Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

A NEW GOD

May 12, 2018

A New God

Back in Greek and Roman times, they came up with gods at the drop of a toga, each one assigned some specific task such as God of the Sea, God of the volcano (non-Hawaiian), rain gods, drought gods, war gods, etc. Recently, I became aware of one of this type of deity, and one that leans strongly to the Dark Side. My awareness arose just after I had been informed by my tax person that I was to receive a healthy refund, $4000, possibly in as little as three weeks! For want of a better name, I refer to this one as the God of the Tax Refund, and I’m sure it’s one that was newly minted; after all, the Romans never gave any refunds.

Within a few hours of hearing this good news, my upright washer/dryer combination began to make grating noises; a visit by the repair folks diagnosed the problem as a bad bearing, one which is attached to something called a transmission located in the underbelly of the washer. A repair would cost about $560, and leave me with a combination unit having an elderly dryer atop the machine. Consultation with my wife and others pointed me in the direction of buying a new washer and dryer, a pair that is stackable given the small space available. Decision made, I shopped several options and finally ordered one from the repair people, as they are the only ones within a reasonable range for coming to repair any problems. The model I really wanted, an LG, could not be serviced locally due to its sophisticated computerized innards; I settled for Electrolux. $2000.

Next, my blind cat Timothy was acting strangely, so I took him to the vet. Diagnosis: he needs to have two teeth extracted. I said okay but cautioned the vet that Tim is not to receive any implants. I had already spent a small fortune on those for myself; I don’t know if they do them for cats but at most he’ll have to survive with dentures. $303.

Starting a couple of years ago, I had discussed redoing my patio roof with a local roofer, and had put aside $1000 for that task. When he arrived to finalize the estimate, he commented, “If you’re thinking of selling the house, it won’t pass inspection”. I had understood the roof to be only about 10 years old, but covered with outdated T-lock shingles which are no longer available. He went up on the roofs of the house, garage, and shed, taking pictures and making measurements. His final remark: “ you should call you insurance company, there is wind and hail damage throughout”. Over the next  two days, I called the insurance company and a smiling claims adjuster appeared. After surveying the damage, he agreed with my roofer, and asked to see an estimate before approving my claim. And oh, by the way, my $1000 deductible in the policy balloons to $3000, something about those outdated shingles meaning they can’t just be repaired so we’re looking at “an upgrade”.

The estimate for the whole job is $8300; I had to provide half immediately for the ordering of supplies and materials. And I won’t receive anything from the insurance company until the job is completed, probably in early June. Or so. I heard a snicker from the TRG.

Note that only a week has passed since learning of the pending refund; later, after three weeks had passed, I daily checked my bank account to see if it had yet been deposited. Nothing so far.

I then prepared for my trip across country to North Carolina, to once again work as a volunteer in a PGA golf tournament. I looked forward eagerly to the trip; it included a several day stopover in Kansas City where I grew up, and have lots of friends. I attended a luncheon of my high school alumni group, held every three months, and got lots of chatting completed. I then went merrily on my way, contemplating that refund coming to partially reimburse me for all these other tragedies. As I got closer to my destination of Charlotte, I noticed a strange pounding noise issuing from somewhere beneath the car, and given its cyclical nature, had something to do with the wheels. My thought was of a wheel bearing, so as soon as I got to Charlotte, I pulled in to a Honda dealer and found out that it was not a wheel bearing. All my tires had become cupped, hence the pounding noises; the car was far out of alignment and needed new tires along with my normal service that was due. $890.

After my assignment at the tournament was completed, my wife and I spent a day as spectators, and I headed home on Sunday. About three hours on my way, an alert appeared on my instrument panel warning me of a low tire. Using my tire gauge, I discovered that the left rear (of my new tires) was going flat. Where does one get a tire fixed on a Sunday? A very kind lady, obviously not sent by the Refund God, led me to a Walmart, and after they found a broken metal pin lodged in the tire, and aa couple of hours and $10, I was once more on the road. The rest of the trip was uneventful; I passed the time trying to ignore all the nastiness about politics coming from my XM radio and chose to go to the 50’s station and sang along. I reflected on the $1600 I had spent last month on my first cataract surgery upgrade, and considered another $1600 to be set aside (from where?) for the next surgery, on March 24. At the same time, I am receiving iron infusions to address a significant deficiency, and beginning a month long intense therapy through the Pain Management Clinic to help reduce the chronic pain I’ve had for a number of years. Maybe it will help my putting.

The final blow came when I collected three weeks of mail and rummaged through the mostly junk. Nestled however among those appeals for donations, advertising for hearing aids, and etc., was a cheery letter from the IRS informing me that they needed more information before they could approve me for a refund; if successful, I would receive the refund six to eight weeks after they got my reply. I believe that’s sometime in mid-July.

The Tax Refund God has struck again!

Always Be Happy      To Our Youth

SPRINGING or WANING?

March 26, 2018

 

As is usually the case annually in Wyoming, there’s some confusion about whether Spring is springing or Winter is waning. So far, we’ve had a mild winter; daily looks at my Weather Channel app show that we have so far had temperatures above those where many friends and relatives live in Charlotte, NC, and Kansas City, MO for most of the past month. Of course, so that over confidence doesn’t enter into the picture, we had 3 inches of wet snow overnight to remind us of where we live although most of it has already melted off. We’ll get more if tradition holds true; I recall several massive wet snows in April and May over the years, even to the extent that one year school was called off, a rare occasion in areas like ours that are prepared to deal with blizzards and the like. That turned out to be a questionable decision; it all melted by noon, all 8 inches of it!

As I’ve tried to establish as a habit pattern, I’ve been leaving Thermopolis about once a month, certainly not a bad idea during our usual winter weather. In February, I headed to Frisco, Texas, to help celebrate the February birthdays of my grandson, now age 4, and his sister, now 2. That trip was only about a week, cut a bit short due to the kids being hit with the flu. Both recovered nicely!

My next excursion was sandwiched between various –ologist visits which I chronicled in my January blog. I headed to Arizona in early March to serve for the third time as a volunteer at the LPGA Founders Cup golf tournament in Phoenix, stopping first in Pueblo, Colorado and then on to visit friends and a cousin here and there on my way. Prescott, Sedona, Green Valley, and Tucson were stops before reaching Phoenix, where I stayed for a week before heading back home. I even managed to play nine holes of golf on three occasions, albeit I feel that my golfing days are numbered. Apparently there’s more decay settling into this once-proud frame, and it takes several days to lessen the aching afterward. I have an appointment in two weeks with a Pain Management Specialist to see if there are some simple things I can do in order to keep playing; however, I’m not going to buy a membership at the local golf course. I’ll try to be content to play nine holes once a week or so, and walk instead of renting a cart. I play okay for about 7 holes; then my back doesn’t seem in synch with the rest of my body and shots start straying into unknown regions. I birdied a couple of short holes, but took 6 shots to get out of one very deep bunker. I suspect I’ll be able to shoot a score of 45 from the white tees, most of the time.

At present, I’m halfway through cataract surgery and so far, not happy. My right eye was done last Tuesday, and there are still lots of things floating around in the eye fluid. One, a large circle, has been particularly irritating, but a couple of days ago lots of discrete tiny black dots began to appear. In the past I’ve had those things called “floaters”, but never to this degree. If they’re not resolved by my next scheduled visit, April 9, I may cancel the left eye surgery for April 10. I’m also questioning my decision to go ahead with the ologists recommendation; my eyesight wasn’t that bad, it was just on the way to being so. And the cost of $3200 beyond Medicare seems a lot although it’s less than the cost of one dental implant! But when they gave me a pair of cheap sunglasses to wear while my eyes were dilated, I commented that for the price, I should have at least gotten Oakleys.

My next trip will be late April into early May; I have a luncheon at my high school alumni group in the Kansas City area on April 23. I’ll spend three or four days there, then head on to Charlotte, NC, to work in another golf tournament, the Wells Fargo Championship May 1-8. Again, there are folks I’ll visit on the way there and back, in St. Louis and Atlanta. I’ll be gone about three weeks, much to the dismay of my blind cat Timothy. About 5000 miles driving; my Arizona trip was 3000. My poor 2015 Honda CR-V will be three years old on June 30; right now it has 67,000 miles on it! All highway, from my frequent trips.

I decided to keep my SiriusXM radio subscription throughout the trip so I can fume over the daily happenings in the Trump administration. I’ve become perhaps overly simplistic in my viewpoints about politics; it seems increasingly that all that’s important to the Republicans is anything to do with money, and screw the ideas of providing for the General Welfare as set forth in the Preamble to the Constitution. And in spite of massive turnouts, or a flood of polling, showing what we as citizens want done, we are totally ignored. The recent movement initiated by the high schoolers will likely fade, unfortunately as other things occur and assume more importance to Congress in the hierarchy of political crap. I continue to hold out hope for next November, but not where I live. After all, we have the most guns per capita of any state. Go figure.

 

Always Be Happy     To Our Youth

On The Road Again

April 4, 2017

 

Depending upon one’s perspective, driving long distances alone may be either beneficial or potentially destructive, given the long hours available for deep thought. I try to lessen its effects by listening to the unending hours of speculation on XM radio; however, that has only managed to have me probe more deeply into the depression I’ve suffered since the presidential election and its collateral damage.

My thoughts continually refer back to a previous blog I wrote, one in which I pointed out the differences between “ignorant”, “dumb”, and “stupid”. Most of what I’ve seen since that election falls into the realm of the latter and apparently seems to be taking on aspects of a snowball accumulating more volume while rolling downhill. Stupid is when reality is ignored in favor of what someone or some group would like to see, rather than what is.

During the past two months I’ve completed several trips, the first flying to Charlotte, NC, to visit my wife and watch our two older grandsons pursue their various athletic activities. Attending three basketball games and a swim meet were the high points; the low point was the gradual onset of tendinitis in my left Achilles tendon, causing some pain and limited mobility. Not wanting to spend a lot on a cane, as I have several back home, my wife and I went to a GoodWill Store to see if we could find an inexpensive example. Unfortunately, there were none, but my wife had the brilliant idea of using a golf club from among the large array reposing in a large tub on the sales floor. We selected a 4 iron, which seemed to be the appropriate length for my height, and I used its support throughout the remainder of my stay. I was not,  however, able to take it through security when boarding my flight home. If it were a real cane, then it would have passed through, but not as a golf club being used as a cane. Rules are rules. So I limped and suppressed any whimpering.

In the few days at home before leaving on my next trip, to Texas for a weekend of celebrating the birthdays of our two youngest grandkids, ages one and three, I spent time resting the leg and calculating whether I really could get a massage chair into the back of my Honda CR-V with the rear seats folded down. The big day finally arrived, the one in which I had arranged for two Mormon missionaries to help me get the 185 lb. chair into the car. They are required to do community help work along with their standard assignments, and are a great resource. We ultimately were successful in loading the chair, but not until we turned it upside down and attached it briefly to an extension cord in order to flatten it out a bit to get through the rear entrance. The chair, which I’ve had and used happily for several years but no longer provided the needed help, I was giving to my son and his wife, both of whom suffer from back injuries and accompanying pain. She was a member of the US Gymnastics Team at one time, and is now reaping the physical rewards of all those years of competition and injuries. he played football, basketball, and was a member of the 82nd Airborne, all sources of pain and suffering.

