Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving

Today we were very fortunate to be invited to our friends' home to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday with them. We had never experienced Thanksgiving before so it was a bit of a mystery to us but we had a beautiful meal and a very enjoyable afternoon. The meal is the focus of the celebration and ours was fantastic, turkey, two kinds of potatoes, homemade cranberry sauce and at least 3 different kinds of pies. Check out to find out more about Thanksgiving in America.
It was very special to be included in such a quintessentially American holiday and I am very thankful that we have had the opportunity to come here and experience life in America first-hand.

Elvis is Alive and Well in Las Vegas

The weekend before last we drove to Las Vegas to spend a fantastic weekend seeing the lights and sights of Sin City and meeting up with my sister J L and her husband who had flown in from Canada. I hadn't seen J L since 1992 and I'd never met her husband so we had a wonderful time catching up and spending a great weekend together.

Las Vegas is a total hedonist's delight; it's the city of excess, almost a Disneyland for grown-ups, with every imaginable theme, gimmick and piece of bling dished up in larger-than-life style for the paying customer. From the scale replica Eiffel Tower and Statue of Liberty, the copy of Central Park that even has manholes with steam coming out, the gondolas at the Venetian, to the erupting volcano and the sinking pirate ship at Treasure Island, it's all there to entice you inside the endless casinos, to be more dazzled and more entertained than at the establishment next door. Several years ago Vegas tried to clean up its act and became more family-friendly but now it has gone back to its raunchy former self and the focus is back on fun that's almost exclusively for adults.

We enjoyed checking out the lights and got an all-day bus pass so we could visit some of the more child-friendly attractions (while trying not to wear out the little legs): the pirate ships at Treasure Island, the amusement park at Circus Circus and M&M World (4 floors of M&Memorabilia, over-the-top) were all on the agenda. On the way back from visiting Luxor (the casino that is shaped like a pyramid) we saw Elvis posing for photos outside the Harley Davidson cafe. If he was going to be anywhere, he'd be in Vegas! Although we didn't gamble even a single cent, and didn't manage to see any shows (pretty difficult when you have a 3 year old with you), we had a great time and we will definitely try to go there again. I want to get one of those photos with Elvis...

Amusing Questions We Have Been Asked - Part 3 in an Occasional Series

"Aren't New Zealand and Australia part of the same country?"

(Not last time I checked)


This October we celebrated our first Halloween in America. Halloween is a big deal here in the States and some people go to a great deal of trouble to decorate their house and prepare a mountain of candy for the children who come trick or treating on October 31. There was a Halloween carnival on October 27 at our local community centre, featuring a haunted house, costume contest and lots of games and prizes (almost all of them were edible) for the children. N dressed up as Superman (see the photo) and had a whole lot of sugar-fuelled fun of course. On the 31st there was a Halloween party at his preschool (he brought home 3 bags full of lollies) followed by trick or treating around the community centre with his classmates (more lollies), then that night I took him trick or treating (even more lollies) with his friend Peter and Peter's family. P stayed at home and handed out the treat bags that I had filled and decorated (I made about 70 of those; we were warned to expect "a lot" of trick or treaters). We had a great time walking in our neighbourhood, knocking on doors, avoiding the scary haunted houses (some of them were fully decked-out inside like a haunted house, complete with scary monsters and ghouls jumping out to try to freak the kids out), especially the one with the chainsaw-toting monster in the front yard... a real guy, with a real chainsaw. When we got home P had given out about 30 lolly bags and we thought we had got off pretty lightly but by the time we ran out of candy (we were told to turn off our outside light when the candy ran out, a signal that no more trick or treaters were welcome to knock on the door) the total was 110 kids coming to the house to ask for lollies. Yikes! Now we know that we have to be even more prepared next year!

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Too Close for Comfort

This morning we had our monthly visit from the local pest controllers, who come to Bagdad and spray the houses for insects and other "bugs". Cockroaches in particular need to be kept under control as they are a favourite food of scorpions (so far we have had only one scorpion in the house but we have to be continually vigilant as they are a pale colour and can blend in with carpet, etc). The pest controllers came in and looked around, inspected the hot water cupboard (favourite bug hang-out) and said, "Oh look, you've got a TARANTULA"! To which of course the only logical response is "AIIEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!" (runs away screaming). Fortunately it was dead, having been caught in a glue trap placed last month. I REALLY HATE spiders but unfortunately this kind is endemic to Arizona and the current monsoon season is making them more active. They are not often seen indoors (although our local library has one captive in a glass case) but are common in backyards and of course in the desert. Thankfully they are nocturnal and not usually noticed in daylight. Needless to say that will be the last time that I check the hot water system!

