Bright Lights, Big Cacti

Arizona through the Eyes of a Native

Category: Gifts

Procrastination, or Why I’m a Bad Friend

Over the years, I have purchased a remarkable number of items that were intended to be gifts for other people. I have one such item on my desk right now — a white owl I purchased at the end of September. I intended to mail it to a friend whom I believed would enjoy it, yet here it sits. I promised another friend a pan of brownies months ago…I hope she understands when they show up around Christmas. I suppose this proves that I am, in fact, a terrible friend.

I have stacks of greeting cards purchased for birthdays, anniversaries, sympathy, and “just thinking of you.” Does it count that I have thought of these people without actually telling them? I tend to think it doesn’t. On the plus side, my lack of follow-through means that I automatically assume that everyone else is equally forgetful about actually mailing their greetings. I will never sit around wondering why this or that friend failed to send me a card; instead, I am thrilled to get any cards at all!

For those of you who still consider me a friend, please know that I think of you more often than you could ever realize. I reminisce about Ella and Emma at least once a week. I even think about calling — but then I look at the clock and know that they are working. Every time I step into a drugstore, I peruse the cards and find something perfect for one of the many women who have impacted my life — and I usually buy it with the intention of sending them a nice note. But it’s easier to hop on Facebook and read their posts, to leave them a “like” or a comment just so they know I’m still paying attention. The card is added to the stack in my desk drawer. Someday, when my niece clears out my house after I’m gone, she is going to think that I collected blank greeting cards.

I’d like to think that there’s a reason why so many of my cards don’t actually make it to the people I intend them to reach. Maybe those people would think I was ridiculously sentimental. Maybe they would even think I was stalking them. I’m not, of course. Who has that kind of time? But maybe their kindness made a bigger impression on me than it did on them. Maybe those items bought for others are really for me to keep and remember them by after they have left my life.

Probably not. But I think I’m keeping the owl.

IMG_0698

Who knows?

A Few Things I Wish I’d Known Sooner

In the last few months, my life has changed significantly and for the better. It turns out that engraving agrees with me: the act of creating something from raw material has a Zen-like effect on my mind. Though I write fewer words per day than I have in the past, I am still writing. Without the engraving business, I would have needed to return to the 9-to-5 world come 2014 — and my writing would have come to a full stop.

All things considered, my life is pretty great. As Dan says, I now spend my days doing two things I love: writing and engraving. Most people never find one job that brings them personal satisfaction. In fact, my father is the only person I’ve ever known who woke up each day and thought, “I get to go to work today!” Now I feel the same way.

Anyhow, I woke up feeling philosophical today and I thought I’d share a few of the truths that have led me to this point:

  1. Faith in a higher power doesn’t make you weaker or stronger — it gives you hope.
  2. A college degree is no guarantee of a monetarily successful life; however, money isn’t the only thing worth living for.
  3. Never join your life to another’s until you are content to be alone. If you do, you will end up hurting yourself and them.
  4. The right person to spend your life with will appear when you are content with yourself.
  5. Being “famous” isn’t nearly as satisfying as being happy.
  6. It’s okay if the “five-year plan” is simply to be happy.

A moment of reflection…

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.

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.

Faith

I know that I share a lot of my life here, but I usually keep my faith out of my writing entirely. I don’t want my readers to immediately recognize who I am or what I believe by reading my works of fiction. If they do, I believe I’m doing it wrong. One of the best compliments I’ve received is that one of my books (An Unassigned Life) has been called both too Christian and anti-Christian by different readers.

Recently, though, an acquaintance asked me about my walk with God and I took the time to share my story with him. After I had done so, I realized it was a story that was both very personal and universal at the same time. I am not saying that what I believe is what you have to believe. I merely want to share my spiritual walk with you.

When I was young, my parents took me to a small home church. One Sunday, I felt pinpricks in my heart during the altar call, but when I tried to go forward, my mother held me back, believing I was too young to understand what I was doing.

After that, I sought spiritual fulfillment from other sources. Eventually, I turned to the occult, even studying astrology and reading tarot cards — quite accurately, as it turned out.

In 1997, I married my first husband. Within his extended family were five preachers. The next year, I volunteered to compile and edit the family stories for their reunion. Within those stories were numerous testimonials to the power of Christ. I was moved by their words, and I began to wonder if Jesus was who I was missing.

