Musical Interlude #1

Autobiographical nonsense follows – warning issued.

Background: We Moores are a semi-musical family, as in: Elder Daughter has a music degree (voice) and plays violin and piano; Younger Daughter plays piano, guitar and ukulele and sings – she’s that modern ‘there’s a YouTube showing me anything I don’t understand’ generation, so few formal lessons; Caboose is a bit of a phenom on fiddle (meaning: he’s remarkably good for how little he practices – sigh. But he just turned 13, so there’s plenty of time). I torture both musical instruments and my audiences (those unwilling to chew off their own limbs to escape) with piano, guitar and singing.

This leaves Middle Son, 20 at the time, who showed little interest in music until, suddenly, he decided he wanted to play guitar after hearing some Rodrigo y Gabriela. He wanted to learn this song:

Here’s where the dad stuff gets a little challenging:  I certainly want to encourage him, but this is piece is just short of insane – It would take a good guitarist – better than me, for sure – months to get this down. And that’s just Rodrigo’s part. What Gabby is doing on the rhythm guitar, with the complex stums, strikes, and pops at breakneck speed is just nuts – she’s done ‘how to’ videos (see: ‘there’s a YouTube showing me anything I don’t understand’ above) and, even slowed way down, even after multiple viewings, I don’t understand what she’s doing. ‘Understand’ and ‘can do’ being separated by a wide gulf.

Yet, this is the piece my son wants to *start* with. Not House of Rising Sun, or Good Lovin’ or Louie, Louie or any one of a bazillion 3-chord rock/pop songs that kids back in my day started on. Nope – straight on to graduate school without picking up the Bachelor’s first.

Soooo, what the heck. We get him a cheap guitar (nylon string with the cutaway – because that’s what Rodrigo & Gabby play) and I sit down and watch videos with him and figure little snippets out on my own, and we work on it.

And he’s smiling from ear to ear and playing until his fingers, while not bleeding, are very very sore.  A year later, he can in fact play Rodrigo’s part – not to speed, not quite in rhythm, but he’s got all the fingerings and notes.

And still grinning ear to ear. Amazing.

So: when we got his first guitar, we went down to Guitar Center (because, you know what? They have a LOT of guitars). I played a bunch and showed him the differences, tried to describe tone, action, intonation and so on. He nodded along. We picked a nice cheap guitar. Perfectly playable, decent tone, nice intonation, looks nice. What else do you want in a first guitar? Thomas was thrilled.

Sheer luck had Rodrigo Y Gabriela playing up in Napa a few week’s later, and, total fanboy waits over an hour (with me cooling my jets in the car) to meet them and maybe get his guitar signed. Which they very kindly do. Which creates problems: do you play the signed guitar and risk slowly erasing the signatures? Or do you do what collector’s do, and hang it on the wall?

Thomas feels guilty. He just got the guitar, he doesn’t want to turn it into a decoration. Yet, he soon discovers he is in fact slowly erasing Rodrigo’s signature – Gabby’s is more out of the way. After a year, Rodrigo is half-gone.

This weekend, down at TAC visiting him, we make a run to the local Guitar Center. He has hopes of maybe using a pick guard to shield what’s left of Rodrigo’s signature. While he’s looking into that, the Caboose and I head over to the guitars.

I play my way through the offerings, starting with the not-quite-so-cheap ones and working my way up. By the time Thomas joins us, I was up to the $700 guitars – very nice. So, I hand him the one step up from his guitar, describe it and tell him to play in. Not much reaction. Then I hand him the $700 guitar. He later admitted he had no idea what I was talking about regarding tone and playability and all that when we’d got his first guitar, but now, after a year and hundreds of hours of playing, he understands. So that $700 guitar sounded and played A LOT nicer. He go it.

Finally, the nicest cut-away nylon string they had was this beauty:

Image result for Cordoba Fusion 12 Rose Acoustic-Electric Nylon String Classical Guitar Natural

I played it for a minute. I lusted in my heart. Plays and sounds fabulous. Handed it to Thomas to check out.

