Five O'Clock Somewhere

Welcome to Five O'Clock Somewhere, where it doesn't matter what time zone you're in; it's five o'clock somewhere. We'll look at rural life, especially as it happens in Rio Arriba County, New Mexico, cats, sailing (particularly Etchells racing yachts), and bits of grammar and Victorian poetry.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Pictures from Spring Series 1

Yes, there was somebody on the committee boat taking pictures. It just took a while to get the pics.

The first day of racing, Saturday, was a drifter, and we didn't get any pictures of the one excruciatingly slow race that was run. However, on Sunday, the wind was up -- and early in the day, it was up enough that the race committee chair considered calling off the racing. Fortunately, he didn't.

The winds were stiff at the marina as I considered whether to sail or not to sail. I finally decided not to sail, as all I had for crew was Pat plus one extremely novice sailor, and the conditions were really too rough for such a crew. Applegal, however, had very experienced crew, Appleguy and Penzance, and so she set sail.

The winds continued to howl, but not to the point where a highly experienced crew would give up, so I was surprised to see Applegal and her boat coming into port under jib only. Turns out, she hadn't chickened out, but her main halyard had broken.

Opportunity knocked, and I opened the door. I asked Appplegal, Appleguy, and Penzance if they would be willing to be crew for me on Black Magic. After some deliberation, they took me up on the offer, and we got out to the race course, ducked the line, and officially started the first race about a half hour after the rest of the fleet had gotten underway.

We managed to pass all of the B fleet and a couple of boats of the A fleet. The photographer on the committee boat got this picture of us on the downwind leg. If you look closely, you can see the jib halyard that was called upon to do duty as a spinnaker pole topping lift, as we haven't yet installed a new topping lift to replace the one that broke. Since the only other Etchells on the course at this point was Zorro in Constellation, we came in second in the Etchells fleet in that race.

By the end of the race, we weren't all that far behind Constellation. The wind was gradually abating, and the skies were clearing, and the photographer on the committee boat got this picture of some really awesome looking clouds. That's Zorro on Constellation in the center of the picture, and Black Magic near the right edge.

In the second race, we managed to stick fairly close to Constellation, although we did have some tactical miscues, such as not tacking when we should have, or tacking when we should not have. We managed to stay fairly close on Zorro's tail throughout the race, but we just couldn't get past him.
The third race was Black Magic's charm. It was a shorter race, with a downwind finish. Yes, we beat Zorro, even though he was potentially committing some Rule 42 violations by pumping the spinnaker at the end.

After the Etchells finished that last race, there was a really stiff competiton among the J boats. In the foreground, from left to right, the J/24s Wild Thing, Kachina, and Oso compete for the winning position, while the J/22 Sirocco's Song is not far behind.

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Thursday, March 27, 2008

It’s springtime in the South Valley

There’s just something I like about this place

Today has been just about a perfect day, as far as the weather is concerned. The sun is shining, and the wind is nice, not out-and-out howling the way it often does in New Mexico in the spring. The fruit trees are blooming, and the acequias, or irrigation ditches, are flowing.

The warm weather means open windows and doors, and the breeze brings in some of the atmosphere of the South Valley – the warm, earthy smell of fields beginning to come to life, and the crowing of a rooster from the farm next door.

At noon today was the awards ceremony for students taking classes in the School of Adult and General Education. Most of my students have jobs, so many of them weren’t able to come; I’ll be handing out their awards in class. Meanwhile, the ones who were able to show up enjoyed being recognized for their achievements.

Helping to hand out the awards was the college president, Katharine Winograd (in the background in the photo), who has just handed down a decision that has been very popular in the community. This year, the state legislature voted to reduce funding for the state universities and colleges, directing those institutions to make up the difference by raising tuition.

While the state’s flagship university has chosen to raise tuition by nearly 7%, here at the community college, Dr. Winograd and the governing board have decided not to raise tuition at all. We’ll be making up the financial shortfall by economizing in other areas. Times are tough, and this college is here to help students to succeed. A tuition hike, even a small one, would be a hardship for many – just this week, I had a student who couldn’t come to class because she couldn’t afford to put gas in her car until she got paid.

I just love working here, at a place where the students come first.

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Monday, March 24, 2008

A nightmare

Thank heaven it was just a dream

I had a dream. In this dream, my students and I were wandering around in a subterranean world, lit by yellowy smoking torches. There were a lot of underground caverns, and even an underground marina with underground sailboats.

This dream’s plot went like that of a modern horror movie, or at least like what I’ve been told a modern horror movie’s plot is like. One by one, the victims, in this case my students, were knocked off, in increasingly gruesome fashion.

Throughout the plot, I was powerless to prevent what was happening. I was able only to watch in anguish as yet another promising life was snuffed out.

