It’s a Full Circle Thing

Earlier this week, the boys and I were running errands in Scottsdale, a city I haven’t had to be in, in over 15 years. Afterwards, my oldest son asked me if we could drive over to a “toy store” (a collectibles store) in a small strip mall located in the Paradise Valley area. We’d been there earlier this month for my birthday, when we had dinner at an old Chinese restaurant haunt of mine. Next door are the collectibles. We didn’t have any other plans, so we made our way.

There are a lot of new freeways and highways and all sort of ways to get around Arizona, roads I never had to drive on when I lived here many years ago. Knowing me and my total lack for all things pertaining to direction, I relied on old habits. I drove down a familiar road, confident it would get me to our destination.

To the right of us, an Olive Garden became visible as we made our way through lunch hour traffic. I pointed at the restaurant, telling my boys, “I know this Olive Garden!” Slightly ahead of us, on the corner, sat Paradise Valley Mall. Even though I haven’t been back to this particular area in many, many years, it felt like I knew my surroundings so well! With that revelation, something  odd happened.

I became emotional.

I couldn’t figure out why. I mean, we passed an Olive Garden, and a mall. So? A restaurant and a mall generally don’t produce an emotional response out of someone, yet there I was, with tears in my eyes. What???

Yesterday, my husband and I celebrated six years of marriage! He deserves a medal for so many things (putting up with me being one of those things). He decided that we should celebrate by visiting some of our old haunts. For him, it’s been seven years since he said goodbye to the Valley of the Sun. It was interesting to me that his idea for our anniversary coincided so much with what I’d been dealing with at an emotional level. I hadn’t mentioned to him what I’d been feeling, because I felt a little silly (you know, Olive Garden and a mall making me emo and what not). I couldn’t put anything into words, or explain what was going on, anyway. I didn’t want to put a damper on our afternoon, an afternoon lined up with a sitter, time spent alone, just the two of us.

After a delicious lunch at Flo‘s, in Scottsdale, we drove to the apartment community he lived in, before moving to Nebraska.

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His apartment was located somewhere between these two buildings, at Franks on Shea. I asked him if he ever missed living there. He told me he didn’t, not really. Back then, his life consisted of work, and the apartment, and that was pretty much the gist of things. He’d only been there a year before he packed up his belongings and as he puts it, “re-rolled his life”.

Next up was my old apartment, but we had to drive to the 12th and Bell area. I remembered how to find the community, but finding the exact apartment I lived in was harder to do. There’s not a whole lot I remember about the place, other than a few things, like the time my sister flew from Oregon to visit me, and at some point spilled Sprite soda all over the carpet. She was a teenager at the time and it was a total accident, but I still freaked out over it. Sorry, Sis. Or the walk to the pool. I loved the flowers and the heat and the general feeling of freedom I had while making my way for a swim. (It was my first apartment.) Sometimes, I’d run across a field located next to my community, in order to visit a friend who lived in the community next door. We were very close and lost touch years ago, but I still think of her on occasion. I wonder how she’s doing.

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We drove to Dragon Palace, the Chinese restaurant haunt of mine. I frequented the joint or did take out probably once/week back in the day, and I haven’t found any other place in any other state I’ve lived in that has better crab puffs. When we had that birthday dinner at DP a few weeks ago, I felt like I’d time warped back fifteen years! The lemon chicken hasn’t changed, which for a nostalgic sap like me is a good thing.

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When I suggested we head over to the place we’d first met, I found out it was already on my husband’s agenda.

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We were just kids, back then. Neither of us thought so, of course. He was a newlywed, and I had a boyfriend. We had separate lives and were going in different directions. We were friends, and it was okay. That was life, fifteen or so years ago.

Circa 2000
Circa 2000
Circa 1999
Circa 1999

The building is empty. The company we’d worked for relocated years ago, yet spending a little time outside the glass doors at the place my husband and I first met put a lot of things into perspective for me. I’m emotional because I moved to Arizona a young woman, leaving behind everything and everyone I’d known to start a new life for myself. I was nineteen years old. In the short time I initially lived here, so much happened in my life, a chapter I’d closed fast and in some ways, too soon. As my husband put it: “You never really had any closure.”

And maybe not.

