…funk for the old soul…

Archive for the ‘Life In the Mod Podge Lane’ Category

Bowled Over

Posted by crowbiz on February 22, 2012

It’s an inauspicious return, I realize.  But after struggling with username and password for several minutes after 18 months of disuse, what better way to defibrillate the blog than with:

Bowling Haiku !

Bowling is like golf

It’s not outside, but still rocks

You use bigger balls


Polyester pants

Shoes that someone else had on

Must be Kenmore Lanes


“Dead wood on twenty”

Loudspeaker calls for some help

Another delay


You bought your own shoes

Towel, monogrammed bag, too

What, some kinda pro?


Kids play in lobby

Grabber game keeps giving treats

Wow, best glitch ever


No smoking inside

They huddle like puffing birds

Fuckin’ cold out here


Oh, seven ten split

Keep your eyes off the gutter

Whoops, maybe next time


It’s called Thruway Lanes

Because it’s near the Thruway

So you can find it


More than one hundred

Is a score I’ll never roll

I don’t bowl so much


Tendonitis hurts

Eight pound ball does not help much

Twelve pounds would kill me


Knights of Columbus

Ten frames and good french fries

God will guide your spare


Check the lost and found

Wally left his coat last night

Thought it was Lane 12


Voelker’s Bowling Lanes

Hear the mighty crash of pins

Elmwood at Amherst

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At War With War and Peace

Posted by crowbiz on August 2, 2010

Guilt strikes at unexpected times.  It also motivates one to do unexpected things with unforseeable results.  This is how I find myself reading Tolstoy’s  epic War and Peace.

Spending my summer with Leo

As someone whose livelihood depends on the destruction of old books, it is with irony that I stayed my own hand when this classic fell into it.  Understand that my whole work process is enjoyable for me, and not rarely tinged with the bittersweet.  First is routing out books like a pig to truffles at yard sales, curbside heaps, the free shelf at thrift stores, the “as-is” garage (Salvation Army’s lowest rung), and the occasional dusty book shop.  The choosing, the measuring, the ideas for prints, the ripping, the cutting to size, the printing, the sometimes surprising result, the packaging, all pleasant steps in the process.  (I reserve the right to skip any self-defense, apologies or explanation for those who blanch at the idea of destroying books – quelle horreur!  Have you visited any landfills lately?  Really, can you find a good home for this forgotten, half-mildewed, partially chewed copy of The Bobsey Twins In Eskimo Land that the owner, whose name was inked with fountain pen to the inside cover in 1943, chose to throw out on a rainy trash night?  I saved it, lovingly dried it in the sun in my backyard, pressed its useable pages flat and turned some of it into objects that sit framed on peoples’ walls.  Got a better idea?)

So it was that I scooped up War and Peace among a handful of foreign language books at a neighborhood yard sale.  “A classic!”  I beamed.  “People love that shit!”  I surmised.  “Just about any of my prints would work well on its pages!”  I reckoned.  A good solid copy, its leaves passed the test:  croppable to 5″ x 7″, uniform header, all reading simply “War and Peace,” and importantly, nonstinky.  I had big plans for it.

Later at home, when ready to rip into one of my latest acquisitions and start a new print series, I handled Tolstoy’s tome hesitantly.  Gosh, it was a decent hardbound copy.  The name “Matthew R. Katrein” (or so it looks) is written inside the front and back.  And, well, I hadn’t read it.  But it seems like I should.  I’m all, like, educated and stuff.  And Anna Karenina was one of my favorites, despite the mocking I took for reading it way back when.  It’s possible that I might like it.  But Christ, who’s got the time for War and Peace…?  You may as well ask me to start making all my family’s clothes on a foot-treadle sewing machine, counting the blades of grass in Delaware Park, and blogging in longhand.  Exactly when was I going to fit this in?

I cracked it open one night at bedtime.  As Mr Crow bustled in and out of the bedroom – a curiously common behavior of his before bedtime – he absently asked and I absently answered what I was reading.  “War and Peace,” I muttered through my mental strain with Russian surnames.  “OH gawd!”  he exclaimed, which is his way of expressing the verklemptitude of an old Jewish lady and “Uh oh, here we go!”  all in one.  (One can’t blame him, though.  Having your wife announce she’s tackling War and Peace takes things in a very different direction than a man hopes at bedtime.)  “Yep,” I replied automatically while inwardly practicing “Fyodorovna,” wondering if it was worth rehearsing in case this was a character I’d have to know and remember, or just a forgettable bit player that could be skimmed.

