December 29, 2010

A fast panga ride, whales and visit to a palapa, in Yelapa

YELAPA, Jalisco, Mexico - A ride across Banderas Bay in a fast panga is always fun, more so when the destination is the seaside village of Yelapa, south of Puerto Vallarta.

The area is accessible almost exclusively by boat. There is a road, of sorts,  but it is only for the truly brave, driving a vehicle with an excellent suspension.

The trip was to check in with Adm. Fox's cousin Lynn, who is there with her amiga Suzanne for a few weeks before they head south to La Manzanilla. Along for the adventure with us was Laura (with the pooch, Princessa Mia, of course) and Christina.

Sylvia's cousin and Suzanne are vacationing in a cliff-side home that is drop-dead gorgeous and has only one drawback that I know of: scorpions.

Scorpions I have known
Scorpions where they belong - in a case

Last season, the couple killed about 23 of the little buggers during a short stay in Yelapa - that's 20 more than I killed in our five-months in Arroyo Seco. And I think the three I killed is waaaaay too many.

Nasty stinging things aside, Yelapa is still as magical a place as it was when I first saw it in 2000 when Admiral Fox and I chartered a panga to take us there for the day.

It's changed a lot - more houses, more tourists, even some upscale development, it seems. But the water is just as nice. And it has a couple of restaurants, too - besides the tourist traps that the tour boats frequent.

Some years back, with Karson Swedberg in tow, we sat on the beach there sipping Pacifico beer and postulated that what Yelapa needed was a good local brewery. The fresh water there, we thought, would make excellent brews.

And the motto for the beer? Yelapa - ya love it.

OK,  but it seemed sooooo clever at the time.

The Yacht Club in Yelapa
The trip out and back was fabulous, too, with many whale sightings on the way south, then a close - and I mean very close - encounter with a manta ray on the way home.

Our driver, Gus, knew exactly how to pull the boat close to the action without being too intrusive.

Here's a few photos of the expedition - and a short video of a Manta named Ray...

Traveling to Yelapa
Laura, Princessa Mia, Gus, and Christina
on the way to Yelapa

Whales tail too
How close is that whale?

San Francisco Sailboat
San Francisco sailboat
anchored in Yelapa

December 27, 2010

Settled in Nuevo Vallarta home, but Arroyo Seco beckons

NUEVO VALLARTA, Nayarit, Mexico - Life in Nuevo Vallarta has become as close to routine as life allows here, with most mornings dedicated to exercise (swimming), some writing (blogs and other screeds), planning out of the day (where should we eat lunch?), followed by, well, more exercise, more writing and more planning.

In the past few weeks, we have made a foray south to Arroyo Seco and La Manzanilla, gone whale watching with Roger and Di Frizzelle on their 47-foot yacht, Di's Dream, ran enough errands to run through $100 in gasoline - and helped Dustin get his new home set up here, a home in which we live, too.

How many 30-year-olds do you know whose parents move in with them?

The turnabout is fair play, however, as Adm. Fox and I are helping Dustin find his footing amid the domestic upheaval of separation that too many people reading this have gone through. Divorce is not any prettier among the palm trees.

Still, times are good and getting better day by day.

Di and Sylvia
Di and Sylvia on whale watch patrol

Infinity pool at resort north of La Cruz
Infinity pool at resort north of La Cruz

Last week we went to a fabulous resort north of La Cruz for the afternoon, where I sipped the best Pina Colada I ever had. And yes, the second one was as good as the first. The place has three infinity pools, each spilling over into the next one.

We only got as far as pool number two for swimming, though Dustin said that ocean waves out front were fine for swimming and/or boogie boarding.

On Christmas Day, we had breakfast with the Frizzelles and Dustin at nearby Paradise Village, then retired to the beach for a family tradition - an Christmas afternoon of boogie boarding and margaritas on the sand.
Sylvia and Dustin Christmas Day, 2010
Sylvia and Dustin at breakfast, Christmas 2010

I opted for a Pina Colada during the course of the afternoon, instead of a margarita. Perhaps that will be a new family tradition, too.

How was the boogie boarding? Fabuloso... Just fabuloso.

Towards midafternoon, Santa Claus arrived on the beach, too - in great style - landing via parasailer. Very classy.

Santa on Beach in Paradise Village Dec
Santa Claus on Paradise Village Beach

Water sports
Life at the beach

Our next adventure will be to head back to Arroyo Seco in a few days with amigas Laura and Christina from Canada. They are staying at Casa Dustin right now and will be spending the winter in Barra de Navidad.

We will also be checking out the situation at Tenacatita, the site of a beachside 'picnic' today that was put together to draw attention of the seizure of the property August 4 - and the eviction of nearly 800 residents. It's a mess. Here's a recent blog on the situation: Beach picnic/protest

New Year's Eve looks like it will be in Arroyo Seco or La Manzanilla at Palapa Joes for Admiral Fox and I.

Hoo-boy! Can you say, Cuba Libre?

