July 26, 2008

Dancing under the stars to Steve Southworth

LODI, New York, USA - It was the first dry day we have had in more than a week and everyone took advantage with lawn mowing and cleanup from days and days of deluges.

I took out the chain saw (my least favorite power tool) and whacked down a few small trees at the end of property that were blocking our view of the woods. The acre or so behind the house is actually owned by neighbor Mary Crouch, but we get to view the woods and watch the deer romp around.

Very nice.

As a reward for the hard work (and to celebrate actually seeing the sun), we went out for dinner at the Stone Cat Cafe in Hector with the Admiral's brother David, and his amigos (now our amigos, too). At the Stone Cat, four of us ordered, not surprisingly, catfish.

Gawd, it was delicious.

And then it was time for a quick trip to Wagner's Vineyards where we danced for an hour or so to Steve Southworth & the Rockabilly Rays, the same group that didn't play earlier this summer because Steve was in a car accident on the way to play.

Last night, he made it fine and it was a rockin' good time.

July 25, 2008

On the trail of the elusive largemouth black bass

BALLARD POND, Hector, NY, USA - To say I am on the trail of black bass is probably a odd mixing of expressions. Fish live in water, not along trails, though you do have to take a trail in most cases to get to the water where the fish live.

Never mind. It's too early (7 a.m.) to try to explain all that.

But two days ago, I decided to try my luck with my fishing gear at a pond on Searsburg Road, the trail (Road! Road!) to Ithaca, over which we drive often on our way to Ithaca's doctors, dentists and various stores.

Home of the big bass
Ballard Pond - home of the big bass

The Hector/Valois area has lots of small ponds, which are - by reputation - filled with largemouth bass, fish that don't seem to like the cold waters of Seneca Lake. My fishing efforts in Seneca Lake have been mostly unsuccessful, except for catching one small rock bass off the end of the dock. And that bass was way too small to keep.

I rarely catch any fish. Fishing for me has always been about the serenity of sitting by the water, watching the waves, listening to the wind (and the occasional roar of a jet ski) and contemplating the universe. Actually catching fish is such a small part of my equation that it hardly figures at all.

So why not just sit by the water and watch the waves and listen? Why go to all the trouble of hauling a fishing pole around?

Just try it.

People will come by and ask if you are all right, depressed, or in need of someone to talk with. And if you say, "I just like to sit and think," you will trigger a knitted brow of concern and soon your family will begin making worried calls to other family members and before you know it, little pamphlets from doctors will begin mysteriously appearing on the coffee table: "Ten Signs of Depression" or "What to Do when your Spouse seems Sad."

Trust me, just carry the damned fishing pole. You don't even have to bait a hook.

Big bass
The bass on the shore

All that aside, I decided to try grab some serenity at Ballard Pond, taking along a trusty styrofoam container of earthworms for bait. Rabbits bounded around the pond while I cast my line and I was outnumbered 100-1 by huge bullfrogs, who sounded the alarm wherever I stood on the shore of the 1/3 acre pond. It was very Thoreau-like and I wondered if I should re-read Walden this summer.

And then, after about an hour of watching the trees sway in the wind and counting the fauna, my red and white bobber began bob-bob-bobbing around. Each time I would yank the line and each time, no fish, a sign, I was sure, that the pond was filled with small sunfish who love to snack on earthworms but who are generally so small that hooking them is difficult.

I was watching my last cast when the bobber disappeared underwater and the line began peeling off my reel as if I had hooked Bruce the Mechanical Shark from the movie Jaws. And suddenly the serenity of watching the rabbits and frogs and listening to the wind turned into a short contest between me and what turned out to be a 17 1/2 inch largemouth bass.

I mention that number not to brag (though a bass that large in a pond that small is sizable). I mention it because it matches the largest freshwater fish I have ever caught. The last time I caught a 17 1/2 inch bass, I was 10-years-old, fishing off the dock at my Aunt Ethel's house. Why fish there? Well, partly because the fishing was always good and also because my aunt would clean and cook the fish on the spot.

