my last entry from McDowell Park I thought it would be appropriate to show some
of the sunset photos Jim and I took while we were here.]
BLAME IT ON MARLEY
After we put down our beloved 12-year-old yellow Labrador retriever,
last summer, ultra running friend Matt Watts encouraged us to read the
wildly popular book Marley and Me. I regret not taking his advice
right away; the tale of this lovable, incorrigible Lab would have brought
laughter back into our lives sooner.
It took the impending release of the movie version
of Marley at
Christmastime to prompt me to look for a paperback version of the book. Jim and
I hate going to regular movie theaters and we weren't about to go see the movie
during the holiday season with tons of boisterous kids in the audience. No
thanks. We'll wait for the DVD to come out.
But meanwhile I was curious why there was such a hubbub about the book.
It took several attempts to locate one; knowing that the movie was
coming, other people had the same idea. (Didn't the stores see that coming and
order more?) I finally found one at a Walmart in metro Phoenix and snapped up
the last copy on the shelf.
As soon as I did, I knew it would set me back even farther on keeping
this journal updated! Once I started reading about Marley it was difficult to
put the book down until I finished it. One more thing to blame on poor Marley!
Poor Jim, for that matter. I'd be reading about yet another stunt this dog pulled and
either start giggling or just
burst out laughing at the way Grogan described the incident (he's a very good
writer). I finally had to go outside to read or pick up the book when Jim was
gone running or cycling so I didn't drive him nuts. Thank goodness none of the
four Labs I've had were anywhere near as challenging or goofy as Marley, but
they each had a few of his more endearing goofy characteristics and I'd be
thinking, been there, done that -- especially Tater, an American field
Lab like Marley. The book often touched my funny bone.
Then Marley inevitably got old and had to be put to sleep. (Sorry to give away the ending.)
I bawled like a baby all over again, just as I did after
making that decision for Tater. But now I can look back on her life with even
more perspective than I could when I wrote my
tribute to her in
an August, 2008
journal entry. The book resonated with me, just as it has with millions of
other dog owners who have inundated the author's website since the book was
I love the poignant quote at the beginning of this entry. After Marley's
death Grogan realized with amazement that his nutty, wildly
uncontrollable dog had actually been his teacher, role model, and mentor
regarding what was most important in life: love, loyalty, courage,
devotion, simplicity, joy. Beautiful.
I'm so glad I read the book, even if it did set me behind on this journal!
BLAME IT ON THE POST OFFICE
While I'm avoiding responsibility for my own procrastination, let's blame
the Post Office for a snafu caused by our ignorance!
I'm being flippant, of course. If you know us very well, you know we accept
responsibility for our own shortcomings and despise people who blame everyone
but themselves when something goes wrong. But we were pretty frustrated until
today regarding delivery of our last mail package. We assumed someone else
screwed up and it wasn't our fault.
When we go on our extended trips we ask a trusted neighbor
about every three weeks to collect the mail being held
for us at our small post office, sort out the obvious "junk" and
keep it until we get home, put the magazines and first-class
mail in one of the pre-addressed and stamped Priority Flats
envelopes we give him before we leave town, and mail it to us
via general delivery.
Until our most recent package, we haven't had any major problems
with this system that I can recall. I guess we were overdue for
Our neighbor sent us our last envelope of mail on December
27 to the (correct) general delivery address in Fountain Hills,
the closest good-sized post office to McDowell Mountain Park. After we
moved our camper to McDowell we went to the post office to
retrieve our envelope. We just assumed it would be there by
then. Our Priority packages have usually arrived within two or
three business days.
After standing in line for about twenty minutes it was finally my
turn to be waited on. The clerk disappeared for several minutes
and came out empty-handed. No flats envelope for us.
We repeated this once more (including the excessively long wait)
before we started calling and asking for a supervisor instead of
physically going to the post office. Every weekday afternoon the
last two weeks we've made that call and the answer has been the
same every time: no package. Jim even started calling our
post office at home to see if it had been returned there for
Today we finally located that package but we still aren't
exactly sure what happened. It's back at our home post office.
That's a relief to me. There are some important things in that
envelope, like my new insurance cards (after at least thirty
years with Blue Cross, my former employer chose new insurance
companies for medical, dental, and prescriptions this year).
Even though I still don't have my cards and whatever else was
important in that package, at least we know where they are.
We were surprised to learn why the envelope was returned to
sender. It wasn't addressed incorrectly, it didn't break open
and spill its contents, and it's not sitting in a dark recess of
a mail truck somewhere between Virginia and Arizona. Those were
some of our guesses. Actually, it's more sinister.
After 9-11 the Postal Service passed a regulation
that says you can't send a pre-stamped package that weighs over
13 ounces unless it passes through the hands of a postal clerk.
It's not OK to just pitch the envelope into a mail slot and walk off.
A postal clerk explained to Jim the reason: the package might contain
a bomb. If you want to mail something over 13 ounces, you have
to have a clerk hand stamp it.
I don't get it. We've received more than a dozen such priority
mail envelopes since 2004. All were pre-stamped and
weighed well over 13 ounces. (You can stuff as much mail as you
can into a Priority envelope and it costs a standard $4.95 or
so.) I doubt our neighbor handed those envelopes to a
clerk each time. Why return this "suspicious" package now?
