Clouds over Tucson

Clouds swirl across the city and the Santa Catalina Mountains during a dramatic sunset over Tucson on August 20, 2018 in Tucson, AZ.

The end of a year is a good time for reflection.

And, as we do that at This is Tucson, we realize just how lucky we are. 

We get to spend every day getting to know the amazing people (that means YOU), foods and events of Tucson so we can tell you all about them. 

We are continuously reminded of how beautiful our community truly is. And as we go into the new year, we want to thank you, our readers, for making each year better than the last. 

Our writers took a few minutes to pick out their favorite stories of 2018 to share with you again, along with their thoughts on why these particular pieces stick out to them. 

Happy New Year!

Angela Pittenger, features writer

This year I covered a variety of stories from students walking out for gun control to teachers walking out for education funding to nice features on the art museum, cool Tucson artists, desert bugs and everything in between.

In the office we joke about our beats since they're so varied. I think we "narrowed" mine down to families, arts, bugs, STEM, special needs, fitness, schools and activism. 

Choosing my favorite three wasn't too difficult, though. 

A group of neighborhood kids gather around a song book and use a cell phone to illuminate the lyrics while singing carols with several several hundred others in the street outside 4-year-old Marcus Cook Jr.'s home, Thursday, Nov. 15, 2018 in Sahuarita. Marcus is fighting terminal anaplastic ependymoma and friends, family and neighbors came together to make Christmas and his birthday special.

One story that will stick with me forever is about a community coming together to give an early Christmas to a terminally ill 4-year-old boy. It was both heartbreaking and beautiful to see complete strangers standing in front of this family's home with gifts and singing Christmas songs.

Read the full story here

Tucson Museum of Art staff stomp the floor as William Vargas holds the sculpture "Esquire" by David Hammons to test its stability.

This next story fulfilled one of my inner art nerd's biggest fantasies of being behind the scenes during the installation of a big art show. 

Arizona Daily Star photographer Mamta Popat and I got to hang out for a few days while the Tucson Museum of Art installed its 30 Americans show and it was everything I dreamed it would be: Precise, grueling and amazing. Find it here

This third one was just so much fun.

I've always been terrified of the giant desert bugs that come out in summer, so I thought it would be fun to write about them. But I wanted to do something different. So I wrote personal ads for the insects.

I got to learn about these creepy crawlies, have fun with the writing and work with Arizona Daily Star illustrator Chiara Bautista to make it come to life. 

I probably still wouldn't pick one up, but we have a better understanding of each other now. Read that here

Johanna Willett, features writer

This year, I did a lot of writing and thinking about what makes Tucson home. From surveying you, our readers, we know that a majority of you aren't natives to this desert city, and yet here we all are, making a go of it. 

I've written about Little Free Libraries installed for the purpose of building community and an endangered fish species native to the Sonoran Desert that somehow made it back to the Tucson stretch of the Santa Cruz River after a 70-year absence. Somehow that little fish made it back home. 

Every year we cover the events we all love, that make us who we are as a community — the Tucson Gem, Mineral and Fossil Showcase, the Tucson Festival of BooksTucson Meet Yourself, the All Souls Procession, etc. And every year we think again about why these matter to us, and why they've become part of our city's rhythm. 

And now, with this lens, I realize that three of my favorite stories in some way have to do with this same theme: Making this desert city a home. 

The first story takes me way back to the beginning of this year, when my editor and I began brainstorming simple ways regular people could make Tucson a better place. Putting this story together required me to sift through the amazing people and organizations I've written about in years past and pull them all into one list with the hope of inspiring you (and me, let's be real) to get out there and take a walk, hit up a public meeting or start a garden. I could probably use the reminder again as we go into 2019. Find that story here

A mural by Greetings From... was painted in the alley behind Miller Surplus at 406 N. Sixth Ave., in February 2017 by Victor Ving and his girlfriend, photographer Lisa Beggs. 

Later in the year, I spent a lot of time at Sister Jose Women's Center learning about a program meant to empower homeless women and give them the tools they need to start anew. Those conversations resulted in a story about the center's CREATE program and what it looks like to rebuild a life. Find it here

Ashley Weymouth, teacher, center, conducts a Zentangle art class at Sister Jose Women's Center. 

And then several months ago, Instagram tipped us off to a mother-daughter duo determined to transform a dilapidated trailer park and motel on Benson Highway into a vintage gem with silver-sided trailers. I loved meeting them, touring their dream-in-progress and hearing their vision for restoring a place that hasn't seen any love in years. That story is here

Peter Muller, left, and Tony Docekal, from the Netherlands, enjoy a snack in front of the silver-sided trailer they stayed in the night before at El Pais, a vintage trailer motel, located at 3445 E. Benson Highway.

Andi Berlin, food writer

2018 was the year of noodles. (I mean technically it was the Year of the Dog, but I'm more of a cat person, so we'll go with noodles like I said.) What kinds of noodles? Mostly slurpy ones, in soup ... 

I started my year off Jan 1. with a peppery bowl of tonkotsu ramen at Yoshimatsu, but that was just a precursor. Asian food was a huge deal in Tucson this year, and that meant a bunch of NEW noodles, like rice noodle soup from Guilin, China, and thin vermicelli in a tray of steaming fish soup, and Raijin Ramen

Miso ramen, $11, came with a healthy serving of plump corn, as well as seaweed and chashu pork. 

Now that I write a monthly list of new restaurants, I found myself going to more places than ever this year. I enjoy the hullabaloo of high-profile openings like American Eat Co., but my real passion is finding those interesting and unexpected meals that tell us something about our culture. 

