Happy Halloween

I don’t mark it as a societal progression that more homes on my block, which we moved into recently, were dark than I expected. I’d say a good half of the homes in our neighborhood target trick-or-treating area were dark. Maybe the families had other plans, maybe they were out of town, maybe they practice a faith that doesn’t allow trick-or-treating…

If it is the latter, then I refer to my former comment. I simply don’t count trick-or-treating as a sign of the apocalypse or the coming of satan or any other such nonsense. I say this as a Christian, as a man of faith. Sometimes a tradition is just a tradition–and while I confess that Halloween is not a real “treat” for me, since I became an adult I’ve never much enjoyed it, I certainly don’t frown its coming and I don’t think God is worried about what it means to our decadent society. I mean, I’m more inclined to think God might be concerned about other injustices and degradations–rather than Halloween.

Do some take it too far? As is the case in all human activities, yes–of course. Some see it as an excuse to escape their own identities and become someone else (though there is some psychological evidence that this done in moderation–can be healthy) and ignore their own humanity. Some use it as an excuse for gluttony and indulgence. Some even use it as a sort of time when evil can rear its head into the everyday world–owning us and guiding us if only for that day. But those are extremists….And we’re not all extremists.

Some of us have fond memories of growing up in Midwest towns where trick-or-treating meant a cold night, jackets put on over costumes, wandering the street and collecting candy. Some of us remember bobbing for apples, dipping them in carmel and eating them by candelight. We even remember autumn leaves making their last effort to cling to the branches, frayed and brittled by the late weather, and falling at our feet as we trudged on to fill the pillowcase, or the bag–with treats from our neighbors.

We don’t remember our church telling us not to go trick-or-treating. We don’t remember so much discussion about the supposed evils of dressing up in costume and enriching our chocolate inventory. We don’t remember why it is that jack-o-lanterns and fresh pumpkins, skeletons and ghosts, bats and witches–are bad for us. We think they’re cute–and sometimes funny. Sometimes, they’re even scary–and scary can be fun, too.

If Halloween disappears, if enough people lose interest, will it be the end of the world? No, certainly not. I don’t think I’d even mourn its passing too much. Neither, however, does Halloween signify the end of the world, some sort of apocalyptic, necromancing, evil-baiting ritual that only pagans, ne’er do wells and rapscallions enjoy….

It’s just a day, fallen from so many other days of our past. It began, like so many traditions, as a celebration of the harvest–and in some places, a feast before All Saints Day. In some places, it was the eve before “Dia Del Mureto,” the day of the dead–All Saints Day when we pay homage to those who went before. Whatever it is to you, or to your family—it’s a tradition. Worth ending? Maybe. But…then again the tyranny of tradition isn’t that we must obey it; it’s that we don’t know why we do.

A prayer

The pain that many suffer, perhaps most suffer, is beyond imagining. The loss of loved ones, the fight to survive, the hardship of circumstance and the reactionary response to the “thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to…

It is a night for knowing such things. It is, in fact, a night for feeling it. Compassion is an emotion that most find alien and that many (including yours truly) ignore altogether when we, perhaps in defense of our own foolishness, our own fear, call others to rise above their fears, their own sadness and to move on. As if we had the moral authority to tell them how to do so.

I am struck by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s words:
Life is real ! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal ;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way ;
But to act, that each to-morrow
Find us farther than to-day.

Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.

In the world’s broad field of battle,
In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle !
Be a hero in the strife !

Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant !
Let the dead Past bury its dead !
Act,— act in the living Present !
Heart within, and God o’erhead !

And I want to believe them. I want to hear them. It’s these words that ring through us, give us hope and make us strive. But it is, perhaps, not the only answer. Perhaps Shakespeare was right after all, though. Perhaps it is merely a question of our own cowardice. Maybe we simply are not heroes in the strife…

Whatever the case, I am uncertain anymore that it is a choice. I want it to be, of course. We all do. But there are too many things, too many circumstances, reactions, and problems that not everyone can overcome. And in that sadness, we lose hope–and faith.

