Spring Break 2015

I’ve been talking with students this week and many of them are doing super cool things for spring break. One student is doing a solo hike on the Arizona Trail from Superior to Oracle. Another is celebrating her wedding anniversary in Sedona. Another is going camping in the Chiricahua mountains. Another is going to Oahu, where John and I went for Spring Break last year, so I sent her all my TripAdvisor reviews and hope to hear a thorough report on how all the spots are holding up.

John and I are doing something super cool too. We had planned to serve on the Delegation of the Phoenix Sister Cities to Taipei Taiwan, and had paid our downpayment and got a smoking deal on flights. Then the trip got canceled. Since much of the fun of being on the Delegation is to meet city officials and attend meetings and tours with local arts and business leaders, we worried we might not have enough to do in Taipei for 11 days. So John found a race to run in Singapore, and some restaurants to try in Hong Kong. I picked some great hotels to try in each city. We’ll be in Singapore three nights, Hong Kong two, and Taipei three. And we made a list of about 15 places to visit in each city. We’ll see how much we can fit in!

Perhaps more importantly, I picked my books to read on the trip. Got my iPad loaded and ready to go. I’m not sure how much of a dent I’ll make reading 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and A Simple Heart in the original French, but I like to spend a few minutes a day on those since we’ll be in France later this year and I don’t want to embarrass myself with my 19 year old Bachelor’s Degree.

I’m really looking forward to reading Enon by Paul Harding since we’re interviewing him for Issue 15 of Superstition Review and I loved his novel Tinkers. We’re also interviewing Robin Black and Ramona Ausubel, and my Interview Editors wrote such wonderful questions about those books that I can’t wait to get caught up on them as well.

I hope you have a lovely Spring Break too, and may it involve good travels, good books, good food, and good rest.

7 hours to go


Only seven more hours before we take off for our flight to England. We decided to travel UltraLite because we will be in six countries (we are now planning a day trip to Montenegro): England, Italy, Croatia, Montenegro, Slovenia, and Austria. That means nine hotels, plus an overnight on a ferry.

Here are our 22 inch carry-on rollers. Note the UltraLite Patagonia bags on top. John got his backpack for Christmas from Cindy and Larry, and I was so jealous I bought the tote for myself. I love this thing. It weighs 10 ounces, and it folds into its own little pocket when you’re not using it.

I want to tell you a story about our trip. I taught travel writing online in Summer Session A and I had an amazing variety of very talented writers. One of my students fights pirates in the Indian Ocean. His work was thrilling to read. Another student was traveling in Europe during the six week course. She started in Italy, moved on to Croatia, went to Montenegro, and then to Bosnia.

Her last travel article was a gorgeous and moving 500 word piece about working a dead-end 9-to-5 job where the best part of her day was stopping at McDonald’s each morning for a coffee. After weeks of going through the drive-through, she became friends with the man who served her every morning. He was from a small town in Bosnia and had moved here after political unrest. She enjoyed her interactions with him so much that she started picking up some Bosnian phrases and started greeting him in his home language. They got to talking, and she was so moved by his story she went to visit his hometown during her stay in the region.

Her article gave me goosebumps. It was difficult to respond to as a teacher, because she’s such a talented writer there was very little I could add about craft. Instead I wrote to her, “This travel article makes me really like you as a person, which is the highest compliment I can give to any writer.” She emailed me immediately and said that my comment made her feel good. After a few emails she told me she is spending the month of July in Slovenia. We will be there on July 17 which was my dad’s birthday.

So we have plans to meet for coffee. Seems like this trip is already shaping up to be wonderful.

Europe 2014

The Ampersand Hotel, London England

My friend Lesley and I were hiking to what we call “The Saddle”–a rock outcropping about .5 miles from the summit of South Mountain. She brought her dog Barney, a good-natured Labradoodle who makes me so happy with his swishy tail and droopy tongue. We started talking about our summer plans and when I told Lesley that John and I are going to Italy, Croatia, Slovenia, and Austria, she said “you’ve been wanting to go to Croatia forever!” And she is so right! I’ve been wanting to do this trip for about 5 years but could not make it happen. Well, this is the year it is happening.

