Wine News like I promised

I had a deadline today for a piece on J. Paul Rosilez wines. I spoke with Joe this afternoon while I was at Burbank Airport and he was doing errands at the bank, etc. He’s an interesting guy, Mr. Rosilez. He works as a pharmacist in Paso Robles for two different places. He puts in about 90 hours a week there–and makes wine at night. He’s a family man, married with three young children, the oldest is 5. And you’re right–I don’t know how he does it either. I will say this, though–he did not sound tired, he was full of good humor and grace, a really nice guy to talk to with a particular passion.

Speaking of wines, I had the opportunity to meet with my mentor, a guy younger than me (a fascinating point on which I’m fixated), Adam Mahler. Adam was the one who got me into wine and focused me on becoming a sommelier in the first place. We met at his in-laws with his whole family and his father-in-law (well, step-father in law) who happens to be Peanut’s pediatrician. Good times–the man can cook, the pediatrician, that is.

Anyway, Adam and Heather and their two kids were in town and we got to spend an evening with them that was really wonderful. Good food, good wine, good conversation and all around Christmas-time. It was awesome.

I brought along a sample out of the barrel of Brian’s and my Tempranillo. It was, in a word, spectacular. Now, I may be biased–but we’re talking a young wine here and it had already imparted to it a hint of vanilla from the Hungarian barrels we bought and a mellow, but sturdy and consistent fruit forward flavor to it. It had a hint of smokiness, almost a kind of coffee flavor, but subtle. And the fruit was ripe berries and maybe some cherry as well. It was grand. And it’s not even 3 months old yet. I cannot wait until spring.

OK, there’s the wine news….all the news that’s fit to print. Happy Friday of this, the 2007 Christmas season.

Straightening up and out…

It was only a matter of time, I suppose. The whole house has been hit with the cold. I reported earlier that all of us, even Sofie, had gotten sick. Slowly, though–we made our way back to health. All except one….Peanut. Her cold seemed for a few days to be really going better. The cough loosened up and was mostly gone, and she was sleeping well at night.

Then came this morning. I was the first one up followed closely by Peanut and she wasn’t as jovial as she’d been the past few days. I was in the kitchen cleaning up some dishes and she went into the bathroom to blow her nose. Well, there’s blowing your nose and then there’s blowing your nose. Hers was the latter and she was mopey. She came out and into the kitchen and said, “Daddy, when am I gonna get better? I don’t feel so good….” That was it. I knew the drill. This was full blown sinus infection which, unfortunately, befalls Peanut and Sue fairly regularly.

It was off to her allergist who examined said sinus passages only to find that they were inflamed and swollen on her left side, fine and dandy on her right. A one sided sinus infection combined with a smallish (but growing) ear infection. Poor thing. A dose of anti-b’s was in order and she took her first dose today. As with all such things, by this evening, she was already better.

Meanwhile, the extraordinary bleeding of the cash goes on. Yesterday, the van in its own inimitable fashion, cost us about $500.00 with new brakes, new front tires and a new serpentine belt. Today, it was the wine box’s turn. While relatively new, it was due for its 30K mile check-up and so, in doing so, we found that it too lacked front brakes (down to about 5%) and that at the 30K check up, it needs all the goodies–new sparks, air filter, etc. Grand total: $500.00 plus change. Yep…there goes a grand just like that. But hey, what am I going to do? Drive unsafe vehicles? Not with my family in it, thank you.

So, this evening–safety and health being the main concerns, both are now well under control and all is right again. I’m in hopes that it stays that way….at least for a while.

Christmas plus 1

The anti-climax of December 26th was offset by Sofie taking Peanut out for a girl’s day shopping. Water polo practice lasted until noon and Peanut and I packed up in brother Doug’s car to go get her. The van was in the shop for a little brake-work as well as some belt replacements and a couple of tires. Sue had the other car, a box, and fortunately, brother Doug flew off to Phoenix leaving his company car in our driveway. I know….too much info.

So, Sofie then provided Peanut with her best Christmas gift ever: a shopping trip with her “big sister” to the outlet malls and when I went to get them, it was metamorphosis. Peanut not only got clothes–she got “style.” A knee length sweater, some happenin’ jeans, a pair of pink boots (we’re off to Yosemite next week) and some other things that just make her into a 21st Century girl. She was thrilled and carried a grin with her all day. On top of that, Sofie spent some “quality time” with her and had a series of good conversations. It made Sue and I both appreciate the role that a sibling plays, both of us have them, and how an only child can and does miss out on some things.

