11–20 of 332 entries in the category: Arizona

Viva la Frida!

September 14th

Girlfriends organized and threw a Frida Kahlo-themed wedding shower for me over the weekend. It was, not to be too dramatic, the best day of my life. I had a handful of close friends and family in one room, all enjoying great food and each other’s company.

I’ll let the pictures do the talking:

Frida bridal shower: September 2016 Mesa, AZ

Frida bridal shower: September 2016 Mesa, AZFrida Bridal Shower

Frida Bridal Shower

Frida Bridal Shower

Frida Bridal Shower

Frida Bridal Shower

Frida Bridal Shower

Frida Bridal Shower

Frida Bridal Shower

Frida Bridal Shower

Frida Bridal Shower

Frida Bridal Shower

Frida Bridal Shower

Frida Bridal Shower

A flower bar. A Frida-themed photo backdrop. They made me a flower headband to wear that matched my crazy Frida-dress. And then they packed up all the left-over churros and Frida stuff and sent me home with three vases of flowers.

I feel incredibly loved! (And I’m so happy to let my freak flag fly. There is no hiding how much I love Frida, guacamole, or my friends. Now, Jason’s family is well aware.)

Frida Bridal Shower

Many thanks to Shan, Meg and Katie for making this day so thoughtful and generous. And to my mom for flying in for the fiesta!


Posted in
Arizona, Celebrate!
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Raising the Modern Family: A Stepchild’s View

August 14th

In this entry in the series, Raising a Modern Family, Ashley talks about being raised by a stepfather, and how this has influenced her marriage with Nick—and the raising of their two boys. She also talks about how her relationship with Christ changed her life, and brought her to forgiving her stepfather.

{I’ve known Ashley for a dozen years, and she has the most incredible real life hair of any woman I’ve ever met.}

Modern Family

Tell me about you, and your family. How long have you been married? How old are your kids? 

My name is Ashley.  I am a cake decorator and teachers aide—but my two boys would say I’m a ninja mom because of my ability to sneak up behind them when they least expect it!  I’m married to an amazing man who is also a wonderful father.  We celebrated our 11th year of marriage this past May.  Our boys are ages 9 and 5 and keep us very busy between baseball, school, broken bones, lego building, and sword fights. We are followers of Jesus and teach our children to love others, even when nobody is watching and give generously because nothing here is really ours anyway.

How long have you been a stepkid?

I became a step kid when I was in the 8th grade.  Trying not to age myself here, it’s been roughly 22 years.

Did you have a good relationship with your stepparents? Are they still married today? Are you in contact? 

No. Not at first, anyway.  To me, my step father was the reason my parents divorced. It took a very long time for me to just forgive him and learn to let him in emotionally.  Before that, I acted out, getting arrested, skipping school, and in general being a horrible person. It was a rough 4 years before I graduated high school and moved out.  When I was 19, I asked Jesus to take control.  It was life changing.  Letting go of the bitterness, forgiving both of them, really helped grow our relationship into what it is today.  They are still married and I do get to see him quite often.  

I also have a step mother, which was a totally different experience…but for sanity purposes, I’ll keep these comments about my step father, since that’s who I lived with primarily.

How has this experience changed you? 

My parent’s had nearly divorced a few times.  I can remember them sitting us down and having the “talk” with us, and then nothing would happen.  Then we’d have another talk.  And then nothing.  Then one day, when my dad was away on a business trip, she moved us to a new house.  It was so life changing, that I never want my own kids to go through that if I can avoid it.  I know that there are MANY different reasons and way to become a step child or step parent.  My story is through divorce.  And it broke our family for a long time.  So for us, divorce is not an option.  We don’t speak the word.  We don’t give any life to it if it enters our thoughts.  We have had many ups and downs, but our promise was not only to each other, but also to God.  I think going through that experience made me a better wife and mother.   

What would you have done differently?

