Thursday, September 20, 2007

Stand Tall

This is a great article. It's long, but there's a lot to say. Most of us are just trying to live our lives, but we've been given that opportunity, we assume it as a right. Patricia Bauer explains how it feels for us to realize how and why our society is denying thousands of people that opportunity.
I invite you to read it in its entirety.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Dear Sam,

Dear Samuel,
I want you to know how proud I am of you. Whether you know it or not, you've learned some things in the last couple of weeks, without even trying. I've learned some things, too.
You've learned that being honest, and standing up for someone else does not always bring the response that you'd expect from those 'over' you. You were singled out, and made to feel that you had done something wrong, belittled in front of your classmates, and then told that it was wrong to cry. It was wrong for that teacher to talk to you the way that she did. You were right to tell us about it. I'm pretty sure that you didn't expect telling us would mean that we would move you to a different class in a different school, either. I know you know that we did this because of many other reasons, this was just kind of the 'last straw'for us all. Sometimes, standing up for what is right means that you get hurt, too, at the time. By doing what you did, though, you showed your classmates, your teacher, and everyone the sort of character that you already have.
I hope that you have learned that good things will happen when you do the right thing, too. Most important, you will know in your heart that what you did was right. It's really great for Mom and me to see that you are liking your new class and teacher - you've been more excited about school this last week than you have been in a long time. You're helping Mom by riding the bus with Emma, and Emma loves to have you around at school. You're such a good guy with her but hey, you're her brother, right? I hope you're finding friends. I changed schools a lot when I was a kid, I know that that can be hard. Just be yourself.
I learned how much you know - that, even when I was angry at your teacher, you understood and told me that she may have been trying to help you, in a strange way. You're probably right. Seeing someone else's point of view, even when they're being mean to you, is an ability that some adults don't have.
I know it's kinda weird to tell you this in an email, but I wanted you to read it, and maybe keep it and read it over again on a day maybe when things aren't going so good. Sometimes, putting things in writing makes them more permanent, not just a pat on the back from old Dad.
I Love You very much, and I will always.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Vacation '07, Chapter V

After a lazy morning with Alex and Davey, we stuff our stuff back into the Honda and head south, over the hills of Marin County to the Golden Gate. Funny, you can't get to the visitor center on the North end when you're heading southbound, but we manage to take the road to Sausolito far enough for some fog-laced pictures. The City is what it always has been, Fisherman's Wharf, Ghirardelli Square, a wistful gaze at the Buena Vista. Sam and I split some scampi and linguini for lunch, followed by the requisite purchasing of the refrigerator magnet at one of the wharf's fine stores. After grabbing some chocolate, Vicky and Sam take a cable car ride, Emma and I follow in the car. We enjoy some traffic out of town, and encounter some on the road to San Jose; an accident renders our shortcut moot. We get to our room in Monterey about 8 and enjoy delivered pizza.
Monterey Bay. The Aquarium. There's about 3 blocks of complete renovation going on near the Aquarium, so we are forced to take our midday nutrition inside the attraction, which turns out to be a frustrating, noisy affair. Finally negotiating our way to the dining room, the kids don't eat the overpriced stuff we bought them. It's the family moments like these that make it all worthwhile.

The Aquarium - I think this is the 3rd time we've visited - is not the *wow* that if first was, but it's all presented so very well. Sea Otters. The jellyfish exhibits can entrance you for hours, if you let them. Watching a huge sunfish loll its way around the tank. The tidal exhibit that dumps a thousand gallons of water over your head every 20 seconds or so. The aquarium is built out over, and into the bay, just off the balconies seals bask on rocks with birds coming and going. We spent 5 hours there.
Back to the room after finally finding a grocery store. The indoor pool at the motel is kinda icky, but we manage to make a good time of it. Nothing like a nice soak in the spa after a day of watching fish.
Keeping to our rigid schedule of leaving by 11, we head south to Point Lobos State Park. This lovely spit of land is just south of Carmel. There are lots of trails along the rocky coast, and tidepools to die for, if one pines for tidepools. If you've ever wondered what a huge rock covered in cormorant and seagull poop smells like, then this is the place for you. The views are spectacular, including a few fog-shrouded manses to the South. We leave Point Lobos for a late lunch at Subway and a lunge down highway 1. It's mostly cloudy, so the views are dramatic when revealed. Highway 1 is probably one of the most dramatic drives that this country has to offer, in any conditions. Today, the fog is boiling up the cliffs, but the roadway is clear, a path through the swirling clouds jumping the roadway and grabbing the hillside over us. Briefly stopping for some obligatory seal pictures, we glimpse Hearst Castle on the way to the restrooms of Cambria (shoulda skipped the refill at Subway). Cambria is one of those lovely little towns (I spent a week here, one weekend) where gas is always a dollar more than it is in the real world, and, while they'd love for you to stop and buy some paintings or antiques, please keep moving down the road and leave us alone, thank you. We oblige, and find our way to San Luis Obispo, Mexican Take-out, and air conditioning. It's humid, and we're treated to a lightning storm at 2 a.m., with cracking thunder and fat raindrops.
The last day, we manage to stretch a 5 hour drive into an 8 hour one, not much to say except LA traffic stinks, but so does San Diego's. The LA delays put us into the 805 merge at the right time to enjoy the added burden of a truck overturned just down the road. It took us an hour to go about 5 miles. In our absence, Paco the kitten expressed his frustration and loneliness by unraveling the toilet paper from two bathrooms, the house is otherwise just musty but fine. It's hotter here at home than anywhere we've been. We managed 1500 miles, 22 miles to the gallon, thank you very much, and only 2 pairs of headphones were broken. All in all, quite a successful trip.

