Monday, February 27, 2012

Wyatt's 11th B-Day

We love this little boy fiercely!  He is strong and funny, yet enigmatic; he is loving and kind, yet aloof.  He is talented and smart, yet incredibly literal.  Our indescribable son turned eleven today and how we survived all the years before his arrival, we have no idea; without a doubt, life is better with him in it.

The Many Talents of Wyatt:

After journeying up the west coast and through the deserts of Nevada and Arizona (seeing the Grand Canyon and Tombstone), his birthday celebration had to be anticlimactic.  However, I hoped to deliver something none of those locales contained: his friends.  I hoped...

One sad reminder that the world was not on our same agenda was trying to schedule visits with friends during the handful of times we have returned to our hometown.  No matter how hard I planned or how early I started, other lives did not bend as easily as ours.  Basketball playoffs were ongoing.  Baseball practices had begun.  Soccer, tennis, golf, recital rehearsals and school functions had continued while we gleefully traveled the country discarding all appointments and "have tos."  This time last year, I remember running from "I have to be at the middle school for a PTA meeting" to "You have to pick up Wyatt from piano and get him to Reinhardt for cello by 5:30."  Believe me, I understand the over scheduled life.  The problem was my ego thought this could be overcome.  In my egocentric way of looking at life this year, I assumed others missed my kids as much as my kids missed them so, of course, they would drop everything to come to Wyatt's birthday party.  Unfortunately for Wyatt, this did not happen.  Life just isn't that easy no matter who misses whom.

Wyatt and Best Friend touching everything in Brookstone
With no one able to make an after school bowling party on his actual birthday, I rearranged the plans and worked with some accommodating parents to meet the needs of all three of our kids.  I drove the family truckster like a woman possessed. (What mother isn't possessed when trying to please her kids?)  I dropped kids, I picked up kids.  I took girls to the American Girl Store and boys to Game Stop.  I bought pizza in food court and sang silly songs to embarrass all.  I got friends back home just in time to make baseball practices and babysitting commitments.  It was a whirlwind Sunday afternoon, but I sincerely thank the parents who understood what those few hours of seeing their close friends meant to our kids and were flexible in letting me cavort all over Alpharetta with their kids.  Just know that I know I owe you.

With the fast paced fun of Sunday behind him, Wyatt was content to sit in the orthodontist's chair on his birthday morning, playing with the controls and making goofy faces in the movable mirror.  Six months until braces!  We spent the rest of the day with family.  Brunch with grandparents, Bobba and Papa, at his favorite breakfast establishment, the Cracker Barrel, which the kids discovered on our travels is a national chain.   Next, it was a game of afternoon bowling followed by a romp through the arcade at Stars and Strikes in Cumming, Georgia.  Finally, we met up with Aunt Mandy, Uncle Shannon and cousins, Hannah, David and Spencer for Wyatt's all time favorite meal: Buffalo Wings at Taco Mac followed by self-serve frozen yogurt.

Did I say he was enigmatic? There's no mystery here.  He sounds like 100% 11 year old boy to me.  Happy Birthday, Wyatt!

Sunday, February 26, 2012


A Toast to All
Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.

-William Arthur Ward

Conversely, showing gratitude to people is like presenting them with a gift; a gift from the heart.  We have so much to be grateful for this year- Opportunities, travel, meals, friends, family, and, as Blanche Dubois relied on, the kindness of strangers.  I would like to express my gratitude to the people and places that made our western taste of America tour possible.  

Our sincere thank you goes out to the following: 
(please forgive any inadvertent omissions.)

Mandy and Shannon for B&B accommodations, airport taxi service and enduring three weeks of doggy competition, 

Anne and Jackson for the best guided and well-fed week this year,

Dan and Margaret Curtis for enabling us to feel at home in Arizona,

Jackie for the loveliest evening in San Francisco,

Katie for bringing humor and spontaneity to stale guided tours,

The Russian bartender, Ivanna, for reminding me how lucky I am to live in America,
 The Vietnam Vet on the Big Blue Bus for his fortitude in going back to school,
The sea otter for joining us for lunch,

The honeymooning couple from Israel for proving what a small world it is,

The Grand Canyon Park Rangers for taking so much time teaching our kids,

Sam for showing us that neglect comes in many forms.

These people have touched our lives, big and small, and we shall never forget.

Our  experiences on this trip, as on our Eastern U.S. trips, confirmed the truth in Mark Twain's words: 

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. 

