Archive for October, 2008

Happy Hallowiener from the costumed clan

October 29, 2008

Another Oct. 31, another excuse to costume your canine. OK, black cats can play, too, but don’t even try to put a silly hat on them.

We give you these amazing photos from the Oct. 31 gallery. I was going to wait until the big day itself, but why delay the fun?!

Sabrina is ready to cast another spell

Sabrina is ready to cast another spell

Sabrina, who we adopted earlier this year from Dachshund Rescue of North America, came with this witch costume (you baby-boomers know that Sabrina was Samantha’s sister on “Bewitched”). But back then, ‘Briner the Wiener was such a porker that she couldn’t squeeze into it. Now, after successfully reconnecting with her svelte self, it fits her beautifully. Don’t you think?

Roxy as the Great Pumpkin

Roxy as the Great Pumpkin

Roxy has trick-or-treated as The Great Pumpkin for a decade now. Her favorite Hallowieners were spent at The Boston Home in Dorchester, Mass., where we visited residents weekly. Everyone loved Roxy any time of the year, but they were especially fond of her in this getup.

Q-Kitty on top of statue for Uncle

Q-Kitty perches atop Uncle's grave marker.

Starting life as a feral feline, Q-Kitty went into a shelter and then a foster home without being adopted, probably because she’s black. Animal shelters say that black cats are the last to be adopted, but Wessel saw the beauty and lightness in Q, whose official name is Quincy Hull Daniel Kok. Hence, Q-Kitty.

Here Q sits atop the grave marker for our late, great long-haired wiener dog Uncle. The wonderful cement sculpture was given to me by its creator, NC artist Forrest Greenslade.

Q-Kitty, crime-solver extraordinaire

Q-Kitty, crime-solver extraordinaire

When Q is indoors, she likes to catch up on her reading — when she’s not bugging the wiener dogs. Here she reads her favorite scary book, “Mew is for Murder,” written by my former Boston Globe colleague and cat-crazed author Clea Simon.

For some reason, Q is not as partial to our favorite seasonal book, “The Hallo-Wiener” by Oregonian Dav Pilkey. Dav’s description of his adorable children’s book: “A humorous Halloween story finds the mortified dachshund Oscar dressing up as a hot dog for Halloween and having to save the day, proving to his snickering friends that while he may be short on height, he is long on heart.”

On that note, Happy Hallowiener to all! And stay tuned for crazy Christmas costumes!


Texas gives Dixie chicks a ride

October 28, 2008

Not being one who fears showing my ignorance (though, yes, I do like being right), here’s my confession. When I first read that I could have my photo taken posed with a “Texas longhorn” I thought that meant a cowboy. I was imagining a cross between Village People and Chippendales.

So imagine my surprise when I showed up at the George R. Brown Convention Center to find not a cowboy but a boy cow, named Texas.

Jane Wooldridge riding the longhorn steer

Miami Herald travel editor Jane Wooldridge poses pretty, even without a hat.

Texas is a longhorn steer, a breed of cattle known for its lean beef. More than anything, though, their distinctive horns have turned them into a symbol of the Lone Star State. (What’s the difference between a bull and a steer? I’m not sure, but I think it has something to do with boy parts.) According to Wikipedia, because longhorns are smart and gentle, they’re also increasingly being trained as riding steers. I can’t say I now know what it’s like to ride one, but sitting on one was pretty cool.

Ellen Perlman riding the longhorn steer

Writer Ellen Perlman lives in DC, so she's used to a lot of bull.

This photo-op invite came from the kind folks at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, a mammoth event held every spring in Houston. The rodeo was one of the sponsors of the 2008 convention of the Society of American Travel Writers, hosted by the Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau, which I and about 400 other members attended last week. Many of us posed with Texas, including my colleagues shown here: Jane Wooldridge, travel editor of the Miami Herald, and DC freelancer Ellen Perlman of Boldly Go Solo and more.

Diane riding the longhorn steer

Diane casts animal-rights principles aside for a longhorn photo-op.

