Saturday, January 31, 2015

Casa Grande Mountain Park

 For my last day in Arizona, I decided to do a little hike and just go as far as my bad knee would take me.  Years ago, I had hiked up Picacho Peak, and was thinking of doing it again, although I knew the upper peak was not going to happen as I remember some pretty interesting stretches of cable and iron drilled into the rock as supports.  I wandered over to San Miguel to say hi to some new and old friends on the golf course before their tournament tee time, and a local recommended that I try Casa Grande Mountain Park instead as it was closer and had some nice trails.  It was close, but doesn't look much like what we call mountains in Western Canada.  I figured I would go check out the trails and if boring could still go to Picacho later.
This is it, Casa Grande Mountain
I started out on the little trail, choosing the Ridgeline.  The Arizona sun blazed overhead, but being January it was actually just pleasant, not hot, but it reminded me of all the old western movies with the sky blazing overhead of a slowly roasting hero or heroine in the desert, so I snapped a photo of it.

The cacti are quite large around here.  I was told that this type of cactus, the tall, multi-armed ones called the Saguaro, has to be at least 50 years old before it grows an arm.  Wikipedia says it can be even longer, 75-100 years.  After that, it can grow as many arms as it likes, but it is as slow growing plant.  They can live 150-200 years, and if there is enough rain and they are fully hydrated, they can weight close to 4800 lbs.  Looking at the length of the arms of this one, it is very likely at least a centurian.  It may well have stood on this hillside watching the advent of cowboys and outlaws enter the area and pass by.  It will likely have seen cattle herders and rustlers, the first of cars and roads and aircraft, and it may stand to watch another 100 years of progress pass by its solitary post in the sun.

The Centurian (or that's what I call it)

Cactus close up
When a Saguaro dies, its internal skeleton is revealed with time.  Tall, spiny shoots make up its more hollow, water containing shell.  It was quite striking to see.  At first I wondered if this cactus had been hit by lightning, but, this is just how they look after they die and start to decay.  Quite different from the solid wood of the old trees we are more used to seeing.

Shortly into the hike I saw a bird circling overhead.  I don't think it was a vulture, but that was the first thought that entered my mind. 

As it turned out, I quite enjoyed my hike in Casa Grande Mountain Park.  The trails just kept going and going.  I tried a couple of different ones trying to find one that would go to the top, but I never did find it.  I heard several loud bangs which I was pretty sure was gunshot, and sure enough, there is a firing range on the other side of the mountain.  So presumably the hiking trails never go on top of the ridgeline so that the two hobbies of hiking and target shooting literally never cross paths.  The little paths seem to just go on forever.  You see what you think is the last corner, and come around it to see it go just a little farther, and that keeps happening.  The mountain is very....folded.  And so the little trails on the mountain  stretch out a lot further than the length of the base.  It was nice to see the surrounding area laid out a bit, and see the lush green of the irrigated fields in the valley.

Here is a shot of the little trail, winding it's way through another fold in the mountain.

As the shadows started to lengthen I started to make my way back down.  I stopped to take a picture of a tiny fingernail cactus, which is probably a year or two old already.  I wondered what the next two centuries will bring past its viewing point in its lifespan.  Good luck little fella.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Sundown at Sedona

One of the best places to photograph Sedona is from the airport.  You can get a nice view of the various buttes and formations from there, as well as see the little city lit up at night if you want.  I finally found a reason to try out the panoramic button on my new camera.
I am thinking the Sedona airport is a bit of an interesting place to take off and land from.  It's elevation is about 4800 ft, and at the end of the runway there is a bit of an abyss to the town below...only about 1200ft really, but some of the surrounding rocks are over 5000 ft.  But this little plane had no problem and happily cruised up and over the valley in no time.

Back at ground level, I decided to roam around town a little bit.  Sedona is a bit more expensive than other places in Arizona.  It's an $8 Smoothy kind of place.  A rock necklace set in silver was marked $245.  And so I decided that I didn't really need any souvenirs...but I did splurge on the smoothy.  A lot of the architecture is designed to fit in with the red rock landscape.

The new age movement is really popular in Sedona, a place which touts the red rocks as a healing place in nature.  There are supposed to be several energy vortexes in the area.  I did walk to one but I didn't feel anything vortexy.  It doesn't really matter though, it's a pretty enough place it doesn't need another draw.  I did notice an abundance of psychics dotting the streets.  It is a booming business in town.

I also see that there was another wandering me who got to town first.

As the sun starts to go down, the rocks take on a bit of a different hue.  I know now what they mean when they say the ancient pyramids of Egypt gleaned like gold in the sun, because as the sun set on what are some very red rocks at high noon, they seemed to take on more of a gilded hue.

So to end the day in Sedona, I went back to Bell Rock and looked back at the red rock cliffs as the shadows stretched out in length and the sun faded away.

