Reflections on 10 years of Retirement

The retirement decision was difficult; I was preparing to give up a steady paycheck in exchange for enhanced flexibility and freedom.  I had some doubts but it was time to go.

I had not been promoted since 1992 and was unlikely to be again.  I was no longer welcome to teach my favorite class, Chem II lecture, because “your course was just too difficult” and its existence “ was threatening chemistry at GPC”, according to one administrator.  I began having difficulty filling my Chem I and Environmental Science courses because other sections were perceived as being less challenging. 

So, I pulled the trigger and sent off my resignation letter in late July 2011,  a year in advance, to my dean and my department chair.

I will be leaving Georgia Perimeter College as a full-time faculty member no later than the end of the summer term 2012 to pursue scholarly, domestic and recreational opportunities, but at a more measured pace.

Thanks very much for your support over the years. 

My timing was marvelous.  The following May there was an announcement that the college was in arrears to the tune of several tens of millions of dollars because of accounting irregularities.  There would be layoffs; no travel money for conferences or workshops would be available for the foreseeable future.

No surprise here.  I was a principal investigator on two projects, an NSF Laboratory Improvement grant (1995) and a teacher training grant through the State of Georgia (2006).  In both cases it was impossible to reconcile the accounts because these were never up-to-date and the statements mostly incomprehensible.  There was always one person who could “straighten things out”, but the explanations were never satisfying.  I am not an expert accountant but I did have two courses in accounting in B-school so I knew what GAAP required.  When I complained I was always told that everything was OK and the audits were satisfactory.  Sure they were…, the college was growing, there was plenty of cash influx, which made it easier to mask or ignore troubling expenditures.

Subsequently, the same thing happened to GPC that happens to any business that provides necessary goods or services but cannot operate in the black; it loses its independence.

 The University System lost patience with the GPC folks in charge and fired or reassigned them.  The System’s accounting watchdog came in and fixed the accounts. 

Georgia Perimeter College became part of Georgia State University.


So… what does one do when retired?  One continues one’s life but without the scheduling necessary to make a living.  If a person has developed a variety of interests while working retirement becomes much easier .

Retired folks are perceived as having lots of free time and unlimited resources.  Not so!  As nature abhors a vacuum it also abhors a retired guy without anything to do.  I always have plenty to do; but often find a shortage of activities I want to do.  

Be wary of being oversubscribed.


I did not travel internationally until I joined a University System tour for a 16 day trip to Hungary in 2004.  It was great fun and a real eye-opener as to how different eastern Europe was from the US. 

Retirement has allowed us to participate in a golden age of travel and we have taken advantage of it.  We have been to China, much of western Europe and the U.K., the Baltic states, Australia and New Zealand, Madagascar, Costa Rica and Peru. 

In late 2019 we booked a return trip (for me, anyway) to Eastern Europe on a Viking River tour.  We would start in Bucharest, bus down to Constanca and the Danube estuary, eventually boarding a ship on the Black Sea for a trip to Odessa, Ukraine.  From there we were to head up the Dnieper past Kherson, ending the tour in Kyiv, the capital.  Because of Covid-19 we postponed the trip till 2020 and , of course, in 2021 the Russian buildup along with remaining health concerns in Ukraine canceled the trip for the foreseeable future.

Sadly, much of  the eastern part of Ukraine have been leveled by Russian aggression.

Viking Cruise Route: 2020


We once again rescheduled our trip, this time for Greece and Turkey for late 2022. Politics, economics and health concerns continue to impact international travel opportunities .

What I Have Accomplished?

I have looked into some of my family history notably about my twice great-grandfather, James E. Denniston.  He was born in Ireland in 1827, traveled to New York City in May, 1834 aboard the ship Britannia from Liverpool with his parents, John and Aleicia (married in 1820, Elphin diocese, county Roscommon, Ireland), and 5 siblings, Aleica, Edward, John, Larkin and Anna and was naturalized by the state court of New York in 1835.  He served in the Union Army in 1862, residing in central Missouri until his death in 1903.

My bread-baking skills have improved and I am currently grinding ( actually chopping) whole grains such as rye, einkorn, purple barley, spelt, Kamut and Kernza[R] into flour to use in whole grain breads.

I have navigated myself through several colonoscopies and my wife through triple-bypass and cataract surgeries.  I remain in good health but realize how tenuous that can be.

I continue to do scientific stuff; I peer review for NSF and Journal of Chemical Education, judge for Science Olympiad and Georgia State’s Research Conference as my time and opportunity allows.

Recently I realized that my knowledge of English and American literature was not very good.  Some of this was because of mediocre courses in high school, but in college I never really had much confidence in my ability to write papers that would satisfy the professor in an upper level humanities class.   Now I wanted to read more widely in these areas, so I ordered a couple of used copies of Norton Anthologies from Amazon, one for literature from the middle ages, one for the restoration period and the 18th century.  Both had a number of  interesting stories and poems in them.   As a follow-up to my reading I ordered a copy of Boswell’s The Life of Samuel Johnson, and Leo Damrausch’s  The Club, helped me to better understand Boswell, Johnson and the extraordinarily talented men and women of that time.

