Monday, December 29, 2008

Blessed Abundance

Puppy SnuggleI could not be happier or more relaxed than I am right now; not even if I were a 6-week old puppy with a belly full of milk all snuggled up with my brothers' and sisters' puppy breath in my face, lolling under a heat lamp.

My baby sister and I met up with our spouses and our dad and some good friends out at Lake O' The Pines to celebrate Christmas together. We sorely missed our Mom, middle sister and her beautiful family and were sending them our thoughts and prayers moment by moment. It turns out they muddled through and had their own special celebration, for which I'm so thankful!

Those of us who could gathered up at the Lake and celebrated in true East Texas fashion: by cooking and eating anything that would stand still long enough for us to stuff it in a pot. And while I call this "true East Texas" fashion, I've noticed that most groups think this is a unique quality of their culture. I've heard it especially from groups with a strong religious affiliation, like Irish Catholics, or Midwestern Methodists, or German Lutherans, or Chinese Buddhists, or Persian Muslims, or American Jews. Maybe it's because religion always seems to center around holidays and the community that shares them. When you find yourself in the midst of a gaggle of celebrants, someone will inevitably pull you aside and let you in on the secret, "Nobody eats quite like we eat at [insert holiday name] time!" I love it! I've heard it just often enough to know that I am far from having experienced all the holiday feasts I would like to experience. I really hope I get to hear that exact phrase with every imaginable accent before I die. So even though we celebrated in "true East Texas fashion" you can assume that aside from some characteristic spices, this is exactly like the big holiday gatherings that you know.

If, as they say, you are what you eat, right now I'm a glorious mish-mash of:

  • boiled shrimp
  • shrimp and oyster gumbo made with spicy chorizo para asar
  • rice
  • grilled steak
  • sautéed brussels sprouts
  • steamed asparagus
  • sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts, made from scratch!)
  • pumpkin pie
  • key lime pie
  • fried crappie (aka: white perch) that our neighbors caught in the lake on Christmas Day
  • chips and chili con queso
  • more boiled shrimp
  • bacon and eggs
  • creamy mashed potatoes with cheese
  • beef jerky
  • homemade deer sausage!!!
  • venison tamales
  • homemade chili
  • fried eggs
  • more sufganiyot! they were so popular we demanded a second batch from the baker...
  • Mom's King Ranch Chicken, from when she visited right before Christmas
  • fried cheddar cheese (you might have to be from East Texas to "get" this one)
  • chocolate covered pecans imported all the way from West Texas
  • buñuelos
  • meringue cookies which we improvised poorly but ate anyway
  • beef jerky, did i say that already?
  • oranges
  • big red tomatoes sliced raw and covered in salt and pepper
  • pears
  • and one more key lime pie!
ContentedThis represents ridiculous abundance in my life, and I take it as symbolic of all the goodness that overflows in my everyday existence. Everybody who was there contributed, cooked a little, cleaned a little, ate a lot, laughed a lot more than they ate and had the freedom to have their own best time. You could walk when you wanted to walk, sleep when you needed to sleep, eat when you were hungry, and read as much or as little as you liked. There was always a pot of coffee on, or something bubbling on the stove, and there was a board game in progress more often than the TV was on. I did my job as the gumbo fairy to spread roux through the countryside: we swapped bowls of gumbo to the neighbors for the crappie and everybody came away happy. My dogs are pleasantly exhausted from swimming in the lake every morning and barking out the window at the browsing deer every night. I hope I can take a little bit of this feeling and carry it with me into the coming year, and share this satiety and happiness with everyone I meet. It is this exact feeling that I wish upon every person I meet when I say to them "Merry Christmas!" "Happy Holidays!" or even simply "God bless you!"Contented Deer

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

you win some, you lose some.

Tonight, I had a SUPERB dinner at Fleming's in Mt. Laurel, NJ. There was old scotch, and there was perfectly seared filet mignon and there was a great red wine. The weird little appetizer of Champagne-infused Brie was surprising, rich, and quite probably is the new love of my life. Except that I'm married. However, if you could marry food, Rose would totally have to armwrestle the Brie for my affections. It's just that good. So that is a win.

Also in the "win" column, and a significantly more important win, is the fact that my niece is out of the hospital. [here is where you must imagine me doing a giant, happy, rejoicing dance. there will be no live demo.] Seriously, this is better than any cheese ever. We still don't know anything, but she's feeling better, moving better, and is cross with her mama over all the poking, prodding, and testing she's had to go through. Mama was there to hold her, and in the 17-month-old-mind, is the agent at fault for all the discomfort. No fair, really. Keep her in your prayers. We all hope for her continued good health and a diagnosis that is easy for us to swallow. Selfish as it may be to ask that, it's what I want.

On to the losses. Monday, the TSA assaulted my dignity again. This time, it was over my freaking Tide pen. Tide-to-Go PenYes, you know, those little gizmos you use when you spill something on your clothes and then have to go look like a reasonably well-put-together person in order to keep your job? Those things WHICH DO NOT CONTAIN BLEACH AT ALL or else you couldn't use them on colored fabrics? Yeah, the TSA lady pulled it out of my 1 quart zip-top bag and concluded that because it said "Tide" on it it must contain bleach and was therefore a threat to national security. Almost every word of labeling had been rubbed off the damn thing by its ongoing contact with said zip-top bag in my thousands of miles of air travel. It wasn't worth arguing over the single item. I wonder, though, if the PRINCIPLE isn't worth arguing over. Whatever I conclude on that score, I'm pretty sure that arguing with one liquids inspector at the DFW airport is not going to significantly impact the policy. And that's what I really want to argue with... not the policy IMPLEMENTERS, but the policy MAKERS.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

keep 'em coming...

No news is good news, it seems. My niece is getting worse and the doctors want her admitted to the hospital for further observation and testing. My sister listed their situation pretty succinctly. So if you've got some prayers, kind thoughts, good energy, or healing vibes to spare, please send them her way. Thanks.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

You Don't Have to Be Wrong for Me to Be Right

I really, really, really wish I could've coined that phrase. I further wish that I were writing this as a review of the book You Don't Have to Be Wrong for Me to Be Right. Alas, I'm just writing it because I heard the author on NPR and now I have an opinion. But I've added the book to my "list". (What? Don't you have a list of all the books you want to read but will forget about if you don't jot them down somewhere?) This whole post was prompted by a misdirected e-mail. I have a pretty common name. It's not as common as, say Sue Smith, but it's one of those names that gets over 2,000,000 hits on Google if you search it. So, periodically, I get e-mail intended for one of the other women out there who has my name.

Today, the one I got was a snarky conservative appeal to Christians to militantly take back the Christmas holiday that is being twisted by retailers and "the PC Police" and muddied with Ramadan and Kwanzaa. I noticed the anonymous author went out of the way not to mention or denigrate Hanukkah but had no trouble mocking Kwanzaa and Ramadan. So even though political correctness is decried as part of the problem, the piece was PC enough not be overtly anti-Semitic, but not PC enough to avoid being racist. The whole thing was a parody of "The Night Before Christmas," although I daresay the author of this piece would've called it a tribute. I'm not reprinting it because I don't want to give it the airtime.

I was all set to come in here and wail away about how wrong that call for militant retrieval of the holiday is, and how I don't have to be wrong for them to be right and I don't appreciate the implication that I am, when it hit me that militancy on both sides is the problem. Ranting would not contribute at all to the sort of world I want to live in.

