Wet Dogs

The sweating and jarring over the debt limit is palpable, no? I’m interested as far as it goes, but I have to admit that the most interesting thing is that the Republicans have largely held the line. Oh, I think Boehner’s plan will prove pretty bad and I think we’re going down a long-term suck hole in which govt. grows by leaps and bounds (thank you base-line budgeting), but I have to admit, the Tea Party movement–movement conservatives–have really held their line and it’s impressive.

Of course, if you’re a liberal and don’t deal in the reality that govt. is too big and private industry is suffering, then you disagree and I can do nothing to sway you. Nor do I wish to. You’re welcome to your own private Idaho, or California, or New York–or whatever you’d like. But those of us who deal in reality know this simple truth: govt. doesn’t build, produce or change much. People do that. That’s the genius of a country like ours. ‘Nuff preaching.

I will be writing here as I travel to the northlands to do some wining and dining and writing for Winefox.ca. This is going to be a fast trip, but a fun one and I’m excited to put together these pieces I’m doing. Watch this space, as they say.

Simon got a bath yesterday. It’s the saddest canine thing I’ve seen in a long time. Scoop, God rest his saintly soul, was no fan of the bath. If you’d let him, as soon as he was done, he’d go out back and roll in the grass. Simon doesn’t do that. But Scoop also sort of accepted the bath as a thing you did. “Oh, yeah. Water and soap. Hate this–but, the master pets me for a while and the master’s wife loves on me afterward. It’s kind of a bonding moment, so-I’ll wag my tail and get ‘er done…”

Not Simon. Standing stock still and refusing to move unless physically lifted or forced, the dog refuses everything. He goes Ghandi on you, except instead of lying down and refusing movement–he stands there. Rigor mortis–without the mortis. He’s an affable chap otherwise, but the shower brings out the worst in him. While you wash him, he refuses to do the shake occasionally. He waits until the water is off for that and then does it outside the shower. After you’ve toweled him off. Resistance. Rebellion. “I’ll show you…”

While being bathed, I talk to him and pet him and try to make it pleasant. He’s having none of it. If he could, he’d squeeze out a Cleveland steamer right there just to let me know that’s how he feels. The dog will come when called across half a mile. If he’s in the driveway with me, all I have to do when he wanders toward the sidewalk or street is say his name, and he shoots over to me wagging his tail. But the bath is where he draws the line.

I feel for him. It’s not natural for a hunting dog to want to smell like a dandy. “They’re all going to know I’m coming,” he thinks. “The birds will smell me before I even get to the door. This is humiliating…” And I suppose it is. But it’s worse having a dog that smells like….well…like dog-lying next to you on the couch.

Good night, Gentles.





Almost Making It

Over at Fermentation, Tom Wark is writing about his experiences in Charlottesville. I’m an American history buff, a wine aficionado and a writer–so a little envy is the name of the game tonight. Tom, as usual, writes as though he walks into the room unawares and reports it just so. He’s a little like Huck Finn in that he comes with no pre-conceptions. This is a talent I admire in Tom, having been acquaintances for a few years now and never having met in person–that he has a wealth of knowledge in and about wine, but he still approaches it like a child–with a sense of wonder. It’s quite a thing to read. Do avail yourself.

My own wine-blogging went by the wayside sometime ago as I made a concerted decision to write a personal blog. There are times when I regret the decision, but for the most part, I don’t. I’m a writer first and a wine fan second and when those two passions can meet, I’m happy. The fact is, I’m happy writing about almost anything and that’s what I’ve been doing of late.

Hit a snag the other day in this regard as I reported a year ago that I’d signed a freelance contract with the New York Times. A year later, I wake up on a Friday morning to find an e-mail in my in-box from the Times asking me to follow up on a story about a local resident here caught up in the Anonymous computer hacking scandal. So, they give me the name of the perp. and I go about my business only to find that the perp. is a former student (no, I cannot reveal names). I had to disclose that I knew this person and that disqualified me from the story. To think–the whole point of being a reporter, a writer, is to have connections–and I have them. But sometimes, it doesn’t pay I suppose.

I am mending better, though it’s always too slow-but I am grateful for the fact that it’s happening. The neck injury is a tricky one, but time and exercise, Aleve and a glass or two of wine keep things in check. All is getting well.

