December 31, 2009

Celebrating New Year's Eve with style in town - and on the beach

ARROYO SECO, Jalisco, Mexico - And so the last day of 2009 began with a three-hour drive to Puerto Vallarta (six hours driving, round-trip, of course) to visit Dr. Antonio who has been osteopathically wrenching on my neck, back and arm for several visits now to get a nerve in my neck to quit being, well, such a pain-in-the ass.

Or, technically, such a pain in the neck, I suppose.

But the visits are helping and so tonight I was feeling quite fit and ready for some adventure, So we roared out of town on the quad to Playa Grande where there were a handful of revelvers at the south end. Pretty quiet for New Year's Eve. We camped for awhile at the north end of the beach, however, our only company the occasional crab skittering across the sand, and the occasional swooping bat, feeding on the few insects that could stand the offshore breeze.

Admiral on the beach
Admiral and her beloved steed

Earlier in the week, we purchased a quantity of very large sparklers - sparklers which every kid in the village has been coveting. And a few kids have talked us out of a couple.

But to bring in the new year, the Admiral took a few of her stash of sparklers out to the beach where we lit them off before coming back to the palapa to retire for the evening. No big parties in town tonight - the first such quiet night since we arrived, I think.

Of course, it might just be a little too early to make that determination.

December 29, 2009

Time off for a quad ride down the beach to Tenacatita

ARROYO SECO, Jalisco, Mexico - What should have taken all day - moving a sink from our outdoor kitchen to up on the palapa - was only a few hours of work (for our plumber, Rodrigo, not me). And so instead of having to farble around with PVC pipes and leaky connections into the afternoon, the Admiral and I headed to the beach on our Honda quad as soon as Rodrigo declared the sink done and ready for tonight's dinner dishes.

We had been told by our amigo (and resident French surfer dude), Julien, that the waves were huge and so we thought there was no way we would be able to get past both lagunas (via narrow sandbars) to get all the way to Tenacatita.

But it turned out that the massive waves didn't breach the sandbars in either case - though they came close.

Narrow spit of land
Sand bridge connecting the north and south beaches

We visited for about an hour (or two beers, depending on how you count time), with our Canadian amigos Doug and Lynn who have opened a small RV park on the beach, just a few lots from our Tenacatita beach property. This season they are busy putting in palm trees and plants and doing landscaping. Last year they installed the parking spots for RVs and all the infrastructure (power, water, showers, banos, lights, septic...).

The RV park (like our lot) is within easy walking distance of some excellent seafood restaurants (Fiesta Mexicana is our favorita) and great snorkeling around a reef known as the Aquarium.

Doug and Lynn said they have had a few RVers come and stay with them, but the snowbirds haven't arrived in full force yet.

In the meantime, they are enjoying the peace and quiet - except for when our quad rolls up.

Here's a short video of one of the sand bars we cross to visit Doug and Lynn in Tenacatita.

December 27, 2009

Wild fiesta in Arroyo Seco, with dancing, music - and lots of laughs

ARROYO SECO, Jalisco, Mexico - After a day of working and puttering around the property, Admiral Fox and I headed to the jardin (town square) Sunday night to take part in a huge fiesta thrown to celebrate a baptism and a First Communion.

Such ceremonies are a very big deal in this community of 300 people. And when a fiesta is thrown, it is thrown for everybody.

Even us gringos...

But the highlight of the evening (in addition to the icy cold beer), was a show put on by our neighbor Chena, with help from various friends and relatives.

She put together her musical-comedy-dance group last year with just a couple of people as a lark. But it has become soooo popular, that whenever anyone has a special event, they plead with her to bring out the group. And it has grown from just a few people to an entire ensemble.

At the party, when she and her crew arrived, the crowd cheered like it was rock stars who had just stepped off a bus. In fact, if it grows much larger, she will need a bus to haul everybody around.

As the video shows, there was some fun audience participation involved, too.

I narrowly avoided being one of victims, er, I mean participants.

December 22, 2009

A close encounter with a 'moo' kind on Mexico's Highway 200

HIGHWAY 200, Jalisco, Mexico - The Admiral was driving our Toyota Tundra at a relatively pokey 50 miles-per-hour this afternoon on Highway 200 - bringing us home after a foray to Puerto Vallarta - when we were suddenly confronted by four or five very large bulls filling in both lanes of the highway.

As in really filling in.

The Admiral did a splendid job of braking and swerving, simultaneously putting on the truck's flashing lights for any traffic behind us, neatly avoiding creating any highway hamburger with our Tundra as the grinder.

Unfortunately the van driving behind us - quite fast - didn't fare nearly as well.

The driver slammed on his brakes to avoid slamming into us and in that process did several very impressive spins in the road before ending up in the ditch. The Admiral watched it all happen in the rear view mirror. I heard the tires screech for 30 seconds while I did my best duck-and-cover as I braced for impact.

truck two
Van from its good side

truck one
Tow-truck driver's dream (or nightmare)

At first, the driver of the van tried to say it was the Admiral's fault - until he saw the four bulls make a return, sauntering appearance on the highway. Perhaps they came to check out what havoc they had just wreaked - or see if they could dump another vehicle off the side of the road.

