By Day’s End, It Was Nearly Perfect

Is your Club or Group looking for an inspiring guest speaker or do you want to host a book signing? . . . Contact Woody today!

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1StrawberriesCoverWooden-&-Me-cover-mock-upFor a Personalized Autographed copy of STRAWBERRIES IN WINTERTIME” or “WOODEN & ME” mail a check for $25 to:

Woody Woodburn

400 Roosevelt Court

Ventura, CA 93003

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By Day’s End, It Was Nearly Perfect

The airplane was coming in damaged and ablaze.

The pilot needed to land on the aircraft carrier’s flight deck, a tiny postage stamp in the middle of the ocean, and additionally had to snag the tailhook on the arresting wire to keep from skidding off.

Moreover, the pilot would have only one try. If he came in at the wrong angle, the wrong incline, the wrong speed, there would be no time for a second approach.

There actually proved nearly not time enough for one attempt: mere seconds after the pilot landed perfectly and escaped the cockpit quickly, the plane became a fireball.

The heart-skipping adventure was related to me by my luncheon seatmate, himself a hero in a “Vietnam Veteran” hat and buddy of the pilot, before I was to get up and share stories about John Wooden. I think my seatmate rightly should have been given the microphone as the day’s guest speaker.

The top block of Coach Wooden’s famous Pyramid of Success is “Competitive Greatness” which he defined thusly: “Be at your best when your best is needed.” Hearing the harrowing fireball tale, I told my seatmate: “That is truly being at your best when your best is needed!”

As generally happens when I am asked to give a talk, I wind up on the receiving end. This time, not only did I leave with a new tale to share about true “Competitive Greatness” but I also departed with a new book – “Coach Wooden and Me” by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, an unexpected gift from my storytelling seatmate, Tom McEachern.1perfectDayWiiden

Making Tom’s thoughtfulness all the more special was that it mimicked a kindness Coach Wooden once did me. As I was leaving his home at the end of an afternoon visit, he excused himself to go to his study and returned with a book as a gift.

I thanked Coach, but embarrassingly told him he had already given me too many gifts in the past. I insisted he keep the book and that I would happily stop at the bookstore on my way home to buy my own copy.

Smiling wryly, Coach said: “Well, Woody, I can’t very well give it to anyone else because I’ve already signed it to you.”

We shared a laugh before Coach rejoined: “I still want you to stop at the bookstore to buy an extra copy and give it to a friend for no reason.”

In other words, in Wooden-ism words: “Make friendship a fine art.”

Tom had not known this story before buying me a gift book, but after hearing me share the anecdote during my talk he did a second Wooden-like thing: he had me sign an extra copy of my memoir “Wooden & Me” to give to one of his friends for no reason.

Later that same day, another Wooden-ism I shared with the audience returned to mind: “You cannot live a perfect day until you do something for someone else who will never be able to repay you.”

Inspired by Coach, and by Tom, and most specifically by a young man in Chicago – who I mentioned in this space a month ago after he gave the expensive winter boots off his own feet to a homeless man with tattered sneakers – I gave a nearly new pair of running shoes to a local homeless man because his shoes had deteriorated so greatly they afforded less protection than flip-flops.

Truth is, I received far more than I gave.

On this same day still, and returning full circle to books, a friend told me she was donating some new books to a Little Free Library on my behalf.

I am not sure it is possible to live a perfect day, but this one was definitely a very, very good one.

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Woody Woodburn writes a weekly column for The Ventura County Star and can be contacted at WoodyWriter@gmail.com.

Wooden & Me Kickstarter Front PhotoCheck out my memoir WOODEN & ME: Life Lessons from My Two-Decade Friendship with the Legendary Coach and Humanitarian to Help “Make Each Day Your Masterpiece” and my essay collection “Strawberries in Wintertime: Essays on Life, Love, and Laughter” …

“Only in America” is Shameful

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1StrawberriesCoverWooden-&-Me-cover-mock-upFor a Personalized Autographed copy of STRAWBERRIES IN WINTERTIME” or “WOODEN & ME” mail a check for $25 to:

Woody Woodburn

400 Roosevelt Court

Ventura, CA 93003

* * *

‘Only in America’ Has Assumed Tragic Meaning

I had a different column written for today – finished, polished and ready to file to my editor.

Then a mass shooting happened in America again, in Florida this time, in a school once more.

The thing is, if I wrote my weekly column on the mass mayhem every time it occurs in America, I would write about nothing else. In the first seven weeks of 2018 alone, there have been 30 such shootings.

No, I simply cannot write about ugly shootings every time we have an ugly shooting any more than I can write about beautiful sunsets every time we have a beautiful sunset over the Channel Islands.

Moreover, I try to use my space here each Saturday morning to lift spirits, not deflate them; to give smiles, not erase them; to offer a respite from front-page realities. As it is, I have gone against this goal and written too many columns on mass shootings – Las Vegas, San Bernardino, Sandy Hook and ten more. What else could I write that I haven’t already?

Here is what I have not before said: I am ashamed of my country.

Make no mistake, I love America and cherish our freedoms.

