Tales from the Man who would be King

Rex Jaeschke's Personal Blog

Oh, the Things that I have Learned! – Part 1

© 2024 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

In my formative years, I lived in rural areas on farms with no nearby neighbors, and with siblings at least five years older than me who, for some years, boarded away from home during the school week. I learned how to entertain myself and I developed a vivid imagination. I explored, I experimented, and I found a way to earn money.

I don't know when it happened, but at some point, at least subliminally, I realized that reading could lead to learning, learning could lead to doing interesting things, and doing interesting things could lead to a fulfilling life. I also recognized that no-one else—least of all, my parents—was going to help me on that path, so I'd have to go it alone. And I was in a hurry! While I went the formal education route, I never shied away from investing in my own learning outside any formal structure. And now, with access to the internet, the world really is my oyster!

I've always been curious. I want to know what's on the other side of that hill, or what's around the next corner. And I'm always interested in the bigger picture, at the national and international level. This is reflected by the fact that I am a traveler rather than a tourist. I'm more than happy to discover things for myself rather than have someone lead me to them. I'm always asking questions and talking to strangers, especially if they have well-behaved dogs.

I didn't always have confidence, but I was never afraid to make mistakes, even large ones, publicly! (As Nietzsche famously said, "What doesn't kill me makes me stronger!") And especially not when I was learning and trying out foreign languages as I traveled. With respect to getting noticed, I've long claimed that being different is far easier than being better, and I have no trouble whatsoever in being different.

I'm a life-long learner, but for most topics, I'm not interested in becoming an expert; I just want to know enough to have a basic understanding and to be conversant enough to discuss and ask intelligent questions, and to appreciate the knowledge and its impact.

When did I first consciously set out to learn something? It was always there in some form, but I didn't really recognize it formally until I was in my early 30s. While I was waiting to get permanent residency (my Green Card, that is) here in the US, I started researching topics that I thought I might learn and use as the basis of the consulting business I'd start once I could be self-employed.

While I certainly learned a lot of things in the 25 years prior to moving to the US, the vast majority of what I have done in the 45 years since then is based on skills and knowledge that have been self-taught after my arrival.

In this multi-part essay, I reflect on some of my areas of interest and experience, and what I've learned about them and myself along the way. And the learning is far from over; I set out to learn things small and large, on a regular basis, and that's one reason I don't ever expect to retire in any traditional sense. There is so much new and interesting stuff going on in my professional world that I want to learn, and if I can make money from it along the way, that's OK too, but that's not a requirement.

Note that while there are "Lessons learned" in each of the sections below specific to that section topic, at the very end, there are some general lessons that apply to many or all topics.

Reading for Pleasure

As far back as I can remember, I've liked reading. However, surprisingly, it wasn't until I was 60 years old that I got a public-library card and started borrowing books on a regular basis. (As I write this, in a typical week, I read 500–600 pages of fiction, along with 100–200 pages of nonfiction.) While I was in elementary school and high school, I borrowed the occasional book from the school's library. At the start of each school year, as my dad happily wrote out a check for school supplies, I bought all new textbooks and support materials, more than a few of which I kept until my late 50's. Later, I mostly bought books, especially those deeply discounted or second-hand.

[A favorite cartoon of mine shows Hägar the Horrible, the Viking raider, with his son, Hamlet, who's a lover not a fighter. Hägar asks Hamlet why he is always reading. Hamlet replies, "Because books tell you things!" In the next frame, Hägar takes Hamlet's book and holds it up to his own ear, but he can't hear a darned thing!]

Here in the US, we have a non-profit organization, Little Free Library, "that promotes neighborhood book exchanges, usually in the form of a public bookcase." I have a number of such bookcases in my town, and I see them regularly when I travel by car. In fact, I am so eager to get books that I carry spare books in both of my cars to exchange whenever the opportunity arises.

For details of my reading history and book ownership, see my essay "October 2010: Books by My Bed."

Lessons learned:

  • I love printed books, and I love reading them. And while I do read a lot of reference material on-line, I have little interest in reading fiction or certain reference materials—think encyclopedic books or atlases—that way.
  • When looking at prospective novels to read, I generally reject them if any of the following are found, regardless of the storyline: Chapters longer than 20 pages, very narrow margins, small font size, passive writing, or very long paragraphs.
  • During high school, given the material, the teaching approach, and my very young age (I finished Year 12 a week before I turned 16!), I developed a distaste for literature. More than 50 years later, I still feel the same way, and that's OK with me!
  • When I stay in someone else's house and they have books, I always browse through them, looking especially at topics that are new/unknown to me. It's good to occasionally read outside one's preferred genres!
  • I've become a huge fan of Wikipedia, and a regular donor towards its maintenance.

Writing for Pleasure

I came to writing much, much later than reading! I've never kept a daily diary, and when I left Australia in 1979 and traveled in Asia and Europe for five weeks on my way to the US, I never made any notes of that trip. (Forty years later, my essay describing that trip, "June 2019: Travel – From Adelaide to Washington DC," was written entirely from memory!)

The first time I wrote anything personal that was non-trivial was a diary covering my 2-week trip across southern Chile and Argentina in 1991, at age 38. I wrote in a medium-sized, spiral-bound notebook, and I glued in all kinds of things like plane and bus tickets, postcards, receipts, and admission tickets. I continued this habit for about 10 years until I got my first electronic device with which I could travel, a Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) and, later, a small laptop computer (see my essay, "June 2011: Just Me and MiniMe: Traveling with Technology). In 2023, I used MS Word's speech-to-text facility to transcribe my paper diaries into an electronic form, which I then linked many items to Wikipedia.

In 2012, I started thinking about all the places I'd lived. After a short while, I got so much information in my head that I started typing notes on my computer. A bit later, I thought that maybe, just maybe, I'd flesh it out into an autobiography. After sleeping on this idea for a few weeks—which allowed me to look beyond the romantic aspects of such an endeavor and for reality to set in—it still seemed like a good idea, despite the fact that I knew it would be a lot of work. It was, but it was worth it. It ran 125 pages, and covered the first 25 years of my life, up until the time I moved to the US. (More than a little of that diary has appeared in autobiographical essays on my blog.)

Lessons learned:

  • I love to write, although it's all technical or about personal experiences. I've never tried writing fiction, and my writing rarely contains dialog.
  • One early morning, while lying in bed in Germany, jetlagged, I came up with an idea for a series of short pieces, each with an accompanying photo, built around the travels of an inanimate object. I occasionally come across the notes I recorded at that time, but I have not yet turned them into anything concrete. That said, given the right motivation, I might have some fiction in me!
  • Despite my early ruination with literature, on very rare occasions I have written some credible poetry.
  • Despite having written many thousands of pages, I have never, ever been interested in learning how to type. I'm strictly a hunt-and-peck guy, which works for me. As a consequence, unlike some other prolific writers I've met, I've never suffered from repetitive strain injury (RSI).
  • One of my greatest takeaways about writing was from Strunk and White's well-known book, "The Elements of Style." It was, "Less is more." Don't write more words than you need to describe a situation!

In 1995, during a 4-weekend university English course, I discovered written essays, and then went on to appreciate spoken and video versions thereof. I also found that I could write essays. In fact, when I started my blog in 2009, I adopted the essay form for each installment.

My (extensive) experience in writing for publication is covered in the next section.

Writing for Publication, Editing, and Publishing

For the past 40 years, I've been writing for publication, either as a paid feature writer or columnist, or as the editor of formal IT specifications. Along the way, I dreamed up the idea for a new publication and was its founding editor, and later I was the editor and publisher of a quarterly journal. For details of these activities, see my essay, "February 2022: Oh the Things that I have Written."

Lessons learned:

  • There is nothing quite like a deadline to get the creative juices flowing. While sometimes struggling to get started on a piece, more than a few times it finally took off and was so long it had to be broken into two or even three parts!
  • Following the adage, "A picture is worth a thousand words," in technical writing, I've found that a visual aid such as a not-too-long-or-complicated computer program, a table, or a figure can be the key to writing understandable narrative. While it might take a while to get the right illustration, once found, the explanatory text easily follows.
  • A lot of people can write well but can't deliver on time. A lot of people can deliver on time, but their material is mediocre or worse. It's a rare writer who can consistently deliver quality material in a timely fashion!
  • Books on the mechanics of writing often stress the need to write, rewrite, and rewrite again. I have never followed that advice (which, I think comes mostly from teachers of writing rather than from successful writers themselves). For a technical piece for which I have a deadline, I write it, I proof it once for content accuracy, and once more from an English-language perspective. The proofing stages might take place over some days, which gives the piece "time to bake." Then I ship it. If you look at things you wrote much earlier, you'll always find ways to tweak (maybe even improve) it, but is it good enough as it is for its intended audience?
  • The shelf life of a publication matters. What goes into printed books can have a very long lifetime and can't be amended. However, magazines are "throwaway" materials; you read them the week they arrive or in the Doctor's office. Of course, having all kinds of publications online changes that, both in lifetime and the ability to make changes.
  • The choice of page-layout options is important regarding things like font size, typeface, whether lines are right-justified, and whether bad line- and page-breaks exist. Though rarely used in most writing, nonbreaking spaces help to make writing aesthetically pleasing to read. (See my essay, "December 2011: Making Good-Looking Documents.")
  • Understand and use your word processor's grammar- and punctuation-checking options.

[Another favorite cartoon of mine is from Shoe, in which all the participants are birds, working in a newspaper office up in a tree. The editor asks a staff writer how his column is coming along, to which the writer replies, "It's all finished except for the words!" I can certainly relate to having an empty page not too long before a deadline.]

See my essay, "April 2013: Standards – The Secret Life of a Language Lawyer."

Coming to Grips with English Grammar

Having attended a 1-teacher school in my early years, with 28 students in seven grades being taught simultaneously, I never got a solid grounding in English grammar and punctuation. And by the time I got to high school, it was assumed that I had one. Unlike US liberal arts universities, in Australia in the 70's, one did a 3-year degree, specializing in one's major from day 1, with no general education classes (such as English composition).

To me, grammar was an awfully dry subject to learn as an adult, unless one had a purpose, and for the longest time, I didn't. In any event, as a writer-for-publication, I had editors whip my submissions into shape. However, in 2012 (at age 59), I got into "formal English" mode, and started researching and writing about punctuation and grammar for my blog. (The 7-part series ran from June 2012 through October 2017.) I became so interested, I had to guard against having missionary zeal!

Prior to that, I had at least some need to understand grammar when I started learning Spanish and German. It's challenging to learn the grammar of another language when you don't know the grammar of your own!

Lessons learned:

  • I love the US university liberal arts model partly because of its emphasis on helping students to have better written and oral communication skills.
  • I love Patricia T. O'Conner's "Woe is I: The Grammarphobe's Guide to Better English in Plain English."
  • While ending a sentence with a preposition is frowned upon in the British-English world, it is not in US-English. That said, when I find myself about to speak in that manner, I often turn it around in my mind before I say it. And I automatically avoid that in my writing, at least as often as it makes sense. I'm reminded of the time Winston Churchill—a great writer and orator—was accused of ending a sentence with a preposition. He replied something like, "You are correct, Madam; that is something up with which I will not put!"

Dabbling in Foreign Languages

See my essay, "November 2011: A Little Foreign Language Goes a Long Way."

My first foray into learning a foreign language was teaching myself German from a set of cassette tapes. I had no real purpose, it was rote learning, and I couldn't ask questions. It was not very successful! In any event, no-one seemed to actually use the recorded phrases in real life.

My first formal course involved 30 hours of introductory Spanish over 10 weeks with three hours each Saturday morning. It went very well, and, soon after, I started traveling in Latin America to try it out. Next up, was a similar course in German, but it turned out to be taught in German with materials in German. I did OK, but only because I bought a supplementary German grammar book in English. I then went back for a second class in Spanish, but I didn't much care for the teacher's style, nor the teaching materials.

Then just for something completely different, I set out to learn basic spoken Japanese from a book written in English and using Romaji, a way of writing Japanese using a Latin script. And all without speaking it or hearing it spoken. It was quite straightforward, and when I was first able to actually use it, it went quite well.

Over the years, I've looked a bit at Russian (Cyrillic alphabet), Greek (Greek alphabet), Dutch, and French.

Lessons learned:

  • One needs to be realistic about the effort needed to learn a language as an adult. Each week, can you learn and remember 20 new words and the basic conjugations of 5–10 new verbs?
  • Almost all my language learning has been self-taught by reading, trying it out, and asking questions. Most people who have learned a language don't use it that often, and as a result can understand more than they speak. I'm the complete opposite. I can speak far more than I understand. To get good at it, one must not simply learn the mechanics, one must master comprehension (which I have not), and that requires lots of listening.
  • I don't do well at all in a language immersion class. I need the materials and teacher to at least start in English.
  • I don't care for language labs that involve recording and playing back one's voice. I'd rather be out there "living it and making my own mistakes."
  • I want to be able to communicate rather than be fluent.
  • When I started looking at Japanese, my first writing system that did not use Latin letters, I quickly decided that up to a point, it is OK to speak a language without being able to read or write it. (Technically, that is being illiterate!)
  • While German has three genders, Spanish has only two, which is still one too many! And so, when I discovered that Japanese has no gender, no articles, no plurals, and no verb conjugation, I was ecstatic. (Of course, they complicate things a great deal when it comes to reading and writing.)
  • My German grammar textbook tells me, "There are eight common ways to form a plural in German." Really? I don't even want to think how many uncommon ways there are!
  • I like to be correct, but when one learns how to say in perfect Japanese, "I do not speak Japanese." that can confuse the listener.
  • Those foreigners have words for everything! Just when you think you know something, such as the words for dog or flower, you realize that you don't know the words for any breeds or species!
  • Even if you learn only a few words and phrases (along with a few cultural gestures), when you use them in the right context, they can gain you considerable respect.
  • No matter how much formal training you receive, in the real world, people do not use the same statements and questions you learned! You must learn the phrase patterns and be ready to substitute different nouns and adjectives (for example) in those patterns.
  • You need to stop thinking in terms of English. Spanish (and some other languages) has the adjective after the noun, which is OK. Russian has no articles. Their rules are not stupid or wrong, they are just different!
  • Not all written languages use an alphabet. (Japanese uses Kanji ideograms and kana syllabaries.)


For much of the past 40+ years, I've travelled extensively, both in the US and abroad. (See the trip diaries and travel-related essays on my blog, many of whose titles begin with, "Memories of ….") As I am not a fan of cold weather, each northern winter I look to go someplace warm for a few weeks (think, Central America or the Caribbean). However, several years before the Covid pandemic, I just couldn't get enthusiastic about going anywhere, not even on one of the many free tickets I had in my frequent-flyer bank. It occurred to me that after two million air miles (see my essay, "May 2010: Travel – Fly Me to the Moon") and 65 countries/regions, I'd had enough! That said, although I didn't get on a plane for three years after Covid hit, I have more than a few flying trips in the planning stages should I ever get motivated.

Travel has greatly improved my language skills, my geography and history appreciation, my understanding of government and local conventions and customs, and it inspired my long-running blog series, "What is Normal?"

For some details of my travel accommodation, see my essay, "December 2014: Travel – Oh the Places I have Stayed."

Lessons learned:

  • Normal is relative and changes every 100 miles (or 100 kms) in small and large ways. You would do well to understand this regarding travel in your own country, let alone travelling to another. It's OK that your normal isn't the same as other peoples' normal; embrace it and learn from it! (See the section, "What is Normal," below.)
  • When you travel, if you want things to be just like when you are at home, then perhaps you should stay there!
  • Always have a Plan B, even for Plan B! (See my essay, "January 2018: Having a Plan B.") This advice is applicable to life, in general. Don't ruin, or let others ruin your trip because you or they aren't flexible.
  • Being in possession of an airline ticket is no guarantee you will get on that flight, or any other flight!
  • For ideas of what I've learned about packing and luggage, see "January 2012: Travel – Packing and Preparing."
  • For my experiences with airports, see "January 2017: Travel – Airports."
  • Be prepared for unexpected wait times/delays at airports, train stations, and such, and take along an activity (such as a book to read or a puzzle to do), especially when traveling with kids.
  • Ranting at a hotel desk clerk, an airline employee, or other such travel-related person who is just trying to do their job won't do you any good. (He says, having witnessed firsthand numerous such confrontations, one of which ended in the offending woman being arrested at an airport and her small children taken away by child-custody services!)
  • Remember that you are an ambassador to your hometown, state, or country.
  • Always take some small sheets of aluminum foil with you. It has a myriad of uses and takes no space to carry.
  • When planning any trip, it's good to ask yourself, "How do I expect to be changed/improved by the experience?"
  • To really engage with the locals, stay with host families or rent rooms in private houses.
  • To learn a lot about a culture
    • Walk through a store or market and try to identify what everything is and how its name differs from what you are used to.
    • Sit in a public place and watch everyone go by.
    • Watch tradesmen at work. There are alternate ways of getting things done.
    • Hop on a local train or bus, ride to the end of the line, and spend some time in the terminating village/area.
    • Try to communicate with the locals.
  • While I'm a traveler rather than a tourist, each has its advantages and disadvantages. It's OK to be one or the other, or a hybrid of the two.
  • Traveling completely around the world on a few, long flights, going east is tough (I've done it four times.) I find it very challenging to pretend that each travel day is (sometimes significantly) less than 24 hours. Although I am in no hurry to do it going west, I suspect that would be much easier.

When someone says to you, "Why do you travel so much? We have everything we need right here, at home. We have no need to go anywhere else!", you might think it a lost cause to try and convince them of the benefits of travel. But if you are inclined to try, quote to them the following from Mark Twain: "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime." (He is widely recognized as having written the first modern travel book, The Innocents Abroad.)

What is Normal?

I've written extensively on this topic. For the first blog essay on that blog series, see "What is Normal – Part 1: Getting Started.")

Lessons learned:

  • Never say never about possible cultural differences and conventions. For example, some writing systems go left-to-right, top-to-bottom; others go right-to-left, top-to-bottom; while still others go top-to-bottom, right-to-left. While I don't know of any that go bottom-to-top, I wouldn't be surprised. Afterall, it's just a convention!
  • Just because you don't understand something doesn't mean it's silly or stupid. Saying so just displays your ignorance and/or unwillingness to understand (and even appreciate) an alternate approach or viewpoint.
  • I am very proud of never having been accused of being normal!


Without a doubt, the biggest lesson that I've learned in my 70 years on this planet, is that my three worst enemies are frustration, frustration, and frustration! What are yours?

See you in Part 2!

Travel: Around the World in a Daze – Part 1, Milan

© 2008, 2024 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

After traveling continuously on business for eight months, from late August 2007 until the end of April 2008, I gave myself most of the next four months off. (Frankly, I found that working was highly overrated!) Of course, all good things must come to an end, so there I was in September with duty calling.

This time, I was off on a 14-day trip around the world (take that, Phileas Fogg), taking in Milan, Italy, and then Jeju, Korea. Frankly, it would have been preferable to go west rather than east, but, unfortunately, that wasn't an option. There was one good bit of news, however; I was seated in Business Class all the way.

Sound exotic? Want to trade places? Be careful what you wish for as you just might get it. Being wide awake in a hotel room from 2–6 am is no picnic, and neither is trying to stay awake and be productive mid-afternoon in a business meeting.

Now, for a trip like this, one must prepare in advance. In my case, I had a 6-day "practice" trip, going west, to Yokohama, Japan, 13 hours non-stop each way. I got back from that little jaunt six days before this new trip started. So just when I'd nearly recovered from that big time-change, I was trading one direction for another. So, sit back, relax and join me for a whirl around the world.

Preparing for the Trip

In the morning, I took care of some domestic chores, and got house guests Lis and Ivor breakfasted and off for a day of sightseeing in Washington DC. After lunch, I spent a few hours on business, and then casually tossed a few bits of clothing into my case along with my slippers, toothbrush, and razor.

At 4:30 pm, my cab arrived, complete with a driver from Kathmandu, Nepal. Like me, he'd recently gotten U.S. Citizenship. We chatted on the way to the airport. It was a glorious afternoon, and we had the windows down. Things were rather quiet at United's Business check-in counter. I was offered an upgrade to First Class for the first leg for a paltry $650! I politely declined. (As it turned out, the plane was a Boeing 767, and First Class was only marginally better than Business as it had only reclining seats rather than convertible beds.)

I moved through security rather quickly, and caught the shuttle to Terminal D. There, I settled into a comfortable leather seat in United's Red-Carpet Club, and sipped a tall cup of English Toffee coffee. Next to me sat a mother and daughter from Florida. They were traveling to St. Andrews, Scotland, where the daughter was about to start a 4-year university program.

The Flight Over the Pond!

At 6 pm, I headed to Gate 15, where boarding of premier passengers began just as I arrived, so I walked right on-board. I settled into center-aisle Seat 6C. The configuration across was 2-2-2. I had legroom to burn! Flight UA953 to Frankfurt, Germany, took off on time, at 6:53, and soon we were headed northeast. Warm nuts and drinks were served once we leveled off. I watched the movie "Deception," starring Ewan McGregor and Hugh Jackman. It was time well spent.

Dinner was served during the movie. First came some smoked salmon and salami slices with vegetable crudité and sun-dried tomato dressing. That was followed by a garden salad with a choice of two dressings. The main course was a selection from three choices: mustard thyme-scented chicken with warm horseradish potato salad; braised short rib of beef with red wine demi-glace, with potato pancakes and oven-roasted root vegetables; or Boursin lasagna, alfredo, and marinara sauce. I chose the beef.

For the busy executive on the go, for whom time really is money, an alternative offer was "Express Dine – a 3-course meal served all at once at the time of one's choosing, to allow one to maximize one's time," don't you know. And while I'm certainly "on the go," I wasn't that pressed for time.

