February!

It is February and with the realization of that (I guess I might have had things on my mind) comes the reminder as I sit sipping my coffee that the snow mounds outside are still shoulder height with me (I am 5’ 10”) and the ice floes on the roof are thick.  The only thing that gives me hope is that the daylight situation is very clearly changing.  Okay, as I reread this paragraph I am only sorry it sounds so negative, because I am not at a negative point at all!

Yesterday was a tough one technology wise, it seems that I have had a few of those lately.  I am currently blogging on two sites until I can get the new one under control.  As I have stated in the past, control seems to be the almighty word of reality in most of our lives whether we admit it or not.  In my world, most of my true frustration has been in regards to people and control.  This situation is more like man fighting machine.  It remains to be seen who shall win this one but I have not given up the battle.  Instead of doing what I might have done in the past, I am biding my time more and I am doing only enough fighting to keep me from total frustration.  On the new site, I click on a button and nothing happens or I click on it and I get an ERROR message.  Christian told me that with the upload of pictures that I need to diminish their size first, which makes sense, the old site did that automatically for me.  This makes me wonder whether or not I have made a mistake in choosing to move to the new site.   Supposedly, in the long run, I shall have more freedom to make the site my own.  Yesterday, another main struggle on www.richardjkoerner.com was the one where I was trying to change the background picture on the top to one of my own taken in France about ten years ago.  I have the choice of a wheat field northwest of Paris or of a surprising attractive weedy poppy field.  They are both cool, but although I seemed to have properly chosen my avenue of change, nothing happened.  Christian is coming over, and a part of his new consulting business, check this out: www.cnkconsultinggroup.com, is to work with issues like this so we shall see if he knows his stuff.  I know he does and I know we shall regulate my website issues.  It is just that you have to weigh whether or not the whole thing is worth it.  My natural tendency is to hang on to the old since I know it works.  Okay, let me restate this, in a way I dislike change, but I am smart enough to know that it needs to be done.  It is just that, emotionally I have not always had the ability to handle that well.  The aging process, as maligned as it is, can be of help and it is most certainly helpful here.  So I am hanging in there for the ride.

I am really happy that yesterday I managed to set up some really nice electronic flashcards that are associated with the Bien Dit textbooks by Holt, Rinehart, and Winston that New Trier is using.  I “spreadsheeted” the vocabulary and uploaded it to a website associated to the app.  This shall allow the students I am tutoring to have another avenue of ways to learn vocabulary.  I find that as the time has gone by since I first started teaching, that memorizing has gotten harder and harder for students.  I am sure that it is totally associated with the evolution of pedagogy and the relegation of memorization to a position in learning where it is not totally appreciated.  I do understand that memorization for so long was overused and over touted.  I also am cognizant of the fact that language learning employs a large amount of memorization whether or not we like the concept.  What I am seeing is that the students who are having the most issues, and here we are not talking about students who are failing, but who are trying to maintain more of an above average profile in their classes, are often in their predicament because their continued inability to maintain the vocabulary load and acquire more is hampering their reading ability and causing unnecessary errors.  The subsequent issue is that their confidence level declines and they become sometimes totally or close to totally paralyzed in the learning process.  They then think that they are not language students.  I maintain that anyone can learn a language.  Yes, the ability we all have may be different, but just take a look at the influx of immigrants to the U.S.  Not all of them learned English perfectly, but if they were surrounded by the need to know English, somehow they all managed.  As I may have stated in the past, I misjudged my own grandparents’ abilities with English.  Their speech may have been halting but they frankly communicated quite well, for the most part.  My goal with all of this is to squelch some of the “elitist” attitudes that have been passed on about language learning.  World language teachers are sometimes at fault for having this elitist attitude with their students and cause the lack of confidence that turns them away.  So, I hope that this fun “tool” of a simple app on a phone or iPod will help in some way.  It is most interesting as I tutor and find that my best work is done when I can make it a bit more fun on a personal level and I play psychologist and inject their personalities with the confidence they deserve and need.

