from Sandy Needham

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Scottsdale-Phoenix Dispatch

Words with Friends. The online scrabble game. The reason my blog has been neglected, despite a USA/Canada trip, Carnaval in Rio Grande do Norte, and our recent week in Buenos Aires. So, I’ve now declined two “Words” contenders and vowed to refocus my life - one day at a time.

I write these dispatches for myself as much as anyone – as memoir and the capturing of impressions, but I’m so tardy that a couple of people from the dispatch recipient list have inquired. That is so sweet!


In late January, after arriving São Paulo>Houston, Newton headed to a trade show in California and I headed for Phoenix, Arizona to visit my sister Dorothy and brother-in-law Bill at their winter home in nearby Scottsdale. Bleary-eyed from only one hour of sleep in 24, I was excited nevertheless to see them and their condominium on a lake. As Dorothy shepherded me through the house and I marveled at her great decorating job, a funny look came across her face as she nudged me towards the kitchen. Who was sitting at the table, but sister Donna from New Jersey and sister Janet from Denver. A surprise Sisters’ Reunion!! The shock bolted me out of my sleep-deprived stupor, though I was truly grateful they had not gone with Plan B: to hide in the closet till I started unpacking; clearly heart attack material for easily-startled me! We are rarely all together; most recent was in Tulsa a year ago November when Mother died. We had even managed a reunion here in Brazil two years prior to that, so we’re improving as we retire and age!


                              Donna, Dorothy, Janet and I

chaise chairMuch of the week together entailed some interior design solutions, particularly new cushions for a lounge chair and ottoman. While Bill worked daily on his golf strokes, the sisters covered the city in search of the perfect fabric and, when about to despair, discovered this great one that – it turns out - my old dear friend since way back in my textile days, David Barrow, had worked on! Dorothy and Bill have furnished their condominium mainly with great quality second-hand furniture and paintings from the consignment shops of Scottsdale. Here are the results:

living rmeating area

driving boatWe also spent some time on Dorothy and Bill’s catamaran called Prickly Pair, docked out front. The two of them take it for a spin on their lake most every evening. (This is one emblem of their dual lives in Scottsdale…golf, yoga, relaxation, boat rides…and in their home of many decades, Durango, Colorado, where they are pillars of the community…Rotary (Bill was the governor!), Salvation Army, book club, and more commitments than I can name.) We all loved the tranquility of our boat rides in this pretty place!



While each of my sisters is outstanding in countless ways, particularly as three of the best grandmothers I’ve ever seen, I would like to dedicate this dispatch to Dorothy and Bill, who celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary with us. We went to the Talking Stick Casino for an outstanding dinner, but what made the evening so memorable was the question Bill asked us over cocktails on a little terrace: “What do you remember about our wedding day?”

Back when Dorothy and Bill were teenagers, the year was 1961, she went off to college, being some months older than Bill, still a senior in high school. Come New Year’s Day, 1962, Dorothy gave birth to their son Brad, though she didn’t really look pregnant in big sweatshirts. They married a few days later. I was 11; Donna, 13; and Janet, already married and a mother by then. Dorothy and Bill did not trumpet their 50th anniversary, coinciding as it did with their son’s 50th birthday, but, times have changed, and recalling the details of a very young couple having a baby rather unexpectedly and the way they, through their love and the love that surrounded them, not only made it work, but produced two generations, so far, of one of the most amazing extended families anywhere – clearly their accomplishment deserves nothing short of jubilation! And for the sisters, the celebration of Dorothy & Bill’s anniversary is always a celebration of our incomparable parents who, back 50 years ago, had only one thing to say to their frightened pregnant daughter, “We love you.”

BradBrad, of Durango, got his degree in percussion: from timpani to jazz to composing; he runs Bill’s recreational vehicle business, just built an entirely ‘green’ home, and coaches wrestling at the high school. He is married to Tracy. Accomplishments aside, Brad carried into his generation my father’s depth and search for the greater cosmic truths. Their children are Emily, heading for the tip of South America; Mary, a professional dancer and choreographer in Chicago; Nick, a high school ice hockey ace who also just won a state title in wrestling; and Bradley, also in high school and also a wrestling and hockey aficionado (and oh, both so handsome!).






Dorothy and Bill’s son Todd, of New York City, is publishing his second children’s book and a wonderful autobiography about his crazy foray back into wrestling after finishing college (he wrestled for NYU and got a degree in film): Wrestling for Gable describes his grueling attempt to place with the University of Iowa team under the tutelage of America’s most famous wrestling coach, Dan Gable, who is writing the forward for the book. It even recounts his meeting his wife Jenny there. Todd added a graduate degree in history at Iowa, then an MBA at Yale. He now works for Parents magazine. Besides the accolades, Todd is the family comedian who has directed countless family Thanksgiving videos from his original comic scripts. He is also the sweetest, most devoted husband and father imaginable! Their sons Samuel, 14, an imaginative inventor, and Ethan, 11, an imaginative filmmaker, are students at The Studio School in Manhattan.




horse woman


Dorothy and Bill’s daughter, April, of Woodland Hills, California, has just filled out her first application for the Olympics, crowning a career as a horse woman that dates back to her childhood. She is married to Marty, runs a beautiful stable atop a hill in Topanga Canyon, has completed a couple of triathlons, and maintains a formidable riding competition record. Accolades aside, she has always set her sights high and made her dreams come true, sanity intact! Their lucky children are Ryan, 7, another ice hockey ace, and Addie, 6, the one who carries my Mother’s fearless openness into the next generation.



So here’s to you, Dorothy and Bill.




balalaikas MIM


We all visited a very special place, the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix. We met up there with Janet’s daughter, Amanda, who works for Southwest Airlines in Phoenix (and therefore flew immediately to Tulsa when Mother was dying and stayed by her side some hours till the end). I got to pass some very rare time with Amanda perusing the exhibits, which are arranged geographically. Earphones tune in to each display’s video to show not just the traditional instruments being played, but the native dances they accompany. It is a beautiful and marvelous place. My New York friend, Jeffrey Greene, plays all sorts of traditional instruments with his group, Tribecastan. When I told him I had seen the museum, it turns out the MIM had requested a video from Tribecastan. If that had been up during my visit, I would have really flipped out! Here are Russian balalaikas:





To make the trip complete, we had Mexican food with Amanda’s son, Derek, 17, a Chinese-speaking, long distance bike-riding Eagle Scout, and daughter, Lauren, 14, an exceptional artist, soccer queen, and smart and funny beauty. It was so fun seeing their rooms and getting a glimpse into their lives, which usually feel as if continents away.


OK. On to Vancouver!




  1. This is one of my favorite dispatches! Love the writing, the words with friends hilarity (I've been and the beautiful sister reunion and dedication to Dorothy and Bill! So lucky to have such an amazing family ... Blessed !

  2. What a great surprise to have your sisters meet you in Arizona. That's a real treat and something that you should do more often. I can say that only because I have now lost one of my three brothers. Hope you got to enjoy the desert a little too while you were there. March is one of the best times to be in the Sonoran Desert. And finally, there is nothing quite like an Arizona Sunset - beautiful picture. I would write more, but I'm a little behind in my Words with Friends games.


  3. What a beautiful tribute to your family! And what a wonderful surprise reunion! Can't wait to hear more about your adventures.
    PS I was delighted that you gave Don such a challenge with "Words"- so very good for him!


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