Bright Lights, Big Cacti

Arizona through the Eyes of a Native

Month: December, 2012

“Stay-cationing” Should Not Involve Running Errands

Dan is not good at “stay-cationing.” I didn’t know this before, but, after this week, I will never forget it.

Things have been a little tight financially of late, due mostly to my continuing delusion that I am a novelist. Dan, who some would call an enabler, has been supporting me and my dream for the last three years. Therefore, our fantastic vacations of years past have had to go the way of the thylacine (look it up). Our vacations have been limited to free or cheap hotel deals in Las Vegas.

This time, Dan decided to stay home for a few days after Christmas as a vacation. Now, the primary cost of our previous vacations has been transportation and lodging. Not leaving home meant that we would have a little bit extra to spend on museum visits and a few nice meals. I excitedly began looking for activities in and around Phoenix that were outside of our normal day-to-day existence. I found a few, including the MusicalInstrumentMuseum, which I had heard from a few of my sorority sisters was great fun.

On Wednesday, I awoke looking forward to spending a whole day with my husband. I suggested the museum, but Dan said we had a few things to take care of that day, and I couldn’t disagree with him – our sink is, in fact, broken. After a quick stop at Dunkin’ Donuts, we drove to the place where we bought our kitchen countertops and under-mount sink. Dan, who was anticipating that Better Homes would be dismissive and rude, was pleasantly surprised to find that the salesman was polite and eager to help us fix the problem. They are coming to our house next Wednesday to look at the damage and plan for replacing the sink. Dan’s mood took an upswing.

When I asked him what we were going to do for the rest of the day, he said he wanted to drive over to a furniture warehouse to look at some sofas I had pulled up on my iPhone the day before. Now, our sofa is ridiculously tired. We’ve had it for eight years, and the back cushions look like someone has used them as a nest. Oh, wait – “someone” has. Dewey likes to perch on them while he looks out the window and waits for his nemesis.

Thanks to a few generous Christmas gifts, we actually did have the money to replace the sofa – something we had been discussing for the better part of a year. However, I wasn’t sure he wanted to do that until he headed toward the store on Wednesday. We found a great high-backed, high-armed sofa with an upholstered back – no cushions for Dewey to crush. The price was better than right…it was affordable! So, for the first day of the “stay-cation,” we ran errands and bought a new couch.

Day Two: I awoke slightly less optimistically and suggested the MusicalInstrumentMuseum again. Dan asked how much the entrance fee was, and I told him $18.

“Eighteen dollars for one person!?!” he exclaimed.

“We’ve spent more than that at museums in other cities,” I reminded him.

“Yeah, but we were only there for a week or two. We probably won’t have the chance to see them again.”

“Pretend that we are only visiting Phoenix,” I suggested. “Our house is a rental and we only have a few days to see the best of Arizona.”

“I wouldn’t have rented a house so far out of the city.”

Clearly, this was not working. After a few more volleys, I gave up. “What do you want to do?”

He had no ideas. I suggested a movie. He hemmed and hawed, unable to commit to Lincoln or anything else. At last – knowing that I was on the verge of complete irritation – he said, “I’ll take you to see Les Miserables.”

This was a well-calculated move on his part; I love Les Miserables. I have paid good money to see it on stage three times in my life, and I own the soundtrack. I had been looking forward to seeing the movie since I heard they were making it. I cheered considerably. “Are you sure? I don’t know if you will like it.”

He shrugged. “Maybe you’ll convert me.”

Not a promising start, but at that point, I’d take it.

As soon as the familiar music swelled, I was in heaven – a very wet version, admittedly, but heaven nonetheless. Dan watched in silence until Fantine was on her deathbed. Suddenly he turned to me with wide eyes and said, “She dies?!?”

The story marched forward, shedding character after character in a string of horrific deaths. Toward the end, when Jean Valjean was promising Cosette that he would try to live, Dan leaned over to me and said, “I wouldn’t count on it.” I burst into completely inappropriate laughter. As it turns out, Dan enjoyed Les Miserables, though he has renamed it Everybody Dies.

However, for another ten dollars, we could have gone to the museum.

Later on, I suggested we go to Glendale Glitters for the evening. After a brief consideration of the parking situation around the area, he rejected that idea too.

