Category Archives: Uncategorized

Ode to Arizona

Today Jay and I became residents of Arizona again, submitting change of address forms and changing everything on our car.  It looks like this temporary living situation is going to at least be a longer temporary situation, so we are embracing our old/new home.  Jay is an Arizona native, with a family history in Arizona tracing back at least seven generations.

To honor the decision to stay in Arizona I’ve decided to share some of my favorite photos from the Grand Canyon State, my second home.

Spider Rock, Canyon De Chelly

Spider Rock, Canyon de Chelly

Sharon and Jay at Fence Point, overlooking Grand Canyon

Sharon and Jay at Fence Point, overlooking Grand Canyon

Marble Canyon from Bucks Farm Point

Marble Canyon from Bucks Farm Point

Hummingbird in the Phoenix Mountain Preserve

cactus close up

Cactus close up

Granite Dells, Prescott

Granite Dells, Prescott

Cochise Stronghold

San Pedro River

Bisbee, Arizona

sandhill cranes in flight

Sandhill Cranes, Photo taken at Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area

Sunset over the Santa Rita mountains

San Franscisco Peaks

MNA’s Zuni Festival

This weekend we had the chance to experience the Museum of Northern Arizona‘s Zuni Festival from the point of view of volunteers.  Friday night was Member’s Night and I worked the silent auction table while Jay helped out in the kitchen.  Member’s Night is always my favorite.  I always see people I know and the museum members come out in style, wearing fantastically elaborate Native American made jewelry.  The elite museum members will actually wear pieces of jewelry that were made by artists at the show.  Of course, as a volunteer at the silent auction table you have the opportunity to compliment the women and hear the story of each piece of jewelry and the artist who made it.

I also love working the silent auction table because you have the chance to get to know the other volunteers at the table.  As a team, you are responsible for an important fundraiser, and the silent auction volunteers take their role seriously.  We pay attention to how the pieces are presented, try to encourage bidding, and watch the clock carefully, making announcements about how many minutes are left to bid.  It’s a fun volunteer opportunity and I look forward to the Hopi and Navajo Festivals later this summer.

The Zuni tribe is from Zuni, New Mexico, just over the border from Arizona east of here.  In addition to making pots and jewelry, they make what are referred to as fetishes.  These are small carvings of animals, made from stone.  These days they buy the materials at mineral and gem shows and then use a large motorized grinding wheel to carve the figures.  The carvings are adorable, some as small as a large blueberry.  Each animal has a story and represents something.  Common animal fetishes are badgers, bears, eagles, and turtles.

The Zuni Festival is the smallest heritage festival at MNA, but the event was well attended and the artists brought outstanding work to sell.  We were also excited to see more young people involved in the dances.  I was told that the dancing traditions had skipped a generation, with the older generation finding little interest from their daughters, they started passing down the tradition to their granddaughters.  I don’t know if this is true, but it was supported by the age range of who was performing.

Photo Review: Overland Expo 2012 #ox12

From Thursday to Sunday, we were living at Mormon Lake as Campground Hosts for the Overland Expo.  Here are some of my favorite photos from the weekend:

Sharon and Jay with Michaela from Meet, Plan, Go

Our home from Thursday to Sunday

I didn’t get a chance to get here much, but there was an awesome Adventure Film Festival

I took this photo on Friday when sustained high winds had toppled many easy ups and tents, but this camper appeared unfazed

One of the many victims of Friday’s high winds

The expo brought together all kinds of campers and travelers including this bus camper who termed his rig the “poor man’s RV”

Lots of great dogs in the campground

If you have ever seen a Honda Element, you get why this is funny

Most campers came Thursday and stayed the whole weekend

There were also a large number of motorcyclists, with a moto village and a riding arena

The camel trophy guys had a skills area where they demonstrated building a bridge and building a raft

The skills area turned out to be a good place for kids to get involved and learn how to tie knots and lash trees together

In this case the kids formed a great team for undoing rope

The bridge was a success!

Now lets see if the little guy can make it…

The little guy made it all the way across but needed a little extra ramp building to get down

The raft took a lot longer to build but was also a success!

they also did other skills courses in this area, including vehicle recovery techniques

The Land Rover guys demonstrated how to right a vehicle

One highlight of the Expo was the driving course

Everyone came out to watch the big trucks take a turn on the driving course

This guy’s rig had the lowest clearance of any of the big trucks, but he still made it with minimal scraping

This little girl loved watching the big trucks. As one truck stopped before making it up the steep hill she said, “he’s almost there… I wonder if he’s afraid of heights”. So cute.