Thomas could not get enough. For the next half hour,  he played through everything he knew at least twice(1). Then he asked me to play with him. Seizing the opportunity, grabbed a $1k Taylor dreadnought off the wall, and we jammed a little. (I’ve never bought a guitar anywhere near that expensive – I’m a hack and I know it, not dropping serious cash on a toy.)  The ear to ear smile never left his face.

Now Thomas wants that guitar bad. But he’s been raised well enough that that level of impulse buy isn’t happening. And he’s going to college at the moment. Maybe for his birthday, which is in November, we can pool some family resources and swing this for him. And that way cool signed guitar car retire to the wall.

  1. The help at Guitar Center were pretty cool – they asked how we were doing a couple times, otherwise left us alone to play with their expensive toys.

We Are Not Amused

Yesterday, for his 13 birthday, the spousal unit and I took the Caboose and 6 of his friends to an amusement park styling itself Six Flags Discovery Kingdom. The day was blustery and chilly (1), with a never-pulled-the-trigger threat of rain (2):

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Sunlight on some ride or other against that blustery sky.

This park is known, as are all of its kind these days, for bone-jarring, stomach-emptying and, perhaps, soul-searching level roller coasters which, by cosmic law, cannot be called roller coasters but must have epic, or at least pop-character tie-in, names: Medusa. Dare Devil. The Joker. Superman.

I did not ride any of those. Back in the day – you know, then – I grew up about as far from Disneyland as we now live from 6 Flags – about a 30 minute drive – back when E-ticket rides were E-ticket rides. (3) Back then, we’d climb off our domesticated mammoths, cinch up our saber-toothed tiger pelt togas and ride the Matterhorn with our 10 year old buddies till our eyeballs frozen in a fully open position. We’d take breaks to ride the Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion once or twice – but that was about it. All other rides and attractions were stupid, in the cultivated consensus of informed 10 year old males. (Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride was incomprehensibly weird, LSD having not yet made it to the mean playgrounds of St. Mary’s of the Assumption in Whittier at that time. We never even talked about it.)

So, by age 13, I had already gotten in my minimum lifetime requirement of roller coaster rides. I feel no need to pad my total. (4)

img_3721The boys had a good time. Nobody threw up, but at least one kid owned up to having nearly had. Since he then turned down pizza for lunch, which risks violating the Geneva Convention for 13 year old boys, I believe him.

6 Flags is my beloved’s home park – she grew up about 30 minutes from it in the opposite direction, in Petaluma. Evidently, she did not get her lifetime recommended dosage at that time, so she rode a bunch. Out of a spirit of humoring the boys, and keeping a maternal eye on them, no doubt.

This particular park has a round about history. Per Wikipedia, it has been known as “Six Flags Marine World, Marine World, The New Marine World Theme Park, and Marine World Africa USA.” It was a zoo, of sorts, but one where you could ride the elephants and watch killer whales and tigers perform (not together – it wasn’t *that* good). They had a butterfly house (still do), a trick water-skiing show (long gone) and no rides. It was still in that state when we first took our kids there maybe 25 years ago. It has since evolved, I suppose.

I had mixed feeling about it. There were parts I really liked – the butterflies, the shark exhibit, the stingray tank where you could touch the stingrays – and parts I hated – the many animals that looked at best bored out of their minds if not terminally sad. Also, as I have speculated elsewhere, how do prey animals react to being kept for years mere feet away from their predators? Every little antelope is getting a snootful of lion scent every moment of every day for years on end. That can’t be good for peace of little animal minds.

Now the park is just a bunch of rides and arcades with a few animals attached – the boys watched the tiger show, I think because they needed a break after several hours of roller coasters. They took a minute to look at the dolphins as they walked past to get from one roller coaster to the next. I walked through the shark exhibit – a glass tunnel through a huge fish tank of sharks. Also watched a man in a kayak catch a bass the size of his forearm – in the little pond that used to be used for the trick water skiing show (who he was and how he got in there is a mystery – but that was one nice bass!). But otherwise animals got precious little attention.

