Tribute to a Teacher

“I’m a success today because I

had a friend who believed in me 

and I didn’t have the heart

to let him down.”

— Abraham Lincoln


There are two teachers I remember who made a difference in my life early on. My parents were not able to provide guidance, leadership or direction. When I was in German elementary school in my little town, when I was 10 years old in 5th grade, there was one classroom for the first eight grades. The first row of six kids was the first grade. The second row was the second grade, and so on. In the morning, Herr Sicheneder started in the front and gave the “little ones” assignments and then he worked his way back. I was in 5th grade, and he usually combined grades 5 through 8 and taught them together, at least in subjects where it made sense, like history or geography. After 8th grade, you were done with school and everyone went to a trade school and start a three-year apprenticeship for a trade. I was a shy little boy who had no idea where he was going.

Herr Sicheneder pulled me aside one day and told me that I should apply for prep school. This was in 1966. In the German school system, in those years, maybe 5 to 10 percent of all kids got to go to Oberschule (high school), in German called Gymnasium, which was the only pathway to higher education and university. To get in, you had to pass an entrance exam. I had no idea what was involved, how you applied, and what the exam was like. Herr Sicheneder kept me in school after all the other kids went home for many months and tutored me. I still remember many of the drills today, almost 60 years later. Wegen, während, statt, kraft, oberhalb, unterhalb, diesseits, jehnseits are all German prepositions followed by the genitive case. Who knows stuff like that? I do, because Herr Sicheneder made sure I had them all memorized. He drilled me in German, mathematics, essay writing and whatever else was in the exam. I have no memory of taking it, but I passed, and in the fall of 1967 I started taking the bus to the city every day and went to Oberschule. Herr Sicheneder was the single most important influence on the direction of my life by a long shot. He put me on a course that resulted in what I am today, and without him, my life would have been very, very different.

Herr Sicheneder was in his late fifties then. As an adult, I never got the chance to go back and thank him for what he did for me. He passed away many decades ago.

I met the second teacher with similar impact on my life on my first day in Gymnasium at the end of August 1967. My professor of Latin and German, and my homeroom teacher, was a young man right out of university perhaps in his first year of teaching, by the name of Wolfgang Illauer. I had Professor Illauer in Latin and German for three years. Being a bit of a German literature snob, he taught us discipline in writing, grammar and spelling and made sure we appreciated German literature. Professor Illauer taught me how to write, imparted critical thinking, instilled values for beauty, art, literature and general culture. Being a professor of the classic languages of Greek and Latin, he had a strong classical background which rubbed off on me. Professor Illauer was my coach and teacher between ages 11 and 13, and he shaped my intellectual and cultural trajectory unlike any other teacher I remember. As I grew into the upper grades, I never saw him again.  Eventually I went on a scholarship foreign exchange program to the United States and got my entire college education here.

A number of years ago I googled Professor Illauer and being the academic he was, he had given some lectures as a guest professor in his retirement. I found his email address. We connected and established correspondence, mostly sharing our thoughts on literature, poetry, writing, education and all the things that academics of the classics are interested in.

Finally, a couple of weeks ago, we met in person for the first time after more than 50 years. I spent a night at the Hilton at the Munich Airport, and he drove in from Augsburg to have dinner with me. When I was a child, he was a god. Today, we’re almost equals, two old men interested in a common quest for language and education. We’re on a first name basis and use the German familiar form of address. We talked about Tolstoy. Wolfgang recently read War and Peace in the original Russian language. Go figure. He recommended that I read Somerset Maugham’s short stories, which he reads in English.

I spent a couple of hours over dinner with an “old friend” and one of the two teachers with immeasurable impact on my life.

Wolfgang reads this blog. This is my thank you.


Her Car is Parked in our Lot

Here is a picture of U.S. Marine Nicole Gee In Kabul just days before she was killed in the suicide attack.

