Sunday, May 28, 2017

How I Work Full Time and Run a (Mostly) Passive-Income Business on the Side

Spoiler Alert: I am not going to tell you a secret that requires no work and makes you millions, because those kinds of things just aren't real. 

It didn't take me long to learn that there are two ways to increase your wealth: cut your expenses and increase your income. Usually, becoming wealthy takes a lot of both. So while some people spend time "saving" money with coupons and scouring the earth for the best deal which may or may not be for something they actually need, or buying in bulk and having to store their goods for months on end, I focus on increasing my income so that I don't have to be a penny-pincher. And truthfully, a lot of my energy goes towards my day job, because I know if I kick butt there, I will be eligible for raises, promotions and bonuses, and I also regularly look at external jobs that I could interview for. All that being said, if you're still with me, I'm more than happy to share with you what I do as a sort of hobby that also earns me a little bit of "fun money," that also serves as a creative outlet for me.

I've found a little corner of the interwebs where I can design patterns, primarily for fabrics, but also for wallpaper, wrapping paper and decals. I create the designs in the

crude but effective PowerPoint, upload them, proof them (this costs a little bit of money) and then mark them for sale and earn commissions. When a customer orders one of my patterns, they select what fabric or format they want it on, then the website handles the order processing, printing the pattern onto the selected fabric to the specified size the customer ordered, and shipping it. And even before the product is shipped, the commission has dropped into my account, where it accumulates until I either spend it (usually on more proofs) or it gets paid out on a bi-weekly basis into my PayPal account. What's nice is that by using the site I use, my job is "mostly" done once a pattern is for sale. So essentially, there is some basic setup, and then money starts trickling in.
 
The caveat is that the infamous myth of "if you build it, they will come," is rarely true in our hyperconnected, attention-sucking world. I find there is a strong correlation between "driving traffic" through the use of social media posts and word of mouth, and my commissions. In other words, I make more money when I actively drive traffic to my designs, rather than relying on people to seek my designs out. So again, I could call it quits when I complete a design and get it up for sale. But I choose to take a more active approach to drive sales. The good news is that this also requires just a little bit of setup, and then is super simple and quick after that. So let's talk about the actual mechanics and routine of my little fabric design business.

Friday evenings I often have down time, and am exhausted from my work week. If I have noted some ideas for designs, I usually turn on the TV mostly for background noise and start idly playing with the shapes and colors of my design ideas. If I don't have any ideas queued up, I might seek out inspiration via TV, movies, YouTube, design sites and/or by reaching out. Inspiration can come from anywhere! I will often collect several ideas on a Pinterest board before getting started. The creative juices start flowing, and I often feel the sensation of getting a second wind despite being mentally tired from the workweek.

I put all my new designs in a collection, and unless I have an urgent request or feel the need to get out on the market within a week or two, I usually wait until I have at least 12 designs to proof, to reduce the cost of each proof. I usually have some recent income in my account, so the cost of proofing comes out of my income, which I don't consider in my personal budgeting anyways so it's like it's free. Once I receive my proofs, barring any issues with the way they look printed, I put them up for sale and move them into their permanent collections (just a few clicks).
Then I arrange the physical fabrics and take a few pictures, crop the pictures and create social media posts with the pictures and links to the designs. I also add the pictures to the design pages. These social media posts then become part of my rotation of posts. Most weekends, usually on Sunday, while watching TV or riding as a passenger somewhere, getting a pedicure, etc, I will use Hootsuite to schedule posts for the next week or two, to continue driving traffic. The big secret here is that I scroll through my previous posts, select the retweet option, and then remove the part in the message that makes it a retweet, so then it looks like a fresh, new tweet even if I haven't changed up the wording at all. I use the Autoschedule function which makes it super quick to schedule many posts in one sitting. I can do it in bed, while in the bathroom, while waiting for someone, while riding as a passenger, whenever I have internet and a few idle moments. About a week's worth of messages can be scheduled in about 20 or 30 minutes, and then I'm done for the week!

