Additions and Subtractions…

Reader and pal Scott “lowguy” Wolfe corrected me and it bears repeating: Oddly enough, those photos you took were of clouds. Where they are gray or black, that’s smoke. Where they are white and tall and puffy, those are pyrocumulus clouds. We had an incredible view of them from our backyard as well. They are indeed fire-induced, as the heat from the fire lifts any moisture from the air along with smoke and ash particulates into the sky where it condenses and forms these spectacular columns of cloud. Nuff said, yes?

My 19th year as a teacher began today with the requisite meetings and laborious unpleasantness that accompanies them. I have to say that as such things go, we do pretty well at our school. Our principal is a good sort who, while certainly a slave to the test scores and the district falderal, is still working to make it a pleasure to come to work.

Still, after 19 years, I’m rather less than amused, though I am not altogether down. I still have fine and good friends at work and I love their company, enjoy the banter and the laughter, the teasing and the jokes. They’re all good sorts.

Drove into the San Fernando Valley today and was floored by the heat. 105 degrees where I was, no real humidity and the smoke filled the sky. Off to the east, you could see the Station Fire as it burned out of the foothills and down into the city limits of Los Angeles. Two firefigthers have been killed, scores of people injured, a dozen or so homes burned and some 12,000 homes threatened at this point. It’s impossible to say when they’ll get control over the blaze. Right now, it is burning toward Mt. Wilson where a huge communications infrastructure as well as an historic observatory are endangered.

I was there to meet with my friend Greg who I’ve known since I was a lad of 14 or so. He’s a designer and builder and he’s intimately involved, now, with the double super-secret project that big brother Doug and I are creating. It’s rather exciting, actually. And there will be more soon, of course.

Onward, gentles.

Summer's End

Ah…the last Sunday morning before the start of school. Just me and my laptop and a warm cup of coffee, a fresh bagel….life is good.

Mind you, Peanut started last week on Tuesday so tomorrow is week two for her. Our high school district, where I teach, for some reason started a week later this year which is unusual, but what do I know? With the budget in this state, no doubt we’ll be forced to furlough a few days this year–which by the way, is fine with me. More time off=double plus good. Yes, it means I don’t get paid for those days and that blows–but the fact is, I like time off.

So, as per below, the double super secret project is unfolding. I’ve begun to work with my friend Greg, whom I’ve known since I was 14 years old. Greg is a web and set designer par excellence and he immediately got a feel for what we want with our website. Again, I know–it’s a pain to read about this when you don’t have the details, but they’re coming soon.

It’s hot in So. Cal. and, of course, everything is on fire. Ventura County has been spared so far, but I imagine that won’t last forever. Right now, there is a fire burning all the way through the back country of what are known in L.A. County as “the foothills” near Pasadena, Glendale, La Canada (pronounced La Canyada) and that whole area. It’s completely out of control and is threatening more than 10,000 homes. The tragedies that visit this state every year between August and October are remarkable. Couple with those the exorbitant tax rates, the punishing regulations and the sheer obstacles in the way of trying to make a buck, and it’s a wonder there are so many people here. I haven’t lived in “real weather” since I was a kid–and so, I could be completely naive, but it is remarkable to me that nearly everyone I talk to says the reason they love living in California is the weather. Well, the weather this time of year is downright brutal. When the Santa Ana winds pick up and the temperature soars above 100 degrees–and everything catches on fire, I guess I’m not sure what they mean when they say the weather is everything.

These pics are taken from my home. Mind you, that’s not clouds–that is a plume of smoke from a very out of control fire burning some 60 miles to the north east of us…
foothillfire

foothillfire2

Still, my own piece of paradise is indeed here in this state. The Central Coast, specifically Avila, Shell or Pismo Beach are where I’d eventually like to live. If you’ve never been, you must go. Stay at the coast in Pismo or Avila at the Lighthouse Inn and Suites if you bring a family. If it’s just a couple’s getaway, stay at the Cottage Inn and Suites. From either of those places, you can walk down the stairs to the beach and you can get a reasonably priced (for the area–around 200 bucks) room that looks out over full or partial ocean views.

We also like to stay in San Luis Obispo at the Apple Farm. Less than 200 bucks and an absolutely beautiful country-style hotel. Great for couples or families. Sue and I went there to celebrate our 15th anniversary in July.

The place is home to a Pelican rock, which is a rookery for the California Brown Pelicans and a vibrant seal, sea lion and otter community. A quick drive about 10 minutes through See Canyon will bring you to some of the finest wineries on the Central Coast including Tolosa, Claiborne and Churchill, Niven Family Wines and many others.

