Hatched!

 

The video is not new – but it WAS the start of something new. Have a look.

 

Poor little thing. Two seconds into the world, he already gets his first whacking.

 

I tried to post this video on my blog almost a year ago and failed. My free WordPress plan wouldn’t allow me to. That was the first time I considered an upgrade. Later, when ads started appearing annoyingly mid-post, the idea took more concrete form. Being a somewhat elderly blogger, it took me yet a while longer – five months or so – to gear myself up to taking the step. Today, finally, I clicked on the “Upgrade” button. What ensued was . . . surprisingly quick and uneventful.

It may not look much different to you, but it feels different to me. Like I am now really out there in the blogosphere for the first time

And now here I am, taking my new-and-improved Trek out for a spin. Checking out what it can do. Different font sizes? (Nope, that doesn’t work.) Can I finally use different colors? (The answer is “Yes!”) Next will come layout changes maybe. Before you know it, I’ll be following those WP tips for increasing readership. Scavenging for views.  Foraging for Likes . . .

“Let the bullying begin!”

Chickens in the Outhouse

 

Most people don’t know this, but there are two countries named “Austria”. Or at least in my mind there are. One is the place I came to after graduating from college and it was filled with highly educated professional people who were well-informed on social, cultural, economic, political and international issues. The second Austria was the one I spent two months in as an AFS student at the age of 17. It was a rural village of 108 people in about 15 houses, wedged between a military training base and the Iron Curtain. 99% of its inhabitants left school after the 8th Grade to become full-time farmers, butchers, seamstresses, mechanics, etc. before going on to intermarry. The time elapsed between my arrivals in these two Austrias was either only 5 years or an entire century. Take your pick.

It’s this earlier place that has been on my mind for a while now. After realizing that I was already starting to write this post in my head, I decided to skip ahead a few childhood journals in my “Cringe-worthy” series and read the one I wrote during that last high school summer and my first experience abroad.

It was a trip.

———————————————-

 

Shortly before I left, the long-awaited information package from the exchange program arrived. I ripped it open and intensively skimmed through the pages. The first surprise was that my host sisters were 2 and 3 years old, my host mother and father were only 22 and 26 respectively. Then I read that host grandpa was in his 50s and host grandma (“owner of the farm, practical head of the family”) was in her 70s. Hmmm? Oh yeah, and they were all farmers. Their daily life description consisted of work, watching TV and occasional day trips to relatives. The qualities they were looking for in the exchange student were “able to adapt, uncomplicated, not demanding any luxory (sic)”.

To be honest, there wasn’t much in these few lines to increase my excitement. I was the youngest child in my family with no experience of younger siblings. My baby-sitting jobs mostly had me watching TV downstairs from sleeping kids. I was also a city girl. With the exception of some horseback riding lessons, my exposure to country living was minimal. I’m fairly sure my only face to face encounters with farm animals up to that point had happened in the meat sections of supermarkets. I had almost no references to help me understand what I was heading toward. Despite all the hints in the information package, visions of the Sound of Music continued to happily dance in my head and my only real worry was whether I would be able to find a curling iron once I got there. I boarded a plane.

 

Epic Start

My first journal entry, the morning after arriving, was mostly about homesickness and . . . “feeling out of place”, but that first evening is one of the moments I can still remember distinctly 40 years later. I entered the kitchen and was led through the family bedroom to what would be “my room” for the next two months. That was it. The entire living space for the five of us when we weren’t sleeping was that kitchen. I remember then having to go to the bathroom and making the classic German language mistake of asking where the “Badezimmer” was. (In Austrian houses, the “bathroom” is for bathing and the toilet usually has its own separate room.) I was led back to a second room off the kitchen in which stood an old bathtub, a sink, a washing machine, and this thing. I stared at it and thought “What IS that?? It can’t be . . . ? . . .”. Then I noticed the electrical cord. My host mother, Edna, was clearly amused at me contemplating the laundry spinner and then led me back through the kitchen, out the door into the courtyard and on to the outhouse. As I wrote in my journal, “I almost cried when I saw [it].” There was a pile of old newspapers in there for wiping, but then Edna handed me a roll of toilet paper. She said it was just for me and asked me to keep it hidden and in my room. If her daughters saw it, they would demand to have some too.

My second biggest journal complaint was about the dinner they served me: “hot milk, bread and butter”. Little did I know then that it would be not only my dinner, but also my breakfast, every day for the next two months (except when pig lard was substituted for the butter). Food and the outhouse would become two of the recurring themes of the summer. It’s strange to see now that many of the others also showed up in that first journal entry. On my first full day, Edna showed me around the village, pointing out the Milk House and the “Club 3000” — an old chicken house that the village teenagers had transformed into a little disco. Later she took me to the nearby “city” (where I bought a curling iron). Most importantly, she gave me my first job.