About once a month or so, usually on the weekends, I will respond to customer purchases (I usually wait at least two weeks to give the customer time to receive the fabric and start their project so I'm top of mind when they're working on it, not when they're waiting for it to arrive) and any messages from customers. Every time I get a purchase from a user, (there are guest purchases whom I can't contact) I make sure to do four things: (1) Thank the customer for their purchase, (2) Invite her to share a picture of the finished product with me so I can show off her work, (3) Provide a link to designs they may also be interested in (within my portfolio) based on what they've bought, and (4) Ask the customer to reach out to me if they have requests for similar designs with different colors, or any other ideas we can work on together. When customers send me pictures of their creations (which are way better than what I could make on my own), I get great free marketing material!  Of course, I only share with permission, but using my customers' feedback and pictures is much more fruitful and easier than coming up with my own graphics and content. 

That's it. That's all I do, and it's not really every weekend that I attend to my business other than scheduling social media posts from Hootsuite. It may be once a month, or maybe six weeks go by before I return to design work or responding to customers. I primarily make sure to have social media messages scheduled, and I make money daily. Again, it's not a lot of money, but it's real money I can use for charity or travel, and the little bit of effort it takes is also relaxing, fun and inspiring, so it's good for my soul!

The site I use is called Spoonflower, but before you jump immediately to that site and create your profile, keeping reading, because fabric patterns are not the only way to do this, and there is also a little bit more to think about. 

Find something you enjoy doing and happen to be good at. This may be easier said than done (trust me, I have a ton of passions and have been called unfocused more than once), but it's generally free or cheap to experiment, and failure can teach us as much as success. If you can't think of anything interesting and extraordinary to do, consider (1) taking a class at your local community college, library or arts center, (2) browsing Twitter for trends/topics that interest you, and then do more research to become an expert, (3) perusing fiverr.com for examples of things people do and get inspired, and/or (4) practicing a variety of arts and skills until you find a niche that stands out to you.

Don't quit your dayjob, or endanger it. Seriously, this is not a blog about how to start a business that will make you millions. But just as important, don't start a side business that competes, or can be perceived as competing, with your dayjob. Conflict of interest is a serious issue that can lead to getting a person fired, or at least in trouble, and isn't worth it. Besides, who wants to do more of the same? Variety is the spice of life; I find my work on the side liberates different parts of my brain and personality. My dayjob is somewhat analytical, so my side business is creative, fun and relaxing. Also, it's important not to use company resources, work time or work connections for your side business, to avoid conflict of interest issues again.

List your wares. We live in a global marketplace where the most niche products can find customers and novel ideas and content can go viral with millions of viewers. The first step to getting out there is finding your corner of this marketplace. Etsy is perhaps one of the most well-known marketplaces for crafts and art forms, but there are many other platforms on which you can express yourself. CafePress is another one that comes to mind, but do a Google search for "personalized gifts" and you'll find sites where you can upload designs and sell them pretty readily. I like the Spoonflower model because there's no fee for uploading or listing them for sale. Again, Spoonflower handles the order processing, production and shipment, so for that they get the bulk of the revenue, but I get a little percentage-based commission for every purchase of my fabric.

Promote and drive traffic. Coming back to perhaps the biggest myth of entrepreneurship, the, "If you build it, they will come," mantra. If you make a great product people are looking for, and you do your SEO (keywords & tags) right, you will get some traffic and maybe some sales that way. But for the most part, your work has only begun when you've posted your design. In many ways, people need to know a product is out there before they know they want it. I try to inspire the crafty-minded people with my messaging, and also use hash tags that help non-followers find my posts. I usually post new designs to facebook only once, but I will repeat posts on Twitter.