10 minutes up the 101 brings you to San Luis Obispo with its Mission architecture, downtown Farmer’s Market, restaurants that are simply among the best in the state and, I sound like a brochure…That’s because I’m reminiscing. I’ve spent a great deal of time there and I will spend more–someday a lot more, hopefully.

It’s been a grand summer. I worked a little harder, changed a lot of things and went on two wonderful vacations. Batteries recharged, it’s time to head back to school. I’m ready. For now…

Flicking the Pebble

Yes, yes it’s true. I cannot go into all the vivid and juicy details, but the past few months working on the double super secret project have come to a kind of fine point….I am now a licensed wine broker in California. Don’t get too excited, it is a rather limited license….

At least to the government it is. But then, that’s why they’re the government.

For me, it’s a new time–a release into a world I’ve longed to be part of. I’m excited by the opportunity it presents and that opportunity is in the working stages. We think there will be a launch by mid-September and that’s good timing for us.

So, I’ve flicked the pebble. This is a new term I learned tonight from big brother Doug who sent me the link. I won’t link it here because to be honest, I don’t think it’s necessary. The idea that started all of this—the obtaining of a wine broker’s license, etc. is the idea that will now launch not just a small business idea, but a shift in the direction I’ve chosen to go with my life, my career and my writing.

It isn’t time yet to reveal all–partly because it’s still evolving and partly because revealing too much would dampen the launch itself. But it is time to reflect briefly, while the pebble picks up speed, on a moment that I will savor hopefully for the rest of my life. So much change in the air that it must be coming up on the clove of seasons–that’s when good things happen most, isnt’ it?

Onward. Indeed.

Ten for Tark

It’s important to note that Peanut had a GREAT first day of third grade. She loved it and did remarkably well. She is in a great class with a fine teacher, Mrs. Rush, and she is quite happy to be there with her friends.

That said–I must needs to give a hat tip to Hugh Hewitt and “$10.00 for Tark.” Danny Tarkanian is a Republican running against Harry Reid for the Senate in Nevada. If the name sounds familiar to you, yes–he is the son of that Tarkanian.

I’m passionate about stopping the President and this absurd congress from passing Obamacare and taking over the economy of the U.S. One of the best ways to do that is to unseat Harry Reid in the Senate. We need to let all of the representatives know, particularly the Dems, that if they go through with this–they are ending their political careers. By the way–proof that it is working is here. Look at Reid’s numbers. But also know–the pressure has to be kept up. One way to do that is to donate 10 bucks to Tarkanian’s campaign, and then send an e-mail to Reid letting him know that you did. Just on Hewitt’s discussion alone, more than 500 people in one day did just that.

Let’s make it count….All of the details are linked at Hughhewitt.com

Snags and Lags

I’ve hit a snag on the video and photo update of the blog. I’ve got to download some software and I’ve not been able to do that yet. Add to that for some reason, my Quicktime is playing beautiful audio, but no video. I’m looking into that, too. I could do it from the other Mac, but that’s upstairs and that would mean me going….well, up….stairs. And I don’t want to.

The double super secret project is about to go critical and is being set on the pad for launch. I have to meet with the state Alcohol and Beverage Control people Wednesday morning, but after that, it’s a matter of a few days to put the thing together. Rest assured there will be linkage and I’ll get you to it. Meanwhile, thanks for your patronage and patronizing.

The humble minivan sits now sans transmission at my friend Patrick’s shop. When they pulled the thing off, it revealed several leaks in the water pump and the coolant hoses that hide behind it. No big deal, only another thousand bucks. The total for the van now? 5,000. 5K. 5G. five-thousand big ones. See what I mean? There’s just no way to feel good about that….

But what can I do? I’m already in it for nearly two thousand as the labor for pulling the tranny off alone has got me in up to my elbows. If I quit now, I’m just pissing away nearly two grand. Am I throwing good money after bad? Maybe–but still, 5K is better than 20K for a new car. I simply don’t want to go into debt for that much money when I have other debts I need to tackle. And 5K for another used car? Sure–but that’s just buying problems I know nothing about whereas I know these problems pretty well. Too well, I suppose.

It’s a narrow path I’m on. Under normal circumstances I’d say chuck the van–or fix it and sell it, walk away and go into debt for another car. But I’m not there right now. Part of that is certainly because of the economy, because I’m upside down on the house I own, even though I can afford payments. But part of it is also because I am making choices right now that will last for a while and there are several things, from the double super secret project to something I have yet to even mention on the blog–that keep me from driving up the commitments in monetary usage right now.

