Simply a wonderful trip.

Monte and I took another road trip at the end of February.   Some stats:  10 nights & 11 days on the road, nearly 3,000 miles driven, over 1000 photos taken, 2 states visited, 18 holes of golf played, 3 birthdays celebrated, 5 relatives thoroughly enjoyed, my 1st ringer in a game of horseshoes, and 25 new lifer bird species seen!

It was a fantastic trip.  The only downside is that Monte picked up a cold somewhere along the way, so he’s laying low for a few days.

Susanne flew to Austin to drive with us to Tucson.  Though I have been to Tucson many times for work, I guess I never took the time to enjoy the place.  It is really beautiful.  And late-winter was a terrific time to visit.

Here are a few of places we explored in Tucson, and I would recommend all of them if you, too, get a chance to visit:

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum:  an outdoor museum showcasing the diverse ecosystem of the surrounding desert, and its teeming flora and fauna species.  Simply an amazing destination, with so much to see.  I will do this again next time I’m in Tucson.

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The beauty of the desert – cholla, ocotillo, prickly pear, saguaro cacti, and more!
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An Allen’s hummingbird, a rare visitor to the area, seen in the Desert Museum gardens

Saguaro National Park (the western Tucson Mountain district location):  saguaro cacti for miles.  MILLIONS of them.  An informative visitor center.  Also some very nice petroglyphs at Signal Hill, only a short hike off of the Bajada Scenic Loop.

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LOTS of saguaro cacti
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One of the petroglyphs at Signal Hill

Catalina State Park:  a lovely park at the base of the Catalina Mountains.  Lots of nice hiking trails and many of my lifer birds were seen here.

Mission de San Xavier del Bac:  a national historic momunent, it is the oldest in-tact Spanish colonial structure in the Americas, built in the late 1700s.  It is still a working parish church, serving the Native American Tohono O’odham nation, on whose reservation it resides.  An informative free tour gave us an overview of the history of the Spanish, the native Indians, the Mexicans, from the 1700s through today.   We wanted to see one historic mission, and decided to do this one instead of the Presidio downtown.  I’m glad we did.

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Exterior of Mission de San Xavier Del Bac, the interior is full of colorful murals.

– Catalina Mountains at sunset:  simply stunning to view

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The Catalina Mountains glow red in the light from the setting sun

Susanne flew home after we all had a nice visit with her.  And after a week, we bid adieu to Gene & Jo (and Dan & Patrick, who were also visiting) and took off on a loosely-planned trip home, on a northern route instead of the southern one we took on the way west.  Taking an I-40 eastern route home also gave us several opportunities to drive along portions of the Historic Route 66 (and, yes, we played the song when we did).

There were 3 things we wanted to see, and we left Tucson with no plans on where or how long to stay at each one:

1) Grand Canyon National Park:  neither of us had been there before.  The park needs no introduction, so let me just say it is all that it is cracked up to be.  And again, late winter was a wonderful time to see it with a minimum of crowds.   The park has a really well thought out visitor center, shuttle bus system, and easy to hike trails that run along the rim of the canyon with stunning views.  The Yavapai Geology Museum is another must-see inside the park, along the rim trail.   We had originally planned to make the park a quick stop, spending 2-3 hours there tops, and then head back down to Flagstaff to continue our trip east.   But as we were driving there, I decided to check out lodging options in the park.  I figured it was a long shot, but since we had to stay somewhere overnight, the park would be a much cooler place to stay than somewhere off the interstate.  I am SO glad I checked it out, because we were able to book a cabin at Bright Angel Lodge for that night RIGHT ON THE RIM of the freaking Grand Canyon!  What a treat.   And so we did spend much more than 2-3 hours exploring the park.  I’m so glad we did.

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The view from our cabin… less than 50′ from the edge of the Grand Canyon!
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And a view from another vantage point along the Rim Trail.  Simply beautiful.

2) Meteor Crater Natural Monument:  a hole in the ground about a mile across.  Formed by a meteor that fell to the earth 50,000 years ago.   It’s only 5 miles off of I-40.  The admission was (relatively) steep, compared to other tourist sites ($18 per person), but we knew that going in, and still just really wanted to see the crater.  It’s been on Monte’s bucket list for a while.

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The raised rim of Meteor Crater, viewed from about 2 miles away.
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And, a look inside the crater, 3/4 mile wide over 500′ deep.

3) Staircase of Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe:  a spiral staircase in a 1880s-built Gothic chapel, with a mysterious legend regarding how it was constructed, and by whom.  Another last minute hotel search turned up a simply lovely location right next door to the chapel, the Inn & Spa at Loretto.  Yes, a staircase is an odd reason to visit Santa Fe, as there is so much to see and do there, but that was what took us there.   Our drive brought us into Santa Fe after dark.   The original plan was to stay one night, see the staircase at 9AM, and then proceed immediately east for the 11-hour drive to Austin.   Once we got to our luxurious room, and saw the private patio (which alone was bigger than my first apartment!), and thought of all the things we could do to fill a day in Santa Fe, we extended our stay another night.  Again… awesome!

