Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Retirement benefits

Doing my park docent thing at Calaveras Big Trees Park

Camp Connell, CA -- "All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts..."

I don't know if Shakespeare had it right about there being seven stages of man, or woman, but he certainly nailed it on the head when he wrote that there are stages of life we go through.

I've been in the retirement stage of life for more than five years, and life could not be more different than when I worked every day for a living. I still do what I call work, but it is a whole different thing.
I am not ready to vacate the stage, incidentally, but I am enjoying this penultimate act I am experiencing.

The benefits of retirement are many, and not listed in order of importance:
-- I can stay up late, whether in productive pursuits or playing computer games, and it doesn't bother anyone. That's a luxury, and a source of pleasure.
-- I don't attend meetings unless I want to, and -- no surprise -- usually, I don't want to. My life for decades seemed driven by an endless series of meetings, most of which accomplished very little and left me irritated and falling behind in my real work. Now I attend if I can learn something, or offer something.
-- I learn something new almost every day, and that is a source of joy. It may be a lesson in wilderness survival in the winter, the wisdom of a grandchild, or the Latin name of my favorite tree. Or it may be, thanks to the New York Times' continued availability online, some lengthy article about an obscure subject I find interesting.
-- I actually share my days and nights with my wife. We really like each other and enjoy being together, so much so that once in a while we can comfortably enjoy individual pursuits and quiet times without feeling cheated. We have time to be together. And knowing and enjoying my children as adults enriches my days.
-- I am free to attend my grandchildren's events, such as school sports and scout ceremonies, and I don't have to go if I don't want to. They are loving children and are glad to see me, and secure enough not to worry about it if I don't show up. That takes the pressure off. I always enjoy their company.
-- I work with my hands and stay outdoors a lot more than I did before retirement. I chop and stack wood endlessly (we go through five-to-six cords a year here in the snowy seasons). I shovel snow. I make our home fire-safe. I helped rebuild kitchen countertops, erected a snow shed, varnished and unvarnished our sailboat, and am currently painting our home, something I hadn't done in 30 years. These are rewarding activities, and injure to no person.
-- I get more exercise, because I want to, not because someone makes me do it. I hike, ski, and sail. I have given up tennis (no partners) and golf(I am too lousy) and rarely watch sports on television, but don't miss any of it. Except, maybe the tennis, which was really a gathering of friends.
-- I read more, lots more, than when I worked for a living. And I read what I want, which includes fun stuff as well as serious stuff, books as well as the Internet. I don't read much about journalism or the newspaper business. Too depressing.
-- I volunteer my time for things I want to do, such as leading nature hikes in the state park or helping visitors in Yosemite. Both include elements of teaching, which is fun and a great way to learn new things. I can help with music at church or in the community, which is probably sinful because it is too much fun.
-- And I am very slowly working on a legacy for my children and grandchildren, which is a family history project. I want them to know where they came from, and the history and influences that shaped us all. I'm a little behind schedule on that.

Oiling the teak on the deck of S/V Good News

This stage of retirement also includes some things I am not too wild about, but that list is shorter than the advantages:
-- I spend to much time going to and from various doctors, and I'm not even sick!
-- I worry too much about the distant future, more for my children and grandchildren than for myself;
-- I've become more cynical about politicians, the present President excluded, which is a shame. I just don't trust most of them to do the right thing;
-- I no longer have faith that this country, or even this planet, will survive. I'll reduce my impact, but I'm not sure it will help.
Skiing into the big trees on a nice winter day

Enough negativity.
In summary: retirement is great.
I miss the occasional expense account dinner. But generally, I'd rather have a peanut butter, banana and mayonaise sandwich at home anyway.
With Pat, Ruth, Delaney and Connor in Yosemite National Park

Monday, May 11, 2009

Spring comes a-creeping in

Camp Connell, CA -- It may be bad luck to say this, but I think we are done with snow for the year.
The dogwood are beginning to bud, and blooms are appearing even a few hundred feet down the mountain.
The birds are squabbling, which probably means they are in love, and four daffodils have actually bloomed with brilliant yellow.
The forecast for the next few days is sunny with highs in the upper 60s. Perfect weather for almost anything.
So here are a few pictures from our most recent hike in Calaveras Big Trees State Park, almost next door to our mountain home, along the Bradley Grove trail which follows Beaver Creek.
It's early yet at this elevation, but the mosses and mushrooms are obviously ready!