I am blessed to have been born in the U.S. But I am also ashamed of us. Ashamed that we allow the wholesale slaughter of our citizens – of our school children! – without doing anything meaningful to try to slow the carnage, much less stop it.

“Wholesale slaughter” is not hyperbole. Seventeen people were murdered and 14 more wounded this time by one gunman on Feb. 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. By comparison, the Al Capone gang’s infamous “Valentine’s Day Massacre” left just seven dead.

Statistically, a Capone-like “Valentine’s Day Massacre” happens nearly sixfold daily in the U.S. with more than 40 gun deaths on average. In answer to this deadly gunfire, out of Washington, D.C. comes only silence.

That is not true. Our elected officials are big on voicing condolences and prayers, but small on offering any action. By a majority they insist gun legislation won’t work; that what we need are more guns because good guys with guns stop bad guys with guns; that criminals will get guns anyway; that citizens have a right to assault-style weapons; that cars kill people too.

These are falsehoods and lies, rationalizations and distractions. No other county on earth has this cancer.1flag

America has a proud history of fighting for human rights around the globe. Mass shootings and school shootings, too often one in the same, have become a human rights issue here at home. For our elected officials to not take serious measures to try to stop the triggers from being pulled is to effectively have their fingers on those triggers.

Those who will attack me for being unpatriotic, I offer Teddy Roosevelt’s words: “To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public.”

The same is true for the argument that we are to stand by our country, right or wrong.

The videos of the shooting that some Parkland students captured on their cellphones are truly chilling. It is also chilling to realize that these school shootings have become so commonplace that our students and teachers routinely go through lockdown drills the way past generations did fire drills.

“Only in America” used to be a term of pride; when it comes to gun violence, it is one of shame.

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Woody Woodburn writes a weekly column for The Ventura County Star and can be contacted at WoodyWriter@gmail.com.

Wooden & Me Kickstarter Front PhotoCheck out my memoir WOODEN & ME: Life Lessons from My Two-Decade Friendship with the Legendary Coach and Humanitarian to Help “Make Each Day Your Masterpiece” and my essay collection “Strawberries in Wintertime: Essays on Life, Love, and Laughter” …

Westerns Author Rides to Rescue

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1StrawberriesCoverWooden-&-Me-cover-mock-upFor a Personalized Autographed copy of STRAWBERRIES IN WINTERTIME” or “WOODEN & ME” mail a check for $25 to:

Woody Woodburn

400 Roosevelt Court

Ventura, CA 93003

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Local Westerns Author Finds Self in Non-Fiction Battle

Western novels do not enjoy the widespread popularity they did in the mid-20th century when Louis L’Amour was riding high in the author saddle. Still, the genre retains a loyal following.

Part of the appeal of “frontier stories,” as L’Amour called them, is they offer an escape from a confusing grey world by providing fictional black-and-white-hat clarity; good guys and bad guys; right versus wrong.

And, of course, frontier stories offer a hero.

Such is the case with “Coyote Courage,” the first in a trilogy – followed by “Coyote Creek” and “Coyote Canyon” – written by Thousand Oaks resident Scott Harris.

The hero in the “Coyote” series is Brock Clemons, the last name being inspired by the author’s admiration for Samuel Clemens, better know by his pen name Mark Twain.1coyotecover

Brock also bears inspiration from Harris, although the author declines any similarities beyond their shared affinity for whiskey and cigars. Because I know Harris as a friend, I know he is being overly modest. He and Brock also share core values of truth and honesty, fair play and chivalry.

Two weeks ago, life imitated art when Harris found himself in a Brock-like plotline. Conejo Valley Unified School District board trustee Mike Dunn sent an email to Harris threatening to harm the reputation of his business, Mustang Marketing, if he did not silence employee Jessica Weihe. As a parent, Weihe has been critical of Dunn.

That has me on the same page with Weihe. I took Dunn to task last July for his role in not approving for the ninth-grade core literature list – thus, effectively banning – Sherman Alexie’s national award-winning young adult novel “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,” or PTI for short.

Unbelievably, and irresponsibly, Dunn “banned” (would not approve) PTI despite admitting he had not read it. I did read it and it is terrific and well worthy of high school students’ study and discussion. In Ventura County especially, where we have racial and economic diversity, PTI’s themes are of paramount relevance and importance for our youth.

As for violence and sex – “pornographic” is the word Dunn has employed, and wrongly in disparaging PTI – the novel is tamer than most every prime-time sitcom on network television today. Moreover, every newscast and newspaper features more violence than this novel.

Suggestion: a school district’s “opt-out” policy from reading an assigned novel should include the requirement that one of the student’s parents first read the book – and answer a worksheet to ensure they did – so they do not make such a decision blindly.

Certainly the black-hat-wearing Dunn would have been wise to read “Coyote Courage” before picking a fight with Weihe. Had Dunn done so, he might have anticipated that Weihe’s boss would stand up Brock-like to a bully on her behalf.

Not only in name but also in character is Brock Clemons inspired by Mark Twain, who said: “It is a worthy thing to fight for one’s freedom; it is another to fight for another man’s.”

