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.

Friday, March 31, 2006

A Levitating Sailboat!

You just have to have the right magic.

On several other sailing blogs I frequent, there have been pictures of Moths and other sailboat-like vessels that come up out of the water on hydrofoils and fly through the air. This sign depicts a boat that does that without the thing sticking down into the water. You just need to sail on a run with your jib upside-down and summon up the right magic.

Meanwhile, in honor of the birthday of someone who couldn't be here at the lake tonight, I wore my Team Constellation shirt, and we shut the bar down. Happy birthday, Larry!

Thursday, March 30, 2006

At last, more pretty pictures

Here are more pictures to look at, taken this past weekend.

First, from the fourth race Saturday, Kachina dips her toerails in the water in stiff winds. We had Dan as coach, and Maureen and Vicky joined me as crew.

Sunday, Larry, Braxton, Marty, Gerald and I rigged Black Magic. We didn't get pictures, because Pat had the camera, and he didn't get there until later. So here's a picture of the boat, rigged, preparing to go into the water.

Here the boat is at the edge of the water, ready to launch.

Now the boat is in the water, floating free of the trailer.

Finally, I got the motor running and Marty and I headed off to Black Magic's temporary slip. We still need to figure out exactly where we're keeping her, but she is at least in the water, and Larry and Braxton have been working on getting her into sailable condition in time for the coming weekend.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Wizards of Winds and Waves, chapter 25

This concludes Part 1.

The overall structure of the Wizards is a three-part story. This is the final chapter of the first part. Right now, I have written about the first half of the second part, and a few chapters of the third part. Yes, things are sort of sappy right now. But there’s some good action coming up.

Wizards of Winds and Waves
Chapter 25

When I awoke, Pierre and I were wrapped around each other still, amid a tangle of damp sheets. But something was different. Then I realized I had some sort of double vision. As Pierre opened his eyes to look at me, I saw him, but I also saw me from outside myself. He shifted his arm, and I felt as if I were the one doing it. After a moment, I figured it out. Somehow, through our joining, our senses had overlapped. I was seeing, hearing, feeling not only my senses, but also Pierre’s. With a little effort, I could concentrate on one person or the other, almost like adjusting vision for near or far distances, making the other fade from mind and view.

“Pierre, are you …?”

“Seeing double? Yes.”

“Is this what joining does to wizards?”

“If it is, I never heard of it. I think our joining must have been something special, since joining is supposed to diminish powers, not augment them.”

“I wonder how far this power extends. Will we be able to touch each other even when we are far apart?” I shifted in the bed and became aware of the lingering burning in my groin.

Pierre winced. “Oh! I’m sorry I had to hurt you …”

“No, it’s all right. The pleasure was so great, even the pain was part of it.” My lower body started pleasantly pulsing with ecstasy at the mere memory.

“Ah.” He smiled and winked at me, and we settled back down into the sheets.

I had an itchy spot on my back, and Pierre reached an arm around me to scratch it. “Hmm,” I said, “there seem to be advantages to our new condition.” Then I realized that we were both very hungry – we had missed supper the night before, and I hadn’t even had much for lunch before that. “I’ll get up and get us some breakfast.” I slipped into the plush bathrobe that I found laid out on one of the armchairs – Pierre had really prepared well for my arrival – and went to the kitchen, where I whipped up a couple of omelets with cheese and mushrooms.

After breakfast, Pierre and I had a shower together, as we gradually got used to our new sense of each other while scrubbing and shampooing. We both ended up using Old Spice, and it seemed appropriate for us to match in yet another way.

We went down to the marina to go sailing together. Coming back to my own little boat was a welcome return to the past. “Wanna race?” I asked.

“Sure,” Pierre said, as he hoisted sail. “Down to the buoy by the bait barge and back!”

“You’re on.” We took off, much as we had that morning so long ago – was it really only three months? – tacking toward the mark, in close tandem. But before too long, we weren’t really racing any more. Instead, we were sailing in close parallel to each other, or turning our boats about each other, in sheer jubilation at the feeling of skimming over the water, part of the wind and the waves, and part of each other too.

When we returned to the marina, Runyon and Sylvia were waiting for us. “Wow,” Sylvia said. “Watching you two sail is like watching dancers dance – you are so graceful, and so coordinated with each other.”

“I brought something for you,” Runyon said, holding up a manila envelope. “It’s the title to your boat. I figured it would be a good joining gift for you.”

“Thank you, Runyon,” I said. “Thank you very much!”

“Well, it really has been your boat all along. This just makes it official.”

“Speaking of making things official,” Pierre said, “what about getting officially married, Sarah? Get the piece of paper so the state recognizes what we already did?”

“Works for me.”

Sylvia laughed. “I think that’s about the most ridiculously casual marriage proposal and acceptance I’ve ever heard!”

Pierre pulled a box out of his pocket. “Not so casual as all that,” he said. He opened the box to reveal a set of matching wedding rings and an engagement ring. “I had these custom made for the occasion.” He slipped the engagement ring onto my finger and handed the box containing the two wedding rings to Runyon. “I don’t suppose I need to tell you not to lose them.”

“Let’s have lunch at the tavern,” Runyon said. “We have some things to tell you.”

Once we were settled into the wizard cave at the back of the tavern, Runyon said, “There were some big disturbances in the aura last night, but this time I’m pretty sure it wasn’t the Others. It was powerful, though; we spent the night at the school, and it came through even there. Sylvia and I had a great night, but the staff of the school had to post sentries in the hallways to keep the boys from getting into the girls’ dorms and vice versa. Then this morning, we caught Edna coming out of Jackson’s apartment.”

“At least they didn’t have anything to lose, since they’re both widowed,” Sylvia said. “They’re planning a formal joining as soon as Edna graduates. And, oh, yes, at breakfast this morning, Betsy’s face was completely restored. She looks astonishingly like you, Sarah.”

“Anyhow,” Runyon continued, “you’re going to need to learn better control so you don’t disturb the aura so much. Sarah is very powerful, but she’s still a beginner, so you will need to help her to learn, Pierre. And you, yourself, as one of the most powerful wizards ever …”

“Wait a minute,” Pierre interrupted. “I’m not as powerful as you, or Sylvia, or any of the teachers at the school!”

“Check again,” Runyon said. “You gained power last night. So did Sarah.”

“That’s not all we gained,” I said. “We now each see, hear, and feel what the other does.”

“We still need to check on how far that extends,” Pierre said. “It may not work when we’re far apart.”

After lunch, Runyon and Sylvia took us to the courthouse, where we took care of paperwork and found the judge who was working marriages that day. The ceremony was routine, except that when we followed the judge’s directions, “You may kiss the bride,” all of the people in the room gave out a startled gasp.

“Control, honey, control,” Pierre whispered in my ear as we left the courtroom to seek out a travel agent to plan our honeymoon in Paris.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Murphy’s Law strikes

No, thank God, it didn’t strike the boat … AND I was prepared for it!

For the past few months, I have been cursing General Motors engineering every time I want to put something large into El Caballero’s trunk. Because I drive in places that are too rough for the wimpy compact spare tire, I got myself a full-service spare. The well under the trunk is large enough for a full-size spare, with one little overlooked detail. It’s large enough for the standard tire on the base model Cavalier, but not for the high-performance tires on the top-of-the-line Cavalier, which are one inch bigger. One measly inch! So that tire has been hogging valuable trunk space and preventing me from hauling around quite so much boat gear.

Anyhow … today started out dead calm, so I didn’t need to feel so bad about not being able to sail Black Magic yet. Instead, I had plans to meet Ben, a member of the sailing club who is also a State Parks boating safety officer who is certified to do HIN inspections for the Motor Vehicle Division, and later Larry was supposed to show up. Gerald and I went down to the boat, where we put up the boom and put a few other things together, and then we spent some time examining all of the gazillion lines, many of which Larry is still in the process of rigging. There are one heck of a lot of strings to pull on an Etchells.

