#SoCS: Our choices make our lives (with bonus pics from Saguaro National Park)

Saguaro against the deep blue of an Arizona sky

This post is part of the Stream of Consciousness Saturday blog hop. Linda Hill posts a prompt every Friday; this week’s prompt is: “opt.” Use it as a word or find a word with “opt” in it and base your post on that.

Yesterday my husband and I opted out of unpacking, organizing, and cleaning. Instead of doing those responsible adult things, we opted to explore the western unit of Saguaro National Park, about a half-hour’s drive from our new home in Tucson.

Cholla forest

I read a lot of self-help books, because I want to be the best version of me than I can, and I have a lot of dreams I want to achieve and maybe (if I’m lucky) about a third of my life left to achieve them. One theme that runs through much of the self-help literature is that our lives are the summed-up consequences of the choices we’ve made, especially the small choices we make multiple times each day: the choice to take a walk instead of doom-scrolling social media for another 30 minutes; the choice to eat the banana instead of the Cheez-Its (I fail this test regularly. Extra Toasty Cheez Its are swoon-worthy.); the choice to say something kind instead of something angry; the choice to write each morning instead of spending half an hour browsing online for Little Free Library designs (not that I actually did that this morning. No, not me.)

Tl;dr: our choices–even the little ones–matter, because taken together, they make up our lives.

Sonoran Desert noir

Like everyone else, my family has had a… challenging year. Not a bad year, no, not really. In fact, speaking only for me and mine, 2020 was a pretty good year in many ways. But the global pandemic has limited–or at least affected–everyone’s choices. Thanksgiving really brought home those limitations, as so many of us had to weigh the risk of gathering with family and friends against the loss of those connections, those opportunities. And if you have elderly relatives–or are elderly yourself–the risk that you might not get another such opportunity. Even everyday choices seem more fraught: do I visit a crowded grocery store to grab the thing I need for the dish I want to make? Do I risk Home Depot on a holiday weekend to get the part I need to fix whatever broke on my old, cranky house this time? (spoiler alert: it’s the plumbing) Do I? Should I? Will I become one of the people we read about in the news, whose dying words are that they wished they’d taken COVID more seriously?

It’s exhausting. The pandemic is exhausting. 2020 is exhausting.

And moving to a new city and taking a new job in the middle of this mess? You guessed it: exhausting.

Up close and personal with a saguaro

We don’t have family to visit, and I cooked enough food on Thursday to feed quite a few nonexistent relatives, so yesterday we were looking at 3 days of unstructured time, the longest break we’ve had since we moved into our new house a month ago today. 3 days to unpack. Organize. Clean up the Thanksgiving dishes I was too tired to wash on Thanksgiving.

“Let’s get some unpacking done today,” I say to my husband.


A half hour passes. I’m still puttering away at the computer, pretending I’m being productive. “Almost ready,” I say.


More puttering. A trip to the bathroom. A snack. Back to the computer.

“Let’s go somewhere outside,” I yell from the den.

“OK.” More enthusiasm this time.

And 30 minutes later we are out the door for our desert adventure.

Baby saguaros sheltered by rocks. Aren’t they adorable little pincushions?

This morning, the Thanksgiving dishes are still in the sink. The boxes are still full. The carport is still full of stuff we need to sort and clean and bring in the house.

And I don’t care.

I don’t.

Because our lives really are the sum total of the choices we make, and yesterday we chose to sink our roots a little deeper in our desert home, to look a little closer, to embrace the beauty and wonder of a place that is still new to us but already becoming part of us. And when I’m on my deathbed, I doubt I’ll give a thought to the dishes and the boxes and the messy carport. But maybe instead I’ll remember choosing to spend a clear autumn afternoon wandering among the saguaros with the love of my life.

Photo safari through a historic Flagstaff neighborhood

2020-04-24 12.10.15.jpgMy first novel, Vanishing, Inc., is set in a fictional mountain town in Arizona called Ponderosa. I live in Flagstaff, a not-so-fictional mountain town in Arizona that makes an appearance in my story, but since I’m writing a paranormal romance (a time travel romance, to be specific), I wanted the freedom of a fictional setting. I don’t want some overly-literal reader leaving me a one-star review because there are, in fact, no time portals in Flagstaff.

Hey, you know it could happen. I’m sure plenty of tourists have walked through standing stones in Scotland and become very grumpy because they did not immediately find themselves in the arms of a lusty Scottish outlaw. BTW, how cheap are airline tickets to Scotland these days? Asking for a friend…

But I digress.

Now, where were we? Oh, yeah–Ponderosa, Arizona, which exists only in my manuscript. But you’ll love it, I promise. Especially since it involves a lusty Arizona outlaw.

