Bright Lights, Big Cacti

Arizona through the Eyes of a Native

Category: Holidays

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


An Arizona Halloween

I have to admit that when Halloween comes around, Dan and I usually find something to do away from home. Sometimes, we go to a movie. One year, we bought a car. Since neither of us have a strong affection for this particular holiday and our neighborhood doesn’t have a lot of children, we tend to skip it.

Our neighbors across the alley, however, are apparently big fans of the holiday. For two years running, they have had Halloween parties that necessitated the use of a sound system. There may have been some karaoke involved as well, based on the number of “Rolling in the Deep” renditions I heard last weekend. While Dan and I were outside with our dogs, we heard the emcee announce the winners of the costume contest. Apparently, someone came as Honey Boo Boo’s brother, Bubba. As far as I can tell, there is no Bubba Boo Boo, but the guy who decided to dress that way won the competition. I would have liked to have seen that.

Just in case you woke up this morning in Arizona without a costume, here are a few suggestions:

Dress as Sheriff Joe!

This one is easy. Get an old-man mask, a cowboy hat, and a pair of cowboy boots. For bonus points, find a sheriff pin – the biggest one available. If you are thin, stuff a pillow in your shirt to get a decent pot belly going. If you are going with a spouse, have him or her dress up in striped “jailbird” pants and a pink shirt at least two sizes too big. Whenever anyone accuses you of being an idiot, deflect attention by asking why the President hasn’t presented a real birth certificate yet.

Dress as Jan Brewer!

You will need a blonde wig and business dress with a jacket. Wear a shade of lipstick two shades brighter than you would normally consider. Be sure to keep your best “church-lady” expression all night. Never, ever smile. Whenever anyone talks to you, be sure to wag your finger at them as if you were their mother. Don’t be too surprised if some people think you are not the governor but, in fact, a witch.

Dress as a potential illegal alien!

If you are white, this costume will require using a bronzing lotion. When you are an appropriately dark shade of brown, put on your everyday clothes. No need to speak with an accent – your skin color will say it all. (Note: if you choose this costume, please be safe out there. Drive carefully, avoid loitering, and generally stay clear of the police. Just in case, be sure to have your “papers” available to prove your citizenship. Of course, if you go overboard with the bronzer, the cops may think your driver’s license is stolen.)

Happy Halloween!

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Orange Tights

When I was twelve, my mom decided that we, as a family, should learn to square dance. I’m not sure exactly where the idea came from, but I was such a nerd that I actually agreed to attend lessons with her – something she didn’t get my dad to do right away.

As hard as it is to believe today, square dancing used to be fairly common in this country. In fact, it experienced a bit of a renaissance in the 1940s and 1950s, due primarily to a resurgence of folk and country music and a fascination with the cowboy culture in the western states. By the time we started dancing in the 1980s, it was already well into its downward slide as far as popular cultural activities are concerned. There are still a few dances in the valley, but, overall, square dancing is unlikely to be revived within my lifetime.

The reason I bring up this aspect of my adolescence at all is because Halloween is fast approaching. In fact, Dan and I are supposed to attend a costume party tonight – though we have no costumes to wear. This is actually the first costume party I’ve been invited to since my family’s square-dancing days. Thinking about the Halloween dances reminded me of my mom, who is an amazing seamstress.

You see, when I was young, my mom always made my costumes. I could be just about anything I wanted, except for anything store-bought. I had a witch’s costume, a princess costume, a bunny costume…but never a rubber mask. By the time I reached twelve, I was pretty sure that having a home-sewn costume was lame. Of course, I was wrong, but tweens and teens always think they know best.

My mom, freed from costume duty where I was concerned, focused her creativity on costumes for herself and my dad. She dressed my 6’4” dad as the Pink Panther one year. But I remember the Donald and Daisy Duck costumes the best. The body was made out of felt, I think. The stuffed heads engulfed their entire heads, leaving only their faces exposed. The beaks stuck out over them like the rims of baseball caps. Their shoes were covered by orange-felt duck feet. But the best part of all were the tights. Remember, my dad is very tall. My mother searched the valley high and low for a pair of tights that would fit him. I honestly don’t have any idea where she found them! Once she did, though, she dyed them orange and convinced Dad to put them on. Best costume ever!

At the dance, my normally reserved father actually duck-walked. Someone was quick enough with the camera that we have a picture of the moment. What I wouldn’t give for the chance to go back and take a video, though.

As fate would have it, I eventually went to Cottey College – which happens to have the duck as its senior mascot. I talked my mom into giving me the costumes, both of which were turned into senior pass-downs. I like to think they are still in circulation today – but they could have been trashed long ago for all I know.

