Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Just pictures from Ghana

Pictures from Nick's trip to Ghana with Engineers without Borders in 2008.
I would love to put a caption by each picture, but, for me, it is just not as easy as it should be.
The last picture is of our kids looking at the corn field in the foundation next to the mansion. See last night's blog (like I can remember how to plop that link cutely in here).

My first guest blog ever!

In 2008, I took my first trip to Ghana, West Africa. It had taken a few years for us to get UW – Platteville’s chapter of Engineers Without Borders up and running, so it was exhilarating to take our baby chapter’s first footsteps into adulthood. The professor acting as our advisor was a Ghana native and did his best to give us a good idea of what to expect, and my mother and sister had shared as much as they could about their three-week trip to Kenya a year earlier, so I felt that I was as ready as anybody could be to experience Africa for the first time. However, anyone who’s been to Africa can tell you that nobody comes home unchanged.

We flew into Accra, the capital of Ghana, and many parts of it are nearly indistinguishable from any modern city in the developed world. That made the living conditions we witnessed in other parts of Accra and the rest of the country all the more shocking. Most of the country lives in literally third world conditions: no reliable source of potable water, huts made from mud or scrap metal, no sanitation, etc. Sometimes the disparity between the “haves” and “have-nots” was astounding. The best example of this that we saw was a scant plot of corn being farmed out of an old building foundation right next to a giant new mansion.

The most difficult experience for me to come to terms with was the night we told our van driver to just go wherever he felt like taking us for dinner. He ended up bringing us to the most high-class joint in all of Ghana. It was odd enough for me, with fairly humble beginnings myself, to be eating at such an incredibly ritzy and expensive establishment, but it was difficult not to be thinking about the meager dinner our friends in the village would be having. The real gut-wrencher was looking out from the seventh-story balcony our dinner table was at and seeing the state of the city and people around us. We could see anything from the presidential palace to the worst slums in town. Immediately below us, we could see businessmen in nice clothes buying all they could afford for dinner: a meager bowl of rice from a street vendor in the slum. All at once, standing there at the balcony railing, everything we’d seen and experienced made me catatonic for a while. Even though we all tried to have a good time at that dinner, I am pretty sure that at one point or another, every one of us took a turn ending up in a trance, staring out across the city for a while, pondering the ways of the world and our place in it.

Possibly even more surprising than the conditions were the people. Most seemed acutely aware of how terrible their living conditions are, yet they seemed more cheerful and happy than many people we know in the developed world. Some even expressed the desire to be given the means to succeed on their own instead of being offered hand-outs, which was exciting, considering Engineers Without Borders strives to follow a “teach a man to fish” policy.

When faced with all this, the living conditions, the disparity, the people’s attitude, it’s impossible not to wonder, “What can possibly be done to even begin to make it all better?”

(Submitted by my son, Nick. He has too many cool pictures for just one post, so I might just have to put out more of his pictures tomorrow.)

Sunday, March 27, 2011

A New Meal

Taking bread, he blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body, given for you. Eat it in my memory." He did the same with the cup after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant written in my blood, blood poured out for you. Luke 22:19-20 (The Message)

As I am writing this, my husband and I are anticipating going to a neighbor’s house for a simple get-together this evening. We will share fellowship and many stories, all over plates of delicious food. I don’t know what kind of food, but it will be good and there will be plenty of it. That is what we do here in America and in most other countries around the world. We don’t gather with family and friends unless there will be eating.

The same thing went on in Biblical times. The feast of Passover was just that – a feast. Actually, it sounds like it was a four-course meal and each course had its only special meaning.

When Jesus and his disciples were celebrating Passover, he instituted a new meal for them to observe. His very body and blood. They didn’t realize the significance of this until the next day, Good Friday, when their teacher, their friend was breathing his last on the cross. The meaning of simple bread and wine became something so much different then.

Lord Jesus, may we always remember you, not only when we partake of the Lord’s Supper, but when we eat any food, drink any beverage, don any clothing, or even when we breathe the air around us. You are with us everywhere in everything we do.

