Final Thoughts on a Winter Trip to Phoenix

I like Phoenix, frankly. I’ve been there many times—in the heat of summer as well as the very, very pleasant winter. I totally get the “snowbird phenomenon”—who wouldn’t love average temps of 66.4°F/40.2°F in December? Tennessee winters are mild, for the most part, but I can see why folks from Wisconsin or Ohio or New York would decamp to Phoenix for five or six months a year.

Though I will say even the winter sun is intense. And even in winter the climate is very, very dry. I kept noticing how dry my skin was, how dry my lips were.

I look at this photo and all I can see is how dry my skin is! (Although Penny is lovely.)

I look at this photo and all I can see is how dry my skin is! (Although Penny is lovely.)

I had some other Phoenix observations in my journal.

Science Lessons
Where you fall, geographically speaking, in the time zone is interesting. It’s still dark in Phoenix at 6:45am (while it’s quite bright at 6am in Murfreesboro) but still light at 5:30pm (whereas it’s dark by 4:30 at home).

Shake It Up
It’s good to get out of your rut every once in a while. The scenery just seemed magnificent to me—the tail-end of the Rockies, the wide-open spaces (inside Phoenix, I guess, you’d call that urban sprawl), the cacti. To me it was all beautiful because it’s something I don’t often get to see. I know from personal experience, though—I lived in South Texas when I was younger—that I like a little more green in my life.

Airplanes
My father was a pilot in the United States Air Force, and it seems I inherited his belief that an airplane in the air is a thing of beauty. (At least from the outside. The experience of sitting in those tiny seats in tight aisles is not one I particularly enjoy.) I love that Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport is smack-dab in the middle of the city, because you get to watch planes setting down or lifting off from just about everywhere.

Traffic
In the mid-80s (the first time I visited Phoenix) there were no interstates to get you across town; it was all surface roads and state highways, which used surface roads. (Here’s a charming history, not least for the writer’s use of the word freeways, which is a very Western way of referring to the national highways; I grew up in California, and freeway was the word we used too.) So perhaps the newness of the interstates accounts for the lousy driving on them. There is very little concept of “slow traffic move right.” People drive all over the lanes; passing on the right is common.

Public Statements
I love the way many of the overpasses are decorates with mosaics or murals. Loved also the message I saw over and over on electronics signs: Drive hammered, get nailed. Indeed.

Sightseeing
I have barely been outside the Phoenix/Tempe/Scottsdale triangle, so the extent of my tourism runs to Taliesin West (Frank Lloyd Wright’s winter home); the Heard Museum of Native Cultures and Art; the Desert Botanical Garden; the Phoenix Zoo (about 25 years ago); Arizona State University; and several malls. There’s a lot more to see. 🙂

Like Palm Lane. Gorgeous!

Like Palm Lane. Gorgeous!

Airport Fashion
I encountered quite a bit of flack when I posted a similar comment on Facebook, but I’m going to say it anyway. The latest in ladies’ airport fashion seems to be leggings. I know they’re comfortable. Still, not all ladies should wear them. Just saying’.

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The Movie Extravaganza

Friday, 26 December 2014 / Day 9
It’s become a tradition, of sorts, for me to brave Target or Barnes & Noble to pick up next year’s Christmas cards at half price. Or more—I think they were 75 percent off at B&N, which was where I stopped on my way to Jesse’s place.

It was a leisurely day. I hung out, read, played with the cats …

Max, in the tuba gig bag.

Max, in the tuba gig bag.

Penny had to get in on the action.

Penny had to get in on the action.

… Jesse ran errands, straightened up, worked on an arrangement he needed to get done … and later we went to another fabulous movie: The Imitation Game. Afterward, Jesse—a public school teacher—said, “So we’ve just seen two movies about guys who didn’t fit in, didn’t conform—and they were brilliant guys who changed the world. But they would never succeed in the school system today, which wants kids to sit down and follow the rules and be quiet.” It’s something to think about.

Driving back from the theater at sunset, the city was ringed in rocky peaks that were black against a golden yellow sky. Wish I could have taken a photograph but there’s just no place to stop on the freeway—and that’s where the views are. Up high.

Here’s one down low—a gorgeous Phoenix sunset, even if the palms are blurry (because Jesse was driving while I was photographing).

