We are three sisters united in our search for the divine - in food, libation, literature, art, and nature. This blog will capture the true, sometimes decadent, at times humorous, and every so often transcendent adventures of the Salvation Sisters.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

The Tucson Botanical Gardens and Cold Brewed Mint Iced Tea

My Traveling Tales by Michelle

   "Happiness is a butterfly, which when pursued, is always just beyond your grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you."  — Nathaniel Hawthorne

My husband and I enjoyed a refreshing lunch on the patio at Café Botanica,
the restaurant nestled inside the Tucson Botanical Gardens.
   When my husband and I purchased our home thirteen years ago, I willfully ignored the fact that the large back yard was a barren landscape (even though the ground was completely covered by gravel). I was undaunted by the thought of master planning and then planting what is a fairly big area, even though friends and family tried to forewarn us. A blank canvas, I thought, in which we will create an inviting environment to attract birds and butterflies and to entertain our friends. What thrilled me most was the unencumbered view of the Tucson mountains. I minimized the labor intensive effort that would be required. I also ignored what would likely be a steep financial cost of putting in the watering system, patios and landscape. At times, ignorance truly is bliss. Until reality sets in—that is.

The Tucson Botanical Garden features a butterfly exhibit in a greenhouse filled with orchids.
   What happened first, is pretty much what always happens, I suspect. We ignored the needs of the yard in favor of the house. My husband and I agreed that the "miles and miles" of dusty rose pink carpeting would need to be replaced. And since we would have to live with that awful carpeting day-in and day-out, I wanted it gone sooner rather than later. It was definitely the priority project. I also wanted to paint over the white walls and add lots of happy color. From an operations point of view, the painting needed to happen prior to the installation of new flooring. As the saying goes, one thing leads to another.
   Similar to my thoughts on landscaping, I was likewise unfazed by the prospect of remodeling. I grew up with a father who subscribed to the do-it-yourself lifestyle before there was ever a Home Depot to promote such activities. I don't recall my dad hiring anyone to do anything on the houses or yards of my childhood homes. He had the tools and the know how to initiate and complete just about any type of home improvement project.
   After my husband and I were settled into our home, I'd giddily read through Phoenix Home and Garden and Martha Stewart Living seeking artistic inspiration. Pages ripped from the magazines decorated the refrigerator and were a constant reminder that we had big plans ahead that needed to get underway. I set about to convert our stucco and tile track home into a suburban shabby chic palace. I dreamed big, planned big and then finally got down to the execution phase.
Two views of the same butterfly inside the Butterfly Magic exhibit. 
   What happened next was years of toil punctuated with multiple starts and stops. Energy ebbed and flowed as did our family income. At the start of the project we ripped out all the downstairs carpeting and the linoleum in the kitchen. What remained was a lot of stubborn glue that needed to be removed from the concrete floors. The work was slow and tedious as we tried a variety of nasty cleaning agents that did not work. Frustrated, I called my dad, the do-it-yourself guru, for advice. He spoke out loud as his brain systematically tried out and discarded several possible solutions. Finally, he asked, "Did you try just water? Most of those glues are water based." Turns out hot water and lots of elbow grease did the job. Thanks, dad!
   Last week I had the opportunity to talk to a business contact that I had not spoken to in years. In the interceding time, his business has grown exceptionally. I complimented him on his success and he replied, something to this affect, "The funny thing is success is never linear. The road to success has its ups and downs and there are always obstacles to overcome. Oh, look, watch out for the snake pit. And, darn, we took a left when we should have turned right." This line of thought applies to home improvement projects, too. You think that your on the right path until oops! something happens that sets you back and there's a new challenge to overcome before success is hard won.

   Once the glue was dealt with, I finally started painting. Initially I thought painting the ceiling a light blue would add the novelty pop of color that I desired. Even though I tried to minimize the work by painting just the ceiling, it in itself was no small job. The front room is made grand by a vaulted ceiling. I didn't like the idea of painting the highest point of the ceiling from an extension ladder. I tapped into my inner Michelangelo and used scaffolding instead. Sometimes I stood on the scaffolding and at other times I laid on it depending on where in the room I was working in relation to the slope of the ceiling. After I completed painting the ceiling,  with a keen eye I evaluated my work. Now this may sound odd, but the tones of the paint did not go well together, even though the ceiling was a light turquoise and the walls were white. The hues were definitely a mismatch and that's when I conceded to myself that the walls needed painting, too. I had just talked myself into about a year's work at my less than part-time pace.