But it’s hard to get there from here. We like to use our British Airways miles and that will get us about as far as Italy. So we are flying to London then on to Venice, taking a ferry across the Adriatic Sea and landing in Split. From there we will head south to Dbrovnik, then back north to Tragos and Zadar, then a hike in Lake Plitvice and up to the capitol of Croatia, Zagreb. From there we go up to the capitol of Slovenia, Ljubljana then we stop for a hike in Lake Bled. We’ll drive across through the Austrian Alps and stay in the town of Lienz, then we head on to Canazei to compete in this skyrace. Then Back to Venice airport where we fly to London for a night. Them home! This┬ámeans on a 15 night trip we are staying in 10 different hotels (oh, and one night on the ferry). It will be a whirlwind, but I’m really looking forward to it.

We will get to do lots of exploring, and a total of 23 hours of driving! We need help with our playlists please! Let us know if you have some great music to share.

Here are is the circuit we will make:

Twenty Great Years

Twenty years ago (in January 1994) I was living in Tempe AZ in a 3 BR condo with two roommates who were both in the ASU MFA program. My roommate Pete had a best friend named Tom who had a roommate named John.

John and I had met several times, and one day he asked me to go shopping with him because he was teaching a large lecture class that spring and his mother had given him lots of new shirts and pants and he wanted help picking out ties. Shopping?! I said sign me up. So we went and bought ties, then we went and had a beer, and then we went and had a snack, and then we rarely spent a day apart for the next 20 years.

How did I fall in love with John? Here are just a few of the many answers: He makes me laugh. He’s super smart. He’s adorable. He reads. He loves to travel. He can run really fast. He’s a great cook. When he picks me up from the airport he always puts a present in the passenger’s seat. He likes movies. He buys me a dress every year for my birthday. He likes dogs. He likes shopping. He loved his mother very much. He goes to sleep early. He is very generous. He doesn’t lose his keys. He tells me when my outfit looks good (or bad). He drives. He brings me roses. He loves me back.

During the first 3 years of our relationship John and I were both finishing grad school: he was in the Geography Department studying Fluvial Geomorphology and I was in the English Department getting my MFA in Poetry. We were really poor. But we managed to drive his ancient Honda CRX all over Arizona to do backpacking trips in remote canyons.

In August of 1996 we both got real jobs. John started at the Arizona Department of Water Resources (he later went to work for Salt River Project). I got a full-time position teaching at Arizona State University. So we bought a house in Tempe, got two cats, and started saving for retirement.

In 1999 John’s nephew Ryan (who was in the peace corps in Bolivia) asked us to meet him in Venezuela. We did, and we loved it. The next year John’s friend Kirk asked us to go to China with him and his soon-to-be wife Corinne. We did, and we loved it. That was when John and I made a promise to each other to travel to a “new to both of us” country every year, and we’ve been doing that for 15 years strong.

In 2003 we moved into a house near South Mountain in Phoenix so that John’s mom could live with us. We were so lucky to have her company until she passed away in 2005. We still live in that house with 2 plucky Vizslas and plenty of art that we have collected from our travels. We’re looking forward to retiring in not too many years so that we can do some volunteer service abroad.

I remember meeting one of John’s friends for the very first time (Scott Sherwood, in the first picture below). He asked me, “What do you see in this guy?”

The answer was so easy! I said, “He brings me such joy.”

That was in 1994, and now that it’s 2014, John still brings me great joy every day.

Just a few weeks ago we were having lunch, trying to decide what we should do to celebrate our anniversary.

He said, “I could buy you some jewelry.”

I said, “I could buy you a watch.”

We were both silent for several moments.

Then John said, “Let’s make a goal to have 20 adventures this year.”

“That’s it!”

So our goal in 2014 is to have 20 adventures. We already have several planned: surfing in Hawaii, hiking in Slovenia, a trail race in the Dolomites. I can’t wait to plan the rest of our adventures, and the rest of our lives together. I love you Johnnie!

North to Alaska

Cindy and Larry are not just our neighbors, they are our family. We’ve spent countless Thanksgivings and Christmases together, we’ve traveled together, we’ve wiped tears over lost parents and pets. And now they are moving from within view of our kitchen window to a beautiful home with a view in Bend, Oregon. I feel like I’m losing a limb. I wish I knew a special term for the grief that comes from this–not a permanent loss, but a loss I know will affect me every day. John and I have been in our house for 10 years and I can’t imagine our lives here without Cindy and Larry.