Michael went out of the house quite early, off to take a basic skills test in order to matriculate in a graduate program at the university.  I remember taking this test myself in the not so distant past as I completed the program for administrative certification, a certificate which, in fact, I never used.  I recall that despite my knowledge that it was a no brainer, that I would have no problem passing it, that it was an annoying, silly hurdle that I had to get past.  It is unfortunate that we have to have such a test to take, but the reality is that there are people who just are not prepared to move on educationally.  This all reminds me of the reasons why Mary Kay and I moved where we did.  We realized that education is just like real estate as they always say, “Location, location, location.”  As much as my children complained of the snobbishness, the crazy attitudes of the newly rich, and the entitlement of their peers, they received a good education here in the northern suburbs of Chicago.  And, as we all know, they can take everything away from you but they cannot possibly take your educational instruction back!

I didn’t mention that last night we had dinner with one of the sons and his fiancée, a delightful dinner that if seen by outsiders would have been questioned as perhaps the activity of a loony bin.  There was, of course, the delicious repast prepared by Michael served with the last of the Beaujolais Nouveau which was accompanied by almost “wet your pants” laughter that I cannot today pinpoint as to subject.  I just asked Mary Kay about it, she called it a “pinky up” sort of discussion which somehow refers to the fakey British accents put on by just about everyone as movie quotes were flung about and the humor went from normal to bawdy.  Somehow, the only thing I remember was the mention of “Spotted Dick” which is a supposed dessert in Britain.  That says a lot about British cuisine, doesn’t it, and perhaps this last comment lends credence to my supposed discrimination against the Brits that I put in a previous blog entry.  In any case, we were literally rolling on the floor.  That was a pleasure to see as the evolution of events from Michael’s arrival at home in December that went from total and all out dysfunction to where we are now.  It seems that the healing process is well on the road, we just need to hang on to it and continue to go with it.  Last night was wonderful and I am so glad that dinners are going back to where they should be.  The culmination of all our healing will be evident as we come together this coming Thursday to fête Mary Kay’s birthday, the number of which shall remain nameless. 

On the agenda today is perhaps a visit to the gym if we can fit it in, a movie and relaxing dinner with some very good friends, and perhaps some insight into my technology war.  I am looking forward to it, bring on the day!

Ali, the border (disorder) collie at work

It is freezing cold this morning and the experts are worried that it shall be dangerous.  It is about twelve degrees Fahrenheit and the wind chill factor is supposed to exacerbate even that.  I do remember the actual fifteen below degrees and more when the boys were born back in the eighties.  Now that was cold weather!

I sent Ali out  for the paper and she did her usual “disorderly” thing.  One thing I detest is two driveways side by side.  In my life, with houses, because I have been forced to be very crafty in buying homes, I have always had to have a house with some issues.  The first big one was trains.  I was always in a house near a train.  Now I am further from the train but the issue of driveway came up and it almost prevented us from buying this house.  Our first one had an actual shared driveway.  Because of this, I was the snow remover for both households.  I must say, that despite my younger day timidity, I actually talked to the people and gave them a large piece of my mind.  Perhaps that accounts for my mind loss at present?  Anyway, I am getting away from the subject, once again.  Age?

Our current house has two driveways side by side with a small one foot gap between them.  Currently, it is filled with ugly white stones that turn to white powder when I run them over when they wander onto my car’s path.  I personally hate them, but my neighbor originally put them in and likes them.  I have tried to grow sedum “accidentally” in the area, but usually what occurs is that weeds love it. Anyway, once again I am off the subject.

As this “gap” gets toward the house, there is a large fence my neighbor put up.  But, for the most part it is open space.  Ali is a dog who is good about getting a newspaper.  She recognizes the usually blue plastic sack that it comes in.  The problem is that there are usually two of them in the large apron at the end of the driveways where mine merges with the neighbor’s.  Ali, for some cosmic reason, almost always tries to grab the neighbor’s, ignoring mine.  Then I am forced to go out and throw his on his property.  So the wonderful ability of Ali to help us out is canceled out by the fact that she has retrieved the wrong newspaper!  Believe me, I am not going to incur his wrath as I remember so well the “Arrow to Ugliness!”  Today, of course, guess what happened?

