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Book review - A Strange Little Place - the haunting and unexplained events of one small town · 2 September 2016 by colin newell

A stranger place - the hauntings and unexplained events of one small town.

Revelstoke: Where the worlds of the living, dead, and extraordinary collide.

Brennan Storr, of Revelstoke, British Columbia, a rustic, rugged and alpine town in Western Canada, considers his hometown something of a magical place. But that was not always the case.

Brennan was not a believer in much of anything in the spirit world apart from what he could see in front of him and hold in his hand. Slowly but surely he would be converted to a new reality.

On the rare occasions when Brennan Storr’s family, on his mother’s side, would get together, they would tell ghost stories about the house where they all grew up.

He did have a few personal stories of the unexplained. Nothing dramatic, really, apart from a small collection of inexplicable things that had happened throughout his life. Brennan offered “Understand, I didn’t believe in ghosts or the paranormal, but I got a lot of mileage out of those stories – both my family’s and my own – at parties.”

But in his debut book, A Strange Little Place – the haunting and unexplained events of one small town – Brennan reveals, in 33 succinct chapters, the unusual fabric of time and space that permeates Revelstoke.

“I’ll be straight with you – If you believe that UFO’s, Sasquatch and the like are all nonsense of the highest order, I have no intention of trying to convince you otherwise. Before starting this book in April 2012 I was in the exact same boat.”

Revelstoke, an internationally recognized destination for winter sports and becoming increasingly popular in the spring and summer for its cultural and outdoor activities, harbours something of a dark secret. If the examples within this 240 page paperback hold any greater meaning, it could be that this little town lies in the focal point or nexus of some mysterious force.

The history and progress of Revelstoke plays a very important role in this tale and Brennan thoroughly documents this relationship while unveiling 70 years of the town’s paranormal fabric. In A Strange Little Place Brennan offers several explanations for these odd events. There are a lot of unusual phenomenon here. There may be some inexplicable connection that links these events together. Clearly, Revelstoke has a quantity of spiritual baggage because of its very colourful and, initially, optimistic future.

Tales of missing time, shadow people, spectral light and sound, UFOs and ghosts spill from the pages in a jaunty kind of way that will leave you questioning your own reality and looking over your shoulder a little more often.

“Assuming he had fallen asleep without turning off the kitchen light, Nelles sleepily rose from bed and returned to the kitchen where, sitting at the table in front of him, was none other than the recently deceased Louis Bafaro.”

Brennan’s style is at once charming, folksy then gritty with a 1940’s gum shoe sensibility.

Perhaps coming from a similar upbringing to the author, I found his stories of the unexplained resonated with me. I was left reanalyzing some of my own experiences. I was opening chapters of my own life that I had often dismissed as “false memory”. I liked Brennan’s book because it made me think about the world around me – and had me squinting more objectively at things I might have not given a second look.

The author - Brennan Storr

A Strange Little Place is a frisky and fast paced read on a subject that I have always been fascinated with. These stories left me wanting more and asking more questions.

Brennan Storr, now a Victoria area resident, is an active story teller, researcher and journalist who has written on many subjects including pop culture, pro wrestling, his own itinerant life and his fascination with dark places. He works in a haunted office building in one of the most haunted cities in North America. His book is readily available on Amazon online (in Canada) and a growing number of small book stores in Western Canada.

You can meet Brennan in person and buy an autographed copy or two of his book at Chapter’s book store, 1212 Douglas St – downtown Victoria on Friday, September 30 from 2 to 4 pm.


Colin Newell is a Victoria area resident and long time writer of non-scary stories about coffee and pop culture.

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Baking 101 Bernard Callebaut sticky chewy chocolate brownies · 31 August 2016 by colin newell

I just made this rich, dark chocolate brownie with a soft chewy center, firm edges and a crackly top. Simple to make using just one bowl. Pay attention to the measurements as they are the key to success.

INGREDIENTS

  • ¾ cup Fry’s, Hershey’s or Dark Dutch cocoa
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • ⅔ cup butter – melted
  • ½ cup boiling water
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 free range jumbo eggs
  • 1⅓ cup all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 1 cup dark/medium Bernard Callebaut chocolate chips

INSTRUCTIONS

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Grease a 9 by 13 baking pan.

Sticky chewy rich Bernard Callebaut Brownies

Add cocoa and baking soda to a large bowl and stir to combine.
Melt ⅔ of a cup of butter in your microwave. With a wooden spoon, stir ½ of the melted butter into the cocoa and baking soda. Stir until combined.

