Wednesday, April 30, 2014

First Unitarian Universalist Church of Des Moines


This photo was taken by our friend Jennifer Norcross. I am especially appreciative as I missed seeing this when we were at the church for our ceremony and when we returned for Sunday services.

After meeting with Reverend Mark Stringer, we were so impressed, we decided we needed to return to the church the next day, Easter Sunday. As you may or may not know, Ron is still a practicing Catholic and I am a practicing atheist. This was why we compromised on this church to begin with.

Leaving the service on Easter Sunday, I mentioned to Reverend Stringer that if I were ever on the edge deciding whether or not to move to Des Moines, he would be the deciding factor. I would be a regular member of his congregation.

Ron sent this out in an e-mail to a number of our friends, but it bears repeating here.

I have become such a fan of Mark Stringer, the Unitarian Universalist minister who presided at our wedding.

Here, you can click here for his Easter sermon, video or text, the day after our marriage:    

And here is his sermon text the previous Sunday about marriage equality/Iowa/ his deep feelings about justice and love - he's quite a guy.

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Marriage Certificate - It is Official


This arrived in today's mail.

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Monday, April 28, 2014

Our Service on April 19, 2014


Wedding of Ron Schmitz and Ryan James
Celebrant Reverend Mark Stringer
First Unitarian Church of Des Moines
1800 Bell Avenue
Des Moine, Iowa


(Mark, we want to gather with our guests in the foyer. Then process with you in the lead, and then the two of us, followed by Martha, Daphnee, and Kim. The guests follow them and will seat themselves before your opening words.)

Heartbeat Handbell Choir will play Trumpet Voluntary after people are seated.


We are gathered here today to witness and to affirm the wedding of Ron Schmitz and Ryan James. What they have already lived and promised between themselves for more than 20 years, they bring today to make legal before you, their family and friends. Marriage is an act of will, a promise to work for a communion with another person.  It is not simply a spontaneous emotional reaction, nor the sudden grip of an irresistible feeling.  Marriage requires a commitment to care for another person, to show concern for the life and growth of those whom we love.  Marriage requires a commitment to respond to another person, to help meet their needs.  Marriage requires a commitment to respect the unique individuality of that person, to help them grow and unfold for their own sake.  Marriage requires a commitment to transcend our egos, to use reason and humility to understand another person; and by doing this, we discover ourselves.  All these commitments require that we give ourselves to another person; by this giving we experience our strength, our vitality, our power.  We experience ourselves as overflowing and alive.  Today we affirm and celebrate the wedding of Ron and Ryan.

Martha Popson will read 1 Corinthians 13.

If I speak in human and angelic tongues, but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal.

And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing.

If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.

It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never fails. 

Daphnee Banks will read her own poem

A heart is an energetic shape
and held strong
by allowing itself to join another
and become One.

So many moons ago
by accident
little by little we grew
with branches bare.

Searching, we went deeply
into our deepest parts.

May your roots always be strong and nourish each other.

Kim Raney plays  the recorder.


Do you, Daphnee and Martha, stand with this couple to bestow the approval of their families and friends?  (We do)

Do all of you, the families and friends of Ron and Ryan, bestow your blessings on their union?  (We do)


Do you R1, choose , R2, to be your wedded spouse, to live together in marriage, to love him, comfort him, honor and cherish him in sickness and in health, in sorrow and in joy, from this day forth?

I _______, take you _______ to be my wedded spouse in marriage; to have and to hold, from this day forward; for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health; to love and to cherish, from this day forth.


The circle is a symbol of the sun and the earth and universe.  It is a symbol of holiness and of perfection and of peace.  These rings are the symbols of the unity with which your two lives are joined in one unbroken circle, and in which, wherever you go, you will always return unto one another to your togetherness. 


I, ____, give to you, _____, this ring in marriage, as a symbol of my commitment to love, honor, and respect you. 


What has been done here has been perfect in its own moment.  Nothing can be taken from it; nothing can be added to it.  Therefore, ancient and hallowed custom has been fulfilled.

The words have been said, the symbols have been exchanged, and we have all been witnesses to it.  Therefore I, and all who are here, recognize that you, Ron, and you, Ryan are wed, and we will honor you with our embraces, our blessings, and our support.

So go now in peace to the time of being together; love justice, practice mercy, and live in the grace of simplicity all your days.  So be it.  Amen.



Daphnee Banks to read: Native American, adapted from the Apache

Now you will feel no rain, for each of you will be the shelter for the other.
Now you will feel no cold, for each of you will be the warmth for the other.
Now you are two persons, but there is only one life before you.
Go now to your dwelling place to enter into the days of your life together.
And may your days be good and long upon the earth.

