Saturday, June 28, 2008

The Killing Time Is Over

I read an article in the Washington Post this morning, "On the Menu In Baghdad, Fresh Hopes." The story relates the tales of Qadori, a restaurant owner and his restaurant of the same name that a suicide bomber attacked in 2005. The blast killed seven employees and 20 customers. The owner was unhurt, but suffered a stroke, moved to Kurdistan, and finally moved back to re-open his restaurant this year.

I imagine Qadori as a diner - a place people go for ample, simple, tasty fare. This is the food of life, the recipes of mothers and grandmothers, the love of sharing food with friends and family, the smells and tastes that comfort and endure.

A bomber tried to end all of that. Today, the restaurant is in a fortified section of the city near a checkpoint. A guard tower stands nearby. Customers are patted down as they enter the establishment. One of the employees who survived the bombing says he feels safer, but not entirely so. He came back because he felt he could help Baghdad revive.

Qadori, the owner, walks among the tables greeting his customers. Qadori, the restaurant, is back in business. One of the customers says, "The killing time is over. The situation is better."

I read those words, and my own heart responded with an emotional I hope so. This war has been terrible for America, but it has been catastrophic for Iraq. It has exposed bigotries and hatreds, fissures so deep that Iraq may not survive. Our troops have suffered and died, but the Iraqi people have been pulled into an internecine, murderous hell. Maybe, hopefully, fitfully the killing time is over. It can't happen too soon.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Erectile Dysfunction, and Then Some

I went over to see Tim yesterday. Most times when I go to see Tim, I take a little blue pill before the engagement. Like a Boy Scout, I want to be prepared, just in case. He had told me he wasn't feeling in top form, but you just never know when you'll need all you can give.

There was, however, a small problem. I was having a business lunch prior to going to Tim's. One of the problems with the little blue pill is that it doesn't work if you've eaten any fat, and I mean we're talking five grams or so before you take the pill. The pill simply doesn't work, and you have to wait a couple of hours. I didn't have the time, so I had a very low-fat lunch, and I took the pill before taking the Metro to Tim's house.

I can be very persuasive. Tim wasn't particularly in the mood, but me being me, that didn't appear to be too much of an obstacle. And of course, Tim turned into a horndog as soon as he hit the mattress, anyway. The blue pill didn't work. This isn't the first time this has happened. I get long and snaky, but only half hard. We're making out like crazy. We're touching in places, groaning, pinching, poking, rubbing, and Mr. Penis-Head is drooling, but is showing no backbone, whatsoever.

We snooze a bit. We engage again, and no apparent neural messages get sent southward. I'm stroking, beating, jerking, and nothing happens. I tell Tim, I'm takin' another pill, then we're checking back in, in about 20 minutes.

Twenty minutes pass. We do some adolescent making out, and hey, something's moving down there. Something's awake, aroused, and up for some hottie horizontal action! Thank God for Viagra®! This is better living through chemistry! I sink into bliss. I rock. I roll. I'm hitting every note.

I guess I'm looking a little crazed because Tim yells out, "Not inside!" I jerk out and explode, and we're talking neutron bomb at least. I'm gasping and guffawing (I am, after all, a country lad). I'm totally out of control, laughing like I'll never ever laugh again. Crying. Tears. Joy in the moment, like I've never had sex before and this is the very first time. I collapse on Tim, trying to find a little bit of dignity.

I don't know what hit me. I don't know what blew my head off. I make no apologies for this blog entry. It was an adolescent moment, but with 40 years on adolescence, I can now fully appreciate its mystery and its wonder.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Blog Ennui

Part of my job as a retired man of leisure is to write in here on a regular basis. I can't tell you how difficult that it, especially in my busy life! I think I've mentioned in here, how extraordinarily eventful my schedule is. Why, I'm even scheduled for next year! So how do I ever find time to write in here?

Part of the problem of writing, is that I don't often know what to write about, because the sad truth is, my life is kind of pathetic, and kind of apathetic, all at the same time. I mean, there's the usual going to the gym, and the occasional "gentleman caller" (you know what I mean), but Ophrah hasn't called, and Barack is not sending me nearly the number of emails that he used to - in part, I believe because he's discovered the lure of big contributors, and knows that I don't cut the mustard.

Speaking of which, I've been having a lot of gas recently. It makes loud gurgles, then I involuntarily shudder, and there is this enormous WHOOSH, then a disgusting sound. Happily, most of the gas doesn't smell bad, but you know, it's embarrassing! I'm out dancing on the floor, and I have this rhythmic pressurized sputtering in time to the music. I hope the other dancers just think it's squeaky shoe soles. I hope sidestream gas doesn't cause health effects, or I'll have to go outside for long periods of time most days.

Back to gentlemen callers. Hey guys, I really do enjoy having you over to my place. The sex is okay, but please don't be fooled by my profiles. I'm telling the truth, but the fantasy, really is better than the facts, and that goes for your profiles, and my fantasies, too. Please set your expectations low; that way you'll always be thrilled by the outcome. And after a gym workout, sex is going to seem a little arduous. I'm also not going to remember your name, so get over it. It's nothing personal at all.

