Traffic Circle

John and I will celebrate our 6 year anniversary in This House on September 30. We like our big master bedroom, but we wish the house itself were smaller. We really enjoy being so close to the mountain, yet we wish we could slow the traffic on our street. Last year we found a smaller house on a quiet street that we wanted to buy, but it sold before ours did so we took ours off the market and decided to just enjoy it.

Clearly we can’t shrink the house. But I wanted to try to do something about the traffic. So I sent an email to my city councilman Greg Stanton describing the view out my window: Humvees and BMW’s with text-messaging drivers going 20 MPH over the speed limit. I asked Greg if there was anything he could do. The speed limit is 25 MPH, but some cars were driving as fast as 60.

Councilman Stanton replied to my email the next day. He said he would be happy to address the issue. He set up a neighborhood meeting at my house. Greg brought Kerry Wilcoxon to meet the neighbors. Kerry is in charge of the Phoenix Traffic Abatement Program, which uses bond money to build traffic circles and other impediments to slow traffic on streets that don’t qualify for speed bumps. Greg and Kerry told us they could build a traffic circle, as long as I gathered about a bajillion signatures.

So I did. For the first petition I needed people in the general area to agree that the City of Phoenix should draw up a design. Those signatures took a while to gather, especially one required signature from a homeowner who was away for 2 months at his house in Mexico. But soon I had the petition in Kerry’s hands, and his engineers went to work. Once the plan was drawn, I needed to gather 40 more signatures indicating that we all wanted a temporary structure to be installed so we could test it. Those signatures were easy to gather, and John even helped me and we got them in one afternoon.

Well, after 80 signatures, 10 months, 3 neighborhood meetings, and 1 dissenting neighbor who thinks I am the devil, today they are installing the temporary structure. I ate my morning snack out in the front yard so I could watch the crew installing the signs and barriers.

Traffic Circle

It’s fun watching the cars whip down the street and slam on their brakes when they see the new structure. Lots of soccer moms in Yukons and Suburbans were on their cell phones and looked up just in time to slow from 45 MPH to the 15 MPH required to safely maneuver the circle. After a few months, I will need to gather another round of signatures and then the city will install a permanent structure. In the meantime, we shall see if this helps. I took this picture of a man in his Porsche Cayenne. He smiled and waved. I hope he continues to enjoy the Traffic Circle, because I think I will.

Porsche Cayenne


22" Samsonite

Yesterday I did a packing run-through. No, I didn’t “time it.” Everyone always wants to know if I time the packing run-throughs. But the purpose is not to pack quickly, it is to pack intelligently.

I have a love-hate relationship with packing. I have had severe failures, such as the time I took only casual clothes to Vancouver thinking, “It’s Canada. How dressy can it be?” (Sorry Heather). We rented a condo downtown and went to lots of posh restaurants and I was under-dressed for all of them. Then there was the time I went to Puerto Penasco for Spring Break. I brought only sundresses thinking, “It’s Mexico, it will be very hot!” But it was freezing and I had to buy a cheap sweatshirt to wear over all those pretty dresses.

I have been following my friend Aimee’s blog as she and her husband and 2 daughters drive in their VW van up the Northeastern seaboard. I keep thinking, if I had 2 daughters to take care of what would I do! It’s hard enough packing for just me. I wonder how many packing run-throughs Aimee did? I know I can’t take a trip without a few of them. And to think, Kirk and Corinne are bringing their two kids Justin and Emma to France. I hope they have done ample packing run-throughs.

So it’s time for a packing run-through. But there are a few things that make it difficult. First off, John and I are arguing about luggage. He wants to use the old Samsonites we got for Christmas from his mom in 1999. They tip over forward when you let go of them, they are missing zipper pulls, and the telescoping handles no longer telescope. I want to buy new Samsonites at Ross for $50 each but John says if we both use the old ones that’s a $100 dinner out in Barcelona. I did the packing run-through with the old Samsonite, but frankly I might hit Ross for a new one and tell John I borrowed it from a friend.
Ancient Samsonite
Second, we will carry-on our luggage on the flights to Europe. I say flights because we used frequent flier miles, and to get to Europe on frequent flier miles in July, you have to get creative. We have 4 flight segments: Phoenix to LA, LA to Philly, Philly to Frankfurt, and Frankfurt to Barcelona. Even if we only had 2 flight segments, we would still carry-on our luggage. That’s the rule. Way there: carry-on, Way back: check. That way there’s no chance of luggage getting lost and spending the trip without it. But since we will carry-on our luggage, we have to pack light, and we have to get our liquids into Ziplock bags. After so many years of backpacking, we’re pretty good at packing light. The trick is, pack it once, then take out 25% of what you just packed.

So I did the packing run-through, and I had a few goals. First, fit everything into my 22” Samsonite and my REI backpack. Second, have enough outfits so that I don’t look like I took all my pictures in one day. Third, bring running and swimming gear so I can attempt to limit my weight gain to 5 pounds. When I went to Scotland and Ireland for 2 weeks in 2002 I actually lost 7 pounds even though I consumed nothing but fish & chips and beer. However, I don’t think my metabolism is faring as well now that I’m closer to 40 than to 30. More recently I gained 5 pounds in Buenos Aires, and that trip was only 5 days long.