Monday, July 23, 2007

God Bless America - Happy 4th July

It was a beautiful (but very hot: about 40 degrees Celsius) day for our first 4th July in America. Even though Bagdad is a very small town, they still know how to celebrate and being as fervently patriotic as they are, what better excuse for a celebration than the nation's birthday. The photo at the top of this post shows the crowds of people waiting for the parade to start - I didn't know Bagdad had so many people (or so many fire engines; there were about 15 or so of them in the parade). The theme of the parade was "Saluting America's Heroes", which was interpreted in several different ways: Ben Franklin (aka Sharon the postmistress) riding a horse; a couple of floats with reference to the war in Iraq; kids dressed in Western gear for "My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys", even Wonder Woman and her sidekick driving an ATV (that's American talk for quad bike). There were far too many lollies (thrown to the kids from the floats) for us to carry home, and for days afterwards there were crushed lollies all over the road.
The 4th July celebration coincided with the opening of Bagdad's new community centre, which is going to be an excellent facility for our little town. The centre has been built on the site of an old elementary (primary) school which was condemned because the buildings were derelict. The classrooms have been rebuilt and now there is space for all sorts of craft classes, a community orchestra, drama group, a new library, gymnasium plus a brand-new playground, skate park and two swimming pools. There is also a new preschool for 3 and 4 year olds, which N will start attending in August.

Yeee Haawwww - the World's Oldest Rodeo

Howdy again Partners, as promised, now an update on our July activities. First up is our afternoon at the World's Oldest Rodeo, in Prescott. This professional rodeo has been running since 1888 and is part of the annual Prescott Frontier Days festival, held the week of 4th July. The rodeo always draws a big crowd and is the highlight of the Frontier Days. We'd never been to a live rodeo before so we didn't really know what to expect. It was a hot day and the rodeo arena was very dusty but we enjoyed our few hours of entertainment there. The rodeo starts with the obligatory prayers and singing of the national anthem, the first time I had heard it in America which actually made me feel a bit emotional, and homesick for Australia.

There was plenty of traditional rodeo entertainment in the form of bronc riding, calf roping, bull riding, barrel racing and so on but a few other more unconventional "acts" as well, the strangest of which was definitely "Whiplash, the Cowboy Monkey". I kid you not, this is an actual 18-year-old Capuchin monkey that "rides" a Border Collie dog and rounds up sheep. The monkey is dressed in typical Western attire, complete with a cowboy hat. I still can't decide if this was really entertainment, or something else. I found the whole thing just a little bit disturbing actually! One of the more truly entertaining performers was a guy who rode TWO horses at once, standing on their backs circus-style, then jumped them both (yes, at the same time) over a convertible car. Sounds a bit cheesy but it was pretty cool to see it.

As far as the rodeo riding went there was a lot more action in the bull riding than there was with the broncs, that is to say that not one cowboy lasted the full 8 seconds on any of the bulls, but almost all of the bronc riders managed to stay on without getting chucked in the dirt. These guys make serious money from the rodeo - some as much as US$350,000 a season. I guess they can afford good chiropractors!
It was a fun afternoon out and another essential Western experience ticked off the list. See "What's Happening Around Here?" for a link to the World's Oldest Rodeo website for more info if you are interested.

Monday, July 9, 2007

You're the Meaning in My Life, You're the Inspiration - the Station where Chicago and REO Speedwagon Never Die

We have been going to (our nearest town) Prescott (about 60 miles or 90 minutes away) at least once a week and while we are in the car we listen to a certain Prescott radio station which shall remain nameless. At least once during each leg of the journey we hear a song by REO Speedwagon or Chicago. That station must have an impressive back-catalog of albums because it doesn't seem to matter what time we are travelling, night, day, it makes no difference, there is almost ALWAYS at least one Chicago or REO Speedwagon song. If we happen to fluke it and not hear one, we wonder what has gone wrong! Their other favourites that we hear EVERY time we go to Prescott are:
  • Snow Patrol - Chasing Cars
  • James Taylor - You've Got a Friend, or Fire and Rain
  • Carrie Underwood - Before He Cheats
  • anything by Elton John
  • anything by Billy Joel
  • anything by Fleetwood Mac

Friday, June 22, 2007

Amusing Questions we have been Asked - Part 2 in an Occasional Series

"New Zealand? Isn't that part of Wales?"

