The Best Trip Ever

We’re walking down a dirt road, 6 of us, each holding the lead to a horse that patiently plods along beside us. It is sunny, blue sky, one or two white clouds, t-shirt weather. Lush green meadows line either side of the road.

Before we met them, before they bounded down from an upper meadow into the corral, our host spoke about the horses in several languages, each of which he spoke fluently to accommodate our several nationalities.

“These are rescue horses”, he said in Dutch accented English. “They have been beaten and attacked by other horses and humans. We’re teaching them to trust again.” He had been a successful businessman in Amsterdam until he got sick of it and decided to shelter himself and the discarded horses on a sparse piece of land in Portugal. 

This was day 2 of a week long trip to Portugal my youngest son gave me for my 80th birthday. He remembered trips I had taken with each of my kids – when he was little.  “I did?” I asked, trying to sort through 8 decades of misfiled memories. “I felt really special” he said.

Our host gently leads his horse into the left meadow. “Time to eat”, he says. 

My horse follows enthusiastically. He blows through happily widened nostrils, pulls me over to a large clump of grass and chomps, blows, chews… finds another clump… chomps, blows, chews… pulls, pulls… 

At the Lisbon airport, instead of rushing us through, the car rental agent teaches us some Portuguese: I learn “Thank you”(Obrigado from men- Obrigada from woman) and “Thank you very much“ (Muito Obrigado). Cool!

As he eats, I notice short, black scars on his neck and back. Horse bites or barbed wire, I surmise.  I stroke his back. All but one of the horses are white, with grey manes and tails. One, a tan horse, the smallest, is led by my son, who, at 6’3” has an arm casually draped around him. 

My son has planned the week sparingly, preferring, as I do, to just explore. He’s scheduled a couple of Airbnbs and a few events, like meeting these horses.

The leader knows them like a mother knows her kids. My son’s horse, he tells us, is the herd leader – young, tough, and irascible. His name is Rocky. Yep, after that Rocky.  

My son picks a small Toyota and we drive south for about 2 hours  to beach country. The highway is like any US highway, with fewer cars, and muito fewer trucks, but when we leave the highway, we hit narrow roads that started as foot paths hundreds of years ago and wind their way from farms to towns to cities and back. Small cars -there are no big ones – share the roads with pedestrians who chat and stroll unhurried by deadlines or bills due, or deposits to be made.

After about 15 minutes, horses and humans leave that meadow and follow our host up the road to another meadow and another grass break. I tell him he’s a good horse, scratch under his chin and pat his neck. I see others doing the same thing. 

We stop at a grocery store. It is pretty and bright with narrow aisles and lots of food with names we don’t understand. We gather some basics, eggs, bread, juice and pay with credit card. Aisles are narrow. Shoppers pull small, wheeled baskets and chat and smile. The check-out lady holds up the line to learn where we’re from and how long we’ll be there and where’re we’re headed next and… no-one behind us complains.

After two grass breaks, we head back, strolling quietly alongside  our horses. 

One morning I nap; he gets a surfing lesson. We cook. We stroll through small towns. We wander beaches where we carry our shoes and feel the sand as we walk by couples with young children quietly playing in the water or just racing the waves back and forth. Whether they are in a restaurant or on the street or playing in the sand, children are left to their pursuits as parents watch. It is rare you hear a cry or an outburst. They are admonished as necessary, but without anger. They are treated as children, not small adults. 

Back at the corral we remove the rope halters and take pictures. That’s when the host brings out a bucket of dark goop for each horse… as a reward, I guess, for being patient with tourists. It looks awful, but the horses gobble it like 2 year olds with ice cream. They are relaxed and happy. So are we.

One beach is overhung by natural bridges where visitors stand behind split-rail fences guarding a 30 foot drop, where water rushes in, pauses in the sand, and then flows back out to sea. Along with one or two other tourists, I climb over the fence to stand on the edge to get a picture – somewhat wobbly, as my 80 year old back and legs almost fail me. As I climb back I hear my son mumble, “Freaking me out, Dad.”  


You have to follow before you can lead, I always told my kids (But don’t forget how to follow, I remind myself.)

For one whole week, I’ve broken character: followed while my son led. He took me to a country with virtually none of the stress Americans feel every day, a country filled with sun, beaches, and small pleasures, and people who live with little – little friction, little strife, little conflict. It was the best trip of my life.

Maybe the horses have it right. Maybe I can get used to following.  

Obrigado, Haydn. Muito Obrigado.

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Suppose We Changed Just A Few Words Of A Times News story.