The first picture is of moss and mushrooms, refreshed by rain, on a stump:

The second picture is of a young Sequoia tree the squirrels scratched bark from to build their winter nests.

The third pictures is a wildly green plant, name unknown to me, but it is real pretty:

The last picture is of Pat, park docent and bat expert, checking out the roaring Stanislaus River. From the picture you'd think our drought was over, but the snowpack was low and it looks like the third year in a row for water supply problems in the valleys and cities below us.

We've already moved the deck chairs outside.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Loonies and the flu - que lastima

The radio entertainer called it the "Mexican flu" and, without bothering to check the facts, suggested everyone avoid Mexico and Mexicans.
CNN used a graphic calling it the "Killer flu," and other cable TV shows, needing something to fill their time, ramped up coverage to the point of semi-hysteria.
Tabloids in London used thinly veiled racist language about Mexico and Mexican.
The Chinese government has locked up all Mexicans, in quarantine, after one case turned up.
Readers in San Francisco, arguably America's most liberal city, railed about slamming the borders shut, leaky borders being the problem, and the flu proving the lunacy of allowing Mexicans to come to the U.S. to work, even legally. Racism was explicit in many remarks, and implied in others.
Ignorance -- more kindly defined as a lack of education -- is almost always the breeding ground for fear that leads to racism.
Gotta blame somebody. And never let the facts stand in the way of stupidity.

As a U.S. citizen who has just returned from two weeks in Mexico, where we were treated well and courteously, this is really embarrassing.

I hope my friends in Jalisco never see or hear the ignorance some of our pubic figures have shown, and the racism that seems to jump out of many of the comments -- particularly those posted anonymously on the web.
For the record: this flu has indeed affected more people in Mexico than elsewhere, so far, but the scientists who are studying it say it may have originated in Europe or the U.S. or Mexico, no one is sure at this point. I am hoping it turns out to the the Texas flu, which is one of many possibilities.

And while some people have died, it is not -- on the global scale -- a killer flu like the one in 1918.

My friend Michael, who lives in Mexico, found a pretty pointed song about the swine flu at this link

Cut and paste it into your URL slot. It is funny, and crude.

Then today the New York Times reported on some of the over-reactions and how Mexicans have become scapegoats. That is located at

A few facts might help defeat this sort of over-reaction.

Everyone is concerned about catching the flu. But it is quickly becoming apparent it is not a "killer flu" as it has been depicted, any more than any other flu. You might want to compare the death rate of this specific flu to automobile deaths, homicides, or other facts of U.S. life.

Maybe I can start a movement. Let's all go out to dinner at a Mexican restaurant this week, order an expensive dinner, and leave a big tip with an apology.

Or, better yet, take a vacation in Mexico.

We did, and enjoyed it.

Friday, May 1, 2009

What about the flu?

We don't have it.

We never even heard of anyone being sick in the towns we visited, or in the state of Jalisco while we were there.
Depending on who you believe, the flu incubation period is 48 hours, maybe up to five days in rare cases.

Our last exposure -- if there was any -- was in the Los Angeles airport terminal Wednesday. The airport food was so expensive it made me sick and irritable, but other than that we are fine. Still ticked off that they charge $18 for cheeseburger.

We have decided to self-quarantine until Monday, and besides we just want to do laundry and sleep a lot. We feel great, but don't want friends and family to feel weird. It is rainy and cool here, probably snow in the higher altitudes, and we have a fire in the stove. Burning incense cedar smells like home.

We never saw anyone in Mexico or LA who appeared to be sick.
Even the Red Cross workers in the Mexico Airport were not wearing the masks which dangled around their necks. They must have done the research and learned they are not very effective.
Amiga Sylvia Fox took this picture of us with the Red Cross volunteers in the Manzanillo Airport just before we went upstairs for one more cerveza and quesadillas. That's me on the left holding onto my good health, and Captain Michael on the right, holding onto the ladies. Por que no?

It was warm and we were outdoors most of the time, both conducive to good health.

We have been washing our hands like crazy.

Our only current health issue is the allergies that kicked in as soon as we landed in California. It is Spring, after all.

The bruises from dropping a kayak on my head seem to be going away.

And I have mild symptoms of beer and beach withdrawal.


