Time

Long and languid weekend with plenty of family time. Simon got a run at the T.O. dog park and he was grateful for the chance to chase the birds above the grass while Santa Ana winds blew strong to the west and kicked up dust in our eyes.

Friday was what is known as “semester-break” day. The kids don’t have school at the high school, anyway, and it’s supposed to be a day where teachers pour over data, punching grades into the computer, mouth-chewed pencil, and stacks of papers on the desk….

Not so much.

I learned long ago to efficiently administer finals and front load the grading by assigning essays, when I assign them, with specific requirements. That way, reading the essay becomes a simple matter of checking for the milestones, making sure the grammar is related to English somewhat and doesn’t have stupidity written all over it.

The rest are those insipid multiple-choice standardized numbers. Run ’em through the computer, get a report back–load it into the grade program. Boom. It’s funny to say that. I remember just about 14 years ago using daily paper sheets to take role and hand-written grades. It took hours longer in those days and as a young whelp trying to impress the administration, I was always present–at least in the morning–at teacher prep. day.

These days, I’m more interested in not having admin. around. If I can avoid them, so much the better. They slow down the teaching process, ask impertinent question couched in educational-ese so they can feel more important, and frustrate the kids’ learning by inserting themselves “invisibly,” so they think, in the classroom. Only those with IQ’s of 20 or lower ignore when an administrator is in the room, though, so even the worst kids are at their best.

In any event, Friday I spent with Sue. She’s still struggling with odd symptoms, though she seems to be improving and her blood tests are still normal. We’re waiting to see if the swelling in the lymph nodes goes down. If it doesn’t, we’ll have to go to the next step and do a biopsy of the area. Doc is convinced she is still suffering side-effects left over from sulfazine. We, of course, hope that’s the case.

Friday night felt like the clouds might move in from the coast and some moisture, albeit not rain, would blanket the area. That didn’t happen and before sunlight on Saturday, the Santa Anas kicked in. They were remarkable for their ferocity and Saturday was wind blown and blurred. Other than the dog park, it was an indoor day.

Writing assignments are picking up a bit and that’s a good thing and the first week of spring semester is underway.

Onward.

A Good Story that Should Never Be Told

I remember Ian, a student of mine in 2000 and 2001, who came back from Iraq and Afghanistan where he was with the U.S. Army. He was in the 82nd Airborne when they went into Baghdad and the 101st Airborne when they went into the mountains to fight the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.

He came back from those tours with the scars and memories of war. He talked to my students about army life, about war, about what it is and what it isn’t. His honesty was abrupt and his courage was lean and tinged with two parts muscle and one part fear. The memory of the first helped defeat the second.

One of the things he said was that whenever the kids watched news reports about the war, about anything having to do with the military or foreign policy, they should believe only about 30 percent of what they read or watch or listen to. “We watched those reports while we were in Iraq and we would place bets on who would say what about each story,” he said.

I remember that every time I hear military missions broken down for public consumption by some hapless news veteran who tells you they have “the timeline,” “the real story,” “what really happened. They don’t, really. They have the story that the military or the government gave them-and nothing more.

It was this that I considered when I heard of American Jessica Buchanan and Dane Paul Hagen Thisted. Seal Team 6 apparently rescued them from “pirates” who were then down–or up-graded to “common criminals” in the telling of the story. Aid workers, we’re told. Kidnapped in October, we’re told the president learned that Buchanan’s health was deteriorating in January. How did we know that? What intel led to that conclusion?

My friend Scott put it this way: “If I was in Somalia doing mission or aid work and I was kidnapped–I’d still be there.” And I think he’s probably right. Since when do Seal teams go and get hapless aid workers out of the clutches of “common criminals.” What message does it send when we rescue some and not others?

Look, I’m on the side of the good guys. I don’t want to know the whole truth because I agree with the basic tenet that we don’t discuss covert military operations. In fact, we probably shouldn’t know that these two were rescued. But, the administration is looking for a bump and so they got one. Buchanan’s father said, “it sounds corny, but it made me proud to be an American.” Me too, actually. But I didn’t need to know about this in order to be proud–and I suspect neither did he.

