I sort of became a writer…

When I wasn’t looking, that is. I’ve been freelancing for quite a while–for lots of different places–but the work was always far and few between.

In the past year, though–things have really picked up and the publications for whom I’m writing are a surprise to me. The wine mag is great, and it gets busier. They just assigned me 6 different pieces adding up to a tidy little sum. They spread out the deadlines pretty well, but the faster I write, the faster I get paid–and then get assigned more.

The advent of the local paper picking me up is a great boon to me not only because there is a lot of writing I can do for them, but because I get that “daily newspaper” experience that seems so critical to a lot of other publications. I’ll start more in earnest there in the next couple of weeks.

Last night, however, I got an e-mail from Forbes.com inviting me to join their new blogging community. As near as I can tell, the invitation went out to quite a few bloggers and so I sent in my information. I picked up a bit of traffic when I was doing my McCain blogging a few weeks back and so I’ve got some new readers. What they’re mostly interested in, though–is my blogging about the wine business. The whole focus of the community is niche marketing and so they will point their readers to various blogs on various subjects. I’ll advertise for them within the niche they put me and reap 40% of the ad revenues, whatever those might be. It won’t be much, mind you, but it’s better than a sharp stick in the eye, I suppose.

I was looking at these things this morning and realizing that in journals I wrote back right before and right after I got married, I wrote about wanting to write more. Odd, yes? What I mean is, I wrote about wanting to get paid to write. And now, I’m doing that. No–it’s not going to let me quit the dayjob–but it’s fun, it’s lucrative–and most of all, it’s a dream that I’ve had for years, worked hard to achieve–and somehow, I achieved it.

Pretty cool.

Breaking News

The fever seems to have broken. Of course it did. I went to the doctor and I went because it wouldn’t break. Chances are had I not gone to the doctor, the fever would not have broken–until I called to make the appointment. It’s like magic. Anyway, I have an ear-infection, though not all the way in the drum area. It’s in the canal itself and so I have drops. Better than pills, but harder to keep it in your ear than just swallow it down with water. I guess it could be worse…I could have to put the pills in my ear. OK, now I’m just being nonsensical.

The latest attempt to get John McCain out of the Republican nomination is rather quaint, yes? He was born in the Panama Canal zone, so he cannot be President. Well, I’m no expert–so, I’ll bite. I know that for a while I believed that it was true that you could not be President unless you were born in the country. I remember being told that was not true, that if your parents were both citizens of the U.S., then so were you and that settled it. Well–here we go again, I suppose. But what’s the point? You mean during the man’s first run for the Presidency in 2000, this didn’t come up? Please. This is the 24 hour newscycle and it has been around for a while, now. But hey…research until your heart’s content.

Meanwhile, I just signed all the necessary docs to get on board at the local paper. I’m not an official correspondent and in fact, I’m getting a County Sheriff’s Press Pass soon to be official. I confess, I’ve always wanted an official press pass. As a journalist, it’s the hallmark calling card of the craft and yes, I intend to maintain complete bragging rights over it–while not doing it disparagement and embarrassment by overuse. Besides, as a journalist, I’m not nearly left-wing enough, just like as a teacher, I’m not either.

I’ll be going out tomorrow to find some of James’ and Manuela’s Ventura Limoncello. I’ve written before how top notch it is and I cannot wait to put some in the freezer. I’m also going to head out to buy a bit more wine, though I’ve not decided what I want yet. I’ll post here when I get it as I am in the mood to try some new things.

4 days above normal

Well, that’s 4 days in a row with a fever. I’ve used all the chemistry there is to bring the thing down. It hasn’t gone above 100.8 in the past two days and the last time I took it, about an hour ago, it was somewhere around 99 and a half. Here’s the thing–I don’t get fevers very often. I cannot tell you the last time I had one. But man is it ever a bear to deal with. I haven’t stayed home from school because, quite honestly, I haven’t quite felt bad enough. I mean, I suppose I should just stay home in bed for a day and maybe that’d kick it, but there’s so much going on at school and so many things I’ve to do, I just don’t feel like lying down. Who knows? Maybe my body will decide it needs that at some point. Right now, though-it hasn’t.

Night-time is worse, of course. That’s way posting is rather scattered and spartan. After dinner especially, it gets pretty bad. Right now, I’m just trying to wind down after putting Peanut down to sleep and letting my mind filter through the events of the day. I got to write my piece today about the WWII vets who’ve been visiting our campus. I got a real kick out of writing the piece and I’m in hopes that it will be in tomorrow’s paper. If not, it will run soon, I’m sure. When it does, I’ll link it. The Star was kind enough to send Joseph, a photojournalist who really knew his stuff. He took copious amounts of photos and they will accompany the piece.

