Stars fall

Michael says I need a break. I agree. But I’d be hard pressed to find anyone who doesn’t think they need a break. I long for quiet long nights, actually–right here in front of the computer screen. Something about sitting in the glow of the cathode ray (that sounded good–I honestly don’t know if computer monitors give off cathode rays or not. Anyone?) and reading up on Lileks and Michael, Keith and Adam, Tom or Jason. It’s a nice way to end the day and it puts perspective on things I rather like.

So, tonight is just that. Still nursing the back wound a little and still working on getting Peanut to go down seamlessly after she apparently had some kind of dream a while ago that set her off worried that when she goes to bed, we’ll leave the house. Of course nothing could be further from the truth, but she’s 5–and 5 year olds have imaginations. Tricky thing, parenting.

Showing my first annual screening of October Sky (Rocket Boys) to my juniors at school. If you haven’t seen the film, you really should. This is the true story of Homer Hickam and 3 friends who, inspired by the launch of Sputnik in 1957, decided they wanted to try and build a rocket–or rockets–and learn about rocket science. They did. And Homer Hickam and his friends, all from a town called Coalwood, a company coal mining town that doesn’t exist anymore, went to college–got out of Coalwood–and learned to be the best they could be. Ah…intrinsic motivation. It’s a beautiful thing, no?

Thus is the point of showing the film. It’s not a film that will enhance their knowledge of English, nor is it a film destined to be the great rendition of a novel we read. It is, however, a nice film based on a true story about a few kids who want more out of life than what they’ve been taught it gives. Not for money, not for fame–but for passion and for living a life–well lived. What a great story. Please, if you haven’t seen it—rent the film. If you hate it, write to me–I’ll pay for the rental (yeah–right—I’m going to get 20 people writing telling me they hated it and that they paid more than 30 bucks for the video. Fat chance…)

Peace linger tonight. Peace that comes with allowing God to speak to us after we have spoken to Him.

A Hodge Podge

Oy. Walking out the classroom door, talking to my pal Ron and his International Student/”daughter” from Germany. Sidewalk kind of lips off to the left and about an inch down into essentially a dirt siding. I walked there–I slipped. One inch. Twisted, turned–and back went straight out. I jarred so hard, Ron even looked at me and asked of I was OK. It still hurts. It’s back to the right side this time (that’s where my back injury has typically been). I have bad discs, etc. I fear trouble–but I will exercise it out–hope for the best. Oy. Again.

Less than three weeks until the summer break from school–and I am excited. I don’t know why–but I think it is that Peanut is 5, a lot more fun to be around (despite her nocturnal issues–which as of this writing are a little bit better) and the summer should be a lot more—well….cognitive than the past 4. I’m excited about that.

Did an Italian wine tasting tonight and there was nothing truly spectacular. The Pinot Grigio was pretty good, but unfortunately for me, that’s like saying “the Coca-Cola was exceptional.” Pinot Grigio isn’t the hardest grape to grow–and isn’t the hardest wine to make. It’s light, fruity, relatively sweet–and it’s not expensive. I have to be honest–I don’t think I’ve tried a bad Pinot Grigio-and that includes some of the big brand ones. It’s just not a difficult wine. But it sure does taste yummy.

Enjoyed a Memorial Day cigar yesterday–a Padron that I had from the Big Smoke in Vegas last year. I thoroughly enjoyed it and in fact, drank only water and soda water along with it. It was too warm for alcohol and beer, I find, is not the optimal cigar beverage. But the smoke was mild, smooth and long lasting. Nicely moist from my humidor, too–and that had worried me because I fear my hygrometer isn’t working well. I’ve tested it–and it is about 15 degrees off. So, I adjust accordingly.

Such is the rambling nature of this eve: Back pain, summer, wine, daughter, cigars. Good night.

A memorable day indeed.

I hate the word, “phase.” But as I am a parent, it is a word to which I’ve grown accustomed. Our daughter is in one and it is hard. We tucked her into her bed 5 times tonight–and 5 times she got out. We think it stems from last weekend when we went away for the weekend and Aunt Laurie watched her. For whatever reason, each time we go in to ask her what’s wrong–she explains that she is afraid we are going to leave her. She’s never been “left” before–never awakened and found no one here and so we’re having trouble understanding where this is coming from.