Ben eventually arrived, and his first remark upon seeing Black Magic was, “Man, that’s one kick-ass boat!” I have noticed that particularly among men, that’s a typical first reaction – yesterday, the first word out of Clarence’s mouth was “Wicked!”. I wonder what having a boat like that does for the social life of single women … I’ll have to check with someone who might know about that.

Then Ben, Gerald, and I spent a good deal of time looking for the HIN. We looked in all of the usual places, but we couldn’t find it anywhere. According to Ben, all boats had to have HINs starting in 1972, and according to the California title, this boat was a ’73, so it should have had one. But the California title also didn’t have an HIN – it just had the Etchells hull number, 125, in that blank. So that’s what Ben eventually put down on the form to take to the MVD.

By this time, it was getting late, and Larry still hadn’t shown up, and I was going to have to head for Albuquerque soon in order to get to work on time. I also wanted to go to the MVD office in T or C rather than Albuquerque, since the Albuquerque offices tend to be rather bureaucratic, and I didn’t want any trouble over the missing HIN. So Gerald and I got into the car and headed into town. On our way in, I noticed that the left front tire was making a tapping noise as it rolled, and it was causing an unpleasant vibration in the steering. So I stopped the car to check the tire, but it seemed OK, slightly low on pressure but otherwise, it looked fine. I figured there was probably a rock stuck in the tread – I’d been doing a lot of driving on gravel.

We continued to the MVD office, where there was no line, so the woman at the counter was able to help us right away. She commented about the lack of an HIN, and I said, “It’s an old boat, doesn’t have one.”
“No engine number?” she asked.
“Doesn’t have one.”
“Doesn’t have one?”
“It’s a sailboat.”
“Oh, yes, I see. Sailboat.” She took the forms to the back for about thirty seconds, but apparently the manager gave approval, as she immediately started entering data in the computer to register the boat – with 125 in the space on the title for the hull number. Within minutes, we had a new title, registration card, registration sticker, and a cheerful “Happy sailing!” from the clerk.

I toyed with the idea of going back to the boat to put on the sticker and the new registration number – Pat had already gotten a set of stick-on numbers and letters so I could do that – but I realized we were really running short on time, so I headed out for the freeway northward. As we got up to freeway speed, I heard a loud clack from the left-front wheel well, and I said to Gerald, “Ah, good, it was just a rock stuck in the tread. It just had to get up to freeway speed to spin off.”

A few miles later, the tire went ka-whock ka-whock ka-whock, and I pulled over to the side of the road with a very flat tire. My guess is that it had a nail in it, and as long as the nail was there, the tire stayed reasonably inflated, but when we got onto the freeway, the nail went bye-bye, and the tire then had a substantial hole in it. Fortunately, we had that big, full-size spare. In 20 minutes, we had the tire changed – but those were 20 valuable minutes. Where’s a NASCAR pit crew when you need one?

Having a full-size spare was nice, although there was a slight problem: It was a wee bit out of balance. It wasn’t bad at low speeds, but at higher speeds, it did cause vibration in the front end of the car and in the steering. I had to keep the speed down around 70. Still, that’s way better than the compact spare, which has a maximum speed of 45.

We got home about 20 minutes later than I’d originally hoped when we left T or C. I had a lot of stuff I needed to do at work (At least I did have all the papers graded!). We made a fast turn-around, unloading the car quickly. Pat just happened to have perfect timing, so he showed up at home at the right moment for a quick hello-goodbye, and then I was off to the office.

I had a bunch of copying to do – alas, one of the copiers was misbehaving, so I had to wait for the other one to become available. I also had to make Reality Checks. Every so often during the term, I create a slip of paper for each student, about the size of a bank check, that sums up where that student is academically: scores for homework and attendance, essay or writing project grades, and some brief comments about what I recommend the student do (for example, “You’re doing well; keep up the good work,” “You’re falling behind in homework; you need to work a little harder,” or the one I really hate writing, “You may want to consider dropping the class and trying again another term when you have more time to meet course obligations.”). Since this is the last week that students can drop a class, this round of Reality Checks is especially important.

I got the Reality Checks done for my Tuesday-Thursday classes, but I still have to do them for the Wednesday class. Maybe I can do them on the laptop in the waiting room at Costco tomorrow while I get my left front tire repaired or replaced (it’s under a warranty that includes road hazards) and the spare balanced.

Monday at the lake

Spring Break doesn’t seem to mean anything here

This has been a good day. It had just about the right blend of relaxing quiet time, productive getting-work-done time, and fun-on-the-water time, with only a minimum of pursuit-of-undomesticated-waterfowl time.

We started with a great breakfast. Sue did scrambled eggs with interesting stuff mixed in, such as crabmeat she and Rich caught on their last sailing voyage in the Pacific Northwest. Margaret did potato chunks sautéed with onions, mushrooms, and green chile. That was a most satisfying meal.

For the morning, Rich took Margaret, Vicki, and Gerald out on Goat Rodeo, while Sue, who is a certified instructor, had paying customers – Art and Shari, who have had a boat and have been members of the club for a couple of years but who haven’t had any formal sailing training, and their teenage granddaughter Dana. Braxton and Larry were “planning” on coming back up from El Paso to work on Black Magic, and I still had a pile of papers to grade – if I didn’t get those papers graded, I would not be able to stay at the lake until tomorrow. So the plan was that I would grade papers until Larry and Braxton showed up.

After grading about half of the papers, I needed a break. So I left a note on the door for Larry and Braxton, and I went in search of the proper bureaucratic paperwork to get the boat registered. The boat needs to be registered with the state Motor Vehicle Department, and in order to be registered, the boat needs to have its Hull Identification Number inspected and certified by a person officially certified by the MVD. Usually, that’s an MVD staffer, but two of the Elephant Butte State Parks boating safety officers are also certified, and since the boat is in the water and not on a trailer, I can’t exactly take it to the MVD office. So I went to the Boating Safety Center to seek out the officers, but the office was empty, so I went to the Visitor Center to ask to get in touch with the officers. The girl there hadn’t the foggiest notion what I was talking about, and she absolutely insisted that I would have to take the boat to the MVD office to get it registered, and if it was in the water and I didn’t have a trailer, that wasn’t her problem. I told her Pat had been talking to people on the phone last week, and I gave her the names of the officers; she told me one of them was off today, and the other was out doing something – she didn’t know what – and he wasn’t available.

So I returned to the compound and resumed grading papers. Because I had locked the door before I went out on the paperwork excursion, I was out on the front porch. The wind was practically nonexistent, so I didn’t have to worry about papers blowing around. It was a wonderfully soothing atmosphere – the quail and the doves and the roadrunners and the sparrows and juncos were all making their own sweet sounds (no, the roadrunner doesn’t go “beep-beep”; it sounds like a cuckoo clock on Prozac – coo … coo …….. coo … coo).

Before too long, Rich arrived with Vicky, Margaret, and Gerald. Vicky and Margaret needed to get back to Albuquerque, and there was very close to no wind on the lake at all anyway. Vicky and Margaret headed home.

After lunch, we got a message from Larry that he and Braxton wouldn’t be coming up to the lake. So Sue went out with her paying clients, while Rich took me and Gerald along with Rich and Sue’s neighbors, Evelyn and Clarence, who have bought a J/24 but who really want help in learning how to sail it.

The afternoon started in very close to dead air. To start with, the winds were light. Then the winds went totally screwy – shifting like crazy, clocking around, totally driving a sailboat helmsperson batty. (Note to Litoralis: Often the wind at the masthead fly was opposite the wind on the surface of the lake. Also, I think I might know who was in that Olson 30.) But then – this seems to be a very consistent pattern at this lake – after about an hour of this screwy light nearly-non-existent stuff, the stiffer winds just slammed down onto the lake, like instantly, like BAM!

