Bright Lights, Big Cacti

Arizona through the Eyes of a Native

Month: April, 2013

Cameras Will Steal Your Soul

One unexpected consequence of joining Beta Sigma Phi has been the proliferation of photos of me. Now, for a woman who has spent much of her adult life staying out of pictures, this can be quite distressing. I am not the prettiest woman in the crowd, but I have carefully honed my mental image of myself. I think I am elegant and interesting; photographs, however, generally make me look like Andre the Giant’s ugly sister.

Nevertheless, I have obediently stood up or sat down for pictures at least twice a month since September. The best angle for me — as with most people cursed with a double chin — is from above. Unfortunately, the Beta Sigma Phi photographers are almost always at least six inches shorter than me. Since I am so tall, I am invariably made to stand in the back, where my chin and I hover over everyone else.

In a few years, there will be enough pictures of me to create a flipbook of my aging process. But that’s okay as long as every once in a while, a good picture is accidentally created. At the swap meet a few weeks ago, once such picture magically appeared. And it happens to be a good one of my sorority sisters too. Go figure.


Most of Eta Delta. For those of you who can’t figure it out, I’m in the center.


Foodie Heaven

On Saturday, Nikki and I went to the inaugural Food Truck Festival at Park Central in downtown Phoenix. I’d been wanting to try a food truck for a while now; Eat Street makes them look so appealing! I wasn’t sure how Phoenix’s offerings would stack up against those showcased from different cities, but we were both pleasantly surprised.

About twenty food trucks and carts were arranged along the perimeter of the tarmac set aside for the event. We took our time and checked each menu before making any decisions about what we wanted to eat. The trucks sold everything from fry bread (a Native American specialty) to Filipino food. After our first trip around the circle, we had our choiced narrowed down.

We both started with a single street taco from the Carte Blanche Gourmet Tacos cart. Mine had pork carnitas topped with a sweet potato and pineapple chutney. Unbelievably great! Nikki chose the vegetarian option, which featured marinated mushroom pieces. She was equally impressed. If you have a chance to try Carte Blanche, we highly recommend it!

My main course was a pork curry from the Spice It Up truck. It didn’t disappoint either. The curry had just enough kick and the flavor of the coconut really came through. The only problem I encountered was that the hot dish made me even warmer than I already was. Nikki had a fry bread concoction called D$. It had white beans and a mild green chile chicken topped with salad greens. She said it was good, and it must have been — she ate the whole thing! Unfortunately, I didn’t get the name of that truck. If you see a bling-y fry-bread truck on a Phoenix road, that’s probably the right one. (I’m pretty sure this is the right one: Emerson Fry Bread.)

For dessert, we bought fruit popcicles from the Paletas Betty cart. Paletas Betty has quite a reputation in Phoenix — I’ve read about them in at least two local magazines. They didn’t disappoint, either. I had the coconut and Nikki had the pineapple. Both of them had plenty of actual fruit in them and were the perfect ending to our foodie indulgence on a hot spring day.

There were only two disappointments. One was the lack of seating provided for the event. There must have been a few hundred people there at any given time, but only a few awnings and tables were provided. The second was that the arts and crafts portion of the event didn’t live up to its potential. Apparently, the organizers were only able to sell space to two or three vendors in that vein. Hopefully, they will learn from their mistakes.

I look forward to attending next year!


The Martian Solution

The Boston Marathon bombing. The fertilizer plant explosion. The acrimonious end of the gun control debate. This has been, without a doubt, a bad week. Was it bad enough to make anyone consider a move to Mars, though?

Earlier this week, one of my friends post a link to this article, which offers anyone interested the opportunity to be a part of the first colony of humans on Mars, on Facebook. At first glance, it looks like an interesting proposition. However, any potential astronauts should note that there will be no return flights offered; once you are on Mars, you are there for the foreseeable future. I have days when I wish I could be a hermit, but permanent, irrevocable removal from my home planet seems extreme.

And what if you don’t get along with the other space pioneers? What if you lose your mind? What if someone else in the group does? There’s something to be said for the way England colonized Australia — at least everyone knew going in that they shouldn’t blindly trust the exiled prisoner next to them.

I know Arizona has some extreme weather — summers can top out in the 120s — but I don’t think that even compares with the average temperature of Mars — a hell-freezing 80 below. The barren landscapes may be similar, but I don’t think the red planet would ever feel like home.

What sort of person would be willing to leave all of their friends and family behind to live with strangers in a pod set down in a hostile environment? Shouldn’t their mere interest in such a life be reason to psychologically disqualify them?

Here’s my thought: let’s give anyone currently awaiting execution the option to get on that one-way flight instead. If they have survived prison, at least they have a fighting chance at surviving on Mars.

Home Sweet Home?

Home Sweet Home?


