You are currently browsing the monthly archive for May 2008.

Sunday my husband and I headed south of Tucson for a little Wild West adventure. I have to admit that I’ve never been a very good student of anything Western. Though I know that it’s a subject of fascination for many men, little about the West has ever captured my imagination. Westerns, cowboys…I viewed them with the same enthusiasm with which my husband watches baseball, a yawn and a search for any excuse to escape from the room. Only Clint Eastwood Spaghetti Westerns have ever held any appeal, and that, only to see Clint screw up his face and issue his standard tough guy threat. I never understood what was so interesting about living in dusty, desolate places with a lot of lawlessness. Who in his right mind sets off to a land with an uncertain water supply, hostile peoples, an impossible land for agriculture, in short, a place inhospitable to humans in every way possible?

Now that I’m older, and have some perspective, I am fascinated with some aspects of the West, like how anyone managed to settle there? How did they have the fortitude to travel across country in buggies and the psychological strength to stay once they saw the isolated desolate desert? It’s hard to imagine how our ancestors got by in a time before detailed satellite maps showed the location of rivers. How did they go knowing that they were leaving behind everyone and everything they ever knew and loved and would likely never see again? Even in 2008, the comparatively tamed area where fresh water and meals are easily found, the land still seems harsh to the sensibilities of someone from the lush East Coast.

They were hardy people. In order to not hastily return East, one imagines that the settler’s horses must have died and abandoned them, or they must have really believed in the opportunities of the West, and/or must have been leaving behind worse conditions in the East. Clearly there were some who didn’t like the rule of law, those who wanted the freedom to live as they wished without restraints, in the form of laws or taxation, or social mores.

At any rate, I’m grateful to my ancestors that, for whatever reason, they never saw a reason to generate offspring outside of the greater Delmarva area. I can’t make it through the day without at least two liters of water, so I have no doubts that my kind wasn’t meant to live in an arid environment and wouldn’t have survived the journey past the hills of West Virginia. I suspect my ancestors were so busy breeding that the thought of abstaining for several weeks just to take up residence in some remote, waterless region never occurred to them. At least I can thank them for that.

Tombstone was founded by Edward Lawrence Schieffelin. He named the town as a retort to warnings, “the only rock you will find out there will be your own tombstone.” According to Wikipedia, Schieffelin lived a quiet life until, in 1877, the Gold Rush called him to California. While prospecting in his spare time two years later near the San Pedro Valley in Arizona, he found silver at a plateau called Goose Flats. He founded the town of Tombstone in 1879 and it quickly took off, already recording 100 residents at year’s end. By 1881, there were 10,000 residents, the Crystal Palace Saloon, the Bird Cage Theatre and gambling halls.

The town had short-lived prosperity though. Schiefflin, nicknamed “The Lucky Cuss,” had the area’s richest mine, producing $5 million worth of ore in five years. There is some conflicting information about when exactly Schiefflin sold, whether in 1880 or 1882, but clearly it was early and he walked away wealthy.

For the rest of Tombstone’s short heyday, it suffered from several crippling fires, and ironically, floods. The final blow to the town in 1892 was rising underground water that caused mining operations to end, after which the town was largely abandoned and the county seat moved to Bisbee in 1929. By its decline in 1892, $37 million worth of silver had been taken from Tombstone’s mines.

Tombstone is, of course, best known for the gunfight at the OK Corral in 1881 between the Earps (Wyatt, Morgan, and Virgil) and the Clantons (Billy Clanton and Frank and Tom McLowery). The town was declared a national historic landmark in 1962.

While we were there (the day before Memorial Day) Tombstone had reenactments of the famous gunfight. I had a brush with fame, sort of. Wyatt Earp, one of, are you ready? Wyatt Earp’s descendants was there and when I took his picture, he handed me his card with his website information. I know nothing about the younger Wyatt, but it was interesting to meet someone who carries the DNA of someone so famous.

My husband and I could have visited the Bird Cage or the OK Corral, but we were feeling too cheap to pay the admission fees. They were probably interesting, but I can’t personally attest to it. We enjoyed the museum in the old courthouse where the dudes were tried, but weren’t interested in all the shops lining the old dusty street. All in all, it was an interesting visit back in history and now I finally know a (very) little something about the Wild West.