Oh gosh.  I would have stopped being such a brat and just listened to him!  He had two grown kids of his own and knew a thing or two about how to raise us.  I just didn’t want to hear it then.  I will say, he did a very good job of just hanging back until I was ready to let him in.  

Has your parenting style been influenced by this experience? 

I’m sure it has in some way.  I just never really stopped to say, hey, I do this because I was a step kid. 

What advice would you give to someone new to either the stepkid or stepparent game? 

To stepkids I’d say, be open.  Let your step parent in. Talk to them; let them know if you’re having a hard time. Be respectful and share some of your favorite family memories, and make new memories together!

Is there a story about your childhood you’d like to share? 

My step father knew our family for years before he became a part of it.  He was a magician.  I can remember him sitting us down as kids and teaching us magic tricks.  We each got to learn one.  We were sworn to secrecy about how it was done.  To this day I can not reveal how the trick he taught me is done. 

Is there anything else you’d like folks to know about your experience? 

Only recently did I learn that my stepfather actually struggled with forgiving HIMSELF for how everything happened with my mom.  Out of respect for him and my mom, I won’t list details, but I will say that it made me look at him with much more sympathy.   Over 22 years living with guilt is no way to live life.  Forgive yourself.  Forgive your step parents.  And step parents: forgive your step kids.  One day they WILL come around! 

Thank you Ashley!
Posted in
Arizona, Community, Journal
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Bye bye, Garden

June 21st

Garden to Table

This has been a very frustrating year in the gardening department. *We spent several hundred dollars (and several weekends) getting the irrigation set to the garden beds. And several hundred dollars on great earth and heirloom seeds and plants. And then, several hundred dollars on water.

This year, we’ve produced two squash, a couple dozen tomatoes and a dozen peppers. Total. The birds have eaten another two dozen tomatoes. And we’ve lost some of everything to the sun.

We are currently in the middle of a crazy heatwave, even for Arizona. It has been 115+ for the last few days. My green, leafy garden looks like someone took a blow torch to it. The leaves are singed along the edges, if not entirely dead. We do have gourds going nuts, vining all over the yard. And the herbs, happily potted in the shade, are also doing well in the heat as of today.

But man, the first year of a new garden is rough. It is a lot of work for future bounty. I need a good attitude to keep everyone else in the house who is waiting on the bounty interested, instead of wondering where all of our time and money went.

Our fall garden? It will be great. We’ll pull everything out in late-August, mix in new soil amendments and start over. I’m half-tempted to pull the remaining tomatoes now and plant pumpkin seeds for autumn. We are trying something new: starting tomato starts from cuttings. I’m going to do the same with both types of basil we are growing as well. There is a chance we’ll be able to keep our favorite tomato plants from this year alive indoors until mid-October and then transplant. Because if it is 118 in June, it better not freeze come January. That’s the deal I’m making with Mama Nature.

Gardening is a long-term hobby. Some years you fall flat. Or burnt.


*and by “We” I firmly mean “Jason.”

Posted in
Arizona, Flora and Fauna
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A Pedestrian’s View

May 11th

May 2016

Taking the bus means I’m walking more, and seeing things from a different perspective. I’ve rushed by this building a hundred times thinking it was neatly covered in road signs.

Walking, I see it is an homage to Arizona’s centennial: 1912-2012.

I am so glad to be in Arizona and working for my state. Politics aside, it is a great place to be.

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The Boys Down the Street

May 2nd

Summer BBQ -- Colorado style

When I was 11 or so, a new family moved to the corner house on our street. They had one tow-head toddler who couldn’t say Kelli, so he called me Ki Ki. Soon, another baby boy was on the way. The parents and my parents made fast friends. I spent many, many summer days with tan lines and blood shot eyes chasing those two little boys, and my younger brother, around the pool.



The scent of burning charcoal briquettes immediately takes me back to these happy days. Our parents would grill and lounge in the shade and we would squeal and play and be utterly exhausted by the time night fell. (In retrospect, this was a brilliant parenting strategy.)