At the reunion that summer, I met some of the most wonderful people. During an impromptu praise service on Sunday morning, I swear that the believers were glowing! The unbelievers, however, looked like dark spots in their midst. I came home determined to figure out who Jesus was. I promised myself that I would read one chapter a day, starting in the New Testament. By the end of the week, I had sought out a woman at work who glowed like my husband’s family did. I asked her where she worshiped and she invited me to her church. That Sunday, I went — alone. My husband refused to go. Sitting in that strip-mall makeshift church, I felt the pinpricks again, but I didn’t go forward. I managed to keep my composure until I got out of there. I spent the rest of the day in tears.

The next day, I made a deal with God (note to self: don’t bother…He always wins). If Mary (my glowing coworker) was still at her desk when I finished working, I would go talk to her. At 5:15, she was still at work. I found more to do around the office. At 5:30, she was still there. I took care of some tasks I’d been putting off. At 5:45, Mary still hadn’t budged. I walked over and sat down at her desk. I told her I thought I needed Jesus. She was a little flustered — that was the one day she didn’t have her Bible in her purse — but she found a Romans Road tract in her desk drawer and led me to Christ right there!

Because I felt it was important to understand fully what I was professing when I called myself a Christian, I read the entire Bible in the next nine months. My husband claimed to be saved, so I hoped that our marriage, which was a little shaky, would be strengthened by my new belief. Unfortunately, it was not. After a few more years of misery, I finally decided to divorce him.

My divorce earned me disdain from many of my fellow Free Will Baptist congregants, but I persevered. Then, one Sunday, the preacher’s wife used a passage from the Old Testament to “prove” that God disapproved of interracial relationships. I disagreed — vocally. That passage was clearly meant for the Israelites, whom God considered a race apart. The New Testament, on the other hand, says that all believers are equal, no matter their race.

After that, I left the Free Will Baptists. I have attended a number of other churches, but I haven’t found a place that feels right to me. I still hold my faith in Christ close. I maintain strong friendships with good Christian men and women. But that doesn’t mean I exclude non-believers from my life.

I believe that Jesus Christ died on the cross to save me from my sins. I believe he did that for every man, woman, and child who has ever lived. However, I also believe that this salvation is a gift that every human must accept for himself — we, as Christians, cannot force our will on our fellow beings. To do so is to usurp God, who gave us free will in the first place.

Stained glass window of the sacred Heart of Je...

Stained glass window of the sacred Heart of Jesus Christ in the former Mosque (Cathedral) of Cordoba, Spain (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Chocolate and Him

When I was a child, Valentine’s Day was one of my favorite holidays. This had a lot to do with my mom. Every year, we would go to the store and buy paper heart-shaped doilies and Valentine’s Day stickers to make homemade valentines. While everyone else was struggling to figure out which one of the preprinted messages would be acceptable to give to the kids they really didn’t like (because back then mothers always made their children give a valentine to every kid in their class), I put together a classroom’s worth of cute, non-committal cards. If I really liked someone, I could always write on the card; otherwise, a paper heart with a sticker was sufficient.

Valentine’s Day isn’t nearly as great once you grow up. I realized a long time ago that if you expect more than a bit of chocolate on Valentine’s Day, you are setting yourself up for disappointment. You see, most men don’t really get Valentine’s Day. They don’t understand why there is another holiday so close to Christmas where they are supposed to spend money on gifts and flowers. If it had been up to men, Valentine’s Day would be on June twenty-fifth and the appropriate gifts would be sports-related.

That’s not to say that Dan isn’t surprisingly romantic. He has done some amazing things for me over the years. He has taken me to Disneyland, despite his better judgment. He planned a trip to Italy because I wanted to go, not because he did. The fact that he loved it was just a bonus. And he proposed to me during a Shakespearean play. None of these events were even remotely associated with a holiday.

Therefore, all I want is a single box of See’s chocolates and my husband’s love every day of the year. Nuts and chews, please.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Anthropomorphic Valentine, circa 1950–1960

Gotta be careful who you give this one to. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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A Wibbly-Wobbly Timey-Wimey Gift

I am blessed with awesome friends. Ella and Emma, with whom I have shared more than half of my life, are just two of the wonderful women I know I can always count on. And though I know that I can call them and we will be able to pick up right where we left off, they are both far away from me physically – and in two different parts of the country no less! Other friends have waxed and waned over the years; though I still hold them close in my heart, our lives have taken divergent paths.

