Sunday, December 28, 2008

My Interaction with my Internet Hosting Company's Technical Support

Note:This interchange is a little loopy. I've concluded that the only reason my Internet Hosting Company has tech support is to aggravate its customers.

Thank you for contacting support. Please be prepared to answer your Security Question when we begin chatting. To enhance our security protocols, we'll need you to provide the answer to your Security Question at the beginning of our conversation. If you have not yet set your Security Question and Answer, please log into your account now to set it up. Thank you. Please hold for the next available operator to respond.

You are now chatting with 'Preston Sanders'

Preston Sanders: Hi Happy. My name is Preston, how are you today?

Happy: Hi Preston. I'm having a browser issue with cookies in my PHP scripts.

Preston Sanders: To protect your account from unauthorized changes, can you please verify for me the answer to the Security Question:

Preston Sanders: What is your mother's maiden name?

Happy: B*****t

Preston Sanders: Thank you for the authentication.

Preston Sanders: What exactly seems to be the issue?

Happy: I have some scripts that work okay in Google's Chrome browser, but the scripts do not work in IE7, Safari, or FireFox. I'm using PHP scripts and the $_COOKIE variable. I can read the variable in Chrome, but not in the other browsers.

Preston Sanders: I apologize for any inconvenience this has caused you.

Preston Sanders: There may be an issue with the browser or version of the browser you are using. Please contact any system Administrator regarding this issue.

Preston Sanders: We can do nothing in this regard as you are experiencing this issue on your local machine.

Preston Sanders: Are you the owner of this hosting account?

Preston Sanders: Do you have access to the e-mail address a*****t@happydoodle.*** ?

Happy: Yes, I own the account and I do have access to the e-mail account.

Preston Sanders: Okay.

Preston Sanders: Is there anything else I can assist you with today?

Happy: I'm not sure that I've actually yet been assisted. I'm wondering, for example, is my site configuration correct so that cookies work properly for the different browsers.

Preston Sanders: It should work fine with all the browsers. You can check it on other computers.

Happy: I've checked it on other computers, and it doesn't work on them, either; however, it works for the Chrome browser, but not for the other browsers. I think it is some kind of a PHP problem with reading the $_COOKIE variable, because I can look at the cookies in those various browsers, and the cookie has been properly set, but I can't read the cookie on those browsers, except for the Chrome browser.

Preston Sanders: Could you please provide me the exact URL where you are receiving the error?

Happy: I'm not receiving an http error; the script simply is not working correctly:

Happy: user=***** password=*******

Happy: The script should display with menu options, but instead, the script display a login url (which is the intended behavior IF the login cookie is not set).

Preston Sanders: Can you please provide the username and password to login at ?

Happy: user=***** password=*******

Preston Sanders: May I place you on hold for 2 to 3 minutes while I review your account?

Happy: Sure.

~~ Two Minute Interlude ~~

Preston Sanders: Thank you for holding.

Preston Sanders: I have checked it and it looks like there is an issue with your scripts. Hence, please contact any Web master and update your scripts.

Preston Sanders: We don't assist our customers with coding issues. I'm sorry and would like to apologize for that.

Happy: I'm the "webmaster" for this particular site. Any suggestions about where to seek some assistance for this issue?

Preston Sanders: I'm sorry, you need to correct this issue on your own. We don't have any issues on our servers.

Preston Sanders: Is there anything else I can assist you with today?

Happy: Evidently not.

Preston Sanders: Thank you for chatting with us. Please feel free to contact us at any time. We are available 24x7.

Preston Sanders: Bye!

It's a Good Day

I'm up "early" this Sunday morning. The fried potatoes are cooking in the cast iron skillet, and I'm waiting for my Sweetie to join me for breakfast (hmmm, think I'll have some fried potatoes). I'm listening to Weekend Edition, and life is good.

I've been consumed the last couple of weeks with creating a contact database in PHP and MySQL. I'm almost done with it (oh, maybe another two weeks...). It has completely taken over my brain. Ron has been kind with me as I prattle on about obscure PHP syntax (I just LOVE that word!) and the hidden logic of nested IF statements. He's so patient with me. That's why I cook him fried potatoes. He deserves it.

We went to see Milk yesterday. It's a very poignant and inspiring story. A friend of ours told me he didn't like the film because it was too preachy and too gay. Too gay? It's about the early gay movement and about a historical gay personality who became much larger than life. Too gay? Excuse me! We don't call films with Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt as being too straight. I'm outraged! Absolutely outraged!

I just turned the potatoes. They look fabulous! The secret is to cook them on medium-low heat until they brown, about 10 minutes, without turning or stirring them. Just go and write in your blog! I use a cast-iron skillet and spray it with pan spray. I also get good results with a non-stick skillet.

Well, gotta go and set the table! Peace and Love from Bucknell Terrace!

Friday, December 26, 2008

Less Than a Week

2008 had so much promise a year ago. I was getting ready for a Caribbean trip, and I was planning on a family reunion in Yellowstone Park, and a trip to Portugal with my sister.

Along the way, my brother suffered a very serious illness, and my Mom a collapsed lung. My brother is making slow progress, and my Mom is on oxygen, but both of them are in good spirits and reasonably good health, considering. I talked with them on Christmas day, and they both sounded good.

Then there was the remarkable story of Barack Obama. I hardly knew anything about him last January. I'm looking forward to his Presidency, because I'm convinced we will see needed change in our society. His election was a defining achievement for our age. I never would have imagined a Black man being elected President. Maybe the promise of a color-blind society is not empty.

Oh, and the pot o' money suddenly got smaller. Where does all the money go? What a mess. When Grace and I were in Portugal, we were in the middle of Nowhere Portugal, and the Multibanco rejected our credit cards. Outa gas. Outa cash! It took a feverish visit with a bank officer to get the cash. Even though I didn't speak Portuguese, he clearly understood me. On the cruise, I heard whispers about the economy. But when we got home, the panic was on full bore, and has been ever since.

So I'm quietly hopeful, and holding onto my wallet as I head into 2010. I'm predicting:

  • A head of state will become gravely ill and die in office.
  • A famous actress will get a very public divorce.
  • A little-known NASCAR driver will make a come-from-behind move and win the big race at a renown 500.
  • A religious personality will make an important and thoughtful pronouncement concerning same-sex marriage.
  • An American politician often in the spotlight will be involved in a sensational sex scandal.
  • A major car company will go bankrupt.
  • A "sleeper" film that nobody heard of will win an Oscar®
  • I will clean up the upstairs office.
  • Barack Obama will become the next President of the United States.
  • Happy and Lucky will have a fabulous year.

Come back next year and see which of these predictions come true. If you are 100% correct, well, you MAY or may not win a prize!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

A Merry Christmas

Well, of course! We had a Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

iPod = What I've Been Missing and Didn't Know It

For years, I've been observing other humans walking around with things stuck in their ears, and I just didn't get it. Some were in a trance state, others would chuckle from time to time, and then there were those whose bodies would be wracked with spasms. Why would I want that?

When Ron and I were in Mississippi, Alex gave me an iPod Nano. Yesterday, I got around to loading it (here's where it gets a little icky) with square dance music. Woo Hoo! I put on those tunes, summon seven phantoms, and I'm dancin'! We have a (smaller than optimal) space in our living room where I can singlehandedly square dance some singing calls. I can see the other dancers in my head, and the phantoms, so far, have been very cooperative, extremely talented dancers.

My next attempt will be to download Ira Flatow or Ira Glass.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

T'Was Too Daze Before Christmas

Yesterday, I was in the mall getting a haircut. The crowds were thin, and I think any merriment in evidence was simply putting a rosy glow on the coal that's being delivered this Christmas. This is a glum Christmas for merchants and shoppers, two days before Christmas.

I was listening a to a financial show on the radio. A listener called in and mentioned that she was paying off her credit card debt. One of the panelists said that she needed to be spending instead, that if we didn't all spend, we'd end up in even a deeper recession. So, let me think.... I should keep on accumulating credit card debt at a 22% interest rate; it's patriotic. I'm so confused!

This is a weird economic time. Lawmakers talk about regulation, but the horse has already left the barn. Consumers want relief, but don't want the consequences of declining equity value. It's a great time to buy into the stock market, but people are afraid to buy for fear of an even larger slide.

Christmas isn't so jolly. Shoppers and merchants are in a funk. St. Nick only needs four reindeer this year. Rudolph has been laid off, and the elves are trying to renegotiate their labor contract. No bailout or bridge loan for the North Pole unless Christmas proves its viability. Santa told me that he's trying to take the bah out of humbug, but it's a tall order this year.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Back to the Mason-Dixon Line

Mississippi is the Deep South. Maryland is a Southern Sympathizer, and if you are from Allentown, you're a Damn Yankee, at least that's the way it was explained to me.

Ron and I have mixed feelings about these visits back home. I sometimes wonder if they don't cause more anxiety than they alleviate. Mom was sleeping when we left for the airport. I'm grateful for modern chemistry and the drugs it makes possible. We had a pleasant goodbye.

