More, please…

Well, a quiet Thursday. Too quiet as the Peanut and Sue went out to the beach to visit her brother Herb. He’s down here at the family time-share for the week. We went as a family last weekend and as I was occupied by ye olde Happy Hour tonight, the girls went westward.

So, Sam brought some wine tonight. HH turned into a real feast and what a treat. First was the Tapiz Malbec from Argentina. I’ve had this before and this bottle was tremendous. Deep cherry and black fruit flavors with some toast and a small bit of vanilla. I have to keep in my mind how good Argentinian wines are. Some of the best stuff I’ve had, actually, in a long time.

Then Sam pulled out the stops and brought a bottle of homemade from a friend of his in Michigan. A Chancellor, which I’ve never had before–and hadn’t really heard of until tonight. This was really something and while at first, there was a bit of a tang on the aftertaste, it got better with a little more oxygen and then the strawberry, vanilla and even some cinammon seeped through. I was really taken with this bottle.

So, there was the wine, there was the fresh bread from Sam’s bakery that he and his wife just sold back in South Bend, IN and there was the cheese. There was Chris’s marinated chicken breast, grilled to perfection, the tortilla and sour cream casserole, the warm, fresh cookies out of the oven. There was talk, good discussion–some politics, some Theology, some jokes–a good round conversation with good honest agreement and disagreement.

Grandma got to stay another night on account of her travel plans changing which makes Peanut very happy. The night has dusked down cold and dark, and it appears the wind is dying down. In the scheme of things–a good, kind and quiet night–which I sorely needed and for which I am very grateful…

Priceless

I never expected that a mere $150.00 purchase would ease me, relax me–even, perhaps, calm me–more than a $5,000.00 purchase. But, it did. I’ve owned two spas in my life. I confess to falling prey to the charms of swirling warm water, cool evenings with a mist of rain falling and a sky leaden with thick, puffy cloud cover. Sue and I would immerse our weary bodies just after we’d tuck an infant peanut into bed, bring out the baby monitor and sit back and listen. I think there was only one time we ever leapt out of the spa when we heard something–and we were wrong.

Anyway, the second spa was at the last house here in Camarillo and it was a little bigger. Peanut liked it pretty well and she would make me play Little Mermaid with her. I got to be King Triton, generally–but occasionally, she’d make me play Eric. I always obliged. I prefer Triton, for the obvious reasons–but I also liked that her vision of Triton was that he pretty much sat in his throne and bellowed out orders from there. I played the part well from my comfortable little corner of the spa.

But its charms vanished over time. The upkeep on the little buggers, while certainly better and more efficient than it used to be, is still a bit of a pain–and still pretty expensive. In fact, the more efficient I wanted to be, the more expensive it got. When we sold the last house in August, we sold the spa with it and I determined that as far as I was concerned, a nice warm shower was the best I would do for home hot water soaking. Maybe—just maybe–the occasional bath.

But…and I say this with full knowledge that it has always been a love of mine—the fireplace still calls to me. I have always been partial to a quiet fire, a good book–or a few friends with whom I’d sit and talk and sip a little wine or port. The fireplace is more communal, more comfortable with company than a spa—and a darned sight less expensive. The new house has a splendid and fine fireplace. It’s large and has a gas feed in case, like me, you cannot start a fire very well. I think of the gas feed as my ace in the hole. Logs won’t burn? Fire up the gas and let ‘er rip, boy-o. She’ll burn. It’ll cost you a little extra in the next gas bill, but you shall have fire.

I took tonight to my pal Brian’s plan which is to use those lovely fake logs to start the fire. Light one, get ‘er roarin’ a bit, and then lay the real logs on top of ‘er. That was tonight’s recipe and it was a good one. I probably could have put another few cords of wood on that thing and let it go for a lot longer. It’s a large fireplace–or rather, the two previous houses I owned had small–undersized fireplaces–and so I could never build in them a good, strong, solid fire. Not here. We’ve the real deal now.