The sun disappears on Sedona, lighting it as it has for millennia.  Glad I saw it once, even just for the millisecond in time it was.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Suddenly Sedona

Sedona.  I have been meaning to go there for over a decade.  I kept saying "next time."  It's funny how time gets away from you.  This is it.  This is the place that I said I absolutely HAD to go to in my time off between jobs.  Yet I still managed to take almost 6 months to get there.  But when I did find time, Sedona was nestled quietly into its red rock setting, waiting patiently.  Sorry I took so long.

Sedona is about 2 hours north of Phoenix.  The morning I had planned to go there, I set my alarm, got up, and noticed a thick fog had settled around Eloy.  The visibility was near zero.  Not wanting to be blindly going 130 on the interstate in my VW Bug with no visibility, nor wanting to be going too slow and find myself run over by a large semi on the interstate, I decided to stay put til the fog burned off a bit.  Fog isn't really that common in Arizona, how long could it really last?  2 hours later, I decided I was just going have to brave the fog.  20 miles into the drive, it evaporated into the most beautiful day.  Me and the VW bug were back to cruising and singing "everything is awesome..."

Sedona is famous for its red rocks, and even red earth.  The beauty of Sedona has always been a draw to people.  The area shows evidence of human presence since 11,000 BC.  So almost 12,000 years before the Sinagua were thriving in their castles in the sky, people were enjoying the same rock formations I was seeing on this day.  The first major rock formation I came to was Bell Rock.  Very red, very bell like, and as you can seek it was simply a beautiful day.

The road travels past several red rock ridges...but unlike our Rocky Mountains which go on forever, these seem to have popped up here and there, all willy nilly if you will.  I guess it's because they really WERE formed willy nilly.  The Rockies arose from violent tectonic activity...but the red rocks are sedimentary...or the result of deposits from moving waters, hence all the color bands.  Or, if you are a new age type, you may discount the science of it and go with what some contend it is...a portal into the earth or gateway to another dimension.  I'll stick with the science of sediment myself, I did not feel any weird gateways, and if anyone is going to accidentally get sucked into a metaphysical vacuum while minding their own business, it's me, so it's probably not a portal.

A slightly older  and more traditional religion than the portals theory exists in another rock in Sedona...this here is "The Chapel of the Holy Cross," built into the rocks at Sedona.  This was the busiest tourist site I saw on this January day.

And to be fair, they have a great view to attract tourists!

But I didn't come to Sedona to be indoors, so I carried on and took the scenic route at the edge of town, the Upper Red Rock Loop.  It gave a nice view of the formations a littler further removed.

And I had time to laze under a tree and just stare out at them.

And of course I had to get the little VW Bug in the picture.  I was very proud of it, off road in the red dirt, where bigger cars may fear to tread.  Herbie would have been proud!

The one place I saw along this little road, which is paved in some spots, gravel in others, and a bit of a dust trail for a few seconds, is Red Rock State Park.  I would have loved to have wandered around this little park for a while.  It is a wildlife preserve, has a couple of miles of hiking trails, lots of birds, and lots of programs for kids that even looked neat for Tracking lessons.  AND, the ranger at the gate thought my VW Bug was an awesome ride.  So add Red Rock State Park to your list if you are spending an afternoon in the Sedona area.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Castles In The Sky

Arizona has many treasures hidden away in its deserts.  One is a site called "Montezuma's Castle" near Casa Verde.  The name is a misnomer as the site is neither a traditional castle nor related to Montezuma.  What one finds is a shift in the landscape where the desert turns into a lush treed area around the steady Beaver Creek, and overlooking it all is an ancient American castle in the sky.

90 feet above ground on this sheer cliff face stands this spectacular adobe in the cliff.  It was made over a 300 year period between 1100 and 1400.  The culture that thrived here have been posthumously named the Sinagua.  There is not a whole lot known about the Sinagua, except the evidence of their culture is found between 700 and 1400.  After they left this fertile valley in the 1400's, no trace of them has been found again.  Did they merge, die out?  I don't think anyone knows.  What is known is that they are a farming people.  Their civilization predates a nearby volcanic eruption, which they survived and adapted through.  Their dwellings went aerial sometime after that, although it is more commonly believed they went skyward to stay out of the way of floods which could have happened on the Beaver River.  They created irrigation ditches that covered several miles to the source, Montezuma's Well which is 6 miles away.  Their own pottery was plain and unmarked clay, but their petroglyphs are vivid and lively.  This center was a vital trade center, and most of their goods came from trade, presumably for their agricultural products.  They appear to have a simple religion, being buried with quartz, feathers, and what are presumed to be prayer sticks, and a ritual where the face was painted green and blue and in a head dress.  Burial sites show that children were buried in the parents home, and a very high infant mortality rate which some think contributed the their end.  This is interesting because nutritionally speaking, they were well supplied by the various plants and animals in the area. Anthropologists find the practice of burying the dead so close to home represents no fear of the afterlife, ghosts, and whatnot.  It is suggested that they were comfortable in their spirituality rather than haunted by it. 