Michael with bass
Another big bass - 50 years later

I was totally unprepared for actually landing a fish at Ballard Pond. My newly purchased stringer was still in a neat plastic wrapper. My fish bucket was safely stored - at the house. I did have my Leatherman pliers, lucky because the hook was firmly set and required mechanical leverage to remove from the mouth of the fish.

So I tossed the fish in the back of our Jeep (in a Costco bag, how's that for mixing metaphors?) and drove back to the house, the bass flopping around.

The fish is cleaned and waiting in the refrigerator for breakfast today, though in a cosmic sense, I am somewhat sad that I yanked this magnificent fellow out of the pond. But here in the country, you eat what you catch or kill. With what I keep reading about global warming and various looming environmental disasters, we might all want to consider nature in a new light.

Cleaning the fish was an interesting experience, too, as I was clueless how to actually fillet the fish once I got it home. The basic 'cut-off-the-head-and-gut' routine I remembered. But dealing with the rest of the bony bass was something I only vaguely remembered - and my best knife for such things is safely in some storage unit somewhere. Perhaps Mexico. Perhaps Sacramento. Perhaps in the back room of the house here. (Oh no!)

John Bills came to my rescue - with his electric carving knife - and promised to give me a lesson on how to clean fish, circa 2008 should I land another.

Technology, it seems, has advanced even in the cleaning of fish in the past 50 years.

July 21, 2008

The drugs - and the bugs - are all gone for now

VALOIS, New York, USA - Modern medicine probably saved my life a few days ago when a white-faced hornet (or several) stung me (or bit me) sending me careening to the hospital in an ambulance.

The excellent care I got, was, well, excellent and the drugs, well, the drugs were potent. Very potent.

The two drugs in question were benadryl and Prednisone, the first a powerful antihistamine that is standard issue in most people's medicine chests, the second a steroid that is used for lots of different things, but in my case, to help reduce the inflammation caused by the stings.

Prednisone tablets

And when you are in the middle of serious distress, all that really matters, of course, is getting out of the predicament.

And so it was that for the first 48 hours after the attack, I was content to be able to breathe easily, be free of chest pains and also be itch free.

God yes! Itch free!

But the cure in this case came with a small cost, a cost that didn't seem so small when the multiple side effects of taking Prednisone began to kick in Sunday morning. After waking up feeling borderline chipper, I dutifully downed my 2.5 tablets of the steroid, part of a 'weaning' process that is recommended. Conventional wisdom says when you have been given a solid dose of the stuff (which I got at the hospital) that you need to keep it up for a few days and then gradually reduce the dose.

I noticed right away that the borderline chipper feeling I had been feeling suddenly turned into Oscar the Grouch - but on steroids (literally). My mood darkened faster than the clouds on the lake when a thunderstorm is coming in and my hands began to shake. Not just a little tremor, but like an alcoholic in serious need of detox. An hour later, I suddenly started worrying about everything - I mean everything: What about global warming? Had I tied the boat securely in the lift? Would a hurricane hit Texas. Would another Bush ever get into the Oval Office?

And I was hungry, really, really hungry, devouring half of a leftover pizza only a couple of hours after a big breakfast. And thirsty! I drank two liters of club soda in a hour.

I think it was the thirst that drove me to this computer where I started reading up on Prednisone, and the websites were much more revealing that the standard issue pamphlet I received from the pharmacy.

I was having classic side effects to the drug, virtually all of the classic side effects, simultaneously, and when I went to bed Sunday night, I had trouble sleeping. And when I did doze I had bad dreams featuring all manner of bad things, including a Ghostbusters-themed scene featuring the Stay-Puff Marshmellow Man.

The stuff that nightmares are made of

As I write this, I am happy to report that my doctor took me off all drugs today (before my next dose of Prednisone was to be taken), declared me fit for duty and said I am free to go mucking about in the garden again as much as I would like - but to wear protective clothing.

And he gave me a prescription for an 'EpiPen' injector to jab myself with, should I ever get another sudden allergic reaction.

Did I get it filled yet? No, of course not.

But tomorrow, getting the EpiPen in hand is high on the 'to-do' list before I don my gardening clothes and go in search of the nest where the white-faced hornets call home on the side of hill right by the house.