In time, I became the babysitter. I’d watch the two boys regularly over the next few years. I loved the brothers like they were my own. I read their favorite books to the point of memorization. I rocked them goodnight and gave them baths. I watched Aladdin on VHS tape approximately 10,000 times. I helped teach them to swim.

In 1994, I left my family (and theirs) to study in Mexico for a year. I was 14 and communication home was expensive. I’d call home on Sundays, and sometimes sneak a call to my dad at work. He’d always accept the charges. It was on one of those calls, when I stood at a pay phone in the foyer of the Mexican high school library, that my dad relayed the bad news. Gently, he told me the younger of the two neighbor boys was sick. He’d been sick for a while and they hadn’t been able to figure it out. Finally, they knew. He had a form of pediatric cancer and was off to Minnesota for treatment. His mom left her job and was living in the Ronald McDonald house.

I cried the tears of a gulping teenage girl whose world view had cracked, and was 1500 miles from those she loved most.

My mom helped watch the older brother, still just a little one, and my parents together kept an eye on their dad, who must have been out of his mind with grief and potential loss. The details of those days and months are not clear in my memory. What I do remember is returning home six months later and the youngest brother was still alive, in recovery, everyone back at home. When I went to visit, I realized that while he was alive, he was still dealing with the repercussions of having cell-altering chemicals and radiation at a tender age of growth. His color wasn’t right for a long time, his skin black and gray. And my last memory of him as a kindergarten student a few years later was one where he used a walker, dragging a foot behind him.

But he was alive!

The years rolled on, and soon the family was off to the Pacific Northwest for work. Their house sold quickly. I don’t remember ever saying goodbye. I do remember feeling like a piece of my childhood was packed in their moving truck, tucked between the towels that always smelled of chlorine and the tonka trucks. During the next 20 years, I spent more than a few hours looking for their family online with no luck.

Imagine my utter shock when about six weeks ago, laying on my mat in silence before a yoga class, a woman leaned her head next to mine and said, “KELLI!”

It was their mother. By sheer coincidence, after more than a decade of living elsewhere, we are neighbors again in an entirely different neighborhood. I hugged her with a ferocity that I think scared us both, and told her through tears how I’d searched for them. How was her youngest son? I asked it hesitantly, wondering all these years if the cancer had come back.

“Oh, he just graduated college. He lives with us! He’s great.”

He is great. That weekend, I got together with their family. Their eldest son, now a PhD candidate in northern California, was home visiting for the weekend — again by chance. We sat and reminisced, and I soon realized that while it was so important to my childhood — the time we’d spent together — the boys barely remembered me. They were more than ten years younger and their memories, of course, were those of little ones: blurry at best. But they did know of our family from the stories their parents had repeated, and I hugged them like an older sister would.

It was, and remains, a wonderful set of coincidences that brought a friendship together again.


Posted in
Arizona, Faith, Family
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Garden Love

May 2nd

Garden love April 2016 www.africankelli.com

I’ve been volunteering at a garden in a swanky north Scottsdale neighborhood. I met a woman through a Junior League event and she asked for some help getting their garden beds started. We planted way, way too much the first time around — but thanks to a great irrigation system, it grew like wildfire.

Garden love April 2016 www.africankelli.com

We pulled the beds clean last week and started over, working coffee grounds into the earth and planting several varieties of sunflowers, which will do great with the impending heat. I love to plant sunflowers for those sweaty July days when I’m desperate to spend time outside. They are low maintenance, good for the birds and good for your soil. They give me something to water without giving me too much to do when it is 100-plus.

Garden love April 2016 www.africankelli.com

Turning over the beds a bit early due to timing of volunteer schedules meant I came home with a bag full of green tomatoes. Also, a bag full of herbs and a bunch of jalapenos. We are going to a Kentucky Derby party this weekend in the neighborhood, so I sent a generous bag of mint down the street for festivities prep. Otherwise, I turned to canning books to figure out what to do and landed on two recipes: pickled peppers, and green tomato chutney.

