Links and Thinks

A year or two ago (I honestly cannot remember and am too lazy to look), I got paid by a website called tibesti.com. Interesting concept that they had–they paid guys and gals like me who had expertise in a field, mine was wine, to run through a list of various products and do a sort of Top !0 of those. They would link those articles to sales of the products and drive traffic to their site.

They’re still around and they’ve asked me to link to their site, specifically to my portion of their site where you can learn what stemware to buy for your wine, the best stopper to use–all manner of things wine I wrote about. It was a fun and, for me, lucrative project for a while. Lucrative is a happy word for me.

Here’s the link to that site that tibesti provided. This will take you to my profile page and from there you can scroll and see the products I wrote about. There’s some good stuff in there and if you’re a wine aficionado, it might interest you. If not-well then of course, the writing is top notch…at least I think it is, but then I wrote it….

In the meantime, I’m running on empty or at least very low and I cannot get too much steam worked up here. This weekend, though, I’ll be in essay mode and write at least one major post here.

Stay tuned…

Happy it’s a Friday after a fairly grueling week. It was pizza and beer night tonight and that went over well. Now, I’m just trying to keep my eyes open. And I think I’ll stop that.

Good night.

Writing Factory

A fast paced, busy and hectic week that includes administering the inane and stupid STAR test to my juniors has managed a small reprieve and I’m grateful.

A busy deadline week as well with some really fascinating stories, none of which have been published yet. When they are, I’ll link to them. I’m also on several longer term projects and allowing myself the opportunity to relish them. My favorites are working with my friend Richard Winterstein, an actor cum high school teacher who has a passion for what he does and talks in sweeps and motions, rather than words and phrases.

I’m also privileged to be doing a piece for the same magazine on a group of guys who started a grass roots wine tasting club that meets in a beautiful custom home in the heights above Camarillo with vistas of rolling hills that wind to the sea and on clear days, to Anacapa Island, 12 miles offshore. They don’t worry too much about money and they share reviews, talk about the wines, bring gourmet foods and revel in each others company. Not a bad way to spend an evening.

But once again, I find that it is the writing about these things that pulls me. It’s as though I hold back here sometimes preparing for writing better, pulling fewer punches and ditching all adverbs for the golden path of describing weathers, colors, landscape, topography, emotion and humanity. Sounds sappy I know, but that’s how it feels sometimes.

Meanwhile, the greatest writing classroom in the world, writing for a daily newspaper, remains my bread and butter writing gig. This is true not only because they keep me busiest, but also because writing articles is a study in economic and efficient writing. It’s true that when I write for magazines, I find myself economizing a bit too much, but still, what a magnificent training ground in basic subjective prose.

I was going to go all political tonight, but decided against. Big brother Jerry, however, has done it for me and his post is a good one whose thesis I share entirely.

Read on gentles.

I Don't Write Car Reviews

The best car I ever drove before this was probably a…well, let me think. Hmmmm. Maybe my friend Keith’s ’69 Camaro. But honestly, I don’t remember anything else. Much as I like Lexus’s and have ridden in them, I’ve never driven one. I like BMW’s too, but I’ve never driven one of those either. I don’t often ask to drive friend’s cars as I don’t think it proper and while my friend Joel goes around to car dealers and drives lots of different vehicles, I’ve never done that. I may start, though.

So, when we went to Danville last weekend and had the opportunity to rent a Mercedes Benz C 300, we jumped at the chance. The price was right, $50.00 a day and we only had it three days. We’d set aside that much to rent a car as our two vehicles, while reliable transports, aren’t prepared to make the 5 and a half hours up the Grapevine. We have a mini-van, but the last time we took it up there, its transmission failed on the way home. It felt jinxed to take it again. I’d have been worrying the whole time.

So, we got the Mercedes. It’s a smaller sedan, though on Saturday Sue and our friend Lisa rode in the back seat and they said it was snug, but comfortable. I don’t think I’d have done well back there. But I got to drive on Saturday (though admittedly, the I-5 route and going home on 101, Sue drove the whole way. Liked it, too).