Picked up my media credentials for the VC Fair today. I’ll be covering events for the fair when I return from up north to write about Oregon wines for Winefox.ca. The winefox site too is a really fine exploration of wine if you’ve not seen it. I urge you to visit.

Goodnight, gentles.


i don’t pad

It’s big news that I have hinted at before, gentles–but time to unpack this particular bag. I’ll be writing for winefox.ca upon going up to Portland on a whirlwind trip to write about Wilammette Valley wines. The piece is travel-centric in nature, but focusing on traveling for the sake of wine and so I’ll write about some of the wineries, the wines that grow in the area and travel to the area-particularly for Canadians for whom I’m writing. If you’re Canadian and reading this, welcome! And thanks. I’m really excited to be writing for winefox.

It’s been a busy few weeks around here as we prepare for big brother Doug’s nuptials and Peanut just finished a month long dance and art class. She excelled at both, by the way, and is discovering a whole new side to herself, more creative and self-confident than she ever knew.

Continuing to heal in my shoulder and neck, though slower than I’d like. It will get there, I know–but it’s awfully hard to accept it at times. Just not happy about it all. But it is what it is and I have faith that I’m getting through it.

I confess to being very disjointed just now as I am not able to write the kind of essays I would like–longer, more focused, etc. But I am split so many different ways these days and keeping busy enough that I’m divided and writing is keeping me busy everyda. I wish I was more like Lileks and committed to writing a focused blog that would entertain and enlighten each night. But alas, I am not so fixed on it as he-one of my writing idols. I’m having trouble just putting my own thoughts down now–which reminds me:

I bought an ipad and it was exciting and fun–for about an hour. Honestly, I just don’t get it. It’s a big itouch and that’s pretty much all it is. It’s hard to type on-you certainly cannot type fast on it–and it’s hard to hold like a book–just a little too heavy for that, so it doesn’t quite work that way. It makes a great ipod–but then again, so does an ipod–and it doesn’t print. It isn’t a great computer–but it’s fun to get the morning news, I guess. I just don’t entirely get the thing. It’s a gadget. A friend of mine once called it–a solution in search of a question. I now quite agree, much as I didn’t want to agree with him at the time.

Essentially, a good laptop is a far better thing to have than an ipad, unless all you do is read websites and look at photos. If you actually want to interact with your computer and by that I mean type something–well, the ipad ain’t it. At least, that’s my take. But then, I don’t like the iphone either. I’m a Mac user, dedicated and proud. I own three Macs, an itouch and now an ipad–but I ahve to say, I think the ipad was a kind of….”um, we made this. You should try it…” thing. I’ve tried it. I don’t like it.

Perhaps it will grow on me, who knows? Until then, gentles.

The Show of Shows

Honestly, I am to the point where watching politics is circus-like. The Democrats are trying to scare us, the Republicans are the only ones afraid of them and so there’s no point talking. To be honest, I really hope there is an impasse and I hope that the debt ceiling isn’t raised because I don’t believe more than half of what is being said by either side and Tim Geithner lost both my trust and my interest more than a year ago.

There is no crisis. It’s a lie just as the rest of it is. It doesn’t exist. All that is left are the talking points. The crisis that does exist–is that the country spends too much money and it has to stop. That’s it. Unfortunately, the diet of most Democrats is that spending money is what they do–they don’t have much else. So, it’s kind of hard for them to walk away from that. I feel for them. It’s hard to have someone else’s credit card for so long, run up a tab and then be told you can’t have it anymore. Life is quirky that way.

I have been hired by winefox.ca to write an article about Wilammette Valley wines about which I am endlessly excited. I’ll be going through there with the family early next month on a whirlwind trip north and am excited to be writing about one of my favorite-and least identified-AVA’s. That should prove enticing.

My neck and shoulder continue to mend, albeit slowly and so blogging has been on the back-burner in terms of content, gentles. To be frank, typing for prolonged periods of time can be rather painful if I’m not careful and so I am reserving it mostly for paid gigs at this point.

Brother Doug and his fiance, Katy, are to be married in a couple of weeks and we shall be present for–and in–the wedding. Both Peanut and I have roles to play in the wedding and we’re both excited about it as well. P has just finished a four-week course of dancing and painting and it turns out that she is quite good at both. Now, she can’t wait for the big wedding day and she’s excited that she gets to be in it. Should be entertaining.