I’ve wine news, but it doesn’t fit here and requires my pre-thinking about it before I write it and besides, I’m just too lazy tonight. A fine Wednesday to all—especially since I’m on vacation. And yes, I can get used to it.

Christmas Eve, 2007

Be you Pagan or Christian, Catholic or Protestant….

Merry Christmas to you all–and to all a good night!

“I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future!” Scrooge repeated, as he scrambled out of bed. “The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. Oh Jacob Marley! Heaven, and the Christmas Time be praised for this! I say it on my knees, old Jacob; on my knees!”

He was so fluttered and so glowing with his good intentions, that his broken voice would scarcely answer to his call. He had been sobbing violently in his conflict with the Spirit, and his face was wet with tears.

“They are not torn down,” cried Scrooge, folding one of his bed-curtains in his arms, “they are not torn down, rings and all. They are here: I am here: the shadows of the things that would have been, may be dispelled. They will be. I know they will!”

His hands were busy with his garments all this time: turning them inside out, putting them on upside down, tearing them, mislaying them, making them parties to every kind of extravagance.

“I don’t know what to do!” cried Scrooge, laughing and crying in the same breath; and making a perfect Laoco├Ân of himself with his stockings. “I am as light as a feather, I am as happy as an angel, I am as merry as a school-boy. I am as giddy as a drunken man. A merry Christmas to every-body! A happy New Year to all the world! Hallo here! Whoop! Hallo!”
–Charles Dickens

Christmas Dreck

I have the dreck and it hit me the hardest. Rest of the family is doing quite well, thank you. I, however, suffer under the duress of a minor low grade fever, stuffy head and all the other staples of the season. The ear is painful, but I don’t think it’s infected. If it were, the fever would be up. I rather think it’s the congestion.

You’d rather not read about my dreck, I know. Who would? It’s just that when you have the dreck, it consumes your whole being and it’s hard to write about anything else. Poor Scoop wanted to go for his walk and I just didn’t feel like exerting myself beyond lifting my glass of water to my face. Thankfully, Sofie got out the leash and packed him off for his daily constitutional. They’re still out there walking in the wind. And it is windy. We had cold weather with rain, now we have warm with wind. That’s about it this time of year–it’s all you get. It’s either windy and warm and annoying or cold and rainy and delightful. No in between.

So, I did things you do with the dreck–I watched TV, dozed off to sleep, watched more TV, ate Top Ramen, dozed off to sleep and watched more TV. I’ll be honest, I’m in profound hopes that I am better tomorrow because there’s only so much TV I can watch. I don’t watch all that much as it is and here we are in hour 3 of having the damned thing on. Eek.

Time to ramble. Merry Christmas Eve Eve….

First Night of Vacation

It was a year ago that we were in Phoenix for the first part of Christmas break. I mention only because it does not feel like a year has passed. Yet, here we are a year older. Peanut’s not in kindergarten, she’s in first grade and that is amazingly hard to believe.

Tonight, though, is the first night of Christmas vacation for 07/08 and, as is fairly typical–we’re all sick. We’ve got whatever cold/flu thing is bantering about Ventura County and the whole family except sis-in-law has it. It takes its toll most on Sue, but she’s tolerating it middling well. Peanut is actually getting through it decently and Sofie, already in bed this evening, seems to be a little bit better.

Ah well…this too shall pass. Christmas break brings with it a close to home holiday followed by a New Year’s excursion to Yosemite, where I’ve never been. The promise of getting away and enjoying some time in a beautiful woodsy winter wonderland is rather inviting and I cannot wait to write about what I see.

Meanwhile, my fever-addled brain is not striking the right balance needed to produce pithy prose. I shall, gentles, retire for the evening watching VH-1’s histor of heavy metal. Right now, they’re focusing on Deep Purple–before that it was Black Sabbath–and it brings back memories that are rich and powerful. I loved these bands. Might have to listen to them again.


I know that the supposed definition of stupidity or perhaps insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Knowing this, you’d think I would, at least in some way, respond to it. But, I don’t. I’ve walked into the same traps again and again–and they’re of my own making. I think it’s ego.

I’ve taught high school and junior high school for 17 years. I love it and I hate it, like most people in their careers, I suppose. There’s things in it about which I’m passionate and there’s things in it which make me have ethical and moral crises that drive me to want to quit. Like all of us.

