An Arizona Getaway: Escaping Winter with Family

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My parents always knew any hotel they took my brother and I to stay in needed to have a pool. It is still one of the first things I look for when I am traveling for work or for pleasure.

As kids, Nate and I would arrive in the pool area and dive in as quickly as possible. We’d alternate swiftly between the warmth of the hot tub and the cool depth of the pool, not stopping to contemplate the slight discomfort of that drastic temperature change. We were kids.

Last month, I sat in another hot tub perched just above a pristine pool beneath an American Southwest-sky full of stars. That week, in Wisconsin, the first snowfall of the season arrived.

After a little bit, my 12-year-old cousin, Mikayla convinced my wife, Michelle, to leave the comfort of the hot tub and jump into the chilly pool. Then, my brother and 60-year-old uncle joined them.

They tried to get me to jump in too, but I was too comfortable. I still loved being in water, but the uninhibited nature of my youth was gone.

Nevertheless, I smiled…it was a Saturday night in November and it was the first day of my family’s vacation in Arizona.
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Sunday

We stayed about 20 minutes north of Scottsdale in the vacation home of a family member. Most of the homes in the gated community were vacation homes, so it made a lot of sense when my mom told me that a bar in nearby Cave Creek was, on football Sundays, a Packers-fans bar.

Breakfast in a Glass Bloody Mary

Breakfast in a Glass Bloody Mary

Entering the Buffalo Chip was like walking into any of 1,000 Wisconsin bars on a winter Sunday…green and gold in every direction, with cold Miller Lite on tap. We were lucky enough to get some seats up front to watch the Seneca Wallace-led (at least for a few plays) Packers take on the Philadelphia Eagles.

I ordered the Breakfast in a Glass–A 22 oz. Bloody Mary garnished with a hard boiled egg, sausage, bacon, hash brown potato, fried toast, celery and an olive–prior to the game starting. My good mood was washed away faster than the drink was, as the Packers started slow.

Any sign of life from the team excited the capacity crowd (reminding me of why I prefer to watch the game with just my dad). During commercial breaks, a DJ played songs and did Packers trivia.

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At halftime, Michelle and I walked out behind the bar and discovered the Buffalo Chip was more than your average saloon. It doubled as a rodeo–with wooden bleachers encircling a large ring. I wish we could have seen a rodeo, I’m sure it would have been a lot of fun.

Back inside, the Packers remained punchless and Michelle, my Aunt Lori and I left before the final bell even sounded. Nonetheless, I am glad I had the experience, it was amazing to see such a large, passionate crowd more than 1,800 miles from Lambeau.

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Monday

Frank Lloyd Wright is one of Wisconsin’s most prominent sons, however, he wintered–along with his family and college-aged architecture students–less than an hour from where we were staying. Michelle discovered the close proximity while searching for things to do and on a hot Monday, her, Uncle Dave and I went to Taliesin West.

We opted for the 90-minute Insights Tour, which set us back $32 each.

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My interest in Frank Lloyd Wright spiked when the Milwaukee Art Museum held an exhibition a few years ago, but this was actually the first site of his that I have ever visited.

Throughout the tour, we learned about this idiosyncratic, enigmatic genius while we walked among and within the structures he created. I was surprised to learn that Taliesin West is still an active architecture six months out of the year–the other six months students are at Taliesin in Wisconsin.

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Frank Lloyd Wright was a renaissance man, and those interests were reflected on the property, which featured grass (rare for Arizona), several theaters and a large architecture studio. Taliesin actually means brow, and this beautiful, breathtaking property and all of the marvelous structures on it were built on the brow of a large, desert bluff.

If you are interested in Frank Lloyd Wright and his architecture, which was built to reflect and fade into the nature surrounding it, this place is well worth your time!

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Tuesday

Even the most simple things can be fun–and on our last full day in Arizona we wanted simple. We went to the neighborhood athletic club, reserved a tennis court and played, my brother and I against Michelle and Carrie, my sister-in-law, who was a high school tennis player.

It had been ages since any of us had played the game, but we remembered the rules, and besides a quick break to watch a bobcat amble around the court we were in, we played as the sun drenched us.

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Nate and I won, but the final score was meaningless. It felt good to move around, to play a game that was a small part of my childhood, surrounded by such beauty. I never got used to seeing cacti everywhere, sand and dirt where I am used to seeing grass. The beauty of Arizona is something I didn’t anticipate, but it is something I’ll remember, especially during the long, cold Wisconsin-winter.

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Wednesday

Nate, along with Uncle Dave, took Michelle and I back to the airport. I rode with a lump in my throat, an empty feeling in my stomach–regretting that Michelle and I were departing from Arizona sooner than everyone else.

That morning, we’d taken a walk in the sun and I thought about how this was the last time I’d feel warmth, real warmth, on my skin until February.

As we sped toward the airport, past fields of cacti with the air conditioning cranked, I thought about how hard it was to leave home–our house and dog and cat–on Saturday, and now how hard it was to leave my family on Wednesday.

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The memories of our time in Arizona swam in my brain: We swam with my niece and nephew; played tennis with my sister-in-law; shared craft beer with my brother; smoked cigars with my step dad; watched the stars with my uncle; chatted about our family with my mom; ate my aunt’s delicious food; laughed with my cousin; and I soaked in the warm, blue water with my wife.

Michelle and I were on a uncrowded flight and we managed a seat all to ourselves, and as our plane sped down the runaway–leaving Sky Harbor, Arizona, and a lot of my family in its wake–rather than feeling sadness, I preferred to think about how lucky I am to experience all these arrivals and all these departures.

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