The trip down was highlighted by a stopover in Pueblo, Colorado, to visit my friends Molly and Joe  whom I had met during my year or so in Kemmerer, Wyoming, filling in as Special Education Director and Alternative High School Principal until a suitable replacement could be found. I had met Joe while playing golf at Fossil Island Golf Course, a name which caused me to have to explain to persons elsewhere that it was not a retirement community. His wife occasionally substituted in the schools, and both are highly intellectual apart from Joe’s commitment to golf. After his retirement from working at the local power plant, they had moved to Pueblo to escape the sometimes brutal Wyoming winters and had happily immersed themselves in several volunteer activities, Molly to a community soup kitchen and Joe to a sort of halfway house for persons undergoing significant psychiatric treatment.

Joe has sufficient expertise for his work, having himself been diagnosed (incorrectly as it turns out) schizophrenic early in life and having struggled through a variety of episodes including violence, incarceration, and institutionalization at varying periods in his life. He responded effectively through a combination of treatments and personal ability to overcome obstacles, to secure a degree from the University of Arizona and to write and publish a book, “Life Under A Cloud”, that details his lifelong search for security and peace of mind in spite of the issues which society heaps onto persons suffering mental hardships. I highly recommend the book ; it offers major insights into a world of pain and suffering but one which often is misunderstood and relegated to the backburners of treatment.

From Pueblo, I went on to Frisco, Texas, my destination, and arranged to collect my wife from the Dallas Airport. The weekend was spent helping host a birthday party for the two youngsters, the emphasis being on the one-year-old since her brother had already been recognized earlier in the month. Many friends of my son and his wife attended, along with their own collections of infants, toddlers, and older single digit youngsters. We were thus able to enjoy several  hours of entertainment similar to that which would come with cooking popcorn without using a lid, a complete absence of peace and quiet. At our ages, those are two cherished states only discovered after one reaches Medicare eligibility. The high point came with the presentation of the birthday cake and watching the guest of honor plunge her face into the generous layer of frosting once the candles were extinguished with the help of her brother. The family dog and cat were noticeably absent from the festivities, evidently feeling that there was more turmoil than necessary for the own peaceful existence.

We were able to return to our hotel for the balance of the evening, to rest for the next day’s additional birthday celebration; this time for one of the other youngsters who had attended “our” party. But this one was quite different; the parents had wisely booked a session at an emporium called “Jump it Up”, a collection of large scale inflated play areas including slides, Ninja courses, and other offerings requiring loud screams and squeals in order to participate. As I wandered about observing, I kept thinking I was looking at a high level Chucky Cheese operation which shares many of the same characteristics: lots of irritating noise and random chaos, activities focused on removing as much money as possible from patrons, and extruding an aura which I hope never to have to suffer again. The hour and a half ended with servings of ice cream and cake for the approximately 18-20 participants and everyone departed. And those wise parents enjoyed not having to clean up any large scale mess afterwards. Money well spent!

Later that evening back at my son’s home, we spent time chatting and said our goodbyes before heading back to the hotel; the next morning we departed for the airport for my wife’s early flight. After dropping her off, I headed up the interstate looking forward to a few restful days uninterrupted by intrusions into my normal reverie; however, before I had even traveled an hour I encountered a major traffic backup short of crossing the Red River into Oklahoma. No detour instructions were given, so I wandered east and west for an hour or so before I stopped at a farm implement store to ask directions. There, I found out that there had been a hazardous material spill on the bridge, and it would be quite a while before that route would be opened. I was offered two choices, one east about 30 miles before resuming my northern route, or west toward a familiar drive across the somewhat featureless plains of the Texas Panhandle through Amarillo and Raton, New Mexico, to Colorado. I chose that direction and headed out.

The rest of the trip home was uneventful, which is what wants when traveling, especially when flying. I managed to get to Casper, Wyoming early enough to get servicing done on my Honda CR-V which I had purchased new June 30, 2015. As I write, it now has 43,000 babied miles on it. I like to travel.

Well, a few days at home for laundry and reacquaintance with my blind cat Timothy, and off again, this time to work as a volunteer in the LPGA Founders Cup golf Tournament in Phoenix. This would be my second time doing so; I find that the women’s tournaments are a bit less intense than the men’s, and that they really seem to enjoy and support one another as the competition unfolds.

One of the benefits of this kind of volunteerism is that one’s travel expenses are tax deductible as long as it’s a charitable event, a great perk for the event’s sponsors as a way to lure the great number of volunteers necessary. This tournament only has about 800-900; the Wells Fargo men’s tournament I work in, in Charlotte, has over 2300! One can volunteer for most tournaments, needing only to get on the tourney’s website and enter the dropdown “volunteer” menu. It’s a good way to travel to neat places and that tax write off really helps. Be aware that you have to purchase an outfit, usually a shirt and hat, and the cost varies from $50-$150l depending upon the tournament. But your meals are taken care of, along with free tickets for the tournament and free parking. At this tournament, I had six tickets to give away. Usually, you are committed to work only three or four shifts during the seven day duration of activities beginning with practice rounds on Monday and ending with Sunday’s conclusion. A shift is generally about 6 hours and you can apply for morning or afternoon; at the same time there are lots of committees whose duties are described on the website and you are asked to identify your preferences.

At this tournament, I worked Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday afternoons, and could use my pass on the other days if I so chose. However, I wasn’t able to do much walking due to my uncooperative Achilles, and the unexpected heat wave of 90’s for this time of the year was highly enervating, so I did other activities along with Brad, my longtime friend and golf partner who lives in Phoenix and recently bought a new house. We played nine holes at rather shabby pitch-and-putt course, but again, my leg prevented doing any serious golfing which would normally be our major focus. Instead, I was introduced to my first pro hockey game although given their current level of success, some persons describe the Coyotes as less than professional level. Brad has two tickets to a select 20 games a season, and I really enjoyed the experience; it was much more exciting than those days I watched the Chicago Black Hawks on my 9-inch black and white tv back in the 60’s, when I worked in Gary, Indiana.

One of the other benefits of this trip was finally being able to try an In-and-Out Burger, one ballyhooed far and wide as the best of all burgers. And yes, I have to admit that it was very good, and enhanced by the relatively low price of $2.50 for a double burger. I understand that they are only available in California, Texas, Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona; I consider this an un-American situation and hope that our new President does something about it. After all, it might be one thing that he’s capable of; so far I’m  not only unappreciative of his performance but genuinely depressed about the prospects for the future.

Upon leaving Phoenix, I headed 80 miles to Prescott to once again consider it as a location if I should ever decide to move from the comforts, and chilly winters, in Wyoming. Prescott is at an elevation of about 5000 feet and as so, enjoys four mild seasons significantly away from the brutal temperatures in southern Arizona during the summer. In fact, I understand that many Phoenix folks have “summer homes” in Prescott. On the other hand, it’s not as high as 7000’ Flagstaff, just 35 miles to the north and having a nickname, “The Snow Bowl” during the winter to attract skiers.

Prescott itself is an older community and characterized by a town square, trees and hills, actual neighborhoods, and all the marks of a settled community. At the same time, its nearby brethren of Prescott Valley, Chino Valley, Dewey-Humboldt, and other small surrounding towns are quite different, each with its own unique character. To me, Prescott Valley is a sprawling, new area of malls, housing developments, traffic signals and tie-ups, and glitz. It seems very artificial, to me, and not a place in which I would be comfortable. About four years ago when I was thinking of moving there, I passed up a three bedroom, double garage five year old house for $79000, during the depression. Today it would probably be about $200,000, so there goes another one of those bad decisions. But I don’t think I would have found life to be as easy as it is here in little Thermopolis. More on that later.

I spent some time looking at available choices for rentals; there are in fact several beautiful complexes for low income retirees (max $25,000), and some others that retirees can buy into for $230,000 and then pay $3500/month for their meals and other expenses. Definitely not in my plans. I visited one 3-floor apartment building in the form of a square with an inner courtyard; it was mostly one bedroom apartments for $1500/ month, with great views if your apartment is on the outer side. Otherwise, you’re looking down into an inner courtyard containing a swimming pool and Jacuzzi. But the building itself was featureless; all the hallways were alike and blandly beige; you couldn’t distinguish one from another. And two rooms is too confining for my tastes.

After lunching on Sunday at a local golf course with my friend Ramona, a colleague from my Special Education days in Wyoming and who retired to Prescott several years ago, and looking at retirement lodging on Monday, I headed over to the gorgeous town of Sedona to spend the evening and overnight with my friend Rick, a retired urologist from Laramie-Steamboat Springs and his wife Jane, his former nurse. I cannot think of anywhere I’ve seen that’s more scenic than Sedona, and that includes having lived in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, at the base of the Grand Teton. And according to real estate listings, the average house cost is about $450,000, indicating the level of home owner to be found there. My friends have a home high above the valley, with breathtaking views in many directions from their windows and the encircling balcony attached to their home. I took them to dine at a very nice local Mexican restaurant and limited the number of Margaritas they could consume, showing my concern for their health (and the amount of the check).

I headed out toward home early the next morning, and spent an enjoyable day passing through some of my favorite scenery including Monument Valley on the Arizona-Utah border. I always expect to see John Wayne come galloping through, or Chevy Chase on his Vacation jaunt in that station wagon with Imogene Coca tied to the roof, but not this time. Later in the day I passed through Moab, which during my first visits in the 60’s was a relatively small residential town informally attached to the successes of the major uranium strike nearby. I had friends who owned a “ranch” high up in Castle Valley on the flanks of the LaSal mountains, 27 miles from town; my wife and I had spent three days there when on our honeymoon. Nowadays, it’s booming mecca for 4-wheeling and mountain bike enthusiasts, and congested with motels, fast food, and jeep/bike rental depots. Surrounding scenery is spectacular, including Canyonlands National Park, Arches National Park, and Dead Horse Point State Park, but one of my favorite things is driving the River Road which is Utah Highway 128 and follows the Colorado River Canyon for about 30 miles toward Interstate 70 and Grand Junction, Colorado. Along the way, it passes below Castle Rock, the sandstone pillar that GM used to put Chevy’s on top of for their TV ads, and other rock formations of Priests and Nuns,  and Fisher Towers. Quite beautiful, but there are lots of curves.

Years ago, a group of my buddies and I took a raft down the Colorado River in this area; it was our first experience with rapids and I fell out the first time through. Since we didn’t hit anything because the water took us around the rocks, we spent some pleasant hours going through backwards, sideways, and any other way due to our inability to steer the bulky rubber raft.

After  spending the night in one of my favorite hotels, the America’s Best Family Value Inn in Grand Junction, I headed home. The hotel is one of a national chain of “budget” (cheap) such facilities; they are ones that have been retrieved from former quality establishments but which have outlived their glamour. The chain evidently allows local franchises; the buildings may or may not be refurbished, so that there is a wide variance among them as to their condition and amenities. I’ve stayed in this one on several occasions; it meets all of my requirements regarding cleanliness, comfort, condition, and price, putting it roughly at the level of a Comfort Inn or LaQuinta but for less money. I made It home in early afternoon, time enough to collect my mail at the post office, replenish groceries, and start the laundry. Altogether, a most enjoyable trip!

