2019 Christmas in Arizona

Shower the people you love with love, Show them the way you feel,
Things are gonna work out fine, If you only will,
Do as I say.

“Shower The People,” James Taylor (#8 on my list of Perfect Songs)

Trips to Arizona are personal for me. Life in Michigan began, for me, back in July of 1993. It was such an abrupt interruption from the life I had expected (mountains, desert, aunts, uncles, cousins…Pac 10 football!) and I never suspected how that experience would be reversed as the years went by and Michigan became “home.”

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Packed and ready to go!
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After 4 hours in a plane, we are ready to relax!

What has really surprised me over the years was the desire of the wonderful people around me to continue the trips to Arizona.  Phil and Sam asked me at the beginning of 2019 if we were going to Arizona for Christmas!  As I got around to asking the others, each and every one of the others never hesitated…”Yes, of course we want to go to Arizona!” What a wonderful bunch of people.

Plane tickets were bought. A large SUV was rented. A camera and a lens worthy of this awesome vacation was rented. As we got closer to December 22, I felt myself wondering how this vacation would be. I should know better by now. Being with family is wonderful and crazy and frustrating…and it’s the best thing there is.

We landed on Sunday, December 22, 2019. It was an uneventful flight (according to my standards) but I’ve done a lot more travel than the rest of the team. Thankfully, I was able to supply them with food and drinks while we were up in the air.

Terminal 3 at Sky Harbor used to be a bit…outdated?  My parents had flown out to Michigan in October and they had told us that the updated terminal was new and “really nice.”  The second we walked up from the plane, we were greeted with nice wide hallways and restaurants of all sorts. Although we were focused on getting our bags, getting our car, and getting the heck away from any airplanes for a while, we enjoyed the welcoming open environment with great big windows that looked out on a beautiful sunny day. Plane rides help you to appreciate the simple freedom of walking wherever you want!  Planes are great for getting somewhere quickly but cramped little seats and no leg room get old quickly.

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Not the one we had but this was “our” car. A Chevy Suburban will fit 7 adults AND their luggage quite comfortably. Thank you, GM!

Sometime before the actual trip, I was making decisions about where we were going to stay. I believe that everyone should get a bed of their own. We’re on vacation, after all. I also believe that our group should see the unique sites of Arizona as well as the places they’re used to from previous visits.  Our hotel in Sierra Vista is always the same.  We had decided to revisit a nice hotel in Old Town Scottsdale where we would finish our visit in Arizona.  All that was left was to arrange for that first night.

The Scottsdale Resort at McCormick Ranch sure sounds nice, right?  Well, it is…mostly.  It’s also a little creepy. The rooms were nice and mostly clean but our “Executive Suite” was big and weird.  Here’s proof:

This weird (but comfortable) room was offset (a bit) by our old familiar stop at Picacho Peak on the way to SV.

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Along the way to Tucson, as I got closer to my childhood home, the tension (that I don’t even realize I have) started to drain away.  It’s more than the absence of that feeling, it’s the gradual re-appearance of a soul-deep recognition that this is Home…the “only in this place” memories of a young man who grew up here with absolutely no idea of where Life would take him. Imagine finding the most comfortable clothes you’ve ever owned (and they still fit!) and putting them on again.

What’s it like walking in to your boyhood home with your wife and children with you?  It’s awesome. I highly recommend it.

Here’s the “official” page for washers.org. “Cupper” is an interesting term that I’ve never heard. The proper method for throwing washers is spot-on though.

http://washers.org/index.html

Bisbee is about 10 miles north of the Mexican border. It’s an interesting town with lots of history and lots of hipsters. We went there two years ago. After Christmas (which included a lot of amazing food), we went there again.

On our way back from Bisbee, we were reminded that there was snow coming. It was humorous to think that snow would follow us all the way from Michigan. And yet, here it was.

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1 minute 40 seconds of snow… feel free to not watch it all. 🙂

Our time in SV (on this vacation) came to an end. Phil left a reminder of us on the front lawn.

I can’t go anywhere near Tempe without visiting my alma mater.

