Saturday, June 28, 2008

Tobacco Farming and Rain Water Harvesting

So you are asking yourself, "What the heck does tobacco farming have to do with rain water harvesting in the desert?" Those of you who are horiculturally astute may know that there are varieties of tobacco that grow wild in Arizona. The Native Americans have grown native strains of tobacco for centuries and use it in ceremonies.

Tobacco grows wild in the city of Tucson in yards and allies. You can find it particularly in older neighborhoods where many citizens have cultivated native plants and small patches of wildness. (Midtown and downtown can be contrasted with the dirt-colored suburban developments that are characterized by rocks, cement, and a few neatly manicured cacti. Meow.)

If you have seen tobacco growing in fields in Kentucky, you may not recognize the wild tobacco in Tucson. I can remember driving around Kentucky in the 1960s on vacation with the family. We passed miles and miles of tobacco fields. These plants were relatively short (3 feet) and had huge leaves. The tobacco plants growing around Tucson are much taller (up to 10 feet or more) and have hand-sized leaves and pretty yellow flowers.

A friend of mine planted wild tobacco in her university-area desert garden. These plants are at least 8-10 feet tall and offer a nice blind and shade her outdoor picnic area. One day while enjoying breakfast in her yard, I decided to become a tobacco farmer. On the west side of my yard, there is a 5 foot block wall that separates my yard from the two duplexes next door. Ever since I purchased this midtown property, I've been contemplating what beautiful, hardy, tall, fast-growing, drought-and-sun tolerant plant I could put there to screen my yard from the duplexes. Tobacco is that plant.

Lucky for my new seedlings, I also have the downspout from my roof on the west side of my house. If you read any of my rain water harvesting posts from last summer, you know that I planned to put in a rain water collection cistern. Well, that project hasn't happened yet. (Good news for the tobacco; bad news for me because that means I am still transporting rain water around the yard by hand.)

I have a rectangular garbage can that collects water from the downspout, but during a hard monsoon rain, it is filled in minutes. Last summer, the overflow created rivers and lakes in my backyard. (To see last year's photos click on water harvesting link on this blog). This spring, I created a trench from the rain water collection bin to the planting bed along the wall where the tobacco seeds will be planted. I have been waiting for the summer rain to plant my seeds. Thursday we had our first big rain of the summer season. It was glorious. Tomorrow, I'm planting my first tobacco crop.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

George Carlin, Comic Genius

This week the world lost a great comedian, George Carlin. Many media outlets have celebrated his life and his comedy by printing jokes and replaying famous skits. Having come of age with Carlin, it has been a fun-filled trip down memory lane. The New York Times published a few different stories on Carlin and several photos (including this one).

Rather than wax poetic about Carlin, here are a few of his one-liners... enjoy...

Can vegetarians eat animal crackers?

Why do they put Braille on the drive-through bank machines?

Is it true that cannibals don't eat clowns because they taste funny?

One nice thing about egotists: they don't talk about other people.

How is it possible to have a civil war?

If God dropped acid, would he see people?

If one synchronized swimmer drowns, do the rest drown too?

If you ate pasta and antipasti, would you still be hungry?

If you try to fail, and succeed, which have you done?

Why are hemorrhoids called "hemorrhoids" instead of "assteroids"?

Why is it called tourist season if we can't shoot at them?

Why is the alphabet in that order? Is it because of that song?

Where are we going? And what's with this hand basket?

If the "black box" flight recorder is never damaged during a plane crash, why isn't the whole damn airplane made out of it?

I'm not into working out. My philosophy is no pain, no pain.

I've always wanted to be somebody, but I should have been more specific.

You have to stay in shape. My mother started walking five miles a day when she was 60. She's 97 now, and we have no idea where she is.

One out of every three Americans is suffering from some form of mental illness. Think of two of your best friends. If they are OK, then it must be you.

Viva George Carlin!

VPL: Is It Really the Biggest Fashion No-No?

