Not Your Run-of-the-Mill Meme

I apologize in advance for the following post.

I realize that everyone is tired of toilet paper memes, but I seriously can’t think of anything else to write about. My only memorable achievement of late was performing a double leg amputation on a penguin.

SO, under the motto “If it makes you laugh, share it!” I just have to show what I spotted in the supermarket yesterday:

Now I guess I could imagine why someone might want their toilet paper to be stylish and elegant (or “ellegant” – they can’t seem to decide), even if it is only used for three seconds and then flushed.

Harder to understand is why person would want it to be romantic and superdurable.

Any theories?

 

Finally, in my defense, I‘ll add that I think he will like these much better:

 

Friday Matinée

 

Five years ago today, I wrote the first birthday blog post to my bff, Ly.   (“Theatercafé”) I can’t really call it a tradition, because I forgot to do it as often as I remembered to – but now, thanks to quarantine, the birthday post is back!

A lot of you who read me also know her and her “Sunday Matinée” series. She has been introducing me (us) to cool artwork / artists for years, and so for her birthday, I thought I would return the gift.

Ly, meet Mary Cassatt, an American impressionist painter, friend of Degas, born on May 22nd in 1845 in Pennsylvania. I chose this picture because it reminds me just a bit of you.

 

While searching through Google images, I almost gave up on this little project. So many pictures of women with babies or little kids, some dogs but no cats, and a style that is probably not really your taste. Still, I figured you’d like them more than a Wagner opera or the Unabomber’s manifesto (also May 22nders). So I looked more closely and stumbled upon two that I liked. Here they are. Your birthday presents so to speak. Hope you are having a nice day, friend!

Lilacs in A Window

Lydia Seated in the Garden

 

 

Reopening – Part Two

(This might be a long one. As Austria is one of the earliest experimenters in reopening schools, I thought it might be of interest to people in places who haven’t reached this point yet. So, I’ve decided to go into pretty much detail about our experiences, even if our school is a quirky little private and alternative one (where the parents have far too much say!) and therefore, not exactly representative. One thing I can say for sure is that the situation in the husband’s high school is running far more smoothly and that he or his teachers don’t have to put up with a fraction of the crap we do . . . )

 

As I wrote in my last post, my teaching team and I worked all last week to prepare the school for reopening on Monday. We rearranged all the classrooms and tried to meet every requirement set by the government to minimize risk and maximize social distancing. We prepared the kids for the changes and the strangeness that would confront them on their first day back. We informed the parents about every change, every measure we had to take, and we asked them for their support. We encouraged them to contact us directly if they had any questions or concerns. Then came the final weekend before the reopening.

 

Saturday

In evening, 36 hours before the first child would arrive at the school, we get this email – addressed to everyone, meaning all the teachers and all the parents(!):

I felt an urgent need to reply and immediately composed an email that I knew I would never send. Once again, my fingers at the keyboard were sputtering and stammering. Here is what they came up with:

Of course, I didn’t send it. But getting the words out calmed me down enough to get a good night’s sleep.

 

Sunday

I wake up and the first thing I see is a response to the email above from the speaker of the parents’ organization. Her main point is that we have had bad experiences in the past with email discussions and that this mother can always – and should have – contacted the teaching team first. Her words thankfully ward off any further explosion of “Reply all” responses.

Later in the day, my boss forwards an email from a second family announcing that their two children would not be returning to the school. They wanted their kids to remember the place in a positive way and not be confronted with the fear and hysteria that apparently reign now.

That email is followed by another one saying two more kids would be leaving the school at the end of the year. This family – like the one above – had stopped paying the fees way back in March and would continue not doing so. But the kids were going to be there for the reopening the next day. “How can this be?” I wondered. (I have since found out that there at least three other families doing the same, i.e. not paying, yet still sending their kids or expecting distance instruction to continue.) My nervousness about the coming day increased. If the kids behaved anything like their parents, it was going to be a tense and tough one.

