including my email. But I have so mentally moved on from the awfulness that I guess I can offer that as some kind of hope to those who are still in the thick of it: it is TOTALLY possible to move on and not look back. At least for now. I will let you know if this remains true when the student loan grace period ends.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

A Canyon that is Grand

Brian and I went to the Grand Canyon this past weekend. We had a little weekend getaway which included Saturday in Sedona and Sunday at one of the seven natural wonders of the world, about which, more in a second.

It was lovely! Of course I already knew how lovely everything was but I was excited about showing Brian these places for the first time, probably even more excited than I had been about showing him The Vegas and The Angeles for the first time, because this was "my" state! I guess you could say that out of our galavanting-about-the-Southwest trips I saved the best for last. Unless we do end up going to a Mexico border town for some debauchery, which can never be ruled out entirely.

When I went to the Grand Canyon as a child, my family's approach was generally to park, hop out, take lots of pictures by the rail, then drive around some more. This same approach was employed over the years when I brought out-of-staters to the Grand Canyon, whether they were New England grandparents, college friends, Californians who had lived a life of severe road-trip deprivation, and so forth. However, since about mid-high school I have been an avid hiker. Interesting that my avid hikerness coincides with the point when I was able to start driving myself places...I think my only hikes before that had been with my Girl Scout troop, or the one summer I went to girls' camp with church (yikes). Anyway, Brian also enjoys the hiking and I have been only too pleased that he and I hike hike hike when we come to Arizona. Yay!

Therefore, I knew we would do a hike on our Grand Canyon trip, and I selected the South Kaibab Trail to Skeleton Point, which is a doable day hike, with fantastic views for a "short" hike. Short as opposed to doing an overnight to the river and back. It was so unbelievably beautiful! Switchbacks, giant walls of red rock dotted with pine, enormous skies, lots of English accents on the fellow hikers, practically no fellow hikers once we passed Cedar Ridge and continued on to Skeleton Point. Descending down into the Canyon, even only a couple thousand feet ("only" - ha! you still have to go back up, and then "only" anything goes out the window) really opens your eyes to the layers, the colors in the rock, the colors in the varying vegetation, and the vastness in every nook. From pine to prickly pear, from brown dirt through red, we plodded down, splayed on boulders to take a rest, then staggered back up in some mighty winds that had us clutching our hats for dear life.

We also encountered some squirrels that were WAY too used to humans, and specifically to humans feeding them. They showed absolutely no tension or fear and hung out around our feet. Particularly when we perched on our slab just past Skeleton Point eating our apples before turning around to head back up, enjoying our peek at the Colorado River, there was a relentless squirrel that could not seem to understand why s/he couldn't have my apple core. I felt like a parent, all "this-is-for-your-own-good" about it, but I had to stomp my feet -- multiple times -- to make the squirrel go away. Mind you, I was on a boulder with a drop-off of hundreds of feet behind me, not exactly the best place to be startled by a squirrel without a skittish bone in its body. There was also a crow who wanted in on the apple core action. Watching the various birds soaring through the canyon was one of the best parts of the day; I kept joking that they were hovering over the hikers so they could have a feast when the hikers die. Yeah, morbid. This bird that came to lunch with us obviously wanted to just take our food, not make us into its food.

Obligatory note about what to bring on the hike so you don't die: We ate muffins and downed one bottle of water at the trailhead right before setting off, and carried along four more bottles of water as well as two apples. I would advise anyone hiking in summer as we did to carry along five or six bottles for two people instead of four. We were OK, but I found myself very tempted to ration my water on the way back up even though I have known since 4th grade desert survival class that rationing the water is a bad idea. I should also have brought a sandwich or banana or both in addition to my apple...I was so hungry once it got to be late afternoon. But I also would advise leaving earlier in the day than we did. All in all, we did quite well, but trust me: bring more water than you need, let alone more water than you think you'll need. I am a fairly confident desert hiker with a bit of experience, and I had the sense to bring multiple liters of water, and I still was appropriately saddened by the display at the trailhead with the picture and story of a 25-year-old girl who died of dehydration in 2004 hiking in the Canyon -- a 25-year-old who happened to run the Boston Marathon in a little over three hours and assumed she was in great enough shape to handle it.

Hike! Hike! Hike! It was one of my favorite days and a fabulous Grand Canyon trip.