Glimmers, though. Faint drops of rain in a superheated day, though. Far-reaching and nearing dawn in an otherwise night of despair…

Whitman wrote:
“O me! O life!… of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless… of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?” Answer. That you are here – that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse.”

Amen.

Fall Back (F$^%*$&#!)

I’ve never understood why we have to do Daylight Savings Time and then “fall back.” It’s not as if the majority of the nation is in need of the process. We’re not agrarian anymore. So, why do we keep this inane tradition up? Do we still have lamplighters for city streets? Do we still need a poll tax? Do we still have stable boys, chimney sweeps (well, OK–we still have those, kind of…) carriage liverys? No!

It’s gotten worse in the past few years because now, I have a small child. And the small child doesn’t get it. So–when the sun did what it usually does this morning, she got up and announced that it was 7:00. It wasn’t, though. It was 6:00. And I took advantage of the extra hour to stay up a little bit later than I should have. So–you know that whole extra hour of sleep thing? Nah. Didn’t happen. This is on top of the 4:30 wake-up that peanut performed to come and tell me that the little red light that is usually on in her room–wasn’t on. Try reasoning with a 5 year old at 4:30 in the morning. Doesn’t happen.

The equation above equals cranky, irritable and angry. I’d give anything to go back to sleep, but I cannot. Because now–it is 7:00 and now it’s time to get up. There is no way to get back into bed–even on a Sunday morning–and drift quietly off to sleep while the Disney channel is broadcasting from downstairs. Shut the door, turn down the volume, use earplugs–still doesn’t change the fact that all are up—the world is going on and all I have going for me is that I am tired. That’s about the best thing I can say for myself this morning…..I’m tired.

Thank God for coffee. Thank God for showers. Still–I’m not sure those things will replace the need for good old fashioned undisturbed and quiet sleep. The crankiness is terrible, too—it’s like a big itch that you cannot scratch. It sits there mocking you and waiting for you to respond to it and all you can do is murmur aloud some expletive that makes the dog sit up and turn his head to look at you.

And that’s it. Happy friggin’ Sunday.

Move along…nothing to see here.

Late Friday night. Rare for me. I don’t much stay up late anymore. This is mainly because the career of 16 years has put a crimp on that. We teachers are supposed to be at the school by 7 in the morning and the result of that is bed before 11. Usually….

But for some reason, I’ve noted that lately I’m up later. Of course, the fact that I am writing about this is stupid enough to prove that just because I’m up, doesn’t mean my brain is functioning…Oy.

More later.

One more day….

I wish I could pour out my heart here to admit the mistake I made today. Alas, that isn’t possible. Just not the right thing to do. But let me say—and more importantly let me record here—that the mistake I made today as a teacher, a professional, breaks me up. I have no way of apologizing that would possibly even cover the sin I’ve committed and I did so unknowingly, unwittingly. I just had to simply put it here that it happened so that I can remind myself how heartless I can be at times. May God–and my students—forgive me.

(Now–don’t worry. Nothing illegal, immoral or insensible. But it was insensetive.)

Meanwhile, I prepare for next weekend’s Big Smoke at the Venetian in Las Vegas. Should be a blast. I’ll post about it upon my return Sunday. I’ve thought about live-blogging, but I am not sure whether my trusty Mac will make the journey with me. It’s a quick trip over-night and the less luggage, the better…

Nothing else of excitement to report. Friday cannot come soon enough.

Things that do matter.

I got home today wrecked and tired. I do mean tired. This was a day filled with…well, with just stuff. Work that I couldn’t really point to with much pride–at least for myself (the kids put out the second edition of our school newspaper today and the first one was this month, too. This constitutes a first in our school’s history. I am proud of them), meetings and conversations that will amount to nothing important–all sorts of silliness that got me nowhere. I got a lot of stuff done for the class I’m taking and I taught the usual. But I’m bone-deep tired because the pace of my work day is just amazingly inconsistent and it gets the most chaotic after lunch.

So–I got home, dragging like an old man–and there was Peanut with Aunt Laurie. Sue was off at a client’s office and Laurie was doing the watching, er…playing. Chutes and Ladders, too. Good stuff. Anyway, Peanut wanted me to get down on the floor, to “see the game.” I did.

