Bright Lights, Big Cacti

Arizona through the Eyes of a Native

Category: Hobbies

I’m a Believer

I have what most people of my generation would consider “questionable taste” when it comes to music. I was raised on a steady diet of 1950s pop and country music, with occasional Carpenters and Helen Reddy interludes. I never heard of heavy metal until I was well into my teens, and I had no idea who the Doobie Brothers or Steely Dan were until I was married in the 1990s. My friends have long thought I was beyond odd when it came to my musical choices — and they get quite a bit of amusement from my taste. Around 2001 or so, I heard a catchy tune on a car commercial and had to call one of my best friends and her husband to find out who the band was. Her husband wanted her to tell me the group was called Buck-Naked Bitches, because he thought it would be hilarious to send me into a music store to ask for one of their albums.

When I was around eleven, I discovered the Monkees, thanks to afternoon repeats of the late-60s television show. I not only watched the episodes, I taped them! I had a collection of forty episodes on VHS tapes that I would watch over and over again…because I am a big nerd at heart. I liked Peter, the naïve ding-a-ling, the best, which I think partially explains my first husband. Dan is more of a Mickey — witty, silly, and prone to bursting into song. In any case, the first concert I chose to attend was the Monkees — just Davy, Mickey, and Peter. I screamed as loud as any of those original fans from the 1960s. I saw the trio twice more — once toward the end of the 1980s and again in Vegas around Thanksgiving 1995. The shows were always good. Davy, Mickey, and Peter seemed to have a fairly warm relationship, but Davy was definitely the most comfortable with live performances.

A few years ago, Dan took me to see Davy at the Cannery in Vegas. More than ten years had passed since I had seen any of the Monkees, and Davy was starting to show his age. He was still a great performer though. He also told a number of anecdotes from his life and expressed his wish that the Monkees would tour together again. When he died unexpectedly last year at just 66, I’m sure most fans were as certain as I was that they would never see another Monkees tour. And yet…

Last weekend, I saw the three surviving Monkees — Mike, Peter, and Mickey — at the Green Valley Resort in Henderson, Nevada. I had never seen Mike in concert before, so I was overjoyed to finally have the opportunity. However, after the initial thrill, I have to say I was most impressed with Mickey, who I actually think has improved with age. The concert was 46% Mike, 46% Mickey, and 4% Peter, with the final 4% used as a tribute to Davy. Mike’s songs are the most musically interesting, but Mike was having trouble remembering the lyrics and his voice took a few songs to warm up. Mickey, on the other hand, sounded terrific and has the most energy of the trio. It’s a shame they couldn’t have gotten together before Davy died — I would have loved to see all four of them together.

Hearing their music again has renewed my love of the group. They may have been the “Pre-Fab Four,” but they still managed to create some amazing, memorable music. And if you still have no idea who I’m talking about, the Monkees recorded I’m a Believer long before Smashmouth did it for the soundtrack of Shrek.

The Monkees in all their groove-tastic-ness.


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.

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…

New Friendships Blooming Here

I talked to Ella on the phone today. It’s her birthday. Since we met in the first grade, I think it’s fair to say we have been friends for thirty-six years or so now. She and her family live in Washington, and we don’t get to see each other often — but we don’t need to see each other to know that we are friends. Our relationship is the closest thing I have in my life to a real sisterly bond. Although that may be changing.

My new Beta Sigma Phi chapter, Eta Delta, held their first social last weekend. We went bowling, and we had a great time. None of us will be going pro anytime soon (I won the second game with a measly 100), but we cheered each other on and laughed like fools for a few hours. It’s been a long time since I have been a part of a large group of friends — and I’m thrilled to have these new women in my life. I envision years of great experiences with this group, and I hope they can see that future too.

Though all seven of us come from different backgrounds, we are excited to get to know each other and build a strong group. I have been elected the vice president, which means I am in charge of membership. The biggest challenge is finding other women who have the inclination to make room for new friendships in their lives.

Most of us don’t realize we are missing girlfriends because we are so busy taking care of our parents, husbands, and children. (I can’t say I’ve ever been that sort of a woman, but I know plenty who are.) When the children are grown and our parents are gone, life can start to feel empty. The friends we made in our teens and twenties have followed different paths, and, while we still love them, we may find we are unable to spend time together.

If you happen to be in the West Valley of the Phoenix Metro area and you are interested in joining a friendship organization with women between the ages of twenty and fifty, please contact me. Eta Delta would love for you to visit us! If you are interested in Beta Sigma Phi, visit their website. I promise you won’t be sorry.