It seems as though there should be so much more to tell about people who leave such a grand monument.  Although the main castle is closed off to entry now, it is a 5 story structure with over 110 rooms.  The main structure is easy to see...but there are also side apartments adjacent to it on the cliff as seen in the picture below.

Below the castle one can get a glimpse of the Beaver Creek.  Lazy and calm, one can forget that a sudden rain in the desert can change things quickly, and this area would be prone to fast dangerous waters and flash flooding.

Among the many trees in the area (and a notable lack of cacti), these 'silvery spotted' trees caught my eye.  It is an Arizona Sycamore.  It was used in building the castle, and many stand strong along the creek today.

These Sycamores tower above and are quite striking after a week of seeing mostly just cacti.

The castle is well worth a look.  The admission price is $5, which also gets you admission to Montezuma's Well 6 miles away, and 50% off at the Tuzigoot ruins.  Tuzigoot is a sister site, another Sinagua settlement in the area that was built atop and into a hill.  It is very different, but like Montezuma's Castle, would have been an impressive center to enter for trade and social exchanges.  The Sinagua and their aerial aspirations have left me wishing I knew more.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Buried at Boot Hill

On the outskirts of Tombstone sits a little cemetery.  It is called "Boot Hill."  I wasn't sure who was buried there, but I certainly needed to stop and check.  The admission fee is only $3.  The cemetery was "The Tombstone Cemetery" from 1878 until 1884 when a new cemetery was opened.  With the heyday of Tombstone gone, and many people leaving, the old cemetery fell into ruin.  However, interested citizens of 1940's Tombstone restored the cemetery and set to preserving the history of those know to be buried there.  The most recent grave is that of Glenn Will who lived 1871-1953...perhaps he spent his whole life in Tombstone and had childhood memories of the legends that were formed here in that time.  The only other 1900's grave is that of Emmett Nunnelly in 1946 who spent the last year of his life on restoring of Boot Hill Cemetery, and being buried here was his last request. 
I liked the sign on the entrance door to the cemetery
I noticed graves in the 1800's both here and in other places afar tend to offer more description than modern day ones.  For example, George Johnson was hanged "by mistake" in 1882.  How does THAT happen I found myself wondering.  It turns out he bought a horse, which unbeknownst to him was a stolen horse.  And so he was hanged.  Sounds like Tombstone could be a bit of an unforgiving if it wasn't an unjust enough death, the words "he was right he was wrong but we strung him up and now he's gone" seems to be an added insult.  The brochure doesn't say who added that bit, or when.  Poor George.

As mentioned in the previous blog on Tombstone, the public wasn't always content to let the courts decide matters.  If they disagreed, they would just shoot the party in question and worry about the consequences later.  Such was the case of John Heath.  It was said he planned a robbery and was the leader of 5 men who had already been hanged for that robbery...a mob decided not to wait out the trial and broke INTO the jail and dragged him to a telegraph pole where he was hanged in advance of his trial.

It actually took me a second to catch the pun on this next headstone...not from the complexity of the pun but because I am not used to seeing a headstone joke.  But Lester Moore got 4 slugs from a 44, no les no more.  I actually thought they miss the second 's' in less before I realized this poor man had a joke for an epitaph.  Poor Les was an agent for Wells Fargo who had a dispute with a man over a package...they both died.

The most famous graves in Boot Hill Cemetery are those that were killed at the Shootout by the OK Corral in 1881, Billy Clanton, Frank and Tom McLaury.  An adjacent headstone states that they were "murdered in the streets of Tombstone," reflecting public sentiment about the actions of lawman Wyatt Earp and his deputies (plus one Doc Holliday).

History lacks political correctness, and this stone "Rook, shot by a Chinaman," says a lot of the period.  It is known this took place in front of Naples store, but the date and real name of the man buried here and his killer are lost.  Perhaps many didn't use their real names -- there are graves for Margarita, who was killed by fellow saloon girl Gold Dollar in a fight over a man, and the Kansas Kid who died in a rodeo.  Some graves simply say "two Chinese" or "Dutch Annie (she was Queen of the Red Light District)."  Many people are simply listed as unnamed Indians or Mexicans.  There were murders, revenge killings, but also suicides, infant deaths to diphtheria, drownings, accidents, and not surprisingly, one lawyer who ironically succumbed to 'overwork.'  A scant few died natural causes late in life.  The stories of the dead at Boot Hill reflect the fast paced wild life of those who survived it.  Definitely worth the stop if you are in the area.