A Journal of the Plague Year, by Daniel Defoe was an appropriate read as we were sequestered during the pandemic.  Defoe’s book, describing the experiences of 1665, is similar is some parts to our post 2020 experience, but likely has a happier and more satisfying conclusion.

I high recommend The Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant (annotated edition, 2017).  Grant’s editors told him to write “as though he were speaking to a group of friends after dinner” and he did.

Before my 2020 trip was cancelled I began reading works by Nikolai Gogol, the great Ukrainian writer..  I do not understand his works of fantasy, but the short stories; The Nose, the Government Inspector, The Overcoat are terrific.  His description of the Dnieper River from The Terrible Vengeance:

Fair is the sight from the midst of the Dnieper of the high hills, the broad meadows, and the green forest! Those hills are not hills: they have no foot; they are sharp-peaked at both bottom and top; under them and over them is the tall sky. Those woods standing on the slopes are not woods; they are hair growing on the shaggy head of the old man of the forest. Under it his beard washes in the water, and under his beard and over his hair—the tall sky. Those meadows are not meadows: they are a green belt tied in the middle of the round sky, and the moon strolls about in both the upper and the lower half.

Anne Applebaum’s book, Red Famine, describes Russia’s attempt to starve Ukraine during the 1930’s, when, maybe, 4 million citizens perished.


My retirement has been bookended by high school reunions.  In 2012 I attended my 50th and a few weeks ago  I was fortunate enough to still be above ground for my 60th reunion.  The program for the dinner pretty much said it all; on the inside were the names of  attendees and on the back page were names of those classmates that would never be seen again, the deceased.

Many of these folks I have known and attended school with, from grades 1 to 12.  Growing up I had a really good experience.  No mass shootings, lots of positive memories and a massive amount of fun.   One  observes where one is within a group and concludes that there are folks who are taller, better-looking, smarter, can run faster, play sports better, command more respect and have better leadership skills than oneself.  As a youngster, however, you don’t appreciate how wonderful or how cruel life can be in the process of moving us from cradle to grave.

One day in the mid 1960’s a classmate I knew fairly well turned up at my door offered his hand and told me that he was going to die soon and wanted to tell me good-bye, taking a farewell tour like a retiring athlete.

Others died violently, one by self-immolation, another, a preacher’s son, by his own hand after losing wife and child in an accident, yet another, by a rifle bullet through the head fired by a jilted boyfriend.

A boating accident off the coast of Oregon, a pulmonary occlusion, and a fall after a series of head and neck injuries took others.

So, should one have survivor’s guilt or be grateful that, despite the inadequacies you thought you had growing up, you made it further than many who once seemed invincible?  

But, wait, not all is lost.  A close friend, an engineer, who was in danger of becoming a hermit after the death of his parents, traveled to Arizona for a visit with a classmate recently widowed after 40 years of marriage.  After months of courtship, they were married and are starting a new life together.


A Tale of Three Marriages



My dad, Lester Denniston, shown above as a soldier in the early 1940’s, made his living as an automobile mechanic, starting in garages, then working in a Ford dealership before ending his career as a motor pool mechanic for the Galesburg Register-Mail , a newspaper in Galesburg, Illinois, a town of about 30,000 people in western Illinois.

He was a craftsman; he built a two-bedroom addition onto our house; he poured the cement for much of our driveway; he did kitchen and bathroom remodeling.  He bought an old motor boat, sanded and varnished it until it gleamed and took it to the Mississippi river where we enjoyed it for a number of years..

He loved to fish and he was good at it because he knew how to work the drop-offs and find where the fish ought to be.  For years we drove to northern Minnesota to fish and had a great time.  He always told me two things, that any job worth doing was worth doing well and that I was too damned independent for my own good.  Both are as true now as the day he first said them.

My dad loved Christmas.  The family always had a big Christmas, gave lots of gifts and shared the joy with others.  Those were good times.

Consequently, I always thought it was especially cruel  that he died of complications of lung cancer in late December and was buried on Christmas eve.  Christmas was never the same after that and was not helped when my mother died in mid-December some 35 years later.

I have a sister, Ann, and grew up with lots of relatives, especially aunts and uncles.  From time to time we saw  Betty (Becky) and Jack, by half-sister and half-brother.  They and their respective families were fun to be with but a bit awkward for me since they were nearly a generation older than I was.    My dad had been married before so Becky, Jack, Ann and I shared the same male parent.  What about their mom?  What had happened?  As a dumb little kid  I tried to get information but no one said much.  I had questions about that, but never got satisfactory answers.  Oh, I was told,  it was embarrassing or it was something I would not be able to understand or maybe,  just maybe, they did not know either.  And so it went.

Time goes on.  My dad, my mom, all my aunts and uncles who knew or might known what actually happened, die.  Jack dies at age 80 in 2008.  Becky, in her early 90’s, recently moved into an adult placement home in Michigan suffering from vascular dementia before passing in August 2019.

So…, what am I waiting for?  No one living is going to be offended or embarrassed by what I find out now and it would be a worthy research project for a dumb old guy which I now am.

Ann was told that dad’s first wife’s name was Opal Renner.

