Summer’s End

Though the kids start tomorrow, I was up and at ’em early and in my classroom before 8:00 Am today setting up for the year that will be. This summer has been so stupendous and yet it was difficult to start it as I noted back in June. I still miss my Shakespeare kids and wonder what they’re up to. I get e-mails from them–from various of my students–and I love that. It is so strange how the worst part about teaching is the bureaucracy and the “have to’s” mandated by officials. The best part is the relationships you create. Perhaps that’s true with anything.

Peanut starts 4th grade tomorrow and we’re asking all the cliche questions: where did the time go? How did we get to be in our 40’s? Wasn’t it just yesterday that she was in a crib? All of that is true–it does happen. Her lifetime marks not only her, but also the change in her parents’ lives. We are not who we were and that is as it should be. We’re parents, now. Our lives are about her life and our hopes and dreams are about her hopes and dreams. It’s not that we stop having goals of our own. But we do transfer much of the energy that we previously used on ourselves to her–and paradoxically, we grow as a result. It too is like most things we learn–the more you give, the happier you are.

I’m just full of nasty and trite sounding bits this evening and to be honest, I’m not prepared to go very in-depth. More’s the pity, of course.

Onward.

The Week…the summer….that was.

I forgot to pay the bill on the domain name. That’s why the site was down today. I sheepishly apologize. There are no excuses, though it has been a truly busy and momentous week. To wit:

-We feared Sue had lupus and were plagued with concern for two weeks. She does not–she is in the midst of various hormone and vitamin treatments and we will pray those lead her out of symptoms. She is feeling better.

-It was the last week of summer, we had much to accomplish at home including preparing Peanut for her 4th grade class and the start of a new school year.

-I was under several deadlines, still am, and also was preparing for my first day back in the classroom-celebrating my 20th year as a teacher.

-We were in Carpinteria for a good portion of the week, back and forth, trying to vacation, but trying to keep appointments, too.

-Peanut got an ear infection–then, given a new antibiotic (new to her), as I wrote last week–she puked gloriously around 2 A.M. Tuesday morning.

-We sold our minivan,

-We bought a car–found out it had a bent frame–took it back.

-Today, bought a new car–well, a used one. 2008 Hyundai Veracruz. It’s great and it is what Sue really wanted. We’re happy with the car and it feels good to have made the deal, closed it and walked away. It’s too much money–but it all is. There’s only so much that can be done.

-I’m working hard at sending out query letters, looking for more freelance writing. Mostly I’m doing this because I love doing it–and I want to get better at it. This isn’t just about the money, though that is a great bonus….this is about wanting to be better at my craft.

A summer full of San Francisco and Lake Tahoe, of family reunions and friendship. A summer of learning and fervent prayer, of fear of the unknown and rejoicing when the unknown became known–and welcome. July 2010 may well be the most wonderful July I’ve had in years–and it was trumped by August where the highs were so very high and the lows were so very low…

August ends after so much joy, so much summer–so much life and love. It’s hard to let it go–but go it must.

Onward.

Momentous News

The update is this: Sue does not have lupus and for this we are most grateful. She has a few immune imbalances, a vitamin-D deficiency and a few hormonal imbalances and this has caused a lot of her issues. We are extraordinarily grateful, of course, for the news and it’s given us a wonderful lease on life. As for adoption and such? Well, let’s just say we need to renegotiate the terms…more on that later.

Today was also momentous in that after we got the word that Sue was going to be OK, we took advantage of an offer made by an employee of the group home where Sue was a consultant. We sold the mighty minivan and while that was the right move, it was harder than we imagined. We got the price we asked for it, but it was Peanut’s car after all. I went out and bought it when she was a year old and it has been through a lot—all over the State of California, as far North as Napa Valley and Marin County, as far south as San Diego, as far east as Flagstaff, AZ and Las Vegas, Nevada. It was our companion through P’s early life and having sold it, many memories linger of how it was.

So, onward. The last weekend of summer and we’ll spend the weekend together and with friends–with time to share the memories this past two months has produced.