Those of you who know me know that I no longer watch television. More than 2 years ago when I moved to my current house, I chose not to subscribe to cable television and not to install an antenna in order to receive snowy local channels. (Note to Cox Cable: STOP sending me 2 pieces of mail each week. I'm not coming back!)

Truth be told, when I had cable TV, I used to like to watch shows featuring red carpet fashions-- among other things, of course. One night in the winter of 2006, I had an epiphany while watching the E! channel red carpet review. I had already seen the E! countdown of the biggest fashion no-nos with embarrassing examples from a variety of starlets. So, I knew that the biggest fashion no-no was VPL (visible panty lines). On the red carpet that night, a woman and a gay guy were talking with celebrities and then rating dresses, jewelry, hair, and shoes for the devoted E! TV audience.

My television epiphany occurred when the gay guy started asking every woman if she was wearing panties. (Of course, inquiring minds want to know; all of them were wearing tight, slinky dresses, and, of course, none of them had VPL.)

"Ohhhhhh...... why am I watching this?" was my first thought. Second and third thoughts were: he has no right to ask this question and why are they all answering him? With this, I turned off the TV and decided not to subscribe to cable after I moved. (Watching television is truly a mind-rotting exercise.)

Fast forward to the present. I work out at the gym 4-5 nights a week-- spinning, running, and weight lifting. These are high-intensity activities that produce a lot of sweat-- especially spinning. The other day, a male friend of mine noted that I had VPL. I refrained from making a crack about his disheveled workout attire, and proudly said, "Yes, I do." I proceeded to explain that I choose comfort and absorbency over fashion during workouts. So there, Mr. Tighty Whitey.

After a few weeks of watching other people spin (I'm usually in the back row), I have realized that I am in the minority on the VPL workout issue. Women of all sizes, shapes, and ages either do not wear panties under their bike shorts or stretch pants, or they wear thongs. How can they really workout like this? In particular how can they stand to run or spin like this? Is the fear of VPL another form of fashion slavery-- like outrageously high heels, boob jobs, and Botox?

Weeks of research and observation has led me to the conclusion that VPL is NOT the biggest fashion no-no-- especially in the gym. Sweaty workout pants--worn without panties-- are a much bigger fashion no-no. Gross....

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Downtown Tucson: Another Comeback?

I've lived in Tucson for 27 years. During that time, I have seen many changes in downtown-- some positive and some negative. (Yes, for those of you who live in the 'burbs. Tucson does have a downtown.)

I can remember walking downtown to shop at the old Jacome's and Penney's stores that once stood where the public library now is located. I also can remember the hey-day of Downtown Saturday Nights-- a downtown arts promotion program from the late 1980s. Hundreds of Tucsonans flocked downtown on the first and third Saturday nights to enjoy music, dancing, art, and shopping along Congress Street. (What happened to the enthusiasm of Downtown Saturday Nights and the businesses that used to be on Congress?) I also remember not too long ago when almost nothing was open on Congress Street except the Hotel Congress and the Rialto Theatre.

A small but determined group of artists and dreamers like me have been downtown supporters for years, despite multiple setbacks. Now, it appears as if downtown is rising again (even in the midst of the current traffic and parking nightmares). Along Congress Street, new shops and galleries are popping up next to bars and restaurants like The Grille, Sharks, The District, Tooleys, and Hotel Congress. The trolley tracks that will connect 4th Avenue and downtown are being installed. The city is helping businesses renovate the facades of the old buildings. There is progress.

Events like the Central Tucson Gallery Association's Summer Arts Cruise in June are bringing people downtown. Hundreds of people braved the construction to enjoy art, wine, music, finger foods, and good conversation. More than a dozen galleries were open along Congress Street, 6th Street, and 4th Avenue. (I currently have pieces in two of these galleries on Congress-- Dinnerware Artspace and the new Central Arts Gallery.)

