Sorbus Terminalis


A visiting botanist once told me that one of the trees on our property was a very rare and special sort. The news gave me a fleeting appreciation for the thing. (As I have mentioned several times in this blog, no one would ever call me “Nature Girl”). But when the tree was destroyed in a storm a few years ago, I was sad and missed its shade. I had forgotten what kind of tree it was by then, so I wrote a blog post (“Goodbye, Tree”), asking my green-thumbed blog friends to help me identify it. Unfortunately, you all were pretty useless. I then forgot about it.

Well, I just ran into that botanist and had the presence of mind to ask him again about that tree. I give you . . . (drum roll) . . .

the Elsbeere

(aka Wild Service tree, aka Checker – or Checkers or Chequers – tree, aka Sorbus torminalis)

A little googling told me that this truly is a rare tree, its wood is prized, and its berries are used in cooking or to make one of the most expensive types of schnapps there is. Hundreds of years ago, the fruits were considered to have medicinal value – torminalis means “good for colic”. It is also good for bees. It was named “Tree of the Year – 2011” by a German forestry association.

These trees usually live for 200-300 years, but mine was ripped apart by a storm at the ripe old age of 15.

Darn! Now I really miss the thing!


After writing all of the above, I went back and reread the old post. A very earnest commenter had suggested (among many other things) “Wild Service Tree” which I apparently pooh-poohed offhand. A later commenter (Hi, Alison!) commiserated with the first: poor girl, she wrote, “she really thought you cared”. (Alison has had my number from the start.)

Clearly, I have appreciation issues.

Goodbye, Wild Service Tree.


Passing for Poultry


I had to make funeral arrangements today. For a chicken. It took me about 15 seconds. I texted my husband, “The Swedish Flower Chicken is lying on the floor of the henhouse. I think she is dead.” We have an unspoken agreement that he is responsible for all bird corpse removals.

This particular hen was one of our original eight, of which there are now only two left, so it WAS slightly sad. It was also poignant that the newest member of our flock – given to the husband at his birthday party on Friday – laid her first egg. And it was green! Cool!

If I am sounding a little cold-hearted to you at the moment, you can blame it on the five or six roosters we have had to get rid of over the past three years. And we seem to be having bad luck again – of the seven chicks we have raised since winter, it looks like 5 are turning out to be roosters. (In the end, there can be only one.) Despite all this, I do love my chickens. And I can prove it.


Of all the presents my husband got, this book was my favorite by far.  I have spent hours paging through it.


Here’s a small sampling of the contents:

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Now that I think of it, though, I wouldn’t allow a single one of these primadonnas to infiltrate my flock. My hearty Orpingtons and Wyandottes would probably take one look and then beat the crap out of them. With one exception, maybe. This guy might have a chance:





The husband’s birthday was one of the minor challenges I have had to face during the past six weeks of lockdown. The first thoroughly unoriginal idea was to have a family picnic. But then I saw a video of some couple in the States who held a drive-by wedding and an idea was born . . . (or maybe I should say “co-opted”. . .):

                                (anonymized for the blog)


Of course, before I could send this out, a lot of prep work had to be done. The husband is very aware of his role model responsibility and has been strictly following the social distancing rules. On the other hand, things are slowly opening up here – stores, hairdressers, mechanics, building sites, etc. A week from now, the kids will start returning to schools. I made some calls to certain friends and co-workers to pitch the idea of this party and got nothing but enthusiastic responses. Every one of them had also been isolating for six weeks, seeing one another only through screens the entire time. So, I figured I would go for it.

Turns out the hubby`s friends and teachers are a spectacular bunch. Secret WhatsApp groups arose where they worked out the timing among themselves to make sure no crowd would form, everyone agreeing to leave as soon as the next guest showed up. (In true Austrian form, they expressed less worry about any health risks than “what the neighbors would think”!) I didn’t have to organize a thing on that end – they did it all on their own. And none of them spilled the beans.

Friday, 1:45 pm, the husband arrived home from work as ordered (only 15 minutes late). We sang a quick “Happy Birthday” and sat down to lunch under the decorated carport. The husband expressed his wish for a long family hike in the afternoon and we all insincerely said “Sure! That’s a great idea!” (heh, heh.) Ten minutes later the first car drove past and parked nearby. As the first two guests walked toward us, we quickly rolled out and set up the self-service bar, complete with hand-sanitizer station. My last worries subsided when I saw the husband’s laughing reaction and how happy was. A steady stream of very cool people made sure that he stayed that way for the entire time.


