Day 5 in Sedona, AZ (Dec 29, 2016)

Today was relaxing, which was the goal since it was our last day with everyone together (Jeremy and Anya fly out tomorrow morning).

The day started off lazily, but, once we finally got ourselves out of the house, we decided to go walk around the touristy section of Sedona to check out the many shops selling everything from Native American arts and crafts to beef jerky and everything in between. We stopped into the Out of Africa satellite location so that Ari could enjoy a lizard that the kind employee got out of its cage just for Ari, tried to make music on some weird musical instruments installed as a public interactive activity along the sidewalk, and Jeremy and Anya even treated us to a tasty snack from The Sedona Fudge Shop.

After our walking “adventure,” we decided to go to the Mesa Grill, located at the Sedona airport, for lunch. It was delicious, and Ari loved that he could watch airplanes taking off and landing throughout our time there. Plus, the views of the red rock formations are stunning up there (surprise, surprise)!

After lunch, we went back to the house for a few minutes, then Victoria and I headed out to get facials at NAMTI Spa. It was my first time getting a facial, so I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it was super relaxing and enjoyable. I admit that I still prefer traditional massages, but I’m glad to have experienced this at least once.

For dinner tonight, we wanted to do something easy at the house, so decided to order pizza from Pisa Lisa. The decision ended up turning into a fun story, though, because the whole thing didn’t go quite as planned …When we first tried to call in our order, no one at the restaurant answered the phone, so Victoria and I drove over to place our order in person. At that point, we were told that it would be approximately 15-20 minutes before our pizzas were ready, so we ran to the grocery store for a few items that we needed. When we got back to the restaurant 20 minutes later, we found out that our pizzas had just gone into the oven, so it would still be another 10-15 minutes before they were ready. Because of the initial delay plus this additional wait time, the manager came over and kindly offered us each a free drink while we waited. Of course, Victoria is in her 3rd trimester, so she couldn’t take advantage of the restaurant’s fully-stocked bar (she got a bloody mary), but I enjoyed an ice-cold beer (well, really, it was only part of a beer since I had to drive home a few minutes later). End of the story: the pizza was delicious!

After dinner, we played Skip-Bo as a family. It was a great way to spend our last evening all together, and there was lots of late-night laughter around the table.

More tomorrow!

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Day 4 in Sedona, AZ (Dec 28, 2016)

(Click on photos to see them full size.)

Today was a “split” day, because Jeremy and Anya left at 6:00am to go to the Grand Canyon for the day while Dad, Debbie, Victoria, Ari, and I stayed in Sedona. Just because we didn’t go to the Grand Canyon didn’t mean that we were going to laze around all day, though (just for a few hours in the morning), and so we decided to do a bit of touristy sightseeing followed by a nice hike as our day’s activities.

Our first stop was the Chapel of the Holy Cross, a tiny but beautiful Catholic chapel literally built into the famous Sedona red rock. From our car up to the Chapel was probably a half mile (all uphill), and then from the top parking lot up to the Chapel itself was another few hundred yards, so the round trip total just to see this Chapel was probably between 1 and 1.25 miles walk .

After leaving the Chapel, we decided to try the Wildflower Bread Company, a “local” version of Panera Bread. The restaurant was packed, but the line moved quickly and we were able to find a table. Ari was really tired, so was starting to act out a bit, and got it into his head that we had ordered something off the menu for him (when, in reality, we had brought food for him to eat). I didn’t want to have to stand in the long line to order something for him, so, when the store manager fortuitously stopped by to ask how our lunches were, I asked him, “May I order a chocolate milk for my son and give you the cash to pay for it so I don’t have to stand in line?” His response, without hesitation: “Sure, I’ll get that for you, and it’s on me.” Wow! Great customer service!

In the same shopping center as the Wildflower Bread Company was a Cold stone Creamery. Although we didn’t enjoy an after-lunch treat, I am mentioning this because this Cold Stone must have—I have to believe—the most amazing view of any Cold Stone location in the world. Don’t believe me? Look at this photo I took from just outside the ice cream shop:

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After lunch, we headed off to hike the Boynton Canyon Trail, which was semi-muddy but totally beautiful. I believe it’s a 2.5-mile there/2.5-mile back trail, but we did about 1.75 miles before turning around because it was starting to get late in the day and we were all getting hungry. As we were turning around to head back to the car, Ari started asking to get out of the backpack so he could walk, but, of course, we knew there was no way he’d be able to walk the full distance back, so instead suggested that we would let him walk the last bit when we got close to the car. When we were within a quarter mile or so of the car, we let him out of the backpack, and—boy, oh boy!—was he proud to hike the last part of the trail by himself!