I have a non-negotiable eviction notice that needs to be served on the little buggers.

July 18, 2008

Rodney Carrington should sing some of these songs

POPLAR RIDGE WINERY, Valois, NY, USA - A week ago - before I succumbed to the stings of some nasty-ass, white-faced hornets (see yesterday's posting) - The Admiral and I spent a couple of great hours at Poplar Ridge Winery, drinking Cayuga White wine, visiting with neighbors and listening to cousin Brett Beardslee play tunes.

It was our third time at the winery to hear Brett play and the third Sunday that I imbibed a enough Cayuga White before we barreled home for the evening that I dutifully handed over the car keys to the Admiral.

Brett is an excellent musician, writing much of his own music, and playing an eclectic selection of songs on a variety of guitars, sometimes adding some harmonica work with it.

And late in such performances, he almost always drags out some songs that have lyrics that are, well, shall we say a little risque?

Risque? Well, maybe more like bawdy. Maybe more like: Did he really sing that?

Rodney Carrington - you should buy some of this guy's songs.

I made a DVD of an hour's worth of Brett's performance, but cut it down - a lot - to a short bit for this blog.

Yes, one snip falls into the risque and/or bawdy category.

The score today: White-faced hornets-1, Captain-0

SCHUYLER COUNTY HOSPITAL, Watkins Glen, New York, USA - My lawn mowing expedition today turned into fast trip - and then an ambulance ride - to the hospital. Not quite the leisurely Friday afternoon of boating and fishing I had in mind when I came home at noon, a 12-pack of beer in hand, fresh ice in the freezer.

I was mowing the upper lawn area, roughly same area where last year the Admiral got chased out by a gang of yellowjackets while she was weeding the flowers.

Today's suspect - or suspects - are white-faced hornets, tiny little bastards with an incredibly nasty bite. Cousin Roger Beardslee, who lives just down lake, got bitten three times on his hand more than a week ago and days later his hand still looked like a baseball mitt.

White faced hornet

The bites (three in all) hurt a lot, enough that I came into the house and put ice on them. (I never do that...) Then, of course, I went back out in the hot sun to finish the job, only to come in within 10 minutes with an itch over my entire body that reminded me of being 15-years-old and up to my elbows in fiberglass dust. (I worked a parttime job at Maple Bay Marina in Lakewood, New York, cleaning out new fiberglass boats fresh from the MFG factory in Pennsylvania.)

So in the house, I discovered that the itching was turning into huge hives, running from my left ankle right up my back. And I was having a little trouble breathing (Who wouldn't?) but not really bad considering the heat, the humidity, the three stings and the itching.

Then the first chest pain hit and it was in-the-car-and-go-to-the-hospital-time.

But wait! What about the ambulance?

Mid-way down the highway to the hospital, as the chest pains went from a simple "ouch" to "Oh shit," to "^#$WQ^%*&#@^#$&#$*#$&%^," the Admiral saw me clutching my chest and called 911 for an ambulance and paramedics to meet up with us a few miles short of the hospital.

I didn't object. Talking above a whisper even hurt a little by then.

At Clute Park, just outside Watkins, we pulled over and as the ambulance flew over the crest of a hill, with its siren going and lights blazing ,I thought, "Gee, look, somebody's in trouble."

Somebody indeed.

In the ambulance, I couldn't remember my address or birthday, though my name came out pretty clearly. And I noted that the siren is a lot less impressive inside than out. With a mile to go to the hospital, I heard the doctor in the emergency room tell the paramedic to zap me with some benadryl, which he did quite expertly. Getting a tube inserted into your vein while the vehicle is moving is quite exciting. (OK, they did stop for about 20 seconds while he gave me the big poke.)

After the benadryl, followed by a shot of some steroid in the E-R at the hospital, it was time for a three-plus hour nap while they watched me to see which would win the argument: the hornet's venom or modern medicine?

I am happy to report right now at home, with one swollen ankle and a handful of various drugs to take for the next few days, that medicine won, though I am on limited duty. The chest pains turned out to be a muscle spasm, induced by the toxin.