 

“I did a new job today.”                

Bringing the full milk cans to the milk house, bringing back the emptied ones, and washing them out became my daily task for the summer. But each day brought other types of farm work to try out as well. I worked in the stalls and helped with harvests. I cut grass with a scythe and emptied wagonloads of hay into the cellar with a pitchfork. I hoed and chopped and raked and drove a tractor. I stripped bark from logs and stacked bales of straw. I hung up laundry. Lots of laundry. And I broke tools, lots of them, among other things.

  

“Chickens are the most disgusting creatures.”       

I didn’t mind most of the jobs (though I did write that “shoveling manure is revolting”). It was nice to have something to do and all these activities were new to me. There was one big exception. One day Oma signaled to me by way of crooking her up-turned finger that I should follow her. As we walked toward the chopping block, she scooped up a chicken with one hand and then picked up an axe with the other. WHACK! She handed me the upside-down flapping headless thing and said “Pluck!” Trying hard not to gag, I daintily pulled one feather out and then the next before Edna came and saved me. In under a minute, that bird was nude.

My objection to this particular job had nothing to do with sympathy for the dead bird. In fact, one of the funniest things for me to read in this journal was how much I hated chickens.

 

“little monsters”         

There were two other little creatures that I complained about almost as much as chickens – my two host-sisters.  There are stories in there of them taking food away from me, hitting me with an umbrella, calling me stupid . . . the list continues. Edna left me pretty much on my own when it came to dealing with them, which I found even more exasperating. But as the summer progressed, occasional nice moments with them pop up. Near the end I write about how each day began with them running into my room at 8 am to wake me up . . .

 

“going out”

The fact that my host sisters were so young was not such a problem in the end because, it turned out, there were a lot of other teenagers in the village to meet and party with. On my second day there, it was already arranged that a neighbor girl would come and get me: Destination Club 3000. Basically, every teenager in the village was there that night (I wonder why). It was the beginning of what would become an issue over the summer: me “going out”.  I did it a lot.

As I got to know the kids, I started to understand all the interrelationships in the village as well as the external perspective of my living situation and my host family. The biggest revelation, though, had – of course! – to do with plumbing.

 

Drama

 Me being 17 years old and . . . well, . . . me (“never met a boy I couldn’t get a crush on”), there ensued a series of somewhat sorry flirtations that set the village tongues a-wagging. The first was the village butcher/bad boy and I liked him till he went skinny-dipping right in front of all of us. (“I was so shocked!” I declared dramatically in my journal on Day 9.) I moved on to Crush Number Two, whose two most attractive qualities, if I am honest, were his driver’s license and old piece of clunk car. That one lasted about three weeks – until the car died, quickly followed by my interest. The third (potential) crush never went anywhere, because he was a cousin to my host family and much too smart to get himself entangled. The fact that he already had two girlfriends (and I, at least according to the locals, had two boyfriends) might also have had something to do with it.

The funny thing is that, even with my tentative command of German, I wrote often about how much easier it was to talk to these boys than to my (reserved) boyfriend back home. I realized even way back then that the pre-determined ending date of these relationships freed me to just be myself. Still, once a letter finally arrived from said boyfriend, he became my new crush for the final two weeks of the summer.

 

Gossip Generator

Despite the fact these flirtations included almost no physical contact, village gossipers had a field day with my exploits and corrupting influence on the local youth. I unintentionally fanned the flames by becoming close to the one girl in the village (the sister of Crush #2) who was attending high school and spoke excellent English. As I eventually found out, their two (much younger) siblings were born well after the death of their father, and that it was my host Opa who had been spending a lot of time there “helping the young widow out”.  After learning that village open secret, I understood some of the dynamics in my own household better, not to mention why my own host Oma was the biggest gossip generator of them all.

 

“Oma is a killer.”

Oma made it clear to me in a myriad of ways that 1) she didn’t approve of my being there, 2) so I should at least work, and 3) even though I was working, she didn`t approve of me or my work. My journal is filled with episodes where she demonstrated her feelings. She told me repeatedly how bad my cooking was. She yelled at me when I used the phone or the wrong pan. She turned off the lights on leaving a room, even if I was still sitting there. I eventually learned not to take her seriously, but for a few exceptions. The first was the way she promoted rivalry between her two granddaughters, always praising one of them and criticizing the other. Or making only one bottle of milk and letting them fight over it. The second unforgivable transgression was when I was finally let in on the big secret – and I’m not talking about her husband’s affair and love children. No, this was something much worse. It turned out that over in her rooms in a different tract of the farmhouse, there was a perfectly modern bathroom with a flush toilet. No one else in the family was allowed to use it. Scandalous!