Here I would advise you to be sensitive to your social networks - many people are turned of by soliciting on facebook, and you may find yourself unfriended if you persist. So for facebook, I tend to make it more about, "Look at this cool thing I did," and less about, "Buy my new design." Customer pictures are a great example of something I feel I can share on facebook, because I give them a shoutout instead of making it about selling my product. Save the hard sales for Twitter, where you can post regularly and many of your posts will get lost in the shuffle until the right people come across the right ones.
Hootsuite is an invaluable tool for scheduling posts across multiple social media platforms and accounts, and it's free for a limited number of accounts, but well worth the upgraded account. At a minimum, try the free version when you are working on starting your business.  I won't get into keywords and SEO here, because that's a huge topic, but if you are unfamiliar with these topics, Google them to understand a little bit better about how to use the right language to get picked up in search in the best way possible. 

One other point on promoting through social media: make sure it's "social" and not just free advertising. Think about trying to inspire people, including creating content such as a how-to or a catalog of inspiration. A good rule of thumb is that you should have at least 3 "soft sell" or helpful content posts for every "hard sell" post (i.e. "Buy my product"). 

Use pictures. This is a no-brainer in social media these days, but for the novice, it must be said. Posts with graphics get way better visibility than plain text or text with links. Make great graphics, drive more traffic. I like to use pictures my customers send me (more on this later) to help inspire new customers and show my admiration of my customers' skill.

Make what customers want. This is another point that may seem easier said than done, but I think you'll find its actually easier than you think. Anyone familiar with the lean startup methodology understands that asking customers upfront can save you time and effort down the road. The trick, I've found, is asking the right questions. If you ask questions that are too generic, you're putting the burden of the creative process on the customer, and I think you'll find, as I have, that most people are not all that creative. If, on the other hand, you ask questions that are too specific, you'll get false positives - that is, you'll get reassurances like "yeah, that's a great idea," but the income won't follow because it's not necessarily what people want. Here's an example from my business: I have found that recreating fabric patterns from popular characters has been profitable, so I will ask facebook friends, fellow nerds, and previous customers, "What is your favorite cartoon character?" Or, "What movie are you looking forward to most this year?" Not all characters have a distinctive fabric pattern associated with them, but the answers to these questions can at least give me leads to look into and get inspired.

Engage your customers. It may be obvious to some people, but it was a major revelation for me when I realized that people who have bought my fabric are the people most likely to buy my fabric in the future. My customers (a) either have some disposable income to spend on fabrics or are using the fabrics for their own business, (b) are obviously interested in fabric crafts, and (c) have access to my fabric store. From a target market perspective it doesn't get much more targeted than that! While some of my best-selling designs were original ideas, many of my top sellers originated with a request from a customer that had bought something else first. Probably my biggest success story was a request from a previous customer that, once completed and listed for sale, she shared with all her friends, and within a week, I had about 5x my normal income, and it quickly became popular among strangers too. When you do something your customer wants and loves, the reciprocity of word of mouth is powerful!

Make a routine. What I've tried to describe here so far are some general guidelines and specific examples of getting your (mostly) passive income business set up. Once you have found something you either have confidence in or are committed to experimenting with, get a routine down. As alluded to before, there may be some truly passive income of people searching for your exact product, but I consider my business less passive than that. 



It's not a lot of work, but with a steady routine of just a little bit of effort, I keep a steady stream of extra "fun money" coming in.  And who doesn't want a little more money every two weeks? 

Monday, May 8, 2017

Arizona Bucket List

They say you never know what you have until it's gone, and that's true of your home's proximity as it is of anything else in life. So many people live near tourist-drawing attractions and never visit because they keep putting it off (like the guy who has lived in Arizona all his life and never been to the Grand Canyon, or the woman who lived in Chicago for decades but never visited Sears/Willis Tower). With our move to Connecticut drawing closer, we put together a list of things to do and places to visit in Arizona. (Side note: I have a broader Life List, and I usually shy away from the term bucket list because I think it's morbid, and I like to focus on living life. In this case, however, our departure from this great state is not death, so I'm ok with calling it a bucket list.)