I'm too moved by this to sit silent, however, so in light of the topic (take a second to go back and read it again) here is what I have to say. I know some Christians feel like they are persecuted, and feel like the proper response to all the latte-sipping liberals who insist on "Happy Holidays" is to make their "Merry Christmas" louder and harder to ignore. I also understand that they feel frustrated when public figures or large companies choose a generic holiday greeting in lieu of "Merry Christmas." Mostly, I hear this deplored for the reason that we're "so afraid of offending someone" that we censor ourselves and hide our faith.

Now, as for the commercial bit of the e-mail, it seemed the author couldn't decide whether to be offended that Lowe's doesn't celebrate Christmas on their website or that Wal-Mart had such enticing Christmas offerings that shoppers there trampled an employee to death on Black Friday to get to them. Ultimately, does it matter whether public figures and retailers shout Christmas from their virtual storefronts and actual rooftops? Either way, you're going to continue observing your religion and your holiday. You know why you're giving to charity or buying gifts for kids and loved ones this time of year. You talk about it with your friends and family and at church and bear witness by making that a part of your daily life. Why do you need mass marketers to reinforce that?

Can't you be pleased that you live in a country progressive enough to allow freedom of religion? I know that what the Founding Fathers probably meant when they wrote "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof" is that nobody could be run off for failing to join the Church of England. The price for living in a place where the President can't tell you what flavor of Protestant to be is that your neighbors don't even have to be Christian. As a result, their employers, rightfully wishing to preserve good relationships with their employees (i.e.: by not hurting their feelings) might opt for a simple "Happy Holidays" statement. It's an uncomplicated acknowledgment of a festive time of year which is deeply religious for some people and simply fun for others.

And on the personal greeting front: what's so great about offending people? If the point is to evangelize the world, and you're supposed to be a living example of Christ-likeness to everyone you meet, then a little humility and politeness would go a long way toward the goal. Even if the people you meet have brown skin and "funny" names.

So, how about this: rather than shouting "MERRY CHRISTMAS, DAMMIT!" at every man, woman and child you see, say a warm and sincere "Merry Christmas" to everyone you know who is Christian. And if you know someone is observing the holidays of their religion, offer an appropriate greeting for that, like "Happy Hanukkah" or "Joyous Eid" or "Blessed Festivus" or "Happy Kwanzaa". And if you don't know the person well enough to know their faith (or absence thereof) but you absolutely have to offer some greeting other than "Hi" then what's wrong with "Happy Holidays"? It's not because you don't love Christ or because you don't have pride in your faith or because you're being "politically correct". It's because you're being POLITE. It's another way of showing the people around you that you, y'know, love your neighbor.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

please pray...

everybody who reads this, please just say a prayer today for my niece. her name is Rebecca, if that helps you to know it. she is having a scary episode with her health right now, and it is overwhelmingly sad for me to think of this sweet baby going through such a difficult thing. while you're at it, her parents (Joy and Tom) could use a big pile of uplift, too. if you're not the praying sort, but you meditate or send positive vibes or good energy or any analogous thing, i would appreciate you shining your light her way today.


Thursday, December 04, 2008

snails, anyone?

Clown LoachI was poking around in the tags of my blog the other day and realized I have quite a few mentions of snails. But none lately. And that's not because I'm snail-free. Oh, no! I seem to have more snails now than I did before, but they're in a smaller tank, so it might just be that they're crowded together now. Last time, I went out and bought myself a pair of clown loaches. They eat snails, you see. I didn't do a whole lot of research before I bought them, though. That's unusual for me. Rose is the impulse buyer, the one who will walk into a Jeep dealership to buy shiny bits and drive out in a new (to her) V-10 pickup truck because it rumbles so nicely. I'm the one who obsessively researches the consumer reports, digital photography communities, and asks everyone I know about their camera before spending $200 on a point-and-shoot.

So for me to just walk into a fish store and walk out with two fish in a bag was a pretty unusual deal. It turned out to be a rotten investment, too. Because after I named them (Giuseppe and Antonio, because they were mafioso clowns who sent snails to sleep with the fishes) and figured out their habits and decided they probably were eating a few of the smaller snails and I was okay with it even if they ate one of my smaller fish, too... they died. The ingrates. It turned out they were pretty terribly unsuited to the tank I had them in, and they got into a turf war with my Siamese Algae Eater. He turned out to be quite the murderous jerk before he finally got rubbed out, but after he got rid of the Clowns he had control of the entire tank like those mustachioed, silk-shirt wearing Chinatown bosses in bad kung fu movies. I have a feeling the "friendly" and "community" tropical fish I keep in that tank had a meeting under the log one night and conspired to strangle him with a plastic plant.

Anyway, since the death of all the mob personalities in my tank, the snails have been getting out of control. I needed another one to fill the gap, but one that would not grow to be 12" long since the tank is only about 16" across.

Angelicus BotiaThis time, I did obsessive research. I probably spent a little less time on it than I did buying my new car last month, but only by an hour or two. I ended up with an Angelicus Botia. And I haven't named him. I'm a little superstitious about it now. But I did rearrange the tank to give him some good hidey-holes, because, having done the research, I knew he'd like that. And he's made it well past the date when a Jewish family would've named a new baby, and is also past the traditional naming-date for a newborn Roman. So, I've decided to give the Botia a name. I'm calling him Botzilla! Because he's a vicious monster who destroys Tokyo by night! Except that instead of Tokyo it's a small colony of snails. I'll keep you posted on his progress.

Monday, December 01, 2008

This is what an Abortion Gift Certificate looks like...

Twenty Dollars least according to the more rabid elements of the conservative side of our country. "WTF!?!?," you might be thinking. I certainly was. I'm a pretty big news hawk and I'd never heard of this until it turned up on some conservative blogs. I like the bloggers, I don't always agree with them, but that's why I have this place. I'll let you look up the blogs yourselves, but if you Google search "Abortion Gift Certificate" you'll have no trouble finding them. Here's the thing: they're all protesting the introduction of gift certificates available from Planned Parenthood Indiana. Precious few of the blogs bother to link to the original news story or the facts of the issue, preferring to claim that you can go to and click on their convenient online store link and buy Abortion Gift Certificates just in time to mock the Christmas celebration like the sexually irresponsible heathen you are. (You can't.) See, I've summarized it for you, so now you don't even have to do the Google search.

You wanna know what really happened? The Indiana branch of Planned Parenthood noticed that they're getting lots of calls lately from women who can't afford exams and birth control costs. They're either recently unemployed or recently uninsured, but the bottom line is that they need health care and they can't afford it. Not surprising, considering many health insurance plans won't cover birth control. So, PP Indiana decided to offer gift certificates in $25 increments that could be given to such women. After all, they see some 92,000 people a year, and 87,000 or so of them are there for health information, health care, prenatal care, birth control, and safe sex supplies. So if you follow the right links to get to the website for Planned Parenthood of Indiana you actually can purchase the certificates there, in $25 increments up to $100. (Note that abortions cost $350-900 in the first trimester.)

But there are two things that got the conservatives up in arms over this: first - it was done by Planned Parenthood, which they have decreed to be an abortion clinic regardless of the amount of non-abortion health care it provides (87k people annually in Indiana alone!); second - it wasn't restricted to use on ONLY preventive health care.

Some Hoosiers 24-Hour News 8 talked to asked if the gift certificates could be used towards abortions. The answer is yes. But, Planned Parenthood said that's not the purpose of the gift certificates. Struben-Hall [Vice President of Planned Parenthood of Indiana] said, "They really are intended for preventative healthcare. We decided not to put restrictions on the gift certificates so it's for whatever people feel they need the services for most." --WISH TV
So, if you give someone a gift certificate that is intended for preventative health care products or services, that's an "Abortion Gift Certificate." If you give cash for Christmas and don't stamp those dollars "Not Legal Tender For Abortion," you've just given an Abortion Gift Certificate. In fact, if you give someone a gas card, you've just freed up money in their budget for an abortion. So your gas card is an Abortion Gift Certificate. You can see how this would get out of hand fast, no? If I give my godsons a Wal-Mart gift card for Christmas, intending they spend it on toys or books or games, they COULD go spend it on a gun. Wal-Mart, after all, sells guns and the gift card doesn't have any restrictions placed on it for what it's spent on. Does that mean I gave my godsons Gun Gift Certificates for Christmas?