December 20, 2010

Online, offline, Internet here, there and everywhere

NUEVO VALLARTA, NAYARIT, Mexico - The on-again, off-again, Finnegan of Internet service has been wreaking havoc on posting here and on the Tenacatita Bay Bugle (Tenacatita Bay Bugle link).

On the other hand, it has made it possible to ignore the keyboard, swim and generally enjoy the balmy weather that is Mexico this time of the year.

Admiral Fox and I made a quick foray to Arroyo Seco, where we opened up the place, which had been spit shined by our village amigos Chena and Chon. Somehow in our brief stay of a few days (which included runs to La Manzanilla and Melaque for food, gasoline and more dinero) we neglected to take any photos of the Pink Flamingo, though I did take a short video out on Playa Chica.

Arroyo Seco express to Dustin's
The trip was short because we went through various lockers in both trailers and the bodega to pull out items Dustin (and us) want/need in his new poolside casa.

Last night we barbecued steaks - only the third time our barbecue has been pressed into service since Arroyo Seco friends Jim and Vickie dragged it all the way from Texas for us.

What also came north was about six huge bags of dirty laundry, currently simmering in six washing machines in the laundromat here at Paradise Village.

Actually there are two more sacks sitting on the floor, too, but after dragging it all in, running back to the truck for the soap, buying the tokens for the machine, et al, I decided to take a break and head to the Vallarta Yacht Club for hydration.

Back at the house, Adm. Fox is patiently waiting for TelMex to arrive to hook up the telephone so we have reliable (?) internet service at Casa Dustin. He has been waiting for two weeks, with postponement after postponement.

And so it should come as no surprise that Sunday - when we left for four hours - someone showed up to install the phone. A Sunday. In Mexico.

Good grief.

But now, it's back to the washers. Arriba!

Sunset in La Manzanilla (at Figaro's restaurant) Friday night

December 12, 2010

In Mexico for the winter: Swimming pool, cerveza, beaches ahead

NUEVO VALLARTA, Nayarit, Mexico - It took two days of travel, but Admiral Fox and I are safely ensconced at son Dustin's new casa, looking at the pool and plotting a day that includes a trip to the beach and a potluck dinner at the Vallarta Yacht Club.

Ah, Mexico!

Pool at Dustin's new casa in Nuevo Vallarta
 The trip began with a US Airways farble at 6 a.m. A lightbulb was out over one of the emergency doors and because there was no replacement bulb in the airport, the flight was delayed until about 10 a.m.

And so that meant instead of a 6:30 a.m. flight to Phoenix, followed by a 10 a.m. flight to Vallarta and arrival at 1:30 p.m., we spent a leisurely morning in the Sacramento airport - and eventually an overnight at a Courtyard Hotel on the edge of Phoenix's Sky Harbor.

As part of this trip south, we had to purchase one additional suitcase to carry all the assorted paraphernalia, clothes, and gifts we wanted to bring. But another black suitcase seemed, well, soooooo pedestrian.

Pink suitcase ready for loading in Sacramento
And so two days before liftoff, Admiral Fox went on the search and found a shocking pink suitcase at a Marshal's store that is bright enough that you might consider wearing sunglasses when you look at it.

The suitcase did yeoman service for the entire trip, each time popping off the conveyor belt, signaling the arrival of the three checked bags.

We knew the suitcase was going to make it to Phoenix, because we saw it being loaded in Sacramento.

Today we are already set to do some serious pool time, (serious pool time?), maybe head to the beach to make sure the sand is still there, and later tonight, we will go to the Vallarta Yacht Club for a potluck dinner.

The yacht club should be humming with cruisers and folks we know from other seasons down here.

And Arroyo Seco? That's on tap for later in the week after we sort out all the details of telephones, internet modems and various other details that make life in Mexico muy divertido...

A view of the coast north of Puerto Vallarta

December 5, 2010

Back in the air, heading back to Sacramento from snow country

NEW YORK, New York, USA - The Admiral and I are sitting in JFK International Airport, getting ready for the third leg of our travels today, a cross-country Jet Blue flight that will get us home to Sacramento late this evening - and to our warm casa with Pam and Steve.

The day started with swirling snow in Ithaca, New York where we stayed overnight with brother David's special amiga, Caren. I was a little groggy as we departed after a great dinner party the night before, but not so groggy that I didn't notice it was snowing pretty hard while David drove us to the Syracuse Airport, an hour and a half from Ithaca.

In Ithaca, NY, Dec. 5, 2010 - brrrrrrrrrrr
We breezed in without issue, however, until the Admiral got held up at the security gate and was given the choice of either one of those new TSA pat downs, or taking some other form of transit to Sacramento.

The Admiral was not amused and will likely vent her wrath on how ludicrousness of what passes for security when she writes in her own blog.

The overall trip was a success, however, on several levels (pat downs aside).

And among the things accomplished was getting some video broadcast on WENY, Elmira, New York. I braved the cold and shot the Christmas parade for the station, which used some clips in their evening newscast the same night.

More on what the other levels of success were will show up in another blog.

