Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Death Sentence Known as Scleroderma

Kayla : Black and white beautiful teen girlImage by tibchris via Flickr

The Internet has been a great tool in bringing people together. Recently I found my childhood friend, Julie, on the Internet and we hooked up on Facebook. While catching up with each other, she informed me that her 17-year-old daughter, Kelly, has been suffering with a disease called Scleroderma. Since I had never heard of it, she graciously spent some time chatting with me.

According to Julie, "Kelly was diagnosed with it at the age of 17. She was told "we don't know what causes it and don't know how to cure it. So you may just as well sit back and wait to die." Doctors also told us that as long as it affects the outer skin layer all is well, but if it affects the major organs than it is life threatening. And for Kelly, it has affected her organs in the last few years."

Julie mentioned that there is a Scleroderma Research and Awareness Act now on the docket of Congress. The Scleroderma Foundation has requested that an act be passed to approve funds for research on Scleroderma. If this act is passed, people like Julie's daughter can possibly get the help they so badly need. Too many doctors are still unaware of this disease and not enough research has been done in order to help people like Kelly. Julie said, "If we can make our congressmen aware of this act then we should have a better chance on getting it passed."

"It's especially hard when you have no clue if your daughter will last a month, a year or ten years. And for all of the other mothers out there whose children are just being diagnosed, I want them to have a better fighting chance than I believe my daughter received. And I want them never, ever to hear the words "We don't know what causes it, don't know how to cure it, so sit back and wait to die." To a child of 17, that is nothing more than a death sentence that never gets out of their head."

"Kelly wants a normal life, to have children and all. But so far doctors have no clue if she will be able to use her organs; due to too much collagen her organs do not expand and contract normally. Her stomach has been affected the most and there has never been a successful stomach transplant ever done."

"The reason I am reaching out to you on this is because I know you have a large audience that reads your work and I am hoping for all to be enlightened on this disease and to ask for help on getting this act passed."

I asked Julie "How has Kelly been through all this? She sounds like a very brave young girl."

Julie told me, "She has her good days and her bad days. And yes, she is brave but also scared because she does not always understand what is happening. She wants for the two of us to go to a conference in Boston that is supposed to be directed at educating those afflicted with Scleroderma. Since she does not always understand what they are saying she wants me to go with her if we can pull it off financially."

And so my good readers,


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Friday, February 26, 2010

Balboa Park, Jewel of a City, Gem of a Nation - A Photo Essay by Patty Mooney

Here is a view of Balboa Park from inside the Museum of Man looking west.

This is the top of the Arboretum which is filled with all kinds of luscious plants and flowers.

Orchids flourish in the Arboretum in the Spring.

The Lotus pond is filled with Koi and is the centerpiece of the park. Kids love watching the fish dart under the floating lotus plants.

A few years ago someone came to the park and allegedly dumped their aquarium into the pond, thus killing off all the koi. It was very sad. The pond had to be emptied and then restocked. But I don't feel it was ever the same.

The Prado walkway gives the impression that it goes on into Infinity.

The San Diego Museum of Art hosts many interesting exhibitions.

This bright red sculpture by Calder graces the sculpture garden outside a small cafe where you can buy a cup of soup and a sandwich and enjoy your day.

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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

A Time of Reckoning - by Anonymous

Okay, I admit it - I was in tears by the end of this. I only wish I knew who wrote this, because it is pure and utter hilariousness. But no one has owned up. I guess we'll have to chalk this up to "Anonymous." If anybody knows who the author is, please tell me! - Patty

I went to Lowe’s recently while not being altogether sure that course of action was a wise one. You see, the previous evening I had prepared and consumed a massive quantity of my patented 'you're definitely going to s**t yourself' road-kill chili. Tasty stuff, albeit hot to the point of being painful, which comes with a written guarantee from me that if you eat it, the next day both of your butt cheeks WILL fall off.

Here's the thing. I had awakened that morning, and even after two cups of coffee (and all of you know what I mean) nothing happened. No 'Watson's Movement 2'. Despite habanera peppers swimming their way through my intestinal tract, I was unable to create the usual morning symphony referred to by my dear wife as 'thunder and lightning'.

