Sunday, October 28, 2007

Balloon Rally

This weekend was the 25th annual Taos Mountain Balloon Rally. These photos are from this morning's Mass Ascension, about 8:00 a.m.

We didn't have to go into town to see the ballons; they came to us, one in particular.

It landed down the road from our house. I could hear the pilot firing up the burner (these balloons use propane burners, not helium), apparently trying to get the balloon to rise, but to no avial. It wasn't an ideal landing spot; it was very close to a semi-busy road, the one that our dirt road leads to. I think they landed on a patch of grass near the intersection. The "chase crew" arrived soon after to help deflate the balloon and haul away the balloon, gondola, and passengers.

The firing up of the burners makes a strange sound, kind of like the sound of Darth Vader exhaling. I heard other balloons fire up their burners, too, as they drifted nearby (none as near as that first one). It was the only sound on an otherwise quiet morning.

Thursday, October 25, 2007


The next dog to join the family was Brutus. He was our first Shelter Dog.

In May, 2003, Big was having more trouble with his rear legs and we were certain he had less than a year to live. We thought it would be a good idea to get a "replacement" that Big could train to be a guard dog while he was still able to.

So we went to the animal shelter "just to look around." Anyone who goes to an animal shelter just to look around and leaves empty-handed has very strong will power.

When we pulled up in front of the shelter, some of the dogs were in the outside pens. The first dog we noticed was Brutus. First, because he looked like a miniature Big (but with tiger stripes!) and second, because he looked so happy and friendly. We looked at the other dogs, but kept coming back to Brutus. Then we went inside and talked to the shelter people. Brutus (as they had named him) hadn't been there very long. He had been turned in by people who raised sheep; they told the shelter, "He's been hanging around the sheep corral trying to bite the sheep." He was probably just hungry. He wasn't aggressive or vicious at all. We took him for a "test drive" around the parking lot on a leash and he was just happy and friendly.

He was such a happy dog, everyone at the shelter loved him. One of the volunteers (who is also a vet tech at our vet's office) had been considering adopting him. She was off that day and they called her at home to see if was OK with her if we adopted him. She gave her consent and we filled out the paperwork and took him home.

Big and Wolfie didn't exactly welcome him with open paws. There was definitely a period of adjustment all around. Eventually the three of them became friends and everything has been smooth since then.

He's a boxer mixed with pit bull, but all his records at the shelter and now at are vet just say, "Boxer Mix" because of rampant pit bull prejudice.

Brutus weighs about 60 pounds. For most people, that's a normal-sized dog, but for us, it's small, so one of his nicknames is Little One (also Puppy Face). But he has a very deep bark that sounds like it's coming from a much bigger dog. Big has done a great job training Brutus how to be a guard dog.

And all these years later, Big is still hanging in there, but we don't know how much time he has left.

Meanwhile, Brutus knows how to enjoy life.

We've since replaced that 20-year-old couch with a new leather one and none of the animals are allowed on it, so he spends a lot of time on the bed.

Rough life for a shelter dog, isn't it?

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Other Las Vegas, Part 2

Sunday morning was a lazy one, none of us eager to get an early start. The free continental breakfast at the motel was very sparse, but at least the coffee was good and strong. I had a danish pastry and that was enough to keep me going until lunchtime.

We started the day by heading back to the historic downtown district to drive around and look at the old houses. Las Vegas has more than 900 buildings on the National Register of Historic Places. There are all kinds of interesting houses -- Victorian, Tudor, Georgian, Prairie, and others I didn't recognize. We had a great time driving up and down the streets ooh-ing and aah-ing.

Then we drove up to Fort Union, about half an hour north of town. Fort Union National Monument was established in 1851 to house the soldiers guarding the Santa Fe Trail. It was abandoned in 1892 after the railroad made the Santa Fe Trail more or less obsolete. There are ruins of the adobe and stone buildings surrounding the old parade grounds. I had been there before, but George and Beth hadn't. After going through the museum at the visitor center, we went outside to tour the ruins.

This place is pretty windy on a good day and Sunday was not a good day as far as the weather goes. A storm front was approaching and it was cold and windy. After being outside for about 10 minutes, George and I decided to go back inside. It was just too unpleasant out there; my face was cold. Beth wanted to tour the rest of the ruins, but she promised to be quick and she was.

We drove back to town and had a nice lunch together before going our separate ways.