Earlier in this account of my saga, I mentioned I would comment some more about life in Thermopolis as compared with considering moving to a warmer clime. Well, that decision is far more complicated than one would initially assume. In the first place, living in Wyoming and in Thermopolis in particular for 45 years, establishes roots and routines that are difficult to shed, and which would present difficulty for someone of my advanced years (78) to recreate in a new environment. I know where to get my car repaired, who will do my indoor plumbing (yes, we have that in Wyoming!), who handles renewing my driver’s license, where to get lawn fertilizer, who can shovel my snow and mow my lawn when I’m not able, how does the Home Health Care service work, how often to use the fitness equipment at the rehab center and how my physical therapy fits in, what to do about transportation if I’m no longer mobile, and on and on. One sort of all-encompassing benefit is that many of the folks in charge of things were once students in my middle school, when I was the principal. I sometimes threaten to go back to the files and change their transcripts if I don’t get decent service, but so far haven’t needed to do so. Our tax preparer, a gal who was the star of our first 8th grade girls basketball team (I started girls’ athletics back in the 70’s) just came through with a healthy tax refund. Another former student, one who felt the sting of the paddle rather than staying after school, is doing pre-summer maintenance on my lawn mower. I needed some skin cancer follow up and called the doctor’s office; they got me in the same day just as all the other health services usually are able to do. That can’t be done in a larger community.

So you see, the elements of daily living are quite easy to access. Of course, there are some negatives; cardiologists, neurologists, dermatologists, and all the other ologists have their offices in Casper (120 miles), and Cody (80 miles), but come to our town or the one next door (35 miles) on a weekly basis although the option exists to travel to their towns if one so chooses. The latter is sometimes preferred in order to help the local economies in those locations. The closest Walmart is 55 miles from here, which many consider a benefit.

The closest semi-major airport is 120 miles away although there are smaller facilities closer in Cody, Riverton, and Worland. However, some of the smaller feeder airlines require passengers to wear a long silk scarf and leather helmet with goggles upon boarding. I use either United or Delta, from Casper and connect to hubs in Denver or Salt Lake City.

Locally, if I need transportation, bus service is available through the local Senior Citizens’ Center or the rehabilitation center, for a small fee or donation. The Foster Grandparents Program also has bus service for its volunteers. Very few larger communities can boast of such an array of options; in fact, several I contacted said that they used to have some but their grants ran out.

Then there are my activities. I’ve been on the Board at the Big Horn Basin Foundation, the educational arm of the Wyoming Dinosaur Center, and which has been rated the #1 such museum in the U.S. and #6 in the world. And we’re having a ground breaking this month to begin construction of an even larger center, more than twice the size and with many more specimens. Some of them are excavated locally in the hills adjoining the town to the south; our largest (106’ long) is from a site near Douglas, Wyoming where we have digging rights. I really enjoy going to the Center and sometimes just sitting and contemplating how such creatures could actually have roamed about this area, intimidating any other living objects that came across their path.

If I have aches and pains, we have what is allegedly the World’s Largest Mineral Hot Springs located in the State Park next to the town. A State-owned free bath house is maintained in accordance with the treaty signed with the Shoshone Indians in which the springs were turned over to the government with the understanding that their use would be free forever. The facility is maintained spotlessly, and is an attractive benefit to living here. It is joined by two commercial facilities also making use of the water, but having swimming pools, soaking pools, saunas, and long slides for its paying customers. One can buy an annual membership for about $120, to each of them.

I’m also a golfer, but less avid than in my younger years. Our nine-hole course is well-maintained and challenging, and costs $528 a year for a membership. No other costs are necessary unless one wants to put a privately-owned car in the storage building, which requires additional costs.

The cost of living in Wyoming is usually targeted as one of the top 3 least expensive states in which to live. That begins with no state income tax and is compounded with low property and sales taxes, gasoline taxes generally at or far below national averages, affordable utilities, and reasonable real estate costs. I’ve compared food costs with other places as I travel, they all seem to be about the same regardless of where one goes.

From all of this, you can see my difficulty in considering elsewhere to spend my later years. Of course, I would like to be much nearer to my family, particularly if residence in an institutional kind of facility lies in my future. Among the thoughts I entertain while driving on those long trips, the necessity to leave all of this behind overshadows many of my other concerns including the depression I think I’m suffering along with many of my far-flung friends about what appears to be the erosion of our beloved country.

Wyoming is somewhat unusual politically, it has been described as “the most Republican state” in the U.S. but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Yes, I’m surrounded by mostly Republicans, but at the local and state level they tend to vote for the person and not for the party. In fact, during most of the 45 years I’ve lived here, we’ve had Democratic governors. Another fact is that Wyoming has the highest percentage of gun owners, per capita, but generally their use focuses on hunting and other sporting activities rather than shooting people. We must of course modify that a bit as Dick Cheney is also from Wyoming.

It appears that I’m leaning toward possibly becoming a “snowbird”, or at least some version of one. I’d like to spend time during the winter somewhere near Charlotte, NC, to watch my grandsons perform in their respective athletic events (basketball and competitive swimming) and spend more time with my wife and son. I’d like to do more visiting in Arizona during the winter; but during the summer to some traveling to the Northeastern area including New England and some Canadian Provinces including the Maritimes. The rest of the time I can enjoy the local benefits (next August the total eclipse of the sun will pass over our area, and I’m on the committee planning how to accommodate all the expected scientists and visitors) and entertain visiting friends. And there would be periodic trips to Texas, to watch my younger grandkids grow and mature and spend more time with my son and his wife.

And I can now turn my attention to considering a number of issues: Our President wants to shower the military with large amounts of money taken from most of the other areas of our government, in spite of the fact that I’ve not heard of the Chiefs of Staff requesting those additional funds. What is he planning to spend it on?

How much farther can his administration go in orders that go a long way toward handcuffing our agricultural and service industries, eliminating the progress we’ve made in attacking pollution and other environmental advances, abandoning all the essential elements of the humanities and the arts as a part of our cultural heritage, attacking and reducing the educational opportunities for our children; alienating our allies and escalating the potential for major military action against our foes, and other completely irrational actions. And it appears that he is joined in many of these efforts by the Speaker of the House and the Majority Leader of the Senate, the latter the primary criminal in denying the last nominee for the Supreme Court his day in the sun. And along with that, his declared opposition to allow anything our previous President proposed which was the major contributor to the current Congressional gridlock.

When I look at the minimizing of the Voter Rights Act, at Citizens United, at Republican state legislatures and their gerrymandering, at Congressional Republicans going against the great majority of people on issues such as gun control, abortion, LGBT rights, health concerns including insurance and Planned Parenthood, anti-Islamic overtures in immigration, I’M GENUINELY DISGUSTED AND WILL NEVER CONSIDER VOTING FOR ANOTHER REPUBLICAN FOR NATIONAL LEVEL OFFICE. We still haven’t gotten over the embarrassment of the Bush-Cheney years, and the economic and military mess they handed to Obama and which has grown due to the lack of cooperation of Republican Congressional perspectives.

Yes, I can accept the recent nomination of a Conservative to the Supreme Court; I don’t  know what my liberal friends expected. But it would seem that regardless of which conservative is nominated, all of them would share the same shortcomings so anathema  to liberals, progressives, and rational beings. We can only hope that the centrist Republican objections to the Trumps and their Mafia-like family business can only grow, and eliminate this cancer that is bent on destroying our country.

Always Be Happy          To Our Youth

WHERE’S THE LEMONADE?

October 11, 2015

In several of my past blogs, I’ve made reference to Shakespeare’s phrase, “Sweet are the uses of adversity” which I’m told lies among the pages of his Richard III. This was a fancy way of saying “If you have lemons, then make lemonade”, and is useful in almost any setting except possibly playing golf. I doubt if he ever played the game although it was in existence at that time; Mary Queen of Scots was noted to be an avid golfer, and the game was so popular that James III banned it because his archers were spending too much time at it instead of practicing their archery.

Anyway, I’ve tried to keep these two phrases in the forefront as I’ve not had what one would consider to be a good couple of months. Let’s begin with my back issues.

Readers may recall that I was to receive epidural injections into the cervical and lumbar areas of my spine, to relieve the constant pain generated by spinal deterioration from age along with its cousin, arthritis up and down the length including one spur trying to poke its way to the spinal cord. Well, the first attempt lasted about three weeks, so it was recommended to repeat the process; justified due to a second try having a more lasting effect in a number of individuals. Alas, these only lasted two weeks and a return visit to the neurosurgeon indicated that fusing of the cervical vertebrae and one of the lumbar vertebrae would be the next step.

The initial description of the proposed surgery had an anterior (front) entry into the neck, fusing the offending vertebrae on that side; then, two days later, do a posterior (rear of neck) repeat to the back side of the vertebrae. A lengthy recovery period was pictured including several days in the hospital followed by maybe a week or so in a rehab facility; then home and arrangements for someone to help out around the house as I would not be able to drive until pain medicine was no longer part of the diet.

We decided to consider all of this for a few weeks before making a commitment; in the meantime I readied myself for a drive across country from my home in Wyoming to North Carolina, to visit my wife and grandsons’ family and watch the boys play in several athletic events. I was driving my new car, one with which I am highly satisfied as to comfort and mpg. I was transporting some large objects, the biggest being a piece of driftwood we had collected years ago on the Greybull River and which my wife thought would look nice in the small landscaped area around her townhouse. Although not looking forward to the drive, a departure from my past excitement in preparing for a long trip, I was able to visit a number of old friends both on the way to Charlotte and returning home.

Before I left on the trip, I received an email seeking volunteers to work in a golf tournament in Davidson, a short drive from Charlotte and within the dates I would be visiting. This invitation had the added bonus of my being able to deduct my travel costs for charitable purposes; most of those big events raise lots of money for good causes. Anyway, I included the tournament in my plans, and headed out, having a reasonably pleasant and uneventful trip for four days including a stop in Atlanta to play golf with a longtime friend from my Peace Corps days in the early 60’s.

Arriving on the Sunday before the tournament, I checked in and picked up my credentials and “uniform”, a logoed knit shirt and a cap, and returned to Charlotte and my wife’s place. The next day I headed back for my first day of work at the tourney, and was assigned to keep the practice chipping green area clear of golf balls as the players practiced before beginning play on Wednesday. And this is where the next major problem began. I spent 7 hours in the hot sun, actively clearing the area and raking the sand bunkers. That night, around midnight, my heart began having some unwelcome issues jumping around and pausing uncharacteristically between series of beats. When this had happened on other occasions, it stemmed from dehydration, so I downed some electrolytes and got it settled down. In the morning, I went to the Emergency Room at a hospital and was checked over several hours. The verdict was yes, I had become dehydrated as shown by a very low potassium level; the good news was no heart attack and my enzymes were fine. I was released with instructions to return in a couple of days to report on my condition.

I won’t dwell on the next nine days of the visit, particularly not mentioning my bad golf game toward the end of the stay; however, I did have another brief episode that seemed related to reflux in the esophagus/stomach juncture. A return visit to the ER gave the same results as before, along with instructions to see a cardiologist. I watched one grandson play a baseball game and his brother play two football and two basketball games. My wife and I had several nice walks and meals out. I can’t say I would like living in the Eastern Time Zone; it seems everyone stays up until midnight and doesn’t get started until late the next morning. I was physically worn out most of the time from lack of sleep.

Finally, I departed for home and the first day drove from Charlotte to St. Louis, where I reconnected with wonderful folks from many years ago. One of the highlights of that visit in addition to renewal of friendships were some conversations around the meanings of faith and religion in one’s life, certainly something that those of us getting along in years pay a bit more attention to. As a result, I’m looking forward to reading a book, “Convictions”, by Marcus Borg, which was highly recommended.

The next day was easy, a late breakfast with my friends followed by an easy drive across Missouri to Lawrence, Kansas, to stay once again with friends on their “farm” (weekend retreat) overnight. I planned to leave early the next morning so I could reach Colorado before evening in order to watch the Bronco game on TV. And another event reared its head.

