Tempting the Devil

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I guess writing about Monsoons last time brought bad luck. On July 10 a particularly heavy Monsoon hit the Valley and did quite a bit of damage. You can see a video of some of the damage in our town here. I’m very sad to say that the pile of sticks that was a house under construction is the new house that Speedy and I are building. Here is a slide-show of valley-wide damage (with, inexplicably, a family’s swimming photos at the end).

For us, the good news is the mess has been cleaned up and the men are back at work – but it was a set-back. Here is a video I took just the day before of some of the trusses being installed  (apologies for the loud generator on the audio – you may want to turn down your volume) – all that work blew down later the same night. As they say in Italy, pazienza.

A week later, Monsoon waters washed away a family, killing 10 people. I wish the Raya family could have had our luck. Yes, we lost some building, but no one was hurt. I guess you could say we were fortunate.

Monsoons can be vicious and violent. They are not something to take lightly.

 

After the First Monsoon

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Monsoon Season begins on June 15 in Arizona. If you are thinking ‘monsoon’ like the monsoons in India, think again. The Phoenix Valley gets, on average, a hair over 8″ of rain a year. Mumbai, on the other hand, gets a hair under 80″. But when you live in a desert climate, any rain at all is more than welcome. This is especially true this year when we have broken high temperature records more than once and the trees and cactuses are clearly suffering.

Yesterday, after a record-setting 116 F, our first monsoon rains arrived, with the usual exciting crash-boom. Unlike the brief winter rainy season when rain can settle in for half a day, monsoon rains uniformly arrive at the end of the day, and generally don’t last very long. Today we heard the first thunder at 5:45 p.m., and by 6:30 Speedy was standing in our community’s pool with his drink, his snack and his book.

I don’t want to make light of the damage even these brief rains can do: sometimes the rain comes down in torrents. Because the ground is so hard and dry here, the water runs off. During and after a heavy monsoon the run-off can flood low areas of road, and even wash cars away. Last year area golf courses suffered great damage when the rains brought down trees and boulders from the higher ground and deposited them on fairways.

The sky is always dramatic after the rain, especially as the sun sets. The birds are doing what they do at twilight – making a racket, flying home for the night, or, if they are the nighthawks that frequent our neighborhood, swooping and diving as they catch new hatches of insects (they are hard to photograph, for me, anyway).

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I watched the doves as they got their last meal of the day,  the odd-looking fruit of a nearby saguaro (which will turn quite red and look very silly in the near future). Then they gathered for their evening flight to wherever it is doves go at night.

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It was a lovely evening, a fine beginning to Monsoon Season. Bring on the rains!

Thursdays at the Shelter

I had envisioned writing frequently about the exciting events at my favorite animal shelter, where I volunteer once a week. But it turns out you can say only so much about cleaning poop out of cat pens, and I pretty much exhausted that with the first post on the subject. Yesterday, however, was a day quite out of the norm.

“Good morning,” I said to Karla when I arrived. “Puppies!” she replied.  Huh? Turns out in the last week the shelter acquired through various means 22 puppies. To put this in perspective, since the first of the year we’ve had exactly 2 puppies that I know of; they were born at the shelter to a pregnant stray.  Well, is there anything cuter than a puppy?? Kittens are just as cute, and yesterday we had 4 new little kittens with their eyes barely open, tottering around the way kittens do and squeaking their high-pitched mews. But I was so thrilled with the idea of 22 puppies I never even thought to photograph the kittens.

There were small puppies:

puppies-004puppies There were dirty puppies in need of baths and a mani-pedi:

puppies-003puppies-001IMG_8956and there were some larger puppies who were full of puppy curiosity and puppy kisses and puppy yips:

bigger puppies-001bigger puppies-002and then, because who can resist a pair of baby blues, I offer you this gorgeous dog:

pretty blue-eyed dogBut wait! There’s more!!

A few days ago Animal Control brought in a tame parrot (at least I think it’s a parrot – if you can identify it, I’d love to know for sure). At the shelter there is a back room where sick animals are sometimes kept, as well as animals that are awaiting reclamation by their owners. This little fellow was as smart as could be – he knew how to open his cage. Even I have trouble opening these cages, but he figured it out in short order.

