Tag Archives: Tucson

My Guide to Tucson

As fate would have it, the year that I moved away from Tucson also happens to be the year that my little sister is moving to Tucson. She’ll be a freshman at the University of Arizona, just like I was 8 years ago. My first impression of Tucson, created from the small frame of my dorm room window, was not as positive as the impression it left on my heart 8 years later. When I first moved there, Tucson seemed like a desolate dust bowl. What I knew of the city was limited by the fact that I had only a beach cruiser to get me from A to B. My world was mostly the UA campus, University Blvd., 4th Avenue, and the Safeway on Broadway and Campbell. Luckily, a few months in to my time there, I met some people who had lived there a little longer—some a couple of years, others their whole lives—and they helped me to broaden my perspective. Soon, Tucson became a vibrant and fascinating place with far more to do, see, eat, and explore than I ever imagined.

I don’t remember when it was that Tucson became home. I have no memory of the moment when the desert shifted from a foreign, martian landscape to the place where I belong. Finding a community of inspiring people probably had something to do with it. I do know, however, what places and activities helped win me over. In this blog post, I’ve featured several of the things that are dear to my heart. I created a much larger Beginner’s Guide to Tucson to help my little sister find her way in the Old Pueblo. It is by no means an exhaustive list of all that is wonderful in Tucson, and I know I forgot a lot of things. It is merely a snapshot of a multifaceted and complex place. For anyone visiting or moving to Tucson, I hope that you get out of your dorm, apartment, AirBnB, yurt, or hotel and see all that Tucson has to offer. Go East, North, West, and definitely—despite all the myths and fear mongering—definitely go South. Talk to people. Listen to their stories. Eat their food.

Without further ado, here are some of my favorite Tucson things in no particular order. I should disclose that I worked at Time Market for 3 years, and I was a yoga teacher at all three of the organizations in the yoga section. So it’s not like I’m biased or anything.

Eats

  • The Little One: go for the food, stay for the hugs
  • The Taco Shop: best burritos
  • Tucson Tamale Company
  • Kingfisher: tasty desserts
  • Time Market: everything here is delicious
  • Falora: best caprese salad
  • Sher-E-Punjab
  • Yamato: best sushi
  • Raging Sage: best scones for both breakfast and lunch

Time Market Patio

Time Market’s patio in bloom

Drinks

  • Side Car
  • La Cocina
  • Downtown Kitchen and Cocktails
  • Crooked Tooth Brewing Co.
  • Tucson Hop Shop

An afternoon at Crooked Tooth 

Sweets

  • The Screamery: get a flight!
  • Monsoon Chocolate

Yoga

  • YogaOasis
  • Grounded Wellness
  • All Bodies Rise Yoga: various locations, check out the website for the schedule

yoga oasis 3

Outside YogaOasis Central

Things to Do

  • Go to the Zoo
  • Visit Mount Lemmon
  • Wander around Barrio Viejo
  • Watch (or participate!) in the All Souls Procession
  • Take a day trip to Madera Canyon
  • Support local vendors at the Heirloom Farmers’ Market in Rillito Park
  • Visit the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

madera canyon

Hiking in Madera Canyon

This is just a taste of Tucson! For more, download my Tucson guide here.

Enjoy!

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7 Things I Already Miss About Tucson

Here we are in St. Louis. Each day is a cocktail of compromises, celebrations, questions, resolutions, laughter, and tears—some happy and some not. Moving is exhausting. Despite the fact that we are making time to explore our little corner of this new-to-us city, I find myself missing the home we left. Here are seven things I miss about Tucson that are leaving my heart a little sore:

1. Murals, Murals, Everywhere

In the past few years, Tucson has seen a noticeable increase in the number of murals embellishing its streets, alley ways, and empty lots. Each piece is distinctly Tucson, featuring regional imagery and bold colors. Daily commutes are thrilling because each holds the potential to discover a new work of art.mural-2-e1530617883593.jpgmural 1

2. The Yoga Community 

Tucson will forever be my personal yoga homeland, the first place I fell in love with this practice that now forms such a key aspect of my daily life and identity. Seeing as there is nearly a yoga studio every square mile, it is easy to discover yoga in Tucson and find a studio, style, or instructor that makes your heart sing. All of these studios serve an important role in fostering the city’s yoga community, which keeps growing in not only numbers but in diversity and accessibility.