Almost instantly, we were at hull speed, and we were heeling. With Rich’s instruction, Gerald, Clarence and I were able to depower the main while still keeping the boat going. We charged ahead, and we made a mark rounding, setting the spinnaker on a bear-away set. It was probably the best spinnaker set I’ve ever had at the helm – Rich is a great coach, and Gerald is fantastic on foredeck. Clarence isn’t too bad either; he has a lot to learn, but he has promise, and he showed a lot of willingness to learn today.

Riding that spinnaker up the lake was exhilarating. Normally, when you’re flying a kite, the kite’s up in the air, and you’re on the ground, and you’re not moving. When you’re flying a spinnaker, you are moving, and the kite’s what’s pulling you. Clarence did a good job of flying that kite, even though the wind was shifting.

Before we got back to the marina, the winds stiffened even more. We dropped the chute. We had already adjusted the backstay, vang, and several other lines. For fun, or to add to our excitement, or possibly maybe to add to our education, Rich had me do an emergency crash 360-degree short stop, to simulate what I would do if a crew member went overboard. Ironically my hat – the Tilley that I don’t particularly like – did try to go overboard, but I snagged it and sat on it until Clarence had a free hand to toss it down into the cabin. (Since losing my lucky Aussie hat, I’m still looking for a hat with which I can have a meaningful relationship.)

When we got back to the marina, Clarence was pretty charged up. Evelyn had her game face on, but it looks to me like she’s not so sure about this whole sailing thing. She’s going to need a day or two on the water, probably without Clarence, with consistent moderate air and a patient instructor or companion. There are a whole lot of patient instructors around; the real challenge is that in New Mexico, especially in the spring, there really is no such thing as moderate air, let alone consistent moderate air.

Later on, we were all too tired to think about either cooking supper or going out for it; instead we had take-out pizza at Evelyn and Clarence’s place next door to the Strasia compound. Evelyn put Santana on the stereo, and we had a pleasant evening.

Tomorrow, I work on the boat paperwork, and then I have to return to work in Albuquerque. What a letdown.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

The boat is in the water

No sailing yet, but we’ve made progress

We had some good racing yesterday and today. Yesterday started out as a drifter, but by the end of the day the wind was pretty stiff. I was on Kachina with Vicky and Maureen, and with Dan as coach. Dan had us rotating positions on the boat, so that even if we had different positions on the eventual team, we could understand what all of the other positions needed. That meant I got all of the bruises: the foredeck bruises, the trimmer bruises, the middledeck bruises, and the helm bruises. Also, by the last race, I was totally thoroughly exhausted to the point that I couldn’t even climb to the upwind side of the boat when heeling.

Then we went to the restaurant at which the sailing club had planned the after-race dinner, at which we had made arrangements ahead of time so the management and staff would be prepared. They weren’t. Many members of the sailing club left after waiting an hour or more to be waited on; others, who had arrived earlier and had placed orders, gave up waiting for their food after two hours and left. We tried to stick it out, but the exhaustion of the day caught up to me and I got sick before the food arrived. Just as we were leaving, the food was ready; the restaurant gave it to us free, but I wasn’t able to eat. I had a miserable night, although in the small hours of the morning I woke up with enough appetite to have a couple of granola bars.

So this morning, we had a couple of races. The air was light, and we did get some good time in on the water.

After the races were over, Larry was afraid the wind would come up, so he wanted to get Black Magic rigged and into the water as soon as possible. So that’s what we did, although Pat was late arriving with the camera, so we didn’t get many pictures. The boat went smoothly into the water, and the new motor started like a dream, and now she’s in a slip alongside the other two Etchells on the lake. We do still have some things to work on, most crucial of which is the backstay, which is frayed and rusted and about to fail. We’ll need to get that taken care of before we can sail. However, we can get the parts shipped overnight, and Larry can get the work done in time for next weekend.

Oooh, the anticipation continues.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

A generally good day

A nice practice session, and Black Magic is about to go into the water.

This morning I did what counts as sleeping in at the compound – I got up at about 7:45. We had a leisurely breakfast, and then I got to work grading papers while waiting for others to arrive. I have considerably more than the usual number of papers to grade – five stacks – and if I don’t get them all graded, I won’t be able to stay down here at the Butte through Tuesday; I’ll have to get back to Albuquerque. This morning I was able to get about a third of the papers graded.

(An interesting side thought – when I’m grading, I often find myself using the same phrases repeatedly. I use a rubric rather than writing on the students’ papers, and I hold mini-conferences with students when returning papers. I could see using a computer to fill out the rubric, already having it programmed with some of the more common comments, such as “You make your main point very clear,” “Your introduction does a good job of engaging the reader,” “See if you can make connections between sentences to show how ideas connect and to help your essay flow more smoothly,” “Proofread carefully to be sure you have the right words and forms of words.” Yes, having the computer fill in the boilerplate is less personal, but I’m already using these and many other phrases repeatedly, so the computer saves me some writer’s cramp, and since I have the mini-conferences with students when I return their papers, there’s still the personal touch.)

Anyhow, back to the lake. … While we were waiting for people to arrive, we got news from El Paso that Larry and Braxton were on their way with Black Magic, so they would arrive this afternoon. When people did show up for the sailing training, we had enough people for two boats, so we launched Kachina, with Vicky and me as trainees with Barb and Ken as coaches (and with a motor Rich and Sue had for sale that might be good for Black Magic). Sue had some repairs to make to Goat Rodeo’s jib, and once those repairs were complete, Sue set sail with some of the other sailors.

On Kachina, Vicky and I trained on trim and helm, since those are the two positions that both of us are most interested in. Most of the time, I was helm and Vicky was trim, I we did swap some. The wind was variable in direction and in strength – from light to very light – but that meant we got some really good practice with seeking the puffs and helming in extremely squirrely conditions, not to mention keeping the spinnaker filled with air when there’s very little air to be had.

Toward the end of the afternoon, Larry and Braxton showed up on Larry’s boat, and I asked, “You brought my boat?” They said yes. We continued to sail for a while, but it was getting late, and Ken said he was getting tired, and I wanted to see my boat and the new bottom paint and all. So I started up the motor – sweet little thing, starts on the first pull if one performs the right ritual with the right incantations – and we headed for the marina. About a mile out, I looked up at the parking area above the marina. “Look, is that my boat?” I asked. Nobody else could see it.

When we got to the marina, Barb’s husband, Trent, was waiting for us. “What’s that black shark in the parking lot?” he asked. When I got up to the parking lot, there was Black Magic, just as shiny and sexy as ever. The new bottom paint is a reddish brown color for now, but it will age to a metallic dark gray in a short time. We’ll be launching sometime this weekend; I don’t know exactly when, but I’m hoping soon. The problem is that the races this weekend will be taking up a lot of time. I’m going to be competing, and Pat’s going to be committee boat, and Larry wants to run lots of races to make up for the previous race weekend being blown out.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Grammar Moment: Grammar and Spelling Checkers

Don’t trust the computer!

As an English teacher, I have been observing a new and alarming phenomenon: the student who believes that the computer’s grammar checker is infallible. This student spends vast amounts of time in the computer lab, painstakingly editing every essay until it no longer has any of those dreaded green or orange squiggly underlines, and then assumes the essay is perfect.

I have lost count of the number of times I have told my students that the grammar checker is WRONG at least half the time. The English language is the most complicated language on Earth, and that means that even the most sophisticated computer program can’t reliably analyze it and make a definitive determination of whether there is an error. The best the grammar checker can do is to determine where there might be an error. It is up to the writer to look at what the grammar checker has flagged and figure out whether, this time, the computer has made the correct call.

I have seen students, at the behest of the grammar checker, take a perfectly formed sentence and split it into two sentence fragments, or change a verb that agreed with its subject into one that didn’t, or make some totally bizarre change in the syntax of a sentence. If I had my way, I’d have the grammar checker disabled on the computers at the community college where I teach – and I’m not just talking about getting rid of the green squiggly underlines, which are easily turned off; I want it to be impossible for students to run a grammar check even by going through the appropriate menus.

