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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Being Out of Touch

The last few days we've had spotty Internet service. And even cell service has been less than 100% on the island. So I've been a bit out of touch. I have had a few interesting adventures. More about those in another post soon.

But for now I have to comment on the virtues of being "out of touch".  Maybe something we should all try once in awhile. More time to snooze, walk, breathe and otherwise slow down the hectic pace of our lives. And read.

Before I was out of  touch I had asked for suggestions from Facebook friends on which Hemingway book I should read after finishing "The Paris Wife", a selection of my book club that is the fictionalized account of the life of Hemingway's wife while they were living in Paris.

Of Hemingway's books I previously have read only "The Old Man and the Sea".  I read it one summer when I was trying to convince our younger son, a less than enthusiastic reader at the time, to pick and read a book. He liked it so much I read it too. And I found I loved Hemingway's elegant and simple writing style as well as his elegant development of symbolism and characters. I also have read some of Hemingway's short stories while taking writing classes at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival. I don't know how I managed to avoid other Hemingway books. Maybe because I was a poli-sci major in college. And in law school and my career thereafter I was inundated with other, purpose-filled reading.

In fact, one former work colleague and Facebook friend joked in response to  my question about which Hemingway I should read that he thought I would have had more than enough reading what with all the reading I did for years while working.

And in some ways he should be right. If nothing else you would think after reading legal opinions and cases, contracts, deeds and leases, not to mention investigation reports and depositions, my eyes and my brain would be tired and in need of the rest.

But the fact is that reading brings me enjoyment. And in some ways it doesn't even matter what I am reading. I am reasonably sure my brain releases dopamine or some pleasure-inducing hormone, enzyme or what-not as my mind converts words on a page, or even an electronic device, into mental images. If I don't have reading material at breakfast I tend to compulsively read the back of the cereal box. And that's a family trait. My mother did the same thing. I suspect there is something hidden in my family DNA that rewards reading. My husband and our younger son, more like his father in this respect, only get enjoyment from the reading when it's something well written.

Luckily, Hemingway qualifies on all counts. And I appreciate all the suggestions from my Facebook buddies on suggested books. So which Hemingway will I read next? I'm not sure. But my Kindle connection has been working seamlessly and I have downloaded a slew of Hemingway's books. I'm now set if the Internet and cell connections go out.  I can read away to my heart's content. Let's just hope the electricity does not go out. Or perhaps I need a solar charger just to be on the safe side since book stores on the island are few and far between.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Seafood As Penance No More

As you may know if you read my last post,  I am writing from Maui. Ironically, I am going to write today about some of the seafood we are enjoying on this trip. I say ironically because I must confess, I was raised a "fish on Friday" Catholic in St. Louis. Fish was penance for our sins and tasted accordingly. That usually meant the generic Mrs. Paul's fish sticks. Maui will force anyone to let go of the seafood as penance nonsense who might still be clinging to that concept.

The first night's meal at Coconuts, with the best fish tacos in the world, would seem to be the final word on seafood culinary delight. But we had learned of a little shop that sells fresh seafood caught by locals the same day. We bought some opakapaka the second day we were here. My husband, who is gifted in culinary techniques, lightly coated the opakapaka with seasoned, coarsely ground almonds and rice chex and fresh herbs, baking it according to the Canadian method: 450 degrees, 10 minutes per inch. I pronounced it sublime and perhaps the most flavorful food I had ever eaten. I did not even exclude dark chocolate from the comparison. For me this is almost a St. Paul conversion. Not to be confused with Mrs. Paul.

Two days ago, at Stella Blue's for lunch, I had fresh tuna salad on up-country greens. The only similarity to canned tuna salad from my youth was...well, the name and a little celery. There was no mayonnaise obscuring the flavor or binding the tuna together. I'm not sure there was any dressing at all. The menu had promised dolphin-safe tuna. The waitress delivered a big taste of heaven. We are not always able to manage three meals a day. A lunch at Stella Blues requires a rest that evening. Maybe a glass of wine and crackers or a cup of milk before bedtime, depending on your inclination.