I'm hoping that the artists, politicians, and downtown supporters will work together to wisely invest the Rio Nuevo funds to build a vibrant downtown.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Bushback Mountain: The Truth Revealed

As the 2008 presidential campaigns gear up for the final contest, it will be interesting to see how John McCain re-invents himself. Although he has been portrayed as a moderate Republican with an independent streak, lately his speeches show how close his policies are to George Bush's policies. The picture above is from Alan Colmes' web log. Many commentators and bloggers continue to support Barack Obama's drum beat: McCain is running for Bush's third term. On multiple levels, the country can't afford Bush's third term.

Blog for Arizona has a very good historical account of McCain's decisions and his past connections to the Savings and Loan scandals of the 1980s (among other stories about McCain). Again, I am disapointed in the main stream media. Story after story about what Obama's minister said but nothing about McCain's role in this 1980s financial crisis.

Clinton Supporters for McCain: Fact or Fiction?

Hillary Clinton ran an historic race for President of the United States. She inspired women of all ages with her campaign. Finally, a woman was a real contender for president. No matter how many times the media slapped her down, she came back. The constant barage of insults from wind bags on the left and the right--like Ed Schultz--just strengthened her core supporters.

Sadly, now Hillary's campaign has ended. The media who tried to kill her race is lauding her strength and courage, yada, yada, yada. (Just a few weeks ago she was a witch who wouldn't give up.)

These days the other big non-story attached to Hillary revolves around her supporters: Who will they vote for in November? Story after story reports that a significant percentage of Hillary supporters will vote for McCain. Personally, I think this is hogwash. Shortly after Hilary's concession speech, I heard a news report that 20% of her supporters say they will vote for McCain, who has a dismal voting record on women's issues. Ok, then, that means 80% will vote for someone else-- most likely Obama. Hello, why is the media focusing on potential defectors from the Democratic Party????? Obviously, it's because they're trying to paint this behavior as the norm.

A story in today's New Your Times puts this issue into perspective. It outlines how absurd it would be for a Hillary supporter to vote for McCain. Author Frank Rich describes McCain's pitches to pick up women's votes, but then adds, "... while the McCain campaign apparently believes that women are easy marks for its latent feminist cross-dressing, a reality check suggests that most women can instantly identify any man who’s hitting on them for selfish ends." tee hee.... you betcha.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Franklin and Jimmy: Where Are You When We Need You?

If you've been paying attention to the news these days, you know that the US is in deep economic do-do (a technical term I learned in Econ 101 at OSU).

Bush, Cheney, and their Congressional Republican minions have run the economy into the ground with their tax-break-and-spend policies. They handily eliminated the Clinton budget surplus years ago and continue to build the LARGEST budget deficit in history. Their oil man perspective on energy and environmental policy has not only led them to ignore international treatees on reducing global warming but also to work against any regulations that would encourage fuel-effiecient cars or meaningful research into alternative fuels. Being "anti-big-government" (except when it pertains to gay marriage or abortion), they also turned a blind eye to risky lending practices, which have now created a stagering mortgage crisis across the country. If all this is not bad enough, gas prices are over $4/gallon in some parts of the US and rising; automakers are closing plants and laying off thousands of people; the dollar has tanked on world markets; the stock market keeps slipping; people are losing their homes and jobs; and the Chinese are beating the pants off us at our own games (ie, capitalism and conspicuous consumption of energy-- not baseball).

Whew.... what a list. So, why don't we have a parilentary system, so we could have voted these self-serving, self-rightous oil barons out of office before they destroyed our country? I digress...

Tonight, my question is: Franklin and Jimmy, where are you when we need you most? Of course, I'm referring to Franklin D. Roosevelt and Jimmy Carter.

In the 1930s, the US was in dire financial straits; there was a banking crisis; people were losing their jobs and homes; and stock market volitlity led to huge loses. Hmmmm.... sounds familiar! Anyway, what did FDR do? Did he send everyone a $300 economic stimulus check so they could buy cheap imported goods? Noooooo.... he created social programs to give poor, sick, and elderly people a safety net and created jobs programs to put people to work. The alphabet soup of public works programs created by FDR went a long way to fix and build US infrastructure-- roads, sidewalks, parks, dams-- while giving people the work, money, and self-esteem to rebuild their lives.