And we also have a new addition to the family. I tried to convince Sue to let me have a brick and mortar fireplace built outside on our patio. She wasn’t having any of that, but she did allow me the purchase of a particularly tasteful chimneria. And tonight’s fire in it was glorious, warm and mesmerizing. Brian and I sat out there after dinner with a glass of syrah and before it got too cold (and I have to say, that was really great. I love when it gets cold!), we sat by the chimneria and talked about lots of things.

Sooooo…..

Case of fake fire logs to start fires: $9.99
Cord of hard wood to lay on top: $10.99
Bag of all purpose sand: $2.67
Chimneria: $150.00
Sitting on your patio enjoying a fire with friends: Priceless….

Spirit

Hard for a holiday to come to an end. It’s pretty important, actually, that I’ve noticed how this year–I really need the break. This isn’t to say I haven’t worked hard the past 16 years…I have. But this year, I’m working much harder–and not necessarily smarter. That I am attempting to fix, but as an adviser for both a newspaper and a yearbook program, both of which are overpopulated with seniors–I am in the process of both teaching these students and building a program for ensuing years. This keeps me busy as my eyes have to be on both the product we are currently producing and the ones we will produce next year. The one thing that hangs over my head is that we have made great strides–the newspaper and the yearbook are both pretty good. I don’t want them to go down in quality….

Vacations, then, come with welcome relief. It gives me a chance to walk away from it all with a kind of relaxation that–if not deserved–is certainly needed. So the addition of this feeling and family around for Thanksgiving this year, my mom, Sue’s brother and sister-in-law, our niece and Sue’s twin–it’s been a quietly rewarding, uplifting and good time. I don’t think I could have asked for better.

The Christmas decor is now up and the weather has, as aforementioned, finally turned colder–with rain in the forecast tonight and tomorrow–I bought a new chimneria for the patio and the time is–well in hand, a gift and a delight. Things move slower at Christmas, even when they’re going too fast. It’s as if God is speaking, quietly, in the breeze–look around, look what’s here and what’s important. Treasure it, keep it, fight to preserve it. It is your earthly inheritance. And maybe that’s not much–but it’s something. The traditions we create, the lives we honor, the love we share with each other—all come alive with a soft glow, a kindness that maybe wasn’t there before, edges removed, hardness failing and cold exists only in the air outside.

Memories of my own childhood start to mesh with those I am trying to create for my daughter and they too speak softly and only have their common language in spirit. When I was her age, we lived 2000 miles from here in a climate where below zero was as common as anything, where snow was the order of a winter day and where the city lights–the real city lights down city streets were nestled in my dreaming sleep while the snow fell outside my window. Peanut doesn’t know that–but it’s not the physical manifestation I want to create. It’s the other kind–the spiritual one, the familial one–that we are a family, that God is present in our home and that Christmas time is a specific time, a real time–shared by people of Christian faith for the purpose of welcoming Christ’s candle into an otherwise dark world.

Thanksgiving Plus One

Chappelett has a reputation as one of the finer distinct wines that California has produced. I was honored today, flattered, humbled…name your descriptor…when my pal Lance brought over the leavings (yes, quite literally) of a vertical tasting of Chappellett from 1980-1984. It was, in a word, extraordinary.

There was cassis–licorice and herb. There were hints of mint, or rosemary or something that was just a little astringent–and it may just be that the wine was a little too old, a little too beyond its prime. But even so, it was incredible. Berry, strawberry and just a bit of bret. I admit that while there are other flavors people would have been prompted to taste, I was all about pairing that wine with a simple meat sauce or marinara and having a glass with a big bowl of pasta and sauce. I didn’t, unfortunately. The tasting was so impromptu and so powerful…it took me by surprise. Sue joined me and so did her sister, Laurie. We quaffed and talked with our pal Lance and we thorougly enjoyed the experience. What a time. Life, love, wine, family–on a holiday.

