Don’t Mess with Texas!

I was sorry to be MIA here on Monday – the schedule this week went off the rails into the great abyss of move preparation. We’re within three days of moving. We’re not overwhelmed, since we’ve been going at a pretty good pace, but each remaining moment will definitely count toward getting everything packed up and squared away.

I wanted to give a huge, hearty shout-out and “thank you” to Texas for being fantastic! When we got here we couldn’t predict we’d cut our one-year-then-we’ll-see plan short and only stay four months, but we did what we wanted to do… we went with the flow and enjoyed Texas while we were here. We spent the four months of summer in exactly the right place, and it proved to be an amazing time.

 

A little keychain souvenir

A little keychain souvenir

 

Texas is great for many reasons. Here are just a few highlights, things we especially appreciate:

–The people here are friendly, warm and big-hearted. They have an easy way of making one feel at home, and they’re genuine people. Good people. In three words, Texans are awesome.

–The service everywhere is outstanding. Texans know hospitality!

–It’s easy to live here… the cost of living (in Austin, anyway) is very reasonable.

–We’ve had nothing but solid, good experiences with the public transportation system here. There’s a convenient network of buses that take you everywhere you want to go, which includes buses that run late at night. Also, we’ve noticed that the freeways here are never too jammed (compared to, say, California).

–Austin is a good time! It’s interesting just by virtue of the fact that it’s the state capitol. There’s the capitol, itself, and there are many museums to explore.

–We’ll never forget the bats under the bridge, and with the Colorado River here in town and our fossil-hunting family adventure up north by Dallas and the countryside in between, we got to enjoy some sides of nature we’ve never seen before.

 

And the t-shirt, of course

And the t-shirt, of course

 

So the next few days will flash by, and then, like the Ingalls’, we’ll pack up our covered wagon (well, a U-Haul trailer attached to the back of our truck) and head west.

Happy Trails, y’all!

 

NEWS – You Can Take the Girl out of Arizona, but You Can’t KEEP the Girl out of Arizona.

Yeah, good luck with that!

So. Our move has evolved, rather surprisingly, like this:

Phase One: (planned) Back to the States (June 2013)

Phase Two: (spontaneous) Back to the Desert (November 2013)

Surprise! Surprised?!

That’s right… we’re moving in November, as in, about a month from now. According to the Taoist calendar, I’m in a CHANGE year, which I guess I might have figured out by now, anyway, even if I didn’t know it. We just decided on this move in the last, like, week and a half.

One thing’s for sure – Texas is a fun and interesting place! We agree with our friend who remarked, “Austin is a town to fall in love with.” We’ve been here for four months now. Great times have been had and awesome people have been met and there’s so much to do here, it’s just been crazy-wonderful. Our plan was to stay for a year and then decide what to do after that. We’ve had a few other places in mind, in the case that we did decide to re-locate again. The short list included Lincoln, NE and Denver, CO.

But the longer I’m back in the States, the more I find my thoughts returning to the desert, to the Greater Phoenix Metropolitan Area, aka the Valley of the Sun (Phoenix is situated in a vast desert valley, surrounded, as per definition, by mountains). Callaghan loves Phoenix, too. We talked about it, and then we looked around at The Shipping mostly still in boxes, and we thought, why wait?

We’re going back to the Land of AZ!

It’s not that I think that one place is better than another, because I don’t. This is simply about feeling right somewhere, which is a very personal thing… feeling spiritually connected to our environment can only be a deeply personal thing. Just as some people believe in soul-mates, I believe in soul-places.

I was born in San Francisco and raised in San Jose, and the whole 18 years I spent in the Bay Area, I never felt comfortable there… not because of the people, but because I didn’t feel that I belonged. It wasn’t my place. In high school, I plotted my escape planned my departure for the earliest opportunity (hello, U.S. Army!) and never looked back. Now, I’ll go to California to see my family and just to visit, but live there again? Not going to happen. I’m hardly alone in this. It’s a pretty common phenomenon, people growing up and leaving their hometowns. It’s like we have to wander away from the place of our upbringings in order to discover where we really belong. Often, we find our special places by accident. You arrive for one reason – school, a job, a significant other – and before you know it, it’s been decades and you’re still there and you’re feeling that content, rooted belonging feeling, and you can’t imagine being anywhere else.

