Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Weekend Assignment: I Love Tucson in the Fall

Time to answer my own question!
Weekend Assignment # 343: Fall Favorites

Some people like autumn leaves. Others like foods associated with this time of year, particular holidays, sports, weather, or even the run up to Christmas and Hanukkah. What is your favorite thing about Fall? (Note: if you're in the Southern Hemisphere, tell us about Spring instead!)

Extra Credit: What do you like least about this time of year?

For me it's sort of all of the above. Except for the autumn leaves part. Tucson trees do very little color-changing. It just isn't cold enough for that, and we have the wrong kinds of trees.

First off, autumn is my annual chance to pursue my "pumpkin anything" obsession. Pumpkin bread, ice cream, yogurt (frozen and otherwise), butter, pies, tarts, cookies, and variations on most of the above have all passed my lips at some point in recent years. Last weekend I combined the remains of my pumpkin steamer from the Starbucks counter at Safeway with a small vanilla shake from Whataburger, and made myself a pumpkin shake. It was good, too. Overall, though, I haven't indulged in much Pumpkin Anything this year.

Second, and probably more important to me, the weather from October to April is half the reason John and I moved to Tucson nearly a quarter century ago. This year, October was still quite warm, with an average high of 86 degrees and two days breaking the 100 degree mark. Still, that was a big improvement over September! It's also a big improvement over the Octobers I grew up with in Manlius NY, and later in Syracuse. It nearly always snowed before October was over, but the real misery of autumn in Central New York was all the dark, rainy days and nights, especially if the windchill kicked in as the cold weather roared across the Great Lakes Ontario and Erie. Yuck. It was well worth giving up autumn leaves to leave behind all that rain and snow. What little rain we get in Tucson mostly happens at predictable times, like 5 PM on a summer afternoon when it is mostly a relief!

Here in Tucson, November has been very pleasant. It's cool enough that we were finally able to stop running the air conditioning, but not so chilly as to require us to turn on the heat. There have been a few mornings when I probably would have benefited from wearing a light sweater, but some days I've still been in my short sleeved tops, and quite comfortable. It's great sleeping weather, with a blanket and a few dogs to stave off the chill.

The dogs and Kevin, 2009

The third cool thing about autumn in Tucson, for me, is a handful of holiday and holy day celebrations, and I don't just mean Halloween. As the church year winds down, St. Michael's celebrates the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels, otherwise known as Michaelmas. This year that included the English Faire to which John and I donated so much stuff, but there was also a special mass with extra musicians to accompany the choir. A week later was the Feast of St. Francis, featuring the Blessing of the Animals. Someday I'll get a decent picture of Cayenne and Pepper getting blessed, but it's touch to lead them up to the priest, get them to stand still, and take their picture at the same time!

And yes, there is Halloween, and the Días de los Muertos celebration, Mexico's Day of the Dead, which is enthusiastically celebrated in Tucson. There's a very unusual parade downtown, and candy skulls and really amazing folk art skeletons. I've never gotten out to see any of this, but one of these years I will. Mostly I've seen it as decor in a few shops, but St. Michael's had a Días de los Muertos table in the back of the church this year, part of the Anglican Feast of All Souls. Same thing, just celebrated differently.

The Church year is kind of an odd thing anyway. It begins and ends in late November, when Ordinary Time gives way to Advent, the four weeks leading up to Christmas. In other words, it starts about two thirds of the way through Autumn! This year I have a selfish reason to look forward to Advent. As fat as I am, I have had an ongoing problem every Advent and every Lent when serving at Mass. When everyone else switched to different vestments appropriate to those liturgical seasons, I struggled. None of the red cassocks the parish has for Advent fit me at all, and largest of the black ones for Lent I can only get into if I get pinned in instead of buttoning, and try to hid the fact that it's not shut under a white garment called a surplice. Unsurprisingly, I find this extremely frustrating and embarrassing. Most of the time I just end up in my usual white alb, which does fit, but in those seasons fails to match what anyone else is wearing.

Expert tailor Sister Joy Ann in the meeting room at the Benedictine monastery

But the new church year, which starts in a couple of weeks, will mark a major change in my difficult relationship with liturgical garments. Having ordered red and black cassocks from two catalogs, only to return them when they didn't fit, we decided, with the rector's permission, to have red and black cassocks made to measure for me. This is being done at the Benedictine Sanctuary of Perpetual Adoration, the distinctive monastery on Country Club Road that I have photographed before. Sister Joy Ann and a few of her colleagues comprise the Liturgical Garments Department, which makes ritual clothing for priests, nuns, deacons and acolytes all over the country, but especially Arizona. After extensive measurements were taken, I went off to Hancock Fabrics and bought the yards of red and black cloth, for which I was reimbursed, and brought them to Sister Joy Ann. She then worked out how many buttons I needed to get, 14 for each cassock. I got them 5 to a card, half off of $1 a card, so that was a great deal.

Sanctuary proper, Benedictine Sanctuary of Perpetual Adoration

Last week I got a call to go over for a fitting. Rather than risk messing up the red cloth with guesswork for this patternless project, Sister had cut a partial garment from an old sheet, pinned together so she could made adjustments. Afterward she gave me a brief tour of the beautiful old building.

The monastery portion of the building. More photos at My Tucson.

Like a number of major Tucson landmarks, the monastery was designed by architect Roy Place, whose classics-inspired buildings are a big part of Tucson's distinctiveness. This is probably one of his very best works. November 2010 marks 75 years since the Benedictine Sisters arrived in Tucson, and 71 years since the groundbreaking on the current building. I just missed the open house, but there's a big anniversary celebration a week from Sunday. So you see, that's another cool thing Tucson has in the fall!


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