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.

Twickle-Down Twumpcare

It is 8 pm Austrian time. If new reports are correct, about one hour from now, the House of Representatives will vote on their health care insurance accessibility plan.

As I have occasionally mentioned on this blog, our messed up free(d) enterprise(r) system, tweaked into dysfunction by years of corporate lobbying and legislation written at Round Tables and then conveyed by the hand of some bought and paid for politician to the floor of Congress and voted unread into law (pause . .  to take a breath), has made sure that American money now acts like a gas floating upwards rather than a liquid trickling down. Not that I ever really bought into that particular theory either. But Republicans clearly cling to it with an almost religious conviction. In order to sell it to their minions, they coin neat phrases like “job creators” or “makers and takers” or conjure up economic evil-doers like “welfare queens” or “deadbeat dads”. They opine incessantly that “Obamacare” is merely a “disaster” in a “death spiral”, a weapon in the big hand of government wielded to enslave the once-free . . . And now they have their chance – the new tiny hand of government will be more than happy to sign a law designed to bring back the invisible hand. Supply and Demand. Those market forces will make everything healthcare great again.

Except that we all know they won’t. Because as we saw before the ACA, with a health insurance industry orientated toward profit, the demand was universal (we ALL get sick and need care) and the supply was based on ability to pay.  These companies did not magically rise up to meet the needs of the consumers. They found ways to avoid paying the bills of the sick (e.g. “pre-existing conditions”) in order to keep the premiums of the wealthier and healthier lower.

Maybe, just maybe, the health care concerns of our nation cannot be addressed only through insurance industry products being bought and sold. Maybe, this is one of those economic sectors where cooperation is just as necessary – or more so – than competition. Maybe, merely “everyone having access” to health care isn’t enough. I mean, I “have access” to a Rolls Royce. That doesn’t mean I can afford to buy one.

I am in no danger of being financially ruined because I don’t own a Rolls Royce.

Not having a Rolls Royce does not put me at risk of dying or losing a loved one earlier than necessary.

 

While defending the proposed budget, Twump’s spokesperson feigned social consciousness by asking can we really continue to ask a coal miner in West Virginia or a single mom in Detroit to pay for these programs?”  He wasn’t talking about the ACA specifically, but about all larger government actions. My answer to him: “YES! Yes, we can!”

It is certainly better than asking that coal miner or single mom to contribute to the next insurance company CEO’s obscene bonus.

Is this all really so hard to understand?

 

It is now 9 pm Austrian time. I just checked the news and heard that the vote will not happen after all.

A Really Horrible Post. A Total Disaster. A Total Disaster. Sad. Believe Me.

 

My mom says it’s a brain tumor. She had us in tears, laughing, while she defended her theory. I almost started believing her – after all, she spent her entire career in the medical profession. I went so far as to google brain tumor symptoms – but, alas, they didn’t really jibe with the increasingly apparent behaviors. The constant word repetition along with vague and simplistic vocabulary. The impulsiveness, the emotional stunted-ness, the name-calling, the lying, the self-aggrandizement. The propensity to never meet a conspiracy theory he couldn’t believe. I could go on. I kept googling – but this time starting with the symptoms – until I struck gold.

So now, in my expert capacity as an English Literature major, I am revealing my promised (internet) medical diagnosis of He Who Shall Not Be Named. To make it as exciting as possible, I will begin with the symptoms and the question – “Does this remind you of anyone??”