When my fellow-volunteer Holly saw the scene below she said, “that’s not good.”

bird on cat cageFortunately no harm came to either bird or cat. Each displayed a modicum of interest in the other, but there was no action. (That cat, by the way, is a big burly tough guy – at least he wants you to think he is. In spite of his cuts and bumps, he is a lover.) Four of us spent about half an hour trying to catch that darn bird to put him in a cat carrier from which we thought he would not be able to escape. He would have none of it. I don’t know who was more exhausted, the bird or the women trying to corral him.

Help came in the form of the bird’s owner, who arrived with the bird’s own cage, a delightful Victorian fantasy in white wire. We set the bird cage on top of the cat cage and stood back – birdy hopped on the outside of his cage, gave us a last knowing look and went inside. He’d had enough, I suspect, and I know we had.

Don’t ever let anyone tell you volunteering at a shelter is all cat poop and dog hair. Sometimes there are puppies and feathers, too.

The Flying Boys of Costa Maya

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costa-maya-mayan-flyer Recently I went with two friends on a cruise of the Western Caribbean. It was my first cruise, and was an eye-popping experience, from the the size of the ship (1,112 feet

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long) to the enormous quantities of very good food provided daily, to the variety of entertainment on board (an ice show! imagine!! It was a really excellent one, too!!!), and the variety of excursions we were offered on shore.

Our second stop was in Costa Maya on the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico.

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Recently a port was built to accommodate cruise ships, which includes a shopping village, and which is a jumping off point for excursions to some delicious less-developed Mayan ruin sites such as Chacchoben, which we visited. The Mayan ruins are a subject for several other posts – they are as fascinating as they are ancient and mysterious.

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As you can see from the Google Earth screenshot above (thank you G.E.) the area around the cruise port is sparsely developed.  There’s been more growth lately, but so far most of it is centered around cruise ship arrivals and tourist dollars. (That off-center T in the water is the cruise ship dock.) I gather when there are no cruise ships the little village is closed up. It does not seem to be much used by locals.

This faux village has a central square, and in the middle of the square is a 30 meters tall pole with climbing rungs. Wikipedia gives a detailed account of the history of the Danza de los Voladores (Dance of the Flyers). It originated some hundreds of years ago at a time of great drought. The ceremony was developed to appease the gods and bring back the rain.

The dance is usually performed by five young men (the ones we saw were ‘apprentices,’ aged 18-22, but they looked pretty darn professional to us. Six marched in, four climbed the pole). They march into the square, one of them playing a small flute and banging a teeny drum (note the yellow cords hanging down).

Then they begin to climb the pole. This is heart-stopping – it seems impossible that they can climb so high, and that they can perch on the teeny structure at the top, which can revolve.

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Once they are at the top they haul up their ropes in a very particular way and wrap them around the pole. Then four of them address the cardinal points of the compass, while the fifth stands in the middle. In our instance there were only four, and they all flew.

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The four tied their ropes to their legs and stepped into space, slowly spinning around the pole as they descended in a stately and controlled manner. Impossibly, the drummer/ flute player continued to play both instruments as he flew down.

It is done in a very particular way. They must circle the pole exactly thirteen times. Thirteen times four (number of flyers) = fifty-two, the number of years in the ‘calendar round’ (see the Wikipedia article for more detail). Here they are, gracefully descending.

I apologize for not getting them all the way down for you, my camera ran out of battery (grrrrr).

It was an amazing thing to see, looking far simpler than it is, I think. The Danza de los Voladores has been named an Intangible Cultural Heritage by Unesco in 2009. As a result, the Mexican government has a responsibility to protect and promote the Dance. If you have a chance to see it, don’t miss it.

Thursdays at the Shelter

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This is what it feels like some days at the shelter:

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Actually, this lovely cat is just a talker (or singer, if you prefer). She has a lot to say off and on during the day. If I translate correctly, she is saying, “Help, there’s been a terrible mistake! I don’t belong here!! Look at me. I’m accustomed to pearls, a tuffet, and tuna for supper.” At least I think that is what she’s saying. She doesn’t have a card on her cage yet, which I imagine means she is waiting the requisite 10 days for an owner to reclaim her. When the waiting period is up she can go to the home, or castle, she so obviously deserves. Until then, she just offers her opinion on everything. She adores being held and scratched, so clearly she is, or was, a well-loved pet.

