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, June 30, 2006

Sir Francis the Whiner

Yeah, I know he’s a great guy, but …

Lately, I’ve been reading, or attempting to read, Sir Francis Chichester’s Gipsy Moth Circles the World. It’s been difficult. I’ve gotten maybe a quarter of the way through the book, and I find myself thoroughly fed up with his attitude. He seems to have very little to offer other than complaints about what’s not going well.

Yes, those complaints have some validity, such as his problems with the boat’s handling and extreme tippiness. In 1967, there weren’t such things as computer simulations that could test a boat design long before the boat ever got built, so it wasn’t until the boat’s hull actually went into the water that its serious stability problems could be observed. But still, boat designers should at least have had some idea of what made for stability. And it seems that some of those boat designers railroaded Sir Francis a bit – they pressured him into accepting design changes that probably weren’t a good idea.

Still, even if most of the problems were the boat designers’ fault, I find I’m getting really tired of Sir Francis’ complaints. And it’s not just about the boat designers, either. Apparently, when the boat was being loaded, somebody wasn’t careful about the crates of eggs. Most of them got cracked, and so Sir Francis had to throw most of them out. Yeah, that’s a major waste. But I guess what I’m getting most tired of is how Sir Francis tends to blame everybody else for the problems he’s having. Nothing is really his fault. Yeah, the eggs, probably somebody should have been more careful with the crates. But he’s also dealing with a leg that he injured before the voyage started but he didn’t go to a doctor about it. Well before the start of the journey, the leg was showing signs of a serious injury, but he ignored those. Now he’s complaining about problems with that leg. What hypocrisy.

I much prefer the narrative of Joshua Slocum. He was far less ego-driven, and he just plain did what needed to be done to get the job done. Yeah, he might have had physical limitations, but he barely mentioned them. He certainly never whined about anything. Anything that went wrong, it was his fault, not somebody else’s. His boat may have had its shortcomings, but he didn’t blame the boat’s shortcomings for anything. He just worked around the problems.

I was in elementary school when Sir Francis made his journey. I remember reading about it in the Weekly Reader that was handed out in my school classes. I also remember articles about some communities in Arizona banning mulberry trees, because they produced pollen that aggravated allergies that had led people to move to Arizona in the first place; futuristic ideas about cars that would sound a warning signal and flash a warning light if people didn’t have their seat belts fastened; and gypsy moths devastating forests in the Eastern U.S.

At the same time, television news showed a whole lot of coverage of the war in Vietnam. There were shots of soldiers shooting machine guns at unseen targets, and airplanes dropping bombs, and helicopters doing who-knows-what. The Weekly Reader wasn’t about to even mention that a war existed.

I don’t really want to minimize Sir Francis’ accomplishments, but all of the whining in his book really diminishes the admiration I had felt as a result of the Weekly Reader articles. I definitely prefer Slocum’s “It needed to get done, so I did it” attitude.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

It’s alive!

A cultural experience

I have typically kept a sourdough starter going here at Five O’Clock Somewhere. Up until this year, I’ve usually been able to get up here often enough to work the starter and keep it alive.

But this year, from January through May, I was seldom here, and so my sourdough died.

For those who aren’t familiar with the concept, sourdough starter is a culture of yeast, single-celled organisms that process starches and sugars. When they have oxygen, they create carbon dioxide bubbles that make bread rise. When they’re short on oxygen, they make alcohol as well as the foamy head for beer. With sourdough starter, one takes some of the yeast colony to leaven bread or other goods, such as pancakes, and then one replenishes the starter by adding water and flour (sometimes sugar, too) and then placing the starter in a warm place for a while to grow. In order to stay alive, the colony has to be activated every so often – it can be dormant a week or two in the refrigerator, but not longer.

So today I decided to start a new sourdough culture. The recipe I used specified a four-cup container, but I know that at high altitude, things often rise more, so I used a six-cup jar. I mixed together the yeast, water, flour, and sugar as specified, then covered the jar loosely with plastic wrap. For the next five days, as the yeast grows and develops its characteristic sour taste, I’m to keep it warm and stir it three times a day.

Two hours after the initial mixing, I returned to the kitchen and found that even the six-cup jar wasn’t big enough. There were at least eight cups of gooey starter bubbling out of the jar and over the counter – the whole thing bore a strong resemblance to Kilauea. I got out my largest glass mixing bowl (sourdough starter should be stored in glass or plastic, and stirred with wooden or plastic utensils, never metal) and scraped as much of the goop in as I could.

Even with the large bowl, in an hour the starter was threatening to overflow. I decided it was time for one of the thrice-daily stirrings, which released a lot of gas so the volume of the goop went down.

The next four and a half days may be interesting. I may find myself defending my kitchen, and maybe even the house itself, from being devoured by this monster I have created.

But in the end, I’ll have a whole lot of starter, so I can do sourdough bread, pancakes, pretzels, pizza crust, and my favorite, sourdough chocolate cupcakes.

Wizards of Winds and Waves, chapter 37

Some intrigue

OK, the action is beginning to heat up. What can our team do about the Others’ plans?

Wizards of Winds and Waves
Chapter 37

The next time we saw Peter was at a cocktail party similar to the one at which Pierre had met the members of the communist circle. He had quit shaving, so his face was covered in stubble, and his hair was unkempt. He was in conversation with André and Aldo and a couple of other young men with similar grooming habits that I vaguely remembered from the night Pierre went to the communist meeting. From a distance, it looked like Peter was getting involved with that crowd, a prospect I was sure Grace wouldn’t like. I wondered how I might try to warn him that this group wasn’t all it was supposed to be, and that he could well regret having taken up with them.

“I’ll take care of it,” Betsy said as she passed by me on her way to join that conversation. This could get interesting, I thought. Peter had apparently given up on getting Betsy to notice him, but now she was headed right for him. Betsy turned toward me and gave me a wink. Pierre and I couldn’t get close enough to the conversation to overhear, but we could watch Betsy in action from a distance. It was uncanny how she had changed from my painfully shy roommate into this poised, outgoing young woman. Partly, it must have had to do with having her face restored, and maybe partly, it was about discovering who her parents really were and thus who she really was. But partly, it was just her discovering her own strengths. I saw her face redden slightly as she glanced in my direction, and I realized I was probably embarrassing her; it was time to think of something else.

I turned to Pierre to ask if he could rub the back of my neck where it was beginning to ache a bit, but I didn’t need to ask; he came around behind me and began kneading just the right spot with just the right amount of pressure and, of course, that magic aura. I felt better almost immediately. “Ah, thanks,” I said. “I was beginning to get a headache.”

“I know,” Pierre said. “And I wouldn’t want that to happen; your headaches kill me.”

From a distance, we kept an eye on Betsy and Peter through whichever one of us was facing that direction. Betsy was clearly trying to get Peter apart from the group at least a little bit, since she couldn’t very well say much in front of them. Peter, meanwhile, wouldn’t budge; he seemed suspicious of her, somehow. If he had been spending time with that group, he might well have heard of Pierre’s visit to the salon, and, while he certainly wouldn’t know why, he would have been warned not to trust Pierre or anyone close to him. Betsy raised her hand, and at first I thought she was going to slap Peter, but then she reached over and caressed his face in a gesture I realized she had learned from me, one I used to show affection for Pierre in situations when decorum was called for. Peter reached up and removed Betsy’s hand from his face, briefly holding it in one hand while patting it with the other, and then he turned and left the room.

Betsy came over to join Pierre and me. “Well, he’s going to their salon,” she said. “I offered him, uh, alternate activities, but I couldn’t really say much with those other guys right there. However, he did invite me to join him at the salon. I told him I’d think about it.”

