Welcome to the Hotel NOT CALifornia!

First of all, Happy 4th of July, fellow Americans! I’m coming at you from a coffee shop this morning because our internet at home is down. And hey, how about that dust storm last night?! The luscious scent of creosote enveloped us the second we stepped outside this morning… it’s going to rain. Monsoon season begins!

Whoa, I’m feeling scattered here. Let me focus on sharing with you my latest favorite discovery.

The first time we spotted a vehicle with a “Not Cal” decal, we did a double-take. The second look was necessary because we’re used to seeing California pride decals that say “So Cal” for Southern California, or “Nor Cal” for Northern California.

We thought we were looking at a “Nor Cal” decal, but the “r” wasn’t right… it looked more like a “t.” It seemed to spell “Not Cal.” Squinting and looking closer, I realized, Hey! It DOES say “Not Cal!” Then I saw that the lettering was centered over a beautiful bronze graphic of the state of Arizona, which was resplendently merged with the Arizona flag. Not California. Arizona. I was stoked.


The AZ flag with its copper star and sunset rays. (AZ is famous for its copper mining industry and sunsets.)

The AZ flag with its copper star and sunset rays. (AZ is famous for its copper mining industry and sunsets.)


[Side-note trivia: In the 2001 poll taken by the North American Vexillological Association, the Arizona flag ranked #6 on the list of 10 Best Flags in North America – the sixth best flag out of 72 flags! New Mexico’s flag took first place, Texas came in second, and Quebec’s flag ranked third with its elegant fleur de lys design. Interesting, right? See the poll results here.]

Broken down geographically, the residential picture of my life looks like this:

First, I lived in “Nor Cal” for 18 years (born in San Francisco, raised in San Jose), spending most childhood summers with extended family out of state (Hawaii). I moved away after I graduated from high school. I’ve spent the last 27 years in “Not Cal.”

Over those 27 years, I lived overseas for five years (three years and three months in West Germany/Germany, six months in Saudi Arabia/Iraq/Kuwait, one year and six months in France), and five months in Texas… and I’ve lived in Arizona for 20 years and eight months (interrupted only by the time spent in France and Texas).

The point being that I was born and raised in California, but I’ve lived more of my life outside of California than in it, and over 75% of that time, I’ve lived in Arizona. I couldn’t be happier in a place, and I especially couldn’t be happier to NOT be in a place. For all its beauty and the fact that people I love live there, California and I are not a good fit. I’m a California native who feels like an Arizona native, and I’m not alone… we ‘Zonans like to joke that anyone who’s lived in the Land of AZ for 10 years or longer qualifies as a native, since most people who live in Arizona moved here from somewhere else.

(Apparently, a significant percentage of transplants in Arizona come from California. My friend and real estate agent Nick once remarked that every time there’s a natural disaster in California, Californians stampede to Arizona.)

So when I saw the “Not Cal” decal the first time, I was amused.

The second time I saw it, on a different vehicle, I was even more amused, because then I realized that “Not Cal” was a thing, which meant that it could be had. I found it online, ordered it, and Zach-the-Not-Cal guy got it to our mailbox within two days.


Bugsy all glammed-up!

Bugsy all glammed-up!


So, Zach and everyone at Not Cal Clothing and Big Cartel (funny coincidence… I’m at Cartel right now), thank you! Thanks for helping us ex-Californian ‘Zonans represent. =)

Dear Cancer: Get Lost and Stay Lost. Sincerely, Her Daughter.

Today, my Mom sets off on a journey new to her, familiar to many: chemo. We spent the weekend with her and Dad in California, and despite the circumstances, we all had a wonderful time.

Our family has been consumed with the development of her cancer since the last week of October, two weeks before we moved back to Arizona. Since then, in the midst of boxes and unpacking and getting our residential affairs in order and job-searching and holidays, time has speedily hustled us up to this moment, because that is what time does. It moves us forward.