Below are two videos.

One is of our trip to Syracuse, and the airport snowplows busy at work. The second is a TSA ukulele video. It's pretty fun, but for now, I am not sharing it with the Admiral.

December 2, 2010

End-of-the-semester shuffle starts for this year's Mexico adventures

SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - The last term papers and projects have been turned in, graded and returned, leaving only the avalanche of portfolios from my students, compilations of their work from the entire semester - kind of an academic legal brief as to why the student should get a good grade.

When those portfolios all show up early next week, it's time for me to dig through the pile and assign grades - a process that usually takes me right up until the day we leave for Mexico.

With four full classes, it looks about the same this year, too.

What is different about this year is that because we have been the guests of Steve and Pam, the packing up transition is less problematic - and less traumatic. When we get close to departure day, we live within two miles of our storage unit.

And even at that, we have very little to even stick into storage, thanks to Pam and Steve's letting us stay in their nicely furnished guest quarters.

I think I will be able to get everything in a single pickup truck load - and that's using my Nissan with a camper shell.

As the temperatures in Sacramento have started dropping down to the freezing level at night - and warming up into the high 40s during the day - those warm days at the beaches in Arroyo Seco and La Manzanilla are the stuff that dreams are made of.

And in this case, dreams set to come true.

Just a 100 or so portfolios stand in my way.

La Manzanilla beach

November 28, 2010

Thanksgiving weekend ends, diet starts tomorrow (or Tuesday, or...)

SACRAMENTO, California, USA - The wonderfully long Thanksgiving weekend is almost over. Adm. Fox and I just finished a dinner of leftovers with Dr. Pam and Steve. And tomorrow night, we might actually have to cook a complete, fresh meal.

Son Dylan helps with T-day dessert
It was fun time, with children and friends coming and going in and out of the house faster than characters in a Harold Pinter play. At times, it seemed like it was a Harold Pinter play.

Thanksgiving Day itself, we went to Steve's sister's house in Loomis where we joined with probably 40 members of the extended family for a big dinner that included pasta with a meat sauce (and venison in the pasta).

Friday, the house and yard were taken over by Christmas decorating - serious Christmas decorating. Like a general commanding her troops, Dr. Pam had various children, nephews, other relatives and friends all setting up Christmas items on the front lawn.

The pre-teenage boys especially liked hanging out of second story windows - and climbing on the roof.

Dad and Jason
By Friday afternoon, the house was decorated with the finishing touches. Electric lights went on today (Sunday).

It turned out also to be an all-family weekend for the Fox-Fitzgeralds, too. Son Dylan arrived Tuesday to help with the baking of many pies for the festivities.

Wednesday, son Jason arrived to have breakfast and fill us in on his adventures as a coach in Michigan - with snowboarding adventures to start next week in Vail, Colorado.

Sami, Grandpa Michael and Kami

And today we were able to catch up with daughter Anne at her Rancho Cordova house with husband Steve and granddaughters Sami and Kami. Sami is now slightly taller than her mother - and probably two inches taller than Adm. Fox.

At one point, three-year-old Kami asked me to read her a third book, and when I said I was too tired, she grabbed the bag of Doritos we were munching together and said, 'No reading, no chips, Grandpa.'

She probably has a future as a hostage negotiator.

Below are three photos of the Lovotti house - one sans decor, the other with.  And at the bottomw, a photo of the house all lit up. (Like a Christmas tree?)

At the top - the house at 10 a.m. then at 2 p.m and below - all lit up

November 25, 2010

The day starts with a footrace/walk - and ends in the recliner

LOOMIS, Calif., USA - Thanksgiving 2010 started in Sacramento with an early morning rollout (for a holiday) to attend and participate in the Run to Feed the Hungry.

The annual event draws thousands of people - maybe as many as a Glenn Beck Rally - and the streets all around the fabulous 40s area of Sacramento were teeming with people running (a 5K or 10K) or just walking to show their support.

Along the course there were thousands of supporters cheering the walkers and runners on. And there were live bands playing, too.

After days of cold (and strong) north winds, the Run to Feed the Hungry crowd only had to deal with some high 30s (F) temperatures. There wasn't a hint of a breeze during the race itself.

The entire Lovotti-DiTomasso-Fox-Fitzgerald entourage is about to head up the mountain to Loomis for a 3 p.m. Thanksgiving Day dinner at Steve's sister's house with the entire extended family. So far, we are pretty sure there will be 40 people having dinner.

So did I walk or run in the Run to Feed the Hungry?  

I walked. But along that walk I took a half-hour of video, with some snippets of the race in the movie below.

Happy Thanksgiving!

November 22, 2010

No Internet! Man the lifeboats, scan the horizon for some WiFi

SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - The day dawned kind of gray and bleak, with a long list of things that needed to be done - nearly all on the computer and sent via the Internet to their appointed destinations in New York, Southern California and even parts of the great white north - Canada.

But the faithful ATT WiFi box at the house had died during the night. Quietly and with dignity probably, but even when prodded, poked and banged gently, refused to reanimate this morning as the heater in the house was slowly getting the temperature up to normal.

