July 31, 2011

The heat is gone, but the lake days are with us for a few more weeks

VALOIS, New York, USA - The stifling heat of earlier this month has passed, blown out by a cold front (that wasn't that cold) and a few thunderstorms that were incredible in their power.

One storm dropped trees all around us and bounced a four-inch diameter branch off the front window of the cottage.

One damned strong window.

For several hours, we were without electricity (and Internet! Madra Mia!). The lakefront resonated with the sound of chainsaws.

Branches - and whole trees - came down in the storm
Adm. Fox and I took a three-day sojourn to New York City to stay with sister Anne and also to have lunch in the city at Sam's Restaurant in Manhattan with brother Tony and sister-in-law Marion.

Sam's is the restaurant my brother has had lunch at for, oh, maybe 40 years, and everyone knows him and the service he gets, well, it's incredible.

Michael, Anne and Tony Fitzgerald
We had a center-room table which wasn't that hot for conversation but great for seeing people come and go.

Afterwards, Tony and Marion piled into a taxi/limo to head to the ferry for New Jersey (where they live in Shrewsbury). Anne, amigo Father Joe Lynch, Adm. Fox and I headed back to Penn Station were we took the Long Island Railroad back out to Hewlett.

Back at Seneca Lake at the cottage, we are watching July slip into August, and summer is still in full swing, especially at the Valois Point Yacht Club.

Saturday afternoon we had Joseph and Yvonne arrive aboard their fabulous Sabre sailboat and spend an hour or so tied to the dock. We chatted about sailing - and local politics - while they waited to head across the lake to go to the Glenora Point anchorage from which they planned to watch the fireworks from the Hector Fireman's Fair.

Adm. Fox and I hit the fair Friday, first going to Eric and Tina Hazlitt's for a fun parade party, then we hit the beer tent and toured the fair exhibits.

A video of the parade is still in the *subject2change Media video camera... It will show up here another day.

Here's several photos of Joseph and Yvonne's entrance and exit.

July 22, 2011

From newspaper guy to college classroom to newspaper guy again

GENEVA, New York, USA - When I returned from Mexico in April, I cranked up the writing machine and started doing freelance work for the weekly Watkins Glen Review, The Elmira Star-Gazette and doing some magazine work. (An article comes out in Dog Fancy in its September issue about Mia, the pooch rescued by Sylvia and Laura McCartney in Arroyo Seco, Mexico.)

And as April ran into May, I contacted the afternoon daily newspaper in Geneva, the Finger Lakes Times, about doing some writing and some coaching of the staff. The paper has just made some management changes, including promoting the news editor to the post of Executive Editor.

FLT Column 'mug shot'
Timing is everything.

Fast forward to today, when my first column appears in the FLT. My assignment: write a column that will appear each Friday in the newspaper, on the topic of my choice.

And I can submit my column from anywhere I happen to be.

Already my file folder (yes, I still use paper file folders) has a dozen column ideas and daily gets several more stuffed into it. And as you might guess, Adm. Fox is contributing heavily to the idea folder. She's also the best in-house editor imaginable.

Last night I attended a Town of Reading planning board meeting - the group that will be making a decision about whether to allow a controversial project by a Kansas City, MO company to move ahead. The company wants to store millions of gallons of liquid propane gas  in salt caverns on the shore of Seneca Lake and build a huge salt water pond on a hillside.

Environmentally, it's just short of terrifying.

The planning board elected a new chairman who announced that during the public comment period, the public could not say anything on the topic of the proposed project. And when someone tried to ask a question about the approval process, he said no questions were allowed either.

You don't have to look very far to find column ideas.

July 19, 2011

Getting the lakefront ready for 100-degree weather

VALOIS, New York, USA - The great summer weather of the last few weeks has given me incentive to have all the water toys ready, all the time. The boats are all working fine, the swim toys are blown up and ready for use. Even the dock cooler is ready for ice and beverages.

And it's a good thing.

The temperatures have started going over 90 degrees Fahrenheit consistently each day and now the forecasters are saying we are going to see 100-degree days - with nearly that high a number for the humidity - for the balance of the week.

