Sunday, February 24, 2008

I am now BoomerTrekker!

For reasons that aren't worth delving into, I've decided to change my blog name to BoomerTrekker. To provide continuity, I've reposted the last three entries on this blog site on the new blog site. All future blog posts will be at BoomerTrekker. Take a look and be sure to add it to your Bookmark or Favorites menus. Follow this the BoomerTrekker link to go to the new blog. Hope to see you there often. I'll keep this site up for a while for reference purposes, but I will eventually delete it.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Sierra Leone: "Consider yourself on the team."

Well--I've been informed that I will be on the team going to Sierra Leone in December. Barring any major problems, it looks like I will be making the trip. I can now begin planning in ernest. Much to think about. I'll need to discover more details of day-to-day activities. What will I take along? What can I expect to be doing? How will I record the trip (for my purposes).

I've thought that this would make a good piece for public radio. I've toyed with the idea of talking with a local public radio producer to see what I would need to do to come back with the right kind of material. Of course, when they finally stop laughing and wipe the tears from their eyes, I might not be quite as enthusiastic. Hey--what does it hurt to ask.

Anyway, there is much to consider and much to do between now and then, including saving the $2800 I need to pay my way. One small benefit is that the money is paid to a 501(c)(3) foundation, so I will get a tax deduction as a result. If any of you have any thoughts about this project, I'd like to hear them.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Sierra Leone: The First Step

So I wrote a note to the list coordinator for the Sierra Leone trip and told her that I was interested in accompanying the group in December. Now I'm waiting to see if I can get on the list. It's sort of a first step and by no means guarantees that I have a spot in the group. Got my fingers crossed. But I have mentally committed to making the trip. I got pushed over the edge during a coffee chat with a friend at work. Both of us were talking about life accomplishments we wanted to achieve--she, an advanced degree, and me, my desire to combine travel with a humanitarian project. (The newly coined word for this is voluntourism.) By the time we were done talking, I was so revved up that I couldn't figure out why I was hesitating. So I stopped.

Well--now that I've decided to go, I thought I'd find out where I was going. A stop at a nearby Borders book store revealed that there are no travel books on Sierra Leone, which, upon reflection, made sense. Remember, this is the land of Blood Diamonds. The civil war there ended in 2002 (started in 1991), and the established government has slowly been putting the infrastructure and economy back together. It's still in abysmal shape, and the CIA Fact Book on Sierra Leone does not indicate tourism as a source of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

In fact, the book store didn't have any books on this tiny west African country. So with the help of the patient customer service employee, I discovered a title of a book that looked like it would provide the background I need to enlighten myself. I didn't write down the title, so I can't tell you now, but I will eventually.

Sierra Leone is a poor country that is slightly smaller than South Carolina and has a population of a little over six million people. You can see its location on the map above. The official language is English (thanks to its history as an English colony), but Sierra Leonians speak at least three other major languages, depending on where in the country they live.

Inoculations and other precautions are necessary for this trip. Malaria is still common in Sierra Leone, as is Yellow Fever. Nasty stuff. So I've got some updating to do. I noticed during a recent physical that I'm due for a tetanus booster. I'll be getting current with all of that throughout the year.

The little community that our group would visit is Manonkoh. Look for the town of Makeni on the map above, sort of in the center. Manonkoh is south of that some distance and not shown on this map. It is there that this outreach group provides medical treatment, nutrition information, and health education to the local population. And it is there that the planned clinic will be built.

So the journey of a thousand miles has begun with the first step. (Actually, it's the journey of 5315 miles, which is the Great Circle distance between Minneapolis and Freetown, SL.) There you have it.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

2008 Travel: Looking Forward

2008 brings with it commitment to two trips--one to Ft. Myers, Florida, in March, and another to Vancouver, British Columbia, in October, which is a new destination for me. The new year also brings a commitment to travel writing: I've enrolled in a travel writing class called Alternative Travel Writing with the intention of not only refreshing my reporting and feature-writing skills, but also producing at least one article from each of my planned trips. This is my year to publish!

