December 31, 2008

A dog named 'Lucky' joins our family in Arroyo Seco

ARROYO SECO, Jalisco, Mexico - On the last day of the year, we adopted a La Manzanilla street dog and have moved him to what has become the Arroyo Seco Doggy Spa, at least until he recovers from a short life of abuse and neglect.

Our amigo in La Manzanilla, Julie, who with her husband Rusty runs a huge save-the-animals project called Cisco's Amigos, found the pooch for us, provided us with the medicines he would need and eventually hooked us up with the Mexican family that had adopted 'Lucky' temporarily, at least until some family like us took him in.


That was the name the vet gave him: Lucky to have been adopted.

Lucky mug shot
Lucky while getting a bath

Lucky, our friend Julia told us, is a labrador retriever for the most part. But even a casual glance at the shape of the head tells you that while Lucky might have a pint or two of lab in him, this boy probably has strong ties to the Rottweiler family.


Still, as we want Lucky to be a watchdog for the property, that's fine, provided he doesn't eat our amigos Chena and Chon's tiny dogs.

Or any of the neighbors' kids.


Lucky in the tub
Lucky getting his bath at the veternarians

In addition to getting a pooch, we came back to the property today and were pleasantly surprised by activity on three fronts: The ramada was being moved over the new trailer, the bathrooms are being plumbed and the tile guy showed up late in the day and will start first thing tomorrow to lay out the tile.

First thing?

I am not getting up early to make sure everything is set for him. I did that already today and he didn't show until 4 p.m.

It was amazing today to watch the guys working entirely by hand, lifting and toting and digging and eventually hauling big guayabito wood posts around and setting them into the ground.

The rumor on the property - which we have now dubbed The Pink Flamingo - is that the ramada project will be finished in a couple of days.

Another Arroyo Seco milagro - if it happens.

December 30, 2008

A visit to the swamp in La Manzanilla with Kayak Dave

LA MANZANILLA, Jalisco, Mexico - The Admiral and I took a tour of the mangroves in La Manzanilla last evening, the same mangrove swamp that is home to about 250 crocodiles, a protected species.

I suppose they need some protection from poachers, but they seem quite large enough to take care of themselves.

Croc in swamp
Croc resting in the sun in La Manzanilla

The purpose of the tour was not to look for crocs, though we saw two during the tour. The tour was to get a look at the abundant bird life and other critters that make their homes in the swamp area, just a few hundred yards from the beach, where people have been building some huge McMansions, a few getting into trouble with the authorities for encroaching on the federal zone.

We saw at least a dozen different types of birds, big and small, and a couple of iguanas I swear I recognize from a Japanese horror movie I saw a few years ago.

Birds in the trees
Waiting for sunset - and the gringos to leave

The tour was led by a fellow we call Kayak Dave. Last year, he sold off his kayak touring business and moved to Wyoming, only to get second thoughts about that move. (Smart guy...) He came back to La Manzanilla and now offers these swamp/birding tours in large skiffs that are paddled. No outboard motors to make noise there.

Dave was also formerly the owner of a restaurant now known as Cafe Risa, the cafe purchased by Tia, Toby and Macy Richardson last spring. They labor each day keeping up with an increasing demand for cinammon rolls and good coffee and food.

We were accompanied by our Arroyo Seco neighbors Randy and Karen, and also Nate and Beth, formerly of Harrisburg, PA, now La Manzanilla residents until sometime in March.

Into the swamp
Kayak Dave in the back of his boat

Perhaps the most amazing part of the tour - besides the birds, the crocs and the knowledgable narrative from Dave - was that the swamp was virtually mosquito free. Yup, no mosquitos.

And we paddled through right at sunset, the normal time when I get chewed up. I did have enough 'Off' bug repellent on for the entire boat, but apparently there isn't much standing water to give the bugs a place to lay eggs and hatch.

Croc ahead
Croc to the left

December 28, 2008

On the trail of the perfect wave in Arroyo Seco

ARROYO SECO, Jalisco, Mexico - While the surf guides for the two beaches in Arroyo Seco say that surfing isn't all that great at either Playa Chica or Playa Grande, they must have been written by people who have never visited the place, or who want to keep others out.

In the past two days, the Admiral and I have spent time out on the beach, watching the surfers, including nephew Nate Schwartz and our amiga Laura Warner, a Spanish teacher from Calgary who we hope will be coming back later this winter.

Surfer chick Laura
Surfer Laura heads out for a run

Laura and Nate were given some surfing lessons by our amigo Julian, a part-time resident of the rancho who surfs, fishes and enjoys life along with his brother Max. When they aren't in Arroyo Seco, Julian and Max live in their native France, earning enough Euros to come back each winter.

We purchased two surfboards from Julian, who threw in the lessons as part of the deal - and he hadn't even met our amiga Laura yet.

Laura, Max, Julian and Sylvia
Laura, Max, Julian and Sylvia at a fiesta in Arroyo Seco

The surf lessons went well, though we did learn from local surfers that the waves at both beaches can be very dangerous and that whether surfing, boogie boarding, or swimming, you have to beware of the power of the waves.

I wish I had talked with them about that before I took a header into the sand, body surfing on my back.

