Productivity

It was a four-article weekend and only two of those were for the local paper, which has the odd effect of making me happy. I owe the Star a lot for putting me through the mill of writing daily for over a year and learning efficient journalism, the craft of story-telling without subjectivity and the role of an honest and focused interview. Now, though, the branch is growing and tendrils are shooting off in many directions.

Spent yesterday in Temecula doing some wine-tasting and investigation for an article for Broughton Hospitality. Temecula has a reputation as a sort of frat-house weekend jaunt and there is some truth to it, but there are also some serious winemakers there including Robert Renzoni and Joe Hart. It is they who I feature in the piece.

I’ll write more about those later, perhaps at Enobytes, and I’ll link that here. Also did some P.R. this weekend for People Media Group and it was actually quite a challenge, which also makes me happy. I enjoy the P.R. work a lot and I’m meeting some wonderful people in the process of doing it.

Of the four stories, I wrote three of them today and so I am actually kind of burned out, but also strangely drawn to the keyboard. It’s as though I can’t think of anything else to do. I’ve already written nearly 3000 words today and it seems not enough-though I suppose you should quit while you’re ahead.

I have some very good news about another article I wrote on spec. for a national magazine, but as yet I’m not at liberty to reveal the particulars. Should happen sometime this week, so I’ll be sure to post.

Tomorrow is the dreaded tax appointment which also includes the clearing up of the IRS demanding we pay them 38K dollars because of a mistake they made. Our tax preparer has to help us show them where they went wrong. It should be easy to do, but there’s always the possibility of screwing up, I guess. So–I’m a bit nervous. I’m looking forward to this time tomorrow night–I’ll know the worst and begin to deal with it.

A good daddy-daughter day for Peanut and I as we spent the afternoon at the park goofing off and playing and then went over for a chocolate malt at the Waypoint Cafe at Camarillo airport. Cool breeze, blue sky and watching planes take off and land while sipping away on the sweet glass of dairy products. Very cool.

peanutpark

I bid you goodnight, gentles.

Onward.

Of Grace and Gatsby

Spent a glorious weekend in Solvang with our pals Randy and Janel. I write for Broughton Hospitality and part of the deal is a barter system in which I’m able to get a couple of nights in their splendid hotels. In Solvang, they have a set of cottages and we secured one. Comfortable, clean, delightful, quiet, luxurious and fun. That covers that.

Great wines about which I’ll write more and link later–won’t happen here, but I’ll provide a link to it. We drove up on Saturday afternoon with a stop at the estimable Cold Springs Tavern. It’s an old Stage Coach stop in between in Santa Ynez and Santa Barbara and it’s now a restaurant with a handsome interior in a sort of arrested decay with a couple of roaring fireplaces and a killer bowl of chili or bbq beef sandwich. And beer, so there’s that.

Solvang was as it should be, a sort of alcohol soaked faux European town. It’s supposed to be Danish, but a crafty director could make it look like Germany or Belgium or maybe Austria. It’s on the border of cheesy, but just shy of that. The shops and stores are non-essential knick-knacks, but the food and the surrounding wine country are the real thing. The Santa Rita Hills lie just west and that is Pinot Noir country and the Santa Ynez Valley, a kind of Rhone varietal playground where Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre and other lovelies grow. There’s some excellent Chardonnay, too.

Food-wise, we went to Mattei’s Tavern and I’ve wanted to go there since forever. But, as with all such things, the anticipation was greater than the real thing. It’s not that the food is bad, not at all. But it’s not great and the prices would indicate that it is great. The restaurant, actually called Brother’s at Mattei’s Tavern, is soon moving, too. The lease is up at Mattei’s and my guess is they’re done paying the high rent. Maybe in the new location in Los Olivos, they’ll pass those savings along.

Let me be clear-it is a nice place and the food is quite good. There is nothing wrong with the food. But it is a little bit overdone with simple dishes awash in lakes of butter sauces and vegetables that appear to have drown themselves in butter. Poor bastards never stood a chance. The wine list is enviable and that’s a plus and the ambiance at the Tavern itself is rather handsome. Food quality is high–fresh fish and quality meats. But the dishes themselves are sort of uninspired and the price tag is in the clouds.

Compare that to The Hitching Post and, well….you can’t. The food at Hitching Post in Buellton, just down the road, is probably better. The meat quality is just as high and the wine list is just as good, if somewhat shorter. They make their own wine, the Hitching Post does, and it’ right up there with all of the Central Coast producers. It too is the real deal. The ambiance is just fine, thank you–not as haute as their friends up in Los Olivos, and a wait staff trained in down-to-earth friendliness as well as a seriously good set of appetizers. An inventive bowl of chantrelle mushrooms simmered lightly in a port wine reduction was our starter and it was spectacular.

