Bright Lights, Big Cacti

Arizona through the Eyes of a Native

Category: Phoenix

Meandering through the Last Days of Summer

My parental units are finally off on their long-delayed summer vacation. Mom’s arms are sufficiently healed for her to get in and out of their RV and she hasn’t fallen in a few weeks, so I’m crossing my fingers and toes that they will have a nice trip. Of course, their original destination of Alaska is on hold for now — the window for Far North travel has closed for the season. Nevertheless, they are making the best of things and planning to visit family in the Midwest.

Meanwhile, Dan and I continue to dream about a trip to the British Isles. Our previous trip abroad only whetted our appetite for more foreign vacations. Years ago, just after my first trip to Italy, I purchased a round-trip ticket to Heathrow. I was going alone — I figured I’d be fine since I understood the language. Unfortunately, about a month before I was supposed to go, my maternal grandfather died. I just didn’t have the heart for the trip after that. I ended up spending a week with my best friend Ella* and her family in Florida instead. Ultimately, I’m glad I didn’t go; when Dan and I eventually make it there, the city will be new to both of us. With any luck, we’ll be able to carve out the funds for the trip within the next year or two.

Fall is nearly upon us. Beta Sigma Phi has started again, and I’m glad to see my sorority sisters. In a week and a half, I’ll be at the Beta Sigma Phi convention being held at Casino Arizona. I’m going to sell some books to support my chapter. Nikki and I are the only two attending from Eta Delta, but I know we’ll have fun — we always have fun when we’re together!

My apologies for this meandering, newsy post. I’ll try to come up with something more cohesive next week. Until then, Dear Reader, live life like you mean it.

*Not her real name. 🙂

One of Dan’s and my favorite paintings.


Cameras Will Steal Your Soul

One unexpected consequence of joining Beta Sigma Phi has been the proliferation of photos of me. Now, for a woman who has spent much of her adult life staying out of pictures, this can be quite distressing. I am not the prettiest woman in the crowd, but I have carefully honed my mental image of myself. I think I am elegant and interesting; photographs, however, generally make me look like Andre the Giant’s ugly sister.

Nevertheless, I have obediently stood up or sat down for pictures at least twice a month since September. The best angle for me — as with most people cursed with a double chin — is from above. Unfortunately, the Beta Sigma Phi photographers are almost always at least six inches shorter than me. Since I am so tall, I am invariably made to stand in the back, where my chin and I hover over everyone else.

In a few years, there will be enough pictures of me to create a flipbook of my aging process. But that’s okay as long as every once in a while, a good picture is accidentally created. At the swap meet a few weeks ago, once such picture magically appeared. And it happens to be a good one of my sorority sisters too. Go figure.


Most of Eta Delta. For those of you who can’t figure it out, I’m in the center.

Foodie Heaven

On Saturday, Nikki and I went to the inaugural Food Truck Festival at Park Central in downtown Phoenix. I’d been wanting to try a food truck for a while now; Eat Street makes them look so appealing! I wasn’t sure how Phoenix’s offerings would stack up against those showcased from different cities, but we were both pleasantly surprised.

About twenty food trucks and carts were arranged along the perimeter of the tarmac set aside for the event. We took our time and checked each menu before making any decisions about what we wanted to eat. The trucks sold everything from fry bread (a Native American specialty) to Filipino food. After our first trip around the circle, we had our choiced narrowed down.

We both started with a single street taco from the Carte Blanche Gourmet Tacos cart. Mine had pork carnitas topped with a sweet potato and pineapple chutney. Unbelievably great! Nikki chose the vegetarian option, which featured marinated mushroom pieces. She was equally impressed. If you have a chance to try Carte Blanche, we highly recommend it!

My main course was a pork curry from the Spice It Up truck. It didn’t disappoint either. The curry had just enough kick and the flavor of the coconut really came through. The only problem I encountered was that the hot dish made me even warmer than I already was. Nikki had a fry bread concoction called D$. It had white beans and a mild green chile chicken topped with salad greens. She said it was good, and it must have been — she ate the whole thing! Unfortunately, I didn’t get the name of that truck. If you see a bling-y fry-bread truck on a Phoenix road, that’s probably the right one. (I’m pretty sure this is the right one: Emerson Fry Bread.)

For dessert, we bought fruit popcicles from the Paletas Betty cart. Paletas Betty has quite a reputation in Phoenix — I’ve read about them in at least two local magazines. They didn’t disappoint, either. I had the coconut and Nikki had the pineapple. Both of them had plenty of actual fruit in them and were the perfect ending to our foodie indulgence on a hot spring day.

