Tuesday, April 28, 2015

2015 Week 17: Off to St. Louis

This week was consumed with either preparing for or intensely living the 2015 FIRST World Championship.

Monday, when the parents and mentors met there was an exciting reveal--all the money was in for the trip!

Tuesday they put decals on the trailer and packed all the equipment.

Wednesday very early we boarded the LightRider double decker bus. The plan, as we traveled in the bus each day, was to have Mike share reflections on life. His first talk was titled "Breaking the Mold" about how his own ambitions to become an astronautical engineer took a different direction when challenged by college chapel speakers from Operation Mobilization.

We arrived safely shortly after noon and had a tour of the St. Louis Christian College where we stayed for three nights.

The event was held in the Edward Jones Dome, an enormous stadium set up with eight playing fields for simultaneous qualification matches. Our team played in Newton.

In this aerial view of St. Louis (borrowed from Google images) you can see the dome on the middle left and next to it an L-shape building, the America's Center, where the 600+ pits were set up.

The drive team and pit crew had a busy afternoon: unpack the trailer and set up the pit; make adjustments and add the improvements to the robot; have it inspected. If possible they would have opportunity to test the robot on the practice field before their one practice match on the Newton field. As it turned out the line was too long so they were unable to test the robot.

"Not Yet" and the ME and lead mentor; PhyXTGears pit (above right); judges talking to the drive team (below right)
Robot "guts"
The complexity of the inner workings of the robot blew my mind, and so did the enormity of the stadium.

The day before we left, I had a request from a former Doulos girl who joined a few months before we left the ship:
"Estoy buscando una persona que haya trabajado en OM para escribir unas palabras de introducción a mi librito."
(Would you be willing to write an introduction to my book?) 
I accepted the challenge. She emailed the document immediately. For two days, between matches, I was enthralled reading her stories and reliving our own experiences on the M/V Doulos.

Meanwhile. . .
--Recycle Rush was in progress: robots "can burglaring" (stealing RC's, recycle cans, from the center platform); stacking totes six-high with an RC on top; the human player throwing "litter" (pool noodles) on the opponents side and/or placing one in each RC.
--announcers enthusiastically retelling the moves, pointing out strategies or spills.
--teams cheering loudly.
Multiply all of the above by eight = one loud noisy stadium.

Each team played ten qualifying matches during the two days in randomly selected alliances.
PhyXTGears played four on Thursday and six on Friday always adjusting strategy in accordance with the varying strengths of the alliance partners. Once we were very fortunate to be allied with #1 and #2 seeded teams and get the highest two-day score.

By the end of qualifying matches, we were sixth out of 76 teams in our field and therefore in a position to choose alliance partners for the playoffs.

Jeremiah, one of the drivers, wearing the team captain hat, chose alliance teams based on the hard work of the scouting team and their careful analyses the night before. Unfortunately, the favored teams were taken by the time it was his turn to pick.

Above: Jeremiah, team captain; Captain +1
Below:Captain +2; Captain +3, discussing strategy

Above:Opening ceremony; drive team setting up robot for a match; the finals fiesta!

We never imagined we'd make it to State, much less to Worlds, and then to finish seventh--unthinkable!

On the way home I shared "Seafaring Stories" and threw in stories of how Mike and I met.
All in all it was a wonderful adventure and team-bonding experience. We are feeling very grateful, and tired! It was 3:30 Sunday morning when we finally arrived home. Now, I must recover from the sore throat and cold. And Michael still has bouts of immobilizing hip pain that plagued him during the event. The long distance he had to walk between the stands and the pits brought it on every time and became more frequent and intense. He practically lived on Ibuprofen. It is the same mysterious pain he had after surgery last year, but now on the other side.

Coming back we faced some serious realities of life on the home-front, like a valley after the exhilirating mountain-top.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

2015 Week 16: Enjoying Spring

 Hundreds of daffodils/narcissus/jonquils exploded in our woods!

Other fragrant and wild varieties of spring blossoms are popping up everywhere.

Mike's intense focus this week has been the upcoming FIRST robotics world championship. Some 40 of us, including team members and parents and mentors, will be traveling in a double decker bus belonging to LightRider Ministries to St. Louis next Wednesday, April 22, and returning the 25th, late. There is so much planning and communicating involved, as well as the numerous practical details to work on.
Michael finally located the type and size trailer he'd been looking for in Southern Indiana and spent most of Monday traveling there to purchase and bring it back.