“That could be dangerous,” Pierre said. “Of the three of us, you’re the one who can’t communicate with anyone. If you got in trouble, you couldn’t send for help.”

“Wait,” I said. “Peter knows me and Betsy only slightly, and none of the other members of the group know either of us at all. I could go as Betsy.”

“It’s awfully dangerous,” Pierre said. “What if Stephane figures out you’re a wizard?”

“Betsy faces the same problem, but with more danger. You two will both be available to come to the rescue if need be, and you can even find someplace nearby so you can respond quickly.”

We returned to the flat, where Betsy and I traded clothes. Our hairstyles were already similar, so it only took a bit of a change for both of us. I traded one of my more worldly outfits for one of Betsy’s more innocent-looking ones, and she put on the makeup that M. Richard’s assistant had designed for me, while I put on that which had been designed for her. “This is uncanny,” Pierre said when we were done. “Even I’m having trouble telling which of you is which.”

I traveled to the salon by myself, and Pierre and Betsy went together to a bar around the corner from it. Fortunately, it was the sort of place that people in Pierre’s social circle would never stoop to visit, so there was little danger of recognition. Betsy knew no French, while Pierre’s friends knew that I knew it passably well, so if any of them were to strike up a conversation, they would see through the ruse immediately. Among strangers, however, they could simply be the loving American couple with the fluent French-speaking husband. And nobody would really question why they wanted to cozy up together in the shadiest corner.

The fluency issue would work in my favor, however. Since Betsy didn’t know French, Peter would have to translate for her/me, but since I did know French, I would know if Peter wasn’t telling the whole story.

I arrived at the salon at the same time as Peter. “Betsy!” he said. “I didn’t think you were coming!”

“I did say I’d think about it,” I said. I could see that Peter was still nervous about Betsy’s presence, and I wondered what I might do to put him at ease.

“I called him a wanna-be intellectual at the party,” Betsy said in Pierre’s ear. “Try apologizing for that.”

“Look, I’m sorry I called you a wanna-be intellectual,” I said. “I shouldn’t judge until I see what this whole thing is about.”

Peter relaxed. “Well, let’s go in, then.”

As I entered the flat, I could tell that it was nearly the same as when Pierre had been there before, although the stink didn’t seem so bad. I realized that, once again, that extra-large schnozz had been extra-sensitive. Betsy giggled in Pierre’s ear.

“What’s so funny?” Pierre asked.

“What Sarah thinks of your nose,” Betsy said, stroking it with her forefinger. “It’s one of your more endearing features.”

“Endearing, eh?” A waitress came by with fresh beer for Betsy and wine for Pierre, and she smiled and winked as she set the glasses down before retreating with a comment about leaving the two alone for a while. Pierre winked back.

The meeting went very much like the one Pierre had attended before, with mostly the same people, the same slogans, the same reminder that when the call to action came, the group would need to lead the masses, to bring organization that would be necessary to overthrow the existing system, corrupt as it was. I felt Stephane’s eyes on me most of the time and knew he was trying to size me up; occasionally he whispered something into the ear of the woman sitting next to him, who hadn’t been there at the meeting that Pierre had attended, but whose face remained in shadow so I couldn’t see it clearly. At first, I thought she might be one of the Others, but then I couldn’t detect any magic about her.

Peter continually provided English translations, and they seemed to be reasonably accurate, although occasionally Pierre would voice a clarification of meaning. One thing that was different this time, however, was that the plans were becoming more specific. The members of the group were assigned, in pairs, to specific neighborhoods, all lower class and mostly immigrant. Each pair was also given names and addresses of important people in the neighborhoods, who were either to be recruited to help organize, or if they wouldn’t cooperate, to be eliminated. From this point until the signal arrived, each pair was to work at making the assigned neighborhood as unhappy as possible. Any time anything bad happened, rumors were to be fueled that the establishment was behind it. And if there weren’t enough incidents, the members of the group were to create them. That way, when the signal did finally come, the masses would be ready to join in the overthrow of the oppressors. It was all rather frightening, and I wondered how widespread this operation would be when it finally came to pass.

“Peter told me at the party that what he was doing was big,” Betsy said. “He said it would change all of Europe. But he may have been exaggerating.”

I leaned over to whisper in Peter’s ear. “You said earlier that this thing would change all of Europe,” I said, tickling his earlobe with my lips. “Was that really true?” I reached an arm around his waist and hoped Pierre would understand that this was part of the act.

“I hope it is,” Peter whispered back. “I know for sure we have all of France. I don’t know about the rest.”

Stephane cleared his throat and glowered at us. “Peter, dites a ton amie que nous ne n’avons pas de temps pour les affaires de coeur. Apres, peut-etre, mais pas maintenant!”

“Sarah hopes you understand she’s just acting,” Betsy told Pierre.

Peter pried my arm off him. “This is an important action, not time for love,” he said.

“I can tell that,” Pierre told Betsy. “I know how she feels when she’s not acting.” He winked at her and gave her a kiss on the cheek; it was a good thing that fatherly affection was fairly easy to pass off as something else.

After the meeting broke up, Peter offered to walk me to the Metro station, and I couldn’t very well refuse, even if it was in the opposite direction from the bar where Pierre and Betsy were waiting. I figured they could meet me at the station, and I heard Betsy relay that communication to Pierre. Peter escorted me into the station, all the way to the turnstile, where he stood watching me until I was out of his sight. I waited until a train had rushed into the station and on out again, in case Peter was standing by until he was sure I was on my way, and then I waited for Pierre and Betsy. I watched through Pierre’s eyes as they left the bar and collided, almost head-on, with Stephane and the woman who had been with him at the meeting. I hadn’t recognized her, but both Pierre and Betsy clearly did.

“Mildred?” Pierre exclaimed, at exactly the same moment that Betsy exclaimed, “Mother?”

Mildred clearly recognized Pierre but not Betsy, with her restored face. I hoped Betsy would keep the advantage by keeping quiet. “Pierre, what are you doing here?”

“Yes,” Stephane said. “What are you doing here? Why did you take that lovely, stupid wife of yours to such a dive? Why so close to where your daughter was sneaking out to tonight?” Stephane grabbed Pierre’s arm and wrenched it around behind him, causing a painful cracking feeling in the shoulder joint. Betsy took off running toward the Metro station; Mildred tried to chase her down, but Betsy’s youth and athletic training were too much for the older woman’s stamina. She was soon out of sight.

Reeling from the pain Stephane was inflicting on Pierre, I staggered out of the Metro station, meeting Betsy at the entrance. I leaned against her as I caught my breath, until Stephane again yanked upward on Pierre’s arm, with more cracking sounds and feelings. Stars of pain were shooting through Pierre’s body now, and I was amazed that he hadn’t yet passed out from the agony, although I also realized that, as great a relief as passing out would be, Pierre couldn’t afford the luxury; as long as he remained conscious, I could keep track of him.

Stephane marched Pierre back to the building where the salon had taken place, with Mildred in the lead to alert Stephane to passers-by who needed to be avoided lest they realize something was wrong.

“Pierre wants me to tell you he loves you,” Betsy was saying, “although I’m sure he knows you already know that. He wants you to know that whatever happens …”

I snorted. “There will BE no ‘whatever happens,’” I said. “We’re going to rescue him. We just need to figure out how.”

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Ethnic diversity

It isn’t always what you think it is

Many years ago, when I was an undergraduate at the University of New Mexico, I was the news editor of the student newspaper, the Daily Lobo. One day, I got a letter to the editor accusing me of not having as much ethnic diversity on the staff as I ought. I responded: “I have three Navajos, two Apaches (one Mescalero, one Jicarilla), two Pueblos (one Laguna, one San Juan), a Hopi, a Kiowa, a Cherokee, and an Oneida. What do you mean, I don’t have enough diversity?”

