Saturday, June 28, 2014


I imagine they’d had a time of it, getting then then-new leather chair up into the attic they rented in Glendale.  It was 1947 and Mom and Dad had just married.  Their combined incomes went into that chair and a used Chevy sedan for Mom.  Dad would continue to bike to his job at the post office.

I came along in 1952 and in about 1954 or 55, I imagine, I would crawl up on Dad’s lap in the big leather chair.  He’d set down his smoldering pipeful of Half ‘n’ Half (half Burleigh, half Bright, marketed by US Tobacco) and read “Make Way for the Ducklings,” my favorite book, or “If I Ran the Zoo,” my second favorite book because Dr. Seuss mentions my birthday in it. 

The leather chair was huge with ample room for the two of us and later, the two of us plus Ernie the beagle.  Countless times the pungent smell of the leather sent my head swirling and, along with Dad’s cadence, it was probably the last thing I sensed as a fell asleep.  Sometimes I’d be spirited off to bed and sometimes he’d slip out from under me I’d awake in the corner of his chestnut colored throne.

Time passed.  The family moved north.  I grew bigger.  Mom decided the old piece could use a freshening.  Frugally, she chose something known as Naugahyde.  Sticky.  Cold.  Sterile.  Lacking aroma.  Naugahyde.  Vinyl.  (But easy to wipe clean.)  In the 90s, Dad died.

By this time, I’d moved away – off building a career somewhere away from home.  Off with a family of my own.  Visiting the old homestead, I sought out the chair but never sat in it.  Not sure if that’s because it belonged to Dad and it wasn’t the same without him, or if the sterile glove of the artificial surface was off putting.

More time passed and Mom found herself liquidating some the family’s furnishings.  “Either of you boys want anything?”  I wanted the chair.  I don’t know why.  It was ugly, decrepit and – did I mention? – covered in vinyl.

I loaded the thing into the back of my pickup.

Up the road from my current house a few miles there is a furniture restoration place.  I’d visited and thought, perhaps I’d have them give it a look.

“Sure,” they said.  “We can do it up nice.”  I left with a claim slip.  On the way home, all the details about the chair that I hadn’t mentioned came to mind.  The pleats in the ends of the arms.  The rustic nails trimming the base.  The seven or so buttons securing tucks in the back.  They assured me they’d restore it, but I wasn’t sure to what.

After a time the call came in that the thing was done.  “We know you’re gonna love it.  We do.”  Then the person added, “Everyone on the staff likes to use it at break time.  It sits real nice.  You’ll see.”

Heart in my throat, thinking about Dad and ducklings and Dr. Seuss and the details I didn’t share, I arrived at the restorer.  They led me to the workroom, a workspace in the store partitioned by a bed sheet.  Staff gathered to see my face, they pulled back the curtain.


Gently, they loaded it into the truck, lovingly covering and tying it in.  With a subtle sense of loss, they bid Dad’s chair good-bye insisting I drive straight home to minimize it’s time in the sun.

It is evening now.  I’ve been in and out of the old piece a dozen times since I brought it in.  Something isn’t quite right.  Not the workmanship: that’s perfect.  Not the leather: it’s beautiful and smells just the way it did sixty years ago.  Maybe, if I got a copy of “Ducklings” and read it?  What if I found an old pipe, stuff it with some Half ‘n’ Half and smoked it?  I sat in the thing pondering and pondering some more.

Enters my wife: “That thing doesn’t look all that big to me,” she commented.  “You sure that’s the chair Grandpa Clayton put you to sleep in?”
I stood up this time sizing the piece up in the face of reality.   I guess it was never huge – after all, it had to fit into an attic in Glendale back in 1947.  But just the same, it is still perfect.


Make Way for the Ducklings.  Robert McCloskey. 1941

About Naugahyde:  (Yep, they’re still makin’ the stuff.)

The craftspeople who restored Dad’s chair?  Sipes Tahoe:  Located on I-80 in Newcastle, California, these folks offer an eclectic mix of antiques and collectable furniture along with an attention to detail that is rare to find and a joy to behold.  Check ‘em out at: and be sure to look at their restoration page.