Tuesday the team will pack the equipment and decorate the trailer.

 A happy surprise in Monday's mail was the article about the festival four of us helped plan and organize. I was gone Saturday so was unable to attend and couldn't pick up a newspaper.

Mike was among the local artists who displayed some of their work during the festival. I stopped by Rob Allen Jewelers, one of the venues, to see what it looked like.

 Tuesday Leah and I had a few surprises when we went for the next dental procedure. First, the shocking news that our dentist had passed away two weeks before and we had not heard! We knew he had been hospitalized earlier this year but  thought he was on the mend. A couple other dentists covered for him in the interim.

The second shocker occurred during the extraction when two teeth instead of one came out firmly attached by a pocket of infection that remained intact. The dental assistant was amazed, she'd never seen anything like it.

Can you see how tightly Leah's hands are clasped? What you can't see is the shaking.

Thursday, I enjoyed watching Malachi do his thing on the track field.

I was invited to stop by Sam and Kristie's afterwards for dinner. I was excited to see them, it had been a while.
Jude was especially happy to see me. We had great fun playing together making all kinds of different animal noises.

An added pleasure was to visit with their two guests: Jason Barrows, a musician; and Aaron Hoch, who used to be a regular at Monday Night Meals until they moved away.

Friday evening was so beautiful. Micheal invited me for our first tandem ride of the season!

Stephan came over Saturday night for a game night. We had fun learning King's Corner, in honor of Carol.

Soon we will be off to World Championships! Follow the event online live here. Team 1720 plays on Newton field.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Celebrating Carol

Michael's youngest step-sister, Carol, only a couple years older than him, survived breast cancer some 30 years ago. This time, however, the cancer in her lungs took her life. As you read her obituary you will understand how many people were in her life. She was well loved.

Saturday, April 11th, we made the trip through the big city traffic and arrived on time for the Celebration of Life in Winneconne, Wisconsin.

We even took time on the way to visit the old haunts where Mike and his closest sister had so many adventures together in the summers he spent at his Dad and step-mother Rose's place in Reighmoor, a little neighborhood on Lake Butte des Morts.

The little house as it looks today
Lake Butte des Morts behind
In the photo on the left you can see the roof of the part Milt, Mike's Dad, added onto the back, and in the right side view, there is now a bigger boat house than the one they used as their first store.

Mike has a sweet memory associated with this house. When he was small, Rose, his step-mother, had a surprise for Milt one day when he carried the groceries in--little Mike popped out of one of the boxes.

The older sisters remember that, when they were quite small, Mike followed Carol around wherever she went.
Other memories of summers together in Reighmoor:
Mike recalls her beautiful voice as she sang when he pushed her on the swing.
As youngsters, perhaps pre-adolescent, they would wait for Milt and Rose to fall asleep watching television and then sneak out unnoticed and walk the two and half miles to the sand pits, eating apples they picked along the way. Dad and Rose would still be asleep in their easy chairs when they got back in the wee hours of the morning,

It was all important to revisit those haunts. We had to ask someone in order to locate the large area of sand dunes and water, now overgrown. We were told that when the owner died, the two heirs did not get along, so they divided it by bringing in  truckloads of rocks and dirt to make a road down the middle.

As to be expected the whole area has been built up since those days long ago. This silo may be the oldest structure left standing.

New houses and wildlife--sandhill cranes

Among the first we met at the Celebration were Terry, Mike's older brother, and his wife, Sandy. We are so grateful for the growing closeness over the years. Most of their young lives, the brothers lived with a different parent--Terry with their father in the Omro/Oshkosh area and Mike with their mother in Oak Creek/Milwaukee.

Sandra and Terry Koch
I spent three hours milling about talking to people and trying to get a photo of each group. Well, that was impossible. However, I am grateful for what I gleaned. Hopefully I can remember all the important stories and names to share here.

Carol's three sons: Melly, Ricky, and Dean, as we remember them:

Tammy and Malcolm Davis              Richard Davis (with cousin Kathy)            Vicky and Dean Jenss
Unfortunately, the photo I took of Rick by himself turned out blurry, but this way we get to see Kathy! It was fun to see them enjoying cousin-time, probably a very rare opportunity. Kathy is a microbiologist at a nationally recognized children's hospital in Milwaukee.
From one of the great aunts, I heard this: "Rick raised four boys on his own and did a great job. He said, 'If my mother could do it, I can.'" I was told his growing family, including a grandchild, were all seated at the long table, but time did not allow to meet them individually.