This is actually Mom’s second go-round with cancer, but she didn’t have chemo the first time. What’s happening now was not supposed to happen. The daily Tamoxifen therapy she’d diligently followed after her first surgery proved ineffective… the cancer came back, and this time, it’s different. It’s HER2+. Aggressive cancers need aggressive treatment, so we’re looking at a year of all-out war, all told.

I haven’t talked about this here yet (and I wasn’t sure that I would) because the audaciousness of it simply defies words. The whole thing has been rather bewildering. It’s devastating and scary when it happens to friends and relatives, but to someone in my immediate family? That’s when it exits the realm of thinkability, leaves us looking at it, agape and aghast, from another dimension. This thing, this cancer, it’s like an obnoxious, uninvited dinner guest who just kind of showed up and sat down at the table, elbowing itself forcibly between all of us at once, making space where there wasn’t any to be had. It’s installed itself there like a fifth member of the family, and it’s demanding to be fed. Its hunger is voracious, and it’s rapidly grabbing for whatever it can get its filthy, greedy hands on.

Sure. We’ll feed you. Enjoy your chemo cocktail. And Herceptin. And radiation. AND SO ON. WE WILL NOT STOP FEEDING YOU UNTIL YOU COME APART AND CEASE TO EXIST. AND THEN WE WILL FEED YOU SOME MORE.

We’ll feed it, alright.

Today, the doctors will start slipping poison to the intruder.

Unfortunately, the poison will affect Mom as well as the intruder. I preemptively wrapped her up in a fuzzy warm robe and socks and slippers and a hat, because the Bay Area’s winter chill will increase as her treatment progresses, and she’s tiny. Her armor. Soft armor for a strong woman. She’s still good-naturedly running around accomplishing twenty things at once with her characteristic efficiency; she’s as indefatigable as ever. Callaghan and I couldn’t get her to just sit while we did things. That’s where Dad comes in… Dad is another weapon in her arsenal, maybe the most important one.

She’s well-armed, and that’s reassuring. An abundance of love and lots of prayers from family and friends. A lively sense of humor, a great attitude and a great deal of fortitude. The way I see it, the intruder has no chance. It’s outnumbered.


Flying home to Phoenix over southern California

Flying home to Phoenix over southern California

When Barley Knocks, We Answer the Door

Why hello! It’s Thursday! It’s not Wednesday, nor is it Friday. I’m posting here today because we’re off to California again – flying this time – and I’ll mostly be off-line until Monday (“mostly off-line” meaning I’ll likely check in on Facebook to wish friends happy birthdays, but I’ll be scarce other than that).

This last week saw the end of an apparent cold snap through the relentlessly brilliant, bright blue sky, chilling the apartment just enough to result in two well-furred kitties for winter. Ronnie James and Nounours are all puffed up and ready to go.


Winter-coat-wrapped kitties are well-ROUNDed kitties.

Winter-coat-wrapped kitties are well-ROUNDed kitties.


Speaking of furbabies… two weeks ago, I was leaving a message on a friend’s voice mail when I was comically distracted by some fuss at the door. It started with a scratching, bumping sound, but the commotion really started when Callaghan opened the door and a German Sheppard practically spilled inside! Our door excited him somehow, and his Mommy was there (they live across the way… we share the stairs with them), introducing us. His name is Barley.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I think that “Barley” is just about the cutest name for a German Sheppard that I’ve ever heard. I wish you could meet this dog. He’s a funny, adorable, lovable sweetheart, is what he is.

Barley. I’m thinking of him now because he’s currently alone over there, and I can hear him barking. It doesn’t bother me in the slightest, but it does make me want to go play with him.

What’s the cutest name for a dog you’ve ever heard?

Thanksgiving in California – The Real Thanksgiving!

So, that little stealth mission I’d mentioned in my last post?