Anyways, I thought it'd be helpful to share our list for others visiting, living in or moving to Arizona to share our list and some recommendations so others can get the most out of this place I've called home for most of my life.  Some of these places are things we've only done recently as part of checking off our Arizona Bucket List, but I've also added things that we've done prior to planning to move that I think are important to include on such a list. 
Arcosanti

What is it: An experimental community based on combining ecology and architecture.
Who should go: Architects, futurists, anyone interested in sustainability or looking for inspiration. Really, it's just an interesting place for anyone to visit. Kids may not really get it much.
Why you should care: I am always an advocate for challenging the norm and seeing if there's things we can do better. Arcosanti is the epitome of challenging the norm, and while I'm not planning on moving there anytime soon, I did gain some learnings and inspiration you can read about on this blog post.
What to do: The main thing is the walking guided tour. The food isn't very good, but if you're willing to lower your standards for accommodations, I thought it was kind of neat to stay the night and be able to wander around; as a guest you are granted more freedom than a tour participant. We didn't get the Skysuite like I wanted, but it looks really cool.
Getting there: The turn off the freeway just north of Phoenix is well marked, but there is a dirt road to the parking lot. If you plan on staying over night, the road to the rooms is even rockier so I'd recommend an SUV or a vehicle with high clearance if one is readily available, although my Chevy Volt made it ok.
What to bring: Sunblock, insecticide, fly swatter, dress for light hiking.
When to go: We went on the weekend and the community seemed pretty dormant. Our tour guide recommended that people come during the week so you can see the ceramics and metal being worked. I would recommend going in early spring or late fall, since the rooms don't have A/C.
Warning: Food was very ordinary, and there really wasn't much to drink besides water. Accommodations are just marginally better than camping, must have an open mind!


Grand Canyon Skywalk

What is it: The Skywalk is a glass walkway hanging off the cliff and hovering above the Grand Canyon, offering views straight down the sheer rock. It's part of a self-paced kind of bus tour, get off and get on as you please, consisting of three stops. You can't do the Skywalk by itself.
Who should go: Every resident of Arizona should visit the Grand Canyon, and this is a great way to do it, honestly. Great for families.
Why you should care: Definitely not the only way to see the Grand Canyon, but this tour offers some good educational opportunities and the Skywalk itself is pretty unique.

What to do: There were actually a lot of family-friendly activities at the first stop, from horse-drawn hay rides to lasso lessons, and the chance to shoot at someone. We skipped the activities there, but we did go the Restaurant for the ribs meal included with the tour package. It included the meat, two sides, cornbread, a cookie and a founding drink. Based on reviews I've read, I'd speculate that this was the best value. The second stop is the main attraction, but there are also great views on the ledge leading up to the Skywalk, as well as some mockups of various native homes that you can enter and explore. The third stop has more breathtaking views and some hiking/climbing opportunities.
Getting there: Google GPS was very accurate getting us there, nothing special needed to get there.
What to bring: You can take pictures everywhere except on the Skywalk itself, so bring a camera for sure. Good hiking shoes are recommended but not required, I did it in flipflops.
When to go: Don't go if there is adverse weather in the forecast, because they don't refund your tour money if they close the Skywalk.
Warnings: Keep your expectations in check, and it's a great experience. If you recognize who it is run by, and that it's not like a fancy resort or amusement park, you'll be fine. Give yourself time to enjoy all three stops, make the best of it, and the pricetag is more reasonable. The second and I think the third stops had only outdoor seating for your meal, and it is windy out there pretty much all the time, all the more reason to go to the first stop for food.
Other recommendations: I'd also recommend sitting near the front of the bus if possible, because many of the drivers point out rock formations and tell you about the place, and we couldn't hear in the back. Also, since you can't bring cameras on the Skywalk, you can have your picture taken by them, and you can always decide later if you want to buy them or not. Just be patient with the process and enjoy the views!