Tuesday, January 20, 2015


I have been to Arizona many times, but am guilty of having frequented the same small patch of earth (and sky) every time.  My goal on this trip was to expand my horizons a bit, and go see a few things that I was long overdue in seeing.  Sometimes the soul calls to you on a mission, and for some reason, I knew/decided almost a year ago that I needed to go back to Arizona in the space between leaving Bermuda and the future.  When the time came, I decided that I didn't have the time, or couldn't find the right time to do so.  But in the wise words of one of those spiritualistic types I know, the Universe always gets its way.  It dawned on me, one cold January day in Saskatchewan while I was pondering why all my carefully laid plans were not coming to pass, that I had ignored that call inside many months ago that said to go back to Arizona.  That I had broken a promise to myself.  I laughed and said as soon as I boarded that plane my roadblocks would begin to dissolve for my longer term journey.  For the record, that confirmation came via email while I jetted above the clouds somewhere between Calgary and Phoenix...we will save THAT story for later though.

Arizona felt good.  Warm.  Sunny.  Wide open freeways with a 130 km/hr speed limit upon which to cruise with my beloved little VW rental Bug towards places in which I was years overdue.  Not to mention I know a lot of people who were in Arizona at the time, making for a lot of pleasant visits.  I can't think of anything cheesier to say than "I had to go to Tombstone, it was my spiritual destiny."  So I am going to say it, because it sounds funny, but in absolutely no way is it my spiritual destiny, unless perhaps I lived in another time as Doc Holliday or Wyatt Earp, preferably not the sadly named and undesirably occupied Big Nose Kate.  It is however one of those places I am drawn to.  I like to see old places, old items, and the most fun of all is the places or items that are associated with a story.  Seeing a teacup in the museum that says it belonged to Lady Baldwin in 1732 is not leaves too much to the imagination.  Give me a historical figure with a well known story...the stuff of legends...I would line up to see Lady Diana's dress collection (which toured Canada when I was in Bermuda but I missed it), and I would drive 2 hours (4 hours round trip) just to see where this place of legends called Tombstone is.  Is there a draw to the town that the people who came to live and die there that can still be felt today?  I figured I was too close to not check it out myself for the answer.  So me, the Bug, and my friend Cathy hit the road with a 4 hour drive and a 5 hour window of time.  I am not one to linger long in places...I know.
Truth:  Big Nose Kate was a real person, with a real saloon, and had there been time, it would have been a fun place to eat.  It looked like a Cowboy Hard Rock CafĂ© inside.
If you don't know anything about Tombstone...get a hold of the 1993 movie "Tombstone" starring Kurt Russel, Val Kilmer, Sam Elliott, and Bill Paxton...or even the 1994 movie "Wyatt Earp" which followed, starring Kevin Costner and a bunch of other people who felt bad they missed out on the huge success of Tombstone when it came out.

Tombstone was essentially 'founded' as a single silver claim in 1877.  But there was so much silver that Tombstone became one of the last, the biggest, richest, wildest towns in the west.  A whole lot of sin, wealth, rough work, and high living was crammed into the years of prosperity, 1879-1886.  7 years.  That's the amount of time it took to make this little town a standing legend for 119 years and counting.  And in that time, it's population rose from 100 to 14,000 people.  It produced $85M in silver (that buys a looooot of anything and everything in 1877 money).  For services, it had 1 school, 1 bowling alley, 1 ice house, 1 ice cream parlour, 2 banks, 3 newspapers, 4 churches, 14 gambling halls, and 110 saloons (think booze and ladies of the night).  That pretty much confirms the rumours of the wild west.

Tombstone is a fair distance from anywhere now.  In 1877, it would have seemed another world.  One of the closest places I noticed road signs to, is Nogales, Mexico.  It was hard to miss the turnoff as an impromptu encampment of border patrol had popped up on the road as we drove by.  The Mexican border is only 33 miles south of Tombstone.  This meant cattle rustling was another way of life in Tombstone, and the gang thought to be the biggest player in cattle theft and transfer across the border called themselves "The Cowboys."  No kidding.

The Cowboys, and some of its members who also allegedly delved a little into stagecoach robbery/murder got into a long standing dispute with the Sheriff, Wyatt Earp.  One fateful day, the conflict came to a head when Wyatt, with his two deputized brothers, and an unlikely besty, one gunfighter known as Doc Holliday faced off against several members of the cowboys.  It was 3 o'clock in the afternoon, one likely stiflingly hot Wednesday in October 1881 when the most famous gunfight in the history of the old West erupted not at the OK Corral...but 6 doors down in an empty lot.  The way it happened was the men faced each other, at a distance of about 2 metres, and in less than 30 seconds 30 shot were fired and 3 of the "Cowboys" were dead.  Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp's two brothers were injured but survived the day.

Rumors persist to this day in new books, and back then people took sides.  Doc Holliday was charged with murder along with Wyatt Earp and his brothers (recall they were the law), but they were all acquitted.  However, both of Wyatt's brothers were eventually shot in the 5 months following the event in the streets or saloons of Tombstone by parties who disagreed with the verdict.  Morgan died in Tombstone from his gunshot wounds. (Virgil was maimed but survived an earlier attack), and 2 days later Earp, Holliday, and a few other friends went on the hunt for two of the suspected perpetrators.  This particular fight and its participants eventually left Tombstone.  Doc succumbed to his tuberculosis in Colorado in 1886, and Colorado is where the Earp's and another big name old West friend, Bat Masterson ended up, leaving Tombstone to its wild ways in the peak of its prosperity.  Yet they are forever associated with it.