Being a cheapskate I establish an account at the Church of the Latter Day Saints (LDS) site, , which was free and started searching.  I also paid a few bucks for an account at the newspaper site,, for additional documentation. 

What did I know  going into this search?  From census data, which is released to the public 70 years after it was taken I knew or discovered the following about my father.

Lester H. Denniston

1908: Born Roodhouse, IL (Athensville township)

He married Opal  November 2, 1925 at age 18 (age at first marriage from 1930 census), Carrollton, IL

Becky arrives December , 1925

Jack arrives January, 1928

1930 census:  Lester (married) living in household of Glen Grider (family of my Aunt Jenny), Galesburg, IL

1940 census: Jack (age 12) and Lester (single) living with Albert & Maude Denniston (my paternal grandparents) in Galesburg; (since 1935)

Becky (age 14) living in household of Glen Grider in Galesburg (since 1935)

1942: Lester joined US Army as mechanic as divorced with no dependents

1943: May, married Sybil Eshelman (my Mom), Palmyra, MO


 There were “Opal Renners” in three adjacent states but because of age or family history none could have been the real Opal. Renner could not be the correct surname. 

Where were  the kids, Becky and Jack, from the times of their birth till the 1930’s?  A search of the 1930 census showed that 4 year-old Bettie,  2 year-old Jackie  and Opal Dennison [sic] were living in the household of Jesse Y. Rimbey in Athensville.  Just days after the census was taken Jesse Rimbey, Opal’s father, dies.  His obituary in a Springfield, IL newspaper showed the correct spelling of the surname.

The Rimbeys were long-time residents of the area as is shown by this listing from The Farmers and Breeders Directory of Athensville township from the early 1900s.


Around 1935 Becky and Jack moved in with relatives and Opal married Claude Eugene Robbins, moving to East St. Louis, IL.

The 1940 census shows Opal and Claude with 3 children, Joyce, George and Charles.  Mary and Carly followed in 1942 and 1945, respectively. 

In June 1947, Opal Rimbey Denniston Robbins died a few months after childbirth just short of her 41st birthday.

In late October 2019 I talked by telephone to Joyce Rimbey Wells, Opal’s oldest child by Claude Rimbey.  On Becky’s passing last August my niece  Candy helped me to  locate her in the Belleville, IL area.  It seems that there was an attempt at a reconciliation between Opal and my father but she  thought he still was “too wild” and remained with the children in Greene County, IL.  At some point in the early 1930’s my paternal grandmother took custody of Becky and Jack.  According to Joyce, Opal was not giving them up willingly but did not have the means to fight the action, whatever form it took.  Neither Becky nor Jack ever saw their mother again.  They were told she “had died”.  Opal’s brother Floyd told Becky the truth some years after Opal’s death and as one might expect it caused quite a rift in the family.

When Joyce was born in 1935 the surname on her birth certificate was mistakenly taken to be Denniston rather than Rimbey and Opal was actually afraid my grandmother might come for Joyce, as well.  Of course it never happened.  Joyce did not know exactly when either Opal’s divorce or her remarriage occurred.

Records pertaining to divorces in Illinois go back only to 1962.

After Opal’s death the family was separated with the Rimbey kids being raised by various aunts and uncles.  Floyd’s role was not clear from my conversation with Joyce.

Who, May I Ask, is Sheldon Shore?

Doc, Doug Denton (Ph.D., 1973) and the author, April 2010

Late in 2017 I received word that the Sheldon Shore Lecture would be held again at Ohio State after a 2 year hiatus.  I made reservations at a nearby hotel for April and cashed in some travel miles for the Atlanta to Columbus trip.

Several weeks before the scheduled lecture the speaker said she could not make it and the lecture was rescheduled  with the same speaker (huh?) for September 21.  Since we had already made plans to meet up with some friends in Columbus the trip continued as planned and we had a wonderful reunion with a couple we had not seen since 1991.

A visit to the room where the lecture was to have taken place showed no evidence that a lecture was to be scheduled.  No notices, no apologies, nothing.

So, who is Sheldon Shore and what is so special about him that he has (or maybe had) a lecture series named in his honor?  Sheldon Shore (a.k.a., “Doc”) was my graduate research advisor at the Ohio State University, Columbus campus.  He was a professor of chemistry there from 1957 until his death in 2014, providing 57 years of service.

His scientific accomplishments were many and are described elsewhere.  In this article I want to talk a bit about his legacy, past, present and future.

I worked with Doc from about 1967 until I finished up in September 1970.  He was as complex an individual as I have ever met.  

Brilliant, but absent-minded. A raconteur without peer. 

He held grants from the National Science Foundation (among others) for more than 50 years, an unbelievable accomplishment.

Clever with women, but very likely never had a date.  

One day robust, the next a hypochondriac.  

In his first year as professor while he was lining up research space he took piano lessons and became pretty good at it.  He bought a piano and had to hire a crane to get it into his apartment through a balcony window.  He loved the music of  J.S. Bach.

Shore was an excellent and careful pilot, obtaining an instrument rating and flying to many scientific meetings.  Riding with him in his Nash Rambler, however, was an adventure, especially in the winter months.

