2017 Holiday Letter
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
The passing of Helen's Mother
Helen's Mother, Audrey, passed away peacefully on January 26, 2017 at the age of 88. She passed peacefully with Helen at her side.
In late January, 2017, we were visiting Helen's Grand daughter Helena, Son and Daughter-in-law in Charlotte, North Carolina when we received calls letting us know the end was near for Audrey and that we should come quickly. We flew from Charlotte to Orlando, rented a car and drove directly to Gainesville FL to the Nursing Home. Mom was receptive and tried to smile and wink. Helen's sweet Mom passed away shortly after our arrival.
We spent the next week in Gainesville staying with brother Harold and making preparations for the funeral. Audrey would be buried in Greenville, North Carolina alongside Helen's Dad, Lindsay and other family members.
In Greenville, we were graciously invited to stay with with Helen's cousin, Ginger and her husband Butch. They also invited my brother, Wayne, (who drove up from GA) to stay with them along with Helen's brother Robert, who flew in from San Diego.
What a 'home-going' Audrey had with family members, friends, and Church Members in attendance. Harold presented a multimedia presentation of Mom and Dad's life. Many people spoke of Mom during the funeral. A fine celebration of life for a life well lived. The Maggie Circle members of Sweet Gum Grove Freewill Baptist Church prepared a feast of good ole country cooking!
Travel this year
WoW! What a year for travel!
- January: Charlotte (NC), Gainesville (FL) & Greenville/Stokes (NC)
- February: Hong Kong
- March: San Antonio (Charles); Gainesville (Helen)
- April: Houston, Bandera (TX), Mesa (AZ) & San Diego
- May: Charlotte (NC), Prague & Berlin
- June: Eindhoven (Netherlands) & Dusseldorf (Germany)
- August: Charlotte, Waynesboro, Charlotte, Myrtle Beach, Charlotte, Clarkesville (GA) & Chicago
- September: Gainesville, Frankfurt (Charles) & Stuttgart (Charles)
- October: Charlotte (Helen)
- December: San Francisco
In February, Maggie, Mike, Helen and myself flew to Hong Kong for 10-days. Since Maggie was born and raised in Hong Kong, we had a GREAT tour guide. We went all over Kowloon and Hong Kong. Went to the big budda on Lantau Island and to visit one of Maggie's friend's who is building a house on Lamma Island. It was a lot of fun.
Spring time in Europe
There was a JEDEC meeting in Eindhoven, The Netherlands in June. In May, 2 weeks before the meeting, we flew to Prague, Czech Republic. We spent 5 days in Prague, then took a train to Berlin and spent 5 days exploring East Berlin.
Prague was a pleasant surprise. We had a great time there and would recommend it to anyone wanting to visit Europe.
We spent a couple of days at the Prague Castle, which is the largest medieval castle in Europe. It was built in the 9th century and encompasses the entire top of a large hill.
"Prague Castle has been an important symbol of the Czech state for more than a thousand years. It was founded in the 9th century and became the seat of Czech rulers and later presidents. The castle, one of the largest complexes in the world, is made up of historical palaces, offices, churches, fortification buildings, gardens... "
Given its age, the complex had undergone many transformations and styles over the centuries.
Wenceslas Square is a important historical site. This is where the peaceful demonstrations began against the government which eventually led to the downfall of communism in the Czech Republic.
Located within the Prague Castle complex are many areas of worship including a Cathederal, Bascilica, Churches, chapels...
The Basilica of Saint George built in the 10th century has many spires
A view of Prague Castle from the surrounding gardens, showing a Cathedral in the background. Built into the castle walls were many brightly colored 'houses', with many stories, that housed the artisans and the shops.
East Berlin was very interesting as we went to a couple of museums devoted to what life was like. There are two items that stand out in my mind, even though we also did many tourist sites, such as the Jewish memorial. The first was the cross walk signals and the second was the amount of misinformation the East Berlin government sent out.
Matt Long describes the walk signals as an "Unlikely Hero" on his website "Landlopers". Here is a brief quote:
During the Cold War, West and East Germany had their own versions of nearly everything, including the common pedestrian signals. In the West the figure was a generic form, but in the East it was a man with a well-defined hat, Ampelmann. The shapes originated from an East German traffic psychologist who wanted to make signals for both cars and pedestrians easier to understand by everyone, from the colorblind to the young and elderly. While his traffic light designs were abandoned, his ideas for changing generic pedestrian signals into ones that were clear and understandable led to the Ample Man images still seen today.
See Matt Long's website "Landlopers" for the rest of the story of this unlikely hero.
