A Birthday Trip to Arizona

Feb 22, 2018

For the third year in a row, we ditched the dreary clutches of Utah's January in favor of warmer climes. This is fast becoming one of my favorite traditions and makes my birthday month not seem half as bad as it once did. In 2016, we went to San Diego. In 2017, we went to Las Vegas. And this year, we went to Arizona.

When Mike and I were first married and still in school, we lived in a small apartment on the third floor of a ten-plex just south of campus. Across the street, there was an old house divided up into several units. And in one of those, even smaller than our small apartment, lived Curtis and Alicia Langstraat.

There is something absolutely incredible when you find another couple that you just click with. It's one thing to form a friendship one-on-one; it's quite another when the friendship has to cross many ways: between the couples and the spouses and the genders. During our nearly thirteen years of marriage, it has only happened a handful of times, but the year we met the Langstraats was one of them.

December 2006 after a failed attempt to see the Mormon Tabernacle Christmas concert

In the years since then, the Langstraats have lived several places--Colorado, Texas, Arizona--but we've managed to see them somewhat regularly because they usually make a trip to Utah to visit family at least once a year (and now that Curtis is a pilot, it's even easier for them to catch a flight up here for a day or two). We've been wanting to visit them for a long time, so when they bought a home last year, it seemed like the right time to finally invite ourselves over for a little vacation.

I've learned with these family vacations that there will be some rough moments, but if I can just relax and ride them out, then the bulk of the trip will be good. And that is why I could laugh on the first night of this vacation when Mike and I were eating lunchables in the hotel bathroom because it was 10:00pm, the kids were finally all asleep so we didn't dare turn on a light or make a sound; we were both starving but had very few options for food. So lunchables in the bathroom it was.

I don't think that could necessarily be called a highlight, but these other things could be:

The Grand Canyon
When we first began planning our route down to Phoenix, Mike said, "And of course we'll make a stop at the Grand Canyon," and I was like, "Over my dead body" Even on the best of days under the best of circumstances, I don't do well with heights. But if it's my kids who are up high, then it's one hundred times worse--like, I feel physically ill and come close to having a panic attack.

So I don't know how Mike ever convinced me that this would be okay, but somehow there we were, standing by the edge (but not too close) and taking in that breathtaking expanse of colors and layers and space. And I'm here to tell you that I'm glad we went. And I'm glad my kids went. We will never forget what it felt like to stand on the south rim, breathe in the crisp wind-blown air, and slowly turn from one side to the other. It was magnificent. (And I was actually far more nervous in the watch tower where the four floors were open to each other than I was when we were outside by the railing.)

As I mentioned before, we read Brighty of the Grand Canyon in preparation for our trip, and we were thrilled to get to hike on Bright Angel Trail, named after Brighty (or vice versa--I honestly don't know which came first) and see the mules coming up the trail. I'm using the term "hike" very loosely because we only made it a few hundred feet before we came to a sign that said, "Steep drop-offs beyond this point," and that was enough for me. However, I was proud of myself for even stepping foot on the trail, and my kids were so good to hug the wall so that I wouldn't be too nervous.

I fell hard and fast for all of the cacti we saw while we were in Arizona. I hadn't really thought about it before, but I guess this was my first time ever seeing that cactus of all cacti, the saguaro (it was also my first time ever hearing the word pronounced out loud--isn't that weird? I'd never really known how to say it before). I think the thing that surprised me more than anything was the sheer number of cacti. I kind of thought you'd see one saguaro standing sentry, but instead there were hundreds (thousands) of them dotting the landscape, each one totally unique. Besides the saguaro, I also loved the jumping cholla, ocotillo, prickly pear, organ pipe, barrel, and palo verde (technically a tree, not a cactus, but always there with the saguaro). I had absolutely zero expectations for the cacti (I definitely wasn't looking forward to them with eager anticipation or anything), so to be totally charmed by them was so fun.

Grapefruit picking
Before we went on this trip, if you'd asked my kids how oranges or lemons grow, they might have guessed on a tree, but they wouldn't have been able to say for sure. I asked our friends if they knew of a pick-your-own-citrus place nearby, and Alicia said they had some friends with a grapefruit orchard who said we could come pick as many grapefruits as we wanted. As we drove into the neighborhood, we saw hundreds of trees heavy laden with orange, yellow, and green fruit. It was a new experience for me, as well as my kids, and I admit, I found it somewhat thrilling. The Langstraats' friends had a couple dozen grapefruit trees, and my kids wasted no time climbing up into them and reaching with the picker to choose the best looking fruit. And it smelled heavenly. (When Maxwell heard that the scorpions came out in droves at night, he wanted to come back after dark, but he didn't get his wish.) Since coming home, we've enjoyed slicing into a cold, juicy grapefruit for breakfast. It's the best souvenir.