It’s also interesting that we haven’t heard any reports about Buchanan’s colleague, Mr. Thisted. I haven’t read anything-and I could be wrong-about the Danish government thanking us for his rescue. There have been no stories about how he went home and what happened to him. I wonder why that is.

We’re a nation with a first amendment and that means that a good reporter is allowed to pursue the story. I’m for that. I believe in liberty. But if we start going down the slippery slope of reporting on rescues that our special forces make, eventually, questions will need to be asked. I’m a curious guy–now that this story is out, I want to know more. I’ve read enough background to know that our teams don’t often rescue aid workers who’ve been taken by common criminals. It would be nice if they could, but it’s a risky business that puts us at odds with people at times with whom we don’t want to be at odds. I dare say the son of transportation secretary Ray LaHood is being detained in Egypt just now. It’s a different situation, yes. But if we’re going to rescue Ms. Buchanan and Mr. Thisted, are we considering rescuing Mr. LaHood? Is it a coincidence that on Fox, CNN and MSNBC that the story of the rescue preceded the story of Mr. LaHood?

Here’s the thing: the story begs a lot of questions–none of which need to be answered.

Onward.

Smaller Things

Yes, Newt Gingrich won South Carolina. The news isn’t that–it’s that people thought he wouldn’t. All kinds of fun news this week, I suppose. Or not so fun, when you think about it. It’s just that for the first time in a long time, I’m not paying that much attention to it.

The epiphany I had this week seemed small at the time, but the further I get from it, the more profound it becomes. I found myself relatively content, relatively happy. Sure-I’d like to have more money. Who wouldn’t? But I like what I’m doing and I like where I live and I love my family. I get up in a good mood and enjoy my days, even when they’re really busy and I like the writing I’m doing, too.

I had a book in the works and may still at some point, but it was a book about people pursuing their passions and I found that I’m just not all that passionate about it, strangely enough. I’m doing some more P.R. and Marketing work just now and I love it–really enjoy it, actually. It’s diverse and fascinating, yet for the most part, what I do is similar to writing articles for the paper. The group I work for, however, does some unique things with singular clients and so I get to find out about stuff I wouldn’t have known about otherwise.

It was that simple, as I said. It wasn’t a big deal at the time-but as I look back, it was a real moment for me. I realized that I’ve spent a good deal of time thinking about “what’s next?” What I am starting to realize is that what’s next is whatever I choose. I’m writing what I want to write, teaching what I want to teach. I have a family I love and who loves me. Those are indeed simple things.

They’re also grand and lovely and so inspiring that I don’t know how I missed them. But I’m not anymore.

Onward.

 

 

 

Kill SOPA and PIPA, Not Liberty.

Rarely do I get activist, but this story is big and I’m thrilled. Rubio and others are backing away from support. From the BBC-key graphs:

The list of senators no longer backing Pipa includes Mr Rubio and Mr Blunt, and Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, all Republicans, as well as Democrat Ben Cardin of Maryland.

In the House of Representatives, Republicans Ben Quayle of Arizona, Lee Terry of Nebraska and Dennis Ross of Florida said they were no longer supporting the Stop Online Piracy Act (Sopa), joining Pennsylvania Democrat Tim Holden.

Mr Ross tweeted that he was no longer supporting Sopa, because as “a true free marketer, I want IP protected correctly”.

In a Facebook posting, Mr Rubio said he and fellow Senators “heard legitimate concerns about the impact the bill could have on access to the internet”.

Mr Hatch called Pipa “not ready for prime-time” and said he would remove himself from the bill’s list of sponsors.

This is great news and it is important that SOPA and PIPA are killed. Limiting liberty is not the way to stop piracy. As in so much of life in a democracy, the first thing “law and order” types say is that in order to stop crime, liberty must be curbed. Not on my watch, folks.

No matter your political stripe-please join me in writing your congressional representative and telling them to kill SOPA and PIPA.

Onward.

Nothing is something…

Well, it’s not mono that Sue has. We’re glad. But, of course, there’s the next question. What is it? Symptoms persist-but blood work has proven normal and fairly good, but issues persist.