Image and Article at Redditt [click image for article original article]
Her good friend and a fellow Marine wrote this for her:

Her car is parked in our lot.

It’s so mundane. Simple. But it’s there.

My very best friend, my person, my sister forever. My other half. We were boots together, Corporals together, & then Sergeants together. Roommates for over 3 years now, from the barracks at MOS school to our house here. We’ve been attached at the hip from the beginning. I can’t quite describe the feeling I get when I force myself to come back to reality & think about how I’m never going to see her again. How her last breath was taken doing what she loved—helping people—at HKIA in Afghanistan. Then there was an explosion. And just like that, she’s gone.

Our generation of Marines has been listening to the Iraq/Afghan vets tell their war stories for years. It’s easy to feel distant when you’re listening to those conversations, it’s easy for that war & those stories to sound like something so distant—something that you feel like you’re never going to experience since you joined the Marine Corps during peacetime. The stories are powerful and moving. Motivating. You know it can happen. And you train to be ready if/when it does. You’re ready. Gung-Ho. You raise your hand for all of the deployments, you put in the work. But it’s hard to truly relate to those stories when most of the deployments nowadays involve a trip to Oki or a boring 6 months on ship.

Then bad people do bad things, and all of a sudden, the peaceful float you were on turns into you going to Afghanistan & for some, never coming back. It turns into your friends never coming home.

Her car is parked in our lot.

For a month now, it’s been parked in our little lot on Camp Lejeune at the Comm Shop where I work. I used it while my car was getting fixed & I just haven’t gotten around to bringing it back to our house. I drove it around the parking lot every once in a while to make sure it would be good for when she came home. So many Marines have walked past it, most of them the newer generations of Marines, our generation of Marines. The same Marines who often feel so distant from the war stories their bosses tell them about. I’m sure they thought nothing of it—just a car parked in a parking spot. Some of them knew her. Some of them didn’t. But they all saw her car. They all walked past it. The war stories, the losses, the flag-draped coffins, the KIA bracelets & the heartbreak. It’s not so distant anymore.

Her car is still there, & she’s gone forever.

I love the first photo. We climbed to the top of sugar cookie in 29 one Saturday morning a few years ago to pay our respects. I snapped the picture on my camera. I never would’ve thought her name would be on a cross like those one day. There’s no way to adequately prepare for that feeling. No PowerPoint training, no class from the chaps, nothing. Nothing can prepare you.

My best friend. 23 years old. Gone. I find peace knowing that she left this world doing what she loved. She was a Marine’s Marine. She cared about people. She loved fiercely. She was a light in this dark world. She was my person.

Til Valhalla, Sergeant Nicole Gee. I can’t wait to see you & your Momma up there. I love you forever & ever.

The Artists in my Life

Bob Dylan turned 80 on May 24, 2021. I clearly remember Bob Dylan’s 40th birthday. I have been around almost as long as Dylan, I guess.

I am reading Life Magazine’s special edition for this 80th birthday. It’s a mini biography, of course with lots of photos as you expect from Life Magazine, and as I am reading about the old songs that had such an influence on my in the 1970ies, I remember Dylan and some of the other artists in my life.

One a musician, one a composer, one a writer and one a philosopher. I painted their portraits. Here they are in chronological order:

Ludwig van Beethoven – painted in 1979, 36 x 36 inches

08/79 Oil 36×36


Henry Miller – painted in 1979, 36 x 36 inches

06/79 Oil 36×36


Friedrich Nietzsche – painted in 1980, 24 x 18 inches

 5/80 Oil 24×18

Bob Dylan – painted in 2001, 28 x 22 inches

01/01 Oil 28×22

I lost track of the first three paintings early on. I have no idea if they even still exist somewhere in somebody’s attic. But the Dylan one is still with me, albeit in a stack in the garage with all the other paintings that never got framed or rated sufficiently to be taking up wall space in our house.

I painted Dylan the year he turned 60. It seems like yesterday.