Today – Friday – I am alone in the house once again. Last night, Dan decided that the “stay-cation” experiment needed to end. Despite the fact that the eternal optimist in me had hoped that today would be a fun-filled experience – I wanted to go to Food-Truck Friday – I have to agree that he sucks at “stay-cationing.”

Next time, we’ll just go to Vegas.

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My incredibly sad-looking sofa, soon to be replaced by a newer model.

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Happy Boxing Day

Happy Boxing Day! When I was young, I thought that was a completely different sort of a holiday — one that Muhammad Ali looked forward to. Anyway…

I hope everyone who celebrates Christmas had a wonderful day. We have one more major holiday before the long, cold part of winter descends. So, live it up folks – one week of revelry remaining!

As I said in my last post, I hosted Christmas dinner this year. All things considered, I believe it was a great success. Unfortunately, my mom came down with a cold and opted to stay home rather than risk infecting others. She did send Dad, though, who arrived bearing strawberry-pretzel-cream-cheese jello, pumpkin pie, and eggnog (all from scratch and completely delicious). Fuzzy brought two pecan pies, and she left one here with me – that doesn’t bode well for my diet.

We did have one small catastrophe. Two days ago, I stood in the middle of my kitchen, marveling at its completeness. This morning, Dan and I discovered that our sink – an under-mount model, no less – has developed a crack. We’re not sure exactly when the crack opened up, but, thankfully, we caught it before there was too much water damage in the cabinet below. Unfortunately, we have no idea how we’re going to fix this problem. Right now, we’re crossing our fingers and praying that the company that sold us the sink and countertops will have some way to repair it. In the meantime, we just have to avoid using the left half of the sink. Boy, am I glad I have a dishwasher!

I received a purple Furby from Santa, and she’s pretty cute. I had an original Furby years ago. The new ones are a bit more interactive. She dances to music; she seems partial to Tom Petty.

However, nothing is as cute as Truman, who perched himself in the middle of our bed earlier today as if he were the king of the world. If only I could teach him to speak English. I’m sure he would like to tell me a few things.

To all of you who have been reading this blog, thank you so much. I look forward to telling you many more stories in the coming months and years.

Prince Truman on Christmas morning.

Prince Truman on Christmas morning.

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Christmapocalypse

So…the world didn’t end. Shocker, huh?

Of course, this means I will definitely be hosting my family for Christmas dinner. Have I mentioned how small our house is in the past? It’s small. Really small. If we had children, we couldn’t live here…that’s how small it is. When Dan moves the extra table into the living room on Tuesday, that room will become essentially unusable for any other purpose besides eating. On the positive side, my kitchen has been completely redesigned and we have added a couple hundred square feet in adjacent office space since the last time I hosted a holiday event. The previous kitchen was built in such a way that only one person could work in it. Now, there are potential work stations for at least three people. And, if people are feeling claustrophobic in the living room, they will be able to sit in the office and visit, if they so choose.

It’s funny – I actually grew up in a home that was about this size, and Mom used to host much larger parties. I wish I knew how she did it. My best guess is that the three bedrooms in that house actually took up less square footage than the two bedrooms in mine. Our master bedroom is, frankly, huge. We have a king-size bed, two bedside tables, two dressers, a bookshelf, and a bench in that room, and there is still plenty of space to walk around. Sometimes I wish we could take fifty to a hundred square feet out of that room and add it to the living room.

Even if things are a little cramped around here, I am truly looking forward to spending the day with my family. I am thankful that we haven’t lost anyone this year – there will be no new empty seats at our table. We can look back in fondness and forward in expectation.

There aren’t any “end-of-the-world” dates set for 2013, are there?

Globe centred on Asia and Oceania - Satellite ...

Globe centred on Asia and Oceania – Satellite image – PlanetObserver (Photo credit: PlanetObserver)

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You Only Need One Shot to Take Down a Deer

I write these little pieces and set them up to post the day before they actually do. Last Friday, I had already set up my post for Saturday when I heard about Newtown. I chose not to change that post because I didn’t know what to say. I, like a lot of others, needed time to process the tragedy.