Courtesy of Past Expiry Cartoon

La Manzanilla Mexico Vacation 2009

La Manzanilla, Mexico -- I cannot image a better vacation than the one we just ended in Mexico.
It was not our first visit, but it certainly stacks up as one of the best ever.

This blog covers only the second half of that vacation, spent in the seaside village of La Manzanilla in the state of Jalisco, about half-way between Puerto Vallarta to the north and Zihuatenejo to the south, on the shores of Tenacatita Bay. It is a short drive to undeveloped Pacific Ocean beach for surfers and serious beach combers.

We stayed right on the beach at Alegre Mar, the home and vacation rental belonging to Oregonian Kate Fisher. Kate has two elegant rental apartments downstairs, and a small efficiency upstairs. Kayaks are thrown in, and you can pet her bright and friendly dog Elsa almost anytime.
The pictures say everything necessary about her accommodations, and her decorative skills. The apartment was clean, beautiful, excellent, a bargain, and in a perfect location.

The busiest gringo bar in town -- Palapa Joe's -- is just across the street if you need it, as I did once in a while. Their Cuba Libres will make you want to go overthrow Fidel, and their Margaritas will calm you down so you can contemplate the sunset. The burgers are good, and so are the quesadillas.

One morning while walking in town near the plaza we happened upon what appeared to be a revival meeting at the Catholic Church, and sat in the back pews while enthusiastic speakers and musicians kept the crowd in its feet, clapping and singing. We don't really know exactly what was said, but it was very interesting and uplifting.
During an early morning walk on the beach I came across the tracks of eight turtle crawls, where sea turtles come up to lay eggs at night.
A very large glass of orange juice on the main street after that walk cost me 10 pesos, or about nine cents. You can pay more at a place that caters to U.S. citizens and Canadians, but it is not necessary. A week's worth of laundry was spotlessly delivered for about $3 US. I over tipped.
La Manzanilla is a bit unusual in that it has bi-cultural vacationers, and it is still a pretty small town. This is not Club Med.
The main street of town was paved for the first time last winter. No traffic lights. You can walk the entire length of town in an hour. The developed beach front is about six blocks long.
You can walk three miles north on the beach in the early morning, and run into three or four other people. The beaches, and the town, are not spotless. Plastic curses the entire planet, but neither Sanibel Island or Miami Beach were clean last time I looked.
If you come during the peak winter season from February to Easter, the place hosts a lot of folks from the U.S. and Canada and it gets crowded. After Easter you have the place to yourself.
There are numerous good places to eat and drink that cater to gringo tastes, and we enjoyed several. Or you can eat breakfast in a small cafe with local construction workers, who know where to find a good meal at bargain prices.
The beaches revert to Mexican majorities and are very crowded during the Easter holidays, with hundreds of people coming in by charter buses. For a brief spell the beaches and the tourist businesses thrive enthusiastically on Mexican families.
And then everybody goes home, and you have a quiet vacation place as we did this year.
Kate's one bedroom apartment was $125 a night this year, a bargain compared to any similar place I have ever been. If that's too much, you can find a hotel room for two for less than $50, and I even saw a campground which advertised $8 pesos per night, so low I doubt it was real. Or contact Tamarindo, to the South, and they will arrange a millionaire's condo.

If you need big cities and crowds and boisterous bars and jammed beaches, this is not for you. There is no Spring Break crowd, and, thank goodness, MTV has never heard of the place.

But if walking on a deserted beach and keeping pace with a pod of dolphins just beyond the surf line is the sort of thing that appeals to you, give La Manzanilla some thought. That happened on our last morning in Mexico.

La Manzanilla can be checked out at the following web sites:

How to get there: Alaska Airlines, and others, fly into Manzanillo Airport about an hour south of La Manzanilla. Adventurous folks can drive from the U.S., but be careful to drive during the day, use main roads, and plan ahead where you want to stay.
Where to stay: La Manzanilla has a range of accommodations from camp grounds, RV parks, private homes and condos right on the beach, and small inexpensive hotels just off the beach. Check the websites for options.
What to pay: It's up to you. You can find safe clean rooms for as little as $50 a night, or a beach front home for several thousand a week. But pay in pesos, or dollars in advance if agreed upon. The town has no bank and credit cards are not normally accepted.
Weather: During our stay it ranged from 61 on a cool night, to about 85 on a hot day. The breeze from the ocean keeps it pleasant, and we never turned on the air conditioning. It gets hot in the summer.
What to do: Are you kidding?