Then a third email arrived. A mother wanted to give me a little joy and sent a picture of her son in front of the computer at home. There on the screen was me, with a goofy expression and gesticulating weirdly. It made me smile.

 

Monday (– Reopening Day)

7:30 am. My job was to stand outside and greet the kids as they got off the buses or out of their parents’ cars and to make sure they knew the drill. (Go through the right entrance, shoes off, hands washed, on to the classroom – and there you can take off the mask.) It turned out to be easy. The bus kids all had masks on already and the car kids put them on unprompted as they neared the school. All I had to say after “Good morning!” was “Everything clear? Do you know what to do?” and they all said yes. They were so cool! Not one of them seemed embarrassed, fearful or resistant. They just took it in stride. You could tell how happy they were to be back and to see one another again. These were the older kids in the school (the younger ones would start on Wednesday) and apparently, they did not share all of their parents’ views. Or at least that was how it seemed at the start. But I am getting ahead of myself . . .

Halfway through these arrivals, a mother walked up to a foot away from me, mask-less, and handed me a box of disinfectant and masks. She was a doctor, too. I asked for the bill to reimburse her and she said, no, she was donating the stuff. Then she turned to me and said nervously: “You aren’t really going along with all this nonsense, are you?” She went off on a tirade about how dangerous mask wearing was and pulled out a form to show me. When signed by a doctor, it freed her son from having to wear one. She began filling it out. Meanwhile, I saw her son pull a mask out of his back pocket and put it on just before entering the school. I asked the mother to wait a sec and called for reinforcements. A second teacher and I together made it clear to Dr. Mom that we were indeed following the required guidelines but added that the amount of time her son would be wearing a mask could be measured in minutes. She changed her tune and said that the school part was okay, it was the bus ride she was worried about. Luckily, we don’t have any influence over those policies and could dodge this particular bullet.

After this one jag, the rest of the day jigged remarkably well. We had great talks with the kids and then began the lessons. I’ve never seen them so attentive, receptive and, simply put, happy to be taught. Some of them handed in reams of worksheets, posters and essays; others sheepishly confessed to having done almost nothing in the 9 weeks of the closing. In each case, it was entirely predictable. We had already gotten a good idea about which parents were on top of things and which were helpless when it came to home-schooling. We had been supplying the kids with a steady flow of inputs and assignments, but mostly through their parents’ email. I estimate that in about a third of the households, the information or materials never reached the child. And in a few cases, I assume this was intentional. In order to keep up the pretense that the teaching team was not providing a service and therefore school fees did not have to be paid, all of these efforts on our part to reach out to and help their children had to be ignored.

As far as the hygiene measures were concerned, the kids cooperated with aplomb the whole day. Once or twice we hit a snag and had to pull out the one-meter stick to refresh their memories about what that distance is. In general, though, they kept each other in line. Near the end of the day, I asked one group how they felt about it, how it went. I got this reply:

“I didn’t expect at all that this day would be so much fun!”

As the last school bus departed and we teachers were alone again, we all agreed that the day could hardly have gone any better. Despite all the trouble from some parents, the kids were totally cool and impressive. Then the phone rang. It was a notoriously nervous mother complaining that, from what her son told her, we weren’t enforcing the social distancing enough. Another boy had touched his face . . .

 

Tuesday – Day Two

I could tell in the morning that some kids were already getting a bit too relaxed about the new policies and we had to go through some of them again. But otherwise it was a day of successful teaching and absorbing. During recess, two of my oldest girls actually started asking me questions about English tenses and then requested extra homework in them. This is my ninth year in the school and that has never happened before! All four of my groups seemed almost excited to get their homework assignments. They all would go home with a clear plan about their work not only for the rest of the week, but for the remainder of the year (each group will only have five more lessons). And finally, the one girl being kept home by her parents sent me a (secret) message through one of her classmates. I returned it with an invitation for her to show up at our English chat over the internet on Friday.

There was only one jag.

