Recipe - Mexican Melting Pot (AKA Vegetarian Chilli with a Twist)

We purposely sought to rent a place in Mexico with a kitchen so that we could save money (and sanity) by cooking in on occasion. It's about as far from fancy as I've ever seen - a tiny little space with a fridge, a small stove and a sink - but everything is in working order and as long as we remember to wash the plates and cutlery before eating to get rid of the little ants everywhere, it's actually relatively clean.

The biggest challenge with cooking in is that it's hard to find most ingredients here and I don't know what to do with a lot of what is available. I also refuse to cook meat here because the butcher shops put me off. I suppose it's a good dose of reality to snap me out of my hypocrisy about eating meat - instead of the sterile aisles of Safeway, the butcher shops here are bloody in smell and appearance and there is a little more of the animal around than I can cope with. It actually surprises me how few vegetarian options there are on most menus here; fish is usually an option but often the choice is limited to chicken or beef and a lot of the meals don't actually come with beans or rice so there isn't a lot of filler if you forgo the meat.

Despite my culinary challenges, tonight we made dinner in and it was actually pretty delicious. It's a bit of a mishmash (or melting pot) of ingredients that I cobbled together into a hybrid vegetarian chili/stew. It was cheap to make, we had lots of leftovers and I actually think it might be something I make again - even when we are back in the land of Safeway and Waitrose.

Mexican Melting Pot Recipe

1 can of black beans
1 can of tomatos
1 avocado
1 medium onion (white, red, yellow - doesn't really matter)
2 large cloves of garlic
1 small hot pepper
1 medium green pepper
1 small carrot
hot sauce
1 small-medium size lime
Olive oil/butter (something to use to ensure things don't stick to your pan)
1 cube of chicken or vegetarian broth
1 cup of rice
A few slices of whatever cheese you have laying around
(We didn't have access to any other spices, but this would likely benefit from some cumin and freshly ground pepper. It doesn't need extra salt though - the canned good have more than enough.)
  1. Put about four cups of water on the stove to boil and add your cube of broth stock. Once it reaches a boil, turn it down to simmer so that it stays hot but doesn't evaporate.
  2. While you're waiting for the water to boil, melt your butter or heat a small amount of olive oil in a non-stick large pan over medium heat. Once it's hot add nearly all of your roughly chopped onion and peeled roughly chopped carrot. Fine chop the remainder of the onion and set it aside.
  3. Once the onion and carrot have started cooking, add approximately 3/4 of your garlic. Fine chop the remainder of the garlic and set it aside with the onion. 
  4. Let this stuff cook until it looks soft and the onion gets translucent, then add your finely chopped hot pepper. Depending on how sensitive you are to spiciness and how hot your pepper is, you may only want to add part of it. It's good to remove the seeds before chopping it up. 
  5. While all of this is happening, if your vegetables start to burn or darken too much, add a few ladles of the simmering stock. 
  6. After a few minutes, add the can of black beans and the can of tomatoes, the roughly chopped green pepper and a few dashes of the hot sauce. Bring this mixture to a boil and stir in a cup of rice. There should be a lot of extra liquid in the pot at this point from the beans and the tomatoes but if there isn't, add some of the chicken stock. 
  7. Continue to stir and add in stock until the rice is cooked - the time will vary depending on the kind of rice you've used but it took me about 20 minutes. Make sure you babysit it or the rice will stick to the bottom and burn.
  8. While the rice is cooking, cut open a large avocado, take out the pit and add the 'meat' to the onion and garlic mixture you've set aside. Cut your lime in half and add the juice, add a dash of hot sauce. Smash up the avocado and mix it all around until you have a slightly chunky version of guacamole. Add the other half of the lime to your cooking rice/vegetable mixture.
  9. A few minutes before the rice is cooked, add some roughly chopped cilantro to the rice/vegetable mixture, keeping a bit aside for garnish. 
  10. When the rice is cooked, dish the food up into bowls, put some cheese on top along with some chopped cilantro. Finish with a dollop of guacamole on top. 
Good on its own or with tortillas. Obviously you could substitute black beans for any bean you want.

It was really very good and extremely filling.

PS: Thankfully the above is not a picture of our kitchen - it belongs to someone else in San Blas.

