I was born in Tuscon, Arizona and spent several summers there when I was a young child in the care of my grandmother and great-grandparents. However, Arizona has changed a bit and I have never spent a year there, except for my first year of life, which doesn't count because I have no memory of it. So here are some of the things I learned about Arizona in my first, almost year, living in the state.
1. There are deciduous trees here, most likely drought hardy versions of trees that grow in the east that were brought here so that people could be reminded of home without actually experiencing the cold of home. The leaves on the trees fall off around December, when it is finally chilly enough and the days are short enough to trigger the mechanism to cause the leaves to fall. By March, most of the trees regained their leaves.
2. Guns are a lot more common. There is a law that allows guns to be brought into bars, which, to me, violates a little common sense but, then again, we are living in the "wild west." The Governor also just signed a law taking away all the requirements for owning a concealed weapon. The first time I arrived at homeschool group's park day, the young boys were dividing themselves between those who were playing war games with guns and those who were playing war games with swords. Our toy gun collection has grown 100% since then. Yes, we are bowing to peer pressure a little bit. However, as someone reminded me, it is a Constitutional right to bear arms. The rule at our house has become "Don't 'shoot' an 'unarmed' person."
3. I have really enjoyed seeing streams swell up in the desert this February (Isaiah 43:19). We had a very rainy month and the normally dry riverbeds not only have water running, but, in some places, rapids. Lake Pleasant's water level rose about 20 feet in two months.
4. Winter nights are chilly. The lows in Arizona winter this year were about the same as the highs of Chicago during the same time. There was one time I actually put on a light winter jacket to take Jacques for a walk at 5:30. Travertine tile is very cold in the winter, even in a mild winter. Most of my house is covered in tile.
5. Public pools are incredibly inexpensive here. Most of them are affiliated with the middle schools and cost less than $2 per adult and around $1 per child. Some of them even have slides and cute, little "lazy rivers." Compare that to the Grayslake Aquatic Center, which, a couple years ago, cost $8 for an adult and $6 per child. Of course, with the Arizona's budget woes, that could change...
6. I have seen few scorpions, thankfully, anywhere near our house, although I have heard tales of new subdivisions being inundated with scorpions because the construction destroys their natural home. Scorpions glow under black light.
7. Don't go outside after 9 a.m. in the summer unless you are getting into the pool. Once and only once, I took the kids on a 30 minute hike at Usery Mountain Park at 9. I suffered from heat exhaustion for the rest of the day, feeling sick to my stomach and slightly feverish. We all drank a lot of water, before, during and after the hike. I even bought us all Gatorade! Also, don't take a shopping cart from the cart corral outside in the summer. OUCH! BTW, leather car seats, which are SO nice in Chicago, are the equivalent of frying pans in Arizona summer. We used old t-shirts to shield us from the heat.
8. There are a lot of orange, grapefruit and lemon trees in the area. The smell of orange blossoms is even more intense than the smell of lilacs and is pervasive. They also give off a lot of pollen, as evidence by the film of dust on our table and pool.
9. Those clay roof tiles will not support weight at all, as Eric discovered when he tried to put Christmas lights on a part of the roof over the tile.
10. Driving around in the summer is wonderful, traffic-wise. There are a lot of highways around Phoenix and not a lot of cars. Just don't go out in the afternoon. However, it is less than wonderful during the months of January through March, when all of the snow birds are visiting. Most of them drive around like I did when I first arrived here and was trying to figure out the landmarks.
11. I love mountains, even the cute mountains around Phoenix.
12. There is a lot of animosity between Tuscon and Phoenix residents. Phoenix-area residents consider Tuscon to be a cow town populated with red-neck idiots who refuse to use grass seed. Tuscon consideres Phoenix people to be a bunch of greedy snobs who waste a lot of water on grass lawns in the desert and who take too much of the state's budget. I found this out when I complained to my grandma, who lives in Tuscon, about the lack of highways around Tuscon. Basically, if you want to visit someone on the east side of Tuscon, you have to travel 10 to 15 miles of city streets, which can take anywhere from 30 to 50 minutes depending on how many slow moving cars and traffic lights impede your progress. Her rather huffy response was that Phoenix sucked up most of the highway budget, which is most likely to be true since it has six major highways circling and shooting through the city and it's mega-suburbs.
