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, May 31, 2008

Back up north at last

It has been way too long, for all of us …

At last, Five O’Clock Somewhere is habitable again. It started in early January when the propane tank ran out, and then one of a series of especially severe winter storms hit before the propane company people could do the strongly recommended safety inspection before turning the gas back on.

But a continued series of disastrous weather systems meant that the propane guys were running around dealing with emergencies involving people who live here year-round and were therefore a much higher priority than those of us whose houses up here are just vacation places.

By the time a propane company guy had time to get to our place, the water heater had frozen and burst. Because of the way the water pipes are run into the house, he had to shut off the water pump. So the house was without water, without propane, without heat, without cooking, and therefore uninhabitable.

We’ve been on financial austerity lately, so we had to save up to pay for the tank-full of propane that we weren’t able to use, and then save up more so we could pay the propane-company guy to get and install a new water heater. (At least that will cost less than the water heater we had to buy a couple of years ago for the house in Albuquerque – that one had to have special safety features so it could be installed in the garage.)

This week, at last, we got the water heater installed and working, and the gas and water turned on. So finally, we can get back to enjoying the place.

It’s been a long time since Dulce’s been on a road trip – she was up here with us at New Year’s, just before disaster struck, and she hasn’t been traveling since. Instead, she’s been left home alone as we humans have gone on our trips, sometimes all in the same direction, and sometimes Gerald going one way and the parental units going the other. Before Tres died, that wasn’t such a bad thing, but now, when she’s had to spend time alone, she is frantic to see us return.

On the other hand, we weren’t exactly looking forward to traveling with Dulce, since she has always made her presence known in the car. She meows. And meows. And meows. And meows. And meows. We tried getting some tranquilizers from the vet, but we discovered she is a “talkative drunk” – when under the influence, she gets even more vocal. Worse, Tres, who had originally been a quiet traveler, decided that Dulce’s way was the best way, and he became an on-the-road yowler, too.

So we were worried that the journey north would be, at the least, unpleasantly noisy.

Surprise! Dulce voiced her discontent for about 15 minutes, and then she was relatively quiet for most of the journey – she occasionally would speak up, but generally not all that loudly.

We stopped in Española for some fast food, and as we returned to the vehicle, we heard on the radio that Highway 84, the most direct route to Five-O’Clock Somewhere, was blocked because of an accident near Abiquiu. We faced a decision – go the short way and hope the accident would be cleared up by the time we got there and we could get through, or go the longer way and hope the cat wouldn’t lose patience with the journey.

We chose the long way, which also was the scenic route, up Highway 285 to Tres Piedras, and then east on Highway 64 to rejoin Highway 84 at Tierra Amarilla. That proved to be the right choice for multiple reasons. Dulce continued to be a relatively happy traveler – my guess is that the weekends home alone were unpleasant for her, and even being cooped up in her carrier in a moving vehicle was preferable, if it meant she was with her humans rather than being alone. Also, that stretch of Highway 64 is some of the most wonderfully scenic road anywhere, and in the golden late-afternoon sun, the views were glorious. And, when we got back to Highway 84, there were law-enforcement vehicles blocking travel southward, indicating that the accident still had that highway closed – if we’d chosen that route, we’d have still been stuck in traffic 40 miles south.

So now we’re here, and it’s good to be back, although there’s a lot to be cleaned up, like the Christmas stuff that we were planning to put away the weekend after New Year’s that is still scattered about the living room. And there were a bunch of messages on the answering machine from the satellite company asking us to pay for service that we weren’t using since the house was uninhabitable – messages that we didn’t get since we weren’t here. I’m hoping that we can convince the satellite company to remove those charges. Since we’re on financial austerity, I don’t know that we’re going to continue satellite service anyway – it’s far better than cable, but still, it’s a luxury to have all of those entertainment channels. When the cable company in Albuquerque got too expensive ($40 a month), we cut the cable – and now the suckers who didn’t cut it are paying $100 a month for basic service, more for premium channels.

