Monday, February 12, 2018

Oh, restless spirit …

January is always a time to reevaluate priorities and to put into place plans for the coming year. When it comes to the business of Pyalla Technologies, LLC, we are both fully engaged now with Margo working hard to establish her latest venture, the monthly digital publication, NonStop Insider. As a result of working the way we do, we are discovering just how flexible we can be with our time; yes, we can work at any time, almost anywhere and this month we put this into practice. Call them BizCations, as we are want to do, but the bottom line remains the same - we fill our waking hours with work even as the scenery keeps on changing and for that, we have no complaints!

As for our plans, it all happened rather quickly. The need to meet with clients in Los Angeles mid-January and then late-January left two weeks of “calendar free space” and, with no appointments we decided to, once again, take to the seas and see how well we could work far from shore. We had done it once before, but only for a week and you can read about that in the November 5, 2014, post,
The A, B, Zs of Fall! This time we would double the time at sea and it would be a test of how disciplined we would be not to mention how practical it was to depend on the vessel’s Internet capabilities for an extended period of time.

We have been sailing with Princess cruise lines for a very long time and our status gave us a combined 500 minutes of free internet access, but with so many passengers on board, it turned out that early mornings worked best. Princess has an International Café that serves Lattes and pastries around the clock so from 4:00am onwards, you would find me working from my new, impromptu desk. And yes, it all worked out and a number of our clients, until I updated them on our return, were unaware of our newly equipped remote office!

By chance I came across the poetry of Tyler Knott Gregson, whose poems can be found on the web and among her short verses, this one struck a chord:

Oh restless soul, oh wandering spirit, come, and breathe a spell.
Come, and gently fall into peace.
This is what you were seeking, this, is home.

I have always been fascinated by ports and terminals handling container ships. This fascination dates back to when I worked for Overseas Containers Limited (OCL) as they first entered the container shipping business back in the late 1960s.

My time with OCL was way back in the early 1970s, when container shipping was still a novelty. Long before the construction of the very large Botany Bay facility you will fly over on your final approach to Sydney International Airport these ships would sail under the Sydney Harbor Bridge and dock at a small facility in White Bay. As a sailor, I just couldn’t wait to get onboard to take a look and when the opportunity presented itself, I was hooked and asked for a transfer to the London head office – an approach that turned into reality and laid the foundation for the wandering that to this day simply hasn’t stopped!

This January, as we sailed out of the harbor at San Pedro, we were passing a complex made up of two ports – the port of Los Angeles and the port of Long Beach that are the two biggest container terminals in the US. Combined, they would be in the top 10 worldwide and the perpetual movement in and out of the facility meant that cruise ships as big as the Princess Star had to do some pretty tricky backing in order to safely leave the port, but as the sun was setting and the lights came on, Margo and I felt right at home on the ship – yes, this is what we had been seeking; this is home! Or, so we thought at the time.

 As it turned out, the two weeks kicked off with us celebrating our wedding anniversary and ended with Margo celebrating her birthday. Having advised Princess of these dates we ended up eating a lot more cake than we have in years but it was a fun time. Each bar we stopped by over the course of the evening was only too happy to pull out from the counter yet another treat. In the picture above we were seated by the Crooners Bar that became our late night retreat. 

Before going any further, we did manage to burn through all 500 minutes of free Internet access across the two weeks so if we plan on doing anything longer it may be a bit of a challenge, although, as Margo noted on more than one occasion, the discipline we would maintain meant that we didn’t have to be checking our email every hour or so. Well, I tried! Bottom line, in this respect, I only stepped away from the laptops and phones on weekends which I rarely do back on shore. As for Margo then there was plenty of time for reading.

Our destination would be the major islands of Hawaii and given that it is the middle of winter in the northern hemisphere, breaking away from the clutches of winter seemed more than appropriate. As we drove away from our Windsor home, it was 8 degrees, Fahrenheit. By the time we arrived in San Pedro, it was a balmy 70 degrees, with the forecast for the voyage suggesting that we would be enjoying even more balmy days of 70+ degrees. While the sun managed to break through the clouds on occasion, the first two days at sea were cloudy with the wind whipping around the deck all the time.

As for the seas, well we were sailing through 20 foot swells and it was fun to listen to passengers complaining about how rough the seas were and of whether or not the ship’s master could do something about that. At one point, he did come over the ships coms channel to note that well, this is the Pacific (and not the Caribbean or the Mediterranean) and it was winter so yes, the movement onboard wasn’t entirely unexpected. As for Margo and me, we barely noticed it, but it was a reminder that on deep water voyages the sea can be very restless!  

Another short verse from the same poet seemed more than appropriate for the times:

A time for movement,
and a time for sitting still.
We need both of these.

Once we had arrived in the Hawaiian Islands, the seas abated considerably so we were able to enjoy an extended long weekend cruising among them. Our first stop was Oahu, where we took advantage of the ports close proximity to Waikiki and walked along the foreshore to take in the view of the former volcano that is now Diamond Head. With wall-to-wall hotels lining the beach, it proved difficult to walk along the sandy beach without having to step onto the beach.

