Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Letters to the dead: Jorene

On Sunday April 6, 2014 my beloved aunt Jorene (Adams) Maier had her appointment in Samarra. Well, technically, rather than involving a frightened rush to Samarra in the vain hope of avoiding such an event, it was an anticipated meeting in Selah, WA in the privacy and comfort of her own home, embraced by her family, especially her husband of more than sixty years, my uncle Moritz. Together they were the MoJo of the Maier clan: Moritz and Jorene, a unit, a single and singular entity. Now, she has departed to explore Shakespeare’s undiscovered country alone, while Morrie and the rest of us are left with a huge lacuna in our lives here in the mundane, workaday world.

They married not long after the war, that’s WWII of course, and embarked on a life together. During that journey, they shared nine children, twenty-eight grandchildren, twelve great-grandchildren, countless nieces and nephews, spouses of most of those, and enough love and kindness to blanket the world. Jorene was kindness personified. She was Catholic, and in that context I think it is completely appropriate to call her a saint. She lived her life that way and, in death, per her beliefs, she is absolutely one.

Given the power of her life and its effect on those around her, I thought immediately of John Donne’s poem when I heard of her death. She may be gone, but her legacy of love and kindness transcends the grasp of Death himself. Once her appointment was scheduled, she did not tarry here. In my experiences with death, it seems that the good ones never do. They are anxious, in the concept of the old spiritual, to board the morning train for home because that evening train just might be too late. Bon voyage, cher tante (per alliance).

Mornin' Train  (Technically, "Get Right, Church")

She is at peace. It is those of us who remain who wish there were a train to carry us to Gilead. Alas! There is none. The only balm we have is our memories of her. Perhaps, that is enough.

Death be not proud – John Donne

Death be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not soe,
For, those, whom thou think'st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill mee.
From rest and sleepe, which but thy pictures bee,
Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee doe goe,
Rest of their bones, and soules deliverie.
Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poyson, warre, and sicknesse dwell,
And poppie, or charmes can make us sleepe as well,
And better then thy stroake; why swell'st thou then?
One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.

P.S. My lovely friend Ren maintains a blog of letters to the dead. I have submitted this to her for inclusion there, too.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Long Train Runnin'



V1: Down around the corner half a mile from here
See them long trains run and you watch them disappear
Without love where would you be now
Without love

V2: Though I saw Miss Lucy down along the track
She lost her home and her family and she won’t be coming back
Without love where would you be now
Without love

V3: (hit the ones) Well the Illinois Central and the Southern Central Freight
Keep on pushing mamma you know they're running late
Without love where would you be now
Without love


V4: (Same as 3) Well the Illinois Central and the Southern Central Freight
Keep on pushing mamma you know they're running late
without love where would you be now
without love

V5: (hit it staccato)
Well the pistons keep on turning and the wheels go round and round
And the steel rails are cold and hard and the mountains they go down
Without love where would you be now
Without love      [SLOW IT DOWN]


Gotta gotta
Move it down
Baby, baby, baby, etc.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

LIFE is Good 2014 poems

So, my friend (and Hot Backup Chick extraordinaire) Robin had this fabulous idea for parents to write snippets about what they've learned from their kids as they've unschooled through the years. The snippets would be anonymous and randomly posted/distributed. In the ensuing conversation, the concept of writing these snippets as poetry (or doggerel) came up. Challenge accepted. I can write bad poetry like anybody's business. I grant that these won't be very anonymous here on my blog but it's so lightly visited that it's almost like they're anonymous.

Without further ado or explanation, here they are.

DD1 poems

DD1 - 01 (2014)

I’m “dad,” soi disant Duke of Metaphor,
Not like the Duke of Earl. Oh my, no.
But the dad of DD1, child of grace and more,
Seeker of “Who,” “What,” and “How do we know…”

What can a Duke learn from a DD?
A Duke is a superior being.
A DD is an ingenue, a newbie;
 A Duke’s experienced, long-knowing, far-seeing.

Ah, but Dukes get old and set in their way;
They think they know all that’s worth knowing.
The Lady, Ducal offspring, retorts with a “Nay.”
Her knowledge is a fresh Zephyr blowing.