Here is a March 27 New York Times story about Netanyahu’s attempt to exert more control over Israel’s Judicial system:

“Mr. Netanyahu’s government — the most right-wing and religiously conservative in Israeli history — has sought to give itself greater control over the selection of Supreme Court justices and to limit the court’s authority over Parliament. Critics fear the changes will remove important checks and balances on the government and erode democracy. Supporters say the changes would curb the influence of an overreaching and unelected judicial bureaucracy.

Mr. Netanyahu’s firing of the defense minister, Yoav Gallant, who had called for a halt to the process, sparked overnight demonstrations. Protesters returned to the streets on Monday, gathering outside Parliament in Jerusalem and blocking a major road in Tel Aviv. There were also calls for counterprotests from a leading coalition lawmaker, Simcha Rothman, who has led the efforts to overhaul the judiciary, and a far-right group of soccer fans.

The fight over the judicial plan has become a stand-in for a deeper ideological and cultural dispute in Israel between those who want a more secular and pluralist state and those with a more religious and nationalist vision. Religious Jews, particularly the ultra-Orthodox, see the court as an obstacle to their ultraconservative way of life.”

Now, have a look at, the same piece with a few  changes:

“Mr. Trump’s government — the most right wing and religiously conservative in US history — has sought to give itself greater control of Supreme Court justices and to limit the Justice Department’s authority over Trump and his allies. Critics fear the changes will remove important checks and balances on the government and erode democracy. Supporters say the changes would curb the influence of an overreaching and unelected judicial branch.

Republican Senator Mitch McConnell’s packing of the Supreme Court with religious and secular conservatives generated the Citizen’s United decision, which allowed Republicans to flood the election process with billions in anonymous money,  gerrymander Democrats out of power, and use the electoral college to achieve national power, despite being the minority party.

Protesters took to the streets after the Supreme Court allowed conservative states to turn a woman’s right to abortion into a crime. There were also calls for counterprotests from authoritarians Trump and DeSantis who are leading efforts to turn the 50 United States into one authoritarian state.

The fight over the once non-partisan court has become a stand-in for a deeper ideological and cultural dispute in the US between those who want a more secular and pluralist state and those with a more religious and white nationalist vision. White nationalist Christians, particularly, see the new court as an enforcer of their ultraconservative way of life.”

Interesting, huh?

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I’m Tired Of Feeling Guilty

Personally, I’m done with CRT (Critical Race Theory), and African-American history in general. You know why? All those stories about a system that pushes down, holds back, screws over, and beats up Blacks is just… they make me feel guilty! 

And because teachers which my taxes pay for told my kids about slavery, going back to well before the Civil War and even before the Declaration of Independence, it makes them feel guilty, too! Saturday night dinners are morose affairs, now. 

Why do their teachers do that! 

And some of the Black kids in school, who didn’t know how screwed-over Black people are until their teachers told them- they’re getting angry – over stuff that happened years and years ago!!

And that’s not all. 

I am sick and tired of hearing about Native Americans and how badly White Americans – the early settlers treated them. And how badly we treat them now. They teach that in history classes, too and have for years.

That made me feel guilty when I was in school, learning about the Trail of Tears and The Indian Removal Act and other things the my forbearers did to Native Americans. As I grew older I got over the guilt. But then my kids came home from school one day and told me about those things and more – and guess what? I started feeling guilty all over again!

That did it! It’s one thing for me to have to carry guilt because of some stupid history classes. No way my kids should have to. That’s just not right. Those things happened well before I or my kids were born. Why should we feel guilty? My great grandparents may have used the “N” word, but I don’t.

Then I started thinking about all the other ethnic groups in this country that make up what we call “the melting pot”. 

These are the dash Americans. You know: Italian-Americans, Polish-Americans, Jewish-Americans, and the others, first from Europe, and more recently from Asia and Central and South America.

They make me feel guilty too. You know why? Because they have to struggle with language, customs, jobs, and most of the time, they’ll never get to where I and my kids are.  

It just doesn’t seem right. I work hard. I’m a good father. I take care of my kids, pay my taxes, and follow (most) rules. So how come I have to feel guilty? 

And you know what else? I can’t make fun of them any more. I can’t call them names.

Why should I feel guilty? Why should my kids? I didn’t do anything. It’s not fair. I wish someone would just stop teachers from teaching facts that make us feel guilty. 

Here’s the problem. History. We have stop teaching it as it happened. That’s just stupid. We have to teach it the way we wish it had happened. The way Stalin did. The way Kim Jun Un does. The way Putin does. Those guys didn’t feel any guilt, at all. 

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What’s Cool About Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day is one of the few national holidays that isn’t a national holiday, like say Lincoln’s Birthday or George Washington’s birthday. Remember those holidays, before someone got efficient and combined celebrating them and all presidents as President’s Day?

