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, July 30, 2007

Launching

The boat is in the water, it has been sailed, and we know what we need to fix


The first thing we did today was rig Black Magic to prepare to launch. The mast-raising pole at the Frisco marina is much better than the one that we used at Dillon last year, being constructed of the same materials as the city of Frisco uses for traffic-light support poles and struts, and with a horizontal boom sufficiently long that we could position the Etchells partners (the hole where the mast goes through the deck) directly below it. (We’ve been spoiled by the massive mast-raising poles in some of the New Mexico state parks, which were built by Dumbledore, a retired electrical lineman, using surplus materials donated by his former employer.)

While we were rigging the boat, we attracted a lot of attention; Black Magic always turns heads, especially in an area where there are people who are familiar with sailing and sailboats. One of the more interesting exchanges came when a somewhat older gentleman and a much older gentleman (I got the impression that they were father and son) were approaching the boat – from the bow, so they didn’t see the name on the transom. In a down-under accent, the much older gentleman said, “That looks like Black Magic!” It turns out that, many long years ago, he had sailed on a different Black Magic, one that won the One-Ton world championships for New Zealand. Unfortunately, at that moment, Pat and I were delicately working on lowering the mast onto its shoe atop the keel, so we couldn’t pursue a conversation. I hope those two are sticking around so they can watch the Dillon Open – the older guy was really touched that I had named my boat after a New Zealand winner.

By the time we were done putting the boat together, we were hungry and a bit headachy. We moved the boat away from the mast-raising pole and went to pick up lunch at a really good barbecue place that we had discovered in Frisco last year.

We launched the boat without too much difficulty. The ramp at Frisco is smoother than the one at Dillon, but not as steep, so the depth was borderline for our keel, but things mostly went smoothly.

I realized that I was getting a bit light-headed and not focusing well. It was probably the altitude – last year, before I came to Dillon, I had been living for three months at 7,000 feet altitude, so the 9,000-foot elevation of Dillon wasn’t much of a problem. This year, I hadn’t had that conditioning. But we did go out for a brief sail.

The winds were what one should expect at Dillon – seriously variable in both direction and speed. We didn’t stay out on the lake for all that long, as I was having altitude problems. But we did discover some things on the boat that we need to work on before the regatta weekend, such as a cam-cleat or two that we need to replace. And we need to work on shroud tensioning, since the wind changes at Dillon so frequently.

Fortunately, we’re going to go in to Denver Tuesday so Pat can talk with the Buccaneer people about the big Bucc regatta that we’re putting on at Heron over Labor Day Weekend. This means we can get to a major marine store to get parts, including possibly some paint to touch up some scratches and scrapes on the topsides – right now, Black Magic has an awesome silhouette, but up close, she’s not quite so pretty. We want to impress our competition in the regatta, especially our fellow Etchells Vegemite Sandwich.

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At Dillon

The weather is beautiful; wish you were here


This is going to be a very brief post, simply because it is late and I am tired.

Pat and I have arrived at our rental condo in Frisco, next to Dillon Reservoir, in preparation for the Dillon Open Regatta. The condo is fantastic. It’s also huge, and we were hoping to have crew who could share it with us – there’s so much space going to waste with just the two of us here. There are three levels, and the lower level is so big, we could put a whole family down there, with a two-person bedroom plus a rec room with a queen-sized hide-a-bed, plus a full bath and a really well-equipped laundry room. On the upper level, there’s our master suite with a deluxe bathroom, plus another bedroom and bathroom. In the middle, there’s a nice living room, dining room, and kitchen.

Tadpole will arrive later this week, but otherwise, all of this space is available. We might have some crew who could possibly be available, depending on circumstances, to occupy the space.
But if said crew doesn’t materialize, if you want to be crew on an Etchells at the Dillon open, and you can provide satisfactory character references, email your résumé.

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Thursday, July 26, 2007

How NOT to sell a car

There’s dumb, and then there’s REALLY dumb

In our search for a replacement for El Caballero, we’ve been looking at many sources of information – classified ads (both online and dead-tree), word-of-mouth, postings on bulletin boards, and more. We’ve been looking at the magazine-like publications featuring ads for cars, and we’ve seen some interesting examples of how NOT to photograph a car if you really want to sell it.

