Real Men Make Quiche

Real men don’t just eat quiche, they make it too, at least in my kitchen. Early on in my marriage, after I burnt steak to a crisp, blew the lid off a pressure cooker and scorched eggs, my husband gave up on me and took over the stove. I am no fool. How could I begin to compete with a Frenchman, born with that refined aquiline nose. Betty Crocker beware! My personal chef prepared King’s Lamb, a menu that he claims is NOT difficult, even though he cooks the meat seven hours. I told him the definition of DIFFICULT is different in French than in English.

“Ah, zer is a difference between difficult and time consuming. It takes time, but it is not difficult.”

copyright Philippe Dols

Any working mother would disagree, but who am I too argue. Most women dream of sitting down to a five-course gourmet once in a lifetime, in my humble abode, I eat like a queen every weekend. Gerald says cooking is his creative outlet. My poor hubby, my creativity is depleted writing silly blogs and dreaming up ways to keep hyperactive kids focused in class.

His latest chef d’oeuvres, Tagine de porc Marrakech, Marinade de Lapin aux Epices, Porc au Caramel et au Lait de Coco. How can I compete with that? Gerald insists that the cookbook he follows, « Jules aux Fourneaux «( Jules at the oven,)with recipes written by everyday, run-of-the-mill Frenchmen, who enjoy cooking, is simple. Each dish must be accompanied with a specially chosen wine of a specific grape from a certain region. As a connoisseur of wine, my repertoire is limited to three selections – red,white or rose.

Tagine de Porc…Easy? Pork, garlic, onions, artichoke hearts, Agen prunes, olive oil, apple cidre, honey, Moroccan herbs, cumin, hot peppers, coriander, almonds!

It requires over a dozen different ingredients, not counting salt and pepper. A recipe with more than two parts and one pot is challenging in my book.

Marinade de Lapin needs 18 ingredients, not counting the bunny. It would be easier to go out and hunt meat with a bow and arrow than actually prepare the meal. Ladies, anytime you see the word, marinade, run! It means hours of pre preparation before you even turn on the stove.

No worries if your man is not French, my American brothers-in-law can cook my sisters into the ground. Gently remind your significant other that the best chefs in the world are of the male gender.

I tend to cook by my grandma’s old methods, a dash of this, a sprinkle of that, which is the opposite of precise French cuisine where meat must be tenderized, marinated, basted, rotated and pampered every minute from the market to the table.

My speciality takes a mere twenty seconds to prepare. Slice one fresh baguette, lightly butter and cover with cheese. France at it’s best! Voila le sandwich.

Alas, la cuisine francaise made easy a la Potreezia! Bon appetit.

