Auld Lang Syne

I always wanted to know what that meant. Anyway, here it is the end of 2005. In many ways, it’s been a rough and difficult year, obviously. The war has claimed many lives. I continue to believe, however, that the war is correct and that it is going better than most in the MSM have said. Politics in general, if you’re interested in such things, can be seen at the brotherblogger site.

05 saw Peanut turn 4 and begin life as a “big girl.” This year, she basically learned to take her own bath or shower (with supervision, of course), dress herself, sleep in a big girl bed–and most importantly, it saw us travel together. Traveling with Peanut has become the highlight of her mother’s and my life. We have not gone very far, but this year we have stayed overnight in San Diego, Anaheim (Disneyland), Fresno, San Luis Obispo and Prescott, AZ. We were supposed to go to Phoenix, but will do that next spring as everyone in my Phoenix family got so very sick. They are on the mend, now–and preparing for 06.


Seaworld, San Diego, CA: Dinner with the Whales…


One of several Disneyland trips this year…


Grandpa’s patio in Prescott, AZ


Peanut and my pal, Keith-on our SLO trip, having sushi in Santa Maria.

05 saw my writing career pick up considerably with articles placed in Wines and Vines Magazine and just Thursday, selling an article on spec. to Tech Central Station. I became more fascinated by that aspect of my wine and food career and have now taken advantage of the opportunity to sell more articles. I’ve directed my writing toward food, wine and travel much more seriously and have sent pitches out to many places with real hopes for some more “palpable hits.”

05 saw me start a radio broadcast (though I am not paid) at our local NPR affiliate, though I have not been as enamored of that as I could be lately. Being on hiatus is reward enough right now and I’ll give it more thought at a later time.

Sue has been fighting her serious allergy condition that spawned asthma in her back in 04. Earlier this year, she fought a malignant melanoma as well and now according to her docs, there are nodules on her lungs. However, we’ve been staying on top of it, and the docs are not sure what they are. They are fairly certain that it is nothing overly serious, so they monitor it. Meanwhile, the allergy shots she began a year ago have begun to pay off and she has far fewer asthma attacks. Our prayer for 06 is for much better health reports for her.

It has been an extraordinary year. The only thing that keeps it from topping the charts is that we expect 06 to be even better. Happy New Year to all!

Update: It is now 9:27 P.M. Pacific Standard Time. The rain has stopped for now, though we are in for another soaking starting tomorrow. I am in my jammies now and Peanut, after having a mostly good night, capped off with a monstrous–though infinitely forgivable deed—is now sleeping in new sheets, and new blankets.

Why? Well, she and her pal M. were in her room playing while the “adults” were at the table finishing up our comestibles. Oh–our pals brought Veuve Clicquot, one of my all time favorite sparklers and though I really shouldn’t have, I had a wee nip. I then drank copious amounts of water, 7-up and Fresca so that I could, well, flush the system of the offending liquor. Meds don’t mix with the stuff. But if I have to run an ad, I would do it. Veuve blows other sparkling wines away–including Dom Perignon, and for about a third of the price of that over-stuffed soda pop. I digress.

Peanut and M. took the kid’s scissors to one of Peanut’s Christmas gifts, a 7 foot snake that she seemed to truly love. Well, the thing is loaded with these tiny little styrofoam balls that go friggin’ everywhere! They seem to respond to static, too–because they get caught on your skin and stay there. We vaccumed and swept, swept and vaccumed and still I don’t think we’ll stop picking the little buggers up for the next 4 months. Oy, what a mess. Well. Kids will be kids. Peanut seemed to understand her transgression and the kids scissors have been removed from her room and will not return without adult supervision for the forseeable future.

I am content to be awake a while longer, but I will not make midnight. So, adios to 2005–and welcome 2006. Hard to believe that P. will turn 5 this year. I remember dreaming about her being this age. I remember her difficult infancy when she was so sick all the time and neither of us slept and it seemed endless. Now, I’ve turned 40 and she’s getting ready for kindergarten. Do I need to say it goes fast? I didn’t think so…

No booze for you….2 weeks

Yes, it’s true. Here on New Year’s Eve eve, I have been informed by the doc that a minor condition I have requires a certain medication which will make wine and other such imbibables off limits. I am sad, of course, but I’m looking at this as a way to lose some extra weight and though it does come at a most inopportune time, I suppose I can take it. No problem.

