We pulled out of Phoenix on Friday, January 5th, and enjoyed the wide open desert drive south to Patagonia Lake State Park. Finally, we were back on the road. The campground was full, but quiet, and there were birds and trails, and we even went on an avian boating tour. And at the east end of the campground there was a bench overlooking the lake, with a half dozen seed and hummingbird feeders hanging from trees, and suet cakes and loose seed spread on a tray. Marika was in heaven.
We stayed for three nights, sleeping late, reading, and relaxing. On Monday, the morning of our traveling day, instead of rushing to get on the road, Marika went birding at a nearby riparian area, and Cody and I took a walk to the birding bench. I talked with a camper about re-learning the joys of reading, and how she’ll be retiring in three years, and she wrote down the name of my book to download on her Kindle.
Instead of our usual nine o’clock departure, we didn’t pull out until almost noon. And it was an easy new choice to make, since we were only driving an hour to our next stop, the Holy Trinity Monastery at St David. I’ve been reading the description of the place for years, and I’ve always wanted to stay in their RV Park and get a taste of what a monastery is like. And this one is situated on the San Pedro River and is known for its birding.
From 1974 until early 2017 Holy Trinity was an active Benedictine monastery with a retreat program. The monastery has recently undergone some major changes, with most of the monks now relocated elsewhere. But the place is still maintained by the Benedictine Olivetan Congregation and many volunteers. Some are local, others are wintering RVers of all religions who have been coming to the monastery for as many as twenty two years.
We pulled into the gates and spoke with Ann, a seventy nine year old retired nurse who lives in town and volunteers a few days a week in the gift shop. She said we needed to talk to Jan, who should be back soon. So we browsed the books and statues of saints, and learned that Ann had been a single mother with four kids, and her second husband had one child, and they lived in Iowa at the time, and he proposed to her in one sentence: “How would you like to marry me and move out to Arizona and open an RV Park?” And how could she say no to that.
We didn’t get to hear the rest of the story because Jan, the woman we’d been waiting for, finally arrived. But she wasn’t the person we needed to talk to. She told us to drive to the RV Park area and find Thelma, the RV park host. If she wasn’t in the Community Room cleaning pecans, she’d be in her trailer.
So we unhitched the car and drove the dirt road through the monastery grounds, past several modular buildings to the RV area, which consisted of three rows of campsites in the dirt, with several fifth wheels and trailers, and several empty spaces.
I walked down to the trailer marked RV HOST, and Thelma, a gray haired woman in her seventies, told me to pull in wherever, and fill out the registration information and she’d come and find us and collect the money, twenty dollars a night with full hookups.
We pulled into a middle row spot and, while I unpacked things inside, Marika talked with the woman in the golf cart across from us. She was a retired nun who had a post-stroke droop on the left side of her face. She worked at the monastery’s library, and we were welcome to come by. She explained that there was also a laundry and bathrooms, and she pointed to the fence where the bird trail was. And she said there is a meal at on o’clock every day if we were interested.
We had planned to just use the place as a hub for two days, and spend the following day in Bisbee, a place I’ve never been, and go on the tour of the mine. But after a gorgeous sunset walk along the bird trail, Marika and I both realized that we’d rather stay at the monastery, join the group for lunch, and do some volunteering and connecting with the people here. And so ,the next morning when Marika and Cody saw Thelma, she put us on the list for lunch and invited us to clean pecans at ten.
It was just the two of us, sitting at a round table in the Community Room, a forty by twenty foot room furnished with donated sofas and artwork and a piano that, according to Thelma, was beyond a good tuning.
Thelma poured five pounds of unshelled pecans on the table and explained that this was the end of last year’s crop. There were pecan pieces of all sizes mixed in with some good halves still clinging to their shell. She said we just needed to separate the shells from the edible pieces of pecans so they could use the nuts in the bakery. And not to worry about getting the bits of meat out of the shells – she’d feed them to the peacocks and javalinas.
Marika and I each had a bowl to fill and, after an hour, my bowl was full and I was ready to stretch my body, refill my water bottle, go home to the bathroom and walk with Cody. Marika chose to stay and keep shelling.
Cody and I walked around the edge of the RV section, and along the back of the work shed. The grounds are surrounded with some of the oldest cottonwoods in the country, thick and tall, with silver dollar leaves that sound like they are whispering in a breeze.
It was so nice to be moving my body under the overcast sky that, even after Cody had pooped and peed and played, we kept going. We walked past the Community Center and I thought about stopping to tell Marika I wasn’t coming back, but then I realized that she’d figure it out. And that she’d be fine with it. That’s the beauty of our relationship. A lot of the time she does her thing, and I do mine, and it’s all good.
Cody and I followed the dirt road through the courtyard to the dining hall, near where the pastor lived, where his dog was barking barking barking as we walked by.
We found the 70-foot tall Celtic cross, a gift from some locals who wanted to put it on their own property, but their neighbors complained. And we discovered the meditation garden, for adults only. The sign didn’t say No Dogs, so we went through the metal gate and followed the path around the koi pond, over the narrow wooden bridges, Cody first, so I could make sure he didn’t get distracted by the water. He sniffed the dried grasses under the trees where the resident peacocks and hens wander, and I took pictures of the statues, the Japanese lanterns, the metalwork on the bridge.