Here’s one down low—a gorgeous Phoenix sunset, even if the palms are blurry (because Jesse was driving while I was photographing).

Later I stopped at Fry’s (one of the local grocery store chains) to buy a couple things—we’re going to make chicken salad tomorrow—and I asked the clerk if he could just put in my phone number so I could get the store discount. My keychain, with a scannable barcode card on it, along with the key to the car, was back home in Tennessee. Of course he could use my phone number. “Six one five,” I said.

He stopped me. “Your area code is six one five?” I smiled and gave him the whole number, and sure enough, it worked. Kroger (my local chain) owns Fry’s. Just a little tip for the next time y’all are in Phoenix. 🙂

Saturday, 27 December 2014 / Day 10
It was so nice to not have a lot to do! When I’m at home there’s always something. So Jesse and I talked a lot about a career change he is planning to make. The pros, the cons.

Then I drove down to Chandler to hang out with Margaret’s daughter, Marina, with whom I’ve become close. Closer since Margaret’s health issues have arisen. We see eye to eye on most things, our mutual concern for her mother being just one of them. We met at a Chick-fil-A that had a great playground, so her boys were mostly occupied while we chatted.

Later Jesse and I went out to eat at a hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant (the name of which I’ve forgotten) and then to the movie, Birdman. My first experience in a theater with the reclining seats! (Yeah, yeah, I don’t get out much.) It was a normal size (for a multiplex) room but only about sixty seats (maybe!). It was like being in a La-Z-Boy recliner—roomy! When Jesse came back from the snack bar he said it looked like we were all at a slumber party. The cost was the same as for a non-La-Z-Boy theater …

And BIRDMAN. Holy smoke, kids. You should see it. Michael Keaton was spectacular. Also, it was funny.

Sunday, 28 December 2014 / Day 11
I was very excited today to meet one of my authors—Cindy Kelley. We have phoned and Skyped, but this was a first and I was thrilled that she was willing to make the drive up from Tucson. We met at St. Francis for an upscale Sunday brunch.

Me and Cindy in front of the outdoor Christmas tree.

Me and Cindy in front of the outdoor Christmas tree.

Afterward Jesse and I drove to Scottsdale to see our final Christmas-season movie, Whiplash. It was very good, though it made me cringe a lot. Being a professional musician himself, Jesse had plenty to say about about it. We now know J. K. Simmons won the Oscar for his performance as Best Supporting Actor; but I’ll tell you, I’ll never see him with the same eyes.

Monday, 29 December 2015 / Day 12
And that was it for my Christmas vacation. Pris dropped by for an hour so that we could discuss her wonderful book I’ve been working on. Then Jesse picked me and my luggage up. We had lunch—Windsor—and hung out at the house a little.

It’s always hard for me to say good-bye to my son. The older I get, the more difficult it becomes.

It’s always hard for me to say good-bye to my son. The older I get, the more difficult it becomes.

I will say—regarding flying out of Sky Harbor—I was annoyed that I had gone to the trouble of getting pre-approved (don’t have to take off shoes or coats or remove laptop from bag, and so on; it’s a faster line) which went really fast and smoothly in Nashville … only to find out they’d closed the pre-approved lines in Concourse D in Phoenix, although I didn’t know that at the time. Because I thought I was in a pre-approved line, I did everything wrong, which meant I set off the red flags and thus had to go through the naked-scanner (twice) PLUS had to get the pat-down PLUS they took everything out of all my bags.

And they weren’t nice about it. “You have to be pre-approved,” the guy said.

So I said, “But I AM pre approved!” I held out my boarding pass.

“Well, so you are, so you are. But it’s closed on this concourse.”

“What’s the point of having it but not opening it?” I asked.

“If you want to go thru a pre-approved line, you can go to concourse A or B or C and make your way back here,” he said.

I gave him the Mom look. “It’s a very large airport,” I said. “It would be a very long walk for me, all by myself.” He just looked at me. Not trying to win hearts and minds, the TSA.

Got home late, my housesitter picked me up, and it was all good, in spite of the TSA. Sometimes we middle-aged gals get a little cranky, that’s all.