A Dessert Oasis in the Desert

Today, Nikki and I took a road trip to Palm Springs, California, where we met my publisher for lunch. As it turns out, that desert oasis is just about halfway between Phoenix and Temecula, California, where the Inknbeans Press office is located.

Nikki showed up right at seven this morning, and we were on the road by ten after. The traffic was light and we enjoyed the company and the scenery as we made the 265-mile trek. As it turned out, neither of us knew much about Palm Springs. Our fleeting impressions of it were bleak, since the highway off-ramps don’t offer much promise. However, we were pleasantly surprised to discover that the city itself is quite lovely and more than lives up to its promise as a resort destination and game-show vacation prize. Did you know that there’s a Knott’s Berry Farm Soak City there? Nikki and I wished we’d brought our bathing suits!

We arrived at the Manhattan in the Desert deli restaurant about fifteen minutes before noon. Unfortunately, the Boss Bean ran into some traffic delays, so she was about half an hour late. This is apparently a popular luncheon spot; the place was completely full by twelve-fifteen. And who could blame the locals? The menu is extensive and varied, and the bakery case at the entrance offers a wide array of mouth-watering treats. Nikki and I enjoyed fried dill-pickle spears while we waited for Jo to join us. When she arrived, we ordered our meals and enjoyed a long afternoon chatting about books. By the time we left, the restaurant was nearly empty.

By the way, the sandwiches are huge! I came home with two-thirds of mine, and I know Jo took home at least half of hers. I also ended up with Jo’s leftover cheesecake, which is amazingly wonderful.

We headed back toward Phoenix at a little past three this afternoon. I wish we had more time to check out the city today, but Nikki and I have already decided we will need to make another daytrip over to try out the water park. Why be embarrassed to wear our swimsuits in a city where no one knows us?

Palm Springs -- more beautiful than I thought.

Palm Springs — more beautiful than I thought.

Who Really Swaps Anymore?

Yes…I know I’m late today. My apologies.

As I have mentioned, yard sales aren’t exactly my favorite activity. In fact, they cause a certain amount of dread to well up in me. Despite this, I spent today with my Eta Delta sisters at the Surprise Swap Meet, where we endeavored to sell as much crap as possible in order to fund our chapter. I’m proud to say that we reached three quarters of our entire goal for the coming year, which is a great start.

Nevertheless, the experience did not convert me. First of all, I object to anything other than a vacation requiring me to leave my bed before six in the morning. This includes Truman’s irritating habit of waking us up at five, but at least I can return to bed after he’s had his potty break. This morning I had no additional sleep after the alarm went off at five-thirty. Luckily, I have Dan, who loaded the back of his SUV with all of our odds and ends. When Nikki arrived at a little after six, he transferred all of her sale items to our SUV as well so that we could take a single vehicle.

The worst part of a sale, in my opinion, is the organizing. I’m not good at it, and I don’t have an overwhelming drive to improve that skill set. It goes back to something I learned when working in an office years ago: if you don’t know how to make coffee, no one will ask you to make it. I have found this to be a fairly universal truism. Today, however, I found myself attempting to organize crap while the other three women attended to constructing a sunshade — another skill I have no interest in adding. As it turned out, we had way more to sell than we had tables to set items on.

Ultimately though, the skill we lacked most was sales. Dan and Dave, my brother-in-law, recognized our ineptitude and stepped in to save us. It turns out that all those yard sales over the years have given them both plenty of time to hone their patter. I’m fairly certain they sold, through charm and humor alone, more than half of the stuff we had out there — and they weren’t making a dime off it! My sisters and I were grateful for their help, to say the least.

The weather was a little too Arizona-y for me: the temperature topped out at ninety degrees today. Despite spending large amounts of time under the sunshade, Crista and I both got more sun than we should have. As Dan said (repeating an old Woody Allen line), with my skin tone, I don’t tan — I stroke.

Still, it was great to spend the day with my chapter. However, may I just say that one swap meet a decade is more than enough for me?

Overflowing Joy

I haven’t really watched a Disney parade in quite a few years. When I was a teenager, I figured out that the lines at the attractions thin out during the major events (Fantasmic! is a good example), and so I head for something with a ridiculously long line, like Space Mountain or Star Tours. While half of the crowd is stopped dead in their tracks watching the spectacle, I get to stand in a line that is half as long as normal.

However, on this trip, I was with Crista, who had only visited Disneyland once before — and that was before California Adventures opened. Therefore, I found myself willingly waiting for the Main Street parade in Disneyland on Sunday. We found a spot near the front of the park — right across from Mr. Lincoln’s hangout — and settled in about fifteen minutes before it started. We sat down next to the model cannon where a couple of little boys were playing happily as their parents rested on the benches behind us. One of the little boys repeatedly used my leg as a hurdle; I was happy to oblige as long as he kept clearing it!

