Bright Lights, Big Cacti

Arizona through the Eyes of a Native

Category: Weather

Life Changes

Is it really Wednesday again already? Where did the last week and a half go?

Oh…right. Now I remember.

I’m the proud owner of one-fourth of KEPCO Engraving, and I’ve spent just about every minute of the last ten days setting up our new business in what used to be my guest bedroom. I say “just about every minute” because in my spare minutes I’ve also been writing my next book. As I told a curious sales representative today, my new hobby is…sleeping.

In addition to those activities, we have also happily welcomed one of my sisters-in-law and her husband to the valley. This morning, Dan and I went to their new house and assisted in unloading the storage pod that was finally delivered this morning. For anyone considering moving to Arizona, here’s some friendly advice: do it in the winter. It was already ninety degrees with something like 50% humidity at nine o’clock this morning. That whole “it’s a dry heat” thing seems more like a myth today.

Have I mentioned lately how much I hate summer? Ugh.


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.


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?”


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.


The Martian Solution

The Boston Marathon bombing. The fertilizer plant explosion. The acrimonious end of the gun control debate. This has been, without a doubt, a bad week. Was it bad enough to make anyone consider a move to Mars, though?

Earlier this week, one of my friends post a link to this article, which offers anyone interested the opportunity to be a part of the first colony of humans on Mars, on Facebook. At first glance, it looks like an interesting proposition. However, any potential astronauts should note that there will be no return flights offered; once you are on Mars, you are there for the foreseeable future. I have days when I wish I could be a hermit, but permanent, irrevocable removal from my home planet seems extreme.

And what if you don’t get along with the other space pioneers? What if you lose your mind? What if someone else in the group does? There’s something to be said for the way England colonized Australia — at least everyone knew going in that they shouldn’t blindly trust the exiled prisoner next to them.

I know Arizona has some extreme weather — summers can top out in the 120s — but I don’t think that even compares with the average temperature of Mars — a hell-freezing 80 below. The barren landscapes may be similar, but I don’t think the red planet would ever feel like home.

What sort of person would be willing to leave all of their friends and family behind to live with strangers in a pod set down in a hostile environment? Shouldn’t their mere interest in such a life be reason to psychologically disqualify them?

Here’s my thought: let’s give anyone currently awaiting execution the option to get on that one-way flight instead. If they have survived prison, at least they have a fighting chance at surviving on Mars.

Home Sweet Home?

Home Sweet Home?


Who Really Swaps Anymore?

Yes…I know I’m late today. My apologies.

As I have mentioned, yard sales aren’t exactly my favorite activity. In fact, they cause a certain amount of dread to well up in me. Despite this, I spent today with my Eta Delta sisters at the Surprise Swap Meet, where we endeavored to sell as much crap as possible in order to fund our chapter. I’m proud to say that we reached three quarters of our entire goal for the coming year, which is a great start.

Nevertheless, the experience did not convert me. First of all, I object to anything other than a vacation requiring me to leave my bed before six in the morning. This includes Truman’s irritating habit of waking us up at five, but at least I can return to bed after he’s had his potty break. This morning I had no additional sleep after the alarm went off at five-thirty. Luckily, I have Dan, who loaded the back of his SUV with all of our odds and ends. When Nikki arrived at a little after six, he transferred all of her sale items to our SUV as well so that we could take a single vehicle.

The worst part of a sale, in my opinion, is the organizing. I’m not good at it, and I don’t have an overwhelming drive to improve that skill set. It goes back to something I learned when working in an office years ago: if you don’t know how to make coffee, no one will ask you to make it. I have found this to be a fairly universal truism. Today, however, I found myself attempting to organize crap while the other three women attended to constructing a sunshade — another skill I have no interest in adding. As it turned out, we had way more to sell than we had tables to set items on.

Ultimately though, the skill we lacked most was sales. Dan and Dave, my brother-in-law, recognized our ineptitude and stepped in to save us. It turns out that all those yard sales over the years have given them both plenty of time to hone their patter. I’m fairly certain they sold, through charm and humor alone, more than half of the stuff we had out there — and they weren’t making a dime off it! My sisters and I were grateful for their help, to say the least.

The weather was a little too Arizona-y for me: the temperature topped out at ninety degrees today. Despite spending large amounts of time under the sunshade, Crista and I both got more sun than we should have. As Dan said (repeating an old Woody Allen line), with my skin tone, I don’t tan — I stroke.

Still, it was great to spend the day with my chapter. However, may I just say that one swap meet a decade is more than enough for me?

They Don’t Put This in the Travel Brochures

Arizona is in the midst of a cold snap. In Phoenix, we are expecting five nights in a row of freezing temperatures for the first time since 1988, which, according to one local news anchor, is “unprecedented.” Apparently, her dictionary has a different definition for that word than mine does. Never mind.

I know what you are thinking if you live anywhere colder: “wusses.” Yeah…we are, when it comes to the cold. However, I’d be willing to bet that we complain a heckavalot less than Northerners when the temperatures hit triple digits.

Like most cities, Phoenix has homeless people. Most often, they can be seen standing near freeway onramps with signs that read everything from “God Bless You” to “Will Work for Food.” Because of our normally temperate weather conditions, I would be willing to bet that most nights,  many of them opt to sleep outside rather than risk the dangers of a homeless shelter. Tonight, the shelter downtown that only sleeps 770 under normal conditions will house as many as they can stuff inside. They will be roused at six o’clock tomorrow morning – before the sun comes up – and fed breakfast, which is probably better than their average Sunday morning.