I have discovered that I don’t need anything more than the broadcast channels. I do want to get the news, both local and national. There is a prime-time drama that I follow that gives me food for thought. There is a daytime drama that I follow that is my guilty pleasure. There are often worthwhile programs on public television that I enjoy. Sure, cable or satellite could give me more, but I don’t need it. The cable company contacts me on a regular basis to try to get me to sign up again, but I’m not about to spend $100 a month on something that doesn’t give me anything meaningful.

The problem is that, up here at Five O’Clock Somewhere, we don’t get any broadcast signals, so if we want to get the news, the only way is satellite. And, at least according to the publicly available information from the satellite company, we can’t get our local broadcast stations unless we also subscribe to a package of other channels. At least that package costs less than half what the cable companies charge, but still, that’s more than we can afford right now.

Oh, and for those of you well-meaning folks who are about to suggest we get video over Internet – what we have out here is an extremely slow dial-up connection that gets up to 24K on a good day. That means this evening’s six-o’clock news would be done downloading about the middle of next week – if everything goes well – and in the meantime, the telephone line would be busy, and nobody could contact us, since we don’t have a cell phone signal here either.

Meanwhile, Dulce is in bliss. She is in the place she loves best, and she has all of her humans to wait upon her every whim. For her, at least, the return here has no downside whatsoever.

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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Trying to reflect on myself

It’s that time of year again

I have until the 30th to complete and submit the self-reflection package that is part of my annual performance evaluation. Last year, I was misguided – the form that I was to fill in had boxes of a certain size, each with room for about four lines of text, and I believed that I was to fill those boxes. As it turns out, that was a wrong assumption. Since the forms were electronic, I was to provide much more in-depth reflection than I did – something like half a page’s worth for each of the questions. The powers-that-be let me know last year that they would let me off just that one time, but this year I had darn well better provide a lot more depth to my reflection.

I had stray peripheral thought – this process was definitely discriminatory against vampires, since they don’t have any reflection.

So I’m supposed to reflect upon the most recent time an administrator made an observation visit to my classroom – which was last year, not this – and upon the comments the administrator made. I can’t remember much, and since last year, my reflection wasn’t deep enough, I don’t know that I can add much depth.

I’m also supposed to reflect upon the most recent batch of student evaluations of my work. At least those are reasonably recent, since they came from the past fall term. But I don’t know that I can really glean much specific from these evaluations. For the most part, my students last fall thought I was doing a good or great job, in issues such as understanding students’ needs, using teaching methods that work with a variety of learning styles, communicating class objectives clearly, being fair to students in grading, and starting and ending class on time. There was one student in one section who disagreed with just about everything … but even though the surveys are anonymous, I think I know who that student is – a fresh-out-of-high school student with a sense of entitlement. That’s part of why I like teaching night classes – I get students who have been out in the real world, and they understand that one has to work in order to earn anything meaningful. The daytime classes I teach are often nightmares – students who, all of their lives, have been given passing grades just for showing up, or for being smart enough to do the work, rather than actually doing it, or being athletes who need to preserve academic eligibility, who believe that “I need to get this grade” is reason enough for me to award it, whether the student has earned it or not.

Not that, in my self-reflection piece, I can get away with characterizing that one detractor in that way. I’m not allowed to dismiss him. I’m supposed to acknowledge that at least one student sees that I have shortcomings, and I should work to overcome said shortcomings. Not that there’s any way I can overcome the shortcoming of refusing to allow “I need a passing grade” as a reason to award a passing grade.

And then we get to the next thing I should reflect on: how well I have met the goals for myself that I set in the last reflection. I don’t remember exactly what I put down as my goals, but it was something pretty vague. I didn’t have any plans to attend any seminars or anything like that. I just put down something like I’d engage in dialogue with my colleagues and also keep tabs on the Internet for new teaching ideas and lesson plans. Well, maybe I can count something positive from those goals. Through a newspaper article, I discovered a wonderful beginning-of-term assignment for my English 0550 students, most of whom are immigrants. The original assignment was aimed at elementary and middle-school students, but with a bit of tweaking, I made it into a really good exercise for my students, “Where I’m From.” It worked out so well that I put it on my blog, and since then, I’ve had educators from all over coming to me for this particular exercise.

