Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Retirement is exhausting (but I'm not complaining)

It's only been a little over 24 hours since we arrived 'home' in La Manzanilla for our first extended land-based stay here. I love our new two bedroom house on the hill, much quieter than staying at the beach house we've rented for the past several years.

Last night we went to sleep with a grand chorus of cicadas or crickets (loud!), but by morning they had quieted down and the roosters started up. A lot. Before dawn. But it's a sound I relish --- a natural sound, rather than the roar of I-5 in the distance that we've heard for years.

I was still asleep when I heard the sound of hoofs as someone rode a horse by our house --- still dirt roads throughout the town. And even though we're about three blocks back from the beach, I could still hear the sound of waves crashing.

No regrets over this move --- low 80s during the day, 70s this evening. Friends are delighted we're back --- a sense of home and community.

Only downside was discovering a scorpion had hitched a ride out to Tenacatita in my purse --- the really nasty, lethal kind. I was reaching in and for some reason decided to look for my lipstick, rather than just grab. Holy Smoke! It scared the beejeesus out of me --- quite literally --- I couldn't say a word. Just a whole lot of gasps and shrieks, I've been told.

The scorpion climbed up and out and I flung him out onto the road where Michael stomped on him.

Locals tell me that you NEVER leave your purse on the floor. You hang it up. And you ALWAYS check your shoes before you put them on.


I guess paradise can't be perfect. Just almost perfect.

Hope all of you are well and know that I miss you all.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Music and Sun in our first day back in Mazatlan

We arrived in Mazatlan today, grateful to have good friends and warm temperatures greet us. Dan and Lorraine on Zephyrus are here doing last minute projects and provisions before they sail south to Ecuador, first stopping by Tenacatita for a long (we hope) visit with us.

Tomorrow we head to Puerto Vallarta for Christmas with Dustin and Cami, importing a load of GrapeNuts for under his tree. It's hilarious what you can't get in Mexico.

This afternoon the Children's Home in Mazatlan, part of the Salvation Army, put on a show for the cruisers. A great greeting and first day back. It raises money for the Children's Home --- they do a month of performances in December around the community.

Hope all of you that we've left behind in the States are staying warm and happy. My New Year's resolution is to avoid all news and especially anything having to do with the election. I'll let you know how it goes.

The Mazatlan Salvation Army Children's Home singers

Sunday, December 9, 2007

An early Christmas with the grandkids

After a marathon day of packing (five day countdown! Eek!), we raced out to Rancho Cordova for an early celebration with Samantha and Kamryn --- Kami's first Christmas!
Grandpa Michael with Kami

Samantha is only one head shorter than me right now, soon to be eating peanuts off the top of my head. She held a short Christmas recital for us on our flute. She's getting great –– obviously practicing and enjoying the music.

Another candidate for the Four Headlamps (gotta do something about that number in the name, apparently).

Sami & Kami

After this week, we probably won't see them for six months or so –– one of the major downsides of adventuring during retirement.

On another note --- today's San Francisco Chronicle had an article about the toll stress is taking on all of us. And how most of our stress is self-imposed, much of it caused by a society that doesn't unplug itself, doesn't go to bed when the sun sets.

I'm definitely guilty. But I'm willing to change. Starting with some rest, right now. G'night all!

Friday, December 7, 2007

The Last Great San Francisco Adventure

It was my last early morning trip to San Francisco to give a 5-minute state of journalism education speech to a group of publishers, probably my last official speech of my journalism career, followed by my last board meeting.

It was a glorious, clear day in the city and I considered taking a walk around downtown after my meeting. But I was anxious to get home, and tired, and thinking about all that is left to be accomplished before leaving here in seven (yes, seven!) days --- if all goes as planned.

I knew the subway connection to take the train home would be close but decided to go for it. But as the BART subway reached the Richmond station, I could hear the CHOO CHOO of the departing whistle of the train to Sacramento. I had missed it by less than a minute --- literally.

I raced up the stairs to the train platform in fast pursuit of others who were also trying to catch blasted train to Sacramento.

It was gone.

It was an hour and a half wait for the next one, outside, in the dark, on a cold and windy platform in a city known for its random gunfire.

It called for a New Plan.

Before I knew what was happening, I was on the next train to Martinez with two women who had also missed the Sacramento train. We were to go to a few stops down the line to a small community where we thought we might find a few restaurants across from the train station, then catch the last train to Sacramento.

It worked. And what's even better, I had a great time, one that I wouldn't have had if I had made the first Sacramento connection. We found a pitcher of margaritas, a guitar serenade, good conversation and a lot of laughter.

It was just another lesson that things work out exactly as they are supposed to and I just might as well chill out and enjoy the ride --- the whole ride.

My new traveling buddies

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Equipment Debate: How good do you go?

For the past week I've had the debating society raging in my head.

Should I get the top of the line equipment as a beginner and grow into it? Or do I spend time improving and then get top of the line equipment?

It's a universal question that can applied to any sport or hobby. How about that new golf club? Will it improve your game or be wasted on you? What about that kayak paddle? What kind of skis do you need –– or deserve?