For the record, in addition to all of those tribes, I had two Hispanics, one African-American, one Korean-American, one person of Irish descent, one Jew, and one generic American. The Oneida and the generic American, in addition, identified themselves as lesbians.

The writer of that letter, as far as I can tell, just looked at the bylines of the articles and then assumed that my news staff was “too white.” The basic accusation in the letter was that I had far too many white Anglo-Saxon protestant straight people on the staff, and therefore the reporting in the Daily Lobo was biased against minorities.

OK, you do the math. The person of Irish descent is Catholic. So how many white Anglo-Saxon protestant straight people did I have on my staff? And that’s too many?

Monday, June 26, 2006

Rainy Days and Mondays …

DON’T always get me down!

As I write this, it is pouring down rain here at Five O’Clock Somewhere. It’s been cloudy most of the day, and it rained a little bit, off and on, starting about noon. Then about half an hour ago, the clouds really let loose. Tres has been bothered by the weather, so he’s sticking very close; I think he thinks I have the power to switch off the rain if I chose (after all, I can switch lights on and off).

However, I wouldn’t switch off the rain even if I could – we really need the moisture. Fire danger here is extreme, because the plants around here are bone-dry. If we’re going to get lightning, we ought to get rain along with it.

Sure, I can’t go sailing in a thunderstorm. But even though it’s a rainy day AND also a Monday, it doesn’t get me down at all. Gee, I wonder if this weather has something to do with the fact that I put the Carpenters’ greatest hits tape on my shrouds as tell-tales.

Some great sailing and a Press Opportunity

It was a good weekend

The past few days, we have had late-afternoon attempts at thunderstorms; it looks like the weather may be beginning to start to try to get into the summer monsoon pattern. Friday evening, I met Pat and Tadpole at the marina, with the idea that we could go sailing, but a small thunderstorm was in the area, creating turbulent winds, so we just visited with people in the marina and set Black Magic up so we could go sailing Saturday.

Saturday, Pat ended up doing stuff around the cabin, in particular moving around some dirt, and also a few rocks, and we didn’t get to the marina until late afternoon. We had been in contact with a reporter from a Santa Fe newspaper (let’s call her Lois Lane), and we knew she and her preteen daughter (Cub) were planning on coming up to Heron to do a feature story on sailing and the lake in general; she had called to say her tent’s zipper had broken, and so we were going to set up our MacGregor, Syzygy, so they could camp on it.

When we got to the marina, Lois and Cub hadn’t arrived yet, so we decided to take Black Magic out for a late-afternoon sail. We started in extremely light air, but just as we were leaving the dock, the wind came up. It was stiff as we tacked against it up the Narrows, although not as stiff as the previous time. When we got out to the main body of the lake, the wind was probably about 10-15 knots, and the boat was flying. We sailed out around the island (the wind-warning beacon was flashing, but the wind itself didn’t feel too bad) and then back to the marina. As we were approaching the Narrows, the wind subsided, and when we were about two-thirds through the Narrows, the wind died completely. The sun had gone down, and I didn’t have my non-sun glasses on the boat, so we had to get back to the dock before it got dark; we found ourselves forced to stick the motor in the water and run it.

When we got back to the marina, we found Lois and Cub had arrived and had enjoyed socializing with the other sailors hanging about – the past commodore and her husband were serving as dockmasters (the club runs the marina and keeps fees down by not having a full-time professional dockmaster, but rather requires each slip-holder to spend half a week as dockmaster or pay someone else to do so) – and the past commodore had apparently told Lois of some adventures she and I had had together.

We helped Lois and Cub to get settled on Syzygy, and then we all hung out at the marina pavilion for a while. The Vice Commodore had brought a bottle of very excellent single-malt Scotch to share (there’s a reason his boat is named Highlander), which was an excellent end to a very good day.

Saturday night, Lois had told us that she and Cub like to sleep late, so Sunday morning Pat moved some rocks around and did some laundry, and we didn’t get to the marina until around noon. Lois and Cub had borrowed our and the Vice Commodore’s kayaks and gone out paddling. As they were returning from their paddling trip, we got Black Magic ready to sail. There were some thunderstorms approaching, but I figured we could get a brief sail in, even if it was just tacking up the Narrows and then coming right back again.

Lois was especially thrilled to be going out on the racing boat, and Cub was excited, too. Since some good breezes were brewing, we hitched the motor up out of the water, and we launched toward the Narrows. At first, the wind was really light and fluky, but then it came in stiffer, and both Lois and Cub enjoyed tacking – they very quickly got into the rhythm of ducking under the mast to get to the new uphill side of the boat. Lois took a lot of pictures, and Pat and I explained a lot of the basics of sailing, such as how sails are trimmed tight when sailing close to the wind, but looser when sailing off the wind. We also talked a little about some of the other strings on the boat, although we didn’t get into a whole lot of detail.

We did have one encounter with some boaters in a rented powerboat who were, perhaps, not familiar with the rules of the road – a sailboat under sail usually has the right of way over a powerboat. We came within a foot of colliding with the other boat, but we already needed to tack anyway, so we just did that. Lois says she got a really good shot of the panicked expressions on the faces of the powerboaters as our mighty black boat surged toward them and then suddenly turned away.

All the while that we were tacking out of the Narrows, Lois and Cub were just having a ball. Pat and Tadpole were working on sail trim so the boat would keep stability, although they didn’t need to do so much since Lois and Cub worked really well as rail meat to keep the boat steady. When we got out of the Narrows into the main body of the lake, we even got a chance to explain the concept of “rail meat” – that in a racing boat in higher winds, having crew members to sit on the uphill side of the boat helps to steady the boat so it can go faster without depowering the sails. That was certainly working for us – even though Lois is slender and Cub doesn’t amount to much at all, their extra weight did help to steady the boat and keep it going fast.

Unfortunately, the feeling wasn’t to last. Just after we got out into the main lake, the thunderstorms moved in, and we had lightning and seriously gusting winds. We headed back through the Narrows to the marina. It was beginning to rain as we got into the slip (under sail, of course – the motor is only for emergencies).

Afterward, as the rain fell, we sat in the marina pavilion, swapping stories about sailing, while Lois took notes and Cub helped Tadpole with some sail repairs. It will be interesting to see what eventually comes out in the newspaper. But I know for sure Lois and Cub really had a ball sailing on Black Magic, so I believe that part of their adventures will get a positive review. Both Lois and Cub have reported that they really, really, want to come sailing some more, and we’ve extended an invitation to them to come and participate in the club’s Fourth of July festivities.

After Lois and Cub left, we went and had lunch at the Stone House; on the way there, we looked at the lake from a couple of places on the southern shore. The wind had kicked up, to the point that there were not only whitecaps but also some serious waves. The lake really looked like the ocean. The people at the Stone House told us that the State Parks folks had issued a warning and requested that they call in all the rental boats. The wind continued to whip as we had our rather late lunch.

Apologies if this post is late. I’ve been trying to post it, but my ISP’s local dial-up number isn’t working. It’s an inconvenience that one deals with in exchange for the privilege of being where life doesn’t demand much of one. There was a power failure Saturday night, and I’m guessing somebody needs to reset something, and probably the somebody who is able to reset something is off for the weekend and will be back Monday.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Yeah, folks are tough in Jersey

Even the cats are tough

Here at Five O’Clock Somewhere, our cats are indoor-only. There are far too many critters out there who would consider Dulce and Tres a nice lunch (although Tres is more bones than anything else; at least he seems to be taking well to his new medicine). One category of critter we worry about is bears.

