Sonoran Desert Snyder Family Letter | 2023

Dear Family and Friends:

Rose and I vacationed in Santa Fe in May. When we rolled into town — before we had done anything — we both said aloud simultaneously, “We should move here.” We were enchanted; it was true.

Our first night we wandered around and picked an amazing little restaurant, where the chef had earned a James Beard award. We didn’t use Yelp or nothing. We picked it just off of feel. Good vibes. Usually when you do that, it is a horrible, horrible mistake, but this time it worked out. Something magical was afoot.

After we had experienced the Santa Fe Trail, the Old Spanish Trail, we decided to tackle the Margarita Trail.

We were pretty geeked up because we spent the day at Meow Wolf, which we really enjoyed. Meow Wolf reminded me of stories that I told the kids when they were little. My stories would usually include a trap door that would take you to a different world, like a beach in sunny Southern California. At Meow Wolf, you would find yourself in a kitchen of a house, open the old ice box and instead of finding a carton of oat milk, you’d find a passageway into another creative space.

So, we find ourselves at Del Charro, the final stop on the Santa Fe Margarita Trail. I ordered the Santa Fe Trail Margarita, which, in addition to the Hatch Chile-infused tequila, also includes a handful of actual Santa Fe Trail gravel and a few sticks. According to a local reviewer, the margarita “will knock the socks off a timid out-of-towner.” Thankfully, I’m not timid, nor was I wearing socks.

After Del Charro, we walked around all comfortably numb like. We went to visit the beautiful, luxury hotel, La Fonda, which was built by architect John Gaw Meem in 1922. He is the same guy who designed the Fine Arts Center in Colorado Springs in 1936. The hotel looks amazing from the outside. Meem was the person most responsible for the “Santa Fe Style” of architecture, the Spanish Pueblo Revival. We checked out the interior and then headed up to the Bell Tower Rooftop Bar.

There’s a line to get in. It’s the spot to be to watch the sunset. We’re not on the list. But I started telling the young man managing the list about my close, personal friend, John Gaw Meem. The young man is an architectural student. A few minutes later we are sitting in the roof bar. While I’m away taking pictures, Rose orders us a couple La Fonda Double Barrel Margaritas. They are pricey. A single barrel may have sufficed.

But that’s the perfect illustration of the difference between Rose and myself. She is more apt to say, “We should,” whereas I’m more of a “We shouldn’t” type of person when it comes to money. But when you add in the factor of being on vacation, well, Rose takes that “We should” attitude to the next level by adding, “… we’re on vacation.” And I always agree.

Next, we head back to Del Charro for dinner. We’re hungry and it’s right across the street. We’re also three sheets to the wind, whatever the fuck that means. We were ushered into the dining room and Rose heads to the bathroom. I ordered us up a couple more margs and the waiter asks for my ID. He examines the hell out of it, asks a couple questions and finally hands me back my driver’s license. That bothered me. I think he was just messing with me. I mean look at me. I’m old. Maybe he was trying to ascertain whether to serve me, which would have made helluva lotta sense. Anyways, when Rose returns to the table, I say, “Hey, let’s go to that place close to the hotel instead.”

As we’re walking out, we encounter the waiter, and he seems upset that we’re leaving.

I’m indignant. I say to him loudly, “I’m 60, dude!”

And out the door we went.

I like to start these holiday letters with stories where I come off looking like a jackass. Holiday tradition.

(Shit, that’s right, I turned 60 this year. Thanks to Dave and Teri for visiting us in the Old Pueblo.)

But wait there’s more.

When we got done with our meal and were back at the hotel, I got a hankering for those large Doubletree chocolate chip cookies. But no one working the front desk, no one was in the lobby, so I went around the counter, cracked the cookie warming safe, grabbed a couple and made a run for it. We hid near the elevator doors, 15 feet from the scene of the crime, laughing. I think Rose was sitting on the floor.

No doubt influenced by the notorious New Mexican outlaw Billy the Kid; I had just stolen two cookies – two complimentary cookies that they hand out to anyone who asks. I think that might have been the loophole that kept me from being thrown into the hoosegow.

Nevertheless, I wore a disguise for the rest of our visit.

Randall Davey

We went to the Randall Davey Audubon Center and Sanctuary on Upper Canyon Road, a centuries old trail used by Natives for trading. Davey, a major artist from the Santa Fe Art Colony, was part of the historic 1913 New York Armory Show and later became one of the first instructors at the Broadmoor Art Academy in Colorado Springs in the 1920s.

When he died, his family donated the 135 acres with his home and art studio to the Audubon Society. Since it was Memorial Day holiday weekend, they’d cut back on staff and the usual Friday public tour of the house was cancelled. I was bummed, but I still wanted to go look at birds.