This here steer is an employee of Ralph Fisher’s Photo Animals in La Grange. To be honest, I was torn about posing atop Texas. I really, really wanted the photo (and an excuse to wear a cowboy hat), but I felt bad for the steer. How fun can it be to have a couple hundred folks climb on you, say stupid things, and then clamor back down while cameras are constantly flashing in your eyes? Not very, I’m guessing. But I managed to stuff all my animal-rights leanings into a little “See No Evil” box in the back of my head, which I then had to pull out and repack all over again in order to post this blog entry.

Steer retreats after convention duties

Texas's sidekick is led through the convention lobby after clocking out.

Aside from the photo ops, one of the craziest sights of the evening was watching Ralph Fisher’s handlers walk Texas’s colleague, whose name escapes me, through the convention-center lobby and out to a waiting limo, um, trailer.

You may want to pack a hankie before voting

October 23, 2008

2012 Election UPDATE: I need more hankies!!!!!! (in a good way)

I usually get a little choked up when I vote because there is nothing better than living in a country where citizens can choose their leaders. But I don’t think I’ve ever sobbed afterward until today, after I voted in my hometown of Durham, NC. We’re in a blue county in a red state, which, because of Obama, may this year become a blue state for the first time since 1976. So the nation’s eyes are upon us.

The ballot for the 2008 US presidential elections

The ballot for the 2008 US presidential elections

But politics aside (as much as possible), here’s what I witnessed. As I arrived at the crowded voting location (we have several and they’ve been crowded since early voting started here last week) I was shown to a parking spot by one of the many election volunteers. About half the volunteers were black, which also reflects our diverse population here in Durham (45% black, 45% white, 10 percent Latino).

As I walked in to vote, there was a big round of applause for a 20-something Hispanic-looking woman. While she turned in her completed ballot, a volunteer yelled: “First-time voter! First-time voter!” That was enough to get me choked up.

One of seven voting stations in Durham that allowed early voting

One of seven voting stations in Durham, NC that was open for early voting

But to see all the African Americans volunteering and voting, I kept thinking, what must it be like to see a black presidential candidate on the ballot? And to finally feel you’re a part of the process? Then I remembered, oh, yeah, I’m a woman and haven’t seen a female presidential candidate in the final vote. I do know what’s it like. But not really. I’m a white, middle-class woman, and it ain’t the same. When I went to school in NC in the ’60s and ‘70s, schools were still segregated, and lord knows what else was that I didn’t notice. So though I’m still waiting for a female president, at least I’ve lived to see the day where a black man can run for and perhaps even win a US presidential race. How cool is that?

The "I voted early" sticker

The “I voted early” sticker

After I cast my ballot and collected my “I voted early” stickers, I walked out just behind another “First-time voter!” “First-time voter!” this time an older black man. That was enough to keep me in my car for a few extra minutes, until I could see to drive.

Wedding guests get best gift: Namibia

October 21, 2008

What a great opportunity the Bergs had!  As “destination weddings” go, this one may take the prize. Roger took phenomenal photos, some of which are below.

“Where they Went” by Diane Daniel
Published Sept. 28, 2008, in the Boston Globe)

Roger and Marilyn Berg in the Namib Desert, Namibia

Roger and Marilyn Berg in the Namib Desert, Namibia

WHO: Roger and Marilyn Berg, 67 and 64, of Plymouth, Mass.

WHERE: Namibia.

WHEN: Three weeks in April.

WHY: For the wedding of their nephew, Steven Neri, formerly of Kingston, Mass., to a woman from Namibia. They traveled there with Steven’s parents, Alan and Ellie Neri, of Kingston.

LOCAL GUIDES: “Steven had been stationed in the Peace Corps for two years in northern Namibia near Angola,” Marilyn said. The Bergs decided to attend the wedding then travel with the Neris, including Steven and his wife, Magano. (The newlyweds now live in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.) “That made things easy for us because for them it was familiar country,” she said.