I’m not the only person who is fed up with grammar checkers, and especially the one that comes with MS Word. Here is an article about another college instructor who has similar problems: A Word to the unwise -- program's grammar check isn't so smart This guy is very thoroughly fed up with the grammar checker, and I don’t blame him.

Related to the trust in the grammar checker is inordinate trust in the spelling checker. I and many other teachers have noticed a sharp decline in students’ ability to spell, and I strongly believe it is because students wrongly think they can rely on the computer’s spelling checker to fix everything. The computer has become a crutch, and it has prevented students from actually learning what they need to know about spelling.

The problem is that a spelling checker has a very limited ability. All that a spelling checker can do is to see whether a particular word is in that spelling checker’s dictionary. If the word is in the dictionary, that’s OK as far as the spelling checker is concerned. If the word isn’t in the dictionary, then the spelling checker will make a guess about what the writer really meant.

This leads to three different bad outcomes. If the word is in the dictionary but isn’t the right word (for example, there instead of their), the spelling checker will miss the mistake entirely. If the word is misspelled and the spelling checker makes a guess about what word was really meant, and the student blindly goes for the first choice, again, the wrong word gets used (for example, defiantly instead of definitely). If the word is not misspelled, but it’s not in the spelling checker’s dictionary, the student will change it into something that is in the dictionary – I had a student who changed the spelling of her own name to get rid of that orange underline. That, to me, is sacrilege – names and naming are sacred.

If I had my way, neither the grammar nor the spelling checker would be permitted at the community college level. Yes, these tools might have some value (although I’m not sure how much) among experienced writers who know they can trust themselves and their own judgment. But among inexperienced writers, who don’t trust themselves and their own judgment even when such judgment is sound, the computer tools are a disaster.

Oh, on a related note, you might observe that I have been making comments about spelling checkers, not spell checkers. In case you are interested in the difference, here’s some insight from a Pagan: The Difference Between a Spell Checker and a Spelling Checker

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Wizards of Winds and Waves, chapter 24

Some sappy stuff, and then some racy stuff

The tail-end of this chapter actually was fairly difficult to write (show, don’t tell), although Pat enjoyed the side effects. Unfortunately, said end of chapter also probably would violate somebody or other’s standard of decency, so I had to edit it here.

Wizards of Winds and Waves
Chapter 24

The next morning, Pierre and I went out with Runyon and Sylvia to gather materials for the joining spell. We went out to a nearby stream, where Sylvia helped me gather reeds from one bank, while Runyon helped Pierre gather them on the other bank. Then we went into the small ceremonial room, where they showed us how to weave the reeds into a small basket. “You must both be working at the same time,” Sylvia said, “weaving it together, as you will be weaving your lives together.”

“That’s a beautiful thought,” I said. “I could almost see doing this at a real, traditional wedding.”

“Actually, Runyon and I did have a traditional wedding, a big church affair with hundreds of guests. We just worked this into the ceremony. Almost none of the guests knew what it was really about, but they did comment on the poetry of it all.”

Pierre and I continued to weave together, working out a rhythm so that we were always working on opposite sides of the basket as it turned and turned between us, building up the sides. In the end, we had a small, very tightly woven basket with gently curving sides.

Sylvia took the basket and looked at it carefully. “I think this is one of the best-done baskets I’ve ever seen,” she said. “I’ll take this into the great hall, and we’ll begin the ceremony in an hour.”

Pierre went to the guest quarters to get dressed, while I went to the dorm room. Betsy brought sandwiches from the dining hall for lunch, but I was too keyed up to eat much. She also had my dress laid out for me – not a formal wedding gown, but a simple white dress with gently curving seams. While Pierre and I had been collecting reeds and weaving our basket, Betsy had been busy, too, gathering summer wildflowers. She had created garlands for my waist and hair, and she had assembled a small bouquet. Overall, the effect was perfect.

“Betsy, how beautiful you make me look!” I reached over to pat her cheek, forgetting for a moment about her scarred face. She jumped back, but I noticed a strange patch where I had touched. Could that spot be just a little less red and a little less rough? I summoned some controlled magic and reached out to her face again. “Here, let me see something,” I said.

Reluctantly, Betsy came forward. I stroked her cheek, and sure enough, the scar tissue faded. It didn’t go away completely, but it did become much less severe. I turned her to face the mirror over the vanity. “Look. You’ve helped me become beautiful, and now I can help you.”

“Oh, Sarah, it’s wonderful! But how did you do that? Since I’ve been here, I’ve seen so many wizards, and they said this kind of work was impossible. They could make a temporary cover-up spell, but the scars would always be there.”

“It’s a rearranging – just more complicated than I’ve done before. I just saw the cells and molecules, and I knew I could do it. Here, let me finish up, and then it will be time for the ceremony.”

Betsy and I entered the back of the great hall, joining Sylvia, to wait for our cue. It was in some ways like a traditional church wedding, but in other ways not. For example, Pierre was standing at the front of the hall with Runyon and Jackson, and I would be coming down the aisle to him, but there wouldn’t be music, and there wouldn’t be any religious readings. Instead, on the table at the front of the hall sat our little basket that we had woven that afternoon, and a basin of water, and two golden pitchers.

Jackson stepped forward. “Let the joining begin,” he said.

Sylvia led Betsy and me to the front of the hall, and Pierre and I stepped up to the table. “Here is the basket that you have both woven together,” Jackson said. “Here is water from the sea, a symbol of our wizardry of the winds and waves. Place the basket into the water, to let it soak up the essence of the sea.” Pierre and I did so, and the basket soaked up the water, the reeds swelling up to make the weaving watertight.

“Now, we will pour something of each of you into the basket. Pierre, for all you like diet soda, your essence is champagne, cheerful and bubbly and a little bit dry. Sarah, you have the essence of fine whiskey, smooth and very strong. Take your pitchers, and pour them into the basket.” We did so. “Now drink to your joining.” I took a sip, savoring the combination of the smoky whiskey, the intoxicating champagne bubbles, and the salty basket. Then Pierre, too, took a sip.

“Let it be known that from now on, Sarah and Pierre are joined. Share in their cup.” Jackson took the basket and passed it first to Betsy and Sylvia, then to Runyon, and then he drank from it himself. Finally, he handed the cup back to Pierre and me, for us to drain. After this, without waiting for a cue, Pierre seized me in his arms and initiated a fierce kiss. The guests cheered, and the ceremony was over.

Edna came to us as we left the hall. “My, that was beautiful,” she said, dabbing at the corner of her eye with a lavender handkerchief. “So meaningful, and you all looked so beautiful standing there. Betsy, what did you do to your face?”

“I was wondering that myself, when I saw the two of you come in,” Pierre said. “That’s not a cover-up spell; that’s healing.”

“I just had to do it,” I said.

“I wonder how many times in the rest of my life I’m going to hear that line,” Pierre said, laughing. “I’ve already heard it again and again.”

The crowd escorted us to the parking garage, where Pierre’s car sat ready for our getaway. After many hugs and farewells, we got into his little Mercedes convertible and took off, to return to Pierre’s condo.

The last time I had seen the place, it had been a mess. The bedroom window had been broken and rain streaming in, and all of the furnishings except the slave bed had been ruined. Now everything had been repaired or replaced, but there were some subtle differences – more bright colors in the fabrics, more cheerful paintings on the walls, even floral sheets on the bed.

Pierre saw the curious look on my face. “Edna didn’t have any place to live, so she came here until it was time to enroll in the school. She helped a bit with the decorating – don’t worry; she had the bed, and I slept out there on the sofa.”

“I know you wouldn’t dream of doing anything with any other woman,” I said. “At least, not any more.” I pulled him to me for another kiss. Soon, our arms were all over each other, and we were slowly removing each other’s clothes.

“It’s time, at last,” Pierre said as we moved over to the bed.

[The remainder of this chapter has been redacted in the interest of keeping this blog at a family-friendly level. If you wish to receive the chapter in its entirety, uncensored, give me your email address and proof of age.]

