Bright Lights, Big Cacti

Arizona through the Eyes of a Native

Month: January, 2013

Making Lemonade

A few years ago, Dan and I decided to plant a fruit tree in our backyard to replace an evergreen that I thought was ugly. (It looked like a huge bush and served no purpose other than to fill the corner of our yard.) Dan wanted a lime tree, because they are good in gin and tonics, his favorite drink. I talked him into a lemon tree instead, because lemons have more uses than as garnish for a beverage he doesn’t actually drink anymore anyway.

The lemon tree started producing lemons last year, and we did enjoy a few of them. Unfortunately, neither of us took the time to go out and thoroughly harvest the tree; most of the lemons went bad.

This year, I watched with renewed interest as the lemon tree flowered and produced an abundance of fruit – none of which was actually ripe before Christmas, when Fuzzy asked for some fresh lemons. Of course, as is normal for me, I soon forgot all about the tree’s bounty.

Then last week, Fuzzy came over with her dog. We stepped into the backyard and she pointed out the oranges on our other – also ignored – fruit tree. “You should see the lemon tree!” I said, and we stepped around the first tree to look at the second, which was loaded down with beautiful, yellow citrus.

“You need to pick those lemons!” she said as she pulled one and then another off the tree. I went inside and grabbed some bags, and within a few minutes Fuzzy and I had harvested all but the highest branches.

“What am I going to do with all these?” I asked. We must have had at least fifty, if not a hundred lemons.

“You should juice them.”

It just so happens that a year or so ago Dan and I bought a Breville juicer that could actually get juice from just about anything – lemons aren’t even a challenge. I took it out of the cabinet and assembled it while my grandmother rinsed the fruit in the sink. Before long, we were happily chopping lemons in half and dropping them into the juicer.

When we were done, we had eight containers full of lemon juice – most of which is now in my freezer. My house smelled like lemons for days, and I will be drinking lemonade for months to come.

And I also have the memory of picking and juicing lemons with my grandmother. Even if she did leave before it was time to clean up.

This image shows a whole and a cut lemon.

Fresh lemons. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Not Quite Romeo and Juliet

Back in January of 2004, a friend of mine insisted that I put an ad on Yahoo! Personals, a now-defunct online dating site. I had been single for a few years at that point, having offloaded my first husband after three mostly unhappy years of marriage. (My friend Emma once asked me how I knew I should get a divorce. The answer: when you would rather spend the rest of your life alone than one more night with your husband, it’s time to end your marriage.) In any case, I decided to give the internet thing a try. After reviewing some of the rambling ads that discussed everything from the importance of astrological compatibility to the necessity of athletic (or even acrobatic) bodies, I wrote my ad. This is, as best I can remember, what it said:

“Tall quirky writer seeks someone who can laugh at himself and the world. Must be at least 6’0” tall. Sorry, no cats – I’m allergic.”

There were probably a few more words, but that was the gist of the thing. Alongside it, I posted a picture of me standing next to my grandparents’ Rottweiler. The dog might have been a deterrent to potential suitors. In any case, over the course of the next four months I received a grand total of three notes from men who were interested in getting to know me. All three of them started with “I’m not quite six foot, but…” I wrote all three polite notes that basically said the height issue was not negotiable.

Then, in April – right after Easter, as a matter of fact – I received a note that read, “I believe I meet your specifications. Please review my profile to confirm.” (Again, I’m paraphrasing, but this is close to right.) I laughed and checked his profile. Six-foot-three! Yes! Funny and tall!

We exchanged two or three emails before I sent him my phone number. He called me for the first time on April 15th. I remember because I was driving my parents’ tax return to the nearest late-night post-office drop off. He was even funnier on the phone than he was in emails. After some discussion, we set our first date – miniature golf and dinner.