He and I worked well together although there was some friction between us as my research neared its conclusion.   There were deadlines and I need to get some writing done.  I would make an appointment, usually  late in the evening.  When I would enter his office he would often look very haggard; we would talk about various parts of the manuscript, then he would rub his eyes and say that he could not continue and we would go for coffee at the local Burger Boy.  Usually that would be the end and another appointment would be necessary.

We eventually finished my thesis and parted amicably.  I would not see Doc again for about 35 years.

In 2004  I was at a publisher’s junket in Chicago and talked to a fellow professor I knew slightly from the University of Kentucky.  He asked about Doc and if  Ohio State was going to honor him with a research symposium or lecture of some type.  We both agreed that it was about time and I made inquiry about it to the alumni office and to some Ohio State chemistry department administrators I knew.

Sometime in 2005 I received an email  inviting me to give a presentation at a symposium to be held over 2 days (including a dinner) in honor of his 75th birthday.   

In 2007 the first Sheldon Shore lecture was given.  It was an annual event until 2015.  Sometimes a nice dinner would be included either at the Blackwell or the Ohio State Union.  Other times a bunch of us would go to a local restaurant as the guest of the chemistry department.  

Doc lived to do science.  It was inevitable that as his number of grad students and post docs diminished he was asked to give up research space, agreeing eventually to accept emeritus status in return for a cash sum which he donated  in honor of his parents to the new chemistry and chemical engineering building (CBEC) fund.

Professor Shore had much in common late in his life with the great college football coaches Paul Bryant and Joe Paterno.  None of the three lasted long after they quit work.  Doc was nearly 85  in late March, 2014, with a replacement heart valve, but chose to undergo several procedures  at one time which would require only a single sedation.  Nonetheless, he slipped into a coma and died several days later.  

In 2016 it was announced that the Shore lecture would be given every 2 years starting in 2018.

Even in its early years the lecture was never well publicized outside the university community.  Funding was a continual problem, even after a rather generous gift from a foundation grant.

The lecture series is not sustainable without more support from alumni, administration and friends.  What is the purpose of having such a lecture?  We want to honor Doc but we also should be thinking about recognizing quality research in inorganic chemistry and materials science.  Ohio State has long done great work in those areas and people should know about it.

If we continue, the lectures should be in late April or early May, near his birth date and not scheduled for a Friday before a home football game.  Out-of-staters should be able to  get a room at the Blackwell and walk to the CBEC for the lecture.

Doc left behind voluminous sketches, notes and drawings.  Someone in the know should sort and archive these.  Perhaps some of the artwork could be displayed on the walls of CBEC.  His personal papers might become the basis of a monograph describing his years of service to Ohio State.

Let’s have a 90th birthday bash for Doc in May, 2020.

A Bread of One’s Very Own

Fresh, flavorful bread is one of my favorite foods. As a youngster I would open a new loaf of bread and eat the first 3-4 slices; they were so good.

My paternal grandmother and several of my aunts were outstanding bakers and I loved their breads, cinnamon rolls, pies and cakes.

When I retired  I wanted to  learn bread baking. Our neighborhood Publix supermarket baked this semolina bread and it was very tasty, but as time went along it became harder and harder to get until the store no longer baked it.  So I wanted to make semolina bread, but the semolina flour one purchases at the grocery is very coarse, resembling corn meal in its consistency and the bread that resulted (surprise!) resembled corn bread and I was disappointed. This experience led me to become more interested in flours, especially specialty flours from unusual sources like ancient grains.  Once upon a time all wheat was milled whole, so flour consisted of bran, the fibrous outer layer, endosperm, a starchy middle layer and germ, the vitamin-rich core. Today, since shelf life is short with such a flour; modern white commodity flours contain ground wheat endosperm with shelf-stable starch then are enriched with added vitamins and minerals. In a recent article in the Wall Street Journal (“A Call to Carbs”, May 21-22, 2016, pD1) it was noted that more and more bakers are using whole grain flours to make their breads, even grinding the wheat themselves to ensure very high quality, nutritious bread.

My bread became better and results were more consistent when I  weighed flour rather than measuring it by volume. Allowing doughs to rise for extended periods with minimal yeast really did work and gave better bread than rushing the process. Lean breads from flour, salt, yeast and water appealed to me most. These artisan breads depended only on those 4 ingredients and the baker’s skill for their flavor ; neither sugar nor fat in any form has been added.

The loaf I will describe in this report, while mostly bread flour, has been fortified by addition of ancient grain flours which I will describe briefly.  Nutritional information is summarized in a linked table.

Barley was one of the first cultivated grains, originating in Eurasia as early as 10,000 years ago. It is a very nutritious grain, low in gluten. Gluten is the primary protein in wheat. It is composed of two components gliadin and gluten, which, when hydrated form gluten which gives the bread its structure.

Durum flour is the ground endosperm from hard winter wheat, high in gluten and low in water absorption.  Finely ground durum flour is used in pasta and in semolina breads but is unavailable except from specialty millers like Central Milling, based in Utah.

Khorasan wheat is similar to bulgar but contains more vitamins and minerals than common wheat.

Spelt, also known as dinkle or hulled wheat is a species of wheat cultivated since about 5000 BCE. Spelt flour is lower in gliaden than is wheat so it may reduce gluten sensitivity in some individuals.