Here's my favorite part of the WISH TV article, a quote from Indiana Family Institute President Curt Smith:
"I think the way to help family planning is to give the money where there's no agenda. So if somebody wants to help a woman at a time of crisis, they can support the life centers throughout Indiana," said Smith.
Right, because if you search up the Life Centers of Indiana, it's QUITE CLEAR that they have 'no agenda', unless you count the following Principles (1, 7, and 8) from their website:
  • Life Centers is an outreach ministry of Jesus Christ through His church. Therefore, Life Centers, embodied in its staff and volunteers, is committed to presenting the Gospel of our Lord both in word and in deed to women with crisis pregnancies. Commensurate with this purpose, those who labor as Life Centers board members, directors and volunteers are expected to know Christ as their Savior and Lord.

  • Life Centers is committed to creating awareness within the local community of the needs of pregnant women and the fact that abortion only compounds human need rather than resolving it.

  • Life Centers does not recommend, provide, or refer single women for contraceptives. (Married women seeking contraceptive information should be urged to seek counsel, along with their husbands, from their pastors and physicians.)
I'm not opposed to the mission, because I can see the benefit of it to part of the population, but I won't be supporting it because it leaves out a lot of people. I think it's absolutely reprehensible to claim that they have 'no agenda'. They have a very clear agenda, which is to get people to behave according to their moral principles and to deny information and services to people who do not. It probably sounds like I'm offended by that, but I'm not. It is their prerogative to conduct their business in the way they see fit, but the fact that we're even discussing it means that they certainly have an agenda. This is my favorite part of the Principles (it's number 3), because of the delicious irony:
Life Centers is committed to integrity in dealing with clients, earning their trust and providing promised information and services. Life Centers denounces any form of deception in its corporate advertising or individual conversations with its clients.
So calling a $25 gift certificate that's just enough to almost cover half of an annual Pap Smear an Abortion Gift Certificate fits into the principle of denouncing "any form of deception" exactly how?

Monday, November 24, 2008

Followup story...

I love it that people read my blog. I love it even more that my family and friends come read it and sometimes even come back. My aunt sent me an e-mail recently to correct some of the details of my Memorial Day post. While she was at it, she shared another story about my grandfather and his service in Vietnam and how that unexpectedly tied into her life several years later. With her blessings, here is her story:

Papa was in the Naval Reserve as a Seabee (they were called that but it was a play on CB which stood for Construction Battalion) and he served in Viet Nam, not Korea. He was too young to fight in Korea, but he was not too young to join the Naval Reserve! None the less, he was so proud of this country, and was glad to serve when his Naval Reserve unit (the Lone Star Battalion) was called up as a result of President Lyndon Johnson deciding to escalate the Viet Nam War. Congress said fine, but if you are going to start calling up Reserve units, the first one to go will be from your area. Thus, the Lone Star Battalion was the first Reserve Unit to go to Viet Nam. Papa was 41 at the time, and anyone over 35 was given an automatic dispensation if they did not want to go. Papa, and all of the other men who were in the Reserve Unit with him, said no, they would go because that is what they had trained for and received pay for for the last 20 or more years. The oldest man in their unit was in his late fifties - he went and was their postman. Ironically, when Uncle David [my aunt's husband] went to work at FESCO in 1975, they had a big anniversary celebration because FESCO had been in existence for 25 years. Papa and Grannie came to see us that weekend, and got there during the FESCO celebration. All of a sudden someone yelled "Chief Dahlstrom". His name was Jim Denim and he had been 19 when he was sent to Viet Nam. He came up and saluted Papa. He had served with Papa - and told me stories that I could believe so well because I knew what a good and kind man Papa was. He said that when they had all been over there, so scared and lonely, that Papa pretty well adopted them all and took care of all the young men. He said that Papa would read his mail from home out loud to all of them, and tell him about his family that he loved so very much. Jim Denim said that Papa had made a very hard time bearable for lots of men over there. He loved Papa and after that always asked me how he was. Jim was a welder for the Alice office, so after we moved to Victoria, I did not see him very often. However, when Papa died, it was in the FESCO newsletter, and Jim sent me a really sweet and kind sympathy card.
Papa lived the motto "Be kind to strangers, lest they be angels in disguise"

With much love and fond remembrance, I salute my Papa, too.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Happy Birthday, Rose!

Last night, I cooked dinner for so many people that the last person in the door had to eat with a plastic fork. It made me so happy to have such a crowd gathered around my table(s) that I nearly popped. Rose made herself a mixed berry cobbler for her birthday, and I tried to make vanilla ice cream to go with it, but the ice cream machine simply would not work. Somewhere between summer and fall the magic smoke escaped from it, and it would turn no more. We contemplated various manual ice-cream-cranking schemes and even sent purchasing agents to look at nearby hardware and department stores, but alas there are no ice cream makers to be found in November. So Rose's birthday dessert was an awesome Mixed Berry Pandowdy with Slushy Vanilla Cream topping.

Everybody enjoyed dinner, and I got an excellent compliment on my Mexican Rice. Pace Picante Sauce cookbook for the win! Also, bacon grease makes everything taste good. Except maybe ice cream, but I followed my grandma's recipe for the ice cream and that leans heavily on Eagle Brand Sweetened Condensed Milk. If bacon grease won't make it taste good, Eagle Brand will. That's going to be my new kitchen version of the old handyman's adage: you only need two tools - Duct Tape and WD-40. If it moves and it shouldn't, use the tape. If it doesn't move and it should, use the WD-40. I might have to find a way to fit butter in there with bacon grease and Eagle Brand, because butter certainly makes everything taste good, too. I already have a saying for butter, though: All my favorite recipes start the same way - Melt a stick of butter and pour two ounces of wine in the cook.

We spent the bulk of the evening laughing, telling lies, and playing dominoes and Cranium. The Cranium game was very close and if Cranium allowed for ties, we probably would've declared the game a tie. The dominoes game was called early on account of increasing levels of violence. That's what you get for trying to teach rugby players a non-contact sport.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Lest We Forget

I'm a part-time writer. I'm not really a "content creator" as they are called in these internet multi-media-rich days. One of my all-time favorite songs, however, is Loreena McKennit's tune Dante's Prayer. And I found where a content creator over on YouTube had made that song into a tribute to fallen soldiers from Iraq.

My grandfather returned safe and sound from Vietnam. He had joined the Naval Reserve to help make ends meet for his large family, and he ended up serving as a SeaBee. I used to call him every veteran's day and thank him for doing that. He passed away a few years ago, so now I spend this day remembering him.

I am a pacifist through and through. I think there is always a better way than war to fix diplomatic problems. But until the rest of the world agrees with me, there will be a need for a defensive military, if nothing else. This is where my practicality and my ideals collide. I would love to see military engines dismantled world-wide. But until that happens, I recognize the need for defense and I honor the people who answer the call to serve. I respectfully and patriotically think that the wars we're fighting now are a crock of shit. But I also respect the patriotism of the people who are over there doing the job they signed up to do and I hope they do it well and with dignity.

So, for all soldiers of all countries everywhere, gay, straight, bisexual, Christian, Muslim, Atheist, Hindu, Jewish, or otherwise - I pray you do your job well and with dignity, and that you come home to the respect and love of your family. We remember.