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Map of our hike on the Boynton Canyon Trail.

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We rounded out this wonderful day with a dinner consisting of take-out Thai food from Thai Spices Natural Restaurant and a relaxing evening spent watching the remainder of Irving Berlin’s White Christmas.

More tomorrow!

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Day 3 in Sedona, AZ (Dec 27, 2016)

(Click on photos to see them full size.)

Today, we decided to go on a safari to Africa, thanks to a billboard that Jeremy and Anya fortuitously spotted on their way into Sedona.

After a relaxing breakfast of eggs made by yours truly, we made the 30-ish minute drive to Out of Africa, a fantastic wildlife park in Camp Verde, Arizona.

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Victoria took the photo, which is why her beautiful smile isn’t also in it.

We arrived just in time to catch the first African Bus Safari of the day, and were lucky enough to have Courtney,the Serengeti Department Manager, as our bus driver/tour guide. She provided a great balance of information, history, and humor to make the tour interesting, educational, and fun, and she also knew the animals well enough to be able to show them off to their full natural splendor.

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Victoria feeding a giraffe!

During the tour, we weren’t allow off of the bus (after all, we were inside a wildlife habitat that was inhabited by wildlife); however, we were still able to get very close to giraffes, zebras, antelope, water buffalo, and several other animal species as we made our way through the park’s “Serengeti preserve.” We even got to feed a giraffe, and I’m pretty sure Dad held the leaves between his teeth so that the giraffe had to give him a kiss to get its snack!

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Park map as of 12/27/2016.

After we finished the Safari, we decided to walk around the park for a while. We ended up staying almost 5 hours total, and it was a wonderful experience. The park features a great many cool animals (including the albino tiger I photographed and have as the header photo for this post), and it’s set up to allow for close—and safe—encounters between humans and animals. One of the highlights was definitely the park’s “Tiger Splash™” show, where we got to watch two of the tigers interact in a predator-and-play relationship with their handlers and some toys. It was very cool! Ari LOVED everything about Out of Africa, and even became “friends” with one of the lizards that kept crawling up to its habitat’s window to “say hi.”

At one point during the day, while Victoria went off in search of a bathroom for her 7-month-pregnant self, Ari used the time to play tag with an unexpected new friend: a huge tiger. It was pacing back and forth along the edge of its habitat, and so Ari ran back and forth with the tiger for a few minutes. Of course, I shot some video of the encounter, which you can see here:


A few other encounters we had included:

By the time we left Out of Africa, it was already time to start thinking about dinner, and so we decided that we wanted to go to a highly-rated restaurant called Javelina Cantina Sedona. Debbie offered to make the reservation, so I read her the phone number from the website I was looking at and she called and made a reservation. About 30 seconds after she got off the phone, she said, “Wait a minute, that was the area code for New York City, not Sedona … I think I just made us a reservation at the totally wrong restaurant!” After we finished laughing, she called that Javelina restaurant to cancel the reservation, and then called the correct Javelina restaurant to make a new reservation. Except, somehow, she also found the wrong Javelina restaurant and again made a reservation at the wrong Javelina restaurant. I don’t remember exactly how we realized it, but all of a sudden we were all laughing again, and Debbie was back on the phone cancelling our second wrong reservation. After that, we finally managed to get a reservation at the correct version of the Javelina restaurant, and it was good that we did! The place was hoppin’, and the food was great. I had the delicious Salmon Tostada, Victoria enjoyed her Rocky Point Fish Tacos, and Ari enjoyed eating Mexican rice off of both our plates in addition to the PB&J sandwich we had brought along for him.

Now, we’re all happily back at the house with our feet up for a bit of R&R before tomorrow’s adventures.

More tomorrow!

