Cycling Home in the Desert Summer

bicycle commuterI wrote the most beautiful poem yesterday on my bicycle ride home from work. Something about cauldrons of bubbling tar and heat scorching your ankles in the shade. But, as typically happens when you physically exert yourself in 108* heat, my brain turned to mush somewhere prior to half-way home, and I can’t remember much besides the fact that I was still composing this epic when I arrived home.

summer sunTucson summers are oppressive.

mesquite in the sunlightToday I peddled home in the first monsoon of the season, tepid desert raindrops dripping down my elbows instead of sweat. My sunglasses were to keep the rain out of my eyes instead of the sun. I wove through puddles, spitting water and dirt and grit behind me, grinning from ear to ear after having turned down no fewer than 8 offers to drive me home. Are you kidding me? Pass up the first monsoon of the season? No way.

It was just the beginnings of the storm. The rain wasn’t very thick and it didn’t start thundering until I was almost home. I arrived home not-very-drenched and much cooler than yesterday.

The desert does some strange things in the summer. The clouds will appear out of nowhere, billowing across the mountains and spreading over the city, black and rolling. The thunder will rumble and the rain will start, rarely with warning drops. The temperature will drop 30 degrees in 15 minutes.

You can see the very tips of the mountains from our backyard.

You can see the very tips of the mountains from our backyard.

“High humidity” here is approximately what I used to get in the “dry” winter, and the moisture doesn’t hang around long, sizzling and evaporating off pavement that has been baked in the sun all day. Unsurprisingly, a little bit of water doesn’t dissipate all that stored heat very quickly. But the air does cool down, and I had the odd experience of being in two worlds at once, my head in the cooled air above and my feet in the steam rising off the road.

I expect the grass (weeds) will start growing in my yard again and the cactus will puff up and the flowers will pop out for another round. The ground is still so hard I don’t know how anything grows in it, but grow it does – through the cracks in the sidewalk and around the river rock lining the pathway and across the hard-packed dirt of my backyard.

sad cactusI have my window open, something I haven’t been able to do for a month or so. I tend to push it to the very last moment before I close the windows, pull the shades and the curtains, and wait for the sun to go down. Lately it doesn’t cool down until 3 or 4 am, so they stay shut and the a/c stays on. But tonight I have the windows open, breeze blowing through, birds chirping in the trees, thunder rumbling in the distance, and the smell of the desert after the rain drifting through the whole house.

Tucson summers are beautiful.

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Desert Wildflowers

Spring has been around for a while here in Tucson, and we’re starting to get into our 90° days. Which means summer’s 100+ are coming around the corner, and I’ll be hunkering down in the shade with a cold drink and a red face.

But until then, here are some pretty wildflower pictures from around Tucson from the past few weeks!

Daffodils are not native to Tucson - but a brave soul planted some in the desert.

Daffodils are not native to Tucson – but a brave soul planted some in the desert.

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Wildflowers growing among the rocks

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Blossoming ground cover

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My City bike – free for riding around to meetings during work!

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Happy Chickens at a local elementary school

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Lazy days in the hammock

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Lace Up

laceupI try to stay away from writing about tragedies, or politics, or most holidays. I don’t like to get into the must-post-about-everything mindset. But something about this one got to me a little more than normal. Maybe it’s because I don’t have kids in elementary school, I don’t go to the movies. My public transportation isn’t especially well-ridden, and, while my city recently experienced tragedy, I wasn’t here at the time to experience it with them.

But I grew up at races, I’ve run since I was 6, I spent more hours than I can count skipping around race courses, screaming and whooping and yelling. I know the exhilaration of the finish line, the excitement of a good race in the last stretch, the accomplishment of making it to the end. I know the peace and balance that running brings, and that for so many that peace is now shattered.

No one I knew very well was at the Marathon – I know of people who were there, and I know people who know people who were there – but people in my life run races all the time. My twitter feed is full of people training for the Flying Pig in a few weeks, my family is often planning their next race, my sister is racing next weekend, my husband ran a race a month ago.

I spoke with my sister this afternoon – the one who’s running next weekend – and verified that all of her friends made it through safely. One crossed the finish line 15 min before the blasts. She mentioned that for those that were there, the finish line will be a much more daunting task. That after running a race and leaving it all on the pavement, they will be faced with the fear of crossing the finish line.

