Bright Lights, Big Cacti

Arizona through the Eyes of a Native

Month: June, 2013

Happy Anniversary to My Blog!

So, a year ago tomorrow I set out to write a blog about…well…as it turns out, being me: a forty-something Arizonan who writes novels. The biggest surprise to me is that I have actually met my goal of writing posts twice a week. In fact, this is the 104th entry. If you’ve been reading me since the beginning, thank you for spending a few minutes each week with me. I appreciate it. Even if you’ve never commented, you are still a valued reader — and I hope you think of me as something almost like a friend.

Unless you really are my friend, in which case you should continue to think of me as an actual, real-life friend.

I spent this ridiculously hot summer day (118 degrees, y’all — that’s sidewalk-skillet heat) in Scottsdale with my lovely friend, Nikki. We went to see Much Ado About Nothing at the Camelview 5 before doing a little shopping at the Scottsdale Fashion Square. By the way, if you have the opportunity to see this little Joss Whedon-directed gem, do so. I have to admit that the modern-day setting did create a bit of dissonance for me, but the talent of the actors and the quality of the film itself more than made up for that. Also, having seen the Branagh film many times as well as a stage performance or two meant that I spent part of the time mentally comparing the Whedon version to the versions that came before. Nikki, who was unfamiliar with the Shakespearean comedy, enjoyed it wholeheartedly.

I’m also pleased to note that my family has recently taken on a new business endeavor. I’ll tell you more about that later. Tonight, take a moment and watch the trailer for the Branagh version. It’s still the best version I’ve ever seen — sorry, Joss.

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Birthday Dental Appointments are a Bad Idea

My grandmother turned 86 yesterday. She also scheduled a dental appointment that made her mouth hurt.

“Why did you schedule a dental appointment on your birthday?” I asked when I finished singing to her (I always call and sing to her on her birthday — you’d think she’d stop answering my calls on June 25th).

“I forgot.”

Really? Does that happen? I mean, I frequently forget how old I am (I’m either 41 or 42…I think), but I always remember when the actual birthday is because of, well, the presents. It’s not that I’m greedy, but I do love to get presents. There are exactly three days during the year that I expect presents: Valentine’s Day, Christmas, and my birthday. Therefore, it seems incredibly unlikely that I will ever forget my birthday.

In any case, Dan and I will be taking her a Chicago-style deep-dish pizza tomorrow night. Mom and Dad are bringing a rum cake. That’s right — we’re party animals.

***

I think it’s only right to acknowledge this historic moment. Anyone who has read my books has probably figured out that I support the gay-marriage movement. I believe everyone should have the right to promise to spend forever with their partner — in any combination of genders that works for them. Apparently, the Supreme Court agrees. When will we as humans learn that it’s never a good idea to step on someone else’s rights in an effort to enforce a (insert religion here) agenda? We don’t live in a theocracy. No matter what the Founding Fathers had in mind, the United States of the 21st Century is a multi-cultural democracy with no “official” religion. I thank God for that — and, if you live in the U.S., you can thank the same deity or any other one you might prefer.

Love is in bloom.

Fat Girl Running

Nearly 25 years ago, I had the great good fortune of being assigned to the same college dorm as Kristann Monaghan. I was a fairly quiet, naive sixteen year old from Arizona. She was eighteen and, at least from my perspective, quite the opposite. She had a big personality, even back then. She always played the best pranks, had the wildest adventures, and told the most exciting stories. And, on top of it all, she had — and still has — the most joyful smile of anyone I’ve ever met. At the time, I wished I could be more like her; failing that, I wanted to be her roommate.

So, in our second year of college, we were roommates — for about two months. As I recall, she had the best collection of posters, including a Murphy’s Law graphic that took several minutes to read. It wasn’t long before our differences became too much for either of us to bear. When a single room became available, I moved out — but, thankfully, we remained friends.

Fast forward a couple decades. Thanks to Facebook, I reconnected with quite a few of my college friends, including Stann. I became an author — a profession some would say is perfect for an observant, if occasionally gullible, woman. Kristann, a former ballerina, is now a slightly heavy PICU nurse with one of the most consistently funny blogs I have ever read. Her words routinely make me giggle uncontrollably. In many ways, she is the living embodiment of that Murphy’s Law sign that used to grace our shared room in college: anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. Hilariously wrong. But it’s only funny because Kristann — our heroine — can laugh at herself. And no matter how wrong life goes, she just keeps on running…because that’s the only way a self-proclaimed “fat girl” can get to where she ultimately wants to be.

Congratulations on your first book, Kristann. I’m so pleased that you are sharing your wild adventures and exciting stories with the world.

Run, don’t walk, to buy this book. Visit the Inknbeans website for the links to The Running Experiment: A Weekly Walk Away from the Sofa.