I don't want to look like this
I don't want
to look like this

I am trying to watch my calories, though. I don't want to look like this. This is either a tourist or a baseball fan. I was impressed. Actually, I'm thanking this guy, because he is an object lesson to me. If I ever look like this, OR ever make this kind of a fashion statement, even if it is 10:45 p.m. on a Monday night on the Red Line, well, just shoot me, in the butt.

So I made a turkey meatloaf the other day - the all ground breast meat kind. Okay, I know some of you are rolling your eyes, but this was really good, moist, tasty, and not too turkey-like at all. I even served it with a wine reduction, ummmmm.

So why turkey and not beef? I'm seriously cutting back on beef. It's an ethical thing. Beef culture is choosing to spill greenhouse gases all over the place, not to mention that cows are peculiarly inefficient protein converters. Besides, I'm having fun experimenting with turkey. Please don't tell me about turkey ethics, yet.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Temple of Swat

Gay Day with the Nats!
Gay Day with the Nats!

Barry is a baseball guy, just the type of guy to get a square dance club out to the Nats brand-new ballpark. Wow, what a Palace to the National Pasttime! This place is beautiful, even if I'm philosophically opposed to tax dollars going for sports arenas, not to mention the complete decimation of gay businesses in the neighborhood. On the other hand, if you're going to do something grand for baseball, this is the place. I could almost get into the habit of going to baseball games.

DC Lambda Squares
DC Lambda Squares

Here's a lot of the rowdy crew from DC Lambda Squares. There's nothing like going to a baseball game with friends, eating chilidogs, drinking beer, and watching the guys about 1/2 mile away hitting at the ball. Our hopes were up early on. The Nats were ahead in the 3rd inning, but totally lost it in the 8th. But I think you could go to the ballgame, and never worry about the score, as long as you eat Ben's Chili Bowl half smokes. You really won't think too much about RBIs, errors, or the speed of the pitched ball (in miles per hour).

Play Ball! from Section 230
Play Ball! from Section 230

Tim and I walked around the concourses before the game. The game was delayed because of the weather. There are some fantastic views of Washington from the stadium. You can see the Capitol, the National Cathedral, the Anacostia, and rainbows. We looked at the field from several different places in the stands and along the concourses. You'd really have to search hard to find a bad seat in this park. It's beautiful and intimate.

Somewhere, Over the Rainbow...
Somewhere, Over the Rainbow...

When we left for the game, the weather was rainy with even a few bolts of lightening. Tim and I prudently took our umbrellas. Of course, the game was delayed, so we went walking around the concourses only to see a stunning double rainbow across the sky. Now that's Gay Day for you - even God can be flamboyant when you give the old gal a chance. I like to think it was a special gift to the rest of us. Just a gentle cosmic wink, not quite as spectacular as Sodom and Gomorrah or the walls of Jericho, but just as biblical.

Tim at the Ballgame
Tim at the Ballgame

And just as God keeps score (or does she?), the Nats also keep score, with a scoreboard that Angels would envy (Los Angeles Angels from Anaheim!!!). This technical marvel sits like a crown above the field. It's high-def, and I think I want something like this in my living room. That's the Gay Men's Chorus of Washington singing the Star-Spangled Banner. I get a little sentimental while singing it with several thousand other people. We lost the ballgame, but the ballpark is a winner.

Gay Men's Chorus of Washington
Gay Men's Chorus of Washington Singing the Star-Spangled Banner

Monday, June 23, 2008

Hold the Mayo?

When will I see this on my television in Wheaton? The Brits have the last word.

Iron Man - I Want to Date This Guy!

Ron and I went to see Iron Man yesterday. Robert Downey, Jr. is the best badboy with a heart of gold. Check out Mr. Iron Man, and imagine having sex with his tool! This is so beyond geek. When Tony Stark suited up, well, I had a virtual moment. This guy is so hot, so sleek, and designer colors, too. And so gay. Did I say gay?

Let me count the ways: he had a distant father. He plays with toys that are long, slender, and deliver a payload. His best friend wears a uniform. He has commitment issues with women (although the sex scene, while rather hot was disappointingly short). The hair on the back of Tony's head curls counter-clockwise (just kidding).

Gwyneth Paltrow should win an Oscar for her portrayal of Pepper Potts. She delivers the movie's best lines. She is strong, vulnerable, smart, and unsure. Pepper and Tony are twins separated at birth, but reunited in life. Downey and Paltrow have some great chemistry. It's a treat to see them on the screen together.