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Links - June 6 to June 26

I've been a little lazy with the weekly link post, so here's an abbreviated catch up on some of my favourite things on the Internet over the past few weeks.
  • Best Travel Books for Laughs - Baltimore Sun: A nice list of fun, summery travel reads. 
  • 750 Words: Great online writing app that encourages and enables you to write 750 words per day, based on the idea of morning pages. Since starting, I've been on a seven day streak and have written well over 5,000 words. It's surprisingly motivating. 
  • Let the Pill Go Free - New York Times: A convincing argument for why the birth control pill should be available over the counter without a prescription, which I happen to agree wholeheartedly with.
  • Journalists Trash Palin Speech - Salon: Sarah Palin is truly a horrible person with a scary sense of entitlement. After student journalists found a copy of her contract to speak at their university in the rubbish and reported on her very high speaking fee, she banned them from her talk. Sounds like they didn't miss much though. 
  • Info Graphic: The True Cost of Home Ownership - Moolanomy: People always say that it's silly to rent if you can buy. This graphic lays things out pretty clearly and shows what each actually cost and when you are better doing one over the other. Not that we ever need to really worry about this given in London it's completely unaffordable to buy anything. :(
  • Inside a Wave: Epic Photography by Clark Little - Dark Roasted: Beautiful photos of the inside of giant waves - something most of us will never get to see in person. 
  • Are DJs, Rappers and Bloggers Curators? - American Association of Museums: An interesting perspective in the seemingly endless argument about who is and is not a curator that is going on in web-land right now.
  • When Good Things Happen to Bad People: Heart Advice for Difficult Times - The Rejectionist: We all like to believe that what goes around, comes around but that isn't always the case. This is a funny little post about how to cope when shitty people see great rewards. 
  • Wimbledon Live Blog (All Eleven Hours!) - The Guardian: This account turns hilarious as the reported is forced to continue blogging for the record breaking Wimbledon game on 23rd June.
  • Over 40 Mosquito Bite Itch Relief Tips - Tip Nut: Lots of good ideas here, including making use of things most people probably have lying around the house. I've tried a number of these in the past few weeks and tea tree oil works well. My favourite though, which is not on this list, is liquid aspirin.
  • The Beauty of Paper Art - Smashing Magazine: Despite my recent Kindle fixation (an evil necessary because we're traveling and books are heavy), there is nothing comparable to the tangible, weighty loveliness of paper. This post features some lovely eye candy of art made from paper. 
  • The Pantone Guide to Communicating With Colour - Apple: A great refresher for graphic designers, artists or anyone looking to gain a deeper understanding of how we react to different colours.
  • Publishing Restrictions on Night Time Photos of the Eiffel Tower - Just another ridiculous example of copyright restrictions gone wild. Did you know that it's actually illegal to publish photos of the the ET taken at night? Why? Well, the lights on them are subject to copyright. Yeah, dumb. 
  • World Cup Planning App - Great online tool to help you plan all your World Cup watching activities and parties.
  • Glee vs. Copyright - Do As I Say, Not As I Do - Boing Boing: Highlighting the hypocrisy of the stringent and unrealistic copyright rules Murdoch would impose on people by examining Glee, which is shown on Murdoch's Fox.
  • The 10 Best Japanese Ghost Towns - Asylum: Beautiful pictures. Hard to believe these places exist in Japan, where most of us imagine wall to wall people a la Tokyo. We'll definitely try to visit some of these during our time in Japan this winter. 
  • Online Database of Social Media Policies - Social Media Governance: Great resource. Also searchable by industry.
  • How 'Old' Can a Young Writer Be? - New York Times: A bit depressing for those of us inching deeper into our thirties, it's an examination of the average age many of the great writers wrote their masterpieces.
  • Ignite London Venue and Date Announced: Very excited that Ignite London has announced the date and venue for their next event. Those of you who are in London will want to pencil in 28th September - it's sure to be a great event.
  • How Do They Get to Be That Way? - Roger Ebert: A thoughtful and touching response to the situation in Arizona where the face on a mural was painted white in response to a racist reaction.
Personal Links
Apart from here on Making Strange, I've been busy on Contentini, the Lost and Looking Project, I wrote an article for The Guardian, have some new posts up on The Januarist and put together a guest blog for Ignite London. In other self-serving news, check out (my partner in tourista stomach) and his other project Amorphous Blog for more genuinely good content.

Please feel free to leave links to content you've enjoyed in the comments section!

