Tag Archives: Sonoran Desert

Welcome to The Hacienda

This is the story of how I ended up in my Hacienda, a 1960’s era block constructed rancher. A desperate fixer upper on two acres of neglected Sonoran Desert.

I have had several people ask me to talk about my house so today is the day.

I might think it was strange to imagine that anyone would be interested in my house were it not for the fact that I am somewhat addicted to the HGTV show House Hunters and am completely addicted to House Hunters International.

I love houses. I love to see where people live and how they decorate. When driving at night, I strain to peek in the dimly lit windows of stranger’s homes just to see what paint color they chose for their walls. And I know I am not the only one.

If I come to your home, I will never ask you for a tour (I think that is a little rude, probably because I am always terrified someone will ask me for a tour when I have clean laundry piled all over my bed and unclean laundry piled on the floor waiting to be washed and my bathroom mirror is splattered with toothpaste – which is pretty much always) but know that I am secretly dying inside with the hope that you will offer one.

Nope, it is not weird at all for me to share my home with you. I’m thankful you are interested. So come on in, pull up a chair, grab a cup of coffee and a I’ll tell you all about the Hacienda (as we lovingly call it).

The Hacienda

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If you have been reading my blog even for a short time, you are probably aware that I live in Arizona in the beautiful Sonoran Desert with my husband, three kids and a very sweet golden retriever mix named Gracie.

You may also know that we live on a little bit of land and I like to grow stuff. Oh, and I like to cook. And bake. And eat. And take pictures of the desert, the husband, the kids, the dog and the stuff I grow and cook and bake and eat.

What you may not know is that I also like to renovate, decorate and push my husband to the limit of his sanity with my crazy ideas and projects; “honey, I’ve been thinking, what if we …”

I love to have a project. I need to have a project.

Which is precisely how, just about three years ago now, we ended up moving from a nearly new, neat and tidy suburban home in a nearly new, neat and tidy suburban neighborhood to The Hacienda.

Our nearly new, neat and tidy house was finished. It was decorated, landscaped and required little more that a bit of general household maintenance and a weekly mowing of the teeny tiny sliver of a backyard.

It was only a few years old. It was done. It was pretty low maintenance.

Pffffft. Who wants that, right?

Probably most people but this is my story.

So one day, out of the blue, I said to my husband, as he sat comfortably watching golf in his easy chair, relaxing, lawn freshly mown, not project in sight; “you know that great area you’d really like to live in? Well, let’s sell this place, look for a fixer upper on some land and move up there. Whadda ya think?”

He thought I was crazy. He still thinks I’m crazy. I can be a little crazy.

But he also loves me and after the initial shock and a little bit of time to absorb and consider the thought, he could see that my idea was not entirely without merit. My ideas are never entirely without merit.

We would take a huge loss on our suburban house (we all know what happened to the housing market a few years back) but if we could weather it, the benefit would far outweigh the cost. It would take some sacrifice and a lot of hard work but isn’t that what life is all about? The greatest rewards ALWAYS come from sacrifice and hard work. They also come from listening to the whisper of the Holy Spirit, “I have something better for you, something good waiting for you. Ask me for wisdom and guidance. Follow where I lead.”

You must be wise. But sometimes you also need to be brave.

So we staged and listed our suburban two-story just to see what would happen. It sold in five days. FIVE DAYS! Oh.My.Heck. We are really moving!

What followed was a mixture of panic, drama, unsavory sneaky buyers, unpleasant sellers, unscrupulous Realtors (not ours, we love ya’ Patty Jo), headache, heartache, almost everything we own packed and stored in PODS (I now ♥ PODS by they way – they saved my life or at least my sanity), two-weeks in a tiny furnished vacation rental in between closings trying to keep my children from killing each other or breaking anything that wasn’t ours, a hemorrhaging bank account and a few visits from Monica.

Ahhh, Monica, she’s who I sometimes turn into with just the right combination of stress, exhaustion and low coping reserves; affectionately and appropriately named after the often neurotic, obsessive, controlling, over reactive character of Monica from the TV show friends. I’ve talked about her before in A Mary, A Martha or A Monica? . Yeah, it was that bad.

But it was worth it as we now have a beautiful sprawling Spanish Mission style home on 2.2 acres of breathtaking Sonoran desert. A fabulous home we call The Hacienda.

Sounds pretty great, doesn’t it?

Oh, that is spin, my friend.

It is beautiful, it is sprawling, the desert is breathtaking. All true.

But there is more to the story.

In truth, it is sort of Spanish Mission in style. It is actually more of a 1960’s interpretation of Spanish mission. Which is a little bit Spanish mission, a little bit mid-century modern, a little bit funky, a little bit outdated and a whole lot wonderful.