I had to drive into the approaching storm and they had to drive away from it and try to outrun it.

As I drove on the first, flat part of the route, the wind became fierce and I had to keep both hands in a tight grip on the steering wheel. Then it started to snow. I drove through a swirling snowshower and started climbing up into the mountains. At least once I was in the mountains, I was protected from the winds and I only had to deal with the snow. Up and down, up and down, and around countless curves I drove, grateful for an SUV with four-wheel drive. The snow wasn't sticking to the road yet, but it was starting to stick on the bushes and trees on the sides of the road.

I made it to the other side of the mountain and back down to the flats. The snow tapered off to flurries and there was no wind, so I unpeeled my fingers from the steering wheel and drove the remaining 15 minutes home.

When I got home, the animals greeted me enthusiastically. I'd only been gone 32 hours, but they missed me. I'd only been gone 32 hours, but it was a great trip and I came back refreshed and renewed.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Other Las Vegas, Part 1

Ron is in the middle of his trip to New Orleans/Baton Rouge (and various places in between here and there).

A couple of weeks ago, while he was planning the trip, we talked to our good friend George and his wife, Beth. They used to live here in New Mexico, but a few years ago they moved to Amarillo, Texas. As fervent liberals, they're definitely in the minority in Amarillo and they were ready for a weekend getaway. They thought I should have a weekend getaway with them while Ron was away and Ron agreed (and of course, so did I).

So we made plans to meet in Las Vegas, New Mexico. It's not really halfway in between -- I only had a 1 1/2-hour drive versus their 3 1/2-hour drive, but it's an interesting town (I suggested next time we meet closer to halfway, perhaps Tucumcari or Santa Rosa).

We met in Las Vegas a little after 10:00 on Saturday morning. It was too early to check into the motel, so after a light breakfast, we headed for the historic downtown district. Las Vegas was once a thriving railroad town (the railroad was built there in 1879), but as the railroad has declined, so has the town. There isn't any industry, but there is New Mexico Highlands University. The population of Las Vegas is about 18,000 and the enrollment at NMHU is 3,500.

The historic downtown district is an odd mix of dilapidated, empty buildings and thriving businesses. We found a great bookstore and spent more than an hour in there. George collects fountain pens and they had several for him to test before he decided on one. His wife Beth teaches third grade and she bought several children's books for her class. I have so many books on my "To Read" shelf, I didn't let myself buy anything.

The owner of the store was a friendly, outgoing woman. Her accent was very pronounced and familiar, but I couldn't place it. George asked her where she's from. Philadelphia. Then it all came back to me -- all those nuns from grade school and high school with their Philadelphia accents! I told George and Beth I was having flashbacks to those Philadelphia nuns. The bookstore woman was very nice, but Philadelphia accents are a bit "screechy" to me.

After wandering up and down the street for awhile longer, we drove back to the motel and checked into our rooms. Then we changed into swimsuits and drove to the hot springs. These are natural hot springs, just off the side of the road several miles outside of town. There are about a dozen different "hot tubs" lined with rock. They're different sizes and shapes and different temperatures. Just like Goldilocks and the three bears, the first one we tried was much too hot. I could only put one foot in and keep it there about 3 seconds. The next one was hot, but not quite hot enough. The third one was just right! There was a guy already in there, but it was the perfect size for four and he welcomed us. We stayed there for a long time, soaking, until our muscles were so relaxed they felt like they were melting.

We went back to the motel and cleaned up for dinner. We were so relaxed, we took the easy route and ate at the motel restaurant. The food and service were excellent. They had steaks, seafood, pasta, and New Mexican cuisine on the menu. I had the 8 oz. sirloin topped with port-sauteed mushrooms and a little bit of cheese (I'm not sure what kind), covered with dijon cream sauce. It was unbelievable, indescribably delicious.

After dinner, we went back to George and Beth's room and sat up talking for a good long while before I went next door to my own room. I turned on the TV to watch the end of the LSU game. Ron was somewhere in the crowd of 92,000-plus people. It was a close, exciting game and LSU won with a last-second touchdown. Ron called a few minutes later with a very loud, very excited crowd in the background.

We both had a great day Saturday.

Coming soon! Part 2. Sunday -- wind and snow!

Thursday, October 18, 2007


The next dog to join our family was Wolfie. He was a complete surprise to me, but Ron had been secretly planning and researching for quite awhile.