Although the thought does occur to me to perhaps—hold off taking the med until January 1st. Well….willpower will have to decide.

The Move On….

I am pleased to announce another “palpable hit.” I refer to getting attached to another magazine, this time TCS, a great online publication that if you’re not reading, you should. It’s run by James Glassman, the great free-market enthusiast and proponent whom Rush Limbaugh used to call his “favorite liberal.” That’s because Glassman is what he calls a Classical Liberal, in the vain of the Founding Fathers use of that term. In this case, it’s essentially a libertarian, free-markets oriented guy. And TCS abounds in interesting commentary, news and features.

I will be writing a feature which I am not at liberty to discuss right now. Suffice to say, it is up my alley of wine and food, generally, and I’ve been hired, as all good freelancers should be, on spec. If they like the article–they’ll buy it. If they don’t like it, there is no ‘kill fee.’ There is just a chance to try, try again.

So, I’m bounding tonight with the good news and will enjoy the New Year’s weekend preparing for a Monday morning interview with the subject(s) of my piece.

Rain storm headed this way just in time for New Year’s. I actually relish the thought. As I mentioned previously, I’m not much of a partier anymore and a rainstorm around here offers fewer opportunities for noises coming from neighbors with partying on their minds. So, here’s hoping for a wet, quiet New Year’s.

The Obligatory Holiday Party

It’s a sad title, reminiscient of not having a good time. That wasn’t the case, we had a very good time at friends’ house this evening and enjoyed noshing and wining and such. It cured my desire for wanting a big New Year’s Eve party, which really didn’t need much curing. I’m not a partier anymore. I don’t like big gatherings as much as I used to. I prefer intimate settings with small groups as much more relational and close. I think I may be becoming old fashioned. Ah, well. Speaking of wine–and of being old fashioned, check out this piece. Genetically engineered wine? The times, they are a’changin’. I’m not sure how to feel just now…

SB Zoo with the Peanut today along with my pal Brett, a teacher and friend of mine from school, and his daughter Haley. The two of them ran around and did the kid things that zoo kids love to do. Wore them out and headed to McDonalds for a delightful noontime repast. Actually, I quite enjoyed it. And Peanut ate her whole lunch–which is probably something that should be marked with a holiday of its own, really. The child hardly ever does that. When she does, it’s indicative of the fact that she’s tired–and food is a means by which to manipulate us away from putting her down for a nap. Too bad–she napped anyway. Parents 1. Kid 0.

I’m learning that a four year old is nothing more than a 16 year old in training, only much cuter and with not nearly as many resources at her disposal–and no driver’s license. She’s taken lying to a level that, while certainly seen before, was not something I identified. She’s not a liar–not most of the time. She is, however, a master politician, leaving vague hints, painting us into corners when she can and getting what she wants. Her favorite saying right now is, “OK, dad. Here’s the plan…” as though I will fall in line, automaton like, with her wishes. And probably 50% of the time, I do. That’s called spoiling and I do it fairly frequently. A man once told my wife and me, “if you can’t spoil ’em, don’t have ’em” and we took him at his word.

God gave us the daughter we deserve. The payback is there on so many levels for both Sue and me. Our kids are so much like us, it makes us uncomfortable. Shadowy reflections, not mirror images, and they walk up to boundaries that we considered in our youth but avoided–as did we to our parents. It’s part of the grand design to be just a little bit in love with, and a little bit repulsed by your own children. Your repulsion comes packaged in a righteous indignation to which you have no right–because you are not righteous. Your falling in love is also unwarranted because this early, you fall in love with what you know pleases you, not them. It’s the ultimate Catch-22: You have children because you want something of yourself to last. When the child begins to individuate and that individuation includes pieces of you that you really don’t like, you wonder what went wrong. No need to look any further–You are what went wrong. The child is just doing what comes naturally to them—they are, after all, part of you.

So, I resolve for 2006 to become more at peace with not only who she is…..but with who I am. Would that it were a resolution I could keep.

