Claire, the Wii fiend.

December 29, 2009 By: nooccar Category: Claire, holidays, Parenthood, Pittsburgh

Last night my mother’s cousin and my father’s cousin both visited us and after spending some time in the kitchen around appetizers and drinks, we all moved into the living room where my sister turned on the Wii. My dad and his cousin played for awhile but then Claire wanted to play. They flipped from electronic darts to shuffleboard where you need to swing the remote to compete. Claire grabbed a remote and more or less challenged everyone in the room. She’d never played Wii before but quickly picked up the idea of how to play. Within an hour, she was beating everyone at Wii shuffle board and was ready to move onto Mario Kart.


Uncle Jaime’s reindeer hoofs

December 27, 2009 By: nooccar Category: Adams, Claire, holidays, Parenthood

Since my parents bought a new house and had more room and since we’d not spent Christmas Eve night at my parent’s in years, it was time. Earlier in the day Donna and Claire met us there while I pretended to help my sister cook dinner. Later after dinner, Claire didn’t want to go to bed. She was waiting for Santa, and all I was waiting for her was for her to fall asleep sdo I can drag a crapload of presents out of my parent’s basement to put around the tree. This is the first year where I had to keep two things in mind. 1) Claire would recognize if grandparent and Santa gifts came in the same wrapping paper, and 2) we cannot put any presents under the tree before she goes to sleep on Christmas Eve.

As I always expect with Claire, she never wants to go to sleep. And since it was Christmas Eve, she was even more excited than usual. By 11:00pm everyone was way sick of waiting for her to go down by herself and something had to be done. Uncle Jaime, my brother, decided to climb into the attic and take matters into his own hands.

Over the couch, through the roof, suddenly Santa and his reindeer were loudly walking around on the roof, preparing to come down one of my parent’s chimneys. (Yes, I know she’s smart, so I kept one chimney/fireplace free from a fire that night incase she asked!) Claire, sitting on the couch full dressed, looked towards the ceiling, looked around at her people and bolted to the bedroom. Donna followed her into the bedroom, as Claire grabbed her PJs and threw herself onto the bed.

“Mama, help me get changed! I need to go to sleep now! Santa’s here!” She screamed as she stripped her clothes before throwing herself into bed.

Thank you, Uncle Jaime.

Just me & my Dad

November 04, 2009 By: nooccar Category: Claire, Leisure, Parenthood

After spending way too much time in recovery after throat surgery, I had to get out of town. October and November are some of my favorite times living in Arizona because the weather drops from 100 degrees to about 60. Nights drop incredibly and day times are short sleeve weather. After fall break when we return to work, it’s dark when I drive into work and dark when Claire gets out of karate and swim several of the week nights.

Over break I wasn’t really cleared for travelling or even lifting anything but by the third week in October, I had to get out of town. I put on my calendar “getting out of town” and told Donna to get in the truck if she wanted to go. I’d planned a trip to either Willow Springs Lake or Christopher Creek to go camping, and then I contacted the park ranger. She suggested we stay in Christopher Creek because the rim (where the lakes are) were close to freezing temperatures at night.


Throughout the week, Donna became sicker and sicker to the point where she and Dante decided to stay home. (I sure didn’t want them in the tent breathing on me!) Friday Claire and I headed north up the Beeline Highway through Payson, stopped at Subway for lunch and then headed into the woods. Christopher Creek campground was pretty dead, and we wanted to be close enough to the pit toilets that she could go alone but far enough so it didn’t smell too bad. We ended up at the same campsite where we camped the first time she’d ever gone in Oct 2008. We set up camp, paid our $16 (??!) a night, and hung out. As the sun dipped behind Christopher Mountain, it got chillier outside. We made a nice fire and hunkered down in our warm clothes. Claire just kept asking over and over again for Smores, but I told her we had to eat dinner first. We had hotdogs and then later Smores. At about 8:00 o’clock she said she wanted to go to bed so I took her into the tent, but I suddenly realized that there were no adults there so I didn’t have anything to do after she went to bed. I read my magazine in the tent for a little while but it hurt by back so I too went to bed at 8. By 7am we were awake and frigid. Sleeping didn’t bother me in the cold, but it was waking up cold that sucked. I had Claire climb into my bag with me and we told each other stories for an hour before braving the even colder air outside the tent.


We made a small fire to make our oatmeal, and we hung out around camp. I wanted to hit the General Store in Christopher Creek but didn’t think it’d be open too early. We headed over there after 9am and the lady was talking to Claire. After discovering she was 4, she said they were having a Halloween costume parade and trick or treating that night at the local fire department. I said we might be back.

Claire and I wanted to see some fall color, so we drove up a dirt road to some trails where there were Red Maples with leaves still. I was worried that we were about a week late for the leaves, but we definitely saw some back by the creek. She complained about walking even though we were going through a flat meadow, until I realized she needed to go to the bathroom. She freaks out with outhouses but when you gotta go, you gotta go. She finally dropped trou and went on the side of the trail. I buried it and put rocks over the area before we crossed the creek to climb what I thought was a small hill. Turned out it was more like a small mountain. We headed up this thing and I had to toss Claire on my head so she wouldn’t roll down the hillside. The problem was the leaves were very slippery, so we made it about 10′ and found a spot where a blanket of red leaves rolled down the hillside. She and I made like we were sledding and got back down near the creek.


