Bright Lights, Big Cacti

Arizona through the Eyes of a Native

Month: March, 2013

New Friendships Blooming Here

I talked to Ella on the phone today. It’s her birthday. Since we met in the first grade, I think it’s fair to say we have been friends for thirty-six years or so now. She and her family live in Washington, and we don’t get to see each other often — but we don’t need to see each other to know that we are friends. Our relationship is the closest thing I have in my life to a real sisterly bond. Although that may be changing.

My new Beta Sigma Phi chapter, Eta Delta, held their first social last weekend. We went bowling, and we had a great time. None of us will be going pro anytime soon (I won the second game with a measly 100), but we cheered each other on and laughed like fools for a few hours. It’s been a long time since I have been a part of a large group of friends — and I’m thrilled to have these new women in my life. I envision years of great experiences with this group, and I hope they can see that future too.

Though all seven of us come from different backgrounds, we are excited to get to know each other and build a strong group. I have been elected the vice president, which means I am in charge of membership. The biggest challenge is finding other women who have the inclination to make room for new friendships in their lives.

Most of us don’t realize we are missing girlfriends because we are so busy taking care of our parents, husbands, and children. (I can’t say I’ve ever been that sort of a woman, but I know plenty who are.) When the children are grown and our parents are gone, life can start to feel empty. The friends we made in our teens and twenties have followed different paths, and, while we still love them, we may find we are unable to spend time together.

If you happen to be in the West Valley of the Phoenix Metro area and you are interested in joining a friendship organization with women between the ages of twenty and fifty, please contact me. Eta Delta would love for you to visit us! If you are interested in Beta Sigma Phi, visit their website. I promise you won’t be sorry.




Alan Jobe

A dear friend of mine passed away last night. I had known him for about two years. He had read every one of my books, and he reviewed most of them. We met as a result of my writing — otherwise, our paths would never have crossed. And no, we never sat down on a couch and had a face-to-face talk. In fact, I can’t rightly say what he looked like…he never had a picture of himself on Facebook, Twitter, or Empire Avenue. But he was my friend, nonetheless.

It seems unfair that he died the day before the Supreme Court took up the matter of gay marriage. Unlike some of my other friends, he didn’t get to take comfort in the massive groundswell of support for gay rights that many of us witnessed on Tuesday. He was openly gay, and he loved my gay characters. He thought Sax, Adam, and Steve were pitch-perfect.

Last year, he endeavored to write a blog post every day. In doing so, he revealed to his readers his struggle with bipolar disorder — all of the manic highs and frightening lows that accompany the disease. Though he didn’t succeed in posting every day, he did post 80% of the time — giving himself the grade of “a gentleman’s C,” as he put it. Considering that there are days (like today, for instance) that I really don’t even want to write one of my two posts a week, I greatly admire his dedication.

In recent months, he had made it his mission to support my writing in a way that very few have done. He posted reviews and blogged about me at least five or six times since January. In his review of my last book, Just One Note, he wrote, “I honestly can’t wait to see what she writes next.”

I wish he were going to be here for that. I’ll do my best not to let him down anyway.

A bear for Alan.

A bear for Alan.

Is There a Term for “Fear of Yard Sales”?

Dan and his brother are having a yard sale today. They have one or two a year, and I’m always left wondering where our two households come up with so much unwanted stuff in the space of six to twelve months. It’s not like they keep what doesn’t sell; on the contrary, they always load what’s left into one of their cars and take it directly to Goodwill or another thrift shop to donate. Nevertheless, Dan carried half a ton of crap out of here this morning. And this time, some of it was mine.

I’m what I would consider a “conservative hoarder.” If you visited my house, you wouldn’t find stacks of things piled precariously through my living quarters, but if you opened a closet or perused a bookshelf, you might find yourself wondering why I am keeping certain items. The simple answer is I’m not done with whatever that item might be. The more complicated one is that I don’t know if I’ll ever be done with that item. I have games that I haven’t actually played since I was a teenager. I have books that I keep just in case I need to refer to them for something obscure in my writing. And I have sets of clothing that are too big and too small for my current body. I keep leftover skeins of yarn from projects long finished (or sometimes abandoned). I refuse to part with DVD sets of programs I can watch on Netflix anytime I want. And let’s not even get started on the boxes of cards and letters dating back to my college years.

Last Saturday night, when Dan began excavating the coat closet, I wasn’t too worried. After all, very few of my various collections reside in there. I basically use that closet for wrapping paper and gift bags. He, on the other hand, had accumulated at least a dozen coats and half a dozen hats. As he loaded down one of our living-room chairs in clothing, I breathed a sigh of relief…a moment too soon. I had forgotten about the plastic tub full of DVDs that waited at the bottom of the closet.

