The good and the bad.

The trip to the Sequoias was beautiful. As we rose in altitude, the already mild temperatures grew cooler, the air thinner, more pure and the scenery more lush, more verdant.

We had never been to the Sequoias before, but Conni, our exchange student, had. She traveled to the US with her family last summer and they camped up in the mountains between Sequoia and Yosemite National Park. She was our tour guide and we took a small hike around the grove where General Sherman stands.

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We breathed in the cool air, while the snow blanketing the ground was slowly melting. The temperatures were around 45 or 50 degrees and the snow in the high branches slowly fell from its perches softly among us. We stopped along the road up the treeline to take pictures near Moro Rock and see the sites. There were views everywhere. Shannon, who gets car sick on occasion, especially on windy mountain roads, rode up front and did fine.

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Pay no attention to the date stamp. My dad has not set his camera properly, so the date stamp has no meaning.

We spent the day among giants, watched a short National Park Service film on bears at the visitor center and after hiking, watching, spending the day in awe-we headed down the hill. Our first stop was to return the chains we had to rent because the government says so–and for which we paid $75. For rental. I don’t want to talk about it–mainly because the cost of it now seems trivial by comparison.

We met my dad and step-mom for dinner in Tulare at the Black Bear Diner and it was a nice end to the brief interlude. Into the car again for the roughly 3-hour drive home. It was around 6 p.m. when we headed south on Highway 99. But about 10 minutes into the drive, the check engine light came on.

I won’t belabor the point–within just a few minutes of the check engine light, the dashboard lit up like a Christmas tree. And then the car stopped. There was nothing. Breaks worked, steering was no longer power steering, but it got me to the side of the road. 6:30 p.m, Sunday night–five of us stranded on Highway 99 in Pixley, Calif.

Sigh.

Cell phone. Triple A. Flat bed tow truck within 20 minutes. We rode in the car as he drove us back to Visalia where there is a Hyundai dealer. Called dad, who lives in the town-he met us there. We transferred gear to my step-sister’s car–went back to the hotel.

Missed school Monday. Rented a car and drove home. Today, one week later, we picked up the car. An oil gasket cover leaked oil onto the alternator-killed it. So…

$182 for towing.

$200 for two hotel rooms.

$173 for one-way rental mini-van.

$130 for rental car at home from Monday through Friday.

$740 car repair.

Two tank fulls of gas to drive up and meet dad above Bakersfield to pick the car up.

And now home. Shannon is sick this weekend–a fever, probably a virus–something like that. Long day. Long weekend.

Nothing poetic about it.

Onward.

Not Quite the Black Dog

Often on a Friday, I’ll get a bit euphoric at the thought of a weekend. It seems fitting that with a three-day weekend upon us, I’d fill it with true kick-up-the-heels, gas bag happiness. That would be the right and honest thing-three days without serious obligation and time with the family and with friends. That would be the honorable thing. The good thing.

But I’m not.

And it’s not that I’m seriously melancholy, either. I don’t feel well, so that’s where it starts. Caught whatever was going about last weekend and my lungs feel as though they’ve been slaked through tar and molasses and the act of simple existence for them is harder than anything. So, it’s not melancholy, per se. It’s lung-butter and I’ll give you that.

Yes, it’s also true that I’m still trying to manipulate my neck back to a reasonable state and I think I’m almost there–but it’s not back to where it was, yet and so that too adds to the gloom and cloudy sky.

Restlessness is not a quality to emulate if one can avoid it, yet I find that is where I am. It goes with the previous post of the ambiguity of the rhythm of this time of year. For one thing, the seniors whom I teach and whom I have become fairly close to are leaving. They’re graduating and I’m going to miss them. They’re great kids and they’re among the best I’ve had the privilege of having in class. That’s my Composition and Shakespeare group and every year, it’s just such a joy to get to know them. Then, they go away. Like dreams that slowly recede into the night as you rise into the day.

There’s the summer-time to consider. An odd time. A regrouping time that allows me to think hard about my teaching career while I pursue the writing career with earnest and ambition. These past three years, the writing career has taken precedent over so much else and so I’m just riding the wave, while trying to keep the wave going.

