Places I Used to Inhabit

It is strange to be suddenly confronted with your own unconscious and habitual movements and behaviors. This happens when there is some major change in your accustomed physical environment. For instance, it has almost been three weeks since quitting smoking, yet when I’m writing and get temporarily stuck searching for the right formulation of words or thoughts, my body just stands up all on its own and walks out onto the screen porch.

Now when this happens, there is no ashtray out there. No matches. Nothing to light. So I stand there for a few seconds in a state of confusion wondering: why am I here?

And then there is the kitchen.

For the past two decades, my day began like this: I walked into the kitchen and took a sharp right. All in one place were the things I needed. The coffeemaker, the filters, the coffee, the water, and the compost bin (for yesterday’s grounds). The next ten movements I made were all so habitual that no conscious thought was necessary. And because I keep my thyroid medication on top of the coffee tin, I never forget to take it.

This morning I woke up, went down to the kitchen and took a right. I found myself standing back-to-back with a refrigerator, staring at a blank wall where my coffeemaker used to be, wondering: why am I here?

All that because . . . this is my kitchen now:

And this is my kitchen now:

And this, too,  is my kitchen now:

I forgot to take my thyroid medication for the first time in years this morning. This afternoon, I needed scissors. I walked into the kitchen and headed toward the empty wall where the scissors used to hang. Later I needed a plastic bag. I headed toward a drawer in front of the kitchen window. The frig was in my way. And of course that drawer is no longer there anyway – it is now in the bathroom. It is only a matter of time before I walk into the kitchen and simply drop my empty coffee cup, letting it smash on the floor right below where the sink used to be.

It is going to be like this for about three more weeks.

Once the new kitchen is here, I will have to learn a whole slew of new habitual movements. I have no idea yet where the coffeemaker is going to go in the new arrangement, but I am going to put A LOT of thought into it. Because this kitchen is probably going to be my last one. However it is arranged is going to determine where I go and what I do in the first five minutes of every day from now until . . . my institutionalization.

That is, assuming my institutionalization doesn’t happen sometime in the next three weeks.

 

 

Happy Flag Day!

 

Co-habitating family members aside, one of my two top people in the world – my sister – had a birthday five days ago and, in line with sibling tradition, I almost forgot it. There was just enough of the daily allotment of energy left to whip out a quick email. The next day, she graciously thanked me and then noted that she shared a birthday with our current Oval Office Occupant, adding that this fact worried her a bit. I immediately wrote back to reassure her on the total irrelevance of this unfortunate coincidence:

“The only similarities I see between you and the pwesident are that you are both old white male senile racist misogynists with persecution complexes totally unqualified for the offices you are briefly pretending to occupy.”

 

Knowing my sister, I assume she is nevertheless worried. So I will expand on the differences between them in my blog:

She is not under investigation.

She has never said the word “P***y” in her life.

She studied Law and understands the Constitution.

She is generous to a fault.  (Her first instinct is to worry more about other people than herself.)

She doesn’t mind paying taxes.

She travels in order to learn about the world. And herself.

She prefers understatement to exaggeration.

She has a sense of humor.

She has me.

 

 Happy Birthday, Sis!

(five days late)

Random Updates

 

Despite my flailing a bit in the blog business, there have been a few developments around here. So I am once again stealing (and adapting) Kate’s regular feature to get you all up to speed.

First stop – garden projects – mostly my husband’s, not mine (see Blackthumb’s Annual Garden Report”). Here’s the current state of the chicken house, the straw bale veggie garden, and my Florence Henderson rosebush:

   

 

Second stop – Gingerbread Man (see “He’s Back”). Spiffy again:

Third: We had a fifteenth birthday in the house, which means I now have two daughters who can drive away on their mopeds, much to my consternation:

Fourth stop – our kitchen remodeling (see “The World’s Costliest Ice Cubes”). It has now gone into high gear. Below you can see what the old kitchen looked like next to a computer projection of what the new one will (sort of) look like in about three weeks. (Full disclosure: the before picture was intentionally taken at a moment of Peak Clutter). Yesterday the window guys were here and you can see the results underneath.