We offered assistance, but the driver insisted only that we head on down the road to the Pemex service station near the road to Tomatlan to ask his amigos there for help. His brother was on duty and after I explained where the accident happened, the brother was busy texting on his phone, no doubt for someone to head back north.

When we left the actual scene of the accident, the driver of the van and the owner of the loose-on-the-highway-bulls were nose-to-nose and gesturing pretty wildly about the whole incident.

And the driver's ladyfriend in the photo? We never got her name, but she seemed pretty nonchalant for having survived what could have easily been a fatal rollover crash.

On the balance of the trip home, we drove a pretty staid 50 mph, with eyes peeled for wildlife of any kind. And yes, we did encounter another herd of wayward bovines. But the second group was walking on the side of the 3 kilometer gravel road leading to our place, (the Pink Flamingo) in downtown Arroyo Seco.

And no fast-driving vans were behind us.

December 18, 2009

Arroyo Seco rodeo even got the kids into the act

ARROYO SECO, Jalisco, Mexico - After a few hours of setting up the property - and getting a balky shower head to come through with the hot water I knew was in the pipe - we headed over the rodeo and got to see the cowboys riding some bulls around and around, and around.

Admittedly, they were mostly young bulls, but not exactly pushovers, either.

And after the rodeo (and a quick visit to the beach to see amigos Jim and Vickie) we had tacos on the square with most of the village.
Sylvia's first Arroyo Seco meal of the season
Sylvia's first Arroyo Seco meal of the season

This year's fiesta is much bigger than last year's even features a merry-go-round for the younger  children.

And the rodeo and fiesta continue for the next two days.

Two more days of fiesta, food, rodeo and cervezas?


Captain's blog goes online - in Arroyo Seco

ARROYO SECO, Jalisco, Mexico - After a few stops and starts with getting the Internet working here in the rancho, the Pink Flamingo is officially online.

And today the Admiral and I and son Dylan will be heading over to a fiesta (of course) celebrating the town's birthday.

The celebration includes a rodeo, food, and lots of beer (and probably dancing).

Here's a brief video of our first few days here. Pix and video of the rodeo manana. Maybe.

December 16, 2009

In Mexico it's warm air, warm water but hard to get to the Internet

LA MANZANILLA, Jalisco, Mexico - We arrived in La Manzanilla a few days ago, renting a casa a block from the beach but neglected to arrange for regular at-home Internet access ahead of time.

We have had to rely on the kindness of both Palapa Joe's and Cafe Risa until we set up out in Arroyo Seco for the season - a project that begins today.

But we have managed to get in a lot of fun, including a trip to Tenacatita Tuesday to snorkel and see if the seafood is still great at Fiesta Mexicana.

It is.

Sylvia and Laura, warm water
Laura and Admiral Fox test the warm bay waters

Eric and Tina in snorkel gear
Eric and Tina Hazlitt return from some serious snorkeling

December 6, 2009

Forecast I: Snow in Sacramento; Forecast II - Time to go to Mexico

SACRAMENTO, California, USA - The temperatures here in Sacramento have been below freezing at night for several days and now - as we pack for Mexico - the forecast calls for snow. Real snow. Real-snow-on-the-ground snow.

Jaysus. Where did I put my cross-country skis?

I can't remember the last time it snowed here - and in my 20-plus years, I don't think it ever actually stuck to the ground.

But the forecast says there could be as much as four inches of slippery snow on the ground in the valley tomorrow.

Watch for video posting of traffic accidents. People in Sacramento have trouble driving in a light rain!

Marathon four
Marathon runners

A little cold weather didn't slow down any of the runners in this morning's California International Marathon, run from Folsom to downtown Sacramento. It would have been interesting to watch them slip and slide had the race been tomorrow.

As it was, the sun did peek out for a few moments here and there. But not long enough.

The Admiral and I bundled up like Eskimos and went out to watch some of the race near our house. Even many of the runners were wearing wool caps and gloves as they pounded by. The temperature was about 35 with a strong wind blowing.

My Eskimo outfit is headed for storage as soon as school gets out.

Marathon three
Keeping warm, watching the race

Amigos Eric and Tina Hazlitt from New York have already arrived in La Manzanilla and were greeted today by, gasp, rain! The reports say as much as two inches of rain fell last night and today in La Manzanilla. But for Tina and Eric - used to the frosty north in Hector, New York - at least this is warm rain.

They probably went swimming in the downpours and loved it.

The Admiral and I will join them as soon as we can.

Here's a brief video of some of the action from today's marathon...

November 26, 2009

Memories of a Thanksgiving dinner past - a long time past

SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - So, what was the best Thanksgiving dinner - taste wise - you ever had? For me, that's hard to narrow down, considering how many I have choose from, spanning six decades.

Six decades? Kee-rist!

But the one that sticks in my mind today wasn't served on fine china, on a table covered with linen. And the silverware wasn't silver, though it got the job done neatly enough.

It was 40-plus years ago that I was working at a Minute Man gas station in the burg of Falconer, New York, seven miles from my home in Lakewood that Thanksgiving Day. And there was no getting around the job and working. Jobs were scarce, particularly for unskilled college kids. And I certainly fit that bill.