Happy Christmas 2014

Thursday, 25 December 2014, Christmas Day / Day 8
Jesse and Kaci and I had celebrated our Christmas a few days earlier, so this was a low-impact Christmas Day for Jesse and me. To avoid cooking, we went out for Chinese food for lunch (so-so), then to the theater downtown …

I was drawn by the pattern in these palm trees, seen from the parking garage.

I was drawn by the pattern and color in these palm trees, seen from the parking garage.

… to see The Theory of Everything, which was moving and sweet. And spectacularly acted. (And I even wrote that before Eddie Redmayne won the Oscar for it.)

After the movie, we drove around—and then walked around—the historic neighborhood where Jesse and Kaci live.

IMG_6245I love looking at houses, don’t you? I particularly love colorful front doors and the tableau a homeowner can create with door, porch, and landscaping. Here are a couple.

There is nothing I don't love about this—the shady front porch, that aqua front door, the way the palo verde tree both frames the entrance and mimics the curving lines of the side wall, the way the apple green pots echo the bark on the green tree, the way the marigolds pop. Gosh, this is just gorgeous.

There is nothing I don’t love about this—the shady front porch, that aqua front door, the way the palo verde tree both frames the entrance and mimics the curving lines of the side wall, the way the apple green pots echo the bark on the green tree, the way the marigolds pop. Gosh, this is just gorgeous.

There were several homes that had given their yards over to desertscape. This one was particularly spectacular … although I also think it sort of screams “STAY OUT!” or “KEEP AWAY!”

There were several homes that had given their yards over to desertscape. This one was particularly spectacular … although I also think it sort of screams “STAY OUT!” or “KEEP AWAY!”

Same house. Perhaps this yard is really saying “Leave your toddlers at home, friends!” or “Don’t approach if you’re tipsy!” Use caution.

Same house. Perhaps this yard is really saying “Leave your toddlers at home, friends!” or “Don’t approach if you’re tipsy!” Use caution walkin’ down that sidewalk, y’all.

Jesse was dogsitting for a friend, and we gave Jack a walk. What a lovely street!

Jesse was dogsitting for a friend, and we gave Jack a walk. What a lovely street!

Stay tuned—there’s more to come!

She’ll Be Comin’ ’Round the Mountain …

Monday, 22 December 2014 / Day 5
I have a dear friend, Margaret, who lives in Prescott—about 90 miles from Phoenix. We met in high school, and just never let go of each other. Our fathers were both pilots in the United States Air Force, and when hers retired, he moved his family back to historic Prescott, Arizona, where Margaret finished high school, married John, raised her children (Jesse and Marina), and became an antiques dealer. She is now a grandmother and retired.

You’ll recall that Margaret traveled to Ireland with me in 2012. She and John have visited Gerry and I in Tennessee. We are close. And a big reason I’m in Arizona this Christmas is to visit Margaret, who has been suffering from cancer since last year.

So I consolidated to one suitcase, and drove up (elevation is 5300 feet above sea level) to Prescott. It’s a spectacular drive, scenery-wise. And Margaret and I spent the afternoon in her spacious living room, drinking tea and chatting … the way two old friends do. 🙂

Look at that guestroom! Very Western, and so cozy!

Look at that guestroom! Very Western, and so cozy!

Tuesday, 23 December 2014 / Day 6
We had a leisurely morning, and just took it easy. We puttered around Prescott—

—but mostly conserved our energy for later: Margaret had planned a big holiday meal in my honor. In addition to the three of us, John and Margaret’s son Jesse, and his wife and son (Melissa and Tristan) were there, as well as John’s sister Tammy. Jesse roasted the lamb, and it was fabulous. A good time was had by all.

Margaret sets a beautiful table.

Margaret sets a beautiful table.

Wednesday, 24 December 2014, Christmas Eve / Day 7
Before I left Prescott, John, Margaret, and I had breakfast at a Prescott institution: the Lone Spur Café. Huge breakfasts served up fast and hot—and it was like everyone in town was there.

John and Margaret. They’re still sweet on each other. :)

John and Margaret. They’re still sweet on each other. 🙂

But I had a Christmas service to get to—my Jesse’s Phoenix Chamber Brass would be playing—and just the right amount of time to get there. Once again I was treated to gorgeous vistas as I traveled into the valley.

Traveling down the mountain: the scenery was spectacular.

Traveling down the mountain: the scenery was spectacular.