I’m here again, now a grown woman. I can’t seem to relate or identify with the girl I’d been all those years ago, yet there are pieces of me all over the place, like scattered memories. The zing of the lemon chicken and the cream in the crab puffs, or the enjoyment I feel when it rains in the desert. I still love that smell, even after all these years. It’s the things I used to appreciate about Arizona, and it’s still there for me, even now, after I’ve grown and changed but maybe I haven’t changed as much as I’d thought. At the core of me, I’m still, me.

We tried Camelback Mountain, but we couldn’t find the trail head. I really want to go hiking, when it cools off a little. After a much-needed Dairy Queen stop and a couple of blizzards, we headed home, to the East Valley. Back to our lives.

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I’ve said this many times before, but it will always resonate for me. What I’ve experienced in my life, the road I’ve traveled led me to my destination. Arizona was a pit stop even when I didn’t see it that way, the roots I’d planted never really gone, but waiting for me. I can’t help but feel I’ve come full circle in so many ways, yet I’m starting new adventures and a new life, too. So different, yet in some ways, still the same girl who was full of big dreams when she made her way to Arizona many years ago.

And I’m with this wonderful man, who still thinks I’m awesome. Even if I do get emo over an Olive Garden and a mall.

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A Double Feature! Siding with Plato, and Maybe Tonight

Book review for Chick Lit Central

Siding with Plato- Michelle Manning

Brooke Aarons can’t get to college fast enough. Leaving behind her small town life, she intends to transform herself into a brilliant psychologist with no distractions along the way. But when she finds herself on a double date with the school’s star football player – and worse, enjoying it – Brooke has to wonder if she’s the one who needs her head examined. James Cartwright’s easy life, endless bucks, and long line of willing girls should make him a non-starter for Brooke, but as she learns, the psychology behind a bad crush is a whole lot messier of a subject. Maybe Plato was right. Maybe love is a serious mental disease. If so, Brooke doesn’t have long to find a cure before James’s attention proves to be a terminal condition. (Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads)

Siding with Plato reminded me of the 90’s teen and college drama television shows I used to watch during the glory days of my youth; very Beverly Hills, 90210. I felt like I was along for the ride with Brooke while she’s venturing outside of the life she’s known, meeting new and interesting college friends who later become her closest allies. There are cute frat boys who live right across the hall, introducing Brooke to all the coolest college parties and raves. We can’t forget the mean girls; the college sorority chicks who set out to make Brooke’s life absolutely miserable. There’s even the neighborhood coffee shop stoner!

When Brooke falls for James, I get the feeling he’s that first real crush, the one you never, ever forget. There are a lot of ups and downs for this couple, and even at the end of the book, you’re left wondering what’s next for Brooke and James. Will they work out, or is James a stepping stone to someone more suited for Brooke? Maybe this will segue into a sequel, where we fast forward five years and find out what’s become of not just Brooke and James, but the other characters, too, especially the coffee shop stoner and the mean sorority girls. I’d love to hear how their lives turned out.

Plato is a sweet read and just the kind of book that will satisfy your own need for nostalgia. I know it did for mine!

Maybe Tonight- Kim Golden

I thoroughly enjoyed Kim Golden’sMaybe Baby, a love story told entirely from lead character Laney’s perspective. When I heard that Kim had written a follow-up novella that offers the chance to better understand Mads, Laney’s love interest, I jumped at the opportunity.

In Maybe Tonight, we’re given the back story into how Mads met Laney. It all began with a chance encounter at a mixer for a progressive sperm donor organization, where Laney attends as a potential client, and Mads as a potential donor. From this bizarre circumstance, a love story begins. Usually, we’re only offered up one character’s insight into a story and have to guess or imagine how the other characters are feeling or thinking, but Tonight gives us better clarity into what makes Laney and Mads work, the struggles they face while dealing with very difficult yet entirely fathomable situations.

Although much of the novella contains repeated scenes told in Maybe Baby, I felt the story line continued because it didn’t just end with Laney. A lot more has been revealed by gaining Mads’ perspective. There is a struggle within him to be with the woman he loves, although she’s not entirely available. He wants to branch out and do more with his passion in life (he’s a carpenter) yet he feels he can’t afford to leave his side job with the sperm donor organization. Imagine running into a client on the street, and she’s pushing a baby in the stroller. A baby who you’ve helped create. One who you know you’ll never be able to interact with or be involved with. It’s a bi-product of his side job. His side job is crushing his spirit.