Sesriem Canyon in Namib Desert

Sesriem Canyon in Namib Desert

NICE RECEPTION: They stayed at a hotel in Ondangwa, the closest town to the wedding. “In Namibia there are 4,000 miles of paved road, 40,000 of unpaved roads. Magano’s family lives about 13 miles off any road,” Roger said. “We were picked up in a Land Cruiser. The way there was sandy but with some greenery and a lot of water holes. The village was a collection of homesteads and the father, a local leader, had gotten electricity and water and a cellphone tower, and he built a school for 700 children.”

Giraffes in Etosha National Park

Giraffes in Etosha National Park

TASTES LIKE…: The Americans were treated to several days of welcome and wedding rituals held at the family’s compound, including songs, chants, and traditional dances. “One day we went to a few different home sites and watched people catch chickens for the bride and groom,” Marilyn said. The wedding was held in a Lutheran church, “from when a bunch of Finnish Lutherans came here hundreds of years ago,” Roger said. The ceremony was in both the local language and English, Namibia’s official language. At the reception, Roger nibbled on dried caterpillar snacks, thinking they were something else. “I’ve since read they’re 60 percent protein,” he reported.

Zebra in Etosha park, Namibia

Zebras in Etosha National Park

NIGHT LIFE: After the wedding, the three couples spent more than a week traveling. They made several stops to watch wildlife, including Etosha National Park. “It’s one of the best places for wildlife in South Africa. We stayed there, at Okaukuejo Resort, and they had a flood-lit watering hole to see the animals at night,” Marilyn said. “We saw a family of rhinos, a herd of zebra, wildebeest, and five male lions. I felt like I was on a National Geographic photo shoot.”

Lion in Etosha park, Namibia

Lion in Etosha (as seen from inside car!)

SEEING RED: Also amazing were the red sand dunes of Sossusvlei, said to be the world’s largest, rising to 985 feet. “They were breathtaking,” Roger said. “We climbed one for a bit, but slogging through the sand isn’t my idea of fun.” They took a jeep tour through the barren Dead Vlei, a famous desert area scattered with ancient trees. “It was gorgeous,” Marilyn said. “They looked like skeletons.”

Gefeliciteerd met je verjaardag, Francis!

October 20, 2008
Van harte gefeliciteerd Francis!

Van harte gefeliciteerd Francis!

Today is a very special birthday for Francis Kok-van Ingen, my schoonmoeder, or mother-in-law. She’s celebrating a “kroonjaar”  (kroon = ) meaning a milestone year, and that’s all I can reveal. As faithful readers know, the Dutchies make a big deal out of their birthdays, so I must now congratulate the entire family Kok. Gefeliciteerd, familie Kok!

Francis during visit to Durham in 2004

Francis puts to use her quickly-created newspaper hat during a visit to Durham

Francis is a very creative woman. Not only does she make a mean newspaper hat, she’s a wonderful artist. I covet many of her paintings, especially one in particular that I keep asking for but no one seems to pay attention to my pleas. She also is a genius with “handwerken,” conveniently translating to “handwork.” For Francis this means not only knitting and crocheting, but even spinning yarn and weaving.

Francis and Karel have a beautiful garden with flowers throughout the year

Francis and Karel have a beautiful garden with flowers throughout the year

Her artistry extends to the amazing garden she and Wessel’s dad, Karel, have created in their long, narrow yard in Nieuw-Amsterdam, a village outside of the small city of Emmen in northeast Netherlands. Although the Dutch are known for their beautiful gardens, theirs is truly a show-stopper, with a huge variety of plants blooming at different times all year. Every time I travel with her I’ll see her reaching down to collect seeds here and there. She even planted a pecan tree from a seedling in our yard. Of course I think the best work of art Francis ever created was her son and my spouse, Wessel, but then I’m biased.

Francis (right) and Karel cycle on Pinellas trail in 2004

Karel and Francis cycle (= fietsen) on the Pinellas Trail in Florida

Although Francis enjoys exploring cities, she’s more of a country girl, and remains involved in a group called “plattelandsvrouwen,” or “country women.” I love that name. In that she has two older brothers and a younger one, I can understand why she seeks out the company of other women. (Then again, don’t we all?)