Goodnight gentles.

Bless This Time

I wrote this piece for Ventana a while ago. But those same wonderful men invited me, well one of them did anyway, back this evening for a Syrah tasting that was exceptional.

These were all Paso Robles Syrahs. Some drank like velvet smooth and smoky silk and others drank like fruit was attacking my esophagus. As always, the food was incredible, topped by Charles’s spice and soy rubbed filet kabobs with onion cream sauce and mushrooms. I don’t know that I could have topped the evening except if I could have stayed longer. I had to exit at 9:30 and that was frustrating.

I so enjoy the summer and I’m going to miss it. This week in Carpinteria has been hectic and somewhat unplanned with a number of problems and small catastrophes up to and including but not limited to: Peanut vomiting at 2 AM more than she ever has in her life, a runaway schedule that saw me up in Carp. all day yesterday then home last night to rise early this morning to cover a few stories, Sue’s continuing battles with various symptoms-many of which we’ll get a read on tomorrow (yes, I’ll update), and a newfound passion for the old boardgame, CLUE. As I say, not limited to…

We’re also in the market for a used car as we’re selling the mighty minivan. It has served us well, but it isn’t as reliable as it used to be and Sue wants an SUV in the worst way–or the best way.

And there’s so much more. It’s a long day but I’m ready for sleep now—and without wittiness to my prose, I will stop and save you, gentles, the anguish of more staccato news updates.

Onward.

Phlogging the last week of summer break

Saw this at our local Albertson's. Talk about your specific ethnic foods! Whew!

Well, summer does draw down. We are spending the week between home and Carpinteria, a perfect beach town about half an hour from here. We go back and forth and spend time on the beach and come back here to do some work, stay the night or whatever. Last night in Carp, Peanut succumbed to her first dose of augmentin. She was given it by her pediatrician for an ear and sinus infection. Problem is, she’s never had it before–and she puked gloriously. Home now, taking it easy.

We’ll go back up, of course. Some soccer practice this eve, so we’re here for a while. Hot today, too–plain old, suck the life out of you hot. Almost 100 degrees.

Tired from lack of sleep last night, gentles.

A veritable bunny explosion--we fed them carrots. Chickens in the pen, too. Apparently, rabbits and chickens get along quite nicely....before they're fried.

I don't think this needs a caption. Do you?

Peanut and friend at sunset. This, of course, is what it's all about...

No Trumpets

It is with no ceremony of any kind that the last week of summer 2010 starts. It has been an amazingly good summer, though shadowed a bit by Sue’s bouts of symptoms that have led us to a specialist-a rheumatologist who is checking for lupus or other such things. We take comfort in knowing a few people with the illness and once we get a clear diagnosis, we’ll contact those folks and ask questions. Our friend Stacey Miller with whom we reconnected this summer, told us her mom has lived with the condition for 35 years. We have hope–and the doctor assures us we can manage it.

But the summer kicked off with a quick and fun camping trip to Carpinteria State Beach for a night. It wasn’t long, but then sleeping on the ground in a tent is only so alluring. We also did a great trip first to San Francisco and then up to Lake Tahoe for the Fourth of July. My brother, Doug, rented a small A-frame house there and along with his fiance, her sister and nephew, the three of us joined in the fun. What a spectacular and beautiful place to spend a few days relaxing and enjoying each others’ company. I posted pics on that, so no need to revisit here.

Home on the fifth of July and began working fairly steadily all summer long for the newspaper and a few magazines. I loved every moment of it and continue to do so. I am one of those people who has found a way to make what they love to do pay and it’s a real treat to be able to do that. Note: No, I am not one of those “lucky” people. The old adage comes to mind, “the harder I work, the luckier I get.” I’ve been a freelance writer for nearly 20 years–and it is only in the past three years that I have begun to really get going. There is no such thing as overnight success.

