Five O'Clock Somewhere

Welcome to Five O'Clock Somewhere, where it doesn't matter what time zone you're in; it's five o'clock somewhere. We'll look at rural life, especially as it happens in Rio Arriba County, New Mexico, cats, sailing (particularly Etchells racing yachts), and bits of grammar and Victorian poetry.

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Location: Rio Arriba County, New Mexico, United States

Monday, October 30, 2006

NaNo Upcoming

I’m going underground for the next month, but I may need advice

I need to warn all of my faithful followers that I will not be quite so visible for the next month. November is National Novel Writing Month, and I will be participating.

The object is to produce 50,000 words of fictional prose within 30 days. In order to accomplish that goal, I will need time, and that means that some of the time I usually spend maintaining this blog will instead be spent on writing my novel.

However, I will be depending on you, my fans, for some support. This year’s novel, Murder at the Yacht Club, will follow the formula I used with huge success last year with Murder at the Community College. I will create a character who is as obnoxious and otherwise detestable as I can manage, I will give about a dozen different people a good reason to want this person dead, and then I will kill this person off. I will spend the rest of the 50,000 words with my protagonist and her police-detective boyfriend going through the lengthy suspect list.

Here is how you readers can help me in my NaNo effort: Tell about obnoxious people or obnoxious characteristics of people that made you wish they were dead, especially as applied in a yacht-club setting. I’m especially interested in specific anecdotes. Don’t worry about being found out – I will, of course, change names and details to protect the guilty.

A gazillion things to tell

And not much time to tell them

This was yet another busy weekend. Friday, we headed down to T or C with a whole lot of furniture and stuff to set up housekeeping down there in the downstairs half of a duplex, the upstairs portion of which Dino uses as his local base when he’s at the lake. Since we’re friends, he’s giving us a hefty discount on the rent, with the caveat that, when he finds a tenant willing to pay full market value, we will have 30 days to move out.

We did find one problem – the night was cold, and we couldn’t get the furnace to light. We called Dino, who advised us that during the summer, birds build nests in the vent pipe. We did clear out a nest, but the furnace still wouldn’t light. It turns out the thermocouple had gone bad. So for the night, we had to bundle up.

Since Black Magic is still in the shop for repairs to the console, Zorro arranged for us to do committee boat duty for the racing this weekend, so we won’t be penalized for not racing. Friday, we launched the MacGregor, Syzygy, and put it into Black Magic’s slip at Rock Canyon Marina. Saturday, Pat, Tadpole, and I were joined by Kiteflyer, a longtime friend who has helped out the sailing club in the past, on board Syzygy to run the committee boat. There was almost no wind, and after the racing fleet drifted around for more than an hour waiting for wind, there was a bit, and so we had one race. Even though it was the very short course F, a “half-sausage” (one mile to the upwind mark and then back), it took the fastest boats more than an hour and the slowest boat two and a half. That was the only race we had that day.

Saturday night was a sailing club board meeting, followed by a club dinner. Unfortunately, the other places in the area were booked, so the sailing club had to have the dinner at the place where we have had so many bad experiences before. Fortunately, the place had arranged to serve a buffet, solving a whole lot of the previous problems. Unfortunately, a large number of the sailing club members have been so turned off by the many previous inept efforts by this restaurant that they didn’t even bother to stay for dinner. And the restaurant didn’t even get the buffet right – the sailing club, when planning the dinner a month ahead, had ordered barbecue beef brisket but got chicken instead, and had chosen salad rather than soup, but soup was what the restaurant prepared – although at least the restaurant was able to bring out salad to sit alongside the soup at no extra charge.

After dinner, we paid a visit to Cornhusker, who sailed with Mother’s crew this weekend. Cornhusker is a fantastically tenacious foredeck crew, and once we get Black Magic back in commission, I definitely want her back on my boat.

Then we tracked down Zorro and Dino, who, along with Dino’s family, had been treating Firecracker to dinner. Firecracker and her husband had been longtime members of the sailing club, and he died a few months back following a lengthy battle with cancer. Firecracker is doing all right – she has a lot of friends, and she goes to the gym with some, and she goes bowling with some, and she plays cards with some. Saturday, after Rosebia took Tadpole and Skater back to the house, we adults all went out carousing with Firecracker. She knows how to have a good time. It was a great evening.

