Dinner chez Marcia

True to form, we make plans to do things. When the moment arrives, sometimes one thinks, “Why did I make these plans, the weather is crummy, I don’t feel like going out, etc.” True to form as well, one arrives on scene at the engagement made and realizes that despite feelings that it would be best to stay home, that the scenario turned out to be a memorable moment.

Going downtown can be a tiring experience; the part of it I like least is the traffic one has to deal with in order to get there in the late afternoon to early evening. I am an on-time person and I find it hard when I cannot easily plan within the framework affected by erratic traffic. As it turns out, despite our plans to leave at 5:15 PM to get downtown for 6:30, we didn’t get out of the house until 5:37 PM. Having Samantha in the house beforehand is enough to cause the delay. As usual, I avoided the main highway, which was a major parking lot, and took the Sheridan Road to Lake Shore Drive, seemingly slower, and yet not at that time of day.

Our invitation was at Marcia’s, a dear colleague from the French Homestay/Exchange I was involved in for over ten years. Dinner chez Marcia is always entertaining and the culinary aspect approaches that of the finest French restaurants. Marcia is the consummate hostess.

Going to Marcia’s is always interesting because the discussion is with intelligent people from different backgrounds who have somehow had some involvement with the program in France. After the experience of being with them, one realizes how inferior some of our social connections can actually be. There isn’t a moment where one is bored and the time passes oh so quickly. At the end of the evening, we looked at our watches for the first time and realized that it was well past eleven. There was no fatigue reminding us of the hour, no moment of thinking about when we would be able to leave. The conversation is always scintillating, hitting all sorts of subjects, and always engaging.

The evening started out with French champagne and appetizers. We were the last ones to arrive (oh so French, though not on purpose) and we had the appetizers, so we were keeping the festivities from beginning. The mood was relaxed and congenial. It was oh so nice seeing people we hadn’t connected with in so long.

My biggest surprise of the evening is that this blog is being read by more of my friends/acquaintances than I ever would have imagined. When I think back to last September, when I started blogging on a personal whim, not having any idea where this might be headed. My entries brought about conversation regarding things going on chez les Koerner, which I view as a good thing. I found it interesting that in some areas, I had no explaining to do regarding what has been happening, as everyone already knew!

After a nice conversational moment the word was that we were to go to the dining area and we sat down in places selected for us, nicely separating spouses and friends for good conversation. There were ten of us in total. We started out with three different foie gras, whose origins were explained to us. Personally, I liked Jean-Frédéric’s (the son of our good colleague/friend in France) the best! There were several white wines to go along with the course. Honestly, had we stopped the evening as early as that point, it would have still been a major success.

The next course was prime rib which was served rare, as I believe it should be. That always makes me happy. Red wine, of course, was served along with it. Ratatouille made by Marcia and cassoulet, If I remember correctly, were served as well.

The wines were amazing, they were always accompanied by an explanation/story of their origins, the food was explained, conversations about the food and other issues ongoing. This is the way a meal should be.
Following this, and the removal of the plates, the next course came out, that of salad (which was delicious, as expected) and the different varieties of cheese (I think all were French) served with a great multi-grain bread.

As the table was being cleared I became a bit confused as I was asked my age and/or whether Mary Kay was younger than I am. This cleared itself up as the Galette des Rois (the traditional Epiphany cake of France) was brought out. This came accompanied by a crown. The person receiving the fève (a tiny statuette) in his/her piece of the the galette would then wear the crown as the King or Queen and receive its accompanying good luck. The fève, for this occasion, was a miniscule statuette of a traditionally dressed Alsatian woman).

The reason I was asked my age is because the youngest person has to go under the table until everyone is served and call out the names of the the attending people as the hostess asked the question, “Pour qui est-ce?” This means, “For whom is the piece of galette?). Luckily, my memory of names was not hampered too much by the wine, although I almost forgot Mary Kay’s (lol!) and was reminded of it. It was strange being under the table. Is this perhaps my new place to be?

