Sunday, July 31, 2011

Croatian Valentine's Day Party in July

For about the past 30 years, we have been a part of a group of four Southern California couples who share graduation from the University of Washington and friendship as among our most cherished possessions. We try to meet at least once a year for dinner at one of our homes near Valentine's Day in February.

While the make up of this eclectic group has changed somewhat over the years due to people moving back to Seattle or, in some cases, working in Europe, the energy generated continues decade after decade.

In recent years, as our lives have gotten even more complex, the exact month of Valentine's Day, by necessity, has become, like Hemingway's Paris, "a moveable feast."

Often these affairs have a theme selected by the host couple. I shudder at the thought that it was we, the Contreras family, that started this new twist by hosting a "Famous Love Couples" party one year. We went as Ricky and Lucy . . . type casting.

The hosts this year were Paul and Joanne Sabolic who live in Northridge, California. Paul's grandparents immigrated to Pittsburgh from Crotia in the early part of the 20th Century.

Thus, on Saturday evening, all of these events conspired to bring about our first ever Croatian Valentine's Day Party in July!

The MUCH better halves

From left to right: Laurie Contreras, Susan D'Antuono, Sherlyn Claridge and our hostess Joanne Sabolic

They all were excited to see each other again, no matter how much stress their respective husbands put them through since our last gathering.

The Gentlemen

From left to right: Peter Claridge, me, our host Paul Sabolic and Michael D'Antuono

Lots of UW war stories were exchanged yet again on this spectacular evening. Husky expectations throughout the night for the fast approaching 2011 PAC-12 season ranged anywhere from a modest 6-6 to an overly enthusiastic 14-0 National Championship campaign.

Did I mention that alcohol was served?

Croatian H'orderves


And lots of them to boot.

Paul and Joanne did all of the cooking and everything from these h'orderves to the main dishes and the desserts were delicious.

It turns out that Croation food is primarily meat and potatoes . . . what is not to love about this hardy, filling cuisine?

The Claridges

The D'Antuonos

The Sabolics

The Contrerai (?)


If this isn't Croatia's #1 export, then it damn well should be!

It goes with anything including ice cream and great friends.

Next up is a January 28, 2012 Valentine's Day Party at Casa Contreras in Camarillo all factors permitting.

Remind me again, why don't we get together more often?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

I Return to Sicily . . . "Excursion to Tindari"

No, not physically, just through the eyes of a Sicilian crime novel.

When Denver Wade and his friend Seth dropped by over the weekend, Denver left me a book written by a Sicilian author, Andrea Camilleri.

Camilleri has authored a series of crime novels based on a central character, Inspector Salvo Montalbano of the Vigata Police Force. Vigata is a fictional town that is purportedly near the very real and ancient city of Agrigento.

I have been to Agrigento several times to visit their incredible Greek Temples and Archeaological Museum, so I am somewhat familiar with the area that he writes about in this quick and easy read.

The book included the Mafia, passionate love affairs (Are there any other kinds in Sicily?), kidnappings, murders and, of course, the internet.

Camilleri has written at least four other book in the Inspector Montalbano series.

For more information on the area that Camilleri writes about, go to:

Thanks, Denver.

Here I go again.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Unsettling Weekend

Although the Westlake H.S. 30 year reunion was great fun indeed and getting together with Denver Wade and his Wabash College football teammate, Seth, was also quite enjoyable, the news from Norway obviously was not.

The news of the Oslo bombing and the subsequent mass murders in nearby Utoya Island was, in a word, shocking.

I heard on the radio that Norway averages 57 murders a year. This senseless act claimed over 80 lives in just a couple of hours.

Cruising The Oslo Fjord

I spent four very pleasant days in Oslo during the month of April in 2010.

Bathing Huts on the Oslo Fjord

There are hundreds of these picturesque huts on the shores of the many islands in the fjord adding to the serenity and fun of the Oslo archipelago.

Norwegian College Students

These kids were enjoying the annual Rite of Spring in Norway as college students took up the good life before final exams.

I found Oslo to be another beautiful, peaceful part of the Scandanavian experience. It was full of idyllic spots and friendly people that I thoroughly enjoyed.

It makes no sense . . .

Summer Reading Continued

An interesting read about the infamous, gruelling pre-season camp that Paul "Bear" Bryant conducted in 1954.

Two busses, with 110 Texas A&M football players, left the Texas A&M campus at College Station for the trip to the drought ridden, speck of a town named Junction in West Texas.

After ten days of practice in temperatures constantly over 100ºF/38ºC with players not allowed any water during practices, only one bus returned to Texas A&M with a mere 35 players on board to play out the season in the old Southwest Conference.