Knowing that a time of reckoning HAD to come, yet not sure of just when, I bravely set off for Lowe’s, my quest being paint and supplies to refinish the den. Upon entering the store at first all seemed normal. I selected a cart and began pushing it about dropping items in for purchase. It wasn't until I was at the opposite end of the store from the restrooms that the pain hit me.

Oh, don't look at me like you don't know what I'm talking about. I'm referring to that 'Uh, Oh, S***, gotta go' pain that always seems to hit us at the wrong time..
The thing is, this pain was different. The habaneras in the chili from the night before were staging a revolt.

Atomic bombing of Nagasaki on August 9, 1945.Image via Wikipedia

In a mad rush for freedom they bullied their way through the small intestines, forcing their way into the large intestines, and before I could take one step in the direction of the restrooms which would bring sweet relief, it happened. The peppers fired a warning shot.

There I stood, alone in the paint and stain section, suddenly enveloped in a noxious cloud the likes of which has never before been recorded. I was afraid to move for fear that more of this vile odor might escape me.

Slowly, oh so slowly, the pressure seemed to leave the lower part of my body, and I began to move up the aisle and out of it, just as a red aproned clerk turned the corner and asked if I needed any help.

I don't know what made me do it, but I stopped to see what his reaction would be to the malodorous effluvium that refused to dissipate.. Have you ever been torn in two different directions emotionally? Here's what I mean, and I'm sure some of you at least will be able to relate.

I could've warned that poor clerk, but didn't. I simply watched as he walked into an invisible, and apparently indestructible, wall of odor so terrible that all he could do before gathering his senses and running, was to stand there blinking and waving his arms about his head as though trying to ward off angry bees.

This, of course, made me feel terrible, but then made me laugh. .......BIG mistake!!!!!

Here's the thing. When you laugh, it's hard to keep things 'clamped down', if you know what I mean. With each new guffaw an explosive issue burst forth from my nether region. Some were so loud and echoing that I was later told a few folks in other aisles had ducked, fearing that someone was robbing the store and firing off a shotgun.

Suddenly things were no longer funny. 'It' was coming, and I raced off through the store towards the restrooms, laying down a cloud the whole way, praying that I'd make it before the grand mal assplosion took place.

Luck was on my side. Just in the nick of time I got to the john, began the inevitable 'Oh my gosh', floating above the toilet seat because my butt is burning SO BAD, purging. One poor fellow walked in while I was in the middle of what is the true meaning of 'Shock and Awe'. He made a gagging sound, and disgustedly said, 'Son-of-a-bitch!, did it smell that bad when you ate it?', then quickly left.

Once finished and I left the restroom, reacquired my partially filled cart intending to carry on with my shopping when a store employee approached me and said, 'Sir, you might want to step outside for a few minutes. It appears some prankster set off a stink bomb in the store. The manager is going to run the vent fans on high for a minute or two which ought to take care of the problem.'

My smirking of course set me off again, causing residual gases to escape me. The employee took one sniff, jumped back pulling his shirt up to cover his nose and, pointing at me in an accusing manner shouted, 'IT'S YOU!', then ran off returning moments later with the manager. I was unceremoniously escorted from the premises and asked none too kindly not to return

Home again without my supplies, I realized that there was nothing to eat but leftover chili, so I consumed two more bowls. The next day I went to shop at Home Depot. I can't say anymore about that because we are in court over the whole matter.

Bastards claim they're going to have to repaint the store.

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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Rocking the Vineyards of Sonoma - by Alan Watt

So how is it that a chronic rocker musician nee mandolin player fell into the wine business, and after 20 years plus experience, went on to produce wines that his wine clients of 15 years and more, would laud as being undervalued in price?

It could be better to ask how it is that people got into buying wine with “critters” on the label?

As a life-long musician, I originally came up to Sonoma County in northern California to study music at the local state university in 1975, just as the wine business here was really getting going. Throughout the early 80’s, as I was involved with the local music scene, I watched the industry take a higher profile, as vineyards were developed and wineries built throughout Sonoma County.

