Bright Lights, Big Cacti

Arizona through the Eyes of a Native

Category: Marriage

Light Up My Life

I have been very worried for the last few weeks.

As I may have mentioned in the past, I’m a bit of a hypochondriac — and maybe a drama queen. When I was a child, my parents had to take me to the hospital after a fall. I was certain death was waiting to collect my soul, and proceeded to play out a death scene to rival Melly’s in Gone with the Wind. Needless to say, when a doctor tells me I need to come back for “additional tests,” I immediately assume the worst. I try not to play out death scenes these days, but I’m sure my expression sends the message loud and clear.

Last month, Dan and I went for our eye exams. Everything was fine until the doctor said, “I’m seeing some cupping in your optic nerve. I want you to come back to be tested for glaucoma.”

How my brain translated this: Glaucoma?! Holy shit! I’m 42 years old! I’m going blind at 42! I’m a writer! I own an engraving company! I can’t go blind!

I burst into tears, because this is how I react to bad medical news. The poor doctor felt compelled to comfort me. If she’d had a lollipop, she probably would have given it to me. I pulled myself together long enough to leave the office with an appointment for December 4th. That’s right — the optometrist gave me bad news then sent me home to stew about it.

For the last month, every time I enter a room (particularly since my husband has an obsession with turning off lights) I have been certain I was on the verge of going blind. Rooms seemed too dark and my eyes seemed unreliable. I studied my pupils to see if they were opening wider than they did when I was young and healthy. I practiced saying glaucoma without crying — I even got pretty darned good at it!

Today was the appointment. The nurse led me to a small room where she sat me in front of a machine to test my peripheral vision. I could feel my eyes drying out as I tried to focus and see the random dots of light flashing around the screen in front of me. I swear, I could almost feel the blindness latching onto my corneas! We moved to a second room where the nurse administered another test that involved nearly touching my eyeball. Finally, she moved me to the examination room where I waited patiently for the doctor to deliver the bad news.

But she didn’t. It turns out I wasted all that worrying. Yes, I have risk factors — borderline-high eye pressure and a thinner-than-average cornea (great — the one part of my body that wants to be thin) — but I passed the peripheral-vision test with just one missed flashing light. She told me that, at this time, there is no sign of glaucoma. Halle-frickin’-lujah!

So, at least for the next year, if a room is dark, I’ll just turn on the light.

I'm looking at you!

They (whoever they may be) say that if you don’t have anything nice to say, you should say nothing at all.

This is a lesson that has been lost in our current world, probably because we generally have at least two screens and many miles between us and whomever we seek to harm with our words. Just as a mechanical war removes us from bloodshed, so a war of internet words removes us from the damage we inflict with them. We say things on Facebook and Twitter that we would never say to another person’s face — at least not without expecting to be slapped. I try very hard to only say things I would say to someone I was eye-to-eye with. It’s the least I can do.

But I have collected a few of Shakespeare’s best insults. Try to read them with a sugary-sweet voice:

  • highly fed and lowly taught
  • light of brain
  • mountain of mad flesh
  • not so much brain as ear wax
  • long-tongu’d babbling gossip
  • thou art a boil, a plague sore

Have a great week.



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.

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.


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!

Don’t Mess with Texas

Dan hates Texas.

Remember Thelma and Louise? There’s a scene in the movie where Louise tells Thelma to get them to Mexico without going through Texas. That’s how much my husband hates Texas: he would rather drive around the largest state in the lower 48 than through it, even if avoiding Texas adds days to a trip. In fact, if it weren’t for the fact that tornadoes were pounding the Midwest last week, he would never have considered a trip through the Lone Star State. (By the way, I can’t think of another state so fixated on their flag. There are renditions of it everywhere almost as soon as one crosses the border. Honestly, Texans, it’s a little creepy. Just sayin’.)

Anyway, we entered Texas from the northeast and headed for Dallas. Right away, we noticed that the drivers were less courteous than the ones in Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas, and Oklahoma. Dan was careful to follow the speed-limit signs; the few times he’s been through Texas, he’s managed to get speeding tickets. Apparently, though, those speed-limit signs are just for the out-of-towners; no one with a Texas license plate seems to be able to see them.

It was in Dallas that I realized I should have let Dan avoid the state altogether; I began to wonder if I was going to see New Mexico alive. We were almost in three collisions before we cleared the city. One would have been Dan’s fault; two would have been caused by Texans. For the rest of the day, I couldn’t relax. I began to think we had a target on the back of our SUV.

After a harrowing drive, we made it to Abilene, whereupon I discovered the true dichotomy of Texas: the same people who will cut you off in traffic feel compelled to tip their hats and say howdy when their feet are on the ground. It’s downright disturbing.

All told, it took us  two days to get through Texas, though we did have a few hours in Carlsbad, New Mexico, on one of those days. I talked Dan into going into the Carlsbad Caverns through the natural entrance — a steep mile-long walk that drops you 750 feet below the surface of the mountain. After hours of driving in Texas, we needed the walk. If you’ve never been to the caverns, I recommend it. And there’s an elevator that will take you directly to the bottom if you don’t feel up for a long hike.

We passed back into El Paso, Texas, about three hours after leaving the caverns. El Paso may actually have scarier drivers than Dallas; we were almost hit by two (presumably drunk) drivers as we made our way toward our hotel. By the way, the Comfort Inn by the airport there was the nicest of all of our hotels along the way, and the night clerk was even more courteous than your average Texan.

We limped into Phoenix late Saturday, tired from the road and glad to be home. Oh — and I saw a buffalo! More about that next time.