So I sat staring at the mostly empty gas pumps for four hours that afternoon, the very occasional customer stopping by on their way to a nice dinner somewhere. They were dressed quite fancy; I was dressed in ragged white coveralls.

Mostly I remember it was cold - damned cold - and I was hungry. The little restaurants nearby, where I always picked up a cheap lunch, were closed that day.

But midway through my shift, a familiar car came barreling in, a Camaro if my memory is right. It was my high school amigo Bud Hooper whose parents lived in Falconer. Bud was bearing a plate of leftover food from their dinner eaten earlier that day. Bud's mom Shirley knew I was sitting at Minute Man, counting the hours until I could head back home to my family where the official Thanksgiving dinner was underway, Manhattans flowing.

What I also remember was putting the aluminum-foiled wrapped plate on a radiator in the backroom to warm it up a little and cracking it neatly in two.

Camaro coupe

Cracked plate or not, the turkey and potatoes and dressing were soooo good I rarely smell a turkey cooking without thinking of them and that cold November afternoon and how nice it was.

And perhaps the nicest thing - something to remember today - was that it was totally unexpected. I had decided that afternoon that I would rely on some stale Fritos from a vending machine and a Mountain Dew soda to get me through until quitting time.

Instead, thanks to the kindness of a friend's mom, I had fabulous meal.

Sorry about the cracked plate, Shirley. But thanks again,  40-plus years later.

November 25, 2009

Admiral Fox celebrates a 'Wicked' birthday in San Francisco

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif., USA - A planned road trip to Las Vegas and parts east of us in Sacramento was canceled last week in favor of a much-shorter trip to the San Francisco Bay Area to celebrate Adm. Fox's birthday.

And as part of that celebration, we went to see the stage show 'Wicked' at the Orpheum Theatre in San Francisco, a musical that is, well, very musical and a delight.

Yes, I said it was a 'delight.' Yes, I tell my students not to say stuff like that.


Teal Wicks
A Young Wicked Witch of West

The days in Oakland and San Francisco involved enough hiking to make any Sierra Club member proud, enough fine dining (read $$$$$) sufficient to make the American Express credit card folks extremely pleased, and plenty of side adventures such as renting a three-wheeled car to tool around city streets for an hour or so.

The cars are actually three-wheeled 50cc motorcycles with a fiberglass car body on top of them. And they go about as fast as you would expect a 50cc motorcycle with a fiberglass car body on them to go. The cars are powered by Vespa engines.

Enough said?

We must have cut quite the image because at several stoplights along the Embarcadero in San Francisco, people shouted out 'nice ride.'

Indeed it was.

Gentlemen, start your engines
Gentlemen, start your engines

Back home safe in Sacramento this afternoon (after a side trip to Sausalito to check on the harbor and to have breakfast at the Lighthouse Restaurant), the Admiral and I are talking about how to quickly wind down the semester at the university while simultaneously packing and getting ready for our escape, er, I mean trip, back home to Mexico.

And Admiral Fox has her countdown calendar up and running - on her ITouch, of course.

November 16, 2009

The paranoia about illness - or is it the illness of paranoia?

SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - The sneezing, sniffling, oh-shit-I-feel-like-I-have-a-fever time is raging here in Central California like a wildfire out of control.

At the university, the health center is diagnosing students over the telephone as having swine flu. And while it's normal at this stage of the semester to have a lot of absence, my classrooms are often only half full, with the other half emailing in that they are sick and will take a pass on coming to school that day.

And if they think they are sick, they do have strict orders: Keep thee away from me. A couple of zip codes would be nice.


This entire flu-mania took on special meaning late last week when a Sacramento amiga invited the Admiral and I to come to her house and have dinner. Sure, sounds great, we said. Plans were put into place to bring the ukulele for a little concert for she and her husband and two young children.

Two children. Two young children.

Uh-oh. Children, much younger versions of walking petri dishes of bacteria and viruses that I teach daily. Good kids to be sure, but what illnesses might lurk in that critical three-foot radius around them? And what if I caught a bad cold - or worse - weeks before the Admiral and I are scheduled to make our way south and east, back to coastal Mexico?

We canceled. I think we are still friends.

Someone once told me that you are only paranoid if you think someone is out to get you and they are not.


So I continue to gulp vitamins and minerals twice a day - prescribed by my Canadian amiga Laura - drink enough water to solve the Southern California water shortage, try to sleep a full 8 hours and I hold my breath in the elevators at the University.

Paranoid? No way.

November 13, 2009

A trip to the Camp Connell - where cold is really cold

CAMP CONNELL, Calaveras County, Calif., USA - We zipped up the mountain from Sacramento last night, arriving an hour or so after dark, just ahead of some cold weather.

Rain greeted us in Angel's Camp (15 miles from here) and for a few minutes, I thought we would be running into snow and sleet. It rained hard enough that I think a new set of windshield wipers is in order. We'll go home tomorrow when it warms up - and no rain is forecast.

Temperature at 11 a.m.
Temperature at 11 a.m.

It's always fun to visit Sanders and Pat here and it was a nice night of music, wine and great food. And this morning, the day dawned sunny and bright - at least as sunny and bright as it can be with this many huge trees surrounding the house.

