December 31, 2013

Raging Sage Coffee in Tucson

It took time and effort but we found a great little coffee shop here in Tucson. It's not an easy thing to do, as this city is designed around the automobile; there is little action in the downtown and few people walk, so finding a good coffee here relies on Google and trial and error.

Raging Sage is located along busy Campbell Avenue, not too far from the university. It has an inviting atmosphere, with inside and outside seating (under some orange trees no less). 

Raging Sage features its own small batch roastings, and it shows in the taste and quality of the coffee. The baristas know how to make a proper macchiato and their go-to preference is to put the coffee in a proper mug or cup, not in a paper cup.

Opened in 1998, the coffee shop is a family owned and operated business. The staff is friendly, helpful and so are the customers; there is a sense of community at Raging Sage and we overheard conversations about politics, religion and the environment. I'm guessing football comes up in discussion, but not this day. Absent too are phones and big screens. We've been here twice and will be back again.

Raging Sage Coffee Roasters on Urbanspoon

Photos by Jim Murray.
Copyright 2013.

No weapons allowed...

Arizona has some of the most "liberal" firearms laws in the entire Excited States:
  • No permit is required to purchase a weapon.
  • There are no restrictions or prohibitions on assault weapons.
  • No magazine capacity restrictions are in place.
  • Proof of ownership of a gun is not required.
  • In Arizona, any person over age 21 may legally carry a concealed firearm or deadly weapon without a permit. As well, the same such person may openly carry a firearm or deadly weapon, as in a holster on the hip, or stuffed into the front of his or her jeans I suppose.
Of course not all Arizona citizens agree with the gun laws, or the lack of gun laws in their state, and there are probably many people who never take their handguns out of the car's glove compartment, or from the dresser beside the bed. Still others probably don't even have guns.

A law has been passed in Arizona allowing people to display a "no weapons allowed" sign at the entrance to their business or institution. This will alert those with guns to perhaps find another restaurant, a different church, or maybe a new coffee shop. In fact, we have seen few of these signs, and what does that tell us I wonder.

Photos by Jim Murray. Copyright 2013.

December 29, 2013

Serenity Guest House in Tucson

Our home in Tucson is the Serenity Guest House. It is a small, comfortable bungalow near the Saguaro National Park; in fact, it is only minutes to the Park's entrance.

Most roads in this area are unpaved and subject to washouts during rains. The neighbourhood itself is known as The Notch, because a property of one square mile was notched out the north-west corner of Saguaro National Park. Most lots within The Notch are four or more acres in size (1.5 ha or more). It is a somewhat secluded, and because of the absence of street lights, amazingly dark at night.

We've seen a bobcat near the house, some coyotes and many birds, including hummingbirds. So far no sightings of snakes or javelinas (a collared peccary), though they are here. Somewhere.

Two Welsh Corgi pups live in the big house nearby, along with their owners, and our hosts, Claudia and Ken. They are all well socialised and love people as much as they love digging and chewing. That last bit might refer more to the dogs than to Claudia and Ken.

It's a wonderful sanctuary, close to town but away from the traffic and noise of the city. The sky is truly brilliant and the sound of the desert is a wonderful constant. I could get used to this place.

Photos by Jim Murray.
Copyright 2013.

December 28, 2013

Ben's Bells ~ Intentional Acts of Kindness

Downtown Tucson is not a thriving community. Much of the commerce one would expect to see in a central business district has left for malls outside the downtown core. Those malls seem to be everywhere, one after the other, replicating themselves again and again on the streets and avenues that lead to the suburbs. All of that is a shame, because downtown Tucson is not especially unattractive.

In a slightly more depressed part of the downtown of Tucson is a small storefront belonging to Ben's Bells. It offers a small studio and store, staffed by energetic young people.

Ben's Bells came about after a three year old named Ben fell ill on March 29, 2002. It seemed to be a cough and cold, but it was much worse and Ben passed away, all too suddenly and all too soon. His parents were devastated. They tried a variety of coping strategies and eventually designed and made bells in their backyard studio with friends. It was good to share a common goal, talk and reflect upon their grief.

Eventually they made hundreds of bells, and on the first anniversary of their little boy's death, they hung those hundreds of Ben's Bells randomly in Tucson, in trees, along bike paths and in parks, always with a handwritten note saying simply to take the bell home and pass on the kindness.

The effect on the community was amazing. People finding the bells had stories to tell of their own, about grief and healing and hope. Ultimately hundreds of people of all ages were crafting Ben's Bells. The story spread across America. It is a story told in the loving memory of one little boy. It symbolizes kindness and its power in healing, and in the sense of community created, both in making and giving the bells, and in finding them too.

Photos by Jim Murray.   Copyright 2013.