Francis’s favorite activities of late are nordic walking with friends, where she admits she’s more focused on the talking than the walking, and riding around the area on her new electric bicycle. Here’s to another decade of fietsen and fun, Francis!

In NC mountains, Bella stays low to the ground

October 17, 2008
Dachshund Bella with her human companion

Dachshund Bella with her human companion

I met Bella on my way back to the car after touring the Warren Wilson College garden and farm in Swannanoa, NC. Her mom says she’s a “fierce guard dog,” though she was pretty shy when I encountered her. In fact, she wouldn’t look at me for a photo no matter how many times I called her name.

Bella’s lucky number is 7. She’s 7 years old and lives on 7 acres of land in this beautiful area in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Lucky girl! Her mom says their walk on this gorgeous warm, sunny October day was not for Bella, but for Mom, as Bella gets in her own workout daily, tracking down varmints and what-not.

Mama Dip serves up Southern sensations

October 15, 2008
Victor and Marlene visiting Mama Dip's in March 2006

Marlene (left) and Victor Benard visit from Holland in 2006. Of course Diane had to put Roxy in the car post-photo.

T’aint nuttin’ better than okra and tomatoes, black-eyed peas, and fried green tomatoes. At least those are the sides I usually order at Mama Dip’s Country Cooking Restaurant in Chapel Hill, NC. That’s where Wessel and I take many houseguests, especially non-Americans and Yankees, who wouldn’t know a hush puppy if it up and bit ’em. Wessel, in fact, has made a habit of posing folks around the Mama Dip’s sign, so we’re posting a couple shots from his gallery.

Wessel (left) and brothers Liekle and Tjits Nijholt visiting Mama Dip`s in September 2008

Wessel (left) with more Dutch visitors, brothers Liekle and Tjits Nijholt, in 2008

While Dip’s has become such a big operation that it’s not quite the same as going to a little soul-food hole in the wall, it serves up some mighty fine grub.

Mama Dip is the nickname of Mildred Council, who is nearing 80. She grew up on a farm outside of Chapel Hill, and her first job was in town, as a family cook. Later she worked for a coffee shop, then cooked for Kappa Sigma fraternity.

Susan Guerber from Switzerland, enjoyed Dip`s chicken 'n' dumplings in 2008

Susan Guerber from Switzerland enjoyed Dip`s chicken 'n' dumplings.

In 1957 she starting working with her mother-in-law in a tiny take-out restaurant. The story goes that she opened her own Chapel Hill restaurant in 1976 with $64 — $40 for food and $24 to make change. Today, Mama Dip’s is internationally known for its Southern fare.

The fried chicken and Brunswick stew are great, to name a few, but the side dishes are what I come for: black-eyed peas, string beans with a little pork fat, pinto beans, vegetable casserole, yams, friend okra, lima beans, mac and cheese. I’m getting to hungry too write more.

Mama Dip`s  Family Cookbook

Mama Dip has written two cookbooks.

If you don’t live nearby and aren’t planning any trips to North Carolina (why not?!?), you can cook up your own Mama Dip’s creations from “Mama Dip’s Family Cookbook” and “Mama Dip’s Kitchen.” The “Chicken Pudding” is one of our favorites.

I’m proud to say that Mama Dip and I share a book publisher in UNC Press. Hmmmm…. maybe she’ll donate a recipe to my “Farm Fresh North Carolina“! Guess I’ll have to pop over soon and ask. While I’m at it, I’ll have me some country ham and biscuits with gravy. I’m thinking that I might have to get my banana pudding to go.

