March 14, 2018

Egypt

We took a trip to Egypt just recently.

I am posting some stories here.


December 29, 2017

2017

2017 is coming to a close. I'll leave politics aside here, but want to reflect on some other things.

In the past, I've kept up this blog regularly. With the addition of new social media platforms, in particular Facebook, and now a family WhatsApp group, the compelling need to blog seems to have declined.

But I miss it personally. First, I like to write. Contrary to Samuel Johnson's edict - I don't get paid money for this. (Call me a fool). But I derive other benefits. Mainly by preserving memories. Restaurant names and impressions, hotel preferences, funny travel stories, they all go away with time. Perhaps they should, I don't know. But I will attempt to grab a couple of them here. 

Anyway. Let's get started.

Lulu is very excited about this post.

We always try to get out of town for MLK day. Doreen has it off, and if I happen to be working, I take it off as well. This year, we went to Oaxaca. (This trip is pretty well documented below, so only a couple of photos. Let me say that it is an interesting city, and well worth the trip)




2017 was the year that I once again fully embraced sourdough bread. I can't possibly post all the photos of all the sour-dough bread that I baked, so let me show a couple of them. This is a "no-knead" (ie Sullivan Street Bakery style) boule:

Here is a multi-grain version that I adapted from Cook's Illustrated. This is our standard breakfast bread that we have toasted almost every morning. It is delicious:

At the end of February, we took a tour of a recently rediscovered Cistern that was built in 1926 for drinking water storage for Houston. The Buffalo Bayou Partnership has made it accessible to the general public and has allowed at least one art installation. This photo does not do it justice, and I did not really try to capture its essence. But I can say that you should visit it (see link just above) and enjoy.


Before our friend David moved to Costa Rica and took his dog BB (the blue merle below) she would come over and sometimes spend the night. Dogs need friends, too.




At the end of February, I was named the Chair of the Bike Houston board. It was at our new, annual Bike Summit, held at the St Arnold's brewery. A very fun event, and I am honored to be a part of this great organization.


And of course, the rodeo comes to town every year. We always try to stop by and watch the parade.


An added bonus this year was this Yard Sale sign we saw on our way home. Ya Dangus!


We were invited to a delightful birthday party for my goddaughter (and grandgoddaughter, too!). She is cuter than anyone can stand!


When my sainted father died, none of us could decide who would get the Momos - little wooden monkeys that have been around the house (We think our father bought them for our mother many years ago) forever. We came up with a tontine to solve the problem. We pass them (Momma Momo and Baby Momo, below) once a year down the family by age, on our father's birthday. I have them right now (for the second time). It is always nice to have the Momos at home. (It's a tontine because as each of the siblings go to our great reward, that family gets skipped in the rotation. When there is only one of us left, the Momos go to their kids, or to their survivors as designated):

To cheer us all up again, my godson (and nephew) Quinn and his delightful wife Roxy. While we don't do resolutions, it would be good to see more of them in 2018. None of us are getting any younger.



Doreen is on the Board of Inprint, a local non-profit that supports creative writing and writers in Houston. This year, George Saunders (Lincoln in the Bardo) came to town. He is from Chicago, but worked for a while as a geophysicist in Texas. His accent is exactly like an old college buddy of mine. If I close my eyes when he talks, I see Don Arneson.


This is my brother Mark and his wife Becky. I thought I had uploaded this photo since it was their 40th anniversary. But that is wrong, it has to be the 41st. That is a long time.


We took a trip  to London. This was a funny thing. I usually have a business meeting in London in March. This year, at the last minute, it was changed. So as I had already purchased our tickets to London (and our subsequent onward journey. See below) I had to get a round-trip LHR - OSL flight as well. No harm, no foul. But more travel that I would have liked on this trip.

First world problems. Here we are in Trafalgar Square, near the empty plinth.


We went from London to Paris:

and to the Vuitton Foundation museum in the Bois de Boulogna. Just fantastic.




While in Paris, I was able to eat at our very favorite place, Le Petit Verdot du 17e, because it is run by an old friend (Vincent. Pictured. If you go to Paris, you should eat there, and mention our name. The food is fantastic for such a tiny place. It is not visited by tourists, usually just neighborhood locals. really, you should eat there)

We then took the ICE intercity train to Berlin.

We went to Berlin many years ago, but only for a couple of nights. I think we were here this time a week. This is the red city hall.