So after the requisite three cups of tea (a la Greg Mortenson), the Admiral and I took a foray out around the countryside, ending up at the Camp Connell store where the locals were sipping coffee (and some sipping beer).

Admiral Fox - got her ears frosted up on the walk there and checked out a few of hats they had on sale.

Sylvia in coonskin cap
No ear coverage

Ready for winter
Ear coverage - great. Style - not so great

The Camp Connell store is a microcosm of the community - and the place to visit if you want to check out what's going on. Need a handyman to fix the gutters on the house? Check the store. Need to know about the snow in the pass? These people will know.

Later today, we will make a foray to a slightly lower elevation to visit amigos Randy and Karin, amigos from here as well as Mexico. Randy and Karin will be coming to Mexico for two months, living in a house near the church in La Manzanilla.

And, of course, we will likely make another walk down the hill to the Camp Connell store this afternoon, too, when it's time to join the locals for a cold beer.


Camp Connell store
Camp Connell store

November 3, 2009

Learning Spanish - really learning - es muy importante

SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - In the last couple of years, my Spanish language speaking (and listening) skills have progressed from those of an elementary school student to, oh, a not-very-bright teenager.

The emphasis here is on not-very-bright.

Still, I have been generally pleased with progress and by the end of May last year, was able to converse pretty freely with my Spanish-speaking neighbors (vecinos) and friends (amigos) in Arroyo Seco and La Manzanilla.

They apparently don't mind talking to a not-very-bright teenager encased in the body of a 60-year-old gringo.

But Monday I realized that resting on my laurels is not a good idea. I need to begin to push a little harder this year. Maybe I'll learn how to use the past tense. Woo-hoo!

Devani with shaker toy
Goddaughter Devani at her birthday party last May

What has prompted this semi-come-to-Jesus-moment about getting more fluent was trying to talk on the telephone Monday with Mimi, the mother of Devani, our goddaughter. When Devani was born, she and her mother (and grandmother and grandfather) all lived in La Manzanilla, eking out a living cleaning houses and running a tiny restaurant out the front of their house. And, being good godparents we saw them often. When needed, we helped out by buying medicine for the baby and sometimes basic foodstuffs when there wasn't much work.

A few months ago, the family picked up and moved to Ensenada where they were able to find work. La Manzanilla had no work for them at all. In fact, if reports are accurate, the village could use a serious infusion of gringo cash to get some pesos in the pockets of the local Mexican residents.

But I digress.

When the phone rang - and the Admiral said it was Mimi - I knew trouble was afoot because I had received an email a few days earlier indicating that Devani had been going to the doctor. But Monday morning, Devani had returned from a trip to the hospital where the doctors said expensive asthma medicine was desperately needed.

Emphasis here on desperate. Emphasis here on expensive.

I would like to say I learned all this because I understood Mimi just fine in our telephone conversation. But I didn't. I picked up that the baby was sick, that Mimi wasn't too hot either, that there was some work but they were struggling financially. And I heard a lot of very-frightened-mother incantations (in-between sobs) and the Spanish verbs came at me faster than dodgeballs in a junior high school gym class.

What I could not understand was how serious things were - and also how to get some money into Mimi's hands for the medicine.

Western Union
Western Union - they'll take your money

Lucky for all of us, Mimi was telephoning from a home where she and her mother work three days per week. The owner speaks enough English for us to work out the details of how to get some cash across the border for the 18-month-old's asthma medicine.

It turned out that good old Western Union is the transfer vehicle of choice and by late afternoon (and a quick trip by Adm. Fox to the WU office), the medicine for the baby should have been purchased.

In Mexico, you can do the same thing, but by wandering to any Coppel store, which does wire transfers of money, too.


So what's the next step in the search for fluency?

Una pregunta buena ( good question). Perhaps there's a good ITouch app that I can wire into my brain while I sleep.

Or perhaps my amiga Laura Warner can put me into a language training program this spring. (She already has me taking four vitamin and mineral pills a day to ward off H1N1, as well as the myriads of germs lurking around the university.)

Or I could just plain old study, I suppose.

Hmm.. I think I'll try the ITouch first - and download a few ukulele tunes at the same time.

October 31, 2009

The Fox News Obama War gets 'serious' time on Jon Stewart

SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - Being in (and teaching about) the news business, it's hard to watch what passes for journalism these days on television.

Now that I think about it, since Walter Cronkite left CBS, I have generally thought that television journalist is an oxymoron.

A few minutes of watching the wing nuts on Fox News - or the incredible smugness of MSNBC folks - usually results in a quick click of the TV remote.

As in click off.

But The Daily Show just did a hilarious rant on Fox News and it's declared 'war' with the Obama administration that is worth taking a look at.

It's eleven minutes long, but gawd, it is funny in spots.

For Fox Sake!
The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorHealth Care Crisis

October 15, 2009

The score at the end of three hours - Captain 1, Water Heater 0

SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - The ankle-deep water in the garage was the first clue. The second clue was no hot water for a hot shower this morning. The third clue was the delivery of the bad news directly from Admiral Fox, who had surveyed the scene.

"Hey Michael. Guess what? The water heater blew out."

Guess what, indeed.