This is not to say that the far too many tragedies that have happened recently were not terrible. You never know how one will affect you and this one in particular got me more than the others. It hit close to home, to something that I had previously considered safe.

So I lace up, because what else can one do when the world rocks than to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

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New Things in Spring

New ClotheslineI just came inside from taking the clean sheets off the clothesline. They smell so good I can’t wait until it’s their turn in the rotation and they go back on my bed. There’s something about line-dried linens that even the sweetest-smelling “fresh air” scent can’t compete with.

It’s my first clothesline since I strung up rope across my balcony in college – a make-shift option that was so cumbersome I only used it half the time. This time I strung rope between the posts of the rickety ramada in our back yard. It’s a temporary solution, but it’s so freeing to see your laundry flapping in the wind, drying in the desert shade.

College Clothesline

This is probably going to turn into a home renovation blog. Sometimes unexpected things happen, right? And when something takes up so much of your life, it’s hard to look beyond it. We moved into a new house over Easter weekend. Thankfully we didn’t have any plans, because we ended up spending Easter afternoon cleaning our apartment so we could turn our keys in on April 1st. I drove to work in the morning completely exhausted, thinking that this must be a small glimpse into early parenthood, and knowing that I could catch up on sleep in the coming weeks. I was totally worthless at work, and ended up leaving early only to keep working at home to get our life back in order.

New House

Despite our 8 months of looking and our month and a half of negotiating/waiting for closing, we never really thought we were going to get the house. So on moving day, when our amazing help asked where to put the first boxes, I was stumped. I had no plan – none, whatsoever. I didn’t have a plan of what the spaces would look like when we’re finished, I had no idea where the furniture was going to go, I couldn’t tell you what colors I would paint the walls.

Slowly Making it Ours

Slowly Making it Ours

We’re slowly working through the messes. The house isn’t in as good condition as we expected, although we did know we were getting a bit of a project property. I think I haven’t thought about aesthetics because we have bigger things to worry about. We’ve spent the past two weeks working on the house and on unpacking and organizing non-stop and, while it’s been tiring, it’s been great fun. We work really well together until we get tired, and then we stop and enjoy the beautiful spring Arizona weather and our new back patio and rest for a while. Soon I hope we’ll have a porch swing to rest on, on the front porch of our lovely neighborhood, where we can meet our neighbors and start to feel at home in what we hope will be our house for a very, very long time.

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February: Storytelling

I am a storyteller.

I suppose that’s part of why I started this blog, to share the stories of my life, of the things that happen to me, and of the interesting happenings that occur when you’re not paying attention. I tell stories all the time – to friends and family, in small talk, to co-workers and acquaintances. Essentially everything I say is a story; it’s a side effect of being an introvert, I think, that small talk does not come easily, so everything I say is part of a bigger story, or an experience I’ve had. But stories are hard, and take time to develop, and can’t be jotted down in a few spare minutes here and there. They are molded and shaped and whittled until they can be repeated and passed on and shared.

This past Christmas I found myself telling a story. I was frantically finishing the gifts for my nieces and nephews while the rest of the family played board games. Sewing and cutting and gluing at my own little table in the corner of the kitchen, here come two little heads, up from the back room where they were supposed to be “watching a movie or falling asleep.” My niece and nephew, three-year-old twins, certainly didn’t want to be left out of the merriment upstairs.

Now, I so throughly dislike surprises that the fact that the twins had effectively spoiled their Christmas surprise did not bother me in the least. But having three-year-old twins at a table with scissors and glue and needles and thread, that was a trick. So I told them a story.

Outdoor Chapel

A real story, one that has been passed down, that I learned as a child. A story from summer camp in the Adirondack mountains. When the mountain thunderstorms stymied our evening outdoor games, we would trek back to our cabins, gather pillows and stuffed animals and blankets, and hunker down on the chapel floor, fire crackling, as staff and counselors wove tales of “a long, long time ago” and “far, far away.”

Chapel at Night

I loved these stories, but more than that, I loved the story telling. That you could stand in front of a rapt audience of 10-year-olds, repeating tales that required nothing but your words, your actions, and their imagination. Especially now, in a landscape saturated with technology and media, to capture attention with the spoken word, to weave a tale, to spark the imagination – what a wonderful thing.