Next, I’m supposed to give an explanation, with details, of what I plan to do in the future to improve my ability to teach. I’m supposed to have some specific goals, and a clearly identified plan to accomplish those goals.

I’m looking at the Corporate Curmudgeon column from the Albuquerque Journal, Thursday, May 22, 2008. The Curmudgeon, Dale Dauten, is commenting about how college students fudge, and often outright lie, on job applications and in interviews. They get asked questions such as “Give me an example of a problem you faced and how you faced it.” According to Dr. Julia Levashina, an employment expert that Dauten interviewed, “The students believe that ‘I don’t have an example’ is unacceptable, so they have to make something up.”

That’s how I feel about this reflection piece. Yeah, I’m supposed to make some reflections about my goals for the coming year. But really, I don’t have any goals. I just want to keep on doing what I’m doing. I know I’m good at it. This term, I began as usual by explaining that I was once a non-traditional student, like many of my students, with a husband and a small child and a 100-mile commute to class, and if I could do it (BA Magna cum Laude from UNM), so could they. I actually had a couple of students come up to me during the mid-class break and hug me – they said they found in me a role model.

So no, I’m not going to fudge some answer just to have an answer. My plan is just to keep doing more of the same. Yes, I’ll keep alert to the Internet and to colleagues and to newspaper articles for ideas for new lesson plans. But I am just not interested in any “above and beyond” stuff. That’s for university tenure-track folk, not for “it’s about students” community college instructors.

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Monday, May 26, 2008

Covering 24 countries, more or less

It's nice to know I have international appeal.

While the 24 (give-or-take, considering two visits are from "Unknown" and another is from "misc.") countries covered account for only 12 time zones, it's still nice to know that people all over the world are interested in this blog. Hits are up for people looking for sailboat launching and for grammar issues.

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Sunday, May 25, 2008


Disaster narrowly averted

At 5 p.m. today, we had a crisis here. I went to feed Dulce, but the cupboard was bare! Not a can of cat food anywhere in sight!

I am currently carless in a city that was not designed for anything other than automobile travel. Not wishing to hike a mile to the store just to get cat food, I decided that real tuna would be good enough for Dulce, for just a day or two.

Further calamity – there was no tuna in the cabinet either! As I was rummaging through the cans, I stumbled upon a tin of smoked oysters and a can of Spam. I debated about serving up the oysters, and then I decided upon the Spam; I opened the can, and Dulce was in a frenzy around my ankles. I sliced off some of the substance, cut it into bite-sized pieces, and served it up on a saucer, which I then took to the cat-food area of the laundry room.

Dulce dove right in, and in almost no time, the dish was polished clean. Except that she had an unusual eating technique. About half of the pieces she ate, and about half, she picked up and carefully deposited on the floor next to the dish. I have no idea what criteria she had for deciding which pieces to eat and which to set aside.

I guess I can consider the Spam a half-success. Maybe next time I should serve up the oysters.

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Saturday, May 24, 2008

Really good news for Zorro

and a lot of hard work ahead for his team

This week we heard some good news for Zorro about his campaign to win the Mallory Cup men’s national sailing championship. Two weeks ago, we held the Sailing Association of Intermountain Lakes (SAIL) championship, officially covering New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, and the western part of Nebraska. Zorro’s team won that championship, and so his team and the second-place team were to go to Austin, Texas, for the semifinals. The one top team in the semifinals was to go to the national championship in San Francisco.

The semifinal was to be a contest between teams from SAIL, the Texas Sailing Association, and the sailing association that covers Oklahoma and the southern Great Plains. But the two teams from SAIL were the only teams to sign up for the Area F championship. Therefore the contest was called off, and Zorro and his team are now representing Area F at the national Mallory Cup championship.