There’s more, but that’s the part worth sharing with you all. Frankly, I can’t wait to go back. I used to spend a lot of time up in Santa Ynez and surrounding environs and it was good to be back. The place has grown, but not too much and the wine is world-class and the food is, too. The people are always friendly and shy of an overnight trip to Disneyland, it’s my favorite weekend getaway. Well, OK. It’s tied.

School is in a disharmonious phase right now. The combination of cranky students and the wanton vagaries and downright destructive single-mindedness of the testing culture are thrumming like a migraine headache that won’t go away. The only bright spot may be that we are in what’s called a W.A.S.C. year. That’s western association of schools and colleges. We do a sort of self-assessment every so often to see how we fare in the realm of school-dom and unfortunately, as the teachers have been saying for some time, we don’t fare very well. We have stripped nearly all of the personality from our schools in favor of a testing culture that does nothing but preach the lowest common denominator, foiling every attempt at innovation and independent thought. The school is an amalgam of personalities, but Pink Floyd like, it is being put through the sausage grinder of mediocrity and being allowed to produce students who don’t care much about anything and don’t really want to work at learning. They’ve become rightly cynical at our process and they’ve become adept at simply getting around it–by not caring.

“So, we beat on–boats against the current, born back ceaselessly into the past.”

Sigh.

I think that’s enough, gentles. It’s time to mosey.

Onward.

Topsy Turvy

All the care in the world, tonight. We were visited with a letter from the I.R.S. yesterday stating that “if they were correct,” we owed them $38,057. After the sweating, nausea, headache, gnashing of teeth, cursing the government, etc.–we went and did our research. They screwed up. Yes-it appears the I.R.S. moved a decimal point–as in IR.S. In 2010, I made about a thousand dollars as a freelance writer. Decimals got moved–and they thought I earned nearly 80,000. It’s so absurd I can hardly believe it. But, of course, the government doesn’t have a sense of humor, so now because they made the mistake, naturally-the onus is on us to correct it. That will probably cost us money. We have to engage our tax-preparer so that she can speak government-ese to the cretins and tell them what they did wrong. Of course, we fully understand that just because they screwed up–it’s our fault and any fixing of the problem must be our responsibility. AAAGGHHH!

Friday tomorrow. Sigh. Good. I’m not in the mood for more days to work after Friday, though I confess I ran across some papers I wrote for my Master’s degree classes in education of 14 years ago and it brought back memories. I went into teaching because I really do love learning–and that wasn’t always true. It’s only true for me as an adult. I was in college before school really clicked for me and even then, it felt like it was too late. I always loved learning–but not school. I guess I’m proof that it is never too late.

Washington D.C. The Smithsonian. Gettysburg. The California Railroad Museum. Abraham Lincoln’s birthplace and home. I learned most, was happiest about it, when we went places and learned first-hand what happened there. I have distinct memories of all of those places and this summer, I’m going to start giving those experiences to my daughter. I feel like we’ve started too late, but at least we’re starting.

This economy combined with our mortgage slavery is just not allowing us to do the things we wanted to do, or that we thought we would. Last year’s anomaly of working every day as a freelance writer has hedged off by more than 90 percent. I’m still doing some work, and while it pays more on an article by article basis, there are fewer articles and so I still love it–but it’s not nearly as lucrative as it was in 2011. Belt-tightening has commenced once again.

And so these things are inextricably linked now–education and economics–not the way they are for some people, more education-more money. No, for me it’s become a strange imbalance of more education, less money. And for many people, that’s happening more and more as a college education is so expensive that one essentially becomes educated and then enslaved to that education in order to pay it off. The world is turning upside down.

I’m turning upside down.

Onward

 

 

 

 

Time Standing Still

The long marching line of teaching gets interrupted in February. Our school district, in all its wisdom, takes two three-day weekends in celebration of both Mr. Washington and Mr. Lincoln. Allow me to state that both men deserve celebration and I don’t hold a grudge. Nor do I have a problem taking three-day weekends. All good. I just find it odd, that’s all…

But I take advantage of it. It’s rather like social security for those of you that will get it (as a teacher, I don’t get social security, even though I’ve paid enough into it due to other jobs and freelancing work). You know that it is not a sustainable system and may well collapse during your lifetime, but if a check comes to you in the mail, you’ll take it anyway.

So, this is the first of the three-day’rs and as I said yesterday, in “upswing,” it’s been a gloriously simple, unhurried and delightful weekend. Today, we’ll all go to church and coming home after lunch, Simon and I will tramp out on the road. Four miles today, I think. The good long walk that wears him out and gives me good amount of exercise.