Sorry Life Stories


After reading a blog post that she really liked – but one that got little attention – my sister pointed out to me that it is perfectly okay to repost from time to time. Especially when life events aren’t conducive to inspiration. That is certainly true right now. My decision to go shopping this morning in the village store rather than the big supermarket doesn’t really lend itself to storytelling. I also doubt that anyone out there is particularly interested in how I cleaned out my refrigerator today, or how much I miss my cleaning lady. Besides, I already covered those topics years ago . . .

. . . which gave me an idea . . .

As I reread this post from 2016, there were a few added surprises. One is that my mom commented on it – something she rarely does. Another comment came from a stranger who also announced she was now following me. It was Joan, aka “42”, who has since become one of my very favorite and core blog peeps. Finally, it struck me that life truly does keep spiralling back on itself – everything here has become relevant again – but with an added corona twist.

So . . . enjoy! (Or re-enjoy!)



My cleaning lady and I don’t talk a lot. Partly it’s because her German is quite limited, her English is nonexistent, and my Hungarian consists of hello, goodbye and “one coffee please thank you”. Usually when I say something to her, she just smiles, laughs a little and agrees. So we have conversations like this:

“How was your week?”

“Yes, yes.” (Little laugh).

Or, today:

“J., you don’t have to do anything in Mitzi’s room today. It’s a disaster zone. Just shut the door and forget about it.”

“Yes, ok, yes.” (Little laugh.)

She then started on the upstairs bathroom while I did the kitchen – the other disaster zone she doesn’t have to deal with. As I was sorting through the vegetable and fruit baskets, removing all the things that were no longer edible, my cleaning lady came in with a huge collection of dirty, crusty dishes and glasses…

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Remotely Reconnected

After marrying a foreigner 30 years ago, I stayed in a state of denial about my emigration for another six or seven years. Eventually I had to face the fact that I had settled 4,635 miles away from my family. This was made somewhat harder by the fact that we all seem to share a hermit gene and are pretty pathetic in the pen pal department. Years could go by without a peep from any of us. But then, every so often, some excuse for a reunion would arise, flights were booked and free days were arranged. We would all congregate on my sister’s porch and simply pick up from the point where we left off – be that three or five or ten years earlier. No recriminations for previous periods of silence. No “So you ARE still alive!” remarks. Just great conversation and laughter and enjoying the precious moments together.

I’m betting most people have some remorse over neglected relationships in this time of forced distancing. I’ve found myself calling up this or that old friend almost daily – just to check in or catch up. And people have been doing the same to me. I’ve had messages from high school friends back home, calls from students and in-law family members, emails from former colleagues, and yesterday, this text message from my bff:

Well, Ly, I have to confess that a certain evil penguin is not the only culprit to blame for my blog silence. I’ve also been preoccupied with this motley crew:

At some point in the late evening, one of these guys plants a meme bomblet in a sibling(+) WhatsApp group and we are off to the races. Some subset of us begins to chatter engage in witty repartee sprinkled with slightly painful punning and obscure movie quotes. Time zones are a recurring theme. Childhood nicknames are debated. Moments of trek-iness pop up leaving at least one of the sisters in the dark. Sometimes one brother writes in what he thinks is German. The other brother finally discovers John Oliver and gets immediately hooked. One hilarious thread creates a sketch about Twump captaining the Titanic. (“Only I can avoid hitting the iceberg. I am not responsible for hitting the iceberg. Now where’s that presidential lifeboat, Marine 1?”) We talk Wisconsin politics, the pros and cons of Biden, and the cons of brown sugar lima beans. Just last night, one brother and I philosophized till 3:00 o’clock in the morning about the triple-whammy of current catastrophes (corona virus, economic collapse, and the twump pwesidency) and compared them to “that old chestnut of nuclear annihilation”. Aaaahh! The good old days when calamities were simpler!

The exhausted Essentials among us worry about the state of the world. The Retirees among us worry about the Essentials. The Recently Unemployed among us just worries in general. But for an hour or two each day all of that ebbs while the messages flow. 4,635 miles shrink down to about a foot and a half – the distance between my eyes and the screen, my ears and the “Ding!”’s, my heart and the messengers.


Meet My Pandemic Penguin

I have been crocheting my way through this crisis. My most recently finished project is for a sister-in-law (the one of “Tuesdays with Dafi” fame). As usual, it came out looking ever-so-slightly evil. Perfectionist that I (sometimes) am, I will probably rip off and redo his legs and feet. Might replace the eyes too once the yarn store opens back up. I am also thinking the beak is too big and a nose job might be in order. Decisions, decisions.