For another lunch we had feasted on fresh mahi-mahi from Foodland. I had broiled, using the "Dorothy method": stay close to stove and remove when my nose tells me it's done. My nose method  is very reliable for baked goods and vegetables. With seafood it may just indicate the surface is browning. I like my fish cooked completely so I supplement my smell test by poking the fish in the middle and peeking. My husband prefers slightly rare to over-cooked fish and is happy with the fish when it smells done to me. He ordinarily cannot tell by his sense of smell alone when food is done. We topped our mahi-mahi with up-country lettuce and tomato slices on toast. Mine was eaten on rice bread due to my gluten allergy.

Last night the restaurant we ate at was Sansei, a popular sushi and Japanese restaurant that usually is too crowded to get in unless you make a reservation well in advance or are prepared for a long wait. Last night was Kihei 4th Friday. Which as best I can tell is some type of music, drinking festival in the area where we are staying. We had planned to try the Brick Oven, a new restaurant that features Italian-style food, including pizza. The draw for me, having celiac, was that EVERYTHING in the restaurant is gluten free. Due to the 4th Friday festival we were not able to drive, let alone park,  anywhere near the Brick Oven. Ironically though, the usual crowd was trapped on the other side of Kihei and were not able to get to Sensei so we waltzed right in. Our good fortune.

I ate spearfish for the first time. "Meaty," if you will forgive the term. And very flavorful though not as rich as opakapaka. The spearfish was served with kale risotto and grilled asparagus and a light lemon sauce on the side. Yum. My husband was delighted with the Japanese tempura he had ordered.

Tonight is our wedding anniversary and we are dining at Sarento's on the Beach. I'm sure the food will be good but the main draw from my perspective is the spectacular ocean view, particularly at sunset. I've already eaten enough wonderful seafood meals to satisfy my gastronomic memory for a lifetime. But if the seafood is memorable I promise to write about it.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

A Good Forgetfullness

We left Louisville with the temperature 15 degrees and a wind chill below zero. After fourteen hours in airports and planes we arrived in Maui. Where the temperature is 80 at the high, 60's the low. The travel experience itself would have made a great story line for a Judd Apatow-type "Worst Travel Experience Anywhere and You Still Survived and Arrived".  More about that when I've recovered enough to write about it with humor rather than planning whom I should complain to, write letters, threaten, or sue.

For now I want to focus on the healing power of the sun. And my forgetfulness. And maybe mention a few extraneous topics, such as the best fish tacos in the world. But not necessarily in that order.

The morning after we arrived, after showering I looked for the hair dryer in the condo, got it out and was "fixin'" to dry my hair. Then I realized my hair would not freeze if I went outside without first drying my hair. So I went out on our lanai with wet hair. Sat in a chair to read a bit. And suddenly remembered what a wonderful, soft, warm feeling drying your hair in the sun is.

How do I forget these things in a few month's or a year's time? I have the same type of forgetfulness when it comes to fall colors and spring's first blooms. With nearly every seasonal change I insist to my husband we've never had colors like this, or the spring green of new growth exactly this shade before. My husband then reminds me I said exactly the same thing last year at that time. Lately, he's started to show me photos to prove his point.

This type of memory loss has an advantage. I enjoy the colors, smells, sensations and joy as if they were for the first time. So on to the best fish tacos. After our arrival we ate at Coconuts. The place is owned by a mainland transplant who I believe may be trying to franchise the business. The restaurant is spare and Maui-quirky. Tables and benches are old surfboards. And the place has expanded to twice the size it was when we first tried it based on a local's suggestion.

But the food is as fabulous as ever. Everything is fresh and local. The fish taco order, for just a little more than $10, includes two heaping tacos of fresh grilled fish that tastes as if it was in the ocean just a short time ago. The topping is an island slaw-mango with cabbage, onion, peppers and tropical fruit. And some magical dressing. And did I mention the tacos, served on corn tortillas are gluten free. Gluten is a deal breaker for me since I have celiac disease. I don't usually like a lot of spice. But these tacos have  a little heat that mixes perfectly with the sweet fruit.

