Happy Anniversary

Shimmering heat warmed the blacktop parking lots and streets of Thousand Oaks. Evening came with a little relief, but our little apartment’s air conditioner was employed through the night-not that any of us were sleeping much. June 24, 1994, my best man, Keith and my roommate and good pal Shawn as well as our friend Chris got back to Shawn’s and my apartment after the rehearsal dinner and a little celebration. It was late when we finally dozed off and early when we awoke–18 years ago today. In the ensuing week while I was away on our honeymoon with my new bride, Shawn would move out to make room for the new Mr. and Mrs. Storer.

Sue and I were married at 1:00 in the afternoon June 25, 1994 with a thermometer punching at 105 degrees, 110 at its height. I know because we did photos before the ceremony and I was wearing a tuxedo. It was hot. By comparison, it will probably get up to around 80, maybe just shy of that, today-while a cool breeze blows in from the Pacific.

Our anniversary comes now complete with 11-year old child, a mortgage, jobs–the works. Right now as I write this, Shannon is sleeping and my beautiful wife is next to me playing Sudoku in the local paper. We exchanged cards this morning and we’re happy as we always were. There is so much love in this house, sometimes it creeps through doorways and out of screens–and it repairs and heals all wounds, all scrapes and bumps.

I have the same feeling now that I had for Sue when we were in college together in the 1980’s. I still get excited to see her when I haven’t seen her for a long time and I still try to impress her as though I was 19 again. I’m not, of course-but sometimes my brain doesn’t know that, even though my body does.

We dated-off and on–for 10 years before we got engaged. I won’t say that’s the secret to our relationship, I can’t know that. I don’t think there is a secret, frankly–there’s just the opportunity everyday to thank God for my wife and love who she is. I am who I am because of her and I do believe I’d be lesser without her. I still smile each morning when I see her and I still smile each night when we say goodnight–no matter what the day has wrought.

Here’s to many more. Happy Anniversary, honey.

Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, 2012

Lightning bugs filled the dusky sky as night dropped in on us in Catonsville, Maryland. We were in my Aunt Virginia’s backyard, the same backyard where, as a boy, I chased lightning bugs—fireflies—with my brothers and my cousin. Now, it was Shannon’s turn and though we visited Philadelphia, Washington, Baltimore, Hershey, Lancaster and Annapolis, the lightning bugs with my daughter stand out. My childhood was being relived right in front of me.

We started discussing this trip late last year when my Aunt cajoled for the umpteenth time that we should come back and visit. We had been considering going to Yellowstone, but opted instead for the east coast and Aunt Virginia offered us a chance to stay at her house—saving us tons of money and allowing us to reconnect with my family and give Shannon a chance to know them. Sue, Aunt Laurie, Shannon and I were set and off to the Mid-Atlantic east coast.

Cheaper flights dictated landing in Philadelphia and so we took advantage of some points we had with Sheraton and stayed one night, Sunday June 10, in the hotel and awoke Monday morning to go into Independence Hall, Constitution Hall, the Liberty Bell, The Federal Treasury and Mint, City Tavern and Ben Franklin’s residence. We did all of that in a morning and afternoon.

If the highlight of the trip for me was reconnection with old roots, Philadelphia, our first stop and our first day as tourists, was the best place to begin. Shannon had studied the Revolution in school this past year and after she stood in the same place where John Adams was sworn in as second President of the U.S., she kept saying, “I have a historical foot!”

The weather was perfect. The hottest day we had on the whole trip was in Philadelphia when we landed. It was 87 degrees with a bit of humidity. After that, the temps went down and breezes blew. At one point, we were wearing jackets because it got cool. Weather played almost no negative role in our trip. It rained in Washington on Tuesday, but we spent the day at the Library of Congress and the Capitol, which are connected by a tunnel and we didn’t really have to spend much time outside.