Brock does just that in “Coyote Courage” where he fights to save the town from outlaws. Importantly, Brock does not do so alone – he rallies the townspeople in Dry Springs to stand up with him.

In Conejo, “Brock” – that is, Scott Harris – fought for the First Amendment. He, too, did not do so alone – he rallied the community. The result this week was the censure of Dunn by the CVUSD board, and by a unanimous 4-0 vote.

By the way, the title of Harris’ debut novel refers to a coyote’s trait of attacking anything that is weaker than it is. Or, if the foe is larger and stronger, coyotes will attack only if they have the adversary greatly outnumbered. Hence, to have the courage of a coyote is to cowardly avoid a fair fight.

Life imitates art: when the fight came Tuesday evening at the school board meeting, Dunn was a no-show.

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Woody Woodburn writes a weekly column for The Ventura County Star and can be contacted at WoodyWriter@gmail.com.

Wooden & Me Kickstarter Front PhotoCheck out my memoir WOODEN & ME: Life Lessons from My Two-Decade Friendship with the Legendary Coach and Humanitarian to Help “Make Each Day Your Masterpiece” and my essay collection “Strawberries in Wintertime: Essays on Life, Love, and Laughter” …

Overrated (and Underrated) Opinions

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1StrawberriesCoverWooden-&-Me-cover-mock-upFor a Personalized Autographed copy of STRAWBERRIES IN WINTERTIME” or “WOODEN & ME” mail a check for $25 to:

Woody Woodburn

400 Roosevelt Court

Ventura, CA 93003

* * *

Today’s Column is Overrated (and Underrated)

 My rating of ratings – be they customers on Yelp, consumers on Amazon, movie critics in a newspaper – is that they are overrated.

Nonetheless, I hereby offer a myriad of ratings. Specifically, a list of things that are either “overrated” or “underrated” in my view.

The word “myriad” is underrated and, thus, underused.

Word-of-mouth recommendations are underrated and overrated – it depends on the mouth.

Freedom of speech is underrated.

A free press is likewise underrated until it becomes threatened.

The Super Bowl is overrated, its commercials are overrated, the halftime ceremony is overrated – and yet when friends get together, Super Bowl Sunday as a whole is underrated.

Speaking of friends, a truly good one cannot be overrated.

Speaking of football, it pains me to admit this, but Tom Brady is not overrated.

Being able to turn on your faucet and safely drink the tap water is supremely underrated.

Bottled water is overrated – except when you are in a place where the tap water is unsafe, or simply tastes like minerals.

Libraries – public, school, in one’s home – are underrated.

A walk on the beach, or in the woods, is underrated.

Doctors are generally rated just about right, I believe, but nurses are underrated.

Having a really good dentist is underrated.

TV is overrated, but public television and public radio are underrated.

Children’s laughter cannot be overrated.

The goose-bump thrill of seeing great artwork in person cannot be overrated – a child’s artwork held by a magnet on a refrigerator is likewise underrated.

Having a good mechanic, handyman or plumber is underrated.

Newspapers, be it print or online, are underrated.

Makeup is overrated by a myriad of women.

Holding hands, be it with a boyfriend or girlfriend, with a husband or wife, with a child or the elderly, is underrated.

Independent bookstores, quirky music stores, and cozy coffee shops are underrated.

Indie movies as a whole are overrated, but individually a myriad are underrated.

I always thought firefighters were underrated. After the Thomas Fire, despite their bravery and deeds that have fostered a greater appreciation by the public, I still think these heroes are underrated.

Gift cards are overrated – crisp cash tucked old-school inside a card, like my Aunt Shirley used to do when I was young, is the underrated way to give when you don’t know what to buy.

Theme parks and roller coasters are overrated, but county fairs and Ferris wheels are underrated.

Congress received a 20-percent approval rating in the most recent Gallup poll. In other words, Congress remains overrated.

Email is overused, but underrated.1letters

Handwritten notes, cards and letters sent in the mail cannot be overrated.

The Emmys as a show is overrated. Ditto the Oscars and Golden Globes and the rest.

It seems preposterous, given her record 21 Academy Award nominations, but Meryl Streep might be underrated.

The importance of raw talent is overrated while effort and persistence are underrated.

The value of having music and art education in our schools is grossly underrated.

Flowers in a garden are underrated; vegetable gardens are more underrated; and a blanket of wildflowers in a field even more so.

The durability of today’s tires – on cars and bikes – is underrated, or at least underappreciated.

Fabric softener is overrated.

The importance of the thinness of a smartphone is overrated considering most people add a thicker protective case to it.

Thick towels are underrated.

The value of a compliment is underrated by the giver, but not by the person receiving it.

John Steinbeck is overrated. Just kidding, as I cannot help but return to his work time and again.

Farmer’s markets are greatly underrated.

Strawberries in wintertime – the fresh locally grown fruit, not my book – are underrated.

Thursday’s wee morning rare “Super Blue Blood Moon” lunar eclipse was overrated in the days leading up to it, but proved to be underrated in the moments of its splendor.

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Woody Woodburn writes a weekly column for The Ventura County Star and can be contacted at WoodyWriter@gmail.com.

