July 6, 2011

A Special Weekend: Creating Memories That Can't be Bought

The wind gust caught the bright, green and yellow kite with its ribboned tail and lifted it just above the pine trees lining the front yard. The two young kids screamed in delight. Suddenly a down draft caused the flying machine to plunge to the lawn, digging a hole right at daddy's feet. The yells from the children seemed to say that was even better than watching the kite sail through the stormy sky.

The 4th of July weekend was a fabulous time for our clan. Everyone dashed north to Flagstaff to escape the 118 degree heat of the desert floor. Just two hours away thunderstorms, clouds, and 7,000 feet in elevation meant long pants, sweatshirts, and an invigorating 3 days of family memories. The house we rented was a great match for our needs: big kitchen and dining room table plus a large fenced-in backyard. There was a metal-roofed back porch that was perfect for listening to the rain pound down on Saturday afternoon while sipping coffee or holding a steaming mug of Earl Grey tea.

My wife, youngest daughter and I found ourselves on Sunday night in a smallish upstairs room in the historic Weatherford Hotel in downtown Flagstaff. Seven folks, holding flutes, a banjo, a few guitars, a violin, and a cello  were sitting in a circle playing Irish music for their own enjoyment. A dozen spectators, sitting on chairs taken from the next door bar, were allowed to eavesdrop on their fun. The Irish Society of Flagstaff gathers in the same room every Sunday evening for a few hours to make music just for the fun of it. We stumbled across the event and took advantage of a unique experience to build a family memory that money couldn't buy.

Flagstaff is a tremendously attractive smallish city in northern Arizona. The home of Northern Arizona University, this town attracts more than its fair share of folks in tie-dyed shirts, flowing paisley-patterned skirts and peasant blouses. Everyone seems to have either a dog or mountain bike, or both. Young children are everywhere. People watching is an endless joy.

Downtown is packed with restaurants, bars, antique stores, and thousands of people enjoying free concerts, movies on the square and art festivals all summer long. An old-fashioned 4th of July parade, complete with kids on bikes, clowns, marching bands, and fire engines filled the streets Monday morning.  

Our weekend was filled with what makes being part of a happy family so special. Playing Granddad to three adorable children makes it all so memorable. Even watching Lady and the Tramp for at least the 100th time was fun: the kids see it as fresh and new each time. Too bad adults don't take such pleasure in such simple joys.

My wife dug out a recipe for making "kick the can ice cream." At my age I am usually not fond of the "kick the can" expression. But, in this case I am all for it. The homemade vanilla ice cream that came out of the cans we kicked around the backyard for half an hour and then popped in the freezer, was fabulous, as good as any I have ever tasted.

We played Hearts and Texas Hold'em. We had picnics in the park, and spent hours on swings, climbing trees, and generally behaving silly on the playgrounds that seem to be on every street corner. The kids were fascinated by a three-legged dog and how it maneuvered so well. This provided a great teaching moment on overcoming handicaps and making the most of what you have.

Once again I was impressed by how wonderful my eldest daughter and son-in-law are at the tough job of parenting. Their kids are inquisitive, respectful, smart well beyond their years, bubbling over with personality, and not ashamed to show love for everyone.

A satisfying retirement is so much more than managing one's finances, or worrying about health problems. This 4th of July weekend in Flagstaff with family was rich beyond measure.


  1. :<) A small group of freshman at NAU helped save the Wetherford hotel in 1977. We wrote up the documentation to prove that Teddy Roosevelt signed the declaration of the Grand Canyon National Park there. The hotel was in shambles. A few professors bought the shell. It was a wonderful thing to be a part of.
    It is now a great place- both for summer and winter. One of the most fun New Years Eve celebration in the world is there--with a pine cone drop. My son travels there almost every year- from where ever he is stationed.
    Ah- I do miss Flagstaff. It was a great place to raise our teens!

  2. Sounds like a good time was had by all in Flagstaff. Good for you! And isn't it great to see your kids acting as parents!