Before reading Maybe Tonight, I highly suggest reading Maybe Baby, first. The two go hand in hand. You’ll enjoy the love story between these two, however unconventional it might be, and that’s what’s so great about it. An awkward, real, and raw look at how two people destined for entirely different life experiences have come together to forge their own path.

 

Arizona Adventures, One 105 Degree Day At a Time…

Damn. Has it always been this hot? 

Once upon a time (over 15 years ago), I lived in Arizona. So, one would assume I’d know what I was getting myself into by moving back. I guess in the grand scheme of things, it’s not too bad. Friends in NE are regaling me with horrific stories of nearly 100-degree temps in the Midwest, lightly seasoned (HA) with some serious humidity like only the Midwest can provide. At least it’s a dry heat in Arizona, am I right?

It makes the 105-degree temps almost doable, but it’s no surprise to me that no one else is outside right now. It’s nearing 1:00pm local time, and there are no sounds of children playing in the streets. It’s an eerie silence I’ve been promised will change once the fall is mercifully here (does Arizona even have a fall season?). In the meantime, the boys and I are following in other Arizonian’s footsteps. We’re hiding indoors, shielding ourselves from the sun.

That’s not to say there aren’t other times of the day worth venturing outside. I ran for the first time since being here, and it was fantastic! And, it was at 6 in the morning. We plan on swimming in the pool right across the street from us. As long as it’s before 10am. Well, maybe 9am, just to be on the safe side. And below are pics from our first full night in Arizona, on the 4th of July (albeit, after the sun had gone way, WAY down):

First night!
First night!
Watching fireworks with friends. Someone pointed out how tan I look, but really, I'm only tan from the shoulders up. The rest of me is Nebraska white.
Watching fireworks with friends. Someone pointed out how tan I look, but really, I’m only tan from the shoulders up. The rest of me is Nebraska white.

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Other notable mentions:

The awesome farmer’s market, just down the road from us. It doesn’t open until 5:30pm; we make sure to check it out after the sun has already set. 

Coldstone. My Achilles heel. Enjoyed a delicious ice cream around 8pm. It was still 99 degrees out, but it felt wonderful!

Running errands. It’s all indoors, but I’m not kidding, I got burned going from the vehicle to the store. I make it a point to wear sunscreen on my shoulders/neck/chest every day, now.

My cat thinks moving is exhausting.
My cat thinks moving is exhausting.

The local library. You know I have to find one, wherever I go. It’s smaller than I’m used to, but has a really great selection. Today the boys watched a herpetologist showcase his lizards/snakes for a special children’s presentation. Afterwards, everyone got to pet the reticulated python.

It will cool down soon. I know it will, and in the meantime, we have to find interesting ways to entertain ourselves. Back in NE, I eagerly anticipated the sounds of various birds and wildlife. Those sounds always alerted me to the thawing out of perpetual winter, and the beginnings of a much-needed spring.

I guess here, I’ll know it’s the end of summer by the sweet sounds of children screaming in the streets.

 

 

Book Review: Worthy, by Catherine Ryan Hyde

Review for Chick Lit Central

Virginia finally had the chance to explore a relationship with Aaron when he asked her on a date. She had been waiting, hoping that the widower and his young son, Buddy, would welcome her into their lives. But a terrible tragedy strikes on the night of their first kiss, crushing their hopes for a future together.

Nineteen years later, Virginia is engaged, though she has not forgotten Aaron or Buddy. When her dog goes missing and it comes to light that her fiancé set him loose, a distraught Virginia breaks off the engagement and is alone once again. A shy young man has found the missing pet, and although he’s bonded with the animal, he answers his conscience and returns the dog. Before long, Virginia and the young man discover a connection from their pasts that will help them let go of painful memories and change their lives forever.(Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.)

This book is a masterpiece of words, woven intricately into the story like a jigsaw puzzle. I felt like the character evolution for Virginia and Jody (the shy young man) had been slowly revealed to me over time. Nothing was forceful or abrupt, and I really appreciated that. I got to really delve into the emotional psyche of both main characters while they are dealing with their own losses and heartaches. The twist is, Virginia and Jody are connected on a level that neither character can even fathom or comprehend, and fate put these two together at the most inopportune time.