And she attacked. It was a veritable ticklefest I tells ya. Her synapses have been firing on all cylinders recently with kindergarten and the like–but the things she said today after I started doing the tickling instead of playing receiver…just blew my mind:
“Dad, I’m serious! If you don’t tickle me, I WILL tickle you!”
“Don’t be silly. You cannot think that…”

And other such random whoppers of sentences with such nuance, such verve, it was a quantum leap that I did not expect. In the end, though–that isn’t what matters. What matters is that Peanut giggled–and I mean uncontrollable, 5-year old girl giggling that causes her to lose control, turn purple, beg for mercy and then giggle some more. That is a sound of which I cannot get enough and as I go to sleep tonight, it will be that sound that lulls me to sleep in my head. It counts for so much more than a workday–and it keeps me young, too.

Badges?

Badge Pinot Noir and my sommelier skills are slipping badly. Truly, I tasted this dynamo and didn’t even recognize it as Pinot Noir. I’m quite ashamed, truth be told. The stuff is incredible with jammy, luscious berry and dark fruit notes and a finish that lasted for days.

That was tonight–a Tuesday. We spent the evening with Brian and Karen and their daughter and we ate too well. The gang had shrimp which I don’t eat on account of it might just be my last meal if I do–for appetizers and then we began dining on ahi tuna, veggies, polenta with marinara sauce and sundried tomato rissoto. You have to love a Tuesday night menu that looks like that. Finally, a bottle of Rancho Sisquoc Bordeaux Meritage followed by my wife’s homemade apple pie (apples handpicked by the Storer’s this past weekend in Solvang) and you have a feast fit for 4 or 5 kings.

Well….

Time grows on me as I move forward into the next phase. I’ve been changing the way I teach a bunch of things at school and having to do this on-line class the district is forcing us into (and they’re being forced by good ole NCLB), and the result is–I’m getting restless to do some more writing. The blog has been my outlet for a few months now (with a quick little shot in a local paper about our Mississippi trip) and I want to get back to it. Now–to find the opportunities.

Well, gentles—the election is a couple of weeks off—fall is upon us (though here in So. Cal it still feels like spring. Today was nice, but more 80 degree temps are on tap) and things change. Amen.

A Weather Sidestep

The Santana’s seem to be subsiding, but I’ll believe it when I see it. Now, the talking heads are talking El Nino. OK, I have seen it in the past, but I’ll tell you—I’ll believe that when I see it, too. I’m beginning to think that weather exists on a spectrum of sorts. At the lower end of the spectrum is the real deal–meteorologists and climatologists and all that. They actually seek scientific evidence and facts and they add all that stuff up and they analyze it.

Actually, I’ve seen them work (or rather read about their working) around Biloxi, MS and New Orleans, LA where picking up the pieces of the aftermath of Katrina means also looking at the weather on a daily basis. What does a post-hurricane weather system look like and what does one hurricane year mean for the next? This is most visible when you remember the doom and gloomers who predicted that this year would be even worse than last year for land-falling large hurricanes. Well…

And that leads us to the other end of the spectrum, that of the faith-based weather community. These are the true believers, the veritable Priest-hood of weather gurus, global warming goddesses and the rest of the artisans who win arguments about global warming by shouting down the competition with “facts.” Among their leadership are politicians like Al Gore–so convinced of a global warming meltdown that he has traded in his Federal Govt. limousine for….a private jet. He claims that cars are the biggest problem for the earth in terms of warming, but his entire family is chauffered around in 8 cylinder limos–and he and his minions galavant about in a private jet.

Meanwhile, the real science suggests that, yeah–the earth is warming–ever so slightly. My favorite is the scientists who claim that the current temperatures are warmer than the earth has been in “12,000 years.” As one skeptical scientist put it, “since the thermometer wasn’t invented until the 1700’s, that’s a pretty arrogant statement for someone to make…”

Indeed.

I was jangling in my brain for days after I saw a weekend Discovery Channel show for which the premise was that global warming is going to cause global cooling. In which case you really have to ask—so what?