But during this time, I’ve also had the opportunity to teach college level students both at the community or junior college level and at the grad school level, teaching teachers. I’ve never found either of the two particularly enlightening, but I keep walking back into them. I do so because so many people I know–including me–think of college as the pinnacle of the teaching experience. You know–if you’re hired by a college, then you’re finally at the top. Except-in my humble opinion, you aren’t.

And so it is that I got offered the chance to apply for another college gig at the recently opened California State University Channel Islands. It’s a beautiful place with some really incredible people and a fantastic education department. I’d been doing some work along with some colleagues of mine with some of the faculty of the ed. dept. there. We’ve been discussing, in seminar fashion, how NCLB affects classroom teachers. Through that, I was offered the chance to apply for a part-time teaching position and I jumped at the chance. A little extra money, a little prestige–why not?

But then, it all came back to me: the amount of time one has to put in, the grading, the nights away from home and the family. The family let me know, too. My young daughter hated the idea. “Daddy, you want to do more work at night? When will I see you?” Phhhhphhhtttthh. That’s the sound of the knife going right through the old heart.

So, after being offered the job–I turned it down today. I did so rather unconfidently at first. But it grew on me. The professors who interviewed me were more than gracious and understood why I turned it down and they didn’t close any doors on me. So, while I am always up for making a little extra money, I’m not ready to do it at any cost. I think I’ll rethink that.

Meanwhile, there are essays to write–query letters to send and articles to produce. Merry Christmas.

I remember Christmas

It starts with snow. Almost always, the fine flakes falling-and hardly ever a whisper of the cold biting wind that came off the lakeshore and dropped temperatures regularly into the 20’s and teens. Below that, sometimes. Dad still says to me, “we left the east before you were an adult. Your memories of it don’t include shoveling a lot of snow, getting the car started at 6:00 in the morning when the temperature was below zero, the freezing slush….” I’m all about snow-days from school, hot cocoa and cartoons. He’s right, of course. But it’s a memory. And it’s mine.

Trains, Christmas trees and Rudolph, really. My earliest memories of Christmas are filled with trains. My father loved them, cherished them even. I remember knowing there were some that were special, we had probably 8-10 electric HO engines, and one in particular was dad’s. It was a black steam-engine and I don’t remember whether or not it actually gave off steam if the proper chemical was added. Remembrances of it still exist in my dad’s house. There’s a steam engine calendar and a painting of steam trains on a plaque. There’s one of those wooden whistles and a little model of a locomotive in his office in the house in Arizona–and every time I see them, I think of our basement in Chicago.

What I do remember is that the black engine was special. It was the King of trains, the one that marked all the others as living or present and if it wasn’t running, it was occasionally given its own piece of track to rest on, standing sentinel over the rest. It was brought out to test every new track we built. It wasn’t real until dad ran his engine on it and after that, the yellow and green one that looked like the real trains dad took to work from our suburban Chicago home. I remember their heft, they felt heavy to me and since then, I’ve often thought that the HO engines I’ve seen and had in years past are not as well made because they’re not as heavy. That, however, may be because I’m older.

We occasionally put them under the Christmas tree, but frankly–we got new ones almost every year and rather than set them up under the tree, they were the presents that were placed there. I can remember the old house on Pratt Ave. (dad took this picture of it recently when he was visiting his brother and sister in Wisconsin).

Christmas morning I would come downstairs and under the tinkling lights and ornaments were wrapped packages in multi-colored paper with snowmen or Santa. Outside, a blanket of soft snow covered all and the furnace rumbled to life as we put on robes and mom made breakfast. In the back of the tree, though, behind the wrapping and illuminated gently by the tree lights that mom turned on when she was the first downstairs, was a brand new Tyco HO train set. It included an engine and the requisite cars, some track, a crossing gate and other assorted goodies.

The first engine I remember getting was a red and grey GP-20 diesel. It was a thing of beauty and I kept that engine until I was in my teens. I see it still and I loved it dearly, but I remember always coveting others. Jerry had a green Penn Central F9A engine and that lime green color with its modern aero-dynamic look was awesome. Doug had the aforementioned yellow and green passenger hauler and there was, of course, dad’s steam train. Tracks, set-ups, were fluid matters that changed positions and were altered at our whim– cities, streams, tunnels, hills–even snow.