There were only two disappointments. One was the lack of seating provided for the event. There must have been a few hundred people there at any given time, but only a few awnings and tables were provided. The second was that the arts and crafts portion of the event didn’t live up to its potential. Apparently, the organizers were only able to sell space to two or three vendors in that vein. Hopefully, they will learn from their mistakes.

I look forward to attending next year!


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

The Butterfly Pavilion at the Desert Botanical Garden

I was privileged to spend today with two of my Beta Sigma Phi sisters and my mom at the Desert Botanical Garden.

The Marshall Butterfly Pavilion is currently hosting their annual Spring Butterfly Exhibit through May 12th. If you happen to be in or around the Phoenix area, I highly recommend visit the garden before the butterflies are gone. I have always  loved butterflies; in fact, we released Painted Ladies at my first wedding.

Rather than write my blog post, I have decided to share some of the many photos I took today. I hope you enjoy them!









Best Coincidence Ever

Phoenix is just a few hours from Las Vegas, which is one of the reasons Dan and I travel there so frequently. Unfortunately, the road between the two cities is what one would call “sparsely populated.” The two most common living things between us and the bright lights of the Strip are saguaros and Joshua trees. There are exactly three viable stops: Wickenburg, Kingman, and a wide spot in the road called Wikieup.

On a recent trip, the love of my life failed to realize that he needed to make a pit stop in Wickenburg. About halfway to Wikieup, he started looking for a side road off of US-93. Now, there are side roads all along this route, but you really have to know where they are in order to slow down for the turn onto them. They aren’t clearly marked; if you have any business going down them, you know exactly where they are. I spent the next twenty minutes saying, “There’s one,” as we drove past it at seventy miles an hour.

Just as the situation turned critical, we spotted a reasonable turnoff. Dan slowed down and made the turn, only to come up against a closed fence and “No Trespassing” sign. To top that off, the owner of the property was patrolling in his Rhino. He gave us the stink eye as Dan, cursing irritably under his breathe, turned the car around and headed back onto the highway. One has to wonder if he has a lot of problems with people peeing on his fence posts.

Luckily, within another five minutes though, there was an actual turnoff – one with a paved road and everything. The sign said the road went to Baghdad; all Dan cared about was that it went somewhere more remote than the main route to Las Vegas. As soon as he made the turn, we spotted the tour bus that was parked a few hundred yards away. Grumbling, Dan drove further on the road until we came to a sharp bend. Right at the deepest part of the bend – leading off between two “arrow” signs – Dan thought he saw a dirt road. I, on the other hand, did not. As he slowed to make the turn, I stopped him.

“That’s not a road.”

“Yes,” he answered, “it is.”

“I don’t think so.”

He gave me the long-suffering-spouse look and continued down the paved road. As soon as we were even with the now-obvious dirt road leading away, I said, “Oops. You were right.”

If he were a different kind of husband, he probably would have hit me.

In any case, he continued down the road a little further. Seeing no other reasonable places to pull off, he turned the car around and went back to the dirt road at the sharp bend. We went a few hundred feet down it before Dan exited the vehicle. As soon as he did, we both realized that anyone currently on the tour bus would easily see us up on this road. But he could wait no longer – he walked to the far side of the car and relieved himself.

Meanwhile, I decided that I would like to hear some music. I hooked my iPhone to my car radio and hit the random button. Cat Stevens’ music filled the cabin: “Can’t Keep It In.”

I don’t think I stopped laughing until we could see Wikieup.

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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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Not Quite Romeo and Juliet

Back in January of 2004, a friend of mine insisted that I put an ad on Yahoo! Personals, a now-defunct online dating site. I had been single for a few years at that point, having offloaded my first husband after three mostly unhappy years of marriage. (My friend Emma once asked me how I knew I should get a divorce. The answer: when you would rather spend the rest of your life alone than one more night with your husband, it’s time to end your marriage.) In any case, I decided to give the internet thing a try. After reviewing some of the rambling ads that discussed everything from the importance of astrological compatibility to the necessity of athletic (or even acrobatic) bodies, I wrote my ad. This is, as best I can remember, what it said:

“Tall quirky writer seeks someone who can laugh at himself and the world. Must be at least 6’0” tall. Sorry, no cats – I’m allergic.”

There were probably a few more words, but that was the gist of the thing. Alongside it, I posted a picture of me standing next to my grandparents’ Rottweiler. The dog might have been a deterrent to potential suitors. In any case, over the course of the next four months I received a grand total of three notes from men who were interested in getting to know me. All three of them started with “I’m not quite six foot, but…” I wrote all three polite notes that basically said the height issue was not negotiable.

