Sunday, July 22, 2012

Norway to Ireland 2011: The English Channel


Even though it's been some weeks since my last post, I'm going to continue to publish the journal that I kept on my Tall Ships adventure last summer. This episode is at about the halfway point in the voyage when we went through the English Channel.

Day 7     Saturday              June 25, 2011
True to the captain’s predictions yesterday, we should be entering the English Channel by nightfall today. We’ve been steaming for almost 24 hours now and the combination of our speed and the fact that the waves are coming right into our bow (we’re only 20 degrees off the wind) has made for an incredibly active ride. We woke this morning to rain and heavy seas so the first part of the morning watch was spent learning to make a Bensel, another way to make a bight in a rope that's different from the splicing we learned yesterday.

After mid-morning, the Captain passed the word that we should change the braces (in spite of the rain) in preparation for a coming wind shift and resumption of sailing once we pass Dover in the channel. That meant our watch needed to slack a couple dozen lines, haul away on 9 braces and re-coil all the lines.  It took about an hour and was really hard work, but quite satisfying to get praise for having done it well.

The 8-12 watch in the English Channel
Lunch was heartily welcomed by everyone, both for a break from the morning’s work and because everyone was famished.  Other days lunch has been followed by immediate napping, but today most of us went right back on deck. Water was now covering the deck on the lee side of the boat and the sea was coming over the bow. The lookout had been shifted from the bow to the quarterdeck to avoid being swept overboard and safety lines were now set on the main deck to allow sure footing across the open deck. I shot a couple of short movies both from the quarterdeck and bakken.

The heavy weather continued into the evening and through most of the night. I had lookout at 2100 hours and about halfway through the hour we encountered fog which also lasted all night. The 2nd Mate (Steiner) gave us a look at the ship’s ASI which thoroughly convinced us that we had zero chance of being run down at night, even in fog.

Day 8     Sunday                 June 26, 2011
The only weather change in the morning was that the sea was calmer, which also meant that the wind had dropped. Great. So far we’ve sailed only two of the five days and motored the rest. She’s a beautiful boat and all and I’m on vacation, but all of us, including the crew, came to sail!

I had the helm for the first hour of the watch and the only excitement there was when the Captain asked me to change course by 15 degrees to avoid a fishing boat “going in circles in front of us.” However, as soon as I gave up the wheel, we were directed to set three sengestagseils, one at each mast. Now we’re getting somewhere!

Except as soon as we tied them off and coiled the lines, we were given buckets of soap and water, and brushes, and told to wash the deck. Seriously!! Actually, with the fresh breeze yesterday for about 18 hours, we shipped a ton of salt water and the salt isn’t good for the varnished floors below decks, so we scrubbed and rinsed the entire main deck.

Watching Windjammer in the banjer
I should give a mention to Jan Petter Hanson, an Oslo filmmaker who works for Munch Films. He and his daughter are along for the ride and he’s filming and interviewing everyone for a piece that will be shown on Norwegian television in the fall. I doubt I’ll get to see it, but it shows the tremendous love and respect that the Norwegians have for the Christian Radich and her two companion vessels, the Staadsrat Lemkuol and the Soerlandet, and I love that. Yesterday, he had a crowd around his laptop because he’s got bits of the movie Windjammer on his hard drive and lots of behind the scenes footage. I feel like I’m in heaven!

Day 9     Monday               June 27, 2011
I’ve only got about 20 minutes before we go on evening watch, but I just realized that I haven’t written anything since this time yesterday. We had some excitement this afternoon when I’ve normally made my entries.

Penzance Bay
Penzance Bay lies on the south coast of England just east of Land’s End, England’s westernmost spit of land. I’m told that Gilbert & Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance was inspired by this bay, at least the name. Don’t know if that’s true, but I’ll go with it. The officer of the watch (Steinar, I think) took a little detour into the bay to take us close to a small island topped by a magnificent castle the name of which I haven’t yet heard. While making this side trip, a Sea King helicopter flew by a couple of times and we joked that it was probably Prince William at the controls.

During the morning watch we got another soaking with some spectacular lightning and thunderclaps. This turn in the weather required that we take in what little sail was yet flying, the three last staysails.  We went to bed last night with a good bit of sail up (although it wasn’t doing much), but overnight the wind died and the other watches took in all but the three staysails.

Before the rain we had a lesson on tacking since that’s what we’ll need to do on the run up the west coast of England on the last leg to Waterford. Making a tack in a full-rigged ship is about an hour’s work, most of it in preparation. The actual change in the position of the ship takes about 15 minutes.