After the galette was served to all, we started eating and Marcia became the reigning Queen, a title which she well deserves for all of the wonderful things she does and the amazing job she has done culturally for both the Americans and the French at working with our friend Christine (and others) in France to create the programs we have so much enjoyed for so many years.

Along with the galette were served amazing chocolates Marcia had procured in France from the best chocolate makers (and that is no joke!) and other delicacies. Naturally, at this point several “digestifs” (after dinner drinks) were served.

Although one would think that the amount of liquor would be deadly, I felt, in fact, no ill effect as I had not really imbibed all that much at any point in time and what I did ingest was taken at intervals with the courses being eaten.

As I said, the time just flew by and the conversation and friendships re-invigorated were so much enjoyed. Marcia is truly the consummate hostess and so knowledgeable in so many different areas. As an aside, Mary Kay and I truly miss her sister, an intelligent woman who had some interesting opinions, many of which we don’t and didn’t share. One time she came with us to a dinner chez Marcia (we asked Marcia if she minded, and of course she didn’t) and in discussion with Marcia actually admitted that she was speechless and realized she just had to be quiet. That is the only time I ever witnessed that reaction. We so enjoyed that moment.

A special thanks to Marcia and all of our friends. Apologies to all if we haven’t been as able to be as social as we would like, yet I know that everyone understands. Events like this are reminders of the beauty of the variations within people and personalities and the richness they all bring to life’s table. That was one amazing evening! We feel so blessed.

Black bricks and fluffy snow

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I just took out the recycling after figuring out that my town does, in fact, not count Martin Luther King Day as an official holiday.  If they did, I wouldn’t have to take out the recycling, they would come tomorrow instead.  I was a bit surprised by that.  Mary Kay is home today, there is no school; during my school career it was an official holiday; oh well, but isn’t that discriminatory? It makes me think of the famous “Pulaski Day” we used to celebrate in Illinois with the day off, never being truly apprised as to why he was so important we would have a day off;  Dr. Martin Luther King day, that I can understand.

As I moved the recycling from the front to the back I slipped on some invisible ice on my driveway and almost pulled out my back.  That was a bit of a surprise. As I walked in the house, my crocs filled up with just enough snow to be annoying as I passed by several big black bricks of dirty snow from the car that I kicked aside.  The falling snow shall soon hide the ugliness of a winter thaw and traffic on the temporarily pristine surfaces.

Ali did get the paper and once again is snoozing in the same location she has been choosing the past few days near my feet.

I am not feeling overly great, having yesterday figured out why I was cleaning and straightening up like the mad man I am, I was getting Samantha’s cold.  It wasn’t the stress or worry coming out, it was a simple cold!  As the day progressed that feeling of weird pain in my sinuses progressed as it felt like they were twisting tightly and tightening.  The result was an intense unpleasantness of swallowing, growing stronger by the moment.  I almost feared going to bed thinking that I might have a bad night, but luckily that didn’t come true.

We shall be having Samantha over for a bit today as we jockey time so that everyone can have some free time. Yesterday at Ribfest she was a bit better mood wise than she had in previous days while her nose was running; yesterday the cold was  bit “stuffier” but still evident.  I must say that I have rarely seen a child do as well with a cold, even my own didn’t.  Her illness showed itself by a little less politeness, she almost always uses her “pleases and thankyous” in both French and English but was more inclined to be curt.  She was also more inclined to hang on to mommy and to a lesser extent daddy when the mood struck.

Ribfest went extremely well and seemed to help melt the tension we have been feeling in a sometimes heavy duty way since the day that Michael told us he was a drug user. Breaking bread together may just be symbolic but it is far deeper than that in meaning.  It must be almost primeval the actual sitting down with people and eating.  It seems to break down barriers and allows us to move on.  Since it is such a Koerner tradition anyway with European aspects added in, it is even more important that we actually take the time to spend with each other.