We had fun. Crowds were very low on a blustery March day that looked like it was going to rain at any moment, making for short or no lines to even the best rides. We ‘only’ lost one ballcap and one car key (5) on the roller coasters – not too bad. And got out of there before the rain hit – 5 minutes before closing.

  1. For values of ‘chilly’ that include 58F. Hey, the wind was blowing and it California, where we pay extra in both money and soul-units (get a load of the tolerance thugs in  action yesterday in the People’s Republic of Berkeley?) to not have to put up with this chilly/rainy stuff. A sternly worded letter to somebody is called for! If I could figure out who.
  2. In an epic plot reversal, it drizzled a little till we got to the park, stopped cold, held off for 6 hours of ‘amusement’ – then let loose on the drive home. Got to be set-up, made-for-TV style: now comes the epic earthquake/fire/tsunami combo. Right?
  3. The trick, back c. 1968, was to have a buddy with a cop or fireman in the family, because then, in the off-season, Disneyland would run the occasional ‘Fireman’s Night’ or something promotion, and you’d get in at, say, 7:00 p.m. and have the park to yourself – no husbanding E tickets, just ride – until super late at night, like 10:00 or 11:00 even. Riding the Matterhorn 5-6 times in a row was completely doable, unlike in the summer, when you’d be looking at min. 20-30 minutes in line between rides.
  4. There was one timid boy in the bunch, who, as a courtesy, I did accompany on the Cobra, a coaster advertised as ‘Family Friendly’ – it was OK. It had none of that modern whippersnapper stuff like spiral loops that today’s desensitized youth demand. The Matterhorn – tall, dark and twisty – was all we, a sterner breed of boys, needed back in those more innocent times. The right hand side, of course.
  5. Of course, it had to be my son’s irreplaceable championship hat, which he got when his football team won the championship last year. And the ‘key’ was a Dodge keyless remote fob, which will only cost $250 (if we’re lucky) to replace, due to certain dealer monopoly practices that will strongly influence our future car buying decisions.

What Your Kids’ Teachers are Learning in Education Schools

Picking up my dolorous education reading cross from its long-occupied place on the floor (1), began again to read Paolo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed.(2) The Wikipedia entry   states:

Since the publication of the English edition in 1970, Pedagogy of the Oppressed has been widely adopted in America’s teacher-training programs. A 2003 study by David Steiner and Susan Rozen determined that Pedagogy of the Oppressed was frequently assigned at top education schools.

So, if your child is being educated by one of the graduates of a “top education school” or any of the myriad of education schools which ape the top education schools (hint: almost all of them), there’s a very good chance that the education of such a teacher included this piece of unabashed Marxist – I gave up potty talk for Lent.

Image result for freire
Freire did sport a righteous beard, I’ll give ‘im that. He must not have gotten the memo about smoking being a act of violence against the oppressed.

Imagine a young person, bright eyed, optimistic, and yet insecure, ignorant (which is how they justify going to college, right?)  and desperate to fit in and get good grades. When an education professor gets out the trowel and starts laying this stuff on, how likely is a student to protest? Argue back? Call out manifest errors? How likely are they to even see any problems? They have been trained for years to please, not to think. Thus, our K-12 schools are full of teachers who think feel this sort of nonsense is simple common wisdom. Our children marinate in those assumptions – for 12+ years.

Thinking I should do a detailed chapter by chapter review, pointing out what Freire means in practice. He alternates, roughly, between typical Hegelian gibberish and nice sounding passages about freedom and even love. One who is ignorant, gullible or both – as is nearly always the case with the products of our schools (hey, they’re kids – I was ignorant and gullible back then, too) –  might find his words sympathetic – Christian, even. Yet one must remember that examples from history – what actually happens, not the “concrete historical reality” of Marx and Hegel, which consists of cherry-picked items hammered beyond recognition into the mangled shapes of theoretically acceptable outcomes – tend strongly to contradict everything Hegel, Marx, and Freire say. Half-truths are the coin of this realm. They ape truth enough to fool the inattentive, which is always how the better class of liars work.