Thank you to all who have supported our sail away from safe harbor.  Though I'm unsure of the future, I know we will never regret this year.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

How The West Was Lost

On our last day in Arizona, we took the kids to the Heard American Indian Art and History Museum for the other side of the story.  And what a sorrowful story it is.  Inch by inch, acre by acre, and mile by mile, Native Americans' lands were ripped away from them in the name of Manifest Destiny.  The Heard Museum, however, doesn't focus on the overwhelming hardships of the aboriginal people, but embraces the spirit and beauty of the many Native American tribes still hanging in there.

Honestly, it's a miracle they are.  Starting in 1492, Indians, as the lost Columbus dubbed them, have been subjected and subjugated to disease, famine, war and dehumanizing degradation.  From Cortez and the Conquistadors to Andrew Jackson and American policies, the Native tribes of North America have survived like a Timex watch: they take a licking and keep on ticking.  It would be easy for the Heard Museum to dwell on this, but they don't.  They simply show the American Indian experience.

We began with the dolls.  Our kids learned how the American Indian doll had a purpose bigger than entertainment.  Girls learned  how to sew clothing and how to care for infants with their doll play.  Boys learned tradition and ceremony through the symbolic dolls.  Each individual tribe had a different doll that told the story of their culture.

Next, we moved to the hands-on exhibit called We Are! Arizona's First People where all 21 Arizona tribes have voices in sharing their history, culture and interactive art.  Anabel tried her hand at intricate beadwork and learned the Grand Canyon's native Havasupai words through puzzles and stories.  Wyatt created Yaqui paper flowers and studied tribal maps.  Emma worked hard weaving beads and braiding a Hopi belt.

From Beyond Geronimo: The Apache Experience to Home: Native People of the Southwest, we learned the beauty and heart of the native tribes.  Fascinated, we moved slowly through each exhibit pausing only in the beautiful kid's room to read a children's story about Navajo blanket weaving as told by a sheep.  We were having fun!

Then, we reached the Indian Boarding School Experience and stopped cold.  Seeing this gut wrenching display, I flashed back to my memories of viewing the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.  The politicians' theory of defeating the Indians by "Americanizing" them seemed a little too close to the Nazis' "Final Solution" for me.  One speech, advocating these boarding schools, actually used the phrase, "Kill the Indian in him and save the man."  Of course, the government-ran boarding schools weren't exterminating the Natives as the concentration camps were the Jewish population, but many Indians still died of illness and homesickness or just suffered the loss of their heritage by being ripped from their parents, stripped of their clothing and belongings (including their hair) and forced into suits, dresses, and even, cheerleading costumes.  I won't describe all the despondency we saw in the exhibit.  I'll just let this picture say it all:

This is Tom Torlino, before and after spending time in an Indian Boarding School.
If the exhibit ended here, the outlook for Native Americans would have felt hopeless.  As we wandered through recreated classrooms and dormitories, a gradual shift in the schools became evident.  They weren't teaching white skills anymore; they were teaching Native arts and crafts along with geometry and literature.  Eventually, the Indians made the schools their own with many choosing to go to the same boarding school as their parents and grandparents.  Great, right?  Wrong.  As the story goes... Due to budget cuts, the government is currently closing many of the now cherished Indian schools.

In the interest of full disclosure, I proudly admit that my great-grandmother was a full blooded Cherokee Indian who married my Scottish great-grandfather and then, sadly, forgot her heritage.  The Heard Museum hit home and made me wistful for my great-grandmother's family and the struggles they encountered.  I'm so glad that our last family field trip in Arizona taught us that though the west may have been lost, the American Indian lives on.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Tombstone, Arizona

Tough Kids
Of all the historic cities we've visited this year, Tombstone has to be the coolest!  Where else does Doc Holliday saunter up asking if we cared for some whiskey and society over a friendly game of poker?  Where else do the three Earp Brothers stride through town with their long, black dusters flowing behind them?  Where else can you eat at Big Nose Kate's Saloon and see the janitor's secret mineshaft?  Though the local high school's tennis practice began as we were leaving, no other place we've visited in the west brought history to life like Tombstone.  Isn't it ironic that it's famous for death?
Though no daisy, Greg was his huckleberry.

Looking very tough... The Earps.

For the one percent of American adults who don't know about the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, here's a HISTORY BREAK:

By 1881, thousands of people had converged on the tiny town of Tombstone in the Arizona Territory hoping to strike it rich in the local silver mines and gambling tables, or just looking for healthier living.  Few found fortunes (I don't think anyone found healthier living), and by October, two rival groups were prepared for battle: The Cowboys and The Earps.  

