Category Archives: Places

Mission San Xavier – a love story for the ages


Better late than never?

Two weekends ago I was in Tucson, Arizona. As I read reports of 120 degree flight-cancelling weather in Arizona this week, I was SO GRATEFUL that it was a mere 104 degrees when my college friends and I were there.

We were up from sunrise to sundown…


One early morning, we drove to Mission San Xavier del Bac, also known as the White Dove of the Desert. Situated on the Tohono O’odham Reservation, this Spanish Colonial building rises up like a miraculous white apparition in the middle of the desert.


IMG_3700.jpgThe Mission was founded in 1692 by Father Eusebio Kino, a Catholic missionary of Italian descent, but the original mission was destroyed in an Apache raid. Eventually, Spanish Franciscans took over the Mission and the present building was built in its place between 1783 and 1797. Today it is an active parish that is still run by Franciscans and continues to serve the Tohono O’odham tribe for and by whom it was originally built.

It is a constant battle and labor of love to maintain the Mission, which is buffeted by a harsh and punishing climate. A film playing on endless loop in a side room at the Mission documents the latest major renovation that happened over five or six years in the 90s, when it was discovered that the cement used to stucco over the exterior was absorbing and trapping water. All of the cement had to be picked away and replaced. The conservators consulted with artisans in Mexico who taught them how to make the more breathable stucco that had originally coated the church. I was fascinated to learn that the recipe calls for just sand, lime, and the juice of prickly pear cactus! The emergency repairs to the exterior were just the beginning…

Tim Lewis was a young man from the Tohono O’odham Reservation who was drifting from job to job, doing drugs, and drinking too much when a call was put out for apprentices to begin work on a major interior restoration. Like many a father of wayward sons, his dad urged him to go out and get a job. Lewis showed up at the Mission without a resume and without any guile:

I told them I couldn’t paint, I had no art background at all and I didn’t even like art in school…I told them I hated school and I didn’t know why I was there, and I wasn’t even qualified for this at all. (Tim Lewis is quoted in Cindy Somers’ “San Xavier Restoration” article in Tucson Citizen)

In what I think can only be ascribed to some sort of divine miracle – he was hired.

Lewis says that working on the Mission saved his life. He got clean and sober. He gained a sense of purpose to his life. Eventually, the Mission led him to love. He was sent to Europe to learn from professional conservators. On his first day in Salzburg, he met Matilde Rubio, a conservator from Spain. With obvious love in his voice and a small smile playing on an otherwise impassive face he says, “If I hadn’t met you, I wouldn’t have ever married anyone.” Rubio moved to Lewis’ village where they married and together they rejoined the crew working on the Mission. The two now travel together and work side by side on restoration projects around the world




Saint Kateri Tekakwitha (1656-1680), the first Native American saint in the Roman Catholic Church.

The art of conservation is as an act of devotion. The conservator must never assert his or her own artistry, but rather must try to understand and recreate the original artist’s vision. This guiding principle necessitates the renunciation of ego and painstaking labor. To restore peeling frescoes, for example, a dot of adhesive was painstakingly applied by syringe behind each tiny flake of paint, until it absorbed the glue and relaxed back into the wall. The story of humans fighting against the elements and the march of time to protect and maintain a thing of beauty strikes me as a love story for the ages.

Friday in Arizona


I had never been to Arizona and was surprised by how different it was. I may as well have been in a different country…


The middle school my kids have gone to looks nothing like this one!

Or maybe even a different planet with alien life forms…IMG_3596IMG_3599

I’m so disappointed I didn’t get a picture of the two scorpions who terrorized us in our airbnb house.


On Friday morning we went to the Tohono Chul Park Botanical Garden & Galleries at the foot of the Santa Catalina mountains.IMG_3558IMG_3555The gardens were filled with cactus and wildlife…

IMG_3561Here’s a fun fact! Those iconic saguaro cactus can live for hundreds of years. They don’t grow their first arms until they reach about 70 years old. We saw birds feasting on ruby wreaths of fruit that crowned the tops of some of them. Birds nested in holes in the sides of the cactus.

Others just plopped their nests right on top of the prickly spines:

IMG_3571…which just goes to show you that you can find a home in the unlikeliest of places.


Southwest Coral Bean


Jimson Weed




Two rare desert flowers.


Desert Willow

The garden was humming and buzzing and rustling with all kinds of wildlife, from jackrabbits to…


Let’s play “Spot the Critter”:

IMG_3562IMG_3586IMG_3595.jpgIMG_3602We cooled ourselves off in the bistro with Arnold Palmers mixed with pink prickly pear lemonade…


In the afternoon we headed to the DeGrazia Gallery in the Sun. Ettore (Ted) DeGrazia (1909-1982) was an American artist who is probably best known for his paintings of Native American children. To be honest I didn’t love his art, but I was impressed by the Gallery in the Sun, built so his paintings would have a place where they would “feel good inside.” A self-taught architect, DeGrazia designed and built a whole complex of adobe structures in the 1950s with the help of Yaqui and Tohono O’odham friends. Other than the gallery, the complex includes his own house and the Mission in the Sun –  a chapel which was unfortunately closed to visitors because of a very recent fire. The complex is now on the National Register of Historic Places.