Some say that it is a phase all about manipulation. She’s 5–and so she’s pushing boundaries to see how much she can get away with. Others have said that it’s nothing more than bad dreams or whatever. I cannot figure out the exact cause. I asked her about us going away last weekend and she said that that was it. However, 5 year olds are easily led into rationale–and that may be what happened there. I cannot tell.

It is maddening to say the least because we are exhausted and so is she. She hasn’t gone to bed on-time since Thursday night and it’s showing. She doesn’t take naps anymore–not in her vocabulary. So–she’s been relegated to less than 10 hours sleep each night and for an older toddler, that isn’t enough. It should be closer to 12.

We have sought the “nuclear option” of course and that is essentially locking her door from the outside. We did this after she came out more than twice and told her repeatedly–calmly–from this morning on–that this would happen. She was upset by it but I made it clear that she had the choice, the power if you will, to change it. She could choose to stay in bed and not get out–not disrupt her bedtime–and I would leave the door open. But as long as she chooses to keep….exiting the sleeping quarters—she’ll be forbidden to do so. I think she may have understood that.

If any of you parents out there have any words of wisdom, we’d love to hear them.

Hope you had a Meaningful Memorial day. Click here to pay tribute to a fallen hero.

Sunday, Sunday, Sunday…

I’ve been exhausted, quite literally, all weekend. Spent, I believe, is the other word. Lack of sleep–unfocused sleep, sleep that gets interrupted by either exterraneous or internal issues.

This is not exhaustion from working too hard–or doing too much. This is the exhaustion of one who, in need of sleep, gets none. And the result is a cranky and cynical nature that I know is foggy and temporary.

Peanut has been pushing her 5 year-old boundaries and for the past two nights, she has gone to bed much later than her usual bedtime. In the case of Friday night, she didn’t get into bed until close to 10:00 P.M. And, because she is all of 5, rooster-like, when the sun comes up, she awakes. This morning, she was up at 6:00. I made her stay in bed until close to 7–but she was up. And actually, the behavior was quite good. She was, in general, a good kid. But–on the way home from church, she was nodding off and exhausted in the car…

Well–we were all to go out tonight with friends of ours and they were bringing their daughter, Peanut’s friend along. It would work out beautifully. But–it was to be another late night and so we directed that Peanut should nap for an hour or so to get caught up on the rest she is sorely in need of. She….refused. And it’s hard to force a child to sleep.

So….we gave her the choice: Nap and come with us—or don’t nap and stay home with Aunt Laurie, who has graciously volunteered babysitting service. She chose the latter and of course, has regrets. But–she’s learning choices and decisions and that’s a healthy and good thing. Or, so I keep telling myself.

Well….

These things have kept me awake. Her evening ramblings and early morning risings have left me wanting sleep and today, I slept in–even after she and mom were awake–until 8:00 A.M.–a relative rarity unless, as last week, I’m at a wine festival sans child.

And now I find the fog of that lack of sleep catching up, causing back-pain more than usual and meanwhile, my new responsibilities and the various political landmines at work are running through my head when I should be snoozing.

Solution? Well, I’ve taken to wearing the ipod with some soft music (John Petrucci and Jordan Rudess or Loreena McKennitt) and that has helped me drop off a little faster.

Wow–this is a jumble of silliness, ain’t it? Ah. Yes. Sleep.

"Find a grave…"

I read this piece this morning and thought it a good idea. If I can, I am going to go and find the grave of a former student of mine–Michael Diraimondo. Mike was killed in Iraq when the Blackhawk helicopter he was on was shot down. He was a sweet kid and I remember his 8th grade face so very well.

Mike became a medic in the US Army, something he had always wanted to do, and served his country with valor and courage. I mourned his loss for a long time and it forced me to look hard at whether or not this war–any war–is worth it. And I don’t have the answer yet. But I do know that Mike believed in what he was doing–and I have since talked to many other soldiers who have said the same thing.

