Merry Christmas! (Photos from Las Noches de las Luminarias at the Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden)

As a part of our Christmas celebration this week, we spent an evening trekking through the Desert Botanical Garden to take in the thousands of luminarias hand-lit along trails, walkways, and ledges.

A luminaria is a paper lantern made by filling the bottom of a small paper bag with sand and setting a candle in it. Like eating tamales on Christmas Eve, decorating your yard with luminarias (often around the perimeter) is a southwestern Christmas tradition, and Las Noches de las Luminarias is a tradition at the Garden. At this year’s display, we enjoyed the music of mariachis, and members of Yellow Bird telling Apache winter stories and playing native flute. We also admired artist Bruce Munro’s breath-taking art installations in the Bruce Munro: Sonoran Light at the Desert Botanical Garden exhibit.

We visited the Garden after nightfall. Of course, I took about 500 pics, which I whittled down to 32 after sifting through them.

At times like these, I wish I had a better camera. The one in my cell phone couldn’t adequately capture the beauty beheld in the Garden that night!

But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t gleefully surprised when my photo album came out vaguely spooky and Halloweenish; the grainy photo quality probably has something to do with this. My first idea was to take you on a festive holiday stroll through the desert, but instead, you’re getting an experience that might resonate more with The Nightmare before Christmas. The desert at night can be haunting with botanical silhouettes, red skies, and ghostly trees. In many places, the luminarias and Bruce Munro’s artistic light installations added to the eerie effect.

Come along…

 

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Bienvenidos! [TALC at Las Noches de las Luminarias, Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden, 2015]

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Christmas tree in the desert. [TALC at Las Noches de las Luminarias, Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden, 2015]

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Over 8000 luminarias were hand-lit at the Garden. [TALC at Las Noches de las Luminarias, Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden, 2015]

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Saguaro cactus. [TALC at Las Noches de las Luminarias, Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden, 2015]

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[TALC at Las Noches de las Luminarias, Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden, 2015]

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[TALC at Las Noches de las Luminarias, Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden, 2015]

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[TALC at Las Noches de las Luminarias, Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden, 2015]

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Luminarias spied behind an organ pipe cactus. [TALC at Las Noches de las Luminarias, Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden, 2015]

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For obvious reasons, these luminarias are made with plastic sleeves rather than with real paper bags. [TALC at Las Noches de las Luminarias, Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden, 2015]

 

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[TALC at Las Noches de las Luminarias, Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden, 2015]

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[TALC at Las Noches de las Luminarias, Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden, 2015]

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Christmas lights wrapped around a palo verde tree. [TALC at Las Noches de las Luminarias, Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden, 2015]

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[TALC at Las Noches de las Luminarias, Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden, 2015]

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The desert at night. [TALC at Las Noches de las Luminarias, Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden, 2015]

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[TALC at Las Noches de las Luminarias, Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden, 2015]

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Shadow of a dwelling behind the luminarias. [TALC at Las Noches de las Luminarias, Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden, 2015]

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Members of Yellow Bird told Apache winter stories and played native flute on the Plants and People of the Sonoran Desert Loop Trail. [TALC at Las Noches de las Luminarias, Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden, 2015]

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[TALC at Las Noches de las Luminarias, Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden, 2015]

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Christmas light-studded hill in the desert. [TALC at Las Noches de las Luminarias, Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden, 2015]

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Red sky, web on the ground made of strings and beads of lights. (Light art of Bruce Munro.) [TALC at Las Noches de las Luminarias, Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden, 2015]

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Arteries glowing in the desert darkness – light art of Bruce Munro. [TALC at Las Noches de las Luminarias, Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden, 2015]

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Eerily glowing luminous art by Bruce Munro. [TALC at Las Noches de las Luminarias, Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden, 2015]

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[TALC at Las Noches de las Luminarias, Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden, 2015]

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[TALC at Las Noches de las Luminarias, Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden, 2015]

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Luminarias leading the way on the Garden trails. [TALC at Las Noches de las Luminarias, Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden, 2015]

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[TALC at Las Noches de las Luminarias, Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden, 2015]

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[TALC at Las Noches de las Luminarias, Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden, 2015]

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Luminaria with more of Bruce Munro’s light art. [TALC at Las Noches de las Luminarias, Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden, 2015]

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“Fireflies” by Bruce Munro. [TALC at Las Noches de las Luminarias, Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden, 2015]

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“Fireflies” by Bruce Munro. [TALC at Las Noches de las Luminarias, Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden, 2015]

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Light art by Bruce Munro. [TALC at Las Noches de las Luminarias, Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden, 2015]

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Statue in the Garden. [TALC at Las Noches de las Luminarias, Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden, 2015]

…and a great BIG “thank you” to Callaghan for patiently waiting as I took hundreds of pics!