Okay, a lot outdated.

But it gets better! I haven’t told you everything.

In the frantic search for a place to live – did I tell you we sold our house in five days? – we looked at several houses. We had even been looking throughout the consideration phase of this process; but nothing was just right.

Then I found The Hacienda. I knew it was the one the moment I walked through the front door.

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When I told our Realtor it was the one, she thought I was crazy.

“This one? Really? Are you sure? It’s big and old and needs a lot of work!”

Undaunted, I called my husband and we put in an offer before he actually ever saw it.

Then our Realtor thought my husband was crazy.

He isn’t crazy though. He’s busy and he trusts me and he knows this is my thing. He knows that I would never choose something he wouldn’t approve of.

So we made the offer and then he saw it …

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“It’s big and old and a lot of work. This one? Really? Are you sure? And it’s PINK!”

It was indeed, pink. It may look tan in the pictures but I assure you, it was pink.

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He had just gone under contract on a big, sprawling, 60’s era pink rancher with a landscape that looked like a wasteland, a garage that his truck wouldn’t fit into and a mental project list that was growing by the second. But it was in the location he wanted.

This is just one of the many reasons I love him; he trusts my vision, even if he doesn’t always see it at first. He trusts me. He is not a push-over and I trust that when he is firmly against something it is probably for the best. I trust him. We are very different but we are complimentary and we are a team. And so far, that has worked out pretty well for us.

Fast forward three years.

No longer pink. We love the caramel/milk chocolate combo that it took me forever to pick out. Leave it to me to paint my house the color of dessert.

No longer pink. We love the caramel/milk chocolate combo that it took me forever to pick out. Leave it to me to paint my house the color of dessert.

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The Arizona version of the Brady Bunch’s Digs! Someday, the entry will have a walled courtyard with an iron entry gate. But for now the mid-century modern vibe is alive and well.

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Speaking of someday … someday, the flat roof of the garage and/or family room will be fitted with a railing and a spiral staircase, making it an observation deck which will offer some spectacular views of the city.

The Hacienda has been a tremendous amount of work and there is a lot of work that remains to be done. We have the craziest 1970’s disco master bathroom with a toilet I hate and a bidet I have no idea what to do with (sorry, you probably didn’t need to know that), septic not sewer, electric not gas, hours of yard work, trees that always need to be trimmed, miles and miles of house keeping, ugly power lines that I would LOVE for the city to bury, a broken fountain, creaky iron gates and a rusty old Chevy truck that we call Mater in the neighbor’s backyard.

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I’ll take “Mater” over a Home Owner’s Association any day!

But we also have some room to breathe. Our kids have room to run, build forts, ride bikes and be loud. We have a beautiful natural environment that we adore, a fantastic view of the city, the best school and teachers a parent or a kid could hope for and we have a home that is uniquely us.

We have taken something that was neglected and unwanted and made it something special. We have made it into a home. A home that we can see ourselves in for a long, long time. A home that we can see our children grow up in and eagerly come back to.

Most importantly, we have the peace and satisfaction of seeing our hard work – our teamworkevolve into something that we love and are so thankful for. Yes, my husband has come to love The Hacienda as much as I do.

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I knew he would. It’s my job to know.

We are so thankful for this home God has blessed us with. We will always seek His council and follow where He leads. And I am so happy, as crazy as it was, that He led us here.

So that is how we came to live in The Hacienda.

Thanks for reading and for indulging me. And, if you are still interested, tomorrow I will share a little more of my home with you.

How about the backyard? We’ll enjoy a little lemonade under the Palo Verde tree.

I promise, you can’t see Mater from there.

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Sharing Spring in the Sonoran Desert

Yesterday, we did our best the celebrate Cinco de Mayo or as my sweet friend who made a pinata out of a paper gift bag and hung it over her railing for her kids tagged it, #gringodemayo. She is one of the funniest people I know.

Sadly, I didn’t have a chance to make the blackberry margaritas I mentioned on Friday. Between it being a late evening for my husband on his National Guard “drill weekend” and an afternoon Cub Scout leaders meeting for me, it just didn’t happen. So we made do with chips and store-bought salsa, a glass of red wine and quick and easy soft tacos on whole wheat tortillas. #gringodemayo

Maybe next weekend I’ll get a Mother’s Day Blackberry Margarita?!

While it was a busy weekend, it was a beautiful spring weekend, moderate and breezy and so enjoyable. We are just on the verge of the summer heat and many of the spring blooms are beginning to fade. So, I think it is about time I share with you a little of the beauty of the Sonoran Desert as it comes to life with color each spring.