An order of fish tacos easily is enough for two people to share. But we each ate a whole order and it's funny but I've never seen anyone share an order. Finally, I have to say, I can't remember ever eating a better fish taco.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Amsterdam: Rembered Pain Amidst Today’s Pleasures

  Today we have a guest blogger, my brother Phil, who writes of a recent excursion to Amsterdam. Enjoy.

Amsterdam is New York with the addition of designated vice zones and minus the guys who pounce on your windshield at traffic lights.  

This is a busy place. Walkers, bicyclist, scooters, buses, trolleys, and cars occupy many of the same spaces only at different intervals. Movement at the right time is key.  

If you’d like to avoid traffic all together, take a glassed-in boat canal tour of the amazing architecture. Look up and see if you can spot any of the buildings that look like they’re leaning forward toward the street. Make this investigation before you hit the coffee shops. 

If you want to try depression on for size, stroll around the red light district. For context, there’s the sex museum. 

For a town filled with pleasure seekers, the waiting line to the sadness of the Anne Frank Museum is surprisingly long. Here conversations are whispered, affect muted, eyes and ears straight ahead. This is where Anne Frank, her sister, their mom and dad, and four others hid from the Nazis for two years until they were discovered, arrested and sent to concentration camps. Only Otto Frank, her father, lived to tell the tale. 

The story is told through short videos, words from Anne’s diary providing the narration. There are also video interviews with Miep, an office worker and friend of Anne’s who worked in the jam factory under the upstairs hiding place, and with her father Otto in 1967.

 A walk through the museum is a shuffle through small bedrooms, a makeshift kitchen, a toilet. The original steep winding staircase is segmented now into smaller sections. Frodo and his friends would have had trouble negotiating these shin busters.

A false bookcase functioned as a hinged door providing access to the secret living space, the barrier between getting caught and living another day. Windows are blacked out and must never be opened. Artifacts sit behind museum glass—a typewriter, theatre magazine pages sent to Anne by a friend, photos, Nazi edicts on where Jews could not go, the identifying star to be sewn on and worn by all Jews. 

It’s hard to look at the old monopoly board tacked to a wall and not think about the rotten roll of the dice around the corner for everyone in the house but Frank. 

The feeling here is horror, disbelief. It stays with you after you leave. How could grown men, with sons and daughters of their own, be so completely non-human to others, particularly the innocent, whose crimes were being different?


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Cane

Mr. Merriwether sat at the table in a small conference room. A cane with travel emblems from around the world leaned against the table beside him.  

Detective walks in. 

Mr. Merriwether, can you give it to me once more from the top? 

I’ve gone over this with you and that other man at least five times now. 

I know. Just for the record. We don’t want another George Zimmerman situation. People claiming we didn’t do our job. Led the witness. Stuff like that. 

Do I need a lawyer? 

We already read you your rights. Only people I see lawyer-up are guilty. But up to you. 

Ok. I don’t want a lawyer. Never had much use for lawyers. 

Ok. Just once more from the top. Where were you going? 

Just out for a walk. Thought maybe I’d stop at the corner market and get me some Hagen Daas.

Then what happened? 

Well. This bum in a doorway comes out towards me. 

Did he say anything?

Yeah. I think he did. 

Did he ask for money? Threaten you? 


You sure? 


Well. What did he say? 

Said something like “nice cane.” 

Is that all?  

Hell no. Like I told you and the other fella. He reached for my cane. 

Then what? 

I hit him with it. 

How many times? 

I don’t know. I kinda lost count. 

Did you feel threatened at any time? 

Hell yeah. Bum comes out of the dark. Reaches for my cane. Thought for sure he was gonna bash my head in. 

Ok. I think that’s all. 

Can I go now? 

Just a little more paperwork. Are you comfortable? Want some coffee? 


Thinking about Granddad always made him sweat a little. But examining the travel medallions on the cane bought back good memories along with the sweating. 

So many places he and Granddad had traveled. All over Europe, some parts of Asia. Even Australia. Granddad sure was the traveler.  