Meanwhile, there are a few things up at the website that the students are brewing. Fun to see.

"America is the Best Country in the World…"

The dreck is still around. I’ve got it, but it comes and goes. My fever is now below 100 degrees, though still not in the optimal range. I’m inclined to believe that at some point it will go up again this evening. If and when it does, I won’t want to write. When I spike temps, I have a tendency to get the chills and that makes me want to nothing but hide ‘neath the duvee. So, an early post for today:

I consider myself an optimistic guy, in general. I confess that gets tested at times, as does everyone’s optimism, I suppose. I’m a little more moody than some, though. Anyway, there is one area where I’ve never found reason for optimism: The Santa Ana winds.

Dry, hot, big, nasty winds come calling at every time of year, it seems–mostly in the fall–but we’re getting a blast now. It’s uncomfortable, it’s hot, it’s allergy-laden, it’s awful. It’s February! Ick. Well, anyhow–I finally found some optimism in them. Ready? The Santa Ana winds dry up the dog poop really quickly, making cleaning it up a very easy job. There. I feel like I’ve added to the positive thinking in the world.

Very exciting news as I’ve reported before, I’ll be working as a correspondent for the local paper this spring and summer. My first “gig” comes tomorrow and combines my passion of writing with another passion, history. Several WWII vets are coming to our school to speak to students and I’ve been asked to cover the story. Those of you who know me know my passion for such subjects and my passion for Stephen Ambrose’s works. I reported here previously that SEA’s brother, Harry, has kept up correspondence with my students and me as we read through Band of Brothers. He had quite an impact on them–and on me. Now, I find myself in the position of doing the same thing, writing about these heroes in the pages of our local paper and I cannot wait!

Meanwhile, we had Richard E. Smith, a WWII Vet and local resident, come to our class today and speak to the kids. He was at the battle of Anzio, which was a truly spectacular fight and he was promoted from buck Private to Captain in very short order. He was proud of his service–and more, he was proud of his country. The kids listened closely as he said, “America is the best country in the world. Now, I know some people will disagree with me, but most of them have not been to other countries…” What a special moment to have kids in a public school hear that America is a great country. I was honored to be a part of it. I’m even more excited about tomorrow. Our student paper’s photography editor took some photos today and they can be seen at the website, here.

Well, there’s that. It’s a lot. I’m going to go avoid the chills now.

As I write

The aches and pains, a cough that developed last night–all non-specific, all cursory. No sore throat, just a phlegmy cough. No specific area of pain–just achy, tired–worn out. After a day in which I didn’t do much.

Well…

So, tonight I am contemplating early to bed to see if I cannot shke this thing before it gets worse. I had the dreck once already this year, twice if you count the sinus infection at Christmas. I’m hoping this is just a sort of shadow, left over from what I had last weekend. If not, I’ll be laid up for a few days. Should be fun. Let us now hope it isn’t that, shall we?

Thanks.

I’ve got no witty prose tonight, folks. I’ve nothing much to say. I was rather astounded by this piece I found at Real Clear Politics. As I told my big brother Doug…I think I get it now: The left (the left here is identified as those who believe that government can do more than private individuals can and therefore vote for people who will do silly things like socialize healthcare, raise taxes, pander to unions, etc) seeks to empower people or groups of people by making them victims. The more victims, the more people need big government.

What a neat system, eh?

Credit where credit is due

Zach from Palermo found my post and commented. For this, I was greatly pleased. The purpose of a blog, after all, is to really dig into information. Kudos to Zach and his folks at Palermo coffee shop here in Camarillo for doing this. I need to state for the record that I still stick to my last post; the latte was weak and the muffin was…blah. But, Zach’s response to me was a thoughtful and business-like one that I appreciate. I’ll be going back to Palermo because of it-and I’ll be either talking with Zach or whoever to find out how to make my coffee a bit stronger, more flavorful. I’m not sure what he can do about the muffins, but that’s OK. I’ll live without those if I can have good local coffee! The important point here is, I was more than pleased that Zach commented to me in such a positive way. Obviously, no one wants their business put down–anywhere–but when it happens, this is the right and thoughtful response. And it will more than likely make me a continued customer.

Onward. James and Manuela have been friends of ours for some time. They are actually the good friends of other friends of ours, Tom and Mary Beth and that’s how we met. James is New York Italian, through and through. Manuela hails from Italy and still goes back to see family every year, bringing the couple’s son James Jr. along at times and leaving James behind when he has to work. Or had to.