Lots of happy folks on Saturday and Sunday as the weather was beautiful and there was fun stuff to see and do

Sunday, after watching the solar eclipse with everyone at the closing BBQ, we drove away from Mormon Lake towards home with a beautiful sunset

Jay’s Back and Experiencing “Post-Emphatic Wilderness Disorder”

Jay got home this afternoon from 10 days in the Grand Canyon.  The canyon is a surreal place to live.  Anytime you are in the wilderness for an extended period of time, it can be a difficult adjustment to come back to society.  One of our favorite podcasts, Dirtbag Diaries, recently had a story about exactly that issue, The “Post-Emphatic Wilderness Disorder”.  As Jay makes the adjustment, I thought I’d share that podcast with you to give you a sense of where here’s at.


Working for AmeriCorps Youth in Action

As of today I have spent two months in my new job as Program Coordinator for the AmeriCorps Youth in Action Program at Northern Arizona University.  On the road I occasionally missed work.  I know that sounds like heresy, but it’s true.  I missed the opportunity to work on a project or program with other people in order to make a difference in people’s lives.  Working in a community garden or preparing meals at SAME Cafe, Jay and I made a direct impact and it felt awesome.  Serving meals to people who are hungry is important and meaningful work.  That said, when you have the opportunity to look at the whole picture and reduce the line at the door, that is truly meaningful.  I missed that.  I missed getting around a table with other people who wanted to create lasting change and figure out creative solutions to social problems.  

In my current position I lead a team who coordinates approximately 60 AmeriCorps members, serving at 28 different organizations in Coconino County.  By designing training for our members, providing them with support to be successful at their sites, and by improving our systems to improve the experience of members in our program, I hope to have a lasting impact on the community.  Our AmeriCorps members are doing a variety of different jobs, from thinning the forest to reduce the threat of fire to educating children about the environment.  The work that they do on a daily basis has far reaching effects and the potential for lasting change.  It is my job to help them be successful.  When I hear a site representative talk about how much they have accomplished thanks to the AmeriCorps member, I am so happy to be back at work.

This week we brought eight new AmeriCorps members on board.  To officially become a member they recited the AmeriCorps pledge.  As AmeriCorps alum, I felt renewed purpose in my work as I listened to the chorus of optimistic young people taking this pledge together:

I will get things done for America –
to make our people safer,
smarter, and healthier.

I will bring Americans together 
to strengthen our communities.

Faced with apathy, 
I will take action.

Faced with conflict, 
I will seek common ground.

Faced with adversity, 
I will persevere.

I will carry this commitment 
with me this year and beyond.

I am an AmeriCorps member, 
and I will get things done.

Happy Birthday Jay

Jay turns 29 today!  I’m so glad that he was born 29 years ago and that I get to celebrate with him today.


A Year Later: How Jay’s Accident Shaped Our Year

Yesterday morning we made the call that finally closed the chapter on the accident that helped shape the last year.  In paying the final bill for Jay’s burn care, I hope we can finally move past all the pain associated with the accident and appreciate how much we learned from what happened.

Let me preface this by saying that I strongly dislike the phrase “Everything happens for a reason”.  I do not believe that Jay was burned and suffered great pain for a larger purpose.  That said, I do believe that you always have the opportunity to see the positive in a negative situation and to learn from and grow through overcoming pain and struggle.  I am not grateful for Jay having been burned, but I am proud of how we handled the emergency and amazed by all of the ways this negative turned positive.

In the immediate aftermath of the accident we saw an outpouring of support from family and friends and even acquaintances.  The Grostick’s who hosted us in Henderson, Nevada when we left the hotel deserve a special shout out!  Thank you so much to everyone who sent a kind word or showed your support.  It really meant a lot to us, especially to me as I sat with Jay (who was zonked out on pain meds) in the Arizona Charlie’s Hotel and Casino in Vegas overwhelmed at times by the situation.