It’s a little scary, but again, there’s faith here and we’ll cling to that. Sue says she’s just frustrated that she doesn’t know what the issue is. As I say, we’ve had some very positive tests–blood, x-rays, all good. We’ll keep to that for now.

A day of catching up–finished grading, met a deadline, took the car into the shop-all done. The car is a lot like Sue–I had a noise going particularly when I hit the higher gears–kind of guttural, exhaust sounding. But, this is the second mechanic who has now said, “nothing there.” So, between my car and my wife–good news, but a little frustrating to not know what is going on. Maybe there’s one of those metaphors there.

So, we got a little more ahead today-but not sure how far and not sure what’s next…but whatever it is, we’re ready for it and awaiting it with hope.

Peace.
Onward.

 

Consequences

Regrets are a most human thing. Some are healthy. It’s good to regret the way you treated someone when you were in a temper. It’s also good to regret bad choices you made which, when faced with similar situations in the future, you’ll change. But, buyer’s remorse, particularly on big-ticket items, is almost universally destructive.

When we moved back to Camarillo in 2001, we bought a house that was beneath what we wanted to pay buy a few thousand dollars. Stupidly, we didn’t hire a good home inspector and the house we purchased was a disaster. From holes in the ductwork to poor insulation to a kitchen filled with the cheapest materials to a roof with almost no ventilation, we simply bought a house that for all intents and purposes should have been torn down.

But this was the era of cheap money. The living-and the home equity lines-were easy, so away we went on a borrowing binge and poored some 70,000 dollars into fixing up the house. We bought it for 305K. At the end of the day, we still only paid 375K for it and now it was upgraded.

We put in a brand new kitchen from the floor to the ceiling. New floors, counters, cabinets and even lighting. We ripped out the carpet in half the house and replaced it with laminate floors. We hired a team of folks to abate the asbestos in our attic, rip out the old duct-work and put in brand new ducts. While we were at it, we added a whole house fan and ventilation ducts to the roof so that in the hottest months of summer, we could still cool the place down in the evenings. Even so, we added a brand new furnace and air-conditioning unit. Because of the back-yard footprint, the a/c unit had to be fairly close to the house, so we bought an extra quite model. We poured a new driveway and walkway in the front of the house and a large slump-stone wall to form a kind of garden in the front yard. We put a spa in the backyard and we put in new plants in the garden. We changed the entryway to a new tiled floor and remodeled the bathroom from floor to ceiling again with a new jacuzzi tub and tile.

And we still weren’t comfortable there. So, we sold the place in the height of the market just before the crash and we bought a new place. Just before we bought the old place, we looked at a house that was already in good shape. Maybe it could have used some slight renovation here and there, but it had a pool and spa and it was in a lovely neighborhood. But it was a little–and I do mean a little–more than we wanted to pay, so we walked away.

Sigh.

Now, we live in a house that we like very much. Even love. It’s comfortable and mostly quiet (we back up to a fairly busy street, but it’s not bad) and it has plenty of room. But we are one of the many millions who are upside down and as time has marched on–we become more so. We owe way more than the house is worth and because we’re stupid people, we did not secure a fixed-rate loan. Right now, that works in our favor. Our interest rate is very low and in August, when it readjusts again, it will probably be just around the same–maybe a smidge higher. But unless we can pay into the equity on this thing, inflation will kick in and when interest rates respond to that–we will be simply unable to afford where we live. It’s not the end of the world–there are those far worse off than we. We’ll be able to move somewhere, but the dream of home-ownership (which I’m no longer convinced is a dream worth dreaming), will be a thing of the past.

Here’s the best part and I say that without sarcasm. If a positive change is to happen–it will not be someone else who makes it. No government program is going to save us, thank God. We’re not Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac loaned. The only external force that would make this situation better is for the economy to stay sluggish and bad. The irony is thick–in a zero sum game, the way my house becomes a financial plus on my balance sheet is for the economy–and others—to suffer. I don’t wish for that.

We will either be able to make some changes ourselves that will help us, or we will move into a place where those changes are more feasible. Either way, it will be we who do it—no one else. Whether through negotiation with the bank, which has so far proved fruitless and time-wasting, or through successes on my family’s part by way of work and earning, we will have to “bite the bullet.”