Here’s some more information about Tombstone from Wikipedia:

“Tombstone’s mines played out in the late 1880’s but they had already made Ed Schieffelin a rich man. He left town and traveled widely, but wanted to be returned to Tombstone when he died. He died suddenly of natural causes while prospecting in Oregon in 1897, at the age of 49. He was found alone in his miner’s cabin, slumped over valuable samples of ore, origin unknown. His journal said “Struck it rich again, by God!” As requested in his will, Schieffelin is interred about two miles from Tombstone (at a cemetery located at West Allen street). He was buried as his will specified in mining clothes, with pick, shovel, and his old canteen.


“…prospectors and those who serviced them came to the town: equipment suppliers, bankers, saloons and, of course, ladies of ill repute. The famous gunbattle at the OK Corral was an indication of the lawlessness and violence that took place in Tombstone in its heyday. The slogan, “The Town too Tough to Die”, came about after the town survived the depression and the moving of its county seat to nearby Bisbee during the 1930’s.

Historical Events of Tombstone, Arizona (from
1878, Oct: Weekly stagecoach service between Tucson and Tombstone started.
1879, Mar 5: The townsite of Tombstone was plotted.
1879, Dec 1: The Earp Brothers came to town.
1879, December: Tombstone incorporated. William A. Harwood, Esq. first mayor.
1880, Feb 22: U.S. Mail service begins in Tombstone on a daily basis.
1880, July 27: Wyatt Earp appointed Deputy Sheriff, Pima County, age 32. First railroad from Tombstone to Tucson completed.
1880, Sept 9: The Grand Hotel opens.
1880, Oct 28: Virgil Earp appointed temporary City Marshall (he was Deputy U.S. Marshal).
1880, Nov 9: Wyatt Earp resigns office of Pima County Deputy Sheriff
1881, June 22: 66 businesses destroyed in fire started by exploding barrel of whiskey at Arcade Saloon.

1881, Oct 26: The Gunfight at the OK Corral. 2:30pm. Arguing and physical fighting between participants. It lasted only about 30 seconds, but once it was over, Tom McLaury, Frank McLaury and Billy Clanton were dead. Morgan and Virgil Earp were wounded, Doc (John Henry Holliday) had a scratch and Wyatt was unhurt.

1881, Dec 29: Wyatt Earp appointed Deputy U.S. Marshal over telegraph.
1882: Tombstone County Court House and City Hall built.
1882: Ed Schieffelin sells holdings to become a millionaire and moves to CA.
1882, May 25: Second fire destroys most of business district (started in Tivoli Saloon).
1884: Boothill cemetery full and officially closed to burials.
1892, July: The original Bird Cage Theater closes permanently.
1929: County Seat was moved from Tombstone to Bisbee.
1962 Sept 30: Tombstone named a National Historical Landmark.

My pictures of this excursion here.
OK Corral
American West
Desert USA
Arizona Central
Am West Travel
Arizona Leisure
Tombstone Web


After visiting the Fred Whipple Observatory, an institution devoted to expanding our understanding and knowledge, seeking to find others in the universe and make a connection with them, exploring the origins of life and from whence we originated, we visited a very different sort of organization, one with more of a mission, of, well, obliterating not only our existence, but essentially that of the earth itself, the U.S. Military Titan II Missile Museum.

I know what you’re thinking, “A peace-loving hippie such as yourself found your way to visit the vessel designed to end our existence?” but it was on the way back to the hotel after our visit to the Observatory, so we thought, “Oh, what the hell.” Actually, that was more of my husband’s thought. To be honest, I would have been just as happy never setting foot on the grounds.

Such as it was, I went along and avoided grappling with all the questions that spring to mind when the military proudly touts the missile’s power of nine megatons, cumulatively more than every bomb ever dropped. We learned that currently China has 350 nuclear missiles pointed at us and we have 450 pointed at them, plus a bunch more aimed at Russia and vice versa. Yippee!

Did these missiles really keep us safe during the Cold War? Is it all absolutely necessary to prevent another devastating world conflict? Civilized such as we like to think that we are, is there really no better way? Are we so limited in our imaginations and our evolution that the best strategy we can devise to prevent conflict is not just mutually-assured destruction, but destruction of all that ever lived, all the beautiful evolution of millions of years, one infinitesimally small tweak at a time…until US…all our own struggles to advance to what is unquestionably the best time to ever live in human history, all gone in an instant because of one nut job?