("No, it's south-east of Australia")

"Really? It's near Australia? I had no idea!"

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Grand Canyon and the case of the Inadequate Superlatives

After our visit to Williams we headed north for our first look at the Grand Canyon and I have to say that words can not adequately describe it or do it any justice. It is nothing less than utterly breathtaking. In fact the Canyon is so big, so impressive and so beautiful that it really defies belief, and it almost seems as though the massive scenery is a painted backdrop and not real at all. Yes, I'm gushing but if you've seen it for yourself you will know what I mean.

We did a sunset bus tour with a totally insane tour guide who drove like a maniac. He was dressed in cowboy attire and every statement was punctuated with a loud, "Yee Haww!". The highlight of the tour of course being seeing the colours of the Canyon change with the setting sun, fantastic. Many, many "Kodak moments". The definite low-light being the guide attempting to turn our bus around on a narrow stretch of road, at dusk, with a sheer cliff (and no guard rail) behind us - he told us it was 6000 feet to the bottom of the Canyon - "It's OK, I used to drive semis" he told us - I wonder why he isn't driving them anymore. One of the other passengers told us afterwards just how close the end of the bus had been to the edge of the cliff and I'm really glad I didn't know that at the time!

The next morning we treated ourselves to a helicopter flight over the Canyon which was nothing less than unforgettable. N was very excited and went into his "quiet mode" but afterwards he was even telling complete strangers, "It's very exciting to fly in a helicopter". We flew from the South Rim, up the Canyon, over the North Rim and back across the Kaibab Forest. Flying into the Canyon and seeing the ground almost open up beneath you into such a spectacular and truly massive vista (plus the dramatic music playing in the headphones) was totally amazing. We loved every minute. The Grand Canyon is about 4 hours from Bagdad so we will definitely try to get back there again before the end of the summer.

Getting our Kicks at Williams on Route 66

I know it's corny, but hey, this is the US - they invented "corn".

"America's Mother Road", Route 66, passes through downtown Williams and it's a fact not lost on the locals. Almost every signpost, banner and shop front has either the Route 66 highway emblem (the shield) or some less-than-subtle reference to American "pop" culture. You can buy truckloads of Route 66 memorabilia/souvenirs, Native American Indian jewellery and artsy craftsy stuff (not all of which is made by Native American Indians, by the way), bike leathers, cowboy hats and Western-themed gear of all kinds, and of course, guns. It's a real melting pot of all things American, and of course is milking the mystique and appeal of Route 66 for all it's worth. Most of the town buildings have been preserved in their original condition and although it's a little corny it's still pretty cool.

Amusing Questions we have been Asked - Part 1 in an Occasional Series

"Do you celebrate Christmas in Australia?" (sometimes followed by "Do you celebrate Easter in Australia?")

"Do people really say Mate?"

"Have you met Steve Irwin?"

"Are you from England?"

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Day Out With Thomas

Last Saturday we spent a fantastic day at Williams enjoying the annual Day Out with Thomas (the Tank Engine), hosted by the Grand Canyon Railway.

Thomas took passengers on a 25-minute train ride and was helped by a beautiful shiny black steam engine which was just fantastic. When N is very excited he goes very quiet and as soon as he saw Thomas arriving at the station he really looked awe-struck. He barely said a word during the entire train ride but afterwards he was a chatterbox again so we know he had a good time! There were a lot of other activities for children (jumping castle, Thomas trains to play with, a magic show, etc) and we all had a lot of fun there.

At Christmas time there is a special train at Williams called The Polar Express (named after the childrens' story book) that takes children on a special train ride to see Santa at "The North Pole". Santa comes onto the train and gives all the children presents. We will try to come back to Williams again in winter for that special train - it would be quite something to take the train through the snow to see Santa.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Safford and so on

We had a nice couple of days at Safford (about 6 hours drive east of Bagdad) last month as P had a work meeting there. The scenery on the way to Globe (where we stayed) and Safford was a geologist's delight: lots of amazing rock formations, mountains and narrow passes. For me the trip was worth it just for the scenery, but of course the opportunity for some big-city retail therapy (anything bigger than about 5000 people now rates as the Big Smoke for us) was not to be missed. At that stage I was still on an almost fruitless quest for something resembling Weetbix for N and came home empty handed but I'm happy to say that thanks to UK brand Weetabix we now have breakfast-time harmony at home (plus we avoid the super sugar-coated American cereal that seems to be virtually everywhere). Trying to avoid sugar (or fries!) in everything has also led to us buying a bread maker and it is certainly getting a workout. The really sweet American bread just doesn't taste right. It's nice enough if you're eating a jam sandwich but ham and cheese plus really sweet bread still seems just a bit weird.

