January 20, 2019 Super Blood Wolf Moon Eclipse…from Southern New Mexico

By NM-GRL

We were lucky down here in my neck of the woods in southern New Mexico.  I don’t have a tripod but I have a porch with a convenient post that I could lean on.  It was cold…like dry heat, there is dry cold and when you’re at 4600+ feet above sea level, that cold is biting even though it may be in the high 40’s.

I caught the start, the peak, and the move out from totality..Top right is entry, bottom right is exit…Enjoy!

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Happy 2019! New Horizons Has Flown Past Ultima Thule and I’m Still Onboard…4 Billion Miles Away

by NM-GRL

Three years ago I recounted how I managed to be aboard the New Horizons mission to Pluto…Well, a billion miles further out, this incredible mission has just completed the flyby of Ultima Thule in the Kuiper Belt…

ultima

Artist’s Rendition From NASA…see About Ultima Thule

I’m now more than 4 billion miles away, a billion past Pluto.  The discoverer of Pluto, Clyde Tombaugh lived here, co-founded the Unitarian Church in town, and some of his ashes are on that spacecraft. I cheered along this morning when they received the signals confirming the checklist of all the instruments and we found out that all  are working fine,  just like I cheered when they first got the “call in”  and then during the flyby just at the start of the new year at about 12:30 AM ET, January 1, 2019.  It will take 20 months to download all the data and the clearest pictures from the closest distance/the actual flyby will be coming in February, the same month I was born. It’s SO FAR and it takes so long for that signal to come back to Earth. Another briefing will be tomorrow (2-3 pm ET, January 2) and some first pictures from the approach will be shown and these will confirm the shape of this little world.

Watch on Youtube at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory channel and NASA TV. (NASA was off the air when New Horizons first called in due to the government shutdown but was streaming today’s “checklist” confirmation coverage, so hopefully it will streaming again tomorrow).

Below is a re-post about the original Pluto mission’s first success.

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I’m Aboard the New Horizons Mission’s Final Approach to PLUTO Happening NOW!!

Originally published on January 19, 2015 at sister site…

By InsightAnalytical

UPDATE: To keep up to date with New Horizons Mission’s approach, these are the sites with all the info!  Both sites have countdown clocks to the time of the closest approach which will be at 7:49:59 a.m. EDT (11:49:59 UTC) on July 14, 2015.  The Johns Hopkins countdown also includes the elapsed time of the mission as well as a countdown to when the start of the close encounter operations begin,  12 April 2015, 00:00:00 UTC.

Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/New Horizons website  — scroll down to sign up for their email newsletter for the latest updates, including tracking the craft’s location in the solar system.

NASA New Horizons Mission website  — latest news, Tweets, pictures and other information!

***

I’ve always been fascinated by space.  I cherish books which I’ve had since childhood.  Published around 1957, these well-worn treasures are always in view in my office bookcase. So, winding up living in Southern New Mexico near the White Sands Missile Range has been a happy coincidence since it’s a hotbed of all things astronomy and space!   Post-World War II, Werner Von Braun was brought here to test rockets for the U.S. Army and captured V-2 rockets carried hundreds of  payloads.

 

Childood Space Books

Childhood Space Books

What Space Exploration Would be like in the 1970's--Werner Von Braun from Chapter in "Outer Space"

Werner Von Braun’s vision of space exploration in the 1970’s–from chapter in “Outer Space”

NASA’s  White Sands Space Harbor (WSSH), was the primary training area for space shuttle pilots flying practice approaches and landings in the Shuttle Training Aircraft and served as a backup landing site (Shuttle Columbia landed here on March 30, 1982). And I was able to witness the final flyover of the space shuttle Endeavour on its way it’s final home in California on September 20, 2012.  NASA’s Johnson Space Center, which has supported many missions, is a few miles from my home.   I watched as Endeavour circled over White Sands and the NASA facilities on Route 70 in a final goodbye, swung back over the assisted-living facility where my mother was at the time and then flew right over me as I stood on the dam and then turned toward the west.   I had tears in my eyes as I simply loved the space shuttle era! And this haunting video of the flyover brings tears to my eyes now!   I met Alan Hale, of Hale-Bopp Comet fame at the local co-op one day and had lunch with him on his next visit to Las Cruces from his home in Cloudcroft.  Who could have imagined that when I viewed the comet back in 1997 in New Jersey I would someday chatting with one of the discoverers! I also built a 4.5″ Dobsonian reflector telescope telescope one summer at a class sponsored by the Astronomical Society…and later had my scope signed by John Dobson himself when he visited the club!  And, the Spaceport which is waiting for Richard Branson’s commercial edge of space flights to become operable, is just a short distance away.