This is a wonderful summer film. I recommend it for gay men everywhere. I think lesbians would like this film, too, because Pepper is not difficult to look at. The movie delivers a message, too: war is evil, and the world has evil men who want power for their own ends. Tony is transformed in the movie from an irresponsible (but brilliant) playboy to a patriot. And the Iron Man, well, he's just cool through and through.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Wedding Bells

I read an article in the LA Times about a gay couple getting married this week. Just call me sentimental, but I found myself tearing up and thinking (perhaps wistfully), "How wonderful, how beautiful." The article and accompanying slide show (and photos of people at the courthouse) document an important day in one couple's life, but also a historic moment in California history. I hope it's not a fleeting moment that will be undone in November.

I'm not convinced that gay marriage is the most momentous human rights issue in America. Certainly in our situation, marriage doesn't begin to contain the family that Ron, Perry, Tim, Brian, and I share. And being outside marriage, Ron and I have been able to create a relationship that reflects the reality of our lives rather than the convenience of the State or the confines of social convention. (There are distinct social advantages to not being married!)

Still, I wouldn't want to take away a single iota of joy from those happy couples in California whose love and families are now solemnized for what they are: families recognized by the law, sanctioned by the State making it much easier for gay couples to become part of a larger social community. I have no doubt there is great value in recognizing and supporting gay families in our society.

Gay marriage may come to Maryland, although I'm not holding my breath. I have my family here. Ron and I have done everything under the law we can to protect and maintain our relationship. I think I would like the social nod that marriage brings (actually, the shower gifts!), but I know that societal recognition is not necessary for my family to be a loving and happy home. And if those wedding bells ever do ring here in Wheaton, well, I fully expect to be teary eyed.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Happy's Trip to Yellowstone

Finally, I can write about it here. I actually sorted through 1400 pictures and narrowed it down to 181 that the world really needs to see about the wonders of Yellowstone, and Happy and Ron's summer vacation.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Hell in a Hand Basket

Voters are in a funk. They pay more for gas. They pay more to eat. And they are complaining to their politicians. McCain has already proposed a gas tax holiday, now he wants to drill in the Arctic Wildlife Reserve, as well as offshore. These sources of oil are expected to come on line in seven to ten years. I'm confounded: 60% of the voters think we should drill in these areas even though the exploration, drilling, and development will raise oil prices in the long run. These oilfields would add a only tiny amount to our reserves and would not lessen our dependence on foreign oil at all.

Are the American people stupid? Are our politicians cynical? Do the Republicans have more than one note in their energy tune? Who bought off John McCain?

The solution to our energy problem is the answer the American public doesn't want to hear: drive less, conserve more. The best way to encourage that is to price oil appropriately to its demand. Another way to lower the price of oil is to strengthen the dollar. Mr. Bush knows that. Mr. Paulson knows that. Finally, our American auto companies could build cars that are a lot more fuel efficient. Higher gas prices will encourage that. The price we pay now is painful, but so much less than what the pain will be if our country doesn't adopt an energy policy that encourages conservation, alternative energy sources, and more efficient technologies.

Our politicians of every stripe are playing all of us as suckers.

Monday, June 16, 2008

I'm Working on Pictures of My Yellowstone Trip

Ford Focus
Ford Focus

Here's the car that took us 1515 miles from Spokane to Yellowstone and back. I recounted in an earlier entry about the mishap at the Thrifty rental counter in the Spokane airport. This was a good little car, and got great gas mileage, over 30 mpg. Ron and I could almost afford it. It's no Prius.


This is my former wife's sister-in-law, Judy. She works as a nurse (and supervisor?) at the hospital in Moscow, Idaho. I dropped by the hospital to see her and catch up on some family news. Judy is one of the most level-headed people I know. I introduced her to Ron. I really had a wonderful time talking with her. She and I share some common perspective about the family we married into.

Lochsa River
Lochsa River

South of Genesee, Idaho, US-95 winds down the Lewiston Hill east of the city, then south to Boise. US-12 heads east where US-95 heads south. US-12 crawls a very winding route along the banks of the Clearwater and Lochsa Rivers. It is a beautiful drive, but takes many hours driving uphill to the Lolo Pass into Montana.

Chico Hot Springs Resort
Chico Hot Springs Resort

After a hard day of driving, we arrived at Chico Hot Springs Resort. Here is a view of the resort from our front porch, high above the resort compound. The country is simply beautiful, and the resort had lots of nice facilities including a hot spring pool, a smoke-free saloon(!), a gourmet restaurant, and wireless! That's how I wrote all those blog entries while I was on vacation. Nifty.

Big Sky Country
Big Sky Country

This is Big Sky Country. The land spreads out ahead in a grey-green cascade as far as you can see to the snow capped mountains. It left me breathless and excited. This land is elemental, bigger than life, empty and lonely, so beautiful to be indescribable. I kept thinking, "What did those fur trappers think when they crossed into this valley?" "What did the Indians think as they road off the plains into these mountains?"

Heading to Mammoth from inside Yellowstone
Heading to Mammoth
from inside Yellowstone

Of course the scenery in the park is spectacular, but I would say that even if I hadn't seen a geyser erupt, a mud pot boil, and a wolf saunter down the highway. This is high mountain country, and its portrait often conveys a dusty resoluteness, an ancient apartness from the rest of the world. Stay tuned. In a few days, I'll have my photos all finished, and I'll post a link for you!