The available gluten in rye flour is of a different and inferior nature to wheat gluten. The protein glutelin replaces glutenin in rye which leads to a gumminess that impedes gluten development. Around 500 CE, the Saxons and Danes settled in Britain and introduced rye, which was well suited to its temperate climates.

This six flour, 30% ancient grain bread is high in gluten and wonderfully aromatic. This is a three day bread starting with a poolish preferment; on day 2 the preferment and the dough come together. The last day includes both the final proof and baking. Baking the bread using a cloche (cooking bell) provides a lovely brown outer crust and good crumb.  It toasts well and makes a good sandwich.



 Annotated Bibliography

The videos on “Essentials of Bread Baking” and “Artisan Bread Shaping” are very well done and worth the investment in time and resources.

The flours and the service from Central Milling are first-rate.  Shipping costs equal or exceed the cost of product but that means the flour is very fresh.

David, Elizabeth (1977, 2010). English Bread and Yeast Cookery. Grub Street London

This classic book needs revision and better organization, but remains a superb source.

Forkish, Ken (2012). Flour Water Salt Yeast: The Fundamentals of Artisan Bread and Pizza. Ten Speed Press Berkeley

Excellent description of techniques needed to make good artisan bread.

Reinhart, Peter (2011-04-06). The Bread Baker’s Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread (Kindle Locations 2256-2265). Ten Speed Press.

This book was recommended by my wife’s hematologist who likes to make challah and brioche from Reinhart’s recipes. This is the best discussion of the mechanics of bread making from both an artistic and scientific standpoint that one is likely to find.  There is a lot of information here.


Stuff happens when you go to Madagascar

My wife, Maxine, wanted to go to Madagascar to see the lemurs.  A trip was being offered by Betchart Expeditions (Cupertino, CA) through the American Association of the Advancement of Science (AAAS) for late August and early September 2016 to see the country and an annular solar eclipse.

The trip would begin with a flight from Atlanta to Paris, then 2 days later we would fly from Paris to Antananarivo (a.k.a. Tana), Madagascar’s capital city.

Madagascar has a high incidence of malaria and travelers are strongly advised to take an antimalarial medication. For us this meant getting a prescription for Malarone and taking tablets 2 days prior to departure and a week past our return to the US.

So, arrangements were made, checks were written and off we went.


Why should one have to walk so far from the gate to get transportation to a motel? The plane arrived at Charles de Gaulle airport (CDG) on time but we had trouble finding a bus to the motel. Oh, the bus left from here…, No, no that’s not right the bus actually leaves from over there.

When we reached the Best Western Motel CDG we were told that our reservations were in order and that we could get breakfast if we wanted. We did, the meal was adequate and we relaxed for a few hours.

We had instructions from Betchart to call Air Madagascar as soon as possible when we arrived Friday to confirm our airline reservations for Sunday afternoon. It seems that sometimes the airline fails to depart as promised so we should call, just to make sure.

Problem: the phone in our motel room would not work. We tried the phone at the reception desk but repeatedly got no response until late that afternoon. Yeah, there was going to be flight on Sunday and we had tickets to ride.

The next day was free and we wanted to go to the Louvre. The only practical way to get there was by taxi so we had the front desk call us a cab. The driver spoke a bit of English, accepted our credit card graciously and away we went. It was a bright, sunny day and as the driver entered the museum area he exclaimed proudly, ” Magnificent, no?”

We had a great time; I loved the moat, Venus, Mona and the head of John the Baptist. Lunch was tasty and not as pricey as I expected.

When we finished we walked the gardens for a while then looked for a cab to get back to the motel. I found one on a side street near the museum, waved my credit card at the driver, asking if he took plastic. He indicated that we should get in.

An hour and €60 later we were back at the motel, but the driver would not accept credit cards. The manager at the motel gave the driver directions to an adjacent ATM where I got the cash to pay him. He apologized but I was more at fault than he. The French are unpredictable and I should have had more cash on me for such possibilities. That problem would only get worse.

When I returned to the motel Maxine was waiting in the lobby. It seems that the motel was saying that we had no room for the night and they wanted us to leave. No way that was right. I had a receipt for the 2 nights but it was in the suitcase upstairs. I tried to use the elevator to get back to the room but my key would not work and I had to have the motel staff accompany me.

Oui, oui, so sorry, monsieur, our error, you may stay tonight.


The next morning we called a taxi for the trip back to the airport. It was about 3x as expensive as the bus but we would not have to tote our luggage through much of the airport.

But we would have to wait and wait some more. Air Madagascar does not fly out of CDG every day, only a couple times a week so if you want to fly with them you wait until they are open for business.

Paris had recently been attacked by Islamic State and the military was marching through the airport concourses with machine guns in hand. Should one feel more or less secure because of their presence?

Some of our fellow travelers to Madagascar began to arrive. All had a science, engineering or medical background or was with someone who did. They came from Delaware, California, Pennsylvania, New York, Nebraska and elsewhere.

We queued up, filled out forms, gave up our baggage and filed onto the aircraft, an Airbus 340. Once aboard we were told NOT to fasten our seat belts as the aircraft was being refueled. We would be told when the process was complete and then we could buckle up. Eventually it was and we did. Somewhat later we left on a 10 hour flight to Tana. The flight was about half-full.

