Round the Bend

Sleeping a bit better. Feeling a bit better. A bit. The big red splotch in my eye kind of changes things a bit, though. I imagine Elvis had one of these ere he shuffled off this mortal coil. Burst blood vessel, I think. I dunno. It’s ugly to look at–itches a little. Right eye, lower part–blood. Frank, red, stark blood. Just sitting there. Diffusing a bit now, but still….Peanut likes to look at it and say, “Eeeewwwwww.” I laugh at her nonsense-and then open the eye wider and stare at her. Squeals of delight.

Another in a long line of busy-ass weeks where the work pours in. Not unhappy, don’t you know. I write and get paid and what more does a writer ask? Nothing, I say. OK-there’s one thing. Tax appointment today and we owe 6K pesos. I’m telling you–it’s enough to make you go Libertarian. This is on account of both Sue’s and my self-employment and that’s a beautiful thing, but it does put you in mind that when you work as an independent contractor, the guvment comes for you first.

So be it. Sally forth and all that.

Hey, you need–and I mean really need to read Tony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential. This is a great book. I’m ashamed I didn’t read it earlier, but I am now. It’s so very good and that is so even if you’re not a food fiend. Bourdain can really write and in a way that is a pleasure to read. He swears beautifully and raises the dozens to an art form in merely the telling of the tale.

Here we are on the cusp of March 1. The long March, as we teachers like to say. March is a long month with nary any kind of holiday and a lot of work to get done before April–that is the cruelest month, indeed. Testing month, April is–combined with spring break. Now, most teachers don’t complain about spring break, but the fact is–with testing week and spring break, teaching during April is about 2 weeks. That’s not much time and before you know it, your seniors have checked out. With all of the hulabaloo about teachers–and I have to admit I side with most of the conservative voices in this silliness, though I disagree with some of what they are saying–the fact is, I do want my students to learn and I push them in that direction every day. The kids I’m losing I’m not losing for lack of effort on my part.

You know what? I’m both tired and hungry. I’m also sore. But I believe that if I had a big plate of Penne Bolognese with fresh Parmesan cheese and a glass of good Chianti, I might just feel better. I wouldn’t sleep better, I know–but I would enjoy it.

And that’s all I’ve got. I’m rather withered. I bid you all goodnight, gentles.



I have been toiling with the discomfort of a nose as dry as the Sahara and I have not been successful in my many attempts at fixing the problem.

This is not something I’ve been writing about because…well, because it’s so pathetic. I have known that I have a sinus problem for sometime. It’s probably what contributes to my occasional bouts of apnea and it certainly is a cause of my major discomfort and my constant attempts to smell things–anything-because I like to smell things. Wine, food, herbs, flowers, perfume, even bad smells–bad cheese, the dog after he’s been out in the rain. I enjoy these things. Yes-I know. Don’t judge me.

A couple of years ago, I had an Ear, Nose and Throat Doc named Vaidya. Doc Vaidya is a stand-up dude. He told you the truth–“there’s only so much I can do for you on this, unless you want me to operate. And let me tell you about sinus surgery.” He made it sound about as much fun as dipping one’s testicles in hot oil while simultaneously kneeling on nine-inch-nails.But he did use his magical spray machine, a Dr. Seuss looking moss-covered-three handled-family credenza type thing that emitted peppermint smelling mists that soothed and calmed raging nasal passages. I loved my trips to Dr. Vaidya. I brought him and his staff wine and I thought of him as a kind of minor god of the nasal passages.

He taught me about Afrin. “It’s a magical elixir of strange and very scientific sounding ingredients.” At least that’s what I thought I heard him say. “I want you to try it for three nights. No more, and tell me what it does for you.

Now, it just so happened that I was in the throes of developing a case of the flu at the time and didn’t know it. I’d had a sore throat, but everyone has those. By that night, though–fever, chills, coughing, sneezing-and barely the ability to draw air through my nose. I was down for the count.

Still, I picked up the Afrin and I went ahead and used it. Like deliverance from pestilence, it cut through even my flu. That night, feverish with restless dreams of sickness and sorrow, I still breathed through my nasal passages attune and akin with the world. For the next three nights, I slept fine–at least the nose didn’t stop me from sleeping.