For me, the destination was always going to be Duke’s – romanticized in songs and, to my way of thinking, symbolic of a laid-back lifestyle - I hoped to enjoy a quiet drink alongside the sandy shoreline. Having enjoyed lunch a couple of times at Dukes in Malibu (and seeing another Dukes on Kauai), for me this was a must. Despite the overcrowding evident everywhere you turned in Waikiki, we managed to get inside of Dukes and found seats that let the day ebb away. Finding a time for sitting still was priceless!

By contrast, even with the number of passengers onboard the Princess Star, there was plenty of open space. Dining was casual even as it was what it was – large scale catering with meals dumbed down to the point where eventually, we gravitated to the specialty restaurants where there was more spice and yes, way less noise. Having spent a lot of time on much smaller vessels, it takes a little getting used to and so much has changed from when we first stepped onboard a big ship. But again, that is what it is all about – for the price you get a little more than what you expect and it is that little more that brings you back to these big ships on those occasions when you want to do a little more than zip around a few ports in seven days!

Cruise lines such as Princess still hold formal nights, but to be honest, it is still very casual and marginal when it comes to dressing up, so as to speak. Having said this, it matters little what others may be doing as whenever Margo dresses for the occasion, she steals the show. And this voyage proved to be no exception. When the camera caught up with her, those behind her complained that it wasn’t fair, as obviously, Margo had experience when it came to posing and I was asked more than once, how many times has she posed for fashion shots!

All good fun of course and none of those around us ever asked her similar questions about me but that is neither here or there – and I have to admit, I didn’t see another passenger decked out in Prada the way Margo was on formal nights. The disappointment for me was that the formal nights proved to be just a little too casual so Margo left the “red-sole shoes” in the wardrobe! We ended up not liking any of the ship’s photos, so here is a snapshot I took of Margo on our first formal night.

Each day we docked in an island saw us hanging back until late in the day. We have spent time on all the islands so for us it was more a case of checking out the area around the dock. Hilo, on the Big Island for instance, saw us walking for miles which could have been a good thing, I suppose, but there were surprises, too. On the island of Kauai, we docked in the port of Nawiliwili where we found the sprawling Marriott hotel just around the corner. On first sight, it didn’t look all that impressive but up close, and looking out over the port, it proved more opulent than we had initially thought. And did I mention that is where you will find Duke’s on Kauai, but unfortunately, we had arrived well before it opened for patrons. Then again, anchored offshore of Lahaina, Maui, with whales clearly visible nearby, we had to take the tender to shore and this time we found ourselves rooftop atop Mick Fleetwod's restaurant, Fleetwood's on Front Street! 

Hawaii Islands are mountainous having all formed from volcanic eruptions. And it shouldn’t surprise any visitors to these islands that in winter, it’s not the seas that are restless but the skies as well. Each day we were ashore we encountered rain but these downpours were nothing more than passing squalls. However, they did make the sky look moody and from the shore, looking out across the sea to adjacent headlands or even nearby islands, it looked as if at any time a major storm would develop. They never did and even when we were caught out in the rain, we never stayed wet for too long as the temperatures, often nearing 80 degrees, ensure it all vaporized quickly. However, walking along the shore, keeping an eye out for changes to the weather, gave us opportunities to take a picture or two of our ship.  

Returning to dry land just a few days later and picking up where we left off, it was yet another line of verse from the same poet that really hit a nerve:

We may head back home,
but we’re leaving one behind.
Pieces of us stay.

Yes, there is a ring of truth to that – even as Margo and I talk about the two weeks break to our schedule – pieces of us do stay wherever we set foot. Not sure I can properly explain this, but I do feel that home for us will always be just over the horizon. And as we found the time to work and to read and to just unwind as we whiled away the hours, I guess the only thing I can now say is that yes, everyone needs to find the opportunities as we have been doing and to acknowledge that truly:

Oh restless soul, oh wandering spirit, come, and breathe a spell.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

The year that was … new beginnings and other great adventures!

We had been dreaming of a white Christmas, and yes, just the day before Christmas, the skies grew gray and then down it came. It snowed all night so when we awoke Christmas Eve, there it was! Indeed, “The snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even.” Packing the Jeep with food and gifts for a Christmas Eve celebration at our grandkids’ house was a first for us at our new place in Windsor as this was the very first time we were carrying items out of the house and to the Jeep! Yes, a pleasant change from all the months were it had become a case of moving items from the Jeep into the house. 

The Jeep has taken a beating over the last year as the workhorse for all that the move entailed. First it was moving precious belongings to a storage facility and then moving them out of storage and to the new house. And then it was piled high with cardboard cartoons as it ferried material back and forth between the house and the local recycling center. Finally, it became the go-to vehicle to carry new furniture and shelving between local retailers and the house – thank goodness for the Jeep. As this was an office move, as much as house move, it was the Jeep that carried all of our most valuable assets – files and old magazines.

However, there isn’t really anyway to discount just how meaningful Christmas truly is for Margo and me as it was nineteen years ago that Margo made a much earlier move out of California to Colorado in the lead up to our wedding and so, at this time of year, there is just a little nostalgia that creeps into our conversations. Not to mention, where did those nineteen years go, by golly!

Margo takes it upon herself to make sure we always have enough treats for Christmas. Not surprisingly to read, for Margo it is a repetition of rituals dating back to her youth in Warsaw, Poland. Yes, it was platefuls of deviled eggs that had her attention when I snapped the photo above, but rest assured, this wasn’t the only thing Margo was working on. There was also borscht soup, some pierogi dumplings and a strong vinegar-flavored bigos.