Garden love April 2016 www.africankelli.com

I goofed up a bit on both, as I’m prone to do the first time with a canning recipe. On the peppers, I did not pack the jar tight enough — as the instructions said. So, there is a lot of brine for little spice, but we’ve been eating them and they are great. Second, the chutney called for brown sugar and I should have known better and automatically cut the amount in half. We don’t eat a lot of sugar and this chutney is delicious and way, way too sweet. It will be good for roasting meat in the crockpot.

Garden love April 2016 www.africankelli.comGarden love April 2016 www.africankelli.com

And oh, the herbs. OH THE HERBS.

Garden love April 2016 www.africankelli.com

I’m using as much of this as possible this week in sauces and freezing the rest. I love to use lavender in sachets — not to cook with. Additionally, I cut some hollyhocks from the garden for the house.

Garden love April 2016 www.africankelli.com

I loved walking with that class of kids through the garden and talking shop. They asked smart questions and their minds were blown when I handed them tiny pieces of mint to eat. “IT TASTES LIKE GUM!” A Willy Wonka moment.


Posted in
Arizona, Earth Mama, Happy Hippie
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Onward We March

March 28th

March 2016

During the last year, the department I work for has been reduced by more than 30%. The work we are doing has been transferred to a different state agency. The transition, all the same, has been an odd experience. I am the only person left on one side of a large floor of offices and cubicles. When I come in, I have to wave my arms above my head to get the lights to click on. I can hear when anyone on the other side of the floor exits. The elevator dings on occasion, getting my attention.

It’s zombie movie strange.

I miss the voice of friends and colleagues who filled the sea of gray cubicles. I’ll be joining them soon in a different building, under a different agency, a few miles away. I’m one of the lucky ones.

With this transition has come a need for deep flexibility. As colleagues were let go, others found new positions. Still others took retirement. Their responsibilities in many cases have been divided among those remaining. And so, we juggle.

There is an express bus that leaves not far from my house, depositing me one mile from my new office. For now, that mile is a nice morning walk. Soon, it will be a hot slog and I’ll need to keep wet wipes at my desk — but I am going to try to do this as many days as possible. Commuting by bus is new to me; I was pleasantly surprised by how quick the bus gets you to and from. It is comfortable, and full of other professionals headed downtown. The price is great too because as a state employee, the fair is subsidized. It is of course the green option, and as the summer approaches, I won’t be sitting in traffic on the asphalt in 110 degree heat.

The flip side to taking the bus is I have to plan my entire day within walking distance of my office. I can’t go out to lunch unless someone else drives or we are hoofing it. And, going to the gym means hauling an extra set of clothing downtown and on that mile walk each way. I’m trying to make getting to the gym as easy as possible, and carting even the necessaries back and forth each day will hamper my motivation.

Tomorrow, I get back on the gym workout wagon that I rode for so many years in my 20s: up by 5, at the gym by 5:15, in the showers by 6:30, and on the bus by 7. I can leave my gym bag and car at the bus stop — which is within half a mile of the gym. So, I’m only carting my purse and lunch to my desk.

I like having a plan and a routine. And I know having my workout done before I get to work will start my day off on a happier foot. I have more work than ever to accomplish, so getting up earlier as it gets warmer makes sense.

Onward, we march into this new professional life.



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Arizona, Journal
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March in the Garden

March 11th

March gardening Mesa, Az www.africankelli.com

The citrus are blooming, covered in bees and making the yard smell like perfume.

March gardening Mesa, Az www.africankelli.com

We’ve got two types of basil and some lavender going. I’m hoping they’ll all perk up with the increasing heat.

March gardening Mesa, Az www.africankelli.com

Especially you, lavender. You’re on notice.

