Thursday, July 27, 2006

Monsoon Madness

The monsoon is finally in full swing this week. We got entertained last night with a four hour thunder-lightning-wind-rain show. It's one of the things I love best about Arizona. We ended up with 2.5 inches, which may not seem like a lot to you folks, but it's more than we've had total here in over a year.

Thanks to my digital camera and iMovie, I managed to pull of some stills of the lightning from my upstairs window.

On a final note, Sabrina has an interview with Rachel Hauck up on her blog. Go visit them for a chance to win one of Rachel's books.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Tonto Natural Bridge

One of my favorite things to do is hike. Especially if it involves a little low-grade rock climbing. So this past June we decided to get away for the weekend. I hadn’t been away from my computer for more than 24 hours in over three years. The Mac and I needed a break from each other. We went up to a town in the local mountains called Payson. And just outside Payson is Tonto Natural Bridge.

The official brochure says:

It is believed to be the largest natural travertine bridge in the world. The bridge stands 183 feet high over a 400-foot long tunnel that measures 150 feet at its widest point.

The discovery of the small and beautiful valley between Pine and Payson was documented in 1877 by David Gowan, a prospector who stumbled across the bridge as he was chased by Apaches.

Gowan hid for two nights and three days in one of several caves that dot the inside of the bridge [I read this before I went down there. There are many, many caves dotting the sides of the tunnel. He could have easily hidden down there and never have been discovered. It was interesting thinking about what all could be hiding in those caves while we were hiking around there. We did see a few squirrels.]. On the third day, he left the cave to explore the tunnel and green valley surrounding it. Gowan then claimed squatter's rights.

In 1898 he persuaded his nephew, David Gowan Goodfellow, to bring his family over from Scotland [Me again. Can you imagine the culture shock of coming from Scotland to Arizona?] and settle the land permanently. After a week of difficult travel from Flagstaff, the Goodfellows arrived at the edge of the mountain and lowered their possessions down the 500 foot slopes into the valley by ropes and burros.

Today, visitors can stand on top of the bridge or hike down below to capture the true size and beauty of this geologic wonder [We did both].

End of official brochure.

It was a lot of fun. I want to go back up there again sometime when it’s not so hot. And when I actually have a camera instead of trying to grab stills off my video camera. Ugh. So I apologize for the quality of the pictures.

We started out on top of the bridge, looking down into the gorge and watching water cascade off the top of the bridge. Seeing water running that freely in the desert in June is an amazing thing.

But that wasn’t enough for me, and I convinced Peter that since we were all wearing sensible shoes (i.e. tennis shoes, not flip flops like we saw on some people) that we could make it down there. Next time I’ll wear hiking boots for the stability but it was still quite do-able in tennies.

We’re smart hikers. We had a daypack with six bottles of water. We had slathered up with sunscreen. We wore hats and appropriate footgear. And we had a map.

So off we set down a fairly steep 200 foot descent into the gorge, not really certain what we’d find when we got down there or what we’d do, but we were up for the adventure.

We started noticing that Calvin wasn’t as energetic as usual. In fact his cheeks looked rather pink. I touched his forehead, his neck, his belly. He was burning up. He started crying. That night we discovered he was running a fever of 102. He was a trouper, though.

We were mostly down, and at the bottom it was much shadier and cooler where the water made a nice size stream. We decided he’d feel better down there, so Peter putting him on his shoulders and continued down the descent. Railroad ties were used to make mini-terraces where the trail was too steep to traverse without them. So Peter is trying to navigate these one-foot drops while balancing our son on his shoulders. I was impressed.

We got to the bottom and discovered this beautiful little forest with the stream running through the middle of it. We could look straight up the gorge 200 feet to where we had been standing 30 minutes previously.

But once we’d rounded the bend we could see the travertine bridge that formed a huge tunnel. It’s impossible to grasp the scope of it without actually being there.

We took our time exploring under the bridge. We decided to continue through the tunnel, which would involving scaling some slick sandstone and travertine rocks which hovered about 30 feet over the river at bottom of the tunnel. We started, got partway, saw the 30 foot cliffs we would need to navigate and decided to regroup.

