June 30, 2009

Out into the wild, with worms bought from a machine

BIG FLATS, New York, USA - The Admiral and I were on a return-the-truck-to-Brother-Dan mission Monday when we stopped at filling station to get directions to a local restaurant, where, legend has it, the breakfasts are great.

More on that assessment later.

But when I pulled in, there right near a shiny red Coke machine and neatly wedged near the front door was a vending machine unlike any other I had ever seen.

Worm machine
Put in your money, get a box of worms

The machine offers different sizes and types of the squirming critters. And don't think worms are cheap to purchase. The prices at this stop range from $2 to $4 per box. And just after we pulled up, the owner of machine came by to restock, loading about 100 boxes into the bowels of the equipment - one day's worth of sales, it seemed.

"There's money in worms," he said. "Good fishin' right down the road."

Worm choices
Your choice of worms - and prices

With the chaos of getting the guest house ready - and the incessant rain (more predicted for today, Jaysus!) - I haven't even purchased my fishing license yet, though I hope that as soon as the first renter is safely ensconced and sipping Hazlitt Winery Reisling, I will have more time for such pursuits.

Even the new sailboat sits sadly shoreside, until I can find time to build a new platform, so I don't have to pull it up across the rocks.

That phrase, sits sadly shoreside, reminds me that my amigo Tom Balmer sent me a link to the winners of the 2009 Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest. The contest is named for the man who penned a lot of bad writing, capped by the famous, "It was a dark and stormy night..."

Edward Bulwer-Lytton
Edward Bulwer-Lytton

Here's some of entries and winners, best read with a glass of the earlier mentioned Reisling nearby. If you want to read the entire list, follow this link:
  • It was a dark and stormy night

  • Contest Results

    The Big Winner:

    "Folks say that if you listen real close at the height of the full moon, when the wind is blowin' off Nantucket Sound from the nor' east and the dogs are howlin' for no earthly reason, you can hear the awful screams of the crew of the "Ellie May," a sturdy whaler Captained by John McTavish; for it was on just such a night when the rum was flowin' and, Davey Jones be damned, big John brought his men on deck for the first of several screaming contests."

    David McKenzie
    Federal Way, WA

    The winner of 2009 Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest is David McKenzie, a 55-year-old Quality Systems consultant and writer from Federal Way, Washington. A contest recidivist, he has formerly won the Western and Children's Literature categories.

    David McKenzie is the 27th grand prize winner of the contest that began at San Jose State University in 1982.

    An international literary parody contest, the competition honors the memory (if not the reputation) of Victorian novelist Edward George Earl Bulwer-Lytton (1803-1873). The goal of the contest is childishly simple: entrants are challenged to submit bad opening sentences to imaginary novels. Although best known for "The Last Days of Pompeii" (1834), which has been made into a movie three times, originating the expression "the pen is mightier than the sword," and phrases like "the great unwashed" and "the almighty dollar," Bulwer-Lytton opened his novel Paul Clifford (1830) with the immortal words that the "Peanuts" beagle Snoopy plagiarized for years, "It was a dark and stormy night."

    Most entries are submitted electronically through the Contest's Web site: http://www.bulwer-lytton.com/.


    The wind dry-shaved the cracked earth like a dull razor--the double edge kind from the plastic bag that you shouldn't use more than twice, but you do; but Trevor Earp had to face it as he started the second morning of his hopeless search for Drover, the Irish Wolfhound he had found as a pup near death from a fight with a prairie dog and nursed back to health, stolen by a traveling circus so that the monkey would have something to ride.

    Warren Blair
    Ashburn, VA

    Grand Panjandrum's Special Award

    Fleur looked down her nose at Guilliame, something she was accomplished at, being six foot three in her stocking feet, and having one of those long French noses, not pert like Bridget Bardot's, but more like the one that Charles De Gaulle had when he was still alive and President of France and he wore that cap that was shaped like a little hatbox with a bill in the front to offset his nose, but it didn't work.

    Marguerite Ahl
    Prescott valley, AZ

    Winner: Adventure

    How best to pluck the exquisite Toothpick of Ramses from between a pair of acrimonious vipers before the demonic Guards of Nicobar returned should have held Indy's full attention, but in the back of his mind he still wondered why all the others who had agreed to take part in his wife's holiday scavenger hunt had been assigned to find stuff like a Phillips screwdriver or blue masking tape.