Here I sit a couple weeks later, marshaling through it.  Sure, I’ve taken flack for it, as many friends and family have either seen me with it – beaches, picnics, in the car, it goes everywhere with me – or heard about it, chalking it up (family, mostly) to my entrenched eccentricity.  I did get a little ooh-aah mileage from Mr Crow when I told him that Boris and Natasha from the Bullwinkle cartoon series were named after the rosy-faced would-be lovers of W & P, and for all I know, it could be true.  I’m only about a third of the way along, and it would help tremendously if I were some kind of military geek, but I’m sticking with it, godammit, because that’s what old Prince Nikolay Andreivitch Bolkonsky would do, the cranky bastard.

And man, what I don’t know about the Napoleanic Wars could fill a book.

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First Holy Poutine Ladies Night Communion

Posted by crowbiz on May 11, 2010

Who says I don’t get out (other than me)?  Last Saturday was a veritable barnbuster, crammed with both a First Holy Communion party – whoa!  AND – AND – AND – another poutine party, this time a ladies-only affair.

Part 1:  Body of Christ.  We attended the First Communion party for the son of some old friends, though there’s not a lot to say here, other than I had a good time seeing folks, noshing, and watching others drink what seemed to be about 87 pitchers of beer (blood of Christ, etc…).  We ended up staying far longer than anticipated, as things got funnier and blurrier by the hour, so I actually had to dash between events – and fit in a little supply shopping – before the Ladies’ Poutine Party.  Our lovely hostess, eager to unload massive amounts of First Communion sheet cake (which prompted my ultra fabulous quip, “Holy sheet cake!”), sent departing guests home with platefuls of wrapped slabs.  Whether by subversive design or divine intervention, we ended up with the following piece:

The Chosen One

Sure, others may have walked out with “Bless” or a chunk of frosting crucifix, but can you blame me for feeling smug?  Naturally, no one in this house dares eat it for fear of being stricken with paralyzing guilt and a sudden urge to tithe.

(Special hello to my most supportive blog fan, Miss Rose, who was in attendance.  I promise that when I find the photos, I will blog about the hole-in-the-Speedo.  Not to be missed!  Actually, it would have been really hard to miss.)

Kitchen Action

Part 2:  Ladies Poutine Club. Given my mission to promote poutine to the masses, I was especially pleased to be included in a let’s-try-this-at-home gig.  It only took several months of planning, since finding an open weekend evening among us in-demand jet setters is a task worthy of an MIT graduate student.   Theme names were adopted, among them, Fryda Kahlo, Grace Slick, Olive Oil, and the like.  In honor of my grandmother, Viola, I guess I’ll just be Fryola.  Our mascot was Daisy the Westie who’s job was to ensure that the souls of any dropped fries did not come back to haunt us, or cause a slippery accident with five drinking women scurrying around the kitchen.  Perhaps unwisely, I wore what I thought was “relevant” clothing, namely, my red CANADA polar fleece zippered jacket and my synthetic fur scarf, or as I call it, my “neck weasel,” which the Poutine Pup eyed all night.

Fryda Kahlo's classy joint - a significant upgrade from a picnic table

Fry, baby, fry

Grace Slick brought her brand new deep fryer – see similar occurrence here – and after a confused start, a phonecall to a family frying expert, and an internet search, we fired it up.  O! for a fryer to lose its virginity to a batch of potatoes destined for poutine!  There is surely a tier in the Appliance Afterlife where such service will be amply rewarded!

Daisy ...waiting for a moment of carelessness

Yet another version

My first serving

Without purists to interfere (other than me, but I shelved all judgment), we were free to mix and match our poutine toppings with abandon.  Though standard cheese curd served well, we were all pleasantly surprised by a sprinkling of gorgonzola – brought by ME, so see, I wasn’t being a cranky purist.  Both homemade and jar gravy were used, as was a bewildering array of ethnic condiments.  Stealing the show were Indian coriander chutney and Belinda’s Smokey Chipotle Ketchup (hot, but I’m a weenie).  My beverage of choice was a framboise lambic, with a touch of wine in between trips to the kitchen.  French music played – no, not Canadian, because no one in the universe wants to hear Anne Murray, especially when eating, and Leonard Cohen would have been too depressing.  Since we ate from plates like civilized ladies, we did lose the roadside quality of the poutine experience, but at least there was no danger of bees.  Also, with poutine flat on a plate, the lower fries do not get soggy, which is either good or bad, depending on your perspective.  I was willing to trade the usually desirable sog for the good company and china.  Really, it all goes back to “there is no such thing as a bad fry,” except perhaps the one for which you are battling a dog on the kitchen floor….

