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This is the time of year to stop and smell the flowers--literally

St. Patrick's Day and the vernal equinox fall within a few days of each other, so there is plenty to celebrate this week. And with Easter on the heels of both, the rest of March can be spent in a festive mode. Though green beer and hot cross buns provide the indispensable culinary symbols of the season, this time of year lends itself to stepping away from the table in order to bask in spring's splendor.

There is no shortage of activities to lure you outdoors to enjoy the sun or the night sky, but in the event an excess of brewski results in foggy-brain syndrome, here are some suggestions to get the bones moving and the spirit soaring.

Take yourself to a dog park, even if you don't have a dog to bring with you. Dog parks are both relaxing and a great place to connect with your inner child. Buy a box of dog treats and, with permission of the owners, make some canines happy.

Gather a group of friends, rustle up some grub, and find a great picnic spot. If you can do this on a weekday, it will be all the better, since you'll likely have the place virtually to yourselves. Some good venues to consider are the Catalina Mountains, Sabino or Madera canyons or Agua Caliente Park, Tucson's best-kept secret on the far northeast side.

Even if it requires a little effort, it shouldn't be totally impossible to find one of Tucson's few remaining sandy washes. Wear your running shoes, and early in the day, enjoy a brisk jog. If jogging is not your speed, walking will do. The idea is to get out and get moving.

Take a walk on the wild side. Before all the wildflowers have gone to seed for this year, make a point of visiting the desert and taking a stroll among the blooms. Alternatively, visit Tohono Chul Park, where, when you've had your fill of flowers, you can enjoy a meal at the park restaurant.

Before it gets so hot that all you want to do is sit in front of your cooler or air conditioner in a state approximating catatonic (and that time will soon be upon us), drive out to a remote part of the desert on a clear night--best if you are far enough out to avoid Tucson's light pollution. Just kick back, and enjoy the night sky. Breathe deeply and connect with the universe.

When it comes to having fun and being silly, not much beats miniature golf. Traditional on balmy summer nights, this delightful pastime works well for a spring afternoon. Go with your most light-hearted friends, and make it a tournament with the loser agreeing to buy pizza for everyone.

Grab a blanket and a bottle of wine, find a spot away from inquiring eyes, and spend the night outdoors cuddled up with your partner. Make sure to avoid insects and rocks.

A day when the sky is filled with clouds is perfect for catching the sunset over Gates Pass. In this case, leave the wine home to improve your chances of making it back intact.

Since spring is a time of rebirth and renewal, spend a little time quietly sitting and savoring the miracle of the season. You might even want to visit San Xavier Mission for the Easter service. Even if you are not religious, the mission is the site of some of Tucson's richest history. If you're lucky, there will be some fry bread for sale. Forget the diet; enjoy.

The Old Pueblo has a world-class treasure in the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. Don't wait for friends to visit from out-of-town to take advantage of this prize. The best time to go is during the early morning hours when the animals are most active. You might even get in on the raptor flight display.

Why wait for summer? Now is just as good a time to break out the grill and start cooking outdoors. And you don't have to limit yourself to charred flesh. Veggies on the grill are yummy. Just coat with a small amount of olive oil, and you're ready to put them on the fire. Or place them in foil with onions and garlic, season to taste, and you are good to go. Other possibilities include hamburger and hot dog meat substitutes.

Finally, a visit to the Tucson Museum of Art is always inspiring. Though it's not an outdoor venue, you can follow up with lunch or dinner at your favorite outdoor café downtown. Then you can walk off the meal with a stroll along the Santa Cruz.

So before the weather turns torrid, get outdoors and get going. The beer and buns will be here next year.

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