Wooden & Me Kickstarter Front PhotoCheck out my memoir WOODEN & ME: Life Lessons from My Two-Decade Friendship with the Legendary Coach and Humanitarian to Help “Make Each Day Your Masterpiece” and my essay collection “Strawberries in Wintertime: Essays on Life, Love, and Laughter” …

This, That, and Other iConfessions

1StrawberriesCoverWooden&Me_cover_PRFor a Personalized Autographed copy of STRAWBERRIES IN WINTERTIME” or “WOODEN & ME” mail a check for $25 to:

Woody Woodburn

400 Roosevelt Court

Ventura, CA 93003

* * *

This, That, and Other iConfessions

It seems there’s a smartphone app for just about everything. For iPhone users, this includes a download approved by the Catholic Church that coaches people through a practice confession of their sins before going to a real confessional booth.

The creators didn’t ask me, but instead of calling it “Confession: A Roman Catholic App” I think they should have dubbed it “iConfess.”

By the way, iConfess I think the app is a waste of $1.99.

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I am not Catholic, nor do I have a new iPhone X, but iConfess I would probably owe a few Hail Marys penance for my verbal reaction if I did own one and dropped it – seeing as that the repair cost for a broken screen is a whopping $279.

Apple didn’t ask me, but I think it should throw in a free “Confession: A Roman Catholic App” with every iPhone X.

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iConfess to sometimes cursing poor customer service, including by the U.S. Postal Service, Federal Express and United Parcel Service for committing various sins to letters, magazines and packages.

Fair being fair, I must also praise UPS – specifically, one of its delivery drivers who knocked on my front door at 9 p.m. earlier this week.

It seems a large package for me had erroneously been loaded onto the wrong truck and thus would not get delivered until the following day.

However, when this driver learned about the mistake from his boss, he offered to personally drop the parcel off on his own time on his drive home from work.

By the way, the friendly driver was a millennial – a group that is too often maligned for being self-centered and lazy.

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Speaking of maligned groups, people often complain about Caltrans for its slow progress on projects or having four people supervising two people who actually appear to be working.

iConfess I have similarly grumbled, but Caltrans merits our deepest thanks and highest praise for the Herculean job its workers did toiling tirelessly around the clock to clear away more than 100,000 cubic yards – 12 feet deep in some places – to reopen Highway 101 in less than two weeks following the monumental mudslides in Montecito.1field

No one asked me, but I think we all need to keep this in mind the next time roadwork causes traffic to slow to a crawl and has our impatience racing.

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iConfess to liking most of Kevin Costner’s movies, have loved his performance in a number of them, but the role I most admire him for is as a loyal and generous hometown boy. Very few big-time actors are able to genuinely pull that off.

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While it is indeed good news, iConfess that we have flat-out gone statistic crazy when The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports a new record being set of 246 consecutive days since a person in the U.S. was killed by a tornado.

Hey NOAA, what’s the record for jellyfish stings in the U.S. on a single day? On a Wednesday? On a Wednesday in April?

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iConfess to being fed up with magazines that use technology to print different covers for newsstands and subscription editions, yet insert two, three, even six annoying new-subscription postcards inside a magazine sent to someone (me) who already subscribes to it.

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Speaking of print periodicals, my favorite is Patagonia’s catalogue (pronounced “magazine”) as each new edition is filled with stunning outdoor photography as well as well-written feature stories about inspiring people, the environment, travel, wildlife, and more.

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iConfess to disliking (pronounced “despising”) the New England Patriots.

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Lastly, iConfess to having no interest in buying an Amazon Alexa that can play music, look up recipes, order groceries, control the thermostat and lock doors, give news and weather updates – including how many consecutive days since a person was killed by a tornado in the U.S. – and more, all by voice command.

Unless, that is, I could say, “Alexa, write next week’s column for me.”

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Woody Woodburn writes a weekly column for The Ventura County Star and can be contacted at WoodyWriter@gmail.com.

Wooden & Me Kickstarter Front PhotoCheck out my memoir WOODEN & ME: Life Lessons from My Two-Decade Friendship with the Legendary Coach and Humanitarian to Help “Make Each Day Your Masterpiece” and my essay collection “Strawberries in Wintertime: Essays on Life, Love, and Laughter” …

 

Facing a Tragedy, the “805” Unites

1StrawberriesCoverWooden&Me_cover_PRFor a Personalized Autographed copy of STRAWBERRIES IN WINTERTIME” or “WOODEN & ME” mail a check for $25 to:

Woody Woodburn

400 Roosevelt Court

Ventura, CA 93003

* * *

Facing a Tragedy, the “805” Unites

A dear friend, having gone through hell and back, once told me a startling thing: she would not wish cancer upon an enemy, yet she was thankful for having had it.

Thankful? For tsunami-like waves of nausea caused by chemotherapy; for sickly weight loss and the loss of hair from radiation treatments; for bone-deep pain and ultra-marathon-like fatigue; for haunting fear?

Yes, she insisted, she was thankful for it all because through the tribulation she learned how strong she was. She found out who her truest friends were. And she had gained a new perspective on life.