Those are the four artists in my life that rated a painting.

Camping Then and Now

Just recently, we went camping for a weekend. Here I am before sunset, sitting by the fire pit, ready to light the campfire.

Here I am camping with Devin some 25 years ago. At the firepit, just after sunrise. It was cold, and the coffee and hot cereal felt great.

Notice the blue chairs. We still have those very same chairs now.

Good memories.

A Tale of Two Hammers

Among my earliest childhood memories is going into my grandfather’s garage/workshop/toolshed. In Germany in the 1950ies,  that was a wooden shed with a dirt floor. He had a few motorcycles with side cars stored there. There was a workbench full of tools, and tools were hung all over the walls. I remember being grossed out by all the spiderwebs everywhere. The tools all looked ancient. They were rusty and heavily used, or so they seemed to my 4-year-old eyes.

In the current edition of Popular Mechanics Magazine, on page 67, I found this unassuming article in the side bar. The Forever Hammer. Here it is, and it tells about the Estwing Rip. I will let you read the article now, since it sets the stage for the rest of my comments.

This is what makes Estwing more than a hammer. It’s a piece of expertise wrought in heat-treated steel. Use it for all it’s worth, and pass it down to the next generation of hammer swingers.

This article, benign as it is, written about something as prosaic as a hammer, touched me deeply and brought out a flood of emotions, from nostalgia, to joy, to a sense of history and belonging.

Back to my grandfather: Why do old guys hang on to their rusty tools? When we’re young, we can’t understand that. But I have become my grandfather now myself. And the article reminded me of my own set of hammers.

Yes, you guessed it, they are Estwing hammers.

One summer afternoon in 1981, literally 40 years ago just like in the article above, I went to a hardware store in Phoenix, Arizona and bought two hammers. One was a 28-ounce framing hammer, the other a mason hammer. This is what it looks like new:

My framing hammer spent years of work on my toolbelt when I was in my early twenties and built houses. It has framed a dozen houses. The mason hammer was my trusty tool to lay foundations with cinder blocks, or to build brick fireplaces. After the initial several years of heavy construction use, both hammers became relegated to the tool box in my garage, where the salty Pacific air of Southern California has put a good coat of rust on both hammers. They are now 40 years old, but solid as steel, and they could easily build another dozen houses.

I will never need another framing hammer. I have one. It’s not pretty, but like an old rock ‘n roll song that brings back the feelings of that special moment with that special girl, just looking at my old hammers brings back the hot Arizona wind in my hair, perched on a roof, pulling up trusses and toe-nailing them down on the top plates, the beginning of my adult life, the feeling of endless years ahead with no limits, and the vigor and passion that comes from building something that I know will outlast me.

I will never need another framing hammer. I have one. It’s in my garage in my tool box. It’s rusty. I understand my grandfather now.

It’s one of my most precious possessions.

Pandemic Desktop

I have been working from my home office now for over 7 months solid. I spend a lot of time at this desk, and I found that having some fresh flowers behind my laptop brightens up my mood.

On July 30th I posted about growing sunflowers from seeds. Here is that post. Now, the sunflower plants line our fence, some of them eight feet tall. Here are a few sunflower blossoms grown in our own yard, from those seeds.

It’s a bright spot in my day.

Our Response to the Michigan Would-Be Kidnappers

Here are the mugshots of 10 of the 13 would-be Michigan kidnappers.

People who are planning on kidnapping an American Governor and possibly executing her are called terrorists. Since we usually associate terrorism with foreigners, we have narrowed the term down to “domestic terrorists.”

Here are pictures of domestic terrorists. They are all white. I don’t know these 10 men, but I do know our media calls them “white supremacists.” I am actually curious about what goes on in the head of somebody who plans to kidnap and possibly execute a governor. I would like to have a conversation, maybe over a beer in the backyard. What would be their persuasive argument?

But this post is not about the would-be kidnappers. It’s about how our president responded to their story.