I'm pumped about that!

Perhaps even more exciting is the possibility of traveling to Sierra Leone. While still a long shot, I am continuing to explore the opportunity. This would not be a leisure trip. I have gotten connected to a church outreach group that provides, and continues to develop, medical services to several remote villages in the interior of Sierra Leone. If I can find someway to make myself useful, I may be able to travel with one of the outreach teams headed for the west African country. The group is making trips in September and again in December. The mission for these two trips is to begin construction on a medical clinic. This, to me, is perfect material for what I think of as alternative travel. And, it would allow me to do something I've said I always wanted to do--give service to others less fortunate than I.

Wish me luck. I would love to venture into the Dark Continent.

And, as if that is not enough, 2008 also holds a couple of vicarious travel experiences for me. Two of my friends, both women, will be adding some great adventures to their travel dossiers.

One put her professional life on hold to fulfill one of her life's dreams: she has spent the last year in Peru studying Spanish and working with a nonprofit organization engaged in bringing medical assistance and life-skills training to some of the native people living along the Napo River in northern Peru. She will be returning in May after spending a year there. Although she lives in another part of the U.S., I am going to invite her to Minnesota to spend a couple of nights on the patio at our house so that I can quiz her about the trip and get a complete debriefing. Peru holds one of my Top Five Destinations To See Before I Die--of course, it's Machu Picchu.

The other plans to travel with her husband to New Zealand which, together with Australia, is also on my list of Top Five Destinations To See Before I Die. This young lady and her husband are adventurous types. I wouldn't be surprised to find out that they plan to rent a couple of bikes and take off around New Zealand. Or, that they adopt the notion of vagabonding espoused by travel writer Rolf Potts ( and just take off for an extended walk-about. They're just the sorts of explorers who would do that. I need to have coffee with her soon to see just what she has planned for the New Zealand adventure.

So 2008 could easily become a busy travel year. I'd love it. I'm looking forward to it. I'll keep you posted on all of these topics as the days pass. Come back to this blog regularly; I will be updating it much more frequently this year. My primary travel writing goal this year is to have an article published. Now that I've got the goal, I need to develop a plan. More on that in the days to come. And more on the trips mentioned in this piece.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

What I have always liked about the Thanksgiving meal is the variety of side dishes that accompany the Turkey. Of course, there are always those traditional side dishes that get made every year. What are some of yours? By the way, this is Grandpa and nine-month-old Henry at my daughter's dinner table in Chicago. We enjoyed nice driving--a few flakes of snow included--and a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner.

In our family, two traditional dishes are baked corn dish and crustless pumpkin pie that come from my mother. The baked corn dish uses creamed and whole kernel corn, bacon, green pepper, onions, celery, and a secret ingredient. The crustless pumpkin pie became popular as an alternative for my oldest son, who, as a child, liked pumpkin pie, but not the crust. Both of these are now traditional. Thanksgiving dinner is not proper without them. This year, my daughter also served a spinach au gratin, two kinds of squash--a traditional serving and another with gorgonzola cheese and pecans (very tasty). Of course, all this was accompanied by mashed potatoes and gravey, an old American standard, cranberry sauce and cranberry relish, and turkey.

On Friday we visited the Lincoln Zoo in downtown Chicago. It is a fun place for kids because the exhibits allow visitors to get relatively close to the animals. I'm not sure how well the exhibits conform to current practices for zoo exhibits, but it was fun to see some of the animals. In the photo here, Char and our granddaughter, Annabella, watch an otter who was very interested on showing off to anyone who wanted to watch.