As soon as I am back on the duty roster, I am ready to use the two cans of really nasty hornet poison I bought - the kind you shoot from 25 feet away - to deal with my new-found enemies.

I might even hobble out at dusk tonight to give the nest the first of several blasts.

Hornet killer

July 9, 2008

On the quest for gold nuggets - in the creek by the house

VALOIS, New York, USA - The Admiral and I took our annual walk up 'Breakneck Creek' Tuesday, a walk that turned out to be a little early in season. The slippery, moss-covered rocks proved, well, too slippery and moss-covered to get very far up the creek right behind the house, but we did find a swimming hole deep enough to take a dip.

It was close to 90 degrees at 4 p.m. and the humidity was probably 90 percent. It felt like 100 and 100.

The creek has great historical significance to the whole family. At one time the entire clan used to climb these same rocks and hike the same trails. At different points, the Admiral shows where her brothers would encourage her to climb up slippery waterfalls first. The stream bed looks pretty much like it did then.

Last summer we went up for a climb quite late, accompanied by Arnold the Wonder Dog, but the mossy rocks were a menace then, too. If we ever get four five days of no rain, we'll make another attempt to get to the really big swimming hole, about a mile up the ravine where we spent a couple of hours in the sun two years ago.

Waterfall near the house

Normally we are the only people hiking in the creek bed, so we were surprised when we stumbled upon a gold prospector - yup, a real prospector out digging in the crevices of the creek bed, pulling up clay and mud that had tiny flecks of gold in it.

I do mean tiny flecks of gold. But he showed us that he had actually pulled out a few nuggets (mostly last summer) and Tuesday he had found a handful of tiny flecks in the crevice where we found him industriously digging.

He retired after 32 years at the U.S. Army Depot north of Valois and said he decided that being outdoors - and searching for gold - was a pretty nice hobby and reward.

Apparently there are a number of hobbyists out searching for gold in all the creeks, where they find not only tiny flecks of gold, but also some gemstones (like garnet), a lot of lead shot (from hunters) and enough arrowheads and fossils to fill a museum.

I think I might add spending some time panning for gold to the 'bucket list' I've been putting together, ever since seeking the film by the same name with Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson.

Catching lake trout off the end of our dock hasn't been much of a success so far.

July 7, 2008

In search of a Red Cat at the Watkins Glen Race Track

WATKINS GLEN INTERNATIONAL RACE TRACK, Watkins Glen, NY, USA - Most of the people at the race track over the July 4th weekend were totally in tune with the IndyCar Series. Every conversation seemed peppered with remarks about fuel tank capacity, tire durability and sometimes whether a particular driver was up to the task of driving for hours on end.

And the Admiral and I were impressed with the roar of the cars (and the speed!) and even took a few peeks at the races from several vantage points around the big raceway grounds.

But we went to the track mostly to see what the fuss was all about, do some people watching, and to stop by the Hazlitt Winery tent where our amigo Brad Phillips (director of marketing for the winery) was running the show, making sure the winery's sponsorship of various events (including a concert by Gavin DeGraw) was all going smoothly.

It was, as was the wine tasting going on inside the tent with Hazlitt's and a half dozen other local wineries dispensing tastings while the cars roared on the track as occasional background noise.

Admiral and Brad with Red Cat
Admiral and Brad by the stage

Paw print of the Red Cat
One of the Hazlitt servers - with the mark of the Red Cat

Red Cat is the name of a Hazlitt wine that has taken off wildly in the past couple of years, becoming nationally known and basically absorbing Brad's life during the season. Red Cat is also the reason that we are the proud foster parents again this summer of Brad's dog Arnold. During the summer, Brad's marketing duties keep him, well, at his marketing duty station and so rather than leave Arnold at home, Arnold comes over and stays with us. Kind of like doggie day camp, except most nights he gets to stay over.

He is snoring on the couch behind me as I write this. Yes, snoring. Yes, on the couch. (Don't say it. I know!)