Image Credit: Link by Dunechaser

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One Night in Mexico

Last night in the dark of 10 pm, we were walking home from dinner and drinks down the dirt road behind our flat. A car goes by and we see a dog in the headlights. We assume it's one of the dogs that lives at the complex and keep going.

As we pass him (her?) in the dark, I offer it some bacon, which I've saved from dinner to feed to the stray cat that has adopted us. Dan shines the flash light at the dog and, well, it's actually a coyote.

But it didn't eat us. Or the bacon.

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Whinging About Mexico

I know it sounds like I hate it here, but it's actually pretty okay; it's weird and a bit uncomfortable but every day I see something beautiful. Like last night on the way to dinner, we passed two wayward horses in our back alley and I got to feed them apples; that kind of thing doesn't really happen in a big city. It's also a good place to do lots of reading, writing and thinking - there aren't a lot of distractions with the exception of bug bites, heat and noisy American neighbours (seriously, these people do not speak to one another - they yell).

But this isn't going to be an "I love Mexico" and all it's quirky loveliness kind of post mostly because today my mosquito bites are so itchy that I feel a bit like someone with Tourette Syndrome - flinching, and ticking and swearing when that bite on my little toe (or any one of the 200 others) starts flaring up.

Yesterday, we went swimming a little later than usual and just as we were heading back to shore I was stung by a jelly fish. I didn't see it so it was probably pretty small and luckily, I was able to jerk my leg away the minute I felt the sting; but it still really hurt. As we pushed against the tide back to shore, Dan very kindly offered to pee on my leg, which is what you're supposed to do to take away the sting. Happily, it wasn't that bad so we were able to skip that step and go directly to the liquid Nurophen, which has been my saviour on this leg of the trip. It's amazing - works on bug bites, jelly fish stings, sore muscles. If I could work out a way to bathe in ice cold Nurophen, I would.

On top of all of the heat, the bites and the bugs, I did laundry this morning. Doing laundry here consists of scrubbing clothes with a bar of laundry soap over the kitchen sink, rinse, repeat, wring the crap out of them and then hang dry on the buggy patio behind our flat. I remember whinging about the lack of clothes dryer in our London flat but now I realise how good we had it. Bring on the clothes horse as long as I don't have to wash towels by hand in the sink!

These Mexican mamas with all their little ones are tough as nails. They must spend half of their waking lives washing shit in the sink. After a few towels, t-shirts and some underwear I was dripping wet and on the verge of a complete melt down. The only way I got through it without giving up was by thinking angry thoughts about the American neighbours and how their yelling ten year old boy woke us up at 7 am.

Yeah, and I would give my left arm for a Big Mac and maybe some poutine.

The above image was taken with my Diana Lens ; it gives a pretty neat effect. Here are a few more: 

Aren't these pinatas scary? Especially the blue donkey with his blood red mouth and freaky teeth.

For more images of San Blas, Mexico (and less whinging) visit my Flickr photo stream.

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Spider Killing Monster

Did I mention the wolf spiders the size of small dogs that we have here in our luxurious San Blas hacienda (yeah, I'm feeling a bit snarky today)? They are huge and look terrifying, even though my reading suggests they are shy and want to avoid us as much as we want to avoid them. If this is true, then why are they venturing into our bedroom and climbing up the walls? Why spiders?!

Our solution is pictured above. She's a kitten, about eight months old, who belongs to a lady in our complex and she has resolutely adopted us while her owner is away on a trip. As you can see, she's ferocious. The other night she chased a giant spider and played with it for awhile before letting it clamber up the wall to our terror; we eventually called in our landlord Chris to capture and release it into the wild.

She's a real warrior when not laying on her back across the bed, tongue sticking out. We're calling her a lot of things, but most frequently she's Pollo (chicken in Spanish), Rattlesnake (she's got a striped tail) and Kitten (yeah, not a lot of creativity there).

Besos chicas X

Photo by Dan.

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Me and Webster

On our last night in Phoenix, Dan and I attended their local Ignite event held at the Phoenix Art Museum. It was great and if you are so inclined, you can read more about what I thought on the Ignite London blog.

While at the museum, I was delighted to find this picture of Noah Webster , father of US spelling conventions and the main topic of my Guardian post of a few weeks ago. I couldn't resist a photo with the miserable looking man. The Phoenix Art Museum was genuinely great - lots of fun stuff to look at including an incredible, immersive installation by Yayoi Kusama called Fireflies on the Water (the video this links to does not begin to do it justice).