But whether you agree with them or not, it’s important that on this weekend, we put that aside–and simply thank these young men and women for what they do and what they have done.

Not much to see here….

I was offered and accepted a new job at the high school in which I will be running the student newspaper. I already run the yearbook and now, I’ll have these two major publications under my facilitation. The stress levels that come with both are high and I am already aware of it, but in fact, I think I am ready to do these jobs and I want to.

That said, I am still writing for a couple of different magazines and online mags and the “sommelier season” as I call it has already kicked into gear. Since I work as a sommelier, I dole myself out to do charity functions (rarely do I get paid) so that I can keep my hand in the service side of things while helping some good causes.

Add to that the role of The Duke of Venice in the Kingsmen Shakespeare Company’s presentation of Othello, Director of the Vacation Bible School at our church and being a husband and father and you have what I call a full schedule. Ah well, life would be boring if I weren’t doing anything, yes?

I have no great insights tonight. I feel, quite frankly, stupid with all that there is to say–none of which I am saying. Alas, this is the crux of devestation when physical exhaustion combines with mental exhaustion combines with a couple of glasses of good wine.

Anyway–no fair complaining. I shall regroup and attack again tomorrow.

The Da Vinci Code

Part of last weekend was spent watching the Da Vinci Code at the old Fremont Theater in San Luis Obispo. This one screen theater, circa 1940’s, has some beautiful old design work right down to the ticket kiosk in front of the building. It is there that we chose to watch Ron Howard’s latest offering.

Roger Ebert began his critique of the film with a preface about the controversy and I feel compelled to at least echo him in some respect. I do not think that the Da Vinci Code book (which I read in its entirety) was factual. I am sorry Dan Brown is propogating some of the information in the book as though it were true, but I am not in the least–for even a second–lulled into thinking that much of what Brown says could be true. Much of his historical data is lacking–and even inaccurate. That alone is enough to state that the book is a fiction and nothing but a fun story.

Nor am I, however, inclined to side with the folks who are claiming the story damages our faith and attempts to destroy Christianity. Impossible, first of all. If all it takes to shake the foundations of my relationship with Christ is a movie, then my faith wasn’t very strong in the first place, now was it? The fact is, the book was a good read–fun and compelling. The characters were believable, interesting and complex. The story was a great and moving detective story–not over-written and not functionally difficult. It wasn’t brilliant literature—hell, in some ways, it wasn’t nearly as well written as say the Harry Potter series or any other fictional book.

So–here’s the bottom line for me: Tom Hanks and Ron Howard. I like every film Mr. Howard has done, really. The last film he made, which turned out to not do so well at the box office but won critical acclaim, was Cinderella Man with Russell Crowe. To be honest, I don’t know that I have seen a finer film than that one. It was astounding in ways that were so revelatory and intimate–a story not just with heart, but with driving passion, soul, human dignity and depravity–and finally acceptance. It was a great story.

I think the material Howard had to work with in this film was a little thinner as a story. At its heart, the Da vinci Code didn’t become a bestseller because the characters were compelling or the plot was moving. It sold as much as it did because it was intensely controversial as a novel. But Howard picks up on something that fans of the novel, perhaps, forgot–that Robert Langdon and Sophie Neveu, Leigh Teabing and Bezu Fache, Silas, Bishop Aringarosa and Jacque Saunieres are all compelling characters. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Tom Hanks’ portrayal of Langdon.


Mr. Howard

I’ve always admired Mr. Hanks for his ability to truly become a character. He rivals Al Pacino in his ability to adopt persona and make you feel it and it was no different with Langdon. I’ll contend, even, that he made Langdon even more believable than Langdon’s creator Mr. Brown did. Hanks brought just the right tone of self-doubt to Langdon and in momentary glimpses, gives us a real view into the heart of an academic caught in a racing, driving, powerful story. In one scene in the bathroom in the Louvre when Sophie meets Langdon to tell him he is in danger, the look on Hanks’ face is worth about 3 pages of description from Brown’s novel. At once titilated by the situation and frightened by the possibility of being convicted of murder and serving time in a French prison for something he didn’t do, Hanks is able to convey all in just the right facial expression of wonder and bewilderment.