Nils then told us a couple of sailing stories from the annals of the British and Danish navies. One was about a shipwreck in the Scilly Islands in which an English widow removed the gold teeth and fillings from the drowned sailors that washed up on shore and the other was about a Danish shipbuilding company which planted trees to be used in the construction of a ship for the king that matured in 2005 after the government had forgotten about them in the ensuing decades.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Norway to Ireland 2011: Dolphins in the North Sea


Day 5     Thursday             June 23, 2011
It was much calmer overnight than the previous night so I actually got some rest. I think I got six hours, although I did wake up during the watch change at 4am because they turned on the lights in our banjer, not theirs, and they were noisy.

Pieter Bellen at the helm
My first watch assignment today was at the helm. Not only that, but I forgot to mention that the captain turned off the engine last evening while I was on lookout so we were now completely under sail. No more motor sailing for several days. Yes! That meant that I was asked to steer by the wind gauge, not the compass. Trying to keep the ship between 55 and 60 degrees off the wind is actually quite challenging. Under 50 degrees and you’re in danger of tacking involuntarily. Not a good thing.

Back to school again with Henrik after my stint at the helm. We learn that we have six sails to take aloft before we make Waterford. These are sails that would have been easier to rig in port, but circumstances didn’t allow. That means bending them on while underway. Today we’re going to bend on the kryss and store bramstagseils (mizzen and main topgallant staysails).  This work is kind of a cross between sewing and rock climbing. Basically, hanging onto a shroud or the mast with one hand and threading a needle with the other. I enjoyed the company of a  17-year-old Finn named Olli whom I learned earlier is a volunteer, not part of the permanent crew, and just joined the ship two weeks ago. He’s an amazingly nimble fellow.

By the end of the day we’ll have 13 of the 27 sails set. With the wind freshening this afternoon, we should be doing fairly good speed by evening.

Dolphins in the North Sea!
After lunch (it being a gorgeous afternoon, we spent a couple hours on deck. About 1:30 someone shouted “dolphins!” Suddenly, the foredeck was filled with about 30 people hanging over the bow with cameras. It was a wonderful moment that lasted about ½ hour. Two pair of dolphins kept jumping and diving just in front of the boat. They clearly were playing games with the ship and probably had no idea there was an audience. It was pure exhilaration for both them and us.

During the evening watch, the captain decided we had too much sail out, so the order came down to take in the store bram sail. We were averaging about 8 or 8 ½ knots all day so we were moving along at a pretty good clip. I thought it odd that this was the plan since an earlier watch had just set the same sail. Henrik asked for volunteers and the response wasn’t enthusiastic, so I raised my hand and went to get a safety harness. Handling the sails requires 6-8 people to do it efficiently and especially in a stiff breeze.

Going up was OK, although the pitching of the ship was stronger than the other times I’d been aloft.  When we reached the second platform, however, one of our number chose not to go out on the yard. The footrope on the starboard side wasn’t ideal for a tall person. I started having second thoughts myself. However, somebody had to go or this operation was going to stretch out much longer. Taking that first step onto the rope was a combination of pure adrenaline rush and absolute terror, but I managed it. Now it was necessary to get a good handhold and sync my movements with the heaving of the bow so I didn’t go over the yard—the foot rope really wasn’t deep enough for someone over 6’. Oh well. One of the Belgians, Eva, joined me on my left and the four of us were able to furl and secure the sail. I recalled my day on the ropes course with my team from work last summer and realized that this was a far greater challenge and obstacle to overcome. I was satisfied to reach he deck safely and also felt a tremendous sense of relief, even if I was 20 minutes late for lookout!


Day 6     Friday   June 24, 2011
The only way I know what day it is to look at the previous entry in this log. Otherwise, it doesn’t matter to life on the ship. It’s hard to believe that after just 2 ½ days at sea, I have packed away my other life into a little box for safekeeping. Little of it is relevant to daily life on the Christian Radich. You and your watch mates work together, eat together, sleep together, and have time off together. This happened by circumstance obviously, not by choice, but it’s OK and is quite easily and quickly accepted. It would be difficult to remain aloof and alone on the ship and if you tried , it would most likely get to be very uncomfortable.

I had my first shower this morning and it was delightful. However, it was unlike any I’ve taken before, because the ship was rolling and pitching constantly so cleaning with one hand was interesting. I waited until this morning because I couldn’t locate my towel for two days. This is the third time on the trip that I’ve not been able to find something in my belongings and it’s frustrating. I hope that it doesn’t happen too many more times!