I come from a gun-owning family. Grandpa John owned a gun shop when I was a young, and both sides of the family were hunters – not trophy hunters, but the kind that actually eat what they kill because they like the taste of wild game. When I was very young, my father and grandfather taught me how to handle a gun, how to shoot, and the finer points of gun safety. However, as an adult, I choose not to own a gun.

The argument that assault weapons should be available to sportsmen is invalid. In all my family’s years of hunting, not one of my relatives thought an assault rifle was an appropriate weapon for the sport. You see, assault weapons are designed to do the most damage in the least amount of time. If you are a hunter, you don’t want to do too much damage to your prey – you want a clean shot. No one wants to pull a hundred rounds out of their venison stew.

Two things could have prevented or, at least, lessened the number of victims: psychological testing before gun licensing and a ban on assault weapons. Just like the banks should not have been allowed to self-regulate, gun sellers should not be in control of the gun ownership process. We don’t have car salesmen giving driving tests, do we? A gun salesman wants to sell guns, not tell some guy with cash in hand that he isn’t mentally fit to handle one. An assault-weapons ban would be practical. Without the ability to spray bullets, potential shooters would find their killing-spree casualties significantly reduced. That doesn’t mean these tragedies won’t happen – only that fewer people will die.

I’m a realist, though: as much as I personally would like to see all guns removed from society, I know that too many Americans (including my own family) disagree. I respect them and their right to hunt. I pray that nothing so tragic as what happened in Newtown ever happens to them.

My heart is broken for those families in Connecticut.

Soldier demonstrating gun safety by keeping th...

Soldier demonstrating gun safety. Pretty sure he’s not hunting deer. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Dan Has a Better Sense of Humor Than I Do

Okay…even though election season has passed, I felt the need to share this little gem that my husband dashed off a while back. I had forgotten about it until he forwarded it to me earlier this week. I think it’s hilarious. If he had read something like this to me at the beginning of our first date, I would have known immediately that he was a good catch.

Bim Bam the Clown’s gubernatorial candidacy under fire

SURPRISE , AZ, USA(AP)–Early today, the Maricopa County Recorder and Election office had the dubious honor of informing one of Arizona’s latest political newcomers that his campaign for governor has abruptly come to a halt.

Archie Huzenga, a spokesman for the Recorder’s office, relayed that “Mr. Bam’s candidacy has been temporarily rescinded as we investigate complaints about the veracity of certain information on his candidate packet.”

The complaint stems from an anonymous note about candidate Bam’s past, which was taped to the election office door. “It brought to light several issues that will require investigation,” said Mr. Huzenga. Though the elections office would not comment publicly about an ongoing investigation, a source within the office leaked to the media that the subject of the investigation was Candidate Bam’s declared education level and his military service.

Candidate Bam’s website clearly states that he served in the Confederate army under Colonel Nathan Forrest with distinction. He enlisted in 1861 and served the duration of the war.

It is also indicates that he earned his doctorate degree in circus engineering from Klown Kollege in 1913. His dissertation was considered groundbreaking and definitively proved that 40 clowns can successfully and consistently be crammed into small spaces.

Dr. Bam was contacted for a comment on this story but as he is a strict Marxian (Harpo), he was only able to communicate by tooting his horn once for “yes” and twice for “no.” When asked directly whether he believed the Tea Party was responsible for instigating the investigation against him, he answered by emphatically squeezing his horn bulb once.

English: Smilie The Clown

This is Smilie The Clown. As far as I know, he is in no way related to Bim Bam. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Have a Minty Christmas!

Now I know it’s Christmas: my father-in-law sent over a stack of Frango Mint boxes. If you have never had these wonderful chocolate delights, I recommend you head for your nearest Macy’s immediately and buy some. They are the best mints I have ever had – and I am a connoisseur of mints. Just sayin’.

In Dan’s family, Frango Mints are part of the Chicago Christmas tradition. It used to be that the only place to buy them in the Midwest was Marshall Field’s, the huge Chicago department store. Dan’s father would always pick up a box or two for the big day. When I first joined the family, one of my sisters-in-law would buy them and ship them to Mom and Dad Bennett, who would then bring them along to Christmas dinner. The first time I tasted one of these little half-inch-square chocolates, I knew I had found the perfect candy – and the perfect family. Such dedication to tradition!  Such good taste!