3. Mexican Food on Every Corner

Although I am as white as can be, I grew up eating a lot of Mexican style food (thanks, Dad!). Hence, when someone asks me what my comfort food is, I think bean and cheese burritos. Moving to Tucson from Prescott when I started college only increased my love of Mexican food, and I found that there was far more to enjoy than I had been exposed to as a kid. Chicken mole, chile relleno, horchata, and raspados top the list. Tucson gives you plenty of options, from fast food chains like Nico’s and Los Betos, to fancier historic spots like El Charro, to unique cafés like Little Poca Cosa. Luckily, here in STL, our apartment is a short walk away from a local taco joint. Stay tuned for the review!

4. Cacti

Springtime in the desert is divine. It reveals that beneath all the brown, all the dust, and all the pokey things there is life—stunning, vibrant, breath-taking life—just waiting to bloom. My time in Tucson made me a passionate devotee of cacti, their strange shapes, their mosaic of blossoms, their fruit, and their sometimes-sharp-sometimes-fuzzy exteriors. I brought two small potted cacti to St. Louis with us. They are currently sitting on the windowsill in our kitchen, where I am hoping they get enough light and warmth to survive. I find myself gazing up at them wistfully each time I enter the kitchen.

5. Monsoon Season

These are the months that every Southern Arizonan lives for. During the early months of summer, the atmosphere warms and causes the jet stream to move northward. This allows moisture from the Gulf of Mexico and Sea of Cortez to fill the gap. The sun heats the moist air and creates thunderstorm clouds, which build throughout the day and usually burst in the late afternoon. The torrential downpour is the kind of natural phenomenon that makes a parched desert dweller drop everything and head to the porch because you can’t help but watch as streets become rivers and dry, dusty washes fill with violent waves. Once the storm has exhausted itself, the air is filled with the sweet smell of creosote and the sky is painted in rainbows.

after the rain

6. Mountains on the Horizon

One thing Arizona has going for it is its diverse and interesting geography. Mountains are always on the horizon, and in one trip up to the top of Tucson’s most famous peak, Mount Lemmon, you drive through about six different climate zones. Having grown up surrounded by mountain ranges, it is always jarring for me to be in a place where the horizon is flat, or worse, where I can’t see the horizon at all. I like to see the place where the sun and sky meet the earth. There’s a certain sense of rootedness that comes when I can look up and see the mountains in the distance, purple and faded, but there all the same. Looking at these giants, I am reminded of where the sun rises and falls; I know where I am.

7. That Sweet Feeling of Home 

Finally, the thing that is both the easiest and hardest to find. Each day I am unmeasurably grateful that I did not leave Tucson alone, that I made this journey with a person (and a cat) that I love. As I grow older, I realize more and more how complex the word “home” is. First and foremost, it is the people you surround yourself with, the friends and family that fill the halls of your heart. But it is also familiar routines and favorite spots, sights and sounds and smells that make you feel like you know a place. Things like going to Raging Sage and chatting with the same regulars that you see every Saturday. Things like knowing where to find a good loaf of bread to go with dinner (Oh how I miss you, Time Market!). Things like the predictable toll of bells in the West University Neighborhood. Things like not having to use your GPS to get anywhere because this is your city. Luckily, all of that can be recreated, rediscovered, relearned. But unlike coffee shops and bakeries, proximity to people you love is something that is less easily replaced. It takes considerable effort to nurture relationships, even those that are tried and true, as you get further and further away from your friends and family. And then there’s the work of nurturing your relationship with yourself, of finding home within. All of it takes time and energy. And all of it is worth it. fullsizeoutput_36a

 

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Becoming Ms. Martin: How and Why I became an English Teacher

Being an adult means eating dark chocolate with breakfast.

Or at least, that’s what it meant as I sat down to journal this morning between bites of oatmeal and sips of green tea. Like every morning, my last bite of oatmeal created a sense of loss on my taste buds, which prompted me, like every morning, to lick the bowl with desperation (another perk of adulthood, at least when you’re living alone). But this morning, not even that could banish my longing. And so I savored two pieces of Ghirardelli Twilight Delight and now I feel much better.

