Cacti, Baseball, And One Very Cool Apollonia: A Visit to Arizona

Desert Botanical Garden

I traveled to Arizona last week to spend a few days with my oldest sister. I haven’t seen her since the death of her husband last summer, and so it was time to check in on her in person to see how she’s doing. We keep in touch regularly, but it really is important to actually make an effort to be with those we love in the flesh. Otherwise they can literally become like strangers, which to me is the ultimate result when people resort to communicating only by text message or email.

Big Sis lives in Michigan but now spends December through March in Scottsdale to escape the harsh winters. She and her husband had started this routine shortly after he was forced to retire because of some serious health issues. They made two winter visits before he unfortunately had to permanently enter a care facility to live full time. I then watched her soldier through four very difficult years with very little time to herself.

It was good to see her return for a recuperative migration and also some post-mourning soul cleansing. As she does in seemingly every life situation in which she finds herself, she’s already made a ton of friends there via the local synagogue and also among those who love the arts, particularly classical music. Sis is a networker. She hates social media, so she does it all the old-fashioned way– by meeting and greeting people face-to-face.

This was a solo trip for me. Gorgeous stayed home and stuck to her regular work schedule and painting activities. In fact, she was so productive with the latter that I’ve begun to wonder just how much my presence interrupts her creative output on a daily basis. It seems like someone had their own little private Ferris Bueller moment. Or two.

Here’s a sample of her efforts while I was away…

Except for a brief visit to Tucson one time (Hi, D!), the majority of my previous time in Arizona has been through countless transfers in the Phoenix airport. And as we all know, that really doesn’t count.

An old friend and I once spent an entire evening debating the merits of whether changing planes in an airport constitutes having “visited” that city. As a structured proposition, it bordered on the ludicrous. However, for an argument in which beer consumption was the primary aim, we fancied ourselves to be Oxford-quality debating society standouts. I recall the only winner of our match to be the bartender (a very large tip given by us). Still, it remains my absolute belief that unless you leave the airport grounds, you are merely passing through in a quasi-virtual fashion.

Finally, though, I can now honestly say that I’ve visited the Phoenix area. It was only a three-day stay (or as Sis felt she needed to point out — two and 1/2 days because of travel time), but we filled the time cramming in as much as possible.

I arrived in the middle of a rare March heat wave with temperatures in the mid nineties. I’m now acclimated to the humid Florida heat, so this was a bit of a reminder for me of what western dry heat feels like. Curiously, I enjoyed all of it while Sis did not. Careful what you wish for when you escape those midwestern winters, I guess.

Many weeks ago, Sis proudly bought tickets for us to attend a spring training “Cactus League” game. This was during a period of normal Arizona temperatures for late January. But in the days prior to my arrival, she began fret about having to sit outside in ninety degree weather. It sounded like heaven to me, but somehow it didn’t have the same allure for her. We had premium seats right behind home plate but sadly only stayed for about three innings. I was fine with that because it was about spending quality time together.

And besides, ahem, she paid for the tickets.

At the same time, though, I did get to meet one of Tennessee’s honored statesman at the game. In Arizona no less.

Jack and me

From the ballgame, we went directly to the fabulous Desert Botanical Gardens, where we lucky enough to see their annual Spring Butterfly Exhibit. I’ve been fortunate enough to visit so many beautiful gardens on my travels over the years, but this was my very first desert-themed one. As warm as it was walking around, I’m so glad I had the opportunity to go there. I will definitely want to return on a future visit.

The best stop was saved for last. On my final day we visited the Musical Instrument Museum, simply known locally as the “MIM.” It’s an absolutely fascinating look at musical instruments from around the world. A treat for me was seeing the extensive Asian offerings, which have always been a bit of a mystery when I hear their exotic sounds in TV documentaries, movies, and of course in Chinese and Indian restaurants. To actually see them up close and get to hear snippets of their sounds was educational and fun. Guided headsets are offered and encouraged, and they really are a must if you venture into the global exhibits to look at the various instruments of those cultures.

But no matter how educational a museum is about music, I’m still a sucker for western pop music and jazz. And the MIM doesn’t disappoint. Displays on Elvis, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Willie Nelson, and so many others are offered. As a somewhat new devotee to the Hammond B3 organ, it was exhilarating to be able to touch Joey DeFrancesco’s Hammond which was on display. Was this allowed? Absolutely not. Let’s just keep this between us, okay?

A lively part of the MIM is their mechanical music collection. Have YOU ever been able to see and hear an actual Apollonia organ played? Well, thanks to me you now can by clicking on this link. I recorded it with my cell phone. You’re welcome.

An Apollonia organ. Waiting for the revival.

In between activities and sightseeing, I was taken to plenty of the area’s restaurants. Most of that is a blur in hindsight, unfortunately. But I can recommend the Camelback Inn’s Pretty Ricky.¹ It was the perfect end-of-the-day libation in an absolutely beautiful setting.