I lived for a short time across the river from Philadelphia while my dad worked in the city for ARA and I loved it then and found that I still do. The history, the food, and the people—all of it was so wonderful. At City Tavern, where the founding fathers gathered, ate, drank and talked, we enjoyed lunch with a waitress who was in process of obtaining her history doctorate at Penn and she was a font of information.

We walked up the stairs to see the gathering and meeting places of our founding fathers. The Cincinnati Room, named for George Washington’s favorite philosopher and role model, Cincinnatus, was like walking into the past. It was quiet inside and a long table with replicas of the chairs that once sat there was replete with the history of the place. Washington’s favorite sitting spot was at the back of the room near the window. He apparently would sit and listen and not talk very much–something he did almost his entire life–and Shannon wanted to sit in the spot Washington did. Our trip was flecked by the shadow of the great man’s footsteps starting on day 1.

The Tavern looks much as it did in the 18th Century and the Chef has become somewhat famous for his historical cooking. We enjoyed lunch tremendously and afterwards, walked along cobblestone roads toward Dr. Franklin’s home while the cool breeze came off the Delaware River.

We drove to Catonsville in the afternoon to Aunt Virginia’s house, our home of the next 8 days while we set out to explore. My aunt is 88 years old, but you would never know it. She took such good care of us that we felt spoiled. She gave up her bedroom for Sue and me, a point which made us uncomfortable and which we asked her to reconsider repeatedly to no avail. She slept in the guest room while Shannon slept in the third bedroom and Aunt Laurie slept in the furnished cellar. Comfortable and at home, we gathered nightly for dinner and then sat on the patio watching the planes fly into Baltimore Washington International, sipping wine and talking into the evening and chasing lightning bugs.

Tuesday, Sue once again managed to be amazing and putting the finishing touches on planning she’d begun at home on the Internet, she mastered the DC Metro subway system. Driving into D.C. is apparently a bad choice for tourists, so we drove to Wheaton, MD where we boarded the Metro, obtaining a “smart card” for parking and getting all day riding passes for a relatively low fee—less than we’d have paid for a metropolitan parking garage. We rode the metro, as it’s known, and because of Sue, navigated like natives around the Capitol City.

The rain pelted down, warm and sporadic, while we walked to Capitol Hill up Delaware Avenue from Union Station. We went through the tunnel to the Library of Congress first and we ate at the cafeteria there. We dined on salads and drank iced tea on the top floor of the Madison building among researchers, teachers and government employees.

Jefferson’s books, his original library, was on display and I stood in awe of it. It was arrayed in a circular pattern, glass-covered shelves protecting the fragile volumes, and I felt like a kid again. Jefferson read these books—wrote notes in them, poured over them and learned from them.

Another display held remnants and material from early America and its natives and explorers. Yet another held the Mainz Bible and several other medieval religious texts. The architecture was spectacular and we stood dreamily looking up at columns and brocades, carved marble and circular windows.

We walked the tunnel back to the Capitol building and took the guided tour seeing Trumbull’s paintings and the extraordinary rotunda, the statuary, Speaker Boehner’s office and all of it. Then home to the table and the patio.

The Metro and D.C. are a lot of work, technically speaking. We had to be on our toes all the time and we were tired, so we split up our days and Wednesday, rather than return to the Capitol, we went to my old home in Hershey, PA.

Chocolate world has changed a bit from when I lived there in the 1970’s. The Hershey plant no longer allows tours, so they developed a kind of tourist trap. Located on the grounds with Hershey Park and the Hershey Stadium, Chocolate World is a ride and a series of attractions designed to teach folks how America’s most popular candy bar gets made. We did it all, including doing a chocolate tasting and making our own candy bars. A true waste of money, but one that Shannon said was her favorite part of the trip. Enough said.

I took the girls to find my old house up on a hill in Hummelstown, one exit down PA highway 322 from Hershey. It was easy to find and I was surprised at the flood of memories that came back. I’d live in PA again gladly if my family would. I loved it there.