I had found a magic bullet. Doc Vaidya had revealed the nostril secrets to me. He was Nostril-damas and the world was a plaything to him. Armed with the ability to prescribe an over the counter preparation that could single handedly cause you to breathe nasally again, he knew things other mere mortals didn’t.

That was two years ago.

I have known for sometime that one should not go beyond the three nights. But for two years, like a junkie sneaking heroin into his backpack before school, I would, on off nights, squirt Afrin up my nose. I’d adhere to the three day rule for the most part, but I could hardly go a full month without using the stuff. I became addicted–hopelessly tied to the small white bottle with the red cap, taking it with me when I traveled to defeat the evils of dry hotel or motel air–using it as a fallback when I put away one too many glasses of Pinot Noir, or after eating a salty meal.

Well, my addiction had finally gone overboard. Last night, a binge of Afrin use occurring for the fourth night in a row, breaking the dreaded and ominous three night warning, I squirted the stuff into my nose, smiling at the sleep I knew I’d get, knew I deserved. But I was wrong. My conscious knocked at me. Here I was, an Afrin junkie prepared to give my last for one sweet squirt of the magical nose juice. I couldn’t take it. I was hooked. I had to get off.

I read. I studied. I consulted the great god Google. My quest did nothing but disappoint. I reached out to friends in the medical profession. They offered some helpful hints, but still-it was too late.

Raging with what I thought was another infected tooth, I hustled back to the dentist this morning after he’d done some work on a rogue cavity last Wednesday. “It hurts Dr. Dave and I mean a lot.”

“OK,” says Dr. Dave. “Let’s get some pictures of it, see what’s going on.”

Nothing. No infection. No root damage. Nothing.

“You’ve got a sinus infection, I think. I’ll get you some anti-biotics. Take them and let’s see how you do.”

I was ashamed. I knew that there was something wrong, I just couldn’t place it. But there it was, plain as day. My nose was sick.

Headachey, struggling and foggy all day, I relied on extra hits of caffeine, Excedrin and even a hit of decongestant pills to try to soothe my addiction and its damage. Finally, relief came from the chemicals and I could see clearly. Got through the day and came home to a Friday evening of working a bit and helping out at Peanut’s second night of the play she’s in.

When I got home, tired and weary-I began to fret about bed time. There, on the counter, stood the white bottle with the red cap–only this time, it was mocking me. Daring me to use it, it stood cold and icy-a monolith to the degradations and danger of a permeated sinus cavity. I was ashamed.

I popped my anti-biotics and one of the preparations recommended me by my nurse-practitioner friend, Advil decongestant. I opened a new bottle of saline solution, a kind of methadone for Afrin junkies- and liberally squirted it like a fireman on a two-alarmer–up my nose. I got out a spanking new bottle of nasacort, one of Doc Vaidya’s capable and reliable stand-bys and gave myself a couple of shots. Saddened by my attempts to fill the Afrin-void, I crawled into my bed and turned my reading light on. I opened the pages of one of three books I’m currently reading and began to get lost in the pages-and that’s when it happened.

Suddenly, a tingling sensation began in my nose. It was continuous and felt funny, going on for what seemed minutes. At first, I was at a loss but it slowly dawned on me–my nasal passages were opening, draining–maybe even shrinking a bit! Oh my God–I could breathe–I can breathe–right through my nose and I don’t need Afrin. I didn’t use any!

I rose from the bed and walked across to the bathroom counter. Leaving the light off, I reached for the icy cold bottle with the red cap. I knew where it was, I didn’t have to look. With nary a tear in my eye, I relegated it to the drawer of items that must not be named. Extra razor blades, some anti-fungal cream, a few migraine pills and some oils for my beard trimmer. “In there you will go my friend. I hope not to need you anymore.”

And now, gentles–a fond and goodnight to all.



Do you know how difficult it is to maintain good humor in light of pain? You do? Oh….OK. Nevermind. I thought I was the only one. Cuz my neck is bothering me a bit after a long day and other than that I’m in a good mood, but the neck kind of slows the mood down-and then…well, nevermind.