Calling Dr. Frankenstein. We have an emergency.

The immediate crisis passed by calling into action Adm. Fox's new IPad which has its own 3G internet connection. Some expected emails hadn't shown up yet for me, so there was some breathing room for the day.

But the emails that needed to go out right away couldn't because the IPad and Gmail are not on the best of terms.

That's a little glitch that needs fixing before I head to the Apple Store to buy one.

So instead of a leisurely, tea-sipping morning at our casa, Adm. Fox and a I barreled out of the house to the nearby Crepe Escape restaurant  (a favorite breakfast spot near the university) where we had a great breakfast and luxuriated in the free (and very fast) WiFi signal. All emails got handled nicely, other Internet matters taken care of, too. And Adm. Fox went online (where else?) to look for a replacement modem for the late ATT WiFi box at the house.

It was an interesting (if momentarily uncomfortable) reminder of how dependent we are on the Internet for, well, practically everything but cooking the western scramble breakfast I ate this morning.

But a new modem for the house will be installed today.

How could we have the Thanksgiving holiday without it?

November 21, 2010

Getting out of the U.S. to Mexico, just ahead of the snow season

CAMP CONNELL, Calif., USA - The news from amigo Sanders Lamont this morning was that he already has 3.5 feet of snow on the ground at his house - and more falling all the time.

Welcome to the Northern California mountains, the place where surfboards are replaced by snowboards every fall about this time.

Sander's house in Camp Connell
This whopper of a winter storm dropped plenty of rain on the Sacramento Valley floor over the last few days, brought in gusty winds and generally reminded Adm. Fox and I why we head to Mexico every December.

Brrr.... Donde esta mi flip-flops?

In anticipation of that sojourn south, we spent part of Saturday at our down-sized storage unit, shifting clothes and getting ready for several upcoming trips.

But the storm also suggested that we should not try to drive up into the mountains to the town of Arnold, where a fiesta will be held Monday night for amigos Randy and Karin. They sold their mountain home and are headed to Santa Fe, New Mexico. We will also see them in Mexico this winter - they own a prime lot in Arroyo Seco, two blocks from the Pink Flamingo.

And there will not be any snow on the ground there. Dust? Of course.

California being California, the rain seems to have passed and the sun is out bright this morning, a harbinger of a sunny day perhaps. The thermometer is not having none of that, however. It seems to be stuck at just above 45 degrees Fahrenheit. Here, that seems damn cold. In Hector, New York, it would close to balmy.

Somewhere else, though (like Mexico) the surf's up and ready.

Me, too.

World's biggest surfboard

November 18, 2010

The ukulele on its way to La Manzanilla for winter and spring

Captain on the uke
SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - My ukulele - which hasn't had a workout in weeks - is now safely in the back of the Nissan Pathfinder being driven south by amigos Beth and Roy.

The couple stopped by last night, had dinner and spent the night, then catapulted off this morning with stops planned in Yosemite, San Francisco and many parts between here and La Manzanilla.

They are carrying my uke as well as a couple of boogie-boards given to us by Dan and Lorraine Olsen, currently cruising on their sailboat somewhere in the Caribbean.

How to get the ukulele to Mexico became a minor crisis because of my new video camera. No way that piece of electronic gear is going into checked luggage. Ditto for the ukulele. It would arrive in three pieces, maybe four.

As it is, Admiral Fox and I are heading out to storage Friday (or Saturday) to check out what we need to pack to take to Mexico. All of the relatively cold-weather clothes we are wearing now need to be packed up and boxed in favor of the shorts, T-shirts, sandals and flip-flops that are the uniform of the day in La Manzanilla and Arroyo Seco.

I can see the ocean from my window right now. Or at least I wish I could.

In searching for the photo of the uke above, I ran across this classic ukulele video - one of my favorites.

November 17, 2010

Countdown to Mexico continues - while the projects pile up, too

SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - The list of things to do before going to Mexico in December never seems to get shorter, no matter how many items we check off.

Check off 'get car insurance' and you have to add, 'stash insurance docs into suitcase'.


But some progress has been made.

The new Panasonic video camera is proving to be all that it was advertised as. A new, khaki-colored  photographer's vest arrived (so I can look official). It will now be part of my general Mexico attire when filming this winter and spring.  The video from the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear is finally downloaded and packaged into a short video. (The brief YouTube entry is below.) And the Tenacatita Bay Bugle website has been redesigned to make it more user friendly (and visually appealing) for this season.

Now if I can just get those 50 student projects graded in the next four or five days...

Arrrggghhhh redux.

November 9, 2010

Careening to Mexico - but to exactly what, we'll see when we arrive

SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - Parts of Mexico would appear to be imploding or exploding, depending on your perspective. Not a day seems to go by without a published and/or broadcast report that more bodies have been unearthed somewhere along the U.S.-Mexican border, or some travesty involving violence has happened somewhere to the south. The New York Times has been doing a credible job of reporting on all the nastiness. I'm trying to skip over some of the stories; they are too gruesome.

