Friday, February 25, 2011

Going Postal

I keep hearing that because of email, Skype, Facebook, and blogs (cough), people aren't sending as much mail as they used to.

So why is it that all the post offices in Taos (at least two out of three) are sold out of rolls of first class stamps?

I needed to buy stamps for Page (my boss) so yesterday I went to the Post Office Express that is tucked into a corner of one of the grocery stores. That's the Post Office I use for most of my mailing and the clerk always asks me if I want to buy stamps (they're required to ask that of every customer). Nine times out of ten (more than that, actually) I don't need stamps. So yesterday I went for the sole purpose of buying a roll of stamps, but they were out and she wasn't sure when they would be getting more in. She did have sheets of first class stamps; I had a choice of "Love" stamps, which aren't really appropriate for a business, or "Reagan" stamps, and I couldn't bring myself to buy Reagan stamps; I just couldn't. Besides, they're kind of political (and Page is a democrat) and might not be appropriate for a business to be sending out either. So I declined.

Today I tried the Post Office in Ranchos de Taos; it's smaller than the one in Taos and never crowded. They didn't have rolls of stamps, either, although they expect to get them tomorrow. The only choice there was sheets of Reagan stamps, and when I smiled and politely said, "No, never mind" the clerk chuckled. This is Taos County, after all; it's 84% Democratic, one of the highest percentage of democrats in any county in the U.S. Is it any wonder no one wants to buy Reagan stamps?

Actually, compared to the current Republicans, Reagan doesn't seem that bad. I think he must be rolling in his grave at what the Republican Party has become (and wishing they'd quit invoking his name).

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Albuquerque Adventure, Part 2: Food and Lodging

Part 2 of the Albuquerque Adventure actually takes place before Part 1, the Aquarium. It takes place on Friday night (February 11th). We stayed at the MCM Elegante Hotel in Albuquerque. That’s where Ron always stays when he goes down there on Qwest business, because Qwest has an account there. Even though this wasn’t Qwest business, he was able to get the Qwest rate. He’s been raving about the fabulous free breakfast and I was looking forward to it.

But first, dinner.

Actually, first we checked into the hotel. We couldn’t get Ron’s favorite room (he says it’s quiet and has an excellent wifi signal); unfortunately the room was closed for “deep cleaning” a familiar (to me, at least) hotel term. So we got a room slightly down the hall from that one. But when we walked into the room, it smelled strongly of cigarette smoke. It’s supposed to be a non-smoking room. I think all the rooms there are non-smoking. So Ron called the front desk to let them know the room smelled of smoke and emphasized we had not been smoking and do not smoke and we wanted to change rooms. So we got another room a little further down the hall.

By this time it was 8:30 at night and we were ready for dinner. We drove around a little, but the restaurant Ron thought he remembered wasn’t where he remembered it. So we went to a Chinese buffet restaurant. Here’s an important travel tip. If it’s getting close to closing time at restaurants and you’re hungry, go to a Chinese buffet restaurant. You won’t have to wait for your food and there’s still plenty of food left. We got there 15 minutes before closing time and there was plenty of food. We each had two helpings, and the servers asked us if we would be wanting any more before they started putting it away. We were full and didn’t need more, but it was very nice of them to ask.

We went back to the hotel and relaxed. We’d both worked the night shift on Thursday night, so we were tired. We didn’t set an alarm or ask for a wake-up call. We just slept until we woke up. Which turned out to be 10:00 a.m. Which is when the fabulous free breakfast at the hotel ends. So much for that idea. So we got dressed, checked out, and started driving toward the BioPark, looking for a restaurant that didn’t have a packed parking lot.