I was sitting with my First Year group – just three kids all about 10 years old – on a carpet and talking about their assignment for next week. Right now we are learning to use “doesn’t” and “don’t” so I showed them a poster I made years back with a different group and asked them to do the same. They should find pictures in old newspapers, magazines or ads of things they like or don’t like, cut them out, paste them and then write the English words. One of them pointed to the picture of Barack Obama and asked about it. I said he was the former president, which they didn’t really understand, and yet they started talking excitedly all at the same time. It was when one of them said, “That’s all not true!” that I started listening more carefully. The child went on. “The media are paid to say bad things about him . . . the whole thing was started by Bill Gates . . . He’s not a bad man or a racist – he built the wall to protect Mexican children from human organ traffickers . . .”

There was no way I was going to get into a political discussion with a student, and especially not a 10-year-old one. I wouldn’t have been able to in any case because I was so dumbfounded. Where does such a young kid get ideas like that??!! Please god, let it not be his parents!

(This story is not over, and I will surely be returning to it in a future post. But first, I need to consult my team to figure out what, if anything, I should do about this.)

 

So, that was our start in the new normal.

 

I’ve spent all day rethinking these past events – not just the reopening, but everything all the way back to that first rushed and panicky teleconference about closing the school down completely and immediately. The idea was to fire the entire teaching team, stop school fees, and yet, somehow, magically, keep all the kids enrolled and say they completed the school year. We managed to stave that off, but at a pretty hefty psychological and financial cost to the teaching team.

My own feelings toward the school and my future there have been changed too. In the past I had always kept a distance between me and the parents, but Corona and home-schooling made that impossible. I got dragged into the middle of the organization’s multiple crises and then had a crash course in history behind all of the parents’ idiosyncrasies. I began to mentally sort them into groups: the Seriously Supportives, the Hysterical Hyperventilators, the Squawkers, the Stay out of the Frays, the Hopelessly Helpless, and the Silent But Deadlies. After Day Two (and the revelation of a Ten-Year-Old Twumpist), I added a new group: the Conspiracy Theorists.

As might be obvious by this uncharacteristically cynical description, with some notable exceptions, I no longer trust the parents. After years of listening to yapping about solidarity and the bonds that hold us together and commitment and obligation and collective responsibility, the crisis made it crystal clear for which people this was just blah blah all along. When the road of solidarity hit the rubber of their pocketbooks, they quickly switched to personal agendas. A lot of these people are either going or gone now. But not all of them.

The question is if I should go too. Technically, I am still unemployed and could walk away, especially if the crisis management team reneges on their promise to fully reinstate the entire teaching team 10 days from now. On the “Stay” side of the equation is the team itself. We have stuck together in a truly remarkable way and we have gotten closer through this whole ordeal. I think they are fabulous people and, past conflicts aside, working with them has been a great enrichment of my life.

And then, of course, most of all, there are the kids.

 

Empty Nests

My four-week stint (or eight, depending on how you look at it) of experiencing unemployment has come to an end. I just had my first day back at work. The Hummingbird School has survived its own initial incompetence in crisis management, and starting Monday, (most of) the kids will be coming back. To comply with all the requirements set by the government and school board, we had to prepare a whole new physical environment in the classrooms – new nests, so to speak. Gone are the couches for lounging and the big carpets where we sat for circle discussions. Gone are the balls to play sports with during the recess. Gone are all the chairs in the small kitchen. Gone are the Montessori materials that get passed from hand to hand or are not conducive to being disinfected. Gone are the glasses and pitchers of water in the classrooms. Gone are the computer stations for common use. Gone are the musical instruments and board games. Instead, the room is filled with socially distanced, individual desks where the students will sit for most of the morning. In the front of the class there is a space for me to stay put and – for the first time in my career – teach lecture-style to a captive audience.

We’ve divided the students into 4 groups of roughly 10 kids apiece. Two of the four will come each day on an alternating schedule and each group will have it`s own entrance into the school. The ones who will be filling this empty classroom will disembark from their school buses in masks, enter the building, and immediately wash their hands before going to the classroom. They will take a seat and only then remove the mask.