At first glance, this seems ridiculous – a bunch of guys from the desert, competing for a national championship in sailing. But I can assure you, it is far from ridiculous. Zorro is a former Olympic athlete, and he still has the drive that took him to world-class standing. He has a training plan for his team. And he is looking for training opportunities to prepare for the Mallory Cup finals. He knows that the most significant difference between the lake sailing that he usually does and the sailing in San Francisco Bay is the currents, and he wants to get practice sailing in those currents.

There is also the issue of the boat. The Mallory Cup is to be held in J/24s. Zorro has set foot on a J/24 only for the Mallory qualifiers, and not before then. And his crew is mostly not familiar with the J/24. He has talked about bringing a boat of his own to the Bay Area to practice on, that wouldn’t be a J/24 but that would allow him to learn about current. But I don’t think that’s a good idea. For his practice sessions, it would be good for him and his crew to have a J/24 to practice on, since that’s the boat the race will be on.

In Hollywood movie terms, we’re a shoo-in – the crazy lunatics from the desert who don’t even stand a chance, like the Jamaican bobsledders or other nut cases. But really, we have a good solid shot at the championship. We just need a little help, and we’ll be there.

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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

A victim of his own competence

Life is most definitely not fair

I write this in praise of my curriculum chair, who, as far as I am concerned, is in the running for the greatest boss ever. He is concerned about the instructors, and he is also concerned about the students that we serve. For several years, he has directed the developmental English curriculum at this community college, and under his leadership, we have developed, and are continuing to develop, a unified curriculum plan that will help students to advance from one level to another in a way that the students’ learning is meaningful to the students’ goals – whether that goal is an associate degree in culinary arts, or a transfer to a four-year university for a bachelor’s degree and possibly something beyond.

John (sorry, I couldn’t come up with a blog nickname) has been an awesome supervisor. He has been the sort of boss that, I am told, most employees dream of. He allows us underlings to come up with ideas, and when we have something good, he gives us credit. Several times, his term as curriculum chair has come to an end (according to policy, we should have a new chair every two years), but we keep re-electing him.

The problem has been compounded because John is hugely computer-savvy. In addition to being the English curriculum chair for the department, he has been put in charge of the department Web site. And he’s been doing a good job at that as well.

Unfortunately, all of these demands on his time have meant that he hasn’t been able to do all that he should do. This term, as of late Tuesday, he hasn’t posted the beginning-of-term memo that should have been posted Monday (if not before).

I’m part-time faculty (also known as “adjunct”), so I’m not in danger. If I were full-time faculty and pointing out that John is overburdened, I might be in danger of being recruited to take over some of his duties.

But then, since Pat’s work has been cut, I have been considering applying for a full-time position. There would be trade-offs. Friday faculty meetings that are optional for part-time faculty are mandatory for full-time faculty. If there’s a faculty meeting on the weekend before a race, we can’t get there early.

If I became full-time faculty and then relieved John of some of his computer duties, that would be good for John. But I also don’t want to let go of the freedoms I have as a part-time instructor. But as hard as John has worked, he deserves a break. And really, Pat and I do need the money that we can get if I go full-time.

So maybe I give up my freedom on Fridays, and I make myself vulnerable to becoming either curriculum chair or departmental Website manager. And I commit myself to attending meetings on Fridays.

Still, if only there were two of John, that would be the best way for the department to proceed.

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What eats you?

Some thoughts on predators

Yesterday, there was a headline on the front page of the local newspaper: “Animal Attacks Child.” Pat had the comment, “… as opposed to ‘Plant Attacks Child’ or ‘Rock Attacks Child’?”

Actually, the reason the headline was so vague was because it was unclear exactly what sort of animal attacked the child – the child’s family says it was a mountain lion, but the state Game & Fish officials who are investigating the incident say there’s no evidence of a mountain lion in the area; according to them, it was more likely a small bear or possibly a bobcat.

Meanwhile, in that same newspaper and in several others from the same week, there are many reports of people, all too often children, who have fallen victim to random attacks in cities, sometimes in broad daylight.

Quite frankly, I find the urban sort of predator much more frightening than the wilderness variety. I feel much more safe walking alone at night in the forest than I do in the city. Non-human predators are logical in their motivations; therefore, I can take actions to be less of a target. Human predators, on the other hand, are far from logical. That makes them less predictable and far more scary.