Here's the Critter Picture. Just about everywhere we looked, we saw bison. These animals are large! This particular fellow was mowing the lawn near the restroom at the Mammoth Hot Springs. Bison can run at speeds up to 35 mph, and tourists who get too close to buffalo calves get to ride those horns every year."

American Bison
American Bison

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Hand to Mouth


What would Emily Post advise in a situation like this? I am eating a chocolate dessert, but the spoon provided is much too large for the task of delicately levitating the last traces of chocolate sauce from the plate to my mouth. The waiter had already removed the pita bread (an obvious solution to the problem, were it available). I suppose I could have requested a rubber spatula from the kitchen, but I settled on an implement close at hand. The upside is, I always have my lickin' finger with me. The downside is, I don't always know where it's been.

to Mouth
to Mouth

Today, it had been many places, including the Capital Pride Festival, Oyamel (great drinks, very friendly bartender who knows all about rum and tequila - and be sure to order the chicken tamil verde), and now at Zaytinya following a gastronomic adventure (with Ron and Tim) that included roasted eggplant with onions and tomatoes, snails in a garlic potato sauce, braised rabbit, grilled cauliflower, an apricot/carrot dumpling, and ground lamb flatbread. But the two desserts, one chocolate, the other a Turkish delight, topped off our small plates, and spurred my finger to action.

Every Blog Is about Father's Day

And I guess this one is no exception. Ron and Perry both said Happy Father's Day to me, and that was touching. I'm thinking more about Father's Day than I have in many years. I'm sure part of it was seeing my daughter and her family (for the first time). Another part was reading some blog entries on Box Turtle Bulletin of gay men writing about their memories of their dads - good supportive men who wanted their sons to be happy.

That's the kind of dad my Father was. I've written about him in my blog before. He was a very quiet humble, loving man who raised us well; to think critically, to be independent, to care for others. I'm pretty sure he succeeded much better with himself than he did with me! I miss him greatly as the years go by - I want to share a story or a letter. My memories of him are very tender, and I'm grateful for his love and his example.

I've been sorting through photos of our family reunion. I've uploaded all of my sisters' photos and am working through my own. It's nice to be with family, and it's nice to be back home. I miss Dad not being there. I also missed my brothers, Frank and Steve, and hope that two years hence, they can join us in Colorado. And Mom, I missed you during the reunion, but was really happy to see you before and after.

So this Father's Day, I'm very much thinking of my family and grateful for whatever presence they have in my life. Our situations are very different, and our circumstances often change quickly. I hope for the patience, flexibility, and means to be a good and loving brother and son.

And for Ron, Perry, and Tim, I'm so grateful for my Band of Brothers who care for me and love me. You guys are my very special family and have added so much love and fabulousness to my life.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

I Belong to a Cult

I went to a Challenge workshop this morning at Ett's. She had various lists most popular and least popular calls for C2 levels and above. There's actually a person out there somewhere who surveys Challenge dancers and their tastes!

We asked Ett about the various Challenge level lists. C1, C2, and C3A all have official lists. C3B and C4 do not. C4 is the place dead square calls end up, and get resurrected. Is it a museum or mausoleum? I don't know, because I don't ever expect to get there.

Challenge has a mythology surrounding it. Purportedly, it's full of angry-looking dancers debating definitions at undisclosed locations, by invitation, only. I've certainly discovered that! And I've only been dancing C-1 since last Thursday, just kidding.

Tim and I often compare square dancing to religion: Square dancing has its own scriptures (the official Callerlab dance definitions, which leads to an important question; because C3B and C4 are acknowledged as levels but their lists are not quite canonical, could they be, in fact, appocryphal?1 Inquiring minds want to know). Square dancing has its own rituals from "Square up!" to the "Thank you!" at the end of every tip. Of course, there's high church complete with petticoats and bolo ties, and low church which allows for short sleeved shirts and shorts. Orthodoxy lines up gender and position, and heterodoxy claims you can be any position in square dancing, whatever you want to be.

I do know this: square dancing is endlessly fascinating. Each level has its thrills and excitement. As I move through the levels, I gain new insights about why different square dance calls are what they are.

It does teach me about God and religion, too. If the square dance definitions are revelation, let's just say there is, at times, a capricious, contradictory, mysterious higher power underlying their enigmatic and arbitrary application. And that makes square dancing lots of fun!

1Callerlab does not have program lists for C3B or C4. Vic Ceder, Lynette Bellini, Ben Rubright, and others have published C3B and C4 lists. Mona Tomqvist maintains an extensive Challenge square dance site.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Homo Genre

I don't mean to be a social critic, but Genre Managzine wants me to renew my subscripton. Now don't get the wrong idea - I never actually paid for a subscription in the first place. But somehow I've been receiving the magazine for the past year, and it even has my name on the subscription label.