Martha Popson to read:

May you live long together.
May you be faithful to the good in each other.
May you know no more suffering than you can bear.
May you be found by joy again and again.
And may love ground you and free you
All the days of your lives.  Amen.

Heartbeat Handbell Choir will play Pachelbels Canon.

RECESSIONAL after 2nd song finishes.

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Sunday, April 27, 2014

From Coast to Coast


We had 72 guests from west coast to east coast attending our wedding. These are the states represented.

New Mexico
Texas/ Canadian
North Carolina
New York

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No Laughing, Bunny


Susan and Dick were fabulous hosts, hauling our butts all over to get the last minute things we needed or wanted. One hot ticket item I could not find anywhere in Budapest was over the calf dress socks in brown. The black ones available were over $15 a pair, but most stores only sold them in packs of 3. 

Susan took us to a mall to find these evasive socks. Even in this state capitol, it took multiple store stops to find what we needed. On the way from one end of the mall to the other, we happened upon Chocolaterie Stam. Immediately, I recognized the name as the place where the bakers were going to order our cake toppers from. In fact, the chocolate version was in the window in various sizes. We stopped in to see if they had a white version just to get a sense of what ours would look like. They offered that in the white version, the colors are reversed, so the nose is brown. Just what we needed, a couple of brown nosers. Bad move!

We were informed that they only make the white bunnies by special order, but they had not received any special orders for 2 bunnies. Due to my insistence that they had to be wrong, the manager offered to call their other location to confirm our mishap. With the phone line busy, we suggested we shop and return for the final verdict.

Knots forming in my stomach, we did find the needed elusive socks by the third try. Now it was time for hunting rabbit and we returned to Stam. We were not greeted with any comforting facial expressions, which prepared us for the negative news. There was only one special order for 300 white bunnies, but they were picked up a week ago. Primal screams are totally unhealthy when one has to suppress them.

Back at Susan and Dick’s I called the baker. No answer - left a message after hearing “You may or may not have heard that we are moving…” We went to lunch, came back and I called the baker. No answer - left a message. Susan suggested we drive by their location, which was a comforting idea at the time. However, I knew they were in the process of moving, so the location could have been one of two sites. Dick assured us it was not a problem to swing by both.

As it turned out, they were right around the corner from each other. One was an old Victorian type house that was obviously vacated with a giant For Rent sign on the front porch. Shockingly, the second location has no association with a bakery of any sort; it was a coffee roasting company. We wanted to go in, but it was closed. The pressure was building and the panic started somewhere around my big toes and was flooding upward.

Back at the house, I checked the phone book, their website, their Facebook page, but all I could find were these two addresses. This was not comforting. If they were moving, where were they moving? If they were to have the 2 laughing bunnies, why weren’t they ordered? This was distressing, but there was nothing to do about it.

On Friday, I received an e-mail from the bakers. They were on track, if not on the ball, and all would be delivered on Saturday.

As it turned out, the cookies were boring yellow and white frosting and the bunnies were totally white without any flourish. At least we did have a cake.

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A Carefree Cupcake That Is Not So Carefree


People kept asking me “So how does it feel to be back in the US?” 

Well, there were no fits of panic attacks, the sky did not turn red, white, and blue, I didn’t crumble into dust, and there were no marching bands playing Hail to the Queen. I guess it was rather uneventful on the whole, but totally eventful on the whole, if you get my meaning.

Actually, the entire time was surrealistic. There was this sense at times that I was astral projecting hovering over some other version of me, while experiencing my life just an observer. This could be partly due to the difficulties with the last piece of the wedding puzzle: the cake baker.

We had contracted with a company in Des Moines called A Carefree Cupcake a.k.a. Carefree Patisserie back in November. At that time, I gave them an approximation of the anticipated number of guests. I had also requested that they provide us with decorated cookies that looked like Easter eggs. They sent me a picture of what they could do, I modified their rendition and we settled on a design for both the cake and the cookies.

As the time approached, by March 1st, I started to reach out to them to inform them of the final numbers. At that time, we had 80 people attending; this meant modifications in the size of the cake as well as the number of cookies. Ron had said that he did not want two groomsmen on the cake, but would settle for two Easter bunnies. He said it in jest, but I thought it was a fun idea. This was not meant to be a stuffy affair, but one that was playful and light. The bakery was informed.