And then there’s this: I have a choice. I can choose to feel bad and so woe is me–or I can choose to say, FIDO (Foxtrot India Delta-thanks to Scott for the correction Omega for you military types–for the rest, well let’s say it means FORget it and drive on). I’ll go with FIDO.

Peanut will start Third Grade in the morning. We’re all excited, of course. But I keep reading swine flu updates and begin to get a little worried. I find it fascinating that the media is ignoring it. I’m willing to bet that if a Republican were in the White House–the swine flu would be top news and there would be reporters headlining with, “What’s the administration doing about swine flu?” And there’d be the inevitable op-ed piece, “It’s obvious that Republicans don’t care about how many people could die in a pandemic….” etc.

Except, if you exchange the Republican for Democrat, you’d have fair and honest questions…..that NO ONE is asking. I guess the media, some still fawning over “the one” who is too busy trying to ram down socialized medicine to care about a true medical and national emergency, is immune from this kind of talk. After all, he’s a Democrat, right? All he has to do is say, “I care…” and all will be well.

Sheesh.

Phlog and Vlog

The airshow today was pretty good and Peanut and I went for a couple of hours. She is patient with her old man’s passions, but only to a point. As an only child with a tendency toward princess-hood and a bit of a manipulative streak, I was impressed at her ability to hang with it and actually enjoy herself.

Today, it dawned on me that I made a point a while ago of picking up a decent and good snapshot camera, 11 megapixels worth, so that I could get good shots. Instead of actually deploying the thing and phlogging on a regular basis, it sits in my Jansport, hostage to my laziness, forgetfulness and downright ignorance of bringing it. P-38’s. F4U Corsairs and dozens of other planes right at my fingertips and me without a camera. I’m an idiot.

Sure, I could make an excuse: “I’m a writer, not a photographer. I paint pictures with words. I don’t need to photograph things and photo-shop and the rest of it. Leave that to the “artists…” But, that’s folly. Simply put, I’m lazy and forgetful and I didn’t bring the camera with me as much as I wanted to and should have.

So, a resolve here in mid-August. I shall pack the camera along on more mundane and daily road trips so that I can get shots of things I don’t normally get and perhaps even a good video or two. Video blogging is a good thing and when done with taste and a bit of austerity, a la my pal Tom Wark at Fermentation, video blogging or, “vlogging” is informative.

So, a happy Saturday evening to all. Phlogging and Vlogging on the way.

Perspective

The humble minivan was towed back from Santa Maria today. My friend Patrick and his service writer, Floyd, drove up the coast to get the van and bring it back. They only charged me for the dolly and the gas and to be honest, I couldn’t ask for much more than that. Floyd, who is a transmission guy, says that there is definitely something wrong in there, but he won’t know what it is until he and the mechanic do some digging around.

But he pointed out that the way they do business at CCC is this: They will pull the pan, look at the damage and inspect, giving me a complete and full estimate of all charges that I may incur. Then, only after obtaining my signature, will they do the work and if they run into any more damages, before they fix them, they’ll call…

Patrick also told me that when he got to Santa Maria, to the shop called Transmissions for Less, that the humble minivan was parked on the street with the window down. And the keys on the dashboard.

Nice.

So, I’m glad it’s home. I drove by it tonight on my way home from Thousand Oaks. The shop sits right at the confluence of the 101 and the offramp I use to come home from that direction and the summer sun was just hanging low in the sky as I peeked into the closed garage doors. There it sat, lonely and filthy from a long vacation ending in terrible injury. Poor thing. That little sucker is going to cost me a fargin’ fortune, I can feel it in my bones.

But, it’s nothing really. It’s nothing at all. Today, I went to a funeral for a dear colleague of mine. Shirley was the best kind of person. She was our career technician at the high school a few years back and it was she who helped me forge a career exploration unit with my seniors. She was tireless and wonderful and when she retired, she didn’t think for a minute that cancer would strike. But it did.

Her husband Bob, whom I don’t believe I’d ever met, spoke at length at the celebration of her life today. He must be the strongest man I’ve ever met. He had his moments of tears and sadness, but he smiled a lot at the thought of his beautiful wife. He told another colleague and friend of mine that he and Shirley had a fairly normal marriage before the diagnosis–they had their ups and downs and things went back and forth. But the minute she was diagnosed, they drew together. He said that he experienced more love in that brief time than he could have imagined. I’m getting this second hand, of course–but I think it’s true.

Today would have been Bob and Shirley’s 32nd Anniversary.

