46 and Holding

My friend Greg’s sense of humor works for me. He posted this. It’s become my new motto, though I know it’s old to some of you:

That’s just funny, isn’t it? And for all of ou who don’t think it is–the question was rhetorical. Please do not write comments to me about how you don’t think it’s funny and the chicken in question probably is being housed in a cage and fed antibiotics. Wait…on second thought. Go ahead and do that. It makes it funnier.

 

 

 

There’s nothing particularly wild to report today. It’s the usual middle class clap trap, I’m afraid. Just getting to a point where bills are being paid off and the refrigerator goes on the fritz. Not making ice cubes and instead making funny sounds that sound like, well–like a Dodge automobile. If you’ve every driven or owned one, you know what I mean.

Full blown summer day–warm temperatures, blue skies and a slight-ish breeze that perked all up nicely.

I turned 46 yesterday and it was a grand day. Simple, full of meaning. Here’s a picture for you:

That was taken in Santa Paula, not far from here. I wrote a story out there about the California Oil Museum’s latest temporary exhibit of motorcyles–pretty cool, actually. But that photograph is of the corner of the office on Main Street in Santa Paula where Union Oil was founded. The contracts were signed by the principals on this spot and Union Oil of California, you know–the 76 Stations–now Unocal, was formed. I thought it was pretty cool, anyway.

June has melted away and July rolls in on a wave of summer warmth, if not quite heat. There’s a need for me to slow things down and I’m having trouble with that. I don’t have time to do what I want because everything goes faster when you have a 10-year old, and you’re working two jobs (well-OK, one right now–but two normally and really more than two because I freelance for different folks). I’d just like to kind of slow down, take a break, put things into perspective. Why, it reminds me of a song:

Rush, Time Stand Still

 

And that’s all gentles. Onward.

 

 

Coming Home

I am to a point where covering military homecomings has had such an impact on me that I dream about it. These men and women come home, most of the ones I’ve seen are Navy Seabees arriving from Afghanistan, looking dazed and confused, exhausted and somewhat lost. They generally greet family, friends, girlfriends, wives, children or whoever. On occasion, they greet a brother or sister or, a small few just walk off the plane and head over to the transport bus which takes them to their homes, an apartment or barracks on base. And that’s that.

I was out at Pt. Mugu Naval Air Station again tonight as NMCB 3 came home from Afghanistan. This was the last remnant of the battalion, some 270 troops, and they were deployed, most of them, for eight months. Some of them were there for as much as 11 months.

Being pro-military is not hard. It does not take a special breed, nor does it even require great leaps of faith. You don’t have to be for the political reasons that troops go to war–you just have to at least admire that they do it and that they are willing to sacrifice so much to do it.

At times, my Libertarian sensibilities, and they are growing and changing, get me thinking about the war in which these folks have been involved and I think that it sure is an awful long war and a difficult one and there has to be a better way to serve our interests at home. But then I come back down to earth from thinking they shouldn’t be there. They had to be there–we had to make our presence felt there. There simply was no other way for us to deal with the threat in the face of radical Islam–or even Islam for that matter.

These are mostly young people, though there are some who are older, officer-types or Master Chiefs, Chief Petty Officers, etc. and many of them are so young it defies description. One young man I saw looked like he could have been in my English class-and indeed, some of my students are overseas with the military right after they graduate.

I don’t know where I’m going with this. I don’t really have a thesis. It’s emotional to watch these folks come home and it is meaningful and impactful. They sacrifice a great deal in a cause they believe in for you and me so that we can be free–well, sort of free–and they do it willingly for very little pay. They have their own political views, but they won’t express them to you and not a one will tell you “we shouldn’t be there.” At least, not in my experience. There is nothing like watching some of them get off the plane and run into the arms of a loved one or watch a child who hasn’t seen his dad or mom in nearly a year light up when he or she gets there.

And that’s really all I have to say. Tomorrow, I turn 46. So, there’s that. Wow.

Onward.

