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.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Rodeo Mom

Parenting is a little different in this part of the world

Friday, the weather wasn’t good for sailing. The winds were nice, although they were getting stiffer as the day went on. But the temperature was cold and getting colder, which would have been unpleasant for sailing, and so what we did was measure the tiller so we could order its replacement. And we spent some time in the relative warmth of the marina store, chatting with the woman who runs the marina.

Both of her daughters are home for the holidays, and a lot of the chat involved them, and comparing experiences with Tadpole, who is a junior in high school and looking at prospective colleges.

In much of the rest of the country, the involved parent is characterized by the “soccer mom,” who drives a minivan (or a large SUV without having any good reason to have a truck). Rodeo Mom drives an F-350 P0werstroke, towing a diagonal-stall three horse trailer, and she can back it with precision within a half inch. Rodeo Mom drives all over the state – and it’s the fifth-biggest state in the nation, so that’s a lot of miles – with that truck and trailer. When the local team is host to a rodeo, Rodeo Mom is down in the chutes, helping load the steers and calves for the steer wrestling and calf roping, and the broncs and bulls for the rough-stock events. She’s also in the concession booth, flipping burgers for hungry rodeo fans.

Rodeo Mom’s daughters are both in college now. The older one is finishing up her teaching degree at Near Mom State, and she will be starting her student teaching in the spring (at the elementary school where Cornhusker, my regular foredeck crew, is an art teacher). The younger one went off to Rhode Island for college, and she’s still doing things with horses, although East Coast equestrian events aren’t the same as Western barrel racing. She has also discovered sailing, including racing sailing. I have my eye on her as potential crew when she’s home on breaks. If she has the strength and agility and kinesthetic sense to move with a horse going at breakneck speed in tight turns around the barrels, she has what it takes to stick it out on the deck of a racing sailboat.

Meanwhile, after hearing some of Rodeo Mom’s tales, passed on from her younger daughter, Tadpole seems to be considering Rhode Island as a great place to go to college. In addition to great sailing opportunities, most colleges and universities out there seem to have great food service. It’s a matter of adding our savings to his ability to land scholarships – the financial-aid formulas that calculate “need” probably will say that we should be able to pay way more than we actually can.

Meanwhile, Pat and Tadpole went up to Albuquerque last night for a music rehearsal and Boy Scout meeting that had been planned for today. They drove into a record snowstorm – the highest single-day total snowfall since records have been kept. And it’s still snowing. The music rehearsal was cancelled, and the scout meeting was delayed, so they won’t be getting back here until late today. It’s not snowing here, but it’s cold enough that the pipes, which were stuck onto the outside of the building as an afterthought, are threatening to freeze. The cats and I have the heat turned up, and we’re taking it easy.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

A white Christmas

Very low key this year, but still nice

Depending on how you define a “white” Christmas, we may have had one this year. That is, if the definition is that there is snow on the ground, we had a white Christmas even in Albuquerque. On the other hand, if the definition is that snow actually falls on Christmas Day, then we didn’t have one. I think I prefer the snow on the ground definition.

We started by going down to T or C the Friday before Christmas, so we could work on boat stuff, and, weather permitting, do some sailing Saturday and Sunday. A major storm system was moving through, and although it didn’t bring much precipitation, it did bring nasty enough winds that we ended up not sailing, just spending time with the cats in the apartment. I had the laptop along, and I got some work done on finishing the novel I had started in November for National Novel Writing Month.

Sunday, we returned to Albuquerque, and then on Christmas Day, we (cats included) drove up to visit my folks in Los Alamos for a very low key Christmas. An old family friend, Bookworm, and her fifth-grade grandson were the other guests. The most significant gift, from my perspective, was a check with which to buy boat stuff, especially a new tiller. The one that Black Magic currently has is in very sad shape. Some previous owner of the boat, in order to cut weight, bored a bunch of one-inch holes through it. Someone (I’m guessing probably a different person) also subsequently wrapped the tiller in a really shoddy bundle of fiberglass that is now crumbling. At some point, I don’t know whether before or after the fiberglass, the wood started splintering – I’m guessing before, and the inept fiberglass work was a response to the splintering. During some high wind in one of the fall series regattas, the whole thing was threatening to reduce into toothpicks, and Tadpole wrapped it up in duct tape to hold it together, while I was helming during the race.