Oops, they weren’t national holidays either. They were state holidays.

But there is, for example, a lot of agreement on the importance of Lincoln and Washington. For example, both have a lot of cities, counties, and streets named after them. And the Lincoln car. 

Car dealers don’t want to sell a car named after “Washington”.  With that name how could they, in good conscience, rip off their customers?  It’s hard enough selling a car named after Honest Abe.

Valentine, as a name, is very popular, too, although not as a destination. (Valentine, Nebraska?). 

It’s popular for Italians, especially Italian Americans. For example, there’s Valentino Rossi, the motorcycle legend, and Rodolfo Pietro Filiberto Raffaello Guglielmi di Valentina d’Antonguolla, better known as Rudolf Valentino, the world famous 1920’s Hollywood lover. 

Actually, a number of men named Valentine are credited with inspiring Valentine’s Day, all religious types, of course.

One Valentine was a priest in Rome in the year AD 269. Valentine of Terni became a bishop, and martyred in AD273. And I don’t know when, but another Valentine  was martyred in Africa a few millennia later. I guess it went with the name.

One of the most famous Valentines encouraged Roman soldiers and their lovers to marry, despite Emperor Claudius II forbidding it. The last thing Claudiius needed was lovesick and spent solders. They had wars to fight and people to enslave.  So he had Valentine beheaded.

Valentine wasn’t a fighter. Legend has it that while in jail before the beheading, he cut heart shapes out of parchment and gave them to some of the lovers. I guess that contributed to his becoming a Saint.

Like all of the old Valentines, none of this is really provable through history tomes, which is why the Catholic Church won’t designate Feb 14th as a religious holiday. (Of course, knowing what lovers do on Valentines Day and how strict the Church is about being married first and consummating second, I doubt verifying popular lore was the only reason).

But the lack of an official holiday, religious or secular, hasn’t stopped the popularity of February 14th. Smitten boys and girls, lusty men and women, as well as old farts short on hormones, we love sending symbols of love to each other on that cherished day.

According to The, 58 million pounds of chocolate are bought in the seven days leading up to Feb.14. In 2020 the National Retail Foundation estimated Americans shelled out $27.4 billion for Valentine’s Day, an average of $196 per person.

No, I will not tell you what I spent. (I don’t want you to feel bad).

I don’t have statistics on how much Americans spend on Presidents Day. But I’ll bet it doesn’t come close to what we spend on Valentines Day.

Which is another way of saying we seem to value love more than presidents. 

Which is pretty cool, don’t you think?

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My kids know so little about me

Recently they have called to delicately offer advice about aging.

Because they are young and unwise, I react with patience, a sign, I might note, of maturity and wisdom.  

So, I decided to address each of their suggestions in writing, because they left the nest years ago and I don’t see them that much. Also because I won’t see their raised eyebrows.

“Hey Dad! How about walking a few miles everyday? Great exercise!” 

Really? I get in several miles a day walking around the house, up the stairs to the second floor bedroom and back down to the first floor, downstairs to the laundry and back up to the first floor looking for the glasses I put down… somewhere….or the iPhone which always rings when I’m out of the room… or the car keys…my morning coffee… the dog…

“Have you tried Wordle? Or Memozor!  Great for memory!”

I exercise my memory almost all day every day: remembering and retracing my moves over the last hour to find my glasses.. iPhone… car keys… computer… my morning coffee… your names (just kidding!)

“Or Sudoku for mental acuity!”

Not necessary. There are many mental acuity games for seniors, but the best place to keep your mind sharp is a daily dose of media – separating the fact from fiction in news, ads, cable, politics, just about everywhere. And, unlike games, which can get old, there’s always an abundance of new material.

“Are you a member of a gym?”

Don’t need it. Life keeps me strong: Unsticking the jelly jar that got stuck in the refrigerator… taking out the garbage… moving books from the couch to the coffee table so I can sit, then picking them up again so I can decide which one to read, then deciding to watch TV and read tomorrow and moving them to the table again so I can lie back and assume the TV position…walking the dog and holding onto the leash for dear life when he leaps in the air and barks at EVERY SINGLE DOG that goes by!

“Now Dad…remember what you taught us: patience is a sign of maturity…”

Really? Guess who listens to friends (old like me) tell jokes (even older) in painful detail…over and over and over…? 

“Yeah. That happens with old people. They can’t hear or remember well, so they repeat things.”

What I haven’t told them is I’ve been faking interest in conversations for years. You see, I need hearing aids, but hearing aids are for old people and I don’t want anyone to know I’m old. Especially my kids.

Lucky for me they haven’t picked up on it yet.

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