 

And Fifth. Ever since first noticing the two moons perched in my Red Maple Tree (see “Tidings”), I have looked for them each morning while waiting for my coffee to brew. I found this comforting for some reason and was sort of afraid that they would disappear once the new windows were in. So this morning I was happy not only to find them again – but to see that they brought a friend!

 

Day 10

So.

When I go to bed tonight, I will mentally pat myself on the back for going 10 straight days without . . .  self-administered carbon monoxide, tar and approximately 6997 other chemical poisonings. I can’t yet brag about giving up nicotine yet, because in weaker moments, I am falling back on various other delivery systems for that particular drug. The plan is to make it through the first month in this way and then detox completely when my stress levels plummet precipitously on July 1st.

I did look into a few other commonly used methods to conquer addiction, but none of them seemed particularly auspicious. There are all sorts of natural and/or homeopathic products, but deep down, I believe that you have to believe that they will work for them to work and I am not much of a believer. The same problem arose when I googled “12 Step Program”. Somehow I don’t see myself taking a fearless moral inventory of my character, admitting my defects to a higher Power and then humbly asking Him to remove these shortcomings. I also don’t plan to become missionary among my many MANY smoking friends. No, I will use my own (if I may say so myself, impressive) powers of denial to get me through.

This I know:

Thinking about quitting sucks big time. It is truly awful in its futile endlessness.

Quitting, at least so far, has been easy in its awesome finality.

We’ll Always Have Pittsburgh

 

I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume everyone reading this has had a relationship-gone-bad somewhere in his/her past. In the beginning, you seemed to be in complete agreement when it came to world view, passions, dislikes, etc. When other things were getting you down, this person could make you feel great again. Your contact intensified, consumed more and more of your time, and you didn’t notice for a long time that the slow and stealthy cycle of self-destructiveness had begun.

It started with little things – maybe a smug quip that rubbed you the wrong way. You began to notice how they repeated the same words and phrases and stories. You got tired of rants about the unprecedented outrageous-ness of others. Then lying became an issue. You suddenly recognized how they felt superior to – and simultaneously put upon by – the entire world. If you didn’t watch your step, you might just fall out of favor, too. At some point, the last straw dropped and you realized it was time to get out.

That’s where I am now. I’ve made my decision.

I am breaking up with MSNBC.

 

(You thought I was talking about the disillusioned Twump voter, didn’t you? I admit, the description would probably fit . . . )

 

Something snapped in my brain while listening to the coverage of Twump’s rosy garden speech on the Paris climate treaty. The MSNBC commentary dutifully pointed out his relentless string of lies, and yet, it was . . . lacking. I care deeply about this issue and it seemed to me that they cared more deeply about something else . . . exactly what, I am not sure – righteousness? ratings? I started surfing for something more . . . something more real . . . and there he was – my dream man:

You might think I am kidding, but I am not. I listened to this discussion four times and was moved each time: (http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/shields-brooks-trumps-climate-pact-consequences/ ).  It seemed to me that, in 12 short minutes, they cut to the core of everything that is wrong with the current administration and the world right now.  And they did it in a serious, honest and heartfelt way – two people coming from different perspectives, in mutual respect, agreeing on essential core truths:

people who think and feel differently from us are not our enemies,

we may disagree on the best method, but helping other people to do better is good, and

there are very, very, minuscule-ly!  few people out there who are truly “out to get us”.

 

When it comes to following political developments, it is time for me to shift gears. I now believe that a couple of hours of PBS each week is all I really want and need.

It is not like I want to cut MSNBC out of my life entirely. A part of me will always love them.  I sincerely hope that we will stay good friends.

 

On the Mend – (Reunions – Chapter 13)

 

(Note: This post is part of a longer story. If you are interested in reading it from the beginning onward, use the links at the end of this post.)

