Reflections, Resolutions and Renewal v. 2019 – Part 1

Hi everyone and Happy New Year!

Welcome to my annual Reflections and Resolutions posts where I look back at some of my favorite photos and articles from the past year. In Part 2, I’ll do a check in on how I did on my 2019 resolutions and set some new ones for 2020. This year I’ve also added a bit about Renewal with the new year just a few days away.

Not only will we be celebrating a new year in a few days but also a new decade, the 20’s, or so it seems. Go figure, there is controversy when a new decade begins! According to the trusted Farmers Almanac and the venerable New York Times, a new decade begins when the year ends in 1, such as 2021 and they go on at great lengths to explain why this is correct, essentially there was not a zero year. However, other sources argue that a decade is ten years and it doesn’t matter when it starts, it just ends in ten years. To me (and lots of other people with a little common sense!) we are completing the decade of the 10’s and beginning the decade of the 20’s. Beside we have much bigger issues to deal with then to argue over something this trivial (at least to me). And lots of end of decade tributes are showing up in newspapers, on TV and in social media. So I’m going with the new decade starts on Wednesday January 1, 2020 at 12:00:01!

Now on to Part 1 of those reflections.

In January 2019, we participated in a Road Scholar program that focused on the Panama Canal. To me the highlight was the day that we did a full transit of the Canal from west to east. It was totally awesome! Here’s a little about the vessel that transported on this voyage.

“If the vessel we were about to board, the M/N Islamorada, could talk, I’m sure the stories would be both entertaining and hair raising! The Islamorada was built in 1912 in Massachusetts as a luxury yacht with wealthy clientele in mind. And indeed one of the early owners was Al Capone, the notorious Chicago Mafia boss, who used this boat from 1919-1933 to run rum from Cuba and the Dominican Republic to Florida. It’s said that the boat had luxury suites, a casino and a bar for friends and clients of Capone. When Capone was arrested in 1931 and sentenced to prison for tax evasion, the Islamorada was confiscated by the U. S. Government. It was then used as a mine sweeper by the Army during World War II. After the war, the vessel made it’s way to Panama and used as a hotel and tour boat. It’s now owned by the Canal and Bay Tours Company capable of taking up to 104 passengers through the Panama Canal.”


“Since we were in a small vessel, we were paired with a large, a much larger vessel to make the transit. Meet the Star Laguna, it’s a general cargo carrier built in 2012 and flies under the flag of Norway. It’s 670 feet long and 104 feet wide. Since it was riding “high” in the water, we speculated that it was empty and heading someplace for a new load of cargo, likely grain. Did you know there are websites that will show where the vessel is at any given time, currently the Star Laguna is sitting in the Port of Jacksonville, Florida.”


“In this photo, we follow the Star Laguna into the first cell of the Miraflores locks. You’ll note that the Islamorada will get up close and personal with the Star Laguna. Also making the transit with us is a tugboat that is likely getting repositioned on the Canal to assist a ship through the locks.”


In March we flew to Washington, DC to attend a national conference as representatives of an organization we belong to. We left a few days early so we could do some sightseeing in our nation’s capital. Here are a couple of highlights.

“This week we are visiting the newest of the Smithsonian Museums in Washington, DC, the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Opening in 2016, this museum chronicles the African American experience from the 1500’s to current times, their suffering, their perserverance, and their triumphs. All I can say is WOW, it is mind blowing and as a caucasian American, quite revealing and sobering.”


The following describes a bit of our visit to the Newseum. As mentioned below, this museum is closing in a couple of days after years of struggling financially. I think it’s a sad day in America where we need constant reminders of the very first amendment to our constitution, a reminder of what makes us free, something that a lot of us take for granted.

“Originally, the Newseum wasn’t on our to see list when planning our trip to Washington. That was not until a photography friend asked me, when learning of our travel plans, if we were going to the Newseum. He told me that it was scheduled to close the end of 2019.  I’d heard from others that this was a great experience so it automatically moved up to near the top of the list! I’m sad this great museum is closing (due to financial problems) because we are at a time in our country when it seems we need daily reminders about the importance of our First Amendment rights. Although tickets are a bit on the pricey side (adults $25 plus tax, seniors $20 plus and youth $15 plus) it was well worth the cost of admission as there is a lot to see and absorb. It’s another museum experience where we needed more time than we allowed to see everything! To be honest, IMHO, attendance should be required for all elected and appointed officials and their staffs, even better all Americans! And if I was in charge, there would be periodic mandatory retraining just to keep these rights in front of of leaders when considering legislation or dealing with constituents. I know that ship has sailed but I can dream big!

