Wednesday, January 14, 2015

With A Little Help From Our Friends

My dad wrote me a message on Facebook telling me to post something on my blog. I know he meant it, too, because he called me Hillary instead of Hoodoo.

Sorry I've taken a hiatus. Truthfully, I haven't been on email, Facebook or my blog hardly at all in the past few weeks, and it's been great. Really great - and very easy, because I don't have a smartphone. Instead, I have been cleaning and organizing my home, reading a book and the newspaper, and playing several mini-pool, Uno, and Doodle Dice tournaments with my kids, particularly my youngest boy, my Dan Sam. It has truly been peaceful and enjoyable. I have always been a lover of home, a bonafide homebody, and to me that means staying out of the virtual world, too.

But it's time to come back, so here you go, Dad.

Picture by Holly

Going on a nearly six-mile-loop hike in the Superstition Mountains with close friends is one of the most amazing things I have ever done to begin the Christmas season. May it become a tradition!

(Though I had several pics to share with you, I had to steal the above from my friend's Facebook, because I lost our camera. No surprise there, but it kept me from posting about our adventure for a while.)

Holly and Chip, our best hiking buddies, invited us on the excursion. The way to the trail was a long way off the highway, and as our car rocked and heaved over the rutted, winding, narrow dirt road, I gaily said to my husband, "Think of all the adventures you'd never have if it were up to you!"

Our friends had said they didn't think there was any off-roading involved, nothing like that terrible drive to the creek that one time. When we finally reached the trailhead, they got out of their car laughing, saying Matthew would never, ever come on a hike with them again after another awful drive. But I think it's a bit like labor. Once you get to the beautiful destination, you quickly forget the travails that came before.

I stand before Weaver's Needle. Pic by Holly
Matthew, athletic though he is, is not a born hiker, but when we were in those mountains with our kids and Yorkie and with Holly and Chip's family, including their Pug, he was glad to be there; that is always true. As we gained elevation, passing by red rocks, wild trees, a tiny stream, sporadic saguaros and towering, spindly stalks sprung from American aloe plants, we did all wonder now and again when we might reach our destination, a landmark called Weaver's Needle. Since none of us could fly as the bird goes, we had to be content to wend along Peralta Trail until we rounded a rock behemoth and suddenly spied our goal. There we had lunch by some huge boulders, from which vantage point we could see the Needle against the bright, open Arizona sky. A lone pine tree stood on the heights to its right, our Christmas tree for a Christmas hike.

Later we scrambled up the boulders in whose shadows we had shivered and munched, inching through a miniature slot canyon and then scaling rocks for a view. The rocks were so strangely cold to the touch, they hurt our hands if we lingered for more than a moment against their surface.

After lunch and some more exploring with friends and dogs, it was time to tread back down, but the return is always easier and shorter when the longed-for panorama has been viewed. At the end of our hike, we enjoyed some chocolate-dipped peppermint shortbread, and I hoped with all my heart then and there that we would eat similar Christmas victuals with our friends at the foot of another beautiful Arizona mountain Christmas Eve 2015.


I can hardly believe our luck, but New Year's found us again in the company of dear friends, sledding down some hills near Prescott.

That had not been our plan. Our plans were to clean and paint our house on the first day of the new year, prepping our home for our annual Three Kings' Day party. Thankfully, Alex and Dana rescued us from a busy but boring day by inviting our family to go sledding with theirs.

Matthew said no at first...until I got to him.

The kids really wanted to go sledding in Flagstaff, and I had told them that they should all come together and ask Papa for that Christmas gift. There had been no snow at the time of the kids' request, not even in Flagstaff, but 2014 had cried its goodbyes on a frigid wind, dumping snow and rain on the new year as it departed. This invitation was the perfect way to fulfill our kids' wish. It would be even easier to grant since their Grandpa had bought them sturdy inner tubes years before, and a friend had left us her long sled when her family moved.