Peanut and I are considering taking in a movie as well. She wants to see Journey 2 The Mysterious Island and I’d like to see it as well. It has a local angle to it, as well. I didn’t get to write the story, but that’s OK.

Monday is a writing day. I’ve got two meetings, one at 10 and one at 4 that allow me to be the freelance writer instead of the teacher. Last year’s full-time schedule at the Star had many positive properties and one of them is that I got my name out there enough that other editors saw it, whether I placed it in front of them, or they saw it. The media group I write for-which provides me with interesting, challenging and lucrative assignments, is a direct result of my having freelanced with the Star with such ubiquity last year.

Tuesday will come soon enough and the week will simply fly by and that’s useful. Next weekend is another three-day’r and plans are in the works to make it just as relaxing, simple and fun as this one. Now, this is not a brag, people. This is me taking advantage of having worked 15 hour days for a year with nary a day off and rather than continuing to do so with mindless abandon, stopping to smell the roses and enjoy a little of what that time wrought for me and my family. It’s not the only response I can have–but it seems the best one right now.

Onward.

Upswing

A rare and welcome day off in which Simon got his weekly dog-park trip. We met brother-Doug and Katy there. Their new pup, Tucker, as handsome as he is big, saw Simon from across the park and ran to him. At five months old, he is now bigger than Simon who is about 56 pounds. As a German Shorthair Pointer, he’s at his maximum size. Tucker, however, is half Bernese Mountain Dog and that means he’s about a half or a third of the size he is going to be.

Simon’s athleticism was on full-display this morning as he ran nearly constantly for the hour we spent at the park. He’s an affable fellow and doesn’t fight with other dogs. A growl here, a bark and whine there if he’s not happy with the attention he’s getting–otherwise, a good pack dog, not too dominant, not too submissive. A happy balance.

A few pieces pitched out to new places and a few pieces about new places in the offing. Last year’s schedule at the Star was nearly a full-time schedule. It is apparently coincidence that the whole thing quite literally kicked off in January of 2011 and ended in December of 2011. I think I’ve mentioned before, but it’s worth saying again-as a freelancer, the norm is what I’m experiencing now–not then. I’m keeping busy, but by no means to the level I was a year ago this time.

Sue has been suffering from symptoms again that were difficult. Her lymph nodes were swelling up and had stayed that way for a couple of months. Doc ordered blood tests and thankfully, they came back normal. She was not sick. It appears that she is having some kind of reaction to a med she was on for her arthritis condition. Still though, the nodes weren’t going down–so doc ordered a biopsy. But by the time Sue got to the doc to do that, the swelling had gone down. It has done that several times–up and down. Doc said with good blood tests and up and down–nothing really to worry about. But that was two months and it was hard on her–and me, I guess.

But we’re looking at yet one more moment of salvation. One more miracle-and that is a glorious thing. It’s almost a dance a jig kind of thing. Sue is the center of my life, really. When she and Shannon are well, I am well. Oh, I have ambitions and there are things I want to accomplish. But I’d give up all of it if it meant I couldn’t be with them. So, we’re going to celebrate with a weekend trip sometime soon.

As I write this, Simon is resting with his head on my lap, my arm wrapped around him in order to type. It’s his favorite position. Aside from his natural athleticism, he’s a lovebug and wants constant attention. I don’t mind, though. I rather like it.

And so, happy Saturday good people. The celebration begins–I am off to prepare a batch of Carne Asada as well as corn tortillas with Manchego cheese, avocado and salsa verde. Oh, yes-that and a batch of margaritas.

Onward.

Superbowl XLVI Half Time as Metaphor

It wasn’t that Madonna was just awful yesterday, though she was. It wasn’t just that she lip-synched her songs, which she did. Poorly. It wasn’t just that her dance moves were more a kind of sclerotic senior citizen’s attempt to be hip, without breaking one. Those things could essentially be excused, or at least laughed at. It’s that the whole half-time show was a metaphor and its symbolism stretched across the country, I’m convinced. Not one 40 or 50-something sat through that show with a hint of pride in what they might have liked about the pop princess 30 years ago.

Madonna was always in poor taste. She was interesting, I’ll grant you. And I have to confess that I have always found her an attractive woman. But even in the 80’s, while she was seen as a trend-setter and a cultural icon, her music was always–well–not music. It was muzak. It was poorly manufactured. Drummer Tony Thompson, formerly of Chic and later of the “super-group” Power Station, famously remarked that in touring with Madonna, “we’re not making fine china, here. We’re making paper plates.” Point well taken.

