Bright Lights, Big Cacti

Arizona through the Eyes of a Native

Month: November, 2012

Holiday Magic

I love Christmas.

This holiday is absolutely my favorite, at least until November 17th is declared Susan Wells Bennett Day. I’m sure Dan will protest that every day is Susan Wells Bennett Day, but that’s really only true if you live in this house. Otherwise, not so much.

When I was a kid, my mom was excellent at keeping Christmas. She baked – oh my God, did she ever bake! A dozen varieties of cookies, pies, breads, and candies emerged from her kitchen between Thanksgiving and Christmas. She would store these treats in the freezer; Dad and I got to be pretty good at sneaking in and stealing some of the goodies. (The trick was to spread the remaining cookies out so that the missing items were less obvious.) The tree almost always went up over Thanksgiving weekend, and it didn’t come down until a week or two after New Year’s Day. And Mom, who is a natural-born shopper if ever there was one, always seemed a little cheerier when she was shopping for Christmas presents. Of course, I humored her by “believing” in Santa for much longer than my contemporaries. The payoff Mom offered for my continued “faith” was a couple extra gifts from “Santa” – a good deal, I think.

As an adult, I have not always kept Christmas well. In recent years, Dan and I have sometimes failed to decorate until only a few days before Christmas. Last year, we didn’t even get our Christmas cards done – shameful, really. And our gift shopping has been haphazard at best. Not this year, though!

I am proud to say that not only are we fully decorated, we also found a way to display not only our crèche but also my Department 56 Christmas in the City collection. Our home is Christmas-ready, which is particularly good since I have volunteered to host the Christmas dinner this year.

Our gifts are all purchased, and, as soon as I buy some tape, they will be wrapped as well. Christmas cards will be mailed out in early December, instead of around Christmas Eve.

And I’m feeling cheerier this year, too. Life is never perfect, but as long as you have someone to share the holidays with, any Christmas can be the best Christmas yet.

I’m planning to share a few stories of Christmases past over the coming weeks. I hope you’ll share some good memories with me, too!

Our Christmas tree.

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It’s a Dog’s Life

If there were such a thing as reincarnation, I would want to come back as a dog. More specifically (and more improbably), I’d like to come back as one of my dogs.

This is the world according to Dewey, our six-year-old Shih Tzu:

“If I jump against Mom’s leg enough times, she will get up and figure out what I want, whether that is outside, food, water, or attention.”

“I don’t know who that guy in the blue uniform* thinks he is, but when the light in the living room comes on, I know he’s about to show up. If there weren’t a door between us, I’d teach him not to mess around outside my house!”

“If I want up on the bed, all I have to do is go to Mom’s sideand she’ll put a hand down to help me up. She’s helpful that way.”

“The guy who lives with Mom is always good for a snack. Anytime he sits down in the living room with food, it’s a good idea to ‘sit pretty’ and wait.”

“There’s nothing better than a good brushing – Mom gets all the itchy spots for me.”

“I’m not sure why Mom thought I wanted a brother for my birthday, but Truman is all right – for a puppy. At least he’s small enough that I can sit on him if he gets annoying.”

And now, our puppy Truman’s thoughts:

“If it’s on the floor, it’s MINE!”

“WORLD DOMINATION is within my grasp – if only I had opposable thumbs!”

“It was so thoughtful of my human subjects to have a companion here waiting for me. Dewey the Serf makes an excellent subject on whom to hone my attack skills.”

“I do not understand why the serf receives his treats before I do. I can only assume it has something to do with charity.”

“No matter how late YOU fall asleep, I, Emperor Truman, demand that my subjects rise and pay obeisance at four each morning! This includes YOU!”

“Why is my perch** so high? I enjoy surveying my kingdom from it, but regret that I am unable to descend without assistance.”

“The tiny gray jail*** the woman sometimes puts me in is not strong enough to contain me. I know that I will one day dig my way out.”

“Gates are no obstacle to me! I laugh in the face of gates! Wait…I think the gates are getting lower…” (as he bangs his head loudly against bottom rail)

“Thou seekest to dominate me, oh Brush of the Infidels? You will never win! I will not surrender to your siren-like qualities! Charge!”

*Also known as the mailman.

