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.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Poetry Corner: David Shulman

Take the constraints of a sonnet, and make them even narrower …

One of the iconic images of the American Revolution was actually painted 75 years later: “Washington Crossing the Delaware,” painted by Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze in 1851, shows George Washington leading his troops in boats across the Delaware River, in preparation for a Christmas surprise attack on Hessian mercenaries camped out near Trenton, in what is now New Jersey, in 1776.

In the 1930s, poet David Shulman was moved by the painting to write a sonnet. Now, the form of the sonnet is difficult enough. Shulman made his own task all the harder by making each line of the sonnet an anagram of the title. Yes, the result is not necessarily great poetry, and sometimes descends to doggerel. Still, one has to applaud Shulman for actually pulling it off at all – much as Washington is to be praised for pulling off his daring surprise attack.

Washington Crossing the Delaware
David Shulman

A hard, howling, tossing water scene.
Strong tide was washing hero clean.
"How cold!" Weather stings as in anger.
O Silent night shows war ace danger!

The cold waters swashing on in rage.
Redcoats warn slow his hint engage.
When star general's action wish'd "Go!"
He saw his ragged continentals row.

Ah, he stands - sailor crew went going.
And so this general watches rowing.
He hastens - winter again grows cold.
A wet crew gain Hessian stronghold.

George can't lose war with's hands in;
He's astern - so go alight, crew, and win!

Oh, did somebody say something about football?

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Monday, December 27, 2010

The best of 2010

Highlights from a year that didn’t have many

Once again, Captain JP has issued a request for his fellow bloggers to submit their top 10 blog posts for the year. As my previous post indicated, this has been, yet again, annus horribilis, with too many disasters to count.

But I did find 10 posts that were, at least in some way memorable. Here they are:

I started the year with observations about astronomy, tides, and how Pat and I got into sailing, with A tale from the past.

Those of you who have known me for some time know about my love-hate relationship with photocopiers, including how a copier figured strongly in my novel Murder at the Community College. In February, I had an ironic experience, recounted in The copier temptation.

Also in February, Tillerman issued a challenge: Write about the worst sailing innovation ever. My contribution: Work.

In March, a fellow instructor at the community college, whom I also knew through the sailing club, died suddenly and unexpectedly. Then a week later, Pat’s dad passed away. The Old Soldier had lived a long life, and he didn’t want a fancy funeral – no fancy church service or procession or anything like that. What he got was a very simple graveside service, with his fellow veterans from the American Legion providing an honor guard to shoot a 21-gun salute and blow “Taps” on a bugle. He would not have wanted anything fancier. I reflected on his life in Sending the Old Man Home.

As it turned out, the Old Soldier had chosen a beautiful time of the year in Texas to die, and according to the people who follow such things, this past spring was one of the best ever for Texas wildflowers. Planting wildflowers along highways was a passion of former First Lady Lady Bird Johnson. We took many great pictures on the way home from the funeral, and I put some photos online in Thank you, Lady Bird.

May 1 was the most devastating day of the year. Our extremely dear sailing friend Marty Stevenson went overboard from the boat he was on as we were preparing to hold a regatta. I wrote about how much he meant to us in A few words about Marty. I had been planning to deliver those words at his memorial service. Unfortunately, his widow would not let me or anyone else from the sailing club speak. So nobody heard those words. Only those who read them in the blog or the sailing club newsletter ever received them.

On a lighter note, I did get into one of the more specialized cooking techniques that I know. I have known all of my life about Beer can chicken, a tradition I probably learned from relatives in Arkansas, but for many others, it was a novel method.

July was funeral time again. Another sailing fried passed away. This time, it was not so shocking; he had been in declining health for some time. And his widow and family welcomed me to speak at his funeral, In Memory of Richard Dittmar. It is good to laugh at a funeral, when it’s remembering what made us all so joyful about the person who is now no longer among us.

There was another memorial in July. My colleague had died in a car accident in June; his family and very close friends had had a small, private funeral. But long before his death, he had made his wishes clear to his family and partner: He didn’t want mourning; he wanted a party. So that was what he got. I summed up that party in Remembering Herman.