So it's back to Wheaton and Doodle Today.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Ole Missis

I'm typing this from a Fairfield Inn Marriott in Southaven, Mississippi. We got in yesterday, and spent yesterday evening and today at Ron's Mom's place. She lives in a subdivision with street names like Dickens Place Drive, Bloombury Street, and Pemberton Cove. She lives on a culdesac lined with faux-grande brick manses with long driveways all on three-quarter acre "estates."

With vague unease I walk these streets, thinking that some creepy, gothic horror is about to be unearthed, enacted by a Baptist Stepford Wife only doing her Christian duty to that gay guy walking the dog for that elderly Jewish lady down the street.

And what goes on at the house at 4430 bodes ill, too. Mom is in her mid-80s, and has been having problems with her short-term memory, probably caused by TIAs (silent strokes). The memory difficulties cause her considerable anxiety, and she can be very unpleasant. Mom also suffers from paranoia, and makes some pretty dreadful accusations. She taxes everyone's patience. She consumes everyone's emotional reserves.

Alex, the woman who is Mom's caregiver is on 24/7 every day of the year. The strain is evident on Alex, but also on Mom, who does not have a clear idea of the toll that her constant questions, and her anxiousness takes on Alex and Ron. Both Alex and Ron explain things over and over to Mom, but within minutes, Mom is questioning them about it again. Without ceasing. All the time.

Mom's Ole Missis' state of mind could happen to any of us. I can see her struggle, and I see Alex's struggle too. Impatience can trump compassion. This isn't like a caregiver dealing with a child, because children learn. Instead, Mom is in her long decline, and it's not sunset, it's a darkening fog.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Down the River

Ron and I are headed down the river today. We're headed to the South, Graceland, and Ron's Mother. All four are great works of nature. I'm never quite sure what to pack, but you can be sure, it's all going to be carry on. I won't be taking my swim suit.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

House Rules

I was still reading the Economist when Ron got home last night. He had been on a hot date with a new friend. I had gone to dinner with some friends. We spent a few minutes catching up with each other's day, and had an interesting conversation about gay relationships in general, and ours, in particular.

The guys at dinner asked me about my relationship with Ron. I always hate that question, because, inevitably, the word "open" comes up. Ron and I have a non-monogamous relationship, but we are committed to each other and to our relationship. So, yes, our relationship is open to the possibilities of us being involved in the lives of other men, but we have committed ourselves over the years to remain and thrive in a relationship with each other.

Gay men have many ways to fashion their lives with each other. I think most of us want to be in some kind of an important relationship with others, whether it be boyfriends, partners, fuckbuddies, or soulmates - with or without benefits and sexual access. That is, we are free to make the kind of relationships we want, but we still can get blindsided by jealousy, cultural prejudice, and fear.

Every relationship forges its own rules. On the basis of my own non-scientific and anecdotal polling, most relationships pay some lip service to monogamy. Some couples are monogamous, through and through.

Some Miscellaneous House Rules

  • You can have sex only with me and no one else.
  • You can have sex with other guys, but don't let me find out about it.
  • You can have sex with other guys, but only once per guy.
  • You can have sex with other guys, but only if you're out of town without me.
  • You can have sex with other guys, but you can't fall in love with them.
  • You can have sex with other guys, but only if it's in a three-way with me.
  • You can have sex with other guys, but not in our home.
  • You can have sex with other guys, but not in our bed.
  • You can have sex with other guys, but not with anyone we both know.

You can probably add a few rules of your own. These rules all attempt to do two things: they try to limit long-term sexual contacts outside the relationship, and they try to reduce the risk of emotional connections outside the relationship. Of course, the peril of sex outside the relationship is that it promotes emotional connection.

The house rules have other purposes, too. They provide a cover of monogamy for a coupled relationship, because they provide plausible deniability about the persons in the relationship having sexual affairs outside. Culturally, it's easier to admit to gay monogamy than other kinds of relationships. I think that's what the clamor for same-sex marriage is all about among gay men. All of us want to be respectable, and respectable relationships don't openly engage in scandalous sexual affairs.

Also, with rules in hand, persons in the relationship can tamp down jealousy, or at least keep it in check. As long as you keep your affairs out of my field of vision, I won't go looking for trouble. I won't ask, and you'd better not tell. I can't be jealous of the other guys you sleep with, because I know you won't see them again.

The rules also address the fear the couples may feel about the permanence and stability of their relationships. The rules make it difficult to have a significant friendship outside the primary relationship so that the men in the relationship feel closer together, more secure.

So how did Ron and I end up in our family? It became evident during our conversation that we have a very different set of house rules. Here's how we handle commitment.

Our House Rules

  • Always love your man, whatever that means.
  • Trust him, unconditionally.
  • Respect his personal life.
  • Tell him about the guys with whom you're involved, and expect him to do the same.
  • Let him fall in love with someone else, even if it hurts.
  • Assert your claim to his heart.
  • Tell him, occasionally, that you need a hot sex date with him, just because you feel horny.

Ron and I have remained with each other because he let me be who I am. He let me love whomever I chose to love. He risks losing me, because that was the only way he could have me. Of course, now he can't get rid of me. Our relationship is still wide open. It's wide open to all kinds of possibilities, sex, risks, fulfillment, and love. It's also a committed relationship between Ron and me. That's our house rules.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Bronski Buzzkill

I'm reading another (old) anthology, Flashpoint: Gay Male Sexual Writing, edited by Michael Bronski. Bronski is one of my favorite gay social critics. His introduction writes about the nuances of the categories of sexual literature - smut, porn, and erotica. All have become value-laden terms, and he uses "sexual writing," instead.

Bronski focuses on sexual writing as an opening to understanding our own sexual fantasies, longings, and behavior. He challenges the reader to get beyond the jerk-off nature of the porn tale, and test how the writing resonates in our own minds and cultural context. Bronski is simply one of the best social commentators

And that's the buzzkill. I'm reading a hot story, but carefully thinking about its characters. Is that me on that bed? Am I really making a shopping list while we're having sex? Why am I enjoying this scene? And if I think about sexual writing, I lose my erection, because thought requires a lot of blood in my brain, and something in my physiology has to fail when I think and analyze my sexual behavior, played out on a page.

Sexual writing gives me a palpable thrill, until I think about it. Some of the writing is very good, and most is not. A strange paradox for me is that the trashy, steamy stuff, written simply to get me off without thinking is more satisfying than the more literary sexual writing (I do have a brain!). I want sex to take me into the realm of suspended thinking, a place of hormonally crazed action and pleasure. And if I have to think about that, I get a headache.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

I Have a New Toy

I'm forgetful. In fact, you can ask me something, give me a date, or tell me your name, and within about 15 seconds, it's history. Nothing registers anymore. Oh, I mean, I can still function (like a rutabaga), but it requires real power lifting for me to retain brand new information. Something has to be repeated at least six or eight times, and even then, it's about a fifty-fifty chance of retention.

But, no more! I am now the grateful owner of the Olympus NV-3200PC Digital Voice Recorder! This is a little gadget, smaller than a small cell phone that can record up to 54 hours of the stuff that I'm always going to forget. Plus, it has the added bonus of recording my greatest thoughts, and also profound insights that I want to memorialize in this blog. I'm expecting great results from this technological helper brain. You should see a marked increase in the quality, if not quantity of my blog entries. I think you'll be impressed, and will probably want to go to Radio Shack and purchase one for yourself.

Ron already cringes when he notices that I have it in hand. I tend to harass him with my new toys. The unit has very high quality playback fidelity. I'm sure I'll think of all kinds of interesting uses for it. When I have this stuck in my pocket, I have new confidence, yes, I'll remember that factoid. It won't escape me anymore.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

What I Do in Retirement

Retirement is not a destination: it's a very expensive journey that lasts a long time. I do not sit on my front porch, because I don't have a front porch, although I do have a rocking chair. I waste a lot of time on my computer, just because I can. I think that's okay. I used to waste a lot of time on my computer at work, too, just because I had too. Old habits are hard to break.

I took up the gym when I retired. I hate the gym, but it allows me to eat just about whatever I want to stick in my mouth, and I've actually trimmed some pounds off, although my bad posture (from sitting in a chair in front of my computer) certainly doesn't show an incredible result. I figure, I'm ahead just going to the gym, burning my 600 calories, then clearing out. But now, I have time to hate the gym. That's cool.

Last night, I had a square dance emergency. For those of you snickering out there, such emergencies really do occur, and on a fairly regular basis, too. I originally had dinner plans, but the workshop I dance with only had six dancers, so I scrapped my dinner plans, picked up my friend Michael, and we narrowly averted the dance disaster. Square dance is just that important.

You might guess that retirement affords more opportunities for gentlemen callers. Your surmise is correct. In spades. I'm not particularly proud of that, I'm just noting another element of my retired life. It's one of the less retiring aspects of retirement. It requires a calendar, advanced scheduling techniques, a modicum of wit, and adeptness with java browser technologies.

Monday, December 1, 2008

A Paradigm Shift

I had a discussion with a friend this morning. We were talking about Barack Obama, identity politics, and gay marriage, not terribly coherently, but they were all in the same conversation.

I told my friend that what had exhausted me when I was doing gay community organizing was the identity politics, and the divergence of interests within the LGBT community. I also noted how identity politics prevented people from taking Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton seriously in their presidential candidacies.