If these 10 people where Muslims, with dark beards and Arab head dress, our president would have responded with a further escalation of the ban of all Muslims in this country, and every Muslim American would have had to pay for it with abuse, discrimination, assault in public and pure fear for their safety.

If these 10 people were Hispanic, our president would have told us the Mexicans are murderers, rapists, criminals and needed to be deported, and – by the way – we need to build that wall. All Hispanics would have been further injured and damaged.

If these 10 people were Black, all black people would have been denigrated and the entire black-lives-matter movement would have been attacked as anarchist. The president would have blamed the black community for their crimes.

But these men are all white.

So the president attacked their victim, the Governor of Michigan. Apparently she had it coming.


Pandemic Hardships? Try India!

We here in the United States are upset because we need to wear facemasks when shopping for groceries. Read this excerpt from an article in Time Magazine of August 31, 2020 – Losing Hope in India, page 47:

Other migrant workers weren’t so enthusiastic. For those whose daily wages paid for their evening meals, the lockdown had an immediate and devastating effect. When factories and construction sites closed because of the pandemic, many bosses – who often provide their temporary employees with food and board – threw everyone out onto the streets. And because welfare is administered at the state level in India, migrant workers are ineligible for benefits like food rations anywhere other than in their home state. With no food or money, and with train and bus travel suspended, millions had no choice but to immediately set off on foot for their villages, some hundreds of miles away. By mid-May, 3,000 people had died from COVID-19, but at least 500 more had died “distress deaths,” including those due to hunger, road accidents and lack of access to medical facilities, according to a study by the Delhi-based Society for Economic Research.

India is on course to eventually surpass Brazil and the United States in numbers of infections and deaths due to COVID-19.

When I am not happy about having to wear a mask in public for the 6th month already, I think about how lucky I actually am, having been born in a rich country. I could just as soon be in a rural village in India, barefoot, a hundred miles from home, with no money, no shelter, no food, no healthcare and no transportation.

I think a mask is bad?

Sabotaging the United States Postal Service

Today I went into the office, as I do every other week, to pay bills. A normal payment run has about 30 or so checks for our vendors and suppliers. The stack of envelopes is about 2 inches thick. There is a mailbox outside our building. As I dropped my letters into the box, I thought about the deliberate internal sabotage that is currently going on within the United States Postal Service. It is being reported that mailboxes, just like the one where I dropped my letters today, are being removed. If that mailbox were no longer there, I’d have to drive about 10 minutes out of my way to the nearest post office to mail my bill payments. Not too bad, but definitely inconvenient. My time, the gasoline, all add up. It makes no sense to dismantle existing operating infrastructure. It is also being reported that sorting machines that sort 35,000 pieces of mail per hour are just being removed from the post offices and dismantled and trashed. These pieces of equipment cost millions of dollars each. After decades of buying and installing them, they are removing them supposedly because the postal service is not “profitable.”

They are succeeding. The mail is slowing down. A couple of weeks ago I sent a large check of $18,000 to a vendor. That check never arrived. Today, we had to stop payment on that check, and then wire the sum separately. The process took at least 2 man-hours of time. All because an envelope with a 50 cent stamp containing a $18,000 check didn’t arrive. Is it waiting to be sorted somewhere?

Not having a working postal service inconveniences millions of businesses who rely on the mail for payments, bills, filings, forms and countless other services. Having a working postal service during a pandemic, when we are forced to live our lives “remotely” is ever more important. Elders around the country rely on the mail to receive their pension checks, their social security payments, their medicines, their entertainment, and yes, their ballots for the election. Sabotaging the postal service is not Making America Great Again. It’s turning America into a dumpster fire.

And then there is the argument that we’re doing this because the postal service is not profitable.

It’s a service! It does not need to be profitable in my estimation. The annual revenues of the postal service in 2019 were about $80 billion and the loss was about $8 billion. Source.

$8 billion will buy about 40 F-35 fighter planes.