A common bond: Worthy, the dog Virginia has been searching for. Her terrible ex-fiance sets Worthy loose many miles from home, unbeknownst to her but discovered by Jody. Worthy is the catalyst that will bring everything full circle, changing lives and opening up painful wounds that Virginia and Jody have buried deep inside, for many years. It’s through tragedy that these two people become forever joined, and through this discovery they can begin to heal.

Once I started reading Worthy, I couldn’t stop. It flowed that well and I wanted to invest myself into these characters. I wanted to find out what would happen next, and anticipated the moment Virginia and Jody would discover just how much they had in common, and how much they ultimately need one another. While I’ve yet to read any other novels from Catherine Ryan Hyde, I plan on it and highly recommend Worthyand other books she’s written, as I’m guessing they’re equally as good. (Pay It Forward is next on my list.) This novel by far has become one of my top favorites!

Why I’m Moving To Arizona

I still remember the day I left home, the day I left for Arizona. I was on the threshold of adulthood at 19. It wasn’t particularly hard for me, when I packed up my Hyundai Accent, whom I appropriately nicknamed “Barney” due to it’s deep purple hue. I’d known since I was a little girl I’d leave my hometown of Salem, Oregon. It wasn’t my forever home, and maybe Arizona wasn’t, either, but I knew it’s where I needed to be. My boyfriend was my proverbial gateway drug in, the one who beckoned me into the valley of the sun. If we didn’t pan out, I would try everything I had in me to make it on my own before I’d potentially return to Oregon, with my tail between my legs.

I loved Arizona, with it’s sunshine and warmth. The people were in plenitude and everyone had their own agenda, just like I did. I didn’t mind the intense heat during the summer. I didn’t mind the way the back of my thighs stuck to Barney’s pleather seats or how I’d needed an accordion-style windshield cover to block out the sun. Even when the sun did it’s damage to the Beanie Baby beaver I kept on Barney’s dashboard, it didn’t matter much to me. I felt it came with the territory.

The boyfriend-turned-husband-turned ex a few years later joined the Air Force, and we received our first official orders for (drum roll please): Nebraska. I never imagined and couldn’t fathom Nebraska. Nebraska was a state I’d learned about in school, or heard referenced while watching Full House reruns. Becky (played by Lori Loughlin) wanted to go to Nebraska to visit family for the holidays, but Jessie (played by John Stamos) wanted to stay in sunny California, and who can blame him? Who in their right mind would want to go where it’s always snowing and always cold? I never thought *I* would someday become a Cornhusker by transplant. I wasn’t looking forward to the move.

Yet…

Nebraska turned out to be a wonderful place. It’s where I’ve grown the most; my relationships by trial and error, the birth of my sons, the eventual progression from an awkward, fumbling 20-something to a more grown-up (albeit still fumbling) version of myself. Sure, the winters suck, but the ambiance and the people more than made up for it. I was barely in my 20’s when I moved to Nebraska, and here I am, 14 years later.

Here I am.

My parents live in Arizona. Dad always knew he, too, wouldn’t be an Oregonian forever. His dream had always been Tucson, so when he retired, that’s where he went. I think about giving my boys the opportunity of having a relationship with their grandparents. I had that experience as a child, and it’s still a cherished memory of mine.

Dad and the big kid, bonding over bugs
Dad and the big kid, bonding over bugs

It’s been a transitional year for me, one of reflection and honesty. As much as I value the friendships I’ve made in Nebraska, I feel as though it’s time for me to move forward in my life. For years I’ve stayed in one place because of the many catalysts surrounding me. I’ve wanted to do the right thing, not to rock the boat or make waves for myself or anyone else. In the process, there’s been no evolution.

So far, leaving Nebraska has been too easy, from a tactical standpoint. My husband found a great job, (in one day). We found a rental home close to great schools and a great neighborhood. Selling our home was our biggest concern, yet it sold within 4 hours. Just when we feel like we’re up against a gigantic hurdle, there is no hurdle.

Well, unless you count the surmounting sadness of leaving the wonderful people we’ve grown up with and become very attached to over the years.