Monday, March 20, 2006

My Familiars

Meet the four-legged members of the family.

Since there are some newcomers to this blog, many of you may not have met the cats who permit my family to serve them. Allow me to introduce Dulce and Tres. Both were adopted from a shelter, so their exact ancestry is unknown, but some guesses can be made based on their unusual traits.

The dark tortoiseshell beauty with cream trim is Dulce. She’s a solid cat in the center of a cloud of very soft, non-matting, water-resistant fur, and nothing fazes her. She is strongly assertive in a sweet-voiced way, and she approaches problems with a Yankee can-do attitude. She’s the one who really runs this household.

The skinny white fellow with gold trim is Tres. He thinks he’s a cheetah; he likes to run. He also likes to swim, believe it or not. He is a major chatterbox with a huge vocabulary of meows, mews, squeaks, grunts, clicks, purrs, yowls, and R2-D2 noises. He’s very intuitive and seems to know what people are thinking, and he’s technology-oriented; he knows the keyboard shortcut to shut down a computer.

Sunday, March 19, 2006


Springtime in New Mexico – you never know what you’re going to get

Yesterday we had about eight people show up for the marina work party. We got the motor put onto the work barge and moved around a couple of old sections of dock. As we worked, the wind and clouds came up, so by the time I had to go to my board meeting, my hands were pretty well frozen.

After the board meeting, Pat, Gerald and I went in to Chama to have a late lunch/early dinner, put gas in the car, and get groceries. We had intermittent snow flurries, and when we got back to Five O’Clock Somewhere we watched a sailing video and then we put a fire in the fireplace and had a quiet evening. Pat had an interesting thought about working on sail trim – would it be possible to get a source of smoke, such as movies use for special effects, that could be placed on a small boat in front of a sailboat, so that the smoke would show the airflow over the sails?

This morning, we had a couple of inches of snow on the ground and sticking to the trees, quite lovely, although it had pretty much melted off in a couple of hours. But it has clouded up again, and it is again snowing steadily. Once Pat gets back from his meeting, we’ll be heading back to Albuquerque quickly so as not to get snowed in here – not that that would be so terrible, so long as we don’t run out of beer.

Meanwhile, reports from the other end of the state are that the Butte is getting high winds again, 30 mph and up, so we wouldn’t have been able to sail even if we’d been down there.

At least the preliminary predictions for next weekend look good, both for the weather and for one other important thing: Black Magic will probably be ready to take to the water. The following week is Spring Break for Gerald, so he and I will probably stay at the lake until Tuesday having fun on the new boat. Wednesday, he and Pat will be back up here for another work party on the marina with a diver.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Up North at last

It’s been a long, long time …

For the first time since early January, I have returned to Five O’Clock Somewhere. This is the first weekend in more than two months that I have not gone to Elephant Butte – even two weeks ago when I went to California to pick up Black Magic, that journey included stops at the Butte on the way there and back.

This weekend calls us north for several reasons. Saturday there is a meeting of the landowners’ association board, of which I am a member; Sunday is a meeting of the community center board, of which Pat is the vice president; and Saturday morning is a work party on the Heron Lake Marina, which is run by the New Mexico Sailing Club, of which Pat is the commodore.

Pat and Gerald have gotten up here once or twice while I was doing sailing practice down at the Butte, but I noticed they never did get around to taking down the Christmas tree. Maybe we should leave it up all year. That would save us having to find someplace to store the thing – a 9-foot tree takes up a lot of room. Besides, we already leave the Christmas lights on the front porch in Albuquerque all year long – the porch light is broken, and the Christmas lights make such a cheerful alternative. Interesting thought … people on random occasions, for no particular reason, leaving a gift under the tree for somebody, just because they felt like it.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

My new sailing hat?

Vanity, vanity ...

As many of the regulars here know, a hat is a vital piece of sailing gear. Partly, its purpose is to keep the sun from scorching one's face and causing melanoma. But any self-respecting sailor will also tell you that a hat is a vital expression of oneself.

I lost my lucky Aussie hat in the incident three weeks ago. I'll miss that hat. It had a wide brim that kept the sun off not only my face but also my ears and the back of my neck. It was subtantial in weight, and it also fit my head snugly, so I didn't even have to tether it to my head except in the heaviest winds. Vicky pointed out this past weekend that the hat was still my lucky hat even as I got clobbered by the boom -- it was the hat that went overboard; I didn't.

Well, now I think I may have found a suitable replacement for that hat. It has a nice, broad brim that extends even beyond where the Aussie hat did. It's especially appropriate for a magician's daughter, born on Halloween, who writes about wizards and has a boat named Black Magic. Take a look:
Now can I be sailing in style, or what?

Wizards of Winds and Waves, chapter 23

Education continues

Again, this chapter is a bit rushed. Ideally, the magic lessons would be shown rather than summarized. As it is, however, this chapter does hang a few metaphorical guns on the wall for future chapters, including some that haven’t been written yet.

Wizards of Winds and Waves
Chapter 23

The ceremony went smoothly, with no surprises. Edna became the oldest student at the school, and we went about our lessons with reasonable diligence. I found it easy to master new spells, and I was particularly good at managing weather conditions when we went out sailing and when Betsy and I were coaching the novice class. The school had reinforced its protections after the incident at the races, and my growing powers of repulsion added to the security. It was almost possible to forget the Others even existed.

My lessons continued. My skills were developing beyond Betsy’s, so she eventually returned to regular classes, while I continued to get private tutoring from the school’s best instructors in each field. Gradually, I was learning more and more powerful spells, ones that took increasing levels of skill and energy. One of the most dangerous types of spells was that of destruction – causing things to cease to exist. The energy expended in destruction increases according to the size and complexity of whatever is destroyed. I could, for instance, destroy a pencil and only feel a momentary tiredness. But the increase in energy consumption wasn’t directly proportional. Destroying a tree would take many thousands of times more energy than the pencil. And the destruction of some things, such as animal or human life, would take even more energy. Thus, if a wizard were to take a human life, it would take all of the wizard’s energy; in other words, it would kill him or her. So the only way, practically, for wizards to kill with magic, was to pool their strength – that way, the energy drain was divided among them. The night that the Others killed me, they had probably used many wizards working together. For a single wizard, killing someone would be suicide, and therefore to be considered only as a sacrifice to save someone else’s life – or lives.

Finally, there were the spells of creation. To create something is nearly impossible, and very few wizards in history had ever been able to do it. It also takes far more energy to create an object than to destroy it – anywhere from twice to ten times as much. The school didn’t even have an instructor who could create, so at that point I was learning on my own, with Jackson’s supervision. And, unlike other spells, creation couldn’t be accomplished by wizards pooling strength – assuming there even existed another living wizard on the planet who had the ability to create with whom I could collaborate. So there was a distinct limit on what a wizard could create. Certainly, if a wizard wanted to create life, it was easier to do it the conventional way – collaboration required, of course. My thoughts briefly flickered to Pierre, but then I quickly invoked a control on myself to keep those thoughts from becoming a security problem. I was far from perfect at control, but I was getting better at it.

After a few weeks of intensive lessons, Jackson informed me, “You have mastered all of the skills of the most powerful wizards, except for two. Those two spells are highly dangerous and could potentially destroy many people, and only a few of us are able to handle them. You’re one of those, and you must learn those two spells before you complete your training. But remember, these spells are for emergency use only.”

“I am learning control,” I said. “And believe me, I do know how dangerous magic can be. Remember, I’ve been killed once, nearly killed another time, and had my powers threatened by magical actions.”

“You have, and as you have learned, defending yourself isn’t enough. You’re going to have to defend other people as well, your loved ones, strangers, possibly even the whole world. None of the rest of us can do that, even pooling our powers and using those last two spells. You’re it.” With that, he turned and led me to the small ceremonial chamber, where he taught me X-X-Z-Y and Z-Z-Y-X, the spells that could save the world – or end it. One could defend against the most powerful spells by reflecting them back on the speller; the other could attack and overwhelm the strongest defenses.