We found one at The Village Inn, a chain restaurant next to the BioPark. The waitress was friendly and attentive. When she first asked what we'd like to drink, I said, "Lots of coffee for both of us" and she smiled and brought us a carafe of coffee. Ron ordered the Ultimate Skillet - home fries cooked with mushrooms, green peppers, onions, tomatoes, and cheese topped with two eggs and served with sausage and ham. I ordered the Eggs Benedict -- poached eggs and Canadian bacon on an English muffin topped with Hollandaise sauce and served with hash browns. I love Eggs Benedict, but rarely make it at home because there are so many elements and it's hard to get them all done at the same time (although my food blogging sister once wrote an inspirational post on how to do this). Also, it just isn't a very healthy dish, so I only get it on the rare occasions we go out for breakfast. After eating, we agreed that we were "comfortably full" and we were fueled up for a long day of observing sharks, rays, and jellyfish.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Albuquerque Aquarium

Better late than never, right?

Last Saturday, Ron and I went to the Albuquerque Aquarium (official name and link ABQ BioPark Aquarium).

We actually went down to Albuquerque Friday evening; I had arranged with the other Night Auditor to cover my shift at the hotel Friday and I'll cover for him another night. I'll save Friday night's adventures for another post, but this one is about Saturday.

The weather was warm and beautiful. It was in the high 50s but felt warmer than that in the sun. It felt like spring. It was almost a shame to go inside to the aquarium, but it was worth it.

This is a quote from the BioPark's web site, "The ABQ BioPark Aquarium takes visitors on a journey down the Rio Grande from Albuquerque to its mouth in the Gulf of Mexico. Fresh water riverine, estuarine, surf zone, shallow waters, coral reefs, open ocean and deep ocean species are represented along the way. Other highlights include an eel tunnel, seahorses, luminous jellies and a 285,000 gallon ocean tank where brown, sandtiger, blacktip and nurse sharks swim alongside brilliantly colored reef fish, eels, sea turtles and open ocean species."

There was a shallow tank with sting rays, Southern sting rays to be specific. They tend to swim in formation, two or three together. Their shape and movement make them seem otherwordly. They're also a little scary (they aren't called sting rays for nothing and once when I was standing in shallow water in Florida three of them charged towards me, swimming in formation). Standing on dry ground next to the tank were two seabirds - a lesser yellowleg and a ruddy turnstone. One of them, I'm not sure which, was a loud, screechy bird, the very definition of raucous.

The next stop was the tall cylindrical tank filled with hundreds of jellyfish of all sizes (with tentacles of all sizes). They're very ghostly, but again, they're scary.

My favorite tank was the 285,000-gallon ocean tank with the sharks, eels, sea turtles, different kinds of fish, and yes, more rays. The sharks are so beautiful and graceful. They probably should seem scary, but they didn't, not in the same way the rays and jellies did. Here's a brief clip of a video Ron took of the blacktip shark.

See what I mean about graceful? Of course I've been fascinated with sharks ever since the movie Jaws came out in 1975. For some reason, I loved that movie; I think the summer it came out, I saw it 12 times, one of those times at the beach. Despite the blood and gore, it was a very funny movie, with funny dialogue.

But I digress.

Another creature I loved to watch in that tank was the sea turtle. Their were two of them - a kemp's ridley turtle and a loggerhead turtle. Here's another video clip Ron took of one of the turtles.

While we were there, two divers went into the tank to feed the rays and turtles. The sharks had been fed earlier; that way, the divers could feed the other creatures without the sharks being all over them. But we were observing behavior for Ron's Harvard class and we noticed that when the divers entered the tank, the blacktip sharks became very excited and swam back and forth near the surface.

We saw more creatures than the ones I've mentioned, but those were the highlights. We had such a great time and we plan to go back again. It's a very impressive aquarium.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Outage Outrage

Natural gas is supposedly back on everywhere in Taos. Taos was the last area in the state to be "relit."

Now comes the aftermath. There's a good story on the Taos News website today about all the entities now looking into this. Here's the link. UPDATE: PRC, agencies to probe outage's cause

My question is why didn't this get any national news coverage? When natural gas is shut off to more than 30,000 homes and businesses in one state during record-breaking cold, why didn't anyone notice? Even CNN, who covers the most trivial situations and calls them news, didn't mention it. I guess people have to die for anyone to notice and thankfully, no one died because of this.