According to the University of California San Francisco Medical Center:

Apathy is often the first symptom reported . . . People experiencing these changes may become self-centered, emotionally distant, withdrawn, unaware of the emotions of others . . .
Impulsive behavior is another common complaint from caregivers who may find the changes in social and personal conduct embarrassing or frustrating. These behaviors are often associated with a lack of inhibition, resulting in impulsive or inappropriate behavior, such as overeating, outbursts of frustration, touching strangers, urinating in public or diminished social tact. . . . Restlessness, irritability, aggressiveness, violent outbursts or excessive sentimentality are not unusual either.
There is usually difficulty in reasoning, judgment, organization and planning, and consequently, these patients can be quite gullible and fall prey to scams on the computer or in person . . . . In some people, inappropriate sexual behavior occurs.
There may also be repetitive or compulsive behaviors that may include hoarding, doing the same thing over and over (for instance, reading the same book several times or walking to the same location again and again), pacing, or repeating particular “catch phrases” over and over in their speech.
The person with (this disease) may experience false thoughts (delusions) that are jealous, religious or bizarre in nature. Or they can develop a euphoria – excessive or inappropriate elation or exaggerated self-esteem.
Even though they might complain of memory disturbance, patients can usually keep track of day-to-day events and understand what is going on around them. Also, their language skills and memory usually remain intact until late in the disease . . . Indeed, often the person has little or no awareness of the problem behaviors.

 

I rest my case.

Now I am wondering how to go about starting one of those online petitions. Mine would sound something like this:

“I, the undersigned, demand that the new pwesident undergo a complete physical, including an MRI and PET scan, specifically to look for signs of Frontotemporal Dementia. Furthermore, until such an examination is completed, I would really appreciate it if someone would take the nuclear codes away from him.”

brain

Back in the Land of the Living

After suffering through the flu for three days, it was so nice waking up to no alarm and realizing that . . . “hey! nothing hurts!”.  I put on my fleece bathrobe (Hi, Kate!) and went downstairs to have my first coffee in almost 72 hours.

And there was my cleaning lady.

I had sort of lost track of what day it was. I hadn’t been expecting her and here she was, already in the process of doing the spoiled food removal from the kitchen. Darn! Strike One. (Longer term readers of this blog will already know about my continual efforts to keep my cleaning lady happy.) My mind raced to what other surprises were lurking in the house for her to discover. I cringed at the thought of the front porch. A wind storm had blown a ton of leaves up onto it and we had been tracking them into the house for days. The folded laundry was still in piles in the living room. I noticed the dog blankets had been removed – they were hanging outside airing. Not a good sign – probably Strike Two right there.

While the coffee brewed, I quick ran upstairs with an armload of clothes and made my bed. I also shoveled all the clothes on the floor into the walk-in closet and shut the door. As I came back down with various dishes in my hands, I realized that – once again – I had forgotten to get the vacuum cleaner bags she had asked for twice now. Darn! Strike Three. Time for (a quick switch of the sports metaphor and) a Hail Mary.

I told her I was off to the store to get those bags and would be back in an hour.

It was at the store that the euphoria started to set in. Right about the time I took the last two packs of vacuum cleaner bags off the shelf. It occurred to me that, while I was at it, I should get some plastic to protect the porch from Dog Three’s mishaps. On the way to that aisle I saw a poinsettia that looked very festive and put that in my cart, and then I passed the laundry baskets and figured I would replace my old broken ones. There was also a nice wooden box. I had been looking for something like that to store keepsakes in. As I moved the poinsettia to make room for the box, I thought about getting some winter plants for the flower boxes in front of the house. That plan hatched into adding some Christmassy touches and so I chose two candle lanterns and a bag of advent decorations (dried orange slices, dried anise and vanilla shoots, pine cones . . .). By now I could sense that endorphins were rushing through my body. It would probably be a good idea to get out of that store before I got any more ideas. On the way to the check out, I spied some picture frames for my daughters’ school photos. That had been on my “To Do” list for ages – almost as long as “ironing”. Which reminded me of another thing I had contemplated buying . . . I turned and looked for the ironing board section.

 

As I sat there staring at the selection. I realized that in the past three days I had had only one cup of coffee, (almost) no nicotine, no alcohol, no sugar. I had slept for about 40 hours and drunk gallons of water and tea. My total food consumption had consisted of some pretzel sticks and one bowl of soup. And, yet, I felt great. Cleansed. Energetic.

But . . . not that energetic. I turned and headed for the check out.