A Day Trip to Talking Stick Resort and Casino

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before, but I love to go to casinos. In fact, given an unlimited amount of money, I might become a gambling addict…but maybe not. After all, if I had unlimited funds, why would I gamble at all? Maybe the activity would lose all appeal for me. Let’s just say that if Dan were to hand me a hundred dollars and tell me to have fun, I would be more likely to head to a casino than to a mall.

Saturday, my sister-in-law and I took a little drive out to Talking Stick Resort and Casino, one of the newer casinos around the Phoenix Metro area. I had been there once before, but Crista had never been before. The property was beautiful and relatively uncrowded. We played a number of side-by-side penny slots, and it soon became apparent that I was on a lucky streak. Every machine I sat down at ended up paying me. Meanwhile, Crista’s machines seemed intent on taking her money. When we decided to go to lunch, I was up at least $30 and Crista was down $40.

We wandered around for a while looking for the moderately price cafe Crista had found on their website. At last, the Blue Coyote Cafe appeared. This relatively small restaurant is located one floor down from the gaming floor and makes a nice respite from the din of the casino. The colors are muted, the seating is comfortable, and the view is pleasant. I ordered the Cajun burger and Crista ordered a salad with a grilled chicken breast on top. My burger was, in a word, delicious. The seared green chilis and melted cheese went perfectly with the Cajun spices. The french fries were delicious as well. Crista said the salad was great, too. I would highly recommend this spot for a quiet lunch. I paid for the meal with my winnings, and we headed back upstairs.

My lucky streak continued, and Crista’s luck changed! After a particularly good spin, she was back up to where she started. Wisely, she decided to call it a day. I played a little longer. I finally surrendered when I was up by just eleven dollars. I’d had a little more before I hit a losing streak, but going home with a free meal and more money than I arrived with makes me very happy.

While it’s far from a Vegas experience, the Talking Stick Casino is certainly a fun place to spend the day. Highly recommended.

Talking Stick

Talking Stick Casino

Some Good Rules for Life

As I have mentioned before, I am a member of Beta Sigma Phi, a sorority created for women of all ages. This sorority promotes friendship above all else. Recently, I was looking through a sorority cookbook that belonged to my grandmother, and I found these “Unwritten Rules” on a piece of paper (Does anyone else see the irony in that? Okay…moving on.) stuck in the middle of it. In any case, I thought these rules would be good for all men and women to apply to their lives.

  1. I will mind my own business and not gossip or believe anything disparaging about any person until I know it to be absolutely true, and even then, I will not repeat it to anyone.
  2. I will not wear my feelings on my sleeve or be so insensitive as to look for personal slight or offence, or be envious or suspicious of anyone.
  3. I will wear a smile. When I am gloomy, I will absent myself from others rather than inflict my negative view on those who may have trouble of their own.
  4. I will be kind and help others toward a more positive outlook on life. I will do nothing to either myself or another which may become an unpleasant memory in the coming years.
  5. I will not be headstrong and will remember that other people with different ideas from mine might be right. I will keep an open mind always.
  6. I will play the game of life on the square and do everything I can to help an honest man, a good woman, or child find the very best life has to offer.

Hey…maybe we should write down the rules more often.

Yellow Rose

Yellow Rose (Photo credit: andrewprice001)

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You Only Need One Shot to Take Down a Deer

I write these little pieces and set them up to post the day before they actually do. Last Friday, I had already set up my post for Saturday when I heard about Newtown. I chose not to change that post because I didn’t know what to say. I, like a lot of others, needed time to process the tragedy.

I come from a gun-owning family. Grandpa John owned a gun shop when I was a young, and both sides of the family were hunters – not trophy hunters, but the kind that actually eat what they kill because they like the taste of wild game. When I was very young, my father and grandfather taught me how to handle a gun, how to shoot, and the finer points of gun safety. However, as an adult, I choose not to own a gun.

The argument that assault weapons should be available to sportsmen is invalid. In all my family’s years of hunting, not one of my relatives thought an assault rifle was an appropriate weapon for the sport. You see, assault weapons are designed to do the most damage in the least amount of time. If you are a hunter, you don’t want to do too much damage to your prey – you want a clean shot. No one wants to pull a hundred rounds out of their venison stew.

Two things could have prevented or, at least, lessened the number of victims: psychological testing before gun licensing and a ban on assault weapons. Just like the banks should not have been allowed to self-regulate, gun sellers should not be in control of the gun ownership process. We don’t have car salesmen giving driving tests, do we? A gun salesman wants to sell guns, not tell some guy with cash in hand that he isn’t mentally fit to handle one. An assault-weapons ban would be practical. Without the ability to spray bullets, potential shooters would find their killing-spree casualties significantly reduced. That doesn’t mean these tragedies won’t happen – only that fewer people will die.