Although Wyatt Earp is said to be the toughest lawman in the West, it should also be mentioned that before and after he wore the badge, he ran afoul of the law and was accused of multiple thefts, he was at the least a saloon bouncer and at worst a pimp, he consorted with prostitutes and opium fiends, indeed had one for a common law wife whom he abandoned and left to her own suicide, and I am sure there is much much more.  Like the old photos of the west, morality seemed to have no black or white in Tombstone, it was all shades of grey.

And so I looked out on Tombstone.  It sits amidst nondescript taupe hills with innumerable but well separated cacti dotting those hillsides.  Wikipedia say it has a population of 1400, but I cannot imagine where 1400 people live in that small town.  I reckon it seemed like less.  It feels far away from everything, which maybe makes it easier to imagine it as closer to a historical time.  The old "Tough Nut" mine is closed, and the town main street is restored in a way that looks a little gimmicky but preserves the name and as much of the old buildings as possible.  The Bird Cage saloon (the wickedest wildest saloon in the west) still stands and a $10 fee will get you beyond the foyer and into the back with a ghost tour.  I settled for a snapshot of this steer's head, which stands close to a poster advertising an entertainer named Josephine...Wyatt Earp's lover.

In the end, I did not feel any sense of history beneath my feet.  The bustle of 14,000 folk is gone, and of the 110 saloons, only a handful of those original buildings remain.  The remoteness and the mid-winter heat made me like the place, and perhaps a few like the ailing gunfighter Doc Holliday came for that very reason.  But the riches and their allure left long ago.  I wished for a bit more of a deeper moment standing on that historic street, but perhaps Tombstone's short but volatile history leaves more legends than it does impressions in time and the stark landscape the town sits on.  I wasn't disappointed though.  I wanted to see the land and the streets where these famous characters lived out some famous events.  I confess, it is the somewhat tragic life of Doc Holliday that was the root of my compulsion to see this place.  A man who lived knowing his death from the age of 22, when he was diagnosed with tuberculosis (after watching his mother and brother die from it when he was 15).  A gentleman dentist from Georgia turned gambling, drinking, gunfighting, dying legend by 22, compliments of a little bacteria we give little thought to in the first world today.

So yes, in the end, I enjoyed Tombstone as it stands today, but mostly I just loved that I finally stood where legends tread more than a hundred years ago.

Monday, January 19, 2015

San Miguel

Ah, the lush and fertile lands of the Arizona desert. 

What?  Arizona is a lush and fertile desert?  Well, yes actually, in places...but this is not one of them.  I found myself at San Miguel.  There is a San Miguel in Mexico, in the Phillipines, in El Salvador, even one in California, and a town of San Miguel in Arizona.  But that is not the San Miguel of my adventure of the day, it was this San Miguel.

Yes, it's a golf course, and that lush and fertile greenery gets a little help from irrigation and the 5am greenery groomers that zip around the course.  If you know me well, you know I don't golf.  Hand eye coordination is not a skill I have consistently mastered, and the only ball sport I have ever really been good at is volleyball, which I can't help but think is due to the fact that the ball is larger than other balls like golfballs or baseballs, and the larger allowable surface area of contact (upper body vs skinny clubs or bats) means I have a larger probability of success if I just have to let the large ball hit my body without using some type of 3rd party stick to strike a smaller ball.  So in short, I did not golf.  I did a ride along and took a couple of pictures, much to the general happiness of all parties involved.
So without knowing anything about golf itself, I was pretty impressed with San Miguel golf course.  It seemed pretty.  The players seemed adequately challenged by the course.  The golf pros and staff were friendly and approached me as a new face on the green to make sure I had offers of assistance.  The post golf drink was pretty cheap compared to Bermuda prices -- ($3.50 for a beer or $5 for the daily designer cocktail).  The attached restaurant had excellent food -- the menu was preset and usually 2-3 options, but delicious enough that we returned a couple more times.  Prices ranged fro  $12 for the all you can eat fish fry to $14.95 for the shrimp and broccoli fetticine alfredo and a started salad.  Pretty reasonable and tasty all in all.  The other thing I that was great was the sense of community there.  Most of what I know about golf comes from the movie Caddyshack, and so I wasn't expecting to meet a whole group of people who took time out to introduce themselves to anyone new on the course that day.  They seem to have a lot of mix-n-match team events, scrambles, mini tournaments, and encourage everyone getting to know one another.
So, even though I still don't know a thing about golf.  I know that San Miguel would be a good place to go if you are in Arizona and planning to work on your game a few times.  You will find a beautiful course, good food, and friendly people.  And one can't argue the view.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Everything is Awesome!