I don’t hear anybody complaining about the military not being profitable. Somehow we have the budget for the military, but we can’t afford the mail?

Ironically, the GOP tried to put $8 billion for F-35 fighter planes into the coronavirus relief bill that did not succeed. Ah, we have the money when it buys 40 more airplanes (which I consider obsolete anyway, but that’s another story that you can read about in my 2014 post), but we can’t afford the postal service.

The fact is: Our own government is sabotaging the United States Postal Service on purpose – presumably to make the election more difficult.

What’s next?

Maybe we’ll start bombing our own airport runways. Hey, a few missiles into the LAX, ORD, DFW and JFK airport runways would certainly ground most air traffic and keep all those foreigners away.

Or better, we could just plow up a few sections of the Interstate system. Interrupt I-5 in Central California and you can do some major damage to the 5th largest economy in the world. Cutting off I-40 in Texas could help keeping those illegal caravans away from the Eastern states.

America is getting Greater all the time.

Sunflowers and Blue Jays

We have now been confined to our homes for almost five months with no end in sight. The pandemic is raging in the US, and California has the highest numbers. The country’s gross domestic product (GDP) dropped 32% per today’s news, which is by far the largest drop ever in history – since we have been measuring GDP. I understand how this happened. I have probably filled up the gas tank in my car three times all year. I have not been in an airplane or in a hotel room in five months. This has not happened in 40 years before. I have not bought anything of significance. There is no place to go, and eating out is a hassle. It has made me turn to the simpler rewards, and rewarding they are.

For instance, last weekend Trisha brought home a little bag of sunflower seeds. I planted six of them in a pot and watered them twice a day.

[click to enlarge]
Here are all six sunflower sprouts after just five days of nurturing them.

Check out the ones at 1:00 o’clock and 3:00 o’clock. They still have the seed shell on top of the leaves. The sprouts pushed up the shells with them. I will let them grow to six inches, and then I’ll plant them near the fence. They are the kind that grows to 12 feet. I am so looking forward to that.

Then, a few days ago I was out by our wall trimming the hedges and pulling out dead wood. All of a sudden a bird’s nest fell down. I didn’t even realize there was a nest in that bush, but as it fell to the ground, it was too late. Four little baby birds were screaming, and the blue jay parents were fluttering about overhead in frightened anger and pain.

My heart sank.

There was no way to get the nest back up into the bushes securely enough. So we quickly found a box, put the nest in it, and scooped up the four baby birds and put them into the box and stuck the box into the hedge on the wall. Then we left them alone.

Within an hour, one of the babies had climbed out of the box, jumped the six feet to the ground and tried to squirrel away. We caught it, put it back, but by that time it was dark. The next morning, only three babies were left. By the following morning, only two were left, but they seem to be steady and doing well. I feel very badly to have caused the demise of two of them, albeit accidentally.

We looked up how to feed baby blue jays and actually gave them some softened cat food pellets, and they liked them. We didn’t know if the parents would come back and take care of them, so we were determined to keep them alive if we had to. We can see the box right outside our kitchen window, and we have meanwhile spied mom or dad in the box.  The two remaining babies look good. We’ll let mom take care of them now, but we’ll surely keep taking their pictures:

Here is one of the little ones. The other is lying down next to it on the left.

The rescued baby birds and the sunflower sprouts are the simple pleasures in life that seem to be more rewarding than all the gross-national-product trappings we are conditioned to need. I am looking forward to showing off our blue jays here as they grow up.

Souplantation Closed for Good – another end of an era

Souplantation is no more.

I have visited Souplantation restaurants since 1985. When our children were little we would eat there as a family. I have had many a lunch in the Mission Gorge location in San Diego, their very first store opened in 1978. I used to go there to fill up after getting hungry and thirsty sailing on the San Diego Bay.

In 2016, I even had lunch there with the CEO of the company at the time. Here is my post describing that visit.

