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.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Magic Uncles revisited

Although, it turns out, I haven’t really visited them in the first place …

Many years ago, when I was first venturing out into the blogosphere, I had written a bit about Magic Uncles. I thought I had written a post about them, but a search of my archives turns up nothing; instead, what I wrote was a comment on Muddled Ramblings.

At the time, Jer, on his epic road trip, was visiting an old high-school friend who had married, settled down, and produced multiple offspring, and these offspring were totally excited by this stranger who had rolled into their lives, in a cool car, bringing a change of routine and representing something other than safe, ordinary, ho-hum life as usual.

I use the term “Magic Uncle” to describe this sort of relationship – the person doesn’t actually have to be an uncle, and, as in Jer’s case, may not even be a relative. A Magic Uncle is a relative or friend of the family, and his role is to bring fun and interest to the kids’ lives. He is single and childless, generally not tied down in any serious way, and he typically drives a fun car. Because he’s not fully embedded in adult life, the kids perceive him as being more like them and less like the (much too stuffy) parents. Every kid should have one.

When I was a kid, my Magic Uncle was Dupes, who can be seen at (Enter Title Here) doing something strange involving a cheese puff. He was my mom’s cousin, who had come to live with my grandparents when his home situation went bad. He was single, and he was a younger than my mom. He had recently finished a tour of duty in the Navy, and he drove a Mustang Mach 3. On the Fourth of July, he was the one who got the fireworks and then shot them off the end of the boat dock at the lake house. He was always joking and goofing around. He got married when I was in high school, but as you can see from the photo on Gerald’s blog, he never completely outgrew the silly stuff.

Captain JP has recently made some comments that lead me to believe he’s a Magic Uncle – in his case, literally. That is, literally an uncle, not necessarily literally magic. I don’t know that he’s brought any tree seeds home from Narnia. He often mentions his nieces and nephews, especially in the context of borrowing a couple of them to participate in some fun activity or other. As best as I can tell, he’s single. I don’t know what sort of car he drives, but a cool car is merely a plus and not a defining factor; Dupes continued to be a Magic Uncle even after totaling the Mach 3.

I had thought about inviting Captain JP to bring along a few nieces and nephews to enjoy the Five O’Clock Somewhere Experience. I figured he could have the elegant guest room, and they could have the one with the train set. But then, he took dibs on the room with train set. Now, that’s a defining factor of a Magic Uncle – still not too grown up to enjoy some good toys.

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Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Five O’Clock Somewhere Experience

If you want to experience this place in Real Life, what can you expect?

Captain JP, on his blog, has issued a writing challenge. He has made the observation that, for example, the music industry nowadays is not making much money off music sales, but rather, it's generating revenue with concerts and other live experiences. So he has challenged his fellow bloggers to describe the experience that someone could have with a live experience of their blogs.

Pat and I had already thought a bit about the idea. We're seriously strapped for cash at the moment, and we briefly considered making the place available as a vacation rental – there's a real-estate agent who lives nearby who would handle all the paperwork and stuff. At least for the time being, we've decided that the work involved in making Five O'Clock Somewhere into a vacation rental would be too much hassle; we'd have to remove a lot of our personal stuff and lock up the rest, and we'd have to do a whole lot of cleaning. Still, if our financial picture gets worse, I'd rather convert the place to a vacation rental (which we could still use ourselves when nobody's renting it) than lose it.

Since we haven't converted Five O'Clock Somewhere to a vacation rental, I'm going to base this experience on the premise that you're houseguests there, but if we do make the conversion, many of the experiences will be the same.

First, if you're electronically tuned-in, be prepared for communications deprivation. There is no high-speed Internet, only dial-up that is extremely slow because it's delivered over a noisy rural phone line. There is no cell-phone signal. There is no television – broadcast signals don't reach into the mountains, cable doesn't go there, and we don't have satellite. There is a land-line telephone capable of local calls and 800 numbers but not long distance, so if you want to call beyond the Chama area, you need to have a calling card. If you really need to leave the office behind, Five O'Clock Somewhere is the perfect place for you, because no matter how hard they try, the folks at the office won't be able to rope you in.