Which leads me to my feigned poutine overdose pose, sprawled on the floor as if in need of medical assistance.  We tried the shot over and over, hoping to get just the right look of bloated excess, unconsciousness, and desperation; I lay face down with a few stray fries strewn just out of reach of my slack-jawed face, a few more fries clutched in my crabbed hand.  Daisy, however, could not suspend her duties as floor monitor, and thus kept diving in, as terriers do, for the quarry.  Rats, fries, whatev.  After clunking heads and coming lip-to-lip many times, I realized it wasn’t working as planned, and it  was also unfair to tempt the poor dear with floor fries next to an apparently dead body.

For me, there will always be a next time.

Poutine Coma, Take 1

Poutine Coma, Take 2

Poutine Coma, Take 3


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Reasons to Go On Living

Posted by crowbiz on May 4, 2010


Here’s one, an email that came through this morning from SonWon’s school.  This is the kind of thing that can turn your day right around, good or bad:

CHS Auction – Did you end up with a wig head?

From Mrs. (—), PTSCO Auction Organizer:

Dear City Honors Families,

Thank You to all the families that attended the auction Friday night.
I hope all of you were lucky and went home with a prize.

The jewelry at the auction was displayed on wig heads. The wig heads
were purchased to be used as displays and were not part of the prize. I should
have let everyone know this that night and I am sorry that I did not do that.
If by chance you took a wig head home could you please return it to the office,
at either school, as soon as possible.

Thank You for your cooperation,

(Mrs. —)

Man, some people are gonna be pissed.

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Posted by crowbiz on April 7, 2010

I relented.  Put the business empire on hold, canned a week of classes and agreed to drive two days down to a sentimental vacation spot.  Our destination was the panhandle coast of Florida, affectionately referred to as the “Redneck Riveria” (OK, not affectionately, and it’s probably really un-PC to use the term, but I like it and it’s my blog).  To be fair, the area is now called “the beaches of South Walton,” a term concocted sometime after we started visiting 17 years ago.  It’s a longish story, but the quick and dirty is that my brother used to live down here, maintained another house for friends and family, and we done spoilt ourselfs at a locale we could otherwise not afford to visit.  He’s no longer living here, so our last trip down was five years ago when the kiddies were but wee things, and that time we had to outrun an early season hurricane.  After much deliberation, Mr Crow and I chose to bite the bullet (read:  “pay”) for a place a tad away from the old haunt – then hit the road.

We rolled into the beaches blasting Cheap Trick and the Jackson 5, fueled by Slim Jims and giddy after 20+ hours on the road and the prospect of sand between our toes.  Nice house, quiet street, quick walk to the beach, miles of wide white sand, etc. – alright, no use throwing it in your face.  But what tickles me almost more than the sand is the realization of how we always stand apart in this neck of the woods.  Our Northern accents and fast gait are only part of it.

After passing a large neatly lettered homemade sign on a fence in Alabama reading “God Bless America, the Military and Fox News” I knew we had arrived, despite being still a hundred miles away from fantasy land.  The beach towns are clogged with every manner of vehicle named to connote maximum hugeness:  Yukon XL, Avalanche, Navigator Gigantus or some such, many with suspiciously fresh looking McCain/Palin stickers.  For those vacationers not mortified by driving a three year old car, there is the older “W” sticker.  Lots of Southern college sports stickers and decals for private schools and cheerleading teams.  As long as we were going to stick out like sore thumbs, I started wishing after a day or two that we’d gone over the top.  Our dorky orange Honda Element with New York plates is enough in itself, and the boys’ Bison Hockey decal helps (“Hockey?  That’s on ice, right?”), but I regretted not having an Apple sticker and our “Yes We Can” Obama window cling, which the boys appropriated for their treehouse window.  A “Coexist” bumper sticker would have been jimmies on the cupcake.

The place has changed, as expected.  Tons more people, particularly enormous roving bands of entitled suburban teens spending their parents’ money on $68 rubber flip flops and texting while walking blindly into Route 30A.  Tons more people (oh, did I already say that?  I meant to say TONS.)  Development is rampant.  Costs are up.  It’s easy to forget that you have a really lucky life when you find yourself thanking a shop proprietor for their outrageous prices.  It’s the kind of region where “the luxury of simple living” is a marketing line, and cloying folksy “Simple Abundance” placards dot the boutiques.  One of my favorite lines is a retort to this sentiment, written by David Brooks in his book “Bobos In Paradise:  The New Upper Class and How They Got There.” A paraphrase goes along the lines of, “…’Simple Abundance’… as opposed to, say, ‘Complicated Poverty?'”  But some things are consistent:  coiffed moms still wear Lilly Pultizer headbands, and many dads actually enter the beach wearing polo shirts tucked into belted chino shorts.  For our part, I spend 7-10 days in a sarong and Mr Crow in variably odd old-man plaid shorts.

