Cease Your Over-Manifestations


(Cringe-worthy – Part 1)

I just finished childhood journal #1 and it wasn’t quite as bad as I expected. Spanning two years, from age 13 to 15½, it wasn’t really like a diary. It contained a lot of doodles, jokes, lists, pictures I drew, a few Bionic Man stickers from my boxes of Lucky Charms, my favorite family sayings (“Cease your over-manifestations of anti-social tendencies!” and “But the theoretical implications are alone staggering!”) and one rant about my mom making me do chores (“So unfair!”), immediately followed by this written on the opposite page:


On a more humbling note, my 54 year old’s memory of her 13 year old self turned out to be fairly true. It seems I never met a boy I couldn’t get a crush on. And I never had a crush that lasted for more than a few weeks (mostly because some new boy came along). The only saving grace is that – just like with my mom rant – I seemed capable of some self-reflection even at that time. A few weeks before my 14th birthday, I catalogued “The Guys in My Life* – *As of Valentine’s Day, 1976”.  It’s a list of names (a lot of them unfamiliar to me now), each one followed by a short commentary:  sort of, eh, mistake, chased but never caught, the first real one, the second real one, I give up!, the third real one, could be never was, and  experience. This was followed by:


It’s kind of a miracle that I’ve stayed married for 27 years.

I did a lot of shifting around on the girlfriend and “best friend” fronts too. The journal starts with a euphoric declaration that K.S. was now my best friend. (“Best day of my life!!”). Four pages and two months later, we mutually decided that we were not best friends after all. (“But we’re still good friends.”)  K.S. then moved away and quickly disappeared completely from my life.

Later, I mention the “cool crowd” and the “cheerleader crowd” in my High School, neither of which I belonged to. I hatched a plan to find every girl these two cliques had cut and invited them all over to my house for a party. According to my journal, “we were really rowdy and had a blast”. Of course, I made a list of all their names. And just like with the list of boys above, I can’t remember now who half of these girls were. But the other half? They stayed my friends throughout high school and, even now, over thirty-five years and several thousand miles later, there’s still a connection.

The only truly disconcerting thing about Journal #1 was some of the words I used. It stunned me to read them and discover they were ever a part of my vocabulary. I can’t even bring myself to type them now. The least offensive one was “quier” (sic), which I am pretty sure just meant “strange” at the time and was not yet used to insult gay people (geez, I hope not!) Where did that budding capacity for self-reflection go when it came to my word choices? Were these words I tossed around outside the confines of my journal? Was I so oblivious to their meanings? Or was I just trying them out or, even worse, trying to sound cool? If it was the last one, I can say definitively to my 13 year old self that it was the uncoolest thing about you.

Cringe-worthy (The Prologue)


I have strayed.

When I started this blog almost two years ago (anonymously, unpublished except to Lyart, and on a different platform) I had a sort of amorphous idea about what I was doing.

First, I wanted to write.

I have always loved writing – the process itself – the way the words just came out and formed unexpected ideas in mysterious ways. I especially loved those moments when The Flow happened. Sitting with pen in hand, (or later with fingers poised over the typewriter, and then later the word processor, the PC, and finally the laptop keyboard), I would get to a place where firings from some indiscriminate part of my brain between the conscious and subconscious realms would streak their way from nerve to nerve, all the way down to my fingers who then seemed to move of their own accord as words, sentences, paragraphs almost magically appeared on paper or screen before my eyes. It was cathartic. It was magic. The words weren’t all that special in themselves; in fact, they were mostly unworthy of even banal consumption, much less critical acclaim. But they came from a surprising place whose existence had been unknown to me. They made me realize how much there must be in there, and then out there, to discover and explore. They turned me into a traveler.

Second, I wanted to write my stories – before they disappear into the Land of the Demented Forgotten. My original concept was to take impulses from my current life and use them as a springboard into some story or significant moment of my past. I wanted to reflect how life is not really linear, but rounded. We keep circling back, returning to places and things we know. We have routines and comforting habits and seasonal rituals . . . I stuck to that concept pretty well for quite a few months weeks. Then slowly but surely, this blog turned into something my sister accurately described as “memoirs in real time”. In other words, an online diary.

That wasn’t the plan.

All this introspection probably comes from the fact that I made great strides in getting my sister to start a blog of her own. I’ve been following her first experiments and her process of figuring out what she wants to do and how she wants to do it. Naturally it has made me think about my own blog’s evolution. Since I don’t really know where I am going at the moment, I feel the urge to return to my roots. And now I have found someone to help me. My younger self.

I suppose I had a lot of possessions when I left the States over 30 years ago. There was a huge stamp collection, for one thing, that finally got sold just a few years ago. There was probably some furniture and a stereo. Lots of books. Clothes that didn’t fit into the two suitcases I brought with me. And I’m sure a lot more. Over the years it mostly got tossed, or lost in a shuffle, or given away, or transported across the Atlantic in a giant canvas US Mail bag. Eventuamailbaglly, all that was left in the States was my ten-speed (“The Rejuvenator”) and the contents of one black footlocker in my sister’s guest room closet.