An old Duke, if he’s wise, can learn a new trick,
If he’s not too stubbornly shut.
A young Lady can share, through the old Duke’s thick brick,
Her bright info to the balding grey nut.

DD1 – 02 (2014)
I listened to doo-wop and second-line style.
I liked R&B and rock ‘n’ roll power.
I faded at disco but returned in a while.
Punk and/or rap? I was done in an hour.
Pop was too treacle, no matter the time.
New Wave too affected, it just left me cold.
As for the Big 80s, some percentage was fine.
But Reggae, ah! Reggae so bright and so bold!
Then sweet DD1 shakabukued my head,
Dragged me out of my rut and onto the groove.
“Don’t be such a fuddy; it’s like you were dead.
Give this track a listen and watch your butt *move*.”
So I changed my brain entrance from CLOSED right to OPEN.
Uncalcified my music tastebuds and tried a new song.
Not so amazingly, some tunes were smokin’.
I *like* these new artists, my rejection was wrong.

DD1 - 03 (2014)
I lived in the past. I lived in the future. I lived in my own fantasy.
DD1 lived in NOW at every point in her life, her process was so unlike me.
She remembered the past, she certainly did, and though deep thoughts of the future;
But her actual life is based in the present and living like that, well, it suits her.
My dissatisfaction with my classic approach was a thing of which I was aware.
Dredging muck from the past as a daily repast was a meal for which I did not care.
Dreading a future of what evils might come was surely a waste of emotion,
Like living near Phoenix, not the bird but the desert, and fearing the depths of the ocean.
So I thought that, perhaps, I could give it a try and be here more than then, if, or daydreams,
Not a natural fit for a person like me, and an act more complex than it seems.
But instant, complete success just ain’t real. What’s important is that you must try.
And success, like beauty, is a thing which, at root, is defined by the beholder’s eye.

> DD1 – 04 (2014)
From the time they were small our daughters shared all, had us read every syllable written.
Then came a sea change, privacy viper, how strange, DD1 had been fatally bitten.
Although just a tween, she wrote scene after scene of a virtuoso novel - complete.
To her sister, she read every night in their bed; but her parents’ desire, she’d defeat.
In our V-berth we sat, strained our ears to hear that new chapter which she had just done.
From the stern berth came giggles and we assumed wiggles, as they enjoyed their sisterly fun.
But we heard ne’er a line, just a tease time to time, as we floated in our sea-borne home
O’er blues rich and poor, on the deep or near shore, she wrote and she read as we’d roam.
Her manuscript she’d embiggen and the wind in the riggin’ sang the songs of Aeolus to us
As each evening drew nigh and Nyx ruled the sky, they’d retreat to their cabin, no fuss.
They did read; and their woop, heard from bowsprit to poop, left us lonely old parents sore puzzled,
Alone with no notion, flotsam on Mother Ocean, we languished without them… and nuzzled.
Her privacy earned, our lesson we learned, each person deserves to make choices
Of what they will share, either when or e’en ne’er, to make public or private their voices.
Yes, parents must learn that respect is to earn; it’s not something power can force.
Crews must work together, whatever the weather, for a family cruise to hold course.

DD2 poems

DD2 – 01 (2014)

Lively sprite of Persephone, the greening shoot,
DD2, Princess of the night, fair daughter of Nyx.
Internal, external, quiet, loud, wolfing from cap to boot
Throwing fact spaghetti onto the wall, grinning when good stuff sticks.
The wanderer, a planetary child of Ancient Greece, astral seeker,
Searching, scouting, questing, delving, ferreting occult knowledge
Fiercer than Atilla; alternately, than pre-mutagen Scylla, meeker.
Young enough, old enough, unschooled enough, now in the universe of college.
Spanning the arc from Planck Epoch to zero Kelvin entropy
Or a vacuum metastability event. Who can name the final affair?
Travelling from the Id to the Unified Field Theory of “Me”
Learning, thinking, synthesizing, just breathing the air.

DD2 – 02 (2014)

Fear was my mentor, pervading my life,
All-encompassing, behind and before.
Hiding, withdrawing, avoiding all strife
Seeking peace, I asked for no more.

