Needs and Wants

It’s been a weekend with a lot of surprises not the least of which was last night’s post. I spoke to my friend Bill this evening and out of deference to him and his family, I will write nothing of that conversation. Suffice to say that Bill and the kids are doing as well as can be expected.

But that brings us back to the wine event of Saturday night. I have a great many feelings about the event as I was part of the group that did the planning, rather than just a sommelier hired to choose wines and host the event. My normal role is simply to meet with a client, discuss their wine desires and price-point considerations and make some recommendations about what kinds of wine they’d like me to pour. Then, I show up, set up the table, the wines and begin the pouring. I charge $35.00 an hour for this service and I do not do it often. In fact, the majority of work I do is charity work–but even that, I end up treating on a client basis–only charging for the wines themselves.

In this instance, one of the things we were looking for was donated wine. The purpose of the event was to raise money and the expectation of what we’d raise was never going to exceed 10K dollars. I actually thought it would be quite a bit lower than that–much lower, around 2 or 3K. Turns out, the Shakespeare Company earned over 4K, so not bad considering all.

The wines were donated by Langdon-Shiverick and Opolo Vineyards. I was in charge of the LS wines because I worked directly with them. They donated 3 Spanish reds–An Etim Grenache blend, a Bajoz Cano Grenache/Tempranillo blend and 1707 Syrah. All of these were exceptional and they added a Kesseler German Riesling to the mix to round it out (see LS’s site to check out the wines). The wines were impressive, tasty and quite good. But even with the advent of sales sheets, we sold only one case of wine. This presents a problem because it makes wine donation a much tougher sell each year and it is a little frustrating to ask folks to donate the very product they make money selling. As a sommelier, it rubs against the grain. As a supporter of this particular non-profit, I understand the need. But it’s hard to do and is something I won’t feel comfortable doing again.

Opolo Vineyards’ David Nichols brought in a nice selection of their wines including Viognier, Syrah, Zinfandel, Late Harvest Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon and a Bordeaux Meritage called Rhapsody. All were excellent and tasty. I’m not going to put tasting notes here as I’ve gotten away from that for some reason. I feel like I’m not the world’s most qualified taste-tester and to be honest, I’ve concentrated so much for the past year on growing, farming and grape issues that I now find myself tasting for different things when I drink wine–and not all of them are things I know enough about to report–or make terribly exciting. I will say this, as an oenophile, it was fun to compare the 1707 syrah with the Opolo syrah. The Spanish varietal did not have much oak on it. It wasn’t stored in oak barrels for very long, if at all–and the Opolo got a lot of oak barrel time. The resulting differences were really spectacular with the flavor profile changing in large ways. The Opolo maintained its vanilla and toasty characteristics which brought out some really lovely darker fruit flavors. Even its color was much richer as a result of the wood. But the Spanish syrah captured some red fruit (strawberries, cherries) and had none of the vanilla or toasty characteristics. It drank much more smoothly on the finish than the Opolo, but the Opolo had a longer profile and longer finish. OK–that’s the end of my geek talk.

I’m not much for working on committee’s and though as a teacher, I have found that a necessity, it is not one I love. I really do enjoy working with people, but where there are committees, there is politics–and, well—that’s all. Kingsmen is a great organization (though I confess their grammar leaves a little to be desired) and I really do love what they do. Their shows in the summer, their educational tours, their true desire to bring the Bard to folks everywhere is such a noble cause and one worth supporting.

On the wines–I’m going to be seeking out more Spanish varietals, I think. I did so in the past and then veered off into Italian wines, which I still like a lot. I find that the quality of the Spanish and Italian wines I’m drinking has gotten much better while the prices for these wines remains remarkably lower than their American competitors. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still up for a Jaffurs Syrah and a Lane Tanner Pinot Noir (and about a million others), but these European varietals (albeit not the Frenchies) really are a treat for a lot less cash.

Over the Falls

I’d like to write about wine tonight and so much of what I did today centered around it. But instead, I’ll write about Joan.

Joan and Bill went to our church and we got to know them quite well. The birth of their two children changed their lives, as it does all of our lives when children come into our worlds. We spent time with the family and enjoyed each other’s company. But after both Joan and Bill were baptized, they stopped coming to church as much.

Joan was fiesty–a fiery personality with a temper, but also with an even keel that kept her from exploding. Bill was more laid back, more calm. They were ying and yang and their marriage was full of vivaciousness.