Dinner and a Movie

Dinner out tonight with two great friends at Enoteca Toscana. Spanish Tempranillo was the beverage of the evening and it was beautiful. There were dark cherry undertones with a smoky core and some lighter, cleaner, herb notes up on top of it all. I really thought it excellent, especially for even the restaurant price of under $40.00 a bottle.

The Zylstra’s have been friends since 1994 as we attend the same church. But when we left our church to go to Ventura, we lost touch with them. When we came back, we seemed to bond even closer largely due to our sharing of parenthood, our daughters are only a few months apart in age–and they are peas in a pod in personality. When we go out with them, we’ve been sure to get a babysitter that will watch both together. It’s actually easier on the babysitter–and it’s a lot of fun for the kids.

OK–enough, I know why you’re here. You want to read about King Kong. I shan’t disappoint.

King Kong Review:

Peter Jackson exploded into film-going consciousness with his Lord of the Rings Trilogy. He won Best Director at the Academy Awards in 03 for The Return of the King and that film won best picture. I am dubious of the awards as I think they tend to be political but occasionally, a film comes along that is deserving of the honor—and certainly Return of the King is such a film. Jackson is more deserving as director than perhaps any other director before him with the possible exception of Francis Ford Coppola (Editor’s Note: That’s my view. I am aware of its subjectivity. Please feel free to go on thinking that James Cameron and TITANIC deserved their awards. They didn’t, of course–mindless, disgusting slop. But, that’s my view).

What Jackson seems to have done is found the ability to make films that are both technologically advanced and also human in thematic representation. His film The Frighteners was just such a story and it garnered critical acclaim as well. But what Jackson did with Lord of the Rings was bring to life a tale rife with meaning, metaphor, analogy and power. Tolkein’s classic tales, perhaps some of the most beloved in literature, were faithfully reproduced in Jackson’s deft hands and he took George Lucas’s place as the story-teller with the special effects (especially after the three stinkers that were the Star Wars episodes 1, 2 and 3—but again, that’s my view).

Kong, however, is not that kind of film. There are very few deep hidden metaphors in the King Kong story. The 1976 remake of the 1933 classic attempted to throw in environmental and animal rights layers, but as much fun as that film was, the silliness of the political messages appears today as so much hackneyed and absurd tripe. Jackson seems to have known better, and his own passion for the film brings this three hours into clear focus as an homage to a simple story that Jack Black’s Carl Denham points out toward the end of the film: “it was Beauty killed the beast.” Speaking of Black, he is masterfully cast here. He’s an anti-hero. There’s something about him you know you cannot trust, but you’re not afraid of him either. He’s a self-promoter and something of a hack, but at his heart, he just wants to be famous. Next to his many hilarious comic roles, Black was meant to play Carl Denham.

Jackson has a way with handling emotion and it is perhaps his non-American roots that seem to show through. He’s not given to syrupy sentimentality in his stories and though the human interest in this story abounds, he never lets it go dripping into violin ladened “I love you’s” for which American films are at times, notorious. Indeed Adrien Brody’s almost pseudo-heroic Jack Driscoll who seems to show up just in time to show Naomi Watts’s Ann Darrow that he really does love her, is never overplayed. In many ways, Brody allows only the essence of what his character believes for the moment to come through. He’s a writer, and perhaps a bit of a romantic, but not drippingly so. Jackson never allows him to become Clark Gable or Jimmy Stewart-like. He’s not even a “man’s man” as we would know those characters from the early days of film. But, he is likable–and he is very believable.

Naomi Watts is the perfect heroine for Kong to fall in love with and it dawned on me that her most poignant moments involve no dialogue at all. She doesn’t come off as a unique woman fighting her way out of poverty during the depression. She’s not Carry Nation or some other odd adaptation of feminism. She’s a woman who, getting caught up in the absurdity of being sacrificed by a truly vicious group of island dwellers to their “god”, a forty-foot ape, is moved by his behavior to protect her. That’s the key to the film in many ways. Ann Darrow isn’t looking for answers. She just knows what has happened–and the extraordinary vision of a giant ape taking a liking to a vaudeville actress is itself a good story. It doesn’t need another layer.