 

Compromise

I have spent the last couple of weeks rationalizing with myself that I need an ipad–that it would be a useful and even sometimes necessary tool for me to have. And after all this time, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s simply not true…I don’t need one. I don’t really even want one. They’re OK–like a big itouch, but beyond that, I can’t think of a reason to have one. As a writer, I need a keyboard–and yes, you can buy a keyboard-but, why? I have two laptops.

Truth be told, I’d considered a third–a Macbook Air, because it’s about the same weight as an ipad, but a lot more functional. There’s a whole laptop there, not just a touch screen-and there are usb ports and other assorted goodies. It’s a bit more expensive, yes–but not so much that it’s a deal breaker. I’ve pondered ordering–but I’m still pondering…

Warm summer day today, which is fine with me. It’s summer after all. The fog has retreated for now, bu promises to make an appearance later this week. I’ve ramped up the stories to the point where I’m working on a sort of “full-time” basis–that is, I’m working every day, doing interviews and writing. It’s totally enjoyable, if somewhat frazzling with all the appointments, etc. But I can keep up. I can take it. Just saying that makes me sound like a prig. Well….

I am nodding off, so I shall keep it short this evening. I’ve begun tweeting again, for all the good it does. Not a fan of social media, though I do recognize it can be used as a tool. I just don’t want to spend my days posting that I wrote this story–and here’s that story. For now, I’ll do it–but I shan’t let it consume me.

Not yet, anyway.

Onward.

Happy 17th Anniversary…

And on into the summer. Full summer, Ventura County style with fog occupying the morning and evening hours, keeping temperatures here at the coast quite pleasant, if a little dull and gray at times. A busy summer, too, gentles as the writing schedule has been keeping me busy and while I rekindle my love and passion for wine, attempting to figure out how to balance the financial needs of purchasing good wine with, well, you know-buying food, paying the mortgage and the bills and such.

I’m headed up to Ojai today, the one spot in western Ventura County that doesn’t labor under the fog, where Wayne Pacelle will be speaking. Mr. Pacelle is the president of the American Humane Society and there is a chapter in Ojai, so he’s coming there on his book tour talking about some pretty interesting subjects, actually.

We spoke yesterday by phone and he has close knowledge of our county. He said to me that our county has in it some very special politicians who really do fight for positive treatment of animals, not only as cause celebre, but also as a matter of course whether in dealing with industrial agriculture or even ranching and farming. He then pointed out, almost surprisingly, that these politicians were all Republicans. He didn’t say it with shock, as you’d expect a good media-counseled liberal to do, but he did mention it as something of an unexpected surprise.

Of course, it doesn’t surprise me. The thing that surprises me most is the level to which conservatives of every political stripe are regularly lambasted by the media while liberals are held up as icons of pure orthodoxy and further, the orthodoxy is held up as right and good–even as the alarmism of global warming fades, the proof of liberal financial recklessness is apparent each day and the incompetence with which our country is being run is on display for all to see.

But leave that alone…

While in Ojai, I intend to make some stops at two of the very best wineries in the county, the Ojai Vineyard and Old Creek Ranch. The Ojai Vineyard is the more well-known of the two. Adam Tolmach, the owner and winemaker, is a veritable celebrity in the wine world, turning out consistently great wines that speak for themselves.

Meanwhile, John Whitman, owner of Old Creek Ranch and his head wine maker, Michael Meagher, are cranking out some exquisite examples of great wines, unique ones, too, on a regular basis. From Sangiovese to Albarino to Meagher’s Albalonga, which my wife swears is the best white wine she’s ever had, these are great wines with decent price points and a growing following.

Most importantly, gentles-today marks 17 years with my wonderful wife, Susan, with whom I have been fortunate enough to live my life. 17 years ago today on a triple-digit summer Saturday, we got married at the chapel at CLU in Thousand Oaks, CA. Insert cliches about time passing and all of that here.

But really, it’s far more than that. I’m not prepared to go into details, of course, but the love of my life is still the love of my life and here we are 17 years later with a beautiful daughter and good lives. We’re happy to be here.

