Other People’s Secrets

 

For the first two and a half years of bloglife, I was skipping along . . . riding a wave . . . whistling my way down Easy Street. Meeting my self-imposed, randomly chosen goal of posting three times a week turned out to be no prob. Ideas arose, ran down from my brain through my nervous system to fingertips on a laptop keyboard and then on to the WordPress Dashboard and then out into the ether. I had no qualms about publishing my own personal stuff for the world to see (albeit when I say “the world” here, I am talking about a total of zero to 20 readers). Surprisingly, the husband and daughters were also okay with me telling their stories from time to time – possibly as a way to make up for not being part of my blog’s reading audience. Having a job in the real world that I loved and no ambition to see my name on a book jacket helped me to concentrate on the fun factor. It propelled me along hummingly in my hobby.

Something changed.

It is now fall, which has always been my undisputed favorite season. It reminds me of my childhood excitement for the first day of school and how I always laid out my carefully chosen outfit the night before, next to my beautiful new school supplies in an un-customarily neat room. Fall reminds me of later pleasant backaches induced by hours of stacking firewood or gathering chestnuts to roast and then not eat because they don’t really taste good, but still somehow manage to seem romantic. Fall is the time when everything begins anew even as it is changing into glorious colors shortly before dying.

This fall has been different. It seems to be ALL about endings and few foreseeable beginnings. As I navigate my way through a successful start of the school year with my three new English groups, I can’t ignore the world around them disintegrating. My beloved school is in deep trouble on the parental level. Some new personal conflict arises among them every week, spreading quickly through the social network and ultimately to the kids in the classroom. Our sociocratic experiment has hit a rough patch. Something tells me the path to resolution will be a long and disruptive one. I assume the school will continue on for the next four years – my last four before retirement. But I am preparing myself anyway for eventuality that it won’t.

At the same time, in the other half of my professional life, I am also realizing that the end is nigh. The stream of students into Business or Economics majors at the university has been drying up because, on graduating, too many of them find they are over-educated for the jobs most companies want to fill these days. (They want lower level staff and techies.) With fewer and fewer students enrolling, my GDE course tailored to them is also shrinking out of existence. This is officially my 30th year teaching this course, but I think it will be the last.

Then there is my expatriate life and morbid fascination in the quagmire American politics has become. Unfortunately the daily twumpian absurdities combined with the sheer distance between me and my ability to affect anything there are leading me to detach.

And my more immediate private life? It has revolved completely around – been infiltrated and consumed by – Other People’s Business.

 

In this autumn of endings, day after day, week after week, my thoughts have been chock full of events and concerns and news and ideas and developments and amateur psychology sessions – none of which are technically my own and none suitable for blogging.

 

So, once again, I will write about chickens.

They also incessantly squawk and squabble and peck at one another and make everything a mess. But they are chickens. So it kind of suits them. And night after night, they all waddle into the coop together where a few sorry ones on the lower bar get pooped on by others who managed to get a better perch higher up.  I suppose it is still better than being outdoors at night and risking being eaten up by a weasel or a fox.

After that glorious first egg my alter-ego, Blackthumb, told you about, a second one was found – lying on the grass and broken. After a closer look around, we discovered a pile of destroyed egg shells – maybe four or five of them. One of our chickens was breaking and eating the eggs (of another one, I assume). As for the layer of the destroyed eggs, I suspect the Sulmtaler (“Trump”). Despite being the same breed as our rooster, he doesn’t give her the time of day. She spends the day waddle-darting from here to there, acting all nervous and confused (not to mention looking silly with that awful hairstyle). As for the Egg Killer, I immediately suspected the Swedish Flower Bully. She then further incriminated herself by beginning to lay one egg a day in the quarantine coop. A half dozen so far. Thanks to this whole episode, she finally has a name: we call her Darwin.

 

Tomorrow her six eggs will be fried or scrambled and eaten along with some bacon and buttered toast. I will do my best to find them distasteful.

 

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I’ve Missed You

I should probably start by apologizing for being unsupportive and absent to my blog bff’s (whom I love dearly and truly!) I could then follow it up with my reasons for neglecting you, which would really be excuses, which would then negate the sincerity of the original apology.

One of those excuses could be that I have been busy meeting up with old high school friends – another set of people that I have been absent from, neglectful of, unsupportive to, uncommunicative with, etc. etc. – and that for more than 37 years now (“Go Raiders! Yeay, Class of 1980!!”) And yet, every two years when I come home to Milwaukee, we somehow manage to meet up.