Then I watched DD2, eyes and heart open wide,
First lying, then crawling, with wonder;
And there she was – vertical! - living life at full stride,
Tearing my tenebrous worldview asunder.

Each new, simple thing she perceived with such pleasure;
The joy it could bring was sublime.
A plain, young Spring lawn was her national treasure;
And I found that her joy became mine.

And O! how she grew, each new adventure a feast,
Becoming a doe, no mere fawn.
No more a Bethlehemic rough slouching beast,
I followed into her new dawn.

DD2 – 03 (2014)

So many questions, year after year. So much knowledge to gain.
A voracious daughter was sweet DD2, most anxious to fill up her brain.
For me, growing up, failure deemed unacceptable, I became Encyclopedia Dad;
But no one knows all, and I had to accept that not every failure was bad.

Oh, the pain and the guilt to admit, “I don’t know.” to my fresh sapling, seeking to know.
“Encyclopedia Dad” was a construct of the past, an artifact who needed to go.
Realization came, like Apollo’s bright dawn, that her life, unlike my youth, was real.
Not a contest for grades or performance on tests, only seeking for its own appeal.

“Failure” - a word I was taught to detest, a lamentable place, quite near Hell;
But failure and error and mistakes, it turns out, are learning modes which are actually swell.
Encyclopedia Dad, a Frankensteinian freak, created by outre social pressure
 Could retire forever, useful no more. Now dad and DD2 learn for pleasure.

DD2 – 04 (2014)
Manga. A word quite unknown to me, its meaning was clearly unclear.
What a strange style of art, oddball narrative flow, a genre assuredly queer.
It seemed like a comic, at best - graphic novel, but of quite a curious kind.
Comics, I liked. Graphic novels, ok. But Manga’s charm escaped my mind.
DD2, oh so gently, took pity on me, introduced me to various forms.
Varietal manga, in myriad styles, she led me to accept its charms.
Fruits Basket, Fullmetal Alchemist, too, and Naruto! Well, who could forget?
So many kinds! O who would have thought? But, it seemed that we weren’t done yet.
“Hentai,” she said. Introduced a new word, something I hadn’t yet heard.
She expounded a bit and my brain almost quit. It sounded completely absurd.
But who am I to judge others’ taste or scorn their version of porn?
I buried my prejudice in a full deep-six grave. A fresh appreciation was born.
My child, a sophisticate I had to accept, as I worked to digest this new thought.
 I pushed my old psyche to a brand new zeitgeist. The effort with tension was fraught.
A person’s a person, no matter how small. Or how big or how old or how young.
Once I surpassed my Precambrian mind, I knew that my song was full sung.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Crawfish Bisque

This is my favorite dish in the entire universe. It's the sine qua non of New Orleans cooking. It's primus inter pares. It's nonpareil. It's… Awwwww, you get the idea! If you've never had it, stop what you're doing right now and make this dish immediately. Well, at least get started by going online and ordering some crawfish tails from one of the many internet purveyors, if you can't get crawfish locally. I'm not kidding. Order 4 pounds of crawfish NOW. When they arrive, come back to this recipe and make it. Serve it for dinner and your family/friends will apotheosize you for it, I promise.


Yes, it's a lot of work. Yes, crawfish are kinda expensive if you're not somewhere where they're readily available. Yes, it's not perfectly authentic unless you put the stuffing in crawfish heads (actually the carapace behind the head) instead of making balls/boulettes. Ignore all these factors and just make this stuff already. Here's how.







2 pounds crawfish tails (leave whole)

1/2 pound butter (Substitute EVOO, if you must, but I don't recommend it.)

1-1/2 cups flour

1 onion (chopped fine)

3 stalks celery (chopped fine)

1 bell pepper (chopped fine)

1 whole garlic (chopped fine)

1/3 cup tomato sauce

3 quarts stock (crawfish, if possible, otherwise just do the best you can)

1 bunch shallots (chopped fine)

1/2 cup parsley (chopped fine)

A coupla bay leaves

Cayenne, salt, and pepper (to taste)



2 pounds crawfish tails (chopped semi-fine)

1 onion (chopped semi-fine)

3 stalks celery (chopped semi-fine)

1 bell pepper (chopped semi-fine)

1 whole garlic (chopped semi-fine)

1/2 cup parsley (chopped semi-fine)

1/2 stick (1/8 lb.) butter (Substitute EVOO, if you must, but I don't recommend it.)