Here are some samples from early in the book (I’m into the second chapter so far; don’t know how much of this I can stomach):

Opening paragraph:

While the problem of humanization has always, from an axiological point of view, been humankind’s central problem, it now takes on the character of an inescapable concern. (1) Concern for humanization leads at once to the recognition of dehumanization, not only as an ontological possibility but as an historical reality. And as an individual perceives the extent of dehumanization, he or she may ask if humanization is a viable possibility. Within history, in concrete, objective contexts, both humanization and dehumanization are possibilities for a person as an uncompleted being conscious of their incompletion.

Clear? If so, let me muck it up for you. Imagine you’re a conventionally-educated young person, with a fresh diploma from any of the thousands of institutions governed by the sort of people who inflict the above on more or less innocent young people: have you ever been required to parse out anything this obtuse? Do the terms  – humanization, axiological, ontological, historical reality, concrete, objective,  context, uncompleted, conscious  (Hegelian, Marxist, even a bit of Freud eventually) – mean anything to you? Would you even suspect that they don’t mean what common English might lead you to think they mean?

Of course, these are all rhetorical questions. There is approximately zero chance any 20-something in America who attends an education school has any substantial understanding of any of these things. In fact, K-12 training (it will hardly do to call it education) conditions children to regurgitate what the teacher or test expect.

If they did, they might know, for example (3):

“Humanization” – this term has a history. Hegel views the world as always Becoming, never Being – being is dead, only becoming is real. Therefore, we cannot talk about a duty to recognize the humanity in another person – that would be to talk about Being: being human. If we go down that road, we might expect to be called to treat all people as human beings (not human becomings!)  and imagine that justice would require all of us to have, for example, unaliable rights and duties to each other.

No,  much better from Freire’s and Marx’s perspective if we think of human beings as incomplete, in their rights, freedoms, and duties. Then, we can talk about how to violate some people’s rights in order to get other people their rights without ever using those terms – which might, just barely, cause a twitch of conscience.

“Historical reality” – much beloved concept by Hegelians and Marxists. One might imagine it means “what is evident looking at history”. What it really means is “how history looks once it has been tortured into a shape determined by Hegelian or Marxist theories.” Those theories, in turn, do not base their truth claims on anything observable in history, but rather on special insights gained by getting sprinkled with the right magic fairy dust – something like that. Just know that Hegelians and Marxists reject out of hand that one should be able to arrive at their conclusions by rigorous and logical examination of the facts on the ground – nope, as in all religions, they claim “I believe, so that I might understand”.

“Conscious” – this is a measure of how much you agree with Freire, Marx or Hegel. If you totally disagree, you consciousness is ‘false’; if you totally agree, your consciousness if high or complete. If you are (mercifully) unaware of the discussion, you are unconscious. Thus, whenever these folks speak of raising consciousness, they mean getting people to agree with them, generally the unconscious. It seems the kids these days use the term ‘woke’ in the same manner. In such a world, anyone who claims to thoroughly understand Marxist premises and nonetheless completely dismisses them – me, for example – becomes irredeemably evil – I don’t even *want* to have my consciousness raised! (My consciousness is already raised way higher than theirs, as I explain here.) 

More important even than never having heard these Marxist notions explicitly laid out, our education victims have never heard them vigorously attacked. They assume such notions represent the universal educated view – and their teachers will never do anything to disabuse them.

With the establishment of a relationship of oppression, violence has already begun. Never in history has violence been initiated by the oppressed. How could they be the initiators, if they themselves are the product of violence? How could they be the sponsors of something whose objective inauguration called forth their existence as oppressed? There would be no oppressed had there been no prior situation of violence to establish their subjugation.