The Cowboys were a disjointed group of cattle rustlers and thieves who regularly raided ranches just over the Mexican boarder selling the cattle in the U. S.  Eventually, their crimes escalated to robbing stagecoaches: strongboxes and passengers.  These Cowboys ran rampant over most of the Territory.  

The Earp Brothers, Virgil, Wyatt and Morgan, arrived in Tombstone in 1879 when Virgil accepted a post as U.S. Marshall hiring Morgan as his deputy.  After failed attempts at business, Wyatt Earp joined his brothers in local law enforcement to assist in bringing order to Tombstone. Doc Holliday, one time dentist and Southern Gentleman and long-time friend of Wyatt, came to Tombstone for his health, but made a name for himself by his drinking proclivities and reckless gambling.  

After months of threats, romantic rivalries, pistol whippings and arrests, tensions between the two groups climaxed in an 18 foot-wide lot behind the O.K. Corral.  Picture, if you will...

In the far corner: four lawmen- Virgil Earp, Wyatt Earp, Morgan Earp, and newly deputized, Doc Holliday.

And in the near corner: four outlaw Cowboys- Frank McLaury, Tom McLaury, Billy Clanton, and Ike Clanton.

In 30 seconds, 30 shots were fired at almost point blank range leaving one unarmed Cowboy, Ike Clanton, running for his life while the other three lay dead in the dirt.  Virgil Earp (shot in the leg), Morgan Earp (clipped in shoulder blades), and Doc Holliday (grazed in the hip) were all wounded in the shoot out, but survived.  Only Wyatt Earp walked away unharmed.

Wyatt and Wyatt
Thanks to the wonderful reenactment actors and the preservation of Tombstone, our family witnessed this (granted) very violent historical event.  But what a better way to experience history? And it was history.  These eight people really lived and breathed: with many flaws and strengths, with many problems and hardships. They loved and hated. Unfortunately, their lives have been defined by the hate.

I was impressed by the attention to detail the writer of the reenactment gave while showing both sides of the story.  Hollywood depicted only the Earps' side in one of my favorite westerns, TOMBSTONE, starring Kurt Russell as Wyatt Earp and Val Kilmer as the perfect Doc Holliday.  (If you are over 17 and never seen this movie, rent it tomorrow!)

We actually bought the movie in Phoenix to watch with the kids, but then we remembered the extreme violence, with blood, throughout the movie.  We ended up just telling them about the gunfight during our three hour drive from Tempe to Tombstone and saved the violence for the live show.  Though extremely loud, the live shootout was thankfully bloodless.

Doc Pontificating.
In the end, the dead lay immobile in the dirt, while Doc Holliday delivered an eloquent soliloquy summing up with, "Just as on that fateful day, the fallen shall not rise."  And with the Earp Brothers telling our crowd of about fifty people to "Move on!  There's nothing else for you to see here!"  We silently exited the theatre while the Cowboy actors were motionless.
The "Dead" Billy Clanton

Though on the way to nowhere, Tombstone is worth the drive.  The historic district is faithful to the old west configuration of a mining boomtown and offers much more than just recreating the gunfight.  Visitors can get the full history of the town from Geronimo and the Apaches to the bust of the mines to modern times at the Historama's multimedia show narrated by Vincent Price... okay, not completely up to modern times.  There are also tours of the silver mines, stagecoach rides, and several saloons still in operation.  

Our $10 ticket to the gunfight included admission to the Historama, the museum, the O.K. Corral, and C.S. Fly's photo studio next to the gunfight site.  We lunched in Big Nose Kate's saloon and my Wyatt and I ventured down the shaft and witnessed the creepiest bedroom once inhabited by a janitor named the "Swamper."
Big Nose Kate's Saloon

Wyatt heads down the "Shaft."

And the Award for Creepiest Bedroom goes to...
The Swamper!

Driving by Boothill Cemetery on our way out of town, I felt like we had spent a day back in time which is a great place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there. (No ibuprofen.  All that gunfire gave me a headache. No wonder they used so much laudanum back then.)