In the first few minutes of our biannual reunions, we peer intensely at one another to assess the advancement of our own aging process. This gets confusing because the one or the other looks exactly the same despite laugh wrinkles around the eyes and graying hair. Each time, we also suddenly panic about all the details we really should know but don’t, or have forgotten. (You had six siblings?! Did I ever know that? You lived in California?! Did I know that? You were an English major too?! Did I know that?) Slowly but surely, the skeletal frames of life highlights spanning the past 37 years are reconstructed. Marriages, kids, professional moves, travels, parental concerns . . .  We all silently vow to commit these facts to memory in preparation for the next reunion, but know somewhere inside that two years from now, the same conversations and surprises will happen again.

But it doesn’t matter.

Because with old friends, like old habits, once you pick them up again, you simply take off from where you left off. You tell and retell the same old stories that somehow seem familiar and new at the same time. Meanwhile, long neglected, dusty old details of your life as a teenager resurface in your mind. Names of classmates you have not had a second thought about in decades are suddenly accessible. You start sorting these names into categories like “popular” or “cool” or “dweeb” or “wild” – all with the understanding that it is your 16 year old selves doing the sorting because you gave up on this kind of immature labeling long ago. At the same time, it becomes clear to you why exactly these people and not ones with newly re-remembered names and labels are here around the table. You realize how much you share with these people and that it goes deep.

And you laugh a lot.

And you make plans for a longer, cooler reunion in 2019. Before saying goodbye and returning to your current life, you take pictures.

And then you post one of them on your blog.

And you say, “I’ve missed you.”

 

Tuesdays with Dafi

During a small family gathering today at my mother-in-law’s house, I got . . . scolded . . . admonished . . . reprimanded . . . by my sister-in-law.  And by my younger sister-in-law, no less. (A younger s-i-l who should actually be just a little in awe of me, a bit less uppity in my presence . . . I mean, if we were in China, I could boss her around and she’d just have to stay silent and take it.) What she scolded me for was how little I have been writing in my blog lately. Now that is a sweet thing to hear for any blogger – especially one who worries that certain friends and relatives are only reading out of a sense of obligation. I used to think this about her.

Every Tuesday, I take the train to the university to teach my course there. Two years ago, I got a new (old) lecture hall that had only one saving grace – it was right next door to my sister-in-law’s office. Once I realized this, I called her from the train one day and said “Hey Dafi! I’ve got a half hour to kill. What are you up to?” (She never let me forget that formulation.) What followed were weekly short get-togethers in which she gave me free coffee and all the latest family news that my husband forgot to tell me about. I’m not quite sure what she got out of these talks. Not only am I a terrible source for juicy gossip, but, once when I arrived at her office, I noticed my blog on her computer screen. “Oh no!” I thought, “she’s cramming my blog for our coffee klatch!”

One wonderful thing about Dafi is that when you think a thing like that, you can feel free to just go ahead and say it out loud to her too.

“Oh, no!” I said, and then asked her, “Are you cramming my blog for our coffee klatch!?”

She laughed and said no. I didn’t completely believe her.

All the more reason that today’s scolding made me feel good. Even if it came from a younger sister-in-law who has no business scolding her elder.

So, here’s a post dedicated to Dafi and a promise to everyone I have been neglecting on the reading/commenting side that summer is here, time for catching up is upon me, and I will be back. As I have warned many of you at times before  – “watch out for incoming!!”  And once the bombardment starts, you can all say:

“Thanks, Dafi! Thanks a lot.” (How you intone this is your own choice.)

______________________________________

A Note on the Name “Dafi”:
  1. it is pronounced “dah-fee”
  2. it is spelled d-a-f-i by me, d-a-f-f-i by my husband, d-a-f-f-y by others
  3. for years I thought it had something to do with Daffy Duck
  4. according to the husband, it comes from the movie “Some Like It Hot” and Jack Lemmon (in drag) as Daphne. (Pronounced in German “dahf-na” which turned into “dahf-nee”, which lost its “n” and became “dah-fee”, which is where I came into the family and took up the nickname and to this day, 30+ years later, still use it, even though no one else does anymore.)

 

A Piteous “Pentafecta” Impedes Posting

I’ve been a bad blogger. Very very bad.

In the lead up to the glorious outbreak of Easter vacation, a whole slew of life circumstances intensified and all came to a head simultaneously. I realize “pentafecta” is not a real word – and if it were, it wouldn’t really mean what I am forcing it to here. But I can’t think of another way to express five sets of circumstances colliding at once.