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Day 2 in Sedona, AZ (Dec 26, 2016)

This morning, we woke up to beautiful weather: not a cloud in the sky and temperatures in the lower 30s. After we finished eating the eggs I’d made for everyone for breakfast, Victoria and I decided to walk down to the nearby CVS to get some diapers. On our way back, we extended our walk by an hour because we wanted to explore the neighborhood in which we are living this week. It turns out that this neighborhood is laid out well, the houses range from big to mansion, and every house has stunning views of Sedona’s famous red rock formations. (Click on photos to see bigger.)

Then, after a quick lunch at the house, all seven of us headed out to hike Soldier Pass Trail, located just 2.1 miles from the house. Soldier Pass Trail is a moderately-difficult, looping trail, but we didn’t do the full loop; instead, we hiked 1.8 miles in before turning around and retracing our steps back out. Below is the path we hiked, though I had forgotten to start my tracking app until the turnaround (thus, it only shows 1.8 miles of our 3.6 total).

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Map of the 2nd half of our hike on Soldier Pass Trail.

The hike was made more interesting because the temperature was rising and so snow was melting all around us. This meant that the trail was really muddy, we had snow falling onto our heads from the treetops above, and the creek that we had to cross a few times kept getting deeper and faster. Happily, all of this made the hike more interesting and memorable, and really didn’t detract from the experience (other than Dad’s sneakers turning red from all the mud). (Click on photos to see bigger.)

Having completed the hike—and with an offer from Zayde and Oma to babysit Ari—Vic and I went to The Hudson for happy hour. What a beautiful venue! The view out the restaurant’s windows was breathtaking, and the food selection was pretty great, too. I enjoyed a Nut Brown Ale from Sedona’s own Oak Creek Brewery, while Victoria ordered a Shirley Temple (reminder: she’s 31 weeks pregnant). We also decided to partake in some happy hour food specials, so ordered the Fresh Mozzarella Bruschetta, Four Cheese Spinach & Roasted Artichoke Dip, and Salted Soft Pretzel Bread. (Click on photos to see bigger.)

Having enjoyed our happy hour “baby holiday,” we returned to the house where Anya was busy making a delicious dinner: an Indian coconut/curry stew served with a salad and quinoa. (It was so good that I forgot to take any photos of the meal.) She also made (from scratch) a French chocolate cake to celebrate Dad’s 65th birthday, and Ari loved watching her work in the kitchen. (Click on photos to see bigger.)

We rounded out the evening with a relaxing dip in the hot tub before everyone crashed thanks to a good hike and great food. More tomorrow!

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Day 1 in Sedona, AZ (Dec 25, 2016)

Together with a culture of work, there must be a culture of leisure as gratification. To put it another way: people who work must take the time to relax, to be with their families, to enjoy themselves, read, listen to music, play a sport. ~ Pope Francis

Today, we relaxed in our VRBO rental house (listing #25327), a beautiful, 3000-square-foot, pueblo-style home in West Sedona, and watched snow fall throughout the day (yes, there is almost 6 inches of snow on the ground right now). While the house is really nice, the feature that makes it truly incredible are the huge windows that afford us unfettered views of the huge red rock formations that make Sedona famous. Believe it or not, the header image on this post is one of the photos I took with my iPhone from inside the house. Check out these other photos I took from inside the home throughout the day:

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It was really cloudy and snowing in the morning …

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The clouds started to clear later in the day …

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The sun hit the red rock formation perfectly for this photo!

Most of the day was spent lazing around, catching up, and Ari got some really quality time with his Zayde and Oma.

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Dad, Debbie, Jeremy, and Anya even spent some time in the hot tub while it was still snowing!

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For dinner tonight, we went to one of the few non-chain restaurants open on Christmas Day, a Chinese place called Szechuan Restaurant. The restaurant was packed, but, luckily, Debbie had thought ahead and made a reservation for the seven of us so we walked in and were seated almost immediately. I had the Mongolian Beef, which was actually quite good, Ari LOVED his veggie chow mein, and everyone else enjoyed their meals, too.

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Enjoying our Christmas Day dinner in true Jewish fashion.

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Ari enjoying his garlic green beans.

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Ari loved his chow mein!

After dinner, we returned to the house and decided to start watching Irving Berlin’s White Christmas. Less than halfway in, though, almost all of us fell  asleep, and so we decided to call it a night.