But even more important now is the fact that Clyde Tombaugh, who discovered Pluto,  lived and passed away here…and some of his ashes are aboard the New Horizons spacecraft! See Clyde Tombaugh: Astronomer Who Discovered Pluto, from Space.com.

Tombaugh was a founder of the local Unitarian Church and he is memorialized in a stunning stained glass window in the Tombaugh Gallery,  which houses a variety art exhibitions.

clyde_tombaugh_window_cropped

 

It was quite by accident (or was it synchronicity?) that I’ve reconnected with this Pluto mission. I’ve been clearing out a lot of old stuff lately…clothes, files, and all sorts of stray papers. Recently, I rediscovered a lost printout that I promptly restored to a prominent place in my office.

This single piece of paper reads:

NEW HORIZONS MISSION

Shedding Light on Frontier Worlds

Participation Certificate

Presented to

***********My Name************

On August 30, 2005

Thank you for joining the first mission to the last planet! A compact

disc bearing your name will be included on the New Horizons spacecraft,

set for the first voyage to a new class of planets on the solar system’s

farthest frontier.

Come with us as we complete the reconnaissance of the solar system and unlock

the secrets of Pluto, its moon, Charon, and the Kuiper Belt.

Certificate No. 277229

The timing couldn’t have been more perfect.  On December 6, 2014, NASA posted this update on the mission entitled “On Pluto’s Doorstep, NASA’s New Horizons Spacecraft Awakens for Encounter.”  (http://www.nasa.gov/newhorizons/on-plutos-doorstep-new-horizons-spacecraft-awakens-for-encounter/#.VLWz3HuW6oN)

After a voyage of nearly nine years and three billion miles —the farthest any space mission has ever traveled to reach its primary target – NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft came out of hibernation today for its long-awaited 2015 encounter with the Pluto system.

Operators at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., confirmed at 9:53 p.m. (EST) that New Horizons, operating on pre-programmed computer commands, had switched from hibernation to “active” mode. Moving at light speed, the radio signal from New Horizons – currently more than 2.9 billion miles from Earth, and just over 162 million miles from Pluto – needed four hours and 26 minutes to reach NASA’s Deep Space Network station in Canberra, Australia.

“This is a watershed event that signals the end of New Horizons crossing of a vast ocean of space to the very frontier of our solar system, and the beginning of the mission’s primary objective: the exploration of Pluto and its many moons in 2015,” said Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator from Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, Colo.

With a seven-instrument science payload that includes advanced imaging infrared and ultraviolet spectrometers, a compact multicolored camera, a high-resolution telescopic camera, two powerful particle spectrometers and a space-dust detector, New Horizons will begin observing the Pluto system on Jan. 15.

New Horizons’ closest approach to Pluto will occur on July 14, but plenty of highlights are expected before then, including, by mid-May, views of the Pluto system better than what the mighty Hubble Space Telescope can provide of the dwarf planet and its moons.

“New Horizons is on a journey to a new class of planets we’ve never seen, in a place we’ve never been before,” says New Horizons Project Scientist Hal Weaver, of APL. “For decades we thought Pluto was this odd little body on the planetary outskirts; now we know it’s really a gateway to an entire region of new worlds in the Kuiper Belt, and New Horizons is going to provide the first close-up look at them.”

January 15th!  With very little fanfare, New Horizons is going places where no spacecraft has gone before! It is happening right now!

In a January 5th article in Time Magazine entitled “ Hello Pluto! NASA’s Visit to the Mystery World Begins,” Alan Stern who has led the project writes:

It’s not exactly top secret, but it is too little known: this month, a small, robot spacecraft—built, launched and guided by a team of over 2,500 Americans—will begin the exploration of far-away Pluto and its five known moons. Lasting from January through July, this epic journey is very much the Everest of planetary exploration.