(From now until Easter, my Sunday blog will be taken from the book of Luke, looking at the last days to the last hours of Jesus’ life on this Earth. I pray that I can share something meaningful with you. This week's picture was taken at our going away party for Val just a year ago, before she left for 6 months in Kenya. She and Nick's girlfriend created a menu of East African foods. Umm.)

Friday, March 25, 2011

O Kun De Kun Falls

Some days, I just rather give you a picture than write. When I do that, either I am just busy or lazy or feel that the picture just says more than the words, which is a terrible thing for an aspiring writer to say.

This is of O Kun De Kun Falls, taken in the summer of 2003, during a single-day drive to the UP and back. There are two places on Earth where I feel my sister Pat's soul totally and completely. This waterfalls and a certain magical place along Lake Superior.

When I'm at either of those places, I can hear her laughter as if she is right next to me. I see her dimpled cheeks and her clear blue eyes. She is relaxed and carefree and there is no such thing as cancer in either of our lives. We know nothing except the freedom of youth.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A Fort and A Father

How many times have I journeyed to the tip of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula just to go through Fort Wilkins? That short vacation in 2003, with just my daughter and my mom, had to be at least the fifth. But that’s all right, because I will never get tired of imagining I am wearing a beastly hot long skirt, with an apron no less, hauling a basket of dirty laundry down to the edge of the lake. Maybe I am not into historical romances, but I am all over the historic stuff.

The day after Fort Wilkins, on our way home, we stopped at another place paying tribute to Michigan’s past. The Shrine of the Snowshoe Priest between Baraga and L’Anse. A 35-foot-high bronzed statue of Father Frederic Baraga rests on five arches, one for each of the five missions he founded. He naturally has a fascinating story, which I won’t cover completely. But let me say that he arrived in the UP in the 1830’s, ministered to both the Native Americans and the copper miners, covered a lot of ground on snowshoes, and became the first Bishop in the UP in 1853.

In 1950, the Bishop Baraga Association was formed with the goal of having him sainted. The shrine was built because all saints need a shrine, but as near as I can tell, the Vatican hasn’t yet made up their mind on Father Baraga.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Clean Feet

We didn’t get to take an official family vacation in 2003, but I can’t just stay home all summer. I planned a three day get-away with my daughter Val to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. And at the last minute invited my mom to go along.

Our first stop was the family-famous McLain State Park just past Houghton in the Keweenaw Peninsula. I know that I have written about this place before, and I will write about it again (already have our campsite reserved for this summer). The long sandy beach, the amazing sunrises and beautiful sunsets, all on that massive body of water known as Gitche Gumee. I just am so in love with it.

Check out this picture. Leading the sheltered life I do, I have never seen this sign anywhere else. Oh, they probably have a foot-washing station at all the big beaches. But here in the upper Midwest? Let me know if you’ve seen one before.

After Val’s feet were clean and dry, we visited the Laurium Manor Inn in Laurium. It is a cool big old house and a Bed and Breakfast, too. I keep thinking I should stay there some time with my husband, but now that I have him into camping with the dog, I don’t know if there is any going back.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Passover Feast

The Day of Unleavened Bread came, the day the Passover lamb was butchered. Jesus sent Peter and John off, saying, "Go prepare the Passover for us so we can eat it together." Luke 22:7-8 (The Message)

Have you seen the movie The Ten Commandments? The epic by Cecil B. DeMille with Charlton Heston as Moses? Remember the ten plagues, the locusts, the frogs, the boils? The last plague was the death of the first-born throughout Egypt. The Israelites, slaves in Egypt at the time, were God’s chosen people so they needed to be spared from this plague. They were instructed to spread the blood of a lamb on the sides and top of their door so that the angel of death would “pass over” their household. The lamb was to be a one year old male, either a goat or a sheep, and was to be perfect, without blemish.

The Passover became one of the major Jewish holidays. And so, during this particular year in the life of Jesus, he met with his disciples to celebrate the Passover feast.