To begin with, the comfort of the front seats is remarkable. I do not sleep in cars and I’ve resigned myself to this fact. I slept in the Mercedes, though. I was tired from a lack of sleep for a couple of nights previously and so needed some catch-up. Out I went and slept well. I attribute this to the seats themselves and the fact that the noise level is very low along with a smooth and even ride.

The cars I’ve driven have a tendency to feel too much is being asked of them if you step on the accelerator in an attempt to gain speed. The minivan sort of hacks its way to higher speed, whining loudly as if to say, “alright-give me a minute, I’ll get there…” It’s the Millenium Falcon of cars, except it’s not all that charming and there are times when it simply doesn’t come through. To be fair, it is 9 years old and has 120K miles on it.

The Scion? Well, it’s a fun little car with 103 horsepower. It’s rather like an elaborate golf cart with a bit more room, a stereo and an air conditioner. Don’t get me wrong, I love it. But, it’s utilitarian and decidedly ungraceful.

The Mercedes is a well-heeled greyhound straining on the slips ready to charge and cry “God for Harry, England and St. George!” Though, it probably says it in German and rather than England, Harry and St. George, it cries for Beer, Brats and some ancient German emperor. I don’t know. The point is that when you step on the accelerator and provide that little computerized communique to the engine telling it, “faster please,” it responds hail and hearty, gets up, moves and moves again. Then, it asks you what else it can do for you. All the while, the engine sounds like a purring lion, tiger–or, perhaps liger. I’m not picky-choose your apex predatory feline.

The cockpit is just that. All the controls are at your fingertips with steering-wheel additions so you don’t have to move your hand if you don’t want. The sunroof was a bit counter-intuitive in operation, but it’s a flaw that I can overlook and probably one that most Germans don’t think is counter-intuitive at all.

Steering…well, it’s the reason to drive it. I get where the term “sexy” comes in when describing a responsive car. The wheel put the driver fully in command and if you treated it like a lady (or a gentleman if you are a lady driver), it did what you wanted exactly when you wanted it to and all the while made you feel as though it wanted to do what you wanted it to. It was exciting to drive.

In Livermore’s wine country and in San Francisco, over the Bay Bridge, the Mercedes was a joy. These are the only places I was allowed to drive it, you see. The long roads up the 5 and down the 101, Sue was in command. I didn’t mind, though. I’d had a good time on the byways and backroads. In and out of traffic, weaving like a crochet needle and never a guess as to whether or not I should go. I found myself able to make calculations and decisions I could not make in the cars I drive, knowing that I simply had to will myself into a spot and the Mercedes was there. I believe that today’s kids would refer to it as, “very cool.”

The car is tight, efficient and this one was fire engine red. It was a 2010 with nary 11K miles on it and its interior was leather of gray and black. It had what Dennis Miller refers to in his BMW commercials on his radio show as a “Teutonic thunk” when the door is closed.

It was a beautiful machine. I miss it, now.

I don’t think I can afford one, though you can buy them used for about 26K. There is no such thing as a “base” Mercedes, at least not a “base” that I understand, so who knows? Maybe someday.

Meanwhile, I’ll look to rent another and perhaps…soon.

Let's talk about me…

Been working the deadlines pretty hard and happily. Mostly, though, I’ve been on a story that should go to press Tuesday morning. It’s another “what were they thinking story” about the government, but heck–aren’t they all?

Hm. I just sat here for a few minutes staring at the vast empty whiteness. Usually, when I’ve been writing a lot, it breeds more writing…a lot. So, I thought this post would come easy. It’s not. That’s partly because I’m tired–fell asleep before 8:30 down here with Peanut watching her shows. And also because I had a variety of pieces to pen this weekend. I find that if I’m just doing news/feature pieces on a weekend, I can handle a few at a time. Same goes for wine pieces, or whatever. This weekend, however, I had ’em all. I did news, I did feature and I did wine. So-I’m kind of spent. I don’t know that this is true for all writers, but it seems to be for me. It’s not the first time it’s happened.