Yes, it’s that kind of day. Pooh Bear had these once in a while. In the book, he says something to the effect of, “it feels like I’m here, but I’m not here…” or something like that. Yes. And those days come A) when you’ve taken too much Nyquil B) when you had too much to drink the night before and C) when you worked all fargin’ day and the work didn’t really stop until after dinner for which you took a small break, thinking it was over, then realizing it isn’t—oh. Bother.

I covered an event here last night that was electrifying. A gentleman by the name of Mosab Hassan Yousef spoke and the paper assigned me to cover the event, which I did. Rather than go into more detail, I’ll direct you to the link. I don’t think my byline is on it yet. But yes, that’s me.

Say, this Wisconsin thing is bugging me. More media crap. Allow me to explain. Now, the media shows test score results of kids in Wisconsin. Their standardized test scores are not all that good, apparently. Now, as an educator, I think a number of things when I see these test scores. Number 1, I want to see the test. How is written, how is it skewed, etc? After that, I look at the media hype’s conclusions: Wisconsin kids aren’t reading well. OK–look, here we go: reading and the ability to do it is primarily a function of the family, not the school. Yes, most kids will hone that skill in school. In elementary school, nowadays in kindergarten, kid will hone their reading skills—after being given a chance to do so at home. I remember distinctly spending evenings with Peanut when she was 5 years old preparing her to read. To this day, reading for us is a near daily activity. I read to her, she reads to me–we read together. A lot. That’s how kids learn to read.

But the automatic assumption of folks seeing these data is that Wisconsin teachers are inept. Allow me to point out, I’m not on their side in this debate. I don’t think they have a financial leg to stand on–not at all. And teacher’s unions, as Ricky Ricardo would say, ‘got some ‘splainin to do.’ But that said, if the kids in Wisconsin aren’t reading well–you ought to consider their parents and the society at large.

Schools. my friends, are a microcosm of the society in which they exist. They are. Yes, there is political nuttieness and yes, teacher’s unions are a mess–but this, as P.J. O’Rourke has said, is not the problem. The problem is ‘your damn kids.’ The problem is the parenting because simply put–a kid who comes to school fully prepared from a family who focuses on him or her, gives them a belly full of food, kisses them goodbye in the morning and thinks about what that all means–is a kid that will excel in school for the most part.

A kid who is worried about what’s happening at home, without a full meal, who argued with dad or mom this morning or step mom or step dad or who was allowed to sleep at a friend’s because frankly mom and dad don’t care, etc—those kids aren’t doing as well. Ask yourself if there might not be a preponderance of those kids out there.

Are there exceptions? Sure. Of course. But they are exceptions, not rules.

Now, that said–the union in Wisconsin is full o farp. They need to take a leap–and this silliness about it being a ‘union busting’ tactic’ has got to stop. They’ll still be able to bargain their salaries–just not their pensions and benefits. That’s reasonable to me.



To sleep, perchance to Dream…

Surreal, bizarre and strange. Yes, all of the above. I went and had a sleep study last night. Yes, I snore. Yes, my wife wanted me to go. Yes, I get totally that apnea is bad. Yes, I have apnea–though not every night and no, I don’t always suffer ill effects. Last night I did, though.

This is partly because the air in the sleep study place is about as balanced and moist as death valley on a summer’s day. Here’s a thing about me that I’m reluctant to share, but it is a necessary admission if I am to follow this meme. I’m pretty in-tune with my physical and bodily functions. I know what’s going on with me most of the time–and on occasion, I have the ability to control whatever it is that’s happening. Dizzy? I can break myself out of it. Overly tired? I can wake myself up. Apnea sleeping pattern? I will invariably dream about it–the dream will include me doing whatever it is I’m doing and having a difficult time getting air. I wake up, heart rate is up–and I drink a bunch of water. Usually, that helps.

This does not happen to me every night. I have no high blood pressure symptoms, my heart is healthy, my body is generally OK. So, I went to this thing with reluctance. I’m a bit leery of the sleep study. Yes, my wife had one and she is using a cpap machine. Her allergies and assorted issues have caused that in her and her apnea was a nightly occurrence. The mask helps her sleep.