Almost as a fluke, I fell into the wine business in 1987, working as a wine broker for Windsor Vineyards. Working primarily on the phone, I developed great relationships across the strata of wine drinkers, both business to business and personal (including Patty & Marc), consulting on corporate events, with private collectors, and even the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Fruits and vegetables, rich in vitamins, potas...Image via Wikipedia

My path in the wine business became two-fold, focusing on marketing, sales, customer relations, etc, and learning about viniculture, because the mantra is:”Good wine is made in the vineyards”. It’s all about the grapes. So I learned (in some cases, at the same time the growers and winemakers did) about the different appellations (recognized, registered wine growing districts), what the geography, geology, weather temperatures, grape/flavor profile characteristics were of each of them, how that influenced the resulting wine, and much more. I also increased my knowledge about making wine, as modern techniques were developed and some European technology started to be implemented.

In addition, I investigated noted vineyards/producers in these areas, trying to find out who the benchmarks were who showed up on the radar, and other similar producers whose wines were just as good/unique and also had a lot of value in the marketplace.

Several years ago I joined forces with a long-time friend and colleague in the wine business and life, Jim Stout. He’s the owner of The Wine Source, where along with the well-recognized names in California wines, we bring some of the smaller, family owned labels to the table. A lot of these labels are so small they either don’t have a formal tasting room, or don’t own a winery, doing their work at facilities that take on outside work, called custom-crush facilities.

Even though I’ve lived here in Wine Country for over 30 years, for the longest time, I didn’t have a desire to grow grapes, make wine, see my name on a wine bottle, or own a winery. I would leave those headaches to others. A favorite expression/joke here is a leftover from vaudeville days: “How do you make a small fortune in the wine business? Start off with a large fortune.”

However, one of my neighbors and friends here in Green Valley in the heart of the Russian River Valley (he‘s also a bandmate, leading the band we play in, Bottle Shock. Yes, that is a winemaking term), is Bob Appleby, local winemaker. He’s also the proprietor of Atascadero Creek Winery, his own micro-winery, where he makes small lots of pinot noir, merlot, zinfandel, syrah, sangoviese, and sauvignon blanc. I had the opportunity to help him with crush for a few years, learning a few things along the way, and by 2005 found myself bit by the winemaking bug (no pesticide known to man can kill it, reportedly).

After talking with Jimmy, who also had a desire to produce a bottle, we decided to empty the bank accounts and go gambling without driving all the way up to Tahoe. Early in 2006, we put the word out to all the people we knew in the wine business that we were looking for fruit, wine in barrels, etc. We were very fortunate to be given access to some top-notch cabernet sauvignon and syrah fruit from Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma County. We made four wines; a great, full-bodied cabernet sauvignon (and a reserve version of it, held longer in oak), a syrah, and a cabernet-syrah blend we called Nirvana. Because we used abstract art, we decided to call the label Abstract. Each wine was made in a small lot of under 150 cases. And the vineyards we got the fruit from were subsequently plowed under, hence the label read “Extinct Vineyard”.

We brought them around to 20 people we knew in the wine business, in lab sample bottles, with a comparison wine that retailed at $52-55/bottle. On each of the wines, the majority of our tasters’ panel gave our wines the thumbs up (before knowing we made the wine). We then released the wines in late June of 2008, and within just a couple of months, we knew, by the client reactions and re-orders, that we had succeeded in making a noteworthy wine that had a lot of value (They were originally priced at $29/btl, and the reserve cabernet, released later, went at $35). By November of that year, we had sold out of the cabernet and the Nirvana blend (there’s a few cases left of the Syrah that’s been released as a library release).

We also that year, through a long-time relationship with vineyard owner Dick Aubert, got the opportunity to lease a very unique, ultra-high quality cabernet sauvignon source in Napa Valley, on Spring Mountain. The 2.5-acre vineyard only produces approximately .8 ton of fruit, equal to about 75 cases. This vineyard is right next door to a well known cult cabernet vineyard that produces a $250/btl wine. Remember, I said “It’s all about the grapes”. The wine we fashioned from these dry-farmed vines is ultra-premium in quality and presentation, and is well-loved by our clients (it’s $99/btl).

We have gone on to make a 2007 Napa Valley Cabernet and 2007 version of the Nirvana, plus the Spring Mountain Cabernet. In 2008, we made both a Sauvignon Blanc (with Lake County fruit) and a really good Russian River Valley Chardonnay (No Spring Mt. cabernet that year; we lost the crop in a heat spike. Thus is farming).