Yes, now I know, don't try to body surf on your back.

Below is a short video of Nate and Laura in one of their earliest attempts.

December 25, 2008

A quiet Christmas Eve in Puerto Vallarta

PUERTO VALLARTA, Jalisco, Mexico - The mimosas are being poured as I write this and Christmas Eve is a memory.

Little Sasha Fox - four months old today - was the star of the evening, of course, wearing her special Santa suit, until it got a little too warm for her. Her eyes were beginning to glass over from the camera flashes by the time we got down to opening presents under the tree.

Sasha Fox
Sasha with her mom, Cami

Later in the evening, Sasha got a present that is a little advanced for her, a book of family photos and narrative put together by Grandmother/Admiral Fox. The book has photos of the whole family and scanned copies of many family documents. Sasha's mom and dad said it will become part of Sasha's growing library of books.

Cami and Dustin look at family history
Cami and Dustin look at the family history

And the Admiral and I got special presents from Dustin and Cami, too - signs for the Arroyo Seco property that lock in the flamingo theme as well as announcing the names of the residents.

Sylvia and sign
The Pink Flamingo sign

December 24, 2008

A blur of activity since arriving in Arroyo Seco Saturday

ARROYO SECO, Jalisco, Mexico - We arrived last week in Arroyo Seco, only to find that we had landed on the first day of a two-day fiesta, an affair that included a lot of eating, a real-deal cowboy rodeo, and lots of delicious comida.

Within 24 hours, we had purchased a Honda ATV - a 500 cc affair that is at least 100 cc's bigger than what I had thought we would buy. You could call it an opportunity buy. Our amigo Nino had bought it new only a few months ago and decided that he had stretched his budget way too thin,

We fattened the budget back up for him, while emptying ours.

And so far we have roared all over the village and up and down the beaches with a lot more adventures to come. I've had it up to 40 mph and I bet it will do 60.

On the new quad
Beth, Sylvia and Nate on the new quad

Nephew Nate Schwartz and his mom Beth are wintering in La Manzanilla - in our old house, Casa Lupita, learning Spanish, swimming, and generally loving that they are not in Harrisburg, PA for the foul weather there. Nate - the rumor has it - might be getting some surf lessons for Christmas from us, on a new surfboard we bought from a French surfer who lives in our village during the winters. Surfer Julian said he would throw in the surf lessons with the board.

There's talk I might even climb on this beginner's surfboard and see if these old legs (and balance) can get me to ride a few waves without ending up in the orthopedist or physical therapists' offices.

Moving the trailer
Moving the trailer

When we arrived in Arroyo Seco, we slid the trailer close to where we wanted it, but the final touch required either a lot of muscle - or some serious equipment. And as luck would have it, our friend Nino - the same Nino from whom we bought the Honda - came over with a backhoe and within an hour, the Grey Goose Express II was right where the Admiral wanted it.

Leveling the unit will be another process, but I am working on that.

One big ass snake
One big-ass snake

I lost track of the number of mosquito bites I have gotten since arriving. And today, while getting ready to drive to son Dustin's in Puerto Vallarta, I managed to get a spider bite on my leg that is actually quite hot to touch. If it was a tire on a car, I would worry about the tire exploding.

But I am happy that the bites and stings have been limited to various insects.

We passed the snake, shown in the photo above, on the road into Arroyo Seco two days ago. Although it looks ferocious, this particular specimen is dead, the victim of a motor vehicle on the road. Still, when we use the Honda ATV on jungle adventures, I think I will be careful of anything hanging down from tree branches.

December 20, 2008

In Arroyo Seco, Mexico after 8 days - and 2020 miles

LA MANZANILLA, Jalisco, Mexico - We pulled in to the compound in Arroyo Seco at noon today, eight days after leaving the fog of Sacramento and crossing 2020 miles of California, Arizona and finally Mexico.

The Grey Goose Express II is safe, parked almost where it will be finally, and the shower/bathroom project has been started - barely.

The day we left Sacramento, the fog was down on the deck and it took hours to get out of our apartment, put the last items into storage and finally load the trailer.

We left Sacramento at 1:30 p.m.

Fog in Sacramento
Sacramento fog, the day we left

On the way to the trailer
The load we packed into the trailer just before we headed south

This posting is coming from Palapa Joe's where we just had lunch and now have to zoom back out to Arroyo Seco where today is the first of a two-day fiesta to celebrate the founding of the town.

Cervezas ahead?

More on the rest of the trip down - with our Canadian RV amigos - tomorrow.

Land yachts just south of the border
Our first overnight spot, well south of Nogales

December 2, 2008

Back in the USSA after a great time in Mexico

SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - The flights back from Puerto Vallarta to Sacramento (via Salt Lake City) were relatively uneventful, except for a teeth-jarring, drop-from-the-sky landing on the SMF tarmac as we arrived home. Maybe the co-pilot was getting in some landing time.

He or she needs some practice.

Temperature when we left Puerto Vallarta: 85 and with a touch of humidity.

Temperature when we arrived in Sacramento: 48 with pea-soup ground fog.