The children scurrying around the Butterfly Magic greenhouse were
highly skilled at finding the deeply hued dart frogs.
   While vacillating over the color palette for the walls, my sister Linda recommended that I watch the Julie Taymor directed film, Frida starring Salma Hayek, to pay close attention to the set decoration. Linda was right. I found inspiration in the vivid colors of Frida's home and paintings and decided upon the colors typical of a Talavera painted plate: cobalt blue, yellow, orange and green.
   Applying multiple colors of paint is tedious work because where the various colors meet, the lines must be perfect. Thankfully I have a steady hand, but I still needed to use lots of blue tape to ensure perfect transitions between adjacent colors. Even then, there were too many touch ups to count. We lived with concrete floors for the years that I painted. I didn't mind it much. My daughter Maddie thought it was wonderful when she and her friends donned roller skates and created havoc throughout the first floor of the house playing tag.
  While our remodeling projects extended across the years, our lives went on. Amongst the chaos, we entertained. At times I'd use the good china even though there might be scaffolding in the front room and plastic sheeting protecting areas in the living room. Several friends told me that I was an inspiration, that they couldn't conceive of hosting events at their house unless everything was perfect. If I waited for everything to be perfect, then there would have been no parties and no fun... for seemingly forever.
   I set up long tables in the front room and hosted themed parties. One of the niceties of our lifestyle was that I didn't have to worry about the kids spilling food or drinks on the concrete floor. I continued to decorate for the seasons. There were heavily adorned Christmas trees to grace the front window and a full house of our family from near and far who stayed with us to enjoy the season. We hosted New Year's Eve celebrations with dance parties in the living room. We celebrated Valentine's Day with family and friends with tables covered with lace and set with vases of tulips. The Easter bunny came and went. Barbecue season rolled around. The fire pit got a lot of action. We did the things we wanted to do and our friends and family joined in the fun.

   While I dreamt of a suburban shabby chic palace, my husband dreamed of creating an oasis in the barren scape of the gravel yard. Sometimes I spied him at the kitchen table with his eyes directed to the yard, a far away expression on his face, and I knew he was painting a picture in his mind of a fully landscaped, functional space for relaxing and entertaining. A gorgeous, green, manicured respite from the world featuring mature trees, a gurgling fountain, a dramatic fireplace and an extended patio softly illuminated with strung lights swaying gently in a soft breeze. I know this because he often draws master plans that look like pages torn from a football play book. He verbally translates the written x's, o's, and arrows that are the markings for trees and shrubs and points of architectural interest.
  The yard waited while I finished the painting. After the painting was finally completed, we embarked upon staining the concrete floors in the kitchen and living room areas. Hindsight is 20/20 and I wish we had subbed this work to a professional. The extended physical labor and repetitive motions of mopping the floors during the staining and cleaning resulted in a rotator cuff injury. When I asked the doctor how long it would take my shoulder to heal, he said that it would hurt for a very long time. So long, in fact, that one day I would wake up and realize that my shoulder did not hurt anymore. He was right. My shoulder did in fact hurt for so long that I was not aware when the pain had stopped. I know the pain continued for at least a year, although I was only seriously debilitated for a month or so. Thankfully I did not need surgery. I just had to grit my teeth and bear it and use my arm.

   The house stayed a work in progress for many years until we were forced to complete the work. We finally buckled down and finished the tile and carpet when we put our house up for sale in 2009 when we were planning to move back to California. For all the years we have lived in our house, the backyard is the project that is continually pushed aside. The decision making process usually goes something like this: do we want to get braces for our daughter this year or landscape the back yard? Braces it is. Shall we go on vacation this year or landscape the back yard? Ummm, vacation, please. Everything always seems to take priority over the yard.
   In preparation for placing the house on the market to sell, we planted ten trees in the backyard and some bougainvillea. The caliche soil in Arizona is so stubborn that we had to rent a jack hammer to assist with "digging" the holes for the trees. Crazy! In addition to the planted trees there were also numerous potted fruit trees placed throughout the yard and smaller groupings of herbs and succulents in various shapes and sizes. We did just enough to make the realtor happy. When we took our house off the market in 2010 and decided to stay in Tucson, it was nice to enjoy the fruits of our labors. We like our brightly hued walls, the finished floors, and our partially landscaped yard.