Even in our little corner of the Costa Alegre, south of Puerto Vallarta, a developer has grabbed arguably the most beautiful beach on the west coast of the Mexican mainland (Tenacatita) and now threatens to shoot anyone who tries to go to the beach, beaches which Mexican law proudly declares belong to the people.

People with guns, apparently.

Tenacatita Beach, May 2, 2009
Tenacatita Beach, May 2, 2009 - all empty now, except for guards with guns

Still, in a little over a month, Adm. Fox and I will head south (by plane, not driving across the border this year, thank you very much) and check out how things are in Arroyo Seco, our village where serenity has reigned for the few years we've lived there in the winter.

We hope it's still serene, but given that it is only a few miles from occupied Tenacatita Beach, we are braced for some tension there, too. And the village might have some new residents, some of the 800 or so Mexicans who were booted from their homes and businesses so unceremoniously (and viciously) August 4. Most of the refugees are clustered in and around the small village of Rebalsito, a tiny town on the highway into the beach, though some of those folks have family ties to Arroyo Seco.

Earlier this year, the evicted people blocked the major north-south highway as a protest - and in since August, have been trying every legal avenue possible to get their property (most of it federally titled) back.

Tenacatita Protest - August 5, 2010
Protesters on the highway in August

Still, I have started to pack my new camera gear, new hats (my dermatologist has insisted), and warm-weather clothing for the Mexican winter. And, of course, presents for granddaughter Sasha Fox in Puerto Vallarta have started stacking up likes planes over Denver, around our suitcases. My greatest dilemma is how to bring down my eight-string ukulele. My new camera gear has to be hand-carried on the plane. With my other carry-on - my backpack full of important Mexico papers - I am at capacity.

But sans the uke, there would be no participating in open mic nights at the newly renovated Palapa Joe's.

That's a sobering thought.

Mexico, prepare for incoming.

November 5, 2010

Getting to hear "It's 5 o'clock Somewhere" sung live by Alan Jackson

SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - Confession time: I like country and western music. Not all of it, certainly. But a lot of it, yes, absolutely. I love that so many country songs actually tell a little story. Ever hear Bubba Shot the Jukebox? Now there is a story.

And so when The Sacramento Bee newspaper asked me to to haul my butt out to Arco Arena to catch Alan Jackson's concert Thursday night - and write a review and snap some pictures - I jumped to go. Alan Jackson's music is my kind of country music. And it turned out, the Admiral's, too.

I checked when I got the assignment and saw that I have a half-dozen of his songs safely tucked in my ITunes library, including "It's 5 o'clock Somewhere." That song has particular meaning to me - it was first real song I learned to play on the ukulele. (I don't count Row, Row, Row Your Boat or Auld Lang Syne or Clementine in quite the same category.)

Alan Jackson
And I was not disappointed - he sang the It's 5 o'clock Somewhere towards the end of his concert, along with all the other songs I already have in my library.

"Anybody know what time it is?" he shouted. And that was it, we were all up and swaying and dancing to It's 5 o'clock Somewhere. Like most of his songs, the audience knew all the lyrics and sang along.

Here's a link to my review: Alan Jackson concert review

I lost count years ago of the events I've gone to and written about for newspapers and magazines. And at many of those, I carried a still camera, capturing a few (or more) images for news stories or features. Last week's Rally to Restore Sanity, being a good example, though Admiral Fox got most of the photos there. Here's a link to the rally story that appeared in the Sacramento News and Review: Rally Story

But I have never been a photo shooter at a big concert - and this was a first-class operation with professional photographers and cameras with huge lenses that looked so powerful that if Sarah Palin had one, she probably could see Russia from her house.

Me? Well I have a fantastic new video camera. But my still camera is well, a little puny.

Thursday night I was using my little Canon point and shoot, about one fourth the size of the hardware carried by the professionals.  But I was not going to waste a photo credential that let me stand a few feet from the country legend and his band, The Strayhorns.

Check out the guy in the gray ponytail below Alan Jackson
So when three equipment-laden photographers marched out of the stage wings, led by a security guard through the crowd, I tagged along and gamely shot pictures of Alan for an entire song. I'm sure it looked pretty silly. But silly or not, I was able to snap about six or eight shots that were pretty good - and one did make it into The Sacramento Bee with the review.

Take that, professional photographers.

The first warm-up band for Alan Jackson (just before Chris Young took the stage) was a nice surprise - and worth hearing all on its own.

The Band Perry, (Kimberly Perry and her two brothers, Neil and Reid) rocked the stage at Arco with a short set that got the place jumping and dancing and screaming an hour before the main event.

The band has had some hits and is one of those up-and-coming groups that you can tell are going to make it really big - and soon. Some of their songs will likely be finding their way onto my ITunes lists pretty soon.

Here's a link to their site: The Band Perry website

Neil, Kimberly and Reid Perry

November 2, 2010

Back from D.C., avoiding all the 'conflictinators' for right now

SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - There were many lessons learned on last weekend's wild ride to Washington, D.C. to cover the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear.