It's giving new meaning to working up a sweat. You can do that by reaching in the cooler for another cold beer. (Hmm... good reminder..)

Yoga and bookclub house
Earlier today, I headed a few miles down the lake driving the pontoon boat Spirit of Louise to pick up Admiral Fox from her yoga session which was followed by a book club meeting, all at our amiga Laurie Welliver's lakeside house.

I tied to the end of her dock while I waited for the book club to end, just past Laurie and her husband Scotty's fleet of lake toys: a ski boat, a sailboat, and a pontoon boat.

After that foray, we returned to home base at the Valois Point Yacht Club, took a short respite and then barreled out again down to the water, this time aboard the sailing vessel Panacea. We met up mid-lake with Eric and Tina and their amiga Andrea.

Panacea sails like a charm and might get entered in this year's Peachy Dandy race in August - just a few days before we have to head back to California for our last-ever semester of teaching at CSU, Sacramento.

The checklist is drawn for the next few days: buy three bags of ice, a case of beer, a case of bottled water, a case of beer (oops, mentioned that did I?), snacks and towels to take down to the dock. Add a case of beer to that list. We are talking several days here.

In addition to the air warming up, so has the lake water. I haven't tested it with a thermometer, but Adm. Fox has been diving in for the last five days - and staying in to swim. That means it must be getting close to 80.

Neighbors ready for the hot days ahead

July 13, 2011

Wild winds rip down Seneca Lake, or is it Seneca Ocean?

WATKINS GLEN, New York, USA - I spent most of the day pounding on this keyboard, catching up on things, writing a story or two and generally not going outside, except to get the mail.

Outside was where it was happening, folks.

Adm. Fox called from Valois at about 5 p.m. to say that our newest sailboat, Panacea, was ok along side the docks, but bucking like a wild horse. I was going to put in the mooring for it today, but it was too rough early in the morning and it rarely improves when the it starts that way.

Sailing vessel True Love pounds into the waves

I went outside after talking to the Admiral and there was 30+ knots of wind - and some of the biggest whitecaps I have ever witnessed on Seneca Lake.

The high winds and waves even found their way well inside the breakwater at the Village Marina, normally a pretty placid place.

The marina staff were running from dock to dock while I was there, retying dock lines from boats that were loose.

I checked on an amigo's boat but saw some others that were in some distress. The marina is usually soooo safe and soooo calm, boat owners get pretty lax and forget to tie up their boats really tight.

Below is a short video of the wind, the marina and some of the boats.

Still photos don't really do it justice.

July 12, 2011

Three days on the reunion/party/birthday circuit comes to an end

VALOIS, New York, USA - The past weekend was a whirlwind, even by the whirlwind party standards of upstate New York.

First, Adm. Fox and I made our way west to Jamestown, NY (hometown of Lucille Ball, in case that factoid slipped off the radar). We were there for my high school class reunion (No. 45), a prequel to a class reunion of 10-years-worth of grads from Southwestern Central High School the next night, a soiree we passed up, but I am getting ahead of myself.

Unlike other reunions, this affair, arranged by my amigo Randy Carlson, was very low-key, with a barbecue, some wine and beer, and lots and lots of nostalgia about our high school years.  What great stories!

But there was also a surprise attendee - a former music teacher and his wife.

The last time I had seen Dalton Berringer (what a great name for a jazz musician, isn't it?), I was about 16 and he was working as a parttime sheriff's deputy on Chautauqua Lake keeping the waters safe. Most teachers in those days worked summer jobs to supplement paltry regular teaching salaries. I am not sure what infraction I had committed - thought I am sure I was guilty - but he let me go with a word of caution to be more careful.

Fast-forwarding to 2011, Dalt is now back in the Lakewood area after living all over the country. He gave up classroom teaching but stayed in education. But he never let loose of the jazz music and I have three recent CDs to prove it. In fact, I hope that if I can ever get my video-making back on track, he can provide some original music for my next production.

The classmates who attended all looked great. Somehow, they don't seem to be getting old. 