© 2014
Church of the Open Road Press


On the 100th anniversary of the event that catapulted Europe into the Great War, the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, it is fitting that we should remember that the world is still paying for the spoils of that conflict.  During the war, the great powers of Britain and France decided exactly who would get which parts of the Middle East after the assumed victory was assured.  As colonizers, they drew straight lines across a region rich with history, cultures and ethnicities those men with the straight edge and ink pens knew little or nothing about.

In Robert Kaplan’s book, The Revenge of Geography, we are reminded that peoples likely develop societies along courses of rivers and those societies are divided by ranges of mountains.  Rivers provided ancient trade routes while mountains were crossed with risk of peril. People of like mind and religious beliefs clustered in places that could be farmed of game harvested. Clashes over territory lay at the frontiers, rarely involving the engagement of large forces.

But the European colonizers took little of this into consideration.  Rather, they sought land, the resource wealth buried therein governed by a friendly leader.  The results were those straight lines clustering unlike tribes into unsustainable nations.

Today, modern western powers that should know better, continue to demand by force that those nations stand, while within many, a deadly struggle among those original tribal societies rages.  Sunni.  Shiite.  Kurd.  And a bunch of others.

The current crisis in Iraq (and Syria) is described as a militant band of terrorists bent on over-throwing a duly elected representative government.  The facts may be different.  The duly elected government may be little more than one group placed into power struggling to maintain its control by subjugating the others.  And we say, “C’mon, guys.  Try to work together.”  Implied is: Or we’ll take sides.

Violent and ugly as it is turning out to be, perhaps the disintegration of the nations erected with straight edge and quill during World War I is actually the reestablishment of the nations existing prior to Europe’s meddling there.

While my argument here is a gross simplification, Kaplan explains how geography wins time and time again when the quest for domination ignores the globe’s natural system of boundaries and bounty.

This is a technical read – more scholarly than I am used to – but one worth wading through if we are to have a better view of the hows and the whys of so many of the world’s current conflicts.


The Revenge of Geography : Robert D. Kaplan (Random House, 2012, $16.00)

Tuesday, April 22, 2014


“How did you find us?”  The woman stepped from the shadows of the steel warehouse.  I dismounted and was removing a yellow Scheuberth that had rendered a hotspot to my forehead.  She repeated:  “How did you find us?”

I’d been exploring off-freeway lanes near my new Sonoma County digs and had taken a westerly turn onto Mountain House Road in Hopland.  “The poppies.”  I pointed to a small stand of poppies planted where the asphalt apron at Terra Sávia abuts the roadway.  “I was thinking of getting a shot of my bike with the poppies in the foreground.”

“That’s a beautiful bike,” she said as I peered into the shadows of the warehouse.

I stepped inside.  A few pallets of cased goods sat close by next to a table with an adding machine and some strewn papers.  As my eyes adjusted from daylight to warehouse light, a few more pallets came into view.  To the left was a tasting bar.

“Like to try some olive oil?  It’s all Italian varietals.”

“Just like the bike,” I said.

Terra Sávia is a wholly organic small operation specializing in estate grown wines – cabs, pinots, merlots, a nice Meritage (rhymes with “heritage”) and a non-oaked chardonnay; Italian varietal olive oils from trees on the property; and wildflower honey from their own stash of bees.  

Striking is the olive press imported from the home country.  The machine is active in October where Terra Sávia organics are first crushed, then fruit from other local growers.

Wandering through the facility, I see that local artisans display seating and tables, all far too big to be packed away on a motorcycle.  Flat art festoons the walls and a classic Porsche begs one to salivate.  

Outside, a rustic cabin awaits those wishing to stay for an overnight experience.

I purchased a bottle of Tuscan oil and set to stowing it in the Joe Rocket seat pack on the motorcycle.  

“Do you need a bag?” the proprietress asked.  “Is it padded enough?  Moto Guzzi.  Where did you say that bike came from?”

“About two hundred miles north of the rootstock for your olive trees.”

And the conversation ensued.  Guzzi and BMW tourers know the routine…

I didn’t taste wine on my first visit because I don’t do alcohol – even a sip – if I’m riding the bike.  But I did return a few days later with family.  I’d been charmed not only by the honest, small operation feel of Terra Sávia, but also by the woman who showed such great interest in the Guzzi.

She recognized me as the fellow from earlier in the week as she poured first the Chard, then the reds.  More conversation.  More exploration.  More of that honest, small operation, down-to-earth, workin’ the land goodness.