But then there were the times when he had not pleased Granddad. Didn’t sit up straight enough at the dinner table. Or wasn’t polite to the porter. Maybe just because. Then Granddad let the cane do the talking. Funny thing was, after Granddad passed, only thing of Granddad’s he wanted was the cane. 

Detective comes back with coffee. 

Sure is nice cane. What are all those emblems? (Reaching for cane.) We’ll have to put it in evidence. 

Don’t touch my cane.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Over the Rainbow in the Hills of Kentucky

We recently attended an out-of town funeral for a friend’s father.  If you’ve lost a parent you realize it’s not only sad but also a very meaningful event in a person’s life. You come squarely up against mortality, including your own. Oftentimes parents loom as larger-than-life characters in our own narrative. And then there is the issue of suddenly becoming the oldest generation when you lose the last of your parents. It doesn’t matter how old you are when that happens. The blow can be seismic. 

The drive to the funeral was uneventful but longish, through the hills of southeastern Kentucky: “Justified” country. But unlike when Timothy Olyphant, who plays the lead character, Rayland Gibbons, on the FX hit show, drives from Louisville or Lexington to eastern Kentucky, those places are not all within a few minutes drive of each other.  

The long drive through the hill country, mostly denuded of greenery at this time of year, is stark but beautiful. Reminds me of when Patty Loveless sings in “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive": 

In the deep dark hills of eastern Kentucky
That's the place where I traced my bloodline
And it's there I read on a hillside gravestone

Where the sun comes up about ten in the mornin'
and the sun goes down about three in the day
And you'll fill your cup with whatever bitter brew you're drinkin'
And you spend your life just thinkin' of how to get away

(Lyrics quoted from

Our friend and his family trace their bloodlines to the deep dark hills of Kentucky. And are among the nicest people I know. We expressed our deepest sympathy. Which sometimes seems like a hollow comfort.

I had not seen the friend or his family in quite awhile. But the unfortunate circumstance did not diminish the fact we really enjoyed catching up with our friend. Seeing how wonderfully his sons and daughter had turned out. I suspect that is one reason we have funeral traditions. The chance to reconnect, seeing the younger generations, and the socialization all help us deal with loss.  

The funeral service contained a religious sermon and some Christian church songs, beautifully performed. But the highlight of the service for me was the recording of a medley by the Hawaiian signer, Iz, that included lyrics from “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”  

None of us is going to leave this place alive. We might as well try to share some comfort as we go along and hope to meet again “somewhere over the rainbow”.


Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Common Sense With Guns

Friends and acquaintances have told me about incidents they have heard or read of where guns have saved people. And I have no doubt owning guns makes people feel safer in some circumstances.

On the other hand, the statistics are frightening about how many women and children are killed with guns, many of the guns kept in their own homes. And guns make suicide so much easier that depressed people who have access to guns are much more likely to be successful in taking their lives. If they had not had access to a gun they might have been treated for depression and lived a happy life.

I was surprised to see that Jane Brody who writes a wellness column for the New York Times about common sense things we can do to improve our health, like exercise and eat well, yesterday wrote an extensive article about guns and the statistics as to how often guns take, rather than save, innocent lives. Here’s a link to her article. The facts are more shocking than I had imagined.

I will add that I have some experience with guns. My father, a World War II combat veteran owned guns. He taught me how to shoot when I was just a child. He also told me to be prepared to kill if I ever had a gun with me and pulled it out for protection.

 On one occasion, my Dad intervened in a fight he saw on the street to try to save a woman. That did not turn out that well—the woman who was being beaten by her boyfriend turned on my father. As did her boyfriend. My Dad might not have stopped and tried to help if he had not had a gun. Nowadays, with cell phones everywhere the better course in such a case is to call 911. I do give him credit for trying to help. But he was lucky not to be one of the statistics where someone took his gun and turned it on him.

On another occasion, at my parents’ home our younger son found one of my Dad’s guns, which were not kept locked. My father believed a gun was no protection if it was not loaded and available. So he did not lock up his guns. And the truth was my father, though I believe well intentioned, was a little paranoid.

