Happy 7th Birthday, Peanut!

Indeed. All the cliche’s I can muster. It’s hard to believe it’s been 7 years. Where did the time go? How did we get this old? How can I be the father of a first grader? All valid and fine questions. But none of them matter. Today was her 7th birthday, yesterday was her party with all of her friends–she had so much fun, she could barely stand it.

Happy Birthday, Peanut.

Alaska Ranger

I’m not a great traveler. I’m a nervous flyer, a light sleeper, I’ve a weak constitution when it comes to diet changes and the like. I know this about myself, but I’m still drawn to it. I like the idea of travel and I think about it a lot. It’s an albatross to me.

I’ve always been fascinated by those who travel endlessly or even a lot. My brother is one of those. His work compels him to do it and he doesn’t love it, but he doesn’t really hate it, either. My friend Ron has traveled extensively. He spent many years in particular traveling to Canada, boat in tow, to fish the salmon runs off of Vancouver Island.

Sea travel is, perhaps, the most enigmatic. All of us are in some way drawn to the sea. Either its beauty or its romance bring us there, or we’re forced to fight the sea, like heroes, for the produce she gives us. That’s what the men of the Alaska Ranger did. They were fishermen based out of Dutch Harbor, the small village in the northern reaches of the state on the Bering Sea made famous by the Discovery Channel’s program Deadliest Catch. I watched that show with a great deal of interest. I was fascinated by the young and old men who, whatever their reason, cast their lot with a skipper on a boat in Alaska’s winter seas. It’s the deadliest career in America, possibly the world.

The Ranger was not a crabber. She was out trawling for fish when it happened. Easter morning at 3:00 A.M., the rudder stopped working and, as near as the Coast Guard can tell, Ranger started taking on water. The Mayday calls from Captain Eric Peter Jacobsen, which have been recorded and carry with them an eerie sense of urgency, indicate that the water was coming in from the rudder. Ranger apparently lost control when the rudder broke and the 30 m.p.h. winds combined with 15-18 foot seas created an untenable situation. Water was coming in at the rudder itself, sinking the after deck of the boat which allowed the high seas to swamp her from above. Easter’s baptismal flood was not the Good News it was supposed to be for the Ranger.

The Captain called for all hands to abandon ship, but doing so in the Bering Sea is no easy task. The temperatures of those waters are close to freezing and hypothermia sets in quickly. The crew put on their emergency float suits, referred to by sailors as “Gumby suits” and they began to man the liferafts. For whatever reason, still unknown to investigators, the survivors did not lash their rafts together, as they are trained to do, and that led to a confused rescue. Reports are that one of the sailors, Byron Carillo, a Los Angeles native, died when he was being lifted out by helicopter but fell from the lifeline back into the frigid water.

In the two hours it took for Ranger to sink, five crewmen lost their lives. Along with Captain Jacobsen and Byron Carillo were chief engineer Daniel Cook, first mate David Silveira and fishing master Satoshi Konno of Japan. It was dark, freezing cold and confused. Survivors tread water choking on diesel fuel and not knowing what number of factors, cold, water, wildlife, sinking vessel, would combine to take them to their deaths.

In the distance, survivors reported seeing two lights after a time. The lights would shine and then break with the rising of the waves. The noise of the crew yelling, the Ranger sinking and the storm blowing didn’t allow for hearing much else. But those two lights were their salvation. One was the Ranger’s sister ship, Alaska Warrior. The other was a Coast Guard Cutter and it was those two ships that brought life to the lost crew. One rescued sailor I heard interviewed on NPR said that just before he saw those lights, he’d made his peace with God and was ready to die.

I can’t begin to tell you why the story sticks with me. I certainly have never worked aboard a fishing boat. The closest I’ve come was a cruise to Alaska for my honeymoon in 1994. But I remember seeing those vessels. I even saw some of the crews of fishing boats in Southeast Alaska. Later, on another trip through Northern California, I spent time in Crescent City and Sue and I walked down to the harbor where all the fishing boats were, some going out as we walked. There is a memorial there to all those who’ve lost their lives at sea and it is a large memorial with many names.

It’s too hard to think about dying in that cold water. It’s even harder to know that those men were doing their jobs, tied their fate to the machinations of a boat in the most unforgiving environment on earth. The money they signed up to make might have lasted them all year, at least half of it. Now, they’re gone-and maybe their deaths haunt me precisely because I don’t know them. I don’t live their lives, I don’t work as hard as they did. Whatever the reason, they deserve to be remembered.

For those in peril on the sea. Indeed.