After Christmas dinner, we headed north to Five O’Clock Somewhere, where we built a fire in the fireplace and generally vegetated. We stayed there two nights, and we had some good time together playing Clue, Mille Bornes, and Illuminati. The cats also enjoyed the time there; when it was time to leave, it was hard to get them into their carriers for the journey home.

Shortly after we got home, Zorro phoned. The first thing he asked was whether I got a new tiller for Christmas. When I told him I got a check with which to buy one, he recommended a place online to order a new custom tiller that wouldn’t cost so much as a lot of the other tillers on the market. After looking at the website, I’m really excited. We’ll be going down to the Butte tomorrow, and we’ll be able to measure our tiller so we can make our order. The company says delivery time is “two to four weeks, depending on the season.” I’m guessing that in winter, there is less business, so the time will be at the short end of the range. I should have my new tiller by the Frostbite Regatta at the end of January. If I’m really lucky, I’ll have it in time for the Leukemia Cup in Phoenix in mid-January.

Monday, December 25, 2006

The things we do for cats

Can you say, “spoiled”?

Over the past couple of weeks, we have been dealing, once again, with feline medical issues.

It started this summer, when we realized Tres was getting skinny, and he often seemed to suffer some digestive distress. A blood test subsequently showed that he had a thyroid imbalance, and so he had to take medication twice a day.

This put a cramp in our sailing plans. No longer could we simply leave the cats behind with a big bowl of kibbles for a long weekend. Tres really suffered if he had to miss more than one dose. So … we found a place to rent near the lake, and now the cats come with us when we go down there. Yep, that’s right. For the good of the cats, we now have a pied-à-terre in T or C.

Lately, however, Tres started having more and more digestive problems. A return trip to the vet for another blood test showed that the thyroid medication is working, and his hormone level is normal. So the diagnosis was a probable food allergy. Tres has always been sensitive, and even when he was young he sometimes reacted badly to strong food. He’s very fair-skinned, and like fair-skinned humans, he’s easily irritated – he can’t eat out of a plastic dish without getting a major acne outbreak, for instance.

The usual culprits in such cases are the proteins in mainstream cat foods – beef, chicken, and such. The solution is special diet cat food that uses other proteins. So Tres is now eating a cat food made with duck, and venison and rabbit are also available. Of course, one reason mainstream cat food uses such meats as beef and chicken is that they are inexpensive. Duck is not.

Of course, that all leads to logistical problems when it comes time to feed the cats, since Dulce doesn’t need the special diet, and Tres definitely can’t eat the mainstream food. We have to shut the cats in separate rooms to eat now, and Dulce in particular doesn’t like the idea – she much prefers having a dish of her kibbles out at all times so she can snack whenever she wants.

Still, the new diet is working for Tres, and he’s doing much better now. We do have one slight problem – we ran out of Tres’ canned food, and with the Christmas holiday, the vet’s office is closed so we can’t get more right away. We’ll have to see what human food he can eat for a couple of days … in the cabinet right now, there’s a tin of smoked oysters … maybe some lamb or cabrito would work … elk, perhaps …

Sunday, December 17, 2006

The lost family

It may not be an earth-shaking mystery, but where did they go?

This weekend, we looked at a couple of properties Dino has in Sierra County. There’s one place not too far from the place we’re currently renting from him, which he has brought some workers up from El Paso to renovate (and he also hired a guy who was standing in the hardware store parking lot with a sign that said “need work” – apparently this guy really meant that, rather than “want handout”). It’s a large house, and the workers are really doing a great job of rehabilitating it.

Then there’s another property Dino just picked up that he showed us this weekend. Much of Dino’s business could be characterized as schadenfreude. He buys properties that the owners need to sell fast, which generally means some sort of misfortune is involved, such as death, divorce, or serious illness. He tells the sellers up front that he’s paying less than the property would sell for ordinarily, but the sellers choose to get the money right away rather than getting full price.

This particular property was a bit different. It was an estate, and the heirs had not been in a hurry to sell, so it took Dino some months to negotiate a deal. But it still had some characteristics of a rush sale, in that a lot of the contents came with the property.