Before you assume we spent all afternoon in the wine tent, (we were there for awhile) we did march about the race track and shot photos of everything, a small representation is below. We also got a golf cart tour around the pit area from Scotty Welliver, a local business owner and a racer himself who was camped out for the weekend at the track. Scotty saw us wandering around lost (the race track area is huge) and after a ceremonial beer with him, he took us through the pits on the way to Hazlitt's. At Hazlitt's tent, we each had a ceremonial glass of wine to celebrate our trip. A local custom, I understand.

Pace car
One of many pace cars

Monster truck
Not your average panel truck

Not your average tow
Quick & Easy Towing Service

Hat shop
Souvenir heaven

A mini-tour, the wine tent and our amigo, Brad

July 6, 2008

A perfect July 4th weekend - complete with waterskiing

VALOIS, New York, USA - The July 4th, 2008 weekend is history - along with several cases of beer, enough wine to put on another wedding and tons of food.

Tons of food. There are no hungry people in our extended family tonight.

The three-days turned out to a perfect long weekend for boating. Instead of predicted rain and thunderstorms, we had beautiful sun, moderate temperatures and very light winds, perfect for tooling around in the Spirit of Louise.

After a great dinner at Cousin Ruth's house on July 4th, we traveled down the lake to Watkins Glen (via boat) to watch the village fireworks with several hundred other vessels, including a brand-new pontoon boat purchased by amigos Barney and Marsha.

Barney & Marsha's new pontoon boat
The new boat

We ended up rafting up with Barney & Company to watch the fireworks, along with Cousin Ruth's clan in Ruth's boat. At the end of display, it was a little like Indianapolis with all the boats starting up simultaneously and then roaring back up the lake to go home.

I haven't seen so much choppy water since being out in the ocean off the coast of Mexico.

The weekend also included a trip to the Watkins Glen race track to take a look at the Grand Prix race and other events (like wine tastings) that were going on all weekend.

There was soooo much going on that it will take a separate blog (Tomorrow? Maybe...) to talk about everything, but I did get a chance to chat briefly with Miss Watkins Glen, whose main job (besides walking around and looking gorgeous) was to sing the National Anthem right before the major races.

Captain & Miss Watkins Glen
Saying hello to Miss Watkins Glen

Somewhere in all of the weekend we also fit in another party (with a live band) and - drum roll please - I went water skiing, probably for the first time in five or six years.

I had wanted to ski for the past two years, but my shoulder problems - and the Admiral - clearly indicated it wasn't a good idea. I did get a go-ahead late last summer from my physical therapist here in Watkins to water ski, with the caveat that I should not do any weird tricks or fall.

Well, Jaysus, what kind of fun is that?

But this year - with my 60th birthday coming up this summer - I announced months ago that I would ski, shoulder aches or not. As it turned out, Cousin Ruth's girls Jennifer and Kate were water skiing over the weekend so barely an hour after wrapping my arms (ok, ok, one arm) around Miss Watkins Glen, I suited up and took a spin on water skis.

Who knows that the weather will be like on my birthday?

I had forgotten that when you put water skis on out of the water they loosen a lot in the water. But even though I was slip-sliding like I had on size 14 shoes (I wear a 9 1/2 thank you very much) I had a good, if somewhat wobbly run, even if the ending wasn't exactly textbook.

Exactly textbook? Okay, okay, okay!

I fell spectacularly, in a rolling heap, much to the amusement of the neighbors sitting on their docks, the Admiral and my relatives on Ruth's dock. But my shoulders are fine and even the knee that was repaired a couple of years ago held up its responsibilities without complaint. We'll see how it does when I try slalom skiing.

No tricks were attempted this time, but the summer is just getting started and I have my physical therapist's phone number on speed dial, just in case.

I wonder if Miss Watkins Glen is a water skier?

July 4, 2008

July 4th - fireworks, a boating adventure and black raspberry pies

VALOIS, New York, USA - July 4 dawned foggy and quite cold, about 58 degrees (news that probably has my amigos in Mexico quite envious, given how hot it is south of the border).

But as soon as the sun peeks over the hill and boosts the temperature to, say, 65 degrees, the Admiral and I will head out to the berry patch to pick another couple of buckets of black raspberries for pies and to make jam. Two beautiful berry pies are sitting on top of the stove, ready for tonight, courtesy of the Admiral's work last night.

