Happy Halloween!

The air here where we live is warm and dry. An East wind condition settled in earlier this morning and the temperature today reached into the 90’s. The evening was not as cool as it could’ve been, and it bordered on the uncomfortable–still, Peanut was out for her fifth Trick or Treat romp. Well, that’s not true. She went Trick or Treating for her first time in 02, so this was actuallly her fourth. She was rather an infant back in 01 and while I have a pic of her in an absolutely adorable Winnie the Pooh outfit with a big smile on her face, she didn’t do much candy munching.

Tonight, as has become our tradition of sorts, Aunt Laurie and I packed up little Cinderella, Scoop the wonder dog, an old squeaky radio flyer wagon and headed out while Sue manned the candy gifting station. An hour later, Peanut’s haul was impressive with the pumpkin bucket, her vessel of choice for the occasion, weighing nearly what she does. Lots of little Angels and Devils out, too–a statement which, when I look at it, has more truth than perhaps I intended.

All this after a day in which Peanut was gifted a hand-me-down of an old Barbie R.V. complete with disco floor fold out, speakers and a spa in the back. It came from an older girl whom we know, and today was spent in a sort of sugar stupor, reveling in the glory of her pre-school Halloween parade, Trick or Treating, helping mom set up last minute decorations and the Barbie R.V. Evidently, in the 70’s and 80’s, the marketing tool of choice was to put Barbie and her friends, the inestimable Ken at the wheel, in a gas guzzling R.V. to roam the countryside and stop, willy nilly, fold out the disco floor, turn on the mirror ball and start boogying. Nothing could have appealed to little girls of the age more, I suppose. One must remember that these were in the heady days of 75 cent gas and t-shirts that read, “keep on truckin'” and “Happiness is a full tank of gas!” My brother actually had one of those little beauties in his vast and expansive shirt collection. Doubt he remembers it now. What was it, I wonder, that made us fall in love with movement in the 70’s? CW McCall’s “Convoy” and even the Grateful Dead’s “Truckin'” as well as lesser versions of songs that all had to do with getting from here to there-as though the ultimate nirvana was being out on Interstate 70 driving down the front range of the Rockies, headed for Kansas. Sure, there’s something romantic in that, I guess–but out of all the romantic images one could conjure, it’s not really the highest on the list, is it? Besides, I would have thought that we got that out of our system back during manifest destiny, westward expansion, displacing Native Americans and all that.

Well…

Temps appear to be headed up again tomorrow, so short sleeves and sun screen will be the order of the day–and that’s November around here. It’ll be colder this July with the Pacific fog rolling in off the coast than it will be tomorrow. Still, Peanut will be fighting a sugar hangover and enjoying the fruits of the harvest, as it were.

Happy Halloween!

Wine and Whine

Well, a wine tasting today that was unique. I agreed to host a wine tasting for some friends of mine from church who were having a meet and greet at their house with an artist friend. It was really a nice, intimate little get together and the wines, all from down under, were quite good starting with a Kaituna Valley Sauvignon Blanc, then a Linden Estates Chardonnay–unoaked and really nice and light, and a Marquis Phillips Shiraz blend that was the hit of the day. The two whites were from New Zealand and the shiraz came from the Aussies. I won’t bore you with sommelier speak. Suffice to say I was really surprised. I thought the wines were not going to be all that good, but I was quite happily wrong and in fact, the Sauvignon blanc, my pick of the day, was stellar. Citrusy and grassy with a really nice long finish of sweet hay and some melon notes, it did not disappoint.

Tonight was a bit more important as I met with Cal Lutheran University’s campus pastor Melissa Maxwell-Doherty and some students from my alma mater to discuss sending a number of them to Biloxi to work with my church’s partner churches in clean-up and rebuilding. It was exciting to get the pulse of college kids again and feel their energry for a job that is so massive–but that needs people like them. The logistics are pretty rough including air travel, van rental, equipment and supplies as well as just basic necessities for each individual. However, all the kids seemed dedicated and wonderfully industrious and their abilities will be well used, I am sure.

Too tired, now–to write much or put much effort into an entry. The day was more full than an average work day for me and since it only ended at about 9:30, I’m still reeling from the usual tell-tale signs of exhaustion: sore feet and back, a glazed look over my eyes, a brain rushing through a million bits of information and an overly active thirst–yes, thirst. I get thirsty when I get busy and so I start gulping water.

Off to sleep. I’ll refresh for a more jocular post on the morrow….

A successful show…and even day.