“Isn’t that a paradox?” I asked. “It’s sort of like that question, if God is powerful enough to do anything, can He make a stone so heavy that He can’t lift it?”

“Yes, it’s the old irresistible force-meets-immovable object question. We really don’t know the answer, because nobody has ever had to use either of these two spells. We don’t even know the real cost. They could well take the life of the user. That is why we need to be extra careful in handling them.”

By the time I’d been at the school nearly three months, it was time to graduate; I’d mastered everything. Each month, the school had a graduation ceremony for those who had reached their top level, so different students had different lengths of time in training. Edna and Betsy were still working on skills, so they wouldn’t be graduating yet. Instead, I was to graduate along with some students who had been there for a year or more.

The group of graduates – there were only about a half dozen of us, since many of those who would have been graduating had been killed in the incident on the race course – gathered with Jackson in the small ceremonial chamber before the ceremony. “You are about to go out into the world,” he said. “You must now choose a mission. Your skills will not solidify, and they may even turn you to the Others, if you do not first choose to serve the world.” He handed each of us a bowl of water. “Look into the water. While you have been here, many things have been happening in the world, things that you have been unaware of. Learn about them, and about the activities of the Others.”

I looked into my bowl of water, and I began to see images in it: riots in the streets of unknown cities; great famines wiping out thousands of people not because of drought, but because of human greed and folly; terrorists being trained by hateful leaders to follow blindly and destroy just for the sake of destruction; cabals plotting in fashionable drawing-rooms to bring all of these events together, under the name of communism, but really only in the name of megalomania, a need to rule the world. That was when I heard myself saying, “I want to go to France, to turn the communists.” Around me, I heard the others murmuring similar commitments, to tasks in other parts of the world.

What had made me say that? I wondered. It was a compulsion that I didn’t understand, a force driving me. Why had I chosen to go to the central heart of the Others’ operations? And if I was heading off to France, where did Pierre fit into the scheme of things?

As we left the small chamber to go to the large ceremonial hall, Pierre and Betsy were waiting in the hallway. Pierre embraced me in a strong hug and kissed me fiercely, pressing his body as tightly to mine as he could; I returned the gesture. It had been a long time that we’d been apart, not even permitted to communicate with each other, and I could feel that tension in my lower parts that longed to get intimate.

We broke apart, gasping. “At last,” Pierre said. “Tonight, you graduate; tomorrow, we join. It has been one very long wait for me.”

“Me too.” I was wondering how to tell him about the mission I was supposed to go on.

“And then we go out to save the world,” he said. Noting my startled look, he added, “Remember, I came through this school, too. Whatever your mission is, I’m with you on it. I may not be as powerful as you, but I can help. And I’m not about to let you out of my sight for another minute.”

“Oh, Pierre!” We kissed again, harder.

“Well, better get in there,” he said. “We’re holding up the ceremony.”

The graduation ceremony went much like any ordinary graduation at any school, with speeches and presentations. There was a memorial to the students who had died in the racing incident, who otherwise would probably be graduating with us. Finally, it was time for each of the graduates to take the stage for final confirmation. Before each, the graduate faced the audience and announced his or her mission, and then Jackson draped an oddly-shaped object around the shoulders of each. I realized it was the ropes and sailcloth from the enrollment ceremony, but each glowing now with magic power, each in a different color. My turn came last; I went to the lectern and announced, “I’m going to France to turn the communists.” Then Jackson conferred the ropes and sailcloth; unlike the others, which glowed all different colors, mine glowed brilliant white.

After the ceremony, as I was leaving the ceremonial hall, Pierre rushed up to me, practically overwhelming me with a big hug and kiss. “Oh, Sarah, a honeymoon in Paris! What a great idea!”

“Yeah, even if it is something of a working vacation, we can probably work in some romance.” I winked at him.

Dinner that night was a celebration banquet in the dining hall. There was roast beef and turkey, and all manner of side dishes, including, to my surprise, macaroni and cheese again. “I’m glad I like this stuff,” Pierre quipped.

“You’d better – you may be seeing a lot of it in the future!” I laughed.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

The wind continues

Oh, was that a soap opera?

Yesterday ended up being way too windy to go sailing. Different people ended up doing different things. Gerald went with Rich to help Fred and Delia with work on their new boat. Pat and I stayed at the Strasia compound for a while, watching videos Larry had brought of various America’s Cup races, and when Larry announced that he was going to do some work on his boats, Pat went to Syzygy -to work on sanding and refinishing the tiller, while Vicky, Margaret, Kari and I went to the Charles to soak in one of the hot tubs on the roof.

We had a good soak, and a bunch of good laughs – Vicky has a treasure trove of jokes that she has used as a middle-school teacher, and we got a good dose of those. We talked about how coincidences seem to come together at the right time for all of us; we all have had a syzygy or two here and there. The other girls have also noticed Pat’s change in behavior; since I’ve started this Adams Cup thing, he’s become much more, um, amorous, lovey-dovey, something like that. I definitely wouldn’t call it possessive, since he let me take off last weekend on a road trip with the two sexiest guys in the sailing club. But Pat and I have had more action lately than when we were newlyweds. It’s been rubbing off, too – after our soaking session, Kari had us drop her off at her hotel so she could get in some “snuggle time” with Buzz before the sailing club dinner. Maybe it doesn’t work as a universal recommendation, but it seems to me that getting involved in a serious women’s sailing effort gets the guys to value us more.

When Margaret, Vicky, and I arrived back at the compound, we found that Larry had given up on boat maintenance and gone back to watching videos, and so had a whole lot of other people. Pat described his efforts sanding the tiller of Syzygy, and several people suggested that he could have saved himself some effort by standing out in the wind and holding the tiller up so the wind could sand it clean; Pat responded that that wouldn’t work because he couldn’t control the fineness of the grit – what the wind was picking up was way too coarse.

One disappointment this weekend is who’s missing – Braxton and Jo Ann. Brax is brilliant, but he’s also young, and he’s impatient, and he’s dealing with some major hassles with the business. Jo Ann is his anchor. She’s smart, and she’s not afraid to work hard, and she’s devoted to him. If I were Brax, I wouldn’t waste a minute; I’d haul Jo Ann down to the courthouse just as fast as I could. She’s way too valuable, both materially and emotionally, to risk losing. Braxton and Jo Ann were planning to be here this weekend, but they phoned Larry at the last minute to say they weren’t coming. I think the business troubles are really getting Braxton down.

Meanwhile, the weather here continues to be really rough. The wind didn’t let up overnight the way it usually does, and it’s unusually cold for this part of the world, this time of year – temperatures in the 40s, and wind chills near freezing. No sailing today. Ironically, the prediction for tomorrow is good for sailing – warmer, and with winds around 15 mph. Unfortunately, tomorrow is also Monday, which means nearly everybody has to work and can’t hang around the lake. Argh.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

A whole lotta wind

There is such thing as too much of it

I got down to the lake a little after noon yesterday, driving through gusty March winds that blew El Caballero all over the freeway on the way down. Margaret and Vicky were at the compound, along with Barb, who is helping with the coaching (she actually won the championship in 2001), and Barb’s husband, Trent.

The weather was windy, windier than three weeks ago when we had the “boom” incident, so windy that Rich couldn’t even do any work on boats – there was too much blowing sand. Barb led a discussion of the racing rules, starting with some of the basics, diverging now and then into discussions of tactics, and how they relate to some of the rules. All in all it was a well-spent afternoon.

Today is predicted to be as windy as yesterday, so it’s likely that today’s scheduled race will be postponed – tomorrow isn’t supposed to be quite so windy, especially early in the day, so there’s a chance of racing then. Even so, if the wind is stiff, probably the women’s teams will not go out on the J/24s, since we discovered three weeks ago that having boatloads of novices in heavy conditions isn’t exactly a good idea. If that happens, I’ll probably get onto one of the bigger boats as crew so as to get some time on the water.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Visitor 3K

We have a winner!