Whatever your cultural heritage, there was definitely something on the table that you would enjoy and with a mixture of Australians, Poles and Germans happily celebrating the time-honored Christmas Eve feast, even with the addition of three grandchildren all under five, it was an enjoyable time. On the other hand, returning to our home for a quiet cocktail reminded us why it is good to be a grandparent …

On the other hand, it wasn’t until after the New Year celebrations had ended that we were able to finally pull out of the refrigerator a prime piece of beef – a 3.4lb bone-in rib-eye steak. Paired with a fine bottle of 1998 Henschke Keyneton Estate (Shiraz / Cabernet / Malbec blend from South Australia’s Barossa Valley), it proved to be an enjoyable evening and yes, a very peaceful way, for a belated welcome celebration of the New Year. Even though this bottle had been moved a number of times, it had stood up very well and was a wonderful drop of red. Shame we have no more of this particular vintage but then again, it is always good to drink old wine.

Apart from time spent with the grandchildren, New Year celebrations this year were rather muted with just the occasional outing with good friends. We are most definitely settling into our new surroundings and have several friends now as neighbors. And the more we chat to folks the more we come to realize that the “Car of the Estate” is most definitely the Corvette. And the runner-up award would have to go to the Mini!

Each day we pass an open garage there seems to be a Corvette parked inside, so many in fact that I simply have lost track of who owns what. But it is nice to know nearly every neighbor is a car family and to hear that the neighbors now constructing the house right alongside us apparently own a very large car dealership in Ft Collins. And oh yes, it is a Chevrolet dealership where they are selling new Corvettes! 

Given that I am always multitasking it shouldn’t take anyone by surprise to see that my desk is always liberally littered with publications and printouts. It was Harold Geneen who headed the conglomerate ITT at its peak who once observed, "You can know a person by the kind of desk he keeps. If the president of a company has a clean desk then it must be the executive vice president who is doing all the work.”

Business never slowed this holiday season. The first week of each month sees Margo and me working on a digital publication simply called, NonStop Insider. If you want to take a look at what this publication looks like (and to check out Margo’s editorials), check out this link: and make sure you scroll down the home page to where it says, Read the latest edition of Insider.

We have been publishing this digital magazine for a year and a half now and as tough as it is to coordinate and as much work as it necessitates as we lobby our colleagues for articles, it is keeping Margo and me very much engaged with the HPE NonStop community. And just a short time ago I noted in a post to our NonStop community blog of how it has been thirty years since I first walked into the North Sydney offices of Tandem Computers. If the passage of nineteen years bothered me at all, then thinking about thirty years passing by isn’t something I am prepared to dwell on for too long.

Our new house – yes, clearly our new home – has a main floor office which Margo and I are extremely thankful we persevered in having built. Who needs more bedrooms on the main floor when a main floor office means it is only a short walk to the kitchen. The morning commute? Well, what can I say; should have looked into doing this years ago! 

Perhaps it was part of the festive season. Perhaps it was being reminded more than once to sort it all out. But no matter; while Margo was attending to the grandchildren I grabbed the ladder, some pins and a hammer, and hung the last picture that made up the three piece collection. It now frames the staircase that descends to the basement and features the piano, the violin and the bass. All by the same artist, a favorite of Margo and I, Sabzi, who paints abstracts that are full of color and life with just a touch of romance.

You may also notice that we have some of the curtains installed. Finally. But there are still a lot more drapes and curtains to come as they continue to miss-measure and miss-supply them but, hopefully, in a month or two, we will have the rest of them delivered and installed. We are quickly running out of patience with the temporary blinds that have been hung in their place but it seems that the fabric we liked, well what can we say, we used up the entire inventory on hand. Watch for more complete images of the final results in future posts.  

In December we took very few road trips. I arrived back in town following my short trip to Madrid early December and we have been here ever since. So it has been a period punctuated with short trips to Starbucks as we went about our final shopping excursions for the year. Being as cold as it was outside there was no need to worry about the coffee being too hot as it seemed only right to be drinking extra hot coffee as snow fell outside. And of course, we also had to dress for the occasion.

However, being at home for the duration meant we spent time not only writing the articles for our new digital publication but also sitting quietly at our desks ordering more and more stuff online from Amazon. Mark this as a first: Margo and I had something delivered every day during the last weeks of December. Be it an occasional table, a wool rug or runner, or even kitchen appliances and household consumables, we gave Amazon a run for their money and it really worked.

We even scored a free runner as Amazon dispatched a second runner when they realized they had lost the original somewhere in transit. But when both showed up, Margo explained to them in no uncertain terms that they would be losing a lot of money if they wore the return shipping charges so yes, they gave in and we kept them both!

Christmas Day however proved to be an especially quiet day. The highways were practically empty. Shops were shuttered. People had all headed inside. Nowhere was this more potently illustrated when, on a whim, Margo and I returned to Boulder to walk its famous Pearl Street Mall only to find absolutely nobody strolling along the thoroughfare. It was extremely cold so that may have had something to do with the absence of foot traffic but the skies were blue and there was an abundance of sunshine. So we had the whole place to ourselves.