However, at least one cat in New Jersey isn’t the least bit worried about bears – he chases them up trees!

Here is the story, as reported in the Associated Press:

Jack the cat chases black bear up tree

WEST MILFORD, N.J. - A black bear picked the wrong yard for a jaunt, running into a territorial tabby who ran the furry beast up a tree — twice.

Jack, a 15-pound orange and white cat, keeps a close vigil on his property, often chasing small animals, but his owners and neighbors say his latest escapade was surprising.

"We used to joke, 'Jack's on duty,' never knowing he'd go after a bear," owner Donna Dickey told The Star-Ledger of Newark for Friday's editions.

Neighbor Suzanne Giovanetti first spotted Jack's accomplishment after her husband saw a bear climb a tree on the edge of their northern New Jersey property on Sunday. Giovanetti thought Jack was simply looking up at the bear, but soon realized the much larger animal was afraid of the hissing cat.

After about 15 minutes, the bear descended and tried to run away, but Jack chased it up another tree.

Dickey, who feared for her cat, then called Jack home and the bear scurried back to the woods.

"He doesn't want anybody in his yard," Dickey said.

Bear sightings are not unusual in West Milford, which experts consider one of the state's most bear-populated areas.

To go to the article itself, and to see pictures, including a slideshow, click here:

Yeah, I’ve always known our Jersey friend Tillerman is a tough guy – he sails a Laser in conditions that make many keelboat skippers quail. You don’t want to tangle with him, and you don’t want to tangle with any Jersey kitties who might cross your path. That sweet-looking tabby just might be gunning for bear.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Grammar Moment: “Ladies”

Sometimes euphemisms are exactly the wrong thing to use

OK, so this is really only a little, tiny pet peeve of mine. It has to do with how the news media and others report on women’s sports. Time after time, some benighted correspondent will refer to the athletes as “ladies” – for example, calling the University of New Mexico women’s basketball team the “Lady Lobos.”

Sorry, folks, these athletes aren’t ladies, they’re women. Ladies attend tea parties and keep their pinkies extended properly. They are courteous and gentle and polite. They defer to others, even when they disagree. They most certainly don’t assert themselves if such assertiveness might cause discomfort.

Anyone who has seen top-level female athletes in action knows they aren’t ladies. They’re not just assertive; they’re aggressive. They won’t defer to their opponents just to be polite or avoid uncomfortable feelings, although they do respect the rules of the game. When they feel the rules have been breached, they can express themselves very saltily – I recently got an earful from a Dutch athlete who trains in El Paso, when the Dutch athletic committee (much more influenced by politics than a wish to field the best athlete) passed her over in favor of another woman who trains in Rotterdam but whom she beat by three seconds at a meet in Jamaica. I don’t particularly approve of any athlete, of either gender, using foul language, but this particular athlete proved she definitely is NOT a lady; she is a woman. (And if anyone watches the European track championships, if the Dutch athlete in the women’s 800-meter race loses by less than 3 seconds, you should all know Blondie would have won.)

Meanwhile, it’s not just sportswriters who misuse the term lady. I have this watch, for instance, that has the incongruous name “Lady Ironman.” It’s a great watch. It has a timer feature, so I can use it for race countdowns, and it works great. It also has a chronograph feature that allows me to time distances before the race, so I can plan my start and get a feel for my time to the line. It’s designed for runners, and it has a lap timer function that I’m sure I can figure out some good sailing use for, up to 49 laps. Best, it’s not too expensive – I got mine at Kmart for less than $40. It did have a slight problem that when strapped to a very thin wrist, there was too much pressure on the joint between the band and the watch, and the band separated from the watch; I’ve solved that problem by not cinching the watch down but leaving it a bit loose.

By comparison, last year I got Pat a Gill sailing watch for more than $200 – I saved $30 by getting the one with the neoprene band rather than the stainless-steel bracelet, but that band has since broken, and so Pat now carries the watch in his pocket. It has a more sophisticated timer, which issues audible tones every 30 seconds during the first 4 minutes of the countdown, then every 10 seconds during the last minute, then counts every second of the last 10. The Lady Ironman requires that the tactician keep an eye on the watch and call the time to the helm. However, with the watch in his pocket, Pat often accidentally triggers a starting countdown, which can lead to embarrassment in public places.

Overall, I’d say that the Lady Ironman is a much better deal than the Gill watch. However, getting back to my original main point, I really don’t like the name. The type of athlete who is going to use this watch is not a lady. She is going to be a woman. Therefore, I would really like Timex to rename this watch. It’s not the Lady Ironman; it’s the Ironwoman.

Wizards of Winds and Waves, chapter 36

Betsy’s début

Our save-the-world team is expanding, and the possibilities are intriguing.

Wizards of Winds and Waves
Chapter 36

Most magic is a matter of mental concentration and doesn’t need any physical materials or resources. Ceremonial magic, such as the joining spell and the graduation ceremony, however, does use props. They aren’t truly necessary, but they help when there are a large number of wizards by providing a focus for the group. When Pierre and I joined, all of the wizards in attendance were to celebrate our union and strengthen it; at the graduation ceremony, the purpose was to support the new wizards as they went out into the world. Each graduate had a piece of sailcloth, to two corners of which had been tied pieces of rope during the enrollment ceremony. Now each graduate’s rope-and-sailcloth assembly was draped around his or her neck, where it glowed in a color representing the graduate. Betsy’s glowed neon blue. One by one, the graduates stepped to the center of the stage and announced the missions that had been revealed to them during the preliminary ceremony – a graduate couldn’t be counted as a full-fledged wizard until he or she had participated in some assignment against the Others. Each graduate announced a different mission, such as working against environmental destruction in Russia, or combating human-caused famines in Africa. Betsy was the last graduate to come to the stage. She looked out over the audience until she spotted Pierre and me, and then she spoke. “I’m going to France to help my father and stepmother turn the communists.”

Pierre and I looked at each other, then back at Betsy. This was more than we’d dared hope for. We could all be together now. She looked back at us and nodded her head – yes, we would all be together.

A week later, we were back in the flat in Paris. Like me, Betsy had been raised in a household without much money, and so Pierre now had two of us to tutor in the social graces necessary at the upper-class level. I accompanied Betsy on shopping trips for clothes and accessories, as much to channel Pierre’s comments as to add my own, and soon she and I both had extensive wardrobes. We then worked to prepare for the dinner party that would serve as Betsy’s introduction to Paris society.

The evening was, for the most part, a success. Grace and her pals provided much of the entertainment with stories of the adventures of their younger days. Betsy looked enchanting in a seafoam-green chiffon dress that seemed to float around her. Peter’s attention was riveted on Betsy all night, to Grace’s disappointment but not to Sally’s. In addition to Peter, Mike, Nigel, and Luke also couldn’t stop admiring Betsy; she might as well have been wearing Dora’s jewelry. The young ladies Pierre and I had invited to balance out the guest list might have been a bit disappointed, but they didn’t show it – Betsy was, after all, the guest of honor.

At the end of the party, after the other guests had left, Peter lingered. He stood in the entryway, shifting from one foot to the other, opening his mouth as if about to speak and then shutting it again. “I … I, uh … hope I can see you again,” he finally managed to stammer to Betsy.

“Oh, I’m sure you will,” she replied. “Won’t you be at Contessa Rossini’s soirée next week?”

“Yes, I will,” Peter said. He started to say something else, then stopped, then said, “Well, I suppose I’d better get going …” But then he didn’t.