The Camelback Inn’s Pretty Ricky

Sis is 12 years older than me. Sibling rivalry has fortunately never been an issue with us because of that age gap. Nevertheless, moments still arose when we poked, pressed each other’s buttons, and had a few cursory squabbles that siblings sometimes have with one another. That’s where the 12 years really makes no different – siblings can and will squabble no matter their age. Fortunately each incident was over as quickly as it started. That’s what getting together in the flesh is all about after all.

I will return next year to see her, hopefully with Gorgeous. Maybe the western landscape will inspire her artwork. If not, there’s always the Pretty Ricky.

Until next time…

¹ Hendricks gin, Cointreau, hibiscus, raspberry, lemon. They offer it sweet or “less sweet.”  I went for the latter.



25 thoughts on “Cacti, Baseball, And One Very Cool Apollonia: A Visit to Arizona

  1. ‘So glad that I can now saw I’ve heard an actual Apollonia organ (via cell phone recording, of course)! Thanks for sharing this! Sounds like it was a great trip.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Those are fantastic! What medium does she use? Looks like pastels, maybe?

    I lived in Phoenix for about 16 months. Too hot for me. Nice to visit, though. People think the desert is barren and dead but it’s not. It’s actually quite beautiful.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Many thanks on her behalf. She loves acrylics and pastels mostly, but enjoys the occasional watercolors too. I didn’t include her folk art of which there is plenty because she’s signed those, and I know I’d catch hell for doing so on the blog. 🙂 I lived in Fresno for 13 years and Phoenix was always 7-10 degrees hotter, which is a lot! I couldn’t live there full time either.


  3. My last (and only) trip to Phoenix was in March. Temps were in the mild 80s but I couldn’t stand the dryness. My face withered. I had to get axle grease for it. However, I remember imbibing on some of the most fabulous drinks in my life. There was this outdoor Tiki-type bar that had a three flavor margarita in one humongous glass. Don’t remember much after that. Love Gorgeous’ work. Love the color play. As for siblings my bro closest in age is 16 years older. Over the years we have managed to have some quibbles but as you say there never was competition or any sort of rivalry. Most of the time I think he’s my age (he’s in his 80s so that’s quite a compliment). I’m lucky since it’s a 10 minute drive to see him.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I moved away from California’s San Joaquin Valley in 2013, but that’s pretty much the weather there also — hot and dry. It was funny too because the locals there often talk about “humidity” and I used to laugh because they had no idea what humidity really was. I’m sort of weird in that I actually like Florida’s humidity, but then I guess that’s a good thing. My sister is a bit of a teetotaler, so I kept my imbibing to the minimum. It’s just no fun if others aren’t partaking.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. So glad you had this time with your sister. As we grow older those connections become so important, but I don’t have to tell you that! BTW, Gorgeous does gorgeous work! Does she ever sell any of her pieces?

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Enjoyed sharing time with you and your sister in Arizona and loved the photos too, a picture really does paint a thousand words. What can I say about Georgeous’ artwork … just gorgeous.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. We have friends who live in Phoenix and have visited them a few times during spring training. It was fun to see our hometown team so up close and personal. I much prefer the dry heat to humidity, but that’s probably because I’ve grown up in SoCal.

    Like other commenters, I too love Gorgeous’s artwork! The colors are fabulous and her sense of whimsy is so apparent. Has she ever thought about selling them on Etsy or at an art fair?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Janis! She actually does have an Etsy page, but at the moment it’s empty as a pocket. She’s working on it…slowly. 🙂

      I used to hate humidity, but somehow — perhaps mind over matter? — I’ve come to really like its “cleansing” feeling. I am reminded of how my dad would respond to such an argument, however: “hot is hot.” 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Closest I’ve been to AZ is Las Vegas. Well, let me amend that – when you drive to Las Vegas from Colorado, as in Denver – you pass through Central Utah on I-15 then bend south west and actually you travel through a tiny corner section of Arizona before entering Nevada. So while my body has actually been in AZ, it was so brief – that I hadn’t even remembered it. It took a google map to prove the point.

    I enjoyed this post about the sibling visit as well as seeing the artist’s works. One more cool note – I noticed you visited and took a photo of the Leonard Bernstein exhibit at the MIM.

    I saw on Broadway, Bernstein’s West Side Story, This was my first ever Broadway show. WSS played on Broadway from September 57 until June of 59 – I was just a kid. But the impact of the show, and the energy on display were unforgettable. Even today, I can still hear that music from nearly 60 years ago in my head.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I hadn’t thought of driving through a state without ever getting out of the car. Like passing through in an airport, is that actually “being” in that state? Technically yes. But still…. A great memory of Leonard Bernstein, Mike.


  8. What a delightful trip. You touched on so many places dear to my heart. I live in MI and recently returned from a refreshing trip to AZ – the Grand Canyon, Sedona, and Flagstaff for me. And I grew up in TN very close to old Jack! 🙂 Sounds like a great trip and I am sure that your sister appreciated your visit and attention. I’m sure she needed that. Oh, and the art work of Gorgeous is, well, gorgeous!

    Liked by 1 person

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