When you consider all the billions of dollars that go into something like the Titan II, research and construction, maintenance, employment guarding the damned thing, you can’t help but feel a little disgust. The irony grabs you that forty years ago we could create an object that unleashes a power comparable to that of the sun, yet somehow better solar technology to harness the sun’s power to meet our energy demands eludes us. Hmm. It’s remarkable what we figure out when we invest the money for research. One can’t help but wonder what greater good all the war machine money could have created?

Ah yes, but my friend, I’m sure you’ll counter that the money spent bought peace and what greater good is there than that?

This is why, like I mentioned earlier, I chose to not think about these questions. Usually, I like to solve these problems, come to some definitive conclusion, form an opinion, but instead, during the introductory movie portion of the tour, I fell asleep. Once the lights were out, I thought I’d rest my eyes for just a moment and off I went into the world between wakefulness and sleep, telling myself to wake up so that I could gather lots of important facts for this blog entry. My sleepiness was more powerful though, in a way that can’t be measured in megatons, and I rested until our guide turned on the lights again twenty minutes later and sent us out into the yard to visit the missile of evil.

I was more concerned anyway with our first tour guide. He appeared to be a stroke victim and his vulnerability broke my heart. I wanted to jump up from my seat and give him a hug. It’s much easier when you can sit in judgment of others, see them as brain-washed military mind-collateral if you will, than when you see their humanity and frailty. I really didn’t want to like or warm-up to anything about this excursion.

Anyway, off we went for a fun hour of discussing the power of the Titan II and how mutually-assured destruction is still a realistic threat. Perhaps because we had just visited one of the most fascinating, complicated, beautiful, and awe-inspiring manifestations of modern science, the tour of the Titan wasn’t especially intellectually stimulating. I suppose it was interesting to know from where the origins of our last breath would have emanated.

In the command center that controlled the missile’s release, there is an oddly light-hearted part of the tour. Two visitors are asked to play commander, volunteering to sit in the seats to the key, pretending to launch the missile to start World War III.

I tend to hang back on tours so that I can get better pictures as the rest of the crowd files out ahead of me. As usual, I was standing in the back of the room away from most of the other visitors. Nearby was a young twenty-something with two cameras around his neck who was likewise hanging back during the tour to get better pictures. Just as the two volunteers played along and turned the key to launch the missile, just as I was feeling like the whole thing was rather unsettling, the young photographer beside me farted. Not a little fart either. A good one, complete with odor. You can’t make this stuff up. There was enough noise in the rest of the room that I doubt many other people heard it, but I did, and I thought it a fabulous and fitting punctuation to end the tour. I would have thanked the young man if I didn’t think he would have been embarrassed. The tour was mostly over except for one quick view from the bottom of the missile silo, so the rest of my energy was devoted to containing the megaton laughter that was trying to burst forth from me.

Our last stop was the gift shop, which again, seemed inappropriately light-hearted given that the Titan 2 was a rather serious object designed to erase all of human and geologic history. There are all sorts of t-shirts, mugs, and diamond shaped signs reading things like “Dead-End.” I’m not sure if they were meant to be humorous or inspire power in a “shock and awe” sort of way. If they were supposed to be funny, the humor was lost on me and hardly comparable to a good fart after pretending to start the next world war.

My pictures of the excursion
Titan Museum Brochure
Arizona Traveler Description
Pima County Attractions
Strategic Air Command

Friday morning demanded an early start. Neither of us morning people, my husband and I reluctantly responded to the beeping of the 6:30 alarm. We had to eat breakfast, prepare our day packs with our lunch and drive an hour and a half to arrive to the Fred Whipple Observatory visitor center by 9:00 a.m.

The drive down Highway 19 from Tucson, provided little in the way of visual stimulation. This part of Arizona is rocky, red, desert scenery, some copper mines, and little else. As we learned later in the day, there is a “no-light” zone in a corridor around the observatory which limits development. One might think that the desert, arid climate and little natural water source to sustain a human population would limit development, but, no, we humans are amazingly short-sighted and overly optimistic in our own abilities. In fact, the light prohibition or lack of water hasn’t limited all development: there is the Green Valley Retirement Community close to the observatory, situated on a lush green golf course. The folly of humans.