I'm not claiming that Genre is shallow, or anything like that. But after you have read an issue or two, you realize that if you are 57, this magazine isn't for you. Maybe I should use skin moisturizers, but I have different priorities. Maybe I should be interested in the latest dance music, but only if it's 4/4, and I can square dance to it.

In this magazine, gay men don't live a day over 45, all of the men are beautiful, and I assume they just die early deaths, or something like that. All of the guys want to get married, and they all want to be dads. All of them want monogamy, and most of them tend toward a certain bland, conservative self-righteousness. Some of the men profiled even admit that John McCain would make a good President.

This is a magazine for shallow, young, good-looking men. In fact, no other kind of gay man exists in this magazine. Why would I want to pay money for a magazine that makes my incredibly wonderful life completely invisible?

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Tick, Tick, Tick...

When we were at Chico Hot Springs Resort, Ron and I stayed at the resort on Wednesday to recharge. Both of us were suffering from jet lag and the very long drive from Moscow to the resort. We had a nice day doing nothing, and decided in the afternoon to take a walk up to a small reservoir above the resort. The day was pleasant, and the walk was just what we needed.

When we got back to the cabin, Ron noticed what he thought were small spiders on his pants. I immediately identified them as ticks. He removed five of them from his pants, and I told him that we should check for ticks before going to bed. We didn't give any more thought to it. Later that evening my niece told us that she'd removed a couple of ticks from my grand-niece. I urged her to take Gracie to her pediatrician as soon as she got back home.

Ron began having fevers and chills on Friday. At first, he thought it was a cold because one of the kids had a cold. But it was a very odd cold because he didn't have sniffles or anything. I'm not Nancy Nurse (well, Nancy, but not nurse), but even I could tell he had a fever. I didn't connect his fever to ticks, because I thought the incubation period for any of the tick fevers would be longer than a couple of days.

When I really got worried was on Monday, when Ron told me he had a rash. I knew then that he, indeed, had one of the tick fevers. I used my Blackberry to search, and thought it was probably Colorado Tick Fever, or Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. I didn't think it was Lyme Disease, because it is much less prevalent in the West.

Ron went to see his doctor yesterday, and his doctor diagnosed it as Lyme Disease and put him on a broad spectrum antibiotic. Ron should know in a couple of days if he really has Lyme Disease. In any case, the treatment has started early. His fever has gone away, and we're very hopeful for a good outcome.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

We're Home!

Just a short note. We got in late last night after trekking all the way across the United States. I'm already savoring all of those Frequent Flyer Miles. I'm glad to be back home.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Aunt Virgie and Uncle Harry

Yesterday morning, we went over to Mom's to say goodbye and to pick up Grace. We headed out from Mom's about 11 a.m. We took Idaho SR 6, the back way through Potlatch and Emida. We drove through Potlatch, Princeton, and Harvard, (very) small towns that I hung out in during high school. When we got to Emida, I drove around the town, looking at the homes where my uncles and grandpa used to live. Without putting too fine a point on it, the zoning ordinances in Emida are different than the zoning in Wheaton.

Aunt Virgie and Uncle Harry live a couple of miles outside of St Maries, Idaho. My cousin, Jeannie and her husband John were also over. Aunt Virgie is probably one of the world's greatest cooks. She turns potato salad into a world class dish. I know this, because she makes the world's greatest potato salad. She also makes a mean cole slaw. Fried chicken, ham, baked beans, corn relish, and pickles finished off the main course. John and Jeannie brought some orange rolls, which were festive, and easy to consume.

Aunt Virgie doesn't believe in any half-measures, so she had fixed three desserts, just to make sure that we didn't fly home hungry: chocolate pie, rhubarb crisp with ice cream, and mincemeat bars. They all have their merits, and I had a couple of servings of each, but the rhubarb, I think, slightly edged out the other two on the ultimate satisfaction index, although other diners present might disagree.

We did lots of talking about the kids, and segued into stories. Harry brought some snow pictures of this winter. They had more snow this winter than any other winter. One of the ski lodges nearby is still open on weekends. Spring has been very late this year. From winter, the conversation shifted to Alaska and fishing. More pictures and more stories. Uncle Harry uses a cane, now, and Aunt Virgie is slowing down a bit, too. It's always a joy to visit them and Jeannie and John. I'm happy we were able to see them.

We headed out around 5 p.m. for Spokane, taking the back roads through Rockford and Opportunity. We're staying at the Ramada Inn at the airport. Grace is already flying home to Chicago, and we'll be heading out in a couple of hours.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

We're Back in Moscow

We got back into Moscow late yesterday. Today, we've been visiting Mom, and eating too much. The biggest challenge of family reunions is getting enough exercise and avoiding food. I've not been particularly successful doing either. Tomorrow, we're headed up to Uncle Harry and Aunt Virgie's for some more visiting, then on to Spokane. Grace is flying out early Monday, and we're flying out around 10 a.m.