This property came with two houses: a large, relatively new doublewide mobile home and a small, older cottage. The doublewide was really nice, and in great condition. It didn’t have furniture, but the kitchen was fully equipped with dishes, pots and pans, and small appliances. To make it even more ideal as a sailing club clubhouse, it even had a wind meter mounted on the roof with a readout near the back door.

The older cottage, however, was much more personal. It seemed more like a museum than a dwelling. My guess is that it was originally built in the 1920s, shortly after Elephant Butte Lake was constructed. The original portion of the house was tiny, with a long narrow front room facing the lake, and behind it a Pullman kitchen (complete with icebox) and a tiny bunk room. Off the bunk room was an addition containing a small, 1940s bathroom, and at the rear of the house was a much newer den addition. What was interesting about the house was what was left behind in it – some furniture, and some photographs. The most interesting of those was a portrait of a handsome young soldier, World War I or thereabouts, in a large oval frame with a glass bubble front that made the image look three dimensional. In the kitchen were snapshots, one of which had the date “May 1954” written on it, of an older man (possibly the young soldier many years later?) and some children (I’m guessing grandkids) showing off stringers of large fish. Further evidence of the family’s avid fishing was that crammed into one end of the Pullman kitchen were both a modern refrigerator and an upright deep-freezer suitable for freezing up large quantities of fish. In addition, there were several cross-stitched pictures on the walls, and some fishing memorabilia.

My mind has formed a story about the family: The couple building their lake cottage, expanding it over the years, sharing it with children and grandchildren. As the older couple gained prosperity, they added the doublewide, but they also kept the old cottage with its memories. It reminded me of the lake house in Arkansas that my mother’s family had, where all of the relatives would gather during the summers. It was a funky place, but it was also special.

What puzzles me is that the heirs would leave so many family memories behind to be disposed of by strangers. During the six months that the heirs had the place on the market, did anybody realize the photos and other stuff were there? Where are the family members all now? What happened to all of those grinning kids with all of those fish?

The Geronimo Springs Museum in downtown T or C has a lot of memorabilia of this sort, and it has an old miner’s cabin that was moved onto the museum premises to show part of the region’s history. It strikes me that this lake cottage also would fit into the museum’s collection, to represent the early history of Elephant Butte. But it would probably be even more meaningful to someone related to the handsome young soldier, who knows the family history.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

National Cat Herders Day

What holidays will they think of next?

Now that I’m off until the start of the spring term, I actually have time during the day to watch the noon news. One of the local television stations’ meteorologists keeps viewers updated on special dates, and today was National Cat Herders Day.

My initial thought was about a television commercial about the difficulty of herding cats. In real life, there do exist people who live their lives surrounded by large numbers of cats, although in most cases, the cats are in charge; the human doesn’t stand much of a chance. Still, perhaps we can count Zorro as a cat herder for the purposes of celebrating this day.

Then there’s also the figurative cat herding. At this time of year, with the holidays upon us, and holiday events and shopping added on top of whatever other employment or school obligations we might have, we may often feel as if we are engaged in herding cats, since we have to be running in several different directions at once.

So here’s to Zorro and all of the literal cat herders out there, and here’s also to anyone who’s been spending a lot of time recently in figurative cat herding.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

One year later …

This is an important anniversary … or it’s not

Saturday night was the New Mexico Sailing Club Christmas party. At that event a year ago, I made a decision that has changed my life. I still have no idea whether it’s for the better or not. For those of you who may be new to this blog or haven’t been paying attention to it, allow me to recap the year’s events.

At last year’s Christmas party, Mother Superior was recruiting women sailors for an ambitious sailing program to train teams for the Adams Cup national women’s championship, which was to be sailed on J/24s in 2006. Both the Rio Grande and the New Mexico sailing clubs have typically had strong J/24 fleets, and so Mother was really interested in building up support. I said I would be glad to join the effort, and when Mother said there was a particular need for helmswomen, I said yes. I can’t blame beer for that decision; the overpriced Santa Fe restaurant where the party was held charged way too much for the beer for me to have more than one. But I’d been reading Tillerman’s blog about all of his racing efforts, and his determination, and his accomplishments, and all of the enjoyment he gets out of racing (in spite of the hardships), and, well, there seemed to be some sort of cosmic voice out there saying I ought to get into racing sailboats.