As a result, she reframed her view of cancer as being a gift instead of a curse. Other cancer survivors have told me a similar thing.1help

As the days and weeks and now the first month have passed since the Thomas Fire metastasized across our county, consuming swaths of Santa Paul, Fillmore, Ventura, Ojai, and beyond, in pitiless cancer-like fashion, I have been reminded of my friend’s reframing.

I offer a similar reframing not callously, especially considering there were lives lost. Nor do I say it distantly, for my father’s hillside home of four decades was among those that became ashes and a standing chimney.

Rather, in addition to being a calamity, I can see the Thomas Fire as a cancer-survivor’s-like blessing. At the lowest of times, our communities stood their tallest. As homes were razed, we pulled together like an Amish barn raising.

Seemingly everyone became a Good Samaritan. Neighbors woke neighbors in the dark of a night eerily lighted by an orange glow and helped one another evacuate.

Strangers gave rides to strangers; trucked the horses of strangers to safety; opened their homes and offered spare beds to strangers.

So many donations of clothes came in to evacuation centers that new offerings finally had to be turned away.

A single illustration of generosity speaks as a wider example. Thirteen families, all renters at a mobile home park and all without contents insurance, lost everything they owned.

A humanitarian made a request at his church and on social media for replacement beds, blankets and bedding, sofas, dining tables, kitchenware, coffee makers, microwave ovens, TVs, air purifiers. Thirteen microwaves appeared the next day.

And everything else listed above, and more, for all 13 families was donated within 48 hours. Toys to give the affected children a semblance of a merry holiday also poured in.

Similar narratives were the rule, not the exception. Moreover, the Samaritan spirit continues.

It is not just people helping people, but businesses have been involved too. To mention one local business that has provided free services, free meals, free clothing, free this and free that, to those whose homes burned down – and to those who were evacuated long-term and also to the heroes who fought the fires – would be to leave out a hundred other businesses that did likewise.

The other day, I read a story shared by a man riding the “L” in Chicago that struck home. He was on his commute, on a bone-chilling Midwest day, and saw a homeless man seated across the train car.

The homeless man’s clothes were basically rags, his sneakers had holes, and blood seeped through his socks of which he wore three or four pairs in a losing effort to keep his feet warm.

A younger man entered the train, saw the homeless man, and did not hesitate to do something noble: he took off his own shoes – actually nearly new, expensive, heavy, black leather boots well-suited for Chicago’s harsh winters – and gave them to the older man in need.

There was more: the younger man pulled a pair of fresh socks from his briefcase and these he also gave the older man, along with some kind words.

Reading the story made my heart sing, and not just because of the obvious good done by one person for another.

The exchange also touched me because the young Samaritan reminded me of Ventura County, our “805” united as one.

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Woody Woodburn writes a weekly column for The Ventura County Star and can be contacted at WoodyWriter@gmail.com.

Wooden & Me Kickstarter Front PhotoCheck out my memoir WOODEN & ME: Life Lessons from My Two-Decade Friendship with the Legendary Coach and Humanitarian to Help “Make Each Day Your Masterpiece” and my essay collection “Strawberries in Wintertime: Essays on Life, Love, and Laughter” …

Some Knockout Books

1StrawberriesCoverWooden&Me_cover_PRFor a Personalized Autographed copy of STRAWBERRIES IN WINTERTIME” or “WOODEN & ME” mail a check for $25 to:

Woody Woodburn

400 Roosevelt Court

Ventura, CA 93003

* * *

Some Books that Knocked Me Out in 2017

My paternal grandfather, Augustus – called Auggie by all – was an executive in the publishing industry for Field Enterprises. Among other tomes, he helped produce the World Book Encyclopedia.

I have no memories of Grandpa Auggie for he died when I was very young. I do, however, have a few letters he wrote my mother. He was a very fine writer and eloquent poet.

I like to think I inherited some of Auggie’s love for the written word and talent with it.

Without question, some tangible things were passed down. Naturally, a complete set of World Book Encyclopedia was always on the bookshelves of my youth. Oh my, how many school reports I used those A-through-Z volumes for in the pre-Internet age!1readingquote

Countless other books that Auggie brought home from work – the way, I suppose, a butcher brings home cuts of meat – lined our family bookcases. Twain and Shakespeare, not surprisingly, but also glossy children’s picture books and travel volumes from around the globe. Many of them were special-edition, leather-bound volumes.

Up in flames these heirloom books went when the Thomas Fire burned down my boyhood home, the home my father had lived in for 44 years and still did. Auggie’s books filled the study, a lovely room with ten-foot-high, ceiling-to-floor bookcases on two walls; shelves that took Pop and me two weekends to repaint one long-ago summer.

The Thomas Fire also seemed to consume something else, something less important – my eighth annual column recommending some favorites from my book-a-week reading list during the year. However, because so many requests came in, belatedly here goes.

“Hemingway in Love: His Own Story” by A.E. Hotchner. In addition to Hemingway’s two great romantic loves, this is memoir is about Papa’s friendship with the author.