“Susan, come here! We need to go through these!”

As I entered the living room, I was horrified to see that he was talking about my movies — all of our movies. “Why?”

“Because we should get rid of them at the yard sale. We don’t use them anymore. We’ve got Netflix and Amazon instead.”

I couldn’t really express to him the terror I felt about getting rid of them. Thoughts like “But what will we watch when the Internet finally fails?” and “How will we entertain ourselves during the Apocalypse?” flitted through my mind. I know…ridiculous. After all, if the Internet fails, that must be a sign of the Apocalypse, and everyone knows the power grid will blink out when that happens, right?

So I stood in the living room and sorted through the movies, keeping anything that was a musical (because we’ll need musicals when the world ends) and discarding just about everything else.

Today, as I sit inside while strangers peruse two-thirds of my DVD collection and buy my movies for less than a tenth of what I paid for most of them, I know that Dan is probably right to want to de-clutter our lives. But I still can’t help but want to put “Do Not Cross” tape over my closet’s entrance. After all, I’m going to need that stack of sheet music someday…


Sorry, Jim…Dan’s not a fan of your work.


A Day Trip to Talking Stick Resort and Casino

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before, but I love to go to casinos. In fact, given an unlimited amount of money, I might become a gambling addict…but maybe not. After all, if I had unlimited funds, why would I gamble at all? Maybe the activity would lose all appeal for me. Let’s just say that if Dan were to hand me a hundred dollars and tell me to have fun, I would be more likely to head to a casino than to a mall.

Saturday, my sister-in-law and I took a little drive out to Talking Stick Resort and Casino, one of the newer casinos around the Phoenix Metro area. I had been there once before, but Crista had never been before. The property was beautiful and relatively uncrowded. We played a number of side-by-side penny slots, and it soon became apparent that I was on a lucky streak. Every machine I sat down at ended up paying me. Meanwhile, Crista’s machines seemed intent on taking her money. When we decided to go to lunch, I was up at least $30 and Crista was down $40.

We wandered around for a while looking for the moderately price cafe Crista had found on their website. At last, the Blue Coyote Cafe appeared. This relatively small restaurant is located one floor down from the gaming floor and makes a nice respite from the din of the casino. The colors are muted, the seating is comfortable, and the view is pleasant. I ordered the Cajun burger and Crista ordered a salad with a grilled chicken breast on top. My burger was, in a word, delicious. The seared green chilis and melted cheese went perfectly with the Cajun spices. The french fries were delicious as well. Crista said the salad was great, too. I would highly recommend this spot for a quiet lunch. I paid for the meal with my winnings, and we headed back upstairs.

My lucky streak continued, and Crista’s luck changed! After a particularly good spin, she was back up to where she started. Wisely, she decided to call it a day. I played a little longer. I finally surrendered when I was up by just eleven dollars. I’d had a little more before I hit a losing streak, but going home with a free meal and more money than I arrived with makes me very happy.

While it’s far from a Vegas experience, the Talking Stick Casino is certainly a fun place to spend the day. Highly recommended.

Talking Stick

Talking Stick Casino

The Butterfly Pavilion at the Desert Botanical Garden

I was privileged to spend today with two of my Beta Sigma Phi sisters and my mom at the Desert Botanical Garden.

The Marshall Butterfly Pavilion is currently hosting their annual Spring Butterfly Exhibit through May 12th. If you happen to be in or around the Phoenix area, I highly recommend visit the garden before the butterflies are gone. I have always  loved butterflies; in fact, we released Painted Ladies at my first wedding.

Rather than write my blog post, I have decided to share some of the many photos I took today. I hope you enjoy them!









A Polite Mistake

Is it possible to be polite and honest?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot in the last few weeks, mostly because someone I really respected and liked made a sudden turn toward rudeness, leaving me with a dilemma: do I tell them honestly that they are being rude or politely ignore their behavior?

Because I am essentially non-confrontational, I was inclined to go with “politely ignoring” the problem. Unfortunately, this didn’t cure the problem. Instead, I witnessed incident after incident of rudeness – none of it directed at me, but all of it affecting me indirectly. This was a problem that wasn’t going to cure itself.

I consider myself an honest person, but I am loathe to hurt anyone’s feelings. If a close friend asks me what I think of an outfit they are trying on in a store, I’ll tell them exactly what I think. On the other hand, if they ask me what I think of their new dress, I’m probably going to say it’s fine, even if I don’t think it’s particularly attractive. Hey – if they already brought it home with them, they must like it pretty well. Who am I to judge?

