Bright Lights, Big Cacti

Arizona through the Eyes of a Native

Category: Travel

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.

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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.

A Most Unappealing Camping Site

I may have mentioned before that I’m not exactly a fan of RV travel. My parents dragged me on way too many long driving trips when I was a child. For a while, they owned a motorhome in which only two of the seats faced forward. Before that, they had a truck with a camper on it with bench seating along the sides. Riding sideways makes me nauseous; therefore, these vehicles only succeeded in making me dislike camping even more. As an adult, other things have kept me out of the woods: namely, Lyme disease, bubonic plague, and West Nile virus. Why anyone would purposely go where the carriers of these diseases are known to live is completely beyond me; yet, my parents persist in their RV-ing ways.

The other day, as I was innocently perusing the Internet, I stumbled across the most horrifying use of an RV yet: assisted living. That’s right: if you are so inclined, there are assisted-living facilities  where the “residents” simply pull their RV into a space and enjoy three square meals a day and basic care for about $1,200 per couple. I know some people — including my mom and dad — who actually think this sounds like a good deal. However, I have a few concerns:

  • Is it really a good idea for elderly people who need assisted-living services to be climbing in and out of trailers? Let’s face it — most of them are probably pretty brittle. One false step and *wham!* broken hip. Of course, maybe they get a referral fee from the local hospital. If I were an orthopedic surgeon, I’d put a billboard where the residents would see it everyday.
  • Is it wise to allow Alzheimer’s patients to live in a home that can literally be driven away? Does the facility have some kind of guard at the front gate to stop them from leaving?
  • What about the cramped living conditions? I understand that most RVs these days have slide-out features that make the interior space larger, but you’re still looking at less than 500 square feet of living space in most cases. A few months of that and most couples would be certifiably stir-crazy. I would hope there are a lot of psychologists nearby. Maybe one of them could split the cost of the billboard with the surgeon.
  • One of the few advantages of RV travel always seemed to be the ability to pick up and move when you got tired of a place. Parking your RV in what is more or less a permanent position within a park begs the question: why are you still living in an RV?

Then again, I guess I would always be skeptical of the benefits of this sort of retirement. If I were to go to Hell, I’m pretty sure Satan would send me on a never-ending RV road-trip up that region’s version of Kilimanjaro. Oh…and I’d have to sit sideways.

Satan probably likes to camp.

On the Run

When I was young, I ran away from home.

I clearly remember plotting my escape: secreting clothes into a small overnight case I had, imagining a different life somewhere far away (probably California), and forcing myself to wake up early since my mom always slept late. If my plans weren’t exactly well developed, at least I have an excuse: I was probably nine or ten at the time. So, one morning, I snuck out of the house with my bag and started walking.

I don’t remember exactly why I wanted to run away. Maybe I had read Huckleberry Finn or seen something on television that made running away seem like an option. It’s not like I had a bad childhood. I didn’t have any siblings to annoy me. There was a pool in my backyard and I always had more than enough books to read. My mom and dad were, and still are, good parents. I just wanted to start over.

I only made it to Campbell’s, a small convenience store less than a mile from the house. The sun was coming up by then and I had started to worry about how my mom would feel if she woke up and found me gone. All of the triumph drained from me as I thought about her crying in my room, becoming more and more panic stricken by my absence. I turned around and practically ran back. I let myself in quietly and tiptoed back to my room. I’m pretty sure Mom was still sleeping; as far as I know, this will be the first time she hears that I once ran away. And that’s probably a good thing, since I’m now much too big for her to spank. She’s probably going to freak out at the thought of her young child walking down the street with an overnight case, just begging to be abducted. Calm down, Mom. I was probably five-foot-eight and a hundred-and-thirty pounds. And we lived in the middle of the freaking desert — not too many cars out there.

That may have been the first time I thought I wanted to run away from home, but it certainly wasn’t the last. I still wake up some mornings and wish I could just get in my car and drive. Of course, these days I’d have to pack Dan and our dogs with me. What keeps me from running away…  Actually, what keeps most people from running away is the inescapable shame of disappointing those we love and respect most in this life. Running away is the easy route; staying and taking your share of responsibility is the mature, adult route.

Someday, though, when there’s no one left to disappoint…I am so running away.

Exactly.

Buffalo

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.

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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.

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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?”

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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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