Mr. Hanks and Ms. Tautou

Sophie, played by Audrey Tautou is strikingly pretty, as Brown describes her, and brings a smoothness to the role that threw me off just a little. The book has us seeing Sophie as a really independent and assertive type who does not need anyone to tell her what to do. And Tautou does this fairly well, but she also lends an air of innocence that perhaps gets overplayed to where Langdon almost appears to her as a father figure–and I’m not sure if that’s what Brown intended. However, I’ll give that a pass for the very simple fact that the role of Sophie is perhaps the most demanding in the film and Tautou carries it off fairly effortlessly.

What can I ever write about Ian McKellen? His Shakespearean roles are legend–his portrayal of Iago in the BBC version of Othello is perhaps one of the most masterful things I’ve ever seen–he literally became Gandalf in Lord of the Rings to the point where I cannot picture Gandalf in any other way. I wonder at his acceptance of the role of Teabing which seemed, in a word–easy to play for McKellen as it picked up on his real-life ability to portray something of an erudite Englishman with deep, intellectual and serious passions. That actually defines, I think, McKellen himself and he is brilliant–though in ways, underplayed here.


Mr. McKellen

Paul Bettany as Silas was evansescent and beautiful in a dark, tragic and muted way. His lines were sparse, but his presence was powerful and he took a smallish–though vital and delicate role–and gave it presence that is alarming, ferocious and lean. Bettany was brilliant in Howard’s other Russell Crowe epic, A Beautiful Mind, as the altar ego and conscience of Crowe’s lead and he brings that same dedication, that same focus–to Silas and makes him more compelling than even the book portrayed him.


Mr. Bettany

Howard’s direction was smooth and lucid–even graceful as he uses flashbacks in the lives of all the main characters to show us their demons, their darkness. Through some powerful visual effects, he was able to delineate both Langdon’s ability to see letters and break codes and anagrams—and the epic history of the centuries old beliefs among the Catholic Church, the Knights Templar and Opus Dei. The story is fast, compelling, agile and strong through Howard’s masterful eye.

It’s a treat to watch, really. I just had this conversation with a friend from church this evening and she pointed out that if one does not constantly challenge and question one’s beliefs, what good are they? Questioning does not mean we throw away who we are or what we believe–it just means we constantly force ourselves to look deeply at ourselves–our own beliefs, our faith and our reason. Without this–how can we really have faith at all? If nothing else, The Da Vinci Code asks us to look at that part of ourselves that perhaps does not question too often. I say–question more, and what’s more I believe God is probably OK with that. In fact, I think He wants us to do that–he certainly asks us to test ourselves and our faith–in the Bible. So–get out from under your protest signs, climb down from your high horses–and see the movie. It’s a good time.

So much wine…so little…good writing.

So much good wine to discuss. I neglected Treana and Austin Hope in last night’s post. Treana has been one of my favorite wines for some 5 or 6 years now. The place further piqued my interest when my friend Barbara Smith, with whom I’d been in contact at Wild Horse Vineyards when she worked there, jumped ship and went to work for Austin at Treana. Having a contact opened up the opportunity for me to meet Austin Hope and discuss his unique Rhone varietals.

Treana is the mother label, of sorts, for the eponymous label as well as Austin Hope wines and Liberty School Wines. Treana’s claim to fame for the past couple of years has been a beautiful white Rhone blend called Mer Soleil, a delicious Paso showcase of Rousanne, Marsanne and Viognier. Truth is, it’s the wine that got me introduced to good Rhone varietals. When Barbara went to Treana, I was really pleased to know she was taking such a great step. This is a quality establishment.

Their Syrah and blends also are intriguing and I tasted through a couple of them at the event, particularly West Side Red which was a great Rhone blend that had the wonderful bright red fruits on it while letting out a good solid smoky finish. It was delicious.