Part of my love for them comes from the many tales they have told of their lives in Alaska, before they moved to Phoenix. I always beg for their stories. About famous hikes or bike rides, sea kayak trips or teaching in a remote village. I’ve never lived in a place that was anything more than emotionally hard. I’ve had my physical needs met at all times. So the stories of bear at the tent or moose in the yard, or gas lamps or water rationing always made me aware I was dealing with two major bad-asses. It took a trip to Alaska with them to understand exactly how much respect I should have. Alaska is not for the weak, and I–it turns out–am very weak.

Larry planned a tour that hit all the high points–he put great care into the itinerary so that we could see so many of the places we had heard about. We started with the Mayor’s Marathon (for John) and Half (for me and Larry), and the trip just kept getting more exciting from there. We got to spend time with their friends and family, and eat at their favorite restaurants. We weren’t on the internet at all times, which made regular blogging hard. But I hope you’ll enjoy these pictures with a narrative of how my bad-ass friends showed us how it’s done in the 49th state.

San Rafael/San Francisco

When John told me he had to go to a conference in San Francisco, I said, “Poor you. I better come along.” And so I did. We spent the weekend in San Rafael with our friends the Zdankiewicz’s: John, Debbie, Pauline, Jane, and John. We had such a wonderful time hanging out with the whole family. We went to the Marin Farmer’s Market, and we hiked the trail to Stinson Beach in perfect weather.

On Sunday John and I headed into San Francisco where we settled into the Fairmont Hotel. We enjoyed doing several runs in town including one at Kezar Field in Golden Gate Park. We had several great meals. And someone might have done a little shopping.

30 Hours in London

We left Ennis in the wee hours of the morning. The taxi driver said to John, “please sit up front because I need your help.” The help he needed was to have John listen as he talked non-stop for 30 minutes on the way to the airport! Wow. Very friendly and typically Irish but it would have been better with coffee.

We took a very short flight to London and got a ride to our adorable hotel. Ampersand is a new boutique hotel right in the heart of South Kensington, about 2 blocks from the Natural History Museum. It is a perfect location near restaurants, shops, and museums but it is super quiet and features unique furnishings and design. I really recommend it and I would stay there again in a minute.

It was quite early so we dropped our bags and walked to the Natural History Museum. This is where I had my absolute favorite moment of the whole trip. We walked into the dinosaur display, which is huge and fascinating and full of skeletons. A little girl in front of me, she was probably 5 years old in a sweet little dress and coat, suddenly yelled, “Look! It’s Stegosaurus!” And she ran towards the display. Cutest. Thing. Ever. Her parents followed her and took her picture and I wanted to take one too but thought it would be rude.

Next we headed to the National Gallery to look at art. After wandering the halls for about 2 hours, we walked down Whitehall towards Westminster Abbey and then crossed the Thames to see the London Eye. The crowds really got to me, so we hopped on the Tube and headed back to our hotel to freshen up.

Since one of our favorite things to do in the States is try craft beers, next we went to a great new pub that serves locally brewed craft beers. Cask Pub and Kitchen was really fun!

Then we went to dinner with our friend James who is Irish but lives in London. We met him in December 2010 hiking the Inca Trail in Peru. It was so fun to see him again!

We slept for a while and the next morning went for a lovely walk in Kensington Gardens, then we had a croissant and caught the car back to the airport.

It was a short trip, but we managed to tick several London boxes and we can’t wait to go back.

Ennis Ireland Delegation Day 3, March 17

My favorite pic.

St Patrick’s Day Parade–On our third day of the delegation we again started with breakfast at the hotel, then we took a short bus ride to town hall where we lined up to march in the parade. This was so much fun! The crowd loved hearing the marching band, and they smiled and waved as we went by. My only regret was that we couldn’t see the parade ourselves. But marching in it was a real thrill.

St. Joseph’s Doora Barefiled GAA Club for hurling and football–After a short regrouping we took a bus to the GAA Club where we enjoyed a catered lunch of lamb stew and seafood stew. It was so delicious I wanted to had seconds and thirds, but I managed to control myself. The all-volunteer group from the club gave us a presentation on hurling and gaelic football, then they ran some drills on the field.