Years ago, my mom made me a scrap book of old photographs from my childhood. In it, there is a photo of my brothers and I stuffing our faces with hot dogs and watermelon and slurping lemonade on a summer-time farm owned by our friends, the Hostetters. A PA Dutch family who attended our church, their children were friends of ours and in the picture, brother Jerry and I are clearly visible with our counterparts, Andy and Sam Hostetter. Andy was Jerry’s age and I can still see his face, though the scrap book got lost in one of our moves. I can see the quality of light playing off the cornfield as we sit at the picnic table, laughing and carrying on.

We’d left PA in 1975, but kept up with friends there. In 1979, we got word that Andy was riding his bicycle across Chocolate Avenue in Hershey and was hit by a car. He died at the scene. I’ve thought about that ever since it happened. I was 14 when he died. He was 16. The Hostetters asked permission to bury Andy in the cemetery adjacent to our church, which dates back before the Revolutionary war. They got permission and for the first time ever, I went in and found Andy’s grave. There was something healing about seeing it. His parents grave marker was placed below Andy’s, but their date of death has not been inscribed. They’re still alive, though I didn’t contact them.

Lying next to Andy is Ira Reed. Upstairs in one of my bookshelves, I have a Bible that was presented to me in 1974 by Pastor Ira O. Reed. He signed his name there in the Book and I still use that Bible. He was pastor of Derry Presbyterian Church while we attended. He died in 1998 and is buried along with his wife who survived him by seven years.

The breeze blew and the maple trees swayed as we walked among the historic cemetery and the grass moved easily beneath our feet. It was good to be back and when we were done, we got into the car and headed back to Catonsville.

Thursday was another metro whirlwind into D.C. where Sue’s master planning got us down to Smithsonian station and the mall. We toured the Smithsonian Museums of American and Natural history and we walked to the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Monument on Flag Day, June 14. On our way back, we signed a birthday card with a calligraphy pen dedicated to the flag and Sue and Shannon donned tri-corn hats to pose with a National Park Ranger dressed for the occasion.

If I write about the Smithsonian, I’ll never stop. From Roberto Clemente’s Pirates uniform to the original Kermit the Frog puppet to a Paul Reed Smith guitar to Lincoln’s top hat, we saw and learned so much that exhaustion set in before we walked a mile.

Friday, we rented a bigger car so that we could drive comfortably with Aunt Virginia up to Amish country and Lancaster County, PA. Rolling hills, mild temperatures and Amish farms without electricity juxtaposed against a tourist Mecca of quilt shops and ice cream stands. We ate lunch at the Plain and Fancy, a place I’d been to before. Shannon loaded up on sugary sweets and fried food and got quite ill for about 10 minutes. She was fine after that-and not even that whiny.

Aunt Virginia took us to some of her favorite spots and we bought things we shouldn’t have and walked through an Amish garden that was as lush and beautiful as any polished English flower garden I’ve seen. Never have squash and tomatoes, beans and peppers been so beautiful.

Saturday, Sue once again mastered public transit and put us on the Baltimore Light Rail system. We rode into the Convention Center past Raven Stadium and Camden Yards to go to the National Aquarium, a place I’d been to before but that Shannon was excited to see. Between the Smithsonian Natural History Museum and the Aquarium, Shannon would have been satisfied if we’d done nothing else. She loved those places–add in Hershey, and she was in paradise.

Saturday was the second day of the Sailabration in Baltimore, marking the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812. The city was jam packed, hard to navigate, as the Blue Angels performed over the inner harbor, which was itself packed with ships from the U.S. Navy, Coast Guard and even the Canadian Navy among others as residents and tourists took in the sites. The National Aquarium was also packed, but it is a fine species of aquarium and though it’s a little heavy on, “the earth is dying and it’s your fault” meme, it was a lot of fun.

By Sunday, we were worn out from touring, so we went to church with Aunt Virginia and I spent the afternoon catching up on some writing and deadlines at the local Starbuck’s. It was Father’s Day and the church had the Annapolis Bluegrass Coalition play rather than a sermon. They were excellent and grand.