Now, to be fair, this was not Dan’s first choice. He would have preferred dinner and a movie, but I think that movie dates are the worst. This is probably because many years before I went on a movie date with a guy who then decided to lay the worst kiss of my life on me – way too much aggressive tongue action. Bleh. I did offer a zoo option for the first date, but Dan later told me that he wasn’t driving that far or spending that much for some girl he didn’t know. Can’t blame him – he’d already been on a few bad dates through his Yahoo! ad.

When we met at Castles’n’Coasters, he seemed like a nice guy. However, as soon as we started playing, he stopped talking, other than to complain irritably about the woman and two teenagers who were crowding in on us from behind. Finally, we let them play through; then he complained about how slow they were. By the time we finished, I was pretty sure this relationship was DOA. I called my mom from the car to let her know I was going to dinner with him (I intended to pay, since he insisted on paying for the mini-golf game), but that I would be home in no more than two hours.

We drove our separate cars over to Mimi’s. As soon as we sat down at the table together, our conversation began to flow more smoothly. Soon, his impressions had me laughing and we discovered a shared fondness for Britcoms and Shakespeare. We talked about our first marriages – he was still a little bitter about his – and our childhoods. Before we knew it, we were the last patrons in the restaurant.

As he walked me to my car – the back of which was plastered with Christian bumper stickers that might have scared a weaker man off – my phone rang.

“Hi, Mom.”

“Are you okay? Are you in the trunk of a vehicle somewhere?”

“I’m fine. Dinner went well.”

“Are you telling the truth? Can he hear you?”

It took me another minute to convince her that everything was okay and that I was getting into my car to drive home right then. I think Dan and I hugged good night.

The very next day, Dan called and asked me to a Shakespearean play. I guess you could say he had me at “Wilt thou…”

List of titles of works based on Shakespearean...

Our matchmaker. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Healthy Impulses

This past weekend, Dan and I decided to go for a hike as a way to jump-start our new year’s exercise program. Looking online, I found a short 1.25-mile loop trail at ThunderbirdPark and we cheerfully drove out to 55th Avenue and PinnaclePeak, where the trailhead was. Upon arriving, we discovered that it was less of a hiking trail than a dirt path that circled near the foot of the mountain. Still, it was a nice morning and the walk was refreshing. At first, I feared we wouldn’t even lose sight of the parking lot, but toward the last quarter of the “hike” or so, we were actually far enough away that we couldn’t see our car. Of course, we could still see the road, but never mind.

The next day, we decided to try something a bit more challenging. We drove to SouthMountain and picked up their trail map. Before long, we found the Pima Loop East, which was supposedly a mile-and-a-half long with an elevation change of 400 feet. That sounded reasonable. Dan mentioned that he hadn’t been to the top of the mountain in years; I had never been at all, owing to my occasionally overwhelming fear of heights. However, with Dan at the wheel, I was willing to ascend.

The road winds around, occasionally giving breathtaking views of the city and causing my heart to thud as I look down over frightening precipices. Along the way, we passed plenty of bicyclists, a few walkers, and at least one jogger on the road. We were also passed by two motorcyclists going way too fast for the hairpin turns without sufficient safety rails.

At the top, though, is one of the best views of the valley I’ve ever seen. Dan and I walked to the overview and took a few pictures, some of which came out beautifully. The others featured cameos of his thumb.

Afterward, I closed my eyes as Dan drove us back down the mountain, and then we drove out of the park and around to Baseline and 48th Avenue, where there was supposed to be a parking lot for the Pima trails. We were both looking forward to the hike; unfortunately, after three tries and numerous internet searches for the address listed on the website, we were forced to give up. If someone knows how to get to that parking lot, would they please leave a comment below?

So, instead of a healthy hike in the crisp morning air, Dan and I went to Garcia’s Las Avenidas and had lunch. Not exactly the same thing, huh? Oh, well…there’s always next weekend.

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The Ancestor’s Portrait

The other day, Nikki and I went to the museum. As we were examining some of the pieces on display, we were discussing which items we would like to have on our walls in our respective homes. She pointed to a pair of portraits from the nineteenth century and said, “You’d probably like those, right?”