Manuela’s cooking has always been astounding, according to Tom and M.B. We got to try some of it in the form of a dessert she made once and it was indeed astounding. But her skills extend far beyond the plate, as it were. Manuela had been taking fresh local Ventura lemons and making her own Limoncello for some time. It was so good, so refreshing and so layered with citrus and freshness that it became the thing people asked for when talking to Manuela about her cooking.

That’s the very short version (and I do mean very short) of the Ventura Limoncello company. Now selling in stores like the Wine Castle among others, James and Manuela have begun their own company creating limoncello that is made from local produce and is about the most delicious apperitif I’ve ever had. My expertise is in wine and even there, you could quibble with me at times. I don’t know limoncello, but I have been reading about it, I certainly do drink it and I’ve spent time understanding the nuances of the drink from the creamy version to the straight liquor version. Both should be kept ice cold in the freezer as so many apperitif spirits and liquors whose flavor is enhanced when served chilled.

I’m always excited when I get to know local folks who are making fresh food and drink products that are so good. I cannot recommend this product enough. No, I get no kickbacks. I’m not a salesman, I’m a wine and food writer–and this limoncello is among the best I’ve ever tasted. Give it a shot.

Early and Late

Palermo Coffee shop: 6:15 A.M. today: I began my day here in a shout out to days of yore when Edd and I would meet once a week for coffee and a bagel over at the New York bagel shop in on the other side of town, closer to Edd. I chose Palermo, but I didn’t have to. Truth be told, I like the romanticism of the place and the notion that I’m supporting local business. But it’s also a lesson in economics. Palermo’s coffee isn’t that good. It doesn’t suck. It’s not Starbuck’s which does indeed suck, in my modestly humble opinion, but it’s not that good. Not really flavorful. Lost its verve, somewhere along the way. The muffins do indeed suck. They suck roundly, badly–in a suck-o-licious kind of way. I ate mine, but more out of the primal hunger need than of the desire to eat the muffin.

We have a Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf in town and they’re quite good. Again, I really do want to support the locals, but for me to do that, the coffee has to be better, I guess. Anyway, Edd dropped me a note last evening asking if I’d like to meet this morning and I said that’d be keen. Edd, to his credit, having gone through about the worst stuff that a guy can go through–has decided to become a teacher. He’s put himself through school the past year and he started student teaching today. Wow. Hard to believe. We’re not spring chickens, you know. I’ve been teaching 17 years, now. Edd’s been a musician and a graphic designer for that amount of time and more. But with two kids, an ailing wife–and a life threatening liver disease, it was time to change his tune, proverbially.

Anyway, we had coffee and that meant up at 5:30 this morning. Off to work around 7:00 after the chat with Edd and then into the maelstrom. I swear, I’ve already written about how these days are going, but I’m busier than a beaver bachelor on the Yangtze river (just made that up–we’ll see if it sticks). The print version (or dead version) of the newspaper came out today and it was our best yet. It really looked good and had some fine writing in it. I was pleased. This, of course, was after the fact that it should have come out a week ago. C’est la vie.

Had a quick break to come home for lunch with Sue which was nice, but I was back at it within 45 minutes and we were off and running in the yearbook and the paper.

Palermo Coffee Shop: 3:30 P.M. today: Back to the confines of the klunky coffee joint where I met my charge for home and hospital teaching, an affable lass whose name I cannot give for obvious reasons. She’s not attending school, but sort of on independent study mode. I meet her at the coffee shop, give her her lessons, administer tests, make sure she’s reading, etc. and she does the work. Not well, but she does it.

Off again to the Fed Ex drop off and pick up place down there in that funny little strip mall that has everything from a Credit Union ATM (which is nice for those of us with Credit Union accounts) to a Subway, to a walk-in medical clinic to a sushi joint. It’s versatile, you have to say… I dropped off the “package” for yearbook to send to the yearbook plant and then went on my merry way home. Once there, I headed out for a walk with the dog and by the time I got home, the family was just arriving home, too with Sofie in tow happy as a martyr when the fire won’t burn, as Mark Twain used to say. She passed her driver’s permit test and is all aglow with the teenage throws of freedom. I’m telling you, this freedom thing is the universal language…

Well, a beautiful dinner of crockpot ribs made by my wife, an evening by the fireplace, part of a family movie with, well…the family. And now, bedtime.

Yessir, that’ll do. I’ve reminded myself to do an update on my friends at the Ventura Limoncelo company tomorrow, and I shall do it.

Yessir, it was a fine and fabulous day. The rain fell a bit, but once we got in the park, it never rained hard. We rode rides, ate food, laughed, giggled, and generally enjoyed ourselves as we are wont to do. We love Disneyland and though Sue and I have gone back and forth about wanting to keep a sense of excitement and surprise in it, we have yet to become bored by going.