A grand day indeed. We took Peanut to see Happy Feet which was, while perhaps a bit preachy, truly a fine and even funny movie. Robin Williams is at his versatile best as two different characters (Ramon and Lovelace) and Elijah Wood, who simply exploded as an actor after Lord of the Rings, is simply delightful as Mumble, the dancing penguin. You know–I’m not much of a liberal at all. Certainly, I’m no environmentalist. In fact, I’m inclined to believe that the loudest voices protesting….well….whatever…..are ignorant, politically driven and probably not interested in the truth in any way. However, that said–I think this movie kind of prods in an appropriate direction. It is make-believe, after all and that make believe carries through–sort of glides through–didactic silliness–and gently rolls into a kind of message that may be worth hearing, maybe not.

Either way, the film was fun, Peanut loved it–and we went together, Sue, me, Peanut and enjoyed the day.

As the sun set and the temperature dropped even more—we waited for Peanut’s favorite babysitter, Melanie (a former student of mine) so that we could take my mom (who is visiting from Phoenix) and join some friends of ours at Westside Cellar, a restaurant I wrote about in Ventura a couple of years ago. It has slid down hill perceptibly and that was an eye opener for me; a revelation of sorts. Good food–is really good. But, it’s expensive. And it does change—readily and quickly. Things were much worse than they used to be–but they were just as expensive and we spent too much and didn’t enjoy it as much as we would have a year ago.

So–holidays and memories, family and food, whines and wines. And as the night comes and the cool air breezes across the neighborhood, I’m left with the notion that all…..is indeed well. The Christmas tree is up and the season has changed.

Another year has passed. And I’m grateful to be here.

Practice

There are definitive reasons that become clear only over coffee cups on early cool mornings….like this one. I awoke earlier than usual, before the sun, before the clock even got to 5:00 in its orbit, actually. I lay still as long as I could, but a nasty allergy attack left Sue a little noisy in the sleep department and there seemed no point in going back to sleep.

In the shower, dress, comb, wallet, keys, cell–oh–spare change. 6:00 A.M., into Vons, one of the first to show–and over to the cash machine. 16.75 in coins, grab the voucher and get a little cash. This has become a ritual for me—about half a dozen times a year. I keep all my spare change in an old cut glass ash tray and I pick it up delicately, as though it were a vase, and I carry it quietly to the car on cool mornings to gather a little extra money. Then…coffee shop and to the desk.

The school is a different place at this hour. Fog rolling in over the undulating back hills and the sheep pasture, we have a large agricultural dept. that includes livestock, and semi-darkness as the sun, just starting to rise, gets blocked out by the thick rolls of clouds and mist. My classroom offers very little window area and light in the place is almost entirely artificial. But it is a delicious time…

It is quiet, I’m alone and I am able to simply collect thoughts, read a few papers, do some research on what I’m teaching — doing a little comparison and contrast of Huck Finn. Each year, I find myself wanting to tie in the novels I teach to something a little relevant, a little modern day. Today–I think I’m smart, I catch a glimpse of slavery, of Jim as a captive and for some reason, out of my own stupidity (it cannot be otherwise) I hit on the Iranian Hostage Crisis. For some reason, at 6:25 this morning, the two looked analogous and I was prepared to draw this line, this point of thinking.

When I bring it up–I’m confronted with stares and open mouths. “What’s the Iranian hostage crisis?” I’m literally dumbfounded–and I forget that these kids, these lively, wonderful, smart, funny, thoughtful kids–and they are–were born in 1989. They don’t know the Iranian hostage crisis, they have no frame of reference for any of it. They don’t know who the Shah of Iran was, they don’t know about the collision in the desert during the attempted rescue. The analogy is lost. Forever.

I’m left explaining the entire event, who was involved, why and all of it. The analogy is gone–the point is missed, but a whole new door opens up. It’s not on any test, it won’t be on any essays that I assign and there won’t be a quiz tomorrow. But all of their eyes–all of them–are on me. All of their mouths are closed and they are all listening and they want to know what happened in 1979 at the American embassy in Tehran, Iran. They want to know why the rescue attempt failed. Rescue attempts don’t fail, do they? Certainly not in the movies they’ve seen. Failure is not an option…is it?

