Bright Lights, Big Cacti

Arizona through the Eyes of a Native

Category: Holidays

On Vacation

As Dan says, I’m not afraid of flying — I’m afraid of flying coach.

I promise I’ll be back with a longer post on Wednesday. In the meantime, enjoy your Memorial Day weekend, and be sure to remember those who came before you and made your life possible.

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In the New Mexican Wilderness

Fuzzy and I have spent the last few days in and around Mountainair, New Mexico, where we are visiting her last surviving aunt, Ruby. Ruby is a spry 91, and, even though she can’t remember my name from introduction to introduction, she still teases me as if she likes me pretty well. In fact, we share a love of butterflies, the color purple, and eggnog — proof that we are indeed related!

Today, we drove to Encino, where my grandmother remembers spending part of her youth. We visited the graves of my great-great-grandparents there, on a desolate, windswept plain that seemed to have been, for the most part, forgotten. Nevertheless, I noted that someone in the family had put some fake red flowers on her grave relatively recently — no doubt a testament to “Mamma Nick’s” enduring reputation as an amazing mother and grandmother. Unfortunately, she was gone about a decade before I was born. No matter — I have my own amazing grandmother!

We also stopped at what used to be Negra, where my great-uncle was born in a strip motel in the 1930s. The building is still standing! A short ride down the road, we found the house Fuzzy lived in when she was a child. The back wall is all but gone, but the front, sides, and roof still stand. Fuzzy peeked in and said, “They remodeled it.” I thought she was referring to its lack of a fourth wall, but she continued, “It was one room when we lived here.” Sure enough, to one side of the building, I could see the remnants of what must have been an interior wall!

Notably, none of the small towns we went through today have a store or a gas station. Forget about getting something cold to drink! Mountainair is the most robust place we have encountered since leaving Albuquerque, and I’d be hard-pressed to call it thriving. Still, it’s a nice little town with friendly folks who all seem to look after one another.

And all I have to say is that I’m visiting Aunt Ruby — it’s an instant icebreaker around these parts!

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Overflowing Joy

I haven’t really watched a Disney parade in quite a few years. When I was a teenager, I figured out that the lines at the attractions thin out during the major events (Fantasmic! is a good example), and so I head for something with a ridiculously long line, like Space Mountain or Star Tours. While half of the crowd is stopped dead in their tracks watching the spectacle, I get to stand in a line that is half as long as normal.

However, on this trip, I was with Crista, who had only visited Disneyland once before — and that was before California Adventures opened. Therefore, I found myself willingly waiting for the Main Street parade in Disneyland on Sunday. We found a spot near the front of the park — right across from Mr. Lincoln’s hangout — and settled in about fifteen minutes before it started. We sat down next to the model cannon where a couple of little boys were playing happily as their parents rested on the benches behind us. One of the little boys repeatedly used my leg as a hurdle; I was happy to oblige as long as he kept clearing it!

Not long before the parade started, a little girl, her blonde hair in braids, moved to the edge of the sidewalk in front of us. Her mother and father — at least, I assume that’s who they were — sat behind us on one of the benches. As soon as the music started, this little girl began to dance and spin with abandon. She didn’t care who saw her — she was having the time of her life! As each float came by, she waved wildly and smiled up at the performers — particularly the princesses. When they noticed her and waved — and nearly all of them did, starting with Cinderella all the way through to the non-princess Mary Poppins — her smiled grew even wider and she waved even more frenetically. Then, as the performers moved on, she would turn back to look at her mom with so much joy that it seemed to spill out of her and reach everyone around. Crista and I spent more time watching that little girl than we did watching the parade.

That little girl’s outward appearance is how I feel inside every time I enter the Disney parks. I know it’s not rational; I even know that it’s not cool to be a forty-one-year-old Disney enthusiast. But very few things fill me with the kind of overflowing joy I feel when enveloped by the Disney brand of magic. I’ve just learned not to dance and twirl when other people are watching.

Here she is -- from the back!

Here she is — from the back!

The D Word

Once upon a time, I worked in a call center. One day, I spoke with a Disney executive as part of my job. I mentioned that I loved Disneyland. He asked me how old I was the first time I visited.

“Probably four or five,” I answered. “Maybe younger.”

“You’re a lifer. If we get you by the time you’re five,” he explained, “you’ll always love Disney.”

I didn’t really understand how true his words were until I met and married Dan, who was not exposed to the Disney mystique at a young age. Before Dan, I visited Disneyland an average of once every two years. In fact, my first honeymoon was at Disney World — something my first husband and I both loved. However, Dan does not share my memories nor my affection for the Happiest Place on Earth. Therefore, I have only been three times in the last ten years — twice with Dan (who was clearly humoring me) and once with my niece’s choir (because I was that desperate).