We eventually made it back to the car, salvaged some wood from burn piles that night’s fire, and headed up to the top of Mogollon Rim to Woods Canyon Lake. We got some worms and hoped to fish. After about two hours of not a single bite we decided to head back to camp so Claire could change before the trick or treating. The fire hall was pretty empty when we arrived, and I told Claire to just tell everyone that she was going as a “camper” since she had no costume. After we grabbed some free hotdogs more people began coming, and it turned out that this evening was a big deal. Many people like us were valley people who drove up just for the evening. After the costume parade, they loaded the kids into trailers behind fire pickups and drove us through Christopher Creek to all the cabins. We were out there for about three hours, filling a large bag with candy. Claire loved it, and I’d consider taking her back next year (with a costume this time!)


I had an Arizona Highways magazine at home about cool drives in Arizona, and one of those drives was the 300 Rim Road between 260 and 87. It’s a dirt road that literally runs parallel to the top of the Rim for about 55 miles, and I figured we might find some nice photos of yellow Aspen at the top. Donna and I had made the drive years ago but only part way in to camp. This time I was determined that Claire and I were going all the way across.


Sunday morning we packed the tent and got on the road north after a nice breakfast at Creekside Restaurant. On the 300 we passed right by the Woods Canyon Lake cutoff, which is usually as far as we go. This time I was determined to drive all the way. The road immediately went from paved to dirt and gravel. ATVs and dirt bike riders flew by, and I put my zoom lens and camera next to me on the seat of the truck. Claire was half preoccupied with hiding some of the night before’s candy in the back seat, but she kept putting her window up and down to watch the dust and trees. Occasionally I stopped to get some photos along the Rim and ended up at several key points along the way. I almost drove back to Knohl Lake to check it out, but I wanted to get to Strawberry at a decent hour to see my friend Alan.

There were several campgrounds along the way that we checked out, but I like sites that have a creek or lake close by. I was also hoping to see elk or coyote but we barely even saw any birds. I think Claire enjoyed the ride, and we did find a few stands of yellowed leaf aspen. I shot a few hundred pictures before we pulled onto 87 towards Strawberry.


Alan lives in the woods, and he’s never really home; this weekend he just happened to be there so Claire and I stopped at his cabin for a bit before driving into Payson where our friend’s have a cabin (it’s more like their second house). They weren’t there and later said we missed them by minutes (but I know I drive faster than them and we take the same highway home). We rolled into Chandler a few hours later, after our 350 mile, three day adventure together.

Fireside Espresso Payson, AZ

March 02, 2009 By: nooccar Category: holidays, Reviews, Travel

Recently I needed to get out of the desert, and it’s always great to have friends who have a cool cabin in the woods 90 minutes north in Payson, AZ. We don’t get there as often as we should, but recently we were invited. My wife is in grad school and needed to be online to finish and post her final paper was worried about this project. I contacted my friend Alan Levine who lived in the area, and he mentioned a coffeehouse called Fireside Espresso at the corner of Forest Road and the Beeline Highway. The wife agreed to check it out, and off we went.

Now, I’ve been to some pretty cool coffeehouses in places like Pittsburgh, San Francisco, New York City, London, etc… until last week there were no coffeehouses in Arizona that lived up to my expectations. FIreside Espresso changed all of this.


Sure this coffeehouse is in Payson and isn’t actually in Phoenix, but it’s a helluva cool drive up the Beeline and I can be sitting in Fireside Espresso in 90 minutes. The red and white building is on a corner near a gas station with a large logo of a man drinking coffee over a campfire. The cozy “partner-up” atmosphere continued inside. The sage walls jutted up from wood floors surrounded by a large space sectioned off into smaller rooms. One large section had a fireplace and welcoming leather couch where a man was sleeping when I first went in. Across the entire front of the building were windows and large sitting areas. I saw a local group of folks playing Scrabble one time I went and the other time I went there was a single’s Bible study at the long wooden, polished table. This is the perfect place to have informal meet-ups in this area.


My wife grabbed a table in an area that is used for Open Mic Night and booted her computer; she was quickly online while I ordered several things. The barista explained all food is made from scratch right there on site, and I quickly ordered various scones and quiche. It felt like most people were locals or at least treated like locals. The barrister turned out to the be the owner, Amy Anderson. Amy made several recommendations for drinks and deserts before we grabbed some seats. We had three children between ages 2-5 with us; Amy and every customer there didn’t even raise an eyebrow when they ran across the stage or shouted through the coffeehouse.


The quiche was phenomenal and the Americano was the perfect wake me up. On the menu I saw a drink called a “London Fog”, so I asked Amy what it was. I’d never heard of it and later realized it’s more popular than I knew. I told her that i wanted one the next time I came in, which just happened to be three hours later. She turned back to make one of the best drinks I had, which I later discovered was steamed milk, Torani vanilla, and earl grey tea bags (the secret is to steep for only 2 minutes!) Amy mentioned that she had been in the business for four years and ran Fireside Espresso for two of them.


I’ve been searching for a coffeehouse that felt like family — a Cheers for the caffeine set, I suppose. Fireside Espresso is this place. Drive up, go see Amy, tell her I said hello and to have my London Fog ready the next time I head north for some weather.

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