One of the bigger problems the East Berlin government had was housing. There just was not enough housing units in East Berlin to satisfy demand. Newlyweds often waited years before they could get their own place. To alleviate this problem, they began a multi-year housing construction project. Each time they hit a "milestone" of a million units, they made a big announcement. In total, the government claimed over 3 million units had been constructed. In reality, just over a million had been built. Propaganda, you gotta love it.
West Berlin Wall Map. The yellow area is West Berlin with the thick black line around it representing the Berlin wall. The red area is East Berlin and the gray area is the former East Germany
Charles standing in front of the infamous Checkpoint Charlie, which was one of the entrances into West Berlin
While in Berlin, we took a day trip to visit Potsdam. This city is famous for the Potsdam Agreement which divided Germany between allied nations of Russia, Great Britian and the USA. The agreement was negotiated at Cecilienhof palace.
Cecilienhof Palace (German: Schloss Cecilienhof) is a palace in Potsdam, Brandenburg, Germany built from 1914 to 1917 in the layout of an English Tudor manor house. Cecilienhof was the last palace built by the House of Hohenzollern that ruled the Kingdom of Prussia and the German Empire until the end of World War I. It is famous for having been the location of the Potsdam Conference in 1945, in which the leaders of the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and the United States made important decisions affecting the shape of post World War II Europe and Asia.
"After the war ended, from the end of July until the beginning of August 1945, the Potsdam Agreement was negotiated and signed between Churchill, Truman and Stalin in Cecilienhof Palace."
We also visited two other palaces in Potsdam:
Neues Palais "New Palace" 1763-1769 has some residence areas, but mainly used for receptions. The place escaped the bombing during the war which preserved the 400 sandstone statues and figures that adorn the palace and auxiliary buildings which were created by many notable sculptors.
Sanssouci Palace and park was the palace of Frederick the great. It has a huge patio overlooking gardens which were built between 1745 and 1747 to fulfill King Frederick's need for a private residence where he could relax away from the pomp and ceremony of the Berlin court.
The June JEDEC meeting was held in Eindhoven, The Netherlands. This is the second time we have met there and have enjoyed the city very much both times.
Our good friends, Roelof and Letty, live in Eindhoven. Roelof was the one who lobbied for us to meet there. He always has to travel to the USA for the JEDEC meetings and he wanted to have one in Eindhoven. Luckily, the committee went along with his suggestion and voted for the meeting location.
Helen and I arrived early so we could visit with them. On our first night, we went to a restaurant where Van Gogh had painted the windmill. Van Gogh had lived near Eindhoven and a lot of his paintings are of the area. At the restaurant, we had a very special meal of pork with white asparagras. These are asparagras which are planted deep in the ground. It takes them a long time to reach the surface. Once the do, they are harvested and eaten. They are only available in the Spring time, so we were lucky to have experienced eating them.
Roelof has some very interesting hobbies. He is a model railroader and he grows cactus. His model railroad is one of the more complex ones I have seen. Roelof is not into scenery, he much prefers the controlling of the trains. He and his Son have written a software program to keep many trains moving the tracks at the same time without having them collide with one another. You can see from the pictures below what a complex task this must be.
Roelof's second passion is the growing of cactus. He is the envy of the Eindhoven cactus club has he has the opportunity to scour the deserts in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona in search of seeds from rare species of the plant. Once he was rooting out some seeds near the border with Mexico when an immigration officer stopped to question him. He told him what he was doing and the officer just commented that his story was too outlandish, so it must be true. He then left Roelof to continue his hunt for seeds.
On the last day of the JEDEC meeting, our good friend Peter picked us up and drove us to his home near Dusseldorf, Germany. Usually it is a two hour drive, however, on that day, there was a big accident on the autobahn and traffic was stopped. We sat there, not moving, for over an hour. Then the police had every one turn around and go back to the previous exit to get off of the freeway. It took us over 4 hours to reach his home.
We had a great time visiting with Peter, Beatrix and their children. We also had fun meeting with Albert (Peter's brother) and Uta again.
Peter took us to Papenburg to visit the huge ship building company Joesph L. Meyer Werft (shipyard in German). They specialize in building huge cruise ships. The tour they give is FANTASTIC. We all had a great time seeing and learning about how the big ships are built.
In the foreground is a ship under construction. You can see the gaps for each of the decks. In the background is a ship nearing completion.
Various pieces of a ship being built. In the foreground is the bridge. You can see the left wing of the bridge on one piece and the right wing on another.
We visited with Helen's son, Dave, and his wife, Karen, 4 times during the year. We were there in January, May, August and October (Helen only). Here a few snapshots of grandaughter Helena.
In August, we visited Helen's alma mater, Virginia Tech, in Backsburg, Virginia. We spent around 3 hours wondering around the campus and even bumped into another lady who was in the same department at the same time as Helen, however, they didn't remember one another. Helen really enjoyed seeing the dormitory, cafeteria and classrooms where she spent 4 years of her life.