Vroom’s claim doesn’t get my green light

October 9, 2008
           I was momentarily excited when I saw the headline on a press release from PJ Inc. Public Relations in New York hawking an “eco-friendly car rental site.” Cool! I thought. This will be a great place to locate hybrids, and maybe even electric cars!
           Oh, I can be so naive… No, what the “green” refers to with Vroom Vroom Vroom, an Australian company making its US debut, is that it’s providing carbon offsets for customers (it also reportedly offsets its own operations).
             While I’m not complaining that Vroom is spending some money to *in part* mitigate the carbon dioxide it and its customers’ cars will be emitting, this smells more like a marketing effort than an honest attempt to “be green.”
             If you look at all the fleets of all the companies Vroom3 does business with (including Hertz, Alamo, Enterprise) you won’t find a hybrid among them, but you will find all types of SUVs and pickup trucks. Yes, I do know that some of these companies offer some hybrids, but if it were a standard option, it would be on their fleet lists. If Vroom3 really wants to *do* something instead of *pay* for something, it should be pushing for more hybrid rentals.
            When I asked one of the PR folks who wrote the release about all this, she said, ” People still need to get around and are facing a number of limitations, including budgetary constraints, that preclude them from buying or renting hybrids/alt-fuel vehicles (the good news is, if they are renting a car, it’s likely they’re not driving every day!). With the carbon offsetting program, Vroom Vroom Vroom can contribute to minimizing the damage, without putting the burden on the consumer.”
            OK, first of all, most people who rent cars have actually flown somewhere, which is a heck of a lot worse that driving. And to say Americans can’t afford alt-fuel vehicles when many cars on the road cost the same or more than a Prius is just ridiculous.
             Now, back to carbon offsets. They are NOT the answer. They help somewhat, just like it’s helpful to give money to a “Stop Littering” campaign. But if you are littering at the same time, that’s just counterproductive.  OK, not a perfect analogy, because we live in a car culture and not, thankfully, a littering one. But there are more and less “green” ways to drive. 
             As Washington Post writer David Fahrenthold said in his wonderful article this week titled “There’s a Gold Mine In Environmental Guilt,”  watchdog groups say offset vendors sometimes do not deliver what they promise. Some offset projects, such as mass tree plantings aimed at absorbing carbon dioxide, deliver climate benefits that are difficult to measure. In other cases, it is unclear whether offsets funnel money to existing projects or to projects that might have been done anyway.” David, of course, isn’t the first to say these things. I’ve read about problems with carbon offsets in many, many reliable publications.
             So, as I wrote to said PR person, while I think it’s laudable that the company is providing offsets, I don’t see it as a “green company” but one that mitigates some of its contribution to carbon emissions. But then, that doesn’t sound so exciting in a headline, does it?


Past meets present in Portugal

October 6, 2008

Having lived in Portugal in 1987-88, this was a particularly enjoyable piece for me to write. I loved that the sisters went on this journey to discover more about their father’s life, and of course their own.

“Where they Went” by Diane Daniel
(Published Sept. 14, 2008, in the Boston Globe)

John Charest, Diane Charest, Stan Cheika, Carm Provost, Pam Trett at the Port Wine Institute in Lisboa

John Charest, Diane Charest, Stan Cheika, Carm Provost, Pam Trett at the Port Wine Institute in Lisboa, Portugal

WHO: Diane and John Charest, both 56, of Fitchburg, Mass.; Pam Treet, 45, of Fryeburg, Maine; and Carmina Provost, 58, and Stan Cheika, 54, both of Chicopee, Mass. (The women are sisters.)

WHERE: Portugal

WHEN: One week in April

WHY: “For years my sisters and I have wanted to visit Portugal, particularly the small town where our dad grew up,” said Diane Charest.

OPEN ARMS: Jose Valentine is from Caldas da Rainha, an hour north of Lisbon. At 16, he moved to Chicopee, where he still lives. He turns 85 this week. “My father founded the Portuguese American Club in Chicopee,” Charest said. “We called him the Portuguese godfather because everybody who moved there from Portugal would go to him for advice. He still goes to the club to watch soccer.”

Carm Provost (left), Diane Charest, Pam Trett standing in front of their father's childhood home in Caldas da Rainha, Portugal

Sisters Carm (left), Diane, and Pam standing in front of their father`s childhood home in Caldas da Rainha, Portugal

TOWN TOUR: The sisters stayed in downtown Lisbon, at the Hotel Mundial, and took day trips. Lena and Jose “Joe” Ribeiro, friends of their father who had lived in Chicopee but retired to Caldas da Rainha, gave them a tour of the town of 13,500. “It really was like a time warp,” Charest said. “I almost expected to see a horse and buggy go down the street. Joe took us to my father’s old house. That was very emotional for me. We also went to my great-grandmother’s grave. She would visit us every summer. All the graves have pictures on them, and when I saw it I remembered her.”