Talking about breaking bread, I remember that when I was an adviser at New Trier that I made a great effort to bring doughnuts and such even when I didn’t feel so inclined.  I was seemingly so often gifted with dysfunctional groups that had problems and eating together definitely didn’t ever hurt.

I pulled out the apéro (apéritif) when everyone arrived.  Everyone had their drink of choice (with Mikey teetotaling) as we snacked on peanuts, spiced pretzels, and cheese puffs.  Even Samantha enjoyed the experience as we sat together and talked about the week’s experiences and then had the birthday boy open up his gifts.  We are hoping that the family stress we have experienced continues to lessen as we all recover and heal.  There was talk of working out together, playing hockey, cross country skiing, and movies.  I just exchanged my cross country boots so I am hoping to get out in the stuff.  Might as well enjoy the snow we are gifted with.

The oldest and the youngest tended to the final step of cooking yesterday to get the ribs in order on the grill.  I had intended to take pictures of them but they were snarfed up before I could do anything about it.  I did get some pics of Michael in all his “barbecue” glory.  He was so funny because when we all sat down and had a toast, I followed it up with a question to the group asking if anyone needed anything.  I had noticed that there wasn’t any extra sauce around, but frankly after jumping up quite a few times (honestly, I really don’t need to work out!), I decided to sit down and “make do.”  Mikey asked the question as he apparently likes extra sauce as well.  I am not even sure how I responded, but the whole family went into its usual uproar saying that my “martyr” ways wouldn’t be accepted.  What they meant by that is something I learned from my mom growing up, when she would cook, for example, she would always take the slightly overcooked meat, the smaller piece, etc., gifting us with the better portion.  I have been known to follow this path and when it is noted, it is more often than not corrected.  Do I need professional help for this? 

The other aspects of the day, as I collected more Facebook friends from the past, were more than wonderful.  I have received messages from so many former students with little bits and pieces of kind words of things they remember from my classroom.  Yesterday, one of them who has self-admittedly sadly put aside her French as she majored in elementary education talked about how she mentioned my practices in education classes.  Another one spoke of using some of my practices while teaching English in France. Then there was the young man who spoke of reading this blog and saying that he was so happy to have had a teacher who cared as much about his students and that it made him feel so good about his education.  Teaching well is one heck of a hard career at times and drains the last bit of energy from you as if you were losing blood at times.  Moments like this are like transfusions and more than make up for the blood lost!

So, kind of a holiday here although unfortunately we won’t be thinking of Dr. Martin Luther King as much as we should.  The snow is starting to collect on the exterior surfaces and I am sure that I am going to have to do something about that. Meanwhile, I need to gather my forces and face another day and week.  This week shall be probably the last of my heavy tutoring for a while; it has been a great experience as the students have been so appreciative and receptive.

Ali is stirring, is Mikey up?  Gourmet breakfast perhaps?

Une lettre à nos amis français


Mes chers amis,

Ici tout va bien et il faut certainement me pardonner le retard en répondant à votre message.  Chez les Koerner il y avait pas mal de choses arrivées pendant la saison de Noël. 

D’abord je dois commencer avec les nouvelles que l’entreprise Koerner, Koerner Enterprises n’est plus.  A mon avis, nous pouvons tous remercier notre ancien Président Bush qui nous a joué un très mauvais tour. Cela continue malheureusement assez mal et le chômage est affreux.  Christian a tout de suite trouvé quelque chose afin d’avoir un salaire de quelque sorte.  Richie va continuer à faire à peu près la même chose…et pendant cette saison il enlève la neige, heureusement notre endroit semble toujours avoir de la neige,  Richie et Emily (sa fiancée) habitent dans la maison des parents de Mary Kay.  La mère de Mary Kay habite dans le même immeuble où ma mère habitait avant de déménager…actuellement elle habite dans une maison de retraite tout près de Deerfield.  La photo a été prise le 9 janvier, le jour après son anniversaire.