Sometimes, I get keyboard weary, too. My fingers don’t want to play anymore and they just sort of stop working, long for moments of piece, fingering a book or a magazine, gripping a cup of coffee or a cold drink. They let me know. I have a friend who has rheumatoid arthritis and I always think that if I had that, I’d have to get some really good voice recognition software.

Well, the weekend was grand, though not on the order of the past two during which we got to get away. I think we’ll do that this summer more. A few weekend-or weekday–getaways that are short, a bit cheaper. We’re looking to save a bit and traveling can get expensive. Perhaps some camping will do.

OK-I have to admit defeat. I’ve got nothin’. I’ll go to ground here and come back tomorrow with more because if I keep going, it’s going to get bad. Fast.

Good night.

Pluck

Back in the routine after the weekend which was such a great time. A busy week in which deadlines have piled happily up and allowed me to work nearly full-time as a writer this week while maintaining a full teaching schedule. You’d think I would write something here like, “I’m just burned out,” or “I can’t keep up this pace.” But I’ve found this week that I can…and I will.

I’ve been contemplating the whole basis of hard work and I’m convinced of its darned near Biblical truth. There are no free rides, free lunches, easy dollars, nothing-zero. Nada. Are there exceptions to that rule? Sure. As always. But in order to succeed, one has to work hard and be willing to be tired, worn out, sore and exhausted. And then, once one accepts this, one cannot let those feelings get in the way of a family, a life and all of it.

So, as a teacher, can I pass that on? I don’t know. I know that it wasn’t possible to tell me at 16 that what really counts is commitment and perseverance. But I suppose now it is important to note it. Hard pluck and trying, focusing on a goal and not allowing too much to distract you from the daily pursuit of it tend to have the effect you want them to have. Here’s the key thing, though: There is no finish line. You don’t stop the hard work and say, “I’ve arrived.” Arrival isn’t what it’s about and many of us, I think, have fooled ourselves into thinking that it is so. It isn’t.

This is all new to me, so I’ll take some time to continue to work on what I mean but at this point, I’m right here: work hard, don’t give up and don’t be discouraged. Those little clues will mean something.

Onward.

Weekend Snapshot

If I had a camera, a snapshot of the weekend, it would be like this:

Sunshine would glint off the windshield of the Mercedes Benz c300 we rented. It’s hard to explain how we came by that car, but come by it we did and drove it to the Bay area, some 400 miles north, for a weekend with some friends of ours whose daughter and P. are very close.

The hills above Los Angeles County over the grapevine would radiate in colors of yellow, purple and green and in some areas, the lavender purple and deep yellow hues come together and become almost loud as you drive by their windblown meadows.

There would be a picture of the greeting as we arrive in Pleasanton, hugs are exchanged and we eat dinner together, sit and talk and pass the sunset into darkness and finally, sleep.

There would be a photograph of a gray and cloudy morning and of the three of us in the spa and the pool at the hotel early. There’d be a shot of smiling people as the sun burns off the fog, gray clouds part and reveal blue skies and sunshine that mark the rest of the day.

A picture of bustling life in a quaint turn of the century designed downtown Pleasanton would suffice for late morning. It would be partnered with a picture of Shannon standing next to the author of some of her favorite books, the Judy Moody series, as we fortuitously ran across Ms. McDonald at the Pleasanton Library.

There would be two sets of photos, one of happy children and an engaged and kind babysitter playing, going to the dog-park, eating lunch together and having fun and the other of the four of us out exploring Livermore’s wine country, sharing a picnic and having an adult day.

There would be a picture of an evening gathering, outside under the fading light sky into stars, while the soft hiss of an outdoor heater warmed the chill night air. There’d be an addendum of Sunday morning breakfast of fresh homemade pastry and coffee on the patio and goodbyes, tears and hugs.

