Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009: The Year of Stupid

Everybody who voted for him thought that when President Obama took office in January, the country would get busy fixing all the problems left over from the Bush administration, like ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, improving the depressed economy, reforming health care, and doing something to slow global warming. We optimistically thought that Congress would want to cooperate to achieve these goals. We were wrong. Apparently, the Republicans were pretty satisfied with the status quo and willing to do everything in their power to obstruct progress. To people like me, this was the equivalent of asking your dinner mate to pass the mustard while the runaway train you're on is hurtling toward destruction. Stupid.

And as the year wore on, it just got stupider: "birthers," "deathers," "tea baggers," Sarah Palin and her book tour. It was bad enough that the Republicans in Congress had become the party of "No!", but it was intolerable to see fellow citizens latching on to every stupid idea that came out of the mouths of Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and their ilk. Former Vice President Dick Cheney appeared on political talk shows to cement his image as Darth Vader, and Karl Rove refused to shut up despite his persistent irrelevance. At least former President Bush was largely absent from the public sphere, the one thing we could have hoped for that came true.

Stupidity wasn't limited only to politics. Every day the news brought us more: the hoopla over Michael Jackson's death, Carrie Prejean's ignorant sensitivity, Jon and Kate's ugly divorce, the Balloon Boy hoax, the clueless White House party crashers, and Tiger Woods's excessive horndogging. The many celebrities who died this year were lucky they weren't around to see how stupid it could get.

There was an expression in the '70s: "The IQ of the universe is a constant. The population is increasing." Let's hope it's not true.

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas Letter 2009

Nan with Holland America's Eurodam in Grand Turk, Turks and CaicosDear Family and Friends,

This has been another busy year for us, full of activity and travel. Nan and I have just returned from a Caribbean cruise with a group from The Nation, a progressive magazine we started subscribing to during the contentious 2008 Presidential Election. Days at sea were spent in panel discussions on health care, the economy and what to make of Sarah Palin. Guest speakers included 2004 presidential candidate Howard Dean, author E.L. Doctorow, and Katrina vanden Heuvel, the magazine’s publisher. It was encouraging to meet and talk with people who believe in the same principles we do: personal freedom, fairness, peace and social justice. Despite President Obama’s policy compromises and the loss of the public option, there was optimism on every front but global warming, which many believe is hastening human extinction.

Back in April, we were sailing again with our friend John Kretschmer on his 47-foot sailboat, this time in the Spanish Virgin Islands between St. Thomas and Puerto Rico. Joining us were author Dallas Murphy and his partner and editor Genie Leftwich. John is also an author, so we spent many hours discussing book ideas and the writing profession. All were enthusiastic about the prospects for the book I was writing about Charlie, our beloved golden retriever who died of cancer the previous April.

The manuscript of Raising Charlie: The Lessons of a Perfect Dog was completed in time for our road trip home to Wisconsin at the end of June with our new golden retriever Scout. Nan stayed in Wauwatosa long enough to wish my father a happy 76th birthday and then continued on to Manitowoc to spend time with her family. Between museum trips, Brewers games and bad golf, I worked with my sister Jane, who is a freelance editor, to put Raising Charlie into final form.

The book was published at the end of August, just before Nan, Scout and I flew to Isla Mujeres, Mexico for a month. The trip was partly a vacation and partly an experiment to see if we could live in a foreign country with our dog. I worked part time using our rented apartment’s Internet connection, and Nan volunteered at an English school run by expatriates. We both spent three days a week with a tutor to improve our Spanish. And we started on book number two, in conjunction with our friend Juan and his family: a combination island photo guide and cookbook of authentic Yucatan recipes in both English and Spanish. Except for the unseasonably hot and humid conditions, which limited mid-day activity with Scout, it all worked out better than expected.

Thanksgiving this year was the first one we have spent apart since we were married twenty years ago. Nan wanted to be with her family in Wisconsin, so I traveled to my parents’ vacation home in Savannah to be with them. As my mother pointed out, it was the first time she and my father had had me all to themselves since my brother Stuart was born a year after I was. We toured the town, ate great seafood, played golf, and visited my friends Paul and Honey Caouette down the coast in St. Marys, where they were preparing their sailboat for an island-hopping trip to Trinidad.