We left through the opposite gate and continued along the dirt roads, from St. Mary’s Way to St. Bernard Place, passing all different shaped buildings in various stages of newness. There were round wooden huts, barely big enough for a bed and a chair, and modest residence buildings with three or four units, each with a garden patio. I peeked into the windows of the large modern building and saw wooden floors and folding chairs, the space big enough to seat at least 200 people.
We stopped at the Benedict Peacock Thrift Store, but it is closed until January 31, when more volunteers are here. We went into the Quonset hut shaped Used Books building, with a sign that said Always Open, and we were greeted by the sweet smell of old musty books. I kept the door open and looked around at the shelves along the angled walls, each section identified with handwritten signs: Theology, Psychology, Scripture, Spiritual Life. The fiction books were unsorted in boxes underneath the only table in the room.
We followed the dirt road to the building with a Museum sign and rusty farm equipment on either side of the doorway. The door was locked and I could only see blackness through the windows. The Monastery Library was next door, and one of the double doors was unlocked, but the lights weren’t on, so we didn’t go in.
We turned onto St. Anselm’s Place and stopped at an area called La Fonda, with picnic tables under a wooden ramada, and a bright red utility trailer outfitted as a food truck. Another round building with an order window facing the picnic area had a taped sign on the window advertising bottled water and soda for sale. But everything was closed. I’m guessing it’s all open for their annual Art Fair the first week in November.
And as we walked, Cody sniffed the dried grass and piles of leaves where the resident peacocks and peahens had gathered. They watched us from behind the cottonwood trees, pecking the air, their big chicken-like feet kicking up the dust as they walked toward us, then away.
By the time we got home, Marika was there and we walked up to Benedict Hall to have lunch with some of the volunteers. After a simple blessing, we enjoyed a chicken and mushroom casserole, a full salad bar, and wonderful conversations.
Mary Ann, a dark haired woman in her fifties, has been at the monastery for two years. She came for a ten-day retreat, then applied for the three-month Oblates apprenticeship. She loved it, applied for full time status and was voted in. She sold everything, and feels that being here is a true blessing.
One of the men, Joe, used to lead RV tours and was an avid birder. We asked him about birding in Big Bend, and Thelma told us how she was camping in a trailer there with her nine kids, and there were no markets for miles and she only had one pound of ground beef to feed everybody. So she added some beans and onions, and made chili, and fed ten people with one pound of meat.
We talked about the pecans, and Annie, a retired nurse from Colorado, and her husband Charlie, invited us to work on the belt after lunch. So, after a walk with Cody, we met them at the Nut Hustler machine, where the pecan processing really begins.
There are more than a hundred pecan trees on the monastery property. To harvest the nuts, the monks lay tarps on the ground, then wrap a band around the tree and a machine vibrates the tree at the trunk. The pecans drop to the ground, onto the tarps.
The tarps are brought to the Nut Hustler machine and one person shovels the pecans into the machine. The machine immediately separates branches, leaves and broken pods and spits them in a pile on the side of the machine. The remainder drops down a chute onto a moving screened conveyor belt where four people, two on each side, pick out the perfect pecans, out of their pods but still in their shells.
Marika and I stood on opposite sides of the conveyor belt next to Annie and a quiet woman named Rachel. Annie turned the motor on and a load of brown stuff dumped onto the belt. There were remnants of pecan pods, some sticks, several pods that hadn’t opened, a few pecans with cracked shells, and many beautiful pecans, pristine in their shell. Our job was to pick out the perfect pecans and put them in a white bucket, and toss any sticks and unopened pods over our shoulder. Juan, Rachel’s husband, stood at the end of the belt, facing the machine, the last person to pick out any good pecans that had slipped by us, before dropping into the compost chute.
Marika and I grabbed for the perfect pecans, picking them up, first, one at a time, then by the handful, as the machine seemed to get faster. Yes, there were jokes about Lucy and Ethel and the chocolate factory, and it was easy to miss a few pecans. When there were too many nuts on the belt to sort through, Annie would stop the conveyor belt and we’d pick out the good ones, toss the trash over our shoulders, and then Juan would sweep the rest to the compost chute.
After a few minutes of working at the fast moving belt, the sideways motion of the screen and the belt below it made me dizzy. So Juan and I switched places and I was now in charge of quality control.
Above us the sky shifted from silver gray to steel, and a breeze kicked up the discarded pods that the machine had spit out. And then it started to drizzle. Annie stopped the machine and we quickly picked through what was on the conveyor belt. Charlie, who had been shoveling the nuts into the machine, wrapped a tarp over the nuts and the machinery to keep everything dry.
Annie took us into a small building and showed us the nut cracking machines. She explained that they’d dump each of our buckets of pecans into the cracker. They’d go through a second machine to shake the pecan meat from the cracked shells, then they’d soak the shelled nuts overnight to further loosen the nut meat from the shells. The nuts would be dried on a screen in the sun, then taken up to the community room to be shelled. It was cool that we had been a part of the first and last steps of the pecan process.
We walked home in a light drizzle and watched some TV and then, even though a previous me would have been peopled out by now, I said yes to meeting with Thelma and Annie for happy hour at five. Marika brought a beer, I had my bottle of water, and we sat outside, wrapped in jackets, sharing stories, and feeding pretzels to the peacocks and hens.
