Sunday, January 31, 2010

Dancing for Diana

The effort to raise money for a San Benito High School freshman who is battling cancer has shown the value of new media, as a simple, 5-minute YouTube posting has generated tons of interest in the cause as it has generated thousands of hits. It went from class project, to buzz-worthy e-mail on campus to a report on local television. The students behind the movement were not looking for credit or praise. Instead, they just wanted people to know that a community member needs our help. I wrote about the effort in Friday's Pinnacle. As the students strive to raise thousands of dollars to help Diana Magana's family with the expenses associated with her cancer treatment, they have also raised awareness about the good work that high school students do -- without prompting -- because most of them really are creative, talented, caring kids. Help Diana if you can.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The road less traveled

My wife and I were out for a short drive to a local store when I noticed the billowing clouds gathering along the hills in the eastern part of San Benito County. "How about we drive out to the country?" I asked. "We haven't done that in a while." Our teenage boys were at home, lounging as teens do on a lazy Saturday, so it gave my wife and I rare opportunity for spontaneity. We left the store and headed east, toward the hills and the clouds. San Benito County has miles and miles of rural roads that wind through oak-studded hills. We chose a road that snakes through the Santa Ana Valley, past sprawling ranches and cow pastures. It traces the winding route of creeks, filled at last with runoff from a week's worth of rain. It curls left and right and up and down, taking us nowhere fast. Squirrels darted across the two-lane road in front of us, playing a silly game of chicken. Elsewhere along the road, the not-so-lucky creatures that didn't miss the tires of another vehicle were lunch for birds, who were quick enough to avoid us as we drove past. Up another hill and four deer were surprised by our car. We stopped and tried to get a picture as they ambled up the hill and out of sight. A couple of miles later, the road ended at a locked farm gate, just past a small bridge over a gurgling creek. We turned around, a bit disappointed that we ran out of pavement but glad that we made the trip. A phone call to our sons assured us that they were fine and assured them that we were the same. Our trip cost nothing other than a little gas and a little time; both reasonable expenses for a little quality time on a mid-winter Saturday. It was a reminder of how getting away from it all is sometimes as easy as heading for the hills and following the clouds. (photo courtesy of MHedin's Photostream at

Monday, January 18, 2010

Yo quiero eating healthy

The death of Taco Bell founder Glenn W. Bell Jr. at age 86 this past weekend got me thinking that there may just be something to the recently-publicized Taco Bell Diet after all. Mr. Bell, who also helped establish Der Weinerschnitzel, had to have eaten food from his two fast-food chains over the years, right? Corn dogs and burritos and enchiritos and french fries and the guy lived to 86 -- I don't want to know what's in the corn dogs and the taco meat, but whatever preservatives are there must have worked for Bell. In college, my roommates and I were on the McDonald's diet one summer because my roommate worked there. It was Big Macs for lunch and Chicken McNuggets for dinner. Sometimes, on the rare occasions that we awoke before 10:30 a.m., we'd have a Sausage McMuffin. I guess calling our food choices a "diet" is wrong. It was "necessary eating" because we were poor college guys who couldn't cook. I actually gained weight that summer until right before school started, when my two months of unhealthy eating led to a week in bed with some mystery ailment that I attribute to one too many Quarter Pounder with Cheese. I lost close to 15 pounds over the next seven days and recaptured my pre-Mickey D's figure through unplanned purging and lack of eating. It's not the type of diet that I'd recommend, because I believe my meal choices -- along with some of my college beverage choices -- caused both the weight gain and the subsequent weight loss. Now, to get my fix of McDonald's, I'll sneak a fry or two from my sons and order a fruit and yogurt parfait instead of a caramel sundae with nuts. I miss the days that I could handle a Big Mac every day, because it was satisfying (the week in my sick-bed notwithstanding). In honor of Mr. Bell, I might even try an item from Taco Bell's Fresco Menu when I want to make an unhealthy, but lower-calorie meal choice. Never, ever, will I go back to a diet based on eating at one fast food place for every meal, because as much as I don't like to diet, I also don't like to die. (Photo courtesy of rochelle, et al's Photostream at