    Joe Wyatt
    Amarillo, Texas

    Dishonorable Mention

    Karen Buffalo, sensing that her 1894 Brassic & Middon .45 calibre revolvers, mounted with mother-of-pearl grips and clasped by ivory buttons carved in the shape of elephants at play, were no match for 'Duke' Bunton's double-barreled shotgun, muttered under her breath "Darn that Parisian gunsmith in the Fourteenth Arrondisement!"

    Mark A. Gray
    Berks., U.K.

    Winner: Detective

    She walked into my office on legs as long as one of those long-legged birds that you see in Florida - the pink ones, not the white ones - except that she was standing on both of them, not just one of them, like those birds, the pink ones, and she wasn't wearing pink, but I knew right away that she was trouble, which those birds usually aren't.

    Eric Rice
    Sun Prairie, WI

    June 27, 2009

    Cruising the far reaches of Podunk in search of treasures

    MECKLENBURG, New York, USA - The Admiral and I headed out Saturday morning in search of treasures to help furnish and decorate our guest cottage before our first renters arrive this week. After years of talking about it, we decided that the property taxes have gotten just high enough that we need to seek some extra revenue by renting the space out.

    Two years ago, our amigo Brad Phillips (with his faithful dog Arnold) stayed there, painting the entire place inside and out, making it the shiny place it remains today.

    Below is a link to some photos we posted to show what the joint looks like.

  • Valois guest house

  • The logical place to buy such treasures to make the inside look neat was at garage sales and auctions that are a great source of local entertainment here every weekend.

    And in our travels out and about we ran across the road of all roads.

    Podunk road sign
    Left or right to Podunk?

    It turns out there is a burg called Podunk (I am not making this up) not too far from our Valois house, but we didn't actually discover that fine town in our travels. We did run across several yards sales which were 'podunk' in their relative significance and an auction that was loud and well underway when we stopped by.

    The auction looks like it is a monthly affair, with a professional auctioneer hawking goods and entire families in attendance to buy or simply watch the fun. I saw tools, fishing gear, furniture, car parts and an occasional book.

    Tables were set up for potential buyers to see what was for sale and several people were busy cooking hamburgers and hot dogs and offering soft drinks for sale.

    No beer was available, though. :-(

    Food sign at auction
    Sign offering Hambergers for sale

    Guns for sale at the auction
    Need a gun for some hunting?

    The morning and early afternoon actitivity capped off a week of frantic activity to get the guest house ready for our first renters. After only four days of being listed on Craig's List, we have the place booked solid for the summer - with more people wanting to rent it well into September.

    But the Admiral and I expect we will be back in California in the classroom by then, unless the California budget continues its dismal freefall to insolvency and our university decides it can get along with do fewer professors.

    In that case, the guest house might stay open, and we might check out a few more auctions like the one we saw today. We could even have a few items to offer for sale ourselves.

    June 20, 2009

    Cardboard boat races - soggy fun for almost everybody

    WATKINS GLEN, New York, USA - The day dawned like most have in the last few days, soggy, rainy and cold. Damn cold. But it didn't dampen any spirits of the would-be-cardboard boat racers or fans at the 15th annual cardboard boat race here today.

    It did keep the Admiral and I home until shortly before the race. We opted to skip the parade and pre-race festivities in the downpour that has area creeks running fast and waterfalls impressive enough that tourists are stopping traffic to grab snapshots.

    But once at the race, we joined more than a thousand other rain-gear clad fans to watch nearly 100 cardboard craft attempt to navigate a 300-yard race course - without sinking.

    Quite a few didn't make it much past the start line with crews forced to swam back in 55-degree water. There were plenty of safety people around to help out, but still, that water is cold.

    Prior to the race, the parking lot was full of racers and well-wishers and we ran into a dozen amigos lubricating their boats (and crews) to get ready for the race. Budweiser seemed to be a favorite lube, though many plastic glasses were in evidence filled with clear liquids and what smelled like Fingerlakes wines.

    Kristin and Admiral
    Admiral Fox with Kristin VanHorn

    Boat tips over
    Rolled over at the start line

    The shore of the Village Marina Harbor and breakwater were crammed with viewers - despite a steady drizzle of rain that sometimes turned to downpours. I imagined what the event must be like on a hot sunny June day - a rarity, I was told, but still possible. We retreated to our dry car before the final heats, with wet shoes and an appreciation for how cold the wet racers must have been feeling. The races ran in three-boat heats and with all the sinking and mayhem, took more than three hours.

