A Long Weekend in Tuscon

The Wednesday night before the United States became crazy about their toilet paper because of the Coronavirus, we boarded a Southwest flight to wing our way south to Phoenix where we planned to rent a car and drive to Tucson for a four day weekend. Our plane was full with kids going to baseball tournaments and adults wanting to see spring ball. By the next day spring ball and all the kids tournaments were cancelled. We continued on with our plans to go to Tucson. We had no clear agenda from the beginning. The weather in Tucson is so inviting in the spring, it is easy to stay outdoors and away from others.

Thursday, my husband picked up the rental car from the Phoenix airport. Rentals are expensive (or were when we started because this is high season). We chose the “managers special” to save money. That means you get whatever car is available. We got a new Jeep Compass which was a great car for touring the countryside. On our way out of Phoenix, we stopped by the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument. The Casa Grande site is a tribute to more than 650 years of irrigation in the desert. Archeologists are not sure of the purpose of the site but the monument houses the remains of the largest earthen building in North America. Civilization in this location lasted over a thousand years until about 1450 C.E. The location was abandoned. Without written word the people responsible for an elaborate irrigation, farming, and trading culture remain a mystery.

When we arrived in Tucson we checked into the Westward Look Wyndham Grand Resort. The Wyndham is located in the Sonoran Desert. When looking for a hotel in Arizona make sure to pick one with outdoor pools, and places to sit. The sunsets in Tucson are gorgeous and free. There’s nothing like sitting on your balcony after an afternoon soak in the pool with a glass of wine and watching the sun set in a colorful sky.

Friday we headed to the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum. The drive took us through the Saguaro National Park. Named for the large saguaro cactus, native to the area, we had our lunch sitting on a rock looking at the grand landscape. The afternoon we toured the museum which is actually an outdoor adventure showcasing native desert plants and animals. I particularly enjoyed the hummingbird exhibit. If you have kids with you, plan your trip to see the raptor flyover scheduled once a day right now.

Saturday we headed to the Sabino Canyon in the Santa Catalina Mountains. There are 30 miles of trails in the recreation area. Once again we took a picnic lunch to eat outdoors. We had bought tickets to go on the tram which proved to be an open air crawler. Because of recent rain in the area, we were only able to get to the dams and see the flooding, rushing river. In dryer seasons, the crawler takes you all the way up to two glorious waterfalls.

Sunday we met friends. But by Sunday, the country was awash with alarm over the Coronavirus and things were starting to shut down. We were literally one of about 10 people on the usually bustling University of Arizona campus. If you were traveling during more usual times, I would recommend you plan Sunday to drive to Tubac about 40 minutes south of Tucson. Established in 1752, Tubac is a charming artist colony with gorgeous colors and eclectic items in all their stores. On the way down or back stop at the Mission San Xavier del Bac, meaning White Dove of the Desert. The Mission was built by Spanish Franciscans in the 18th century and sits on the Xavier Indian Reservations. You can’t miss it’s rising dome as you drive by on the highway.

Monday we headed back to Phoenix and an amazingly uneventful flight home. The plane was packed. As we walked through an empty Boise airport, we saw 6 or 7 people waiting for a plane to San Fransisco, one of the hot zones for the virus.

At some point, life in the US will return to normal. Americans love to travel abroad as witnessed by the lines at the 13 funnel airports this weekend. But we have wonderful sites here in the states. If we have to stay in our country’s boundaries for while so be it. We live in a glorious, mysterious place.

My Tiny Arizona Home, the right size at the time

I am an HGTV (Home and Garden Channel) fanatic. I particularly like House Hunters International and recently, I have started watching Tiny House Hunters.

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Cottage Style Tiny House on wheels

I am intrigued by all the varied designs and nooks and crannies that can be folded into 500 square feet or less. I am also fascinated by the reasons people desire tiny homes.  The premise of the show is that Americans are looking to downsize, simplify their lives, travel more, and just save money. Probably my biggest reason for being interested in tiny houses is that I lived in a tiny home before there was a tiny house movement.

 

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I received a masters degree in sociology in 1975.

When I was a graduate student at Arizona State University (ASU) in the mid-seventies, my first apartment by myself was a  ground-floor studio  measuring approximately 200 square feet.  A studio apartment combines living, bedroom, kitchen into one space with a separate bathroom. While the new tiny homes may have many exquisite details such as granite, wood paneling on walls and ceiling, my apartment was the scaled down version with cinder block walls, rattan furniture in the living area, a formic dining table for two, wooden beads surrounding the  double bed for privacy, regular closet and a kitchen along one wall. The piece de resistance of the kitchen was the stove with an oven above, pull-out burners and an oven below.   In 1973, microwave ovens were not ubiquitous as they are now.  They were just starting to show up in high end kitchens (first counter top micro wave was distributed by Amana in 1967).  My home had a front porch with patio furniture looking out on a shared swimming pool and a back door that opened to the parking area.  The climate in Arizona is such that having the outdoor space is the same as adding a substantial amount of square footage, especially with a swimming pool available for everyone in the complex. The apartment complex and pool were well maintained and the location was close enough to campus to bike.