Drove straight to American Lutheran Church, caught the end of the first service, had a little snack at the between-services “reception” for the musicians and staff, and then sat through the second service. Love singing Christmas hymns!

Phoenix Chamber Brass: Greg Lloyd, Rose French, Donald Smith, Jesse Chavez, Matt Lennex.

Phoenix Chamber Brass: Greg Lloyd, Rose French, Donald Smith, Jesse Chavez, Matt Lennex.

Jesse and I were ravenous by this time, so we went to Blue Hound Kitchen & Cocktails in downtown Phoenix for a late supper. And then I was done in. Long day!

Christmas Cookies

Sunday, 21 December 2014 / Day 4
When I was a kid my dad used to get out the little green file box filled with cards—an address card for each of their friends—at the beginning of December. It was time to address Christmas cards (by hand, of course, since this was back in the Dark Ages), and I was always astonished at where these people were located—Texas, Washington DC, Maine, and so on. Since many of them were air force friends, the address cards had frequent changes on them.

Now that I’m older than they were then, I find I have friends scattered everywhere myself. It’s nice to have a friend along the route you’re traveling; comes in handy sometimes. In the case of this trip, my friends Bill and Lilo live south of Tucson, but they made the three-hour drive up so we could connect.

Last night they came to Jesse and Kaci’s place for dinner, bearing wine. What a night! Lots of laughs and great conversation. They stayed in the guestroom at the condo I’m in, and this morning we all went out to breakfast at a Phoenix landmark: Matt’s Big Breakfast.

It’s a popular place, and this was a lazy Sunday morning, and we had to wait a bit. But the weather was nice, so no one complained. 🙂

Kaci, Jesse, and Bill … waiting on Matt and his Big Breakfast.

Kaci, Jesse, and Bill … waiting on Matt and his Big Breakfast.

The historic Westward Ho Building, seen from the waiting area in front of Matt’s Big Breakfast. Don’t forget you can click on any photo to zoom in.

The historic Westward Ho Building, seen from the waiting area in front of Matt’s Big Breakfast. Don’t forget you can click on any photo to zoom in.

Saying good-bye to good friends: Bill, me, Lilo.

Saying good-bye to good friends: Bill, me, Lilo.

Bill and Lilo had a long drive home, so we said adiós after breakfast: they headed south and we went back to the house to have our Christmas together, since Kaci was flying home to Albuquerque to be with her family on Monday. So on Sunday afternoon we leisurely opened gifts, and baked cookies and sausage balls.

Penny among the presents!

Penny among the presents!

Kaci whipping up a batch of cookies.

Kaci whipping up a batch of cookies.

Speaking of cookies, Patrick Sheridan and his wife throw a cookie party every year for all their musician friends … which is why Kaci was whipping up cookies. I was delighted to be included, though I eventually fell asleep in a corner. 🙂 Those young whippersnappers!

The Desert Is a Garden

Saturday, 20 December 2014 / Day 3
Phoenix has a great downtown farmer’s market—Jesse had taken me there when I spent Christmas in Phoenix a few years ago—and I wanted to go back. I’d purchased a spicy garlic paste back then and was hoping … ? No joy, but I did purchase a jar of a delicious fresh garlic / cilantro blend.

A beautiful day for the farmer’s market!

A beautiful day for the farmer’s market!

There’s also a great food truck culture at the market, so we had a leisurely lunch. I was still pinching myself over the fabulous mild weather.

And then we went to the Desert Botanical Garden. I’d never been.

Founded by the Arizona Cactus and Native Flora Society in 1937, the garden was established on this 140 acres in 1939. Phoenix is located in the northeastern portion of the Sonoran Desert, which truly has a spectacular beauty that must be seen to be appreciated. Wikipedia says:

The Arizona Upland subdivision of the Sonoran Desert (of which Phoenix is a part) has the most structurally diverse vegetation in the United States. It includes one of the most famous species of succulents, the giant saguaro cactus. Other important species are organpipe, ocotillo, barrel, prickly pear and cholla cacti, Palo Verde trees, various types of palm trees, agaves, foothill and blue paloverde, ironwood, mesquite and creosote bush.

The garden has more than 21,000 plants now, including 139 species that are rare, threatened, or endangered. It’s magnificent, really.

The Desert Botanical Garden

The Desert Botanical Garden

A “living wall” at the entrance to the garden.