It was a wonderful way to spend our last night in the desert.

Update: After a little bit of Googling, I just realised that Kusama is also responsible for an amazing installation I saw on the South Bank last spring and another I saw at The Mattress Factory a few years ago. 

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San Blas: Acclimatising

Yesterday we had our first taste of stormy weather in San Blas. Since we came here via Phoenix, where it apparently never rains, we haven't seen a storm since our last night in London when we were nearly drowned out on our way home from the cinema. Though the rain can get annoying in the UK, I do like the romance of it - steamy, damp windows, the sound of water tapping against the side of the house, umbrellas ... If you had asked me two months ago whether I would miss London rain I would have said no, but it turns out I would have been wrong.

It's not as hot in Mexico temperature-wise as in Phoenix - instead of 40 degrees, it's only 32 degrees - but the humidity is a killer. Last night as we were eating dinner at a sidewalk cafe, I realised that I was wet with sweat - you could actually see a layer of damp across my arms, chest and brow. We are slowly acclimatising, but after the intense dryness of the desert, the humidity is a lot to get used to.

The storm yesterday helped to cut some of the humidity and there has been a slightly cooler breeze in the air. So on the scale of one being freezing to death and ten being burning to death, we are now sitting somewhere around an seven instead of an eight. Small mercies.

I miss air conditioning dreadfully at times, mostly at bed time when I want to snuggle under the blankets but find that anything on top of my skin makes it too hot to sleep. We found that the small ATM on the Plaza is enclosed in a tiny air conditioned room and I've been avoiding the urge to go and hang out there; maybe get my tacos to go and eat in there ... I am fairly proud of us though. The first few days we were here we were completely lost and fighting the urge to take the bus right back to Puerto Vallarta and the convenience of air conditioning and chain stores. Between the heat, my bug bites and the gigantic spiders in our apartment I honestly wasn't sure if we could manage here. But now, nearly a week later, we are finding our way and although it's not the most comfortable place, I am finding little things that I love about San Blas:
  • The beach and the ocean are the most perfect place I've ever found for swimming. Apparently the sand flies are bad and can bite, but not if there's a little wind and not during the high heat of the day. The sand is smooth and goes on forever and the water in the bay is lukewarm like a bathtub and very shallow until quite far out, which makes me feel safe as the idea of being in the ocean over my head scares me. We go out every day for about a half an hour and jump into the giant waves that crash to shore, splashing and squealing with the locals. It is bliss. 
  • The church bells in the town centre ring at various times throughout the day and I love hearing their echo. They are far enough away to not be grating and so early in the morning and late at night we hear them mixed in with the sound of crickets and the wind. 
  • Everything here is in technicolour. It's so different from the North American communities where you are only allowed to paint your house one out of six approved shades of grey. It reminds me of a collage, how everything is glued together, even when it doesn't really fit. 
  • The children are very friendly, saying "Hola!" and even occasionally "Hello!" when we pass them on the street. They often go by on vintage bicycles, usually four or more clinging to every possible surface of the bike: seat, handle bars, back wheel. Beautiful, nut brown babies with shining black hair and soulful eyes. They mostly seem really happy and, along with their parents, the bugs don't seem to bother them. 
 And now, some pictures:

There are always horses on the beach and our first day there was this lovely little colt who didn't take too kindly to his harness. Happily, the horses mostly seem very well cared for - not too skinny and they don't have any sores or anything that I've seen.

This was our first meal in San Blas. It tasted good, but looking at the fish grossed me out a little bit. I think they serve it this was as a way of showing off how fresh it is. Still, it's hard to believe that Dan ate this.

Not where we're staying.

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Book Shop

In between dodging dog size spiders in Mexico, I've set up a little shop on this site to showcase some of the books I've reviewed here. I may expand this to include music I like and other odds and ends.

If you're going to buy one of these books anyway, please consider buying it through my shop - the link to the book shop is above, right next to about. I get a small commission and every bit helps! Thanks very much.

Image by Wanderlust

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Tour of Our Bungalow in Mexico

Sorry about the very bad quality. The Internet connection here is slow and anything that isn't super compressed would take hours to upload. Oh, and after watching it I just realised that I have three mosquito bites on my cheek - thanks Flip camera !