It's a Cottey thing...

It’s a Cottey thing…

Crista

A few months ago, my sister-in-law asked me if she was in any of my novels. I answered, somewhat cryptically, that everyone I know shows up in my writing somewhere.

“Where?” Crista demanded. “Which book? I want to read it.”

“Nowhere specific. Little pieces of you are probably in everything I’ve written.”

She glared at me in frustration.

“Would you prefer that I create a character exactly like you and call you out by name?”

“Yes.”

Crista has been a part of my world for a number of years now, though we only started growing our friendship within the last six months or so. I admire her for a number of things, not the least of which is her initial choice to date my brother-in-law in the first place. You see, Dan and I live next door to his brother Dave. In a lot of people’s books, that’s just one crazy-town step away from living at home — and everyone knows you shouldn’t date anyone over 25 who still lives at home. Honestly, it might have given me pause if Dave had been Dan’s neighbor when we first started dating. But she knew a good guy when she saw one. She’s also the best hostess I’ve ever known personally. She makes me look like a rude b*tch…okay, probably not that difficult, but still.

In April, she and I went to Disneyland, sans husbands. The Bennett boys aren’t exactly Walt’s biggest fans. Crista had only been once, long before she met Dave. We had a great time (I wrote a bit about it here). Recently, when I was visiting Mom in the hospital after she broke her second arm, I ran into some friends of my parents — a couple who have known me since I was a child. Apparently, the wife had spotted someone who looked like me in Disneyland, but I was with “some Asian chick” she didn’t recognize instead of Dan. She put it down to a doppelganger until my parents mentioned I had recently been there.

Excuse me? That’s no Asian chick — that’s my sister-in-law!

So there you are, Crista — called out by name. Happy Birthday, “Coach.” Love you lots.

She's the one in the middle, if you're confused.

She’s the one in the middle, if you’re confused.

Buffalo

When I was fifteen, I took a driving trip across the country with my mom and her mother. I realize now that Grandma Millie was, in fact, making a final pilgrimage of sorts: she would be gone in less than a year. Grandma Millie was a devoted letter-writer, a habit I sincerely wish I had picked up. In addition to writing a letter a week to her mother, she also corresponded with several other relatives and friends. She hadn’t seen some of those friends in thirty years, but still she wrote. The ultimate goal of this trip was to see a woman I knew as Aunt Rose — my grandmother’s best friend — who lived in International Falls, Minnesota.

A few days into the trip — I can’t tell you exactly where we were because I honestly don’t remember — Grandma spotted buffalo in a field. “Look, Susie! Buffalo!” she said excitedly, no doubt rousing me from what appeared to Mom and Grandma to be a sound sleep.

“Where?!” I promptly sat up and looked out the window, excited to see an animal that I’d only read about in books.

For some reason, Grandma found this very amusing and infinitely entertaining. A few hours later (I’m sure I was asleep again), she said it again: “Look, Susie! Buffalo!”

Again, my eyes popped open and I scanned the flat lands surrounding our truck for the animals. There were no buffalo, though — just rolled haystacks. Grandma laughed like a lunatic. From then on, and for the rest of the trip, Grandma would regularly awaken me with “Look, Susie! Buffalo!” And right down to the last time she said it, I couldn’t keep myself from at least checking to see if she was telling the truth. In all the years since then, I have never seen another one, until very recently.

Dan, of course, has heard this story. So, a few weeks ago as we passed through Texas, he thought I was kidding when I said, “Look, Danny! Buffalo!” Just like I had all those years ago though, he looked. And there it was: a single buffalo in the middle of a field.

Grandma Millie is probably laughing her butt off right now.

Look, Grandma! Buffalo!

May Fallout

Some of you may know that my mom fell and broke her arm last month. No, not that arm — the other arm. That’s right…my mom has two broken arms right now. Guess what? When you have two broken arms, the hospital doesn’t send you home — they send you to rehab. So, in honor of Mom, here are the Top Ten Things to Know about Rehab.

10. Some guy will be pulling your pants down and back up every time you need to use the toilet. Rehabs are less gender-sensitive and more touchy-feely than the TSA.

9. Just in case you still have some modesty left after the toilet experience, the same guy will be undressing you for your shower and hanging out to make sure you’re able to scrub your body clean. If you aren’t, he’ll be helping you out.

8. Occupational therapy = housework or games. Don’t piss off the therapist or you’ll be washing dishes and folding clothes while everyone else is playing Yahtzee.

7. The next time someone accuses you of wasting time playing games, just tell them it’s your occupational therapy.

6. If you want to avoid having a roommate, set the air conditioning to seventy and watch TV at random times in the middle of the night. If you aren’t alone from the start, you soon will be!