I figure I have been back to visit that footlocker between 20 and 25 times. Each time I opened it up and there they were: my childhood journals. (Not “diaries” mind you; diaries were lame and for prisses.) Each time I briefly contemplated taking them back with me when I left. And then I picked up one and opened it to a random page and read. Cringe. I picked up a different one and read a paragraph. Again, cringe. I tossed the notebook back in and shut the lid. Maybe next visit, I thought.

Well, this year, the notebooks finally got to accompany me on my flight back to Austria. I have set myself the task of reading all of them in order and know already that it is going to be a humbling experience. From the little snatches I have read so far (while figuring out what order they go in), I assume I will be reading a lot about the boys I grew up and went to school with. Lots and lots of boys’ names are in there, often two in a single entry. (And no, I didn’t have a lot of boyfriends during my school years, although, apparently, not

definitely not diaries
                     definitely not diaries

for lack of trying.) I also seem to use the words “depressed” and “rowdy” a lot. On the bright side, there are no smiley faces or hearts. I don’t dot the letters “I” or “j” with little flowers. I also don’t end every sentence with an exclamation point. Those are little things, but they will help.




Time will tell if this plan will become the masochistic exercise I expect or if one or two little gems might be gleaned out of the rough. Best case scenario – maybe I will be able to start a new recurring blog feature. So, watch for it!

“Cringe-worthy. The Series.”

“Missives from My Teenage Self”


Past the Peak

I’m back home from our mountain hiking weekend and have to admit, unwillingly, that the summer is coming to an end. There are – count them – five more days till I have to be back at work. So I am happy to be able to write about something . . . new, something . . . that never was before, which happened over the weekend.

To backtrack a bit first, we have had Dog Four for two years now and I have become convinced that this girl simply never sleeps. At least I have never witnessed it. There was that drug-induced, post-operative slumber once, but that doesn’t really count. No matter how late I stay up, she is always alert and ready to go whenever I change positions. It’s like she has to wait until the entire herd is tucked away for the night before she can rest. It must be her Border Collie blood.

This weekend we took her along on our hiking vacation. (Dog Three, being too old and weak, had to stay behind with the house sitter.) During our first tour, Dog Four proved herself to be the best hiking dog we have ever had (including the infallible Dog One!) There were twelve kids ranging from three to 14 years old in the group and she was fabulous with all of them. She never strayed more than 10 meters from us and came instantly when we called her. She greeted other hikers in a friendly way and was cordial to their dogs. She had a good time. Best vacation of her life.

The final tour on the third day was an ambitious one – long and with one steep rocky section. I listened to the description of the route and decided to pass. I don’t mind steep climbs, but steep descents scare me – mostly because of one particularly painful past experience when my knees betrayed me halfway down the mountain. So I stayed back and did cabin-sitting while the others did the tour, happy to get regular WhatsApp pictures of their progress throughout the day. Here’s the one from the highest point:


Did I feel a tinge of regret as I looked at this picture on my cell phone? Did I sort of wish I was there? Yes, of course. But then, there is something to be said for knowing your own limitations, for deciding to forego pain and to age gracefully.

But then again, I quickly set off on a little hike of my own – ostensibly to look for mushrooms. About 15 minutes into it (around the time I encountered the first free range cow and realized I didn’t have my trusty walking stick with me) I discovered that hiking wasn’t nearly as fun without a dog in tow. I turned back toward the cabin.

The group returned around dinnertime generally enthusiastic about the day. Dog Four ran into the house and basically launched herself into my face. Then she ran around nervously trying to figure out where the center of the action was. Some of hikers headed for the showers, some of them for a bit of rest in their beds, some still had the energy to start a campfire and prepare extra dishes for the dinner. Eventually, we all ended up in the kitchen of one of the cabins eating up a smorgasbord of leftovers, freshly fried mushrooms, vegetable medley, and cold pork roast.

And then it happened.

In between the two tables, surrounded by the din of 10 loud jovial adults and 12 loud rambunctious kids, all of us eating, Dog Four lay down and . . . for once . . . just let go.

Here she is.



Pigs-in-a-Box Premiere Party!

My husband is always getting these ideas. He sees something new and immediately starts researching and planning. Before I know what’s happening, packages start arriving in the mail or he is off to the DIY store.  The living room turns into a workshop, or greenhouse, or laboratory . . .

This year his project was a wooden box with heavy stainless steel lining:

Box 1   Box 2

The next steps were attaching wheels to the bottom and having a cover made – a heavy metal, tray-like thing with handles. Upon arrival of the thermometer, the date could be set and the party invitations made. Yesterday was that day.

Because the weather forecast didn’t rule out rain, my husband rolled the box out to the carport. He then proceeded to dump stuff into it: several huge chunks of pig, some vegetables and spices . . . (Sorry I can’t be more specific – I am not much of a cook.) He then built a little campfire on the cover of the box, sat down and cracked open a beer.