The Republicans for years have used a variant of identity politics with their wedge issues, splitting off parts of the Democratic Party's coalition such that one group in the coalition could not support the issues that another group considered vital.

So out of nowhere comes Barack Obama. No, he's not post-racial or bi-racial or Black or anything else like that. He changed the debate. It's no longer identity politics. It's not about race (or gender, or orientation, or religious belief). What he offered us was a new perspective on what it means to be American. According to Mr. Obama's view, we all have a legitimate claim to call ourselves authentically American. It doesn't depend on your color, your gender, your race, your religion, or your sexuality.

We are all a part of Mr. Obama's vision of America because our Declaration of Independence states, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." And we obtain those inalienable because we are founded on a Constitution, which in its preamble aspires to form "a more perfect union" and "secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and to our posterity...."

As my friend said, Obama leap-frogged over identity politics. He has given us a new way to think about ourselves in relation to each other: we are all part of the American experiment. We all have claims on justice. We're all in this together. We are living in a nation that is ever working to be more perfect, and Barack Obama clearly articulated that notion for us. We can put our best selves to the task. Yes we can.

Democrats and Republicans can continue to play by the old rules of identity politics, marginalization, and negative campaigning, but the rest of us don't have to play by the rules anymore. We now have a larger view, a more inclusive view. Maybe at the Independence Day celebrations in 2009 we can say "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness..." and really understand, finally, what justice for all really means in America.

Pad Thai on Bucknell Terrace

I'm not exactly Thai, although I did know a Thai foreign student in Moscow, Idaho in the mid-60s. I've been wanting to make Pad Thai for years. It's one of my favorite foods. Whenever I would look at a recipe, the list of ingredients and the preparation looked daunting, but no more!

A while ago, I bought Ron a Thai recipe book, Simply Thai Cooking (Young and Ayanoglu, Robert Rose, 1996, Toronto, Canada). I've only cooked two recipes in it: one for Pad Thai, and the other for roasted chilies. In the last 25 years, I've eaten lots of Pad Thai, but the recipe in this book (on page 76) produces a dish that is every bit as good as I've had in any Thai restaurant.

Yes, the ingredient list is a little daunting, but if you buy the tamarind paste, you'll be able to make three or four batches of Pad Thai (yummm!). In the local Asian grocery, I was confronted with dozens of varieties of fish sauce (an essential ingredient for Pad Thai and many other Thai dishes). I went to the Internet, used my trusty Google, and purchased a recommended brand (Golden Boy) for a whopping $1.69.

So tonight, I fixed Ron some Pad Thai. What a satisfying meal. This is the kind of experience that only whets my appetite for additional Thai culinary adventures. Stay tuned.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

One Big Happy Family

Yesterday evening, Perry and I went to Nick's 50th birthday party. I think Perry and I were the gay contingent (there was also a high school contingent, and at least one guest that the other guests couldn't identify). Nick is one of seven kids, and five of his brothers and sisters, and his dad were there plus aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews, and lots of in-laws.

It was a big sprawly, loud, wonderful, happy birthday party. His family took Perry and me in like we were long lost relatives and made us feel completely at home. Nick (arrived late...) had a big grin, and made the rounds greeting everyone and being such a gracious guest of honor. I was really happy that Perry dragged me along to this joyful family affair.

I met Nick over ten years ago, and we worked a lot on local gay community stuff. We've kind of lost touch over the years, but have seen each other occasionally. Nick is still delightfully Nick. I've always thought he was a sharp looking guy. And he just gets more mellow, and good looking! At the party, his family had put together a collage of pictures, and it was very precious to look at. On the table, next to the cake, was his high school graduation picture. He looked like a stoner with a subtle smile and the wisp of a mustache playing across his top lip. Ah, the 70s, how we miss them!

The gift un-wrapping ritual featured Nick ripping wrapping paper off a mountain of gifts which featured tools, alcohol, and one Ken doll. Perry and I had "forgot" to put a tag on our gift, but somehow Nick, and everybody else, figured out who gave him the Ken doll.

We met most of Nick's brothers and sisters. I had a couple of memorable and delightful conversations with a brother, a sister, an aunt, and a sister-in-law. Nick comes from one of those quintessential American Families. The kind that's initial capped. The kind that Barack Obama and John McCain claimed to speak for. The kind that gives me infinite hope for America's future.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

A Somber Thanksgiving Tale

The siege in Mumbai is over. The 15 terrorists have been killed or captured. 145 or more people died, and over 350 people were injured. We can expect more terrorist attacks will occur. More people will be killed, if not in India, then in Pakistan, Iraq, Algeria, Spain, the United States. Pick a place.

In the coming days, the security experts will theorize about the group or mind behind the plot. Governments around the world will condemn the attacks and several will rattle some sabers. Mumbai will bury the dead. I don't understand the religious, social, and political thought behind these attacks. I don't understand why anyone would want to kill and maim people who just happened to be in the wrong places at the wrong time.

Oh, I know the terrorist claimed to be targeting Britons, Americans, and Jews, but tell that to the families of the hotel workers, or the widow of the police commander. These terrorists shot and bombed indiscriminately whoever was in range, whoever was in front of them.

The analysts say that the terrorists act out to disrupt economic growth, to sow fear, to stoke religious intolerance, to wreck tourism and development, to inflame xenophobia. And the immediate aftermath of a terrorist attack may accomplish all of that and more.

Very soon when the numbness caused by the attack turns to anger, the anger turns to action, and then there's Hell to pay. Tit for tat, eye for an eye, 10,000 times over, payback is always demanded. Where is Jesus' other cheek? Where are Gandhi's sandals? Where is Martin's pen writing in the Birmingham jail?

One of the Indian survivors remarked that the men carrying out the assaults in Mumbai looked so ordinary, young guys in t-shirts and jeans. Maybe this current wave of terrorism started as a religious jihad, but now it's ordinary guys, killing for what?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

What's Up?

I ran into an old flame of sorts today in the gym. He's a guy that I was seeing a couple of years ago. We sometimes run into each other, and today was one of those times. He's 29, and worried about turning 30. I told him that it only goes down hill from here. I enjoyed seeing him, and talking with him. I always enjoy running into my past.

This afternoon, I went over to Tim's for a romp. He played a DVD to keep me company while he prepped himself. It was almost too much excitement, or maybe it's that the older I get, the less it takes to impress. I'm not sure. I'm certainly of a certain age these days, and it becomes more apparent every day. I think I'm still in recovery from visiting my Mom....

And it's so good to be back on my turf. I went square dancing last night. I was the resident dunce, but it didn't seem to matter, and I'm very good at following directions. The routine of the gym (and the "online" experiences) remind me that I'm home doing the things I love to do. The perfect poached egg this morning fortified those sentiments. When you are retired, the little things aren't nearly so little anymore.

Ron and I are headed out to a Mug Muck restaurant social in a few minutes. We're going to Crisfield's, a top-rated local seafood restaurant that remains legendary. Having dinner with Ron at the end of the day is just the right thing to do.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Maryland, My Maryland

I'm back home in Maryland. I had a quick but very nice trip to Moscow, Idaho, but I'm very happy to be back in Maryland. Over the years, I've put my roots down here. Idaho is a nice place to visit - the place of my birth, the home of really famous potatoes, but Maryland is now my home.

It hasn't always been that way. When I first moved to this area, I had thought that I'd be moving back West in a few years, but that just didn't happen. I quickly put down some roots, and before long, I found myself with a partner, a job, and lots of friends. I discovered I could be a gay guy without having to watch my back. I've grown to enjoy this place and the life I have here.

I still get misty eyed when I see the beauty and splendor of Idaho, and I truly love that place, but my home is here in Maryland, my Maryland.

Monday, November 17, 2008

All Is Quiet on the Western Front

My hometown is Moscow, Idaho, which is a long ways away from anywhere. I'm here visiting my Mom, and helping her take care of a number of errands that she doesn't want to load onto my sister. I have a sister, Katherine, who lives here in Moscow, and helps Mom out all the time, so I'm glad to pitch in and do some things around the house.

We've had a refrigerator and another oxygen machine delivered. We visited Mom's attorney, and tomorrow, I'm talking with her finance guy. Katherine had an art show at the university, so I went up to that, too, and it was very good. Yesterday, Mom and I went up to St. Maries to see Uncle Harry and Aunt Virgie. She made a wonderful chicken noodle soup, and Dutch apple pie. I truly enjoyed the stories and the card game. Last night, Katherine and I went to a new cocktail lounge, Mix, here in Moscow and had a nice long talk about life. I'm happy to be a part of this family.

So now, all the errands are pretty much wrapped up. Katherine, Mom, and I are going out to dinner tonight. All is quiet on the western front.

Saturday, November 15, 2008


I stood at the corner of Third and Washington Streets today, in Moscow, Idaho, waving my sign, "Invalidate H8." I was here at City Hall with about 60 or more other people demonstrating my anger over Proposition 8. A surprising number of cars honked as they drove past, and the occupants were giving us thumbs up. A couple of lone counter protesters were on the other corner of the intersection waving two signs, "Don't Target the Mormons" and "Don't Send Us Anthrax." At 11:00 a.m. we had a moment of silence, during which the two people across the street chanted slogans.