Here we pull a neat trick, one very popular in modern Marxist thinking: Everything you, the designated oppressor does, is an act of violence; nothing I, the designated oppressed or victim, do can be violence by definition. Thus, a white person doing *anything* other than complete self-immolation on the altar of institutional racism is committing an act of violent oppression. Thus, personally being kind and accepting with no regard for a person’s race is – ready? – violent racist oppression. And inciting people to shoot and murder white policemen with no regard for the policemen’s personal behavior, or committing the actual murders themselves are – not violence, and cannot be. By definition.

Under Marxist and, indeed, Hegelian analysis, the Law of Noncontradiction (4)  does not apply: something *can* both be and not be at the same time in the same way. The obvious violence involved in murder is not violence – because we say so. Oh, sure, in some *technical* petty way, blowing somebody’s brains out (or starving 20 million Ukrainian peasants, or taking a power drill to the heads of Cambodian children, or forcing Venezuelans to eat their pets, or refusing asylum to Cuban refugees) might be called violence by the small minded and those not yet woke, or otherwise laboring under false consciousness, but in the big picture, any means to achieving the glorious end is licit and commendable – and, per Freire, not violence.(5)

Thus, when thugs – excuse me, fully conscious individuals acting out of true fraternal love – threaten and beat people, burn cars, and destroy shops in order to prevent other people, people clearly laboring under false consciousness, from hearing wrong thoughts – well, only oppressors would call that the violent suppression of free speech! Orwell rolls his eyes.

In the same way, obvious kindness involved in acts of true generosity are not only not kindness, but are acts of violence and oppression UNLESS they further the cause of the revolution:

True generosity consists precisely in fighting to destroy the causes which nourish false charity. False charity constrains the fearful and subdued, the ‘rejects of life’, to extend their trembling hands. Real generosity lies in striving so that those hands – whether of individuals or entire peoples – need be extended less and less in supplication, so that more and more they become human -hands which work and, by working, transform the world.

I believe Freire here means to evoke the image of, say, English landholder in Ireland who, by law, had to feed their starving Irish serfs – or, if it turned out to be cheaper, pay their passage to Canada or the US. There is no charity in such an arrangement, just business. And the goal clearly was to do whatever was cheapest to maintain the English as lords and owners, and the Irish as powerless serfs. History (again, what actually happens, not Marxist hamburger) does indeed present us with a nearly limitless supply of such cases. Brazil, where Freire spent years of his life, would not lack for examples.

We are intended to see cases of true oppression by means of violence and the threat of violence at the hands of invading conquerors as the type of false charity. But: if you were to ask Freire (or any Marxist): what about the charity of, say, nuns starting a school in the wild, feeding and clothing the children of the poor as well as teaching them? That happens a lot, too. He’d say, on principle, that those nuns are acting violently to perpetuate the oppressor’s dominance UNLESS they are PRIMARILY concerned with raising the consciousness of those children, to make them into Marxist revolutionaries. So, feed them, cloth them, teach them to read if you must, so long as those are steps on the way to making them little Comrades who are willing to commit any act of violence-that-is-not-violence to free the oppressed.

But, boy, it sounds so cool with no context, striving so that hands need less and less to be extended in supplication. Sounds like a free market guy, even. But helping people help themselves is not exactly what he means.

A full review would be another book. Sigh. We’ll see what we can do, if the interest is there.

