Bright Lights, Big Cacti

Arizona through the Eyes of a Native

Category: Family

Garrison Keillor Made Me Miss Grandpa John

An Ole and Lena joke:

Ole was on his deathbed when he caught a whiff of rhubarb pie. Wanting nothing more than one more bite of his favorite dessert, he pulled himself out of bed and made his way down the stairs to the kitchen, where his wife Lena had left it cooling on the windowsill. Despite his weakness, he got a plate and a knife and carefully moved the pie to the counter to cut himself a piece.

Just as he was preparing to slide the knife into the pastry, Lena appeared and slapped his hand, scolding, “That’s for the funeral!”

My Grandpa John used to tell me Ole jokes all the time. I’m not sure now if he picked them up from listening to Garrison Keillor or if they were simply imprinted on his brain at birth (he being a Minnesota Swede), but he knew a ton of them. He also recited poetry at the drop of a hat. Sitting in the audience at Garrison Keillor’s show last night, I was transported back to a time when I lived with my grandfather and listened to his never-ending monologues. I remember being annoyed back then — I wish I hadn’t been.

Keillor appeared on the stage in a rumpled suit with red sneakers and proceeded to talk non-stop for 90 minutes or so with no apparent goal in mind. He told stories about his youth, lamented that his life had not been tragic enough for him to become a serious poet, joked about the heat of the desert and what it does to the mind, and gave some sound advice. My favorite bit was that we — all of us — should be cheerful. He pointed out that cheerfulness is not connected to happiness. Cheerfulness is a choice that we make each day, whether we are happy or not. I think I’m cheerful most of the time…but I’m going to strive to be more consistent.

One more Ole joke:

Lena decided that she and Ole needed a bit of culture so she bought tickets to the ballet. That evening, after watching the performance for about thirty minutes, Ole leant over to Lena and whispered in her ear,
“I don’t see why they dance on their toes. Why don’t they just get taller dancers?”

What I imagine Ole and Lena look like…

Vacuum Tricks

Dan and I recently purchased a new vacuum for our house. To be perfectly honest, this is probably the first vacuum I have ever purchased from a store. All previous vacuums have been hand-me-downs because — as mentioned many times before — I am not a great housekeeper. If it’s a choice between a weekend getaway or a new appliance, I’m generally choosing to travel. However, our old vacuum, which didn’t work all that well to begin with, recently threw a belt and no free replacements seemed forthcoming.

For the last few years, I have been coveting a Dyson vacuum, mostly because of their stylishly cool commercials. There’s just something about a man with an accent talking about vacuums that suddenly makes them sound sexy. (I can’t guarantee it, but I’m thinking if Dan used an English accent when asking me to cook for him he’d actually get a lot more home-cooked meals.) In any case, I talked Dan into buying a Dyson multi-surface vacuum. Let me tell you something: that thing sucks. No really…I mean it sucks dirt in from inches around it! My floors have never been so clean! And it’s easy to maneuver, transitions smoothly from carpet to tile, and generally make me happy when I use it. I highly recommend it.

Now, here’s the real reason I’m telling you about my vacuum:

I’ve had uprights forever. I don’t like canister vacuums because I find them bulky and annoying. In all those years, I have dutifully wrapped and unwrapped the cord around the two prongs they always provide for the cord storage on upright vacuums. It was an annoying but necessary task. The other day, I was showing off my brand-spanking-new vacuum to Fuzzy. She wanted to see it work, so I began unwrapping the cord. Looking at me like I was an idiot, she reached over and flipped the top prong upside down, thereby releasing the entire length of cord in half a second. “Didn’t you know that?” she asked with a half-smile.

No. No, I did not. I am a housekeeping moron. But at least I’ll know it for the second half of my life.

My first new vacuum.

Meandering through the Last Days of Summer

My parental units are finally off on their long-delayed summer vacation. Mom’s arms are sufficiently healed for her to get in and out of their RV and she hasn’t fallen in a few weeks, so I’m crossing my fingers and toes that they will have a nice trip. Of course, their original destination of Alaska is on hold for now — the window for Far North travel has closed for the season. Nevertheless, they are making the best of things and planning to visit family in the Midwest.

Meanwhile, Dan and I continue to dream about a trip to the British Isles. Our previous trip abroad only whetted our appetite for more foreign vacations. Years ago, just after my first trip to Italy, I purchased a round-trip ticket to Heathrow. I was going alone — I figured I’d be fine since I understood the language. Unfortunately, about a month before I was supposed to go, my maternal grandfather died. I just didn’t have the heart for the trip after that. I ended up spending a week with my best friend Ella* and her family in Florida instead. Ultimately, I’m glad I didn’t go; when Dan and I eventually make it there, the city will be new to both of us. With any luck, we’ll be able to carve out the funds for the trip within the next year or two.

