Predictions and Posts

I am going to make a quick descent into politics for the sake of posterity. Bill Kristol wrote this article that appeared yesterday in the Weekly Standard online.

I thought this before Kristol wrote it. Yes, I know what the polls say–but the Rasmussen poll, the most accurate of voting trends to date, has Romney ahead and even the more left leaning polling groups are starting to show more and more parity in their results. For the record, unless something dramatically alters the American perception of this President and his policies (which I think are failures), he is going to lose by at least as big a margin as that with which he won in 2008.

I’m not focusing here on my opinions–my Libertarian leanings are known to most who read me–I simply think from a straight numbers point of view, the President’s failure to go above 50 percent approval, the abject failure of Obamacare, no matter what happens in the Supreme Court, a stubborn unemployment number, a hyper-regulatory business environment, lack of trust on matters economic, a justice department that has made questionable legal moves, a Chicago-style of fighting political battles and a divisive tone from most of his surrogates, the President has an uphill battle to say the least. Please note-none of the above are opinionated statements. They are the reality right now.

Because of that, I believe that Mitt Romney will be the next President (again, barring any strange or even miraculous changes) and will win, if not handily, then decisively.

OK-that’s that.

I had to clean Simon’s ears and it left him feeling low. Dogs don’t like things put in their ears. Come to think of it, neither do I. But Simon is not enjoying the smelly (clove-like aroma) medicine I used to break loose the nasties in his ear canal as I q-tipped them out. It’s not perfect, but I got a lot of it done. I only hope he’s not suffering from plugged ears.

Sue is out at Bunco tonight with some of her friends. She made a delectable dinner before she left and we chowed down on pork with orange sauce, veggies and rice. It was delicious and now, Shannon and I are enjoying the evening together. She’s squirming next to me on the couch while Simon rests his head on my arm while I type. He’s already tired and she’s getting there.

Testing week continues apace. I’m hosting a colleague’s freshman class as I proctor the test. I’ve gotten a lot done and am caught up in paper grading and planning. Meanwhile, I’ve had a few deadlines and a few chances to write some really fun pieces for various folks. It’s a good time. One of my favorites that came out is here. It’s an online version of a print magazine, so when you click on it, you’ll have to flip pages by clicking on the arrows and you might have to hover the mouse to zoom in a bit. But I appreciate your patronage.

There’s also this piece that came out in Ventana magazine. These two magazines have the same editor, one of my favorites to write for.

Onward, gentles…

I got Nothin’

It has been a deadline rich weekend and I actually move into the week with a little more room to breathe than I had on the weekend with the exception of it being Star testing week–the inevitable high stakes testing regime that maddens us all is upon us. I have embraced it and will use the week to watch over the freshmen from a colleague of mine’s class, as she oversees the senior activities. Seniors, you see, don’t test. I simply haven’t the heart to discuss more of it.

So, I’m just sort of being domestic. Sue wasn’t feeling well when I got home teaching–so I may call it, so I stole about 40 minutes and ran Simon for about two miles. He’d already done two today with Sue and Aunt Laurie and I wasn’t prepared to go much more with my time limit. Then, off to pick up Shannon from school and we walked home where she kvetched over homework. The two of us had eye doctor appointments today, so we went off there. Home where I bbq’d some hamburgers and the fat content was pretty high. So….there’s that.

Doing some focused writing for the PR folks and getting into that while also tackling a few news and feature stories. It’s been a good load, but I would like more and so I’m actively searching. A student of mine, Carlos and my pal Mark commented on the previous post that I should consider writing about teaching. I don’t know. Every time I sit down to try, I get caught up in more than I can spill out on the screen. I never know which way to take it. I can hear my own voice talking to my composition students, “one line at a time–one paragraph at a time. Don’t worry about order. That’ll come later….” Good words to live by as a writer. Wish I could do that myself.

The clean dog who got a bath yesterday is asleep next to me and I’m starting to doze off myself…

I am grateful for your continued reading and patronage.


The Drop-off

Teaching is always hard this time of year. I’ll not for a moment deny it–it appears the kids are done–some two months early–and they don’t want to work anymore. Knowing the trouble teachers have gotten into talking about their charges on blogs, I’ll refrain from making any pointed comments. Suffice to say–they’re done. Some were done months ago, it’s true. But now–more are.