So, onward gentles. Into a summer weekend.

 

 

No one gets to their heaven without a fight

It has taken me a long time to learn to listen to and appreciate Rush’s Snakes and Arrows album. I’m a fan going back to Moving Pictures when I first heard Rush as a 15 year old musical neophyte at El Camino Real High School in the San Fernando Valley.

Rush opened up new vistas to me. I’d heard Kansas and liked them because my brother did and he was a big Journey fan. I tried to like Journey, but never gelled. I heard Yes for the first time around the age of 15, too and was hooked as well. But it was Rush who provided a soundtrack for my life. From the opening strains of Tom Sawyer, I knew that the music I wanted to listen to had to have all of these elements: technical and virtuoso prowess combined with thoughtful lyrics combined with some serious axe shredding. Yes, I’ll take those, please.

And I’ve remained a fan for all these years. I’ve seen them 11 times and I only stopped seeing them here in my 40’s because, well–it costs a lot to see a concert and honestly, concerts are loud and concerts are filled with throngs of people who aren’t always at their best. So, yeah-I’ve gone old somehow.

But that doesn’t change the fact that I love this band. Still, Snakes and Arrows was a tough one for me. Far Cry, the opening track, reeled me in early and I loved it. The three instrumental pieces, Hope, The Main Monkey Business and Malignant Narcissism too reeled me in. I’ve had them on the ipod since the album’s release four years ago. But the album as a whole troubled me and I have recently become untroubled. Here’s the scoop…

What has become apparent over a couple of albums, really going all the way back to Power Windows in the 1980’s, is that Neil Peart’s lyrics have heavy doses of atheist or at very least agnostic precepts to them. I’m not opposed to atheists or agnostics–two of my closest friends belong one in each group. But I am not an atheist. I’m a Christian and while I don’t really lead with religious-speak and try to wear my cross on my sleeve, as it were-the fact is I believe in salvation through Christ and at very least, it seems apparent that my favorite band in all of the world does not.

And that’s OK for a number of reasons. I’m not here to judge them nor would I think they should care about my opinion. Let’s get beyond that. But it has taken me years to get where Dennis Prager urges people to be in his conversations with them which is the stronger my faith, the more tolerant I can be of other faiths or no faith.

Yes, it’s true that being a Christian calls for evangelizing. The Bible is pretty specific about spreading its good news and Jesus’ command to His disciples when he appears again to them after His resurrection is to go and make disciples of all nations. I get that. But it’s OK not to pursue this strategy militantly in my mind. That is, it’s OK for me to point out my faith, to live my faith and even to call attention to it. It’s not entirely necessary that I convince someone who has thought about it and continues to be a non-believer to convert. Prayer and continued friendship can, at times, work wonders in that area. Hard pressing-calling people out, telling them that because they’re non-believers, various terrible things will come of them–is not my cup of tea. Nor do I care to have doctrinal battles with various species of Christians. It’s enough to know one God in three persons and to know that our salvation comes from Christ. I know this anecdotally because I have brought people to church, non-believers, by simply being with them over time and slowly, as our friendship grew, having them “come and see.”

OK-so what’s that got to do with Rush? Well, what I find in some atheists is exactly the quality in them that they say they despise in “Bible thumpers,” that is-militant evangelism. I know more atheists who preach their beliefs more loudly than I do Christians who do so-no joke. And only recently have I been brave enough to make the challenge: “Hey, I get that you don’t think there’s a God. I’m cool with that. It’s your business. But unless you want me to start citing chapter and verse about the nature of infidelity to God and refusal to accept Christ, perhaps you should simply be quiet…”

In many of Rush’s lyrics, there are glimpses of this: “Though his mind is not for rent, to any god or government…” “We hold beliefs as a consolation…” “I don’t believe in destiny or the guiding hand of fate. I don’t believe in forever or love as a mystical state. I don’t believe in stars or the planets, or angels watching from above…” There are overall themes and outright characterizations of atheism even while there are in some contexts a mention of heaven and how heaven works. Armor and Sword from the Snakes and Arrows  album, is such a song.