I had not seen the two of them for quite some time until recently when they came to church and Joan had changed. It’s impossible to describe the disease that took hold of her–I don’t even know what it is called. It’s so remarkably rare that there are very few doctors in the world that can deal with it–and none that have any treatments that are successful. In essence, it is a degenerative nerve condition that attacks the central nervous system and begins to shut everything down.

Seeing Joan frightened me quite literally.

I spoke to Bill later about it and he said, “well, all I can tell you is that they don’t know how it happened or where it came from. They can’t tell me whether the kids have a chance at getting it and they tell me she has less than 6 months to live.”

I learned just now that Joan died this afternoon shortly before 4 P.M…

It is the sadness our church has been weeping for weeks now. We have lost 3 members now in rapid succession–including our beloved Max, a little boy whose spirit and faith are an example beyond compare. Now, Joan. And with her come the tears that we weep for ourselves as we work hard to examine how temporary this loss is. We pray for Bill and the children, we look to Heaven to see that we understand that God’s will is bigger than we are and we simply acknowldge, again and again, that we are not of this world–and that we are not in control.

And that thought frightens and saddens us–while also providing a path toward the greatest peace we can know.

Joan is gone, but her memory lives on in the lives of her beautiful family and we continue to seek for answers that slip over the edge of the waterfall before we can ever reach them.

Modest Accomodations

Yes, it’s Friday. Yes, there is wine coming–working a tasting tomorrow for the Kingsmen Shakespeare Company and I’ll update all on what I pour, how it tastes and what it costs. Weird, the whole thing is just weird. Committee work, you know—I’ve already commented on that.

But as it is Friday–my mom is in town and we had our pals Edd and Leanne and their son Jacob over for lasagne and cheesecake–and as I am in some good deal of pain where the torn fascia tissue is giving me nothing but issues in my lower back—and whereas in all probability because of the shuffling of sleeping arrangements brought on by welcome guests in our house, I shall sleep in–ahem–modest accomodations–I shall write not this evening. Except for this.

Happy Friday.

"Go sell all you have…and follow me"

Every choice has a consequence. Buddhists believe that this knowledge can ultimately set us free; their version of salvation, if you will. And while I am no Buddhist, I do think they might be onto something. Freedom comes when we surrender, give up and walk away–not when we strive for power, for more or for gain. It is, in truth, at odds with what we Americans are all about. We sense that in order to be better, we have to get more….stuff, personality, sex, whatever.

But in surrender comes real peace. Christ’s whole being was about that, wasn’t it? The emptying–surrendering Himself totally to God’s will, to His will, which destroyed Him–and made Him whole. Yeah…that’s easy to grasp, isn’t it?

Whether or not it is, it is indeed what is left after one gets to “keep it real” as the kids might say. Funny, new cliche’s pop up in every generation. Keeping it real no longer has any real meaning, does it? It’s almost a sort of salutation, a kind of good-bye. “Hey, see you later. Keep it real…” As opposed to keeping it fake?

But in its narrowest sense, it’s the reality that we are all trying to avoid. The reality is that we are busy becoming Jay Gatsby, inventing ourselves instead of accepting ourselves. We find that we’re not satisfied with who we are, so we create a new us through our work, our marriages, our relationships, our diet, our clothes. There are whole segments of the American marketplace dedicated to providing you with the opportunity to be anyone you want–except yourself.

Maybe–if we find that road, that track–the one that leads to self–then we can empty all the rest of it. In that emptying, in being for others, shedding our light into a dark world, we can truly achieve a kind of peace—a Christ-like peace.

Still surly after all these….hours.

I’m still surly. No, it is not because of the invariable sliding down of the American education system. And I’m relatively sure that ultimately, good families will raise good kids who will do good things. But I’m surly because everyone is looking for the quick fix–the fast buck, the easy way out. This includes educators and parents of course.

Today was interesting as one of my colleagues sent an e-mail to our dept. She told us of a kid who had cheated on an essay and in a big way. She copied a paper directly from the Internet, slapped her name on it and turned it in. My colleague failed her, of course and informed the parents, etc. During the course of discussions, she related the incident to another colleague who teaches in our dept. who also coaches this same child. The coach mentioned it to the kid and discussed it. The kid’s parent came into my first colleague’s class and was angry with her for “telling on her child to the child’s coach.” Got that? The parent blamed the teacher because her kid is a no-good, rotten cheater and she should have kept that to herself.