Pattie had some excitement getting back to civilization. Her car broke down completely yesterday, as she was getting prepared to drive through Yellowstone to Billings, and a 6 p.m. flight. She had to wait three hours in Emigrant for a tow truck, and then Katherine and John took her on to Billings. They thought about taking the northern route through the park, but the pass was closed because of snow. Spring is late this year....

Ron was ill yesterday, and is not feeling well today. We aren't sure what it is. I think he's exhausted. It's clearly time for us to be home.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Don't You Mean Huge?

Katherine at Mammoth Hot Springs Visitors Center
Katherine at
Mammoth Hot Springs
Visitors Center

No, we're talking more than huge here, we're talking Mammoth! Monday was our first foray into Yellowstone Park. As a general rule, getting our family to head out on safari is akin to herding cats. It's possible to do, but it takes a lot of effort. Happily, both Pattie and I can be highly directive when the situation calls for it.

Transportation is something of an issue. Ron and I can only put 1500 miles on our rental car before it gets very expensive. I think Pattie's car is the same, but she has less to travel to get back to Billings, where she flew in. We're flying out of Spokane, which is a long ways from Chico Hot Springs Resort. In any case, Ron and I wanted to be squired around in somebody else's car. We ended up in Pattie's land yacht, which is comfy, even if its transmission is about to fall out on the highway.

Joe, Karen, CJ, and Gracie
Joe, Karen, CJ, and Gracie

We had a caravan, Pattie, Ron, and me in the pace car; Katherine, Grace, and John in the middle; and Karen, Joe, and the kids ending the procession. Around 11 a.m. (after a very nice buffet breakfast) we headed out toward Gardiner, Montana, which is the northern entrance to the park. Gardiner is about 30 miles from Chico Hot Springs. Of course, I wasted no opportunity to take pictures on the way to the park. Shutterbug Man here. In fact, brothers and sisters quake with fear when they see me with the camera. The scenery is high mountain country, and every mountain has to have its picture taken.

Gardiner is a small town where every hotel and motel greets the traveler with a No Vacancy sign. Even the scrappiest hotel is full up with tourists anxious to have a room near the park (at least on Mondays). The main street winds in a big S down one side of the river, then across the bridge, and past the town's backside to the Roosevelt Arch at the park's entrance. I think the town fathers designed the road that way so that all the town businesses would have maximum exposure to all them dudded up Easterners headin' into the wilderness to see the bears and bison.

Misty lake at Mammoth
Misty lake at Mammoth

We headed into the park up to Mammoth Hot Springs, about five miles into the park. About five hundred yards into the park we ran into our first traffic jam - tourists obsessing over some elk. I knew it was going to be a long day, me wanting tourists to have a magnificent experience in the park, and my Inner Loop Beltway evil persona. I did a lot of muttering throughout the day.

Our first stop was a bio-break at the Mammoth Hot Springs Visitors Center. The center is very nice with activities for kids and some interesting exhibits about the early explorers of the park. The restrooms, though, were the big attraction. By this time, it was about 1 p.m., and time for lunch. We grabbed some fast food for the little ones (and big ones), but I opted for ice cream. After all, I'm on vacation. One restroom later, we headed up to the hot springs. They really are pretty cool.

Yellowstone Park sits on the top of a huge volcano. The center of the park is the volcano's sunken caldera after the mountain blew its big top 640,000 years ago. The area is still quite seismically and thermally active. I guess I knew all of this, but the scale of the activity seen in the park is remarkable. Everywhere you look you see some steam rising from a bubbling pool. The place is amazing (okay, I'm not on top form with my adjectives, this morning).

Surreal Mammoth
Surreal Mammoth

Mammoth Hot Springs is a huge, simply huge, formation that covers hundreds of acres. It's a series of vents, hot springs, and ponds that are heavily mineralized and have formed calcite formations. The active areas are highly colored yellows, oranges, and browns. The other areas of the springs are a dead white. The contrast is startling, and walking through the mists could seem like a vision from Dante or Milton. The scene is surreal, except that it's very real.

Mammoth spring
Simply Mammoth

After Mammoth, we headed up into the park to see what we could see. We drove the north loop of the park, along the way seeing some bison and moose. Throughout our stay in the park, we've driven past a meadow that we now call moose meadow because we have seen a mother and baby moose. This is a great time of year to visit Yellowstone because so many animals are having babies, babies all over the place!


Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Senior Tourist Moments

Dallin points out what happens to naughty little boys
Dallin points out what happens to naughty little boys!

I was all set to write in here yesterday, when I decided I'd better call my daughter, Mary, about when and where we were all going to get together in Yellowstone Park on Wednesday (today). She said, "Joseph's getting off work in a few minutes, and we should be on the road in half an hour." Shocking news for me!

I was in the resort's front lobby, and checked their reservation, and sure enough, it was for Tuesday night. For some reason, it had been in my head that they were coming in on Wednesday, and I'd made plans with the rest of the family according to that (very flawed) line of thinking.

