Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Between the Mountains

As you approach Tucson on I-10 west, the desert slowly turns to pavement. It is almost bizarre that we humans are capable of sustaining life out here. Tucson is set between two mountain ranges and sprawls in all directions. The downtown is modest (compared to most cities) and has some pretty neat areas including 4th Avenue and The University of Arizona. And as everyone will tell you: Tucson is the place to be during these months; it has been sunny and warm since we arrived.
Mountains in distance at our Tucson RV park
Our main draw to Tucson was none other than Tucson Ted! Chris met Ted when he taught in Phoenix for Notre Dame’s ACE program. Ted was also an ACE teacher and decided to move here and continue his service to the school. He eventually swapped his regular elementary classroom for art and music. Ted has brought music and art to children who would have seen very little of it otherwise. He revived the theater program and now makes possible two or three student plays each year. He gives incredible gifts to his students each day. We. Love. Ted. He is an amazing example of selflessness. How could we not spend time here with him?

We arrived on a Saturday and learned that Ted took Monday and Tuesday off from work! Our first day was sort of a whirlwind. Chris and I went out intending to just get some groceries at the Co-Op on 4th Ave. We ended up picking up Ted, grocery shopping, and hanging out at his house until later that evening. The only snag was that we forgot Lily’s diaper bag so had to improvise…we had ordered some cloth inserts for her “g” diapers and had them shipped to Ted’s house so we washed and used them.  We took a second grocery run to the 17th Street Market and Ted made us a great dinner and even had some homemade ice cream ready for us afterward.

Sunday we attended mass where Ted was cantor along with his guitar. This was a real treat as Ted is quite talented and really enriched the mass.  Back to Ted’s for yummy lunch leftovers. This was forecast to be the chilliest day so we stayed inside; Chris worked on his sabbatical and Lily and I helped Ted make cinnamon bread, pecan sticky buns, and waffles for dinner! It was a baking kind of day.

Monday we all drove out to the east side for lunch at Eclectic Pizza. This was no ordinary meal… “Yucatan Yum” and Thai Curry pizza… I accidentally introduced my mouth to raw jalapeƱo and we tried some tasty organic beer.  Next we headed to Sabino Canyon which is in the Coronado National Forest. Ranger Ted taught us about ancient Saguaro cacti, Pallo Verde, and Teddy Bear cacti. He led us about two miles out on the eight-mile paved road that descends into the canyon. This inspired me to feel teeny-tiny. The scale of the canyon walls is hard to grasp until you see people hiking on a trail what seems to be a mile above you and they are teeny-tiny too! Chris got a kick out of a couple signs like the bridge cautions with a bicyclist going head over heels off the bridge. On our way back we wanted to take some group photos so we stepped off the road and through some huge smooth rocks to a sandy beach area. After snapping a few with the self-timer on Ted’s camera, I fed Lily on a rock and the boys soaked their toes in the icy stream. Lily and I joined them on a large flat rock in the middle of the stream and I realized that there was a very deep swimming hole just off the rock. I was tempted to swim but Ted suggested it and took the first leap. Whew! Chilly! I couldn’t help but follow so Chris held Lily and, after getting down to shorts and shirt, I announced that this might be the third most exhilarating thing I’ve ever done…I said to Chris “Marrying you! Birthing Lily! And Swimming in a Canyon!” as I dove off the rock into the shockingly cold water. This was enough for me but Ted took two more dives and Chris also couldn’t resist so I swapped back to my dry shirt and took Lily while he stripped to his skivvies and jumped in. The walk back was a bit damp but totally worth it for the swim. We all went back to the camper for a taco dinner and the day had taken its toll on Lily as she was ready for sleep upon our return.

 Tuesday we crossed over Gates Pass to get to the Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum. Ted assured us that this was no ordinary museum and he was right. Aside from the entry fee, overpriced snack bar, and a couple indoor tank exhibits, the museum is quite atypical. Each exhibit demonstrates a different habitat of the desert areas: caves, mountains, rocks, riparian (water), desert, and air. We were lucky to arrive just before the raptor free-flight show and so got to see a great-horned owl, Chihuahuan raven, Ferriginous falcon, and gray hawk in flight. Check out Ted’s website for pictures. Other sightings included a mountain lion, parrots, extremely rare wolves, otter, beaver, coyotes, a bobcat, big-horned sheep, hummingbirds, lizards, snakes and spiders! I think my favorite was the javelina (HAHV-a-LEE-nah). They are not pigs but look very similar to a warthog type animal. I favor this one mostly because of its affectionate nickname, Javvy, and how it is used like on signs pointing to viewing areas that say “Javvy hot spot”. We also saw two wild ones cross the road on our way to the museum which Ted said is pretty rare. We left the museum for a late lunch at a very cool new restaurant downtown called Hub. I had a Grilled veggie chiabatta and tried out their own ice cream in crazy flavors. I had Honey Ginger and Oatmeal Cookie Dough. Mmmmmm what a day!

The rest of the week gave Ted a little break from host/ranger/chef/tour guide duty and we spent time at our campground doing laundry, swimming in the pool, and taking Lily for walks. Chris discovered a hilarious sign on the rear park exit fence: Poop your dog across the street.

Friday night was a treat. We went for a tequila sunset toast at a fancy Marriott on the west side. Lily and I did not partake in the tequila but it was a beautiful view of the city and the best part was we got to meet Ted’s brother, Mike, and their parents! We had dinner at a nearby fancy BBQ restaurant where we dined at the same time as the Oregon State basketball team (tall!). We went to bed only to wake up early Saturday to meet Ted for an American Cancer Society walk that led us three miles up Sentinel Peak a.k.a “A” Mountain. There is a huge red, white, and blue striped A at the peak. Lily slept for most of the ride up and the three of us shared pushing duty. It was neat experiencing how walking with such a huge group of people can shorten a walk…the way home seemed to take twice as long! Saturday evening we were treated to dinner with Ted at Dr. Rachel Moreno’s home. Rachel was Chris’ supervisor while he taught in Phoenix. She was an incredible mentor and is an incredibly hospitable hostess. I was blessed to meet Rachel when she joined us in Connecticut for our wedding in 2007 and this time we visited her with the gift of meeting Lily! The homemade tamales, beans and rice were delicious and Lily enjoyed meeting her “Mexican Grandmother” and hearing a bit of Spanish beautifully spoken. While Chris and Rachel washed dishes, Lily and I got to watch the video of Ted’s kids’ recent play: Cinderella. Even though Lily can't partake in the local cuisine, she has ventured into the world of bananas, avocado, and rice cereal!

We sought out another church for mass this Sunday and found St. Pius X on the east side. This was the neatest celebration I’ve been a part of…it began with a parishioner with a wireless microphone walking through the rows asking who was visiting and where they were from; we heard NY, MI, Kenya, and Afghanistan. The music was contemporary Christian which created a more vibrant atmosphere. The mass was then celebrated with lectors really pausing with purpose, a simple homily, and the entire congregation joining hands for the Lord’s Prayer.  Lily drew much attention, as usual, with her squeaks and smiles. We had lunch at Eclectic Pizza again and paid another visit to Sabino Canyon to check out the Music in the Canyon event. We watched some Navajo dancers and learned a bit about ‘scat’ (animal poop).

Monday was a laundry and cleaning day as we prepared for our next move which would take us out of the Tucson city limits away from internet, laundry, and crowded RV park living. Yesssss.
Whew! What a week!

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