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Taking a Personal Day on the Road

Can you have too much of a good thing?
Family travel is wonderful.  Seeing famous sites with my husband and kids brings us closer together. I love that I saw the Hoover Dam and the Grand Canyon for the first time with my entire family.  We have stories to share throughout our lives about the places we’ve visited.  
Family travel is fantastic.  Learning new things at the same time has created a common bond between us because we have “AH HA” moments together.  We witnessed how jelly fish hypnotize, how sea otters eat, and how easily someone could fall over the side of a cliff (Pacific Coast Highway’s or Grand Canyon’s.)  However, too much of a good thing can make you want to do a little nudging along life’s cliffs so I have come up with a new travel tip for family trips:  
Everyone needs a PERSONAL DAY! 
Or hour... or twenty minutes.  Any time your schedule allows for each person to retreat to their separate corners and relax is needed by parents and kids alike to cope with the extremely close quarters, the traffic, the waiting in line, the “seeing one more thing before we eat”, and especially the “let me take another picture.”
While in Phoenix for a week, we took advantage of spending a little time and space from each other.  After a trip to Barnes and Noble, the kids each retreated into their books with Anabel and Wyatt reading the latest installments of Diary of a Wimpy Kid and The Dork Diaries in one day.  Greg took daily solo bike rides through the lakeside neighborhood with its beautiful parks and culverts and convenient bike path to Starbuck’s.  I looked at art.

At times while traveling, everyone is not on the same page so whenever possible it's important to be flexible and try to meet everyone's needs.  For example, Greg and the kids wanted to visit Alice Cooperstown Restaurant.... 

Alice's Restaurant

Wyatt tackling the "Big Unit"

Happy Family... away from Mommy

And I did not.  I wanted a Girls' Day!

Historic Scottsdale
With Anne at the wheel, we headed to the fashionable town of Scottsdale, Arizona. Aimlessly strolling from art gallery to art gallery, I felt the knots in my shoulders loosen and my mind wander.  Relaxed for the first time in weeks, I discovered southwestern art.  We saw the ubiquitous cowboys and indians in bronze, on canvas in watercolor, acrylic and oils.  There were wall size paintings of the Grand Canyon and the desert; beautiful, sweeping landscapes that tried their hardest to capture something elusive.  Then, the modern art jumped out at me.  I window shopped for my dream home. (Remember the one with the jelly fish relaxation room?)  I found ceramic boxes of Crayola Crayons and Good and Plenties a hundred times their normal size that would be perfect in our new game/play room.  Who wouldn't want a giant Prozac pill hanging on their bedroom wall?  No, maybe that would fit better in the relaxation room.

by Liz Tran at the Bonner David Galleries

My favorite art spot was the Bonner David Galleries where an old friend of Anne's family, Claudia Hartley, had an exhibit.  I loved her happy colors and pointillistic style and knew right where I would put one of her colorful interiors in my dream home.  However, it was the work of Liz Tran that caught this art novice's eye.  My first reaction to her unique form of mixed media paintings was to smile.  Simply put, her art made me happy.  Then, on closer inspection, I was intrigued.  Her combinations of ink, acrylic paint, graphite and layers of Japanese art paper were candy to the eye.  For the first time, I wished we weren't spending all our money on travel this year.  I would have loved to take one of her pieces to my real home, no dreaming.  I had the pleasure of meeting one of the owners of this charming art gallery, Christi Bonner Manuelito.  She and I had instant rapport discussing our kids, movies, baseball, family travel, and of course, art.  I hope to visit the gallery again when art is in our budget.

Relaxing at the Historic Arizona Biltmore

Continuing our personal day of culture, Anne and I luncheoned at the Arizona Biltmore, one of Frank Lloyd Wright's contributions to the Southwest.  As consulting architect for four months, Wright oversaw the masonry bricks created on site; however, Wright's apprentice, Albert Chase McArthur, designed and built the original 1929 building.  While enjoying my salad al fresco, I tried to imagine Irving Berlin composing songs poolside while Marilyn Monroe strolled by.  It doesn't take a great imagination to have a little fun in beautiful, historic places.

Arizona Biltmore
We ended this day of indulgence and personal renewal with Anne and Jackson treating us to a decadent meal at Kai, located in the Wild Horse Pass Resort.  Kai, meaning seed in the Pima language, serves local and Native American cuisine.  We started with the sublime sage martini, delicate barbecued wild pork and sweet desert quail.  For the main course, I had the most incredible filet of buffalo and all I can say is I understand why it was almost hunted to extinction.  Ranking high on our best food list, I place it number one in best service.  The wait staff doted on our table.  Though completely unobtrusive, we never wanted for a thing.  At times it felt as though our meal was a beautiful song, orchestrated by our head waiter.  All plates on the table were removed and replaced gracefully and fluidly at the same time.  We ended the meal with coffee and chocolate soufflĂ©, completely content with great food, incredible service and incomparable company.

Buffalo... It's what's for dinner!

Our personal day was the perfect antidote for family claustrophobia and frazzled nerves.  We were ready for our next family field trip to Tombstone, AZ completely confident that the gunshots would not be family-fired.