The chimneia broke today. Sue was trying to move it and it had gotten a bit too wet in the recent light rains that fell, so it wasn’t quite prepared for the move. It snapped off a clay leg and then the bottom dropped out. I loved that chimneia. I would light fires and sit on the patio and stare into them for hours, sipping wine, making small talk, scheming my big plans. It was a great way to just retreat into myself. No more. We’ll replace it, of course. But it’s just a moment that’s gone, that’s all.

Still, there is nothing of note to keep me from returning to glad tidings and euphoria. These are but peddling little monkeys that seek to stumble an otherwise smooth path and they aren’t the end of the world. I’m a fortunate man and I’m aware of that.

But pedal they do and so perhaps one alternative, one I’m advancing just now, is to allow the feeling to sit for a day and an evening and simply share it. It will not be the predominant feeling, it won’t be the Black Dog about whom I’ve written so much. But maybe it will be his smaller, lighter brown cousin. Either way, it’s a chance to embrace the moment and that is a thing over which I will revel.

And then I’ll let it go–to see what tomorrow brings.

Peace-

Snarky Tangents

I’m finding it very hard to see the downside. OK, yes, the state of California is circling the drain and has been for a couple of years. One good flush and it is all over. And yes because of this, I took a 5% plus cut in pay in my job as a high school English teacher, a job which many of us think is the most important one in the world–and one about which I am under no such delusion. But, it’s also true that the paycut, unlike many that have been making the rounds these days, came with furlough days.

Now, the furrowed brow crowd among teachers, particularly the union activist types–of which there are many and their self-importance rather speaks for itself–were lamenting, “oh, we have a paycut. Oh, now we have to have furlough days. Oh this just isn’t right. What about the children?” And I duly ignored them…

Because first of all, we are amazingly fortunate that we get paid a living wage to work about 9 months out of the year. I’ve always felt that way, even in my liberal days. That’s one reason I became a conservative, you know? Conservatives are far more optimistic folks. I know, I hang out with both.

Anyway, secondly, we did indeed take a pay cut. We work, ultimately, for a public entity–the government. So what, everyone else in the country should suffer but teachers should not? I said that I don’t know how many times. And what I get from my colleagues is amazement that I am willing to say such things. “So, you think education isn’t that important?” Actually, I think it very important. But no more so than any other job which provides a living for individuals. I’m all about individuals. They make up the world.

Also the argument about “the children” is specious at best. Ultimately, I’m my daughter’s best teacher, my wife and me. That’s true of every parent and it would be nice if they would learn that and lose the entitlement feeling of “education is your job, not mine…” I never understood that even when I didn’t have a child. Now that I have one, i cannot imagine saying to any teacher–even the very fine ones my daughter has had the privilege to have, “you teach her, that’s not my job.” If for no other reason, I don’t want my child believing a good portion of the plonk that so many teachers call education. Please don’t tell my daughter, for example, that the “earth is sick, and it needs us to help save it.” Quite simply–no, it doesn’t. And if you believe that, two things: 1) You’re a moron. And 2) You got into teaching so you could tell people what to think? What happened to teaching them how to think? Let’s go with that, shall we?

I know, I’m being snarky. Snarky is something I do quite well when I write, actually. My wife says it’s something I do well when I’m not writing. But let that go.

So, what I’m left with is a whole week off at Thanksgiving. No, I’m not being paid for it, but it gives me more time to write which I am dutifully doing. Got a couple of fun assignments and may even get some more about which I am ever so excited (channeling my inner “Dug”). I get to spend time with my family most of whom are getting healthy and feeling better. I get to sleep in a bit. I get to eat a lot of turkey and side dishes made with care and passion by my beautiful wife. I get to watch TV–and I mean watch it, not just have it on which I often do–but I don’t often watch it. I get to see a movie or two. I get to take Scoop the wonderdog for long walks. I get to wash the cars–maybe. I want for nothing, actually.

So, furlough days are my idea of a good time, gentles. I’m pleased. We’re all stuck in this lousy economy. You can blame who you’d like and maybe we’d see eye to eye on it, maybe not. Either way, as my pal Roger says, “it is what it is” and there is precious little you can do except fight your way through it as best you can–and stop and smell the flowers. They won’t last forever.