And it occurs to me that I love teaching…

Giving Thanks

Finally, the day cooled and the temp never did get much above 70. Around here, that counts as chilly. When the sun started down, I was with Sue and Peanut down at Burbank Airport awaiting the late arrival of my mom’s airplane. Southwest is pretty nearly always on time. But tonight–Holiday travel, you know—the plane was about half an hour late. Not bad in the scheme of things.

And so, in the cool evening with a slight breeze, we stood under the refraction of the harsh neon lights of the baggage claim–which is outdoors at Burbank–with a darkening sky and a feeling of warmth. Mom came traipsing out the corridor doors to a big grandma hug for Peanut and, after a small baggage mix-up, we were off to the congestion of I-5 and then the wide open (relatively) spaces of highway 118 across the northern end of the San Fernando Valley, where mom did a lot of raising of my brothers and me. Over the hill and down through Simi Valley–a little dinner–and the fog rolling in, the temperature dropping, blessedly, dropping and cooling as we prepare for Thanksgiving.

And it dawns on me that family is everything–and yet momentary. It is fleeting, like all earthly things, and it defines us. It provides our limitations and our potential–in one glimpse. These people are us. They are who we are and we are them.

Thankful? Oh, yes. Thankful. And focused on the very idea that I’m the youngest son, but now I am raising my daughter–and now I get to bring grandma here and my wife is making Thanksgiving dinner.

Small things, not really worth reporting, I guess. Yet, there are shade patterns here that provide glimpses into the heart of who I am, who we are and how we are. And I like what I see…

Drive

Is there something that drives us that, at times, disappears? It is not enough to be ambitious. Ambition must be tempered with human spirit and maybe even a dash of humility, just as justice is tempered by mercy.

At the heart of this balance is a fierce hopefulness–a candle whose bright flame only shines under that tempered glass. It will suffocate for want of fresh air–a break, a need to walk away from ambition. But of course that too is perilous, for the break may last too long. And that is where I find myself this evening.

The attachment of “journalism adviser” to my previous English teacher denotation, has caused me to be a lot busier, a lot more pre-occupied, and a lot less willing to write articles. Combined with the unfortunate class I had to take on line (and I must take 2 or 3 more) to fulfill the No Child Left Behind act (a waste of time, money and brain cells), I have simply not been prepared to work at research, drafting, revising and writing. I find sleep coming on me much earlier–even though I refuse it and push it off when I can–and I don’t know how to pick it up again. Several attempts at increasing my own energy level have been somewhat beneficial, but ultimately, somewhere around 9:00 P.M., they too come crashing down. I have evenings where I am even too tired to come up with a proper thought to publish here.

And this worries me…

God knows I have no job that is that demanding. I am certainly not laboring 12 hours a day. Yes, it’s true that my job requires some creativity, some improvisation–but, it is not physically demanding. Still–I find myself without much drive.

I’m open to suggestions–but please, by all means, leave your suggestions of vitamins and energy drinks behind. I have no desire for them and have found, in fact, that they are little more than wastes of money. With the exception of the occasional vitamin c to ward off the colds, I don’t take vitamins because in the past, when I have done so, they’ve added nothing to my life. At one point, I took a multi-vitamin that my mom pushed on me. I took it every day for a year–and noticed absolutely nothing that would not have been there without it. Vitamin c, however, has proven effective to me at times. Energy drinks? Please. Flavor of the month, people–flavor of the month. Heck, except for the occasional Relpax for migraines (less than 4 or 5 times a year), I don’t take medications of any kind.

I do however exercise, eat right and sleep well. But still, work has me pinned. I don’t mind it. I actually look forward to the work. I like what I teach and I like what I do most days. But I miss publishing articles–and I miss writing, researching and marketing myself. Apparently, though–I don’t miss it enough to stay awake a little longer…

Detours pt. II

The weekend was not what it was supposed to be…

Friday night late, I checked the answering machine and there was a message there from Dr. Searle. He’s a good man, Dr. S–and caring and kind. He is our dermatologist, Sue’s and mine. Both of us have had bouts with skin cancer (mine are generally pre-cancerous things), but Sue’s, as has been the case with all of her health concerns since Peanut was born, has been more serious.