But I digress.

I wanted to tell you about the wonderful calm and fun there is at the shelter over a holiday, when the place is closed. Instead of the usual rush of preparation before opening to the public, cage cleaning, exercising and playing with the animals is done at a more leisurely pace. Sure, the staff wants to get out early – they need a holiday too! – nonetheless they are more relaxed, the animals are more relaxed (some exceptions) and the volunteers are way more relaxed.

For instance, there are 4 little feral kittens in the back room. They are too young to adopt in any case, but they are too frightened and shy to bring up front for the public to see. One in particular, a teeny little smoke grey, arches and hisses if you so much as look at him. While this is quite alarming behavior from a full-grown cat, it is just adorable and funny when the threat is coming from 3 ounces of fluff. Part of my assignment has been to handle these little ferals as much as possible. It is really fun. They begin by hissing and end up purring. Then when I go back in 5 minutes the whole exercise is repeated. The hope is that they will eventually become tame enough to forget the hissing part and just go immediately to the purr. During my regular volunteer hours there is often not enough time to give to these little guys. Yesterday there was plenty of time, and plenty of fun was had by at least one of us.

Black Friday was decorate the shelter day. Jenny put up the scrawny little artificial tree and we decorated it with beads, ornaments and small lights. The best decorations are the cards, though.

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Here are Margaret and Jean hanging the cards. Each one says either Cat or Dog at the top, and then underneath is written something that the animal would like to receive for Christmas – maybe some hot dogs (yes, good dogs get the occasional hot dog treat after their walks), or some small balls with bells inside, or some cans of food, or some litter, perhaps a wee sweater for a small stray. Shelter friends come and choose a card, and then return later with the requested item, or perhaps something completely different and equally useful. It’s a fun way to give to the shelter, and the shelter sure appreciates the gifts.

Probably a shelter near you does about the same thing, or wishes they did. Why not surprise them over the holidays with something for the beasties in their care? One of our cats requested “three blind mice (stuffed of course).” I am sure Santa will oblige.

Here are three kitties of the dozen or so at the shelter right now:

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This black beauty is full of fun and tricks (note the rumpled state of the cage).

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We all fervently  hope this little comedian will one day grow into her ears.

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This cat is a dreamboat – loves to be held, loves to purr, loves to be brushed – in short, just loves.

Please visit your shelter over the holidays and leave a gift – you’ll feel so happy.

 

16th Street

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Faithful readers of this blog (thank you!) know that Speedy and I don’t go out to eat very often. Speedy’s skill at stove and oven makes almost everything else seem pedestrian at best and second-rate at worst. A visit from a dear Swiss friend was the impetus for us to break our usual practice and venture forth for a meal, in this case lunch.

Our friend needed to be at the airport at 3, so we decided to look for a place near Sky Harbor (I love that name for an airport – don’t you? So friendly, but somehow exciting too). Speedy did his research and came up with La Santisima on 16th Street in Phoenix. It is well-reviewed on Yelp, somewhere north of four stars. Not many places do that well, so we felt pretty optimistic.

santisima-restaurant-exteriorIsn’t that a beautiful door? And a mighty fine bench, too. My purse fits right in with the color scheme. Bellas Artes de Mexico has provided all the furnishings and decorations of this pocket-sized eatery.

Our meals certainly exceeded our expectations. I had two house specialty veggie tacos, and they were sublime. Clearly the veg were all fresh and had been sauteed just before being generously heaped on two soft double tacos. I chose the plate, so my tacos were accompanied by a 1/3 sized cup of rice – just the right amount – and a splash of refried beans with Mexican cheese melted on top. My plate was hot, though the food on it was tepid – but it was so delicious I didn’t mind. Our friend had the same taco I had; here are poor photos of our two plates (this was actually a photo of the two of us, I’ve deleted us and enlarged the food):

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Clearly I wasn’t thinking about taking good foodie pics. But I’m sharing them for two reasons – one, to show you how intelligent the portions are and how truly beautiful the tacos are; and two, to show you just a couple of the salsas from the restaurant’s salsa bar. In addition to the usual pico di gallo, salsa cruda, salsa chipotle, etc., there were salsa di guacamole (top photo on left), salsa di cilantro, and salsa di fresa (strawberry, top photo on right), as well as others I don’t remember.