If you love football, this is a must read to understand how tough and brutal football was back in the day.

On a side note, among Bryant's assistant coaches were Jim Owens and Tom Tipps. Coach Owens, a man I admired greatly, was our Head Coach at the University of Washington during my time in Seattle. Coach Tipps, who I believed was the best coach/motivator on the staff, was our Defensive Coordinator. They were both tough on us but not quite Junction tough.

Thank goodness!

This was my second Jo Nesbø crime novel of the Summer, a great read!

Nesbø's lead character is named Harry Hole, no really, Harry Hole!

Harry is a cop in Oslo, nice timing, fighting against neo-Nazis in modern day Norway. The tale intertwines with the history of the Norwegians who volunteered to fight with the Germans during World War II as part of the Waffen SS on the Eastern Front in Russia.

Lots of plot twists and suspense make this another excellent Scandanavian mystery well worth the read.

Why . . .

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Denver Wade Tours Camarillo

At Cronies Camarillo for Breakfast

From left to right: Mike Contreras, me, Seth Tichenor and Denver Wade

Denver was the Offensive Line Coach for the Italian Football League's Catania Elephants in Sicily again this season. I first met Denver in Catania when he first held that same position for us in 2009 when I was Catania's Head Coach.

Denver, who attended Wabash College, Home of the Little Giants, just returned to the U.S. from Italy a few days ago to attend a wedding in Indiana. After the wedding he and his former teammate Seth Tichenor, got into Denver's car to take a road trip across the country in the middle of one of the most intense heat waves in recorded history.

Last night they booked a room for a night in Camarillo's Casa Contreras Bed and Breakfast. We sat around for hours talking about a wide variety of topics as usual before retiring for the evening.

This morning it was off to Cronies for a round of their internationally famous, oversized Breakfast Burritos.

Fully sated, we said our goodbyes as Seth and Denver started the last leg of their journey. This evening they should make it comfortably to Denver's family home in San Francisco after driving along California's scenic Highway 1 through Big Sur and the rugged Pacific Ocean coastline.

You meet a lot of great and interesting people in this life.

Westlake H.S. 30 Year Reunion

After literally months of planning by the Reunion Committee, last night we gathered at the Rancho de las Palmas in Moorpark, California for Westlake High School's Class of 1981's 30 year Reunion.

It promised to be a GREAT night!

In what I thought was a great idea, the Class of 1981 also invited the W.H.S. alums from the classes of 1980, 1982 and 1983 to join them in the celebration. Thus the members of the first four classes to ever graduate from Westlake had a chance to reunite for a magical evening.


The alums were welcomed at the registration table by five members of the original W.H.S. faculty.

From left to right: Marie Loretta (Business), Dan McDermot (Social Science), Gary McGinnis (Math), Nancy Bowman (Science) and George Contreras (Physical Education)

Scott and Andrea Jansen

Andrea, her maiden name was Ponticelli, was one of the main Reunion organizers. A lot of hard work by her led to a lot of fun for all in attendance.

Nick Kormanik

A truly GREAT defensive lineman for those early Warrior teams, he was a three-year starter on the Varsity squad. He would be named All-CIF for his efforts his Senior year.

Today, Nick is a gourmet chef in an exclusive Montana resort where he has even prepared meals for Presidents of the United States from what his fellow alums told me.

Original Warriors from 1978

Gary McGinnis was our Line Coach forv that first ever W.H.S. Varsity team, Rusty Weber was an ALL-CIF Linebacker, Kevin Best was a Halfback for us and I was the Head Coach.

Today, Rusty and Kevin are brothers-in-law. Kevin married Rusty's sister Shelley and now their son is going to be a star Sophomore on our son Mike's J.V. team at Newbury Park H.S.

Small world.

Larry Freed

Why should one get into teaching/coaching today?

Because you will get to meet and work with great people like Larry Freed!

Good guy, hard worker, what's not to like?

Chris Drewes

Chris looks exactly like he did 30 years ago!

Another good guy, but for goodness sakes, GAIN A FEW POUNDS!!!

Dancing the Night Away

For three plus hours I saw so many of the people who impacted my life leading productive lives. We exchanged so many old stories and warm greetings, it was just flat out fun!

Finally, the DJ started up the music and the dancing started, it was definitely time to slip out.

Again, it was a blast seeing so many people from what I always consider the Golden Years of my teaching/coaching career.

Thanks to the Reunion Committee
for all of your efforts!!!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Summer Reading List Continues

Sweden's Stieg Larsson has passed away and with him the "Millennium Series" featuring Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist.

Henning Mankell, also a Swede, says that he has written his last Kurt Wallander mystery.