18 months ago, she had a malignant melanoma on her leg which required excision of the lesion. Thank God, it was in situ–meaning it had not spread–so they got it all. But the wound itself got badly infected and ended up taking us on a whirlwind of medication, scarring, CT Scans and many follow up doctor’s appointments.

Well, Dr. Searle sounded a little too upbeat in Friday night’s call, so I pursued it while Sue was camping at the beach with her sister this weekend. The doc had said that we could leave a message at his office and he would return it this weekend. I rolled the dice and explained in the message, “hey, doc–we’ve been down this road before. I hate to have you call us on the weekend, but anything we’re imagining is far worse than the reality. Can you give me a call and let me know what’s up?” And he obliged….

Sue does indeed have another melanoma on her back, this time. It’s the price she is paying for a misspent California youth spent on the beach, in the sun, sans sunblock. This one, too is in situ and we are grateful and thankful for that. We’ve been quite vigilant about this aspect of our health and it has paid off. In fact, the doc said to her when he did the biopsy’s of 5 different areas on her, “I’m sure they’re nothing.” Well–there’s nothing and then there’s…malignant melanoma. Not so much nothing.

Needless to say that Friday I didn’t sleep much and I determined not to tell Sue anything until I got a confirmation from Dr. Searle. I don’t like keeping things from her, but it would have done little good to discuss it before I knew anything–and ruin her camping trip. When the doc called me directly, I must say it took a load off. I worry about Sue–like most husbands, I guess. But maybe I’m being selfish. I don’t think I’d be who or where I am today without her.

Anyway, luckily, he called before I saw her on Saturday and so when I drove to the campground to take Peanut down for a little beach time collecting rocks with mom (who was slathered in sun block, by the way), I was able to give her the news. She’s pretty sanguine about it—as long as that little Latin phrase appears after the melanoma term.

Meanwhile. last night was a bust as I was now overly tired and when I got home from a wedding and from picking Peanut up at the beach, I put her to bed–and resolved to crawl in myself. It didn’t work. I hadn’t eaten dinner and so I heated up some minestrone soup I had. This morning, around 5 A.M., it let me know it was no longer happy inside me. This, combined with a migraine I got around the same time (coincidence? mmmmmaaaybe) left sleeping fairly well out of the question. Luckily, I have “the nuclear option” when it comes to migraines. A little pill called Relpax that is very useful–and effective. Worked well. The rest? Well, it is a bit too indelicate to discuss here.

So—a bust of a weekend. No daddy-daughter breakfast as was intended. No trip to Santa Barbara today or shopping excursions….at least not yet. Right now, Peanut is down stairs with her friends from down the street and my pal Charlie’s niece and……hold on a minute……

Nevermind. They’re now upstairs. Dress up time, I think. Better go deal with that.

Detours

Back late after a long night of driving around Los Angeles. Edd and Leanne–along with Jacob and their newest addition, Kyle (recently adopted-and Jacob’s natural sibling!) were headed first for Colorado to see Edd’s family for Thanksgiving–and then on to Miami, Florida where Edd will undergo his first round of screening for a liver transplant there. He’s on the list here, of course, but California is notorious for not being, shall we say, expeditious with the dispensation of organs.

Funny, I meant to write here about the hassle that is driving to L.A. on a Friday. We took the coast route and all was well, really, until the last 8 miles or so. That 8 miles took about an hour through thick Los Angeles traffic on Lincoln boulevard. It was rather disheartening and gave further evidence, if I needed it, of why I simply do not go to LAX–or Los Angeles–if I can avoid it. Too crowded, too hot, too flashy, too gaudy, too….everything. But–then I realized that the reason I did this was to get Edd to the airport so he and the fam could visit his folks–and then move on to Florida where he hopes to save his life and cure his illness….

And suddenly, the traffic, the noise, the congestion, the L.A. thing—don’t really seem to matter as much.

Happy Friday.