In September, we had car troubles. Babe, the Ford Expedition, has been increasingly having problems with electronics. As it turns out, the troubles that led to When machines rebel were not electronic but physical – the rear differential and axle essentially disintegrated – but at the time, it was easy to blame the computers.

Then I had another trip down memory lane, thinking about classic cars and beautiful times on a European road trip nearly 30 years ago. I don’t like big roads; I like little ones. I don’t like big places; I like little ones.

So 2010 on the blog was often melancholy or wistful. It’s been a rough year. I will very much miss the people who are no longer with us. But I know I will go on.

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Saturday, December 25, 2010

What my Christmas letter would say if I wrote one

I don’t dare actually mail this …

Those of you who know me well know that the past few years have been disastrous. 2007 was calamitous; at the end of that year, I hoped that 2008 would be better. It wasn’t. At the end of 2008, I desperately hoped that 2009 would be better – I even said that things were so bad that they couldn’t possibly get worse. Unh-unh. 2009 was so bad that, by the end if it, I was calling it annus horribilis, because of all of the disasters that had occurred.

And then 2010 was even worse. There were times I wondered why the hell I even bothered trying to survive. What was the use?

Pat and I used to send out Christmas cards, which I always chose carefully to express exactly what we wished for our friends and family, along with a letter telling of our adventures and accomplishments over the previous year. I worked hard to keep it honest – no “little Susie is the most accomplished violinist in the state for the third year straight” or “Butch became the first high-school player ever to be nominated for the Heisman Trophy.”

Unfortunately, the need to be honest clashed with the expectation that holiday letters also be cheerful and upbeat. For that reason, Pat and I haven’t sent out a Christmas letter for the past three years.

So … if we were to send out a holiday letter this season, what would it say? Let’s see …

Holiday greetings to all of our friends and family for 2010 and the 2011 New Year!

We’re sorry that we haven’t been in touch lately as much as we should. Life has been busy. If you wish to contact us, you can find our email addresses and cell-phone numbers at the bottom of this letter.

It has been an eventful year, although not always in a good way. Pat continues in his fourth year “between jobs,” so we’re not exactly financially comfortable. We’ve had to cash in retirement funds to pay off bills and fend off foreclosure, leaving us with nothing but Social (in)Security and the New Mexico Educational Retirement Board to fund our “golden” years. And the one-eighth of my paycheck that has gone, without any choice on my part, to the ERB, has been invested 20% with Bernard Madoff and 70% with companies represented by buddies of the governor based not on which was a wise investment but on who got the biggest kickback. Not exactly reassuring.

We lost a lot of good people this year. In March, Pat’s dad died. He had been in declining health for quite a while, but he had never made plans for that eventuality – he had never made any arrangements for his care in the event that he became incapacitated, or much of any other advance plans, other than making some extremely naïve assumptions about how things would work once he was gone. In this case, it was fortunate that Pat was “between jobs,” because if he had had a job, he would have lost it because of all the time he had to spend on his dad, both before he died and after.

For me, probably the most devastating event of the year was the loss of our dear sailing friend Marty Stevenson. On May 1, we were preparing to start a regatta when Marty went overboard from the boat that he was on. He was not wearing a life jacket. We were only a hundred yards away; many other boats were even closer. The Coast Guard Auxiliary was already on the lake, doing an exercise; they and the park rangers were on the spot within minutes. But Marty was gone. His body wasn’t found until three weeks later. Stand by for sermon: ALWAYS WEAR YOUR LIFE JACKET. ALWAYS. YOU MAY THINK YOU DON’T NEED IT. HOGWASH! IT’S BETTER TO HAVE IT AND NOT NEED IT THAN TO NEED IT AND NOT HAVE IT!

OK, stepping down from soapbox.

On to the next obligatory section of the holiday letter: accomplishments of the offspring. That area, too, has not been up to the typical Christmas-letter standards. Last year, the financial aid office repeatedly lost forms that had been filed showing that Gerald’s father was unemployed and that therefore Gerald was eligible for financial aid. Because of the bungling in the financial-aid office, Gerald was found in default of $11,000 tuition for the Fall 2009 term and therefore ineligible to enroll for the Spring 2010 term. We’re still trying to straighten out the records, but at least he was allowed to enroll and take classes in Fall 2010. Problem is, the financial aid office is still losing paperwork, and we’re now sending a barrage of faxes to replace the same forms that we’ve already filed that the office keeps losing, in order that he can enroll for Spring 2011.