We watched the peacocks hop into highest branches of the giant cottonwood tree near the chapel to roost for the night. The distant storm skies darkened and the sun went down, and it was quickly too cold to stay outside. We said goodnight and there were hugs all around.
In the morning, I gave Thelma a copy of my book to share with everyone, and we stopped at the gift shop to buy a loaf of the famous monastery bread and, of course, a three-pound bag of pecans for the road.
It’s our last Wednesday in the Big City. We were originally going to leave today, but after a great day at the river with friends, I got the head cold crud last week, and Marika got it on Saturday. So we’ve been laying low and resting, versus getting out and taking care of everything we need to do to get ready.
On New Year’s Day we lounged in our pajamas, watched the Rose Bowl parade, then we walked a new labyrinth. I made some veggie soup in the Instant Pot and we relaxed the rest of the day.
I was still getting tired after the smallest efforts, and I started to freak out about everything that needed to happen for us to leave. And so we changed our Wednesday departure to Thursday and cancelled plans to meet up with a friend.
But I still felt anxious. I realized that I needed another extra day, so we cancelled our Thursday night reservation in Patagonia and even got a refund for that night. And suddenly, I felt that three days would give us enough time to feel better and still get everything done.
And so finally, this morning, my head is clearing, I am hardly coughing, and I have most of my energy back. And so does Marika.
This readying is different. We’re not moving from one stationary location to another. We’re heading out for some camping and road living. Away from big city conveniences like Costco for dog food, and an abundance of supermarkets and fresh produce.
So we need to do a bit more stocking up on favorite foods and supplies, and make sure everything is in prime working order before we head out for this next adventure.
Last week we had a new RV guy come out to replace the water pump. We also have a new transmission pump in the car for towing, the tires and batteries and fluids have been checked, and we are ready to be on the road.
We’re heading south to Patagonia Lake State Park, just a few miles from the Mexican border. The birds are plentiful there this time of year. We’ll be at the Wings Over Willcox birding festival January 10-14, and meeting up with a friend who is on her own road trip back from the east coast. From there, we have a direction and a destination: the Texas Coast by February 5, but no firm plans or reservations to get there. And I like how that feels.
I want to ease into being on the road again. I want to be open to what we see and discover. And I want to connect with people as we travel. So let me know if you’re on our route and we’ll make a plan!
I posted on Facebook that my word this year is Passage. It’s actually a word I used in 2014, when I was setting out on my first ever solo RV Heart Sparks Road Tour across the country.
It is still a gorgeous guide for me, but I’ve also chosen the word ENGAGE. Because it challenges me, and will move me to a bigger, better version of myself. Because sometimes it is easier for me to just stay in my perfect little world, in my own thoughts, in my own habits and routines, than to reach out.
But that’s not my best way to grow. I realize that I need connections with other people, big, small, in a grocery store, in a coaching circle, to truly “spark my heart and ignite my life.”
And engage also means “to put into gear, take action,” and I like that too.
And so, yes, as part of that gentle nudge to the edge of my solitary comfort, I am facilitating a virtual women’s coaching group, the Heart Sparks Circle. We’ll meet once a week, beginning in February, via a private video chat, to explore what we each need and crave and also no longer want in our lives.
We’ll use my book Heart Sparks: 7 Practices For Loving Your Life as our weekly guide. If you’re curious, or interested, you can read all about it here. Or email me and we’ll set up a time to chat.
Two weeks ago we drove the RV and car down to Tucson for a long weekend. The impetus was an invitation to make red chili tamales with Esther and Jessie, co-hosts with us at Fool Hollow Lake this past summer. Esther makes them every year with her family, and we were invited to learn how.
We drove the easy two and a half hours south on Thursday and pulled into Catalina State Park, set against the back of the majestic Catalina Mountains. It is part of the Sonoran desert, with mesquite trees, cholla cactus, and, of course, the stately saguaros.
Years ago, camping in the desert would have been my last choice of spots, but I was so overwhelmed with being in the Big City that I was actually thrilled to be in the browns and grays and tans of the winter desert.
It was cool, and quiet, with good space between the other campers, and only fifteen minutes from Esther and Jessie’s house. After we leveled and hooked up, Marika hung her bird feeders and Cody and I explored the area behind our camp site. He loved smelling the trail, the ground around the bushes, the coyote poop sprinkled with mesquite seeds.
We all took a sunset walk along the Bridle Trail that skirted the campground through the low desert brush. At one point I was bored with walking and ready to turn around. Marika took out her iPhone and said she didn’t even have a mile yet. I had 1.2, but said OK, and kept going.
And then I fell into the rhythm of my steps, feeling the crunching dirt under my hiking boots that I haven’t worn since last winter. I started looking up as I walked, noticing the jagged edges of the mesquite leaves, and the way the sun lit up the soft white crowns of the saguaros.
And I was suddenly and completely grateful to be taking each step, back to health, and lightness and mobility, and knowing that SOON, we would be on the road, back to living in nature.
We walked to the end of the trail, where it connected with a second trail and the Equestrian Center. There were no horses, but it smelled like hay and manure. We looked in the barn for owls, but didn’t see any.