What launched the debate was this year's birthday present from Michael. We had a music lesson together (which you might have muted on Michael's blog) when I made the mistake of trying out my instructor's bow.


I suddenly realized I was trying to play this new fantastic violin of mine with the equivalent of a K-Mart broom.

Soon I was home with six carbon fiber bows and instructions to try them out over the holiday weekend and pick the one I wanted.

None came with price tags. So it was like eating at a restaurant that I knew I couldn't afford. Apparently unless you spend over a grand on one, you're still at entry level equipment.

It didn't take long to figure out that any of them would be better than my current bow. But I still couldn't tell the difference between them.

Thus, the debate.

Do I buy the high end bow that I will grow into, possibly sounding better along the way? Or do I buy the cheap Chinese knock-off bow, replacing it with higher end bows down the line?

After a week of of a lot of input, I've realized that these two philosophies really set most of us apart. A majority of people that I asked would start with an example of a relative or a close friend who would always start with the best. And then there others that adamantly believe you shouldn't invest much until you're better at your golf game, your skiing –– your fiddle playing.

In the end, I clenched and wrote the check for the top of the line of the entry level bows –– with the encouragement of my instructor and others. And, no, I didn't spend a grand on it. It's a Coda bow, way beyond what I need right now. I spent the evening forgetting about all the fiscal angst and really paying attention to how it works. And it's great! It's light, it glides over the strings with the ease of Yehudi Menuhin, it makes me hopeful.

But I did note that those who advised me to 'go for it' didn't have one themselves.

In the end I realized that I really wanted a great bow. I just didn't want to spend the money. But I have a plan. Next time I'm planning a big purchase, I'll skip the debate and ask Michael to get it for me and to please, please, please don't tell me how much it costs.

Now that would be a thoughtful birthday present!

Fiddler's night at Fox & Goose Public House

The Irish fiddlers play monthly at Fox & Goose on the last Tuesday of the month. I've sat in a few times but my repertoire isn't complete enough to play many of the songs --- and they play like lightening! Tuesday was my evening with them until September (wow!) --- tonight I play with the Slo Jam group. More songs I know, at a pace I can keep up with.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Wish I had two to sell

I'll miss my lovely Prius hybrid, which is apparently going to a new Bay area owner today. I was one of the 85,000 lucky ones that got a special carpool sticker that allows me to drive in the carpool lane with only one person in the car --- through 2011.

It's been a fantastic car and I'd buy another in a heartbeat if we decide to live the majority of our time in the U.S. But it wasn't the right vehicle to take to Mexico.

Driving down to San Francisco from Sacramento in the Prius has been awesome --- it's comfortable, perky and barely sips that high-priced petrol. We slip into the carpool lane on the other side of the Martinez bridge, then wisk at about 50 to 60 mph past the non carpool drivers, who are averaging maybe 10 to 12 mph...

When we decided to sell it, I looked up what top dollar for my car would be, then added some dollars for the carpool sticker since I had heard that it would increase the value of the car.

Wow! A serious understatement.

I've been hearing from potential buyers in San Francisco and Los Angeles, and today I got a cash offer (and not a bad one) from a car broker in the Bay Area. Leaving me wondering, of course, how much I should have asked for the car.

Oh well. It's amazing enough that the car didn't depreciate a nickel since driving it off the car lot last year. No need to be greedy....

Thursday, November 22, 2007

A surprisingly perfect Thanksgiving Day

Michael and I thought we would be home alone this holiday with plans to rest, relax, pack and generally get caught up with ourselves and our work this long weekend, given that we're going to be hurling ourselves into a whole new life in about three weeks.

Originally we had grand plans to join the Lamont clan in Murphy, play lots of music, hope for snow and a reason to take a long nap near the woodstove. But Dylan couldn't join us because he had to work on Wednesday, then again at 5 a.m. on Friday, leaving no commute time from San Francisco to join us. We took a second look looked at our 'to do' list, checked our batteries and decided to stay home.

Then, to my delight, plans evolved.

By breakfast time this morning Dylan was parking in front of the house with the snappy little red Miata and a nice new street bike on the back, with a date to meet cousin Alex at 11 for a ride along the river, then join us for an impromptu turkey dinner.

It was exactly, perfectly what I wanted to do but didn't know. I got my 'kid fix' --- including lots of hugs, conversation and food --- but still got in a short nap, a long walk and lots of music in between their bike rides.

Dylan left with a huge leftover turkey dinner to take to work and enough stuffing to take to tomorrow's potluck.

I got to spend the day with family. And I got pictures.

Hope ya'll got a delightful day with family and friends too.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

My love/hate relationship with the violin

Sometimes I'm so enamored with the violin -- only a little over a year into playing it -- that I'm having a love fest with the instrument.

But about every two months I hit a wall with the damn thing, much like a runner must feel about two-thirds through a marathon. It's a debate whether to smash the thing or simple put it back in its case --- forever.

I've started this music marathon way too late in life to ever be winning any awards or holding any concerts. And I seriously wonder what I was thinking, to begin this at retirement age.