  1. Not looking for pity, here – just read Mike Flynn’s excellent Captive Dream and his latest in Analog, so I’ve gotten a good solid fun read fix. I’ve willingly accepted the grim responsibility that motivates reading this other stuff. As those addicted to outrage evince, getting worked up does have its meager, transient and probably not good for you rewards.
  2. An amusing tidbit: in the translation I’ve downloaded onto my Kindle, the translator uses traditional Marxist jargon – man, New Man, mankind – and, when referring to ‘the worker’ or the ‘new man,’ uses the generic pronouns he, him, his. The translation linked above is more recent, and so refers to New Person, humankind, and uses ‘he or she’ etc. Seems that even Freire himself, or at least his translator, was trapped within an oppressor construct, and his apparent good-will and generosity were self-serving delusions, merely tools of oppression designed to maintain the oppressor/oppressed dynamic. In other words, he ain’t woke. But: a still more recent translation, if such exists, would of course use ‘zur’ or whatever the heck made up pronouns the kids these days are using, revealing even the newer (2000) translation as socially constructed to maintain the current oppressor paradigm. I’m sure even now in a classroom somewhere, Freire is being held up as an oppressor in sheep’s clothing for the delectation of wide-eyed 19 year olds. And then the next translation…
  3. Please note that this is a way high-level analysis. I know it’s not complete. What I’m trying to do is give a flavor of the sort of thing that will likely never get discussed, because neither the student or the teacher have much of an idea of what’s going on in the text.
  4. The contradiction is suspended in the dialectical synthesis (murder of oppressors isn’t violence) of thesis (murder is violence) and antithesis (but I really want to!)  – suspended, but not contradicted or resolved in any way accessible to a rational person using logic as understood by anybody who is not a Hegelian. Because Marx says so.
  5. Dewey, an earlier education theory god, from his perch high in the education pantheon, likewise excused Soviet atrocities as simply necessary pragmatic steps – the only meaningful way one could say murder, even murders rising to the level of statistics, was ‘wrong’ is if it failed to achieve its end. (Note to the note: yes, I am aware of the dispute around whether Stalin actually said that line, but given his actions, misattributing it to him seems a fairly tame error.)

How to Fix Education: Step One

There are 3 basic things wrong with modern k-12 education:

  1. Age-graded classrooms
  2. Age-graded classrooms
  3. Age-graded classrooms

Taking 5 and 6 year-old children, each of whom is a distinct individual, member of a particular family and community, and a child of God, and grouping them by age with no regard for those differences, tells that child in a way more direct and powerful than any mere words, exactly how important his own life, family and community is, and how he is to view his God.

In all approaches to education(1) up until the invention of the graded classroom model, who the child was and what he already knew and what he needed and wanted to learn were the basis of all teaching – and schools were structured accordingly. The model least unfamiliar to Americans is probably the one-room school. In its heyday, the typical one room school, built and run by the local families, employed a young unmarried woman to teach all the children up until the age of about 14. She would assess what each child knew and didn’t know, and pair up the kids so that a particular child might be learning to read from a child younger than himself while teaching math to a kid older than himself.  Each day, each child would be called up to ‘recite’ to the teacher, so that she knew how it was going. Such education, which by all objective measures produced better educated students than the current model in a fraction of the time (2), was held around the work the kids needed to do on the farm.

One room schools reinforced the relationships that brought those kids together in the first place: family, work, neighbor, community. The teacher managed a process by which all students learned how to learn and how to teach – by doing it.

The graded classroom model was designed specifically to destroy those relationships, and replace them with obedience, conformity, and ignorance. The graded classroom places children into arbitrary groups run by someone hired by bureaucrats and protected by a union, who follows lesson plans concocted by utterly inaccessible ‘educators’ and whose major task each day is to put a stop to natural social interactions (“Stop talking! Pay attention!”). Instead of building upon the natural relationships of siblings, families, neighbors and coreligionists,  modern school seeks to destroy those relationships and replace them with loyalty to the state (3).

As John Taylor Gatto points out, the greatest triumph of modern schooling is that few people can even imagine doing it any other way. Thus, even most home schoolers, who have taken heroic steps to separate themselves and their kids from public model schools, are just looking for a better graded classroom – we know this, because they still (mostly) concern themselves with year-by-year curricula and worry if their kid is ‘performing to grade level’. It doesn’t occur to them, at least not to the depth required to do something about it, that ‘grade-level’ is no more real than the tooth fairy, no more based on science than phrenology, and is in fact nothing more than the instrument by which they are controlled. It is how teacher in the schools are controlled as well – no matter how well-meaning, teachers keep their jobs by focusing on getting their kids to test at or above grade-level. There is no more perfect control than that which issues arbitrary and objectively meaningless orders – and gets them obeyed anyway.