Especially on a trip that will last 18 days, I want to avoid mistakes. I start the run-through by putting out the packing tools first: packing cubes, toiletry bag, and plastic quart bag for 3 oz liquid containers. Years ago I read this great tip: pack electronics in a toiletry bag to keep the cords organized. Love it! John checks on me a few times during my packing run-through, and he is certain I will not have room for both a dressy bikini and a work-out bikini, much less goggles and swim cap. He smells failure. I want to prove him wrong.

Here’s what I manage:

In my Workout Cube: Running shoes, Visor, Sunglasses, 4 pr socks, 2 running tops, 2 running bras, 2 running shorts, Work-out bikini, Swim cap, Goggles

In my Jammie Cube: 2 pr jammies, 3 bras, All the undies I own.

In my Main Cube: 2 skirts, 2 shorts, 8 dressy tops, 2 cotton T’s, 8 sundresses

In my Swimming Cube: Dressy bikini, Pool cover-up, FlipFlops

In my Toiletry Bag:  GPS & Cord; Camera, Battery Box & Cord; Garmin & Cord; iPod & Cord; Converter; Razor; Inhaler; Qtips, Floss; toothbrush

in my Ziplock Quart Bag: shampoo, conditioner, lotion, soap, toothpaste, deodorant, sunscreen, contacts, contact solution

Sundry items In my Samsonite:  Black dressy sandals, Laundry Bag, Sun Hat

Sundry items In my REI backpack: Inflatable travel pillow, Clip-on LED light, 2 books, Travel purse with personal id, passport, Travelfolio with itinerary and papers

All in!So there! I did it. There was even some room left in the backpack. When I finished my packing run-through I put on the REI backpack and grabbed the Samsonite and did a twirl for John, who was impressed. I think I thought of everything. Please email me if there is something I missed. I have time for a few more packing run-throughs before we go.


How'd We Decide?

Cousin Peggy asked me a question. She’s curious to know how John and I made the choices for our trip in July. I told her it was kind of a long story, so I’ll answer it here.

Each year John and I go to a country we have never been to before. Last year we ran out of months in the year, and by the time we were ready to travel, I spent about 4 hours on the phone with a high energy agent at US Airways trying to find the one country we could fly to on frequent flier miles withink 3 weeks. That turned out to be Turks and Caicos.

In other years we followed invitations of friends who were living/traveling in places such as Scotland, Korea, Venezuela, and China. In other years we did dream trips, like Argentina and Costa Rica. This year we are again following the lead of friends, meeting Kirk and Corinne at the house they rented in France, and staying for some time in Spain since neither of us have been there before.

So how’d we decide? Well, we knew we would be with the Hinckley family during certain dates, and we also knew we wanted to go see the second to last stage of the Tour de France from Montelimar to Mont Ventoux. We wanted some time in Barcelona, and I wanted to take John to some of my favorite French towns from when I spent a summer semester at the Universite de Paul Valery in Montpellier in 1989: Carcassonne and Sete.

For this year’s trip we also had an Ace in the Hole: I took a graduate course in French Poetry last semester to brush up on my French. The class was really hard. So I hired a tutor, who was born and raised in Toulouse. She was recommended to me by someone in my swimming class, and guess what her job was in Toulouse? Travel agent! So each week we spent half an hour on planning the trip and half an hour on poetry.

We worked at the computer. She showed me the town of Cadaques in Spain and I was hooked. So we made sure to add it to the list. And when every hotel within 60 K of the Tour de France was booked, she suggested we stay in Marseilles and drive up early to catch the action. This was all very helpful for us in picking towns where we could stay. 

As for our lodging decisions: we love to rent houses and apartments whenever possible, and we always use VRBO.com for that. And we have also had great success with the luxurylink.com site. They run auctions for packages at fine hotels. I had almost rented an apartment in Barcelona, but the online service was pulling a little bait and switch, so we found the luxury link package and decided it would be a nice splurge for the end of the trip. The package includes 4 nights, breakfasts, a tasting dinner one night, stone massages, and a suite room with panoramic views.  Another bonus of rentals and auctions: they were paid in dollars from the states, so we did not have to pay the 3% conversion fee from our credit card, or worry about the exchange rate.

We use the website Tripadvisor.com to check out the hotels and neighborhoods. With me working on one computer checking availability, John was on another computer checking ratings and reviews for the hotels and areas. We also look for travel blogs where people report their experiences in differnent areas. We have gotten lots of great ideas from blogs about where to visit and where to stay. We often read a blog of a restuarant or a market and say we have to go there!

So, our plannig does come down to a big investment in time. But I get really excited to read about other people’s travels, so it’s not a chore. More like a hobby.