Plays aren’t usually as “readable” as novels, but “The Moon is Down” by John Steinbeck proves an exception.

“Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America” by Michael Eric Dyson is compelling and insightful from start to finish.

“Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life” by William Finnegan. One need not be a surfer to be captivated by this Pulitzer Prize-winning storytelling.

Another Pulitzer Prize honoree, “The Underground Railroad” by Colson Whitehead, is one of the most emotionally powerful novels I have read, ever.

“Lincoln at the Bardo: A Novel” by George Saunders. Readers will either love or loathe this unique offering – I, the former, and greatly.

“Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit” by Michael Finkel. A nearly unbelievable true story, well told.

I found the new tome “Leonardo da Vinci” by Walter Isaacson underwhelming because it overwhelmed me with too much redundancy and made me wish the author had taken the time to pare its 624 pages in half. David McCullough, meanwhile, tells “The Wright Brothers” story marvelously and fully in 336 pages. I finished rereading this text while watching – and marveling at what Orville and Wilburn might think – jet airlines takeoff and land at LAX.

“We Stood Upon Stars: Finding God in Lost Places” by Venturan Roger Thompson, who weaves together a tapestry of fatherhood and travel, religion and also humor.

“The Journal Entries of an Addict” by Camarillo’s Stephen Michael Jester, II, is a collection of 365 haiku poems. I must add the disclosure that I am honored to be mentioned on the dedication page as “friend, mentor and fellow author.”

“Max Perkins Editor of Genius” by A. Scott Berg. Perkins was the literary agent of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Thomas Wolfe, among others, and thus this book segues nicely to the final pages I read in 2017, “My Salinger Year” by Joanna Rakoff.

This memoir about Rankoff’s experiences as an editorial assistant to the woman who represented the reclusive J.D. Salinger was all the more enjoyable for me because it takes place in the old-school publishing world Grandpa Auggie inhabited, with typewriters and Dictaphones, message couriers and martini lunch meetings.

To paraphrase Holden Caulfield in Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye,” these are some of the books that knocked me out last year.

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Woody Woodburn writes a weekly column for The Ventura County Star and can be contacted at WoodyWriter@gmail.com.

Wooden & Me Kickstarter Front PhotoCheck out my memoir WOODEN & ME: Life Lessons from My Two-Decade Friendship with the Legendary Coach and Humanitarian to Help “Make Each Day Your Masterpiece” and my essay collection “Strawberries in Wintertime: Essays on Life, Love, and Laughter” …

Email Inbox Filled With Smiles

1StrawberriesCoverWooden&Me_cover_PRFor a Personalized Autographed copy of STRAWBERRIES IN WINTERTIME” or “WOODEN & ME” mail a check for $25 to:

Woody Woodburn

400 Roosevelt Court

Ventura, CA 93003

* * *

Mailbag is Filled With Reasons to Smile

As a rule, a columnist needs the hide of an alligator but happily over the past few weeks all the reader emails I have received have given me a toothy grin.

I hope a sampling will likewise brighten your day . . .

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Rick Throckmorton agreed with my column about firefighters being true heroes:

“They are the unsung who go about their work without much notice or, unfortunately, admiration. Unnoticed, that is, until the flames are licking at the back door!

“I’ve been in the helicopter business for many, many years and have fought my share of fires. But time has caught up with me and I now watch from a distance and marvel at these guys – the next generation to replace us old ’Nam Vets.

“Fire is very similar to combat, except hopefully no one is shooting at you. The dangers exist on every flight from high winds and turbulence, low visibility in the smoke and flames, and even the possibility of running into the unseen drone – yet, these guys still go out and do battle with the Enemy: Fire and Flames.”1MailbagTypewriter

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Bob Nieto also praised firefighters:

“As a 45.5-year law enforcement officer (retired), I can mirror your thoughts and words regarding these true heroes. On many occasions, I have been alongside and worked with these courageous men and women.

“Firefighters and police are made like all others, who feel, hurt, cry, love and morn losses of life and work for the people of their community and state. They do it with honor and integrity.”

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Linda Calderon shared an original brief poem: “Sunrise: God peeling back night – revealing day’s bloom, petal by petal.”

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My friend John Watts, meanwhile, shared a story that his own friend, Peter, shared with him.

Stealing baby Jesus from the life-sized crèche had become an unwelcomed holiday tradition at the church Peter served as minister.

One year, however, instead of a theft there was a small gift left beside the infant with a hand-written label that read: “Happy Brithday, Jesus.”  Birthday was misspelled.

Curiosity got the best of Peter and he opened the red wrapping paper. Inside an old Shake ‘n Bake pork seasoning box was 33 cents – and a note on lined school paper reading:

“Dear Jesus, Happy Brithday. Here’s some small change for you to feed someone who is hungry. I give myself to be kind to others as you were kind to other people on earth. Love, Maria.”

Peter knew right away who Maria was for she lived on the church campus in the house it operated for people with chronic mental illness. She was, Peter recalls, “a tender soul” with a “big heart” who was “plagued by schizophrenia.”