Folks touring US 101 out of the Bay Area and north of Santa Rosa: this is a stop not to be missed.  (Open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.)


Two footnotes:
The Mertiage complements nicely a grilled peppered New York Strip Steak.  I drool as I type this.
I need to go back and get that picture of the Guzzi amid the poppies.

Info about this unique and interesting little place is found at:

Today’s Route:
US 101 South from Eureka, Willets, Ukiah or North from SF, Santa Rosa, Healdsburg to Hopland.  West on Mountain House Road at the burger joint.  Look for the Terra Sávia sign on the right.

© 2014
Church of the Open Road Press

Monday, March 31, 2014

Review: Spirit of Steamboat

Craig Johnson has been known to travel to book signings on his BMW R1100GS, a precursor to my trusty steed.  That would be good enough for me.  But, bonus upon bonus, his Walt Longmire series has proven to be good fun.  While, from one tale to the next, there may be some better or less better plot lines, the stories and the characters are quite engaging; many of whom the reader cares about more than the ultimate outcome.

Most of the Longmire series are traditional Who-Done-Its with subplots based upon cultural or societal issues played out on a vast and breathtaking Wyoming landscape.

Enter the novel “Spirit of Steamboat,” where the issue isn’t about catching some creepy villain, but rather how might the crew of an aging Mitchell B-25 (like what my dad worked on in WWII) might survive a 1988 life flight mission through the teeth of the worst storm the Rockies had seen in decades.

In this short piece we find the answer to tantalizing questions about characters Johnson introduced in his previous mysteries.  Because of the flashback nature of this composition, we should figure that we already know the outcome, but how the outcome is achieved is more than worth the price of admission. 

This is a marvelous use of twenty bucks and about three hours.  See your local, independent bookseller.


Spirit of Steamboat.  Craig Johnson. Viking Press. 2013. $20.

© 2014
Church of the Open Road Press

Sunday, March 30, 2014


Nearly five years into a blissful retirement, I’ve been tapped to serve as in interim principal for the final eight weeks of the current school year.  So much to catch up on!  Working from home – because I’m not officially on site yet – I spent a day reviewing administration instructions for the trial test of the new Common Core Standards which will be given to my students later in April and May.  Recall that the Common Core curriculum was a result of several governors and state superintendents of schools efforts to ensure that kids in Mississippi moving to Oregon would not miss a beat in the transition. 

No Tea Party folks: it is NOT an initiative of the current presidential administration.  But even if it were, it’d still be a good thing.

My take?  The new assessment gets an undeserved black eye probably because it tries to accomplish too much.  Many of the test items are far better than the old fill in the bubble assessments of my day.  The new ones are an honest effort to measure student learning at a level on Blooms Taxonomy above simple knowledge.  After all, if we are to produce citizens capable of problem solving and creative thinking, we have to focus on understanding, application, analysis – all those higher-level cognitive skills.

The test is an attempt to measure those.  But it is probably asking too much, too soon for a couple of reasons: 

1) While many public schools have made major strides toward equipping all students with higher cognitive skills, until just the other day, we assessed kids (and ourselves) using the old spit-back-the-info assessment, largely because it is easy to score.  The sheer difference in the new assessment’s protocols is daunting, and

2) The use of computers to gather student responses may make the assimilation of performance data more efficient, but the means by which students interact with the assessment on line will be a stumbling block.  A teacher could take hours just to train kids how to take the test – and that’s time taken away from providing experience and exercise with the curriculum.  Add to that the fallibility of many school’s tech systems and we come to understand staff trepidation about the whole process.

So while we’re moving in the right direction, a meaningful assessment will take time to arrive.  We will have to endure the pain of this new model, hopefully only for as long as it takes for the education community to hone a revised one.

