February Blues–Not on the Agenda for 2010

Annie posing, the schefflera plant I've raised from a $1 store twig, the old Singer that I rescued and have dragged around for years--all at my front door.

Over the years I’ve experienced what I called (and I see that others call it the same)–the February Blues, a kind of down time after the holidays before spring comes out in full force.  (It’s also known as S.A. D., or Seasonal Affective Disorder).  I have to admit that living here in Texas it never has overcome me nearly as much or even for as long as it did when I lived in Kansas.  I’m sure the warmer, brighter winter days have a lot to do with that.  Warmth, for sure, might be the real reason because I remember some years in Kansas when it seemed like my feet froze in November and didn’t thaw out until mid April.  I really just do not cold weather all that much.

For me, the February Blues never have been something really depressive, because overall, I’m generally a pretty easy-going guy.  I usually felt a kind of cloudy, blah feeling, sometimes triggered by something that had happened, like getting an unexpected bill or having a squabble with someone.  And even though I say “February Blues”, the onset usually came sometime in January.

That’s why I doubt any late winter gloominess will overtake me this year.  I’m still “up” from moving into my house.  There are so many new experiences, and even when the bills do arrive, they aren’t so unexpected that I can’t deal with them.  I can’t walk into my living room with all it’s light and red accents and not feel good.

Anyone who reads here might notice that I haven’t been on a rant lately either.  I do have some thoughts about a few recent events, but not enough on any to let my thoughts and typing fingers get too involved.  Here are a few, though, just to show that I’m not brain-dead:

John Edwards: he was my candidate almost up to the primaries.  It seems like most of these big time politicians have to keep proving how great they are.  I just don’t understand, though, why these politicians that get into all this trouble with women other than their wives don’t have more sense.  Look at Ensign of Nevada and Sanford of South Carolina, even Clinton when he was in the White House.  We’re not talking about guys in their teens or twenties who can only think with their hormones.  I guess even Eisenhower had his mistress when he was the head honcho during World War II.

Ted Haggard: It seems he no longer has homosexual compulsions.  “Homosexual compulsions”–now what is that exactly?   I’m trying to imagine it the other way.  Craving meth and hookers has never been one of my urges.  But now he’s cured.  Right.  How old is he anyway?  Fifty-three going on fifty-four.   People are pretty much who they are by that time.  And don’t tell me his thing with Mike Jones was a rarity.

Whether it’s Haggard getting it on with male prostitutes or politicians having affairs, they didn’t just start cheating on their wives when they were in their 40s or 50s.  Guys just aren’t like that.  Guys are creatures of habit.  Guys like the routine.  If they weren’t cheating in their 20s or 30s, they probably won’t be cheating later, no matter if they are straight or gay.

Frankly, I don’t care what happens to any of them, but I do have more compassion for someone like Edwards than people like Haggard, Ensign, and Sanford, who have made such an issue about morality and preached, or in the cases of Ensign and Sanford, voted against gay people.

But even these guys won’t bring me into any February funk, because I just found out that the expected freeze isn’t going to happen here, and I won’t have to drag my potted plants back into the garage from the patio for a third time this winter.

And here are some cool suggestions for getting rid of the February Blues, besides getting a new house, that is.

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View from Suburbia: Thrustmaster, the Yellow Gate, and Garage Culture

One of the signs along my way home, photoshopped, the way my imagination does it every day.

Fifteen minutes was about all that it used to take for me to get home from work, and after checking the mail and changing clothes, Annie and I’d take our walk, sometimes making a circuit to the edges of Memorial Park, but more often than not, just to “our” little Camp Logan Park, where we’d meet up with friends of both the human and canine kind.  I’d often drop my little digital camera into my pocket and take shots of flowers or interesting bits of architecture, signs, or anything else that caught my eye along the way.  The yellow metal gate at a house just down the street was one of my favorite points of interest.

Yeah, so? Maybe the commute does make my mind go a bit far afield. But what really goes on inside a place called "Thrustmaster"?

Now, most of the first hour after I head out my office is spent wending my way home on a mish-mash of freeways and roads in front of, behind, and alongside the thousands of other Houston commuters performing that same daily ritual.  As I get closer to home, the  small, mostly petroleum-related industries along 529  help stimulate my imagination, because the radio certainly doesn’t.  I have thought for a long time that Houston has the worst selection of radio stations anywhere in the U.S. and my drive home has only proven it.

