Update

African Connection links are now in the sidebar to the right, just below the My Travel section.

Click here to see a La Crosse Tribune article about the mission in Uganda.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Let The Sun Shine

Glorious would be a good description for Tuesday in Sedona. Bright sun lit up the towering red rocks and mild temperatures were just right for walking the trails. Just after breakfast, I took off into the area behind the inn, which borders the parkland. It was a most pleasant walk, once I figured out that if I was going to look up at the rocks, I needed to stop walking. And if I was going to walk, I needed to keep my eyes on the local flora, as virtually every plant was armed and dangerous. The highlight of the walk, except maybe for not getting run through by a cactus, was the musical accompaniment. Here in the quiet of the morning, the strains of Amazing Grace floated down from a rock formation, a woman's voice, vocalizing the melody. She would go on for a while, stop for a few minutes, then continue. It was quite nice.

We visited several areas between Oak Creek (where we are staying) and Sedona where we could park the car and walk around in the park.Yes, glorious would be a good description for Tuesday in Sedona. Here are a few pictures:









Tuesday, December 28, 2010

There's a Bike Shop Here

"Here" is Sedona, Arizona. We drove in late yesterday afternoon and I spied the shop on highway 179. Perhaps a jersey? Even though I won't be riding. I COULD ride around on the trails, in and out of the red rock canyons, over the rough trails, avoiding the cacti. I COULD. But, since I know I could, I don't really have to. That's my story. And I'm sticking to it.

Perhaps it is because there are so many other things to do and see around Sedona. Not sure what we'll find, but here is our introduction when we arrived. These pictures are from the back patio of the Bed and Breakfast we are staying at, The Cozy Cactus.





Occupying the Cowboy Hideaway Suite, it seemed that this was the proper choice of wine, don't you think?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Dad

My father died 22 years ago this week. Here is a piece I wrote about him a couple of years ago:

Dad

My father looked up from the paper and said, “OK. If you’re careful, I don’t see why not.”

What a surprising answer.
So surprising that I didn’t know how to reply.
Had he said “No way!”
I had an answer ready and waiting.
But “OK?” Totally unprepared for that one.

I shouldn’t have been surprised.
My father had said surprising (to me anyway) things before.
And profound.
He was like that.
Quiet. Even unassuming.
Hard working. He grew up poor in Alabama, Georgia.
Served in the Navy in WWII.
Was determined things would be different for his family.
My mom, brother and me.
He never told me that. But I see it now.

Eight years old, I think. My first flight, courtesy of an airline pass.
His job at TACA Airlines.
He said I should dress neatly, be courteous.
We were guests on this Braniff flight.
Polite, Courteous. A southern gentleman.
In that unassuming way.
The stewardess came by.
She was a stewardess. Flight attendants wouldn’t be invented for decades yet.
Chiclets. Standard fare for the un-pressurized DC3.
I just thought, “Hey, a treat!”
If we felt the need for oxygen, we should let her know.
Climbing into the clouds for the first time.
Could I have been any more excited?
Then, a strange sensation in my ears.
I’d not felt that before. Maybe I should be worried?
Don’t let it show, though. Let dad see you nervous.
But, I had to ask. Did I need oxygen?
Dad said it was OK. Chew the gum. Yawn.
He knew all the tricks. I felt better.
My ears, too.
Looking back, it was a humorous situation.
But he didn’t chuckle, tease me. Or tell me to sit still, keep quiet.
He said it was OK. He knew what to do.
That’s what he was there for.

My father taught me that grownups could be shaken.
Men might even cry.
A terrible plane crash. Managua, Nicaragua.
A new TACA Vickers Viscount. A flock of buzzards.
Two friends, the pilot and co-pilot, gone in an instant.
My father’s face. Hard to describe. Impossible to forget.
Grownups can be shaken. Men can cry.
Both are OK.
I learned that from him, though you’d not have known it until a few years ago.

I asked him one day, “Why?”
The football coach was on my case all through practice.
I was doing OK. Not what coach Harris thought, apparently.
Good grief!
I unloaded this on my father as he drove me home.
He’d back me up, mouth a few complaints about this unwarranted criticism.
“You should feel good about that,” is what he said.
“I should WHAT?”
He explained in his quiet way.
“Coach Harris cares. He thinks you are good. He knows you can be better. He’s helping you. When he stops being on your case, it means he has given up on you. You should be feeling good.”
Just like that.
Driving home from football practice.
Wisdom, in his quiet way.