I was just looking at one such publication, which includes ads from dealers as well as from individual sellers. For the most part, the dealers’ ads have decent pictures – they wouldn’t qualify as fine art, but they generally give a good and positive image of the vehicle that’s for sale.

There was one private seller who surpassed the dealers’ photo quality. This pickup truck was photographed in a scenic location that coordinated with the truck’s paint job, but the background was kept enough in the background that the truck remained the main focus, and the truck was posed in such a way as to emphasize its macho grill guard and four-wheel-drive performance, without making it look brutal – there was a sort of golden color to the lighting that was just perfect.

On the other hand, far more private sellers seem totally clueless about producing a good photo. Sometimes it’s just a photo that’s really out of focus, or that was taken from an angle that emphasizes a dented fender. Sometimes it’s worse. One of the photos in this magazine showed the vehicle in question on the back of a flatbed wrecker. Another photo showed the car coated in primer, while the text below the photo proclaimed “New paint!” Why didn’t the seller wait until after the new paint was applied to take the picture that went into the ad?

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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Customer “service”?

How?


Tuesday afternoon, we were hit by a major thunderstorm, and a lightning bolt hit right in our back yard, knocking out power for nearly five hours.

The telephone line was still working, even if the electricity wasn’t, so when we got an incoming call, we had to answer it, rather than letting the answering machine screen the call the way we usually do. We’ve already put our number on all of the “do not call” lists that we possibly can, including the federal, state, and direct marketing association lists, but we still get calls from businesses for which the “do not call” lists don’t apply, such as companies that we already do business with, including the phone company.

So while the power was out, I got an automated call from our phone company: “This is about your telephone service. Please stay on hold until a representative becomes available.”

Yeah, right. Please commit an undefined duration of your valuable time to waiting until somebody has the time to give you a sales pitch for telephone services that you probably don’t want.

If I were to phone the company about a problem that I needed solved, yeah, I might be willing to wait until a customer-service person could help with the problem. But for me to wait on hold, on a telephone call that I didn’t initiate, until such time as a salesperson could come available to try to sell me on additional services that I don’t want? I don’t think so.

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Monday, July 23, 2007

What time is it?

Introducing the official flower of this blog

The hill above the Heron Lake marina is covered in these lovely yellow flowers.

They remain tightly shut during the hotter part of the day, opening up at about … well, you guess the time.

They’re named for their opening time, and because flowers don’t recognize Daylight Savings Time, they’re four o’clocks.

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Sunday, July 22, 2007

The “third” summer series regatta

Yeah, this one actually happened

The New Mexico Sailing Club is still trying hard to revive a racing schedule following a drought that closed the marina for two years and cancelled racing for three. Turnout, however, has been dismal. We had a few boats show up for the special-event long races; however, for the regular summer series regattas, each of the first two regattas had only one boat show up, and so each was cancelled.

Saturday was officially the third regatta in the series, but it was the first that actually happened, since three boats showed up – in the A fleet, Black Magic and the Santana 20 Cougar of the Lake; in the B fleet, the Catalina 27 Cheers. We didn’t have a volunteer to run a committee boat, so we couldn’t run standard Olympic circle courses starting and finishing in the middle of the lake, so we started the races the same way as the Fourth of July distance races – the start-finish line was from the southwest corner of A dock to a prominent rock on the opposite shore. The course was out the Narrows, around Mark 4 at the north of the Olympic circle, around Mark 8 at the south, back through the Narrows to the line.

Winds were for the most part light, but there were looming thunderstorms all around. I didn’t have any crew other than Pat, and I knew that if a squall came up we could be in very big trouble unless we had some additional crew to put on the rail to balance the boat while keeping the sails powered up enough to keep the boat going fast.

Serendipity struck. There was a couple with a Catalina 22 who wanted to get out, but they couldn’t get their motor started. We gave them an option: instead of sitting around the marina all afternoon cursing the motor, they could sail with us. We don’t worry about whether our motor will start, because we hardly ever even have it on the boat. I haven’t come up with good blog names for them yet, so I’ll call them D and J. D has been sailing for a gajillion years, although more cruising than racing. J has less experience sailing, but she has had experience watching sailing – she used to watch an Etchells fleet in Maine on a regular basis.

