Bright Lights, Big Cacti

Arizona through the Eyes of a Native

Category: Weather

Life Changes

Is it really Wednesday again already? Where did the last week and a half go?

Oh…right. Now I remember.

I’m the proud owner of one-fourth of KEPCO Engraving, and I’ve spent just about every minute of the last ten days setting up our new business in what used to be my guest bedroom. I say “just about every minute” because in my spare minutes I’ve also been writing my next book. As I told a curious sales representative today, my new hobby is…sleeping.

In addition to those activities, we have also happily welcomed one of my sisters-in-law and her husband to the valley. This morning, Dan and I went to their new house and assisted in unloading the storage pod that was finally delivered this morning. For anyone considering moving to Arizona, here’s some friendly advice: do it in the winter. It was already ninety degrees with something like 50% humidity at nine o’clock this morning. That whole “it’s a dry heat” thing seems more like a myth today.

Have I mentioned lately how much I hate summer? Ugh.


May Sucks.

My mom fell and broke her arm on Monday, thereby pushing May into the clear winner as my least favorite month. So, in honor of that fact, here are the Top 10 Reasons I Hate May:

10. In Arizona, April showers never bring May flowers.

9. Leonardo da Vinci died in May 1519. He was really old though — I suppose it was his time. Still, the world lost a genius…in May.

8. My maternal grandmother died in May 1988.

7. In May 1970, four anti-war protesters were killed at Kent State by Ohio National Guardsmen.

6. My father-in-law died this May.

5. It was a bad month for Anne Boleyn, too. She was beheaded in May 1536.

4. The Hindenburg crashed in May 1937.

3. As previously mentioned, my mom broke her arm, which really sucks because she and Dad were preparing for a driving vacation to Alaska…which may or may not be on hold now.

2. I married my first husband in May 1997.

And the #1 reason I dislike May so intensely is…

1. Temperatures reach 100 degrees in Phoenix by May; there will be no substantial break in the weather until October.

I may be wrong, but I think Anne would agree with me.

I may be wrong, but I think Anne would agree with me.


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?


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?

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…

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Ugh. (Photo credit: dog.breath)

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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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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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My “Power Days”

For anyone who is curious about how my recent decision to lose weight and get healthy is going, I am proud to report that I am no longer “obese” according to the BMI calculator. No, now I am merely “overweight.” Yay, me! Additionally, I have worked out five times a week for more than a month now, which I believe is considered an amazing feat of endurance – at least in my world.

My birthday weekend was great. Since my mother-in-law and I share the same birthday, my brother- and sister-in-law served up a home-cooked meal of filet mignon and assorted sides on Saturday. The whole Bennett clan (at least the ones who live in Arizona) showed up to celebrate.

My husband and I also celebrated seven years of marriage Monday. This weekend, I discovered something that hadn’t occurred to me on any of my last six birthday/anniversary occasions: Dan cannot say no to me. He’s caught in a three-day perfect storm of celebration. When I asked him Saturday morning if he would take me to the zoo on Sunday, he didn’t hesitate to say yes, even though I know that he wanted to go to the zoo about as much as he would like a prostate exam. I must be careful with my new-found “power days” – I don’t want to use them for evil…only for good.

Even though Dan was suffering from a slight cold, we had a great time at the zoo. The animals weren’t all that cooperative, though. I was hoping to see the newborn giraffes, but alas, they were not out. Even the orangutans were inside – though at least I could see them through the windows. Apparently, they don’t like the chilly (around seventy degrees) weather. I did get a good picture of a squirrel monkey at least.

Sunday night, we had dinner at my parents’ home, where Mom prepared my requested birthday meal: chicken pot pie and rum cake. Dan and I picked Fuzzy up and one of Mom’s good friends also attended the dinner. Afterwards, we played a game of cards.

I’m thinking I’ll use next year’s three-day perfect storm to request a trip to Disneyland. Dan hates Disneyland a lot more than he hates the zoo…let’s see what these power days can really do!

A squirrel monkey at the Phoenix Zoo Monkey Village

Fall Approaches and My Spirits Rise

I love the idea of September. I’ve always liked the “-ber” months, probably because my birthday falls in November and is followed quickly by the holiday season. September signals the shortening of days for me – even though I know that sunrise and sunset have been gradually approaching one another for more than a month by now.

Years ago now – nearly twenty-five, in fact – I experienced my first true fall in Nevada, Missouri, as a freshman at CotteyCollege. The leaves on the trees changed color and the weather turned brisk. I’m sure my fellow students thought I was a little strange – I walked around in awe as nature put on her annual performance.