And last, there’d be a stack of quick photos of San Francisco, Pier 39, lunch at Bubba Gump’s and a drive home along the 101. In every picture with people in it, the people would be smiling. In every landscape, sharp contrasts and easy blends of color and light. In every shot of buildings, bright, careful corners cut by the sidewalks or earth that frame them, footprints trod into them and moving people past them.

Weekends soar so fast and we are helpless to slow them down–but they remind us of being alive in the moment, for ourselves, for our families. And they remind us that we are meant to be this way, in relationships, exploring and talking, eating and sharing, joyously watching the moment, not helplessly waiting on eternity.

And I’m too tired to talk about much else. Good night, all.

A Tale of Two Drinks

Not so much a tale, actually. More like a usurpation of the English language by one too tired to write it just now…Sue and I drank too much whiskey. Yes, there–I said it. We did so this evening. Two glasses each, I made whiskey sours and I’ve rather perfected the beverage and so we each had two. I use Bushmills, as it happens, because it’s just one smooth Irish whiskey and that’s what I prefer. Bushmills is generally considered the protestant Irish whiskey and as I am a protestant, well–there you go. For the record, Jameson’s is the Catholic whiskey and I’ve had it, too-and it is also quite good. I’m an ecumenical drinker.

As I say, too much. My sours tend to have about two fingers and change of whiskey in them so I guess that means we’re both lightweights. Whatever the case, I’m now finishing my fifth glass of water. Hydration prevents pain. Good for the soul, the body and such.

Still, the sours were good, I make them with Trader Joe’s lemonade, if you would know. The sweet and sour stuff one purchases from the store is fine, I suppose, but I’ve found that TJ’s lemonade is just as tangy with just the right bit of sweet on top of it. Add a lime and you’re set. Good stuff.

I find these days that a mixed cocktail brings with it more pleasure than it used to. Not when I have two of them and not much food, mind, but still-I like it. This is not to say that wine is no longer a favorite, but once in a while, one must change. We drink altogether much less alcohol than we have in the past which is healthy and good-so we’re now diversifying our intake as well.

Sue made her delectable burritos this evening and that too is interesting to me. Much more Mexican food in our diet these days. We love the stuff and Sue’s recipes are authentic and tasty. She’s also been experimenting with a few other recipes as well including chicken made osso buco style over cheesy polenta. Heaven on a plate, I tell you.

OK-the whiskey has made my prose…prosaic. Braveheart is on and either I’ll watch it–or I’ll sleep through it. Good night, gentles.

The Macro and Micro

The schedule has filled up rapidly this week with a number of items and the chance to write some good stories. One of the things that constantly interests me is the number of times I write about a similar subject and that happened again today.

I interviewed an area man who began a local chapter of the Compassionate Friends Network. These are folks who operate an International support group for families whose children die, no matter what the age. I think I’ve probably done 4 stories on Marvin for various events now and the latest was very personal to him. His son, a fallen police officer, is being honored on the National Law Enforcement Memorial in D.C. One cannot help but be in awe and in sympathy for such a situation.

Wednesday upon us and a beautiful spring week with those cool breezes, wispy clouds and blue sky all coloring the day. It’s the perfect time to light a fire in the chimneia, but I haven’t done so. There’s just so much going on that by the time I sit to think about it, Peanut’s getting ready for bed and I’m ready to tap away at the keyboard. I’ve got some deadline work tomorrow, but it should be over early and if it is, I mean to sit on my patio, feet up and a warm fire glowing with a good glass of wine to sip.

Peanut went over to a friend’s house this afternoon and I came home to windows open, curtains fluttering and Sue happily going about the day’s chores. We talked about P’s homework and laughed over small things. I then leashed up Scoop the wonderdog and off we tramped for a good hour-long walk while Sue and her sister, the much vaunted Aunt Laurie, played Wii and talked.

Spring is the new lease on life, Sue’s health improving and long-term prognosis good after more than a year of issues and uncertainty. It’s cliche, but we’re enjoying the now, reveling in this time. So much is changing and with the advent of our adopting a child, so much we’re looking forward to.

No specifics, then. Just a Wednesday with the big picture in mind. And a bit of time to enjoy the small picture, too.