I’ll be hosting a few of the party on Sunday as a guide, of sorts, to two of the better wineries in Sonoma, the Mayo Family winery and Bucklin Estates winery. I’m really excited about taking folks there as the wines are so very good and the day should be a grand one.

I wish you all a good night, gentles. I’m tired and wish to shove off…

Lack of Substance…

There has been a lapse in the past couple of days because I have been in the dumps. I spent quite a few days pounding away at the keyboard over on the dining room table. And I know I shouldn’t.

That’s because I have a wacky neck that, at times, reminds me that it is not as healthy as I’d like. I avoided surgery, yes–but occasionally, the inflammation cycle gets rolling and the neck pinches a few nerves and things go haywire. Me? I go into extreme hyochondria mode. “Do I need surgery? Am I losing feeling in my arm? Will I ever get better?” No, no and yes.

So, I went into the doc and he pulled out file number 2345 on me–all about my neck. “Let me reassure you, Mark. If you aren’t able to pick up your coffee cup or when you do, it spills on your wife, then we’ll do some more things to figure it out. For now–take some anti-inflammatory drugs, have a glass of wine and relax. You’ll be OK.”

I love Dr. Fung. He’s thorough, he’s kind and he tells you the straight skinny.

So, I’m trying hard to look on the bright side and I’m hoping that the ache, the twinges, the spasms and the sting goes away….soon.

Working? Yes. Sleeping? Wonderfully. Losing weight? Well–maintaining anyway. Gotta put some more thought into that.

Very wired soon. I went on ebay after one too many glasses of good wine and I bought an ipad. No regrets–I’ve been wanting one for a very long time. As usual, I went cheap and bought a used first generation but it’s what I need and it will be fine. Maybe even great, I think.

Horses. Peanut’s been talking about them for weeks, now. Last year she went to a horse camp and it was great. She was a natural, a true horse-woman. Yet, we sensed from her that she didn’t want to follow up. Well-all that changed and now it’s all she talks about. How to afford it? Dunno. But that’s OK-we’ll work that out. She’s a good kid and deserves to pursue her passions. If this is one of them, then so be it. We will do what we have to do.

I am rambling now, so I’ll sign off. Feel free to comment about my lack of substance. I’m OK with that.


Cars 2

I’ve written before about Pixar films and will again, I trust. And some of what I’ve written, I cherish as an accomplishment. I  know, it sounds prideful and I don’t mean to. But Pixar’s films inspire me and always have and I trust will again. But Cars 2? Not so much…

Oh, it is not terrible or bad. It’s an action packed movie with a lot of fun bits but something didn’t work this time. Always, in Pixar’s films, there is a suspension of disbelief. The stories are so ludicrous, that at times that suspension of disbelief is required and it is always handled deftly by the mighty Pixar folks. But the suspension of disbelief in Cars 2 was cartoonish. One would think that this is acceptable as really, it is a cartoon and there is some truth to that.

But the movie didn’t adhere to the basic “biblical” standard that Pixar has always held which is that the story has to be compelling. Toy Story 2 worked because even if you didn’t see Toy Story 1, you could have been just fine. The same is true, by the way, for Toy Story 3. The stories worked–they were wonderful on their own. Cars 2 as a story wasn’t all that interesting. The best bits were about Finn McMissile, played by Michael Caine. Lightning McQueen was almost a second fiddle and the main character, Mater, was in the film nearly all the time.

For me, that was the problem. I found myself thinking that I didn’t laugh very hard in Cars 2 as I did in Cars. I wasn’t as amused and it’s partially because Mater’s humor comes from the fact that he wasn’t the star of the show. His thrust into the first position, (to extend the pun) doesn’t really work because, well, he’s not all that funny. Sure, he’s kitschy and full of those down-home little colloquialisms that make him Mater, but that’s the point. Those aren’t leading man material, if you will. They’re not something to build a story around.