Marshall Field’s went out of business a few years ago. You should have heard the moaning and groaning that came from the Bennett clan. No more Frangos! Christmas would never be the same! When Macy’s announced that they would continue to produce the magical confection, my in-laws expressed some doubt that the mints would be as good as they had been in the past. Yet, when Christmas came, the chocolates appeared (and shortly disappeared). The Marshall Field’s lamentation was permanently silenced as the mouths were stuffed with tasty candy.

The stack of boxes in my kitchen all have designated purposes: one is for Dan and me, one is for Christmas, and two others are gifts. I probably should have left the one for us sealed, but…

There are three mints left in the box. I intend to eat all of them before Dan gets home. Don’t judge me…he had more than I did.

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A Wibbly-Wobbly Timey-Wimey Gift

I am blessed with awesome friends. Ella and Emma, with whom I have shared more than half of my life, are just two of the wonderful women I know I can always count on. And though I know that I can call them and we will be able to pick up right where we left off, they are both far away from me physically – and in two different parts of the country no less! Other friends have waxed and waned over the years; though I still hold them close in my heart, our lives have taken divergent paths.

But I want to talk to you today about my friend, Nikki (previously referred to as Pandora). We met a few years ago while working for a national homebuilder here in the valley. She was one of a team of people crafting mass emails for the salespeople; I was the editor for the team. I didn’t expect to make friends. After all, who likes the dweeb who spends all day telling them how much their grammar sucks? On top of that, I tend to be a little standoffish when it comes to office friendships – if they go sour, they ruin the whole job. Nevertheless, Pandora seemed to warm to me, heaping praise on my editing skills and generally making me feel talented and useful. It is at least partly to her credit that I am now a novelist; she encouraged me to follow my dreams and listened to me talk through my entire first novel! When that novel was done, she also became my cover artist. To date, she has produced each and every one of my novels’ art.

A couple of years ago, I introduced her to Doctor Who. She and I have wiled away far more hours than two responsible adults ever should watching that absolutely fantastic British sci-fi show (only the reboot, though – I don’t think the episodes from the last century have aged well). She is well aware, therefore, of my abiding crush on the Tenth Doctor (played by David Tennant).

This week, Nikki came over bearing gifts – this was the first time we had seen each other since before my birthday. After giving me what I thought was my only gift – a few framed photos from last year’s birthday celebration – she told me that my REAL gift was still in her car. She excitedly ran out of the house to retrieve it while I waited in my living room.

Once she was back in the kitchen, she asked, “Do you want a hint?”

“Okay.”

“I brought you something that’s bigger on the inside!”

“You brought me a TARDIS?”

She came around the corner bearing a Barbie-scale TARDIS that she built out of plywood and foam core. It’s amazing! She even came up with a way for the light on top to work! Inside the blue box was the Tenth Doctor, right down to his sneakers and sonic screwdriver. Here’s the best part: she “made” him too! After looking the “action figures” available for purchase, she decided she could do better. For my part, I think she did great. Every time I walk past my Doctor and his TARDIS, I smile so wide my cheeks hurt. I’m going to give him a permanent place in my office just as soon as Dan relocates his globe.

Thank you, Nikki – you are an amazing, talented woman and I am honored to have you for a friend.

007

My very own Doctor!

Superdog and the Gate

For anyone who is wondering what I do with all of my time other than eat, exercise, and occasionally leave the house, I finished editing my tenth novel this weekend. I’m happy to say it is now with my publisher, Inknbeans Press. Look for Just One Note in a webstore near you with in the next few months.

On with today’s story:

Because I am a writer with dogs, Dan and I had to devise some way of keeping said dogs contained when I am absorbed in my craft. For years, we used an old “baby gate” – a wood-and-wire contraption that looked ugly and scarred up our walls. Last spring, Dan bought a white metal gate that mounted to one wall and swings on hinges – a vast improvement over the previous eyesore.