Once home, I’m greeted by Annie, she runs out to the backyard to perform some of her daily rituals, and then we’re off for our evening walk.  First, we’re off to the communal mailbox around the corner to see what bills and advertisements there are (some expected some not, but there are sure to be some every day).

Once we see that nothing too unexpected has arrived in the mail, we start off on our walk around the neighborhood, sub-division, I guess some would say.  I like my neighborhood, especially my little cul-de-sac street and the next couple of ones which have large, mature trees and a nice homey feel.  But soon after we leave our street, the houses become newer and the large trees fewer.  Unlike in the old neighborhood in town, there’s no real park to head for; there is a kids’ play area on the far side of the sub-division, which can serve as a destination, but nothing much that would be worth taking photos of.

In reality, our neighborhood feels like it’s surrounded by a moat.  Driving out of it is no problem, but walking is another matter because the major streets on either side have big ditches next to them with no sidewalks, and the other two sides have high wooden security fences.  I suppose this is the way the developers designed this sub-division (and when I start paying attention, I realize it’s the same for many others), so even though there’s a Walgreen’s and other small businesses and services no more than a quarter of a mile away, it’s not that easy to get there on foot.  Adjacent to the sub-division are an elementary school, a junior high, and a parochial school, but because of the ditches, kids can’t really walk to them.

Likewise, when Annie and I continue on our evening walk, we’re limited.  Consequently, we take almost the same one or two paths every night, and while the houses aren’t as cookie-cutter as in some suburbs, there aren’t many interesting features like yellow gates.  Our walk, though, does give us some exercise and time to smell and think.  She does more of the smelling than I do.  Hopefully, I do more of the thinking.

Suburbia definitely has a different lifestyle.  One thing I’ve noticed here is people and their garages.  When I lived near Memorial Park, though I lived in an apartment, the people I met at the dog park generally lived in the surrounding townhouses, which, of course, had garages.  I’d hear stories about how someone had left a garage door open for a few minutes, and during that short time, bicycles or other items had been stolen.  Therefore, most of time, unless a car was going in or out or perhaps was being washed in the driveway, garage doors were kept closed.  Even when they were open, what I noticed, but hadn’t given much thought too before, was that aside from cars and maybe a few stored boxes and other items, the garages in my old neighborhood basically were used for keeping the cars.

And that was one of the big reasons I wanted a house–to have a garage to keep my car out of the elements and in a more secure place.

But here in suburbia, the garage is part of the life.  It seems as if there is almost a garage culture.  For one thing, people here must feel much safer.  When Annie and I walk, we see many garages left wide open, sometimes with cars inside but more often not.  These garages appear to be used not primarily for car storage, but as some type of game room or party room.  What struck me the most is how many of these open garages have TVs–big TVs– in them, which are almost always turned on, whether anybody is around or not.  Not that it’s just the TVs.  There are bars and recliners and other such items that add to this party room element.  One garage has a glass door into the rest of the house and another has an entire dining room set up.  Perhaps some of these garages are being used as “the man room”.  I have to laugh at that.  I’m wondering if any gay guys have ever felt the need to have a “man room”.  I mean whether you’re single or attached, if you’re gay, every room in your apartment or house is yours, you don’t have to escape, so is there any need to have a “man room”?  And then again,  if there were a need, what would be in it?  I’m just saying.

All of this “garage culture” has been a sort of revelation to me, a former apartment dweller, who only wanted a garage for a place to keep the car and as a place to putter and paint.  I had to ask myself if I was being nosy giving so much attention to what people in my neighborhood have in their garages, but in the end, I decided that I was just noticing what there was to notice, because when the neighborhood “moats” limit how far you can walk and when there aren’t any attractions like yellow metal gates, you notice what there is to notice.

Trip to the Outhouse’s Top Gay People of the Biennium: Matthew, Adam, and Annise

A lot of readers who hit my blog never even take a chance at videos that I’ve got in the Radical Vid Box.  Hey, most of the videos I’ve got in there are music vids; it just happens that the most-viewed are short gay films.  If you happen by my blog, get to know my music too.  You might be surprised.

