Rome in Pictures

Thursday, June 23, 2016
Our next stop on our Mediterranean cruise was Rome.

Rome was amazing. I mean, amazing. The historical significance of this city to Western culture cannot be over-emphasized, and our single day in the city was just a big ole tease. We're already planning to return to Italy in two years to see more of the city, as well as do some day trips outside Rome.

Our first stop was the Colosseum. Because we were in the city on a Saturday, the place was mobbed, and we didn't have time to stand in line to go inside. So we admired it from the outside, and made plans to visit first thing in the morning, on a weekday, on our next visit.


The Colosseum
Our next stop was Trevi Fountain. Like the tourists we were, we threw coins into the fountain to ensure a return visit to the city. I did wonder what happens to all the money thrown in there, and the Internet provided an answer:

Each day the gushing torrents of the Trevi Fountain are silenced for one hour while city workers sweep the coins from the fountain. Since 2006, the Roman Catholic charity Caritas has been sorting and cleaning the daily loot from the fountain. Caritas runs food and social programs for the needy and oppressed in 200 countries and territories worldwide. Somewhere around €3000 is collected nightly from the Trevi Fountain (about $1.26 million annually) and distributes it amongst the needy. Caritas even opened a low-cost supermarket in Rome in 2008 for the needy.
 We also walked up the Spanish Steps, which provided a nice (if sweaty) view of the city

A Fountain picture sans tourists
Perhaps the most amazing sight we saw on our day in Rome was the Pantheon.  Dedicated about 126 A.D., it has been in continuous use since that time. Originally a "Temple to every God," it's been dedicated to St Mary and the Martyrs since the 7th Century.

What made this so amazing was the fact that it's still standing, is still the world's largest unreinforced concrete dome, and it's still amazingly beautiful.


The view from the floor to the occulus.
I haven't yet mentioned the food in Italy. It was AMAZING. I'm not a big fan of Americanized Italian food, as I have a mild aversion to red sauce. But the food in Italy wasn't that. I can't wait to go back and EAT ALL THE FOODZ.

Link Me Up, Scotty - All guns, all the time edition

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

My favorite sarcastic attorneys on the topic of gun control and the need for precise, defined terms when discussing gun control legislation. This is one of the reasons I've been disengaged from social media and the Internet of late. Neither side of this argument seem to have cogent, defined arguments with terms that everyone can agree on. Instead what I hear is "Freedom!" and "The Children!" Both of these are knee-jerk, emotional responses, and neither provides a meaningful descriptor of what solutions (if any) the speaker proposes. You want better laws and regulations? Engage in better rhetoric.
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The life of a transgender Dad in pictures. It makes my heart happy to see members of a group who are often ridiculed, marginalized, and ostracized living happy, healthy, productive lives.
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Things you can do to be happier. I try to practice nine of these things in my own life for the purposes of managing my own mental health.
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Colorado Mom saves her son from a Mountain Lion with her bare hands. Are you listening, all you people who are considering moving to Colorado because it's such a wonderful place to live? The WILDLIFE HERE WILL LITERALLY TRY TO EAT YOUR CHILDREN. So unless your badassery is equal to fighting them off with your bare hands, you should probably reconsider. Just sayin'. 
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Houston celebrates Juneteeth with a parade and remembrance. I learned about this Texas tradition from my high school chum's amazing and authentic book, Tomlinson Hill, by Chris Tomlinson.
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From the archives: In the summer of 2013, NPR explored our nation's public libraries. Their legacy, traditions, and challenges. Love your local library, people - it's there for your benefit, and offers much more than just books.
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The "parent happiness gap" is real, and is directly related to a series of social policies that help parents care for, raise, and support their children in ways that doesn't make them want to light their hair on fire.
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Google employees are fighting sexism by adding "Lady" to their titles. I have been referred to as a "Lady/Female/Woman Engineer" so many times that I don't really find this funny.
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The President's opinion on radical Islam. The money quote:
The fundamental difference between Obama and Trump on issues related to Islamist extremism (apart from the obvious, such as that, unlike Trump, Obama a) has killed Islamist terrorists; b) regularly studies the problem and allows himself to be briefed by serious people about the problem; and c) is not racist or temperamentally unsuitable for national leadership) is that Trump apparently believes that two civilizations are in conflict. Obama believes that the clash is taking place within a single civilization, and that Americans are sometimes collateral damage in this fight between Muslim modernizers and Muslim fundamentalists.
I never thought of the conflict in the terms described, so this has given me something new to think about. I love The Atlantic. 