I believe confrontation is uncomfortable for most people, which is why rude people are so rarely confronted regarding their behavior. Because they aren’t corrected, these people believe that their behavior is acceptable, leading them to indulge in that behavior even more.

I wish that I had been able to speak honestly – and confidentially – to the rude person in my life. Instead, I became part of a mob that might as well have been bearing torches and pitchforks as we drove this person – someone I previously liked and respected – from our midst.

So…is it possible to be honest and polite? In this case, I should have tried harder to be both at the same time.


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Truman’s Traumatic Tuesday

There have been many times in my life that I have wondered why God didn’t see fit to give me children.

And then there are weeks like this one, when I have to give the Guy in the sky a big thumbs up on that decision.

Truman, our eight-month-old puppy, was neutered on Tuesday. When I picked him up Tuesday afternoon, they told me that he shouldn’t need any additional pain medication and he should be back to “almost normal” in a day or two.

At two in the morning on Wednesday, Truman woke up shaking and jumping as if something was biting him every few seconds. After a long night, I went straight to the vet’s office at seven in the morning, where I was initially told that they wouldn’t give me any painkillers for my dog because I didn’t bring him with me. I personally didn’t think my little boy’s heart could take another trip to the vet’s, since he had been shaking and jumping for hours at that point. He wouldn’t eat at all, and, because of the Elizabethan collar he has to wear so that he doesn’t chew out his stitches, he pretty much just stands or lays down wherever we put him. I left him standing in the middle of the living room to go to the vets; when I came home, he was still standing in the same spot. My expression must have told the receptionist that she had better find a better answer, because a few minutes later, a vet tech who had assisted in Truman’s surgery appeared. After a brief discussion, she decided to send me home with some “doggie morphine” and an appointment to bring Truman in a few hours later. With twenty minutes of giving Truman the pill, he lay down and fell asleep.

When I took him into the vet’s office a few hours later, Truman shook as if he were on his way to the death chamber.  To make matters worse, it took them nearly an hour to get to him. Once the vet did see me, he gave me some of the details of Truman’s ordeal. Unfortunately, one of his testicles had failed to drop, which meant that the vet had to make two incisions and dig around in the little guy’s fat and muscle to extract it. Because Truman is a mere eight-and-a-half pounds, the vet opted to use gas instead of intravenous anesthesia. As an unexpected result, his blood pressure dropped dangerously low. Now I understood Truman’s lack of enthusiasm for the vet. He didn’t relax until I carried him out of the exam room.

When we finally arrived back home, I was able to get him to eat, but only by hand-feeding him a piece at a time. He drank some water, and lay down again to sleep some more.

Thursday went pretty much the same as Wednesday, at least until bedtime. Last night, for whatever reason, Truman was more restless. I think the stitches must be ridiculously itchy at this point, because he is spending more and more time trying to outwit the stupid cone-shaped collar. He woke Dan up twice within the space of an hour. Finally, frustration set in. I grabbed Truman up – he had been sleeping on our bed due to his surgery and cone collar – and put him in his cage. Yes, I know – I’m the world’s worst pet mother. In any case, his restlessness caused the cone to hit the sides of his kennel about every minute or so. The noise and the guilt I felt conspired to keep me from sleeping.

Less than half an hour later, I pulled him out of his cage and left the bedroom. As soon as I set him on his furry pillow in the living room, he seemed to calm down. He was asleep within a few minutes. It took me another hour of watching bad television to finally doze off on the couch.

On the plus side, Dan got a good night’s sleep for the first time since Tuesday. He thanked me for that when he got up this morning. He says he missed me, but I know the truth: he was far too deeply asleep to even notice I was gone.

As I dragged myself into the bedroom at six o’clock this morning, I realized: this must be sort of like having a baby. Truman is currently more helpless than when we first brought him home. I have been hand-feeding him, one piece of food at a time, because otherwise he won’t eat. If Dan or I leave his sight, he immediately begins to cry. And I, who have never changed a diaper, have now been peed upon (eww!). Yes, this must be a bit like being a parent.

God definitely knew what he was doing.


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Best Coincidence Ever

Phoenix is just a few hours from Las Vegas, which is one of the reasons Dan and I travel there so frequently. Unfortunately, the road between the two cities is what one would call “sparsely populated.” The two most common living things between us and the bright lights of the Strip are saguaros and Joshua trees. There are exactly three viable stops: Wickenburg, Kingman, and a wide spot in the road called Wikieup.

