Halftime Report

Never fear, Ladies. This post has nothing to do with the Super bowl. To be honest, the only things I know about it are that Maroon Five was boring and everyone hates a guy called Tom Brady. I couldn’t tell you what teams played, but I saw Tom Brady on Colbert doing Hamlet’s soliloquy and thought he was charmingly awful.

 

The reason that “halftime” is in the title is because I just had a week off for semester break. It was a welcome relief after what has been a somewhat crappy school year so far (only with the adults, not with the kids). I know I have been declaring my love for my job forever, but this year started off badly with a bunch of conflicts I barely understood. And from there it got worse, culminating in yet another somehow obligatory group therapy session. The moderator lost control of the discussion, so we all ended up suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous accusations. Afterwards, I found myself pondering “To quit or not to quit?  That is the question.” Of course the problem, at its core, was not life or death. It was just about money. And all arguments about money suck by definition.

I didn’t want to spend my whole break brooding about work, so on the first day, I invited my two female coworkers over for coffee and a long chat. We all converged on the realization that we three were married to working men and financially secure, whereas our other two colleagues were single earners with housewives and families to support. The whole situation was not an existential one for us. Although we agreed that everyone is responsible for their own life decisions, this new insight gave us three a patience with their behavior and the situation as a whole. The talk did me a world of good and allowed me to put all work-related questions out of my mind for the interim.

Let the vacation begin!

As tradition dictates, we headed to my husband’s aunt and uncle in Tyrol for some skiing (them) and dog walking (me). A five hour drive westward took us from relative spring into the deepest winter. Ten straight days of snowfall in previous weeks meant white walls were lining all the streets and walking paths  – some of them up to five feet tall or more. The snow returned while we were there, giving us all another excuse for taking it easy (as if we needed one). While my husband took the kids skiing and sledding, I took long dog walks with my aunt and cousin and . . . that’s about it. Otherwise it was just reading and Sudoku and Level 8 and podcasts and wonderful meals cooked by Austria’s greatest chef.

My one excursion was to the big flea market where, last year, I found my old dial-up phone (which works!) and which I absolutely adore. This year the pickings were slimmer. There was a nice set of hand-carved wooden crèche figures, but with the baby Jesus missing. I already bought one of those this year. Later, I did find a cool vintage children’s sewing machine – but then the seller not only wanted too much for it, but he was also fairly unfriendly about it. He had turned his back on me to talk to another potential customer, but I remained standing there, mulling over whether to make a counter offer or not. While waiting for him to finish his conversation, I picked up a wooden box from his table and opened it. Inside were a bunch of big carved wooden objects. It slowly dawned on me that they were penises. I quickly shut the box, dropped it back on the table and moved on.

After four gloriously relaxing days, we hugged our goodbyes and thank yous, and piled into the car to head back east- and homeward. A five-hour drive later, we landed back in spring. Temperatures in the low 50s quickly lured us out into the garden to do post-winter clean-up. One of my projects was reopening bathing season for our ducks.

 

And speaking of clean-ups, I came home to discover my chicken on the wrong side of the front stoop, my glass jars in the wrong formation on the kitchen counter, and all the bottles of cleaning supplies empty. There was a message from Vera that she needed more. I went out and replenished the whole stock. Here they are:

Notice the hostage-picture-style of this photograph with the newspaper in front to prove the date. You are all my witnesses. The next time Vera comes (and has gone), I’m going to line up all these bottles again and compare them to this picture. If it turns out that they are all half empty, I’m gonna . . .  I’m gonna . . . seriously think about saying something to her! But then again . . . I think her husband is unemployed and she is working two or three jobs just to get by. So I’ll probably stay silent. Just like I did at work when it started up again.

Conscience does make cowards of us all.

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The Help

 

A recurring theme of this blog has been my upside-down relationships with my cleaning ladies over the years – how I tiptoe around and bend over backwards to keep them happy. Even so, last year my Judy informed me that, on doctor’s orders, she was giving up housecleaning and taking a less physically demanding job. I wished her the best, hung up the phone, and immediately went into mourning. I considered myself lucky when very shortly thereafter, a new cleaning lady came along, whom I will call “Vera”.