On the upside, Gerald seems to have found some direction in his life. He’s discovered that he loves photography, and so that’s now his major. He does, however, recognize that photography is not necessarily something that pays the bills. He also loves nature and the outdoors. He has decided that he wants to become a park ranger, so he can work in a beautiful place and indulge in photography on his days off. Especially at the elite levels in such organizations as the National Park Service, rangers have to perform a wide variety of duties: law enforcement, emergency medical technician, resource management, interpretative services, archaeological preservation, and more. This summer, Gerald got his basic EMT training, so that’s a start on the park ranger track.

OK, now that I’m done bragging about the offspring, I’m supposed to talk about what the parental units are doing. Well, Pat has just stepped down as the commodore of the Rio Grande Sailing Club, and I think he’s glad to be rid of the burden. Pat and I both went to the US Sailing class in race management a month ago; Pat’s already certified as a Club Race Officer and is hoping to get certified as a Regional Race Officer; I hope to get certified at the club level, but I also passed the test for regional level, so if I get ambitious, I could also work on the resume component.

Meanwhile, I’m still teaching developmental English at Central New Mexico Community College. My job is to work with students who need to get their English skills up to the level at which they can do college-level work. On my darkest days, when I am most discouraged, it is my students who keep me going. I may feel like giving up, but then I realize, my students need me and I don’t want to let them down. And then when I come to class, one or another will say something, and it will cheer me up, and then the whole class session is happy. I have the very best students in the world. I am so lucky to have them.

Yeah, not exactly a conventional holiday letter. But then, my life hasn’t exactly been conventional lately.

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Saturday, December 18, 2010

Poetry Corner: Elizabeth Barrett Browning revisited

An old school friend comments on Facebook, “I need more poetry.” Well, here’s some …

Back when I started this blog, I included among the topics that I would be covering “bits of grammar and Victorian poetry.” I haven’t done too badly on the grammar side, but much of the poetry has diverged into 20th century song lyrics. But today I’m returning to the roots of the blog. My very first Poetry Corner featured one of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Sonnets from the Portuguese, and I’m returning to that well for another drink.

Elizabeth Barrett was raised in a protected environment by parents who would be considered strict even by Victorian standards. She was sickly most of her life, she seldom left her bedroom, let alone the house, and one of the restrictions her father placed upon her was that she would never get married. That changed when she and Robert Browning fell in love with each other. They exchanged correspondence in secret, and eventually they were married secretly. Sonnets from the Portuguese grew out of the poems that she wrote to him in secret.

Most readers are familiar with sonnet XLIII, which begins with the line, “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.” However, they’re all moving. Here is one that speaks to me:

Sonnets from the Portuguese XXVI
Elizabeth Barrett Browning

I lived with visions for my company
Instead of men and women, years ago,
And found them gentle mates, nor thought to know
A sweeter music than they played to me.
But soon their trailing purple was not free
Of this world’s dust, their lutes did silent grow,
And I myself grew faint and blind below
Their vanishing eyes. Then thou didst come—to be,
Belovèd, what they seemed. Their shining fronts,
Their songs, their splendour (better, yet the same,
As river-water hallowed into fonts),
Met in thee, and from out thee overcame
My soul with satisfaction of all wants;
Because God’s gifts put man’s best dreams to shame.

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Sunday, December 12, 2010

Yes, it's that time of year again

It's the most wonderful time ...

Yes, once again, National Cat Herders Day, December 15, approaches. What are you going to do to celebrate the day?

To make the holiday even easier to celebrate this year, I have established an event on Facebook where we can all share our festivities. Are you organizing a project to help homeless cats? Participating in a feral cat capture-neuter-release program? Volunteering at your local animal shelter? Kicking back to enjoy the holiday season with the cats in your household, whether you have one or many?

Or are you more of a figurative cat-herder, trying to get holiday plans to come together, with shopping and decorating and cooking and entertaining and and whatever else is on your agenda? Pour yourself a shot of eggnog and take a break from the chaos.

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