My College Survival Tips. (School is starting! Here’s how I got through when I was a student.)

Arizona State University, my alma mater and place of employment, starts its fall semester this Thursday. For me, being immersed in the university community, this is one of the most energizing times of year in The Land of AZ. The loudening crackle of the university gearing up for a new academic year echos around town like a catchy tune, everyone’s motivated as the heat starts to let up (or at the idea of the heat letting up), football season begins, Halloween approaches, and we look forward to the fall sunsets, which we know are going to be more glorious than usual.


And it begins!

And it begins!


School starting up always takes me back to when I was a college student. (Meaning, pursuing an undergraduate degree, for those unfamiliar with the American university system.) It was 20 years ago, but I remember with keen clarity some of the survival skills I’d developed. A lot has changed since then, but a lot has remained the same. In honor of this first week of Academic Year 2016, I thought I’d share some of my personal college survival skills.

Here’s how I survived when I was an undergraduate student at ASU:

1). .99 bean burritos “without cheese” from Taco Bell (no less than four packets of fire sauce) and Power Bars the rest of the day – stock up on Power Bars when they’re on sale. (Sidenote: Taco Bell’s bean burritos are now $1.29 on campus, and these days, I don’t eat Power Bars. Neither would I eat bean burritos from Taco Bell. But they saved me many a day when I was broke and late for my next class and needed to grab something cheap and fast.)

2). Work as a student worker on campus 20 hrs/week –

2a). Use workplace as a locker for storing stuff in between classes when off-shift.

2b). Study/prepare for classes during downtime while at work.

3). Emergency measure for Paper-Writing Procrastination (PWP, because I’m a vet and you leave the military with acronyms-as-language hardwired into your brain): Pull all-nighters in the Computing Commons on campus –

3a). Bring a light jacket or sweatshirt regardless of the time of year (or you’ll freeze in the A/C), your own water bottle, and Power Bars.

3b). Pick a work station and implement your strategy for camping out there all night. Strategy involves mostly just leaving all your stuff where it is to make it look like you merely ran to the restroom when in fact you went outside to eat your Power Bar and walk around to get the blood circulating in your legs.

3c). Finish and print the final draft of paper just in time to go to class and hand it in.

4). The “Study for an Exam” (aka “Cramming for a Test”) version of #3 is to do the exact same thing, except pull the all-nighter in the designated study section of the 24-hour IHOP that used to be across the street on 13th and Forest at the Twin Palms hotel (it’s now The Graduate Inn, and the IHOP, sadly, is gone). Venue-specific bonus: coffee all night!

5). Donate your plasma once a month or so for extra cash. The plasma-donating place on Broadway is still there. I don’t know if the phlebotomists who work there these days have vampire fangs attached to their canine teeth, though, or if that was just a thing of the 90’s.)

6). Get your teeth cleaned for super cheap by the students in the dental hygiene program at the local community college (in the 90’s, it was Phoenix College… not sure if any of the other schools in the Maricopa County Community College system have started offering dental hygiene curriculums.)

7). Wait until Friday to do happy hour with friends from work/class –

7a). Order one cheap beverage (I usually got iced tea) and shamelessly eat enough free happy hour food to constitute dinner. My favorite place for this was Macayo’s. I remember their mini-chimichangas and mini-flautas to be so deliciously satisfying! (Don’t know if they still are. Haven’t been to happy hour there in years, and I wouldn’t eat those things now, anyway.)

8). Get together with classmate who’s doing as well as you are after you’ve both finished your drafts of the next assigned paper; exchange papers, read, offer each other brutal but constructive criticism.

9). Caffeine. In my case, it was Diet Coke. I DO NOT recommend this. If I was an undergrad relying on caffeine today, I’d go for iced coffee or tea.

10). Join the Tae Kwan Do club on campus, which meets three times a week. (Used to, that is. It’s not there anymore. The Jui-Jitsu club is still there, though… it meets at the SRC three times a week, as well, I believe.) It’s free therapy, and it keeps you in shape.

On that note, you can consider yourself a seasoned Tempe-campus ASU student when you learn to recognize the juniors and seniors by how amazing their legs look after they’ve spent 2+ years running, power-walking, biking, roller-blading (which very few people do anymore) and/or skate-boarding around the country’s second- or third-largest campus to get to their classes on time.