How might that revised assessment look?  How about fewer questions?  How about having questions be project-based in nature where students would have to access their knowledge-based learning and apply it to a scenario or circumstance?  How about an examination limited to ten (yep, only 10) in-depth questions or problems – five in English language arts/fine arts and five in math/science and allowing the student pick only three (at least one from ELA/FA and one from M/S – the third one being from either area)? How about providing the student with a time block to read about or research the problem (reading comprehension) and a time block to compose or construct a solution (written language)?  The quality of response would inherently indicate the student’s success with knowledge-based factoids like spelling, grammar, and computation.  By the way: Let’s allow kids access to the same tools they’d use in the real world: calculators, maps, charts, graphs, dictionaries…

While the results of such an assessment might be more difficult to get one’s political arms about – especially if one is bent on exposing the failure of the schools to teach students things like “Who is buried in Grant’s tomb?” – they’d certainly give a clearer picture of how students are progressing toward productive, thoughtful, creative citizenship.

Perhaps the biggest impediment to an improved test rests with many of our political decision makers who may lack the skills upon which we’d hope to assess our kids using such a test.  Just perhaps…

© 2014
Church of the Open Road Press

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Review: The Crash of 2016

Those of us who are centrists – although judged by the far-far right to be leftists-liberal-socialists – can conger pretty compelling arguments that corporate America has seized control of the ship of state.  And we can back those concerns up with economic reality and historic reference. 

Many, on the other side of the divide, can’t or won’t.  Far too often, their pronouncements, when laid bare to scrutiny, prove to be little more than throwing crap against a wall and seeing what sticks.  Opposition to the Affordable Care Act, pillaring the IRS, demeaning the unemployed or under-employed, suppressing the minimum wage: all are examples that cannot withstand the weight of logical or historical or economic review.  Still we are bombarded with nonsense about “what the American people want” courtesy minions for an Economic Royalty that cares only for increasing their personal wealth.

Jurist: “How much is enough?”  Gordon Gecko: “More.”

Enter Thom Hartmann – a fellow I read years ago as I was introduced to ADD as an issue I would confront with students as a school principal.  Logic, data, research, reason and care defined the manner in which Hartmann viewed and invited discussion on this critical issue.

Twenty-five-plus books later, Hartmann is applying the same research and data-based approach to his views on our country’s economic condition.  What he sees is not pretty: the impact of big money, the coalition of Wall Street with a major media mogul, the sheep-like ignorance of too much of our populous.  And it is not new.  Hartmann posits that about four generations after a man-contrived catastrophe, that catastrophe will repeat itself.  Example: Market collapse 1929.  Market collapse 2009.  Cause?  The same.

“The only thing we learn from history is that we don’t learn from history.” – Friedrich Hegel

Hartmann would support Hegel presenting gripping data to back up his claims and concerns.  He leaves me to want more for my country, not necessarily more for myself and certainly not more for the Economic Royal-folk who – I agree with him – are, again, seizing control.

“The Crash of 2016” is a frightening look at where we are headed.  It is well worth our time, and our thoughtful consideration.

See your local independent bookseller.


“The Crash of 2016 – The Plot to Destroy America and What We Can Do to Stop It”; Thom Hartmann; Twelve (an imprint of the Hachette Book Group), 2013.  $28.

Monday, March 17, 2014


(Tidbit Number 1)

The niece of my long-time riding buddy is a restaurant critic in the Bay Area.  Dining with her is a delight not only because she is knowledgeable about food and wine pairings, but because instead of chowing down on one wonderful entree with associated sides, we generally taste a smidgeon of this and a dab of that until we’ve enjoyed the best of the entire menu.  Along the way we are charmed by her culinary impressions and delighted by an unexpected flavor.  We’ve learned to savor these adventures.
 California’s State Route 1 from Marin County, along the Pacific shore to its junction with US 101 near Leggett is a 213 mile feast of tide pools, ocean bluffs, quaint villages, lumber towns, fishing harbors and history.  Luscious curves and pretty good pavement make it easy to bat right through it.  I know, because I’ve done so.

Having a new home base closer to the shore, I took a tidbit the other day, instead of the full meal.

The springtime called me to head west on Westside Road out of Healdsburg.  The valley floor is scribed with vineyards and dotted with tasting rooms.  Up the hillsides, verdant coastal forests over a sublime counterpoint as they loom over the farmlands.

At CA 116, we follow the route of the Russian River through redwoods and quaint enclaves.  Liking, as I do, to celebrate a good ride with a good cigar, I stopped in at a “Smoke Shop” in Guerneville, but was informed that if I wanted to get a cigar, I should check the filling station’s convenience store right next door.  Welcome to the Emerald Triangle.