Sunday, January 17, 2010

A little redecorating

Sometimes it's good to move the furniture around a bit, get a different haircut, clean out the closet and donate the clothes that no longer fit or are out of fashion. I don't like doing any of these things myself, because they require too much effort and merely highlight my outdated style or laziness. If it were up to me, the couches in our family room would never be moved. I don't like exposing the couch leg indentations in the carpet, because they take forever to go away, plus I find way too many pens, peanuts and paper clips when furniture is moved. I do get a haircut once a month, but it's the same style. Clippers at setting No. 3 on the side, short on top -- just enough so it looks spiky. Low-maintenance; no comb or brush needed, just a little product (gel). As for my clothes, if I can still button or zip them without having to hold my breath and if my uber-white body doesn't show through any holes, they are staying in my closet. This blog, which debuted last year, has had the same look for months. The template was attractive and contemporary, but looking at it every day reminded me that it's leaving couch leg marks in the virtual carpet that is my computer. So today, I dumped the old template and went with this updated, dot-looking thing. The content is the same, just re-packaged. Kind of like most Web content that is "borrowed" from newspapers and "re-purposed" as original, except this is all mine. (Photo courtesy of Hiddenloop's Photostream at

Saturday, January 16, 2010

My hometown of Hollister is not known for its culinary diversity. We have pizza places, Chinese food places, Mexican food places, fast food places and a few sandwich places. There is no real family dining, sit-down-type place like Applebee's or Olive Garden or even Denny's -- though we do have a Jerry's. If we're in the mood for Italian food, we've got to head outside the county. If we are tired of burritos and pepperoni pizza and chow mein, we've got to get in the car and drive for at least 20 minutes to find a different type of restaurant. This afternoon, I noticed that our limited local menu expanded a bit with the opening of a buffet restaurant. Now, if we're lucky, we can get pizza, Chinese, Mexican, fast food and sandwiches all in one, convenient location. Plus, we can eat as much of it as we want. When I was in college, the idea of all-I-could-eat was enticing. Going to Sizzler for the steak and all-you-can-eat shrimp meal was like winning the lottery. The all-you-can-eat salad bar at Wendy's was a Friday tradition for my cash-poor friends and me. Now that I am older and the calories don't burn away like they used to, the idea of refilling my plate repeatedly has lost most of its appeal. I get just as hungry, but I feel twice as full after a big meal. Being the reporter that I am, I do plan to visit the local buffet, at least once, and investigate its offerings. I may regret the decision, because I love to eat more than I should. Fortunately, Pinnacle Urgent Care shares a parking lot with the new buffet, so if I go into a food coma from over-stuffing, my family won't need to call an ambulance. (photo courtesy of Abulic Monkey's Photostream at

Friday, January 8, 2010

Mmm, meat

Eating pork ribs can evoke an ancient, carnal response; turning an ordinary dinner into a gluttonous session of satiation. From the way the meat is ripped from the bone to the dripping sauce and shreds of meat stuck between one's teeth, it's like a medieval feast --albeit with place settings, napkins and indoor plumbing. I had a half-rack of ribs for dinner tonight, and it was good. Ordering a side salad and and iced tea may not have been the most manly way to accompany the meal, but I went through three napkins during my feast and I had to wash my hands when I got home so I wouldn't wake up the next day smelling of barbecue sauce. The irony of eating meat off animal bones with my hands was that after futilely wiping off my fingers with a napkin, I had to tear open the tiny "moist towelette" pouch to finish the job, leaving my tasting tools lemony-fresh. I didn't care though, my belly was full and I felt like Fred Flintstone after polishing off some car-tipping Brontosaurus ribs. It was a testosterone party, with a hint of lemon scent. (photo courtesy of izik's Photostream at

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

I want the real thing

It has become a running joke in my family that every time I decide to order a Coke at a restaurant the waiter or waitress says, "Is Pepsi alright?" In my younger, less discerning days, I would either say "that's fine" or "yeah, sure." As I've gotten older, however, I've realized that if I feel like drinking a Coke and ordering a Coke, I want a Coke. When I order orange juice, I don't want to hear, "Would apple juice be OK?" When I order a steak, don't tell me, "The chicken's really good tonight. Will that work?" In this week's column, I address my drink ordering issue in more depth. I also mention how my dad, being the nice guy that he is, prefers to reverse to server-servee roles and put the decision in the hand of the wait-person. If he wants a cola, he'll now ask for "Coke/Pepsi." If he's in the mood for a clear soda, the list gets longer. "Sprite/7Up/Sierra Mist." He gives the list and lets the waiter or waitress pick the beverage. It's ingenious, and a bit of a cop out at the same time. But hey, I'll drink to that. (photo courtesy of Orin Zebest's Photostream at