From mid-March to the final-final days, there was a breakdown in communication with the bakers – two sister-laws in business together. I would write, they would not answer. I would call, but only get their message machine. I would write to arrange a phone call, but not get a response. Two weeks went by without a whiff of their existence. I started getting nervous. Every other day, I would send a new e-mail hoping for some signs of life. Each time, the auto-responder would arrive in my mail stating there was no computer in the bakery due to flour and other flying particles. Guess they have not heard of an iPad before. Still there was no response to my reaching out. This continued to the point where I was questioning whether or not we should pick up cookies from the supermarket to serve in lieu of a wedding cake.

Finally, I received a message that they had us on their calendar; they were planning for 50 guests and had as many cookies planned. The cake was to be almond and they returned the wrong design. Oh, and they were in the process of moving. NOOOOOOO!!!!

Panic set in. The cake was not correct, the number of servings was not correct, the flavor was not correct. And so the cycle continued with calls unanswered, e-mails not responded to beyond an auto-responder and hives were about ready to erupt all over my body from stress.

Right before we left Budapest, the ladies sent an e-mail to arrange a call. With great restraint, I kept my anxiety under lock and key when we spoke, remaining polite and professional. We made the corrections and it seemed like a done deal with everything on track. That is until we reached Des Moines…

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And So It Goes


We arrived and are into full day 2. For as much worrying as I did over the Delta flights giving me grief about my carry-on being too large, it was KLM who provided the serving of heartburn. It measured their exact measurements according to their website, including the handle and wheels. Still they made me use the metal template at the airport. It was a struggle, but I could force it in. The staff person sighed, said it was a full flight so I may be uncomfortable having it under the seat. As it turned out, there was plenty of room in the overhead bins.

All three flights were excellent. KLM took us from Budapest to Amsterdam and then Delta pulled a double shift with getting us from Amsterdam to Minneapolis-St. Paul and then from there to Des Moines. Once there, Ron’s friends Susan and Dick Leonard were waiting for us in the baggage area. Miraculously, our suitcases were some of the early ones to arrive, so we were off in a flash.

I had met Susan and Dick once, but many years ago, and even then for only a short time. No matter, these are the type of people that after you know them for five minutes, you feel as if you have known them for years. They took us to their very comfortable home where we were to spend our first two nights. Siting on the bed were piles of packages and boxes. Each pile had a ribbon sitting on top as if Christmas had arrived. These were the items I had shopped for online. As exciting as this was, the need to be social overwhelmed my need to satisfy my curiosity.

After sitting around having a beer or glass of wine, Dick had prepared a dinner of chicken served over spaghetti with spinach. It was delicious. By 9pm, we were wiped out. We had gotten up at 3am to get our taxi to the airport and slept little on the planes.

Yesterday morning, after breakfast, Susan drove us downtown to pick up our marriage license. Dick was going to go grocery shopping. Downtown is impressive with the styles of architecture and refurbished building that are quaint businesses now, but there was an excitement that overwhelmed everything else. That was getting license. I had corresponded with a gentleman from this office so many times; questions ran the gambit how to get the license long before hand due to the 3 day waiting period, did they get the application, and finally is everything alright. He was so kind and gracious with each response, I commented on it. He responded with “I am just doing my job.” To this I responded “Many do their job, but not all do it pleasantly.” Because of this, we brought him a little gift from Budapest. Rats! It was his day off, so we did not get to meet him. We left his gift with a co-worker who was equally as charming, but with little contact with her, no gift.

Downtown Des Moines has a skywalk, a connected walkway that is enclosed with glass walls where you can travel through much of the downtown area. You can literally walk for 4 miles without having to stop for traffic or to cross a street. It is truly an incredible feat and an attractive feature of the downtown area. If you work within the skywalk network, you can go to other offices or restaurants without ever feeling the outdoor elements. No winter mittens, hat, overcoat or boots needed during inclement weather.

Our next stop was the grocery store. This is more than a grocery store as it contains a bank, real estate agency, pharmacy, florist, and of course food. I picked up some ‘forever’ stamps, the US postage stamps that are usable regardless of rate increases for first class mail. At the pharmacy, I shopped for all the little essentials that we cannot get in Budapest or at least in any form we can recognize. With pills, ointments, and balms all collected, we headed for the cheese case. There were an array of cheeses that made my heart flutter, but better was yet to come. Susan directed us to the better cheese case. I could have done back flips when I saw the variety of luscious cheeses from Ireland and beyond. Knowing that all our packages weigh heavily,

Yes, the last sentence ends abruptly and without end. To think I could keep up my notes while being in the home stretch of getting married, was beyond fantasy. That is where I left off and had not returned to until now.