It was minus 10 this morning; good thing everyone has their heat back on.

Of course now all the busted pipes that were frozen will thaw and flood hundreds of gallons into those homes and businesses. Businesses have already filed claims and/or lawsuits against the New Mexico Gas Company for lost revenue -- hotels, restaurants, bars (had to be closed on Super Bowl Sunday as well as the regular days). Claims and/or lawsuits for property damage will follow.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Good Timing

Gas is gradually being turned back on. As of 10 pm last night, 41% of Taos had been turned back on.

Most restaurants are back open, so we were able to go to our favorite restaurant, El Taoseno, last night for my birthday dinner.

And the grocery store's bakery was back in business so Ron was able to get a birthday cake. They didn't have Red Velvet, my first choice (mostly because of the cream cheese frosting), and they didn't have Carrot Cake (see cream cheese frosting, plus you get vegetables and dessert!), so I had to "settle" for Triple Chocolate Indulgence Cake. Chocolate cake, chocolate frosting, and chocolate decorations on top. Yes, it was a sacrifice.

We were so full from dinner we had to wait a couple of hours before having any cake.

I'm writing this at noon and it's pouring down snow. We're supposed to get about six inches. The schools finally opened today after being closed yesterday and most of last week because of the gas outage. I wonder if the snow will mean they'll be closed tomorrow. Those poor kids will be in school until 4th of July to make up all the snow days!

Tonight/tomorrow morning it's supposed to be minus 3 and Wednesday night/Thursday morning it's supposed to be minus 8. The highs will be hovering around the freezing point.

I keep telling myself that someday it will be Spring.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Fun Continues

Day 3 of the natural gas “service disruption.” Service has been restored to Albuquerque, naturally, and it’s gradually being restored to parts of northern New Mexico, but it won’t be back on in Taos today, and maybe not tomorrow.

I went to the grocery store yesterday and it was colder inside the store than outside, at least outside in the sunshine. The deli part was closed and so was the seafood counter, but the rest of the store was fully stocked. Some of the produce looked a little “tired” so I bypassed the red bell peppers, but I got the essentials – milk, cat food, chicken, potatoes, etc.

It was strange to drive through town yesterday and see all the empty parking lots at restaurants. From the fast food places to the fancy restaurants and everything in between, they’re all closed because they use gas for cooking. I don’t know what the tourists are doing for food.

Fortunately (I guess), there aren’t that many tourists. The hotel where I work had 5 rooms filled last night (at first). We put a space heater in each of the rooms and those are the only space heaters we have. At 4:00 a.m. a man came in and wanted a room. Brian, the security guard, explained the situation to him (no heat, no hot water, and no more space heaters), but he wanted a room anyway; he’d been driving all day and night. Brian offered to provide an extra blanket from one of the other rooms and he was happy with that. Several people have called to cancel their reservations.

I stayed close to the space heater at the front desk as much as I could last night. It’s small (it sits on the counter), and can’t really put out that much heat. If I got more than two feet away from it, I started getting cold. I need to wear more layers tonight. It was such a relief to get home this morning to a warm house and crawl into a warm bed with two blankets and a comforter.

At least the weather is getting warmer, relatively speaking. The high today was 37; anything above freezing is warm. The low this morning was 5; anything above zero is very warm.

We’re supposed to get snow tonight and as I was writing this, Ron called me into the living room to see the forecast on the Weather Channel. High temperatures on Tuesday and Wednesday will be in the single digits. Sigh.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Is It Spring Yet?

I sure hope that groundhog knew what he was talking about when he said it would be spring soon. Or is that only in Pennsylvania? I don’t know how he doesn’t see his shadow, with all those TV camera lights there.