And it bothers me, yes–but there’s a part of me that gets it. I still think a lot of it has to do with the fact that their educations bore them. In the 21 years I have been in the classroom, I’ve seen the creative process that I used to go through diminish to the point where testing has ruled all. We’re told that the pendulum is shifting and that we’re moving away from the focus on high stakes tests, but it hasn’t happened yet. One thinks of Titanic’s first officer calling hard-to-starboard. Look how well it worked for him.

I’m a trained educator and I know how to keep my kids interested in the work they do. I know how to make them care about it–even some of the ones that don’t care. I can get them, too. But the past 7 years has simply not been kind to the human process, honoring the individual’s mind and allowing each person a chance to bloom a bit. We don’t do that. Allow me a case in point.

My daughter is 11 and she is not much of a reader. She doesn’t like reading much, really. And I never understood why–until now. When she was in kindergarten, she was there for the whole No Child Left Behind process that basically stipulates that by the end of kindergarten, five and six year old should be reading. Now–naturally–some do and they do fine at that. Everyone learns at a different pace and a different rate. That’s established fact. But Shannon wasn’t really ready to read. We forced it on her, so did her teacher, who is a wonderful woman, a fine and brave teacher and someone I admire greatly.

One day, she told us during a parent conference that Shannon wasn’t really ready to read. She told us that she understood our frustration, that she felt it too–but the standards stipulated that kids have to read. She said to us then, “you know what this does? It makes kids hate reading. They don’t come by it naturally and learn it themselves, so they resent it being pushed on them.”

Well, guess what? She does indeed. She’s actually a fairly good reader. She gets grade level and a little higher. But she finds no joy in it and that kills me. Reading is all joy to me. I love it. I do it for a living. And you know, I don’t remember reading much until I was around 7 or 8 years old. Naturally speaking, that’s when most kids come to it. They can form sentences and they can read simple ones before that, but book-wise, they get there around that age. Now-we force them to do it at 5 or 6.

And that’s just one of the problems–and that’s at the kindergarten level. I could write a book about what goes on at the high school lev…..

Hmmmm. A book about it. Nah. No one would read it.


Closer to Home

Friday was fine as it always is. But having the Picards, friends of ours, over for dinner meant over-much wine. And I paid a price for that I’d rather not have paid today. All day was a kind of cobwebbed and hazy fog of general lowliness. Up later than usual, more breakfast than usual to soak up remnants that I could, off to the dog-park with Simon and home again to meet a weekend deadline. And that was it for productivity.

Oh, I went and got some shoes but I’m not even necessarily happy with the choice I’ve made. The best part of the day was Peanut and I sharing pretzels and frozen lemonade at the outlet mall. That would have been the best part regardless of the day’s origins, but it stands out more because of the rest of it.

So, tonight– a simple dinner, just the family, water to drink and we all watched We Bought A Zoo together. It was such a good movie that it reminded me why I like watching Matt Damon work. Normally, in his actual daily persona, I have no use for the man. His leftist tendencies and obnoxious use of his star power to somehow morph into a political voice that he thinks people need to hear is boorish and foolish. But like Sean Penn who is just as boorish, entitled and silly, his acting ability simply cannot be denied. We Bought A Zoo was a great movie-especially if you’re raising a family. That’s all you’ll get as a review. I’m not up to the real thing just now.

So, I’m ready to spend the evening quietly here on my couch with Simon almost in my lap and Shannon sitting with me watching Beauty and the Beast. I’m reminded of doing similar things about 8 years ago. She was 4 and she’d sit with me in her pajamas and I remember she had bronchitis, so the dog prescribed, along with the pink liquid antibiotics, a nebulizer to provide inhaled steroids. We’d watch the movie while she took her “breathing treatment” and while it was disconcerting, it helped her sleep and breathe better. Now, she’s 11-years old, breathing treatments mostly behind her and brooding on things that 11-year old girls brood over.

Church tomorrow, I believe. Sleep tonight–and hopefully lots of it to make up for last night’s lack thereof.




A-jumble, atwitter and Asleep

Oh gentles, it is not for lack of anything to say. Humblest of apologies, mea culpa.

Easter was grand and delightful at the Perez family’s house. Dear friends we’ve known for years. We go to the same church and they’re one of the reasons I have hope for raising a child. Randy and Janel are role models for us as parents. So, brother Doug and Katy and even Aunt Laurie–all of us at the Perez’s, eating espresso braised short ribs, polenta and salad, sipping good wine and enjoying the sunshine.