I quickly hiked back up the hill to our cabin at the top of the ridge above the resort, huffing and puffing as I went, because the altitude is much higher than I'm used to, and I was walking a little faster than I usually do up the hill. Or maybe it's just that I'm easily winded, or windy as the case may be.

Intrepid Explorers
Intrepid Explorers

I got back to the cabin, made a dramatic (of course) entrance and proclaimed that we were changing plans for the day, indeed! It ended up that Ron, John, Grace, and I went in our car, and Kat and Pattie were going to catch up, even though Pattie couldn't start her car because it was dead. She's having some major problems with her car (an aside, she, Katherine, and Grace are taking Pattie's car all the way to Jackson Hole today - does that seem like a good idea? Pattie thinks that as long as her car is parked downhill, it will start..., but I'm not convinced that's going to take care of the "thunk" every time her automatic transmission shifts gears. Buick, American Made.

Beryl Spring
Beryl Spring

In the end, Karen and Joe stayed at the Chico Hot Springs Resort with CJ and Gracie. It seems the kids needed a nap, and Mom and Dad needed one, too. The rest of us set off for Old Faithful where Joseph and Mary and the kids were going to meet us at 1 p.m. As a plan, it was flawless (implementation is everything).

On the way down to Old Faithful, we stopped by the Beryl Spring. Notice the boiling water. The minerals color everything in interesting ways. Where the hot springs are active, the ground is vivid oranges and browns. Otherwise, the ground is a white calcite-like crust. It's a giant shroud, and the landscape looks dead. There's a marked contrast between the saturated meadow greens, the multi-colored fountains and fumaroles, and the white steaming death in between.

Dallin, Eliza, Matthew, Mary, Molly, and Andrew
Dallin, Eliza, Matthew, Mary, Molly, and Andrew

So here is Mary and the kids. (Joseph is away, getting some ice cream.) Dallin is the oldest followed by Eliza, Andrew, Matthew, and Mollie. Here we are at the Old Faithful lodge. We had all met at the Visitor's Center. Mary, Joseph, and the kids were somehow very easy to pick out in the crowds.... The kids travel very well, and the parents have kid transport down to a fine science. It was cute and informative to watch.

Faithful Old Faithful
Faithful Old Faithful

Old Faithful was predicted to erupt at 2:05 p.m. In the meantime, we chatted, and finally hustled outside to stand with the throngs to watch the eruption. The kids were awed (so were the adults), and afterwards, as the geyser was still spewing steam and water, but was almost spent, and the crowds were leaving quickly for the parking lot, Dallin kept proclaiming, "But it's still erupting!" Obviously, Dallin will grow up watching all the closing credits at the movies, because it isn't over until it's over!

Thousands of people were watching. It's an interesting group experience, it kind of reminds me of some of the crowd scenes in Independence Day, although this viewing had a much better outcome. This is not quite like a sporting event, and the thrill is different than seeing a geyser in a book. I guess it's an interactive, vicarious thrill, if there is such a thing. A few people clapped when it was all over, a fitting end to an awe-full experience.

Mud Pot or Day Spa?
Mud Pot or Day Spa?

Oh, but wait, there's more. From Old Faithful we headed up the road to the Paint Pots. I find hot mud particularly inviting, and this area has a couple of interesting features. In the spring, the mud is thin because of the run off. It gets quite thick in the summer. As the mud erupts in the pits, in some places it forms cones. The mud in the spring is less colorful, but still, it all looks like a witches cauldron. Perhaps Dick Cheney uses mud from these Wyoming mud pots as a plaster to keep his smile permanently in place. Lynn probably uses it, too.

After the Mud Pots, we stopped along Firehole Drive to see some falls, and some chipmunks! Then we hit the road back to get home in time for the family's reservation at 6:30 p.m. Frankly, my bottom was turning into lead. Ron and I decided to have dinner in the grill with Mary's family (I couldn't get a dinner reservation for them at a reasonable hour), then the whole family gathered in our cabin's front room for the rest of the evening. We had a grand old time of it.

Joseph and Eliza
Joseph and Eliza

It is a little awkward, in that I don't know Mary that well, and I am, in fact, shy. Happily, the kids provide a built-in topic of conversation, and bless Karen's heart, she jumped right in and got that conversation started!

It's difficult to express my gratitude to be able to see Mary and Joseph and the kids. I loved holding and playing with the little ones, and I enjoyed the small talk and banter with Mary and Joe. Joe Wallace made lots of points with the boys by bringing out some of CJ's toys, and Ron ended up playing with the boys. It got a little wild, but Molly was in the middle of it, just watching and laughing. She was very amused by the antics of her older cousins.

Molly, Gracie, Matthew, Andrew, CJ, Eliza, and Dallin
Molly, Gracie, Matthew, Andrew, CJ, Eliza, and Dallin

Here's a picture of all seven cousins from youngest to oldest, one cousin for every year for the last seven years. The couch was just wide enough, almost as wide as CJ's smile! Eliza was a little tired. I think all the kids were just about ready to go home and sleep. The adults had kept them up until 10:30 p.m. I hope the day will come soon when Mary will tell me what Joseph thought of this new family. It's different, but very happy.