Then we got Truman…or, as he prefers to think of himself, Superdog. Faster than a speeding bullet! Able to leap off ottomans with amazing precision (just ask Dewey, the landing target)! Able to slide under gates meant to keep him contained! Seriously – he had perfected his run-slide combo. He would speed around the corner of the kitchen and, about a foot from the gate, flop onto his belly and slide under it and into the office. How can a dog be so cute and so irritating at the same time? Truman, who is now six months old, is still only about eight pounds; we don’t think he’s going to get much bigger. Therefore, the gate – at least in its previous position – would never contain him.

Sunday afternoon, as I was finishing the “listen-through” portion of my editing, Dan decided to amend the situation and re-position the gate, lowering it about three inches. All three of the dogs watched him do it; Truman even approached the gate and tried to get under it. I think I heard him mutter, “Curse you, Big Guy.”

That night, a few minutes after I put the puppy in his kennel in preparation for bed, Dan told me that Truman might need another trip outside. Uttering my own curses as I got out of bed again, I opened Truman’s cage door and said, “Let’s go out!” Stopping only briefly to harass Dewey, Truman headed for the back door, which happens to be in my office. I came around the kitchen corner just in time to see him flop onto his belly as he approached the gate. “Ooh, that’s gonna—”

*BONG!* The gate sounded more like a gong for a moment. Truman stood up and backed away from it warily. Meanwhile, I could hear Dan laughing in the bedroom, which started me laughing. Truman looked at me like I’d be dead if he had opposable thumbs. When I opened the gate so that he could get to the back door, he gave it the meanest look I’ve ever seen a dog give an inanimate object. It took Dan and I fifteen minutes to stop laughing. Even now, whenever the image flashes through my mind – Whoosh! *BONG* – I can’t help giggling.

One superpower eliminated. Now, if I could just convince him not to stealth-attack Dewey from the ottoman…

Truman and Dewey at the gate.

Truman and Dewey at the gate.

Christmas Past

When I was a child, Christmas was almost always held at my parents’ home. Due to various family issues with my parents’ siblings’ families, I was the only grandchild that both sets of my grandparents were able to see regularly.

Dad would make eggnog (nothing like the stuff they sell in the grocery store), and Mom would make just about everything else, plus pumpkin pies. This was also the time when (what was left of) the cookies and breads made their appearance. I still look forward to Mom’s date pinwheels every year – my favorites!

Grandma Millie and Grandpa John would show up early with a green-bean casserole. Grandma Millie liked to be around to give Mom a helping hand. She always seemed to love the holidays. Grandpa John would find a place to sit, usually in front of the television, if I recall correctly. To be honest, I didn’t pay a lot of attention to the adults – I was usually fully consumed in playing with whatever toys Santa and my parents had provided.

My dad’s parents would show up closer to mealtime. Fuzzy always brought the pecan pie – a tradition that continues to this day. Grandpa Howard would find the other men while she joined Mom and Grandma Millie in the kitchen. I always looked forward to showing Fuzzy what I had gotten for Christmas, because she was the best at looking interested and impressed.

When I was very young, of course, Granddaddy and Ma were also at these gatherings. In my memory, I can still hear Granddaddy cackle with joy after teasing my mother or Ma. Granddaddy was fond of saying that he flitted among the pretty flowers and settled on a cow-pie, which would irritate Ma and make the rest of the family laugh.

Less frequently, various aunts and uncles would make their appearances at these festive occasions.  I was almost always the only child, though. Some might think that would make Christmas a lonely holiday for me, but I was already more than accustomed to entertaining myself. Plus, once the meal was served, the adults were bound to start sharing family stories. I learned my family’s history and my storytelling skills by listening to my elders.

When the Christmas meal was over and the last of the lingering family members left, Dad would light a fire in the fireplace and we would cuddle up as a family and watch television or play one of my new games. The year I got the ColecoVision game console, I think we played video games for hours. Before that, Dad and I had wasted many quarters in the Valley West arcade. Dad was a big fan of Donkey Kong. I think we had Donkey Kong for the game console, too.

Yes, I know that Christmas is too commercial these days and that Christmas dinners are time-consuming to prepare and gone within minutes. But I still think there’s something irreplaceable about sitting down in a family home and sharing a meal prepared with love. This is how we pass on our stories, beliefs, and even our family recipes. These are the things that mean “home.”

Colecovision_System

The most exciting present I’d ever gotten…ColecoVision!