Jellyfish galore. Guess who got stung?

Regular readers, you may wonder what draws us here if all I’m doing is a rip on the place, but even godless Democrats love a week at the beach.  Endless expanses of soft white sands, scrub oaks, oyster shell side roads, small town charm and speed and so on.  The towns may be jammed, but the beaches are wiiiiiide open.  Every person on the beach can have their own acre of space, but should you require more, I thought of a great solution.  Shouting “Jacob!  Emma!  Austin!  Gracie!  Time to go!”  would clear 97% of all children out.  That would leave us and a few locals.

Lest I get mushy and turn this into a stock piece for the chamber of commerce, I can offer a simpler glimpse into our affection:  SonWon is named after one of our favorite beaches here, which causes a bit of confusion when he meets people and has to re-repeat his name, then explain it; and SonToo was conceived here on our 2001 jaunt, most likely after a couple of unplanned rum drinks.  When reminded of this, Mr Crow exclaimed, “What?!  Oh right.  That could explain a lot.”

This relaxin’ is all fine, but it can’t last.  We have to restock the Slim Jims and drive back.

Deep in comtemplation: oyster or grouper po-boy?

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Recipe for Phun

Posted by crowbiz on January 21, 2010

With these gloomy days of winter upon me, it’s all I can do to avoid plunging face-down into a carbohydrate-fueled funk every day.   Here’s a little gem I found last summer in SonWon’s shorts pocket and just rediscovered among my papers this week.  It was a to-do list he had made for his 10th birthday last July.  Against all sense, we agreed to host a party and sleepover of seven boys, and G-man – normally as structured as a weed garden – decided it was monumental enough an event to actually plan out.  It’s a bit herky-jerky, with some group activities scheduled to begin before the 5:00 guest arrival time, but c’est la vie when you’re turning 10.

The Perfect Day

Though his spelling and penmanship hint strongly at “short bus,” I’m happy to say that the boy attends an honors school, which – thank god – recognizes other characteristics.

Thus I give you a breath of childhood summer:

1.  Eat breakfast

2.  Collect water guns

3.  Start war and make fort

4.  Wait for 5:00

5.  really start war

(He crossed off these first five items, but evidently, the action began in earnest after this and there was no more time to follow the protocol.)

6. dry off    split into two groups.  play Playmobile.

7.  open presents and mabe biuld one    (Confident he would get several coveted  Lego sets – it goes unsaid)

8.  Play some more, eat.

9.  watch moive

10.  “go to sleep” and draw on someones face   (Foiled!  Sadly, the intended target didn’t fall asleep first.)

11.  build more lego and go to sleep

Would that we could all have that day.

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Tips For Lousy Writing

Posted by crowbiz on January 3, 2010

Notice this post isn’t titled “Ways To Become A Good Writer.”  If I knew that, would I have a blog?  Rather, it’s a little cautionary tale about writing potholes that you’d rather not bend a rim over.

Now then, I could well conduct an authoritative set of lessons on good academic writing and good scientific writing.  I get paid to do that, though the outcome usually leaves me disappointed in the state of humanity.  Most of my directives can be boiled down into “cut the wordiness” and “this is not a ninth grade book report.”  But do they listen?  If they did, I’d never again have to read, “the conclusion of the data of this research on the study of the experiment’s work definitely points to a hugely important finding.”  From graduating college seniors.

Anyway, here is my bad advice for today, applicable to fiction writing:

Channel Your Inner College Sophomore.

Oh god.  I’ve been writing since I was eight years old.  It doesn’t mean I’m any good, but it does mean that I’ve gone through a lot of attempts at something.  My glory years were in college, unsurprisingly, when the world and your thoughts about it become ever more interesting, and you have time to write.  At that stage in my life, I enjoyed manufacturing angst the way cows make manure.  With no warning about a future life of mortgage payments, car repairs, permission slips, endless hockey schedules, and running out of ibuprofen at the worst times, making up strife is all you can do.

For a couple solid years, all my stories seemed to be set in a rather Prague-like place, or occurred sometime in October through March between the World Wars, or contained the desire for something unattainable (the dead lover; recognition; someone’s conversion to something).  Often, it was all of these elements in one dreary tale.

