Happy New Year

New year’s eve with brother and sister-in-law and a lovely meal and some good company. Simple Not fraught with stuff. And that’s kind of where things are tonight.

2012 will be another year of changes as I’ve signed on to do some writing and PR work with some new folks. When we firm that up, I’ll go public and tell you who they are and such. I’ll look forward to that. I’ll continue to write for the paper and for the magazines for whom I have been writing, but I’m going to increase the focus toward PR and marketing and particularly with a company doing work I enjoy doing. I’m nervous and excited all at once.

Tired tonight–won’t make midnight. That’s OK, though. I honestly haven’t made midnight for some years now. Peanut and I took Simon to the dog park today and wore him out-this was in addition to a two and a half mile walk and then he joined us up at Uncle Doug’s and Aunt Katy’s. He’s asleep now on the couch–rhythmic breathing and the whole of it. I’m headed that way myself.

May 2012 prove brighter, blessed and meaningful to you all. Peace-

Onward.

 

Continued Nothingness.

The midst of the Christmas vacation has me, well, vacationing. The first week was busy with articles and writing, but this week has been slower–sort of by design. The Star’s editors are mostly out this week with a couple of exceptions and I’ve done one story with another one in the offing. It may pick up here by the end of the week–but I’m OK with the break for now. Nice to have the down-time.

Sue has not been feeling well–has a kind of viral thing going on with sore throat and body aches. She’s in her jammies over there on the straight couch while Simon, Peanut and I occupy the big couch. It’s a cold, comfy night and we’re mindlessly enjoying ourselves.

Christmas was similar, even more so. The only activity I engaged in other than present opening with Peanut was a walk with Simon. Sue made a glorious prime-rib dinner and then we watched Polar Express which, contrary to writer James Lileks’ opinion, which I admire a great deal, I like very much. It may be, however, that I enjoy it because each year now, it’s something Peanut and I do together.

Christmas this year was a panoply of goodness. The weather didn’t cooperate, but again, I doubt anyone who lives in colder climes would want to hear me complain about 80 degrees on Christmas day. I don’t like the heat and while Ive accepted my California home–I still wish I had a place I could go to for Christmas where it was colder. Still, night-time is in the 40’s, even on days like that, and when the sun goes down, it gets better. It’s cooled off a bit–in the 60’s daytime and lower to mid-40’s at night. Blue skies, too. Pale blue.

Peanut has a sleepover tomorrow, so she won’t join us at Uncle Doug and Aunt Katy’s house. Doug and Katy have a new pup, Tucker, now 40 pounds at 4 months old. He’s part Bernese Mountain dog and the vet says he may well get to 150 pounds. Whew! Simon will meet him tomorrow. Even so, he’s only 17 pounds lighter than Simon, a purebred German Shorthair Pointer. They need to get to know each other soon if they’re going to be family.

So, tonight was organic beef hamburgers. I’m not going to lie to you, here. I really want organic food not to taste better than the regular food. I really want to say, “who spends their hard-earned money on that ruse?” But I just can’t. Time after time, every time, organic produce–particularly meat–tastes better than its non-organic counterpart and sometimes markedly so.

Case in point was tonight’s burgers. They were among the best we’ve bbq’d here at home and we did nothing special to them. It’s just the beef. It’s better and like wine, if you start with good grapes–you’ll get good wine. Beef is the same and it’s worth the price I pay for it.

If you don’t believe me, I ask you to take a simple test. The meat where you will invariably find the superior quality of organic product is chicken. So, go and buy a package of chicken breasts–one organic, one not organic. Cook them the same way–whatever way you’d like–and you will find a difference. It’s the real deal.

I sincerely hope I will be able to continue to afford buying organic meats. That may or may not be true–but as long as I can, I’ll be buying organic meats. It just really is better.

OK-enough of that. Time to move into the evening. Peace, gentles.

Onward.

Christmas Eve

There are a great many things from which I have derived good, from which I have not profited, Christmas among the rest. But I’ve always thought of Christmastime as a good time, a kindly, forgiving, charitable time; a time when men and women seem, by one consent, to open their shut-up hearts freely to their fellow creatures. So though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver into my pocket, I do believe that it has done me good, and I say “God bless it.”

-Charles Dickens

Christmas Eve Eve

Took a week off to enjoy the Christmas-time Holiday doings and do some work. Things are headed into Christmas and I’m happy to have it. Such a glorious time of year, Christmas. Sue, Peanut, Simon and I walked down to Gemini Street earlier this evening and had a great time. It was packed with Holiday revelers and Simon wasn’t sure what to think about all those people. Lots of children wanted to pet him and he obliged them for the most part.