Oink

The mythology around swine flu is arguably as powerful as any. The media has hyped the illness so much that we are to believe that everyone around us is dying and that there is no hope. It’s rather frightening. But for the past couple of weeks, I’ve been watching as the bug has made its way around our school and it is taking kids out on a daily basis. Mind you, none of them have died–not one. In fact, I’d be hard pressed to tell you of a local case of swine flu where anyone has died. I certainly hope it remains that way….

Because Peanut was diagnosed with it today. When it rains, it pours. She spiked the fever last night of about 102 degrees and that fever has continued today. She was nauseated and vomiting this morning, but that ended relatively quickly and as I write this, she is upstairs eating goldfish crackers in bed with her mom. She got hungry–after she got tired.

The reality met with the mythology today and the mythology didn’t stand up all that well, but it’s enough to still frighten and terrorize the imagination. Peanut has the “classic” symptoms in a fever that spikes and breaks, spikes and breaks. The constants are lethargy and a sore throat, a bit of a sour stomach and extraordinary exhaustion. Peanut is not a napper–hasn’t been since she was 4. Heck before that, she wasn’t much good at it. I’d be hard pressed to pinpoint a time when she got sick that she ever took a nap.

So, when today she slept for two and a half hours, it was apparent that she was truly not feeling well. And even with that nap, she wanted to go to bed by 7:30 tonight, though as I say, she’s hungry and she’s eating right now.

The month of October was rough on my girls and November isn’t starting out a lot better. We’re in hopes that we can change that and get into holiday mode soon. I’m actually thankful that this is happening now–and not a month from now.

Once again, if I may be so bold, I’ll ask for your prayers and thoughts for Peanut–and for Sue as she continues to convalesce. And I’ll bid you a very good weekend.

Not so bad…

Heat today–lots of it. But I have family in Phoenix and they read this and my guess is before they even get this word, they’re cursing me and calling me namby pamby and all the rest. And they’re right. It was maybe 88 degrees today. A bit humid, so it feels higher but the evening is cooling down and it’s not so bad. I’m happy to live where I do–and Sue and I chose this place very much on purpose. We’re on the coastal plain and the heat that hits here–will hit here–the 100 degree marks, come later this fall, September and October when the winds pick up and blow the desert heat here. Blech….

Scoop followed me around the house tonight for a time. He seemed to need reassurance. I spent some time on Skype talking wine and he lay in the room with me. This is not usual for him and so, I paid attention. He’s fine–but I think at times, he just gets a little needy. Don’t we all?

We didn’t do church today as is our wont and it allowed a freedom in the schedule we’re not used to. Last night was the Kingsmen Shakespeare Company’s performance of All’s Well that Ends Well and so we took Peanut, packed a picnic and watched the show. But we weren’t home until after 11:00 and so, all tired, we slept in a bit today, went out for breakfast and then the girls just sort of did their thing.

I however led my first set of solo tours at the Commemorative Air Force Wing here at the airport. I did a pretty good job and only forgot the name of one airplane, so I feel alright.

It’s a humbling place to be, the CAF Museum and Wing. The history inside those hangars from the Soviet Yak 3 to the Japanese Zero to the hallowed F4F Hellcat-is such a wonderful thing and a constant reminder that our freedom came at a very steep price. Part of being in the CAF is keeping that memory alive. It’s a good thing to do.

My big project for the wing is to set up a gathering of all the WWII pilots living in Ventura County and bring them over to the Museum for the community to come, meet them, share some stories, get some photos and create a true touchstone of American history before it completely passes away. It’s a big project–but I feel up to it and excited by it. If you’re interested in joining us, let me know—I can always use a little help.

Welcome to the Upgrade

Thanks to Jason, a man with a plan, we are back up without spamming. Wow! I was getting over 200 hits a day in the comments section of purely nasty nonsense spam. It was ugly and I was helpless to stop it. Jason, however, was not helpless to stop it and so here I am. So, I have upgraded to the latest and greatest wordpress and I’m toying with changing the design for no other real reason than that I can. We shall see.