    We had a mini-get-together of B's family in Marblehead, Mass., complete with kites, salt air, ocean breezes, and lots of laughs. But I was most impressed by watching B's niece deal with her three kids. The little ones read; they behave; they are well-spoken. There's hope for us yet -- our own kids are turning into good parents!

  3. Good Morning JBO,

    I didn't know that story, but I'm not surprised. The Weatherford is a fascinating structure. The outside patio is always busy, as is the main restaurant. Sitting on the balcony outside the upstairs bar is the perfect place to people watch.

    My wife and I have definite plans to rent a place for next summer and spend a full month enjoying all the city has to offer.

    Question for you: how snowy and cold are the winters?

  4. Hi Sightings,

    I lived on Boston's North Shore for several years and can visualize the scene at Marblehead quite clearly! Cape Ann is a beautiful place to spend the summer.

    Yes, watching your children become great parents is a very gratifying experience.

  5. Bob,
    That is indeed the way it should be. Enjoying the moment and making memories and a legacy for the young ones. Never been to Flagstaff buy maybe it's time to experience it.

  6. Ralph,

    If i could figure out how to live in Flagstaff and still be available to my Dad, grandkids, and daughters I would. It is only 2 hours away, but that is a bit much for frequent trips. I'm even ready to try a winter there. Since I don't have to leave the house on any particular day or schedule, being snowed in on occasion might be a joy.

  7. Lady and the Tramp! My first favorite movie. As a preschooler, I took the name Lady and would not answer to anything else. I barked and wanted to eat from a bowl on the floor. And generally made my older sister's dating life miserable. In the days before people knew what transgender meant, I was a transspecies. Whoa (or should I say woof)... too much information. Sorry!

    Anyway...! Glad you had a lovely family weekend. Mine was just the opposite--solitude by the creek. Although I also appreciate our family get togethers. You are indeed blessed to have wonderful children and grandchildren.

  8. Galen,

    Eating from a bowl on the floor? Yes, that sounds like a future post for you...as we used to say in the 60's: letting your freak flag fly.

    Solitude by the creek is also something I enjoy tremendously. For me a satisfying retirement is a blend of both.

  9. Bob,
    You asked about the winters. It isn't that different than Kansas. It used to average 100 inches of snow and get well into the teens for most of January. First snow is Halloween- last is usually on NAU graduation day. BUT- as soon as it snows- the clouds clear and the sun is present.
    The altitude gets to people- but we enjoyed it. The house had to be painted more often because of the UV rays. There is a HUGE lack of water- so make sure you have a good well or are on city water.
    It is a town split in three- very conservative, very liberal and the Native Americans. Weird mix.
    You would do well there though. It is the only place we have lived that I thought, "the rest of my life could just be spent here looking out the window!" Lots of writers and artists. We loved it....but we could not afford to live my husband's 50s there with no job. We now live in the second best place on the earth.
    BTW- the drive to Phx- piece of cake. There is a shuttle to go down as well. I can see you working with the Navajo- and loving it!

  10. JBO,

    Thank so so much for the followup. It sounds like my kind of place. I like Scottsdale, but it is so uniform and cookie-cutter that I chafe at the lack of diversity. Flag has it in spades.

    Not sure if it was this way when you lived there, but most sidewalks at NAU are heated so the snow and ice are gone right after a storm. Pretty nifty.

    I know my daughters, son-in-law, and grandkids love it. We will see!

  11. The radiant heating for the buildings generates from a central plant and run under the sidewalks. Yes, In the winter of 76 when there was almost four feet of snow on the ground- I walked to class on ice free sidewalks:>)

    If you move- let me know. We still have quite a connection up there.

  12. JBO,

    Using that heat in such an inventive way is so "Flagstaff." The town strikes me as quite ecologically smart.

    My eldest daughter almost went to NAU. She was accepted but decided at the last moment she wasn't wild about snow or cold and wanted to be closer to family. She ended up at Grand Canyon University and eventually Arizona State. I've always wondered how our lives might have changed if she had spent 4 years in Flag.