New Horizons already set records when it was launched in 2006 by becoming the fastest spacecraft to leave the Earth—reaching the orbit of the moon in just nine hours, about 10 times more quickly than the Apollo spacecraft did. Now, after traveling for nine straight years at an average speed of 39,000 m.p.h. (59,000 km/h)—equivalent to L.A. to New York in four minutes—it is at last approaching its historic rendezvous. No spacecraft has ever ventured farther—3 billion miles (4.8 billion km)—to reach its primary target.

At its closest approach, New Horizons will pass Pluto at a distance of just 6,000 miles (9,700 km). It will send back images at resolutions so high that if it were flying over New York City at the same altitude, it could count wharves on the Hudson River and ponds in Central Park. It will also take measurements of Pluto’s composition and atmosphere, study its moons, and more.

In 2003, the National Academy of Sciences ranked visiting the Pluto system at the very top of NASA’s exploration priorities. Why? Because in the 1990s, planetary astronomers discovered a vast structure in our solar system, a previously unknown disk of comets and small planets out beyond Neptune, called the Kuiper Belt. Pluto was the first of many small planets discovered out there, and it is still both the brightest and the largest one known.

The Kuiper Belt is the largest mapped structure in our planetary system, three times as big as all the territory from the sun out to Neptune’s orbit. The comets and small planets that make it up are valuable because they represent the astronomical equivalent of an archeological dig, reaching back to the era of planet formation, 4.6 billion years ago.

Nothing like the exploration that New Horizons is about to undertake has happened in a generation, and nothing like it is planned or even contemplated to happen again. It is likely the last time in our lifetimes that a new planet will be explored. This is more than scientifically important—though it certainly is that. It’s also a reminder of what American technology, culture and daring, on its game, can do.

So… my name and certificate number on a disc that is on a small craft…and the most amazing space mission to date!

To the edge of our solar system…and beyond!

My Horse Pilgrimage…Part 2: On the Trail of “My Inner Secretariat”

By NM-GRL

A year has gone by since my first post about “my horse pilgrimage.”  (Scroll down for Part I…).  It wasn’t supposed to be that way, but a series of  “hoof” issues kept me from focusing on doing it! Well, a year later….

So, now it is a little over 2 years ago since I’ve completed my pilgrimage, but the memories remain fresh and inspiring!

***

December, 2015.  It was very dreary and my mood was just as depleted. My mother was in hospice and there were clearer signals as to when she would pass on.   My days were full of  errands, visits and keeping up a cheery demeanor for her.  At night, I would be exhausted, physically and emotionally, and it was hard to settle down and get to bed.

For some reason I will never know…one night/morning at about 2 A.M., just before Christmas,  I went to Youtube and typed in the search box …”Secretariat.” To this day, I do not know why.

The first thing I came upon was a video of the 1973 Belmont, a grainy video with music (from Secetariat–the movie) posted by wyocalboy:

I watched it. I watched it again. And again. And, suddenly I was crying.*  Was it over the time that had disappeared, or was it because the magnificent power of that horse?

Over the following nights, I watched this video every night, multiple times each night.  And I began to realize that it renewed my spirit.  I began to talking to myself in terms of being carried forward by “my inner Secretariat.”   Secretariat came to embody endurance, strength, and the spiritual.  Secretariat became The Source.

***

My mother passed in early February 2016 a few days after my birthday. She passed at 4:18 P.M. and the wind passing through the pine trees outside of her window must have been her spirit. My father died at 4:18 P.M.  I was born at 4:18 P.M.

My mother was only a couple of months older than Secretariat’s owner, Penny Chenery, who would pass in September 2017.  Shortly after my mother died, a “new” video of the 1973 Belmont appeared on Youtube. The NYRA (New York Racing Association) had FINALLY released a full-color version of the race! It was a like a new day was dawning!!

After finishing up a lot of estate work and catching my breath, I decided to return to the East Coast for the first time in 16 years.  I was on the road for about a month and it was an epic trip!

I went up to Saratoga, New York just after the close of the season and enjoyed the National Horse Museum and a kind guard allowed me to take some pictures of the track from inside the gates. I trekked down to Monmouth Racetrack and was treated to a tour of the entire facility by a staff member. What a beautiful place!