This morning everyone gathered again, this time for breakfast. I got up to a rainy day and made a run to the general store in Emigrant for English Muffins, paper plates, cups, and apricot jam. I'm a big apricot jam fan. We had lots of other supplies on hand, and cobbled together a respectable "continental" breakfast for seventeen big and little ones.

In the course of the conversations, I had a short exchange with Joseph about the Church (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints). He and the other Joe had also talked some about Joseph's mission in Germany. I have such a mixed emotional and intellectual Church tie that continues to remain strong over the decades. I want my kids and grandkids to have a strong faith, but I want them to be happy, too, and ultimately I believe in my heart and soul that happiness should trump faith. I believe Happiness here and now is much more important than happiness after death. My prayer is that Mary and Joseph will want their kids to be happy here and now.

Little Critter
Little Critter

A final note: Andrew asked me this morning if Ron was married. I replied, "Sort of." Andrew asked me what I meant by that. I didn't know what to tell this four-year old, and I wasn't sure what Mary and Joseph had told the kids about Ron and me. So I waffled, and I regret that waffling. I apologize to Andrew and his parents, and I apologize to Ron. I told Andrew that Ron had a friend, and Andrew replied, "I hope he gets married and has children." For the record, while marriage may be in the cards for Ron, I think that he'd rather play with kids, rather than have them. And Andrew, I'm the friend that Ron someday might marry, should that opportunity arise, and should our society decide to honor the very special friendship that he and I have shared for twenty-five years. Because, Andrew, Ron loves me, and I love him dearly, and I'm sincerely sorry that I didn't tell you the whole story.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Clark's Crossing Family Restaurant "Fine Dining" - Not!

Oh oh. We were tooling down I-90 crossing mountain passes, driving through rainstorms, racing the shadows and a shrouded sun across a vast landscape where high plain meets Rocky Mountains. Ron and I had left Moscow around 9 a.m. and headed south on Highway 95 to Lewiston. At the bottom of the hill we turned left up Highway 12 toward the Lolo Pass.

The weather was cloudy and rainy, and fog floated above the Clearwater River. It was a time and place so unlike the hustle of Washington, DC. Vacation, I'm really on vacation. The road winds along the river, which is high from spring runoff. I'm thrilled to be here in this place.

We head up the Lochsa (Wild and Scenic) River and run into several parties of rafters, canoeists, and kayakers. Brilliant sunshine punctuates the clouds. It's breezy and cool, and again, I wonder, "Why did I ever leave this place?" Not that I'm complaining or anything about my urban, fast-paced, incredibly important life in our Nation's Capital.

We're following the Lewis and Clark Trail (Nez Perce Indian Country) all the way up to the Lolo Pass. The scenery and river are incredibly beautiful in this late spring. The river is high. The flora radiates a young unsullied green, the first beauty of spring.

We eventually get into Missoula. Check out Famous Dave's. The pork sandwich is to die for. Sure, FD's is a chain, but the barbeque is some of the best I've had. And I KNOW barbeque. We hit I-90 at Missoula. It's just at the edge of the mountains, and provides some beautiful panoramic views of the plains colliding with the mountain foothills. I'm becoming like my Mother, although she would have insisted we stop to take pictures. I couldn't stop telling Ron how beautiful everything is. He was working on a sudoku puzzle. We come from different cultural experiences.

So I see this sign on the freeway near Livingston, Montana saying, "Clark's Crossing, Fine Dining." It's about 7 p.m., and Livingston is where we turn off on Highway 89. I suggest to Ron that we eat in Livingston. We end up at Clark's. Fine Dining means fried. The staff is friendly, the coffee is good. Fine Dining = Fried. With that information, you'll go a long ways.

After dinner we headed on down to Chico Hot Springs. We got lost in the midst of an incredible hail storm (very scary!). We stopped at a crossroad store, and some local color (I'm mean, we're talking about grizzled cowboy, who happens to be the "pool boy" at Chico Hot Springs) gave us directions here. Finally, a very long day had come to an end.

A personal note to Tim: Tim, I AM taking pictures, and I promise you that they will get posted here. I promise!!!!

Sunday, June 1, 2008

I Have Gas

Rather my Mom had too much gas! It seems that my sister washed and gassed up my Mom's car last night, and the gas pump didn't turn off. Ummm, gas everywhere. More to the point, Mom's gas tank was filled completely, and she was worried that when the day warmed up, the gas would expand, and she'd have gasoline all over her carport.

That's where her dutiful gay son (SuperGay) sprang into action. I went over to Mom's about 6:15 this morning, she handed me the keys, and I took off on a very scenic drive north on US-95 almost out to the Palouse junction. I drove past the house I lived in during high school. The land is so green, the sky was a ghostly gray, and tendrils of fog descended down the hills into the fields, creating a scene out of some movie featuring elves and a Druid or two. Spooky.