“For 25 years now, I’ve kept that box and note and the change inside,” Peter says. “It sits in my desk drawer as a sacred relic of sorts, something I’m unwilling to part with. It may have been intended for Jesus, but it keeps on giving a beautiful reminder to me: Love is the best thing I have to give away.”

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Speaking of love and giving, the final tally announced here previously for this year’s Woody’s Holiday Ball Drive needs updating after a number of last-minute donations rolled in, including: Stacy DeLeon, and Sheila and Tom McCollum, with ten basketballs between them; and Jim Cowan with 10 more “in honor of the firefighters and policemen that saved so many homes from being lost!”

A reader, who wished to remain anonymous, also donated 10 basketballs after finally returning to his home following a long evacuation due to the Thomas Fire. He noted:

“I’m just trying to contribute to something that is so worthwhile. I think, in the back of my mind somewhere, is the hope that if he had known about even the truly small effort I’ve made to your Ball Drive, Coach John Wooden would have said something like, ‘Good job!’”

I’m confident Coach would have indeed praised everyone who contributed to this year’s drive that totaled 358 balls for kids in need.

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Woody Woodburn writes a weekly column for The Ventura County Star and can be contacted at WoodyWriter@gmail.com.

Wooden & Me Kickstarter Front PhotoCheck out my memoir WOODEN & ME: Life Lessons from My Two-Decade Friendship with the Legendary Coach and Humanitarian to Help “Make Each Day Your Masterpiece” and my essay collection “Strawberries in Wintertime: Essays on Life, Love, and Laughter” …

Words From the Wise (and Me, Too)

1StrawberriesCoverWooden-&-Me-cover-mock-upFor a Personalized Autographed copy of STRAWBERRIES IN WINTERTIME” or “WOODEN & ME” mail a check for $25 to:

Woody Woodburn

400 Roosevelt Court

Ventura, CA 93003

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Words From the Wise (and From Me, Too)

In hopes of self-improvement, I keep a small moleskin notebook in my pocket and jot down words of wisdom I read and hear. On occasion, I write down my own thoughts, egocentric as that may be.

As we get ready to close the book on 2017 and open the front cover on the unwritten story of 2018, here are some entries from my pages this past year . . .

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“Enjoy the little things in life, for one day you’ll look back and realize they were big things.” – Kurt Vonnegut

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Similarly, from Maya Angelou: “This is a wonderful day – I have never seen this one before.”

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“To play without passion is inexcusable.” – Beethoven

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“If you embrace Mondays with passion and determination, instead of dragging your heels with dread, the wind will be at your back the rest of the week.” – Yours truly1woodyWisdombench

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“Running into a headwind makes one appreciate a tail breeze.” – Me, again

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“Where there is love, nothing is too much trouble and there is always time.” – Abdul Baha

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Similarly, from the poet Rumi: “When you do things from your soul you feel a river moving in you, a joy.”

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“If you don’t make an effort to help others less fortunate than you are, then you’re just wasting your time on Earth.” – Wayne Bryan, a dear mentor of mine

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“Don’t tell me about your dreams of a castle, show me the stones you laid today.” – Wayne Bryan, again

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“A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.” – E.B. White

(This applies to any endeavor, not just writing.)

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Similarly, from John Steinbeck: “When I face the desolate impossibility of writing 500 pages, a sick sense of failure falls on me, and I know I can never do it. Then gradually, I write one page and then another. One day’s work is all I can permit myself to contemplate.”

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“You can’t achieve uphill hopes with downhill effort.” – Yours Truly

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“Perhaps you will forget tomorrow the kind words you say today, but the recipient may cherish them over a lifetime.” – Dale Carnegie

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“Remember to leave room for the unexpected and the little things; lots of happiness rests under unturned stones.” – Greg Woodburn, my wise son

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“In order to fully embrace all the bright potential of the future, we must loosen our grip on the past.” – Dallas Woodburn, my wise daughter

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“Fortune befriends the bold.” – Emily Dickinson

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“A good friend surprises with a nice deed; a rare friend can do no deed so great as to truly surprise.” – Yours truly

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“To the maxim, ‘The more you give, the more you receive’ I would add this caveat: ‘unless your motivation for giving is to receive.” – Me, again

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“I would rather be a rivet that holds things together than a chisel that cuts them apart.” – Me, once more

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“Love people, use things. The opposite doesn’t work.” – author Joshua Fields Millburn

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“Yes, there is joy in anticipation. There is joy in the savoring. But there is also joy in the telling, the retelling, and the remembering.” – Dallas, again

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“Listen with the intent to understand, not to respond.” – Greg, again

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“You can’t stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.” – A. A. Milne (Winnie The Pooh)

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“Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.” – Vincent van Gogh

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“Don’t waste your years by wasting your hours.” – Me, again

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In closing, as 2018 arrives, keep in mind these words from Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year. He is rich who owns the day, and no one owns the day who allows it to be invaded with fret and anxiety.”

Or, as Emerson’s friend Henry David Thoreau advised – “Simplify, simplify” – emulate John Wooden’s simplified maxim: “Make each day your masterpiece.”