Next, you need to be prepared for some other areas in which life is more primitive. Electricity is not all that reliable, at least compared to 21st-century cities. The electric co-op does an excellent job, given that it has to cover thousands of square miles, with lots of hazards (dense stands of diseased trees, large birds building nests on power poles, and so forth) that city and suburban power companies don't have to deal with – and the co-op provides its power at about half the price that the city power company charges. Flashlights and matches are in the bottom drawer in the column of drawers below the kitchen telephone, an oil lamp is on the dining table, and candles are all over the place, including the dining room, living room, and all bathrooms. My favorite sort of power outage is the kind that happens during a thunderstorm at night or in the evening. The lightning flashes with almost x-ray blueness, and the thunder either bangs (if the lightning is really close), roars (if it's farther), or rolls (if it's farther still). The wind whips around the house, making blasts through whatever windows are open, sometimes from one direction, sometimes from another, and always it brings an iron-tinged freshness wherever it comes from. The rain comes down, sometimes just a few spitting drops, and sometimes a heavy torrent. And sometimes it's what the Navajos call the "female rain," a steady rain that just flows for a long time. The smell of the rain, the smell of water, is so fresh and clean, and no matter what advertising and promotional moguls may say, this smell has never been captured in a fabric softener or air freshener. If you really want your laundry to smell this way, the only way to do it is to hang it up on a clothesline just before a mountain thundershower hits.

Another thing you'll have to cope with is the fact that you're many miles from anywhere. If you're missing something, you can't just run down to the corner convenience store. The nearest convenience store is 16 miles away, and it closes at 10 p.m. The nearest Wal-Mart is 70 miles away. I do keep a supply of toothbrushes and trial-sizes of toothpaste, deodorant, shampoo, and various other toiletry items in the cabinet in the guest bathroom, in case you've forgotten something. I also have some luxury spa-type bath supplies, so if you want more than just a quick shower, you can have an experience. The water at Five O'Clock Somewhere is full of the sort of minerals that people pay big bucks to take a bath in, and we even have a Jacuzzi tub to maximize the experience.

And then you'll have to put up with the critters. On the road into Laguna Vista, you may sometimes find that the cattle from the adjacent ranch, primarily Scottish Longhorns, have gotten out of their pastures and are wandering along the road. They don't move particularly fast, and if you honk your horn at them, they move even slower – unless you're dealing with a bull, who may decide he doesn't like the sound your car is making and take decisive action. Your best bet is simply to crawl along, until the cattle eventually meander to the side of the road, and admire their woolly primitiveness. You will also have to deal with elk (they don't move as slowly as cattle, but they do seem to like to block the road), deer (ubiquitous; a day when you don't see deer is rare), coyotes (I've never understood why many people don't like the howling), bobcats (beautiful but elusive), bears (NOT sweet, and a lot of idiots who have treated them as such have caused a lot of bears to get euthanized because the bears got to treating humans as sources of food, and in a bear brain, a source of food is the same thing as food, so the bears tried to eat the well-meaning humans.) So at Five O'Clock Somewhere, you're going to have to tolerate the wildlife, and you're going to have to make sure not to feed the bears, or even leave any food around that the bears could eat. The best way to deal with the wildlife is to have a camera always at hand – I really wish that I could have gotten pictures of the mama bobcat and her two kittens a couple of years ago as they passed through the backyard.

I see that, so far, I have mostly been dealing with what's outside Five O'Clock Somewhere. I suppose I ought also to touch on what's inside. In real-estate terminology, we're a 4-3. That is, we have four bedrooms and three bathrooms. We have a dining room, a living room, and a den, with a relatively open floor plan. Without any strain whatsoever, we can accommodate six guests, and with some stretches, we can find sleeping room for about four more. In the living room, we have an entertainment center, with Dolby 5.1 surround sound. Yeah, we may not have cable or satellite, but if you want to watch a DVD movie (we have lots, or you can bring your own, or you can rent one in Chama), you can get the full experience. We have a full-scale gourmet kitchen, with lots of appliances, gadgets, and widgets; if you're into fancy cooking, you can have a ball. We have music – we have a baby grand piano in the den, and some smaller things like recorders. If you have a violin or cello, I can crack the rust out of my fingers to play along. We have a game table (I've re-covered my grandparents' old card table with indigo velvet), and we have a variety of parlor games, from the standbys like Mille Bornes and Monopoly, through the more involved like Risk, to cult favorites like Illuminati and Kingmaker.

And if you just plain don't want to do anything, that's OK too. In the warmer time of the year, you can hang out on the front deck and watch the world go by. In winter, you can relax in front of the fireplace in the den, and you can doze to your heart's content.

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All these gypsies

Sometimes, it may work best to declare a writing project after there are already entries …

I noticed an interesting phenomenon earlier today when I was wandering the blogosphere. Over at Messing About in Sailboats, Adam has posted a peaceful picture, Gig Harbor Morning, focusing on a boat named “Gypsy.” Then, over on frogma, Bonnie posted a video clip from the musical Gypsy.