IMG_7663 Saratoga Racetrack

IMG_8040 Monmouth Park

Then, came the biggest part of the trip…

I braved the traffic down I-95 to Doswell, Virginia the day after the State Fair of Virginia  closed.  It was rather bittersweet to see The Meadows turned into a carnival site.  Through the disarray, I toured the grounds with Leanne Ladin, the author of
Secretariat’s Meadow….she had even kept the life-size banner of Big Red up for me…and, he WAS big (for reference, I am 5’5” tall). The day I was there at his birthplace was actually the day when Secretariat passed, October 4. That realization literally gave me the chills.

IMG_8518“Twice the Heart”…

A few days later I was at Secretariat’s grave at Claiborne Farm, weeping unabashedly. As the group left, I lingered and the guide patiently listened to my story about my mom and what Secretariat meant to me. He took a rose from the bouquet lying on the gravestone and gave it to me…and I got it safely home. And I also shed a tear for Riva Ridge, who deserves credit for saving The Meadows, a fact that most people forget.

IMG_9567  IMG_9549

After the Claiborne tour, I dashed down the Paris Pike to Gainesway Farm. I had made an appointment to visit privately because I could not make it to their tour in time from Claiborne.  Of course, I saw Tapit…but my actual goal was to see the now unheralded Birdstone, who won the 2004 Belmont, robbing Smarty Jones of that year’s Triple Crown.  Birdstone…the sire of Mine That Bird! (another story about him coming!)

IMG_9623

Of course, I visited many other places around Lexington, Kentucky:  Keeneland Racetrack, Old Friends Equine for retired horses, WinStar Farm, Kenny McPeek’s Magdalena Farm, and The Kentucky Horse Park. The Kentucky Horse Park has a special place there which I will muse on in the future. Pictured below is Tinners Way at Old Friends, the last colt from Secretariat’s final crop…Sadly, he passed away in July 2017. I was so lucky to meet him as he enjoyed what would be his last fall.

IMG_8930Tinners Way

And then came the two and a half day trip home. And, along the way I stopped in Ruidoso, New Mexico, home of Ruidoso Downs and the All-American Futurity, the  “richest race for 2-year-olds in North America, regardless of breed.” (!!)

IMG_0310

I toured the fascinating Hubbard Museum of the West (formerly the Museum of the Horse) which is next door to the track.  And right outside, there is one of the largest sculpture installations of horses in the world, consisting of  eight horses, one and a half life-size, representing seven horse breeds — the Standardbred, Morgan, Arabian, Paint (mare and foal), Appaloosa, Quarter Horse, and Thoroughbred — as they gallop over the landscape.

Free Spirits at Noisy Water by Dave McGary

IMG_0093IMG_0103

IMG_0118IMG_0109

One year after I was on the road visiting the places where Secretariat and Riva Ridge lived, ran, and are laid to rest,  Penny Chenery passed away on September 16, 2017.

I am fortunate that Penny was still signing pictures and other memorabilia at the time I  started collecting and which I cherish today. My house has become a shrine to Secretariat, Penny, Riva, Tinners Way, and my beloved Mine that Bird, who, yes, has a bit of Secretariat in his blood.

And, now, happily, I have horses in my blood again…

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*That grainy video with the evocative soundtrack still makes me cry.

My Horse Pilgrimage…Part 1: Kelso, Carry Back and Sunrise County, My Childhood “Crushes”

By  NM-GRL

About one year ago at this time,  I had just arrived home from an epic trip that took me back to New Jersey for the first time in 16 years.  I saw family, of course, but a big part of my time was spent on my “horse pilgrimage.”

But this post is about where it all began…in the early 60’s when I was about 10 years old.

As a child, I never owned or rode a horse.  I was just a kid in the NYC suburbs in love with horses.  One time as I lay in bed sick, I learned to draw horses by tracing a small model over and over. I was very good at drawing the heads of horses.  At some point, we had a class assignment to create a travel poster and I chose Argentina as my destination.  The text read “Come to Argentina…and See the Gauchos!”  I drew a running horse with a gaucho with his hat and poncho moving in the wind which was quite good! I probably found a picture and sketched my gaucho from that example.

And then, something happened. I lost touch with horses.  I don’t remember if it was because the races weren’t on TV or I just got older and more involved with activities and school.