“Yes,” Betsy said. “You’d better get going.” She ushered him out of the door, giving him a gentle shove on the back.

Poor Grace, I thought. She really seemed to want Peter to take up with Sally, but now he had been enchanted by Betsy.

“Oh, stop it, both of you,” Betsy said. “I may not have been pretty until recently, but I’ve seen enough of boys going after pretty girls to know that what Peter’s got is a silly crush. It will pass, and then he’ll discover that Sally’s the girl for him.”

I wondered how she could be so certain.

“Because Grace says so,” Betsy said. “And Grace is always right.”

Pierre and I looked at each other. Clearly, there were going to be problems with privacy from now on. Was Betsy going to be listening in on everything we did – even in the bedroom?

“Ugh, you’re right,” Betsy said, grimacing. “It’s been kinda cool listening in on how much you guys love each other, but I’m not sure I want to overhear when you’re actually making love. Maybe you could put extra-strong shields on your bedroom, the way they have around the laboratories at the school?”

Now, that sounded like a good idea, although we couldn’t do it right away – that strong a level of shielding took a lot of energy to implement, so it meant a large number of wizards pooling their power. With just the three of us, such shielding would drain so much of our life energy that it would be days before we could recover, days in which we would be especially vulnerable to attacks by the Others.

“Yeah, I know,” Betsy said. “But until you can get people together to put the shielding in, would you mind, um, abstaining?”

I wasn’t sure I could, and apparently Pierre wasn’t sure either. Betsy burst out laughing. “Oh, all right, Dad, I’ll consider it educational! Just, um, try not to embarrass me?”

“What did you just tell her?” I asked Pierre.

“Oh, I said that she would have to learn how to love a man so when the right one comes along she’ll know what to do.”

“Now that, I can agree with,” I said, putting my arms around Pierre’s waist, drawing him to me, and kissing him.

“Oh, puh-leeze!” Betsy said.

For Betsy’s big debut at Contessa Rossini’s soirée, we decided to make as big a splash as possible. She and I both wore emerald green two-piece dresses with satin tops and velvet skirts. I had a tight-fitting bustier and a slim skirt with a slit in the side nearly up to the hip; she had a camisole and a wide, flaring skirt. I wore Dora’s diamonds; Betsy wore the pearls. Pierre accented his tuxedo with emerald studs and cufflinks to play off our dresses.

As planned, we did make an impressive entrance. Of course, there were many comments about how much Betsy and I looked alike. Pierre spent much of his time answering the same question over and over again: “How can you tell the difference between your wife and daughter?” Pierre would respond, “The wife is the one I go to bed with. The daughter is the one I don’t let anybody go to bed with.” That always got a good laugh.

For dancing, Betsy was definitely the most in-demand partner. Peter danced with her as much as he could, but he had a lot of competition. Mike, Nigel, and Luke all got in a couple of dances with her, and many of the other men at the party got one. She had only begun to learn dancing from Pierre when she arrived in Paris, but she had picked up enough that she did reasonably well on the dance floor. Pierre and I only danced a couple of times with each other; the rest of the time, we tried to have at least one of us off the dance floor at all times to watch out in case Stephane or some other troublesome figure should show up.

“Would you two just stop worrying and just enjoy things?” Betsy asked us at the end of a dance. “Jeez, you’re like parents or something. Look, if you’re worried, I’ll go sit with Alois and Elaine. Now get out on that floor.”

The next dance was a tango. Reassured that Alois could keep an eye out for trouble, Pierre and I let the music sweep us up, and, as before, we swirled and swayed and twisted around each other, sensuously, feeling the electric tension as it sparked between us. As before, by the time we were done, we were alone on the dance floor; this time, however, there was no sign of Stephane or anyone else to break the spell of the dance. We went to the side of the room, where Betsy had joined Alois and Elaine seated at a small table.

There are some women in whom fertility increases sexual allure, who, in demonstrating that they can fulfill the biological purpose of the act, become all the more desirable. Elaine was such a woman. She was slender, petite even, with slim arms and legs and delicate hands. But in the middle, she had an immense bulge, swollen out, a great spherical mass of life that she carried in front of her, accented by the form-fitting maroon dress she wore. Above, her breasts were large and round, swelling in preparation to produce milk for the soon-to-arrive child. Alois sat beside her, and as the conversation went on, he was constantly touching her, apparently unaware that he was doing so, stroking her hair, patting a shoulder, holding her hand, caressing a breast or just resting a hand on that huge belly.

“Well, Pierre, your daughter’s debut is quite a success, isn’t it?” Alois asked.

“It has been so far,” Pierre said. “Now I have to worry about all of the young men who will be after her.”

“Well, at least there’s one you don’t have to worry about any more tonight. That English boy who’s been following her around like a puppy finally gave up on her and left.”

“Really?” Pierre asked. “When did he go?”

“About half an hour ago. I’m not sure exactly; I didn’t see him leave.”

The next dance was a slow one, and Alois took Elaine out on the dance floor. They were amazingly graceful together, in spite of having that sphere the size of a beach ball between them to dance around. Alois cradled his lanky body around it in such a way that I couldn’t imagine how he and Elaine could dance together without the bulge. They returned from the dance floor excited and trembling. “Feel this,” Alois exclaimed, grabbing my hand and placing it on Elaine’s belly. I felt the flesh beneath go from rubbery to rock-hard for a few seconds and then back to rubbery. “It’s beginning.”

“Shouldn’t you be getting to a hospital then?” I asked.

“Not yet,” Alois said. “It’s a long time from the first contraction to the birth. And dancing helps the labor. Besides, we prefer having our children at home, with a midwife – there’s one in the local circle of wizards.”

So Alois and Elaine danced, about half of the dances. Pierre and I danced. Betsy danced, but not with Peter, who had disappeared. Eventually, Elaine whispered something in Alois’ ear, and they left.

The next morning, Alois phoned to say that he and Elaine had barely reached their cottage when Elaine had then calmly and gently pumped out a healthy baby boy. She had always had easy births, but this one was the easiest yet. “She said it all got easy after you touched her, and that it went faster than she thought it would,” Alois said. “She didn’t have to strain at all. We’re going to want you on hand from now on.”

“How many more children are you planning on having?” I asked.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Wish You Were Here

A letter to friends

Zorro & Dino –

It was good to hear some of what you all have been up to. We had a really great afternoon out on the water, and yes, I’m rubbing it in; I want you all to get up here and join us. Winds were 10-20, gusting higher; while we were out the weather station at the marina (in a cove off the main lake) recorded a couple of gusts of 38. The sun was shining, but while it was hot by Heron standards (about 80 degrees), you folks from down south would have found it nice and cool.

Although the motor is still hanging off the back of the boat, we didn’t use it today. We tacked out the Narrows with the wind dead in our face. The frustrating thing about the Narrows is that, just as you get to one side and you have to tack so as not to crash into the rocks, you get a lift, so you end up tacking into a header. Oh, well.

Once we got into the main body of the lake, the wind picked up, and we were flying. Then it picked up some more, and we worked on keeping control, especially in the gusts. I’m getting better at that, and so is my crew. Even in the midst of whitecaps, we could keep the boat going steadily – probably not as fast as it could go, but feeling reasonably secure. As I gain experience, I hope to be able to extend the comfort zone – go faster as I gain confidence – not just in myself but also in my crew. Today, for the first time, I actually had a sense of Pat and Tadpole as crew supporting the boat rather than sometimes dysfunctional family dynamics. That made a huge difference.