3 eggs, beaten

1~2 cups bread crumbs

Cayenne, salt, and pepper (to taste)

Optional: About 50 cleaned crawfish heads(carapaces) (See prep choices later in the instructions for heads vs. balls (boulettes), if you don't have access to crawfish heads)


To make the bisque:

In a large (dutch oven is perfect) cast iron (substitute if you must) pot, heat butter over medium-high heat. Add flour and, using a wire whisk, stir constantly to make a medium roux. Add onions, celery, bell pepper and garlic and sauté about 5 minutes. Add crawfish tails and tomato sauce. Slowly add stock a little at a time until you get a sauce-like consistency. More may be needed as cooking progresses to keep the bisque from becoming too thick; but it's supposed to be hearty. Ya don't want it to be as thin as soup, more of a stew-like consistency. Bring to a rolling boil, then reduce to simmer for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally to keep the tails from settling and scorching. During the last ten minutes, add the heads (or balls), green onions, parsley, and season to taste.


To make the stuffing for heads/balls:

Grind crawfish tails, onions, celery, bell pepper, garlic, and parsley in a food processor to the point that individual pieces are small but not pureed. Add butter, eggs, and enough breadcrumbs to hold the mixture together but not so much that it becomes bready. You wanna taste crawfish, not bread. Season to taste using cayenne, salt, and pepper. Then use prep1 or prep 2


Prep 1, if you have crawfish heads(carapaces): Preheat oven to 350 F. Put stuffing mixture into crawfish heads(carapaces). Bake on a cookie sheet for 20 minutes or until lightly browned, then set aside for later addition to the bisque.


Prep 2, if you don't have crawfish heads(carapaces): Form the stuffing mix into balls (boulettes). I'd recommend about the size of a ping-pong ball or a Swedish meatball kinda size. A tennis ball is definitely too big; a marble is too small. Ok? Sautee them briefly to brown the outside and marry the ingredients, then set aside for later addition to the bisque.


Serve in a soup bowl over white rice with a crusty baguette. Wine? Crawfish bisque is a dish which is robust enough to eat with strong, red wines. Go for it.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Bananas Foster

This is definitely an old family favorite. I've even prepared it on a one-burner campstove in the middle of nowhere. I guess it's mostly a dessert, although it's also a fine breakfast/brunch offering, especially with champagne or a champagne-based drink, like mimosa or kir royale (one of my favorites). This is one of the first things the kids learned to cook for themselves. Snicker! Motivation is a wonderful thing. If you want something fervently enough…


Bananas Foster



1 banana per person (for us that's 4)

1/4 lb. of butter (No, you can't substitute margarine! That's disgusting!)

Some rum (Ok, a lot of rum.)

A little Grand Marnier (Ok, some GM)

Lots of brown sugar (The more, the merrier.)

Some vanilla (Real vanilla is best, of course but imitation works.)

Cinnamon to taste (Again, fresh is good, if you have it. Powdered works, if you don't.)


Slice bananas down the middle lengthwise once and crosswise once, resulting in 4 pieces from each banana. Put butter, rum, and Grand Marnier into an adequately-sized sautee pan. As the butter melts, add the brown (Other kinds will do in a pinch.) sugar, vanilla, and cinnamon.  Some people like a little nutmeg, clove, et al. Cook's choice. Simmer it until it's at the soft-ball stage, then add the bananas. Cook for a minute or two on both sides. That's it; you're done. Serve and enjoy. As a breakfast item, I like to have this with buttered toast. As a dessert, it's pretty tasty over ice cream. Breyer's is good; homemade is excellent. Diner's choice. Whatever you do, please, do NOT use banana liqueur in this recipe. That stuff is just nasty!