“No one gets to their heaven without a fight…” This lyric is part of the chorus of Armor and Sword from Snakes and Arrows and in listening to the song today, which I have come to love for its beautiful melody, rhythmic chord structures and powerful nuanced rock prowess, I noticed it and began pondering whether or not I agree. Does no one get to heaven without a fight?

Before I answer that question, allow me to take you to the point. In pondering this song, what I came to was that Prager was correct. I can’t come to agreement with someone who says my faith is a lie. I can’t come to acceptance of that worldview. But what I can do is come to acceptance that some won’t share my worldview and in my defense of it, all I need do is defend it. That’s all. I don’t have to fight-argue, audibly dissent or prove my worth. All I need do is keep my faith in tact while constantly allowing the barrage of other faiths and none at all. After all, if I can’t withstand a challenge to my beliefs, how do I know I believe them?

So, in some ways this song by a band of what I assume are atheists-albeit seemingly very kind, gentle and friendly ones–and as I’ve said, I have many friends in that camp–has helped me gain a foothold into my own faith. It’s too simplistic for me to say that perhaps God used that strange concoction of atheistic lyrics to help build my faith–but I wouldn’t negate that altogether.

As to the lyric itself–does no one get to heaven without a fight? Well I don’t know yet. I certainly think that many people get to heaven not fighting, but surrendering and it is that surrender, the beautiful acquiescence that assures it. By the same token, the theme of resistance in pursuit of pure motives is another theme in Rush’s music, one I do very much identify with, and this song carries that particular cri de coeur out of the fantastic sci-fi realms of early works like 2112 from 1976 and even Distant Early Warning from 1984 into a more earthy and progressive 21st century vessel.

If you haven’t listened to the album, I strongly suggest it. Musically, it ranks up there with the band’s best work. Alex Lifeson’s acoustic solo piece, Hope, is such a joyful and satisfying thing and the thundering opening of Far Cry will have you recalling (if you do recall such things) the glory days of the band’s Hemispheres and Farewell to Kings albums, that they alone are worth the itunes download.

Onward.

 

Father’s Day, 2011

It is late Sunday, Father’s day 2011, after a grand day of doing largely what I wanted. I got to go to church today and it was good to be back, to get into that rhythm and that vibe again. Craig’s sermon was short-but as always, powerful and a reminder of what faith is for-to go into the world and bring it there with you.

Brother Doug was in town this weekend as he moved into his new and glorious home in Newbury Park-about 10 miles, or three freeway exits from here. It’s a truly glorious home-and as he’s a renter, the downsides–a few repairs, odds and ends and the like-are really not his problem.

Sue bought me the ultimate Father’s day gift–a new bbq. It’s a lovely thing, a Kenmore of all brands and it has four burners plus a side burner for a pot of beans, or soup or chili or what have you. It’s large and upright and I don’t have to bend over the thing to cook my food. Last night? Burgers seared with onions and cheese, dill pickles and toasted buns. Tonight? Carne Asada–a favorite of mine-with fresh avocado, Sue’s homemade pico de gallo, black beans and cotija cheese. Good, good stuff. Doesn’t get a lot better than that. Had a bottle of Tolosa Pinot Gris, too-and Doug and Laurie drank Peachy Canyon’s zinfandel called “Incredible Red.” It’s a good standard red table wine–but at 10 bucks a bottle, incredible actually works as a description.

Yesterday, we swam in uncle Doug’s pool–it was a might cold–in the 60’s, but I jumped in. Simon decided to jump in with me as we’d brought him along. He’d followed uncle Doug in the pool earlier and he leaped–and I do mean leaped right in. He took what must have been four foot jumps off of the first step into the pool and then swam around frantically looking for someplace to stand. He liked it–or at least seemed to-and was comfortable in the water.