Tana airport at 2 am

We arrived at the airport about 2 in the morning local time. As I walked down the ramp from the aircraft I distinctly remember the sweet smell of eucalyptus smoke as wood became charcoal. Ahead of us was a tiny airport with only a few lights still on. When I reached the terminal I stood in line to purchase our visas so we could stay in Madagascar. The cost was US$33.26. I had no cash of any type on me (bad, bad mistake, you dummy!) expecting that the authorities would take a credit card. They do take credit cards in Madagascar but most definitely not at the visa counter. Ultimately, someone offered to take me past security to an ATM for a bribe of 10,000 ariary (Ar). That sounds like a lot but 2700 Ar are equivalent to a single dollar. I purchased the visas, our passports then passing among members of the airport police, each of which wanted a bribe to release them. Eventually at the end of the line I ran out of ariary and had to watch as the young female officer releasing passports repeatedly put the dark blue US ones at the bottom of the stack to be returned. Eventually she tired of this and gave ours to me.

Maxine and I walked past security to our group and one of the guides, Herilala, who welcomed us, and put us on the bus to our hotel in downtown Tana. Why hadn’t the guides helped us before? Why hadn’t Betchart pointed out the need for cash in purchasing visas?

These were the only times these folks failed us, but it was a significant.  Maxine said that she wanted to go home. Indeed.

A bus trip through Hell

For the next hour we rode through some of the most ghastly slums I have ever seen. Roofs of corrugated metal topped structures, some 2 or more stories high. Sometimes there would be a small light but mostly the area was dark. The roads were rutted and narrow. We had arrived in Madagascar where the average wage was the equivalent of a couple of dollars a day. There was corruption and we were part of a tour where the leaders had pretty much abandoned us.

Tana and beyond

It was nearly dawn when we checked into the Le Louvre Hotel in downtown Tana. The rooms were small and somewhat dark, but this hotel had the best accommodations of the entire trip. Our group stayed at this hotel several times during the tour as we crisscrossed the island.

The next morning in the light of day and after a good breakfast events brightened somewhat. We met the group leader, an ornithologist, who was knowledgeable and personable. She would get to know us well.

When I checked out of the room the following morning, I owed 7500 Ar for a bottle of coke. I had only a 10K note and the gentleman at the desk said he had no change so I gave him a credit card. Immediately his helper gave me a receipt to sign. I signed it without checking the monetary amount (you dummy, always check before you sign!) first. When I did check it became clear that I had signed a chit for 133K Ar for another couple in our group who had yet to check out.  Bizarre, very very bizarre.


The roads around Tana are the best on the island and we made pretty good time from Tana to Vakona near Madagascar’s eastern coast. At the Vakona Lodge I had my first encounter with mosquito netting. It only took me a couple of minutes in bed to realize that there were mosquitoes in the room and even if they did not bite, let alone transmit malaria, etc, they did sing, so on went the netting and it stayed around us whenever we had it available.

The room was cold with a small space heater near the door that helped little with the evening chill.

There was a private park nearby where Maxine was able to get up close and personal with the lemurs. Our mission was accomplished.

Into the Bush: Perinet, Mantadia, Analamazaotra

Vakona Lodge is located in Perinet, home to several wildlife preserves and a national park. This is Malagasy rainforest at its finest. It is home to a variety of lemurs as well as many plants and birds of interest. Though the paths are narrow, somewhat dark and winding, there is much to see here.

My wife, Maxine, is a brittle type I diabetic and is visually impaired. The walk into the forest quickly became terrifying for her as she could not see well and she had to be escorted out. That was the last of her forest walks. Some of the remaining walks were along switchbacks near rivers and would not have been safe for her.

Return to Le Louvre; settling a Debt

After exploring Perinet we returned to Tana for a night. Yes, I had signed the wrong receipt and would have to deal with that at some point, BUT I still owed the hotel 7500 Ar from my previous stay. I learn slowly but I eventually do learn so the clerk was going to have to find some change for my 10K note. He did (bless his heart), giving me 25 – 100 Ar bills in change, each one worth a tad bit less than 4 cents. Even the local merchants would not take these so I gave the bills away as souvenirs when I returned home

Fly to Taolagnaro, then ride to Berenty

Madagascar is a large island, the 4th largest and travel by car is often slow and uncomfortable. Consequently we flew to Taolagnaro (Fort Dauphin) on Air Madagascar. This was our second and for me the most comfortable of all the MadAir flights. The plane was an old turboprop; there was quite a bit of vibration, but the weather was clear and the view was extraordinary as we made our way to the southern tip of the island.  We sat together in assigned seats.

Taolagnaro’s airport was well-lighted, painted in light colors and inviting, directly contrasting with the Tana airport.

Waiting at the airport were all-terrain vehicles which would take us to the spiny forest of Berenty. Though the distance to the park was only about 80 Km (50 miles) it would take about 4 hours over some of the roughest, bumpiest, tush-bruisingest roads imaginable.