Sunday, the weather prediction was for winds 5-15, gusts to 20, from the west, trending toward south. When Pat, Tadpole, Kiteflyer and I got out to the race course, there was almost no wind, mostly west-ish. We waited around a while, and then the wind switched to north, and it remained steady enough that we called a north-bound half-sausage. About when the boats were halfway to the upwind mark, the wind died. Then the wind switched to south and got stronger. The race finished with a whole lot of boats all bunched together, so corrected time may really shake up the actual results.

The second race Sunday, the third race of the regatta weekend, we had good, steady, wind from the south. We ran a G course, the “full sausage” upwind a mile, downwind two miles to the mark opposite, than upwind a mile to the finish. In spite of the increased distance, all but one of the boats finished in less than an hour.

After the races, we got together with Dino and Zorro again. Dino had gotten a new thermocouple for the furnace and was planning to install it, but Tadpole beat him to it. It’s great to have a kid who is really good at problem-solving and fixing things. (He’s looking at potential college majors now; he’s always been interested in engineering, and this term he’s taking an architecture course in high school that has him really fired up, so if anybody out there wants to suggest a school with a good engineering/architecture program, we’re willing to listen!) Once Tadpole had the furnace running, we joined Zorro, Dino, Rosebia and Skater at a relatively new restaurant in town (let’s just say we’re auditioning potential future sailing club dinner venues), and then we headed north.

We got home to discover that Tres had suffered from missing a couple of doses of his medication. At least while we have Dino’s downstairs place, we can take cats with us when we go to the lake, so we can make sure Tres gets his medication – as long as he gets it, he’s fine, but missing a couple of doses does cause problems.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Making connections

What is “good” writing, anyway?

This post arises as an elaboration of a response I posted on my esteemed brother’s blog, Muddled Ramblings, http://homepage.mac.com/vikingjs/iblog/, which raised the question of what, exactly, makes writing effective.

To start with, allow me to establish a definition of good writing: Good writing is that which is effective. If the writing has the effect upon the reader that the writer intended, then that writing is good. So, essentially, when we look at what makes writing effective, we are looking at what makes writing good.

Many people have the notion that good grammar is what makes good writing, and that if they can just get all the commas in the right places, and the spelling just right, and the verbs conjugated just so, they will have good writing. Yes, the grammar is important to the clarity of the writing, but even the most impeccably grammatical writing will not be good writing if it fails to be effective – the argument of an essay still must be logical and convincing, and the plot of a story still must engage the reader emotionally.

I have come to realize over the years that the most critical element of good writing is connections. Writing is the act of making connections, and these connections happen on many levels.

First, there’s the very most basic, nuts-and-bolts connections between ideas. You have two sentences. They are related to each other.

Billy never studies. He is passing all of his classes.

Whoa. That doesn’t make sense. The reader is confused. So you connect the ideas in a way that shows the relationship between the ideas in the two sentences.

Billy never studies, but even so, he is passing all of his classes.

Okay, now that makes more sense. Just a couple of little words put in the right place make the connection clear, and we now understand that Billy’s situation isn’t quite the usual.

Making connections also applies to bigger units of information. Say you’re writing a set of instructions. First, you’re going to put the steps of the instructions in the order in which they are to be followed – you’re going to mess up your reader if you don’t tell him to grease the pan until after you have told him to pour the cake batter in. Organizing ideas in order is part of how you make the connections. You will also use transitional words and phrases: first, second, next, then, finally. Sometimes the connections will be more involved; for example, you may have your reader mix up an egg-yolk-based mixture and set that aside while whipping up the egg whites, and then you will ask the reader to go back and get the yolk mixture to fold into the egg-white mixture later. In cases like that, you will want to make sure the reader remembers the earlier part of the recipe. You don’t want the reader to blame you if the soufflé falls.

On a similar level are the connections to be made using pronouns. If your pronouns are all over the place, your reader is going to be confused – as much as possible, don’t switch around between I, you, we, and they. Pick one and stick with it, unless there’s a good reason to switch. Don’t ever use they to refer to a singular noun, such as “a student” or “a woman.” And don’t use either you or they as a shortcut to avoid thinking about who, exactly, you are writing about. You need to make those connections for your reader – are they people in general, some government entity, a particular group of people you haven’t defined, or invading space aliens?

Beyond the mechanical connections between ideas, good writing is also, most importantly, about the connection between the writer and the reader. If the definition of good writing is writing that has an effect upon the reader, then the connection between the writer and the reader is the most important connection of all.