During Jay’s recovery in Phoenix we had the opportunity to learn about the Overland Expo.  After winning tickets, we attended the 2011 Expo (while Jay was still in burn dressings) and told our story to the event organizers.  Because of that, this year we are attending the 2012 Expo as presenters, sharing our story and hoping to convince other couples of the importance of having both partners know first aid and four wheel driving.  We also made so many great connections at the Expo that led us to volunteer with the Muskoka Foundation and be featured on Drive the Americas.

That evacuation was one of my first times driving on a four wheel drive road.  No pressure!  When we got back on the road, we realized the importance of teaching me how to drive off road.  Over the course of the year I had lots of opportunities to practice and I became more comfortable at primitive camping.  This really opened up our options and saved us money on campground fees.  I can’t wait to take a driving course this spring!

Through enduring this emergency, Jay and I were forced to discuss serious issues about what we need to know about each other’s wishes for major medical decisions.  We are more prepared for marriage by having had these conversations.  Since we are not married yet, we also went through the processes of adding one another as someone who has permission to speak to our insurance companies.

Now that all the bills are paid and Jay has only a faint scar, we are able to joke about what happened and celebrate the accomplishment we made in overcoming this challenge.  Last night we celebrated with a bomber of Clown Shoes Tramp Stamp Ale.  Cheers!

Sharing a Story: When We Won the Battle but Lost the War

This is the 2nd post in a new reflective “Sharing a Story” series, where I tell the stories we never told about our year on the road tied to a picture.


Jay and I both got our start camping through backpacking.  We learned to pack light and be self sufficient.  Forgot your fork on a trip?  Just whittle a new one from a nearby stick.  Hail or high winds?  Huddle in the tent and play cards until it passes or until your tent is carried away.

Before our year on the road I had not done a lot of car camping (where you drive to a campsite and put up your tent near the car).  It took a period of adjustment for it to feel ok and not shameful to retreat to the car to get ready in the morning or read a book in safety and silence. The first time that we really took advantage of the car was at this campsite pictured above.

It was actually our second time staying in the primitive campground at Leasburg Dam State Park in New Mexico.  Our experience was so positive on the first try that we were relieved to be passing through the same area and able to camp in the same spot.  We set up our tent on a nice sandy flat spot and then went about setting up the kitchen and preparing for dinner.  Just as Jay was putting the fajitas on the cast iron, the sun was starting to set and our peaceful new home was invaded.

Out of these tall bushes swarmed millions of little flying bugs.  They didn’t bite, but they were so thick that you couldn’t see through the middle of the swarm and if they flew past you, you would get a mouthful of bugs.  I was grossed out and we were shouting over the swarm, trying to decide what to do.  Dinner was almost done but it was getting dark and Jay needed to use a headlamp, which meant that the bugs were swarming under his headlamp and getting into our food.  Jay covered the cast iron with foil to let it finish cooking bug free and I gathered up some plates and forks and retreated to the car.  I turned off the interior lights so that when he opened the door the bugs wouldn’t follow him into our car.  There were already several lost bugs that had rode in on me and were now wandering the cab as I tried to swat them.

That’s when Jay got a genius idea.  He took our Goby Flashlight with magnetic feet (pictured below) and attached it to the rear of the car pointed away from the kitchen area.  A diversion!  The swarm fell for it and  hovered around the light, giving him just enough time to pull the cast iron and jump into the front seat of the car to safety.  Even still, a few bugs got in, but we were able to swat them pretty quickly.  


Once we were in the safety and comfort of the front seat, Jay served our dinner (with the cast iron resting on a hot mitt on the dashboard).  We ate in silence, trying not to notice the extra bits of protein in our fajitas.  To us it felt like a small victory – we escaped the swarm – but only by retreating to the car.  Which meant the next battle lie right outside, between us and a nice night’s sleep.






Finding My Passion: Interpretation

view of Riordan Mansion from the back from the visitors center

view of Riordan Mansion from the back from the visitors center


Yesterday I had the opportunity to guide tours of Riordan Mansion for the first time in a few years.  I was on and it felt amazing.  Have you ever had a job (unpaid or paid) that you are really good at and really love?  When you are doing that job, you feel like your best self, like you are fulfilling your potential.  Well, that is how I feel when I guide a tour at Riordan Mansion.