Fragments, fairie tales and Fitness

I put one piece to bed tonight before we even put Peanut to bed. I was hoping to put down two, but the interview I wanted isn’t going to take place until tomorrow. It’s pretty fascinating, actually, to be living this life–it’s what I wanted. I’m not saying these things to show off, I’m simply fascinated by the fact that I used to think about how I wanted to get e-mails on a consistent basis from editors. Now, I do–sometimes more than I can comfortably keep in order, but that’s not a complaint. I’m busy. I’m thrilled by that fact. I actually want to be busier.

Last night was not as serene as I led all to believe. After I wrote the post, Sue came downstairs complaining of an upset stomach. That was the beginning of a pretty bad night for her and she ended up vomiting sometime between 3 and 4 in the morning. It was a pretty bad night and even before I went to bed, I decided to sleep downstairs because she was so uncomfortable and restless. But, I heard her get up at 3 and I was in and out as I heard the machinations of her gastrointestinal system for that hour. Poor thing. Been there and it’s not good. She spent the day in bed and really didn’t get up until after the rest of us ate dinner. She’s back in bed now, too. She’s a bit better, tummy’s not as bad, but she’s exhausted.

Scoop is more back to himself and a bit more affectionate. Lucy, however, has an injury for which we cannot account. Her tail, at its base, is swollen and very sore. She cannot–or will not, wag it and she’s a seriously happy dog. Tail wagging is what Lucy does. We’ve developed a whole song around it in the family as she comes in the room. The trouble is we don’t know how it happened and we really cannot prove anything in terms of what the kennel did or didn’t do. Lucy’s a pretty hyper dog and the runs they put the dogs in have metal walls and bars. It’s quite possible she did it to herself. We don’t know–and can’t really find out. Meanwhile, the poor pooch has a seriously sore tail and it has colored her mood. She cannot sit properly and she looks sad. She has a very expressive face, so the sadness really comes through.

Picked up a bottle of James and Manuela’s Ventura Limoncello today. We had it as a digestivo after dinner. The stuff is absolutely delicious and wonderful. James took Peanut and I on a tour of his facility today and we got to see the process of infusion and such. There are some secrets to it, of course, and so we couldn’t learn all–but, the process is fascinating and labor intensive, much like wine. Cleanliness is the key, just as in wine-making.

Before that, it was a daddy-daughter day as Sofie took the opportunity to catch up on the sleep we all missed when we went to the Grand Canyon and so I took Peanut off to the dentist for her cleaning and check-up, then shopping to get a present for her friend’s birthday and then to lunch at Baja Fresh, one of her favorites. We had a great time and talked a lot. She’ll turn 7 herself on Monday and I’m finding that hard to believe. Where does the time go indeed? My nephew turned 8 today and that’s another milestone. Sofie’s been here nearly a year and that too is hard to accept. It feels like school just started and now we’re looking at the end of the year.

That’s the kind of day it was–abundantly productive, with just enough space to reflect on why it is that it’s days like this I find myself happiest.

Dogs, deadlines and domains

That’s better. Home now a day, slept a bit and tonight, all is back on track. Peanut’s exhausted, so is Sue–so is Sofie. All are in bed asleep as I write this. Scoop too is tired and asleep. I sense hostility and cannot fully blame him. “You went away. Fine, I can accept that. But the food was different, the neighbors at that place were all very noisy and never did seem to sleep. My voice is raw from telling them to shut up. And then, you bring me home for what? A bath! Imagine my disappointment in you. Don’t touch me. Just let me sleep.”

That is, at least, what I think I hear in his looks, his aloofness and his exhaustion. We are talking about serious tired. I put food in his dish and he laid there and watched me do it and didn’t even budge until I put the bowl down and walked away. Usually, his routine is to watch me put the ingredients together, go outside his doggy door and dance about excitedly while looking through the window, making a dash for it when it hits the floor. Not tonight–tonight there was a definite attitude. What can I do? He’s got a right, I suppose.

He’s even a little less territorial than usual. I’ve heard him bark once since I got him home this morning. I think he may be that crapped out, he just cannot even raise his voice. As for petting him? Well, his body is warm indicating life, but his mood is cold. He’s not interested in being petted, he’s not interested in affection. This isn’t terribly unusual and I’ve written about Scoop’s general aloofness before, but this is unusually so. He doesn’t really want much to do with any of us and I think when we all left the house today, he was gratified. Had the place to himself. Nice day, sunshine, cool breeze. He lazed about and didn’t have to bother with us.