Fast forward about 55 years…yes, about 55 years or so…as I started to remember my horses from way back when.

As a kid, I remember sitting on Saturday afternoons glued to the old B & W Philco as my mom vacuumed around me. I wasn’t watching cartoons…I was watching racing from Aqueduct Racetrack.  I was devoted to the great Kelso, Carry Back, and a less famous competitor named Sunrise County.

Kelso

Kelso with Eddie Arcaro onboard

What can you say about Kelso?  Five times Horse of the Year. 2 mile races? 8 seasons of racing, 63 races, and post-retirement, a second career as a jumper and dressage horse! Stamina, to say the least!

And Carry Back…won the Derby and the Preakness but came up short of the Belmont back in 1961. Carry Back “the little brown colt from the wrong side of the tracks” was a one of those horses who you thought was so far back he could never catch up…but, well watch for yourselves! As a three year old, the Associated Press described him as being a “scrawny, little horse” and weighing no more that 970 pounds…Maybe, but he ran 61 times and was called the “People’s Choice.”

Carry Back

Carry Back

Sunrise County never had the fame and mystique of Kelso and Carry Back,  but he is still etched in my mind.  Hard to find anything on him, except for a video or two…below the 1962 Wood Memorial, where he earned a foul and was put back to 2nd place…and later in the Derby, he doesn’t show up in the video in contention.  Sunrise County ran 41 times, with 10 wins, 10 places and 9 shows.  Not famous, but one of those horses who worked hard and showed up and did his job!

So, through the decades, these are the horses that are still with me.

Enjoy the videos…Go back to the early 1960’s and pretend you are a kid on a Saturday afternoon watching the races!  Just turn off the cell phone…after all, we didn’t get interrupted by them back then…

Coming soon:  The next steps in my return to the horses…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s Sun Oven Season: Solar Cooking Revs Up!

By NM-GRL

At the Jersey Shore, Memorial Day weekend is the traditional kick-off of the summer season.  Here in southern New Mexico,  we ease into summer early, usually during May. And that’s when my solar cooking kicks into high gear!

The great thing about living in the Southwest is that I can use my Sun Oven all year long. In more northern climates the winter gray will curtail its use.  But, temperatures won’t stop you–so on a clear, sunny winter day, you can cook!

Here during the summer, when the sun shines down from high in the sky and the days are longer, I can use it to cook several meals in one day.  And, it costs nothing and doesn’t heat up the kitchen and make the A/C run like crazy.

I’ve had my Sun Oven for about a year and it’s fantastic. I bought it for “self-sufficiency.” This simple but well-engineered oven uses no electricity or gas and can cook, dehydrate, and pasteurize water.  Just the thing to have around if things get dicey if and when the dollar collapses under the weight of our national debt.

In the meantime, I’m just enjoying it for its own sake.  I have to say that this thing makes the BEST sweet potatoes (yams) that I have ever tasted! No need to candy them with extra sugar–they candy themselves.  So much better than baking in a regular oven, microwave or boiling them!!   In fact, all foods taste wonderful.  Seriously, for this alone the Sun Oven is worth having!

Side view of the oven

I bought my oven after attending a talk at our co-op given by the president of the company that makes them.  They are carefully designed and are so well insulated (with non-toxic materials) that they are able to keep food warm after cooking is completed, something most solar ovens can’t do.  The company has worked with NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and governments to fulfill their mission:

Our Mission

SUN OVENS International, Inc. is striving to develop and implement comprehensive solar cooking programs that will radically decrease the developing world’s dependence on fuel wood and dung as the primary cooking fuels while benefiting the environment, raising the standard of living and improving the health of the poor worldwide.

From ice fishermen in Minnesota baking their catch on a frozen lake to desert dwellers in Kuwait baking lamb,
SUN OVENS® are helping people everywhere!

“Everywhere” includes the following countries (click on the the links to find out the details about these efforts):

You can get all the details on how the ovens are built and operate at the Sun Ovens International site.

Here are some more pics of the oven:

Reflectors fully opened...

The oven is easy to carry when closed up...

Since the oven weighs only 21 pounds, it’s easy to carry and set up anywhere!  And yet, it’s big enough to roast whole chickens and a decent- sized turkey! There are loads of recipes here at the Sun Oven International site…but it’s easy to create your own and adjust them to cooking solar.