Edit: Corrected the location of the war and branch in which my grandfather served. I originally said Korea and National Guard.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Crack in the armor

It is 4:12 AM. I am grumpy, and snarky, and quite clearly not asleep. And I have a headache. So... *pout* It could be worse, but it's enough to make me feel pitiful. However, my ill fortune is your gain, because it means I'm going to summon a happy memory to re-center my psyche and hopefully get pointed back toward sleep. And I'm writing it all down, which is where you come in, dear reader.

I had, pretty much, an ideal childhood. I've become aware since then that my folks were struggling with their demons, and hey, who isn't? But at the time I was Blissfully Unaware. In those days, the oilfield was flush with money and my folks were doing alright; we were really blessed. We had a little piece of land out on the edge of town, and a couple of horses, and a black lab. That's right: I had a pony AND a puppy. I pretty much hit the childhood lottery jackpot.

My dad worked for this guy named George, and George was a stubborn jackass with a hot temper but also a charming way with people. And money, so if he couldn't charm you or out-stubborn you, he'd just buy you. George had, at some point, "gotten into" horse racing and bought himself a very promising racehorse who turned out to be a stubborn jackass with a hot temper. He wasn't fast enough to win races, but he was fast enough to be a good pace horse. Except that Midnight Dancer, George's horse, would pick fights with the horses he was training with while they were training. That made him a very unpopular pacer, so he got retired. Midnight Dancer got bounced around a bit because he was too expensive to shoot and too obnoxious to have as a pet and too stubborn to ride. Eventually, George noticed that my affable father was married to a stubborn woman who happened to be "into horses." (Come on, you didn't think I was going to call my own mother a stubborn jackass, did you? For the record, she stops shy of jackassery, but she's the primary source of my stubborn streak and Rose says I do NOT stop shy.) And that's how Midnight Dancer came to live on our little piece of land.

Racehorses, like show dogs, often have their pedigreed name and then their "real" name. You know what I'm talking about, right? Your neighbor calls her dog Ralphie but when they go in the AKC show Ralphie-poo is introduced as Dame Nellie's Revelry or some such pretentious nonsense. It turned out that everyone who had ever had to deal with both horse and owner had come to one unmistakable conclusion about Midnight Dancer: his real name was George.

We used to go out in the evenings after school and feed the horses pretty regularly. They can get by on grass, but especially in bad weather you have to supplement that with something. Ours got a bit of oats some days and a bit of "sweet feed" on others. Sweet feed is a mix of grains and vitamins and salt with a little bit of molasses tossed in to hold it all together. Everybody, kids and dogs included, loved sweet feed. It's basically crack for horses.

My dog had been one of those frou-frou AKC-caliber puppies, before she was born. She was probably destined for two names and papers and retriever trials. There were ten in the litter and the mom was a national champion retriever. But the whole litter got sick and five of them died and the one we got was the runt. Amazingly, or maybe not so amazing considering my mom's nurturing skills, that sick little runt puppy with all her hair near burned off by a fever grew up to be a whip-smart retriever/guard dog/pet/babysitter/horse herder. We named her, with all the originality that children can muster after watching "Lady and the Tramp" 8000 times, Lady. To our credit, our pony was named "White Star Pixie Dust" but you can clearly see Walt Disney's stamp on that one, too.

So Lady went with us out to our little piece of land on the edge of town and chased rabbits through the tall grass and brought me sticks and pestered the horses. And she LOVED sweet feed. She'd just stick her head right into a feed bucket with any of the horses and nosh. Any of the horses except for George, anyway. George was NOT on friendly terms with Lady and if she ever forgot herself and tried to put her nose in his bucket, he would lay his ears back against his neck and snort and bare his teeth. If that wasn't enough, he'd stomp or charge a few steps toward her in defense of his food.

One day, my mom was working out one of her demons by giving George one helluva training workout. By the time they were done, they were both dripping sweat and exhausted. I don't remember this too particularly, but I expect I'd been down at the stock tank with Lady while mom was doing that. My dad had built this great arena out there out of spare oilfield drill pipe and a borrowed welding rig. So mom turned George out into the arena to let him cool off but keep him nearby and contained while she cleaned up. George had found some deep soft sand as far from my mother as he could get and was just rolling onto his back to scratch and dry himself when Lady and I walked up on the scene. I swear, I have never before or since seen a little black dog look more like a wild tawny lion than at that moment. Lady dropped into a low crouch and stalked up on George's tail like the hunting dog she was meant to be. She leaped up between his hind legs, landed full on his sweaty ribcage and went junkyard-style barking right up in his soft underbelly for about 10 seconds. Then she leaped between George's front legs, over his head, and dashed out of the arena to safety on the far side of the pasture.

George was righteously pissed off and a little embarrassed, of course, by the whole thing and probably spent 20 minutes running back and forth along the arena fence snorting and fuming. She still never did get any of his sweet feed after that, but I don't think it bothered her so much.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Leave Only Your Footprints

On our third day in Utah, we woke up in some chilly high-altitude morning darkness in Torrey. First Overlook at Dixie The idea had been to get out to the first lookout in Dixie National Forest just after sunrise (because it would be too dark to ride there before sunrise) and then roll on through our day from there. We actually crawled out of our tents just after sunrise, because it was too cold to be out tearing down your nice warm campsite and still define the activity as "vacation". We were slow moving that morning, but it gave the coffee shop across the road (<3 coffee!) time to open up and sell us coffee and that gave the non-coffee drinkers in our party time to visit the local tourism office two doors down. Good Morning With Coffee The local tourism office had some interesting information about our planned route, like the fact that there was a great little slot canyon a short hike off the main road, if you knew where to look. (I'm experimenting with the Google Map link. If you DO NOT see a blue dot in the middle of the map, you can click the "View Larger Map" link to see where that canyon is and what photos other people have posted of it.)

View Larger Map

We did make it out to that overlook, and the view was worth it, no?Burr Trail View Now, some of you know I have a miserable sense of elapsed time. How long does it take to do laundry? About an hour. How long to make macaroni? About an hour. Watch a movie? Write a blog post? Eat supper? Walk the dog? Get through airport security? About an hour. I'm not at all scientific about time. So Chewy and Chelli got as far down the road as they were going and turned around, and they saw me keep on going. I was going to The End Of The Road, you see. And that got me in trouble, because the time that elapsed between passing them as they turned around on the road and seeing them again at The Beginning of The Road was too long. "Too long" is a scientific measure of time describing the time it takes for others to get tired of sitting in the hot sun and move from worry about you to aggravation with you. Irritated as they may have been, they took some awesome photos!

In the "too long" period of time that I left everyone waiting, however, I went clear to The End Of The Road. I saw some amazing scenery and got some of the real solitude that visits to the desert always promise. I could never be that far from civilization as long as I was on a paved road, but I spent "about an hour" not seeing any other vehicles, and the time and space to let my thoughts expand and roam were a treasure to me.

AwesomeOn the way back to The Beginning Of The Road, I decided to stop in at that little slot canyon. I had noticed it on my way out to The End Of The Road, but thought it looked too busy. So I went on by in search of my solitude. I was rewarded, because by the time I'd reached The End Of The Road and come back "about an hour" later, the place was abandoned. I hiked across the creek and up into this quiet little nook between high stone walls. It was cool, shady and just a little bit damp at the very back where the sun can never really reach. I just squatted back there and listened to the wind whistling over the top of the canyon and the rustling of the cottonwood out in the creek bed, hiding the mouth of the canyon from casual passersby. Passersby If it had been a little warmer that morning, if my phone's alarm clock had been a little louder, if we hadn't stopped for coffee, if we hadn't engaged the local guy at the information office... All those things had to happen to give me that quiet, shady moment in the back of the slot canyon. I know I was but one of many visitors that day and many other days. After all, how secluded can a place be if you can find out about it at the tourism office? Still, for that little while, I had the place entirely to myself.