Raising a daughter has not afforded me the privilege of having too many trains in my home. Before I was married, my roommate Shawn and I had a game called Railroad Tycoon. It’s a computer game in which you build railroad empires that are animated. It’s virtual, not tangible and so not nearly as satisfying as coloring hillsides and adding cars to an already straining payload. But I’ve never had the trains I had in my youth. I miss them.

I fully intend to build another set of them when I get older but recently, I’ve been thinking I shouldn’t wait. The memory of trains is so strong in me. I can even remember their odor as the snaps of ozone wafted across the electricity pulsing through the tracks. I remember cleaning the wheels with a special eraser that took the black grit right off the tires.

On my way to work each morning, here in California where I now make my home, I cross the tracks that are part of the major north-south road in California. The tracks go all the way down to San Diego at the Mexican border and they continue north–all the way to Canada. It’s a busy road and I find myself looking at each train that passes with a kind of glee. I’ve ridden on a few of them–we’ve taken Peanut to San Diego and such, but still nothing really compares to those days of my youth where I built empires, drove engines, set schedules and repaired breakdowns on my own railroad line.

Still, even with all of it–it’s Christmas where the trains mean the most. For it is in Christmas-time that we share our deepest memories, not only of our faith in the Christ-child that comes to us anew each year–but in our families and in our memories as traditions and passions, loves and joys. If Christmas is anything to me, it’s a memory of trains and snow–of cold nights and dreams of what will be….

I remember a cold clear night with snow on the ground, standing outside the church with my brothers in Palatine waiting for mom and dad to take us home that Christmas eve. I remember blowing our breath until it crystallized in the frozen night air and looking skyward to see if we could see Rudolph’s nose. I remember bedtime and curling deep beneath heavy blankets at my feet and heavy eyelids lilting me into a whispering dream of sleep. I remember the thrum and rattle of electric train engines on freshly laid track, still loose and unfixed in its place like the dream that held it. And I remember dad making straight the path, putting down the bed for the rails and running his steam engine with its coal car along the tracks.

The night faded softly, coldly into day and we were up with the sun, chomping at the proverbial bit to welcome yet another Christmas day, carols on the radio, mom pouring orange juice and the three of us boys ripping and shredding paper. Those days fill my mind this time of year and they haunt me with a glow of my childhood and the quiet but persistent hum of an HO model train.

In an Instant…

It just goes to show you, all is well–and then it all goes to hell, real quick. Alright….it wasn’t that bad. But it was bad enough.

Tonight was Peanut’s school’s first family movie night of the year. Good times, these things. They bring in pizza from the local Round Table, and it is significantly bad. Crust like cardboard and sauce that’s been so dried up, the cheese was more moist. That and popcorn and various sugary substances.

The movie was Elf and it really was a great film. If you haven’t seen it, rent it. It’s a wonderful Christmas story and Will Farrell is tremendous.

Then it happened—Peanut was running to catch up with mom, she tripped and hit smack dab on her elbow on the hard tile floor. Swelled up and got sort of gray, purply, too. Keith Smith was there, a friend of ours and a firefighter and he checked her out. He was content that all was well but Peanut’s big on drama. Well, long story short, we finished the film, came home and put her to bed–and just as we did, she complained about the pain. So–off to the hospital. Three hour wait was in store, so we tried to prepare ourselves. Triage nurse saw Peanut and did an exam. She was fine–and the nurse was utterly fantastic. She took good care of our little girl and what she said was, if it is a fracture, it’s what they call an occult fracture which is kind of like a chip. The way you deal with that is to immobilize it with a splint of sling. Well….

She told us the bottom line was–it’s not that bad an injury and we’d have to make the decision but we’d be better off taking her home and getting her some sleep. If in the morning, she’s having trouble with it, we’ll call the pediatrician and go from there.

Funny how all else on a Friday, the end of the week, can be drowned out by one falling child. And I suppose that’s as it should be. It was Sue I was worried about more. She fell to pieces when Peanut fell–she was crying and carrying on–and it added to Peanut’s injury. She’s a great mom–and she’s also very empathetic. I wouldn’t have it any other way, I suppose.

Another weekend at Christmas-time is upon us. Sofie’s drawing for her art class next to me and Sue is up getting ready for bed–meanwhile, the greatest movie of all time, The Godfather, is on TV.

If all isn’t right with the world–and it’s not when Peanut is hurting–it’s fairly close.