So it was clear but cold in Saskatchewan.  The weather forecast looked rather unremarkable.  But I forgot to take into account watching for a prairie tropical storm.  In Bermuda, I learned that tropical storms are 63-113 km/hr.  In Saskatchewan the other night, we had winds up to 90 km/hr.  It was also -20C, with one amazing windchill that made it feel like -38C.  Nothing tropical there.  I guess we call it a blizzard.  Even if it isn't snowing, that kind of wind will pick up snow off the ground and blow it around, reducing driving visibility to, well, close to zero.  The howling winds kept me up most of the night, and then it was an early morning as I headed to the airport.  It was a happy coincidence to be leaving on one of the most miserable days of the winter.  2 flights, one layover, and 7 hours of conversation with chatty co-flyers later, I landed in good old Phoenix, AZ without so much as successfully turning one page in my book.  It was a long day, I was tired, and still had an hour to go by car.  For anyone travelling to Phoenix Sky Harbour Airport, Alamo is the car rental agency to go with.  The other places that I could think of like Hertz, Budget, National, and Fox were literally TRIPLE the price.  And so I reserved "your cheapest smallest car" with Alamo in advance.  I was told it would be a Chevy Spark, and so we named it Sparky in advance of meeting it.

The car rental center at Sky Harbour is one large building a shuttlebus away from the airport.  All of the agencies and their cars are in this building.  I went up to Alamo and was greeted by a super friendly girl at the counter, who directed me to the pickup floor, where a super friendly lot attendant offered me a water, but said there were no more Sparks available and asked if there was another car similar to the Spark I would like.  "Do you have a Hum V?" I asked.  He started laughing and tried to draw some similarities between the two, until I said that something between the range of Spark and Hummer would be fine.  He wrote "Free Upgrade" on my ticket, and offered me anything I could see in the rows of cars.  I looked down the road of shiny but normal little cars and wondered who I would choose, but then he said "you can even have this one."  I looked at a shiny, brand new, black Volkswagon Beetle.  "OMG it's soooo CUTE!" I heard myself squeal in a girly voice.  The car had been chosen.

Now I have never really understood what the fuss was all about with the VW Bugs, I usually just thought about the old Disney movie "Herbie," which was played instead of cartoons on the Walt Disney Hour on Sundays, so I was never really a fan.  But it's roomy, and it handles really well.  As I cruised down the Interstate at the 75 mph speed limit, the Lego movie theme song popped into my head, you know, the "Everything is Awesome!!!"  Funny how the promise of sun, an adventure, and a zippy little car can make your day.

Isn't it cute?!?!?

Look it has two cute little exhaust pipes!!

Monday, January 5, 2015

What's Your Bank Balance?

It's still early in the New Year, those who made resolutions have hopefully survived this long without giving them up.  I am not one to make resolutions, except for that one year where I came up with the most loosely contrived wellness resolution ever -- to do one of the 4 following good things each day a) exercise b) get 8 hours sleep c) remember to moisturize or d) eat some damn vegetables.  I figured that even on the very worst of days I could remember to slap some moisturizer on my face.  As it turns out, I am a flawed creature, and a decade later I am still trying to incorporate this policy consistently in my life, but I have a higher ratio of success now than I did back then.

These days I have having the most success with b) get 8 hours sleep.  In fact, I have discovered that left undisturbed by my nemesis the alarm clock, I can consistently sleep 9 or even 10 hours a day.  This is a phenomenon that has never really had the chance to happen before in my life, so I decided to do a little research on the magic of sleep.

We all know that about 8 hours is recommended, that we rarely get it, and there is REM (rapid eye movement) and non-REM sleep.  But there is a lot more to it.  You have 4-5 approximately 90 minutes cycles of REM/Non-REM sleep with intermittent wakefulness that you might not even know is happening (presuming you are sleeping the proper amount).  REM is the stage where you eyes are rapidly flitting about beneath your eyelids, and the time in which you dream.  It is theorized that REM sleep plays a big role in memory, cognition, and learning.  Newborns spend about 80% of the sleep in REM sleep whereas adults spend 20-25%.  If you don't get enough sleep, the brain will try to make up on the lost REM sleep first.  Interestingly, the brain shuts down a lot of neurotransmitters during REM sleep...your muscles are actually paralyzed in normal REM sleep (creeeeeepy).

How does the whole cycle thing work again?  You start out with a non-REM phase, that gives way to a short REM phase (about 10 minutes), then you go into non-REM again, and then into a longer REM phase....each phase or REM gets longer and the non-REM parts get slower,  One cycle is about 90 minutes.  In the non-REM phase, there are 4 subphases that go from shallow to deep sleep (trick -- set you alarm for a 90 minute is much easier to wake up when you are not is stage 4 of non-REM sleep where you are dead to the world).  By the time you reach stage 4, your blood pressure and heart rate are down as much as 30%, a lot of bodily functions are in a nice low idle, but tissue regeneration in in full gear.  Hmmm...that's interesting right?