Every other Christmas, we go home to Arizona. Home is where the heart is. My heart is with my family. I am blessed to have many people that are family. Some are relatives. Some are just people that I would do anything for and who would do anything for me.

Saturday, December 28, we were invited to two parties. One was a larger event at my aunt Scarlett’s and uncle Ramon’s house. The smaller party was Melissa’s sister Ann’s house. They were very different gatherings with similar intent. “We’re family. We belong together.”

It’s more than a vacation. It’s a renewal. A reminder of why we are who we are…and how important it is to have people who don’t care if you’re perfect… they just love you.

Changes Coming

July 8, 2018DSC00797I arrived in Michigan…permanently?…on July 20, 1993. Major League Baseball’s All-Star game was on TV when I walked in the door of Melissa’s mom’s condo. My 1991 Nissan Sentra had brought me 2,000 miles from Mesa, Arizona to Northville, Michigan. In my head and in my heart, I felt like this was the right move and that it wouldn’t be permanent.  I planned to go home to Arizona even if I didn’t know when that would happen…

Lizette turned 26 this year. She got into Medical School this year.  She’ll move to Tennessee this year to chase (and realize) her dream.  She’s tying up the loose end that is her thesis defense and then it’s off to Harrogate, Tennessee and Lincoln Memorial’s DeBusk School of Osteopathic Medicine.

Cecile comes back from her trip to Sweden (and other parts of Europe) on Tuesday, July 10. She’s been gone since May 2. I’m not turning around looking for her any more since I finally got used to her not being just a text message away. I’m looking forward to the family being complete again…at least on the same continent and time zone.

Alexander’s been home for a few months. He works at Steve & Rocky’s. He seems to like it but food service always has a darker side.  Not dark as in evil (at least I hope not) but dark as in “Are you kidding me?”  As we plan the days between now and July 21 (when we take Lizette to Harrogate), we’ve got dinner plans for his place of work.  The food he’s brought home has been “to die for” (what an awful phrase) so we’re looking forward to getting it fresh out of the kitchen.

Phil is living with Sam in Holt. He’s between classes and research in his quest to become Dr. Phil of Finance. Sam’s working on her master’s degree and working at a school in Holt. Phil gets home every week to play soccer with his former teammates. This afforded us the opportunity to have dinner with parents and kids and Coaches Mike Ciolfi and Jim Taylor on June 27 after one of their games.  Two days later, Nick Lesnau (also a soccer teammate) got married.  I’d dreaded the ceremony and reception because I didn’t think we’d know anybody. It ended up being another reunion with parents and “kids” that we hadn’t seen in a long time. I actually dreaded leaving the reception.

Melissa finished work at the middle school. She is the heart of the kitchen there. They keep the kids fed while being consistently short-handed and micro-managed by a company that would like to make a profit from a perennially underfunded school system.  Welcome to education in today’s United States! Novi actually has a great school system but “we the people” are still struggling with how to pay for it in a way that is fair to everyone. She works with people who are dedicated to their jobs as well as people who aren’t. She might not go back next fall. The upsides to her job are considerable though.  It’s 2 miles away. She’s done by 2:30 pm (although she starts at 6:00 am).  She has 2 1/2 months and Christmas off.  She makes decent money but the work is hard.

I’m finishing up my first year as a Customer Success Manager at Microsoft. It was a good year. I’m working with a great team. It’s work therefore it can’t be perfect and it isn’t.  Regardless of any complaints that I have, it is a pretty good job and Microsoft is still treating us well.

I’m still taking pictures but not at the rate that I used to.  It will change next weekend as we make our annual trek to Traverse City.  We’re heading to Harrogate shortly after that.  Change is coming…

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Cecile the night before Sweden

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Phil – 4th of July

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Sam – 4th of July

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Melissa – 4th of July

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Joe – Caught off guard

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Alexander – Playing Pool

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Lizette – In Front of LMU Med School

 

Christmas in Arizona

 

I need a family to drive me crazy, Call me out when I’m low and lazy
It won’t be perfect, but we’ll be fine, ‘Cause I’ve got your back, and you’ve got mine
You got mine

from Boxes, Goo Goo Dolls

 

 

 

Bisbee Lunch
Dinner at Bisbee Table

 

Jewels
Alexander, Phillip, Lizette, Cecile – Love ’em

 

 

I keep thinking that one of these Christmas trips to Arizona will the one.  Like a Friends episode, it will be the one titled “The One Where We All Didn’t Go.” In my blessed life, this wasn’t that episode. Instead, it was “The One Where Sam Came With Us.”