Not to worry, Norwegian writer Jo Nesbø has picked up the torch for great Nordic crime fiction writing.

This was a great read and has been on the New York Times Best Seller list for months.

I highly recommend it if you like this genre!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

40th Wedding Anniversary Weekend

Today, Laurie and I celebrated our 40th wedding annivesary, if we had only placed a bet in Vegas . . .

July 17, 1971

That's me on the right.

Originally our plan for this weekend was to drive up to Santa Barbara City College for Rio Mesa's last 7-on-7 passing tournament of the Summer on Saturday and then enjoy a pleasant weekend getaway in this picturesque city.

Just as we were about to leave Camarillo, we got a text message from RMHS defensive Coordinator Mike Moon that the tournament had been cancelled at the very last moment.

Oh well, more time for us to enjoy one of California's treasures.

Santa Barabara's Presidio

Not a bad seat in the house

Two of my favorite things

We had coffee and a croissant for breakfast at a place called Our Daily Bread.

I wanted more.

El Paseo Nuevo

This is Spanish for "Spend Lots of Money!"

While Laurie made it a point to go into almost every store, I stayed outside to take pictures.

We were both happy.

El Paseo Nuevo is well decorated


Summer, Kids and Water

A recipe for lots of fun and some angry parents.


Laurie in the background with only ONE bag of goodies.

This is both a moral and financial victory!!!

Joe's Cafe

Perhaps the oldest restaurant on Santa Barbara's State Street. It serves good Italian food and I was getting hungrier by the second.

Shopping trumped eating.

I know this flag!

And this one too!

Santa Barabara is indeed a mecca for foreign travelers, it is known as the "American Riviera" afterall.

We heard so many of our favorite languages and accents on our walks over the two days.

Hell's Angel?

She looked dangerous to me.

Wine Tasting

I wanted food, she wanted wine tasting.

The wine was quite good and we even brought home three bottles.

Santa Barabra Harbor

Our hotel was only a five minute walk from Santa Barbara's scenic harbor and, finally, food.

We were off, at last, to Brophy Brothers for a delicious seafood dinner!!!

Lots of boats in front of Brophy Brothers

Some ocean kayaks too

Even a Water Taxi

What a great day!

Batter Up!

Slow Pitch Softball Batting Practice

Across from our hotel was this park with activity in full bloom early Sunday morning.

We decided to start our day with a leisurely walk down Carrillo Boulevard, Santa Barbara's Pacific Ocean seaside walking path.

Is this Politically Correct?

At one time this was a wide spread restaurant chain, I think that this is the only one remaining in the known universe.

We had already opted for the continental breakfast in our hotel so we proceeded before any protestors arrived on the scene.

Dolphins are a common sight in these waters

We were at the corner of Carrillo Boulevard and State Street, this was the start of the weekly Santa Barbara Art Walk. This arts and crafts display stretches for several blocks and afforded Laurie the chance to purchase more wares.

An artsy VW Van

An even more artsy bus
with a VW Van for a loft!

Not so artsy,
but a vintage taxi nonetheless

For Rent

For a paltry sum, four passengers can pedal their way around the Santa Barbara beachfront.

Not us.

Beach Skate Park

While Laurie continued her search for the "Perfect Knick-Knack," I opted to check out what was going on here.

Defying Gravity


I'm way too old for this.

The Art Walk was in full bloom now

"Get Your Hula Hoops!
Get Your Red Hot Hula Hoops!!!"

Tempting but no.

Jewelry Shopping

If any single picture can capture the mood of one of our typical vacations, no matter the country or continent, this is it!

Where is Koreen?

Who wouldn't want to take home
an authentic Australian Didgeridoo?

A Didgeridoo is the Australian Aborigine pipe, not the woman who is playing this one.

Haunting but yet again, no.


We actually did buy one of this artist's other copper tubing sculptures for Laurie's garden.

Sailing to nowhere

I liked the colors of this billowing sail. We watched it for about five minutes as we walked but it did not move. Good thing or it would have been a heck of a crash into the beach.

We were now ready to head down the coast to another beach city, Carpinteria. There were positive rumors concerning The Barbeque Company, a restaurant that we had yet to visit.

It was really good! The rumors were not wrong. I enjoyed a fine Cuban sandwich of Texas size proportions.

After lunch, we continued down to Ventura to a spot called Surfer's Point. The waves were small but we were still in for a visual treat.

Kite Surfing

A strong on-shore breeze made this a perfect day for kite surfing.

Lots of Speed in Kite Surfing




July 17, 2011

Forty great years later, I'm still the one on the right.

Great weekend . . .
Better Life!!!