Red Wall I felt a chill coming off the wall, but whether it was from the rock or the wind I didn't know. So I reached out to touch the stone to feel just how cool it was... The canyon floor was deep sand, and the stomping of all the previous visitors had dusted the walls with powder. Where I touched the yellow stone, I left a little damp mark and my hand came away gritty. I tried to wipe it clean against my pants, but couldn't; the grit of riding and hiking was all over my clothes. So I dug a little at the base of the wall where the sand was still wet from carrying the last rain some months before. The permanently shaded little hole filled up with just enough water to rinse my palm clean. I stirred up the sand and made mud, wet my hand, and made a proper handprint on the wall. The mud was a dark red on the yellow-brown wall, the only sort of graffiti I could bring myself to create.

I hiked back to my bike and rode back to my anxious friends. I never took a picture of the handprint because I gave up carrying cameras on these trips after our RoadTrip07 when I realized how much better Rose's photography is than mine. So my handprint evaporated off that wall, I'm sure, well before I tucked into a plate of lunch and pie at the diner at The Beginnng Of The Road. And that's what it's all about, right? Leave nothing behind but your footprints. The only lasting impact any of us can make is in loving the people around us and treating them gently. I'll try to remind my friends of that the next time I keep them waiting "too long".

Monday, October 27, 2008

frustrated at the airport

chicago airport nominally has wi-fi. but it's run by boingo, and so far i have been completely underwhelmed by their service. i beat my head against the wi-fi signal for about half an hour trying to get my dadgum e-mail and as a result, i'm probably not going to get this posted until i get home. unlike the usual head-beating routine, this actually had a positive effect: i managed to read all my e-mail. i didn't get to send many replies and i certainly didn't hazard sending attachments, just quick notes telling people i'd send attachments later.

tomorrow, i have an appointment with my lawyer. nothing to worry about, unless you're my banker. that's because i'm giving my lawyer several thousand dollars to draw up a series of legal papers and contracts that ensure that, as nearly as possible, the state of texas and the institutions within or without will be forced to recognize rose as my partner and my next of kin and my power of attorney (aka: my wife). so, those of you that have the option of domestic partnership or marriage where you live: treasure that and defend it at the polls. texas has not one but TWO state "Defense of Marriage Acts" averring that it will never recognize marriage or any other institution conferring the benefits of marriage on any sort of homosexual partnership. of course, eventually the federal bench will catch on to the fact that preventing legal recognition of gay relationships doesn't prevent people from ENTERING gay relationships. and because the partnerships are formed, they eventually end for whatever reason. if family and probate courts are able to rely on case law and treat those endings exactly like they do the endings of marriages, it'll make everyone's lives a lot easier. and that's the thing that irritates me about opposition to gay marriage: it doesn't hurt anyone for me to be able to go the JP and get married. straight people in their religious or non-religious marriages will still be just as married, just as committed, just as faithful after a gay couple marries as they were (or weren't) before. it doesn't help straight people at all, but it hurts me and it hurts my friends.

my plane is about to board. i'm home sweet home for four days, and then i'm on the road again. i'll probably spend 90% of that time sleeping and trying to desiccate the giant snot-factory that's set up operations in my sinuses. if you have any anti-viral prayers, meditations, or vibes, i could really use them. that, or a year's supply of kleenex with lotion built right in. i'll need that if the vibes don't work out.

far be it from me to mock someone for large hair, because i am an offender whenever the humidity gets high, but wow... there is some Lubbock-style big hair on the lady cleaning up gate B14 at O'Hare Terminal 1. she looks like she probably has a lifetime of interesting stories to tell, but she quite clearly stopped updating her 'do in about 1965. yikes.

Monday, October 13, 2008

O Happy Day!

A couple of months ago, I got married. I've been holding off posting any photos of it because I wanted to get in all the photos from all the guests with photographic talent and because there was a little hitch in getting the pictures from the photographer. I didn't want to bore y'all with wedding pictures every time a new batch came in, so I waited until i could just hit you with one "Best Of" blast and let you get back to your surfing. Of course, as soon as I had all the photos in order, I went on vacation to Utah, and then I started traveling for work (the day after I got home from Utah) and then I went to visit my godsons for a weekend and then I looked at the calendar and I was going on three months late for these photos. So... no more slacking, no more excuses. You, gentle readers, are getting the photo blast.


Through our outstanding wedding planner in Vancouver, Daryl, we found this great little B&B called Quarrystone on Salt Spring Island. We had originally chosen to go to Canada because we wanted to have a ceremony that would have some kind of legal standing. At the time we started planning, the only state that allowed weddings was Massachusetts and they were still refusing to wed out-of-staters. So we got a tip that we ought to look into a place called Tofino on the west coast of Vancouver Island. It was a little too remote for a weekend wedding, but the string of islands between Vancouver Island and mainland British Columbia was a good compromise. The scenery was breathtaking and our B&B was graceful, delightful, and welcoming.

For my side of the family, my parents were there along with one of my sisters and her husband. This is my mom, sissie, and I. Not that you probably needed me to tell you that. I think our faces tell the story plenty well... It looks like I'm a lot taller than they are in this photo, but that's just because I'm wearing sissie's high-heeled shoes. Three of a Kind The story that our faces do not tell is that for the entirety of my life I've been forgetting accessories when I pack to go on trips. I don't know if this is the root of the current anxious pangs I get every time I have to pack for a work trip, but I'm willing to bet it is. I didn't simply forget my earrings, either: I'd forget, say, the pants to the outfit that I was wearing to the event that was the point of the trip. Or I'd forget one shoe from a pair. Or I'd leave my belt on the kitchen table. Or I'd go skiing without any gloves. Or I'd bring the pantyhose and slip, but not the dress. It was never the same thing twice. So my sisters both learned early on to pack double for everything, and that way they could keep me from going naked to the family reunion. My wedding was no exception.

There was a very small crowd, only a dozen including me and Rose, so we had the ceremony informally outdoors and both my parents walked me down the aisle such as it was. We had a little threat of bad weather, but it blew over in the early afternoon and left us with awesome dramatic light and clouds for our backdrop.

The only hitch the rain presented was that when Rose went to stomp on the glass at the end, it wouldn't break! We finally found a rock to put it on and that did the trick. I still haven't found a good explanation for the symbology of that tradition... something about breaking from the past and starting fresh, or having your posterity number as the shards of broken glass, or maybe it just makes a fun sound. In any case--here Rose breaks the glass. I guess this settles it for those of you who insist that one of us "is the guy" in this relationship. Rose is it, because the guy breaks the glass. Or I'm it because I paid our way to Canada. And the mortgage. But she mows the lawn, and she owns the power tools. Oh, forget it. We're both girls, and we take turns taking out the trash.

After the ceremony, we had a moment to toast and celebrate and snack on frou-frou appetizers. My dad offered a beautiful and moving toast that welcomed Rose into the family and expressed his wish that he always be able to provide help and support to us should we ever need it. Rose's sister responded by saying that if Rose was in the family, she was too. And she'd like an allowance. If I ever got an allowance, I don't remember it. That said, I also never lacked for anything I needed and there were always ways for me to earn money if I wanted something. It sounds a lot like real life doesn't it? Guess my parents are smarter than I gave 'em credit for at the time. I hope I do as well with my own kids.


We danced a little for the photographers, but then it was very soon time for the real wedding fun: the eating! The dining room was just almost bursting to hold us all, but it was beautifully appointed and dinner was amazing.