Sofie and Peanut and I went off to see College Road Trip. If I had to rate it as a movie, I couldn’t. It wasn’t that good. But, it was a lot of fun–and very funny. Donny Osmond is in it and he is quite hilarious in his role as a doting, syrupy and cheesy father of a college bound daughter. Martin Lawrence is pretty funny, but I fear that got quashed in here. His talent, I’ve always thought, is as the second, the buddy in the buddy film–and he’s good at that. Here, he’s not as funny as he could be if he were cut loose. But, hey–it’s a kid’s film, not an adult’s film. And Peanut thought it was great. I was fascinated when, toward the end of the film, Raven is leaving for college and saying goodbye to her dad. Peanut turned to me and said, “dad, will I have to do that someday?”

“Yes,” I replied. “Someday.” She nodded and turned back to the film, thinking about what it meant.

OK-here’s the latest piece up at The Best of Everything. Enjoy…

Well, it wouldn’t be proper to leave you without a few fine photos. So, here we are:

If you’ve never seen the Grand Canyon before, this will not do it justice. This is looking across from the South Rim, where we were. That’s a bit more than 10 miles across to the North Rim and if you know the area, we’re standing along the Bright Angel Trail head just south and west of the El Tovar hotel.

It was a spectacular day. 66 degrees and lots of sunshine with light breezes. We had lunch at the El Tovar hotel, built in 1901. That too was spectacular.

By contrast, this is Sedona. The South Rim of the Grand Canyon is at about 7300 feet in altitude. Sedona is closer to 4000 feet, so it’s easier to breathe and walk around and such. But the beauty is no less intense, if somewhat less…well, Grand. It’s starkly contrasted by the city that has grown up around it full of colorful characters and folks who believe that the red rock formations are some kind of vortex with healing powers, visited by aliens and the like. It’s tourist trap central, too. But the topography is undeniably gorgeous.

This is a plaque on the outside wall of the Lookout Studio on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. All I can really add is….Amen.

We rode the train from Williams to the Grand Canyon. It’s a wonderfully beautiful ride through the high desert. It takes about 2 and a half hours to go the 65 miles up the hill and to the South Rim. The train never goes faster than about 35 M.P.H. But there’s entertainment and food and drinks. There’s a wild west show before you get on and there’s music from a guitar player and a banjo player, both quite good. There’s even a train robbery on the way back when the cowboys who did the show “hold up the train” by riding their horses up to the train, stopping it and getting on. It was fun.

Here are Sofie and Peanut. Sofie’s trying her best to smile for the camera, Peanut was goofing off and this is her “surprised” look. This was taken about half an hour into the train ride up to the South Rim.

Home again, home again-Jiggedy Jig.

It’s late and we’re home after a brief but fun trip over to Arizona and the Grand Canyon. I do have family there, but we didn’t get to see much of them unfortunately. Saw dad and Joanne for dinner in Prescott Valley, but that was sort of on the way to Flagstaff where we stayed. We were supposed to meet with brother Jerry and the nephews and the niece and the grandma down in Scottsdale for dinner this evening, but we were sorely interrupted by a puking Peanut as we left Sedona.

Traveling down I-17 in what proved to be a very warm day, even in Sedona (the forecast up through Monday morning when we left was for temperatures in the 60’s in the daytime, 20’s at night. Well–not so much. It got cold at night–down to about 37, and the days were well into the 70’s–80 in Sedona), Peanut was a bit sleep-deprived (as we all are on vacations), over-heated, a bit dehydrated and she had an ice cream cone. These things combined, et voi la–hydrochloric acid volcano. Well, at least she used a bag this time. Arizona now has a black mark for her because it’s the second time she’s puked while driving through the state. Mind-she considers puking the pinnacle of illness. If you puke, you’re really sick. If you don’t puke, you’re not. In her world, this is how it is. Would that it were ever so.

The result of this vomitrociousness was Peanut didn’t feel like going to a restaurant and none of us were all that hungry. Imagine that… Add to this my brother’s pronouncements of time, which proved to be sage, actually, and we didn’t get a chance to see them. I feel bad about it, but there was little I could do. As it was, we did fine on time–but it was a packed day at Sky Harbor. Their rental car return system is rather…Byzantine. It works and all, but one must return one’s car to the facility and then catch the bus back to the airport. Trouble is it’s not a really short ride. And the folks tend to stack up rather disproportionately at the Terminal 4 bus because that’s the terminal where both Southwest Airlines and US Airways reside. They are the two most popular airlines at Phoenix and so, they get a lot of back up. It took 4 buses to get the people that were in our line to Terminal 4. Egad.