For a short time, that is. After walking just three blocks, we gave up and hurried back to the warmth of our Jeep. Yes, just chalk it up as one more trip in the Jeep although it is now better equipped to handle the season. We put on new tires (Yokohoma), replaced the rotors (StopTech) and pads (Hawk) and with almost 110,000 miles on the odometer in just four years (since we bought the beast), contrary to the expectations of all those off-road pundits that questioned our sanity in buying a Jeep, it hasn’t missed a beat.

Yes, it was around this time last year that I was involved in a traffic incident that took the Jeep off the road for a month but here’s the surprise. It came back from the body shop in better condition than when we first picked it up new at the dealership – the body shop had gone over the alignment of the body panels and lined them all up properly. Wow! And now, with new tires and brakes and a fresh wheel alignment we should be good for another 100,000 miles.  

Like almost everyone else on the planet, we watched the New Year celebrations beamed to us directly from Sydney. Each year this extravaganza seems to outdo the show of the previous year. Even as they continue to search for new and novel ways to integrate both the Harbor Bridge and the Opera House into the fireworks display, it is hard to argue with the finished product. Watching it on our laptops, Margo and I “Ooohed and Aaahed” with the best of them as each burst of color erupted on our screens. So much so, in fact, that we have put the wheels in motion to return to Sydney to see it for ourselves next year!

The plans are very much in the conceptual stage with a couple of dates already being penciled in on our calendars but it has been many years since we last returned to Sydney and Margo has never seen the city in the run-up to Christmas and the New Year. Just to see Santa’s ringing their bells outside shops and railway stations all dressed in traditional European winter attire, is a sight not to be missed! It was all the way back in 2013 that we last returned to Sydney and for a couple who routinely visited the city two or three times a year for almost a quarter of a century, it simply is a case of being away from those far-off shores for way too long. 

Yes, this has been the year that was – the sale of one home and the construction of another; three months living out of trailer parks as we dealt with one failure after another with the RV, our beloved company command center. Too many times to Las Vegas in the heat of summer as well as not enough time in Colorado’s overlooked State Parks. On the other hand, we saw the Hot Air Balloon Festival in Albuquerque even as we turned in to Zion National Park for a breather. I did have to fly as there was a trip to Dallas and another to Madrid.

The good news is that as 2017 came to a close, business picked up and we enter 2018 with all the clients we wanted – yes, our books are full. And that’s always a nice position to be in as the year unfolds. It turns out that Sydney will not be our only trip overseas this year as there will be a couple more and that is most unusual for us but about those adventures we will leave to another time.

And as for the cars, with winter they are on battery tenders in the garage and a forlorn lot awaiting the first signs of spring and yes, 2017 was the first year we didn’t buy a car in all the years we have been married! Run; the apocalypse is about to erupt. Just kidding but it only added to the overall novelty of the year where so many different and unexpected events took place.

And with that, it’s time to head back to the kitchen for a slice of cheese and a quiet drink. So yes, as we raise a glass to all our friends and everyone who reads these monthly posts, our best wishes to you all and may the year be prosperous as it is kind to each and every one of you!

Monday, December 11, 2017

Let it snow! Let it snow! Yes, we’re dreaming of a white Christmas!

The last days of fall are still with us and the long shadows that are being cast over the golf course behind our home are a reminder that the dark days of winter are not that far away. Ominous clouds seem to be ever present but the vista from our deck continues to remind us why we moved to Windsor, Colorado – it’s simply a quiet retreat where everyone knows their neighbors. The sense of village and community is unmistakable and as good natured as we are about it, there are still times when we miss our old haunts. Fine dining in Windsor? There are BBQ joints and fast-food outlets, but little to compare with what we enjoyed in Boulder County.

Then again, this is truly the season to entertain and to enjoy meals served at home and the deck-side grill has seen a lot of overtime. If you had told me that you could turn to a simple Coleman propane gas grill – yes, the same one we take with us on our RV excursions – and turn out really good food then I would have thought you were exaggerating. But turn out good meals is exactly what it has been doing and with the weather continuing to remain fine, we have kept at it even as the calendar is telling us winter is about to arrive. 

For all intents and purposes, we have said good bye to our RV – the vehicle we depend upon during the warmer months as our company command center. As a home away from home on business trips across the country, it became a place where we can easily unwind. No matter the location or the temperature, it has really changed our life so much so that given an opportunity to conduct business anywhere in North America, we can be ready in 48 hours. Pulling the trailer with the Mini Roadster on board has become a standard practice for us, but even so, next spring we will be looking into installing a Blue Ox tow hitch so we can tow the Mini. There are just too many places that prohibit entering with a trailer attached, so unhooking the Mini at the arrival gate makes life a whole lot simpler.

While this isn’t an issue when we are actually on site where we are doing business, as we often take three or four days to get to our destination, we can be afforded side excursions to see what we are passing through – and many times this past summer, the views were such that they were too hard to ignore. Pictured above is a parting shot from Zion National Park with the Watchman looking down on us – a majestic rock formation that is as much a hallmark of Zion as are the Narrows and Angels Landing. Now the RV is being winterized with scheduled maintenance and warranty work being done and shortly we will be retiring it to our storage facility for the winter.

It was just a few weeks back that business took us all the way back to San Francisco and the coast for an HPE event focused on its NonStop systems. At this time of year we rely on our Jeep and just to remind us why, the afternoon of the day before we left, it snowed. Only briefly and it was all gone by the next morning, but nevertheless, it is that time of the year but we really aren’t looking forward to it. However, when it comes to maintenance, it isn’t just about the RV, as we replaced the tires on the Jeep a day or two earlier only to return to Windsor with all the lights on telling us we needed to replace brake pads (and rotors).