My friend’s farm is in highly wooded area and, in the morning darkness as I was backing my car, I heard a thump. Although I have a backup camera and screen, and knew there were trees somewhere behind, I couldn’t see anything because my backup lights were reflecting off the morning mist thus “blotting out” the viewing screen. Thinking little of it, I left for the half hour drive into town to get gas and continue on my trip. Well, when I reached the lighted gas station I discovered that the thump represented an uncooperative tree knocking the rear window out of my CR-V.

So, returning to the farm and spending some hours fitting a piece of cardboard to the opening and anchored with duct tape, I finally got on the way. I reached my Ft. Collins destination in time to check in to the hotel and turn on the game.

The next day was to be the last, with a brief stopover in Casper to see some folks attending an education conference and to make arrangements to have my rear window replaced. As I drove, I activated my Bluetooth phone and called my insurance agent. She contacted the glass insurance folks who called me, and we arranged for me to have the glass replaced the next morning, requiring me to stay overnight at a hotel. I stopped at the glass place, and was told to be there at 9 a.m. the next day. I spent the rest of the day visiting with colleagues from former educational activities and I went to bed early. The next morning, I reported at 9 a.m. and discovered that the glass company hadn’t realized that the glass had to be ordered from Honda, so they couldn’t fix it until they could get it several days hence. In other words, I wouldn’t have had to spend $$$ at a hotel, I could have made it home the night before. Waiting until the following week was no problem as I already had an appointment with the Neurosurgeon scheduled, in Casper. I left for home and decided to spend most of the next day resting.

The saga continues. I went about my usual activities, laundry, yard, golf, etc. until Sunday morning, when the erratic heartbeat returned as I began eating breakfast, and I spent several hours in the local ER. Same results, even after two EKG’s. No heart attack. My primary care physician appointment scheduled for Wednesday had been postponed until Monday due to a death in her family, so it wasn’t until Monday when I could schedule a visit to the cardiologist. That was done, it was to be on the same day as the neurosurgeon appointment and the replacement of the rear window in my car. Along with it, an additional medical session was arranged, this time with an ENT to look at some lingering discomfort in my mandibular area to see if it might be associated with the cervical vertebrae problem or might possibly be something nasty on its own. My dentist thinks there’s something there that’s not a dental problem, maybe even a tumor or lymphatic issue.

So, here I am with an appointment for a nuclear echocardiogram Tuesday a.m., followed by a session with the ENT. Next week, a follow up with the cardiologist, to see if I’m okay for the neck surgery. Same with the ENT. The neurosurgeon has decided that the posterior surgery is not necessary, only the anterior. The lumbar would be sometime later after the other has healed. No golf for at least six months, no driving while on pain meds. Next neuro on the 27th, surgery tentatively scheduled for Nov. 9.

After all these setbacks, my question is, “Where’s the damned lemonade?”

To be continued

Always Be Happy     To Our Youth

MARHABA!

February 26, 2014

MARHABA! (Arabic for Hello)

Well, here we go again! It’s time to get out my Arabic language cards and refresh all those important words and phrases. I fly back to Cairo on the 13th of March to assist on one of our AdvancEd accreditation visitations to a small high school in the Heliopolis area of the city.

When our team finishes on the 18th, some Egyptian friends are taking me to their country/weekend home a few hours from Cairo, to a small town that is known for making excellent pottery. Undoubtedly my father’s flea market gene will raise its head and I’ll return home with a number of new artifacts. I fly home on the 23rd, realizing that the 3:30 a.m. flight is not punishment, only a schedule necessity, and as all of my flights are aboard Lufthansa, my so-far favorite carrier, it’s not all bad.

So far, I’ve selected MaSalaama (good bye), thayib (it is good), mumtaz (excellent), La (no), naam (yes), Shookran (thanks), Afwahn (you’re welcome), Kem?(how much?) and perhaps the most practical of all, Wain al hammam? (Where is the bathroom?). These should be enough to deal with bell hops, taxi drivers, and general interaction although I think all of them fall short when one becomes involved with unwelcome incursions. Hopefully nothing of that sort will occur but if it does, I shall likely resort to using language more familiar to me, generally consisting of a string of four letter words and for my personal enjoyment.

As is usually the case, the school is placing us in a luxurious hotel, at least my Googling indicates that the Heliopolis Fairmont deserves my attention. And it couldn’t be more welcome, given the disastrous winter we’ve had throughout the U.S. I’m just glad I don’t live anywhere from Chicago eastward. I understand that the March temperatures in Cairo linger around 85 F., a cause for rejoicing.

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A recent visit to begin the spoiling process for our new grandson was highly successful; we managed to spend a bunch of dollars in getting him off to a good start, and were pleased to hear that he has a voice which could guarantee him at least a career as a star in one of Wagner’s operas. Loud is important. My wife and I struggled to recall what we used to do with his father as an infant, to achieve some mellowing out from the crying and yes, some bellowing. Even if it could be reduced to a mild whimper, would be an improvement. So, we took turns walking the hallway and bouncing up and down, meanwhile counting the minutes until his parents would return from a two hour outing. I think we used to go for rides in the car, and phenol barbital was available ostensibly for cold symptoms. Nowadays, at least in Colorado and Washington State, there are other nostrums.

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Next week, I shall be attending the Wyoming School Improvement Conference in Casper, a semi-annual affair that brings lots of national speakers to provide resources for our state’s educators. Usually, anywhere from 700-1000 attend, depending upon weather conditions and local finances. During the conference there will be presentations to prepare school personnel for AdvancEd visits to their own districts during the coming spring and fall, and “refresher sessions” for those of us leading teams to schools and districts both at home and abroad. Next fall, the conference will be in Cheyenne at the Little America complex.

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In late April, I’ve been invited back to be a volunteer at the Wells Fargo Championship Golf Tournament in Charlotte, N.C. Relying upon my background and experience, I’m assigned to monitor children up to the age of 12, as they stand behind the ropes in the practice range area. I try to herd them to placements so that they can get autographs from the players, all of whom seem happy to comply with all of those pens and articles being thrust toward them for signatures. Last year, it was usually raining lightly, but still enjoyable. I hope to have my clubs with me this time and play with my son and other grandsons, who live in Charlotte, and I’ll make a trip down to Atlanta to play with one of my colleagues from our Peace Corps Days, 51 years ago. They had best beware; I think I’ve finally solved the shanking and chipping issue that’s plagued me for five years! And it was just a minor adjustment!

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Sobering thoughts are more frequently invading my mind as I realize how lucky I’ve been, at least to some extent. In the aging process, a variety of diseases, conditions, and downright deterioration begin to work their tools on one’s body, and in many cases we’re only held together by a cluster of pharmaceuticals and supplements.

In looking back over the years, most of us would have died years ago from one thing or another, if not for modern medicine and its continuing advances. I recall having scarlet fever and measles simultaneously when I was about 8; without medicine I would have passed on at a very early age. But during the past year, more and more of my friends and colleagues have died, many of them much younger than I (I’m 75); at the same time I also see younger persons fighting to survive a variety of terrible diseases, and I try to count my blessings that mainly I have only back pain from arthritis, numbness from neuropathy, and a number of other non-terminal conditions that only make daily living uncomfortable. But at least I can still travel, walk, play golf, and I remain vertical most of the time. And most of the 10 pills I take daily are merely OTC supplements for Iron, B-12, and to relieve other irritations.

So instead of worrying about which of the several unwelcome intrusions into this former cathedral of health is going to get me, I will try and ignore the possibilities, just as I do in returning once again, to Cairo.

MaSalaama!

Always Be Happy   To Our Youth

A Kind Seoul

February 17, 2014

Well, we’re now heading into one of Wyoming’s two seasons—winter and road construction. The former is tentatively tantalizing us with thoughts of Spring, yesterday it was 55 degrees and sunny. The Chinook ( a Native American word meaning “snow eater”) wind began flexing its considerable muscles, and rapidly began digesting the foot or so of snow still remaining on the ground. If forecasts are somewhat accurate, we can look forward to more of this during the next week, before we really get into the snow season. Although we’ve had an unusual amount of the white stuff much earlier than usual, we still are much better off than all the poor souls to the east, from Chicago to the coast and the southeast. It looks as if it will be awhile before the crocuses there rear their pretty heads along the walks and byways. We don’t have that problem—no crocuses here! And if there were, the deer scavenging the neighborhoods would “nip them in the bud” as they appear.

So, we have to be resigned to know that along with the hints of spring come the eternal mud and traffic cones as road crews plunge ahead toward completion of last fall’s projects. It seems that so often, the good comes with the bad.

Another clear example occurred two weeks ago; we are very committed fans of the Denver Broncos, and you can imagine our discouragment at the complete breakdown of our team’s effectiveness during the Super Bowl. But, our depression was greatly minimized by another event on the same day, the birth of our son’s first child, a whopping, healthy 8 lbs. 15 oz. boy.  And this next week we shall make the trip to meet him in person!

SEOUL

Sometimes things are too big to really grasp, even to appreciate. Such was not the case with my visit to Seoul, South Korea last week after completing my assignment to evaluate the candidacy for accreditation of an elementary school on a U.S. military base. Yes, Seoul is big—possibly its 25 million residents make it second only to Tokyo as the biggest urban area in the world. I had only had a half day to sample its highlights on my previous visit to South Korea two years ago, barely enough to provide some hints on what I should be seeing. This time, I had scheduled an extra two days in order to see if some of my earlier impressions were accurate. They were!

If I had to pick just a few words to describe Seoul, it would be difficult as there are so many facets that attract one’s attention. “Prosperity” would be one of the first responses; nowhere did I see anything smacking of poverty throughout the two-hour bus ride throughout the city. Houses, seemingly piled atop one another, cling to all the hillsides which separate the enclaves of 20-40 storied apartment and office buildings. As one looks out over the city from the top of the Seoul Tower, you see what appear to be multiple “downtowns” miles apart from one another, each with its skyscrapers reaching toward the heavens. There are literally thousands of apartment buildings and, I suspect, hundreds of business-related tall structures many carrying well-known brand names in English, mounted near the top, like Hyundai, Samsung, and others. At the same time, we saw many more being erected, their skeletal frames mounted with huge cranes on the top to lift the construction materials and personnel to the appropriate levels.

“New” would be another impression; all those buildings are only one example of fresh, up-to-date modernity. Expressways carry the heavy load of traffic throughout the area, often marked with red and blue signs like our Interstates, and populated by in my opinion hordes of courteous drivers unlike those we see in our own urban areas. And not a pothole in sight, despite the climate offering annual snowfall and lots of rain.

We recognize South Korea as a leader in the world of Technology; perhaps the easiest example to support this is that almost everywhere you go,  you have WiFi, even on the city busses! The nation is committed to Green—busses not only have that “hotspot” capability, but many of them are totally powered by electricity and proudly announce that fact in English, in large letters on the side of the bus.

If there is even a small plot of vacant space, it is landscaped and meticulously tended; persons are even employed for the sole purpose of keeping everything clean. While walking on a pedestrian/bike path, I saw a man wearing one of those fluorescent vests and brushing a few stray leaves into a dustpan, something we would totally ignore here at home.

Normally, I don’t pay much attention to architecture, usually only one or two buildings in a city attract my eye. Such is not the case in Seoul, from the moment we entered the International Terminal upon landing, with its sweeping curves of passageways swooping through vast open areas, to the National Museum, the Korean War Museum, the convention and community centers on floating islands in the Han River, and the impressive variety of design and structure seen in the hundreds of tall buildings, I was dazzled. It appears that creativity is fostered and encouraged, and I wondered how budgetary restraints are considered in generating support for the many worthy projects throughout the city.