Aiding these criminal devices was my – at that time – fluency with German, which crept into every story.  “Schaden” this and “muede” that…  Characters were of simple means, living on the edge of…of… something, outwardly meager and inwardly a roiling stew.  Everything took place in a Lane Ward-like world of black and white, sharp edges, things divined but unspoken, genderlessness….(drift off here, but with feeling).  One of the most fabulously awful metaphors I produced was that of a tangle of deflated balloons and streamers swirling in the wake of a passing car to signify an unrequited love.  It was after a Halloween festival (October, of course).

Every story was like a shotgun wedding of dimestore Colette and Wal-Mart Kafka, with a little Kurt Weill side affair for both, all with a dash of too many late-night viewings of “Cabaret.”  And wordy.  Hoo boy.  No Hemingway concisely telling us that the sun also rose.  Why use four words when twenty-seven words, several of them German, would tell us how the sun broke bleakly over the ineffable troubles of my lost-soul characters and….  Wait, there was no sun in my stories.  It was November.  In Prague.  How I wish I still had some of these stories!  Alas, they were produced on both manual and electric typewriters, and didn’t stand a chance of lasting 20+ years.

We beg of you, please wait until you’re over yourself until you start writing something.  It’s OK to take notes.  Just promise to throw them out a few years later.

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Poutine Party!

Posted by crowbiz on December 18, 2009

Wow, talk about an unexpected intersection of culinary slumming and winter sports!  After one of his late night “senior” hockey games, Mr Crow and cohorts went for their usual drinks and tavern chow and chat.  It was here that Mr met the friend of a friend – a transplanted Canadian – who joined the game that night and (O, Fate!) they got talking about poutine.  Anyone unfamiliar with this topic and my feeling for it needs to do some homework by reading THIS first.

Welllllll, as they say, one thing led to another, and after more back-slapping, beer-swilling and explanation of “poutine” to middleman Rob, it was decided that a homemade poutine party was in order, and that Marc, as the home-country expert, would cook.  Naturally, Mr Crow did the right thing by waking me at 2:00am to tell me about this wildly fortunate turn of events – and he didn’t even have to repeat it 6 hours later when I got up.

Calls were made.  Supplies were garnered.  And to help the gig, Marc got an early Christmas present from his wife, Amy:  a double basket Presto ProFry Deep Fryer.  Look, creating and raising beautiful children together is one thing, but the gift of a deep fryer is a level of love and understanding that few couples could ever hope to achieve.  Can’t you just smell it now?

Double trouble


(Incidentally, the frying was done outside on the patio, because despite one’s abiding love of fries, it’s not something you want to smell wafting up from your couch three weeks later when you plop down to watch the idiot box.)

Of course, real cheese curd was used, not shredded cheese.  Here’s Mr Crow getting handy with the curd chopping.  It’s not often that you can appreciate when your mate cuts the cheese, but there you go…..  And Rob, whose culinary expertise is best realized with cold cereal and milk, does a bang-up job stirring the packaged beef gravy.  Yes, packaged.  This experience was meant to replicate the fry truck experience, and therefore, ingredients and prep followed the humble route.  You don’t see roadside fry slingers rendering and reducing stock, fer chrissake.

How many men look this good when cutting the cheese?


Whisk, Rob, whisk like the wind!


Before the party assembled, Marc hand-cut a huge batch of fries using Russet potatoes.  I cannot offer critique here, and thus defer all tuber matters to Marc, who hails from a small Ontario town and is steeped in poutine heritage.  The man speaks French, folks; it’s not for me to question.  

There's nothing like a poutine grin


They turned out fabulously.  Initially, Marc was concerned that they were coming out too crispy, normally a desirable quality in fries.  But the best poutine manifests as flabby but intact  once the gravy works its magic – and so it was with our group effort batch.  Without reservation, I can say this rivals the best I’ve ever shoveled into my poutine-hole; in fact, I should say it surpasses it, since it was made by people I know and trust to touch my food, whereas normally, poutine from fry wagons are delivered through a tiny window that offers no view to the food prep area, probably for good reason. 

Here are a few close-ups, which – unless you’re the kind of person who claims to like sorghum and ToFurky – should get your heart beating fast.  Or stop it entirely.  Though I can be sated entirely with poutine, I inexplicably also consumed a chili dog and a heaping bowl of chocolate bread pudding.  We swung by Gates Circle Hospital on the way home for some drive-through angioplasty and never felt better.

And I defy any  wanna-be food writer to use “flabby but intact” as a superlative.

Hot gravy melts cheese curd and softens fries - perfect!