All this and much more has become commonplace in my life over the past two months. July brought many changes. I moved out of my condo that I shared with one of my dearest friends and moved into a small one-bedroom house that I share with me, myself, and my pet fish. I quit riding my bike to work and class and started driving my car. I left my job as a barista and found something more personally fulfilling: teaching. With my new job, I secured health and dental insurance, a salary, a contract, and 80 middle schoolers. I stopped flashing my student ID at Albertson’s on Saturdays to get the 10 percent discount. When the cashier commented on the pile of 99-cent notebooks I stacked atop the counter—”Back to school! Are you at the U?”—I replied, “Oh no, I’m a teacher. These are for my kids.”

My kids. I never thought I’d be watching over 80 6th-through-9th graders only two months after graduating from college. But now, I spend five days a week in the company of pre-and-mid-pubescents, loving them, hating them, and somewhere in there, teaching them, though I think I’m learning more from them than they are from me. For this political science major who once had her heart set on diplomacy and NGO work, this decision may seem tangential. Yet, when I saw the ad on Craigslist and sent in my résumé, I did so with something stronger than confidence. It was clairvoyance. I knew without knowing why that I was meant to do it. That becoming “Ms. Martin” was a critical juncture along my journey.

That doesn’t mean I acted purely from some greater calling within myself. Two things prompted me to begin scouring the internet for something new. One, I felt over-worked, bored, and unfulfilled at my former job. I could only make so many lattes and pour so many Dragoon IPAs before I started craving something more meaningful. Two, I needed more money. Not receiving a scholarship to pay for my yoga teacher training, as beneficial as it is to my personal growth, is also expensive. I was prepared to pay for the training, but it would drain my savings. So, I began the Craigslist comb, and soon enough, there it was: A charter school on the south side of Tucson was looking for a junior high English Language Arts teacher. A couple weeks later, that teacher was me.

My classroom bookshelf

The library I inherited in my classroom 


Now I go to bed at 10 each night and wake up at 5:45, giving me enough time to shower, eat, meditate, and feed my fish before zipping off to school. I leave the house with four bags—my purse, my lunch box, my bag of ungraded papers, and my bag of yoga clothes for after work. I pull into the parking lot around 7:40, sign in at the office, and grab my attendance sheet. First hour, 6th grade, starts at 8:30. Each class is an hour, and each hour is different. The 6th graders come in sleepy some days and rowdy the others. The 7th graders either want to talk all hour or work like angels. The 8th graders either can’t stop derailing the class or can’t stop asking questions. Out of the five classes that I teach, only 9th grade is consistent. There are only eight students in the class because most of their peers left the charter school to go to standard high schools. They are quiet and reserved, but we have a good time together. Because no time is wasted on discipline or classroom management in my 9th grade class, I allow us to stray. We take alternative paths through weekends and pop music and idioms, but I am always able to use our digressions as fuel for discussion. I’ve learned that learning is most engaging when it resembles real life. And for my students, real life is rich and dramatic and tumultuous, full of change and discovery and loss. For some of my students, real life is like a horror story from the streets of Tijuana.

Teaching where I do has proven a remarkably humbling and eye-opening experience.  Many of my students are from Mexican families who have been divided along the Borderlands. Some have been torn from their parents to live with tías and tíos on the American side of the border. Some have lost their fathers to bloodshed in Mexican streets, American streets, Tucson streets. Others have never met their baby brothers because the toddlers could not survive the journey to the U.S.. Others return to Mexico frequently, missing days of school at a time. Their lives look nothing like those of the characters I fell in love with as a kid. And as a white middle class woman, there is little I can draw from to help me comprehend the totality of their experiences, each with their own moments of sorrow, struggle, and success. All I have is Arizona pulsing through my veins and Humanity drumming in my heart. I know the tingle of tamarind on my tongue and the singe of the sun on my skin. I know the crunch of corn tortilla chips and the smell of carne asada in the kitchen. I know the ache of losing a grandmother. I know the weariness of being far from home. I will never claim to know what my students endure, but I hope to gain insight into what they overcome. As their teacher, I hope to help them turn all they have lived into fuel so that they may combine that fuel with knowledge and, like a fire, feed their own self-actualization.