 

Our pediatrician of almost 17 years retired recently. My first thought was to feel sorry for all the soon-to-be new parents around here. Dr. P had provided my daughters – and us (!) – with excellent care and even became something of a friend.

The first time I met him was in his own home on a Sunday. We were about to leave for Ethiopia where Mitzi was waiting for her hopelessly inexperienced new parents. Dr. P had done some research before our arrival and, over breakfast, he gave us all sorts of advice, answered our questions and wrote out prescriptions for medications that might be needed, depending on Mitzi’s state of health. Even more important, though, is that he calmed us down. That was his specialty after decades of dealing with slightly hysterical, young parent-hypochondriacs. We left his house feeling that things would be alright. And they were.

In our second adoption of Lily, our first action on returning home was a trip to Dr. P’s office – and once again, it was a specially arranged appointment outside of his normal practicing hours. He observed Lily as we told him about our trip and how she was recovering from the measles. He did a few quick reflex tests and some physical examination. He checked her responses to different stimuli.

“How old did you say she is?” he asked.

We explained how we had been asked to decide on her birthdate based on pictures and information from police reports. (Which, by the way, is a very strange thing to have to do!) Our guess at the time was that she was about five months old, so we suggested May 5th (the birthday of a dear childhood friend). The answer came back that it was too early, and were we okay with June 2nd? A month later, the trip to Ethiopia behind us, we told Dr. P that she was now five months old. He looked intensely at Lily and tried a few more things.

“This child is much older than 5 months,” he said. “In fact, I’d say she is somewhere between 3 to 6 months older.”

I stared at my new 9 pound baby and tried to imagine her as 11 months old – it didn’t seem possible.

Then Dr. P explained that her motor skills and intellectual capabilities were way beyond what a 5 month old would normally have. He seemed very convinced.

Over the years, I have come halfway around to his opinion. I had learned earlier that the miraculous infant brain will protect its own development by slowing bodily growth if need be while devoting all nutritional resources to itself. So, undernourished babies will often remain very small even as they develop mentally. A specialist once told me that once regular good nutrition is restored, it can still take up to three years before the child catches up to his/her genetically pre-determined height and weight. On the other hand, I have also read that evolution has led to faster infant development in poorer countries. It is said that a two year old Ethiopian child – if abandoned – can survive on its own, finding food and shelter of some sort in the streets. I don’t know if that is true, but it is absolutely unimaginable that an Austrian child of two could do such a thing. And Lily comes from a particularly poor part of Ethiopia where the average life expectancy is less than 50 years. It would make sense that people there, over the centuries, would develop faster and reach reproductive age earlier.

Questions. Questions.

In the end, maybe it doesn’t matter if Lily was born in January or March or June, but I can’t help wondering how it must feel not to know this about oneself? What we do know of her story is extremely low on facts, filled out somewhat by oral reports. The rest is supposition. There is a police report which says she was found “under the cactus tree in A….” The problem here is that “A….” is such a huge area. It is the equivalent of saying something like “under the maple tree in Delaware.” We heard secondhand that she got her name from the policeman who went to get her and took her to the nearest orphanage. The way Lily moved when I held her made me believe that she had been breastfed – so possibly her birth mother fed and cared for her for a while until the day she no longer could. Lily’s delighted reactions to older men with white hair – in stark contrast to the reserve she showed to other people – made me think that there might have been a kind and affectionate grandpa in her earliest months. And finally, it is absolutely clear to us that whoever her biological parents were, they had beauty and intelligence and music in their genes.

These are the things (we think) we know. They are the elements of Lily’s story. In a way, hers is not so different to anyone else’s. Memory is a strange thing – blogging has taught me that. When we tell our own stories, facts tend to get intertwined with rumors, family legends, myths, guesses and details which have morphed over time. And from things others have told me, I believe we all have gaps – little mysteries about ourselves that we may never solve. There’s the woman who spent her childhood fearing she was actually adopted. Another who found out that her father had an entire second wife and family in another town – leading her to meeting her half-siblings for the first time in her thirties. I, myself, often wondered whether I was a planned fifth child or an accidental one. I doubt there is a person on this planet who can truly answer the three most basic existential questions: who am I? where did I come from? and why am I here?

