Bright Lights, Big Cacti

Arizona through the Eyes of a Native

Month: February, 2013


This morning, I read something in one of my many reference books that surprised me: cuffs at the bottoms of men’s pants may have originally been brought into fashion by tall men. Apparently, these self-conscious giants  began rolling the bottoms of their pant legs in an effort to make themselves seem shorter. The thought made me laugh: why would one want to appear shorter?

And then I realized: I am a heightist. Some of you may have already come to that conclusion after reading about the personal ad I once placed, but I honestly had no idea. The moment of clarity I experienced must have been akin to a white man suddenly realizing that endorsing “separate but equal” facilities for other races made him a racist. I even made similar excuses: I have lots of short friends, I’m happy to help those who are height-challenged, and shorter people don’t understand the challenges of being tall (okay, so there aren’t a lot of challenges – mostly, they involve ducking).

I even have a stereotype regarding short men: they suffer from Napoleon complexes. Back when I was younger (and more open-minded about such things), I dated a few shorter men. On the whole, they are responsible for my belief that short men are more interested in dominating their partners and conquering the world. In general, tall men don’t seem to have that problem. Maybe that’s because tall men can see more of the world from their vantage point and, therefore, already know the world isn’t worth conquering.

My whole life, I have been surrounded by tall men. My father is 6’4”. One of my uncles is 6’6”. Both of my grandfathers were 6’0” or a little taller. As I grew toward adulthood, I surpassed the height of every woman I knew, eventually stopping just shy of 6’0”. As a tall woman, I can fully utilize all of the cabinets in my kitchen. The dangers shorter women face (the potential for being easily overpowered, for instance) seem remote. In fact, the only thing that throws me off my game is meeting a woman who is taller than I am. It really is the oddest sensation – I suddenly feel as though I’ve had a nip from Alice’s bottle.

So, I would like to offer an apology to every short person (5’6” and under) person that I know: I’m sorry if I have treated you as a second-class citizen. Now that I am aware of my heightist tendencies, I will work doubly hard to treat you equally. I will not flaunt my height by reaching for items placed on high shelves. I won’t make a big deal out of low ceilings or small cars. And if you ask me for help, I will give it without comment, shorty.

Sorry. That was the last one, I swear.

Napoleon on his Imperial throne

Napoleon on his Imperial throne — still not very imposing. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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A Winter Interlude

I’ve had a hard time writing this week. My concentration has been completely off for the last few days, leading me to think this may be the onset of my annual bout of winter blues.

It seems to me that this is the same way I used to feel when I was waiting for spring break back in school. I can still remember staring out the large windows in my high-school geometry class and wishing that spring would arrive just a little sooner.

Spring brings color back into the world. Even in the Sonoran Desert, spring is a beautiful time of year. The wildflowers blossom on the sides of the roads, the cactus across the street from me bursts into white flowers, and the quail that live in my front yard suddenly have half a dozen babies following after them in quick-moving trains.

But right now, it’s cold – at least to us Phoenicians. The desert is mostly brown and an unhealthy shade of green. The plants in my yard look more than a little frostbitten. And my words seem to trickle out instead of flowing with the rush and gush of a river.

Just twenty-five more days of winter…

Description unavailable

Ugh. (Photo credit: dog.breath)

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I know that I share a lot of my life here, but I usually keep my faith out of my writing entirely. I don’t want my readers to immediately recognize who I am or what I believe by reading my works of fiction. If they do, I believe I’m doing it wrong. One of the best compliments I’ve received is that one of my books (An Unassigned Life) has been called both too Christian and anti-Christian by different readers.

Recently, though, an acquaintance asked me about my walk with God and I took the time to share my story with him. After I had done so, I realized it was a story that was both very personal and universal at the same time. I am not saying that what I believe is what you have to believe. I merely want to share my spiritual walk with you.

When I was young, my parents took me to a small home church. One Sunday, I felt pinpricks in my heart during the altar call, but when I tried to go forward, my mother held me back, believing I was too young to understand what I was doing.