I felt like a queen in my special place. One couldn’t do much decorating because of the cinder block  walls. But I did have posters scattered about.  Unlike folks who are downsizing to a tiny house, the studio was  upsizing for me from  a dorm room and then a shared two-bedroom apartment. I had plenty of space for one and I enjoyed having my own privacy.

The biggest drawback to the Arizona place was not size but no pets.  I love animals.   When I was in graduate school, I didn’t really have the time or financial resources for pets so that lack of one was not  a problem.   A few years later when I had a regular job, one of my first goals was to purchase a house so I could have animals without the restrictions placed on pets by landlords.

My memories of Arizona are magical. I loved the University, the independence, the desert, the hot days and cool nights. I have memories of playing soft ball andpar 3 golf during day. At night, we would sip wine coolers on patios warmed by fire pits and accompanied by live music.  These were all new and exotic activities as a cowgirl who grew up in Wyoming and went to a Presbyterian College in Nebraska for my first experience away from home.

While I was at ASU, I had a number of guy friends. One of them, Dave, was a desert rat. He had an orange jeep and would take us out on extreme dirt roads to view the gorgeous red mountains, cactus and wild flowers, all found in isolated, primitive areas.  After one such adventure,  I was cooking my specialty, spaghetti with red meat sauce. Actually, I am not a good cook, so this was my go-to meal for guests. Dave and I sat down to a festive Italian meal and the next thing I know he’s bolting to the bathroom sicker than a dog.

Cleaning up in a hurry, I dumped everything down the garbage disposal immediately clogging the drain. The  maintenance man, Charlie, came right over with a plumbing snake to clear the line. When he started pushing it into the drain, we heard a scream next door. Apparently, the drains were connected and the metal snake had popped out of my neighbor’s sink–a startling experience.  Meanwhile, Dave was moaning on the bed behind the beaded curtains, not enough privacy in times of distress.

Then Charlie removed the U drain below the sink, emptied the nasty red sauce and slimy pasta contents into a bucket.  He promptly stood  up and dumped the bucket into the now empty sink. At which point, the entire contents of the bucket shot through the open drain making a huge mess on the kitchen floor and splattering Charlie and I.

Dave emerged from his bead sanctuary to see what the commotion was about. When he saw the mess, he decided he was well enough to go home and recover.  Dave and I never discussed whether the illness was brought on by my cooking or a rapid stomach bug. I do know he never chose to eat with me again. The lesson from this experience is that houses are like spoiled children in need of regular attention. They have the ability to throw a tantrum by breaking down, leaking, flooding, cracking, at the most inconvenient times. Almost anything connected to a house is expensive. A good do- yourself-person in the family is a gift.

The other memory I have of my ASU home is not so amusing. One week night, I received a phone call from my former roommate, Pat, telling me she was coming right over and to tell no one. When she got to my house, she had a fellow grad student, Kathy with her. Kathy was hiding from her abusive husband. I was the only safe place the two of them could find.  I was safe because I didn’t know Kathy’s husband. Kathy and I sat up all night because Kathy was terrified.  Unfortunately, this happened more than once. I had never seen anyone so frightened as those times Kathy was escaping her raging, violent husband.

There is a happy epilogue to this story. Kathy did finally divorce her husband. She finished her  masters degree,  successfully pursued a doctorate and became an expert in the field of family violence.  As Kathy and I sat together on those terrifying nights, I made up my mind that no one should be that frightened in their home. I have spent many years in Wyoming and Idaho volunteering for and donating to programs committed to providing safe havens for women and children who are victims for domestic violence.

The lesson from my experience with Kathy is that houses (the four wall structure) are not homes (socio-cultural experiences created by the individual(s) living in the structure). Kathy had a better house than most graduate students because her husband had a regular job.  But a physical structure that does not provide safety and is not a refuge in times of trouble is not a home.  Today, in our world we have many refugees fleeing unsafe settings (estimated at about 60 million people around the globe today).  Any night in the United States, there are over half a million homeless individuals (men, women and children). Domestic violence is the third leading cause of homelessness in the United States.  In other words, there are many people in need of refuge in our world today.

My 200 square foot studio apartment provided me with a lovely home for a year when I lived in Arizona.  My home was also a place of shelter for someone else in need.  I am grateful that my life has been blessed with  many homes filled with a great deal of love. Square footage truly doesn’t matter when seeking out a house, but the strength of character  and heart of those who reside within does.

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