13. Speaking of grass, there are two ways in which people water their lawns in a desert: the irrigation method and timed, small sprays. The irrigation method involves flooding the lawn every once in a while. Most of these lawns are set up in a bowl configuration, so that the water doesn't overflow into the street. We have the timed system where the water lines go underground and little watering heads pop up at a certain times of the day. One of the reasons we chose the house, aside from the pool and the "library" of eight bookshelves, was that it had just enough grass for our kids to play games without taking too much time to mow or too much money to water. Ironically enough, our kids are spending most of their time in the RV parking area which is dirt and stones, digging and finding rocks with which to make beautiful rock drawings. RV pads are also big in Phoenix.
14. Phoenix is 2 hours from a lot of beautiful places--Sedona, Prescott, Woods Canyon Lake. It is four hours away from the Grand Canyon, which we have not visited at this point, though I have visited it at least five times in my life.
15. I was reminded how close we were to Mexico (about five hours) when traveling south about three hours from Phoenix to the town of Tubac, which is a couple hours from the border. It is an artist colony that had a state park commemorating the ruins of a Spanish fort. The state park was in danger of being closed due to budget cuts. It also has two great restaurants nearby, Wisdom's and The Cow Palace, which we were unfortunately not able to visit when we visited the state park. On the way home, I was stopped by the border patrol to search for illegals. There is one road in Mesa where men congregate hoping someone will stop and give them work. I don't know if they are illegal immigrants or legal immigrants who have just moved. Illegal immigration is a VERY hot topic around here.
16. This is a pretty conservative state, even if a the Democratic Party had a fundraiser in my area. The current Republican governer, who inherited the job when Janet Napalitano became the head of Homeland Security, is making some REALLY difficult spending cuts. For example, any state park that is not making enough money to pay for itself is being shut down, unless someone is willing to pay money to keep it open. Part of the problem is that there is a law that says that if the people earmark money in a referendum, it must be used for that purpose, even if the purpose, like roads to take on urban traffic problems, is no longer an issue with the construction and tourist industry tanking. In some respects, this is a good law because it prevents law makers from doing to a fund what Congress has done to Social Security. However, to move funds where they are truly needed in reflection of current circumstances would require another referendum. One of their less spectacular ideas of reducing costs/bringing in money is to sell the state capital and rent it from the new owners. I ask you, who is REALLY in the market for a state capital building? Maybe the Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia? Bill Gates? Bono? I guess Republicans can come up with some bone-headed ideas, too ;-).
17. I have seen the most awsome sunrises and sunsets ever. It is probably due to all the dust in the air. The windows are open a lot these days and dust settles quickly in our house, on everything outside and on the cars as we travel. Washing the car is an exercise in futility.
18. We are living in a megopolis--about five huge cities surround Phoenix. The only two lane roads are found in neighborhoods. Otherwise, they are two lanes on both sides with a middle lane for turning. I have re-mastered the art of pulling out onto the middle lane when making a left turn and waiting for traffic to open up so that I can merge.
19. Downtown Phoenix is pretty unimpressive, in my humble opinion. When we went downtown in the winter to see a play, there were very few restaurants open after the play ended at ten. (yes, we were living on the wild side that night.) It seems as if nobody lives there, they just go to work. Downtown Scottsdale is much better. I haven't tried downtown Mesa, Gilbert or Tempe. The only other advantage that Phoenix has is that it is the state capital. I have never lived so close to a state capital before in my life.
20. We are surrounded by Indian reservations, which is rather interesting. They have markers on the roads telling you when you are entering their territory. If you commit a crime on their territory, you will be subject to their criminal system, not the governments, or so I am led to believe.
I think one of the many reasons God brought us to Arizona is so that I learn to rely on Him and only Him and to keep me from becoming too complacent in my relationships. In general, I do like living in Arizona because there are eight months of the year in which it is pleasant to be outside and I really enjoy the sun. I have been enjoying learning knew plants and animals and am interested in learning more about the state in the coming year. I hope to get to know my cousins better this year. God is good!