Before we spent Christmas in Arizona last year, my list of countries visited was almost triple that of US States I’d seen. Believe me, I’m not telling you this in an attempt to humble brag about how many countries I’ve been to, because in the grand scheme of things I actually haven’t been to all that many. I’m telling you this so you know just how little I’ve seen of my own country. It’s something that bothers me more and more every year as I continue to see the rest of the world while my home country stays mostly undiscovered. But that’s an entirely different topic for an entirely different day, because today (and the whole month, really) is about Christmas. Last year’s Christmas to be exact.
During our years in London, we were only able to make one trip back to the US every year and usually chose to take it over the summer when Lexie’s school break was longer. But as it happened with our move mid-way through the year to Singapore, we were lucky enough to get two trips back in 2016, one in the summer and one for the holidays. It had been three years since we’d celebrated Christmas at home with our families and we were very much looking forward to that, but also the opportunity to visit a new state. Somewhere in between our move to London and this particular Christmas, Cory’s dad retired and became what us North Americans like to call a “snowbird”, aka someone who flees the more northern states for warmer temperatures down south every winter. His move to Arizona for the winter meant we got to spend part of this Christmas in Arizona, too!
And I am so very, very happy to tell you that Arizona looks exactly, I mean exactly, like I always pictured it would.
I mean, if that doesn’t scream Wild West, I don’t know what does. I half expected a gunslinger with a wad of chew in the side of his mouth to ride up on his stallion and challenge me to a duel at dawn.
Cactuses, tumbleweeds, desert mountains, and lots and lots of dirt. Arizona definitely lives up to its reputation, at least outside of the city. (Having never in my life needed to know how to spell the plural of cactus, I had to google. Apparently the internet is undecided whether it’s cacti or cactuses. I’m going with cactuses even though my spellcheck keeps telling me I’m wrong.)
For our short stay in Arizona, we were visiting a suburb outside Phoenix where Cory’s dad, grandmother, and a couple of his aunts and uncles live. While I was marginally disappointed that we weren’t going to be falling asleep under the stars beside a campfire in the desert to the harmonious song of a pack of coyotes, we still got to stay somewhere awesome. You’ll probably never guess, but you can go ahead and give it a try if you want.
If you guessed an RV/trailer resort designed for the over 55’s, you are correct!
That’s right. We spent four days hanging with the oldies* playing shuffleboard, going to water aerobics class, and participating in a couple rousing games of bingo. Okay, I’m lying about most of that…but not the shuffleboard.
*Anyone 20 years younger than me now has free rein to call me the same.
So, I’m going to admit something pretty embarrassing, but funny enough that I’m going to tell you anyway.
Having never seen shuffleboard played or even looked very closely at the “board” it’s played on, I genuinely thought shuffleboard was like hopscotch for old people. But instead of hopping, people shuffled, hence the name.
Spoiler alert: Shuffleboard is not hopscotch for old people.
That was a supremely disappointing discovery. The game itself is still decently fun to play, but not half as entertaining as I thought it would be to watch.
So, back to Christmas in Arizona…not really all that Christmasy actually.
Between the warm temperatures, cloudless blue skies, and the overwhelming amount of palm trees everywhere, Christmas in Arizona looked and felt very much like it did during the years we lived in Florida. Minus the daily rain showers. (I assume it’ll be much the same here in Singapore, too. I’ll let you know later this month.)
That being said, Christmas spirits were high in the RV park and nearly everyone had their portable homes decked out with all manner of flashing lights, twinkling Christmas trees, and various Arizona-inspired holiday decorations. It was a festive scene, making an evening walk through the park a daily necessity. Plus, those Arizona sunsets were really something else.
The Grand Canyon was high on my wishlist for this trip, but at a three hours’ drive away, it didn’t make much sense for such a short trip. (I did get to see it when we flew overhead on our way into Phoenix, though!)