The wind is waning this morning. Yesterday we clipped along at over 8 knots, but we’re down under 5 knots right now. Still headed southwest with a WNW wind. We’ll find out after lunch when we will reach the Channel and what the weather forecast for tonight and tomorrow.

Since yesterday evening we’ve always had at least one oil rig in sight, sometimes more. We actually had to sail around a large cluster of them during the night.

This morning we had Henrik give us another lesson in tending the sails and the braces depending on the ship’s angle to the wind. We’re still sailing close-hauled, but hopefully we’ll get wind on the beam at some point and of course we’ll have to change everything when we approach port in Waterford: take in all sails and square up the yards.

The rest of our morning watch was a bust as the wind continued to drop. By the time we finished lunch and met with the captain, it sounded more and more like we’d be going motor sailing sooner than expected, both so that we could keep on schedule and also because the wind was shifting back to the SW so we’d be trying to sail directly into it, a feat that’s physically not possible. Indeed, while we were relaxing, reading, and napping, the 12-4 watch pulled in all of the square sails.

I mentioned the food once. It’s quite remarkable what two people can do. The first night we had whitefish with an onion baste. The next night we had beef stroganoff; last night meatballs, and tonight pork chops. The bread is all fresh and wonderful and the side dishes excellent. Fresh fruit, coffee, and tea 24/7, and good desserts. This afternoon we had hot chocolate and brownies.

By the time the evening watch began, the wind had freshened, but we were done sailing because the 4-8 watch had taken in all the square sails as I said. We were back under power and the boat was starting to behave like a bucking horse or a carnival ride again, depending on the metaphor you prefer.

I had the helm at 2100 hours and although it wasn’t hard to keep the ship on course, the pressure on the rudder was intense and after an hour your arms really start to feel some strain. It’s an amazing feeling of awe and admiration, though, to be piloting such an elegant vessel through such an elemental process.

While I was gone the rest of the watch were getting a lesson in rope splicing, something I’d never tried. I was able to catch up to them when I returned and have yet another skill to take home with me. All the while we worked the ropes we were passing oil rigs in the night. I counted 17 visible between the C. Radich and the eastern horizon.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Norway to Ireland 2011: Day 4


This continues the journal that I kept on my passage from Oslo, Norway to Waterford, Ireland during the prelude to the first events of the Tall Ships Races 2011.

Norway to Ireland
Tall Ships Races 2011
Day 4     Wednesday      June 22, 2011
I’ve had so many experiences at this point I could write a book and we’ve only been underway about 22 hours. I woke up Monday and decided that I needed a couple more articles of clothing. Got directions to a nearby sporting goods store from the hotel front desk clerk and bought a couple of tees and a coat that’s in between my foul weather gear and my windbreaker.

Oslo harbor with City Hall in the background
Showed up at noon to board the ship. The crew was frantically trying to stow all the recently arrived supplies and make preparations to depart so they didn’t have time for the trainees. They told me to come back at 2. When I did, family members and friends of the Christian Radich were on hand to help load our gear and get ready to shove off. At 4 p.m. the group on the pier began to wave goodbye and we were underway shortly after 4. The tableau of Oslo Harbor was exceptionally beautiful in the late afternoon sunshine.

Soon the First Mate, a Dutchman named Marko, assembled everyone on the main deck to welcome us, outline the activities for the rest of the day, and divide us into the three watches for the journey.  Everyone on the ship except the cooks and the captain has to serve on a watch: 8-12, 12-4, or 4-8.  Not sure how I lucked out, but I was assigned to the 8-12 watch, by far the best watch (the most forgiving as far as sleep goes.) Next was a tour of the ship (familiarization) followed by dinner.  After dinner we had an alarm drill and learned of all the dangers the ship and crew might face: fire, man overboard, medical (illness, falls), etc.  A trainee (Christian Eriksrud, he’s been on the ship before) demonstrated how to put on a survival suit in case we all end up in the water.  We practiced donning life preservers.  There’s a life preserver and survival suit for everybody on board. (That’s reassuring!)

Now it was about 6:30 and we had just enough time before the first watch (mine) started at 8 to climb the rigging. Wow! I went up the mizzen shrouds as far as the upper topsail yardarm and skinnied out onto the foot rope about halfway to the end.  What a view and what a feeling!

My one assigned duty on the watch (after returning to the deck) was to take the helm at 2100 hours.  Keeping a ship this size on course required a ton of patience.  It takes the rudder a long time to respond to the helm and I did a lot of over-correcting back and forth until I got the hang of it.