When Californians passed Proposition 8, I realized how tired I was about being constantly stigmatized, constantly demeaned. And it isn't that my friends and neighbors are treating me badly. It's bigger than that. A whole society is treating me and other lesbians and gay men badly. And I finally got exquisitely tired of that. I'm shocked that Californians could so blithely snatch away the rights of gay people. I'm shocked that gay people have put up with this crap for so long.

The reason that same-sex marriage is so important is not so that gay people can have certain property rights or tax deductions. Marriage is important to gay people because it strikes directly at the stigma attached to homosexuality. A society that grants me and my partner marriage respects our relationship officially and emphatically. This is no half measure or winking nod. It's none of this remarking that just because he and I have lived together for 25 years, we aren't really married; so somehow, our relationship doesn't count as much and by inference we don't count as much. No, our relationship has a protected and honored status, just like every other married person's relationship.

Stigma can't abide honor or respect. The stigma of homosexuality will only be overcome when our society decides that all of its citizens deserve honor and respect. If you don't respect my relationship, you don't respect me. The message is that simple.

I have a word for the Mormons and the other concerned religious people who are animated about this issue. All of us, you and me, want strong, loving families. Indeed, they are the bedrock of our society. I am angry that you attack the moral and legal substance of my family. Your stand for Proposition 8 is immoral and hypocritical, because it attacks other families just like yours. You should rethink your stance, especially if you believe that we are all God's children.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Marriage, Anyone?

Today, same-sex couples in Connecticut can get state marriage licenses and tie the knot. This is in stark contrast to what happened in California on Election Day, where voters passed Proposition 8 (a.k.a. H8), which limits marriage to only a man and a woman.

This is a very personal issue for me, because I am in a same-sex relationship. My children are LDS, and the LDS Church played a major role in passing Proposition 8, and indeed some of my children supported it. I understand their position, but I disagree with their church's stand, and I will continue to disagree.

My question is simple: how does same-sex marriage undermine "traditional" marriage? In fact, it seems to me that when gay men marry each other, they won't be marrying straight women. I was in that kind of marriage, and it failed. And the reason I married my wife is because that was the only way I knew to make a family. In the midst of the love we had for each other, we also had a lot of heartache, pain, and anger, which undermined and finally broke our marriage.

The claim is made that God doesn't sanction same-sex marriages or that same-sex marriage is not part of our Judeo-Christian heritage. The claim may be true, but it is irrelevant in considering this question, because public policy about marriage should not be decided on the basis of religious belief. It should be decided on what's best for society, and what's best for the parties in a marriage.

Gay men and lesbians still bear a stigma about their sexual orientation. The affect of that stigma was clearly apparent in the California campaign. And that stigma is also very present in our lives and the lives of our loved ones. The stigma is present in the coded language that our families use about our relationships. The stigma is present in how our society negatively perceives our relationships. The stigma was present when California voters decided to enshrine homophobic stigma in their constitution.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Mental Slips

As I get older, I notice mental slip ups. The most common is calling Ron "Tim," which is embarrassing, but at least I know who Ron and Tim are, and I can quickly correct myself. Another slip up is to forget a word, and then talk around its definition, hoping that the word will come back. This is a lot like "The word's on the tip of my tongue...." That phenomenon is more common to me than it used to be, but I usually can either come up with the word, or at least make myself understood.

The strangest one for me, and the one that causes the most trouble is recalling names, either of people or places. In this instance, I recognize the person or the place, but I'm totally clueless about the name. I can access the information in my brain about the person or place, but I can't put any name on the person or place at all. The name is also beyond my own recall. It's like I've never know the name in my memory, I can only remember that at one time, I knew the name.

If I hear or read the "forgotten" name, I immediately recognize it, and it is once again connected to the "nameless" information with which it was once associated in my memory. My brain's grasp on those names appears weak, because I can easily forget those names again, and have no way to recall them. I compensate for that by replaying those names over and over in my head whenever I recover them.

Most names that I forget are in my long term memory, but within the last 10 or 20 years. I don't have any trouble with names from my childhood through high school or so. The most difficult names for me to remember are co-workers, some of whom I worked with for years. I can tell you where they sat at work, what projects they worked on, all kinds of things, except their names.

I think the challenge I have with names is that they are arbitrary. On the other hand, the information they represent isn't arbitrary at all, and the connection between the arbitrary name and its information can be lost. The information, itself, remains in my brain, but that pesky pointer to that information is missing in action.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Better Late Than Never

While fall is still around, I thought I'd show the world a slideshow of the pumpkin-carving contest. This is a very orange slideshow.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

My Huge Basket

Okay, Tim, this one's for you! Tim's been demanding a picture of my basket.

Happy's Huge Basket

Happy's Huge Basket

This basket is a shameless promotion for Starbuck's, with a side plug for Bed Bath and Beyond. Special thanks goes to Perry, who went shopping with me at the Woodmoor Starbucks. I don't know what I was thinking when I went with the theme, "For the Morning After, There's Starbuck's." I mean, how lame can I get? I was probably having a bad ManHunt day, or maybe I was thinking of melancholy John McCain supporters. On the other hand, a nice cup of coffee from freshly ground beans isn't the worst way to start the Morning After.

The basket will be raffled away this weekend in Shepherdstown, WV at the HFH XIV! square dance fly-in. It will be one of many huge baskets, donated by hunky, chunky, and lanky guys and gals looking for all kinds of fun and all kinds of square dance programs, as well as contra and country western. Maybe you should head up to Shepherdstown, and my huge basket could be yours, and not just for the evening, either..., but for the morning after!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

I Can See across the Great Divide

For the second or third time in my life, I had a conversation about race with an African American. She and I were waiting in our dematologist's office. I broke the ice with, "That was quite an evening last night," and the conversation went on from there. Truly, something has changed. My African American grand-niece really can become President of the United States. America thought the unthinkable, and voted for a new way.

Importantly, white Americans recognized the moment, too, because they voted for Barack Obama. But clearly, Obama won because he reached out to all of us, whoever, whatever, or wherever.

The women at the Dr.'s office were pinching themselves. This is a defining moment in their lives, and in the lives of the rest of us. We have a lot of hard work to do. But we can do it. We woke up this morning to a changed world; I believe a profoundly changed world. This is not about the Democrats. This is not about President-Elect Obama, this is about you and me. I believe that. This is a new day.


I know this sounds a little weird, but I hear some stories on NPR about the election victory of Barack Obama, and my eyes tear up. I read a newspaper article, and I get the shivers. It really happened. We elected Barack Obama. I will remember this election a long time.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

An Awesome Moment

Tuesday can be a historic moment. We can elect Barack Obama President of the United States.

I apologize to all of my regular readers, all four of you. I haven't been particularly faithful in my musings here for the last month or so. I'll try to do better in November.

I don't bite my nails, but if I did, I would be chewing between now and Wednesday morning. Every day, I go to and check out its electoral maps. Today, it's giving 311 electoral votes to Obama and 132 to McCain, with 95 tossups. I rework the numbers every day trying to figure out the combinations that Obama needs to win at the polls. It's still a cliffhanger in the College, a College that Maryland would like to change. Go Terps! or something like that.

I don't want the Presidential Electors of Ohio, Pennsylvania, or Florida to elect the President. I want the American people (no matter how deluded or stupid we may be) to elect the President. I'm really tired of this "Swing State" phenomenon, and think that all the states should be swing states. Maryland has a solution, and maybe within my lifetime, it will be working.

I'm holding my breath for Barack Obama. Although he's ahead in the polls and looks like he's headed for victory on Tuesday, the campaign isn't over yet. He is a transformational leader. John McCain is correct, Barack Obama will lead our country in a new direction - a change in economic policies, a change in health care policies, a change in international relations, a change in our war policies. America needs Barack Obama.

We stand at a crossroads. This election really is a choice. Do the American people continue with the failed policies of a bankrupt, neo-conservative philosophy that has taken us to war and wrecked our economy? Or do the American people vote for pragmatic policies that will restore our financial and economic soundness, provide universal health care coverage, and get us out of the Iraqi quagmire? McCain is not a maverick. He's a retread.

I'm also holding my breath about the outcome of Proposition 8 in California. All people should have the right to marriage. Shame on the backers of Proposition 8 for wanting to deny basic human rights to a class of people, and wanting to make that denial a constitutional ban. The campaign for the ban is mainly being financed by members of the Mormon Church. It appears that the church has been pressuring church members to contribute a lot of money (about $18 million or 77% of the total contributions) to the campaign. This campaign has the proponents spreading all kinds of lies about same-sex marriage, about education, about free speech, but very little about love, respect for human rights, or strengthening the family. Religious activists are attempting to force their views on the rest of us through deception and fear.

I'll continue to hold my breath until Tuesday.

