Flying in late on a Friday and out early on a Monday may not be everyone's idea of a perfect weekend, but when one considers that Saturday and Sunday were spent at Chez Rice Tucson, in the company of the beautiful Ladies Rice, it's worth it.
Between the tranquil and always lovely Racheal, the awe-inspiring energy and beauty of Kaylee and the menagerie that is Eddie, Pork Chop, Max and Gabby, I'm just bursting with stored-up love. The trip didn't end up the way we originally planned it, but I believe it was exactly as it was meant to be.
With Mike in Syracuse for the SND conference, it was the House of Women this weekend. Time for girlie activities like shopping for yarn and looking at fabric and being ladies who lunch and staying up late and good morning coffee and play dough and colorforms and why is Eddie licking my shoe and dainty desserts and power hikes in Sabino Canyon. It was beautiful. It was restful. It was perfect.
From start to finish, my trip was one delightful experience after another. My flight was on time, so I had a little more than an hour to wait. Settling into my seat at the gate at O'Hare on Friday night, I got out my knitting and a young lady asked me what I was working on. I didn't know, but that didn't stop us from talking. Her name is Jessie, and she's 18. She'll soon be the youngest department manager for any PetSmart in the country; pretty neat young lady! She was heading back home to Tucson after her grandmother's funeral. I learned a great deal of her life story - see, sometimes I listen instead of speak! - and I hope I was able to offer a bit of comfort and advice to a fine young woman at a crossroads in her life.
After we landed in Tucson and I made my way outside (blissful warmth!) to wait for my ride (beautiful Racheal and Kaylee!) I found Jessie again. There were three young men vying for her attention, asking her out for drinks, and she seemed visably uncomfortable. Or maybe that's just the overprotective part of me, I dunno, but that was my perception. So I walked up behind her, put my arm around her and said, "Well, there you are, daughter of mine! How did we get separated?"
I've never seen three guys retreat so quickly in such perfect unison. Truly a vision to behold.
Not even a minute later, Jessie's boyfriend arrived and we hugged our goodbyes (yes, I hugged a woman I didn't even know earlier that day) and my ride arrived! I was home!
The drive wasn't long, and pretty soon Kaylee was in bed ... followed shortly by me and Racheal. Do we know how to party, or what? But we needed our rest; Saturday was full of activity!
Shortly after I woke up, Racheal left Kaylee with me (daredevil that she is) and went to get a haircut. Kaylee and I played on the floor and she didn't kick up a fuss at all when her mom left! We had almost an hour of uninterrupted auntie and niece time. Completely uninterrupted. The child followed me to the bathroom and was kind enough to shut the door. With herself inside.
The things you do for the people you love.
When Rae came back, I got dressed and we headed out for our first adventure of the day: Find Kiwi Knitting Company! And find it we did. A beautiful shop, complete with an Airedale greeting committee and employees willing to give us a tour. I bought some gorgeous green heathery yarn and a pattern for wintery lace arm warmers and needles in a size I didn't already have. It was awesome. We touched lots of beautiful yarn; it was hard to choose just one, but I behaved.
We checked out the fabric store next door, got a little inspiration (Rae and I will upholster the world if left unattended!) and then headed for lunch. We ate at the place with really awesome mango salsa. I don't remember the name, but I remember the salsa, and the chipotle shrimp salad I ate. Delish!
After lunch and naptime (Kaylee's, not mine) we headed to Sabino Canyon. The last time I was there feels like a lifetime ago. There were four of us on that walk - Mike, Racheal, me and Christopher. Somehow, it felt right to be just us girls this time, Racheal pushing the stroller, the two of us talking the whole time (except for gasping up that last ... steep ... hill) and Kaylee singing to herself and taking in the scenery.
If you've never been there, you owe it to yourself to go. It's breathtaking. It's a world away from my day-to-day. The wonder and majesty of the mountains and the blue sky cannot be described by mere words. You've got to see it to believe it. (Special note to Ryan: Real mountains are in Tucson. Seriously.)
We went to a swanky little gourmet restaurant for dinner, Sweet Tomatoes. Okay, it's neither swanky nor little nor gourmet, but they had something for everyone, and ice cream for dessert. Pretty much met my criteria, for sure. We were hungry after our hike (three miles - aren't you proud?) so I just enjoyed what my taste buds asked for. Delish. Especially the ice cream. You haven't lived until you've seen Kaylee eat ice cream.
Racheal and I picked up a bottle of wine to share over a movie at home after Kaylee went to bed. We each had one glass and never settled on a movie, because we were too busy talking. We're open books to each other, and the conversation just flows. Far beyond our bedtime, we talked and yawned and worked to keep our eyes open until sleep won us over and we headed to bed.