Looking back, I should have realized that I was still on the rebound. I should have been more careful and taken it slower. But instead I immediately fell into my old patterns. At Vera’s request, I started buying an environmentally-friendly brand of cleaning supplies (with the benefit of being less effective and more expensive). I agreed to her inconvenient wish of coming on Tuesdays instead of my preferred Fridays. Within a few weeks, she knew where to find the house key and could let herself in. I would come home and find a bucketful of wet rags and sponges and disposable wipes by the washer that she expected me to wash and let dry by her next visit. (I ask you, who washes sponges?!!) I would open the cleaning supplies drawer and notice that the bottles of glass cleaner and dishwashing liquid I had just bought were already half empty. All of that I could have dealt with, but, then . . . she started rearranging stuff.

I like my things in particular places. I don’t want the red upstairs bathmats in the downstairs bathroom where the green bathmats should be and now they are upstairs. The chicken statue belongs on the left side of the front door stoop, not the right. The glasses in the kitchen should be placed on the counter with the two tallest in the middle and then decreasing in size to the left and right. The tables in the guest room should form a parallelogram.  But on Tuesday afternoons when I come home from work, I find scenes like this:

   

Pretty soon, my family members picked up on the habit of pettily blaming Vera for every inconvenience. My daughter can’t find her headphones? “Vera must have put them somewhere.” Yesterday’s newspaper has disappeared and my husband is irritated because he hasn’t read it yet? “Vera must have thrown it away.” The cheese grater is in the wrong kitchen cabinet? “Vera was the one who emptied the dishwasher.”

I have to admit, these are all small things and it is kind of convenient to always have someone to blame. But when Vera went through a phase where she was cancelling every other week, it all came to a head. I considered . . . not exactly firing her . . . but at least talking to her about her physical health and stress levels. Did she really have enough time for this extra job? I broached the subject with her and she just took off, talking a mile a minute – apologizing, explaining, promising things would be better – and not letting me get a word in edgewise. I gave up and decided to try and make the relationship work.

Now I grumble regularly while washing sponges and sigh as I put things back where they belong. I remind myself that Vera is, after all, a nice person and she does sweep the front porch free of leaves each week – something none of her predecessors did. I could do a lot worse. And I really don’t want to be on my own again . . .

So I guess I will stick with her – at least until the day, sometime in the future, when she calls and says she’s found a nicer house to clean.

 

Happy New Year!

Ever so slightly belated.

Clearly, “stop procrastinating” was not on my list of New Year’s Resolutions this year. That might be because I didn’t actually make one. While listening to some podcast over Christmas vacation, I heard a funny woman say

“To Do lists are a weapon you use to beat yourself up”

– which somehow hit home. And what are new year’s resolutions if not simply more ambitious and glorified versions of the daily tally of undone intentions? So there is no piece of paper lying on my desk this year, commanding me to start jogging or give up coffee. That’s a relief.

Which is not to say I don’t have a few ideas about how to tweak my daily routine and rid it of a few ruts . . .

There are certain gaps in my education and experience that I am considering doing something about. I have never seen the movie “The Godfather”, for instance, which I keep hearing quotes from in political news shows. Another example from the category Must-See-Films-I-Haven’t is “The Big Lebowski” (which, my being from Milwaukee, is apparently an almost unfathomable sin of omission).  And then there is the fact that for thirty years, I have lived 5 minutes away from the largest hot springs spa in Austria, with a special, luxurious, adults-only section for which I have a lifetime 50% discount – and I have never been there. Similarly, for the past 4 years, a beautiful grand piano has occupied half of my living room and I have only played it once.

I’m a creature of habit for sure. Every day begins with the same movements – the donning of the same blue bathrobe, the trip to the bathroom, the petting of the dog on the stairs en route to the coffee machine and the swallowing of a daily vitamin and thyroid pill. From there it is off to the laptop for a quick email check and a Good Morning, Rachel . . . (thanks to the time difference, Maddow is my morning news show). So far none of this requires much tweaking, but other habits have snuck into my days that don’t do me much good. For instance, the additional daily doses of disillusionment that Donald delivers. I could do without those. And those educational gaps I mentioned above? Well, I have thought about these so many times over so many years that one could argue I have made a habit of not doing them. Not keeping up with this blog is another bad habit in that category. It’s the one I’m planning to quit today.