The story I told my niece and nephew was by far my favorite. It’s a story of the innocence of childhood, of treating things simply and not over-thinking. It is about a very large bubble that visits a kingdom and traps the king inside. All the knights in the kingdom can’t free the king, but the day is saved by a little child. It was told by the great storyteller Jay O’Callahan on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood many years ago. And though I never saw that episode, I’ve heard the story many times and it has stuck with me.

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This little adventure reminded me how much I love storytelling. It reminded me about the power of the spoken tale, the beauty of imagining a story for yourself, and the immediacy of telling a story. The story is told once, then it drifts off into time, perhaps to be told again and again, but never again to be exactly the same.

So I started searching for other stories. I’m not sure I’m ready to craft my own, but perhaps I will add to my repertoire – so that the next time little not-sleepy heads pop over the side of my work table, I can take them to a new kingdom – one I haven’t told them about yet. And the stories can go on.

Most of the photos in this post are of the camp that is inextricably linked to stories in my mind. And the Christmas cacti were successful, despite their being revealed before their time.

Most of the photos in this post are of the camp that is inextricably linked to these stories in my mind. And the Christmas cacti were successful, despite their being revealed before their time.

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January – Goals and Resolutions

New Year's Decorations

New Year’s Decorations

Ahhh, January. The month of new beginnings, of fresh starts, of plans and goals and motivation. Of post-holiday depression, of dark mornings, of bleak weather (yes, even in Arizona). It’s not all it’s cracked up to be.

We’re a whole month into the new year, and I’ve had plenty of time to think about how successful I was on my resolutions for last year (surprisingly successful!) and what I want to do with the year ahead of me.

Last year was about the little things – the minor elements of daily life that tend to pile on top of each other to put me in a foul mood. With a few little adjustments, I started chipping away and the things that stressed me out the most. I took a test, tried to be on time to work (which worked out until the time changed), flossed my teeth (sometimes – I guess, slightly more than usual), started running, and compiled and began reading a very long book list. And then, as with everything else in life, huge gigantic upheaval entered and I was worried that all my work was for naught.

Arizona mountains in December

Arizona mountains in December

Turned out that was totally false. As far as helping me achieve my goals, moving has been one of the best things that’s happened in a long time. Of course, I’ve always loved moving. Yes, it’s hard. It continues to be hard every single day. But talk about new beginnings! I wrote a little about how moving has changed very basic things about my habits. Since getting our stuff back and moving into a new place, those habits have changed again, and not necessarily for the better. But I have the unique chance to re-organize my life, basically from scratch.

I have big plans for 2013. This year is about the big things, the goals that will pay off in the long term, but will take some work today.

In 2013 I’m going to:

  • take all my architecture tests. And hopefully pass them all, too, but let’s set reasonable goals, OK?
  • get an architecture job
  • move to a long-term house
  • continue my reading project: my goal is 52 books this year, 30 from my classics list. so far I’ve read 2 – both from the list!
  • grow a garden and start composting again
Snow covered tree in Cincinnati

Snow covered tree in Cincinnati

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Chai and Banana Bread

Well, it’s not November any more, but that hasn’t kept me out of the kitchen! Several weeks ago (mid-October?) Design*Sponge ran a post about homemade chai. And for some (rather odd) reason, I got all excited about making chai tea. I’ve only had chai once, although I’ve had friends and classmates rave about it for years. A friend and I were studying at a coffee shop near campus and she convinced me to try it. I like to try new things, so I gave it a go. It was really good – warm and fragrant and perfect comfort for a long afternoon studying – but it never found it’s place among my boxes (and boxes and boxes) of herbal tea and my love of coffee.

Simmering the Spices for Chai

Simmering the Spices for Chai

This particular mid-October morning, I decided to give it a try. The recipe seemed pretty simple, and the results promised to be delicious and comforting. And disaster ensued. I didn’t have half the ingredients, I googled for other chai recipes, for substitutes for cardamom, for tips. In the end, my house smelled soapy and I could only get half the chai down. Now that I remember, I believe that was also the morning that our neighbor’s ceiling collapsed because our tub had been leaking into their kitchen and we spent the weekend showering at the model.