La mère de Mary Kay crée toujours pas mal de drame.  La démence qu’elle a se montre presque tous les jours, la mémoire qui ne fonctionne pas très bien et un très mauvais côté où elle se montre toujours très fâchée avec n’importe qui…

Et puis, des manques de communication avec Mikey en Californie…La famille a été totalement ensemble au mois d’avril à San Diego.  C’était magnifique sur la côte de l’ouest mais moins d’un mois après ces vacances Mikey nous a annoncé le divorce.  Le problème est que Kt, malgré tous les efforts de Mikey et également de la famille, se montrait très  étrange et semblait souffrir des maladies mentales pas soignées des médecins.  Résultat:  Mikey ne communiquait pas bien avec nous malgré nos efforts et se sentait très seul…il commençait à se droguer. L’ambiance californienne est telle que ce résultat arrive assez facilement (nous, dans le midwest, nous disons toujours que la Californie est un autre pays, un bon endroit pour visiter mais non pas pour y vivre…

Mikey était prévu venir chez nous à Thanksgiving, ce qui n’est pas arrivé, puis il me demandait toujours de changer son billet d’avion…Il est enfin rentré le 15 décembre, un jour après son vingt-sixième anniversaire…malade, mais nous ne savions pas encore pourquoi…

Il nous disait que c’était un virus, en réalité il était victime de l’oxycodone (je crois que c’est le nom en français, normalement oxycontin en anglais).  Il est venu sans drogues croyant qu’il pourrait s’en tirer tout seul, mais plusieurs jours après son arrivée il nous a dit la vérité.  Nous avons parlé à nos médecins et dimanche nous sommes allés aux Urgences.  Lundi, grâce à Dieu, nous lui avons trouvé une place dans une clinique.  Il y a passé deux semaines.

La bonne chose, seulement un mois et demi de ces drogues.  C’était sa décision de rentrer sans drogues et de se guérir.  Dans la photo vous verrez Mikey comme il est actuellement.  Il habite avec nous, nous allons en Californie retrouver ses affaires à la fin du mois et il va recommencer une vie normale.  Nous sommes tous contents qu’il soit revenu mais franchement cet épisode nous a traumatisé tous.  En réaction à cela, la famille a re-souffert des traumatismes émotionnels de la fin de l’Entreprise Koerner.

Heureusement tout le monde nous soutient et nous essayons de nous débrouiller avec les problèmes mis dans nos mains.

J’écris un blogue, si vous vous intéressez jamais (c’est en anglais, des fois en français) vous pouvez retrouver ce site internet:  koernerr.wordpress.com

J’ai reçu un message de Christine…à mon insu elle lisait mon blogue et je dois dire que les événements qui nous sont arrivés sont détaillés là, nous sommes ouverts et des incidents de notre vie familial peuvent y être vus.

En espérant que tout va bien chez vous et que vous aurez une année pleine d’espoir, de bonté, de bonheur, et de bonne santé!


Happy New Year, Day Twelve of rehab, life goes on…

It is about 7:45 am in the morning on New Year’s Day and I am unfortunately awake.  Unfortunately because I should frankly be in bed but given the genetics inherited from my dad, I woke up early with the sensation of a headache due to my metabolism, so I got up and grabbed a cup of needed coffee and a quick bite of something.  I think I went to sleep around 3:00 am or so, so I am thinking a nap may be necessary at some point of time during the day.

A lovely evening spent with friends topped off the end of 2010, a nice restaurant dinner followed by coffee and every major dessert group I crave were served at one of the couple’s homes here in Deerfield.  We had such a good time that the time literally ran away from us.  A good amount of the conversation revolved around our situation which we are totally honest about, that is part of our healing.

I awakened to a most beautiful message from Christine in Strasbourg.  Honestly, I am not sure that when we send messages to people under stress for all sorts of reasons, that we truly understand the power of our words and the calming effect that even the simplest expressions of concern may have on those we reach out to.  This is most assuredly the case with Christine.  She has reached out to us on more than one occasion, I didn’t even realize that she was aware of the blogging I have been doing but she assured me that she was aware of the “goings on” in north suburban Chicago. Once again, Christine has come through with words that make us feel better and remind us that we are not alone in our quest.  She finds the time to do so in spite of the “Noël morose” she spoke of in the wake of the sudden loss of her dear sister. 