We were in luck. The first person we ran into on the property was the director Carl Beal, who coincidentally had been the soccer coach at Colorado College. He gave us binoculars for bird watching and said that he might be able to show us the house. So, we went hiking and we got to see birds chirping up close and personal with those magic binoculars. That alone was a candidate for the Top 10 Moments of the Year list.

Later we caught up with Carl and he took us into the house for a private tour. He said that Davey would take his cello and a couple chickens to La Fonda. He’d give the chickens to the chef and then play his cello in the bar while his meal was prepared. The cello was propped up in the living room. All the art and furnishings in the house were authentic; Davey’s stuff from 100 years ago. There was a well-stocked, hidden bar from the Prohibition years, and we finished the tour in his art studio. That was a big day.

On our final day, we went to the Oja Santa Fe Spa Resort to swim, soak and lounge in their many pools surrounded by the natural beauty. A very nice finish. Can’t wait to return.

Carli and Jon wedding

Our daughter Carli and Jon Rose got married in April in Tucson. They stayed in the Farm House at Hill Farm where we live. They got married in the San Pedro Chapel, which is literally across the street from our development. The small, little Alamo-looking Chapel was built by Mexican migrants after Fort Lowell was decommissioned. It’s on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.

It was a small gathering for our immediate families and a few friends. I had the honor of serving as the Father of the Bride, mainly because I’m Carli’s dad. When everyone arrived, we hosted a dinner to welcome them to Tucson. Jon’s sister, Ashley brought her two children, Vincent and Leila, up to me. She introduced them to me and then said to her kids, “You can call him Grandpa.”

We hadn’t even started the festivities and that got me a little emotional. I thought, “Really?” I was touched. Then I thought, “Okay, you can call me Grandpa, I’d like that.”

Before the festivities, Carli took her friends (Kina, Garret, Mimi and David), along with sister Gina and her partner Katie, to Barrio Bread. Working the window as always was the man himself, Don Guerra, winner of the prestigious James Beard Award for Outstanding Baker, AND who was featured in Time Magazine just a couple weeks earlier.

To put it into perspective, Carli meeting Don Guerra would be like if Rosemary got to meet Nikola Jokic. It was a big deal.

Kina, a swim teammate from PLU, who is ordinarily super shy, explained to the bread maestro that they were a wedding party and visiting his shop was the first order of business in Tucson. Don called for the bride and groom and presented Jon and Carli with a giant loaf emblazoned with the image of a saguaro, saying, “This is to bless your marriage. I hope when you cut your cake, you can cut this up too.”

Okay, back to the Father of the Bride. I wrote a speech during the day of the wedding. I kept it tight.

Gina was the officiant for the ceremony, and she was amazing. She should probably become a professional officiant. I mean, if anyone is going to start crying, it’s going to be Gina, but she kept it together. While Gina was running the show, Sam ran the music in chapel.

Before the service began, the song, “The Nearness of You,” by Louie and Ella played. Our first dance song. I noticed that the paparazzi were nearby and asked the wife to dance. I knew it would make a good photo.

During the ceremony, Jon was very emotional saying his vows. It took everything in me not to walk up to the altar and put my arm around him. He said that Carli taught him how to love. That made my eyes water.

Afterwards, Kina and Garret took a thousand photos.

We then had a special night of dinner, drinks and togetherness at one of our favorite restaurants, Locale. There were a lot of speeches. When it was my turn, I first stood and gave a toast. The Nuggets had just beaten the Warriors, without Nikola Jokic, so I felt it was appropriate to toast this achievement with a hearty, “Go Nugs!” People seemed to play along.

Near the end of my speech, I mentioned a few song lyrics that I connect with Carli Rosie.

“I am an all-powerful, amazon warrior.”

That’s from Ani DiFranco and the song, “Origami.” Carli and I saw Ani perform at Colorado College. I’d never been in a room with that many lesbians before or since. When I dropped Carli off at PLU, she brought an Ani DiFranco shirt with that line on it.

“You are the first one of your kind.”

Bono wrote lyrics of “Original of the Species” for the Edge’s daughter, one of my favorite U2 songs. Another empowerment song especially for young girls. As parents you want your children to feel special, but not think that they are special.

“May your limits be unknown.”

And finally, the song, “Be Still” by the Killers … a song of resilience that seems to be written from the point of view of a father whose daughter is leaving the nest.

I concluded with …

And you embody all of these things.
You’ve already exceeded every expectation.
I can’t express how proud I am of you.
Because, like Elphaba, you have defied gravity.

Biking with Jon

Jon and I went on a bike ride together. That was special – a top moment of the year — but it was also funny. I got Jon a bike and a helmet, but no bike shorts or gloves and if you don’t ride a bike often, things can start hurting. Jon kept saying, “Let’s keep going.” I’d say, “Hey, you don’t have anything to prove to me, we can turn around right now.” “No, let’s keep going.”