I don’t have problems. I have opportunities, decisions and some minor annoyances. But, I don’t have problems. Life is to be lived moving forward.

Well be that as it may. Big airshow this weekend that really you should come see if you can. I’ll be around there this weekend with the CAF wing. We’re in the process of several good-sized fundraisers and we’re ramping things up. It’s a kick to be a part of it.

Stories to write, deadlines to meet—sleep to obtain. G’night…

Refreshing.

Gack.

Nothing screams middle class angst more than transmission trouble. Nothing. It’s not debatable, actually. The transmission is the Holy Grail of middle class life, the Sina Qua Non and dividing line that makes you realize that the comfy life you live all hangs in precarious balance, threatened by the extraordinarily complex workings of the drive train of your car.

Replacing a transmission is, as near as I can tell, the one thing that causes even mechanics to go queasy. It’s rather, I imagine, the heart in physician terms. Go to your family practitioner with a bad kidney infection? No problem, he can cure that with antibiotics. Migraine? They’ve got preparations for those. Bad ticker? Ooooh. Well, he or she has to refer you out to the cardiologist and the best he or she can do is tell you that something isn’t right and there are a couple of options and the data aren’t in on which one works best. Meanwhile, try to keep your stress-level down as that will only exacerbate whatever the hell is wrong with you. And here’s the bill.

No. Really.

So when I awoke this morning, thankful and happy that I was home with the fam after a blessed vacation, the cold hard reality of our beloved minivan sitting all alone in a strange garage in Santa Maria, about 120 miles from here, with a fried transmission slapped me in the face.

It took the better part of the morning to diagnose the problem, according to the owner of Transmissions for Less in Santa Maria. Cam seems a good sort with an honest pre-disposition. I’m sure that he’s capable. After all, he has been in business for more than 30 years there. But when the car was in top shape, it was worth about 4K dollars and it’s going to take rather a miracle for me to believe it’s worth sinking nearly the entire value of the car into….the car. Again.

That said, I’m a changed man. I’m happily trying to eliminate debt and that means that buying a new car is simply not in the cards right now. So, the question is less about whether or not to replace the van–a rather longer-term question–than whether or not to fix the van, a rather shorter-term question.

And so, it is the short term question that wins the day. So, how does one answer that question? One looks to those whom one trusts–and my man Cam, though again, I assert his good sorted-ness (as opposed to sordidness), is not that man because I don’t know him. I’m uncomfortable making a rather large financial decision using the knowledge of someone who before today, I never knew existed.

Now, Patrick I trust. He’s been my mechanic for a bit over a year–a friend of mine and my wife’s, his daughter and my daughter are pals. I’ve worked for him and done marketing, writing and brochure creation for him. I like him and I trust him. Patrick is truly my man–and the man I can have the all important shorter-term question conversation with. So, I have to get the car to Patrick.

Being the good sort that he is, he has offered to fetch it for me for the cost of gasoline and a car-dolly which total about 200 bucks. I have to pay Cam 175 bucks for the work he did so far–removing the pan, towing the vehicle 22 miles and storage for two days but after that amount, the van will be back here at home under the watchful and trusted eyes of Patrick and his crew. He’ll walk with me under the car, show me what’s going on, talk to me about what kind of rebuild has to be done on the transmission and, more importantly, he’ll then tell me whether or not it’s worth it to do it. Patrick is the sort that will say, if needs be, “you know, I could rebuild the tranny for you and it will cost you 2200 bucks. But in 6 months, this is going to happen–and that’ll cost you another 500. And after that, you’re going to need to do this….” you get the picture.

So, you see–in the midst of this angst is self-revelation, self-actualization. One must learn not just to trust, but also to make choices about where to place that trust. One must be willing to take chances and risk in order to succeed. Most importantly, one must not jump into “quick and easy fixes,” shutting one’s eyes to obvious lures to draw one back into the existential morass of credit card debt-hood which, ultimately is the devil’s tool and the force recon of the aforementioned middle-class angst.

Sometimes, short-term thinking can save you long-term damage and that’s an important lesson. But it still leaves me frustrated.
Bill-The-Cat
Gack.

Roll With It, Baby…

Back from vacationing in the Bay Area. Danville and the East Bay, Vallejo and the Six Flags Discovery Kingdom, Napa Valley, San Francisco–we did it all and had a great time despite a lot of issues….

Our good friends whom we went to see had been having a rough go. He had kidney surgery, but was recuperating and looked great. She, on the other hand, got quite sick while we were there and wound up in the E.R. on Friday night while we had their daughter with us at Six Flags with our daughter. They thought she had an appendicitis or a number of other things.