So much was up in the air yesterday and indeed, it came to fruition that my guests Bill Niman and Barbara Smith were not able to be on the show. But it worked out just fine. I focused in on bad dining experiences and asked people to call in the show to discuss them. The far and away clear winner was a man named Alexi who, upon traveling in Mongolia, was served a piece of goat meat that still had hair on it. Yum.

Michael joined me just about half way through the show and we continued on the theme of bad dining experiences. He’s just about as good a radio host as you can get–and though he’s literally phoning it in from up in the mountains of Utah, he is as funny and useful as he could be. Cheers, old bean. We got more callers today than we have yet gotten on the show and it made the program more enjoyable, more focused and more interesting.

Meanwhile, Peanut is turning the corner and feeling a bit better. That croup really gripped her yesterday, but really for the last 3 days with sore throat and fever. Nevermind, though–she is coming through like a champ.

And now, I await the end of a Mary Kay party that my wife is hosting for a friend of ours. I’m glad it makes her happy to do such things, and as a loving and supportive husband, I take the child and we keep out of the way–inside, of course, my very bones cry out as I hear the laughter of women crowding around mirrors, make-up and such. It’s enough to make a grown man cry. Scream even. But of course, any scream I could summon would not match the cackling coming from the other room. So, sadder but wiser, I soldier on with Peanut–watching videos, playing with glitter glue and attempting to keep the dog from eating all the visiting dignitary snack-foods.

Today, though, keeping Peanut occupied meant diving into the local merchants of Camarillo’s annual Trick or Treat Fest along our main drag here in town. Shannon became Princess Aurora (Sleeping Beauty) in her beautiful pink dress, and we walked down the boulevard hand in hand. She got scared a couple of times by the adolescents who seem to take particular glee in making children cry with their over-the-top costumes, but ultimately, she got a pumpkin-load of candy and got to hang out with dad for a while. We sat on a bench along the sidewalk and shared a piece of candy.

Of course, since today’s show was about bad dining experiences, it would be wrong to let pass tonight’s little fiasco. Ottavio’s, the family style cliche Old World Italian restaurant here in town, usually serves up pretty decent grub. It’s higher priced than it needs to be–but, they have good fresh pizzas and their marinara is tried and true–as well as their meat sauce. Well, they overshot tonight and gave us an extra meal by mistake. They told me up front–and so, rather than eat my gnocchi with meat sauce, I gobbled down chicken parmesan.

Bad choice. The chicken had not been pounded out and the result was a thick breaded breast overcooked and dried out with a dash of the aforementioned marinara meat sauce and some cheese that had sort of congealed in the serving tray. As the Puritans might have said, “it weren’t good…” and I was disappointed.

That dish cost about $15.00–a bit more actually, and looking at it–I just cannot justify it. Now, Michael says I need to say something. And he’s right–what kind of food and wine guy would I be if I didn’t say something. So, here goes: “Dear dumb@$%…”

What…too strong? Probably so.

Let me think on it. I’ll get back to you.

…Back on Deck

Ah…Friday it is. Peanut’s fever and sore throat blossomed into full blown croup this morning, complete with seal bark cough, wheezing and general not-feeling-goodness. She is, however, on our regimen of medicines for just such an occasion including a little albuterol and pulmicort (she has “reactive airways” or, as I call it–asthma). Her fever appears to have broken and while still tired and cranky, she may have turned a corner, here. She’s been feeling punk since Wednesday and today was just the sort of…culmination of it. Her doc called to check on her and said just to follow the regimen. He’s a “no antibiotics” guy unless there’s a proven infection that isn’t viral. I respect that, but I confess to being a “medicate ’em and heal ’em” kind of guy. So, really I’m glad he is that way. My way would have her on antibiotics everytime she sneezed.

The show tomorrow should be worth hearing–if for no other reason than if I do have a guest, it will be Bill Niman or Barbara Smith. Niman is a farmer from up north with heavily organic leanings and Barbara is the PR director for Treana and Austin Hope winery. If either one is on (and that is up in the air) it will be a treat. If they’re not–then you get to listen to me do the thing solo. And that just may well be pathetically funny. If worst comes to worst, I’ll call Michael if he’s available and banter with him for half an hour or so. He’s a great cook–a funny guy and quick witted. He makes good radio–as I knew he would when I pitched the idea to have a show with both of us back when he lived here. Of course, they gave me the show—and then he moved away. Nice.

Fall has settled in now as the night air gets chillier with a lot of gray skies these past couple of weeks. We even had a bit of rain this week, though it was much more the Southern CA variety, you know–not much of it and no thunder or lightning as we had a couple of weeks ago. That is always rare, here.