We’re all sitting and watching It’s  A Wonderful Life right now and Peanut is sort of getting it. Sort of. Sue and I are trying to explain it to her as we go. Meanwhile Simon, who has had two walks today–the first a real exercise walk of three miles at a good clip and the second among the masses at Gemini, is out with his head resting against my hip and lap. He likes when we’re all home together. He’s not the only one.

The days are warm, but the nights have been pleasantly cool, even cold and so at least night time feels like winter. It looks to be in the 70’s this weekend–but next week will come back down into the 60’s. I’m rambling, I guess. I worked pretty hard all week and finished up essentially yesterday. Made a good Christmas week income and now, taking the weekend off to relax and get into the Christmas spirit…

I’m preparing for 2012, too. I’ll blog a bit this week-a few things to talk about-but mostly, time to retool and enjoy Christmas with the girls and the dogs. Peace to you all.

Non Vacation Vacation

One week until Christmas and we’re off for the break. Two weeks of glorious, unbridled freedom from the system. Peanut is gleeful at the break and yet is still forced to ask the question, “what are we doing tomorrow.” Thing is, she’s old enough now to hear this answer: “I don’t know what you’re doing tomorrow….here’s what I’m doing.”

I’m honored that she wants the family to do things together. It means she still likes us, still wants to be with us. But I’m also at the point where I want her to wake up in the morning and tell me what she’s going to do. How about a book? Friend you want to spend time with? Anything?

I’m on break from teaching, yes–but I’m hard at it with the paper and some writing assignments. This is, of course, the way I want it. I don’t want to sit around all day. If I get a day or two of refreshment, that’s enough for me when it comes to the writing. Teaching? I’ll take the two weeks, thank you. And spring break. And the summer.

It is a Sunday night and I am full of that oldest of Sunday night feeling: What’s next? I mean that in the most serious sense and a little more specific than it sounds. How to put this? I’ve been a high school English teacher for 21 years, but these past few years, it has ceased to necessarily define who I am. I love teaching-but I feel much more like an independent contractor than a member of a staff. I prefer it that way, actually. Public schooling’s current direction is not one with which I necessarily want to be associated. I don’t like the way the testing culture breaks down, I don’t like the radical ignorance of individuals, replaced by a radical desire for equality–the ultimate liberalism, it seems to me. So, I would much rather be the best teacher I can be and consider myself a commodity, rather than a staff-member.

I’ll grant you, it’s syntax and we’re playing with perspective a bit. But, that’s what life is all about in some respects. That point of view has helped me become a better writer, a better freelancer and contributor and in many ways, a better teacher. I don’t look at what I do as having a job–I look at it as a means by which I raise my daughter and provide a living for my family. I’ve begun to see my professional life in just that way. I know it sounds…well…illusory, but it works.

In fact, if you read about successful entrepreneurs, they say the same thing all the time. They choose to see things in a certain way and that’s the beginning, though admittedly not the end, of making choices that put them in a position with which they’re comfortable.

I’ll have more to say on this in the near future, but I may leave it for there now and stew on it a bit. Perhaps the best teaching is really learning–and vice versa.

Onward.

Christopher Hitchens

When I first heard Christopher Hitchens speak, I was immediately enthralled. It was probably his British accent at first, and his erudite diction, syntax and absolute command of language. I don’t remember how old I was, but I don’t think I was quite 30. I thought, “this is what a journalist can do-a single individual who dares to tell the truth and can think it through better than the people on whom he’s reporting. He can make a difference.” Christopher Hitchens died today at the age of 62 after a bout with esophageal cancer.

I started reading his essays and articles and before my daughter was born, I had a penchant for watching Hardball with Chris Matthews. I thought Matthews was a solid host. I’ve changed my mind on that front. Matthews is mostly a shill for the left–and won’t admit it. If he’d admit it, I think I’d admire him as much as I admire Carville or Clinton.

Or Hitchens. A man of the left, Hitchens came along in my life when I was shifting to the right. I found myself less interested in the dogma of what felt good. I have ever since associated the left with entitlement thinking, with the idea that people want something for nothing–healthcare, welfare, education, housing, what have you. I was a new public school teacher and I saw people demanding things that weren’t rightfully theirs.

But Hitchens’ arguments were different. He gave eloquent voice to the left. Far from being a kind of voice box for “the poor,” Hitchens argued that the left’s real cause celebre was simply standing up to right’s propensity toward fascism. In the end, Hitchens came full circle on this, allowing that the circle that led left and right ended up at the same place–destruction of liberty, free-thinking and even peace.

His writing, however, was a river. Ever flowing, ever seeking a perfect level, Hitchens was to non-fiction what Fitzgerald was to fiction. He preferred the sardonic to the satirical and he drank like Fitzgerald. It was said of Fitzgerald that to understand him, one had to understand him through the lens of alcohol. If that was true of him, it was also true of Hitchens. He drank Johnny Walker Black Label and, an ever gracious drunk, was fully aware of what it, along with swirling white puffs of his beloved Rothman Cigarettes were doing to him. He knew they would kill him–and it is enough to point out that his consumption of both was indeed responsible for his contracting the cancer that took his life.