That, unfortunately wasn’t the end of the tale as our Mini had to have its rear pads and rotors replaced (the fronts had been replaced a little earlier) only to realize the tires had to go. What a year: Six tires on the RV, four tires on the Jeep with new tires for the Mini on order and fresh brakes all around. In the meantime, our beloved Corvette is sitting in the garage waiting for new tires as well, but they will have to wait till spring, as winter is no time to take to the highways in the Corvette. No matter how best we plan it there is always something that needs replacing and with the BMW i8 going in for routine service we are certain that we will be told that there are parts that need replacing!

 The trip to San Francisco was without a glitch and the event itself went smoothly enough, so with the end of the week approaching we elected to drive back to Windsor via Monterey. A veritable shortcut for anyone who likes to drive and as we had planned to stop by former business associates and now really good friends living just outside Sacramento, it was an opportunity to catch our breath between meetings. Monterey is always a welcome interruption and with dinner at the Sardine Factory – remember those Visa ads featuring this restaurant and how you had to take Visa as they didn’t accept American Express – well, it has changed little through the years. 

We overnighted in a hotel that was anything but first class (there was no car parking option only a valet service to a nearby parking station), it’s location for the price was exceptional as it placed us right in the center of the restaurant and shopping district of waterfront Monterey. No matter the time of the year, it is always a lively place and there were many venues where you could sip a glass of wine and simply peer out the window – something Margo and I have become experts at doing! Cutting across country and into the heart of the San Joaquin Valley meant we had a short run up Interstate 5 and would you believe it? It rained!

As much as the trip to San Francisco proved to be a break within routine and yes, the return trip proved a little more difficult as high winds and blowing snow closed Interstate 80 in the center of Wyoming delaying us a day, I were only spending a week in Windsor before I had to pack for another trip. Prior to leaving for San Francisco I received an invitation from HPE to be its guest at the big-tent marketing event in Madrid, Spain. And as much as I dislike flying anywhere there was no way around it – I were flying to Europe once again. HPE invites independent bloggers to its events and while I have been invited to participate at previous events in Las Vegas, this was my first invitation to venture overseas.

The hotel HPE chose for us was in “the best location in the Plaza de España” – the Barceló Torre de Madrid. A hotel that billed itself as being a luxury designer hotel located in one of the most iconic buildings in Madrid and as such, it proved to be a really good choice. Thank you, HPE. Of course, being in the heart of Madrid meant that we were far from the Convention Center, so HPE had busses on hand to ensure smooth transfers to and from the event. I have been to Madrid several times in the past and while it is not my favorite city in Europe, HPE did go out of its way to ensure our time in Madrid was enjoyable. Again, many thanks, HPE.

Naturally enough, if you are in Madrid you are never too far from good olives and for me, the best way to enjoy an olive, or two, is with a martini and the hotel bar didn’t disappoint. They provided as many olives as you wanted and they tasted great! As for the tapas there were many tapas bars in the area and there was no chance that I would pass them by – the air-cured hams were wonderful as was the seafood. Perhaps Madrid isn’t that bad a place to visit after all! As for the event, there were a number of surprises and for a blogger, more than enough material to keep posts and commentaries coming for several weeks to come.

Of course, if you are in Madrid you are never too far from good olives and for me, the best way to enjoy an olive, or two, is with a martini and the hotel bar didn’t disappoint. They provided as many olives as you wanted and they tasted great! As for the tapas there were many tapas bars in the area and there was no chance that I would pass them by – the air-cured hams were wonderful as was the seafood. Perhaps Madrid isn’t that bad a place to visit after all! As for the event, there were a number of surprises and for a blogger, more than enough material to keep posts and commentaries coming for several weeks to come.

When our busload of bloggers first descended onto the exhibition hall, my first reaction was to assume we had somehow been magically transported to the LA Car Show going on around the same time. Numerous stands featured cars and I am still not sure how many were featured, but I do recall seeing a Jaguar, and Audi and a BMW. The presence had less to do with hybrids or fully electric cars as it did with the Internet of Things (IoT) and autonomous operation.  On the other hand, the one car that did catch my interest was the Le Mans Prototype 3 (LMP3) that was campaigned in 2017 in the European Le Mans Series (ELMS). 

Powered by a Nissan 5 liter V8 – yes, I know, many of us only know that these V8s came from trucks originally and you cannot buy a Nissan with this engine – but it looked one serious race car even if to my eye it was pretty low tech. However, that was the point as the promoters wanted to include a prototype vehicle that almost any team could build and run for the year. I am still at a loss as to what exactly it was doing on the floor of the exhibition hall but it certainly proved to be attractive eye candy for everyone walking into the hall. As fortune would have it, I was able to spend a little time with its driver, Max Hanratty, who had been campaigning in Formula 1600 and USF2000 open wheel series and knew our friend’s grandson, Colton Herta as well as his father, Bryan.