Of course, nowadays, international business seats come complete with power outlet, but the last thing I want to do on a plane is work on my laptop computer. Dessert involved some vintage cheese, port wine or cognac, caramel tiramisu, and tea or coffee. I was so disciplined that I declined them all.

Two and a half hours into the flight, we'd passed over New York City, Boston, and Bangor, and were headed out over the North Atlantic from the north coast of Newfoundland, Canada. Flight details were as follows: ground speed 574 mph, altitude 36,000 feet, outside temperature -61 degrees F, 1376 miles behind us and 2737 more ahead, tail wind 44 mph. Total flight time was estimated to be 7:36 hours.

I changed my palmtop computer from Eastern Daylight Time (GMT-5) to Western Europe time (GMT+1). As a result, I went from 9:45 pm Friday to 3:45 am Saturday in an instant. (My, how time flies!)

[Next day] I laid my seat back all the way—which was considerable in Business Class—and started counting sheep. Fortunately, I fell asleep almost immediately. Unfortunately, I was awake again in less than two hours. Ah, the joys of flying east overnight! By then, we were due south of Keflavik, the airport that serves Iceland's capital, Reykjavik.

As we flew over Glasgow and Edinburgh, Scotland, breakfast was served. It consisted of a rather large plate of assorted fresh fruit, a croissant with orange marmalade, and yogurt. I washed that down with three cups of quite decent coffee, taking in enough caffeine to counter the distinct lack of sleep. From there, we flew just north of Amsterdam, and on into Germany, passed Cologne and down to Frankfurt am Main (FRA), arriving more than 30 minutes early.

A Short Layover in Frankfurt

By the time I got settled into the Lufthansa business lounge, my eyes were getting heavy, which was not surprising since my body clock registered 3:15 am! I stocked up on some emergency rations and read some European newspapers. I was informed by a lounge hostess to allow one hour to get from the lounge through security and to my gate. So, I followed her instructions, only to find it took me 15 minutes. Don't you hate when that happens! Along the way, I got another stamp in my new U.S. Passport, and had to go through a security checkpoint.

At my gate, B13, I saw no plane, nor, indeed, any place for a plane. Boarding was announced in German and then English. We went down a flight of stairs, out the terminal and onto several articulated buses. Then we drove at least a kilometer around the airport. I thought perhaps we were driving to Milan! Eventually, we came to a Lufthansa Boeing 737. Mobile stairs lead up to the front and rear doors. It was a 2-class service, and I was in Seat 3A, which was severely lacking in the legroom department. However, Business Class had few passengers, so I moved to a bulkhead row with more room.

Flight LH3954 to Milan's Linate city airport took off on-time at 10:55 am with safety announcements made in German, English, and Italian. At 55 minutes, it was a short flight, and I didn't expect much service. However, those of us up front got a full-service lunch. With Oktoberfest coming up soon, lunch was a Bavarian affair with various cold cuts, kraut, gherkin, potato salad, cheese and bread, plus a small dessert and a piece of chocolate. It was very impressive. The flight attendant said it was best eaten with beer. There's nothing quite like being sedentary for 12 hours while regularly eating and drinking!

Soon, we were over the Swiss Alps, which had a light dusting of the new season's snow. Then came some deep valleys with farms, large lakes (including Lake Lugarno) and occasional small cities. On approach to Milan, we passed over lots of farms, all neatly organized with lots of tree borders. Quite a few still had cereal crops waiting to be harvested.

Arrival in Milan

We landed right around noon in very nice weather. The vast majority of the planes on the ground belonged to the Italian state carrier Alitalia, which was very close to going bankrupt. A bus took us the short distance to the terminal, and our luggage arrived very soon after, a welcome benefit of using a smaller airport. A few days earlier, a series of strike actions occurred in the local transportation section, but, fortunately, my flight and airport were unaffected.

I picked up a city map from the information desk, checked out my transportation options and coaxed €100 from an ATM. (The exchange rate had become more favorable in recent weeks, but it still made things expensive.) I hopped in a cab and headed to my hotel downtown, some 5 km away. It was sunny with a light breeze, and people were out driving and shopping. I chatted with the driver who asked if I was in town for the big fashion show. Although he was serious, looking at my hiking trousers and boots, I thought that was pretty darn funny!

After €14 and 15 minutes, we arrived at the hotel Mediterraneo at Via L. Muratori, 14. It was a relatively new building. I checked in and the desk clerk said that if I waited 10 minutes, he'd have housekeeping prepare me a room with a larger bed on account of my height. So that was a good start. The room rate was €203 per night, which included breakfast, and wireless internet service was available for an extra charge. (Hey, what do you expect for $300/night?)

My room was on a corner of the 7th floor and was well appointed. It came with a small refrigerator, work desk, comfortable chairs, French doors opening out over a yard, plenty of storage space, and a large bathroom complete with bidet and telephone on the wall by the toilet. From the windows, I looked out on roofs of classic orange terra cotta tiles. It all looked, well, so Mediterranean!

In the bathroom, I noticed a cord hanging down the wall by the bath, and thinking it activated the ceiling fan, I pulled it. As soon as I did, I noticed a small sign further up the wall, that said "alarme," and I knew I'd done something wrong. Sure enough, within seconds, the phone on the wall rang and the front desk was asking me (I suppose they were, as they spoke in Italian) if I'd had an accident in the bath. I politely informed them that everything was okay. (Considering how many accidents do occur in bathrooms, it seemed like a sensible idea; however, I'd never seen it before.)

By 1:30 pm, I was fading fast, and contrary to conventional wisdom, which says to stay awake on the day one arrives, I hopped into bed and was sound asleep in seconds. More than 3 hours later, my alarm politely informed me that it was time to get up. An easy thing to suggest, but it actually took me 30 minutes to get into a vertical position. While the sleep was good, the 30 minutes after one wakes up can make it seem like a bad idea.

I connected to the outside world, and, sure enough, email was waiting for me. One message was from a Japanese colleague, Toshiaki, who was just departing Tokyo's Narita airport, telling me he was on his way to Milan. Another from Hawaii told me that the U.S. Head of Delegation had been hospitalized and would not be coming to Milan this week. I hooked up my internet headset and made a few phone calls catching up with Astrid in Germany and Jenny back home. I had a selection of TV channels, most in Italian, but with several in German, one in French, and one in English, CNN International. There were also some music channels.

Around 7 pm, I ventured out. It was a quiet residential neighborhood with an occasional shop and restaurant. I found a large supermarket where I took my time looking in every aisle just to see the differences in products, packaging, and advertising. Between my basic knowledge of Spanish, German, and a bit of French, plus the pictures, I was able to figure out quite a bit. At the checkout, the woman was quite patient and helpful as I sorted through a large handful of Euro coins to make payment. On the way there and back, I looked at the menus of several restaurants.

Back in my room, I settled down to read and watch some TV while snacking on leftovers from my trip and cold drinks. Then I had a hot shower that was delivered via an extremely aggressive one-setting-fits-all massage shower head. That definitely left me feeling refreshed, if not bruised.

So, what was I doing in Milan? I was there to chair a 4-day plenary of committee ISO/IEC JTC 1/SC 22, or, more simply, SC 22. This committee oversees the so-called ISO standardization of computer programming languages such as COBOL, Fortran, Ada, C and C++. From 1999 until 2007, I attended these plenary meetings as a U.S. Delegate, being U.S. Head of Delegation for the past eight years. Last November, I took over as acting chair for one year, and, this coming November, I'll start a full 3-year term. As chair, I'm no longer part of a National Body delegation, so I have to be impartial. We meet once a year, typically in September. Last year, it was in Singapore; this year in Milan, Italy; and next year, in Delft, The Netherlands. We try to rotate between locations in Europe, the Americas and the Asia/Pacific region, depending on offers to host. It's my job to find new hosts.

By 10 pm, I was starting to fade, so I pulled the heavy drapes closed, put in my earplugs and set my alarm. As I turned out the light, the clock on the TV read 22:22; an omen, perhaps. I'm sure I was asleep before 22:23. The travel experience thus far was good; no lost luggage, no delayed flights, some decent food, good service and I met some nice people. After the constant exposure to Italian, I was getting into the mood, and my hands were moving around "eager to get talking." It had been more than 10 years since I was last in Italy (in Milan, in fact), but all those useful words and phrases started coming back to me. Things like "prego," "grazie," "buon giorno," "ciao," "arrivederci," "Mama Mia," and, my all-time favorite, "What's a da matter with you Luigi?"

[Next day] Some 5½ hours later, I was wide awake, so I got up and got an international news fix while eating some emergency rations of cheese and crackers with cold whole milk. Just the thing for a growing boy. As is usual, more emails had come in overnight, including a message from Toshi that he'd arrived safely and was ready to meet me at noon to play tourist. Another colleague told me he was several hours away in Padua, but would arrive later that same day. I did a few logic puzzles on my computer (where "few" can sometimes translate to "no more than 100") to get my little gray cells stimulated, and then worked on this diary.

Out and About!

I tried to sleep again, but no such luck. At 11:30 am, I left my hotel to walk the 20+ minutes to Toshi's hotel. It had been two years since we'd last met, at a conference in London. He had been up for some hours, and had already toured the main downtown area, which included the Duomo (cathedral). So, we walked to a large castle and gardens, preserved for several hundreds of years. The weather was wonderful, sunny with a light breeze. We walked and talked, then sat and talked some more. Then we strolled through a whole street of food and craft stalls stopping for a cone of delicious hazelnut ice cream.

By mid-afternoon, I was fading, so we walked back to our respective hotels. There, I took a 3-hour nap, but felt worse when I woke up. At 6 pm, I met Sally, the Secretariat of my committee, who lived and worked in the heart of New York City. We went in search of dinner, but found that most restaurants were not open for another hour. However, we found one that had set up an outdoor cooking area, so we sat outside and ate there. The food was passable.

Back in my room, I made a few phone calls and played a lot of games on my laptop while listening to some albums of music (Amy Winehouse, you rock). Lights out at 10:45 pm.

Meeting Day 1

I slept for five solid hours, but, at 4 am, was wide awake. I caught some international news while snacking. From then through 6:45, I tried sleeping again, but mostly just lay there. Day broke around 6:30. At 7:30, I was seated in the breakfast area, and Sally joined me.

At 8:30, we headed off to the local office of the Italian Standards Organization, UNI, a 15-minute walk away. Once again, the weather was pleasant. Many of the conference attendees were already there when we arrived. To allow delegates to find the meeting place, I delayed starting until 9:15. Six countries were represented; Denmark, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, UK, and US. Delegates from China and Germany were also registered, but failed to show. The group totaled about 20 people.

Mid-morning, we broke for coffee, tea, and juice, and then continued until 12:15 pm, when we broke for lunch until 2 o'clock. Having had a big breakfast, I stayed in over lunch working on a resolution I'd discussed with various delegates earlier that morning. Mid-afternoon, we had another break. This year's meeting agenda was somewhat slimmer than those of previous years, so we got through a lot of items. So much so, that it looked like we might finish a day early. We broke for the day at 4:45, and Sally and I walked back to our hotel stopping to buy some groceries along the way.

At 6 pm, I walked to McDonalds for a light supper while sitting in the glorious sunshine. Nearby, I bought a travel pouch from a street vendor as mine was wearing out from constant use. Back in my room I caught up with world news and email and worked on this diary. By 7:15, I was fading. Lights out at 8:30, asleep at 8:30:05!

Meeting Day 2

I slept soundly until 2 am, at which time, I snacked, watched some world news and handled some email. I also phoned home, as it was a convenient hour (8 pm, EDT). At 3:30 am, I went back to bed hoping to get more sleep, and, surprise, I slept until my alarm went off at 7:15. Soon after 7:30, I was eating breakfast. At 8:30, Sally and I headed out. It was quite fresh out and a bit colder than the day before. In any event, we got some vigorous heart exercise during the 15-minute walk. Automobile traffic was steady, but not too busy, especially as we didn't have to cross any major roads.

We had invited a guest from Geneva, Switzerland, to speak, and he arrived at the start of the day, so after a small amount of administrivia, we spent the morning with his presentation and resulting question and answer session. That was followed by a 2-hour lunch, and a short afternoon session. Members of the resolution drafting committee then met to refine the text of the resolutions we'd agreed to thus far.

To the onlooker, it might seem that we spend a lot of time on breaks, and long lunches and dinners, and we do. However, it has been my experience that a lot of important business gets done during such social settings. People run ideas by each other, and they get to know each other. And those who develop a personal relationship with each other are more inclined to behave more civilly towards each other when in conference mode.

I walked back to the hotel in the late afternoon, and the sunshine was very pleasant. I worked a bit while some classical music from Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" played in the background. It was altogether quite civilized.

Just before 6 pm, I walked to a hotel nearby where I met our invited guest. As we visited a number of restaurants in the area, we found none were open until 7, so we sat in a park and chatted. We'd met once before, when I was in Geneva earlier this year, but only briefly. After 7, we made the restaurant rounds again, and settled into a small place. More than 4 hours later, we had covered a lot of personal and business ground while managing to not eat or drink too much. I walked back to my hotel. Lights out around 12:30 am.

Meeting Day 3

After five hours of solid sleep, I was wide awake, although I did try for more. I was down at breakfast by 7:30 am, and off to my meeting. We'd made such good progress that we were a day and a half ahead of schedule, so I proposed, and the attendees agreed, that we'd finish at lunchtime that day. Those who could change their travel plans did so, while the rest of us planned to take a bit of time off and/or work from our hotel rooms.

The main business of the morning was to take the wording of the resolutions the drafting committee had produced, and to modify that wording to get the most consensus from the National Bodies present. While unanimity is preferred, the chair (me) determines if or when consensus has been reached. (For example, a 4-to-2 split would be considered consensus.)

I adjourned the plenary around noon, at which time a US delegate gave a short technical presentation to those who wished to stay. After that, the delegates said their goodbyes and departed. Three of the four Japanese delegates asked if I could join them for lunch, and I agreed. One of them was a long-time colleague; I met the other two for the first time at this meeting. We had a most enjoyable time. The €10 set menu was cheap and included two substantial dishes and non-alcoholic drinks.

I walked back to my hotel in glorious sunshine, but once I saw my bed, I remembered how short of sleep I was, so, at 3:15 pm, I lay down for a "quick" 3-hour nap. And when my alarm sounded at 6:15 pm, I set it for yet another half hour of sleep.

At 7 o'clock, Sally and I went to another hotel to meet some others for dinner. Friend and colleague John had brought his partner, Vicki, and they were having a vacation. We ate a variety of Italian dishes. Given the very low prices of the pizzas, I assumed they wouldn't be very big; however, when mine arrived, it hung over the sides of my very large plate. It was most enjoyable, but a struggle to complete. Over two hours, we covered a lot of topics not the least of which was the up-coming U.S. Presidential election. Back in my room, I handled some email and watched an Italian variety show with lots of singing, all in Italian. Lights out at 11 pm.

An Unexpected Free Day, Sort Of

I was awake at 5 am and got my world news fix, which, mostly involved the meltdown of the U.S. financial system. Senator McCain had suspended his campaign and wanted the first debate postponed, and had urged Senator Obama to do likewise. Given McCain's weakened position of late and his less-than-stellar ability at public speaking, my initial reaction was that his was a diversionary tactic to try and make him look more presidential without having to debate. As such, I was very happy when Obama responded that he was not inclined to postpone the debate. After all, a president would have to handle multiple non-trivial events at the same time, so why not deal with the financial crisis and have the public debate?

I worked a while on this diary, and then planned the day's business activities. With an unexpected free day, I would be able to take care of most, if not all, of the action items I'd taken on as a result of the plenary. I had a leisurely breakfast, sipping hot tea with honey while working on an especially difficult Sudoku puzzle.

Back in my room, I settled into work until about 11 o'clock, when a petite chambermaid came to clean my room. She was ever so sorry to interrupt me, but after a series of "pregos," "grazies," and smiles, we agreed that she could come in and clean and make-up my bed. While she cleaned, I pulled on my boots and went for a short walk in the sunshine to pick up emergency rations at the supermarket. I took care of all the major food groups: whole milk (latte intero), apricot juice (albicocca), salted peanuts (arachidi con sale), and chocolate with hazelnuts (cioccolato al latte con nocciole).

I worked until 2 pm, snacking along the way. Then I darkened the room and lay on the bed without setting the alarm, to give me a chance to well and truly catch up on sleep. For the next four and a half hours I drifted in and out of slumber, and when I awoke for good at 6:30, I felt the worst I'd been all week. So much for catching up! What's more, I'd caught a cold from the draft coming in my open window. Don't you just hate that when that happens!

Well, the best cure for tiredness is disciplined hard work, which I did for nearly six more hours, stopping for the occasional snack break and TV news fix along the way. At 12:15 am, I sent my last email, spoke to Jenny back home, and turned out the lights.

A Very Long Travel Day Begins

I was awake at 4 am, which excited me not at all. I soon got back to sleep but was awake again at 6. And despite further efforts to stay in bed, I was up, showered and down for breakfast at 7 o'clock. Although the food selection was very good, and the staff friendly, after six days, it was getting rather repetitive. And to complicate matters, I was stuck on more than a few clues in a crossword puzzle. Don't you just hate that when that happens!

Back in my room, I packed my bag, reorganized my computer bag, wrote in this diary, and did a bit more work. It was to be a big Travel Day: taxi to the Milan airport, plane back north to Frankfurt, plane west to Seoul, bus to the domestic airport, plane to a resort island, and, finally, bus to the resort hotel, with a change of day tossed in for good measure and some eight time zones to cross, a number of meals in flight and snacks in airline lounges. Is that something to look forward to, or what? (Still want to change places with me?)

I took care of some last-minute business email—the sun never sets on Microsoft—browsed some business news websites, and put on my long-distance traveling clothes, which looked remarkably similar to those I wear on short trips. There were my L.L. Bean hiking pants with zip-off legs, heavy socks and separate sock liners, loose-fitting shirt and jacket, and my trusty hiking boots, which were showing signs of serious wear.

At 10:15 am, I was at the front desk checking out. I pretended to faint at the size of the bill, but it was as expected; no nasty surprises or fines for pulling the emergency cord on the first day. Within minutes, my taxi appeared, and I was on my way to Linate airport. The sun had finally appeared. The driver spoke quite some English, so we chatted during the 15-minute drive down tree-lined streets. The fare cost €15, and I gave him my loose change as a tip. He protested, but took it anyway, and said that he should pay me for the English lesson.

I had arrived rather early for my flight, and planned to sit in the business lounge. However, the lounge was through security, but the check-in desks were closed until 11 am. So, I chatted with a young American woman who was also waiting. She'd tripped and broken her ankle some three weeks before just as she was about to leave. The doctor put a cast on her leg and prohibited her from flying for several weeks, so she had an unexpected extra-long stay.

The 11 am-time came and went, and around 11:15, a couple of Lufthansa staff ambled in, chatted with each other for a while, and, eventually, decided to deal with the long line of passengers, but only on their own terms. After all, this was Italy! "Are you in a hurry? Well, that's your problem." "You got a problem? I don't want to hear about it."

Although I was flying beyond Seoul, I made sure my bags would be unloaded there, so I could hand-carry them to the domestic terminal, especially as I wanted to catch an earlier flight, if possible. Security was very lame. Twice I walked through the detector, and twice it beeped. The security guard simply shrugged his shoulders and waved me through.

Yes, there was a business lounge, but one run by a contractor for a number of airlines. It was comfortable, but had only the basics on offer. I passed the time reading several European newspapers. I made a cup of tea, but, unfortunately, the temperature of the so-called hot water was about that of gnat's urine, which, as everybody knows, is certainly nowhere near boiling (fortunately for the gnat).

At 12:25 pm, I went off to Gate A4, a short walk away. Our bus arrived, and, after a few minutes, we went up the stairs of a Lufthansa Boeing 737. Once again, I had been assigned Seat 3A, but as Business Class was almost empty, I moved to 1A for the extra legroom and better view out the window in front of the wing.

Flight LH3955 took off, on time, for the 1-hour trip north to Frankfurt. Soon after, we were over the Swiss Alps and then Germany. Once again, a very nice lunch was served, complete with chocolate mousse in chocolate syrup and, yes, with two pieces of chocolate on the side. That took care of three of the major food groups.

Another Layover in Frankfurt

On the ground, we were bused to a terminal, which was, of course, nowhere near the terminal I needed next. On the way, I saw planes from Morocco, Iran, Portugal, Cyprus, Australia, the U.S., Germany, Lebanon, Singapore, South Korea, Kuwait, Canada, Thailand, Japan, Turkey, Denmark, Croatia, Italy, China, Israel, Tunisia, Poland, Brazil, and Qatar. And I saw another half dozen planes whose tail insignia I couldn't identify. In the terminal, the main flight board showed 100 different flights departing in the next three and a half hours. FRA certainly is an international hub, not to mention a small city.

As I had three hours to kill before boarding my next flight, I took my time getting to Terminal C. Then it was through passport control and security. Once again, the alarm went off, and, this time, my U.S. Passport was found to be the culprit.

I located the Lufthansa Business Lounge, right next to my gate, and was welcomed outside the entrance by a smiling hostess, who immediately noticed my Prussian bearing. She checked my documents and noticed I was a Star Alliance Gold member. As a result, she invited me to the First-Class lounge next door. Well, that hadn't been my plan, but I relented just that once. And guess what, I was the best-dressed hiker in the whole lounge, fresh from Milan with the latest in grunge fashion!