I realized at some point in college that that is what I’m passionate about: helping others, particularly youth, access and use the opportunities available to them to give them agency, to self-actualize. I know I am only one young, completely inexperienced teacher in one, small school on Tucson’s south side, but I also know that on our best days, my students and I create something powerful together. We create a ripple somewhere in the universe by learning with and teaching one another, and that ripple joins with another and yet another until, one day, the universe is hit by a hurricane, and a disadvantaged, immigrant youth defies all the odds and not only passes the AIMS test, but goes to college.

That’s why I responded to that Craigslist ad two months ago. That’s why I want to teach yoga. That’s why I don’t want to work in the State Department or UNESCO.  Because, for me, a classroom of kids finding empowerment in the words of Sandra Cisneros and a studio of yogis singing om to the sound of their unified hearts are where the tremors start. These places and these moments are the axes of change, where the Earth splits and the plates shift and the world is reincarnated—not always better, but undoubtedly different.

 

 

 

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Let’s talk about yoga (finally)

Although this blog has featured many a subject, from where I’m traveling to what I’m eating to what I’m feeling, it has never seen a single post on yoga. Yoga: an activity I do, on average, at least four times a week. Yoga: a practice that has grounded me and empowered me through the most trying years of my life. Yoga: a philosophy, a life style, a devotion that has captured my heart and emboldened my spirit. I dedicate a large portion of my life to the practice, and yet, I’ve never been able to write about it. Perhaps the task of writing about something so intricate and so vast intimidated me. Perhaps I feared that if I shared the details of my practice with readers it would lose its intimacy. It would no longer be my practice. I realize now that those fears were unfounded. Writing about yoga and sharing my questions, insights, and processes surrounding it is part of the practice, too. Even so, had I attempted to pour my thoughts onto the page the way I pour sweat onto the mat, I would not have been capable. I wouldn’t have been ready.

Now, I know that the lessons I’ve learned and the work I’ve done throughout several years of practice have been in preparation for this—for creating a new union, a new yoga, between my practice and my writing. What brings me to the page to write about yoga now is something that will take me to my mat later—

In August, I’ll be starting a yoga teacher training program here in Tucson, and I had applied for a scholarship to help me pay for it. The application process was emotionally and creatively challenging, requiring much self-reflection and soul-searching. By the time I completed my essays, I felt I had bled onto the page and bared my heart, raw, red, and throbbing. But I also felt empowered, for responding to the prompts had helped me articulate and understand my own motivation for doing the teacher training, and even more importantly, for practicing yoga at all.

When I turned in my application, I knew that doing the teacher training was the right path, the only path, I could take in this place and time. Still, this choice had been marred by my own self-doubt surrounding my drastic change in careers. I had spent three years studying and working my ass off so that I could be a diplomat or a foreign correspondent or a prestigious something or other, and here I was, after all that turmoil, choosing to become a yoga teacher? Blah blah blah. It was a big deal for me. It was daunting, and I had the idea that if I received this scholarship, it would be a sign that the universe affirmed and condoned my decision. Getting this scholarship would be my validation.

In the following weeks, I would send a prayer to the universe every time a thought of the training or the scholarship came to mind. I would shoot affirmations up into the cosmos: “I got the scholarship. I deserve the scholarship. I got it, I got it, I got it.” And yet, it was not my prayers or affirmations that confirmed in my heart that I am heading in the right direction. It was—big surprise—the practice itself.

It happened unexpectedly, in a Bikram inspired hot yoga class that I had gone to on a whim. We’d hiked the room’s temperature to a steamy 106ºF, and I’d just done something I’ve never been bold enough to do in any yoga class before: take off my shirt. It was hotter in the room than it was outside, and sweat was dripping into my eyes, so I simply had no choice. I needed to let my skin breathe, and I needed something to wipe the sweat from my brow. The shirt had to come off.