Five O'Clock Somewhere visitor number 3000 is ...


Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Poetry Corner: Rodgers and Hart

Is this song about me?

I heard this song a lot over the weekend, especially since Larry is a big fan of Frank Sinatra and the rest of the Rat Pack. Every time it came on, he would say something like, “That’s your theme song,” or, “This one’s about you.”

He may have a point. I don’t come late to the theater, I don’t bother with people I hate, I do like the wind in my hair, I’m definitely feeling broke at the moment (shelling out money to fix up a boat will do that), I don’t like dishing dirt with the girls, and I do find California cold and damp.

“Lady is a Tramp”

She gets too hungry, for dinner at eight
She loves the theater, but doesn’t come late
She’d never bother, with people she’d hate
That’s why the lady is a tramp

Doesn’t like crap games, with barons and earls
Won’t go to harlem, in ermine and pearls
Won’t dish the dirt, with the rest of those girls
That’s why the lady is a tramp

She loves the free, fresh wind in her hair
Life without care
She’s broke, but it’s o’k
She hates california, it’s cold and it’s damp
That’s why the lady is a tramp

Doesn’t like dice games, with sharpies and frauds
Won’t go to harlem, in lincolns or fords
Won’t dish the dirt, with the rest of those broads
That’s why the lady is a tramp

Wizards of Winds and Waves, chapter 22

More revelations

I got a bit rushed when I was writing this part of the book … The eventual plan is to have a lot more details about the magic lessons, and some more sailing and stuff, before I get to the bombshell.

Wizards of Winds and Waves
Chapter 22

After lunch, Betsy and I joined Jackson and a couple of the school’s senior instructors in one of the most tightly protected laboratory classrooms. “We should be well protected in here – and the school protected from you,” Jackson said. “You can’t even see my office from here.”

I checked this out, reaching out with my thoughts, and found that my vision ended at the walls of this classroom. “You’re right,” I said. “Even I can’t get through.”

“Meanwhile,” Jackson said, “allow me to introduce Ann, our best at illusion and telepathy, and Bill, who teaches attraction, repulsion, and rearranging.” Ann was a slender Oriental woman, unusually tall; Bill was a skinny older guy with wire-rim glasses and short hair, and he reminded me of an old-time accountant.

We spent all of that day, and the next few days, working on my skills. Betsy, too, was developing her talents. “This is much better for me than the regular class,” she said. “I always felt so unwelcome there – and I’m learning faster now, too.”

As the days went by, Ann taught about illusion and telepathy, building on what I had learned previously in Jackson’s office, while Bill taught the skills that involved moving things around. Attraction was the ability to draw things toward myself – whether inanimate objects, weather systems, animals, or people. Repulsion was the opposite, and covered the same areas, as well as magic. Much to Jackson’s satisfaction, I had already developed a strong ability to resist magic – not that anyone was all that surprised, since I had already fought off so many attacks of the Others. Rearranging was a complicated combination of attraction, repulsion, and a sort of directional control, useful for such things as precise control of weather systems, and I found that it took a lot of concentration. I also discovered that when I was rearranging complex systems, I had a sort of inner vision that acted as a zoom lens – for big things like weather systems, I could zoom out and take a wide view, and for smaller things, I could zoom in for a microscopic view. I could also see inside solid objects; I could imagine the automotive wizards of Michigan using that skill as a diagnostic tool.

About the third day of lessons, I noticed an interesting phenomenon. Time and time again, one of the instructors would call me “Betsy,” or Betsy “Sarah,” as if he or she was having trouble telling the two of us apart. I asked Ann about it one afternoon after class.

“That’s the odd thing,” she said. “With Betsy’s – uh – face, I shouldn’t have trouble distinguishing you. But even when I’m looking right at you two, sometimes you seem to be exactly alike.”

“I wonder if there’s more to it than just us two both being orphans alone in the world,” I said to Betsy as we left the classroom. “Could we be related to each other?”

“Well, your mother and my supposed mother did seem to be a lot alike, too. Maybe we just bear the scars the same way – the emotional scars, that is.”

The time came for the regular monthly enrollment ceremony, at which Edna and a couple of other recently discovered talents were to be enrolled. Runyon, Sylvia, and Pierre were coming, too, Runyon and Sylvia as Edna’s adoptive parents. Even sillier than Sylvia being Pierre’s mother, Runyon himself was at an age appropriate to be Edna’s son, but the ritual was necessary, Edna’s real parents having passed on decades ago. I was really looking forward to seeing Pierre, after so much time not only apart but out of communication. Betsy and I were in the library when Pierre arrived; she was sitting at the table where she had been when I first met her, with her back to the door, and I was among the shelves, searching for a particular book.

“Sarah!” Pierre said as he came in the door, hurrying to the table where Betsy sat, stopping, aghast, as she turned to face him. “My God, what happened to your face?”

I stepped out from between the shelves. “If you’re talking about my face, well, it’s just fine,” I said, going to him and planting a kiss on his cheek. “Pierre, meet my roommate, Betsy. Betsy, meet my fiancé, Pierre.”

“Oh, Sarah! When I saw that ruined … oh, sorry, Betsy.”

“Don’t be. I’m used to it.”

“Anyway, Sarah, that was such a shock! I thought about that big disturbance a couple of weeks ago, and I thought something must have happened to you.”

“Let me show you my room,” I said. “We can talk in there.”

“I’m coming, too,” Betsy said. “I’ve got a feeling there’s something important happening here.”

Once we were in the room, Pierre went to Betsy’s desk and picked up the model she was working on. “My boat!” Pierre said. “What a close resemblance!” He turned toward Betsy. “There’s magic here. Your work?”

“Yes. Actually, I thought this was Sarah’s boat. You say it’s yours, too?”

“Yes, it certainly is.”

“I’ve never had a boat work on more than one person before. You two really must be soul mates.”

“Joining with Sarah is something I have been destined to do. We belong together.”

“Pierre, remember us talking about our past right after Runyon appointed you my guardian angel?” I asked. “Remember how you commented about us two being broken souls with messed-up pasts? Betsy’s another one.”

“I’m guessing the face is part of that?”

I went on to describe how Betsy’s face had come to be disfigured, and what had happened at her enrollment ceremony. “Betsy, do you have a picture of yourself from before the, uh, burning?”

“Let me see.” She got up and went to a bookshelf, where she picked up a photo album. “I was about twelve at the time …” She flipped through the pages. “Here,” she said, holding the book out to me. “That’s when I went to the beach with a friend whose mom was trying to rescue me from mine. That’s me on the left.” She pointed to a photo of two girls sitting on a beach towel under a beach umbrella. The one on the left was eerily familiar, pixie-like, with arched eyebrows, high cheekbones, and a slender nose, albeit a bit disfigured with a black eye.

Pierre was trembling. “That’s … that’s … Do you remember if anyone ever called you ‘Eliza’?”

“No … but it is from the same name, isn’t it? Elizabeth.”

“We need to see Jackson,” Pierre said.

We found him in the large ceremonial hall, helping to set up for the upcoming enrollment ceremony. “We need to talk,” Pierre said. “It’s important.”

Jackson could see the urgency on Pierre’s face. “Let’s go to my office,” he said. Once in the office, he asked, “So what is this all about?”

“You know how I have been searching for my daughter,” Pierre said to Jackson. “Now I think I’ve found her – I think she’s Betsy. Is there any way to test for parentage, other than the ropes at the enrollment ceremony?”

“Yes, there is. Come with me.” He led us to the small ceremonial chamber. From a cabinet in the back, he brought out a bowl, larger than the one used in the surrogate confirmation rituals, and a block about the size of a small bar of soap, which he took to the table. “Everyone, come close,” he said, and we all clustered around the table. He put the block into the bowl and then used a large pitcher to pour water into the bowl. The block dissolved, and the water immediately started steaming, sending up many-colored plumes. Gradually, the plumes came together to form a glowing purple column of steam that then bent itself to circle tightly around Pierre and Betsy. “Yes,” Jackson whispered. “Pierre, Betsy is your daughter.”