My camera and growing interest in photography have given me a new appreciation for just how fantastic this unique landscape is and how blessed I am to get to enjoy it everyday. If you think the desert is brown and desolate, take a look, you might just change your mind …

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Ocotillo-Blossom-2The Ocotillo is one of my favorite desert plants. I love the architecture of its long thin spines and the beauty of the orange tufts that appear at their tips each spring.

Palo-VerdePalo-Verde-in-Bloom-2Palo-Verde-in-BloomPalo-Verde-in-Bloom-3We are on 2.2 acres and have more Palo Verde trees than I can count. Well, I probably can count them I’ve just never actually had the inclination to do so. What I can tell you is that in the spring, our property is ablaze in the beautiful yellow blossoms that cover these gorgeous trees. Palo Verde means “green stick” which characterizes the deep green trunk and branches of the tree.

Staghorn-Cholla-Blossom-2Staghorn-Cholla-BlossomThe Staghorn Cholla produces some of the most beautiful blooms in the desert. I think they  look a bit like wild roses. I love the contrast of something so lovely and delicate coming from a plant that is so harsh and hostile.

Teddy-Bear-ChollaHostile? Very. Cholla are pretty vicious plants, particularly Teddy Bear Cholla like this one. An ironic name as this is not a cute and cuddly plant. The thousands of barbed spines give it an almost “fuzzy” appearance, hence the name “Teddy Bear” Cholla. They are also called “Jumping” Cholla as sections of the plant almost seem to jump at you as they get drier and lighter in order to be picked up in the wind and seed. They are beautiful but they are not a plant to be tangled with. Literally. Those spines are painful and we’ve had a few run-ins prompting us to remove many of them from the property. This one sits right over the eastern wall of the backyard where it doesn’t cause any trouble.

Prickly-Pear-in-BloomPrickly-Pear-in-Bloom-2Another cactus that we have in abundance is the Prickly Pear.

There are many varieties with different colors of blooms and pads. Soon the blossoms will be replaced with an edible Prickly Pear Fruit. I haven’t used the fruit yet but maybe this year, you’ll see a few “Prickly Pear” recipes here at Welcome Company. Sonoran-Desert-LandscapeWe have a little garden of this particular variety with its delicate yellow blossoms (which I think is the New Mexico prickly pear), right outside the front door.

Agave-1We trim and manage our own landscape which means several trips to the dump each year where they recycle the yard wast into mulch. On one of our dump runs, I rescued about 15 of these little aloe plants that had been thinned out and discarded (probably by the same landscapers that hurriedly mow down with hedge trimmers prune all of the neighborhood and commercial landscaping into unnatural geometric shapes leaving it looking like a horrible martian landscape – I’ll do my landscaping myself thank you). I guess bringing something home from the dump technically makes me a “picker” but I couldn’t just leave them there. They have recovered well and look great!JasmineOne of my favorite things about spring is the Jasmine that grows right outside the living room windows. Jasmine-2After dinner when we are sitting down watching some TV or reading, the heavenly scent of the jasmine blossoms floats in through the open windows and perfumes the evening.

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Red-YuccaThe blossoms of the Red Yucca are long-lasting and attract humming birds which we love to sit and watch from the back porch.

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But the delicate white bell-shaped blossoms of the Blue Yucca are short-lived. I wish they lasted longer but I look forward to their return each spring.

In fact, most of the blossoms I’ve shared with you don’t last much beyond the spring. Which is part of what makes spring so special.

Luckily, we are blessed to have many plants in our desert landscape that provide us with beautiful color throughout the year.

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When we moved out here nearly three years ago, the back yard was a wasteland and the landscape neglected and out of control. We have worked hard and it has been one of my greatest joys to care for it and watch it come to life.

I’ll share a little more of that journey with you this week.

One last thing …

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A few days ago, I was sitting at my desk working on a post and looked up, spotting this guy through the french door window. I raced for my camera, switched the lens and somehow managed to get these two shots of him. When I saw him through the door, I thought he was a hawk but he turned out to be a huge Turkey Vulture.

Pretty Incredible place we live in.

The Saguaros are just starting to sprout the beautifully unique flowers that will soon crown the tops of their bodies and arms. I can hardly wait to share those photos with you.

And keep checking in because one of these days I’ll get that hawk picture I’m after!

A Perfect Day in the Desert

Yesterday was just about perfect. Another welcome reminder of how blessed and fortunate I am to live in such a unique and inspiring place. I have come to love the Sonoran Desert and am always excited to share it with the friends and family who visit. Usery-1One of the best ways to enjoy all the desert has to offer is to get out there and experience it. Yesterday, I took my aunt and my sister on one of my very favorite hikes; camera in hand, hoping to capture the beauty of the desert in the Spring, just beginning to bloom, teeming with life.