We have people out of work, and we have infrastructure problems. Why not put the two together?
1) Politicians lack political will and long-term vision to take dramatic steps (even if they would benefit millions of people).
2) Sending checks is easier and very popular in an election year.
3) Sending us $300-600 dollars to spend not only helps some citizens but also helps business-- if we buy something.
4) Giveaway gimmicks are good PR amongst the poor and less educated. (Ok, sorry to sound elitist, but given some level of sophistication, you recognize the stimulus package for what it is.)

So, I've made a case of FDR, but why, you ask, do we need Jimmy Carter, too? Those of us who were around in the late 1970s, remember the last "energy crisis"-- long lines at the gas pumps, rising prices. Jimmy made a series of presidential tough-love, tighten-your-belts speeches on TV. He called on the nation to reduce energy consumption and to work together to develop an energy policy that would reduce our dependence upon foreign oil. He encouraged us to buy fuel-efficient cars, turn down our thermostats in the winter (55 at night and 65 during the day), and put on a sweater. (He wore a sweater when he gave one of these speeches.) I drove a Datsun B110 in the 1970s-- 40mph. People used to brag about the milage of their cars!!!! (Check out his speeches on YouTube.)

What is our president doing about our current energy crisis? First of all, you can't call it a crisis or people would really panic (especially since they're losing their houses and jobs, as oil and food prices rise). Are Bush and Chaney (his boss) asking people to conserve? Hell no! (Conservation is for wussies; that's what Ronald Reagan taught us.) Their solution is more oil production and exploration-- here and in the middle east.

What would the US be like today if we had re-elected Jimmy and continued to work toward energy independence? Sigh.....Of course, Americans aren't into sacrifice so we elected Ronny instead of Jimmy. Ronny said that there had been a "malaise" in the country and that now (with him as president) it was "a new day in America". Ronny (the great communicator) was selling us a "Don't Worry Be Happy" philosophy and we bought it. Magically, big cars were ok again, the energy crisis was a thing of the past, and global warming was a theory. Almost 30 years later, gas mileage for most cars is worse than it was in the late 1970s. Thanks, Ronny, George I and George II for allowing us to burry our heads in the sand, while you and your friends profitted from our ignorance.

So gasoline is fast approaching $4/gallon here in Arizona and has surpassed that mark in some states. This will put a dent in summer vacations, most likely, but what will the price of energy be in the winter when people have to heat their homes? This is a very scary thought, but, of course, except for NPR, no one in power is addressing this. (Winter is after the election, and, therefore, too far in the future.)

So, where are FDR and Jimmy when we need them? Will Barack Obama or John McCain be the type of strong, visionary president that we need now?

Friday, June 06, 2008

Summer Art Cruise Opens June 7

The Central Tucson Galleries Association Summer Art Cruise opens tomorrow. More than a dozen galleries in and around downtown will have artist receptions tomorrow night-- June 7, 2008. I'm proud to announce that I will have work in two of the galleries.

Suenos de Amor II (above) is part of the Big Ideas, Small Frames show at Dinnerware Artspace (264 E. Congress, Tucson) and Cascada de Luz (below) will be in the window at the Central Arts Gallery (274 E. Congress).

The Tucson Weekly has a comprehensive listing of galleries that will be open tomorrow evening beginning at 6pm. Come downtown to sip some wine, eat some finger foods, and hob-nob with an electic crowd.

Bucaramunga - the Last Stop

Our last stop in Colombia was Bucaramunga to visit relatives and celebrate Christmas. Bucaramunga is on the edge of the Andes (below), and it very lush. It is not as big as Bogota, and not as old and quaint at Cartagena.