By the way, the pumpkin carving party was fabulous. I now know the competition. These carvers are good! And scary! The Halloween Party afterwards, at the Lost River Grill was also a hoot. Ron and I went as Clark Kent and Wonder Woman - Over-the-Hill Superheroes. We looked good!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Creepy, Scary

Today, we head down the road to Lost River, West Virginia for a pumpkin carving contest. I have some novel ideas. I've been thinking about how to architect successfully the facial structure of a Republican Presidential Candidate on the pumpkin, but that may be too daunting. Well, the beady eyes shouldn't be that difficult.

Of course, I'm listening to WAMU this morning, happily pledge free. I am so tired of hearing John McCain talk about Joe the Plumber. I guess, that John McCain in making Joe the heart of his campaign discloses his true colors: Joe's not a plumber, and Joe never had enough money to buy the business he talked about owning, and Joe doesn't have the intellectual capacity to understand that Barack Obama's economic plan would actually help Joe, and that John McCain's plan might actually harm Joe. But many Republicans don't seem capable of that kind of nuanced analysis.

Pardon the aside, I just get a little hot under the collar when I hear the lies and half-truths being spouted on the campaign trail. And I'm enough of a partisan to know that my primate belief system is just as selective and idiosyncratic as Joe the Plumber, and those Republicans out there. It's not anything personal. Some of my best friends are Republicans....

Well, back on topic. So I've been working on pumpkin designs. I think I have the floating iris inside the floating eyeball problem licked. I downloaded some pumpkin carving stencils, though, just in case I need a fallback. I also noticed that jack-o-lanterns generally don't have ears, which is a good thing, because ears aren't a real strong point, of mine. Neither are noses or mouths, but I'll fake it.

So, accomplishments this week: ManHunt failed me miserably. Three appointments, and no guys showed up. I blame it on my deodorant. I unloaded book shelves in the basement for the painters. They came, they painted. I reloaded the book shelves. The basement had a minor flood, but I managed to clean it up, and in the process discovered some old diaries from thirty-five years ago. I wonder if I have enough courage to read them. Now that's a very scary thought.

Perhaps, the most life-changing accomplishment of the week was buying a jar of Thai fish sauce (Golden Boy). I had some on my poached egg this morning. Mmmmm. I'm getting ready for my Thai shopping trip, and my first attempt at Pad Thai. I'm really excited about it. Of course, when you read the recipes, you begin to realize how many calories Thai food has. But that's why I go to the gym.

Stay tuned. I plan to take pictures of my artistic pumpkin sculpting.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Last Day

Today is the last day of the WAMU Fall "Membership" Campaign. Tomorrow will be a happy day! More accurately, tomorrow will be a rainy, gray, wet day.

I'm not completely back in the groove. Of course, most of my dearest friends haven't even noticed that. But deep inside the recesses of my darkest self, I know. I REALLY know. I can tell that something is, somehow, different. Maybe it's the persistent post-nasal drip. Perhaps it's the odor emanating from my underarms whenever I raise my arms over my head to strike my just-do-me pose. Whatever, it has a dank, musty resonance that vibrates in my cranium, and anchors in my duodenum, then belches from orifices, unbidden eructations that scare the men in my life.

Actually, I think it's just the result of a mild sinus infection mixed with lots of well-intentioned fiber. I can't adequately express HOW HAPPY I am that the WAMU Fall "Membership" Campaign is in its very last day. These pledge weeks are always the most depressing, demoralizing weeks on radio, and as I pointed out in an earlier post, even if I did contribute this campaign, I'd still have to listen to the awful drivel about the needy nature of public radio for the rest of the campaign, anyway. It could drive the more unstable of us over the mental threshhold: I'm being cajoled to act, but nothing results from the action. That sounds like a recipe for mental illness, if I ever heard one. Public radio drives listeners insane!

What's even more irritating for me (and my bowels), is that I'm a habitual "user" of public radio. I'm hooked. I couldn't turn off WAMU if my life depended on it. Without that background noise, my life seems empty, without purpose. Unless I'm sleeping, of course. In fact, when I was on vacation in Europe, it was iffy the first several days whether I was going to make it or not, because I was in the mental doldrums from not having Rene Montaine and Steve Inskeep greet me every morning. And no Kojo was no mojo. I just couldn't get a grip on Madrid. Now, you might think it was the six-hour time difference, and the thirty-three hours without sleep, but the reality was, I couldn't get WAMU, and man, I really suffered for it. "Hello. My name is Happy Doodle, and I am a WAMUholic."

I caused the world financial crisis. Are you surpised about that fact? I'd been following the financial markets for weeks before I left for Europe. Four days after I leave, the markets tank. I felt bad about that, and because I couldn't listen to WAMU, I couldn't do anything to ameliorate the resulting ruinous free-fall spiral into doom. I tried, and if I'd been on my game in Wheaton, instead of being a playboy in Lisbon, well, world history would be different. Of that, I am supremely confident. You know, it's odd, too, that WAMU hasn't called me up for an interview about this. After all, Alan Greenspan gets coverage for making a mistake, but nobody from WAMU is knocking on my door! It's the last day. It really is the last day.

The financial markets will recover. This recession will end. Sarah Palin's speeches are mean, vicious, and ugly. She removed her lipstick.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

I Hate Pledge Week at WAMU

The radio station is at it again: attempting to separate green stuff and my wallet. So for a week, millions of other listeners and I are subject to the very worst of public radio broadcasting, the pledge drive. I'm sorry, but there's got to be a better way. The kind of marketing crap and sales ploys WAMU broadcasts during the "Fall Membership Campaign" really irritates me, and if I do give in and call in a pledge, absolutely nothing happens! I'm still subjected to the station's awful broadcasting for the rest of the week.

Of course, I could tune in to WETA, and listen to its fall campaign.... Is there some collusion going on in the Washington radio market? I could turn the radio off, too. And by tomorrow afternoon, that's probably what I'll be doing. These campaigns are irritating, intrusive, inane, and idiotic.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

What Really Happened in Portugal

One of the most satisfying accomplishments of the Portuguese vacation was having the confidence to talk with the people we met. My sister, Grace, and I gained that confidence because we had taken an intensive language course the first week we were in Portugal. It didn't get us even close to conversing in Portuguese, but it provided enough language for us to survive, figure out, and listen. The class was also valuable for us because it provided lots of information about Portugal's culture and history.

We also used an exceptional phrasebook, Lonely Planet's Portuguese Phrasebook. The book was extremely useful, especially for its Portuguese/English, English/Portuguese glossary. The book was well-thumbed by the end of the trip. Here are the basics: 1) learn Hello, good day, good afternoon, good evening, excuse me, and thank-you. 2) Learn the present tenses of to be, to have, to go, to see. 3) Study the menus, and order off the Portuguese part of the menu. 4) Learn directions, (right and left) prepositions (in front of, behind, next to, in, on, under, etc.). 5) Learn some help phrases: where is..., how much..., how many.... 6) Figure out bus schedules, subway maps, etc. If you can understand or hear this range of vocabulary, you'll do very well, even though you can't speak the language.

We found out very quickly that if we started conversations with "Excuse me" everyone we talked to wanted to help. The Portuguese are a very friendly people. After a "Bom dia!" it was easy to say, "Fala ingles?" (Do you speak English?) If the person didn't speak English, it didn't matter, because he or she was bound and determined to help you anyway, and if the new found friend did speak English, well, these American tourists were an excellent opportunity for language practice!

For much less than the price of the language class (it was expensive), I could have hired a tourguide, and probably gained much the same information, but this approach requires some discipline. I would have needed to have studied the phrasebook in some depth before going to Portugal. The language course was very intense, but its biggest problem was that we were in class from 8:30 a.m. until 5 p.m. so our sightseeing on class days was limited to the evening. Some days we were so exhausted (from class and jet lag), that we simply went back to the hotel and crashed. I think next time, though, I'll hire the tourguide, and study the phrasebook before travelling.

My sister and I were touched by the friendliness, and graciousness of everyone we met. We loved the food, although after having many bacalhau dishes, I decided that my taste buds needed a break from salted cod. Another travel tip: we soon discovered that sharing an entree and a salad was more than enough for both of us to eat, and we rounded out the meals with soup and dessert. Don't skip dessert!

I am already thinking about where I want to go when I go back to Portugal. We spent six days in Lisbon (at school), sightseeing in the evenings. We rented a car, and headed onto Óbidos for a few days, via Sintra. Sintra was the summer home of Portuguese royalty. The palace is quite a nice pile of bricks. High above the town is the old Moorish castle. Don't miss going to the castle. It's a romantic ruin, and be sure to hike up from the town to get the full effect.

Óbidos is a walled town set on a hill. It used to be on an estuary that opened into the Atlantic Ocean, but has silted up over the centuries. A major battle of the Peninsular War was fought on the plains outside the town. We stayed here for two full days, taking in the life of a very touristy town. Óbidos is beautiful. We wandered through most of its streets and walkways. Several kilometers from Óbidos, is the sea town of Peniche. During Salazar's regime, the town had a notorious political prison, which today is a museum. The area has some beautiful beaches, and we spent a quiet morning, walking the beach picking up pebbles.

From Óbidos, we headed up to Porto for a couple of nights. On our way, we toured the Roman ruins at Conimbriga. The site has been extensively excavated, and it has a good museum that explains the site.

