Thursday, June 28, 2007

Boats and falling trees and thunderstorms, Oh My

VALOIS, New York, USA - The last few days have been filled with boating, getting my shoulders stretched by Amanda Smith-Socaris (the anonymous physical therapist from the last posting) and almost - note almost - becoming a victim of lightning in a wind storm that rocked the entire state.

But first, the good news.

The Admiral and I are the proud owners of a 20-foot FloteBote, which on Tuesday we used all up and down the lake, stopping at lots of docks, ending up at John & Ruth Bills' dock well after dark Tuesday to tie the barge, er, yacht up.

Lady Louise
Lady Louise at rest next to our dock

The boat was brought over from neighboring Keuka Lake on a trailer about 1 p.m. Tuesday and for the rest of the day we did a classic Seneca Lake tour with the Admiral and I, Ruth Bills, and Roger & Nancy Beardslee aboard. We would motor a few miles. Stop at a dock. Drink a beer. Use the restroom. And then repeat.

So I was pretty exhausted Wednesday morning, when I had to make it down the lake to see my physical therapist who is actually making some progress on my shoulder. I'm even trying to do all the exercises she has given me.

But the weather forecast Wednesday morning warned of afternoon thunderstorms, which on all these upstate New York Lakes have to be taken pretty seriously.

So after my stretching session, the Admiral, Ruth Bills, Ruth's dog Carbon and I motored the Lady Louise (that name is subject to change, by the way) up the lake past cousin Roger's house where we picked up some heavy pipes and a large maul to pound them into the lake bottom to make a secure mooring for the boat.

Had we started that project about two hours earlier, life would have been a lot less stressful and I might have a little more adrenalin today.

Storm tree
Tree on lakeside path, knocked down by 60 mph winds

We had barely arrived at our dock when the first peals of thunder rolled over the lake, not nearly as charming as when you read about them in some Washington Irving novel. It was too late to get serious about setting metal posts in the bottom of the lake - standing waist-deep in water, holding onto a metal pipe and swinging a lead sledge hammer is not recommended to do when lightning strikes are imminent. (Not to mention, they are not on my exercise list for physical therapy.)

But I was able to put in one post on short, thrown out the stern anchor and tie the boat six ways to Sunday against the dock, hoping that the storm would come from the southwest (as predicted), which would blow the boat away from the dock and away from any real danger.

And it did just that!

But only for the first 15 minutes of heavy rain, lightning and wind.

Suddenly, the rain let up, the wind clocked around and, as the French say, Voila! The strongest winds I have ever experienced on Seneca Lake came roaring out of the northwest, blowing out screen frames on our porch and dropping the big tree in the photo above.

And the Lady Louise?

Well, she survived with barely a scratch, though it was obvious that the boat did ride up on the dock a couple of times. But before the storm had completely abated, cousin Roger showed up with more lines and together (with the Admiral) we pounded in a proper set of pipes into the lake bottom to hold the ship.

It seems ironic that we have crossed many hundreds of miles of open ocean aboard Sabbatical, been in crashing storms and wild seas to nearly lost a boat to a thunderstorm on a lake.

Mother Nature has a great sense of humor.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

A new Isuzu , a boat in the works and what else?

VALOIS, New York, USA - The adventures of retirement continue to be, well, adventuresome.

Six hours before we left for New York, we closed the deal on the purchase of a 1997 Isuzu Trooper, a nicely kept 4-wheel drive vehicle which we hope will serve us well in Mexico for many years. It is a blue version of the wheels that both son Dustin and Dustin's amiga Cami drive. Ours was driven by a school teacher (I am NOT kidding) and would seem to be a great rig for 4-wheeling around our beach property and La Manzanilla, where fording a river is a common occurence.

The new Troopy in the the family
The latest Trooper to join the fleet of family vehicles.

Our original plan was to buy a 4-wheel drive unit here in New York and drive it to California. But after a little reflection on that plan - and the 15 mpg average that many 4-wheel drive vehicles get - we decided buying the California car made sense. Sort of. At least as much sense as ever buying a 15 mpg vehicle makes in a $3.50 per gallon world.

When we get back to Sacramento in late August (very late August, given that we don't start teaching until the day after Labor Day), we will sell our much-loved Prius, a car that not only gets 50 mpg, but has a carpool lane sticker that is transferable to the new owner. Selling the Prius should not be a problem.