Even that connection has multiple levels. For one thing, you must make logical connections. Whether you are writing a research report or an argumentative essay, you have to connect ideas together logically or your reader will reject them. In a short story or novel, even though it’s fiction, the events have to follow a logical sequence, and they have to fit with the characters involved. If they don’t, you will lose your reader.

But probably the most important connection that you, as a writer, have to make with your readers is emotional. Sure, you can fill your research paper with all sorts of scientific data about Alzheimer’s disease, and tons of facts. But those facts won’t be all that useful unless you also connect with your reader emotionally to get the reader interested in the human side of the topic; narratives about people dealing with a family member with Alzheimer’s will allow the reader to understand the condition better. In fiction, you also need to connect emotionally with your readers – they aren’t going to bother to read for very long if they’re bored. You need to have characters your readers care about and events your readers are interested in.

Yes, connections, that’s what’s important in writing, just as in politics. The difference is that in writing, you can make those connections without having to know the right people.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Big 10K

We're talking a REAL milestone here!

Yes, break out the balloons and noisemakers. We have had 10,000 visitors!

Visitor 10K was somebody from New Jersey on a high-speed connection, who has me bookmarked, who arrived shortly after noon today (Mountain Time). I'm guessing it's one of Tillerman's friends.

The prize is a free lesson in fiberglass repairs, followed by a sailing trip on the sexiest boat in New Mexico.

Honorable mention goes to visitor 9,999, the Northern Past Commodore.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Life is short

Thoughts about a great student

During my late class this evening (well, OK, it’s after midnight, so really it’s last evening) I found out from one of my students that one of the other students in the class had died in a car crash the night before.

This particular student was one of my best. Last week, the call had gone out for faculty to nominate students for this term’s achievement awards, and I was planning to give this student three: Academic Excellence, Persistence, and Most Helpful. I still want the awards to be given, so her family knows just how great a student she was.

She earned those awards. She always did her homework, and she always did a thorough job of it. The essays she wrote were excellent. Through those essays, I learned a bit about her. Her first essay, on which she earned a 5, the highest grade I give and one I give to only about three essays a term (among typically 40 or so students, writing 5 essays each), was a comparison between Albuquerque and Juneau, Alaska, where she used to live. Her descriptions were so vivid that she made me wish I could visit Juneau, and she created a compelling sense of place. She especially looked forward to returning there and living there – I find it heart-breaking that she never got the chance.

She was also persistent. Her job was demanding, and sometimes her work kept her from coming to class. But she did manage to break away from work long enough to come in and turn in her homework and get the assignments for the next class.

The award that she most deserved was Most Helpful. She was always willing to help other students with their work. One of the things I love about teaching English is that when students help each other, it’s collaboration, not cheating. I encourage students to help each other, whether it’s working together on a grammar worksheet or reading each other’s essays in order to provide constructive suggestions for improvement. This student helped others not just in the structured class setting but also outside of class. At the time she died, she had another student’s essay which she was reading in order to make suggestions for revision. When another student asked for help, she would always give it. She wasn’t just interested in her own success; she wanted everybody else to succeed, too.

I first heard about this student’s death from one of the other students in the class, but she also worked for the same company Pat does, so he had seen the notice in the company email. I don’t have any details yet about where to send condolences or funeral arrangements, but as soon as I do, I want to tell her family all of what I have put here.

Sometimes I have a promising student who has to drop the class because Life happens and that student needs time to regroup before taking the class again. It’s much worse when the student will never be able to take the course ever again.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

It’s Sunday night, but the weekend isn’t over yet!

And from now on, I’ll never say about my house: This place is a zoo.

We set out Saturday to move boats around. The initial plan was to get the MacGregor, Syzygy, out of the driveway in Albuquerque by taking it to Elephant Butte, and then rigging and launching it.

Then I had the idea that if we were already at the Butte, maybe we could take Black Magic, which we had already taken out of the water and de-rigged, to El Paso, where there might be a chance of finding someone who could do fiberglass repairs and reinstall the console and the floor. So before leaving Albuquerque, I phoned a few people in El Paso and left messages for them to find out whether that might be do-able, if there would be someplace safe to park the boat.

We were about halfway to the lake when Dino returned the call and said that we could keep the boat inside a locked fence at his office, and also that we could stay in a guest room at his house and return to Albuquerque today.