That’s how it happened with me and Arizona, back in 1991. After the Army, I accepted my then-boyfriend’s (also an ex-soldier) invitation to move to Phoenix. It was August, right when Arizona’s at its feistiest. It was scorching hot, dry, and alarmingly sunny year-round with brilliant blue skies and these ridiculous sunsets you just wouldn’t believe, and alien red rock formations with holes in them and gigantic cactuses everywhere. The sky was enormous. There were haboob (dust storms), and the July-August monsoon season brought the heavy aroma of creosote with the rain and the lightning over the desert. It was magical. With the surface streets laid out nice and neat on an idiot-proof grid system, you can get all over the enormous Valley from one end to the other without ever setting tire on a freeway, but an elaborate and efficient freeway system does exist should you desire to use it.

Next thing I knew, I’d been there for 20 years, longer than I’d lived in California. I never wanted to leave. I loved it. Being there just felt right. It was my place.

Then I met Callaghan. We got married. The plan was for him to live with me in Arizona for a year, but it turned out that he had to be in Europe for his business, so after just a few months, we ditched the plan and moved to France.

By January this year, Callaghan’s business circumstances had changed, so we were free to move back to the States (he has dual citizenship, as you may recall). We both wanted to move, and our adventurous spirits tingled with the possibilities. The question “Where should we go?” carved out an enticing open door in our lives, and there were so many places that could answer it! It was easy to sweep my beloved Arizona under the “been there, done that” rug while scanning the horizon for something new. The United States was like a gigantic candy store, and we were standing in the middle of it with ONE decision to make, to start.

We decided on Austin for all the reasons in this post.

And Austin is truly fantastic! What I didn’t anticipate, though, was seeing Phoenix everywhere I looked! The similarities are real, but I’ve come to realize that the reason I see Arizona all over the place is that I want to see it. I miss it. The saying goes, “East or West, home is best.” Arizona is my home. For me, it is best.

There’s great diversity in the Valley, and I’ve lived all over it… Phoenix’s many suburbs include (but are not limited to) the municipalities of Avondale, Glendale, Paradise Valley, Tempe, Scottsdale, Chandler, Gilbert and Mesa. We’re going to settle in Tempe, because it’s my favorite, and I’m planning to find a job there.

We’ll rent an apartment at first, but we’ll eventually buy a house so when the BIG ONE hits and California falls off into the ocean, we’ll have beach-front property.

I can’t believe it! We’re moving in November!

Here’s a smattering of pictures I’ve taken in Arizona over the years:

 

Desert blooms in the springtime make me so happy! This was one of the plants in my front yard.

Desert blooms in the springtime make me so happy! This was one of the plants in my front yard.

 

A shot of the sky at dusk

A shot of the sky at dusk

 

I miss the giant Saguaro cactuses, too

I miss the giant Saguaro cactuses, too

 

I love these alien red rock formations near the Phoenix Zoo and Desert Botanical Gardens...

I love these alien red rock formations near the Phoenix Zoo and Desert Botanical Gardens…

 

I can smell the creosote in the air just looking at this monsoon season sunset!

I can smell the creosote in the air just looking at this monsoon season sunset!

 

Stormy monsoon sky!

Stormy monsoon sky!

 

Phoenix's Camelback Mountain

Phoenix’s Camelback Mountain

 

This was my favorite sunset, and I remember it well... I came home from work to my Tempe apartment and went straight out to the balcony to take this picture. Pink Floyd's "High Hopes" was playing.

This was my favorite sunset, and I remember it well… I came home from work to my Tempe apartment and went straight out to the balcony to take this picture.

 

Sedona. Enough said.

Sedona. Enough said.