Shoeless in Chicago

 

I have been griping around the house for some time now.  At the beginning of the winter I had located my snow boots.  Now, mind you, I have hiking boots I can wear, but with all the snow, it is so much easier to wear regular snow boots you can easily slip into.  And mine are gone.  And for me, being a guy and not having access to an Imelda-like collection that my wife has, it is more of an issue!

This “gone” thing is nothing new to me and the Koerner household.  Mary Kay doesn’t totally get it since she doesn’t, for the most part, have things that the guys would have wanted to snitch from her.  Not only have I had tools and technology that the boys have enjoyed and filched at times as the years have gone on, but we are pretty much interchangeable in sizes as well.  There are a few variations in these sizes but if it comes to a pinch we can pretty much fake it if we need to. It also lends itself to issues of property disappearance!

In the past few years, as boys have moved in and out of the Koerner Estate north of Chicago, this filching has become less of an issue. 

In the past, the way it works is that something would disappear, never to be seen again, and never to be explained.

Add into this mix the strange sort of what I call “Parma Paranoia” that I apparently own as one of my facets.  In Parma, as I was growing up, it was always very important to keep track of everything.  Doors always had to be locked: screen door, regular door, and possible locked with more than one lock. Windows were to be latched shut.  Having decorative items out of doors would beg for vandalism.  I remember the beautiful blue spruce we had in front of our home that we used to decorate with the large, almost kiwi sized lights.  When we decorated this tree at Christmas we inevitably had a large job replacing the bulbs as the local populace of Parmesan vagabonds would attack them and break them into smithereens.  I therefore am a little less trusting than your regular, run of the mill, Chicagoan.

So, back to my winter boots, I located them, had them out, and lo and behold, they subsequently disappeared.

First my “paranoia” set in and I started questioning people and almost “accusing” them of having my beloved boots.  This, apparently, is what I do; at least that is what they tell me.  Now, mind you, my boots are not necessarily the best boots on the market.  Enter here another facet of my character that is pointed out to me on an almost daily basis by my family and is called the “martyr complex.”  My mother taught this to me and my favorite example is at the dinner table, she would serve me the best part of the steak, let’s say the tenderloin, and she would eat off the bone or of a lesser quality portion of the steak.  If cookies are slightly burned, I will eat them first and give the good ones to others.  Honestly, I think it is a nice kind thing, but I take a lot of grief for it!  So, this pair of missing boots is not the best name, but not the worst either.  During recent weeks, when we have been out at local establishments where boots can be had, I have been asked to check them out and I have said, “NO!” all winter.   This stubborn streak is another aspect of my character as well.

So now, Mikey, upon his return home claims that he might have seen the infamous missing boots in a vehicle he traveled in.  This vehicle shall, for the moment, remain nameless. Now I cannot remember the name of the brand of these boots, but if I heard the name, I would know! Unfortunately, Mikey, in his detective work, didn’t manage to look at them closely enough.  So, now he is charged with getting more info.

Other than Mikey, both of my sons wear the same size shoe as I do…as this develops further, I shall report, but at present, the boots are still unaccounted for.

Up to this point, I haven’t as of yet mentioned my “cowboy” boots which have also been on the missing list for some time.  This is really a funny story as I have actually lent them out more than once, once to my son and another time to a friend who was going horseback riding and needed to try them out.  This set of boots has a funny story as do most of my possessions!  Years ago in Deerfield when we had a funny little corner shopping area at the corner of Waukegan and Deerfield Roads, there was a traditional shoe store owned by a funny guy who had the license plates  with “Shoedog” written on them.  He was a great guy, an old fashioned shoe salesman who really knew his products.  One time when I went in with the wife and kids, I spied a great pair of Frye boots, actually more of a “biker” pair of boots than anything, with square toes and gray and with black leather straps attached to a metal ring toward the bottom.  These boots were amazing and very cool to walk in and the price was one of those that I figured I would never see again. So, I bought them and whenever I went horseback riding or whatever, I would wear them.