The trip itself was a real delight with our pals Scott and Jen. Scott and I have known each other since college and have a nearly 20-year long and storied past together. Jen is his wife of some 3 years or so and she and Sue get along famously. They have 4 kids with one on the way and so Jen was our designated driver–who really did very little driving. In fact, I don’t think she did any. Ah, well….the best laid plans and all that.

We stayed in San Luis Obispo at the Lamplighter Inn, a Comfort Inn and Suites property. I had originally obtained a “two-bedroom suite” with two king beds because we thought our daughter was coming along. She’s 5, but we let her have her own room even when we travel which is a nice advantage. Aunt Laurie stepped up and offered to watch her for the weekend and so the Wolfe’s took Peanut’s room. Well, such as it was. There was indeed one bedroom, no question. A good sized suite, this was–the second king bed was out on the other end of the living room. It was a big room, indeed, but our bed was right there in plain view of the front door and the windows (shades drawn, of course) and then there was a bedroom for Scott and Jen.

The property itself is right in the heart of hotel row in SLO. It’s an older motel and so it’s a three story walk-up with outside corridors (balcony walkways, really) and the result is, it wasn’t the quietest motel in the world. But that usually only presents a problem when we travel with Peanut. We’ve consequently taken to staying in nicer accomodations to avoid what I’ll refer to with deep political incorrectness, as the rif-raf. This motel’s contestant in “how to be a loser” was a guy who, on Saturday night around midnight, opened up his room door and began cranking old 70’s rock. Bob Marley, Journey, The Who—it was coming from a radio station for which our primordial-man had a penchant. I could hear every detail of the music–along with many of the man’s neighbors telling him to shut up. I finally called the front office and the guy on duty was kind. He went over to try to quell the problem, but our anti-hero was a bit bigger than he, so when I spoke to him a second time–he very calmly explained he was trying to avoid a call to the police. Publicity and all that. I assured him, calmly and collectedly, that as a writer for several magazines who was here on a press junket writing about a trip to the wine festival, that all the publicity he didn’t want was coming his way if he didn’t see to it that this was ended. He then made, I think, a brilliant move.

He called his manager at home and explained the sitch. Our anti-hero was a guest of more than a few nights, apparently on a two-week trip, and removing him would be….delicate? Well, whatever. The clerk assured me that the manager was calling our villain’s room post-haste and informing him that if he didn’t mend his evil ways, he would be booted out with no refund of any kind. Sure enough, within a minute of that phone call, the noise stopped. And I went back to listening to the various snores and grunts coming from the rest of my room’s occupants. Heavy sleepers piss me off.

Oh, but that’s the silly part and really, was not important in the grand scheme. We had so much fun, so much good food–so much good wine. We ate breakfast at the great Central Coast establishment, Joe’s. Joe’s makes their own ranchera sauce and consquently, their own Chilaquiles, that are absolutely to die for. Scrambled eggs, the sauce, cheese, tortilla chips–and in the supreme version, tri-tip and sour cream—home fries and refried beans. Friends, it was a perfection of amalgamated food stuffs that still brings a smile to my face–even if it does bring a sinking rock like feeling to the gut. Well, not really–but it ain’t no low-fat, crispy, organic absurdity. “It’s hot, it’s brown and they’s plenty of it….” Man, is it good. I bought three bottles of the ranchera sauce which Joe’s has packaged, with garlic. If I could have gotten a case, I would have.

More than anything, we enjoyed each other’s company a great deal. On Friday night, we stopped on the way up at Firestone’s Tap Room and Restaurant and had a great meal with the very best beer on the west coast (Firestone Unfiltered). Scott and I shared laughs that were wholly of our own making and asked Sue to drive as we sat in the back of the venerable mini-van watching The Incredibles.

The festival itself was a grand event which opened up even more as we had a little social lubricant to fully enjoy the day. Since Jen wasn’t drinking, she mostly stayed at the little “camp site” (for so these patches of ground strewn with blankets, folding chairs, coolers, grocery bags of assorted goodies of every kind– are known) reading. Sue, Scott and I went about tasting only the best and I got to go to a press junket in the morning that I already wrote about.