Not long before the parade started, a little girl, her blonde hair in braids, moved to the edge of the sidewalk in front of us. Her mother and father — at least, I assume that’s who they were — sat behind us on one of the benches. As soon as the music started, this little girl began to dance and spin with abandon. She didn’t care who saw her — she was having the time of her life! As each float came by, she waved wildly and smiled up at the performers — particularly the princesses. When they noticed her and waved — and nearly all of them did, starting with Cinderella all the way through to the non-princess Mary Poppins — her smiled grew even wider and she waved even more frenetically. Then, as the performers moved on, she would turn back to look at her mom with so much joy that it seemed to spill out of her and reach everyone around. Crista and I spent more time watching that little girl than we did watching the parade.

That little girl’s outward appearance is how I feel inside every time I enter the Disney parks. I know it’s not rational; I even know that it’s not cool to be a forty-one-year-old Disney enthusiast. But very few things fill me with the kind of overflowing joy I feel when enveloped by the Disney brand of magic. I’ve just learned not to dance and twirl when other people are watching.

Here she is -- from the back!

Here she is — from the back!

The D Word

Once upon a time, I worked in a call center. One day, I spoke with a Disney executive as part of my job. I mentioned that I loved Disneyland. He asked me how old I was the first time I visited.

“Probably four or five,” I answered. “Maybe younger.”

“You’re a lifer. If we get you by the time you’re five,” he explained, “you’ll always love Disney.”

I didn’t really understand how true his words were until I met and married Dan, who was not exposed to the Disney mystique at a young age. Before Dan, I visited Disneyland an average of once every two years. In fact, my first honeymoon was at Disney World — something my first husband and I both loved. However, Dan does not share my memories nor my affection for the Happiest Place on Earth. Therefore, I have only been three times in the last ten years — twice with Dan (who was clearly humoring me) and once with my niece’s choir (because I was that desperate).

Crista, my wonderful sister-in-law, also loves Disneyland. I don’t know if she was ensnared by the “under-5, got you for life” theory or if she just shares my fondness for amusement parks in general, but she, as the wife of another Bennett, has chafed at her husband’s refusal to consider Disneyland as a viable vacation spot. About a month ago or so, we were chatting and came up with a solution: we could go to Disneyland without our stick-in-the-mud husbands! As it turns out, the brothers were pleased with this solution, so we booked our trip.

Which leads me to why I’m writing about Disneyland: I seriously can’t think of anything else right now. All the voices in my head are chanting the Mickey Mouse song as I type this. They’re going to move on to “It’s a Small World” any second now. In one sleep, as my college roommate puts it, I’m going to be in Disneyland!

I can pretty much guarantee that my next post will also be about Disneyland too. I get home on Tuesday.


Wrote My Blog? Check!

After forty years of more or less avoiding housework and cooking, I’m trying to turn over a new leaf — or maybe a new rug would be a more appropriate analogy. As I have stated before, I suffer from a rare disorder that usually only afflicts men: clutter-blindness. Basically, this means I  have a hard time seeing messes. Dan, however, does not share this affliction. After nearly ten years together, I think I’m starting to see a correlation between his mood and the state of cleanliness in our home. His mood wasn’t great this past weekend; therefore, I spent the last two days cleaning my house.

Unlike those more adept at such things, I find a house-cleaning checklist to be a life saver. The one I use even reminds me to switch the laundry after every few tasks. Since I am infamous for forgetting about laundry if I don’t have another load to do, the reminders are great. And, since I do have a touch of OCD (just not the good, organized kind), I love checking off boxes. Gathered the dishes and moved them to the kitchen? Check. Dusted the fans? Check. Wiped cabinets and knobs? Check!

That last one was kind of a shocker to me, to be honest. I don’t think I ever wiped a cabinet or a knob before I read this list. I don’t remember any of my cabinets or knobs being particularly dirty before. On the other hand, with the brushed-nickel fittings in my new kitchen, wiping them down does seem to be a good idea.

As for the food, I’m actually a pretty decent cook. Unfortunately, I’ve always approached it as more of a hobby than a necessity of life. After all, why are there so many restaurants if we’re supposed to cook? Nevertheless, Dan and I have decided to cut some of the additives and chemicals from our lives, which means fewer pizza rolls (his personal favorite) and more fruits, vegetables, and actual cooking. Last night, I made him a salad with chicken, toasted pecans, feta cheese, tomatoes, and carrots. He praised it like I’d served him a four-course gourmet meal. I think that’s what psychiatrists call “positive reinforcement.”

Who knows? Someday soon he might actually have a wife who does wifely things instead of spending way too many hours in front of the computer. If that happens though, someone may want to get me scheduled for a CAT scan.


If you’d like to use the same house-cleaning checklist as I use, you can find it here.


I wish…