Ideal consistency: yielding and still hot

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Season’s Beatings

Posted by crowbiz on December 10, 2009

Having a life is a serious impediment to operating a blog.  This implies a lot of things, but that’s not what today is about….

All  three of my fans have recently wondered about my absence here, but I’ve been able to console them face-to-face and make a loose pledge to step it up.  Anyway, January is coming with its teeny, precious baby-Jesus-like bundle of time, so there’s a chance I may put finger to keyboard more in 2010.

Scene of the crime - before the crime.


Online business is booming, so I’ve been consumed with keeping up.  Never underestimate people’s desire for small things to stuff a stocking.  Naturally, I’m happy about all this, if tired.  Occasionally, I get annoyed at the buyer who drops a little note like “Ship ASAP!  Need soon!” , as if I’m one of the English-as-a-third-language night-shift operators standing by in the factory order processing room.  Nothing I can’t shrug off, but just once I’d like to reply to a deadbeat buyer, “Pay ASAP!  Need money!”

Oh, and there’s that “job” I have, that commitment on M-W-F to edify the masses – or a couple hundred, anyway – at Buffalo State College.   The semester has been pretty typical, though the two courses I’m handling tend to be the most time-sucking and morale-bashing for completely different reasons.

My Intro Psych students have just one final exam to do, after which I tally the grades and wipe my hands.  In a fit of holiday benevolence (or idiocy), I decided to let all 150 of them bring their own self-designed “cheat sheets” on one 8 1/2″ x 11″ piece of paper (front and back, typed or handwritten, their choice).  The act was sort of like throwing your hands in the air on the downhill of a careening roller coaster ride.   It’s no skin off me, and as a cognitive psychologist, I designed this as a ploy to get them to (boing!) review, organize, sort and study the material, whereas they just think I’ve lost it and that they’re getting away with something big.  My main interest  is in seeing students’ creativity with the cheat sheet and in finding out what kind of loopholes they concoct.  The ones smart enough to use 6 point type will probably do just fine and the ones using their own chunky handwriting with the “i”s dotted with hearts….well, people will get what they deserve.

On the other end of the spectrum is my Experimental Research Methods class, a grueling, deep, theoretical journey into nerdism unmatched by most college courses.  Sixteen students work their variable-sized asses off in a never-ending barrage of written labs, exercises and other tortuous activities designed to make fledgling scientists out of them.  I’ve yet to finish grading their final research proposal projects, and currently they are slogging through their oral presentations in class while I get a chance to sit in the back.  Getting many of them to understand factorial designs and how to interpret them is like dragging a dead ox uphill through a privet hedge, but I’d say about 75% of them ultimately qualify as “getting it.”  This has involved enormous amounts of hand-holding over the past several weeks, and my hands are now officially off-limits.  A few, surely, hoped for the following form of counsel:

“Here, let me design this experiment for you, then I’ll write up a 12 or 14 page paper.  Then I’ll give it to you; you rearrange a few words, print it while I look the other way, then hand it back to me, and we’ll call it a semester, huh?”

The holiday handmade show circuit was drastically reduced for me this year, owing to the teaching schedule.  One shining moment remains, that being this weekend’s Last Minute Panic Holiday Marketplace at the WNY Book Arts Center, where I will give it whatever I’ve got and enjoy chatting it up with lots of folks.  Last year was a good time, so I’m hoping this weekend will give me the lift I need to power through the rest of the season – and year – with head up.

Well, that’s a snapshot in the life of Crow, which may be of great interest to those of you who live under a rock.  Others wishing for more intrigue will have to wait until I start hitting the Tom & Jerry bowl during the holiday party rounds.

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Purgatory’s Kitchen

Posted by crowbiz on October 13, 2009

Reality Show #2.  That is, if I survive “Targeted” …..

I know, “Hell’s Kitchen” is already taken by the spokesman for culinary onanism, and I don’t need the name anyway.  As much as I dislike my kitchen, it’s not hellish, but it does feel like a place of never-ending penance from which I pray to someday be delivered.  


Perhaps there are a few cooking/lifestyle shows that have a shred of real life in them, but not like mine.  Viewers will be amazed that I can pull off anything more complicated than a peanut butter sandwich using an outdated kitchen that was badly and cheaply updated by a previous owner in the mid ’80s.  


My stove is vintage 1920s.  We have to light it with a match, which is why my two boys still cannot make their own grilled cheese sandwiches.  Next to the stove is our dog’s large crate, the top of which handily doubles as extra counter space.  Dishwasher?  Yes indeed, handed down from a friend years ago, it’s a harvest gold, roll-to-the-sink, hose-hookup classic, but what I love more than anything about it is that… it washes dishes.  Floor:  old maple floorboards whose planks are far enough apart to fit whole Cheerios; one could fashion a meal out of all the food particles to be found in the crevass-riddled, uneven surface (anything dropped will roll east).