I was also curious about how people live with the constant threat from their neighbors to the North. As I met with American teachers at the various military installations, I explored that question and generally received some version of the same answer “Generally we ignore the threats, treating them as only bluster”. I couldn’t help thinking of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf”, and hope that it remains only bluster. This was especially of interest at my assigned school; it is on a base only eleven miles from the DMZ and would be in the forefront of combat activity. Where we have elaborate plans for fire and tornado drills, each military base school has an emergency evacuation plan in addition.

After completing my assignment at Camp Casey, I returned to Seoul and stayed at a hotel near the Army base where my wife was working as the lead evaluator for a middle school. I couldn’t stay there, as my base pass had expired with the end of my assignment. My room measured about 8’ x 12’ plus a bathroom, for only $102/night. My friends will understand why I broke out into a rash, at that price. But the hotel was convenient to lots of things including about 100 restaurants of every variety, on a lane just outside the back door of the hotel. Each evening, my wife and her co-leader would come to the hotel and we would decide which one to sample. On my first day of “vacation”, the three of us took a bus tour of Seoul, followed by walking along with thousands of other folks among the hundreds of stalls in the market place. We even satisfied the inner soul by buying some kind of deep-fried bread stuffed with vegetables, offered by a street vendor. Delicious! That was followed in the evening by our choice of a Bulgarian restaurant.

The second day, I walked about 6 miles through light snow (the temperature throughout my visit hovered around 40) to visit the Korean War Museum, and the Korean National Museum. As mentioned before, both buildings are outstanding examples of striking design combining creativity with functionality; and again, as my friends would testify, I like the “FREE ADMISSION” policy. On our first full day in South Korea, we had visited the National Museum and spent several hours strolling from one gallery to another beginning with Korea’s Paleolithic roots and ending with a variety of cultural and artistic exhibits. I decided to once again visit its gift shop with the intent of picking up a trinket or two for the folks at home.

The Korean War Museum visit began in the vast plaza in front of the building. The city had hosted a Snow Festival for kids, and hauled in snow sufficient to create a small sledding hill, icy sliding area, and places of throw snowballs or build snowmen. Hundreds of small kids swarmed throughout the area, supervised by brave mothers and museum personnel.

The first area inside the building takes one through the whole history of the Korean War,  beginning with preliminary activities on the part of the North Korean President in the late 40’s. The balance of the galleries provided examples of weaponry and equipment from both sides of combatants. For a military historian, the display outside the building would be a treasure!. Every kind of plane, from small reconnaissance crafts to a B-52 bomber, are on display, including Russian MIG and YAK, U.S. Sabre’s, Scorpions, and others. A variety of motorized howitzers, tanks of all kinds from both sides, and even a naval vessel add to the scene, with the Russian T-34 tank of special interest given its use elsewhere in the world. Some of the components are from later eras such as the Viet Nam period.

If I get a chance to return to South Korea, I would plan to spend several weeks exploring the rest of the country including a visit to some of the disputed islands off the coast which are said to be beautiful gems in the China Sea. Most of Korea is mountainous, so there are many valleys and forests to tempt one’s interest. It’s not true that I shall be contacting Dennis Rodman for a place on his next basketball venture to the North. I don’t qualify anyway; although I have a decent jump shot, I don’t have any tattoos.

Well, it’s almost time to complete my readjustment to a normal sleep schedule. I’ve had a week to recover from jet lag. My wife only returned from Korea on Friday, so she’s waking up at 2:30 a.m. and can’t sleep.

Always Be Happy    To Our Youth

ON THE ROAD AGAIN

July 30, 2013

On the Road Again

Well, I may not be Willie Nelson ( which is okay with me), but it appears that I shall be resuming my pursuit of items on my bucket list as I once more enter the realm of flight and in September, head for Scotland. Part of my motivation is to overcome the major disappointment I suffered when the New Twinkies were placed on the market, and I found that they are only 76% as large as their predecessors. As a true aficionado, this was a terrible blow!

Some of you may recall that I had planned to visit Scotland in May, on my way home from a school visitation assignment in Bahrain, but which had to be cancelled due to the intrusion of a possible health situation. As it turned out, it was nothing of consequence, and I am once more able to navigate this once-proud cathedral of health and well-being to the farthest corners of the globe.

One of the highlights will be spending a Sunday in the town of St. Andrews where thoughtful-minded community leaders close down each Sabbath the famous birthplace of one of my favorite passtimes, the Game of Golf, to allow the townsfolk to stroll across the landscape and enjoy the fruits of Mother Nature. In addition to touring the “Auld Course”, I will immerse myself in the Golf Museum’s treasures and inspect the narrow streets and byways in the town and university area.

Following upon that, arrangements are being made for me to expend a wee bit of energy flogging (note: Golf spelled backwards is “flog”) a small white sphere around nine holes at Royal Troon, another famous golf venue located on the Western coast of the country. Ah! Paradise!

Naturally, there are many great things to see and again, an acquaintance is pointing me in a variety of promising directions. An Englishman, he has been living for a few years in our small town, but returns annually to the U.K. to lead tours of England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales. It promises to be much more informative and enjoyable than a 3 day visit I made to Edinburgh and Oban, fifty years ago.

All of this is a consequence of a gentleman I met last year in London, a Troon native, and who has graciously put me in touch with his father who lives retired, in Troon.

Other upcoming events include some school visitations in October, in southeastern Wyoming, following upon the always-excellent School Improvement Conference in Cheyenne, a gathering under the auspices of Wyoming AdvancEd. This is the local arm of the organization that includes over 30,000 schools in the U.S. and around the globe, and I have been extremely fortunate to have represented that body as we conduct accreditation renewal evaluations both at home and abroad. Hopefully, I can continue to do so for a few  more years.

In the meantime, I’m enjoying “being home” in the sense of once again soaking up the feeling of living in “a neighborhood” just like when I was a kid. As I look back upon those days in Kansas City, and as I’ve traveled around the U.S. and overseas, I am struck by the thought that the neighborhood created a home base of familiarity and consistency, and made it easy to carry out the daily demands of social living. At the same time, on my visits to large cities such as Cairo, Seoul, Tokyo, Istanbul, and others, I see armies of high rise apartments parading across the landscape, creating excessive anonymity among their tenants and establishing what is to me an unacceptable level of impersonal relationships. Populations becoming increasingly more transient further erode the sense of comfort, security, and consistency. The little everyday decisions become difficult, not knowing what is coming next, from where, and by whom.

I don’t have that. Our small town of a bit over 3000 people has a thread of folks who either never lived anywhere else, or they moved back here from somewhere. It’s like a neighborhood.

We came here 41 years ago, as I was hired to start the first Middle School in the state, and we’ve never left. Although I worked in several other communities around the state, my wife and sons stayed here as a “home base”, and I came home as often as possible. Now, my sons are established elsewhere, and my wife and I are both retired.

At one point, I was looking at a number of other places to retire, and had made a long list of things I wanted to have available to me as I grew older. Things such as “Does this place have Senior Citizen Bus Service for those who can no longer drive?’ and other questions relative to concerns about aging. Cost of living was another entry and included not only taxes (Wyoming has the lowest personal tax burden in the U.S.) but also recreation, entertainment, utilities, etc. I was comparing life in this little niche with perceived quality of life around Charlotte, N.C., Prescott, AZ, and western Colorado. The only items where our town fell short were “proximity to a major airport” (2- hour drive), and it does get really cold at times during the winter ( I can leave). Otherwise, our Thermopolis came out #1!

I find that there were some other benefits that hadn’t occurred to me such as where to go to get things done. Things like getting the lawnmower fixed, calling the plumber, dealing with government both local and county; getting house repairs done, etc. As it turns out, many of the persons now in charge of things were once students of mine, and are now in their fifties. They remind me of times when I gave them the choice of staying after school or getting a swat from a paddle, or when they were put in in-house suspension. They appear to relish these stories and are proud to tell them to their own kids. ( I must admit a bit of apprehension when one of them, a former NFL –Green Bay Packer, and who still holds the Rose Bowl punting record from when he played for Michigan, told me that he had been paddled twice. He’s pretty big.)

Shopping is something that outsiders would guess is lacking; they haven’t experienced the outstanding hardware store run by a couple who both grew up here, and who gained lots of experience with the world of retail sales through the parents of the wife. Her folks had the J.C. Penney store, a.k.a. “The Golden Rule”; she and her husband expanded upon the hardware base at one time into a Ben Franklin store, and a quilting emporium which became known regionally for its excellence. Granted, there are some things which just aren’t available here, but it’s even fun to make an hour trip to Riverton, two hours to Casper, or three hours to Billings. These trips are often coupled with medical appointments, and mileage is a tax deduction for medical purposes.

I must admit, there are some things that might seem difficult, such as major medical services. They are a minimum of two hours away, but on the other hand I recall driving with a friend for over an hour, IN Phoenix, just to deliver a urine sample to a lab. And most of the medical specialists visit our town on a fixed schedule every week or so, for non-emergency consults. We do have an excellent rehabilitation center headquartered here and which serves all of Northern Wyoming with satellite centers. Each one includes a well-equipped health club, available at very low cost ($15/month for Seniors).

Then, let’s look at government. In Wyoming, we can know our leaders personally, there just aren’t so many of us that it’s not difficult at all. One of my sons worked one summer for Alan Simpson; he took me through the underground transport over to the Senate when he was called for a vote. We all know our governor and, contrary to national belief about Wyoming politics, most of our governors in the last 40 years have been Democrats. In other words, it is a lot easier to have some influence here politically than it is elsewhere.

So what else is there? Well, I like dinosaurs, and the Wyoming Dinosaur Center has been named “the best dinosaur museum in the U.S.” by two travel organizations. I’m a member of the Board of Directors for the Big Horn Basin Foundation, the educational arm of the Center and which is the sponsor of ElderHostel (Roads Scholars) programs along with different levels of classes and activities for all interested persons. We have a dig site just outside of town, and two others elsewhere in the state. One of our specimens is 106 ft. long, and peers balefully down upon a T-Rex attacking a Triceratops, in the main hall.

We have the “World’s Largest Mineral Hot Springs” bubbling up from the ground in the Hot Springs State Park, also part of the town, and along with two commercial swimming pools with slides and outdoor facilities, there is an immaculate free bath house run by the state and required to offer ” the use of the hot waters, free, forever” as part of the treaty when the Native Americans gave the land to the town.

Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton N.P. are only 3-4hours away, depending upon which route you take. Either way, you can fish for trout along the way or, if you know someone with a boat, fish for walleye on Boysen Reservoir 20 miles away.

Finally, we do have a rush hour twice each day. During that time, which may last as long as five minutes, it takes twice as long to get across town—four minutes instead of two.  Our one stoplight isn’t there just to control traffic; it’s main function is to give directions—“ go to the light and turn left”, or “go one block past the light and turn right”. Also in the area of transportation, we do have to deal with a bit of snobbery—persons from a few of the larger communities in the state look down their noses at those of us who only have four digits on our license plates, whereas they are populous enough to have five. Elitists!

Look us up on the internet. You may be pleasantly surprised!

