Tag Archives: Arizona

Ditch Day


We woke on the last morning of November to gray skies, a welcome change after the endless summer we are enduring here in Tempe, Arizona.  It’s still warm, but waking up that morning to the absence of the sun made my whole world look different.  I felt like pulling a “ditch day.”  Maybe it’s because it’s finally cold enough to wear boots, and wearing my boots makes me feel sassy (even though after a few minutes on the school playground they are covered in a fine layer of dust).  Maybe it’s because I was wearing a new blouse with a bold pattern and gypsy sleeves?  Maybe it’s because Christmas is just around the corner, and I’m filled with excitement and anticipation for all of the holiday fun coming our way!

Of course, I did not call in sick to school.

Upon reaching school, I chatted with a friend on the playground.  I asked her, “Did you ever ditch school?”

“Yes,” she said.  “In fact, I was thinking this morning how great it would be just to stay in bed.  I think it’s because of the cloudy sky.”

I shook my head.  “When I ditched class in high school, it was after second hour Humanities, a class I had with my best friends, or sometimes we’d go out to lunch and decide not to go back.  It was the BEST feeling to leave school during the middle of the day and not go back.”

She smiled, and I whispered,  “Let’s ditch.  C’mon . . . let’s go!”

“It would be great to go home and get back in bed,” she mused.

“Think bigger!,” I said.” We could go to the Farm at South Mountain!”

Her eyes got big. “Oh!  A chai latte and a big breakfast!”

I nodded vigorously. “And walk all around the gardens and look in the gift shop! It would be so relaxing!”

Then the bell rang, and all the teachers and all the students went inside to our separate classrooms.

I did not ditch school.

We all love working at our school . . . but something in me that morning made me feel like doing something wild and crazy and spontaneous.  Lucky for me, working with three-year-olds makes EVERY DAY wild and crazy and spontaneous. I had a fabulous day at school, and afterwards did errands and googled Christmas gift ideas and texted with my lovely auntie in Illinois and played Words with Friends and picked up my Christmas cards from Costco.

On that note:  Why can’t we take a good picture?  Hubby and I are standing in strange poses, and there is a hand on Patrick’s shoulder that looks creepy. Is it William’s? Whose hand IS that???  I’m seriously not sure what happened there, but when I look at our photos from all the previous Thanksgivings, I laugh remembering all of the moments that lead up to the picture that is chosen for the Christmas card.

Happy December to all of you.  I hope you will keep in mind it’s okay to “ditch” every once in a while.  My December calendar is packed with social gatherings, and I’m quite certain I will “ditch” one or two of them, just to stay at home, start a fire in the fireplace, and bake cookies while singing badly to my favorite Christmas song and my favorite winter song.




Is it Winter Yet???


Other than the less than stellar Thanksgiving day feast (see prior post), I had a very productive weekend.  I FINALLY planted my vegetable garden.  Our puny backyard bed which measures a meer 12′ x 6′ last year gave us more lettuce and spinach than we could eat!  I procrastinated on planting because a) it’s still SO hot here in Tempe, AZ, b) the bed was a total mess from being neglected for six months, and c) I couldn’t pawn the work off on Hubby because a few weeks ago, he hurt his back. I put on my gardening shoes and worked hard for hours while listening to good music and (annoyingly) the neighbor’s dog yapping on the other side of the fence. (Six months ago we got new neighbors, and I am optimistic that their horrible dog is elderly and on the brink of death.)  In my garden, I was able to scrape off a 2″ layer of fragrant mesquite leaves, plus pull out a summer’s worth of spurge weed, turn over the dirt, water the hell out of it, and the next day planted rows of spinach, mixed mesclun (that’s lettuce for you gardening newbies), green onions, and carrots.  Hubby bought me two tomato plants which I will get in the ground tomorrow. It was a lot of hard work, but last year this small plot brought me so much joy . . . and beaucoup salads!

Another accomplishment to crow about is getting our Christmas decor boxes down from the attics.  Good Lord, this is NOT an easy job.  It’s easy for me:  Each day I say to Hubby, “Gosh, I’m hoping you can get those boxes down for me so I can decorate for Christmas. I promise I’ll make it worth your while,” accompanied by suggestive winking.  Usually this works, and I can stand at the bottom of the ladder voicing concern with comments like, “Are you okay?” and “Don’t hurt yourself!” and “I’m holding the ladder steady!”