It was April, 2002. Around lunchtime, Ron called to say he was coming home for lunch and bringing a surprise. I was very surprised when he got home and I saw what was in the back of his work truck.

"Oh my God, you bought a coyote!"

"No, it's not a coyote; he's a wolf."

Actually he's half wolf and half German Shepherd, but he looks like he's all wolf, and wolf puppies look like coyotes. He was only 12 weeks old.

I didn't know it until then, but Ron had been researching wolfdogs for quite awhile. At the time, there was a man in Taos selling those wolfdogs out of the back of his truck in various parking lots. Although he took excellent care of his dogs and really loved them, The Powers That Be eventually ran him out of town (and even out of the state).

I'd like to say that Wolfie was no trouble at all from the very beginning, but I can't. He didn't know us and he missed his pack. The first two nights, Ron put him out in the front courtyard (he wasn't housebroken). He was safe there, but he was unhappy and he made sure everyone for miles around knew it. He howled all night long the first night and most of the second night.

For the third night, Ron tried something different. He cleared a space in the living room and put down the old futon mattress. Then he and Big and Wolfie snuggled up for the night and all three slept together. That did the trick. The three of them bonded and Wolfie knew he was part of the pack. They did the same thing the following night, just to reinforce things. After that, Ron was able to go back to sleeping in the bedroom and Wolfie and Big did just fine together.

As Wolfie grew older, he became (and stayed) very sweet and affectionate.

The only problem that remained was containment and that took a long time to solve. Containment is one of the main issues with wolfdogs and one of the leading reasons some wolfdogs don't work out for some people.

The walls of the rear courtyard were about five feet high at their lowest point. That quickly became much too low as Wolfie grew. And so began the process of building the wall higher. And higher. And higher. Every time we thought we had it high enough, he would leap over it. I became very frustrated, convinced we would never get it high enough to contain him. Finally we got it up to nine feet high and we dug a "trench" about a foot deep in front of the wall. That took away his momentum when he tried to jump. We finally had him contained!

At the same time we were building up the walls, he was finding other means of escape, mainly through the gate. We have a gate in the rear courtyard with one of those lift-and-slide latches. After watching us open the latch, he learned how to open it with his teeth! His nickname then changed from "Houdini" to "Too D*mn Smart." We couldn't figure out how he was getting out until I saw him actually opening it with his teeth. We quickly installed a second latch; it's higher up and must be opened at the same time as the first one. He's not that smart.

He has since been given a kinder, gentler nickname by my mother. When she visited us a couple of years ago, she was a little nervous of Wolfie at first. But he completely charmed her by being sweet and gentle, even putting his head in her lap. So now when I talk to her on the phone, she always asks about him in the same way, "How's my Dear Sweet Wolfie?"

Wolfie's fine -- healthy and happy and in the prime of his life. And now he's no trouble at all. And I'm so glad he's part of our family.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Great Visit and New Client

I had a brief but wonderful visit from my sister Marian last week. She arrived Wednesday evening in time for dinner and stayed until Friday afternoon, about lunchtime.

We had a nice relaxing time, mostly sitting around talking, drinking tea, enjoying the views, etc. We both "telecommute" and did some work Thursday for our respective jobs before going for a walk.

The weather was perfect and Marian was very tolerant of our sometimes overly-affectionate animals. All in all, it was a great visit, but too short.

In other news, I have a new client for my proofreading services -- the Horse Fly, the alternative newspaper in Taos. It's published once a month on the 15th, so we did the proofreading over the weekend, three hours each on Saturday and Sunday morning. There's another proofreader, Jane; on Saturday I proofed the first 16 pages and she proofed the other 16 pages. On Sunday we switched.

The Publisher and Editor is Bill Whaley, an interesting character. He always wears a fedora. He's much warmer in person than in print. In his newspaper, he takes a critical look at local politics and the local politicians, which is a good thing (although the politicians don't always agree). The paper is an interesting mix of that and the local cultural scene, especially art. There's plenty of that in Taos, but the Horse Fly puts more emphasis on it than the mainstream paper, The Taos News, a weekly paper.

It feels good to get out in the community -- meet more people and work with people face to face instead of just via email. I think it will inspire me to go to more community events and art galleries, too.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Winter Preparations

We did final preparations for winter on Sunday (we made the first step last weekend when we disconnected the swamp cooler).