5. The best place for your many flower arrangements is on the ledge of the air conditioner — another reason to keep the temperature down and the roommates out.

4. Diabetics: you know that blood-sugar thing you’ve been more or less ignoring? Yeah…they don’t ignore it in rehab. Be prepared to have the tips of your fingers converted to pincushions. On the plus side, the doctors may discover the proper combination of drugs to keep your sugars in check.

3. The food is surprisingly good, and your friends and family can eat with you on the cheap.

2. If the rehab staff is buzzing about the main item on the lunch menu, trust them: they have been in the facility longer than you have.

And the Number One lesson learned in rehab is:

If you want to feel better about your life, talk to other rehab patients. Chances are good that something worse happened to them.

Mom's floral collection.

Mom’s floral collection.

 

Don’t Mess with Texas

Dan hates Texas.

Remember Thelma and Louise? There’s a scene in the movie where Louise tells Thelma to get them to Mexico without going through Texas. That’s how much my husband hates Texas: he would rather drive around the largest state in the lower 48 than through it, even if avoiding Texas adds days to a trip. In fact, if it weren’t for the fact that tornadoes were pounding the Midwest last week, he would never have considered a trip through the Lone Star State. (By the way, I can’t think of another state so fixated on their flag. There are renditions of it everywhere almost as soon as one crosses the border. Honestly, Texans, it’s a little creepy. Just sayin’.)

Anyway, we entered Texas from the northeast and headed for Dallas. Right away, we noticed that the drivers were less courteous than the ones in Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas, and Oklahoma. Dan was careful to follow the speed-limit signs; the few times he’s been through Texas, he’s managed to get speeding tickets. Apparently, though, those speed-limit signs are just for the out-of-towners; no one with a Texas license plate seems to be able to see them.

It was in Dallas that I realized I should have let Dan avoid the state altogether; I began to wonder if I was going to see New Mexico alive. We were almost in three collisions before we cleared the city. One would have been Dan’s fault; two would have been caused by Texans. For the rest of the day, I couldn’t relax. I began to think we had a target on the back of our SUV.

After a harrowing drive, we made it to Abilene, whereupon I discovered the true dichotomy of Texas: the same people who will cut you off in traffic feel compelled to tip their hats and say howdy when their feet are on the ground. It’s downright disturbing.

All told, it took us  two days to get through Texas, though we did have a few hours in Carlsbad, New Mexico, on one of those days. I talked Dan into going into the Carlsbad Caverns through the natural entrance — a steep mile-long walk that drops you 750 feet below the surface of the mountain. After hours of driving in Texas, we needed the walk. If you’ve never been to the caverns, I recommend it. And there’s an elevator that will take you directly to the bottom if you don’t feel up for a long hike.

We passed back into El Paso, Texas, about three hours after leaving the caverns. El Paso may actually have scarier drivers than Dallas; we were almost hit by two (presumably drunk) drivers as we made our way toward our hotel. By the way, the Comfort Inn by the airport there was the nicest of all of our hotels along the way, and the night clerk was even more courteous than your average Texan.

We limped into Phoenix late Saturday, tired from the road and glad to be home. Oh — and I saw a buffalo! More about that next time.

Switchbacks_in_Carlsbad_Cavern

The descent into the caverns.

 

Halfway Home

To quote The Grateful Dead (a band to which I have never intentionally listened), what a long strange trip it’s been.

Driving my sister-in-law’s SUV, Dan and I left Chicago Tuesday morning. We made it to Quincy that afternoon, where we spent the next several hours with one of my cousins that I hadn’t seen for more than twenty years. Russ and Judy have us a tour of the town and took us to dinner at a great restaurant on the Mississippi. Dan was pleasantly surprised to discover that these relatives were cosmopolitan types: they have traveled extensively and are well read.

We left for Hannibal in the middle of a rainstorm, which we should have taken as an omen.

The next morning, we started toward Kansas City. However, Dan’s brother alerted us to the severe storm warnings looming over the Midwest, and we soon altered our course, heading directly to Nevada, Missouri, instead.

Nevada is both just like I remember it and completely changed. It seemed so sleepy back in the late Eighties. Cottey College, the women’s school I attended, is still beautiful, and most of the traditions are still in place. A current student led us on a tour of the greatly improved and expanded campus. I wish I had a daughter to send there.

We headed toward Bentonville, Arkansas, and the Crystal Bridges Museum, which was open until 9:00 on Wednesday. Dan and I arrived a little after 7 pm and Dan was able to see everything he was interested in with time to spare.

After a good night’s sleep, we awoke to discover that we were once again in the path of the storms. Our original intention was to go through Oklahoma City; instead we dropped down into Texas. Dan really doesn’t like Texas.

I’ll tell you more next time.

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