A few small day-trips proved to be great memories this summer as well. Peanut and I shared a daddy-daughter day at the Santa Barbara Zoo while Sue had to work. It was a really good bonding time that we needed and was so welcome. The three of us did a few things here and there, but many of those are quite personal.

The biggest event of the summer was the arrival of Sofie and Romi in early July and their time with us during the month. Disneyland, Universal Studios and the real joy of each others’ company again was a powerful lure. Sofie was able to reconnect with one of her friends she knew here two years ago in high school and Romi was so much fun to have along. I’m afraid Peanut was in her 9-year old moods much of the time, but that’s no matter. It happens.

I still miss having them here. I think about the girls each day and it is that memory of summer that I will carry with me more than any other. Sue and I were blessed with Peanut as our child, but we have made it a point to have a foreign exchange student and may do so again. Sofie has become a second daughter to us–and now, Romi has, too. They’re families are so wonderful and they’ve been kind enough to share them with us. Sofie has even talked about coming to America to live, which we will encourage and for which we are so grateful–even to have her consider it is a real treat. If she comes, we’ll offer her a place to stay for as long as she needs and we’ll be her “American family.” Maybe Romi will come along, who knows?

In the beginning of this month, we celebrated my dad’s 25th anniversary with his wife, Joanne. We were able to get the family-both my brothers, Doug’s fiance, Jerry’s wife and children and all of us together. During the same weekend, we celebrated Sue’s and Laurie’s 44th, so the atmosphere of August’s first full weekend was festive and happy.

This last week, we’ll spend some time at the beach, while I continue to produce a few articles for the paper and magazines. I have to spend some time in the classroom as well, but that’s a good thing as I want to get a jump start on the year and be super-organized so as not to be running around during the months of September and October.

Gentles, I hope your summer has proved warming, fun, full of love and all the things that it should be.

Onward.

The Rembrandt Affair

I devour Daniel Silva books like I do tacos al pastor–with a great deal of joy and, unfortunately, as fast as possible. I found that this was true recently only of two other sets of books–in 2005, I read Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings Trilogy for the second time in my life and later, I went through all of the Harry Potter books. I couldn’t put them down and when I came to the last hundred pages, I let them drip from my tongue like honey as I slowly mouthed the words to myself.

I find this true of Silva’s work as well. Perhaps it’s my penchant for his character portrayals–Silva is a master at dialogue that isn’t stilted. I find, at times, that his descriptions can be pretentious and he uses a bit of passive voice that I’m not fond of, but those things are no matter. The stories of Gabrel Allon (and these are all I’ve read by Silva) are compelling, interesting, relevant and have a touch of rooting for the underdog that I love.

Let’s begin with the obvious–idiot producers in Hollywood should be scrambling to turn Allon into a Hollywood franchise with a Russel Crowe or perhaps Harrison Ford-esque leading man in the role. But they won’t. Why? Is it because Allon is a brilliant artist and art-restorer who is also a secret agent? No. Is it because he is a hired assassin who kills largely deserving terrorists and cut-throats? No. It’s because Allon is Jewish and the “office” he works for is Silva’s carefully crafted mock-up of the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence gathering and secret military service. And Hollywood wouldn’t dare root for Israel.  I do, though.

In The Rembrandt Affair, we have Allon at the end of a disturbingly brilliant career. He’s still haunted by the ghost of his son and the spirit of his former wife, gone mad after their son’s murder and her disfigurement at the hands of terrorists. By now, Allon is two novels into his marriage to Chiara, a beautiful Italian Jew who shares Gabriel’s penchant for art and cooks extravagant meals for him.

Mostly, he’s retired from “the office” and he lives in England where he restores paintings and walks the cliffs of the Kynance Peninsula. It’s here that Julian Isherwood, an art dealer and a sometime volunteer for the Jewish state, informs Gabriel of a stolen Rembrandt. The story is much deeper, of course, and the stolen painting leads Gabriel, Chiara and “office” team-members into the heart of the Holocaust in their attempts to prevent yet another one from happening at the hands of the mad Mullahs of Iran.