Wine tasting this weekend for a private party as I pour some Australian and New Zealand wonders. It’s an artist release celebration with a little wine to go along with it, so I am more of a waiter than anything else. That’s why I don’t do that as a job–but merely to help out friends. When it comes down to it, I’m no waiter. Besides, if I am on my feet for more than half an hour at a time? Oy, my aching back!

Happy Friday to you.

Peace

One assumes that on a Thursday, driven toward the end of the week, that one will simply–cruise to Friday. And, further–one assumes that Friday will be a day of relative ease. In my case, the classroom on Friday is full of sort of catch-up activities–making sure notes are in order, putting last minute touches on journals from earlier in the week, catching up on ideas that aren’t quite formed in students’ mushy skulls…that sort of thing. Perhaps, even–the much vaunted “lesson plan in a can,” a film.

Well, tomorrow is such a day in that way, but for me–it is also the day when I start piecing together the Saturday radio show in earnest. During the week, I’ve contacted potential guests, written down some notes, discussed with my wife some ideas–and generally talked about what I am going to do so that it feels like it will be something.

In other words, it seems–Friday is a day of being less than doing. Even in my busy Yearbook class, Friday is the day the students meet (or–not) their deadlines. Once the deadlines are met, they review it, read it, proof it–and commit it to the pages.

I like days of being. I like having a busy, scattered, hither and yon week that somehow wraps itself up–a little package—waiting to be opened and enjoyed, sipped, if you will. Quaffed down like a fine and smooth beverage whose purpose is none other than to remind you that you’re alive–and that while scattering hither and yon during the week is necessary–and even fun, there are things that are more important. Faith, family, friendship, rest, calm and the small, focused tasks that make a home a home.

Peanut went to see the doc today. He thought she might have strep and so he cultured her throat. It turned out negative which means its probably a virus and he gave us the means with which to make her comfortable and happy. She, angelic creature, was wound up tight as a drum when the fever broke. But the bags under her eyes gave her away and the giggles she developed before bedtime were further evidence that, while feeling better, she needed to go to bed. So–she is there now.

And that’s my peace, my calm. Knowing she’s OK, that the week is winding down successfully, that the house is clean, the dog groomed, the homework done and that my family is well–or soon will be–is a kind of peace that I’ve never known before.

Crazy Making

I have been displeased with Fed Ex since I began my Katrina relief effort work and found them most unhelpful. On Foxnews, their CEO was on saying that they were discounting rates and delivering to the hot zones that needed help most. Well, that’s what he said…

I called to see if I could get a ground freight shipment of 8 pallets of goods to Biloxi. “Oh no sir.” I was told. “We aren’t going to Biloxi right now.”

“Oh,” I replied. “Your CEO is all over TV saying that you are…Perhaps someone should tell him that he’s wrong.” Nervous laughter on the other end of the line. And then…

“No–I don’t think anyone is delivering to Biloxi. It’s too hard hit.”

“Yes indeed,” I replied. “There’s probably a real market for someone who might want to say….deliver some items to help those people out, don’t you think?” Nervous laughter again.

Well, not only weren’t they delivering but as far as I know, they still aren’t. In any event, the no one delivering there part was patently false as the very next morning, an ABF freight truck came and picked up our pallets and delivered them happily. I used them again the second time we delivered as well.

So, here we are today after my usual confusion and morning cobwebs combined with my total lack of ability to understand directions and I, as our school’s yearbook adviser, had to overnight a small package that contained our CD of cover art for the yearbook to the publisher. Here’s the good part: The publisher provides everything–the envelopes, airbill, account number–all of it. All I have to do is call FedEx and schedule a pick-up. What you need to know is that the publisher is in Missouri…and that the automated voice system, designed to handle simple things like…scheduling a pickup, didn’t understand me when I wanted to, well….. schedule a pickup. So, it transferred me to a real live FedEx employee–a bastion of goodness and light in the corporate courier jungle. The following is not embellished. At all. Seriously. No, really. Stop! Just read…

Fedex: Thank you for calling Fedex, how can I help you?

Me: Well, I’d like to schedule a pickup.

Fedex: No problem, I can help you with that. Do you have an account number?

Me: Yep–it’s xxxx x xxxx

Fedex: One moment please……….(interval here was probably an hour and a half). OK.

Me: Ah, you have it?

Fedex: Yes sir. You’re in Missouri?

Me: Um. No. California.

Fedex: No sir-this account number is for a company in Missouri.

Me: I know. That’s where I am sending it.

Fedex: No sir, I don’t think you understand. You must be in Missouri.