Look, I’m sensible. I don’t want to go back to the bad old days when I used to live in Los Angeles County and riding your bike to the mall meant that your lungs would be in pain when you got home. The air quality was so bad that smog actually caused pain in your chest and it wasn’t mild. That event is largely gone, now–though I suppose it does happen from time to time.

Michael Barone points out that in 1967, the US hit 200 million people and the state of the environment was pretty bad. It was a year later that the Cuyahoga River in Ohio actually caught fire because it was so polluted. Now, we’re at 300 million people and the environment is actually cleaner. Things are better than they were—with fully 50% more people in the country.

So–here’s to life, the propogation of it–and to the weather. May it continue to be hard to study–and may those who study it admit when they don’t know what the hell they’re talking about.

Sunday Night…

…And all’s well. A grand day of rollicking around Solvang doing a bit of wine tasting at Rideau and some beer swilling and grub eating at Firestone’s tap room. The tap room, my friends, is good eats all the way ’round. And more importantly, it’s good drinks. I have no expertise in beer at all though I do have a bit in wine. But, I have spent enough time with my pal Scott, a certified beer judge, to know that Firestone brews one of the best beers in America. And apparently, the professional beer folks agree with them.

Peanut was with us and that was actually the point of the journey. We went apple-picking up in Solvang at a cool little farm that charges a buck a pound, hands you as many bags as you want and tells you to wander the orchards. Lush times, really–apples, grapes at harvest and wine sipping that led to a feeling of luxurious and graceful sleepiness. We were as contented as such transcendence could make us. Now–sheepishly, I confess that we did not bring a camera. And that’s because we’re stupid people, you know? Sue and I have been berating ourselves constantly for not bringing a camera along nearly everywhere we go with Peanut and we’ve no excuse. We’ve got a dandy little digital Olympus 4 megapixel beauty that does the trick nicely. So, I’m appropriately cutting this short because what should be here are pictures of the coolest kind with a happy 5 year old running about and apple trees as far as the eyes can see, spiders the size of 50 cent pieces and fragrant, juicy apples falling from the branches. It was amazing. Sigh…and I have no pictures.

Red Beans and Red Tape

There is something stunningly absurd about forcing veteran teachers to take a Cultural literacy class en masse. Such is the mania of the No Child Left Behind Act, that all of us–if we have not already done so, must take the psychological brainwashing that is CLAD.

So it was that I decided to do the class on-line in a pretty cool format that I think has a lot of promise for the future (perhaps very near future) of education. But oy–the class….scads of silliness and work, work, work–so that all of us teachers can understand that America is a land of immigrants and that those immigrants don’t always speak English. Yeah. I suppose there is a real danger that a vast swath of college educated–mostly grad school educated–people are simply going to be intolerant and non-accepting of people from other parts of the world. In fact, the danger is so high–that we’re going to spend literally hundreds of thousands (maybe more) of taxpayer dollars to re-educate teachers to properly handle these children. No–we’re not just going to educate teachers who work with specific populations–we’ll get ’em all…

And so today, I had to complete all of the work for week 5 in one day so that I could spend the rest of the week writing one of the three papers that are due for the class. The papers are an exercise in fatuousness and doing them is going through the motions. Don’t get me wrong–I don’t actually think that it’s all that bad. I’ve learned a lot from the class and I find the instructor quite good and my online classmates engaged and interesting. A lot of this is owed to the fact of online education. No student grandstanding in class, no useless, ephemeral discussions. The written conversations are efficient, tight and focused. It’s pretty cool, actually.

But people, the silliness of what we are creating by bureaucratic fiat is astounding. And if it continues, it’s just going to drive a lot of good teachers away from their posts.

OK–there’s that….

Dinner with Joe and Lynn tonight at their place. Southern cuisine, don’t you know–in honor of the trip Joe and I took with our pal Ray to Biloxi, MS. We had good memories, and tonight was a really good time. Great hospitality, great food and wonderful conversation. What more is there? Well—there’s always CLAD classes, I suppose….