Freedom is Never Free!

It’s November 11, which means that here in the States, we’re observing our national holiday to recognize veterans of the armed forces – the United States Army, Air Force, Navy and Marines.

At the end of October, I received this incredible email at work:

Saturday, November 8th ASU is hosting Notre Dame at 1:30 p.m.  With a desire to honor all of our veterans at ASU, a limited number of tickets have been made available for our veteran faculty and staff. You served with honor, now we honor you. Thank you for your service!

This came from the Salute to Service committee out of the Pat Tillman Veterans Center, a wonderful campus and community resource for veterans and their dependents at ASU. November 3-14 had been designated as “Salute to Service” week – a week of events with focus on military appreciation built around Pat Tillman’s birthday, November 6, and today, Veteran’s Day, November 11. With this, ASU celebrates the entire week as a way to honor vets and Pat Tillman in continuing his legacy as a heroic Sun Devil and pro football star who sacrificed his life in serving our country.


Callaghan was especially excited about the opportunity to go to Saturday’s game against Notre Dame because he’d never been to a college football game before. Coming from France, he had no real concept of the importance or spirit of athletics at the American university (there’s no equivalent of it over there – no collegiate athletics programs, no mascots, no school colors, no marching bands, no cheerleaders or rivalries or tail-gate parties or events like homecoming or play-offs, etc.), but he had heard all the stories. I mean, he knew about it, but he’d never experienced it.

Man, did he get a first-class education in American college football spirit on Saturday! We walked down to the stadium – the joy of living downtown will never fade – where he dipped his virgin toe into the traditional institution of American college football. His foray turned out to be more of a head-first dive straight into the insanity that was Sun Devil Stadium that day. The game against legendary and well-seated Notre Dame proved to be a phenomenal, exciting, well-fought battle on Frank Kush field (55-31 ASU, final).

As you can imagine, the Sun Devils’ victory parlayed into an outrageous all-night party at the many bars, clubs and restaurants up and down Mill Avenue, the main street of Tempe.

Later that night, the passionate and gracious Notre Dame fans we spotted on Mill stood out in their navy and gold gear as they took in the chaos of the festivities with wide eyes. It was like a UFO had deposited the Fighting Irish fans in downtown Tempe, and they had no idea where they were. We saw them wandering slowly down the street in their unseasonal-to-them shorts and t-shirts, looking around with dazed expressions, and maybe it was just me, but I didn’t think they were thinking, damn, we lost, so much as, damn, now we have to get on the plane and go back to freezing Indiana. Because that’s what I would have been thinking, if I were them. (Aside: I’m certain that Arizona gets some of its transplants because people decide to move here after visiting from their cold places to support their teams playing the Sun Devils in sunny Tempe. It got up to 90 degrees that day. Callaghan and I were in long-sleeve t-shirts because we wanted to avoid getting farmers’ tans, but most people were in regular t-shirts or tank tops and shorts. You can generally get away with that year-round out here.)

Here are some pics from Saturday:


Tickets to the game. Thank you, Pat Tillman Veterans Center and Salute to Service committee!

Tickets to the game. Thank you, Pat Tillman Veterans Center and Salute to Service committee!


Entering Sun Devil territory. Fear the Fork!

Entering Sun Devil territory. Fear the Fork!


Sun Devil Stadium is built into the cactus-studded "A" Butte at the north end of the Tempe campus.

Sun Devil Stadium is built into the cactus-studded “A” Butte at the north end of the Tempe campus.





The game aired on ABC.

The game aired on ABC.


The Sun Devils played an enormous game. The spirit of Pat Tillman was with us, and we veterans in the crowd were recognized.

The Sun Devils played an enormous game. The spirit of Pat Tillman was with us, and we veterans in the crowd were recognized.


This brings us to today, a day off, and, most importantly, a day to remember and reflect with gratitude. Happy Veteran’s Day, and to all of you vets out there, thank you for your service!