Berlin is an interesting city. Since it is essentially new since 1945/1989 you see a lot of pomo apartments and such. But also an occasion really interesting bit of architecture. It is a real working city, and embraces the future as opposed to trying to live in the past. (re: Houston/New Orleans, Berlin/Dresden)

Also some really good restaurants - but they are sort of lost to time. This is the problem with not blogging contemporaneously with the events. I'd steer away from the currywurst, though.

We did get into, and on, the Reichstag. It started with a lecture in the visitor's gallery. Very interesting history! The building was not used as the center of government for very long. Fires, you know.

It was chilly, but Doreen had her pussy hat, and we saw remnants of the Wall.

 and some great archaeological artifacts.


But the best part of the trip was visiting with Doreen's cousin, her aunt, her first cousins once removed, and the fathers of the kids. (It is a little more complicated than that, and that sounds complicated!) but suffice it to say, This is Family!!! The warmth and love in the room was tremendous. And coincidentally, the guys lived across the street from the AirBnB we rented! Just crazy.

Because we were flying out of Frankfurt, we spent one night there, too.


We got back to town just in time for the Hermann Park Kite Festival. That's my sister with her kite flying!


And I was able to participate in the Cyclists in Suits lobbying event in Austin, trying to convince the useless Texas legislature to pass some bike friendly rules. They were more interested in bathrooms.

Time for a break.

 a nice break.
 after a bike ride
 and before a trip

looking for a comfortable place to nap


Joe Turner, the head of the Parks Department for the City of Houston, retired. He was a good guy, and had the job for quite a while.


And then Rodney Ellis was elected as a County Commissioner. We in the biking community (that is John Long, the head of Bike Houston on his left, and Mary Blitzer, our former head of advocacy on his right. She moved to Minneapolis and is now working for the Sierra Club) like Rodney quite a bit. He bikes, he does what he says he is going to do, and he is accessible. Especially if you are willing to meet him on a bike.


Doreen had a parks conference in Washington, DC. I tagged along and had a fantastic time


Here I am, wearing the dome as a hat. You might call it a "Cap"itol.

Hahahahahah!!!

Our sweet cats. More on them later. They don't really like each other. Not sure why - when they were kittens, they would snuggle and play like any other cats. But for years and years they just don't like each other. Here, they are just old.


Dig my new do.

My godmother/aunt, two of her daughters(my first cousins) and one first cousin once removed (the boy) and one first cousin twice removed (the baby girl). You can figure it out if you want. It's not as hard as it sounds. (you need to think in generations.)

Little Guy. Staking his claim on this box.

We went to a circus in Houston. The Ring Master looks just like a friend of mine.


Below was a circus of a different type. A bunch of right-wingers planted some lies about Antifa wanting to tear down the statue of Sam Houston that lives in Hermann Park. (There was never such a movement) but then about 500 well armed Republic of Texas types showed up to "defend" General Sam.

Oh there was a lot to unpack here. For example - while Sam did own slaves, he resigned as Governor as Texas rather than secede from the Union. And let's not get into the fact that the reason the Texians wanted independence from Mexico is that Mexico had outlawed slavery.

They didn't mind having their photos taken, though.  The black guy was not with the armed fellows.


To celebrate Pride week, an intersection very near our house was painted with rainbow colors.

This was nice. You can still see the colors seven months later.

As summer pulled into full flower, we had a pair of Cooper's Hawks nest behind our house.

and we grilled corn. Because that is what you do in the summer.

 You see, there really was a family.

Four of them!

 And who doesn't like an image of shorty black socks with boat shoes?


We did see the Astros play the Yankees. We won! A come from behind victory. This was one VERY fun team to watch this year. Oh yeah! We won the World Series!


and we also saw The Village People. Sponsored by AARP. (No kidding!)


And we celebrated the 4th of July at Freedom over Texas. Doreen called that my "Yankee-doodle-do-rag"



Sort of burying the lede here, but I turned 60 this year on July 6th. Historically, birthdays have not bothered me at all. Not 30, 40, 50...

But I think that in each of those years I had been exceeding my own expectations. I have led a very lucky life. Good friends, successful at work, interesting places to live, best wife in the world.

And not that 60 is any different. I could not possibly be happier. Doreen is the best wife ever, and I know she puts up with a lot from me and makes my life better than it could be. We don't worry about our health, and if I pull my hand out of my pocket too fast, I might drop a couple of $50 bills. 

I think that at 60 you just can't kid yourself that you are not on the downhill slide. When I turned 50, I did a whole year of blogs about it. (Called, cleverly enough, The Year of Turning 50). I figured I would do the same thing about 60 (you got it. The Year of Turning 60). The first was much more dynamic, and covered the year as the year went by. The second was sort of a confessional I write just days before my birthday. Not really all that interesting. 