No. No, I really wouldn’t.

When I was a child, my mother had a thing for antiques. I remember that we had a bronzed milk can, antique toys, and, among a number of other things, a framed sepia photograph of an unsmiling ancestor who had suffered a stroke sometime before the photo was taken. The woman’s face was completely smooth on one side, and one of her eyes drooped closed. Her hair was pulled back in a severe bun, and she was wearing black. To top the whole thing off, the glass in the frame was convex, which caused her one good eye to follow you no matter where you were. Naturally, I concluded that the woman in the photograph was a witch.

My mother hung this terrifying artifact over the mantel. Before long, I was known as the kid with the creepy picture. Other children would come over and stand in different places in the living room to experience the never-ending glare. If I ever needed to pass through the living room alone at night, I scurried past the picture. The thing creeped me – out big time.

It hung there until the day we left that home. In the new place – where I spent my high school years – I think it was placed in a room I was seldom in. Maybe the dining room. In any case, I didn’t have to look at it every day.

Finally, when they moved to their most recent home, my mom left the photo out of her decorating scheme entirely. I didn’t wonder too much about it – I was just relieved to not have to see it. One day, though, I was in their garage and noticed the distinctive curve of the frame and glass. It’s not gone…it’s just lying in wait.

And that is why I prefer surrealist landscapes.

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Turtles Make Terrible Salesmen

On Monday night, just as I was settling in for a nice evening of television-watching with Dan, my dear friend Nikki called. “Would you meet me at Metrocenter at six-thirty?”

Now, to be perfectly honest, my instant response to that question was “no.” I was not dressed for going out, I hadn’t fixed my hair or makeup, and I was comfortably ensconced on my new couch, watching Once Upon a Time. But, realizing that Nikki wouldn’t call on such short notice for no reason, I asked her what was going on.

“I’m supposed to go to a Lia Sophia event and the friend who was going with me backed out.”

Okay, now I’m the runner-up for the event – other women might have been offended, but I was actually relieved that she hadn’t invited me to begin with. Don’t get me wrong: I like their jewelry. However, I have no interest in hosting a party or becoming a vendor, and those are the two activities the current vendors are most interested in having you do. I know – I’ve been a Mary Kay salesperson twice and a Quikstar vendor once. The sales pitch is always so promising that I forget I’m about as extroverted as a turtle.

Nevertheless, I agreed to attend the event with her…because she is my friend and I wouldn’t want to go to any kind of an event by myself. I put on my makeup, fixed my hair, and left the house on a freezing-cold night because I know in my heart that she would do the same thing for me.

“Will you be buying anything?” Dan asked as I was heading out the door.

“No,” I answered resolutely.

He gave me disbelieving look; I tried to ignore it.

The event in question was the launch of their Spring/Summer 2013 catalog. We stayed for the whole spiel, and I ended up buying a mother-of-pearl necklace and matching earrings. I did not, however, book a party or become a vendor, so I’m calling that a win.

As it turned out, Nikki won two raffles: a pair of earrings and a necklace. Since I came out to join her on short notice, she insisted on giving me my choice of the two items. I took the earrings.

“I thought you weren’t buying anything,” Dan commented when I came home.

That’s what I love about him – he’s so good at not rubbing it in when he’s right.

The earrings Nikki gave me.

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They Don’t Put This in the Travel Brochures

Arizona is in the midst of a cold snap. In Phoenix, we are expecting five nights in a row of freezing temperatures for the first time since 1988, which, according to one local news anchor, is “unprecedented.” Apparently, her dictionary has a different definition for that word than mine does. Never mind.

I know what you are thinking if you live anywhere colder: “wusses.” Yeah…we are, when it comes to the cold. However, I’d be willing to bet that we complain a heckavalot less than Northerners when the temperatures hit triple digits.