I binged some “Big Bang Theory” over Christmas and had to laugh about Sheldon’s quest to find the perfect date (with mathematical symmetry) for his wedding. I do the same thing all the time – a habit I started back when I was a smoker and repeatedly looked for a memorable date on which to make my next attempt at quitting. (Just as an aside here, the date that finally worked was my daughter’s birthday.) Well, this blog post was written on the 19th and 20th days of 2019 – how is that for symmetry?

I hope it is not premature to say that it’s good to be back.

Good News

I finished our wreath yesterday, just in time for the First Sunday in Advent celebration – which this year consisted of lighting a candle. My 16 and 18 year old daughters dutifully complimented my work, made 95 seconds of small talk and then retreated back to their rooms.

In earlier years, we would have had a longer ritual including aromatic tea, cookies, the sound of Bing or Dean or Frank softly singing Christmas carols in the background, and a reading of some short, moralistic, Christmas-themed story. That last part, to be honest, was never my daughters’ favorite and might explain their speedy departures now.

So . . . seeing as how I missed telling them a sappy story, I will force one on my blog audience . . .

A week ago, we just had friends visiting and we took them to the Christmas market that had enchanted us so much the first time we were there  (when I bought my “alternative” crèche.) While we were there, I unhopefully walked up to the cashier and asked if anyone had found a missing Baby Jesus made of felt about the size of my thumb. I wasn’t expecting much as we traipsed over to the next room. In the corner where my crèche had been displayed there was now a bucket of stuffed sheep and cows. We took a closer look and . . .

 

. . . there he was.

 

A little Christmas miracle.

 

Crèche

I can hardly believe it myself, but here it is – mid-November, and I’ve already been bitten by the Christmas Spirit. This must be some kind of record. Partly it might be from waking up to this two days ago:

It also might be due to a Christmas market we went to the night before – a new one that is walking distance from my home. I wasn’t expecting much, but ended up being completely enchanted. A local woman had bought a 200 year old farmhouse from another part of the country, which was taken down and rebuilt here. She combined it with a more modern tract and horse stables, and filled it with antiques and artistic touches. The things for sale at the market were all handmade and so creatively displayed throughout the house. We meandered through the rooms and then had some hot mulled wine out in the courtyard.

I did not come home empty handed. I saw a little crèche made of felt and had to have it for my collection. I quickly peeked inside to make sure the rest of the figures were in there and then headed for the cashier. I probably should have inspected it more carefully.

When I got home, the first thing that I noticed was that there was no baby Jesus figure. I looked more closely – there were the donkeys and sheep, the angel and the three kings, there was Joseph and then . . . . there was this guy:

It seems I bought myself an alternative crèche – it’s not Joseph and Maria in the manger, but Joseph and Mario. (And I guess that explains the absence of the baby Jesus.)

I should probably go back to the Christmas market and ask about my missing figures but, to be honest, the heathen in me is getting fonder by the minute of my new crèche just the way it is. It makes my collection somehow more  . . . diverse. More inclusive. Isn’t that in line with the Christmas spirit too?

 

Unceremonious Endings

Two of my activities today got me thinking about all the times I have lost jobs. Technically I have never been fired – at least in the sense of someone looking me in the eye and saying “You’re fired!” But that is only because two of my former bosses were simply too chicken to do so. One of them took 9/11 as an opportunity to quick give my class to someone else. (I had missed the start of the semester because I was stuck in the States waiting for a chance to fly back to Austria.) That new teacher ended up calling me to tell me the news. Never heard a peep from the boss about it.

About 10 years later I got fired by forwarded email from my boss’s boss instructing me to clear out my office and give back any of the Institute’s stuff I might have. The layoff itself did not come as a surprise to me, but the way it was done was galling. A particularly nice sendoff after 25 years of employment . . .