Those who know me know that my students are my life. Yes, I make them work hard, but that’s because I want them to do the very best that they can do. I hold them to a high standard, and I am proud of them when they live up to it, especially when they come back to me and tell me that I have made a difference in their lives. I cannot imagine any career other than teaching in this community college, and even if I were to win the lottery and be set for life, I could not imagine not teaching here. I would do it even if I were not paid for it. The very worst possible nightmare that I could ever dream would be for my students to be killed. And that’s the nightmare that I had.

I’m sure some psychologist somewhere can say that maybe I have a secret wish to be rid of my students. But I don’t think it’s that. More likely, something has hit my subconscious and led me to fear that my students’ futures are in danger. But I’m damned if I can think what that might be.

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Thursday, March 20, 2008

Gerald’s adventures

The offspring is off to see the world …

… or at least, some of Germany. He took off Friday with some of the students in his high school German class on a journey scheduled to last about two weeks. The itinerary includes a few days in Berlin, a home stay with a family in a village near Ulm, and a few days in Munich. He has a laptop with him, and you can read his take on things on his blog, (Enter Title Here) (depending on how much time he actually will have to compose blog posts and things like that).

About now, he should be finishing up in Berlin and heading for the home stay. The company that sets up these student exchanges seems to have done a particularly good job of matching Gerald with a family. In preparation for the trip, Gerald created a letter of introduction that included photos of my boat, Black Magic, and of him with his Scout troop on top of a mountain in the Pecos Wilderness. Subsequently, he also created a scrapbook with more photos.

The family he was matched with has an 18-year-old son with similar interests: He is a sailor, and there are plans to take a day trip to go hiking in the AlpsUlm is not far from where Germany, Austria, and Switzerland come together. Gerald was in email contact for about two weeks before the trip began, and at least electronically, he and his host hit it off well.

It will be interesting to see how this develops.

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Sunday, March 16, 2008

Seventeen time zones!

World dominion is coming closer and closer!

I wish most especially to thank my fan base Down Under -- in the last 100 visits, there were four Aussies, and they each came from a different time zone. I would also like to thank my fans in New Zealand, the Philippines, east Africa, India, and Alaska.

Some day, maybe, I will achieve my goal of world domination. Meanwhile, I have one more time zone to add to my score.

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Overheard recently …

Yes, it’s that time of year

Pat and I had dinner a couple of nights ago at one of our favorite barbecue places. At a nearby table was a large family gathering, with about a dozen people of all ages.

Pat and I were just behind the family as we left the restaurant, when one of the younger members piped up, “Nana, I want to ride home with you.”

“I’m sorry, hon,” said the woman whose shirttail he was tugging, who definitely didn’t look old enough to be a grandmother, “I don’t have room for you. My car’s full of cookies.”

As a former Girl Scout (and second-place cookie pusher in the county when I was 14), and a former Girl Scout leader, I had to smile.

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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Athletic recruiting?

I never thought a member of MY family would ever be recruited for an athletic team!

Yesterday, I received an interesting telephone call and email. The New Mexico Tech sailing team had heard that Gerald might be attending that school, and they offered him a chance to be on their crew for the Mallory Cup championship this year.

Unfortunately, the quarterfinal round, which the Rio Grande Sailing Club will be running at Elephant Butte Lake, coincides with Gerald’s trip to Washington, D.C., to participate in the national We The People competition, so he won’t be able to participate in the Mallory. Of course, if he did, there would be a problem of conflict of interest, since Pat and I are up to our eyeballs in the planning and running the event.

Still, it is interesting that the college sailors thought highly enough of Gerald’s sailing ability that they wanted him on their team. When Pat and I were in high school, we were recruited for academics – we both had high SAT scores, and I was a finalist for both the National Merit and Presidential scholarships. I ended up with a walk-in closet knee deep in recruiting materials. Gerald also had a good SAT score, and so he, too, has been getting college recruiting packages for his academic abilities.

So getting attention from college recruiters isn’t something new for us. But getting recruited for athletics is something new – even if the situation is a bit odd, since New Mexico is an unexpected place to be sailing at all, and New Mexico Tech doesn’t really have an athletic program anyway, and there are no athletic scholarships. Not that that would really matter, since the lottery plus NMT scholarships mean Gerald would be getting a free ride whether he sailed or not.

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Friday, March 07, 2008

If I won the lottery

What quirky little things would you do?

Pat and I were discussing the lottery. We don’t usually buy lottery tickets, but the Powerball jackpot has been getting big, and when the number gets big, we sometimes make a small contribution or two to the state education and scholarship funds on the extremely unlikely chance that we might cash in big-time.

If we won the big jackpot, we’d do what most people envision – after paying off debts, get a nice home (or two), nice cars, and that sort of thing. We’d also have money to spend on boats, and I’d see a new, finely tuned Etchells on the horizon, along with semi-professional crew (and a stipend for Zorro to continue as my coach).

