Fun with family?!

Saturday, May 7, 2016-Sunday, May 15, 2016

Fun with family? An oxymoron? Regular readers of this blog will recognize that our interactions with family have not always been fun. Funny perhaps, but not necessarily fun at the time.

Happily, a recent family oriented trip to Sedona actually was fun. It was a special occasion, my mother turning 80. As she still lives in Texas where we grew up, while my sister Clarissa lives in New York and my brother Carlton in the Washington, DC area, it is exceedingly rare that we are all under the same roof at the same time.

But 80 is a big birthday, so in March of the year before, I pointed out in big sister fashion the impending Big One coming up. I proposed to my sibs that we all converge for the occasion, and we decided on Sedona. Mama’s birthday is always conveniently within a day or two of Mother’s Day, so there was that to celebrate as well.

We’ve had several 80th birthday celebrations in the family in recent years. One was for Claire, mother of Jason, Clarissa’s husband.  She lives here in San Diego, as does Jason’s brother, Alec. When Claire turned 80, Clarissa and Jason came from New York for the occasion and we arranged a marvelous catered meal at our house for her birthday.

On Steve’s side of the family, for his mother, there were two 80th birthday celebrations. Inadvertently, one was a year early. Steve and his three sisters always knew their mother was 10 years younger than their father. So, after he turned 90, they all converged on the familial home in New Jersey for their mother’s 80th birthday celebration. They brought in all her favorite foods, and his mother basked in the adulation and company of all of her children. At the end of the evening, she thanked them for coming, and then said “You do know it’s my 79th birthday?” No one had ever done the math.

The days leading up to our planned reunion were anxiety provoking, to say the least. I had more contact with the police over a several day period than I have had in my entire life. Thankfully, it was the feel-good type of police contact.

I flew Mama out to visit the first week in January, picking her up on New Year’s day, which was an adventure in itself. Shortly after her return to Texas, I bought her airplane ticket for the planned May birthday week and sent the itinerary electronically to her and my sibs.

Fast forward from January to the end of April, just before planned trip to Arizona. Two weeks before, I mentioned the trip while talking with Mama on the phone. She didn’t seem to know what I was talking about. Worrisome. I had not mentioned it for some months, perhaps it had just slipped her mind? I promised to resend her the air travel itinerary again that night.

That night, I couldn’t find it in my computer, so I wrote to my brother and sister, and my brother Carlton produced it, sending it by email to me and her. Problem solved, or so I thought.

To confirm that she had received it and was making arrangements to transport herself to the airport, I called her Wednesday before her scheduled Saturday departure. And called, and called again. Every call went straight to voicemail. I began sending her increasingly frantic emails, begging her to call me on my cell phone to confirm that she had received the itinerary and was planning to come. No response. She had been complaining for months that she was unable to send emails, although received them fine.

By the second day without any response, I was frantic. I should mention at this juncture that she does not have a cell phone. I had provided her with one for many years, which was literally never once used. It was a Jitterbug old person phone, with big buttons. The few times I tried to call her on it, it wasn’t on. I don’t think it was ever used. Even once. I finally canceled the service.

By noon of the second day with no response, with two days to go until her departure, I called the Irving police. The dispatcher was very calm and kind, and promised that someone would go by to check on her.

I received a phone call on my cell phone at work, from a male police officer, saying that initially, there was no response, but eventually, she emerged from the backyard saying her phone line was down, which explained all the calls going directly to voicemail. Realizing that this was my only chance to confirm with her the travel plans, now two days away, I asked him if I could speak to her using his cell phone, which he very kindly did.
Mama again did not seem to know what I was talking about.
Mama: “This Saturday? This seems very sudden.”
Me: “Mama, we’ve had this planned for months. We talked about this last week.”
Mama: “This Saturday? This seems very sudden.”
Me: “Yes, this Saturday. In two days.”
Mama: “Saturday, in two days?”
Me: “Yes, Saturday, in two days. American airlines, flight 524, leaving at 3 PM in the afternoon.”
After a few more go-rounds like this, with me repeating “American flight 524, Saturday, in 2 days, at 3 PM” like a litany, I said ” I’ll send a cab at 12:45.”

Then began my hunt for a reliable transportation service to the DFW airport. I eventually settled on Irving Taxi, which came through fine. Meantime, I had texted several friends and connections living in the Dallas-Fort Worth area to see if they had reliable car service, and two of these lovely people even offered to pick up Mama and take her to the airport themselves (Demarre, principle flautist of the Dallas Symphony and artistic co-director of Art of Elan, and Amy, older sister of my high school bestie, Jill). By this point, I was ready to weep with gratitude at their kindness, not to mention my frustration and anxiety of the preceding days.