My first instinct - and phone call - went to Chief Engineer Scott Noble, who fixed things on our 48-foot sloop Sabbatical for a several seasons and has mechanical and fix-up abilities far beyond those of mortal men. But as luck would have it (his mostly), his carpet cleaning service had just picked up jobs enough to keep him busy until sometime Saturday.

  • LINK: Click here to Call Scotty for Help!!!!!!!!!

  • The Admiral and I did the math and decided that showers couldn't wait that long.

    Old hot water heater carcass
    Carcass of the old water heater

    On Sabbatical, problems like this seemed to happen damn near every time we went for a cruise of longer than a few days. That's the nature of sailboat cruising and I was used to be called into service at a moment's emergency notice - and usually not when I felt like doing the work.

    So I attacked the problem the same way I did on the boat: I ripped out the old water heater (Hand me that hacksaw, please) and installed in a new one. Time to completion: 3.5 hours.

    That said, there are two boat/home improvement projects I really dislike: painting and plumbing. And I am not sure which I dislike the most. Depends on which I need to do at that moment, I suppose.

    New hot water heater - ready to install
    New water heater ready to hook up

    The project wasn't all that expensive either - about $400 for everything (Calif. tax included). But, of course, it took two trips to Home Depot before the project was over. One trip was to get the tank, the second to get all the things I forgot (like Teflon tape for the pipe connections).

    Santo Crappo!

    As I write this, the new hot water heater is warming fast and seems to be operating just as advertising by the fine folks at Home Depot.

    But tomorrow I have to finish one final piece of the job so the project is really complete - reinstalling the earthquake straps on the new tank.

    We'll cross our fingers that the state doesn't shake rattle and roll tonight. I do not want to have to install another hot water heater tomorrow.

    OK, and I would not welcome an earthquake regardless.

    Who knows? It might require me to start doing some painting, too.

    Tangle of earthquake strapping for the hot water tank
    A tangle of safety straps

    October 9, 2009

    Getting some skin cancers carved out of the body

    SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - Today was C Day, (not D Day), the day that I went in for some outpatient surgery to remove three tiny spots of skin cancer that my dermatologist spotted 10 days ago during my annual skin checkup.

    Why C day? C for carving, of course.

    During that annual skin checkup, Dr. Silva and I chatted (as always) about what the Admiral and I are doing with our properties in Mexico, how much fun we have there and ultimately how much sun we are exposed to for about 8 months out of the year.

    "Couldn't you have picked a place like, um, Finland to retire to," she asked, blasting me with beyond-ice-cold liquid nitrogen to burn off some pre-cancers.

    That stuff hurts, by the way, and leaves blisters wherever it is applied.

    Dr. Susan Silva
    Dr. Susan Silva

    The Finland joke didn't seem so funny a few days later when the results of three biopsies came back showing that I did have one semi-serious type of cancer on my chest and two other spots on my back that needed more than just a little touch of super cold nitrogen.

    On my chest was a tiny spot of what the laboratory said was some squamous skin cancer that needed to be carved out, because it was likely moving it's way down through the various layers of the epidermis and spreading, not just hanging out on top.

    Just the name squamous sounded kind of ominous to me.

  • What the Mayo Clinic says about squamous cells

  • Carved, of course, is a gross exaggeration. Dr. Silva used a scalpel to skillfully cut out a small chunk of skin, though it took about 20 minutes, including the stitching me up. (Small stitches, please.) And the spots on my backed were scrapped off using a curette.

    Thank God for Lidocaine, several shots of which were injected in my chest and on my back and I quite literally didn't feel a thing.

    Going in for surgery
    Heading in for the surgery

    With C Day behind me, the Admiral and I are starting to focus on our mid-December escape from Sacramento to return to Arroyo Seco and La Manzanilla.

    I already have my order figured out for the first night we head to Palapa Joes in La Manzanilla.

    And yes, it includes a Cuba Libre.

    Maybe several to toast the death of the squamous cells.

    Dr. Silva and company
    The doctors at the Laser Skin Center in Sacramento

    September 27, 2009

    A farmer's market of vegetables with some political spices

    SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - Part of the Sunday morning ritual for the Admiral and I for years has been a visit to the downtown Sacramento farmer's market, a collection of about 75 vendors selling all kinds of farm produce.

    The market is under the Interstate 80 freeway, which on weekdays is a parking lot filled with the cars of state workers. At least those that still have jobs.

    Today's visit showed that if anything, the market is growing bigger - and better - all the time.

    Piles of green veggies
    Piles of fresh vegetables

    The shoppers were all scurrying about, picking out the best squash, tomatoes, beans and an assortment of fruits that is mind boggling. Vendors selling honey, flowers, freshly caught salmon and sometimes wine also do a pretty brisk business.

    And this Sunday the political petition people were out in force, too, with people trying to get registered voters to sign petitions to legalize marijuana and get fresher food into school lunches.
    (Or was it to get fresher marijuana? Hmmm....)

    The usual cadre of musicians were missing, however. Usually at least two of three guitarists take up residence near the politicians (where people gather), leaving their guitar cases open on the ground in hope of getting some cash from fans.

    I should have brought my ukulele and perhaps paid for the vegetables.

    Come tip-toe, through the tulips with me ...