Returning to the home front, we finally received our last piece of quartz that we wanted for the kitchen bar. We wanted to provide some separation between the actual kitchen and the bar itself and what we chose turned out to fit the bill entirely. The photo doesn’t do it justice; it does tie together with the colors of the floor, the backsplash and the cabinets and overall, it blends in well with the rest of the open floor plan that encompasses the kitchen, living and dining areas. We only have the drapes and blinds to be installed and we will be pretty much done with the main floor.

What comes next now will be the basement and if you were wondering about the original piece of white quartz we originally had in the kitchen, it is heading downstairs for the bar that will be built. In fact, when completed the bar will mimic the kitchen but in reverse – where there is light quartz in the kitchen there will the grained quarts you see in the photo above. And where there is the grained quartz, it will be white. When we moved into our home, much of the basement had already been framed with only drywall and hardware required so we have asked for quotes to complete the build out. 

Hopefully, if all goes to plan, we will have it finished in time for spring. In the meantime we set it up as a low-tech home theater – we have some very old 35mm slides and we sometimes go down to our unfinished basement and watch the pictures. We think after the basement is finished our move to Windsor will truly be complete, with memories of former residences slipping further into the past … if only we can see some snow around here. A white Christmas? Now wouldn’t that be a fitting end to one amazing year!

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Up in the air! An end of season farewell to the RV!

October saw a return to time spent in the RV – our company command center – as we pulled back onto Americas highways with an opportunity for yet another “bizcation.” The primary focus was business, as we were leveraging an opportunity to catch up with former colleagues as well as others providing insights into where technology was headed, particularly when it came to HPE. If you have a need to check into the business aspects of our trip then check out the posts to the NonStop community blog Real Time View of October 15, 2017, NonStop future – not all what it seems! Sometimes, you just have to get out and meet folks to better understand the reasons driving change and this trip proved no exception.

As it so happened, our trip took us to Albuquerque, New Mexico, at a time when the annual hot air balloon fiesta was well under way. Even though we missed some of the opening activities we were still able to take in a lot – very early in the morning, unfortunately. The one thing that escaped me as I became aware of this event is that hot air balloons work best when the surrounding air is very cold and so, waking in time for the 6:00am “balloon glow,” meant putting on almost all the clothes we had packed for the week!

Perhaps not something every reader is familiar with but the air currents above Albuquerque are rather unique. As the balloons begin their ascent above a large arena, they drift to the south where the pilots then up the heat to ascend to a higher level where the air currents reverse to take them back over the arena. This back and forth passage can be repeated several times with the more skillful pilots being able to descend back into the arena more or less on the spot where they first lifted off. Of course, there are many variances with these air currents and we often saw balloons sailing away to the horizon only to land in inhospitable terrain, but thanks to their chase crews, they always made it back to do it all over again the next day.

Part of the charm of this event comes from the sheer number of participants – at one point we were informed that there were upwards of 700 hot air balloons participating and it was hard to argue with this number the morning of the “mass ascension” which shouldn’t be confused with a religious ceremony. Rather, the balloons manifested themselves in every imaginable shape and as for the colors well, rainbows come to mind. As it so happened, we had parked our RV directly underneath the point where the balloons came to a stop more or less before they ascended to catch the counter-current so we were able to capture them motionless for several minutes making it easy to take pictures. 

Many of those around us at this campsite considered attending this event as taking an important step towards checking off all the items on their bucket list. Having not ever considered taking in this balloon fiesta we were taken completely by surprise. We even saw the famous Wells Fargo stagecoach float overhead one morning. And of course, the famous ReMax balloon was easy to spot for anyone familiar with their television advertisements. There seemed to be no limit to the number of companies that took advantage of this event to advertise their products and services only adding to the color that at times, completely covered the sky immediately above us. 

One morning, the ascension was devoted to all those balloons shaped like animals and there were even famous characters from the movies including Darth Vader and Yoda. And of course, the Armadillo gun fighter was hard to ignore! What did turn out to be good was that folks we wanted to meet and talk business with found every opportunity to drop what they had been doing to join us alongside the arena. As the activities came to a halt around 9:00am each morning there was still a lot of the day left to address business topics and for a couple of the folks, this continued through to when we shook martinis, something they had read so much about and wanted to see us shaking a couple for them, which we were only too happy to oblige. 

Leaving Albuquerque, and with the weather still very stable for this time of the year, we elected to spend the weekend driving back through Arizona and into Utah with a brief stopover in Zion National Park. Fortunately, this took us past Page and the eastern extremity of the Grand Canyon. Having elected to make this part of the journey a joint affair with our good friends, the Kennys. We have heard about Antelope Canyon, but  what was surprising to us was that we had passed the exit to this canyon many times without realizing just how dramatic a view of the canyon existed so close to a major highway. Having now seen it, we recommend the short walk down to the rim to anyone with plans to pass by Page.

Parking our RV in the spaces reserved for cars wasn’t so difficult when we arrived, but after spending an hour or so taking in the view, when it came time to leave well, that was an entirely different situation as we were essentially boxed in and had to be very precise with our movements extracting ourselves from the car park. But otherwise, this is a place everyone needs to visit – nothing had prepared us for how beautiful this arc of the river really is even as we had seen it many times depicted in photos hanging in galleries. While the early morning put much of the river in shadow it still gave us an opportunity to walk the rim of a pretty special place.

