Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Phoenix, Sedona and Flagstaff, ARIZONA

After Tucson, we drove a short 2 hours to Phoenix, where we luxuriated in three days with our dear friends Aaron and Natalie.

Natalie works full time from her home on all the varied details of Warm Hearth. Shortly after their two years in Armenia as Peace Corps volunteers, she was able to purchase and create a sustainable, holistic, group home for the orphans she had poured her life into. She discovered toward the end of her stint, that 8 of her "kids" would be sent to Psychiatric institutions, as they had outgrown the orphanages. At the time, there were no long-term group homes in Armenia to meet this desperate need. So, together with friends and family, she was able to begin a revolutionary model of care in January 2006.

She and Aaron have created an artistic, welcoming home of vivid colour and we were thankful for the chance to *see* more of their daily life: watering the plants twice a day, cooking in the darkened kitchen to avoid the sweltering heat of the desert summer, music, Natalie's harp in the corner, loaves and loaves of strawberry bread, ice-cold beer.

Alley and Soul-baby fell in love with their super cute dog Shadow. Alley wanted to be with Shadow every waking minute.

From Phoenix, we drove the back way to Mormon Lake, through the forested, weaving towns of Pine and Strawberry, Arizona. The drive was gorgeous, but took us WAY longer than we thought it would. We subsequently had a very "toad" camping experience that first night, arriving in the pitch dark, just after 10 pm. We had never set up our new 8-man tent, the kids were sleepy, cranky and tired and we were exhausted and in need of food. But somehow, we set our jaws and shuffled through the night and in the morning, awoke rested and ready for another day. The campground host "Max" was a delightful older gentlemen. We arrived just after the long weekend and were the only guests he had. So, he went out of his way to be welcoming. He brought us a large pile of leftover firewood for free, brought icecream bars for Alley and spent leisurely time telling us the best backways and shortcuts to the various sights we wanted to visit.

We spent the first day in beautiful Sedona, a flaming, red-rocked expanse and God-made feast for the senses. My family and I camped, fished and cliff jumped at Grasshopper Point during my childhood and once again, it felt full circle to return there with my own children, to see them cooled and coaxed by the same currents of Oak Creek. A young girl was standing at the top of a low cliff, staring down at the deep pool, afraid to take the plunge. And I remembered my own fear as a child, paralyzing me against responding to the encouragements from my brother to "just jump!" These poignant memories rose and settled, and circled their way around my growing and changing self.

We escaped from the noontime heat into the coolness of The Chapel of the Holy Cross . My husband and daughter lit a prayer candle together and I snuggled with Soul-baby and listened to the Gregorian Chants.
In the evening, we met up with some dear friends Kira, David and Timber and shared a potluck dinner at Wheeler Park. Afterwards, we drove up to Lowell Observatory where we watched a movie on astronomy and gazed at stars through a massive telescope. Flagstaff has a no-street light ordinance to diminish "light pollution" in honour of the Astronomers who research there. I remember as a child, we would sit on the grass under the light-pricked arch of black sky with a map of the constellations. It felt like we were in heaven with lights all around us. There is nothing like the Flagstaff night.

On our way to the Grand Canyon, we stopped at Sunset Crater and Wupatki. Alley was fascinated by the Pueblo Ruins and quickly jumped into imaginative play, pretending it was her own house. We walked around slowly and I asked her what she thought each corner was used for. It was a wonder-filled time to see it through her eyes.

Thursday, July 12, 2007


It seems time for another installation from the road. In some ways, our roadtrip seems far away as we live out the dailyness of our present existence. But the blessings we received from the road, continue to carry us even now.

When we arrived in Tucson, we were greeted by a gorgeous array of colourful perrennials outside my parent's home. They are lovingly tended by my green-thumbed mama. My parent's entry-way courtyard brims with flowering vines. A restful, tinkling fountain flows, surrounded by crocus' and wetland-loving lilypads. Birdfeeders and hanging candles highlight the curving paths. And a rod-iron garden table with two chairs lingers to the side in the cool shade from the mesquite tree.

My parents, older brother Jeff, his wife Lisa and their 5 beautiful children welcomed us. We met our newest niece for the first time. Alley excitedly asked if she could hold her tiny cousin, and Lisa warmly obliged and helped Al find a comfy position of the couch where she could get acquainted. They live in San Antonio and it is always a treat to have time together and to watch the cousins play. I was glad for a few chances to catch up with Lisa and Jeff, to hear of their farm, Jeff's busy medical practice and Lisa's adventures in homeschooling and gardening.

A dear friend (Meg) and I met up for coffee and gelato at the Casas Adobes Plaza, a beautiful collection of shops and cafes down the street from my childhood home. We had a chance to renew our friendship and to share our dreams in hope for one another.

The main event of our time in Tucson was my youngest brother's highschool graduation from Pusch Ridge Christian Academy. He graduated with honours as a National Merit Finalist, played a sweet guitar duet for the ceremony and was acknowledged for his acheivemnts and full-ride scholarship to Baylor University. I was proud of my "little" bro who measures in a 6'5". Since we are 10 years apart in age, I often feel I have missed out on a lot of the milestones of his teenage life. It was a joy to become aware of his involvements and abilities and to celebrate the completion of an era for him. I experience a great deal of joy when I get to watch my brother grow into a man before my eyes.

Another dear friend (Mel) and I had some cherished time together. We caught up on her business as a Flamenco Instructor and weaved together the stories that bridge our long-distance friendship. As always, we had to say goodbye much too soon.

My mom and I spent a morning at Tohono Chul Park, one of her favorite places in the world. Nourished by Prickly Pear tea and a delicious breakfast in the cafe, we walked leisurely around the gardens, looking at the native flora and fauna of the Sonoran Desert.

My Dad and I walked together the four mornings (Early! Before the desert heat) we were there. I loved having a chance to be involved in his daily routine, to see the Mama Dove he sees every morning and to hear his thoughts on the world and politics.

During an impromptu visit with my Grandpa and Uncle Mark, we were able to pick grapefruit from the trees I used to make forts beneath as a child. Alley loved it and ran around, swinging from branch to branch. It was a gift to be in my Grandparent's home again, to pay respect to my Grandma and to feel her lingering presence.

And before we knew it, we were packing up to hit the dusty north-bound trail.