The first race was pretty miserable for Black Magic. The wind was very light, and it was switchy. As in the Fourth of July race, the wind switched every time we rounded a mark, so we were going upwind all of the time. Behind us, Cougar was going downwind most of the time and could keep a spinnaker flying. At the end of the race, the wind died, and while we did beat Cougar across the line, she beat us on corrected time.

The second race was a lot more fun. It started with light, shifty air. But shortly after we got out into the main body of the lake, the wind stiffened. Cougar is an excellent light-air boat, but when things get tougher, she has problems. There were thunderstorms all around, although none of them ever actually rained on the lake. However, those storms made for winds that were stiff, gusty, and directionally variable. Advantage: Black Magic. D had a couple of miscues on the jib sheets during a couple of the tacks, but those weren’t big problems. And having both D and J on the rail when the wind came up allowed Pat and me to keep the sails more fully powered – a couple of times, we pulled on more backstay or dropped the traveler, but mostly, we could keep that boat steady without depowering.

Then, after rounding the final mark, joy of joys, we were actually going downwind, so we could launch the spinnaker. We had some difficulty getting it up and going, because, as we were launching it, the wind shifted to the other side of the boat. Pat had to jibe the pole before we could get it to fill.

But once it did fill, we were on an awesome run. The wind took us to the Narrows and through the Narrows, and I’m told someone at the marina got some good photographs of Black Magic under spinnaker. The second race, we finished well ahead of Cougar, so even on corrected time, we were first.

At the end of the day, D and J told us that we had rescued their weekend. Instead of spending the day in frustration about their non-functioning motor, they had a fun afternoon sailing. J was especially impressed with the Etchells’ stability and handling, and she was interested when she heard about how Pat got me Black Magic as a Valentine’s gift. She and D both told us that if we ever want crew, they’re available. They had a blast, and they want to sail with us again.

Oh, and on the official scoring for this weekend’s regatta: In the first race, Cougar came in first and Black Magic came in second. But in the second race, Black Magic was first and Cougar was second. The first tie-breaker is comparing finishes going back in time, with the most recent more important. On that tie-breaker, Black Magic wins the regatta. But the folks on Cougar did a really good job.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Grammar Moment: Possessives and contractions

Stamp out apostrophe abuse

I have lately been encountering many instances of apostrophe abuse, in which apostrophes are omitted where they belong and/or placed where they don’t belong – including on the blog of one of my respected colleagues. So here I am presenting a simplified guide to apostrophes.

First, we must observe that the primary uses of apostrophes are in possessives and contractions. There are a few other more obscure times you might need an apostrophe, but for the most part, you do not use them in plural nouns or present-tense verbs. So the most important thing is to be able to identify possessives and contractions.

There are two basic steps to figuring out whether an apostrophe is needed – I’ll get to the details in a moment:

  1. Figure out whether you have a possessive. If it is a possessive and it is NOT a pronoun, use the rules for making possessives.
  2. If what you have is NOT a possessive OR it is a pronoun, test it to find out whether it’s a contraction.

The key to something being a possessive is that A belongs to B. That makes B the word that you need to make into a possessive. Look at B: if it ends in s, you just add the apostrophe, nothing else. If it does NOT end in s, you add apostrophe + s.

Say you have a restroom that belongs to women. You look at the word women, and you can see that it doesn’t end in s. That means you add ’s:

women’s restroom

Now, say you’re in a more upscale establishment, and the restroom belongs to ladies. Aha, ladies does end in s, so all you add is the apostrophe:

ladies’ restroom

You will notice that this rule doesn’t care whether the noun is plural or not – the only test is whether it ends in s. Now, some grammar books will have more complicated rules (more on that later), and they might make more complicated distinctions about when to use ’s versus when to use just the apostrophe. But they will NEVER allow you to stick an apostrophe between letters of the existing word, whether it’s a plural like ladies, or a person’s name, like Ms. Byrnes.