So I signed on to this sailing training program, which involved a lot of weekends spent at the lake training (or in many cases waiting for the weather to be good enough to train) for the Adams Cup. At the end of January was the Frostbite Regatta, which I sailed with a crew of fellow women trainee sailors and one coach. On corrected time, I came in second to Zorro, whose Etchells was the sexiest boat on the lake. I even beat another Etchells across the line. At the awards ceremony, I learned there was an Etchells for sale in California, but I wasn’t particularly interested; I was focusing on the J/24s for the Adams Cup.

Then one weekend it was decided that the Adams Cup training would go better if the novice crew and novice helmswomen would train separately. The crew were put onto J/24s with experienced skippers, and, since there weren’t enough J/24s, the two trainee helmswomen were put onto the two Etchells.

That was it. From that moment on, I was completely hooked on the Etchells. It was like, the instant I set foot on the boat, there was a resonance, sort of a humming; I can’t really explain it. The deck was comfortable and easy to walk around on, flat rather than sloping, with a fantastic non-skid surface, almost completely uncluttered with things that one could trip on or get bruised on. The handling was sweet and nimble, and the boat would go fast even if there was almost no wind. And when there was wind, the boat was awesome. I was in love, thoroughly, totally, head-over-heels in love, with this boat. Yeah, me, a cruising sailor with a MacGregor 26, middle aged, dumpy, the last person anybody would ever consider as a candidate to own an Etchells, and I wanted one. Bad.

So on Valentine’s Day, I came home from work to find Pat on the phone with the seller of the Etchells in California, arranging to buy it. Yeah, other women might get flowers or chocolates for Valentine’s, but I got a boat – a really awesome boat.

Then during one of the spring series regattas, while sailing on a J/24 in fairly stiff conditions, I got clocked by the boom and ended up in the emergency room. I needed to get my scalp stapled together, but that wasn’t so bad. What was bad was that I lost my lucky Aussie hat overboard in the incident, and then in the emergency room my gloves disappeared. (I was later able to find a replacement for the gloves; I’m still looking for the perfect hat.) Zorro was worried that the incident would make me want to quit racing and cancel the check we’d written to buy the boat in California, but I told him, “No way!” What’s a mere crack on the head, compared to being able to sail one of the most awesome boats anywhere?

In March, Zorro, Dino, and I went out to California to retrieve Black Magic. It was, to put it mildly, quite a journey. They’re both, now, definitely in the very small category of people that I consider to be close friends. I don’t have many of those.

In April, we had the Adams Cup quarterfinals at Elephant Butte. Because of politics and/or misunderstandings (“We thought after you got hit by the boom you weren’t serious about racing any more” – never mind that I had very loudly announced that afternoon that I wasn’t about to quit, within the hearing of many people), the women who were originally to be my crew were reassigned to another helmswoman, and I was left recruiting at the last minute. It didn’t work at all well.

Freed from the Adams Cup training program obligation to sail J/24s, I sailed Black Magic in her first New Mexico regatta the first weekend in May. I did well enough that, combined with my J/24 helming, I ended up fourth overall for the spring regatta series.

We took Black Magic up to Heron Lake for the summer. The New Mexico Sailing Club is still recovering from a drought that pretty much cancelled racing for two years, and we were hoping to revive racing this year, but that didn’t happen.

In August, we went to the Dillon Open Regatta at Lake Dillon in Colorado. It’s insane, but we didn’t find it as bad as people who have been there had told us it would be. We’re definitely going back again.

This fall, we’ve been sailing Black Magic in the fall series regattas at Elephant Butte. We’re learning lots about how racing boats have more things that break than cruising boats do. And older boats have even more things that break. And boats whose previous owners have been casual about maintenance have more things that break. And boat owners who have done stupid things to reduce weight on the boat (such as having really flimsy aluminum floor supports or boring holes in the tiller, which is a J/24 tiller rather than an Etchells tiller in the first place) cause even more things to break.