Last year, Jim and I discussed future endeavors, launching a higher-end label (expanding on the Stout label, which the Spring Mt. cabernet is bottled under), and the fact that we have satisfied that itch to make wine. We will continue to do so, concentrating on getting our hands on the best fruit we possibly can (afford) while also staying focused on continuing to bring lots of value to the table.

Of course, we continue also to search out, taste, and offer wines from other small producers and wineries in California, and occasionally, elsewhere. I believe in the coming year or two, there will be a lot of pretty good wine at the mid to upper twenties (per bottle), because a significant part of the premium ‘09 vintage will show up in the bulk market. For example, a fair amount of growers I know of couldn’t sell their fruit and had it made into wine.

I am still very active playing music, though most of my efforts are playing mandolin and lap steel guitar in Bottle Shock. I’ve even gone so far as to write a wine business-related song, about a former winery owner who liked his product a little too much, losing the family legacy:

I don’t care about the bottle shock

I’m gonna drink right here, in the parking lot.

I know this dirt on every vine

Meet me here at the end of the line.

“Bottle Shock” c.2008 A.Watt

Maybe I’ll see you someday up here in Wine Country (better yet, in West County), and I promise you, it won’t be at the end of the line!

-Alan Watt
You can email Alan at
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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Happy Fat Tuesday!

Here's me singing at a wedding in New Orleans about ten years ago with a real live New Orleans band! I remember it was an old blues song, "Give It Up," a la Bonnie Raitt.

There is something magical about commanding a microphone in cities like Nashville and New Orleans, and singing your heart out (albeit with top on).

Sunday, February 14, 2010

My Lover's First Love Letter to Me

I just found Mark's first love letter to me dated ten days after we first met on Valentine's Day of 1982. Now that it's been 28 years together, we both felt that it was time to share it with the world! Amazing how time has had its way with the notebook paper.... and I suppose.... with us, too. :)

So Happy Valentines' Day everyone. May you have a wondrous and joyous time on Valentines' Day and always.

- Patty & Mark

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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A Chocolatier Like No Other - by Patty Mooney

I think we all know that chocolate is the nectar of the planet. Without love, music, art and chocolate, would life even be worth living? (Oh, and wine, too, of course.)

I first met Mariella Balbi at San Diego's Hillcrest Farmer's Market back in 2003. I had been frequenting the market on various Sundays for years. But suddenly, the Guanni Chocolates tent greeted my eyes, with its wondrous confections, like the carnival that Tony Randall pulls out of his pocket in "The Seven Faces of Dr. Lao."

You do not have to say "gorgeous mind-altering chocolates" twice to me. I know a good thing when I see it! So I bought a couple of truffles that first Sunday and Mariella's handiwork instantaneously rose to number one on my list of Best Chocolates on Earth.

Over the years, Mariella and I became better acquainted. She told me that her family hailed from Peru, and that she had named her company, Guanni Chocolates (pronounced waa-nee), after her three sons, Gianfranco, Juan Alvaro and Ian. Her Artisan Truffles are hand-rolled and decorated and made with only natural and organic ingredients. You do not ever have to worry about any artificial flavors, preservatives, chemicals or waxes - they're even Gluten-free - and she creates a fresh and flavorful batch of her chocolates each week from her chef's kitchen in Fallbrook.

My personal favorites are the "Cocoroco," a soft bittersweet lemony caramel enrobed in 75% chocolate with Alaea sea salt; and the "Bukare," a Dark Velvety Truffle. Mariella makes a wide variety of other truffles, such as the "Loreto" - Passion fruit and apricots in 45% milk chocolate; the "Shaman" - 70% Chocolate, Maca, Goji Berries, enrobed in 75% chocolate and several others.

Just as her business began booming, in 2007, the wildfires of San Diego swallowed up her house and all her family's possessions. Instead of wallowing in self-pity, she handled it like a recipe, step-by-step. She found a new home, recreated her business, and now she is soaring once again, like a condor over Macchu Picchu.

I ran into her this past Sunday at the tent of the sprout vendor. She seemed distracted so I asked what was the matter. She said she had ordered a batch of a particular type of edible flower that would top off her Valentine's truffles, but that the vendor had sold her order to someone else. Now she was trying to figure out what to do, what sort of substitute would work. The sprout vendor was sincerely sorry and wanted to attone for the error, but Mariella still had to figure out what she was going to do about those Valentine's truffles.