The book itself is somewhat of a departure in the Allon series, at least at first. Gabriel only agrees to help Julian because of their friendship and his love of the old Dutch Masters. The twist that takes us into European arms traders masquerading as Al Gore do-gooders with dark secrets is entirely plausible, but takes a little too much time to develop. The first hundred pages or so of the novel move rather slowly, though if you’ve read the Allon series, you can follow what’s happening fairly well. Of course, Silva is a smart enough and good enough writer to make it possible for you not to read the entire series if you so choose–but he subtly lets you know you’re missing out as he describes in one sentence what took an entire novel to develop.

The book is also different in that Allon’s relationship to the “office” team and to his “Abba” Ari Shamron, titular head of Israel’s secret Intel service, are changed. Allon is officially retired–but no one really believes it, especially Shamron. “Shamron is eternal,” says Uzi Navot, the new diector of the “office” more than once. And he is, really. He floats in and out of the series as the heart and soul of a country in constant peril. “If he dies, so does Israel.” Maybe-but one tends to think that with Allon, the son of Holocaust survivors and active participant in the mission to take down Palestinian terrorists who killed Israeli Olympic athletes, around–Israel will be fine. Or one hopes.

Meanwhile, Silva takes what I unfairly refer to as the “Clancy” style to a new level. I use this term because once upon a time, I read the Jack Ryan series of books by Clancy with the same kind of fervor. But where Clancy is technical, Silva is elegant. Where Clancy took two pages to describe the kind of weapon that the F/A-18 was about to drop, Silva takes two pages to describe how Gabriel feels about what he’s going to do next. Emotions matter to Silva, people matter–as it should be in a novel about those who reluctantly kill and destroy in order to allow Israel to survive. It’s not just character development that Silva provides, it’s the development of character in his characters that allows us to feel what they do.

The last 30 pages of the Rembrandt Affair found me intermittently tearing up, then weeping, then feeling some kind of determination-to understand what’s worth fighting for–to get inside Gabriel Allon’s troubled head and feel that sense of, “it’s not right that I have to do these things so that innocent people can live peacefully. But I’ll do them–because I can–and maybe God will forgive me.”

So, the book has its flaws–but I am hoping it’s not the last one. Gabriel is in his early 50’s now and he’s been through so much violence, so much anguish, loss and pain, that it would hardly be fair to ask Silva to write him again. But then, perhaps Allon will find other ways to restore paintings–and justice–the way Silva wrote him to. One can hope.

Reasonable Chaos

The wine box, a 2006 Scion I bought in October of 2005, has never given me a lick of trouble. I’ve never noticed a thing gone wrong. I replaced a couple of lightbulbs in the driver’s side rear of the car and I’ve done small bits here and there–but, never any major trouble.

Until this evening….

Girls’ night out meant Sue and her Laurie and their friend Maxine went to see Eat, Love, Pray and out to dinner. This left me in charge of soccer practice (Sue is team mom) and dinner for the two of us. Peanut wanted her favorite (and my least favorite) Mexican place here in town and we had practice before that. Got her dressed, out to the car and ready to roll. The car wouldn’t turn over. At first, it made no noise at all–but eventually, it simply made a kind of mechanical whirring sound. Ah ha….starter. At least I think.

A call to my pal, Roger and confirmation by phone of that diagnosis, though not entirely sure. Rog is on his way north to Goleta tomorrow and will stop by here first to check it out. Then, over to Barry’s to see if he can fit me in and do a quick swap out, if that is indeed what it is.

If not–there’ll be a 2006 scion xb dubbed the Wine Box for sale very soon….

Sigh.

Busy schedule, getting busier as school gets closer. Still, I’m looking for more freelance work and more ways to capitalize on just that thing. I may go back to pitching small businesses and PR work because I like the entrepreneurial nature of it. I’ll hang out another shingle here–so, if you’re reading this and need a bit of copywriting done, drop me a line. Happy to help–and my rates are reasonable! I’m not, mind you–but my rates are.