That night Marika took out her propane fire pit for the first time since the summer, and the three of us sat out until it got too cold, even with a hoodie on. We slept with the windows closed, and it was still cold enough to tuck in under my blanket for a good, deep sleep.
We drove to Esther’s on Friday morning for a delicious veggie quiche and black beans breakfast, then Marika stayed to learn how to make the chili meat. She and Esther seasoned and cooked and cooled more than fifty pounds of chuck roast and ground roast.
Meanwhile, Cody and I settled into camping. We walked the Bridle Trail in the opposite direction, to the picnic areas. We stepped aside for a pair of horse riders on the trail, and Cody wagged his tail as they passed.
We sat outside at our camp site in the shade of the mesquite trees, and Cody napped while I read. I watched the Gila Woodpecker poke his beak into the hummingbird feeder, and studied how the roadrunner sprints about ten feet, then stops, lowers his tail and spreads it wide, waits a few moments before sprinting again, then stopping with the tail spread, and waiting again.
I was truly living my mantra for the weekend: to move and stretch, but not exert, to rest, and read and relax.
On Saturday morning, Marika and I stopped at a local farmers’ market, talked with a gal about nearby archaeological ruins, then I dropped Marika off at Esther’s so they could cut the chilled meat into perfect bite-sized cubes. Esther does not like when the meat is shredded, because it’s not a clean bite. They also made the gallons of spicy red chili sauce, then added the meat to the sauce to cook together and then marinate overnight.
Jessie drove Marika home around four, and we went out to eat at a nearby Chinese restaurant. We took a short evening walk around the campground, then sat outside with the propane fire and watched the dark sky fill with stars.
On Sunday, they picked Marika up at 7am and drove to the south side of Tucson, the Hispanic part of town, for the fresh masa, and a stop at Estrella Bakery for all kinds of Mexican sweet breads and cookies for the grandkids.
Esther’s kids and grandkids arrived around 9. While they ate sweet treats and watched TV, Esther’s youngest son and oldest grandson took turns mixing the dry corn flour with the silky lard that Esther’s oldest daughter, Esther Junior, had whipped in the mixer. The guys used their hands to get the perfect, not dry, not sticky, consistency. Then Esther covered the bowls of mixed masa with damp paper towels so it could rest and rise to a creamy spreadable tamale batter.
Around 11, all of the ingredients were ready, so I drove over to participate in the actual tamale making. I was expecting a lot of helpers and an assembly line, but Esther’s grandkids were more interested in their phones and playing tag than continuing the tamale traditions. And so, after a quick demonstration by Esther, it was just me and Marika and two of Esther’s long-time, tamale-making friends, Sandy and Rosa, each assembling our own tamales.
Spreading the masa is the most critical and challenging part of making a tamale. The batter is creamy and thick, like the consistency of hummus, and you have to spread it evenly across the softened but still-firm corn husks. Not to the edge, not too thick, and without getting it all over you. After I did a few dozen, I asked Sandy if she would do the spreading and then I would do the rest of the assembly.
And so, after she spread the masa on the corn husk, I scooped a large spoonful of the perfectly cubed red chili beef onto one edge of the spread batter the masa, topped it with the required strip of pickled jalapeño and a salted olive (with the pit), then rolled it tight, but not too tight, and folded the husk in half like a pocket.
Together, we made fifteen dozen tamales. Esther steamed the first two dozen, and then we all stopped to eat. The kids gathered and we filled our plates with the spicy tamales, refried beans, and homemade pico de gallo.
After the counters were cleaned off, Marika and the gals got back to work. I sat at the table, watching the production, listening to the buzz of conversations, feeling content and done.
I drove back to camp around two and took Cody for a long walk, then we sat outside, reading. Marika texted me around six that she was enjoying watching football with Jessie, and that she would be home late. I was thrilled that she was finally relaxing.
After two months of clients and appointments and cataracts and RV repairs, I was tired. And cranky. And feeling so done with being in the Big City. Having this time out in the desert, walking, reading, watching roadrunners, smelling the stinkweed and creosote, and feeling the dust in my socks from the trails, was exactly what I needed.
And I knew Marika needed it too. Even though she loved every minute of the tamale making, she was even more tired than when we had arrived. And so I texted her back, asking if she wanted to stay an extra day, so that she could have a day of ease and walking and sitting and watching the birds. And she said Yes.
We had to change camp sites on Monday morning, so we stopped at the dump station so we wouldn’t have to do it the following day on our way out. The new spot was in the center section of the campground with fewer trees, but we had a new view of the mountains, and more room to play ball with Cody. We took some good family walks, enjoyed tamales and leftover Chinese food, and we both felt recharged and ready to return for the last few weeks in the city. More than anything, it reminded us both how much we love to be out in the world of nature.
We all need a break from the bustle and busy of life. If you can’t get away for a long weekend, spending even a single afternoon in nature can calm your nervous system, help you reground and regroup and recharge, and reconnect you with your heart. I highly recommend it!
It is finally winter in Phoenix, with early morning temperatures in the 50’s. I wore a sweatshirt and long pants for the first time this week. But, while I love the cooler temperatures, the sky is obscured by a thick brown fog because the warm air above keeps the cold air trapped with all of the city pollution. So I’m hardly outside to walk, and it’s now too cold to go swimming. My body has gotten bigger, softer, stiffer. And this is how I know it’s time to move on.