Kong is not a message or a metaphor. It’s a monster-movie that allows the genius of Peter Jackson’s Weta Special Effects company to do its magic by taking a comic-book story and bringing it to life. This has been accomplished before, of course. Spiderman did this by focusing on the story and letting it stand for itself using special effects to enhance what is already there, rather than heaping bad dialogue on top of cool visuals.

The brilliance of King Kong is perhaps in its ability to leave you thinking less instead of more. There are no grand political designs. There is no message of hope or cynicism or any other claptrap. Quite apart from so many of his American contemporaries, Jackson is interested in doing just what the rather morally ambiguous Carl Denham wanted to do. Simply put, he made King Kong to entertain people. And it does just that.

Fresno-riffic

Yes, I am posting from the Center of the State of California, Fresno. My brother-in- law and his family are here and we came up yesterday for Christmas dinner. The vittles were astounding! Herb outdid himself with a prime rib roast and twice baked potatoes. The meat melted in my mouth and the potatoes were filled with bacon, cheese and sour cream–wow! Some wine (Ricordati-that unfortunately started to turn south on us a bit) of course and a pumpkin cheesecake for dessert. Needless to say, the stairmaster must be used.

Peanut is enjoying her Uncle’s home here and his big black lab, Dallas, a fine specimen of doghood complete with her Christmas tennis balls with which she wanted to play all night. We wrapped up about 8:00 and headed back to what can only be called the hotel. But, it really didn’t fall under that category.

Where to begin….well, first we were in the Quality Inn and Suites on Shaw in Fresno. It’s an old hotel and it’s only a “suites” hotel in the strictest sense of that word. There was an obvious partition added–a full wall—after the hotel was built and so the rooms are small, barely navigable even by the smallest of Peanut’s. Well….

305 had a sticky substance on the bedside table and the tub was, shall we say, wanting in whiteness. The sticky substance scared me. Was it of sugary origin or perhaps something more…biological? Who knows? At this point you could assume it was a fluke and that the rest of the room was perfectly swabbed and clean. No problems. Mistakes happen. Yeah. Right. So–we switched rooms to 211. 9:00 P.M. and we were all tired. Peanut had not had a nap and we were ready for bed. Pulled open the sofabed for her and what to our wondering eyes did appear—-a dental tool for cleaning gums and crumbs on the sheets. So now I thought: Well, are the crumbs the result of the dental tool? Or are they, perhaps, leavings from the rodent that was chewing on the dental tool? Hmmmm. Eek. I thought about walking out. Too tired. Manifestations of hallucinations in my head, eyes drooping, dry mouth, etc. Well—we changed the sheets, went to bed—uncomfortable–Sue talked in her sleep and told me that from now on I should say I was sorry. I was in that twilight fugue state and so, I dutifully apologized–realizing that she was snoring the very next second. Using the bathroom would have required me to get up, go out the bedroom door–which made a gawd-awful crack upon opening, and walk across the floor of Peanut’s room. Needless to say, I didn’t do that. Well….


Do NOT STAY here….You’ll regret it.

Dirty hotels suck. At least it wasn’t noisy, mostly. That is, until this morning at 5:30 when a wicked thunderstorm rolled through. Loud, windy, heavy rain, lightning, thunder—the real deal. They took a healthy discount off of our room so that the price we ended up paying was more of a Motel 6 rate—and I’ve stayed at Motel 6’s that gave this place a run for its money….quite literally.

I stated before that I was done with cheap hotels, cheap meaning 150 dollars or less (which is absurd, I will grant you). But, now–I’m really tired….exhausted even, and I still face a drive up the grapevine today. Eek. No more. We are not rich, but what we will spend for a good hotel room will mean better sleep, comfortable accomodations, good food, cleanliness–in short, all the things we did not have last night.

Hotels have gone downhill in a bad way. My big brother Doug, who stays in hotels for a living as a travelling businessman, attests to this truth. In order to get what you want, you have to spend the money. Money, money, money.

In other news, Jerry’s wife April is home from the hospital. I wish I had other news, like they found out what she had, what the problem with her lungs was, etc. None of that is the case, at least not that I know. Her baby is due next month and so, she will be back in the hospital. It’s clear that she’s had a rough time with respiratory distress and pneumonia. Home now, though, and comfortable and resting–and breathing.