The disciples didn’t know it at the time, but the Passover lamb was always meant to symbolize Christ. Back when the Israelites were slaves in Egypt, God had planned that just as they would be freed from their bondage by the blood of the lamb, we would be freed from our sin by the blood of Jesus. Even the doorframes where the blood of the Lamb was spread takes on the shape of the cross where our Lord was crucified.

Lord Heavenly Father, You developed the best plan for all of our lives, from way before we were even born. We may not see it every day, but help us to realize that You know the meaning behind all that goes on around us. Help us to understand Your plans and see that Your perfect way is the only way.

(From now until Easter, my Sunday blog will be taken from the book of Luke, looking at the last days to the last hours of Jesus’ life on this Earth. I pray that I can share something meaningful with you. The included picture this week was taken by my daughter Val in Saikeri, Kenya, last summer.)

Friday, March 18, 2011

Nick's Adventures

I have asked my son to write a guest blog for me, but I understand that it is just not his thing. That is a shame though, because all of his travel adventures would fit right in with my theme.

Nick went to Washington, DC, with his eighth grade band (ok, Val did that too). Then he went to Germany with his high school German class (ok, Val did that too). Where he pretty much lost me, though, where I have lost track of his travels, is all of his boy scout High Adventures (no, Val never got into scouting, either boys or girls. Well, that’s not exactly true but I really cannot go there).

Let’s see. Nick went canoeing in the Boundary Waters of northern Minnesota at least twice. He also either once or twice hiked on Isle Royale, that wonderful island in northern Lake Superior. With the boy scouts, he also canoed the Manitowish Waters Rumble and the Somo River Hell.

Not only did he go on all these High Adventures, nearly once a month he camped out somewhere around town with some of the other scouts. If you ever had outdoor plans one of those weekends, you were better off canceling. If it was winter it would be twenty below and if it was summer there would be rain.

One time, I can’t remember where they were at, but a major thunderstorm came through where the boys were camping. They missed the worst of it, but the next day they ended up in an area that was devastated, trees down everywhere. No power lines down, though, because they were in a wilderness where there were no power lines. Also no cell phone reception. (I had stopped worrying about my son and his tenting buddies many years before.)

Anyway, being the good citizens they are, they got out there shovels and saws and cleaned up some of the debris.

There was also some story about helping out a group of girls who were camping near them one time. It was cold and raining – hard to believe – and the boys had their shelter up and were cozy as toast. They invited the damp, miserable girls over for hot chocolate, or some hot beverage.

The reason I am interjecting all of Nick’s stories at this point is that I have coming up a few travels which I took Val on and not Nick. I didn’t want anyone to think I was neglecting my first born. He was certainly born with my wanderlust genes and he knows how to use them.

Josh, Chris and Nick getting their Eagle Scout in June 2004

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Another Long Ride Home

The weather the entire time we were in Arizona during spring break of 2003 was anything but unseasonably warm. It is the Wisconsin Curse we carry with us wherever we go – it will be cold and if there is precipitation it will most likely be snow. Doesn’t matter if it is spring, summer or fall, the weather will more closely represent winter than any other season.

My daughter Val and I did brave the outdoor pool one day. The sun was at least shining, though the temperature was probably hovering just under 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

On the trip home, however, once again we were dogging snow showers.

We stopped at the Petrified Forest in Eastern Arizona and took a quick detour through the Painted Desert just north of there. The clouds hung menacingly thick and low in the atmosphere. We shivered in our spring jackets and tried to be the tough Wisconsin natives which we are. But it stinks to be cold when you are on Spring Break in the Southwest.

The weather, and our spirits, only got worse. By the time we started looking for a motel for the night, snow was falling thick and fast, in donut-size flakes. The first two hotels we stopped at in Las Vegas, New Mexico, were already full. Two cars pulled in behind us, their weary passengers also looking for a room.

I got back in the car, dejected. “No room in the inn,” I told my mom, my co-pilot.

She pointed to the two other cars. “They are looking for a room too. You better spin out of here if we are going to beat them to the next motel.”

Not words my mom usually uses. But we got the last room at the next place we stopped, the Palomino Motel.

And made it safely home two days later.