But because we are sans 4-wheel drive car here, we had to put some energy into the Lake House Buick, a mid-1990s vehicle that was owned by the Admiral's late mother, Louise (a retired schoolteacher). This year the car started great, but the brake fluid poured out more quickly than a milkshake at a Dairy Queen, so the car was dispatched down to Watkins Glen to the shop from which it was purchased, where, I learned today, that it can be repaired - and with a new set of tires on the rear - for about $200.

Upstate New York comes as close to rivaling Mexico in its bargains as anyplace I know.

Buick in for repairs
Buick heads to the repair shop

The fun part of the day (not counting the weeding, scraping wallpaper or taking apart the dishwasher) was going to look for a lake boat so we can have some on-the-water transport this year. Last year we used the Bud Boat, but its engine gave it up in August - as in really gave it up - and we decided that rather than buy a new engine for it, we would start over.

We found a late 1970s Mark Twain (no kidding a boat named Mark Twain - Sam Clemens probably want to puke) that has a 40 hp Mercury on it. But the owner and broker want $2,50o dollars - a little steep, if my reading of Craig's List prices for local boats is accurate.

A few miles down the road, we found what we think could be our next Seneca Lake Boat - a 20-foot pontoon boat, complete with a 35 hp Mercury. These are the ultimate party boats, plus, with a enough horsepower, can actually get up on plane, Waterskiing is probably out of the question, but considering that tomorrow I have my first appointment with a new physical therapist to work on my shoulders, waterskiing should probably not be much of a consideration.

Boat possibility
One possibility. but a little small

The boat pictured above is actually only 14-feet long - really too small for any serious partying, er, I mean navigating. But the same broker shown here telling Admiral Fox about this unit is busy getting a 20-foot version ready for show. And we are ready to take a quick test spin when it is ready. If it works out, it might be in the water and ready for Dan and Lorraine Olsen's visit next week. I know Captain Dan will help me figure out the navigational possibilities for this, our latest of boats.

On our way home from looking at the pontoon boat, we spotted another small runabout - this one costing about $1,200 - with a nice-looking, late-model 50 hp Mercury outboard attached.

Perhaps we should buy both, and have a spare engine to swap back and forth.

Not the worst idea I have had today.

Monday, June 18, 2007

An ode to the late great Bear Lamont

CAMP CONNELL, Calif. USA - The bad news reached us in the airport on our way to Las Vegas, Philadelphia and Elmira - all stops on our way to Seneca Lake.

Bear Lamont, an ageless - though aging - Labrador had finally died.

Bear has been a fixture in our lives for years - as long as we have known Sanders and Pat Lamont. I first met Bear when I did a short housesitting stint seven years ago, and Bear was still frisky enough to bolt out the front door after squirrels.

When the Admiral and I moved in to take over more permanent housesitting duties a couple of years ago, we agreed to joint custody of Bear with Sanders and Pat and traded off watching the dog many times. Whether we watched Bear, or Bear watched us, was always up for debate.

Perhaps one of most fun times we had in recent years was putting up the Christmas lights on the Sacramento house - with Bear's help, of course.

R.I.P. Bear. Maybe now you will be able to catch those damned squirrels that eluded you for so long.

Bear Lamont
Bear ready to celebrate Christmas, two years ago

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Even the retirement parties can be a lot of fun

- Many retirement parties can be somber affairs, endless reviewing and rehashing of careers. Lots of, if I only had more time I could have...

In the case of my friend and CSU, Sacramento colleague, Bill Dorman, his grand soiree Saturday was a celebration of the next phase of his life after a 40-year teaching career.

If Bill's life was a movie, it would be called "A Teaching Life."

Bill at blackboard
Bill at the blackboard
teaching War, Peace
& the Mass Media

The sequel to "A Teaching Life" would likely be called "Bill & Pat's Excellent Adventures."

I was asked by Bill's wife Pat to do a bit of minor league emceeing of the event, lining up some speakers and trying to manage the order of speakers so that various people could have their say and yet keep it light enough that no one had to reach for the Kleenex.

That didn't work so well (there were a few tears), but all the speakers had good things - and many hysterical things - to say about this guy who has been a great friend and mentor to me during my 20 years at CSU, Sacramento. Bill's son Chris could fill in for Jon Stewart anytime - and maybe get higher ratings.

I introduced Bill in the fall semester when he gave the Livingston Lecture on the CSUS campus. Being chosen to give that talk is arguably the highest honor the university faculty can bestow on a colleague. I pulled out all the stops in that intro, managing to choke him up a little before he gave his speech.