** Dan’s and my bed.

***The plastic kennel next to our bed.

Dewey (with his tongue sticking out) and Truman.

My “Power Days”

For anyone who is curious about how my recent decision to lose weight and get healthy is going, I am proud to report that I am no longer “obese” according to the BMI calculator. No, now I am merely “overweight.” Yay, me! Additionally, I have worked out five times a week for more than a month now, which I believe is considered an amazing feat of endurance – at least in my world.

My birthday weekend was great. Since my mother-in-law and I share the same birthday, my brother- and sister-in-law served up a home-cooked meal of filet mignon and assorted sides on Saturday. The whole Bennett clan (at least the ones who live in Arizona) showed up to celebrate.

My husband and I also celebrated seven years of marriage Monday. This weekend, I discovered something that hadn’t occurred to me on any of my last six birthday/anniversary occasions: Dan cannot say no to me. He’s caught in a three-day perfect storm of celebration. When I asked him Saturday morning if he would take me to the zoo on Sunday, he didn’t hesitate to say yes, even though I know that he wanted to go to the zoo about as much as he would like a prostate exam. I must be careful with my new-found “power days” – I don’t want to use them for evil…only for good.

Even though Dan was suffering from a slight cold, we had a great time at the zoo. The animals weren’t all that cooperative, though. I was hoping to see the newborn giraffes, but alas, they were not out. Even the orangutans were inside – though at least I could see them through the windows. Apparently, they don’t like the chilly (around seventy degrees) weather. I did get a good picture of a squirrel monkey at least.

Sunday night, we had dinner at my parents’ home, where Mom prepared my requested birthday meal: chicken pot pie and rum cake. Dan and I picked Fuzzy up and one of Mom’s good friends also attended the dinner. Afterwards, we played a game of cards.

I’m thinking I’ll use next year’s three-day perfect storm to request a trip to Disneyland. Dan hates Disneyland a lot more than he hates the zoo…let’s see what these power days can really do!

A squirrel monkey at the Phoenix Zoo Monkey Village

41 Down, 59 to Go

I am 41 years old today, which means I’m one year closer to my ultimate goal of 100. I set this goal a long time ago, after thinking of all the changes Granddaddy had seen in his lifetime. During his span of years, our country went from primarily agrarian to dominantly industrial. He was alive when the Wright brothers made their first flight and when Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon.

We haven’t made any giant leaps in my lifetime; instead, we have steadily grown into technology that would have made Granddaddy’s head spin – smart phones that are more capable than the room-filling computers of the Fifties and Sixties, for instance. I’m pretty sure I read once that cars would be driving themselves by now; I’m still waiting for that one. I hear it’s going to happen in twenty to thirty years.

This year, after sitting in my office writing for the last three years – essentially hermetically sealing myself inside – I made the decision to venture out into the world. This change was not something I approached randomly – I had been thinking about my isolation for some time. My natural inclination was to stay where I was, since I am a loner by nature. However, I feared that one day my niece or nephew would find my hundred-year-old corpse mummified within my little house. (I can even imagine the interview Jan would give to the newspaper: “Aunt Susan was strange. We only heard from her around the holidays – when she didn’t show up for Thanksgiving, we figured something might be wrong.”)

So, taking the lead from Grandma Millie, I joined Beta Sigma Phi this fall. So far, it has been a great experience. It turns out that I might not be as socially awkward as I assume myself to be, though I wouldn’t go so far as to agree with Dan’s assessment that “everybody loves the Susie.” I am not, in fact, all that loveable. I’m opinionated, occasionally bossy, and frequently annoyed by the bad grammar of others. In fact, I have a pesky urge to whisper corrections when people misuse language in my presence. Nearly nine years with Dan have made me more aware – and, therefore, more in control – of that particular tic.

I have also, in recent months, taken a more active interest in my health. I have been working out regularly since October and I am starting to feel, if not see, the benefits of that activity.

All in all, I would have to say that my 40th year was a good one. No one close to me died (though a couple of my friends tried to off themselves by participating in obstacle-course races designed for people half their ages), Inknbeans Press published two more of my novels, and my husband still thinks I’m universally beloved (boy, have I got him snowed).

I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Me, back when I really was universally adorable.