And so on the first day of a fresh year, I stood in my pajamas, wet from scrubbing showers, and pleaded with my man to consider an abrupt change of plans that would give our kids their gift and lasting memories of this New Year's; after all, it would be Daniel's and Gabriella's first time sledding. He stared back at me in disbelief. This woman with the limp hair, the one who always went insane before parties while trying to get the house and food prepared, was asking him to abandon the practical work she had asked him to do in order to blow a whole day on fun, and fun that would require a long drive north, too. I saw irritation etched on those handsome features, but I also saw a hint of understanding. I hastily forsook my cleaners and sponges and threw myself into the hall closet, dragging out every forgotten mitten, thermal cap, glove and heavy winter coat.

And that was how, after some near heart attacks while trying to park in a small area with a hundred other cars off a country road, we ended up in the snow watching our kids play with their buddies, yelling advice at them to keep their bottoms up in the inner tubes to avoid the rocks and then applauding and laughing with each successful run or not-too-painful turnout into the snow. The day wouldn't have been complete if the adults had not had their turn. I'm afraid we did some damage to the sleds, but we zipped and spun and yelped and laughed with the most childlike child there.

When at last our Phoenix toes and fingers complained of alarming numbness, we drove into town to eat a hearty celebratory meal at Prescott Brewery. On our walk back to the car in the nasty chill, prancing like ponies at stoplights to keep warm, we saw the territorial Courthouse and the many trees on its square ablaze with thousands of colorful lights.

2015 began in that unexpected, joyous way.


Three Kings' Day, aka Epiphany, being my favorite feast - a celebration of the revelation of the promise of Christ to the Gentiles - we threw a party. I lined up my Three Kings nutcrackers and nativities on our table, and around them I placed dried fruit, pita with hummus and yeast breads that I make once a year: Apple-Cheddar Vanocka with saffron threads and a Cardamom Christmas wreath. I also piled the tablecloth with pound cake, gingerbread camels, raspberry coffee cake and cinnamon scones as it was - no surprise to those who know my love of baking - a dessert party. I love pampering people with food on special occasions; it has something to do with growing up in the South and with my own Mama's generous kitchen offerings.

For Catholics the Christmas season lasts for a few weeks beginning with Christmas Eve, so the house was still decorated in all our Christmas finery, including several handmade decorations from the children, when many of our dear friends came for the celebration on January 4th.

I had warned everyone we would sing carols, and so after time to relish the goodies that were hauled in on platters by every arriving family, I pulled out my burgundy guitar and gathered the kids around - more specifically, the girls, because the boys were outside wrestling each other in football and making Taz, our Yorkie, jump for his Santa toys and had zero desire to sing. The carol book was propped upon my lap, but I lost some chords and pitched some notes. Yet, my friends did not abandon this amateur musician as they sat on the couch or floor by their daughters. We gloried through Angels We Have Heard on High, belted out Feliz Navidad and ha-had our way through Jingle Bells. Holly helped me with We Three Kings, and we all merrily sang Joy to the World in the tempo my dad always preferred. Then my man Matthew, good man that he is, marched all those rowdy boys inside. I assigned one day each from The Twelve Days of Christmas to groups of kids crowded about our small living room, and Geraldine, Holly and Dana all helped by taking days themselves. We got mixed up several times, and I twanged my strings and butchered some chords again in my exuberance, but we were united in our silliness. The adults on the outside of the circle laughed as we counted off our list of oh-so-useful gifts from our true love. After the finale I rewarded the kids for their lively participation with English-style crackers, a Three Kings' party tradition.


Later that week as I strummed my guitar, reminisced and dreamed of next Epiphany, it occurred to me yet again just how beautifully, like long strands of bright bulbs on an evergreen tree, our whole Christmas season had been illuminated by the myriad gifts of friendship. We did indeed have a very Merry Christmas with (much more than) a little help from our friends.


  1. Lovely post - thanks for sharing. I sure miss you and your family, Hoodoo.

    1. I miss you too, Papa. I wish we could have played those carols together. The kids would have loved that.

  2. The Superstition Mountains are one of the few places I have actually hiked. So beautiful. It sounds like you had some very nice time off...but it is good to see you back in blogland again.

    1. Thank you, Tracie. Those mountains are beautiful, and that was my first time in them.


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