H/T Brother Eric
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Video of my Heart: Young Khloe provides a lesson in humanity, compassion and courage. THERE'S SOMETHING IN MY EYE.

H/T Random Michelle


Naples in Pictures

Tuesday, June 21, 2016
Our next port of call on our cruise was Naples, Italy.

Our first stop was Sorrento, a lovely tourist town with lots of shops that sell olive oil, balsamic vinegar, limoncello, and more. We picked up some items there and had them shipped back to the States. YUM-O.


An original Roman Bridge leading into the town of Sorrento.

Our next stop was an agro-tourist farm where we enjoyed a delicious lunch and learned how ricotta and mozzarella cheeses are made.

Next on the list was Pompeii. 

The ruins of Pompeii from the outside.

Pompeii was an amazing experience. Our tour guide, an 82 year old Sicilian named Roberto, was on the original surveying team, and provided amazing depth for someone who gives bus tours.

Some of the ruins from the inside, with Vesuvius lurking in the background.

We didn't have time to see the Herculaneum, but we fully intend to go back to Italy for a destination vacation in a few years, and that will be on our list.

I loved Naples. I wouldn't live there, mind you - the threat of Vesuvius is real, and ever-present, but I loved the landscape, the food, the history and archaeology. After all I saw in the far and middle East, it made me a bit wistful that I never got a chance to be stationed in Europe when I was on active duty.

Summer Reading Program - ANNOUNCED!

Monday, June 20, 2016

It's that time of year! Time for the Sixth Annual Maureen "AJ" Ramey Memorial Summer Reading Program, brought to you by Hot Chicks Dig Smart Men! 

Each year, Hot Chicks Dig Smart Men sponsors a summer reading program in honor of my beloved late daughter Moe. The one consistent thing in my daughter's life was her undying affection for the written word. So we'll read in her memory, and raise a book to honor her devotion to reading.

Moe came by her love honestly, as I LOVE reading. I read on my Kindle, on my iPad, on the Internet. I listen to Audiobooks whenever it's not practical to read words in a row. I'd read while I was sleeping if I could stay conscious. So once again, I'm sponsoring this reading program to benefit the 
Douglas County Library through the Douglas County Library Foundation,* in Moe-Moe's name. The proceeds from this program go to purchase the naming rights on the Parker Library's Maureen "A.J." Ramey Memorial Garden, which will be dedicated later this summer. 


Here's da rules:
  1. The contest will run from June 20th (that's today! The summer solstice! Yay!) to September 6th (the first working day after Labor Day. Boo.).
  2. When you finish a new book, post a comment on the "Hot Chicks and Smart Men Read!" page on this blog. There's even a link at the top of the blog for easy access! One comment, one book. PLEASE make sure you post your book titles on the page created for this purpose. If you post your books on THIS blog entry, they won't count, and that would be a big ole bummer.
  3. Audiobooks count. eBooks count. ANY book counts, with the exception of picture books. If you are reading a chapter book to a youngster, by all means, enter it, but picture books juke the stats.
  4. For each book that is read and registered in the comments by me and my readers, the Smart Man and I will donate $1 to the Douglas County Library Foundation, with a guaranteed donation of $500.00. This money is earmarked by the Foundation to secure the naming rights to the garden at the brand new Parker Library, scheduled to open this summer.
  5. When the contest ends, I will use a random number generator to find THE WINNERS. THE WINNERS will each get either a $25.00 gift certificate to Amazon OR a selection of my Famous Home Made Jams. Each unique comment (one comment, one book) will be an entry for the gift certificate or the jam, so the more you read, the better chance you have to win. Please note that if you commit to donating to your OWN local library, you increase your chances of winning!
  6. If the number of comments exceeds 500, the additional monies will be donated to the Douglas County Library Foundation general fund. 
READ! READ! READ!
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Do you want me to include a link to your summer reading program? Send me a note!
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ETA: Many people have asked if they can help fund the naming rights for the new Parker Library Garden. I can tell you how happy it makes me that people want to contribute, but the Smart Man and I have already fully funded this endeavor. It's something we wanted to do for our ourselves, and we're happy to earmark that money in our charity budget in perpetuity.

However, if you want to help us remember our Moe and do something fabulous for a cause she cared about, please sign up for a "matching donation" for the contest. Simply pick a local library in your community that is under-served or strapped for cash, and then commit to making a donation in whatever amount you wish in Moe's name after the contest ends. Then send me a note, letting me know the dollar amount and the Library you've chosen to support, and I'll post it to the contest page. For each dollar you commit to donate, I'll add another random number to your name for the prize drawing.