Not having eaten or drank for at least 45 minutes, I made the rounds of the kitchen area. (After all, it would be a shame to be in the First-Class lounge and not take advantage of it.) The hausgemacht (home-made) turkey soup looked so inviting I just had to try it. And after I loosened my belt another notch, I sipped several cups of milchkaffee. On offer were complementary wines from Austria, Italy, Germany, France, and South Africa. (Meanwhile, those poor people in the Business Class lounge had to make do with only three choices. "Let them eat cake, I say!")

The lounge windows were well insulated, so while I had a bird's eye view of the traffic on one busy runway, it was like watching a silent movie. And my fellow lounge mates were subdued, probably because, like me, they were in transit waiting for the next long haul. An interesting oddity was that all the external gates were carrying advertising for the Royal Bank of Scotland, one of Europe's largest banking conglomerates. It just didn't look right for a German airport, but, I guess, that's globalization in action.

While I was working on this diary, I overheard two people talking in a familiar accent. I asked them if there was an Aussie reunion in the lounge. The man was with Siemens pharmaceuticals ordinarily based in Australia, but currently living in Shanghai, China. He was on his way back there. The woman was also in the medical science field, working for a Boston-based company while working on an MBA degree. She lived less than 10 miles from me in Northern Virginia. She'd been installing an instrument near Munich, and was on her way home to Washington DC. We exchanged travel stories over drinks until their flights were called. By then, I was 30 minutes away from boarding myself, but when I checked the monitor, my flight had been delayed 30 minutes. Apparently, our plane was late arriving. Don't you just hate that when that happens!

At 5:40 pm, our flight was called, and I went down the stairs to find, yes, another bus waiting. We took the scenic tour of the airport, finally pulling up alongside a behemoth 4-engine Airbus A340-600. After some time, an agent came on the bus to tell us that the plane was still being cleaned, and we'd have to wait on the bus 15 minutes. We waited for that and more, and then two large busloads of passengers leaped out like sheep released from a pen, and raced to two narrow mobile staircases. No priority boarding there today; it was every man for himself. Once we were seated, the pilot said the good news was we were all ready to go. The bad news was we'd lost our air traffic control slot and would have to wait another 15 minutes. I saw a pattern developing.

Stay tuned for the second half of the trip, to, in, and home from South Korea!

Signs of Life: Part 34

© 2024 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

From time to time during my travels, I come across signs that I find interesting for one reason or another. Sometimes, they contain clever writing, are humorous, or remind me of some place or event. Here are some, mostly from a trip to Australia.


Yes, you read correctly, poo, as in poop! Fortunately, no poo was actually included.


Like a good Aussie, I "gave it a go" and it was quite tasty!


When you are driving on the Barrier Highway, you can indeed be "a long way from anywhere," as this sign shows. And although the distances are in kilometers, that's still a bloody long way!


And speaking of driving in remote areas, it can be a long time between drinks!


Some interesting additions to signs west of Broken Hill, Australia.


Perhaps this place is run by aging outlaws!


As they say, "Whatever floats your boat!"


Well, I've certainly heard of the term "Every Tom, Dick and Harry," but I'm thinking these guys are not just anyone!


When you are really hungry, there's nothing quite like a feral feast!


BTW, a quandong is a fruit found in the Aussie desert.


Just the place to catch up with the local news.


An unusual name for a wine-producing company. According to the founder, "I want to create wines that are a tribute to the strong women and men in my family. With five matriarchs and their amazing rogue husbands it isn't hard."


This Renmark, Australia, business rents houseboats.


Ah, now I see where I went wrong!


Of course, James makes hand-crafted rings and other jewelry.


That sounds quite serious!


More words of wisdom.


He never was famous like his older brother, the Lone Ranger.


Odds and Ends: Part 3

© 2023 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.


Continuing on from Part 2, here are this month's topics:

  1. Certain popular products or ideas can have a name associated with their place of origin. For example: Chianti wine is from that region of Italy; champagne is from that region of France; muenster cheese is named for the city of Munster in Alsace, France; and port wine for the Portuguese city of Porto. Sienna is a yellow-brown pigment whose name comes from the city of Siena, Italy, where it was once made. To read about attempts by the EU (and others) to protect such regional names, click here and here.
  2. In Part 2, I mentioned the term Ides of March. Apparently, the Roman calendar had two other special times of the month: the "Nones (the 5th or 7th, nine days inclusive before the Ides) and the Kalends (1st of the following month.") Apparently, "debtors had to pay off their debts on this day. These debts were inscribed in the kalendaria, effectively an accounting book."
  3. Speaking of things Roman, consider Roman numerals. I see them in film copyright notices and in their lowercase form, as the numbers of pages of front matter; that is, those pages before page 1 of the first chapter. Try doing arithmetic using them; for example, adding 3 and 4 (as in III + IV) which results in 7 (that is, VII). It definitely is challenging, partly because the digits 1–9 can involve 1, 2, or 3 symbols.
    Separately, I'd only ever seen 4 and 9 written as IV and IX, respectively. However, a few years ago, I saw IIII and VIIII used on some clock faces.
  4. Who knew that earthquakes swarmed! According to Wikipedia, "an earthquake swarm is a sequence of seismic events occurring in a local area within a relatively short period of time. … In the summer of 1996, a swarm of 4,070 earthquakes was recorded at Lōʻihi. At the time this was the most energetic earthquake swarm in Hawaii recorded history."
  5. In the Good Old Days of English law, if one caused another person's death, one had to forfeit some piece of personal property, which was referred to as a deodand, from the Latin phrase "deo dandum," which means "to be given to God."
  6. According to Wikipedia, Darby and Joan "is a proverbial phrase for a married couple content to share a quiet life of mutual devotion."
  7. If you read much English or American history, you'll come across the now-defunct political factions called the Whigs (England, US). The term grew out of the word whiggamore.
  8. Lettuce is a member of the sunflower family. Apparently, some people eat lettuce soup!
  9. Say "Kiwi" and one tends to think of the adjective describing something as being from New Zealand. But is that where kiwifruit originated? According to Wikipedia, "Kiwifruit is native to central and eastern China. … In the early 20th century, cultivation of kiwifruit spread from China to New Zealand …" Also known as Chinese gooseberry, it really isn't a gooseberry. Click here to learn all about the dessert Pavlova, and how it often is topped with kiwifruit.
  10. Each section of some citrus fruits (such as orange, mandarin, and lemon) is called a carpel.
  11. Throughout the UK and parts of the British Commonwealth, the term loo is well-known as a slang term for a toilet. But how did it get that name? Wikipedia, states, "The etymology of loo is obscure" and then goes on with theories of its origin. It also mentions the euphemism crapper! Before we had an indoor toilet, I well remember my mother having a guzunda, an Aussie term for a chamber pot, which "goes under the bed!" Have you ever had to spend a penny?
  12. We're all familiar with the idea of a cartoon. But did you know, that "The concept originated in the Middle Ages, and first described a preparatory drawing for a piece of art, such as a painting, fresco, tapestry, or stained glass window."
  13. "The English word 'cash' originally meant 'money box,' and later came to have a secondary meaning 'money.'"
  14. "The term graveyard is often used interchangeably with cemetery, but a graveyard primarily refers to a burial ground within a churchyard."
  15. Mark Twain was the pen name of American writer Samuel Langhorne Clemens. According to Wikipedia, "He maintained that his primary pen name came from his years working on Mississippi riverboats, where two fathoms, a depth indicating water safe for the passage of boat, was a measure on the sounding line. Twain is an archaic term for "two" … The riverboatman's cry was "mark twain" or, more fully, "by the mark twain", meaning "according to the mark [on the line], [the depth is] two [fathoms]", that is, "The water is 12 feet (3.7 m) deep and it is safe to pass.""
  16. Apparently, in the good old days, it was not uncommon to hire people to applaud various kinds of theatrical performances. Such people are referred to as claqueurs, while a group of them is a claque.
  17. If you are a fan of boxing, you may know about the [Marquess of] Queensbury Rules, which according to Wikipedia are, "The code of rules on which modern boxing is based, the Queensberry rules were the first to mandate the use of gloves in boxing."
  18. Thirty-odd years ago, I was touring Finland when I came across a townhall clock that looked quite odd; it took me a few minutes (no pun intended) to notice that it had no minute hand! Although I have not been able to pin down when a minute hand was first used, it appears to have been in the late 1400s, but not widely accepted for another 200 years. The second hand seems to have debuted in the late 1500s. Of course, race clocks for certain Olympic events (such as swimming) show hundredths of a second as well.
  19. A cultural oddity from ancient Rome involved the naming of sons. The first four were given ordinary names, but after that, they were numbered, as in Quintus (fifth), Sextus (sixth), Septimus (seventh), and so on.
  20. There I was, chatting with several of my wives over afternoon tea, when the discussion turned to the idea of a woman having multiple husbands; that is, she practices polyandry. Now while polygamy is generally understood to involve one husband and multiple wives, strictly speaking, that is polygyny. Polygamy includes either of those arrangements. As the old joke goes, the big downside with having multiple wives is that generally means having multiple mothers-in-law!
  21. You likely know the modern meaning of propaganda. However, according to Wikipedia, "Originally this word derived from a new administrative body of the Catholic Church created in 1622 as part of the Counter-Reformation, called the Congregatio de Propaganda Fide (Congregation for Propagating the Faith), or informally simply Propaganda."
  22. The term sterling has come to mean "high quality," as in sterling silver, the UK's Pound Sterling currency, and "She gave a sterling performance!"
  23. Just when you thought the digits on your hands were not especially interesting, you find they each have names: thumb: (Click here to learn about thumbs-up and thumbs-down.); first finger: index finger, forefinger, pointer, and more. (I especially like lickpot!); second finger: middle finger, tall man, and more. (Can you snap your fingers using other than your middle finger?); third finger: ring finger and more; and fourth finger: pinkie, baby finger. Not all cultures have the convention of wearing a wedding ring on the ring finger, and while many do, they might use the other hand. Back when I was learning Spanish, I discovered that "big toe" was translated as "dedo pulgar del pie," the thumb of the foot!
  24. The first few islands discovered by a Spanish explorer in 1542 in the current country of the Philippines were collectively called Felipinas after Philip II of Spain.
  25. As you may know, catgut is a fiber made from animal intestines and often used to make strings for instruments and tennis racquets, and in surgical sutures. And, no, it doesn't come from cats!
  26. Have you seen your neighborhood phrenologist lately? No, then perhaps it's time! According to Wikipedia, "Phrenology is a pseudoscience which involves the measurement of bumps on the skull to predict mental traits." It would be interesting to know what such a specialist thinks about Sponge Bob Square Pants' head!
  27. The spinning Jenny is well known as a significant contributor to the Industrial Revolution in the textile industry. But just who was Jenny? Read here for the possible origins of the device's name.
  28. Just what are the differences between an alligator and a crocodile? It seems that they are very similar except when they are not! While crocodiles can live in salt water, alligators keep to freshwater habitats. During a trip to the Amazon River in northern Peru, having nothing better to, I agreed to go out at night in a dugout canoe looking for caiman alligators. Well, we found them and got quite close to some. They were about a meter long. Right about that time I decided to keep my hands very much inside the canoe; I also helped bail the water out that was leaking in through a hole the guide had previously tried to plug with mud! On a vacation back to Australia, with friends, I visited Crocodile Dundee Country, Kakadu National Park, that is. There, we camped several hundred meters away from the river where crocodiles lived, and that made me a bit nervous. But as the locals told us, "She'll be right mate! They usually don't go too far from the water!"
  29. The word hibernation comes from Latin and means "passing the winter."
  30. From time to time, I come across references to a geographic feature called "The Solent," but I've never been able to remember just what it is. According to Wikipedia, it's "a strait between the Isle of Wight and mainland Great Britain." It's a very popular place for sailing. On one of its shores lies Portsmouth, the home port of much of the Royal Navy's surface fleet
  31. While browsing in a 100-year-old encyclopedia, I came across the terms Mohammedan and Mohammedism. Apparently, these were replaced by Muslim and Islam in the 1960s. When I attended Year 12 at a high school in rural Australia, my featured novel was Shakespeare's Othello, who, of course, was a Moor. That may well have been, but it wasn't for many years that I learned just what a Moor was!
  32. I live near the mid-Atlantic coast of the US, and in the autumn, we get hurricanes (which Wikipedia calls, a tropical cyclone). Thankfully, tornados do not come to my area. However, in Australia, my country of birth, they have cyclones. Then I experienced typhoons (which Wikipedia calls, a mature tropical cyclone) in South Korea and Japan. And, apparently, there are anticyclones and, of course, monsoons. Frankly, I think the differences are just a lot of wind!
  33. KLM is a well-known international airline. But just what do the initials stand for? Koninklijke Luchtvaart Maatschappij; Royal Dutch Airlines, of course, in Dutch! The Dutch King, Willem-Alexander, piloted more than a few KLM flights.
  34. I studied chemistry for three full years in high school, and for six years after, I studied and worked in that field. As such, I was more than a little familiar with the Periodic Table, which is an organized list of all the chemical elements. And while the names and abbreviations for many elements were obvious to a native English speaker, more than a few were not. For example, sodium (Na from the Latin natrium); potassium (K from the Latin kalium); iron (Fe from the Latin ferrum); copper (Cu from the ancient Greek Cyprus); silver (Ag from the Latin argentum); tin (Sn from the Latin stannum); tungsten (W from the German wolfrahm); gold (Au from the Latin aurum); mercury (Hg from the Latin hydrargyrum); and lead (Pb from the Latin plumbum). In the spirit of "What is normal?," what do non-English speakers call these elements? To the Spanish speakers, Na is sodio, K is potasio, Fe is heirro, S (sulphur) is azufre; Ag is plata, and Au is oro. The French call N (nitrogen) azote and Sn is étain. The Germans have H (hydrogen) as Wasserstoff, N as Stickstoff, and O (Oxygen) as Sauerstoff. While the Russians use the Latin-lettered abbreviations, they spell their names in Cyrillic; for example, H is Водород, O is кислород, and Au is Золото. Now, do the Japanese and Chinese versions go top-to-bottom and right-to-left like their writing systems? Actually, NO! So, it seems that while the abbreviated names are universal, the spellings of each full name are localized. Fortunately, the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) is at the forefront of standardizing such things.
    For a (humorous) list of fictional elements, materials, isotopes and subatomic particles, click here.
  35. I was reading a short piece about when tobacco from the Americas was first introduced to Europe. That led me to Wikipedia, which stated, "Nicotine is named after the tobacco plant Nicotiana tabacum, which in turn is named after the French ambassador in Portugal, Jean Nicot de Villemain, who sent tobacco and seeds to Paris in 1560, presented to the French King, and who promoted their medicinal use. Smoking was believed to protect against illness, particularly the plague." I must say that I have not met any smokers who suffer from the plague, so perhaps that much is true!
    I'm reminded of the man who swore that the regular use of nicotine patches helped him quit smoking. He put one over each eye, so he couldn't find his cigarettes!
  36. We all know that the color of a piece of orange fruit is, well, orange! However, that's an English convention. Apparently, prior to that, according to Wikipedia, "the color was referred to as "yellow-red" (geoluread in Old English) or "red-yellow"." Apparently, no word rhymes with orange.
    It seems that oranges somehow made it from Asia to the Province of Orange in France where they were grown. William III, King of England, was the Dutch William of Orange, whose title came from that province.
  37. The current meaning of cynic is "1) A person who believes that all people are motivated by selfishness. 2) A person whose outlook is scornfully negative." However, originally it was related to "A member of a sect of Ancient Greek philosophers [call Cynics] who believed virtue to be the only good and self-control to be the only means of achieving virtue."
  38. What does it mean to have "catholic tastes?" It's an adjective that means universal or all-encompassing
  39. If you've ever watched a western movie, you've probably heard of the word posse, a group of armed men brought together by a sheriff to go after some bad guy(s). It was derived from the Latin posse comitatus.
  40. So, who was the first to fly an airplane? While the American Wright Brothers, Orville and Wilbur, are widely credited as being the first, in December 1903, there are claims of earlier efforts. These include Indian Shivkar Bapuji Talpade (1895), German-American Gustav Weisskopf (1901 and 1902), American Gustave Whitehead (1901 and 1902), New Zealander Richard Pearse (March 1903), and Brazilian Alberto Santos-Dumont (??).
  41. A lot of people claim to be concerned about the number of calories in some food or drink, yet what percentage of them actually know what a calorie actually is? According to Wikipedia, "The calorie is a unit of energy that originated from the obsolete caloric theory of heat. For historical reasons, two main definitions of "calorie" are in wide use. The large calorie, food calorie, dietary calorie, or kilogram calorie was originally defined as the amount of heat needed to raise the temperature of one kilogram of water by one degree Celsius. The small calorie or gram calorie was defined as the amount of heat needed to cause the same increase in one gram of water. Thus, 1 large calorie is equal to 1000 small calories." OK, so what does that really mean? Frankly, I find it all very confusing, and since I don't "count calories," I've never bothered to find out. Follow the link above for more information than you care to know.
    Similarly, I've made it to age 70 and take no medications, all without knowing what vitamins, proteins, carbohydrates, and gluten are!
  42. One of the things English speakers tend to take for granted are the names of old places, cities, and countries. Indeed, some have different current names in other languages; for example, the Netherlands (commonly referred to incorrectly as Holland) is known to the Spanish as Países Bajos and the French as Pays-Bas (both meaning Low Countries); to the Germans France is known as Frankreich; and Germany is known variously as Deutschland, Allemagne, and Tyskland. But what about all those Roman places? I first became aware of this when riding a bus between Amman, the capital of Jordan, and Jerash, to see the latter's ancient ruins. As I looked out the window, I saw a sign for the University of Philadelphia. Although I was not familiar with a university by that name back in the US, I thought one might exist and had a campus in Jordan. Au contraire! Back in the day, Amman was called Philadelphia! According to Wikipedia, "In the 3rd century BC, Ptolemy II Philadelphus, Pharaoh of Ptolemaic Egypt, rebuilt the city and renamed it Philadelphia." For a list of cities founded by the Romans, with their modern-day names, click here.
  43. For a trip to London, England, I took along a whole lot of 1-pound coins and some banknotes I had left over from previous trips. Imagine my surprise when many of them were rejected by the ticket machine on the Underground! Apparently, the powers that be decided that coins and banknotes older than a certain date were no longer accepted as legal tender, although they could be exchanged for newer versions at any bank. It turns out that this is not uncommon in other countries as well. However, according to my 2017 World Almanac, "All US currency issued since 1861 remain valid and redeemable at full face value."
  44. According to Wikipedia, a demonym "is a word that identifies a group of people (inhabitants, residents, natives) in relation to a particular place." For example, someone from Asia is Asian; from Pakistan, a Pakistani; from Turkey, a Turk; and from New York, a New Yorker. Some of the non-obvious ones are, as follows: Costa Rica – Tico/Tica, St. Kitts – Kittitian, Monaco – Monegasque, US state of Indiana – Hoosier, Australian state of New South Wales – New South Welshman, US city of Albuquerque – Burqueño/Burqueña, and the English city of Bath – Bathonian. Follow the link for many examples, including where an Angelo comes from. Now if you are travelling in Crete, the locals are Cretans, which is definitely not to be confused with cretins!
  45. When I was growing up in rural South Australia, we got our medical prescriptions filled at a chemist shop. Then once I was exposed to American TV and movies, I learned about pharmacies and, heaven forbit, drug stores! Then as I started traveling around Europe, I kept seeing signs for Apotek (from Latin and Greek), and which is related to apothecary. Now more than a few Aussies complain about the undue influence of American language and customs in their life, but when I noticed that their chemist shops were quietly renamed pharmacies, no one seemed to recall having been forced to do so. Even the famous British chain Boots the Chemist has been rebranded as Boots!
  46. If you want to read about an impressive economic organization that for 400+ years transcended political boundaries, take a look at the Hanseatic League, which "was a medieval commercial and defensive confederation of merchant guilds and market towns in Central and Northern Europe. Growing from a few North German towns in the late 12th century, the League between the 13th and 15th centuries ultimately encompassed nearly 200 settlements across seven modern-day countries, ranging from Estonia in the north and east to the Netherlands in the west and Kraków, Poland, in the south."
  47. It's not uncommon to read in the newspaper about a military coup, which involves a (usually bloody) overthrow of a government. The term coup is shorthand for the French coup d'état, and can be used in business or other situations in which some sort of regime or practice is toppled, or a group is taken over. A palace coup is an interesting variation.
  48. If you ever traveled in Western Europe, you may well have come across Thomas Cook, a global travel company, founded by a man of that name in 1841. My introduction to them was through their travelers' checks, which we all used until credit cards and cash machines came along. Apparently, they "took their last trip" when they went out of business in 2019.
  49. So, how did the Pacific Ocean get its name? Originally called Mar del Sur (Southern Sea), later, it became Mar Pacífico (peaceful sea). Quick now, name the world's five oceans! And when a person "sailed the seven seas," just where did they go?
  50. If you've read about or seen photos or movies featuring young western women in the 1920s, you will have come across the term flapper. According to Wikipedia, "Flappers were a subculture of young Western women in the 1920s who wore short skirts (knee height was considered short during that period), bobbed their hair, listened to jazz, and flaunted their disdain for what was then considered acceptable behavior. Flappers were seen as brash for wearing excessive makeup, drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes in public, driving automobiles, treating sex in a casual manner, and otherwise flouting social and sexual norms." That article also discusses the possible origins of that term.
  51. The Hungarian capital, Budapest, is actually made up of three cities: Buda and Óbuda (Old Buda) on the west side of the Danube River, and Pest on the east side. They were combined into one, Budapest, in 1873.
  52. From Wikipedia, "The term lunatic derives from the Latin word lunaticus, which originally referred mainly to epilepsy and madness, as diseases thought to be caused by the moon."
  53. The expression, "To send someone to Coventry" means to completely ignore them. I'm thinking "to unfriend them" is a modern-day equivalent. Coventry, a cathedral city in England, is where legend has it that Lady Godiva reportedly rode naked through the streets.
  54. The term paisley refers to a pattern appearing on textiles. Its origin in Persian, and its name comes from the Scottish town of the same name. Paisley patterns became very popular in the 1960s, partly due to the Beatles. I confess to once owning a number of paisley neckties.
  55. In the 1980s and 90s, each time I arrived at a European Capital's main train station, I was "welcomed" by an Andean flute and drum band. At that time, the pan flute was very popular. (See Zamfir, a Romanian musician.) According to Wikipedia, "The pan flute is named after Pan, the Greek god of nature and shepherds, often depicted with such an instrument." (Apparently, Peter Pan's name was inspired by Pan.)
  56. Speaking of Pan, the word panic is also tied to him, as he was thought to be the source of mysterious sounds that alarmed people and animals.
  57. The provincial and territorial borders within Canada were mostly fixed by 1905. However, Newfoundland remained a separate dominion of the British Empire until 1949 when it became a province. (Its name was changed to Newfoundland and Labrador in 2001.) In 1999, a big part of the Northwest Territories was spun off to form the new territory, Nunavut. (Click here to read about Canadian Confederation.)
  58. According to Wiktionary, a pariah is a "person despised and excluded by their family, community or society, especially a member of the untouchable castes in Indian society." It is a Tamil word for a drum that lower-caste people played.
  59. Cashmere is wool that grows under the outer hair of a cashmere goat. One popular garment made from it are pashmina shawls. The word is an Anglicization of the Himalayan region of Kashmir where such goats come from.
  60. The current concept of parole—provisional or supervised release—has an Aussie connection: "Alexander Maconochie, a Scottish geographer and captain in the Royal Navy, introduced the modern idea of parole when, in 1840, he was appointed superintendent of the British penal colonies in Norfolk Island, Australia."
  61. When Captian James Cook came upon the present-day Hawaiian Islands in 1778, he named them Sandwich Islands in honor of his patron back in merry old England, the Earl of Sandwich.
  62. In May of 2023, I had houseguests from Australia, and I told them that if they brought me some of my favorite Aussie lollies (US: candy, UK: sweets), I'd let them sleep inside the house. They did, and I did! I was surprised to find that Chicos were renamed Cheekies in 2020, in the spirit of political correctness.
  63. During my time in the Andes of Peru and the Patagonia across Chile and Argentina, I have had a number of close encounters with llamas, alpacas, and guanacos. Far less common, however, are vicuñas. Apparently, these can only be shorn once every three years, and in Inca times, "it was against the law for anyone but royalty to wear vicuña garments." 
  64. There I was driving down the highway in Red Cliffs, Victoria, Australia, when I came across a beautifully restored, and very large, tractor called Big Lizzy. When it was built more than 100 years ago, it likely was the biggest tractor in the world. The feature that made it so useful was its Dreadnaught wheels, the forerunner to caterpillar tracks, as used on heavy earth-moving equipment and military vehicles.
  65. I am definitely a fan of ketchup (also known as catsup, or in my native South Australia, tomato sauce [whose rhyming slang name is "dead horse"]). I've only ever eaten or even come across ketchup made from tomatoes. But according to Wikipedia, "early recipes used egg whites, mushrooms, oysters, grapes, mussels, or walnuts, among other ingredients." In my high school days, the standard cafeteria lunch was a meat pie or pasty with sauce!
  66. The game of chess has a special move (called En passant) in which a pawn captures an opponent's pawn but does not occupy that pawn's square afterwards!
  67. You may well have heard of the Boer War in South Africa, which involved the British and the Dutch settlers. It turns out that this war actually refers to the Second Boer War (1899–1902), while the First one occurred 10 years prior. When I visited the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa, I was surprised to find that country referred to the conflict as The South African War instead. For a moving Australian film, set in that war, see Breaker Morant.
  68. When we read or hear about the speed of ships and planes, we often hear the term knot. According to Wikipedia, "The knot is a unit of speed equal to one nautical mile per hour." Clearly, it's not a metric measurement. A nautical mile is 6,076 feet, as compared to an ordinary or statute mile, which is 5,280 feet. The name comes from knots that were tied in a line on a chip log.
  69. It is well known that some animals go into a suspended state during winter, and that state is called hibernation. Recently, I read about reduced activity at other times of the year, and then only for hours or days rather than months. This is called torpor, a word that was new to me. A related term is aestivation.
  70. Beef stroganoff is a well-known beef dish served in a sauce. It's sometimes called beef Stroganov, as it was named after one of the members of the influential and wealthy Russian Stroganov family.
  71. The term Gothic is used in various contexts, but apparently there is a negative side to it. Wikipedia states, "The term Gothic architecture originated as a pejorative description. Giorgio Vasari used the term "barbarous German style" … to describe what is now considered the Gothic style, and … he attributes various architectural features to the Goths, whom he held responsible for destroying the ancient buildings after they conquered Rome, and erecting new ones in this style."
  72. Great Britian was created by the Acts of Union 1707, when the Scottish and English Parliaments agreed to merge. The Acts of Union 1800 brought Ireland into the fold. Then after Ireland became independent, in 1927, we saw the creation of United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
  73. Holy Roman Emperor Charles V is reported to have said, "I speak Spanish to God, Italian to women, French to men, and German to my horse." I first learned of this quotation when visiting a Danish friend who had retired to rural Denmark to run a Christmas tree farm. His local tongue-in-cheek version was something like, "I speak Latin to my priest, French to my lover, German to my butler, and Danish to my dog!"
  74. I came across a sentence that was claimed to be a Native American saying, "He understands death is simply a place toward which he has been walking since his birth." Hmm!
  75. A thing commonly used when playing board games and games of chance is a pair of 6-sided dice, with each one having the numbers 1–6 on its sides. [Apparently, dominoes and playing cards evolved from dice.] Strictly speaking, dice is the plural of die, but many people use dice to mean singular as well. Did you know that the opposite sides of a die add up to 7?
  76. Growing up in Australia, I learned about a carat having something to do with the purity of gold in a ring. As it happens, 24-carat gold is pure gold. Now the term carat (abbreviated c or Ct) is British, while the US version is karat (abbreviated k of Kt). This is not to be confused with a carat (abbreviated ct), which is used for measuring gemstones and pearls.
  77. In recent years, here in the US, the term Kwanzaa has started to appear on calendars. According to Wikipedia, it "is an annual celebration of African-American culture from December 26 to January 1, culminating in a communal feast called Karamu, usually on the sixth day. … Kwanzaa was first celebrated in 1966."
  78. Various folklore tales use the term seven-league boots, which apparently allow their wearer to take strides of seven leagues per step. With a league being about the distance a person could walk in an hour, that's a pretty big step!
  79. Metrology is the scientific study of measurement. Clearly, this should not be confused with meteorology, the study of weather.
  80. I recently came across the idea of deep time, a concept in the field of geology.
  81. Now and then we hear about a river running upstream! This happens near a river's mouth with a tidal bore, when the leading edge of the incoming tide forms a wave. The only one I've seen in person is near Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada, where twice a day 100 billion tons of water is forced up the Petitcodiac River from the Bay of Fundy. The resulting wave can be up to a meter high.
    I was recently reacquainted with this phenomenon when I watched a video involving the pororoca, a bore that runs up the Amazon River in Brazil, can be as high as 4 meters, and which flows very fast! The destruction due to erosion along the banks was something to see.
  82. In the US, a dessert menu might have "pie à la mode," which means "pie with ice cream." However, in the original French, this term means "fashionable" or "trendy," and is used in contexts other than cooking. For more than you want to know about French words and expressions in English, click here.
  83. The Judge said to the man in the dock, "You are accused of being a cruciverbalist; how do you plead?" So, what was the man's alleged crime? Being a person who constructs or solves crossword puzzles!