I thought that last winter I was more than ready for spring, but that was nothing compared to this year. The last few days have been … indescribable, but I’ll try to describe them anyway.

Wednesday morning the low temperature was predicted to be minus ten, so when it turned out to be minus six instead, it was a pleasant surprise. Of course the high on Wednesday was only six above, so it’s all relative. The predicted low for Thursday morning was minus 20, but I was hoping that once again, the prediction would be wrong. But I knew we were in trouble when it was already zero at 6:00 p.m. One of the joys of our home weather station is that we can always know exactly how miserable we are. And at 7:00 a.m. on Thursday I was plenty miserable. The temperature was minus 26! That’s temperature, folks, not wind chill. I didn’t even look at the wind chill; the temperature was enough.

I did what any sane person would do. I let the dogs out to do their business, which they finished in record time, and I let them back in. Even Wolfie didn’t want to be out there very long. Then I went back to bed for another hour (one of the benefits of not having a full time job at the moment, and one of the benefits of Ron being in Albuquerque for a couple of days).

Around lunchtime, when the temperature was a balmy 19, I attempted to do a few errands, but my Jeep wouldn’t cooperate. It started up fine, but as soon as I took my foot off the gas, the engine shut down completely. It wasn’t the battery; the car started up fine and the radio stayed on even when the engine shut down. I tried it a couple more times later in the afternoon when the temperature soared to the high of 23, but got the same result. Around 4:30 or 5:00, when Ron called to say he was leaving Albuquerque to head back home, I told him about the car problems. He had the solution in the garage, of course (he stocks the garage the way I stock the freezer and the pantry). It’s a wonderful product called Heet; it’s a gas-line antifreeze. Following his instructions, I poured the bottle into the gas tank, then started the car and kept my foot on the gas pedal for 20 minutes, so the product could circulate and dissolve any possible water in the gas-line. Of course I should have put the stuff in before it went below zero those two nights, but I didn’t know. Now I know and I’ll never forget.

It turns out it’s a good thing I didn’t go to the grocery store at noon. It was a madhouse, with people clearing the shelves. There’s more going on than cold temperatures. There’s a serious disruption with the pipeline delivery of natural gas to all of New Mexico, but especially Northern New Mexico. We don’t have natural gas, something we’ve been lamenting all the years we’ve been here, but today we’re extremely grateful. New Mexico gets its natural gas from Texas (insert your favorite derogatory comment about Texas here) and because of rolling blackouts in Texas, the flow of natural gas has come to a near standstill. It could be four days or more before the gas is flowing again, and once it does, technicians will need to go to each home and business to do a relight. How long will that take? According to the Taos News, “Between Taos, Red River and Questa alone, the company estimates some 10,800 customers will be affected, especially in the freezing temperatures.” So people crowded to hardware stores to buy space heaters, and the electric company expressed fears that the electric grid would overload and fail, so people crowded to the grocery stores to buy bottled water because for many (us included on this one), no electricity means no water because pumping water up out of a well requires electricity. People were also stocking up on food. So going to the store would have been a nightmare. We were pretty well stocked up on food; my parents trained me well on that one. I filled up a couple of empty gallon jugs with water in case we did lose electricity. And I started the roast chicken and vegetables earlier than I’d planned to so it would be finished before everyone started cranking up their space heaters, endangering the power grid. Plus having the oven on would help warm up the house (I used the same excuse to bake brownies on Wednesday).

I’m actually writing this at 3:00 in the morning at my hotel job. We never lost power at home (at least it was still on when I left at 10:45). We have power at the hotel, but no heat. Apparently this place uses gas, not electricity or propane. So for the three rooms that are occupied (yes 3, out of 115), the guests have space heaters. And there’s a small, warm space heater on the counter next to me, but I have to turn it off every so often because the blowing noise is driving me nuts.

The low on Friday morning is supposed to be minus 12, which sounds pretty warm after minus 26. There’s something really wrong when minus 12 sounds warm!