Organ Stop Pizza
What is it: Silly eatery with a giant organ that is played while you eat. It's much more then just the organ, though, drums and cymbals and marimbas
hang from the ceiling and all around the room, and they get played by the organ somehow, and there's lights and silly puppets and bubbles and such.Who should go: Families and visitors, anyone who wants to be entertained. Good for birthdays and anniversaries, you'll get your name called out.
Why you should care: It's very popular with the snowbirds, so it must be worth a visit.
What to do: Pretty straightforward, order your food, get a table with a decent view.
Cheesy garlic bread was awesome. I wasn't a fan of the pizza.
Getting there: It's easy to find in Mesa, but if there's no parking, realize that it's going to be packed inside.
What to bring: Cash, an appetite and a sense of humor.
When to go: Since it is popular in the winter, you're probably better off going in the summer months, or at least on a weekday so you don't have a long line to wade through. The place gets PACKED!
Warnings: Cash only, bring plenty because the only ATM is one of those generic ones.
Other recommendations: Rather than ordering the nasty pizza, you could just get a few beers here, or ice cream, and still be highly entertained.


Lake Havasu City & London Bridge

What is it: Cute drinking town on the water, surrounding the actual London Bridge.
Who should go: This would be a great place for a group to party.
Why you should care: There's an ounce of history or so.
What to do: I loved our room at The Heat (we booked the Inferno Suite with a view of the London Bridge). There was a bar upstairs, and other bars within very short walking distance, as well as a beer store like 30 ft from our room. You can play corn hole and dance to the dj'ed music at the hotel bar.
Warnings: Don't stay near the London Bridge if you plan to go to sleep early and need silence because the party is a little loud. After one drink each, however, we managed to pass out, so it's not that loud.  If you like to party, then disregard this advice and have a blast!


Low Key Dueling Piano Bar
Who should go: Seems great for birthday celebrations, fun for anyone who likes pop music (of old and current)
Why you should care: Far from an ordinary bar with live music, these artists are catering the show on the fly and adapting to different instruments as needed.
What to do: Get a reserved table upfront if you can. If you're feeling generous, buy the musicians a shot!
Getting there: I prefer taking the light rail into Tempe because parking sucks and then you don't have to drive away from the bars (which cops look for).
What to bring: Cash for tipping... these musicians are awesome and they are happy to take requests... if there's a bill accommodating it. :-D You may want to bring ear plugs, it was really loud in the front and our ears were ringing for hours after.
When to go: Thursday nights were the most fun on Mill Ave back in my college days, I assume that's still a good night to go out. Weekends are fine too.


Spring Training Game

Who should go: Sports fans, Chicago transplants, and people who like to eat and drink and have fun!
Why you should care: Even if you don't love baseball, these are professional athletes playing here in Arizona, and the opportunity to see them so up close should not be squandered.
What to do: Come hungry, there's so much to eat and drink!
Getting there: Light rail is a good alternative to driving and parking, but our tickets came with a parking pass so we used it. 
What to bring: Hats and sunblock. If you're sitting in the grass area, bring blankets and folding chairs if you can.
When to go: Spring, duh! 


Biosphere 2
What is it: At one time, it was a fully-enclosed environment in which eight people tried to prove the feasibility of a self-sustaining ecosystem.  Now, it is (obviously) open to the public for tours and also hosts a number of interesting, albeit less captivating, experiments, in partnership with local schools.
Who should go: Everyone!  This is especially interesting for people interested in things like space colonization.
Why you should care:  Because science!
What to do:  Take a tour.
Getting there: It's just outside of the north side of Tucson, no special vehicle needed. 
What to bring: Sunscreen and a camera
When to go:  They are open most days of the year, just be cognizant of weather when you go, because you will be walking outside quite a bit.
Warnings: In my singular experience, the tour guide wasn't all that informative, so it's good to have knowledge about Biosphere 2 and the experiment before going. 
Other recommendations:  Well before your trip, I recommend you get a copy of The Human Experiment by biospherian Jane Poynter.  This first-person narrative provides much more context and insight into the mindset of the cult-like organization that made Biosphere 2 possible than what can be gained on the tour.  The places within Biosphere 2 have been transformed and re-purposed, but the tour guides will tell you what it was, and you will be able to put the pieces together better when you are already familiar with the whole concept. 
Taliesin West
What is it: Frank Lloyd Wright's winter home and school which his students built from materials primarily found right there in the desert landscape.
Who should go: Everyone, and specifically anyone interested in architecture, retro home furnishings or life in the desert. 
Why you should care: Frank Lloyd Wright was not only a prolific and famous architect, he is credited with inventing ideas such as path lighting and sunlights.  This little school-commune estate was his own architectural lab where he experimented with different ideas and reshaped the landscape of architecture itself. 
What to do: Take a tour (book online early because those tours fill up fast).  Also, give yourself plenty of time to visit the giftshop, there are a lot of interesting pieces and literature in there.
Getting there: Get off the 101 on Cactus and head east, and you'll run right into it.  No special cars needed, no fees for parking.
What to bring: Camera, sunscreen, sunglasses, water
When to go: There is a standard tour that runs daily, but there are also special tours you may want to consider if you're especially interested in his life, architecture or just like cool special effects (like the fire breathing dragon at night). 
Warnings: Tours book up fast, and they do take a while so give yourself plenty of time to visit. 
Other recommendations: There is only so much that can be relayed on a tour, and Frank Lloyd Wright had a devastating and absolutely crazy life and career, so I'd highly recommend educating yourself prior to your visit to give your tour that much more context.  I thought the documentary aptly titled "Frank LLoyd Wright" from PBS did a really good job and was something easy to watch together prior to our visit (versus having to read a book).  If you are from out of town and not familiar with some of Wright's other work in Arizona, you may want to make your own city tour as discussed here