So we sailed around until the sun began going down, and we had a great time. We also had the cell phone, and while not all of the lake has a good signal, we found spots where we could make a couple of phone calls to try to convince people they should be up here with us, and not down in the desert, by relating, in real time, what fun we were having. Those calls that didn’t get terminated by us sailing out of coverage, we ended with a most sincere “Wish you were HERE!”

So, Zorro, Dino, I repeat: Wish you were here. You’d have loads of fun. There’s plenty of water, just about the right amount of wind, no crowds, no heat, and at the end of the day, sitting in the pavilion at the marina, quiet socializing with fellow sailors as the sun goes down and the stars come out.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Visitor 6K

The count goes up and up …

And the 6000th visitor to this site: Someone in Saskatoon who didn’t arrive on a search and therefore probably has me bookmarked. Congratulations, faithful lurker. If it gets too cold up there, I’m at almost the exact longitude you are; just head due south until you cross the 37th parallel.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Holy Hand Grenades, Batman, What’s This?

This is my new image …?

DC Comics has announced a major makeover for Batwoman, and apparently a lot of loyal fans aren’t pleased. Seems she’s been a lesbian all along, but now she’s come out of the closet.

I really don’t mind a whole lot. I’m hetero, and I always thought she was hot. Hey, I could almost be her … the description … “flowing red hair” … yeah, I’ve got that … 5-foot-10 … OK, so I’m only 11 inches short. No exact statistics on weight, but I’d guess that she’s about 50 pounds heavier than I am, with the weight very sexily distributed.

I don’t know whether anyone else has noticed, but she sure looks a lot like Gene Simmons with the current makeup scheme.

How to Launch and Retrieve a Sailboat with a Trailer

Apparently, a lot of people want to know

Since my postings about the construction of the trailer for Black Magic, I have noticed a number of visitors to this blog have arrived via searches having to do not just with trailers in general but also with how to launch and retrieve boats. While many of my faithful readers probably already know how to do it, there are people who are new to sailboats, or who are new to trailer launching, or who don’t do anything with sailboats at all but who could benefit from understanding some of the apparently bizarre behavior of sailboat people during the launching or retrieval process. Part of the inspiration for this post is the two little old ladies in a minivan who drove right over our launch rope (it wasn’t all the way taut, thank goodness) while Tadpole, Seymour, and I were repositioning Black Magic on the trailer as we prepared to move it north.

First, this procedure doesn’t apply to all sailboats. The ones with a keel that pulls up can launch without much more difficulty than the typical motorboat. But those boats that have a fixed keel that sticks down several feet into the water need a lot more work to launch. To get the boat out into the water deep enough to float off the trailer, the trailer has to go way down the ramp, which means the towing vehicle can’t just back it down – the truck would get submerged.

Before you launch the boat, you want to make sure you have the right equipment. Your towing vehicle needs to be fairly heavy – at least a midsize SUV or pickup truck. The mass is important for keeping everything balanced. Also, your towing vehicle must NOT be front-wheel drive – when the weight of the trailer presses down on the back of the vehicle, the front wheels lose traction. Best is rear-wheel drive with an option of engaging four-wheel drive manually; next-best is all-wheel drive, which uses rear-wheel drive most of the time but switches to four-wheel drive when the black-box computer under the hood senses the need. A two-wheel drive truck is also a reasonable option in all but the most marginal conditions, so long as it’s rear-wheel drive.

In addition to the proper towing vehicle, you also need some accessories: a good, long, strong rope to use to let the trailer into the water; some good wheel chocks, preferably with ropes attached to make them easy to yank out when the time is right – you absolutely do NOT want the little cheap yellow things; possibly some additional tools depending on the design of the trailer.

The basic procedure: Driver backs the trailer up to the edge of the water. Crew places wheel chocks behind the trailer wheels. Trailer is detached from towing vehicle. The trailer’s spare tire is mounted at the front of the trailer (the exact means of mounting vary from trailer to trailer) so that it will hold the trailer tongue up and roll smoothly. A very long rope is tied from the trailer to the towing vehicle.

Next, the towing vehicle pulls forward until the rope is taut. (This was the stage at which the little old ladies threatened our operation.) The chocks are pulled out from behind the trailer wheels, and the vehicle backs up as the trailer submerges itself in the water. If all goes well, and if the boat ramp has been well maintained so there aren’t any sandbars right at the base of the ramp, the trailer should roll on out until the boat floats free. If there are sandbars, additional help may be needed, such as having people holding onto dock lines running out on the courtesy dock parallel to the ramp to try to pull the trailer and boat into the water, or enlisting the help of a nearby powerboater to pull the trailer in deep enough.

Once the boat is launched, the driver pulls forward enough to get the trailer out of the water; the trailer wheels are chocked, and the driver backs down to pick up the trailer.

Retrieving the boat isn’t all that different from launching it. If there are sandbars at the foot of the launch ramp, there may be more need to pull the empty trailer out than was needed when the boat was on it. And the boat’s mass contributed momentum to getting the trailer to roll out. Otherwise, it’s pretty much the same deal as above – chock the trailer wheels, get the line taut, unchock, back up the truck, get the boat onto the trailer, make sure it’s secure, pull out.

It’s a bit ironic, I suppose … my brother has become the Internet authority on frying eggs over-easy – I seem poised to be the world’s sailboat-trailer guru.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

The Jekyll-and-Hyde Teenager

Another take on kids and sailing

On some of the other blogs that I’ve been frequenting, questions have been raised about how best to get kids involved in sailing at an early age, and to keep them interested once they turn into teenagers. There is the question of how early a child should be given lessons and learn sailing, and how to avoid placing excessive pressure on the kid. There is also the question of what to do with teenagers to keep them from losing interest in the sport.

Well, I don’t have the problem of a teenager losing interest in sailing. Partly because he was already 11 years old when the family took up sailing, and partly because neither of the sailing clubs we belong to has anything even remotely resembling a youth sailing program, he wasn’t exposed to the pressure that a lot of other kids get from a very tender age.

What he has been doing over the past several years is racing as crew on many different boats under many different skippers. So he has learned a lot. He has also received a lot of praise from the skippers he’s crewed with – respectful, obedient, resourceful, steady, eager, sharp, helpful, trustworthy, cheerful, flexible, optimistic, you name it, if it’s a positive crew trait, he has it, so long as he’s serving on somebody else’s boat. The people he’s sailed with constantly tell us how great he is and praise us for raising such a fantastic kid.

Now that I have my own racing boat, especially since I’m inexperienced with it, I really want to tap into Tadpole’s knowledge. Unfortunately, the charming and hard-working teenage Dr. Jekyll turns into the loutish Mr. Hyde when he’s crewing for his own parents. I’ll call for a close-hauled course, and I’ll steer as tightly upwind as the boat will go (which, with an Etchells, is pretty tight). When the wind shifts, if it’s a header, I want to follow it, and I tell Tadpole to keep trim. But he thinks it’s better to keep the same course, and so he relaxes the sheet. When I repeat the order to keep close-hauled, he starts arguing about why his way is better than my way – and most of those reasons don’t hold water. He’s just simply contradicting Mom for the mere pleasure of contradicting Mom. It doesn’t matter whether he’s right – he just has to have something to argue about. And in a race, all of that time he spends arguing instead of following orders is time that the rest of the fleet is going to be racing away.

Actually, Pat isn’t all that much better as crew. Yes, he’s much less likely to argue instead of following an order. His problem is that he follows orders that don’t exist, fiddling around with things that are just fine. Or worse, he leaves his assigned post on the boat and does somebody else’s job while leaving his own job undone. There have been times he’s been on jib trim and I’ve needed to tack the boat, but he’s up on the foredeck fiddling around with dock lines.