Now, about those seven natural wonders of the world ... I want to visit them all. This has been something I've thought forever in a vague someday-I'll-do-that sense, but now I am getting serious about it. I want to start on my quest to see them. I am totally due for a trip to Alaska (and have even put it off so long since my friends Jay and Ei-Ei moved there that now they are moving on to their next locale) and I have been half plotting a trip to somewhere in Africa soon so as to explore a new continent--so that could be Victoria Falls. I believe it is time to get serious about seeing a natural wonder a year for the next six years.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

A midsummer day's update

We are crossing into the last half of July even as I type this, making it high time for a midsummer check-in. Brian and I have been in Phoenix for five weeks now. We have done a fair amount of hiking, we have galavanted a bit about the Southwest, and I daresay we have EXCELLED at our biking for enchiladas program. At least we have excelled at the enchiladas part, and Brian now loves Valle Luna just like he would have if he grew up here and went to Goldwater with us. As for some of the other goals of the summer, let's see...

Writing: So far so OK. I have not yet finished my Cuba book. I have, however, worked on it. I am not happy with how much it feels like I have left to do to finish it, but it is a distinct possibility that I will feel that way forever. I am also working on other bits of writing and have had some good ideas and inspiration. Did I mention that law school feels a million miles away? Feel free to infer a direct correlation here.

Getting in shape: Egad. Why is this so difficult? I have been running 3-6 times per week, I swim and bike ride more than once a week, and I have been throwing in some Pilates here and there. We have also hiked about once a week. I know it takes time to see results, but ugh. The last semester of law school was my worst ever with regard to staying active and healthy, and I am so paying the price for that now. New goal: up the hiking to at least twice a week and do Pilates every day.

Finding a job: See Writing, above. That's what I really want my job to be, of course. I am also continuing to pursue the Foreign Service process to see where that takes me. This is all tied into the other task...

...Figuring out where to go next: Not yet. It's looking like Los Angeles because Brian can get a film job there. I love Los Angeles and I do want to live in California again, but the more I think about moving back there this fall, the more I want to have a chance to live in Chicago first, or I will feel like I've missed out on something. And when will I ever get to live in D.C.? (as opposed to just spending vast amounts of time there) See also Finding a job, above.

Saving money: Tied up with all the other things, but we're doing all right on ths front. Brian is working and I am not running out of money. Then again, I'm not paying off law school loans yet.

Cleaning out my high-school bedroom/closet full of years of accumulated junk: Epic fail.

Tajikistan: Also an epic fail ... I cannot make the Habitat for Humanity trip to Tajikistan, for financial reasons, and this devastates me. I will have to focus on the positive things, such as all I have learned about Tajakistan and my renewed commitment to do a Habitat trip in 2010.

That's the word from here. Oooh! And I also am nearly done with my A-to-Z Literary Blog Project. I have just started X. All the King's Men, my 'W' choice, was most excellent. Now I am onto Soul Mountain, speaking of epic personal journeys! Of which I was speaking, you know.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Thanks for stopping by

I currently have the misfortune to be in Utah County. Actually I shouldn't be so mean about it -- we are here to visit my Grandpa in the hospital, and there are actually some really lovely things around such as the mountains, the run path along the river that is two steps from my hotel door, and so on. But Grandpa lives in a tiny, tiny town called Payson, and there is one thing that is a consistent issue on visits to Payson (that I never noticed as a child), and that thing is COFFEE.

Oh, coffee. Now, while Payson is definitely coming up in the world, having now four or five stoplights instead of just the one it had when I was a young 'un, it still has a tendency to lack a few things. Once I was an adult I started realizing this. While going to the one bar in town at night can have its charms, there is nothing charming whatsoever about being without coffee in the morning. It did not help things any that my grandpa drinks instant. Instant?! Sigh. Other choices include the truck stop, the McDonalds...well, you get the picture.

I loved when I had a rental car of my own here; I would conveniently find all sorts of urgent errands that would take me 15 minutes down the highway into Provo/Orem where there are things like Borders! Barnes & Noble! and even this past decade a Starbucks! near the University Mall. But I don't always have control over transportation...or let's say it's a somber family event, then one is frowned upon if one is freaking out too much about one's preferred caffeine.

Well, a couple of my cousins from Southern California (hello) understand me, and last summer when we were all here for the summer gathering of the flock, one of them called me at Grandpa's one morning to breathlessly announce that she was standing in front of a brand new Starbucks IN PAYSON! Joy! Rapture! The heavens opened up! I drank grande iced lattes the next three days in a row. In Payson. Truly a miracle.