Add ½ cup of boiling water to bowl with cocoa and butter. Stir until combined and smooth.

Add sugar, eggs and the rest of the melted butter to the cocoa mixture. Stir until combined.

Sift in 1⅓ cup of flour. Add vanilla and salt. Stir until combined and batter is smooth.

Add chocolate chips to batter and stir until combined.
Pour into prepared baking pan and smooth the top out with a wooden spoon. Bake for between 35 and 40 minutes. Test with a toothpick for doneness.

Cool for 30 minutes in pan. When cool, remove from pan and cut into snack sized brownies.
Yield should be around 2 dozen.
Serve with ice cream while warm – or with black coffee. They are an addictive treat.
If you feel the urge to coat them with icing, wait until they are cool and use your imagination.
Alternately, one could swirl in peanut butter chips or raw peanut butter instead of the chocolate chips.


Colin Newell is a Victoria area resident and long time creative writer. A baker since the age of 12, he has been around the mixing bowl a time or two!

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Book review - Straddling the Hound - The Curious Charms of Long-Distance Bus Travel · 30 August 2016 by colin newell

2016 Book Review Straddling the Hound

When humanity first put one foot in front of the other and locked its gaze on the horizon, the force of curiosity and exploration would inevitably build nations.

Without a curious nature and desire to follow the sun, we would be an entirely different people living in an entirely different world.

Retired medical doctor, Trevor Watson, is one such 21st-century explorer who finds the attraction of the open road impossible to resist. At a very early age, Trevor would sit in his bedroom and gaze at a large full colour Mercator map; he would imagine ocean journeys between tropical outposts. These junkets would often involve ingenious plans to avoid pirates, bandits, and encounters with malarial mosquitos.

Responsibility and practical demands of life in the adult world settled in and Trevor (in a candid and wry admittance) reluctantly decided on a career in family medicine. It would be a wise choice since it created an opportunity to meet his lovely wife of 46 years and travel and work in some interesting corners of the globe. Being a family physician also led him to write a column dealing with health issues for several Canadian newspapers in the 1990s.

In Trevor Watson’s debut release, Straddling the Hound he takes us on a series of explorations into the American hinterland. He frequently integrates etymological and linguistic analysis of place names, regional personalities and the very industry and infrastructure of the open road.

The book has more substance and surprises than what you would expect at first glance. Straddling the Hound is a very satisfying reading experience – as page after page of first person travel observations reveals unflinchingly detailed explanations of place names, people and the regional origins of successful businesses that ultimately thrived because of travel.

As you would expect, a book about bus travel in North America is not all about smiling faces. This is not the simpler times of the 1950’s and 1960’s. A journey on a trans continental bus is as much about discovering something new as it is seeing the seedier side of the American experience:

One chap particularly caught my eye; he was as stocky as can be; his neck must have been 20” around. He was, I imagined, Carlos “Chopper” Ramirez, out on weekend parole. He had cryptic messages tattooed on his neck and bald scalp. His head actually seemed suffused, as though it was about to explode. Oddly enough, he had – of all things – a huge golden polo medal hanging around his neck. I’ll bet you anything it was stolen, or maybe won in a knife fight.

I found myself drawing the curtains on my suburban home as I fell deeper and deeper into Dr. Watson’s first person dystopian vision of downtown America. That feeling would pass as the writing gave way to a folksier and journalistic treatise on the very fabric of America’s open road, its people, the itinerant among us and the many meanings of our journey.

Straddling the Hound is not just about the bricks, mortar, concrete and blacktop of our interconnecting matrix of highways that connect all the people in their varied splendour. Its also a fearless gaze at the strata of society. Dr. Watson takes us on a sojourn under the soiled fingernails and into the duffle bags of the every day people that ride the bus – heading home, leaving home, and often away from a temporary home. He flirts with often acerbic descriptions of frustrated employees and drivers of Greyhound. He explains the origins of highway-byway diners like Denny’s:

Denny’s was founded in 1953, in Lakewood, California, by Richard Jezak and Harold Butler. The original name was Danny’s Donuts, but a few years later was changed to Denny’s to distinguish itself from a competing chain called Doughnut Dan’s.

Trevor Watson of Straddling the HoundMore than anything else Trevor Watson wants to achieve his mission; to find out about the very essence of the people that he encounters; to understand them and their history and their place in the modern world. It is, I think, the thirst for knowledge that powers, in part, the motivation of the (as Trevor describes himself) hodophiliacsomeone who’s fond of or loves traveling.