Thanks to everyone who volunteered to help with this important work. As a Social Justice Warrior and devoted reader, I can't think of a better way to honor our Beloved Moe's memory.


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*Full Disclosure: I am the Vice-President of the Douglas County Library Board of Trustees, and I am also on the Board of Directors for the Douglas County Libraries Foundation. So unlike in years past, when these organizations had no idea who I was, I'm now deeply involved with the beneficiary of my largess. However, this reading program (and the subsequent donation) are a private endeavor on my part, and have no connection to my volunteer work on behalf of the Library and its Foundation. I just loved them so much that in addition to my money, they're also now getting my time...also in memory of my Moe.

On the subject of Orlando

Saturday, June 18, 2016
I had to take a break from social media last week, and gave my RSS feed only the most cursory of scans. 

In the aftermath of the mass shooting at the nightclub Pulse in Orlando, the rhetoric was just too much for me. Every screed, every wild bit of speculation, every insensitive, hateful, homophobic, racist, bigoted, ammosexual comment was like a small cut on my skin. After only one day of this spew, I felt like someone had put me in a blender for a quick toss with the milling blade.

Events like this always affect me in this way to a greater or lessor extent, but this one...this one was exceptionally bad, because I have an intimate tie to the LGBT community. I know the pain the families of those victims are feeling. I know the crushing grief the parents of the dead are under today, and every day, for the rest of their lives. I grieve with them, and for them.

And I grieve with the larger community, too. I'm sorry your community was targeted. I'm sorry there are those in the world who are so hateful, so confused, so full of rage that they reach a place where they honestly believe members of the LGBT community have no right to exist in the world. I would take away this prejudice, this hate, this bigotry, if I could. I would protect you from this evil, and shield you from the consequences of their hate. But I can't, and that makes me grieve all the more.

But I can refuse to have it in my life.

If you believe the victims of this violence "deserved it" because they were gay, because they chose to go unarmed in a purportedly civilized society, because the U.S. is slowly moving toward equal rights for the LGBT community and deserves to be punished, because your Deity hates homosexuals and wants them to die, because people "not like me" don't deserve the same chances, the same rights, the same safety as you...then get off my world. Family, friends, colleagues, acquaintances, politicians, I don't care who you are. Get off.

Get the fuck off my world. And don't come back.


Random Thoughts and Words to Live By - Part 18

Friday, June 17, 2016

A positive attitude often makes the difference between a wonderful time and a terrible time. In choosing to think negatively, I do myself a disservice, and deprive myself of potentially wonderful experiences.

Mykonos in Pictures

Thursday, June 16, 2016
The third stop on our Mediterranean Cruise was the island of Mykonos. Best known as the personal playground of Greek tycoon Aristotle Onassis, this island's economy is based almost entirely on tourism. Property is dreadfully expensive, and many people who work in the tourism industry live there only "in season," because they can't afford to live there year-round.

Mykonos is gorgeous. In service to tourism, all the buildings must be painted in blinding white. People are permitted to paint their trim and shutters whatever color they want, but "Mykonos Blue" is most common.

A typical apartment in the town. Businesses are on the first floor, quarters above.

The water is lovely and clear, and I understand why it attracted the jet-setting crowd when Mykonos was nothing but a poor community with a fabulous location. The old port is still in use, although the new port is where cruise ships are docked. They only have room for one, so the lines take turns using the port. Other ships are forced to anchor out, and send launches (what I would call a "liberty boat") to ferry passengers to town. We were lucky, as it was NCL's turn to use the port when we arrived.

The view of the town and surrounding bay. You can see the yachts docked next to the town.
Mykonos is known as a "party" town, and has been a destination vacation spot for rich gay men for decades. In Mykonos, that community found a place where they (and their money) were accepted and safe. There's still a gay bar there called "Jackie O" which I understand is pretty well known in the LGBT community.

There's also a kabillion chapels, temples, and churches. Most are private family chapels, and most are dedicated to the Greek Orthodox faith.

The most photographed church on Mykonos, according to our guide.
The food was also as fabulous as you'd expect. We basically just ate appetizers the whole time we were there, because olives, and hummus, and pita, and spanakopita, and saganaki, OH MY.

From a "sun and sea" perspective, this was our favorite port of call. I suspect we'd love the rest of the Greek Islands, as well, so we've added a Greek Islands sailing trip to our bucket list.