But still, I love my boat. Now Zorro’s boat isn’t the sexiest boat on the lake; mine is. And every time I step onto the boat, I get that vibe, that feeling that the boat and I belong to each other. Who would have ever thought that kind of thing would happen to me?

Tillerman, it’s all your fault.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

My favorite lesson plan

The REAL report card is the student’s own

One of the problems with teaching is evaluating students’ accomplishments at the end of the term. The teacher has to evaluate what a student has done, and then the teacher must attach some means of measuring, typically a letter of the alphabet or possibly a number, that somehow defines what the student has learned. Sure, such a measurement is nice and tidy, and it lends itself to the arithmetic used to calculate things like the student’s grade-point average. But it doesn’t tell a whole lot about how much the student has really learned, especially in a subject such as English where very little can be measured mathematically. In developmental English, the problem is even worse – since what I teach is college-preparatory, it’s not counted in the student’s grade-point average, and the only official grade I give is just whether the student passed the course or didn’t. Even if such distinctions are close to meaningless, I don’t even get to distinguish whether the student got an A or a C; all I can say is that the student is ready to move up to college-level course work.

But I have found a way to make my students’ accomplishments more meaningful. They get to write their own report cards.

At the beginning of the term, all of my students (and all of the other students in developmental English classes at CNM) spend the second hour of the first class session writing a “diagnostic essay” that instructors use to assess the students’ strengths and weaknesses and to spot students who might do better in a higher or lower level class or benefit from a workshop for non-native speakers of English. Most instructors take that essay, mark it, and return it to the students; many instructors use it as a launching point for the first series of lessons for the course.

I don’t. I take that essay, unmarked, and I tuck it away in the back of the folder in which I keep the materials for that particular class.

Then, at the end of the term, I return that essay to the students. I tell them to look at it, and to compare it to the writing that they are putting into their end-of-term portfolios. I tell them to write two to three paragraphs about how their writing has changed and what they have learned during the course of the term.

I love it! The students stare, wide-eyed, at their earlier writing, and they make horrified comments, such as “I wrote like THAT?” or “Oh, my GAWD!” Then they set about writing about what they have learned and what they have gained from the class. For some, it’s improvement in writing skills, which is what the class is supposed to be about. For others, it can be other skills, such as the former star athlete whose high school teachers had just let him slide by with passing grades that he hadn’t earned, who now knows both that he must and also that he can maintain academic standards – once he applied the discipline from his athletic training to getting his school work done, he was an excellent student.

The big thing here is that I can’t give students any score other than pass or fail, but the students can give themselves detailed assessments of what they have really accomplished. And even if those measures will never show up on any college transcript, they are probably more meaningful than anything that can be calculated by numbers.

Essentially, my students are giving themselves their own report cards. The assessment of what they have done this term is theirs, not mine. They own their accomplishments. Yes, in the end, I enter the letter into the computer that shows up in their transcripts. But their real accomplishment shows up elsewhere.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

The Kris Kringle Regatta

The holiday season begins …

After having a fairly low-key Thanksgiving last weekend, the holiday season really got under way with some Rio Grande Sailing Club events. Friday night was the club Christmas party; normally it’s on Saturday, but this year all of the possible places to hold the party were booked solid for Saturday, so we had to make do with Friday night. Turnout was low, since typically people arrive at the lake on Saturday and stay over until Sunday; not too many people bother getting to the lake Friday. There were only 11 items in the white elephant gift exchange, including a manuscript of Murder at the Yacht Club (or at least the first 52,440 words of it). Cornhusker ended up taking that home.

Saturday was the Kris Kringle Regatta. The weather predictions were mostly for very light air, in the vicinity of 5 mph. Winds were indeed light as the two Etchells, Black Magic and Constellation, got towed out to the race course behind Mac Goddess. However, just about as we arrived at the course, the wind came up some, to around 10. The wind would continue to shift in both direction and speed all afternoon, but it never totally died down, and it never got really stiff either. It was, however, challenging to be in the right place at the right time when the wind shifted.