But yet, here I am.

My birth photo
Must be what, about one?
Looks like first grade

 Probably fourth grade or so
 Sixth, maybe?
 My official graduation photo

 My photo that was in the Appleton Post Crescent taken during the graduation ceremony.

Working in Peru a year later

 and in Wyoming a couple years after that

In Denver in 1982

In the Lofoten Islands last summer


So we all grow up. The alternative is not attractive. As the Germans say, Die Toten wachsen nicht alt

I'm slowly getting over it.


Later in the summer, Doreen had another Park's conference.  This one was in Minneapolis/St Paul.

I've never spent any time there. The hotel was right on the Mississippi River, so we took the opportunity take a look

 and we used  their Bike Sharing system (NiceBike! You've heard of Minnesota Nice? Well, that is where it comes from. Everytime I would see someone else on one of these bikes I would shout "Nice Bike!" Sometimes they would say, "Thanks!" and some other times they got it. Made me laugh every time)
 That's Minnehaha Falls
 and that is art.

While Doreen was working, I took the opportunity to visit Mark and Becky (see above)


 They like their fire up there in Wisconsin.


After Doreen's conference was over, we went up to Duluth. An interesting little town. Doing very well economically. I hear it gets cold in the winter.

 The Great Lakes Aquarium


Some spectacular scenery around there



By the time we got home, our sweet cat, Little Guy was ready to go to his great reward in Kitty Heaven.
 It made us all very sad.

Then we went up to St Louis to see the Great American Eclipse.




If you've never seen a total eclipse, you owe it to yourself to do so. There is nothing like it in the world. We ended up at Washington State Park about 80 miles south of St Louis. Very close to  the longest point of totality - just short of 3 minutes. The whole anticipation is great, people are happy, and we were lucky. Both in terms of where we picked to watch the eclipse (on a ridge with clear sight lines to the horizon) and the weather (fluffy clouds that did not interfere).

As the time gets close, you notice nothing. You must use the eclipse glasses to keep track of how much of the sun is covered. But until you get to about 98%, it feels just like a cloudy day. They, all of a sudden, the air gets cool, the light changes (in our case to a strange amber) and POP! The sun is gone, and there is a black hole in the sky with a corona of flames around it.

People shout, cheer, yell, kiss, and just look around. You just can't believe it.

There is nothing like it in the world.



 Crescent suns in the shade of the trees:

 Just go. You must go.

This was a week later, on our way to Oslo. Another board meeting for me, and Doreen tagged along so we could do a little touristing in Norway. I have been going there for 10 years and haven't seen any of the country before this year.

You can tell we were excited.

That white building is their new Opera House.

The Palace.

Vigeland Park. Lots and lots of naked statues.

 Columns of naked people

And we saw a circus there,  too! (We love these little circuses)


Soon enough we were up in the Lofoten Islands, north of the Arctic Circle.

We saw plenty of rainbows.

 and vikings

 and cod heads.

They dry all the cod they catch there to make stockfish. That is just dried (not salted) cod. Almost all of it gets exported to Italy. I would like to understand how that trade started.


 I love this photo, for some reason:



This is a stunning part of the world



 More cod heads

 These are pallets and pallets of stock fish.



After the Lofoten Islands, we went to Bergen. A nice, pretty little town. Again, we had some good food - sort of lost to the ages. The weather was beautiful. Everyone told us to be prepared for rain, but it was like this the whole time we were there.



From Bergen we took the Flåm Railroad, often billed as the prettiest rail in the world.

It is hard to argue with that.

This is a typical view.

 They stop the train and let you take photos, and then the "hulda" or witch of the mountains comes out to dance, and try to lure the men to untimely deaths.

Nobody on our train was fooled. We were a little late in the season, so the train wasn't crowded. You could move from one side of the train to the other, and the views were unimpeded.


The train ride ends, and then you get on a ferry in the Nærøyfjord. It is the narrowest fjord in Europe, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which means no zodiacs (Called RIB boats here) zipping around making noise.


 There was a lot of scenic beauty on this trip.



Cold scenic beauty



And then reality intervened.

While we were in Norway, Hurricane Harvey hit Houston, and hit Houston hard.

And Doreen's mother's house (Let's call her Trouta, since that is her name) got slammed by the release of water from the west Houston reservoirs. Four feet of water for a week is devastating.