    Pot initiative petition
    Marijuana petition

    Tomatoes everywhere

    Vegetables at farmer's market
    A pile of potatoes

    What we couldn't find at the Farmer's Market - which wasn't much - we stocked up on at Corti Brothers grocery store, a company that was almost forced out of business last year when the lease for the landmark grocery wasn't renewed by the landlord - and a competitor snapped it up.

    Some public protestations - no, make that a lot of public protestations - made the landlord relent, the competitor backed out of the deal and the Corti family was able to renew the lease.

    We're happy. Corti Brothers still has the best deli in town.

    Corti Brothers in East Sacramento

    September 24, 2009

    A furlough day from one university, but a protest at another

    DAVIS, Calif., USA - In this first 'furlough' day from my teaching at California State University, Sacramento, I studiously avoided any schoolwork, and tried to do anything that was unrelated to my teaching or other university service.

    So it was a morning of laundry, reading newspapers, walking Tucker the Dog around a block and chatting for awhile with Berta, the Spanish-speaking house cleaner who comes in once a month to chase away the dust bunnies, among other dirt-related creatures that lurk in difficult spaces to clean. My rusty Spanish proved sufficient to talk un poco...

    Tucker the dog
    Tucker, always ready for a walk

    But during the morning I also received an email from a Capital Public Radio news guy who had interviewed me a week ago about what effect the furloughs were having on students and faculty at my campus.

    And after listening to it, it prompted to me to use some of my CSU, Sacramento furlough day by going to the nearby University of California, Davis campus to hoot and holler in support of the faculty there, who have been furloughed like me, but cannot take off any days from teaching, despite taking a pay cut. (Of course, they teach one or two classes per week, compared to our four, but come on, solidarity is solidarity.)
  • Interview

  • The protest eventually drew probably between 700-1000 people, with many lurking in the shade of the trees, listening to various speakers thunder about the lack of foresight on the part of the state legislature in slashing higher education budgets so drastically this year.

    Many of the students in the crowd - when not shouting slogans like "More Privatization Means Less Education" and "UC Slay-Very" - were debating whether to show up for their classes or cut. In several cases, the decision was easy because the speakers were faculty members who had canceled classes - on the very first day of school - to protest not only their plight but the steep increases in student fees with which UC students were being hit. And more UC fee increases are on the way, just like in my university system.

    A physics professor told a longish tale about the University of Texas, which he said is actively recruiting faculty from the UC system, knowing that the furloughs might tip the scale in favor of faculty choosing to teach in the Lone Star State. Such notions seemed far fetched in the past few years, but with the pay cuts, perhaps not.

    (But would UC faculty be able to pronounce Yee-Haw properly and name the entire cast of the TV series, Dallas?)

    Physics professor speaks
    UC physics professor warns of potential faculty exodus

    The protest and rally also drew plenty of people with petitions to sign: some supporting San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom for governor, others to be sent to lame-duck Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger protesting the cuts.

    And the media was out in full force with TV cameras all over the place, trying to get some good footage of outrage for the evening's newscast.

    But at least while I stood there, no one yelled "You lied," at any of the speakers, or even in reference to the University of California Regents and UC President Mark Yudof who may have told a fib or two on occasion.

    The protest was quite civilized in that regard.

    TV reporter packs up
    TV reporter packs up and heads out

    Natural purple hair at Davis Calif protest
    A protester and fan of the book, The Color Purple?

    Crowd at Davis, Calif rally
    As the crowd gathered

    The UC Davis campus is no different from any other in one regard - the parking enforcement officers tend to be genetically linked to members of some past Reich and so I was pleased that after sweating for an hour listening to speakers and taking photos I got back to my Little Red Nissan with 10 minutes to spare on the meter.


    Meter with 10 minutes left
    10 minutes left - and no ticket

    Below is a brief video of one of the better speakers - Bill Camp of the Sacramento Central Labor Council who got the crowd roaring during his five-minute speech.

    September 19, 2009

    Several days of All Family - All the Time in Sacramento

    SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - The first hint of what was about to happen was when son Dustin Fox called from Puerto Vallarta and said he and spouse Cami and daughter Sasha had decided to come to the U.S. for a 10-day vacation, to visit us - and to escape the insufferable heat of coastal Mexico this time of the year.

    Then, because they were coming, son Jason Fitzgerald, (temporarily ensconced in nearby Chico, Calif.), decided to drive south to Sacramento for a visit, too.

    And rounding out the family reunion was daughter Anne Fitzgerald Allen and her daughter Kami who live in nearby Rancho Cordova.

    All we were missing was son Dylan Fox (who lives in the Berkeley, Calif. area) and Anne's other daughter, Samantha (who was always at softball practice when we were having get togethers) and Anne' husband Steve. We will try to remedy that next week and get everyone together for a farewell soiree before the Mexico Fox family heads back to Puerto Vallarta.

    Jason, Michael and Dustin
    Jason, Michael, and Dustin

    Jason, Michael and Sasha
    Jason, Michael and Sasha

    It was a great couple of days, getting the Mexico contingent hooked up with cousins and brothers and sisters and... We almost needed a flow chart to figure it all out.

    And one upshot is that after two days of hearing tales of Mexico (and surfing, most likely), son Jason is planning a foray south this winter, either for a short vacation, or for the whole season.