Meanwhile, at the county jail – popularly referred to as “TentCity” – the inmates (non-violent offenders) will be huddled under thin blankets. Sheriff Joe even said the inmates would receive chicken broth for dinner. Nice. How about a good meal heavy on the carbs instead? That’s what a human being really needs to survive the cold – lots of calories for his or her body to burn through the night! There is no reason that a short two- or three-month stint should become a death sentence.

Needless to say, I will be huddled under my blankets in the warmth of my home…which will probably not be all that warm. You see, when we replaced our air-conditioning unit a few years ago, we chose to switch to a heat pump from the gas heating system we had before. Unfortunately, when the thermometer falls below thirty-five degrees, the heat pump can’t keep up. Luckily, I have plenty of blankets and a heating pad to keep me warm.

Maybe I’ll try to dream about summer tonight…


Arizona (Photo credit: Moyan_Brenn)

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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

Fall Approaches and My Spirits Rise

I love the idea of September. I’ve always liked the “-ber” months, probably because my birthday falls in November and is followed quickly by the holiday season. September signals the shortening of days for me – even though I know that sunrise and sunset have been gradually approaching one another for more than a month by now.

Years ago now – nearly twenty-five, in fact – I experienced my first true fall in Nevada, Missouri, as a freshman at CotteyCollege. The leaves on the trees changed color and the weather turned brisk. I’m sure my fellow students thought I was a little strange – I walked around in awe as nature put on her annual performance.

September in Arizona is a different experience. There aren’t many outward signs of the changing seasons. In fact, if you were to stand at my living-room window and watch a year go by at warp speed, you would be hard-pressed to notice a difference in the passing months. Spring would be easiest to spot – the cactus across the street blooms in March or April.

The real way to differentiate between the seasons is to step outside. I used to tell my friends that Arizona only has two seasons: summer and hell. September is the month when hell begins to recede and summer takes its first few tentative steps. The high temperatures drop to the low hundreds, occasionally dipping into the nineties. The roads become busier, both with school buses and the first wave of snowbirds winging their way back to the many retirement communities found in the state. And life in general becomes more pleasant.

So, for my fellow fall fanciers, let’s forget the misery of summer and revel in the beauty of the “-ber” months. Thank you for continuing to read my blog, and I promise to share some of my upcoming outdoor adventures – with pictures – very soon.

English: View of the Sonoran Desert approx. 30...

The desert: this is pretty much how it always looks. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Overcoming Aerophobia

I hate to fly.

I know aerophobia isn’t a particularly unique affliction. I also know that because I suffer from a fear of heights (acrophobia), a fear of flying was almost inevitable.

In the past, I managed to overcome both fears because of my love of traveling. Nothing makes me happier than stepping into a city I’ve never explored before. Be it Chicago or Rome, the prospect of seeing new sights and encountering unfamiliar people is thrilling.

A few years ago, though, my aerophobia got the best of me. On our way back to Phoenix after an amazing Italian adventure, Dan and I found ourselves sitting just in front of an old man who insisted the engine “sounded funny” to him. He even called the stewardess over – repeatedly – to tell her to alert the captain. By the time we touched down in Phoenix, I was a nervous wreck. I got off the plane wanting to kiss the ground. For more than two-and-a-half years, I blanched every time Dan talked about us taking a flight. I all but convinced myself that if we couldn’t drive to a destination, it simply wasn’t worth going. My dreams of seeing London, Paris, and Sydney faded. Even the thought of visiting New York seemed nearly impossible – the drive was simply too long. In fact, the only places I have been in the last two years are California and Nevada.

Of course, I knew my fear was ridiculous. Fewer people die in airplanes than are killed by hippos annually. Admittedly, I don’t encounter huge populations of hippos in Phoenix, but still – the odds seem to be in my favor regarding air travel. So, a few months ago, I booked a flight to Little Rock to visit my friend Emma and her daughter. I hadn’t seen Emma since right after her daughter was born – when she packed up and left Arizona for good.

As the day of my flight approached, I fought off multiple bouts of nerves. I would be sitting calmly, not thinking about anything in particular, when suddenly I would remember my upcoming trip and recognize that tremor of fear at my core. Dan, who was not traveling with me, offered to cancel the trip more than once, but I knew I had to take the flight if I were ever going to overcome the fear. It helped to know Emma was looking forward to my visit – I would be disappointing her if I didn’t go.

Last Tuesday, the day before my flight, was busy. I had every minute scheduled: packing, writing blog posts to cover the days I would be gone, finishing edits on a book, even attending a birthday party for my father. The tight schedule left me exhausted and lacking time to contemplate the horror of flying.

The next morning, Dan drove me to the airport and dropped me off. I made it through the checkpoint without incident and found a restaurant in which to eat breakfast. I had a mimosa, too, just in case you were wondering. By the time I sat down on the plane, I was mellow. After takeoff, I pulled out my Harry Chapin music and slid into a comfortable half-sleep. No one tried to talk to me – of course, the huge headphones I wore definitely conveyed the message that I wasn’t interested in a chat.

Arkansas, which has been suffering a terrible drought this summer, actually had a rainstorm the afternoon I arrived. The landing was a little on the bumpy side, but nothing I couldn’t handle. In fact, the whole flight was fairly anticlimactic.

I stepped off the plane and felt that rush of adventure again for the first time in two-and-a-half years. How ridiculous that I let the words of some old man keep me from traveling! I swear I won’t do that again. Ever.

The Old Mill in Little Rock — just one of the many sights I would have missed if I had let aerophobia win.

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