Hiding in the Secret Attic of School

Sixty five years after the anniversary of Anne Frank’s death in Bergen Belsen,  the young girl remains a teenager forever, her memory kept alive by the millions who  read her story.
My 9th grade English class try to comprehend the atrocity of world history. We not only analyze the Holocaust ; we also visit a concentration camp. « It is so depressing, » Invariably students say, « why do we have to study. This ? »  Yet, painful as it may be  a young minds, we must bear witness  to the past.
I told the class that they could ever play a game by my rules or  take a test. « The game starts when we walk outside this door.  No talking.  If you speak, you will be sent back to the class room.  Bring your journal and a pen; leave everything else in the room. » 
Single file, 18 students followed me down the hall, up two flights of stairs and down a narrow passageway under the sloping roof of the old building.  I unlocked the door to an empty room, no bigger than a boxcar.  When I close the shutters on the dormer windows, I say, »This is like the black out of houses during WWII bombings. We are in the secret attic of the school.  Write a descriptive piece using all five senses.  You can imagine you are writing a journal entry during the Holocaust, you can invent a story of the Swiss hiding from their French neighbors, former oppressors, or you can pretend the teachers turned against students and I am  hiding you to save you from being taken away.  You have to survive one class period in without a sound. »
Students slouched against the sloping walls.
A couple boys scuffled  over the three wooden chairs.  Others lay on the floor.  Only the rustle
of paper and pens scratching across the lines breaks the eerie silence.  No one spoke.  Even my hyperactive drummer boy stopped tapping. 
The air was hot and stuffy from too many bodies crowded into too small of space, squeezed
so close together our elbows touched. I felt like I was suffocating.
My thirteen-year old students were the same age as Anne Frank when she went into
hiding.  How different their lives?  Affluent kids from privileged backgrounds dressed in designer jeans and shirts, feet clad in various name brand of tennis shoes in rainbow colors.  My six girls, a minority, stopped writing occasionally to brush their long, luxurious hair from their bright, inquisitive eyes.
 I glanced around the room at my students -American, British, Czech, French, German, Guadamalean, Indian, Italian, Japanese, Scandinavian, Swiss , Trinidadian, -not long ago we were divided by ideology in a world war.  Allies vs. Nazis, the axis of evil, set to annihilate all but the Aryan race. Today we are classmates and friends at an international school without walls in Switzerland, a neutral country without borders.
« I feel locked, not in a room, but within myself, » one Israeli student wrote. « Even though we are not alone without communication we’re not together. The intense atmosphere of silence can quickly make the toughest mind fragile. »
« I feel oppressed. » wrote another.  « My back hurts  from sitting on the floor.»
I cannot help but compare these kids to those of Anne Frank’s time or to my generation coming of age at the heels of the Civil Rights and Women’s movement.  I pods, I pads, Internet, cell phones,
television, today’s teens connected 24/7 by instant messaging and the world wide web.  When was the last time these children listened to silence, turned out the universe and tuned into the self ? 
These multi cultured, multi ethnic, children are our future.  They are the ones who will stop nuclear war, negotiate peace, end terrorism, prevent oil spills and contain other man made disasters with more cooperation, better technology, brighter minds.
And I the aging teacher will become a shadow of the past, a faded memory of an era when I
tried to change lives  the old fashioned way, one idea at a time.

Teaching An Old Dog New Tricks

You can stave off a midlife crisis by following this tried and true advice. Want to turn back the years stay lean and mean, learn something new? How about Downward Dog? Yep, yoga for the flexibility impaired. Never mind that even as a two-year-old, I could never touch my toes. And I have no balance. Though in my mind I define myself an athlete, my body would disagree. I no longer have muscle, so how can they be toned?

During my first yoga lesson, I got stuck. I kept hoping that my instructor would demonstrate an animal or plant shape that I could will my body into. On my belly, back arched, shoulders off the floor: Cobra. Don’t think so. I hate snakes. Hands over head, one foot bent onto knee, balance on one leg. Nope don’t make a good Tree either. Feet and hands on floor, head back, arch back. Bridge, un uh…not for me.

The tenets of yoga insist – go at own pace, never compare yourself to others. I couldn’t help noticing that I was the only salt n pepper haired participant in the group. While young supple bodies around me twisted into pretzel shapes, I remained locked in place like The Tin Man. I peeked at everyone else gracefully posed in a perfect posture, and felt like a loser. It’s hard for old athletes to quit competing.

I still have the ball player build, long and lanky. Ever see a tall Yogi master?Most yogis have the short compact build of gymnasts, not basketball players. Makes sense, the closer to the ground you are, the easier it is touch Mother Earth. My former head of department, a dance specialist, told me 85 % of flexibility is inherited, so we can only improve on that 15%. Go ahead, like everything else, blame it on your parents. It’s genetic.

Remember Gumby? Well I am not Gumby.

My spine has been broken, my feet deformed. My second toes are longer than my big toes, so I clutch land with hammertoes. Just staying upright is challenging. Like a monkey, my crooked toes curl and cling to edge of the yoga mat.

Inhale. Exhale. Right leg back. Inhale. Left leg back. Downward Dog. Exhale Plank. Inhale Cobra. I am sweating, and gasping, and my muscles are trembling and we just started saluting the sun.

The best part is at the end of the lesson. When we finish the session, we lie flat on our back, feet splayed; hands at our sides in the corpse position. Yep, I like this one. I make a good dead body. Only my inhalation and exhalation remind me I am still of this earth. After class, I stand, bow, and float out the door as if otherworldly.