Bill with former Pres
Bill with former CSUS President
Don Gerth and Bev Gerth

Admiral Fox worked the video camera to capture the speakers at Bill's retirement party and also got lots of B roll of the event and so the next Fox-Fitzgerald rockumentary will likely be based on Bill's retirement party.

No titles come to mind just yet, though I'll bet after I review the video many will come to mind.

Already, one is bubbling its way to the surface, something like "Walking Tall on Campus."


Thursday, June 14, 2007

Photo page updates available at

SACRAMENTO, Calif. USA - We are home safe in the USSA after more adventures in flying with U.S. Airways.

No whining about that here - I will post something about our trip and the &#$^$&$*&^(( people at U.S. Airways on Captain's Blog later today.

But in posting a number of photos from our trip - many of which may not make it to the actual blogs - I updated my links so that readers can view all the photos I put up on Flickr, not just those I blog about.

The link is listed to the left as Michael's photo page,
  • Photos
  • just above the Santana Real Estate link.

    More later, amigos

    Wednesday, June 06, 2007

    The frozen shoulder problem and computers

    PUERTO VALLARTA, Jalisco, Mexico - The frozen shoulders are not thawing as I had hoped - though retirement is less than a week old, so I shouldn't be too impatient. Stretching, saltwater therapy and tequila tranquilizers at sunset haven't really made a dent. Ditto for any drugs for relieving the pain.

    But even before I left Sacramento, I asked my amiga Marcia Carlson Hein in the UK about using voice recognition software to avoid all this keyboarding. I don't know for sure if the keyboard work is adding to the problem, but after a long session typing, the shoulders do kink up.

    I had a colleague at CSUS who offered me a copy of a program called Dragon Speaking Naturally, but it only works on PC-based machines, not Apples.

    Que lastima.

    Marcia - an Apple user - recommended looking at at new Apple product, IListen.

    Ilisten photo
    IListen software

    The biggest problem I see is training myself to dictate, rather than type.

    You have to say punctuation marks aloud,(comma) or else you would end up with a stream of consciousness piece, sort of Jack Kerouac in the computer age. (period)

    So it's one more thing to put on the list to do for when we make a cameo appearance back in Sacramento in about 10 days. (period)

    Monday, June 04, 2007

    Adding a blog, a retirement kind of thing

    LA MANZANILLA, Jalisco, Mexico - A few days ago, in a weak moment, I created another blog (one more not to keep up with, right?), this one aimed at retirement adventures. (Does that sound like an oxymoron?)

    If you are reading this, then you probably already have taken a peek at it: Captain's Blog.
  • Captain's Blog

  • I think the name struck me as much as anything, but now I'm sort of stuck with it for awhile.

    I will be posting on both this blog and Captain's Blog, just depending on, well, depending. And already I've crosslisted a few pieces.

    It was probaby reading that damn book about William Randolph Hearst! I'm trying to create blog empire, and, like Hearst, I'm short on resources.

    In any event, Captain's Blog will be updated this evening with tales of wildlife - and some not-so-wild-anymore life here in Tenacatita Bay.

    Lobster anyone?
    Lobster anyone?

    Sunday, June 03, 2007

    The 45 peso dinner - and why we love Mexico so much

    LA MANZANILLA, Jalisco, Mexico - The Admiral and I just returned from dinner at a streetside restaurant adjacent to la iglesia (the Catholic Church) at which we had dinner for the equivalent of about $4 U.S.

    Yup, $4 U.S.

    Last night, our dinner was about $4.50, but that's because we had four tacos, instead of three. Our drink order was the same - one Pacifico and an agua mineral.

    The restaurant is owned and run by a Mexican family, the members of which pitch in and cook and serve. The girls, in their late teens, aren't thrilled at being waitresses, but seem faintly amused at my attempts to flirt with them in Spanish. At least I hope what I hear them saying back and forth is amusement.

    There is no menu - you simply tell them what kind of taco or quesadilla or whatever - and they bring it. No wine served, but beer and soft drinks and the ever popular, agua mineral (carbonated water).

    There are plenty of upscale gringo restaurants in town, where the same meal would cost $20 U.S. or more for basically the same fare. Plus, you have to listen to loud gringos talk about how their real estate investments are going or how the Mexicans they hired aren't working fast enough on their new, gazillion-dollar homes.

    Que lastima.