Official opening of Anon is Anall Contemporary Audio-Visual Exhibition –The bus brought us back to the hotel and we walked straight over for the opening of a beautiful art exhibit at the glor music center. I had a lively talk with one of the artists who invited me back to stay at her house whenever I like. Councilman Mike Johnson dedicated the Exhibition and we all enjoyed looking at the art and hearing a traditional band play.

Delegation Dinner at Cloister –Cloister is a gorgeous restaurant with a stunning private dining room, where about 50 of us gathered for a 4 course dinner with the mayor, the town council, and the delegation from Phoenix. Sorry I did not take any pictures of it but please take my word for it–the room and the food were beautiful.

Ennis Ireland Delegation Day 2, March 16

Getting ready to run the 5 Miler.
Mass at St Peter's and St. Paul's.
Mass at St Peter’s and St. Paul’s.

Cliffs of Moher 5 Miler–We were really looking forward to all of the activities on Saturday, and they did not disappoint. We started with breakfast at the hotel, then a short bus ride through County Clare to the Cliffs of Moher where we ran in the 5 Miler. It was a beautiful, hilly run with gorgeous views of the water and the countryside. Lots of families came out of their homes to watch us go by. John won 4th overall, 1st overseas.

St. Mary’s High School Band Performance at the Cliffs of Moher–The kids from the St. Mary’s band were busy on this trip! They played for us several times, including at the Cliffs before the race.

Vaughan’s Anchor Inn–We were really looking forward to a great seafood meal and this one was truly delicious. We had oysters, mussels, seafood stew, cod, and fish n’ chips.

Tour of the Burren –We got a long coach tour of the Burren all the way up to Galway Bay. Oor tour guide was kind and funny and told many stories. The Burren itself was a huge field of rock left from glacial ice.

Mass at St Peter’s & St Paul’s Cathedral–The cathedral in Ennis is really colorful and beautiful. We did a lot of standing up, sitting down, kneeling, and nodding. What a workout! We enjoyed our evening.

Pub Tour–After mass we went back to change into some warmer clothes and hit as many pubs as we could, and since we’re old, that was only two. Although we were trying to find some great traditional music, the guys playing at the first pub were working their way through some Santana standards. We moved on to a smaller place geared more towards locals where we saw our bus driver from earlier in the day having a few pints with his buds.

Ennis Ireland Delegation Day 1, March 15

We arrived into Shannon airport quite late on March 14th and then headed to the hotel to settle in, so I’m not including that in my report since we were pretty wiped after our flights. Although I will say we really enjoyed chatting with Bob, an Episcopal priest who was kind enough to meet up with our crew even though we were up quite late.

Let’s start with Day 1 of the delegation trip, which would prove to be more jam-packed than we could have expected.

Ennis/Phoenix Business Tourism Forum–We had a wonderful breakfast in the hotel with representatives from the town of Ennis and County Clare. We got to meet local leaders and brainstorm about ways we can advance relationships between Phoenix and Ennis.

Microsemi Corporation–It might sound strange given the types of activities John and I usually enjoy on our travels, but I was really looking forward to this tour of the Ennis plant of the Microsemi Corporation. We got to view all of the high-tech equipment the company uses to test electronic parts that will go on to be used in aerospace and military applications. This was a process I never could have imagined had I not seen it first hand.

Ennis Walking Tour–We were lead by a local Ennis resident to view historical and unique features throughout the town. One tidbit we learned was the etymology of the word “boycott,” which came from the quiet refusal to do business with Captain Charles Boycott due to his status as a landlord in County Clare.

Ennis, A Musical Town–We enjoyed a light lunch while two local experts gave a presentation about musical festivals in the area.

Town Council Mayoral Welcome and Reception at Waterpark House–This was tons of fun! Seemed like the whole town gathered in Waterpark house to hear St. Mary’s band play. Before they performed, we got to hear a group from a local area primary school. We enjoyed the music very much–especially watching the Irish kids’ expressions as they played. Then the Ennis Mayor Peter Considine presented Phoenix Councilman Mike Johnson with a Waterford crystal vase, and Johnson presented Considine with a Navaho friendship bowl.

Phil Coulter concert at glor–After a short rest we walked to the beautiful concert venue, glor Irish Music Center,  a stone’s throw from our hotel and enjoyed a delightful concert by the Irish legend Phil Coulter, including his famous “The Town I Loved so Well.”