Waiting in line is this squirrel for sister-in-law #2, who joined the Tuesday meetings about two years ago – except that they became Thursdays, started including dinner, and happened only once every 6 to 8 weeks. Of course, now, they are on hold, like everything else.

I miss them.


Plan C


Way back in my first year of blogging, I explored the theme of dystopian fiction and how I would be absolutely useless in any end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it scenario. (“Eating Bambi”) Not much as changed since then. I still can’t make candles.

But all around me, perfectly sane people I have known for years are quietly acquiring survivalist skills. They are baking their own bread, smoking and curing meats, increasing the numbers of chickens they keep, enlarging their gardens, learning how to can things, learning how to make their own cheese and butter, becoming beekeepers, turning to herbal remedies, setting up ad hoc, non-monetary trading partnerships with neighbors (eggs for salad greens, chicken meat for apples, strawberries for wine . . .), but otherwise prepping for self-sufficiency.

And then there’s me. Still gagging at the thought of eating one of my extraneous roosters. Not a single survival skill in my repertoire, unless there is some dire need for crocheted stuffed animals out there that I am not aware of.

Something must be done about this.

Yesterday, while cleaning out the kitchen cabinets, I made a discovery which then led to an idea and an opportunity to prove my mettle. I bought this sometime in 2017 out of curiosity – what exactly does Mr. Inzersdorfer consider to be corned beef? As a Reuben-loving Milwaukee-an, this was not an idle question. I didn’t follow through on the inquiry, though, and so this can has spent the last three years collecting dust in the far back corner of the cabinet.


I looked at the expiration date and told myself, “So what? A true survivor-type wouldn’t be put off by this. I’m a descendant of the Donner Party for chrissake! That should give me some genetic/genealogical advantage when it comes swallowing gross things. I’m going to open this up and eat it!”


I took a deep breath and delicately opened up the can. I pondered the color and daintily used a fork to explore the consistency of the meat. I leaned over and smelled it. I raised the fork and allowed a mote-sized portion to make brief contact with my tongue . . .


It looked like cat food. It smelled like cat food. It tasted like what I assume cat food tastes like. I fed the rest to the dog.

Apparently, the Donner gene did not get passed on to me. I need a new plan. What tradable commodity could I produce with my particular skill set and resources (consisting of thousands of books and 37 years’ worth of teaching materials) . . . .?


Aaaahh, Silence. (Sigh.)


Saturday was the first day of Easter vacation, and the school having been closed for three weeks already, I wasn’t expecting it to feel any different. But then something miraculous happened. My cell phone went quiet. Instead of the now usual 150 emails/text messages/calls per day, there were only 2 or 3 of each. By mid-morning I was inspecting my cell to make sure it was still working. Soon thereafter, I realized that this was the way things would normally be during a vacation. The silence became energizing. It occurred to me I could finally get started on one of my Corona Break projects and I went right out and picked the biggest one.

I’d been wanting to deep clean and reorganize the kitchen for months. With so much time on my hands, I could set about it in a slow, methodical and scientific way. I would start by making a survey of the contents of all the cabinets and rank them according to the frequency with which I used them. I would then score the various cabinets based on certain criteria (visibility of contents, easily reached, requires bending over or crouching, requires stretching or standing on a chair). I would then use these results to re-allocate the contents to the most appropriate and efficient storage space.

Of course, certain contents barely register on the frequency of use scale, and these would be moved out of the kitchen entirely to one of three alternate storage sites – in order of their distance from the kitchen (from closest to farthest) these were: the hall cabinet, the basement storeroom, or the garbage cans. I would use mathematical calculations and expiration dates to determine which alternate location was best suited for each item, with the kitchen-to-storage-space distance standing in inverse proportion to its chances of being needed.

The one hitch to this plan was the state of the basement storeroom which could only be described as a disaster zone. It would have to be ordered and cleaned first. And to make room for more kitchen stuff, some of its contents would have to be moved to the shelves in the even filthier heating oil tank room. To make these decisions I would have to consider such factors as material, sensitivity to humidity and frigid temperatures, flammability, and value. (That last one was added because this room represents the easiest way to break into our locked house. We haven’t done anything about it because my husband forgets his keys a lot.) While deciding, I would also have to take into consideration all the crap that we had “temporarily” stowed in the wine cellar and the basement hallway nine months ago . . .

So, this was going to be a huge project. I figured it would take me about a week to accomplish.

Here was the state of things by the end of Day One:



Day Three of Sozialschmarotzing


For some reason, I thought being unemployed would mean being . . . less employed.