Interesting tid bit: Virginia Tech is well known as the place where the turkeys the president pardons every year go to live out their lives.
From there we drove to Waynesboro, Virginia, where her brother, Harold, was participating in a "Battle of the Bands" concert. There were three bands, all from their high school. Of course, the members were now a lot older. Even though they hadn't played together for over 40 years, they belted out some fine music.
Myrtle Beach, SC
From there we went to Myrtle Beach where we spent a weekend with Helen's relatives, Ginger & John and Joan & Don. We stayed at Ginger and John's beautiful vacation home. We had a grand time riding bikes and frolicking on the beach.
Dinner in Myrtle Beach. Left to Right: John & Ginger, Don & Joan, Helen & Charles.
The three cousins are John, Joan and Helen.
Next we took a bus to Clarkesville, Georgia, to visit my brother Wayne and Rosie and Cousin Margie. It was Margie's birthday, so we put together a surprise party for her. She was very happy that we had remembered.
While there, I helped Wayne pick up a new ATV from the dealership. He, Rosie and Jerry will use it to pull a large lawnmower for cutting the field around Jerry's house.
The August JEDEC meeting was held in Chicago. I always enjoy going to Chicago as I feel it is a second home. My Dad was born and raised in Chicago and while growing up, we had one tour of duty there. I also have a bunch of cousins still living there.
On this trip, I was able to visit with Cousin Karen twice. One night we went to her Dad's favorite German restaurant, The Berghof. Then on another night, Cousin Karen took us to her work place, Shedd Aquarium. During the evenings, in the Summer, they have a very successful music program with different bands playing each week. As a bonus one of the veterinarians gave a slide show on the prepartion and background work they had to do in order to remove a growth on one of the saw fish. After the presentation, Karen gave as tour of the aquarium. It is always fun to visit with her!
For the final trip of the year Charles was the moderator for a one-day JEDEC Automotive Forum in Germany. Not wanting to be tired from jet lag, he went over 6 days before the meeting. He did a lot of sightseeing around the old city center of Frankfurt.
This Euro sculpture was dedicated on December 31, 2001, the day the Euro became a currency in Europe.
Frankfurt is the financial center of Europe. In the background are the buildings which make up the financial district.
One of the things I really liked about Frankfurt was the greenway or park that went completely around the tourist area. I walked all the way around it was a very pleasant 2 hour walk.
Oakland Harbor Tour
In September, Dee Dee, Jeff, Helen and Charles had a great tour of the Oakland harbor. The tour was sponsored by the Port of Oakland and is only available, twice a month, from May to October each year. Since spaces are limited, they open ticket sales on the first day of the month at 7 PM for the current month's tour. By 7:05 PM, all the tickets, for the month, were taken! Fortunately, Charles was able to snag 4 tickets before they were gone.
The final JEDEC meeting of the year was held in San Francisco. This was an easy trip for us. We hopped on BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) in Fremont (there is now a station within 2 miles of my house that just opened this year) for the hour ride into the city. The only time I spend a week at a time in San Francisco is when a JEDEC meeting is held here. We'll be staying at the Hyatt at Fisherman's Wharf. This will give us a chance to visit all of our favorite restaurants in the City.
For the past few years, we have been growing tomatoes in containers. This year, the 4 tomato plants we have, produced more and much larger tomatoes than we have ever had before! At one point, we were picking 20 tomatoes every day. The largest being soooo big, a slice would cover an entire slice of sandwich bread!
On April 1st, one of the share holders of Fireside Aviators Association, the organization I am member of, had an accident with the Piper Cherokee. He was parked on the ramp, going through the pre-start checklist when a nearby fuel truck backed into the left airleron. This took the plane out of service for 3 months. Since I am the maintenance officer, it was my responsibility to find a repair shop and have the work completed. The final cost was $15,000!
After the plane was repaired, it was time for the annual inspection, which usually takes around 2 weeks, so the plane was down for another 1/2 month. A month later, we had scheduled to have the avionics upgraded to meet the January 2020 FAA deadline to have ADS-B installed. Even though this is two years away, we still had to book the time in the avionics shop 6 months ahead of time. The plane was down for another month and the job was completed the first of October. The plane has been down for around 5 months this year, but it is in GREAT shape now with $25,000 worth of new avionics.
For the first time in about 3 years I was on the run crew for Lyric's production of "Oklahoma". It was a fun show to work and it was great meeting up with all my friends in the group.
Christmas this year will be spent at home. We have our good friend Tim visiting from Houston over the holidays. If you are ever in the area for the holidays, here are some of the best Christmas lights I have ever seen:
We hope your year was as eventful and as exciting as ours and...
We wish you a merry holiday season and a happy New Year!
Charles & Helen