I’m tired. I have pictures, fun stuff–and more to say. Lots to catch up on. But now–it’s time for sleep.

Fitzgerald Was Right.

I’m trying hard to ameliorate the cost of what has become the American, and thereby the world, credit crisis. In essence, I’m part of the crisis. I sold a house in 2006, five years after I bought it, and made 300,000 bucks in that five years. Rather than do something, you know, intelligent, and sit on those gains, I spun them into another house that cost 680,000 dollars.

Absurd. To be honest, it was the stupidest financial move we’ve ever made. It was monumentally dumb. We got an “interest-only” loan from a friend of ours–a man who I hold in high esteem, still to this day. His business went belly up, of course. Still, I like and have faith in him and could never utter a bad word about him. Ultimately, that’s because this is not his fault. It’s mine. He sold me an interest-only loan and it was incumbent upon me to say yea or nay. I said yea. More fool me.

The difference between me and a lot of other people is, I’m determined to pay mine off, to change my own circumstances. I think I can do that because between us, my wife and I make a pretty good living and have various sources of income. We’ve committed ourselves to paying down our loan and putting ourselves on track to get into a 30 year fixed–which, by the way, is essentially the only loan anyone should ever get. I might say a 40 year fixed is OK, but the point is, it’s fixed–you’re going to pay it off in that time if you make your payments or you make more than your payments. The only other loans that make sense for the average consumer are 20, 15 and 10 year loans respectively, all of them fixed.

Interest only loan–the very sound of it churns my stomach and makes me wonder what the hell I–or anyone else–was thinking. Life may well be dynamic and, in fact, my income can be fairly dynamic too. But, it’s not so dynamic that it would lead me to believe that it’s going to change so drastically that I’d be able to refi out of an interest only loan and eventually pay off well over half a million dollar house on a salary that borders both sides of 100K.

And this sentiment, writ large, is really at the heart of this complexity. It’s apparent that quite a few loan brokers were unscrupulous and gave money to people who they knew were high risk. Still, America is a country that has had to live by “caveat emptor,“. Indeed, we’re not talking here about a bad meal at a restaurant where it’s the restaurant’s fault. We’re talking about the most amount of money most people will ever pay for any one thing-their house.

One of the reasons I’m comfortable with the choice I made is that when Sue and I bought this house, it was not just on a shoestring, though it was mighty close. It was purchased with the full knowledge that even if things went south, we’d stay put–and be able to afford to. The interest only loan was a bridge to get us here because we made some stupidly risky decisions that, in the end, paid off for us. However, rather than pay back the money we borrowed immediately, we did repairs on the house and used it up–that set us back quite a bit. We are now in the process of digging out of that pit–and rest assured, it is a pit, a very deep one–but it’s one we will get out of.

The other reason I’m comfortable with the choice I made is because, well…we really love the house. It’s home to us. It’s more home to us than anyplace else we’ve lived and we’ve owned three houses, lived in one duplex and one apartment. This is the place. We’re happy here.

OK–I’ve gone on and on and here’s my point: Greed doesn’t always work. Capitalism, though–does. It only works, however, if the buyer makes decisions based on the rational effects of his or her own finances, his or her own abilities. We can all earn more money, that’s not hard. The question is how hard are you willing to work for it? Whatever the case, any of us who ever thought that our houses would be investments and not just places to live–were making awful and terrible choices. A house is a home, a place to live and it is not an investment that will make your retirement work. It never was that–and people assuming it was were doing so out of little or no experience, making choices from their hopes and dreams, not reality.

There is a way out of it–but the way out is the way of hard work, tough choices and sincere honesty with one’s self. Short of that, nothing will do. And short of that, it appears that perhaps, just perhaps, F. Scott Fitzgerald was right.

Good Friday, 08

It was my turn tonight to have Peanut duty. This is the job whereby ome of us goes and lies down next to her while she goes to sleep. Usually, that’s a brief process anywhere between 10 minutes and half an hour. There are times, though, when she won’t sleep as she should. Tonight is such a night, apparently. Whether she’s wound up, overly tired, still not feeling well–or all of these, I do not know, but after 45 minutes or so, she simply would not go to sleep. “Daddy, I can’t sleep.”

Well, I got pretty frustrated as I am wont to do, but I held the anger in check this time. “What do you need, hon? I’m tired and I can’t spend the whole night on your floor. At some point, I have to go to bed, too. What can I do for you?”

“I want mom.”

