Our monsoon season officially began in mid-June but the storms took their sweet time getting here. And when they finally did arrive that first week of July they refused to venture this far north and west. We sweltered as we watched the sky darken to the south and east of us. Record rainfalls received by some, 10 inches in 24 hours, while we counted the few fat drops of water that fell at our house.
Apparently Mother Nature has a wicked sense of humor. We recently installed gutters on our house. Their job is to funnel water from our roof into two 5,000 gallon cisterns. That collected water will then be used to irrigate plants and fill our rapidly evaporating pool. All the hard work has been done and the bill has been paid only one thing has yet to happen. It has to rain.
Last summer our side of town received twice the average monsoonal precipitation. This July our rain gauge gave us eight paltry readings, none of which topped a tenth. So, yes, I am convinced that Mother Nature has a truly wicked sense of humor. But I have faith that it will eventually rain over here and when it does, we will be ready.
Luckily we have landscaped our yard accordingly and even in the intense heat and thick humidity our plants are blooming away. Granted, we do water them but I know less hardy species would be reduced to brown sticks by now. The bright flowers seem to mock the severe sun. In the wee hours animals creep out from their shady resting places and feed on our green branches. Though they do much damage I do not get angry with them. Instead I admire their resourcefulness. When the rain finally comes, native grasses will sprout which the wildlife prefers and our plants will regrow. When the rain finally comes…
After one last winter storm the second weekend of the month, March was warm and dry. Plants frozen back began to bud out, even some I thought for sure were goners put out new leaves. Resilient little buggers. Our Spring wildflower show wasn’t spectacular but it wasn’t half bad. Our yard had a lot less diversity but Scorpionweeds bloomed in large numbers dotted with a few California poppies. The gold discs glowing amongst a bed of purple was quite stunning. A small native bunch grass carpeted our yard; it looked lush and inviting. We enlisted a cadre of desert cottontails to help with the “mowing.”
Lance’s parents were the first to try out our new al fresco dining area created by the back porch extension. The weather cooperated nicely and our luncheon was a success. After the construction work ended Lance and I were finally able to tackle completing our backyard landscaping plan. Out here it makes sense to get as much done as possible before the searing summer heat.
We were excited to finally plant seeds in our raised beds. We have been pleasantly surprised by the success of our smaller garden this winter; lettuce, cilantro, carrots, garlic, and onions sailed through undaunted by the cold temperatures. The morning after every freezing night I would peek out the kitchen window at the frost covered ground and say, “Well, there goes our garden.” Thankfully, I was wrong every single time. We haven’t purchased lettuce in months!
December was a busy month for us, but not in the way you might expect. Back in 2004 Lance and I removed ourselves from what we felt were the over-commercialized, consumption-focused aspects of the holiday season. We chose instead to emphasize the part that has the most meaning for us: spending time with loved ones.
We still share small homemade presents, decorate, and bake our favorite goodies but we no longer dashed around frantically trying to buy expensive gifts for people who truly already have everything they need. What a relief that was! More and more folks have followed suit, especially in the past few years.
Instead of fighting the crowds at the mall we went hiking: the scenic Sweetwater Trail up to Wasson Peak, at Sweetwater Preserve we spent time with a herd of Mule Deer, at Sweetwater Wetlands we shared the path with a Solitary Sandpiper. All three get their names from Sweetwater Wash, a major drainage in the Tucson Mountains, and they are all within five miles of our house. Sweet!
The weather cooperated nicely, sunny and even warmer than usual. Thankfully the good weather held long enough for the guys to finish our north porch extension. Always a relief to have a project completed.
Our November started with a visit from Flat Stanley. For those of you who haven’t made his acquaintance yet I’ll explain. Stanley Lambchop is the main character of a series of books that first debuted in 1964. Unfortunately, Stanley was flattened by a falling bulletin board. While that may sound uncomfortable being flat has its advantages: he can slip under a closed door and save money by traveling the world in an envelope. Stanley came to Tucson from Ohio courtesy of our 9-year-old cousin, Frankie. My job was to photograph Flat Stanley in Tucson before returning him with his vacation photos. I introduced him to our emblematic saguaro cactus, a prickly pear cactus, and for a spot of color I nestled him among bougainvillea flowers. In each case I promise I was careful to help Flat Stanley avoid the spines.