Our brief days in La Manzanilla and Arroyo Seco (with pit stops in Puerto Vallarta on either end) are kind of a blur, but contained lots of family time, lots of swimming, and three meetings with our amigo Arturo who promises to have the new bathrooms and showers built before we go back at Christmas. He promised!

Oh, and there was an open-mic performance at Palapa Joe's, too, Saturday night. I'm afraid to look at the video that our amigo Pam shot of the Admiral and I playing four tunes, me on the ukulele, the Admiral on her violin.

Really afraid.

View from the hill in Arroyo Seco
View of our palapa and ramada in 'downtown' Arroyo Seco

One of the most striking things about this trip was how green and lush everything was.

When we left last May, the land was as brown as California in a hot summer. Now, as evidenced in the photo, all the trees and plants are green and growing, though it won't be green too long before they lose that vibrancy. It hasn't rained in a month and won't until next July.

The other thing that was more vibrant were the insects. In a hike around the hills - to get the photo above as well as look at some property for sale - I managed to get chewed on by something that must carry a pretty heavy-duty neurotoxin. Besides the tangerine-sized swelling behind both my knees where I had a series of bites, I had a little trouble feeling my toes the next day.

I think long pants are in order for hiking from now on.

Dylan with Qwee-Qwee
Dylan with new friend, Qwee-Qwee

We spent much our time out in Arroyo Seco, where our amigos Chena and Chon have taken care of things on the property in our absence. Since May, this industrious couple has opened a tienda across the street that sells an assortment of non-food items. And in the evenings, they open up a street-side restaurant next to that, selling steamed tacos that are a hit with the villagers.

While we didn't get to sample the tacos, Chena did make a dinner for us one evening that was delicious, a chicken stew that she seemed to cook in about 20 minutes. With home-cooked tortillas, of course.

Son Dylan, a pretty good chef himself, helped in the cocina that afternoon, but also made a new friend - one of Chena and Chon's pooches, a Chihuahua named Qwee-Qwee.

What a crocodile?
Teaching a crocodile to sit-up

The La Manzanilla crocodiles were quite placid while we were there, though the lagoon in which they live spills out almost into the bay. Their somnolent attitudes might be because the water in the lagoon is quite deep from earlier rains and the critters are staying in deeper water.

Critters? That word seems a little weak for describing these behemoths.

But I did run across the photo above taken in Queensland, Australia of a fellow having a close encounter with a pretty large specimen.

I guess I shouldn't complain about my bug bites.

November 29, 2008

Thanksgiving in La Manzanilla - with Lora Loka

LA MANZANILLA, Jalisco, Mexico - After days of spotty internet access (ok, and lots of beach time, swimming, surfing, cervezas and, and, and ...) the Admiral and I wandered into Palapa Joe's for lunch today and dragged the computer to make this quick posting.

We will be here again tonight for open mic night, performing three songs - four if the people are too loaded to count how many we have done, or to ask us to sit down. It won't be The Four Headlamps, but we will struggle through anyway.

Thanksgiving Day we went to Lora Loka's beachside restaurant on the main street of town, a favorite of Chief Engineer Scott Noble and Chief Counsel Jennifer Coleman-Noble when they are in town. Several places had T-Day dinners, including Willie here at Palapa Joe's, but we opted for Lora's when several amigos said they were heading there.

In addition to good food and company (thanks in large part to table mates Linda Mandala, her husband Yellow Bear, and our new amiga Colleen) Laura Loka offered up a traditional song at the end of the meal. The video of that extravaganza is below.

More blogs next week on our wild days in Puerto Vallarta, La Manzanilla and Arroyo Seco when we are back on the ground in the states.

November 15, 2008

Grey Goose II leaves space dock, passes first flight inspections

CAL-EXPO RV Park, Sacramento, Calif. USA - The Admiral and I took the Grey Goose Express II out of its storage yard Friday for a trip to Cal-Expo, probably about 10 miles considering the roundabout way we got here.

The trailer performed perfectly under flight conditions and was relatively easy to get level once we parked.

This little RV park - maybe not that little - is a gem, tucked right next to the state fairgrounds and a few blocks from movie theaters, and a Chili's restaurant (where we will likely dine tonight). We are definitely one of the smallest units here, with most of the RVers those 40+ foot jobs with four slide outs and generators big enough to light up Cleveland.

Immediately behind our parking space is the American River, with trees all turning fall colors.

American River, Paradise Beach
American River, right behind the RV park

Given that we will be underway for Mexico before Christmas, it seemed like a test run was in order for the Grey Goose. So far, the only thing not working up to specs is the propane side of the refrigerator (which runs when there is no electricity.). Oh, and the light in the fridge seems to be stuck on, adding heat in there.

RVing is a lot like operating a big cruising sailboat - there are all kinds of little tricks and twists that the more experienced can show you.

While I labored mightily to level the trailer with the jacks that are affixed under the trailer, a Good Samaritan came by with some blocks to stick under the wheels. The jacks, it seems, are good for minor leveling - not four or five inches!

By the way, has anyone ever heard of a Bad Samaritan? Think about it.

After hosting a dinner party for six last night in the trailer, we opted to take a second day and night here at Cal-Expo, enjoying the sunshine (temperatures close to 80 degrees) and a decided lack of wind. Winds of up to 40 mph had been forecast for Friday and Saturday.