Speedy ate a pork and beans burrito and reports that it was “very good.” That’s high praise. Our friend declared her taco, “the best taco I have ever eaten in my whole life.” This is a woman with a fair amount of travel, not to mention tacos, under her belt, so you can take her word for it. This was delicious food, and we saw some enticing plates being delivered to nearby tables (very nearby – it’s a small restaurant and they don’t waste space).

Our host, who flew around non-stop, was very kind when we asked him to turn down the music a tad – he immediately complied, which meant we could actually have a delightful conversation with our long not-seen friend.

But I’m not here to write only about the restaurant, as you may guess from the quality of the food photos. I’m here to write about the neighborhood. We’re definitely returning to this top notch restaurant, and I’ll write more about it when we do.

16th Street north of McDowell is on the edge of a largely Hispanic neighborhood (interesting article on cultural diversity of Phoenix here. It includes a map giving percentages of various ethnicities and where they reside). It is not the most elegant neighborhood in Phoenix, but it is surely one of the most artistically interesting that we’ve visited.

art-on-outside-of-shopAfter lunch we took a short stroll – it was in the mid-90’s, too hot to enjoy much of the post-prandial thing. The building above (the sign says Thai Body Healing/TaSen Buddha) houses a little shop that carries woo-woo items, used clothing, and some fun toys for kids. In addition there is a small coffee shop, an art gallery and, in back (beyond the small elevated stage which was surrounded by children’s toys) what might be a sculpture garden or, perhaps, just a place to dump stuff. There was also a bathroom, of which I was in great need at that very moment.

sign-in-the-toilet-stallThis was hanging over the toilet. I’m ashamed to say I did not comply with the upper command. Maybe I was in the wrong room?

Over the sink was this anatomically vague figure, carefully labeled with such diseases as wrenched ankle, broken heart, water on the knee. I don’t know if it’s art or a children’s game. Note the Scrabble tile holders and a basket of tiles; I couldn’t find all the letters I wanted, so my message read “T_AN_  U. I hope it was clear enough.

1008161353other-bathroom-artI’m not sure what this signifies, but I stared at it for a while.

Outside we continued our stroll, and came upon several more wonderful murals. I got good photos of only one of them. I’m sorry to say I don’t know who the artist is – research needed!

ellie-and-louis-in-front-of-muralSpeedy and our friend give scale to the left side of this mural. The rest of it is below. (I know, there is such a thing as a ‘landscape setting,’ but I neglected to use it (not my best photo day, I guess).

rest-of-that-muralThis area definitely demands a return visit to seek out more of the graffiti and mural art. It is not the only part of Phoenix that sports such excellent examples. Katrina Montgomery has documented her 40 favorites in the New Times. I can’t wait to go hunt for some of them. A picture is fine, but to see such a large piece of art in person is really much more fun.

Thursdays at the shelter

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shelter-kittyI clean out cat cages. It’s what I do. It’s an ugly job, but someone has to do it.

Every Thursday morning I pry myself out of bed at what, for me, is an unnatural hour: 6 a.m. My ‘shift’ at the Paws and Claws Care Center begins at 7. By the time I arrive, typically at 7:10 or 7:15 I am but one step above Zombie. Luckily my job doesn’t require much in the way of wits, see first sentence above.

But wait – some background: Paws and Claws is the animal shelter of Apache Junction, Arizona, a town with a broad mix of inhabitants of all species. It’s not uncommon for residents to find abandoned animals in their yards, or to come across a new family of (typically) cats in the desert, result of feral hanky-panky. While ‘my’ animal shelter cannot describe itself as no-kill, it is extremely low-kill. The sad truth is some animals are simply not ever going to be adopted – they may be terminally ill, they may be vicious. Not their fault, to be sure, but no one is going to take home a biting dog or cat, nor should anyone be asked to. Having said that, P and C sends 90+% of its temporary residents on to new homes, and there is no rule for how long they can wait. Sometimes an animal is special and it will take a bit longer for the right new owner to show up. Thank goodness the Care Center is willing to give every adoptable animal the time required. If you clicked the link above to the shelter you will have already seen that they ‘market’ their guests in the most appealing way possible.