Fall is nearly upon us. Beta Sigma Phi has started again, and I’m glad to see my sorority sisters. In a week and a half, I’ll be at the Beta Sigma Phi convention being held at Casino Arizona. I’m going to sell some books to support my chapter. Nikki and I are the only two attending from Eta Delta, but I know we’ll have fun — we always have fun when we’re together!

My apologies for this meandering, newsy post. I’ll try to come up with something more cohesive next week. Until then, Dear Reader, live life like you mean it.

*Not her real name. 🙂

One of Dan’s and my favorite paintings.

A Most Unappealing Camping Site

I may have mentioned before that I’m not exactly a fan of RV travel. My parents dragged me on way too many long driving trips when I was a child. For a while, they owned a motorhome in which only two of the seats faced forward. Before that, they had a truck with a camper on it with bench seating along the sides. Riding sideways makes me nauseous; therefore, these vehicles only succeeded in making me dislike camping even more. As an adult, other things have kept me out of the woods: namely, Lyme disease, bubonic plague, and West Nile virus. Why anyone would purposely go where the carriers of these diseases are known to live is completely beyond me; yet, my parents persist in their RV-ing ways.

The other day, as I was innocently perusing the Internet, I stumbled across the most horrifying use of an RV yet: assisted living. That’s right: if you are so inclined, there are assisted-living facilities  where the “residents” simply pull their RV into a space and enjoy three square meals a day and basic care for about $1,200 per couple. I know some people — including my mom and dad — who actually think this sounds like a good deal. However, I have a few concerns:

  • Is it really a good idea for elderly people who need assisted-living services to be climbing in and out of trailers? Let’s face it — most of them are probably pretty brittle. One false step and *wham!* broken hip. Of course, maybe they get a referral fee from the local hospital. If I were an orthopedic surgeon, I’d put a billboard where the residents would see it everyday.
  • Is it wise to allow Alzheimer’s patients to live in a home that can literally be driven away? Does the facility have some kind of guard at the front gate to stop them from leaving?
  • What about the cramped living conditions? I understand that most RVs these days have slide-out features that make the interior space larger, but you’re still looking at less than 500 square feet of living space in most cases. A few months of that and most couples would be certifiably stir-crazy. I would hope there are a lot of psychologists nearby. Maybe one of them could split the cost of the billboard with the surgeon.
  • One of the few advantages of RV travel always seemed to be the ability to pick up and move when you got tired of a place. Parking your RV in what is more or less a permanent position within a park begs the question: why are you still living in an RV?

Then again, I guess I would always be skeptical of the benefits of this sort of retirement. If I were to go to Hell, I’m pretty sure Satan would send me on a never-ending RV road-trip up that region’s version of Kilimanjaro. Oh…and I’d have to sit sideways.

Satan probably likes to camp.

On the Run

When I was young, I ran away from home.

I clearly remember plotting my escape: secreting clothes into a small overnight case I had, imagining a different life somewhere far away (probably California), and forcing myself to wake up early since my mom always slept late. If my plans weren’t exactly well developed, at least I have an excuse: I was probably nine or ten at the time. So, one morning, I snuck out of the house with my bag and started walking.

I don’t remember exactly why I wanted to run away. Maybe I had read Huckleberry Finn or seen something on television that made running away seem like an option. It’s not like I had a bad childhood. I didn’t have any siblings to annoy me. There was a pool in my backyard and I always had more than enough books to read. My mom and dad were, and still are, good parents. I just wanted to start over.

I only made it to Campbell’s, a small convenience store less than a mile from the house. The sun was coming up by then and I had started to worry about how my mom would feel if she woke up and found me gone. All of the triumph drained from me as I thought about her crying in my room, becoming more and more panic stricken by my absence. I turned around and practically ran back. I let myself in quietly and tiptoed back to my room. I’m pretty sure Mom was still sleeping; as far as I know, this will be the first time she hears that I once ran away. And that’s probably a good thing, since I’m now much too big for her to spank. She’s probably going to freak out at the thought of her young child walking down the street with an overnight case, just begging to be abducted. Calm down, Mom. I was probably five-foot-eight and a hundred-and-thirty pounds. And we lived in the middle of the freaking desert — not too many cars out there.

That may have been the first time I thought I wanted to run away from home, but it certainly wasn’t the last. I still wake up some mornings and wish I could just get in my car and drive. Of course, these days I’d have to pack Dan and our dogs with me. What keeps me from running away…  Actually, what keeps most people from running away is the inescapable shame of disappointing those we love and respect most in this life. Running away is the easy route; staying and taking your share of responsibility is the mature, adult route.

Someday, though, when there’s no one left to disappoint…I am so running away.

Exactly.

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.

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.

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.

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!