Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Andre's American Chronicles - June 2001

Sunday, August 26, 11:55 AM Central Time

The picture of Lake Michigan starts to breakup like pieces of a puzzle before it slowly dissolves in the clouds as the plane climbs westwards, away from Chicago towards Seattle, heading for cruising altitude of 37,000 feet.

"Sit back and relax, drinks will be served shortly, and then you can enjoy a complimentary lunch and our in-flight movie – Crocodile Dundee II." The captain informs me.

Times must be lean at United Air for showing us such an old movie. I started up my laptop, selected The Essentials from Bob Dylan, and let Bobby tell me his stories instead of listening to Paul Hogan’s stories.

Hello there.

Eight months have passed since I last wrote to say Merry Christmas, and it’s nearly that time of the year again. Time flies whether you have fun or not.

The loooong winter started as early as November and lasted until March. Luckily the winter was warmed by family members that visited us over Christmas and New Year, my brother-in-law and his wife, Leon and Rosanne. Unfortunate from them they came during the coldest November and December in the USA since 1895 or somewhere around there. During their visit we had higher than normal snowfalls, especially so early in winter. Spring was rather unusual with no rain in April and only a little in May, normally the rainy months. But the rain would come…in summer. One of the trips we took during their stay was to show them the Smoky Mountains and Gatlinburg in Tennessee.

During Spring break we drove south to Florida for a weeklong holiday and visited Disney World in Orlando. I looked forward to the drive through Tennessee, Georgia and then into Florida, to see what the southeastern part of the country looked like. But I was very disappointed with the scenery. The highway was flanked by trees most of the way. Only here and there could one catch a glimpse of the surrounding countryside. I guess to really see the landscape one has to travel on the state byways. But it was good to get away, and Disney World was not bad. Wouldn’t go back though. Been there, done that, once is enough.

Monica and I in the snowy backyard. (December 2000)

July and August saw floods, high levels of humidity and a bad mosquito population in Kentucky. The mosquitoes would even attack one on a morning stroll through the garden. (I thought mosquitoes only hunted during evenings.) Early evenings though, they were like Wild Dogs in the African sun, hunting in packs. They even tried to extract the juices of life from the cats. Now in late August, the humidity level has come down a bit, and some trees are slowly starting to drop their leaves. It seems we are heading for an early Fall/Autumn. What a bummer. Far too early for my liking.

Bobby is telling me a story of the Hurricane, while we slowly, at 845 km per hour, move westward. Far below, the green and clearly demarcated farms of Illinois and Iowa flash past in slow motion.

Left: Monica and I in Dallas, TX infront of Ripley's Believe It or Not (1998)

Believe it or not the kids have not yet returned to school after the summer break. This year their summer break lasted 3 months. 2 weeks longer than planned because of alterations at the school, which are not yet completed as planned. Which construction is ever on time? Luckily for Giam the usual boredom was lessoned by the fact that he worked for 2 months at a fast food outlet. Unluckily for me that had to go and pick him up late in the evenings. Lamar is satisfied with live as always. He has grown so tall, but still skinny, looking like a giraffe without the spots. His only problem seems to be how to handle the change in teenage hormones. That time of his life!

We crossed the Missouri River, the Badlands National Park, and are heading for the Continental divide in Montana. Apart from small patches of woolly clouds, the sky was pretty clear all the way.

On the home front I have spent most of my time in the garden. In the front I ripped out some Holly’s, dug through 1 inch of builders’ rubble to reclaim space for beds, turned the soil to 14 inches, and Monica planted an assortment of perennials, shrubs, and annuals to transform the front yard from a bleary evergreen environment to a sunny, flowery extravaganza. In the backyard I more than double the bed space from the previous year. I also installed paths throughout the garden. One of the paths was created from a ton of Kentucky sandstone rocks I dug up from a farm nearby. Some of these rocks contain fossils of sea life when Kentucky was still under water in pre-historic times. Getting the stones home, unloading them and laying the path nearly killed me. Or so it felt at the time. But the end result is very satisfying. The paths certainly give the garden more structure and a feeling of age.

A portion of the back garden showing the path of sandstone that contains fossils of prehistoric Kentucky.

From the air the green-yellow landscape suddenly change to rugged blue mountain peaks and dark valleys as we cross the majestic Rockies.

I have also continued to upgrade the fence around the backyard. In the process of removing some of the old posts I hurt my back a bit, but I have little time to rest. In September I have to remove all the annuals and in October I have to replant various plants because they have become much bigger than originally anticipated. I am holding thumbs that I will have enough time before the first frost of October arrives.

Our plane is banking sharply, changing direction from west to north and at the same time decreasing altitude as we start our approach to Sea-Tac airport (Seattle-Tacoma) from the south. Through my window Mt. Rainier dominates the valley south of Seattle and the snow-covered dome resembles an oversized vanilla ice cream cone in the green landscape. I have crossed the Rockies and was impressed enough to want to return there for more. I have been in the Smokey Mountains and enjoyed its misty attraction. But nothing prepared me for the view of a snow-covered volcano. Its dominance in a flat landscape is spectacular.

I am visiting Seattle to investigate the computer setup and general operations of a Service Parts business because my company will shortly start a new venture in that field. In October we will also kick-off a multi-million Dollar implementation with me as the project manager. In the mean time I will also still be responsible for normal operations of the IT department. No wonder Monica wants to make a life-size photo of me so that she can at least see me sometimes. And the real busy period is only starting.