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The Usery Mountains and Tonto National Forest are pretty much our backyard and no matter how many times I hike the same trails, there is always something new to discover.

Always something that takes my breath away.

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Always something interesting and unique.

The <PHOENIX sign on the mountain (our version of the HOLLYWOOD sign) was done by the Boy Scouts in the 1950s as a directional marker to the airport. Some people don’t like it but I think it is a little bit of interesting history and for us, always a  “welcome home”.

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Hike after hike, I am still in awe of the harsh and beautiful landscape that is home to us. The surprises I always discover when I slow down and take the time to take it all in.

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What is harsh and threatening to some is safety and home to another.

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Each Saguaro is unique and incredible. They amaze me.

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It really was a perfect day.

If you live here too, I hope you’ll get your camera and get outside. If you don’t, I hope you have the chance to visit and experience it for yourself sometime.

“When through the woods and forest glades I wander
And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees;
When I look down from lofty mountain grandeur
And hear the brook and feel the gentle breeze;
Then sings my soul, my Saviour God to Thee; How great Thou art!”

Spring has Sprung; well at Least it had Yesterday

I think, finally, I can say that it is officially Spring around here. Finally. It is a little cold and rainy again this morning but I am going to stick with the idea that it is indeed, Spring.

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I know, I know, if you are back east, in the midwest or up north, you don’t want to hear a southwestern girl complaining about the cold – especially today with yet another winter storm blowing in. I used to live with snowy long winters too but I have been in Arizona for a long time now and my blood has become very thin. VERY thin. I could never go back, I wouldn’t survive a real winter.

Even here, we have had an unusually cold winter with several nights of record below freezing temperatures – not fun for desert plants or desert gardeners. There were a few mornings of taking kids to school in 20 degree temps that I was sure I wasn’t going to make it. Heated seats are the only thing that saved me.

But it has been warming up and for about a month now, I have been crazy to get outside and get my hands in the dirt and on the pruners. We live on just over two acres of Sonoran Desert and I have fallen in love with cultivating this harsh but beautiful land. One day soon, I will tell you the story of how we ended up here but for now I will just share that we have put almost 3 years of blood, sweat and tears (literally – everything here has a thorn or a spike) into our spread. I know it is only two acres but there are days when it feels like 200.

Finally, with the warm weather and long weekend, we were able to spend four straight days working outside; which is also why it has been a few days since I posted. It was warm and sunny and wonderful. We  planted a couple of new citrus trees and did a lot of pruning, clean-up and fertilizing and started working on our outdoor kitchen. We still have a lot to do but I am happy to report that everything seems to be showing signs of life – everything except my beloved Hibiscus but I haven’t given up or lost hope yet.

Yes, it is spring and I have proof …

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The tall spiky branches of the Ocotillo are covered in green.

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The landscape plants are starting to bloom.

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The Lantana, which was hit hard, is starting to show signs of life and recovery.

Spring-2Soon there will be peaches,

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and mandarin oranges,

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and lemons,

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and figs,

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and tomatoes,

and Meyer lemons, navel oranges, limes, grapefruit and fresh herbs (the full vegetable garden is in the works for next year).

We have also had our first visitor …

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found happily sunning himself stretched out on the back patio. I have come to an understanding with his kind. As long as they don’t have a rattle or venom of any sort, stay outside – let me repeat that STAY OUTSIDE, don’t startle me, don’t end up in the pool either dead or requiring rescue, don’t hiss at or threaten me or camouflage themselves in such a way as to startle me when I don’t see them, we are able to live in harmony or at least in tolerance. The rest of my family thinks these gopher snakes (who are around 5′ long when fully grown) are cool, awesome and “soooo cute” as Nathan says. As for me, I am just happy they don’t have fangs and a rattle.

So, now that Spring is officially upon us, I will be outside, A LOT, happily playing in the dirt. I may be absent from the blogosphere a day or two, here or there, but I promise I will be back with more stories of the land, the house, the family, the food and the savior that I love.

Come back for a visit tomorrow – I have a confession to make.

Happy Spring!

So about 9 hours after posting this, I am feeling the need for a “Post-Publication Edit”  …

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Ariel view, taken today, of the ball fields where “spring” training starts next week.

Spring 13A view of the Loop 101 Freeway in Scottsdale, taken today.

In this part of Arizona, we do not get snow. Not ever. Okay, once in a million years and today.

I may be an optomist but it is a good thing I’m not a weatherman.