We arrived in Porto at rush hour. We had no clue where our hotel was. We ended up stopping at a gas station to ask for directions, and also purchased a comprehensive city map. It was a little bizarre, we knew we were in the right neighborhood, but finding the street was difficult. Also, even though I didn't know where I was going, all the drivers behind me knew exactly where they were going. A lot of honking, gesticulating, and a couple of evil eyes ensued. It took us about two hours to find the hotel and park the car. This was after racing down narrow one way streets, and not being able to pull over to read the map, or read the street signs. I was pretty much of a wreck by the time I got the car parked.

A word about driving: nobody obeys the speed limit. Tailgating is a national activity, but you get used to it, and that's just the way it is. After a couple of days, it didn't bother me, but the first day, it raised my blood pressure considerably.

The Lonely Planet folks also have a pretty comprehensive Portuguese Guide. In the description of Porto, it had a walking tour of the city. We followed the guide, and took a wonderful walk in an old historic city, appreciating its place in Portuguese culture and history. Porto is a real working-class town. It's proud of its heritage. We had a port tasting (of course!), visited several over-the-top barouque churches, and saw the birthplace of Henry the Navigator.

I handed the guide book to Grace and told her to tell me where she wanted to go. So from Porto we headed to Vila Nova de Foz Côa. This village is near a valley that is full of paleolithic etchings - the largest collection in the world, about 17,000. The etchings are in a national park that is protected. You can only go into the park with a guide, and that is what we did. It's mind-boggling to know that this area had been inhabited 20,000 years ago. There's a lot of anthropological mystery surrounding the etchings, a lot of unanswered questions.

It was also in Vila Nova de Foz Côa that our credit cards didn't work. For some reason, our MasterCards weren't being accepted in the ATM machine at the town's bank. I was a little unnerved (maybe the financial crisis was getting personal), thinking we might be stranded in a small town in the middle of Portugal, but a couple of hours later, I was able to use the ATM. As it turned out, Grace was never able to get her MasterCard to work, and mine was not accepted everywhere, but I had no problem with my Visa card.

The next day, we drove north to Bragança. It is the seat of the dukedom from which the fourth dynasty of the royal family took its name. The town has a citadel sitting on a high hill that contains the old town, a church, a keep, and the oldest municipal building in Portugal. Climb to the top of the keep. You'll get an impressive view of Bragança and the surrounding country. Also, take a drive into the national park north of the city. You'll have the opportunity to see some ancient villages pretty much the way they've always been.

Bragança was the place of our flat tire incident. For your information, traffic circles are about the only flat places in the city, so that's where I changed the flat tire. And you don't have to speak Portuguese to negotiate the purchase of a new tire. Finally, if you stop at a patisserie while you are getting your tire changed, it puts you in a much better mood.

Our final destination was Guimarães. I wanted to go there because it is the birthplace of the Portuguese state, and it had a castle and a palace. The palace is one of the official residences of the President of Portugal. Salazar used it as one of his residences when he was Prime Minister. We took the tour of the palace, and like all the palaces we visited, made me appreciate the creature comforts of 2101 Bucknell Terrace. The palace (built in the style of a French chateau) contains some beautiful tapestries and life-size angel candleholders among other treasures. Above the palace is the local castle. Originally built to protect a monastery from Moorish depradations, it was later fortified by one of the Dukes of Bragança, so that he could prevent the King of Leon from reasserting control of the duke's fiefdom. That act of independence was the beginning of Portugal. You can also climb to the top of the keep in this castle and get quite of view of the city.

Guimarães is a city of about 50,000, but the old town is much smaller, and very walkable. It has exceedingly narrow streets, and a one-way grid that makes a compelling case for parking the car and walking. We stayed at a cozy residencia overlooking two streets, and were greeted by the recycling truck at 2 a.m., the garbage truck at 3 a.m., and a little barky dog in between.

This summary only hits a few of the highlights. We had a swell vacation!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Back in the US of A

Go Barack!

While in Portugal, we saw pictures of our president looking like he was a deer caught in the headlights, and headlines streaming across the TV "America in Crisis." We couldn't understand the Portuguese, but we figured out from looking at W. that something was not quite right. I promise never again to leave America when it's in crisis. It's the least I can do for it.

Yep, I'm back home. I'm glad to be here, too. I was eating way too much food on the cruise ship, although I did not gain any weight when I was gone. However, the flab redistributed itself in an obnoxious way, and I look vaguely like Demi Moore on the cover of Vanity Fair. Oh well.

Life at Bucknell Terrace is getting back up to speed. I'm going to a square dance tonight in costume, because, after all, it is the season. It shows off my stomach well. Even if you can't see my abs, you can see my abdomen. I look so sexy!

Happy's New Square Dancing Outfit
Happy's New Square Dancing Outfit

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Meanwhile, Back in Guimarães....

Grace and I finally left Bragança. We had a wonderful time there, fairy castle and all that stuff, and a marvelous time in the national park. And those wonderful windy roads on top of the hills where every turn displayed a new remarkable vista of the mountain valleys. Oh, I think we both will remember it a long time. And probably tell you about it for the next decade, at least!

From Bragança, we headed off to Guimarães, which is the birthplace of the Portuguese nation. It was here that one of those dukes of Bragança told the King of Leon to take a hike. The duke was no longer going to be a vassal, but instead was going to be his own man. So he fortified the castle in Guimarães, and set about his own way. We arrived there on Sunday. Nothing is open on Sundays on the Iberian Peninsula, until late in the day. We immediately got lost BUT found a parking place, parked the car, and decided to go exploring. Within a block of where we parked, we found a Residencia, and booked a room for the night. In order to park in front of the Residencia, though, we had to drive about 2 km because of the narrow one-way streets that only lead one deeper into the maze of the old city. The woman at the desk gave us a map and some elaborate instructions, and Grace navigated while I drove. We executed the drive flawlessly.

We had a beautiful room overlooking the street, complete with a balcony. Oh, it was very dramatic! And we do have pictures to prove it, too. We went into the neighborhood, had some ice cream and coffee, then set off for our daily adventure. We first found the ducal palace. It's built in the style of a French Chateau around a central courtyard. The palace was restored by the dictator Salazar, and he used it as one of his residences. It is now a residence of the President of Portugal when he is in the city. The palace is furnished with some beautiful tapestries, and period Portuguese furniture. All of the Portuguese were out to see their castle, too, and we saw lots of happy families enjoying their national treasures. It is a big heap of stone, and has fewer creature comforts than 2101 Bucknell Ter. On the other hand, it is definitely a palace.

Behind the palace is an imposing castle (of course) that was built by a countess in the 12th century to protect a monastery that she had founded from the Moors. The duke, when he declared independence from Leon, re-fortified the castle and the reconquest of Portugal from the Moors started in Guimaraes. Of course, we clambered all over the castle walls, after all, we are tourists. Then we went into the keep, and climbed all the way to the roof of the tower for some dramatic views of the old city and the new city beyond. These castles really are remarkable fortresses complete with multiple walls and fall back defenses to make them impregnable from anything except a very prolonged siege. The keeps and the inner walls all have storerooms, and all the keeps had cisterns or springs. The walls were designed with slots in them so that arrows could be fired from the walls such that they completely covered any advancing enemy line.

After the castle we walked down the oldest street in town, and Grace discovered an artists shop. It had tiles, icons, and other kinds of art from local artists - some really beautiful stuff. We looked through all of it, I think. You know, visiting shops like this is almost as good as visiting a museum. The shopkeeper was a young woman who was very friendly, and told us about the items in the shop, and about the town. Again, this was one of those remarkable conversations where a person befriended us and revealed something of the character of the Portuguese people. We found a genuineness and a friendliness that really captured our hearts. And we're grateful the the many kindnesses that people extended to us.

We went to a wonderful restaurant, the Vira Bar, in the old town, up many stairs to a delightful dining room that was romantic - very fitting for our final dinner in Portugal. We had a grilled black pork, Minho style with a bean and greens side, a mixed salad, and bola dos bolaches (literally cake of cookies) for dessert. Ummmm. I know I sound preoccupied with food, but it's an easy thing to do in Portugal.

The next day, we got on the road pretty early, and headed out to Porto. We hit the beach for an hour or so at Vila de Conde, then we went to the airport. With that, we said goodbye to Portugal. I don't think it will be the last time we visit. I'm already planning to return.

With love,


Three Coins in a Fountain...

Well, I'm not Audrey Hepburn, but I did see the Trevi Fountain today. Ron and I took a sightseeing bus around Rome today, and managed to walk a few kilometers as well. I left you all in Braganca. A lot has happened since then, and I thought I'd try to recount some adventures since then.

The note I sent you from Braganca was from my Blackberry. Blackberry service in the northeastern reaches of Portugal is pretty iffy, so that message did not actually get you to guys until early this morning, after Grace had flown home to Chicago, and I'd arrived in Rome. So sit back, and here's some news....

Before we visited Braganca, we stayed the night n a small high desert town of Vila Nova Foz de Coa, which is the gateway to a national historic park. Originally the area of the park was going to be underwater in a hydroelectric project, but in the process of doing environmental assessments, paleolithic etchings were discovered in the valley, in fact, over 17,000 have been catalogued ranging from 20,000 to 5,000 years ago.