That afternoon, off to cousin Marilyn’s and her husband Don where I reconnected with them, Marilyn’s son Brandon, his daughter, Layla, my cousin Craig and his son Nicholas and wife, Jenny. Brandon bbq’d and Marilyn cooked and bought crab and we ate too much, laughed too loud, played with the dogs and walked out onto the grass and talked the evening away. It was one of the best nights of the vacation.

Monday, our last day was Annapolis, MD. Annapolis is home to the Naval Academy, the State Capitol and a wonderfully historic town. It was the first peacetime National Capitol and in the statehouse, we went to see the sights. George Washington resigned his commission here and it was here that the Treaty of Paris ending the Revolutionary War was ratified. The walls of the old Capitol are brimming with stories and oddly, we were among the only tourists inside. The streets were near deserted and we walked along with an occasional soft misty rain falling.

Before the statehouse, we took a forty-minute boat tour of the Severn River and the Naval Academy and saw the coastline of Chesapeake Bay and soaked up the history of the academy.

Home that night to an extraordinary meal that my Aunt spent all day preparing. Among my greatest memories are that we were all taken care of by Aunt Virginia who was happy to have the company and was a great roommate. She was a spark of energy for us and she wanted to hear everything we’d done. She sat up late with us and told us stories of her life with my dad, her younger brother, and my uncle Karl, now deceased and sorely missed.

Tuesday morning, we awoke early at 5:30 and Aunt Virginia got up with us to say goodbye. We drove north to Philadelphia and back to the airport to the Virgin America plane to Los Angeles. Home again—and there’s no more to say.

Except I barely scratched the surface. Traveling with Sue, Shannon and Laurie may well have become my very favorite pastime. I cannot think of another way I’d rather spend a summer.

It’s good to be home, gentles.

Onward.

The parliament of whores itself-Capitol Hill. We took the tour, did the rounds. Good times

 

 

Yep-the archaeologists and historians found the outhouse at Franklin’s house. Good times. Studying the feces of our Founding Fathers is fascinating business.

 

1776

Traveling has never really been my thing. I’ve done a bit–at least in the US anyway. I’ve lived in a lot of places, too, so I guess I feel well-rounded…

But, couldn’t pass up the chance to come east with the girls an so this morning, Uncle Doug took us to LAX where we boarded the Virgin America Philadelphia bound A320 and here we are. We’re in a Sheraton Four Points in Northeast Philly and it’s 11 PM here. Though it’s only 8 pm CA time, I have to admit I feel the 11 pm east coast time more keely. We’re all tired and this post is light.

Summer vacation begins here in the cradle of Lberty. Philly tomorow, then down to Baltimoore to spend time with family and that will act as our base of operations for Washintton D.C., Hershey, PA and other visits.

Huzzah, gentles. Happy summer. Home soon.

Onward.

21

21 years into a career I still think about leaving. But I can’t. I love teaching. And I’m not demanding more money for it–I’m losing money. And I contribute to my own pension and my own healthcare. I’m a teacher, though. I’m passionate about what I do. I get to read and write and teach others to do that, hopefully at their own pace and with their own idea of why they too can love it.

Graduation was again difficult. Hard to say goodbye, but wonderful to see them go out into the world. I’m exhausted both emotionally and physically. I’m sunburned and I think I ate too much for dinner. But I’ve completed 21 years of teaching today and it’s just a nice moment to recognize that.

Shannon is done with fifth grade and got some of her best grades yet. My daughter is growing up into a young girl of substance and direction. She’s forming her own passions all the while learning that people aren’t always at their best-learning how to deal with that–and to forgive. What a time it is. You can tell merely from the fact that I’m writing like a dolt.

So-here’s a better article. Wrote this one for the most recent Ventana. Dr. Murrillo’s tequila is truly liquid gold. Give it a read.

I retweeted an interview with one of my favorite writers, Eric Metaxas and it is here. Please do read as it expresses my sentiments this evening.