All arguments for graded classrooms are lies. They are not more efficient for any value of ‘education’ that is not an Orwellian euphemism. We do not need them. We do not need to put our children under the care of professional educators. We are not incompetent. There is no evidence the graded classroom model ‘works’ better than anything else, and lots that it is an abject, appalling failure (4). Lies, lies and more lies.

Once we get rid of the graded classroom, we can begin to have a rational discussion about how we should educate our children.

  1. Education differs from training in this respect: education is for the sake of the person being educated, and only indirectly for the benefit of society; training is what you do to soldiers and horses, to serve their master’s goals. Someone may want to be a soldier or a tailor or a bricklayer and seek the training of his own free will – but the purpose of such training is primarily to enable him to do what others want him to do. All education is in this sense ‘liberal education’ – anything less is mere training, which tends toward the enslavement of those not otherwise liberally educated.
  2. Not surprising, since ‘education’ is not the goal of modern schools, and never was.
  3. As discussed at great length on this blog under Schooling 
  4. e.g., “If a foreign government had imposed this system of education on the United States, we would rightfully consider it an act of war.”

    Glenn T. Seaborg, National Commission on Education, 1983, via Chaos Manor

Weekend Update: Milestones, Tahoe, Woodworking Abomination, etc.

1. So: sometime today, given normal traffic, this blog will get its 100,000th view. About 35,000 visitors. Don’t know what makes up views and visitors, except there are enough caveats, provisos, quid pro quos to make the common sense understanding (whatever that might be) unlikely to align with these numbers. Whatever. W00, and, I might add, Hoo.

“There are a few provisos, a couple of quid-pro-quos. Rule number one: I can’t kill anybody. Bleurk! So don’t ask. Rule number two: I can’t make anybody fall in love with anybody else. You little punim there! Rule number three: I can’t bring people back from the dead. It’s not a pretty picture, I DON’T LIKE DOING IT! Other than that, you got it.”

2. Up in Tahoe for the long weekend, with a couple of families from school – one mom very graciously gets her sister to rent us a cabin (in the Tahoe sense of a two-story building on snow-plowed roads that sleeps 16 or so in suburban comfort) so that the cost is very low per person. Unlike previous years, we gocher snow Right Here:

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View from the kitchen table. More snow on the way through Tuesday. Lots more snow as you head further up the mountains. 

Over the Echo Summit (7,382′), snow was piled a dozen or more feet high on either side of the road. Right after the summit, the road bears left and descend along a cliff over the course of a couple miles to about lake level (6,225′). Usually, this section is a bit bracing, what with very scenic and life-threatening drops a suddenly flimsy-looking guardrail away. This time, there was a view-obstructing yet somehow comforting pile of cleared snow along most of the route. Good thing, too, since there was a light snow that was *just* starting to stick.

I lived in New Mexico (Santa Fe, Albuquerque) long enough to learn that snow sucks. Those people with their ice fishing and tobogganing and what not are in denial. Go ahead and kid yourselves however you need to to survive until spring, where you’ll have a couple weeks of nice weather before it turns hot, nasty and mosquito-infested. No, snow is not fun, at least, past the age of 12 and after about 5 minutes. It’s just cold, wet and occasionally dangerous.

3. The truly dedicated and obsessive reader might recall that, last year, when we also went to Tahoe, we attended Mass with very nice people in a lovely (after the manner of its kind) church that had certain carpentry features that triggered my OCD I found really distracting.

We attended yet another lovely Mass with the kind people of South Lake Tahoe today. We sat in another section, so I got a different view of what Frankenstein’s Monster would have looked like if Dr. Frankenstein had been a church carpenter:

Ah! My Eyes!

4. Lots of drafts.  A couple of which might even be interesting, that I hope to get out while I should be out playing in the snow. Right.