After another long day of travel, we enjoyed a really delicious dinner and bottle of wine at the hotel’s restaurant, Luminaria.   The next day we ate breakfast at the Palacio Cafe, walked through the Cathedral of Saint Francis of Assisi, finally saw the staircase in the Loretto Chapel :), walked through the historic district, then made a bee-line for the Gruet Winery tasting room in the lobby of the St Francis Hotel.   Then we visited a lovely park, the Randall Davey Audubon Center & Sanctuary, just 2 miles east of downtown and took in another hour or so of birding.  More lifers!

On the way back into town, we picked up a baguette and some nibbles to go with the bottle of champagne we’d picked up at the winery, and enjoyed a late lunch al fresco on our ginormous private patio.  It was a tad chilly, but it was lovely.

After a big lunch, we chose to skip dinner and tried out a good place for margaritas and chips.   We chose Tomasita’s, in a restored railway station building, and enjoyed walking there and back.

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The Staircase!  Two 360-degree turns.  Miracle or not, it’s beautiful.
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Exterior of Loretto Chapel.  The orange building to the right is the Inn and Spa at Loretto.
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Flight of Bubbly?  Yes please!
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A perfect lunch on the patio.

 

That’s it. 🙂 We drove non-stop to Austin the next morning, and are enjoying being home again.

 

 

 

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Stereotyping.

My sister and brother-in-law are visiting. This morning the guys are out in the shop making sawdust. The gals are in the kitchen listening to Christmas music making good things. 🙂

I’ve cooked a lot of cranberry sauce from the whole berries, but I have never seen a slice of cranberry before.

Suit up. 

We enjoyed a lovely Sunday and  Monday on the lake.  We met up with Marty & Sue and floated in the marina, then set anchor in the cove.   It was a perfect holiday weekend.  

We made it home with plenty of time to clean up, eat dinner, visit with birdies, and participate in my fantasy football league’s draft for this season.    It’s ON!

Empty nest.  

Not ones to miss a taproom visit opportunity, we left an hour early to take Fran and family to the airport, stopping in at the Live Oak Brewing Company right across the highway from the Austin airport.  It sure beats the cellphone lot!

Back home, the house is sadly quiet.  Except for Keeto asking “who’s here?”  We await our next visitors!

Colleen sent me these cute wine glass charm birdies.  We tried them out last night.   Cheers!

Barton Springs, Lake Travis, and a shanghai’ed uncle.

Days 3, 4 and 5 of our visit with family brought a trip to Barton Springs, Sno-beach snocones, a brewery crawl, an overnight at anchor on the boat on Lake Travis, and pizza night.  The weekend was filled with swimming, diving and floating.   A brother-in-law from Houston drove to Austin and he spent the night with us on the boat – whether he knew he was going to or not 🙂

I love the chance to spend this time with family.  Keeto will be devastated when everyone leaves tonight.

This is a shot from the southern end of Barton Springs pool, looking north to the Austin skyline.  The background has changed much since Mary Doerr captured the same vantage point years ago – the Capitol building is now obscured by skyscrapers.  But the pool in the foreground is exactly the same.

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Family time in the garden. 

We are spending the weekend at a family reunion this weekend.  Our hostess, Susanne’s, garden is the perfect setting.  Everywhere you look there’s a lovely surprise.  We are missing those that can’t be here.  

On the threshold.

Here we are again – the last day of the year.   2015 brought lots of things:   fun parties with friends, lots of visits from friends and family, more time spent in Washington State,  a wonderful family reunion, the passing of my mom, happy moments on the lake, stargazing, beautiful spring flowers, roadtrips, the passing of a friend, cooking, sunsets, Seahawks (!), much more reading, breakups between good friends, exploring local breweries and wineries, El Niño rain, a nearly full lake, birthdays, more sunsets, amazing girlfriends and our trip to New Orleans, music, dancing, laughs, tears.

Tonight we are headed to a friend’s house to ring in the new year.  Last year we hosted the New Year’s Eve party – here’s a shot from that night a year ago… how fast time flies:

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Time capsule.  

We spent a long weekend together – my sisters, brother and me.  Time to empty the house.  We stayed at mom’s house together and shared feelings, memories, and laughs while going through a lifetime of keepsakes and all manner of things. 

A poem I wrote at age 12:

The Tide. 

Pouncing endlessly on the weary, defenseless shore of sand and rocks.  Constantly charging and retreating, high tide or low.  The tide never sleeps, but sometimes weakens to a slow, silent creep. Always bringing in waves that turn into a frothing, white foam.  The shore can never rest from this endless beating; never. 

Yeah.  It’s not Shakespeare. 🙂  I found a number of my poems – long forgotten.  Ironically many are about some aspect of Nature.  But maybe that’s not ironic after all. 

So much stuff.  Preserved in time for 50+ years.   Birth announcements, funeral prayer cards, decades of pictures, letters, cards, gifts, momentos… points in time defining the lives of my mom and dad and all they held dear. 