Top that off with hearing from our dear, long lost friend in Boston.  Bit by bit we are catching up electronically and via phone on the changes that life has brought in the many years we have not physically seen each other.  He, too, has said that he is keeping up with what is happening here (via this blog) and reminds us that we are not alone, life has its ups and downs for all of us, that is why we need to make sure to stay connected and support one another and be so thankful when we can be there for each other even when we are so far away.  He hints at acquaintance with the things we are going through, truthfully, no one is spared from the awful things that life can throw at us.  But now, there is the tremendous consolation not only of receiving his kind words but also of knowing that the wound of losing that someone is finally beginning to calm down and heal.

Michael was upbeat yesterday when we spoke to him and he is soon to rejoin the Koerner fold and its inherent energy.  He has expressed interest in a steak dinner; he is a “foodie” and a chef having learned all sorts of things from various members of the family and from professionals as well.  He can bake up a storm and one of my funniest memories is of his brothers coming home and stating that they were hungry and saying, “Mikey, cook!”  Not that they can’t cook, they are amazing in the kitchen, even Richie who never seemed to want to own up to his kitchen prowess.

Anyway, we are all pretty much on board to get together and dine in our combination of French/American eating celebration.  We have pulled together all sorts of interesting traditions, both European, family ethnic (Hungarian, Italian, and Swedish), and American.  We have so many protocols to observe, one of the most important being the “apéritif or apéro” where we have a drink, nibble on delicious snacks and converse with one another before dinner.  Obviously, this year shall bring a glass of something non-alcoholic for Mikey.    I have thought about this, wondered if perhaps we should not do it, but we have to continue what we have done as it is not harmful, even good for our overall well-being.  We certainly have to be aware of effects on those recovering, but life must and does go on, even if there are slight modifications here and there.

I am hoping to visit my mom today.  She is one heck of a trooper and although she claims her life was terribly hard, and it did have its hard moments, she has basically had a really good run with a few major traps that she found it hard to recover from.  I am hoping that we can do something nice, family wise for her as she is going to celebrate her 90th birthday on January 8th.  

MK’s mom is another story, we are doing our best to keep her warm, clean, and as happy as we can, that is, however, a major task as some people create a “bed to lie in” that makes it hard to even achieve that.  It really seems that the more we check in on her, the worse it is, the emotional trauma being bad for all parties.  Her dementia has been growing by leaps and bounds and it hasn’t improved on her very difficult, sometimes mentally deranged, personality.  Due to a situation beyond our control, she never did receive what I deem to be the help with her mental health that she and the family needed and deserved.  The result of this is that she was truly emotionally abusive to virtually every family member she interacted with.  It is not that she didn’t have her gifts and okay moments, but overall she was a Caligula-like person whose actions were often mean-spirited and harmful.  As time has gone on, her list of alienated people grows by leaps and bounds.  She has wonderful caretakers who unfortunately put up with an awful lot from her. 

2011 is going to be a good year.  2011 is going to be the year we make of it.  Bonne Année à tous!

Gaenseliesel (Gänseliesel) revisited

I just received a message from a very good friend in Strasbourg reminding me what my sometimes weary mind has forgotten. 

I am convinced that all things happen for a reason although we are not always privy to the reasons why.  Christine reminded me that in the beautiful Orangerie Park in Strasbourg that there is a a statue of Gaenseliesel.  As my wife reminds me, there are many spellings for this Goosy Girl named Liesel, Lisl, whatever.

So in 1978, I first came in contact with her and then I met her in Strasbourg.  Strasbourg is truly a French home away from home.  I so miss Strasbourg and am trying to figure out when to make my next trip there.

So here is a picture of my Liz!