And I imagine that if I am prescribed one, it will help me too. But I don’t want to do it. I’m frustrated with the diagnosis, though I know that it does happen to me occasionally and I know that it is uncomfortable. I’ll get over it. I suppose I’ll have to get the mask and then use it when I know I’m going to have a problem.

“But how do you know you’ll have a problem?” I hear you saying. Yes, a fair question. Well, this bring us back to my previous statement about my own knowledge of my…well…myself. What brings on the apnea? Number one issue–stuffed up nose. And yes, I’ve had a stuffed up nose for some time now. The cold left me with one and it’s just sort of stuck around. Gah.

Number two issue-dry air. Hotel air, airplane air–all of those dry me up and turn me into a regular diesel engine-which leads to dreams about running marathons, or chasing aliens with a hot cattle prod and not being able to catch my breath.

Issue number three is the salty meal, amplified if said meal is eaten late and alcohol is added. These are a few of my apnea things, as it were. And it is here, I suppose, I shall make my stand.

The black dog stuck around most of the day today, but that was because of the lack of sleep and the weird sleep study thing last night. Tonight, though tired, I am feeling better. I have a story to go report on and I’ll do that–but then it’s off to bed, well hydrated, a shot or two of Afrin in the nasal passages and no furnace treated air–if we can avoid it.

A busy week again, gentles–but I shall post with news of interest. By the by-since I’ve been avoiding politics, I’ll simply put this one thing in writing–the Wisconsin teachers need to get over themselves. I’m a teacher, too. Give it up–it’s time to understand that the candy store is closed.

OK. ‘Nuff said.

A visit from the black dog

The weeks have blended in one to another and Friday came to a halting and, well–not altogether pleasant end. I’ve been on a number of assignments and work has been good. On Friday, though, I pulled off the off-ramp of the freeway and was rear ended by another car. Nothing terribly serious–both of us were stopped, the other driver thought I was turning right and accelerated, probably around 5 mph, into the bumper.

I thought it was nothing, but the cloudy and rainy weather betrayed the indentation of the other car’s license plate frame bolts into my bumper and the bumper itself turned and moved up on the frame of the car. It stinks–for both the other party and me. I feel bad. But I have to deal with the damage. On to the insurance company.

The amount of work last week kept me typing furiously at different computers and the result is a tense and sore neck. I’m nursing it, but as I’ve written here before–it takes a good deal of time for pain and stiffness to go away. I shall hope that it gets better and not worse. That would be nice.

I’m afraid the black dog is visiting today. A little low, feeling a bit sorry for myself. It’s not a good thing, I know–it’s a funk and I’ll get out of it. More of note tomorrow, I suppose.

Just in Time

I’m in this strange mode. Tuesday feels like it didn’t happen. There was so much going on from the classroom to the editorial drafts that I simply melted into bed around 11 after writing more than 2500 words, teaching five classes and conducting something like four interviews. Today was easier, if somewhat jumbled by all the different e-mails, phone call interviews, calendaring of dates, etc.

My cold has mostly gone but I seem to still have a stuffy nose. This, combined with too much salt at dinner have led to a snore-fest the past couple of nights. At some points, it wakes me up. I’m having one of those sleep studies done and I dread it. I’m a light sleeper anyway and if they tell me I need a c-pap, I probably won’t use it. Unless I have to. Dunno.

It is one of those odd times where from the time I wake up until the time I go to bed, I am crazy busy parsing up time into flecks of 10 minutes here, 5 minutes there. I do take half an hour for lunch and today, I got a good solid walk in with Simon of about 45 minutes. Those are necessities, not luxuries. I need sustenance, I need exercise. And some days, I don’t get one or t’other–or both.

But I’m good, gentles–as the kids say. I’m pretty happy with what I’m doing and so far, it’s not a burden….it’s a joy. Writing about it here rather helps to bring that out. You’d think I get tired of slogging through story after story. I don’t. Each one is fresh and new and an opportunity to share it with people is so delightful that I can’t be tired of it. Not yet, anyway.

More pictures:

Me and Peanut before the big Father Daughter shindig.

The California State Capitol building. Sue and I went here Sunday morning last.

Flowers at the Capitol. They're so pretty because of all the b.s. around the place. Heh.

Happy V.D.