I'm very glad they were wrong.

Admiral and Grey Goose II
Admiral catches some rays

Grey Goose II with slideout, out
Grey Goose Express II from the front - with slider out

November 13, 2008

Swimming with crocodiles might not be that smart an idea

LA MANZANILLA, Jalisco, Mexico - As the Admiral and I prepare for our sojourn south when the semester ends, I have been getting in contact with folks who might want me to write stories for them this year, including my friend Alistair Bell of the international wire service, Reuters.

Reuters London newsroom
Reuters London newsroom

When I told him I was would be back and ready to report by Jan. 1, he didn't say anything British, like, 'how smashing.' But he say it will be great to have me back on "crocodile watch."

And, I suppose, I might write some things, too.

The standing joke between us last year was that I was to call him immediately if a croc snagged a tourist - more newsworthy for him, of course, if it was a wealthy Brit. But any tourist would do.

After a dog was taken by a large croc last spring from the beach - in a pretty dramatic witnessed episode - it became much less funny.

It would seem to be even more so now, as I have been reading about the boldness of the La Manzanilla crocodiles this fall - and how far the lagoon has extended to the beach area where children gather.

In the meantime, in Australia, there's a new tourist attraction: tourists climb in a clear acrylic cage and get lowered into the water with saltwater crocodiles. The ultimate thrill, some of the swimmers have said.

I can't quite imagine getting into a tank like that and letting one of those 2,000 pound behemoths get a shot at me - no matter how tough the tank is supposed to be.
  • Link to: What a Croc!

  • Swimming with saltwater crocs
    In the tank with a crocodile in Northern Australia

    Several years ago in Zihuatenejo, I was walking with three Australian fellows from Queensland who had sailed in. We were taking swings of beer from jumbo beer bottles when the trio suddenly bolted and ran back the way we came, running like the devil himself was after them.

    What made them run was a 10-foot crocodile, sitting motionless in a small lagoon near the shore, maybe 100 feet from where we were about to pass.

    I walked back to where they stopped (hard to run with a beer bottle in your hand) and tried to tell them that I thought was no real danger.

    They said 'forget it mate.'

    In Australia, they explained, saltwater crocs can - and do occasionally - run a man down and drag him back into the water, just like the unlikely named canine 'Lucky' last year in La Manzanilla.

    Ever since, I try to keep a nice buffer between me and even the relatively mellow La Manzanilla creatures.

    November 11, 2008

    Be careful what you wish for - a famous saying unheeded

    SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - A hour or so ago, I put the finishing touches on my online application to join President-elect Barack Obama's administration.

    What in the holy %$&^*&#$*%()(_*#^!!!!!!!!!!

    Well, Saturday I read in the New York Times that Obama is searching for people to help implement the vision(s) articulated during his campaign. And in true Obama, 2008 form, the application is online at ''

    As a slight aside, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, I also nominated myself for a Pulitzer Prize several times for stories I had published. Never got one, but I did get some nifty letters thanking me for my interest.

    Obama Green Button
    Barack O'bama button

    I filled out a transition team short form two days ago and tonight received (and filled out) the full application - which wanted to know a lot of details - and asked for a complete resume and references.

    I'm not sure I should have applied to become head of the Central Intelligence Agency, but it was one of the many options I picked, in case you get a reference call. Oh, and they might ask about the Federal Reserve, the State Department (in case they need some help in Mexico) or working in the West Wing giving sage advice.

    U.S. government application
    Online form, thanking me for my application

    Unfortunately, when I changed my voter registration just before the recent election, I went from being a Democrat to the Green Party. I thought the poor Greens needed a little cheering up and, well, it will be a couple of years before I vote again in an election with any kind of primary where party registration counts.

    I'm not sure the incoming administration will think too much of that party registration as they sift through the thousands and thousands of qualified applicants who have already applied - and the thousands and thousands more expected in the next 70 days or so.

    So in the meantime, I'm sticking with my original plan of spending the winter and spring in Arroyo Seco, Jalisco, Mexico, building a little, fishing some, playing the ukulele every day (with the Admiral playing her violin) and writing a lot.

    Oh, and also riding my new motorcycle from the village to one of the two surfing beaches.

    Wait a minute! What was I thinking when I sent that form in?

    November 9, 2008

    Photo of actors from 'Leave It to Beaver'

    SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - A longtime friend sent me the photo below, with the title:

    I don't care how young you feel, this hurts

    Eddie Haskell, Beaver Cleaver, Wally Cleaver
    Eddie Haskell, Beaver Cleaver and Wally Cleaver
    (from the TV show, Leave It to Beaver)

    It reminded me how most people would say they feel 10-20 years younger than their real ages. When I hit the big 6-0 this year, it was, well, startling. I try not to dwell on it.

    The amigo who sent along this bit of joy on a Sunday morning is Tom Balmer, who I worked with at the Petaluma Argus-Courier in the mid-1970s. Tom was a photographer, I was a reporter and later editor.

    And we were young. Sooooo young...

    But that's for another blog post.