It’s a hard lesson, you know? But it is not a bad one. We all make choices in life. What has become more and more rare is our willingness to live with the consequences of them.

Onward.

Faithful

My favorite band, Rush-has a song called “Faithless.”

I don’t have faith in faith
I don’t believe in belief
You can call me faithless

I just can’t get behind it. My friend Jarvis, a Lutheran Pastor and professor of Theology, who is dealing with serious health issues–says he attributes atheism to a conscience rejection of something people know internally is true. That, I can agree with.

So it is that tonight’s post isn’t really about health or work. It’s not about passion or writing or money or anything like that…

Well-no blood tests yet, so we head into a long weekend guessing what Sue’s condition is. Fairly convinced it is mononucleosis or something very like it. I think I have it too. I’ve got similar symptoms and a painful left side–spleen, don’t you know. Had this when I was 18. It blows. Not much to say other than that.

One hopes it goes away as quickly as it seems to have come.

MLK’s birthday weekend. It’s an important holiday, I think. We’re a country that needs to realize our racial history. We need to, as Mark Twain did in Huck Finn, look it squarely in the face and deal with it. MLK did that–and recognizing him is a reminder of an obligation Americans have not to forget this.

School was long this week, but purpose accomplished. I teach two sections of a composition course for seniors. The kids are in the midst of their research papers. I do a lot of front loading with these, which is to say I read rough drafts all the way through. Today, I spent time doing just that and between yesterday and today, splitting the class up half each day–I read all the drafts. I gave individual attention to each kid, asked them questions, provided answers to theirs. And I’m done. Feels good. Final drafts come in on the 23rd, but since Monday is off and Thursday we begin watching a film that is part of their final exam–they only have two class days to get any work done on them.

Juniors wrapped up Huckleberry Finn this week and we head into their final exams as well. They have to write an essay for their final and it’s one they too get to work on in class. Then, on the day of the final, they do a multiple choice test (you may now boo!).

Meanwhile, putting various irons in various fires in the writing career. There are a few blips upward in assignments from the local paper, but still rather slow there. I’m OK with it for now, but I do confess if this goes on another couple of weeks, I’ll begin to get a bit panicked. A bit…

And while some of the above are things over which I have a modicum of control, some are not. I cannot decide for the newspaper to assign me more stories. I cannot make Sue better tonight–nor me. This is faith. I choose to believe in the Theology of the Bruce and Evan Almighty movies when Morgan Freeman, who plays the Almighty, says, “now, if someone prays for patience, do you think God is going to give them patience, or give them an opportunity to be patient…”

I love that.

I have reasons to be faithful-to put trust in Him and pray that He brings us through all. If I am pursuing anything with passion–it is that.

Onward.

Healthscares II

Speaking of healthscares–word from the inestimable Steven Hayward over at Powerline that one of the researchers who claimed that resveratol in wine was so good for you has been faking the data. He did it more than 100 times and so, for most people–climate change believers notwithstanding–that means that the tidbit that that ingredient is what makes wine so good for you is now called into question.

That kind of sucks.

Nothing new on Sue as of yet-thanks to those of you who wrote. We’ll wait and see what the latest round of blood tests reveal. She’s not letting it get her down. She’s out playing bunco, which as all men know is a weird pagan ritual involving women, alcohol and man-bashing. She says she doesn’t want to drink too much as if she does have mononucleosis, alcohol is not exactly a curative for the condition.

Meanwhile, Simon has been in low sorts today as well. The vet gave him his shots in his legs and he has suffered from a kind of reaction, a bit of swelling, and he’s pretty sore. He can’t get up on his couch without help (yes, the dogs have a couch. Yes, we spoil the dogs).

The real news is that if Sue does indeed have mono, I may have been the one that gave it to her. I think I have it, too. I got it when I was 18 and from what I have read, once you have it, the virus is in you. In November, I had a bout with what I thought was thrush, of all things. Doc says it probably wasn’t. And now that those symptoms have gone away, they’ve left me with some tiredness, a sore left side (spleen) and occasional feverishness/sore-throatishness. Adds up, eh? Nice of me to share, don’t you think?