Vacation '07, Chapter IV

Out of the hotel at the crack of 11-ish, we head down highway 80. To Fairfield, home of Nellis AFB and, more importantly, the Jelly Belly jellybean factory. We buy 6 lbs. of "belly flops", jelly beans that didn't make the final cut, as it were. We ate a pizza that's shaped like a jelly bean. They should 'stick' to making candy.

Onward to Napa and Calistoga, through the fabled valley that produced, among other things, our friend Teresa. In Calistoga, we go to the shining winery on the hill, Sterling. To visit Sterling, one must take their aerial tram, then follow a self-guided tour with a few video stops and tastings along the way. It's a gorgeous view south, over the Napa valley. Sam's not having such a great time. As we're leaving, an employee down the hall from the gift shop drops an entire rack of glasses, and everyone's attention shifts. What a horrible, yet incredibly funny sound to hear at an expensive winery. I softly hear the announcement in my head, "I'm sorry, all current discounts have now been cancelled. We apologize for this inconvenience."
We make one more stop down in Napa, where I wait in the car with antsy Emma and sulking Sam while Vicky shops. I watch a skinny, yet well dressed older man tool into the parking lot in his new Bentley. The man's shoes are probably worth more than my Honda. We head back South and West toward Novato and Vicky's cousin Alex, his wife Linda, and Jack and Davey. On a two-lane highway, we encounter about 5-7 miles of completely backed-up traffic heading the other way. Then we find out why. It's Sunday, RACE DAY, and we're headed toward the track that just disgorged it's patrons onto this one and only way in or out. We find our way into line heading our direction - a traffic jam seemingly in the middle of nowhere.
We make our way to Novato, and find friends.
My wife is part of a great family. There were three brothers. Jack Miller was a professor of physics and astronomy in Claremont, CA, Oxford degrees. Probably the smartest man I've ever met. Gaylord Miller was the head of NOAA for the Pacific, they lived in Hawaii. He died before I could meet him. Vance Miller taught high school Math and science. Vance died the day after Elvis did, about 4 months after I started dating his daughter.

Alex is Jack's son,the middle son of three. Alex and Victoria have always been buds. Linda is great. Davey has autism. We didn't know this until my neice's wedding, about 18 mos. ago. It was strangely fun to sit around with them talking about ER visits and cleaning up stuff. . . you know, the usual. They have two dogs, and Emma spends much of our time there swapping spit with Nellie. Alex, among other things, is a book collector/dealer; he showed us some signed, first editions, and gave Sam a set of The Hobbit/Lord of the Rings books. Sam was duly impressed. I'm always happy to hear stories of Vance and the rest of Vicky's family, this visit includes Alex's spot-on imitation of his father's voice - a man I was enchanted with, even as he really wanted very little to do with me, a long-haired psychology major. Sam bunked with Jack, Vicky, Emma, and I stayed in the "PMS Shed", a shed that's carpeted, has TV, and a bed. We set up an air mattress for Emma, and turned the TV back on after Vicky heard rats scampering and chattering on the roof. I, as usual, was blissfully unaware of this until we were in the car, heading south for San Francisco.

Vacation '07, Chapter III

Saturday. Got out of the condo at 11:00, a five minute drive to old Sacramento. We are experiencing unseasonably cool weather, which means it's just a warm 80's. We wander the boardwalk, eventually settling on Fat City for lunch, where I have the pulled pork sandwich with carmelized onions, cole slaw, and ubiquitous fries. De-lish. It's a lovely lunch in a 160 year-old building next to the train station. Very nearly historical.

The railroad museum here is really very impressive. By the nature of the subject matter, the building is huge, and it contains many locomotives and various cars, immaculately restored, creatively displayed. Emma met a wonderful docent in the dining car (which was filled with displays of the various 'diningware' settings of many lines - really cool) who showed her how to use the dinner bell (a 4-note xylophone ala the N-B-C notes on TV). Sweetest moment of the day. We then took a ride on a train down and then back up the tracks next to the river. Sam's acting snotty beyond his years, but still personable about half the time. He's alright. Emma's fascinated, at first, then bored, kinda like me. Cool to hear the train whistle echo off the buildings, and watch the old men tinker and fuss over the locomotive. I love trains, but I don't love trains, if you know what I mean.