So we got together with Dino, locked the boat up, and then went across town to where Zorro lives, and we all went out to dinner together at a Mexican restaurant that Zorro likes. It was excellent food at very reasonable prices, and the only drawback was that the neighborhood was close to the university, and there was a home football game, so traffic was a nightmare.

After dinner, Tadpole went to Dino’s house with Dino’s girlfriend, Sister Rosebia, and her teenage sons, while Pat, Dino, and I stopped off at Dino’s house. You may have heard stories about the crazy old lady with too many cats that every town has at least one of. Well, Zorro may not be a crazy old lady, but he certainly has a whole lot of cats. I believe I counted eight inside the house and at least that many gathered on the front porch for handouts. There’s also one seriously outnumbered dog, but he’s discovered that he can live in reasonable harmony with the cats, so long as he does whatever they want, especially Oscar, a big, fluffy, part-Siamese who is the king of the inside cats. Yep, the place was a zoo.

After a couple of beverages claiming to be beer, we returned to Dino’s house, where it seemed that a Halloween sound-effects recording had been put on the sound system – all sorts of screams, moans, evil laughter, crashes, and other unrecognizable (but recognizably catastrophic) sounds. Nope, that was just the cockatoo, who lives in a large cage in the indoor swimming-pool area. There’s also a gray parrot and a skunk who share the space, and the pool isn’t really suitable for swimming nowadays; it’s been converted into a very large koi pond. Oh, and then there are several large tanks throughout the house, some of which contain fish, but others of which contain reptiles, primarily snakes. One whole bedroom has been converted to quarters for a large variety of rattlesnakes (Dino resembles Steve Irwin in more ways than one). At times, there are also temporary visitors; Dino and Sister Rosebia are certified wildlife rescuers, and since their place is right on the boundary of a state park, there’s often something-or-other recovering from some injury before getting let back into the wild. Well, there is one relatively mundane creature in the house: a canine whose ancestry is most likely half coyote, half greyhound. Yep, this place is a zoo, too.

Overnight, there was a fierce rainstorm, and we woke in the morning to find Dino’s mountain aerie – it’s rumored to be the highest house in Texas – veiled in fog. As the fog cleared, we got in touch with Zorro, both of whose cars aren’t currently running, and made arrangements to pick him up and all go together to Sunday brunch in Juarez. But when we arrived at Zorro’s place to pick him up, the truck wouldn’t start. First, Zorro called a friend of his who is good at fixing things, and then, when neither the friend, nor Zorro nor Dino could figure out for sure what needed fixing, we called AAA. While Pat waited at Zorro’s place for the tow truck, the rest of us walked down the street to an Italian place in the neighborhood and ordered pizzas, and we were joined by a friend who rooms with Dino, who came to give people a ride back to the house.

The pizza arrived quickly, so the rest of us were done eating about the time the AAA guy took Pat and the truck to the mechanics – we did save him some pizza. The roommate’s car didn’t have room for everybody, so Zorro, Dino, and I went across the street to a sports bar to wait for Pat. After he arrived and ate his pizza, we finished our drinks and went back up to Zorro’s house, where Sister Rosebia came to pick us up.

When we heard back from the mechanics, they told us that the truck needed a new fuel pump and a new fuel pump relay, and that the repairs probably wouldn’t be done until Monday afternoon. Well, at least I have only one class on Mondays, and it’s late enough there’s an outside chance we could get back to Albuquerque on time, but I wouldn’t bet on it. So I have set up assignments for my students on the campus online computer system.

Meanwhile, we’re getting to enjoy seeing a lot more of El Paso than we’d planned, and I have especially enjoyed the extra time with people I really like.

Now, I need to get back to socializing – I believe I hear Sister Rosebia calling everyone to supper … or was that the cockatoo?

And now I know, no matter my standard of housekeeping: My house is NOT a zoo!

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Grammar Moment: Restrictive Adverbs

Not all who misplace modifiers are confused

Adverbs are slippery, sneaky words. They can pop up just about anywhere in a sentence and still make grammatical sense. Sometimes they modify (describe or define) just the verb, and sometimes they modify the whole sentence. They’re the chameleons of the English language, since they can modify a verb, or they can modify an adjective, or they can even modify another adverb.