Arrival in the Excited State of Arizona

On Boxing Day we set off for the Excited States. First we had to clear US Customs for our flight to Arizona, and when the Homeland Security Officer asked me when was the last time I visited the land of the free, I answered "I don't know." That seemed to surprise him to no end, though it was an honest answer. It has been years since I ventured south of the 49th.

"You don't know when you were last in the United States? Just what exactly is the purpose of your visit?" It might have gone easier if I had answered in a one word answer, like say, "Shopping." That sounds Canadian, eh?

Arizona is one of those few places in the world where people can carry guns, openly and not so openly too. This is a state where there are few limitations on the ownership of weapons, including assault weapons. The 6.5 million who live in Arizona are proud to be independent and free.

In the 1860 census Arizona had a population of 6,482 of which 4,040 were defined as "Indian." There were 21 "free colored" people and the rest, 2421, were "white."  Times have changed. Today there are 6.5 million living in Arizona with 73% classed as white and only 4.6% from First Nations. Hispanics, of any racial group, make up 30% of the population.

So here we are, in the Excited State of Arizona. Guns, snakes and shopping malls everywhere. And wide open skies, desert, and a beauty beyond words.

Photos by Jim Murray.  Copyright 2013.

December 24, 2013

Acacia Fillo Bar & Cafe ~ Vancouver Coffee Shops Part 9

In the West End, along busy Denman, is a coffee shop and cafe with its origins in the highlands of Bulgaria. It is a small place and if you aren't careful you might miss it, and that would be a mistake. Located between Delany's Cafe and that wonderful culinary delight called Fatburger, is Acacia Fillo Bar and Cafe, and it's a neighbourhood gem.

Family owned and operated by Vera Eftovska-Ivanov and Ziggy Ivanov, this is an inviting place, with excellent service, good coffee and some interesting dishes from Bulgaria, including the fillo based concoctions called banitza and burek. The Ivanovs started Acacia in 2006, after the successful start up of Urban Catering five years earlier.

The orange juice is freshly squeezed by hand and well worth the price, as are most other things. Much of the cafe's appeal for me is the sense of community it offers; this is a place where people get to know each other, where regulars are greeted and appreciated.

Photos by Jim Murray.
Copyright 2013.

December 23, 2013

Festival of Lights ~ too many lights

The night before snow fell in Vancouver, we went to the Festival of Lights. Along with thousands of other people. It was cold, crisp, dry and crowded.

Every year, more and more are attracted to what seems to be becoming an increasingly commercialised event. Not that there's anything terribly wrong with that, though it isn't quite what I have in mind when I think of VanDusen Garden.

The lights are a spectacle and if a person can get away from the crowd, it can be quite breathtaking, though sometimes the brightest lights are reserved for the merchants of donuts, hot chocolate and more.

Hand warming devices are provided throughout the venue as this friendly visitor discovered. That would be the visitor on the left.

The spectacle that is the Festival of Lights has ventured into a tacky, tawdry kind of place. It doesn't reflect the peace and natural beauty the Garden offers throughout the rest of the year, the tranquillity that exists in simply spending time in quiet reflection. At this time of year, with crowds and noise everywhere, with the frantic hum of consumer spending imposed upon us at every turn, we could all use a little bit more of what the Garden really represents.

Photos by Jim Murray. Copyright 2013.

December 20, 2013

Let it snow... in Vancouver?

Almost one year ago to the day, we left Dawson City after three months in Yukon. The day we left it was colder than minus forty and there were snow crystals in the air.

Today, we awoke to snow, here in Vancouver. It happens once or twice a winter, creating chaos throughout the metro region, with traffic and confusion alike. Is this school open, or closed? Is the bus running on time ? Will my commute be one hour or two?

The rest of Canada laughs at us on the left coast. A few centimetres of snow and we don't know how to drive, or walk, or get anywhere. We have enough trouble in the rain, and you would think we would know how to do that...

Photos by Jim Murray
Copyright 2013

December 11, 2013

Just before... The Festival of Lights at VanDusen Gardens

It's an annual tradition in Vancouver: The Festival of Lights at VanDusen Gardens. What seems to involve millions of lights and just about as many visitors, the light show is a major winter attraction.

In the month leading up to opening day, this year on December 11, there is much activity within the grounds as the gardens take on a festive appearance. We missed last year's event, spending time on the Ninth Avenue Trail and in El Rosedal instead.

On the day of the Festival's opening, workers were finishing various displays, grooming the gardens and readying for the crowds. The rains will likely start soon enough, but for now it is dry with a touch of snow and the ponds are frozen over here and throughout the city.

I don't know what I make of the continued commercialisation of the Gardens and its special events, like the Festival of Lights. It seems harmless enough, but where does this hunger for revenue end?