Travel: Driving to Michigan

© 2010, 2023 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

In August of 2010, my wife, Jenny, and I headed out on an 11-day driving trip that would take us to parts of the US states of Maryland, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and West Virginia.

From Home to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

We were up early and had a light breakfast. We packed our luggage, took the back two seats out of Jenny's Dodge Caravan, and loaded everything in. At 10 am, we departed Reston via Route 7 west to Route 15 north. At Point of Rocks, we crossed from the state of Virginia into Maryland and continued north to Frederick where we caught Interstate Highway 70 (I-70) west to Hancock. Then we turned north crossing into Pennsylvania. That first 100 miles took us two hours.

We then traveled west on I-76, which is a toll road. None of the rest stops on that section had any picnic tables, so we had our picnic lunch in the van at a gas station. The weather was great for driving; we had the windows down the whole way with the sun mostly behind us. The countryside was green with forest most of the way.

By the time we exited I-76, we'd paid $8.40 in tolls. From there, we ventured west on I-376 on into Pittsburgh. However, the tunnel through the hills at the exit of the downtown area was closed for repair for the weekend, and it took more than 90 minutes to go about five miles due to the detour, single lane, and lots of traffic. We'd gotten some hotel discount coupons from a visitor center along the way and made our way to the Knights Inn in Bridgeville, just west of Pittsburgh. Originally, we'd planned to go back into the city for the evening, but with the tunnel closure and subsequent traffic jam, we decided to stay in and eat another picnic for supper. The hotel room was cheap ($56), very comfortable, quiet, and came with a microwave and fridge. As is the case with many cheaper hotels around the country, it was operated by an Asian Indian family.

A short, light rain shower fell as we lay on our beds reading novels. We watched a bit of TV, and I connected my laptop computer to the free Wi-Fi link, took care of mail, and surfed the internet. Lights out around 10 pm. By the day's end, we'd driven 260 miles.

On to Cleveland, Ohio

We were up around 8 o'clock and lay in bed reading. A light breakfast was included in our room rate, so we went down to the breakfast room for that. We loaded up the van, checked out of the hotel, filled the car with gas, and hit the highway at 10 am going north on I-79, west and north on I-376, and then west on I-80 where we crossed into Ohio. Along the way, we crossed over the Ohio River, which starts in downtown Pittsburgh at the confluence of the Alleghany and Monongahela Rivers. We stopped at an Ohio State visitor's center to pick up some hotel discount-coupon books and other information and had a cup of tea and picnic lunch at a table in the shade. The weather was wonderful.

We exited the freeway onto local road 422, which ran through some small towns. We stopped at a yard sale where we bought a flowerpot (50 cents) and a toolbox ($1). Along the way, there was forest, forest, and more forest! Using the hotel books, we located a very cheap hotel near Cleveland Airport and arrived there around 2 pm. It cost only $46 for two people, and included continental breakfast, free Wi-Fi, an indoor pool, and hot tub; what a deal!

We spent the afternoon at the RainForest Center and adjoining Zoo, which, combined, cost $10 per person. The RainForest Center was two acres on two floors, enclosed in a glass-domed room and walls. It featured animals; birds; flowers from Africa, Asia, and South America; and a huge waterfall. A digital clock counted the world's population at a rate of 165 births per minute while another counted the number of acres of rainforest destroyed in the world at a rate of 120 acres per minute. These were very sobering statistics.

We crossed over to the zoo and started at the large Australian exhibit, which included animals, birds, and a recreated outback station (ranch) house. There was also a sheering shed complete with Merino lambs and camel rides. [Camels were taken to the Outback for the early explorers, and many went off to breed in the wild. Now, more than a few are exported to the Middle East for racing!] From there, we walked around the African Savannah, through a butterfly house, to the veterinary medicine facility, and on to the rhinos.

On the way home, we looked for possible eating-places, and ran across one of our perennial favorites, Denny's. So, at 6:30, we pulled in for supper. They had new $2, $4, $6, and $8 menus, which were great value. One of their selling points is that they serve breakfast 24 hours a day. I had biscuits (AU: scones) with white sausage gravy and a side order of four sausage links. Jenny had chicken wraps. It was all very tasty and cheap, and we had a very nice young waitress. As we went to pay, we found that we were eligible for a 20% discount for "old farts" (although we were only 56 and not retired, we were members of the American Association of Retired Persons).

We were back in our room by 8 o'clock, and once we removed our shoes and lay on our beds, we hardly moved. Later, I started this diary while listening to an instrumental CD by an Aussie composer. We read novels until lights-out at 10:30. We'd driven 160 miles.

A Visit to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

We slept quite well until 8:30 am, and thanks to the very heavy drapes the room was pitch black inside. The continental breakfast was served until 9 am, and it was spartan even from a Spartan's point of view! 'Nough said. Back in the room, I checked my email to find a message from the guys ripping out the old bathroom and kitchen in one of our rental properties. The good news was they had started the project on time. The bad news was that they had discovered that the original plumbing was in poor shape. C'est la vie!

We left the hotel soon after 11 and drove downtown right to the waterfront where we found an all-day parking station for $10. After a 5-minute walk, we were in the "Rock and Roll Hall of Fame," which opened 15 years ago. Admission cost us $22 each. We walked around the main exhibit floor for several hours looking at guitars, cars, clothes, and other memorabilia from numerous well-known artists including Elvis. And we listened to many song snippets at various audio stations as we learned of the artists who had influenced the more well-known stars.

Next, we moved to a theater with a very large screen to watch several hours of a 4-hour concert filmed earlier that year. It featured many of the hall's inductees all performing at the same place. We came to it near the end when Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel were playing. After a few minutes break, the video re-started, and we watched a lot more. The seats were comfortable, we got a stage-side view, the price was right, and the volume was LOUD! We really enjoyed the performances.

We looked at more exhibits on other floors before sitting in another theater watching a 60-minute video that covered the highlights of all the hall's inductions, which started in 1986 well before the hall was completed. While we were familiar with most inductees, there were a few we'd never heard of. The Hall closed at 5:30 and we spent a bit of time in the gift shop. After six solid hours of high-volume Rock and Roll, our ears were ringing a little.

Just outside the Hall, we waited to cross the street when a woman drove through the intersection and caused an older guy riding his big motorcycle to fall off on the ground. I went over to help him up and gasoline was pouring out of a broken fuel pipe. After a short sit, he was able to get up and walk around, and his bike did not seem damaged otherwise. [Ohio doesn't require riders to wear helmets, and we'd commented earlier that no matter whose fault an accident was, the rider would always come out worst off.]

On the way home, we found our way to Denny's again; however, our waitress from the night before was not on duty, so we had to "break in another one!" I had studied the menu the night before, so was ready to order immediately. I had ground steak with BBQ sauce, gravy, grilled red and green peppers, mashed potatoes, green beans, onion rings, and slices of garlic bread. It was just like Grandma used to make! Jenny had an omelet with biscuit and white sausage gravy. The meals were big enough that we took the excess food home.

Back in our hotel, we found that housekeeping had passed us by, so we made our own beds. Oh well, we had gotten an extra cheap rate anyway. I worked on this diary and we both read our novels. Lights out at 10:30.

On to Michigan

We were awake soon after 7:30 am, and we read in bed for a while. For breakfast, we finished up leftovers from the night before, and they tasted just as good. By 9:15, we were loaded and checked out. We stopped off at a gas station near the hotel to fill the cooler with ice. From there it was a straight run north to Highway 6, which ran east/west along the southern shore of Lake Erie, one of the Great Lakes.

Light rain fell intermittently as we drove west. There were many very nice houses along the coast, most of them with huge front yards covered in grass and large trees. There was very little traffic. After some time, we were among cornfields and vegetable gardens. We stopped in a quaint little town called Vermillion where we rescued some "treasures" from a consignment shop and bought some books and videos at a Goodwill charity shop. Just west of Sandusky, we drove north on a peninsula up to a ferry that took day-trippers to one of several islands on the lake. We found a small picnic area in a local park and ate lunch there while planning for our time in the next state.

On the outskirts of Toledo, we waited in a long line of traffic at a light when a woman wanted to get across in front of us from the on-coming lanes. So, we backed up a bit and let her through, for which she thanked us by waving and smiling. She pulled across in front of us and then started to cross the next lane when a guy came racing along from behind us in that lane and hit her car dead center. There was a loud bang, and the impact pushed her vehicle across the road and up into a garden on the side. I dare say both drivers' days were ruined, although neither appeared to be injured. If we hadn't had been kind to her, she would have avoided the accident!

We drove north on I-75 and crossed the border into Michigan soon after. It was our first time back in that state for 30 years, when we lived in Chicago in 1979–80. We stopped at the Visitor's Welcome Center to pick up a hotel coupon book, and after studying that, we found a favorite chain that had a property right near where we wanted to be, so we headed for that location.

We arrived around 4 pm and they had a nice room with a king-size bed for $45 + tax. The desk clerk was a very pleasant and efficient young woman. Free Wi-Fi was included as was breakfast, a daily newspaper, and tea/coffee in the lobby. We unpacked and made a plan for the next day. Then we snacked in the room while watching some TV. Later, we took care of some email and read our novels. Lights out at 10. We'd driven 170 miles.

A Visit to the Henry Ford Museum

We slept soundly waking at 8 am. The room rate included a breakfast voucher for $3.50 per person at a local restaurant, so we walked there for our morning exercise. Leon's Diner was busy and a typical neighborhood place with regulars. The menu had a wide selection and cheap prices. I had bacon and eggs with toast and hot tea, and Jenny had eggs with sausage, ham, and hash-brown potatoes.

We departed the hotel around 9:30 and after a short drive to the Detroit suburb of Dearborn, we parked at the Henry Ford Museum. We'd visited it more than 30 years ago, but didn't remember many of the details. We bought a combined ticket for the Museum and the adjacent Greenfield Village, which we'd visit the next day. The museum contains a collection of Americana all housed under a 12-acre roof. The main exhibit areas are Manufacturing, Furniture, Agriculture (tractors and implements), a futuristic house promoted in 1946 as the "way of the future," Power Generation, Liberty and Justice (including the bus on which the black woman Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white man; we sat in the bus itself and heard of that historic event), Early Aviation, and Transportation (including the car in which President Kennedy was shot). On one exhibit, I read the following text: "American woodworking machinery became famous in the late 1800s as fast and labor-saving, but very wasteful of wood. In many ways, Americans today continue to have similar attitudes: willing to sacrifice natural resources for convenience and labor-savings." An interesting observation. After seven hours, we'd covered the place from one end to the other pretty much without a break. It was a short drive back to our hotel where we were very happy to put our feet up, have a cold drink, and read our novels.

Around 7 pm, we headed out to a Bob Evans family restaurant nearby to inspect their menu. I had a wonderful chicken quesadilla fully loaded with tomatoes, peppers, cheese, onion, and salsa with sour cream. Jenny had the homemade meatloaf, gravy, and mashed potatoes on a slice of Texas toast. We had great service from all the staff. Back in our room, we read, and I brought this diary up to date. Lights out at 10:30.

A Walk Back in Time

We slept late and took our time getting going. Once again, we enjoyed breakfast at Leon's Diner, and then we drove a few miles to Greenfield Village, another of Henry Ford's pet projects. In 1929, he opened the museum we'd visited the day before. He also decided to gather in one place the original buildings (or in some cases, reproductions), in which numerous notable people had lived or worked. As he was a good friend of Thomas Edison, he recreated Edison's New Jersey research labs and Edison's lab in Florida that was next to his holiday home. Ford also brought the county courthouse from Illinois, in which Abraham Lincoln had practiced law for many years, and the poet Robert Frost's house, Ford's own birthplace, the Wright Brothers' house and workshop, and many others. All of these were put in Greenfield Village. The land occupied by the Village is more than 250 acres, but only 75-odd are in use for buildings and supporting gardens, farms, and animal enclosures. Some of the rest is being developed.

We spent five hours alternating between live entertainment, visiting houses and workshops, and riding around the park. We saw a 30-minute song-and-dance review of Broadway shows; listened to concerts of women, men, and co-ed groups; and heard stories told by a man posing as Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn. A fleet of Ford Model T vehicles (sedans, touring cars, and small buses) took people on 10-minute tours around the village. We paid $4 each to ride in a 1914 touring car, one of the nearly 15 million Model Ts built using the same engine design. For another $4, we rode a steam train around the whole compound, and while it was enjoyable, there certainly was a lot of coal soot. Quite a few locomotives and carriages have been restored and put into service. The last thing we did was to listen to a live 15-minute presentation by a 1904-era Federal Forest Ranger. He was dressed in a uniform from the time period and carried a .45-caliber Winchester rifle in a saddle scabbard and a matching revolver on his hip. His horse was named Catherine, and her breed was distinctly American.

On the way back to our hotel we stopped to resupply our emergency rations kit, and then we had supper in our room. I settled into a couple of hours of work to help pay for the trip. Later, we read and watched a bit of TV. Lights out around 10:15 after an interesting and educational day.

Back to Ohio

Once again, we slept late, then packed and checked out of our hotel. We ate our usual breakfast at Leon's Diner while reading the national newspaper. By 10:45 am, we were headed south on the freeway on the next stage of our trip.

It was great weather for driving, not too hot with the windows wound all the way down. We headed south on I-75 to Toledo and continued south for another hour. Then we went east on a state highway that took us through corn and soybean fields aplenty. After about 2½ hours, we stopped at a very nice rest area and had a light lunch at a table in the shade.

By 3 pm, we were in the metropolitan area of Columbus, the largest city and capital of the state of Ohio. We found a nice Red Roof Inn hotel with a great price. Our room was still being cleaned, so we waited 30 minutes in the lounge/breakfast area, sipping drinks and surfing the internet on the public computer. An ever so tiny chambermaid from Mexico finished making up our room, and we moved in with our gear. A microwave and fridge were included as was a large selection of cable TV channels, a continental breakfast, and all for $50/night. Jenny went off to work out in the exercise room while I worked on this diary.