2006 comes this way. Movie reviews tomorrow. King Kong!

A Silent Night of Waiting…

My daughter’s behavior is wanting a bit this day. She’s overly tired and any parent who has a toddler knows what that means. She knows better, of course–and I feel bad. But consequences have to happen. It’s hard on Christmas eve to think about consequences. I want to think about a happy little girl readying herself for Santa Clause, but she doesn’t seem to be there yet. She doesn’t seem to want to get out of her id today. The superego and ego have, perhaps, been given a break, and she thrives on self-knowledge: she knows what she wants, and she wants it now.

I suppose an act of mercy might be in order, but only if it won’t spoil her further. Good word, spoil. Its literal meaning here in context is useful because no consequences now will spoil a perfectly good child when she comes to realize that not everything goes as planned.

My sister-in-law (my brother’s wife) is in the hospital this Christmas eve with some serious illness problems on top of a late-term pregnancy. I hope that if you read this, you will join me in praying for her swift recovery and for the baby’s safety. Christmas is to be a time of hope, of waiting for a miracle. If one has to be sick, then–perhaps now is the time.

So, I’ll await behavioral change considering mercy–and meanwhile, I’ll pray for a miracle.

Merry Christmas Eve.

Updates:
Church was wonderful tonight. Warm and inviting and Pastor Craig was so on as to be downright—inspiring. I love the man. Peanut’s behavior got much better after the nap and she is now drifting off to sleep hopefully with visions of sugar plums as she prepares for her fifth Christmas celebration. We cannot believe so much time has passed and we’re amazed that we have come this far as parents. What a joy Christmas is with a child in the house!

We continue prayers for my sister-in-law who is in hospital in Phoenix with an unknown respiratory illness while 8 months pregnant. The docs are working on it, but it’s a complicated road, of course. We’re ready for a Christmas miracle and for April to get well and go home.

If you have not yet availed yourself of the Norad Tracks Santa site, it is worth it to do so. Follow the link. Whether there are kids in the house or no, the site is such a thrilling reminder of my own past waiting, watching and wondering how Santa does it—and it’s not mindless television….it’s interactive and teaches geography in a way no textbook ever could.

May Santa be good to you this year—and May God grant us peace.

Your Jolly Host

Yes, that is your humble servant playing the part. Being home on vacation does have its low points–and this was one of them–at least I thought. I was “asked” to play the part of Santa by my wife and her friend Christina, they of the mom’s group. Any husband and father who knows this group knows that they have all the subtleties of Jimmy Hoffa’s union tactics. To be blunt, one does not say no to the mom’s club. So, there I was in my red, fat glory–beaming like a cherub as I portrayed the Jolly One himself. Thing is, it was kind of fun–and the kids really thought I was Santa! My own daughter, at first rather dubious, but assured by her mother that dad was out shopping, came to believe that I was the real Santa–and she rattled through her list, “I want my own couch, my own baby-doll and my own sleeping bag for Christmas…” faster than a jackrabbit on a date (yes, homage paid to the greatest Christmas movie of all time...)

Christmas eve tomorrow and all is well….warm. So. Cal Christmas, it seems, where tomorrow will see temps in the upper 70’s. I’m not complaining…..too much. I just miss the cold weather. I don’t need a blizzard, but nightime’s in the low 40’s would be nice. Well, apparently, that’s around the bend.

Peace on Earth…

Movie Review:

Of sorts. Sue and I saw Narnia on a little matinee date while my wonderful sister-in-law babysat the wee one. It was a lot of fun as a movie, and I was taken by the scenery again as it too was shot in New Zealand. It is not lost on me that Tolkein and Lewis, who were good friends and whose Christianity grew because of one another (indeed, it was Tolkein who led Lewis to the faith–though Tolkein was a devout Roman-Catholic and Lewis joined the Church of England), now have their stories put to film at a similar time–and both shot in the same country. It’s fairly obvious that making Narnia became possible after Peter Jackson’s brilliant renditions of Middle Earth and The Lord of the Rings.