Peter went to ask the park ranger if he thought we could make it with the kids. He said he thought we could. Little signs with arrows were bolted into the rock, indicating which way you could start imagining a path. In the rocks there were only shallow hand- and footholds created by water dripping and eroding the soft, slick stone. And Peter did a really cool Carl Sagen impression that I caught on video.

When I was watching the video I shot, there’s an extended period of time where I apparently left the camera running after I stuck it back in my cargo shorts. The lens cover is on so everything is back. But there’s sound. And it’s kind of revealing. You can hear me crunching over rocks and splashing in the pond. A few coughs and grunts. And Peter and I giving instructions to the kids on how to scramble the rocks.

“Go here, step there. Wait for Dad. I’ll hand him to you. Are you okay?”
“Stand on that ledge. Grab Dad. You want to go around and catch him?”
“Jump down here. There you go. Good boy.”
“Got it? You okay?”
“Don’t get too far ahead.” That was to my daughter who was taking to these cliffs like a mountain goat.
“You got him? I’m going to get up here and you can hand him to me. All right. Up over here? Perfect. How are your knees?” That last comment was because Peter and I are both getting old.
“Jen, you need to be above him.”

What I love most about this section of dialogue is what it reveals: team work. I don’t know all the reasons why I love rock climbing. It’s physical. It’s problem solving. You have to look ahead, but not too far ahead. You have to set a goal and then figure out how to get there. Sometimes you go where others have. Sometimes you don’t. But in this section I love how it revealed how we work as a family. Peter on one end, me on the other, bracketing our children. Showing them the path and being there to catch them when they fall.

We did some other fun things that weekend. Saw a fish hatchery. Fed bison (They grunt and need to be brushed.). But I hope most of all that we made some memories with our kids.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

You Must Be THIS Tall to Enter

You’re probably wondering what adventures have kept me away from posting here for a week. C’mon, I know you were.

Several things, which I may talk about later. But truly the most fascinating adventure happened tonight. At McDonald’s of all places.

The kids had been good while we were on another one of our adventures today. So after going to the library to pick up their prizes for the summer reading program, I took them to McDonald’s so they could play and I could write.

We get here early and the place is nearly deserted. It’s just us and a grandma and grandpa with two-and four-year-old boys. Shortly after we begin eating one of the boys is screaming in terror from inside the play maze. The grandma and grandpa call for him to come down. They send the four-year-old up after him. He goes up and comes down several times, seemingly unconcerned about his little brother’s emotions. Sounds about right for a four-year-old boy.

Finally, I lean over to my daughter and ask her to go up and see if she can help the little boy get down. She loves helping little kids, which is about right for an eight-year-old girl. She goes up and is gone for five minutes. Finally, we see her and the little boy out one of the portholes. His face is red and blotchy, snot running from his nose. My daughter’s using her most patient voice (one I never hear her using with her brother), trying to talk the boy down. He’s not budging. He can see Grandma and Grandpa, and he can’t understand why they can’t get him.

Grandma starts towards the tunnel and begins crawling in. No way is that going to work, I’m thinking. She figures this out, too, and backs out. But the only way this little boy is going to get out is if a grown-up comes to get him.

Which would apparently be me. Even though I'm over 5'9", I’m flexible so I figure I can worm my way up there.

Except for one thing.

I’m claustrophobic.

I hate small spaces. I especially hate small tubes. I won’t go on waterslides that have tubes, thinking somehow it’ll close in on me and drown me in three inches of water. I'm sure this all goes back to the time I was traumatized by my brothers who stuffed me in a backpacking mummy sleeping bag. They yanked the drawstring, closing the small opening over my face to a pinhole. My chest starts closing up just thinking about it.

Childhood trauma aside, that boy isn’t coming down unless I go up there. Where’s Sharon Hinck and her Secret Life of Becky Miller red cape when I need it?