I could hardly stand by the end of the watch at midnight. I had jet lag, my feet hurt and the sea was really active. Took every bit of concentration I had left to stay on my feet trying to adjust to the 5 meter seas. The poor woman on lookout got absolutely soaked (and seasick) in the brisk wind and water. We were driving right into a SW wind.

I didn’t manage a minute of sleep, although I was in bed for six hours. Light came in the porthole most of the night and I felt like I was riding a rollercoaster in a supine position. I think my feet rose 15 degrees and then my head rose 15 degrees in rotation until about 4 a.m. Or maybe it was a wild horse I was riding!

Breakfast at 7:30, watch at 8. I was safety watch at 9, patrolling the ship for signs of fire, medical issues, or just making a report of unusual circumstances. After that it was another practice run up the rigging. I climbed the main mast as far as the topgallant yard. One member of our watch (Christian again) has been on the ship before and he scampered to the top of the main mast. Impressive!

Before lunch we had a lesson in the names of the sails. Christian Radich is a full-rigged square sailor and carries 27 sails. Our watch leader is a Dane named Henrik who’s always apologizing for not knowing the English names of the sails. He really does know them, he just has to think a little harder when he’s teaching. Alan, the Irishman, and I, think the Norwegian sail names are easier to remember than the English ones, so we’re trying to help Henrik by only using the Norwegian sail names.

For lunch the spread on the buffet was extensive. In fact, contrary to what I thought, I think I’m going to gain weight on the ship, not lose.

After lunch we gathered on the main deck to meet with the captain. He’d told us yesterday that he needed to make a decision sometime today about whether we go south through the English Channel to Ireland or go north around the top of Scotland. Consensus among the trainees was that the northern route would be more fun and scenic, but it’s not going to come to a vote I think.

Kristiansand Harbor
An hour or so later we stood off Kristiansand to allow a journalist and a member of the crew and his son to disembark.

After dinner we started our evening watch by setting two sails, the fore mers and the kryss mers (the fore upper topsail and the mizzen upper topsail). I assisted ably with both although I started to feel some steadiness issues in my legs on the second one. This activity requires part wire-walker skills, part monkey flexibility, and part rock climbing thinking (what’s my next move going to be?).

I had dressed for lookout duty before going aloft so now with all the climbing I was completely soaked from within. I spent the first five minutes in the bow with my jacket off so I could evaporate the sweat, but was soon chilled and donned the jacket again. Good thing, too, because then it started to rain.

Standing watch in the bow
My hour as lookout was fairly active. We were now intersecting shipping lanes and we had four freighters on the starboard side on parallel paths, two in front of us going at right angles, a fishing boat on the port side going by us into land, and a tiny sailboat motoring east. I had to ring the ship’s bell each time I spotted new traffic to alert the helm and the mate in the charthouse.

Once again at the end of the watch I could hardly stand. We spent the last hour on deck under a lamp learning about properly showing maritime lights at night, but I fell asleep twice and don’t know how much I’ll remember!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

One Year Ago: Norway to Ireland 2011

I've been thinking a lot this week about the adventure I had at the same time last year. I took part in the Tall Ships Races in northern Europe and sailed from Norway to Ireland aboard the Norwegian vessel SS Christian Radich. Many of you may have seen the photos and videos that I posted after I returned home.

I also wrote a journal of daily life and never shared that with anyone. We were completely cut off from all communication so I couldn't post to Facebook, Twitter, send text messages or even make phone calls. It was marvelously liberating! But it just occurred to me that I could post my journal entries now and relive the experience, so here goes. Depending on the length of the entries, I may combine more than one day in a post. I hope you enjoy the story.


ABOARD THE CHRISTIAN RADICH
Summer 2011

OSLO TO WATERFORD
Day 1     Sunday                 June 19, 2011
So, I’m really doing this. We’re climbing past 20,000 feet and heading ENE and the sun is blinding, coming through the west windows.  Good thing I’m on the east side of the aisle. What’s really noticeable below is the number of fields that are still brown.  Here we are past the middle of June and crops are just barely out of the ground.

The SS Christian Radich
As I said, I’m really doing this.  It’s not just a plan anymore. Day after tomorrow I’m going to board the Christian Radich in Oslo harbor and head out into the North Sea for passage to Ireland.