Fossil Creek

What is it: A moderately challenging hike near Pine, AZ that brings you to a rushing waterfall, natural rock springs and water caves you can swim in. 
Who should go: Fit hikers
Why you should care: Of all the places I've hiked in Arizona, this one looks like none other.  With almost no signs of desert, this area is a green oasis teeming with beauty and adventure.
What to do: There used to be overnight camping available near the waterfall, but I've heard that is no longer an option.  However, it is totally manageable as a day hike, but be sure to leave Phoenix early in the morning to give yourself sufficient time to enjoy the watery paradise before the moderate climb back up to civilization.  It is about 7 miles roundtrip, and entering is downhill, which means you have to climb uphill coming back out.  Wear your bathing suit underneath your hiking clothes so you can take a dip. 
Getting there: Set your sights on Strawberry, AZ (which is near Pine) and you'll know just about where you're headed, but use better GPS as you get there.
What to bring: At least 3 liters of water per person, sunscreen, bathing suit, sunglasses, good hiking shoes, a towel, maybe water shoes, protein and carb-rich snacks, a flashlight, hat, camera and general hiking gear. 
When to go: September is just about the perfect time to go.
Warnings:  There are very dangerous parts of the water, so be very cautious.  The rocks and even branches in the water are mineralized, which means they are incredibly slick, and the current can be very strong in places.  I was personally dragged about 70 feet downstream and got severely bruised and battered, but luckily escaped with no major injuries.  There are also leeches in the water, so that was fun too (pro tip: if you see tiny things that look like leaves on your skin, wipe them off immediately, discern if they were leeches afterwards). 

Rock Springs Cafe
What is it: An unassuming roadside cafe that serves the best pie in the world. 
Who should go: Pie eaters (or people who like chocolate, because I'm not a big pie person, but this place is delicious)!
Why you should care: This place has been featured on a number of food shows and is world famous, right here just north of Arizona!
What to do: Try the chocolate creme pie, it's amazing! 
Getting there: It's just north of Phoenix, actually on the way home from Arcosanti if you want to combine the two bucket list items like we did!
What to bring: Money and an appetite!  They do take credit card, so no need for cash.
When to go: Try to go as early in the day as possible, as they tend to sell out of their better pies pretty quickly.  Also, around Pi Day (3/14) is a very busy time.
Warnings: No other pie will ever be the same after you've tasted a Rock Springs Pie. 