Questions. Questions.

Dr. P may have instigated a mystery that we will never solve, but he did give Lily great care – and a lot of it! There were a lot of after-effects from her bouts of the measles and scabies – an ear infection, stomach troubles, a respiratory infection, rashes, the Epstein-Barr virus . . . It seemed like I was hauling her to Dr. P every week with something new. I spent many an hour worrying in his overcrowded waiting room and often felt that he was hectic and rushing when our turn finally came. I even briefly considered finding a different pediatrician with more time and fewer patients. But then, during a classically speedy appointment, I blurted out how guilty I felt that Lily was sick once again. He stopped what he was doing, sat down, and talked slowly and calmly, taking his time.

“Just look at her and how well she is developing! You may not see it, but she keeps growing and filling out and getting stronger. Her skin has cleared up and started to glow. Each time you come here, it’s like I’m seeing a different baby.”

My guilt subsided and loyalty was restored.

Once we had gotten through all these follow-up illnesses, Lily turned into an eerily healthy child. Her immune system had been massively kick-started, I guess. And now, many years later, with Lily’s 15th birthday just around the corner, those old worries and feelings of helplessness or guilt have faded from memory. Couples adopting internationally are often more worried than biological parents about what illnesses their future children might have. But in some ways, helping my daughters back to good health – seeing how quickly they responded to loving care and how fully they recovered – has become a special and enriching part of my adoption experiences. Thanks, as well, to a little help from a friend.

 

 

 

The back story:
Reunions – The Prologue
Part 1 – The Decision
Part 2 – Nine Months
Part 3 – The 4 o’clock 10 o’clock Man
Part 4- Seeing is Believing
Part 5 – Whirlwind Departure
Part 6 – Out of the Question
Part 7 – Body Language
Part 8 – International Kidnapping
Part 9 – The Well-being of the Child
Part 10 – Poons and Moons
 Part 11 – Oh No, Not Lily
Part 12 – Running On Empty

 

Heavenly Blast From the Past

 

Shortly after coming to Austria, I began understanding what it meant when a country does not separate church and state. I found certain norms creepy or irritating – like Religion class in schools or the way all the stores shut down at noon on Saturday and didn’t reopen till Monday morning. The worst thing, though, was church taxes – what a concept!

But I later came to see the bright side of this setup – all those funky extra religious holidays like Pentecost or Corpus Christi. I used to joke that every time a saint sneezes, Austrians take a holiday. And if that sneeze happens to be on a Thursday, they just go ahead and take the Friday off too. Today is the start of one of those wonderful long weekends – it’s Ascension. That’s why I finally finished the Gingerbread Man, reinstalled my printer, planted my flowers, prepared my next university course, cooked lunch and am now finally returning to WordPress after a somewhat unintentional break.

Ascension is kind of my favorite, not only because it is the first of three long weekends in rapid succession, but also because it has such a great name in German. This needs a little explaining.

Way back in high school German class, there were a few words that set most of us off – either giggling or blushing, depending on the personality type. One of those was the German word for the number 6. The other was the word Fahrt (meaning “trip” or “drive” or “ride”). With our bad accents, it always came out as “fart”. To make matters worse, Germans like to create a lot of new words by simply adding a pronoun to something else. So . . .

“entrance” is Zufahrt

“driveway” or “onramp” is Einfahrt

“exit” is Ausfahrt

“the way there/back” are Hinfahrt and Rückfahrt

“passage” is Durchfahrt

. . . and there were dozens more.

But the very best one of all was the name of today’s holiday.

 

Happy Christi Himmelfahrt, everyone!