    Beach volleyball in La Manzanilla will never be the same. I don't know anyone else who carries around professional volleyball gear everywhere he goes.

    The Cousins, Sasha and Kami
    Sasha Fox and Kami Allen, the cousins

    Below is a short movie of one family dinner in Sacramento - at a Mexican restaurant of course - followed a by short clip of Jason with one of his two much-beloved dogs who travel with him everywhere.

    September 13, 2009

    An afternoon at a softball luau with jury duty ahead

    SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - The Admiral and I spent a couple of hours at a luau this afternoon/evening in Roseville, a fundraiser for the softball league that granddaughter Sami plays in.

    The mai-tai drinks were, well, industrial strength and we would have liked to sample the food, too. But the line for the food looked like it would take 45 minutes for us to chow down on pork, chicken and rice, so we opted out to go home for dinner.

    And dinner at home, cooked by roommate Suzanne, was fabulous. (Still, a third mai tai might have been good, too...)

    Luau greeting committee
    Luau greeting committee

    Steve and Nicole
    Son-in-law Steve (Sami's dad) with Nicole at the luau

    The party atmosphere was great, helped by a cooling trend of temperatures that brought the usual 90-degree days down to about 75, perfect luau weather, even if I didn't have a true Hawaiian shirt to wear.

    Instead, I wore a T-shirt I got in Mexico for the Banderas Bay Sailboat Regatta from a few years ago which seemed festive enough to fit in with the decor and the rest of the attendees. Most of attendees were young families with players on the teams. But the rest of us more senior citizen types enjoyed watching our grandchildren at the party, too.

    Luau scene
    Luau scene

    Granddaugther Kami at the luau

    Monday morning I head off to the courthouse to report for jury duty. A far cry from the mai tai drinks and pulled pork dinners of today.

    But, justice must be served.

    I guess.

    September 11, 2009

    Car crashes, classes and city clatter - welcome home!

    SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - The Admiral and I have been back in Sacramento for a little more than two weeks and already packed in two road trips (San Francisco for a birthday dinner and Camp Connell for a Four Headlamps reunion), taught two weeks worth of university classes, and dealt with matters automotive.

    Because our two Mexico vehicles are in, well, Mexico, we are relying on the little red Nissan truck that I purchased new in 1990. With 105,000 miles on it, it's practically a new vehicle, except that it lacks one necessary accessory for this latitude (and this time of the year): an air conditioner.

    When I bought the Nissan in February of 1990, air conditioning seemed like such a luxury. Today, driving to the university in 100-degree heat, it didn't seem so.

    Nissan gets a new muffler
    Nissan gets a new muffler

    When we picked up the Nissan from its winter, spring and summer home at Ruth and Brian Gray's house in Murphy's it was obvious that either Brian had put on a new hot rod muffler or - and more likely - the muffler had a hole in it the size of Rush Limbaugh's mouth.

    The Rush's-mouth theory won out when I inspected it and we made a quick trip to a muffler shop in South Sacramento, where we had a new muffler installed. When I went to pay the bill, I thought I had accidentally warped to Mexico. It was $53, total.

    Fender bender in Sacramento
    Fender bender near our Sacramento house

    No matter where you live, people always seem to claim that the worst drivers in the world live there.

    Sacramento is no exception, except there's evidence that people do drive like maniacs, particularly on the freeways that criss-cross the town like a tic-tac-toe board. The Admiral and I have had a few close calls, but mostly been witness to numerous cases of horns blaring, people shouting and much wild gesturing involving fingers. One fellow swerved across three lanes of traffic to shout at me because he thought I was going to swerve into his lane.

    Three lanes!

    Luckily, we have two bicycles (my ancient KHS and a borrowed unit from Sanders Lamont) to provide most of our local transit. Less time on the freeway and less wild gesturing of fingers and shouting will be good.

    Class at Sac State
    One of my classes at CSU, Sacramento

    Admiral Fox has already started her countdown-to-Mexico calendar, now that we have two Sacramento weeks behind us. I'm a little more sanguine and won't get really excited for, say, another week or two.

    Part of the reason is my four classes are taking up much of my attention - as they always do at the outset of the semester. But the other is we are seeing our granddaughters Sami and Kami more and they are a hoot to be with.

    This morning I spent an hour chatting with daughter Anne while granddaughter Kami decorated my head with her collection of plastic bugs.

    Kami at her birthday party last week

    I will really miss her decorative skills this winter and spring while I'm in Mexico and real bugs are climbing on my head.

    But that's, oh, three months from now.

    August 28, 2009

    Back in Sacramento after winning the US Airways luggage lottery

    SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - Admiral Fox and I arrived back in Sacramento Wednesday night and won the luggage lottery, getting both of our checked 49.5 lb suitcases off our US Airways flight from Philadelphia.

    While there was no movie on the plane, we were entertained for part of the 5-hour flight by a belligerent, middle-aged woman seated four rows ahead of us who was ticked off at the flight attendants (and life in general). She drank way too much and then - hold on tight - lit a cigarette while sitting in her window seat.

    Yup, she puffed a couple of times before the flight attendants took away her lighter and smokes.