Leaving the park we headed into Zion where it wasn’t so much the sight of antelopes that caught our eye as it was the deer that fearlessly walked right up to our campsite. Even when a passing motorcyclist restarted his cruiser after snapping a few photos, the noise didn’t faze the deer one bit – he just kept on munching the greenery of a lawn adjacent to the very busy main street thoroughfare. Zion has always been a very special place for us as we find it one of the few parks where everything is in easy reach and while we have absolutely no interest in climbing to the top of its famous Angel’s Landing, we have walked a number of trails that originate in the valley.

This valley emanating from the Virgin River that begins at Zion’s popular Narrows Riverwalk, is alive with animals at this time of year and we saw many bush turkeys, hawks of every variety as well as the deer. Hanging from the sheer rock cliffs we even saw more adventurous climbers pulling up stakes to continue their climb having spent the night suspended high above the valley floor in makeshift cocoons wedged into the clefts of the cliff face. We have seen climbers before, but each time we encounter them we just scratch our heads and wonder. And each time we think about it we help ourselves to a stiff drink and raise a toast – not for us, but all the same, we tip our hats to brave enough to take on these particular challenges. 

This time we did try to ascend to Hidden Valley which we thought we had read was labelled as being of “moderate” level of difficulty. It was only when nearing the top that we discovered it was not moderate but rather, labelled “strenuous.” Of course, our good friends Brian and Jan Kenny did continue to the top and then, without giving it any additional thought, rerouted and took in the loop to Observation Point overlooking Angel’s Landing only to recount how tough the combination of these trails proved to be. But no, not for the Buckle-Holen family, which had returned to the Zion lodge to enjoy a glass of wine with their hamburgers in the second floor restaurant. Sometimes, it is better to ere on the side of caution even if it means missing out on catching sight of landscapes unseen by almost everyone else. On the other hand, we have also come to realize that, in the words of Dirty Harry, we just “have to know our limitations!” 

Returning home was so much easier on us this time as we didn’t have to empty out the RV and walk into an unfinished home. After spending almost two months setting up our new home, it was beginning to take on a familiarity that made it easier for us to relax. Margo has done a simply fantastic job of bringing together the colors and the décor that make the place really something special and yes, by all accounts, completely unexpected for the homes already built. The builder’s wife has stopped by now more than once to complement us on what we have done with the place, even suggesting that they may want to photo the finished spaces as few others have quite had the imagination that Margo has demonstrated. I would like to think I did have a hand in it all but in reality it was only minor when compared to what Margo sought to accomplish.

Returning home was so much easier on us this time as we didn’t have to empty out the RV and walk into an unfinished home. After spending almost two months setting up our new home, it was beginning to take on a familiarity that made it easier for us to relax. Margo has done a simply fantastic job of bringing together the colors and the décor that make the place really something special and yes, by all accounts, completely unexpected for the homes already built. The builder’s wife has stopped by now more than once to complement us on what we have done with the place, even suggesting that they may want to photo the finished spaces as few others have quite had the imagination that Margo has demonstrated. I would like to think I did have a hand in it all but in reality it was only minor when compared to what Margo sought to accomplish. 

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Heightened expectations and the stories that will be told ...

We are now hard at it, packing the RV; clothes are hanging and shoes stored away and shortly, we head off for our last shopping spree to fill in the pantry with the many items we simply forgot about in our previous trips to the shops. It’s not a big list but we will be heading back down to Boulder as it seems Ft Collins is a hard place to shop for prime beef – only choice. Even at Whole Foods. Surprising but prime makes a big difference even when grilling outside on a Coleman gas BBQ. NO worries though, we will get it all done and come mid-morning, Sunday, we hit the highway for one last trip before the RV season concludes.

Once again, it’s going to be mostly business as we will catch up with clients and prospects. There is always too opportunity to pick up new material for future blogs and taking a picture or two helps with setting the stage for story lines to follow. It’s been amazing these past couple of years just how many story lines we have come up with while staring out the windscreen looking at blacktop disappearing into the horizon. This summer though hasn’t been good to us with more than our fair share of mishaps taking place. But we only just read that it is these mishaps that work their way into our conversation and writings as we tend to forget about those trips that are incident free. “Nothing to report,” isn’t the fodder of interesting anecdotes!

The RV isn’t running at 100% as there are still a number of maintenance items to take care of on our return and already we have it scheduled to be turned in for the end of season (and winterizing) service once we have unloaded and packed away everything we are working so hard to put into the RV right now. The really nice thing about having a home that motors down the highway is that you don’t really have to be all that concerned with what you have packed. If you aren’t sure about that additional coat or jacket then, no worries; pack them both! And even better, a residence where you can simply walk out the back door and into the RV!

Business has continued to grow and a year has now passed since we decided to launch a monthly digital magazine for the HPE NonStop community. There are other publications out there – hardcopy and electronic – but there was a need for something with a lot less advertising and with much more story telling. Starting from humble beginnings but with the good help from our friends in Scotland at TCM, ever so gradually the number of articles has climbed to where the upcoming issue, what we are calling our first anniversary issue, will most likely contain a record number of articles and commentaries. We are even adding columnists as well as attracting attention (and contributions) from HPE.