Crista, my wonderful sister-in-law, also loves Disneyland. I don’t know if she was ensnared by the “under-5, got you for life” theory or if she just shares my fondness for amusement parks in general, but she, as the wife of another Bennett, has chafed at her husband’s refusal to consider Disneyland as a viable vacation spot. About a month ago or so, we were chatting and came up with a solution: we could go to Disneyland without our stick-in-the-mud husbands! As it turns out, the brothers were pleased with this solution, so we booked our trip.

Which leads me to why I’m writing about Disneyland: I seriously can’t think of anything else right now. All the voices in my head are chanting the Mickey Mouse song as I type this. They’re going to move on to “It’s a Small World” any second now. In one sleep, as my college roommate puts it, I’m going to be in Disneyland!

I can pretty much guarantee that my next post will also be about Disneyland too. I get home on Tuesday.

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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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Happy Boxing Day

Happy Boxing Day! When I was young, I thought that was a completely different sort of a holiday — one that Muhammad Ali looked forward to. Anyway…

I hope everyone who celebrates Christmas had a wonderful day. We have one more major holiday before the long, cold part of winter descends. So, live it up folks – one week of revelry remaining!

As I said in my last post, I hosted Christmas dinner this year. All things considered, I believe it was a great success. Unfortunately, my mom came down with a cold and opted to stay home rather than risk infecting others. She did send Dad, though, who arrived bearing strawberry-pretzel-cream-cheese jello, pumpkin pie, and eggnog (all from scratch and completely delicious). Fuzzy brought two pecan pies, and she left one here with me – that doesn’t bode well for my diet.

We did have one small catastrophe. Two days ago, I stood in the middle of my kitchen, marveling at its completeness. This morning, Dan and I discovered that our sink – an under-mount model, no less – has developed a crack. We’re not sure exactly when the crack opened up, but, thankfully, we caught it before there was too much water damage in the cabinet below. Unfortunately, we have no idea how we’re going to fix this problem. Right now, we’re crossing our fingers and praying that the company that sold us the sink and countertops will have some way to repair it. In the meantime, we just have to avoid using the left half of the sink. Boy, am I glad I have a dishwasher!

I received a purple Furby from Santa, and she’s pretty cute. I had an original Furby years ago. The new ones are a bit more interactive. She dances to music; she seems partial to Tom Petty.

However, nothing is as cute as Truman, who perched himself in the middle of our bed earlier today as if he were the king of the world. If only I could teach him to speak English. I’m sure he would like to tell me a few things.

To all of you who have been reading this blog, thank you so much. I look forward to telling you many more stories in the coming months and years.

Prince Truman on Christmas morning.

Prince Truman on Christmas morning.

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Christmapocalypse

So…the world didn’t end. Shocker, huh?

Of course, this means I will definitely be hosting my family for Christmas dinner. Have I mentioned how small our house is in the past? It’s small. Really small. If we had children, we couldn’t live here…that’s how small it is. When Dan moves the extra table into the living room on Tuesday, that room will become essentially unusable for any other purpose besides eating. On the positive side, my kitchen has been completely redesigned and we have added a couple hundred square feet in adjacent office space since the last time I hosted a holiday event. The previous kitchen was built in such a way that only one person could work in it. Now, there are potential work stations for at least three people. And, if people are feeling claustrophobic in the living room, they will be able to sit in the office and visit, if they so choose.

It’s funny – I actually grew up in a home that was about this size, and Mom used to host much larger parties. I wish I knew how she did it. My best guess is that the three bedrooms in that house actually took up less square footage than the two bedrooms in mine. Our master bedroom is, frankly, huge. We have a king-size bed, two bedside tables, two dressers, a bookshelf, and a bench in that room, and there is still plenty of space to walk around. Sometimes I wish we could take fifty to a hundred square feet out of that room and add it to the living room.

Even if things are a little cramped around here, I am truly looking forward to spending the day with my family. I am thankful that we haven’t lost anyone this year – there will be no new empty seats at our table. We can look back in fondness and forward in expectation.

There aren’t any “end-of-the-world” dates set for 2013, are there?

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Globe centred on Asia and Oceania – Satellite image – PlanetObserver (Photo credit: PlanetObserver)

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Have a Minty Christmas!

Now I know it’s Christmas: my father-in-law sent over a stack of Frango Mint boxes. If you have never had these wonderful chocolate delights, I recommend you head for your nearest Macy’s immediately and buy some. They are the best mints I have ever had – and I am a connoisseur of mints. Just sayin’.

In Dan’s family, Frango Mints are part of the Chicago Christmas tradition. It used to be that the only place to buy them in the Midwest was Marshall Field’s, the huge Chicago department store. Dan’s father would always pick up a box or two for the big day. When I first joined the family, one of my sisters-in-law would buy them and ship them to Mom and Dad Bennett, who would then bring them along to Christmas dinner. The first time I tasted one of these little half-inch-square chocolates, I knew I had found the perfect candy – and the perfect family. Such dedication to tradition!  Such good taste!