Apricot Mallow is a drought resistant plant that is gorgeous and requires little water.

   On a late Saturday afternoon, Jay and I often celebrate happy hour by sitting on retro-style metal chairs that are situated under the eucalyptus trees that provide ample shade. Our conversations often turn to the yard. We debate where to plant more trees and whether we should still pour a meandering concrete walking path that will run the perimeter of the yard. We'd like the dirt area between the concrete path and the wall to be planted beds with creeping ground-cover and flowering shrubs. We discuss the materials we could choose to build the outdoor fireplace and living room area. And, what about a pizza oven? It still sounds great even though we've been eating Paleo as of late. There are so many options to consider and so much money needed to create such an inviting space.

This is the seat of a mosiac bench that was installed in the Tucson Botanical Garden
as a tribute for a family's loved one that passed away. 
   While our landscape plans are still in flux, we enjoy finding inspiration in Tucson's various public gardens. Our favorite places to visit time and again are the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Tohono-Chul Park and the Tucson Botanical Gardens. All three parks do a wonderful job of providing identification of the plants and trees planted throughout the landscapes. While we wander, Jay and I record plant names in notebooks and capture photos with our iPhones to record our preferences. We always say this is the year we will finish the yard and once again spring is well underway and we are still dreaming the dream.

   As a couple what Jay and I know "for sure" is that we don't want to live in this house forever. We will be empty nesters in the fall after our daughter leaves home to attend college. We may downsize. I fantasize about less upkeep and definitely less time cleaning. A single-story home sounds great—no climbing up and down the stairs a hundred times a day. I am no longer naïve about the consequences of both time and money associated with the do-it-yourself home improvement movement. I do not desire weekends filled with home renovation projects. I'd rather spend my time on photography or writing or working on a new recipe in the kitchen. Or sitting in the lovely garden of my next home that the previous owners spent their time, money and effort to create. No one will be able to say that I am not grateful. Oh, I will be—I promise.

Cold Brewed Mint Iced Tea

   I do not drink iced tea on a regular basis. Every so often though, a very cold sun tea served over ice on a hot day, hits the spot. My parents consistently made sun tea in the summer and I had a friend who always kept a pitcher of Paradise Tropical Iced Tea in her refrigerator. I gladly accepted accepted glasses of super cold iced tea when offered, but I never felt compelled to make sun tea at home.
   I became interested in preparing iced tea when I had a particularly refreshing glass of mint flavored iced tea at Café Botanica located inside the Tucson Botanical Gardens. My husband and I thoroughly enjoyed our main course salads for a late afternoon lunch, but it was the mint tea that my mind kept returning to time and again in the days following our visit. I really didn't want to mess around with making sun tea so I was quite happy to stumble upon a blog post at Serious Eats that claims that the best tea is not sun tea, but is instead cold brewed in the refrigerator. After reading the blog post, I decided to convert a mint tea recipe from Mourad New Moroccan from a hot preparation to a cold brewed iced tea. I'm happy I did.

8 cups cold, filtered water
8 tea bags Numi Organic Gunpowder Green Tea
1 large bunch, 1-3/4 ounces/49 grams, peppermint or spearmint

Or, in a pinch, when fresh mint is not to be found:
8 cups cold, filtered water
5 tea bags Numi Organic Moroccan Mint

honey syrup, to taste
cubed or crushed ice

1. Fill a glass vessel with the cold water, add the mint, crushing the leaves to release the essential oils before dropping into the water. Add tea bags. Cover and place in the refrigerator for a minimum of 5 hours.
2. Squeeze the tea bags, releasing the tea into the container. Discard tea bags and mint. The tea is delicious unsweetened, but I do, on occasion like to add a little sweetness with honey syrup. In which case, I fill a glass three-quarters full with the tea, season to taste with the honey syrup, give the beverage a good stir with a spoon, and then fill to the brim with cubed or crushed ice.

I'd love to add a shrine to my backyard. One of these days...

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...