I know it’s not much of a segue, but I have been wanting to put up a Trip To The Outhouse Top Three Gay People of . . . 2009? 2010? . . . hmm?  No, I guess since I started this blog, which will soon to be about two years ago.  That’s it . . . of the Biennium!

The three people that I put in this category are Matthew Mitcham, the Australian Olympic diver who who a gold medal in the 2008 in Beijing, Adam Lambert, the runner-up in last season’s American Idol, and Annise Parker, Houston’s own new mayor.

I admire all three of them for being successes in their own endeavors and not being afraid to live their lives openly as gay people (in the same way that straight people live their straight lives openly).  Mitcham’s boyfriend, Lachlan Fletcher, was poolside during the Australian’s now famous dive and their story has been covered far and wide.  (Here’s a good one I haven’t linked to before.)   How far Adam Lambert goes is still to be seen, but he’s a good performer, and he doesn’t back down from being who he is.  The video I’ve posted is the best thing I’ve heard from him so far.  As for Annise Parker, the effects of her election to mayor go much further than just our city.

What I really like about all these people is their success counters all the what is said by all the deniers and haters out there who want to put gay people down and somehow give the idea that because of our sexuality, gay people are losers.  But people like Matthew, Adam, and Annise show just how hollow that thinking is and give positive role models to all those young gay kids who desperately need them.

(There are previous posts about all three of these great people on the blog.  Sorry, it’s late and time for bed; let your fingers do the walking.)

Homemade Panettone and Painting–Patience Is the Recipe for Success

I’m one of the lucky ones to have a three-day weekend, and though I have a number of tasks on my to-do list, I’ve been taking a leisurely pace getting things done.  At the moment, I’m waiting for some spackle to dry so that I can paint around the window in this room and finish it up.  I had promised myself that I would have this room painted more than two weeks ago, but this first go-round made the walls look too much the color of mint ice cream.  That coat turned into being the primer, and now it’s still green, but a nice, fresh green called Cool Cucumber, which makes this small room feel bright and maybe larger.

Between my efforts at getting the room painted, I baked a couple of loaves of panettone.  I doubt that there’s much Italian DNA in me, but after having tried the store-bought kind that appears near holiday time, I decided that an attempt at some homemade panettone would be my first real baking in my new kitchen.  I must admit I like the store-bought kind because of its texture, something akin to the light, stretchiness of crescent rolls or cinnamon rolls.  This is what makes panettone different than some other nut and fruit breads; it’s a leavened bread rather than a quick bread.

Because of the rising process, interspersing the baking and painting worked well.  The recipe I used was one which I found in my old Joy of Cooking, with some of my own adaptations.  I decided to use up some of the shelled nuts still left from Christmas and a lone apple, which, otherwise, would soon have seen its better days.

Homemade Panettone

Ingredients:

1 apple peeled and chopped into small pieces

1/2 cup white raisins (any type of dried fruit works well, as do fresh blueberries–a cup and a half of fruit total seems about right to me)

1 cup (approximately) orange liqueur (I used the cheapest brand I could find–still not cheap)

1 cup warm (not hot) water

2 packages active dry yeast

4 1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour

1 stick (1/2 cup) of softened butter

3/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon salt

2-4 eggs room temperature (2 eggs give a definite bread texture; 4 eggs give a texture more like that of cake)

Zest of one orange (I thinly peeled an orange, then pulsed the peel a couple of times in the food processor to grate it)

1 cup of coarsely broken nuts (I used walnuts)

Directions:

Put the fruit in a small saucepan and nearly cover with the orange liqueur.  Heat just to a boil; then immediately turn off the heat and let steep and cool.  You can do this while you’re making your morning coffee.

Put the warm water into a good-sized bowl and stir in the dry yeast until it is completely dissolved.  Let rest for 3-5 minutes; then stir in 1 cup of the flour and mix to get an even consistency.  Cover with a cloth and set aside for about 1/2 hour.  When ready,  it should have a light, spongy texture.

In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter with an electric mixer.  Slowly add in the sugar and salt until well-blended.  Mix in the eggs one at a time and the cooled liquid drained from the fruit.  Then blend in the yeast-flour sponge.  Mix well.  Slowly beat in the remaining 3 1/2 cups of flour.  Fold in the fruit and nuts with a spatula or your hands.

Cover the bowl of dough with a cloth and let rise for about two hours or until about double in size.