Like most cities, Phoenix has homeless people. Most often, they can be seen standing near freeway onramps with signs that read everything from “God Bless You” to “Will Work for Food.” Because of our normally temperate weather conditions, I would be willing to bet that most nights,  many of them opt to sleep outside rather than risk the dangers of a homeless shelter. Tonight, the shelter downtown that only sleeps 770 under normal conditions will house as many as they can stuff inside. They will be roused at six o’clock tomorrow morning – before the sun comes up – and fed breakfast, which is probably better than their average Sunday morning.

Meanwhile, at the county jail – popularly referred to as “TentCity” – the inmates (non-violent offenders) will be huddled under thin blankets. Sheriff Joe even said the inmates would receive chicken broth for dinner. Nice. How about a good meal heavy on the carbs instead? That’s what a human being really needs to survive the cold – lots of calories for his or her body to burn through the night! There is no reason that a short two- or three-month stint should become a death sentence.

Needless to say, I will be huddled under my blankets in the warmth of my home…which will probably not be all that warm. You see, when we replaced our air-conditioning unit a few years ago, we chose to switch to a heat pump from the gas heating system we had before. Unfortunately, when the thermometer falls below thirty-five degrees, the heat pump can’t keep up. Luckily, I have plenty of blankets and a heating pad to keep me warm.

Maybe I’ll try to dream about summer tonight…


Arizona (Photo credit: Moyan_Brenn)

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Cowboys Aren’t Really Art Aficionados

Back in the 1930’s, Clare Boothe Luce, a well-known playwright and the wife of magazine king Henry Luce, commissioned Frida Kahlo to paint a portrait of a mutual friend who had recently committed suicide. Kahlo’s portrait, The Suicide of Dorothy Hale, was not exactly what she was expecting. In fact, she so disliked the portrait that she planned to destroy it. However, cooler heads prevailed, and the painting was instead put in storage. Years later, she donated it to the Phoenix Art Museum, reportedly telling others that no one would ever see it there.

When I first read this story – which was hanging next to the painting at the museum – I laughed. I thought that Luce had clearly failed to see how metropolitan Phoenix would eventually become.

Then at lunch with my Beta Sigma Phi sisters last weekend, I realized I may be the one who is deluded. None of my sisters are from Arizona originally, and their perception of the state is considerably different from my own. Apparently, we live in the Wild West. Cowboys still walk the streets – at least as far as much of the rest of the country is concerned. When I mentioned this to my husband, I was surprised to find that he agreed with them. “It’s the Del Webb commercials from the Sixties,” he said. “All those commercials about the Sun City retirement community sold a version of Arizona that relied heavily on the ‘Old West’ perception.”

I never saw those commercials…I lived here, you see. So, here I am, stripped of my delusion at last. It appears that my father-in-law’s perception of me as “pioneer stock” may, in fact, be the way all non-Arizonans see me. My belief that Arizona is as metropolitan as the next major city is not shared by my fellow residents. And, in a state where a striking majority of the population is transplanted from elsewhere, Joe Arpaio suddenly seems like the obvious choice for sheriff – after all, he looks pretty good in a cowboy hat.

I suppose Phoenix’s image isn’t too unappealing, since we still draw a ridiculous number of people from other states. Dan, who is originally from Chicago, tells me it’s not unusual for people to ask him about the corrupt politics and mob activity of his home city. To be fair, though, Chicago politics haven’t changed much in the last hundred years. Phoenix, on the other hand, is nothing like the dusty desert town that existed before air conditioning.

So, for anyone who has never been here, you should know that few, if any, real cowboys roam our streets. While some people go for sunset rides on their horses, I would venture to guess that more people take that twilight cruise on a motorcycle. If you ever do get to Phoenix, I recommend a visit to the art museum, if only to see the Kahlo that Clare Booth Luce tried to hide.

If you want to see an “Old West” town, try Tombstone. Of course, their cowboys are mostly fake too.

Suicide of Dorothy Hale

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Okay. I blew it. Here it is, ten o’clock on Friday night, and I completely forgot to write my post for tomorrow morning.