Always Be Happy       To Our Youth

NOTHING COULD BE FINER THAN…… (Part 1 of Carolina)

May 14, 2013

NOTHING COULD BE FINER THAN………. Part 1

Ah, travel! There’s nothing like it, all those preparations—when to go, how to go, what to take—and as one gets older there are often new decisions to consider, such as how many of those damned meds have to be counted out, and will there be enough for the whole trip or is another visit to the pharmacy necessary, just to be on the safe side. Which shoes and how many pair—let’s see, what kinds of social events will I have? Does everyone wear shoes in North Carolina, or do they dress like Opie and walk barefooted with a bamboo fishing pole over their shoulders, regardless of where they’re going? Do I need rain gear? I live in Wyoming, so what’s that thing called an umbrella that they have in volume, in Raleigh? Will it ever be cold there, in May?

I started this trip by relishing the thought that I would finally be able to use some of the 160,000 frequent flyer miles I had accumulated on United Airlines, many which had come from staying at Holiday Inns over 20 years of traveling for my various school districts, and the rest from the past few years of overseas travel to accredit schools in widely-dispersed parts of the globe. I have been carefully hoarding all those miles, with a few of my “bucket list” destinations under consideration—New Zealand, Australia, Scotland among them.

This trip had a number of components—-visiting my older brother near Raleigh, who has been dealing with a severe health issue for 11 years; working as a volunteer for a few days at a big golf tournament in Charlotte, visiting and playing golf with a long-time friend from my Peace Corps days, in Atlanta, attending the Hooding Ceremony at the Duke University Law School, where the son of a family friend was graduating, and spending a small slice of time visiting my eldest son and his family in Charlotte. I guessed that this journey would encompass more than two weeks, and as I approach its conclusion I’m somewhat glad that the three week trip planned to lead up to this one had been cancelled due to a potential health issue, but one which turned out to be nothing needing significant attention. I’m tired.

After counting out enough of the meds and supplements for 17 days, packing far too many pairs of shorts and short-sleeved shirts, adding more than enough pairs of pants, and selecting two kinds of sneakers, I drove the 120 miles to Casper, Wyoming, where one of the hotels lets you leave your car for the duration of your trip if you stay there overnight. Last spring, I was gone for five weeks! And, as my flight was to leave at 6 a.m., staying at the hotel was strongly advised.

The Flight

I put in a wakeup call for 4:15, just in case I needed awakening, but that was completely unnecessary. You see, the United Airline Information Service woke me with a 3 a.m. phone call to let me know that the plane would be leaving on time. I naturally muttered a few comments about that alert, and went about the rituals associated with waking up, personal ablutions, and getting dressed. My packing had already been done; I always have a small overnight bag separate from the travel bags, to use for my pre-flight hotel stay. For the trip, I would be allowed one checked bag free due to my Silver Premier status on United Frequent Flyer miles. That bag was precious, as it contained a carefully-padded bottle of Wyoming Whiskey, being lovingly transported for my son to proudly display to his Carolina circle of friends. And it cost $45. My other two bags were the Nike duffel bag received years ago as a tee prize in our local Labor Day Golf Tournament, and the backpack with wheels which the cat had urinated on three years ago, and was only now becoming acceptable in polite company. These two objects have been my constant companions throughout all the traveling I’ve done in the past few years, and have been all the way around the world. With that backpack, I always felt safe from assault; for some reason lots of people seemed to want to maintain a reasonable space away from us, except maybe some who had a head cold.

The flight from Casper to Denver left exactly on time, and was in one of those sleek Canadian jets that are extremely fast and fly high. The trip was uneventful, which is what you want when flying. It usually takes about 45 minutes of flying to Denver, but we went so fast that we arrived about 15 minutes early, and had to wait until the folks who operate those loading ramps decided to appear, about 20 minutes after we landed. My layover included breakfast, and the next flight also left as scheduled, to Pittsburgh.

The Pittsburgh airport was interesting only that there were very few people in evidence, and the atmosphere within the terminal was somewhat dark and dreary, producing a shabby, unwelcoming appearance to the pausing traveler. Maybe that’s why there weren’t many folks. I had to waste about four hours until the flight would leave for Raleigh; outside it was a drizzling rain casting a glistening sheen over the surfaces of any planes parked at gates , awaiting their turns to flee into the drier regions above the low-hanging cloud layer. Finally, it was time to board for the final leg, an hour trip to the Raleigh-Durham airport 45 minutes from my brother’s home in Clayton; again, everything was on time and a smooth flight.

Every time I fly on a domestic airline, I wonder how the foreign airlines are able to provide the much better amenities than ours. Lufthansa, which is a United partner, often flies the same routes from Denver to Frankfurt, but the service is quite different. Before a meal, for instance, the attendants come around with moist, hot towels to use to cleanse your hands. Then there is a tasty choice of two meals which include “extras” not seen domestically, such as cheeses, desserts, and other additions to the main course. United’s breakfast usually is a cellophane-wrapped small sweet roll, a small cup of yogurt, and juice. Lufthansa has a cheese omelet, sausage or other meat, and a variety of other goodies. At any time during flight, one can ask for a free glass of wine or a beer. After dinner, cognac is offered along with the coffee. Domestic airlines charge for everything except the lavatory, and that may be the next step. I asked if the airline is subsidized by the German government, and was told no. Similar service I have enjoyed on ANA (Japanese), Turkish Air, British Airways, Egyptair, and Saudi Arabian Air.

The Car

It was raining lightly when we arrived, and I took the shuttle to the Advantage Car Rental site in order to initiate a sequence of activities that were generally a bit stress-producing over the next few weeks. The first change appeared when the agent informed me that the Nissan Versa, which I had reserved, was unavailable and would I be happy to take a VW Golf instead? Well, as a former Golf owner (we had two) and someone who wouldn’t mind having that title on a car I might be driving to major tournament, I said “sure”. Golf VW’s are fun to drive, and I didn’t mind at all. The agent and I circled the car, looking for any damage to document prior to my taking the car and, as it was dark, she moved it into a lighted area. We noted nothing of significance until I was getting ready to leave, when she saw that the airbag light was on. “You can’t take this one, I’ll give you the other one next to it”. So I switched cars, but the walk-around was done in the darkness and no damages were seen—until the next day.

After reaching my brother’s home, we spent some time chatting and went to bed. The next morning I went out to the car, and was not pleased to see two door-dings and a large chunk of plastic knocked out of some trim around the driver’s door; subsequently a couple of days later I also discovered a small, three inch crack low on the passenger’s side of the windshield. The car itself informed me, from the message system in the dashboard, “Service Now!” Being prudent, I called the car company and was told to mark the damages on the rental inspection receipt, and as I was to head to Charlotte the next day, I could trade the car there for another if I so chose. They also said to ignore the “Service” instruction, and I guess it had been some automatic alert after the 25,000 miles had been recorded.

Anyway, since the car was fun to drive and seemed to perform well, I decided to keep it for the duration of the 17 days. And while the temperatures remained no higher than in the 60’s, with daily continuous moisture or its threat, things were fine. But when the temperatures suddenly soared into the upper 80’s with plenty of sun, that little crack decided to grow up, and over three days became a vertical scar reaching about 15 curving inches up the windshield. Even though there were only three days left, it was time to trade it in. I attempted to do so at the Charlotte site, but they were so swamped with new travelers that I went on to Raleigh, where I had first rented it, and exchanged it for a new Ford Focus. This car was fully equipped with everything including Bluetooth, so I left with a big smile of satisfaction and had no more problems.

I only spent a day in the Raleigh area, pausing long enough to accompany my brother and his wife to the Duke Medical Center where he went through some various scans to see what effect recent treatments have had on is condition. As I was going on from there to Charlotte, we drove in two cars. After they had left to go home, I wandered through the Medical Center seeking the exit point where I could head to the Duke Bookstore to buy some Blue Devil decals to replace the ones wearing out from too much admiration on the back windows of my vehicles. My wanderings were depressing; I had no idea how many people are really, really sick! Every “nook and cranny” of the building was overflowing with patients and I assume many of them were there as a “last resort”, seeking help from one of the medical Meccas of the US. My attitude was not further buoyed by the fact that the floor levels and corridors were so confusing that I expected at any moment to run across a Minotaur. As I look back, I was remiss in not leaving a trail of breadcrumbs so that I wouldn’t constantly be retracing my route. Anyway, I finally was directed to the right place, exited the Center, and ambled in the rain to the bookstore. Naturally, I had to pause at the hot dog stand on the way, to assuage the inner beast in the best way I know. And, in the bookstore, Duke t-shirts were selling at $6! I only bought one.

Next: Part Two will be Charlotte and the Big Golf Tournament, and include a listing of explosions from Iron Man 3, to which I took my two grandsons, and a behind-the-scene look at what goes on to support a TV golf tournament.

Always Be Happy!  To Our Youth!

The Peace Corps and Me—No Longer Callow

April 23, 2013

Recently, I received an email from the Peace Corps Press Office in Washington inquiring if I would be interested in submitting a short commentary on my Peace Corps experience, to a relatively small circulation magazine whose request had been forwarded from the U.S. Department of State. I had been one of the 51 members of the first Peace Corps project in the field, to Ghana, West Africa, 1961-63, where I taught junior and senior high Math and Science, one year in a large town in the rainforest area and the second year at a teacher training school in the grassland region bordering the southern fringes of the Sahara.

I had been selected based on a previous contact with that office, having been asked last fall to be interviewed by a journalist from the one statewide newspaper in Wyoming regarding the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps, and whose story appeared in both the Casper Star-Tribune and the Billings Gazette. I was a bit puzzled after accessing the magazine’s website, Equal Justice USA,  and reading about the organization’s Mission. The emphasis is on nationwide crusading to end the death penalty, and to provide support and help for those who are cloaked in poverty. I didn’t see how my Peace Corps experience fit into that Mission, unless it is an example of volunteerism to help in recruitment of volunteers to help their own cause.

The “project” remains moot, however, due to the fact that I have not as yet received the proposed contact from the magazine’s staff. At the same time, the initial information included questions that the organization wanted the writer to answer, and I actually had been exploring some of them myself prior to this contact. So, I decided to write this blog, and to answer the questions from my personal perceptions with an emphasis upon how I have changed beginning with the Peace Corps service. For my interests, this is a much better route to pursue; they had been suggesting “a 750 word” document, something I had not had to worry about since high school. A writing needs to be of a length to provide clarity to its purpose, not to sacrifice such content in order to meet some artificially-established standard. Be aware that my words will less answer the questions directly in favor of providing commentary regarding human factors and relationships. I will highlight my perspectives as I go through the drafting of these notes.

Naturally, these remarks are in the form of my own opinions, remembering that personal opinions are derived from an individual’s background of experience and should not be treated as facts. Unfortunately, in today’s world more and more decisions are based on opinions rather than facts; this is all right as long as those opinions have a sound basis in facts or at least in reasonable interpretations of facts and events. But I immediately am seized by caution whenever a “talking head” begins a comment with, “Well, I think……”, especially when “the head’s colleagues” express an equal and opposite viewpoint. And this is true throughout, from politics to sports predictions and analyses. I guess they just need something to fill up all the cable time.

Recent examples of this concern are seen in the arguing over gun safety, school safety, NCAA March Madness predictions, sequestering of national expenditures, and many others. I personally am for the major  components of proposed gun laws—universal background checks, restrictions on sales and magazine size, and automatic weapons. Why do I have this viewpoint? Well, in 1970 while working in the inner city of Gary, Indiana, I had a 7th grade student shot accidently in the leg, having brought a .22 pistol with him on a field trip and the gun fired when it was being passed around in the back of the van. Later in the school year, two young men accosted three of us when we were leaving the school; one of them struck a young teacher in the head with a pistol, the other pulled a sawed-off shotgun from his jeans and stuck it in my stomach. Fortunately, some other distractions caused them to leave, but the experience was “quite memorable”.

