Thursday, July 29, 2010

Nature in the 'Burbs

I love nature, but I must admit that I am not the "roughing it" type. It's more enjoyable to me if I can appreciate nature up close, but with minimal personal discomfort. For example, you won't find me hiking down the Grand Canyon, when I can see the view perfectly well from the Rim. That's a little embarrassing to admit, and I know I will miss seeing some amazing things this way. But there are many things I can enjoy with this approach of staying within my comfort zone. Our life here at Talking Rock Ranch in Prescott, Arizona is evidence.

We live in the outer suburbs of Prescott, on land that was once cattle ranch. The developer has done a great job of retaining a natural feel, while using builders that work within strict design standards. Our homes and the common buildings have rustic-looking exteriors, compatible with the history of the area. A low-light policy allows us to see a full pallette of stars at night. The best thing about Talking Rock Ranch is how the community has been nestled into the land in a "natural" way.

The beautifully-groomed golf course has natural desert rough. It's common to see roadrunners, lizards, and rabbits. If you choose to pursue a wayward golf ball, you must be alert for snakes. In the evenings, residents have reported the occasional antelope bounding through the fairways.

From the comfort of our back yard, we have enjoyed watching desert flowers seemingly bloom before our eyes after a monsoon rainshower - much to the delight of bees and hummingbirds. Roadrunners are common, and we usually see them with a small lizard wiggling fruitlessly in a sharp beak. Hummingbirds in pairs strafe past us with a whirring of their little wings. Rabbits chase each other playfully, engrossed in mating games. Last night, we were surprised to see two coyotes on the 1st green, within 100 yards of our house.

Hiking trails in the community have provided other glimpses of nature. We haven't encountered any javelina yet, but have learned to identify their scat, which is full of nuts and berries. (This is probably not a tracking skill that will come in handy in Chicago.) Large granite outcroppings and chunks of quartz define parts of the trails. We have a lot of exploring left to do, still on Talking Rock Ranch property.

I promise to expand my territory soon. There's so much to see in the immediate area. Ron is itching to attack some local hiking trails. I want to try kayaking on Watson Lake. And Sedona is only a little over an hour away. For the moment, I am reveling in what these suburbs have to offer.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Tour of I-55, I-44, and I-40

We just arrived in Prescott, AZ after a road trip of almost 2000 miles.  Our Subaru Forester (which we love) faithfully hummed from Chicago to St Louis to Oklahoma City to Albuquerque to Prescott.  Along the way we had side trips to Santa Fe and through the Petrified Forest National Park and Painted Desert in eastern Arizona.  It was a really good trip.

In St Louis, we visited Ron's brother Tim, his wife Emily, and their son Kyle.  (Sorry we missed Logan, who is hard at work in a summer program at the University of Minnesota, sandwiched in between his internship at the University of Wisconsin.)  It was lovely to catch up with the "St Louis Baileys", see the newly renovated kitchen, play cornhole in the back yard, and share a yummy dinner.  Thanks for being such great hosts!

Next was an overnight in Oklahoma City, which we had never visited before.  We stayed at the Skirvin Hilton, a renovated historic hotel - and it was fabulous!  The hotel was beautiful, perfectly located downtown, and the staff was very friendly and helpful.  For dinner, we took a recommendation from the bellman, and walked over to Graham Elliot's "Red Prime".  The restaurant itself was unexpectedly contemporary in design, and the food (particularly my steak) was perfect.  Not cheap - but a great meal and experience.  We also made time to visit the Oklahoma City National Memorial, at the site of the bombing of the Murrow Building.  The memorial is well conceived, beautiful, and very moving.  (Photo of one of the gates and the reflecting pool at left.) 

Monday morning, we were off to Albuquerque - a city with which we are fairly familiar, and do enjoy.  There we stayed (2 nights) at the Hampton Inn & Suites Coors Road, near I-40.  Ron and I decided that the room we had wins the prize as the noisiest room ever!  The air conditioning roared, some weird sound from the ceiling above our top floor rumbled loudly, and the shower emitted a high-pitched whine.  The hotel was full, so they couldn't move us.  We had to put on headphones and listen to music to go to sleep.  Nonetheless, we enjoyed our visit which included dinner in Old Town (Church St Cafe) and lunch the next day in Santa Fe (La Casa Sena).

Fairly rested after two nights in the same place, we took off for Prescott.  Along the way, we saw signs for Petrified Forest National Park and decided, "Why not?"  The park has a 28-mile road, along which there are numerous stopping points to enjoy the views and short walks on paved trails.  We were wowed by the Painted Desert (at right), and the large sections of petrified wood from prehistoric fallen logs (in the foreground in the photo below).  The broken logs, now stone and crystal, reminded us of the ruins of pillars at the Forum in Rome. Interesting that one is the remains of what nature created, and the other is from a creation by man.  Both are magnificent. 