Somewhat unfortunately, but actually quite comfortably, we arrived at the Capitol about 15 minutes too late for the last tour. We only had about 45 minutes to wander the dimly-lit halls, which was plenty of time to gaze up into the dome, admire the turn-of-the-century office exhibits, and see the elevators that were reserved for members only. It's a lovely building, well representing our large and fabulous state. It will be noted, later on the trip, that San Francisco's City Hall is much larger and more ornate - but, of course, that's where all the money was. . .
To Wal-Mart, again, for a bathing suit for Dad, swimming goggles for Sam, and headphones for the iPod, Emma having destroyed 2 pair so far. Groceria, then 'home' for a swim and dinner. Domestic bliss. Emma and I took one bedroom, 'cause we're the early risers. I was ready for bed.

Vacation '07, Chapter II

I've said it before, and I think I finally got someone to agree with me, Yosemite is not a day trip destination. We spent more time looking for lunch than we did looking at Half Dome.

It is a wondrous valley, broad meadows ringed by tall pine trees, dwarfed by sheer, ancient granite walls, some stained by waterfalls that mostly trickle this time of year. I did gain a few moments peace on a fallen log in the shade, listening to the wind through the pines, as Emma sat down, clothes and all, into the river.
Yosemite is in the lower part of Gold Country, and we drove through Coarsegold, China Camp, and other historic remnants of what will soon be the events of two centuries ago. Once one leaves the Sierra's sharp cutbacks, the roads divide broad sections of almost rolling hills, covered with ankle-high golden grasses, dotted with oak trees. Much of the Golden State really is this color, most of the year. Eventually, heading East, you drop further into the Central Valley with its industrial farms that feed most of us. Interstate 5 and highway 99 are high speed (not by statute, but by practice) arteries through this central valley. They meet in Sacramento, where we settled into a great find, a two bedroom condo with a kitchen and garage(!). We found groceries and dinner was done by about 9:30. We're off to downtown and old town (if they ever get out of bed) today, staying here again tonight. At least there won't be much car time. In the midst of all there is to do, I am enjoying myself as much as I am able to, cynical curmudgeon that I am. Just don't tell anyone.

Vacation '07, Chapter I

This isn't exactly breaking news, but it's now recorded for posterity, on the intertubes.

It's 9 am, and I'm sitting in the dark in a Holiday Inn Express in Madera, CA. Emma's oogling in the corner with the iPod, and Vicky and Sam are still sleeping. They never make it to the complimentary breakfast.
Yesterday, we had an uneventful 350 miles or so. We'll probably do about a thousand miles on this trip, and never leave California. Think on that, Yankees. The Wide Open spaces. This also means we gotta drive forever to get anywhere from the lower left hand corner of the country. Of course, it's a bit silly to leave a major tourist attraction to see others, but it is the American way.
It certainly is different, traveling now as opposed to when I was a kid. I mean, we used to head out in the middle of the night to cross the desert(it was cooler - no air conditioning, and cars were more likely to overheat), and I'd crawl up into the back window and look at the stars as we drove. Now, we're strapped in, there's a video system set up in the car with Elmo for Emma, Sam's playing nintendo games on his Wii, and Mom's playing podcasts through the radio from her iPod. We found the motel, a bit late, and set out for dinner in this farming town. Your selection. . . The International House of Pancakes! It was either that or a place called "Chubbies." The ambiance included picture boxes with dinnerware in them, an interesting medium. Andy Warhol would have been momentarily intrigued, then bored.
I had country fried steak, eggs, and pancakes for dinner no active cultures for me. . . The Wal-Mart was jumpin' at 9 last night. This is migrant farmer country, lots of small apartments filled with families. It's the land of Cesar Chavez, grape country. It's also over 100 degrees in the daytime, so folks come out at night. We found ourselves at Wal-Mart at about 8:30, picking up some things that we'd forgotten to pack, recognizing that we were the tallest people in the store. I'm just sayin'.
Anyway, the plan today is Yosemite, then on to Sacramento to see our fabulous Capital. Ahnold, most certainly, will be away on some juggernaut with the Kennedy family. So, a fair amount of mountain driving, today, crappy National Park concessionaire lunch fare, but probably better choices for dinner.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Thanks to those of you still checking in.
I've had a major computer meltdown. Combine that with a week-long road trip, 115 degree heat for another week after that, and then a faulty new motherboard, and you have one unhappy camper.
I've got some vacation blogs on a hard drive that I can't access at the moment, but they will appear, hopefully with photos, in a few days.
School's started, Emma's already missed a day due to sickness, it's cooled off dramatically back into the 80's (which actually feels glorious when night falls, and we're into the countdown to our next Lake Mead Trip. We're approaching what goes for normalcy around here.