But I’ll always have the memory of my parents waddling off to a square dance in matching orange tights.

I think I knew this couple…


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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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Grandma Millie and the Rosebud Necklace

Those of you who know me personally are aware that I am something of a recluse. That’s not so unusual, when my occupation is taken into consideration; as a novelist, hours spent alone in front of my computer are necessary in order to produce entertaining fiction.

However, I’ve never been a particularly social person. I have probably spent more hours in front of computers than any normal human being should. I love video games, surfing the web, and, sadly, Facebook. I have more “virtual friends” than real ones by a margin of 50 to 1. Therefore, those of you who know me personally are…rare.

That said, I’ve led a happy life. I have a few close friends that I can count on, a small but close family, and a wonderful marriage. So it might strike you as odd that I have recently begun a quest to obtain more “real-world” friends. I can’t say exactly why, but when my friend Emma mentioned that she had joined a sorority, I was jealous – even after she described the group of mostly old women and their obsession with who brought the trash bags last week and who would be bringing them the next. Suddenly, I wanted my own group of women (hopefully a little closer to my age than the seventy-and-ups Emma had found) to join.

That’s when I remembered my Grandma Millie. She was in a sorority and she loved her sorority sisters. Years ago, when I was a child, Grandma Millie insisted that Mom and I attend the Tannenbaum Breakfast that the Centennial City Council hosted every Christmas. I vaguely remembered a ceremony that had taken place at one of these breakfasts; in it, my grandmother had presented me with a yellow-rosebud necklace. That necklace meant something – I was a legacy! But I couldn’t remember what the sorority was called. A quick search of the internet turned up Beta Sigma Phi. Sure enough, I was in their records.

I have now had the pleasure of meeting two different chapters of Beta Sigma Phi. All of the women have greeted me warmly, though I feel more comfortable with one group than the other. I am very much looking forward to joining their chapter – if they will have me.

Though many social organizations have suffered declining enrollment in the last few decades, I honestly believe they are on the cusp of a renaissance. As the “Me” Generation ages, more and more of us are seeking a “we” to be a part of. Most of us have friendships that have stood the test of time, but those friends may live thousands of miles away. Work friendships tend to stay in the workplace. Neighbors may as well be strangers, for the most part.

Social organizations offer more than friendship: they offer a chance to make a real impact in community service. For instance, one of the chapters I visited with spends one day a month volunteering for a charity. How many of us intend to volunteer but never actually do it? Fraternal and sororal organizations put those opportunities on a calendar and guarantee that you’ll have company as you do good for others.

What do I hope to gain from joining Beta Sigma Phi? A better “virtual friends” to real friends ratio, for one thing. A fuller and more fulfilling life. And a sense of belonging to something worthwhile.

yellow rosebud

yellow rosebud (Photo credit: buttersweet)

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As American as Prickly Pear Jelly

English: A photo of an a prickly pear cactus, ...

I’ve never been a huge fan of the Fourth of July. Don’t get me wrong – it’s not that I’m less patriotic than most Americans. I love hamburgers, jello salads, and fireworks as much as most of our populace. Picnics? They are wonderful events…anytime between Labor Day and Memorial Day. And no, I didn’t get that backwards.

The problem with Independence Day is that it occurs at the height of summer: a time that is traditionally better, at least inPhoenix, for frying an egg on the sidewalk than roasting a hotdog on a grill. In addition, the valley is usually pretty dry right around now, adding the potential danger of fireworks displays igniting a firestorm that could take out the entire metropolitan area. “Hey, kids, let’s go cook over a hot grill, get sunstroke, and then tempt fate by sending incendiary devices into the sky over our scorched desert home!” Um…no, thanks.

A year or two ago, the state legislature decided to allow the sale and use of fireworks by the general population. Now, there are restrictions, but I’m not going to bore you with those. What is significant to remember is that either our legislature is largely made up of non-native Arizonans or people with more faith in the intelligence of humanity than humanity deserves. Thankfully, our cities are a little more self-aware: most of them have banned the use of fireworks on private property, in roads, or in public parks. Of course, that won’t stop people from using them anyway, especially since the fireworks are now readily available for purchase, thanks to the legislature.

On the plus side, Phoenix will likely not become a charred hull of itself this Fourth. The skies have opened up and poured down a lovely, soaking rain today that will keep us safe tonight. As for Dan and me, after enjoying a delicious, indoor Rib Fest next door, we will settle down to enjoy A Capitol Fourth on PBS – with no danger whatsoever of sunstroke.

Happy Independence Day!

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