This film, though, didn’t have the epic sweep that Jackson brought to Rings. The acting was wonderful and the high talent voice overs (Liam Neeson as Aslan) really added to the warmth of the story. Perhaps because this was an obvious attempt at sales, if you will—it didn’t get the feel that Jackson got. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is not the first of the series of the Chronicles of Narnia and it leaves one wondering whether Disney/Walden Media will be willing to foot the bill to make the rest of the series. One doubts it at this point.

Truly, though, what makes it so spectacular is one thing: The White Witch. One of the things that bothered me (perhaps the only thing) was the rather elusive quality of evil in Jackson’s rendition of the Rings. In the novels, Sauron is much more menacing, much more frightening than the manifestation of him is in the film. The great eye is fascinating to see and certainly the Orcs and Saruman play out their hands pretty well, but Narnia’s White Witch was believeable because she snuck up on you. The evil that actress Tilda Swinton conjures up for the role is nothing short of stupendous and though a children’s tale, at times I found myself glued to my seat with her performance.

At its heart, of course, is the analogy of Christendom, albeit a decidedly Roman Catholic–or at least very English, Christendom with Kings and conquering heroes and foes to be slain and all that. Much like Tolkein’s tale except that Tolkein, though a Catholic himself, allowed more of a democratic flair in his story. Yes, Aragorn is King and the age of humans is dawning–and that is obviously where Tolkein was going with it, but you get a better sense of the free peoples of Middle Earth being free in Tolkein’s world whereas in Lewis’s world, Narnia is indeed freed, but it seems to only stay free because of the four children and the prophecy of their Royalty. Still, a delightful film though my daughter, at nearly 5, could not watch it I think. Maybe when she’s 8 or 9, but not really before then.

There was apparently quite the rivalry between Tolkein and Lewis and their respective fantasy worlds. They did not like each other’s stories, or at least each other’s analogies, and they seemed to take pains to criticize one another, though one suspects it was light-hearted because they really were great friends. I think it actually adds to both stories that they had such strong critics. Criticism of writing, I have learned, strengthens the writer.

Worth the seeing if you haven’t–and definitely worth seeing in the theater! The sweep and wonder of the scenery is too precious to leave to even the biggest big screen at home.

Dinner with the Mahler's

Adam Mahler became my friend in 2002. I wrote an article about him detailing how we met and you can see that here. He is my mentor in wine and food and he got me started on the path to earning my certification as a sommelier. He and his wife, Heather, are also tremendous friends and companions and their decision to move back to their home in Ohio was as shocking to both Sue and me as it was difficult. Tonight, they came back to visit….

So, we dined at Westside Cellar and had a tremendous meal. No need to go over the particulars of the food—it was stellar as always. Kelly Briglio runs the best restaurant on Main Street. The wine, however, is a different story. Adam had been to visit our friends at Jaffurs Wine and he brought back two extraordinary bottles. One was called Upslope, a syrah from three different vineyards that Craig Jaffurs releases only to the Wine Cask in Santa Barbara and to a place in New York. Craig’s general manager is a good friend named Dave Yates about whom I’ve written before and who has a daughter Peanut’s age with the same name (no–not peanut). A soft spoken fellow, Dave–and yet with a passion for wine that exceeds most people I know and he has turned out his own bottling of Sangiovese called…..well, I can’t remember what it’s called! AAAGH! Oh! That makes me mad. Well, I’ll get it. Anyway. Both Sue and I are big Sangiovese fans (owing to years of drinking good, bad and indifferent Chianti) and Dave’s was one of the best I’ve had.

It was fitting to have two great bottles of wine with my wine mentor, but eating with them brought back a familiar tone, a sound and an effortless flow to conversation that I have yet to duplicate with anyone else. Adam is six years to the day my junior. He leans center-left where I lean center-right. He’s not overtly religious while I am rather devout. And probably a hundred other things that lay under the current of a true relationship with someone you care about. Yet, beneath-and even on top of it all, there is a kindship there that makes me want to move to Ohio–that makes me want to be their neighbor and continue the frienship we started literally over a glass of wine. It’s a mystical thing, as Mark Twain might say. There is an admirable quality in the Mahler’s that I reserve for friends I’ve known for 10 years or more, a kind of quiet honor and serious decency that allows for each person to show through their true colors, the way they really are and really want to be. And I am honored to have shared a table with them tonight.