Then the schedule filled up with interviews and work. I interviewed a lovely and gracious woman who survived the Metrolink/Union Pacific accident of September 12, 2008. On that same night, I went to the Hollywood bowl and rode the bus that leaves the Chatsworth Metrolink station. As we arrived, there was indeed a pall at the station as news spread that 25 people had died and hundreds were injured. Kaia was one of the injured and she is a miracle.

As the train left the Chatsworth station, she turned to talk to a friend and put her feet in the aisle. The move may have been the reason she is alive today. Her three best friends died as did many other friends. All were injured and she was thrown across the ceiling of the train and into the bike rack at the back of the train-car.

I’m actually not writing about that aspect of her life–and I’m not at liberty to divulge what I am writing about. Suffice to say that meeting Kaia was a providence, a kind of graceful reminder of faith and love.

Meanwhile, one of my favorite recent articles came out. You can see it here.

I am awash in PR assignments and one journalistic assignment and much of it is swirling around in my head just now. Shannon had an evening presentation of her expert project at the community center where kids from all over her school district presented things they knew about. She worked with a friend of hers and they talked about horse-back riding. Shannon dressed in her English riding clothes and talked about English riding, while her friend talked about Western.

The result of writing, presentations, teaching and sleepiness has allowed me to write in a stream of unconsciousness this evening. Simon sleeping in my lap, Shannon watching her “Sweet Genius” program–and my mind a-jumble between sleepiness and wordage. Not even sure I can get beyond that right now.

More to come, gentles. The weekend will allow more time.




Art, flowers and corned beef

I have been pummeled by my daughter’s cold and it seems to be a bit angrier with me than it was with her. This could be because she’s 11 and I’m 46. Or, it could be because I have some sort of mutant version. I hope not.

But it didn’t stop us from taking a trip to the Huntington. This is a place I’ve never been before and it is extraordinary. The Huntington’s art collection includes some priceless treasures. Even Shannon and her friend stood before them in awe. The famous–or infamous–Blue Boy is there and we stood and looked at it. The richness and texture of the painting held our attention. There is a play of light on the satiny clothing and one leg is in the dark, while the other is in the sun. The boy’s face is almost real, and yet playfully cartoonish at the same time.

I was disappointed that I didn’t get to see the rare and ancient books collection. The Huntington has an Ellsmere edition of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and folios of Shakespeare’s plays as well as a Gutenberg Bible. Sadly, I wasn’t feeling well enough after taking in the mansions full of art and the labyrinth of gardens.

The sheer color of gardens, the blue flowers reaching across broken paths peppered with white petals fade into the architecture so that you’re not certain where gardens end and buildings begin at times. The soundtrack playing in my head of soft melodic strings reaching crescendo and pulling back to a restrained kind of peaceful ecstasy was better than any ipod could have given me.

The day was warm and bright and the people were friendly, too (this was in marked contrast to driving home and having to call 911 because a bunch of punk-ass teenaged boys were throwing down and fighting on my street in front of my house).

We left, languid and fulfilled in some sensory part of our brains that craves culture and art once in a while, but bone-tired. The grounds are expansive. Disneyland feels smaller. As we headed back west, we stopped off in Eagle Rock at the Oinkster. This is another Diner’s, Drive-ins and Dives restaurant and it lived up to both reputation and name. They make their own corned beef, smoke their own pork butts, grind their own beef–it’s exceptional. I ordered the Ruben and it was simply the best one I’ve ever had–including ones I’ve made myself. The corned beef was the star, but it wasn’t overpowered by too much dressing or smothered in sauerkraut. There were enough to compliment the incredible beef, not to ignore it.

Sue had rotisserie chicken and she said it was tender, juicy and flavorful. A side of black beans with peppers, onions and herbs and fried plantains with a dipping sauce made her day. The girls shared a pulled pork sandwich with Belgian fries. They each ate their portion. This should say enough about whether they liked it.

Home. Tired. Sick. Sleepy. Sore. Achy. Tired.  And fulfilled.




Story dogs

A revamp of the “About Mark” part of the blog because I finally was able to put into direct words what it is I do–and what it is I care about.

Today I was able to do a great deal of story-telling, indeed. The newspaper editors have been kind enough to give me a few more gigs this week and I’ve been on assignment for People Media Group for the past few days. Turned in my first draft tonight of that piece. It took a great deal of “reporting,” or really interviewing as I profiled six people and combined all of their diverse stories into one piece. It was exhilarating in one sense and exhausting, too. That’s rather how I like a gig–it builds you up and wears you out. 1200 plus words of profile. I only hope it’s good enough.