The second week Lance was in three different places (if only we could’ve mailed him, think of all the money we’d save!). First trip took him to PressNomics in Chandler. He loves the energy of the event (although I think the proximity to SanTan Brewery is another strong draw). Lance was home in Tucson for an entire 24 hours before catching a flight to San Francisco. That trip was a triple whammy: An Event Apart, the awesome atmosphere of the Automattic mothership, and face time with coworkers.
Certainly the looming threat of digging a trench (150 feet long, 18 inches deep, through rock and clay) didn’t have anything to do with his desire to get out of town.
The last two months of 2011 zipped right on by since they were filled to the brim with friends and family.
- The middle of November found us savoring delicious barbecue and fish cake (or more correctly a fish-shaped cake) as we celebrated Scott’s birthday.
- We chatted the night away with our friends Aaron and Jenny who were visiting from Ohio.
- We hosted our first Thanksgiving in this house, Rancho Soleil. The food was tasty, the company was delightful, and the games were hysterical. For those who attended I have two words for you: Charles. Volcano.
- The day after we zipped down to the Portal area to spend time with some of my family: Grandma Eileen, Aunt Paula, Harry, Uncle Lance, and Aunt Sharon. We had a wonderful time sharing memories and eating way too much food.
- Back in time to help celebrate Geoff’s birthday by sliding big balls at ten shapely white things. In other words, bowling. I always go for low score—that’s how you win, right?
- Few days later was a sad pizza dinner—time to say goodbye to Aaron, Jenny, and their two boys, Nate and Sam. The pizza wasn’t sad, just the pizza eaters.
- The first weekend of December Lance and I joined my sister Desirée and her husband Scott for dinner to help my Aunt Coralie celebrate her birthday. Afterward we had a Skip-Bo tournament that my sister handily won (I think she had a couple up her sleeve, if you know what I mean).
- We enjoyed catching up over dinner with Lance’s sister Adria and her husband Joel.
- Lisa and Gino arrived to warm and sunny Tucson from cold and gray Portland, Oregon for a long weekend of R & R…
We hiked, toured the Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum, caught sunset at Gates Pass, devoured Mexican food at El Charro, wandered through the Tucson Museum of Art, browsed the 4th Ave Street Fair, grubbed on cowboy fare at El Corral, watched the gunfights in Tombstone, and dropped them off at the airport twice (canceled flight, long story).
- Mingled with friends and colleagues at the annual Gathering of the Greens holiday party. Always a fun time!
- Hung out with the Spoke6 crew at their white elephant holiday party. Ugly orange tie, anyone?
- Attended Adria’s lovely Christmas Eve luncheon with Hank, his grandfather, and his mother (Adria’s husband Joel was out of town).
- Spent Christmas and the day after in far southwestern New Mexico with some of my family. It was sunny and warm which made the recently fallen snow sparkle and shine.
- We wrapped up the year at our house, accompanied by friends and family. Noshing yummy food, playing games, sharing stories around the bonfire, and watching fireworks—not a bad way to end the year.
To view all our other photos from the end of the year, see Fall Social Events, Lisa and Gino Visit, and Christmas 2011.
After a month away from home it was nice to get back. Our house, yard, and cats weathered our absence well, thanks to Lance’s sister Adria who popped in every few days. It was a bit of a shock to re-adjust to the triple digits but then it isn’t like summertime in Ohio is all that comfortable either. We suffered through a string of days that were downright miserable, it was so humid. And not everyone back there has air conditioning! Of course our house doesn’t have it either—which is why our pool comes in so handy.
Our joy at returning home was dampened by sad news. The day we arrived back in Tucson also happened to be my Aunt Shirley’s last. She had put up a valiant fight against cancer these past two years. And even though she was in constant pain she retained her cheery attitude and sassy outlook. I am so grateful for the times I was able to spend with her—she was a wonderful example of a classy lady that knew how to have fun. I will consider myself extremely fortunate if even a tiny bit of her élan rubbed off on me.
At the beginning of July I hopped in the car for another, albeit much shorter, road trip. I drove down to spend time with my Aunt and Grandma in the far southeastern corner of Arizona. Well, to be technically correct, my Aunt actually lives in the far southwestern corner of New Mexico while my Grandma lives five miles away in a different state, in a different time zone. Funny how these arbitrary lines carve up our lives.