Restrictive adverbs are sneakier still. These are the adverbs, such as only, just, or not, that modify what’s closest to them – usually the word immediately following, but at the end of a sentence, they can modify the word immediately before with a different meaning. Many restrictive adverbs have an additional characteristic that makes them even slipperier – they can also be adjectives and modify a noun.

Consider this common saying:

All that glitters is not gold.

Think about it logically now. What that sentence is really saying is that if something glitters, it can’t possibly be gold. That’s not what is really meant, since we do know that gold does glitter. Rather, we want to state that if something glitters, it might be gold, but it also might not:

Not all that glitters is gold.

Notice now that the word not is modifying the word all, and now the sentence means what we want it to mean.

As a demonstration of just how slippery restrictive adverbs can be, and how essential it is to get them in the right place to make a sentence mean exactly what we want it to mean, I use this example given to me by a colleague of mine:

My brother lent me two books yesterday.

Now, let’s look at all of the different places we can put the restrictive adverb only:

Only my brother lent me two books yesterday. (Nobody else would lend me anything.)

My only brother lent me two books yesterday. (I don’t have any other brothers.)

My brother only lent me two books yesterday. (He didn’t give them to me.)

My brother lent only me two books yesterday. (He doesn’t trust anybody else with his precious books.)

My brother lent me only two books yesterday. (He wouldn’t lend me any more.)

My brother lent me two books only yesterday. (I haven’t had time to read them yet.)

My brother lent me two books yesterday only. (And then he took them back.)

You can see from these examples that getting those adverbs in the right place is an important task. Getting a not or an only in the wrong place can lead to confusion or misunderstanding. We don’t want that.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Poetry Corner: Coolio

OK, so he isn’t exactly Victorian …

Tadpole has recently discovered the music of Weird Al Yankovic, who became famous in the 1980s for his parodies of popular songs, such as “Like a Surgeon,” a takeoff of Madonna’s “Like a Virgin,” and “Eat It,” which apes Michael Jackson’s “Beat it.” There’s currently a large collection of Weird Al on Tadpole’s iPod, and last night he played some of the more recent works, including “Amish Paradise,” which takes off from Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise.”

My curiosity piqued by the beat of the language and the haunting melody of the refrain, I decided to look up the original lyrics to find out what they had to say. I was impressed. Contrary to popular belief, not all rap or hip-hop music is obscene and socially valueless.

This particular piece doesn’t have any obscenities or profanities at all, and, while it does refer to violence, if you look at the context, the view toward violence is not the least bit positive.

So Coolio isn’t one of the Victorian poets upon whom I concentrate attention. But he does have a lot to say, in terms of serious social criticism. In this, he follows in the footsteps of William Blake, Robert Browning, Percy Shelley, and many others. Coolio’s poetry has an advantage over most of the Victorians – they wrote, mostly, from outside the experiences of poverty and injustice, while he writes from inside.

What Coolio does have is an intense sense of irony, even if he may not know the word. Yeah, the world he inhabits is a “paradise” – but yeah, really it’s not. Sure, he’s tough, but he also knows that the world of the streets is not the way to live. It’s just that there doesn’t seem to be much choice in the matter.

This is the world that many of my students come from. By attending community college, they’re doing what they can to escape from the “paradise” of drug dealing, turf war feuding, and keeping face against other gangs. For some of them, the transition is tough. But when they make it, the rewards are great. And Coolio very much recognizes that, while some of the blame can be placed on the mostly white, mostly highly educated Powers That Be, some of the blame also must apply to the lower-income people who are usually portrayed as innocent victims – “The ones we hurt are you and me.”

Often the question arises about a painting or a photograph or a piece of music or something else creative: “But is it Art?” The askers of such a question generally are looking at whether a particular work engages the emotions and enriches the spirit. Under that definition, I would definitely argue that Coolio’s work is art.

Gangsta’s Paradise
By Coolio, featuring L.V

As I walk through the valley of the shadow of death
I take a look at my life and realise there’s none left
’Cause I’ve been brassing and laughing so long that
Even my mamma thinks that my mind is gone
But I ain’t never crossed a man that didn’t deserve it
Me be treated like a punk, you know that’s unheard of
You better watch how you talking, and where you walking
Or you and your homies might be lined in chalk
I really hate to trip but I gotta lope
As they croak I see myself in the pistol smoke ... fool
I’m the kinda G that little homies want to be like
On my knees in the night, saying prayers in the street light