Chicken Cordon Blue

Mom was a great straight ahead cook, able to whip up something delicious from whatever was handy. She could make a great meal starting with, say, a can of soup, some noodles, and, as far as I could tell, magic. Some her best stuff came out of cans, always with some kicker added that made it different – we didn’t eat straight up canned food but rarely – but she could also make a great meal starting with vegetables right out of the garden – or even a live rabbit or chicken. (1)

She taught all 9 of her kids how to cook in the best possible way: anyone who wandered through the kitchen when she was cooking was immediately drafted as an adviser/taster. “Does this need more spice?” “Should I put more X in this?” “How does this taste?”

By simply asking us kids questions and respecting our answers, Mom invited us into her cooking world.  All of grew up thinking our palates were good, our decision about cooking were good – and so, that we could do it.

Mom of course also let us help when we wanted to, and turned us loose when we were ready. By the time I was around 13, I’d make kid staples for me and my two little brothers: pancakes, chocolate chip cookies, that sort of thing. Mom was cool with it, and the little bros totally didn’t complain.

So 9 out of 9 Moore kids could cook up a storm.(2) No matter which brother or sister we visit, fresh quality grub is not an issue. (And plenty of it – there were 9 of us after all. Still trying to learn to scale back, now that we’re down to one resident kid in our house. Old habits.)

The big difference was this: Mom grew up during the Depression – for most of her life, mom cooked under a strict budget. The idea that you’d buy expensive stuff and fool around with it was completely foreign to her. So, while the cooking was good, it tended strongly toward what an East Texas Czech girl would think of as normal American cuisine.

This inherent thrift, sad to say, has not been passed along. Once I got settled and had a real job, I would occasionally try stuff that mom would never or very rarely try – like fresh salmon or crab, or fancy soft cheeses (the kind of stuff I first encountered in college events like art show openings. It should go without saying that we weren’t doing many art show openings when I was a kid.)

Image result for chicken cordon bleu
Nice presentation, but I’d kick those Brussels sprouts up a couple notches with a cream cheese and slivered almond sauce.

My kids have taken this practice to the extreme. Once a few years back, we rented a SoCal beach house for Thanksgiving (off-season – cheaper than motels for 7 people). This house had a nice TV and cable – two things we didn’t have at the time. (3)

So what do these 5 TV deprived kids watch, when the entire cable world is their oyster? Cooking shows, of course.

Earlier in the week, I had bought the large value-pack of chicken breasts at Safeway, because I needed 2 but buying 6 or more is cheaper. (Did I mention this scaling back thing is difficult?). Had these chicken breasts that needed cooking up.

Yesterday, I ask David, age 12, what would you like for dinner that involves chicken? I listed off the usual: fried, breaded and fried, chicken Caesar salad, chicken stew, chicken soup – and he says “chicken cordon bleu.”

Ooo-Kay. Had no idea what chicken cordon bleu even is, but I googled it, saw how easy it is – so, yesterday, made chicken cordon bleu for the first time for dinner.

David  had no idea what chicken cordon bleu was, either. It was just the fanciest named thing involving chicken that he’d ever heard of. My son was messing with me, in other words.

He went with me shopping for Swiss cheese and ham, and looked over the recipe with me. He critiqued my chicken breast pounding technique – Alton Brown uses a glass pie plate and *presses* the chicken thin. Silly me – I was wondering what the recipe meant for me to do to ‘gently pound’  the chicken flat. Gently pound? Huh? David watched me mangle the first breast (it cooked up fine, especially when covered with breadcrumbs and cheese – sheesh!) until he could stand it no longer – he’s a polite kid – and started coaching me.

Well. The remaining three turned out lovely.

Anyway, it came out delicious, and really is easy. The consensus: it was pretty good, but my buttermilk Panko-crusted fried chicken is way better.

Duh.

  1.  Those days, thankfully, were in the past by the time I would have been old enough to notice the bunnies getting it – I’m 7th of 9 kids, 18 years younger than the oldest.
  2. Grandma Brilliant, who was a classic Irish matron, when she found out I was raised by a Czech-American mom, took that as a complete explanation of why I, despite being a man, could surprisingly cook. No explanation for this view was ever offered.
  3. Still don’t have cable – PAY for that stuff? No Thanks.