This year’s Christmas card features a photo from the first Raising Charlie book signing, at our local Borders bookstore, in mid-November. They allowed Scout inside the store, and we tried to get him to pose with us, but only the back of his head is visible in the lower left corner. If you’re interested in the book, an information card with details is enclosed.

During the holidays, Nan and I remind one another to be thankful for our good jobs, good health and good friends. And we pause to remember the loved ones who are no longer with us. We hope the holidays provide you with your own occasions for reflection. Wishing you and yours all the best in the coming year.

John, Nan and Scout

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Wild Iris in St. Marys, Georgia

Paul Caouette and Jim Lichty watch Honey Caouette coming down the ladder from Wild IrisWhile I was in Savannah for Thanksgiving with my parents, we made a side trip to St. Marys, about 120 miles down the coast, to see Paul and Honey Caouette. You may recall that I spent a few days with the Caouettes in Miami this past January, helping them prepare their 1977 Valiant 40, Wild Iris, for a transatlantic crossing (Back from Miami). That trip was scuttled when Paul suffered a bad bout of sciatica that required medical attention (Update on the Wild Iris Transatlantic Passage). They have since sailed the boat up to St. Marys, where they have her hauled out as they prepare for an island-hopping trip down to Trinidad, starting next spring.

When we showed up at the boatyard, Paul had the boat's refrigerator condenser in a cooler full of water, trying to locate a leak, and Honey was on board cleaning. It was weird to introduce my parents to the Caouettes, like two very different worlds coming into contact. My parents were intrigued enough by the boat to climb the ladder up to the cockpit and then descend into the cabin for a look around. Paul showed off some of the improvements he had made since I had last been onboard, including a new voltage regulator and a new solar panel. My father later commented that the boat seemed cramped considering that it was forty feet long. I explained that its primary design consideration was performance and that comfortable accommodations were secondary. He also commented about the considerable clutter, which has been an ongoing problem but one that Paul and Honey somehow manage to overlook.

We drove around to the St. Marys waterfront, where many boats were still moored from the Thanksgiving Day festivities the day before, including a beautiful three-masted schooner tied up to a large channel marker. The Riverside Café seemed to be the happening place, so we took a table on the porch for lunch. Paul and Honey have led interesting lives, and my parents were interested to hear all about them as we waited for our sandwiches and salads. Paul talked about learning to sail in college at Boston University, and then building a plywood sailing skiff when he and Honey were living in Bangladesh, and how it had all led up to Wild Iris and their current sailing plans. After lunch, as we were parting company, Paul and Honey invited me to join them for a leg of their upcoming island-hopping adventure. I may try to take them up on it.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Thanksgiving in Savannah

Delegal Creek Marina on Skidaway Island in Savannah, GeorgiaNan made plans a few months ago to spend Thanksgiving with her family in Wisconsin, something she had not done in several years. That would leave Scout and me alone, so I made plans to spend the holiday with my parents at their vacation home in Savannah, and Scout got to go to camp for a week.

I had not been to Savannah since 1997, when my parents first bought the house, which is located in The Landings on Skidaway Island. The city looked prosperous, like all the recent tourism dollars had made a positive difference. The new Truman Parkway, which connects the north and south sides of Savannah, is the most noticeable improvement, cutting many minutes off the time it used to take to get to the downtown Historic District from Skidaway Island.

One of my objectives was to check out the local marinas, with the idea that I would like to have my future "boat quest" boat moored at one of them someday. During the first two rainy days, we checked out ten different marinas, located at Skidaway Island, the Isle of Hope, Thunderbolt and Wilmington Island. The going rate for a wet slip at each marina was in the $12-15 per foot per month range, which seemed expensive until you factored in the included amenities. The best one was the Delegal Creek Marina, located at the south end of Skidaway Island. It offers wet slip accommodations for 75 boats up to 100 feet in length. The crane in the photo shows that the marina is undergoing some redevelopment to correct a problem with the eastern end of the dock sinking into the mud. When that work is complete, the original pavilion and observation tower will also be rebuilt.

The only drawback to the Delegal Creek Marina is the shallow draft. At low tide, the channel to open water is only three feet deep, but at high tide, it's more than ten feet deep. So the timing of exits and entrances is essential. I would consider this a small inconvenience for such a serene and protected mooring.