The pleasant surprises didn’t stop there. Of the stops on our standard visit itinerary… Sierra Vista, Miami, and Phoenix… Miami has always had more attraction for me than anyone else… at least that’s how I thought about it. It’s the place that has a lifetime of memories for me, so if the younger crowd found it less interesting, who could blame them?  As we decided where we’d go after Sierra Vista, Miami was at the top of that list.

 

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Melissa “leaning” against a very tall cactus

 

The trip out…

The flight out was mostly boring. It was a bit bumpy (an “after the fact” description…because I never enjoy bumpy flights). The landing was a bit rough and fast. The contrast in the weather compared to what we left in Detroit was immediately evident and much appreciated.

Sam and Phil had left on Friday, December 22. Their arrival was planned for, and happened on, Sunday, December 24.  I miss the drive myself…especially when the plane is bouncing around…but I love getting there in 4 hours.

The 5 of us followed the usual process of deplaning…baggage claim, ride to the car rental place, and then the exercise of waiting in line so that the agent could convince me that we needed something more expensive than what I’d already paid for.

He succeeded.

Dinner at Red Robin (Tempe Marketplace) was delicious after a long plane ride.  The wings were so damn good that I considered declaring them “the best that we’ll have while we’re out here.”  I would have been wrong.

Christmas Eve

Presents… fireplace… family… GREAT food!  Perfect.

Christmas Day

The family that plays together…

The blue thing at the top of every picture is the sky…a brilliant blue.  The white thing is a cloud…it went away after it was shamed out of being there.

Tombstone

I’ve been to Tombstone twice in the 41 years since we moved to Sierra Vista. I remember that after the first time I went, I was unimpressed.  Interested and intrigued but not so much so that I intended to go back anytime soon.  Tombstone has changed since then. The courthouse was very interesting.  Downtown was a small scale reproduction of Old Town Scottsdale (or is that the other way around?).  I’m still not impressed but now I can say that I’ve been there…again.

Bisbee

I’ve been to Bisbee a few times. I don’t remember stopping there or doing more than staring out the window to wonder why Bisbee is better known that Sierra Vista.  After walking around a bit, noticing the “hipster” culture, eating at a quirky restaurant that played “Head and the Heart” music, and sharing it with my parents and kids… I’d like to go back to Bisbee the next time we’re all there.

Our Lady of the Sierras

http://www.ourladyofthesierras.org/

I’d like to be closer to God and His works. This place made me feel that. The view across the valley reminded me how much I miss the mountains.  We’ve been here several times. After the Monument Fire in 2011, the shrine was damaged but has since been rebuilt. We were there in the early afternoon. Serene is the best word that I can use.

Ramsey Canyon Preserve

My parents love going here with us. We love the hike and the view from everywhere along the trail. We enjoyed another beautiful sunny day although we actually had sweaters and hoodies on for a short while.

Miami

No, not that Miami…

My parents grew up in this small mining town about 80 miles east of Phoenix. Our first trip as a family to Miami was back in 1992 when Lizette was born. A whole host of Baeza’s and Tavares’ were around back then.  Most of my grandparents’ generation has passed on with a few notable (and lovable) exceptions.  The town itself has grown smaller and… different… over the years. I can still see the town it used to be underneath the town it is.

Our family still wanted to go there so we did.  It may not be the center of our larger family’s universe anymore (and it was for a long time!) but it is still important.  Most important are the people… it’s always the people.

Phoenix

For whatever reason, when we got to Phoenix, the camera didn’t fit in as well. We went to Fashion Square Mall (a big wonderful mall with a whole lot of people in it), the Rules (a big wonderful family who always takes great care of us), Manuel’s Mexican restaurant (with my Tio Ramon and some excellent food), and ate some fabulous wings from ATL’s in Mesa.  We stayed in Scottsdale right next to Old Town Scottsdale and just relaxed.