Instead, we filled our time in Arizona with hiking and a scenic drive a little closer to home. Our first full day in Arizona, we met up with some of Cory’s family (who aren’t yet old enough to reside in the fancy RV park) for a hike up Superstition Mountain. Then later on in our stay, we drove the entire length of the Apache Trail, which means Cory’s family got an introduction to what it’s like to take a scenic drive with people who like to stop the car every 300 feet for a photograph. I’m pretty sure they loved it.
Also, I hugged a cactus. Because I’m friendly like that.
We had so much fun visiting Cory’s family and Arizona itself on this trip. I’m completely convinced that when the time comes for us to return to the US, I won’t be one bit sad about our travels becoming more US-based. There is so much there worth seeing. Not the least of which is that little ol’ canyon everyone goes on and on about. I’m seeing that next time we’re in Arizona, regardless of how short our trip is!
After leaving Arizona, we took a couple of flights and landed in Memphis, Tennessee where we spent three days seeing friends, visiting my grandmother in the hospital, and picking up everything on our we-can-only-get-this-in-the-US shopping list over the three days leading up to Christmas, which was not as big a disaster as it sounds, surprisingly. My grandmother was released from the hospital in time for Christmas, which was a happy surprise that no one was really prepared for, so while my parents and Cory took Lex to church on Christmas morning, I stayed home to take care of my grandmother and scramble together a halfway decent Christmas lunch.
The good thing about grandmothers is, they usually have freezers full of all sorts of useful items and mine is no exception. I found a miniature frozen turkey, loads of frozen vegetables, and a whole container full of fresh corn my grandmother had prepped earlier in the year, so we were set. The only let-down of the day was that I didn’t take a single picture. What kind of self-respecting human doesn’t take photos on Christmas Day? This one, apparently. I took a grand total of two pictures over four days in Memphis actually, and both were selfies of me and my grandmother in the hospital. (Because this is the 21st century and selfies are what you do when you’re in the hospital, obv.)
Luckily, we got a Christmas dinner redo a few days later when my sister and brother-in-law joined us in Nashville (where we’d driven immediately following my super awesome freezer-supplied Christmas meal), and I did manage to remember to take photos. This was our first family Christmas in my parents’ new house and they’d decorated it so well for the occasion, it was like being inside Harrods department store. (I do not share my mother’s talent for decorating, as you will witness when I get around to showing you what our apartment looks like at Christmas.)
We took the opportunity to see a few friends while we were in Nashville, but mostly we just hung out with my family, eating lots of unhealthy things and taking walks through the beautiful countryside surrounding their house to make up for it. (That is me walking around in public wearing a blanket, if you hadn’t already guessed. Singapore and Arizona might be warm at Christmas, but Tennessee is not.)
Since mom and dad had built their new house before finding out they’d need to move to Amsterdam for the next few years (I have the most transient family ever), they had no TV or internet set up while we were there. The no TV thing? Totally fine. No internet for a week? Not fine. Especially when one’s iPhone data plan only works in an itty bitty country on the opposite side of the world. So every couple of days my dad would drive me to a different location around town that had free WiFi. (Target’s is great, fyi.) On one of these WiFi-stealing trips, we came across something amazing…
An ALPACA FARM!!!!!
Yes, alpacas deserve all caps and excessive exclamation point usage.
ALPACAS!!! ALPACAS!!! ALPACAS!!!
Okay, I’m done.
Apparently you can call me the Alpaca Whisperer, because even though I jumped out of the car and took off at a dead run towards the alpacas (which would terrify like 99.9% of other farm animals), this guy ran straight to me like we were recreating some sort of emotional airport reunion scene from a cheesy B-rated movie. It was kind of sweet, actually, until he started trying to jump over the fence. Then it got scary, because alpacas? Not so small when they stand up straight. Yikes. Still cute, though…when they stay on all fours.
Two weeks, eight airplanes, five layovers, one road trip, three cities, a million cactuses, one frozen turkey, and an over-friendly alpaca. That pretty well sums up last year’s Christmas. Only 14 days until the next one! Are you ready?