This year, Hubby has a bad back, so I had to beg our son, William, (home from college for the weekend) to please, please, please get the boxes down.  He was surprisingly cheery about it, although was clearly nervous while perched on the very top of the ladder trying to coax hard-to-reach boxes into his hands, then pass them down.  But with encouragement from me and help from Hubby, all ten boxes were retrieved from two attics. One attic is over the kids’ shower, so that involves the ladder balancing half on the tile and half in the shower stall.  The other attic is over the garage, but the rod that the garage door hangs on goes midway over the hole.  Every year I look at Hubby and say, “Why can’t we make that hole larger???”  The lesson to be taken from this long story is that now that poor William has shown he can do this job, he will likely be doing it for us next year . . . and the year after, and the year after (methinks with an evil smile).

Other than that, over the weekend we had two lovely dinners with two different groups of old, dear, and hilarious friends (laughing with friends is one of the best things in life, don’t you agree?).  Hubby took me on a day date to the Phoenix Art Museum where we admired favorite exhibits such as Black Cloud and You Who Are Being Obliterated by Fireflies.  So beautiful and magical, and we felt like we were on vacation, even though we never left our home town.

Crossed fingers that this cursed heat will pack its bags and leave.  I’m reminded of that movie Groundhogs Day, in that you wake up each day and think things will have changed.  But no!  Here in Tempe, AZ, it is still summer! Today it was 88 degrees!  I love love love love love love love Christmas, and I’m so excited about this coming holiday season.  Perhaps we will be eating Christmas dinner in shorts after a swim?






Flip Flops


First of all, I’d like to remind everyone to stay hydrated.  I got a little sun stroked Wednesday and somehow in my dehydrated delirium ended up with the song Telephone Man stuck in my head.  It’s been three days . . . and it will not go away.  STAY COOL!!!  You do NOT want this to happen to you!!!

Today is my Grandma Summer’s birthday.  She would have turned 100 years old today; sadly she passed away 15 years ago after a short battle with cancer.  She was one of the most important people in my formative years.  She taught me about gardening, how to cook, how to be silly, and above all else, she taught me unconditional love.  Florence Charlotte Summers Erbentraut was a very special person, and I think of her often. Happy Birthday, Grandma!

The last time I wrote was from the cool beaches of Rocky Point, Mexico.  Last week in Tempe, AZ, the afternoon temps were close to 120 degrees every day.  It truly is a dry heat, and I’ve been comfortable enough living my life in the usual manner.  I liked having the grocery store practically to myself because when it’s this hot, most people take care of their errands in the morning.  In a few weeks when monsoon season begins is when I will be really uncomfortable.  I do not care for high humidity which brings out the cicadas that buzz all day and night, setting my teeth on edge.  The humidity and cicadas stick around through mid-October, so I’m focusing on the “good parts” of summer:  magnificent towers of clouds building in the east each day, frequent dramatic monsoon storms, night swimming at the community pool, and best of all, having my college kids home for the summer.

I’ve not been as productive as usual because Eve and William are watching New Girl for the first time and it’s super distracting.   I try to do the dishes or start dinner or fold the laundry, but next thing you know, I’m sitting on the couch giggling along with two of them.  What’s better than watching a favorite show with your favorite people???  School begins for me August 7 and for them August 28, so we have oodles of summertime left to get stuff done  . . . and enjoy lazy times together.

I’ve been doing a bit of shopping and am having such a hard time finding blouses long enough to go over leggings.  My middle-aged muffin top is not accommodating to blue jeans, and I realize soon the summer clothes will be out of the stores.  The one style I CANNOT STAND is the cut-out shoulders.  UGH.  Seriously, who looks good in that???  I’ve seen young women pull it off, but for the most part . . . NOPE.  It’s worse than the horizontal stripe fad that lasted too many years.  I find myself saying YIKES in my head whenever I see anyone wearing this unfortunate type of blouse, but then chide myself even louder (in my head), BE NICE!!! Be SO glad you can’t read my mind, because it’s a little wild and crazy in there.

I fear people will be saying YIKES when they see me wearing my adorable new straw fedora.  Every summer my face gets too much sun, so in an effort to avoid having a burned beak, I bought a trendy straw hat.  My kids saw me in it and said, NOPE, but I say YEP.  I sound superficial, but I’ve always loved fashion and style.  As a girl, I spent hours pouring over the JC Penney catalog and saved up $6 for a pair of culottes when I was seven years old.  I don’t remember the actual pants, but I remember the saving and pining for them like it was yesterday.  My mom was always sewing something, and I spent hours as a child playing amongst the bolts of colorful fabric at Cloth World and Hancock. Fashion is a creative outlet for me!