After that, I sought spiritual fulfillment from other sources. Eventually, I turned to the occult, even studying astrology and reading tarot cards — quite accurately, as it turned out.

In 1997, I married my first husband. Within his extended family were five preachers. The next year, I volunteered to compile and edit the family stories for their reunion. Within those stories were numerous testimonials to the power of Christ. I was moved by their words, and I began to wonder if Jesus was who I was missing.

At the reunion that summer, I met some of the most wonderful people. During an impromptu praise service on Sunday morning, I swear that the believers were glowing! The unbelievers, however, looked like dark spots in their midst. I came home determined to figure out who Jesus was. I promised myself that I would read one chapter a day, starting in the New Testament. By the end of the week, I had sought out a woman at work who glowed like my husband’s family did. I asked her where she worshiped and she invited me to her church. That Sunday, I went — alone. My husband refused to go. Sitting in that strip-mall makeshift church, I felt the pinpricks again, but I didn’t go forward. I managed to keep my composure until I got out of there. I spent the rest of the day in tears.

The next day, I made a deal with God (note to self: don’t bother…He always wins). If Mary (my glowing coworker) was still at her desk when I finished working, I would go talk to her. At 5:15, she was still at work. I found more to do around the office. At 5:30, she was still there. I took care of some tasks I’d been putting off. At 5:45, Mary still hadn’t budged. I walked over and sat down at her desk. I told her I thought I needed Jesus. She was a little flustered — that was the one day she didn’t have her Bible in her purse — but she found a Romans Road tract in her desk drawer and led me to Christ right there!

Because I felt it was important to understand fully what I was professing when I called myself a Christian, I read the entire Bible in the next nine months. My husband claimed to be saved, so I hoped that our marriage, which was a little shaky, would be strengthened by my new belief. Unfortunately, it was not. After a few more years of misery, I finally decided to divorce him.

My divorce earned me disdain from many of my fellow Free Will Baptist congregants, but I persevered. Then, one Sunday, the preacher’s wife used a passage from the Old Testament to “prove” that God disapproved of interracial relationships. I disagreed — vocally. That passage was clearly meant for the Israelites, whom God considered a race apart. The New Testament, on the other hand, says that all believers are equal, no matter their race.

After that, I left the Free Will Baptists. I have attended a number of other churches, but I haven’t found a place that feels right to me. I still hold my faith in Christ close. I maintain strong friendships with good Christian men and women. But that doesn’t mean I exclude non-believers from my life.

I believe that Jesus Christ died on the cross to save me from my sins. I believe he did that for every man, woman, and child who has ever lived. However, I also believe that this salvation is a gift that every human must accept for himself — we, as Christians, cannot force our will on our fellow beings. To do so is to usurp God, who gave us free will in the first place.

Stained glass window of the sacred Heart of Je...

Stained glass window of the sacred Heart of Jesus Christ in the former Mosque (Cathedral) of Cordoba, Spain (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Some Good Rules for Life

As I have mentioned before, I am a member of Beta Sigma Phi, a sorority created for women of all ages. This sorority promotes friendship above all else. Recently, I was looking through a sorority cookbook that belonged to my grandmother, and I found these “Unwritten Rules” on a piece of paper (Does anyone else see the irony in that? Okay…moving on.) stuck in the middle of it. In any case, I thought these rules would be good for all men and women to apply to their lives.

  1. I will mind my own business and not gossip or believe anything disparaging about any person until I know it to be absolutely true, and even then, I will not repeat it to anyone.
  2. I will not wear my feelings on my sleeve or be so insensitive as to look for personal slight or offence, or be envious or suspicious of anyone.
  3. I will wear a smile. When I am gloomy, I will absent myself from others rather than inflict my negative view on those who may have trouble of their own.
  4. I will be kind and help others toward a more positive outlook on life. I will do nothing to either myself or another which may become an unpleasant memory in the coming years.
  5. I will not be headstrong and will remember that other people with different ideas from mine might be right. I will keep an open mind always.
  6. I will play the game of life on the square and do everything I can to help an honest man, a good woman, or child find the very best life has to offer.