 

 

 

 

 

Note: None of these pictures were photo-shopped, touched-up, color-corrected or otherwise manipulated in any way. Arizona’s a natural beauty.

Incessant Phoenix Flashbacks. Also, the Sports Sitch in Austin.

I realized that ever since I decided to post here on Tuesdays and Fridays, I’ve been posting on Wednesdays and Fridays… this is the fifth Wednesday in a row. Not a Tuesday in sight on the recent calendar. Somehow, despite my efforts for Tuesday, Wednesday is just when it happens. Maybe I’ll try to start posting on Mondays, as well, to make it a 3x/week affair.

Saturday evening, we went downtown to meet a friend at Champion’s, and he took us for a stroll onto Rainey Street in pursuit of some local flavor. I kept expecting to find Casey Moore’s cozying up to the old houses lining the street. I wonder when the look-out in the back of my mind will stop automatically using my old Phoenix metro stomping grounds as a cultural point of reference for Austin? Austin is a very unique place with a distinct character of its own, but without wanting to, I’m finding Arizona corollaries for many places we encounter here, as well as many of the same businesses. Some of the Austin neighborhoods appear to have twins in The Valley (Greater Phoenix Metro Area), especially around Arizona State University.

University towns. I like them. Austin being a university town was one of its selling points. The live music scene in Austin is bigger than it is in Phoenix – hell, it’s the “Live Music Capital of the World” – but in my opinion, Phoenix has more of a hard rock vibe, if you can apply a genre of music to a place to describe its general ambience. Phoenix is Alice Cooper’s town. Alice is a big sports fan, and his establishment is a popular pre- and post-game watering hole and eatery in downtown Phoenix. (My girl Stevie Nicks is in Phoenix, too.)

That brings me to this one thing about Austin: there are no major professional sports teams. This is not a source of distress, mind you… it’s just different from what I’m used to. The Greater Phoenix Metro Area has the Suns (NBA basketball), the Diamondbacks (MLB baseball), the Cardinals (NFL football) and the Coyotes (NHL ice hockey). The Ironman Arizona Triathlon is there, and there’s pro fighting. Golf is also big in The Valley of the Sun; the WM Phoenix Open is the largest professional golf tournament on the PGA TOUR. The Super Bowl was hosted at Sun Devil Stadium in 1996 (Cowboys vs. Steelers). There are also two college bowl games hosted in the Phoenix metro area (the Fiesta Bowl and the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl), and MLB Spring Training takes place there annually. Phoenix is a huge sports town by anyone’s standards.

Here, the major professional sports situation is this: San Antonio’s 1.5 hours away, which actually isn’t that far… it’s the home of the Spurs (NBA basketball). Drive to Houston (3 hours), and there are the Rockets (NBA basketball). And Dallas – 4.5 hours away – has the Mavericks (NBA basketball), the Cowboys (NFL football) and the Dallas Stars (NHL ice hockey). Also in the Dallas area, you’ve got the Texas Rangers (MLB baseball). So the teams are here in Texas, for sure. Just not here in Austin, which is perhaps a good thing, because it’s already bad enough that we’re tempted by live music opportunities every which way we turn.

It’s not like I went running off to sporting events all the time when I lived in Arizona. I didn’t. But I do enjoy the energy of a sports town, and there was the occasional game or boxing bout.

The most memorable one was on May 9, 1993; it was Game 5 of the Suns vs. Lakers NBA Western Conference play-offs. That was some basketball! The Lakers were in the house, and my boyfriend and I decided to go at the very last minute. We went downtown, bought tickets from a scalper and folded ourselves into the madness, because isn’t that what any sane college student would do when she has a final exam the next morning? I had my priorities straight. There were memories to be made. We had a feeling that the game would be phenomenal, and holy crap, our instincts did not fail us. About 500 mini heart attacks later (or maybe it was just one big long heart attack – yep, pretty sure I’m remembering that correctly), the Suns won 112-104 in an astounding over-time upset. That win constituted the biggest upset I’ve ever seen live, in person. Actually, it may have been the biggest upset I’ve ever seen, period.