Lemurs are everywhere at Berenty. They hang out around the open air dining areas in search of food, often going on impromptu raids. Management chases them off but also feeds them, giving rise to 2 populations of lemurs, those dependent on humans for food and those that are not. Not surprisingly the non-dependents lemurs are healthier.

Berenty is the bush and the lodge we stayed at, while comfortable, has no electricity from 10 pm until 5 am each day. Most folks did not mind but if you are diabetic and you must get up several times in the night to test your blood glucose it is both unhandy and dangerous when your bed and the bathroom are on separate levels in a totally darkened room.

What about the food?

My guidebook from Lonely Planet says that, “Eating well is one of the delights of Madagascar and even the fussiest tourists are usually happy with the food.” I believe that our group would mostly disagree with that statement. We had some tasty meals at the hotels but as we got farther from Tana the fare became more and more unpredictable. Often entrees were served cold and/or undercooked. This was a problem since pure water comes only in a sealed bottle and tapeworm, E.coli and salmonella happen.

Most of us, including our tour leader, had stomach issues for at least a part of the trip. I had some cramping but was OK except for an episode of diarrhea after I returned to the US. Maxine was on a self-imposed liquid-only diet for the last week in Madagascar and the first 2 weeks back home.

The best food had a French flair to it; I especially remember a lunch consisting of some delicious piping hot chicken in mushroom sauce with pasta. The desserts were always yummy but, since most were served cold, I usually took only a bite or two.


We flew back from Fort Dauphin to Tana for a day then took a flight to Majunga on the northwest coast of the island.  When we left that morning it was cold, maybe in the high 40’s F, while in Majunga it was near 80 when we stepped off the plane.

After an hour’s drive on rough roads we stopped at the Antsanitia Lodge for our last 3 nights of the trip. The lodge consisted of 1,2 and 3 couple suites. We were with 2 other couples; each of us had separate bedrooms with a large common area which included a kitchen, lounge and an extra toilet. Missing, however, were keys to the individual bedrooms. We three couples had a single key to the 3-suite building but individual keys to the suites were never found. Security was always a concern.

The resort was pretty, very near the beaches on the Mozambique Strait, but the rooms and dining areas were poorly lit.

Headin’ out…

The last day was a particularly long and stressful one as Maxine and I had an hour flight from Majunga to Tana, then queued up (with baggage) for boarding our return flight to Paris.

The line to check bags was very slow.  One of our compatriots standing just behind us in line complained that he was afraid he “would never get off this island”.  A couple of minutes later he and his wife had vanished.  He had given one of the airport personnel $10 to get to the head of the line to check his baggage.

We waited and eventually our bags were taken, though it was unclear where they were going. The clerk said he had no idea how to get our luggage through to Atlanta but did know how to get them to Paris, even though the bag receipt indicated they were on their way to Atlanta.

As we finished going through security, two very young and obviously inexperienced airport security people offered to get us on the plane early for a suitable amount of money. We told them to get out of our way and leave us alone.

We boarded the aircraft and went to our seats. The clerk had separated us for some reason, but we traded with a sympathetic tour member, took our seats and prepared for a 10 hour flight back to Paris.

Back to Paris (CDG)

When we landed at CDG, we left the aircraft and headed to baggage claim. Though our bags were supposedly headed to Atlanta there was enough doubt in our minds that we wanted to make sure. The flight arrived in the early morning and the return was not scheduled until 4 pm local time so why not?

Paris was and still is very security-conscious because of recent incidences so we passed through a line to have our passports checked as we moved to baggage claim. Ahead of us in line was an elderly French gentleman in a wheelchair. As the line moved it became evident that the fellow had passed out; his chin resting on his chest. The airline steward who was pushing the wheelchair became alarmed. Some confused moments later, Gail, a nurse who had been with our tour group volunteered to help and was waved to the front of the line. To the layman it appeared that the gentleman might have had a stroke or heart attack. Because of his position and the clothing he was wearing Gail could not find a heart beat so she had him removed from the chair and placed on the floor. She found that his heart was OK, but that he was diabetic and had not eaten so was having an insulin reaction and had lost consciousness briefly. Security provided help.  Bravo, Gail! Très bien !

The gentleman was fortunate that he had not had a coronary since the CDG security folks apparently had neither access to nor knew how to find a defibrillator.

On to baggage claim. Our baggage did not appear on the belts and a nice lady confirmed that our luggage was on its way to Atlanta. (so we thought!)

However, among the bags missing that were supposed to be in Paris were the ones belonging to the tour-mate who paid the $10 bribe. It seems that if MadAir runs short of baggage room in the aircraft they just leave the extra bags on the tarmac.

Home again, home again…

After another 10 hour flight we touched down at Hartsfield-Jackson Airport in Atlanta. As before, we left the aircraft and headed to baggage claim and had the same outcome as in Paris: no bags. You really stand out when you leave security in an international terminal if you have no bags, so it was very easy to get some help, file a lost baggage claim and…, finally, mercifully,  head home.

Late the following evening we got a call from the baggage return contractor for Delta that our bags would be delivered to us in an hour or so.