We’ve been here since October 5th, and we’ve taken care of everything on our Big City lists: I’ve worked with my amazing Mac clients, Marika has “near-perfect” distance vision without glasses, we’ve had at least one meal at each of our favorite restaurants, and have discovered several new places to add to the list. We got the solar system and TV antenna fixed on the RV, and got a new transmission pump in the car for towing, and my new glasses should be a done deal next week.
And so, we’re taking care of the last few things, like paring down the contents of my boxes at my Dad’s, finding new sneakers, and stocking up on paper maps and tour books from AAA, so we can get on the road to our next adventure.
We’re heading to the coast of Texas for the month of February, staying on a private lot with full hookups on Bolivar Peninsula, two blocks from the ocean. It’ll be a great base camp for birding in the area, enjoying local seafood, and doing lots of biking and walking.
From here to there I have mapped out an easy meandering, with campouts along the river just outside of Phoenix, then taking the back roads south to some BLM (Bureau of Land Management) dispersed camping areas near Florence, over to Tubac, down to Patagonia for a few nights, then east to St. David where there is a monastery with a small RV Park that I have dreamed of visiting for many years. And then we will spend a week in Willcox, AZ, for the Wings over Willcox Birding Festival, before continuing south and east to the Gulf Coast.
This has always been the dream: to travel with the birds, to follow the migratory paths of the birds, and attend birding festivals all over the country. And so, when I couldn’t figure out how to start planning our route out of Phoenix, I looked for bird festivals. And suddenly, everything fell into place.
So we’ll leave the Big City probably right before Christmas, since neither one of us has any standing holiday traditions here. And then we will be on the road again. Living in nature. Breathing wide and easy and open.
And I’ll be writing again. And walking. And getting things in place for a new virtual Heart Sparks Coaching Circle that will begin in February.
I’ve been realizing how much I crave intimacy, and a “tribe,” and a space for exploring and sharing this journey called life with others. Yes, it’s been great getting together with friends while I’ve been in town, but my nomadic lifestyle makes it challenging to find this kind of connection on the road.
I’ve been dreaming of creating a new virtual coaching circle, but thought I had to be “fixed/healed/ready” before I did it. But I realize, that, it is the doing of it that will bring me exactly what I am longing for.
And so I’ll be gathering an intimate group of seven women together for a heart-sparking virtual coaching circle. We’ll be using my book Heart Sparks: 7 Practices For Loving Your Life as the springboard for our weekly conversations. I’ll share the details soon.
Here’s a piece I wrote at the end of 2014, about savoring this last bit of the year. I hope you enjoy it.
It’s been quite a week. Last Thursday we woke up at 5am to get ready for Marika’s second cataract surgery. When I walked to the bathroom, the bedroom carpet was sopping wet. I hadn’t spilled my water bottle, the bathroom itself was dry, yet the floor behind the bathroom was drenched.
We turned off the main water supply, took showers in the RV Park bathroom, turned a fan on to dry the carpet, and went to the surgi-center. On the way there, I left a message with a mobile RV repair place, hoping to schedule an afternoon appointment.
The surgery went fine, we got home and still hadn’t heard from the RV guy, so we booked with another company. He said he’d be here at 1.
When I took Marika’s bandage off her eye at noon, it didn’t look at all like the first eye did. Instead, it was filled with bright red blood. I checked the post-surgery papers to see if this was listed as a normal thing and it wasn’t. So I called the surgi-center, talked with several people and they said, “How soon can you get back here.”
I could feel my heart racing, the anxiety rising inside of me as I herded Marika out the door. She was much calmer. Because she could see out of the eye, she figured it wasn’t serious. But the voice on the phone, made me think otherwise.
When the tech brought us into the exam room, she was calm and unaffected and said, “Oh, this is normal.” Which made me feel like a fool for rushing over, like it was an emergency. The optometrist explained that the redness was just a burst blood vessel, and that we shouldn’t worry about it, it would absorb in time. Redness? Redness is when you have a slight infection in your eye. This was fresh blood, completely obliterating the white of her eye.
And this was not “normal.” Normal means it happens all of the time. Marika’s first eye didn’t bleed. And it wasn’t listed as one of the expected after effects. This might be “not unusual,” but it certainly wasn’t normal.
On the drive home, Marika rescheduled the RV guy for 3:30. And so, instead of being able to relax and rest after the morning trauma, we waited. He finally arrived at 4:30. Everything had dried from the morning, and when we turned the water back on, we couldn’t reproduce the problem. He did bring the fitting to add an extension to the propane tank so we could hook up an external tank, but he brought the wrong hose. In the process of tightening things, he cracked the propane regulator. And all stores were now closed. So now we had no hot water.
He said he felt terrible, but that he would be back the next day with the correct part. So on Friday, we took showers again in the community bathrooms and, after Marika’s follow up appointment, we rushed home to again, wait. At 4:00 I finally texted him to find out where he was, and he said he got hung up at another job and would be here on Saturday, his day off, at 8:30 in the morning.
We got up early on Saturday to be ready, but at 8:15 he said he had to go pick up the part, so he’d be here after 9. He showed up after 10:30 with a part that is bigger than the original one. He installed it as a temporary solutions so we could have hot water, but he needs to order the correct part. He said by Tuesday.