 

 

I was there!

That was Jerry Colangelo’s Suns, with the likes of Charles Barkley; Dan Majerle; Cedric Ceballos; Danny Ainge; Kevin Johnson; Oliver Miller and Mark West on the roster. Remember that team, Suns fans? I was unabashedly obsessed. I was working part-time as a barista and found myself ridiculously flustered early one Saturday morning when coach Paul Westphal came in an ordered a latte. I don’t think I breathed at all while I was making his drink, and I was embarrassed because I thought he could see my hands shaking. At least it wasn’t KJ standing there before me. I would have passed out.

Needless to say, I’m a Spurs fan now!

But I’ll always be a Suns fan. And a Sun Devil.

One very exciting thing Austin does have, though, is Formula 1 racing. This is enormous, and it’s a relatively new development.

At any rate, I’m sure I’ll get to a point where I’m not looking around seeing Phoenix everywhere we go in Austin. We haven’t even been here two months yet. There’s a lot of discovery yet to happen, and we’re really loving it here so far!

Here are some pics from Saturday:

Stopping for a pose with this sculpture on our way to Champion's on 4th

Stopping for a pose with this sculpture on our way to Champion’s on 4th

A casual look at the scene while I was waiting for my Greek salad at the food trucks on Rainey St

A casual look at the scene while I was waiting for my Greek salad at the food trucks on Rainey St

I was distracted by the industrial beauty of the view while we were eating

I was distracted by the industrial beauty of the view while we were eating

Rainey St hang-out (with live music, of course!)

Rainey St hang-out (with live music, of course!)

A building downtown, lit up all gothicky and sweet at night

A building downtown, lit up all gothicky and sweet at night

Close Encounters of the Kitty-Snatching Kind

We’re all happily ensconced in our place now, but the getting here was not without its perils. The Ronnie James kitty almost got abducted by a UFO the second we stepped over the threshold into our new apartment.

To begin with, it had been a long journey for the little guy. First, the morning we left France, he fell terribly ill as a result of the vet-prescribed sedative – NEVER AGAIN, by the way – we gave him and his brother, Nounours, in preparation for travel. (Thankfully, Nounours did not have this adverse reaction.) Next, there was the cramped, cold and damp taxi ride to the airport in Lyon two hours away, where we boarded a flight to Frankfurt, Germany.

At the Frankfurt airport, kitties sat patiently in their pet carriers while Mommy and Daddy sucked down beers, waiting to board our next plane. (What. It was Germany! Having lived there for two years, I’m incapable of stepping foot in that formidable country without imbibing their ambrosiatique – there, I just invented a word – brews.) Then there was the long flight to Houston, Texas… trans-Atlantic, halfway across America, non-stop. It was a 10-hour flight, but we were actually on the plane for 12 hours, since bad weather in Frankfurt caused a two-hour departure delay. Two hours sitting on the plane on the ground, 10 hours in the air. Our boys were beautifully behaved the entire time. No one even knew they were there. We were so proud!

We're American kitties now!  Rah Rah Rah! Now let us out!  **NEWSFLASH**: the inside of these carriers look the same here as they did in Europe.

We’re American kitties now! Rah Rah Rah! Now let us out! **NEWSFLASH**: the inside of these carriers look the same here as they did in Europe.

We spent the night in a motel in Houston. Ronnie James and Nounours knew exactly what to do… I opened the kitty suitcase to bust out their litter box, and they used it immediately after I set it up. They drank water and gobbled down their crunchies and the canned food we set out for them. They raced around the room, took flying leaps through the air onto the sofa, bounced around on pillows and cushions, got more cuddles and kisses and praise than they knew what to do with, and slept. The next morning, we packed them back up in their carriers, buckled them into the back seat of the rental car (being the responsible parents that we are – “BABIES ON BOARD!”) and hit the road for the three-hour drive to Austin.

A friendly sign along the way.

A friendly sign along the way.