Jenny met a woman who told her that the Ohio State Fair was on and would end the coming weekend. As we had never been to a state fair and we'd just been talking about the possibility of attending one sometime, we jumped at the chance. And, don't you know, as a local supermarket chain was selling $10-admission tickets for only $6, we bought tickets for the next day. On the way home, we stopped off at Pizza Hut for a salad and pizza. Lights out at 10:15 pm. We drove 190 miles.

Our Very First State Fair

The heavy drapes kept the room dark, and we slept through until 8:15 am. The hotel breakfast consisted of juice, tea, coffee, bread, and pastries, and a toaster was available.

We left the hotel in very nice weather and drove the five miles downtown to the fairgrounds. It had opened at 9 am, and as we arrived before 9:30, we got a parking place quite close to an entrance. Parking was very orderly with swarms of State Police everywhere directing traffic. After entering, we took the program and map, and sat for 15 minutes to see what was on when and where, and just how much there was to see and do. There was a lot to do with some events scheduled only once, others every few hours, and some running continuously. And the grounds were extensive. The fair is one of the biggest in the country and runs for two weeks.

As far as livestock went, we saw a lot of beef and dairy cattle, horses, pigs, sheep (including an Australian Shepherd dog and a Border Collie pair with five new pups), poultry, and many hundreds of rabbits. We also watched some judging. For entertainment, we watched a family of four juggle (sometimes on unicycles), two artists singing new country, a high-diving troop, a barbershop quartet, a juggling comedian, and a 200-student All-State Choir. We joined a large crowd to watch a pig race. After much anticipation by the people, out waddled three very fat and slow pot-bellied pigs, which were quite entertaining. A large petting zoo included the usual farm animals, some exotic ones (including camel, deer, and zebra), along with a pair of kangaroos, and three emus. Some dog handlers demonstrated their skills with black labs and retrievers, which swam out into a pond to fetch decoys while directed by hand gestures and whistles. There was also a pumpkin contest with the winner coming in at 790 lbs. (360 kgs) that grew in 52 days.

The weather was excellent all day with quite a lot of cloud cover to hide the hot sun. We alternated between sitting and watching events, visiting animal halls, and strolling through sheds full of commercial, educational, art, and handicraft displays. In total, we spent more than 10 hours there, and it was well worth it. Back in our room, we put our feet up and ate slices of leftover pizza and drinks. Lights out at 10:15 after a most enjoyable day.

A Look Around Downtown Columbus

After a restless night, we were awake soon after 9 am, but decided to take things easy. I worked on this diary while Jenny got a few more ZZZs. We made breakfast in our room and topped that off with hot drinks from the fancy machine in the hotel breakfast room. I settled into some personal and business email, a call back east to friend Phil, and some work on my personal blog. Jenny went off to do a load of washing at the local laundromat, which turned out to be quite crowded.

At 1:30 pm, we headed south to downtown Columbus where we parked in the shade next to the State Capitol. We entered and chatted a bit with a young State Highway Patrol officer at the front desk. There was no security check; it was nice to know that there were still parts of the country that hadn't yet succumbed to the "surrounding everyone with everything" Homeland-Security mindset. We joined five others for the 2-o'clock guided tour, which took us through the basement, the Senate, and the House. It was most informative. Afterwards, we toured a small museum where we learned that Ohio adopted ideas from the Australian Voting Act of 1891 requiring all candidates' names and party affiliations to be printed on the same ballot slip, which was only distributed to voters at a polling station on Election Day. Apparently, this went a long way to removing the corruption that had plagued prior elections. On the way out, we stopped and chatted with a male and female trooper to find out how one becomes a state policeman and what the job entailed. We spent 1:45 hours there touring the buildings and walking around the grounds.

Next up was a visit to a full-size replica of Christopher Columbus' flagship, the Santa Maria. The name of the city Columbus was taken from the famous explorer, and the ship was built for the 500th anniversary of his discovery of the Americas in 1492. For a $4 fee, we got a 40-minute tour literally from "stem to stern" lead by a young university student. He knew his stuff and answered all our questions.

Many years ago, the Ohio School for the Deaf stood on a 10-acre block downtown. After the school was relocated, the city turned the block into a very nice park and commissioned a sculptor to make metal frameworks around a set of yew trees to shape them into people, animals, birds, and boats, all to look like the scene from a famous French impressionist painting. The result was the "Topiary Garden at the Old Deaf School." We stopped by to take a look. A few people were looking at the sculpted trees while others sat in the sun or shade reading. Free Wi-Fi was available throughout the park for those people who just "had to be connected!"

On the way home, the traffic slowed down as we approached the state fairgrounds. It was the final day and people seemed to be leaving in large numbers, so we got off the freeway and drove back through some local neighborhoods. Jenny went off to the breakfast lounge for her late-afternoon cup of tea while I brought this diary up to date.

At 6:30, we drove a few blocks to a Red Lobster restaurant where we had a very nice meal. Our waitress, Nia, was a student studying psychology, and she was both interested and interesting, much more so than most 21-year-olds. We watched a movie until lights-out at 11 pm after a restful and educational day.

On to West Virginia

We were up, packed, breakfasted, and gassed up by 9:15 am. We took state and local highways south and east all the way to the West Virginia border, stopping a couple of times along the way to stretch and snack. We also visited a small factory that made washboards. While some sales go to musicians and others become souvenirs to hang on a wall, most are actually bought by people who wash clothes by hand! One group that does the latter are US military people in Iraq and Afghanistan, and we saw letters and photos of that on a pin-up board.

We got to Charleston, the capital of West Virginia, mid-afternoon. As it turned out, the only thing we really wanted to do there was to visit the State Capitol. It was a magnificent building and we walked around on our own. There was no security desk. After that, we decided to head in the direction of home and we drove more than an hour northeast on I-79 until we were tired, and we found a hotel. Pretty much all we saw was trees, trees, and more trees. We had supper at an Italian family restaurant and bought some emergency rations at the supermarket nearby. Lights out at 10 pm. We'd driven 250 miles.

Headed for Home

We got up soon after 8 am and had a light breakfast before heading out. It was great weather for driving. After an hour on the interstate highway, we turned east and wound around smaller roads for more than two hours, passing into the western tip of the state of Maryland then back into West Virginia.

We found a picnic stop in a small town and sat there for a while. By that time, it was well over 90 degrees F, so we started up the van's air-conditioning. Soon after, we crossed into Virginia and drove the 75 minutes home. We'd driven 250 miles that day and 1,380 all told.

We unloaded our gear and packed everything away. It was good to be home. We'd covered a lot of ground in 11 days, but got a taste of each area we visited. It was a most enjoyable trip.

Signs of Life: Part 33

© 2023 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

From time to time during my travels, I come across signs that I find interesting for one reason or another. Sometimes, they contain clever writing, are humorous, or remind me of some place or event. These photos were taken during a trip Down Under.


A fish-and-chip shop in North Adelaide, South Australia.


A sign above the sink in the staff kitchen of St Peter's Cathedral in North Adelaide, South Australia.

Despite having lived in that area for 10 years in a previous life, this was my first time visiting the cathedral. An elderly volunteer greeted me at the side entrance, and I jokingly asked her if I was late for morning tea. She said that if I spoke to another volunteer, I could get a guidebook and a cup of tea/coffee. (If you don't ask, you'll never know!) I had a look around; it was pleasant without being austere or too much, and had some nice stained-glass windows. The second volunteer then took me into the staff kitchen where she made me a cup of coffee.


This Aussie burger chain's name includes the word concrete. As best as I could find, "the menu focuses on the simple things—burgers and concretes—and aims to do them perfectly."


An interesting take on William Golding's book "Lord of the Flies."


Well now, this looks like a friendly place to get some ink!


I'm thinking their use of asylum leans more toward "lunatic asylum" rather than "safe haven."


Wow, a ridgy-didge Aussie pizza place! It looks like the swagman from Waltzing Matilda is camped by a billabong eating a pizza with a wallaby.


An Aussie chain of bottle shops (US: liquor stores).


Hmm! Just what does Australia taste like?

Frankly, if you didn't grow up with Vegemite on your dummy (US: baby pacifier), you likely won't ever aquire a taste for it.


Although I've long been a fan of FruChocs (dried apricot and peach paste, coated in milk chocolate), I'm not sure I want to eat them in a fondue.


I can understand that after having drank here you might be caffeined, but then one meaning of fiend is "addict or fanatic."


"Ankle biter" is Aussie slang for a young , possibly annoying, child.


Parking place reserved for Mums (US: Moms) with small children.


Here's one idea about exercise!


From my home town of Loxton, South Australia.


BTW, the Men's Shed movement started in Australia.


Now it's always wise to give way to cattle in the Aussie Outback, but for some unknown reason, some young Aussie guys feel the need to shoot .22 rifle bullets into road signs.


If you have ever driven through areas with livestock, you'll be used to opening and closing gates. And the rule is to leave a gate as you found it, open or closed.


That's a very long way to have to pay close attention as to what is hopping across the road in front of you, especially at dawn, dusk, or night when visibility is low.


My older brother had a 75-pound kangaroo "come out of nowhere" and right through the front windscreen (US: windshield) of his car while he was driving at 60 miles-per-hour (100 kph) on a paved highway. Don't you just hate that when that happens!


Covid and Me

© 2020, 2023 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

In late February of 2020, I was minding my own business having a very laid-back, three-week vacation in Tahiti in the South Pacific. Prior to my departure from home here in Northern Virginia, USA, there were an increasing number of news stories about the spread of the coronavirus—otherwise known as COVID-19; I'll just call it Covid—in other countries, and especially on cruise ships. Throughout my trip, most days, I read on-line news reports, including some from my home state of South Australia, where as a result there was an acute shortage of toilet paper; really! I got back home on March 11, just two days before the US airline industry was shut down. (Numerous times since then I've stated, "If I hadn't gotten home when I did, I might have been stuck in Tahiti for several years!")

Some six months into the pandemic, I wrote the bulk of this document to share with friends in Australia and Europe, some of whom had far better situations than did I, and some far worse, depending on their location and their government's handling of the crisis. For my Aussie readers, to put things into perspective, the contiguous 48 states of the US (and Federal capital Washington DC) are about the same size as Australia, but with 15 times the population, and of course the huge difference between the sizes of the two economies.

Grocery Shopping

My first reality check was the morning after I arrived home from Tahiti. As my fridge was empty, I headed off to my local supermarket to restock. I definitely wasn't ready for the chaos that awaited me. The place was very crowded with each shopper having a large cart filled to the brim often with large quantities of items I thought were hardly necessary in a crisis. It definitely was a case of panic buying! If it hadn't been so sad to see, it would have been amusing. I started chatting with another shopper who, like me, was doing an ordinary shopping run, and we compared what we had in our carts to the others nearby and considered our priorities. I had milk and chocolate, and she had beer and snack food!

Once restricted hours or closures were mandated for different kinds of businesses, places selling food were exempted as being essential (along with gasoline stations). Not long after, my supermarket, which opens at 6 am, announced that from 6–7 each morning, customers would be limited to Senior Citizens only. Basically, by 6 am, the place had been thoroughly cleaned, so the more vulnerable customers had less chance of infection. Also, staff were sanitizing carts between uses. All the entrances, but one, were closed. Customers had to keep socially distanced in the long line leading to the self-serve and manned checkouts. I shopped once at that time, but decided I really didn't want to have to set my alarm to go grocery shopping, especially when I could go at any time during the day. In any event, I didn't see myself as being in the at-risk population.

One day as I was pushing my cart down an aisle, I was sternly reprimanded by an employee stacking shelves. Apparently, they had placed arrows on the floor of most aisles, so customers in such aisles would all be going in the same direction. And I was going the wrong way! In my defense, I must say that I don't go around a supermarket looking at the floor. However, I learned my lesson, and eagerly took on the job of policing that rule during subsequent visits. However, the store wouldn't give me a badge or gun; how un-American is that!

Everyone over the age of about six had to wear a mask to enter a public place, and it was challenging to recognize people when they were wearing a mask. Of course, some people just had to have expensive, designer masks, and other masks with witty or cerebral writing. After six months, there was less enforcement of the rules, but there were still disinfectant sprays and hand towels at the entrance, and sometimes handwash gel. (These were widely available even 30 months later.)

For those of us who take reusable bags, we had to pack our own things; the staff would not touch our bags. There was a large plexiglass partition between the customer and checkout operator, and the credit card payment machine and keypad were covered in plastic sheeting.

For the most part, I could usually buy almost all the things on my shopping list. However, early on, there definitely were shortages of packaged meals, rice, pasta, and such. And one time there was little meat. Several months into the crisis, I actually wanted toilet paper and paper towels, which proved challenging. After visiting six places, I finally got some of each—and face tissues—in a neighboring state a half-hour's drive from home.


In most US states, the public-school systems are run by local government (as such, we have thousands of different systems), and they each came up with their own rules. Mine is run by my county, and it closed schools by the end of March 2020. Of course, they had no infrastructure in place or staff training to change over to remote learning, so things were quite disorganized for the remainder of the school year, which ended in late June for the long summer break. Ordinarily, many systems offer "Summer School" classes to allow students to retake something they'd failed or to improve a grade. These were cancelled as were in-person educational and recreational summer camp programs (a multi-billion-dollar business here in the US).

The many thousands of universities and community colleges followed suit, which played havoc with all the extracurricular activities US colleges are known for, especially college sports (another multi-billion-dollar business). Many small cities and large towns exist to service a college, so with students living at home instead of on-campus, the economies of those cities and towns were devastated. Of course, many service businesses closed, but for those still open, their pool of students working as part-time staff had evaporated. And with so many towns relying on revenue from local sales taxes, their revenue projections were lowered significantly.

The fall (autumn that is) semester of the 2020/2021 school year ran from late August through mid-December. My county had (often contentious) public meetings, and finally presented parents with two options: completely remote schooling at home, or remote at home for three days with two days in-person at school. Then just before the school year began, the country decided that everyone would attend remotely. As the staff had the whole summer to figure out how to make this operate, things went much better than the previous semester. Some teachers I know went to their school and taught from their (otherwise empty) rooms.

Of course, there was the problem that not everyone had an internet connection at home, and if they did, could it support high-speed transmission for audio and video? Soon after, we started hearing about screen-fatigue from many hours of intense concentration.

One side effect was that the school bus drivers were mostly out of a job. In many school systems, there are more than a few students on "free and reduced meal" programs, and they usually get breakfast and lunch at school, five days a week. Also, during the school year, kids from food-insecure families get food put in their backpacks on Friday afternoon for the weekend. But if students are not attending school, how do they get such food? In my county, a few buses went out, but instead of picking up and dropping off kids, they delivered meals to those who would have previously gotten them as school. Some buses also served as mobile hotspots providing wi-fi to certain areas.

A major disappointment was for High School Seniors being denied their "rite of passage," a formal graduation ceremony and prom. Likewise for university students who were missing out on in-person activities, including sport.

A huge problem was having parents working from home where kids were attending school remotely. People were getting on each other's nerves! And there was no longer any place to have kids go for "after-school" care for those parents working outside the home.


The lobbies of all banks in my area closed in late March 2020. For those of us who use online banking, use a drive-through teller window, or use cash machines, this wasn't a problem. However, at the end of each month, I need to get access to my safe-deposit box to store an off-site backup of my computer files. To do that, I phoned the branch, and I was assigned one of the 30-minute timeslots. Then at the designated time, I stood outside the main door wearing my mask, and an employee admitted me.

By the way, it was common to see people wearing gloves while handling other peoples' money (such as drive-through tellers). One person I met said that he actually washed with disinfectant all paper bills (AU: bank notes) he got from others.


As soon as my county's schools closed, they put up "No Trespassing" signs at the entrances to school property, which, frankly, I thought was overkill. All they really needed was to keep people from introducing the virus into school buildings. This impacted many non-students who used school athletic tracks and playing fields to exercise. (In my case, a charity with which I volunteer collects bags of garbage for a small fee each Saturday morning from people living outside the town and without a regular pickup service. We ran that from a high school parking lot, but had to move elsewhere, at least temporarily.) After some 6–8 weeks, common sense prevailed, and that order was rescinded. (Sadly, part of the problem in this country is the litigious nature of many people, and the corresponding "cover your ass" paranoia that follows. "If we don't put up such signs, and someone contracts the illness on our property, we'll be liable for millions!)

In 2019, I swam and did water aerobics twice a week, and after three weeks of swimming every day in Tahiti and having increased from two to three times a week in January and February back home, when I got home in March, I very much looked forward to swimming again. However, that was not to be; my local indoor pool closed a few days after I got back. It reopened in July, and I have to say that with all the precautions they took, it probably was safer than before the pandemic!

I used to go whenever I felt in the mood, and stayed as long as I liked, but typically only 30 minutes. Now, I had to book in advance and a reservation was for an hour. No more than one week in advance, I could go on-line and reserve a lane for the days/times I wanted. My pool has four wide lanes, which can each accommodate two swimmers; however, at the times I go, I very rarely have to share a lane.

There was a plexiglass screen between customers and the front desk. Those of us with 25-visit passes usually swipe them in a machine, but for the first two months back in operation, admission was free. (At US$2.60/visit, it's hardly expensive anyway.) Swimmers were not to arrive until five minutes before their time. The change rooms were open, but the storage lockers were taped shut and the showers were "off limits." However, one could use the toilets. Basically, we arrived "ready to swim" and entered the pool from the changeroom. We had to walk around the pool in a clockwise direction only, so we didn't encounter others. At each end of a lane there was a seat numbered for that lane, 1–4, where one put one's towel, clothing, and valuables.

As with pretty much all public pools in the US, at least one lifeguard must be on duty at all times. My pool mostly hires high school and college students, and they work in 15–20-minute shifts.

When I was done, I dried off, dressed, collected my stuff, and left the building by a different door than the one I had entered.

During the four months my pool was closed, I walked a lot and rode my bicycle, which exercised other parts of my body. And to get some variety, I sometimes drove to another area of town or another town and walked or rode around there.

Of course, professional sports, and sports at the university level, are big business here in the US, and that suffered greatly. A big disappointment was for those recruited from high school on full scholarships to play at a university, and then the university season was cancelled.

All my local gyms and fitness clubs were closed, but many set up equipment in their parking lots to handle small groups "at a distance." However, they had to spend a lot of time and money to clean everything between uses.

Volunteer Work

In recent years, I've had one main client at a time who I drove to medical and other appointments, and shopping. The most recent one passed away early in 2020 at age 94, and I declined to risk myself by being exposed to new/unknown clients. However, I do have an 80+-year-old friend (who's legally blind), and I drive her to medical appointments. We get along famously, and we have a socially distanced lunch at a restaurant before each appointment.

Medical Appointments

Most medical facilities cancelled all but emergency appointments. Since my laser surgery for a detached retina some years ago, I have had a checkup every six months. For my first visit during the pandemic, in August 2020, my doctor had on a protective suit and large, flip-up visor mask, and looked a bit like an astronaut.

For some appointments, such as with my sleep specialist who oversees my CPAP usage, I had tele appointments. When driving others to medical appointments, I had to wait outside.

Late in 2020, after a long break due to a low-iron count, I started again as a blood donor. However, instead of donating a pint of whole blood every eight weeks, I went every two weeks to give platelets. Then every four weeks I gave plasma, and every eight weeks, red blood cells as well. The machine took my blood, extracted one to three things, and then returned the unused parts to my body. It took around two hours per visit. I went to a large medical facility as this process is not usually offered in their mobile vans. The donor center was very well maintained with everyone wearing masks. I figured that was one of the safest places to be. A few days after I donated each week, I received an email telling me, "Our SARS-COV-2 Antibody Test was Negative for antibodies."

Restaurants and Bars

These were closed completely for some time, and many went out of business. For the first year, I only ate out a few times, sitting outside or at tables spaced apart. (Typically, they used only every second table.) The initial reaction was to try and offer food to pick up and/or be delivered, and some places still do only that, after three years! Culturally, a lot of Americans eat out, even for breakfast!


Through the end of 2018, I travelled constantly, both domestically and internationally. At any one time, there are thousands of planes in the skies over the US, but not for the first few years of the pandemic. I haven't flown since I got back from Tahiti, and even now, three years later, I have no plans to do so. After several years of being very tired of travel, in September of 2019, I got interested again, and mapped out a half dozen pleasure trips that involved flying and a number driving in the US and Canada. I have put all of those on hold indefinitely. It has even occurred to me that I might never fly again!

Late August 2022, I was scheduled to be in Milan, Italy, but that being the epicenter of the pandemic in Italy, the trip was cancelled with the five days of meetings being handled via a series of 2-hour teleconferences over a 10-day period. I had planned a 2-week vacation afterwards going north overland to Lake Como and the Swiss countryside to Zurich, but that was not to be.

For several years leading up to the pandemic, my international travel schedule had been reducing anyway, as travel budgets kept getting cut in a growing number of participating organizations. At the same time, reliable and often free, high-speed audio and/or video-conferencing facilities had become available, which reduced the need for travel. However, this has been at the expense of being limited to two hours at a time to accommodate attendees across widespread time zones. (I typically interact with people in Europe, New Zealand, Asia, and the US west coast on the same call.)

As you might imagine for an "on the go" country like the US, pre-pandemic, millions of people flew, stayed in hotels, rented cars, ate in restaurants, and did other travel-related things. With much of that travel gone, it had a really big impact on businesses. From time to time, some cities decide to build a professional sports stadium for their existing team or to try and entice a team from another city to relocate. Now these facilities cost hundreds of millions of dollars, and very often, the locals don't want to have to pay for them. So, what the cities do is levy an occupancy tax on hotels and/or a usage tax on rental cars, all of which is paid by people visiting from out-of-town. Of course, without the travelers, there is no tax revenue coming in!