Starting with the outermost realm of my reality – so external, in fact, that it is more of an alternative reality – is my ongoing, time-consuming obsession with American politics. Like most people, I too am guilty of letting the news of the world flow to me through a filter. In my case the filter is NPR and left-leaning cable news and websites. What they present me is a badly cast reality-show-presidency, flailing and mindlessly counter-punching. And that is it.  All un-pwecedented twump, all the time. As a consequence, I have not heard of a single positive political development since January 20th that wasn’t steeped in Schadenfreude.  (Goodbye and Good Riddance to Flynn and Sessions and Ryancare, to Bannon and now Nunes and the Muslim ban  . . . and whichever of the Best People or Beautiful Promises is next to go. My only regret is that your departures were not more spectacular and categorical.)  The increasing intensity of the daily outrages combined with my self-imposed limits on political content often left me with nothing to write about. I could either sigh once again that “Twump is ruining my blog” and leave WordPress without posting, or I could take the bait and add my two cents for the 50th time – like I just did in this paragraph here. That makes $1 dollar so far. If and when I hit the two dollar mark, I will change the name of this site to “Rant*”  –  (*Resisting American Nutcase with Tirades”).

Luckily, I was regularly forced to leave Alternativeworld and go to work.

Work was wonderfully distracting in its way, but the load kept getting heavier.  Also, I have had trouble explaining to my Austrian colleagues how insane the outside world is and why I was more tired than usual. The American daily outrages do not flow all the way to them. They are concentrating on their own problems and the daily school issues, local politics and why various trees and plants are blooming way too early this year. With them, I debated the effect of cell phones on kids and how to deal with adolescent protest. I defended my “homeroom” kids with a protective passion while still mentally carrying my fellow teachers’ concerns home, along with a new stack of homework assignments to add to the existing ones on my chaotic office desk. Occasionally, I considered bringing order to the Home Division of Workworld, but then this tidied space would no longer go with the rest of the house. As usual, the (mental) energy-sucking powers of my work led me towards procrastination.

But! Procrastination actually did have its benefits when it came to other aspects of Homeworld. My permanent mountain of ironing was all done by my mother-in-law (best birthday present ever!!) and my longtime plans to turn the basement pit into a guest room was mostly accomplished by my daughter (as a condition of being able to invite a friend here for two weeks.) Still, the list of household jobs awaiting me was a daunting one, made worse by the addition of a hundred little details to be accomplished (tax returns to file, bills to pay, prescriptions to fill, emails to answer, phone calls to make, flights to book,  . . .

. . . blogs to read, comments to make, posts to write . . .

And then came the fourth sphere of my realities: The issues going on around me in my home, or my friend’s and relatives’ lives. All of them occupying my mind but all of them OPS* and/or NSFB**. So with rare exceptions, my writing experience of the last few weeks was sitting down to the laptop way too late in the day, mentally mucking around in the swirling brain, finding nothing to inspire a first sentence, giving up and clicking on MSNBC.

* other peoples’ secrets
** not suitable for blogging  

 

That was then. This is now.

It is Day Five of Glorious Easter Vacation and here is the state of things:

House picked up. (Check!) Basement cleaned. (Check!)  Translation done and certification arranged. (Check! Check!) Also – Reports for Ethiopia written and sent. Garden weeded. Laundry done. Office tidied. CDs organized. Flights booked. Mail sorted. Documents filed. Application readied. Easter decorations put up. School photos organized. Book finished. Emails answered. And now . . .

Blog post written.

I’ll Be Bach

 

2016 sucked and – so far – 2017 blows.

The first half of the sentence above seemed to be a generally conceded judgment – I heard it on news shows, read it in blogs, agreed with it in conversations . . . Of course, there is no one in my bubble who voted for or is excited about the prospect of the pwesident-elect. No, that is not a typo –it is the name I have decided on and will start using one week from tomorrow: “Pwesident Twump”. (My second choice was “President Tweet”). The second half of the sentence comes from the fact that I woke up on January 1st with a terrible head cold. And now, 11+ days later, I still haven’t quite kicked it. I don’t understand it. Those 2000 tissues, 20 plus cups of tea and 2 full seasons of Star Trek Voyager really should have done the trick. At least I got myself back into good enough shape to return to work on Monday. I also did over 20 turd removals and helped old Dog Three stand up at least 50 times.

Of course, all of this activity pales in comparison to all the stuff I DIDN’T do – basically everything on my ambitious set of resolutions and First-Week-of-the-New-Year project list. I did not quit smoking. I did not tune out political developments in my home country. I did not banish the moth havens from the kitchen cupboards. I did not do any mountaintop removal from the ironing pile. I did not start my daily ballet regimen. I did not drag Dog Four and Devil Cat to the vet for their shots or get any counsel on what to do about Dog Three. I did not take down the Christmas decorations or tree. I did not write my adoption progress reports to send to Ethiopia. I did not get my hair cut. I did not organize my teaching materials. I did not take up the piano again. I did not read or write blogs (with one drug-induced exception) . . .