Forget improvements in flexibility, balance, strength, and endurance, at fifty something, I am grateful that I can still breath. I am a good breather. Inhale, exhale. Ommm

I still can’t touch my toes, twist my body into any shape, animal or otherwise, and I am far from enlightenment, but I am starting to feel good about myself.As someone who confuses left from right, north from south and is always lost, the yoga mantra is appealing, “wherever you go, there you are.”

Carpe Diem

As usual, I was moaning about my students, my lumbago, my work load and then I almost lost my bro. Dick was a dead man walking with 99% blockage of not just any old blood vessel, but of the Widow Maker, left anterior descending coronary artery, so named because if the artery gets obstructed the result is usually the Big One, sudden death.

The doctor said that my 54-year-old brother in law has the heart of 70-year-old man and wonders how a man who lives so right, could have a cardiovascular system so wrong. Dick, a non-smoker, exercises daily and eats veggies grown in his own garden. Good habits. Bad genes. His dad died at a massive heart attack with no warning at age fifty-four. Dick’s only warning was strange pain in the neck.

Dick, cheerful, outgoing, athletic, is a wonderful husband and father, a soccer coach, and businessman, who loves the outdoors. He’s always the first to do someone a good turn for no ulterior motive. He donates gallons of blood, gives his Christmas check to the underprivileged and contributes to church and community service projects. A good man.

He’s the kind of guy who takes a thousand pictures of his nephew’s first U.S. college ball game, to capture one perfect shot, so that Nic’s parents in Switzerland could feel a part of that milestone. The guy that buys his in-laws (he named Outlaws) goofy gifts like matching shirts with gaudy fish patterns. That drives 500 miles to surprise a friend. That never forgets a Mother’s Day.

When my sister, Karen, called to explain the crisis, the only time she broke down was when she said, “I would have been lost without Nathalie by my side.” Our daughter, Nat, in her last year of Medical School, moved into Karen and Dick’s basement to help defray expenses. Nat was working ER at the hospital where Dick underwent emergency surgery. Dick, a man of great faith, knows God was watching over him. And Nat was at the right place in the right time doing what she was born do – console, comfort, guide – people through the perils of the medical world, that other planet where they communicate with doctor-speak, another foreign language.

Last week, Dick comforted Nat after a tough day when she came home distraught, after they tried unsuccessfully to resuscitate a Code Blue baby in a case of child neglect. This week, Nathalie held my baby sister’s hand when the cardiologist explained her husband’s alarming test results and requested his living will before the procedure.

Forty-eight hours later, Dick is home with a stent restoring the blood flow to the heart. When people call to wish him a speedy recovery, he doesn’t lament the diseased heart, medical bills, or pills for-the-rest-of-my-life regime; instead, he rejoices in the miracle of being alive.Ever positive and upbeat he tells you, “I guess God still needs me here on earth.” As do his wife, daughters, mom, sisters, brothers, nieces and nephews, in laws and out laws, neighbors and friends.

In the aftermath of almost losing a loved one, we face our own mortality. Dick inspires us; he always lives each moment as though it may be his last. With a broad grin, The Dead Man Walking wraps you in a bear hug and shouts his motto, “Seize the day, Sista!”

Don’t breath on me !