John Lasseter directed here and as he’s the head of Pixar, the head of Disney Animation, for that matter, I have to wonder why Cars 2 made it this far. Again, it’s not a bad film–but it’s not a great film either. All of Pixar’s stories have been great. Cars 2 is good. Not great. Being a Disney follower, I have to wonder about the brand. I don’ think we’re gong back to the bad old days when Disney released Little Mermaid 2 and Cinderella 2 and all the other number 2’s that were, well….number 2’s. But it just interests me that the film made it past the Lasseter “story is king” mandate. If story is king, then Lasseter’s idea of good stories has changed somewhat.

Disney’s brand has proven that it is not infallible in the past. It has also proved, however, that it can be rehabilitated and in this case, Lasseter was in very large measure responsible for the latest rehab. Along with Bob Eiger, President of the Disney Corporation, Lasseter brought back a creativity and a seriousness to story that was evident as both Pixar and Disney animation cranked out hit after hit–from Ratatouille to the Incredibles to Toy Story to Meet the Robinsons and Bolt–the stories have been not only well crafted and in many ways, beautiful–but colossal box office successes precisely because story mattered, stories that were created by unique and innovative characters.

The problem, as I see it, with Cars 2, is that the unique and innovative characters took a back seat to attempting to capitalize on the franchise. Yes, Cars had the same unique characters, but taking those same characters and reversing their roles so that the comic relief becomes the main character–isn’t all that innovative. It’s actually kind of cheap.

Look, Peanut liked it a lot and was engaged by it. As I say, I didn’t think it was bad-there was certainly entertainment value. I have to confess I’m tired of the left wing crap in films–including Pixar’s, this time an attempt to talk about the “evils” of “big oil.” It bugs me to no end to see that hackneyed old thing out there.

So, there it is. It ain’t a pretty review, folks. But then, the movie isn’t pretty either–at least, not as pretty as I think it could have been.



Lauren’s Ordeal

I first met Lauren De La Torre when she was actively involved at my daughter’s school where her husband Walt, teaches. I didn’t know then the impact she would have on me personally and professionally, nor did I know then that she was a job-share teacher herself with kindergartners at a school across town from Peanut’s.

Since we met, Lauren has been the impetus behind many wonderful things for Camarillo’s kids and schools. Her husband and she are prime movers in the goodness, kindness and love one can have for a community. I’ve had the privilege of having their oldest son, Jackson, as a student and I’ve worked with both Walt and Lauren on several stories for the paper where they have been sources for me. It was because of a connection we all made together that a local art studio called SCIART (Studio Channel Islands Art Center) was able to move to an abandoned school in town and set up not only a working art studio and gallery, but a set of classrooms dedicated to bringing art back to the local schools through field trips and outreach.

Lauren is one of the kindest people I know and she has been a source of real inspiration for me. So it was with hard and sad emotions that I learned she had been lost in the El Dorado Forest near Lake Tahoe earlier this week. After two nights of her disappearance, I informed the paper for which I write that this had happened. Normally in these stories, I pitch them and ask to write them–but in this case, I asked to be removed from the story because I was too close to it and couldn’t keep my emotions from it. In hindsight, could I have done it? Probably. But that’s not the issue.

Lauren was found on the third day-how appropriate–and rescued by a blackhawk helicopter crew. I barely have words to describe my elation. Last night, a crowd gathered at her school, Tierra Linda, to welcome her home. If Lauren ever wondered about the impact she had on the community, she need not wonder anymore.

Stories like this don’t always end so well. This was a gift-the kind that if one ignores it, one misses the sheer beauty of a life well-lived. Some prayers are answered in ways none of us want–and occasionally, some are answered in ways that take our breath away at the sheer happiness and joy they bring….

Welcome Home, Lauren. Thanks for being the person you are.


America, America

I have posted this previously, but perhaps yearly is a good reminder about who we are and where we come from in the U.S. Not ancestrally, but philosophically and ideally:

John Adams’ famous letter of July 3, 1776, in which he wrote to his wife Abigail what his thoughts were about celebrating the Fourth of July is found on various web sites but is usually incorrectly quoted. Following is the exact text from his letter with his original spellings:

The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more. You will think me transported with Enthusiasm but I am not. I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means. And that Posterity will tryumph in that Days Transaction, even altho We should rue it, which I trust in God We shall not. (The Book of Abigail and John: Selected Letters of the Adams Family, 1762-1784, Harvard University Press, 1975, 142).