Onward, gentles.

Update: The clouds have parted! Roger showed up this morning before 7:00. I dutifully awaited him on the porch with my latest Gabriel Allon adventure in hand (more on that later). It was the car battery that needed to be replaced and so, being inept at such things, Roger gave me a quick 3 minute tutorial–and I toddled off to Batteries Plus for a new one–even printed off a a coupon from the Internet. Installed the battery and all is right with the world.  Ah….satisfaction.

Decompression

The decompression of the weekend was aided by my pal Larry’s birthday celebration to which the whole fam was invited. We dutifully attended and had a good time. Larry bbq’d Carne Asada and Sue made a tremendous Mexican Caesar salad complete with Cotija cheese and Cilantro dressing-organic veggies, too. Peanut played with their daughter and another of her friends whose family came over as well. It was a true summer evening of the quality I remember as a child–adults sitting and talking and enjoying the long summer evening while the kids had the run of the house and the backyard and played. Really fine stuff.

I did work a bit this weekend, interviewing some folks for a newspaper story and sent out some query letters. Today, I wrote up yesterday’s interviews and then spent the better part of the afternoon…..at school.

OK, I admit it, I have started back though I don’t want to. There’s a strange combination of anticipation for the new school year and a profound and hearty missing of last year’s seniors. I’m having trouble accepting that they’ve moved on, honestly-though I know that’s how it’s supposed to work.

There is still another part of me that is looking at ways to make more money–because, I’ve discovered, that’s what you do when you’re in your 40’s. You look for ways to make more money, to settle into the life you know you want and to figure out how to get there. But, I am a blessed man living the life I largely want to live. I teach and I write and I love both and am hungry for more of them–

We saw a house today in a cul-de-sac two doors down from the home of some friends of ours. It’s smaller than this one and it’s one story–but it has a glorious backyard and swimming pool and it is in a neighborhood with lots of kids. Still-financially, I don’t think there is anyway we can do it. We’re upside down on this house and that’s not going to change for a while.

One never knows, though. We await word on Sue’s blood tests and we are focusing our attention there. Every major thing in our lives is on hold now until we can figure out what’s next for her-how we’ll deal with whatever she has and how we’ll proceed from there. One thing is certain, I remain hopeful and optimistic. It’s not that all shall be well. All is well. We are a happy family with wonderful lives–and while there are some hurtles, they are not insurmountable and we do count our blessings, as they say.

Onward.

Allow me to LLink you…

Gentles-

In the past three days, I’ve written in excess of 10,000 words. In short, I am spent. So, tonight-I bring you llinks! Ok…links. These links are to words recently written. Say that five times fast….no, not “that.” Words recently written five times fast. Ah, nevermind. You’re mocking me. I know you are.

I’m overly sensitive tonight. So, I rather beg, plead and cajole you to follow the links below…

This one will take you to the article that just came out about my dear and good friend Richard Winterstein, an actor and teacher. It was this article I pitched to Matt Katz of Ventana and which opened the door to other article opportunities there. Yes, they mis-spelled my first name and yes, I’ve alerted them to this fact. Still, I am proud of this work.

Now, this one will take you to the same Ventana issue where I wrote a q and a piece with Peter Mullin, he of auto museum fame. Mullin has put together a quintessential collection of French Art Deco autos in Oxnard, CA. Beautiful–and worth seeing.

Ventana again-only the previous issue. I may have linked before, but this one was a great deal of fun–a collection of wine connoisseurs in my hometown of Camarillo who cook gourmet recipes and taste great wine. Good times.

Politics aside, here’s a quirky little piece I did for the Ventura County Star on a woman who got a grant to do some interesting work. I report–you decide.

I did a couple of wine pieces, but the won’t be posted for a while–one at Enobytes–will show up on Monday and I’ll link then.
We continue to work with the doc on Sue’s situation and she is in good spirits feeling like we can nail this thing sooner–rather than later. Please continue to keep us in your prayers. And as always–thank you so very much.

Onward.