Alternate preparation: The previous preparation cooks away all (well, most, anyway) of the alcohol, making this dish suitable for everyone, including kids. If you're a showboat chef, serving adults and wanna impress 'em, try this instead. This method will typically leave a lot more of the alcohol content in the final dish. Put the cinnamon in a small container and have it ready. Prepare the other ingredients as above but in a chafing dish with a heat source at the table; and use 151 rum, which you'll add after you've added the bananas, instead of at the beginning. Give the rum a minute to get warm, then IGNITE the dish. That's right. Set that sucker on fire. Please, be careful at this step. Stir it to keep the flame going and sprinkle the cinnamon into the flames. The cinnamon dust will flare orange in the blue alcohol flame. Very impressive. Unless you set yourself and/or everything else on fire. Of course, that would be impressive, too; but in a different way, huh? Did I remind you to be careful?



Chef Francois, le loup-garou de la cuisine

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Lieutenant Uhura, open a hailing frequency

And ya probably better activate the Universal Translator.

Ronnie has a new blog for gentle parenting and joyful relationships. I was thinking about what I could contribute to her effort when she asked me to write a post about how I communicate with kids better than most adults do. Well, huh. I’ve never really thought of myself in those terms. Am I really better at talking to younger people than most other adults? If so, how? Why? What do I do that differs from other adults when talking with kids? To write about this topic, I had to think about the parameters of it from my perspective, others’ perspectives, and children’s perspectives. Here’s what I came up with.

Don’t be somebody a kid would feel leery about. Be their equal.

One thing I thought of is the simple physicality of communication. As a short person, I find it difficult to have a prolonged conversation with someone who’s, let’s say, 6’6”. The simple physicality of it begins to have a negative effect. To a child, especially a small one, adults are all about 10’10”. Even though I’m short to begin with, I bend down or even squat to be at a more equal level with the kid I’m talking to.

So, I think that’s actually a factor. I speak to them at a physically-equal level, or as close as I can get, rather than looming over them like an ancient god with hair-trigger emotions and awful (awe-full) powers. Because, really, isn’t that what adults are in relation to kids? They’re dangerously powerful beings with seemingly-unknowable triggers who will reward or (more likely) punish you according to some indecipherable parameters. Unpredictable godlings. Ya gotta be leery of ‘em.

Don’t be somebody who makes a kid feel like a lesser creature. Be their equal.

A second factor, at a simplistic level, is talking down to them, psychologically in this case rather than physically as in the previous one. I never use that tone of voice to/with any person, whatever their age. You know the one I mean – artificially chirpy and upbeat and speaking a little slowly, like you’d talk to a dog who’s entertaining you. Don’t do it to old people either. Somehow, to me, that’s even ruder than doing to kids. But make no mistake, it’s still completely rude to do it to kids.

Don’t make a kid feel like they’re talking to someone who’d fail the Turing test. Be their equal.

Be honest. That word is kinda fuzzy so let me discuss what I mean. Many adults tend to be not really interested in the conversation generally and specifically in what the kid is saying, and they embrace a generic low-level kind of “unh-huh” response to whatever the kid says.

“I like turtles!”


“I love it when mom takes me to the park!”


Howzabout an actual interaction instead of a dismissive noncomment? Tell the kid that you like turtles, too. Or that you don’t! It’s ok to disagree in a companionable way. Even if you don’t, you can still then ask why s/he does and have a discussion (conversation!) about turtles.

Don’t be all stiff and “adult.” Be their equal.

Smile. If you genuinely feel it. Don’t pretend. That’s another variant of that fake chirpy-voice thing and kids (or anybody) can see through that like Superman looking through cheesecloth. If you’re genuinely interacting with a kid, like you would with an adult friend, you’ll have many opportunities to smile. If you don’t, well, maybe that’s why you’re (generic “you”) not very good at conversing with younger folks. Or anybody?

Don’t be an outside observer to your own conversation, be in it. Be their equal.

Be an equal partner in the conversation, not an adult interacting with a child. Tell them what you think, how you feel, what amazes you and what disgusts you, what excites you and makes you want to do that wonderful thing. And, given that you have had more actual life experience than they have, tell them about the fabulous thing that excited you so much that you actually pursued it and how great that was.

Variations on a theme: Be their equal.

So what’s the summary here?

I am absolutely no expert and, like I said at the start, I don’t think of myself as being especially good at conversing with younger folks. I just talk to people, whatever their age.