Dr. Watson (Photo above) takes us on a dusty road trip leaving us significantly more curious about the world around us. I am very confident that readers of this blog would definitely enjoy putting on their traveling shoes and taking a ride on this bus. Copies of “Straddling the Hound” are available on Amazon.ca and also at Tanners Books in beautiful Sidney, British Columbia, Bolen Books at the Hillside Mall and Ivy’s Books in Oak Bay.


Colin Newell is a Victoria resident, on the southern tip of Vancouver Island, who is constantly in search of a great cup of coffee and a good book to read.

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Social media 101 - 10 things about todays internet · 23 August 2016 by colin newell

Get back to the basics - of the internet

25 years ago the World wide web was born. In the beginning it all seemed simple enough: Web pages were 100% information. Eventually they would include photos and multi-media. At that point the entire resource became limitless as a medium for knowledge deployment, information sharing and instant global communications.

I am fortunate enough to have been born before the internet. To have lived at a time where I did not have instant access to everything, I think, was something of a developmental benefit. It was a valuable experience. Like growing up without electricity or television… not that I was one of those people! It gives one perspective.

At this 25th anniversary juncture, I have some thoughts and questions about where we are at right now – and yes, it is going to come across as “you kids get off of my lawn…” Here are 10 thoughts:

10.) When did content on the internet become all about search engine ratings? Everywhere you look, you see rubbish, junk content and click bait. This article, for a refreshing change, is 100% information. There is nothing for you to click on, no sensational content, no mass reloads of pages to see one simple article. You are not forced to load 10 pages of ads to see a 300 word article. It respects you and does not treat you like a fool. This is actually the top thing that gets me fuming. Because I am fuming, I put it at the top of the list!

9.) When did the internet (our greatest knowledge resource) become so dumbed down and assume we are all stupid? We are not stupid. The average person functioning on this planet is quite smart. You have to be to survive. So why does the “internet media” feel that we are all idiots?

8.) Where there is potential for so much more we see endless quantities of junk or rubbish content, scandal sheet articles, click bait and pointless advertising shills that pose as meaningful consumer reviews. It’s everywhere. This article has no hidden agenda. There are no surprises. No insults.

7.) Whither integrity? I may not believe in the same things that you do, but I have stood for some things all the years I have been online and have not really changed my perspective that much.
Websites that try and pass off rubbish for pure profit – or legitimate media sites that include rubbish content (like our local Times-Colonist newspaper) leave me feeling kind of cold.
In their favour I imagine that the life of newspapers is a pretty tight one right now and maybe their very survival depends on this strategy.

6.) Too much information. Yea, I use Facebook and Twitter. When did the curtain of a reasonable expectation of privacy fall away with everyone (quoting a dear Hawaiian friend…) “Drop their panties for the camera…” Is it because we all want to share every moment of our lives and all our desires OR have we been conditioned to do so. I think it is the combination of the two.

5.) Is this a lost opportunity. I think every day we are given the chance to make a small contribution to the greater good of the Planet. The power of the internet and access to information could help us do this. But we waste our time running around after junk content, passing off jokes and gags as a meaningful use of our time and chasing phantoms in the street as a game (Pokemon…) Yup, full on old man rant now!

4.) I’ve still got hope. Actually, I think during a crisis situation the net becomes an awesome tool for coming to the rescue and marshalling a response really fast. Examples include the devastating Earthquakes in S.E. Asia (Indonesia, Thailand), Japan and Haiti. There is no question that people can pull together when they need to. And who knows, maybe the greatest global challenge is still ahead of us.

3.) Why all the eggs in one basket? I worry about the centralization of media and information on the internet and the abandonment or neglect of traditional forms of media, like newspaper, TV and radio. When you think about it, for the consumer, radio is one of the most economical mediums to reach a very large audience at little cost to the end consumer. TV used to be like that in the day we had TV antennas. Truth is, you can still put up a TV antenna and pick up a lot of good stuff – even HD. Most people don’t know this. For most of us, our cable bill (often bundled with internet) is often the priciest of utilities that we have little or nothing to show for our expenditure at the end of the month… apart from wasted time maybe.

2.) Spam is still king. It takes many forms but by and large, unwelcome e-mail is still the bane of the internet that has been with us every day the internet has existed. If anything, our laws and tools against spam may actually be improving. Ironically perhaps, we have grown to trust online commerce for its robust nature, selection and time-saving capabilities and it might just be that we don’t even need spam anymore – of that it might be completely ineffective anyway.