Starting in mid-2021, I started taking 4–5-day road trips within 2–5 hours' drive from home, mostly staying in private rooms at AirBnB places.

Closing State Borders

Unlike Australia, where they have a small number of crossings from one state to another, that is not the case in many US states. Also, more than a few US cities are on or very near the border. For example, the 70 square miles of the national capital, Washington DC, neighbors suburban Maryland and Virginia with many hundreds of thousands of commuters and commercial vehicles moving through each day. It would simply not be possible to set up roadblocks and check people.

That said, many states did have quarantine rules for travelers coming from certain states or countries.


Of course, the majority of people who can work from home have been doing so, and there was a huge decrease in traffic and air pollution. (Something good comes out of everything!) Many people lost their jobs. Many were furloughed with medical insurance coverage provided and a promise to be recalled "as soon as possible." However, after 8–12 weeks of that, the chances of being recalled all but evaporated for many. My (wealthy) county government kept all its employees on full pay even when they weren't working!

Ironically, as millions were being laid-off, my business increased. Due to the pandemic, my biggest client had more than a few contracts cancelled or deferred, and therefore had an unused budget before the end of the fiscal year on June 30. And managers hate to give up budget, 'cos they likely won't get it back again the following year. As such, I was offered extra money for one of my projects. I asked for 150 extra hours, and they allowed 250! So, for several months, I worked full-time, a very rare thing for me! For most of that time, I had, and still have, no fixed schedule, which made it easier.

Working from Home

I've been doing this for the past 39 years, so it was not an adjustment for me like it was for most people. Certainly, one needs a good dose of discipline, and many managers don't much like not being able to keep an eye on their employees. The clothing/fashion/cosmetics industries took a big hit, as everyone now lounged around in their PJs or sweat suits without makeup.

One consequence of this was that more people were out during weekdays at the supermarket or in the park when they would otherwise be at work. Also, with a lot less demand for gasoline, prices were low.


I not only borrow books on a regular basis, but I volunteer at the library, primarily for the twice-per-year donations and sales of used books and audio/video discs. Once the libraries were closed to the public, only a skeleton staff was needed. I went online to order materials and then waited for an email or phone call to notify me when they had arrived at my local branch. I then drove there and either phoned from a mobile phone or used the extension outside the front door to let staff come out and deliver the materials in a plastic bag to my car.

More than a few people use my local library for internet access. To support this, the wi-fi signal was boosted to reach the parking lot where patrons could connect on devices from their car or from a picnic table under a tree. Initially, books could only be returned to an outside bin and then only during operating hours. They even put a lock on the return bin to enforce that! And, returned books sat in quarantine for 3–4 days before being handled.

I used to run a weekly, one-on-one conversational-English session with a Mexican man, and that was held in a library meeting room. That all stopped.

Although libraries opened within six months, the meeting rooms were still closed, and there were no group children's' programs. However, they made a lot of programs available via the internet.

My county decided to stop the public from entering two libraries and to use them for day-care centers for county employees' children. That was controversial, and never went ahead, but only because there was insufficient demand.


The US Presidential election is held every four years on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. In 2020, it was on November 3. We also elected one third of the 100 Federal Senators, all 435 Members of the Federal House of Representatives, and many state and local officials.

Voting is controlled by each state, and as you might imagine, with 50 states and a Federal Capital, we have 51 different sets of rules. Some states moved to voting-by-mail years ago, and this year all will allow that, but President Trump tried very hard to discourage that. Previously, in Virginia, one had to have one of 10–15 permitted reasons to "vote absentee" and have someone witness one's signature on the ballot envelope. That year, in Virginia, voting began mid-September, and no witness was required. Typically, states that allow early voting do not allow any of the envelopes to be opened/counted until election day. Due to the large amount of work needed to count the vote this time, unless there is a landslide one way or the other, we might not have a good idea of the winners for days or even weeks afterwards.

I went online and asked to have a mail-in ballot sent to me, which I received. But then the state mailed one to every registered voted as well, which they would not ordinarily do. Given that bad weather and long lines deter people from voting in ordinary years, voting by mail may well become the default way for many states in future.

Contact Tracing

In the months after lock-down, when places started to re-open, I saw regional, national, and international news about requirements to "register" when entering a business or facility, either using a mobile phone or by writing one's name and contact information. The idea was that if someone tested positive at that place, the authorities could contact all the people who had visited that place around that time, so they too could get tested. And I know people who lived in localities where this actually happened. Oddly, it never did in my area!

Covid Gets Close and Personal

Late afternoon on Day 0, New Year's Eve, 2022, I was driving home from lunch with friends, and a light headache started. At bedtime, I was lethargic and had a slight fever, and I had a sneaky feeling that it might be Covid.

On Day 1, New Year's Day 2023, my arms and legs ached more than a little, the light headache was still there, and there was some congestion. I tested myself around 11 o'clock using the recently arrived pack-of-four tests provided for free by the Federal Government. Although the instructions said to wait 15 minutes for the results to be displayed, as soon I pressed my nasal swab into the card, the pink/purple Positive line indicator showed, and got stronger with time. So, what to do? Well, first, I had some milk chocolate with hazelnut, and then I had some more. Then I made a list of things to do in the short and long term, such as cancelling all in-person meetings and activities for the next two weeks. Fortunately, the day before, I'd bought plenty of groceries and fresh fruit and vegetables. And my pantry and freezer were well-stocked. (One of the friends from the Day-0 lunch had tested positive for Covid several weeks earlier and was not adversely affected by exposure to me. The other friend was fully vax'd, and also was unaffected by our close encounter.)

Day 2 saw much more congestion, reduced headache and leg/arm ache, and some coughing, but never a sore throat. Given my quite mild symptoms, when I called my doctor's office, the staff simply advised me to take over-the-counter medicine for congestion, as if I had mild flu. Neighbor Lillian bought that medicine for me and delivered it to my door.

By Day 3, all aches were completely gone, and the congestion and nose-blowing peaked. On Day 4, the congestion was mild, and I spent eight solid hours working and doing administration. My neighbor Susan delivered an extra gallon of whole milk.

Being in quarantine, I couldn't do my three-times-per-week swimming ritual, but as we had a burst of unseasonably warm weather, some days I walked several miles, wearing my mask and keeping well away from others.

By the way, I contracted Covid from a volunteer client I had driven three times in the week leading up to Day 0. And as I found out on Day 1, she had tested Positive after our third drive, and didn't bother to tell me! So, no good deed goes unpunished!

Test 2 on Day 8 was strongly positive, and Test 3 on Day 11 was weakly positive. Finally, Test 4 on Day 14 was negative. However, by that time, I'd already cancelled most external activities for the next week.

The only side-effect I had was a metallic taste on my tongue, which many people have reported.

I'd used up all four of the government-issued tests, so I bought a pack of two more, as backup. They cost US$10 each. (A year earlier, I'd also received a free pack of four from the government, and I used two of those, both of which tested negative. Once the remaining tests' expiry date was reached, I discarded them; however, later on, that expiration date was extended.)


Not having small children or kids in school, or even a "regular" job, and having a decent Federal pension while still working, at worst, I have been inconvenienced by Covid. I certainly can't say the pandemic has been any sort of hardship for me. As I keep telling people, "It could be much worse! What if we had no running water or electricity?" (In my case, without electricity, I can't pump water from my underground well.)

One of the strengths of the American system is the level of independence that runs through communities. Here, many things that happen at state or federal levels in other countries can be determined by each city/town/county instead. However, the downside is that we have many thousands of separate education systems, law-enforcement systems, welfare systems, and the like. And each has to develop its own rules, raise taxes, and implement those rules. As a result, we have the President talking about reopening schools when that is a local school district decision. And state governors want to override a local government mayor's order to wear facemasks. At a time when we need everyone to pull together, we have a very fragmented web of activity, and during Trump's time, no positive national leadership. And we have a lot of lawyers, so pretty much anything controversial is challenged in court within hours of being announced!

My guess is that when the dust has finally settled, after some months, the vast majority of the people will go back to living as much as possible like they used to (for example, not saving and not living within their means) without any permanent, constructive changes, just like they did after 9/11. At such times, I'm pretty sure that our civilization as a whole isn't so smart after all! Time will tell if this crisis ends up any different!

To end on a less-than-happy note, some experts here suggest that once the pandemic is over, it will take the US economy 5–10 years to recover. In the meantime, we keep on "printing more money." The $1,200 many of us got plus payouts to prop-up businesses earlier this year cost the Federal government two trillion dollars; that's US$2,000,000,000,000! Then came the Democratic proposal in the House of Representatives for another 1–3 trillion on top of that. By the way, at the end of fiscal year 2019, the total US federal debt was US$22.8 trillion, and that was before the pandemic hit! The Congressional Budget Office projects that the deficit for 2020 alone will be 16% of U.S. gross domestic product, which is the largest it's been since 1945.

Was the virus not as potent as we'd been led to believe? Was I in much better shape than all those who suffered or died? Did my vaccinations help? We'll never know for sure. In any event, stay safe and keep replenishing your emergency stash of chocolate. And above all, remember, life is just about filling in time until you die! In any event, as Horace wrote back in 23 BC, Carpe diem!

Travel: Memories of Hawaii – Maui and the Big Island

© 2016, 2023 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

Aloha! Since I moved to the Northern Hemisphere, most winters, I've gone to a warmer place for several weeks. In January 2016, my original plan was to go to some place new in the Caribbean. To that end, I looked long and hard at Trinidad and Tobago, but simply couldn't get excited about that or any other island in the general area for that matter [perhaps I really have traveled too much!] Then, quite unexpectedly, Hawaii—half a world away—came onto my radar, and very soon after, I'd booked a 2-week trip there: 10 days in an apartment on the island of Maui, followed by four more staying with friends on the island of Hawaii, known locally as the Big Island.

[I'd been to Maui once, for two days in September 1982, as part of a 3-island trip. At the time, I'd applied for US Permanent Residency, and once my temporary visa expired, I couldn't get a new visa until I got permanent status. And that took three years! Therefore, if I'd have left the US during that time, I wouldn't have been able to get back in! As a result, I flew as far as I could go domestically. As for the Big Island, this would be my 10th trip there, the last one being more than 10 years ago. Eight of those trips were to attend conferences held during the very cold northern winters.]

This is an unusual trip in that it is not primarily for business, although I fully expect to work more than a bit. As I have a steady diet of business trips and plenty of time off, ordinarily, I extend those trips with personal time, and rarely take just a personal trip. Flying as much as I do, I have accumulated many Frequent-Flyer points, but in order to use them I have to travel even more (poor baby)! In any event, I cashed in some for this trip, so only had to pay the taxes, $11.20, not a bad price for a roundtrip ticket across five time zones to get a 40–50-degree F temperature improvement. (Actually, being the generous person that I am, I was prepared to pay as much as $15!)

The Long Trip Out

My 10:30-am taxi arrived 10 minutes early, and my driver was a very-well spoken, educated, young man from Ethiopia. It was a nice day out, and not at all cold. We talked about many things—mostly about his country—on the way to Washington's Dulles International Airport (IAD). Check-in was immediate and smooth, although security took a while. As a Trusted Traveler, I can leave my computer gear in its bag. However, my daypack contained two laptop computers, power cords and adaptors, a wireless and wired mouse, a disk drive, cell phone and pocket computer chargers, a headset, and more. With all that electrical gear, I was subjected to a detailed check—got to keep an eye on us foreigners—but the attendant was very polite and friendly. No "untoward" objects were discovered.

I took the mobile lounge to Terminal D where I walked to Gate 1. The flight to San Francisco was overbooked, and staff were asking for volunteers to take a later flight for $400 compensation. Although I was first in line to board, I didn't get to board first (don't you just hate that when that happens!) People with disabilities came first, followed by Global Service Members, then military personnel in uniform, Spanish-speaking left-handed carpenters, honest politicians (a very small group), and then all of us in Zone 1! No surprise, people had to check luggage at the last minute as the overhead bins were filled rather quickly. Flight UA525, a Boeing 737, took off on time for the 6-hour flight to the west coast.

As you might recall from previous diaries, I often fly in Business Class; however, on this trip, I made do with the Extended-Legroom section of Economy; no point "wasting" my flyer miles during a daytime flight! I settled into Seat 11A, a portside window. As we had 30 minutes until takeoff, I started work on this diary.

Late in the boarding process, an 18-year-old university student sat in the seat next to me. From our "Hellos" onward, we got along famously, and talked of travel and culture, among other things, for more than two hours. She was born in Budapest, Hungary, and had lived and traveled in several corners of the world. Due to her parents' ancestry, she had passports from Hungary, the UK, and the U.S. Based on her enthusiasm and abilities, there may be hope for her generation after all!

As we flew out over the Midwest, the sun shone brightly and was reflected up from the snow-covered countryside. In fact, despite our aircraft smoothly coasting at 30,000 feet, my side of the plane was uncomfortably hot. I worked on my laptop for three hours.

We arrived at San Francisco International (SFO) 10 minutes early in nice weather. I was very pleased to find there were no earthquakes in sight. I snacked on a fish sandwich before going to my connecting gate where I worked for another 30 minutes at a business desk.

At Gate 90, Flight UA1749, another Boeing 737, took off full for the 5½-hour trip to Kahului, Maui (OGG). I had Seat 7A, a bulkhead window seat with a large amount of legroom and a power outlet, don't you know! Seated next to me was a German couple from the state of Lower Saxony. They had just flown in from Frankfurt on the polar route, so had already had a very long day. He spoke some English, and she had none, but she had questions, so I quickly got into my (quite rusty and limited) German mode and managed to help her. Later, I helped them fill out their agricultural forms. (With Hawaii being a remote island chain, many things are prohibited.) She was quite surprised when I asked her if she had any live snakes in her baggage or on her person! (Yes, that was one of the questions on the form.) Now I knew the German word for "snake," but not for "live," so I improvised with "not dead." She claimed to not have any, but I wasn't so sure!

I worked another hour in-flight, but started to fade, so I read a bit, and then lay back in my seat with the light off, resting my eyes. However, no sleep came.

The Island of Maui

We landed at 9 pm, local time, to a balmy 75 degrees F (24 C). I got a bunch of tourist books and brochures from a stand and then picked up my bag, which was one of the first out on the carousel. I hopped in a taxi and the driver took a while to find my destination on his GPS. Near my place, we stopped at a supermarket so I could lay in some basic supplies for the next day.

I found my apartment unlocked with the ceiling fan going and the windows open. I unpacked my gear, had a nice, not-too-hot shower, and crashed at 11 o'clock with just a sheet over me. It was probably 11:30, however, before I went to sleep.

[Next day] Around 4 am, I woke to feel a chill, so I closed the windows and pulled up a blanket. I was wide-awake at 5:30, after about 6½ hours sleep. The apartment owner had provided some fresh fruit, so I sliced a banana over my cereal with milk, and boiled the kettle for a cup of coffee. The first signs of dawn came at 6:15, after which it got light rather quickly.

My new style of personal-travel accommodations these days is AirBnB; however, after six times renting a room, this time I chose an apartment, so that my traveling companion, Mr. C (my stuffed caterpillar, and traveling companion of late) and I could have our own kitchen and bathroom. After a few false starts, I finally found just the right place, up a mountainside on the last street looking out over the main town. It's called Treehouse Cottage, and while it isn't literally up in a tree, it is surrounded by many large ones, including a papaya and several banana, with plump fruit hanging right where I can reach them. A balcony out the back was screened in to keep the insects out, and it overlooked my very own little jungle. The place was one large room with a small bathroom set in a corner. The bed was only a double, but I could just about fit across corners. At least it didn't have an end-board! The kitchen was very well appointed and had all I needed, and then some.

I passed the time working on a list of administrative chores and going through the tourist information to see where to go and what to do. My plan ended up being to work, read, write, and nap at the apartment and to walk the local areas for the first five days, and then to rent a car for the last five, so I could visit several interesting areas around the island. At 10:30, I headed back to the supermarket to lay in supplies for the remaining nine days. The first half mile was gently undulating, but the second was downhill at a 30% grade. It was getting quite hot, so I stuck out my thumb. It'd been many years since I'd last hitchhiked, but I thought I'd try it. Well, don't you know, all kinds of yuppies in their land yachts raced right by me without a clue as to the wonderful time they might have had had they stopped to pick me up. (Perhaps I'd have had more luck if I'd worn some clothes; just kidding, after all I had on my straw Hawaiian hat!) Well, halfway down the mountain, my faith in humankind was partially restored when a man pulled up in his big pick-up truck and drove me right to the front door of the supermarket. He'd served in the US Navy and had been to Adelaide, Australia (my home state's capital), and loved it. He recognized my accent right away.

I had my daypack and a reasonably strong paper bag with carry handles. I barely managed to get all my groceries in them, and the lot must have weighed at least 30 pounds. As I trudged back up the mountain, it seemed that just maybe the earth had moved while I was shopping, as the angle of the ascent seemed much steeper than the trip down. Unfortunately, no one stopped to pick me up, so I had to stop several times to rest in the shade and to put my heart back in my chest. By the time I got back home, I was drenched in sweat, and after I packed away my stuff, I splashed water over myself and lay on the bed unable to move for some time. I know for certain that I don't work that hard for money! Later, I showered and tried to nap, but to no avail.

I met the owner, Mark, who lived in the basement of the main house in a huge studio, in which he painted and made metal sculptures and ceramic koi fish. We chatted a while and he gave me the Holy Grail, the password to the wireless internet. After nearly two days of being disconnected, the legitimate messages and spam had piled up, waiting for my attention. I disposed of them while the sounds of a neighbor playing various instruments wafted in my windows along with a slight breeze. I can't say it was a bit of Heaven, but perhaps it was in the outer suburbs of said place! I paused to make and sip a cup of boiling Earl Grey tea, and to nibble on some crackers containing peanut butter.

Alas, I'd encountered a major problem with my new home. As I planned to do more than a little personal and business work on both the laptops I'd brought, I needed a decent table and chair with support. However, these did not exist. The narrow table-like stand—intended as a breakfast bar—was too low for my tall knees, as was the coffee table on the balcony, but what to do? Well, don't you know, just as I was climbing back up the mountain from the supermarket and about to collapse from exhaustion, I had an idea that was more cunning than the Professor of Cunning at Oxford University. (There you go Black Adder fans!) Knowing I would have an apartment, as I was packing my little travel kitchen back home, I included four strong plastic containers with lids in which to store leftovers in the fridge. Now, I put their lids on, turned them upside down and stood the breakfast bench legs right on top where they fit very nicely into the indentations as if they'd been made for that very purpose. I then brought a comfortable cane chair in from the balcony and filled it with cushions to get me at just the right height. It worked wonderfully well, so much so that I'm thinking of patenting the idea. However, I think my working product title, table-leg-lifts-made-from-plastic-tomato-and-basil-soup-countainers, needs some tweaking. Perhaps I'll hold some focus groups! [Would you pay $29.99 for a set of these? No? But wait, there's more; included in all orders placed in the next 30 minutes will be, yeah, a raspberry-flavored tongue depressor!]

I stayed in for the rest of the day working on my laptop on a whole host of personal things, including this diary. Afternoon tea consisted of a large mug of steaming Earl Grey tea. Supper was a ham salad and a tall glass of whole milk, just the thing for a growing lad!

I started my first reading project, a biography of two US Navy carrier pilots during the Korean War. One was white and from a wealthy New England family, the other black and from a poor southern family. It was called Devotion: An Epic Story of Heroism, Friendship, and Sacrifice, by Adam Makos. From the start, it was a good read. [Thanks, Danielle, for that great birthday present.]

I was yawning from mid-afternoon on, but managed to stay awake until 7:30, at which time, I crashed. I think I was asleep at 7:31!

Iao Valley State Park

[Next day] After 12 hours of reasonably restful sleep, I was wide-awake and ready for the world, but was it ready for me? The dress code was bare feet and boxer shorts. As breakfast is the most important meal of the day, I had a tall glass of orange and passion fruit juice along with sausage and egg on bread with ketchup.

I checked my email and was delighted to hear that it was below freezing with light snow back home. Hopefully, all or at least most of winter's weather will come and go in the two weeks I will be away.

At 10 o'clock, I headed out with my daypack containing rain gear, emergency rations, water, sunburn cream and insect repellant. The cloud cover made it pleasant. My destination was Iao Valley State Park, which I estimated was a 5-mile round-trip. Once again, I held out my thumb, and after a quarter mile of walking, a young guy picked me up and dropped me at the main road to the park. He smiled and told me the fare was $150! However, he backed off when I threatened to sing instead. I walked 10 minutes more before a young American guy in a jeep stopped. With him were a young woman from Germany and another from the Ukraine. It was a veritable United Nations gathering.

At the park entrance, there were terraced gardens with Korean and Chinese pagodas, koi ponds, ornately trimmed trees and bushes, and a memorial to all the people from Puerto Rico who emigrated to Maui in 1900 after their own country (in the Caribbean) was devastated by a hurricane. I stopped to chat with a French-Canadian couple from the province of Quebec.

The road to the second parking area ¾ of a mile further on was closed, as construction of some sort had started. I read all the warning signs and after thinking for 10 seconds, stepped over the barrier, and headed up the road. Soon I encountered numerous others going in my direction or coming back. Apart from some large tree branches that had been cut, there was no evidence of anything remotely dangerous. After a 15-minute walk, mostly in the shade, I stood on a bridge over a fast-flowing creek coming down from the mountains, taking in the view of Iao Needle, the 1,200-foot (400 m) remnant of a lava cone.