Today we spent an hour in the JC Penney just down the road.  Hubby needed new flip flops (his current pair is ten years old, and I insisted he upgrade) and then he tried on blue jeans and then he tried on more flip flops.  It felt like we were there forever, so I walked up and down the cool aisles, getting in some excercise . . . and humming “Hey Baby, I’m the telephone man. Show me where you want it, and I’ll put it where I can.”



Skeeter Hawks


Summer has come early to our town in the desert.  We’re ten degrees over the norm, which means temps in the 90s.  Ugh. When you live in a place where it’s pretty much unbearable to be outdoors for six months of the year, this early summer is terrible news. We’re sadly pulling from our gardens lettuces that have too quickly gone to seed, spinach that has turned bitter, and every day I’m picking nasturtium bouquets to leave at friends’ doors because the high temps makes them crumpled and brown and I don’t want them to go to waste.  We’re also experiencing an invasion of “skeeter hawks” which, though harmless, float about the bright lights in the kitchen and whip our house cats into a frenzy.  I find their long legs and slow flight graceful in a weird sort of way.

I’ve had two stressful weeks trying to clean up our rental house near ASU where our daughter lives with two friends. (I wrote angry posts about this, but deleted them.)  For the past few years, we’ve been busy with our own lives and also cognizant of giving the kids their space, so the list of stuff that needs cleaning and fixing over there is long.  Hubby would say to me on a Sunday morning, “I think I’ll go over to Eve’s and do some work,” and I would say, “I’m sure they are sleeping in and do not want you there.”  So the place is a mess.  We crunched the numbers and (hip hip hooray) have decided to sell this sweet house built in 1952.  After the tenants leave in late April, we likely have a month’s worth of work to do.  I hope someone will be thrilled to have this charming little house so close to campus.  Our family has sentimental attachments to this house which we’ve owned for seven years, but our goal is to make sure we sell to someone who will love it as much as we have. (The only thing I absolutely hate about the house is bright red, plastic-fronted kitchen cabinets from IKEA, which were installed by the architect who owned the place before we did.)

About four weeks ago, I told you the house next door would be going up for sale due to divorce.  I hesitate to talk it up too much to anyone I know because we may not be the best neighbors.  Hubby’s method of relaxing after a long day of work is to watch tv; mine is to dance or sing to music in the backyard.  I swear I never play music very loudly, but hay fever has adjusted my voice to a definitely nasal tone.  Add in the bouts of sneezing that can last up to 15 minutes, which sometimes causes Ruby the Wonder Spaniel to bark incessantly, and Cosmo our Elderly Siamese to yowl.  In the big picture, I firmly believe dancing in the back yard is better than taking a daily mood-enhancing pill, something I’ve never done.  Plus the dancing is good exercise.

Excuse me for a moment.  I must go look at the sunset.


Oh my word–that was amazing.  The clouds looked like a long swath of fuzzy pink cotton candy . . . and then the colors deepened and it looked more like a scarlet wool blanket. Now I can see thought the front window that it is violet/gray overhead, with scarlet down at the horizon.  Well done, Mother Nature. Well done.

Life is strange.  For the first time in many years, I find myself with too much free time.  I thought of the word “tumbling” the other day, and it’s an appropriate word to describe my days in which I find myself wandering from room to room, finding something to clean or put away, then responding to my phone or emails, then tumbling upstairs for laundry, then tumbling outside to run an errand or two.  For awhile I had friends lined up to walk with most days, but lately people have been busy with Spring Break vacations, and I feel a bit neglected.  I use the word tumbling because I feel a profound sense of being off-center, with maybe a bit of dizziness;  a definite blurriness of focus.  Close your eyes and remember being a child doing a somersault.  Yes, that’s it.  Tumbling.

I’ve been reading too much (most recently Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, then Vivan Howard’s ten-pound tribute to her hometown in NC with lots of recipes, Deep Run Roots), and watching too much tv (Rectify‘s amazing latest season on Netflix, and rewatching for the millionth time the first few seasons of Gilmore Girls), and cooking too much (I made this carrot cake recipe in muffin form for breakfast and for dinner, and we enjoyed the Creamy Mustard Chicken recipe from the New  York Times, which I can’t access now because I’ve used up my freebies for the month.).