Before that, he and I did a three mile walk and the combination of the two things wore him out. We did five miles today, but the three plus swim put him away big time. Here, see for yourself:

 

That’s your humble host on the same couch from which I write this post and that’s Simon. Not unusual for him to jump up on the couch with me or with Peanut or even Sue. But it is unusual for him to become a lap dog–I might add, a 56 pound lap dog–and simply go to sleep. His eyes were closed and he was breathing evenly and long.

Well, I suppose I had better hit the hay–a busy day tomorrow, gentles–off and running. Good evening…
Onward.

 

New rhythms

To say I was on vacation for the past few days would not be entirely true. I wasn’t. My wife and daughter were and my daughter’s friend was with us. We went to Carpinteria, about 40 minutes north of here, and rented a house owned by a friend of mine from school. It’s a block from the beach, three blocks from downtown and comfy, cozy, homey and wonderful. We had a blast–the girls especially.

I was working-writing, interviewing, but I’m not complaining. I love what I do right now and it does not seem a chore to me. I’m always looking for more of it. It’s as though I’ve become addicted-but in a good way. It’s about writing stories, telling stories and getting people to open up and talk to me about things and that makes me really happy.

I think Peanut would rather I was on vacation with her-but she seems to understand. Sue was there and she needed a break more than I did. She’s had a rough few weeks health-wise and even threw up while up in Carpinteria, still suffering ill effects of the other day I suppose.

Tonight was a wine tasting with the group–that group. Washington Bordeaux blends and they were incredible. There were some real shining stars like the Leonetti 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon I brought. The winner, though, was Owen Roe. A really great Cab blend from the Yakima Valley. It was a spectacular wine with a lot of smokiness, fruit and vanilla–just astoundingly good stuff.

Uncle Doug officially moves into the area tomorrow with Aunt Katy, his fiancee, following next month. We’re excited to have them here and we’re looking forward to having more family close by so we can spend time together. Their new digs has a pool and a spa and there are hills and trees and all kinds of things. That too makes me happy.

I’m readying myself for bed, gentles. Not a lot of coherence this evening. Perhaps tomorrow.
Onward.

Monday Monday

I was right about the hospital-Sue went yesterday morning at around 9:30. They drew her blood and gave her an ultrasound, but it turned out to be nothing–that is to say, they found no gallstones and her blood counts and such were normal. Meanwhile, Peanut woke up this morning vomiting and wretching. Whatever happened, she got it too.

Sue said a number of people, some 10 or more, were in the hospital with similar symptoms so we must assume something was making the rounds of our small-ish town. I have, so far, escaped. The girls are both better this morning, though a bit tired and weak from yesterday’s gastronomic pyrotechnics. Sue will head into work today and Peanut and I will play it cool around the neighborhood. She ate some breakfast and is feeling better this morning. She’ll have a tendency toward over-caution because she’s a hypochondriac. I have no idea where she gets it from…

The sun has finally made an appearance in our sky after several weeks of May/June gloom. I don’t mind the gloom, though I have to admit the sun is welcome.

Working to gather some steam in story-writing for the summer. I have a few assignments lined up but I’m looking at more with some different publications. I’m also doing some preliminary work on an independent writing project that I’m not yet ready to talk about yet.

A rare morning post, gentles–coffee to my left, Simon the dog at my feet.

Onward.

Summer Starts

Sue isn’t feeling well tonight. This has happened before. She’s asleep now and we’ll hope she is better in the morning–but for the life of me, she’s got all the symptoms of gallstones. Temperature isn’t very high at all, 98.9, so that’s good–but unless she’s markedly better in the morning, I fear a trip to the hospital is in the future.

Sigh. Beginning of summer, too.

Peanut and I are up watching “my shows” as she calls them. She’s learned the art of on-demand TV. She never does the one that costs money, thank the Lord, but she does watch Disney Channel on demand. That’s why I have a laptop. She’s munching away on an apple and enjoying herself after a full day’s worth of playdate with her pal, Kayla.