The descent into the caverns.


Halfway Home

To quote The Grateful Dead (a band to which I have never intentionally listened), what a long strange trip it’s been.

Driving my sister-in-law’s SUV, Dan and I left Chicago Tuesday morning. We made it to Quincy that afternoon, where we spent the next several hours with one of my cousins that I hadn’t seen for more than twenty years. Russ and Judy have us a tour of the town and took us to dinner at a great restaurant on the Mississippi. Dan was pleasantly surprised to discover that these relatives were cosmopolitan types: they have traveled extensively and are well read.

We left for Hannibal in the middle of a rainstorm, which we should have taken as an omen.

The next morning, we started toward Kansas City. However, Dan’s brother alerted us to the severe storm warnings looming over the Midwest, and we soon altered our course, heading directly to Nevada, Missouri, instead.

Nevada is both just like I remember it and completely changed. It seemed so sleepy back in the late Eighties. Cottey College, the women’s school I attended, is still beautiful, and most of the traditions are still in place. A current student led us on a tour of the greatly improved and expanded campus. I wish I had a daughter to send there.

We headed toward Bentonville, Arkansas, and the Crystal Bridges Museum, which was open until 9:00 on Wednesday. Dan and I arrived a little after 7 pm and Dan was able to see everything he was interested in with time to spare.

After a good night’s sleep, we awoke to discover that we were once again in the path of the storms. Our original intention was to go through Oklahoma City; instead we dropped down into Texas. Dan really doesn’t like Texas.

I’ll tell you more next time.


I’m Not Afraid of Flying

In the last year, I have taken four flights — one alone, two with Fuzzy, and one with Dan. These four flights essentially disprove my husband’s theory that I need to fly first class to feel safe. The real axiom is this: I’m not afraid of flying, I’m afraid of flying with Dan.

Dan doesn’t help matters with his “comforting” statements like: “If we die, at least we die together.” He maybe comfortable with a shorter lifespan, but I’m not even halfway to my goal of 100! That is not okay.

On Friday, Dan and I arrived at the airport a little after 1 pm. Since our flight was leaving at 3:20, we immediately headed for a bar, where I ordered a whiskey sour to calm my nerves before the flight. I was appropriately soused when our boarding time came…and went. A medical emergency on the previous flight (apparently a death, since we never saw the “patient” emerge) meant that we were bumped to another plane and delayed an hour and a half.

By the time we boarded the new plane, my pleasant buzz was a memory. Then the flight attendant announced that we would be experiencing “some turbulence.” Here’s a hint: if they tell you about the bumpy ride BEFORE takeoff, they aren’t really talking about a “little” turbulence. Nearly the whole three-hour flight was bumpy.

About half an hour before our expected descent into O’Hare, the turbulence disappeared. I was finally able to relax, since I have never been afraid of landings — only takeoffs. As the plane slipped lower in the skies, I mentally prepared for a relaxing few days in Chicago.

About twenty feet off the runway (seriously — cars looked full-sized again), the engines suddenly roared and the nose of the plane angled steeply upward. The blessed ground receded! I nearly had a panic attack as the attendant whispered to another passenger that a private plane had crossed into O’Hare airspace. The tower had instructed the pilot to abort the landing. We circled another twenty minutes before finally landing two hours late.

As soon as we stepped off the plane, I turned to Dan and said, “Have I mentioned how glad I am that we are driving home?”


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.


May Sucks.

My mom fell and broke her arm on Monday, thereby pushing May into the clear winner as my least favorite month. So, in honor of that fact, here are the Top 10 Reasons I Hate May:

10. In Arizona, April showers never bring May flowers.

9. Leonardo da Vinci died in May 1519. He was really old though — I suppose it was his time. Still, the world lost a genius…in May.

8. My maternal grandmother died in May 1988.

7. In May 1970, four anti-war protesters were killed at Kent State by Ohio National Guardsmen.

6. My father-in-law died this May.

5. It was a bad month for Anne Boleyn, too. She was beheaded in May 1536.

4. The Hindenburg crashed in May 1937.

3. As previously mentioned, my mom broke her arm, which really sucks because she and Dad were preparing for a driving vacation to Alaska…which may or may not be on hold now.

2. I married my first husband in May 1997.

And the #1 reason I dislike May so intensely is…

1. Temperatures reach 100 degrees in Phoenix by May; there will be no substantial break in the weather until October.

I may be wrong, but I think Anne would agree with me.

I may be wrong, but I think Anne would agree with me.


Against Medical Advice

I’m angry and sad today — and I’m trying not to show it.

Someone important to my husband’s family — a man I respect and love — is choosing to end his life by refusing medical treatment. I know this is his choice; it’s a choice I have seen others make before. Under other circumstances — if he had cancer, for instance — I would support his choice. But he doesn’t. He has pneumonia, which has led to sepsis and renal failure. He is probably going to die from something that is highly treatable in the 21st century.

I have said before that my goal is to reach the ripe age of 100. That wasn’t always true. When I was a teenager, I went through a bout of depression and found myself contemplating suicide. When I ultimately overcame those dark thoughts and emerged into a better, happier life, I decided that I would never let depression fool me into believing that life wasn’t worth living again. Even on my worst day, I know that I still have more good days ahead of me — and I want to see them.

But what if I didn’t see any better days coming? What if I spent every minute of every day living with pain, and the doctors told me there was no way to predict if that pain would ever disappear? How bad would that pain have to be before I decided that life wasn’t worth the trouble anymore? Before I chose to allow a curable illness to advance to where it could kill me?

I hope I never find out.