As well, many of the Touch Wood sculptures that we enjoyed through the summer and autumn have been "decorated" with lights or uniforms. Doesn't this detract from the integrity of the art? Is it right to put a halo on a piece of art, or dress up another group as toy soldiers?

And what about this drilling rig in the middle of the pond? I know our provincial government has promised us trillions in receipts from LNG, but really, in VanDusen Gardens? What's next, a pipeline?

Still, there is something magical about this thing, and as we approach the darkest night of the year, there is beauty in these lights.

Photos by Jim Murray
Copyright 2013

December 08, 2013

Remembering John Lennon and a gun crazed America

John Lennon died December 8, 1980. He was shot to death in the city he loved, in the city that adopted him as one of its own.

I was living in south-east Saskatchewan in 1980 and it was a cold winter's night on the prairie. ABC's Monday Night Football was on television, but I was listening to the radio. KSTP from Minneapolis/St. Paul was blasting in like a furnace that night. At its height, KSTP was a powerhouse rock station, and as they liked to say, "one of America's most imitated radio stations," not unlike WLS in Chicago or CKLW in Windsor/Detroit. The hits never stopped. Literally.

I recall there being a brief announcement by the radio deejay, something about Lennon and a shooting outside the Dakota in NYC. It was made over top a song, and there was a quiver in the announcers voice. Reports were sketchy. KSTP had ABC network news at the top of the hour, when John's murder were announced.

And then the music stopped.

All across the US and Canada, radio stations opened their phone lines to listeners. Music stations aired news reports where before that would have been considered a tune out factor. The music stopped that night.

I think I phoned a dozen friends, in town and around the country. I listened to the phone calls on radio through the night and into the morning. We shared our shock and grief. And anger.

The morning after John's murder, Yoko Ono issued a statement: There is no funeral for John. John loved and prayed for the human race. Please do the same for him. Love, Yoko and Sean.

At first I think we looked for some sort of higher reason for Lennon's murder. It seemed impossible to believe that one crazed individual could be responsible for this act of violence. Yet we knew it was just one crazy guy with a gun. And in all the years since 1980, America has done nothing about gun control. Of course they didn't do anything before that either, and a president was shot, a presidential candidate was killed, a civil rights leader was murdered, and who knows how many others. One might think after all the carnage, some sort of effort to control the sale of guns in the US might have happened by now, but if anything the culture of guns is today even more firmly entrenched. It's one thing to have a nut case shoot at a politician or kill a rock star. It's quite another to have school children slaughtered in their classrooms. Yet nothing seems to change. Only in America. The music has stopped all too often since 1980.

December 05, 2013

Nelson Mandela ~ 1918 - 2013

Nelson Mandela has died.

Born July 18, 1918, Mr Mandela was 95 years of age.

I grew up in the time of Nelson Mandela. Though he was in prison for much of my life, his story was a significant part of my growing up and coming of age.

During the 1950s Mr Mandela was banned and arrested for challenging the evil of apartheid. At the beginning of his political life he favoured nonviolent protest. That ended after the famous Treason Trial, the banning of the ANC, and the Sharpeville Massacre, all occurring in 1960, forcing many underground where Mr Mandela and his comrades formed the militant Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation), often referred to by the
initials MK.

At the time, the African National Congress was not open to whites, nor to Communists. MK was not so constrained and welcomed members of both, including Communist Party members Rusty Bernstein and Joe Slavo, among others. MK named Mr Mandela its commander-in-chief and went on to wage a bombing campaign throughout the country. Many were arrested. Among them, Mr Mandela was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1964.

The story of Nelson Mandela was unknown to me in 1964; as a child  the only thing catching my attention was the music of The Beatles. With the events of 1968 we all became politically aware; Mandela's name was known, but he was in  prison and no one really knew what was going on. Was he even alive? It was during 1968 I learned his words given before entering prison four years earlier:

“During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

While Mr Mandela and other ANC and SACP leaders languished in prison, or lived in exile, the young people of South Africa did their best to continue the fight, many under the banner of Steve Biko's Black Consciousness Movement.  Hundreds were killed and thousands were injured before the children's uprising was crushed in 1976. Mr Biko was murdered by police, while in detention, in 1977.

In 1980, the ANC, led by the exiled Oliver Tambo, launched an international campaign against apartheid with the focus on one cause and one person: the demand to release Mr Mandela. It was brilliant. It was peaceful. It worked.

On February 11, 1990 we all watched, and celebrated, when Mr Mandela was finally released from captivity.

Nelson Mandela's story is one of hope and perseverance, of humility and struggle. None of that ends with Mr Mandela's passing. The story continues. As it should.