I got the impression that if I would have suggested biking to Phoenix, he would have gone for it.


Rosemary has been killing it with her coaching and consulting business, expanding the clientele. One day she was contacted by an international, multi-national mining corporation.

They’d been to her website and wanted to bring her in to talk to their employees, engineers mainly. The conference was attended by employees in 10+ countries. It was a good gig. Then a second mining company called, then a third. All international. We’re not sure why this is happening, but we’re ok with it.

This year Rose presented at the 34th annual Women’s Leadership Conference for the YWCA, became one of only 100 certified organizational culture coaches in the world through the Maslow Research Center and conducted a four-part leadership series with the University of Arizona online and distance learning departments.

Rose recently had a fun weekend retreat here at Hill Farm in the lovely Farm House with good friends and leadership coaches Joni Hibdon and Rachel Lutowsky.

June was fun.

The Denver Nuggets won the NBA title on June 12. The greatest thing ever. The greatest happening in sport next to sudden death dodgeball. Ladies and gentlemen, I have seen the Denver Broncos win three Super Bowls, I’ve seen the Twins win two World Series. But never in all my years as a sports fan — and following the Nugs for 30 years — have I ever felt such joy as my Denver Nuggets winning the NBA title. When Jamal cried, we cried.

Gina, Sam, Rose and I watched the final game together. Everyone knows the team and loves the players: Jokie. AG, Jamal, Kenny Pope, PWat. MPJ. CB. Uncle Jeff. And Bruce Brown.


Gina and Katie moved into their apartment on June 17. They both use the pronouns of they and them. So, if you are talking about the couple, it’s they or them. If you are referring to Katie, you say they or them. Is that weird or hard? No, it’s not. It’s not a big deal. Anyways, they’ve got an apartment. Katie is studying chemistry, generally, polymers, specifically. They are a fourth-year graduate student pursuing their PhD degree.

Gina has decided to stop playing cards with me, but for a really good reason, Gina joined a choir, Desert Voices. They work at the Tucson Interfaith HIV/AIDS Network, doing good work. Together, they made their own Halloween costume for a party at the Tucson Museum of Art, replicating Gustav Klimt’s “The Kiss.” They won the “Best Costume” award.


Sam is nearing the completion of a project that has been in the works for years: watching every film ever produced. He also watched director interviews, actor roundtables and YouTube channels that discuss special effects. I think he has the equivalent of master’s degree in film studies at this point. He is taking film editing and cinematography at Pima Community College. He walks Maggie every day for our next door neighbor.

We got passes for the Tucson Film Festival and that was a lot of fun. Hanging out together downtown.

Returning to Minnesota

Speaking of family, I went home to Minnesota in June for my nephew’s high school graduation, Deven Darius Snyder. It was fun to see my big brother Dave and Michele, Deven and Riley. I had nice conversations with everyone. I helped set up the party. Went with Riley to get ice. Went with Michele to get tables and chairs. Helped Deven and Dave set up the tents in the front yard. I was just happy to feel like part of the family; you can’t help feeling disconnected living so far away.

I had great visits with my best high school friend, Jeff Niederloh, another member of the fabled Bowling Stones, and my running mate from Foot Locker, Kevin Altenhofen. I ended up writing 2,600 words about my hometown of Robbinsdale. Too many words for the holiday letter. So, I asked ChatGPT to provide a 500-word summary. Here is what ChatGPT provided:

The author reflects on a trip to Minnesota, focusing on nostalgic visits to places tied to their childhood. The journey takes them through significant locations, each triggering memories and emotions.

The trip revolves around Robbinsdale, the author’s hometown. They engage in various activities, helping set up a party for their nephew’s graduation and revisiting old haunts on 42nd Avenue. The author reminisces about the library where they got their first library card and explores familiar places like Spanjers Park, where they used to watch their brother play softball.

Victory Memorial Drive becomes a key stop, sparking memories of biking through the parkway and learning about its historical significance in honoring World War I soldiers. The author shares details about their experiences running cross country and sledding at Theo Wirth Golf Course.

The trip includes visits to Faith-Lilac Way Lutheran Church, where the author attended Sunday School and sought answers about heaven after their brother’s death. The author reflects on both fond and challenging memories associated with the church.

Joyce’s apartment holds sentimental value as the author recalls listening to records there. The author traverses familiar intersections, including 42nd and Douglas Drive, connecting each location with personal anecdotes. They recount experiences at the Rockford Road Library, the New Hope YMCA, and the Sunshine Factory where they worked as a busboy.

The narrative unfolds like a journey through time, encompassing high school basketball games, dating adventures, and family connections. The author revisits Gethsemane Cemetery, paying respects to loved ones. The journey concludes with a visit to Jeff, a lifelong friend, with whom the author shares reflections on their lives.