There’s a reason they call themselves a Care Center. A remarkable staff and a host of volunteers take terrific care of the animals. Sick or pregnant animals are identified, put in quarantine and given whatever is required, be it medicine or just a quiet place to give birth. Every day every cage is cleaned from top to bottom and fresh new bedding is put out. Each dog has a kennel in the air-conditioned dog area. As well, volunteers walk and play with the dogs outside (though often the spoiled brats just want to come back in to the air-conditioning. It goes without saying that the cats demand air-conditioning.)  A professional photographer volunteers her time weekly to take portraits for the web-site, and groomers volunteer beauty treatments for cats and dogs. Staff and volunteers spend a lot of time with timid animals in an effort to socialize them.

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It’s just a great place to spend a few hours even if, like this morning, some over-active little kitten dumps her box of litter on my head (I’m not kidding). As I said, 7 a.m. is not My time. And that’s why little missy below is giving me that wary look.

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Goin’ to Ghana

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No, not really – I’m pulling your leg. We’re not going to Ghana.

But not too long ago we felt as if we’d been magically transported to that far-away country. Fufu and Jolof rice and Banku – these are just some of the delicacies on the menu at Max’s Mukhaase Restaurant in Mesa. ‘Mukhaase’ means ‘kitchen’ in Akan, a language spoken in much of the southern half of Ghana. While English is the ‘official’ language of Ghana (population 25.9 million), Akan is the language most widely spoken of the 80+ indigenous languages. If you visit Max’s you are more than a little likely to hear a good bit of it.

Map of Ghana

Max came to the U.S. some fifteen years ago and, he told us, since acquiring a cat, fortune has smiled on him. Being cat-lovers ourselves we are perfectly willing to believe that his feline companion has something to do with his luck.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. How did we even find Max’s Mukaase Restaurant? Through one of those irritating restaurant card promotions, that’s how. In this case, though, it worked out really well. Somehow we came to have a restaurant card that gives 50% off at selected restaurants if you order a certain amount. A doctor’s appointment took us to Mesa, and Speedy researched what restaurants from the card were nearby – and there it was: Max’s! Who could resist? Surely not us.

The menu is not enormous, but it’s varied enough for all tastes, from adventurous (fufu with goat) to cautious (hot dog or beef burger). Isn’t ‘fufu’ a great word? It’s almost as fun as ‘wolof’ (the language of Senegal). Fufu, a staple of Ghanan cuisine, is made from cassava or plantain flour. There are several methods of making it; a common one is to boil the cassava or plantain, and then pound it into a dough-like consistency. Peanuts are another staple on the Ghanan menu; a good peanut soup is hard to beat, and is often eaten with balls of fufu.

I had the Peanut Soup with Rice Balls (and lots of veggies) – scrumptious and very, very filling.

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Louis opted for the Goat Stew, Waakye, Gari & Salad (Goat meat, Rice, Black Eye Beans, Veggies and Gari; Gari is a kind of pud made from cassava), which he declared divine. In fact, he liked it so much he ordered a second helping to bring home. It did not suffer, he reported, by either its short journey or its wait of a day or two.

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The food would certainly have been enough to draw us back for another visit some day, but even more than the food, the atmosphere was delightful. A pair of young men occupied another table, rapidly speaking a patois that, I assume, was a combination of Akan and English. One of them kept leaping up and running outside to conduct important business on his cell phone, to the bemused patience of his friend. At one point Speedy said to him, “You should be paid for providing entertainment,” and he shouted back to the kitchen, “Hey Max! I eat for free from now on!” Great laughs all around.

Not long after we arrived a young woman in a health-provider uniform arrived and sat at another table. Soon a lively conversation began, mostly in English, on the desirability of legalizing marijuana.  The young woman it turned out, is a pharmacist, and she declared that having seen what marijuana can do, she could never countenance it becoming legal in any way, shape or form. This was a discussion we followed with great interest but in which we sagely decided not to participate.

Overseeing it all, the activity in the kitchen, the spirited conversation, was Max, who is as friendly and accessible as his delicious food. When I asked for a photo with him he disappeared in back and returned wearing his chef’s coat and a toque. I prefer the photo of him hatless, so that is what I share with you, along with a recommendation to visit Max’s Mukhaase Kitchen if you find yourself near Guadalupe and Alma School Roads in Mesa.

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