Hey…maybe we should write down the rules more often.

Yellow Rose

Yellow Rose (Photo credit: andrewprice001)

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Chocolate and Him

When I was a child, Valentine’s Day was one of my favorite holidays. This had a lot to do with my mom. Every year, we would go to the store and buy paper heart-shaped doilies and Valentine’s Day stickers to make homemade valentines. While everyone else was struggling to figure out which one of the preprinted messages would be acceptable to give to the kids they really didn’t like (because back then mothers always made their children give a valentine to every kid in their class), I put together a classroom’s worth of cute, non-committal cards. If I really liked someone, I could always write on the card; otherwise, a paper heart with a sticker was sufficient.

Valentine’s Day isn’t nearly as great once you grow up. I realized a long time ago that if you expect more than a bit of chocolate on Valentine’s Day, you are setting yourself up for disappointment. You see, most men don’t really get Valentine’s Day. They don’t understand why there is another holiday so close to Christmas where they are supposed to spend money on gifts and flowers. If it had been up to men, Valentine’s Day would be on June twenty-fifth and the appropriate gifts would be sports-related.

That’s not to say that Dan isn’t surprisingly romantic. He has done some amazing things for me over the years. He has taken me to Disneyland, despite his better judgment. He planned a trip to Italy because I wanted to go, not because he did. The fact that he loved it was just a bonus. And he proposed to me during a Shakespearean play. None of these events were even remotely associated with a holiday.

Therefore, all I want is a single box of See’s chocolates and my husband’s love every day of the year. Nuts and chews, please.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Anthropomorphic Valentine, circa 1950–1960

Gotta be careful who you give this one to. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Fair as the Mossmallow in May

I think Shakespeare might have been wrong when he wrote this:

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”

I think if someone had named the rose…oh, I don’t know…mossmallow, let’s say, they wouldn’t be nearly as popular. For one thing, mossmallow is much harder to rhyme with than rose.

I believe we become our names. Susan Irene, for instance, means “peaceful lily.” For the most part, I live my life quietly. “Susan” is perceived as a serious name by most people, so no one is particularly surprised when they discover that I’m basically a bookworm. I have never met a Susan who wasn’t more of an intellectual than your average girl. Even the main character on Suddenly Susan was bookish, and Brooke Shields played the part!

My mom’s attempt to make me a “Susie” fell flat because I’m just not a “Susie” type of girl. “Susies” are bright, cheery types with a penchant for cheerleading. Yeah…that’s not me at all. That reminds me of the day I found my college suitemates watching a cheerleading competition on my television…a story for another day. But if she had named me Susie instead of Susan, would I have been an altogether more bubbly sort of woman? How will we ever know?

The moral of the story is this: Parents, be careful when you name your children. Without even knowing it, you are selecting a mould that your child will probably grow into.

Mug shot of Susan Atkins.

Even Susan Atkins was an intellectual type. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Our Other Dog

Our office was originally meant to be a library/office. Dan and I intended to put two comfortable – possibly reclining – reading chairs in here. However, after giving a little thought to the matter, we decided to hold off on that plan because the office is also Scrappy’s primary residence.

Who is Scrappy, you ask? Scrappy is the half-terrier-half-werewolf Dan rescued before we met. He didn’t mean to rescue him – it just sort of happened. One day, Dan was out jogging. (I can only assume he took up jogging as an excuse to stay out of the house he shared with his first wife, since he hasn’t shown much of a proclivity to jog in the nearly nine years we’ve been together.) As he rounded a corner, a beat-up-looking pup began trotting along behind him. He had apparently been run over, because he was missing a strip of fur down his back. His tongue was swollen from dehydration. Yet, the little guy just kept trotting along next to Dan as if he were perfectly okay.

A block later, the pup wandered over to a fenced yard containing three other small dogs. About that time, the gate to the yard slid open and the owner’s car pulled up the driveway. The stray dog took the opportunity to slip into the yard. Dan sighed with relief, thinking that the owner would surely take care of the pup, since she was clearly a dog lover. Dan jogged on. As he turned the next corner though, he saw the woman drop the stray over the fence and back onto the street. Now feeling sorry for the poor thing, Dan stopped and waited for the pup to catch up with him.