Usual Suspects

Beautifully presented, perfectly cooked, harmoniously spiced food scarcely had time to get cold on our plates. In fact, I'm assuming that the food flew off our plates so fast that it simply defied photography. Laughter Looking through the collected snaps, all I have pictures of are laughing faces and plates that look as though they were well-nigh licked clean. We were definitely having fun. And that was a little bit of a relief. Weddings always present that rare opportunity for every distinct circle of your life to suddenly intersect like the playing pieces in a midway ring-toss game. Sometimes they all stack up nicely, and you win a big prize off the top shelf! Sometimes they bounce off each other and maybe go flying off at odd angles. This was one of those winning intersections of mine & hers, friends & family.

DuckyThe cake topper was, as they say, non-traditional. Not as non-traditional as a gay Catholic/Jewish wedding, maybe, but non-traditional nonetheless. We giggled our way through cutting the cake, feeding each other, and sharing with our guests. The time flew by and soon we had emptied every dish, drunk every drop, laughed every laugh and told every wild tale there was. It was time to call it a night. The moon came up and peeped through the clouds, and the blue and silver light bouncing between the Strait of Georgia below and the last quarter moon above caressed us all off to sleep.


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

howl at the moon...

Aunt & Uncle HouseRose and I recently returned from a vacation in Utah. It seems like an odd place for a queer couple to vacation, but the land is beautiful and the motorcycling is outstanding. We had a thrilling time.
Our first few days were lazy and fun, just passing time getting across West Texas (snooze) and into Cortez, CO (beautiful). We enjoyed the warm hospitality of my aunt and uncle in Las Vegas, NM along the way and sampled some terrific cuisine in Taos. We even shopped! Furthermore, we bought something! Neither Rose nor I shops recreationally so that was a noteworthy moment. It was a home decor item so large we had to ship it home as it wouldn't have fit on our motorcycles. Srsly. I'm sure that I'll post a photo of it once we get the room painted and hang it on the wall.
Five Metric BikesWe met up in Cortez with some friends from Bakersfield, CA and another friend from Phoenix, AZ. Chewy (one of the two from Bakersfield) started having trouble with her bike out on the road. It turns out an electronic component in her bike was on the fritz, and this is a widespread problem. They had several dozen back ordered at the shop where she stopped for repairs, so we had a makeshift solution for starting her bike: keep trying until it works. It turns out, though, that the uncooperative electronic component governed other miscellaneous systems, like headlights and the cooling fan. These will both be important later...
Mesa Verde
So on our first day out, we hit a bunch of big destinations: Mesa Verde, the Four Corners, Goosenecks State Park, and a terrific (in the terrifying sense of the word) Four Corners piece of road called the Moki Dugway. About 2/3 up the Moki Dugway, Chewy's bike overheated and we had to pull over. (Fritzy Electronic Component strikes again!) On the face of a cliff, in a switchback, five bikes parked on the gravel, with sunset approaching rapidly. And that wasn't the scary part of the day. Goosenecks Just so you know, everything worked out okay. Now you don't have to scroll to the bottom of this post looking for the awful news before you come back to finish the story.

Crazy Road

After about an hour waiting for the bike to cool, we carried on. This meant we were passing through Lake Powell territory right at sunset, but we were still a good hour and a half from our destination in Hanksville, UT.Mexican Hat As full darkness got serious about settling on the mesa there, Chewy's absent headlight became a real problem. (Fritzy Electronic Component strikes again!) However, she's a real tough lady and not one to stop riding for something so silly as absence of light. So she put me out front, and she rode just off my flank so she could use my headlight to illumine her path. Everyone else followed behind. Really, this worked pretty well as long as the road was straight and flat. We had to slow down significantly to take the curves, though. UNTIL... [dramatic music: DUN-DUN-DUNNNNNNNNNNNNNNN!] the coyote.

CoyoteThat's right, gentle readers. I had my first motorcycle/wildlife encounter. This little coyote was out in the middle of the road, sniffing something on the pavement that I'm certain was quite disgusting and probably dead. As soon as I saw it, I jammed on my brakes and (reportedly) created quite a nasty-smelling cloud of rubber smoke behind me. I did not manage to avoid the coyote, but I did manage to avoid the pavement. So I call that a tie. I hit the thing with my tire and then IT hit my left foot and went spinning off into the darkness. Some brainiacs have asked me when I tell them this whether the coyote lived. Now, really, if you hit a wild wolf-like creature on the highway at night, would you go unarmed out into the desert to look at the outcome? Really?!?! Just FYI, the pictured coyote is one that we stumbled across in a national park the following day.

About five minutes later, the massive rush of adrenaline wore off, and I had to pee like i have never in my life needed to pee. And I went through both basic training and military survival school, so I know about needing to pee. :) Luckily, we were only another 10 miles or so from Hanksville, at that point. We pulled up at the first gas station and examined my bike for signs of damage and everyone else's teeth for rubber cinders. Turns out there were none of the above, but I finally got to pee. We concluded (and rightly so) that it was too late by then to expect any restaurants to be open in this roll-up-the-sidewalks-at-dusk sort of town, so we bought some cans of Chef Boyardee and rolled to our campground.

Chef Boyardee heated over a camp stove, when savored with that Boyamigladtobealive sauce and topped with superb company, is probably the finest gourmet meal I've ever eaten.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

hop, skip, fly...

i got home last night at 9 or so. i'm leaving tomorrow at 2. this sort of weekend is the only thing i really hate about my job. however, there was no good way to schedule all the things that had to happen in the coming weeks, there was merely a slightly less sucky way and many much more sucky ways. so i chose the slightly less sucky option, and this is it.

good news? i have a dear friend visiting, my dogs are thrilled to see me, tonight i get a mulligan on my dad's birthday dinner, i have terrific job security, and my wife keeps things rolling when i'm out. i have a good life.

it isn't often that travel really surprises me. i've been on two travel engagements a month for the last two years, at least on average, and i've seen most every possible permutation of travel arrangements. there are the airports where you have to climb down the stairs, hike across the tarmac, pick up your own bag, and walk to the rental car. there are the airports that have buses and trains and in which everything is fully automatic. there are hotels with 100 rooms and hotels with five. sometimes my wallet sets off the metal detector, and sometimes the pocket knife i forgot i was carrying fails to set off the metal detector. (don't worry, it's a tiny little swiss army-style thing made mostly of plastic.)

this last trip? i was SURPRISED. not just a little, i capitalized that part to emphasize the level of surprise. my boss-in-law booked my travel for me for this trip because it all came together at the last minute just before i left for vacation. seriously, i sent him my flight preferences at 4:45 on the friday i left for utah. he sent me a link to a hotel he knew of in the area and told me i could stay there if i wanted. i spent about 30 seconds on the webpage verifying that it was indeed a hotel with rooms that contained beds, toilets and showers and wrote him back saying that sounded good to me. so when i landed at john wayne airport in orange county, i drove my rented ford taurus up to long beach and was following the directions of lola, my gps, in the direction of my hotel. it was nautical themed, i remembered that from the website, and it was called Queen Mary. i thought that was funny and ironic, because Queens have a habit of using the phrase "Whatever, Mary," with each other when one is being excessively dramatic.

and then i drove under a freeway sign that indicated the two left lanes went to Queen Mary. this was my first sign that maybe something unusual was going on. ordinary hotels do not get their own dedicated freeway exits, let alone two lanes. after following the signs and lola's instructions, i found myself in front of a gangway labeled Hotel Queen Mary. the gangway led to a CRUISE SHIP. apparently, somewhere in the 60's, transatlantic cruising become a money-losing business. jets were popular and affordable and about 36 times faster than cruise ships. so the Cunard Line sold off their stock of transatlantic boats, and their luxurious art deco jewel - the RMS Queen Mary - was purchased by the city of Long Beach, CA for a couple of millions of dollars.

so there i was, on a floating hotel that was once a luxury cruise ship, and then a hospital ship, and a troop carrier. apparently it figured quite heavily as a floating office in WWII. and because of its days as a hospital ship, it's also quite haunted. i never saw any ghosts while i was there, i guess i'm just not sensitive enough.