Yesterday I . . .

    • made coffee, listened to Rachel
    • fed the chickens and goats
    • sent emails out to all my students
    • teleconferenced with the (former) team
    • continued to communicate through various mediums with my (former) team
    • wrote a long blog post, started catching up on reading
    • talked to my sister / got an American family update
    • decided to focus my time on promoting peace and happiness in my family Corona coop
    • crocheted penguin wings

Today I . . .

    • made coffee, listened to Rachel
    • fed the chickens and goats
    • received/responded to emails and text messages from my (former) team
    • teleconferenced with the (former) team
    • hatched a plan
    • called husband to lay groundwork for some father/daughter, father /refugee son mediations
    • went shopping
    • walked the dog three times
    • filled out my application form for unemployment benefits
    • gave some tough love therapy to my re-traumatized refugee son
    • cooked dinner
    • mediated
    • watered one of my (dead) houseplants
    • downloaded and set up a new teleconferencing system for communicating with my (former) team
    • wrote back and forth with another unemployed (former) colleague, asked her where the “un” in “unemployed” is
    • wrote this blog post


Queen for a Day


According to the clock on my notebook, I am now exactly 11 hours into my new life as a welfare queen. So far it hasn’t been too bad. I spent the first 8 of them sleeping (“Typical!”), one of them drinking coffee and listening to Rachel Maddow – who, I must say, no longer relaxes me – and two of them following the WhatsApp escapades of my (former) colleagues while starting to tie up the loose ends of my 37 year teaching career.

(Speaking of which, does anyone out there need a couple thousand of  . . . whatever these things are called in English?)



As far as my former workplace is concerned, there is really nothing for me to do now but sit back in my new throne and watch from a distance how things play out in the school. Meanwhile I have lots to learn about the ins and outs of my new employment status. For instance, can you use food stamps to buy Coca Cola and chocolate? Am I going to get retrained for some new career? And if so, is basket weaving an option? How many job offers can I turn down before I risk losing my monthly handout? Am I allowed to take up golf? Will my blog posts become rambling, half-finished scribblings that reflect my structure-less days? I’m starting to think this sozialschmarotzing might be more complicated than it looks.


My team members are somewhat in a state of denial in terms of what is happening right now. The two left standing haven’t quite realized that they are basically on their own, while the three of us that have been (supposedly) temporarily laid off are all secretly evaluating our current situations and options and wondering if it is time to just move on. We all fall on different places in the spectrum of possible outcomes:

I hold out some hope that the fourth option will happen, but I confess I am closest to the third point right now. As if to confirm this feeling, two emails just came in since I began writing this paragraph (!): two more families announcing that they are taking their kids out of the school. Along with the six that are graduating this year, we are now up to a loss of 12 kids and I expect we will be hearing about at least 3 more by the end of today.


What has been fascinating to watch is the contrast between my husband’s school and my own. At the risk of him getting a big head, I have to say that he’s been Master Class in crisis management. The school closings were announced on a Wednesday evening and by Friday, his school had an entire learning platform up and running, all the teachers had been brought on board and all the students got training in how to use it. Monday morning, they all got up, checked their schedules and started teaching/attending virtual classes from home. Several times a week, my husband video conferences in the evening with a set of his teachers to share experiences with the platform or to plan some new creative project for the students. I listen to these group discussions from the next room and marvel at the laughter, the competence, the clarity, the solidarity, the productive and reassuring tone of the conversations.

I’ve had a tiny bit of those things in my conference calls with the team, but mostly we have just been reeling from crisis to crisis and helplessly watching the parents’ organization crumble in the chaos and conflict.

(Oh! By the way . . . I just realized the date . . . “Happy April Fool’s Day!”)

When the dust and ash settle somewhere down the road, I wonder how various parents and team members will feel about the decisions they made in panic. I find myself looking back at certain moments and thinking “What I should have said is . . . (XYZ)!” But, in general, I’m not sure I had any power to influence developments. Also, even as a kid, I never liked the rollercoaster. Knowing now that someday soon I might be able to get off of this one is not entirely a bad feeling. Luckily, I have had some experience in losing jobs – and even in losing jobs due to an international crisis. 9/11 cost me my course at a Marketing college when I couldn’t get back in time for start of the academic year. The end of my Business English teaching was not entirely unrelated to the 2008 Meltdown. And now Covid-19 is killing my Hummingbird.

But maybe, just maybe, some small group of dedicated families will find a way to resurrect it. And maybe, just maybe, I will be able to contribute a little to its inception and new design.