116 heads west to the coast through the charmingly tattered Monte Rio then along a broadening Russian River to its mouth.  About a mile inland, it joins CA 1.  South would be Tomales, Point Reyes and Marin; north (today’s route) would be Jenner, Fort Ross and Stewart’s Point: a mere 26 miles.  Just a tidbit.

I paused in Jenner to find that cigar – again, no luck – then continued north on CA 1.  Three or four miles up the road, the pavement begins to wind and switchback up the hill.   

The endless view beneath an azure canopy prompts a stop for a portrait of the Breva.   

I have pictures of two formers (read: "bikes") at this very point.

Back when our west was young and we were break-necking our way to the Pacific Coast, folks in Central Asia were doing the same thing.  Only they were heading east.  Encountering the ocean, they arced north finding their way to Alaska and its abundant population of otters for pelts.  They moved down the coast, but not so much for a bridgehead for further expansion.  Their intent was to farm the coastal bluffs in order to provide groceries for their far northern colony of trappers.

A bunkhouse, a cookhouse and an orthodox church were built.  Trade was established with the locals (and with John Sutter)... 

...but a Putin-esque raft of firearms was kept oiled and ready should relations falter.  A colonnade was built to encircle the Russian encampment we now know as Fort Ross.

I remember when CA 1 actually traversed through the parade ground – drove through in my VW – but in the 70s, the highway was rerouted in order to preserve this unique piece of California’s heritage.  An interpretive center has been erected and the .3 mile walk to the original site is paved and more than worth the effort.  Pack your camera and your imagination.

State Route 1 continues to spindle north, in and out of rivers’ mouths and up and around bluffs and hills.  The ocean is never far away.  Its mist often drifts across the highway.  The luckiest cattle and sheep on earth graze here – if beef or lamb on the hoof might be considered lucky.

At Stewart’s Point a general store sells gas and freshly prepared baked goods.  On a foggy morn a cup of their coffee goes down particularly well.  On this afternoon, a Stewart’s Classic Root Beer slaked nicely.

My coast tidbit ended here as I coursed east along the famed Stewart’s Point / Skaggs Springs Road.  It tunnels through redwood groves then rises to grassy ridge tops as heads past Lake Sonoma and back to US 101 at Healdsburg.



If you find yourself in San Francisco needing a dash of hipness with your dining, and you really want to impress those who are with you with your where-we-gonna-eat prowess, hook into the Tablehopper for good reviews on Bay Area places you might otherwise never know of.  Bookmark this one:

Info on Fort Ross:


Today’s Route:

From US 101 at Healdsburg, CA: west on Westside Road to CA 116. West on 116 to CA 1.  North on CA 1 to Stewart’s Point.  East on Stewart’s Point Skaggs Springs to the Dry Creek Valley, Healdsburg and US 101.

© 2014
Church of the Open Road Press

Wednesday, March 5, 2014


I’ll tell ya…

I retired from a 35-year career in education five years ago.  Thirty-five years in the classroom, the prinicpal’s chair and the district office?  Hell!  I thought I knew all about it.  

Today, however, I was called upon to conduct a 90-minute “Art Docent” lesson for my wife’s third grade class. It seems the regular docent volunteer was hired to teach in a classroom. (Good for her.)

I took thirty minutes the day I received the docent directional binder and thirty minutes yesterday to review the lesson and then another thirty more this morning. I visited the school yesterday to inventory necessary supplies (they were all there) and showed up about an hour early to prepare a few necessities.

The class of 29 second and third graders proved to be wonderful. For the first thirty minutes, we viewed and talked about six winter or summer themed masterworks that were printed up on hardboard. The objective involved having the learner identify warm and cool colors and interpret how they were used in the pieces displayed.

Eager and insightful to the last lad, it was difficult to cram the discussion into the allotted 35 minutes. Returning from recess – the ten minute period in which I laid out materials – I explained to the students the outcome they might expect, modeled some of the activities in which the kids would be engaged, checked for understanding through questioning, clarified, and along with the teacher and a couple of other adults, monitored the kids’ work.

The forty-five minute work period stretched to fifty and then fifty-five minutes. When time was up, students paraded past me with their finished “masterpieces.” We posted them on the board reviewing our discussion of warm and cool colors.