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I'm Popular With the Mosquitoes

They've always loved me. We get a lot of them in Saskatchewan, especially in the spring, and I can remember counting one year to find that I had about 200 bites on my hands and ankles alone. Liquid Neurophen is helping quell the itch a bit, but I am feeling a little bit like Will Ferrell in the hideous film Land of the Lost ; every morning I wake up with a few new bites. 

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San Blas or Bust

After a fairly long few days, we arrived in San Blas in the Nayarit region of Mexico yesterday afternoon. We left Phoenix just before noon and as our plane forced its way up into the sky over the desert, I was ready to go but also a little sad that six weeks has gone by so quickly.

Due to a budget flight, we didn't go to Puerta Vallarta direct but went via Dallas and the entire flight I had the theme song from the show of the same name running through my head: "Ba, ba-ba, ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba, ba, ba-ba, ba-ba-baaaa!"

I remember watching that show every Friday night as a kid with my grandparents - Sue Ellen, Bobby, JR. Those were the days! We spent about an hour in the Dallas Airport and I am a bit disappointed to announce that the hair was neither terribly big nor the accents terribly Texan. They did have a lot of BBQ restaurants in the airport though.

After arriving in Puerto Vallarta, were immediately and stupidly ushered into a situation I was completely unprepared for. I am a stereotypical Canadian in that when people try to speak to me, I have trouble not stopping to listen. When they talk and talk and talk, I feel rude just walking away - even if they are trying to sell me something I don't want or need.

Walking out of customs at the PV airport takes you down a narrow hallway flanked on either side by people yelling out to you, holding signs and generally acting like they know you and understand exactly what you need.

"Hola! Lady, where you staying?"

"The Flamenco Vallarta." (Admittedly, responding was my first mistake.)

"You go here - talk to that woman. She represents your hotel."

"Okay." (Second mistake.)

From that point on and for about ten minutes we were amiga and amigo'd by a woman who clearly didn't represent our hotel and who was trying to sell us any number of things from a cab ride, to breakfast, to a friggin' deep sea fishing expedition. Finally, Dan got tired of my polite nodding and ushered us the hell out of there only to have me run into the arms of a dodgy cab driver who charged us the equivalent of about $20 (USD) for a five minute cab ride to our hotel. Yeah, I'm a sucker and Dan was not impressed. I'm going to have to get this under control before we go to India, if we go to India.

Our night in Puerto Vallarta was nice once we got over the irritation of being taken for a ride. Here are some pictures:

After one night at the Flamingo, we got up early with the task of trying to work out how to get to San Blas. We knew it would be by bus, but we had conflicting information about where to catch it, how much it would cost and how long it would take. Due to our rip off cab ride the day before, Dan was pretty intent that whatever we were going to do, it wasn't going to involve a cab or any opportunity for me to be suckered in. Just short of putting tape over my mouth and making me promise not to talk to strangers, we set out with enormous packs on our backs. We were originally going to catch the bus to Walmart, where we were told we could take the Silver Line bus to San Blas but after being admonished by our hotel clerk, we headed in the opposite direction to catch a bus to the central station. Did I mention that my backpack weighs about 100 pounds and although it isn't as hot here as in Phoenix, the humidity is insane and probably feels even worse because we're accustomed to the dryness of the desert. So by the time we'd completed the ten minute walk to the bus stop, I was pretty much soaking wet.

There's this thing about city buses in Mexico that the guide books don't tell you - they don't stop unless you flag them down and often, you don't know which bus to flag down because the destination is painted on the front window by hand and isn't always easy to read. After flagging down the wrong bus once and watching half a dozen pass us by we lucked into a meeting a very friendly man who, was originally from San Blas. For a small tip, he accompanied us on the right bus (which he kindly flagged down) and took us to the station where we would catch the Pacifico bus direct to San Blas. He was a really nice man; it was his birthday and he told us how difficult things had been since the recession because tourists weren't coming down as much. He works at the Westin Hotel and seemed hopeful that things would get better soon. We had a two hour wait at the Pacifico station with only one disaster; a bottle of suntan lotion spilled in my bag and got all over the outside of my laptop, peeling off some of the finish. It still works fine but now it has a bit of character in the form of a shiny-looking chemical peel in one corner. It's scary to me that something I rub all over my skin has the ability to peel plastic off a Mac. Some photos from our wait at the Pacifico station:

The bus actually arrived on time and to our relief it was air-conditioned and nearly empty. The journey took about three hours but would have been less except for quite a lot of construction along the road. It stopped every now and again in small towns where little boys would jump on and try to sell us homemade tacos, pop and Doritos. About an hour outside of San Blas, the scenery changed from dense green jungle to one of small, colourful seaside communities. The ocean smells and looks like heaven and these places are filled with colour and food, children running around and people riding vintage bicycles.