For my part, I needed a day off and was happy to get away where I didn’t have to think about much of anything work related. I just got to hang out with the kids, my wife, my sister-in-law and full envelop myself with it all. This includes a couple of firsts, the most profound being our riding on the Hollywood Tower of Terror. Serious ride, that one. Totally unexpected. I nearly soiled my armor I was so scared, to borrow the phrase.

So, the day went beautifully and we really did escape all of the mundane. Sofie commented that there was something so much nicer about being there on a weekday. She felt, she said, like she was truly relaxing–truly unwinding. And we all agreed with her. We were in control of our Wednesday, which is something that a normal Wednesday doesn’t offer us. We chose when to eat, what to do, when to do it–and we all went home happy and contented. Except Sue….

For whatever reason, be it the shrimp at dinner, the dropping elevator and floor of the Tower of Terror, the excitement of the day–who knows? She vomited. She spent about half an hour in the car puking and was miserable. I couldn’t pull over as we were on the 101 through Hollywood by that point and unless I just got off the freeway altogether, there was no pulling over. She had bags. She told me to keep going. That may have been partially motivated by the one drawback of going down on a weekday–the traffic. Coming home was no problem 75 mph the whole way. Going down, however, took us two and a half hours. And it felt like it. Ah. Los Angeles and Orange County traffic.

Anyway, she’s better now–doing fine. She’s not sure what hit her. Whatever it was, it’s gone. Luckily, it was just that moment-the rest of the day was fine for her and she was happy and healthy.

All’s well….

A few Questions…

Whew…we’re getting there. But working with people can be, well….working with people. It’s slow going. But we’re getting there (note..if you’ve no idea what this means, see the previous post).

OK-where were we? A mental health day is in order—sometimes, you have to walk away from the bear altogether—and we’ll wake up, rain or shine (and apparently, there may be some rain) and head down to the Magic Kingdom. Cannot wait.

Writing, writing, writing–lots of writing with a lot of new ideas, as well. I’m still entertaining the possibility of a book. That, I would love. I want to do a book on Katrina and its aftermath. I’m thinking about looking at it from a historical perspective and flat out reporting what faith based communities have done. I thought, at first, that as a Christian, that I’d write the book from that perspective. But that limits the audience to mostly people of faith. If, however, I write it as a historical book, well–that opens up a few new avenues. There have to be interviews, lots of interviews. There has to be a publisher, some articles need to come out of the work and there has to be, ultimately, an accounting of what happened in the aftermath of the storm. Did the government really fail to act? If so, why? If not–why is that the popular perception? And then–the discussion of faith communities and their sustained and continued role in the recovery. It’s a reader…yes? Give me your thoughts. Do you think a book like this would be worth pursuing? Is the material worthy of a book that would sell? If you read this and care to comment…please do.

Thanks for your support.

The bleak morning

The problems with the yearbook and newspaper at the school continue to occupy me. There are many things that need to be done but most of all, obviously, I’ve got some re-vamping to do. However, what it all comes down to is that if my students don’t care, then it’s going to be hard to make them care. This is the problem in all of education, of course. In the end, if we become too flexible, too willing to let the kids have freedom–then they exercise that more than anything else. There has to be a balance between allowing the students to make choices and making it necessary that the work gets done. I have not yet found that balance when it comes to the publications.

This, of course, is why I’m weary of “merit pay” plans in education. I’m all for being paid on merit–I think I’ve a lot of merit, actually. But, and here’s the important part–if the kids are coming to me without motivation and if their parents are either A) backing them no matter what allowing that they can do no wrong or B) negligent, ignorant and unwilling to really be a parent–then, it’s really going to be hard for me to get their kids to do much. Again, these scenario’s are not the norm, not at my school. But, it’s worth considering that if you’re going to pay teachers on merit, then you’d better come up with a better way to judge that merit than test scores in a random multiple-choice sampling. That simply won’t do the trick. A test score is such a small window into a student and when you add in the variables of how the student feels that moment, while they’re taking the test–and decide to base my pay on that, what you’re essentially doing is not merit pay at all. In fact, what you’re doing is paying me based on a number of factors only a couple of which have anything to do with me at all.

There’s a pretty good article on that subject here. It discusses both sides of this issue.

It’s wholly inappropriate for me to whine about the issue, I suppose. I’m a professional teacher and it’s what I’ve been doing for 17 years. I take it seriously and I like my work. I have to admit, though–that I’m being bombarded by the right wing on the one side saying that I should be paid by “merit” and the left wing on the other side whose coddling of parents and children to the point where they believe they’re entitled to a grade in my class–crushes me to the point where I’m too flat to be a dynamic character in this play. And I’m sick of the role.