Monument to Henry the Navigator

This beautiful monument sits in a small park in front of Mercado Ferreira Borges and just a stone’s throw from Church of São Francisco and the Bolsa Palace.

Henry was the son of King John I of Portugal and his wife, Phillipa of Lancaster.  Although he left Portugal only once, during the Portuguese conquest of the Moroccan  city of Ceuta, Henry became famous as the initiator of the Portuguese Age of Discovery.  From his palace at Sagres, Henry sponsored many voyages to explore the seas and to claim the newly discovered territories in the name of Portugal.

Among the discoveries made by Portuguese ships were Madeira, the Azores, and Cape Verde.  Henry lived long enough for one of the ships to be the first to round the Cape of Good Hope, at the southern-most point of Africa.  Henry’s influence continued long after his death.  Nearly 40 year after his passing, Vasco da Gama became the first European to reach India by sea.  Just two years later, a Portuguese caravel piloted by navigator Pedro Álvares Cabral reached Brazil.

The monument is a suitable tribute to one of Portugal’s greatest heroes.

Henry the Navigator


This photo was taken in 2004 from the Circle Line Tour, a sightseeing cruise around Manhattan.  It was my first trip to the city and I enjoyed our visit.  Of course, New York City has so much to see and do that one could make many trips and never see it all.

We did most of the touristy stuff- Juniors Cheesecake in Grand Central Station, Oysters at 42nd Street Oyster Bar, MOMA, Central Park, the Delacorte Clock, and much more.  It’s a wonderful city with much to offer.


Learning Portuguese with Memrise

I’ve been working towards having a basic knowledge of European Portuguese for a while now and one of the best tools I’ve found is an app called Memrise.  The app is free and there are two levels of the program, Free and Pro.  Free allows you to learn and review nearly 200 language combinations.  The Pro version includes many other features, including a difficult words mode, a listening skills mode, and a video mode.  I am currently using the free version.

Memrise is based on the science of memory and uses several tools to make language learning easier.  In addition to repetition, which is a common learning tool, Memrise uses “elaborate encoding” which is a fancy way of saying the group similar words together- for instance, colors or foods- and, in some cases use simple memes to help the user remember the word.

Memrise also uses a variety of learning methods to increase the user’s ability to remember.  The creators call this “choreographed testing.”  You’ll run into speed tests, spelling tests and listening tests while using the app.  It keeps the learning process interesting.  Finally, because memories fade over time, older words frequently pop up in your daily lessons.  The combination of learning new words while reviewing older words really seems to work for me.

The app itself is quite user friendly.  The interface is pretty self-explanatory.  There are three basic testing methods- Learn New Words, Classic Review, and Speed Test.  They occur randomly and you simply click on the button at the bottom of the screen.  In this screenshot, the next testing method is Classic Review.

Memrise 4

Within the Classic Review and Learn New Words modes, there are several different ways in which the language is presented.  One method is simply multiple choice.  A word, either in English or in Portuguese is presented to the user and they must select the corresponding translation or word.  For instance, in this screenshot the word in question is “a cell phone.”  The user selects from the 4-6 options.  Once the user selects the word the correct word is highlighted and you hear the word spoken.  The combination of translating the word, seeing it in writing and hearing it spoken is a great way to learn the language.

Memrise 2

In addition to multiple choice, you may be asked to spell the word or you may be presented with a short video clip of a person speaking the word, and you have to decide what the person has said.  This is especially nice because you’re hearing the word spoken by real people and you have to learn the word as it is spoken.

Learning vocabulary is fine, but if you’re going to speak a foreign language, you need to learn to string the words into sentences.  In other words, grammar.  European grammar can be confusing for English speakers. The words don’t quite fall in the same place.  This feature helps you learn grammar in addition to vocabulary.  Here’s a typical screenshot for learning grammar.  Again, once you have completed the sentence, you hear the sentence spoken, so you get the translation, the visual of the sentence and the audio version.

Memrise 3

Memrise is the best language app I’ve found.  So far, I’ve worked through Portuguese 1 and 2, and I’m nearing completion of Portuguese 3.  The last time I looked, the classes went up to Portuguese 7.  I’m a long way from being able to communicate well, but I’m on my way.  Lately, I’ve noticed that I’ve begun translating Portuguese language blogs with some success.  Being able to put the results of what I’ve learned to use is enough of an incentive to keep me using Memrise.




Buncombe County Courthouse, Asheville

The Buncombe County Courthouse is a beautiful Neo-Classical Revival structure completed in 1928.  The 17-story building was designed by Frank Pierce Milburn, an architect whose work focused on public buildings. The Buncombe County Courthouse was Milburn’s last public work and is still the tallest courthouse in North Carolina.  Although Milburn passed away before the completion the Courthouse, his son, Thomas Y. Milburn saw it through to completion.

The original intention was for the Courthouse and the adjacent City Hall to be a matched pair, but the city government favored Douglas Ellington’s Art Deco design, while the county commissioners preferred Milburn’s more classical plan.  Ellington ended up with the design of the City Hall while Milburn’s design was chosen for the Courthouse.  The two completed buildings are quite beautiful and are as different as night and day.