Sometimes we think running on less than optimal sleep (say 8 hrs +/- 1 hr for individual variation) has a cost of simply feeling sluggish.  But it leads to a decrease in learning and problem solving ability...the quintessential exhausted student doing worse on an exam than they would if they didn't stay up all night cramming or stressing about it.  Lack of sleep means missing out on REM time -- memory and other brain functions we kinda take for granted, and non-REM time, missing out on tissue repair and healing.  Kinda big deals.  Plus there is the increased cortisol secretion when sleep deprived and/or stressed, which has the unwelcome side effect of telling the body to increase fat stores right on the waistline.  And decreased immune function -- you are more likely to get sick and more frequently if you are sleep deprived.  The whole thing snowballs because the extra cortisol also causes problems with memory formation and retrieval, further inhibits immune function, decreases bone formation which can lead to osteoporosis, decreases collagen production (making you, and increased blood pressure among other things.

Can you make up for lost sleep?  Yes and no.  If you miss sleep, you acquire a debt in your sleep bank, and you can actually make up for it on the weekend if you are talking one and two hours.  And you should.  If you have a decade or two of debt to make up for, you may have bankrupted the sleep bank.  You cannot sleep off the extra pounds accumulated by your increased cortisol level, you cannot undo the missed chances for tissue healing and regeneration and sleep up a fix for something that got damaged (ie/ you can't sleep off that wrinkle or sleep away a scar in that muscle that you already tore long ago). can improve memory, problem solving, and cognition with a good night sleep...and by sleeping or turning in early 1 or 2 hours on the weekend.  You can lower your body's level of the villain cortisol (we do need it for some good things by the way) and prevent a couple of extra pounds and wrinkles from sticking to you like glue this year.  You can let your body maximize healing and cellular regeneration (anti-aging, normal maintenance, stuff you need).

If you are sleep deprived and you have a chance to turn off the alarm clock and life on a vacation and let yourself sleep naturally, you can expect your body to claim 10 hours or more for several nights if making up for a long term deprivation.  There comes a point where it will catch up all that it can, and you will go back to that approximate 8 hours of sleep.  My personal study on this shows it can go on for quite some time if you are trying to make restitution for decades worth of withdrawals from the sleep bank.  If I ever catch up will let you know.  Anyway, the moral of this story is this :

Sleep, activity, adventures, work, family, hobbies, are all opposing groups wanting your time...sleep needs 8 hours, work needs 8, that leaves you 8 for everything else.  Someone is going to lose.  It's up to you.  If you can't be good to yourself with sleep, there is always moisturizer, exercise and vegetables right?  Be good to yourselves today, even if just in one small way :)  And don't feel guilty about lazing around in bed this year, you might need it more than you ever knew.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Nett Dich Kennenzulernen

Nett dich kennenzulernen!  (which kinda sounds like net dich ken-nen-zoo-lair-nen from what I recall of Deutsch 101).  It just means nice to meet you, but most things are more fun to say in German, and so three days in, I say net dich kennenzulernen to 2015.  See, it's fun, admit it, you are rolling your tongue in it right now.

I think me and 2015 are going to get along just fine.  I learned some lessons in patience in 2014.  I turned zoom into zzzzz...well, actually I had little choice in the matter, but I can appreciate the benefits of middleground between the two at this point.  Three days in, I am taking on slow and small progressions.  Checking things off the to do list.  I am of course still waiting on some rather important papers, and making frequent but pleasant phone calls and inquiries on that front.  I got around to packing away my Christmas ornaments.  I learned how to use my little Bluetooth speaker I got for Christmas.  I braved coloring my own hair and said goodbye to blond and hello to auburn.  And pulled out some mad kitchen skills that no one believes I had and made and orange-dark-chocolate-raspberry mousse to quell the impending burn of a spicy Asian dish that simmered all afternoon.  Over the past couple of days I have pedalled away some of my holiday sins on the exercise bike (the one thing I can do with a bum knee), and read a couple of books. 

I spent the day in a flurry of chocolate shavings, chili peppers and Rhiana and Lady Gaga blaring from my little speaker.  My third book by John Green of the week (Paper Towns), awaits, and I believe I am developing a TV crush on one of CNN's advisors on aviation disasters which means I am probably old and the aviation industry needs an overhaul when they are the most recognizable figures I see on television.  I have done courses.  I have photographed everything that doesn't move in the area (which outnumbers the things that do move on this landscape).  I have drunk vast quantities of coffee.  Visited lots.  In short...I am ready 2015.  I am rested. I am still in Saskatchewan.