In danger of dropping off entirely, I suppose. Sue and I recovered from the ravages of dreck and went to bed earlier than usual Friday night. On Saturday morning, awake before the sun, we drove north and arrived in Lodi, CA by lunchtime where we met big brother Doug and his fiance, Katy-did (as she will here be known), there to partake of the Lodi wine and chocolate festival.

It was a fantastic experience, worthy of the mere 36 hours we spent up north. Doug lives in Sacramento and we stayed in a hotel up on the west side of town. It was a lovely trip, gentles, I cannot lie. Peanut was secure and safe here with Aunt Laurie and the canines and Sue and I got to reconnect and rekindle. I wish only that we’d had more pictures taken of the two of us. Instead, I just kept clicking at thingsĀ  I liked.

Saturday was given over to the hedonism of wine and chocolate. The stars of the show were at two different wineries, though. Michael David Winery which had wonderful vino in the form of its 7 Deadly Zins Zinfandel and a really good syrah. What they really had, though, and I think they should go into business with them, were chicken mole tacos. The mole sauce, a heavenly mixture of spices and chocolate, peppers and sesame seeds, draped richly off of corn tortillas with shredded chicken beneath it. I ate 7 of the little buggers during two visits to the winery at the beginning and end of the day.

Wine-wise, Lodi is much like Livermore. There are some very fine wineries there as I’ve mentioned. But there is a lot of inconsistency, too. But Klinker Brick was the highlight of the day. Their Old Ghost Zin is simply the best zin I’ve had ever. I’ve never been much of a zin fan, actually. But Doug would rave about this wine that he’d found and often over the course of the past year, I’d call him and he’d be polishing off a bottle of the Old Ghost.

This was my first try. Smoky, lilting, velvety with a serious fruit core not overwhelmed by its component parts. This is great wine, gentles. Great! Bought two bottles and plan to buy ‘ahem…’ a few more. Tonight, Sue made a glorious array of boneless shortribs and Cabernet sauce with cheesy polenta and creamed spinach. Oh man, gentles. Oh man! That and the Old Ghost? Well–that’s it.

We are tired from the drive. My neck and shoulder are very sore from the drive, I suppose-though I really don’t know. I’m relaxed, though with a schedule that is, shall we say, demanding this week. But the Old Ghost and tonight’s dinner will keep me going–as will the gentle Valentine’s knowledge that a mere 18 years ago this evening, I asked my wife to marry me over a bottle of rose and salads in Sonoma.

The rest, as they say, is history. And I couldn’t have had a better one.

A few travel photos:

Just taken with this dilapidated old barn. Took a lot of photos of it. Here's one.

My beautiful Sue, a two fisted wine drinker--it's why I married her-and Katy-did.


The Dreck Continues-but abates.

The dreck took over and I spent a couple of evenings upstairs hoveled in my room, sleeping, reading and sipping tea. Felt good, too. I’m still kind of there, but I feel much better. I get tired awfully easy, though and so bedtime arrives earlier than usual. I didn’t take any time off teaching and I took only Monday off completely from writing.

By Tuesday, I increased the schedule a little bit. It was amazing how much rearranging I had to do. It took me nearly an hour to e-mail and phone call folks to reset interview times, change some things here, post some things there, so I could just go to sleep at a decent hour. My writing schedule now occupies me nearly all day in some fashion. Even while I’m teaching, at breaks, in between classes, I’m whipping out the Blackberry, checking messages, replying to this editor, correcting that, contacting interviewees. It’s a busy, busy time.

That’s not complaining you’re reading, either. I’m thrilled with it. Love every minute of it. Beyond the remuneration of the work, it’s a lot of fun to do it. It’s become necessary, yes, as a part of our lives with Sue working less-but, it’s welcome on more levels than that alone.

Windy weather, the worst kind. Been that way all week, too. There might be some rain next week, they say. That’d be nice. It hasn’t rained since around Christmastime here. One can only hope it does indeed rain a bit. It would be a nice change.

As I write this, I keep drifting off to sleep and it’s only a bit after 9:00. I’ll continue tomorrow, gentles, when more rest strengthens my weary bones.