Ah. Well, that never has the desired effect. Mom loves being mom and loves being Peanut’s closest comfort, but the fact is she needs some down time too. Of course, the worst part of it is that I feel a total failure and an utter lack of ability to do the job that any warm body should be able to handle. Actually, that’s the second worst part. The worst part is that Peanut is not getting a much needed night’s sleep. And it will show in the morning. Oy.

Meanwhile, the first day of vacation was actually quite a hit. Peanut had a half day at school and while she went, Sue and I did some shopping and then watched the movie, A Good Year. It’s another Russell Crowe number and I loved it. No full movie review, the film is too old now. Suffice to say, I thought it a lot of fun, touching without being overly sentimental, romantic without being sappy. It was a good show. Crowe was effortless and seamless, his co-star Marion Cotillard was absolutely enchanting and Albert Finney was hilariously funny and wise and sad and wonderful.

Oh–and I just figured out by accident (actually, Sofie found out by accident and told me) that we have access to HBO. Do not ask me how, I didn’t order it. But we have it and I watched about a half an hour’s worth of John Adams with Paul Giamatti. It was brilliant. I want to see the whole thing and hope to be able to do so.

OK. Nuff Said. A peaceful, pensive Good Friday to all.

Spring Break 08

The long awaited spring break is here. I’m mush, people. Simply put, I am pure unadulterated mush. Gotta write an article for the morning, gotta write an article for tomorrow evening, gotta get that all done by noon tomorrow–and realistically, I cannot do it tonight. I’ve tried. Heck, look at that last sentence. Does that look like a sentence written by a man who knows what he’s doing? No sir….no sir it doesn’t.

That’s because it’s not. And I’m not. I mean I don’t. Know what I’m doing, that is. I mean I don’t know what I’m doing.

And if I were witty, I’d write more. But I got nothin’. And so, this short and meaningless post is brought to you this evening to let you know I am here….but not much more than that.

Happy Spring Break

Down and now back up

That was close, it was. For two days, there was no access to my website. At first, I was too busy to notice the problem. Last night, though, I noticed that when I tried to access the site, it wouldn’t show up. I’d get a white page and nothing else. I went to Blue Host and did a live chat basically asking, “whassamatta?” The first guy said, “no problem–it’s us and we’ll fix it tonight. Go to bed. By morning, up and running.” K. I did. Woke up, checked the site–nothing. I was too busy at work today to do much about it and so I simply ignored it until I got home.

Around 5 this evening, I live chatted again and was told by another chatter that the problem wasn’t on their end. It was wordpress and I’d changed a script. “I have done no such thing, sir. In fact, to be honest, I wish I were capable of the maladroitness with which you accuse me. Alas, my genius lies in my good friend Jason and my good friend Michael, the former helps me on a near daily basis with computer stuff, the latter helped me to set this site up. Without either one of these two gentleman, I would remain lost, adrift in a sea of blogspot websites, my own sinking into a veritable ocean of mediocrity, sameness and plain old boredom.” God then intervened, I’m convinced.

Well, something happened.

I got cut off from Mr. J’accuse and I got back on live chat to meet with another young person who led me down the path to glory. He found the problem, he said. It was a permissions issue and he fixed it. He had me clear my cache (no, I didn’t know how to do that, either) and here we are. Thanks for your patronage.

I think it vital to report that my good friends at Ventura Limoncello (did I mention this?–see? I am tired) won the Gold medal at the San Francisco Spirits competition. Gold friggin’ medal, people. This product is delightful, delicious and you’re missing out if you don’t have some now. Right now. Go–get some, I’ll wait. I’ll be right here when you get back….

See? Told you so. Now, onward. Rose is the name of the game and springtime brings with it a whole new crop. May 13th is a Rose Festival of sorts in San Francisco. I intend to go and write about it. I’m a rose fan and ever since I had my first glass of rose of grenache and followed it up with rose of syrah and then rose of pinot noir, I’ve been hooked. This is not your white zinfandel thing, no sir. This is delightful, light-even refreshing, fruit forward, but with just the right sense of dry-ness to avoid being sickly sweet. It’s a magical beverage and this is the time of the year for it. Recommendations? Sure. Here, here and here.

Tomorrow is the last day of school for the Easter holiday (spring break in the oh-so-politically correct and secular world of public schools where Christianity is a bad word. Apparently, other religions, not so much–but the main and number one American religion? Don’t you say it, Mr.). I’m in need and looking forward to the down-time.

I’ll be advertising at the site soon for Forbes.com. I made it to their short-list of blogs in their business blog community and they’re particularly interested in my wine and food rants. That should be a nice bit of a bump for readership as I’ll be linked at Forbes.com and that’s a good thing.

You, ladies and gentlemen, are now all caught up.