Friday, August 29, 2008

a list...


  • Getting a standby seat on the earlier flight
  • Getting moved to an aisle seat
  • Hot, fresh nachos with sour cream
  • Taking a vacation
  • Riding motorcycles
  • Good times in great company
  • Buying your wife a Ride Bell
  • Homemade Beef Jerky
  • WoW Raids with phat lewts

  • Crying babies on your plane (redeemed by falling asleep on taxi)
  • Yip-yip-yipping dogs on your plane (damned for NOT falling asleep, EVER)
  • Warmed-over nachos that spent 3 days in the fridge
  • The last day of work before vacation
  • Locking your wife out of the house while you're shopping for her Ride Bell
  • West Texas Highways in August

Y'all have a great week. We'll be back soon.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

quickie update

my airplane is at the gate and deboarding right now, so i have only a few minutes. i owe massive favors to someone or something in the universe, because i got a standby seat on a flight home from phoenix that has 24 people on the standby list, and the lovely young woman at the desk got me moved from a middle seat at the rear of the plane to an aisle seat at the middle of the plane. *envision a giant amazon happy dance here*

yesterday was ballistic and challenging and i was up for 20 hours and working for 18 of those. it was all good until i had to go to dinner with the partner's boss's 4-year-old. kid proudly announced at the beginning of dinner that he'd had COOKY! before he arrived because he at all his dinner. then dad let him "split" a coke with his 18-month-old sister. kid spent the entire rest of the night running screaming circles around our table. it was like hell, but with curry.

then again, if eggplant curry doesn't make it better, i'm not sure what does. tradeoffs.

i'm going on vacation starting this weekend, so look for trip reports soon. photos by rose, words by me, as usual. oh, and we FINALLY got our wedding photos back. those will be up when we return from vacation. it turns out that all that damn drafting training for me was worthwhile, as i've never had anyone come to me and report that my e-mail address was illegible. apparently, this was the photographer's third attempt at reaching us with the pictures, but rose has such "artisitic" handwriting that we didn't receive the first few. haha. engineers: not as sexy as doctors, but we get our e-mail. nowhere near as sexy as artists, but... well, we get our e-mail. and we'll console ourselves with e-mail while the doctors and artists are off with the pretty girls and the bottles of wine.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

overheard in my truck

ME: so i'm going to put those risers on my bike sunday.
ROSE: but i have [string of activities] & [visiting friend] here this weekend
ME: what, like i need help?!? it's not that complicated. besides, before i met you, i had to turn a wrench by myself. you can do [string of activities] while i change out the risers.
ROSE: oh. okay. but i just thought you'd want the extra hands, to make it easier to position things...
ME: hmmm... yeah, and since [visiting friend] is leaving on sunday, you'll have time to help me.
ROSE: oh, no! you don't want my help, that's okay. i won't intrude.
ME: oh, come on, honey... you know you're dying to come wrench on my bike. *evil grin*
ROSE: no... you do it yourself. *grin*
ME: see, now it's a contest between your Butch and your Stubborn. Which one is gonna win?
ROSE: we'll see. that's a close fight. neither one likes to lose.

Monday, August 04, 2008

don't know what to say...

I'm having a spot of writer's block these days. I should probably take the very good advice of a random blog I strolled through recently, and start carrying a pen with me so I can jot down ideas when they occur out in the Big Blue Room. Because, clearly, those light bulbs popping up over my head whilst I'm out having a life are not coming home with me. What did I do, ideas? Did I snub you somehow? Make you grumpy by forgetting your names? Are you jealous because I mentioned former ideas? Whatever it is, I wish you'd forgive me...

So today, I give you a memory of mine:

I had a friend named Kristin Wheeler when I was at the Air Force Academy. She was from Lakeland, Florida and was one of those elusive and rare creatures -- the Native Floridian. Most people who are "from" Florida are actually from New Jersey or Idaho or some place cold. They move to Florida for the glorious tropical weather. Kristi, however, was actually from there for at least 3 generations that I know of. At our age, that means her family moved to Florida BEFORE AIR CONDITIONING. This proves them to be exceptionally hardy folk, and Kristi was no exception. She and I were in theater together at USAFA and had lots of good times escaping the military life back stage. We also figured out how to get out to the internet and connect to a BBS. Back in the days before the WWW there were no IM clients or java-driven chat rooms or forums. You had to telnet to a BBS and carry on in text-only systems. Seriously, the year after us, freshmen got computers loaded with Gopher for web browsing. We were a couple of years ahead of Netscape or Internet Explorer. Thus the point about Kristi's Floridian hardiness.

Kristi and I had some wild and silly and fun times connecting with each other and the outside world via the BBS. One of the big things the Air Force (and, really, any military training program) does is try to isolate you so that you're forced to rely on and build bonds with your squadmates. The internet really undermines that, and if the Academy higher-ups had been aware of just how we were using the budding internet socially, they'd likely have cut off our access. We weren't doing anything illegal or dangerous, just undermining their precious training strategies by building up a support network of people we chose, rather than clinging to the ones we'd been tossed in with by alphabetical happenstance.

Kristi and I managed to stay in touch for a couple of years after I left the Academy, and even for a few after she graduated and got on with life. In that span of time, I moved about 16 times, so this was no easy feat. The last time I heard from her was when I got an invitation to her second wedding. I was sad to have missed it, but I was embroiled in my own troubles at the time. I never sent a card and when I tried to get in touch via the e-mail address printed in the invitation, it wasn't functioning.

I miss her. One of my best memories of my summers in Florida, working for the Mouse, are of her coming to spring me out of the all-Disney apartment complex so we could go play at Busch Gardens. We went to the beach, visited her folks' house, rode roller coasters, and just enjoyed a day away from the grind. If you've ever lived in a cloister like military school or a company-owned apartment complex, you understand how vital those little slices of "real life" are. It's unimaginably special to get away for a day and just eat dinner with a family (even if they're not your own) or do any ordinary thing outside the insular environment. Environments like that can be really useful in the short term for providing intense experiences, immersion, focus, and building cohesion, or uniformity, if you're cynical. Beyond that, they're not so good, but the friends you make inside those pressure cookers are the kind you never forget. So wherever Kristi (Wheeler) Cummings is now, I wish her well. I remember her fondly and hope that she continues to bring her particular spark of humor and liveliness to the people who surround her today.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

some thoughts...

This is a little post that came up in response to an Open Forum question over at Queers United about whether "any press is good press." I think that (brace yourselves) it depends. Yeah, it's that balance thing again. In some times, and for some groups, negative press is better than none. For most of the various groups under the big queer umbrella these days, I don't think that's necessarily true.

We don't need truly bad publicity in the sense of news stories covering queer people misbehaving. We had that all along, really, and it never worked to desensitize people. In fact, for many years the only time the word homosexual appeared in the press was if it came up in the course of a criminal investigation. That's what the coming out movement was meant to address. We created the first positive media images for ourselves by acting like our normal selves and making it public that we happened to be gay.

I think that the big queer umbrella gets as much negative publicity from the radical acts at Pride as the Christians get from real nutcases like Fred Phelps & Family. Most people are going to laugh that off as the work of a few extremists, and maybe take steps to distance or protect themselves from the crazy venom. People who are extremists themselves are going to use it against us as evidence that we're all flagrantly immoral. Just like the extremists among queers use Phelps as evidence that all Christians are ignorant bigots.