Punch down and divide  and put into baking tins.  Traditional panettone looks round and tall.  Joy of Cooking suggests using 1-pound coffee cans, but most coffee isn’t packed in metal cans these days.  I used silicon and metal loaf pans and liked the result.  If you use a metal baking pan, try cutting a piece of brown paper (grocery sack type) the size of the bottom; grease the paper as well as the sides of the pan before putting in the dough.  This recipe makes two good-sized loaves.  After putting the dough in the pans, cover with a cloth and let rise one more time, at least 1/2 hour.

You may want to brush melted butter on the top before baking, but I didn’t do that and the crust looks nice.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Joy of Cooking says to bake for 1/2 hour.  Mine took longer.  The smaller loaf in the metal pan took 45 minutes and the large loaf in the silicon pan took 1 hour.  I always look at the crust.  When the crust is a nice, golden color all over (I don’t want it burnt), then the inside of the bread should also be done too.

My rendition of panettone is quite a bit different than the kind I bought in the box, which I like because of the light texture.  The texture of my homemade panettone is heavier, like a lot of good homemade.  However, the taste is another matter.  Every bite of my version is full of tasty fruit and crunchy nuts, with just a hint of orange that comes almost as an afterthought.

Baking most kinds of bread takes time and patience.  These days because of busy schedules, people are satisfied to buy ready-made or mixes.  However, I think that when time is not so much of a factor, there is a real pleasure in making bread from scratch, or any other foods, for that matter, working through the whole process.  You can choose  exactly what ingredients you use; for me, experimenting is half the fun.   What’s more, it’s hard to compare anything to the taste of homemade.

Lessons on Buying a House: Living and Learning . . . and Laughing After the Fact

I’ve been hung up with a good ol’ head cold for the last several days, and not really thinking straight (not that I ever really think straight), so when I opened up my gas bill tonight, I thought something was really wrong.  The total was right at $100.  The previous month’s bill had been my first and included a large deposit and hook-up services, but the actual charge for the gas was not bad as I remember.  Remembering at the moment doesn’t seem to be my strong suit (or is it suite?)

I was thinking that  a hundred bucks for one guy to take a hot shower every morning, wash the dishes most every day, and do a load of laudry or two every week with hot water was kinda steep.  Then I had this other thought.

I went back to the original real estate description of my house . . . a lot easier than climbing up into the attic . . . and found out that the house has a gas furnace!  I don’t know why I hadn’t really paid attention to that before.  I know that all the heating and AC checked out OK when I had the inspection.  Heating is a pretty important part of a house, but when the days started getting cold, all that I did was go turn the thermostat on, and didn’t think about whether the heat was electric or gas.

Now I’m laughing at myself because in my old 2-bedroom apartment my electric bill could run more than $200 or more a month in the winter, and the electric furnace didn’t really heat the place that well.  The bill I received today was for 33 days and includes a lot of this last really cold spell that we’ve had; even so, I’m just looking at 100 bucks to heat a 2-story house and heat up the hot water to boot.

As they say (whoever they is), “Live and learn.”   Can I just blame it all on this cold that’s stuffing up my head?  Time for another shot of some blue stuff in a bottle.  I hope it’s the nighttime kind.  Heck, I’m not going to worry about the electric bill; I’ll flip on the kitchen light.

Portugal Becomes 6th European Country To Approve Same-sex Marriage

Kissing in celebration in front of the Portuguese Parliament Building

Pope Benedict will probably have to go out and buy another pair of Prada shoes to console himself because today one more of the old Catholic strongholds, Portugal, gave the approval to same-sex marriage.

According to Lisbon’s Diario de Noticias and Madrid’s abc.es (I needed the back-up of Spanish to translate), the Portuguese Parliament voted to give the go ahead for legalizing gay marriage.  Portugal now joins its Iberian neighbor Spain,  where same-sex weddings have been legal since 2005.  Four other European countries allow gay marriage: Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden.

Said Prime Minister José Sócrates, “This is an historic moment for the Assembly of the Republic, and I am happy to have participated in it.”

It’s interesting to note that both Portugal and Spain were both governed by right-wing dictators well into the 1970s and a mere 30 some years later both have come this far in working to eliminate discrimination.