    This was the 15th annual event, part of a two-day waterfront festival that keeps growing year after year and is an informal kickoff for summer. Next week, the forecast is for a warming trend and an end to the incessant rain.

    And already the Admiral has asked about us building a cardboat for next year's race. We certainly are adept at working with duct tape to fix things.

    Why not a boat? The good ship Arroyo Seco?

    Here's a few photos - and a 6-minute video of today's action.

    One boat becomes two
    One boat becomes two at start line

    Boat that didn't make it
    Remains of a boat that didn't make the cut

    A boat called 'Bedpan'

    June 15, 2009

    Waiting patiently - sort of - for summer 2009 to arrive

    VALOIS, New York, USA - The weather has not been bad, exactly, but summer isn't quite here. Sunday, the Admiral and I attended a party just down the lake (traveling by boat to get there, of course) and had a lovely couple of hours in relatively warm weather on a deck overlooking the lake.

    We stopped at Cousin Roger's to pick up he and his wife Nancy for the short voyage and had a great time at the party - kind of a summer-is-almost-here celebration. The party followed a huge breakfast at the Hector Volunteer Fire Department firehouse, a monthly event held to raise money for the department.

    But when we powered back to our dock, just after dark, the 75-degree temperatures had given way to 60 degrees. An hour later, it was 55 and I almost lit a fire in the fireplace.

    Spirit of Louise at dock
    Spirit of Louise at the Wolf's dock

    Rowing the boat down the lake
    Rowboat heads down lake

    Cold or hot, my thoughts frequently wander to the Pink Flamingo and I wonder what's happening back in Arroyo Seco. Our amigos Chena and Chon did email once to say that the rain hasn't started and life continues as normal there - with normal meaning that temperatures and humidity have shot up. We found out today that our palapa roof restoration project has not been started, apparently, even though the contractor promised it would be done by this Friday.

    Oh, Mexico...

    But on a foray to the neighboring city of Penn Yan a week ago, we ran across some perfect decorations for the Pink Flamingo, though I am not sure how we would get them into our suitcases. I suspect I can show them to an ironworker-welder-artist we heard of in Mexico who will be able to duplicate them quite nicely.

    Pink flamingos
    Pink Flamingos in Penn Yan, New York

    While we were in Penn Yan I also ran across yet another boat that I coveted on sight. In fact, if the price tag had been a tad more reasonable, we might have added the boat to the fleet.

    (A tad by the way is slightly larger than a scoch, but smaller than a wee bit.)

    The boat is a sister ship to one a high school amigo piloted around Chautauqua Lake in the mid 1960s. This unit is totally restored (the sales paperwork claims, anyway).

    It would certainly look nice zipping up and down Seneca Lake.

    Century powerboat
    Century powerboat

    Century price and specs
    Century price and spec sheet

    The rest of this week is dedicated to putting the finishing touches on getting the house, the guest house and the dock and waterfront ready for friends and guests. After Saturday's memorial service in Hewlett for my late brother-in-law, Bill Kearney, we hatched plans with family members for lots of visits to Valois, as well as at least one trip by myself and the Admiral back to the New York City environs.

    This was the summer I had vowed to get Bill to visit us here, even if I had to truss him up and drag him. Once here, we knew he would love the countryside.

    And he would have thought that purchasing that Century powerboat made perfect sense - for me.

    June 11, 2009

    The final pieces of the summer puzzle are falling into place

    VALOIS, New York, USA - Two years ago - when we sold our 48-foot cruising sailboat, Sabbatical - for a brief moment (emphasis on brief), I thought my days of worrying about maintenance and operations and keeping things running were almost over.

    What was I smoking?

    In the last week here in Valois, I have been dealing with all kinds of house and garden systems and subsystems, getting a turn-of-the-century cottage running at full speed. (That's turn of the 20th century, not 21st century). And full speed for a cottage this old is a relative term.

    Yesterday the water pressure pump in the cellar started acting up, giving us pressure only when it felt like it. And it felt like it, oh, some of the time. One of those times, the Admiral was in shower.

    Not good for morale. The Admiral's or mine.