The original plan had been for my brother to meet up with Mama in the Phoenix airport and he would drive her up.  I worried how he would find her, with Mama not having a cell phone, and suggested they meet at the baggage claim.  In the meantime, he had re-routed himself through DFW, and barring missing the flight due to a tight connection, was now scheduled on the same afternoon flight as Mama.  He mentioned by text that the flight number had changed.  Later, at home, I pulled up Mama’s itinerary by the record locator.  Uh oh…her flight had indeed been changed.  She was now on an hours later substitute.  I had no way to get back in touch with her and I didn’t want to confuse her with another change.  There was only one thing to do:  Call American and get her on flight 524 with my brother.

I suspect the kind agent on the other end must have sensed my being on the edge as she promptly and sympathetically changed her to the desired flight, with no mention of a change fee or any hesitation.

I was already so stressed out at the prospect of preparing the house in Arizona while arriving on the same day, that we had arranged to take Friday off to give ourselves a little breathing room.

We drove out on Friday morning, leaving as planned at eight, planning to make the last available lunch time at a new to us restaurant in Scottsdale (Virtu),  meeting up with our friends Cindy and Gerry, newly returned from a wildly successful northern Argentina bike trip. We had planned to go on this trip, but had ultimately decided to dive in the Philippines instead. So we had catching up to do with Cindy and Gerry. It took us nearly an hour to successfully escape our corner of San Diego, there was so much rush-hour traffic complicated by rain. We did ultimately rendezvous for a late lunch at perennial favorite The Mission in Scottsdale, and had a good time with Cindy and Gerry. From there, we were off to a late afternoon entry into the Desert Botanical Garden, with the aim of catching the Bruce Munro light installation which was so popular that we had been turned away earlier in the year.

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Bruce Munro installation in Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix: These colorful, fiber-optic lit cylinders were constructed out of plastic soda bottles.

Even though color was one of the attractions of these Bruce Munro forms, they are quite arresting even in monochrome

Even though color was one of the attractions of these Bruce Munro forms, they are quite arresting even in monochrome

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Strange new flora bloom in the the Bruce Munro installation in Phoenix’s desert Botanical garden, alongside prickly pears and sahuaro cacti

Detail of the Bruce Munro geodesic dome installation at Phoenix's Desert Botanical Garden

Detail of the Bruce Munro geodesic dome installation at Phoenix’s Desert Botanical Garden

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Spores, synapses, highways sprout in the Desert Botanical Garden

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This interpretation could be an outtake from a sci-fi film (Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden )

It was spectacular. We arrived very late in Sedona, near midnight, and tumbled into a coma-like sleep.

We deduced this later, as evidently, we missed the loudest noise to ever awake our perennially quiet neighborhood.

Saturday, May 7, 2016
Our first inkling that something unusual had transpired during the night was an authoritative, quiet but insistent, knock at the front door at 8 AM.
I padded out in the long johns I was wearing for pajamas, hair tousled, to find a nice young police officer at the door.

“Were you the one who called about the golf cart?”

I confessed I had no idea what he was talking about. I suggested our guesthouse tenant, Christina, perhaps had been the one to call and could be reached in the next driveway.

It wasn’t until the next morning that we heard the full story, from Christina herself. We were heading out for a hike, only to find our way blocked. The gate which normally closes off the end of the street, on the edge of the wilderness, had been dragged down the slope, cutting off our usual access to the hiking trail system. Apparently, there had been a tremendous noise in the dead of night, the night we arrived, which we managed to sleep through. Christina described it as a tank being dragged over concrete. In fact, some kids out for a joyride had run a stolen golf cart off the end of the road, right through the long gate demarcating the wilderness boundary, taking it and the golf cart down a short red rock slope.  Christina and her boyfriend were awakened by the noise but didn’t want to call the police at 4 am, so waited until the morning.  The kids scattered in every direction, taking off through the brush.

We could see scrape marks and tire treads from a vehicle heading into the ravine, and the bent gate, but the golf cart was no longer there by that time.

After starting the day with that bewildering police encounter, Steve and I made up a bed for Carlton in the studio, and waited anxiously to see if this week was going to come together as envisioned.  I had told the cab company I would pay for Mama’s transport to the airport and they called me for credit card information shortly before the appointed time.  When their number appeared again on my phone, shortly after the appointed pick-up time, I imagined with dread a cabbie at the other end, saying “I’m at your mother’s place, but she isn’t ready/ isn’t answering/isn’t here.”  But, to my great relief, they called to say they had her!