March gardening Mesa, Az www.africankelli.com

March gardening Mesa, Az www.africankelli.com

The geraniums are going strong. These are some of my favorite flowers to have around because they last so long, and they are such a great pop of color.

March gardening Mesa, Az www.africankelli.com

A few succulent cuttings for a friend.

March gardening Mesa, Az www.africankelli.com

These small palm trees are having some sort of weird sexual awakening.

March gardening Mesa, Az www.africankelli.com

The rest of the yard is screaming in color. All I can hear in my head when looking at this is, “FABULOUS! WORK IT, GIRL!”  (Because you know, sometimes the plants talk back.)

March gardening Mesa, Az www.africankelli.com

And the ‘maters are in and doing well. I tried growing from seed again this year, but they are just too small to produce. So, I bit the bullet and bought some heirloom plants at the local mom and pop nursery. Hopefully we’ll be able to keep these going year-round, like I did the last year in Tempe. A new garden bed is being added soon too. The irrigation is already in. Woo!

And that, folks, is how the garden grows.


Posted in
Arizona, Domestic Art, Flora and Fauna
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When Life Gives You Citrus and Sunshine

February 25th

acacia bloom

future marmalade

Arizona sun in a jar

Spring is in full bloom in Arizona; our “winter” lasted all of three weeks, or so. As such, the citrus limbs are heavy with golden orbs and the acacia are flowering with the most delicious scent. (It really is my favorite smell.)

When you have a hundred pounds of citrus, or so, what to do? My go-to is marmalade. I use the recipe from the traditional Ball Canning Book. It is essentially a 1-1-1 ratio of citrus, sugar and water. Boil this as hot as you can muster for a good 55 minutes and then let simmer until you see it thicken. The natural pectin in the citrus should be sufficient, but when a batch doesn’t seem to be setting up — I add a package of Sure Jell.

When there is only a bit left after a canning adventure, or I haven’t prepared enough jars, I will stick a half-full jar in the fridge for experiments. This week we used this jar over a pork loin in the Crockpot. Cooked for 8 hours on low, we had orange pork over steamed vegetables and rice for dinner. The kids inhaled it. (My new mark for a winning recipe.) I also used a bit in a yellow cake mix to bake a couple loaves of orange bread. Easy, sweet and using what we have.

In the garden, we have broccoli that went to seed and pepper plants that have been producing. Carrots, onions and flowering bulbs are coming up strong. And the basil and lavender have found a sweet spot in the yard, tucked under a giant ficus. They get enough heat, but not direct sun and plenty of water.

I am so happy this time of year. The windows are open when possible, the geraniums are flowering with colorful abandon, and our backyard is full of love birds, hummingbirds and three noisy dogs.


Posted in
Arizona, Domestic Art
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My Tree

February 16th

A thinking tree

When I briefly lived in Cameroon 16 years ago, I was so homesick I could barely breathe. I took solace spending my free lunch time under a huge mango tree in a school yard. I’d sit on the concrete step of a classroom (not in session) and look across the yard at the huge tree. It was probably 50 feet tall and had arms that stretched wide, with thick green leaves. If you stood under it, you could see tangerine mangos high above. The lower limbs had been plucked clean, furry pits strewn about the dirt school yard.

I’d sit on that stoop, or stoep, depending on your African linguistics, and think of my mom and dad. I’d wonder what my brother was doing in high school that day. I’d think of one of my closest friends, who was pregnant with her first child and due any day.

I spent a lot of lunches staring at the limbs of that great tree, watching birds come and go and dreaming of the comfort of home.

The beast

There is a tree not far from my home today where I find similar solace. Mercifully, I’m no longer sick of any sort. Instead, I get to this tree and rest in the lush green grass, letting Nelson off the leash to chase bunnies in the nearby desert brush, and relax. It is just the right size for shade and warmth. It is the perfect thinking tree.



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