The newspaper stories are much easier to write because the newspaper doesn’t want it if it isn’t a story–but when writing profiles, I’m taking what are essentially bits and pieces of disparate information and people’s everyday lives and making stories out of them. That’s where the challenge is and like I said, I hope it’s good.

First real day of spring break and I had work to do–but even so, took the fam down to Fab’s Hot Dogs in Reseda. It was featured on one of our favorite shows, Diners-Drive-ins and Dives and since it’s about 40 minutes from here, we decided to give it a try. As it happens, it’s only a stone’s throw from where Sue and I met each other in the valley at Pierce College, so we were able to show that to Shannon as well.

The hot dogs are simply amazing. All beef, natural casings hot dogs wrapped in thick-cut crispy bacon with an endless list of toppings are really all I ask out of life. Yes, I’m still carrying evidence of the chow-down with me, too. I’m not sure the one Tums tablet will be enough.

Shannon and I each had a Fab dog–a heavenly creation of the dog, a tangy and slightly spicy tomato relish, bacon, mustard, onions–OMG, as the kids would say. Absolutely the best thing I’ve had in the sausage kingdom in a long time. It may well be better than Frank’s hot dogs in San Luis Obispo. It’s certainly more fattening.

They also have crispy tater tots and sweet potato fries with an addictive dipping sauce that I couldn’t get enough of. This was extraordinary stuff. I wish I could say I can’t wait to go back–but as I’m certain my arteries are still trying to process the thing, I’ll have to give it a few weeks. In between, perhaps I’ll get to Frank’s and have a Chicago dog.

Well, that’s tonight’s eclectic mix. I bid you good evening.



Shannon turned 11 yesterday and so raucous and fun were the frivolities that I neglected posting about them until this morning. I also worked yesterday, covering two different stories, writing one and saving the other for today, so I rather managed my time and by the time the evening was ended, Doug and Katy going home for the evening, I was pretty tired and winding down myself.

The day began, rain falling lightly, at the Camarillo Library where I covered the library’s five-year anniversary. I’ve written a lot about the place and know the people there well, so it was easy to flit about, get some quotes and move on. I shot home and sat down at the laptop to tap out the article.

Then out to Ventura and Skating Plus where Shannon held her party with a dozen or so of her closest friends. We had a great time–the kids wolfed down pizza and cake and skated. No on threw up, strangely–so, there’s that.

Back home to grab Simon and head up to Thousand Oaks where I covered the one-year anniversary of a local Buddhist center (ecumenism abounds, you know?). Simon waited in the car for the half hour or so that I did my interviews in the Buddhist center. He’s a good and patient dog, but when I got back to the car, he behaved as though I’d punished him, sort of cowering and licking his chops. I assured him that he was not being punished and to assert that position, I took him over to the dog park in Thousand Oaks, a fine wide open space where dogs gambol and growl with each other. Simon likes the park a great deal and it’s become a Saturday ritual-my one break from walking in the week.

Then, back home where I tended to Shannon’s chosen dinner–country style pork spare ribs, using my pal Scott’s recipe. Salt and pepper the ribs and place them in a shallow pan. I actually used disposable aluminum roasting pans which worked really well. I then poured Jack Daniels Tennessee Honey recipe bourbon into each pan–enough to give about a half inch to an inch of liquid in the bottom–cover each with tin-foil and put in the oven for 3 hours (yes, 3 hours) at 245 degrees. I suppose 250 would be fine. I put the ribs in at 2 pm when I got home from the skating rink to pick up Simon.

When I got the ribs out, I poured a glass of Pinot Noir for myself. This is an integral part of the cooking process–not to be ignored. No Pinot was spilled in this process. All of it wound up in my gullet. I highly recommend this step…

Then, Doug helped me brush the ribs with Sweet Baby Ray’s bbq sauce–you could use anything–and then out to the grill for 10 minutes of charring and caramelizing the sauce and then serve. Delicious. Top notch, seriously tasty ribs. And there are leftovers, so now you know tonight’s menu.

So, Shannon is 11–the party was incredible–she had a sleep over as well with one of her friends and we ate and drank like kings, queens and princesses…

Couldn’t really ask for more–except that it’s now it is Palm Sunday before spring break and I don’t have to teach this week and Shannon doesn’t have to go to school and our little family is going to spend some quality time. Easter is coming, spring is here, the days are glorious and wonderful and we’ve been given the gift of time. Halleluiah indeed.