Take coyotes, for example. Or wolves. The image the general public has is that these canines are red-eyed, slavering monsters out to attack. That is far from the truth. While coyotes tend to be solitary, and wolves usually move in packs, they both have in common that they are into energy conservation – they want to get the most caloric intake for the least caloric expenditure. That means that no sane coyote or wolf will attack a healthy human. They will go for rabbits or squirrels, which they can easily overpower. A wolf pack might attack a fawn or a calf, but not if there’s a parent at hand to fight them off. The only documented cases of wolves or coyotes attacking humans are cases in which the animals in question had rabies and therefore weren’t sane.

Then there are bears. Bears have a temper, but they’re totally logical, too. There are two ways one can get on the bad side of a bear. First, mama bears are probably the most protective parents on the planet, and they have a hair trigger. If you see a bear cub, you can be sure mama is somewhere near, and no matter how innocent your intentions, she’s likely to see your actions as a threat – so your wisest course of action is to get as far away from baby bear as you can, as fast as you can. The second bear behavior to be aware of is that they’re always hungry – they spend all winter sleeping, and all summer eating to build up their fat reserves so they can sleep all next winter. Bears are severely nearsighted, so they find food by smell. If you smell like food, especially high-calorie food, they will want to eat you. But if you don’t smell like food, bears will generally leave you alone. Don’t use any sweet-smelling personal-care products (soap, shampoo, deodorant), and keep all cooking/food smells, especially fatty ones like frying bacon, away from the tent where you’re sleeping. If you don’t smell like you contain a lot of calories, a bear will decide you’re not worth the effort of attacking.

Mountain lions and bobcats are much the same. They, too, are looking for food, and they need to get food in a way that the calories expended in getting the food are less than the calories gained from the food they get. A bobcat is not going to attack an adult human, just because the chance of bringing down the prey is minuscule. A mountain lion might be a threat, but I’m not too worried, at least in Laguna Vista – the mountain lions there definitely have a taste for venison, and they help themselves to it on a regular basis.

The predators in the city, however, are much less predictable and therefore more frightening. They’re not seeking food, or to protect their offspring. They’re random. Often they are on drugs, which make them insane, the way rabies does with coyotes and wolves. I can’t protect myself against urban predators by making myself look or smell less like food, because urban predators aren’t motivated by food.

It’s sad that I feel much safer among wolves, coyotes, bears, mountain lions, and bobcats than I do among my fellow human beings.

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Thursday, May 15, 2008

You’ve got a friend

The past eight and a half years have been … well … one long learning experience

Over at Proper Course, Tillerman has issued a challenge to fellow sailing bloggers: Write about a learning experience relating to sailing. It doesn’t necessarily have to be one of those “Oh, no, another learning experience!” incidents – although there certainly are plenty of those. It could be any learning experience at all, so long as it’s related to sailing.

The deadline for entries is tomorrow, so for the past two weeks I’ve been trying to think of a learning experience that I could share with the world.

Well, I’ve already blogged about such things as the time we punched a cleat-shaped hole in the bow of Black Magic and we learned about docking under sail in stiff winds as well as how to do fiberglass work. I hadn’t started my blog at the time that we had the accident in California, in which Pat learned not to treat a big boat like a little boat, at the expense of a broken wrist, but I’ve referred to the incident enough that it seems like I’ve covered it enough. I blogged about the time I was sailing with Zorro and we got dismasted. I’ve blogged about various other goofs and gaffes on and around the water. I’ve blogged about transporting boats, including the time the tire blew on Syzygy’s trailer, and we found out that being in the shadow of multiple communication towers was meaningless with an obsolete cell phone. Since I’ve already covered all of those topics, it would be redundant to cover them again for the purposes of Tillerman’s challenge.

Then there are the learning experiences that were specifically designed as learning experiences, such as the classes Pat and I have taken. Since December of 1999, we have taken basic keelboat sailing, coastal cruising, coastal navigation, and other classes in handling a boat and operating its systems. We also took a class in race management last year, from which we learned a whole lot, the upshot of which is that Pat is now a certified race officer and working on the next level, and I’m working on getting certified myself. But I’ve already covered that here, too.