Besides possessives, the other primary use of apostrophes is in contractions. In a contraction, letters have been left out, and often multiple words have been run together. The apostrophe goes to show where letters have been left out.

The test for a contraction is simple: You try to spell the word(s) out, and if the sentence makes sense, you have a contraction, so you use an apostrophe. If the sentence doesn’t make sense, you don’t have a contraction, so you don’t use an apostrophe. Try this one:

The kitten chased its/it’s tail.

Try spelling the word out:

The kitten chased it is tail.

That doesn’t work, so you know you don’t have a contraction. That means you don’t have an apostrophe:

The kitten chased its tail.

Here’s another one:

Its/It’s never too late to adopt a kitten.

Test:

It is never too late to adopt a kitten.

Yes! You can spell this one out, so it’s a contraction:

It’s never too late to adopt a kitten.

Here’s one more to try:

Cats/Cat’s are mysterious creatures.

Test:

Cat is are mysterious creatures.

Doesn’t work. This isn’t a contraction.

Cats are mysterious creatures.

Now, back to what I mentioned earlier about different grammar books having different rules. I like to keep things simple, and so this is the set of rules I have my students use. If you’re taking a class that involves writing, it will be important, especially for possessives, to find out what rules your instructor uses. For a writing class, you will usually have an assigned grammar text; if you’re taking a history or sociology class, you might need to ask your instructor what rule book he or she uses. Then get that book.

If your instructor doesn’t use a grammar text because he or she already “knows” all the rules, you have a couple of choices for how to proceed:

If the instructor has a reasonable sense of humor, get a grammar text that you find easy to use and that works well with the way you write. Then if the instructor calls you on a grammar issue, show her the part of the book that supports the way you did it.

If the instructor doesn’t seem to have a sense of humor, take the comments that he wrote on your first couple of assignments and find a grammar book that generally agrees with those comments. Depending on the severity of the instructor’s lack of humor, you may then show him the book when he marks you for something, or you may just make a note in the margin of the book that Professor Gradgrind disagrees with this particular part, so you don’t make the same “mistake” again.

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Thursday, July 12, 2007

Auto woes continue

It never rains but it pours …

So the insurance company figured out how much El Caballero was worth (not much – it was an 11-year-old economy car well into its second 100,000 miles) before it got totaled, subtracted the deductible, and will be sending us a check for far less than will buy a replacement used car. We’ll have to wait until I’m bringing in paychecks in the fall (unless I find a summer job) to get another vehicle.

Meanwhile, hot weather is hard on cars. We had an appointment for the Babe at the Ford dealer Monday, but it was so busy that it was Tuesday before the mechanics could even get it plugged into the diagnostic computer, which indicated a vacuum leak somewhere in the fuel system. But a full diagnosis won’t be made until the drivetrain mechanic has a chance to look at it, which won’t be until Friday. We have no idea how long it will be before the actual repairs can be made.

In addition, the Miata is still waiting for new tires to come in at the tire shop, and now its “Service Engine” warning light has come on. Since the same dealership handles both Ford and Mazda, our original thought was that we could save hassle: When the Babe got fixed, we could drop off the Miata at the Mazda end of the lot and walk over to the Ford end to pick up the Babe. However, the Mazda shop is even more swamped than the Ford shop, so the soonest we could get an appointment for the Miata was in nearly two weeks. It will probably get the new tires before it gets the service. At least the service advisor at the Mazda shop said it is probably OK to drive the Miata in light-duty service so long as the light remains steadily on – if it starts blinking, we should park the car until our appointment.

So it looks like we’ll be renting a car again for this weekend. (The rental car agency with the best prices is not at the Ford dealership, but at the Chevy dealership a few blocks up the street.) We don’t have racing scheduled, but Heron Lake State Park is having its annual Osprey Fest, and the sailing club will have a booth there. We’ll be handing out brochures about the club’s activities, and since the area we’ve been assigned for our booth is next to a courtesy dock, we can have a couple of boats on display – maybe even let people have fun on a couple of the Sunfish.

Dulce, however, will not have the privilege of riding in the land yacht this weekend. We’ll be picking up Tadpole from Scout camp, which entails having dinner and attending the closing campfire, and it wouldn’t be practical to leave her in the car for several hours. She’ll just have to be home alone.