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Friday, April 11, 2014

Rocketmiles - Frequent Flier Rewards


I just happened upon an article in one of my trusted travel newsletters that reviewed the site, Rocketmiles. You sign up for a free account; if you use this code, we will both receive 1,000 bonus miles after you make your first hotel booking on the site. When you register, have your frequent flier numbers handy. You can add them into your account so they are stored when you make a hotel booking. Currently, there is not an extensive list of airline programs to choose from, but the claim is more will be added. United and American are there, but Delta is not.

I did some comparing of hotel rates with this site as opposed to other sites. The rates are within the same price ranges for respective hotels. This assures me that Rocketmiles is not pulling a fast one with higher rates to offset the miles offered.

Of course, when coming to Budapest, the choice is a no-brainer: BudaBaB is worth the stay even without miles.

Another travel tip to share is Blue Ribbon Bags, an insurance
company for lost luggage. You can find their site here. For $5, they will insure your luggage for one traveler for $1,000. They claim you will not have to produce receipts for the items in the luggage. We had our luggage lost going to New Zealand, South Africa, and Portugal. Although they finally showed up, it was a grave nuisance. I will definitely try this service out for our US trip.

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Saturday, April 05, 2014

Sex in the City...Zoo


 If you are not familiar with the Cole Porter classic hit Let's Do It, here is how it starts.
When the little bluebird
Who has never said a word
Starts to sing Spring
When the little bluebell
At the bottom of the dell
Starts to ring Ding dong Ding dong
When the little blue clerk
In the middle of his work
Starts a tune to the moon up above
It is nature that is all
Simply telling us to fall in love

And that's why birds do it, bees do it
Even educated fleas do it
Let's do it, let's fall in love

Cold Cape Cod clams, 'gainst their wish, do it
Even lazy jellyfish do it
Let's do it, let's fall in love

I've heard that lizards and frogs do it
Layin' on a rock
They say that roosters do it
With a doodle and cock

Last Sunday, we went to the zoo with Mary Beth, Alice, Kat, Andi, and Dan came along much later. Spring was definitely in the air and it was almost embarrassing if it were nature taking its course. We were at the giraffe enclosure where there are a goodly number of animals. People are standing near the fence delighted that two giraffes are leaning over for the zoo chow being offered by children and adults alike. Ron and I have been to a giraffe refuge in Kenya, so we know the thrills of having a close-up with a giraffe. I had one nuzzle my mouth when I was bullied into holding food this way, by our guide.

As the giraffes lost interest in the food or people ran out, I am not sure which, something happened that we had not seen in Kenya. A male giraffe was standing behind another and within seconds had an erection and tried to mount the female. At least we assume it was a female; a second erection was not apparent. Giraffe # 2 moved a foot away. Horny giraffe, completely lost his erection, but within seconds it had full force. He could star in a Viagra commercial. This scenario was like one of those auto accidents that you know you should not look at, but cannot stop yourself from staring. The show continued for a good 20 minutes, but please don’t ask me how I know that. It is embarrassing. What was more embarrassing was how the human men seemed to be awed by the proportions of such a human-like firm turgid form. Finally, all of us dragged ourselves away.

This was not the only romance that spring had sprung. Two mountain goats were doing the nasty while on a very narrow ledge in their exhibit. What a great show of balance. Any gymnast would have given them a score of 10 for the performance. 

Monkeys were doing it, but hell, you expect them to monkey around, right? Lust was definitely in the air. Everywhere you looked males were after females and a good number of them were not even caged, but should have been.
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Wednesday, April 02, 2014

A Fine Ride Ten Years in the Waiting


It only took 10 years with construction starting in 2004 and a final cost of 452.5 billion Ft, but it has finally opened. One billion Ft = $4,466,000 or €3,259,000. You can do the math. Budapest's fourth metro line opened to the public on Friday. The first two days of travel were free, so you can imagine the crowds.

Ron and I had Mary Beth and Alice in tow coming from our extensive tour of Vác. We thought they would be too tired to follow us to Rákóczi tér where we intended to take our first ride on the first day of the new metro. Being troopers, they conceded that this was a golden opportunity for another fabulous travel story to share later, so all four of us lost our Metro 4 virginity as a group. We along with hundreds of others flooded the escalators at Rákóczi tér to descend to the next platform, but not yet to the tracks. It took a second escalator ride to put us train-side.