It hasn't all been perfect (more on that later): I am already covered in angry red mosquito bites and there's been one slightly ugly bout of stomach upset but I love looking at this place and I love the slow, sleepy pace of siesta and late dinners. More on San Blas tomorrow ...

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Thoughts on Six Weeks in Arizona

Tomorrow morning, we fly out of the fifth largest city in the US (Phoenix ) and head off to San Blas , Mexico via a circuitous route that takes us through Dallas, Texas . We've enjoyed being here, but we're both ready to move on from this lovely gated community on the edge of the desert.

I don't want to be too much of a hypocrite as we've enjoyed having a pool and spa in our backyard, a lovely big house and excessive air conditioning but this state has some whack policies. It doesn't want illegal immigrants, but it wants to be able to employ people for low wages - I can't help but wonder how many of the city's elite think their homes and pools were built so cheaply, or why they are able to pay the maid so little to clean the big house... I digress.

There are plenty of things I've loved about this place, and other things that have made me miss England just a little bit. Here's my list:

Better in Arizona
  • Sunshine - it's sunny pretty much every day here. My serotonin levels are through the roof!
  • In city hiking - you don't need to go outside of the city to enjoy beautiful hikes and see interesting wild life. 
  • Wild life - The only critters we saw in Islington were the occasional dog or cat. Arizona is filled with really unique wild life including snakes, Javelinas, lizards and more bunnies than I've ever seen in one place. The plants are also really beautiful and interesting and most of the desert has been in bloom since we arrived - beautiful. 
  • Sunsets - Because it is rarely cloudy, you can see them better here and there aren't a lot of tall buildings where we're staying to block the view. 
  • Dairy Queen - I've always been disappointed by the selection of ice cream in London. There are a few stands in central London but I've found these to be overpriced and generally poor quality; apart from those, it's ice cream sandwiches from news agents or nothing. The US has Dairy Queen, which is just as good as I remember it being. 
  • Service - Generally, service in restaurants and shops is better here. People are just friendlier and more helpful - they understand that being pleasant is part of their job. 
Better in London
  • Public transportation - I'm told that there is some kind of tram in central Phoenix and a few buses one can take. Out in Scottsdale, where we're staying, there is absolutely no public transportation to speak of - I have yet to even see a taxi out here. Just to go to the store for a treat is about a 20 minute drive. I really do miss the convenience of not needing a vehicle and London gets public transport so very, very right. 
  • Chocolate - The USA is the land of Hershey and, I'm sorry, but Hershey is not very good chocolate. Cadbury and other brands are also occasionally available, but you have to go looking for them. I miss Twirls and the range of other good news agent brand chocolate bars in London. 
  • City Centre - Phoenix is a city of sprawling suburbs and even in outlying communities, there isn't much evidence of a core. The result is a city that feels disconnected from itself and, apart from the political brouhaha, without much identity to tie its people together. Although London's center is very tourism-focused, there are so many lovely little neighbourhoods - great spots to meet, talk, play ... Phoenix doesn't have anything like this from what I can see (though I am going to Ignite Phoenix tonight, so maybe I'll be proven wrong).
  • Sustainable, cruelty-free food - Apart from the very expensive specialty markets, it is very hard to find free range anything in Phoenix. Even at Safeway, which is by no means cheap, we had to look very hard to finally find a brand of eggs from non-caged chickens. It's sad that you have to spend a fortune to be able to eat with some morality - eating cruelty free should not be a privilege for the wealthy. In the UK, free range options are more expensive than non-free range, but there are lots of options and the price isn't so high that it's prohibitive.
  • Diversity and cultural policy - Arizona's politics reminds me of what it might be like if the BNP actually held any power in the United Kingdom. It's scary. 
It's been a great experience and I'm so happy we've had the opportunity to spend these six weeks here. Thanks to those who made it possible (no idea if you read this, but you know who you are!).