Diane and her husband John in front of Obidos castle

Diane and her husband, John, in front of Obidos castle

MEDIEVAL MASTERPIECE: Their father’s hometown is just north of the popular tourist stop of Obidos, a walled 12th-century town with a castle. “That’s where he went to school. He and Joe would walk up the hill there every morning. We saw the building, and it’s now the welcome center. That town is like going to Brigadoon. We didn’t want to leave.”

OUT AND ABOUT: The group toured Lisbon as well as other spots, including Fatima and Sintra. “I was moved by Fatima,” Charest said. “We looked around the church and shrines and did the walk of the stations.” Lisbon reminded her of New Orleans, with its balconies of wrought iron. “I was amazed at how the whole country was tiled,” she said. “Every night we ate outside – always fish – and we took the funicular to the Port Wine Institute.” The only downside, she said, was the number of beggars and homeless people. “That surprised me.”

THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES: The daughters gathered with Dad after the trip to view photos. “We did a slide show on TV so we could all see them and my dad kept telling us about everything in his town, saying, `Oh, that’s this, this is that.’ He loved seeing his house.”

India: love, hate, and avoidance

October 1, 2008
The Taj Mahal in Agra, India was built by Shah Jahan as memorial to wife Mumtaz Mahal. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

The Taj Mahal in Agra, India was built by Shah Jahan as memorial to wife Mumtaz Mahal. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

“Have you been to India?” asked an acquaintance who was soon to visit her husband, who’s teaching in southern India for a few months. I told her that I hadn’t. I also confessed that I have mixed feelings about traveling there, or to any country that is chaotic and has unsafe tap water.

It’s not that I don’t travel outside my comfort zone. I do. Such as to Morocco, Ecuador, Argentina, Indonesia. OK, yes, those places are pretty tame. See what I mean? I absolutely celebrate the rich diversity in all countries. But the older I get, the lower my “ick” threshold falls. My overly sanitized American standards interfere with my sense of adventure. I say this with shame, not pride. Of course the easy way to get around this is to stay in luxury hotels, eat in westernized restaurants, and stay off the ground and away from the common folk. But what fun would that be? What reality would that offer? I’m either going to travel sort of like a local, or stay home. So I remain torn.

Wanderlust and lipstick by Beth Whitman

Wanderlust and Lipstick: for Women Traveling to India by Beth Whitman

Someone who doesn’t shy away from India is Seattle writer Beth Whitman, whose book “Wanderlust and Lipstick” addresses women traveling solo. Beth recently published “Wanderlust and Lipstick: for Women Traveling to India,” a country she’s visited several times since 1989. Beth has seen many changes there over the years and says travel is now easier and more reliable. But still challenging. The challenges are what make it memorable, of course. Beth reports that the number of travelers to India rose from 3.5 million in 2004 to 5 million in 2007 (wow!), and that the government has launched a campaign to train hospitality industry folks about such things as hygiene, manners, integrity and safety. Of course if things get too hygienic, polite, and safe, there go the bragging rights. You can buy the book at Beth’s website,

One of my favorite travel stories offers a different take on the country. In “Trying Really Hard to Like India,” writer Seth Stevenson starts his award-winning 2004 story in with this: “It’s OK to hate a place. … Because my girlfriend wants to come back – I’m back. I’m giving this dreadful place a second chance. And this time I vow I will try really hard to like India.” And here’s the ending: “As they say in really lame travel writing: India is a land of contradictions. A lot of things to like and a lot of things (perhaps two to three times as many things) to hate. It’s the spinach of travel destinations-you may not always (or ever) enjoy it, but it’s probably good for you. In the final reckoning, am I glad that I came here? Oh, absolutely. It’s been humbling. It’s been edifying. It’s been, on several occasions, quite wondrous. It’s even been fun, when it hasn’t been miserable. That said, am I ready to leave? Sweet mercy, yes.”