Time to go. Time to close my laptop. Time for landing this bird and venture out and explore Seattle. My first trip to this part of the country.

Monday, August 27, 11:20 PM Pacific Time

Mt. Rainier from the plane.

After concluding our business at our Service Center in Seattle, the manager took us to a high point in the South of Seattle to see if we could get some picture of Mt. Rainier. It was a rather hazy late afternoon and the pictures I took is not worth publishing. Pity! Afterwards we had dinner at the Claim Jumpers restaurant, highly recommended if you ever get in Washington or Oregan states. Tomorrow morning we will be on the plane back east again.

Sunday, September 23, 6:25 PM Eastern Time

Fall. A time of mourning. Summer is drawing to a close. The signs are everywhere. It is dark by 8 pm and mornings have a cool crispness that was not there a month ago. The garden will die soon, well almost. But it is also a time of mourning due to the tragic events of September 11 in New York, Washington and Pittsburgh. The events made us realized just how much we have become Americans now. We felt deep pain, shock, empathy and most of all anger because of the attack on our way of life. Monica, especially, was deeply affected by it. It’s an impact that will be felt for a long time to come in this country. The economy was already heading towards a recession, and this event will sharpen the downward curve. Already the airline industry has announced layoffs of 70,000 jobs only days after the event. The tourist, hotel, entertainment and many other industries have also layoff thousands already. We will all feel it in insurance cost, and many other areas. More layoffs mean less spending, means more layoff in the retail industry. One big snowball. And if the USA go into a recession, it just a matter of time before the rest of the world also feel the affects.

Thursday, December 13, 10:25 PM Eastern Time

A thick mist is hugging the ground, while a continuous drizzle falls rhythmically on the tin roof of the porch. The house is quiet. Everyone has gone to bed. The night owl is at the kitchen table…again…and Keiko Matsui is making music in my ears.

John F. Kennedy Memorial. Dallas, TX (1998)

How pathetic it is that I write this newsletter over a period of so many months. Time, time, time…Excuses, excuses, excuses…Today was D-day for Monica. In the beginning of October she decided to tackle the world head-on. After a horrible year she decided to go back to school, professional school that is. She decided to get a certification in Real Estate. The kids are getting of our hands, I’m working normal hours and get home late, and she’s getting bored (she has always been a busy person, but not since we came to the USA.) And after all, there was still a lot of spark left to do something professional with the rest of her life. After a long search for what would best fit in with how she would like to spend her daily hours, what she might be good at (no use just doing it without trying to make a success of it), and what could pay reasonably (time is money), she decided on Real Estate.

She attended all the required classes (96 hours), and worked very hard at studying (first time since leaving high school, and we all know that was a loooonnng time ago.) Last night she was petrified, and we still had to go to a dinner in Lexington for a colleague of mine’s retirement. She couldn’t sleep and spent have the night up learning more.

But tonight we celebrated. Monica passed her examination for certification as a Real Estate Agent. By early evening, due to little sleep, being in a state of near nervous breakdown since yesterday because she and exams don’t go together, and one glass of flavored wine cooler before dinner, she fell asleep on the couch shortly after dinner. I don’t blame her, I’m so proud on her achievement. Not only did she had to get 75% to pass in the technical rules and terminology of the business, and the all the laws governing the business, but she did this all in English of course (Afrikaans is still our home language between me and her.) Now she must decide at which brokerage in town she wants to complete her internship. But she’ll do that early next year after she returned from South Africa.

Thursday, December 20, 11:25 PM Eastern Time

I promised myself that I would finish this newsletter before Christmas. And tonight is my D-day. Tomorrow will be the last working day for many and some get their email only at a work address. I thought I would complete it during my trip to Dallas this week, but I never got to it. I had the time on the airport and during the flights, but this month’s National Geographic magazine was just to interesting to put down. Excellent articles. Since September 11, security is now so tight at the airports, at Lexington airport I even had to remove my shoes and send them through the x-ray machine. That’s now apart from anything else that can be removed from your body and must be removed with being indecently exposed. At Atlanta, being the busiest airport in the US, they even used a small, probably chemically treated, sponge to rub the metal handles of my bag’s zippers to check for a reaction to explosives. Traces of explosives can be picked up like fingerprints. Three times this week my bags and I was thoroughly inspected. Not that anyone that flies should feel any safer against terrorism, because most luggage that gets into the plane’s hull are not x-rayed. Enough of that.

Tomorrow is also my last working day for the year. The factory is closed during the week of Christmas and I will take a few days off and just to hang around. The 26th, very early in the morning, 5:00 AM, I must take Monica to Lexington airport for her three-week vacation in South Africa, and warmer climate. Not that winter has arrived yet. Very strange weather this year. No snow yet this winter. Last year this time we had couple of inches of snow already. The eastern side of the country had record high temperatures so far. On a daily basis we are about 12 degrees higher than normal here in central Kentucky. It looks like this might be our first Christmas in the US without snow. We have been lucky that way. She will be going alone while I stay behind to look after the kids.

White Christmas or not, this newsletter must go night.

I wish you all many happy memories during this festive season and may 2002 be filled with many more happy days.

Cheers. The Baobabs in Kentucky.

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