Twenty-seven Hail Marys may not be enough

Twenty-seven Hail Marys may not be enough



Despite the picture I’m painting, I’m a pretty good cook most of the time, you just may not want to see how it’s done.  Therein lies the thrill of the reality show.  Dropped food on the floor?  Let’s dispense with the 5-second rule, which is ridiculously stringent when a good 5 minutes will do.  In my best Julia Child voice I’d chirp, “Who’s to know?”  Do you like to see chefs work with fancy appliances and utensils?  Years ago I whipped up a multi-dish full-on chicken dinner and trimmings using nothing but a teaspoon, all the while cradling a 6-week-old infant in my left arm.  Iron Chef, my ass – they’ve got nothing on the One-Armed Chef.  Though I don’t even drink coffee, I’ve lovingly ground coffee beans for Mr Crow with a mortar and pestle, looking and feeling like a peasant in an antique Columbian lithograph.  Our kitchen compost bucket is a plastic detergent tub, not a celebrity chef-designed….uh, plastic bucket.  For suspense, tension and cliff-hanging two-part episodes, we occasionally host holiday dinners for Mr Crow’s enormous family, sometimes staging – if not exactly entirely cooking – dinner for 38-40 people.


To keep things interesting on my show, I’ll happily lick my fingers like Nigella Lawson and bend over the dishes like Giada – my boobs are bigger but probably won’t film as well as hers.  I always love how Nigella’s fridge shows unlabeled plastic baggies of leftovers and lots of Snickers bars.  Mine has a whole cow eyeball in formaldehyde which I use when teaching Sensation & Perception; it was obtained from a student who’s father has some unclear connection to the Erie County Medical Examiner’s office, but he offered, and that’s not the kind of thing I turn down.  It’s right between the homemade fig and rosemary jam and a ramekin of bacon grease.


Food Network, enough with the “Overweight Guy Eats Weird and/or Diner Food” programs.  Get real.  It’s the least you could do after unleashing Rachel Ray on the world.  We have a place in Purgatory for you, if not lower down.



Charming kitchen vignette designed to distract you from the harvest gold dishwasher

Charming kitchen vignette designed to distract you from the harvest gold dishwasher




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Stella’s Dining Room

Posted by crowbiz on October 11, 2009

While shocking examples of pet spoilage can easily be found in our culture, Stella here represents a fairly normal middle-class dog existence.  She’s good in that she doesn’t whine about getting what all the other dogs have, mostly because her cognitive capacity can’t process “keeping up with the Jones” and also because she probably knows she’s lucky enough to have humans who will let her cuddle on their laps, which is like cuddling with a 50-pound sack of elbows.



Dining is serious business

Dining is serious business

Her dining area is in one corner of our kitchen, and we thought she might like a little ambience.  Candles and flower-filled vases were nixed for obvious reasons, but I did find this lovely and skillfully executed paint-by-number portrait of a cocker spaniel for 50-cents.  Really, even when you look up close it’s very well done.  Though spaniels aren’t really Stella’s kind, she does seem to like it.

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Posted by crowbiz on October 4, 2009

My reality shows:  Here is Part 1

Many people agree that reality shows are the stupidest thing ever conceived, so of course I’d like to have my own.  



Premise:  A middle-aged woman is sent to live in a Target store for six weeks with only the clothes on her back and her laptop.  She must spend her days and nights using only products and facilities available within the store, with the caveat that all items and services be made available to her:  food, clothing, furniture, the slushie machine, sports equipment, over the counter meds, music, books, OxiClean, employee associate breakrooms and supply sinks, and best of all, the funny red vehicle with the flashing light that they use to drive all the carts inside.  Naturally, the pharmacy would remain off limits;  this is a legal necessity, but unfortunately for a reality show, one that drastically cuts down the drama potential.


Family can visit, but only during regular store hours.  Contestant is allowed outside on Target property for fresh air once per day anytime while the store doors are unlocked, and a supply of produce may be brought in by family once a week.  This is no contest, it’s a vacation.  The stakes are upped by choosing my local Buffalo Target, not a SuperTarget nor some schmancy suburban store with their Starbucks, renovated, Euro restrooms, ergonomic baskets and produce sections.  Furthermore, I’d run into people I know and not be subjected to a lot of perfect-haired, high-heeled Xanaxed mothers pretending that they’re only shopping for paper towels.