September in Arizona is a different experience. There aren’t many outward signs of the changing seasons. In fact, if you were to stand at my living-room window and watch a year go by at warp speed, you would be hard-pressed to notice a difference in the passing months. Spring would be easiest to spot – the cactus across the street blooms in March or April.

The real way to differentiate between the seasons is to step outside. I used to tell my friends that Arizona only has two seasons: summer and hell. September is the month when hell begins to recede and summer takes its first few tentative steps. The high temperatures drop to the low hundreds, occasionally dipping into the nineties. The roads become busier, both with school buses and the first wave of snowbirds winging their way back to the many retirement communities found in the state. And life in general becomes more pleasant.

So, for my fellow fall fanciers, let’s forget the misery of summer and revel in the beauty of the “-ber” months. Thank you for continuing to read my blog, and I promise to share some of my upcoming outdoor adventures – with pictures – very soon.

English: View of the Sonoran Desert approx. 30...

The desert: this is pretty much how it always looks. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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To Bake or Not to Bake?

When I was a child, I spent a lot of time outside. My mom has pictures of me, summer after summer, with bronzed skin and a big smile. I swam, I rode my bike, I tormented ants, I played with the animals — I was an outside kind of girl.

Around ten or so, I realized that inside was a bit nicer. I discovered that I loved to listen to the adults talk. Books — which I already adored — became even more important in my life. I still swam and rode my bike, but my other outside activities were curtailed.

By the time I started college in 1988, I was an indoors girl. My skin had long-since faded back to its natural pale-ivory shade. Whenever I spent any time in the sun at all, I would burn to an unflattering hot pink. As soon as I learned the dangers of sun exposure, I was done — no skin cancer for me, thank you.

This was something of a problem, since I am from what one might call an outdoorsy family. They love to camp, hunt, farm, and generally spend large amounts of time outside. In order to spend time with them, I had to, at least occasionally, be outside.

I adapted as best I could, spending most “camping” vacations under awnings or inside trailers, usually with a book in my hand. Once I was on my own, I began to take the kind of vacations I dreamed of: ones that prominently featured nice hotels and exciting locations.

Unfortunately, my first husband was an outdoorsman. He had a Land Cruiser that he had outfitted to be a rock-crawler (a vehicle specifically designed to go ridiculously slow — an old woman pushing her own wheelchair moves faster). He liked to hunt and camp, too. I tried to adapt — really I did. But no matter how much I wanted to be a good wife for him, I was incapable of it. He and I were destined to part.

When we did split, one of my friends (we’ll call her Emma) warned me I’d never find a man who would be a good match for me. I remember telling her that I would rather be alone for the rest of my life than spend one more day with my ex. Having nothing in common with the man you have married is the worst feeling imaginable, because you think that he is just as miserable as you are. As it turned out, he was less miserable, though I still don’t know why.

In any case, Emma had good reason to worry I’d never find another mate. After all, I am an Arizonan who is a fan of Shakespeare, classical music, and literary fiction. If there is a rarer combination of locale and preferences, I have never found it. And yet, just three years later, I found Dan — a man with a subscription to the local Shakespearean theater company, a love of all music including classical, and a passion for reading just about anything he could get his hands on. His only flaw? He liked to be outside. In fact, just a month before we started dating, he erected a patio shade out of redwood in his backyard.

Once again, I tried to embrace the idea of spending time — at least in the winter — out of doors. With Emma’s help, I moved the rosebushes that originally lined the driveway to the backyard, believing that if the yard were prettier, I would be more likely to spend time out there. I even talked Dan into investing in a fountain. Alas, even running water couldn’t lure me outside.

Dan’s habits slowly changed. He stopped smoking cigars for the most part, so he no longer went outside every evening. Before long, our yards, both front and back, took on a neglected appearance as we spent our time improving the interior of our small home. Though Dan still works on the backyard from time to time, I’m afraid I don’t venture out there very often. The rosebushes have managed to survive severe neglect; the fountain has been dismantled and is in the process of being moved to my parents’ home.

After many vacations in fine hotels and on cruise ships, we have come to the determination that we like comfortable interiors with balconies. In other words, we are condo people. Someday, we will move to a condo and leave this home and its large yard to younger, more outdoorsy types. I can hardly wait.

The Cosmopolitan

Our idea of perfection: a bedroom with a view.

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