The picture has nothing to do with Arizona. It is of Lake Superior in May of 2003. But it does somehow remind me of the night we arrived at the Palomino Motel.

Monday, March 14, 2011

“Gran Cañón”

So much for my grasp of Spanish. Someday I may tell you about my attempt to actually learn Spanish on my own, but for now, back to our vacation to Arizona in 2003.

It was time to leave my former in-laws, my kids’ paternal grandparents. (We are pictured here, except for my mom who snapped the shot, in front of their house.) Grandma C had made reservations for all of us to take the train from Williams, Arizona, to the Grand Canyon and back, just before we started for home.

The Grand Canyon. What can I say? Well, you don’t see any pictures on this blog, because there are no pictures which do it justice. The miles and miles of rainbow striped rocks, as far as you can see. The mind cannot even take it all in; it’s like looking into a cloudless sky on winter’s night. You can strain your eyes trying to see the entire expanse. Add to that the constantly changing colors and moods – a cloud drifting overhead can cause the landscape to change so dramatically that you don’t recognize it from just a minute ago.

The train ride there and back again to the town of Williams was fine. It may sound like an oxymoron, but it was interesting and predictable all at the same time. I don’t think I have ever taken a tourist train ride which was not held up by masked men. At their age, my kids were getting too old for that kind of nonsense, and like I already said, it was rather predictable. The scenery was great, though, and just wondering around the train kept Nick and Val occupied.

Before we knew it, we were back at our cars, Grandma and Grandpa C getting in theirs to head back to Apache Junction, Nick, Val, Grandma L and myself getting into my tan Malibu for the two thousand mile trek home. A trek which was not without incident.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Who is Judas?

That's when Satan entered Judas, the one called Iscariot. He was one of the Twelve. (Luke 22:3, The Message Bible)

Judas Iscariot, the man who would betray Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. Not much is known about his past, but when he joined the disciples, he had enough previous business experience that he was elected to be the treasurer for Jesus’ followers. It seems odd to me that they needed a treasurer, but as it turns out, various people donated money to the Twelve, who in turn would give it to the poor and needy. The disciples didn’t need to use this money to support themselves; they were usually given food and shelter wherever they went. Judas, however, as the keeper of their money, managed to sneak some of it into his own pockets. This kind of greed caught Satan’s eye.

Why would such a man ever have become one of the chosen twelve disciples? Well, we like to think that Judas came to the Lord with the most honorable intentions and that Jesus made him one of his twelve closest followers based on that. But remember, God knows everything that’s going to happen well before it happens. He knows what is in our hearts before we even know it. I think that all of the disciples were chosen based on that, based on who Jesus knew they would become. Jesus knew before he even walked on this earth that Judas Iscariot would betray him and be the catalyst that led him to the cross.

Lord Jesus, help me to understand that the things that happened to you your last days on earth were not accidents, not bad twists of fate. Our heavenly Father knew exactly what these last hours were going to be like and yet He sent you to endure it on our behalf. Help us to understand what that kind of love means.

(From now until Easter, my Sunday blog will be taken from the book of Luke, looking at the last days to the last hours of Jesus’ life on this Earth. I pray that I can share something meaningful with you.)

Monday, March 7, 2011

Crossing the Border

Our next full day in Arizona, Grandma and Grandpa C had planned a trip to Mexico. Back in 2003, you didn’t need a passport to cross the border, and it was much safer than it is now. It was a three hour drive from their home to Nogales, but we stopped at Casa Grande Ruins National Monument on the way.

You know how I love old houses. This house is really old, from the 15th century, and with my very limited Spanish, even I know its name means big house. It was big and also inaccessible due to its fragile condition. That also explains the huge canopy over it, to protect it from the elements. Luckily there were other ruins, from the same period, which we were allowed to walk through; otherwise the kids would have been bored silly.

Then it was on to Mexico, stopping at a Pizza Hut for lunch first, which didn’t make me very happy. Hello? Can I get some authentic Mexican food? Anyway, we parked the car in Nogales, Arizona, and walked across the border.