Since much of the clothing I normally would wear was either in the missing bags or was dirty, I pulled on an old Ohio State championship tee from 2002. The baggage guy delivered our suitcases, I read (this time) and signed the receipt for the bags and  gave the driver a $5 tip. He said that the tip “almost made up for the fact that I was an Ohio Set fan”.  I asked him if he was a Michigan fan. He replied that, no, he actually hated both Ohio State and Michigan and seemed to think I should know or care. What an ass.  What a conclusion!

And furthermore…

It was quite a trip and I am glad I went. The scenery, especially the flora was incredible.

I taught in Mississippi in the 1970’s and I have seen poverty, but poverty in the US does not begin to compare with what I saw in Madagascar.

I taught environmental science at the college-level for 15 years. Madagascar is a living, breathing environmental science textbook. Turn a page, find an environmental problem and there is Madagascar. Air pollution, check; water pollution, check; high population growth, check; invasion of exotic species, check; species endangerment because of habitat loss, check; poor agricultural practices leading to loss of soil fertility; check… It goes on and on.

The Bard and the Braves have left and gone away… Hey, Hey, Hey

There was a time, in years past, when I really looked forward to our summer activities. The major ones were theater and baseball. Georgia Shakespeare Company had 3 or 4 plays that were worth a look and the Braves played, often, an outstanding brand of baseball. Life was good, we had tickets and we enjoyed ourselves.

No more. Georgia Shakespeare ran out of cash and disbanded, while the Atlanta Braves decided there was not enough cash where they were so they moved (or soon will) across the river to Cobb County.

Georgia Shakespeare Company

In the beginning Georgia Shakespeare held their performances in large tents on the campus of Oglethorpe University. Each performance would begin with a vocal or instrumental piece of some kind of early music from the Bard’s time. There was no air conditioning but high above the stage were several large circulating fans. Ushers also provided fans as patrons entered.

Occasionally storms would come in to the area, accompanied by loud claps of thunder and by lightning. The stage manager would then announce an intermission and the audience and perfumers would wait for the tempest to pass. No one seemed to mind this, though it added to the unpredictability it also added to the fun and the intimacy.

We purchased season tickets often enough that for several years we were in the second row, just behind a group of lawyers and their families who were sponsors.

Eventually, Oglethorpe found a patron and the funding and built a theater, the Conant Performing Arts Center which the company occupied. The new facilities allowed the company to do multiple plays performed in repertory, but this was to turn out to be a very mixed blessing. In 1997 there were 3 performances, but by 2012 there were 6 which included Shakespeare in the Park, a musical , a children’s production and a fall performance.

Starting in 2011 there was a ‘Save Georgia Shakespeare’ campaign that raised about half a million dollars, but it was not enough.

We attended a Sunday matinee of the first production, As You Like It, in 2014 and the theater was only about 30% occupied. The end was near.

Their next and final performance was “One Man, Two Guvnors”, a British comedy. I continue to be angry to this day that they were unable to do Henry V. Their historical Shakespeares were always outstanding and I loved seeing them.



The company did very good work but could not self enough tickets or generate enough in grant money to sustain itself and in 2014 it went out of business.


The Atlanta Braves

In the late 1980’s the Braves lost quite a lot more than they won and were perpetually rebuilding.  The Wall Street Journal once noted that the Braves would do anything to sell seats, but win. The team was initially purchased to fill time slots on Ted Turner’s Superstation WTBS, which it did rather well. Maxine and I became fans when we were in Kansas City and continued our interest when we relocated here.

We would hop on the MARTA train, then a bus and be in our seats in less than an hour from home. At the end of an inning you could get yourself a hot dog and beverage and be back in your seat before the next pitch. Crowds were not a problem.

Then, over the next several years some remarkable things started to happen. Some of it was luck, some was astute trades and the efforts of talented baseball executives that were brought in to run the operation.

So, to the delight and surprise of nearly everyone in 1991 the Braves won their division title and qualified for the playoffs. We wanted to see a playoff game, but since we were not season ticket holders we would have to queue up outside the stadium when individual game tickets were sold.

So, we did just that. After my morning class, I lined up outside the stadium in what turned out to be a fun, carnival-like atmosphere. About 7:30 pm Maxine, carrying a bedroll she had borrowed, relieved me and would stay the night to get our tickets. I returned home since I had a class the following morning.

When the stadium ticket office did open scalpers and others rushed the line and bought all the tickets. We and our friends in line had followed the rules but had nothing to show for our efforts.

I wrote a letter to the Braves ticket office that October. It was not until December that I received a reply but it was well worth waiting for.

In 1992 the Braves won the division again and Maxine and I were allowed to buy 6 strips of playoff tickets which included the World Series.

We offered 2 strips of tickets to one of the fellows who queued up with us outside the stadium and had helped Maxine get home. We flew my Mother in from Illinois for 2 World Series games.

Although we would get playoff tickets often in subsequent years we never had access to that many tickets again.

We were indeed fortunate to be a baseball fan in Atlanta when we were. We were at the park when the team clinched division titles in ’91, ’92 and ’93. We saw Nixon’s catch and Bream’s slide. We saw some of the best pitching Major League Baseball has ever offered.

One wonders if the Braves’ move to newer, fancier facilities will allow the team to do grander things on the field, or will it, as for Georgia Shakespeare Company, encourage activities that turn out not to be sustainable.