With all the mountains surrounding the observatory, there likely are more spectacular vistas than the overcast skies revealed to us yesterday morning, so the road signs marked in kilometers and the road runner that darted across the street in front of us served as the exciting part of the journey to the Observatory.

Once at the visitor center, we were treated to an introductory film that provided a light introduction to astronomy and a documentary of the building of the new telescope. Our tour guide for the day, Woody Woods, narrated the silent portion of the film showing the transportation and installation of the new mirror. Woody, a physics professor for eighteen years at a university in South Carolina, is now retired and volunteers at the Whipple just because he loves astronomy. As well as being a kind and genial person, Woody proved to have a remarkable memory full of detail and spatial understanding of physics that I could only dream of having.

The Whipple Observatory is located at the top of Mount Hopkins, the second highest peak in the area at an elevation of 8,550 feet, 4,000 feet above the visitor center. Arizona is an ideal climate for observatories. In order to have good visibility of the sky, telescopes need to be in a low pollution environment. Low humidity minimizes the amount of the pollution in the air, and the height of the mountain puts the observatory above the smog. Arizona’s relatively low precipitation and cloud cover are also ideal and provide as many as 260 nights of visibility of the night sky.

The telescope is half-owned by the Smithsonian Institution and half-owned by the University of Arizona. It was constructed by the University of Arizona in the Steward Lab located under their football stadium. The 6.5 meter diameter telescope is made from eight tons of pyrex glass, (the same kind that is used in cooking pans) melted at a temperature of 2000 degrees Fahrenheit, and dried with a revolutionary rotating oven that helped to shape the surface of mirror while it was drying, therefore requiring less grinding to create the finished product. The process was so good that the mirror has 92% reflectivity. The surface needs to be refinished every one to three years, but unlike most telescopes, the resurfacing can be done on-site without dismantling and moving the telescope, an advantage given the difficult, mostly unpaved route to the observatory.

The Fred Whipple Observatory is truly extraordinary. Not only is the 6.5 meter telescope impressive, but the entire building rotates 270 degrees in either direction. In order to use the telescope, astronomers must submit applications describing what they are studying. A committee studies the application and grants the scientist permission to use the telescope on certain assigned days corresponding to the celestial event under study. If it so happens, as it did to scientist Eric (more about him to follow), that the night sky is too cloudy or the conditions too inclement to gather data, the scientist must reapply for another time slot, which may be a year or more in the future. Suddenly, my job doesn’t seem nearly so frustrating.

After being entertained at the visitors center, we fourteen visitors boarded the school bus that was to take us up the mountain. Along the way, our remarkable and astute guide Woody described what we were seeing and provided numerous facts explaining the working of the telescope, most of which went over my head. The drive is a long one, twelve miles along a steep, narrow, mostly dirt, one-lane road with few guardrails. The vehicles that travel up and down to the telescope have CB radios so that drivers can communicate and notify each other of their location in the event that two vehicles going opposite directions both need to use the road at the same time. There are a few places wide enough for vehicles to pass each other, but as it so happened on our excursion, an unexpected SUV appeared in front of us and had to back his way up the dirt road until we could squeeze by each other. “Better him than me!” I thought.

Remarkably, only a small portion of the road closest to the telescope is paved, in order to make the highest and snowiest portion easier to plow in the winter and to minimize dust stirring up into the atmosphere. I asked why the entire road isn’t paved, and the answer, “It’s too expensive.” Imagine all the money in technology and creating and maintaining the telescope and yet, funds for paving the road to get to it are unavailable. Am I the only one who finds that a touch incomprehensible?

One of the best stories on the journey to the top was about a chronic problem with vandalism. Because the bends in the road are so sharp and the road so steep, there are mirrors along the way for vehicles to see each other. For some time, the mirrors, then mounted on wooden poles, were being vandalized and no one could figure out why. Eventually, somehow, the scientists learned that it was a bear, seeing his own reflection in the glass, and either very self-loathing or very territorial, he set about smashing the living daylights out of the mirror. The mirrors are now mounted on steel poles, and I’m not exactly sure how this rectified the problem, but it did.