I caught no less than 10 plagiarists in one year and I shouted their names from the friggin’ rooftops. I made it apparent to their parents, to their other teachers, to their—everybody. As it should be. Ethics, morals, values—these things count, no? We caught your 16-year old kid plagiarizing a paper and you’re concerned because another teacher knows? Better you should marvel that we don’t publish your friggin’ kids’ name in the newspaper and point out that obviously, her parents are at fault.

Now, I know this is by no means the norm. But it is getting worse–and it is increasing. There are more incidences of this happening everywhere across the board. So–you’ll excuse me if I jump off of the teacher-bashing train for a while and turn my surly eyes toward the parents who are raising kids who do such things.

For shame.

Things I hate.

It is testing week at the school and so any will I have to do anything nearly creative has been sucked out of me, deflating my very will to write or even to think, not to say–live. I’m sure I’m not the only one who will dream tonight in rote memorization fashion–with little bubble sheets in alphabetical order with no extranneous marks on the papers and with the test version number carefully bubbled into box number 4.

It is a dark time, a calamitous time–a time when the very pillars of education are filtered through the sieve of multiple choice and the desire to learn, the willingness to expand one’s own mind are narrowed to choices A,B,C and D. On the rare occasion, one might get the opportunity to bubble in an “E” and feel as if they’ve done something revolutionary, unique and powerful.

No–I hate it. And mind you there are few things I hate. But I hate it. I hate multiple choice tests, the furrows of alphabet soup awaiting shade darkening to add meaning to their otherwise vapid existence. I hate that as a society that put a man on the moon, developed the micro-chip, flew the space shuttle, invented the digitally processed image, cured disease, created innoculations, split the atom, culled power from wind, sun, moon and even aged dinosaur–we cannot think of a better way to educate our children than to have them sit in rows and bubble in answer sheets.

“Oh!” you say. “But you see the people who did those things and invented those things, they bubbled in sheets, too.” Well, yes and no. The testing regimen was not so high-stakes as it is today–and the fact is that many of the people who did those things were people who did poorly in school. They did poorly conforming to the dirty little rows of multiple-choice answers. Why, Albert Einstein faired poorly in school and Bill Gates was a college drop-out. So for every one of your arguments, I’ll hit you with one of mine.

N0–this testing regime is frought with mediocrity and distinct doses of silliness from the beginning. It is a poor way of measuring student ability. It does not conform with what our colleges and universities know to be true–which is that students must perform in the context of the thing they are learning in order to show their ability. It conforms to a narrow window for narrow people to look at narrow results and find absurd data that will make them feel better about themselves, give them a pay-raise and recognition from the state for having such smart kids—who know how to fill in bubble-marks on a piece of paper.

True, that. Meanwhile, less than 25 percent of them will actually graduate from college and the bubbling in they did will be poor compensation when they come to learn that they must be creative if they want to work and earn well. They must think clearly and even uniquely if they are to provide the kind of living they all would like to have.

And we didn’t teach them how to do that in school. I hate that.

Traveling Mercies

If there are reasons for everything that happens, it will surprise me. A Category 5 hurricane appears on monitors and screens as a monster. It was a monster, at least in the very loosest definition of that term. But Frankenstein-like, it was a natural aberration, one that wasn’t created by man, but still had natural impulses. A storm, as many meteorologists will tell you, is alive in some way. It has a life-cycle that repeats and responds to surrounding environmental phenomena.

But when I watched from the west coast, it wasn’t just the storm that fascinated me. It was the fact that this storm hit these people and for whatever reason, with all of our potent technological ability, we were unable to stop the devestation that it caused—and is still causing. That’s why I got involved. My Pastor explained it thusly, “God put this burden on your heart.” I think that’s pretty well right. Biloxi now is the result of a lot of prayers–and a lot of hard work— of a lot of good people—even not so good people. Biloxi is a prayer.

So, for the first time–I’m going to Biloxi. As soon as school ends, I’ll drive down there with my friend Brian and a couple of folks from church and God willing, we’ll see and meet these people that all of us have gotten to know.

Hurricane season starts again in June. Nothing is certain. Nothing, that is–except a prayer.

Les Liaisons Dangereuses

Dangerous Liaisons was a hit movie when it came out. It’s been remade several times including the most recent Cruel Intentions. It’s a darkly powerful story about a woman whose machinations result in tragedies, malevolence, evil–and in the end, a Romeo and Juliet like love.