First, a little about the backstory of the Newseum. The guy behind the non-profit Freedom Forum that operates the Neweum was Al Neuharth, the founder of the USA Today newspaper. In conducting some research for this article, I found out that Mr. Neuharth was one of my people. He was of German-Russian heritage originally from Eureka, South Dakota very near the border of my home state of North Dakota. The Freedom Forum with the mission to foster “free press, free speech, and free spirit” was founded in 1991 with the Newseum opening in Arlington, Virginia in 1997. The Newseum moved to it’s current location between the US Capitol and White House and about a block from the National Mall at 555 Pennsylvania Avenue in 2008. The building is quite huge with over 600,000 square feet of space on seven levels with several major galleries, theaters, and two broadcast studios. So there is a lot to see and do.

When visitors walk up to the entrance, it’s plain to see that this museum is serious about making a great show of the First Amendment.”


In May, we traveled to Ukraine with The Eldest and the Son-in-law. Our first few days we spent in Lviv located in Western Ukraine near the border of Poland. We stayed in an Airbnb on the main square of the city. Near the entrance to our lodgings, every day we saw these older women selling flowers to passersby, I took a number of photos and this is my favorite. Here’s what I said in my original post.

“Apparently, Ukraine has  some sort of social security equivalent but it’s not enough to live on. So you see lots of people in the informal economy selling flowers, produce, meat, milk, and etc. on the streets and sidewalks to earn enough for food and lodging. They do have a state run health care system that reportedly works ok. Anyway, whenever we walked by these women which was several times, I was on the lookout for some good photos. I especially like the juxtaposition in the second photo.”

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While in Lviv, we attended a fun Ukrainian cooking class in Kateryna’s home where we made borscht, varenyky (pierogi), bread rolls, and baked apples. All that great tasting food and lots of drunken cherry liqueur made for a great evening!

“The Eldest signed us up for a class taught by Kateryna Lytvyniuk called Sil′ Ukrainian Cooking Class. Sil′ is the word for salt in the Ukrainian language and Kateryna has used salt to weave a metaphor that goes something like this: ‘salt brings out the flavor in food and was used to preserve foods when traveling and traveling brings us together.’ The class was held in Kateryna and Andy’s (her husband) beautiful and comfortable apartment somewhere in Lviv. Andy picked us up at our AirBnb and dropped us off at the apartment while he retrieved another party of three. Meet Kateryna, the instructor for the evening and a professional architect by day who designed the kitchen for her passion of cooking.”

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During our time in Lviv, The Eldest hired a guide and driver to take us to find the village where my traveling partners family originated in Central Ukraine. After several hours of driving, we came to the village of Borshchiv. We visited the City Hall and the local church to search for clues without a lot of luck. After returning home, we found out that we were really close so on our next trip, we plan to visit the village and see where they lived before immigrating to the US.

Upon arriving to the outskirts of Borshchiv, a town of about 12,000 people, Alex stopped to ask directions to the City Hall. The city hall was a non descript building sitting on the edge of a large plaza in the center of town. We noted the coat of arms at the top of the building depicting sheaves of golden wheat, a symbol that gave us a bit of clue that we were in the right place given the importance the North Dakota Ukrainians farmers placed on raising wheat.

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After a few days in Lviv, we flew to Kyiv, the capital and largest city in Ukraine. As a bonus, we were reunited with two Ukrainians who stayed with us as part of the Open World program. Here’s a little about our visit with them.

“One of our reasons for traveling to Ukraine was to see a couple of Open World delegates that stayed with us in 2013 (Oleg) and 2017 (Alina). I’ve written about the Open World Leadership Program in a couple of previous articles, click on these links to revisit those posts here and here.

It was a couple of days later that my traveling partner and I went to visit Alina and Maksym and their five month old twins, Vasil and Maria! We had a great day with the proud parents, a wonderful meal, held the babies, and took a walk in the park. We can’t wait for our return visit to see their growth and development.”

By the way, the babies will be one year old on January 9, they having the same birthday as The Eldest.

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We met Oleg and his family at a large park in Uman. It was great to see them, on our next trip we plan to visit their home and see the new baby girl.

“Soon they showed up and we happily greeted each other and made introductions all around. Here’s a photo of the family, Oleg in the back middle, his wife Natalya on his left, his 16 year old daughter Olya on his right, and in front with the Wisconsin Badger t-shirt is his 11 year old son, Svyatoslav, Slav for short. Oleg hasn’t changed much, he’s as serious and intense as he was when he stayed with us a few years ago. Natalya is a lovely person and at the time of our meeting was about 8 1/2 months pregnant, I’m happy to report that she had a baby girl in mid June a few weeks after our visit. Olya is quite a character with a great sense of humor. Her English is quite good as she traveled to Vancouver, Canada for about six weeks a couple of years ago to improve her English speaking ability. At one point, she told us that she could say anything she wanted because her parents wouldn’t understand a word she said! Slav, at first was a little on the shy side but opened up after a bit, he can understand some English but is hesitant to speak.”


That’s enough for this week. Join me next week for Part 2 and learn how I did on my 2019 resolutions and what my plans are for 2020.

Until next year/decade, happy travels!