    November 7, 2008

    Seneca Lake winemaker, Dave Bagley dies of heart attack

    VALOIS, New York, USA - Cousin Ruth Bills passed along some incredibly sad news just moments ago. The owner-operator of Poplar Ridge Winery has died of a heart attack - at 57!

    It was only a few months ago that I was sitting on the deck of the winery, right next to Dave Bagley, sharing a bottle of his wine that he absolutely refused to let me pay for. I was a new friend, he said, and he hoped to see me - and the Admiral at his winery more.

    Dave Bagley
    Dave Bagley with his trademark smile

    This past summer the Admiral and I got in the habit of going to his winery Sunday afternoons for a glass or four of wine and to listen to Cousin Brett Beardslee belt out tunes. Dave's winery was almost within walking distance of our Seneca Lake house.

    And at the winery, Dave was a fixture on his own barstools, though sometimes he was likely to have a beer in front of him and not a glass of his excellent vino.

    I didn't know him well, but he was well-loved in the community and was planning on marrying his girlfriend soon when he was felled by the heart attack. He was on a trip to Buffalo, New York to pick up wine bottles.

    Rest in peace, Dave Bagley, and make sure the beer is cold and the wine appropriately chilled for when the rest of us catch up with you.

    Dave Bagley's obituary from the Elmira Star-Gazette

    VALOIS -- Dave Bagley, the owner and winemaker at the Poplar Ridge Vineyards and Winery on the east side of Seneca Lake in Schuyler County, died Thursday while picking up an order of bottles in Buffalo.

    Mr. Bagley, who was 57, used the slogan "Wine Without Bull" on his winery Web site. He said he did not like the "snobbery and pretentiousness that pervades the wine business."

    "Have you ever noticed that the more pretentious and snobbish a winery is, the more uncomfortable you feel," he wrote on the Web site. "I fail to understand how this can be conceived as a viable marketing concept. We at Poplar Ridge strive to produce wines that are pleasant and fun to drink. We believe in good wines at reasonable prices. Over the years I have made thousands of friends with this simple and fun approach to wine."

    Jodie Pulkinen, the tasting room manager for the last four years at Poplar Ridge, remembered Mr. Bagley Thursday as "bigger than life."

    "He helped other winemakers and wineries get started. He was generous to a fault," she said. "Friends and family members are all gathering at the winery and we are having a glass of Bagley Brut."

    Bagley Brut was Mr. Bagley's signature sparkling wine.

    Mr. Bagley was an accomplished woodworker. He and his brother, George, made a 30-foot-long bar in 1993 with redwood tanks they purchased from Taylor Wine Co.

    Wildlife also was another big part of Mr. Bagley's life. He contracted with local artist Norman Wells to create several wildlife designs for his wine bottles.

    Star-Gazette wine columnist Jeff Richards interviewed Mr. Bagley for one of his weekly wine columns in the fall of 2002.

    "Dave was quite a man," Richards said Thursday. "No pretense; what you saw is what you got. He loved the Finger Lakes and the customers who came through his door.

    "And he will always be remembered for making a darn good bottle of bubbly."

    Spanish in the morning means Mexico can't be that far off

    SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - In a dream last night, I was having a conversation with my amiga (and neighbor) Azucena in Arroyo Seco about where to plant some palm trees and whether her husband, my amigo Chon, could help.

    And we were doing it all in Spanish - a sure sign that my mind is drifting east and south, muy rapido.

    Chon and Chena
    Chon and Chena

    The weather in Sacramento is not helping me stay focused on Northern California zip codes, either.

    In the last week, the temperatures have plummeted, forcing me to, gasp, wear long pants instead of shorts. Last fall, I wore shorts right through until we headed out of the driveway. This year, the 45-degree mornings convinced me that I should be wearing something warmer.

    The other thing not helping is moving my Mexico photos from one computer to another. They are like old friends, and, of course, many of the photos are of friends.

    Think about being cold and looking at the photo below.

    How many days until the Admiral and I are in Mexico?

    Beach at Boca de Iguanas
    Beach at Boca de Iguana, north of La Manzanilla

    November 6, 2008

    Caught in the time 'funnel' on our way to Mexico

    SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - This time of the semester at the university, time speeds up and I tell my students that we have entered the funnel.

    All of the things that we began early in the fall are now swirling around - largely undone or half-done - and the amount of time left to accomplish things is dwindling muy rapido.

    Add to that our Mexico preparations and the funnel is spinning so fast I'm getting tossed around like a pilot breaking the sound barrier.

    Breaking the sound barrier
    Breaking the sound barrier

    OK, maybe not quite that much tossing. But the Admiral and I are struggling to pull together the things we want to pack for Mexico, getting requests from friends to bring their special items down, making sure we have all of our documents lined up, and making lists of things to do.

    Here's the top of today's list:

    Find, Sort and Arrange Mexico lists.

    In and among the chaos, however, there have been some bright notes in recent weeks (not the least of which are most of the U.S. election returns). We have sketched plans for the Arroyo Seco site (No. 3 on one list is to make them detailed enough to use for construction), gotten most of the medical appointments out of the way (No. 7, the eye doctor in on tap for today) and the dollar vs. peso seems to be back where it was last year, after falling precipitously.

    currency pix
    Exchange rate the morning of Nov. 6, 2008

    Earlier this fall, the exchange rate had dipped to 10 pesos per dollar, then a few weeks ago, soared to nearly 14 pesos per dollar.