Soon the bell rung, the kids left and I sighed in relief and weariness. The activity lasted a little over an hour and a half and was quite successful, but I felt liked I’d been drug through a keyhole. I was done. I slipped into the driver’s seat of my Nissan Frontier and just sat there letting the bucketed upholstery caress my aching lower back. Ahhhhh…

The intensity of keeping a bunch of good kids engaged for ninety minutes will knock the pins out from under the most accomplished CEO, business leader, administrator, member of military brass, cop, doc, or postal worker. And yet our teachers do this for six-and-a-half hours. Daily. Five days a week. And outside of that six-and-a-half hours? They plan, correct, evaluate, answer phone calls and, if they're like my wife, probably enjoy a glass of wine over a stack of papers in a room illuminated by a single light bulb at 11:00 PM. 

Next time someone bitches about teachers being slackers sucking at the public teat, ask them to – NO: demand that they actively volunteer for just half a morning. If they respond that their taxes pay for all that needs to be done and that they shouldn’t have to supplement their contribution with their time – time being money and all – they will have exposed themselves as individuals unwilling to examine the weakness in the foundation of their opinion. Caution! This circumstance may precipitate one of those STFU moments you might later regret.

When they do volunteer, however, their tune will surely change. They’ll experience just how hard, how intense and how critical classroom work truly is. They’ll become advocates. And along the way, ALL of our kids will do better.

I’ll be back next month.

© 2014
Church of the Open Road Press

Saturday, March 1, 2014


The sound was of the breeze blowing through bare winter trees – only much louder.  Like a huge, distant orchestra shrouded by a curtain of canyon wall, warming for a performance.  Blended notes.

Canyon wall, to be sure.  I was perched on a paved strip half way up and half way down.  Motorcycle cooling behind me. 

Over the edge I peered. 

The symphony was of water cascading over an ancient, gray concrete dam barricading the American River.  Built to halt debris from upstream mining or timber operations, but halting, momentarily, the river itself.  Rivers are only halted momentarily, if at all. 
Mist from this crashing water wafted up the canyon side and rested on the clear plastic face shield of my black Arai helmet.  I opened it.  Droplets, fresh and pure, coated my face and beard.

In washed the smell of the duff wetted in last night’s rainstorm.  Breathe deeply.
Standing in a nearly vertical shaft of sunlight – the only degree from which sunlight would ever strike this winter canyon ground, viewing the water thundering over the dam, smelling the history of last night’s storm and the history of this place:  Wherever I’ve just ridden is my favorite place to be.
© 2003
Church of the Open Road Press

Wednesday, February 26, 2014



In the 1920s and early 30s, my father lived in Douglas as his family managed the beanery at the railroad depot there.  Across the border, he claimed, a billboard painted on the side of a cantina pitched “Miller High Life – the Champagne of Bottle Beers.”  This early memory was etched into his brain until his dying day in 1995.  For the entire adult portion of his 77 years, he never ordered any cerveza but Miller High Life when eating Mexican food.

At his passing, I added to my bucket list a trip to Douglas in order to peer across the border and confirm or deny his billboard claim.  April of this year it would be scheduled.

Your passage of SB 1062 has changed that schedule.  Regardless of how you parse it, 1062 amends the existing statutes, allowing business owners to deny service to gay and lesbian customers so long as proprietors were acting solely on their religious beliefs.  Since business owners have long been entitled to “reserve the right to refuse business to anyone,” this legislation serves nothing more than to codify discrimination against a particular group of citizens.  The veil of protecting a religious class edges frighteningly toward the tenets of Islamic fundamentalism you elsewhere so vehemently oppose.

If the esteemed legislators in Arizona wish to practice a Judeo-Christian form of Shiriah Law, they are free to do so in their homes and their churches, but a careful reading of the United State’s Constitution’s First Amendment would preclude this from happening in the halls of the State Capital in Phoenix.

Until the legislature demonstrates a grasp of:

·      What is and what is not constitutional,
·      What actions do and do not protect the rights of all citizens, and
·      How discriminatory legislation such as SB 1062 conflicts with Jesus’ principal message of love,

…scheduled visits to Douglas or other part of the state will have to remain on the bucket list.

This is truly sad because I’d really like to enjoy something besides a Miller with my enchiladas.


The Church of the Open Road