Back at the main park, I sat in the shade and made notes for this diary while having a small snack. Many people were BBQing, and the food smelled awfully good. Afterwards, I took a few photos of Mr. C against some tropical backgrounds.

I started walking back home, and soon was passed by a steady stream of at least 40 classic VWs, mostly Beetles and Kombi-vans, but with some Kombi-trucks, Karmen Ghias, and dune buggies, as well. Shortly after, an elderly couple from Memphis, Tennessee, stopped to give me a lift. When we got to the road that went off to my place, they very generously said that as they didn't have anything better to do, they would drive me all the way home, saving me a mile, mostly uphill. All told, I figured I'd saved about 3½ miles of walking.

Back home, it was snack time, so I made a healthy salad sandwich, which I washed down with ice-cold milk. To aid the digestion, I cranked up the in-house stereo and settled into some 60s/70s/80s classic rock from a local station. [Ironically, back home, I often listen to an internet radio station that plays traditional-Hawaiian music.]

[Next day] It was a national public holiday (Martin Luther King Day), but I was in the mood for some serious work. So, work I did, putting in 17 hours over two days. To break out of my sedentary mode, I stopped occasionally for snacks and drinks, and a stretch.

A Drive up to the Haleakala Crater

[Next day] After a serious breakfast suitable for a growing lad, I spent the morning reading and dealing with email. Around noon, my landlord, Mark, generously drove me to the airport where I picked up a rental car, so I could get "out and about" on the island. Well, I have to say that the Ford they gave me had so much electronic gear, I couldn't even figure out how to start the darned thing! Apparently, the key I'd been given only opened the door and the trunk; it didn't actually start the car. For that, I had to put my foot hard on the brake pedal and press the start switch. [Is that progress? I remember driving very old cars in the 1960's that had no ignition switch and a starter button.]

It was a pleasant day, with a cool breeze, so I had all the car windows down, at least that is until I got higher up the mountain where it got significantly cooler. My plan for the day was to drive to the top of the extinct volcano, Haleakala, and to pay my respects to the Goddess Pele. Early on in the drive up the mountain, I came across two young guys hitchhiking, so I picked them up. They too were headed to the top. Having recently turned 62, I was eligible for a US National Park lifetime-entrance card for $10, what a deal! Therefore, at the entrance to the park, I bought one, which entitled all the people in my vehicle to enter without charge as well. After a look around the small visitor center and the summit peak (10,023 feet/3,055 meters), we parted company. While the two guys hiked way down into the crater, I ambled down no more than a mile where I sat and took in the vast crater, one side of which had been blown out. I met and chatted with quite a few people, mostly from Canada, a German, some women from Spain, a Frenchman, and a Chinese woman from Hong Kong. And believe it or not, two natives of Bismarck, North Dakota. The walk back up was arduous, and I stopped and rested on a regular basis. [Some 34 years earlier, I'd learned the hard way about physical exertion at altitude when I was in Cuzco, Peru, very high up in the Andes.]

The two hitchhikers and I met up again at the summit where we joined 100 others to watch the sunset. Many were shivering in their shorts and T-shirts, while I had on long pants, a warm jacket, an outer wind-proof coat, and a woolen cap. The sun dropped quite quickly, and the most interesting aspect of the sunset was that we were well above the clouds, so the sun set below the cloud top, not the horizon. Below the clouds, sunset was 5–10 minutes later. We drove the very windy road back down in the dark, and at one point nearly hit a very large cow in a small herd grazing by the roadside. Around 7 pm, light rain started, which got quite heavy as we got further down the mountain.

It was a challenge driving in a new place, at night, in the rain, but I had some basic maps. Fortunately, a main highway went to the end of my street, so I found my way home by 8 o'clock without incident. I made a nice ham salad for supper and settled down to do some reading while the rain came down. Lights out around 10 pm with the windows mostly closed.

[Now apart from seeing the sunset on the mountain, I had also considered going back to see a sunrise. As this was such a popular thing to do, the Park entrance was manned from a very early hour. Currently, sunrise was around 7 am, but the Ranger at the entrance told me I should be in line with my car at the entrance around 4:30! I pondered that advice for the rest of the visit up there, and at the end of the day, I decided that I really should leave something new to do during my next visit, so why not make it that!]

A Day at Home

[Next day] It rained through the night and didn't stop until about 8 am. I read in bed for a while and decided to alternate work and play days. With this being a wet and overcast day, I'd stay home. Breakfast was a bowl of cereal with tropical fruit pieces in juice, topped with milk, and a steaming cup of coffee alongside.

I idled away the morning going through my photos from the day before and dealing with the inevitable email that kept on arriving. Apparently, the world simply could not get along without me! Reports from back home told me that schools were closed in anticipation of the big blizzard, and snow had already fallen (as had the temperature). It appeared that the Weather Gods had heeded my request to wait until I was gone. Hopefully, the mess will be cleaned up before I return home.

I was less than enthusiastic when I started work around midday, so much so that my efficiency was only at 105%! Soon after, things improved, and I put in a solid and productive afternoon.

Supper was a bowl of hot tuna with pasta and a creamy sauce, followed by some tropical fruit. I went through all the reading material in the bookcase and found "Dave Barry Does Japan." I've long been a fan of his writing (and his influence is shown in some of my essays and diaries from time to time), and I enjoyed the first few chapters immensely while sitting out on my enclosed balcony. Lights out at 9 pm.

[Next day] I was wide-awake at 7:30 am, ready for the world. I put the kettle on to boil and then made a 4-egg omelet with sausage and cheese. It was all very tasty with leftovers for Ron ("lateR on," that is). The organic brown eggs had ever-so-orange yokes, the chickens that laid them seem to have actually been outside scratching for worms!

The wireless network had gone off air the previous night and was still not working, so I went to see the landlord. He reported a general outage and that someone was coming later today to fix it. Hopefully, "later today" is not island-speak for "later this month!" It's so easy to rely on technology which can quickly become unavailable without warning. Oh well, as I've maintained for many years, "Always have a Plan B, even for Plan B." As I had planned a driving trip around the north and east coasts that day, the impact was minimal, although I really did need to go online to my bank to transfer some money between accounts. C'est la vie!

A Drive Along the East Coast

Around 10 o'clock, I headed east on the Hana Highway, which, surprise, eventually leads to the town of Hana. There was plenty of cloud cover and a fresh breeze, so it was a good day for driving. I stopped at Ho'okipa Beach Park where I saw my first beach. As I was taking some photos, I saw a large sea turtle swimming out thought the waves. It was 2–3 feet (1 m) across. (Apparently, at sunset they come to that beach in large numbers.) I already mentioned the complexity of my rental car, but it went to a whole new level at that stop. You would think it a simple thing to lock a car, but NO! Each time I pressed the "lock door" button on the remote, the doors locked and then after a few seconds they unlocked again. After a half dozen tries, I consulted the man who had just pulled in next to me. He told me that I had to step away from the car a few paces before I locked up. Then as soon I got close to any door, the door and remote recognized each other and the doors opened. Call it "convenient" if you must; I call it "a bloody nuisance!" In the parking lot, I saw a vehicle with California license plates, which got me thinking the driver must have made a wrong turn somewhere!

Early on in the drive, I passed large areas of sugar cane, something rather rare these days. Later, I was surrounded by one of my favorite plants, ferns, on each side of the road for miles.

According to my guidebook, "The road boasts approximately 617 curves and crosses 56 one-lane bridges," which I can confirm. I stopped off at a couple of places to look at waterfalls and out over the coast, and to stretch. For the most part, the speed limit was 15 or 25 mph. I didn't speed much, and the 50-odd miles took nearly three hours. To be sure, the highlight was Wai'anapanapa State Park just before Hana. (Try to say that name three times quickly!) The old lava flows went right down into the water, and the vegetation was tropical. The small beach was quite black, mostly made up of small and medium-size rounded pebbles, but also some lava sand. The waves came in high and hard, which challenged the swimmers. I had a quick look around Hana and decided that the drive had really "been about the journey, not the destination."

Soon after I started back, one of my alternate personalities took over my body, and proceeded to test the rental cars brakes and steering through all those tight corners. Now I won't admit to breaking any laws, but let's just say that I got back in one hour less than the out-bound trip after what might be called "Toad's Wild Ride." As I neared home, I managed to regain control of my body.

At My Apartment

Back home, I had an early supper and a warm shower. For something different, I'd spent the day sitting in a car seat rather than in a chair at my laptop. I wiled away the evening reading, snacking, and doing logic puzzles on my computer while both CDs from Leonard Cohen's Live in London album played.

[Next day] Although I was in bed a long while, I wasn't particularly rested. However, after a small breakfast and tea, I felt better. I started a load of laundry; you can't escape those domestic chores even in Paradise! Email from back home informed me some 24" (60 cm) of snow had fallen in my area. I phoned a neighbor to check, and he told me it was still coming down and was so deep, he couldn't even get his large tractor out to start plowing his yard and driveway. The whole DC metro area likely would be shut down for days.

I worked solidly for much of the day, but as the old saying goes, "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy." Around 4 o'clock, I headed out for a beach where a reliable source had informed me, I might be able to see some giant sea turtles around sunset. Once there, I sat on a large rock in the sunshine and finished my Dave Barry book. Then I walked down to the beach area where 22 turtles were sunbathing on the rocks. They were each 3–5 feet (1–1.5 m) long. It was a first for me. Near my car, a woman was lying in a hammock making baskets from palm fronds, and I bought one she'd just finished. As I was speaking with her, a very distinctive, strong, sweet smell came from behind me. Two young men were seated in their pickup truck smoking joints.

Back home, I had an easy supper, browsed online, listened to music, and read until lights-out at 9 pm.

[Next day] I was awake at 6:15 am feeling well rested. Around 6:45, the neighborhood roosters announced the coming sunrise, so I got up and made coffee and a small breakfast. I went online to find that the storm back home had ended with 36" (90 cms) of snow on my street. The temperature was predicted to get above freezing for the rest of the week and rain was coming, so between those two a lot of snow likely would melt before I got back. Although I was happy to be in a much warmer place, part of me wanted to be back home to experience the rare event.

A Drive Around the South Coast

I thought about working, but after 10 seconds of serious consideration, I said, "Nah!". At 8:30, I headed out. It was already 75 degrees up my mountain, and a cool breeze was blowing in my windows as I drove down. However, it was very bright, and a hot day was ahead. Down at sea level, it was at least 5 degrees warmer. I stopped to fill up with gas. [Being a small island, lots of stuff must be brought in from another island or the mainland, so prices for many things were much higher than back home.]

I drove down the south coast, passed Kihei and then drove until the road ran out for 2-wheel-drive vehicles. I was in the middle of a field of old a'a lava, which while it looks interesting, is pretty much impossible to walk on. I definitely was on the dry side of the island. I drove back north and then headed to the west side, stopping at an overlook to remove my trouser legs and to apply some sunburn cream.

In Lahaina, I drove along the beachfront where I decided to have a traditional Hawaiian snack. Yes, dear reader, I stopped at a McDonalds for some French fries and a coke. I figured that if I was only going to eat out once in Maui, I'd go all out! I drove north to Napili and then turned around and found a parking spot back in Lahaina. My first order of business was to buy some postcards, which I did. I then sat under a huge banyan tree that covered 1–2 acres (0.5–1 hectare), I kid you not! There, I spoke with a delightful, retired couple from Minnesota. On a sidewalk, a man had a number of rather exotic parrots with which he was taking tourists' photos. Much to my surprise, one was a galah from Australia, where it is considered a pest and not at all exotic! While walking through the town, I shot more than a few photos that will end up in an instalment of "Signs of the Times" on my monthly blog (which I just know you are following, right?)

[As I ready this diary for publication on my blog in August 2023, sadly, Lahaina had just been devastated by fire.]

The highway to the west was well made with a high speed limit, so once again I put the rental car through its paces. It was very warm, a nice breeze blew through the car, and I was listening to my favorite songs from the 60s/70s/80s with the volume turned waaay up. Life doesn't get much better than that in mid-winter! About five miles from home, I came across a young Native-Hawaiian hitchhiking, but with a difference. He was pushing a bicycle on which he was trying to balance a car wheel, complete with a very heavy metal rim. It was 85 degrees, and he was sweating. I stopped, we loaded the wheel into the trunk, got 90% of his bike in after it, and I tied the trunk lid down with a piece of trash I found along the side of the road. He was very polite and grateful, so I offered to take him right where he needed to be, even though that was a few miles out of my way. Regarding the favor, I asked him to "Pay it forward!"

Back home I had an ice-cold drink before jumping into the shower. Being a "boy from the bush," I was raised with bath-day being every Saturday morning, whether you needed it or not! Therefore, this showering every afternoon seemed quite decadent. To end, I had a rather cold shower, not because I'd had evil thoughts (well, maybe a few), but because it just seemed like the thing to do. Afterwards, I was ready to bring this diary up to date.

I had a quiet evening, reading, listening to music, and enjoying some unnecessary snacks and drinks.

A Short Hop over to the Big Island

[Next day] I was wide-awake at 7 am. It was Travel Day, but nothing too strenuous. After breakfast, I washed my dishes, stripped the linens off the bed, and packed my luggage. My groceries were almost all used up with just enough to make a sandwich for lunch. I put the apartment back into the same shape as I'd found it and set out at 11 o'clock. I drove to the port and parked in the shade overlooking the sea near the dock where a medium-sized cruise ship was berthed. About 100 yards out to sea, the head of a large sea turtle came up for air as it swam along the shore.

At noon, I headed to the airport nearby where I returned my rental car. I was pleasantly surprised at how inexpensive it was. A few minutes later, I was on the bus for the short ride to the terminal. It was my first time in air conditioning during this trip, and it was way too cold. The check-in kiosk refused to help me, instead directing me to a counter for assistance. It seems that I was somehow "special." I checked my bag and got my boarding pass, but had to pay $25 for the luggage, the first time I'd paid for that in many years. I'd also paid an extra $10 to get a seat with extended legroom. You see, I was flying on Hawaiian Airlines, not my usual one with which I have all kinds of privileges.

Hawaiian Air Flight HA140 took off on time at 2:35 pm from OGG for the short flight to Kona (KOA) on the neighboring Big Island. It was a Boeing 717, a not very common model. I sat next to a couple who have lived there for many years. They ran an art gallery, and she was an artist. Some nice fruit juice was served. Once I got my luggage, I phoned my friend Tom, who was five minutes out. He and his wife, Lana, picked me up and we drove north towards their place on the dry side of the island. [I'd last seen them in September when they stayed with me for two nights.] We stopped at a resort village where we walked along the beach and had an early supper outdoors at Lava Lava, a very pleasant restaurant with a great waiter. I had fish with vegetables and rice, along with a Divine passionfruit smoothie!

We arrived at their house around 7:45, and after getting settled and meeting the three extra-friendly dogs, all of whom needed my attention, it was lights-out at 8:30 with the ceiling fan slowly pushing around some cool air.

A Visit with Tom and Lana

[Next day] I was awake at 7:30. Breakfast consisted of coffee, bread and jam, and some wonderful fresh blueberries. It was time to post a new essay to my blog, so I got started on that. Then Lana and I headed out to the wet side of the island to a state park where we hiked a short trail through the dense forest and ferns. We sat in a picnic shelter afterwards and drank water and had a snack. All that exercise and fresh air made me yawn all the way home. Along the way, we stopped off at Waimea to mail some postcards and to buy some more. Back home, I was so tired, I had a 2-hour nap. This vacation thing sure can be tiring!

At 4:30 pm, I finally got around to finishing posting the new essay and sending out the next one to my reviewers. Then I took care of business and personal email that had been accumulating.

We had drinks on the verandah while watching the sun set behind the clouds. Then we moved inside for hot soup with fresh-baked bread. I washed that down with a bottle of Hawaii's finest gingerade.

Afterwards, it was time to bring this diary up to date. Lights out at 9:30 after a very nice first full day on the Big Island.

[Next day] I had a leisurely day, eating and drinking, and doing a few hours of work for various projects. It was so hard that I had a 90-minute nap after lunch. Lana made some great taco soup for supper after which we had some delicious dessert. Lights-out at 9 o'clock with the ceiling fan turning slowly and just a sheet over me.

Hilo and Volcanoes National Park

[Next day] I was awake very early and did not get back to sleep. After breakfast, I packed my luggage and computer gear, and around 9:30, we headed out. We drove south and up the mountain to the new saddle highway, which we took over the top all the way to Hilo, a pleasant piece of old Hawaii. There, we had a picnic lunch on the famous Banyan Drive, a road flanked by huge banyan trees and hotels on the water's edge. Afterwards, I walked a bit around the beautiful Liliuokalani Park and Gardens.

From there, we drove to Volcano, a town and area right near the entrance to the Volcanoes National Park. We'd booked a 2-bedroom vacation house for the night and settled in there. It was a very nice place and was right on the edge of a golf course. I was in a queen-suite across the deck from the king-suite, just past the hot tub! After a short rest, we headed to the park and its Jaggar Museum, where we looked at photos of the active crater nearby. Cameras nestled on the crater's edge were taking and sending pictures every 30-odd minutes. There was a large active red pool of molten lava. Two weeks earlier, it had exploded in spectacular fashion, and people came from all over to see it erupt into view. It's a small crater in a larger one, which is inside a very wide one. Recent lava flows had closed the circular road around the main crater. We drove into the park a way and looked out over the broad lava fields from a lookout point right next to a collapsed lava tube. We were back at our house by 4:30, where I brought this diary up to date as the sun streamed in my window on its way to setting.

Soon after 7 pm, we headed out to dinner, and along the way, we saw a bright red glow coming from the main crater. It reflected on the low clouds above. We had a wonderful fine-dining experience at the Lodge's restaurant, and I very much enjoyed a nice steak with vegetables. We shared some desserts. At 9:15 pm, we drove back to the observation area in the park where we watched the glow from a half-mile away. It's the closest I've ever been to active lava.

Back at our house, I closed all the windows but one, and settled into my nice, hard bed. However, at 4,000 feet altitude, it got a little cool during the night, and I closed that one window.

Kona and Home

[Next day] We drove back to the Lodge for breakfast, half of which I took away with me to eat later. After we checked out, we headed out on the 2-hour drive to Kona. There, we parked downtown and walked around the waterfront through some shopping arcades and markets. At 1 o'clock, Tom and Lana dropped me off at the airport. It had been a great visit with them.

Flight UA1263 took off on time, and the Boeing 737 was pushed hard by a strong tail wind getting us to SFO an hour early. I had no window, but then again there was nothing out there to see but the ocean. I worked on my laptop for several hours before starting to read an autobiography I'd read some years earlier. [It was Karen Armstrong's Through the Narrow Gate: A Memoir of Spiritual Discovery.] I had a 2½-hour layover at SFO, by which time I was starting to fade. Flight UA697 was another B737, and although I had extended legroom, the seat did not recline far enough for me to get any meaningful sleep.

[Next day] We touched down at IAD at 6:30 am, where the temperature was a cold 15 degrees F (-9.4 C), some 60 degrees F colder than when I'd departed Kona; brr! I appeared to be the only person at the airport wearing a straw Hawaiian hat; imagine that! I'd left my car at Jenny's place, and after spending having breakfast with her and catching up with a few things, I made it home to my place around 2 pm. Although all the streets had been plowed, my long driveway was 1–2 feet deep in snow. After I unloaded my gear and waded through the deep snow, I dug out a space large enough to get my car off the street. It was easy digging as it was neither cold nor windy, and the sun was streaming down. Besides, the snow was light and only the bottom inch was icy due to melting and refreezing overnight.

While I was away, my neighbor couldn't get to my house for eight days, and my indoor plants were looking quite forlorn. However, a couple of hours after I gave them a good drink, they perked up to their former glory. As I had plenty of food in the freezer and pantry, I did no shopping other than to pick up milk. I crashed at 7:30, sleeping soundly only until 9:30, and then I unpacked my computer gear and dealt with email until midnight. Then I got a decent sleep. It was a GREAT trip!

Did you know that Captain James Cook "discovered" the Hawaiian Islands? In 1778, he named them the Sandwich Islands after his patron, The Earl of Sandwich (for whom the humble sandwich is named). As to why the Hawaii State Flag has the British Union Jack on it remains unclear; there are a number of possible explanations.

Signs of Life: Part 32

© 2023 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

From time to time during my travels, I come across signs that I find interesting for one reason or another. Sometimes, they contain clever writing, are humorous, or remind me of some place or event.


As a person who takes off his shoes when entering his house, I quite understand.


A store in Penn Station, New York City, that sells men's accessories, such as neckties. However, it's not clear to me that many tycoons ride the train.


That's not asking for too much, is it?


This sign says it all!


While it's not your average police car, space in New York City is limited!


From Haren in the Netherlands. Literally, "Pentecost flower path."


A poster protesting the ability to hunt bears in the US state of Wyoming.


A recycling bin in the Netherlands. When was the last time you saw a place to recycle handbags and curtains?

As I've often said, "Those foreigners have words for everything!"


Where in the English-speaking world are you likely to pay $12.67 plus tax for 30 minutes of parking? New York City!


Well, as we can see, this dog's bollocks are certainly on display! What surprised me was that this English slang term was the name of a pub in Groningen, the Netherlands.



A café and wine bar; naturally!


A clothing shop in Utrecht, the Netherlands. Not necessarily for sissies, however.



As I exited a Dutch church, I saw this high-tech way to donate to the church-restoration fund.


Now there's a fantatstic idea! I've certainly stayed in my fair share of places where that didn't happen!