Bahama Bucks
I probably wouldn't mention this one except for the fact that, when the whole trip was said and done,  it vied for the top spot on Bradley's list of favorite activities. Bahama Bucks is a shaved ice place. Alicia's parents own several of them in Arizona, and my kids only had to hear the Langstraat kids mention it once before they were begging to go. And while I'm not going to say it was better than any shaved ice I've ever had, it was definitely yummy. More than that though, it was just so fun to stop for a cold treat in January and have it taste refreshing.

The Rooster Cogburn Ostrich Ranch
If we had to choose one activity from the trip that was equally enjoyed by every member of the family, it would probably be this. I thought it was going to be like a gimmicky petting zoo, and I guess it kind of was, but nonetheless we had so much fun. As part of your ticket, you get enough food to feed all the animals at the ranch (whoever thought up this marketing idea was a genius--get the people to pay for the food AND have them do the work for you). It was all very organized: large pellets for the donkeys, deer, sheep, and goats, small pellets for the ostriches, a bird seed stick for the parakeets, a little container with nectar for the lorikeets, and tokens to buy the food for the ducks, rabbits, and stingrays later on. The animals were so accustomed to people feeding them that they crowded to the fence and eagerly took the food offered to them (to be honest, I was a little freaked out by the ostriches who seemed to have a crazed look in their eyes). The sign by the goats said you could stick a pellet between your lips, and the goat would pluck it right out with a wet "kiss." I didn't think any of my kids would do it, but Mike paved the way, and then they were all willing to give it a try (except for me . . . no, thank you!). Aaron felt the need to really prove his bravery, and ended up doing the goat kiss fifteen times. But I think they all would say that feeding the lorikeets was their favorite. I even did that one, and it was pretty magical to walk into the enclosure and have these beautiful rainbow birds eagerly hop onto your hand (or head!) and sip out of a little cup. All in all, it was just a really fun experience we all enjoyed.

We had the most gorgeous weather on our trip, which led me to say many times, "I can totally see why wintering in Arizona is a thing." We took full advantage of the perfect temperatures and spent most of our time outside. We went on a couple of hikes. The first one was in Picacho Peak State Park, and we actually spent most of our time at a little playground with the most unusual swings that all of our kids were obsessed with. The other hike was the Hieroglyphics Trail. We turned around about two-thirds of the way to the top because everyone was getting hot and tired (Mike kept reminding them, "But isn't it amazing that you're hot in January?!"), but I loved soaking up the sun and getting better acquainted with all of the aforementioned cacti.

Of course the best part of the trip was spending it with people we love. We actually met up with our friends, the Gardners, at the Grand Canyon, and then of course, we spent the remainder of our trip with the Langstraats. Remember how I said it's hard to find another couple that you really mesh with because the relationship is no longer just two personalities but four? Well, imagine how complex things become when there are also ten kids thrown into the mix. But everyone got along so well (which is doubly amazing considering the fact that we were also imposing on the Langstraat's hospitality, and they had to share everything--toys, food, bedrooms, bathrooms--with us). In fact, when we weren't out exploring, we hardly saw the kids because they were so busy playing games. Sometimes they would all play together, and sometimes they paired off with the child they were closest in age to. Aaron and Nathan spent a lot of time outside jumping around on pogo sticks (which led to Aaron purchasing his own soon after we returned home). Ryan was a perfect match for Clark's intense imagination. And as for the adults? We stayed up late after the kids went to bed, chatting and playing games just like in the olden days. And we even managed to hire a babysitter and sneak out for a double date one night (where we had some seriously yummy Mexican food). Sharing memories with others is just the best, and we're already plotting ways to get together again soon.

Now we're home, and the only thing left to do is decide where we're going to go next January!


  1. Let's do it again!! My phone keeps giving me winter storm notifications for SLC. Clearly you need to escape the weather post haste. 😉 Clearing our schedule and just enjoying the weekend with y'all was sooooooooo fun! #teddybearcactiarethecutest

  2. You didn't tell about the part where your boys jumped into the North Sea...ahem, the pool! 😂

  3. Looks like it was an amazing and wonderful trip! Happy belated birthday :)

  4. I loved this post!! I'm from AZ and now we're living in Connecticut, so this was just so lovely to read about. We had those settings on my school playground! They were always in high demand. I haven't seen settings like them in ages! So fun that you found some and posted the picture, too. Sigh, I miss AZ.


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