I’m spotting a pattern here. If everybody’s posting things about gypsies, I might as well do so too. Here’s a picture of the Hunter 25 Gypsy Soul, sailed by Magnum, Mrs. Magnum, and Brother of Magnum in the 2005 Sunrise Regatta at Elephant Butte Lake.

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Monday, August 24, 2009

A small anniversary party

And, it turns out, a small world

On August 22, 1959, Barbara Lee Teague, of Arkadelphia, Arkansas, wed Philip Anthony Seeger, of El Paso, Texas, in a ceremony in the First Methodist Church in Arkadelphia. That means that, this past Saturday, my parents marked 50 years of life together, and they're still going strong.

Because of a conflict that I just couldn't get out of, Pat and I missed the celebration they had on the eclipse-watching cruise in the Pacific. They had a reception Sunday after church in Los Alamos, for people who weren't able to join the cruise. I missed that one as well – I wasn't feeling so great, and I wasn't up to mingling with a large crowd of people. However, after that event, there was a much smaller gathering at their house, and that was a speed that I could cope with. Besides Pat and myself, the other guests were my uncle and his wife, who have lived in Boston for a long time – she, nearly all her life, and he, since college days – and the neighbors who lived across the street from my parents for decades – both of whom hail from Boston.

At some point the conversation came around to sailing and sailboats – we had mentioned we had a boat for sale, and then we had to explain that we were selling the MacGregor but that we had an Etchells that we were definitely keeping. The folks from Boston understood, and we ended up showing pictures of Black Magic and talking about sailing. The conversation wandered back into the past, and we discovered that all four Bostonians had at least a passing acquaintance with sailing, especially dinghies. One had raced Widgeons as a girl; one had been on some sort of dinghy that she couldn't remember what was because the people at summer camp, year after year, made her tie knots that she didn't understand before she could get on the boat. Two had sailed MIT Tech Dinghies – probably about the same time as each other, although they don't remember each other; if they were actually there at the same time, they had no way of knowing that one would someday become the neighbor and best friend of the other's kid brother.

Of course, sailing wasn't the only topic of conversation; we were, after all, celebrating two people who have kept together, through thick and thin, etc, etc, etc, for a half century. That's worth a toast.

Happy 50th anniversary, Mom and Dad.

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Friday, August 21, 2009

Texas vegetable barons

A new sort of hero for a new age

A few days ago, I had mentioned to Bonnie of frogma that Pat had come from a background of Texas vegetable barons. To be more specific, the Old Soldier had been the son of an entrepreneur who had been a pioneer in the early days of truck farming.

In the early part of the 20th century, land developers enticed people to come to such barren and remote places as the southern tip of Texas, with promises that the land and the climate were close to what Eden had originally offered – eternally warm temperatures, fertile topsoil, and, the developers promised, easy ways of shipping the abundant produce to the frigid North.

In the beginning, it wasn't that easy. The topsoil, it turned out, wasn't all that great. The climate that encouraged plants to grow also encouraged a lot of insects and blight. And the ability to ship vegetables north was not so great at first; it took a while for the railroads to establish reliable lines, and trucks, despite the term "truck farming" being used to describe what the farmers in South Texas were doing, just plain weren't there.

Bonnie, at frogma, has suggested that I write a story or maybe even a novel about the Texas vegetable barons. That might be possible. In Pat's family, there have been incidents that would lend themselves to the broad tapestry of a historical novel, and some other situations that involve personal drama on an individual level. I would certainly have to change a lot of details in order to protect members of the family, but the overall story line would be engaging.

In the past, dramas from Texas have involved oil (Dallas) or cattle (Lonesome Dove). Those industries are not currently in favor, given America's current over-dependence on fossil fuels and obesity epidemic. Perhaps a drama about vegetable barons would be more politically correct.

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A new Olympic sport

And it will increase spectator interest, too

Conan O'Brien Tuesday evening was a rerun, but I hadn't seen the full show before – I'd stuck around for the monologue last time, but missed the rest. This time, I watched the whole thing, including the final act, which was a performance by the world champion pole dancer, supported by some of her cast-mates from Cirque de Soleil, Zumanitye.

It was an awesome performance, impressively athletic as well as stunningly beautiful. This lady is nimble, strong, graceful, and very, very sexy. She wasn't simply shimmying against the pole; she was climbing it, bending around it at seemingly impossible angles, and even vaulting up onto it, twelve feet in the air.