1st or 2nd grade, maybe?

  
But I digress.  We made a dent in it and have a garage full of neatly packed bags and boxes for donation, shredding, recycling and trash. 

I spent the day today with Fran and kids – geocaching in what turned out to be a downpour.  We got soaked but found every cache in the park.  At one point we came across 3 big woodpeckers.  They didn’t sit still, so I didn’t get much of a shot.  But, here ’tis.   

I wish you all a peaceful week. 

Playing in paradise.

Monte and I joined 2 of my sisters, brother-in-laws, and 3 nieces/nephews for a weekend of fun on Lake Cushman.  It sits just east of the Olympic mountains in Washington State.  The lake temps were in the 70s and clear, sunny and in the 90’s above.  Just beautiful.  We kayaked, tubed, ran up the lake by motorboat, tried the rope swing, tent camped, played games, and just had a really great time together.

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Sad on the inside, with beauty all around.

I flew back home, again, yesterday.  But this time, my Mom is not here.  God took her back.  It is the sad, but inevitable, end to a wonderful lifetime.  I am proud and oh so happy to be her daughter.   Today we say goodbye and celebrate her life.  ‘Til we meet again, Mom… I love you.

As we approached Seattle, I was treated to beautiful views of the Cascades.  Fires are again raging in Washington, both east and west of the mountains, so the view was a bit hazy.  In this one looking south, Mount Rainier is in the front, center.   Mount Saint Helens is slightly above and to the right of Rainier; the gray, hazy, low peak with no snowcap.  The leftmost peak is Mount Adams.  And between Adams and Rainier, in the distance, you can faintly see Mount Hood.

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A fanfare ending to a family reunion extravaganza.

For the last week and a half, Monte and I hosted his family’s bi-annual reunion.   We started out with a big 3-day weekend, enjoying reconnecting and having fun at the house and in the backyard with 21 of our relatives that came from pretty much every corner of the country.  Then, for the next week, ten of the family that could stay longer came to stay with us at the house.   We packed it with as much food and fun as we could.   It was really a special, wonderful time.   Sailing, floating, grilling, cornhole, homemade pasta, bimini ring game, barbeque, card games, homemade pizza, geocaching, karaoke, low-country boil, gardening, sno-cones, sightseeing, even taking part in our neighborhood’s 4th of July parade.  Over the last few days, our party dwindled until it was just four of us yesterday.   We set out for the lake and sailed to Starnes Island to anchor up and watch the fireworks show.  It didn’t disappoint.  We squeezed every bit of fun out of the time spent with everyone.

Today we said goodbye to the last two revellers.   It’s just our flock now.  The house is quiet.

I leave you with two shots from the fireworks last night — here’s to family!

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And *poof* … 5 years gone by.

Sunday was the 5 year blogoversary for sheila365!  I meant to draft a post ahead of time, and post it bright and early on March 8th.   But I just looked at the calendar and time has snuck by on me once again.

That’s ok.  In these 5 years sheila365 has evolved, and I think I have a bit, too.  My blog started as a post-a-day 365 project during the first year or two, which had me snapping photos during the day to make sure I had something that I judged “share-worthy;”  and now it has become more of a leisurely, post-every-week-or-so project, which I have to say has been much easier, though less artistic in terms of trying to capture beautiful photos, but rather just moments from my day that struck me as special or interesting in one way or another.

So happy blogoversary to me!  🙂    I thought I’d go back through my posts from year 5 and pick a photo from one post from each month that especially makes me smile.  I have to say it was very hard to pick just one picutre from each month. 

 March 2014:  Old San Juan, Puerto Rico.   A visit to the walled El Morro.  Beautiful Caribbean views.

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April 2014:  British Virgin Islands sailing trip – this was taken while snorkeling off Cooper Island.

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Turtle dude surfacing – 2

May 2014 – A trip home to Seattle.  One of several last year.   It is a beautiful, special place for me.IMG_4009

June 2014 – Back in Austin for fun on the lake with some of my crazy sailor friends.IMG_4863

July 2014 – An amazing trip to Panama City Beach to celebrate a very special anniversary with a very special family.

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August 2014 – A roadtrip to the Texas Gulf Coast.  One of my favorite places to relax.IMG_5697

September 2014 – A lovely anniversary trip through the Texas Wine Country.IMG_5876

October 2014 – A fun girls’ trip to Washington, D.C.  Lots of laughs, lots of wine, and lots of walking.  🙂

The residential streets are lined with historic townhouses.
The residential streets are lined with historic townhouses.

November 2014 – An oh so special birthday.IMG_6994

December 2014 – Family visiting means showing off Austin and the Hill Country.  Never gets old.IMG_7297

January 2015 – Hiking as many trails as I can before I had to go back to work after taking a few months off.IMG_7688

February 2015 – Yep, more tulips.IMG_7780

What an amazing lap around the sun!

Thanks for coming along for the ride. 🙂