My relief was even greater when my brother called later to say he was in DFW with her and they were boarding the plane!  Until that moment, I had not been at all sure the guest of honor was going to make this party.

When they arrived towards dinnertime, it seemed appropriate to follow-up Steve’s delicious Cubano sandwiches and roasted cauliflower by  watching the movie “Chef” afterwards.  The Cubano is celebrated in “Chef” as the vehicle for Chef Jon Favreau’s rehabilitation and we had just seen co-star John Leguizamo in a one person show at La Jolla Playhouse “Latin American History for Dummies,” so Steve and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the film again.  Mama and Carlton wandered off to their respective rooms during the screening, travel fatigue presumably catching up with them.

Sunday, May 8, 2016 (Mother’s Day)

After breakfasting on Wildflower’s cranberry scones, we did a Mama-paced walk from the house around appropriately named Anthill.  A burst of rain cooled off our return home, minutes before Clarissa and Jason arrived at the house, after overnighting in Phoenix.  We ate lunch out at Creekside, busier than usual for Mother’s Day.  Clarissa also enjoyed my favorite dish, the trout en papillote, trout baked and steamed in a paper envelope with vegetables, savory comfort food at its finest. Dinner was at home, a group effort, with Steve producing his famous eggplant parmesan paninis, and Jason, Clarissa and I working on a cheese platter, and a salad festooned with English peas, colorful peppers and pistachios.

Monday, May 9, 2016 was devoted to our one planned everyone-in group activity.  We’ve learned from prior trips not to schedule too many family activities.  Clarissa had suggested the scenic vintage train ride from Clarkdale up the Verde Canyon, which terminates 20 miles later in Perkinsville, a ghost ranch. On Mama’s prior trip to Sedona 8 years before, commemorating my father’s passing, we had done a group red rock jeep ride, along with my (recently deceased) aunt Lenore, my aunt Lavonne and my cousin Laura.

My brother-in-law, Jason, admires the verdant and appropriately named Verde Canyon scenery from the train

My brother-in-law, Jason, admires the verdant and appropriately named Verde Canyon scenery from the train

The railway dates to 1912, when it was built to support mining operations in nearby Jerome. The route straddles the Coconino and Prescott National Forests, and traces the lush Verde River corridor.  The weather was perfect, sunny but cool.  There was indoor seating, as well as a open-air viewing car, where we spent most of our time, enjoying the views and fresh air.

Yes, there was a bar on the train; my sister Clarissa enjoys a cool beer while eyeing the Coconino and Prescott National Forest scenery

Yes, there was a bar on the train; my sister Clarissa enjoys a cool beer while eyeing the Coconino and Prescott National Forest scenery

I spotted a pair of deer and a bald eagle on the return.

Family fun on a vintage train into Verde Canyon: my brother Carlton, my sister Clarissa's husband Jason, Mama and Steve

Family fun on a vintage train into Verde Canyon: my brother Carlton, my sister Clarissa’s husband Jason, Mama and Steve

Since we were in the area, we sampled new-to-us Cottonwood restaurants coming and going from the 4 hour afternoon train excursion.  We all liked the Red Rooster cafe for their coffee and breakfast and lunch offerings (sandwiches, huevos rancheros, quesadillas), but loved dinner at Pizzeria Bocce.  We ran into our Sedona friends Wendy and Steve, who were exiting the restaurant as we were entering.  We had a chance to catch up with them, hanging out, waiting for our table on the pleasant outdoor courtyard, with seating surrounding a large fireplace.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016, Mama’s 80th birthday, was an all-Garland’s celebration.  The Garlands are a long-time Sedona family who are involved in multiple ventures, including a delightful lodge in Oak Creek Canyon, my favorite place for yoga and for a special dinner. They also have the highest end Navajo rug and jewelry shops in town, and the younger generation has turned Indian Gardens, also in Oak Creek Canyon, into a lunch favorite for local and tourists alike.  The lodge was sold recently and the phone system seemed to be malfunctioning, so it took some effort to confirm our dinner reservation, but eventually, it all worked out.  Normally, the yoga class is on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday mornings, and I’ve become accustomed to calling ahead the night before to confirm the class has lodge guests signed up and will be happening.  With the phone snafu, I was cooking up an alternate plan in case I couldn’t confirm with Garland’s, but just then, they rang me back.  We wanted to come up for yoga?  Fine, how many?  No guests were signed up, so we had a private session, with Clarissa, Jason, Steve and me, led by a gorgeous Berliner, Jeanette.  The setting is what makes yoga at Garland’s so special: a purpose-built, open-air gazebo overlooking Oak Creek, with full on views of the aspens and the sound of birdsong and the rushing water below.  Mama came along for the ride, and read her book under the soaring trees on the lawn.  She actually did a yoga class at Garland’s with us on her prior trip 8 years before.  My cousin Laura, who is younger than I am, was with us then and joked that “Aunt Yoshie did better than I did!”