Two years later, in my first week as a middle school principal, one of our sixth grade girls was killed accidently when a pistol her brother was cleaning went off and shot her through the heart. You can see how “my experience” developed my perspective. As a further note, I realized that I was now living in the  state with the highest percentage of gun owners, Wyoming, and that such ownership and the hunting culture are foremost in many people’s values. In order to achieve in my own mind some level of reason, I initiated a nine-week required class for all fifth graders (the age at which kids can obtain a limited hunting license) which included Hunter and Gun Safety Certification along with other topics such as hypothermia, Winter survival, and safety around wild animals. Even if a child was not going to be a gun owner, he/she would be around guns frequently, and needed to know how to be safe. Ironically, as this was in the early 70’s, the materials that were used for instruction were provided free by the National Rifle Association which, in that era, emphasized gun safety as their primary mission.  How that has changed! I have recently suggested that the NRA offer, through its local chapters, inspection teams to advise persons on how to keep their weapons safely stored in their homes; in many of the recent unfortunate incidents the perpetrator has used weapons obtained in their own homes from unsecured storage areas. Such an activity might help recover some of the NRA’s diminished reputation.

So, now for those questions that the magazine proposed for me to answer.

  1. How did you hear about the Peace Corps, and what led you to sign up? Shortly after President Kennedy had been elected, I read a short article in the Kansas City Star indicating that JFK wanted to form “a corps of young  people to help out in Third World countries”, and there was an agency identified that would be involved with potentially implementing such a program. At the time I was in my first year of teaching, eighth grade Science, freshman basketball, and high school track, in a Kansas City high school. I wrote a letter to the agency, and received a reply that directed me to sign up for a certain Saturday date in May to take a test, at the main Post Office in Kansas City. I reported to the site, but upon finding out that the test would take six hours, had to postpone it to a later date as I had a track meet to do that same day. So I was quite surprised to receive a telegram in early June, saying I had been selected to attend training in Berkeley at the University of California, for a Peace Corps teaching project to “Chana”. My first thought was that the US Government was overly-ambitious, and that someone had spelled “China” incorrectly; however, there was a phone number to call and I found out that the mission was to the country of Ghana, formerly a British colony called “The  Gold Coast”, and located in an area of West Africa sometimes referred to as “The White Man’s Grave” due to the malaria-bearing  mosquitoes rampant throughout the region. Earlier, the only country that had been mentioned as a potential project had been the Philippines, so the selection of Ghana was a surprise.

As for my motivation, it was not for some altruistic concept that I was going to change the world, bring people out of poverty, etc. Those thoughts came later. From early childhood, I had dreamed of going to Africa, experiencing the jungle, seeing the animals, and sampling the many different landscapes seen in movies and described in books. I have a personal opinion that persons often are depicted or described by others as “self-sacrificing” when in fact (my fact!) they actually are the embodiment of a degree of selfishness or self-serving actions. They are deriving satisfaction from what they are doing, often in the face of many hardships, dangers, and other disturbing elements. This may be an over-generalization, especially in cases like Nelson Mandela in prison, Mother Teresa in the ghettoes of India, and other well-known examples. But in my own case, it was a taste for travel and adventure, just as it is today when I travel to foreign venues to evaluate schools on military bases or foreign capitals. Recently, I was praised for “my service to the Department of Defense and furthering the cause of America” when I was actually using my long years of successful professional experience to provide a vehicle for my own extensive travel while helping improve educational services within the international setting, and satisfying personal “needs”.

A note about satisfaction: often people receive praise for actions for which the individual doesn’t really think it’s deserved, while at the same time true satisfaction lies within the individual and may or may not be appreciated by outsiders. As a personal example, I perceived my role as a school administrator as “making things possible” so that creativity and ideas originating within the system, from individuals and collaborative groups, could be implemented. My career goal has been to be an agent of change; my Master’s level work was in Applied Anthropology so that I could treat Education as a sub-culture and thus could effectively be improved using the techniques and processes of applied anthropology. I was further fortunate to complete my doctoral level work in The School of Educational Change and Development at the University of Northern Colorado, and after submission of a proposal, was allowed to demonstrate my ability to effect change by obtaining a large grant and putting together an effective dropout prevention project in place of a dry dissertation. The “bottom line” is that I achieved personal satisfaction from knowing that many of the successes, within the various school settings in which I worked, would not have happened had I not been there.

  1. Did you, or have you, gotten to meet anyone our readers may have heard of as a result of your experience? Well, three of the four Presidents I’ve “met” were the result of my Peace Corps activities. After completing our training (actually, it was reduced from its scheduled eight weeks to seven weeks, so we could go to Washington, D.C.) we were allowed a week at home to pack, and then report to Washington where one of the special events was to meet JFK. We assembled in the Rose Garden along with volunteers from two other groups and then, realizing that more organization was needed, we were lined up and filed through the Oval Office where we shook hands with The President and probably said something stupid in our disconcerted mien. I know that I did. As a sidelight, in the film “Forrest Gump”, Tom Hanks was superimposed over the image of co-volunteer Alice O’Grady, in the scene where Gump meets Kennedy. Others of our group are seen in the background.

On a future date, the members of many groups were invited to the White House during the Clinton administration, to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the Peace Corps. Originally, the occasion was to be a reception, but at that time there occurred a number of church bombings that need Federal attention, so our visit was “down-sized” to a few speeches from President Clinton, Sargeant Shriver, and the Director of the Peace Corps. I shook hands with the President, and had a few comments with Sarge and Eunice.

My third President was perhaps one of the most momentus events in my life, not necessarily because of whom I met, but the effect it has had on my perceptions of the whole tapestry of America. In 1965, a volunteer from Ghana II and I planned a trip “out West” and as he came through Kansas City, I had called the Truman Library in Independence, Missouri, to see if the President would be interested in meeting us; I having been Kansas City’s first Peace Corps Volunteer (Note: When I was updating my Selective Service status, I was initially taken aback when Beverly Gilmore, director of the local office, said “Oh, you’re our Mr. Krisko”. She explained she meant our first Peace Corps volunteer, not a candidate for an immediate draft).

The interview did not go well. Mr. Truman was in his early 80’s, and recovering from a fall in the bath, so he was using a cane in order to move about. We met alongside a replica of his desk from the Oval Office, complete with the famous “The Buck Stops Here” sign on the desktop. After the greetings and introductions, his first question was “Well, what did you learn over there in Africa?” I replied, “I got a different perspective of America, and could see some things that our wrong with our country.” Knowing what you do about Mr. Truman, you probably can accurately guess at his reply to my answer: “You’re in a helluva shape if you think there’s anything wrong with this country!” Unfortunately, I have a well-deserved reputation for sometimes not following “protocols” (Later in life, my future mother-in-law correctly warned my wife-to-be that I’m “a maverick”), so I followed his comment with one of my own, “I don’t want to argue with you Mr. President, but it’s not the country, it’s some of the people in it.” After a few more bits of chatting about our service, he said “Well, Africa’s the Black Continent and always will be.” (I think he meant “The Dark Continent” but I refrained from correcting him).

So, what was the significance of this event? In the first place, during our Peace Corps training, the Director of the training (the late Dr. David Apter, author of many books and articles about Africa , and including The Gold Coast in Transition documenting the emergence of Ghana as the first independent country from the colonial era, and the rise of Kwame Nkrumah as its first President) and our designated Project Director, Dr. George Carter, referred to us as “callow youth”. Most of us were in our early 20’s, some fresh out of college, but there were a few older volunteers at the ripe age of 30-32, hardly “callow”. The youngest was 19, but already a college graduate; I was 22.  A significant number were from private schools such as Yale, Harvard, Brown, Rice, and others; many of the rest were from Midwestern institutions spread throughout the plains. But for the  most part, “callow” was accurate; I had to look it up and it means “inexperienced”. That was certainly true in my case and I think probably for most of us. I had never considered political issues, interracial concerns, economics, etc. My world was fairly well limited to interests in sports and sports cars (I bought a new Jaguar in Coventry, England, on my way home from Ghana), astronomy, and anthropology. Very few of our group had much of an interest in athletics, although one of them had been a player on Marquette’s final football team. Most members of the group were highly intelligent, task oriented individuals, and many were “shining stars” in the world of academics; others of us were more “typical Midwestern” in our approach to Life. There was one individual who had had major experience in the area of human relationships, and about that fact I only learned in the past few years. Her father (Rev. J.A.Delaine) was an early leader in the desegregation protest movement and a colleague of Dr. King; the daughter was an active participant in her father’s activities and his efforts are widely- recognized, including a special display at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles.

During our training it was constantly emphasized that in addition to this being the first project scheduled to “go into the field”, it was also considered highly critical to our government’s influence on the  African continent due to the fact that Nkrumah and Ghana were strongly “left-leaning” and well within the sphere of influence of the USSR. As such, great care was being taken in selecting the 51 volunteers from the initial group of 60 that came to the Berkeley training. One interesting research study that started during our training was a search for a method to use in selecting volunteers who would have a good chance of being successful, and to be applied in future Peace Corps projects. The study was under the direction of Dr. Brewster Smith, Director of the Institute for Human Behavior in Santa Cruz, California, and President of the American Psychological Association. He and his assistant, Rafael Ezekiel, taped interviews with each of us periodically during the training, the two years of service, and even in a time period following our return to the U.S. And the result? There apparently was no single profile, and that was demonstrated in an unpublished manuscript prepared by Dr. Smith; in it, he had chosen six different personality types exemplified by demonstrably successful volunteers. Smith and Ezekiel have kept in touch with the Ghana I group over the 50 years since the project, and have attended many of the reunions held periodically.

So, how does this fit with my Truman interview? As much as possible, the major presenters in our training had covered most aspects of Ghanaian History, culture, politics, language, health, and government. All of them were leaders in their fields—Robert Lystad- Anthropology, David Apter-Economics and Political Science, St. Clair Drake-Afro-American History and Race Relations, Gray Cowan-Columbia U. Teachers for West Africa—But little to help me provide a satisfactory answer to Ghanaian student questions like  “Why do you allow police dogs to attack Negros in some parts of your country?” The local newspapers quite regularly featured stories and photos depicting bigotry and violence against Afro-Americans, and my “callowness” forced me to rely on my abilities to relate to other people and to emphasize that “not everyone is like that” and that “there are big changes taking place in our country”, and other vanilla responses. This is where I departed from Mr. Truman, I suddenly realized that “you’re in a helluva shape if you DON’T think there are some things wrong with this country!” At the same time, I was struck by a thought, “Are our leaders blind? Here’s a President and, while he gets credit for having integrated the military, doesn’t he see the underlying nastiness and unjustified hatred?” I guess I was lucky to have been raised in a “racially neutral” household where swear words and racial slurs were taboo, and became reflected in my attitude toward acceptance of others. And that same acceptance I saw throughout all the members of our Ghana I group, be it race, religion, or ethnicity.

The second disagreement I had with the President was his comment about “Africa being the Black (Dark) Continent, implying that “there’s no hope that it will ever emerge into the modern world”.  For someone with such an attitude, it may have been correct, but fortunately more-reasoned individuals had become the decision-makers, and we can see multiple examples of various nations having overcome many of the obstacles to their development. One unfortunate “leftover” is the conflict between tribalism and nationalism, a bit of collateral damage created from the Age of Colonialism during which ethnic populations were divided by artificially-established borders which still remain in place. Many of the wars and tragedies raising their ugly heads periodically throughout the Continent are the outflow from those misguided actions.