Onward.

Timing

I am sitting here watching footage of last winter’s protests in Wisconsin as the state prepares for a rather unprecedented recall election tomorrow. Barring any real surprises-or cheating, however, Governor Walker of that state looks to be able to hold his job. And no–that doesn’t upset me.

It is all such a political blur, such a mess. The economy is swirling the drain while the debt and deficit continue to soar and our leaders fiddle while it all burns. Sad–almost as sad as that hackneyed cliche I used there. Well, that’s what elections are for–and though tomorrow’s CA primary is largely useless, I’ll do my duty and vote-and we’ll see what happens.

My 21st school year draws to a close this week. I never like the last week of school. It’s chaotic and divisive. Everyone runs off in every different direction–especially my seniors who I miss when they go away. The last two years were very hard as I bonded closely with those seniors and I even keep up with some of them still. I didn’t bond with a large number of them like I did the last two, but there are a few–and it is going to be hard to say goodbye. I love the classroom–for all the bureaucratic flotsam that comes with it–and even though teachers are seriously under the gun–I do love to teach. But this time of year is a little harder on me every year. It’s just emotionally draining.

Summer is coming and I’ll still be working-writing for various places, mostly. I love doing that, too. I’m a pretty lucky guy in this respect. I’ll find a groove. A little vacation, a little downtime–it’s amazing how routines kick in. Last summer was hard to beat–the trip up north to see Doug and Katy married and then on to the Oregon coast and wine country and into Washington. It was a grand trip and hard to beat. Time for more memories, I suppose.

Meanwhile, Peanut has been through it all in her fifth grade year. She’s had a great year both academically and personally and she’s grown in ways that astound me. But the progress has been mildly overshadowed by the drama with her friends-resulting in what I believe my daughter’s first broken heart–not romantically, but friendship-wise. I won’t go into details, but she’s a loyal friend with a good heart and she’s not got a tough exterior. She wears it on her sleeve, God bless her. That, of course, can lead to problems and it has. They’re not insurmountable, but they will take time. We’ll see.

It appears I’ve written an update without meaning to. So there you have it–all the news that’s fit to post. Good night, gentles.

Onward.

Good Marketing Starts with a Good Product

As any good and trustworthy marketing rep will tell you (and I’ll grant that there may not be as many of those as there should be), one can have the finest marketing department with a large budget and all the gadgets he wants–but if the product isn’t worth marketing, it won’t do any good.

Case in point is today’s 19th annual Casa Pacifica Angels Wine and Food Festival held at Cal State Channel Islands. It’s a veritable presidential visit in terms of planning and logistics-and the organization, which aids and rescues kids and families in crisis, markets the heck out of it. They nearly beg for press coverage and they are kind to those of us who report on them, allowing us VIP access, early interviews and all of it. But at the end of the day, that is simply good and clear marketing. Their product is a pretty good one.

I have had a part in the California system of children and adoptions. It’s a brutal, dishonest and corrupt system. It’s poorly run, over-burdened and poorly funded (which is not to say it doesn’t have enough money–just that those in charge of spending the money don’t do it well). Casa Pacifica is only a small part of the system and the difference between the overall system and what Casa does is that Casa moves quickly, acts with care and compassion, takes into account all of the variables of a family’s or a child’s life and does so professionally and with concern. It’s not perfect–who is? But it is a group that seeks to help in an otherwise broken system working with broken people.

Our failed attempt at adoption, a process that lasted nearly three years and was rife with unfairness and duplicitous behavior, political correctness and ignorance, is a constant reminder to us that there are children who are in need of help everywhere and as the economy sours, the problem exacerbates. I’m unsure why our adoption failed. Maybe we were too picky. Maybe we didn’t try hard enough–though you’d have a hard time proving that. What  I do know is that it’s a heartbreaking situation and in a way, any little thing I can do to bring attention to a group of people that are succeeding, or at least working hard not to fail, in such a Topsy-turvy world is worth it.

Onward.