Back down the canyon, it was time for lunch at Indian Gardens.  We shared their hearty pozole soup, and my favorite of their sandwiches, the Ferrari, with fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, pesto, roasted red peppers and balsamic vinaigrette, on a garlic-toasted ciabatta, trying not to ruin our appetites for the multi-course dinner scheduled at Garland’s hours later.  Mama ordered yet another reuben, the second of a string of such orders during the week, pretty much whenever we ate casual meals out.  I hoped it was a genuine predilection for pastrami and sauerkraut and not a symptom of being overwhelmed or something more nefarious at work.  Indian Gardens does do a good reuben, and while we joked about Mama ordering one everywhere we lunched, the dutiful daughter in me worried.  Just a little.

Mama took a nap while the rest of us headed out from the house for a work-off-lunch-and-drum-up-an-appetite-for-dinner hike to the “thumb” of a local red rock formation, the Cibola Mitten.

Back up Oak Creek Canyon, we were back on the verdant lawn before cocktail hour ended.

Mama, on her 80th birthday, with my sister Clarissa looking on, on Garland's lawn

Mama, on her 80th birthday, with my sister Clarissa looking on, on Garland’s lawn

We had fun taking turns embellishing Mama’s birthday card with drawings of each other.  Entertainment also consisted of Steve’s attempts to “Fatify” us, using an a phone App Greg showed us in the Philippines.

Clarissa busy drawing Jason on Mama's birthday card, with Jason, at Garland's

Clarissa busy drawing Jason on Mama’s birthday card, with Jason, at Garland’s

My brother Carlton looks on as Steve embellishes Mama's birthday card

My brother Carlton looks on as Steve embellishes Mama’s birthday card

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My mother has knit for as long as I can remember-by hand and machine-even 5 minutes waiting at a dentist’s office was never wasted, so this card seemed quite appropriate

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Mama’s 80th birthday card: the drawings were a group effort

The dinner was their usual excellent multi-course, fresh-from-the-garden extravaganza, with a fixed menu of a sorrel – fennel soup, a brie, cherry and pecan enlivened salad, tomato and rosemary-braised pork osso buco on creamy polenta and a swoon-inducing raspberry coulis swirled chocolate panne cotta.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Clarissa and Jason headed with Mama to Flagstaff and then on to Winslow, the jumping off point for the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest, leaving Steve, Carlton and I to do an exploratory, new-to-us hike on Bell Trail, exploring the Wet Beaver Creek area.  The “access road” portion of the hike wore on Carlton, who bailed before really getting to the attractions of the hike, despite the flowering prickly pears, tall grasses and general suitability as a Western movie backdrop.

201605 MT Carlton Wet Beaver Creek

Carlton hung out at this shady oasis of running water and red rock while Steve and I went on the “The Crack” via the Bell Trail

A delightful place into which to plunge hike-heated feet, a watering hole along Beaver Creek, near Sedona

A delightful place into which to plunge hike-heated feet, a watering hole along Beaver Creek, near Sedona

We left him in the shade of an amazingly lush watering hole of running water, shaded by cottonwoods, while we continued on past a cascade of sculptural red rock formations before heading eventually down to the creek again, to an even more picturesque oasis known locally as “The Crack.”  There is a red rock tongue-like, natural diving board projection which lured college-age boys repeatedly into the cold water below, despite the uncertain depth of it.

A cold plunge into "The Crack," near Sedona in the Wet Beaver area

A cold plunge into “The Crack,” near Sedona in the Wet Beaver area

We made it back with just enough time for me to head off to see “Miles Ahead”, a biopic of jazz (or social music as he preferred to call it) great Miles Davis, focusing on a turbulent 5 year period of creative drought in his life, starring and directed by Don Cheadle.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Carlton had already left for Laughlin, Nevada for a poker binge, after being rudely awakened by the carbon monoxide monitor in the studio.  Steve investigated and went into repair mode, and upgraded our CO monitors to the Nest version in the process.  Steve and I did the scenic drive to Prescott by way of the mountain road through Jerome in the afternoon, for a little antiquing at Mid Century Madness in the historic downtown, followed by a sunset shoot at Watson Lake and dinner at Rosa’s Pizzeria.