N has been putting us through the wringer with his night time antics which we suspect are some sort of expression of homesickness or shock at the massive change we have made to our daily lives by moving here. He talks a lot about his little friends and his former day care and I know he misses them a lot. Hopefully in time new friends will fill the void and he will feel more settled and content in himself. He is happy enough during the day but at night it's on for young and old. He has started gymnastics but we are holding off on the Texas Hold 'Em and six shooter classes for now.

I see some funny things at times here and not always funny ha-ha. Funny peculiar. Motorbike helmets are definitely optional extras - I don't know if they are a legal requirement but we see at least 3 or 4 without them for every one rider we see with a helmet on. A red bandanna appears to be an adequate substitute if you want to keep the biker 'tude. This must be good biking country as we often see groups of motorbikes passing in and out of town, touring bikes rather than just the regular running around kind. You are dressed for biking if you have the muscle shirt, the bandanna, the shades, the tats.

Kids (and adults) ride around on the back of utes. Kids loose in the back of cars with no seatbelts or car seats. Something I didn't mention in my last post: cars here don't have to have a front licence plate as there are very few speed cameras (the Navajo Reservation on the way to Safford apparently has one but we didn't see it) and you aren't really driving unless you are doing at least 10 miles over the posted limit. You can talk on the phone while driving as much as you want, as long as you don't get too distracted - it isn't illegal here.

This weekend we are off on our first recreational adventure: we are taking N to something called "Day Out With Thomas" (the Tank Engine) at Williams, which is about 3 hours NE of Bagdad, on the Grand Canyon Railway. Thereafter we will drive north and overnight at the Grand Canyon Village which I am very excited about. I can't wait to see the Canyon at long last. Stay tuned for pictures and report.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The New Folks Have Landed

Greetings from Bagdad, Arizona! Not a war zone but according to the sign on the edge of town, "The Best Copper Town Anywhere". It's a nice little town of about 2500 people, in a beautiful setting of smallish mountains, saguaro cacti, prickly pears and rocky desert scenery. We've been warned about the scorpions, tarantulas and such but so far have only seen a few roadrunners, birds and a couple of rabbits.

The people here seem very friendly and keen to help us settle in which is great. I am asked every other day if I come from England - we appear to be the only Antipodeans here. It's a small town and has all those typical small town idiosyncrasies that you'd expect - everyone knows each other's business.

A trip to the supermarket can be both challenging and entertaining as we try to find something that approximates Weetbix or custard powder (nothing yet). I can't believe how sugar-coated, frosted or deep-fried the majority of the food is here. So far, rice bubbles and one variety of Special K are the only breakfast cereals we have found that haven't been multi-coloured and drenched in corn syrup. You can even buy cheese on toast in the freezer section - yep, the freezer.

Americans appear to be coffee-obsessed. You can't buy any such thing as a kettle or electric jug. We either heat water in the coffee maker (if we want it luke warm) or boil it on the stove in a saucepan if we want really hot water for making tea.

2 weeks in it's all good and we are enjoying life here. Our little town only has a small supermarket so if we want to do any other kind of shopping (eg clothes, homewares, furniture etc) then we have to drive to Prescott, about 60 miles (75 minutes away). It's a nice drive although we were initially told that it took about 55 minutes to get there - Arizonans seem to be heavy on the gas pedal. It's a pretty drive, lots of big saguaro cacti, granite boulder fields and open space. Then you hit Prescott, the big smoke! 2 huge Walmarts and no end of other massive retail stores, endless eateries, fast food restaurants - the other American obsession is of course cars. We see a lot of SUV's (read 4WD's) here - Sports Utility Vehicles - mostly I guess because there are a lot of off-road trails and country to explore, but also because both cars and fuel are CHEAP here. Few new 4WD's cost more than about $25-30K on average and fuel is about $3 a gallon - we would be paying the equivalent of $4 a gallon in Australia. They like their driving here and many retailers have come to the party - you can do drive-through banking (the legal kind) at special ATM's, there are drive-through pharmacies and of course no end of drive-through food outlets.

Next week we are going on our first mini road trip, east to Safford where P has a work meeting. It's about a 6-hour drive from here so should be some interesting scenery to see along the way. Photos to come soon.