Weekends North

Keith Cox has been one of my closest friends since I was 14 years old. We’ve gone our separate ways and done different things with our lives, but he remains as close to me as always. And so it was with real excitement and anticipation when he and his wonderful wife Tina agreed to spend the weekend with another set of close friends, Scott and Jen Wolfe and us. We all drove yesterday to see Keith and Tina, have some fun, taste some wine and enjoy each others company.

Gray clouds hung low in the sky and patches of blue were scarce at first, dying out altogether as a storm breeze kicked up and cold weather prevailed for the weekend. Rain started today, but yesterday it was simple wisps of a coming storm. No one cared. Weather wasn’t our enemy, time was. We decided to embrace the moment and so off we went in search of the day.

Wine tasting has become routine for us. For me, it’s more of something I do when I’m working, and unfortunately I do a great deal of it alone, or at least, without anyone I’ve chosen to bring along. Yesterday, though, was a pleasure. It wasn’t wine I was after and I still spat out the wine knowing if I didn’t, the night would be long and painful. I’ve learned a great deal about wine in the past few years and the most important thing I’ve learned is my own limitations. It was these people I was after. It was their company I craved.

Scott and Keith and I have spent a good deal of time together over the years. Keith fit effortlessly in with my college friends and instantly became one of the gang. He embraced them, too and now, we’ve all been through our moments together and it’s as if we’d all known each other for endless years. Keith and Scott did not know each other’s wives, so introductions were in order. We were all familiar within the first hour of meeting. We could all speak the same language, laugh at the same things and share wavelengths of acceptance, nuanced with each individual touch and colored by the new brushes in our midst.

We started by noshing on lunch that Tina and Keith had laid out for us. The spread was wonderfully tasty and welcoming. When we left, we didn’t want for food and since we all fit into our van, the driving was part of the fun. First to Cambria winery which is in Santa Maria and has a vast selection of inconsistent wines. Their Chardonnays, however, are consistently good and we enjoyed them along with some syrah and a late harvest viognier. Their property is beautiful, one of the real attractions on the Santa Maria bench and the wine is good enough that it’s worth it to go.

But our destination winery was Kenneth Volk’s place along the Tepusquet River in the old Byron facility that he has remade. I’ve been acquainted with Ken, have interviewed him and gotten to know his wines over the past 10 years. Everything Ken makes, everything he’s ever made, is magic. His wines aren’t made at all, actually, they are nurtured and his craft has risen into an art. When he invented Wild Horse winery in Templeton, he was always cutting the curve. He wasn’t satisfied with simply marketing to an un-suspecting public. He made wine because he loved it and when he sold Wild Horse it was because the evolution of his craft, his art, was going somewhere else.

So, yes, you’ll find a brilliant Cabernet Sauvignon that is every bit as rich and good as any on the Central Coast. You’ll also find a Cabernet Franc that is rich and bright with fruit including cherries and currants. Ken makes a syrah that is deep, ruby and complex. But he also makes a Petit Sirah that is purple, inky, rich and meaty.

Ken makes Blaufrankisch, Negrette, Malvasia Bianca and Verdelho, all varietals that have been largely ignored and they’re not affectations or marketing tricks, they’re wines that have been fussed over and cared for. We bought one bottle each of the latter three and I’m torn between wanting to drink them now and saving them for the right moment, the right folks who might love them as much as we do.

On to dinner at Trattoria Uliveto in Orcutt where the meal was fine, warm and fresh. During this whole time, like the wine we drank, we got better with the age of the day and as the evening wore on, we simply reveled in the moments. We watched a movie together last night and fade off into sleep in Keith and Tina’s beautiful home, each to our own rooms. We awoke and enjoyed passing a slow morning and lunch together down in Buellton where we bid our goodbyes.

I’m tired now, of course, but also lifted. I like working and I’m comfortable in the routine I have with my family here at home. But sometimes, and perhaps increasingly, it’s good to be able to stop and discover just why it is we work at all.