I confess that I feel uneasy in more ways than one about these first steps into the new normal. While planning with my team members, we talked about whether it was a good idea to assign yet another text about their experiences in the lockdown and distance learning. I suggested that the kids reread the reports they handed in near the start and then write about what changed over time. In my case, I worried about feeling confined at first. Now at the end, I find I don’t really like the idea of leaving the house if I don’t absolutely have to.

I wonder if this feeling is normal. Clearly, I have had it easy. Between my spacious house and big garden, my family situation and hermit genes, it’s not like it has been hell. I’ve honestly enjoyed having my whole family around me, not to mention so much time that I stopped monitoring its passing. (“What day is it today?”) I could have continued on like this indefinitely.

But this is not where we are at here in Austria, so I guess it is time for me to come out of my hiding place. The rest of my household is doing so too (if somewhat more eagerly than me).

Whereas the school nest shown above is about to be filled up, my home one is emptying out. Last week, our refugee son moved to another village to be near his brother. The plan is for him to transfer to a school in Graz for his last year. (There is a long story behind these decisions that I won’t get into here. I will only say that I hope he will be happier and more productive with this new living situation.) Yesterday, my elder daughter moved back to her apartment in Graz after two months with us. She took my daily concerts with her. That leaves just one – my youngest daughter – who will be taking her graduation exams starting a week from now. Her original plan for a work/travel gap year got nixed by Corona, so she will be starting university in the fall and, of course, moving into the apartment with her sister.

It was while listening to a conversation between the daughters about decorating the place and the timing of Lily’s move, that the realization finally washed over me. They were talking July – or August at the latest. “Wait!” I thought, “It’s almost June already!” Too months from now, it will be just me and the husband and a whole lot of silence.

Somehow I thought “reopening” would feel different.

 

A Motherful Day

 

While on our daily dog walk, Nice Neighbor Lady told me that her son refuses to celebrate Mother’s Day, saying first that every day should be Mother’s Day and second, that it was a Nazi creation. It’s not, but after that, I didn’t have the heart to tell her how wonderful mine was.

It started early with two new flowers for my garden and then a trip to my sister-in-law to pick up a washing machine (along with a whole bunch of other furnishings) for my daughters’ new apartment. From there we went to a (socially distanced) family gathering where I got to see my mother-in-law for the first time in two months. Since the golf courses have reopened, her life is back in order again. We couldn’t stay long, because my daughter had to get back home for a performance. It was a Mother’s Day Concert being livestreamed from the nearby spa featuring local musicians. I don’t want to brag too much, so I won’t say that she stole the show. Instead, I’ll quote a few of the WhatsApp reactions from friends and my sisters in the States:

“Amazing!”

“Wow. wow wow wow. She’s killing it!”

“Oh. My. God. So beautiful.”

 

Right before leaving for the concert, my husband called out to me that my favorite chicken just hatched a new chick. (She actually let the other hens do all the brooding work for 19 days, and then took over for just the last two. Crafty girl!) Right after the concert, my Skype started chiming and I got to spend the next hour with my own mom. And finally, shortly before going to bed, my daughters posted on my Facebook page, including two of my very favorite photos. Here it is – or at least a doctored version with names changed to protect the perps:

What a wonderful day full of momstuff, sisterstuff, daughterstuff, and grandchickendaughterstuff!  To spread the joy, here are two songs from my favorite singer:

 

 

 

Patchwork Hatchlings

 

The chicks have arrived!!

Just yesterday, the husband and I concluded that our brooding hens would probably be unsuccessful. It had been too long with too much shifting around of eggs and hens. The day before we had discovered two of them squished together over one pile of eggs, while the other nest sat exposed and abandoned. But this morning we were proved wrong.

We are fairly sure that these four chicks all have the same rooster papa, but from the looks of them, there may be up to four different biological mamas. The coolest thing about the new additions to the flock is that they are being collectively co-parented by two cooperating adopter hens.

Modern times!  Even in Chicken World!