Tombstone & Bisbee
What are they: Tombstone is a legit city, but it is better known for its touristy Wild West town, where fake gun battles are staged in the street and in private shows.  Bisbee is a cute little mining town just a little bit past Tombstone. 
Who should go: Everyone!  Great for families!
Why you should care: A little bit of history, and a lot of silliness, these two little towns are a big part of the Arizona tourism scene, and a can't miss if you haven't been yet. 
What to do: Make sure to stop at Boot Hill in Tombstone and read the spooky and hilarious epitaphs.  In Bisbee, the Queen Mine Tour is highly recommended.  In both towns you can walk around and enjoy a taste of the wild west.  Stay the night at the Copper Queen Hotel if you dare - it is haunted by a number of ghosts!  Bisbee Brewery has great beer and decent food, and makes for a lovely sitting place if the weather is decent. 
What to bring: Money, a camera and a sense of humor.  Also, if you plan to do some shopping in Bisbee, bring your own reusable bags, as some places charge for plastic as part of a conservation effort.
When to go: Pretty much any time except summer is great. 
Warnings:  Don't count on much cell phone reception.  Instead, turn the phones off and enjoy real experiences, and share your selfies when you get back. 

Kartchner Caverns
What is it: One of the largest caverns of living stalactites and stalagmites open to the public.
Who should go: Everyone!
Why you should care: Because nature!
What to do: There are a couple of tours to take, you can choose to do just one or both. 
Getting there: It's actually also on the way to Tombstone and Bisbee, so consider combining the trip somehow. 
When to go: If you plan to do both tours, check the website before planning your trip, because bats inhabit some of the rooms and the tour for that area is closed when the bats are in there. 

Musical Instrument Museum
What is it: Exactly what it sounds like!
Who should go: People interested in music, culture, history, etc.
Why you should care: It's really interesting to see the similarities and amazing varieties of instruments and types of music developed by different cultures through time. There are amazing pieces that you wouldn't expect. 
What to do: Normally in museums I would just read the descriptions of things, but since music is such a strong component of this museum, I think the audio tour is an obvious add-on here that is totally worth it. 
Getting there: It's in Scottsdale just off the 101. 
Other recommendations: Don't be afraid to spend some time in the play area at the end; you can go a little wild playing on the instruments in that section.  It's probably meant for the kids, but hey, we're all kids at heart, right? 

First Friday
What is it: It's a little bit beyond words, but I'll try.  It's something of a street festival of arts, ice cream vendors, and general crazies. 
Who should go: Everyone! Especially people who enjoy people-watching like me!
Why you should care: Phoenix is often ridiculed (rightfully so) for the lack of culture, but if there's one thing it has, it's this. 
What to do: Keep an open mind about the kinds of people out there, and just walk around wherever you hear music until you've had enough.  Stop and watch artists work, argue with the religious screaming people, and listen to the local streetperformers' music. 
Getting there: Light rail is a good option for transportation since parking can be challenging. 
What to bring: An open mind and some cash for art or ice cream or whatnot. 
When to go: First Friday of every month!  Obviously, summer is hot, so I would recommend avoiding those months. 
Antelope Canyons
What are they: Deep cracks in the earth that cast the most amazing shadows and sun light effects.
Who should go: Everyone, and especially amateur photographers.
Why you should care: These canyons are some of the most photographed parts of Arizona, and with good reason, they are absolutely stunning!  Photos really don't do them justice, but you can try. 
What to do: Tour either Lower Antelope Canyon or Upper Antelope Canyon, or both, but make sure you leave yourself sufficient time because tours only leave so often and take a while. 
What to bring: Bring a lot of cash - credit card was not accepted - and figure about $50 per person for each tour. Bring your camera, but no tripod unless you want to pay an upcharge for the photographer's tour. 
When to go: Any time the forecast is not showing rain - these canyons are impassable when it's raining and tours will not run if there's a risk. 
Warnings:  It's sad that people don't realize this on their own, but I feel compelled to say: These tours are run by the natives, and they have a monopoly on the tours because the canyons are on their land.  Keep that in mind, and be patient.  They do a great job, but not if you get fussy or nasty or expect them to kiss your ass. 