But Hitchens was no sap. He was eerily emotional as his own death grew closer. His last article, at least the last one published, was a piece in which he renounced Nietzche’s oft-quoted phrase, “that which does not kill me makes me stronger.” Indeed he felt that chemotherapy was leaving him considerably weaker, if not killing him and he was rethinking what it meant to be alive-to be an active soul relying on others for his life. It came into conflict with his atheism, he said, and he reported that he had not yet come to terms with this very mortal thought.

Yet, he knew love-he was married, had children and was very close with all of them. He was by all accounts a gracious host, an unfailing friend (He sheltered Salman Rushdie for some time while the Mullahs issued a fatwa on him for his work, The Satanic Verses–an eerily prophetic book that Hitchens knew was true–a reason why he agreed with the Iraq war).

My recollection of becoming interested in politics is rooted in reading and listening to Christopher Hitchens. I simply cannot conceive of knowing what I know today were it not for the man and his work. When I was forming my conservative and Libertarian opinions, Hitchens was a voice on the left that made sense and was intelligent enough to make sense. I disagreed with him more often than not, but I found his arguments salient and sound. When I turned over arguments in my head, it was Hitchens’ voice I heard making the point.

It was Walter Cronkite, John Chancellor, Roger Mudd and Frank Reynolds on whom I grew up in the 70’s and 80’s. They were media to me-and though they were television personalities, they were writers who got me interested in writing more and more. But Hitchens’ television appearances were a result of his writing and I began to see that organized thinking was not an accident of nature bestowed on lucky individuals. It was the product of hard work, experimentation and honest appraisal. Hitchens was insatiably honest.

When he turned to the right, it was in typical fashion-not typical. He could never be called a conservative. What he was, invariably, was an honest broker who believed what he did out of deep conviction. It’s a singular humanity that conservatives who dismissed Hitchens’ atheism, embraced his support of George W. Bush and the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. If Emerson was right and a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, then Hitchens was a great thinker, a man who spoke today’s truth in hard words and tomorrow’s, too.

Hugh Hewitt interviewed Hitchens dozens of times in recent years and I got to know him all over again. The grace, the charm and eloquence was there. Even when he was sick, he wrote, he talked and he listened. He never stopped being an active soul in the universe and, God willing–he never will.

An Entirely Useless Post

The coming weekend is filled with ample opportunity to work and I’ll be using that. To be frank, my writing energies are being focused there. In fact, I just took a break here now as my cell phone buzzed and it was a woman I need to interview on Monday. This is really what I live for. And the best part is that it colors my teaching. I couldn’t be the teacher I am right now if I weren’t the writer I am right now. Those two things are inextricably linked and they, for better or worse, identify me.

Simon is curled in a ball–Peanut brought home a solid and good report card, Sue is in a good mood and we’ve actually scheduled a date night tomorrow night for the first time in many months. I’m in my “the world is what you make it” mood tonight and I think that has to be true.

I know there are exceptions to this–even for me, but if you fall into the “you’re a victim of circumstance” category, you’re kind of missing the boat. Yes, there are indeed victims of circumstance and that’s true. But even then, there are choices and while we’re not all capable of seeing that for ourselves all the time–we have to get there eventually.

Well, I’m obviously off the dock for making sense tonight. I’m going to sign off before I delve into cliche. Goodnight, gentles.

Onward

 

365 Days

Today is Simon’s one year anniversary as a Storer. He came to us December 13, 2010. I wrote about that here. It was less than two weeks after Scoop passed away and I wrote then that he wasn’t mine–at least not yet. Well….now he is. He has succeeded, not replaced, Scoop as my walking companion and partner, my friend and best of all–a real bonafide member of the family. Sue loves him, Peanut adores him and he is at home here.

I’m not sure how much the picture of him has changed. He’s less hesitant now. He’s still very young. They told us then that he was probably two years old, but we think he was younger. His current profile is striking. He’s a handsome dude. Here’s the classic Simon squint, about which I’ve written before. He does this when he wants something or thinks he’s in trouble….

  He’s no longer too thin. He’s perfect, actually. 57 pounds of lean muscle and serious agility. No-not professionally. We go walking together and while he doesn’t have Scoop’s street smarts or wary eye, he has a natural and boundless enthusiasm and a kind heart. He never seems to tire of being out and about and he’s as friendly as he can be. Still doesn’t like skateboarders, though. Learned that from Lucy-dog, who learned it from Scoop. Can’t stand ’em–I have to pull him in on the leash and hold him fast if they go by. It used to embarrass me, but to be frank, I don’t like them much myself. I know. No judging.