THANKSgiving, “A” Mountain and the Hayden Flour Mill

Today was my first Thanksgiving in the States since 2011, which means that it was my first Thanksgiving in two years! It’s so good to be back. If I’m going to tick off a list of reasons to be thankful, I’d have to put that up in the Top 5.

We started out the day with coffee on our balcony.


Thanksgiving morning in our neighborhood was peaceful.

Thanksgiving morning in our neighborhood was peaceful.



Then we headed out the door, walked down the street, and hiked up “A” Mountain.


The "A" on "A" Mountain, as seen from the path just below... awkward angle, I know, but there it is!

The “A” on “A” Mountain, as seen from the path just below… awkward angle, I know, but there it is!


How I have missed it!

I always enjoy that little hike and the view of Tempe and The Valley beyond, but my focus this morning was on the old Hayden flour mill on the subsequently named Mill Ave, our main street here in Tempe (which, by the way, was originally called “Hayden’s Ferry”). The mill is one of my favorite local landmarks, and I’ve been trying to get good pictures of it since we’ve been back. Needless to say, lots of pictures were taken this morning. Here are just a few:


A shot of us with the mill in the background.

A shot of us with the mill in the background.


We approached the mill on our descent from "A" Mountain, and I was able to admire it from many angles...

We approached the mill on our descent from “A” Mountain, and I was able to admire it from many angles…


The mill with Tempe Town Lake in the background.

The mill with Tempe Town Lake in the background.


The mill up close. LOOK AT THAT SKY.

The mill up close. LOOK AT THAT SKY.


Now, we’re off on an exciting last-minute Mission Which Shall Not Be Named At This Time. (Sorry to get all Harry Potter meets the C.I.A. on you guys. There’s a reason for it.)

If you celebrated Thanksgiving today, I hope it was fabulous! Happy weekend, and GO DEVILS!! Our annual Territorial Cup game will take place here on Saturday, and it’s going to be epic, as always.


…and there shall be great fanfare, with trumpets (and fireworks)

Toward the end of our busy weekend, it occurred to us that one interpretation of happiness is when the light at the end of the tunnel starts to look more like the bottom of a cardboard box. An empty box is a glorious thing, indeed! Make that many cardboard boxes. Things are starting to look pretty well unpacked around here, and soon, there won’t be a box in sight… a state of affairs we haven’t experienced in almost a year. We’ve literally been surrounded by boxes since January, and that’s a long time. We found that our unpacking-fu is more formidable than we’d thought, or, more likely, it’s just been coiled up in expectation for so long that when we were finally ready to unleash it, it sprang. Produce the magic box-cutter and things practically leap out of the boxes themselves! We’ve been here for one week, and we’re down to one box. One. Soon there will be photographic evidence of how civilized we are, haha!

One of the many pluses of living in a downtown Tempe neighborhood is, well, living in downtown Tempe, and practically having Mill Avenue in our backyard. It’s less than a ten-minute stroll from our front door. Late on Friday night, we spontaneously decided to wander down there. We were browsing around the upstairs of Urban Outfitters when a girl who looked to be about 19 came up to me and asked a question about the stock. When I told her that I didn’t work there, her expression flashed to disbelief and dismay, like there’d been an unexpected shift in her worldview, and it was more than she could bear. She looked at me and said, “You don’t?” And I suddenly felt terrible about not being able to answer her question. Should I be amused by this? I mean, do I really have that person-who-works-at-Urban Outfitters look/vibe? Yes, I think “amused” is the appropriate word.

We’re also enjoying being close to Sun Devil Stadium, because when ASU plays at home, we know when they score due to the convenient, informative fireworks. On Saturday night, for instance, the celebratory explosives told us a) when it was half-time, and b) that we (ASU) were handily kicking ass. A quick look online confirmed it: the half-time score was something like ASU-20, OSU-3. (Final score was 30-17.) Kitties were alarmed at first, but they’re already getting accustomed to all the unusual sounds… the fireworks, the howling crowds, the karaoke and Shouting Preacher Man across the street (last night) and the planes overhead (the airport’s a stone’s throw away, too).

Somehow, at the same time, our neighborhood is quite peaceful.


View from our balcony, looking to the left...

View from our balcony, looking to the left…


...and to the right

…and to the right



Now, off to tackle that last box!