Me: (here I paused. Obviously another tack was in order. I pulled in close reef and aimed a different direction.) Ah. Well, I don’t feel like I’m in Missouri. Hang on. Yeah–the cars outside in the parking lot all have California license plates–with the exception of that one car from Washington…splitter! And, though it is rather gloomy outside–I read the weather report for the west coast and it said this was the weather. Plus–and this is the part I am sure of—my wife and I bought a house here in California a few years ago and our daughter, who was born in California, has never left the state. And she’s here in town with me. I mean, I don’t want to be disagreeable–but unless you’ve got some hard proof, I’m not ready to accept that I’m in Missouri.

Fedex: Laughter (Here, I thank God. She could have hung up. She was a good egg—though slightly, well, controlling. Especially when it comes to geography it seems). Ah…Ok..you’re sending it to Missouri? Well, that’s all you needed to say.

Me: I…well—I said. Um…..OK. You’re right. Sorry to confuse you. Yes, I am sending this package from California, where I am currently (though one never knows what with natural disasters, hand of God, war in the Mideast and all) to Missouri…..

So–that has been my Fedex experience. I get that they do stuff on time and that they aren’t the most expensive courier on the block and that Tom Hanks played a Fedex employee. I know all that. But, I wonder if they could, well–you know, develop some customer service instead of this, “We’re Fedex–do what we say and nobody gets hurt” routine. Just wondering.

Peanut woke up with a fever this morning. No other symptoms. They call that idiopathic fever. It’s a great medical term that means, “we have no idea why this is happening–but we’ll name it this because it sounds so definitive.” Not definitive at all, really. In fact, it’s rather–indefinite. Well, anyway–she’s still feeling punk, but the fever is down. She hit the hay an hour or so ago.

A longish day with many twists and turns. But, fact is–that’s how I like my days. The not knowing is the fun part–and the reaction to all of it is the more fun part. It’s exhausting, but that’s why God invented Port. Oh–and beds. Good night.

Family Farming, Family Vineyards

One of the things that draws me to the wine and food world so keenly is that it’s a business unlike any other because the aspirations of those involved generally do not lean toward large corporations and profit margins. Please don’t misunderstand, everyone wants to make a profit in their business–but family farms and vineyards are the ones that so many consumers want to buy from. Don’t believe me? Go see your own local Farmer’s Market on a Saturday morning, weather permitting, and see for yourself.

It’s not that the corporate giants don’t do it well at all. Shopping at Vons or Ralphs or any of them one can find myriad specialty items. It’s just that when we want something a cut above, particularly with regards to produce or meat, it’s not the supers we go to. We know we can get good quality there. That isn’t the issue. But when we want superior quality–aged unprocessed meats, organic produce that’s more than just a name, dairy products that are fresh–we look to the small grocer or family farm.

The same is true for wines, of course. Perhaps it’s even more so. Small, artisan wineries turn out better products by and large than do large super wineries more interested in quantity. The price will be higher for the artisan wine, no question. But the quality is there and that’s what’s so enticing.

My friend Barbara Smith from Treana Winery is once again hosting a family farm and vineyard dinner pairing in Paso Robles, CA on November 6th. I cannot be there, but I am in the process of trying to cajole her onto the show. If I’m successful, this Saturday’s program will focus on artisan, handcrafted wines and locally grown, fresh produce. And it may well be the one I’ve been most excited about yet.

All the usual things…

For a Monday. I’m looking for topics for the weekend show and grading papers and talking to my wife and playing with the controls on the new spa and ichatting with Michael and re-designing sections of the blog and trying to get more voice over work–and…so this isn’t a very long post. I’m done feeling guilty about it–you may, if you wish, leave a nasty comment telling me how selfish and fettered I am. I’ll have none of it. Well, OK, some of it–but not all of it.

I’m toying with doing a callers only show where we talk about specifics in food and wine and answer questions. I’d also like to cover more in the “kids and food, kids and alcohol” line because it seemed to garner a response.

I’d like your input. If you get a chance, drop me a line by commenting here and let me know your thoughts.

Meanwhile, no news is good news. I have no comment on things political, atmospherical, meteorological or otherwise. Hurricane in Florida looks bad–though it appears not as bad as the gulf coast got hit with Katrina. Our church’s relief effort is ongoing and growing and Biloxi is still in need of real assistance. If you’d like to help out, check out the link on the blogroll to reliefconnections.org or here.

Happy Monday to all.