When we arrived at the visitor center, the temperature felt like it was in the 50s. The weather had promised to be better by Friday, but still there was a relentless wind. Knowing that it’s about 15 degrees cooler at the top of the mountain, I wondered how I was going to fare with only my denim jacket to warm me. In fact, the temperature was increasingly colder as we advanced up the mountain. At one stop, I got off the bus and thought, “My God, this is freezing!” I asked my husband if his fancy watch had a temperature gauge in it wanting to know what the actual temperature was. With the forceful winds, I was sure it had to be well-below 50. He couldn’t tell me but I figured out the answer soon. A few minutes later, back on the bus, continuing our way up the mountain, the light precipitation turned to flurries and sleet, and as we neared the telescope, all the trees were covered in a dusting of icicles and snow. Yes, it was freezing.

Ordinarily, there is a lunch stop part of the way up the mountain at a picnic area outside of the scientist’s dormitories. Though the weather prevented any decent visibility, it did provide one advantage. Because it was far too cold to sit outside, we were part of a lucky and rare group of visitors to eat inside the common room where the scientists hang out.

Happily for me, there was an actual, live astronomer there watching TV and working while we ate. Unable to resist the temptation to talk to him, I introduced myself and learned all I could before we had to leave. Eric, the astronomer, lives in Boston and works for the Smithsonian. (I didn’t mention one word about the Red Sox!) He is a post-doc student who was hoping to get pictures of some of the 300 planets that have been discovered. Unfortunately, due to the weather, the previous night was a bust and he expected Friday night would be as well. Would he have to reapply and come back, I inquired. No, Eric was moving on to become an assistant teacher at the University of Rochester and would have to turn the work over to someone else. Since he was leaving the Smithsonian, getting any future telescope time would have to be coordinated through other committees and organizations. He didn’t seem that disappointed though and I found myself wondering how being in a profession of astronomy or, any of the sciences really, shapes a person to be more patient and tolerant of things he can’t control. An unusual concept in our, “I want it all and I want it now” society.

I would have loved to learn more about Eric, what kind of a person he was, how studying science shaped his personality, if at all, what his beliefs were about religion and spirituality, if studying something so vast as the universe, and focusing on it every day helped to make ordinary problems and concerns seem less important, if his field served as a daily reminder that we are only a blip in time and whatever we think matters, doesn’t really much at all. It’s what I think whenever I look at pictures from the shuttle or the daily astronomy picture of the day, but I wonder if I would be numb to the feeling if my life’s work day-in, day-out was spent on understanding the universe.

Alas, I had to say goodbye to Eric, more to his delight than I’m sure he realized. To ascend the last part of the mountain at a 26% grade, we divided into two groups to finish the rest of the trip in an SUV. Finally, we were there in front of this indescribable piece of equipment that is helping us to understand the universe and maybe even ourselves.

The kind Woody entertained us on the trip down the mountain, just as he had on the way up, regaling us with silly jokes. It’s that kind of thing that melts my heart and convinces me of the deep goodness of people. The planning and work that Woody put into making sure visitors had an enjoyable time, memorizing facts and jokes, wanting to share knowledge and educate others, pouring over details and sifting through the things that he thought would interest visitors, giving his time at home to study and at the Observatory, and doing it all as a volunteer. An act of love, for which all of us on the tour were grateful and will remember as a notable event in our lives for a long time.

Here’s some of what we learned from Woody, captured as accurately as I can muster given my own handicap in intelligence:

    Why are telescopes so big? They are looking at dim objects. The bigger the telescope, the more light it can gather, and therefore, the more distant the objects we can see.

How do astronomers figure out how far away a celestial being is? There are several ways:

    Using geometry. Scientists use the earth to create a triangle. They can look at the same star from the east coast and the west coast to calculate the sides of the triangle (I think that would be isosceles).
    When that isn’t big enough, they can look at a star at sunrise and at sunset, knowing that the base of the triangle is the distance that the earth travels through space in that time. Like, it’s really far.
    When that isn’t big enough, scientists make a triangle using the distance the earth travels from January to June.
    When that isn’t far enough, there is a doppler-like effect with light just as there is with sound. When an object is coming towards you, the beats of the sound are tighter together, repeating more frequently, creating a high pitch. When an object is moving away, the beats spread out and get farther apart, creating a lower pitch. Similarly, light coming towards the earth is blueshifted, and light moving away is redshifted. This tells scientists which direction a star is in relation to the earth, but the velocity can only be calculated by comparing the redshift to other stars.