My father would scold me, as fathers do.
For good reason. Except once.
Sick in bed, I was kept awake by the sawing, hammering.
I called out, “When will you be done?”
He came in and said to be quiet.
He’d gotten a few friends to help him put in a new stairway into the crawl space under our house.
They were doing us a favor. We shouldn’t seem unappreciative.
I was sick. I only asked a question.
The memory of those few moments is fresh; whatever hurt long since gone, though.
He was human. As are we all. Another lesson.

My father got sick.
A simple skin cancer. But then a small tumor in his neck.
Radiation. Disfiguring surgery.
We’d visit. “I’m OK. Doctor says things are going well,” he’d say.
Always positive. Encouraging me.
December. Back in Atlanta only a few weeks since our Thanksgiving visit.
Six months, the doctor said. What was I going to do during that time?
How often could I visit?
He was confused, the cancer now in his brain.
A sneak attack. The doctors watching the shrinking tumor in his neck.
Now, nothing to do but wait.
Six months.
He died two days after I arrived.
It was OK. He knew what to do.

Our last summer before we headed off to college.
Larry, Morris and I had a plan.
We’d go to the islands! Nassau. Fly from Miami.
How to get to Miami, though?
I could fly for free, but not Larry or Morris.
We’d drive. But look at our cars!
The three of them together wouldn’t be able to get us there.
But we’d just gotten a brand new, 1966 Volkswagen.
Now that’s the car we needed.
Reliable, economical.

Larry and I worked at the same engineering firm during the summer.
For a month we considered all of the possible ways that my father could say “no” to our request.
And we came up with the perfect counter-argument for each.
Finally it was time to ask.
“Dad. You know it would be a lot safer and cheaper if we could use the Volkswagen to drive down to Miami.”
This was it. All of my well thought out responses were ready and waiting. Which one would I need the only thing left to decide.
“OK,” he said. “If you’re careful, I don’t see why not.”

Quiet, Calm.
Hard-working.
Caring.
Knowing what to do.
Wise.
Human.
Teaching me in this surprising response, the only one I hadn’t considered in planning my comebacks.
Teaching me responsibility. And that sometimes you need to take risks.
He was willing to do that.
Even now he is here, in the lessons taught.
In his calm, quiet way.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Cold, Gray Seas

Steely skies fuse with cold, gray seas;
the horizon indistinct in the distance.
Walking down the beach, I pull my jacket a bit more tightly
against the damp chill of the fall afternoon
that envelopes the eastern seaboard.
A brisk wind carries in the sea's salty scent and
pulls a light mist from the tops of approaching breakers.

The waves, energy all but spent
on their voyage to the shore,
tumble over onto the firm sand
with a loud swoosh.
Then, unable to extend farther into the realm of dry land,
they slide slowly back down the sandy slope
with only a whisper to mark their return
to the deeps from which they'd come.

My footprints on the beach are distinct
but for a moment.
Edges quickly crumble as damp sand fails
to hold the impression,
all sign of my passing erased.

Squawking gulls survey the scene from above,
nervous sandpipers scamper at water's edge.
They are oblivious to sights and sounds
save those
that might lead to a meal.

As daylight wanes, I walk up the slopes into softer sand,
pause at the edge of a dry sea of tall grass
rustling in the wind.
Slender blades bend and sway in the breeze, pointing away
from the ocean, as if telling me that it is time
to go.

Looking back one last time, I reflect
on the grandeur of the sea and sky,
the maneuvers of the shore birds.
My brief journey here has ended,
but the ebb and flow of water
and life
will go on.

Home.
Though now unseen, I know this:
sky will meet sea, birds will search for food and
footprints will be erased;
but not my memories of time spent
under steely skies by cold, gray seas.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Tie One On

There is not a single card left at the Hallmark store and it is only December 5. It's a popular holiday, I know, but this year it seems as if everyone is going all out in celebration. But what's not to like about parading around in gaudy costume? Oh, what? You don’t think it's proper to celebrate Christmas that way? Good. I don't either. But we are talking about National Tie Month. I thought you knew.

And I have ties. Not that I wear them much anymore, but they are still in my closet. Here are a few that I brought out for the festivities:

My favorites are the Yellow Submarine and Calculator ties. However, the orange one is perhaps the most meaningful as I wore it at both daughters' weddings. And the one in back on the right is a "Magic Eye" tie. That one got a lot of people staring at me with their eyes crossed!