As I said, the construction of the building was completed in 1928, with the dedication ceremony being held on December 1st of that year.  Less than two years later, the United States was rocked by the Great Depression.  Buncombe County and the City of Asheville were left with massive debt.  While counties and cities across the country were defaulting on their debts, the governments of Buncombe County and Asheville vowed to repay their debt.  For nearly forty years the government made their payments until, in 1977, their debt was fully paid.

Their determination to bring Asheville out of debt had a lasting effect on the city.  Because they could not afford to finance new construction while repaying their debt, many of the beautiful structures, like the Courthouse, the Grove Arcade and the City Hall, remain intact today.  The beautiful old buildings of the city are one of the things I love about Asheville.  Imagine if these old buildings had been razed to make way for newer, more modern structures.  The city would have lost much of the history that contributes to its appeal.

Buncombe County Courthouse


Statue with Wreath

This beautiful statue was photographed in a cemetery in Georgia.  It was shot on Kodak Tri-X film. After scanning, I cleaned up the image with Paint Shop Pro and then gave it a selenium tint with Silver Efex Pro 2.  For a scan of a thirty five year old negative, I think it came out pretty well.

Statue With Flowers

Two-toned sunset

I photographed this interesting sunset in our front yard.  It was nearing the end of the sunset and quickly approaching night, but there was still a beautiful red tint to the clouds.  The silhouettes of the trees at the bottom adds a much needed frame to the photo.

Two Tone Sunset

Nix Professional Building, San Antonio

Upon its completion in 1931, the Nix Professional Building, in San Antonio,  was the tallest hospital in the United States.  It was also the hospital with doctor’s offices, hospital beds and a parking garage all in one structure.  Among the many people born in the building are Carol Burnett and Oliver North.

One interesting fact is that because of the sharp angles of the structure, as you pass the building from the River Walk it appears for a short time to be one-dimensional.  It’s quite an illusion.

Nix Building Day

Frosted Trees

I love the delicate ice covered tree branches against a stunning blue sky.  No filtering or photo editing was done; this is one of those times where the original photo required no tweaking.   I had to go no further than our front yard for this shot.  I think the lesson here is to not to forget to look up or down when carrying your camera.  Not everything is at eye level.

Frosted Trees


The slow destruction of man-made by weather makes for interesting photographs.  This photo was taken at an old cemetery in Georgia and  was shot on Kodak Tri-X film about 35 years ago.  I used Silver Efex Pro 2, part of the Nik Collection of photo editing plugins, to give it a slight sepia tone and to bring the details to the forefront.



A Fun Language Learning Tool

It’s no secret that my goal is to retire to Portugal.  I’ve been working towards having a basic knowledge of the Portuguese language when we’re able to move.  One fun- and free- tool I have found is Babadum.

Babadum is a game-based learning system, with five different games to choose from.  It’s strictly a vocabulary builder.  It won’t help you learn how to communicate in complete sentences and it doesn’t teach grammar.  You’ll have to find a different tool for that.

Here’s a quick visual of how to play the game.  If you hover over the icon in the bottom right of the screen you can select from 21 different languages:

Change Language 1

Next, by hovering over the icon in the top left of the screen, you can select your game:

Change Game

The first game gives you the word, both written and audibly, and you select the picture that matches the word.

Word to Picture

O bolo de aniversário, by the way, is a birthday cake, not a make-out session that the painter had after hooking up at the roller rink.  The second game gives you a picture and the audible version of the word and you match it to the correct written word.

Picture to Word

The third game gives you the audible version of the word only, and you select the picture that matches the word. In this case, the words are “bater palmas” or, in english, “clap hands.”

Audio to Picture

The button in middle plays the word.  You  simply have to decide what the word describes.  Notice the gruesomely severed hand in the upper left.   Any time you see a picture of something happening, the picture represents a verb.  In this case, it’s “to draw.”  The fourth game is a spelling game.


When you see an image like this one, the highlighted part of the image is what they want you to identify. In this case it’s a mother.  The fifth game randomizes the first four games into one game.

First, the drawbacks.  The amount of words available to learn are limited.  That being said, there are still probably several hundred Portuguese words available, so it is a good starting point.   Also, sometimes it’s difficult to tell from the cartoon picture what they’re describing.  After you’ve played the games a few times and learned some of the words, the pictures are less confusing.  Finally, there’s nothing to tell you how to play, so you have to figure it out on your own.

What I like about Babadum is that it’s easy to learn and to use,  the games are fast paced, and it combines three aspects of language learning- the sound of the word, the spelling of the word, and an image of what the word describes.  You can create a free account so that your progress is tracked by the number of times your answer was correct.  Babadum is also free, which is no small thing.  Language learning tools can be quite expensive.

Babadum is not a tool that will give you a good working knowledge of a language, but it is a fun, entertaining way to build your vocabulary.  If you’re learning a language, give it a try.



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