The Wings:

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The grandkids and their grandparents:

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A Look Back…

Back in 2007, Melissa took a picture of 4 young brilliant people. She’s wanted to recreate that picture ever since. They’re still brilliant and still young.

This wasn’t that trip where we were missing someone.  I know that trip will come and that’s ok.  This was that trip where we had a great time, had Sam come along with us, experienced some absolutely beautiful weather, ate a ton of wonderful food (Thanks, Mom!), and I got to share my old home state with the people who mean the most to me.

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The Song

Here’s the video for the song that I pulled the lyrics from at the beginning of the post:

Dad’s Arizona Vacation – Days 2 & 3

I slept so long and so hard on Monday night.  After a 4 hour flight (3 hours and 44 minutes, actually), I had a 90 minute drive to Miami (after Der Wiernerschnitzel and Caribou!) and then another 3+ hour drive to Sierra Vista.  Needless to say, I was very tired.

Tuesday was fun.  My dad barbecued ribs that Maria and Derek had marinated.  They were delicious.

We took lots of pictures.  Here are a few of them:

I got 4.3 miles in (after a spicy breakfast) the 85 degree very humid (not Michigan humid but definitely muggy) afternoon. It was heaven! Guilt-free after my run!

Wednesday was more of the same except this time we ordered wings from Vinny’s.  They were very tasty. Early in the afternoon, the storms rolled in and we got a soaking. The lightning strikes were bright and loud and the desert rain smelled wonderful.  We say on the back porch and when it started to really pour we got a little wet.  Just plain fun.

After the rain, I got 4.5 miles in (after the spicy wings…are you detecting a pattern here?).  It was warm and muggy and I probably smelled pretty bad afterwards.  Nonetheless, 4.5 more miles for July.  I’m sitting at 48.75 miles so far.  My June and July totals have historically been the highest of the summer for me.  My record is 77 miles (June 2016).

I miss you all! Love you!

Swather

 

Dad’s Arizona Vacation – Day 1

Yesterday morning we woke up in Traverse City. We were all together (after we went and got Cecile) and I loved it.

This morning, Phil and Mom took me to the airport at 6:30 AM.  I got on a plane at 8:36 AM and landed in Phoenix about 4 hours later.

It was 57 on Saturday morning when we ran in TC.  Today it was 107 in Phoenix.

Here’s the graphic version:

 

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Sunday morning in TC

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Caribou at Detroit Metro

Sunset
Sunset through the clouds just north of Wilcox, AZ

I am about as tired as I can be. I miss you all terribly.  I’m staying at the Fairfield Inn in Sierra Vista and I feel like you should be here with me.

Love you!

Swather

 

Rivers and Roads…

Please pardon the fixation with “The Head and the Heart”. We just saw them in concert and I was blown away. I think the title fits though…

For whatever reason, we decided to watch “Country Bears” last night. It’s impossible for me to think of this movie without remembering the trips to Arizona, Mackinaw City, Traverse City, and endless (well, not “endless”…well, maybe…) skating, soccer, track, and vacation destinations.

These trips were a big part of our family life as they (and we) grew up. Michigan is an amazing state and we wanted to experience it together.  The Arizona trips happened as a result of Northwest Airlines messing up our tickets (so that we weren’t sitting together), a serious lack of sleep on my part, and a ticket agent who made a comment that I couldn’t let go of.  3 days there and 3 days back gave us a rich full experience (good and bad) of traveling the interstate highway system.  Hotel stops included a swimming pool, adjoining rooms, and sharing beds with young people who may or may not move a lot when they sleep. 🙂

Our adventures included:

