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Looking Back and Looking Forward

May 12
Written May 11 and 12
Dear Friends and Family,

I think this diary is "a blog", a term that seems to be falling out of fashion, thank goodness.  Maybe "an editorial".  Or, just "a letter".  Mostly it is a writing exercise for me while Marianne is gone and as I work my way through the last few weeks of a forty-year career.  Retirement looms.

First, what's been happening lately?

Last weekend we tried our hands at taking pictures of the "supermoon".  Like other photo efforts, this proved educational.  I took several shot of the moon itself and then tried to find something nearby to form an interesting silhouette.  Not sure it was interesting, but it's there.  These are evening shots since the early morning shooting, 3 am, failed due to clouds.  How unusual.  Photo lesson: even a picture of something big, bright, and round can prove harder than expected.

Around the house, it's yard cleaning time.  Winter is actually a nice break, but now it's back to replanting all the garden space.  This year, we are trying for minimum work, but all the weeds still need to go.  This weekend I planted things.  The potato field was filled with leftover sprouted spuds from last year.  The "veggie" garden was filled with flowers, mostly.  They're easier.

On Sunday, no work is allowed in Germany, not even yard work. Besides, it was Mother's Day and I needed an excuse for getting out of the house.  My first stop was an art show in Dachsbach, a few miles away.  This is now an annual event for me, and I'm not sure why.  The 13th Century "water tower" castle, where some of the artist show, is interesting enough, with an imposing facade and some old farm tools inside, but I don't generally see art I am dying for.  The possible exception is that I also visit the showroom of our "schreiner" (cabinet-maker?), and get tempted again to have a nice desk made.  His work is Asian-looking, but it also fits with the local Bavarian farmer style.
After Dachsbach, I drove over to Schl├╝sselfeld, one of the larger villages around.  I'd seen that they were having a street market and wondered if it would be fancier than usual.  It wasn't.  I swear these are simply a tradition that has carried over from the Middle Ages, when household items were sold by traveling merchants who would visit each "markt" town every few months and sell from horse carts.  The carts are gone, but the rural village feeling remains.

From here, I went back home to our neighborhood "Kellerhaus Kafe" for a salad lunch and an apple pie dessert.  The place was as crowded as one might imagine on Mother's Day, so I had little chance to chat with the Hofman's, friends who own the place.  Next time I need to hear about Rosie's recent South American adventure.

Meanwhile, Marianne, our almost-famous house artist, has flown off to California to celebrate Mother's Day, and Sam's first birthday, next week.  Her flight from Frankfurt to San Francisco was on the new, huge, Airbus 380.  The report was mixed.  It seems to just be a big airplane.  Maybe we have to wait for the Boeing Dreamliner for something new.  Or not.

While she's traveling, I'm working through the last two months before retirement.  It has been hard getting tasks to do that can match my fixed departure date, but I have a full plate for the moment.  I still split my time between Erlangen, near home, and Offenbach, where I stay at the hotel that hosts the work of my favorite artist.  In Offenbach particularly, I enjoy working with people I have worked with for a decade, struggling to get permission to finish and sell the safest and potentially most-economical "traditional" nuclear power plant being designed.  We may not have succeeded, but we tried hard.

Looking Back

That introduces the "looking back" part of this blog, about selected parts of my last years. In light of the 2011 events in Japan at Fukushima, I have had ample time to reflect on a 42-year career in commercial nuclear power.  The industry grew from almost nothing in that time and has been reminded a few times of the  risk inherent in  design and operation of high-energy, man-made structures. Objectively, I believe, the industry has provided a stable and relatively cost-effective source of electricity, and electricity remains the life blood of modern society. Ultimately, history will place it all in context, as nations across the world decide how they will provide electric power to their people.

The other feature of my personal career in the power business has been moving.  I have lived in 15 cities and visited many more.  Twenty years have been spent outside the US.  While I have enjoyed the excitement of new places, I recognize a downside of rootlessness.  Arguably, it strained a marriage to breaking and it has meant the loss of connection to many friends and family members.  The hardest of this disconnect is clearly with our kids and their kids.  I see them at most once a year, and that's just not enough to remain active in their lives.  Email and blogs just don't replace talking over a cup of coffee at Starbucks.

Looking Forward
Oh well, you pays your money and you takes your chances.  We are now rooted in a foreign country, one where I barely speak the language.  We have a nice house, some local friends, and a no-work future to plan out of  this Bavarian base.  What's ahead?

First, we plan, starting with money, a reality of the American 401(k) world.  How exactly does one forecast the cost-of-living for the next twenty years?  We can't forecast our address for five years, much less anything two, three, or six times farther down the road.  No matter, we've done it and it is what it is.  Perhaps Marianne's pictures will demand the price of "The Scream".  They should!

For the foreseeable future, our plan is to travel.  We have scheduled visits to France, Italy, more Germany, and even the US.  We have discussed all of the rest of Europe, not to mention India (Sid?), Africa, South America, Asia, and Australia (Kim?).  Doing half of what we dream, we will run out of money, so the trick is picking which half.  Stay tuned.

People ask: "Will you stay in Germany forever?"  No, not forever.  Sooner or later we need to return home, wherever specifically that is in America.  Probably California.  Probably Monterey, Marianne's roots.  Personally, I have been rootless since early childhood so I'm not sure I have a vote.  When will this happen?  Who knows?  It makes little sense to move while we plan to still travel.  Besides, selling our Pommersfelden palace will be difficult, emotionally and financially.  But, some day.

Meanwhile, we focus on travel-planning and on health, the Achilles heal to any planning by sixty-somethings.  Right now we are healthy, despite ambulance rides in the last few months for both Marianne and me.  However, we look around at contemporaries and recognize that good health can be fleeting, no matter how well we are doing with the basics of eating properly and exercising.  This consideration will drive the pace of our travels and other activities for a long time to come.  Let's hope.

So, that's it: what happened last week, the last years, and plans for the next years.  We will check on this prognosis in a few years and comment.

Until then, do write if you get a chance.  And be prepared for visitors, in case our wandering takes us to your neighborhood.

John and Marianne.


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