The third transgression that I just couldn’t get over was when she complained and gossiped about Edna – saying she was lazy and never worked when that was all she did from morning to night! Unfortunately, my host father, Lou (Edna’s husband and Oma’s son) was not much help. I think he had learned to stay clear of the fray.

 

 

 

“I had a long talk with Edna today and I’m feeling much better.”

 One of the strangest surprises on rereading my journal 40 years later, was how important my friendship with Edna became for the entire experience. She and I would talk a lot while we were working together, and her kindness and openness always helped. She made me feel better about going out with the village kids by telling me that their previous AFS student never went anywhere and that it was a much bigger problem. (“I just cause family strife and break a lot of tools.”)  Apparently, homesickness got the best of my predecessor and she ended up leaving early. Edna also accepted my close friendship with the one girl in the village most likely to cause conflict in the host family (and Edna was the one to explain the whole sordid history to me). When she saw that I didn’t like a particular type of work (like shovelling manure or plucking chickens), she never asked me to do it again. When one of the ridiculous rumors about me reached my ears, Edna and I could laugh about it together. She admitted that she also had to deal with gossip and that she had trouble getting along with Oma too; she advised me to do what she did: just tune her out. The bond between us grew slowly and consistently throughout the summer. One time, she told me about a crime show she had seen the night before – it was about a woman who murdered her mother-in-law. Our eyes met and we both tried hard to hide our smiles because Oma was sitting nearby.

I eventually realized why I was there. It was not only to supply some companionship, but also to serve as a new target for Oma, taking the heat off of Edna for a while. I fulfilled that second purpose exceptionally well. As the date of my departure approached, she began to get weepy at random moments. I understood the full palette of emotions behind those tears.

Near the very end of my stay, I finally succeeded in merging my two circles. I persuaded Edna and Lou to come with me to the Club 3000 for what I guess now was my farewell party. In one of my favorite pictures of them, they are sitting in the club, Lou’s arm is around her and he is kissing her cheek. Her laughing face is positively beaming.

——————————————————–

I have gone back to visit the village and my host family twice over the years: once during my Junior Year Abroad in Germany and again, 15 years later with my husband. I was surprised to see that almost everything looked exactly the same, right down to the wallpaper in the kitchen. (My husband was even more surprised that there were people in Austria who still lived like this.) There were a few new additions, though, like a porcelain seat in the outhouse and two more daughters. If I remember right, Oma had passed away and my closest girlfriend had married the family’s cousin. (I suppose those two events weren’t entirely unrelated.) We had a really nice visit.

Despite the brief intersection of these two worlds, I still have trouble – even to this day – merging the two Austrias in my head. But I am beginning to suspect that has less to do with their differences than with my own psychology. . . .

 

Two Worlds

. . . . because my biggest discoveries in reading this old journal were about me. I recognized the quirks and qualities in my 17-year-old self that would lead me to become a lifelong traveler, the most obvious of which were my roving eye and my roving heart. But it went deeper. I felt free to be myself in foreign environments. I saw the benefits of relationships with pre-determined expiration dates. I found it easy to lead a dual life – to handle the cognitive dissonance that allowed me to write “I love this place!” and follow it with something like “In just two days I will be able to say I am going home in a week!” At 17 I could already allow myself to feel Heimweh (homesickness) and Fernweh (wanderlust) at the same time which somehow freed me to live in the moment. They struck a compromise and coexisted peacefully side-by-side within me. “I live in two worlds” is a statement I have made many times, in many different contexts. It’s a feeling I have carried with me my entire life. It has allowed me to leave places and people, knowing simultaneously that I may never see them again and that they will always be there. It has given me my somewhat harsh ability to silently say, “Goodbye and have a nice life! What’s next?”

 

What Did I Tell You?

After uploading my last post, I logged out of WordPress. Then I went to my site out of curiosity to see which, if any, ads appeared.

Just had to take this screenshot to prove my prescience. And yes, those are real ads – not graphics put there by me on purpose for effect. Coincidence? Educated guess? Or is Big Brother watching me?

Refreshed Start

 

Here was the first sunset of 2020:

 

But the world is not the only thing starting a new year. Here we go . . . (sound of throat clearing) . . .

It’s my baby’s 5th birthday. I’ve decided to give it a present: an upgrade. For no other reason than to get rid of those crappy ads showing up in the middle of my (so carefully designed) posts. I bet you are seeing one right now. Probably one telling you that you can learn to speak a foreign language fluently in just five minutes. Or maybe it is that picture of ugly feet that keeps popping up.

I’m a bit nervous about how this will go – if and how my blog will change in content or appearance.  Or something worse. If you happen to notice in the coming days that it has disappeared from your Reader (or the face of the Virtual Earth), well, then you will know that I messed it up.

Wish us luck!