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Travel Day (Dec 24, 2016)

“In America, there are two classes of travel: first-class and with children.”
— Robert Benchley

Knowing that we didn’t want to wake up at the crack of dawn to leave home before our 10:00am flight, we drove to Philly last night to get the three-hour drive out of the way, and stayed at the Sheraton Suites Philadelphia Airport. The room was quite nice—though there was an awful odor surrounding (and in) the hotel while we were there—and the bedroom (where Victoria and I were sleeping) was separated from the living area (where Ari was sleeping) by a door, so we didn’t have to worry about making noise while we finished organizing our bags from the trip.

Ari’s schedule was pretty thrown off by the evening travel and late-night arrival at the hotel, but we finally got him to go to bed around 11:45pm. We weren’t far behind, and were in bed by 12:15am. The bed felt amazing, but, just as I was dozing off, I heard Ari starting to talk, and the talking quickly escalated to screaming for mommy and daddy! Since Vic is pregnant (and a sleep-dependent Schwartz), I got back out of bed to help Ari calm down. After trying (and failing) to use my normal child-calming strategies, and now exhausted and at my wits’ end, I finally laid out an extra blanket, sheet, and pillow on the really hard floor, and said, “Fine, I’ll sleep here next to you.” Of course, Ari immediately laid down and went to sleep, so I thought, “Great! I”ll stay here another few minutes so that Ari will still see me here if he checks whether I’m gone.” Unsurprisingly, within two minutes, I was fast asleep, and was still passed out on the really uncomfortable floor when Vic woke me up at 6:20am this morning. At least I got to enjoy the comfy bed for a few minutes …

We caught the 7:40am hotel shuttle to the Philadelphia airport, where we checked in and connected with Zayde (Marvin) and Oma (Debbie) who were also just checking in. We headed up to go through security, only to be told that our stroller (the BOB Revolution SE) was too big to be allowed through security, so back down to the check-in counter we went to check our stroller. It was a frustrating moment, especially since we had flown with the Bob only a year before with no problems at all, but the rules had apparently changed in a way that makes traveling with a child harder.

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Ari enjoying Mommy’s bagel for breakfast.

Speaking of making travel with a child harder: when the flight was ready to board, we went up to board early because of our young child  only to be told that American Airlines had done away with early boarding for travelers with young children. Really? Really? We had to wait while all of the priority ticket classes boarded (literally half the plane’s passengers), then waited through Zone 1, and finally boarded when they called Zone 2. Let me tell you: there’s nothing quite like trying to carry a toddler, a backpack, and a car seat down the aisle on the plane while also trying to not smash people’s heads as you pass.

Luckily, the rest of the travel day was adventure-less. Ari loved his first flight experienced: he slept, he played, and he even exclaimed “Weeeee!” with a big smile when we hit some turbulence (Vic had a very different reaction to the turbulence). Plus, since he was in the window seat and we were seated just behind the over-wing emergency exit rows, Ari was able to look out the window throughout our trip.

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Ari sleeping soundly in his car seat on the plane.

A big part of our successful travel day was directly attributable to the great research Vic did leading up to our trip: because of her diligence, we had purchased a travel car seat—Evenflo Tribute LX Convertible Car Seat, which weighs just seven pounds(!)—to use on the plane. It fit perfectly in the seat and strapped in easily using the plane’s seat belt, and so Ari was able to ride the same as if he were in a car.

We landed in the rain at the Phoenix Airport, got the rental car, and headed off toward Sedona. We stopped on the way for lunch at a Schlotzsky’s Deli (one of the few restaurants open on Christmas Eve Day after 4:00pm), and then finished our drive in the dark. We arrived at the beautiful VRBO rental, and were welcomed with hugs from Jeremy and Anya and tantalizing smells emanating from the kitchen.

After figuring out who was staying in which room, we all sat down to a delicious Channukah feast made by Anya:

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Challah
Matzo-Ball Soup

Latkes
Stew

More tomorrow!

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Destroying The Butterfly

I wrote the following short story during my junior year of high school. It was part of an English class assignment wherein we had to do a “Writing Within” another short story we had read in the class. The short story that I was “writing within” was Louise Erdrich’s “American Horse” (1984).

Destroying The Butterfly

Then the world was silent save the whirring motor of the car. Somewhere during the scream, Harmony had pulled the car onto the shoulder of the road. Now he, Vicki, and Officer Brackett were staring at Buddy, wondering what had caused him to erupt in such an explosive manner. Buddy sat pinned between Vicki and Officer Brackett, with a look on his face as if he had just seen a ghost. Harmony shook his head, and pulled the car back onto the road.

“No more screamin’, Buddy,” Harmony said as he glanced back at the three in his rearview mirror. No reply came from Buddy; he just sat staring out at the dirt road flying by. Harmony’s eye’s were attracted to a movement behind Buddy’s head, and he mentioned it to Officer Brackett.

“It’s nothin’—just a butterfly. Must’ve gotten in when we left Lawrence’s place. We’ll take care of it when we get to the station.”

“No, kill it now. It’s irritating me. I can’t drive with it fluttering around back there.”

“There’s no need to kill the poor thing,” sighed Vicki Koob. “We’ll help it find the window out when we get there.” By this time, Buddy had turned around to look at the butterfly and was staring at it intently with a look of pity on his face.

“I can’t drive with it there! If you want to keep it alive so badly, you drive and I’ll sit next to the kid.” As Harmony pulled the car over to the side of the road, there was a loud clanging sound.

“Aww, shoot. What’d I run over?” Harmony quickly stopped the vehicle, got out, and walked around to the back of the car, as Office Brackett vacated his seat and moved to take over the driver’s seat. “Dang muffler. I wish people would take care of their cars so things like this wouldn’t be sitting around where other people can get hurt on them.” With that said, Harmony sat down in the seat recently occupied by Officer Brackett.

As Harmony put on his seatbelt, Buddy suddenly lunged at him, grasping Harmony’s neck with his childish hands. Harmony pried him off, fleetingly amazed at the strength in Buddy. Vick held Buddy down as Harmony buckled him in again.

“Do that again and we’ll tie you down to the seat.” Harmony was still a little shaken and was not in any mood to be nice to this kid who had just tried to strangle him. With barely a sound, Buddy again threw himself toward Harmony, stretching his arms as far as they would go around the man’s neck. This time, Harmoney shoved Buddy off and held Buddy’s left wrist down as Office Brackett handed him a pair of handcuffs. Harmony snapped one end of the cuffs around Buddy’s left wrist, then attached the other end to the seat belt. he then handed his handcuffs to Vicki to put on Buddy.

“Can’t we just try one pair? I feel bad enough using handcuffs on a child, but two pairs would be carrying it too far. I won’t put them on him.” Having said this, Vicki pass the handcuffs back to Harmony, who then proceeded to put the handcuffs on Buddy, in no way making easy on the boy.

Buddy now sat with his hands secured at his sides, bound by the metal which he had seen earlier that day.  He could feel it all around him as he sat there between Vicki Koob and Harmony. He could sense it in the car surrounding him and in the barbed-wire of the fields going past in the window. Yet there was a little beacon of light, a wet spot in the fire, that was keeping Buddy from becoming insane. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see the little butterfly was still on the back dash, below the window, silently waving its wings, trying to escape from this metallic prison that others called a car. As Buddy turned his head to see the butterfly better, it soundlessly floated into the air and alighted on Harmony’s nose. Harmony reached up, pulled the butterfly off his nose, put it down on the clipboard in his lap, and, with one quick slap of the hand, flattened it.

Buddy stared as tears formed in his eyes. He hated Harmony, hated him more than any thing else in the world. Buddy hated Harmony for hitting his mother, hated him for killing the butterfly. Buddy gazed in silence and mourning at the beautiful wings, now bent and broken, as they gently moved in the breeze created by Harmony’s heavy breathing. Buddy watched as Harmony put his window down, slowly turning the handle in a counterclockwise movement. He watched as Harmony picked up the dead butterfly and dropped it out the window, without even looking at it. Buddy followed the butterfly as it tumbled through the air behind the car until, in a cloud of dust, it was lost to eyesight. In that cloud of dust, in the act of throwing the butterfly out the window like a chewed up apple core, Buddy felt that something had been taken from him. Something important, something that had always been deep inside of his body, resting and never worrying about the outside world. Now, in a matter of seconds, Buddy’s life had lost meaning. He didn’t care where he was going or what was going to happen to him. He thought his mother a lucky woman as the car stopped and he was herded into the station.

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