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The Linguistic Battleground is Alive and Well - My Post on the Guardian

Today the Guardian's Mind Your Language Blog published a piece I wrote called Canada - a linguistic battle ground between the US and Britain . People are passionate about language and politics as is evidenced by over 130 comments on the site. Most of them are quite interesting - people debating additional distinctions in language - some rightly correct a few errors I've made and some are a little bit mean and personal, but that's what you get with the web. As Dan says, "You should never read the comments." He should know as he caused the occasional shit storm when writing for O'Reilly.

I'm really happy to have been given the opportunity to contribute. Despite a few objections to my premise, with 60 shares, over 30 retweets and well over 100 comments, I would say it's been a success.

Image: Everybody Needs a Hero (isn't it lovely?!)

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The Mission, Tucson and Tombstone

A few weeks ago Dan and I drove to Tombstone , stopping in Tucson on the way. When I was about 16 I went on a choir tour to Arizona - yes, I was a choir geek - and I remember visiting an old mission outside of Tucson. It was really beautiful and I was determined to go back.

Usually these kinds of memories are best left in the past and turn out to be not nearly as lovely as they are from a distance, so I was prepared to be disappointed. But it was beautiful. It's on the south end of Tuscon, so there's a dusty drive along the highway that loops through the town and just when you think you've gone too far, there it is, rising up out of the desert like a big white glowing castle.

According to Wikipedia the Mission San Xavier was founded in the late 1600s by the Jesuits:
Outside, San Xavier has a white, Moorish-inspired design ... No records of the architect, builders, craftsmen and artisans responsible for creating and decorating it are known. Most of the labor was provided by the local Indians, and many believe they provided most or all of the artisans as well. Visitors entering the massive, carved mesquite-wood doors of San Xavier are often struck by the coolness of the interior, and the dazzling colors of the paintings, carvings, frescoes and statues. The interior is richly decorated with ornaments showing a mixture of New Spain and artistic motifs.Native American ... At least three different artists painted the artwork inside the church. It is considered by many to be the finest example of Spanish mission architecture in the United States.
After exploring the Mission, we headed into Tucson for lunch. The center of the old bit of the city is very pretty with colourful old Spanish colonial houses with bright, cute gardens.

Our last stop was Tombstone, which is about an hour south of Tucson. It was kitschy and depressed - like a Disney exhibition long forgotten. The old Western streets were interesting enough, except that there was nothing authentic about them, and the few stragglers in the town that weren't tourists like us looked like they'd taken a wrong turn somewhere and couldn't ever make their way out again.

Here are some photos. there are more on my Flickr

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Links - May 30 to June 5

June 5
June 4
June 1
May 31
May 30:
Image Credit: Link by Dunechaser   

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Smells from Home

I recently came across these photos on my Auntie Dianne's Facebook page. I'm guessing I was about seven or eight years old. Both were taken at my grandparent's cabin where we spent the majority of our summers when I was growing up. The lovely little boy in the photo above is my cousin Justin. He was one of my best friends when I was a kid. I was a horrible brat to him most of the time, but he always remained sweet and loyal. Empathetic to a fault; whenever I would cry, Justin would cry, while telling me not to be sad. Even when I didn't deserve it.

The picture above is me with my Uncle Glen. I'm not sure if he still does, but he used to have the craziest mustache. It was long on both sides and he curled it around so that he had these two loopy twirls on either side of his mouth.

It was about 110 degrees in Scottsdale today so Dan and I saved our walk for dusk - right around 7:30 pm. We walked along the radiantly hot asphalt (you can't walk in the gravel because of the rattlesnakes) under the early darkness and as we neared the community center out of nowhere, we could both smell lovely damp grass that seemed to cool the surrounding air. In the desert there is almost no humidity and your senses become attuned to smelling dampness in a hungry, all-encompassing way; just the slightest smell of water outside sends tingles of pleasure up and down my spine. I think the little bit of greenery here must explode with happiness at a drink and somehow we can smell that too because the smell is stronger and fresher than I've ever noticed it being anywhere else.

About ten minutes further into our walk, we passed a yard where they must have had a small fire going, an insane thought given the temperature probably won't dip below 90 tonight and it hasn't rained in well over a month. But that wonderful burning wood smell, that sticks to the inside of your nose and always seems nicer in the dark had me breathing in deeply and thinking of camp fires at Regina Beach.

Scents from home are so dear on a dark, hot night in such a strange place.

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