Aside from cooking the best yams ever, I like using my oven to make casseroles. I put some elbow macaroni in the bottom of a blue Pyrex baking dish that I’ve sprayed with cooking spray, add vegetables, and pour over diced tomatoes or broth.  After the oven is preheated (usually to about 350 degrees or even higher on extreme sun days), I pop the dish into the oven and walk away, except to check on where the sun is every half hour or so and move the oven slightly to catch the maximum light.   If I start a dish for dinner at about 3:30 p.m. I’m ready to eat by 5 or so and if I eat later, the food is still warm.  If I want to cook during the noon hour, cooking time goes way down…often to cooking times similar to those of a conventional oven.  You can even put your food in the oven before going to work and come home to a fully cooked meal!

Solar-cooked foods are extremely healthy, too, because you can cook without any oil.  Natural juices are retained and food is delectable!

The oven comes with a dark enamel pot and lid which  maximizes heat retention. But, if I want to check on the progress of a dish, a dark glass dish (red or blue) will do fine (especially for casseroles–see above).    It’s easy to tell when a dish is starting to cook…food smells begin to waft out of the oven and once condensation starts to form on the glass, you know that some serious cooking is underway!  If the dogs are out, they start to sniff the good smells, too!

Here’ are some pics of a dish I made the other day for dinner:  eggplant with onions, garlic and tomatoes over pasta.

Ready to start cooking...

Within 45 minutes, cooking is progressing nicely.

Serious cooking underway, lovely smells wafting...

Even though clouds cut into the sunlight later in the afternoon, the temperature in the oven stayed high enough to complete the cooking.

In addition to baking potatoes and making casseroles, I’ve baked bread and made pasta (warm up uncooked pasta in one container while water is being boiled, then dump the pasta into the hot water and continue cooking…).  It gives me a real kick to cook food “off the grid.”

As I write this, I have some yams cooking in the dark enamel pot. Here’s a pic of them nestled in, before being covered. I wash them and no extra water needs to be added. I use 4 binder clips to make the cover fit tightly, which helps them cook even faster. I don’t even prick them with a fork. Once done, they will be incredibly melt-in-your-mouth soft and sweet.  I have them at breakfast every day. Yummy! And the dogs LOVE them…

Yams ready to go...

I’m seriously thinking of getting another oven so I can cook and either bake, boil or dehydrate at the same time.  That way, if things get crazy and there’s a disruption of services, I’ll be able to put a meal on the table without a problem!

***

More info on worldwide use of solar ovens, testing various ovens, etc. at The Partnership for Clean Indoor Air site…

Starting the New Year on a Positive Note: A Tribute to My Favorite Car Dealership, SISBARRO VOLKSWAGEN!

~~By NM-GRL

(Cross-posted from InsightAnalytical)

UPDATE: Still in love with this VW Sportwagen in 2017!!  Went cross country in the Fall of 2016…perfect!!

***

During these tough economic times many businesses have to kick it up a notch in terms of how they treat the customers they DO have.  Then there are businesses that have been going all out all along…like my favorite car dealership SISBARRO Volkswagen here in Las Cruces, New Mexico!

The VW dealers I dealt with in NJ were pretty small outfits…like the defunct Princeton VW and the one I went to next, Hamilton VW.  And although Sisbarro VW is part of a larger organization, the VW store still maintains the homey atmosphere that is something special.

Sisbarro Volkswagen
Service at Sisbarro

Part of my loyalty to this organization, apart from the fact that I’m loyal to the VW brand, may be because it just so happens that the owner, Lou Sisbarro was born in NJ (across the river from where I grew up!) and that he gets back to the Jersey Shore (Lavallette) every year (… I have childhood memories of a week at Lavallete with my aunt and uncle and cousins one summer).

But that’s really just coincidental icing on the cake. The real story is that the folks at Sisbarro VW over the years have been great…and the last few months have been EXCEPTIONAL!!

It all started when we traded in our two Rabbits (Golfs again this year) for an end-of -the 2009 year Sportwagen.  Years ago, we had looked at a Jetta wagon, but it was a bit small, so we opted at the time for a Passat.  Since it was a turbo and my mother had so little mileage on it, we decided after 5 years that we might sludge things up because it wasn’t getting driven enough.  We both got our Rabbits, but now that my mother stopped driving, it was time to go to one car.  Luckily, VW reintroduced the Jetta wagon, this time as a totally redesigned Sportwagen…which, seems to be almost as roomy inside as the old Passat!