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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Yup, the cats really do rule

More evidence of their control

I’m sure Tillerman will see this as yet more evidence that cats are really in control of a whole lot of us gullible humans, and he’s probably right.

This link describes the latest twist in the saga of the cats at Ernest Hemingway’s estate on Key West. The house has been kept as a museum, and the descendants of Hemingway’s cats have been living in and around the house, just as they did when Papa lived there.

But the US Department of Agriculture argued that the cats had to be restrained in cages, as they were “performing” or “exhibition” animals. The museum management doesn’t see it that way – the cats just live there, nothing more.

Now the Key West city commission has enacted a resolution designating the cats as having “historic, social and tourism significance,” thus exempting them from the USDA regulations.

I’m sure cats everywhere are celebrating.

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Monday, July 09, 2007

The 4th of July Long Race and Dinghy Daze

A little bit of everything


Because of the drama of Tadpole’s automotive adventure, I never got around to telling about the new crew member we had on the boat two weeks ago. I’ll call him Rochester, not because he has any secrets in the attic, but because that’s where he’s from; he has had a whole lot of experience racing, especially on J/24s, in upstate New York. He has recently moved to New Mexico, and he was surprised to learn that there was sailing, and sail racing, in the desert and in the mountains.

Two weeks ago, the New Mexico Sailing Club’s second summer series regatta was supposed to happen. Except it wasn’t really the second regatta weekend, since the first regatta weekend hadn’t happened when Black Magic was the only boat that showed up to race. As it turns out, she was the only boat to turn out for the “second” regatta weekend as well, so that regatta didn’t happen either.

But we did go out sailing both Saturday and Sunday with Rochester. Conditions were very light Saturday and extremely light Sunday, but he was impressed with how the Etchells would move with only a tiny bit of air. Toward the end of the day Saturday, there was some more wind, and I let him take the helm to feel how the boat handled. He greatly enjoyed himself, and he eagerly volunteered to come on board as crew for us any time we want.

So this past Saturday was the 4th of July Long Race, and again we had Rochester on the boat. There were four boats participating: In the A fleet, we had Black Magic, the J/24 Hot Flash, and the Santana 20 Cougar of the Lake. In the B fleet was the Catalina 27 Cheers.

The race start/finish line was in the marina cove between the southwest corner of A dock and a prominent rock outcropping to the southwest of it. The course for the A fleet went up the Narrows (not shown on the map), passing to the right of the island in the middle of the lake that has a wind-warning beacon (which seems not to be working), around a white buoy near the westernmost boat ramp on the lake, around a green buoy near the dam, around the island once again, and back through the narrows to the line. For the B fleet, the course was out the Narrows, around the island and back.

Wind conditions to start with were “light and variable” – VERY variable. We would get a few minutes when it was very light, and then a few minutes when it was blowing nicely, and then we’d get a few minutes of dead calm. The direction of the wind was also variable; sometimes we’d get a lift that took us straight toward the next mark, and sometimes we’d get a header that put us way off. I was milking every lift for what it was worth, but the headers were tougher to deal with – I wouldn’t want to tack if the header was extremely temporary. For the most part, though, I think I did all right. A couple of the calls that I made on those headers really worked out well.

As we tacked out the Narrows, Cougar stuck with us, but Flash fell behind. Once we got out into the main body of the lake, we caught some good wind shifts at the same time as Cougar fell into a hole in the air. From that point on, it was Black Magic in the lead, with Cougar and Flash in a close duel some ways behind.

One of the side effects of the wind shifts was that for Black Magic, every leg of the race was upwind. We were close-hauled up the Narrows and to the island, and then the wind shifted so that we were on a beam reach to the white marker buoy. Next the wind shifted so that we were on a close reach to the green buoy. As we rounded that buoy, the wind shifted again, and we were close-hauled to the island. Meanwhile, the other boats were far enough behind that Flash had a really good spinnaker run from the white buoy to the green buoy, and while Cougar didn’t run a spinnaker, she made good time as well.

So we got to the island, tacked around the north side of it, and got ready to fall off and launch the spinnaker – finally, we thought, we would be able to get that chute up and take advantage of Black Magic’s blistering downwind speed.