On Thursday afternoon, we spontaneously decided to join Mom and Dad in northern California for Thanksgiving. We hit the road at 11:00PM, arrived the next morning (the drive is 10-11 hours) and spent a fantastic weekend with them. It was especially great when my brother and nephew showed up! Thanksgiving on Friday felt so much like the real Thanksgiving that all day Saturday, I thought it was Friday. There’s nothing like family. It had been three years since I’d visited mine in California, so that trip was a long time coming.

We left for Arizona yesterday morning and got home after dark. I thought I’d share a few road trip pictures:


Passing a southern California wind farm.

Passing a southern California wind farm.


We crossed the Arizona border late in the day, just before dusk. The state of Arizona turned 100 last year, and the centennial signs are still up.

We crossed the Arizona border late in the day, just before dusk. The state of Arizona turned 100 last year, and the centennial signs are still up.


You know you're in AZ when you start seeing these helpful DUI prevention signs on the highway... "Drive Hammered. Get Nailed." Oh, Arizona! haha

You know you’re in AZ when you start seeing these helpful DUI prevention signs on the highway… “Drive Hammered. Get Nailed.” Oh, Arizona! haha


Another telltale sign: saguaros, particularly when silhouetted against a blazing sunset.

Another telltale sign: saguaros, particularly when silhouetted against a blazing sunset.






NEWS – You Can Take the Girl out of Arizona, but You Can’t KEEP the Girl out of Arizona.

Yeah, good luck with that!

So. Our move has evolved, rather surprisingly, like this:

Phase One: (planned) Back to the States (June 2013)

Phase Two: (spontaneous) Back to the Desert (November 2013)

Surprise! Surprised?!

That’s right… we’re moving in November, as in, about a month from now. According to the Taoist calendar, I’m in a CHANGE year, which I guess I might have figured out by now, anyway, even if I didn’t know it. We just decided on this move in the last, like, week and a half.

One thing’s for sure – Texas is a fun and interesting place! We agree with our friend who remarked, “Austin is a town to fall in love with.” We’ve been here for four months now. Great times have been had and awesome people have been met and there’s so much to do here, it’s just been crazy-wonderful. Our plan was to stay for a year and then decide what to do after that. We’ve had a few other places in mind, in the case that we did decide to re-locate again. The short list included Lincoln, NE and Denver, CO.

But the longer I’m back in the States, the more I find my thoughts returning to the desert, to the Greater Phoenix Metropolitan Area, aka the Valley of the Sun (Phoenix is situated in a vast desert valley, surrounded, as per definition, by mountains). Callaghan loves Phoenix, too. We talked about it, and then we looked around at The Shipping mostly still in boxes, and we thought, why wait?

We’re going back to the Land of AZ!

It’s not that I think that one place is better than another, because I don’t. This is simply about feeling right somewhere, which is a very personal thing… feeling spiritually connected to our environment can only be a deeply personal thing. Just as some people believe in soul-mates, I believe in soul-places.

I was born in San Francisco and raised in San Jose, and the whole 18 years I spent in the Bay Area, I never felt comfortable there… not because of the people, but because I didn’t feel that I belonged. It wasn’t my place. In high school, I plotted my escape planned my departure for the earliest opportunity (hello, U.S. Army!) and never looked back. Now, I’ll go to California to see my family and just to visit, but live there again? Not going to happen. I’m hardly alone in this. It’s a pretty common phenomenon, people growing up and leaving their hometowns. It’s like we have to wander away from the place of our upbringings in order to discover where we really belong. Often, we find our special places by accident. You arrive for one reason – school, a job, a significant other – and before you know it, it’s been decades and you’re still there and you’re feeling that content, rooted belonging feeling, and you can’t imagine being anywhere else.