Perhaps the most important is that I should never attempt to write a story on a laptop computer when sitting in the middle seat in the coach section of an Airbus 320. My shoulders still hurt, 48 hours later. ?Donde esta el Motrin?

But the experience of attending the rally, and hearing Jon Stewart's wrap-up - and rap-on - the cable TV conflictinator machine is something I'll carry with me for a longtime.

A student who watched the rally on television from the comfort of his home, here in Sacramento, told me that it seemed, well, not very organized. Perhaps. And that view, from the receiving end of the television, actually says a lot about our TV/media culture.

If it doesn't play well on the tube, well, how effective could it have been?

As the expression goes, you just had to be there.

I came away with a feeling that I had been standing in the shadow of the nation's capitol with 200,000  people who understand that the intense fear and hatred that pervades so much of what we read and see and hear in the media is just dead-ass wrong. And that same media machine has helped create a national sickness among extremists at both ends of the political spectrum. Cable TV has made the situation worse, but print journalism doesn't get off easy here either. When the hate, lies and misstatements of cable television's commentators and talk radio 'hosts' spills into newspapers and magazines, it validates it.

That a big admission for someone who has spent the last 37 years as a journalist (and teaching journalism). Starting today, I supposed I should add media critic to my resume.

Of course, within hours of the end of Saturday's rally, the conflictinator machine was already hard at work, trying its best to minimize what I had observed. At one point, after reading a half-dozen generally inaccurate news reports online, I shifted to the television and watched pseudo-journalist Geraldo Rivera dissecting the rally with three conservative commentators.

About the only thing they got right was that the rally was held on Saturday at the National Mall.

My sanity - a little shaky before I left for Washington, D.C. - came back not only intact, but refreshed. Was it an historic event? It might prove to be. Already, Keith Olbermann of MSNBC announced that he was dumping a regular segment called Worst Persons in the World in response to what Jon Stewart had said.

Are you listening out there Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, and Glenn Beck? (There are plenty of others, but waaaaay too numerous to list here...)

You can watch the entire Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear at this CNN LINK:
Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear

The last 13 minutes or so is Jon Stewart's wrap-up speech. If you haven't already listened to it, take the few moments to do so. It's refreshing, and it might help restore your sanity, too. And if you have heard it, maybe listen again, especially before turning on any television news.

October 27, 2010

Here comes a head cold - 48 hours before leaving for D.C.

SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - Just 48 hours before heading east to cover the Rally to Restore Sanity, a head cold has started creeping its ugly tenacles into mi cabeza.

So far, just the beginnings of a stuffy head, a few sneezes, a scratchy throat and those aches that will make flying six hours on a United Airline flight to Dulles Airport lovely. Just lovely.

Ironically, I've been looking into wearing a protective face mask on the plane so I wouldn't catch a cold from another passenger. Perhaps I'll still wear one - so I don't give this cold to anyone!

I have been pumping vitamins for months and this could simply be a reaction to the drastic change in climate we've had in the past week. Sacramento went from 90 degrees every day to highs barely in the 60s. And last night it was probably as low as 40 degrees outside. It was very cold when Adm. Fox and I left for school an hour ago.


Sorry. I'm back.

A couple of Bayer aspirins, a little salt-water gargle and I should be ready to finish out the day here at the University with three classes still ahead.

Ah-choo!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Redux.

But while I ponder my options, from the hallway outside my office I hear enough sneezing, deep-lung coughing and wheezing among the students to generate a Centers for Disease Control code red health alert.

Maybe I should fly out a day early and get over my cold with some room service in Washington, D.C.

Or perhaps a bottle of brandy might be the cure this evening.

This evening?  What time is lunch?

October 26, 2010

Failure is not an option, except, well, sometimes it might be

SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - I heard the catchy phrase 'Failure is not an option' first uttered by Nancy Maynard, the wife of the late newspaperman Bob Maynard, who I knew in the 1970s when he was publisher of the Oakland Tribune newspaper.

I loved the expression. I put 'Failure is not an option' right up there with 'When the going gets tough, the tough get going.'

That little gem came from the locker room wall at Southwestern Central High School in Jamestown, New York, where my high school football coach alternately terrorized and lauded his players, depending on the rate of success. With Coach Ed Stupka, if you didn't perform beyond your abilities, you were slacking.

I slacked a lot.

But during this same period, I  spent most daylight summer hours on Lake Chautauqua, skimming across the water on skis. I loved every minute of it, except that I was a very cautious water skier and took great pains to avoid falling.

A friend from those days, Bob Fulcher, wasn't just good, he was great. He would jump the wake, flying over the foaming water. He did all kinds of tricks. Sometimes he would even try to hold the rope in his teeth. Much of the time his acrobatic antics ended in wild crashing falls into the water.

And he didn't care. In fact, he seemed to revel in how spectacular a fall he had.