Yesterday I spent the day with my brother and sister-in-law.  They are good listeners, but Paul always says, “Mary, you need more stimulation than anyone I’ve ever met.” I know I’m not good at being alone.  I know I’m a bit spastic.  I’m trying so hard to relax into early retirement or a break from working–whatever we want to call it–to find peace in the quiet of my world.  Now that I think about it, I’m much like those early summer skeeter hawks, floating about without much purpose, simply enjoying family, books, garden, pets, and the fabulous desert sunsets.



All Souls Night


A few weekends ago, Hubby and I were in Tucson visiting my sister and her family. Our visit was way overdue and when the invitation came to attend the big All Souls Procession, we were so excited!  Since Peg, Dean, and Owen (my nephew who is 11 years old) travel to the Valley several times a year (and often stay with us), we haven’t made the arduous trip to Tucson in probably two years.  And when I say arduous, I’m joking.  It’s about an hour and 45 minutes, door to door.

How strange to see Peg only a few times a year, considering that we shared a room for most of our childhood.  I had a room to myself  until she came along when I was three . . . and from then on, we shared a room–until I was 16 years old and we moved to a new home with FOUR BEDROOMS. Separate rooms for my sister, my brother, and me. It was a huge change, and even though I was happy to have my own space, I missed her (even though she was just across the hall).   I think back to our spacious bedroom on the second story of our Grover Street home in Belvidere, Illinois, where our walls were painted a soft lilac.  Each morning the first thing we’d do was look out the large windows to see what the weather was that day.  This house, built in 1880, was old but quaint, and I will never forget that November morning in 1973 when we looked out our bedroom window to see the first snow of the season had come in the night, transforming our street into a winter wonderland.  I can remember our delight as if it were yesterday!

Back to the present:  We had a relaxing weekend staying at their casa in an older part of Tucson.  Their renovated kitchen is beautiful, and we so enjoyed getting to know their new cats. Saturday night we drank good beer at several cute establishments on historical Congress Street, and the next day had so much fun dressing up for the parade.  We wore black and white clothing, red flowers and sashes for a vibrant contrast, and to our faces applied temporary tattoos to replicate the traditional calacas face painting. Peg and I wore floral headbands, and our guys wore black top hats with chrysanthemums stuck in the band.  We looked mighty fine, if I do say so myself!

The All Souls Procession began at sunset. Bagpipes wailed a mournful tune, while drummers slowly beat a funeral march.  A small group walked along the parade route handing out slips of paper for us to write messages to our deceased loved ones.  Soon after, another group collected our papers which at the end of the night were burned in a huge bonfire.  Many people in the procession carried signs and photos of their loved ones who had passed, while others entertained us by walking on stilts, all with macabre costumes.  Somber, yet joyful, it was a celebration and mourning of the lives of our loved ones and ancestors. Standing in this huge sea of people, who so gracefully and peacefully came together to honor those who had gone before them, moved me to tears.

Even though our busy lives prevent us from spending a lot of time together, I think back to all those years my sister and I shared a room, dreaming side by side in our room with the purple walls.  Now that my three children have flown from the nest and Hubby and I have more freedom, I plan to visit charming Tucson more often to create new memories with my sister and her lovely family.







It’s been a great couple of weeks being back to school, where I work as an assistant in a Kindergarten classroom.  This year’s Kindergartners are hilarious and have SO MUCH to tell me every day.  They talk about their pets, their siblings, their favorite games and  tv shows. They tell stories of summer vacations.  I asked one girl if she went to her grandpa’s on an airplane and she said, “No, we didn’t take an airplane.  We stayed on the planet!”  Another one of our dear girls is so exuberant that when a thought occurs to her (and before I can stop her), she’s placed both her hands firmly on my head, putting her mouth to my ear as she whisper/spits something which I usually can’t understand.  And it always begins with, “Did you know?”  She messes up my hair and pulls my earrings . . . I love it.  Today there was quite the classroom upset:   I’m not sure how it started, but a wild rumor of a ghost living in the school bathroom spread quicker than spilled milk and before you know it, several of my friends were in tears.  While Awakening Seed is certainly innovative and unique, we are no Hogwarts!  I think we did a good job of explaining how pipes in the walls can sometimes make sounds, but there are definitely NO ghosts at school!