We didn’t do anything very exciting, just some shopping, which required haggling which I just hate doing. If I had to shop like that every day, for groceries and other necessities, I would never go shopping. Oh, that’s right I never shop for groceries now; my husband, bless his heart, does that.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Lent is about to Begin

This Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, the six weeks during the year when many Christians reflect more deeply on their faith, challenge themselves to follow their Lord and Savior more closely, maybe even give up their favorite food or TV show.

When I was growing up, most of my friends were devote Catholics who always gave up something for Lent, usually a food product that they normally never ate the rest of the year, like prunes or fruitcake. And if they did give up something they liked, such as ice cream or chocolate, if they were true to their commitment all week, they could eat this desired food on Sunday.

I really never understood that. Something is up, though, because I also always heard that Lent is 40 days, which is only true if you take out the Sundays.

A web search of Lent actually did teach me that Sundays during Lent are considered by some as “mini-Easters”, a day to celebrate instead of to mourn. I always thought that Sundays any time of year were meant to be revered, the day of the week we were supposed to always dedicate to God.

My thought is to live every day the same, as a child of God, reading His word, sharing His word and living your life so that your faith shows. If I can spend more time during the season of Lent working on that, maybe I will find it easier to keep it up after Easter has come and gone.

17 Then he says, “I will never again remember their sins and lawless deeds.” 18 And when sins have been forgiven, there is no need to offer any more sacrifices. 19 And so, dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus. Hebrews 10:17-19 (New Living Translation)

[Starting next week and running until Easter, my Sunday blog will be taken from the book of Luke, looking at the last days to the last hours of Jesus’ life on this Earth. I pray that I can share something meaningful. The picture above is from a church service that my daughter attended in Kenya, Africa, last summer.]

Friday, March 4, 2011


Having been born and raised in northern Wisconsin, I pretty much expect to see pine trees when I look outside any windows. White pine, jack pine, fir trees, you name it and I have that conifer in my back yard. Cactus, on the other hand, now that is a breed I am not accustomed to.

When we drove to Arizona, in March 2003, I just never imagined I would see so many cacti. And how big they get. The Saguaro grow to an amazing height, and their weight – I can’t remember what my ex-father-in-law told us, but it was in the tons.

Our first full day of vacation at their house, my kids’ grandparents drove us all over Apache Junction and into the Superstitious Mountains, and everywhere we looked there were Saguaro cacti. Cacti were even growing on the hillside behind their house. Nick, Val and I took a walk one day up that hill, the kids charging through the brush like kids will do.

I stepped more cautiously. I didn’t know if I was more wary of the prickly vegetation or the prospect of meeting some slithering fauna. By then I was missing my own safe backyard of pine trees and red squirrels.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

A Long Drive in a Cramped Car

Ok, here I am back on track, writing about all the many journeys I have taken across our great nation. Spring break of 2003 was another such trek. My kids’ grandparents on their dad’s side had retired a few years before to their dream home in Apache Junction, Arizona. I thought it would be a wonderful idea to drive out there over spring break, the middle of March, so Nick and Val could see them. For several reasons, some valid, some insidious, we took my mom with.

It is a long drive from northern Wisconsin to south-central Arizona. 2075 miles to be exact, from my house to theirs. And it was an adventure.

First memory –darling little Val, my cherub daughter, not quite 13 years old at the time, not quite a teen-ager. As we were driving down the road, she got this fantastic idea. They should just put dumpsters practically on the sides of the highways, so people could just throw their garbage out their windows as they drive by.

Grandma replied, “You have quite an imagination, but I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

A few miles later, a pile of garbage lay on the side of the freeway. “Well, there’s somebody using their imagination,” Val quipped without batting an eye.

And then there was Nicholas, 17-years-old and wanting to drive. So we let him and he did fine. But with Mother as co-pilot and Grandmother as backseat driver, the poor kid was doomed. We both kept our mouths shut as much as humanly possible, until we hit snow around Flagstaff. I mean lots of snow, coming down in fluffy white flakes the size of dinner plates.

But with all of our harping at him, all Nick had to say was, “It figures. I’m wearing shorts.”