After a particularly intense standing sequence, the instructor has us rest for a moment to return to our breath. I lay there on my mat, a human swamp, breathing heavily, heart beating like a war drum, and listened to the teacher. He was talking about hormones. “You know,” he said, “when the body reaches this temperature, it releases the same hormone that is released during sex.” I don’t know why, but this line filled me with joy. When I practice, I am making love, I thought, and the divine universal Spirit is my partner. I started to cry. As we pushed up and back into downward dog, tears of happiness mixed with drops of sweat. I was overwhelmed by the exhilarating, life-affirming feeling that I was exactly where I was supposed to be. On my mat. In a sweltering studio. Making love with yoga.

Bliss. Sweet, sweaty, burning bliss.

Tree Pose at Windy Point

Photo by Abby Cochran, Windy Point, Tucson, AZ

***

Last night, less that a week after this experience, I received an email that said I did not receive the scholarship for the teacher training. Thirteen people had applied, and only one scholarship was available. The studio did offer the remaining 12 of us a large discount on our training, though, and I gratefully accepted. Still, the news filled me with sadness. If this is supposed to be a sign from the universe, is this an indication that I am making a mistake? The obvious answer is no.

My validation for choosing this path cannot, and does not, come from any external judge or standard. That affirmation can only come from within, from my own heart and my own practice. I may not have gained the approval of an unknown scholarship donor, but that is completely irrelevant. I know I am meant to do this, and yoga helped me learn that. Yoga, with all of its challenge, sweat, discomfort, and power, taught me that the only source of validation that truly matters is that which comes from within. I am my only source of self-love and self-actualization. And I am exactly who, what, and where I need to be.

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The Sun Project: Epilogue

As I handed over my completed Sun Project to my professor on November 1, I felt a confused combination of pride, sadness and relief. After eight weeks of observing the sunrise and sunset, I was, on the one hand, extremely grateful for the experience. On the other hand, I was totally over it. Waking up early on days when all I wanted to do was sleep in had grown annoying, and the later-rising and earlier-setting sun had begun to interrupt other activities. On the day of my last observation, melodramatic me was celebrating— “Yes! I’ve finally got my life back!”

the last sunset!

“Yes! I’ve finally got my life back!”

And yet, I felt a certain regret as I realized that this would probably be the last time a professor asked me to perch myself in front of the horizon and become deeply aware of the sun, the Earth, and the natural cycle of day and night. The next time I would do so would have to be of my own volition. Luckily, my professor had given me eight weeks of intensive practice and study so that next time I found myself before the sunrise or sunset, I would know what to do—that is, marvel at the majesty of nature, the beauty of the sun-painted sky, and the miracle of life, all while appreciating the science behind it. If there is one thing I learned from this project, it is that nature and science are not opposed. The natural world is one of scientific processes, patterns, and (im)perfections. Science is the quest to understand this natural clockwork, to discover the magician’s secrets. Both are beautiful.

Thankfully, I didn’t grow too tired of observing the sun, because not long after the end of the Sun Project, I was at it again. Last weekend, my sister came to visit me in Tucson, so she, my roommate and I decided to take some hot chocolate up to Windy Point and watch the sunset. Driving up Mt. Lemmon, I had been worried that the cloud cover would be too thick to see a good one, but once we got out of the car and started heading toward the mountainside, my worries were gone. The clouds would be what made this particular sunset so breathtaking.

before the sunset

Clamoring up the jagged boulders to our chosen observation spot, I felt a familiar contentment washing over my body and mind. It was the same wave of calm that had come over me during the Sun Project as I watched the sun dip below the mountain tops week after week—the silence of the closing day, the stillness of the resting world, the gradual deceleration of life’s momentum.

As the sun sunk lower, the sky transformed into a glowing swirl of gold, pink and orange. The ever-changing canvas was like nothing I’d ever seen before, and would never see again. Like every individual, every breath, every embrace, no sunset is the same. Its existence is finite and ephemeral, offering itself to the world for only minutes before subsiding, forever, into darkness. That is perhaps what makes a sunset so precious—it cannot be repeated or copied, traced in a stencil or captured, precisely how it was, in a photograph. Its life is fleeting, yet its light, so extraordinary in all its luster, makes life on this world that much richer.

Sunset

Not unlike your own.

Namaste,

Savannah

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