Chai

Chai

Things have calmed down considerably and I had a chance to purchase the missing ingredients, so I thought it was time I tried again. With much more success. I knew I was on the right track when cooking the chai did not result in a soapy smell. And, because I tend to do things like this in fits and starts, I made banana bread too! I made Smitten Kitchen’s Crackly Banana Bread as I’m trying to keep our snacks at least remotely healthy, based on the sheer amount of snacks we consume in a week.

Adding the secret crackly ingredient

Adding the secret crackly ingredient

Despite its healthy ingredients, it’s very good and makes both a great snack and a great breakfast. We keep it in the freezer pre-sliced so we can just grab a slice, pop it in the toaster, butter it up, and munch away.

Yum!

Yum!

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NoCoPoMo – Week 4

And for our last installment of NoCoPoMo (for this year, anyway, it was so much fun I might have to repeat next year!) we have: Incredibly Mediocre Shredded Chicken! Woot! At least Nate has been eating the leftovers of this, so it must have been better than the pulled pork from week 1.5 that has been sitting in the freezer. I thought it was good when we ate it, but apparently after some distance and consideration it was decided to be “not good.” I think it’s just a barbecue sauce preference.

This recipe was for tostadas, but I just made the chicken, then we mushed together our own tacos. I didn’t think there was anything special about the chicken, but it made good taco stuffing! It’s nice to mix it up from the ground beef every so often.

Adapted from the Chicken Tostadas recipe from Better Homes and Gardens The Ultimate Slow Cooker Book:

  • 3 tbsp chili powder
  • 3 tbsp lime juice
  • 2 fresh jalapeno peppers, seeded & finely chopped
  • 1/4 tsp bottled hot pepper sauce
  • 8 (8!) cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 medium onion, sliced and separated into rings
  • 2 lbs skinless, boneless chicken thighs

Combine chili powder, lime juice, jalapenos, hot pepper sauce, and garlic in slow cooker. Add onion, top with chicken. Cook on low heat for 5-6 hours or high heat for 2 1/2 to 3 hours. Remove chicken and onion from cooker; reserve 1/2 c cooking liquid. Pull chicken into shreds. Combine chicken, onion, and cooking liquid in bowl.

I didn’t take any pictures because shredded chicken doesn’t actually look that appealing.

My goals for December are:

  1. Use a different cookbook – I feel like I cooked from the one cookbook all month. I have many others, and most of them have slow cooker sections. It’s just so convenient when the whole book is devoted to the slow cooker!
  2. Use my Dutch oven, which I think is what I would cook a lot of my slow cooker recipes in if I wasn’t using the slow cooker.

That should be doable. The “challenge” for this month was to pack lunch every day. Nate usually takes leftovers and I don’t usually leave the house, so, that will be easy. Unless I actually get a job, at which time this whole cooking thing will probably collapse in on itself. I’ve had a pretty busy past few days – two whole busy days in a row – and we ended up going to Sonic last night. Fail.

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Coffee #22

Benefits of Arizona: Drinking coffee on the patio under a green tree in November

I orchestrate my mornings to the tune of coffee. 

~Terri Guillemets

via: Spilling the Beans

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Football Games

We went to our first football game of the season on the day after Thanksgiving. Unfortunately it was also the last regular season game and therefore our last game of the season. I enjoy football SO much more when I’m actually in the stadium. There’s so much more to the game – the fans, the cheers, being able to see the whole field at once. I can actually follow the football when I’m at the game. I never can on TV, so I get bored easily and, if I care about the game, have Nate call me for the last two minutes if it’s exciting.

Band

The Band at Halftime – arguably my favorite part of football games

We had to venture out on Black Friday (something I NEVER DO) to buy our t-shirts. Ten years in Ohio and I never owned a piece of Ohio State gear, but 6 months in Arizona and I already have a UA t-shirt. We went in the evening, long after all of the serious shoppers had exhausted themselves on deal-hunting. The selection suffered for it, but we weren’t looking for anything fancy.

At the game

We sat way at the top, with a view of the whole field. There were some ASU fans in front of us, and there was plenty of good natured ribbing to go around. They won in the end, so it could have gone better, but we’re not too invested in the team yet.

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