They been spending most their lives living in the gangsta’s paradise
They been spending most their lives living in the gangsta’s paradise
We keep spending most our lives living in the gangsta’s paradise
We keep spending most our lives living in the gangsta’s paradise

They got the situation, they got me facing
I can’t live a normal life, I was raised by the strip
So I gotta be down with the hood team
Too much television watching got me chasing dreams
I'm an educated fool with my knee on my mind
Got my 10 in my hand and a gleam in my eye
I’m a loped out gangsta set trippin’ banger
And my homies is down so gonna rouse my anger ... fool
Death ain’t nothing but a heart beat away
I’m living life do or die, what can I say
I’m 23 never will I live to see 24
The way things is going I don’t know

Tell me why are we so blind to see
That the ones we hurt are you and me

They been spending most their lives living in the gangsta’s paradise
They been spending most their lives living in the gangsta’s paradise
We keep spending most our lives living in the gangsta’s paradise
We keep spending most our lives living in the gangsta’s paradise

Power and the money, money and the power
Minute after minute, hour after hour
Everybody’s running, but half of them ain’t looking
What’s going on in the kitchen, but I don’t know what’s cooking
They say I’ve got to learn but nobody’s here to teach me
If they can’t understand it, how can they reach me
I guess they can’t
I guess they won’t
I guess they front
That’s why I know my life is out of luck ... fool

Tell me why are we so blind to see
That the ones we hurt are you and me
Tell me why are we so blind to see
That the ones we hurt are you and me ...

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Yes, your pet is a movie star

You just need to figure out which star

In our household, we live with two movie stars: Vivian Leigh and Jimmy Stewart.

Dulce is Vivian Leigh. She has that same graceful but forceful way of moving, and that same attitude of the universe being at her beck and call. She has the same vivid green eyes that bewitch. Whether she’s Blanche Dubois (“I have always depended upon the kindness of strangers”) or Scarlett O’Hara (“As God is my witness, I will never be hungry again!”), Dulce asserts herself. She was a stray, rescued by the local humane society before she landed in our household, and she still uses the survival strategies she learned when she was on her own.

Tres is Jimmy Stewart. He’s awkward, sometimes even clumsy. He’s naïve. But he’s good-hearted, honest, and thoroughly optimistic about life. Think The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance or Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. His specialty is empathy – he always senses what a family member is feeling and offers comfort.

So, all you pet owners out there, what movie star are you living with? Or if you don’t currently have a pet, did you have one in the past that was particularly memorable?

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Just a real quick weekend update

More driving, and hauling stuff around

This weekend we went to Five O’Clock Somewhere Friday night, and then Saturday morning there was a town hall meeting at Heron Lake, at which Pat, as commodore of the New Mexico Sailing Club, gave a 20-minute presentation. Following the meeting there was a dedication ceremony for a new section of hiking trail built by the Friends of Heron and El Vado State Parks.

Then we took Syzygy out of the water, de-rigged, and hauled her south to Albuquerque – eventually, we plan to keep the boat at Cochti Lake for the winter, but we still haven’t solidified plans yet.

Today (Sunday), we hauled Black Magic’s trailer south to Elephant Butte. We got there shortly after Zorro did, with Blondie and another athlete who will for the time being be known as “Polka-Dot,” since that’s what she was wearing – a bikini, that is, even if it wasn’t yellow. They took off sailing on Constellation, and Tadpole and I followed shortly thereafter, although under jib only since the console and the cable to which the mainsheet attaches are now no longer attached to the boat, while Pat brought the trailer around to a boat ramp that still has a mast crane – the (mis-) managers of the lake’s southernmost marina have persuaded the State Parks people to remove the crane at the boat ramp closest to where Black Magic lives.

While we were sailing – under near-perfect conditions, winds generally 10-12 knots and relatively steady for the desert, and nice sunshine, that left me wishing I could get the main up and really sail – we saw Zorro and crew as well as another club member on a J/22. Tadpole grabbed the camera to get a couple of shots of Blondie and Polka-Dot on the aft deck of Constellation.



We hauled out and de-rigged. One of the Etchells sailors from the Rio Grande Sailing Club has had experience getting major work done on his boat floor, and he knows a fiberglass guy in El Paso who can remount our center console much more solidly than it was mounted in the first place. We’re planning to get Black Magic down to El Paso as soon as possible to get the work done, so we can get back into the water quickly.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Pretty pictures from the weekend

Sorry I was late with these, but I hope you find the pictures worth the wait.