When Grace read about the site in our guidebook, she really wanted to go, so we reserved our tickets, then aimed our car in that direction, drove 150 miles through some beautifully mountainous country, and ended up in a remote Portuguese village. We went into the park in a guided tour. The guide not only told us about the etchings, but told us a lot about the theories about the earliest inhabitants of the valley, their way of life, and talked with us about why they would create these drawings, and the mysteries and questions that the drawings raise. For example, etchings are often done on top of each other, and a single rock canvas may contain sets of drawings that span thousands of years, and next to this jumble of etchings will be a clear, flast rock surface with nothing on it. Why didn't the later artists etch on the unused surfaces? It is a pretty incredible place, and you should add it to your list of places to visit.

So the next day, we finally got to Braganca. I wanted to go there, because Braganca is where the third Portuguese royal dynasty came from. It in the far northeastern part of the country. The area is very mountainous, and the climate is probably a lot like Moscow's. Almost immediately after getting to town, I hit a curb, and gashed the sidewall of one of the rear tires. Oops.

We went to a tourist office to find where we could get the tire repaired, and after that, I drove the car to a traffic circle, because it was about the only flat place in Braganca, and I changed the tire amidst the whizzing traffic of the circle. My life was never once in danger, but it really looked dramatic. Just ask Grace.

At that point, we headed off for the garage, which was closed for lunch, so we had some ourselves at a pastry shop. The owner's daughter came out to take our order, and we proceeded to have this wonderful conversation. The Portuguese are exceedingly friendly, and she was so happy that we were visiting her country. She also gave us a free dessert and coffee, so We were very happy to visit her country, too.

We were first in line when the garage opened. When the attendant saw our car, he immediately knew the problem. He put us on the lift immediatley, removed the temporary tire, and haulted the injured tire out of the trunk. He then stuck his finger through the hole in the sidewall, and gestured that we would need a new tire. He didn't speak English, but we quickly found ways to communicate that left no doubt about what needed to be done. He was a very nice fellow, and went out of his way to help Grace and I get through the whole ordeal, even granting us a lot of dignity in the process. It was almost as if everyone we ran into wanted us to think the very vest of Portugal. I was touched by the generous nature of the people we met.

Well, we got our wheels back, we went back to our hotel, and then set out for the town's museum and castle. The museum featured masks that are used in the winter festivals in this region of Portugal and Spain. Grace and I enjoyed the museum and the gift shop next door. The masks incorporate many different materials and style. I'd like to see some of the festivals in which the masks are worn. Next, we walked over to look at the castle. By this time, it was late in the day, but I told Grace that I wanted to come back the next day to go inside the castle.

And that's what we did. This was a true fairy tale castle. Prince Valiant could live here. And it comes complete with armor swords and a couple of howitzer guns downstairs, because the castle is a military museum, too. The museum is housed in the keep, which rises at least a hundred feet over the other battlements. We climbed up to the roof, and had a majestic and commanding view of Braganca. We also walked along the battlements, and pretended it was 500 years ago. This castle was was built in the 1200s to protect Portugal's northeast corner from the kingdom of Leon.

On Saturday afternoon, after the castle, Grace and I drove into the national park, north of the city, and drove through a half-dozen ancient villages. It is like nothing I've done before. We are in such a different place here. This is not Kansas anymore. The beauty, the differene of place deeply moved us both. It is difficult for me to express how special this trip was for Grace and me. I think we will remember it for many years, and you all will probably get tired of us talking about it.

So the next day, it was time for us to say goodbye to Braganca, and get on the road to Guimaraes, which is the birthplace of the Portuguese state, and believe me, the town wants you to know that! I'm going to save that description for another day, because I know you all want to get to the end of this email.

Ron and I send our love. Tomorrow, we're headed off to see the Sistine Chapel. We saw the Pope today at St. Peter's Square. So did several thousand other people. We also saw the Coloseum, but no gladiators, although lots of guys dress up as Romjan soldiers, and want to have their picture taken with you. Cheesy. Very.


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Driving Excitement in Porto, and Other Tales

Portuguese people are the nicest people in the world. We have had some wonderful conversations with people who come up to us on the street, and start talking to us, telling us where to go and what to see, and telling us how much they appreciate that we are in Portugal. Understand, of course, that we're decked out in cameras and travel guides, and heavily armed with maps. It's been a pleasant and wonderful surprise.

I say all that to preface what I'm about to say - these same people will get on your tail and drive right up your keester if you are behind the wheel of an automobile. Yesterday, on our drive up from Óbidos, drivers would get 10 feet on my rear end, and ride me for miles, and I was traveling at 75 miles an hour, and they weren't. Portugal has several road systems, one that's akin to our Interstates, and another that's a major secondary road, then we're talking about paved but unmarked, and finally cow trails up a hillside. Portuguese drivers drive the same speed on all of the different roads. Honest.

Well, not quite. We stopped enroute yesterday at Conimbriga, which is an old Roman town and archaeological site. It's quite an extensive excavation, and we walked around the city, then visited the museum, and then had lunch. We were on some secondary roads getting to Conimbriga, and the going was very slow, but after getting on the Autoestrada, we sailed into Porto. BUT IT TOOK US ONE HOUR TO FIND OUR HOTEL AND ANOTHER HOUR TO PARK!!!! Porto has too many cars, and way too few parking places. Plus, the streets are about half the width of American streets and people are driving twice as fast on the main drags. Needless to say, I had no clue about where I was going, but all the drivers behind me knew EXACTLY where they were going. I got fingered and the evil eye. More than once.

Our hotel, aptly named Hotel Malaposta, is on Rua Côceicão, or something like that. It's a one block street in the Cedafeita neighborhood. The hotel is also European quaint, with a sheen of modernity and hipness, overlaid the ancient roots of Porto, if you get my drift. However, the shower works, and the beds are firm. I have no complaints, and the partyers on the same floor did not keep us awake last night.

Today, we took a walking tour of Porto, and had a great time. We walked through the Ribeira neighborhood, which borders the Douro River. We are about a kilometer from where our tourbook has its walk begin. It said the walk would take approximately three hours. For the record, we easily completed it in eight hours. But in those eight hours, we walked through three churches, took pictures of the fabulous tiles in the railway stations, had a port wine tasting at the Wine Institute, and saw the birthplace of Henry the Navigator. We also walked along the Douro, and walked across one of the river bridges.

People were so kind. One woman was driving her car, beckoned us over and gave us directions. Then she parked her car, came looking for us, and gave us a detailed overview of what to see in the neighborhood. I can't imagine that happening in Washington, DC. The church of the Franciscan order is a must see. It's a truly over-the-top example of Baroque/Rococo decoration, and incredibly beautiful. Although after about a hundred sad virgins and bleeding Jesuses, it's a little depressing. Saint Sebastian is depicted everywhere. For some reason, he's a favorite saint, and he's always just about as badly mangled as Jesus. Those arrows of outrageous fortune, indeed!

At the Customs House, which is Henry the Navigator's birthplace, one of the docents took us aside, and we must have talked with him for at least a half hour. He told us about the discovery of a Roman house under the Custom House, and also about the archive that is now housed there. We talked, too, about the different perspectives that Americans and Europeans have about history. It was a very interesting conversation.

We walked along the river promenade, crossed the bridge, then came back for some ice cream, which is great for promenading. On our walk back (UPHILL) through the neighborhoods, we stopped by a pasteleria for some sweets and some coffee. Then back to our hotel, and I'm writing you all about it.

Love, Grace and JB

Monday, September 22, 2008

Here's More Details

I apologize for the rather short earlier email today, but it was on my Blackberry, and my thumb finally gave out. As you can guess, we are having a wonderful time doing all sorts of stuff. We enjoyed the beach this morning, then spent some time this afternoon walking around the outside walls of Óbidos. It's probably a couple of kilometers, and a lot of up and down hill walking.

We left Lisbon on Saturday, rented our car, and headed out of town to Sintra, which was the summer residence of the Portuguese royal family. Sintra has a huge National Palace, all sorts of other rather fanciful architecture, and a Moorish fortress looming over the skyline of the village. It really is quite a breathtaking place. It also has a rainforest microclimate, so all sorts of interesting flora are about. We walked through one of the parks to get to the Moorish castle, and it's a very verdant area, particularly on the lower parts of the mountain.

The Moorish castle dates from the 800s or so. It's built around the crown of a group of hills overlooking Sintra. The castle and town were where the Moorish governor lived. When the Moors were driven out in the 1200s, the King of Portugal took over the Moorish palace as his own royal residence, and it remained such until the 1910 revolution. We toured the palace and the castle, and although it is full of nice furnishing and the like, I think I'd still prefer 2101 Bucknell Ter.

After leaving Sintra, we took lots of back roads (we're talking Idaho, here) to Torres Verdes, and finally got on the freeway headed toward Óbidos, although it was touch and go there for a while. Let's just say that all the maps and signs are in Portuguese.... We got totally lost in Torres Verdes, and stopped at a gas station. I spoke to the guy in halting Portuguese, and he responded in voluble Portuguese, but it was all right, because I really did understand him! He drew us a map, and got us on our way. The Portuguese have been very friendly to us, and they really do appreciate you trying to engage them in their language.