A “living wall” at the entrance to the garden. This would be fun to try at home.

An installation of Chihuly glass looks right at home here.

An installation of Chihuly glass looks right at home here.

It was a glorious day! Look at that sky! But mostly I had no idea what I was looking at. 🙂 For now, I’ll just present them just as Nature’s Art, and fill in where I can.

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An interesting tree. I thought the lacy white leaves were beautiful.

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Barrel cactus, recently in bloom.

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I believe this is a type of prickly pear.

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This is a cluster of what looks like lemon ball cactus (Parodia leninghausii).

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Barrel cactus.

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I was struck by the white-ish thing in the center. I think that might be ocotillo. Aloe vera in the foreground, ironwood tree (light bark) on the left, and a couple of yuccas.

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Some species just made me scratch my head. I mean, WHAT the heck is this? It doesn’t look like anything I’ve ever seen.

Here it is up close. Yes, it has thorns, just like everything else! That's a euphorbia on the right.

Here it is up close. Yes, it has thorns, just like everything else! That’s a euphorbia on the right.

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I believe this one is called a golden pincushion cactus (Mammillaria celsiana).

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This is a giant saguaro cactus; its blossom is the state wildflower of Arizona. They require 100 years and more to reach these heights. Harming a saguaro in any manner is illegal in Arizona.

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Those spikes could do some damage, now. Be careful!

Barrel cactus. Those spikes could do some damage, now. Be careful!

Again, this is one of those things that you just kinda wonder … was it a mistake? Did God mean to crumble the clay up and start over on this one but got distracted? This is a cactus only a mother cactus could love. :)

Again, this is one of those things that you just kinda wonder … was it a mistake? Did God mean to crumble the clay up and start over on this one but then got distracted? This is a cactus only a mother cactus could love. 🙂 (I think it might be what’s called a totem pole cactus: Lophocereus schottii).

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I took this scene because, well, it just looks sorta spooky to me. Kinda snaky.

These are, I believe, the “flowers” on this cactus, ultimately the seed pods.

These are, I believe, the “flowers” on this cactus, ultimately the seed pods.

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An agave. Look at the subtle color. Gorgeous.

I was continually fascinated by the delicacy of color and shape.

I was continually fascinated by the delicacy of color and shape. I think these might be agave of some sort.

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Prickly pear cactus.

Yes, there are trees in the desert!

Yes, there are trees in the desert!

Aloe vera in bloom.

Aloe vera in bloom.

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I’m at a complete loss for what this one might be.

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I’m not sure, but this might be an organpipe cactus.

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I believe this is a mixture of young saguaros and organpipe cacti.

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Tree with a saguaro in the background. Gosh, they’re magnificent.

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That’s Camelback Mountain (and Phoenix, at the base of it) in the distance.

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As you might guess, these saguaros are very, very old. I ran out of battery right here, so there’s no picture of me in this spot … but you can see, they are huge.

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I thought this was just magnificent in the late afternoon sunlight, with those dramatic shadows. Very little in the way of spines. It’s possible this is a Stenocereus marginatus. SOME kind of marginatus, anyway. Mexican fencepost?

The Christmas Headache

Thursday, 18 December 2014 / Day 1
Oh, that last month before my December trip to Phoenix to visit my son and his girlfriend was a stressful one! I had lots of work deadlines, primarily. But … Thanksgiving. And I had to do something about my health insurance. And it was the run-up to Christmas, for heavens’ sake! Presents to wrap, a housesitter (OK, really a catsitter) to break in, plans to make for after the holidays … and on and on. I was a little crazy/frantic.

And the big question: Would I take work with me? I needed to. I had a couple of hot deadlines. But I also was really worn out. Not thinking about work for ten days would be nice. In the end, I left it open. I always travel with my laptop, and it has work on it. So I could open a manuscript if I wanted to.

Somehow, the penultimate day arrived. Everything, astonishingly, was done—although by the time I headed downstairs to finish packing, it was 9:15 and I’d been nursing the Christmas headache for a couple hours. (So called because I’d been getting the headache almost daily for a couple weeks. What else could I attribute it to but holiday stress?)

I’d shipped the Christmas presents ahead, but I was bringing country ham and bacon for all the people I would visit and stay with, which I’d frozen and now packed in a thermal bag.