On a recent trip, the love of my life failed to realize that he needed to make a pit stop in Wickenburg. About halfway to Wikieup, he started looking for a side road off of US-93. Now, there are side roads all along this route, but you really have to know where they are in order to slow down for the turn onto them. They aren’t clearly marked; if you have any business going down them, you know exactly where they are. I spent the next twenty minutes saying, “There’s one,” as we drove past it at seventy miles an hour.

Just as the situation turned critical, we spotted a reasonable turnoff. Dan slowed down and made the turn, only to come up against a closed fence and “No Trespassing” sign. To top that off, the owner of the property was patrolling in his Rhino. He gave us the stink eye as Dan, cursing irritably under his breathe, turned the car around and headed back onto the highway. One has to wonder if he has a lot of problems with people peeing on his fence posts.

Luckily, within another five minutes though, there was an actual turnoff – one with a paved road and everything. The sign said the road went to Baghdad; all Dan cared about was that it went somewhere more remote than the main route to Las Vegas. As soon as he made the turn, we spotted the tour bus that was parked a few hundred yards away. Grumbling, Dan drove further on the road until we came to a sharp bend. Right at the deepest part of the bend – leading off between two “arrow” signs – Dan thought he saw a dirt road. I, on the other hand, did not. As he slowed to make the turn, I stopped him.

“That’s not a road.”

“Yes,” he answered, “it is.”

“I don’t think so.”

He gave me the long-suffering-spouse look and continued down the paved road. As soon as we were even with the now-obvious dirt road leading away, I said, “Oops. You were right.”

If he were a different kind of husband, he probably would have hit me.

In any case, he continued down the road a little further. Seeing no other reasonable places to pull off, he turned the car around and went back to the dirt road at the sharp bend. We went a few hundred feet down it before Dan exited the vehicle. As soon as he did, we both realized that anyone currently on the tour bus would easily see us up on this road. But he could wait no longer – he walked to the far side of the car and relieved himself.

Meanwhile, I decided that I would like to hear some music. I hooked my iPhone to my car radio and hit the random button. Cat Stevens’ music filled the cabin: “Can’t Keep It In.”

I don’t think I stopped laughing until we could see Wikieup.

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The Weight of Words

After rereading my blog post from Wednesday, I realized that I may have left you with the impression that I have always been a proud tall woman.

That, in fact, is a lie.

When I was very young, one of my friends was about the size of a pixie. She walked on her tiptoes to compensate, but I didn’t realize it at the time. Instead, I was jealous: she was Tinkerbell incarnate. Once, when we were probably seven or eight, I observed our shadows against a wall. I was horrified to realize that my shadow was nearly half-again as wide and twice as long as hers. The impression stuck with me – I can still see those shadows in my mind.

By the time I reached the eighth grade, I was the tallest girl in my class despite my persistent slump. I equated my height with unattractiveness, especially after my seventh-grade teacher told my mom how much she preferred working with the “cute little girls” (i.e., my pixyish friend).  I was so tall that strangers assumed I was a college student – or, at the very least, a high-school senior.

Though my posture improved when I started high school, I was still self-conscious. The boys that I liked were, almost without fail, shorter than me. If they liked me back, they certainly weren’t saying – which only further embedded my “ugliness” in my mind. In fact, a boy I dated briefly in my freshman year made it his self-appointed role to moo at me whenever I passed. A few years later, a college acquaintance described me as frumpy, which was probably as accurate as it was hurtful.

When I married my first husband, I thought I had found someone who believed I was pretty and would love me for me. I discovered my mistake the day he turned to me and said, “We may not be good-looking people, but at least you’re smart.” Surprisingly, I didn’t leave him immediately (or stab him in the eye while he slept).

I only truly became comfortable in my own skin after the end of that marriage. Slowly but surely, I began to recognize that I was beautiful – inside and out. That’s not to say that there weren’t setbacks. A former boss thoughtlessly laughed at my attempts to “improve the packaging,” so to speak. He implied that there was only so much that could be done. But, as I’ve said before, when I ended my first marriage, I was prepared to be alone for the rest of my life. That resolve led me to work on loving who I was and not worry about what the rest of the world saw – or didn’t see, for that matter.

I’m one of the lucky ones: no one’s words can make me any less happy today, and, as it happens, I did find a man who believes I’m beautiful.

But you never know how long it will take a person to shed the thoughtless words you lay across their shoulders. Some will never be free of them. And that’s got to be bad karma, right?

English: Tinkerbell by Diarmuid Byron O'Connor...

English: Tinkerbell by Diarmuid Byron O’Connor commissioned by Great Ormond Street Hospital London 2005 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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