As I was watching, it occurred to me: This should be an Olympic sport. The latest decisions by the Olympic powers-that-be have shortchanged women's sailing, but this could be a venue where women can expand their influence. Pole dancing is certainly more athletic than, say, rhythmic gymnastics or ice dancing. It combines the rhythm of music with the athleticism and gracefulness that are valued in traditional gymnastics. And a pole is a lot more substantial than those silly hoops or ribbon-on-a-stick thingies.

Plus, with the changes in the past couple of decades that have allowed professional athletes to compete in the Olympics, pole dancing opens the games up to a really broad spectrum of new talents who otherwise would be relegated to obscurity. What more could anyone want?

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Playing for Change

Yeah, I know I said I don't fall for "inspiring" messages, but this one was truly inspiring – without the quote marks

A few months ago, Adam Turinas put up a video on his blog. I was lucky enough to have a high-speed Internet connection that weekend, and so I was able to view it. The song was "Stand By Me," and it was produced by a project called Playing for Change.

The video features dozens of musicians, mostly street performers, but some other groups as well, intercut with each other, all performing seamlessly together, in spite of being thousands of miles apart, from Santa Monica to New Orleans to Amsterdam to Moscow to Congo to Katmandu, and even a group of Native American drummers from Zuni Pueblo in New Mexico. The power of this video is that so many people, from so many different places on Earth, could produce music in harmony without even meeting each other. That's how unifying music is.

The project's name operates on multiple levels. Sure, playing for change is what street musicians do – they rely on the change that passersby toss into their hat or instrument case. But this project is also looking at changing the world, as the title of the program that I watched Monday evening on my local PBS affiliate indicates: "Playing for Change: Peace Through Music."

The program showed how music can be a unifying and healing force in such places as Northern Ireland and Israel/Palestine. It can be a motivation for change in places like South Africa. It brings people together, and it does so in a way that transcends language or religion or ethnicity.

In the early 1980s, there was a trend toward using music to help disadvantaged people, starting with Live Aid's "We Are The World," and continuing with several other such projects, such as Farm Aid. But those projects, while they gained a whole lot of attention for a short while, didn't really have any lasting impact. They were started by celebrities, run by celebrities, very glitzy, and they just didn't have the to-the-gut honesty that Playing for Change has. Live Aid doesn't have Grandpa Elliott, a street musician in New Orleans who lost not only his home but his whole neighborhood to Hurricane Katrina but who has no thought of leaving – as he puts it, not even a "bulldoozer" can take him away.

I am not on a high-speed connection at the moment, so I can't embed the video in this post, but I can give you a link to "Stand By Me." Watch it.

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Monday, August 10, 2009

Annoying “inspirational” messages

There are some venues that should be off limits …

I tend to distrust optimism. I have found that, in most cases, it is unrealistic. I can listen to a motivational speech by, say, Zig Ziglar, and I can understand how his energy and enthusiasm can inspire people to try harder. But I'm not one of those people. In the 1980s, Bobby McFerrin had a number-one hit telling people, "Don't Worry, Be Happy." I just couldn't buy in.

I tend more to favor the cynical view. I don't think that just thinking happy thoughts is going to make the rest of my life turn happy. And while, maybe, some positive thoughts are going to be positive for my performance, whether at work or at sailing, I don't think that they're going to have all that great of an influence, as compared to actually working at it.

I tend more to agree with such sites as, which point out the absurdity of the usual optimistic platitudes. One of my favorite sayings is, "The light at the end of the tunnel is really the headlamp of an oncoming train." Another is, "The early bird gets the worm, but it's the second mouse that gets the cheese."

Meanwhile, I have recently been attacked with motivational messages from a quarter that I would have thought sacred – the wrappers on my feminine-hygiene products.

This is a brand that I believe in; the products are superior to any others. The new product line, labeled "sport," is even better in terms of comfort and performance. However, because of the "sport" label, the manufacturer decided to put motivational slogans on the wrappers. So several times a day, I get a message such as "You go girl!" or "Keep your head in the game!"

This evening, I got one that is an insult to race committees – it assumes that either the race committee didn't set a square course or that there was a big wind shift during the race: "Reach for the finish line!"

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Friday, August 07, 2009

What I missed

I wish I could have been there, but …

Two weeks ago, most of my family was on a ship in the Pacific Ocean near Iwo Jima to observe a solar eclipse. I, alas, was unable to be there, but I did get to watch things get dark via the ship's webcams.