Merry Christmas, All. =)

What I’m Digging Right Now – November Favorites

Oh, wow… December 1st! Time to rave about some of November’s memorable Little Things. How about this for a change: I’m starting with food this time, because there’s a lot of it. The month that just passed had a culinary focus. I actually didn’t experiment with any new cosmetic-type products in November, so this list is devoid of that kind of stuff. We didn’t see any movies, either (I guess we’ll catch The Martian at the cheap seats or online when it hits the site we use), and we only started one T.V. series… but man, we’re enthralled with that series!!

Let’s dig in.

 

1). Callaghan’s 7-spice Masala tofu.

 

Callaghan's 7-spice Masala tofu with brown Basmati rice

Callaghan’s 7-spice Masala tofu with brown Basmati rice

 

Callaghan enjoys dabbling creatively with Asian flavors in his cooking, and he often comes up with concoctions that are out-of-this-word delicious. This tofu dish was one of them. I can’t tell you what’s in the sauce because it’s a secret (all I know is that it includes masala), but I know it doesn’t contain coconut anything or any kind of nut butter, which makes it unusual.

 

2). Coconut Aminos (Coconut Secret original).

 

Coconut Aminos (Coconut Secret original)

Coconut Aminos (Coconut Secret original)

 

In my recent endeavor to drastically minimize the amount of processed food I eat, a lifestyle change I haven’t mentioned before (I embarked on this journey in October), I’ve been on the hunt for substitutes for old staples. One thing I learned is that coconut aminos make a fabulous stand-in for soy sauce, and in fact, we actually prefer it. No lie. Coconut aminos is simpler than soy sauce, more flavorful, and healthier. Get this: Coconut aminos contain TWO ingredients, zero chemicals, and a mere 90 mg sodium! Compare that to Kikkoman’s “less sodium” (green cap) soy sauce, which contains chemicals and 575 mg sodium. 575. That’s their lower sodium version. We haven’t touched it since we started using coconut aminos (which, by the way, tastes plenty salty to us). Last night, we finally just threw out the soy sauce. Our new motto is coconut aminos or GTFO.

 

3). Simple Truth walnuts halves and pieces.

 

Simple Truth walnuts halves and pieces

Simple Truth walnuts halves and pieces

 

I’ve been eating a lot of these unsalted walnut pieces lately. There’s something about fall that makes me crave or think about walnuts more, and when I get going on eating them regularly, I always wonder why I don’t think of them as much year-round. Walnuts in salads are great, but I also love them by themselves. They’re an awesome source of plant-basted protein, healthy fats, and trace minerals, too.

 

4). Sting ‘n’ Linger Salsa Co. (hot).

 

Sting 'n' Linger Salsa Co. (hot)

Sting ‘n’ Linger Salsa Co. (hot)

 

I know I recently included a salsa in a “favorites” post… I know! But I’m back with yet another one, and let me tell you, this one makes the other one taste like glorified ketchup. Sting ‘n’ Linger hot salsa is made locally here in Arizona, and it’s completely unprocessed. There isn’t a single chemical in it, and the flavor is fantastic. We get it at the Tempe Farmer’s Market down the street… I’m not sure where else it’s available, but you may be able to find it online. This stuff is the shizz as far as store-bought salsas go, and that’s coming from someone who’s lived on the Mexican border in three different states her entire life (except for temporary overseas living situations).

 

5). Lindt Excellence 85% Cocoa Extra Dark chocolate.

 

Lindt Excellence 85% Cocoa Extra Dark chocolate

Lindt Excellence 85% Cocoa Extra Dark chocolate

 

Like walnuts, I cycle in and out of periods of keeping the kitchen stocked with bars of bitter dark chocolate. This one by Lindt has been a favorite of mine for years. I have one or two squares a day, usually in the evening, and I cherish a kind of ritual around eating them: I take tiny nibbles from the square and let them dissolve in my mouth with just a little biting with my front teeth. Somehow, this slow melting prolongs the chocolate euphoria. I indulged thusly all through November, and I don’t see the end of the cycle as of yet.

Now for the T.V. series that took off with our brains (and a lot of our free time) in November….

 

6). Marvel’s Jessica Jones (T.V. series – Netflix)

 

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What can I say about Jessica Jones? Stylish. Sexy. Smart. Badass. Beautiful. Oh, and the show itself is awesome, too, in pretty much every way. The only other comic book-based dramatic project I can think of that matches this one in all-around excellence (okay, in my personal enjoyment… I know art is subjective) is the movie Sin City. Netflix does it again!