Only a very small portion of the universe has been mapped. Scientists are already starting to find patterns in where galaxies occur. I can’t remember all the details around that, but I do remember that in addition to chemical patterns, scientists have found a pattern of galaxies interestingly resembling a stick figure. (Oh boy, just wait for my new “the secret” like theory.)

So how do scientists find galaxies? Using hydrogen. It’s the most plentiful element in the universe so scientists know that where there is a hydrogen spike, there is a galaxy. (When an element is “excited” it emits light at a certain frequency. Every element emits light at different frequencies, so that’s how scientists figure out that the element is hydrogen.) So depending on where the hydrogen spikes appear, that’s where scientists know to look for a galaxy. Yes, I know that’s a really rough description, but if you want real science, I’m sad to say, you’ll have to turn to another source.

Anyway, the tour was fascinating, and one of the most interesting places I’ve ever visited. I’ll post pictures and links soon.

Pictures of the excursion
Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory, Smithsonian
About Telescopes
University of Arizona, Veritas
Veritas Educational Website
Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory
Planet Quest

After a couple of days of being in Tucson, I’m learning that there is more to this city than meets the eye. On the surface, it seems like a depressed town with very little happening, but let me not get ahead of myself.

Our original plans on Thursday were to visit the Kitt Observatory, but the relentless high winds and overcast skies persist, limiting any visibility and canceling our tour. The weather is also unseasonably cool, with temperatures in the high in the low 70s and 50s at night. The benefit of the cool weather is that it’s a perfect time to visit the zoo, so we headed to the mis-named Arizona Sonora Desert Museum near the Saguaro National Park. Though it calls itself a museum, it’s more of a park and a zoo, spanning many acres of walking trails and much more than we could see in the four hours we allotted. There is also a museum that houses snakes and minerals and an impressive cave replica that is complete with stalactites and stalagmites (c for ceiling, g for ground).

My two favorite parts of the museum were seeing the A.D.D. creatures of the animal kingdom, the first of their kind that I’ve ever seen in person: a roadrunner and hummingbirds. The road runner ran back and forth and back and forth across the front of the cage. He moved so much and so quickly that it was hard to capture a clear picture of him. I understand now the coyote’s frustration and am in complete sympathy with him. The hummingbirds paused for longer than the road runners, but were still a challenge to photograph. As we stood in the Hummingbird House, they buzzed passed our heads, sometimes so close that you could feel them touch you. By some miracle, I did capture a couple of pictures of them enjoying their clear nectar.

The museum was well-worth visiting. You can learn more about the museum on their website and see our pictures here.
Learn more about hummingbirds here.

Hello from Tucson, Arizona. We arrived safely last night after a few adventures. Here’s a quick run down of how it went…

Our day was off to an interesting start, and I hoped not an omen of things to come. My husband and I had a long to-do list before heading to work, namely cleaning up odds and ends around the house and the dishes left over from the previous night’s…okay…a couple of night’s dinners so that our colleague and friend who is house-sitting wouldn’t know us for the slovenly pigs that we are.

My husband will just love that I’m sharing this story, but he has only himself to blame for becoming the subject of my post. Lately, he has been struggling with a waxy build up in his left ear, making him deafer than usual. It’s a real nuisance when I’m trying to be discreet and whisper something to him. Completely oblivious to the social norms that govern the whisper or consideration for its potential catalyst, he replies in a loud voice, “WHAT? I CAN’T HEAR YOU!” successfully getting the attention of everyone within a half mile radius, not only ruining a potentially funny moment, but often embarrassing me in the process.

Since drops aren’t very effective, we try to ameliorate my husband’s physical problem with ear candles. If you’ve never used an ear candle, here’s a brief explanation. You light fire to one end of a long skinny candle, lie on your side and stick the other, unlit, pointy end of the candle in your ear. As the candle burns down, it sucks the wax out of the ear and into the candle. Usually after doing the process a couple of times, there’s a noticeable improvement in hearing. (I use them too.) The important part of using the candles is to have someone with you to grab the candle and extinguish it at the right time. Without help, you have to guess what the safe point is without setting any part of your person or belongings on fire.