This is my daughter, Katherine, with her husband, Scott. Baby Henry is riding along in the back pack. Talk about a nice way to travel. Actually, you see many young parents taking the kids along this way. It's pretty nifty, really, but it does require two adults to work really well. We enjoyed a sunny Thanksgiving Friday at the zoo. It was a bit brisk, but by no means unbearable. After visiting the zoo, we took our time getting out of downtown Chicago. The Windy City is one of those towns that I always seem to enjoy visiting. There's always something to do, and you have to get pretty unlucky to find a bad restaurant.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Chicago-bound For Thanksgiving

For 25 years, I drove with my family to my hometown of New Ulm, Minnesota, to celebrate Thanksgiving with my mother. My wife and I dutifully packed up the kids and made the two-hour drive from St. Paul. My mother died in 1999--during Thanksgiving, as a matter of fact--and after that I decided that our time had come--my family would now come to our house for Thanksgiving, and other holidays.

T'ain't so!

Turns out that, since my daughter got married and moved to Chicago in 2004, we have been going there for Thanksgiving. Now, instead of driving 100 miles, I drive 400 miles for the holiday! And in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Illinois, the Thanksgiving weekend is extremely volatile with regard to weather; read, we can get some nasty snow storms. As I write this on the eve of Thanksgiving, 2007, it is snowing in St. Paul and in Chicago!

But--we are expecting the snow to be light in both places, so off we go. I actually enjoy the drive as long as I don't have to fight the weather.

Stay tuned. I'll show you a few pictures before the weekend is over.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Summer Solstice Strawberries

If you are traveling in Minnesota in June, be aware of one of the great summertime treats of all time. About the time of the summer solstice, one of my favorite delicacies avails itself to us in Minnesota: strawberries. Many people pick and buy them for making jam, sometimes combining them with other berries or rhubarb to create savory and delicious spreads. Some use them in fresh salads or serve them fresh and whole with a dipping chocolate. But to me, the best of all possible ways to enjoy fresh strawberries is to have them chopped, sweetened with sugar, and served with cream.

The key to preparing strawberries and cream is canned mushrooms. If you buy a seven-ounce can of mushrooms, which is typically four ounces drained, you have the device that will properly chop and crush the strawberries. Prior to the strawberry season, or even during, open the can of mushrooms and use them in a favorite dish. Save the can. Then, after peeling off the paper wrapper, take the can opener and cut off the top, rolled edge of the open end. This will create a sharp, round edge. Then, turn the can over and, with a can opener that punches a triangular hole in a lid, punch two holes opposite each other in the remaining cover. This lets air into the can and keeps it from clogging as you chop. Now you have an efficient and inexpensive food chopper.

Now, using either a glass or steel bowl, fill it two-thirds full with fresh strawberries. Of course, the size of the bowl and the size of your family will determine the amount of strawberries. But take the can chopper and chop the strawberries. You will find that you can easily pick the consistency you desire. You can leave the strawberries chunky or continue to chop until they become a sauce. I prefer the latter consistency. After that, add some sugar. Real sugar, not sweetener. Taste test so that it is sweet, but not too sweet. Then set is aside for a bit, maybe thirty minutes, to let the berries absorb the sugar as it dissolves.

Then, when you're ready to serve them, spoon them into a bowl and do one of two things: serve them with half and half or with freshly whipped cream. If you use half and half, pour it carefully and lightly over the top of the sweetened strawberries, trying to keep the half and half on top of the strawberries. Because of the consistency of half and half, pouring it as described will create a white topping streaked with the redness of the sauce that peeks through. To use cream, choose heavy whipping cream. Put it in a bowl, add sugar, and with a wire whisk, whip it until it forms a thick consistency, but stop before it becomes firm. Try to achieve a consistency that will allow you to pour the sweetened cream over the top of the strawberries. In this case, you will have strawberries completely covered in white. It's really, really good.

The neat thing about strawberries and cream is that it can be enjoyed as a wonderful dessert, or simply as a really great bedtime treat--especially for the kids. You could even have it for breakfast. And you can sneak a bowl when everyone else is away and never tell. That is the best part; it's a gift to yourself.

Always use fresh strawberries, real sugar, real half and half, or real cream. This is not a diet treat. But don't be surprised if, after two or three summers of doing this, that the kids (and even your spouse) begin to look forward to it and, as time goes on, incorporate it into the family stories.