Riordan Mansion

The front archway at Riordan Mansion

The tours are an hour long and you as the tour guide are leading up to 15 people through every room of east side of the mansion.  Along the way you are delivering the facts and weaving together an overall theme.  While telling your story you also have to keep a close eye on the group, looking for signs of boredom, fatigue, or rule breaking.  As the tour guide it is your sole responsibility to protect the resource and interpret it for the general public.  I love it.  


Kathy Farretta and Sharon

An old picture from my early days of guiding tours with then Park Ranger, Kathy Farretta (now Kathy is a volunteer at Riordan since they lost their state park funding)

When I ended my first tour yesterday, 7 out of 9 guests came up to me afterwards to tell me that it was a fabulous tour and they loved it.  I measure my success in a few ways, 1) the number of questions I get on a tour, 2) the feedback I receive at the end of the tour, 3) how long people linger after the tour, 4) donations that I receive after the tour (we do not accept tips, but I will take a “tip” and put it in the donation box).  


path leading to the back of Riordan Mansion

path leading to the back of Riordan Mansion

I love finding ways to make my tour engaging, help my guests follow the rules (no touching, stay on the red carpet, and no photos during the tour), and construct a narrative that will motivate the guests to act.  At Riordan Mansion we do not just parrot a history book about the artifacts and the family.  It is our goal as tour guides to actually transform our guests thinking, to get them thinking about how and why the town was founded, about how they participate in preserving the past, and help them see that they can be like the Riordans, building their own community back home.  If it was just about rattling off dates and places I would be terrible at this job.


inside Riordan Mansion Visitor Center

inside Riordan Mansion Visitor Center

So, if you come through Flagstaff, you should obviously take a tour of Riordan Mansion.  Right now they are open 5 days a week, Thursday through Monday, 10:30 am – 5:00 pm with tours on the hour.  You can reserve a tour by calling (928) 779-4395.  If you want to have me as your tour guide, just comment on this post or send an email and we can work out a time.

If you’re not in Flagstaff, I encourage you to learn about your local historic sites and the opportunities to visit or to volunteer.

Life on the Bus

Today I took 6 bus trips.  4 different bus lines, 6 legs of my journey around town.  When our auto insurance agent paused and then got real serious when I said that Jay and I were selling my car and planning to live with only one car, I didn’t imagine that he might be envisioning me on the bus.  Or 4 buses to be exact.

We were not engaged yet when we sold my car.  The auto insurance guy realized we were taking a big step before we did.  He actually said, “do you think you are ready to be a one car household”.  After I assured him we were ready and that no, we were not engaged nor was that in the imminent future, he added that we would get a lower rate on our car insurance if we did get married.  Not that that is any reason to get married (or any of his business).

Anyways, when we were on the road together it was obvious to have one car for two people.  Now that we are settled (at least temporarily) I see the challenges.  This week Jay went, in the car, to Phoenix to visit his family and do some work there.  Thus, I am riding the bus.

Let me tell you a few things I have observed while riding the bus this week.  Civil engineers are not bus riders.  The town is not laid out in such a way to facilitate travel via bus.  The bus stops are in all the wrong places to connect to sidewalks and urban trails.  The bus dumps you on an icy curb next to a busy street that you have to cross to get to your destination (without the luxury of a crosswalk).  It’s amazing to me that this town which has a phenomenal urban trail system is not actually a walk or bus friendly place.

Who rides the bus?  Students, working folks, young mothers with young children and a disproportionate number of native Americans.  The morning crowd is quiet and doesn’t make eye contact.  The evening crowd is chatty, though usually folks are having one sided conversations on cell phones.

Who drives the bus?  The bus drivers have surprised me with how nice and thoughtful they are.  Well, all except for one I had this afternoon.  They are the eyes of the community, spotting broken down cars, public drunkenness, and lost drifters.  Using the radio, they alert fellow drivers of possible hazards and sometimes ask dispatch to call something into the police.

As a bus rider you have to be prepared for two things: 1) waiting  and 2) walking.  Jay was the one that taught me about waiting.  You can’t try to outsmart the bus system and time things perfectly so you don’t have to wait.  The bus is the bus and you wait for it.  Period.  

The walking part came as more of a surprise for me since I’m generally taking the bus to lessen walking.  But if your main transportation is public transit then you can count on getting your exercise.  So wear good shoes and be alert.  See you on the bus!