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.