Sylvia goes wild for berries
Admiral Fox in the thicket picking berries

The growing season in this part of New York is quite short for all manner of plants, so when you see that the black raspberries have ripened, you don't wait around for a week thinking about going out with a few baskets to pick. We have had a lot of rain in the past week, followed by hot weather, followed by more rain which has boosted the berry crop compared to last year.

And last year was a great year.

We've been invited to a big July 4th soiree at Cousin Ruth's cottage where a very traditional dinner of burgers, corn - and probably macaroni and potato salads - will be held late in the day, just prior to the fireworks display in Watkins Glen.

Weather permitting, the Spirit of Louise will travel the 14 miles down the lake to view the display, in the company of a few hundred other boats from up and down the 40-mile long lake.

The real fun starts when the fireworks is over and those few hundred other boats all turn around and head back up the lake in the dark - usually going full throttle - with a more than a few captain/drivers feeling the effects of a full national holiday of sloshing beer and wine.

More on how that boating adventure works out tomorrow.

July 3, 2008

Tropical Storm Douglas wallops La Manzanilla

LA MANZANILLA, Jalisco, Mexico - The Admiral and I watched Mexico's Pacific coast weather developing from our vantage point of several thousand miles distant yesterday, as weather generated way out in the Pacific sent rain and huge waves into La Manzanilla and all along the Jalisco coast.

The best source of on-the-ground information is the La Manzanilla Message Board, which has postings from people still in town.

We read all the postings and an email from Jane Gorby.

Hokey-smokes Bullwinkle, the town got hit pretty hard.

The are tales of water in beach houses and restaurants and waves rolling right up the arroyo to Martin's Restaurant.

The bridge over the arroyo, by the way, seems mostly gone.

We're concerned about our amigos Mario and Sharon who are living in their new house on the ocean in Tenacatita, just down the beach from our lot. Cell phone service out there is spotty at best, but perhaps later today we'll hear how they fared.

Here's a link to some photos:
  • Photo site

  • Here's a link to videos:
  • Storm videos
  • July 2, 2008

    The neighborhood rabbits are going wild

    VALOIS, New York, USA - I discovered a few days ago that those cute little rabbits who have taken up residence in and around the yard like cilantro. No, make that love cilantro.

    The same cilantro I have growing in a pot outside the front door.

    So now I am on full rabbit alert to protect the young zucchini and yellow squash that has just sprouted, as well as the tomato plants and broccoli. I suppose I will have to purchase some chicken wire to cage everything.

    Last night, coming home from our evening stroll down the road, we spotted the bunnies below doing some kind of mating dance.

    And they didn't seem to care that we were there watching at all.

    July 1, 2008

    Finally finding Foster's Pond - and with a map firmly in hand

    Admiral at Foster's Pond
    Admiral at Foster's Pond

    FOSTER'S POND, Finger Lakes National Forest, Hector, NY, USA - Sorry for the long dateline, but I was soooooo excited that we actually found the pond we went hiking to find the other day that I had to get it all out there in front.

    After our unsuccessful foray through the mosquito-laden woods several days ago, we stopped by the local forest ranger station today and got a map of the region - one that shows plainly we were within easy reach of Foster's Pond a few days ago when we turned back, sure we had walked too far. Oh well, it at least spurred us on to get a map.

    Can a compass be far behind?

    By my best guesstimation on the map, we were about a quarter mile from standing on the banks of the pond when we decided we had way overshot the place. I wonder if I should consider getting a good GPS, too.

    Today we drove a clearly marked parking area that is .25 miles away from the pond (at the far end of the trail we took before) and had a very nice (if somewhat bug-infested) walk to the pond. Even with July 4 just a few days off, the forest is deserted.

    Well, at least there are very few people there.

    Sign hard to miss
    Hard to miss the sign

    The pond was overrun with bullfrogs, the edge full of pollywogs and more than a few largemouth bass seemed to be flopping around - probably so full of pollywogs they could barely swim.

    I made a note that I have to keep my fishing pole in the car for such excursions. I also should break down and shell out the $40 for a New York State fishing license, I suppose.

    Foster's Pond resident
    Foster's Pond resident