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Putting pride aside

I am nowhere near the exercise fiend that my wife is. If she says she's going to the gym, she's going to the gym. She's like the post office -- neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays my wife from the swift completion of her rounds at the exercise machines. If there were an earthquake that destroyed the gym, I believe she would climb through the rubble, dust off the seat of a spin bike, and get to work. I, too, am like the post office in that it takes me a couple of days to deliver on my promise of going to work out. Since the turn of the new year, I have been to Gold's Gym three times in five days; and for that I am proud. Today, putting male pride aside, I even joined my wife for a 40-minute, instructor-guided session on the spin bikes. I insisted that we set up at the back of the room so the other participants would not have to watch me struggle. As it turns out, I rather enjoyed the workout. While I was the only male in this session, I didn't feel out of place. Everyone was there to burn calories and work up a sweat, so they didn't care what the person next to them or behind them was doing. We were all just trying to keep pace with the instructor. I was trying not to look like a quitter, or more importantly, die. My workout fiendishness will never approach that of my wife, but if I can go postal (in an exercise sense) just a fraction of the amount that she does, I think it'll deliver some results. (photo courtesy of kretyen's Photostream at

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Lose games, not perspective

My seventh-and eighth-grade basketball team lost its first game of the year this evening, stinking up the gym in a four-point loss to another local team. We played poorly and uninspired and deserved to lose. As the coach, I didn't push the right buttons or put the right combinations of players on the court and I take the blame. As I was delivering my post-game speech, I reminded the players that sometimes losing can be beneficial. They, of course, looked at me skeptically, as they -- like me and their parents in the stands -- much prefer winning to losing. But players and coaches and parents need to experience the bitter taste of defeat in order to appreciate the sweetness of victory. I reminded my team to remember the way that they felt when the buzzer sounded to end the game and use that for motivation when they practice this week. It's easy to handle winning. It's not so easy to handle losing. If they learn to win with grace and turn the feeling of disappointment after a loss into motivation, then losing now and then has its benefits. We don't get salaries for this or covered by the media or criticized on sports blogs. We play for an hour on Sundays and hope to win as much as we can while having fun in the process. Our success ultimately will be defined by improvement, though judged by our record. The coaches, players and parents can all learn from losing. None of us like it or hope for it, but if we use defeat as a lesson, the perspective gained will be the victory. (photo courtesy of j9sk9s' Photstream at

Friday, January 1, 2010

Welcome to Twenty Ten

I woke up this morning 10 hours after 2010 began, ready to take on the new year and new decade, even with my lingering uncertainty over what to call either of them. Is the year, 2010, supposed to be pronounced "twenty ten" or "two thousand ten?" And what decade are we in? "The tens" sounds odd. "The teens?" That doesn't work because the years 2010, 2011, and 2012 aren't teens. As my first in-year resolution, I settled this morning on calling this year "twenty ten." Even though I called last year "two thousand nine" which would mean that "two thousand ten" would be the natural follow-up, "twenty ten" sounds better to me, so that's what it'll be. My second big decision of the year (the first was whether to use Log Cabin syrup or grandma's homemade syrup on my waffles -- grandma won) was solidified when I read on that the National Association of Good Grammar has decreed that 2010 should be pronounced "twenty ten." I'm glad when my grammatical choices, or any choices for that matter, are affirmed by a fancy-sounding organization. So with that debate settled, I know need to figure out what to call this decade. In this month's issue of The New Yorker, Rebecca Mead asks in The Talk of The Town column what we should call the just-completed ten-year period. "We still don't have a good collective name for the first decade of the twenty-first century," she writes. "At least, not one beyond 'the first decade of the twenty-first century'." Mead mentioned options such as "the ohs," "the zips" and "the nadas," before saying "the aughts" is likely the posthumous name for the time period. Fine, that works for me. As for the years 2010-2019, we've got 10 years to figure that out, so I'm not going to worry about it on the first day of the decade. (photo courtesy of Optical Illusions' Photostream at