For that matter, if it's deemed so potentially dangerous, how is
it any less dangerous if a postal clerk stamps it and sends it
along to its destination?? Jim guesses that a bad guy would be
more hesitant to mail a bomb if there's any chance the clerk
would remember him. It's easier to toss a bomb into a slot
Jim remembers hearing of this restricton previously
(he's retired Postal Service) but figured no one was enforcing
it since all of our packages have arrived OK. My reaction was,
"Huh?" That was the first I'd heard it. But we accept
responsibility for the snafu and will make sure it doesn't
happen again. The best way to do that might be to use a
professional "personal mail box" system like we did when we were
full-timing in 2004. We're discussing that and other
less-drastic options. We hate to add to our neighbor's burden by
asking him to keep the contents under 13 oz. or go to the window
each time he mails us a package.
We have no clue how far that package went and why it took over
two weeks to be returned to our local post office. Now we have
to decide whether to have our neighbor send it to us with our next mail
drop or keep it safe at home until we return. I'm a little
paranoid about having it floating around out there again.
[Addendum: on January 20 we received a box with most of
our mail. Our neighbor put the wayward envelope and our newer
mail into a Priority box, gave it to a postal clerk, and let her put the postage on it and
stamp it. We got three new issues of UltraRunning magazine,
my new insurance cards, a bunch of nice holiday cards and letters,
and lots of other good stuff. It was like Christmas all over
This is our last full day at McDowell Mountain Park. We were
supposed to leave yesterday but we wanted to wait one more day
to see if our mail would get here.
we're looking forward to the Ghost Town ultra this weekend in
New Mexico, we don't want to leave the Phoenix area quite yet.
It's too comfortable here! The weather has been mostly sunny and
into the 60s or low 70s each day. We love running, walking, and
cycling on these fabulous trails. And as long as we're willing to
drive, there's about everything here that a sunbird could want in
regards to recreation, shopping, restaurants, and entertainment.
This week a frigid air mass from Canada is wreaking havoc over
much of the country. We're below it and hope to stay below it
when we drive to New Mexico tomorrow. The race site is above
5,000 feet; at minimum, it will be colder than it is at
2,000 feet at McDowell Park.
From the Pacific Northwest
to Florida, temperatures are well below normal. Wind chills in Minnesota and Wisconsin
are in the minus 40s and 50s. Some ski resorts in New England
are closed because it's too cold to ski! Cities like Spokane and
are getting four and five feet of snow. Citrus fruit is freezing
on the trees in Florida. Roanoke and other southern cities are setting new record lows
(and low highs, like only up to 20°
F during the day).
And it's colder in
Atlanta than some places in Alaska.
Today it's sunny and 74° F. at our
campsite and we aren't real crazy about leaving! But Jim has a
race to run on Sunday and I've volunteered my services to the
race director and her family. We can't let them down.
On January 10 we joined about sixty
other people on a warm night for a full-moon hike at McDowell
Park. We missed the full-moon hike in December at Estrella Park
because it was a cloudy night. This time the sky was so clear it
looked like we could reach up and touch the stars. It's no
wonder so many people showed up for the event.
Jim, right foreground, listens as Ranger
"Doc" talks about desert flora.
We walked about three miles total
from the main trailhead staging area to the old Pemberton Ranch
site and back. Ranger "Doc" (at left in photo above)
entertained us with five or six presentations
along the way about desert plant life, previous clay mining in
the park, Native American history, and colorful tales about the
people who lived at the ranch. I tried to take photos in the
dark but most didn't come out well.
At the beginning of the hike a
young lady named Colleen (I think) introduced herself to us. She
noticed Jim's Sunmart jacket and told us she's an ultra runner,
too. She just moved to Scottsdale for a new job and and heard
about McDowell's great trails. Colleen ran and finished the
Arkansas Traveler 100-miler the same year I did -- 1999. We
planned to exchange e-mail addresses at the end of the hike but
we couldn't find her when we returned to the parking area.
If she reads this entry, I hope she'll contact us to say hi.
We've enjoyed our five-week stay in
the Phoenix area. It's so relaxing to hang out in the campground
and thoroughly rest up from ATY. That was a major effort for
both of us. In addition to the running, walking, and cycling
we've done (me, more than Jim), I've also been working out at the YMCA in Mesa. I
need verification of at least four visits per month in order to
qualify for reimbursement of my Y membership fee from my former
employer. I go much more frequently at home but when we're on
the road even once a week can be a challenge. This Y is near our
favorite Mexican restaurant in Phoenix, however, and other
shopping is on the way.
Rosa's Mexican Grill. Mmmm! It's
just a block from the Mesa Y at the intersection of University
and Mesa. They serve delicious, fresh, reasonably-priced food. I
enjoyed two entrees so much there last year that I got them
again this year when we dined out two times for lunch: a
tasty spinach enchilada dinner with black beans, corn,
and avocado, and a huge salad with hot grilled chicken and carmelized onions over chilled Romaine lettuce, red pepper
slices, cubed mango, grated cheese, and a special green chili
vinaigrette -- served with warm cornbread. Jim chose the spinach enchilada dinner one time and
authentic tamales the next.
We don't eat out very often. When
we do, we want it to be nutritious, tasty, authentic, and
low-priced. Rosa's hits the mark in every regard.
When we want to reminisce about the
Phoenix area I pull out a recipe I found here last year for
chicken chili mole. We haven't been able to find the chipotle
cheddar cheese we bought last year (we don't have a Costco
membership now) but Sam's Club has a great alternative called
"Three Alarm Colby Jack Cheese" with chipotle, habanera, and
The label warns that the cheese has
"intense pepper flavor." When we left the store the woman who
checks receipts asked us if we knew what we were in for.
"No," I replied, "but I'm hoping it's good and hot!"
It is! We love it. But it does make
Next entry: Ghost Town 38.5-miler pre-race activities
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
and Cody the Ultra Lab
© 2009 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil