Today was not only the first day of the new year, it was also moving day for our family. Our lease expired at the first vacation home, and we had to pack up our belongings and move to a second location.
We were required to be out of the house by 11 a.m. and we were pretty pleased with ourselves by pulling out of the driveway at 10:29.
Most of our gear was packed away the day before, but there was still some last minute cleanup. Such as what to do with the 72 balloons that Mallory received as part of her birthday present! Uncle Joe took the lead on that project by locating a knife and yelling “EEEE-YAAAAAHHHH!” with gusto as he popped each balloon.
We were so far ahead of schedule that we took the opportunity to take a few pictures in the scenic backyard.
Our first attraction of the day was to visit the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix. You could almost call this a zoo for plants that grow in the desert. They grow all kinds of cactus, trees, plants that grow not only in the local Sonoran Desert, but also other deserts located throughout North America.
When we arrived, we had the good fortune of showing up at the same time one of the short walking tours was about to depart. Our tour guide, Steve, was a 7th grade teacher by trade and he was a phenomenal tour guide. We got to spend 30 minutes with him, and we could have listened to him for hours. He was that interesting.
Tour Guide Steve spent quite a bit of time discussing the Saguaro cactus, the iconic cactus of the Southwest. It only grows in the Sonoran Desert and it is associated so often with the Southwest because Hollywood filmed all their westerns with the Saguaro prominently displayed.
A Saguaro cactus can weigh up to 80 pounds per foot. To support itself, the cactus has a fibrous, almost trunk-like center, and of course Tour Guide Steve had a prop to show us exactly what it looked like.
There are a number of walking trails at the Botanical Garden, and we hit most of them. The temperature got into the 80s and I suspect we would have spent more than 3 hours there if it had been a little more mild.
Throughout the garden, there were massively oversized wooden sculptures of various insects. The website describes them as “enormous, whimsical bugs”. There would be a display next to each bug educating us on how many different species there were of that bug. It was always something like 40,000 species of spiders or 50,000 species of grasshoppers.
With the high temps and a tired crew, we pulled out of the Gardens and started making our way to El Mirage, the town where our home for the next few days will be. On the way, we just happened to pass an In-N-Out Burger, and we stopped there for lunch.
Scott, Erin, Joe, Judy & KK had already eaten at In-N-Out yesterday, but very graciously allowed us to eat there again so we could get our fix.
Our crew of 11 orange shirts makes an impact wherever we stop, but there were two Oregon University Duck fans that came in that gave us a run for our money. One was wearing an Oregon football jersey and an old leather football helmet painted green & yellow. The other character was wearing just an Oregon t-shirt, but had his duck call hanging around his neck, and he was not afraid to blow it inside the restaurant at our request.
It was just a short drive from In-N-Out to our new home. When we pulled in, the caretaker was still there and he gave us the grand tour of the place. It has a real nice area on the back patio, and it didn’t take long for KK, Stephanie and I to get comfy.
Not too much later, our extended family showed up and we fit all 17 of us on the patio. We made dinner plans for later, but in the meantime, Mallory, Marissa & Miles put on a grand performance of their Vacation Rap. After the song, the girls put on an Angry Birds puppet show that was also well-received.
During the past few days, I have been communicating on Facebook with an old co-worker who now lives in Phoenix. We traded some messages and made plans to meet up for a quick visit tonight.
Mallory & Marissa went with me to the Arrowhead Town Center mall where we would meet my friend, Manoj, at the Starbucks. Sounded like a solid plan. The only problem was, it was 7:30 pm on a Sunday night, and every store in the mall was closed, including the Starbucks.
Manoj brought his lovely wife, Manitha, his darling 2yo daughter, Meera, and his friend, Prasanth. I haven’t seen Manoj in over 5 years, and it was such a pleasant surprise to be able to spend 20-30 minutes together.
We met them outside the mall, and we headed back inside to find a common area to sit down, but Mall Security would have nothing to do with that. (Flashbacks of John Candy in National Lampoon’s Vacation: “Sorry folks, the Park’s closed.”) So, we made our way back outside for our chat.
Even on such short notice, Manoj and his family brought several gifts for the girls – a dozen orange roses, and a bag of fancy chocolates. Thank You, Manoj for making me feel empty-handed!
Manoj even had the courtesy to make sure he was wearing an orange shirt for this reunion. I love this guy!
Since we parked on the complete opposite side of the mall, Prasanth gave us a ride in his car back to our vehicle. He let us out and Mallory went to her side of the van to get in, when I heard her yell out “ORANGE!”. I was wondering what was going on over there, when I heard a group of people yell back “POWER!” I walked to the back of the van and and there were three Cowboy fans walking out of the mall decked out in their orange. There is no such thing as a stranger when they are wearing orange.
Mallory, Marissa and I were running late, so we drove directly to the restaurant, Claim Jumper, to meet the rest of the family. The restaurant had a burger called the “Widow Maker” that our group ordered quite a few of.
We shut down the restaurant and made our way back to the house. It is hard to believe that Gameday will already be here tomorrow. After all, we’ve only been on the road for six days.