The three of us, P, Kayla and I, saw the Judy Moody movie today. It was a lot of fun and the kids loved it. I thought it was pretty good, myself. I’ve read every one of the Judy Moody books, all of them to Peanut while she bathed mostly. She read a couple by herself as well. We met Megan McDonald, the author of them, up in Pleasanton when we were there visiting friends of ours. Total escapist fare with a lot of simple and fun action.

It was a quiet Saturday, actually. I covered a small private school’s graduation late this morning and then came home and sat down to a salad for lunch. Sue was already not feeling well after her breakfast and she just stayed in bed. Poor thing.

Then, the movie-then back home to clean the kitchen, all the while petting with and playing with Simon-dog. Because Sue was not feeling good, I was on duty when the girls came back here to play-so no walk until after dinner.

I’m just rambling the day, now. If you’ve a mind to, say a prayer for Sue to feel better tonight and tomorrow morning. I would appreciate it. Meanwhile, I’m off to surf the web–and go to bed.

Onward.

 

20

It is the end of my 20th year as a high school English teacher. I intended tonight to look back at the posts I’ve had for the past few years about what it felt like to wrap up the year. I remember last year not being ready to let go of the senior class because I knew so many of them, grew so fond of them and enjoyed their work in my class. I have a similar senior class this year, one-my Shakespeare class-and I will indeed miss them. But, I don’t have the empty feeling I had last year. Is that good or bad?

Anecdotes:

  • Yesterday, during the final exam for one of my English 3 classes–those are juniors, college prep, I caught three plagiarists in the essays they turned in. Half their final grade was based on an essay they had three weeks to write. We worked on it in class for five full days during which I offered help, guidance-to anyone who wanted it. Few did. I suspected half a dozen more of plagiarism, but cannot prove it. Out of the three, one texted me (he has my number as a member of my newspaper staff) to tell me how sorry he was. I appreciated that.
  • During this past year, I caught 8 plagiarists and suspect many more. My record in a year is 10. I came close this year. The school has no effective policy for dealing with plagiarism, though the English dept. has steps it can take. None of them are so harsh that they stop kids from plagiarizing, however-even when we do catch them. Why? Because a lot of the kids don’t really care that much about their grades.
  • My own shame this year has reached a boiling point. I have not been effective in putting together the journalism program I wanted. I could lay it at the feet of last year–I spent last year building a college prep. program and that took time away from everything else. Trouble is, the only thing college prep. about my journalism class this year was the editorial staff and in particular-the editor in chief and managing editor. I let them down–and the class down-by not being more demanding of the staff. Even so, we won awards. Even so, we had a “good” year and produced some fine newspapers. But the only thing that does is remind me how much we could have done if we’d focused. If I’d focused and provided leadership. I did not–and there was a vacuum.
  • As we get further and further down the rabbit hole of a standardized testing culture, I am reminded of the many degradations of such a system. I understand the public need to measure how schools are doing and I get that there must be a way to do so. But the current way isn’t working. I could offer a number of pieces of evidence–here’s the best one I know of so far. I agree with the good professor, who seems to have no political axe to grind. I ask you to read and judge for yourself. What Mr. Weinberger says in this article is worth reading.
  • It’s not all doom and gloom. I am still passionate about getting kids to think for themselves, about getting them to at least consider works of literary greatness and to themselves, publish those opinions to me, their teacher- and at times, their classmates. There are certainly downward trends as we watch more and more students with the entitlement mentality choose the path of least resistance. But I don’t doubt for a minute that there are plenty of students out there who will not sell out the second the going gets tough. I just am seeing fewer of them…
  • My own evolving into a libertarian has involved me spending more and more time putting the onus of responsibility back on my students. Mind you, I don’t think you always make the kids responsible. There are times when as the adult in the classroom, I need to make the decisions. But by and large, I’m interested in seeing kids do that themselves.

Well gentles-I’m sure I could think of more. For now, though-late as it is, I shall tawdle off to bed.

Good night.