But all that changes now.

Or if not exactly now, then . . . soon. Very soon.

Wait for it.

ill-be-bach

 

 

Pigs Galore

 

So . . . it’s my blog’s birthday and I am officially embarking on Year 3. Time for some profound self-reflection . . .

 

pig1

Lately I have been noticing a preponderance of pigs. First, on New Year’s Eve, I drew a good luck candy from a bag a friendheld out to me and it was this little pig.

pig2The next day, another friend handed my two daughters these slightly obscene marshmallow candy pigs.

 

Then, today, we went to a friend’s 50th birthday party and this was part of the buffet.  A sow’s head.

pig3

I admit it grossed me out. Even more so when my husband proceeded to slice off part of its cheek and an ear – which he then actually ate.  How did we two ever end up married? But more to the question: why were these pig images showing up everywhere?

My first theory was that maybe we are entering the Year of the Pig in Chinese zodiac. So I looked it up – and promptly had to scratch that idea. It seems that the same week we get our new president, we will move from the Year of the Monkey to the Year of the Rooster . . . hmmm . . . from monkey business to crowing . . . . Maybe these Chinese were on to something!

I checked out my own zodiac and discovered a few things. I had known that I was born in the Year of the Tiger, but I found out that I also grew up as a Tiger, became a Rat in my married life, and that my internal true identity is a Dragon.

And my husband is an Ox.

As you can see, Oxen don’t mix well with either Tigers or Dragons (“Worst couple”), so thank goodness for my married inner Rat.  (Notice the little red heart and “Perfect match” in the chart below.)

Source: travelchinaguide.com
Source: travelchinaguide.com

 

I then cross-checked with the Tiger’s love compatibility and got the same results. Oxen and Tigers are a no-go.

pigs5

There was one thing left to do to verify these findings – I checked out my husband’s married life sign, hoping it would produce one of the three red hearts in the chart above. And, thank goodness, it did!

My husband is a pig! Yeaayy!

Mystery solved.

 

2016 Finale

finale1As I type this post – on the final morning of both 2016 and my second year of blogging –  I am also following the commentary of the Dumb Brothers in the next room as they partake in the traditional blind wine sampling. The first bottle was first declared to be an older Styrian Merlot (2010-2012), then a young Cabernet Sauvignon, then a 2014 Blaufränkisch, and then a Burgenlandian Zweigelt, etc. etc. The next thing I heard was the plastic sound of the Blue Danube Waltz and I knew Barbie was dancing. (This happens when one of the Brothers guesses right – in this case she danced for the 2014 Blaufränkisch guess.) After bottle Number 3 or 4, the guesses will get wilder, including names of small villages in Tuscany or Valencia and whether the slope of vineyard was steep, which directionfinale2 it faced (south or southeast), and what type of wooden barrels the wine was aged in. Barbie’s dancing will become more infrequent. After bottle Number 5 or 6, the brothers will break for cabbage strudel and I will hear the clink of silverware on ceramic plates for a while. Chauffeuring wives will start appearing around 3 or 4 pm and another year of the Dumb Brothers will come to an end.

 

Every year it is the same – a highlight for the frat boys and a minor irritation for their families. There is something comforting about all the familiar sounds coming from the next room. About things not changing and about getting through another year with friends and family and traditions intact. 2016 sucked truly, but when I say that, I am talking about the world outside of my own home and community. Within our family and daily lives, it has been another nice year of fun travels, work satisfaction, musical acfinale3hievements, and general good health. All three of our pets are still alive, though one dog is on her slow way out and the cat is still possessed by the devil. (He lately discovered his new favorite place – a red basket on the staircase, up high enough that he can lord over and taunt Dog Three, safely out of reach. Can anyone recommend a good exorcist?)

Blogworld definitely didn’t suck either. Like the clinking of wine glasses and silverware in the next room, the ding of notifications always gives me a nice feeling – the comfort of knowing that things continue, that they are heading somewhere at an easy pace and unspectacularly. That the good stuff sticks around. I have made a resolution or two for 2017, both for my blog and my daily routine, but they are more like modest tweaks than ambitious life goals.

Outside in the real world, there were many times this year when I felt a deep desire to DO SOMETHING! ANYTHING! I ranted and shouted into the wind. I felt outrage and frustration and helplessness. And yet things kept plodding along toward the least desirable of all conceivable results. And here we are. Whatever incomprehensible convulsions the world is going through right now, it sure seems that no one is content anymore.

finale4So, that is what I have resolved for 2017. I am going to be content. No changes simply for change’s sake. That will be my quiet statement of protest to the world. And that is what I wish for anyone out there who reads this. Contentedness for all – and for each in his own way.

“Happy New Year!”