  1. Do I have any memories of humorous comments or anecdotes from my service year? Well, I always enjoyed reading the mottoes painted on the various “mammy wagons” (small vans used for transport) and lorries, and pondering their significance. “Nyame Bekyere” is “God Will Provide” in Twi, the dominant local language. “Sweet Are the Uses of Adversity” from Shakespeare I often use in trying to “make lemonade out of lemons”.

During our training, we often came up with semi-witty comments. “He was only an Ashanti, in old Ashanti Town” was based on an American song; “Here today, Ghana tomorrow” was used just prior to our departure from Washington. “Kwame, Kwame, How I Love You” was a variant of Al Jolson’s “Swanee”. “It’s a hard road to Ho” describing the route to an Eastern Ghanaian town.

But perhaps my favorite was coined by my best friend from those years, the late John Buchanan, who passed away just before Christmas, 2012. As he and I awaited our plane to take us on our way home, John said, “Well, it’s about time to ask my country what it can  do for me again.” After completion of his two years as a volunteer, John became a regional director for the Peace Corps in Nigeria, and had to get a large number of volunteers safely out of the Midwest Region when the Biafran War broke out. With a combination of dugout canoes, barges, clandestine short wave radio, and ocean-going tugboats, he successfully got all of his volunteers to Lagos, and to safety. He later was transferred to Kenya, where he completed his administrative service before returning to the U.S.

Some Personal Notes

Politically, I’m registered as an Independent, probably in keeping with that earlier mention of “maverickity”. But I think that even Mr. Truman might agree that “we’re in helluva shape” as we look at our Congress and the way it’s not working. I wish all of its members would revisit the preamble of the Constitution, which lays out simply and in brief the purpose and mission of our government, and from which they are massively departing. In the majority of my politics, I generally lean leftward, which is not surprising if you refer back to my earlier comments about how opinions are formed based on one’s experience. Mine have been collected through working directly with people,  not with things or finances. At heart, I would probably be a socialist, at least as it relates to providing services to improve our lot. In my travels throughout the Middle East, Africa, and to some extent to the Far East, it appears to me that most people are like us,  wanting adequate shelter, health, food, security, and good relationships. We in America are more fortunate, having the resources to go beyond those things, but we still have almost half our population either below or at least flirting with the poverty level.

I periodically hear, particularly during political campaigns, “You should be proud to be an American!” when in fact I think there is a misunderstanding of what constitutes Real Pride. To me, I can only have pride if I had a hand in creating or contributing to whatever is being discussed. Otherwise, I can only have an appreciation or profess admiration for whatever has been accomplished. I have thought, at least from my perspective, it would be more accurate to say “I’m Lucky to be an American”. I can admire many things that have come from our country, things like the Marshall Plan after WWII, the Bush initiative to eradicate malaria, the Eisenhower Interstate Highway System, the Apollo Space successes, etc. But in all of these, I have been just a bystander. At the same time, sadly, my own efforts to confront bigotry, equal rights, and other social issues have been minimal and to a large extent, merely words, and these were the things to which I was referring during my Truman session.

Until recently, it seemed that regardless of whatever has been identified as a concern or a problem, we had the mechanism through our Constitution to make the necessary changes, certainly unique in governmental structures throughout the world. But now I’m beginning to question even that—I see our supposedly neutral Supreme Court making political decisions to favor corporate greed; one of our political parties has deteriorated from its once-effective prominence to be merely an obstructive, non-productive entity and one which is undercutting our social needs in favor of a small minority’s benefit; the other party is so split that it is often difficult to see what its mission really is. My own state’s Congressional representatives only parrot their party’s line, they do no independent thinking. Even our President, whom I continue to support but with increasing reservations, has not stood up sufficiently to oppositional platforms in order to accomplish his goals, most of which are reasoned, well-thought out programs to benefit the great majority of our population.

The Peace Corps experience was the starting block in “making me aware”, and starting me on a career path in which I could successfully use the “people skills” I first began to develop and understand as a Peace Corps volunteer. I was not alone in this Coming of Age; many of our group have gone on to a variety of high profile positions including medical research, Presidential campaign leadership, state political party leadership, philanthropic foundation grants, college and university research and instruction, public school teaching and administration, educational film and materials production, National Public Radio production, international journalism and major news organization Far East representation, concert series production, and other endeavors. Certainly a major component in our growth was the excellence of the staff responsible for our training, and the administrative leadership that nursed us effectively through our two year commitment. It was interesting to me to note that a number of our colleagues entered into administrative positions in the Peace Corps, some of them continuing into long-term careers in governmental agencies involved with having major positive impacts in The Third World countries. At the root of these successes was the self-confidence each of us developed as our assigned volunteer tasks unfolded.

We have left our callowness behind.

And so, I think I’ve answered all those unasked questions. I can go back to enjoying the fact that I live in a beautiful place where Nature is not only close by, but even occasionally intrudes such as when a 7-point buck deer, or a doe with two fawns, decided that our back porch was a good place to shelter from the winter’s wind. I recently read a beautifully-written blog essay written by a Chicago suburb resident, decrying the sometimes difficult task of “getting out into nature”, particularly during the long winter months. In it, “It’s a Halal Life”, she looked forward to the Spring and the resumption of outdoor activities once more signifying a sense of freedom. She didn’t mention having to mow the lawn, clean the gutters, or pick up after the dog.

Always Be Happy!         To Our Youth!

ON THE ROAD AGAIN

March 27, 2013

Well, travel fans, it’s that time again! I leave on April 8 for some more far flung places, once more a test of this battered, once magnificent body now suffering the ravages of age.

As most of you know, both my wife and I are volunteers for AdvancEd, the organization having the responsibility for accreditation of over 32,000 schools around the globe. Most of them are in the U.S.A.; most of the public schools in 43 of the states rely on us to take a good look at their programs and make recommendations about how they can continue to improve. Each school or school district is visited every five years and, as it turns out, my assignment this time is to a school that my wife visited five years ago on her first overseas assignment, to Bahrain in the Persian Gulf. To this point in time, we’ve never been to the same school together; as a matter of fact, while I’m in Bahrain she will be in Tokyo, which is not “just around the corner”.

The main benefits that accrue to us as volunteers include seeing something new and effective at each site we visit, and being able to tell others about it. At the same time, once our official duties are completed, we may take side trips on our own funds to experience places of personal interest while on our way to or from the assigned location. Last year in fact, I circumnavigated the globe, evaluating schools in Japan, South Korea, and Cairo, and was able to take a five day river trip on the Nile before proceeding to London and visiting Stonehenge. Both of these items were near the top of my personal “Bucket List”, although as I get older that particular term holds some unwelcome nuances.

In previous years, I have had three trips to Germany, a trip to Saudi Arabia, and another to Cairo, on official business. These provided me the opportunity to have a few days of April in Paris, a week with my niece in Prague and the village from which my grandparents came, Istanbul and the Bosporus, and Amsterdam and Delft, in Holland.

Venice and Bahrain

So, what are my Bucket List items this time? Well, as it turns out my colleague and I have to stop over in Venice, Italy, on the way, for a briefing about the Mediterranean District of the Department of Defense Education Agency, a structure within the Department of Defense that supervises all the schools attached to military bases around the world. At present, there are about 197 of those schools, but there are forecasts of some being closed down during the next few years. The Bahrain School is somewhat unique as it is not physically located on the military (Naval) base; it is a short distance away. At the same time, it has students from more than 40 countries studying alongside our American kids, in a K-12 English-speaking instructional program. I am indeed excited to immerse myself in this school, as I have long been a proponent of multicultural educational programs. And although Venice was not on my list, I can’t turn down this opportunity for a couple of days browsing the pigeons in the famous square, and water skiing wearing a Speedo down the Grand Canal.

Immediately after our briefing, we fly on to Bahrain, having to change planes in Dubai after a six-hour flight, then an hour back to Manama, the Bahrainian capital. The first school we visit is the Middle/High School, having a bit fewer than 300 kids, and our duties begin on a Sunday and conclude on Wednesday. The school operates on the Islamic week, which is Sunday to Thursday; Friday and Saturday are the weekend with the Friday focus being on religious activity. We then have several days before repeating the activities at the Elementary School, a school of 300 children. During our “break”, we are free to become tourists, and I’ve already noted that there are some archaeological sites to visit on the various islands that make up the Kingdom. I know that I’ll spend at least one day preparing my report. There’s also a causeway connecting Bahrain to the Saudi peninsula, but my Saudi visa is expired so I probably won’t be able to take advantage of that location. Rather, I’ll probably spend a lot of dinars in the Souk, the bazaar that masquerades as my dad’s flea market space. My wife said that they emphasize the selling of gold objects, something quite foreign to my personal tastes. I’ll probably get overcharged (i.e. screwed) again for some kind of textiles, as happened in Istanbul and Cairo.

Scotland

On April 26, my Bucket List once again raises its head, as I fly to Glasgow, Scotland for a three-day stopover on my way back to the U.S. Why Glasgow? Well, it’s a short 40 mile train ride to Troon on the West Coast, and a 100-mile bus trip to St. Andrews on the East, the birthplace of golf and possibly the final resting place of the real Holy Grail (somewhere I read that the word “Titleist” is engraved on the Grail). I discovered that the famous “Auld Course” is shut down on Sundays except during major tournaments, in order to allow the townsfolk to stroll across the landscape. The club’s representative informed me that “yes, the course will be closed on the 28th, and you are quite welcome.” Well, there’s a lot more $$$ to be left to help out the local economy. I’ll also visit the Golf Museum and the town of St. Andrews before returning to Glasgow.

On the 27th I will go to Troon, and hopefully meet the father of a friend of mine with whom I became acquainted last summer during my London stopover. As I understand it, the father is a friend of the Chairman of the Royal Troon Golf Club, another of the courses that have been used for The Open (i.e., “British Open”) Golf Tournament. Perhaps we will be able to lunch there, and spend some quiet time in the town and looking at the coastal scenery. If I’m feeling up to it, I may try to arrange a return to Troon on the 29th, for a 9-hole round of golf.

Next stop, the U.S. of A.

I leave Glasgow on April 30, my destination being Clayton, North Carolina near Raleigh, and my brother’s home. After a brief stop, I proceed to Charlotte where I’ve been accepted as a volunteer for the Wells Fargo Championship, a fairly major golf tournament. I will be working at the event on May 3rd and 5th, reserving the 4th for my son and grandsons to do the “spectator thing”. On the 6th I head to Atlanta for a couple of days of golf with one of my close friends from Peace Corps days in the early ‘60’s. Then, it’s back to my brother’s, through the 12th; taking a few hours to attend a friend’s son’s Law School graduation at Duke. Finally, it’s back to the Center of the Universe (Wyoming), the place I’ve chosen as home.

Why am I telling you all this? Well, now you can decide whether to open any of the travelogue emails I send out as I move about the world; you’ll have an idea as to whether it’s something you’d be interested in, or not. Or, you can read them on the blog site, rkrisko.com (Bob’s Muse).

As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, this five-week Odyssey is really in the nature of a test of my physical state; many of you are aware that I have an ailment that is intent on slowing down my activity, and for which I’m scheduled for a visit to the Mayo Clinic in late May to see what treatment options may provide some relief. In other words, this might be my last extensive trip at least until we can resolve the health issues. I sure hate to let someone else use all those Frequent Flyer miles (170,000)!

Always Be Happy & Heartily Healthy!  To Our Youth with Vigor & Rigor!