That’s how it happened with me and Arizona, back in 1991. After the Army, I accepted my then-boyfriend’s (also an ex-soldier) invitation to move to Phoenix. It was August, right when Arizona’s at its feistiest. It was scorching hot, dry, and alarmingly sunny year-round with brilliant blue skies and these ridiculous sunsets you just wouldn’t believe, and alien red rock formations with holes in them and gigantic cactuses everywhere. The sky was enormous. There were haboob (dust storms), and the July-August monsoon season brought the heavy aroma of creosote with the rain and the lightning over the desert. It was magical. With the surface streets laid out nice and neat on an idiot-proof grid system, you can get all over the enormous Valley from one end to the other without ever setting tire on a freeway, but an elaborate and efficient freeway system does exist should you desire to use it.

Next thing I knew, I’d been there for 20 years, longer than I’d lived in California. I never wanted to leave. I loved it. Being there just felt right. It was my place.

Then I met Callaghan. We got married. The plan was for him to live with me in Arizona for a year, but it turned out that he had to be in Europe for his business, so after just a few months, we ditched the plan and moved to France.

By January this year, Callaghan’s business circumstances had changed, so we were free to move back to the States (he has dual citizenship, as you may recall). We both wanted to move, and our adventurous spirits tingled with the possibilities. The question “Where should we go?” carved out an enticing open door in our lives, and there were so many places that could answer it! It was easy to sweep my beloved Arizona under the “been there, done that” rug while scanning the horizon for something new. The United States was like a gigantic candy store, and we were standing in the middle of it with ONE decision to make, to start.

We decided on Austin for all the reasons in this post.

And Austin is truly fantastic! What I didn’t anticipate, though, was seeing Phoenix everywhere I looked! The similarities are real, but I’ve come to realize that the reason I see Arizona all over the place is that I want to see it. I miss it. The saying goes, “East or West, home is best.” Arizona is my home. For me, it is best.

There’s great diversity in the Valley, and I’ve lived all over it… Phoenix’s many suburbs include (but are not limited to) the municipalities of Avondale, Glendale, Paradise Valley, Tempe, Scottsdale, Chandler, Gilbert and Mesa. We’re going to settle in Tempe, because it’s my favorite, and I’m planning to find a job there.

We’ll rent an apartment at first, but we’ll eventually buy a house so when the BIG ONE hits and California falls off into the ocean, we’ll have beach-front property.

I can’t believe it! We’re moving in November!

Here’s a smattering of pictures I’ve taken in Arizona over the years:


Desert blooms in the springtime make me so happy! This was one of the plants in my front yard.

Desert blooms in the springtime make me so happy! This was one of the plants in my front yard.


A shot of the sky at dusk

A shot of the sky at dusk


I miss the giant Saguaro cactuses, too

I miss the giant Saguaro cactuses, too


I love these alien red rock formations near the Phoenix Zoo and Desert Botanical Gardens...

I love these alien red rock formations near the Phoenix Zoo and Desert Botanical Gardens…


I can smell the creosote in the air just looking at this monsoon season sunset!

I can smell the creosote in the air just looking at this monsoon season sunset!


Stormy monsoon sky!

Stormy monsoon sky!


Phoenix's Camelback Mountain

Phoenix’s Camelback Mountain


This was my favorite sunset, and I remember it well... I came home from work to my Tempe apartment and went straight out to the balcony to take this picture. Pink Floyd's "High Hopes" was playing.

This was my favorite sunset, and I remember it well… I came home from work to my Tempe apartment and went straight out to the balcony to take this picture.


Sedona. Enough said.

Sedona. Enough said.






Note: None of these pictures were photo-shopped, touched-up, color-corrected or otherwise manipulated in any way. Arizona’s a natural beauty.

Pretty Little Liars and Korean Dramas – NOT UNLIKE

The ABC Family “young adult” television drama series Pretty Little Liars ate our brains, but we’re caught up now, so we’re re-claiming them… and our lives.


Pretty Little Liars

Pretty Little Liars


I don’t have much to say in our defense, but I can make the following observations: Pretty Little Liars is girly, sure, but its morbidity helps to mitigate that somewhat. It’s almost oppressively cloaked in suspicion, and we find it just dark enough to escape a total “frou-frou” designation.