 

Don’t Treadle On Me

 

I think it is important that the world knows something. I own one of these now:

It is called a treadle hammer (or so google tells me) and the husband surreptitiously acquired it yesterday while professing to be out on a foray for bear’s garlic with our neighbor. I wondered briefly why they needed his horse trailer for this excursion. Now I know. When they got back, the husband sheepishly confessed the truth and then showed me our new possession. I stared at the thing and in that moment, it finally dawned on me: I am married to a serial hobbyist.

This realization really shouldn’t have come as a surprise. While organizing the basement storerooms last month, most of the work involved schlepping all of the husband’s (former) hobby paraphernalia from one place to another. Evidential remnants of his ever-shifting interests are everywhere in this house: the grape press and still acquired during his wine- and schnapps-making days, the kayaks and windsurfing sail and parachute left over from his various flirtations with extreme sports, shelves and shelves full of books on the perfect golf swing, cicada fish aquariums, woodworking, knife-making, bread baking, photography, mineral collecting, magic tricks, gardening, Asian cooking, etc. etc. etc. There is a self-made meat smoker on our front porch, a collection of old post-WWII bicycles under our back porch, a pile of Vespa parts in the basement along with enough fishing tackle and rods to equip an entire Boy Scout troop. I could go on . . .

But back to the treadle hammer. This new acquisition resulted from the husband’s latest interest, which I foolishly encouraged by gifting him a weekend seminar in blacksmithing where he made his first knife. He has been designing and building his own forge for the past few weeks, and now, with his new machine, he is planning where in our garden to set up shop. I assume there is an anvil somewhere in my future, too. (Sigh.)

After inspecting the machine, I went back to my laptop and was immediately confronted by this image, followed by a second sudden realization:

They’ve done it. I had begun to doubt the existence of the proverbial “rock bottom” (there seemed to be an unending supply of new lows), but these Twumpian Tea-Party-Offshoot protesters have finally managed to hit it.

 

If it were possible for fingers on a keyboard to sputter and stammer, mine would be doing it as I struggle to express my utter disgust. Is this woman ignorant of the Nazi sadism that led to these words being cast in wrought iron and hung over the entrances to concentration camps? Or worse, is she aware of that brutal history and nevertheless displaying her “clever” twisted word play and American flag-muzzle for the world to see? Either option is shameful.

Unfortunately, her stupid cardboard sign and my husband’s new toy are now inextricably connected in my brain. There is really no reason for it other than the timing of my seeing them. Or maybe it’s the similarity of the words tread and treadle, the first of which was on the Gadsden flags that Tea Party Old waved around.

One thing is clear, though. This woman and her compatriots are in dire need of a new hobby.

 

Yo! Bro!

 

At our reunion in December, I managed to coerce two more family members into following my blog. Last night, during a Skype session, I snagged the last remaining sibling.

“Do you read my blog?” I asked innocently. To which he had no choice but to say, “Oh yeah, I’ve been meaning to do that . . .”

At which point he was trapped.

“You know most of the people who know me and aren’t bloggers themselves just follow by email . . . (followed by an explanation of what that means) . . . tell you what. Open your web browser right now . . . now type in circumstance227.wordpress.com . . . no caps . . . now look in the bottom right corner – see the ‘Follow’ button? Press that. Now type in your email address . . .”

I suppose there might have been some point where he could still have wheedled his way out of this, but he didn’t. And now he has just gotten his first email notification.

Yo! Bro! How’s it going?

To commemorate your initiation into Trek* World, here’s a little blast from the past:

For other readers, a short explanation: This particular brother spent two summers in his youth on massively long bike trips with two friends. It must have been in the early 70s, because one of the articles mentions them “starting High School in the fall”. I don’t remember much other than the huge beer can collection he came home with. And how surprising it was that he could find so many empty cans in such good condition just lying there on the side of the road!

On a less facetious note, the whole story amazes me somehow. In today’s world of too little trust and too much general anxiety, it is hard to imagine the 15-year-old who would want to do this, much less be allowed to. The world and parenting norms have changed, and not necessarily for the better.

On the other hand, my own personal world got better today.