The photo of Dean and Vicky is one I took on our last visit with Carol a couple months ago. They lived with her and were her caretakers till the end. And they were busy hosting the Celebration, maybe that is why I did not find an opportune moment for a together-photo.

Carol's aunts, Rose's three living sisters, were delightful sources of family stories and information.

Loretta, Sandra, Yvonne
Hunting and fishing stories flowed non-stop between brothers Terry and Mike and their cousin Ron Koch, a columnist for Hunting and Fishing Collectibles and author of four books. His faithful readers won't let him retire!

Ronnie and Connie Koch
As I am very interested in the writing and publishing process, I sat down with Connie to hear more. She told about the early days before they had a computer and everything was handwritten. Being a teacher, she was involved in the editing aspect. She would set aside Saturday mornings for the weekly task of gathering, editing, polishing his weeks-worth of stories. His true and humorous tales have hooked many who remain faithful fans. Oh, and he is very well known for his duck decoys.

Another noteworthy grouping: Carol's Walmart friends, where she worked the last 15 years. Patty, her best friend, was the first to introduce herself. All loved Carol. "She kept us together," one said. They arrived early eager to play cards before work and then again during lunch break.

The Walmart Gang
Finally, Rose's daughters, Mike's stepsisters, the three sisters who for years and years worked at the famous discount store on Highway 21--Koch's Sales:

Nancy, Judy, Carol (when?)

Now, the two older sisters remain, both live in Oshkosh.

Judy. . .
Judy and Dave Butt
...and Nancy, the oldest. I was unable to photograph them at the Celebration, however, we were invited to their new home for a short visit before  heading back to Indiana. I apologize for no better photos than what I managed from my spot in the sun porch as we visited and enjoyed one another.

Don and Nancy Rumlow (left)  Don's sisters and granddaughter Alyssa (above right); son Dennis and brother-in-law (below)
Carol's obituary also mentions her love of painting. Here are three that Nan has in her home.

After a full day, remembering Carol and reconnecting with family and friends and meeting many who loved her, we waved goodbye to Rumlow's beautiful home and drove six hours to our own.

Illness, aging, and death--these sobering realities cause us to reflect on how to prepare for when our turn comes and for eternity.

Monday, April 13, 2015

2015 Week 15: Windy and Windy

A windy week. Yes, we see many toppled trees. This one, where our drive meets the lane.

Also a windy (long i) week, meaning winding, with many curves and twists. That's life.

Doesn't seem to disturb the flowers popping out to surprise us, outdoors and indoors.

Nor has it deterred us from walking (me), biking or jogging (Mike).

I was crossing a foot bridge when a very infrequent train chugged by underneath, near the Red Barn.

Decision deadline was Monday: YES, Team 1720, The PhyXTGears, is going to World Championships!

Parents, students, and mentors stepped up to raise the necessary funds and had enough by that evening to say, "Yes, we WILL go." Many details are being worked out. As I write, Mike is headed three hours away to purchase a trailer to haul their equipment.

I noticed Thursday that it was National Sibling Day, so I dug up a photo from nearly 50 years ago--all five of us with Mother after a family dinner at a German restaurant when my brother Lynn and I visited Argentina during our summer break (winter there).

Friday night late, after a very full day and leading the fun Poetry evening at the Gray Barn, I scoured old photo albums and gathered all the photos of Carol and arranged them on a picture board.

Saturday we left around 7:00 a.m. and traveled to Winneconne, Wisconsin, for her Celebration of Life. We were just in time, even after taking a detour down "memory lane" revisiting the old haunts where Carol and Mike ventured together.
Three hours of interacting with so many friends and family members cannot be condensed into one paragraph. I took many pictures and heard so many stories. I plan to share all of that in a future post.

As a preview, and in honor of National Sibling Day this week, I will share two of my photos here.

From the many photos displayed, this was my favorite of Mike's three step sisters.

Nancy, Judy, and Carol
Their mother, Rose, passed away at age 70 in 1993. Only three younger sisters still live. 
I managed to get them together for a photo!  

Loretta, Sandra, Yvonne
We drove back home the very same day and crawled into our own bed around 2:00 a.m.
I've been in recovery mode ever since.

Monday, April 6, 2015

2015 Week 14: Holy Week

A week set apart to reflect on Jesus' last days: torment, trial, torture, and triumph over sin and death!