Now here we are and this afternoon we left my grandpa's Payson hospital room for a bit to check on his house, etc. I took the rental car and headed over to the Starbucks (located next to the Walmart, but I just try to ignore it) and MUCH to my dismay I see that it is not open today. What?!! Granted, things in Utah County have a very frustrating tendency to be closed on Sundays but really??? Starbucks? I parked the car because I could see some sort of typewritten sign in the window, so I went to investigate.

Folks, I kid you not. It said, "In anticipation of the upcoming closure of this store" (no!!! recession or not can't you just hang on!!!) "our summer reduced hours will be Mon-Fri 7 a.m. to such-and-such, closed on Saturday and Sunday." Sigh. So that's why it was closed today, and I was definitely out of luck. And what a tragedy that it will apparently be entirely gone by my next visit. But just to add insult to injury, the sign continued, "We encourage you to visit our nearest other locations, at 555 or whatever E University Parkway in Orem" -- yeah, my previous invented-errand-go-to that I don't have time to hit this afternoon -- "or at such-and-such South Whatever in Cedar City."

Um, excuse me? Cedar City? That's only like three and a half hours south of here. More than halfway to Vegas. Hello! No wonder this location is closing, I thought, if its management can't think to edit this corporate-spewed sign of the next closest locations to the north and south, even if the south location is hours away ... And then I realized the true tragedy that probably half their market DID consist not of morning commuters but of freeway stopovers who spotted that beloved green logo and pulled off of I-15. Drivers who would in fact hunker back down, never having expected to stop in Payson, maybe never even remembering that there was a Payson, and note to their selves that there'd be a Venti frap awaiting them in Cedar.

Payson may be able to sustain a Walmart and multiple stoplights now, but when it comes to addictive coffee culture it's still just a no-horse town.

Monday, July 06, 2009


Happy July! Brian and I have just returned from our six-day journey through a couple of places that were either tried-and-true faves (me) or brand new adventures (him). A good time was had by all. Where, you ask? The Vegas and the Angeles, of course! We started by renting a car last Tuesday and driving to Vegas, taking advantage of an internet-procured $19 room in the center of the Strip. Granted there was the whole Monday-through-Thursday aspect to consider, but it was nonetheless decidedly cheap and also a little sad, recessionally speaking. Then we headed to L.A. Wednesday night and stayed there through the 4th of July.

I had not been back to L.A., really, for YEARS. Since I moved away, in fact! I was in California one time since then, for my cousin's wedding in northern San Diego County, but although I flew into L.A. I basically only lunched and spent two seconds there and definitely did not get to check out the old stomping grounds or, you know, reflect. Nostalgically. This trip I did a lot of nostalgic reflecting.

Conclusion? I still like Los Angeles. I am not even going to get into dealing with the naysayers who "don't like" that city, because most of them have not been there. I have never encountered with any other city such vast numbers of people who have not been there but nonetheless feel qualified to comment on it. Also, of course, Los Angeles is a city that is one thing when you first get there and then quite another after you have been there a year or two. Those of us who have lived there always try to tell people they cannot, they MUST not, make a final judgment about it based on Year One, although regrettably some of them do, and leave, never to know the glorious goodness of it that comes with settling in. Can you imagine judging the entirety of high school -- or college, for that matter -- based on freshman year? Horrors!

The point is, I can very very very easily see myself moving back there. Soon. This is entirely bizarre, mostly because that would mean I am not going to live in a new city, and everybody knows I want to go live in a new city. (Now, but also always.) However, I have a possible new city job in the works that would come to fruition in a while, like maybe a year or so, which means I could be somewhere for the interim, and that somewhere could happily be Los Angeles, as far as I'm concerned at the moment.

This time around we stayed in Manhattan Beach and I tried to cover the basics with Brian: USC, Westwood, Venice, Santa Monica, El Cholo, Swingers, Tito's, Mulholland Drive, Hollywood, Beverly Hills, the Sunset Strip. We also randomly ran a 5K in Redondo Beach on Saturday and then spent the afternoon of the 4th feasting our eyes on the Hermosa Beach humanity in their various stages of celebration/inebriation. Plus we took a quick dip in the Pacific Ocean, of course.

Now back in Phoenix, our task is to continue to organize, work, and save money while we plot our next big move. My favorite!