Everyone in my school is some state of the verb sick, as in, was sick, is sick , or will be sick.   No kidding. One third of our students are absent .  The remainder are in some state of sickness past, present or future.  Since swine flu hit Switzerland, I am afraid to breath.
Kids come to my lesson a)  feeling sick  b) having been sick  or c)  imagining being sick.
I follow school protocol and send students  to the nurse.  She sends them home.  Forty-eight hours later, Mom sends them back to me.  
« Why did you come back to school if you were sick ? »  I ask.
They answer because, a) I was bored ,  b) I didn’t feel sick after I got home or c) mom had to go back to work
So much for quarantine. 
Each day I walk through the halls dodging bullets. Students cough into their elbows and sneeze on my keyboard.  I washed my hands so frequently, I erased my fingerprints.  After all the hype, I wish I would get the flu to get it  over with. 
Everytime I turn on TV, I hear about another outbreak with terrifying fatalities in some part of the world. Not to make light of a  serious situation, but somebody is always dying somewhere.  Before CNN, we never heard about it.  
When your immune system is wacked-out like mine, you no longer fear getting sick.  Illness is part of your daily life, so as my British colleagues say, « you just get on with it. » Granted people have died from H1N1, yet people perish from the seasonal flu without all the pandamonium. I adopted a fatalistic approach. I have a poor track record as far as illness.  I have been sick every November for the past decade. That said, I listen to my body.  I am the only person on the planet that sleeps ten hours a night and eats the daily recommended one dozen servings of fruits and vegetables . 
Is the threat real or media hype ? News is so sensationalized no one believes journalists anymore.  No one believes the government either, no matter what country you live in. If the  H1N1 vaccination is so important then why are the medical professionals balking  about receiving the jab? According to my Swiss doctor, an immunologist, the flu, itself, is safer than the vaccination.  He  believes that the mafia is manipulating pharmaceutical companies  and behind all drama.
The French health minister announced 16 new deaths last week and urged people to get vaccinated, but no lines are forming at flu prevention centers.  Journalist have been crying wolf about the flu pandemic since  its outbreak  last March, so when it hits one’s neighborhood, people are blasé.
Go ahead listen to the authorities, get the jab, wash your hands, wear the mask, or try my foolproof advice.  Don’t breath until May.

A Word A Day Keeps Doctor Away

I subscribe to A. Word. A. Day, though anyone who never deletes messages and regularly receives warnings, “your mailbox is full, you may no longer send or receive mail “ has no business collecting more words. But there are too many wonderful expressions out there.Like the word that flashed on my computer screen today. Nihilarian comes from Latin, nihil, for nothing, and means one who feels their work, is useless. Like it sounds, this word is hilarious, so LOL, which in SMS speak, means laugh out loud, (not love a lot, like I thought.) Great word. Describes my life.

Probably depicts your life too especially if you work in business, government, military, or education, like me. Unless self-employed, like it or not, we are cogs in the machine. My medium, education, epitomizes bureaucratic redundancy. Bureaucrats love to develop new theories and adopt new strategies. It makes administrators feel creative.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in education. No one loves the double speak, gobbledy gook, psycho babble more than school officials who pontificate on how to learn, what to learn and what constitutes knowledge. Consequently every so often, educators worldwide are obliged to rewrite the curriculum, so that it can sit on a shelf for the next decade until it is time to pass accreditation again.

At our last staff meeting, gearing up for our next accreditation, our director urged us to sign up for horizontal and vertical assessment teams. Horizontal squad? That’s for me, I thought, slumping in my seat, eyes at half-mast, nodding off.

In the education factory, caught up in the frenzy of curriculum, reports, assessments, accreditation, and accountability, I wonder what happened to the good ol’ days when all we did was teach? I spend more of my waking hours in meetings and in front of computer screens diagramming and documenting data, than in contact with kids.

The school system offers a parody of real life. Committee membership reigns over thought processes.A famous French leader, De Gaulle, coined the adage, “Want to bury a problem, form a committee”. Politicians taught us that.In the USA, we can also thank government for No Child Left Behind legislation, which as any teacher knows, is still wreaking havoc in our public school systems.

Schools offer a smorgasbord of committee choices.Strategic Planning Assembly. Campus Development Group. Ecology Awareness Association.Pilot Program for Global Responsiveness.And now our new Horizontal Assessment Team.

Alas in an era where technology makes us slave to machines and human contact is at a all time low, at an age when the food we eat, air we breath, and water we drink can be hazardous for our health, words remain a harmless indulgence. A word a day dropping out of cyberspace for free is a mini gift for our minds. When the drudgery of your job gets you down, google Wordsmith.org. for an environmental-friendly, safe, cheap chuckle a day.