    But most telling this evening was when a little boy (un niño) spilled a glass of Coca-Cola across the table. His father only glanced at him - no placating 'Oh, it's all right," and no quick angry disciplinary backhands. It was simple. He spilled the Coke, he cleaned it up, sort of. No big deal.

    Another day of retirement, another 45 pesos spent on food.

    Ah, Mexico... The adventure continues mañana.

    A visit to the future Casa Admiral at Tenacatita

    ENACATITA, Jalisco, Mexico
    - Three days into our stay in La Manzanilla, we decided it was time to take a Sunday drive out to our beach-front lot in Tenacatita, about 14 miles up the road and near the pueblo of El Rebalsito.

    It was the same 85 degrees with 85 percent humidity we've had since the evening we arrived, but the wind was blowing off the ocean a good 20+ knots so it wasn't too bad - particularly in the mighty Tsuru on the drive out with the airconditioner blasting at full force.

    Crashing surf
    Big surf, big waves

    The wind had whipped up the ocean big time, giving me some serious pause about whether or not I would ever be doing much swimming right in front of the new place. As a backup, while we surveyed the property again, we figured out just the right spot for a swimming pool in front of the house. The waves were hypnotic, though, and we sat for some time admiring their power as they carved channels all up and down the shore. The wind also covered us with salt spray and I notice my camera is making kind of a grinding noise when I turn any knobs.

    The most startling thing though was walking up and seeing the monstrous rock formation - right in front of where we will be building our house - covered with a few tons of bird crap. Yup, we looked out at a lovely whitecapped mountain that represents a whole season's worth of bird poop without any rain. As soon as the monsoons arrive, we're betting the guano gets washed off pretty quick.

    At least we hope so.

    Guano rock
    Mt. Guano Grande

    And the time is going slower now that we have retired, though how it got to be 4 p.m. already, I don't know. On my 'todo list' I still have: take a major nap, practice guitar, & go to saltwater therapy (swimming) all yet to complete.

    How will I ever get it done before it's time for dinner at 8 p.m. at the taqueria down the block?

    Sylvia practices the violin
    Sylvia fits her musical practicing in

    Saturday, June 02, 2007

    The first full day in downtown La Manzanilla

    LA MANZANILLA, Jalisco, Mexico - The first full day in La Manzanilla has been a blur, best remembered by some of the photos I took, wandering around these now-familar streets (and beaches) from our other visits since 1999.

    Shortly after tea this morning, we made our first foray downtown (ok, it has one main street) to una farmacia, where we picked up some sunscreen (left safely at home) and then hit my favorite tienda (Lidia's) for some vegetables to make some gazpacho soup, a good thing to have around when the temperature is 81 at 7 a.m. and the humidity hovering at 85 percent.

    But we did stop by to see one of the fixtures of downtown, the La Manzanilla version of Jamba Juice, which today was offering strawberry drinks, made with fresh strawberries blended right there.

    Jamba Juice, La Manzanilla style
    Jamba Juice outlet in La Manzanilla

    We have stopped there many times over the years, though never in June. Other visits it's been fresh oranges that made up most of what was in her drinks.

    With the temperature only getting hotter by each hour, we took to the beach, along with a lot of out-of-town folks who came in by bus. The ice cream vendor walking up and down the beach with his cart looked worn out by the end of the day.

    Ice cream on the beach
    What kind of ice cream do you want?

    Buried in sand
    Buried by his friends

    The water temperature - fueled no doubt by the hot days and almost-hot nights - is probably in the low 80s now, just perfect for swimming. We found out we missed an ocean phenomenon called the 'Red Tide' which refers to foul water that kills fish, not an invasion of pro-Castro forces making a beach assault. The Red Tide killed enough fish last week that the town had a big cleanup effort to haul off all the stinking fish carcasses. Otherwise, La Manzanilla would probably be empty today.

    But today - our third day of retirement - was definitely a swimming day, with more planned for the balance of the time we are here when our snorkel gear (forgotten at son Dustin's casa in Puerto Vallarta) arrives with friends Mario and Sharon.

    Entering the 80-degree water
    Tip-toe into the warm water

    Beach talk
    After the swim

    Friday, June 01, 2007

    Putting the brakes on borrowing the VW bug :-(

    A MANZANILLA, Jalisco, Mexico
    - The day began with what we can expect to be normal weather for the next two weeks - hot and muggy. But spirits were high early as we pondered our drive from Puerto Vallarta to La Manzanilla - almost exactly 212 kilometers from son Dustin's driveway to Casa Santana on the beach.