I’m always a little keyed up the night before a trip. I’m a bit of a worrier. This particular night my housesitter, the delightful Alex, was out later than he intended to be, and I couldn’t rest comfortably until he was in, which means, in the end, I had 2 hours of dozing until he arrived, and then another 2.5 hours of sleep until the alarm clock went off. Man, was I tired.

Friday, 19 December 2014 / Day 2
My flight was scheduled to leave at 7:10am, and we’re forty minutes away from the airport, so yes, I was up much earlier than I normally like to be. But Alex drove me in, which made departure easy.

Love that Early-Bird boarding pass with Southwest. I liked to be near the front and in this case I was on the aisle with someone who’d been preboarded—a beautiful, fashionably dressed (and slightly hard of hearing) ninety-two-year-old woman who split her time between family in Nashville and family in Phoenix. She was accompanied by her daughter, who was about my age, and we enjoyed a nice chat. Across the aisle were five separate unescorted minors traveling to see their noncustodial parents. They were so well-behaved, and gave me an insight I’d never had: my son, too, was an unescorted minor traveler twenty years ago.

We landed in Phoenix a little early. Jesse had been in school (he’s a teacher) all morning, but this was the last day before the holiday break, and he was able to get away in time to pick me up.

 I think I love the Phoenix scenery because it’s so different from what I’m used to. Those mountains!

I think I love the Phoenix scenery because it’s so different from what I’m used to. Those desert mountains!

Windows in this building are shuttered electronically—and programmed, I’m told, to spell out various messages.

Windows in this building are shuttered electronically—and programmed, I’m told, to spell out various messages.

We went first to Tempe to see our friend Pris. This is a great story, the sort of thing that just doesn’t happen in this day and time. When Jesse was about to move to Phoenix for grad school some years ago, he was having trouble finding an affordable place to live. Finally Kevin, the young man who’d been his campus guide—and was in the tuba studio of Sam Pilafian, where Jesse would also be studying—said, “Oh, just move in with me and my parents. My older brothers moved out and the house is kind of empty.”

Well, I’d been the mother of a boy for twenty-two years at that point, so naturally my reaction was … well, skeptical. “I think I need to talk to the mom first,” I said. And the next day, my phone rang, and it was Pris, and we talked for two hours at least and at the end of that time we’d bonded and Jesse was moving in and that was that. Pris is Jesse’s Arizona mom, and these lovely people are his Arizona family.

Nine years have passed, and we’ve remained close. When Pris heard I was coming to Phoenix, she called to offer me the use of her car and her second son’s condo (he and his wife were out of town for the holidays). This was a huge blessing; the financial life of a freelance editor can be, occasionally, rocky.

A threesome selfie: Jesse, Pris, me. So happy to be here!

A threesome selfie: Jesse, Pris, me. So happy to be here!

Kaci was just about to get out of school (she’s also a teacher), so Jesse and I headed back to their house in central Phoenix. We were all anxious for lunch—I’d had nothing but a Quest bar and a couple cups of coffee all day—and ended up at Gadzooks on Seventh Street, a place Jesse and Kaci enjoy. (As they should: the restaurant is owned and operated by and targeted at the millennial generation, as discussed in this article from AZCentral: “Phoenix eatery Gadzooks embodies how Millennials dine.” It’s very interesting, actually.)

It was a beautiful day—nice enough to sit outside. Gadzooks allows you to customize basic meals with fresh, interesting additions.

It was a beautiful day—nice enough to sit outside. Gadzooks allows you to customize basic meals with fresh, interesting additions.

We did a little Christmas shopping …

The First Draft Book Bar! Housed with a used bookstore—what a fabulous idea!

The First Draft Book Bar! Housed with a used bookstore—what a fabulous idea!

… and then went back to the house to relax. (It had been a long day for all of us.) We enjoyed all the teacher Christmas swag—lots of homemade edibles like chocolate-covered pretzels—and I met the two house cats, Penny and Max.

Kaci, Max, and Jesse

Kaci, Max, and Jesse. Don’t forget, you can click on any photo to enlarge it. The better to see you, Maxie!

I’ve never met a cat that didn’t love a suitcase. This is Penny.

I’ve never met a cat that didn’t love a suitcase. This is Penny.

And that was enough for one day.