Moving on to the objects part of the list:

 

7). Asics Gel-Venture 5 running shoes.

 

Asics Gel-Venture 5 running shoes

Asics Gel-Venture 5 running shoes

 

I knew from past experience that running shoes work great for me in cardio/plyometrics situations, so when we started Body Combat and I needed shoes, I got running shoes from Asics, my favorite brand. That was a year and a half ago, and the pair I got were Gel-Venture 4’s. They were amazing. Naturally, when I decided to splurge on a new pair a few weeks ago – my reasoning being that I was walking to and from work again and therefore needed good shoes for everyday street wear – I got another pair of Asics. They’re Gel-Venture 5’s now, and I honestly can’t tell the difference between them and the 4’s, though apparently the technology’s been updated somehow. I love them. Shoes aren’t my thing and I generally dislike shopping for them, but I do get excited about athletic shoes.

Yeah, if I can help it, I prefer not to wear street shoes in the gym. And yes, that picture shows me with my shoes up on the furniture. What.

 

8). Pentel EnerGel liquid gel ink pen, blue (needle tip 0.7).

 

Pentel EnerGel liquid gel ink pen, blue (needle tip 0.7)

Pentel EnerGel liquid gel ink pen, blue (needle tip 0.7)

 

It might seem silly to put a pen on a “favorites” list, but this pen and I were meant to spend hours together bonding over coffee. You know the feeling. There’s that one pen that feels perfect when you write with it. For me, that’s this one.

 

9). OfficeMax mug.

 

OfficeMax mug

OfficeMax mug

 

Okay, I have a thing for mugs, and I’m particular about them. I love drinking coffee from mugs of a certain size and shape, so when I found this cheerful yellow one for $2.00 in a clearance bin at OfficeMax, I had to get it. And I had to share it with you here, because it was truly a Little Thing that added to my enjoyment of November. (By the way, this pic makes the mug look a lot smaller than it is. I was more concerned with capturing the sunlight than the dimensions of the mug.)

 

10). Method foaming hand wash in Pink Grapefruit.

 

Method foaming hand wash in Pink Grapefruit

Method foaming hand wash in Pink Grapefruit

 

We’ve been using Method hand soaps for years, but we just recently picked up the foaming one in pink grapefruit. Its sparkly, bright citrus scent reminds me of the lemon kitchen hand soap from Trader Joe’s, but I love this one even more. We don’t even care that it’s pink.

That brings this post to an end, and 2015 is about to go away, too. Next time, I’ll write my last “favorites” post of 2015! That seems surreal.

Return to the Land of AZ

We are here! And as of yesterday afternoon, we have internet! Once again, we’re surrounded by boxes, and this time we’re unpacking every last one of them.

We left Austin early on Friday morning, dragging our ponderous beast of a rented trailer behind us as we drove west. An unexpectedly odd sensation: 13 hours later, we were somehow still in Texas. At the half-way point, very late at night, we stopped to sleep for a few hours at a motel. We were still in Texas! It’s not even like we left from the eastern border; Austin is in central Texas. Come to find out it’s one thing to look at a map and note the area of the state compared to other states, but it’s something else entirely to take in its vastness on the road. It seemed that we drove and drove and drove, and we were still there! Under the overcast sky, it almost felt like being in the twilight zone. But we took in some charming little towns on our way out – Fredericksburg, for one (must go back for a proper visit!) – and enjoyed seeing as much of Texas as we could until the sun went down.

The next day, right on cue, the sky turned bright blue and sunny when we reached the actual southwest. It was like we entered New Mexico under a party of sunbeams, and when we crossed the border into Arizona, the broad desert sky was like a gorgeous, familiar embrace.

 

Heading west on a Texas country road

Heading west on a Texas country road

 

In Fredericksburg, Texas

In Fredericksburg, Texas

 

Entering New Mexico!

Entering New Mexico!

 

We had to stop and do the touristy thing and get New Mexico t-shirts. And then I had to take a picture in the truck. This is me in the middle of a long road trip on just a few hours of sleep... in a New Mexico t-shirt.

We had to stop and do the touristy thing and get New Mexico t-shirts. And then I had to take a picture in the truck. This is me in the middle of a long road trip on just a few hours of sleep… in a New Mexico t-shirt.

 

Back home in the desert!

Back home in the desert!

 

Entering Arizona, at last!

Entering Arizona, at last!

 

Basking in it... and here's Callaghan's New Mexico t-shirt.

Basking in it… and here’s Callaghan’s New Mexico t-shirt.

 

Arizona - the prettiest flag in the States, in my opinion!

Arizona – the prettiest flag in the States, in my opinion!