Speaking of tears, I’ve been trying hard not to cry every time I think about William leaving for college. Next week, we will officially be Empty Nesters (I hate that term, how about you?).  We’ve anticipated William’s departure all summer . . . and tomorrow is the big day when he moves to NAU.  I’m trying to focus on the fun parts of the weekend, and not the horrible/terrible/tragic/heartbreaking drive home without him. (A bit too much??  I know–but it’s how I feel.)  We are staying at a recommended resort called Little America, which is not fancy but has beautiful grounds and large rooms.  Weather permitting, we’ll do a bit of hiking after moving stuff into William’s dorm, and also find a hike on Saturday before driving the three hours back home.  If there’s rain, we’ll have fun playing gin rummy in one of the many interesting brew pubs in town.  Flagstaff is a fun little mountain town, and I’m so happy William gets to live there.  See?  Look at me being all positive and not weepy and melodramatic at all.  (I’m saving that for next week.)

I have so much to look forward to in the next few weeks!  The community pool has suddenly turned cold, which is a portent of Fall.  Our 105 degree daily temps are getting REALLY old.  Don’t get me wrong—I love summer, but I’ll be happy when we’re once again able to open our windows to let in fresh air.  Hubby’s birthday is next week, and we’re celebrating with friends here for dinner and our new favorite card game, Shanghai Rummy.  We’ll be back in Flagstaff for Parent’s Weekend at the end of September.  My art book group restarts after our summer hiatus, and since we are a group who loves to travel, I’m looking forward to hearing everyone’s adventures.  And come to think of it, now that we’ll have no children at home, what’s to stop us from dashing down to Tucson (a two- hour drive) to see my sister and her family, or driving over to San Diego (a five-hour drive) for a mini-vacation?  I’m trying to focus on this being a bright, new beginning . . . instead of a sad, tear-filled ending.  Wish me luck.





A Slow Week


It’s been a slow week, and when I say slow, I mean slooooooow. Seriously, the most exciting thing that happened was one night we ran out of toilet paper. We have about four squares left, so I have time to write, right?

I’ve lost my get up and go. If you see it, please tell it to hurry home. I know I am not the only one who feels a sense of sadness after a family vacation. We had a great time visiting with my Aunt Linda last week, and you know I love having my whole family around me. How nice that my kids and my siblings joined us to chat and hang out with Linda, and I certainly enjoyed our time at the beach together with her.

But then she went home! How could she? Oh how I wished I could march right onto that plane and follow her home to see all of my Illinois peeps! But instead I came home to my quiet house. Hubby is working long hours, and William is busy with friends. So I spent most of my time on the couch reading and watching shows on my laptop. I only have a few episodes left of Life Unexpected. Shiri Appleby plays the mom, which cracks me up since I loved her stint as a teenager on the scifi show called Roswell. The show is “eh” not “wow” but the acting is excellent, and Kristoffer Palaha is so handsome he makes my socks roll up and down.

I have been job hunting online. I applied for four meaningful part-time jobs (mostly in senior living homes) and now am checking indeed.com daily. After working in schools for many years, it sure would be nice to do something a little different. But I get the feeling that perhaps The Universe is telling me it’s my calling—being with kids is very rewarding and I know I’m good at teaching. Yet . . . maybe something a little different will come my way. Fingers crossed.

I signed up last minute to do an art museum tour, which happened yesterday. On Wednesday I went with a friend to the museum to make sure the art was where I last left it. Nope—the Andy Warhol special exhibit was being boxed up and the gallery was closed. Oh my. It was good for my lazy brain to have to choose and research new pieces to tour. I studied for hours—-with elementary-aged students, you don’t have to give lots of terms. But since I was to tour high schoolers, I refreshed my memory on art terms such as “Fauvist” and “Abstract Expressionists.” I memorized artist facts (did you know Joseph Stella fell down an elevator shaft and died shortly after from his injuries?) and important historical dates. But guess what? The docent in charge of managing the tour had forgotten to tell us these kids were English Language learners who had never been to a museum before . . . and knew very little English. I turned my highbrow tour into more of a “Do you like this piece . . . or not?” I think the kids really enjoyed it, but on the way home, I had steam coming out of my ears because I was so mad about all of my unnecessary prep time. No learning is wasted, but my brain is old and leaky, and I will certainly have to review before touring these galleries in the future.

No recipes to share this time. I experimented with a brownie recipe, adding marshmallows and pieces of graham crackers to make “S’Mores Brownies” but it was not a hit. It was okay, but regular brownies so much better. William often eats with his friends at dinnertime, so all week Hubby and I have been eating leftover steak that we grilled on the weekend and salads that require no heating since here in Tempe, Arizona it’s hotter than the molten steaming core of a Hot Pocket.