A walloping day

Indeed. Got a chance to go in with the VIP’s and see Air Force one, tail number 27000—the old 707 that President Reagan used (as well as many other Presidents, including Clinton). It was an astounding experience walking through what is really quite a small cabin. The new 747’s are far more Presidential. The President’s flying office in this one is smaller than my old dorm room desk.

The funny thing was seeing the communications center which is really the first major area as you walk in on the right side of the cabin in what would otherwise have been “first class” in an airliner. There was an impressive array of lights, switches and gear–but at the heart of it was an old lap-top that was probably 5 inches thick and it said, “486”on it. Ah, the good old days.

Unfortunately, for a number of reasons, the family did not come with me so it will be incumbent upon me to bring them back there. The Reagan Library is down the street from our friends the Wolfe’s house and it is a mere 15 miles from my house. It’s a wonderful place. I wrote about it last December over on Brotherblogger. I’ll have a few pics to post as soon as Scott W. sends them to me.

The evening did not go as well. My father in law, who has a habit of drinking, shall we say, inappropriately, as well as a number of other things–and Sue, got into a row tonight that was hurtful and deep. For the sake of decorum and protecting my family, I’ll not go into much detail, but suffice to say, Sue has had a rough night ending in her drafting a letter of 3 pages to her dad (well….I helped). The letter was pretty plain and pretty gut-wrenching, but its contents were needed. I hand-delivered the thing myself and spoke to Dave in specific terms while being kind. His behavior has not been fatherly–nor grandfatherly–in any real and meaningful way.

This is, of course, the tyranny of alcohol. As a sommelier, a person who drinks wine and beer on a regular basis, I cannot be too forceful about this. Alcohol’s properties as a drug are addictive to some people and even if they’re not, they can be a true force of evil, bringing out behavior, statements, actions and comments that would not have otherwise been said. If you’re a young person reading this–take warning. Being out of control of your faculties is not a meaningful goal.

A week ahead of Civil War literature and history for my classes. A lot of fun to teach, but powerful as well. Ambrose Bierce, Michael Shaara, Jay Winik and even some of the people who were there: James Longstreet, Ulysses S. Grant, Abraham Lincoln, Mary Chestnut and Robert E. Lee. A brutal, unthinkable war that was visited upon this country at the time when it was least prepared for it. Death visited this land wholesale on a scale so vast, it still dwarfs other conflicts even today.

One can only hope that perhaps someday….we will learn.

OK, that sounds preachy. But then, it’s late–and I’ve seen enough of my own conflict today. So, I’ll let it stand.

Miles to go…

I never really get interested in the baseball season until the playoffs and then I start watching. It was fascinating to me to see the Chicago White Sox make the playoffs and now the Series. As a former Chicagoland resident, it’s neat to see an old hometowner in there–especially since that hometowner has not been there in 88 years.

I’m actually watching the game as I write this trying to set aside the effects of too much Mexican food from one of our favorite little local places for dinner. It’s 4 to 3 in the Sox’ favor and it’s the top of the 8th inning. Cotts just struck out one and now Mike Lamb is up for the Astros. Makes no sense reading this now, I know–by the time most of you see this, the game will be well over and this won’t even be trivial anymore. It’ll be useless.

Such is the nature of information now that we travel so amazingly quickly, that 10 minutes seems an awful long time to wait for results of any kind. About the only industry where this is not true, of course, is the medical profession. Most of those answers come back weeks later and when they do come back, it’s a message on your answering machine asking you to call your doctor back–but you don’t get the message until Friday evening around 5:01 P.M.

Bone deep tired tonight. Last night was the first that Sue did not wake up with an asthma attack in seven nights. I got up with her everytime it happened and from last Saturday to last Tuesday, that was as much as five times a night. I feel as though I haven’t slept. Even when all was over and I climbed back into bed, it wasn’t as though I quickly drifted off, secure in the warm bedclothes against the pacific fog. No, I’d lay awake praying a bit for Sue and saying one for my daughter in the meantime. Sleep came, but in fragments and moments–like fits of much needed sustenance, broken by the demands of urgent need. Asthma is such a chaotic condition. It doesn’t respond to quiet moments by being quiet. It responds when it wants to in a storm of coughs and gasps that seem to take its victim by surprise. If asthma were a general, it would be Nathan Beford Forrest.

So, the blanket of night has come. Along with Michael, I’m still working on this site to make it even more appealing. Some new design stuff is coming soon. But being awake right now is a matter of sheer will. It’s Bunker Hill, Gettysburg, Iwo Jima and Normandy wrapped into one. But like those battles, it’s a desire to see it through. As Robert Frost said, I have “miles to go before I sleep…” And so I do.