Box 3

Over the next 5 to 6 hours, the meat slow-cooked at about 100°C, while the fire was maintained and the cabbage and dumplings were made. (No, not by me. I was demoted to Chief Dishwasher years, actually decades, ago and will probably remain in that position for the duration of our marriage.) Guests started arriving at about Hour Four, including my friend N³, fresh from a trip home with a bottle of authentic Cuban rum in her hand. AnothePokemonr friend – who happens to be the only person I know personally who plays the game – arrived and informed me that my yard is something of a Pokémon Hot Spot. (Oh NO!!) She demonstrated how the game is played – Austrian style!


Finally it was time to remove the lid and marvel at the perfectly roasted pork.

Box 4      Box 5

We all piled heaps of it on our plates and went to the screen porch to chow down in a way that gives the title of this post its second meaning. It really was delicious. Whoever that pig was, he certainly left this world in a deeply appreciated blaze of glory.

RumHaving forgotten about dessert in our planning, it came in liquid form. Sampling high quality rums was my husband’s New Hobby 2015. You’d be surprised just how good some of them are. I recommend the Don Papa from the Philippines for beginners. Unless, of course, you know any Cubans who can get you the real stuff privately exported. Anyway, yesterday’s dessert might be the reason why my today began at about 4 pm. It also might explain why it has taken me almost four hours to write this short post.

Home. Again. The Other One.

Leaving home is hard. Coming home – especially after an extended absence, is . . . tricky.  For me, having essentially two homes, there is always a double whammy as I travel from one to the other. And this year, it was slightly surreal.


There is always something idyllic about the time we spend in Milwaukee. Each day begins with a long, relaxed breakfast, sipping hazelnut coffee and looking out over the oceanic Lake Michigan. This year the day’s pace was even more relaxed than usual as the humidity zapped our energy (as 288 straight hours in the sauna would have the tendency to do). Still, we had beautiful weather the whole time. Just a little . . . . moist.

Now I’m home. Again. The other one. The one I own. The one I have lived in longer than any other place in my life. It is beautiful here. But also full of responsibilities. I’m missing the other, magical home where life takes a break for a while. On the other hand, I look out at the vista from my porch and think it is pretty idyllic too:


No sauna conditions today. Here the weather gods prefer intermittent rainfall. There was even some thundering, but it was pretty half-hearted. Not like the wild storms at the start of summer. Now the gods are just phoning it in.

It seems like we always time our trips to long stretches of sunshine in Milwaukee. It occurred to me more than ever that the guests we bring along on our visits (this time it was Omili) experience the very best of the city – the lake and parks, the museums and festivals, the arts, the foods, the multicultural neighborhoods – not to mention the unbelievable graciousness and generosity of our hosts. We don’t bring them to the sketchier parts of town beyond invisible lines drawn through the city. Like the parts that have been burning for the past two nights.

Our departure from Milwaukee occurred exactly halfway between those two episodes of violence. Being busy getting ready to fly home, we missed the morning news coverage of the first night of protests and violence. We wouldn’t see those images until we watched the evening news on our first day back here in Austria.

20160815_200320 20160815_200349

It was hard to wrap my head around the idea that these pictures were coming from that beautiful place I just left.

As much as they disturb my own personal idyllic associations with that city, it is probably a good thing that they are drawing attention. Milwaukee is a place with deep-seated racial divisions and economic inequality issues that need to be brought out into the light. Just like in Cleveland, or Dallas, or Baltimore, or, or, or .  . .

And then there is my daughter, who is still there.

As I write this, she is about halfway through her first day of High School. She has probably just finished her first cafeteria experience. Right now she is in Gym class. I wonder if she was able to open her locker without help or get to her classes on time. Her school is a fabulous place – colorful, multi-cultural, academically serious, and socially conscious.

And, according to Google Maps, it is less than 3 miles as the bird flies from the center of the unrest.

Saturday Matinee

My best blog buddy, Lyart, does a weekly thing where she introduces artwork or a particular artist to her readers. I am stealing her idea today, to show some of the work of my sister. In addition to writing and photography, in the past few years she has been having fun creating cool and quirky 3-dimensional pieces. On my second last evening here, she pulled out her USA puzzle and I spent over an hour having so much fun with it.

USA puzzle


She had researched each State to come up with something of historical significance that happened there – and not just the good and patriotic stuff. The darker chapters of US history are not glossed over. As you put the puzzle together, the best and worst parts land side by side to create an honest and multifaceted whole. Each puzzle piece is a miniature work of art, a history lesson, and a quiz question all rolled into one. A few examples:

Area 51 alien autopsy meets the origins of Miranda rights
Area 51 alien autopsy meets the origins of Miranda rights


Brave and non-violent civil disobedience borders on its exact opposite
Brave and non-violent civil disobedience borders on its exact opposite


What these pictures don’t show well is the attention to detail. To take in each puzzle piece, you have to view it from all different angles:

Rosa in the window
Rosa in the window


The beginning of the end of segregation
The beginning of the end of segregation


It occurred to me how fabulous this would be as teaching material for US History. I even contemplated for a while how I could steal it when I leave here for my other home in Austria tomorrow. Unfortunately, it is a bit bulky. I think my sister might notice. Maybe I’ll just slip this one piece into my suitcase:

Proudly a Cheesehead (despite McCarthyism)
Proudly a Cheesehead (despite McCarthyism)