A half hour later, I handed my cleaning lady the peace offering vacuum bags and she smiled.

the plant that cost me about 100 bucks today
the plant that cost me about 100 bucks today

Still in a state of post-pain euphoria, I then I went on a cleaning, sweeping, de-leafing, mopping, weeding, planting, decorating, organizing rampage. I hauled out all the advent wreath/calendar boxes, the Christmas deco and the crèche collection. In the late afternoon, my husband came home with an armload of fir branches and I dived into my last projects of the day. The final decorative touch was potting the poinsettia that started this all.

 

Here, now are the results of my efforts today. First the advent wreath – before and after:

wreath1  wreath2

The crèche collection inside and outside:

(That’s a lot of Babies Jesus for a somewhat heathenish household!) And here are the flower boxes after being freed from the wilted leftovers of the summer petunias:

(What is it about getting older that you suddenly start liking kitsch. Twenty years ago I would have hated all of this. Suddenly now, I find myself drawn to cutesy things, butterfly motifs, knickknacks . . .) And, speaking of kitch, brace yourself for the coup de grâce  – the staircase plus candy-filled advent calendar – back by popular (= my two daughters’) demand:

  staircase1   staircase2

So there you have it. My endorphin-powered achievements of the day. I am officially now ready for Christmas.

And it is only November 26th.

What am I going to do for the next four weeks?

No Holiday for Ingrates

If not for the internet, I would have completely forgotten what day it is. Thanksgiving is one the holidays that has fallen by the wayside in my emigration. I attribute this to the fact that I don’t like: 1) stuffing, 2) cranberry sauce, or 3) pumpkin pie. And I am not thrilled by turkey either. I also attribute it to the fact that the Thanksgiving family gatherings of my childhood were often nerve-wracking affairs with the one and only upshot being we all resolved to behave ourselves better at the next celebration 4 weeks later.

You’d think I would be a bit more patriotic about the whole thing – seeing as how my ancestry on one side has been traced back through the Civil and Revolutionary Wars, all the way to the Mayflower. There is some discussion among the genealogists in the family which of several paths is the truest, but all agree on direct descent. I could join the DAR (“Daughters of the American Revolution”)!! And yet, I have never felt the remotest inclination to do so. I feel no affinity to those people and suspect they would return the feeling. In modern terms I would consider the Pilgrims to be obnoxious religious fanatics and in turn, they would take one look at the riffraff assembled around my family’s turkey and think “Look at this pack of gluttonous heathens! Is this what I puked my way across the Atlantic for?!”

I didn’t always feel this way. In Grade School I got the same romanticized and whitewashed stories of America’s “discovery” and the intrepid first settlers as I assume most American kids do. I even vaguely remember a picolumbuscture in my history book showing the savage “Indians” bowing down to the god-like Columbus – like this one I just picked off the internet:

 

Thanks to more honest High School teachers interested in promoting critical thinking, my knowledge of these events was slowly updated and revised. After literature studies at college and a slow resurgence of Native American culture and arts, I got to fold in new information on these events from other perspectives. But it is a more comemade-in-americadic “historian” (although, maybe not the most academically serious one) who has implanted a truly resilient image of those Pilgrims into my brain . . . Bill Bryson who wrote “Made in America”. After relating how the crew of the Mayflower “referred to them as puke stockings, on account of their apparently boundless ability to spatter the latter with the former,”  Bryson continues his description of the Pilgrims:

 