Running Again

I have 3.5 weeks before the trip, and I better hunker down and get some tone back becasue we’ll be taking lots of pics!  I have had too much rest and too much butter pecan ice cream. So I’m back in the training zone. I love to do 2 runs, 2 swims, 2 bikes, 2 lift sessions, and 2 yoga sessions each week. That’s a perfect week for me exercise wise. It’s why I prefer triathlons over marathons. All that running hurts my feet! I like to mix it up a bit. This morning I tried to get out of the house without the pups, but they gave me that look! You know the one. So I leashed them up and attached them to my hipster Camelback. They really do drop my pace from about a 9:30 to a 9:15 because they like to run fast. Here are the details of the run. This is such an easy trail run to do from the house. Just out the door, and up to the Water Tanks. There’s a trail marker at exactly 1.5 miles, so I make sure I touch it before I turn around. I can’t believe what a blessing it is to live next to this park. I think I’d go a little bonkers if we didn’t have that beautiful mountain just steps away. That was one smart move we made, anyway, getting this house next to South Mountain.

My Park


The Driving and The Lodging

I have been very slow at starting this blog, which makes me sad because my mom would have loved reading it. Four days before she died she sent me an email asking about our trip and I didn’t have many answers because I was still struggling to find time to put details together. Now I have the driving and the lodging figured out, but I still need to choose lots of activities and restaurants. That is the more fun part, I think, since it involves fewer calculations and fewer hard decisions. To see all the details so far, including the hotels and houses, click here.

Planning this trip makes me really appreciate my mother because when she took me to Europe when I was 16 she had to do all of this work through phone and mail. I can’t imagine trying to plan this without the internet and email. Mom worked really hard to make that trip special and it obviously had a big impact on me because I still have the travel bug. Thank you Mommy!

John and I go to a new country every year, and though I lived in France during college I never did get to Spain. That’s lucky for us because when our friends Kirk and Corinne called and said “We rented a house in France, come join us,” our answer was a big yes! Kirk and Corinne are the same friends who called us in 2000 and said, “We’re going to China, want to come?”  That was another big yes! So the four of us went to China, and Kirk and Corinne fell in love and 9 years later we’ll be vacationing in France with them and their two children Justin and Emma.

Here's the house Kirk and Corinne rented.
Here's the house Kirk and Corinne rented.

I’m really looking forward to this trip. It will be wonderful to spend time with friends, show John some of my favorite places in France (Carcassone and Sete), see the second to last stage of the Tour de France, and explore brand new territory in Spain. Our lodging is a mix of 5 hotels, 2 house rentals, and a 4 night package we purchased from Luxury Link. We are spending 10 nights in France and 7 nights in Spain.

I’m very sad that because of the trip I will be missing my Aunt Lynn’s 80th birthday party on July 17. But as a lifetime lover of travel herself, she promises me she forgives me. Plus I’ll be going to see her in Minnesota on her actual 80th birthday August 21, and I’ll bring plenty of pictures so she can see my adventures. I’ll be thinking of you Auntie Lynn!

Now. I still have a lot to do today. Boy it’s hard to balance a busy life. We got the dogs walked, the chores done (oops–there’s laundry to fold still) and soon John will start grilling his amazing Tequila-Lime shrimp. I still need to write a poem for my online Poetry Group (that’s due tomorrow at noon) and I need to write a piece for my Graduate course in Creative Nonfiction (that’s due Tuesday at 6pm). I need to answer a few student emails too. I better log off before the whole day passes me by.

John’s Tequila Lime Shrimp

1 lb Big Shrimp
1 lime
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp tequila
3 garlic cloves
salt
pepper
cayenne pepper

Zest the lime, then squeeze it. Place the lime zest and juice, plus all the other ingredients in a ziplock bag in the fridge for about 2 hours. Grill in a grill-basket just until pink. Don’t overcook ‘dem Shrimps or they’ll be tough.


AM Hike

Egg Pie and FruitI’ve been a sloth for a while now–since my mother died on June 2. John went to the grocery store and came home with all my favorites: cherries, raspberries, strawberries. Later I found that he had also brought home a gallon of butter pecan ice cream, and somehow that’s where my attention went. I have had about a half cup of it each day, and when I eat it I think “I am doing something good for myself because I’m letting go a little.” But when the ice cream is gone, I’ll go back to fruits and veggies, which will feel good too.

Our friends Autumn and Jeff are coming over for a hike today. When folks found out mom had passed they all asked what they could do. “I want to see you!” I told them. Now more than ever I want to spend time with my friends. So Jeff and Autumn are coming and we’re going to hike up to the top of South Mountain, and it will be so nice to see them and get a big fat hug. I’m going to make my egg pie. It’s really simple and here’s the recipe:

1 potato
1 red pepper
1 container pre-sliced mushrooms
1 bunch asparagus
1 onion
18 eggs
1/2 cup asiago cheese

Slice the potato into thin rounds (I use my Cuisinart). Layer them in a lasagna pan to form the crust. Pre-bake the potatoes at 350 while you chop veg. Mix the 18 eggs well (I use the Cuisinart to mix eggs since it makes em fluffy) and put them in a big bowl with the cheese and chopped veg. There will be a lot of veg (it’s good for you). Salt and pepper the mixture, pour over the potatoes, and bake until firm.