Bright Lights, Big Cacti

Arizona through the Eyes of a Native

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.

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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.

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.

A Surprise Party

Does anyone else ever wonder if the blogger died when a blog goes unattended unexpectedly for a long time?

Here I am. Not dead. Just adjusting to my new schedule. As I mentioned before, my husband, brother-in-law, sister-in-law and I have taken on a new business. We are now the proud owners of KEPCO Engraving, which actually ties in with the memory I’m going to share today. I received my first KEPCO-engraved badge about thirty years ago, when Mom and I learned to square dance.

Yes, you read that right: I was a square dancer. Petticoats, ruffled underwear, and really cool T-strap dancing shoes. Yep. I was that kid. However, before you get too judge-y, you should see a real square dance in action — it’s actually a lot more fun than that P.E. block we were all forced to take. And those years of square dancing also produced some of my most faithful friends. But I digress.

Mom met several of her best friends through square dancing, including a wonderful woman named Yvonne. Yvonne served as a role model for me: she was proof that you could be an amazing person without being a great housekeeper. I have a housecleaning motto that came directly from Yvonne’s house: it’s time to mop the floor when the cat sticks to it. I don’t actually own a cat, which probably explains why Dan mops the floor around here. Anyway, back in the early 1980s when we had only known Yvonne and her husband for a short time, Mom agreed to host a surprise party for Yvonne’s fortieth birthday party. We had a huge backyard that was enclosed by an eight-foot fence at the time. We also had a couple of acres on which we could hide the guests’ cars so that Yvonne would have no idea about the crowd of people waiting for her inside the yard. KEPCO’s original owners made little badges for everyone that read: “Lordy, lordy, Yvonne is 40.” I think I still have mine somewhere. Anyway, when Yvonne came through the gate, fifty or sixty people all shouted, “Surprise!” I think that was the first and only surprise party I’ve ever been to where the guest of honor really had no idea she was going to a party.

I was about twelve back then. I remember thinking how far in the future my fortieth birthday was. I imagined I would be president by now. That’s right: President Wells. Because I certainly wasn’t going to take some guy’s name. Now, here I am with my forty-second birthday quickly approaching and no political office in sight — thank God I let go of that dream! Who wants job that turns your hair white? I’d much rather write novels as Susan Wells Bennett and engrave badges and nameplates under the KEPCO banner.

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.

Happy Anniversary to My Blog!

So, a year ago tomorrow I set out to write a blog about…well…as it turns out, being me: a forty-something Arizonan who writes novels. The biggest surprise to me is that I have actually met my goal of writing posts twice a week. In fact, this is the 104th entry. If you’ve been reading me since the beginning, thank you for spending a few minutes each week with me. I appreciate it. Even if you’ve never commented, you are still a valued reader — and I hope you think of me as something almost like a friend.

Unless you really are my friend, in which case you should continue to think of me as an actual, real-life friend.

I spent this ridiculously hot summer day (118 degrees, y’all — that’s sidewalk-skillet heat) in Scottsdale with my lovely friend, Nikki. We went to see Much Ado About Nothing at the Camelview 5 before doing a little shopping at the Scottsdale Fashion Square. By the way, if you have the opportunity to see this little Joss Whedon-directed gem, do so. I have to admit that the modern-day setting did create a bit of dissonance for me, but the talent of the actors and the quality of the film itself more than made up for that. Also, having seen the Branagh film many times as well as a stage performance or two meant that I spent part of the time mentally comparing the Whedon version to the versions that came before. Nikki, who was unfamiliar with the Shakespearean comedy, enjoyed it wholeheartedly.

I’m also pleased to note that my family has recently taken on a new business endeavor. I’ll tell you more about that later. Tonight, take a moment and watch the trailer for the Branagh version. It’s still the best version I’ve ever seen — sorry, Joss.

Birthday Dental Appointments are a Bad Idea

My grandmother turned 86 yesterday. She also scheduled a dental appointment that made her mouth hurt.

“Why did you schedule a dental appointment on your birthday?” I asked when I finished singing to her (I always call and sing to her on her birthday — you’d think she’d stop answering my calls on June 25th).

“I forgot.”

Really? Does that happen? I mean, I frequently forget how old I am (I’m either 41 or 42…I think), but I always remember when the actual birthday is because of, well, the presents. It’s not that I’m greedy, but I do love to get presents. There are exactly three days during the year that I expect presents: Valentine’s Day, Christmas, and my birthday. Therefore, it seems incredibly unlikely that I will ever forget my birthday.