    But after checking out the VW bug, offered to us generously by Dustin's girlfriend Cami, we decided that we weren't sure that we wanted to make the trek in a car without air conditioning, and one that was missing its rear license plate. Mexican jails - where they sometimes take traffic offenders to wait to see the judge - are not air conditioned either. !Que lastima!

    So after considering how to get to La Manzanilla, we decided to rent a car from Gecko Car Rentals - a local outfit run by an ex-patriate Canadian who gives great deals, especially if you pay in cash. Don't ask him to take American Express if you expect to leave his business without getting a lecture on what thieves that company is run by.

    But as we pulled in front of Gecko - 10 miles from Puerto Vallarta where Cami keeps the car - there was a loud series of clunks and the brakes suddenly didn't seem, well, to be braking very well..

    Diagnosing the problem
    Diagnosing the problem

    The good news is we were able to get a good (and cheap!) car from Gecko. The bad news was I had to get the VW 10 miles back down the highway (and through city traffic) to the same brake and tire shop that last week put a new set of brakes on the hoover.

    It's a good thing I have suffered from chronic-brake-failure syndrome many times in my life, so driving with one hand on the emergency brake lever was nothing new. But with two almost frozen shoulders it made for some comic stops as I had to let go of the wheel to grab the brake lever with both hands to keep from careening into Admiral Fox, driving the rental car right in front of me.

    Shifting was fun, too.

    Reattaching the brake mechanism
    Reattaching the brake mechanism

    The problem, it turned out, was that the right front brake assembly had simply come unattached and was hanging mostly by a hydraulic line. The sound it made when I would hit a Mexican speed bump (called a Tope), mostly closely recalled a garbage disposal in a kitchen sink - running with a teaspoon inside.

    A few hours hours later - after lunch at an Outback Steak House (Quick quiz: how do you say kangaroo in Spanish?) and a trip to a grocery store for supplies - we were on our way in a mighty red Tsuru, a workhouse car here in Mexico favored by cab drivers.

    And yes, I tested the brakes quite thoroughly before we left.

    Might Tsuru
    The Mighty Red Tsuru

    On the ground in PV, with the Xango intact

    UERTO VALLARTA, Jalisco, Mexico
    - We landed without incident thanks in good part to the pilot (whose photo is published in yesterday's entry) and also the pilot sitting in the other cockpit seat - our friend Alan.

    Alan? Alan who?

    Well, Alan is captain of a 48-foot Maple Leaf sailboat called Love Song - a sistership to Sabbatical - who the Admiral and I have known since we first bought Sabbatical in 2000. We've followed his adventures around Mexico and when we walked into the cockpit yesterday to get a photo of our lovely British flier, there he was.

    Alan & Michael
    Alan and Michael in the cockpit after landing

    Alan and his wife Kathy (and now two children) live aboard Love Song in Marina Vallarta but are moving the ship to La Paz, where the cost of docking (and living) is considerably less expensive than downtown Puerto Vallarta. Alan's schedule with US Airways lets him live anywhere that US Airways flys. Almost as nice a job as being a college professor.

    Stepping off the plane in Puerto Vallarta was a little like stepping into a very steamy sauna - it was about 88 degrees with about 88 percent humidity. I've imbibed more water in the last 12 hours than I did in the previous week in Sacramento.

    Oh, and margaritas? Sure, some imbibing going on with those, too. When we went out for dinner last night with son Dustin, his girlfriend Cami, and our new, soon-to-be neighbors in Tenacatita, Mario and Sharon from Portland, there were margaritas served all around at a downtown PV restaurant called the Fajita Republic.

    Fajita Republic crowd
    The margarita crowd at the Fajita Republic

    And the Xango? Yes, it made it through the baggage handling unscathed. And equally miraculous is that all three checked suitcases made it through on our flight, only one sans the name tag we had put on in Sacramento. As we were leaving Phoenix, we stopped on the runway and I could see the baggage guys loading several suitcases into the hold right below our seats.

    Probably the two bottles of Xango - gifts for son Dustin - was among them.

    Today we are about to embark on a 130-mile drive in a vintage VW bug owned by Dustin's amiga Cami. It's been years since I drove a VW bug and just moving it into position to load the luggage proved interesting. (Quick quiz: How do you shift a VW bug into reverse?) The bug is missing its rear license plate - which almost guarantees I'll have some tales to tell about being stopped by the police on our way.

    More on how that adventure when we touch down in La Manzanilla.