I’ve been smitten with the love of wind and water since childhood, but it’s been particularly evocative in the case of this specific ship.  I saw the movie Windjammer as a grammar school boy and actually, all I ever wanted was to see the movie again.  Instead of that (which may never happen, I fear), I’m going to board the Christian Radich and spend nine days at sea with her. I really don’t think it will be easy to top that, even if I’m lucky enough to see the movie again.

Day 2     Monday               June 20, 2011
Icelandair
The two flights to reach Oslo were flawless, at least on the part of the airline, Icelandair. On time, comfortable, perfect weather.  Just minor annoyances caused by fellow travelers, but nothing worth discussing.  Flying over Greenland was awe-inspiring.  All I could see as far as the horizon was lofty mountain peaks, glaciers, and snow, snow, snow. As we moved off the eastern coast, the icebergs were numerous and though it didn’t seem like it from 36,000 feet, massive, I’m sure.

Greenland from 35,000 feet
The terrain in Iceland was a stark contrast: nothing but rock as far as the eye could see.  I’d love to spend some time in Iceland, but it will have to be at a later date. I want to do my friend, Bill Holm, justice at some point. The language is singularly distinctive.  I wonder how long it would take for a guy to get the hang of it.

I did think it odd that in Rekyjavik travelers had to go through customs just to enter the airport and proceed to a connecting flight and then present their passports before boarding again. All without leaving the secure perimeter of the airport.  Never really thought about Keflavik Airport as a terrorist target.  Oh well.

Descending into Oslo Gardamoen felt like coming home.  This is my third visit to Gamle Norge, but I haven’t been here for eight years.  Gorgeous cloud formations and the countryside a brilliant variety of hues of green.

Took the Flytoget (Flying Trains per my daughter) to Oslo Sentrum and walked the approximately one kilometer to my hotel on Rosenkranz Gate, the Best Western Bondeheimen.  Some interesting bits to ponder: it’s not surprising to need your key card to use the elevator, but inside your room, you need your card to work the lights. Now that’s a rational way to control energy costs.

Christian Radich at her home port
First piece of business: find the Christian Radich. It’s a very short walk from my hotel to her berth at the foot of Akershus Castle.  There she was in all her beauty, the queen of Oslo harbor.  Walked bow to stern and back and took a bunch of pictures.  Couldn’t go on board, but did observe several trainees who arrived early.  I tried to get a berth on board the night before embarking, but was denied. We sail at 4 p.m. tomorrow.

Relaxing after an all-night flight
Back to Spikesuppa for an open-air lunch (and a couple of beers) and then back to my room for a nap.  After sleeping, I walked a square from my hotel to Universitet Gate to Stortingtgate to Nedreslots Gate and back. Took some time to enjoy the new pipe Kari gave me and had a few drinks at O’Leary’s Pub. Chatted with the bar keep, a 25-year-old from Sweden, recently emigrated to Norway because the pay is better.  He is a world traveler, telling me about his two trips to Thailand and his next trips to Miami and Barcelona.  Now it’s back to the hotel and a big day tomorrow.  Had a manic session at the bar emailing and facebook and twitter posting in anticipation of the upcoming 9-day blackout.  See you on the other side!


Sunday, April 15, 2012

Two Fearless Souls

There are many, many fine and daring sailors on the water these days, but two of them have caught my attention recently, Matt Rutherford and Roz Savage. Actually, Roz is an ocean rower, not technically a sailor, but she's well worth following regardless!

Matt Rutherford
(soloaroundtheamericas.com)
Matt Rutherford is nearing the end of his epic circumnavigation of the Americas. His voyage began in Maryland in June 2011, went through the Northwest Passage and then down the west coast of North and South America, rounded Cape Horn and back up the east side of both continents. When he's finished he will have accomplished 23,000 miles of single-handed sailing in 10 months.

The motivation behind Matt's journey is to show people, particularly those with disabilities, that there are no limits to what can be accomplished in life; and to raise money for Chesapeake Region Accessible Boating (CRAB), a nonprofit sailing program for people with disabilities based in Annapolis, Maryland.

Matt is sailing aboard a 27 ft. Albin-Vega named St. Brendan. He's currently about halfway between Bermuda and North Carolina battling a northerly gale. His motor is dead and he can no longer charge his batteries because his wind generator and solar panels have stopped working. He's nearly home, but his homecoming is entirely dependent on the weather. The current plan, according to his website Solo Around the Americas is to arrive in Annapolis on Saturday, April 21st.

Roz Savage (rozsavage.com)

Roz Savage has rowed alone across the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans. In 2005 she became the first woman to complete the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge, rowing 3,000 miles from the Canary Islands to Antigua. Then she rowed across the Pacific in three stages, 2008, 2009, and 2010. In December 2011 she completed her journey across the Indian Ocean.