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Woody Woodburn writes a weekly column for The Ventura County Star and can be contacted at WoodyWriter@gmail.com.

Wooden & Me Kickstarter Front PhotoCheck out my memoir WOODEN & ME: Life Lessons from My Two-Decade Friendship with the Legendary Coach and Humanitarian to Help “Make Each Day Your Masterpiece” and my essay collection “Strawberries in Wintertime: Essays on Life, Love, and Laughter” …

Generosity Rolls in Despite the Fire

1StrawberriesCoverWooden-&-Me-cover-mock-upFor a Personalized Autographed copy of STRAWBERRIES IN WINTERTIME” or “WOODEN & ME” mail a check for $25 to:

Woody Woodburn

400 Roosevelt Court

Ventura, CA 93003

* * *

Balls Roll and Bounce in Despite the Fire

The various collateral damages of the Thomas Fire, I anticipated, would include my annual “Woody’s Holiday Ball Drive.”

After all, donating a “toy” becomes a small thing when people have lost their homes and desperately need clothes and blankets, food and shelter, and other necessities.

And yet . . .

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“With all the major tragedies relating to the fires, this small thing seems inconsequential,” noted Alan and Kathy Hammerand, who donated three balls. “However, all these little things add up in fostering positive community spirit.”

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Natalie Swan was similarly inspired to give: “My heart aches for so many who have suffered from the fires.”

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Members of the generous Ventura Downtown Lions Club with a truck filled with 50 gift basketballs!

Ventura Downtown Lions Club with a truckload of 50 gift basketballs!

Brent Muth’s “Ballapalooza” party with boyhood friends Mark Franke, Adan Valenica and Craig Rasmussen collected 22 balls in honor of their late friend, Mike Sandoval.

Additionally, Franke inspired his fellow Ventura Downtown Lions Club members to donate 50 top-flight basketballs.

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Lennie and Bill Weinerth made a donation “in memory of Mike Sandoval and also in honor of Joe Vaughan, who coached our daughter Joannie at Buena High for four years in basketball.”

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Brad and Mia Ditto dished out five balls, with Brad sharing his dedication: “My ‘Mike Sandoval’ was my dad, who was never too tired to play ball with us.”

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Sherrie Basham donated two each soccer, football and basketballs “in memory of my mom, Janice Manjoras.”

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Bill Grewe donated two basketballs “in memory of a Little League teammate who did something decades ago which I have never forgotten.

“In the midst of a very important game, our coach comes running out of the dugout waving his arms above his head to signal time out. Chris, our centerfielder, had disappeared. We couldn’t find him.

“Turns out, he had climbed the centerfield wall and then down the bank of the Los Angeles river and was creekside trying to catch pollywogs. Sometimes a ball is a gateway to imagination and whatever else might follow.

“Sitting here, I can no longer remember who won the important game!”

A mountain of gifts from "Woody's Holiday Ball Drive."

A mountain of gifts from “Woody’s Holiday Ball Drive.”

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Glen Sittel donated one each basketball, football and a soccer ball, noting: “It’s always a great feeling knowing a child may receive their first new ball and the amazing joy such a simple, yet valuable gift brings.”

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A handful of multi-ball donations came from Vicky Ammons; Tom and Karyne Roweton; Ethan Lubin; Bobbie and Dave Williams; Patricia Herman; Anna and Tom McBreen; and my old sports department colleague, Jim Parker, and his wife Dela.

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Jerry and Linda Mendelsohn donated 10 soccer balls and 10 basketballs, with some assistance: “While this has been a challenging week here in Ventura with the fires and winds, I (Jerry) took three of our grandkids – Garrick, 7; Dannika, 4; and Parker, 3 – with me to help with the purchase.”

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Richard Dietz Sr. dropped off two balls in honor of his “Mike Sandoval-type pal, Vic DeBrouwer, who is dealing with a very serious form of brain cancer. I think of him almost constantly.”

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Howard Reich, as he does annually, donated a mixture of eight balls.

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Gary Clevenger, my classmate in middle school and high school, wished me a Merry Christmas ten times over with ten top-of-the-line basketballs.

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Sally and Tom Reeder donated five balls to the Sparks of Love Toy Drive, and shared: “The firefighters in our area have been so busy dealing with the Thomas Fire, we felt a little sheepish about possibly disrupting the few minutes they had to catch up on much-needed rest.

“But a fireman at Oxnard Station No. 1 was very gracious when we showed up and gladly received the balls we delivered.”

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Thanks to all those mentioned above, and many more who were not, this year’s total proved not to be a victim of the Thomas Fire. In fact, instead of falling far short of last year’s 318 balls, we edged past it with 322.

That is no small reason to smile. In fact, it’s 322 big smiles.

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Woody Woodburn writes a weekly column for The Ventura County Star and can be contacted at WoodyWriter@gmail.com.

Wooden & Me Kickstarter Front PhotoCheck out my memoir WOODEN & ME: Life Lessons from My Two-Decade Friendship with the Legendary Coach and Humanitarian to Help “Make Each Day Your Masterpiece” and my essay collection “Strawberries in Wintertime: Essays on Life, Love, and Laughter” …