A Bit of Culture Shock in the Suburbs or “I Want My Barnes & Gay-ble”

From the most recent issue of "The Advocate," contained in an article about some of the young organizers of the National Equality March. (If you're someone who doesn't agree that this about one of the most tender images you've ever seen, you'd probably better click right back to the site you were on before.)

Last night another go at the turkey I had baked over the weekend wasn’t going to be my supper, so after getting home and walking Annie, I decided to head up the road to Stripcenterolandia.

One of the benefits of living in my new (new to me) house is that I’m actually closer to all kinds of shopping than I had when I lived close to downtown.  Before, I had to drive at least 3 miles to the super market and about 10 if I wanted a megastore like Walmart or Home Depot.  Now, even though I live more than 20 miles from downtown, I have, within “spittin’ distance” at the corner of Highway 6 and 529, more shopping opportunities than I really need.  I don’t even have to cross the main intersection to get to both Home Depot and Lowe’s, and if I do decide to wait at the never-changing light to make that journey across all those lanes of traffic, there’s Target and Walmart and almost every other smaller chain retail store that one might think of.  Without crossing the corner, I can get treats for Annie at PetSmart, a new camera at Best Buy, or something to read at Barnes & Noble.

Even with all the great shopping nearby, every time I go out to buy groceries or just check out the other stores, I almost go into culture shock.  Yes, the demographics of 77084 are not the same as those of 77007.  77007 is the land of the singles and couples.  Whether straight or gay, young or old, people either come “one to a package” or at most two.  And while the two might be married, or not, kids are not usually part of the deal, even if they have some.  Most of the time the couples are young, so no kids yet, or older, empty-nesters, with the kids happily off to college or now married with offlings of their own.

Not so in the land of 77084.  Can you say f-a-m-l-i-e-s?  So it’s kids dancing in the canned goods aisles of the HEB, kids punching at Dad outside the McDonald’s, kids begging for something they want anywhere and everywhere.

OK.  It’s not that I didn’t expect that.  I just didn’t expect it in such a big way.  I just miss all my single people and my coupled people, my without-kids people, who had some sense of my existence and my space when waiting in the check-out line, who, even though they may not have spoken a word to me, make me feel that I wasn’t  alone.  (However, I love my house, and living in 77084, I can afford this house.  If this house were in 77007, I couldn’t touch it.  I’m just whining to be whining on a cold night.)

Last night, after polishing off my Angus burger, I decided to hit the strip with PetSmart, Best Buy, and Barnes & Noble.  At least, at PetSmart, there’s a bit of kinship with the other petlovers.  The Best Buy is typical, stocked with all the electronic gadgets.I thought it would be great to have a Barnes & Noble Bookstore down the road.  Finally, I stopped in at Barnes & Noble.

Barnes & Noble has always been a retreat for me, no matter whether it was the store near where I lived or one in a city that I was just passing through.  Last night, I thought I’d buy a 50% calendar with the gift card I had been given for Christmas.  I remembered looking at the selection when everything was full price and hadn’t been tempted by anything, and the reduced price didn’t help with the selection. I browsed through the books, but nothing lured me either.  What does this store have the biggest selections of? All kinds of stuff for home schooling and aisle after aisle of religious stuff.  The gay and lesbian section is housed on two bottom shelves, but as I looked closely there were fewer than ten gay books, the rest were definitely lesbian.  I faired no better in the magazine section.  The really don’t want people to browse the magazines in this store; their selection is all stuffed together on four stands directly at the front of the store, and whoever is in charge of the magazines needs a short course in organization.  I couldn’t find any gay magazines; likewise, there were hardly any of the typical soft-core skin magazines for straight men like other bookstores usually have.  Maybe the person who decides on which magazines this store will stock is the same person who fills half the store with religious materials.  This is beyond culture shock!

My little evening outing reminded me that I still hadn’t changed my address for my Advocate and Out subscriptions.  Today I found out that it’s very hard to do online.  After much searching, I changed tactics and found the numbers in the magazines themselves.  It’s easy to do.  A real person answers the phone, and because they are published by the same company, if you change your address for one, your address is automatically changed for the other (as I found out with my second call).  So for anyone who wants to change your address for The Advocate or Out magazines, call one of these numbers: (800) 792-2760 or (800) 827-0561.

I’ll probably go back to this Barnes & Noble.  Maybe ordering some gay books and picking them up at the store will get them to add to their selection.  Maybe I can shock their culture a little bit.