Oy. Sigh.

I’ll grant you that we’re in the doldrums. No need to fear, though. We shall climb out. All will be well. I have faith.

Onward.

Healthscare

As I sit here, a commercial for the nuts over at World Wildlife Fund just ended. They actually still have the gall to say that “in 50 years, polar bears numbers will diminish by 50%…” or some such nonsense. I don’t think that’s a clear quote. It’s just nuts. These are claims based on emotional fear. They have nothing to do with reality. Here: read this.

The freelance jobs have been slow the past few weeks and it has me duly concerned. I’m literally making nearly 10 times less than I was making as early as last month. It’s disconcerting-though, not the end of the world.

At the same time, we’ve been dealing with more of Sue’s health issues. A number of symptoms cropped up since Christmas times, including various swollen glands, and natural fears set in about what that could mean. Her bloodwork has been normal, though and a chest x-ray too was normal. Those are both very good things, but it still leaves us in the dark wondering. She has been to three docs in two days and I was able to counsel with a good friend of ours who is a nurse practitioner. We’re worn out.

Family physician today and he’s doing the bulk of the work. The other two are the allergist and the rheumatologist, both of whom are very fine docs, and who did most of the tests–but didn’t know where to go next. So, back to family physician.

Doc Fung, who has become a good friend, did a work-up and is consulting with the other two. He too thinks it’s nothing terribly serious, but he is unsure of diagnosis. He called tonight and said, however, that he’s fairly certain that Sue has mononucleosis. That’s not a disease many adults get, but Sue’s weakened immune system makes it more likely and the symptoms really do match up. Of course, when one is faced with unclear diagnoses and symptoms like this, one does consider the worst. Swollen lymph nodes are not fun things and they bring up visions of things that end with suffixes like oma and noma.

Oy.

However, Doc Fung says he’s not prepared to go there yet precisely because the bloodwork is good and her chest x-ray is clear. Good things.

So, he thinks mono and there is a blood test for that, which she’ll take tomorrow. And we find ourselves in the odd position of hoping that it is positive. There’s a switch.

Simon too had a rough go. He seems to have ingested a cinnamon covered almond that got stuck. Sue, however, probably doing a bit of projecting, was worried. He was due for his shots anyway, so off we went to the vet. I’d had Simon up to the dog park and she thought he might have picked something up. He didn’t–but, that didn’t stop the vet from prescribing antibiotics. You see, they can’t give the dog his shots after a “cough scare” because if he does have something, the shots will hurt, not help. So-he gets shots and anti-biotics. And  I get a $98.50 bill.

The boy in happy times--doing the Simon-Squint

Oy. Sigh.

I have faith. I have hope. Those things are constant and, along with the love of a few people around me and my family–and my dogs–the rest will simply have to fall into place. It just will.

Onward.

 

Full Plate

Tonight was something. All were busy in one way or another today. Peanut had a friend over, Sue and her siblings went to help move my father in law to a new apartment in his assisted living facility and I built a new gate with the help and guidance of my friend, Dave, for our back yard fence.

So-after that, took brother Doug and headed to the Ventura Meat Company. There, we got our organic meat fix on as we indulged in beef and pork products, all local, grass fed and organic and incredible. So, I went to work:

I cooked a local, grass-fed tri-tip for dinner along with red rose potatoes, home grown rosemary, garlic and olive oil, zucchini and onions sauteed in butter. As the kids might say, OMG.

There is nothing like great food. Seriously healthy, fresh, wholesome food. And there’s a part of me that pulls off the shroud of that part of my life and reawakens the desire to find food that my body craves, that is wholesomely produced and that pairs with good wine and a serious appreciation for simple things.

I expect that 2012 will see more of that. But it’s not as easy or even simple as just buying quality produce. It’s about a lifestyle that one chooses and if I can commit to that, I will. It’s early in the year yet. The newspaper biz has been slow, but I imagine it will pick up again…I point this out because buying food like this isn’t cheap. It doesn’t just happen and I am under no illusions of preaching it as a way of life for anyone. It is entirely possible to feed you family healthy good food without committing to such opulence, I am convinced.

Happy Saturday, gentles.

Onward.