Regardless of the fairly respectable tensile strength of my suspension of disbelief, I still feel some breakage in that area sometimes when we watch it. Callaghan does, too… we look at each other and go, “No way! There’s NO WAY that could happen!” Yet the absurdities keep things interesting, so they work.

At first, we weren’t into it. It was the lack of perspicuity in the plot that gnawed at our brains enough to drag us back for “just one more episode” time and again.  First, we thought it was a ghost story, then we decided it must be a murder mystery, and now we think we’re dealing with a conspiracy, or maybe even a cult. We just can’t figure it out, and that’s the thing… or one of the things.

The television series is based on a series of books by Sara Shepard. We haven’t read the books, so we just have no idea. If you’ve read the books and you know, please don’t tell me!

It started innocuously enough. I mean, there seemed to be no threat of impending addiction. Our reaction to the first episode was “Eh.” Then we watched a second episode and kind of laughed it off. Several weeks went by with no further viewing, until finally we came to the fateful evening we said, “Why not… let’s watch the third episode.” And that was it! We’d become PLL slaves. The show had become our guilty pleasure. You know how it is… you get intrigued with the characters as they develop, you start to feel affection for them, maybe, and you might find that you have a favorite or two. Next thing you know, you’re emotionally involved in their hardships and conundrums. The usual stuff that gets you hooked on a series.

I remember when televised “Korean Dramas” sucked in the entire state of Hawaii and part of California, including my family. (“Family” includes close family friends. It’s the Hawaiian Way.) At the time – this was in the 2000’s, I think – there was no T.V. in my life, with the exception of some occasional sports such as boxing and basketball; my disengagement with television added a layer of intrigue to the Korean Drama phenomenon. What was it about these shows that had so effectively captured their audience? I couldn’t relate, but I didn’t question it. We all have our things.

Now, because of Pretty Little Liars, I understand. It’s the exact same phenomenon as the Korean Dramas.

Here’s the back-story on the Korean Dramas: The whole thing got started in Hawaii with one of my many aunts and uncles, but it migrated to the mainland when Mom and Dad brought some of the tapes back with them to California (they divide their time between the two places), so it wasn’t long before others in the Bay Area got into them, too. Tapes were sometimes mailed between family members in Hawaii and California. They circulated from household to household. After a while, “Korean Dramas” became a common term in our family vernacular. It got to be where enough people were watching them that I could feel justified in exaggerating that “everyone” was hooked (I think my brother managed to escape it, though).

Inevitably, the Korean Dramas would appear on the T.V. at some point when I would go home to visit, so eventually I got to see what all the fuss was about. What I saw was simply a Korean soap opera, complete with sub-titles (a fortunate thing, since my family isn’t Korean, and they don’t know any Korean). But I also noted the following:

–The women are exquisite, beautifully attired and impeccably made-up. The men are excessively good-looking and groomed and polished into unnatural perfection, as well. (I’m sure that there are also character actors who don’t fit the supermodel mold, though.)

–There’s a lot of angst. By western male standards, anyway, the men seem unusually emotional. I remember a lot of crying, brow-furrowing and hand-wringing going on, in general.

–Disasters of various types erupt on the regular, usually domestic or romantic in nature. “Drama” is putting it mildly. The script-writers seem to write illness, death, misunderstandings, betrayal and heartbreak into the episodes with unfettered glee.

When I told Callaghan about all of this, he was like, “OH YEAH!” And he proceeded to tell me about the time he and his friend went to check in at a hotel in California, and they heard screaming, fits of crying and general mayhem emitting from behind the reception office. The next morning, they went back down to the desk and heard the same thing, all over again. They became concerned, thinking that it was domestic abuse. It wasn’t. It turned out to be the Korean Dramas that the people were watching back there.

Standard soap-opera fare, brilliantly done, apparently, if their popularity is any indication!

Now, when can we access the latest episode of Pretty Little Liars….