Downtown Prescott is quite picturesque, with a stately courthouse, pictured here and a town square

Downtown Prescott is quite picturesque, with a stately courthouse, pictured here and a town square

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Late afternoon golden glow on the rocks at Lake Watson, outside Prescott, AZ

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A different look after the sun went down, at Watson Lake near Prescott

A different look after the sun went down, at Watson Lake near Prescott


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After sundown at boulder-studded Watson Lake, near Prescott, Az

Friday, May 13, 2016

Steve and I went to see a new film “Papa: Hemingway in Cuba”, starring Adrian Sparks as Hemingway in his waning years, Joely Richardson as his last wife Mary, and Giovanni Ribisi as a junior Miami Herald reporter who idolizes Hemingway and is befriended by the couple.  Directed by Bob Yari, it is the first Hollywood motion picture since 1959’s “Our Man in Havana” to be filmed in Cuba and makes effective use of Hemingway’s home turned museum Finca La Vigia, which Greg and I visited last July.  The family reconvened at home, with Clarissa reporting that Mama was positively effusive (for her) about La Posada’s Turquoise Room’s cuisine, pronouncing it “pretty good,” a significant upgrade from her usual “It’s OK.”

Clarissa and Jason took everyone out for Japanese food at nearby Takashi.  Steve and I walked there with Carlton.  Coming on the heels of their sojourn in Winslow at La Posada, one of best restored of the Harvey Hotels, the Judy Garland musical “The Harvey Girls” was fired up on our return to the house and proved to be quite amusing.  I popped in and out, minding my tripod outside, having noticed that the red rock formations beyond the house were clearly illuminated by the waxing moon, while not masking the abundant stars.

Sedona star trails: Enough moon to light up the red rock range, but not so much as to diminish the stars, and windless: all the ingredients with there; from the yard

Sedona star trails: Enough moon to light up the red rock range, but not so much as to diminish the stars, and windless: all the ingredients were there; from the yard

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Carlton and Mama headed in the morning to the airport.  Jason and I did an exercise hike in our backyard network, over Anthill. Heading out, we ran into Christina, our longtime guesthouse tenant and friend, who related yet another golfcart running amuck incident, this one happening to her at the winery where she works.  She had scratches and bruises on both arms to illustrate the struggle.   We all went to Cottonwood for lunch at Juanita’s, Clarissa and Jason’s family-owned, hole-in-the-wall Mexican food discovery from their prior trip.  We spent a leisurely afternoon tasting wines at Christina’s property, Alcantara.  Steve decided the guest bathroom shower needed a lower profile fixture and embarked on the project just before we were scheduled to hear the guitar stylings of Anthony Mazzella, resulting in him swapping a trip to Home Depot in Cottonwood for the concert, after flooding the bathroom floor and sending him outside in a hurry to shut off the water to the house. This was strikingly reminiscent of another plumbing repair incident when we were dating.  On that occasion, Steve scurried out of the apartment into the underground parking garage, feeling pipes to determine which one to shut off, as a thunderous Dali-style arc of water from the sink soared across the bathroom into the tub.

Clarissa, Jason and I went to the concert and decided at intermission that was a good enough sampling of the synthesizer-heavy arrangements.  Since it was our last evening together,  we headed home for a final wine and cheese, nuts and crudites light meal together. I found the music rather hypnotic, and I found myself comparing it to my reaction to “Eraserhead,” a cult classic movie I have never been able to finish watching, despite several tries-I always get to a certain point, beyond which the music sends me into a coma.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

All parties must eventually break up, and this was no exception.  It was time for us to head back to opposite coasts.  To fuel up for the first leg of the trip, to Phoenix, we all stopped at Oak Creek Espresso on the way out of town, which Clarissa and Jason had discovered on the way in.  It had been a great week, and a rare occasion that we were all in one place at the same time.  So long in fact, that we were not even sure when the last time was…every occasion we could think of, one or another was always missing.  Even our wedding, almost 27 years ago, Carlton was absent, being in the military at the time.  We vowed not to make it so long until the next time.


Not all family encounters are so pleasant.  For a less pleasant, funny in a macabre way that will undoubtedly make you feel better about your family, you may enjoy (?) this account:…a-in-10-chapters/






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