  • Swimming in a pool that was half indoors and half outdoors. A cold front had just passed through western Missouri and the outdoor temperature was in the 30’s. It didn’t stop the kids from swimming in the outside part. It absolutely stopped me.
  • “Guard kitties” – Somewhere in the Southwest, there was a KFC with a lot (dozens if not hundreds) of cats pouring over the dumpster in the back. They owned the parking lot. It makes sense but it was still a little strange to see.DSC04068
  • Rest stops signs like this:dsc02284
  • The world’s biggest McDonalds (according to the folks who own it) in Vinita, OK:dsc05848

 

 

 

 

 

 

These trips also included “Country Bears” and a lot of other movies (VHS and DVD) courtesy of my laptop and a precariously configured set of audio and video connections.  This hodgepodge of a movie-watching system was later replaced by a built-in system that included wireless headphones and separate controls in case Melissa and I wanted to listen to the radio.

Then there was this poor guy:

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I’ve heard it said that it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey.  The journey was incredible but these trips have always been about the destination.

The journey is a bonus.

Love you.

Dad

It Doesn’t Get Much Better

My first “general” surgery is behind me now. My recovery continues as the simple tasks that I took for granted 9 days ago have actually become “simple” again. When it became apparent a few days ago that I was feeling better, my first thought was to go visit our children before work reasserted itself as my primary focus.

Late February at college is a busy time. Heck, everything but the first two weeks of a semester are busy times. (“Don’t be seduced by September”…great advice from a Michigan professor.) Our visits to the kids are always qualified by “unless it’s a bad time” or “no pressure if it doesn’t work for you” or some other opportunity for them to opt out. Circumstances don’t always work out so that we can see all of them so it’s always a bonus when the stars align and we can spend some time with each of them.

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Our visits are a combination of meals, trips to Meijer or Sams Club, and walks around the beautiful campus of whatever school we’re at. Visits to a bookstore to buy spirit wear are also pretty common.  Starbucks isn’t a part of our visits. It’s a part of our lives…not optional.

We were spoiled on Friday by a clear blue sky and temperatures in the upper 40’s. We detoured a bit on our way to Mount Pleasant by taking a shortcut (which took longer) through rural Michigan. Wet, muddy farmland was broken up by lots of water (VERY squatchy!) and collections of houses that defined many small towns. It was only when we reached Morrice that we actually passed a McDonalds.

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Our visit went like this:

Friday Night:

Dinner at Olive Garden in Mount Pleasant:  This is our go-to restaurant…for now. Lizette, Melissa, Alexander, Cecile and I enjoyed appetizers and a very filling meal. Olive Garden is a popular restaurant on Friday nights in Mount Pleasant (and probably most other places if our experience in Ann Arbor is any indication) but our wait was pretty short. Regardless of the crowd, dinner with family was great.

Cecile, Melissa, and I took a beautiful night stroll around the Central Michigan campus. There was very little light pollution and a clear night sky let us enjoy a very bright Venus in the west and many stars overhead.  We missed the opportunity to take pictures…mostly.

Saturday:

Breakfast at Bob Evans with 5 of us: How much food can you take in 12 hours? A lot. Bob Evans and the Baeza family go back a long way.  Soccer trips to Ohio and family trips to Traverse City have frequently included waiting on a weekend morning to get in to Bob Evans. The food was good. The sun was out again and the temperature rose to 64 degrees…in February.

The walking club (Cecile, Melissa and me) took another stroll around CMU.  Lizette’s been there since August 2010 and I still love that campus.

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Lunch:

Chili’s in East Lansing: Phillip, Samantha, Cecile, Melissa, and me.  A quick drive down 127, a stop for gas and cash (no, we didn’t rob a gas station), and we picked up Sam and Phil so we could grab lunch (because how much food is “too much?”).  By this point in the day, many MSU students were out and about enjoying the insanely beautiful day.  The view through the big windows at the restaurant was stunning.  Still, it was hard to ignore the elephant in the room:

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He’s always had beautiful hair:

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He’s always been a good sport as well.

Afterword

We just got back from 11:30 mass at St. James. The church has changed a little bit since the last time we went. No surprise there. It’s been a while. Since mid-winter break just started, there were a lot of empty seats.

We really enjoy spending time with all of you.  Every minute with each of you is pure gold. There’s just no way to tell you how proud we are.

Love you.

Dad & Mom