First we winterized the RV, which entailed draining all the water out of the various tanks (fresh water, gray water, and holding) and the pipes, and putting anti-freeze down the drains and into the pipes. Then we removed everything liquid and semi-liquid from the fridge and the cabinets -- bottled water, sodas, ketchup, etc. Last year was our first year as RV owners and we left a few things in there that we shouldn't have -- mainly a bottle of liquid hand soap. We didn't realize that in the extreme cold, the plastic bottle would freeze and burst, spewing liquid hand soap all over the bathroom. What a mess! So this year we took out everything.

We watered the spruce trees and then unhooked the hose and drained that, so it wouldn't have water in it, which would then freeze and burst (we learned that lesson several years ago).

Last but definitely not least, we fired up the furnace -- lit the pilot light and tested the thermostats to make sure everything works.

It's a good thing we did all that because when we got up the next morning, the temperature was 19. Yes, nineteen! It hasn't been that cold since, and I don't think the furnace has had to run any since that night, but it's a good thing we hooked it up when we did.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

For All You Book Lovers

This post is going to sound like a paid endorsement, but I promise it isn't. I'm just enthusiastic about this website.

If your bookshelves are overflowing and you want to find good homes for some of those books, I have the answer. If you're always looking for something new to read, I have the answer. The same website is the answer to both situations -- Paperback Swap. Don't let the name fool you; you can swap paperbacks, hardbacks, and even audiobooks.

Here's how it works: you list the books you'd like to give away. The site makes it easy to list these. After you post the first 10 books you'd like to give away, you get 2 "startup" credits so you can start requesting books. After that, you earn credits by sending out books to people who request yours. You can order one book for one credit and you receive one credit for each book you mail. The only exception is audiobooks; they're two credits each. The only money that's involved is the postage you pay for when you mail a book; you can send it by Media Mail, which is usually cheaper than First Class. Sometimes with thin paperbacks, First Class is actually cheaper.

There's an easy "search" function to find a particular book you want to request. I've gotten some obscure books as well as popular ones. If a book you want isn't in the system right now, you can put it on your "Wish List" and you'll be notified when it's available.

After you've read a book, you can keep it or you can repost it and eventually send it to someone else. There are many, many books I've reposted and some I'm keeping forever.

I can't say enough about how great this site is! You should see the "To Read" shelf I have; it's full. I don't even "look" for books anymore. I keep getting books from my Wish List as I move up in line. I keep sending out a lot, too. Doris at the Post Office Express knows me quite well by now.

Start swapping those books; it's a lot of fun.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007


In earlier posts, I shared the stories of our two cats, Winston and Princess. Now it's time for the dogs, in order of seniority (can you tell this is a Union household?).

So I start with Big. He's very special to me for two reasons. First, because he's my very first dog and second, because of the magical, mystical way he came to us.

It was February 2001. The house down the road had been broken into a couple of times. Ron was getting ready for a business trip to Chicago. He would be gone for a week and didn't like the idea of leaving me home alone. "It sure would be nice to have a big guard dog," he said. The very next day (it's true!) we saw a big dog running though our back courtyard, playing with our next door neighbors' dogs. "Where did that big dog come from?" we asked each other. Then we asked the next door neighbors, but they didn't know either. When I saw him chase their cat, I chased him off, even squirting him with water, but he kept coming back. He knew he belonged here, even if we didn't know it yet. He seemed to be saying, "I'm here about the guard dog position. I understand you have an opening."

We made one final effort and put an ad in the "Found" section of the newspaper. We got one response from someone who said the dog wasn't his, but if no one claimed him, he'd be interested in taking the do off our hands. Nope, by that time, we had decided to keep him.

First we named him Big Dog, but that was quickly shortened to Big. He's 120 pounds of solid muscle. He has a deep, ferocious bark that would scare off any burglar. He's been the perfect guard dog; no one has ever broken in, or even come close. As we added more dogs, Big trained them to be guard dogs, too.

Of course it hasn't been all sunshine and roses. He was only about a year old when he came to us. He was still in that "destructive puppy" stage, chewing anything and everything he could get his paws on, especially electric extension cords (still plugged in!) and a car seat belt. He finally outgrew that and now he's no trouble at all.

He is getting on in years (large dogs don't have as long a lifespan as smaller dogs do) and has degenerative joint disease in his rear legs. He's hanging in there with the help of a medicine called Rimadyl. We're just emjoying the time we have left with him and letting him enjoy the time he has left with us.