The storytelling is rich in detail, painting a vivid picture of the author’s experiences and emotions tied to each location. Themes of family, friendship, and personal growth are woven into the narrative, creating a nostalgic and reflective journey through the author’s past.

42nd Avenue

Rocky Balboa

In August, Rocky went home to be with Kirby. He was 16 years, four months. The final few months were intense. We couldn’t leave him alone. Rose and I took turns every night holding Rocky. He’d lay his head on our chest. We made the call. It was the obvious and only call. But it hurt bad. Rose held him. I held his front paws and watched him leave us.

In December, Gina got Rose a word game called, Q-Less. It’s a crossword game. Rose has been doing the New York Times crossword every day. With this new game, you roll out these 12 cubes with letters on each side and see how many words that you can make with the letters on top.

On her first try, Rose rolled the die. And she could not believe what she saw. She immediately gasped. Of the 12 cubes, she saw ROCKY right away and with the remaining seven pieces she spelled WALK. Rose started to cry. Carli and Gina witnessed it.

“It was truly a fucking, crazy moment,” said Carli. “I was totally shocked,” Gina said. “It felt like a universe-checking-in moment that Rocky was saying hi to us on Christmas.”

Washington D.C.

Carli had a four-month fellowship at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, where Joan Ringelheim, the focus of her dissertation, worked for two decades. In early November, Rose and I visited Carli and Jon in D.C. We visited all the museums and all the monuments, at least it seemed like we went to all of them. I loved seeing the President Obama portrait, visiting the FDR monument, seeing exhibitions of Alma Thomas and Dorthea Lange, and spending the day at the Eastern Market.

We went to the Library of Congress. We all got registered for library cards, which allowed us on the floor and restricted study areas. Rose and Carli found Carli’s video interview with her Grandpa Chuck, a Vietnam War veteran, that she had done for a high school project. It’s in the permanent record of the Library of Congress.

Thanks for your friendship

When we got back home from D.C., I completed a major milestone: 10,000 miles of biking in Tucson.

The next night Rose and I were watching the Broncos played the Vikings, when I get a text from my friend Paul Gaulke.

“Watching the game & thinking about you. I’m in hospice, coming close to the end. Thanks for your friendship.”

Paul, my best friend from college, was coming to the end of a 10-year battle with cancer. He was our best man when Rose and I married. Thankfully, I was able to speak to him and let him know how much his friendship meant to me. He died the next morning.

This news wrecked me. I loved Paul. He was a great guy and great friend. But I’m happy that he and Emily found each other. For their 17 years together, but especially the 10 years following his diagnosis, they made the most of every minute, living life to the fullest.

I wrote down a few fond memories of all those Saturdays we spent running around Minneapolis, including the time we saw Prince play a surprise concert at First Avenue.

Remembering Paul Gaulke

3,000 miles

On Dec. 23, I went for a bike ride. It was 52 degrees out, winds at 10+ mph and the skies were threatening rain. I was going to reach 3,000 miles for 2023, previous best 2,500.

I listen to this podcast about explorers on my rides called the Explorer’s Podcast. I appreciate stories of endurance, resilience and courage. On this ride, I was listening to the story of Matt Rutherford, the first person to circumnavigate the Americas solo and nonstop in a sailboat. At about the time I discovered that I left my water bottles at home, I heard how Rutherford’s water maker broke. I decided that I’d suck it up and do my ride without water in a bottle. All my favorite explorers endured much worse than going a couple hours without a cold beverage. As I made my way, I called down the thunder. I wanted it to rain. On this ride I was going to pass 3,000 miles on the year. I wanted it to be epic; I wanted it to feel like an accomplishment. I wanted to tap into my Norwegian heritage of fearless polar explorers.

Nansen. Amundsen. Snyder.

It rained. I was soaked by the time I got back to the gate that takes me home. To get to 3,000, I needed to add a one-mile out and back. When I reached the turnaround, the rain had stopped. I looked out over the wash and saw a giant rainbow. That meant something to me. A metaphor from nature.

Riding a couple hours in the rain is not a big deal. Riding 3,000 miles in a year is not a big deal.

But I am resilient. I have endured.

On the next day, Christmas Eve, Jon and Carli arrived. They really, really, really love Tucson and the Snyder Family. So much fun.

Who says there’s no Santa Claus?

Kina and Garret at Green Things. They got into the Snyder Family Letter, a rare honor, because we love them and they’re part of our family now. Plus, they sent me a present at Christmas.

I wish everyone health and happiness in 2024.

Happy New Year!
Charlie | Rose | Carli | Gina | Sam | Jon | Katie | et al.
© Snyder Family Holiday Letter 2024

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