    Water pump in cellar
    Water pressure pump in cellar

    Water pump pressure gauge
    Water pump pressure gauge

    My strategy for fixing that problem is simple: Wait for my brother-in-law Dan to come back from an out-of-town a trip. He's a refrigeration-plumbing-mechanical guru and probably installed the system many years ago when his mother (my late mother-in-law Louise) lived in the house.

    Already, he fixed the leaky water heater in the cellar and gave me the parts so I can tackle a plumbing problem in the guest house. That guest-house-project is likely to take up most of today, unless I get lucky and my working-with-PVC skills aren't as rusty as I think they are.

    That's unlikely. I think the last time I worked with PVC, I lived in Grass Valley. Hmm... that was 30 years ago.

    Yard set up for summer at Seneca Lake
    Yard set up for summer fun

    Beyond maintenance, however, we have made great strides at getting the casa ready for summer. All boats are launched and ready for service. This week we added a new barbecue, popped up the First Up shade cover and set up the side yard for barbecues and socialization. The flowers are all planted and the tomatoes are in - this year in pots to avoid the rabbits that seem to favor the tender young plants. We have a bumper crop of young bunnies about the property, all of whom seem to love the tops of the flowers. I wish they would chew on the grass so I didn't have to mow it again.

    And the weather is almost cooperating with temperatures in the low 70s most days, though the gray overcast hangs low, threatening rain. Today the forecast is for thunderstorms and rain. Not much of a boating day, though sometimes the storms blow through quickly, leaving the lake without a ripple.

    We had hoped our Mexico amigos Mario and Sharon from Tenacatita, Mexico would visit this week, but they had to cancel at the last minute. Had they seen how nice the water was on Seneca Lake last night, while the Admiral and I scooted on The Spirit of Louise, they would be regretting the decision to stay away.

    Spirit of Louise at launch ramp
    Spirit of Louise at the launch ramp - ready to go

    And the last piece of the open-up-for-the-season puzzle fell into place Wednesday with our summer car - a 1999 Jeep. We picked the Jeep up Tuesday from the dealer, then took it back in Wednesday for some adjustments: new tires, new front brakes, some electronic fixes and other assorted minor repairs.

    The good news is that the unit seems to be in good running shape - now - and should be a solid car for the summer to bomb around in. The bad news is that it does not have a sun roof like last summer's Jeep, a feature the Admiral dearly loved.

    Que lastima.

    New Jeep for 2009
    The new cottage car for 2009

    June 6, 2009

    One week into summer and the boats are already set to go

    VALOIS, New York, USA - Except for the cold weather, it was a very soft landing coming from subtropical Arroyo Seco, Jalisco, Mexico to here one week ago today. The house was clean, virtually everything worked okay, and already we have three boats ready to go.

    Three boats?

    Yes, three boats. We already had the Spirit of Louise pontoon boat, the Bud Boat (a gift from Mike Schamel several years ago. And two days ago we added a 16-foot fiberglass sailboat of which I am co-owner (and which is nameless, right now). The other owner is Jennifer Marshall, an amiga from Arizona who comes to Seneca Lake summers and who last year told me she wanted to learn how to sail but needed to buy a boat and find someone to teach her and ...

    Somehow, that all translated into us purchasing a boat together, and voila, we now have a boat.

    Sailing in under jib alone
    Sailing in to shore under jib alone

    I took the ship on a quick trip today to shake down everything. I think we may have purchased a very fast boat. The wind was almost non-existent and yet the boat scooted along at 5 mph. I checked the hull thoroughly for poltergeists, but it seems clean.

    Since my last cranky blog post from the Philadelphia Airport, I have to admit that we have had nothing but good experiences - even with various officialdom sorts of persons. In one instance, we had to go to the Schuyler County clerk's office to look up some information and one of the workers dropped everything to help us for nearly and hour.

    And on private side, our amigo Bill Tague sold us a car and has been laboring mightily for several days to fix every little thing. It's another Jeep, though not nearly as nice as last year's version. Still, it will get us through the summer and someone here is likely to get a heck of a deal on it when we sell it in August.

    The hot tub is full (and hot) the wine locker full (and cold) and the rest of things seem to be falling into place before the first of several waves of amigo visitors arrives in a few days.

    And we now have three boats to choose from for voyaging, if the weather cooperates and we get more summer days.