I kick off my sandals and start crawling inside the tube. It can't be that bad. I'll just crawl up, get the boy, and crawl back down. I can do it. It's not that easy. How do kids do this? I’m stuck with the choice of crawling on hard plastic on my knees, which isn’t comfortable, or trying to get my feet under me. Problem is, my legs are too long and threaten to wedge me in this hot, plastic tube which is getting smaller by the minute. It’s not my imagination, I swear.

I make my way through the tube which starts winding up. I can’t see what’s around the bend. Sounds echo through out, and it’s really hot. I can feel myself starting to panic, but I push it back down. I get to one of the intersections and yell for my daughter. I hear her voice but I can’t figure out where it’s coming from. I can just imagine getting stuck in here, the fire department pulling me out. Of course, how would they get in here?

Just then, little “Calvin” comes scampering up. I had told him to stay down at the table and finish eating. I was also hoping he’d guard my purse and laptop which were at the table. Though I suppose if I’m rescuing their grandson, Grandma and Grandpa won’t boost my stuff.

“Hey, where’s your sister?” I ask my son.

“This way, Mom.”

Good. My kids frequenting McDonald’s has paid off. They can help me navigate out of this human Habitrail.

After more turns and climbs, with multiple reminders to myself to breathe, I reach my daughter and the little boy. I find it interesting that even though my daughter is clearly a “big kid” to the little boy, he still doesn’t trust her the way he trusts me, an adult.

“Hey, buddy. You want to go see Grandma and Grandpa?”

His eyes get big and he nods.

“Okay. Follow her. I’ll be right with you.”

My daughter and son lead the way, and I coax the little boy from the rear. As we’re heading down the slide, me half sliding, half scooting, I become afraid that my weight might make me pick up speed and knock all three kids out of the shoot like human pin balls. However, we all make it safely down, and the Tiszai Family Rescue Squad saves their first victim. The little boy runs to Grandma, and they are all extremely grateful. Too bad they weren’t editors; I bet I could have gotten a book contract out of them. I manage to uncurl myself from the tube and straighten my reddened knees (I'll have bruises tomorrow, I'm sure), grateful to breathe air-conditioned air again and be in a room larger than two feet in diameter.

I may have conquered the human Habitrail, but I’m still not going on a waterslide that has a tube.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Guess What? It's Hot.

We had a heat advisory here today in Arizona. Because some people might not know that in July in Arizona it gets hot. It was 110 today, and we had a record low: 91. It was the warmest low for this date.

We’re now into the monsoon season, which means between now and the middle of September our humidity jumps from about 15% to 30%, and we get amazing thunder and lightning shows each night.

Now, for your meteorology lesson of the day. The monsoon season officially begins when the dew point stays at 55 or above for three consecutive days. This happened on July 4 this year, three days before the “official” start date of July 7. This reflects the seasonal shift in wind patterns, brining up moisture from the Gulf of Mexico and the Gulf of California. We generally get 2-3 inches of rain during the monsoon season, but last year we got hardly anything.

Despite all the cool special effects in the sky at night, there are some drawbacks. We get dust storms—also known by the Arabic term “haboob”, which is way cooler sounding than dust storm—preceding thunderstorms. Check out my previous post on the topic. What happens is rain-cooled air pours down from the high country into the desert like a small cold front, pushing a wall of dust in front of it and forcing the hot and humid air up into the atmosphere creating thunderstorms above the Valley.

Sometimes, however, we get downbursts or microbursts where the air can thrust downward at a rate exceeding 100 MPH. I’ve seen it take out a whole line of telephone poles like they were matchsticks.

The coolest thing about all of this is that it’s pretty random. You never know where a dust storm, microburst or down pour will happen. TV shows get interrupted for weather updates, and we get those emergency broadcasts. I’d only ever seen one of those when I lived in California, and that was after an earthquake. Here, I couldn’t count how many I’ve heard.

Makes life interesting. And if I can figure out how to get any pictures of lightning with my digital camera, I’ll post them. Don’t hold your breath, though.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Where's Jenny?

Dear friend, crit partner, conference roomie, and fellow Arizonan Jenny Cary is guest blogging over at God Allows U-Turns this week. Go visit her and leave a nice comment.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Good-byes and Good Stories

I am on an unexpected trip to California this week for a funeral. Then, today--while I'm gone--my cat, Chloe, died.