 

Another No Resolution Resolution

It’s 12:30 on December 31st and – as tradition dictates – the table is set, the wine is aerating and Barbie stands ready to dance. The frat boys have straggled in one by one and taken their seats. As I type this, they are sampling the first of ten bottles. I have retired to my office to write the last post of 2019 – my 501st in all since starting this blog and my 1st on this new notebook. (A certain computer specialist informed me that one no longer uses the term “laptop”.)

Speaking of which, my transitioning has now entered Phase Five: transfer of photos and videos. (Un-?)fortunately, this required me to first finish up two long-on-the-list standing projects: a photo-book and a Year in Review slideshow for the school. From last year. That second one got done last night . . .

With the notebook taking the honorary place on my desk and the old laptop relegated to an extra table, I sat and listened to it huffing and puffing and wheezing and whining as it struggled to render the slideshow video with its 600+ photos, 8 music tracks and hundreds of transitions and motion effects . It was trying so hard that even the Devil Cat got concerned and went to comfort it. Finally, after three hours, the video was done, copied and secured. Old Laptop had successfully completed its final mission.

You’d think I would feel some relief being able to strike this point off my list of projects, but what I really felt was irritation that such a list exists at all.

——————————————–

It’s now 6:22 pm and the last of the frat boys have just left. As tradition dictates, I will spend the rest of this evening in the usual way, some chauffeuring, some washing out of wine glasses, packing away the Barbie for the next 364 days, later some panicky dog-sitting during the fireworks. In between, I am sending this message out into blogworld that I love my traditions and don’t want them to change.

No more To Do lists. No more resolutions.

I am resolved.

Happy New Year!

 

I Blame Bill

 

Of course it is partly my fault. Over the past year, I have allowed digital chaos to creep into my life. Thousands of school and work photos remained scattered over 5 different devices instead of being regularly uploaded in an orderly fashion onto my laptop. Work and private files were saved . . . oh, wherever. (I’ll clean it up later.) Blog posts – finished or not – were also saved willy-nilly in various dark corners of my hard drive. Backing up files was something that could be perennially put off till some later date. I’ll get to it during my next work break, I told myself . . .

I never did.

And then came the ominous news that Windows 7 would no longer be supported after January 14, 2020. A few days later I discovered that the 2/” button on my keyboard no longer worked (which might have had something to do with the water I spilled on it the previous day). I found a workaround using Insert and Symbol, but it was (and is) a pain in the asterisk. To make matters worse, I started noticing that it was taking longer and longer for my laptop to fire up in the mornings. Between the moment I turned it on and the moment it was ready to accept my password, there was plenty enough time to take the dog out for a quick walk. Between entering the password and it being ready to use, I could go take a shower. After clicking on Thunderbird, I could go make my morning coffee and still get back before the Inbox showed up on the screen . . .

I put “new laptop” on my Christmas wish list.

 

December 24th, 2019. 10:32 pm. My entire family has now gone to bed after our wonderful Christmas Eve. I plug my new super-duper laptop in and nervously push the power button. A screen appears and asks me if I want it to speak English or German. I choose English and a “Please wait . . .” message appears on the screen for a matter of seconds. Suddenly I hear a pleasant female voice.

“Hello,” she says. Out loud.

“I will be helping you through the process of setting up your laptop,” she continues. Then she asks me if I want to respond to her manually or by speaking back.

I am completely freaked out. And speechless. I just click my way through the rest of our “conversation”, feeling like a dork. I can tell she thinks I’m a loser.

Five minutes later I am immersed in the foreign-looking bowels of Windows 10 with offers of tips and random websites popping up on my screen, email notifications dinging one after another on my nearby cellphone. I am in over my head. I get the hell out of there.

Once she has gone dark, I lean back and my first thought is that my new laptop is female. In the future I’ll probably be referring to . . . her . . . as “she”. I’m pretty sure my old one was an “it”. My second realization is the horrendous amount of work ahead of me before I can make this transition. My third thought is that I should write Bill Gates a letter of complaint, asking him not only where he gets off gendering my machine like that, but also pointing out what should be obvious to him – the fact that a lot of older people also depend on computers and he’s putting us through some major stress. I’ll tell him it is his fault that the first half of my Christmas vacation is going to be spent carefully ordering all my files and readying them for the move from my old machine to my new bff. (Actually . . . more like “bf for 10” – or however many years she lasts till Bill decides to end her.) Then I will quickly thank him for all his good work in Africa and sign off with “Indignantly yours”.

 

Fortunately, the computer specialist in my husband’s school is willing to spend a few hours with me tomorrow, helping me find my way around this new terrain. He’ll show me how to install all the programs I need and to get rid of all the useless stuff that is already on there. I don’t suppose there is anything he can do about her being a girl.