And of course, there was all of the training and hard work when I decided to try to be a helmsperson in the Adams Cup. For months, nearly all of my spare time was devoted to training and learning about racing and how to handle a racing boat, and I learned a heck of a lot. There were some “Oh no!” moments there, too, such as when I got clobbered by the boom. The quarterfinal races themselves constituted a learning experience. But regular readers of this blog already know about all of those things.

So I’ve been racking my brain to find some learning experience that I haven’t already covered, but that would be of interest to readers both of this blog and of Tillerman’s.

Then I realized … the greatest learning experience hasn’t been just one single event. The whole thing has been a learning experience, from the time Pat and I first joined both the New Mexico Sailing Club and the Rio Grande Sailing Club, in February of 2000.

From the beginning, when we were absolute, total newbies, the more experienced sailors were always there to help us. Whether it was something general about sailing, or something specific to our boat, we could always count on somebody to help us. Sometimes that meant offering help even when we didn’t know we needed it, such as specific tips for making life comfortable aboard a MacGregor. Sometimes, we knew we needed information, but we didn’t know exactly what questions to ask, and somebody always had an answer.

And there were always the senior-guru-types who just about knew everything, who had been sailing for ages, and who also had tales to tell, who could keep us excited about sailing and interested in sailing, whether it was racing in places other than New Mexico, or taking cruises to intriguing places, or whatever. All of those stories were learning experiences.

Now we’ve been around long enough that we’re regarded as senior-guru-types, so we’re now passing along the same kind of caring that we have received. But at the same time, there will always be somebody else from whom we can still learn. We will never know everything that there is to know. And neither will anybody else in the sailing clubs. But we can all share, and we can all learn, and as long as we keep sharing and learning, we will be all the stronger.

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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Much to catch up on

I’m still here …

The past two weekends have been eventful, in particular with sailing; first, we had the Sailing Association of Intermountain Lakes elimination for the Mallory Cup – the US men’s championship – and the following weekend, we had two “fun” races for the Rio Grande Sailing Club: the Joshua Slocomb single-hand race and the Jack-and-Jill his-and-hers race.

The Mallory elimination was an immense success. Despite a few miscues, and weather that didn’t always cooperate, Pat and I, with the help of a whole heck of a lot of other people, ran a high-quality event that the club can be genuinely proud of. Pat should soon have all of the details on Desert Sea. We had three teams competing, and the format of the event was a round-robin, with the three teams rotating among three boats (J/24s, as evenly matched as Dumbledore and Weatherman could make them), to make the competition more even.

Except for the first race, which ended in nearly dead air, the races were in relatively stiff conditions. Steady winds were 15 to 25 knots, but there were higher gusts – at one point, a gust of 39 was recorded. There was discussion of calling off the races, but we didn’t. Had this been a regular club race, with sailors of mixed abilities and boats of mixed condition, we might well have called it off. But these were three hot-shot teams, on reliable boats. And, while the semifinals might be in Austin, Texas, on relatively calm waters, if one of these teams makes it to the finals in San Francisco, they’re going to have to deal with these sorts of conditions.

Pat, as Principal Race Officer, was on the start/signal boat, and I was on the finish boat, which also was in position to monitor the windward mark roundings. The action was awesome. The three teams were really good – Zorro, with Twinkle Toes, Penzance, and Space Invader on his crew; the New Mexico Tech sailing team, led by Seattle; and a team from the New Mexico Sailing Club led by Wild Man and including Dumbledore. I had a vantage point where I could see some absolutely fantastic sailing. The mark roundings were exciting, sometimes with just inches between boats.

What I saw was a whole lot of really good boat-handling, and a whole lot of strength and agility on the part of the crews. Space Invader, in particular, executed some major high-strength ballet moves on the foredeck for Zorro’s crew, getting the spinnaker pole up and getting the chute launched in really rough conditions. The final race featured a really tight competition between Tech and Wild Man’s team for second place, with both boats closely together for the whole race, coming in for a photo finish. Overall, Zorro took first place and Wild Man second; both teams are now qualified for the semifinals.