When I kidded him once about his frequent-faller program, he offered this nugget: If you don't fall sometimes, how are you going to learn how far you can push?

Indeed, Bob, indeed.

That sage advice - from a 15-year-old - has stuck with me all my life. I am still cautious on water skis (no doubt largely because of various back, neck and shoulder ailments in recent years). But I have learned to take chances. Sometimes they work, like jumping from being a newspaper editor to a journalism professor. Sometimes they don't, like buying property on a beach in Mexico, then having it seized by a developer at gunpoint who claims it is his.

As Frank Sinatra says when he croons, My Way, '...Regrets, I've had a few, but then again, too few to mention.'

In today's San Francisco Chronicle, there is an interesting story about a program for entrepreneurs to learn that if they want to succeed, they have to flop sometimes. Maybe flop in spectacular ways. LINK:Failure is an option

The history of innovation and great discoveries is filled with flops, in business, science, education - and sports.

But while all that is being pondered, here's a video introduction to a TV program I watched every week growing up, along with most of the nation.

It gives graphic evidence why ski jumping (in snow) has never made it on my list of things to try - at least so far.

October 23, 2010

Writing and receiving letters - real letters - not emails

SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - The mail arrived today at the post office around the corner and there, buried between political ads for California gubernatorial candidates (Jerry Brown and Meg Whitman), was a letter from my sister Anne.

A letter! And actual piece of paper, tucked neatly in a small envelope with a first class, forever stamp affixed in the corner.
A 'forever' stamp

The letter was in response to a missive I sent last week (a real letter, too), when I decided that sending electrons across cyberspace in an email to communicate was getting tiring.

Of course, writing a letter, printing it out (my handwriting is beyond atrocious), addressing an envelope and then - gasp - taking it to the post office, had its tiring moments, too. But there is something soooo satisfying about dropping a letter into the mailbox to be delivered. And it's even more satisfying when you receive a letter.

I know my granddaughters Samantha and Kami love to get mail, and from time to time, I dash off a letter, usually adding a sheet of stickers and sometimes some photos - or even toys.

My late mother wrote letters every week of her life. And at Christmas, her card list had more than 300 people - old roommates from college, relatives and professional acquaintances with whom she had become friends. Starting sometime in early November she would pen a few cards every day, sending them out with personal messages to each person, inquiring about families and health and other such things.

Not all responded, though I remember our roadside mailbox in Lakewood, New York being quite full in the spring, as people wrote her back.

For me today, the best part is holding the letter I just received, then setting it in a place of honor, from which it can be picked up and read again later. And read again.

I have a full sheet of first-class, forever stamps, waiting to be put to good use, as I type this. Perhaps it's time to leave the world of electrons and get put together another real letter.

October 21, 2010

Launching *subject2change Media - this is retirement?

SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - The countdown clock to the Rally to Restore Sanity Oct. 30 in Washington D.C.  is ticking very loudly - more so now that Adm. Fox and I have launched our newest enterprise: *subject2change Media.

*subject2change Media? Whaaaaaaaaat? some people have been asking me.

Well, in a nutshell, we really are going to do all of our writing, editing, publishing and now video under that title/umbrella. It's a way to collect all of our various projects (articles, reviews, planned books, and videos) into one sort-of-comprehensible structure. (Emphasis on sort-of.)

And yes, there will be a web page showing up sometime. Maybe logo wear, too. Woo-hoo!

New subject2change media card
New business card

Our first foray of course into the multi-media world starts at the Rally to Restore Sanity - which will be the official launch of *subject2change Media, too. LINK - Rally to Restore Sanity

For the rally, I will be writing standard-issue freelance pieces for both the Sacramento (Calif.) News & Review and the Ithaca (New York) Times. In both cases, I am going to be hooking up with local people (from Sacramento and Ithaca) at the rally to get their take on things for the stories.

But besides the copious notes, still photos and eventual print articles that will come out of that, Adm. Fox and I will be shooting video of people and the whole event with the idea of putting together a timely multi-media package for TV and websites.

So as I feverishly work on lists of people to talk with, stay awake drafting a script for what I think a rally video might look like and use the mornings to contact possible publications, TV and websites, I have to ask myself again: Didn't I retire three years ago from all this?

Well, sort of. But this sounds like so much fun.

Cue the cameraman, we're rolling.

While we make up some promo videos for  *subject2change Media, here's a video promoting the Rally. It's pretty funny - as you might expect for a rally organized by The Comedy Channel.

October 9, 2010

The deafening roar of - silence? Life along the Kern River

KERNVILLE, Calif., USA - Except for the ever-present whooshing sound made by the Kern River (about 75 yards from our door) our cabin in this high desert campground is nearly as quiet as Valois, New York on a hot summer day.

And that's quiet, considering last summer, sitting on the end of the dock, I often could clearly hear the flapping of ducks' wings as they flew overhead. And once, very early, I could make out the sound of a butterfly's wings in motion, as it hovered near my ear.

That's quiet, amigos, quiet.