Well, these boots, after being borrowed several times, returned home and then disappeared within the family house.  I have been doing all sorts of housecleaning and re-organization since “pretiring” and they have been missing for several years.  I cannot figure it out.

I am beginning to think that my “blaming” of my sons for these issues is perhaps the problem.  I think that perhaps, all along, that maybe there has been some sort of ghost or something that perhaps just likes what I own and takes them.  I guess I shall just keep looking.  Meanwhile, I am “shoeless in Chicago!”

Awake

 

At 5:30 AM, I literally sat up straight in bed.  I knew that there was no sleep to be had.  As I shuffled around the bedroom, MK asked me why I was up.  I responded, “Because I am awake.”  My internal alarm had gone off for some reason.  When it goes off, I heed its call!

I had slept well although seem to have experienced strange dreams.  Every so often I would somewhat awaken to mentally rehash the story line of the dream.  At that point, I wasn’t sure whether it was dream or reality.

So, up I am and set to making the coffee and then to a task I didn’t want to do later.  Before going to bed I had thrown a load of wash in.  Our front loading washer is wonderful, but unfortunately we didn’t follow a Koerner tenet, never to buy something when it is a new model.  Despite the fact that the Europeans have been successfully producing front loading washers for what seems like centuries, we Americans are new to it.  Our model works well but it took us a while to figure out its quirks.  One of the quirks is that you cannot leave the door closed as it will begin to take on a musty odor from the moldy matter it must be producing.  We also learned that you can use almost no detergent, it needs to be very small in volume.  Excess soap makes must as well, or so I am told.

So, I went down to the laundry room after my toilette and coffee production to deal with the laundry.  I knew that I had to deal with the issue of folding the laundry in order to place the new laundry on the racks.  That took a bit of time and then I was finally able to install the newly washed whites from last night.

It is now 6:30 AM and I am finally seated with my cup of coffee.  It is time to reflect on yesterday and today.  I got my coffee and took out the recycling and picked up the newspaper which is too large for Ali to deal with.  I almost killed myself on the slippery pavement which is ice covered from Snowmageddon and now has at least an inch of white fluffy snow.  Apparently we are going to have our record beaten this year.  In the past there were never more than three years in a row with over 50 inches of snow.  The past three years were over that limit and we were at 47 inches the other day.  I am guessing this is a “no brainer” and we shall have a new record. 

Yesterday was nice despite the less than auspicious beginning after our exercise foray.  We went to the nursing home to take clothing for MK’s mom.  Once there we learned that she had not been cooperating.  For us, news of this nature is never a surprise.  We dialogued with the nurses and staff, made them aware that we had two charges in the facility, which surprised a good many of them, and we informed them that we understand what they are going through and that we are very supportive.  We told them, as well, that MK’s mom is to get dressed each day and they are to try to make sure she gets in her rehab and tries to socialize a bit.  We even managed to get her to lunch and she seemed to enjoy it.  My mom was her usual self and doing fine with the situation although she hasn’t been eating as much.  She has lost weight and I think she may have gotten into some bad habits while waiting for her mouth to heal and for her new dentures.  Anyway, there is always something.

We saw The King’s Speech in the early part of the afternoon.  It was amazing from so many standpoints.  I was in awe of the way that the film was made and managed to keep you involved despite what seemed to be a very simple plot that wouldn’t be able to hold your attention for the whole film.  The actors, Colin Firth in particular, managed to totally convince the spectator of the seriousness of the undertaking.  The pain of “Bertie,” AKA King George VI, was evident, obvious, and strongly felt by the audience.  It was a great film and managed to keep us awake throughout the whole time, which at my age is how you can measure the interest of a film!

Did I mention it was snowing?  I just opened up the blinds so we can enjoy the beauty of the falling snow which is continuing to come down in a steady, but persistent way.