The buffet-style restaurant business was already struggling, and the concept was challenging to keep alive in recent years. Here is a link to SanDiegoVille with the article announcing the shutdown.

But after the Covid-19 shutdown, with the great uncertainty of what comes next, the chain has been brought to its knees.

I will miss the chicken noodle soup, with sourdough bread and honey-butter.

I am truly saddened.

Earthquake in Southern California – Please, No!

Today at 6:53pm we had a significant earthquake. It was of 4.9 magnitude centered near Anza, California. That’s 60 miles from here.

We felt it strongly here in Escondido.

Our world, our country, our state, and our community has suffered enough damage already. Right now we do NOT NEED AN EARTHQUAKE.

This definitely shook me up.

JFK Addresses AFS Students at the White House – 1963

Back on July 18, 1963, as the AFS [see below] students who had spent their high school year in the United States, were preparing to go back to their countries, they got to visit the White House. JFK talked to them.

It would be another 11 years before I had the privilege to be chosen as an AFS student. I arrived in the United States two weeks after Nixon’s resignation on August 20, 1974. Our group did not get to visit the White House when we went home in July of 1975.

All my life I have been proud to have been an AFS student and to carry the mission forward of spreading peace in the world, one person at a time.

It’s gotten a little more difficult in recent years.

[AFS stands for American Field Service, today the largest and most famed high school student exchange program in the world]

Palm Canyon Oasis Ruined in a Blaze

I just read in the San Diego Union of January 26, 2020, that some juvenile pyromaniac set the palm grove in the Palm Canyon in Anza Borrego Desert on fire last week. That spot was one of my favorite day hike destinations in Southern California, and I have been there dozens of times over the years and have taken many a visitor there. Since the offender was a juvenile, law enforcement does not give any details about what happened.

Over the decades, I have hiked the Palm Canyon in the Anza Borrego Desert many times, and I have often documented those trips here. Just a few links, oldest to newest:

The Oasis – A hike a did with my friend Mike (coincidentally the same Mike from the post right below….) in 2008. In that post you can see a few nice pictures of the famous Palm Canyon palm grove, which is visited by about 20,000 hikers a year.

Exploring Climbing of Indianhead – A hike I did with my son Devin in 2010, on our way up the canyon. We did a stop at the palm grove and you see a few pictures of it in this post.

Attempt to Hike Indianhead – Take Two – Another hike with Devin in 2012, making our way farther up the canyon. There are a few more palm groves along the way that the casual 20,000 hikers that reach the first one never see. The hiking after the first grove is treacherous and not for weekend hikers.

Attempt to Hike Indianhead – Take Three – An exploratory hike I did myself in 2013.

And while I am droning on about Indian Head, even though it’s not fully related to the palm canyon, here is my account: Attempt to Hike Indianhead – Take Four – This was my last attempt in 2014, and I think probably my last one altogether for Indianhead. Indianhead shall remain unclimbed by me.

New Palm Grove 2010 – 2017 – An account of 7 years of monitoring the new palm grove. In this post you can see a selfie of myself with the grove in the background.

New Year’s Day a Winter Wonderland in the Desert – the last time I was there with Devin was New Year’s Day of 2019. There are a few good pictures of the oasis.

Here are two clips from the San Diego Union of today:

Above with the blaze underway.

Here is what the great trees looked like a few days later, still smoldering.

The grove had last burned in 1970, when a boyscout had played with matches. I remember seeing charred tree trunks there over the years presumably still from that blaze. The rangers expect that the large trees, even though they are all thoroughly burned, will actually recover and sprout new branches at the top.

Also, with all the thick underbrush and shadow eliminated, and boosted by the nutrients of the ash, new undergrowth and seedlings will sprout quickly. I’ll have to go out in a few weeks since I haven’t been there yet in 2020, and see for myself.

I am afraid it’ll never quite be the same again in my lifetime like it was here with me on January 1, 2019:

[click to enlarge]