A quick word about "my room" in Tucson: Mike and Rae have the World's Most Comfortable Sofabed. Forget everything you think you know about sofabeds; this thing is a cloud. I slept like a baby three nights in a row. Except I didn't cry (except for that one time) and I never peed the bed.
Another quick word: In true Rice family fashion, the conversation eventually turned to poop. Took a little longer - hey, we're girls - but by Sunday night, there we were.
Anyway, Sunday found both Racheal and me feeling pretty lazy. That's what a three-mile power hike will do to ya. So we took it easy. We had potato pancakes for breakfast (Mike and Rae get the most awesome organic produce!) and fiddled around the house all morning. We watched Curious George (he's still curious!) and played with play dough and cuddled and giggled and loved the furry creatures (including me, I haven't shaved) and had a delicious lunch. Have you ever had Romanesco? Neither had I, until Sunday. More of the organic goodness, it's a funky cauliflower or broccoli-like veggie that is beautiful and delicious. Paired with broccoli and a juicy steak, it was heavenly.
After Kaylee's Sunday nap, we headed out to purchase my only souvenir: prickly pear cactus jelly for my friend Eric. Having procured that, we headed back home to enjoy a rare rainstorm in the desert. It's a very different event in the Southwest. It has its own personality; it sneaks up on you and falls in perfect harmony with the mountains around you.
Now Rae is a very wise woman. Given the choice between cooking dinner, having me cook dinner, or having someone else do the work, she chose to dine out. Another delicious meal in Tucson ended with probably my favorite flavors of the trip (except maybe that mango salsa): ginger and green tea crème brûlée. Nirvana!
Far too soon, it was time to head home and to bed, for this was an early morning. But that didn't stop Rae and I from staying up and talking once again, pouring out our dreams and hopes and wishes. Who will Kaylee become? Who will we become? How did we become so fortunate as to be intertwined with such an awesome group of people - ourselves included? The tissues came out (I cry so easily!) and the dogs came in for a cuddle and life just doesn't get better than those moments shared with friends.
I didn't cry this morning at the airport. I'm beginning to realize that when we part ways, it's not a time of goodbye; it's "so long for now," it's "see you later," it's "until we meet again." So while I never feel better than I do when I'm with them, I know our time apart is never long, relatively speaking.
Now, I'm fully aware of the 3-oz rule when it comes to liquids and gels in carry-on luggage. How I managed to forget that prickly pear cactus jelly falls into that category is beyond me, but I had to surrender the 8-oz jar at security. And I felt pretty stupid, until the agent told me I wasn't the first person today to make the exact same mistake, and there is not way I'd be the last. So let this serve as a public-service announcement: JELLY IS A GEL. We now return you to your regularly scheduled blog.
My flight home was on time, and I was in a pretty happy mood despite the fact that I hadn't had coffee and part of my heart was in a white Elantra headed somewhere else and I was down one jar of jelly. I got settled in 25A and watched the sun come up over the mountains as we took off. When beverage service began, my seat mate ordered a cup of coffee and a container of milk. I ordered coffee with cream and sugar, but he poured his milk into my cup instead of the non-dairy powdered stuff they offered. "I can't let you drink the fake stuff," he said. We started talking, and I was fascinated.
Rob works for a publishing company, in sales and marketing. He was in Tucson for the gem show, because that's part of his product line: books on gemstones. So we talked about that and how much he travels and a little about me and then I asked where his accent was from.
He was born in Australia but has lived in Vermont for 20 years. And here's where his story gets really interesting: He works for a publisher, but two years ago, he and his wife bought an organic berry farm. This man could talk for hours about the farm; it is obviously his joy and his passion. He showed me pictures. He told me about how perfectly the farm was planned, allowing the sun and prevailing winds to nurture the berries to their perfect potential. The farm, he says, will be his "third act." His life is playing out in three acts: He was an actor and singer in Australia, then he came to the states to get "a proper job," as he put it, in that amazing accent. But it's the third act he's most excited about. The man and his berries ... we'd still be talking if he hadn't had a connecting flight to catch.
So my trip ended as it began, with a conversation with a stranger. On my way to Tucson, I was the elder, the advisor, the mentor, helping Jessie see her potential and enjoy her transition into a new profession. But today, I was the youngster, learning that my life can have as many acts as I choose. That should make Racheal happy; no, honey, I haven't given up on any of it. At least not permanently.
And now I've droned on and on and probably put you to sleep, gentle readers, and I apologize. I can, however, promise you photographs within the next few days. There is more to tell and much to see. But in the final analysis, I think we'll just have to chalk it up to another lesson of "life is good."
By the way, if you're ever in Rochester, VT during blueberry or raspberry season, please stop at the Sunshine Valley Organic Berry Farm and pick yourself some goodness. Check them out at http://vermontberries.com. If Rob's enthusiasm is indicative of a fraction of how good the berries are, anyone lucky enough to enjoy them is in for a pleasant surprise.