This year the strawberries are particularly good. They are large, like golf balls, juicy and sweet. This is one of those years when nature provided optimum growing conditions. If you buy some, buy them from one of the roadside growers or from the farm itself. Or even better, take the kids with you for a strawberry-picking outing. It's not necessarily easy (lots of bending and picking), but it will be a great story for the kids and it will make eating this delightful treat so much more special.

Strawberries and cream is one of the absolutely greatest delicacies I have ever had and something I will always remember and look forward to enjoying again and again.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Powell Street at Night

It is nearly 11 p.m. here, 1 a.m. in the Twin Cities. Music from the street musicians you see in this photo fills the street and they have been playing for the past couple of hours. One is a guitarist and the other, an Alpine horn player. Their music has an erie sound and reminds me of music that simultaneously sounds mddle eastern and mid-70s rock. It echos off the buildings. If I could not see them, I might think it comes from someplace other than the corner across the street. I am sitting at a small desk in our room looking out onto Powell Street about a half block from Union Square. I am across the street from the Villa Florence Hotel, the Segafredo Cafe Bar Restaurant, the Asia Express Pizza, the Gold Dust Lounge (est. 1933), and an art gallery. All kinds of people move along the sidewalk in both directions. They have done so since we returned from our day trip to the Napa Valley. I have the last of a fine bottle of merlot next to me. I hear the voices. But I don't understand the words. They are lively, laughing. In front of the Gold Dust Lounge one man and woman stand talking, and a few feet from them, two men engage a woman in conversation. Long black hair flows down her back to her belt. She puts out her cigarette and they leave. A bald man in shorts walks toward the street musicians juggling some balls. A pregnant woman with an arm in a cast and a backpack follows a man with two small children. I find this fascinating. It reminds of so many years ago in Europe. If the guitar player comes back tomorrow night, I'm going to go down of the street and listen to him.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

I Think I Did It

Well--I packed my bags tonight. I am a modular guy. Got everything I need into one carry-on size suitcase. Well, I won't carry this bag on the aircraft because I carry such things as a pocket knife in my possible bag. Rather, the bag I actually carry on to the aircraft will contain my computer, camera, and other electronic devices. If I ever take my dream trip, which is to start in Trinidad and Tobago and island hop along the volcanic rim of Caribbean islands all the way to Cuba, I will have to be even more frugel in my packing. My problem is how to take a computer along. Maybe I should just leave it at home. I can get along without carrying a lot of clothing--that's fairly easy. Traveling light is kind of challenging, but is the best way to go.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Off To San Francisco

I'm headed for San Francisco this week to the wedding (Saturday) of my good friend's daughter. Interesting, because Friday (15th) is our 33rd wedding anniversary. Not sure what, if anything, we will do special. For the past 15 years we have spent our wedding anniversaries at our son's baseball games. At least this is a little different. I am toying with the idea of visiting my boss--who works in SF and whose office is actually just 10 blocks from our hotel. I could take Char along. Probably not too romantic, though. What do you think?

Anyone have a good suggestion for me? If you're a guy, what would you do? And if you're a woman, what would you like?

One of my goals for this trip is to take everything I need in one carry-one bag--suit, shoes, extra clothes--everything. Can it be done? The last time I was successful in taking everything I needed in one suitcase (or bag, actually) was in 1972 when I spent six months in Europe. I didn't have anything more than what amounted to a large purse! But since then, I've never quite been successful in getting everything I need into one carry-on.

One excursion we will be making is to the Napa Valley, albeit for a day (Thursday). It will be my first time there and I'm looking forward to it, although I realize that our efforts to see the valley will be truncated by our time restriction. Still, I'm hoping for a neat discovery of some kind.

Check in to see what we're up to Friday through Saturday. I'll let you know of anything worth putting in your "Book of Places to Visit," and watch for any ideas you may have.