The trains look like the new trains on the M2 Red line. Each station either has some adornment or not. Rákóczi tér looks plain and unfinished, while Szent Gellért tér has lovely tile work. One station has blocks of bright colors. With only 10 stops on the entire line, the ride was not extensive. A Hungarian overhearing our English commented as he was exiting the train "They stupidly set stops within 500 meters of each other. What a waste." Perhaps so, some of the stops are ridiculously close like Fővám tér and Kálvin tér. One could almost throw a rock between the two.

The stations include:
Kelenföld vasútállomás    
Bikás park
Móricz Zsigmond körtér    
Szent Gellért tér    
Fővám tér    
Kálvin tér - Intersects with M3 Blue line.    
Rákóczi tér    
II. János Pál pápa tér    
Keleti pályaudvar - Intersects with M2 Red line.

There are 15 vehicles on this line. Each vehicle has four cars, but they are contiguous, so one could walk the length during the ride if so inclined. They are reportedly controlled automatically. This should be interesting.

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Vác You Been Up To?


Well, since you asked, I have to say we had an amazingly pleasurable day this last Friday. As I have mentioned previously, our friend Kat’s mother and aunt were staying with us. We offered to take them to Vác, a small town just 34 km (21.12 miles) outside of Budapest. Depending on the train you choose from the 3-4 options each hour, the ride can take either 28 minutes or a lengthy 45 minutes. The one-way fare is a paltry 650 Huf, less than a Starbucks Grande espresso.

Leaving home about 10am, I really thought we would be returning home close to early afternoon. Arriving at the train station, we decided to take the next very train after we had tickets in hand, regardless of how long it took. After all, the scenery would be new and different for our traveling companions. It did take us 45 minutes, but the train was clean and comfortable; the scenery was of interest to our companions.

Aunt Alice has problems walking, but Mary Beth is a champion walker who can keep pace with my long strides making her a desirable walking companion. Alice enjoyed Ron’s prodding pace, so she was quite comfortable being at his side, knowing he would accommodate all of her needs for a stop and sit break in stride. There were a few times when Mary Beth and I were so far ahead of them, we had to backtrack to make certain they knew where we were.

Once in the center square, I had convinced the two of the ladies they definitely needed to see the Memento Mori where the Dominican church crypts, including a few mummies are stored. When the white church across the square was under reconstruction, these were excavated. These crypts long forgotten were newly rediscovered, sealed in an airtight space; thus, all the clothing and much of their bodies remained intact. What I had not shared with the women was that the exhibit was downstairs. Had I done so, Alice would not have gone. As it was, with the investment of a ticket, she managed to get down and back up the stairs, exuding the magnificence of the display. Ron and I had seen these multiple times, so we waited.

The main square is utterly charming after a reconstruction from the last 8 years or so. Especially in the spring and summer months when the weather is agreeable, sitting at an outdoor café is a luxurious experience not to be missed.

Not too far off of the square is the Desszert Szalon at Köztársaság út 21. Here you will find some of the most unusual and lushest desserts in Hungary. The owner won the 2009 World Cup for Dessert Chefs. Rather pricey as one would expect, the ladies opted for an ice cream cone and the use of the bathroom.

The day was spent strolling, relaxing, and taking in the scenery. One of my favorite walking areas is the József Attila sétány, which runs along the Danube. A well-maintained park includes areas for children’s play equipment, bike paths, walking paths, benches to relax and flora abounds that would please any gardener.

As the day wore on, we decided to have lunch at one of our favorite restaurants in the town. Quite honestly, it is the only restaurant we have had meals at when in Vác. It has never disappointed, so there has never been a reason to change. Remete Pince is set on a hill on the small Fürdő lépcső utca 3 (Telephone: 27-302-199; Hours: noon to 10pm). What makes this our perpetual choice is the garden that adorns a large section above the outdoor seating. You can dine while feeling you are in a botanical garden. Sheer delight!

After our praise worthy, but light lunch, we continued our exercise regimen so we could indulge in dessert at Choco Cafe Váci Csokizó on the main square at Március 15 tér 20. Mary Beth, Ron and I ordered different slices of 3 pastries and then with great precision, divided them in 3’s. Alice, not being a dessert eater, was perfectly happy with one morsel of chocolate.

This was the topper for the day. We meandered back to the train and finally arrived home by 5:30 pm. My only regret was not having my camera. I did use my phone for some shots, but the battery was not fully charged when we left home. Next time…

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Counting Down


The first alarm is for when we leave for the US. The second is for the actual wedding. I swear when this is all over, I will have about 1 GB of free space on my computer from lists, notes, financial records, etcetera and so forth.

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