The event itself was very different this time and I will write about that later in the article I’m working on for California Wine and Food.

Firestone is opening up a winery and vineyards in Paso which I think is a great idea. I’m a softy for the Firestone products, though I know their wine programs need a little more work to really come online. I think they are serious about it and they’re working on it. The committment to Paso Robles is a smart one and Adam (to whom I spoke on Saturday) called it a “no-brainer.” He’s right. Paso’s wines are so good, they’ve exploded. I used to write about how it was the “up and coming” area and now—it’s arrived.

Post event Posting

I attempted to raise this up on the site last night when we got back here to the hotel, but as with most-ah hem—lower rate hotels, the wireless Internet system here is hit and miss. So rather than wait to write, I wrote it this morning while quietly sipping coffee in the hotel room.

I’ve got material for probably 4 different posts about this trip—but the big news is mostly the wine festival yesterday. The weather cooperated, there was some suggestion that a late spring storm was on its way, and we were able to enjoy a sunny day with temperatures in the low 70’s.

The radical changes that took place this year were visible immediately and most prevalent was a press conference and seminar held by Stacie Jacob, the Executive Director of the Paso Robles Wine Growers Association. The winemakers from Adelaida, Marttin-Weyrich and Vino Robles were in attendance and we got to do a sommelier style tasting in the grand ballroom of the Paso Robles Inn. The tasting really bowled me over.

Martin-Weyrich has been known more as a corporate winery than anything else. To give you an idea of what they do, the make 80K cases of wine each year. 50K of those cases are one wine called Muscato Allegro which is a super-sweet dessert wine that is very simply hard to dislike, unless sweet wines aren’t your thing (note that the previous link is to muscatoallegro.com, which is essentially MW’s site–that’s how important this grape is to them). For my part, sweet wine has its place, but it is by no means a real entry into the complexities of winemaking. It’s relatively easy to make, it’s hard to mess it up, and it’s so very easy to drink—like soda pop or kool-aid.

That said, MW didn’t pour the Muscato for this conference. Instead, they poured glasses of Sangiovese and of Nebbiolo and both were delicious.

OK—home now and trying to catch up. Hard to do as a good friend called us on the way down the coast and informed us that his house had burned down today. Sad stuff. I got home, unpacked and drove straight up. Bad scene, though the structure is essentially sound. Insurance is already involved but rebuild and cleaning will be a months-long process, if not a year. All occupants are all right, however.

Onward….

The Sangiovese was smooth, even elegant for mouthfeel and had those great strawberry and cherry flavors while the Nebbiolo was a powerhouse with a nice solid strawberry core but with the smiokiness and leather that can sometimes accompany the grape. When we got to Martin Weyrich today, they had the Neb on sale for $48.00 a case. I could not believe it. This was wine that I would have easily paid 12-18 dollars for. Of course, I’m not complaining.

The best of the entire show and the one we could not resist visiting today was a new winery called Gelfand. Incredible stuff—new winery 1500 cases a year and only Petite Sirah, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel—and fun blends of each. Good times. Leonard and Jonathan (father and son) are making these beautiful wines, the prices are right and they are out of this world. I’m now too tired to write a whole lot more, but visit their site—and be assured, these wines are probably the very best I have ever tasted at the festival—bar none.

I will discuss the trip itself, the food-and a review of the Da Vinci Code film in subsequent posts to come.

San Luis Obispo

From there, then. Tonight, we are traveling with our friends Scott and Jen Wolfe and headed to the Paso Robles Wine Festival tomorrow and Sunday. Peanut’s with Aunt Laurie and we are here late, so not much to post. We’re looking forward to the weekend. I’ll blog about the event here–and I’m writing for my pal Dan Clarke at California Wine and Food. Please, patronize his site.

Last night was the annual Boys and Girls Club fundraiser up in Westlake Village. I was the MC for the wine and vintners and it was a blast. I got to meet Andrew Murray, whose wine I have been fond for some time.

Tired. Road weary. Good beer. |Good night.