In one area of the gallery, DeGrazia used slices of cactus embedded in concrete as flooring.

IMG_0090The cactus courtyard was filled with an unearthly, metallic thrumming.


Weekend Snapshots 48, or: Amor vincit omnia



Twenty years ago, I woke up early in the morning and crawled into bed with my mother. I was going to be married later that day in an outdoor ceremony and I had been fretting all week over the iffy-looking weather forecast. We flipped back and forth from one TV channel to another to compare the different local weather reports, which were all  slightly different. My mother humored me by agreeing that the most believable forecast was the one with the most favorable prediction.

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Even if it did rain, my mother reassured me, it would mean good luck for our marriage. She soothed me by repeating: “Showers of blessings” like a mantra. It eventually did rain that day, though not until we moved indoors after the ceremony.

Our twentieth anniversary was on Wednesday, but my husband and I decided to celebrate the occasion on Friday. Leading up to the day, we were both privately scrambling to figure out a way to mark such a momentous milestone. In desperation I turned to my 11 year old daughter for advice:

“What do you think I should get Dad for our twentieth anniversary?”

She didn’t have an answer for me, but she laughed out loud and said, “Daddy asked me the very same thing!”

My husband finally took matters into his own hands and announced that he was going to pick me up from work and whisk me off to a secret destination. On Friday, the weather was not just iffy – it was downright dismal. The rain was coming down in sheets. My husband kept sighing and saying, “Too bad the weather’s going to be so awful for our rugged hike in the mountains…”


The last time I got dragged up a mountain…

We drove through the rain for a little more than an hour, past the neighborhood where we bought our first house together, through little hamlets, and past fields of cows and horses. The whole way there, he kept tutting about how our picnic on the mountainside would be ruined, while I gave him serious side eye and badgered him to tell me where we were really going.

The secret was finally revealed when we pulled into Washington, Virginia and to the Inn at Little Washington. We were first ushered to a beautiful foyer with a crackling fire…

IMG_9769and then to “Anniversary Row.”


Everybody sitting to the left and right of us was celebrating an anniversary. The waiter asked each couple how many years they had been married, and as we overheard the answers from the other tables, we were very proud to have been married the longest! IMG_9784

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From the violin recital…


…to the soccer field:


We went to a party later that evening. Our hosts had devised an ingenious adult scavenger hunt with stops along the way for wine and sake tastings complete with paired hors d’oeuvres.  As we hiked through the woods and up to the top of the mountainside to find the grand prize, I remarked to my husband: “We’re having our anniversary hike, after all!”:


The Grand Prize


Our last day of choir:


This boy’s Confirmation:

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Mother’s Day Photo Op…FullSizeRender 15FullSizeRender 13FullSizeRender 7IMG_9834

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She ain’t heavy, she’s my sister…


Purple Passion afternoon tea break with my buddy…

I rejoined my family for dinner and then got dropped off at another friend’s to head to the Downtown Mall…

You may have seen the news about a group of torch-bearing, knuckle-dragging Neo-Nazis who marched in Lee Park in Charlottesville on Saturday. On Sunday night, a much larger group of people gathered at the park and vowed to love and protect each other.

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This is the Charlottesville I know and love.

Some days the rain will fall. Some days a band of retrograde half-wit Nazis will try to spew their hatred in your beautiful little town. In the end, love conquers all and showers us with blessings. That’s the forecast I want to believe.

San Antonio’s Central Library


WOW – this library! It’s a Mexican Modernist marvel.IMG_8695IMG_8680.jpgIMG_8690

Sneak peek at the Chihuly sculpture Fiesta Tower from the escalator…angles, angles, angles…IMG_8689

Then KAPOW! with the 20’8″ sculpture exploding up through the atrium.IMG_3083

The library has the books and public computers you’d expect at most libraries, but there are also: an art gallery, a Children’s Low-Vision Reading Room with Braille and audio books, and the “Book Cellar,” a fantastic used book store in the basement.

It takes a lot to maintain such an amazing library…



Postcards from San Antonio


The lovely, meandering River Walk is the heart of San Antonio…

IMG_3066IMG_3028It’s even prettier at night than it is at daytime. I loved hearing the mockingbirds singing in the trees all night long.IMG_8620

On our first evening in San Antonio we had dinner at Boudro’s on the River Walk. The only thing I can remember about that meal was the guacamole, which was transcendent. Fortunately for the world, they post their recipe here!

We witnessed a few weddings happening at this spot…IMG_8648


A glass mosaic mural by Carlos Merida Confluence of Civilizations at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center

There are sculptures dotting the courtyard of the Mexican Cultural Institute, which is on the grounds of the convention center…


We strolled around La Villita Historic Arts Village, located right off the River Walk…


It was a long afternoon…


I am now obsessed with the concept of a jellyfish chandelier. They are kind of hard to see through the window…


…but check these out! Or how about these?