Then this past weekend, we had the Slocomb on Saturday and the Jack-and-Jill on Sunday. Saturday, Pat and I were on the committee boat for the Slocomb, and I turned Black Magic over to Penzance. We waited for wind to come in, and when it did, we called for a long race – it looked like it was going to keep coming up.

It did for a while, but then it got lighter. Zorro and Penzance quickly took the lead in an exciting duel for the first three and a half legs of the race, before Zorro finally broke away. About then, the wind started to fade, leaving the entire fleet drifting around the lake. As the wind got lighter and lighter, we eventually decided to shorten the course, at the end of the leg that Zorro was on (Penzance was a few minutes behind Zorro, and the rest of the fleet by this time was a nearly a whole leg behind). That turned out to be a good call, as the wind continued to vanish. Four boats finished; one quit; and the other two didn’t make it to the finish line before the time limit, as the wind went to zero.

Sunday, I joined Zorro on Constellation for the Jack-and-Jill race, and Gerald took his girlfriend on Black Magic. The girlfriend’s first experience with sailing had been Friday evening, when we launched Black Magic and she sailed with Pat and Gerald to move it from the boat ramp to the marina near the race area. But it looked like conditions were going to be fairly light, and she was game for the experience, so I let them have the boat. Pat was solo on the race committee boat.

As on Saturday, we had to wait a while for some wind to arrive. Unlike on Saturday, when the wind came, it continued to increase throughout the day. We started in light conditions, and the wind gradually built. Pat called a fairly long course, and we got started. On the upwind legs, Zorro had the helm while I ran jib trim; downwind I took the helm and Zorro ran the spinnaker. As the wind built, so did our speed; on the final, upwind, leg of the race, we really pulled out ahead of the rest of the fleet. Mother and Dumbledore on Kachina were a few minutes behind us, and not too far behind them were Gerald and Girlfriend.

Just as Kachina was finishing, we saw the mainsail drop on Black Magic. The outhaul had broken, and the resultant flapping of the sail was causing it to begin to tear at the tack, so Gerald had decided to take it down. They didn’t realize they were close to the finish, so instead of finishing under jib alone, they turned around and went back to the marina. Since the next boat behind them was pretty far back, they could still have finished in third, if they had only known. Still, upon returning to the marina, Girlfriend declared that she had had a fantastic time and wants to continue sailing – even if the immersion in all of the sailing, especially racing, was fairly intense.

It was good sailing with Zorro – I hadn’t been out with him in a long time. Of course, it was also good to win, especially on Mother’s Day. It occurred to me that he still needs an alternate crew member for his Mallory Cup team – but then, I realized I don’t have the physical size or strength for that, especially on a J/24. There was a lot of major athleticism going on out on the water during the qualifiers. I’ll have to content myself with just being Zorro’s number-one fan.

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Thursday, May 01, 2008

Poetry Corner: Sheldon Harnick

Who? I hear you ask

I’ll get to Sheldon in a moment. First, I need to tell you about Gerald’s latest adventures.

He’s been going all over the place, doing all sorts of things. He earned his Eagle Scout award, and now that he’s over 18, he’s an Assistant Scoutmaster for his Boy Scout troop. That means he’s taking part in hikes and campouts and things like that, in a leadership role. He went to Germany with his high school German class, and not only did he find the experience enriching, his host family has invited him to come back, for up to a year. He went on tour with the Albuquerque Youth Orchestra to southern Colorado. His school orchestra went on a retreat in northern New Mexico with the orchestras from several other high schools, and then they returned for a spectacular joint concert at the National Hispanic Cultural Center. He attended his high school prom, with a group of friends, in high style thanks to the mother of one of those friends, who sponsored a spectacular prom-night party (we’re still looking forward to getting the photos). And, most importantly, he’s been working with his We The People team, the state champions, to prepare for the national finals in Washington, D.C.