Again we were lucky. We got to our son before he could hurt himself or anyone else. After that I never let my young sons be at my parent’s home without having them within sight at all times. And I never felt very safe at their home after that.  After my parents died and we had to clean out their house we discovered my Dad had rigged up a rifle so it would shoot anyone who went into a back storage area, where he had old canned goods and such. I can only guess his mental capacity had declined with age and somehow he thought this was a good idea.

Ultimately, no one was injured by my Dad’s guns. But no one was saved by them either. Good luck aside, it appears his gun ownership was much more likely to have caused harm than have saved lives. Our younger son could have died when he found my father's gun. I might then have been one of those suicide statistics if my father’s gun had resulted in the death of our son. And no doubt our whole family would never have recovered.

I agree gun control is not a problem easily solved with simple solutions. For example, I don’t think it is feasible to ban all guns. But I do agree with Jane Brody that reasonable gun control is one very basic thing we can do to improve and protect our safety and health. Guns should be kept secured. And assault rifles and high capacity ammunition should not be in the hands of civilians.


Monday, January 7, 2013

If the NRA Had Its Way We’d Become another Columbia

Do we really want to be like some Latin American countries where armed guards are on every street corner? If we follow the path advocated by the NRA we would not be safer. Instead evidence shows gun violence would go even higher. And the casualties would be mostly the innocent.

Elisabeth Rosenthal eloquently and factually explained, More Guns = More Killing.

We have far too many guns, particularly the kind of semiautomatic weapons that recently were used to kill 28 people, including 20 small children. I include the shooter and his mother who bought the guns in the count of deaths. Maybe all 28 would be alive if she had not been able to buy semiautomatic weapons. Certainly at least some of those casualties likely would have been avoided if the shooter did not have high capacity ammunition readily available.

I have yet to hear any rational explanation of why anyone other than law enforcement needs these types of weapons. They should be banned. And so should high capacity ammunition.

Our elected representatives for the most part have been silent out of fear of, or because they take money from, the NRA.

Kentucky Representative John Yarmuth is one of the few courageous Congressmen who came forward after this most recent tragedy. He and others like him need those who believe gun ownership must be treated in a more serious manner to speak out.

If you agree we need more gun control please consider signing this petition.



Sunday, January 6, 2013

Are the Holidays Really Over?

Yesterday was Twelfth Night. Yes, that night named for the play by Shakespeare. Or perhaps it’s the other way around. Coincidentally, we took our Christmas tree down yesterday. We had been travelling over part of the holiday season and when we returned we knew it was time to put the tree away. Still, it seemed we had little time to appreciate our tree, even if it was only a little, old person’s tree: pre-lit and in two pieces, an artificial spruce hardly recognizable as a tree.

I seem to recall Twelfth Night has something to do with being the night before Epiphany, the Christian holiday. In my childhood I also recall learning Epiphany was the date you were supposed to take your Christmas tree down. So actually, we were a day early in taking our tree down. But we were late by today’s standards in putting our tree and other decorations up.

No one seems to abide by the “Epiphany Christmas tree rule” these days.

To facilitate seasonal sales, Christmas trees and holiday decorations now go up in stores and malls around Labor Day. We, the general public, have become so use to seeing Christmas decorations before the actual Christmas season we put up our own trees and decorations by the day after Thanksgiving. So understandably we are sick of seeing Christmas paraphernalia long before Epiphany arrives.

And after that, it’s a speedy downhill as far as holidays are concerned. We’re facing January with no holidays worth decorating for. That is, unless you count Stephen Foster Memorial Day, (January 13), Orthodox New Year (January 14), Inauguration Day, (January 20), and Martin Luther King Day which also is Idaho Human Rights Day (January 21), to name a few. Ok, that last Idaho one’s celebrated only in Idaho. But still there are lots of possibilities for celebrating holidays.

Come February there’s Groundhog Day, President’s Day and Valentines Day. Sort of makes me want another hit of my Mr. Happy light.

Happy Epiphany and happy holidays for any and all you can find to celebrate. I wonder what decorations work for Groundhog Day?