It is hard to do anything from 5,000 miles away, so Doreen cut short her trip. She came home to this:





 I had to stay in Oslo for work, and I saw this:


That water should not be there.


 These Good Mormons came by to help with the house.


I eventually got home and was able to help. You should not be able to see any water in this photo.


 But Trouta was safe., and in a new place with flowers

and Kringle.


We are a resilient bunch. Life moves on, and Doreen's friend Izumi came by and we had a nice lunch


 and we went on the Park to Port bike ride


and saw our favorite County Commissioner  again


and I Moonlight Rambled.

Then we made a  trip to Wisconsin to see Family and because of my  work with the University of Wisconsin.

Very pretty colors.

We saw Noey and Mel, which was very good.


 And all sorts of niblings and grand niblings!

Herreras
 The Littlest Herrera
 The Littlest Bechle
 The Big O Bechle!

 All the assorted Bechles at the new Bechle Mansion!


 a bunch of mining and geological engineers


 Close up of the Bechles with Doreen!


 Oh! I got an award! That was nice.


 And I gave a talk. It was very interesting.


 The Bechles went to the Homecoming game!

We went to Milwaukee

 To see Sisters
 Brothers and Sisters in law


 Brothers in law and sisters


This was a good trip. We missed Gus, but otherwise saw everyone back in Wisconsin. Everyone was happy, we had a few beers and generally enjoyed ourselves. Heading back in April, and looking forward to it.

Came home to Houston, and soon, we had this!

 What could be better?

 I suppose this. I met Ted Cruz.

And we saw the parade!

 I helped a friend after his divorce:


 Saw this spectacular white raptor. (That is a pigeon in its talons. No, it is not a kite. Almost certainly a  leucistic red-tailed hawk)


 I fixed our hot water heater. And no, the house has not blown up.


I like this photo of the two of us.


Lulu was taking a break, but watching me closely.


 We lost our other cat, too. Djimmah was the first pet we got together. It was very sad to see her go. A beautiful cat in her youth. She had an attitude.


 and we prepped for one more trip.


Santa was hanging with the Momos


and Lulu was not too happy we were leaving.


The Amsterdam airport was a big, wet, stinking mess.


Yet, eventually we made it to Tromsø. Our last trip of the year.


Why Tromsø?

Northern Lights.

Tromsø is at about 70° North Latitude, or about 66 miles north of the arctic circle. (Further north than we were before, in the Lofoten Islands). We knew that the odds were pretty good that we get a chance to see the lights, but you never know. First you need to have clear skies. Then, you need to have solar activity. (even though the sun does not break the horizon this time of year).

We signed up with Chasing Lights on a mini-van tour. These guys were great. They had clothes (you can seem them further below) and our guide Merak, really knew how to find the lights. He also took all the photos below, and asked for no credit.





 The silouette was Merak's idea. Having everyone point was my idea.


 It was a pretty fun little group.



We stopped at three different locations, saw lights at two of them. We left Tromsø at 6:15 PM, got back to the hotel at 2:30 AM. Worth every minute. Worth every NOK.


Dog Sledding is the second reason we went to Tromsø.

We chose Tromsø Husky for this part of the trip. Again, a professional and well run group. They picked us up at the hotel at 12:30 PM, and drove us about 40 minutes north of the city.

We got dressed and ready to ride!


 The dogs were nothing if not eager to run.



For the first half of the run Doreen was the passenger (in the Sam McGee position) and I was the musher.

This is as light as it ever got in Tromsø.

We were ready to go, too!
 The dogs loved to run

 For the second half of the ride I was in the Sam McGee position. Much less work, and just as much fun! Doreen needed plenty of advice to keep from running off the track or running down the other sleds.

Two sleds got lost! Well, they took the wrong turn. I would have been happy to spend more time on the sled as well.

It was a real treat.

The Third reason to visit Tromsø was Lutefisk! A delicious Christmas meal!


And the final reason to visit Tromsø was Sami Reindeer Stories! For this trip we used Tromsø Arctic Reindeer. Another well run group. Again, they picked us up at the the hotel (10:00 AM this time)

They told us Sami stories, we fed the "wild" reindeer, and when on a short (10 minute, thank goodness. No need for more than that) reindeer sled ride.




They were very friendly.





And I loved the Sami Hat.

 We got back to Tromsø and took a quick stroll around town before heading back to Oslo, and then back home.


But not before finding these little Bertil gingerbread men, all with only one leg. You remember the story about how he had to feed his leg to the fox to get over the river, right?

Gruesome, but delicious.


and to cap off the year, a Christmas Goose.