Wednesday, March 30, 2016



      Ron and I recently drove to Phoenix to babysit Mila while Anna and John attended a conference. We were delighted to do so, and we were also pleased to receive an unexpected email from a special cousin, Kathy. She informed us that she and her husband, Karl, were in Tucson. We gladly changed our plans and headed to Tucson after Phoenix so that we could join them for dinner. Kathy prepared one of her great meals that included salmon from Alaska. In addition to the meal, they entertained us with stories about their life in Alaska and visits to Sweden.

      We stayed at the Fairfield Inn in Oro Valley, which is about ten miles north of Tucson. I enjoyed the morning walks along paths through the desert, and the well-groomed neighborhoods with interesting cacti along the way. For me, the unattractiveness of the desert sand is somewhat compensated by the fascinating range of shapes, colors, and sizes of cacti and nearby mountains. I was brought up in the Midwest, where we only occasionally saw a cactus planted in an indoor pot, so to see all the varieties growing naturally is quite a treat for me.

      On the first day, Ron and I drove up the Mount Lemmon Scenic Byway. This beautiful route is considered one of the most scenic drives in southeastern Arizona. The sharp change in landscape from desert to the Coronado National Forest in just 27 miles is amazing. At the summit is Mount Lemmon Ski Valley (9,157 feet); this is the southernmost ski area in the U.S. It was open for only eight weeks this year (they don't make snow) which is considered a good year. It was open for two weeks last year (not such a good year). There is no grooming here, and the winter temperatures range from 20-50F with an average snowfall of 180 inches. These variable temperatures would make even the easiest ski run a challenge.

A 30-minute drive to the center of Tucson was on my agenda for our last morning. That's because I read about the historical walking tour of downtown Tucson called the Turquoise Trail (formerly called the Presidio Trail) which is marked by a strip of paint that is a two and one-half mile loop through downtown. The trail begins at the Presidio San Augustin del Tucson that was founded by Spanish soldiers in 1775. It was under Spanish control until the Mexican-American War of 1846.

      The trail is designed as a loop, but it can be done in segments. It was easy to spot the turquoise strip to follow, and I immediately discovered some old adobe buildings that were built in the late 1800s. Adding to the interest were the colorful Mexican paintings that adorned many of the walls. The buildings dated from 1860 to 1920 and included a variety of architectural styles: Sonoran Transitional with its thick adobe walls and narrow window openings; Craftsman Bungalow known for its gable roofs and simplicity of form; Spanish Eclectic that is known for its red-tile clay roofs and arched windows; and Mission Revival with its enclosed courtyards, massive adobe walls and clay roof tiles.

One of the highlights of the walk is the Hotel Congress that was built in 1919 to serve the passengers arriving at the nearby railroad station. It still has the old west charm and is famous for being the secret hiding place for John Dillinger and his gang, until a fire destroyed the third floor of the hotel in 1934 and blew their cover. They were soon apprehended by local police and extradited to Indiana.

      As you walk along, there are restaurants and shops in historic buildings that I had time to only peek at. The two hours I allotted were not nearly long enough to get the full enjoyment for Tucson's famous downtown historical area.

Thursday, March 17, 2016



      There is a shop in Little Italy that reminds me of the antique barns that I used to frequent when driving on the country back roads of Minnesota. There is a big difference, however; Architectural Salvage, is in an old mint-green-stucco building, on the corner of Kettner Blvd. and Kalmai Street, in downtown San Diego—loaded with old artifacts from all over the world, with sophisticated customers who walk around with pads and pencils in hand. They range from interior decorators, restoration enthusiasts, artists to just plain lovers of “old stuff,” like me.

          I was originally attracted to this store when Ron and I were casually walking around the area one day. I happened to notice some old odd-sized doors leaning against the outside wall, and then when I looked inside there were hundreds more in a variety of sizes, colors, and styles. I love old doors, but that was just the beginning. The place was also full of antique sinks, keyholes, door handles, knobs, mailboxes, crates, stain-glass windows, pots, pitchers, stools, tables, benches, doll furniture, boxes, brass-plated numbers, light fixtures, tubs, old keys, and more—all displayed in a fascinating way. It's the most clean and artistically displayed store of old stuff that I've ever seen.

     After being in business for twenty years, it is not surprising they have attracted customers from all over the world. They purchase in bulk from faraway places like Egypt and Eastern Europe as well as the U.S.

     One of the delightful things about a visit here is that you can take your time and examine all kinds of fascinating items, even taking photos. No one bothers you, just like the large resident cat who freely walks around the place.
     I also like to climb the old staircase to the second level with its additional artifacts, and to view the entire store from above.
    Due to a thriving business, the products are constantly changing—a good reason to return soon.
     I must admit that I have absolutely no space or need for anything in this store. Nor do I wish for space for any of this stuff. I lightened my load many years ago, and I have no desire to go back. I do, however, have a great time visiting this place, so if any of my readers need a personal shopper for a one-of-a-kind treasure, just let me know.
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     After spending some time in days-of-old, and even seeing a few antique coffee grinders, I recommend crossing the street to the Bird Rock Coffee Roasters for a taste of something new. That is coffee so good and fresh that the only way to fully appreciate it is to drink it black.

     This new third wave of coffee, that is sweeping the city (on the tail end of the microbreweries), is using some “not-so-new” processes like pour-over, siphoned and cold brewing to make a new perfect cup of java that must stand alone. In addition, they roast their own small batches of beans that hail from specific regional farms throughout the world.

     The first wave of coffee was post WWII, when Folgers and Maxwell House were mass produced for the home coffee drinker. The second wave was Starbuck's and Peet's with their dark roast and espresso-based coffee drinks. Now we're on to the third wave, and I'm not sure if I will fully adjust, but I will give it a try. After all, I always drank my Folgers black when I was young; it was too weak to drink otherwise.