Of course, since they are in demand and it was the end of the year, our Sales Consultant Andy Gutierrez, had to initiate a search around the western region.  Andy and us go WAY BACK…he’s been at Sisbarro for 10 years and we’ve bought cars from him before.  And he may very well have been the person who helped us out on our first visit to New Mexico. At the time, we were driving a 1998 Jetta sedan and for some reason the trunk indicator light was staying on.  We stopped by the dealership and the problem was resolved…we had been slamming the trunk too hard!!

I longed for a white car but one that was available was pretty much sold. There were two others, one already in sales negotiations, so we decided to settle for the Reflex Silver, just like our old Passat had.  We reviewed the features and said OK!  We’d buy it sight unseen!!  (But, as a courtesy, Sales Manager Mike Tourtillott said we didn’t even have to sign the papers until we actually drove the car!) A customer with a Sportwagen was at the dealership by chance and graciously allowed us to try out the trunk…yes, a walker fit in it, no problem!  The owner, another VW buff, raved that it was the best VW he had ever owned.

Within a few days the car arrivedfrom Utah and it was gorgeous!!  We had a lot of laughs as we paid for the car…Finance Manager Ronnie Frietze has a talent for making the entire process of signing a zillion forms and handing over the check painless as he keeps the jokes coming!

When we sat down with Andy to review the car’s features, I wondered where the AUX input was.  This is the input used for things like MP3 players, etc.  MMMM…… In the center console there was a weird looking receptacle, which turned out to be an IPod cradle.  Panic. I don’t use an IPod and don’t want one.  Where was my little $30 Sylvania  MP3 player going to go??

Apparently, the normally wonderful VW engineers had had a few too many beers over in VW-land, because they had decided to get fancy and strike a deal with Apple to put in an IPod dock even though the first car reviews had said the base model Sportwagen had an AUX input!

OH, DEAR!!!!!

Now, I don’t go crazy listening to my MP3 all that much, but I did use it last summer when I drove the 300 miles up to Albuquerque and the radio dial seemed a bit empty out there in the wide open spaces at times.  Driving alone, it was comforting to hear SOMETHING playing (free classical performance I found on the internet). Besides, I had no use for the IPod dock whatsover.  I felt robbed!!

Well, I launched into a web search and lo and behold! Others had turned up the same problem, only in  a 2008 VW GTI.   And there were pictures to prove it!!  Here’s the page I found with lots of pictures and the solution to the problem:  http://www.golfmkv.com/forums/showthread.php?t=73447

But first, the folks at Sisbarro tried to find a fix through Volkswagen. The Parts Department, Dee Lerma and Jack Tellez, ordered official VW parts at Andy’s request, but they turned out to be converter kits for cars that had an AUX but not an IPod cradle. (Andy walked over to me with a bunch of cables and connectors, a sight to see!)  Along the way, another salesperson, Martín Torres, also tried to lend a hand.

At that point, I showed him the info I had found at the above site.  Andy called in Service Manager Theron Ledbetter.  At that moment, his very young son had a case of the H1N1 swine flu!  He was worried, of course, but still devoted himself to solving the problem that VW had created, not Sisbarro!  I investigated a few different aftermarket “fixes” but it all boiled down to something I found at Enfig Car Stereo…based, amazingly, in Carlstadt, New Jersey only a couple of miles from where I grew up!

Theron actually got on his phone and talked to the guys at Enfig directly to make sure the item would work in my car.  We had to make sure that, as an aftermarket product, it wouldn’t void my warranty.  Luckily, this little gizmo didn’t involve anything more that unplugging the IPod cradle and plugging in the adapter for the MP3 so there was no warranty issue, thank goodness!  Enfig sent the product promptly, but when Theron plugged it in, it didn’t work!  He was back on the phone with Enfig who promptly sent out a different brand.

VOILA!  The little plug in adapter worked perfectly and now all I have to do is tap the CD button on my radio, turn the MP3 on and listen.