In any case, Dan and I will be taking her a Chicago-style deep-dish pizza tomorrow night. Mom and Dad are bringing a rum cake. That’s right — we’re party animals.

***

I think it’s only right to acknowledge this historic moment. Anyone who has read my books has probably figured out that I support the gay-marriage movement. I believe everyone should have the right to promise to spend forever with their partner — in any combination of genders that works for them. Apparently, the Supreme Court agrees. When will we as humans learn that it’s never a good idea to step on someone else’s rights in an effort to enforce a (insert religion here) agenda? We don’t live in a theocracy. No matter what the Founding Fathers had in mind, the United States of the 21st Century is a multi-cultural democracy with no “official” religion. I thank God for that — and, if you live in the U.S., you can thank the same deity or any other one you might prefer.

Love is in bloom.

Fat Girl Running

Nearly 25 years ago, I had the great good fortune of being assigned to the same college dorm as Kristann Monaghan. I was a fairly quiet, naive sixteen year old from Arizona. She was eighteen and, at least from my perspective, quite the opposite. She had a big personality, even back then. She always played the best pranks, had the wildest adventures, and told the most exciting stories. And, on top of it all, she had — and still has — the most joyful smile of anyone I’ve ever met. At the time, I wished I could be more like her; failing that, I wanted to be her roommate.

So, in our second year of college, we were roommates — for about two months. As I recall, she had the best collection of posters, including a Murphy’s Law graphic that took several minutes to read. It wasn’t long before our differences became too much for either of us to bear. When a single room became available, I moved out — but, thankfully, we remained friends.

Fast forward a couple decades. Thanks to Facebook, I reconnected with quite a few of my college friends, including Stann. I became an author — a profession some would say is perfect for an observant, if occasionally gullible, woman. Kristann, a former ballerina, is now a slightly heavy PICU nurse with one of the most consistently funny blogs I have ever read. Her words routinely make me giggle uncontrollably. In many ways, she is the living embodiment of that Murphy’s Law sign that used to grace our shared room in college: anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. Hilariously wrong. But it’s only funny because Kristann — our heroine — can laugh at herself. And no matter how wrong life goes, she just keeps on running…because that’s the only way a self-proclaimed “fat girl” can get to where she ultimately wants to be.

Congratulations on your first book, Kristann. I’m so pleased that you are sharing your wild adventures and exciting stories with the world.

Run, don’t walk, to buy this book. Visit the Inknbeans website for the links to The Running Experiment: A Weekly Walk Away from the Sofa.

It's a Cottey thing...

It’s a Cottey thing…

Crista

A few months ago, my sister-in-law asked me if she was in any of my novels. I answered, somewhat cryptically, that everyone I know shows up in my writing somewhere.

“Where?” Crista demanded. “Which book? I want to read it.”

“Nowhere specific. Little pieces of you are probably in everything I’ve written.”

She glared at me in frustration.

“Would you prefer that I create a character exactly like you and call you out by name?”

“Yes.”

Crista has been a part of my world for a number of years now, though we only started growing our friendship within the last six months or so. I admire her for a number of things, not the least of which is her initial choice to date my brother-in-law in the first place. You see, Dan and I live next door to his brother Dave. In a lot of people’s books, that’s just one crazy-town step away from living at home — and everyone knows you shouldn’t date anyone over 25 who still lives at home. Honestly, it might have given me pause if Dave had been Dan’s neighbor when we first started dating. But she knew a good guy when she saw one. She’s also the best hostess I’ve ever known personally. She makes me look like a rude b*tch…okay, probably not that difficult, but still.

In April, she and I went to Disneyland, sans husbands. The Bennett boys aren’t exactly Walt’s biggest fans. Crista had only been once, long before she met Dave. We had a great time (I wrote a bit about it here). Recently, when I was visiting Mom in the hospital after she broke her second arm, I ran into some friends of my parents — a couple who have known me since I was a child. Apparently, the wife had spotted someone who looked like me in Disneyland, but I was with “some Asian chick” she didn’t recognize instead of Dan. She put it down to a doppelganger until my parents mentioned I had recently been there.

Excuse me? That’s no Asian chick — that’s my sister-in-law!

So there you are, Crista — called out by name. Happy Birthday, “Coach.” Love you lots.

She's the one in the middle, if you're confused.

She’s the one in the middle, if you’re confused.