“That day in Jackson’s office, when I set out to find Eliza,” I said, “I could tell she was alive but well shielded – she was in one of the highly protected laboratories! She’s been here all along!”

Pierre’s face lit up. “Sarah, you found Eliza for me.”

“No, really,” I said. “She found herself. Just like you and I found each other – it’s the natural action of the magic force.”

Pierre reached out toward me, and then stopped abruptly. “But look!” He pointed at Betsy and me. There, glowing around the two of us, was a pale pink wreath of steam, much paler and more tenuous than the purple one surrounding Pierre and Betsy, but there just the same. “What does that mean?”

“Sarah and Betsy are related, if distantly. Cousins, perhaps. Since the wreath is pink, probably on their mothers’ sides.”

“Dora’s family,” Pierre said. “She never did talk about it much. If she had cousins, I never knew about them.”

“This blows my mind,” Betsy said. “My roommate is also my cousin and my future stepmother? How often does that kind of weird stuff happen?”

“I will admit, it’s highly irregular,” Jackson said. “I’ve never heard of anything like it. But you’ve all three clearly been drawn together by the magic forces for a reason, and I know the Others’ power has been rising. Your combined forces may be what we need to counter that.” He paused a moment. “Meanwhile, I need to get back to the ceremonial preparations.”

“We’ll come with you,” Pierre said. “We need to tell Runyon and Sylvia.”

That mission accomplished, Pierre, Betsy, and I returned to the dorm room. We spent the time until the ceremony exchanging stories of our lives; Pierre and Betsy, in particular, had a lot of catching-up to do.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Pretty Pictures

At last, you can see pictures of what heretofore you have been able only to read about.

Here's Larry checking out the boat, admiring how the spinnaker sheet is stripped just like he's done on his boats.

Braxton examines the spinnaker pole. Notice how very shiny the boat is; it's even shinier in real life.

The mast is much newer than the rest of the boat; while the boat was built in 1973, the mast is a mid-1990s style.

The seller and the other guys who work at the boatyard remove the mast in preparation for taking the boat out of the water.

The boat is hoisted. We discovered all sorts of interesting things growing on the keel.

Here it is after being pressure-washed and put onto the trailer. Once Larry's done fairing and refinishing the bottom, the blue will be replaced with dark metallic gray -- very classy.

Black Magic arrives at Elephant Butte for a brief visit before heading to El Paso for refurbishing.

More on the weekend

OK, now that I’ve had some sleep, maybe I can make a more coherent account.

I woke up this morning to the rumbling of a diesel engine in my ears and Sinatra running through my head. As I rose to consciousness, I realized that the heat was on, and my brain, having been exposed to something like 32 hours of Powerstroke over about 72 hours, interpreted the hum of the furnace as truck engine. The Sinatra, however, was completely internal. Nothing I can do about that.

When I went to get dressed, I couldn’t find my toiletry bag. It’s probably in El Paso now, still in the truck. It looks like Larry and Braxton also forgot to drop off my sails at the Strasia compound – Larry had said he wanted to do so, since he doesn’t really have room to keep them while he works on my boat. He’s going to fair the bottom and sand it and put on a very slick Teflon-like layer. He’s also going to be working on the rigging, in particular getting the mast-moving system installed correctly. And there’s some hardware to replace, in particular the latch at the top of the mast that holds the mainsail up.

After breakfast (Rich knows the right way to do eggs over easy), I headed home to Albuquerque. Now I have that big stack of papers to grade that I took to California and back. But in the meantime, I want to finish telling of the weekend and get some pictures up, and there’s a Poetry Corner I want to do as well. Procrastinate? Who, me? Never!

Working backward in time … I actually did get in some sailing time yesterday with the women’s sailing team. Braxton, Larry, and I had arrived in T or C about 8 a.m., and while Braxton stayed at his place to rest, Larry wanted to get out to the lake. So we took my car. Nobody was at the Strasia compound yet, and there wasn’t any wind either, so we spent a couple of hours fiddling around with the boats. When people gathered at the compound, I went up there, and then Braxton and Jo Ann arrived with the truck and my boat so I could show it off to people. Meanwhile, we’re working on realigning the Adams Cup teams. It turns out that Jo Ann wanted to be tactician for Sue all along, but when Braxton bought her her own boat, she had felt obligated to be helm. Now she’s managed to get Braxton to see things her way, so she’ll now be practicing on Sue’s team on Kachina, while I’ll be taking the helm of Cranky Wench. We now have crews set up in a way that we hope will have people who can work together on each boat, although the official announcement is pending approval from some of the crew members who weren’t at the meeting.

We got out on Kachina for some practice. The winds were very light, but enough to make the boat go and to float a spinnaker. We had me on helm, Vicky on trim, Jo Ann at mid/tactics, Maureen on foredeck, and Sue as coach. Later, we rotated positions with the idea that everyone on the boat should learn at least a little about the other positions, in order to know how to help the others. I moved up to trim, Vicky to mid, Jo Ann to foredeck, and Maureen to helm. Larry on Constellation and Braxton with prospective new sailing club member Gregor on the boat currently known as Blondie came out to play, so we got in some work on maneuvering around other boats.

Maureen and Vicky had a long drive, so we had to get off the water just as the winds were getting really nice. Larry, Braxton, and Gregor stayed on the water until sunset, and the we all gathered at the Big Food Express, along with Fred and Delia, whose new boat Rich and Sue went out to San Diego to get over the weekend and Rich is helping them to set up. Rich and Sue’s boat-fetching trip apparently wasn’t as fun as mine; they’ve decided they don’t want to do that sort of thing again.

After dinner, Rich, Sue, and I returned to the compound, while everybody else went home; I’ll see my boat again in two weeks when Larry finishes working on it and he and Braxton bring it back to the lake for its first freshwater sail. It was a very short evening since we were all three exhausted.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Return to the lake

After some difficulty, Black Magic arrives at the Butte

Despite all efforts, I was unable to accomplish a successful Internet connection on the trip to Ventura. So now I’m back at the good old Big Food Express, posting the posts I hadn’t been able to post over the weekend.

Right now, the brain is fuzzy, so I hope you’ll forgive me if I seem a bit incoherent at times. After supervising the removal of the boat from the water to the trailer, and retrieving the truck from the repair shop, we got out of Ventura at about five o’clock, and then we spent the next two or three hours in stop-and-go LA traffic. We drove straight through.

It was a bit weird driving at night with a black boat. I drove across most of Arizona. The boat was nearly invisible; I could only tell it was there when it eclipsed the view of something else, or when lights reflected off that very shiny paint.

We switched from listening to Larry’s CDs to the XM radio. Larry found “Frank’s Place” on the menu, although he also did a lot of channel-surfing. Something Larry has been sharing on this trip is some of his tips for dealing with women. One hint he had was to get the girl singing along with the music. Sinatra is Larry’s favorite, but in one really weird moment, the Eagles’ “Desperado” was playing, and we were both singing together as we approached the suburbs of Phoenix.

Earlier in the evening, I had observed Larry in action. He noticed that the name tag of a counter person at a fast food restaurant. “Catrina with a C … Was it with a K and you changed it to a C after the hurricane?” The girl had a great response: “Actually, I’d be proud to have hurricane named after me.” Larry’s later comment to Braxton: “She’s scary, if she wants to have a hurricane named after her.”

I am reminded of a computer video game from the 1980s. It involved a fellow named Larry, cruising Las Vegas gambling and trying for success with women. I even asked whether Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards might be based on his life. Larry’s response: “It sounds like a good idea.”

During all of that driving, typically at least one of us was sleeping, and we had only one pillow, mine. Going back to song lyrics, I notice that one other who’s been dreaming on the pillow I’ve been dreaming on smokes Marlboro Lights.