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Some Thoughts on Granddaddy

I’m sitting at my desk with a great big mug of peppermint-mocha-flavored coffee and my tenth novel to revise, and instead I’m writing a blog post. This can’t really be called goofing off, since I have a schedule to keep where this blog is concerned: two posts a week, Wednesday and Saturday. However, that doesn’t make this activity wholly legitimate, since I don’t actually have an idea to write about right now.

My mother, who is a regular reader of this blog (and hence the reason you won’t ever find me writing about my sex life or other, equally scandalous, topics) suggested that I write about Granddaddy, who was Fuzzy’s father. I was his third great-grandchild, but I was also the closest to him – in proximity and (therefore) affection.

Perry Roosevelt Horton wasn’t a very tall man. He had a farmer’s tan, no doubt from his years of being just that, and a shock of white hair with no signs of balding. When I was small, he would set me on his lap and together we would sing “Swim, Little Fishy” and count from one to ten in Spanish. He kept a beautiful flower garden full of roses, gladiolas, and sweet peas.

I used to spend the night at Ma and Granddaddy’s house regularly. Ma, who suffered from declining health, was always good to me, but the real draw was Granddaddy. Sitting next to him at his kitchen table, I enjoyed the culinary delicacies of Vienna sausages on crackers, cornbread “milkshakes,” and banana pudding. But the best food I ate at Granddaddy’s house was pancakes.

You see, Granddaddy was an early riser, whereas Ma was prone to sleeping a little later. At around “dark-thirty,” Granddaddy would wake me up and we would tiptoe out to the kitchen, where he would make pancakes while I rambled on the way only children can do – asking questions that most adults can’t answer, like why animals don’t talk and the sky is blue. I remember his chuckling at some of the things I said, which only encouraged me to think I might be funny. “Funny” is a trait that is encouraged in my family, by the way – none of us believe in taking this world too seriously. We would eat pancakes and talk until Ma woke up, at which point our party broke up because Granddaddy had to help Ma get ready for her day.

Today, it doesn’t seem so unusual for a child to have great-grandparents or even great-great-grandparents still living, but in the Seventies, the fact that I had three living great-grandparents was unusual. I was lucky to have Granddaddy for the first ten years of my life.

Well, my mug of coffee is nearly gone. Time for me to get to my real work. I’ll tell you more about Granddaddy sometime soon. Have a great day!

Ma and Granddaddy

Ma and Granddaddy about a decade before I came along.

No More Snooze Button

As a rule, I sleep soundly. I’m the sort of person who can – and does – fall asleep within two or three minutes of my head hitting the pillow. And nothing wakes me up until I’m ready to be awake. In college, I had an alarm clock that made a noise so ungodly that no one on the floor could sleep through it – except, of course, me. As a matter of fact, I had to relocate it within my room regularly in order to keep myself from turning it off in my sleep. One morning, I was late to a final exam and rushed out of my dorm room before I had a chance to realize that I had only hit the snooze button and not the off switch. I came back from my test to find that my room had been broken into…so that my suitemates could turn the darned thing off.

This morning, however, I found myself wide awake at three-thirty in the morning. The noise that awoke me? My husband’s snoring. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not criticizing. I’m sure if anyone else were in the house, he or she would think that Dan and I are competitive snorers, training for the day when Snoring finally becomes an Olympic sport.

No, it wasn’t the decibel level that disturbed me – it was the tiny whine that was accompanying his exhales. I thought it was the puppy, who sleeps next to our bed. I thought maybe he needed to go out. So I laid there, waiting for the squeaky wheel, so to speak, to get some of Dan’s grease. (I know, I know…a good wife would never pretend to be asleep in hopes that her husband would take care of a whining child. But it’s starting to get cold outside.) After a few minutes, though, I realized the whine was actually coming from him. Realizing he would not be waking up, I reached under my pillow and retrieved my phone, hoping the a few minutes of checking my emails and flipping through new/recycled Facebook entries would lull me back to sleep.