I told her that this puzzle would probably lead to the next big thing on her chocolate menu. If she could overcome the ravages of a devastating wildfire, she could certainly fix the flower problem.

Since Valentine's Day falls on a Sunday, maybe I'll meander over to the Farmer's Market and see how those Valentine's Truffles turned out.

Mariella has a website that lists all her chocolates, and if you are not in San Diego, you can still experience her fantastic wares. Go to Guanni Chocolates and see for yourself.
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Monday, February 8, 2010

Signs of Water at the San Diego River - A Photo Essay by Mark Schulze and Patty Mooney

There was another big rainfall here in San Diego on Saturday. Sunday was gorgeous with clean, blue skies and intermittent sunshine, so Mark and I decided to hike Mission Trails again to check out the waterfalls that briefly exist along the San Diego River. We have long suffered drought conditions in San Diego, so evidence of flowing water is a very big deal here.

A hiker stops to contemplate the swollen San Diego River.

These metates are where Native Americans once crushed acorns to use for cooking.

This vernal pool will be completely dried up by late Spring.

A view of Mission Dam facing east.

We come upon a series of small falls as we hike alongside the river.

I think these large rock faces really do look like faces.

Maybe the lure of wild waters really speaks to the fact that we humans are comprised of mostly water. What do you think?

A view of Mission Dam facing west, as we finish the hike and stroll back to our car.

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Wednesday, February 3, 2010

My Summer of Poetry

My affection for writing poetry goes back to when I was in high school and came across a book of poems that belonged to my mom called "The Green Leaf and The Gray" by J.P. Irvine. It was published in 1891 and contained some of the most flowery rhymed poems I have seen, and yet it catapulted me into places I had never been before, in ways I had never known. It moved me. I was hooked. I wanted to be a poet.

Image of Carolyn Forche from FacebookImage of Carolyn Forche

When I went to college at Michigan State University a couple of years later I signed up for a poetry class with Carolyn Forche, who is now a very well regarded and award-winning poet whose work is quite amazing. She was kind enough to mentor me and she even helped me obtain a waiter's scholarship at the highly-acclaimed Bread Loaf Writer's Conference. According to a current New Yorker, these days "the most coveted scholarships to Bread Loaf are the 25 "Waiterships", in which promising writers earn their keep by serving three meals a day to the paying guests."

You know how it is said that "Hindsight is 20-20" and "Youth is wasted on the young?" When I look back at that summer, I only wish I knew then what I know now! I would have totally shmoozed those iconic poets and writers - including luminaries Robert Pack, Marvin Bell, Rosellen Brown, John Gardner, William Gass, Anthony Hecht, Mark Strand and Mona Van Duyn. But I was painfully shy, so while serving coffee to Marvin Bell and John Gardner, it was all about providing cream and sugar while feeling drenched in the cold sweat of adrenaline just to be in their presence.

I don't remember much about that summer other than a few sparkling moments: playing volleyball with the other waitstaff, hiking on a moonlit night to a lake so black and still that I couldn't tell the sky from the water, enjoying a little Middlebury nightlife in a local pub, and forging friendships with other young writers.

After the conference ended, my adventures continued as I hitchhiked east to Cape Cod and worked as a waitress at the Chatham Bars Inn for a couple of weeks until the summer officially ended there.

Over the next few years, I grew stubborn about being a poet. I quit college despite pending scholarships, in order to hitchhike to California and make my fortune as a writer. The plan didn't go altogether as smoothly as I had imagined, but all my "mis-steps" became fodder for the pen, and I don't regret any of it. Through it all I have continued to love poetry but I do not expect to make a living from it! I inject poetry in the video scripts I write, and the videos I produce, and from time to time publish a poem on an ezine or share one here on my blog. While I still consider myself a poet, I also play many other roles such as video producer, sound technician, editor, blogger, mountain biker, world traveler, knitter, artist, friend, wife, lover.

Poetry was the white horse with flowing mane that I rode on to get to the place where I am today, happy and content with the love of my life, playing and working together. Thank you to all the poets I have encountered in my life, showing me a remarkable world and allowing me to be part of it.

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