We spent all of Sunday walking around Óbidos. It's a beautiful walled town that's been around since the 800s. (Romans, Visigoths, Moors, and Christians - quite a kaleidoscope.) The town is whitewashed with lots of the traditional Portuguese blue tiles. They are very beautiful, and are still made (for the Portuguese, and for the tourists). As I mentioned in my earlier letter, Óbidos is a tourist trap, but a very friendly one, and we enjoyed going into the different shops. Later in the day, we had a nice dinner inside the village. We have eaten well ever since we arrived. The wines are fantastic, and yesterday Grace discovered a cherry-chocolate liqueur that is made locally, and can be drunk (happily) locally, too.

Today we had the adventure at the beach. Grace is bringing home some genuine Portuguese Rocks. They may actually end up in your Christmas stockings. We enjoyed the company of the two German hitchhikers. One of the them said that they had waited for the bus for 30 minutes, before we picked them up. I was so grateful that the bus didn't come! We had a snack in the town we took them to (Baleal), then headed back here so that we could circumlocute the city wall here.

And that's about it for today.

Earlier that day...

We're still in Portugal. We've been in Obidos for a couple of nights. The Internet access here isn't, so I'm sending this from my Blackberry.

Obidos is a picture-perfect turistico trap, and we have truly been enjoying that. It is a very pretty town, complete with wall and castle. We're staying in a very nice hotel with an appropriate soupcon of quaintness.

Today we went to the beach at Peniche, and checked out a couple of other tiny beach towns. We also picked up a couple of German hitchhikers and took them to the village in which they were staying. Very nice guys on holiday.

Hope you are all well. I'll write more soon. Lyn, I hope your 40th was really grand, and I really appreciate that you let me steal your Mom. I guess I owe you big time.

Love, Grace and JB

Lisbon Memories

September 19, 2008 - Grace and I just finished our Berlitz class, just about 10 minutes ago. Talk about a graduation ceremony! We shall be leaving Lisbon tomorrow to go to Obidos (oo - bi - dush) and points north. You may not hear from us for a while, because we don't know what the Internet situation is there. We'll certainly contact you from Porto, unless we find something better to do.

We have had a wonderful stay in Lisbon. Last night we were in the Alfama at a Fado club (look it up...) and heard some great singing, and ate a very nice meal. Afterwards we walked through the Baixa neighborhood. We also had a chance to see the Praça Commercio, and some really outsize monuments. Portugal may be small in land area, but its statues are bigger than Texas.

We saw a six-story house on a hill whose "ground" floor was on the fourth floor, and whose basement was on the street about 50 ft below. That's how steep the hills are in the Alfama. Baixa is the neighborhood that was destroyed in the earthquake of 1755, and completely rebuilt following the quake. It is a very flat neighborhood, and is one of the few areas in town where streets are straight.

We hope you are all doing well. Boa Tarde!

Grace and John

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Berlitz Wall

There seems to be some confusion as to exactly what Grace and I are doing in Europe. I often ask myself that, myself. Why are Grace and I in Europe, and of all places, why in Portugal. First of all, PORTUGAL IS NOT SPAIN. Just thought I'd throw that geographic tip in. Secondly, PORTUGUESE IS NOT SPANISH. This is a very important fact that apparently most people don't know. In fact, while talking to the Portuguese, you'll be amazed at how much they seem to be Canadians, only, they are speaking Portuguese.

Grace and I are now FLUENT language speakers. We can recognize sardines and pork chops on cafe menus. I know how to order coffee with milk. Two words will be your best friends: obrigado/a and desculpe. Obrigado/a (masculine/feminine forms) means thank you, and desculpe means excuse me, or sorry. You can open just about any conversation with desculpe, and end it with obrigado or obrigada.

Occasionally, we've run into situations where the other party didn't speak any English. This is not a problem. In fact, if you can open your eyes wide enough, the Bambi in the headlight look will solve most communication problems. A large part of the Berlitz school curriculum that we are taking is to help us to get just the right look on our faces when confronted by this challenge. First, open your mouth a little wider than normal, and clench a bit. Next, make your eyes as round as possible. Finally, arch your eyebrows while wrinkling your forehead. The teachers make us stand in front of a mirror to practice. I think we both have it down pretty well.

Food - again not a problem. The Portuguese, taken together, on average weigh about 40 lbs less than Americans, taken together. This is because they only eat cake or bread and coffee for breakfast, and they smoke a lot. They never eat eggs for breakfast (and here I really am telling the truth); eggs, either fried or scambled are on lunch and dinner menus. Meats are often served with a fried egg on top, but the smoking cuts down all the cholesterol. Some interesting dishes I've eaten so far: chicken with a fried egg, boiled bacalhau (salted cod) with potatoes (cozido), grilled squid, grilled pescado (grilled catch of the day). Bacalhau is Portugal's national treasure. It's a salted, dried codfish which is now eaten on special occasions. I really enjoyed the cozido; I expect I'll be eating more of Mr. Cod. Oh, almost every meal comes with potatoes AND rice. I like that. You can never have too many carbohydrates. Olives, lots of olives. Sardine pâté is also a big hit around here.

I'm enjoying the food immensely, because it's very different than what I normally eat. More than that, it's made with many of the same ingredients with which I cook, but they are put together in ways that I never thought about before. So I'm having a lot of fun. Here in the hotel, we have a salad bar, too, that Ron would enjoy. It has a wide selection of very different salads, that, again, use many different ingredients that we just don't see in a salad bar.

So today, Grace and I came right back to the hotel after class because we were dead tired. We have been really pushing ourselves, and needed a day off to regroup, and to catch up. The Berlitz class is going well. When Ana took us out to lunch today, she let us order for ourselves. Manuel gave us a history lesson. He had prepared a lesson on body parts and clothing, but the history got in the way. I'm afraid that we derail our instructors a lot, but we are getting very useful information about the country, the culture, the people, and learning how to fend for ourselves in many different situations.

I sometimes think the instructors must wonder who are these crazy Americans, but they have been very supportive and excited about our stay in Portugal. One of the instructors, Susana, brought in several pages that she had printed off from the Internet, because she wanted to be sure that we had all the information about Sintra, and a couple of other palaces/castles that Grace is going to drag me off to.

We send our love, and we'll catch up with you later.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

More of the Same?

We're back at the hotel after a very long day. I should be upstairs studying Portuguese, but I also want to let you guys know what's going on. Class has been very intense. Ron, I don't think you'd like Portuguese food. It features a lot of meat, and not very many vegetables. Ditto for Lyn. The word for "steak" is bife, so you can have something called bife da vaca, which looks a lot like beef of cow, but really means beefsteak. That was what I learned today. Actually, we had a couple of hundred words poured into our heads in the last couple of days. It's relentless, and more nervewracking than learning the first level of Challenge square dancing in a weekend. Both our brains will need a rest by the end of the week.

A large tour group of French tourists are in the hotel with us. There's a lot of bon soiring going on. I told Grace that she had to dress better than she would while traveling in the United States, and generally, the people on the street are dressed quite well, but these French tourists, well, I guess you reach a certain age, and you just don't care what the American tourists think.... They are a very friendly lot, and wish us well on the elevator. I think Grace and I have an "A" branded on our foreheads, because people smile at us, and break into English. We've been trying what little Portuguese we know on people, and they respond with a smile. Not as many people know English, as say, in Madrid, but nobody gives any attitude - very friendly country.

After class this evening, we took the Metro (that's what Lisbon calls its subway) downtown to the Baixa district, than took an old time trolley car up the mountain in Alfama (the orginal old city) to the Castelo do S. Jorge. It is quite the castle, looking like something out of Prince Valiant. It has a lot of similarities to the construction of the Alcazar in Segovia. It is basically a fort within a fort with one set of battlements completely surround an inner set of battlements. It is a very large complex that has occupied the site since the 1100s. The site has been continously inhabited since at least 600 BC. We scrambled among the battlements and towers, and took a set of stairs down to what we thought would get us out of the castle, Well, it would have, except the last step would have been about 100 ft straight down, off the side of one of the castle towers. So we climbed a couple hundred steps back up to the top of the higher castle wall. Grace was a very good sport about it. We told two other couple heading down that it was a dead end - our mitzvah for the day.

We have several teachers each day in class. So far, we've had Ana, Manuel, Paulo, Andrea, and Susana. Paulo is the best English speaker. Manuel is the cutest. Ana is the most intense. Andrea is incredibly helpful when it comes to directions, etc. and Susana is Portugal's most enthusiastic tour guide. We had a lot of fun with her telling us everything from what palaces to visit, to how to order a pastry in Belem. There is nothing in her country about which she does not have a most enthusiastic opinion. All of the instructors have been very patient with us, but relentless, too. They really want us to do well. It's been a learning experience!

Grace and I send our love to all of you. She's upstairs studying like mad. You'd be proud of you Mom/sister/daughter/grandma. We'll see you all in a bit.

Grace and John