In Austin, our final stop was supposed to be our new home, but there was an unforeseen problem with the apartment. We found ourselves pulling a fast Plan B out of our ass and checking into another motel room, where we stayed for four days; thankfully, that was as long as it took to find and move into our ideal new place.

By the time we’d secured that new place, though, Ronnie James and Nounours had already decided that they were home. In the motel room.  They had a double bed all to themselves, courtesy of the large, gruff-looking man behind the counter who’d kindly insisted that we take a free upgrade since kitties “might be more comfortable in a larger room.” They might enjoy a bed to themselves, he reasoned. (It turned out that the motel staff loved cats. We were told the story of how the night shift guy’s cat followed him to work every night, lording over the front counter with Daddy.)

How right he was! Kitties did, indeed, adore having their own bed.

Our own bed? THANKS NICE MOTEL PEOPLES.

Our own bed? THANKS NICE MOTEL PEOPLES.

They also enjoyed the maid service. We straightened up the room every morning and always made sure to leave the “Do Not Disturb” hanger on the doorknob before going out (me being paranoid that kitties would slip out and get lost if someone went in), but at the end of each day, the room would be immaculate, and there kitties would be, lounging like little princes on their bed, looking suspiciously as if someone had brought in silver platters of caviar and sea-brine champagne while we were gone. They probably got smothered with complimentary kisses and attention while we were gone, too. They were as content and purring as kitties could be. Ronnie James looked particularly blissful.

Maid came to change mah sheets!

Maid came to change mah sheets!

So when the time came to check out, Ronnie James balked. Because, you see, not only were kitties being treated like royalty by the motel staff, but there was an armchair in the room. As far as Ronnie James is concerned, home is where the armchair is… especially if said armchair gets daily catnip treatments, as that one apparently did. Throwing everything back in the suitcases and approaching Ronnie James with his empty kitty carrier earned me this expression:

What is that you have there OH HELL NO I am NOT getting back into that carrier. There is nothing wrong with this armchair, see.

What is that you have there OH HELL NO I am NOT getting back into that carrier. There is nothing wrong with this armchair, see.

For the first time in the whole five-day ordeal, he resisted us. He cried all the way to the new apartment. And when we brought him inside and released him, his world blew apart in a mist of terror when he stepped out, looked up, and spotted the Unidentified Flying Object from hell:

Spinning black blades. Lights and flickering shadows. Wind. WE COME FOR YOU NOW.

Spinning black blades. Lights and flickering shadows. Wind. WE COME FOR YOU NOW.

It was unlike anything he’d ever seen before. Adding to the problem was the fact that, being in his carrier, he’d seen nothing between his cozy motel room and this.

He did not get to see our harmless-looking apartment from the outside.

Not scary. Top floor, corner unit. It's peaceful. Summer quiet (students gone) or all the time quiet, I don't know, but it's lovely!

Not scary. Top floor, corner unit. It’s peaceful. Summer quiet (students gone) or all the time quiet, I don’t know, but it’s lovely!

He did not get to see our completely innocuous front door.

Not scary.

Not scary.

And he did not get to see the benign view from our breezeway.

Not scary.

Not scary.

He only saw this:

The menacing, spinning bladed aerial beast lies quietly in wait.

The menacing, spinning bladed aerial beast lies quietly in wait.

His level of alarm took me by surprise. It hadn’t occurred to me that the sights and sounds specific to a warm-weather place would concern the kitties, but of course… duh! In France, kitties never knew the low-grade hum of an air conditioner, and they certainly did not know ceiling fans.

It took almost a week for Ronnie James to adapt. The first two days, he huddled alternately under the bathroom sink (having quickly learned how to open the cabinets) and in the corner of the kitchen counter, where we brought him food and water. (Meanwhile, Nounours was fine. As Callaghan put it, you could drop a piano in front of him, and he wouldn’t blink an eye. He is, however, terrified of garbage bags.) On Day Three, Ronnie James ventured out to use the litter box. I picked him up and held him close in his favorite cuddly position. His eyes widened to the size of CDs and he shook violently with fear in my arms as he watched the flickering of shadow caused by the ceiling fan in the next room. My heart broke.