My life in ties, much abbreviated, went something like this:

When I was younger - that covers a lot of territory, of course - we could fly for free as my father worked for TACA Airlines in New Orleans. At the time, TACA only flew into Central America so we would use "Interline" passes for travel to places to which we actually wanted to go. We would dress up for these flights, since we were guests, most often on Braniff Airlines flights. And, as a guest, you put on your best. And behaved yourself. And were generally appreciative of the offer of free passage. Rules articulated before each trip by my father. Now I was SO young, that dressing up did not include wearing a tie. But my father did.

Eventually I got old enough to wear ties while traveling and did so for many years, including quite a few after it was nearly mandatory. Now it seems anything goes, up to and including tank tops and flip flops. There ought to be a law. But I finally gave in to going tieless, although I try to keep it at no more informal than “neat casual.”

The first tie I remember getting was when I was in seventh grade. We had just moved to Jacksonville Beach and my mother thought it would be a good idea to sign me up for the cotillion. I would learn to dance and meet people. What’s not to like about that for a seventh grader who’d been contemplating the idea of spending all day, every day of the summer on the beach?

The high school years are a bit fuzzy when it comes to ties. I suppose I wore one at some of the more “formal” social functions, but there isn’t some tie-related event that comes to mind. Same with college except for my senior year. When it came time for job interviews on campus, I went to the Rich’s store in downtown Atlanta (something you can’t do anymore, thanks to Macy’s). I got a suit, a tie, and a job. Must be something to the dressing up thing.

I probably had a few ties when we moved to Connecticut for my first job with Pratt & Whitney. This was the domain of white shirts, dark ties and pocket protectors and calls to mind an entry on the list of the shortest books ever written: Fashion for Engineers. But rebel that I am, it seemed that an attack on the system was warranted. So Shirley began making ties to order – wide enough to use as a lobster bib and in all manner of colors and patterns. One in particular that I remember was a red-white-and-blue number. Take THAT, establishment!

But time passed and I moved on, ending up here in the upper Midwest; Wisconsin, to be exact. And I brought my advanced East Coast style concepts with me. Things here were, of course, years behind and it fell upon my well-garbed shoulders to get them up to speed. How did I accomplish this? Well it was with a green and cream plaid leisure suit, worn with a dark shirt and bow tie. I won’t even mention the shoes, but I will tell you that I will be forever grateful that these is no photographic evidence of what I have just revealed. You should be too.

Of course we all know how this story comes out. Every day ties are rare indeed these days. The transition wasn’t easy for many, but there are few holdouts. Politicians and executives seem to need to “power up,” but for the rest of us, casual and comfortable work just fine. There are special occasions though. And just to prove I can still do it, here is a photo of me at a recent conference in Germany:

And no treatise on ties, at least not any that I write, would be complete without this story. And let me say that this will be the LAST time I relate this. It has been my great privilege to know and have been taught by O.Univ.Prof. i.R. Dipl.-Ing. Dr.techn. Laurenz Rinder of the Technical University of Vienna. And let me say he deserves every one of those titles. Here he is at the conference:

Years ago, Professor Rinder came to La Crosse for several months to help us understand some of the intricacies of designing screw compressor rotors, something we had just begun working on. One Saturday I was planning on laying sod around our newly finished addition and I asked Laurenz if he’d like to come over and help. He agreed. So, bright and early on Saturday, he showed up wearing a lab coat. Over his white shirt. And tie. Which he kept on during the entire morning of sod-laying.

So why is this the last time telling this story? There is a now-traditional (I’ve been attending this conference since 1987) post-conference dinner hosted by friends Professor Knut and Dörte Kauder at their home. A few of the regulars were missing this year, but there were some new faces around the table. So, during the witty repartee that only engineers can sustain, I announced that I had this story about Laurenz. He looked at me and said, “The one about the tie?” I guess maybe I’ve told it one too many times.

Here we are enjoying ourselves at Knute and Dörte's. This was BEFORE I told the story.

Just so you won't be left hanging, this is the Rest of the Story about the leisure suit. I wore it in San Francisco while there on a business trip. In the evening, a group of us were walking to Chinatown in search of a restaurant. To get there, we had to run a gauntlet of bars and strip clubs, each with a hawker out front, calling to us to come in and check thing out. One of them looked at me and said, "Nice suit." And that, my friends, was the last time I ever wore it. No. I will not tell you about the shoes. Every time I think about that outfit, I feel the need to tie one on. It was that bad.