As we headed up into the mountains, the Brazos Cliffs (which have appeared as landmarks in previous pretty pictures) fell from view behind a ridge.

Here is a ridge that shows some of the red color of the oaks, which usually don't provide much color, but which did provide some this year.

When we got higher up into the mountains, we had some spectacular views, such as this one.

Near the summit of the pass, we got a more up-close view of the Brazos Cliffs.

Then we got around to the backside of the cliffs, where we got some spectacular views. The aspens in this area seem mostly to have escaped the caterpillar infestation that dulled a lot of the rest of the scenery.

There was snow on the ground at the higher elevations, and Pat made a couple of snowballs. If you look in the distance, just to the left of the lowest point of the V of land in the background, you can see a sliver of Heron Lake.

In spite of the caterpillar infestations, there were some good stands of aspen to take pictures of. The contrast of the brilliant golden leaves and the vivid blue sky is poorly represented here; to really appreciate the energy of the colors, you actually have to be here. Because of the altitude, there's less air between New Mexico and outer space, so the sky is a much deeper color than it is at sea level. You have to see it to believe it.

Another dramatic color effect is the contrast between the bright-gold aspen and the darker evergreens (mostly spruce and fir) among which the aspen grow.

This picture has a little bit of everything: golden aspen, red oak, dark evergreens, vividly blue sky, and some grass and wildflowers in the foreground.

Monday, October 02, 2006

We be road warriors

As long as we have obligations at two (or more) lakes, two large-ish boats to deal with, and a cat who needs medication, we’re probably going to keep racking up the miles

The original plan for the weekend was something like this: Friday afternoon, go up to Heron Lake, work on the MacGregor, Syzygy, and, weather permitting, sail some. Saturday, depending on whether storage is to be had for Syzygy at Cochiti Lake, either trailer her there or haul a Sunfish or two to Albuquerque. Sunday, go to Elephant Butte, with Sunfish if applicable, sail on Black Magic, find someplace to park Sunfish if needed.

But Friday the “Service Engine Soon” light came on in Babe, the truck, so Pat made an appointment with the dealer for service first thing Monday morning and we revised our weekend plans to accommodate El Caballero, the little car.

We did go north Friday afternoon, stopping first at Cochiti Lake, where several sailing club members were helping out with the West Mesa High School Navy JROTC and Los Alamos High School NJROTC, who are just beginning a sailing program with four Lasers, a J/24, and a Cal 20. It was a hot day with very little wind, and a couple of the kids on the Lasers were having loads of fun capsizing the boat on purpose just so they could get wet.

We then visited with a member of the NMSC who lives at Cochiti Lake and talked about the prospects of keeping Syzygy there. Cochiti Pueblo runs most things at the lake, and the pueblo does have a boat-storage lot, but even though there are a lot of empty spaces in the lot, the administrators told us that those spaces are paid for, so they aren’t really vacant. Cochiti used to have a marina, but the pueblo refused to maintain it in a safe condition, so the Army Corps of Engineers, who maintain the lake, condemned it and made the pueblo remove it.

We then looked into the idea of keeping the boat elsewhere in the town. At least originally, it seems to have been designed with sailors in mind – all utilities are underground, so there are no overhead lines. The entire town is potential mast-up storage. But the powers-that-be are much less friendly, and they frown even on their own residents having boats parked on their property, much less having outsiders’ boats around. Our friend at the lake is on friendly terms with the administrators, so he’ll talk to them about what might be do-able. But I’m not optimistic. As much as Cochiti seems to be the perfect place for Syzygy, I don’t think that’s going to happen.

So we proceeded north to Five O’Clock Somewhere. We got there too late to do anything with boats.

Saturday morning, we went to the marina, where we pumped a lot of rainwater out of Syzygy’s cockpit (we still need to work on unclogging the drain line). There was no wind, so we didn’t go sailing. Instead, we chose to take a scenic drive on the way back to Albuquerque: the fall colors were at their peak in northern New Mexico this weekend, and we were driving fuel-efficient El Caballero.