In the first lessons we took, the skipper was to call “ready about” and then the crew was to get ready to tack and then yell “ready” before the helm tacked. But in racing, there isn’t the luxury of allowing the time for the crew to get around to getting organized. There certainly isn’t time for the jib trimmer to return to the cockpit after usurping the foredeck’s job. In racing, the crew has to be already alert, because the skipper may have very little time to announce a tack. If I have to tack, I have to tack NOW.

At least Pat and Tadpole aren’t the very worst possible crew. There was one time when I was training for the Adams Cup, and my trimmer got a cell-phone call from her boyfriend. It wasn’t a good time – we were approaching a windward mark on port, and we needed to tack around the mark and set the spinnaker, while also avoiding the other boats in the mock race. But instead of telling him to call back later (or, better yet, not answering the call and allowing voicemail to take a message), she continued the conversation. In a real race, I would probably have called the tack anyway, forcing her to drop the phone. If it went overboard, well, that’s just tough. Or if she didn’t drop the phone and we blew the mark rounding because she wasn’t attending to trim, well, everybody in the fleet would know whom to blame. Since it wasn’t a real race, I continued to sail on, 20 boat lengths or more past the turning buoy, until she got done with her phone call and was free to make the tack.

I know that, for sure, even if the racing rules for a particular race or regatta don’t prohibit cell phones, I am going to prohibit them for my crew. I would also like to prohibit teenage obstructionist know-it-all behavior, although I haven’t figured out exactly how to do that.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Wizards of Winds and Waves, chapter 35

A hint about future action

As busy as I’ve been lately, I apologize for being lax about getting Wizards episodes up. This week, I’ve had the additional bother of a toothache, which now seems really to be sinuses pressing on the roots of my teeth. There are major wildfires burning in the Gila and in Arizona, and even though those fires are far from Five O’Clock Somewhere, smoke from them has been covering the Chama Valley. The smoke has irritated my nose, throat, and eyes, and it also seems to be taking a toll on Tres – fair-skinned fellow that he is, he’s very sensitive to environmental irritants.

Meanwhile, back in the novel, our heroes aren’t being very active this chapter. But they’re setting up possibilities for future plot twists.

Wizards of Winds and Waves
Chapter 35

We spent the next few days in a whirl of social events. As we had expected, we could leave Dora’s magic jewelry locked up and still enchant the crowds with our reputation. We did take the occasional day off – as idle rich people, essentially the social events were our job. We took drives through the countryside, and we did many of the things that young lovers in Paris are supposed to do – seeing museums and sights. We made multiple trips up the Eiffel Tower, once even eating at the restaurant at the top; we went to the Louvre and to Notre Dame Cathedral; we took an excursion on the Seine in one of the glass-domed bateaux-mouches. We ate well, whether we ate in or out; I was enjoying the selection of foods available in the market and teaching myself more advanced French cooking techniques. This suited Pierre very well; what I loved to cook, he loved to eat.

As we continued to attend social events, we began to develop a circle of friends who attended many of the same events we did. We also occasionally saw Grace’s grandson Peter or Hattie’s grand-niece Sally, sometimes together, sometimes not. They didn’t seem to show any sign of the sort of affection their older relatives were hoping for, but they were clearly friends. Having grown up in such social circles, they were more socially adept than I was, but thanks to Pierre, I was catching on.

“How do you feel about entertaining?” Pierre asked me one morning over breakfast, as he was going through the mail. “Do you think you could put together, say, a small dinner party?”

I had been rapidly gaining skills in the kitchen, and I realized I would like to try them out on a few guests. “Sure,” I replied. “Why?”

“Partly, it’s an obligation,” Pierre said. “When people invite us over, we should respond in kind rather than just being sponges. Of course, we certainly can’t put on anything huge, since the flat is hardly a mansion, but we should have some of our closer friends over from time to time. Grace and her circle might be a good set to start with.”

“Won’t she have trouble with all of the stairs? And her older friends might also have some difficulty.”

“I can carry them up if they need it,” Pierre said. “But I don’t think they will. They can lean on me, or on you, and we can use a bit of magic to help them along.”

“What would be the occasion for the party?” I asked.

Pierre handed me a fancy envelope from the mail. “Here, look at this,” he said.

It was very stiff, made of a golden-brown parchment-like material. When I opened it, I found another envelope inside, and in that was a graduation announcement. “Betsy’s graduating from spelling school!” I exclaimed. “How wonderful!”

“Yes,” Pierre said. “We can fly home for a couple of days for the ceremony, and then all three of us can come here before she goes off to wherever she has to go, and we can give the dinner party to announce that we have found my daughter and introduce her to people.”

“Yes, that sounds perfect,” I said. “And it is a good idea to have only a small group of people in the know to start with. A small dinner party should do nicely.”

Pierre and I drew up a guest list: Grace and all who had been at tea at her house the day we went; Alois and Elaine; Pierre’s bachelor friends Nigel, Mike, and Luke; and a few people we had met at various social occasions and found likeable. In all, there would be about twenty guests. We spent the rest of the morning writing out invitations, and then we made travel plans for attending the graduation and bringing Betsy to Paris.

Before we left, we stopped by the boat factory to see the progress on our yacht. By now, the hull had been finished and the interior was being constructed. As it sat in its cradle on the factory floor, I reached out and stroked its sleek, clean, fiberglass side, feeling the underlying magic tingle beneath the perfectly smooth, glossy finish. Yes, this boat was ours, Pierre’s and mine, and Alois had cast our souls into the fiberglass, just as certainly as Betsy put the souls of people into the wooden models of boats that she carved. I wondered whether she might eventually become a boat-builder like Alois.

Pierre apparently had a similar idea. “You know I found my daughter at the wizard school this spring,” he said to Alois when we got to the protected space of the office. “Her particular talent is in building things, and putting magic into the building – right now, she does models of boats, but maybe she can do real ones as well.”

“If that’s the case, I could certainly try her out as an apprentice,” Alois said. “I get dozens of applicants for every position, but so few are really qualified – and, of course, I don’t get any with magic skills. But isn’t she still in school?”

“She’s graduating in two weeks, and we’ll be bringing her here on the way to wherever her mission is. You should soon be getting an invitation to a dinner party we’re having for her.”

“Very good. Perhaps she can visit the factory while she’s here.”

Two days later, Pierre and I arrived at the school to attend Betsy’s graduation. She came to greet us at the parking garage. When I had first met Betsy, her face had been marked by heavy burn scars caused by her abusive stepmother. A couple of months ago, just before Pierre and I had had our joining – a ceremonial magic event similar to a wedding for wizards – I had discovered that I could do healing. It was a variant on the rearranging spell, but it required being able to magnify my inner vision so that I could work on the level of cells and sometimes even molecules. I had worked on Betsy’s face and, while I hadn’t been able to erase the scars completely, I had been able to make them much less severe. Later, I used almost the reverse of the process within my own body, creating scar tissue to prevent pregnancy; Pierre and I agreed that we wanted children some time, but not yet, and I could remove the scar tissue when the time was right.

Apparently, after I was finished with Betsy’s face, the cells themselves continued the work I had started; I hadn’t seen Betsy since, but I had been told that her face had healed completely. Now, I could see the result, and it was uncanny. Pierre had originally been attracted to me because I was very much like his first wife, Dora, Betsy’s mother. Now Betsy and I might well have been twins, we were so much alike. We were the same height, the same build, the same age, with the same fair skin and dark hair and eyes, and now that Betsy’s face was healed, the same facial features, with the slender nose, arching eyebrows, and high cheekbones characteristic of Dora’s family. Ironically, now, the only difference between us was a scar – a very faint mark I had on one cheek from a childhood bicycling accident, nearly invisible, especially with the makeup I now used.