I went back over photos taken in Spain of some of the stations of the Cross in the Santuario de San Miguel de Aralar, and found Scriptures that related to each scene. This is one of many. It represents termination, "It is finished."

We watched the first episode of AD: the Bible continues. The scene that stuck with me was that of Joseph of Arimathea, "a prominent member of the Sanhedrin who was himself looking forward to the kingdom of God, came and boldly went in to Pilate and asked for Jesus' body. Pilate was surprised that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him whether He had already died. When he found out from the centurion, he gave the corpse to Joseph." (Mark 15) Did Joseph realize in giving up his own tomb that Jesus would rise and that this burial was fulfilling prophecy? "they made His grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death." (Isaiah 53:9)

The week moved on at its usual, if not fuller, pace. 
Monday, we did not have dinner at Stephan's as they were in Madison, Wisconsin, attending a Tiny House convention.
We needed to pick up a piece of equipment in Yorktown and saw a wood carving Stephan started after cutting down a tree for a friend. 

Heron Bench
 Then we dined out at Red Lobster, perhaps my first time, and really enjoyed the Lobsterfest.

Tuesday, the robotics team was allowed six hours to work on their robot. The plan was to make changes that would improve the speed. Again, I could follow the goings on in the workshop live.

Intense and risky indeed. By the end of the six hours, the robot was not completely put back together and functioning, such challenges and deadlines like engineers face all the time. Next, they were allowed five work-hours at State championships Thursday evening before qualifying matches on Friday.

Wednesday, the Tapping Nannas had their second performance at the Senior Center lunch.

My computer suffered serious damage this week. Mike spent hours restoring it. I had to locate and reload programs to meet my writing deadline for the week. Amazingly, the task was finished in time.

No wonder, my friend Alma prayed for me so I could drive her Thursday to the orthopedic doctor in Fort Wayne. She hoped to be released to drive, and she was! After multiple bone fractures and surgeries, it is a miracle she can still walk, even if a cane must remain her BFF!
We ate lunch at Las Cebollas.

Thursday, for TBT, I posted this on Facebook:

Today would have been my father's 94th birthday. I revisited this photo of my graduation from Normal School, my high school in Argentina, 1963. I pinned a flower on his lapel and he an emblem on my guardapolvo, school uniform
My handsome Daddy looks so intent on performing his duty.

That same night, Mike's stepsister Carol ended her battle with cancer. They were best buddies growing up. Mike spent summers with his Dad's family and the two of them had many adventures together.

We are saddened, yet grateful that we had one short last visit some weeks ago.

Friday and Saturday were big days for Team 1720. They played a total of 18 matches and made it to the semi-finals!
I listened online as I cleaned house, stopping every time PhyXTGears was on to watch intently barely breathing until the stack of six totes and a recycling bin was safely delivered to the corresponding platform. 

Drive team assembling and setting up the robot                                                           Human player helps carry it off the field

John, the drive coach, strategyzing with alliance driver
To learn more about the team and how much these young people are learning you can listen to this excellent radio interview: Robot Battles.

Two big surprises awaited them in the award ceremony:

Michael the last team member to make the round and be congratulated by judges and referees
The invitation to World Championships in St. Louis later this month, took them completely by surprise. Now, they must decide whether they can come up with the money and make plans to go!
Driver Ryan is beaming!

Meanwhile, I was in Greentown attending the wedding or our close friends, the Cratons, daughter Elizabeth. We've known Bob and Linda since before they were married and reminisced on their wedding over thirty six years ago when I was eight months pregnant!

Mr. and Mrs. John Bahler

Resurrection Sunday! A day to celebrate! "just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too may walk in a new way of life." (Romans 6:4b)

Stephan posted his latest ice sculpture on Facebook with this explanation: 

The tradition of painted Easter Eggs continues. When an egg opens it brings forth new life just like Jesus coming out of the grave. Happy Easter!

To enjoy and laugh listen to the radio interview with Stephan, click on Ice Man.

We celebrated as a family, all except Sam's gang. I just couldn't wait till next week to share some pics.

Easter bib and dress, smiling eyes, but Rebecca insists on chewing fingers or toys

Matching Mother-Daughter outfits

Our Easter hats

Afternoon entertainment: Take One; Farkle at the other end, not picture; and the ever present smart phone.
Reader, if you made it this far you are truly a good friend! Bless you! But there is one more photo:

Jimmy's new teeth and new smile!
Okay, caught up at last! ¡Hasta pronto!