We didn’t forget the Alamo…IMG_8674

and San Fernando Cathedral, the oldest standing church in Texas, where Davy Crockett, William Travis, and James Bowie are laid to rest:


South Main Plaza where the Cathedral is situated has a European feel to it. We weren’t able to make it, but at night a light show is projected onto the façade.IMG_3033IMG_3043

The Spanish Governor’s PalaceIMG_3053

Tchotchkes galore at Market Square…IMG_3055

A little bull rider…IMG_3057

Pint-size cowboy boots!IMG_3059IMG_3087

We waited for over an hour to be seated for dinner at places like Boudro’s, Zinc, and Rosario’s. On our last night in San Antonio, we had our one non-Mexican/Tex-Mex dinner here…IMG_8758

Hot Joy is a buzzy restaurant that has been written up in Bon Appétit as a “Top 10 New Restaurants in America.” It’s got a casual, colorful vibe and interesting Asian fusion dishes. It was probably way too cool for the likes of me, which is why we showed up at 5 pm and were seated with no wait!

Our hotel was right next door to the Briscoe Western Art Museum which opens late (and for free) on Tuesday nights. After our early dinner we strolled through the museum…IMG_8777IMG_8763


Reverence 2012, George Hallmark (b. 1949)

The one place on my list that I didn’t get to, which will be my first stop if I ever go back to San Antonio, is the Japanese Tea Garden at the San Antonio Botanical Garden…

My favorite place in San Antonio, besides the River Walk in general, was the Central Public Library. I’ll post photos of this eye-popping building tomorrow!

Weekend Snapshots 44



I took the day off work so that I could spend it with my kids who had the day off from school. After a long and arduous quarter, and a week that felt like a hurricane on the heels of a tornado followed by an avalanche…it felt soooooooooo good to have a day of rest.

I took the kids to lunch at The Bebedero, a newish Mexican restaurant in Charlottesville…



The friendly bartender explained that the service can be slow sometimes…


So tired, but so happy.


“Where’s the food?”


Mmmmmm…delicious nachos.


Camarones Ensalada Frio

We strolled along the Downtown Mall…



“So that‘s how they change those letters!”

We had dessert at The Flat Takeaway Crêperie:


We can highly recommend the Chocolate Chip Cookie Crêpe!

That evening my friend and I returned to the Downtown Mall to take our daughters to the Paramount to see their beloved violin teacher perform with the Waynesboro Symphony Orchestra:



We spent the morning getting ready for my son’s Halloween party…

img_7232The day was punctuated by soccer games…My husband took our oldest son to his game in Lynchburg; I took our daughter to her game at Booster Park in Orange County. The park also happens to be adjacent to an airport and a skydiving outfit. I tried to pay attention to the game, but every thirty minutes people would fall out of the sky:



Oh sure, that’s not at all distracting!

We rushed home to finish getting ready for the party:



Ghosts in the Graveyard – a nostalgic favorite!


Apple cider with a vanilla flavored bone and a gummy eyeball.

After dinner the kids took their flashlights and went outside to hunt for Halloween candy and to have an epic game of flashlight tag. They came in sweaty and red-faced and ready to watch their scary movie…


Popcorn and candy corn fingernails.


Vampire blood: Hawaiian Punch, cranberry ginger ale, grenadine, and a dollop of vanilla ice cream. Oh, and the blood of a vampire, obviously – (Preferably O positive for the best results).


Thank you, Pinterest!


Church! Choir! And Marie-Bette Café & Bakery in between!


Trying to behave like this, when…


…you really feel like this.


Ebony and Ivory


I’m shriiiiiiiiiiiinking!


Happy Halloween!

Weekend Snapshots 41



We set our alarms for 5 am. My oldest and youngest were playing in a soccer tournament this weekend in Lynchburg, which is about an hour and twenty minute drive from where we live. Getting up at the crack of dawn to drive to Lynchburg brought back a lot of memories. I used to teach Russian language and literature at what is now Randolph College, but back then was Randolph-Macon Woman’s College. I think I owe my life to audio-books, which kept me awake during the interminable drives back and forth. During the years I worked there, I had a constant eye twitch from fatigue that only went away when I stopped commuting. When I was pregnant with my first child, I would get so tired on the way back home, I would have to pull over at the Nelson County Wayside to have a fifteen minute cat nap before driving the rest of the way home…

My son’s first game was at 8 am, and he was supposed to be on the field by 7 am for warm up. Fortunately for their personal chauffeur and cheerleader, my children were playing at fields that were only a five minute drive away from each other.

We spotted this car on our way to dinner at the Depot Grille:


Another early start:

My daughter gave me a makeover while we were waiting for her brother’s game to start:

Both kids’ teams were knocked out, so they only played one game on Sunday. We went to lunch at the Liberty Korean Market and Restaurant, which is run by the parents of an alumna of the university where I now work:

My daughter declared their bulgogi the best she’d ever had!

After our huge Korean lunch, I found myself slipping into food coma on the way back home. Fortunately, the good old Nelson County Wayside was still there:

I closed my eyes for a few minutes to rest, with my son sitting in the passenger seat next to me. I thought about the last time I was here with him. Now he’s a strapping 6 foot 2 inch sixteen year old, but back then, he was just a little dream floating around inside me…