So there is little else to discuss except a book review.   I can recommend "The Fault In Our Stars" by John Green.  It's a novel centered around teenagers, but so was the Hunger Games and the Twilight series.  Hunger Games was a hit in both the written and cinematic forms.  Hollywood dealt a severe injustice to the written words of Twilight, which was so well written it moved me to tears in points...and I am not a book crier, except maybe in one Jodi Piccoult novel (was it my Sister's Keeper or Nineteen Minutes?).  "The Fault In Our Stars," is not a classic because of an upredictable plot.  It deals with teenagers with cancer, which is understandably sad and tragic.  But it is the outlook of the characters that make the novel special.  Their humour, their superfluous vocabulary, their unintentional teenage angsty commentary just perfectly captures the spirit of some rather exceptional teens trying to be ordinary in unordinary circumstances.  The book doesn't try too hard to explain it, which I am guilty of in that last sentence, but just catches it flows.

In short, if you find yourself with some extra time and have been wondering what all the fuss is about with this book / movie...grab the book.  Give it a read.  I really enjoyed it.  And that is all I have to report on today.  Guten nacht (which wants to autocorrect to nonsense about gluten).... or good night.

Friday, January 2, 2015

That's A Wrap!

I realize it will probably be January 3rd by the time I post this blog about the end of 2014.  I wanted to be safely sure it was over before I gave thanks for the end of that year.  I think we're good now, and I can flirt with the new romance that is 2015, my invisible inevitable path forward without 2014 sneaking up behind me and laying another blow. 
In retrospect, 2014 was pretty interesting.  There was a lot of change, and still a lot of good stuff.  I saw a lot of beauty, and as if to remind me of this, the sun lit of the sky for one last glorious sunset December 31, 2014.  It seemed to me it was trying to hang on a little longer, a little brighter than it had in days past.  Nature provided me the ceremonious closure I was hoping for as I await my new start, and I watched the sun set on 2014 with a smile on my face...not a smug one, but an appreciative one for the good experienced and the bad survived.

As I settled in with my sunsetty westward thoughts, I did glance behind, to the east and to the coming night of the New Year.  The story would have been better if I had been facing the New Year forward instead of behind, but that would be a lie, so will stick to the original.  The future, misguidedly behind me for just a few more minutes, was almost a literal blank canvas.  The fortune teller inside me wants to say that this means 2015 will be the product of my efforts and can be whatever I make it to be, no obstacles, no surprises.

I tried to take a couple of photos on a couple of different settings on my camera, and got two very different impressions of the same scene, seconds apart.  It reminded me on a lecture several years ago sponsored by the ever awesome Alberta Sports Park Reaction & Wildlife.  That lecture was on perspective.  In it the analogy they used was that of a window, and the difference between photos taken from several different windows in a home to a gorgeous panoramic scene out front of that home.  All of the photos were beautiful, but the bigger panoramic was the obvious masterpiece.  The point is that we all have our windows...the things that form our views, and make our view different from someone standing in a similar but slightly different place.  Our windows show us great things, but have blind spots, limitations, and boundaries.  This isn't bad, the different views are just as true as our own in many cases, but it is important to open your windows, shift your windows, and try to see all that you can see.  In a nutshell, it's about perspective.  We so often talk about perspective with regards to being positive or negative in attitude, but perspective is so much more.  Broadening and changing perspectives allows you to identify new opportunities and get a better outlook on challenges.  It offers new ways to look at solving problems, and helps you see the bigger end goal.  Perspective is what I think of when I look at these 2 photos at the end of my 2014.

The first is blue.  There was a lot of blue in my 2014.  My grandma died in January.  An aunt, an uncle, a neighbour, my favorite boat captain, an animal activist icon in Bermuda, and my bestest buddy the Lexi cat all died in 2014 as well.  I had to have surgery.  I had a bike accident and might just need another surgery.  This means there was a lot less jogging and some weight gain that I am fervently trying to reverse.  I made some tough decisions.  I left Bermuda.  I didn't return to Edmonton.  I ended up in Saskatchewan much longer than expected.  My carefully laid plans for 2014 had delay after delay after delay.  It gave me more tough decisions.

The flip side is this second picture, which is simply aglow and fiery.  2014 also provided many things I have needed for a long time.  Rest.  Time.  I spent 7 months saying goodbye to beautiful Bermuda and irreplaceable friends, and then 5 months rediscovering Saskatchewan, family, and old irreplaceable friends.  I learned to drive a combine for one thing, and have spent more time in Regina, Saskatoon, and Medicine Hat than I had in all the years I lived close to them.  I got a few girls weekends in, made it to Boston (3 times), Las Vegas, Calgary, Whitefish, and even spent 10 whole days in Edmonton, 4 or 5 of those blissfully watching parachutes come out of the sky at Eden North.  It was my first Christmas home in 6 years.

Blue or ablaze, it was all part of my life this past year.  Good or bad it is all part of the past.  It has slipped beneath the horizon of time just as 2014 faded out over the farm in this last picture.

I spent January 1st with no resolutions, no vigor for attacking the new year.  It was a day of rest, a quasi silent reverie for two thousand fourteen, all it gave, all it claimed.