Bucaramunga is a cosmopolitan city with LOTS of traffic. I forgot to mention that in Colombia the traffie is fierce. Pedistrians have no right of way. I was nearly run down my a bus in Bucaramunga on Christmas Eve. I was crossing the street (in the cross walk, at a light). Two or three lanes of traffic started to make a left turn toward me. I turned sideways between a car and a bus in order to avoid getting hit. I could see Jorge on the median looking upward and crossing himself. I guess it worked; the bus driver decided not to hit me and stopped so I cross!!!!

We had an absolutely wild Christmas Eve shopping trip to a large, multi-story, open-air mall. We went to structure that looked like a parking garage. It had 5 or 6 stories filled with hundreds of little shops. Each floor had something different-- shoes, clothes, luggage and leather, toys, etc. The corridors were PACKED shoulder to shoulder with hundreds of people buying last minutes gifts. It was extreme shopping for sure. I bought a great pair of salsa shoes.

One day we took a drive up into the mountains. The Andes were magnificent. I've been to the Great Smokies, the Colorado Rockies, Mount Graham (10,000 ft), and many other mountain ranges in Arizona, but somehow the Andes seemed more impressive than any of them.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Playa Blanca: El Paraiso

The most beautiful (and most challenging) part of our trip to Colombia was our time on Playa Blanca. We caught a mid-sized motor boat (below, left) at a market near Cartagena for our trip to Playa Blanca on Isla Baru. It took FOREVER for the boat to load and leave the dock. They didn't take off until the boat was full of people and goods for the island. The baby (below, right), sucking purified water out of a plastic bag, was one of our fellow passengers.

To say that Playa Blanca is primitive is an understatement. There is no running water for showers or toilets, no fresh water for drinking, and no electricity. Ok, to set the record straight, I'm not an overly prissy person. (That person would not have gotten on the boat at the market!) I have been wilderness camping in many remote parts of the US. I guess the differences between those experiences and my time on Playa Blanca were that: I was prepared for the wilderness camping (ie, plenty of water and food, the right clothes, bug repellant, my blankets, a tent with a floor, etc.) and I had a vehicle and could leave at any time. Once you're on Playa Blanca, you're there until the boat comes back.

Playa Blanca was remote and absolutely gorgeous. We spent our time there playing in the Cariabean, drinking ice cold cerveza, walking on the beach, and chatting. Our host was Mama Ruth and her husband. They own one of the many clusters of thatched roof buildings along the beach. She cooked all of our meals. The best fish I had in Colombia was Mama Ruth's. The beach at Playa Blanca was serene compared to Boca Grande (in Cartagena). Boca Grande was FULL of tourists and vendors working the tourists. There were a few bead, water, and beer vendors on Playa Blanca and some small groups of tourists. Unlike us, most of the tourists didn't spend the night there.

Our accommodations were rustic (above). The four of us stayed in one "room" in a thatched roof hut that had a sand floor and blankets and quilts for interior walls. The beds were minimalist, but after plenty of cerveza, I can sleep anywhere. Since there were no showers to wash off the sunscreen, salt water, and sand on my skin, the beds were a little sandy. At left is a picture of Alex with Mama Ruth; at right is picture of me, Jorge, and his mom Elsa.

Also here and far below are pictures of some of the signage. Apparently, a tagger spent some time at Mama Ruth's and dressed the place up with funky signage.

The best part of Playa Blanca was the absolutely devine starry night. The sky was deep midnight blue with thousands of stars, including shooting stars. I saw constellations that I have not seen in years. As we stood in awe on the beach at about 3 a.m., one of my companions remarked, "Es el trabajo del gran artista." (It is the work of the great artist.)

Playa Blanca is truly paradise. Unfortunately, there are corporate giants who are fighting to make Playa Blanca into another Boca Grande, with skyscraper hotels and condos on the beach. Mama Ruth and the others who offer hospitality on Playa Blanca are being threatened. For more on the politics of Playa Blanca, check out this link to the Save Playa Blanca blog. Above the sun is setting on Mama Ruth's kitchen.