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 Lance and I returned from our various trips (me to Portland, Oregon, Lance to St. Louis and San Francisco) we finally had to face Tucson’s most challenging weather: the hot and humid monsoon season. It is a much loved and loathed time of year—we want and need the rain, we just detest that pressure cooker sensation. On good days it dawns sunny, reaches 100 degrees by noon, towering dark clouds build by late afternoon and then we get pummeled by rain. The rest of the evening is 20 degrees cooler and the desert smells amazing: so clean, so alive, so refreshed. On bad days it dawns sunny, warms up, and just keeps getting hotter, trying to bake the will to live out of all the desert’s inhabitants.
We copied the adaptations of many desert creatures and became more crepuscular in our activities, preferring to venture outside in the morning and evening hours. One of our evening adventures was a trip out to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum with Alison, Charles, Geoff, and Lauren. During the summer the museum stays open until 10 PM on Saturdays. The idea is that the critters will be active after resting through a long, hot day. Unfortunately, it was a humid evening and the heat from the day failed to dissipate, so none of the animals were doing much moving around—including us humans. We still had a great time wandering the trails and chatting.
Summer nights introduce us to all manner of critters that at times we’d rather not know about. I believe “blissfully ignorant” would be the correct phrase. Case in point is the extremely large Giant Desert Hairy Scorpions that we found on our back porch. Though they look menacing, the three- to five-inch-long scorpions are one of the least venomous of their kind. If they hadn’t been in an area where people often walk around barefoot (by our pool) we would’ve left them alone. As it was, we helped them on their way to another plane of existence.
Finally, the moment I’d been looking for—my trip to Portland to see my friend, Lisa. We met while working at Glacier National Park the summer of ’98. I had just graduated from the University of Arizona and Lisa was midway through her degree at Drake University. It was my fourth summer at a national park, it was her first. I was (am) boisterous, outgoing (mostly), and talkative. She was (is) mellow, shy, and quiet (mostly). Oh, and we were six years apart in age (yes, I am the elder one, thanks for asking). In spite of our differences, or perhaps because of them, by the end of the summer we were good friends.
It was a fairly intense summer as our crew at Rising Sun Motor Lodge dealt first with the death of a young co-worker (he was killed and eaten by a grizzly bear and her two cubs) and then with the death of a guest (who died of a heart attack in the parking lot while on vacation with his wife).
Since I didn’t have to rush back for school I took a road trip after my summer gig. I wandered east, stopping at places that piqued my interest: Yellowstone National Park, Mammoth Site, International Wolf Center, Kelleys Island Glacial Grooves, Heavener Runestone, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame—you get the idea.