At first I’d feel uneasy just opening packages when I needed something, assembling my futon (or maybe an air mattress from the camping aisle?) in public, and enjoying snacks for the taking, but life would quickly develop a routine.  Lots of reading and writing.  There would be internet access for my laptop so I can keep up with my favorite trainwreck sites and also to blog about the fabulosity of living in Target. 


Most likely, I’d find a red shirt and masquerade as an employee associate some of the time, finding ways to pretend to work (associate?), or in my case, pretending to pretend to work/associate.  Misdirecting shoppers guests would be fun; most of them could use the exercise.  I wouldn’t mind dustmopping now and then.  Some days would be spent in disguise when I choose outfits I would never be caught dead in normally – one day I’d be Polyester Civil Servant, another, Community College Tramp.  To break things up, I’d occasionally hide by lying down on a lower shelf, maybe behind some kitchen appliances or bags of dog chow, and if I didn’t fall asleep, see how long it took before someone got a surprise finding a body on a shelf.


Once the lights are turned off for the night, I can blast my own music, light a couple soy candles and hit the air mattress, keeping the snazziest flashlight I can find next to me in case I need to visit the bathroom.  At night, the crew would film me with that creepy night-vision camera that whites out one’s eyes, making me look like a retail Bear Grylls, only I won’t have to whisper about how cold I am or how the raw worm is holding me over for the night.  And never will I have to drink my own urine.


Audiences might grow weary and unbecomingly jealous watching a slacker waste six weeks on Target’s dime, so we should probably incorporate some challenges.  Reorganize the back-to-school section?  Elude shoppers guests with dart guns?  Follow clues around the store so I actually have to earn my Funyuns and Archer Farms Chocolate Chunk Hazelnut Biscotti cereal?  


Why Target and not WalMart?  Please, I want to make it out with a shred of sanity and decency left.  Also, if I end up on, there might be a conflict with the network as to who has rights to my imagery. 


Target executives in Minneapolis:  I’m not kidding; we can negotiate the terms; I’m easy to find with a little googling.




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Mr. Crow Builds His Dream House

Posted by crowbiz on September 24, 2009

No, it wasn’t Cary Grant toiling away in our backyard all summer, it was Mr. Crow, living proof of back-busting, hard-ass German heritage.  




It all started so simply.  SonWon mused that it might be nice to upgrade the boys’ years-old “playhouse” (more of a play platform with a death drop slide) and cheerfully drew up a few outlandish sketches for improvements.  We had to reject the three-story plan and go with something that would fit the confines of our wee lot, but Mr Crow did manage to use one of the ideas.  Perhaps the biggest fuel was a borrowed book on treehouses, some humble and many stunningly sumptuous.  Using the existing playhouse he built six years ago, he began the reconfiguration in July.














Working with only his own sketches and some kind of Lego gene, Mr Crow managed to whip up a pretty fab launching pad for the boys’ – and possibly adult – fun.  Minimal help came in the form of a boy or two bracing a board, hauling lumber, or handing over a drill, but it was largely a solo job.  I stayed almost entirely clear, other than to dictate where the reaches of the structure could not go.  Oh, and I did the metal roof with him.  During construction, an unknown neighbor in the next-door rental called out to Mr. Crow, “Do your kids call you ‘SuperDad’?”  Windows and doors are salvaged – the house was sort of made to fit around them.  All cedar.  Two ladders.  Deck.  Driftwood railings.  And ~ drumroll ~ a trap door! (a great anxiety engine for mom, who has seen a fair share of clunked heads and pinched fingers already). 

Treehouse3   To everyone’s dismay, I keep threatening to gussy it up with a few window boxes or planters next year, which I fully realize will spoil the intent of a boys’ playhouse, but still, it is an awfully big wooden rectangle.  Soon enough, there will be drawings, carvings and homemade weapons of torture peppering it, but I’m determined to sneak in a few garden touches when no one is looking.  



It was christened on Labor Day with the first sleepover.  Ridiculously, four boys actually managed to fit and sleep inside after fashioning wall-to-wall sleeping bags and cushions, but at 7 and 10, they’re young enough to still be satisfied sleeping like puppies in a pile.  Cleverly (I can’t imagine this was accidental), Mr Crow scaled it to comfortably accommodate two adults in a horizontal position, but the house has yet to endure a trial run.  For the time being, I like to eat my lunch on the deck.

Hats off and bottoms up to Mr. Crow!


Boy den, ready for accessorizing.  Girls allowed.

Boy den, ready for accessorizing. Girls allowed.

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