    Perhaps more unbelievable, she simply walked off the plane and into the darkness in Sacramento. The betting on the plane was leaning heavily towards handcuffs and cops at the gate.

    (NOTE TO THE ALMIGHTY: Please God, don't have that woman be a returning student who wants to study journalism at our university.)

    CFA president, Lillian Taiz
    CFA President Lillian Taiz

    On our university campus Thursday, the talk was all about the 10 percent pay cut faculty and staff and are taking. University President Alex Gonzalez gave a speech in which he said times would be tough, but it was an 'opportunity to examine ways to operate more efficiently.'

    Most faculty would like the pass on the opportunity, thank you very much.

    The few students who attended the president's semester opening remarks - and whose fees have increased 32 percent this year - seemed pretty sanguine, perhaps more worried about the increases in book prices across the street at the bookstore.

    Faculty heard a different story from California Faculty Association Lillian Taiz about how the furloughs were being implemented at all 23-campuses of the California State University and that there is a pressing need to let the public (and the students) know that these pay cuts will have consequences. Less pay, less work?


    Grey Goose II with slideout, out
    Grey Goose II, last December

    But there was good news late in the afternoon from an unlikely source: the California Department of Motor Vehicles.

    I had received a bill for nearly $2,000 for re-registering the Grey Goose II Express trailer, the unit sitting safely (I hope) under a ramada in Arroyo Seco under the watchful eye of my neighbors Chena and Chon. The actual registration was $1,100 with the balance representing late fees charged because my mail had not caught up with me in time to send the DMV a notice of 'non-operation.'

    It turned out my letter to the DMV - pleading the case that the trailer was not in California and thus was beyond the reach of the DMV - had been received and the trailer is off the books. It shows the trailer as being out of state and not subject to any state fees. (Woo-hoo!)

    And that's a good thing. When the trailer title was transferred last year, the DMV clerk who entered the data made a math error and said the $9,000 trailer is valued at $900,000, and in order to get that changed, the trailer needs to be inspected, in California.

    I think we'll keep it right where it sits in Arroyo Seco, Jalisco, Mexico.

    Unless, of course, someone reading this would like to buy a nice barely used trailer for, say, a bargain price of $875,000. I'll even deliver it.

    August 16, 2009

    A Peachy Dandy sailboat race ends with a towboat

    HAZLITT BEACH, Hector, New York, USA - The 2009 Peachy Dandy Sailboat Race started with the sharp report of a starting gun and the Red Rocket sailboat second over the line, only to find (about an hour and a half later) that the wind had dropped to zero and the race, alas, was over.

    But it was a grand race for the first hour or so, with the usual tacking duels. As crew, my sister-in-law Beth Crosby handled the jib and kept us on course, spotting the marker buoys. At the first mark we rounded the buoy soooooo close we nearly snagged its anchor with our centerboard, but in doing so pushed ahead of our main competitor and felt pretty smug, for a few minutes anyway.

    It was my first race in the Red Rocket and the conditions (light wind) were good for the vessel, not so good for the heavier displacement boats in the race. Still, when the race committee (like retired prizefighter Roberto Duran) cried out, No Mas, No Mas, Beth and I were happy to head back to shore (under tow) where pitchers of blended Peachy Dandy cocktails waited.

    jockeying at the start
    Jockeying at the start

    Red Rocket gets towed in
    Red Rocket being towed in

    Red Rocket crew shows off champagne
    Red Rocket crew with champagne prize

    The 2009 Peachy Dandy Race won't go down as a memorable one for sailing, but as a social event, it was over the top with great food, great drinks (what I remember anyway) music and fun meeting with Hector neighbors, some of whom we only see at the annual party, thrown by the Hazlitt family. And as an added nice touch, my cousin Kathleen McAvoy from Virginia - the first person I ever sailed with - was on hand on our pontoon boat with Adm. Fox, helping with emergencies - and towing during the race.

    Our Canadian amiga Laura (who left earlier this week) has already put in her request to stay with us during Peachy Dandy time next year, both to crew and party, I suppose.

    A tablefull of Schamels
    A table of Schamels with friends

    Peachy Dandy party on beach
    Party in full swing on the beach

    Today, dealing with the after effects of Peachy Dandiness, the lake was flat again, temperatures were up near 90 degrees and we declared another SLAD (Seneca Lake Appreciation Day).

    So instead of staying home and rereading the back of the Bayer aspirin bottle, we headed out again for another day of boating adventure, meeting up with amigos all over the lake, including Barney and Marsha on their pontoon boat and Eric and Tina Hazlitt who were cleaning up the beach area from the party. And, of course, we took Arnold the Wonder Dog, who declined an invite to swim, but did allow people to pour cups of lake water on him.

    We went to the middle of the lake, turned off the engine and swam in the lake water that is getting close to 80 degrees. Ok, maybe 75-80, but is was very refreshing and relatively warm - the warmest of the summer.

    Sylvia talks to Arnold
    Admiral Fox tries to convince Arnold to jump in

    The good news is that the forecast for tomorrow is for another scorcher - probably in the mid 90s - and that we are planning another SLAD. The bad news is we went through the entire beer and ice supply today and need to go to the store in the morning.

    We'll cope.