Marshall Field’s went out of business a few years ago. You should have heard the moaning and groaning that came from the Bennett clan. No more Frangos! Christmas would never be the same! When Macy’s announced that they would continue to produce the magical confection, my in-laws expressed some doubt that the mints would be as good as they had been in the past. Yet, when Christmas came, the chocolates appeared (and shortly disappeared). The Marshall Field’s lamentation was permanently silenced as the mouths were stuffed with tasty candy.

The stack of boxes in my kitchen all have designated purposes: one is for Dan and me, one is for Christmas, and two others are gifts. I probably should have left the one for us sealed, but…

There are three mints left in the box. I intend to eat all of them before Dan gets home. Don’t judge me…he had more than I did.

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Christmas Past

When I was a child, Christmas was almost always held at my parents’ home. Due to various family issues with my parents’ siblings’ families, I was the only grandchild that both sets of my grandparents were able to see regularly.

Dad would make eggnog (nothing like the stuff they sell in the grocery store), and Mom would make just about everything else, plus pumpkin pies. This was also the time when (what was left of) the cookies and breads made their appearance. I still look forward to Mom’s date pinwheels every year – my favorites!

Grandma Millie and Grandpa John would show up early with a green-bean casserole. Grandma Millie liked to be around to give Mom a helping hand. She always seemed to love the holidays. Grandpa John would find a place to sit, usually in front of the television, if I recall correctly. To be honest, I didn’t pay a lot of attention to the adults – I was usually fully consumed in playing with whatever toys Santa and my parents had provided.

My dad’s parents would show up closer to mealtime. Fuzzy always brought the pecan pie – a tradition that continues to this day. Grandpa Howard would find the other men while she joined Mom and Grandma Millie in the kitchen. I always looked forward to showing Fuzzy what I had gotten for Christmas, because she was the best at looking interested and impressed.

When I was very young, of course, Granddaddy and Ma were also at these gatherings. In my memory, I can still hear Granddaddy cackle with joy after teasing my mother or Ma. Granddaddy was fond of saying that he flitted among the pretty flowers and settled on a cow-pie, which would irritate Ma and make the rest of the family laugh.

Less frequently, various aunts and uncles would make their appearances at these festive occasions.  I was almost always the only child, though. Some might think that would make Christmas a lonely holiday for me, but I was already more than accustomed to entertaining myself. Plus, once the meal was served, the adults were bound to start sharing family stories. I learned my family’s history and my storytelling skills by listening to my elders.

When the Christmas meal was over and the last of the lingering family members left, Dad would light a fire in the fireplace and we would cuddle up as a family and watch television or play one of my new games. The year I got the ColecoVision game console, I think we played video games for hours. Before that, Dad and I had wasted many quarters in the Valley West arcade. Dad was a big fan of Donkey Kong. I think we had Donkey Kong for the game console, too.

Yes, I know that Christmas is too commercial these days and that Christmas dinners are time-consuming to prepare and gone within minutes. But I still think there’s something irreplaceable about sitting down in a family home and sharing a meal prepared with love. This is how we pass on our stories, beliefs, and even our family recipes. These are the things that mean “home.”

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The most exciting present I’d ever gotten…ColecoVision!

Holiday Magic

I love Christmas.

This holiday is absolutely my favorite, at least until November 17th is declared Susan Wells Bennett Day. I’m sure Dan will protest that every day is Susan Wells Bennett Day, but that’s really only true if you live in this house. Otherwise, not so much.

When I was a kid, my mom was excellent at keeping Christmas. She baked – oh my God, did she ever bake! A dozen varieties of cookies, pies, breads, and candies emerged from her kitchen between Thanksgiving and Christmas. She would store these treats in the freezer; Dad and I got to be pretty good at sneaking in and stealing some of the goodies. (The trick was to spread the remaining cookies out so that the missing items were less obvious.) The tree almost always went up over Thanksgiving weekend, and it didn’t come down until a week or two after New Year’s Day. And Mom, who is a natural-born shopper if ever there was one, always seemed a little cheerier when she was shopping for Christmas presents. Of course, I humored her by “believing” in Santa for much longer than my contemporaries. The payoff Mom offered for my continued “faith” was a couple extra gifts from “Santa” – a good deal, I think.

As an adult, I have not always kept Christmas well. In recent years, Dan and I have sometimes failed to decorate until only a few days before Christmas. Last year, we didn’t even get our Christmas cards done – shameful, really. And our gift shopping has been haphazard at best. Not this year, though!

I am proud to say that not only are we fully decorated, we also found a way to display not only our crèche but also my Department 56 Christmas in the City collection. Our home is Christmas-ready, which is particularly good since I have volunteered to host the Christmas dinner this year.

Our gifts are all purchased, and, as soon as I buy some tape, they will be wrapped as well. Christmas cards will be mailed out in early December, instead of around Christmas Eve.

And I’m feeling cheerier this year, too. Life is never perfect, but as long as you have someone to share the holidays with, any Christmas can be the best Christmas yet.

I’m planning to share a few stories of Christmases past over the coming weeks. I hope you’ll share some good memories with me, too!

Our Christmas tree.

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