An Education

For many years I’ve been a conservative, but it wasn’t always so. In point of fact, in my everyday life-and in my dealings on a daily basis, I am not a very political person. Part of this is because I make a living in two worlds, education and media, that are predominantly liberal. If nothing else, I get a daily and constant barrage of liberal and progressive thought handed to me on platters and I don’t have to look far to find dissenting viewpoints.

Mostly, I’m not all that interested in politics. This is because the art of politics is as corrupting as anything in our world. Politics is about the aggregation of power, not the freeing up of citizens. I’m a Libertarian when it comes to this. The less government does, the better.

I used to root, and sometimes still do root, for conservative politicians. I don’t know how many times I’ve just off the cuff defended Sarah Palin or Newt Gingrich. Palin hatred is such a rampant disease, it’s as bad as Bush hatred and less logical. Is she a genius? No. Do you need to be to be President? Because if the current occupant of the White House is a genius, well–I think no matter what your political views, you can agree that genius hasn’t done very much, has it?

All of this is a preface to more education on my part. In school, we’ve taught–have been taught, that John Rockefeller’s Standard Oil was a monopoly that needed breaking and that monopolies are dangerous. But that’s conventional wisdom and I have found in recent years that conventional wisdom is almost always wrong.

I’ve started reading a few different accounts on the web. Try here. And here…and here. Here’s the essence of it: We’re taught–we teach–that Standard Oil practiced predatory pricing and sweetheart deals with the railroads and that led to lack of competition. It is said by most that before Rockefeller, there was a “paradise” of competition as small companies worked in relative harmony and earned small niches of the market.

Well-that, along with so much else that we’re taught, is largely a fiction. In fact, what Rockefeller and Standard Oil did was provide oil to American consumers at low prices in a way that they had not been able to do before. It was innovation and technology and smart decisions that built Standard Oil, not greed, corruption or sweetheart deals.

Yes-this is a thesis, but a working one. It’s just that so much of what we’re taught is focused on “greedy, evil capitalists” and I think we’ve been getting the shaft. I think that, in fact, the government seeks to control as much of the private sector as possible, and we’ve done such a bad job of talking about production and the means of production, that we’re actually focused on teaching our kids that the government wants what is best for them–when in history, that has never been the case. History shows us that the government almost always will seek to control its people. That’s why when the U.S. was founded, it was founded on a central mistrust of all things government and not a central government.

Well, I didn’t want this to be a treatise and there is a great deal more to say-more than I have wit to discuss here. But, it’s a start.


Ticking away…

The illness continues. Yesterday, Peanut spiked a fever that has stuck around by and large. Low grade, which is nice, but it’s there. We called the doc–she’d been there on Monday–and we thought she’d be getting better by now, but no such luck. Doc was thoughtful about it and decided a course of amoxicillin was warranted. Chewable, don’t you know. She says it tastes like vomit. I almost ask her how she knows, but I rethink the plan.

Sue got hit with it last night. I got hit with it Thursday and night-time is the worst. I’m functional during the day, nose is plugged and I sound nasally, but I’m OK for the most part. Headache is the worst. I get rid of that with Advil or Excedrin. Better living through chemistry.

So, sick, sick, sick continues. I’m working today, but it’s a quick and easy story. No worries and the weather is cooperating. Tonight is the father/daughter dance and both Peanut and I are rethinking our participation. If her fever breaks, I’ll take her. If not, I’m just not sure. It’s frustrating and I hate to cancel it–but health is pretty important.

We’ve been looking at our summer plans as Uncle Doug will be getting married in July. I’m in the wedding and I think Peanut is, too–though I don’t know. We’re excited to be a part of it and have a little vacation time. Should be a lot of fun. It’s amazing how once February begins, the spring-time comes in so fast and moves along. It’s rather like Christmas-time–you must stop and enjoy it, take note of its being here because if you don’t, it evaporates into the ether as just one more memory.

Not true of summer. Summer, contrary to Shakespeare’s words, is not all too short. It’s long enough that while in it, you can’t help but stop and think about being in it. The warm weather, the languid evenings, the days that stretch into nights traveling, playing, having fun. But spring time is a blink. It goes by and the next thing you know, you’re standing in late June wondering where it went. Tempus Fugit and all that.

Here’s to better days-healthier days-and living in them and with them-in the moment.