With the violin, I have to make sure I get my fingers on EXACTLY the right spot on the string or the note is wrong. Then I have to remember to hold the bow EXACTLY the right way to make the sound come out melodically, rather than a cat being held under a faucet. Now I also having to remember to hold the instrument correctly so I don't end up back at the chiropractic.

OK, I'm whining. But you get my point.

But then I join a group of fiddlers, guitarists, mandolin players, flutists who accept my elementary efforts and still let me join them in a joyful experience of making music and then I'm okay again.

Two good unexpected benefits so far:

1. My cousin Ruth said she's found some research that says that playing the violin really helps increase memory. Now that would be a Godsend, since my kids say that I have a memory of a twig.

2. I found a new philosophy in life. When I've commented to my violin teacher that the piece I'm learning is hard, he reminds me that "it's just not easy yet."

Great philosophy to keep in mind --- if I can remember.

A recent fiddle lesson. If I don't get the bowing right I'll also never be able to play fast enough --- plus it will sound like 'cat hell' too.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Just one more 'over-the-top' week

Stress levels are high, high, high as we begin to move things out of the Sacramento house and into storage -- while also teaching full-time, working the consulting job, racing down to the Bay area to celebrate some birthdays and say some goodbyes. How many times have Michael and I done a life-changing, sell/buy/completely change directions kind of move? I'd hate to count (and, I've noticed, so do our kids).

But what I've discovered is if I can take the pace, it's still fun and outrageous and I have few regrets. I guess that's good enough.

Birthday bash and bon voyage
Yesterday we said our goodbyes to Don Tiffin, who bought his beloved Maple Leaf 48 back from us and getting ready to sail south for San Diego next week, Mexico in early January, the South Pacific in February or March. He's been varnishing for at least a month, I would bet, and you can see your reflection in the cap rail. The steel's been polished, the engine and engine room painted. New mainsail. She's looking fantastic and ready to head to warmer waters, as is Don.

Don and Sylvia on a 'new & improved' Sabbatical

We had a birthday bash for Don, Sanders and myself at the Oakland Yacht Club, helped by Michael, by Pat, and Berkeleyite Dylan.

Pat & Sanders and Good News

Then late last night Michael finally drove his little red Nissan pickup home to Sacramento, after four months as Don's vehicle for repairs and provisioning. Next item on the checklist: sell the Prius, complete with carpool stickers. Hate to see it go...

Dustin's tree in Sacramento

We took our first full truckload of 'stuff' to storage today, driving by our old home on 58th Street on our return home. Couldn't believe the size of the tree out front that Dustin planted around 10 years ago. Great fall colors and HUGE!


What was I thinking?

If you've been reading Michael's blog, then you already know about his new companion, the as-yet-unnamed Senor Squawker. Even as I was pulling out of the box and giving it to him, it occurred to me that this might not have been the sanest gift for me to give him, and that it might be a really, really long drive to Mexico with the two of them in the car.

With any luck, we'll be stopping by many of your homes on the way to share what his big sister Anne calls his "annoying funny" humor.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Nothing better than a Free Hug

I'm no mall rat. I'd rather go to the dentist (Thank you, Dr. Pam) than hang out at the Arden Fair Mall. I'm the 'grab the list, get in and out, errand done' kind of shopper.

But today, the Downtown Mall in Sacramento was phenomenal. A perfect combination of Free Hugs, followed by a free chair massage!

I'd go to the mall a lot more often if someone could guarantee me the same experience every time.

Free Hugs!

Friday, November 2, 2007

Finding the Slow Jam fiddlers

We live a crazy, mobile, fun but disjointed life, so creating my community for some of my interests can be challenging when I'm never in one place long enough to let things gel.

But then something happens to make me hopeful that despite this three-way bank shot of living in Sacramento, New York and Mexico each year, I can still find --- and connect with -- my peeps.

Last summer I found a group of people to play with --- The Crooked Lake Fiddlers from Keuka Lake in New York. Hammered dulcimer, fiddlers, autoharp, banjos, guitars, mandolin, you name it. The first time I joined them, it was as if I was making my first stage performance --- I was absolutely convinced I wouldn't be good enough, embarrass myself, whatever. They were kind and inclusive and just want to be with people who also want to make music. Now I can't wait to get back to New York next summer to join them again.

Last night I finally found a group of Sacramento group of fiddlers and musicians who play Irish, Scottish and anything other fun music you put in front of them. They meet in someone's home every other week (no wonder I had such a tough time finding any local groups on the web -- they're underground!), plus they do some informal performances around town. A Waltz performance is next.

I had a blast!

We played for about three hours, circling the room with tunes (including some original work!) until it was time to break up to get rested for another day at work.

But I felt like a kid when I got home --- vibrating with overstimulation and the pure, sheer joy of being able to play my violin with friends. It's a long way from the way I felt about the violin last week when I hit the wall again and was sure it was insanity to think that someone my age could learn to play this unforgiving instrument.

I'll be fine, as long as I remember that I'm doing it for the fun of it. So don't hold your breath --- no Carnegie Hall performances are being planned.

Playing with friends in Sacramento