And now it is Wednesday, almost a week after the initial call, and we are still waiting to complete the job.
I tell you this story, not to bemoan how customer service is these days, but to share how difficult it has been for us to navigate through it all.
When I get upset with tech support, or bad service, I get mean or cry when I’m sharing my feelings. Marika tends to keep it to herself, seeming calm and fine on the outside, while she is boiling on the inside.
This time was different. When we went for the follow-up eye appointment, Marika spoke to the tech who said “It’s normal,” and explained how we felt, how the tech needs to change her language, how it feels to be a patient. I still cried when I told her how foolish she made me feel, but I wasn’t mean.
And when the RV guy kept us waiting, I tried to remember that he is overworked, trying to do his best, and at least we had another option for taking a hot shower.
Still, it was hard to hold that compassion alongside my frustrations, and I’m still a bit annoyed.
But I keep reminding myself that things happen. And that these experiences offer us opportunities to rise above, to not get all wrapped in knots of anger, but to breathe and exhale and focus on kindness and compassion and the positives.
Marika’s eye is still bloody ugly, but her vision is amazing. She is seeing details that she’s never seen before, she can read tiny print across the room without glasses, and everything is 25% bigger. The changes are so drastic that it’s taking her a while to adjust.
And I am grateful to be able to take a hot shower in my own bathroom, and finally wash the dishes. And that Marika can really see! I’m sure we’ll resolve the other issues, and life will soon return to normal.
After 6 months of being in the same town, going to work, having a routine, it was so freeing to have a week of just being campers.
We pulled out of Show Low last Monday morning in high winds, so, instead of towing the car, we drove the 84 miles to Winslow separately, Marika and Cody in the RV and me following in the car. We had reservations for 2 nights at Homolovi State Park just outside of Winslow. The park consists of a campground as well as excavated archaeological ruins of the early Hopi Indians. The park is situation on the open plains of the high desert, with wide and vast and open vistas, and you can see for miles.
The first night, the Ranger suggested we drive up the road to a neglected county park to see the sunset at Little Painted Desert. We pulled in as the light of the sun spotlighted the layers of history in the cliffs, from gray to orange to a deep brown that looked like soft suede.
The next day we lounged in bed, listening to the wind outside the open windows, then we took our morning walk around one of the areas with ruins. Shards of ancient pottery lined the walkway and I imagined the hundreds of people that walked and lived in this land more than a thousand years ago.
After breakfast, we left Cody at home in the air-conditioned comfort and set out to find the reservoir and park where Marika might find some birds. The sun was high and warm, so I sat on a collapsible stool under some cottonwoods while Marika sought out some songbirds in the reeds.
We drove into Winslow and explored the famous La Posada Hotel. Designed by Mary Colter, the same woman who designed many of the buildings at the Grand Canyon, this former Santa Fe Railroad property has been completely renovated by four amazing people. The buildings, the gardens, the history, and the art on the walls kept us entertained for several hours. And we ate at the famous and delicious Turquoise Room.
On Wednesday we headed 80 miles west and south to Cottonwood, and camped at Dead Horse State Park, an old favorite along a stretch of the Verde River. The campground has changed a lot since we were there 14 years ago, with better marked trails and more cabins. And the trees and bushes are fuller, taller, and thicker.
We were camped among many tenters, and the campsites were very close together, so we spent the mornings out on the trails, then, when it got too warm, we tucked inside with the curtains and windows closed. Cody loved playing stick along the river and I couldn’t believe the intensity of the cicadas, so loud, we had to almost yell at each other to hear.
We lingered at camp on Friday, getting in one more river walk before heading down the mountain into the Big City. We hooked up the car to tow, but the transmission pump in the car wasn’t working, so we unhooked and, again, drove separately. This time I was in the RV and Marika and Cody followed in the car. It was an easy drive, no traffic, and we arrived at our grass and trees RV park without incident.
And now we are here. Yes, it is warm and the sun is sharp like a knife. But there is a swimming pool right behind our camp spot and, even though the water was winter cold, I got in and enjoyed the swim. And we have also hugged good friends, eaten favorite foods and spent time with my Dad.
The crazy drivers and all-day traffic are taking some adjustment, but I keep reminding myself that we are here for good reasons. And, like every other place we’ve been, it is only temporary.
Marika’s first cataract surgery is next week, and I start seeing favorite Mac clients next week, too. And we have lots of fun things planned in between. So there is much to be grateful for, as always.
I can’t believe we are in our final days here as camp hosts at Fool Hollow Lake State Park. We have four more days of cleaning bathrooms and campsites, and then we are gone, on the road to the next adventure.
We’ll be taking a week to camp and be tourists when we leave here, staying at a couple of State Parks for free, because we were volunteers. We’re going to enjoy a meal from the Travelers Menu at the famous La Posada Hotel’s Turquoise Room, and explore the ruins at Homolovi State Park. Then we’ll spend a few nights at Dead Horse Ranch State Park, an old favorite along a slice of the Verde River in Cottonwood, before heading to the Big City.