I don't think we can expect the news media to do their job as documentarians while simultaneously expecting them to be our PR spinmeisters. It's a conflict of interest. Let the media do its job of showing what's out there. They will always seize upon the extreme because people find the extremes interesting, and thus, pay money to consume media about them. If we want our press to be mostly good, then we have to make sure that we take it upon ourselves to do good things and make sure there's a local reporter covering it when we do.

Then there are the gray areas... publicity in the sense of mass entertainment media. Do we have to demand only "good" representations in fictional media, or should we allow "bad" ones on the grounds that any publicity is good? I think 10 or 20 years ago, that might've been valid. It was so rare to see gay characters on TV or in movies that I was grateful for any depiction, be it the most caricatured negative stereotype possible. These days, with Logo TV and "The L Word" and "Queer As Folk" and many other media outlets showing gay people in realistic settings, I think the standards need to go up.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


I have about five minutes to write this while some stuff i'm doing for work makes a long, tortuous slog from Texas to Quebec and back, by way of Pennsylvania. It's going on the intarweb, so it ought to be reasonably fast, but i imagine all the firewalls, VPNs, routers, and Snuffleupaguses between here and there are going to slow it enough for me to peck out a few words today.

I'm getting married Saturday (in Canada). Officially, technically, it doesn't "mean anything" since Texas doesn't recognize gay marriage in any way, and the US in general doesn't, either. Even if they did, my understanding is that two American citizens living in the US cannot go abroad to marry and transfer that home. However, the closer I get to the date, the more it settles in my heart exactly how much this really does "mean". I started down this path because I thought it was important for my family to see me get married. I know exactly what my relationship to Rose is, what it means, how serious and good and committed it is. But until I marry her, my family doesn't know that. I don't talk about my feelings very much at all, and unless someone asks a direct question, I don't volunteer. Even if I could single out every person in my family and friend network and tell them exactly what Rose means to me -- and I didn't die of an emotional hemorrhage from talking about my feelings that much -- even then I'm quite sure it would not have the same impact that simply getting married has. Culturally, the act of getting married says something to people that I doubt I could put into words.

Does it matter what other people think? On one level, of course it does not. I know in my heart, mind and soul exactly how I feel, think, and relate. None of those things changes because I've promised out loud in front of witnesses to continue to do so. But on another level, it does. My life is not lived in a vacuum, it's carried on in the mesh of my entire community of family and friends, acquaintances, co-workers, and strangers. Saying "I'm married" makes it immediately obvious to people how they should relate to me, where my significant other fits into my life, and how they should relate to her if and when they meet. It's cultural shorthand, and I like shorthand, especially when it comes to discussing my emotions. That's it! I'm getting married so I won't have to talk about my feelings so much! heh. Okay, maybe not...

In the sense that I'll be able to utilize that cultural shorthand in explaining that piece of my life, going through with this ritual does indeed mean something. In the sense that it will make it easier for my extended family to take in and deal with the immediate family I'm starting, it also "means something". That's probably not sufficient reason to do all the things involved in getting married. Heck, it's probably not even a sufficient reason to stuff myself into a strapless dress. For someone with my dating record and my legendary fear of commitment, proving that I'm willing to marry may be more important than actually doing it.

I also can't deny that the political act of marrying, knowing that it won't be recognized at home, and marrying anyway, will make a difference in the legal recognition of gay marriage in the US. I hope that as more gay couples make these public commitments to each other, more people will understand that this is no threat to their lives. I'm not getting married so I can swing a bayonet at anyone's marriage or family. I'm not going to force anyone else to get married. Conversely, I'm darn sure not going to go away or quit being gay because I'm denied civil equality. I'm just trying to give my life a little balance in my little corner of the world.

Monday, July 14, 2008

The Road Goes On Forever...

At the end of our last installment, the intrepid motorcyclists were in Virginia, having braved the glorious and terrifying Blue Ridge Parkway in both rain and sunshine. Finding themselves in Virginia, and needing to be in Texas, Thalassa and Rose hie themselves home. Again, you can't really ride a straight line anywhere here. So we pointed ourselves in the general direction of Great Smoky Mountains National Park and wriggled on down to its delightfully tortuous bounding road, the Tail of the Dragon. We had planned this quite carefully, actually, so that we could do it on a weekday. I don't know if there are any humans who actually enjoy densely packed, crowded situations, but for some reason we all tend to jam ourselves into attractive places together on weekends. I can't imagine a more miserable riding experience than one in which I was being hampered from the front by a slow bike while crowded from behind by a fast bike on a road that doesn't even try to lend itself to safe passing zones. Weekends are reported to be crowded out there, so Friday was our preferred approach. Even with the Honda Hoot motorcycle rally in nearby Knoxville, TN we had a fairly clear road to ride. We didn't see any accidents or even any really silly behavior. Generally, everyone was polite and responsible - which is bad for my writing, but good for my health. I include this fact only because some of you readers actually know me in real life and care whether I get off the bike with the same number of limbs I had when I clambered on it.

We ordered our ride pictures from Killboy as I promised. All the other photography (except as noted) is Rose's because she's good at it, and I'm not. The road was really a blast! It IS all it's cracked up to be... I can't begin to imagine what riding it was like back when the speed limit was 55 mph. These days the limit is 30, and while I recognize that's artificially low in honor of the road's notoriety and the crowds there, I still felt like 30 was awfully fast in some of the corners -- maybe I'm just a nervous nelly. Then again, if you look at the chicken strips on my Valk, they're damn narrow. I know I've never been out to the edge of the tire, but I'm certainly not riding it upright through those mountains, either. Whichever, once we'd ridden the Tail of the Dragon, bought our t-shirts and tchotchkes, jawed with some bikers and gawked at some of the bikes in the parking area, we rolled on down to our next destination road, the Cherohala Skyway. It was actually prettier and more fun to ride this one than Tail of the Dragon, simply because it's a much more open road and has some nice passing zones built right into the mix! (as the old Duncan Hines commercials would say) Rose reports that it is her FAVORITE ROAD EVAR!eleventy!

We leaned and wriggled and swerved our way on down to the end of the Cherohala Skyway and pulled over to powwow about dinner. There at the scenic overlook, with a background babble from the beautiful mountain river that I swear was a wee stream just a few miles up the hill, we met a delightful guy who was just the picture of every "retired Jewish Yankee winters in Florida" joke you've ever heard. I swear, visiting with him was like talking to a cartoon or a sitcom character. He had the accent, the attitude, the face... Ultimately, of course, he was a real person with questions about how two girls could pack for two weeks in those tiny saddlebags and what was the fastest way back to Knoxville, and whether we'd really ridden all the way from Texas by ourselves, and whether he'd make it back in time for dinner. We used our GPS to give him some directions and we rolled off to meet up with some old friends in Athens, TN.

Have you ever wondered what your preacher was like before he was a preacher? I've often wondered that, myself. Unless you get a chance to sit down with said preacher's mother, though, you don't usually get the answer to that question. Well, in this case, our old friend has just become a preacher. I've only known him a couple of years, but Rose and he were coworkers back in the day. Apparently, the two of them were running buddies in their misspent youth. Of course, they've both matured and taken on responsibility as it's come careering at them, but every once in a while you see that glint in their eyes... you know they could still go back to being hellions, if only for a weekend. We had a wonderful dinner and tour of the new house and new church that our friend is going to be leading, and then we settled in for a good night's rest while visions of hairpin turns and sweet sweeping mountain vistas danced in our heads. (These two shots are from Moonshine Photo)