It would be difficult to imagine a group of people more ill-suited to a life in the wilderness. They packed as if they had misunderstood the purpose of the trip. They found room for sundials and candle snuffers, a drum, a trumpet, and a complete history of Turkey. One William Mullins packed 126 pairs of shoes and thirteen pairs of boots. Yet they failed to bring a single cow or horse, plow or fishing line. Among the professions represented on the Mayflower’s manifest were two tailors, a printer, several merchants, a silk worker, a shopkeeper, and a hatter­–occupations whose indispensability is not immediately evident when one thinks of surviving in a hostile environment.’ ( . . . )
They were, in short, dangerously unprepared for the rigors ahead, and they demonstrated their incompetence in the most dramatic possi­ble way: by dying in droves. Six expired in the first two weeks, eight the next month, seventeen more in February, a further thirteen in March. By April, when the Mayflower set sail back to England,* just fifty-four people, nearly half of them children, were left to begin the long work of turning this tenuous toehold into a self-sustaining colony.’ ( . . . )
For two months they tried to make contact with the natives, but ev­ery time they spotted any, the Indians ran off. Then one day in February a young brave of friendly mien approached a party of Pilgrims on a beach. His name was Samoset and he was a stranger in the region him­self. But he had a friend named Tisquantum from the local Wampanoag tribe, to whom he introduced them. Samoset and Tisquantum became the Pilgrims’ fast friends. They showed them how to plant corn and catch wildfowl and helped them to establish friendly relations with the local sachem, or chief. Before long, as every schoolchild knows, the Pil­grims were thriving, and Indians and settlers were sitting down to a cor­dial Thanksgiving feast. Life was grand.
A question that naturally arises is how they managed this. ( . . . )
The answer, surpris­ingly glossed over by most history books, is that the Pilgrims didn’t have to learn Algonquian for the happy and convenient reason that Samoset and Squanto spoke English-Samoset only a little, but Squanto with to­tal assurance (and some Spanish into the bargain).
That a straggly band of English settlers could in 1620 cross a vast ocean and find a pair of Indians able to welcome them in their own tongue seems little short of miraculous. It was certainly lucky-the Pil­grims would very probably have perished or been slaughtered without them-but not as wildly improbable as it at first seems. The fact is that by 1620 the New World wasn’t really so new at all . . .

 

So there you have it. My mental image of my ancestors – and it is not a pretty one. Particularly now, having battled a stomach flu for the past two days, it seems the only thing I inherited from these distant relatives is the ability to puke.

It suddenly occurs to me that I have managed to write a Thanksgiving post on the subject of ingratitude, which is kind of weird. So let me rectify the situation quick before I click on “Publish”.

On this particular Fourth Thursday in November I am thankful for NeoCitran, pretzel sticks, 7-up, saltines and stomach-friendly herbal tea. I am thankful for my coworkers who covered for me. I’m thankful for my elder daughters’ ability to cook her own lunch. I’m thankful for the friend who will give my younger daughter a ride to her Hip Hop class. I’m thankful for the living room couch. I’m thankful for my husband’s homemade beef soup – the first thing in two days that has made a one-way trip to my stomach and not returned. And now that I am feeling a bit better, I am thankful for Samoset and Tisquantum.

Stealing Kate’s Random Five

It’s “Catch Up On The Reader” Day, so just a few quick updates and loose ends:

  1. I now have an alarm clock sound that (literally) can raise the dead.
  2. Time has returned to passing at normal speed.
  3. Olga the Bruiser beat me up again today – that makes three times in one week. Big bully.
  4. Miss Peevish has been replaced by lovely and gentle Judy who sounded very Hungarian. Hhmmm . . . same first name and nationality as my cleaning lady. Am I on to something here? Whatever my problem in life is, is there a Judy from Hungary who can make it better?
  5. My home state held its primary election yesterday and the results didn’t make me cringe. Go Badgers!

 

A Clash of Titans

clash1

I’ve had a wrestling match going on inside my body for the past two weeks. Or to be more accurate, I haven’t. But I should. Let me explain.

clash2Picture the ring.  In one corner is The Power of Pain making me dutifully swallow the pills, drink the tea and lie on the couch. In the other corner is The Force of Habit – and that particular force is strong with me – which keeps me gravitating to my laptop, sitting for too long, falling back into my slouchy posture, and forgetting to eat.  My recuperation has been a roller coaster ride as a result. After two sort of bad days in a row, I woke up this morning and just knew I didn’t want to take any more pills. Not only are they making me feel depressed, they are only treating the symptoms (pain) and not the cause (habits). It’s time to let these two have at each other.

Contestants on your marks! Blow the whistle!

clash3