My One Time Wwoofing

© 2023 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

Several years ago, I learned about an organization that connected farmers needing short- or long-term labor, with volunteers wanting to help; however, I'd forgotten all about it. Then early in 2022, I heard about it again on a TV documentary, and I decided to check it out. It's called WWOOF: World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, volunteer workers are called Wwoofers, and the volunteer activity is called Wwoofing! Chapters exist in many countries. Some hosts grow fruit and/or vegetables, some have various kinds of livestock, others have a vineyard. Some are commercial and large operations; others are small and private.

As I live in the US, I went to the US National Chapter website. After looking over the host profiles within 3–4 hours' drive from my place, I paid my US$40 for a 1-year volunteer membership, and set out to find a host. It took quite some effort, and it wasn't until the sixth place I contacted over a 3–4-week period that I had success.

Hosts are required to provide a safe accommodation space and three meals a day. Some hosts invite the volunteers to eat with them while others provide food for the volunteers to prepare on their own. Many hosts are vegetarian and some are vegan. Hosts typically ask volunteers to work 4–6 hours per day over a 5-day period.

This essay is broken into several parts: my membership profile; my first (and, thus far, only) experience as a farm volunteer through this program, during July of 2022; and my efforts trying to find a host farmer along with my observations and conclusions.

Part 1: My Membership Profile

Here's what I wrote about myself on the Website:

Availability: I work part-time, from home, mostly on my own schedule, and have a lot of flexibility. And so long as I have good internet access at least once or twice a day while away from home, I can service my business clients and deal with other important matters remotely. Currently, I'm looking at stays from 2–10 days. I live in the rural west part of Loudoun County in Northern Virginia, and am currently looking at hosts within 1–6-hour's drive from home, but am open to considering places further afield.

Accommodation: By far the most important thing is the bed. I'm 6'4" tall, but can manage to fit into a single- or double bed provided it has no footer; that is, I can hang my legs over the end. I absolutely need a firm and flat mattress. If I can't consistently get a good night's sleep, I won't be staying long, so don't accept me if the bed doesn't fit my requirements.

Quirks: I am not the least bit interested in social media; I have a very full life, thank you very much! I don't do texting, and I rarely have my cell phone switched on, except by appointment! I use it entirely for my (occasional) benefit, and then only as a phone and camera.

Background: I was born in, and lived in, Australia for 25 years, and came to the US in 1979, where I lived in Chicago for a year, and thereafter in the greater Washington DC area. Until age 16, I lived in a 10-inch rainfall, semi-desert area of South Australia, on various farms up to 4,000 acres in size. We cropped wheat and barley; raised sheep, chickens, and pigs; and had a vegetable garden. Being of German descent, we butchered our own meat; made our own sausage, hams, and bacon; and smoked them. We canned fruit and vegetables. When we had a few dairy cows, I hand-milked one each day after school, and I hand-cranked the milk separator for the cream. I trapped rabbits for meat and skins.

I was a part-time university student for many years while working in Chemistry, before discovering computers and programming. Since 1984, I have been self-employed, having at least 3 months off each year, spread over the year. Nowadays, I work about 50 hours per month.

For the 40 years prior to the COVID pandemic, I travelled extensively around the US and abroad, mostly on business, but always adding on personal time "to stop and smell the flowers." [Many of my trip diaries are posted on my blog, as is a series of essays called "What is Normal?"]

I am a prolific writer and reader. I *love* learning and teaching. I am interested in languages, and have basic skills in German and Spanish, and minimal ability in spoken Japanese.

On the volunteer front, I fund and operate a small foundation that serves underprivileged kids and their families, and involves support for reading. I've been a host and travel member of the international, peace-based hosting organization Servas for 35 years. I am also a Couch Surfing host and traveler, and an AirBnB user. I drive (mostly elderly) clients to appointments and take them on social outings. I've mentored high school and university students, and I tutor individual ESOL students. I also read with elementary-school kids.


  • I like working with most kinds of animals.
  • I'm very comfortable in a vegetable garden.
  • I know my way around quite a few hand and power tools, including a chainsaw. I've renovated a house and done a lot of handyman jobs.
  • I'm a very practical guy with more common sense than most (which, sadly, isn't saying much). I believe in planning for success!
  • Once you've explained/demonstrated to me what you need done, you can leave me to it.
  • I'm a self-starter, and put in a 110% effort. If something is worth doing at all, it's worth doing properly!
  • I'm an "ideas" person who loves to brainstorm a solution.
  • I love preparing food and cooking, but nothing fancy. (I try not to let my snacks interfere with my meals!)
  • I can help with home schooling, in numerous subjects.
  • I can teach you how to create better-than-basic Word documents and Excel spreadsheets. I can help you master Quicken for record keeping and invoicing.

Part 2: Trip Diary

The Drive Down

Having stayed very close to home during the COVID-19 pandemic, I hadn't travelled in a long while, and had to get back into travel mode with respect to packing and preparation. But over the past 40+ years I have developed a detailed list for that, and it all came back to me rather quickly.

I loaded up my gear and headed out at 1:45 pm. It was a straight run south on state Highway 15 to the James River. The non-stop, 3.5-hour drive was without incident, although I missed a couple of turns at very busy intersections. Outside, it was 90–95 degrees F (32–35 C), while inside, I had the air-conditioner keeping it much cooler and drier. Although my 2002 Nissan Pathfinder SUV, Norrie, had developed some permanent, fuel-related problems, I decided to take it on this trip to give it a good workout, and I am happy to say that it performed admirably!

I arrived at Dragonfly Farms at 5 pm, where I was greeted by Judi. After unloading my gear, I met her husband, Doug. Both were in their 70's. My room was large and had a big-boy bed that was just right for Goldilocks and me (although not necessarily together); not too soft and not too hard!

Having had a very large lunch, supper involved a small snack of garden-fresh cucumber slices with black pepper and salt, all washed down with a fine bottle of creaming soda.

After a cold shower, I felt much better, and I settled onto my bed with a large fan blowing hard. (The house had no air-conditioning. That was good as I didn't want the room cold, and bad as I would have preferred to not have high humidity.) I'd browsed the hosts' bookshelves and found some interesting titles on numerous topics, and I read bits and pieces from several for an hour. By 8:15, I was yawning, so I settled in for the night. Although the windows had no blinds or heavy drapes and it was still quite light outside, I fell asleep almost immediately.

Workday 1

I slept soundly for more than eight hours, and lay in for another one, finally getting up at 5:15. I was surprised that it was not yet light outside, but the days were getting shorter now. I read bits from a travel book on the US state of New Mexico, especially the area around Taos.

When I connected to the internet for the first time, a flood of mail arrived. Also, my electronic calendar informed me that it was the 43rd anniversary of my arrival in the US in 1979. (I'd only planned to stay a year, but that seems to have been extended considerably!)

My hosts surfaced soon after, and Doug took charge of the kitchen. It was a vegetarian house. I had a bowl of fresh peach slices, a fried egg on toast, and my first-ever plant-based sausage, along with a glass of apple cider. Afterwards, Doug and I washed the dishes.

We spent a half hour walking around the greenhouses getting me educated on the tasks that needed to be done. Along the way, we restored the deer-proof barrier around a tomato patch. It consisted of a thin, white tape at deer-head height, and I wiped it with some sort of egg-based solution, which apparently keeps the deer away.

The farm produced peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, beans, black berries, blueberries, strawberries, and various kinds of herbs. Customers ordered on a website, and deliveries took place each Thursday. This being a Thursday, the day's orders were already in labelled bags in refrigerators, and we packed them into large coolers. We also loaded some herbs and other plants that had been ordered. We set out around 9 o'clock, soon after Judi's caregiver arrived. (Judy had early-onset dementia, so couldn't be left home alone.)

We drove 45+ minutes to the outskirts of Richmond, the state capital of Virginia. In a shaded parking area, growers like us unloaded their goods giving each set of orders to one of about 15 distributors whose trucks were lined up in alphabetical order of destination. My task was to deliver the orders to the correct destination truck, and to initial a form showing I'd done so. After a few hours there, all grower deliveries will have been made and the distributors take their orders to their home area, which is typically 30–60 miles away.

Although it was quite humid, it was nowhere near as hot as the day before, and we drove home via the back roads with the windows down. We passed several county and state prisons, one of which was a working farm where the inmates worked with livestock. A number of inmates were working right next to the road and were dressed in orange tops and blue pants, their prison uniform. We stopped in a large town to lay in supplies from a supermarket, and to get spoiled by the air conditioning. We were home at noon.

We had ears of corn for lunch, and I smothered mine in butter, black pepper, and salt. I very much enjoyed a tall glass of ice-cold, whole milk. Afterwards, with all the fresh air and exercise, it was naptime, and I slept soundly for more than an hour.

Refreshed from my sleep, I went up to one of the greenhouses and trellised tomatoes by tying the plant tops to thin, plastic strands hanging down from the roof. It was easy work, but soon my shirt was completely soaking wet with perspiration. (That morning, I'd borrowed a belt from Doug for my new work shorts, as they were too loose. Later, I had to tighten the belt even more; I figured I was getting thinner with the perspiration loss.)

After an hour of work, I headed back to the house for a cold shower, and then to work on this diary with the fan blowing at my back. I had a quiet evening, reading, and eating a light supper. Lights-out around 9:30 after more than five hours work throughout the day.

Workday 2

I took ages to get to sleep and didn't get my full quota. At 5:15 am, I was at my laptop handling email and then revising a seminar I'd created more than 20 years earlier. After a couple of hours in business-work mode, I had breakfast, which consisted of a bowl of cereal with fresh-picked blueberries and milk, and a glass of apple cider.

By 7:15, Doug and I were out working. One of the large, semicircular-shaped greenhouses had two ends, each with doorframe and door. The greenhouse was about 100 feet (30 m) long. Our task was to remove both ends, so Doug could get his tractor in there to plow up the old strawberry beds, and to prepare them for some other kind of crop. The challenge was that the ends were not complete units; they were built onto the main frame, so we had to disassemble them in pieces. That took some physical effort with various electric and hand tools, sometimes up a ladder. And although we were mostly working in the shade, it got quite hot and very humid. That task took two hours.

Some months prior, a very strong wind had lifted the roof up in places such that a number of the roof hoops separated from their pipe bases, and our next challenge was to lift those hoop ends back up and onto their corresponding bases. We studied the problem for a good bit before figuring out the best and simplest solution, which required two guys to have the same strength as the original windstorm! Anyway, after much grunting and groaning, we succeeded! By then, I was dead on my feet, and I collapsed on the wet grass in the shade of a large tree, drank a lot of water, and poured the rest over my head. I then lay there for a good while until my heart rate got down to somewhere near normal. I knew then that I surely didn't work that hard for money! After a rest on my back, I took the tools back to the shed, took off my shirt which was soaking wet from perspiration, and jumped into a cold shower. Although I felt like I'd done a day's work, my clock told me we'd only been at it for 2:15 hours! I had a mid-morning snack, lay on the bed, and closed my eyes, but no sleep came, so I got up, had a can of ice-cold Coke to get some caffeine in my body. I then sat down and worked on my seminar-revision project.

My hosts headed off to a town nearby to visit the library and do some shopping, so I had the place to myself. I rested, drank, and read.

Late afternoon, when it was cooler, Doug and I ventured out and I re-attached the plastic sheeting roof on a greenhouse with special spring-wire strips. By the time we'd quit for the day, I'd put in more than three hours and had perspired a lot.

After my second cold shower for the day, I had a light supper and read away the evening before lights-out at 8 o'clock.

Workday 3

I slept well and long, getting up around 5:30. After a steaming mug of Twining's finest Earl Grey tea and some crackers with cheese, I watched some of the weekend's Australian Rules football game highlights on my laptop.

Around 7 am, Doug surfaced, but having slept in some strange position, he was disabled in the area around his neck. As a result, I was quickly promoted from watcher to doer! We unhooked from the tractor the bush hog slashing device Doug had used the previous afternoon, and attached a cultivator with two rows of tines. It had been a very long while since I'd driven a tractor, but it all came back to me quite quickly. There was a hand throttle, and a tractor clutch can take a while to master. And one must be in neutral gear to start and stop various attachments, and to start the tractor to begin with. I backed the tractor into the shed, we attached the new implement, and I drove down to the greenhouse where we'd worked the day before.

My task was to plow up the ground inside the greenhouse to clear the weeds and old strawberry plants, and that was straightforward. However, there was still a row of cantaloupe melons (AU: rock melons) growing down the center, so I had to avoid running over the vines and fruit, and getting the tractor wheels or plow tangled up in the netting supporting them. The melon row was a little off center, which meant it was easy to go down the wider side, but a challenge going back on the narrower side. After that task was done, I lay on the damp grass in the shade for a good while to regain my strength. Due to the curvature of the walls, I couldn't plow too close to them, so a row of tall weeds remained. To those, I took a heavy, long-handled hoe and started to hack them out. I then raked the trash into piles and loaded that onto a large 4-wheeled wagon I found in a shed, and dumped that in the woods. After 2½ hours, I was well and truly spent, and I'd finished about a quarter of the weeding and raking. I had to leave something for later, right? Besides, as Nietzsche famously said, "What doesn't kill me makes me stronger!" I guess I'll find out later on!

Back in the house, I had my first shower for the day, and around 10:30, ate a large bowl of fresh blackberries with cereal, along with some cold apple cider. With the high heat and humidity, lethargy was the order of the day!

At noon, I decided to go for a drive. I started with the windows down, as there was a decent breeze, and there was tall forest, forest, and more forest on both sides of the local roads, so I was in the shade. (One of the main industries in the county was logging, for lumber and paper pulp.) There were occasional cleared patches where small houses stood. The few cleared fields had soybeans growing, and there was a goat farm. Eventually, I got onto a state highway, and there was a bit of traffic. I stopped off to browse in a couple of discount stores and a thrift shop. On the way home, I rescued a half-gallon container of whole milk, and at home I mixed into it a whole lot of Milo chocolate powder I'd brought with me in my "travel kitchen box." It was just the thing for a growing boy.

Mid-afternoon, I lay on the bed and had a very deep sleep for more than an hour. Then at 5 o'clock, when it was quite a bit cooler and the large trees provided shade as the sun dropped down, I sprayed several rows of edamame beans with a hand-pumped container, to keep the deer away. The spray was made from hot peppers, so Doug told me to not get it anywhere near my eyes. (That reminded me of my visit to the Eden Project in Cornwall, England, where I learned about Scoville Heat Units [SHU], which measures the hotness of peppers.) After I finished that task, I thoroughly washed the equipment and my hands and arms. I specifically avoided wearing gloves, as I figured if some of the liquid got inside them, it would be there forever!

Next up, I tightened some screws holding the greenhouse roof to some poles. And then I weeded a section and raked up and disposed of the debris. After nearly two hours, I collapsed on the grass in the shade, and lay there for quite some time, until some enterprising insects decided to start eating me.

After my second shower of the day, I had a great supper of lentils, onion, peppers, and various other things, which I washed down with several large glasses of chocolate milk.

When outside my house, my most common footwear is hiking boots, and I have four pairs in various stages of wear. The two good pairs get used a lot just as shoes-with-great-ankle-support. The two oldest are somewhat worn, but still serviceable for heavy duty activities, and those were the ones I took along for farm work. The soles on the oldest pair had come adrift at the front, so I wrapped some duct tape around the boot toes as "running repairs."

At the end of the day, I'd accomplished a good amount. Lights out at 9 pm.

Workday 4

I slept soundly for eight whole hours. YES! I eased into the day by watching the final three game highlights of Aussie football. At 6:45, I was in work mode in a greenhouse, hoeing weeds, raking then, and hauling them out into the woods. Just as I finished and was resting, Doug and Judi arrived to inspect my work. After some discussion of "what next?", we unhooked the implement we'd used the day before and hooked up a disk plow. I then pulled that up and back a few times with the tractor, getting the greenhouse bed ready for planting in late August, for kale, Brussel sprouts, and broccoli.

After two solid hours of work, I took off my sweat-laden shirt and my boots and socks, and enjoyed a cold shower, followed by a big bowl of blackberries and cereal.

I was surprised that all my hard physical labor hadn't resulted in any soreness or cramps, but that morning, I was feeling a bit run-down. I prepared hot-and-sour soup for lunch, which included bamboo shoots, carrots, celery, onions, and mushrooms. As that is one of my favorite dishes to make, it likely would restore my physical powers for more work later on.

I rested up all afternoon and evening. It was a short workday. I barely managed to stay awake until lights-out at 8 pm.

Workday 5

I was up at 6 o'clock, and had a bowl of cereal with fresh blueberries. It was just the thing for a growing lad! By 7, I was at work in the greenhouse removing some rusty bolts and rotten boards. I also picked cherry tomatoes for house use. At 8 o'clock, worker Chris arrived. (He helped out two half-days each week, and he lived in a basic cabin in the woods not far away, and was slowly making it his own place.) He and I got along just fine and we re-attached plastic sheeting to one side of a greenhouse, and then replaced the rotting boards I mentioned earlier. Then we picked some cucumbers, and trellised tomatoes. After 4½ hours, I headed back to the house for a long cold shower.

Lunch involved a sandwich with the tomatoes I'd picked a few hours earlier, along with an ear of corn, and several tall glasses of lemon-lime-flavored Gatorade.

I rested all afternoon and evening. The rain that was forecast to start at noon finally arrived at 6 pm, with a lot of thunder. Although there was very little rain, the temperature dropped more than 20 degrees, which was most welcome. During the short storm, I sat out on the front porch in a large swing chair and read the Richmond newspaper and a news magazine. I barely managed to stay awake until lights-out at 8 o'clock.

Heading Back Home

With the large temperature drop, I'd left the bedroom windows open all night, and did not use the fan. Unfortunately, the humidity stayed very high, and I was quite damp when I woke. I was up around 6 am, and I packed my gear and got my last email fix. For breakfast, Doug scrambled eggs with peppers and goat cheese, which we washed down with apple cider.

At 8 o'clock, I said my goodbyes, loaded up my Nissan, and headed out in light drizzle. It wasn't at all hot, but the humidity was high enough that I ran the air-conditioning all the way home. It was overcast and an excellent day for driving. Traffic was light, and I made good time, getting to my home area in under three hours. I stopped at a supermarket to lay in some supplies.

At home, I unpacked, started a load of laundry, went through the mail, and planned the next few days-worth of meals. Then it was naptime!

For supper, I had a large, lettuce-based salad. After having had very little green-leaf vegetables for nearly a week, I needed that. And I smuggled in pieces of ham, not having eaten meat for a while. Fortunately, the humidity at home was much lower. After an hour session tutoring English at my local library, I read until lights-out at 8:45.

As is usually the case after a trip, I was very happy to be back in my own home, with my own kitchen, and in my own bed!

Part 3: Follow-up and Reflections

Filing and Receiving a Review

At the end of a visit, hosts and volunteers are each asked to submit a review of their experience, but neither gets to read the others until both are posted, or some submission period expires.

Here's what I wrote: This was my first time as a Wwoofer, and it went very well. Doug and Judi were very welcoming, provided me with a very comfortable bed, and plenty of good food and conversation. The internet connection was fast and reliable. Overall, I worked about 4 hours per day. These are the main tasks I performed during my 5-day stay: • Unloaded produce at a distribution hub • Trellised tomato plants • Sprayed edamame beans • Removed the ends from a greenhouse • Re-attached plastic sheeting on a greenhouse wall • Repaired wooden baseboards on a greenhouse • Hand-hoed and raked weeds • Used a tractor to cultivate and plow in preparation for fall planting.

Here's what Doug wrote about me: Excellent person of high character. Hard worker, self-motivated, can-do attitude. Willing to tackle any job even with no prior experience. Highly recommended.

So, we both concluded that the visit was a success!

Looking Back    

Regarding my WWOOF experience, it was a good trip; I was very productive, and the host was very happy with my work. I enjoyed his company and conversation. We had no real schedule, and made things up as we went, which suited me just fine.

After Day 1 and again on the drive home, my big question was, "Will I ever do this kind of volunteer activity again, and if so, with what changes?" To be sure, the novelty and romantic attitude of helping someone while getting fresh air and exercise evaporated by the end of the first day. (To be fair it was very hot and very humid, but I limited my main working hours to early morning and late afternoon.) I'll need to sleep on that question for a week or two, but the answer may very well be "NO!" especially as many hosts ask for five, six, or more hours per day. And one downside I hadn't thought about in advance, is the possibility of bites from deer tick, which can lead to the very debilitating Lyme Disease. (I can also get a bad reaction from touching poison ivy.)

When I first joined, I was very enthusiastic, but over the next four weeks, that faded. First, a number of hosts whose projects interested me never replied to my enquiry, and another replied many weeks later, by which time it no longer worked for me. Then more than a few hosts didn't keep their availability calendars up to date; they said they were available when they weren't, and vice versa. And as I was close to locking in one place, the host announced she had downgraded the accommodation to a very primitive and, to me, an unacceptable level. Of course, she hadn't updated her profile to say this! That said, some hosts replied promptly, but almost all had all the labor they needed, but would keep me on a list. None ever got back to me later, not even several who seemed very interested in having me.

Along the way, I made numerous suggestions to the website organizers, especially regarding how to filter out the hosts I had no interest in. Unfortunately, there was no way to do that.

In the end, I decided that this program was best suited to young travelers who wanted to learn some skills, improve their English, meet people, live cheaply, and use their time off to look around to experience something of rural America.

As for me, now nearly a year after I joined, I don't see myself renewing my membership. Besides, after 10 years of trying to find a local farm where I might help out, I finally made that connection and have helped butcher chickens, remove large thistles, clear brush along fence lines, and worked with sheep and cattle.