“Betsy!” I exclaimed as she came to greet Pierre and me. “You look wonderful!”

“Thank you, Sarah,” Betsy said. “Thank you for giving me my face back – although, really, it looks like you gave me yours.”

I laughed. “Well, isn’t that what friends are for?”

Pierre was looking closely at both of us. “If I didn’t know Sarah inside and out, I’d have trouble telling the two of you apart,” he said. “I imagine the rest of the world could get easily confused.”

It occurred to me that having two nearly identical people might be useful if we needed to fool someone into thinking I was one place when really I was in another. “Yes,” Betsy said, “we could work this to our advantage.” That was another interesting phenomenon – while Pierre and I could each experience the sensations the other felt, we couldn’t read each other’s minds. But Betsy could read my thoughts, even if I couldn’t read hers. Just as Pierre and I belonged together as spouses and lovers, Betsy and I belonged together as … what? Best friends? “Well,” Betsy said, “I do prefer to think of you as a friend and not as a stepmother. My previous stepmother wasn’t exactly great.”

Pierre gave us a puzzled look. I had told him about my ability to communicate thoughts to Betsy, but he hadn’t seen it in action before. “Oh, don’t be so jealous, Dad,” she said. “She loves you like crazy, and it’s not her choice that I can read her mind and you can’t.”

“You can read his mind too?” I asked.

“Well, I guess I just did,” Betsy said. She looked at her watch. “Well, I need to get to the preliminary ceremony. I’ll see you in the great hall.” She hurried away.

“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” I asked Pierre.

“Well, only Betsy knows the answer to that,” Pierre said, “but if the three of us can all communicate with each other in some way, we could make a pretty effective team.”

Friday, June 09, 2006

What’s your sound?

Define yourself in a short snippet of music or other sound(s)

Up until recently, Pat and I had a very bare-bones basic plan on our cell phone. We used the phone only rarely, and had it mainly for emergencies, so we had a plan that didn’t cost much to start with, but that charged hefty fees for long distance, roaming, and going over the allotted minutes. Recently, we’ve been using the phone a lot more, to the point where it actually made sense to upgrade the service. So now we have a plan that includes free roaming, free long distance, a large number of “anytime” minutes, and unlimited nights and weekends.

This new and improved service also includes a few features we didn’t have before, such as voice messaging and caller ID. And along with the caller ID comes the ability to have the phone use a different ringtone depending on who’s calling – sort of an audio ID. Of course, we’d have to pay extra to get any ringtones beyond the thirty or forty that come with the phone, but it is interesting to speculate what we’d set for different people that we know.

For example, Dino would be Rod Stewart’s “Do You Think I’m Sexy?” His significant other, Sister Rosebia, is absolutely “Takin’ Care Of Business” by Bachman-Turner Overdrive. Some people have already defined themselves: Zorro uses Frank Sinatra’s “I’ve Got The World On A String” on his answering machine, and Yoda has a piece from Mozart’s Magic Flute as his own ringtone on his cell.

Of course, not all ringtones have to be musical. Dialogue from television and movies can be appropriate; we have a friend whose mind is often in outer space, who would be well suited to “(beep-beep) Kirk to Enterprise.” Sound effects also can work, so we might use a meow for the vet.

Then I got to thinking about ringtones for people who aren’t likely to be calling me on my cell, but just as a mind exercise see if I could select something appropriate. Take Tillerman, for instance: He likes the Beatles, is cheerful and humorous, and would also be nautical … “Yellow Submarine.”

So, faithful readers, what music or sound would you use to define yourself, to say to the person you’re calling, “Hey, it’s me”?

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

The Cats’ Big Adventure

It’s their least favorite day of the year!

Three hundred sixty-four days of the year, the cats are in charge of the household, with Dulce giving the orders and Tres as second in command. But once a year, they do not get everything exactly the way they like it – today was their annual visit to the vet for checkups and shots.

Tres was especially well-behaved – he tends to go catatonic under stress, but this time, he was more relaxed than usual, and the vet’s assistant thought he was particularly sweet. Dulce, as usual, expressed resentment over the indignities of the exam, in a voice much louder than her normal sweet tones. She does NOT like not being in charge.

The good news is that both cats are in great shape for being 10 and 11 years old; the two of them have kept each other busy, so they haven’t put on the pounds the way older, indoor-only, fixed animals often do. In fact, the one worry in an otherwise good checkup was that Tres has been losing some weight, so the vet had blood drawn for tests, in case there’s some metabolic problem. We’ll get the results tomorrow.

Now we’re all back at home, and the situation has returned to normal for another year. We humans got barbecue, Dulce’s favorite, for supper, and the cats got a couple of scraps to make up for their harrowing afternoon.

Grammar Moment: Pronoun Case

The basic rule: cut the extra words and see if it makes sense

Here’s a question that stymies a lot of users of the English language: When should one use the subject case of pronouns (I, he, she, we, they, who), and when should one use the object case (me, him, her, us, them, whom)?

The rule itself is pretty simple. If the pronoun is the subject of the sentence, you use the subject case. If the pronoun renames the subject following a linking verb, you use the subject case. For all other purposes, you use the object case. Thus, you say

I went to the store.

and not

Me went to the store.

The business with renaming the subject following a linking verb is fairly obscure, and the rule is broken so often that it actually sounds odd when someone uses it right:

The charity’s secret benefactress was I.

The test for whether you have a linking verb is whether you can turn the sentence around and have it still make sense. If you can swap the front end and back end of the sentence without changing the meaning, then you’re renaming the subject, so you use the subject case:

I was the charity’s secret benefactress.

Because the sentence often sounds awkward when the rule is used right, you may be more comfortable avoiding the problem by rewriting the sentence to put the pronoun at the beginning, as I just did above.

Now, for any situation other than the subject or renaming the subject, you use the object case of the pronoun:

The store clerk gave me my change.


The store clerk gave I my change.

So far, so good. You’re probably already getting pronoun case right nearly all of the time without even thinking about it. So what’s the problem? Well, sometimes there are extra words that sneak in and clutter up the issue:

Me and Dudley went to the store.

To figure out which pronoun to use, temporarily remove the extra words, in this case, and Dudley:

Me went to the store.

Oops. Now you know you should use I:

Dudley and I went to the store.

You will also note that I have changed the order of the subjects. This is not actually a grammar rule, but rather one of etiquette. It’s polite to refrain from mentioning yourself first.

Now, some people have been corrected on me and Dudley so often that they think they should always use Dudley and I:

The clerk gave Dudley and I our change.

Try the test again to see whether you have it right:

The clerk gave I our change.

Nope, doesn’t work. You need to use me:

The clerk gave Dudley and me our change.

The other situation in which extra words slip into the sentence is when the pronoun is followed by words that clarify whom the pronoun refers to:

We sailors like breezy days.

How do you know whether to use us or we? Just as before, you take out the extra words and see whether the sentence sounds right:

We like breezy days.

Ah, now you see? Try this one:

Landlubbers don’t understand we sailors.

Test by removing the extra word(s):

Landlubbers don’t understand we.

Get the right pronoun:

Landlubbers don’t understand us.

Put the extra word(s) back to complete the sentence:

Landlubbers don’t understand us sailors.

All of this brings me around to the comment from another blog that inspired this post in the first place:

Thanks for the humorous, yet informative cinematic augmentation. Us visual learners like that.

Test by removing extra words:

Us like that.

Nope. It’s

We like that.

So here’s the corrected version:

We visual learners like that.

Now, isn’t that simple?