But I want to talk to you today about my friend, Nikki (previously referred to as Pandora). We met a few years ago while working for a national homebuilder here in the valley. She was one of a team of people crafting mass emails for the salespeople; I was the editor for the team. I didn’t expect to make friends. After all, who likes the dweeb who spends all day telling them how much their grammar sucks? On top of that, I tend to be a little standoffish when it comes to office friendships – if they go sour, they ruin the whole job. Nevertheless, Pandora seemed to warm to me, heaping praise on my editing skills and generally making me feel talented and useful. It is at least partly to her credit that I am now a novelist; she encouraged me to follow my dreams and listened to me talk through my entire first novel! When that novel was done, she also became my cover artist. To date, she has produced each and every one of my novels’ art.

A couple of years ago, I introduced her to Doctor Who. She and I have wiled away far more hours than two responsible adults ever should watching that absolutely fantastic British sci-fi show (only the reboot, though – I don’t think the episodes from the last century have aged well). She is well aware, therefore, of my abiding crush on the Tenth Doctor (played by David Tennant).

This week, Nikki came over bearing gifts – this was the first time we had seen each other since before my birthday. After giving me what I thought was my only gift – a few framed photos from last year’s birthday celebration – she told me that my REAL gift was still in her car. She excitedly ran out of the house to retrieve it while I waited in my living room.

Once she was back in the kitchen, she asked, “Do you want a hint?”

“Okay.”

“I brought you something that’s bigger on the inside!”

“You brought me a TARDIS?”

She came around the corner bearing a Barbie-scale TARDIS that she built out of plywood and foam core. It’s amazing! She even came up with a way for the light on top to work! Inside the blue box was the Tenth Doctor, right down to his sneakers and sonic screwdriver. Here’s the best part: she “made” him too! After looking the “action figures” available for purchase, she decided she could do better. For my part, I think she did great. Every time I walk past my Doctor and his TARDIS, I smile so wide my cheeks hurt. I’m going to give him a permanent place in my office just as soon as Dan relocates his globe.

Thank you, Nikki – you are an amazing, talented woman and I am honored to have you for a friend.

007

My very own Doctor!

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

The Perfect Gift

I was not the little girl my mother expected.

In her fantasies of raising a daughter, she anticipated a little girl who loved dressing up and playing with dolls. Instead, she got me. Personally, I think God was messing with her.

In any case, my mom still sought to give me all the things she wished she had when she was young. She sewed dozens of dresses for me – many with matching bloomers. She bought me dolls. And, one year, she bought me a playhouse.

It’s important to remember that I was not a normal-sized child. When I was two, my pediatrician Dr. Rhumba told my mom I would be at least six feet tall. I was taller than Dr. Rhumba by the time I was eight. I would show up at the doctor’s office and the receptionist would be looking for my child. (On the plus side, I have looked like I am around thirty for nearly three decades now, which gives me that “ageless” quality – sort of like Dick Clark.)

My mom, knowing that I would outgrow a typical child-sized playhouse well before I reached puberty, commissioned a custom structure. It was eight feet long and eight feet wide, with two Plexiglas windows that opened to allow a cross-breeze and a door large enough to accommodate a full-grown human. She and my grandmother painted it white with pink trim and laid down patterned green linoleum inside it. Mom furnished it with a kitchen play set – stove and refrigerator – as well as a small piano. I think she even put a small upholstered rocking chair in there. Then, one morning, she had it placed next to the mulberry tree in our backyard. She told me to keep my eyes closed as she guided me outside to see my fantastic new playhouse, certain that I would be overjoyed to see it.

My reaction was a disappointment for her. I was never inclined toward the domestic arts, so the idea of a “house” of my own held little appeal. Mom tells me I thanked her and then asked if I could go back inside and read. I think I broke her heart that day, as only small children can do.

Of course, the boys who lived behind me thought the playhouse was great. We used to play “house” – they would stay home and cook and clean, while I went off to “work.” (“Work” was me sitting in the mulberry tree reading.) However, even the enthusiasm of other children didn’t make me love my playhouse. Thinking back, I might have been more interested in it if it had been set up as a library – the one place I really loved to be.

Eventually, the playhouse was given to a friend of my mom’s who used it as a shed. I’m sure he got much more use out of it than I ever did.

My mom finally got the reaction she was looking for when I was around twenty. I opened up a Christmas box and found a maroon wool “swing” coat with rolled cuffs and collar that hung to mid-thigh on me. I loved it so much I cried. She is still incredulous that a gift she picked up almost as an afterthought got more of a reaction than the one she spent hours planning and working on all those years before.

I’m sorry, Mom. I was a kid. I didn’t know any better. Thank you for the playhouse.

I still own the coat.

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