Tonight was lovely. Our friends Larry, Jody, Bill, Ellen, Cyndi and my brother Doug, Aunt Laurie and Sue and I all went to The Cave in Ventura and enjoyed an evening of wine and food par excellence. I’ve written about the Cave before, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention here how great was the food–the pork tenderloin with apple chutney, the “drunken” hangar steak with herbed mashed potatoes, the chicken and mushroom strudel and so much more. Oy.
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The wines were wonderful, powered by the ever brilliant Saintsbury Pinot Noir from the Carneros region. I confess, I’m still partial to the Santa Rita Hills for my pinot, but this was pretty good.

Christmas is upon us, all is well–all is bright. All is less spammed and I’m feeling pretty good about that. It’s going to take a while to get used to this format. It looks different than the old version and I’m not as clear on all the particulars, but it’s far more attractive to look at than the old screen (in the editing and adding of new posts, that is) and there are a lot of tools right at my fingertips which is great.

Anyway. I’m off for the evening. And a Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

Two Weeks to Go

So, I’m watching Joe Biden speaking after hearing Sarah Palin. Make no mistake–she kicks his ass every which way but loose. Her entire sound-byte was about how untried Obama is–in Biden’s own words–in International Crises.

What’s Biden talking about? How much George Bush’s financial policies have ruined the nation and how McCain is George Bush. Let’s look at that because I’m going to go with Palin’s speech as a given. She’s right. Biden said himself that Obama is untested.

But Biden is standing there talking about Bush’s “failed economic polices.” I’m not even going to link it for you–I think you can do it yourself. Why are we in the mess we’re in? Well, some politicians–Republicans included, mind you, thought that everyone in America deserved to own a home. So, they started Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, two agencies funded by the US Government to allow people to get liar loans–loans that they knew they couldn’t afford, to buy homes. They were told that housing prices always go up, never down. They were told that they could re-fi once they got their adjustable rate loans. Yes–let’s look at how well that worked out.

Who was that, by the way? Yes, that was Barney Frank and the Democrats who wanted that. Now, the economy is in a mess and make no mistake–both parties share blame. But what did President Bush do? What did John McCain do? Oh, alright: Here. Here’s what they did.

‘Nuff said.

Updating the Rant

Thptpthpthpthtppththpp…..Etc. Air out of tires and all that. Apologies for the lack of updates since the venerable tequila post. I simply ran out of time in the day. No kidding. First week back to school for both me and Peanut, working very hard to meet today’s deadlines for the project that must not be named (I made the deadline and will know if I made it to phase 2 tomorrow), and trying to drum up some other freelance work as well. It’s been a busy week. Top it off with tonight’s excursion to a Mexican restaurant where I ate and drank too much and you have a recipe for…well….malaise.

So, it was malaise that propelled me to sit through and watch reaction to the Obama-mania speech. He revved ’em up, no question. I caught the end and then the analysis. It was a spectacle that I have to believe the Dems fear did exactly what I think it did do which was highlight the fact that this man is all style and no substance.

The speech was typical Democrat fare: “Your life sucks, you should count on us to make it better. And, oh yeah–Bush sucks, too.” Old. Tired. Hackneyed. But, lots of pep and style.

Obama will definitely get a bump, but it won’t be huge. And when it comes right down to it, tomorrow is a new day and also a day in which John McCain will announce his running mate. The fact that he is making the announcement in Ohio leads me to hope, though not necessarily to believe, that it is John Kasich who will get the nod. If that’s the case–it is, in my opinion, a brilliant move.

The Presidential race is in play in a big way and the Democrats simply have to be concerned that for all the pomp, all the money and all the hoopla–they still don’t have that much to work with. Their candidate is weak and his V.P. pick was uninspired. Obama can talk about change all he wants–but what he represents is very simple: If you like a country under the leadership of Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and the Dems in congress, then vote for Barack Obama–because he’ll sign all of their legislation. If, on the other hand you want real change, the kind that will A) make your life better because it will allow you to choose what you want to do and B) will work hard to protect you against the growing threats of a world filled with murderous terrorists and totalitarian governments on the march yet again. That’s it.

It is now–and always was–an easy decision. Pro-life, pro-responsibility, pro-America, pro-growth, pro-McCain.