Then, in April – right after Easter, as a matter of fact – I received a note that read, “I believe I meet your specifications. Please review my profile to confirm.” (Again, I’m paraphrasing, but this is close to right.) I laughed and checked his profile. Six-foot-three! Yes! Funny and tall!

We exchanged two or three emails before I sent him my phone number. He called me for the first time on April 15th. I remember because I was driving my parents’ tax return to the nearest late-night post-office drop off. He was even funnier on the phone than he was in emails. After some discussion, we set our first date – miniature golf and dinner.

Now, to be fair, this was not Dan’s first choice. He would have preferred dinner and a movie, but I think that movie dates are the worst. This is probably because many years before I went on a movie date with a guy who then decided to lay the worst kiss of my life on me – way too much aggressive tongue action. Bleh. I did offer a zoo option for the first date, but Dan later told me that he wasn’t driving that far or spending that much for some girl he didn’t know. Can’t blame him – he’d already been on a few bad dates through his Yahoo! ad.

When we met at Castles’n’Coasters, he seemed like a nice guy. However, as soon as we started playing, he stopped talking, other than to complain irritably about the woman and two teenagers who were crowding in on us from behind. Finally, we let them play through; then he complained about how slow they were. By the time we finished, I was pretty sure this relationship was DOA. I called my mom from the car to let her know I was going to dinner with him (I intended to pay, since he insisted on paying for the mini-golf game), but that I would be home in no more than two hours.

We drove our separate cars over to Mimi’s. As soon as we sat down at the table together, our conversation began to flow more smoothly. Soon, his impressions had me laughing and we discovered a shared fondness for Britcoms and Shakespeare. We talked about our first marriages – he was still a little bitter about his – and our childhoods. Before we knew it, we were the last patrons in the restaurant.

As he walked me to my car – the back of which was plastered with Christian bumper stickers that might have scared a weaker man off – my phone rang.

“Hi, Mom.”

“Are you okay? Are you in the trunk of a vehicle somewhere?”

“I’m fine. Dinner went well.”

“Are you telling the truth? Can he hear you?”

It took me another minute to convince her that everything was okay and that I was getting into my car to drive home right then. I think Dan and I hugged good night.

The very next day, Dan called and asked me to a Shakespearean play. I guess you could say he had me at “Wilt thou…”

List of titles of works based on Shakespearean...

Our matchmaker. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Healthy Impulses

This past weekend, Dan and I decided to go for a hike as a way to jump-start our new year’s exercise program. Looking online, I found a short 1.25-mile loop trail at ThunderbirdPark and we cheerfully drove out to 55th Avenue and PinnaclePeak, where the trailhead was. Upon arriving, we discovered that it was less of a hiking trail than a dirt path that circled near the foot of the mountain. Still, it was a nice morning and the walk was refreshing. At first, I feared we wouldn’t even lose sight of the parking lot, but toward the last quarter of the “hike” or so, we were actually far enough away that we couldn’t see our car. Of course, we could still see the road, but never mind.

The next day, we decided to try something a bit more challenging. We drove to SouthMountain and picked up their trail map. Before long, we found the Pima Loop East, which was supposedly a mile-and-a-half long with an elevation change of 400 feet. That sounded reasonable. Dan mentioned that he hadn’t been to the top of the mountain in years; I had never been at all, owing to my occasionally overwhelming fear of heights. However, with Dan at the wheel, I was willing to ascend.

The road winds around, occasionally giving breathtaking views of the city and causing my heart to thud as I look down over frightening precipices. Along the way, we passed plenty of bicyclists, a few walkers, and at least one jogger on the road. We were also passed by two motorcyclists going way too fast for the hairpin turns without sufficient safety rails.

At the top, though, is one of the best views of the valley I’ve ever seen. Dan and I walked to the overview and took a few pictures, some of which came out beautifully. The others featured cameos of his thumb.

Afterward, I closed my eyes as Dan drove us back down the mountain, and then we drove out of the park and around to Baseline and 48th Avenue, where there was supposed to be a parking lot for the Pima trails. We were both looking forward to the hike; unfortunately, after three tries and numerous internet searches for the address listed on the website, we were forced to give up. If someone knows how to get to that parking lot, would they please leave a comment below?

So, instead of a healthy hike in the crisp morning air, Dan and I went to Garcia’s Las Avenidas and had lunch. Not exactly the same thing, huh? Oh, well…there’s always next weekend.

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