No such luck. The wind died almost completely. Eventually we did get the chute up, but not for long – the wind shifted forward. We were on a close reach, and we ended up taking the spinnaker down. However, we saw that, once again, Flash was enjoying a great spinnaker run, behind us. The wind shifted aft again, and we once again tried to fly the chute, but again, the wind shifted forward and we had to douse. The next time the wind went aft, I decided we shouldn’t waste time trying to fly the chute – we were losing a lot of time and velocity in those hoists and takedowns. We just kept the jib going as well as we could. The crew was upset with that decision – they saw Flash catching up to us with the spinnaker flying. But we weren’t in the same wind that Flash was in, so there was no way we could get that chute to work for us.

Then a small thunderstorm moved in. It didn’t produce much rain, but it did produce lots of wind, including big gusts. Cougar got knocked flat, and Flash had control problems as well. Both of then ended up dropping their headsails. Meanwhile, on Black Magic, we kept our jib up and depowered the main, but with four people on the rail, we didn’t need to depower as much as we could have. Rochester was having the time of his life; he’d experienced the Etchells in light air the last time, and now he was getting to see how it would handle in rougher conditions.

Coming up the Narrows was a challenge, because the strangely twisting wind currents meant that there were little patches of air, all different, throughout. And to make matters more complicated, there were different winds at different levels, such that the wind indicator at the top of the mast would show one thing, the telltales on the shrouds would tell something different (sometimes the masthead, port and starboard and aft telltales would all differ), and what the crew felt would be completely at odds with all of the other indicators.

Still, we finished about 12 minutes ahead of Flash, and 14 ahead of Cougar. On corrected time, Black Magic was first, Cougar was second, and Flash was third. I was glad to see Cougar do well – she was a high-school graduation gift from Weatherman to his son, Robinson. Robinson’s going to be attending New Mexico State in the fall, and he’s invited Tadpole to be crew for him on Cougar.

Sunday was a little more light-hearted – we had “Dinghy Daze,” which we hope to build into an annual event. (BTW, the slogan on the flag above is "COMMITMENT TO EXCELLENCE") We had a sail division, open to Sunfish, Lasers, and any other small sailing vessel, and we had a paddle division for kayaks, canoes, rowboats, or whatever. We didn’t get a lot of participants (two in each division), but the folks who showed up had a lot of fun. As more people realize the club is still here and there is water in the lake, we hope to get more participation next year.

As we were putting sails away and otherwise preparing Black Magic to sit idle for a week, we found a strange hat on board – one that neither Pat nor Tadpole nor I recognized. We thought it was Rochester’s, but when we phoned him, he said it wasn’t his. As best as I can tell, it was blown from wherever it was (on some other boat or on someone’s head), and it landed in Black Magic. It’s a really nice hat, with a leather band and stuff like that. It has an advertising logo for a manufacturer of sailboat equipment. If you think this might be your hat, drop me a line to identify it.

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Friday, July 06, 2007

How to keep a cat happy

AND quiet in the car!

Dulce loves being at Five O’Clock Somewhere, and especially since Tres’ death, she does not like being home alone when the rest of the family goes away. For the past few years, the cats have traveled with us. For the past year and a half, that allowed us to give Tres his medicine and his special diet cat food; now it eases Dulce’s separation anxiety.

However, getting there is not half the fun for Dulce, or at least it usually hasn’t been. She has generally been very vocal about her displeasure, often meowing nonstop for the entire journey. Sometimes, she will be quieter – for example, when riding in El Caballero she would occasionally quiet down about a half-hour into the trip, and she was more likely to be quiet when Tadpole or I was driving than when Pat was.

We tried getting some tranquilizer pills from the vet. We discovered that Dulce is a “talkative drunk” – the pills just made her more loquacious and a little bit groggy.

Now we have discovered what she really wants: a land yacht.

With El Caballero deceased, and with a limited-service donut on the right-rear of the Miata (reminder to self: Find out whether Jerry has a name for the car) until the special-ordered performance tires come in at the tire shop, and the “Service Engine Soon” light lit on Babe’s dashboard (we have an appointment at the Ford dealer for Monday morning), we decided to rent a car for this weekend’s journey northward.