At the end of May we left for a trip back east, traveling without our RV for the first time in five years. We were heading to Ohio but stopped off in Shawnee, Kansas, a suburb of Kansas City. It wasn’t a random choice—we were there to visit Lance’s sister Heidi and her family.
After living in Tucson for the past six years, the place where all four of their children were born, they reluctantly moved east this past March for a job. It was not an easy move for them for many reasons not the least of which was that Heidi had just given birth to twins in January. Still hard to fathom how they managed it all.
So it was wonderful for us to be able to stop in and see where they’ll be spending this next chapter of their lives. Their new place is tucked in the green, rolling hills not far from the Kansas River. It is gorgeous but we found ourselves laughing on the way to a nearby park because nearly every household was out mowing their lawn! We may have hot dry days and we may go months without rain but at least we don’t have to mow! Well, there are some that have lawns out here but not very many. As I like to tell people—since I grew up out here in Tucson; I’ve never mowed a lawn, raked leaves, or shoveled snow. And I rather like it that way.
When the big rain came that lasted forty days and forty nights, Southern Arizona got half an inch.
So true! That is exactly how it feels down here in the Tucson area these days. It has been well over a year since the Sonoran Desert received a decent amount of precipitation. Last year’s monsoons were lackluster at best and so far this year we have recorded less than an inch of rain at our house. On so many levels, it is painful to hear of the flooding in the Midwest and South.
So it should not be hard for you to imagine how eagerly we anticipated the most recent storm front. Wednesday evening a rainbow appeared in the east and we could smell that amazing fragrance of rain in the desert. Our hopes were up… It ended up being what my father calls a six-inch rain: there were six inches between the raindrops. Yeah, my father is funny like that (wonder where I get it?). And that was the extent of our hoped for downpour.
Northern Arizona has certainly not shared our dusty fate, in places they received well over an inch of rain in this latest storm, staving off fire restrictions in both the Coconino and Tonto National Forests. It is a very different situation down here in our Coronado National Forest where the fire danger is extreme and serious restrictions are in force. The official statement says the restrictions will remain until at least mid-July when hopefully the monsoons will begin.
Hoping for rain is precisely what everyone in the Chiricahua Mountains is doing right now. Since May 8th, the human-caused Horseshoe II fire has been racing up ridges and down valleys, threatening homes in the Portal and Paradise areas, whipped along by winds topping 30 miles an hour. I was down there visiting family the day after it began and even from a safe distance it was a distressing scene. A plume of smoke seemed to stretch all the way into space while down in the flats it was difficult to decide which was least enjoyable; the smoke that choked us or the dust that coated our teeth with grit.
As you’ve probably noticed things have been awfully quiet around here lately, with all of my heart I wish we could say we’ve been busy having fun. Unfortunately, it’s been one heckuva rough start to the year. I’ve heard it said that bad things come in threes and after the January and February we’ve suffered through I’m inclined to believe it.
Roughly one week after the dawning of the new year our quiet, small desert town was shattered by the reprehensible shooting on January 8th. Lance and I were shocked, emotionally drained, and physically exhausted—as were so many of our fellow Tucsonans. Tucson is no utopia yet I have always been proud of our community’s diversity and tolerance for all walks of life.
The funny thing is when I think back over the past few months my thoughts are filled with our house: toiling in the yard, working on the house, painting, minor repairs and trip after trip to the home improvement stores. Yet when I flip through the pictures I realize that isn’t the complete story. Looking back through the photographs it becomes clear that April, May, and June were filled with travels, family, and friends.
I kicked off April from afar—I was fortunate enough to spend Spring Break back in Ohio with family. It was my opportunity to get back there to meet the newest member of the clan, young Harper. What a wonderful trip—the weather was warm and sunny (Mother Nature’s joke on me, since I did not pack any shorts) and it was splendid to see everyone. I was even roped into helping out the Easter Bunny—who was running late that morning—and had a smashing time hiding the colorful treasures all over my cousin’s yard. Might even be safe to say I had more fun than the seekers. Though I might not be rehired for that gig since the first egg was found by the dog!
I returned to Tucson and hopped back into work and house projects. As part of our anniversary celebration, Lance and I took a break from chores and zipped down to birdy Madera Canyon for a relaxing day outside in the gorgeous Spring weather. Mount Wrightson, the tallest peak in the Santa Rita Mountains (and the Tucson-area), still sporting some snow, was a pleasant sight as we wandered along the flowing creek looking for birds in the canyon’s tall trees.