Last night’s community theater performance in Thousand Oaks was extraordinary. In itself, the tragedy was more people didn’t show up for it. Lesley Kirsten Smith plays the main role Madame Marquise Marteuils and her foil, Vicomte Valmont is played with masterful strokes by Billy Parish. The two of them create the necessary heat and a surprising friction that is pretty focused and appropriately taut. Smith’s abilities are really powerful as even her facial expressions carry the nuanced, Shakespearean-like clarity of a woman who is set on revenge. But she also brings an almost human quality to the otherwise frigid Marquise. Smith functions on all cylinders with a kind of rhythm and understated rage that are frighteningly real. Parish is also able to carry that friction, changing into a true sexual tension, between he and Susan Smythe’s delicate and beautiful portrayal of Madame de Tourvel.

Valmont’s death scene is even more surprising for its believability. The sword fight between a truly wimpy and sniveling Chevalier Danceny (played with utter belivability by Jeff van Hoy) and Valmont is inspiring for its realism and even moreso for the deep derision in which the Chevalier is held by Valmont. From facial expression to the first parry and thrust, the scene is the perfect cap for a tight, focused, well acted play. Community theater can really triumph at times and this one is at the leading edge of such triumphs.

If you’re in Ventura County, I strongly recommend you see it. Tickets can be ordered by calling 805.381.2747


Happy Friday. I post early as my lovely and gracious wife and I are out to see a community theater play this evening–Dangerous Liaisons as it happens. I’ll review it tomorrow.

In any event, so much of the business has let up and I’m feeling less burdened–mostly because I got a lot of the charity P.R. work and the charity wine work (Kingsmen’s wine tasting) done. There were a lot of last minute juggles. ABC–or alcohol and beverage control–is pretty specific about laws. Therefore, if you hold a private event on private property and serve wine–you’re fine. But if you sell tickets to that event, you need a license, because selling tickets constitutes a fee for wine sale–and that requires a license.

Well, the committee (“for God so loved the world, He didn’t send a committee…) didn’t quite act swiftly enough to get a license and the result was a possible last minute cancellation of the program. However, justice has prevailed and the kind folks (and yes, I mean that) of the ABC are going to help us out and grant our application of license in the required and appropriate time. Problem solved.

I also finished writing up an “advertorial” for a favorite local charity of mine called “The Book Bag.” These folks basically have a non-profit bookstore that is dedicated to providing literature to anyone and everyone who wants it or needs it at a reduced or low cost. Thus, the local hospital gets books, the local jail gets books, schools, Childcare places–it’s pretty cool. Our friend Lisa, a P.R. consultant, asked me to handle some of her overload advertorial writing that she does pro bono for this group and I did. Let me say that I have profound respect for P.R. writers because it’s much harder than it looks. You have to adopt just the right tone, without sounding, I don’t know, smarmy. You don’t want to sound like a sales rep., nor do you want to come off as, well… altruistic. It’s pretty weird. And, I enjoyed it. This would serve as an alert, then, to all you P.R. people who need overload writing done–contact me here! I’m your man.

OK, shameless plug over. Peanut’s out at dinner with the scouts, Sue’s on her way home after seeing a movie with Peanut and the scouts (Peanut’s first major motion picture in a theater!) and I’m off for the weekend.


Ticking away

Nothing inspiring, though I would like to be inspired. I’ve had the wind knocked out of the old sails as I have been on the go from sunrise to dark everyday–beginning at 6 in the morning and not ending until 8 at night. Meetings for the Kingsmen Shakespeare wine function, deadlines for some charity PR work I’m doing, articles I’m writing in the queue, rejection letters, wine tastings, prepping new units for the classroom, Yearbook finishing touches, wife under the weather, child slowly getting better, house chores, some re-juxtaposition of finances (major things), wine pick-ups all the way down by Burbank Airport, possibly auditioning for the Kingsmen play (that’s kind of cool! I might get to play the Duke of Venice! Woo Hoo!)….did I leave anything out?

Probably. And it’s no excuse. It’s not right to gripe, because I know that I am truly blessed. I am. And there are no buts to that. It’s just that these things combined don’t allow for much in the way of free-time for anything. It’s even tough fitting in time to exercise right now—and that means I’m not scheduling correctly. There should always be time to exercise. Always. So–I find myself looking for scraps of time, pulling them off the ceiling in bits here and there and coddling them into a corner hoping no activities will see them for fear they’ll be swept up.

In the midst of it all, I’ve been a little restless and found it hard to sleep. Sometimes it’s because Peanut will cough during the night and believe it or not, that stirs me. It doesn’t usually wake me if I’m sleeping, but often, I’m not sleeping–and it prevents me from getting to sleep. And why am I writing all of this? Don’t know. Because it feels good to write it down, I suppose.