Because it was only $3 more than a small car, Pat chose to rent a full-size car, so we’d have a trunk roomy enough to put in a couple of spinnakers, and the rear seat would have room for Tadpole’s legs, which get longer seemingly by an inch a day.

We got a Buick LaCrosse land yacht. It is luxurious, with lots of padding and cushioning and sound-dampening stuff throughout the interior. It just plain glides over the road, even on rough surfaces such as the washboarded gravel road leading to Five O’Clock Somewhere. It has automatic everything, including automatic climate control that quickly brought the cabin to a comfortable temperature and kept it that way with a minimum of noise and fuss.

And most important, Dulce stopped meowing after only a few blocks and settled down to enjoy the journey.

She’s come a long way from the starving stray that was rescued from a blizzard in the East Mountains in the record-setting winter of 1996. Back then, she would eat any food that was placed in front of her, right away, for fear it might disappear or that there might not be any more food coming. Now, Her Majesty picks and chooses what she will or will not eat. Back then, she was skinny, and her fur was so thin that at her initial vet checkup, the veterinary assistant listed her breed as “domestic short hair”; I wrote in email to friends, “She won’t win any beauty contests.” Now, she has beautiful, thick, long fur, and the veterinary assistant comments, “I can tell she’s a spoiled indoor cat because of all of that fur growing between the paw pads.” Back then, she was content to snooze on any lap, chair, cushion, or any other spot that offered itself; now, she has her own special places, such as her cushions on the back of the sofa at Five O’Clock Somewhere (one used to belong to Tres).

And now, we know, she also has a taste for luxurious automobiles.

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Thursday, July 05, 2007

I-25 eats tires

Of course, that “little” road trip might have had something to do with it, too


As regular readers of this blog already know, Pat and I are taking care of a car for my brother Jerry, of Muddled Ramblings. We’re to keep the car sheltered from the elements in our garage, and to take it out “once every couple of weeks” to keep it from deteriorating.

Today, Pat and I planned to go to Elephant Butte to sail with Zorro, while Tadpole wanted to stay in Albuquerque and go to the big 4th of July fireworks extravaganza with some of his friends. Let’s see … two people, not three, going 150 miles to the lake, with no need to tow anything around: Take the truck that gets 15 MPG, or the car that gets 40? So we piled our sailing kit bags and a very small ice chest (the merely small one wouldn’t fit in the trunk) of beverages into the Miata and took off.

Then, around mile marker 178 (yes, that’s just four miles from Tadpole’s adventure last week), we heard a strange noise coming from the right rear wheel well. An inspection of the tire revealed that the tread was beginning to peel off – not that there was all that much tread on the tire anyway, since, before leaving the car with us, Jerry had taken it on an 18,751.8-mile road trip and then another mini-road-trip of more than 5,000 miles.

So we set about changing the tire, and then we discovered that while we had a spare tire and a jack and jack handle, and even the special key to turn the security lug nut, we didn’t have a lug wrench. We called AAA, and we were informed that a service driver should show up within an hour.

While we were waiting, we watched as thunderstorms began to move in from the north. At some point, also, a walking-stick insect somehow managed to get on the brim of Pat’s hat. This is a critter that looks so much like a part of the plant that it lives on, that predators can’t see it. We put it onto a nearby paloverde bush, and you can see that it is very difficult to see. In a normal year, it would be even harder to see; the paloverde is much greener than usual this year because of the higher-than-average rainfall.

Eventually, the service driver arrived, and we got the spare tire put on. Because this was a limited-service spare, we couldn’t go faster than 45 mph, so we decided to take the scenic road up through Belen and Los Lunas back to Albuquerque, rather than risk being rear-ended on the freeway by someone who might be poco borracho and not see the Miata in time to stop from running over us.

Because of the impending rain, which shortly became a reality, we didn’t have the top down, but it was still a pleasantly scenic journey, meandering through the bosque, the cool and shady cottonwood forest that runs along a river in a desert. Los Lunas had small-town-USA Independence Day festivities going, with carnival rides and music playing, and lots of people gathering to get a good look at the fireworks, which apparently were going to be set off at the county fairgrounds. I got the impression that there had probably been a parade earlier, and, of course, there were flags flying everywhere. The rain wasn’t dampening anybody’s spirits.