We ended up last night going to a Tapas Restaurant with one of MK’s colleagues and spouse.  We had a delightful dinner and then returned home.

Yesterday I also completed my tutoring schedule for the coming week.  I am tutoring two girls consistently each week and yesterday I received an e-mail from another who wants to make sure she understands The Stranger by Albert Camus, one of my all time favorite books. 

The kids are supposed to be heading north this morning for a Super Bowl Day of skiing.  I kind of thought that they were on an early schedule, Samantha is to spend time with “Mumma” and Papi today.  We shall see.  That newspaper seems to be inviting me to read it.  Now that I have my world in control and can approach it and see what is going on.

Oh yes, the Super Bowl.  Weirdo that I am, I am probably not watching it.  Honestly, had the Bears been involved, I would have at least attempted to watch a bit, maybe even more than a bit.  I shall be glad when the game is over; I am sure tired of being asked at the grocery store if my stockpiling is due to that celebration!  Traditionally, we always find something to do that is usually crowded, on this Sunday, during the game, crowded venues are amazingly empty and so much more enjoyable!

Time for some more coffee…

The Soup Spoon debacle

 

Tis a cold day once again in the northern suburbs of Chicago and I ponder a subject brought up to me by my sons recently, the ubiquitous soup spoon.  I must admit that I have generated some funny stuff in my time and the soup spoon subject is one of them.  For some reason, years ago, I discovered that I truly enjoyed soup like many people, and I still do.  My grandmother always made all of the family noodles and I grew up not really knowing the store bought variety.  Her noodles probably made soup such a large part of the Koerner repertoire.  Along with this, I was also spoiled by using a most amazing soup spoon, one that makes the “dégustation” of it all the better. 

I don’t know why, but for some reason, the soup spoon intrigues me.  There are so many shapes out there and so few of them appeal to me.  I am sure that most of you are going to be wondering what I am talking about.  How can it be that the simple shape, size, and weight of a spoon can affect your enjoyment of something?  It can, however, and when I moved to Chicago from Cleveland I brought my own special soup spoon, absconded from my mother’s kitchen.  

The infamous soup spoon is on the left, simple stainless steel, lightweight and thin, and having the perfectly rounded, not too small or not too large shape.  For some reason, soup just tastes better with this implement.

I realize that everyone does not have the reaction to this issue that I do, and at times I thought that perhaps I am odder than the average Joe.  Frankly, I am guessing that I am.  Mary Kay has assured me of this fact from time to time.  Mary Kay’s reaction to the soup spoon issue has always been one of incredulity.  She didn’t understand why I would make a face when a different, heavy, humongous, spoon was given for me.  She didn’t get that using it would make me enjoy the experience less.  For her, a soup spoon is a soup spoon.  I guess I was just born with a stainless steel soup spoon in my mouth and she wasn’t!

For years I wondered if perhaps I needed professional help in this area.  I was almost to the point of wondering if I could really enjoy soup with the wrong instrument.  I feared going out into the public arena and being forced to ingest soup with a less than perfectly shaped piece of silverware.  Restaurant forays scared me for this reason. 

Along came the Koerner boys and I soon realized that although I now had to share the one, precious spoon I had imported from Ohio, that I had proven that spoon shape does make a difference.  Over the years, the Koerner boys and I had constantly vied for the position of wielding the stainless steel soup spoon.  When soup was served, we would all do our best to jockey the spoon into position at our place setting.  

The result of all this is that I came to a new understanding of myself and the fact that I really am “okay!”  My fascination and need for a good soup spoon was normal! 

A few years ago, we made an important discovery.  In my acquisition of the Dirilyte (or Dirigold) silverware we received when we broke up my mom’s household, that we were in need of a few replacement pieces.  Good old eBay came to my rescue.  I inadvertently picked up a few more pieces than I had planned on, among them the soup spoons.  For some reason, we rarely used the soup spoons of this set, but one glorious time, we did.  I discovered that although the stainless soup spoon was good, the Dirilyte version was spectacular.  The other thing is that I now had a large quantity of soup spoons at my fingertips, and we would no longer have family squabbles at dinnertime!