Zorro and I had arrived at the race course in time to do some tuning, and we took off to windward in what turned out to be a preview of the afternoon’s racing. We had a nice little tacking duel to get warmed up – because of slight differences in their keels, Constellation is a bit faster than Black Magic upwind, while Black Magic has the edge downwind. I started slightly ahead, and the trick was to keep a close eye on Zorro in order to tack to cover him every time he tacked, so as to keep him from getting past me. We got a chance to test the repairs and modifications we had made the previous weekend, and everything held up well. The new mount for the main halyard cleat is especially nice; Tadpole engineered it at an angle so that it’s easier to haul the sail up in the first place, and also easier to cleat and uncleat the halyard.

The first race, Zorro and I both got pretty good starts, although he ended up a bit ahead of me. Still, I managed to keep close to him and was only a bit behind him around the windward mark. On the downwind leg, the wind slacked off, and then it filled in from aft, bringing up the whole fleet in a bunch just behind us, most notably the J/22 imafirst, whose skipper we shall call Dotcom. Dotcom is relatively new to lake sailing, so he’s not always up on the shifty desert winds, but he has significant ocean racing experience gained in California before he came to New Mexico. Zorro was ahead of me, and Dotcom behind, rounding the leeward mark, but we had some difficulty getting the spinnaker down (a combination of inexperience and a sticky spinnaker pole jaw), and Dotcom managed to slip inside of us at the mark and gain a lead on us. But then we got our speed up and passed him; at the finish, we were second across the line after Zorro. (On corrected time, we ended up fourth, after Dotcom and Dumbledore on Kachina.)

At the start of the second race, I was ahead of Zorro, but it looked like we were both going to be over early. He started flogging his sails to slow down, and I was about to do likewise, when, with 30 seconds to the start, the wind dropped to nearly nothing. I was moving; Zorro wasn’t. Dotcom and I ended up with about a 10 boat-length lead on Zorro. Dotcom took off on starboard tack to the west side of the race course, while the tacking duel commenced between Zorro and me heading east. He tacked; I covered. He tacked again; I covered again. And again. And again. Dotcom came back from the west side of the course and crossed ahead of us, leading me to believe that there was probably more air on that side. I’m guessing Zorro also saw that, because his tacks began to work more westward. Zorro executed a quick tack and then tack-back, and as I was recovering from that, he did a fake tack, heading to wind as if he were tacking and then not carrying it out, while I did complete a tack. I quickly tried to tack back, but then there was Dotcom, on starboard, right in my way. I had to duck him, and then I was behind Zorro. But still, I managed to stay close to him, and increasingly ahead of Dotcom, all the way to the windward mark.

On the downwind leg, we had dissent among the crew. Pat said I ought to head up for speed, which was more or less what Dotcom was doing, while Tadpole said I ought to head down, straight for the mark. I kept asking for someone to tell me where Zorro was. I knew he was somewhere ahead and to port, obscured by the spinnaker, and I knew that he was the person I ought to be chasing, not Dotcom. I finally decided to head down toward the mark as Tadpole recommended, and as soon as I did that, I was beating Dotcom around the mark in just about the nicest rounding and spinnaker takedown I’ve ever done. Suddenly, there was Zorro – downwind and still headed down. I’d just rounded the wrong mark! Okay, back up with the spinnaker; my crew made a great recovery, following Zorro and Dotcom to the right mark. We had another good rounding, and on the final upwind leg, we nearly caught up with Dotcom and crossed the line just behind him. (We ended up still in third on corrected time – the rest of the fleet was pretty far behind us.)

After the second race, there wasn’t time enough for a third, and there was a fairly nice wind, so Zorro and I decided to sail back to the marina at the south end of the lake rather than wait for a tow from someone who had a motor and who also was headed that direction. We did a crew swap, putting Cornhusker on Constellation to learn from Zorro’s crew, Seymour and Twinkle Toes, while Zorro came onto Black Magic to give us some lessons in downwind boat handling. That was good. We learned more about how the Etchells can go dead downwind even when other boats can’t. We were also mock-racing against Seymour, and at one point when we were close together, we did a quick jibe onto starboard that took Seymour by surprise … yeah, that was fun, even if we did end up swapping paint.

We arrived back at the marina in the golden glow of the sun going down, fighting off the chills of the descending night, which gets cold quickly out in the desert where there’s no moisture in the air to hold the warmth. The thermometer in the truck registered 37 degrees as we headed back to the apartment to the warmth of the furnace and cats.