It looks likely that we’re going to be driving the Miata more often than “once every coupe of weeks,” since we no longer have El Caballero and we won’t have a replacement for it until after we get an insurance check. But perhaps a suitable rental fee for the Miata would be for us to buy Jerry a new set of tires. Yet to be seen is just how much those fancy high-performance tires actually cost. We’ll also be getting him a lug wrench – one of those nifty folding compact jobbies that won’t take up a lot of room in a trunk where space is at a premium.

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Monday, July 02, 2007

On the lighter side

A silly something about blogging

Over at Proper Course, Tillerman has posted a link to a quiz to determine How addicted to blogging are you? He was rather disappointed to discover that he was only 55% addicted.

80%How Addicted to Blogging Are You?

Mingle2 - Online Dating

I scored 80%, and I’m willing to bet that a couple of my regular readers would score even higher – they do things like going to Sicily and eating sea urchins, or attending a prestigious movie festival, and then writing gobs of stuff on their blogs.

So, readers, how do you score on the blogging addiction scale?

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Sunday, July 01, 2007

Made in China? Beware!

The label should really read, “DANGER!”

In the past, I have been mildly uncomfortable buying products that have been made in China. Mostly, that easy-to-live-with unease has been vaguely about people, including prison inmates (maybe who committed “crimes” of dissent), forced to work in degrading conditions to crank out consumer goods to satisfy greedy American consumers. Yeah, I probably should care more, but with the rest of life happening all around me, it’s hard to get concerned.

But lately, what’s happening in China has become far more important, because it’s been affecting things closer to home. This winter, when Tres died, I at first thought it was ironic that he had died just after we had bought a whole case of canned food and a big bag of dry food for him. We had just wasted a whole lot of money for a cat who up and died after eating only two cans and a little bit of the dry food. About a week later, the story surfaced about the contaminated cat food, and we thought maybe that might have been Tres’ downfall. Then the story developed that the tainted ingredient was wheat gluten from China. That was a relief; the hypo-allergenic food that Tres had been eating had no wheat gluten. We gave some of Tres’ food to Zorro to give to a couple of his cats that had sensitive digestion.

Then one of Zorro’s cats keeled over for no good reason. About the same time, we learned that it wasn’t just wheat gluten, but also Chinese rice protein was contaminated. The special diet cat food was full of rice protein.

Lately, the story has been about tires. I have always been picky about the tires that go on my family’s cars. About 8 years ago, we had an incident with Firestone tires on a Ford Explorer; since then, I have never allowed a Firestone or Bridgestone tire on any car I or anyone I love drives. If at all possible, I drive on Michelins, and nothing else.

Because we drive a lot of places where the little-bitty-donut limited-service spare tire just doesn’t work, we got a full-service spare tire for El Caballero. We thought we were going all the way – we didn’t get a tire that was designed just for being a spare tire; we got a steel-belted “S” speed rated highway radial. When Tadpole damaged the right-front tire, we had cash-flow problems, so we couldn’t replace the Michelin right away, but even if the spare tire was of lesser quality, we figured it would do until we could gather up the cash to get new tires (the whole car was due for new tires soon anyway).

BUT that spare tire was a cheapo, made in China. Yeah, the current recall is about light-truck tires, but I’m willing to bet that the same Chinese manufacturer made the same shortcuts in passenger-car tires as it made in light-truck tires. The tire that failed on El Caballero looks exactly like the photos of the truck tires that have failed – the tread looks like someone has taken a knife to it. The insurance company has taken a special interest in this tire, and it is making a special investigation.

Meanwhile, I am actively avoiding anything that bears the label “made in China.” If you want more reasons behind my decision, read this article. The tough part is also avoiding anything that has ingredients from China, such as pet foods. Maybe manufacturers could have a label, “nothing from China,” similar to what tuna producers now have to proclaim “dolphin-safe.” I certainly don’t want to risk the health of the one cat I have left.

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