 

Speaking of photos-here’s Peanut’s design of the Dickens Christmas Village this year. As I wrote previously, truly impressive:

  She’s so pleased with herself here and she did a really fine job.

  Here’s a tighter shot of what we’re calling the west village. There’s west and east. The girl has promise as a Dept. 56 designer, though that is an admittedly narrow calling.

 

  This was a special moment. I asked her to explain her placement of Scrooge’s flat, over there to the left corner–far left, upper east side, as it were, in the east village. She said to me, “Well, Scrooge is always alone and lonely in the first part of the story, so his house should be, too.” She even put a leafless, scraggly tree next to it there. Made a dad proud. “Sniff.”

 

 

 

I can’t help it. Christmas brings out the sap in me. Goodnight, gentles.

Onward.

Simon Meets His Match

Call it seasonal allergies, what have you. I am suffering from them. Every couple of hours, it feels like two corks have been shoved into my nose and except when occasionally, I have to sneeze. The tongue, which suffered from thrush not too long ago, has canker sores and I’m just a mess from my tastebuds to my forehead.

But I, perhaps, pale in comparison to Simon who is lying here next to me and has been on the tiger blanket all evening-even during dinner. This is rare, of course, because dinner is Simon’s time to beg, cajole, whine and generally be a nudge.

The day was innocent and fun–had a quick story to do and Peanut had her annual Christmas Pageant at church. Last one, it seems. Sixth graders don’t do them–too old, you know. So, she was a shepherd and played the role so well. I was so pleased. She’s a great actress.

Off we went to lunch at the deli called Pickles, a turkey ruben and some fruit. And then, the walk.

We learned some time ago of a park not far from here in the Santa Rosa Valley that goes back into the hills and actually becomes the city of Thousand Oaks, which by freeway is about 13 miles from here. Apparently, their border comes down the hills and over to the border with Camarillo.

In any event, the hills are sharp cut cliffs angling inward from the top down grown over with sage brush and coyote weed. The trail that cuts through the middle and leads to the unimaginatively named Hill Canyon Water treatment plant is indeed a canyon. The clouds hung over and temperatures stayed low in the 50’s while Simon and I went up the trail, the dog bounding through the weeds and muscling over the brush and thickets as he went in search of the myriad smells. Tick check revealed two that were close to burrowing, but I got them before they got him. Ticks are ubiquitous here and year-round. In my estimation, it makes hiking here a real drawback. If you go in summer, you’ve got your rattlesnakes and ticks. If you go in winter, you’ve got your coyote droppings, ticks and more ticks.

For Simon, though, the ticks weren’t the issue. Simon, as it turns out, is something of a pansy. I’ve guessed this from time to time when he steps on a thorn or gets shoved around by Lucy-dog, and he whimpers or cries. Part of it is because he’s so young. We were told he was two when he came to us one year ago. It appears he was a bit younger than that, though we’re calling him two and a half this year, simply subtracting six months from his supposed age.

So, Simon leaped in over hill and dale and about a mile up the trail, he came out of the brush, limping mildly. But when he sat down, out of breath and panting with his tongue fully six inches out of his mouth, he cried to beat the band.

On the trail, a mile up toward the water treatment plant, the sharp cliffs growing sharper with no cell service and a lame dog whose limp grew pronounced as I examined him. His crying was so loud I grew a bit nervous. I wasn’t sure what was wrong-examination revealed nothing. No blood, no thorns, no cuts, scrapes or abrasions. He just cried-a hound-dog, full-throated, whiny cry. I leashed him up and talked gently to him. “I know, boy. There’s no other way. We’ve got to get down the hill and I’ll get you in the car.”

He started walking with me, slowly at first, by my side-another sign something was wrong-Simon always pulls out ahead. As he did, I started going through in my head what to do. Our vet is a handy young lady and I thought to call her, but it’s Sunday and that wouldn’t be fair. So, I thought, emergency vet hospital. Expensive, 14 miles from here. But I could do it if I have to. While I am so ensconced, I feel the yank on the leash and note that Simon is out ahead of me, now, marching along at a crisp pace, panting and no longer whining.

He was fine. A few ticks–all pulled off by yours truly, but then he was fine. We had a quick walk back over the bridge and back to the car–one more tick check, damn things are more plentiful than fizz in root beer, and then back home for a bath.

Now, Simon does not like a bath. Scoop the wonderdog didn’t like them either, but he resigned himself to them and, I think, as he got older, rather enjoyed the massage portion of the thing. I spoil my pets, so bath time is in the shower with warm water and a clean towel ready to roll him up. I’m not sure what wiped him out more–the hike, the bath or the combination.