Family homestead in Lakewood, NY
Adm. Fox and I also took a side trip out to Lakewood and I stopped by the home I grew up in - 156 1/2 West Summit Ave.. The house has been renovated in and out and the family that took it over has boats everywhere - in the yard, on docks, on buoys out front. My kind of people.

The whole neighborhood looked good and I suspect people's property taxes are, well, higher than when I lived there.

We then rocketed back from Jamestown to Valois for the birthday party for Cheryl Fitch, sister of Jennifer Fitch who is a boat partner with me in two boats. Several years ago we bought the 16-foot Red Rocket sailboat as a training vessel for Jennifer. This year she moved up to a 17-foot Siren class sailboat with the moniker Panacea.

I don't know if Panacea will stick as a name - that's Jennifer's call. But as part of the party celebration for her sister, we took the vessel out for its maiden voyage under our watch and it is a sweet-sailing boat. Jennifer is likely already plotting voyages for next summer when she returns from Arizona.

With Panacea on the trailer
This week I will be installing a permanent mooring in the lake for Panacea, which involves filling a drum with cement, attaching a chain and buoy, and dropping said items in about 15 feet of water off the end of the Valois Point Yacht Club dock. (NOTE TO CAPTAIN: steer clear of the chain when the barrel gets shoved off the bow of the pontoon boat.)

And then as the finale of the three-day fun marathon, we celebrated my birthday Sunday with breakfast at the Hector Volunteer Fire Department, then a day on the lake (including a pontoon boat cruise), a beer or two at the Valois Point Yacht Club and then dinner at home, overlooking the lake which Sunday night was as calm as a pond.

And Monday and today? Surprised you couldn't hear the snoring.

But tomorrow is another day, as Scarlett O'Hara says.


July 5, 2011

Seneca Lake and a very Phishy July 4th holiday

VALOIS, New York, USA - The July 4th weekend was all Phish, all the time for me.

Well, maybe not every minute. But each day I dutifully showed up at the gates to have my car searched, then the trunk of my car searched, then my camera bag searched, before I entered the inner sanctum of the Watkins Glen International Race Track where the band Phish was holding a three-day festival called Super Ball IX.

The 'welcome' sign at the Phish festival
The promoters said they would hold the number of tickets sold to 60,000 - a number that was still kind of frightening to local residents who remembered a rock festival called Summer Jam in 1973 where 600,000 people showed up and overwhelmed several counties.

The Phish festival drew maybe 30,000 - and that's being generous.

It was fun for me because my job was to find four or five weird things going on and write short news briefs about them for the Elmira Star Gazette.

Weird things? At at rock concert populated largely by people who seemed to only own tie-dyed clothing and speak in a 1970s hip dialect? It was not tough duty.

But in the midst of doing that every day, it was July 4th weekend and the Valois/Hector/Watkins Glen world was rocking.

It started at a fund raiser/party at Village Marina in Watkins, leading to another party at Mike and Karen Schamel's on Saturday. And by July 4th, even the Valois Point Yacht Club was partying with a visit from new yacht club members Joseph Campbell and Yvonne Taylor.  Their 30-foot Sabre sailboat is the largest boat ever to dock at the VPYC. Erik and Tina Hazlitt previously held that record.

Monday, while Joseph and Yvonne were visiting, Erik and Tina made a sweep by on their boat to say hello (see photo below), while another amigo, Brad Phillips came by on his ski boat.

The VPYC really needs to expand its docking capacity.

VPYC dock on July 4, 2011
The lake is quiet today with most people headed back to work. And it could be that Adm. Fox and I will not go out to yet another party tonight. We do need to rest up. I have a high school reunion next Friday night and Saturday, there is a huge party set for the Fitch mansion at the bottom of the hill. And Sunday is a doubleheader: the Hector Volunteer Fire Department's pancake breakfast (which I never miss when we are in the NY) and my birthday.

I never miss that either.

Here's a short video from the Village Marina fundraiser held last week for Kathleen Schamel's Team Reckless Abandon, soon to launch on a road rally from Prague to Mongolia to raise money for charity.