Yes, the Dirilyte version is even better.  For some reason, the shape is perfect and even more importantly, the weight is right.   It is the perfect soup spoon.  Why this has not caught on with the American populace is beyond me.

Do I need a life?

Back in Illinois

The plaque over our back door reads:

“Que Dieu bénisse notre maison et ceux qui en franchissent le seuil.”

God bless our house and everyone who enters it.

Got up about eight in the morning. Slept like a log. Been doing wash to clean ‘California’ out of Mikey’s clothing! We have pretty much put everything away, he has his technology up and running.

Last night was amazing and crazy. The last several hours of the trip were really a pain as we re-entered the Chicago area. It began to snow just as the sun set and the road became wet. The visibility was awful and it was hard to determine how icy it really was. I was driving again and luckily, after about an hour of that nastiness, it got dry as we did our final hour of the drive.

We enjoyed the warm reception we got once home. The baby was there and we quickly emptied the car. It was a great stroke of luck we had purchased six large rubbermaid type plastic containers which made it easier to unpack. The dinner of warm pot roast, mashed potatoes, gravy, salad, and fresh bread made our return even better. We quickly got everything in order as the dinner was finalized. It all began with Samantha giving us big hugs and making the return even more special.

The best part was the coffee after dinner. One odd note to our travels on Interstate Route 40 which parallels the famous Route 66 is that good coffee is non-existent in our eyes. Laughter would often ensue as “Dad” would ask the restaurant people about the coffee being served. Usually, the server would have pretty much no clue about what I was getting at. Although Starbucks is decidedly not my favorite, as I feel they burn their beans, we would have enjoyed some as a safe coffee haven in the storm. Starbucks was pretty much non-existent along the route and any other good coffee houses as well. We did resort to using the instant coffee from Starbucks to “fortify” the coffee we were drinking, but idiot me would often forget it in the hotel room. Note to self, take the one cup coffee makers we purchase from Bodum for ourselves and the boys since it takes up little space but makes a decent cup of coffee.

Today we will take the car back to O’Hare, which was not the original location of the return. Since we changed our original plans of return to Sunday, we have to go there, That is no biggie!

The entire trip was about 2100 miles or so… It was amazing! I feel so sorry for those who have not seen the beauty of the ride, it is worth it and I would do it again in a heartbeat. Essentially the plan for us was to drive during the entire daytime, leaving at dawn and finishing up around sunset.

Mikey is up, it is about ten o’clock and Mary Kay is preparing waffles in the kitchen. We are attempting to ‘normalize’ and that is a good thing. It is pretty much going to be a day of rest.

Oh, and did I tell you that we finally figured out that the Superbowl is next week?

I wonder what kind of mischief I shall be able to get in today?

Dirty, icky snow

 

I know that someone from another part of the country might not comprehend this at all.  It would be culture shock.  I think it should snow!

People around here complain about the snow all the time.  I say, put up or shut up!  After all, if you don’t like it, why are you here?

Yes, snow can be a pain, it can be dangerous, but right now, we frankly need it.  The current situation has the pure snow looking very slutty!  Honestly, my picture doesn’t even do the situation justice.  The snow, when it is melting and hit by modern life, starts looking used and dirty.

We were talking about this the other day, the Midwest, that is.  Okay, perhaps it is not the most beautiful part of the country.  Perhaps we complain about its weather.  Some say that we just don’t see enough of the sun.  Others will complain about the tornadoes, the storms, etc.  I always complain, I will admit it, that there are no mountains.  I used to complain about the flat Midwest and didn’t realize that Cleveland just wasn’t all that flat!  I moved to Illinois and now I really do know what flat is.

When we get up in the morning, we aren’t really sure what to expect, and that is a good thing.  I think how hard it would be to just have to get up every day and see that shining sun; that might just be downright boring.

Okay, although I am saying I want it to snow, that warmth and sun might not be a bad choice after all!