It was glorious. The aspen weren’t as bright as usual, since they had suffered from a caterpillar infestation this summer. But the Gambel oaks counteracted the aspen’s lack of gold with a brilliant vermillion red – a departure from the oaks’ usual dull orangey brown. In the river bottoms, the willows and cottonwoods also showed brilliant gold, although many of them seem to have suffered from the caterpillars as well. And even among the aspen, some stands were nearly bare while others were untouched, so we saw a whole lot of glorious color. In the meadows, green grass had mostly been replaced by gold, and we frequently saw cowboys rounding up the herds from the mountain pastures to take them to lower altitudes and warmer climates for the winter – normally, the cattle would already have been taken out, but this summer’s heavy rains meant the high-country grass was especially rich, so the ranchers kept the cattle on it as long as they could. We also saw elk gathering themselves in similar herds, but without human intervention, preparing also to move to lower pastures. And, oh, yes, even though it was still September, there was snow on the ground. Not a lot, and only in the shady spots, but it was there.

Yes, we got pictures, but I can’t find the camera. Stay tuned either here or at Desert Sea. If you think New Mexico is nothing but desert, this alpine scenery will educate you.

Sunday, we headed down to the Butte, where we met up with a new prospective crew member – in keeping with the recent trend of giving blog-nicknames based on where someone comes from, this one will be known as “Boston.” He has sailed extensively in Lasers, and he has also been on J/22s and J/24s. He has also been on an Etchells a couple of times, and so he knows at least a little bit about the boat. We also expected Zorro to show up, although we weren’t sure exactly when.

To start, the winds were very light. Boston was impressed with how the boat would actually move even when the winds were barely perceptible. I let Boston have the helm, and I liked what I saw – he did seem to have a touch, which is something I’m guessing he has from his Laser experience. When the wind came up from aft, we put up the spinnaker, and that worked well, although the wind got dicey enough that we did end up taking down the chute.

About that time, we saw Zorro had come out to play, so we went over to play with him. The wind also came up some, so we could actually do some meaningful tuning with him. We could run a parallel course and say, “He’s going faster than we are; what’s different between his trim and ours?”

Alas, that didn’t last as long as I would have wished. One of Black Magic’s shortcomings has been the flimsy structure of the floor and barney post, and Sunday afternoon, that structure disintegrated. We had to return to the marina, with Tadpole holding the mainsheet dinghy-style.

We did some basic assessment of the damage to the floor of Black Magic, and then Zorro wanted to get out sailing again on his boat. Boston had to get back home, but Pat, Tadpole, and I had a great late-afternoon sail with Zorro. Tadpole, in particular, earned points in Zorro’s book by being a super-efficient jib trimmer and always on the ball. Pat, um, still has some things to learn.

We put the boats away, and we headed home. On the way back to Albuquerque, we had an important stop – Socorro Springs – but not just because we like it. October 1 is our anniversary, and so the dinner we had there was celebrating 23 years of “for better or for worse.” And we’ve had a whole lot of “worse,” and we’re looking forward to more “better.”

Sunday, October 01, 2006

A new anti-littering law

Working to keep Albuquerque from going “up in smoke”

Recently, the Albuquerque City Council has passed an ordinance doubling the fine for littering when the littering involves “smoking tobacco products.” The ordinance was spearheaded by a councilor whose district includes a lot of open space that has been ignited by the butts tossed by careless motorists.

I approve of the ordinance. As someone who most often drives a small car, I have often been the victim of a driver of a jumbo SUV or pickup truck who doesn’t look below to see if anyone is there before flicking, tossing, or spitting. That tobacco juice does nasty things to a car’s finish!

El Caballero has a slight problem with the windshield-washer system. The washer-fluid nozzles are mounted on the wiper arms in order to spray fluid on the windshield as the wipers sweep across. Right after we got the car, we noticed that the left wiper nozzle was working as it was supposed to, but the right nozzle was mis-aimed, spraying fluid not on the windshield but instead in an arc to the right of the car, much like an oscillating lawn sprinkler. It probably would only take a couple of minutes with a screwdriver to fix, but I just never got around to doing it.

One summer day, I was stopped at a traffic light next to a super-sized pickup truck, and the driver tossed a butt out the window without looking (or maybe just not having respect for someone driving a dinky little car), and it came to rest on my left windshield wiper, the smoke from the butt tracing a graceful arc as it was sucked into the car’s air-conditioning system. Without thinking, I hit the windshield washer, so the washer fluid could extinguish the butt as the wiper flicked it aside.

Then I realized … the right-side wiper had just delivered a face-full of washer fluid to the driver of the truck through his open window.

For some reason, I still haven’t gotten around to getting that nozzle fixed.