We’ll roll into our grass and trees RV Park in Central Phoenix next Friday, and take a few days to acclimate and settle in. We have a week to take care of some appointments and big city errands, and then Marika has her first of many appointments for her cataract surgeries beginning the week of October 9. And I’ve got sessions with Mac training clients beginning that week, too.
So we’re soaking up every inch of nature while we still can, taking walks in the trees and along the lake, noticing which birds have already headed south for the winter, and listening for the bugling elks in the forest across the lake. We’re enjoying the less crowded, post-season, quiet in the campground and in town, and noticing the shifts in the air and the season. The water level is lower in the lake, a line of willows has sprouted to five feet high along the trail, and the black eyed Susans are drying and drooping in the open fields. The random aspens in the park are beginning to golden, and the temperature drops into the 30’s at night, with crispy sweatshirt weather in the mornings and evenings.
And because it’s cooler, I’m spending more time walking with Cody. Last week, for the first time since we’ve been here, we walked the entire Red Head camp loop. I’d been avoiding it because there are two very steep hills, and I thought it would be too far and too hard on my lungs and legs. When I rode the loop on my bicycle, I loved the downhills, but I had to walk my bike up most of the uphills.
And then, one day, Cody and I were walking our usual route but, instead of turning off the road onto the path to the bathroom, I stayed on the road. The first hill started just past campsite 27. I could feel the incline in my legs, but I kept going. Cody loved the new places to smell. I liked seeing the campsites from this slower perspective. We stopped at campsite 20, at the top of the hill and I didn’t hurt. I wasn’t breathing too hard, and I was so tickled with myself. Cody sniffed around and I scanned the trees for birds from this new view.
The downhill was slow and easy and, when we got to campsite 15, about half way down, the view opened up to the lake at the bottom of the hill. The sky was blue, and the water was blue, and there were bright yellow flowers rimming the shoreline.
We followed the road down and turned off onto the lake trail just past campsite 12, where I sat on my favorite sitting rock while Cody scouted for a stick. I wasn’t tired or sore, just so proud of myself for finally trying. We played for a bit, I watched a pair of ducks floating in the water, then we headed back to the road to complete the loop. The incline was constant but not steep, and I didn’t have to stop to slow my breath until we got to campsite 3, almost at the top of the hill. We were both breathing steady, and ready for some water by the time we circled back to our spot, but I felt great! And we’ve been walking the loop almost every day since.
The other day on our camp circle loop walk, we continued along the lake trail, farther than we’d ever walked before. It is a dirt trail, covered with small and medium rocks to prevent erosion. I was wearing my trail runners, not my thick soled hiking boots, and I could feel every stone push into my soles as I walked. At first I wanted to complain, but then I thought of each pressing pebble and rock as a form of reflexology and massage on those parts of my feet that don’t get touched enough. And suddenly, the painful steps became healing steps, and I was willing to walk much further. By the time we circled back to our campsite, we’d walked a mile.
I realize how my mind can really mess with me, talk me out of a longer walk, tell me that a hill is too steep to even try. The truth is, it feels good to challenge myself and move in my body, even at this higher altitude.
I know I’m going to have to make a conscious effort to walk, and find places in nature when we are in Phoenix, because we’ll be in a neighborhood, not the forest, and the sounds of the city are very different than chirping birds and wind through the trees. There are a couple of city parks nearby that we can drive to, with grass and trees and walking paths, and, now, with only one very friendly dog, it will be much easier to meet people and other dogs.
But for these last few days, we’re going to enjoy the forest trails, the walks along the water, and the variety of birds that are still coming to the feeders. Tomorrow, we’re going to spread some of Mabel’s ashes along our favorite family lake trail.
It’s been a great time up here. Different than we expected. Much richer and fulfilling than either one of us could have imagined. Right now, I think I’ll miss the routine of cleaning those bathrooms, but I’m sure that, the minute we hit the highway, we’ll be on to in the next adventure.
Fall is almost here. I can feel the air changing temperature and moisture, and here in the mountains, the water level in the lake is lower, the flowers are bowing more than blooming, and the fox tail plants are beginning to sprout.
This is my favorite time of the year, for letting go, for shedding old skins, for remembering what really matters. And it is also the Jewish New Year.
This Wednesday evening marks the beginning of Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year. While it is a time of celebration, it is also a time for reflection and repentance. One of my favorite concepts about the Jewish New Year is the idea of starting with a clean slate. All past mistakes, hurts and transgressions are forgiven.
But, unlike other religions, it isn’t God that you ask forgiveness from. God forgives everything.
Instead, we seek out those who we have judged, or offended or hurt and we ask THEM to forgive us.
We begin anew because we have owned our actions and genuinely said I’m sorry to the person who we hurt.
Another ritual of the holiday is Tashlich, meaning cast off. We go to a body of water and, using bread crumbs, we symbolically cast our sins into the moving water. Again, we are claiming accountability for our actions, forgiving ourselves, and letting go.
And in doing so, we can move into the new year without the burdens and regrets and mis-steps of the past.
It’s a tradition to gather with family and friends and share a delicious holiday meal on Rosh Hashana. My family always enjoyed a many course meal: gefilte fish with salad, chicken soup with kneidels, my mother’s sweet, tender brisket with crisp, roasted potatoes, string beans with almonds, a sweet carrot mash called tzimmis, and honey cake, my father’s favorite, for dessert.