    We like 14, for obvious reasons, but if settles back between 12-13 and stabilizes, that's just fine.

    A Mexican friend here in Sacramento - who sends most of her earnings back to her family in central Mexico - said she was earning (and sending) every dollar possible in recent weeks while the rate was high.

    The bad news, though, is that prices of staples in Mexico are on the rise. Sounds like U.S. supermarkets.

    November 3, 2008

    The plans for downtown Arroyo Seco lot starting to take shape

    SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - A whirlwind weekend of weddings and social events resulted in two major accomplishments:

    First, our tiny house in downtown is spotless, as we had company Sunday and had to fight through the debris to find the hardwood floors and tabletops. (Notice how flat surfaces attract things?) The house is our only staging ground for all of the stuff we want to take to Mexico in December, plus all the normal clutter from life. (Where are my car keys?)

    But more important Sunday was looking over the sketches drawn by Admiral Fox this past week for our downtown lot in Arroyo Seco and getting input of our guests, Lynn and Suzanne & Randy and Karin. The four of them pored over the Admiral's pencil site plan and after about an hour, voila! We believe we now have at least a skeleton of plan which should make the Arroyo Seco lot a very functional, comfortable place to live.

    And visit, too, of course.

    Lynn and Suzanne & Randy and Karin bought a lot in Arroyo Seco in May, right after the Admiral and I departed for New York. So as neighbors (vecinos) they have a special interest in what we do, and us in their property development.

    While I don't want to reveal exactly all of what the plans show, let me throw out one idea that seems to be catching on for the proposed guest units: hanging beds.

    I can't make this stuff up.

    Ocean view near Arroyo Seco
    Ocean view from Arroyo Seco hillside

    November 1, 2008

    Lunch with former students brings back the memories

    SAN RAFAEL, Calif., USA - Catching up with former journalism students is always fun, more so when you can span two generations.

    Friday, the Admiral and I dined with Natalye Childress Smith, Josh Stabb and Bill Meagher - all students who suffered through my lectures and bad jokes over the years. Natalye and Josh are relative newbies, having just graduated and who are now working as writers for Crittenden Research in Novato, Calif. Bill works there, too - but as an editor.

    And while Josh and Natalye caught me at CSU, Sacramento in the last couple of years, Bill is a alum of Chico State where I taught back in the mid 1980s, before make the long academic trek down the valley to Sacramento where I have been since 1986.

    Four amigos
    A class reunion or a reunion of class?

    Bill was a student columnist for the campus newspaper, The Orion, and had (and still has) great news instincts. His columns about then Chico State President Robin Wilson got Wilson so angry that Wilson would call me late at night (because I was the faculty adviser) and rail about Bill's work.

    Wilson never said any of the columns contained information that was inaccurate, he was just totally pissed off that Bill had printed anything about him. And Bill broke many good (journalistically speaking) stories about Wilson, which kept my phone ringing.

    Seeing students succeed - as all three of them have, they have jobs after all - is one of the rewards of teaching. I suspect teachers at all levels get the same kick out of seeing their former students out there, practicing what was once largely a classroom exercise.

    The only sad part about such reunions is that they are usually way too short, as this one was.

    But I know the solution to that problem.

    October 31, 2008

    Another hit on the website from our fans in Wasilla

    WASILLA, Alaska, USA - I can't say for certain that the Palin family - or their fans - are logging onto the website, The Four Headlamps, but there was another Wasilla hit yesterday afternoon and the referral was from an email.

  • Four Headlamps website

  • It's likely that someone in Wasilla ran across the post and alerted one of the other 6,000 people in Wasilla that they were getting noticed for something other than being the hometown of Presidential candidate Sarah Palin.

    Whoops, I mean vice-presidential candidate, Sarah Palin.

    Sarah Palin and family
    The Palin Family poses

    If it wasn't so damned cold up there most of the year, The Four Headlamps might consider going there to put on a little musical program.

    Little being the key word right now, but we'll do better in 2009.

    October 30, 2008

    Captain's Blog and Four Headlamps have a Wasilla connection

    SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - In my perusing of the site meters on the various websites where I post, I ran across that someone from Wasilla - yes that Wasilla - had taken a peek at the site, looking for, of all things, the lyrics to the song Chunder.

    Chunder, if you ever look at the website The Four Headlamps, you know is one of the songs that I think the group will be adding to its repertoire.

  • The Four Headlamps

  • Hmm... I might have mentioned that song here already, now that I think about it.

    It's doubtful that it was Sarah or Todd Palin who was looking at The Four Headlamps site. They seem to be pretty busy doing other things, bashing about the country right now. Still, considering how few people there are in Wasilla, there could be a Palin connection.

    Maybe the whole Palin clan will travel to La Manzanilla for an open mic night at Palapa Joes when we perform Chunder.

    They should have a lot of time on their hands after Nov. 4. And I'm sure the State of Alaska will not hesitate to pay for the governor and her family to fly south this winter on some kind of official business.