Turned out, all tests negative, thank God. She had a bug of some kind, but started to feel better over the weekend. That night, after I’d played in the pool and gone without enough drinking water–I drank a bit of wine, though truly not too much. However, it was enough to keep me off kilter without hydration and by the next morning, I was a wreck. Threw up all morning and though I was head-achy and awful, went with Sue up to Napa. I started to feel myself again after being out in the fresh air, it was relatively cool–and a cold Pepsi. Two of them, actually. After that, I was well enough to eat lunch and Sue did some wine tasting while I watched….and smelled the wine.

Driving home–well, there’s a story. We decided late in the trip that rather than turn around and go home on the 5, the way we came up, we’d head over to San Francisco and eat lunch in the city. We did, had a great time and drove the 101 home. It’s a longer drive, but generally a more pleasant one for those of you not in the know. It’s the “coastal” route and the temperatures, save for a few spots like Paso Robles, are generally much cooler than the inland San Joaquin Valley temperatures. It’s also a route I know very well. I’ve driven it dozens, maybe even a hundred, times and I know the towns–where things are, etc.

This was fortuitous because when we got off the freeway to use a restroom south of Gilroy–I noticed gear slippage in the venerable mini-van. I put it into reverse, and stepped on the accelerator, but there was “no joy…” The car wouldn’t go.

Well, a few prayers later–back on the road and it seemed fine. I pulled off again in San Luis Obispo to get dinner at Frank’s, a wonderful hot dog stand on the corner of Monterey and California Streets and there, the slippage was bad….

A few phone calls and just a couple of miles later got us to Grover Beach, right near Pismo. The care was doing OK on the freeway, but if I had to slow down or stop, getting back into gear was iffy and difficult. My pal Roger, who knows cars, said it just wasn’t safe to be operating it that way and so….

We rented a car in Grover Beach at Enterprise and transferred our load out of the van, into the rental car. There, the van sits as I write this awaiting my instructions to the AAA tow truck as to where to take it. I have a couple of options, both recommendations from my pal Keith who lives in the area. I’ll also contact my mechanic, Patrick, here in Camarillo in the morning and see what he says. I’m not naive. It’s going to cost a ton and be difficult…but it will still be cheaper than buying a new car.

If we’d gone home on the 5, all of this would have been a LOT more effort. It would have been in the high 90’s to 100 degrees in places where we didn’t really know anyone and there’s even the possibility that the car would have given itself up in a place where there were no rental car agencies, etc. We would have had to climb The Grapevine and that’s hard on a car’s transmission under the best of circumstances….So, we feel rather blessed we made the decision we made.

And you know what? We still had a great vacation, enjoyed seeing our friends, had some great food and wine, had a nice hotel room and a lot of fun….

Stuff happens. You have to roll with it….

Egad-is this a post?

There are all kinds of things to talk about: Peanut’s new trampoline, the story on honeybees that I wrote, Peanut’s first soccer practice of the season tonight, Star Wars VI is on right now, District 9 opens soon….I’m full of….stuff.

But I’m also rather frazzled and unfocused which means that as posts go, you may not learn anything new tonight. I will try to live by the axiom of “First: do no harm” as best I can, and I will also attempt not to force you backward in your intellectual springboarding. But as for true, powerful verbiage flowing from my keyboard? I cannot promise it.

Several deadlines. several appointments and a “daddy-day” while Sue worked keeps me from being at my best. I’m rather tense, tightened up, shoulders hurt and such. But enough whining.

I’m pleased to see the President and Congress getting a dose of what it means to actually lead a republic–Turns out, they’d rather not hear what we have to say. They’d rather we all go away and let them govern as they see fit. You have to admit, it is rather rude of us to, you know, tell them how to govern. I know, I know–there’s that whole “Constitution” thing, but that’s just window dressing, no? You don’t actually expect them to abide by it, do you?

Ooooh: Luke Skywalker in black sitting with an aged and dying Yoda: Great and classic film, but no matter how he sells it, Mark Hamill just never did look like a serious actor–nor a true action hero. Too feminine. Not gay, really, but feminine. Do you think that if Yoda had government health care, they’d have provided him with hospice? Just curious.

I believe I will have big news to write about soon. Several irons in the fire–perhaps even several fires–are cooking and coming to a boil–well, OK, not a boil. That would be several pots of water on several fires. Irons don’t boil-the just get hot. And at a point it’s like, “Well, this cannot get any hotter, so….” And that’s where I will be soon I think.

Meantime, nothing more to see here–just move along and enjoy your evening, won’t you?