Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Hills

Getting over the hills is one of the ways I gauge my stamina every week, now that I'm over the hill. We've got three cardiac tests on our eight mile loop mountain bike ride around Deem Hills Desert Preserve, a chunk of open space spared by the development industry of Phoenix. I figure if I can make it up these without bailing out and walking, I'm still doing okay. This is my new alternative to trying to fit into the wedding gown I wore at the age of 25, which doesn't even squeeze onto my petite 18-year-old daughter, certain proof that it must have shrunk!

The first of the hills has been dubbed Boulder Hill, because it is strewn with rocks the size of baby heads and small dogs. Navigating among the rocks adds a significant challenge to the ten percent grade, but it's just a warm up of a couple hundred yards. I still have a hard time with this one.

A mile long five percent grade through deep sand ending in a steep pitch of about a hundred feet we call Bolder Hill. If we do our route counter clockwise, the same hill climbs for about a quarter mile on a thirty percent grade. But then you miss the uphill, heart-pumping, quad-building, balance-testing mile, which becomes a sluggish cruise going downhill. To achieve success here you have to plan ahead, as if you are running a technical river rapid, to avoid pointy rocks. So you have to begin on the left, then ferry over to the far right and then push hard over a ledge near the top. I always stop to catch my breath, take in the view, and have a drink here.

The crux of our tri-test is named Shoulder Hill, in honor of an unfortunate accident that my husband Tom suffered at its summit a few years ago. After surgery and four months of rehab, he has banned toe clips from his mountain bike, which were the primary culprit in the spill. For this one, you have to shift down to your lowest gear quickly, in order to pump up a short narrow, loose, gravelly grade that tops out onto a roadside curb. It took me a while to master this one.

We do this ride about twice a week, same old ride every time. The triple hill challenges make it fun, but the best part is the triple benefits: getting outside, getting exercise, and enjoying time with my favorite biking partner.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Fairy Rings

You might think that it's too dry for mushrooms in Phoenix, Arizona, but we've got some monstrous mushrooms on the lawns in our neighborhood. The Green Parasol, aka Chlorophyllum molybdites, is common all across the U.S., the fungus of "fairy rings." They look tempting to eat, but DON'T try it! Chlorophyllum is very poisonous, and will make you puke your guts out.

One fun thing you can do with these is pluck an open mushroom, remove the stem, and place the cap on a piece of white paper for a few hours or overnight. The spores of the mushroom will fall out and make a beautiful print in the pattern of the gills. In this case, the spores are pale green. This is also one of the ways mycologists identify species and therefore avoid being poisoned.

Sunday, September 12, 2010


One the eve of her leaving for college, my daughter, Brooke, and I celebrated her new journey with a visit to a local tattoo studio. We agreed that a cat track would be a fun symbol to share, representing our family bond and one of our mutual totem animals. Elvez, owner and artist at Elements Tattoo in Phoenix, expertly applied the ink on our paws.

I'm sad to see her go, but happy that she and I shared this new and fun experience together. We call them Cattoos!