Gerald has developed into his own independent self, with his own independent point of view. He has registered to vote as a Democrat, much to Pat’s disappointment. But he’s also not about to follow any party line blindly. As a member of his school’s We The People team, he has learned to evaluate points of view and form cogent arguments on just about any issue.

This takes me back many years into the past. When we first enrolled Gerald in kindergarten, the Albuquerque Public Schools had (and as far as I know, still have) a policy of evaluating every incoming kindergartner, not just the kid but the kid’s home situation. This evaluation was accomplished by the kindergarten teacher and her assistant visiting the home of each incoming kindergartner and interviewing the parents.

When Gerald’s soon-to-be teacher and her assistant came to visit, he turned on the charm and talked and talked and talked. Early on in the visit, the teacher made the extreme understatement, “He seems to be adequately verbal.”

From then on, whenever Gerald got talkative, especially when interacting with people outside the family, Pat and I would joke that Gerald was being “adequately verbal.”

From the very beginning of his elementary-school career, Gerald was recognized as having special political skills. Joe the crossing guard in front of the school was impressed with Gerald’s skills of socializing and persuasion – he took to calling Gerald “the Judge” or “the Guv’nor.”

In late elementary school and early middle school, Gerald took some acting classes. He had some talent, and he did well. He might have continued, except that he was also dealing with other things, such as orchestra. But he did seem to have a talent for persuasion.

When Gerald arrived in high school, the We The People coaches seem to have had their eye on him. He had a bunch of other things on his agenda, but the WTP people kept in touch with him, and finally, in his senior year, he was able to join WTP. This year, as is usual for Highland High School, the team has won the state competition, and so the team is moving on to the national championship.

This is where I get all gushy and I start to lose it. And that’s not like me. I don’t get gushy. I don’t lose it.

For the first two years of Gerald’s life, I wasn’t capable of emotion. First, I had postpartum depression, and then I had antidepressant medications that guaranteed I wouldn’t feel depression because I wouldn’t feel anything. I quit the meds because of multiple side effects – the totally dead feeling emotionally, the seriously dried-out skin and mouth, the tremors, the visual auras, and the depleted bank account – the medical insurance we had at the time would pay only 50% of “mental” health care, and the drugs were $220 a month, when it was a struggle to pay our $440 a month rent.

Even after I ditched the meds, I don’t know that I was all that great of a parent. I was tired a lot of the time, and so Gerald had to do a lot more work than some of his classmates. I couldn’t tell him exactly how to do his homework – I could give him guidelines, but not instructions.

So now Gerald is all grown up. I think of him, going to Washington, participating in the We The People competition. He’s wearing his suit, and he’s testifying in a Congressional hearing room, and he’s making a strong argument, and he’s … he’s … he’s not a boy, he’s a man.

When did he grow up?

And that leads me to Sheldon Harnick, the lyricist for the musical Fiddler on the Roof. I’m feeling old, and some of that is a good feeling – the younger generation accomplishing something – but some of it is a feeling that I’m now something of the past, and I don’t matter so much any more.

And maybe that’s part of why, even though usually I’m not so emotional, right now I’m torn up.

Is this the little girl I carried?
Is this the little boy at play?

I don't remember growing older
When did they?

When did she get to be a beauty?
When did he get to be so tall?

Wasn't it yesterday
When they were small?

Sunrise, sunset
Sunrise, sunset
Swiftly flow the days
Seedlings turn overnight to sunflowers
Blossoming even as we gaze

Sunrise, sunset
Sunrise, sunset
Swiftly fly the years
One season following another
Laden with happiness and tears

What words of wisdom can I give them?
How can I help to ease their way?

Now they must learn from one another
Day by day

They look so natural together

Just like two newlyweds should be

(Perchik & Hodel)
Is there a canopy in store for me?

Sunrise, sunset
Sunrise, sunset
Swiftly flow the days
Seedlings turn overnight to sunflowers
Blossoming even as we gaze

Sunrise, sunset
Sunrise, sunset
Swiftly fly the years
One season following another
Laden with happiness and tears