It’s also a tradition to eat apples and honey for the New Year. These sweet foods symbolize the sweetness we wish for ourselves and our loved ones in the coming year.
These are wonderful, powerful rituals.
Saying I’m sorry.
Making peace with the past.
Letting things go.
And opening up to the joy, the sweetness of what is and what else is possible.
Perhaps you’d like to incorporate some of these rituals into your life this week.
Maybe you will call a friend, or send a note and say you’re sorry.
Maybe you will take some bread crumbs to your neighborhood park and forgive yourself with each toss.
Maybe you will gather with loved ones and indulge in all the foods that taste like love.
Maybe you will dip a slice of apple in honey and open to the sweetness of your life.
We are in our last four weeks of camp hosting at Fool Hollow Lake State park in the cool Arizona mountains. The wonderful monsoon storm season has passed, though we do still get a surprise afternoon rain shower every few days. The campground was full of happy campers for the Labor Day weekend, and now things are slowing down and we are blessed to still be in this beautiful, serene place.
And I am beginning to make plans for what’s next. We’ll be heading down to the valley in October for two months of Big City things, including Marika’s cataract surgeries. We’ll camp for a few days between here and there, to slowly acclimate to the changes in terrain and temperature.
We were planning to head to the Texas Gulf Coast in December, but now we’re not sure where we’ll go after Phoenix. And we don’t need to know yet. For now, we just need to enjoy where we are, right here, right now.
We’ve been going into town in the afternoons after work, checking out some of the local artisan galleries. We attended the White Mountain Humane Society’s annual fundraiser, and happened upon last weekend’s Wildlife Festival at the Nature Center. Marika made a pine cone and peanut butter bird feeder, and I shot a BB gun for the first time in my life. Even with the wind swinging my paper target, I hit the bullseye two out of five times. The instructor was as thrilled as I was.
We’re still appreciating the physical work of our camp hosting duties, and I can definitely feel how much stronger I am, lifting the wet mop, starting and maneuvering the leaf blower. We’ve been socializing more with our co-workers, and we had fun giving out Smokey Bear activity bags to the kid campers these past weekends.
When I start to freak out about next month, and being in the Big City, and the traffic and the air quality, and the heat, I remember to breathe and re-focus on the good things of being in there, like seeing my dad, and my own dentist, connecting with friends in person, eating at our favorite ethnic restaurants, real bagels, getting a good haircut, working with my favorite Mac clients one last time. And if it’s too warm, there’s a swimming pool at the RV park where we’re staying.
And then I bring my attention back to being here, and how I can embrace this remaining time in this beautiful place. So I’ve been walking along the lake even when I’m feeling lazy, taking Cody for long strolls through the campground, and tonight, I am getting on the water in my kayak for sunset, even though there may be a bit of a breeze.
It is a delicate balance of planning for the future, and being present, right here. I think it is this constant shifting and balancing between now and then that creates the momentum to keep us moving forward. Yes, we still tip into the sadness of Mabel no longer being here, and that, too, keeps the energies moving.
So as we enjoy our last weeks here at the lake, with the big sky and the tall trees and tonight’s full moon, we will keep saying thank you and WOW, and thank you some more.
It is with the heaviest heart that I share that we had to put Mabel to sleep last Friday. We celebrated her 14th birthday on August 1, and a week later, she was suddenly moving slower, eating less, sleeping more. Her belly was distended and she was all wobbly and couldn’t easily get up and down.
We are not ones to prolong an animal’s pain and suffering, even though the loss is so painful. And so we made the decision.
One of the Park Rangers recommended the vet where his wife works in the office. She assured us that we’d be in a quiet room and would be well taken care of.
But it was not the experience we were hoping for. Mostly because we were there for more than an hour and a half, doing a lot of waiting. We waited for the special room to be ready, waited for the first tech, waited to see the doctor, more waiting for the paperwork, then the catheter, and even after she was sedated, more and more waiting.
And the room was anything but quiet and peaceful. We even heard the conversation where the new tech was being told how to put the catheter in.
And then, even after Mabel was sedated, we waited another 20 minutes for the doctor to return, even though we were told, “as soon as you’re ready, let us know and the doctor will be in.” I went to the desk and asked for the final injection, but the doctor didn’t come. Instead we got to hear his entire consultation next door, including how to boil chicken for a dog with an upset stomach.
And when it was all done, we were more angry than sad, and it’s taken a few days to move from that anger into the real grief.
The big blessing is that Mabel was calm and relaxed and ready. And this is what I need to focus on.
She was a great companion and a relaxed traveler, a tail talker, lover girl and bed hog. And what an athlete–mid-air frisbee catcher, any kind of water swimmer, football player, squeaky tosser, pigeon chaser. So many joys in her 14 years. And to think that just last month she was running to keep up with Cody in the forest.
We are all adjusting to her absence. Even Cody, who barely interacted with Mabel beyond a group growling when they got something special in the food, seems to be missing her. But he is soaking up all of the extra love, and enjoying the leftover chicken broth that Marika had made for Mabel.
Marika bought a beautiful bouquet of pink carnations in Mabel’s honor, and, just like with Saffron, Zasu, Bikini, Petita, Jammies and Laddy before her, we’re telling her stories and holding her in our hearts.