    Wasilla logs in to the Four Headlamps
    Sitemeter posting showing Wasilla

    October 26, 2008

    Not a World Series game, but plenty of action anyway

    ROCKLIN, Calif., USA - The Priority One text message came through at 8:30 a.m. this morning: The softball tournament was on for this morning, with granddaughter Samantha's team set to play at least one game, maybe three if they won the first two.

    Yikes. Put down the Sunday paper and grab the shoes.

    That news put a spin on things because we figured that the team was out of the running in the girl's softball tournament held in Rocklin's Lone Tree park, when we didn't hear Saturday night after the first round of games concluded. But as today was the last set of games of the entire season, we kicked into gear, packing cameras, sunscreen and roared up Interstate 80 to the ballpark.

    (The roaring part was a lot of fun. Gawd, I wish I had some lights and a siren on my pickup truck.)

    The 30-acre park is a sports nut's dreamscape with beautiful softball and baseball facilities, and a professional-style snack bar that was busy most of the day selling hot dogs, hamburgers and enough Coca-Cola to give the jitters to the entire population of Northern California. I had two Supersized Cokes (along with a cheeseburger and Doritos) and expect to see what kind of late night programming there is on Sundays. And maybe I'll check out the sunrise, too...

    Food for the hungry
    Snack bar menu

    We arrived mid-way through the first game, immediately scooping up our other granddaughter, Kami, who was toddling about on her 13-month-old legs with various girls from the softball team shepherding her so she wouldn't get into too much trouble while her mom (daughter Anne) attended to the team in the dugout, one eye on the field, the other on the ever-toddling Kami.

    Michael and Kami reading at the softball game
    The Captain and Kami read while the game goes on

    Grandma and Kami on a stroll
    The Admiral on stroll patrol with Kami

    The games went fast - really fast - but unfortunately neither broke in favor of Samantha's team, coached by her dad, Steve. Samatha got several good hits, made several great plays (ok, I'm her grandfather, but damnit, they were good). The rest of her team played very well too, losing to girls teams, the members of which looked like they were an average of 30 pounds heavier.

    And most of that extra weight seemed to be muscle.

    Sami ready to run
    Samantha at third base, right before she scores a run

    Coach Steve Allen huddles
    Coach Steve huddles before the play

    Trish yells encouragement
    The pitcher's mom yells some encouragement

    It was a beautiful warm day, maybe our last warm weekend of the summer as the forecasters are now calling for a chance of rain, falling temperatures and really cold weather in the mountains by the end of this coming week.

    That might put a crimp in our plans to take the Grey Goose Express II to the mountains next weekend for a trial run. Perhaps a lowland expedition will be a better choice.

    In the meantime, I have several huge files of video taken today at the game to go through. But below is a sample, the first segment of which shows Samantha getting a single.

    October 25, 2008

    Dreaming again of La Manzanilla and Arroyo Seco

    SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - The days are getting short, daylight-wise, and also short until we load up the Grey Goose Express II and head south to Mexico again for another season of, well, I don't want to bore you.

    Ok, I'll bore: swimming, surfing, boating, hiking, eating great food, drinking cervezas and margaritas, playing music, dancing, writing and, and, and...

    It is extremely hard to grade student term papers these days - or prepare lectures for my four classes - when what I really want to do is practice the ukulele, draw plans for developing the Arroyo Seco lots and develop my new website, called The Backpack Journalist.

    That website isn't ready for prime time. But if you are reading this, you will be the first to know when it is.

    But when I was looking around at some Mexico photos, I found this one, taken by someone in the last year or so in La Manzanilla.

    Fool pulling tail of crocodile in La Manzanilla
    Pulling the tail of the croc

    What the gentlemen with the double-digit IQ doesn't know, is that the crocodile can turn around faster than he can stand up - and can also run faster than he can for probably 30 or 40 yards.

    Plenty of time to make the double-digit IQ tourist into a snack. Ok, maybe a full meal. I don't know how much a full-grown croc eats, but I bet the croc in this photo would be willing to share with the hundreds of other crocs in the lagoon.

    I understand that the croc lagoon overflowed out into the bay in front of La Manzanilla quite dramatically this summer with the heavy rainfalls, possibly sending more than a few lagoon residents - like the one with the tail above - out for a swim into the ocean.

    Anyone ready to go surfing?

    October 24, 2008

    Grey Goose II rolls off the lot and goes to - storage?

    SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA- The Grey Goose Express II left the RV Max sales lot this morning shortly before noon after we had received a thorough briefing on all systems by Mike the mechanical guy, not to be confused with Mike the owner guy who sold us the unit last Sunday.

    And with Mike the owner guy, we had a nice conversation again about his business and how he would really like to open a branch in Mexico.

    He said it would be damned good excuse to visit the warm climate in December and January when it is cold, even in Sacramento.

    We motored out gingerly with a special hitch made to distribute the weight evenly, but even at that, we knew we were towing a huge package behind us. A new electric brake system took most of the terror out of it.

    But still...

    After a short tool around the city, we went to the Costco in Rancho Cordova (close to daughter Anne's house) and parked out on the outskirts (so we could turn around and leave). We loaded up on a few items and then had a nice lunch - with the slider popped out.