Andy, Theron and Mike worked it so I didn’t have to worry about the cost of the unit so the issue was resolved!  I actually had called VW corporate and someone said that “the problem was being fixed” in the 2010 models…obviously, they must have seen some problems with just providing an IPod cradle at the expense of a AUX input that can be used for several other devices.

So, thanks to the crew at Sisbarro VW, I now have an AUX input and play my MP3!

And, much to my delight, I received a Christmas card from Andy thanking us for our continued loyalty.  Well, I have to say, I was very surprised. I think he also wanted to thank me because we had agreed to have a potential customer drive one of the Rabbits we were trading in…and which was sold along with the other immediately!

This whole incident was unusual, of course, but over the years I’ve always had great service at VW…so, I must also thank the folks in Customer Service, Tony Aquilar and Kevin Reed, who also made sure our new car was fully prepped.

And then there’s the lady who sits in a corner of the waiting room. Her title is “Office Coordinator” and she juggles everything from taking phone calls to handling bills.  This always friendly face belongs to Lisa Murillo, whom I snapped through the waiting room window (pic used with her permission):

The Friendly Face of Sisbarro VW

For anyone looking for great people to do business with in the Southern New Mexico area, I suggest taking a drive over to Sisbarro Volkswagen.  Not only will you find great cars, but you find a group of people who will take care of you needs and provide great service after you buy your car!

In this day and age, with so many stories about how people get treated badly, it’s really a pleasure to be able to recommend a great dealership and the great bunch of people who make it happen!

Sisbarro Volkswagen

1115 S. Valley Drive

Las Cruces, NM 88005

575-524-3561;  800-578-1670

(The Sisbarro Dealerships)

Fly Away Robin, Fly…Toward Spring! UPDATE 1X (new pic)

~~By NM-GRL

(Cross-posted from InsightAnalytical)

UPDATE   March 15, 2010

Robins faked me out….after being gone for several days….they were all back this morning hanging out!  This time I counted about 16…and got a pic of a large group frolicking in the bath!  I have no idea where they went off to…they must be floating around the area rather than sitting in my yard all day!  Still wondering why they are still here–unless the weather is cool enough for them and they also think further north isn’t so great yet!

***

Things have been very busy here, what with my trying to learn how to invest in the stock market with some new efforts at self-education and Slick’s bout with the vet-dentist and 10 days of tracking multiple meds.  He finished everything and his follow-up on Friday gave him the all clear, but he will have to have his teeth cleaned every year from now on.

When I came up for air on Friday, I noticed something curious.  A small flock of robins, about 12 in all that had been hanging around my yard, were suddenly gone.

Here in southern New Mexico, robins usually have come through the city lower down in the valley by the end of January, which is much more lush and a bit warmer. In past years we’ve seen a few up here (we’re maybe 1,000 higher in elevation) but most stay down lower and all pass through the area within a few days as they continue heading north.  We have had a couple up here that have overwintered in the arroyo over the last few years, but this year was not one of them.

So, it was quite surprising to see the robins appear in late February (instead of  January) and stay…and stay…and stay in the arroyo and my backyard!

A Robin Indulges…

At times about 6 robins at a time were crowded into the birdbath partying all at once!

This character was simply adorble…

Now it may not be such a big deal to most people up north, but down here this is a big deal for me.  Coming from New Jersey, I was used to seeing robins all the time but it’s so exciting to see them hanging out in my yard, which they never have done before.  But this is an El Niño year, so odd things happen!

So heads up, they’re heading your way up to all of you way up north!

Another odd sight I haven’t seen that often is this:  the peach blossoms open (way too early as usual in February), and snow on the Organ Mountains at the same time:

Peaches and Snow...

Meanwhile, this is the first spring that I’m using the porch that we enclosed last summer.  It’s doing exactly what I wanted it to do, housing all my plants in preparation for planting.  I buy “doubles” of plants and split them to get 2 for the price of one!  Several varieties of tomatoes, including a new one for me called “Solar Fire” which supposedly can take the heat, Ichiban eggplant, and basil which I still have to split, are all waiting patiently for things to get a bit warmer.   Now, I just have see if I can get pimiento peppers, my favorite for growing in these parts.

Waiting…

The geraniums started blooming well over a month ago and continue to look wonderful as we wait for official spring on March 20!