It also involves the unique landscape of the Northern Arizona mountains, which I’ve been lucky enough to call home for the last 6 years. Now that my world has shrunk to the size of my yard (thanks, Microbe that Must not be Named), my explorations have been a bit limited. But last week I got to take a trip! Go on a journey! Where did I go, you ask?

I took my husband to the dentist.

It’s a thrill a minute around here, I tell ya.

His dentist’s office is in one of Flagstaff’s historic neighborhoods, so I took myself on a mini photo safari while he got his tooth fixed. The primary setting in Vanishing, Inc. is a stone cottage built in 1890, so I paid particular attention to old stone houses. Like this one:

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I’ve been fascinated by stone houses since I was a kid. I suppose they remind me of the fairy tales I read over and over in elementary school. We have a lot of rocks around here, so old stone houses are fairly common,  but I still find them magical. Look at that texture! At the contrast of textures! And can’t you just picture that house with a time portal in the basement? C’mon, use your imagination…

Take away the modern windows and modern roof, and this one would make a great location for a time portal:

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I love how the stone makes the house fit into the landscape like it’s always been there.

Besides writing, I’m obsessed with gardening, so I took lots of pictures of plants and yards, especially where there were contrasting textures. Like this:

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And this:

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And my favorite picture of the day. Look at that wonderful old stone wall! and those red buds popping out of the shade! I can picture my main character stumbling over that wall in 1910, on her way to even more trouble.

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And it’s spring, so I couldn’t resist the flowers. Here’s forsythia:

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And sand cherry blossoms:

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I hope you’ve enjoyed this little trek into my world, both real and fictional. I’m fortunate to live in a beautiful, magical place, but beauty and magic can be found anywhere. I hope you’ll take the time to find some of your own.


2020-03-22 12.01.54.jpgAs it has for many of us, my world has grown smaller in the last few weeks. We aren’t under a shelter in place order here in Arizona (yet), but the number of coronavirus cases is rising rapidly, and most public facilities are either closed or restricted.

Like most Gen-Xers, I’m good at entertaining myself. I also know how to cook, and I enjoy time at home, away from people. But still, having to be home for an extended period of time can get monotonous, even for an introverted librarian/writer like me. And so I’m consciously looking for ways to improve the experience.

Sunday afternoon, my husband and I took a walk in the Coconino National Forest near our home. We lingered in the woods, taking pictures of interesting tree trunks, 2020-03-22 12.04.25.jpg

smelling the sharp scent of Ponderosa pine, and admiring the patterns of lichen on boulders.

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We admired a baby pine sprouting beside a stump, life from death, the promise of hope and rebirth in this strange, dark time.

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We spent way too much time studying a mysterious glob of melted plastic, likely a remnant of the 2010 forest fire, the scars of which still mar these mountains nearly a decade after the fact.

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We discovered a tiny cactus peeking through the pine needles on the forest floor.


In other words, we noticed things.

Little things. Unglamorous things. Things we’d normally cruise right past with little more than a passing glance–if we looked at them at all. But our world is smaller now, and the pace of our lives has slowed to a crawl. There’s time now to see, to take in, to notice.

Many years ago, I signed up for a drawing class at a community college. I’d never been able to draw even a decent-looking stick figure, but I let myself be talked into taking a drawing class.

I plead temporary insanity.

On the first night, the professor heard me whine, “I can’t draw!” He came up to me, studied me with crinkled, professorial eyes, and informed me of the following:

“Your problem isn’t that you don’t know how to draw. It’s that you don’t know how to see.”

He had us draw our own closed fist. And I found myself studying the details of my own hand, the lines, the curves, the creases and whorls, and reproducing them on a page in a sketch pad. The result would win no prizes in an art show, but it was recognizably a hand.

I had drawn a hand. A real hand.

My hand.

With my own hand.

That old professor had been right. Sort of. I knew how to see, but I’d never taken the time to notice. To really look at something in its minute detail. To shut out all the distractions and busy-ness of the world and focus on a single, simple thing and see the magic in it.

I’ve carried that lesson with me these last thirty-some years. Oh, I forget it often enough. I let busy-ness crowd out magic, I run on the hamster wheel of life and berate myself for not doing more, better, faster. Work more, write more, make more money, do more laundry, why is the house such a mess and the garden full of weeds and my body out of shape and…


Hard to make room for magic in all that doing.

But on Sunday I made room for that magic. Amid the fear and the disruption and the absurd shortage of toilet paper, I made room for magic. For wonder. For joy.

I took the time to notice–and found healing and peace in that noticing.