Then there would also be the altruistic side of things. The schools in the Chama Valley are so woefully underfunded that there is nearly no art instruction; we’d set up an endowment to provide for the arts (both visual and performing) to be provided at all levels, from elementary on up. We might even endow a Chama Valley Cultural Center, which would provide performance, studio, and gallery space. We might also make a low-interest or no-interest loan so the Chama Valley Supermarket could rebuild and reopen, rather than waiting for FEMA to provide the funds.

But then there are the really quirky ideas. As Pat and I were discussing these fantasies, I was rubbing great gobs of moisturizing lotion into my severely parched hands, so chapped that they were bleeding. At the community college where I teach, washing one’s hands after going to the restroom is a painful business – either the hand soap or the paper towels (or both) are unbelievably harsh. The soap seems nice enough, but those paper towels are super-harsh, and I’m guessing they’re fairly acidic.

My quirky idea, if I win the lottery: provide the college with an endowment specifically for the purchase of higher quality consumables in the restrooms – moisturizing soap and acid-free paper towels, and probably air-blower hand dryers too. Yeah, it’s not an earth-shaking project, but it would make a lot of people happier in a small sort of way.

So, if you were to win the lottery or otherwise come into a large pile of unexpected money, what would you do with it – not the big lifestyle stuff or the major charity stuff that pretty much everybody thinks about, but the little pet peeve that you would solve, or the quirky silly thing that you would use the money for?

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Thursday, March 06, 2008

Godspeed, Bill

You will be missed

I wish to note the passing of William F. Buckley, conservative thinker, grammarian, and sailor.

I know I’m late … most of the other obits came out a week ago. But it took me some time to gather my thoughts about the man.

I never met him, although I once nearly did – I was the news editor of the UNM student newspaper, the Daily Lobo, and he had come to UNM to give a talk. Alas, at the time, Pat was working out of town and I couldn’t find a babysitter for Gerald, who was a toddler at the time. So one of my crack reporters got the story instead.

Politically, Buckley kept to the roots of conservatism, principles which, in recent years, have been completely neglected: that government shouldn’t be meddling in the private lives of citizens, that it is up to us, the people, to decide what is good or bad for us, when such decisions have no impact on society as a whole.

One of Buckley’s strengths was that he could disagree with somebody and still get along. He was fair-minded, and he had a sense of humor. He was never insulting, and he always respected the opposition. When he defeated an opposing position, it was purely through logical reasoning and never through ad hominem attacks.

In grammar and rhetoric, Buckley was a master. He was accused of sesquipedalianism, but that’s a false charge. He always used the precise words to express exactly what he meant, and if those precise words used more than the standard allocation of syllables, that was no problem for him. If little words would suffice, that’s what he would use. He never used the big words just to show off – he used them because they were the words that said exactly what he wanted to say.

Grammatically, Buckley’s prose was superb. He took care to make sure that his sentences said exactly what he meant. Many other writers are sloppy, and they write sentences that can have more than one meaning, or that don’t mean what the writer actually intended. That’s especially true in journalism, where writers are often on a tight deadline and can’t double-check what they wrote. But not Bill. I’m guessing that his prose was pretty good to start with, and that he was really good at self-editing, and that there were good copy-editors reading his work, so that what actually got into print was nearly perfect.

And he was a sailor. He made long-distance passages, and I immensely enjoyed the books he wrote chronicling a couple of them. I would have enjoyed being along on the journeys – not just the high quality of food and wine with which he provisioned the boat, but also the high quality of shipmates along for the journey. One of the common complaints of people who undertake long sailing journeys is that the trip becomes boring – that’s one of the reasons there are many boats available for purchase in Hawaii, from people who started out on an around-the-world journey, but then discovered they weren’t well suited to tedium. But I suspect that if I were on a journey with Bill and his friends, I would not be bored. There would always be good conversation and good humor.

Godspeed, Bill. I hope I may sail with you in another world.

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Saturday, March 01, 2008

Severe winter weather

including some disasters (and at least I have something serious for my 500th post)

This has been a rough winter in the northern end of Rio Arriba County. It’s a mixed blessing – a really good winter snowpack means there will be plenty of runoff to fill the lake in the spring, but the snow itself has caused some problems. We’ve had some problems, too, not as bad as for some people, but related to the weather.

Shortly after New Year’s, we got a postcard from the propane company that supplies Five O’Clock Somewhere, alerting us that we hadn’t had our tank filled in some time and warning us that it might run out. We had previously been on a plan where, for an extra per-gallon charge, the propane company would send someone out once a month to top off the tank, but apparently we had been using so little propane that we’d been removed from that plan somewhere around August – but we didn’t realize it, so we weren’t keeping an eye on the gauge on the tank.