Montezuma's Castle and Toozigut
What are they: Very short hikes to and around Native American ruins.  Toozigut is regularly maintained, so you can walk all over it and around it.  Montezuma's Castle is up on the side of the mountain so you can only view it from a distance.
Who should go: Everyone!
Why you should care: These two sites are rich in Arizona history and help us understand how the native people lived so many years ago.
What to do: You can buy tickets for multiple sites to save money.  Bring picnic food and hang out at Montezuma's Castle to take in the view and enjoy the babbling brook and nature all around you. 
What to bring: Sunscreen, hats and cameras. 
When to go: Anytime is fine, just be cognizant of weather as always. 



and finally, no Arizona Bucket List would be complete without...
Coyote Buttes North "The Wave"
What is it: THE most photographed part of Arizona, this is a moderately challenging hike with breathtaking rewards unlike any other hike I've ever known of.  If you work with Windows computers, you've probably seen it on one of the backgrounds - a beautiful sandstone structure carved by years of wind tearing through it. 
Who should go: Fit hikers with permits.
Why you should care: I mean, if you don't care about this place, I don't think we can be friends.  Also, there are dino tracks. 
What to do: The most challenging part of The Wave is not the hike or even the challenging drive in, but getting permits.  When I first learned about The Wave several years ago, it was much easier to get permits, but it is has become seemingly impossible lately.  But if it's of interest to you, keep trying!  The park issues 10 permits per day four months in advance through a lottery system; you

apply for the lottery online anytime the month prior to the drawing, and it's a small $5 fee that goes towards maintaining this beautiful park.  If you are selected, you will be notified on the 1st of the month, and have a few days to accept the permits at pay for them, $7 per person.  There's a trick, though, if you're a good planner and tech-savvy: All the unclaimed permits are released to the public on the website's calendar precisely at noon Utah time on the 15th of the month (note, it's not necessarily Arizona time - a mistake I realized when it was too late one month).  Those permits are literally available for seconds and snatched up by sneaky people who have figured out the system like I did so many years ago (it used to be easier to obtain permits this way, it's been much harder lately).  If you fail to get the advance permits, they also issue 10 permits per day in-person through a similar lottery drawing daily (permits are for the following day) but there is a large probability you won't get them, so make alternative plans if you choose this route. 
Getting there: Assuming you've passed the first challenge, the permit system, the next challenge you'll face is a rocky 8 mile road that absolutely requires 4WD and high clearance and could easily flood and become too muddy to get through if its raining or if there's snow on the ground.  Proceed with great caution!  There is also a "shortcut" to and from Phoenix that equates to about 40 miles of bumpy terrain that will lead to even the strongest bladder wanting to do the pee-pee dance.  I've been fortunate to go to The Wave three times, but I've only made this mistake once. 
What to bring: Standard hiking things, 3 liters of water per person minimum, snacks, a compass, flashlight, whistle, your permit (must be attached to your pack), hat, sunscreen, etc.  The permits come with an invaluable map that you can't replace with GPS or a store-bought map, so protect it and bring it.  Also, bring your camera and tripod, you do not want to miss out on these shots!  Goggles or some kind of eye protection may have been good, because the wind whips the sand up like crazy and it gets all up in your eyes, nose, mouth, ears, everything. 
When to go: January was a bit cold, but makes for some unique snowbank shots on The Wave.  The best times to get permits are late Feb through early April, but these will also be the hardest times to get permits. 
Warnings:  Unlike many hikes, the trails aren't really marked here and there aren't a lot of people roaming about to help.  Make sure you or someone in your party is confident in their navigating skills (and preferably survival skills also).  People die out here, so be cautious of the weather, give yourself plenty of time to get our before sunset, and prepare appropriately.  The sand is a bitch here - friends of mine know that I hate sand and so they assumed I was overexaggerating the sand here, but learned when we did the hike that I was serious - you end up skating down hills of sand, and it fills your shoes, and the wind blows it into every crevasse of your body, and your skin is raw from being sandblasted.  But even yours truly with a sand-phobia will say it is worth it! 




So that's it (at least for now) - that's my list!  How many have you visited?  Have I missed any?  Leave your comments below!