Many of my relatives have super-duper fancy digital cameras, so I was expecting I would get to see some awesome photos. That was indeed the case. The very best photos, according to the acclamation of those who went on the trip, were those taken by my own offspring, Gerald.

Here is a shot that he got during the totality of the eclipse. What's spectacular about it is the detail of the moon's surface that can be seen. Obviously, the side of the moon that faces the earth is not getting direct sunlight, since the sun is behind it. Instead, sunlight reflecting off the earth is illuminating the moon, a phenomenon known as earthshine.

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Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Mafia mosquitoes

All right, who's hiring the thugs?

Here in the desert, we don't have many mosquitoes, but we have a few, especially when the summer monsoons are underway. Right now, we have a break in the monsoon pattern, but we still apparently have a couple of the critters buzzing around.

A couple of nights ago, I had a cluster of mosquito bites on my left kneecap. The itching was vicious until I could get to the hydrocortisone cream. This evening, I had a cluster of bites on my right kneecap.

Why the heck should mosquitoes target my kneecaps? Is that the place where the blood flow just beneath the skin is easiest to suck up? Or is it just that a pants leg against a kneecap is easier to bite through? Or … what?

All I can figure is some inept mob boss with a very low budget has it in for me, and the best he can afford to hire to kneecap me is a bunch of mosquitoes.

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Monday, August 03, 2009

Writing project final results (sort of)

Still awaiting a couple of late entries …

So here is the final tally of the Getting the spouse to come along writing project: We have a total of 208 activities in seven locations, listed in ten blog posts or comments, submitted by seven contributors.

Tillerman gives us 50 great things to do in and around Tiverton, Rhode Island. From Captain JP, we have 50 activities on the Ultimate London Walk by the Thames, and another nine activities involving Escaping London, in London. Greg and Kris describe eight Things to do near the Sailing Club on the Willamette.

O Docker provides Two things to Do In San Francisco To Keep Your Spouse Sailing

Another non-blogger just mentioned that there are a zillion non-sailing things to do in San Francisco. I'm writing about just two, so that should leave him plenty of choices.

I have to come up with non-sailing activities almost every time I sail. My wife sails to humor me, not because she's awestruck by the sheer wonderfulness of a rushing wake and perfectly trimmed jib.

Two weeks ago, we sailed over to one of San Francisco's swankiest marinas and parked the boat there for five days. We decided to do some touristy things that no hip San Francisco native would be caught dead doing. I can get away with this because I'm from a backward, cow-town in the central valley and don't know any better.

We now have some folding bikes that we can take on the boat, so one day we rode them over the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito.

It's actually very cool that one of the world's most spectacular bridges is open to foot and bicycle traffic. Besides seeing the bridge's famous art deco structure way better than you can driving across, you also get to stop and check out some of the most astounding marine views anywhere - the Marin headlands, Angel Island, Alcatraz, the Bay Bridge, and the classic city front. And it's all for free, if you ride your bike or hike across. We went for the full tourist drill and took the ferry back - about $8. Sausalito is a great lunch stop and it's rumored you can find some tee shirts there, too, if you're into that.

The next day, it was tourist time all over again. After 30 years in northern California, I prayed I wouldn't run into anyone I knew and finally took the boat tour over to Alcatraz (they won't let you dock a private boat there). It's much cooler than I ever thought it would be, and we were both glad we went. Alcatraz is now a national park, so the tour is actually very well done - not nearly as hokey as it would be if a commercial outfit ran things. There's a lot of history there beyond the obvious and you're surrounded by more spectacular bay views at every turn. If you must have a sailing connection, you can check out one of the oldest lighthouses in the bay - and it's still functioning.

But face it, haven't you always wanted to be in the actual dining hall where Clint Eastwood and Burt Lancaster pounded their tin cups on the tables?

Behave yourself, though. The tear gas canisters are still hanging from the ceiling.

I gave my own 25 Things to do in Sierra County, near Elephant Butte Lake, and Pat responded with 14 more ideas in the comments. For Heron Lake, I listed 25 Things to do in (or near) Northern Rio Arriba County; Pat added 12 new ideas and repeated one of mine (I'm not counting that one). Finally, Cousin Andrew lists 33 activities in Little Rock on his blog, Beer and Trucks.

Even though the deadline has officially passed, I'm still awaiting contributions to this project from jbushkey and EVK4. Other latecomers can still submit ideas as well. All contributors get a pint of their choice next time they come to New Mexico, plus if multiple contributors show up at once, there's a chance at a VIP screening of "Pirates of the White Sand."

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