Today, a new twist on this form of email termination was born. I wrote an email to my boss requesting that the university course I have been teaching be cancelled. In other words, I basically fired myself. This was not the easiest thing to do because I always loved teaching this particular course. Unfortunately the whole program is winding down and the number of students has been dwindling for years. Last year I had to go and proactively look for students – corral a few warm bodies into my classroom to teach. This year I didn’t want to do that anymore.

So I am down to one job now. I would be feeling sorry for myself if not for three of our chickens who have had an even harder day. Remember those four chicks we got for the purpose of keeping our one incubator chick company? Well, all four of them turned out to be roosters. Three of them had to go and today was the day.

We grabbed them, stuffed them in a box, and my husband drove them to the local . . . Chicken Ender. A half hour later, he was back home with a bulging plastic bag.

Tomorrow one of the roosters is going into the oven and then comes the moment of truth. I am not convinced that I will really be able to eat him. My husband is determined to cultivate a realistic attitude about it all. He says if he can’t handle the fact that animals – even those he knew when alive – are killed and eaten, then he should become a vegetarian.

I, on the other hand, am considering turning the meal into a little ceremony. I will take a moment to remember and honor this rooster for his many contributions to our family enterprise. I will thank him for his good work and give him the thoughtful sendoff he so richly deserved.

I’ll try hard not to gag.

 

Absentee

 

I’ve been gone for quite a while.

About 34 years, all told.

But I never gave up my citizenship, so I now fall into the category of “Permanent Overseas Voter”. As I can only vote in federal elections, my ballot this year listed only the Senate and House races of my home State and district.

My elder daughter who became a citizen in July of 2017 and turned 18 in July of 2018 also voted. It was her first time (in a US election) and I think she found the whole process exciting, but also a bit . . . hinky.

We registered her online though a website called “VoteFromAbroad.Org where she had to supply surprisingly little information and no actual proof of identity or citizenship. Only two options were listed – a Social Security number or a State ID – and she has neither of those. But her registration went through even with those lines blank and the next day her Voter Certification arrived by email.  We printed that, she signed it, I witnessed it, we attached a photocopy of her certificate of citizenship to it and mailed it off to the Election Commission in our home State. Apparently, that worked, because a week later, her new Voter Certificate and her absentee ballot arrived by email along with four pages of instructions.

We printed everything out, got four envelopes, black ink pens, and Scotch tape and laid it all out on the kitchen table.

First step: fill out the ballots.

“Wait!” my daughter said. “First tell me about these candidates so I can decide who to vote for.”

I sat back. I didn’t want to discourage her instinct to be an informed voter and independent thinker. On the other hand . . . if she ended up voting for a Republican candidate at this particular moment in history, I would take it as proof that I had failed as a mother.

“Honey, you understand that this is not a normal year or a normal election, don’t you? I mean  . . .  can I assume that you don’t want to support anyone who supports Trump? That you want people elected who will be a check on his power?” She nodded. “Then in this particular election we should both simply vote straight Democratic.” She understood the logic of that.

We filled in the circles by the name of the first openly lesbian U.S. Senator, now running for reelection. Then we filled in the circle by the name of lovely African American women who represents my (sister’s) district and will reliably vote against anything the Pwesident is for and vice versa. It is fairly clear that both of these women will win – with or without our votes. It was still nice to add our voices to the Resistance Choir. My only regret was that our voting status didn’t allow us to chime in on State government positions. So we couldn’t also fill in the circle by What’s His Name – the guy who hopefully will be taking down our current ridiculous Republican governor.

The whole time we were doing this, I did not look at her ballot or what she was doing. The instructions had been explicit about this being a no-no.

 

Steps Two through Eight:

We each signed and dated our Voter Certifications. We exchanged them and each signed and dated the Witness Statement for one another. We traded back and then each taped our certificates onto one of the envelopes. We put our ballots inside and sealed them. Then we put these envelopes into another envelope and addressed it to the Executive Director of the Election Commission. And then we mailed them off.

I have no idea when – or even if – these votes will be opened and counted. (And, no,  I didn’t mention this fact to my daughter.)

BUT! . . .

If control of the House of Representatives ends up coming down to two absentee overseas votes from a certain district of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, well, then, I’ll just say . . .

“You’re welcome”.