So that weekend, we went up north, and sure enough, the tank was empty. Rather than spend the weekend with neither heat nor hot water, we returned to Albuquerque and phoned the propane company to have the tank refilled.

The following week was one of record cold. In Chama, the previous record low had been minus 15 degrees Fahrenheit; that week had nights of 17 below and 20 below.

The next weekend, we went up north again, and found that the propane tank had been refilled. However, since the system had been run empty, the propane delivery guy had not turned the gas line into the house on – it’s a strong safety recommendation to have all the lines tested for leaks, especially since the cold conditions may have damaged the lines, before getting the gas turned on and the pilots lit. So we left a spare key for the propane guy, so he could get into the house, test the lines, and light the pilots, and we returned to Albuquerque.

The next week, a major snowstorm hit northern Rio Arriba County, dumping a couple of feet of snow in Laguna Vista and even more in Chama. The folks at the propane company were busy delivering propane to people who live there full time, who need to have gas to survive. We went up north, and we discovered that our gas hadn’t been turned on. The toilet bowls were frozen solid – a fascinating phenomenon. We set up an electric heater with an “anti-freeze” setting in the kitchen, in the center of the house, hoping that it would at least reduce some of the damage that the house might suffer from being so cold for a prolonged period.

Then, the really severe weather hit. A series of snowstorms, one after another, swept through northern New Mexico. In Chama, one storm dumped nearly four feet of snow, and the total from the series of storms was more than six feet. Five O’Clock Somewhere is more than 1000 feet lower than Chama, and on a south-facing slope, but we figured it had also received its share of snow.

At this point, our worries about getting our propane turned on and our pilots lit became trivial compared to what a whole lot of the rest of the Chama Valley was dealing with. Our house there is just a second home, a place we come on vacation. It’s not necessary for our physical survival. On the other hand, most of the people who live there don’t have any other place to go. If they run out of heating fuel, they may freeze to death. If they can’t get food or medicine, they may suffer. There are people who depend on life-saving medical equipment – if the power goes out, they can die unless somebody brings them a generator. The National Guard was called out, and for nearly a week, they were making emergency deliveries to people in need.

The storms took their toll on the community as well. One of the most vital focal points of the Chama Valley has been the Chama Valley Supermarket. It’s where people come together, where the locals meet and catch up on the gossip. It’s also been where the tourists in their quarter-million-dollar RVs come to stock up on foodstuffs, so the market has always carried a selection of high-end items as well. But the locals and the RVers always seem to get along – it’s always been a happy place.

Alas, the weather took its toll on the Chama Valley Supermarket. The snow piled up on the roof, and the roof caved in. I’m sure the managers of the market are working on finding alternative space in which they can open, so they can at least provide a fraction of the service they used to, but to lose such an icon of the community is devastating.

And the Chama Valley Supermarket isn’t the only icon of the community that has been taken out. The parishioners of St. Patrick’s Catholic Church have been trying to raise funds for several years to restore their sanctuary. It’s a historic building, dating back to the 1880s, when the railroad first arrived and Chama came into existence. Some years back, the sanctuary was declared unsafe, and since then, the parish has been holding Mass in the parish hall and working to raise funds to rehabilitate the sanctuary. The snowstorms caved in the roof. I don’t know whether that’s good news or bad – does the roof’s collapse mean there’s now more incentive to get funding, or does it mean that the building is now so far gone that it’s not worth saving?

South of Chama, a much newer building was destroyed. The Brazos Canyon Volunteer Fire Department, inspired and, according to some, driven by then fire chief Michael Hays, had only recently finished building a new fire house. An explosion destroyed the fire house, totaling three fire trucks that were inside, and killing Hays, who had just retired as chief, citing the construction of the fire house as his proudest achievement. Preliminary investigations indicate that the massive snow load on top of the building deformed the walls, causing a propane line to crack and leak, leading to the explosion.

The latest news is that now the governor has declared several northern New Mexico counties to be disaster areas. The powers-that-be have announced that FEMA will be moving in to help people. Heaven help them.

So in light of all that, what happened next at Five O’Clock Somewhere is rather trivial. The snow finally melted enough that the propane company guy had time and wherewithal to deal with non-emergency situations. He came out, and he discovered that the water heater had frozen and burst. Fortunately, the water was gushing mostly outside the house and not inside. He shut off the water at the well to keep the pump from burning out, and he’s going to be checking with a wholesaler in Farmington to see about getting us a good deal on a new water heater. He couldn’t light the furnace – the snow on the roof is so deep that the furnace exhaust vent was covered.

Yeah, this means it will be a while before we’re next at Five O’Clock Somewhere. But at least since it’s a second home, I probably don’t need to worry about FEMA trying to help us.

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