Nebraska has been my home. I’ll miss my morning encounters with various wildlife creatures during an impromptu run; watching the seasons turn, waiting for the flowers to finally open up after what’s felt like an impossibly long winter; meeting up with friends for play dates at one house or the other; Vala’s pumpkin patch and the little apple orchard we visited every year since the 10-year old was a preschooler; the Early Childhood Center; all of the memories, good and bad, that I will hold onto and treasure and never forget.

In a little over a week, we’ll be on the road. Barney is long gone, I’m afraid, replaced by my husband’s Toyota Camry, which has no nickname but a very impressive bell on the dashboard (a story for another day). In a way, I’m returning to a place I never really had much time to get to know. My life is so different now, much different than it had been when I was just a young girl, wanting to find a place for herself in perpetual sunshine. Even though I’m up for the adventures that are in store for me and for my family, I will never forget where I came from, or the state that took me in during a time in my life when I needed the most guidance. I will never forget you, Nebraska.

Our home
Our home

 

 

 

Lisa Jakub’s New Book- Plus A Giveaway!

I read a lot of fantastic books through Chick Lit Central. It’s one of the perks of being a reviewer for the site. Recently, I had the opportunity to interview Lisa Jakub, former child actress, for CLC, as well as read/review her breakthrough novel, “You Look Like That Girl…”

This was special to me, considering our doppelganger ties. Many people would often tell me I looked like that girl in Mrs. Doubtfire

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After reading about Lisa’s childhood and what it was like for her living the celebrity lifestyle, our backgrounds are total polar opposites. I was never a celebrity (well, maybe in my own mind) and I can only imagine through her experiences what it was like getting to know someone like Robin Williams. Even with our many differences, I can relate to Lisa. I’ve been through plenty of experiences in my own life to know just how tough it is when you have to make difficult decisions in order to live a happy existence.

Check out my interview with Lisa, for Chick Lit Central, and be sure to enter the drawing; there are five copies to give away to lucky U.S. readers!

 

Book Review AND a Giveaway: Help Wanted

Reviewed for Chick Lit Central; be sure to click on the link to enter the giveaway!

When Claire Nelson decided that her happily-ever-after lay not in marriage but in a spot on the New York Times bestseller list, she vowed never to tie the knot. But that was before she met Paul Mendez, handsome and charming enough to have her breaking said vow and marrying him shortly after college.

Almost fifteen years and four sons later, Claire is now a burned out breadwinner ready to ditch her quest for happily-ever-after, and Paul has traded his dream of chairing corporate board meetings for volunteering at PTA meetings as a stay-at-home dad. Feeling trapped in a demanding job, Claire’s repeated attempts to get Paul to return to work fall flat. Contemplating divorce, she drafts a letter to the Plate Spinner, a popular advice columnist, asking for help. But when the reply contains an offer that may just put her bestselling author dreams back on track, Claire’s only question is: will Paul be on board? Or does her charming husband make a surprise move of his own? (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon)

I can very much relate to Help Wanted. Like Claire, I’m married. I have two rambunctious boys who I’m constantly having to tend to. Although I’m in a much happier place in my own marriage, and I’m not the burnt out breadwinner of the family, I know what it’s like to have a certain vision, an image of how the future will look, and how it feels to not achieve that due to all the various stepping stones of life. I liked the unique perspective Barbara Valentin has brought to light with this incredible novel. I get to identify from the stay-at-home perspective with Paul, while still yearning for my own dreams and aspirations that have fallen short, like Claire’s.

Even though Claire is struggling, inwardly, she wants to fall in love with Paul again, and Paul feels the same way about Claire. That’s another thing I loved about Help Wanted. It’s not often you find a novel that embraces and encourages marital bonds. The issue, though, is whether these two can make it work. Can they find happiness together, or will they be better off apart?

Mixed in are the subtle nuances that reminded me of The Gift of the Magi. Claire and Paul are both in a really tough place, financially and emotionally, yet there are situations where they end up trying to help one another without the other one even realizing it. There is a lot of charm and humor as well, which made this an easy read and one that I had a hard time putting down. That’s probably why I had no trouble reading it in two days! I’ll also stubbornly admit that I got a little teary-eyed towards the end, and I absolutely loved the ending. It was the perfect finish and one of my favorite endings, hands down.

I’m looking forward to reading the first book in this series, False Start. If it’s anywhere near as delightful as Help Wanted, I know I’m in for a treat!

 

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