This isn’t Chloe, but it looks a lot like her. I’m still in California and don’t have any pictures of her on my computer. I knew Chloe longer than I’ve known Peter. In fact, she was almost the reason we didn’t get together. She was a long-haired cat, and he’s allergic to cats. Somehow we overcame that great obstacle. He’d come to the door, and I’d give him a Benadryl. It’s kind of fitting that Peter was the last one with her.

So. Death.

Hmm. Made me think a little bit. I’m getting to that age where more friends and family are dying, although I’ve had friends and family die already. I’m fortunate in that my grandparents are still alive and doing well.

One thing that struck me at the funeral is that a large part of its purpose is to tell a story about the person’s life. This funeral, like all great ones where there is more laughter than tears, had friends and family telling about this man’s life-long love affair with cars. And it made me realize that our lives are summarized in story. We tell stories about our kids. We talk about our growing up years when we’re getting to know our friends. We share memories through stories. Stories are how we relate, how we become fully—and uniquely—human.

So what kind of burden, or privilege, does that put on us writers-storytellers?

I think the answer, in part, is to relate the human experience fully, truly, and as completely as we can in all of its highs and lows, good and bad, ugly and beauty. It’s a small, cheap answer, but about all I can manage to say. I’m sure you all can come up with better stuff.

And since I can’t stay too serious for long, I’ll share with you a story about a funeral and a cat.

When I was in junior high, my friend and I owned a hamster together. Yes, this is odd but when hamsters lived at our house, they usually became a snack for our cat, Tabitha. Either the hamsters would escape or Tabitha would let them out. Either way, all I ever would find of them was their little teeth or tiny claws left on my bedroom floor as a gift.

So the hamster stayed at Gina’s house. But you know, we figured this hamster needed a really cool cage, something way better than Habitrail and a squeaky wheel. What could be better than Barbie’s Dream House? So into the cage went Barbie’s pink shower, grand staircase, cool furniture and anything else we could think of. We had to admit, it looked great. What hamster wouldn’t love it?

The hamster loved it. So much she (he? Can’t remember) ate it. And died. Who knew a hamster could OD on Barbie-pink plastic?

We buried her/him in a shoebox in the field behind our houses with appropriate pomp and ceremony. And a few giggles. Even at that age, it did strike us a little funny that the dumb thing ate itself to death.

At least Tabitha didn’t get to it.

Tomorrow we’re going to the beach. I think Chloe would appreciate the irony of me sitting in essentially a giant sandbox. And maybe I’ll tell my kids about the day I first got that little fur ball.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

New Blog on the Block

Some of you might have heard about this, but a new blog is going live today. Bailey Truitt, propriator of the Java Joint in the resort town of Kanner Lake, Idaho has started blogging about life in her great town. Stop by and check it out. And it always helps if you leave a comment. You know how it is when you first start blogging. You wonder if anyone is out there. I've also heard rumors some of the townsfolk will be posting some entries too. Should be fun reading.

Hope everyone had a safe and happy Fourth!

Sunday, July 02, 2006

A Day to Remember

My daughter got baptized last Sunday. It was the day before my birthday and one of the best gifts I’ve ever gotten. She provided us previously with another great gift by being born nearly two weeks early (probably moving two days before had something to do with it), arriving two days before Christmas. We took her home from the hospital on Christmas Day.

In typical Arizona style, the weather interfered. We were hit by a dust storm that afternoon, so after some last-minute scrambling by our awesome church staff, she ended up getting baptized in an inflatable pool filled by a fire truck on the back lawn of the church at 8:30 at night under construction lights. Her Sunday school teachers prayed over her and baptized her.

Nothing made me prouder than when she confidently told the crowd she wanted to follow Jesus for the rest of her life.

It was memorable.


On a completely unrelated note, Brandilyn Collin's Kanner Lake blog goes live July 5 to promote her new book series. Mike Snyder and I are partnering as one of the writers for the Leslie Brymes character. Dineen Miller, Sabrina Fox, and Chris Mikesell also have roles writing for characters. Should be a lot of fun