No such luck. After a good half an hour, I finally gave up and quietly left the bedroom. Forty-five minutes later, Dan woke up and let Truman out of his cage. He immediately ran for the office, sliding under the gate we have there (supposedly to keep the dogs in or out of the office) and jumping excitedly against my leg. Dan, bleary-eyed, appeared a few moments later. “What are you doing up?” he asked. You would think he would have noticed the complete lack of noise coming from my side of the bed, but he tells me that sometimes I’m so quiet he has to touch me to make sure I’m still alive.

“Couldn’t sleep.”

Anytime he catches me playing video games when he thinks I should be doing something else, he gives me a look that suggests I am very bad. “Really?”

“Yes, really.”

Once we had established that I didn’t get up early simply to feed my computer addiction, he went about his morning routine. I, on the other hand, decided that I might as well head to the gym.

That’s right, you read that correctly: I went and worked out. That makes eight visits to the gym in the last eleven days. However, now that I’ve written this, I’m wondering: is my apparent lack of need for extra sleep related to my newfound devotion to exercise? If so, is that supposed to be a good thing? Will I never hit a snooze button again?

alarm clock, bought from IKEA

alarm clock, bought from IKEA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Mom and Me

Cookies

I was one of the first generation of Sesame Street kids. My favorite character was the Cookie Monster, so, of course, I would ask for cookies. My mom, in an effort to keep me healthy and thin, would give me a cracker (by the way, this only works when you have a one-child household). I don’t know if I gobbled them like the puppet did, but my mom thought she was terribly clever.

Then, one day, she took me to her mom’s house and left me in Grandma’s care. At some point during the day – probably right after watching the Cookie Monster – I asked her for a cookie. She went to her cookie jar and produced one of those Mother’s iced animal-shaped cookies with the sprinkles on it. (No, I don’t actually remember the cookie, but it’s a fair bet that’s what she gave me – Grandma Millie always had those in the cookie jar.) Right away, I realized I had been snookered.

The next time I asked my mom for a cookie and she handed me a cracker, she says I frowned and said, “No. Cookie!” At which point she called her mother and discovered that I was no longer going to be fooled by a Ritz cracker. Understandably, I was skeptical of any information I received from my mom from that point forward.

The Boogie Man

My mom was also afraid of living alone, which she essentially did for most of my childhood. My dad worked construction and was frequently out of town. Mom and I had a routine: anytime we arrived home after dark, Mom would call Grandma Millie (who lived half an hour away and, therefore, could do nothing to save us except call the cops) and have her wait on the phone while I went through the house opening doors, checking closets and showers, and peeking under beds, all the while calling out for the Boogie Man: “Here, Boogie Man! Come out, come out, wherever you are!”

When I had checked everywhere, I would go back to my mom and let her know that we were Boogie-Man free and she would tell Grandma, who, I presume would breathe a sigh of relief.

As an adult, I can only assume that, had a “Boogie Man” actually been in the house, she would have run screaming from the house, thereby alerting my grandma that she should call the police.

Some of you may have noticed that I didn’t spell “bogeyman” correctly above. There is a reason for this: I am a child of the Seventies – the disco era, specifically. When my mom told me to look for the Boogie Man, I was expecting John Travolta to jump out of the closet. Come to think of it, I suspect many people have been expecting that for decades now.

Disco ball in blue

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US Citizen? Vote!

I cast my first vote for the United States president in 1992. I was twenty and still idealistic. I bet you know who I voted for.

I have voted in every presidential election since then – and at least some of the off-year elections. I didn’t always vote for one party or the other, and I have never voted a straight red or blue ticket. Even though I live in a state that traditionally goes red, I have never thought that my vote didn’t mean something – even if it only meant something to me. I look at the candidates and I try to determine which ones align best with my vision of America’s future. I know that my vision isn’t shared by every American, but that’s the beauty of our system: we all get a voice, even if it gets drowned out by the majority.

This election has been extremely divisive. In fact, I’ve never, in my lifetime, seen the lines drawn so distinctly between the parties. I’ve never seen Americans so rabidly red or blue. It’s a little disturbing to me, and yet I know that I myself have been guilty of similar rabidity.

Here’s what I know for sure: on Wednesday morning, none of the rhetoric will matter anymore. We will have elected a man to lead our nation for the next four years. Half the country will be celebrating, and the other half will have a political hangover.

And anyone who had the right to vote and didn’t should be ashamed of themselves, no matter who their candidate would have been.

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