The nearby campground does resonate on and off at times with a buzz created by the upcoming wedding of Greg Retkowski and Cherie Sogsti. After Friday night's hillbilly themed party, tonight we are looking forward to a pizza, beer and mustache event.

Mustache? Yes.

Everyone will receive a stick-on mustache of some kind. But where you choose to wear it, well, that's your choice. There's a rock band set to play, too. Last night people danced until past midnight - and that was to a hillbilly band. (Photos to follow later tonight...)

Admiral Fox and I have made many forays out and about, first to breakfast at a store within walking distance, then a trek along the river, and most recently, a wine-and-beer run into Kernville itself. We bought Mexican beer, of course, though we forgot the limes.


Kern River, Kernville
Scene along the Kern River this morning

And besides the sightseeing (and beer and mustaches), I have been trying out my new Panasonic video camera in anticipation of our Washington, D.C. trip Oct. 30 to attend the Rally to Restore Sanity. We are going to be writing stories about it. The video will be a bonus and a trial run for using more multi-media.

If anyone reading this knows someone who is going to attend the rally, please send their name along to me. Adm. Fox and I want to hook up with folks from NY, California and, well, wherever, before the rally. And maybe after, too.

Jon Stewart and rally sign
Jon Stewart announces the rally

Here's a short video of the Admiral at work in her Kern County office this morning.

October 7, 2010

Off to the wilds of Kernville, California - then it's Washington D.C.

SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - The next few weeks are going to all-travel, all-the-time, with a few interludes of teaching at the university for the Admiral and I, of course.

First up, is the wedding Sunday of Cherie Sogsti and Greg Retkowski, a three-day affair that begins Friday night with a hillbilly themed party and ends Sunday with most of the men wearing tuxedos at the wedding and reception. (Do you know the words to the song, The Beverly Hillbillies? Come and listen to a story bout a man named Jed...)

Because all this is taking place at a campground on the Kern River, northeast of Bakersfield, it makes the whole thing just that much more interesting. Yee-haw!

Taken outside the double-wide  (photo from WheresCherie)
Cherie has a website, WheresCherie? that gets more web traffic that I can dream of for any of my blogs. She is one travelin' woman, and has been since we first met her years ago in Mexico, aboard a sailboat son Dustin was captain of at the time - Mistress (a San Diego-based boat).

And she marrying the perfect guy, because Greg loves travel, too, and even has a plane now to zoom them around the country, when not in their very upscale RV-motor home-land yacht.

The photo here is from their engagement party. The theme? Trailer trash. Hoo-boy!

At the end of the month, we are going to take a sojourn to Washington D.C., to check out the Rally To Restore Sanity, sponsored by Jon Stewart and the Comedy Channel. Of course, we will also be checking out Stephen Colbert's simultaneous event, March to Keep Fear Alive.

Keep Fear Alive
Rally To Restore Sanity

And we are going to D.C. as journalists to get a story, take some pictures and shoot some video with a new, very snazzy, Panasonic video camera.

The whole enterprise, including the writing assignments, are the first paying gig in our latest foray into the business of publishing and video.

The name of the new company is *subject2change Media' - something our children (and many friends) have said is a good description of our lifestyle. To paraphrase the Three Stooges, I resemble that remark.

No website up yet, but it's in the planning stages and should be up soon.

Or perhaps, that's subject to change, too.

Here's two brief test videos, taken with the new Panasonic:

September 28, 2010

A fall sailing adventure on San Francisco Bay - in warm weather

ALAMEDA ISLAND, Calif., USA - Friday was a glorious day on San Francisco Bay, sailing with amigos Pat and Sanders Lamont on board their fine sailing ship, Good News. The ship hasn't seen much sailing action this year - a direct function of how busy the Lamonts are up in Camp Connell.

But after a late breakfast at the deli by the docks in Marina Village, we motored out of the Oakland Estuary, catching a fair breeze right outside the channel. And it was an uncharacteristically warm breeze, a nice fall day for a sail.

Even Admiral Fox said it was warm.

San Francisco ahead
San Francisco ahead

Because it was Friday, we had the bay nearly to ourselves at first. We waved to the people working in the downtown San Francisco highrise office buildings as we passed by, as well as thousands of fall tourists scuttling along the Embarcadero.

Then we sailed up the west side of Treasure Island, nearly intersecting with a sailboat race out of Berkeley. The money invested in just the sails on some of those boats could buy a nice automobile.

Kevlar sails abound
Expensive kevlar sails were the norm on the race boats

As part of the tour, we cruised home along the east side of Treasure Island, noting a new (at least new to us) Oracle company building and lots of apparent construction in the marina area.

We also pushed our way through an ebbing tide to slide under the Bay Bridge - as well as the new part still under construction.

It was more than 20 years ago that the Loma Prieta earthquake shook the bridge so severely, causing much damage and prompting the expensive rebuilding.

I'm not an engineer, but it looks like driving a car across that new span is five years away - at least.

Bay Bridge under construction
Bay Bridge - still under construction

Here's a short video of the under-sail adventures Friday.