Now we're in Prescott, ready to work on our home and enjoy some summer fun at Talking Rock Ranch!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Carless in Chicago

The time has come…to move our Subaru Forester to Prescott and become carless in Chicago. We’ve thought about this for a long time, and it makes sense.

• We only use the car once every 4 to 6 weeks, to run errands in the suburbs.
• Parking costs us $225 per month, which can better be applied to the monthly assessment in Prescott.
• We constantly worry about security where we rent an uncovered, unassigned space on Chicago School District property.
• Public transportation in Chicago is great and can get us pretty much wherever we need to go.
• On occasions when really need to drive we can try out ZipCars or iGo, or rent a car.

It all seems very reasonable, but it still makes me a little uncomfortable to think about not having the freedom to hop in the car and go. Silly, this concern.

If our plan doesn’t work out, we can always drive the car back to Chicago. C’mon Zippy, you’ve had an expensive check-up and have been gussied up with new platinum spark plugs, so let’s head out to your new home in Arizona. You’ll have a nice, clean and warm garage to live in there. When we visit, we’ll drive you in the sunshine through where the deer and the antelope play.

Folks, we’ll let you know how this turns out. To be continued at a later date.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Fear of Cancer

Wouldn’t you think that a (colon) cancer survivor, like me, would be the first one in line for future cancer screenings? Not so much. I religiously have them done, but the trip to the clinic always feels like a death march. Tests and screenings scare the crap out of me.

You see, I think people that have beaten cancer once should have earned a free pass for the rest of their natural lives. I’m fully aware that is a ridiculous statement, and that many people have to fight the battle multiple times. Survivor doesn’t even seem a strong enough appellation. Maybe “gladiator”? Some eventually lose their brave battle, and that’s what many of us fear. Will cancer find us again and claim us? The fear never really goes away.

Oddly enough, I don’t actually think it’s death I fear. I fear surgery, disfigurement, chemotherapy, and feeling like a victim. When faced with the reality of cancer, I let them cut on me, I vomited through attacks of debilitating nausea, slept through drug-induced fatigue, comforted my husband, and came to terms with the possibility of dying. I beat cancer once, eight years ago. I hope to God I don’t have to do it again.

Yesterday I went for my annual mammogram. I have fibroids that make doctors nervous, although I do not have a family history of breast cancer. So I go, sweating all the way, for my diagnostic procedure. Good news – all is well yet again. The next cancer screening planned (other than my annual mammogram) will be a colonoscopy, early in 2012.

I guess we all fear something. This fear of cancer is my bugaboo, and I know I am not alone. If the fight comes around to me again, I’ll do whatever I have to do to beat it once more. But I can’t guarantee I won’t be muttering, “But I thought I had a pass...”

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Adjusting My Expectations

When I quit my corporate job I thought I would have more time for everything. More time to read, to connect in a meaningful way with my friends, to exercise regularly, to take care of my home, and to travel. In short – I expected to be able to do everything I didn’t have time to do when I was working. I always felt a sense of loss because there were so many things I yearned to do, for which I couldn’t make time. Retirement, I was sure, would take care of all that.

Au contraire, mes amis! You wouldn’t believe how time gets away from you. How did I ever get anything done when I was working? The truth is that if you aren’t at least a little disciplined with your time, it gets frittered away. In the morning, I dawdle over coffee and the morning news. By the time I make the bed, have breakfast, shower, and get dressed, a good chunk of the morning is - gone. A few errands, and we’re into the afternoon. Lunch, laundry and other housekeeping chores eat up the afternoon and push us right into Wheel of Fortune. (Oh, yes we do!) Then dinner and a little TV, and the day is over. Where did it go?

I’m not complaining – I wouldn’t dare. What I’ve discovered is that with our new lifestyle we still the need to purposefully plan the special things we want to do in life, or we’ll feel that time is just passing us by. We go out of our way to put leisure activities like golf, concerts, and museum visits on our calendar. We pursue opportunities to see friends as often as possible, because some of our best recent memories are created that way. We are working the Chicago “Bucket List” since we will move to Prescott in 2012, and there are still so many things to do here.

There are always distractions on the periphery of life that consume your time (and money, for that matter). Sometimes we are too quick to succumb, and allow less important things to monopolize precious moments and energy. For me, it’s time to adjust expectations of myself, and focus on exactly who I want to be in this stage of my life.

Some self-exploratory reading may be in order. Any recommendations for good books from my friends?