Roz uses her rowing talents and her voyages to raise awareness of the significance of our individual actions in the face of the environmental catastrophes that are looming in the future for our planet. Read about her work and her daily posts from her journeys at Roz Savage, Ocean Rower.

Roz and Andrew (olympicatlanticrow.com)
Roz's next challenge kicks off in less than a month when she and Andrew Morris leave from Newfoundland in their boat Bojangles bound for Great Britain. Only a handful of rowers have traversed the North Atlantic and it hasn't been done by a pair in more than a century. Their plan is to row up the Bristol Channel and then use inland waterways to arrive in London a the start of the 2012 Olympics. Follow their quest at OAR (Olympic Atlantic Row) or on their Facebook page Olympic Atlantic Row.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

AC45 World Series--Naples!

If you live in the United States, you might not know that the 34th America's Cup Challenge will be held in San Francisco in September 2013. And no one can blame you for not knowing it. That's because the mainstream media, including all of the sports media, don't seem to deem an event like this worth covering until about 48 hours before it starts. The same goes for most bicycle races and I'm sure that other sports suffer similarly as well. I can't explain why, it's just a fact.

Team Korea, Luna Rossa, Energy Team
The lead-in to the America's Cup is called the America's Cup World Series and it started last fall in Portugal. It next moved to the UK and then to San Diego. This week, the AC45 World Series is in Naples, Italy and racing started yesterday. There are two fleet races with all nine boats competing in each race.

My wife's niece and her husband have been living in Naples for the past couple of years and for several days this winter I thought seriously of going there to visit and watch the competition. It didn't happen, so I'm following the events from afar and I can report that they're gripping.

Emirates Team New Zealand (ETNZ) with Dean Barker at the helm is dominating the leaderboard so far, but there have been many dramatic moments from the other boats. On Wednesday, there was a spectacular capsize by the Swedish team of Artemis Racing. I've never seen a boat capsize by having its bow go under the water.

On Day 1, Team Korea placed second in the first race and fourth in the second. That's a surprising result for the first time this team has entered this series. Oracle Spithill won the first race and ETNZ won the second.

Luna Rossa
On Day 2, ETNZ won both races running away, but the Italian teams of Luna Rossa Piranha and Luna Rossa Swordfish finished second and third in both races. Needless to say, this pleased the throngs of spectators immensely, even though the skippers of neither boat is Italian!

It's clear that this format of multi-hull racing close to shore has clicked significantly with the local population in each venue so far. This ain't your father's America's Cup anymore. I've been a bit tepid on embracing the changes myself, but my defenses are wearing down. The action is swift and intense, even in light winds. I'm hooked.

Check out all of the video action on YouTube.

(all photos courtesy of www.americascup.com)

Monday, December 19, 2011

Decorating the Tree

Procuring a Christmas tree each year and decorating it is not always an activity that I face with anticipation, especially since we haven't had children participating in the ritual for several years. However, after I heard a piece on the radio the other day about ugly ornaments, I thought I might offer a meager response. This guy was going on about how Christmas trees are continually held captive by young children with lots of energy and no aesthetic sensibility or some such rubbish. Crudely made formless ornaments from years gone by dragged out of closets and shown to the world year after year after year to everyone's dismay. Whatever.

Maybe the guy was using reverse psychology or some other angle to tell us that this was all to the good, but to me it was a bit unclear. The salient feature of using well-worn ornaments, in my opinion, no matter the condition or origin, is to preserve memory and make connections with past years. In our house that means the ceramic pigs from my mother-in-law's house. It means the soccer balls, baseball bats, and sleds from our kids' athletic activities. We've got a cat from a bookstore that's been gone for 20 years and a grass skirt-wearing Santa that I picked up in Hawai'i while attending a conference several years ago.

We have musical instruments: a French horn eventually gave way to the electric guitar. Everyone in the family knows that story. There are two glass birds that my wife gave to me in honor of my mother who taught us all to appreciate our winged friends. There's a metal spider and a blue whale from the years during which the animal kingdom was a dominant force in the household. A straw man with a sombrero riding a donkey from my wife's childhood. And atop it all are two angels colored in pencil with intricate care by our eldest many years ago.

I don't have any ornaments from my own childhood or my parents' legacy, but I'm glad that we have a collection of stuff that we've preserved and can hand down to our children at some future time. Anything that brings generations together is OK by me.