The paper plates were dripping with grease and shredding into pieces while the maw of the trash can stood below at the Super Bowl. It says something profound and bad that the demographic geniuses who choose a half-time show that may well be one of the most watched things on television each year chose her. She was almost as bad the Black-Eyed Peas last year and anyone making an argument that Black-Eyed Peas have talent really needs to take a serious personal and life inventory.

The show reeked of sclerosis through and through. It was a metaphor for the nation right now. It was heavy on production, but the production was large, lumbering and, well…bad. It was ugly in so many ways. Madonna’s dance moves looked like they pained her. They pained me, I know. But they weren’t even that good. There was nothing exciting about the dances. It was as if she was relearning the moves all over again and they happened on the downbeats of simplistic and silly music. Train wrecks compel you to watch. I was compelled to expectorate.

I actually have a soft spot for pop music. Some of it is wonderful and deserves attention. There are plenty of singers, Kelly Clarkson is one, who deserve the attention they get. Her National Anthem was beautiful. Madonna never had a great voice–she had an OK voice. Whatever she had that hooked audiences in, and she did by the millions–it has since gone the way of the do-do. Mind you, I never did find the appeal. I never sat and listened to a Madonna song by choice. And for the record, I’ll allow that people did and that she appealed to them. My wife is one of those. Nothing against that. I’m a Rush fan, but I get that Geddy Lee’s voice, akin to a hamster being squeezed in a vice, is also limited. So, to each his own.

But even fans must have been disappointed yesterday. Madonna was sluggish and slow, the opposite of creative and the epitome of old hat. Myriad dancers and guest performances by Nicki Minaj, among others, were in poor taste, low-brow, adolescent and confused. There is nothing worse than young rap stars rapping about themselves as though anyone cares about their lives and how “cool” they are. And here again I submit that anyone who does think they are cool needs to rethink their life. Minaj was profane, idiotic and a buffoon. If her career takes off, it will be yet another nail in the coffin of western culture. Justice would dictate that she disappear from the pop scene and leave it to those who can actually, you know….sing.

So, Madonna lumbered and struggled through a technology laden, media rich creation that had no meaning and carried no symbolism beyond extending the life of something that deserved long ago to die off.

We have become Madonna’s half-time show–a giant sloth. We’re top heavy–full of upper level managers, administrators and superintendents all earning money that doesn’t exist, all of them dancing and carrying the petty cab of a leader who isĀ  herself (or himself) falling apart. She’s simply the only one who doesn’t know it.

It was a sad statement and a serious oxymoron of juxtaposition against a Superbowl game that was marked by having to think fast, move faster and be light on one’s feet. The Patriots lost, in fact, because after the first half, they lost their speed, their momentum–and the Giants picked it up. Madonna was the opposite of that.

What Fitzgerald said of Gatsby is true of Madonna: He had come such a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close he could hardly fail to grasp it. But what he did not know was that it was already behind him, somewhere in the vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.”

Pray that it is not true of all of us…

 

 

 

The Bigger they are…

The Santa Ana winds always put me in a funk and today was no different. Last year was a gloriously rainy and cold year, but this year is more typically dry, windy and warmer. Not happy. Want to move to Idaho–or something like that.

It’s a singular thing these days that I seem to be watching the demise. The economy sucks and will get worse–but not before the election and the current administration and the media will conspire to keep us in the dark about it until after the election. I’m telling you–the things that are happening are not good. That unemployment report? Smoke and mirrors. All of it.

So, that’s part of the funk. The other part is the lack of representation of any teams from Central west Pennsylvania in tomorrow’s pansy-bowl contest.

Meanwhile, the behemoth of NCLB rears its ugliest of ugly heads and our school district mimics corporate America, laying off workers and hiring upper level managers–in this case, district personnel. The number of people who work for our district who have no contact with students is now about the same as those of us who do. We’re sinking in a swamp of bureaucracy, but unlike a corporation which goes bankrupt, the school district will just keep creeping along. Poorly. Yes, that’s jobs–but no, it doesn’t work well and creates problems for your kids. I’d not be surprised if your school district isn’t going through the same thing.

I wrote a piece on a local business that has franchised out and done well without bank financing-and that seems to me to be a beautiful thing. It’s not corporate, it’s entrepreneurial and provides jobs. It’s not multi-level marketing, it’s doing business and bringing in revenue, providing a service and goods that people want.

Truthfully, that’s what’s happening with me these days as a writer, too. While I still do work for the paper, the work there has slowed down, so I’m branching out–a little P.R. and marketing here, a few magazine articles there. Again, entrepreneurial–and doing my own thing.

I’m late to this libertarian parade, but better late than never.

Onward.