As I’ve complained to him many times, my husband’s problem is less with his hearing and more with his listening skills. He is very independent and even though I have repeatedly requested and admonished him for using the ear candles without me, he does it anyway, always insisting “everything will be fine,” usually accompanied by his snotty, British, eye-roll.

So there he lay on the sofa, candle burning away as I was buzzing about the house trying to check off the rest of the to-do list. My attention was on estimating how much more water I needed for the plant in the living room, which is so dry that the dirt has pulled away from the sides of the planter. It’s the same one that my husband insists is tropical and doesn’t need much water. Mind you, I’m not throwing stones. It’s not often you’ll see me wandering around the house with a watering can in hand. I bring the plants home and the rest is up to my husband to show whatever mercy he chooses in letting them live.

I was working my way into the kitchen when my husband bolted off the sofa with a flaming candle and excitedly announced, “I need water!” He let the candle burn down a little too far. I ran into the kitchen and while I was filling the water glass, the faucet seeming to flow ever so slowly, I heard shouting from the living room, “I’M ON FIRE! I’M ON FIRE!” Next, standing behind me at the sink, he announced that he had dropped the flaming candle on the floor.

I handed him the half-full glass, which he emptied completely onto the floor, extinguishing the candle in time to save the meager possessions we have sweat so hard through the years to acquire. I admit that while I was concerned for my husband, I was equally, maybe even a little more, concerned about burn marks on my hardwood floors. Having learned from those who came before me though, I had the presence of mind to ask, “Are you okay?” before I asked, “How is the floor?”

Fortunately, our floors were undamaged and my husband sustained only a small burn, much smaller than the injury I was going to inflict on him if the outcome had been different.

Nothing like a bit of excitement before a vacation, wondering if your house is going to burn to the ground before you even get the suitcases into the car.

The rest of the day was largely uneventful. USAIR didn’t pull any of their hateful antics, but due to considerable winds in Phoenix, we landed half an hour late for our connection. The layover between our connection to Tucson was originally only forty minutes, but the flight attendant assured us that all the other flights were likely delayed as well. As we were deplaning the agents were announcing the gates for connecting flights, noting the delayed ones. When she mentioned ours, “Tucson, B3…” it wasn’t followed by the hoped for “delayed.” We ran most of the long distance between the terminals and just as we reached our connection, the gate attendant was closing the door. “Wait!” I called. We had just barely made it. The attendant pushed us onto the runway, “Come on through so I can close the door before anyone else comes.” Ah, quality USAIR customer service. That’s what government bail-outs are for, after all. I hope no one else was running through the airport trying to catch our flight.

Once seated, we had the most entertaining pre-flight announcement I’ve ever heard. Given by the colorful, and slightly flaming Patrick, it started with, “Welcome aboard Flight 321 to Maui.” Since we had only barely made it to the plane and hadn’t even had time to double-check the monitors or our boarding passes, I questioned for a minute, “Didn’t it say Tucson on the board outside?” It wouldn’t be the first time I boarded the wrong plane, but it would have been the best boarding mistake I have made. No, no, he was only kidding. The rest of the announcement included gems like, “In the unlikely event of a water landing, wrap your arms through the seat cushion…” and “it will be yours to keep as your run across the desert.” We were informed of the cost of twenty-five cents per minute for oxygen, and five dollars each to buckle and unbuckle our seat belts. Fitting humor with all the recent surcharges for luggage. Apart from the few minutes of the flight when I questioned whether we really were lucky to have caught the flight, it all went very smoothly, and Patrick’s humor throughout (“in a few minutes, we will not be serving drinks and snacks due to the short duration of this flight”) made it that much more enjoyable.

Convinced that there was no way our luggage was going to show up in Tucson, we cataloged what we absolutely needed to get through the night and considered our options for procuring a toothbrush until such day as the rest of our luggage might arrive. (“So much for the surprise sexy dress I packed for dinner tonight,” I lamented privately.) However, to our astonishment, as if the chocolate chip cookie batter sacrifice I made to the Gods earlier in the week finally worked, there on the conveyor belt were both our bags!

A fine, fine day of travel!

May 2008