When he got home, Dan bundled the dog up and took him to the vet, who told him the dog was seriously dehydrated but was otherwise okay. The vet estimated he was about a year old. Dan decided to nurse him back to health. He named the dog Scrappy.

Scrappy is a sweet-tempered animal, but he’s not attractive. He has a protruding lower jaw that causes his incisors to stick out menacingly and his black-gray coat is unruly under the best conditions. When we first read the Harry Potter novels, Dan and I decided that Scrappy was actually Padfoot. My friend Nikki always gives him extra love because she feels sorry for him. However, even she thinks he looks like a werewolf.

Scrappy is now at least twelve years old. He has slowed down some, but I wouldn’t call him a calm dog. And he thinks that any furniture in the office is essentially his to do with as he pleases. Therefore, we decided to hold off on the comfy recliners…until he is gone. Instead, we put a black leather loveseat Dan had owned before we were together in the office. For the last few years, he and Dewey would both lay on it while I wrote.

A few months ago though, we decided to remove the loveseat. We gave Scrappy a blanket to sleep on instead, but he didn’t really like it. He kept trying to scrunch it up into something thicker and softer than that particular blanket was ever meant to be. Also, the blanket wasn’t big enough for all three dogs to share, which inevitably led to little squabbles between them. So, this past weekend, we bought a big dog pillow. Now, by all rights, this pillow should be big enough for all three dogs to sleep on. However, there seems to be some dispute about to whom the pillow belongs.

At least Scrappy has a comfortable bed when Dewey and Truman aren’t in the office with him.


That’s Truman in the softest spot. Scrappy is the one in the foreground with only his paws on the pillow.

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Sore Losers

A political group called Respect Arizona has filed paperwork with the Arizona Secretary of State’s office to launch a campaign to recall Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

I’m sure it’s clear from some of my other pieces (here and here) that I’m not really a fan of the Maricopa County sheriff. In fact, I pretty much think he’s a blowhard who should have retired at least two terms ago.

However, the idea of recalling him is as ill-advised as Arpaio’s own campaign against our president. Like it or not, Arpaio was reelected. Yes, the race was close. Yes, Arpaio threw tons of money into the campaign, which likely swayed some of the voters. But, like it or not, Arpaio won. Whining about how much he spent to accomplish his goal is pointless.

Let’s talk about the next election instead. Arpaio earned just 50.7% of the vote, which means 49.3% did not vote for him. This was his slimmest victory yet. We have four more years to slice off one percent of his support and find a single candidate with both the experience and presence to relegate Arpaio to the halls of Arizona political history, along with some of our other poor choices. Anyone else remember governors Mecham and Symington?

Respect Arizona, as much as it saddens me to say it, the people have spoken. Sheriff Joe gets four more years to waste taxpayer money and generally show his lack of class to the rest of the country.

Whatever Arizona’s reputation may be, we have certainly earned it.

Sheriff Joe Arpaio - Armed and Dangerous

Sheriff Joe Arpaio – Armed and Dangerous (Photo credit: DonkeyHotey)

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And Now, a Word from Our Sponsor…

My latest novel, Just One Note, is now available! It’s a tale that grew out of an email I received last spring. It had no sender and was dated 12/31/69. Most people would have dismissed it as a computer glitch, but I began to wonder if someone from the future was trying to get a message through. That thought germinated and grew this novel:

Just One Note


What if, on a particular day in the future, you could send an email that would change your past? What would you change? How many lifetimes would it take for your life to be perfect?

Diana spent her life married to her college sweetheart – a dream who believed that such a day was coming. She gave up her musical and theatrical aspirations to bear his three sons. Now, at last, the day Joe said was coming has arrived.

Should she hit send?

Digital copies of this novel at Smashwords and Amazon for $2.99 now. It will be available through other vendors in the coming weeks.

The print version is also available at Amazon for just $9.99.

Thank you, and I now return you to my regularly scheduled programming.