I had the pleasure to write several pieces on the new crop of Chinese restaurants in Tucson, but my favorite is definitely Noodleholics. If you haven't had the chance to eat at this restaurant, please go. It's really delicious! Here's my article about it. 

The Dry Guilin noodles, $11, with rice noodles and crispy pork are a specialty and Noodleholics on Grant Road. 

Another cool project I took on this year was finding the best restaurants ... that happen to be in strip malls. This list was full of undiscovered gems, like spicy Indian food in midtown, African spaghetti by the hospital and some of Tucson's best pizza. These neighborhood spots excite me and make me feel comfortable at the very same time, which I guess is why I love them so much. Check out my article and see if you can find something new to enjoy. 

A meat combo, $17, at Queen Sheba includes your choice of clockwise from top: spicy chicken, red lentils, spicy beef, shiro, spicy beef tibsi, alicha, berbere lamb, cabbage and spinach.  

Lastly, I was extremely fortunate to spend a bulk of the year traveling throughout Southern Arizona and Northern Sonora for our monthly road trip series. This meant more to me than you know. I live for traveling, but this year I was forced to take a step back in order to care for my diabetic cat. With the short day trips, I was able to get away for a little bit and still be back to give Murray his medicine in the evenings.

The taco enchiloso at El Pescadito featured fried shrimp and melted white cheese. I threw on some of that silken avocado sauce from the salsa bar. 

Some of my favorite trips were monsoon peach picking in Willcox and taking the back road to Phoenix. In addition, I also got to take a guided tour of my favorite food city Nogales, Sonora. The Border Community Alliance tour included restaurants I had never been to, and that's saying a lot! If you'd like to recreate the tour yourself, check out my article here. I believe it's more important than ever to visit our sister city to the south, because whether some people like it or not, they're family! 

Samantha Munsey, producer

OK, I'm not going to get emotional *wipes tear away with a creosote branch* but looking back on this year I realize none of what we do would be possible without the incredible support of our readers (yes, I'm talking to you person who is skimming this!) and the wonderful people who make up the Tucson community.

Sunset sky seen from Saguaro Park East, Wednesday, June 6, 2018, Tucson, Ariz.

In fact, I spent a lot of time this year thinking about what we could do to just make your experience living in Tucson just a bit brighter. Whether it was telling ya'll about a fun event, getting curious about the environment around us or writing about an interest I think someone might connect with (I can't be the only adult person who loves a good ghost story, right?!), it's been a fun experience sharing this year with people who love this town just as much as I do.

One thing you might have noticed is that we've expanded into the the world of newsletters with the "This Is Tucson Weekend Planner" (you can sign up here!). It was a lot fun researching and talking to Tucsonans about what they would like to see in their inbox. The final product was a bullet-journal-style newsletter illustrated by the Arizona Daily Star's Chiara Bautista that includes Tucson events, things to do, stories that will touch your heart, the weekend weather forecast and other fun goodies.

And if you don't have time to look through your email, try adding us on Instagram. We're constantly creating new content you can only find here. From Instagram stories where Andi scopes out the best food in town, to local coverage like the Red For Ed movement, its been thrilling to think about news in a different way this year and work with the This Is Tucson team.

When I wasn't obsessing over Tucson, I was hitting the road and exploring parts of Arizona and Mexico for our monthly road trip series. I spotted the rare trogon bird in Madera Canyon without even trying (true story, I just got out of the car and it was there!), hugged the world's largest rose tree in Tombstone and ate an Avocado Surprise in Rocky Point (don't worry, it's basically shrimp and guacamole). I truly cherish it all and love to get suggestions on where to go to next.

Samantha poses inside the "World's Smallest Museum" in Superior, Arizona. 

If that wasn't enough 2018 for ya, I also took the stage at the end of the year as part of The Storytellers Project where I told the very true story of me being a professional tambourine player during my childhood (it's way weirder than it sounds).

I don't know what 2019 will bring, but I know with This Is Tucson and our amazing readers it should be brilliant and bright. 

Irene McKisson, editor

I don't have many actual bylines but I have my hands on most everything you read on This Is Tucson (for better or worse) and thus I have a few favorites to add.

Designed by Chaira Bautista and printed by CREAM Design and Print, these tote bags are the prize for participating in our summer reading challenge. 

1. The Bookclub. We started our digital bookclub in 2017 but this summer was our first summer reading program for grownups and it was so fun. We had a kickoff event with the amazing librarians from the Pima County Library at Exo Roast Co. where we met more than 50 local readers. Then I participated in the Read Local book challenge which kicked off my latent reading tendencies (dormant while I had small children.) Those 12 Tucson books I read with the book club this summer snowballed into 89 books I've read this year. I'm halfway through No. 90 right now, keep your fingers crossed that I can finish before Jan. 1 to make it a nice round number.

2. Find Your People. When we were talking to This Is Tucson readers during user testing for the new Weekend Planner newsletter several people said they struggled to "find their people" in a new place like Tucson. I was born here but I know that until those roots grab your feet, it can be difficult to find connection. Johanna wrote a lovely story about how to do that, broken down by interests.

3. Badasses. I love our Badass Women of Tucson series and this year included several jaw-dropping scientists, entrepreneurs and an underwater shark photographer.

4. Stuff to Do. Jen Bond compiles the weekly and monthly lists of things to do  around Tucson for us and it is a thankless job. So I'm here to say THANK YOU. I use these lists myself for my family and friends and we hear a lot from readers who love them. 

Angela Pittenger | This Is Tucson