1.) There is hope. I just told you a bunch of different things. Perhaps they may have been laid out in a haphazard manner without the best grammar or punctuation. What I have tried to do is challenge my readers on some level, getting them to stop and think for a few minutes. This content is simply that. Content. No more. No less. So on this 25th anniversary of the world wide web, I offer you this. A single page of words with no music, no photos, no links, no promoted content, no rubbish or bullshit.

Take this knowledge freely. And in your internet travels, keep a watch out for the truth and integrity – two things often in short supply.


Colin Newell is a Victoria area resident, writer, technical analyst and a bunch of other things who has been writing on the internet for an awful long time.

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Social media 101 mad as hell and what are you going to do about it · 21 August 2016 by colin newell

Prisoner of Social Media

I heard a TED Talk not too long ago on CBC radio and I would like to track it down and listen again.

It was all about how social media (as good as it appears to be on a surface examination) has robbed us of creativity and productivity.

How our addiction or dependance on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the like has separated us of from our true potential selves.

But how is that even possible? I think of myself as a smart person, an engaged person and a person who is making a contribution to society. But am I, as an avid user of social media, really making a difference or the best possible contribution that I possibly can?

Let’s talk about one contribution that I make to the World around me that I am kind of proud of.

It is the website that I have been writing content for, for over 20 years.
A site that has been suffering from a degree of neglect over the last few years. But can we say definitively that this is the actual issue? Perhaps I have said everything I need to say about coffee culture or that it is time for younger voices to be heard. Fact is, when I started writing about the culture of caffeine consumption 20 years ago, I was relatively alone in a very finite field of coffee writers. That has changed. But could I be doing more?

Well, here is my truthful observation. In an average day, I may dedicate 45 minutes to “social media” or the “internet”. You know, checking e-mail, posting a couple of tweets or photos and updating my “Facebook” status. In that 45 minutes I may flip over to one of my web projects, like this one, and have a quick look see to make sure everything is ship shape… a couple of seconds of my time.

The reality of social media is that we are now all working for “free” for giant media mining companies like Facebook and Twitter. Many of my friends post on twitter like it is their own personal blog, not realizing that every word they are writing is being “exploited” in some fashion or another. They share their lives, their birthdays, the very minutiae of their earthly existence. I am often astounded by the sheer richness, the overwhelming quantity of words and thoughts that people post to their Facebook space is if it was a private personal journal. They update their profile photo’s with every change of hairstyle or mood. Outwardly this would appear to be pretty darn harmless. But is it?

I’m not much of a conspiracy theorist. Most global conspiracies are merely that: the product of someones overly fertilized imagination. If there was a conspiracy of global domination driven by a handful of evil doers, I think word would get out. And yet, here we are, sharing our whereabouts, our birthdays, our holidays and our most intimate feelings to an online behemoth. Relationships germinate, develop and coalesce and often die miserable deaths on social media. We use social media, like Facebook, as if it was some tangential communications form as reliable and without strings attached as a casual conversation or a binding agreement between strangers.

We often worry about an overly nosy government or police forces that want more power to surveil, ostensibly to save us from ourselves or terror threats, also imagined and otherwise. And on one hand we fight excessive police powers while revealing our destination, location and desires every hour and minute of each and every day. What happened to the essence of our private selves?

I have had this conversation with many, many people about this phenomenon of “social networking” and how much we all “need” social media. Parents and grand parents insist that they would not be able to connect with their children and grand children if it was not for social media APPS like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Seriously? What did we go before electronic social media? We picked up the phone and put pen to letter.

I do not wish to be a luddite but I cannot help but look in the mirror occasionally and ask myself, what kind of contribution could I have made today if I wasn’t spending so much time naval gazing and looking for that perfect, funny, witty or perfunctory tweet that will, I assure myself, change the World.

My mother once told me two stories that have hung with me my entire life: after I spent an evening in front of the TV glued to a sitcom with my dad and sisters that the World could crumble around us if we did not occasionally “self assess” our devotion to pop culture (at the time television entertainment).

And while standing at a bus top in the early 70’s she overheard two young women talking about a TV celebrity as if they they knew the characters personally. And one of the girls said to the other one, “Hey, isn’t that you brother across the street sitting on that park bench?” And the girl squinted and said, “Yea, I think so… haven’t talked to him in years…”

Perhaps what life in the 21st Century should really be about is balance. It takes work to achieve balance and sometimes it’s just easy to go with the flow. And that’s what scares me.


Colin Newell is a Victoria resident and writer, often with a mug of coffee in hand – looking for the truth or something that passes as truth.

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