So what can I share with you that you might actually find interesting or funny?

Let’s see…

I’m not much of a housewife. As a matter of fact, I’d say I’m probably the worst housekeeper I know. Nevertheless, if I know you are coming, I will make sure that my house is as clean as I can possibly make it. When my grandmother calls and gives me less than an hour’s notice, I spend forty-five minutes cleaning and the other fifteen minutes trying to make myself presentable – and she’s not even critical of my housekeeping skills! I doubt she would notice if there were dust in the corners.

My mom is – or rather, was – the ultimate clean freak. She used to keep my childhood home so clean that the five-second rule could have been the five-minute rule. When we went to other people’s homes, she always pointed out the dust in the corners. Now, twenty-five years after I moved out, her house has a more relaxed vibe. Don’t get me wrong – the place is clean. But the strict cleaning regimen of bygone days has morphed into a more relaxed style of household management.

Back to me. My mother’s cleaning gene didn’t actually make it into my DNA. I wish it did, but I can’t even sweep the floors with a broom effectively. Dan has more than once taken the broom away from me and swept the floors himself rather than watch my awkward attempts. It’s not a ploy – I really suck at sweeping…and dusting…and, well, pretty much everything housewifely. Not only that, but I don’t notice when he cleans parts of the house.

A few years ago, what is now my office was an Arizona room – basically, an enclosed porch. Dan used the space primarily for storage, and it was stacked to the ceiling in places. To get to the backyard, we had a narrow path cleared from the kitchen door to the back door. One day, I came home from work. Since I knew that Dan was in the backyard, I walked through the Arizona room and outside to let him know I was home.

“What do you think?” he asked expectantly.

Instantly, I knew I’d missed something. “Um…did you get a haircut?”

He rolled his eyes. “How could you not notice?”

I looked at him, still not sure what I was missing.

“You walked through the room, Susan. How could you not see?”

I turned around and walked back to the Arizona room. The piles of clutter were gone; it was as if a cleaning fairy had visited the room. “Wow! This looks great!”

“Save it,” Dan said, tapping his cigar against the ashtray dejectedly. “Too late.”

And that’s how I know that I am clutter-blind.

English: This is a picture of a stiff whisk br...

This is a picture of a stiff whisk broom, a gentle scrubber sponge and a micro-fiber cleaning cloth to symbolize stages of cleaning. I am personally unfamiliar with these items. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Happy 2013!

First and foremost, Happy New Year, Dear Readers! I hope you enjoy a happy, healthy 2013. Is anyone else concerned about this being the thirteenth year of the new century?

Good. I’m glad it’s just me.

Let’s start the new year by looking back. In 2012, I completed the first drafts of three novels, which isn’t too shabby. I started this blog at the end of June, and a few of you found me over the past six months. In case you only recently stumbled across me, here are the most popular entries of the past year:

  1. Scorpion Queen – if you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to live with an infestation of poisonous scorpions, this entry is for you.
  2. 10 Ways to Recognize a Native Arizonan – not that you’d want to.
  3. Diapers are Optional – about being childless in a family-centric universe.
  4. Happily Ever After – about the perils of children’s fairytales.
  5. Baby Ate the Cow – my personal favorite, involving my mother and a grazing bovine.

And here’s one you probably missed but shouldn’t have: Superdog and the Gate.

One of the best things we did this year was adopt a new fur-baby. Truman Jack joined the family in September and he has been raising heck around here ever since.

Dan and I celebrated our eighth year together and our seventh anniversary. Despite his inability to “stay-cation,” he’s still my soulmate. There’s no one on earth I’d rather sit at home with.

My goals for the next year are as follows:

  • I’m going to write a sequel to Forsaking the Garden, one of my earlier novels.
  • I will lose at least twenty pounds.
  • I will continue to post on this blog twice weekly, every Wednesday and Saturday – so stay tuned.

HAPPY NEW YEAR (Photo credit: Helgi Halldórsson/Freddi)

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