I’m a realist, though: as much as I personally would like to see all guns removed from society, I know that too many Americans (including my own family) disagree. I respect them and their right to hunt. I pray that nothing so tragic as what happened in Newtown ever happens to them.

My heart is broken for those families in Connecticut.

Soldier demonstrating gun safety by keeping th...

Soldier demonstrating gun safety. Pretty sure he’s not hunting deer. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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My Dad, “Evel Knievel”

When I was seven or eight, my parents decided that motorcycles would be a great way for us to spend time together. I’m not exactly sure how my dad convinced my mom of this, but one weekend we drove off to the Honda showroom and came back with three dirt bikes: a Papa, Mama, and Baby Bear trio of red machines.

(Keep in mind that this was in the 1970s, back when the Valley of the Sun was still mostly desert and not housing developments. Also, this was a time before kids were made to wear helmets before they could hop on their bikes for a cruise through their neighborhood.)

In any case, soon we were riding out into the desert, the wind on our faces and the sun on our backs. I have a lot of good memories related to riding my motorcycle.

I also have a few not-so-great ones. For instance, one day I went out with my father to ride on a dirt-bike track some kids had created on an empty piece of ground. I was driving cautiously around the track, avoiding taking the bumps at too high of a speed, because I didn’t want to catch any air. My dad, who has what some would call an adventurous (my mom would probably call it a “reckless”) spirit, was approaching those bumps in quite the opposite manner. I watched him jump more than few times as I made my way around the course.

I don’t remember if I was watching when he lost control of his bike or not, but I do remember finding him on the ground, his teeth gritted against the pain. He told me to go home and get Mom, so I did.

We came back in the car and picked him up, taking him directly to the hospital. One of his friends must have retrieved the bike for him, because I know it made it back to our garage. At the hospital, the doctors diagnosed a broken collarbone and sent him home with his arm in a sling and instructions to “rest.”

He settled into his big recliner, moaning a little and looking terribly unhappy. Being the helpful daughter I was, I retrieved a bell from one of my games and gave it to Dad so that he could let us know if he needed anything. And, of course, he wasn’t shy about using it. He rang it when he needed the channel changed on the television, a fresh glass of tea, some food, a book…you name it. And each time Mom answered the bell, my dad seemed a little more amused.

A few days passed, and Mom needed to go to the grocery store. The nearest one was a good twenty minutes away. A typical shopping trip took at least an hour and a half, if not longer. As Mom and I drove off, I remember hoping my dad would be all right without us there. However, we didn’t get far before Mom realized she’d left her checkbook at home and turned around to get it.

As we turned into the driveway, I saw something I couldn’t believe: my father, one arm in a sling, driving his motorcycle in circles in the driveway. When he saw us, a moment of panic slid across his face, followed quickly by the impish grin he always wears when he knows he’s been caught.

Mom took the bell away immediately.

English: Honda dirt bike

Honda dirt bike (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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Dad’s Fishin’ Hole

When I was thirteen, my parents sold the house where I grew up and bought a home in the city. One winter morning, I was standing in my parents’ bedroom in the new house looking out the window at the backyard, which was dominated by an in-ground swimming pool. This being winter, the pool was green — the normal color of unused and untreated pools. What had drawn my attention to the window was Mom’s cocker spaniel, Rusty. He was running around the edge of the pool, barking and staring into its depths. Suddenly, the dog gave a flying leap and landed with a splash in the middle of the pool.

Mom and I rushed outside to rescue the psychotic dog only to discover that there were fish in the swimming pool — actual, honest-to-God bass swimming around, eating the algae. We didn’t know exactly how they had gotten there, but we suspected who did. You see, my father had cultivated a fishing habit.

When Dad came home that afternoon, Mom confronted him. “Why are there fish in the swimming pool?”

I watched as my dad stammered around the question for a minute or two before finally admitting he had caught them on his last fishing trip and brought them home to “practice.”

“Practice? Why would you need to practice fishing?”

“Oh, you know, to learn what bait works best. But the fish are smart. They only let me catch them once a day.” My dad had been in the habit of floating his aluminum boat in the middle of the pool and fishing off the side of it, as if he were in the middle of a large lake. He did this in the early morning hours, long before Mom and I were awake. Apparently, the bass had been there for weeks before Rusty happened to spot them and alert us to the backyard fishery.

A week or two later, Mom invited a bunch of friends over for a fish fry. I actually got to see my dad fishing in our pool. I wonder if it bothered him to kill the fish — after all, he must have been extremely familiar with them after so many games of catch and release. And the fish were probably shocked.

English: This is a picture of a small aluminum...

An aluminum boat in a lake — where it should be. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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