    Costco run for trailer
    Basket of goodies for the Grey Goose II

    Truck and Grey Goose II at Costco
    Grey Goose II parked - with the slider popped out

    After lunch, we checked out the napping spots (many) and the Goose II passed that test without any problems.

    And it passed the maneuverability test, too, when we motored to Allstar Storage where we had rented a slot that was about 18 inches wider on each side than the Grey Goose II. After several attempts - and several pleas to various deities of Christian and non-Christian origins - the Grey Goose II slid into place nicely.

    However, if the trailer didn't have a back door, we would not have any access without moving it.


    Tomorrow the Admiral and I will start preliminary packing for our departure to Mexico with a tentative first cruise next weekend to see if all the systems work as advertised by Mike the mechanical guy.

    The best thing is, if they don't work, both Mike & Mike said to bring the Grey Goose Express II back for fixups. It's all part of their service.

    Is this a great country or what?

    October 23, 2008

    A neighborhood house bites the dust, with a lot of dust

    SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - Between grading papers and dreaming of Mexico, the Admiral and I try to get plenty of exercise by walking, riding our bikes and heading to the Capital Athletic Club where the Admiral and I go almost every day for swimming and to work on the machines.

    (OK. I don't go on the machines at all, but I do try to get in a quarter-mile of thrashing through the water. And, no, I missed today, but...)

    In my walk this afternoon (to make up for skipping my swim), I ran across a house (506 S Street) a block away that was being torn down, a 100-plus year old casa that had been taken over by some local homeless people. For California, the demolition guys were pretty casual with only a couple of sawhorses out front warning people from getting too close.

    Neighbors parley about demolition
    Neighbors chat with demolition man

    Across the street, two city building inspectors talked about what a wreck the house had been and, for a moment, wondered aloud if they had made sure the natural gas line to the place was turned off. (Uh-oh!)

    When I heard that, I moved back a few feet.

    The house could not be rehabilitated, they said, it's foundation was virtually none existent and dry-rot filled the beams and walls downstairs.

    Putting water on the house
    Worker sprays water to hold down the dust

    Jaws munch the house
    Jaws take a bite out of the house

    The demolition drew quite a few sidewalk superintendents - me included, of course - who hung around for nearly an hour, waiting for the big bang and crash when the last of the place hit the ground. The company was very careful as it worked - the derelict house was less than 10 feet from an apartment house on its west side.

    But we were not disappointed in the finale.

    Here's a short video the event.

    October 19, 2008

    It's official - the Grey Goose Express II is set for Mexico

    SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - Timing is everything.

    A week ago today, we were steered by several people towards a used RV lot here in Sacramento called RV Max , but it was late on a Sunday and so we decided we would wait until we had exhausted all the private-party sales of trailers we found through Craigslist.

    And we found plenty of those. And by late yesterday afternoon, we were exhausted.

    We found light trailers, heavy trailers, little trailers, big trailers, cheap trailers, expensive trailers - even wrecked trailers with dubious titles.

    But today we decided to swing by RV Max and talk to owner Mike. Yup, Mike, who came highly recommended by everyone in the business. Mike had a unit for sale we thought might work. We had seen it on Craigslist, of course.

    Admiral with Grey Goose Express II
    Admiral in front of Grey Goose Express II

    When we arrived, we were sad at first to see that the unit we came to look at - a 30-foot behemoth that weighed at least 8,000 pounds - had been sold already. It didn't matter much, because the trailer was at least 2,000 pounds over anything we should consider towing with our Toyota Tundra. And after last year's narrow escape of problems with the Isuzu Trooper, I wanted a relatively light trailer. No more cooking transmissions, if I could help it.

    But on our way onto the lot, we walked past a unit that had just arrived the afternoon before from the trailer auction, where owner Mike had found it and thought it would make a good addition to his lot.

    Just arrived! The afternoon before!

    We did a quick walkthru, talked with Mike, and within 15 minutes had:

    • Bought a 26-foot trailer at a bargain price, including a special hitch and a guarantee
    • Made a friend in RV Max-owner Mike, who is dying to come to Mexico
    • Found a Spanish tutor for me, one of people who works for Mike at the lot

    Here's what the trailer looks like on the inside:

    Grey Goose couch with the admiral
    Admiral by the couch and front door

    Grey Goose galley
    Galley and refrigerator at right

    Grey Goose dinette slideout
    Dinette slideout

    The slideout makes all the difference in the trailer, pushing out the living room, dining room, galley area about three feet to make the place seem like, well, a home, not a skinny tube of aluminum.

    And speaking of aluminum, the unit is constructed largely of aluminum and weighs only slightly over 4,000 pounds, well within range of the Tundra's pulling (and more important, stopping) abilities.

    A few hours after making our find, we signed a short-term contract for a parking spot about a mile from the university so we can begin stocking the Grey Goose Express II (known at Goose II for short) for our sojourn to Mexico and Arroyo Seco. Now that we have two travel trailers (the original Grey Goose Express and this unit) we have to decide if one of them should be posted on one of the beach lots, or if both should reside in downtown Arroyo Seco.

    Decisions, decisions. Where to put the trailer? And how much Grey Goose vodka to carry for the trip.

    New Home for Grey Goose II
    Parking place for Grey Goose II