Our new home continues to come together and this past week, it was all happening. Friday saw electricians, plumbers, dry-wallers and even quartz suppliers all stop by. Our punch list shrank considerably so much so that we felt quite at home entertaining neighbors in our dining room – a first for us! And yes, we pulled a few good wines from the cellar which went a long way to putting the troubles with the RV well to the back of our minds. Didn’t think about them once or about the upcoming trip for that matter! Or even getting the magazine published; it was good to be able to sit back and enjoy conversations late into the night. But we all took a look at the latest picture to arrive – when hung it will join the other two in the staircase leading to the unfinished basement!

Our thoughts this week have seen us both thinking about Australia and Poland. Not sure what triggered such thoughts but somehow, that magic number, 50, entered our conversations. 1968 was a big and important year for both of us as in March 1968 Margo was in Warsaw as students massed to show support for their colleagues in Prague. Yes, it was that historic time of the Prague Spring and we know that there will be major celebrations under way in both cities. As for me, I finished high school but unfortunately, I wasn’t allowed to participate in the last week’s shenanigans. 

The headmaster called my parents the week before and asked that I be kept at home as the school was nervous about exactly what stunts I might pull; who me? To think I was oh so close to buying a motorcycle even then – I had already bought and hid away the denim jacket. So, even as everyone else was enjoying muck-up day / week, I was at home given one extra week of prep time for finals. Looking back at that week, it actually did help me a lot as I was able to make the grade for University; shame my career counselor steered me down the wrong path but that’s a story for another time. And I still have to wonder, as much as I was a budding car enthusiast who even  went so far as to apply for a role inside the design department of GM, if my career counselor would have thought we would have as nice a group of cars, plus the motorcycle but minus the Jeep SRT8, in our garage!

What 2018 holds for us is still under discussion but marrying work with time outside the country will be the gating factor but already, we are leaning towards spending the winter of 2018 / 2019 in Australia rather than heading south to warmer parts of the U.S. For several years we had been planning on setting up the RV on the outskirts of Las Vegas, Nevada, but somehow we just don’t share the enthusiasm we once had. And our prayers and thoughts are with all those families so tragically impacted by the latest insanity. We know no country is safe and there is no place out of reach for those among us bent on unleashing mayhem but spending a leisurely three months on the east coast of Australia may be about as relaxing a place you can find these days.

Our last two trips back to Sydney have been very emotional times for Margo and me. It was almost ten years ago that I received the news that my father had passed away. It came at a time when the company I was working for, GoldenGate, was bought my Oracle and I was ever so politely informed I would not be a party to the new adventure. Looking back at this blog I only just realized that no posts were published for either October or November and I suspect that it was the strain of the occasion that really distracted me from my blogging. The week spent in Sydney in 2009 was just dreadful for both of us and really, one we want to forget. However, it was just one year later that we returned to Sydney and were joined by our good friends, the Kennys.  And even as there were moments when Margo and I reflected on just how upsetting the previous trip had been, 2010 was completely different.

As for Warsaw in 2018, we may be able to write more about that shortly but suffice to say, making the trip to Warsaw is being worked on even as I write this post. Former business colleague, Mike Bennett has just spent a weekend and posted a lot of photos on Facebook and that really sealed the deal for Margo. March is perhaps not the best of times to be heading into central Europe weather-wise but then again, the mood will probably be so similar to what was experienced fifty years ago that I am sure Margo will have a tough time holding back the tears. Even if the celebrations are all in Polish as I no doubt expect that they will be, I am going to be in attendance at everything Margo chooses to attend.

The picture above is of the entrance to the Gdansk shipyards where history begun to unravel for those who so oppressed the Polish people but unfortunately I doubt if we will be able to make it back to Gdansk this time even though, in summer, it is a beautiful place to visit.

Back to packing up the RV and thinking of the stories we may be able to tell in a week’s time. The drive will not be too onerous as we will be overnighting in the college town of Las Vegas, New Mexico before setting up camp in Albuquerque where there is a lot of interest in the big hot-air balloon festival. We have plans on camping nearby to take-in as much of the festivities as time allows. We then plan, weather permitting (and yes, the forecast for Monday night calls for snow here along the Colorado front ranges), on taking a different route back to Windsor – via Page, Arizona, and then through Zion’s National Park in Utah before turning east along Interstate 70. Again our plans for the return trip could all fall apart pretty quickly if the snow begins to pile up in the Rockies so fingers crossed.

On the other hand, it is all part of a very familiar routine. Margo and I just love the change of seasons here in Colorful Colorado. There’s nothing quite like it and we only just managed to squeeze in a quick trip up into the front ranges to see the aspens changing color but once again, they didn’t disappoint and we were able to see the splendor of a giant patchwork quilts as aspens and firs gave us a checkerboard display of greens and yellows. Wonderful and even as the tourist traffic begins to seriously thin-out – yes, it’s now an easy drive to Estes Park with amply parking available everywhere you look and a far cry from the crowded streets of only a few weeks ago.

Well, the excitement about has further heightened in the time I have spent typing this post. Here in Windsor the day has warmed rather nicely and thoughts of cold and snow have been pushed to one side. I may even wash the RV, top to bottom; the last big wash it had was in the days before we started our summer adventure back in late May so yes, it’s long overdue. And yet, I will approach that task rather casually, taking it pretty easy as the late afternoon begins to set in. Tomorrow? Looking forward to as brilliant a dawn as we have been experiencing of late! It will be a big day and I am now looking forward to pulling out of the driveway for the first time since taking up residence in our new home and how I feel about that you will just have to wait for another post.