Finally, he realized that the rest of us were still alive after four days of normal life activity under the ceiling fans, and he started to gradually lower his guard. This process was helped by his discovery of the beat-up old armchair we’d found just for him on Craigslist:

Mine! Mine mine mine.

Mine! Mine mine mine.

He’s all fine now, our little Wrah Wrah James, wandering around and making his little “wrah wrah” happy noises.

UFO? What UFO? I'm chilling under my ceiling fan!

UFO? What UFO? I’m chilling under my ceiling fan!

Belly rubs pleeze and thanks sez the Ronnie James

Belly rubs pleeze and thanks sez the Ronnie James

Too much excitement around here. I'm out.

Too much excitement around here. I’m out.

And Nounours (AKA “Mr. Sheds-a-Lot” – no need for the year-round winter coat here!) has been enjoying the company of his brother again, whom he’d missed during his week of hiding.

Ah... now we're really home!

Ah… now we’re really home!

Austin at a First Glance

We left from winter and landed in summer.

Before:

 

Good-bye for now, Europe

Good-bye for now, Europe

 

After:

 

Austin at a first glance

 

Austin at a first glance

 

We attended an interesting 3-D art exhibit gathering with our friend Joe

We attended an interesting 3-D art exhibit gathering with our friend Joe

 

Austin at a first glance

 

Austin at a first glance

 

Austin at a first glance

 

Austin at a first glance

 

Austin at a first glance

 

Austin at a first glance

 

Austin at a first glance

 

Austin at a first glance

 

Austin at a first glance

 

Austin at a first glance

 

Our first venture out started here, with Joe. Good company, delicious cocktails. Thank you, Joe!

Our first venture out started here, with Joe. Good company, delicious cocktails. Thank you, Joe!

 

 

It’s early Saturday morning, and we’re in our apartment drinking Peet’s coffee (how I’ve missed it!) and catching up online now that we have internet (as of last night). Next week, I’ll tell you about the Ronnie James kitty and his UFO crisis.

 

 

 

 

 

BIG TRANSITION AHEAD

We’re moving!

In September 2011, The Universe poured us a tall glass of France. The Universe was generous.

Universe: Say “when.”

(fast-forward 17 months)

Us: When!

That was in January. Since then, we’ve been super busy preparing to move. We’re now less than two months away from moving day.

While there are aspects of France I’ll miss, I’d be lying if I said we weren’t excited to be continuing on our amazing journey as a couple living completely irrational lives.

We’re heading across the pond to Austin, Texas. It’s on the eastern edge of the American Southwest, which I love. (Yeah, I was the 22-year-old girl who moved to Phoenix “temporarily” and wound up staying for 20 years. I’m a heat-addict.) Austin has a 100% approval rating from everyone we know who knows it.

Us: Hey Austin – Joe, Holly, Nick, Davey, Eden, Tracy, Christa and the person who wrote that cool book about bats have all told us so much about you!

Austin: Only good stuff, I hope.

Us: Of course! Here we come!

Austin: You seem weird enough. Especially him. Knock yourselves out. Oh, and BY THE WAY we’ve been targeted by that crazy man in North Korea. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Well, okay.

In addition to its obvious advantage of having a legendary flock of bats under a bridge, Austin has a low cost of living and a diverse music and art scene. It’s a state capital and a university town, and it’s on the Colorado River. We’ve never been there, and we’re especially loving the excitement of that! We’re looking forward to exploring a new place together.

As for the transient bats we have with us here in France, well… they’ll just have to carry on without us, those shameless little camera whores.

 

The bat crew

The bat crew

 

Look! They're wearing pants!

Look! They’re wearing pants!

 

Posing for Myspace

Posing for Myspace

 

"Do you seriously think an Austin bat could be a cute as ME?"

“Do you seriously think an Austin bat could be a cute as ME?”